Undoubtedly Anne Barraclough had her griefs. She lived in a hovel which no other in Creelport would condescend to inhabit. It was set far back against the cliff, a dry and crumbly limestone, with cracks in it which opened mysteriously at night and shut during the day equally without reason.
But Anne Barraclough had other sorrows—a son and a husband. Sam, the son, had early despised authority, run with the wild lads from the mills,— played tricks with his master's till, narrowly escaped the jail, and, as the saying went, would have broken his mother's heart, but for the trifling circumstance that that had been broken before— by her husband, Bob Barraclough, poacher, pugilist, breeder of bull pups, pigeon flier and fancier, and, in fact, everything except what he had been brought up to be, the sober hard-working mason his father had been before him.
Nevertheless, Robert Barraclough was still a landlord. His property was, however, confined to the small ex-stable, which a misdirected ingenuity had converted into a shebeen and unlicensed lodging-house for tramps and other free-living gentlemen of undefined professions who objected to being looked up at four in the morning by the police in the regular lodgings of Creelport.
Anne Barraclough was a hard-featured, wizened woman, with a head that seemed always drawn a little back as if to escape a blow. And indeed Bob, her husband, let her know, as he said, ‘what was the law of England in the matter of wives,’ when he came home after being turned out of the ‘Blue Posts’ or the ‘Anchor’ for quarrelsomeness in his cups.
He beat her if he found guests drinking with Anne in their slovenly barrack. Why should she be sitting there and enjoying life while he had been turned out of two public-houses into the raw night air— and him with such a delicate chest. He beat her equally if there were no guests in the shebeen, and, by consequence, no money to furnish him out with on the following morning. Anne was idle, good-for-nothing, lazy, untruthful, and worse than all, she had money on the quiet, which she was keeping from her lawful husband. She was making a purse for herself. For all which reasons, Anne Barraclough must be corrected. And when Bob Barraclough was incapacitated for the performance of the duty, his son Sam kindly undertook it for him.
Yes, her own son. And him she feared most. For he was more often sober. He was the more cruel, and Anne went in terror lest she should one day reveal her secret hiding-place.
Yes, it was all true. Anne Barraclough at fifty was deceitful, idle, hopeless for herself, and also—she had money, which, with a great carefulness, she was keeping away from her loving relatives—from Bob, her husband, who beat her, and from Sam, her son, who aided and abetted his father so to do.
Anne Barraclough did not drink. She could not afford it. She would have liked dearly to drown her sorrows, and she had many bottles of a certain cheap Water of Lethe, miscalled whisky, stored away at the back of the old stable under the crumbly limestone. But all that was to sell, drop by drop, glass by glass, counted and reckoned—so many pieces of brown money, so many small silver bits—some to be beaten out of her by Bob, some to be yielded to Sam to keep him quiet and decently incapable of observation. But most—especially the silver ones, little and white and jingly, were to be hid away in another place— for another purpose.
What purpose? Ah, but that was Anne Barraclough's secret. Nearly all the world— that is to say all Creelport— looked askance on Anne. The Barracloughs were the worst people in its worst district.
‘Down in Little Dublin,’ was the standing direction to their neighbourhood, ‘as far down as you can, and the farther down the street you go the tougher it gets. The Barracloughs live in the last house.
After IT happened, all Creelport remarked, that they had always known it of Anne Barraclough.
‘She has the look of a murderess!’ they said, as usual, exceeding wise after the event.
‘She looks secret!’ the jurymen whispered in the court when they condemned her, and old Bowlby, of the ‘Blue Posts’ who had lost a steady customer in the deceased, voted steadily against any recommendation to mercy.
But this is going too fast. It was the revealing of Anne Barraclough's secret which led to the tragedy, and so that must come first.
Yet it was no dark and deadly secret after all. Only that, long before the day of Bob Barraclough, Anne, his wife, had once been young and happy. He had loved her— he had told her how much along by the harbour wall, at the place where there are the fewest lights, and after they were married he had taken her to live away in the great seaport to which, from the deserted pier of Creelport, they could see the vessels passing up channel in a long procession.
Then he had died—died far away from her, and, when his mate called in to tell her of it, and ask if she wanted his chest sent— there was a little baby girl asleep in a borrowed cradle.
These things Bob Barraclough never knew, and Anne, his wife, was afraid that he would find out. That was her secret.
But up yonder in Doggermouth there was a slim girlish pupil-teacher who was to enter the Normal College in November, and people wondered how a mere suburban lodging-house keeper, depending on the poorer class of summer visitors, could afford such an extravagance.
