The Legacy of Cain
2. The Murderess Asks Questions
The first of the events which I must now relate was the conviction of The Prisoner for the
murder of her husband.
They had lived together in matrimony for little more than two years. The husband, a
gentleman by birth and education, had mortally offended his relations in marrying a
woman of an inferior rank of life. He was fast declining into a state of poverty, through
his own reckless extravagance, at the time when he met with his death at his wife's hand.
Without attempting to excuse him, he deserved, to my mind, some tribute of regret. It is
not to be denied that he was profligate in his habits and violent in his temper. But it is
equally true that he was affectionate in the domestic circle, and, when moved by wisely
applied remonstrance, sincerely penitent for sins committed under temptation that
overpowered him. If his wife had killed him in a fit of jealous rage--under provocation,
be it remembered, which the witnesses proved--she might have been convicted of
manslaughter, and might have received a light sentence. But the evidence so undeniably
revealed deliberate and merciless premeditation, that the only defense attempted by her
counsel was madness, and the only alternative left to a righteous jury was a verdict which
condemned the woman to death. Those mischievous members of the community, whose
topsy- turvy sympathies feel for the living criminal and forget the dead victim, attempted
to save her by means of high-flown petitions and contemptible correspondence in the
newspapers. But the Judge held firm; and the Home Secretary held firm. They were
entirely right; and the public were scandalously wrong.
Our Chaplain endeavored to offer the consolations of religion to the condemned wretch.
She refused to accept his ministrations in language which filled him with grief and
On the evening before the execution, the reverend gentleman laid on my table his own
written report of a conversation which had passed between the Prisoner and himself.
"I see some hope, sir," he said, "of inclining the heart of this woman to religious belief,
before it is too late. Will you read my report, and say if you agree with me?"
I read it, of course. It was called "A Memorandum," and was thus written:
"At his last interview with the Prisoner, the Chaplain asked her if she had ever entered a
place of public worship. She replied that she had occasionally attended the services at a
Congregational Church in this town; attracted by the reputation of the Minister as a
preacher. 'He entirely failed to make a Christian of me,' she said; 'but I was struck by his
eloquence. Besides, he interested me personally--he was a fine man.'
"In the dreadful situation in which the woman was placed, such language as this shocked
the Chaplain; he appealed in vain to the Prisoner's sense of propriety. 'You don't