Deer Poaching

This is some more from ‘Old Oak’:

“The forest laws were severe. A deer slip found in a cottage down to the time of Waterloo secured for its tenant 6 moths lodging in the country gaol. A forest buck discovered on the “lusty shoulders” of some Silson poacher meant ’12 months and a day’ in the same fever-ridden abode. The theft of a park dee was death. They knew they were taking their lives in their hands, those Silson men, Adams and Tyrell, when one night somewhere about the year of grace 1748 they turned for their venison to Stowe Park. Why they forsook the Forest I have never heard. All one knows is that the kingdom was in a very exhausted condition during he years that followed the victorious campaigns of the great Duke of Marlborough on the Continent, and mean were driven by the sigh of hungry women and children to dare and do what they never would have attempted under happier circumstances. Herded in a more confined space, perhaps the  park deer offered an easier chance for censuring the meat they sought than did the King’s, which had the run of many square miles. Be that as it may, they went, brought down their buck, and were carrying him away, when they fell into an ambush of keepers and were made prisoners. Poor fellows! they doubtless put up a desperate resistance, but they might just as well have fought it out to a finish there on the sward, for their doom was sealed from the moment of their surrender. They were marched off, in the first place, … to Stowe House,and thence to the country gaol. The Assizes were close at hand. The trial, verdict, and sentence followed each other like the events of some short-lived dream, and nothing was left for them but to die. Short was the shrift of a condemned felon inches days and, before either of them could have well realised what had happened, a heavy cart was driven up to the door of the prison with two coffins for tis seats, another last earthly journey had begun, with the gallows at its end. They were drawn through the town streets to a neighbouring common, and there done to death amid the yelling of an execution mob that had gathered to feast its eyes on the sight of their agony.

But their wives! What of them that wintry night? The faggot that stood in the chimney corner grew less and less, as they used its brands to feed the fire on their hearth till not a stick remained. Ever and anon they went out into the night and listened, if haply they might hear the distant footfall of the returning men. at las the dawn show itself though the cottage window, and then cold despair fastened on the should of poor Mary Adams, a mere girl and but recently married. Joe had not come -he would never come now/1 A little later her worst fears were confirmed. Ill news travels fast. Messenger from Stowe came to tell them of the night’s happenings, and before noon all Silson folk knew that Joe Adams and Jim Tyrell and been cough stealing park deer.

Yet hope returned. The fate of the men they loved was virtually in the hands of old Lord Cobham, owner of Stowe House, a very distinguished solder under the Great Duke, a patron of the poet Pope, and a man of many parts. By happy chance he was in residence. They started off in haste, cried and gained an audience, and tearfully implored him to use his great influence on behalf of their unfortunate husbands. He received them with apparent sympathy, and the interview ended with his promising that they should have them home for certain on a day he mentioned the following week. His influence however, which was possibly almost as great as they believe,d was only used to hasten the hangings. when the day arrived and they, poor simple folk, were joyfully awaiting the fulfilment of the promise, a cart containing two coffins lumbered down Silson street and halted at Mary Adams’ door, for the driver to descend, enter the house and ask what he was to do with his gruesome luggage; he also bough a special message from Lord Cobham that he had kept his word.

The law of he land, cruel as it was, had been satisfied when the deer-stealers had been hanged, but not this grim old man. He had life-sized figures of the cast i lead, one with a buck on his shoulders, and placed them among  other groups of statuary inches gardens. He himself died soon after ad, like  certain King of Judah, “departed without being desired”. …

…My own sister, many years older than myself, could actually remember seeing Mary Adams, who lived for over 80 years after the tragedy, and soI cannot but think that the story is true… She ever married again, and never really recovered from the shock of the day when the raid the coffin-lid and she looked down  not eh swollen and discoloured features of her newly-wed husband. Never again dis she taste venison, .. All through the 80 long years of widowhood she wore one white apron, resisting its wear and tear with her darning-needle till scarce a thread of the original tissue was left. It might have been a love-gift from Joe in their sweet-herring days, or she may have worn it on her wedding morn; at any rate, there must have been some sacred memory connected with it, and her neighbours did well to put it into her coffin and bury it with her.

She was 102 when she died. In those days when poor folk were buried it was the custom to take on the coffin-lid the initials and age of the deceased in tinsel. My father, who was present at the funeral, looked down into the gram and was amazed to see her age given as 1002. Turning to the village coffin-maker who stood alongside proudly viewing his handiwork, he whispered, “you’ve made her a thousand and two , you old fool!” “I know I ahnt,” replied the other hotly; “one an’ two nots make a hunderd, don’t they? and a two makes a hundred an’ two!” There was one consolation: few of ethos who took a last farewell at the end of the service wold see anything amiss.


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