‘It was a folly of Mrs. Smith's,’ the neighbours said over their neighbourly tea. But then Widow Smith had always been foolish about that girl. They hoped that the money was honestly come by, that was all.
And Lily Smith going to and fro every day— morning at nine, afternoon at ten minutes past four — to the Doggermouth Public School—also thought it was very kind of Aunt Smith, the only relative she had ever known. So, indeed, it was, for though Anne Barraclough's secret was safe behind Widow Smith's mended spectacles, that good old woman added many little luxuries according to her means, and perhaps a little beyond, to the monthly remittance which came so regularly from the Creelport post office.
Now, Lily Smith was not by any means an ordinary sweet, pretty, young woman. She had a mind of her own, as her father had when he took to running arms and ammunition to the Revolutionists in Cuba and died of it with his back to a wall. Just a little brown-skinned thing, with a capable mouth, a firm chin, and dark grey eyes which glittered quietly under long lashes whenever the head mistress, Miss Priscilla Fisher, rebuked her for what was noways her fault.
Having once or twice encountered this steely and most arresting look, certain young men pupil-teachers, arrogant and over well-informed young men, to whom all knowledge was an open book, very discreetly left her alone.
‘That Lily Smith,’ said Ernest Towers, savagely, as he experimented gingerly with his first cigar, ‘has no more feeling than a cat!’
He was wrong, but it was as well for him that he did not persevere so as to find out. But all that the world saw of Miss Lily Smith was only a trim, grey-gowned, brown-cheeked maiden tripping like a mouse daintily along the doubtful cleanliness of the Doggermouth pavements, half a dozen pupils of doubtful cleanliness tagging about her skirts.
Only a science master, recently appointed to the new secondary school over the way, took very much notice of her, and he merely from a window. She had a sweet smile, and he liked the quick way she had of smacking the little urchins when they muddied her dove-grey dress. This always made him laugh, and as there was not much to laugh at in Doggermouth, Mr. Henry Hurst, B.Sc, was grateful, and at ten minutes to nine and ten minutes after four each day, he was sure to be at his window, carefully examining a test-tube.
Curiously enough, in order rightly to manipulate a test-tube, it is necessary to arrange one's hair before a mirror, and to make certain of a cunning little upward crook of the moustache upon which Mr. Henry Hurst prided himself as upon a scientific discovery. The left side pleased him best, and so he always held the test-tube sideways to the light, as he examined it carefully, in approved laboratory fashion.
He thought that little brown Miss Lily was quite unconscious of all this, and so most people would have thought too. Yet she noticed him the very first time, remarked the device of the test-tube the second, and the third she kept her head down and muttered ‘impudence,’ as she walked a little more smartly past.
On this occasion she gave dirty Johnny Sams an extra shake for pulling at her portfolio, and perhaps in part he served as whipping boy to the intrusive science master across the way. But still, being a woman (or on her way thither), in a week or two it began to warm her heart to remember that her passing made a difference to somebody. In a month she would bitterly have resented his absence, and one day when she missed seeing him by the least fraction of a second, her temper was the object of comment to her entire division of the infant class.
However, the prize distribution would take place that day week, and (first) Miss Lily Smith, and (second) Mr. Henry Hurst, B.Sc, reflected that on that day they would be certain to meet face to face.
The great day of the prize-giving, as usual, stirred all Doggermouth, and happened also as usual on the day before Christmas. For the first time since Lily Smith was a little girl, the Creelport registered letter for Aunt Smith failed to arrive at the cottage.
‘Something wrong at the office,’ said the widow grumblingly; ‘them young maids there be surely more concerned with their beaux, than to serve Thomas out his letters to fetch, as is their duty!’
But the reason for the non-arrival of the registered letter was other than the beaux of the girl-clerks of Doggermouth. It concerned the Barracloughs, of Creelport, and in especial Anne, wife of Bob and mother of Sam— mother, too, of Widow Smith's Lily.
Barraclough's shebeen, down at the tough fag-end of Little Dublin, had been in the way of luck—that is, of such luck as came its way. There had been a strike, and the dock labourers thrown out of employment spent largely upon the fiery fusil-oil and raw spirit concealed at the back among the crumbling limestone. The liquor seemed indeed, more than ordinarily potent. Headaches were more rapidly produced, and even strong men, in that close dry-smelling atmosphere, experienced strange swimmings in the head. There was no doubt about the strength of Bob Barraclough's whisky.
