A short story featuring Dick Turpin. This is the first time I have written something based in fact and I enjoyed it, hope you do too!
The executioner sighed as he pulled on the black robes, the judge had known the weight of the punishment better than he had grasped that day, the idea that he would be pardoned on condition he did this one deed had seemed so simple. Well, to be honest the deed itself was simple enough and there was no doubt in the executioner’s mind that the criminal deserved nothing less. That was the problem though because in reality so did he. The two had worked together after all and done the same deeds. True, the executioner had remained crime free for four years but even so he was about to execute his friend.
Thomas Hadfield shivered as the realisation of what he was about to do began to sink into his mind. He wondered if Dick knew of the deal he had made in order to save his own life. Rightfully he should have just let himself be hung for his crimes for surely this would be a bigger one. Killing a friend and watching them die. He would have died four years ago with the other gang members had he not followed Dick’s lead and fled through the window. He had been a coward even then and just allowed others to die in his place.
“This is my destiny“ he muttered aloud. Nobody was in the small room he had be shown into, within which he was donning the black robes that his role required. Thomas looked at the rope that he was to take with him to the gallows. There was nowhere to secure it so that he could take his own life. He sat on the small seat carved into a wall and laid the rope across his lap and fingered it lightly. He was really not sure that he could do this and looking back he was horrified at how readily he had accepted the role.
The knock at the door made Thomas lift his head sharply. “It is time Sir and we need you outside.”
This was it; the moment his punishment would begin. Thomas was in no doubt now that what happened today was going to haunt him for the rest of his days. April 7, 1739. His first and last act as an executioner. Of course, the day would also bring about his last act as the friend of Dick Turpin. Well, his last act as a friend had been turning his back in 1735 as putting the noose round his neck and pushing him from the base to make him hang was hardly the act of a friend. Thomas decided he was a horrible person.
“I am coming,” he responded to the boy who scampered off. Thomas reached for the hood and pulled it over his head. He had briefly considered saying nothing to Dick to hide his own identity. However, from all Thomas remembered of Dick he remembered one thing above all else, Dick was by no means stupid and he would know Thomas was his killer one way or the other. He gave one final sigh and walked from his room to the waiting gallows.
Thomas handed the rope to the boy who eagerly went about the business of attaching it. Thomas climbed the ladder at Knavesgate and leant against the railing around the small platform. Then he did something that he had not done for some time; he bowed his head and prayed. A crowd was already beginning to form around the gallows with so many wanting to witness the condemned man’s final breath. Morbid curiosity? Or was there something more? Dick Turpin had made quite a name for himself with crimes that he may or may not have committed. Thomas knew of some of the true tales of course but as for the rest, they would remain a mystery. Thomas doubted that Dick had ever admitted to what exactly he had or had not done. The man was going to remain infamous for a long time to come, Thomas was sure of that.
Thomas kept his eyes fixed on the gateway that the open cart would come through in a matter of minutes. Despite the imminent nature of the event the delay seemed eternal. Thomas fidgeted on that small platform and then he heard an approaching cart. Like the waiting crowd, he found himself straining to get his first glance of Dick.
Dick Turpin was standing in the small horse drawn cart and he was waving and bowing to the masses as if he was royalty. He was holding lightly the edge of the cart to steady his balance and he seemed unconcerned by the end of his journey. He jumped from the cart and bounded over to climb the ladder and sit on the platform. The infamous highwayman waved at the crowd and then beckoned to Thomas. “I say we give them time to mass and see my fall from grace, do you not?” Dick cocked his head and gave a whimsical smile. “Time was you were relaxed around me old friend.”
Thomas found that his breath caught as he realised that Dick knew the identity of his executioner. “Sorry,” he muttered, “I never expected to be here with you. In fact, I never expected our paths to cross again.”
Dick shrugged, “I bear no ill will,” he said after a pause, “Think of it, would you rather be sent to your maker by stranger or friend?”
Thomas looked down at his once friend and thought for a moment. He had never thought of the situation in such a way although when he had pondered this he came to the same conclusion. “Stranger,” he said softly, “I am not good enough to be a friend.”
