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Tim the Ostler

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The air smelt sweet of horse and hay,
The stable walls were filled with holes, and mice did indeed thrive in the decay.
Past filled were the water troves, tumbled were the weeds
Nothing else was there to do but place the flower seeds.

So sat Tim, the stableman, pondering what to do with his day
When “Bess, the landlord’s daughter
Bess, the landlord’s black-eyed daughter”
Passed by the windowpane and went her merry way.

What a beauty was this gem before he,
Though that was nothing new; suddenly young Tim saw just where he should be – knew just what to do.
Yet before his thoughts came to a stop, who should he see?
Oh, no, oh, no, he thought in frenzy, it couldn’t, it shouldn’t, be!
A man of well-known legend and common old folklore
“The highwayman came riding –
Riding, riding –
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.”

Quick was his fool’s heart aflutter in his chest
This had to be he, the man for whom Bess’s love knot fell across her breast
Long time he’d watched her plait the symbol in her silky hair
But now that he knew for whom she did so, he was in for quite a scare!

For “he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,”
And so it was that the next few words,
Ones that he couldn’t help but to make sure were overheard,
Set his plan in action, silent as a dying bird.

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!”

Here sat a devil before him, seizing the moment Tim’s eyes dared not miss
The coy little robber sat upright, and from the locks of Bess – dark and sad – he stole a kiss.
And Tim could not just stare in hate
- Though, this he did prolong –
Instead he, too, took a horse, preferring to trot towards the gate
Struck at the time with awe and horror
Sly as a fox, he slipped coolly through the border.

Back along a road he didn’t know was the thief’s main line of travel
Tim raced back, nearly flying across the gravel.
Yes, Tim had come back, and not much late
For with him were King George’s men, to dance a song with fate.
Still, he was ignorant, unaware of what was done to Bess
Who knelt gagged at the foot of her bed, trembling with rage, sorrow, and stress.

Joyous was he that, at long last, an overdue job was done
Tim set out on the paths again, only to be struck down by a gun.
While Bess “shattered her breast in the moonlight, warning her love with her death”
Tim was brought to a hedge maze of sorts, a kind of labyrinth.

But Bess’s sacrifice meant little to nothing at all
Spurring his horse, the highwayman returned, greeting his downfall.
Mad with loss, he didn’t think and in consequence thus lay dead
“A dog on the highway,” a stone-paved final bed,
Tim too laid in a resting place, fitting for his deeds
Except, this time, he made his cot with crimson-colored sheets.

~~~
“And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor
A highwayman comes riding –
Riding – riding –
A highwayman comes riding up to the old inn door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard
He taps with a whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love knot into her long black hair.”

But do listen closely, as you’ll soon see
That many others, oh, they weren’t as lucky
Their ending was, apparently, much more grim
For if you pay attention, you’ll note no more mention of dear, loving Tim.



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