HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Terry Pratchett
All right reserved.ISBN: 0060502932
- In which our hero experiences Hope, the greatest gift
- The bacon sandwich of regret
- Somber reflections on capital punishment from the hangman
- Famous last words
- Our hero dies
- Angels, conversations about
- Inadvisability of misplaced offers regarding broomsticks
- An unexpected ride
- A world free of honest men
- A man on the hop
- There is always a choice
They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morningconcentrates a mans mind wonderfully; unfortunately, whatthe mind inevitably concentrates on is that, in the morning, it willbe in a body that is going to be hanged.The man going to be hanged had beennamed Moist von Lipwig by dotingif unwise parents, but he wasnot going to embarrass thename, insofar as that was stillpossible, by being hung under it.To the world in general, and particularlyon that bit of it known asthe death warrant, he was AlfredSpangler.
And he took a more positive approach to the situation and hadconcentrated his mind on the prospect of not being hanged in themorning, and, most particularly, on the prospect of removing allthe crumbling mortar from around a stone in his cell wall with aspoon. So far the work had taken him five weeks and reduced thespoon to something like a nail file. Fortunately, no one ever cameto change the bedding here, or else they would have discovered theworlds heaviest mattress.
It was a large and heavy stone that was currently the object ofhis attentions, and, at some point, a huge staple had been hammeredinto it as an anchor for manacles.Moist sat down facing the wall, gripped the iron ring in bothhands, braced his legs against the stones on either side, andheaved.
His shoulders caught fire, and a red mist filled his vision, butthe block slid out with a faint and inappropriate tinkling noise.Moist managed to ease it away from the hole and peered inside.At the far end was another block, and the mortar around itlooked suspiciously strong and fresh.
Just in front of it was a new spoon. It was shiny.As he studied it, he heard the clapping behind him. He turnedhis head, tendons twanging a little riff of agony, and saw several ofthe wardens watching him through the bars.
Well done, Mr. Spangler! said one of them. Ron here owes mefive dollars! I told him you were a sticker! Hes a sticker, I said!
You set this up, did you, Mr.Wilkinson? said Moist weakly,watching the glint of light on the spoon.
Oh, not us, sir. Lord Vetinaris orders. He insists that all condemnedprisoners should be offered the prospect of freedom.
Freedom? But theres a damn great stone through there!
Yes, there is that, sir, yes, there is that, said the warden. Itsonly the prospect, you see. Not actual free freedom as such. Hah,thatd be a bit daft, eh?
I suppose so, yes, said Moist. He didnt say you bastards. The wardens had treated him quite civilly these past six weeks, andhe made a point of getting on with people. He was very, very goodat it. People skills were part of his stock-in-trade; they were nearlythe whole of it.
Besides, these people had big sticks. So, speaking carefully, headded: Some people might consider this cruel, Mr.Wilkinson.Yes, sir, we asked him about that, sir, but he said no, it wasnt.He said it providedhis forehead wrinkledocc-you-pay-shunallther-rap-py, healthy exercise, prevented moping, and offeredthat greatest of all treasures, which is Hope, sir.
Hope, muttered Moist glumly.
Not upset, are you, sir?
Upset? Why should I be upset, Mr.Wilkinson?
Only the last bloke we had in this cell, he managed to getdown that drain, sir. Very small man. Very agile.
Moist looked at the little grid in the floor. Hed dismissed itout of hand.
Does it lead to the river? he said.
The warden grinned. Youd think so, wouldnt you? He wasreally upset when we fished him out. Nice to see youve enteredinto the spirit of the thing, sir. Youve been an example to all of us,sir, the way you kept going. Stuffing all the dust in your mattress?Very clever, very tidy. Very neat. Its really cheered us up, havingyou in here. By the way, Mrs.Wilkinson says thanks very much forthe fruit basket. Very posh, it is. Its got kumquats, even!
Dont mention it, Mr.Wilkinson.
The warden was a bit green about the kumquats, cos he onlygot dates in his, but I told him, sir, that fruit baskets is like lifeuntil youve got the pineapple off of the top you never know whatsunderneath. He says thank you, too.
Glad he liked it, Mr.Wilkinson, said Moist absentmindedly.Several of his former landladies had brought in presents for thepoor, confused boy, and Moist always invested in generosity. Acareer like his was all about style, after all.
On that general subject, sir, said Mr.Wilkinson, me and thelads were wondering if you might like to unburden yourself, at thispoint in time, on the subject of the whereabouts of the place wherethe location of the spot is where, not to beat about the bush, youhid all that money you stole . . . ?
