Condemned To The Noose





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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