The year is 1820. Rider Sandman, a hero of Waterloo, returns to London to wed his fiancÉe. But instead of settling down to fame and glory, he finds himself penniless in a country where high unemployment and social unrest rage, and where meni
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March 17, 2009
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Excerpt from Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell
Rider Sandman was up late that Monday morning because he had been paid seven guineas to play for Sir John Hart's eleven against a Sussex team, the winners to share a bonus of a hundred guineas, and Sandman had scored sixty-three runs in the first innings and thirty-two in the second, and those were respectable scores by any standard, but Sir John's eleven had still lost. That had been on the Saturday and Sandman, watching the other batsmen swing wildly at ill-bowled balls, had realized that the game was being thrown. The bookmakers were being fleeced because Sir John's team had been expected to win handily, not least because the famed Rider Sandman was playing for it, but someone must have bet heavily on the Sussex eleven, which, in the event, won the game by an innings and forty-eight runs. Rumor said that Sir John himself had bet against his own side and Sir John would not meet Sandman's eyes, which made the rumor believable.
So Captain Rider Sandman walked back to London.
He walked because he refused to share a carriage with men who had accepted bribes to lose a match. He loved cricket, he was good at it, he had once, famously, scored a hundred and fourteen runs for an England eleven playing against the Marquess of Canfield's picked men, and lovers of the game would travel many miles to see Captain Rider Sandman, late of His Majesty's 52nd Regiment of Foot, perform at the batting crease. But he hated bribery and he detested corruption and he possessed a temper, and that was why he fell into a furious argument with his treacherous teammates, and when they slept that night in SirJohn's comfortable house and rode back to London in comfort next morning, Sandman did neither. He was too proud.
Proud and poor. He could not afford the stagecoach fare, nor even a common carrier's fare, because in his anger he had thrown his match fee back into Sir John Hart's face and that, Sandman conceded, had been a stupid thing to do, for he had earned that money honestly, yet even so it had felt dirty. So he walked home, spending the Saturday night in a hayrick somewhere near Hickstead and trudging all that Sunday until the right sole was almost clean off his boot. He reached Drury Lane very late that night and he dropped his cricket gear on the floor of his rented attic room and stripped himself naked and fell into the narrow bed and slept. Just slept. And was still sleeping when the trapdoor dropped in Old Bailey and the crowd's cheer sent a thousand wings startling up into the smoky London sky. Sandman was still dreaming at half past eight. He was dreaming, twitching, and sweating. He called out in incoherent alarm, his ears filled with the thump of hooves and the crash of muskets and cannon, his eyes astonished by the hook of sabers and slashes of straight-bladed swords, and this time the dream was going to end with the cavalry smashing through the thin red-coated ranks, but then the rattle of hooves melded into a rush of feet on the stairs and a sketchy knock on his flimsy attic door. He opened his eyes, realized he was no longer a soldier, and then, before he could call out any response, Sally Hood was in the room. For a second Sandman thought the flurry of bright eyes, calico dress, and golden hair was a dream, then Sally laughed. "I bleeding woke you. Gawd, I'm sorry!" She turned to go.