Yet Anne Barraclough hardly did herself justice, for a reason. It was not the responsibility of so much money in her deep under-pocket, which she carried half-full of saw-dust to keep the coins from jingling. It was that she had a little paragraph in her breast, cut from a Doggermouth paper, left by a transient customer on the previous evening.
‘Doggermouth Public Schools. — The annual Christmas prize-giving, inaugurated several years ago by our local school board, and which has in the past owed so much to the liberality of its generous chairman, Mr. Trophimus Gane, will take place in the large hall of the Technical School on Friday, December 24th, at three o'clock, Mr. Trophimus Gane, J.P., in the chair.
‘In addition to the interest usual on such an occasion, parents and friends will be treated to the performances of a choir, selected from all the infant schools, trained and conducted by Miss Lily Smith, who has recently so highly distinguished herself at the entrance examination of the Metropolitan Normal College, where she took a first place. Mrs. Gane will preside at the harmonium, the gift of her husband, Mr. Trophimus Gane, J.P., chairman of the board.’
The last noisy guests had departed from Barraclough's on the evening of Thursday, December 23rd. It had been a time of profit, and Anne had a goodly sum to put away. She lingered, however, over the contents of an old pocket-book which she kept (as least likely to be disturbed) within the rough covers of the Barracloughs' family Bible. She knew that for the present Bob, her husband, was harmless. She could see him extended, toes pointing to the ceiling, on the floor. She could hear him snore. She thought that Sam, her son, was out on one of his mysterious excursions.
Full of the pleasure of being alone, she took out an old pocket-book and gazed in rapture at the contents. There were two or three baby photographs, features and sex equally indistinguishable. Then came a girl—dimpling in corkscrew curls, with eyes like black beads—then a baptismal certificate, a school group, and a collection of such announcements as that quoted above, with the name of Lily Smith, underlined, always prominent among the prize takers. There were also many letters from Widow Smith, much in the same words, acknowledging a monthly remittance.
‘Lily is as good a girl as any mother need wish, and no trouble, eggsept shows some temper with her teething.’ As who indeed would not.
Anne Barraclough was smiling at this last. A tear was slowly irrigating a furrow on her cheek, and pushing its way towards the angle of her chin, when suddenly a shaky hand, accustomed to larceny, shot over her shoulder from behind and snatched the pocket-book while the thief laughed a triumphant laugh.
‘I have it this time, mother,’ said Sam Barraclough, and he laughed again as she screamed in fear. He repulsed her several times, as she desperately strove to regain her treasure. Then he lay back on a wooden settle and kept her off with his foot, while he despoiled the pockets, rooting and nosing through them like a beast o’ prey, as, indeed, he was.
‘Miss Lily Smith,’ he cried, ‘who's she? A marriage certificate—yours, old lady? A sister, too, have I? So that's where the money goes to, and tomorrow is the school prize-giving! So nice. Well, I'll be there, and I'll see Lily Smith. I'll tell her where the money comes from that's made a fine Miss of her. She goes to no Normal College, not if I know it! Normal College indeed—doing me out of my rights! Ain't I Sam Barraclough? Isn't the money all made at Barraclough's? Well, then—out with it, mother. Show me where you keep the shiners. Give me halves and I'll never trouble you more. You won't, eh? Then, by God, I'm off to Doggermouth Public School tomorrow— it's public, that's one comfort, and I'll cry out your shame and hers— before all them kids and teachers—some o' them sweet on Miss Lily, no doubt— ay, and before that precious school board that's so fond of her— yaw, that I will!’
‘I will kill you first!’ said Anne Barraclough, the same glitter which lay so stilly under her daughter's lashes coming into her eyes as she looked at her son.
‘Show me where you keep the money, then, or I will,’ he threatened.
Anne Barraclough appeared to waver. Then, suddenly taking a resolve, she pointed with her hand.
‘In there,’ she stammered, ‘in there, Sam— in one of them cracks of the limestone.’
‘What,’ cried Sam, ‘between our cellar and the Provost's lime-kiln?’
‘Yes,’ said his mother softly, ‘just at the place where it always feels warm when you put your hand against the wall.’
‘Gimme a pick,’ said Sam; ‘I'll have it out, every penny of it.’
He laid down the pocket-book, in his eagerness to search for the hoard. She snatched it up, and was through the door like a shadow.
The Select Infant Choir of the Doggermouth Public Schools, trained by Senior Pupil Teacher Lily Smith, was singing its closing hymn--
‘Lord, a little band and lowly. We are come to sing to Thee—’
The science master was crooking the left side of his moustache, and watching the brown cheek of the conductress flush with pride and pleasure, when he saw two policemen enter. They looked a moment, and then the taller laid a hand on the arm of a tired woman in rusty black sitting by the door, a stranger in the neighbourhood. He stooped and whispered something in her ear.
