She Stands Accused

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Author: Victor MacClure

II

All four women pressed into the chambers. All three of the women occupying them had been murdered. In the passage or lobby little Nanny Price lay in her bed in a welter of blood, her throat savagely cut. Her hair was loose and over her eyes, her clenched hands all bloodied about her throat. It was apparent that she had struggled desperately for life. Next door, in the dining-room, old Betty Harrison lay across the press-bed in which she usually slept. Being in the habit of keeping her gown on for warmth, as it was said, she was partially dressed. She had been strangled, it seemed, "with an apron-string or a pack-thread," for there was a deep crease about her neck and the bruised indentations as of knuckles. In her bedroom, also across her bed, lay the dead body of old Mrs Duncomb. There had been here also an attempt to strangle, an unnecessary attempt it appeared, for the crease about the neck was very faint. Frail as the old lady had been, the mere weight of the murderer’s body, it was conjectured, had been enough to kill her.

These pathological details were established on the arrival later of Mr Bigg, the surgeon, fetched from the Rainbow Coffee-house near by by Fairlow, one of the Temple porters. But the four women could see enough for themselves, without the help of Mr Bigg, to understand how death had been dealt in all three cases. They could see quite clearly also for what motive the crime had been committed. A black strong-box, with papers scattered about it, lay beside Mrs Duncomb’s bed, its lid forced open. It was in this box that the old lady had been accustomed to keep her money.

If any witness had been needed to say what the black box had contained there was Mrs Rhymer, executrix under the old lady’s will. And if Mrs. Rhymer had been at any need to refresh her memory regarding the contents opportunity had been given her no farther back than the afternoon of the previous Thursday. On that day she had called upon Mrs Duncomb to take tea and to talk affairs. Three or four years before, with her rapidly increasing frailness, the old lady’s memory had begun to fail. Mrs Rhymer acted for her as a sort of unofficial curator bonis, receiving her money and depositing it in the black box, of which she kept the key.

On the Thursday, old Betty and young Nanny being sent from the room, the old lady had told Mrs Rhymer that she needed some money—a guinea. Mrs Rhymer had gone through the solemn process of opening the black box, and, one must suppose—old ladies nearing their end being what they are—had been at need to tell over the contents of the box for the hundredth time, just to reassure Mrs Duncomb that she thoroughly understood the duties she had agreed to undertake as executrix

At the top of the box was a silver tankard. It had belonged to Mrs Duncomb’s husband. In the tankard was a hundred pounds. Beside the tankard lay a bag containing guinea pieces to the number of twenty or so. This was the bag that Mrs Rhymer had carried over to the old lady’s chair by the fire, in order to take from it the needed guinea.

There were some half-dozen packets of money in the box, each sealed with black wax and set aside for particular purposes after Mrs Duncomb’s death. Other sums, greater in quantity than those contained in the packets, were earmarked in the same way. There was, for example, twenty guineas set aside for the old lady’s burial, eighteen moidores to meet unforeseen contingencies, and in a green purse some thirty or forty shillings, which were to be distributed among poor people of Mrs Duncomb’s acquaintance. The ritual of telling over the box contents, if something ghostly, had had its usual effect of comforting the old lady’s mind. It consoled her to know that all arrangements were in order for her passing in genteel fashion to her long home, that all the decorums of respectable demise would be observed, and that "the greatest of these" would not be forgotten. The ritual over, the black box was closed and locked, and on her departure Mrs Rhymer had taken away the key as usual.

The motive for the crime, as said, was plain. The black box had been forced, and there was no sign of tankard, packets, green purse, or bag of guineas.

The horror and distress of the old lady’s friends that Sunday afternoon may better be imagined than described. Loudest of the four, we are told, was Sarah Malcolm. It is also said that she was, however, the coolest, keen to point out the various methods by which the murderers (for the crime to her did not look like a single-handed effort) could have got into the chambers. She drew attention to the wideness of the kitchen chimney and to the weakness of the lock in the door to the vacant rooms on the other side of the landing. She also pointed out that, since the bolt of the spring-lock of the outer door to Mrs Duncomb’s rooms had been engaged when they arrived, the miscreants could not have used that exit.

This last piece of deduction on Sarah’s part, however, was made rather negligible by experiments presently carried out by the porter, Fairlow, with the aid of a piece of string. He showed that a person outside the shut door could quite easily pull the bolt to on the inside.

The news of the triple murder quickly spread, and it was not long before a crowd had collected in Tanfield Court, up the stairs to Mrs. Duncomb’s landing, and round about the door of Mrs Duncomb’s chambers. It did not disperse until the officers had made their investigations and the bodies of the three victims had been removed. And even then, one may be sure, there would still be a few of those odd sort of people hanging about who, in those times as in these, must linger on the scene of a crime long after the last drop of interest has evaporated.

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Chicago: Victor MacClure, "II," She Stands Accused, trans. Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946 in She Stands Accused (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920), Original Sources, accessed January 30, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=84YG65N9YF2EY9G.

MLA: MacClure, Victor. "II." She Stands Accused, translted by Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946, in She Stands Accused, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920, Original Sources. 30 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=84YG65N9YF2EY9G.

Harvard: MacClure, V, 'II' in She Stands Accused, trans. . cited in 1920, She Stands Accused, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 30 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=84YG65N9YF2EY9G.