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Broadsheet Ballad
by [?]

At noon the tiler and the mason stepped down from the roof of the village church which they were repairing and crossed over the road to the tavern to eat their dinner. It had been a nice little morning, but there were clouds massing in the south; Sam the tiler remarked that it looked like thunder. The two men sat in the dim little tap-room eating, Bob the mason at the same time reading from a newspaper an account of a trial for murder.

“I dunno what thunder looks like,” Bob said, “but I reckon this chap is going to be hung, though I can’t rightly say for why. To my thinking he didn’t do it at all: but murder’s a bloody thing and someone ought to suffer for it.”

“I don’t think,” spluttered Sam as he impaled a flat piece of beet-root on the point of a pocket-knife and prepared to contemplate it with patience until his stuffed mouth was ready to receive it, “he ought to be hung.”

“There can be no other end for him though, with a mob of lawyers like that, and a judge like that, and a jury too … why the rope’s half round his neck this minute; he’ll be in glory within a month, they only have three Sundays, you know, between the sentence and the execution. Well, hark at that rain then!”

A shower that began as a playful sprinkle grew to a powerful steady summer downpour. It splashed in the open window and the dim room grew more dim, and cool.

“Hanging’s a dreadful thing,” continued Sam, “and ’tis often unjust I’ve no doubt, I’ve no doubt at all.”

“Unjust! I tell you … at majority of trials those who give their evidence mostly knows nothing at all about the matter; them as knows a lot—they stays at home and don’t budge, not likely!”

“No? But why?”

“Why? They has their reasons. I know that, I knows it for truth … hark at that rain, it’s made the room feel cold.”

They watched the downfall in complete silence for some moments.

“Hanging’s a dreadful thing,” Sam at length repeated, with almost a sigh.

“I can tell you a tale about that, Sam, in a minute,” said the other. He began to fill his pipe from Sam’s brass box which was labelled cough lozenges and smelled of paregoric.

“Just about ten years ago I was working over in Cotswold country. I remember I’d been into Gloucester one Saturday afternoon and it rained. I was jogging along home in a carrier’s van; I never seen it rain like that afore, no, nor never afterwards, not like that. B-r-r-r-r! it came down … bashing! And we came to a cross-roads where there’s a public house called The Wheel of Fortune, very lonely and onsheltered it is just there. I see’d a young woman standing in the porch awaiting us, but the carrier was wet and tired and angry or something and wouldn’t stop.’No room’—he bawled out to her—’full up, can’t take you!’ and he drove on.’For the love o’ God, mate,’ I says, ‘pull up and take that young creature! She’s … she’s … can’t you see!’ ‘But I’m all behind as ’tis’—he shouts to me—’You knows your gospel, don’t you: time and tide wait for no man?’ ‘Ah, but dammit all, they always call for a feller’—I says. With that he turned round and we drove back for the girl. She clumb in and sat on my knees; I squat on a tub of vinegar, there was nowhere else and I was right and all, she was going on for a birth. Well, the old van rattled away for six or seven miles; whenever it stopped you could hear the rain clattering on the tarpaulin, or sounding outside on the grass as if it was breathing hard, and the old horse steamed and shivered with it. I had knowed the girl once in a friendly way, a pretty young creature, but now she was white and sorrowful and wouldn’t say much. By and bye we came to another cross-roads near a village, and she got out there.’Good day, my gal’—I says, affable like, and ‘Thank you sir,’—says she, and off she popped in the rain with her umbrella up. A rare pretty girl, quite young, I’d met her before, a girl you could get uncommon fond of, you know, but I didn’t meet her afterwards: she was mixed up in a bad business.