Sitting in the darkened corner of the large, ornate room, Cornelius Clarkson could smell the nervousness of the man standing in front of John Bannister’s magnificent, mahogany desk. The man wiped his sleeve across his brow, rocking back and forth, his hands gripping the edge of his hat. The man never took his eyes of Bannister. Clarkson grinned, enjoying the moment, appreciating the power Bannister had over others.
He had met Bannister more than ten years ago when he was in his late teens, bored with his life
on the estate and anxious to find adventure. He had quickly realized that Bannister had the capability
to provide him with the excitement he craved. Bannister had been visiting his uncle, Sir Godfrey
Copley, the High Sheriff of Yorkshire and Clarkson had listened to the conversation, amazed that his
uncle had agreed to pay Bannister twenty pounds for every highwayman and horse thief Bannister
named who was successfully prosecuted. Clarkson had determined he would find out as much as he
could about this short, wiry man with distinctively large ears, dressed in simple clothes. He
established that Bannister was the son of a craftsman who used to work on Wentworth’s estate, that he
had died in an accident and left Bannister’s mother to bring up a family of eight children in near
poverty. Bannister had left home at fifteen and gone to London where, rumour had it, he had joined a
band of footpads, robbing wealthy merchants and making his fortune. When he had returned to
Yorkshire, he had quickly wooed and married a squire’s daughter and moved into this grand house at
Conisbrough, his wife producing three healthy children.
With an income that was totally inadequate to fund Clarkson’s lifestyle of gambling and
whoring, he had started working for Bannister, gaining his trust, introducing him and his family to
local dignitaries, Bannister quickly developing a liking for his role as a country squire. Clarkson
made sure Bannister was always seen to be a stout upholder of the law, knowing full well that
Bannister was now the largest handler of stolen property in the north of the country. Between them
they had developed a network of merchants and contacts whom they could approach to sell on any
and all of the goods they received.
The man in front of the desk jumped as, disdainfully, Bannister threw the jewelry across the
table, the man snatching at it and placing it back into the sack he was holding. Clarkson could see
Bannister staring at the man, seeing the fear in the man’s eyes, the sweat gathering on his brow. He
knew Bannister always enjoyed these moments when he had a man cowering in front of him, fearful
of his reputation, knowing he could decide if they lived or died.
‘Worthless. Why do you bring me such junk?’ Bannister said in his normal, quiet, measured
voice, a voice that made even strong men tremble.
The man gulped. ‘Please Sir. This is all I’ve got…it must be worth something.’
Bannister stood up and walked to the window. Clarkson admired his dress, the deep red colour
of the top coat, the lace cravat and cuffs, the silk stockings and fashionably pointed, heeled shoes. He
saw Bannister turn round, looking at the man. ‘I’ll offer you a pound.’
‘But Sir, this stuff must be worth a lot more than that,’ the man whined.
‘Take my offer or leave,’ Bannister replied, waving his arm towards the door.
Clarkson saw Bannister’s two minders walk slowly towards the man. ‘I’ll take the pound.’
Bannister held out his hand, taking the sack from the man. He dug into his waistcoat pocket,
pulled out a pound coin and passed it to the man. He smiled. ‘If you want to improve your lot I hear
the Bishop of Lincoln is travelling to Durham during the next few days. Apparently, he only has a
few men with him. Travelling along the Great North Road.’
The man touched his forelock. ‘Thank you Sir…thank you for the information.’ He turned and
left the room, followed by the minders.
‘Do you think he will fall for it?’ Clarkson asked, getting up from the chair and walking
Bannister sat down and poured two glasses of wine, passing one across the desk to Clarkson.
‘I’m sure a rogue like that will not be able to resist, especially as we know he runs with that band of
ruffians in the forest near Pontefract.’
‘It would be most enjoyable to see the pompous Bishop brought down a peg or two.’ Clarkson
took a sip of wine, appreciating the quality. ‘And if he does rob the Bishop, we know where to look.’
Bannister held up his glass. ‘Act quickly Cornelius and we can…acquire the booty and ensure
the Sheriff’s men capture the miscreants.’
‘And you can collect the twenty pounds a head when they are sentenced.’
Bannister chuckled. ‘It also rids us of a troublemaker…I don’t trust the man.’
‘Shall we go to town?’ Clarkson knew Bannister liked visiting the hostelries and inns that were
increasing in numbers as more and more travelers used Doncaster for overnight stops between
Edinburgh and London. He also knew Bannister was always willing to get away from his frigid wife
and spend the night with an appreciative young woman.
‘Why not!’ Bannister stood up, issuing instructions, demanding his carriage be brought to the
front of the house, his overnight valise prepared. ‘We should celebrate…this stuff can wait until our
return.’ Bannister looked down at the stolen jewelry on the desk.