The jail went silent. Even the cockroaches were listening.No, I couldnt do that, Mr. Wilkinson, said Moist loudly,after a decent pause for dramatic effect. He tapped his jacketpocket, held up a finger, and winked.
The warders grinned back.
We understand totally, sir. Now Id get some rest if I was you,sir, cos were hanging you in half an hour, said Mr.Wilkinson.Hey, dont I get breakfast?
Breakfast isnt until seven oclock, sir, said the warderreproachfully. But, tell you what, Ill do you a bacon sandwich.Cos its you, Mr. Spangler.
AND NOW IT WAS A FEW MINUTES before dawn and it washim being led down the short corridor and out into the littleroom under the scaffold. Moist realized he was looking at himselffrom a distance, as if part of himself was floating outside his body likea childs balloon, ready, as it were, for him to let go of the string.
The room was lit by light coming through cracks in the scaffoldfloor above, and, significantly, from around the edges of thelarge trapdoor. The hinges of said door were being carefully oiledby a man in a hood.
He stopped when he saw the party had arrived and said, Goodmorning,Mr. Spangler. He raised the hood helpfully. Its me, sir,Daniel One Drop Trooper. I am your executioner for today, sir.Dont you worry, sir. Ive hanged dozens of people.Well soon haveyou out of here.
Is it true that if a man isnt hanged after three attempts hesreprieved, Dan? said Moist, as the executioner carefully wiped hishands on a rag.
So Ive heard, sir, so Ive heard. But they dont call me OneDrop for nothing, sir. And will sir be having the black bag today?Will it help?
Some people think it makes them look more dashing, sir. Andit stops that pop-eyed look. Its more a crowd thing, really. Quite abig one out there this morning. Nice piece about you in the Timesyesterday, I thought. All them people saying what a nice youngman you were, and everything. Er . . . would you mind signing therope beforehand, sir? I mean, I wont have a chance to ask youafterwards, eh?
Signing the rope? said Moist.
Yessir, said the hangman. Its sort of traditional. Theres a lotof people out there who buy old rope. Specialist collectors, youcould say. A bit strange, but it takes all sorts, eh? Worth moresigned, of course. He flourished a length of stout rope. Ive got aspecial pen that signs on rope. One signature every couple ofinches? Straightforward signature, no dedication needed. Worthmoney to me, sir. Id be very grateful.
So grateful that you wont hang me, then? said Moist, takingthe pen.
This got an appreciative laugh. Mr. Trooper watched him signalong the length, nodding happily.
Well done, sir, thats my pension plan youre signing there.Now . . . are we ready, everyone?
Not me! said Moist quickly, to another round of generalamusement.
Youre a card,Mr. Spangler, said Mr.Wilkinson. It wont bethe same without you around, and thats the truth.
Not for me, at any rate, said Moist. This was, once again,treated like rapier wit. Moist sighed.
Do you really think all this deters crime,Mr.Trooper? he said.
Well, in the generality of things Id say its hard to tell, giventhat its hard to find evidence of crimes not committed, said thehangman, giving the trapdoor a final rattle. But in the specificality,sir, Id say its very efficacious.
Meaning what? said Moist.
Meaning Ive never seen someone up here moren once, sir.Shall we go?
There was a stir when they climbed up into the chilly morningair, followed by a few boos and even some applause. People werestrange like that. Steal five dollars and you were a petty thief. Stealthousands of dollars and you were either a government or a hero.
Moist stared ahead while the roll call of his crimes was readout. He couldnt help feeling that it was so unfair. Hed never somuch as tapped someone on the head. Hed never even brokendown a door. He had picked locks on occasion, but hed alwayslocked them again behind him. Apart from all those repossessions,bankruptcies, and sudden insolvencies, what had he actually donethat was bad, as such? Hed only been moving numbers around.
Nice crowd turned out today, said Mr.Trooper, tossing the endof the rope over the beam and busying himself with knots. Lot ofpress, too. What Gallows? covers em all, ocourse, and theres theTimes and the Pseudopolis Herald, probly because of that bank whatcollapsed there, and I heard theres a man from the Sto Plains Dealer,too. Very good financial section, I always keep an eye on used-ropeprices. Looks like a lot of people want to see you dead, sir.Moist was aware that a black coach had drawn up at the rear ofthe crowd. There was no coat of arms on the door, unless you were inon the secret, which was that Lord Vetinaris coat of arms featured asable shield. Black on black. You had to admit, the bastard hadstyle