Late in the afternoon in 1751, a group of schoolmates ran and hid, playing a game of archers and highwaymen—cops and robbers—in the fields and woods outside Chartres, France. When a robber was caught, he was condemned on the spot to a make-believe “hanging.” Seven-year-old cop Antoine Francois captured robber Pierre. Per the boys’ rules, Antoine Francois tied up Pierre’s hands and feet and then put a noose about his neck. He looped the other end over a tree branch while the condemned stood atop a stack of books. The rope hung slack.
Earlier that day Pierre had wrestled the sickly Antoine Francois to the ground and teased him for being so timid. According to Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (The Man in the Iron Mask), here’s what happened when the roles were reversed at the mock hanging:
“A horrible thought showed itself like a flash on the child’s face. He resembled a young hyena scenting blood for the first time. He glanced at the pile of books Pierre was standing on, and compared it with the length of the cord between the branch and his neck. It was already nearly dark, the shadows were deepening in the woods, gleams of pale light penetrated between the trees, the leaves had become black and rustled in the wind. Antoine stood silent and motionless, listening if any sound could be heard near them.