The Hangman's Daughterbygruntgrindsquirt©
Thank you for selecting this little story.
I trust you find it pleasant and not too gory.
Happy I if it draws a hand
Down to cock or cunny,
Or, gentle Reader, were it deemed to be
The events which so greatly affected the course of my existence occurred not long after I had attained my nineteenth year. My father, Sir Thomas Martham, was the greatest landowner in our part of the country. It happened at this time that we were plagued by poachers, which cost us many a good fowl. In their disregard of the law the miscreants had waxed so insolent that they had even attacked and injured one of our gamekeepers. After they were apprehended my father, as magistrate, ensured that they should be subject to the full majesty of the law, and they were sentenced to swing from the gallows at Bristol on the twentieth day of June in the year of our Lord 1738. At that time I was down on holiday from Oxford , where I was a student of Divinity, for, as my parents' second son, I was set for a career in the Church. Having leisure, I accompanied Mother and Father to Bristol to see justice done, Father being particularly intent on witnessing the Law's retribution for the affront to his dignity and property.
I had never before attended a hanging, although they were common enough in our part of the country at those times, and on the journey to Bristol I gave the forthcoming event little thought, but attended instead to the beauties of our native land which, on a cloudless summer day, were considerable. The rocking of the carriage lulled me to sleep and when I awoke it was in very different surroundings to those among which I had fallen asleep, for the tranquillity of the English countryside had given way to the hurly-burly of the great port. Our carriage could hardly move for the throng on the streets, most of it going in the same direction as ourselves. Shops and stalls packed with fruit, fish and fowl lined the thoroughfare. Ladies of easy virtue, their bosoms almost wholly exposed to view, stood in doorways peddling less wholesome but more enticing wares. The taverns were full to overflowing, their customers spilling on to the streets, and common folk and gentry mixed freely. There were seafaring folk aplenty. One, a peg-legged, rascally looking fellow, parrot perched on his shoulder and accompanied by what appeared to be a cabin boy, seemed unaccountably familiar. Our carriage rattled on, making its slow noisy progress on the cobbled streets. Behind and following us we descried the great Lady R_____'s sedan chair , borne by four dark-skinned servants liveried in white stockings and gold braid. Father commented approvingly that, although long widowed and past the middle age, her Ladyship would never miss a public hanging.
It was a scene of such bustle and activity that it fair wearied the eyes, especially of one accustomed, as I was, to more tranquil surrounds. Eventually, however, we reached our destination, Bristol's great market place. Over the heads of the crowd I descried the rigged masts of the tall ships, for we were not far from the port, and the smell of fish hung heavy in the air. We alighted from our carriage and worked our way through the crowd to the area reserved for those who, like us, would pay to obtain the best view. Here the press of people was less great, though still considerable. Mercifully, for it was a hot day, seats had been set out, and we sat close by a number of men with whom Father was acquainted through business - lawyers, merchants and the like.
"Come for the entertainment, Sir Thomas?" one of them enquired, after being introduced to my mother and myself.
"Aye," my father growled in reply, "And to see justice done to a band of ruffians who poached my fowl and attacked my men."
My father's interlocutor did not introduce his companion, who, it was clear from her dress and her mien, was a whore. All of my father's acquaintances were accompanied by ladies who appeared to be of the same standing. They seemed to have issued from a large inn which stood at the far side of the market square, off to our right. The inn was clearly very busy as a result of the day's events. A throng of men stood before its entrance, clutching tankards of ale, and from its upper windows barely-clad ladies leant out, advertising their wares. Had I not been accompanied by my parents I would have sampled them, but in the circumstances it was, regrettably, impossible.
Before us, not far off, was a long wooden dais, higher than a man's head. On it stood three gallows, from each of which depended a thick rope which ended in a noose. After a time three figures appeared on the stage, to the sound of cheers and catcalls from the crowd. The central figure was a burly man, clearly the hangman, clad in a leathern jerkin through which the grey hairs of his broad chest were exposed. The second figure was the chaplain, but the figure which surprised me was that of a young woman. She was slight, particularly in comparison to the hangman, with long raven hair, and clad in a plain brown shift. She might have been fair, but Nature had played a cruel trick on her, perhaps at birth. She stooped slightly, and her body was turned slightly to the right. The deformity continued up to her face, which was also inclined slightly to one side. When she spoke, or smiled, the right side of her face remained immobile, as did her right eye.
