The Highwayman

by Duncan Johnson

He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;

They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

His pistol butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

The Highwayman, Alfred Noyes

***

Richard Turpin, wearing his new frock coat, stood proud and erect in the cart that carried him to the gallows on the first Saturday morning in April. His mourners, paid for with three pounds and ten shillings from his own purse - well, it was his purse now - followed dutifully behind him on foot as Turpin was carried from the gaol at York Castle, up Micklegate towards his place of execution.

The Three-Legged Mare, a wooden triangle supported at each corner by a vertical beam, awaited him, a ladder resting against one of the triangles sides. Stamping to control a trembling in his left leg, Turpin mounted the ladder and paused to survey the crowd that had gathered to witness his last moments.

'Looking for someone?' the executioner asked him. Like Turpin, Thomas Hadfield was a highway robber and, like Turpin, he too had been sentenced to death by hanging. Unlike Turpin, however, Hadfield had been pardoned on the condition he act as the hangman.

'I was hoping that Rose might be here,' Turpin replied wistfully. 'I thought that maybe I would see her one last time before…'

'Rose?' Hadfield prompted when Turpin trailed off.

'Aren't you supposed to be my executioner,' Turpin said, eyeing the noose in Hadfield's hands, 'not my interrogator?'

'I'm curious,' Hadfield replied. 'Humour me.'

'And what about them?' Turpin nodded in the direction of the crowd.

'They won't begrudge a condemned man a few more minutes.'

Turpin shrugged. 'I'm certainly in no hurry.'

He shifted into a more comfortable position on the ladder.

'Rose was someone I shared the road with for a while…'

***

I met Rose four years ago in Epping Forest - ironic really, since that was to be the setting for our parting. I was working with Samuel Gregory back then, as part of the Essex Gang. Perhaps you've heard of us, or maybe news of our exploits didn't travel this far north. It was midwinter's night and the frost-covered grass crunched beneath of boots as we approached the house of the Keeper of the Forest. I can't recall the man's name now - one crime blurs into another in my memory - but I do recall that Gregory had a particular grudge against him. The Keeper had been responsible for imprisoning a number of deer-stealers, among them a number of Gregory's… I hesitate to say friends for he was not that type of man, but you get the idea, I am sure.

There were five of us whose breath was turning to ice in the frigid air. Gregory and myself, of course, my old friend Matthew King, John Wheeler, barely old enough to shave, and Mary Brazier, a woman as fiery as her namesake. Masks hid our faces and we had pistols in our hands when Gregory rapped on the door. It was opened by a servant and, catching sight of Gregory's scarred face backlit by the moon, the help opened his mouth to raise the alarm. Well, we couldn't have that, could we, so quick as a flash I was through the door and had clubbed the man around the head with the butt of my pistol. It was better than he deserved, especially in light of what was to occur later, but at the time I paid little heed to his unconscious body. There was loot to be had.

We crept into the house as quietly as we could, but we could have ridden our horses into the drawing room and the master of the house would not have noticed. We were not the only ones to view the Keeper's house as rich pickings, you see, and, as fate would have it, the master had already cornered two other criminals on his landing. They were an odd couple, he dressed all in black and without a wig, she wearing the garments of a man. Even Mary would not go that far. Yet the presence worked to our advantage for while the master trained his blunderbuss on them, his presented his to us, allowing us to sneak up behind him unnoticed.

'I advise you to drop you weapon,' Gregory said calmly, 'or I shall be forced to put a bullet through your heart.'

'You are welcome to try, sir.'

The Keeper of the Forest was a burly man, but he moved with a speed that surprised us all, whirling to point his blunderbuss at Gregory's face. But if the Keeper's action had taken us back, it was nothing compared to the reaction of the man in black.

'I don't believe it. Rose, do you know who that is? That's Dick Turpin.' A broad grin creased his features. 'Fantastic!'

'I thought he'd be taller,' the girl remarked.

'Do you know this man, Richard?' King asked me.

I shook my head. 'I've never met him before in my life.'

'But I know you. You're a legend, you are.' He strode forward and extended a hand in my direction. 'I'm the Doctor, by the way.'

As if in a dream, I offered my hand in return, not quite realising that it was the hand holding my pistol.

'Well, you won't be needing that,' the Doctor said, relieving me of my weapon.

'Who are you?' Gregory demanded.

'I was just asking the same question,' the Keeper added.

'I just told you, I'm the Doctor and this is my best friend, Rose.' Whether by accident or design, the Doctor had positioned himself between the two men, both of whom now trained the weapons on him. 'We just popped in to… admire the architecture.'

'Yeah, that's why we're here, too,' Gregory said. 'To admire the architecture.'

'I don't care why you're here,' the Keeper said, waving his blunderbuss for emphasis. 'I just want you out of my house.'

'And we'll be only to happy to oblige,' the Doctor replied, 'won't we Rose?'

