He sat alone in the cold, bare cell. It was damp and there was a musty smell. The only light was from a small barred window set high in the outside wall. Others had been there before him. He could see their initials carved into the stonework. “Poor blighters” he thought “I wonder what happened to them.”
It seemed hours since the cell door had clanged shut behind him and he had been pushed roughly inside. He knew both of his guards. They had been at school with him. Henry had been a kindly boy and had been apologetic when they had come to arrest him. Fred, however, had always been a bully and seemed to enjoy his task.
He shivered as he sat on the stool. Was it cold or fear? Probably both. He held his head in his hands and tears started to well up in his eyes. But now was no time for tears. There had been enough of them when they had come to the house to take him away. His mother and young sister had clung to him weeping. The old man – as his father now seemed – looked shaken and had turned his head away. His mother had pleaded to the men who had come to arrest him “Please, please - don’t take Tom away!”
He was not a murderer! He had shot rabbits for the pot; he had wrung the necks of chickens; he had even put down an old dog which was in pain. He had been in fights, yes, but he was tall and strong and the fights had been to protect the smaller children from bullies such as Fred.
He saw a hand appear at the barred window. Perhaps it was a friend with an encouraging message. But then he saw a white feather floating down inside the cell, and a shout of “Coward” from a man outside. “Was he a coward?” he wondered. But the fleeting thought passed quickly. He had gone through this so many times in his mind before. He was not a coward. He just knew that he had never killed a man and never could or would. He was not a coward. He would stand trial and accept his punishment with courage and fortitude.