Lawrence Edgerton would die today. Was he guilty? Did he steal that watch? No. Might the punishment fit an earlier, undiscovered crime? Not at all. Courts were not too particular in Regency England and a good show was a good show. Country folk from round about liked it better than the opera. Not that any had ever seen such a spectacle, but if they had, a good public hanging trumped everything.
Jemmy, the jailer's boy, unlocked the iron door. Lawrence was ready, standing erect in the middle of the small cell, bathed in a wee bit of gray dawn coming in through the high porthole. He'd smoothed his clothes as much as able and finger combed his hair. The thick quilt (used as a mattress) and the two thin ones were rolled and towed by the foot of the sleep shelf.
Jemmy said - No rush, ye know. There's still a bit of livin' time left. I've got a heel of bacon if ye want it?.... Lawrence just shook his head... Jemmy went on - Was last night's bowl to your liking?.... Lawrence nodded.... Jemmy said - A homemade shepherd's pie it was. Not from the poorhouse kitchen. Got it from Mrs. Spencer what cooks for the vicar. She does all the 'd.m.d's' around here. That's 'dead man's dinner.' Prison term, don't ye know. How's yer gut? Ya gotta use the pot? Seein' as it's yer final performance, I can take ye out to the real privy in the closet down the way. Clean enough, it is. I use it and the Mister too, when he comes by. He's me gov'ner, the real jailer..... Lawrence didn't move.... Jemmy went - Here, take me hand. I'll walk with ye. Best you take the chance. Them what don't tend to soil their britches and ye don't want to die with a load, seein' as how they box ye up and plant ye right after. Don't want to take that into the Next World...... Lawrence didn't move. Jemmy took his hand and led him off..
Now there were a few other unfortunates scattered among the other cells. Maybe five or six in all. They knew today was a killin' day. Everybody in that sad, sad place eventually faced a killin' day. Best not get caught on that stretch of road. But they sit quietly in their cells. Well, not sit. Most lie wrapped in the quilts, staring toward forever.
So Lawrence used the privy, went back to his cell and waited. He could hear the muffled sound as yokels gathered for the show. Children laughed and yelled. Farm wives waved 'yoo hoo.' A man set up a brazier and sold chestnuts. The glass in the porthole up by the ceiling hummed and rattled. And then they came for him.
He never saw the actual jailer before. Looked more like an undertaker... tall and thin... black serge suit... high, white neck linen. Maybe in this remote spot he was like an undertaker?... Maybe he was both? Somebody has to bury all the poorhouse bastards.
And now we see things through Lawrence's eyes.
Five heartbeats later, the man in black offered me a small sack and spoke.... He said - Put these on... I reached inside and took out four heavy, golden 'cuff' bracelets. Each snapped open and closed. The inner surfaces were covered in a rich, soft, black velour. Two pairs they were. .... I asked - Why? Why do I need them?....Jemmy chortled. The boss pinched his ass real hard he did.... Jemmy went - Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Then he just stood there all chastened and silent.... I couldn't help but smile... Gallows humor, you know. The man in black barely noticed before continuing - Death can be hard, or death can be easy. Please, do as you're told, lad. The smaller ones go 'round yer wrists. The biggers are for yer ankles.... From the tone and timbre of his voice I could tell resistance was futile and I did not like the part about 'hard death.' I just wanted it to be over. I was caught. I was helpless. The world was not mine. Odd how people think. Maybe there is no death? Maybe it's all just life? Maybe it's like heat? You know, we speak of 'cold,' but there is no cold, just the absence of heat. Death is simply the absence of life and when it ends, we're not even aware of the cessation. We simply stop. Thought stops. Light Stops. Sensation stops. In my case, just because I've fallen into this cesspit. Like a fly caught in a web.
They ushered me outside into the chill morning mist. The crowd cheered. Farmwives munching raw turnips cackled like tortured hens. Their grimy offspring snaked through full grown people's legs, grabbing chestnuts from the chestnut vendor and whatever else they 'found' on the ground. My sleeves covered the wrist cuffs. My pants drooped over the ones on my ankles. They fit very well.
Jemmy rang a big, brass, clanging bell and yelled - Here ye! Here ye! Here ye!.... Mothers grabbed their children. Men kept the stern, tight, flinty-eyed faces they always wore. Then the assistant jailer, or whatever he was, gestured toward the jailer-jailer who stepped into the bare earth clearing 'round the gallows, cleared his throat and read from a sheet of parchment. I figured it was about me, but I paid him no mind. Anything they had to tell me would be communicated by shoves and pokes, or worse. Two crows tracing varied patterns high above against a bone white featureless sky drew my gaze. I was mesmerized.
A sharp jab sent me up the steps to the hangin' stage, perhaps twelve feet above the crowd.. Odd that my wrists were not manacled. Maybe somebody forgot? Maybe the metal cuffs had something to do with it? At the time, I don't think I even noticed. What I did see was a square, black conveyance off beyond the edge of the restless throng, probably there to bear me off after the deed... Though I thought the doomed were buried soon after on poorhouse grounds?... Who knows?
The vicar prayed, or appeared to pray over me. We all went 'amen.' I was asked if I had anything to say, but I didn't want to talk to those pigs. As the executioner had picked up the noose and prepared to slip it over my head, the herd let loose with yells, whoops, cheers and calls. They'd not have heard me anyway.
In an eyelash width of time, before the paid-county-killer caught me with his rope, the back doors to that black, windowless conveyance slammed open. Then a deafening CRACK, as blinding, white arcs of electronic discharge snaked through the air just above the heads of the amazed farm-folk and locked onto my four metal cuffs, violently JERKING me up from the platform and yanking me toward the maw of the dark, unmarked cube.
An instant later and I was in. The steel framed doors BANGED shut, just missing my feet, as I collided with the padded front wall of the thing and fell 0nto a large mattress. Then blackness, as six matched chestnuts tore off over the empty moors. One heartbeat later the small portal by the coachmen's seat scrapped open and someone yelled - Be ye Lawrence Edgerton, boy?... I yelled - Yes! Yes! Yes! Who ARE you?! Please, who ARE you?!..... I heard one word - Illuminati... as the screen scrapped shut once again.
And then the ride went on...
<more next time>
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