The Best British Short Stories of 1922 HTML version

Broadsheet Ballad
(From The Dial)
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.