Gregory cocked his flintlock. 'You're not going anywhere, Doctor.'

The Doctor slowly raised his hands. 'Now, there's no need to get violent. Why don't we just talk about this?'

There was a gunshot.

'Doctor!' Rose screamed as her companion tumbled headfirst down the stairs.

The rest of us turned in the direction of the noise.

'I was bored,' Mary said by way of apology, smoke still rising from her pistol.

'Enough of this,' Gregory snarled. He pointed his pistol at the Keeper. 'Drop the blunderbuss or end up like him. Your choice.'

The Keeper dropped his blunderbuss. It hit the carpet with a muffled thud.

'Turpin, tie him up,' Gregory instructed. 'Wheeler, King, let's get what we came for.'

While Wheeler, King and Mary ransacked the house, I bound the Keeper's wrists and ankles with curtain cord.

'What about the girl?' I asked, indicating Rose who was kneeling beside the Doctor's body.

Gregory cracked his knuckles. 'She's mine.'

He grabbed hold of Rose's wrist and dragged her to her feet.

'Let go of me,' she snapped, lashing out with her free hand and her feet. Gregory took the punishment for a full minute before taking hold of a fistful of her blonde hair and yanking her head back. I winced in sympathy.

'Behave,' Gregory told the girl.

'Gregory,' Wheeler yelled from the other room. 'We've got company.'

Abandoning the Keeper, I joined the lad at the window.

'It's the Keeper's man,' I said. 'He's gone for help.'

'I thought you hit him,' Wheeler said to me.

'Obviously not hard enough,' Gregory muttered before calling out to King and Mary. 'Fun's over. Time to go.'

The rest of our gang hurried to rejoin us, hefting sacks bulging with loot. Gregory peered into one of the bags.

'Reckon you'll be able to fence all of this?' he asked Mary.

'Wouldn't have bagged it if I didn't. This on the other hand…' She picked up a vase that was standing by the door and hurled it at the Keeper. It missed him, struck the wall and shattered into a dozen pieces. 'Don't like it.'

We stepped out into the winter's night. A cloud scudded across the face of the moon, concealing our progress as we hurried around the side of the house to the stables. Rose was still struggling as Gregory mounted a horse, but he refused to let go of her and dragged her up behind him. Wheeler offered to help Mary onto his mount, but she ignored him, nimbly mounting side-saddle on a dappled grey mare. King and I were untying horses of our own just as the thunder of hooves and cries of triumph told us that our pursuers were upon us.

'Ride!' Gregory commanded, spurring his mount to the stable door. The others galloped after him and, springing up onto the black mare I had chosen for myself, I brought up the rear. We plunged into the vastness of the forest as the lantern light of our pursuers picked us out, hoping that we could lose them within the mass of twisting trees. Turning in my saddle, I blindly fired a shot to discourage pursuit. Then I hunkered down and let my new horse carry me as far and as fast as she could.

Denuded by winter, tree-branches interlaced over my head life skeletal fingers. With pursuit sounding close at my heels, I fancied that they might even be the hand of the grim reaper himself closing around me. I should have been paying more attention to the road.

Up ahead, Gregory was still struggling with Rose. One has to admire her spirit, if not her wisdom. Her struggles finally bore fruit, though I suspect that this may be because Gregory tired of the game, and she tore herself from his grip and flung herself to the ground. The others in our little gang were able to part like waves around her, but I, at the back of the group and lost in my own thoughts, did not see her in the darkness until it was too late.

Rose fell beneath the hooves of my mare.

***

Constable Brockley was standing over the Doctor when he woke up.

'What hit me?'

'This.' Sitting in an armchair by the door, the Keeper of the Forest held up Mary's bullet between thumb and forefinger. 'Dr Wallace removed it this morning.'

'Remind me to thank him later.' The Doctor tried to sit up in bed, but a wave of pain crashed over him and he collapsed, clutching his side. When he could speak again, he asked, 'Where's Rose?'

'Your companion left with your other accomplices,' the Keeper explained.

'My what? It sounds to me like you've got your wires crossed, mate.' The Keeper and Brockley regarded him quizzically. 'Look, could you pass me my coat.'

The Keeper looked to the constable.

'Can't do any harm, I suppose,' Brockley said before passing the coat to the Doctor.

'This should explain everything,' the Doctor said, producing a piece of paper from the pocket.

Brockley studied the paper. 'Well, that puts the situation in an entirely different light, sir, what with you being an agent of the crown and all.'

'An agent of the crown?' the Keeper repeated.

'Yeah,' the Doctor confirmed, 'and you pointed a gun at me.'

'I wasn't to know…'

'No harm done.' The Doctor winced. 'Not much, anyway. The important thing is to find Rose.'

'Not to mention the gang of ruffians who broke into my house,' the Keeper added.

