Jack Liberty watched the door to Newgate prison swing open and felt the expectation in the sudden silence of the waiting crowd. Three men with their hands locked to their belts marched on to the scaffold. Jack Liberty turned to his son, Ezekiel. “Which one?”
“Difficult to tell.” Ezekiel did not take his eyes off the three prisoners. At seventeen, Ezekiel was the least formidable of Jack’s six men, but he was the apprentice of the surgeon and anatomist Guillaume Sempre and the choice was his.
The parson spoke to the first prisoner, who stood with his head bowed in prayer. The prisoner stepped back and the masked hangman put a white hood over his head. The next prisoner shouldered the parson aside.
“There’s no regret in a happy life and a short one!”
The crowd’s approval roared down Old Bailey Street. This was the bravado they had come to see.
The prisoner stepped back, on to the trap door. “I’ll say what I have to say to God, not you. Now let’s get on with it! I haven’t got all day!”
That drew an even bigger cheer. Jack saw from the man’s pallor that he was in fact praying, not for forgiveness but for his courage to last the next few minutes. Jack forced himself to swallow his pity. Guillaume Sempre had his own reasons to value courage.
“That one,” said Ezekiel.