This is another piece from ‘Old Oak’, this time an example of how naive people were caught up in Britain’s Draconian Black Acts:
“A boy … was walking along a lonely lane one Sunday afternoon on the way to meet his sweetheart and noticed a horse grazing by the roadside. A brilliant idea came into his mind. What fun it’d be to mount and ride up to her in gallant fashion! A moment later and he was up on its back, but he had only gone a few yards when the owner appeared and accused him of horse-stealing. He was arrested by the parish constable and tried for his life at the Assizes. Before the jury retired to consider their verdict the judge told them that in such a case they must naturally be influenced in their deliberations by the character the boy had previously borne. To be clearer on this point they asked for the parish constable to be recalled and questioned. “He has allies bin a bad ‘un!” said he. Knowing his doom was now sealed, the poor fellow burst into tears. “Never in me life,” he cried, “have I ta-aken aught as ain’t belonged to me sa-ave once when I our a little child an’ tsk some cherries. There our a cherry tree in a gentleman’s orchard, an’ steer our a gap in the hedge cloous by. Two or three on us – children – saw some of the cherries on the ground an’ dared one another to fetch ‘em. I wour the one to goo in, but I sewer afore God Hisself that’s all I’ve ever stoo-ul in me life!” It was in fain. He was condemned to die. He felt so cold when they brought him out of gaol to draw him away to his death, and a man in the crowd, though knowing he would never see it again, lent him his coat. Retribution ever afterwards dogged the steps of the constable. He had been fairly well-off; he lost his money; his friends refused to be burdened with him, and in the end life became so unendurable he threw it away. Who can raise any pity for such a one?”
I don’t understand why the constable was so nasty. He must have known he was sentencing the boy to death, and that the village would not take this well.