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Nature Ramblings ~ Past Times Time Travel ~ Romancing Daily Life

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Part 6: Cradle Songs and Distant Melodies, The Highwayman's Daughter

 Part 6: Cradle Songs and Distant Melodies, 
* * * The High Toby * * *
Listen to this entire story in the April Edition of "Unpolished Performances", a free podcast in the iTunes Store. Download it by clicking on this link.

Somehow Da had acquired a horse for Dolly and her brother to ride into the country. She hadn’t known, at the time, how they could afford a horse of their own, and such a magnificent beast as well. 

She knew now. 

The two children had called the animal, Shrugu, because of the patches of white that appeared mysteriously on it’s dark coat. Eventually her father had taught her to apply the dark brown dye that helped to turn Shrugu into a shiny black horse instead of a gray. The coloring had served to protect the horses’s identity when her father had first taken him from among his fellows. It also made Shrugu nearly invisible, when it came to hiding beneath a tree on the toby.

Fion well remembered the promise he’d made to his wife. He’s sworn that he’d leave his old lay behind him in Ireland. Never again would he order the hapless carter or coach driver to ‘stand and deliver’. But he’d promised to care for their children as well, and some vows have more power than others.

With those children well hidden beneath a screen of bushes or trees, he would approach a lone vehicle on Shrugu’s back, his pistol at the ready. Excitement and fear pulsed as one, for this could be the moment when a hidden pistol would emerge, and take him down with a lucky shot. Then there was the bully, well-beloved moment of excitement when, with pockets heavy with coin and a still racing heart, he and the horse lit off with a great woop and a yell, well in advance of the mark. What that mark didn’t know was how shortly Fion and Shrugu would pull up beneath another tree, only a few yards away.

Soon his well-born victims would struggle off down the road to resume their interrupted travels, fuming and wailing over the loss of watches, rings and money. The children, as Da had taught them, waited quietly in their secret abode. For they knew that Fion would soon double back to put them up on Shrugu. Then, once more, they traveled masquerading as itinerant tinkers with a box of ribbons and a few spools of thread to give them a reason to always be moving onwards along the hard high road.

Fion had chosen his marks carefully, never too many on the same stretch of road. He’d taken only enough to feed himself and his children and to pay for shelter during the cold months. The MacLiams had been tobeymen for generations, and he knew well that a highwayman didn’t have much chance of a long life. Yet, with care, he could provide for his children until they were old enough to fend for themselves. He’d heard there was farmland to be had out west. Owen and Dolly were old enough, now, to set to work ploughing and planting.
* *
The highwayman’s daughter patted the horses muzzle softly and murmured into the great flickering ear. “Hsst, Shrugu,” she whispered. “Do you want them to hear us? Dinna gie us away.”

The carriage jingling down the road was pulled by a pair of fine plump grays. The coachman was well togged out in fine livery. Should she take a chance? Da would have said ‘no’, but Da was gone now. He’d been taken and hanged when he tried to rob the mail, thinking it a worthwhile risk for two men. So, Owen had gone with him. Luckily for her brother they needed young soldiers in Ameriky more than they needed corpses. Owen was stationed now, not so far away, in the Allegany mountains. 

Jenny had taken up with Johnny Hodges, the butcher’s son. But town life for an unmarried tinker’s daughter was no sinecure. She was wise enough to know that life with Johnny would continue only as long as his head wasn’t turned by a trimmer ankle or waist. And she was skilled enough to know what she had to do to make the money she needed to build that farm that they'd always dreamed of.

Dolly fumbled for the pistol at her belt. That belt held up a pair of Owen’s old trousers. Clad in men's clothes and with her hair stuffed beneath her brother's old hat, no one would ever suspect that Dolly MacLiam had been the tobeyman this night.

She thought back to the last time she’d lain in wait for Fion. Just that once, he’d decided to take his son along . “Just this once so we can get enough money to build that farm.” Da had never meant for Owen to take to the family lay. And he’d certainly never meant for his daughter to find herself pointing a pistol down the road and calling out, ‘stand-and-deliver’.

But the coach was clearly a rich one, a noble family’s(*) vehicle perhaps. Just this once, she’d take the chance. For Owen wouldn’t be a soldier forever, and there was still a farm to build. 

She lifted the bridle rein and a song, that seemed to come from very far away, rose unbidden in her throat.

As I was going over the Appilachin’ mountains

I met with captain Farrell
and his money he was counting. 

I first produced me pistol,
and I then produced my rapier.

Said stand and deliver!
For yeh ‘air a bold deceiver,
musha ring dumma do
whack for the daddy 'ol

whack for the daddy 'ol

there's whiskey in the jar
I counted out his money,
and it made a pretty penny.

I put it in my pocket and I took it home to Johnny.

He sighed and he swore,
But said he never would deceive me,

Oh the devil take such menfolk,
for they never can be aisy.

Listen to this entire story in the April Edition of "Unpolished Performances", a free podcast in the iTunes Store. Download it by clicking on this link.
* Dolly MacLiam's victims were English aristocracy before the American revolution 

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