A Poor Father’s Love
Author: Robert Tressell
Short story adapted from “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists“
TERRIBLE DOMESTIC TRAGEDY
Wife And Two Children Killed
Suicide of the Murderer
It was one of the ordinary poverty crimes. The man had been without employment for many weeks and they had been living by pawning or selling their furniture and other possessions. But even this resource must have failed at last, and when one day the neighbors noticed that the blinds remained down and that there was a strange silence about the house, no one coming out or going in, suspicions that something was wrong were quickly aroused. When the police entered the house, they found, in one of the upper rooms, the dead bodies of the woman and the two children, with their throats severed, laid out side by side upon the bed, which was saturated with their blood.
There was no bedstead and no furniture in the room except the straw mattress and the ragged clothes and blankets which formed the bed upon the floor.
The man’s body was found in the kitchen, lying with outstretched arms face downwards on the floor, surrounded by the blood that had poured from the wound in his throat which had evidently been inflicted by the razor that was grasped in his right hand.
No particle of food was found in the house, and on a nail in the wall in the kitchen was hung a piece of blood-smeared paper on which was written in pencil:
`This is not my crime, but society’s.’
The report went on to explain that the deed must have been perpetrated during a fit of temporary insanity brought on by the sufferings the man had endured.
‘Insanity! muttered Owen, as he read this glib theory. Insanity! It seems to me that he would have been insane if he had NOT killed them.’
Surely it was wiser and better and kinder to send them all to sleep than to let them continue to suffer.
At the same time, he thought it very strange that the man should have chosen to do it that way when there were so many other cleaners, easier, and more painless ways of accomplishing the same object. He wondered why it was that most of these killings were done in more or less the same crude, cruel messy way. No; HE would set about it in a different fashion. He would get some charcoal, then he would paste strips of paper over the joinings of the door and windows of the room and close the register of the grate. Then he would kindle the charcoal on a tray or something in the middle of the room, and then they would all three just lie down together and sleep, and that would be the end of everything. There would be no pain, no blood, and no mess.
Or one could take poison. Of course, there was a certain amount of difficulty in procuring it, but it would not be impossible to find some pretext for buying some laudanum: one could buy several small quantities at different shops until one had sufficient. Then he remembered that he had read somewhere that vermillion, one of the colors he frequently had to use in his work, was one of the most deadly poisons: and there was some other stuff that photographers used, which was very easy to procure. Of course, one would have to be very careful about poisons, so as not to select one that would cause a lot of pain. It would be necessary to find out exactly how the stuff acted before using it. It would not be very difficult to do so. Then he remembered that among his books was one that probably contained some information about this subject. He went over to the book-shelf and presently found the volume; it was called The Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine, rather an old book, a little out of date, perhaps, but still it might contain the information he wanted. Opening it, he turned to the table of contents. Many different subjects were mentioned there and presently he found the one he sought:
Poisons: chemically, physiologically, and pathologically considered. Corrosive Poisons.
He turned to the chapter indicated and, reading it, he was astonished to find what a number of poisons there were within easy reach of whoever wished to make use of them: poisons that could be relied upon to do their work certainly, quickly and without pain. Why it was not even necessary to buy them: one could gather them from the hedges by the roadside and in the fields.
The more he thought of it the stranger it seemed that such a clumsy method as a razor should be so popular. Why almost any other way would be better and easier than that. Strangulation or even hanging, though the latter method could scarcely be adopted in that house because there were no beams or rafters or anything from which it would be possible to suspend a cord. Still, he could drive some large nails or hooks into one of the walls. For that matter, there were already some clothes-hooks on some of the doors. He began to think that this would be an even more excellent way than poison or charcoal; he could easily pretend to Frankie that he was going to show him some new kind of play.
He could arrange the cord on the hook on one of the doors and then under pretense of play, it would be done. The boy would offer no resistance, and in a few minutes, it would all be over. He threw down the book and pressed his hands over his ears: he fancied he could hear the boy’s hands and feet beating against the panels of the door as he struggled in his death agony. Then, as his arms fell nervelessly by his side again, he thought
that he heard Frankie’s voice calling.
Owen hastily opened the door.
‘You calling, Frankie?’
‘Yes. I’ve been calling you quite a long time.’
‘What do you want?’
‘I want you to come here. T want to tell you something.’
‘Well, what is it dear? I thought you were asleep a long time ago,’
said Owen as he came into the room.
`That’s just what I want to speak to you about: the kitten’s gone to sleep all right, but I can’t go. I’ve tried all different ways, counting and all, but it’s no use, so I thought I’d ask you if you’d mind coming and staying with me, and letting me hold your hand for a little while and the p’raps I could go.’
The boy twined his arms around Owen’s neck and hugged him
‘oh, Dad, I love you so much!’ he said. I love you so much, I could squeeze you to death.’
‘I’m afraid you will, If you squeeze me so tightly as that.’ The boy laughed softly as he relaxed his hold. ‘That WOULD be a funny way of showing you how much I love you, wouldn’t it, Dad? Squeezing you to death!’
‘Yes, I suppose it would, ‘ replied Owen huskily, as he tucked the bedclothes around the child’s shoulders. But don’t talk anymore, dear; just hold my hand and try to sleep.’
`All right,’ said Frankie.
Lying there very quietly, holding his father’s hand, and occasionally kissing it, the child presently fell asleep. Then Owen got up very gently and, having taken the kitten out of the bed again and arranged the bedclothes, he softly kissed the boy’s forehead and returned to the other room.