Fratricide in the Hayfield and Arrest of the Murderer
On Saturday evening the agricultural village of Little Saughall, about 3 miles from Chester, was the scene of a terrible tragedy, the surrounding features of which are very painful. From what can be gleaned of the occurrence, it appears that between five a six 0’clock an old man, between 70 and 80 years age, named James Griffiths, and his two sons Henry, unmarried and 28 years of age, and John, aged 30 and married, were engaged mowing on the farm of Mr Woolley, where they were employed for sometime. The sons have disagreed, and the trivial cause of their frequent quarrels is said to have been jealousy on the part of the younger because John had brought his wife and children to stay with his father and mother, who are both enfeebled from age. Be that as it may, it seems that their work on Saturday was interrupted throughout the day by frequent angry words. About the time mentioned it is stated Henry was mowing in front of his brother, who is known in the village as ‘Jack’. The latter is said to have taken exception to the way in which Henry was doing the work, ad Henry told him to mind his own business. An angry altercation ensued, and eventually it is alleged ‘Jack’ swung the new scythe with which he had been working and plunged the murderous blade into his brother’s body, severing the abdominal walls half way round. Stripped to the waist, as is customary with farm labourers when harvesting, his shirt offered little resistance to the blade, and he fell to the ground with the blood streaming from him and his bowels protruding from the horrible-”
“Oh stop! That’s vile!” Alexandria Beaton huffed and crossed her arms as her younger brother, Robert, fell about laughing. “You know how I detest such things. Read a nice poem instead, or I rather think I shall be inclined to commit ‘Fratricide in the Hayfield’.”
“Alexa! How can you say such things? Apologise to your brother at once.” The children’s nurse, Agatha, had appeared in the doorway just as these last words had left Alexa’s lips and nearly dropped the basket of toys she was holding. Alexa’s grumbled apology only made Robbie laugh harder. He clutched his stomach, writhing about on the floor. “Robbie! Get up immediately. Your mother and father will be in soon to see you. What would they think if they saw your nice clothes rumpled, and you rolling about on the floor like an urchin.”
Robbie’s laughter ceased abruptly. Far from a joyful occurrence, The Parents’ Visit to the nursery was a dreaded daily necessity. Their mother spent the majority of the five minutes twittering about how she really mustn’t be long today. Mrs So-and-So was coming to call and it simply wouldn’t do to miss her. Why, only last week Mrs So-and-So had had to leave her card because Mrs Beaton had been shopping with Mrs What’s-Her-Name and it simply wouldn’t do to miss her again.
Their father, on the other hand, was incredibly interested in Robbie. Far too interested for his liking. His English and Mathematics marks were scrutinised, History and Geography scores examined, and the whole interview was conducted in Latin to test how Robbie was coming along. Just before leaving, Mr and Mrs Beaton would cast a cursory glance at Alexa’s embroidery, ask her a question in French and make an approving noise before sweeping out of the room to keep their various appointments. Alexa had long-since stopped vying for attention from her parents. She continued to work hard at her studies, but as the heir to the family business, Robbie was a much more interesting subject. Alexa suspected that when it came time for her to marry, she would find her parents much more attentive.
That day was no different than any other. Mr and Mrs Beaton swept into the room and kissed their children on the head before conducting their usual interviews and promptly swept out again. Except that, just when Alexa and Robbie had heaved a sigh of relief, Mrs Beaton reappeared in the doorway.
“Oh, Alexandria, darling, we’re moving you into your own room tomorrow. Won’t that be nice?” She beamed a made to leave again when Alexa stopped her.
“Why?” Mrs Beaton stopped suddenly. She couldn’t remember the last time her daughter had spoken to her, let alone questioned an instruction. Especially such a pleasant one.
“Why? Well, darling, you’re nearly fourteen now. It’s time that we start preparing you for your presentation. Besides, I would hardly think that you want to stay here in this small little nursery. Father wanted to give you the blue guest room, but I rather think that the blue room is a little too nice. I like to have it for Grandmama, you know. But you will have the fuchsia room. In any case, once you turn fifteen you’ll be going to Finishing School. We must make sure that you’re prepared to run your own home one day after all. Don’t fret, darling, you’ll be very comfortable. We mustn’t let you interrupt poor Robert’s studies any longer. He is terribly behind, you know. Soon enough you shall be able to come calling with me! Won’t that be nice?” Mrs Beaton said this last as she sashayed down the hallway to meet Mrs So-and-So in the entrance hall, so she didn’t see the wobble of her daughter’s chin, or the tears that glazed her eyes, or the way her shoulders had slumped dramatically.
Over by the settee, Robbie had frozen still and Agatha was clutching one of Alexa’s toys very tightly in one hand. Swallowing a few times in an attempt to fight back her tears, Agatha crossed the room briskly to Alexa, placing an arm around her shoulders and drawing her over to a chair.
“There now, don’t fret.” When her mother had said this it had been a command, but Agatha’s warm and gentle voice caused Alexa to burst into tears. Across the room, Robbie reached down and picked up the newspaper he had been reading from. Riffling through it, he found what he was looking for and began to read in a somewhat shaky voice.
“A Chester Pageant Romance.
She was a maid all ruffles and frills
Who performed in the Pageant of Chester;
And she fell in love, did this turtle dove,
With a fifteenth-century jester.
And although their periods are centuries apart
Dan Cupid’s not beat by this trouble,
For periods there’s none in affairs of the heart,
So the maid and the jester are double.”