‘What for?’ she asked simply.
‘Murder,’ he answered as quietly; ‘they are both dead.’
‘Who?’ said Anne Barraclough, her eyes on his face.
‘Your son and your husband!’ said the policeman.
‘Thank God,’ said Ann, rising with a smile; ‘I'll go willin'!’
It was long remembered as the most mysterious and difficult criminal case ever adjudged at Doggermouth assizes.
Briefly the facts as presented to the jury were these. Anne Barraclough had had a violent quarrel with her son and her husband, both of whom brutalised her mercilessly. She fled from the house on the night of the 23rd of December. On the morning of the 24th, both were found lying dead, Sam in the limestone cellar still grasping a pick, and a considerable sum of money in silver scattered about. Nearer the door Bob Barraclough was dead, lying on his back on the floor.
The cause of the quarrel probably concerned a child born to a previous marriage, to whom it would be proved that Anne Barraclough was in the habit of remitting considerable sums monthly. The medical experts diagnosed death by poisoning, but failed to find traces of anything specific. But the woman was a known bad character, a shebeener, while raw spirit, chemicals, and dried herbs were found on the premises.
Anne Barraclough herself seemed dazed, and attempted no particular defence. Her official advocate, appointed by the judge, essayed the usual appeal to the feelings, but she seemed solely anxious for him to finish. She was listening for a name— that of Lily Smith. It was not mentioned in court, but was soon afterwards dragged into publicity by an enlightened and up-to-date journalism.
Twenty years was Anne Barraclough's portion, and, as she had said to the policeman who arrested her, she ‘went willin'.’
She would have gone less willingly, however, had she known that Lily lost her place the week after, and that she was left without means to take up her course at the Normal College.
But Mr. Henry Hurst, B.Sc, promptly offered her another situation. He even changed his own line of life in order to do it, resuming his original role of chemist to a paper factory. Lily must go with him to Polwarth Mills as his wife. She refused time and again. After what had been printed in the papers about her mother, she would be a shame to no man. But Mr. Henry Hurst was nothing if not scientific. He said that it mattered not a straw to him who or what was her mother or her father, or her stepfather, It was the little brown thing with the flush on her cheek that he wanted.
And so, necessarily, he got her, flush and all.
It was not quite two years before the matter was cleared up. Barraclough's passed to other tenants, a shade more reputable. But it was not long before both husband and wife were found in an unconscious state, one on the threshold of the limestone cave, the other within. The wife died, the husband barely pulled through. The symptoms of poisoning were identical with those present in the Barraclough case. Then there came the long-refused investigation. It was a close day when the investigators arrived, among them Mr. Henry Hurst, still B.Sc, though in strict fact no longer a bachelor.
It chanced that one of the doctors had brought a dog, which, tired of the vapid boredom of the day, and the lack of canine society, stretched himself down on the threshold of the limestone cellar which had been Anne Barraclough's treasure house. By and by his master called. The dog slept on. He kicked him sharply in the ribs, equally in vain. The dog was dead. And Henry Hurst, nosing and searching about the cracks in the limestone, discovered the secret.
There was a lime-kiln on the other side of the little crag into which the original Barraclough had burrowed. As often as it was in action, after Sam's explorations with the pick, deadly carbonic acid gas poured through the cracks, and falling to the floor, mounted knee-deep or higher, an unseen pool of death to all that breathed it.
Thus had died Bob Barraclough and his son Sam, the latter kneeling in the pursuit of the threepenny bits which rolled about the floor.
When they took Anne out of the prison and told her that she was free, she said it did not matter so long as they were dead. Money was given her in the name of the Crown, to make amends for the terrible miscarriage of justice. But Anne only said, ‘It is very kind of the gentlemen. Send it to the Widow Smith at Doggermouth! Thank God, I can always earn my livin'!’ And so, for the second time, Anne Barraclough went out into the darkness, this time to be heard of no more.
But she kept the pocket-book, and looked at its contents each morning and night — the baby photographs, the stalky girl in corkscrew curls and all.
‘I am glad little Lily is married,’ she said; ‘he is a good man, they say. God keep such as I from ever coming between them!’
I am indebted for the facts and the dramatic conclusion of this story to Mr. Albert Batailie's excellent report of the Maison du Four à Chaux case in the 1896 volume of his Causes Criminelles et Mondaines published in Paris by Dentu.—S. R. C.