Books Magazine

Ripping Yarns

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
My father was a wonderful storyteller. He would entertain customers at his pubs with raucous tales of his adventures both as a young man growing up in pre WWII Blackpool and as a soldier for five years in India during that war. His tales were fascinating and surely exaggerated but who knows. Perhaps he did meet Neru and Ghandi. Perhaps the consumption of too much palm-toddy does temporarily paralyze the legs, then render the over-indulgent participant subject to unconscious games of naked rugby during the early hours. Every one of his tall tales must have contained a modicum of truth.
I have written my own 'ripping yarn', The Battle of the Hairy Boggert. It is a poetic ballad and centres around my experiences of moving from suburbia to countryside aged eleven, when my father became licensee of The Eagle & Child at Weeton.  My two older brothers teased me terribly, mostly about the boggert, a strange hairy creature that lived in the pub grounds. Unfortunately, the Ballad is 52 stanzas, takes about twenty minutes to read aloud and is far too long for this blog.
There is another yarn that comes to mind. It concerns a merchant in London who owed a huge sum to a money lender and was unable to pay. The debtor was facing prison but the ugly, old money-lender fancied his daughter. He proposed a bargain: He would cancel the debt if could have the girl instead.
Seeing that the two were both horrified by the suggestion, the money lender proposed that they should let providence decide. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into a cloth bag, then the girl would pick out one of the pebbles. If she chose a black pebble, she would become his wife. If she chose the white pebble, she would stay with her father but the debt would be cancelled.
The two reluctantly agreed. They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the merchant's garden and as they talked, the money-lender bent down to pick up two pebbles. As he did this, the girl saw from the corner of her eye that he put two black pebbles into the bag. When he held out the bag to her, for her to pick out the pebble that would seal her fate, she had only three possible choices;
  • She could refuse to take out a pebble
  • She could take out both black pebbles and expose the money-lender as a cheat
  • She could take out a black pebble and sacrifice herself to save her father from prison
The girl in the story put her hand into the bag and drew out  pebble. Without looking at it she fumbled and let it fall onto the path, where it was immediately indistinguishable from all  the other pebbles. She had beaten the odds. Now there was only one black pebble remaining in the bag, which meant that unless the money-lender admitted that he had cheated, the pebble that the girl had chosen must have been white. The girl was free to go with her father and his debt was cancelled. There could be no better outcome. Sometimes a problem can  be solved by turning it on its head: A practice called Lateral Thinking - explained in depth by Edward deBono in his book, The Use of Lateral Thinking
I have had a busy week and didn't have a suitable poem in my archive but I believe that the one I have chosen for you is a suitable yarn. Enjoy.
Ripping Yarns
The Highwayman  
By Alfred Noyes  
PART ONE The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door. He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin. They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
 And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
  His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard. He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred. He whistled 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.
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked. His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay, 
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
  The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—
“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.”
He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand, But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast; 
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
  (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.
He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;  And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon, When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor, 
A red-coat troop came marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.
They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead. But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed. Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side! 
There was death at every window;
  And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest. They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast! “Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
  Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good! She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood! They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
  Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.  Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.   She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again; 
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
  Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear; Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear? Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night! Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light. Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath, 
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
  Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.
He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood  Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood! Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew gray to hear 
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
  The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high. Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
  Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.
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—
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 his 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.
    Thank you for reading. Adele  

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