The Legacy of Cain HTML version
9. The Governor Receives A Visit
A few days after the good man had left us, I met with a serious accident, caused by a
false step on the stone stairs of the prison.
The long illness which followed this misfortune, and my removal afterward (in the
interests of my recovery) to a milder climate than the climate of England, obliged me to
confide the duties of governor of the prison to a representative. I was absent from my
post for rather more than a year. During this interval no news reached me from my
Having returned to the duties of my office, I thought of writing to the Minister. While the
proposed letter was still in contemplation, I was informed that a lady wished to see me.
She sent in her card. My visitor proved to be the Minister's wife.
I observed her with no ordinary attention when she entered the room.
Her dress was simple; her scanty light hair, so far as I could see it under her bonnet, was
dressed with taste. The paleness of her lips, and the faded color in her face, suggested that
she was certainly not in good health. Two peculiarities struck me in her personal
appearance. I never remembered having seen any other person with such a singularly
narrow and slanting forehead as this lady presented; and I was impressed, not at all
agreeably, by the flashing shifting expression in her eyes. On the other hand, let me own
that I was powerfully attracted and interested by the beauty of her voice. Its fine variety
of compass, and its musical resonance of tone, fell with such enchantment on the ear, that
I should have liked to put a book of poetry into her hand, and to have heard her read it in
summer-time, accompanied by the music of a rocky stream.
The object of her visit--so far as she explained it at the outset--appeared to be to offer her
congratulations on my recovery, and to tell me that her husband had assumed the charge
of a church in a large town not far from her birthplace.
Even those commonplace words were made interesting by her delicious voice. But
however sensitive to sweet sounds a man may be, there are limits to his capacity for
deceiving himself--especially when he happens to be enlightened by experience of
humanity within the walls of a prison. I had, it may be remembered, already doubted the
lady's good temper, judging from her husband's over-wrought description of her virtues.
Her eyes looked at me furtively; and her manner, gracefully self-possessed as it was,
suggested that she had something of a delicate, or disagreeable, nature to say to me, and
that she was at a loss how to approach the subject so as to produce the right impression
on my mind at the outset. There was a momentary silence between us. For the sake of
saying something, I asked how she and the Minister liked their new place of residence.