The Doctor waved his comments aside. 'Yes, yes, yes. Now what do we know?' The others looked blankly at him. 'Think, why don't you. If you were on the run from the law, where would you go to ground?'

'The very idea,' the Keeper protested. 'As if I…'

'I'm speaking hypothetically,' the Doctor said, wearily.

'I'd head into London,' Brockley suggested. 'All those lanes and alleys and courts and what-have-you, why the city's practically designed for hiding in.'

'Which isn't exactly helpful,' the Doctor pointed out.

'Wait, wait, wait,' the Keeper said, fat fingers fluttering like leaves in the wind, 'I recall the man who threatened me saying that they would have to fence what they had taken.'

The Doctor's eyes lit up. 'There can't be that many places in London they can do that, surely.'

Constable Brockley was less enthusiastic. 'You'd be surprised.'

'But it's a start.

Brockley nodded reluctantly. 'I'll get on it right away, sir.'

'And let it be known that I'm offering a reward,' the Keeper added. '£50 for any information that brings these ruffians to justice.'

'I'll come with you.' The Doctor tried to sit up again. 'On second thoughts, perhaps I'll catch you up.'

***

With the exception of Matthew King, we had assembled as the Punch Bowl on King's Street in Bloomsbury to celebrate our latest exploit and to spend our gains. We had heard of the Keeper's reward, of course - was there a man in London who hadn't? - but in our arrogance we did not think much of it. We had worn masks during the robbery and with over six hundred thousand people in the city, what were the chances of them locating the five of us? What we had not counted on, however, was that it would not be our own faces that gave us away, but those of our horses. An associate of the Keeper of the Forest who was in London on business, recognised the horses we had left outside the alehouse and reported the matter to the local constabulary. Within the Punch Bowl, however, my companions and I remained oblivious to these events and believed ourselves to be safe and free.

Gregory drained his mug and belched.

'Whose round is it now, I wonder?' he asked.

All eyes turned to me and I raised my hands in mock surrender.

'All right, I can take a hint.' I rose from my chair and set off in search of alcohol, counting out coins into the palm of my hand as I did so. As you can see, it was purely by chance that I was not at the table when the Doctor and Constable Brockley arrived at the alehouse. I spied them from across the room. They were clearly visible due to the daylight streaming in through the open door, but, fortunately for me, the lighting within the alehouse meant that I was invisible to them for a moment.

There are some who will criticise my next actions, but, even now at the moment of my last confession, I feel no guilt. Could I have warned by companions of the constable's arrival? Yes, I could, but not without giving myself away and I remain convinced that, in such a circumstance, we would all have been arrested. So I kept my piece and looked for a suitable moment to take my leave.

The Doctor spotted my companions and, with Constable Brockley in tow, crossed to their table.

'Hello, he said, 'don't I know you from somewhere?'

'I think you're mistaken,' Gregory said.

The Doctor raised his hand to obscure the portion of Gregory's face that would have been covered by his mask.

'No,' the Doctor said, 'I never forget a face.' He turned to Mary. 'And you left me something to remember you by. I don't know what's worse, your casual violence or your complete lack of taste in Chinese pottery.'

At this stage, my comrades in arms could still have brazened it out. They had no proof that we were the felons involved in the robbery, after all. Unfortunately, it was at this point that young John Wheeler, just fifteen years of age, lost his nerve.

'I'll tell you what you want to know,' he suddenly blurted out. 'I'll confess to everything. Just don't send me to Tyburn.'

'You little idiot!' Gregory cuffed Wheeler around the head.

Mary had a more direct solution to the problem. She drew her pistol and pulled the trigger.

'Ow, that hurt,' said the Doctor. His finger was between the hammer and the lock of the pistol, preventing it from firing. 'You got to shoot me once and that's once more than most people get. Live with it.'

Seeing that all was lost, I snuck out the back of the alehouse through what passed for a kitchen and retrieved by black mare. I was rather taken with her and had named her after my estranged wife, Elisabeth. Then, as casually as I dared so as not to draw attention, I rode back to my lodgings in Whitechapel.

***

I found King in the bedroom, tending to our guest.

'Gregory and the others have been taken,' I explained, already throwing my things into a bag. 'Wheeler's squealed. It's only a matter of time before the find this place.'

King looked to the bed. 'I'm not sure it's safe to move her.'

'Then she'll have to stay here,' I snapped impatiently. 'You always were too soft-hearted for your own good, Matthew. Well you're not dragging me down with you.'

'It wasn't my horse that trampled all over her,' King retorted.

'That was an accident.'

'You wanted to leave her there.'

'She's a liability.'

'She would have died.'

'And how is that our problem?' I was shouting now and, realising it, I took a deep breath to calm my frayed nerves. 'Go downstairs and gather your things, Matthew. Then meet me outside.'

