In this latest excerpt from my published novel ‘The Lady in Red,’ we meet up with Paul Stanley along with this friends Alan Johns and Stephen Carr. They have met up after school at a local field. Paul has been able to patch up his differences with Alan after attacking him in class. He has since explained to him, via a note he passed to him in class, that he had been taken over by a demonic spirit when assaulting him. His actions were not his own. He had been forced into hurting his friend. While this explanation for his actions had been ridiculed by the headmaster when he had told him, Alan is more open to the idea. He forgives him and joins Stephen in joining him for what is intended as a reunion between friends. Little do they then realise what lies in store for them.
When they first meet up by the cricket field near Paul’s home all of the good feelings amongst friends is rejoined. However, suddenly events take a dark turn as Paul’s attention is fixed on something which seems to be happening right in front of him although neither Stephen or Alan can see anything. Here follows the excerpt:
For the present Paul was in a trance-like state. Devoid of the capacity to hear his friends speak and to make sense of their expressions of comfort. He was stuck in some sort of impasse, a never-never land, frozen in time and place and thus out of the reach of even two such faithful friends as Stephen and Alan.
The time was 1830, the place an area of Rusthall which many generations later would become a sports field of some description. Now, though, it made for a grisly scene indeed.
A large crowd had gathered to witness the public hanging of one Abraham Leakmarsh. He had been threatened with capture before, but had always stayed one step ahead of the law. He had friends in high places; friends who could help him out when the need arose. The need has arisen once too often for these important friends.
It was one thing to raid graveyards in the dead of night and steal away with corpse after corpse so as to keep the medical fraternity well supplied with subjects. Oh, it was a nasty business, there was no denying that. More than once had outraged relatives of the deceased called for justice on Mr. Leakmarsh and his sacrilegious brethren. But on each and every occasion had Abraham and his fellow grave robbers escaped the hangman’s noose.
But then a grave mistake was made. It was one that Abraham himself would live to regret. There had been reports amongst the local community of folk going missing. Men and women, of ages predominantly ranging from anything between early twenties to medium to late forties, would be lost to their friends and family. “They were with us one moment,” those left behind would say, “but were gone the next.” Disappearing from sight like a puff of smoke. As easily as this were they snuffed out of existence.
These were indeed worrying times. Something had to be done and furthermore something would be done. It simply wasn’t right that law-abiding citizens could be treated in this way. The local inhabitants from all walks of life were in uproar. They wanted those responsible brought to justice.
Abraham was the first guilty party found, but he would most certainly not be the last, not if the stiff arm of the law and public justice had anything to say about it. But what had brought about Abraham’s downfall? How had he been caught, tried and convicted when previously he had repeatedly slipped the net of outraged public opinion?
The answer to this lay with his associate. For many a long day had the duo maintained an uneasy alliance. They were not friends, they did not see eye to eye on many aspects of their business, but that it was a business they were in and a well-paying one at that: well, both men could agree on that, at least.
One argument too many: that’s what had brought about the end to their lucrative partnership. Also, Abraham was the headman, the top brass of this version of Murderers’ Incorporated. As such he did the actual killing, while his partner Edward Mulberry provided the distraction to their victim and the gig to put him in once the crime had been committed. Edward’s punishment, if caught, would be by the very nature of his junior role in the enterprise less severe.
Armed with this knowledge, and after the bitter exchange between the two men just alluded to: an exchange, furthermore, which had been public in the extreme, Edward had headed straight to the local justice of the peace and told what he knew.
The result of his evidence: ten years of penal servitude for Edward. A harsh enough punishment, he reflected, but it fitted the crime, so he had no complaints. Leastways, he came out smelling of roses in comparison with his former associate. Abraham, it was found from Edward’s expert testimony, had murdered no less than fourteen individuals all of whom had resided in the Rusthall area.
The cart had arrived. It made its way through a cacophony of jeers and flying vegetables, all of which latter products were doubtless well past their sell by date. Derisory remarks of every form and description were thrown at the cart by the thousands upon thousands in attendance. Finally, the horses came to a halt and the wheels stopped turning, the hooded figure was led first onto the ground, then up the wooden steps, to the top of the scaffold.
Waiting for him there was the hangman with noose all primed and ready. A pronouncement then rang out through the chilly autumn air. Every word received its cheering echo as the throbbing mass of humanity chomped at the bit. A lovely day for a hanging: let’s commence with the festivities!
Abraham’s hood was removed from his head so his full infamy was there for all to see. A torrent of catcalls, of barely-disguised hatred and yes of yet more rotten vegetables found its way in his direction. As for Abraham: well, he now wore the look of a beaten man. He was about to dance with death.
The ceremony was swiftly concluded. First Abraham’s head was put in the noose, the hangman then tightened the rope, the wooden block was shot from under Abraham’s feet and voila!
Every twist and turn of the murderer’s body was greeted with cheers of delight. The creak of the rope as he swayed this way and that could doubtless be heard for miles around along with the resounding tumult of cheering from the attendant crowd which had taken on a maniacal turn.
As the onlooking crowd revelled in the sight their greedy eyes feasted on, there were two individuals who turned to leave. They had no wish to spend another moment in the company of such folk.
“Let us be on our way,” remarked Jack Farley to his own associate in crime. “I believe we have seen enough.”
“Pah!” grunted Will Dreghorn as a look of disgust lined his features. “It is quite beyond me why we had to be here at all.”
“We were here,” replied Jack as they marched ever more purposefully in the direction of the ‘Hare and Hounds,’ “to act as a timely reminder of what lies in store for us if we do not keep our wits about us. It’s a dangerous business the Resurrectionist trade these days, my boy: we would both do well to remember that.”
“You never spoke truer words, Jack.”
“Indeed, I believe you are right enough. Come: let us revive ourselves with a tankard of ale. If there’s one thing I always find has divine recuperative powers it’s a jug of the old saintly beverage. Let’s be on our way.”
Slowly the scene changed for Paul. Gone now were the gallows, the hangman, the cheering crowd and the two retreating Resurrectionists. They were replaced by the welcome sight of Stephen and Alan. As he returned to the land of the living, Paul collapsed into the arms of his two friends.
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