"Who is the young woman, Father?" I asked him.
"Ah, that's the hangman's daughter. She assists him at every execution," he replied.
"How queer!" I opined.
Up to this time I had given the matter of what I was about to witness little thought. Why were so many gathered here? What was the attraction? My mother and father were present to witness the punishment of some miscreants who had damaged their pride and purse, but what of all these others? Surely they could not all have been personally offended by those who were about to be executed? Was I, I wondered, about to witness some low and repulsive entertainment? If so, I determined silently, I would make my excuses, return to the carriage and continue to read the copy of St Augustine's 'Confessions' which I had brought for the journey. Such behaviour would inevitably subject me to some mild mockery from my father, but to compensate this, I reasoned to myself, I would appear all the more pious and he would be reassured that his investment in sending me to study Divinity was money well spent. As I considered these matters the first persons to be hung, all men, were led up to the scaffold, their legs shackled and hands bound behind them. The crowd cheered, and jeered. As those sitting before us stood, so did we, in order to see what was about to take place. I glanced to my left to assess how easy it would be to reach our carriage, in case the spectacle I was about to witness should be as distasteful as I feared. The chaplain spoke to each prisoner, too softly to be heard, even from our position, which was fairly close to the scaffold. The crowd began to hush as the hangman's daughter placed a black hood over the head of each prisoner in turn. One of them shouted something, but I could not distinguish the words. From my vantage point it was apparent that the hangman's daughter's face was flushed and she moved with a certain alacrity which suggested she was enjoying her labours. Then the crowd hushed completely. One by one the hangman pulled the levers which released the trapdoor upon which each miscreant stood, and they dropped with a loud snap, their bodies hanging beneath the dais and twitching convulsively until they were still. After the third had dropped and was quiet, the crowd cheered loudly.
Ah! Gentle Reader, how can I describe my feelings at this juncture? They were not as I expected, not at all, and were such that I cheered as lustily as any other. The greatest surprise for me, though, was that witnessing this drama of life and death had made me hard between the legs. We seated ourselves again, and from the corner of my eye I saw that my mother was fanning herself rapidly in a manner which suggested she too was agitated by these happenings, in a way which suggested arousal rather than distress. In the course of my studies I had oft wondered why it was that the ancient Romans had (as their moralist writers noted with disapproval) flocked to the gladiatorial Games. Now, in the midst of a similar drama, I realised that those moralists had omitted to mention the true reason for the popularity of those Games, which the tumescence in my trowsers averred - that their presiding deity was not Pluto but Eros. Attending this public hanging had taught me that the spectacle of Death is inextricably bound in the human soul to the desire to copulate, and excites that desire. 'Tis no wonder the brothel stands next to the gallows and that both are busiest at the same time. What dimwits the moralists were not to perceive this! (Or could it be that they fully realised the connexion between sex and death but shrank away from what they had realised?)
I took some snuff and composed myself, then turned to the gentleman seated to my right, a lawyer friend of my father, and asked him, "Pray, sir, shall many more hang today?"
"Aye, young man," he replied, "There's been much crime in Bristol lately."
I do believe my smile betrayed my feelings.
As the next three prisoners were led to the scaffold it became clear that my suspicion that the hangman's daughter enjoyed her work was not unfounded, for she dashed around and assisted her father with great gusto. I commented to my neighbour that she appeared to enjoy her work, and he replied, winking meaningfully, "Aye, and they say that for a consideration she and her father will put on a private showing, if you apprehend my meaning."
My mouth fell open in surprise at what he had said and, like the trapdoors, it remained open as they discharged their contents one by one.
