“Mr Donovan Jones, the court has heard how you, as Jaspar Harding-Heath, did on the fourth of November 1833, together with accomplices, Ned Barret and Harold Mutton, ambush the evening coach from Lincoln to Great Wenlock, and in the process of robbing the travellers therein did cause the death of Lady Sylvia Rossington, namely by slitting her throat with a Bowie knife.
“You were later recognised by the deceased’s travelling companions and also identified by your accomplices, under interrogation. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, Your Honour.”
“Do you have anything to add before I send the jury out?”
“Yes, Your Honour. This is the year 2018. The robbery was one hundred and eighty-five years ago.”
The nightmare had begun twelve months earlier. I’d had an overwhelming feeling of guilt since childhood. No one could explain it. I’d had therapy of different kinds over the years but I was guilty of nothing worse than stealing a bag of sweets from a sweetshop at the age of seven. Hardly a crime to cause a lifetime of remorse. Then a friend suggested I try a ‘past life’ hypnotic session. Well, it was incredible. Within a short time, I was reliving scenes that seemed completely real, but that I had no conscious memory of.
I’d learned that I’d been a highwayman in a previous life. As a member of the ‘Witham Gang,’ we’d had rich pickings along the roads into Lincoln, especially from ecclesiastical folk and rich pilgrims. Apparently, I’d thought of myself as a kind of ‘cavalier-thief’ and my comrades and I, with our faces well-powdered, would wear black cloaks, broad-rimmed Manilla hats with an abundance of coloured ribbons, satin neck-cloths and masks over our eyes. We would also adorn ourselves with brooches and rings, the pickings of previous robberies.
–Well, there’d been a change of government and a case where a ninety-year-old was hanged for killing her brother, aged seven, when she was just twelve years old, something she insisted she had absolutely no memory of whatsoever. A touch of dementia hadn’t helped either. There was good forensic evidence, however.
Following that, it was argued that it was only a small step to look into crimes that had gone unpunished in previous lives. It was now the duty of all regressive hypnotherapists to report relevant cases to the respective police department. Unfortunately, I must have missed that on the news and the therapist hadn’t mentioned it either. However, ‘ignorance is no defence’ as my lawyer told me.
Because it was in a previous life, they’d decided not to give the death penalty, but here I was, doing ten years in ‘stir’ in Lincoln prison for something I’d had no control over – that’s how I looked at it anyway. It didn’t seem right.
But my lawyer, one Henry Barrowclough, thought we had grounds for appeal. “Hello, Mr Jones, how are we today?” he said, one bright sunny morning.
“Well, I’ve stayed in better hotels, what’ve you got?”
He laughed, sat down and opened his briefcase. “Look, I think we’ve got a line on this matter of identification.”
“Your – that is to say, Jaspar’s – companions in crime identified you under duress – torture most likely, so we could argue that the only real identification came from the travelling companions of Lady Sylvia.”
“Well, you were wearing a mask. How could they have recognised you for certain?”
I tapped a small oval birthmark high on my right cheek. “This.”
“What you mean Jaspar had the same birthmark?”
I sighed. “I believe so. If you go through the transcripts of the trial you’ll find it.”
“The hypnotist who regressed me to Jaspar explained it. He said birthmarks are often signs of wounds from previous lives.”
“Yes, they’ve researched it, found correlations. Anyway, seems I was stabbed in the face.”
“I thought you said they were signs from previous lives?”
“Yes, he took me back further. I didn’t mention it before. Seems I was one William Widrington in the Civil War. I got the wound at the Battle of Winceby in 1643.”
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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