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Pretty Meggy Heywood

A Tale of Circumstantial Evidence


On a somber and sunless morning, in the month of February, 17--, the population of the town of Lewes seemed to be moved by an unusual agitation pervading them. They might be seen hurrying along in groups of twos, threes, and more, all apparently making head for one particular spot, as by mutual and common consent they had engaged to meet there, or had been summoned there by some imperative or very extraordinary circumstance.

In effect, it was to witness an execution, which took place in front of the gatehouse of the old castle. The country jail had not been built, nor for many years after that dismal occurrence.

Hoar frost lay on the ground, snow hung darkly in the air, like a tenebrous veil drawn over the face of the sky. Anything more dreary, chilly, and shudderingly in keeping the proceedings of the morning, cannot be imagined. The assemblage, which began with aggregate crowds, grew into a multitude—a dense, pushing throng, packed and massed at last into one vast human tumuli, as if it formed but one expectant, anxious creature; and one could scarcely tell what kind of emotion moved its breast—whether the morbid appetite to behold so revolting a spectacle; whether pity or anger, or a stern determination to see retributive justice dealt out, actuated that enormous heart. It was certainly not indifference, as the very density of the crowd forcibly testified.

The gibbet was erected in front of the gatehouse. The sheriff’s javelin men lined the short distance that led from the gatehouse to the platform of the grim and ghastly doomsman. The hour is at hand. A murmur ran through the assembly—a thrill of uncontrollable horror—a shock, keen, electric, and universal, was felt to actuate the mass. The door opened—the prisoner, walking beside the chaplain, and followed by the hangman… Read More