The next group of prisoners was of especial interest, as one of their number was female. She was a handsome, well-built woman of the middle age, proud and upright of mien, with dark flowing locks streaked with grey , a veritable Boadicea. Turning to my neighbour, I was about to wonder aloud to him what crime she may have committed, but I halted myself when I espied that he was otherwise engaged with the harlot who accompanied him. Her hand was inside his trowsers whilst his hand rested on her bosom, and in the hushed crowd I heard her tell him softly but distinctly, "'ee loiks the women, don't 'ee, Sir." From the direction of his gaze it was apparent that her reference to women was not to herself but to that specimen of the gentler sex who was about to be hung. I watched the hangman as he proceeded about his business, all the while keeping half an eye on my neighbour and his female companion. The first of the group to be hung was male, and as he was sent to meet his Maker my neighbour's hand remained still on his companion's partially exposed breast. But as the hangman approached his female victim, my neighbour began to caress the breast of the whore who accompanied him while she smiled and whispered encouragement to him. The hangman pulled the lever and the woman dropped, her long hair floating in the air for a moment before her body jerked and convulsed violently once before stopping, I espied my neighbour's eyes half close, and the doxie who accompanied him withdrew her hand from his trousers, and wiped it discreetly on the folds of her dress, where it left a small white stain on the dark green material. I did not spend, not quite, although my member was in a state of extreme arousal because of the scenes I had witnessed. My neighbour's companion turned to him, her snowy mounds almost spilling out of their encumbrances, and asked him, "Were that nice, Sir?" I envied him greatly.
The entertainment continued in this way for some time, the high points for me being the episode just related and the simultaneous hanging of two women, apparently twins, identical in appearance and apparel. From the rate at which my mother, seated to my left, fanned herself, it was apparent that she was relatively uninterested in the fate of the female prisoners. However, when a male was hung, especially a young man, she fluttered her fan with great rapidity, and her expression took on a kind of feline intensity as her ample bosom heaved and her blue-eyes stared gimlet-like at the scene unfolding before her. It was good to see her enjoy herself, especially as my father's blunt and straightforward character had led to her being deprived of many of the finer things of life. Lovemaking between them was, I imagined, somewhat akin to that between the pigs my father so prized. He was ever in attendance when it was time for the pig to cover the sow, and would shout encouragement to them, though I doubt whether any was needed. Indeed, perhaps through repeated exposure to such activities, my father had himself grown to resemble a prize porker. Mother, a more sensitive soul, would excuse herself from attending such rustic occasions as the covering of the sow, preferring to play the harp, the sounds of which would drift over the fields from our house's open windows on hot summer days as the pigs grunted and grinded and my father noisily urged them on. Mother, father and pigs were, I suppose, each happy in their own way and our household was not inharmonious; the sound of the harp, my father's voice and the grunting pigs combining to form a sort of rural refrain.
However, I digress. My first attendance at a public hanging, which was to change the course of my life, ended with the execution of a dwarf, which caused great merriment among the crowd, especially when, in his death throes he quaintly kicked one of his little leather boots into the audience. The gentleman who caught it held it up and shouted wittily to the crowd, "What shall I do with this? it won't fit!", at which everybody, including myself, became convulsed with laughter. This finale demonstrated the skill of the hangman (not to mention the dwarf) as an entertainer. It had been, all in all, an entertainment far superior to any I had witnessed in the theatre, particularly the plays of Shakespeare, which I consider to be somewhat crude and insensitive to the audience's finer feelings.
This otherwise idyllic occasion was marred a little for my mother by my father's announcement at the end of the show that he had business to attend to in Bristol. My mother did not question him about the nature of his business, but from her reproving look it was clear that she considered that the business involved him turning his porcine attentions to the young women who were displaying their wares from the windows of the nearby tavern. In this idea I am sure she was correct. As we sat in the carriage and began our journey home she sighed and remarked to me, "Well, at least you're a good boy." I raised my eyes from St Augustine's Confessions and replied, "Yes, Mother."
"She and her father will put on a private showing, if you apprehend my meaning" Pretending to read I turned the words of the gentleman who had sat next to me at the hanging round and round in my head as the carriage slowly made its way home. A private showing. But how could such a thing be arranged? As we rode on a plan began to form in my mind, and by the time we arrived home it was fully developed.