He opened his mouth to argue, but one look into my dark eyes was enough to change his mind and he scurried obediently away. I glanced down at Rose. She looked so peaceful, asleep on the bed, but she had not regained consciousness since that night in Epping Forest. For the briefest of moments, I felt a stab of guilt in my heart, but I forced it down. It was not my fault that she had been at the house, was not my fault that Gregory had taken a shine to her, was not my fault that she had thrown herself in front of my horse. Whatever King might say, it was not down to me to take responsibility for her. I had more important concerns, like saving my skin.

'Open up in the name of the law.'

Someone was hammering on my door. They did more than just hammer on it because a moment later I heard the sound of splintering and booted feet ascending the stairs two at a time. I raised my pistol, checked that it was loaded and stood ready to face my intruder. The door to the bedroom was flung open and I had just enough time to register that my intruder was Constable Brockley before I pulled the trigger.

There was a flash, but no shot and I threw the useless gun to the floor in disgust. It skidded across the wooden floorboards before coming to rest next to the bed. I reached for my spare pistol, but came up empty. I must have packed it with the rest of my things. I was inwardly cursing myself as Brockley realised I was unarmed. I smile of triumph crossed his face.

'Richard Turpin,' he began, 'I am arresting you…'

'Leave him alone!'

The voice took both Brockley and myself by surprise. Rose was sitting up in bed, my pistol clutched in her trembling hands.

'Put the gun down, miss,' Brockley suggested, calmly. 'We both know it doesn't work.'

'Are you willing to take that chance?' Rose asked. Her hands had stopped shaking and the gun was pointed directly at Brockley's chest.

'Miss,' Brockley began again, 'this is Richard Turpin. He's a notorious criminal wanted on charges of robbery and murder. You are obstructing an officer of the law in the course of his duties.'

'I know who he is,' Rose spat. 'He's Dick Turpin, the highwayman. He robs, but only so he can give what he steals to the poor. You should be giving him a medal, not arresting him.'

I nearly laughed out loud. I did not give any off my loot to the poor, unless you counted the barman and that was only in return for copious amounts of ale. Nevertheless, Rose seemed utterly sincere about what she was saying.

'Miss, I'm asking you to put the gun down.'

'Get out,' Rose snapped. 'Get out or I'll shoot. I mean it.'

Brockley got the message. 'All right, I'm leaving. But I'll be back.'

Once he was gone, I started laughing with relief. 'Rose, you were incredible.'

'Rose,' she repeated. 'Is that my name?'

'Don't you know who you are?' I asked.

She frowned. 'I can't remember,' she replied.

***

'Stand and deliver!'

A flintlock in each hand, Rose stepped out in front of the coach, causing the driver to sharply rein in his horses. We used Rose as a shock tactic. A woman in man's dress (she was wearing one of my burgundy frock coats that morning) was a sight to cause most men to pause long enough for King and I to set about them. While she kept the driver covered, King and I sprang from the undergrowth on either side of the road and yanked open the carriage doors. Within, we found a lady, her maid and a girl of no more than five or six years of age, presumably the woman's daughter.

'What is the meaning of this outrage,' she protested.

I cocked my pistol with a reassuringly loud click and placed the barrel against the child's temple.

'Your jewels please,' I said. 'No parent should have to outlive their child.'

She was only too happy to oblige.

***

Several weeks had passed since the arrest of the Essex Gang in Bloomsbury and the Doctor was still lodging with the Keeper of Epping Forest.

'I really don't know what to make of these reports,' the Keeper was saying. He drained his glass and then held it out to his manservant. 'More brandy if you please, Morris.'

The Doctor was standing by the window, looking out across the grounds. Spring was just around the corner, but one would not have guessed it from the cruel appearance of the forest.

'Go on,' he prompted.

The Keeper took a hurried sip from his refilled glass. 'Well, it would seem, from these reports, that that fellow Turpin and his accomplice have left London and are accosting gentlefolk on the road from here to York. Terrible business.'

'Indeed, sir.' Constable Brockley, who had delivered the reports, stood with his hands clasped behind his back.

'I hear that another £100 is being offered on top of my original reward offer,' the Keeper said.

'We are hopeful that someone may yet turn these highwaymen in to us,' Brockley replied. 'In my experience, the men they regularly associated are motivated primarily by greed.'

'And have you had much of a response, constable?'

'Not yet, no, sir,' Brockley admitted, 'but it's early days yet.'

The Doctor's knuckles whitened where he gripped the windowsill.

'There's something else in those reports,' he said, 'something neither of you want to tell me.'

'No, I don't believe so.' The Keeper made a show of looking through the papers in his lap.

'I can read them from here,' the Doctor said. 'There's a third man.'

'That's what we thought at first, sir,' Brockley agreed, 'but several witnesses have testified that the third man is, in fact, a woman.'

'I hesitate to say this, Doctor,' the Keeper began, 'but her description does seem consistent with that of your missing ward.'

'It's not Rose,' the Doctor said.

