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Condemned To The Noose


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Ralph Sutherland, who, early in the last century, occupied a stone house
a mile from Leeds, in the Catskills, was a man of morose and violent
disposition, whose servant, a Scotch girl, was virtually a slave,
inasmuch as she was bound to work for him without pay until she had
refunded to him her passage-money to this country. Becoming weary of
bondage and of the tempers of her master, the girl ran away. The man set
off in a raging chase, and she had not gone far before Sutherland
overtook her, tied her by the wrists to his horse's tail, and began the
homeward journey. Afterward, he swore that the girl stumbled against the
horse's legs, so frightening the animal that it rushed off madly,
pitching him out of the saddle and dashing the servant to death on rocks
and trees; yet, knowing how ugly-tempered he could be, his neighbors were
better inclined to believe that he had driven the horse into a gallop,
intending to drag the girl for a short distance, as a punishment, and to
rein up before he had done serious mischief. On this supposition he was
arrested, tried, and sentenced to die on the scaffold.

The tricks of circumstantial evidence, together with pleas advanced by
influential relatives of the prisoner, induced the court to delay
sentence until the culprit should be ninety-nine years old, but it was
ordered that, while released on his own recognizance, in the interim, he
should keep a hangman's noose about his neck and show himself before the
judges in Catskill once every year, to prove that he wore his badge of
infamy and kept his crime in mind. This sentence he obeyed, and there
were people living recently who claimed to remember him as he went about
with a silken cord knotted at his throat. He was always alone, he seldom
spoke, his rough, imperious manner had departed. Only when children asked
him what the rope was for were his lips seen to quiver, and then he would
hurry away. After dark his house was avoided, for gossips said that a
shrieking woman passed it nightly, tied at the tail of a giant horse with
fiery eyes and smoking nostrils; that a skeleton in a winding sheet had
been found there; that a curious thing, somewhat like a woman, had been
known to sit on his garden wall, with lights shining from her
finger-tips, uttering unearthly laughter; and that domestic animals
reproached the man by groaning and howling beneath his windows.

These beliefs he knew, yet he neither grieved, nor scorned, nor answered
when he was told of them. Years sped on. Every year deepened his reserve
and loneliness, and some began to whisper that he would take his own way
out of the world, though others answered that men who were born to be
hanged would never be drowned; but a new republic was created; new laws
were made; new judges sat to minister them; so, on Ralph Sutherland's
ninety-ninth birthday anniversary, there were none who would accuse him
or execute sentence. He lived yet another year, dying in 1801. But was it
from habit, or was it in self-punishment and remorse, that he never took
off the cord? for, when he drew his last breath, though it was in his own
house, his throat was still encircled by the hangman's rope.

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