A servant opened the carriage door for us on our arrival, and as I stepped down I told him, "Corinthians Chapter 13 Verse 8." I had no idea what the verse to which I referred said, or even if there were such a verse, but it was my habit to cite such references whenever I spoke to the servants, at least when Mother and Father were present, for it made me appear pious and reassured my parents that the expense of my education was not wasted. Besides, I saw nothing wrong with the practice, for if the servants did trouble to read the lines indicated by me they could not help but be edified by them, for there is nothing in the Bible that is not edifying, even though they might be mystified by occasionally being directed to a list of Hebrew genealogies.
"Mother," I said.
"Yes, my second born," she replied.
"I may need to return to Bristol on Monday, for my copy of The Lives of the Saints is worn through overuse."
"Ah, pious offspring, how proud you make me!" she replied, and to my delight gave me two gold coins with which to buy the book.
"Thank you mother, I shall put these coins to good use," I told her, and indeed I did intend to put the money to good use, though what I had in mind had nothing to do with the lives of saints. (I had the book already but had not yet opened it, and so it would be easy to convince her I had bought a new copy).
Unfortunately, the next day was a Sunday and I had to endure the tedium of attending church, while my mind was occupied with thoughts of hanging. At last Monday came, and I set off as soon as day broke, spurring on my horse Humper to bear me to Bristol in double quick time. The market place was far less busy now that no executions were taking place, and when I entered the tavern there were few drinkers there. Some whores were drinking at a table, and one called to me, "May we help you, sir?" while the others laughed.
"No, thank you, ma'am," I replied. "For I seek the hangman."
"Ah, the hangman!" the landlord, who had overheard me, interjected. His voice lowering conspiratorially he added, "And may I ask why, sir? It wouldn't be for a private showing, would it?"
"Indeed it would," I replied.
Although I spoke quietly, one of the whores heard me and shouted, "Spicier fare than we can offer, then!" and her friends cackled with laughter, though their merriment seemed to be tinged with fear.
"Would you inform me where he resides?" I asked the landlord.
"I can't rightly say, sir, as I've forgot," he replied, giving me a meaningful look.
"Would this refresh your memory?" I asked, handing him a coin.
"That'll do nicely," he replied.
I set off for the address he gave me. It was a smart house in a well-appointed street, and I wondered how many private showings the hangman had given to supplement his earnings sufficiently to enable him to purchase a dwelling such as this. The door was answered by a serving wench, who ushered me into the parlour.
As on the day of the execution the hangman, a burly fellow, was clad in a leathern jerkin. "How may I help you, sir?" he asked respectfully, but not obsequiously, in a quiet, deep voice.
"I am the son of Sir Thomas Martham," I replied, "And have been informed that you perform your arts in private for gentlemen."
"Aye, and for ladies too", he replied. "But such things are difficult to arrange."
"Money is no object," I interrupted.
"Ah, then sir, it can be done. For an extra consideration my daughter will be present. She loves her work and never fails to give satisfaction, if you take my meaning, sir."
The price was high, but I paid it. The hangman explained that in order for a private showing to take place he had to arrange with the governor for a prisoner to be hung inside the prison, on the pretext that there might be rioting if he were hung in public. For such permission to be granted the governor's palm, too, had to be oiled, hence the high price I had to pay. We arranged to meet again in exactly a week.
The wait was, of course, utterly tedious, but the days crawled past and I returned to the hangman's house a week later, my heart beating in excited anticipation. Since I had no previous experience of such a situation I was entirely in his hands. We walked to the prison, where we were met at the gate by a guard who conducted us to a spacious inner chamber with high stone walls and narrow barred windows which admitted little light. Such light as there was came mainly from flaming brands hanging on the walls, their flickering light making the noose of the gallows which stood in the corner of the chamber cast a sinister shadow. Inside this demonic chamber stood the hangman's daughter. She was dressed like a man, in trowsers and a short jacket, and her dark hair was tied up. Despite the immobility of one side of her face and her twisted spine, she was not entirely unattractive, for her skin was soft and her voice mellifluous.