'With respect, sir, I think we have to consider the possibility…'

His face contorted in anger, the Doctor rounded on the constable.

'It's not Rose,' he snarled. 'Now why don't you get back out there and find her!'

***

'How many shillings in a pound again?' Rose asked. She was counting out our gains from our latest robbery, two of the local gentry out for a ride. The had not had much in the way of cold hard cash on them so we had made off with their horses and sold them in the next village.

'Twenty,' I replied. 'Four farthings to a penny, twelve pennies to the shilling, twenty shillings to the pound.'

'Got you.' She continued counting.

'You really have lost your memory, haven't you,' I observed.

Rose nodded. She was a lot calmer now than when she had woken up in my old lodgings in Whitechapel. Then she had been understandably panicked, but she had since become more resigned to her condition.

'I wouldn't know my own name if it wasn't for you,' she said.

'And yet you knew mine.'

'Funny that,' she admitted. 'But that's different. You're famous.'

'Tell me about it.' King had his feet up on the table. 'There are posters with your name on them everywhere these days.'

'Don't remind me,' I muttered.

'I want to thank you, both of you, for taking me in,' Rose said. 'I don't know what I'd have done without you.'

'It's hardly the life I would have chosen,' King said.

'But we're doing good work,' Rose insisted. She gestured to the coins stack in neat towers on the table. 'All this is really going to make a difference to somebody.'

'Yeah, me,' King retorted.

Rose frowned. By now I knew better than to try to disabuse her of her odd ideas regarding our exploits. If nothing else, it meant I could use her share to line my own pockets.

King swung his boots down to the floor, disturbing the sawdust, and stood up. 'Dick, could I have a word.'

I nodded. 'I could do with some fresh air.'

I stepped outside, King behind me. Black Bess whinnied happily when she spotted me.

'I know what you're going to say, Matthew,' I said. 'You've said it before and my answer is still the same.'

'Well I'm going to keep on saying it until you change your mind, Dick,' King replied. 'I don't trust her.'

'As I recall, you were the one who brought her into our lives in the first place,' I pointed out.

'That was because she was hurt,' King said. 'She can fend for herself now. We don't know who she is or where she came from…'

'Neither does she,' I interjected with amusement.

'So she says.' King was waving his hands agitatedly. 'I think it might be best if we left her here to night and went on without her.'

'Matthew, Matthew,' I said soothingly. 'You've seen our takings. You've benefited from our spoils. Did we have as much success since before Rose joined us? Well, did we?'

'It's just a coincidence,' King replied.

'Rose is my lucky charm,' I told him. 'You can go if you want, but I am staying with her.'

'You know I won't leave you, Dick,' King said. 'You're like a brother to me.'

'Then I guess you're stuck with us,' I replied. 'Both of us.'

***

If Rose was my lucky charm, then horses must have been my unlucky ones. They have repeatedly brought me low. It was because of horses that the Essex Gang was broken up, because of horses that I ended up here, on these gallows, talking to you and it was because of a horse that I lost my best friend.

I told you that we had stolen a pair of horses in our last robbery. One of them stands out particularly in my memory, chestnut coloured with white fetlocks. His name was Whitestockings, for obvious reasons. The fickle finger of fate was working against us and, by horrible chance, the former owner of Whitestockings ran into his new owner, the man we had sold him to, while out riding on Barnes Common. I imagine there was a short, sharp altercation, at the end of which the new owner, the son of a farmer, confessed all as to how he had come into possession of the horse.

I wonder if the man was all for confronting us himself. He had seemed brave and bluff enough when we accosted him on the road, but perhaps that was merely an act for the benefit of his companion. In any event, he made up his mind not to seek us out directly, but instead to take his discovery to the constabulary. The promised reward money, I am sure, did not influence his decision in the least…

Rose, King and I were riding slowly northwards. We had, I believed, outstayed out welcome in our last village and we had decided to relocate our operations elsewhere. Should we run into a party along the road who needed to be relieved of the heavy burden, so much the better and it was for precisely this reason that Rose was riding ahead of us, keeping her eyes open for potential targets.

Perhaps it was the ale I had consumed the night before, but my head was lolling forward onto my chest as I rode. The warmth of the sun on my back teased of spring and my eyelids felt like lead weights I was struggling to lift. For but a moment, I swear, I dozed in my saddle.

'Dick! For God's sake, wake up!'

King's eyes snapped my back to wakefulness and I was bolt upright in moments. My weary eyes, however, took several moments more to take in the scene. Constable Brockley, cape fluttering behind him, was galloping towards us. Tracking us through our theft of Whitestockings, the constable had arrived in the village only to learn that he had missed us by less than an hour. Several witnesses, however, could testify to the direction in which we had set out and Brockley had spurred his horse into a frenzy in order to gain ground on us.

'Run, Matthew.'

