The Legacy of Cain HTML version
4. The Minister Says Yes
The Prisoner was seated on her bed, quietly talking with the woman appointed to watch
her. When she rose to receive us, I saw the Minister start. The face that confronted him
would, in my opinion, have taken any man by surprise, if he had first happened to see it
within the walls of a prison.
Visitors to the picture-galleries of Italy, growing weary of Holy Families in endless
succession, observe that the idea of the Madonna, among the rank and file of Italian
Painters, is limited to one changeless and familiar type. I can hardly hope to be believed
when I say that the personal appearance of the murderess recalled that type. She
presented the delicate light hair, the quiet eyes, the finely-shaped lower features and the
correctly oval form of face, repeated in hundreds on hundreds of the conventional works
of Art to which I have ventured to allude. To those who doubt me, I can only declare that
what I have here written is undisguised and absolute truth. Let me add that daily
observation of all classes of criminals, extending over many years, has considerably
diminished my faith in physiognomy as a safe guide to the discovery of character.
Nervous trepidation looks like guilt. Guilt, firmly sustained by insensibility, looks like
innocence. One of the vilest wretches ever placed under my charge won the sympathies
(while he was waiting for his trial) of every person who saw him, including even the
persons employed in the prison. Only the other day, ladies and gentlemen coming to visit
me passed a body of men at work on the road. Judges of physiognomy among them were
horrified at the criminal atrocity betrayed in every face that they noticed. They condoled
with me on the near neighborhood of so many convicts to my official place of residence.
I looked out of the window and saw a group of honest laborers (whose only crime was
poverty) employed by the parish!
Having instructed the female warder to leave the room--but to take care that she waited
within call--I looked again at the Minister.
Confronted by the serious responsibility that he had undertaken, he justified what he had
said to me. Still pale, still distressed, he was now nevertheless master of himself. I turned
to the door to leave him alone with the Prisoner. She called me back.
"Before this gentleman tries to convert me," she said, "I want you to wait here and be a
Finding that we were both willing to comply with this request, she addressed herself
directly to the Minister. "Suppose I promise to listen to your exhortations," she began,
"what do you promise to do for me in return?"
The voice in which she spoke to him was steady and clear; a marked contrast to the
tremulous earnestness with which he answered her.