In the bright June sunlight a crowd filled the square, and looked up at the windows of the old house with the antique insurance marks in its walls of red brick and the agents’ notice-boards hanging like wooden choppers over the paling. Two constables stood at the broken gate of the narrow entrance-alley, keeping folk back. The women kept to the outskirts of the throng, moving now and then as if to see the drawn red blinds of the old house from a new angle, and talking in whispers. The children were in the houses, behind closed doors.
A long-nosed man had a little group about him, and he was telling some story over and over again; and another man, little and fat and wide-eyed, sought to capture the long-nosed man’s audience with some relation in which a key figured.
“... and it was revealed to me that there’d been something that very afternoon,” the long-nosed man was saying. “I was standing there, where Constable Saunders is—or rather, I was passing about my business, when they came out. There was no deceiving me, oh, no deceiving me! I saw her face....”
“What was it like, Mr. Barrett?” a man asked.
“It was like hers whom our Lord said to, ’Woman, doth any man accuse thee?’—white as paper, and no mistake! Don’t tell me!... And so I walks straight across to Mrs. Barrett, and ‘Jane,’ I says, ’this must stop, and stop at once; we are commanded to avoid evil,’ I says, ’and it must come to an end now; let him get help elsewhere.’
“And she says to me, ‘John,’ she says, ’it’s four-and-sixpence a week’—them was her words.
“‘Jane,’ I says, ’if it was forty-six thousand pounds it should stop’... and from that day to this she hasn’t set foot inside that gate.”
There was a short silence: then,
“Did Mrs. Barrett ever..._ see_ anythink, like?” somebody vaguely inquired.
Barrett turned austerely on the speaker.
“What Mrs. Barrett saw and Mrs. Barrett didn’t see shall not pass these lips; even as it is written, keep thy tongue from speaking evil,” he said.
Another man spoke.
“He was pretty near canned up in the Waggon and Horses that night, weren’t he, Jim?”
“Yes, ’e ’adn’t ’alf copped it....”
“Not standing treat much, neither; he was in the bar, all on his own....”
“So ’e was; we talked about it....”
The fat, scared-eyed man made another attempt.
“She got the key off of me—she ’ad the number of it—she come into my shop of a Tuesday evening....”
Nobody heeded him.
“Shut your heads,” a heavy labourer commented gruffly, “she hasn’t been found yet. ’Ere’s the inspectors; we shall know more in a bit.”
Two inspectors had come up and were talking to the constables who guarded the gate. The little fat man ran eagerly forward, saying that she had bought the key of him. “I remember the number, because of it’s being three one’s and three three’s—111333!” he exclaimed excitedly.