I tugged on Black Bess's reins. Brockley's horse was clearly exhausted whereas we had been riding ours gently and I had no doubt that we could outpace him. King, however, had decided to stand his ground and fight. He reached for his pistol, but it became caught on the lining of his waistcoat and, no matter how hard he tugged, he could not pull it free. Pulling alongside him, Brockley vaulted from his horse and wrapped his arms around his quarry, knocking them both to the ground. I could only watch in mounting horror as the struggled in the dirt.

Dust clogged King's skin and hair and he looked like nothing so much as a ghostly apparition when he turned to me imploringly. 'Shoot him.'

My pistol was in my hand, but the two combatants were so close as the wrestled with each other that I could not get a clear shot. Brockley's fist connected with King's nose and blood sprayed up into the air in an arc.

'Shoot him, damn you,' King demanded again.

I am not a god-fearing man, mark you, but I muttered a quick prayer to any deity that might be listening as I pulled the trigger. I take what happened next as proof positive that I am truly damned.

King doubled over, clutching his chest. When he pulled his hands away, they were covered with blood, dark and sticky.

'Dick, you have killed me,' he groaned, before collapsing into Brockley's arms.

My left leg was shaking, banging violently against Bess's flank. She whinnied in protest, but the sound seemed to come from far away. King and Brockley were frozen like some grotesque statue, the constable holding my friend up so that I could get a good look at what I had wrought. There was so much blood for such a small wound.

'Dick? Dick, what happened?' Rose had started riding back as soon as she had heard the shot. For me, hours seemed to have passed, but for her it could only have been seconds. Her hands flee to her mouth. 'Oh my god!'

Her exclamation was enough to set time turning again. My friend had gone. Only a shell remained. Wiping a hand across my eyes - into which some grit must have fallen for they were watering something fierce - I wheeled Black Bess around and galloped away without pausing to check whether Rose was following or not.

***

Rose wanted us to ride all the way to York and, heart pounding within my chest, I was only too happy to agree. With every step further from the crime, it seemed less real, somehow. Perhaps, when we reached York, I would be able to dismiss it as nothing more than a dream. Unfortunately, my luck where horses are concerned pursued as still and Bess, my pride and joy, threw a shoe, curtailing our flight as we traversed Epping Forest.

When I rode with the Essex Gang, of which I was now the last, Epping had been a regular haunt. Gregory had cut his teeth steeling deer here, before he had graduated to the houses of the rich and powerful and even then the forests twists and turns and dark corners served us well in evading pursuit. Rose, with her romantic ideas, referred to it as my Sherwood, but there was nothing romantic about the cave I led her to. It was dark and it was damp and, though I had stashed a bed within, it was arguably more comfortable to sleep on the floor. Yet this was my own private hiding place, one I had kept secret even from King. Nobody could find us here.

On my hands and knees, I reached under the bed. A family of mice had taken up residence in my absence and, when I disturbed their nest, they scrabbled across the floor and fled out of the cave mouth, causing Rose to start. She started to laugh when she realised what had spooked her and I laughed to when I emerged holding a bottle of wine. I had no cups or glasses so we took turns taking swigs from the neck of the bottle. We were fortunate that it was a warm night; when the wind whistles through that cave it strips the flesh from the bone. As it was, it was almost pleasant, sitting on the edge of a bed and sharing a stolen claret with an attractive woman.

It was a pity she had to go and spoil it.

'I'm sorry about Matthew,' she said. 'I know you two were close.'

'Had to happen sooner or later,' I replied, taking a long draft of the wine. 'Enough of this and I'll have forgotten all about him.'

'You don't mean that.' Rose took the bottle from me.

'I wish I did.'

My pistol lay across my lap and I took a moment to study it. The old thing had jammed so many times, why could it not have jammed back on the road?

'We all knew that the hangman's noose was the best we had to look forward to,' I said, morbidly. 'That's why we lived day-to-day because there's no future in this life. Sooner or later, we're bound to be taken, dead or alive. And alive only prolongs the inevitable.' I took the bottle back from Rose and fortified myself with another swig. The alcohol burned the back of my throat. 'The only advantage we had, Rose, was each other. We were a family, of sorts. We looked out for one another. I was supposed to be his friend.'

'You were his friend,' Rose replied. She had not seen what happened, did not understand the guilt that was devouring my innards.

'If the constable had shot him he'd have understood,' I said, hanging my head in shame. 'If the constable had shot him then he would have understood.'

***

Thomas Morris, manservant to the Keeper of the Forest, burst breathlessly into his master's drawing room.

'What is the meaning of this, man?' the Keeper bellowed, scolding Morris for his uncharacteristic intrusion.

'My apologies, sir. Sir.'

This last was directed to the Doctor. It was said that he had not slept since his ward had been kidnapped and, impossible as that might be, his gaunt, stretch features seemed to bear that out. When not on the road making his own enquiries, he would be roasting the constabulary for their own lack of progress or haunting the halls of the Keeper's manor, waiting for news that never came.

