The Broad Highway (Book One - Chapter 4 I Meet with a Great Misfortune, page 1 of 2)


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That day I passed through several villages, stopping only to eat
and drink; thus evening was falling as, having left fair
Sevenoaks behind, I came to the brow of a certain hill, a long
and very steep descent which (I think) is called the River Hill.
And here, rising stark against the evening sky, was a gibbet, and
standing beneath it a man, a short, square man in a somewhat
shabby coat of a bottle-green, and with a wide-brimmed beaver hat
sloped down over his eyes, who stood with his feet well apart,
sucking the knob of a stick he carried, while he stared up at
that which dangled by a stout chain from the cross-beam of the
gibbet,--something black and shrivelled and horrible that had
once been human.

As I came up, the man drew the stick from his mouth and touched
the brim of his hat with it in salutation.

"An object lesson, sir," said he, and nodded towards the
loathsome mass above.

"A very hideous one!" said I, pausing, "and I think a very
useless one."

"He was as fine a fellow as ever thrust toe into stirrup," the
man went on, pointing upwards with his stick, "though you'd never
think so to look at him now!"

"It's a horrible sight!" said I.

"It is," nodded the man, "it's a sight to turn a man's stomach,
that it is!"

"You knew him perhaps?" said I.

"Knew him," repeated the man, staring at me over his shoulder,
"knew him--ah--that is, I knew of him."

"A highwayman?"

"Nick Scrope his name was," answered the man with a nod, "hung at
Maidstone assizes last year, and a very good end he made of it
too; and here he be--hung up in chains all nat'ral and reg'lar,
as a warning to all and sundry."

"The more shame to England," said I; "to my thinking it is a
scandal that our highways should be rendered odious by such
horrors, and as wicked as it is useless."

"'Od rot me!" cried the fellow, slapping a cloud of dust from his
coat with his stick, "hark to that now."

"What?" said I, "do you think for one moment that such a sight,
horrible though it is, could possibly deter a man from robbery
or murder whose mind is already made up to it by reason of
circumstances or starvation?"

"Well, but it's an old custom, as old as this here road."

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