“Nonsense,” Dick was quick to scoff, “if not you doing this someone would have. I chose my path when we parted ways all that time ago. I am envious of the strength you showed by staying saintly. If anyone deserves not to hold the title of friend it is me. Or maybe my dear brother.” Dick’s lips twisted into a bitter smile as he thought of the letter he had written begging his brother for help, his brother had refused to pay the postage and the letter then had seen him convicted and sentenced. “Although I can forgive even him although my father has yet to do so.”
“I hope he can find it in his heart to forgive me.” Thomas looked at the building crowd before briefly glancing at the gallows. Of course, the question actually was whether or not he could forgive himself. His hands gripped the railings tightly as he thought about this.
Dick saw this and patted his friend’s foot. “Think of it this way then if you prefer, if the tables were turned do you doubt that I would be standing in your place today?”
Thomas looked down at Dick and met those dark eyes. However, instead of warm, his eyes were cold and hard. Thomas shuddered with a sudden chill as he realised that Dick was cruel by nature and would have revelled in the opportunity of a murder for a pardon, it was going to affect Thomas much more than it would Dick and would serve as a punishment well. Thomas was reminded then of the cruelty of some of the acts he had witnessed in the past. “I don’t doubt that you would take my place.”
“Thought not,” Dick replied. He looked at the crowd. “Nice to see I have many fans” he commented with a satisfactory smirk playing about his lips. Dick had always liked the idea of being well known and even though he would have picked better circumstances he did like the fact people were here to see him.
Thomas also looked at the crowd although he did so with a growing dread, so many people were about to witness what a truly bad friend he could be. True enough, Dick Turpin was both cruel and cunning but then he had never acted alone, together he and Dick had been a part of the Gregory Gang, which had plagued part of Epping Forest for a while. He had taken part in those crimes willingly and he just failed to see why he should escape the same fate. “Why should I be spared from hanging?”
“Well, that’s obvious my friend,” Dick said, “this is your punishment simply because it is going to weigh on you so much. Honestly I wish it wouldn’t because I for one don’t blame you for standing there ready to do this.”
“Ready!” Thomas repeated the word with a bark of a laugh, ready was the last thing he felt right now even though time was rapidly running away from him. The boy who had called him out earlier nudged him sharply and pushed the noose into his unwilling fingers. “Dick? I need you to stand please.”
“Of course.” Dick stood and bowed his head to allow Thomas to put the noose around his neck. Thomas was shaking and it was at that moment that Dick decided that his final act would be a noble one. He was going to help out his friend in the only way that he knew how to at that moment in time. Dick leant forward to give Thomas a hug. “Don’t let this weigh down on you so heavily.” He pushed Thomas back before he turned to address the crowd. “People,” he yelled clearly, no nerves apparent in his voice, “you have come to see the great Dick Turpin hang for his crimes and I do not intend to disappoint you. I am the name that has been whispered amongst you although not many can ever claim to have really known me. Shame really as you may have found that you didn’t actually want to kill me but then again the judge has spoken. Mind you, maybe I am best left as that whispered name that oh so many fear.” Dick moved down the ladder slightly before casting one last glance over the crowd. “Remember me and remember me well.” Dick winked at Thomas and threw himself from the ladder to save Thomas having to give that one final push.
Thomas watched as his friend spun on the end of the rope and he found that he was almost holding his breath as he watched his friend die before him. It only took Dick five minutes before his body gave that final twitch and was still. Thomas leant over the railing and found himself staring into the unseeing gaze of the dead. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “Dick Turpin is dead.” He turned and at his nod a black flag was raised over Knavesgate. He moved over and stood in front of Dick and as the rope was cut the body collapsed into his waiting arms. Thomas held tightly to the body and felt a solitary tear drip down his face, the first of many more tears to come as he now knew. Not only had he lost a friend he had also been given a gift by him that day. Dick had saved him giving him that push and had thrown himself to his death. That single selfless act had meant everything to Thomas right then. Nothing else could have helped more except of course if his friend had not died that day.
Reluctantly he relinquished the body and listened to the crowd’s rowdy chatter as they dispersed. He sighed heavily and turned to leave. One crowd member had not moved and this caught Thomas’ attention. He recognised the judge who had given him such a punishment and he glared.
The judge walked over and looked Thomas in the eye. He nodded, satisfied that the gravity of his punishment was hitting home. “A job well done boy,” he stated as he walked away.
Thomas was left alone with his head bowed. He knew that now the punishment for his crimes had truly just begun.