Until today.

'Well, Morris,' the Keeper said, 'explain yourself.'

Morris smoothed down his coat with the palms of his hands.

'I beg your pardon, sir,' he said, 'but I have seen him.'

'Seen him? Don't speak in riddles, man? Seen whom?'

'The ruffian who struck me down, sir, and robbed you,' Morris explained. 'Richard Turpin.'

The Doctor leaned forward in his chair, his eyes alight.

'Was Rose with him?'

'I… I believe so, sir,' Morris said. 'It was dark, so I could not be certain, but there was definitely someone else with him.'

The Doctor bounded to his feet. 'Where are they? Show me.'

'Shouldn't we send for the constabulary?' the Keeper suggested.

'After the mess they've made of things so far?' the Doctor asked. 'I don't think so.'

'Then at least arm yourselves.' The Keeper produced a brace of pistols of which Morris took one. The Doctor declined.

'I don't like guns,' he explained, fingering his side. 'They only cause harm in the end.'

***

Half a bottle of wine was not sufficient to dull my senses unduly, mores the pity. Our horses, tethered to a tree stump outside the cave, spotted the approach of Morris and the Doctor and their consternation alerted me. Indicating to Rose that she should remain silent, I crept to the cave mouth and peered out into the dark.

The moon peeked out from behind a cloud and her silver light glinted off the barrel of my pistol, immediately attracting the attention of my pursuers.

'Richard Turpin,' Morris began, levelling his weapon on me, 'I am arresting you on…'

He did not get to complete his sentence on account of the ball of lead lodged in his gut.

I stood up and regarded the unarmed Doctor.

'Are you going to shoot me too?' he asked.

'Give me one good reason not to,' I replied.

'Wait!' Rose insisted, stepping out of the cave.

'Will that do?' the Doctor asked me.

Rose studied the Doctor inquisitively. 'I know you, don't I? Who are you?'

'It's me, Rose. The Doctor. Don't you remember?'

He took a step towards her, but Rose jerked her pistol in his direction. 'Don't come any closer.'

'What have you done to her?' the Doctor barked at me.

'He helped me,' Rose snapped. 'I didn't know who I was, but he took me in.'

'He used you, you mean,' the Doctor retorted.

'I trust him,' Rose said. 'I don't trust you.'

The Doctor looked as if someone had slapped him.

'Let's take this discussion inside,' I suggested, gesturing to the cave with my gun. 'We're too exposed out here.'

Once we were back in the cave, I grabbed the Doctor by the shoulder and forced him to the floor.

'Tie him up,' I ordered Rose. She proceeded to bind his hands to one of the legs of the bed.

'Rose, you don't want to do this,' he said. 'We're friends. Why can't you remember?'

'She hit her head,' I explained. 'It's all gone now. She can't even remember how many shillings there are to the pound.'

'That's hardly surprising,' the Doctor replied. 'There aren't any shillings were she comes from. It's a hundred pence to the pound, Rose. Remember.'

'That's ridiculous,' I said, but Rose was looking thoughtful.

'Not that there's much you can buy with a pound in 2005,' the Doctor continued. 'That won't even cover the cost of the tube fare. You remember the tube, don't you, Rose? Hot, smelly, delayed.'

'I remember.' Rose shook her head. 'They were refurbishing the escalator. Due for completion autumn 2004, but it was still closed so Mickey and me, we had to take the stairs and they went on and on and on…'

'Good girl, Rose,' the Doctor said. 'Keep going.'

'I remember… you abandoned me,' Rose said.

'I didn't.'

'You left me behind, but Dick took me in and now you want to arrest him for it.'

'He's not the man you think he is,' the Doctor replied.

'He's brave and he's kind and he's generous,' Rose said, 'and he fights against the system to help those who can't help themselves.'

'That's the legend you're talking about,' the Doctor said. 'This is real life. It's never going to measure up to legend.'

'You're wrong.'

'Am I? The Dick Turpin you're talking about you've got from TV and Carry On films and the name of your local pub. Don't tell me about that man. Tell me about him.' The Doctor's cold eyes bored into me and I took an involuntary step backwards. 'What's he done that's so special?'

'He robs from the rich to give to the poor.'

'Does he really? Have you seen him give money away? He steals from the rich to line his own pockets, Rose. You're just blinding yourself to the truth.'

'No.'

'That man you think is your friend is a thief with no redeeming qualities,' the Doctor said. 'Worse, he's a murderer. Think about Morris. His body's probably still warm if you want to go and take a look.'

'That was self-defence,' Rose snapped.

'And when he kills me, that will be self defence too,' the Doctor countered. 'You are going to shoot me, aren't you?'

'You came to arrest me,' I pointed out.

'I came for Rose,' the Doctor replied.

'He wants to see us both hang,' I told Rose. 'That's what they'll do to us if they catch us.'

'I'm not the villain here,' the Doctor said. 'Don't listen to him, Rose.'

'He's trying to use you to get to me,' I said. 'He's trying to turn us against one another.'

'You don't owe him anything, Rose,' the Doctor said.

'He helped me,' Rose replied.

'Out of self-interest.'

'We're a family, Rose,' I continued. 'We look out for one another, remember.'

'That man is not your family. Your family is back in London. Twenty-first century London. You mum - you remember your mum? - will be sitting down to watch Corrie while looking at the pictures in the latest issue of Heat. What sounds most familiar, Rose? Which of us do you believe?'

'Yes, Rose,' I sneered, 'which of us do you believe, the man who's taken care of you this past month or the man spinning fairy stories?'

'Just shut up, both of you,' Rose yelled. 'I need to think.'

'Rose…'

'I said 'shut up'!'

There was silence in the cave. I could hear Bess swishing her tail outside. An owl hooted.

'Dick, take Bess and go,' Rose said at last. 'I'll make sure you're not followed.'

'Rose…' Rose silenced the Doctor by pulling back the hammer of her pistol.

'Rose, I don't know what to say,' I said.

'You've already said it. We all know how it's going to end. I'm just postponing it for you. Now go before I change my mind.'

I kissed her on the forehead, savouring the smell of her hair, before disappearing with a flourish of my coat.

'I owe him, all right,' I could hear Rose saying to the Doctor. 'I don't know if I trust him anymore, but I owe him this.'

I untied Black Bess and swung myself up into the saddle.

'Took you long enough to sort yourself out,' the Doctor's voice echoed out of the cave. 'Now how about you untie me.'

'I don't know…'

'What?'

'I'm confused,' Rose said. 'I don't know you.'

'Yes, you do,' the Doctor said. 'You're remembering more all the time. I can see it in your eyes.'

'But I could remember Dick and you told me that was all a lie. Why should you be any different?'

I coaxed Bess into a trot.

'Rose, I only want to help you.'

'I don't need any help. I just need time to think.'

'And you'll have time. All the time in the world. Just as soon as we get back to the TARDIS.'

'The TARDIS?'

'Yes, you remember the TARDIS, don't you?'

'Your hands… how did you get them free.'

'You're not very good with knots. Now let's…'

'Keep away!'

'Rose, please…'

All the birds flew heavenwards as the forest reverberated with the sound of a gunshot.

***

'That was the last I saw of Rose,' Turpin said to Hadfield. 'I suppose you're thinking that I should have gone back to find out what had happened, but she wouldn't have wanted that. And the truth was that my affection for Rose would always be dwarfed by my love fro freedom.'

'And now here you are,' Hadfield said.

'Here I am,' Turpin agreed. 'I thought… I dreamed that I might have the opportunity for one last goodbye.'

'The crowd's getting restless.'

Turpin straightened. 'Then far be it from us to disappoint them.'

He removed his tricorn and threw it into the crowd, before leaning forward to allow Hadfield to place the noose around his neck.

'How can you be so calm about this?' Hadfield wanted to know.

Turpin smiled. 'I've played this through in my head a dozen times or more and it no can no longer hold any terror for me. We all knew how it would end.'

And with that it jumped off of the ladder.

***

Rose looked away as the rope snapped taught. A tear fell from her eye onto the hat she had caught.

'We shouldn't have come,' the Doctor muttered beside her.

'I had to,' Rose replied.

The Doctor scowled. 'How many times: you don't owe him anything.'

Rose laughed. 'This isn't about him. It's about me.' She looked up at the Doctor. 'I shot you.'

'You missed,' the Doctor pointed out. 'I'll tell you this for nothing: I'm never taking you to the Wild West. You'd be a liability.'

'I still shot you.'

'You weren't yourself,' the Doctor said quietly.

'Maybe,' Rose conceded, 'but that's why I had to come back here, to see it all as myself.'

'And?'

'According to you, he's a villain and a cheat and a murderer and I guess he was,' Rose replied, 'but he's still the man who saved me. You can't change that.'

The Doctor shook his head and offered her his arm. 'Come on.'

Putting Turpin's hat on her head, Rose wound her arm through the Doctor's and together they wandered down the hill towards the TARDIS.

The Doctor was grinning.

'What?' Rose prompted. 'What's so funny?'

'You and your boyfriends,' the Doctor replied.

***

Author's Note:

Next year, a friend of mine will be walking the Great Wall of China in aid of the British Heart Foundation. If you've enjoyed the above story, it would mean a lot to me if you would consider showing your appreciation by sponsoring Heather and supporting what is a very worthy cause. You can find links to Heather's blog, to the website of the British Heart Foundation and to where you can sponsor Heather on my profile page. Any support you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your help.

Duncan

13/12/2009