A Murder Ballad

Old Oak has some great stories in it, and it is easy to imagine the appeal of ghost stories and murder ballads told round fires in mid winter:

“Sir Walter Scott once declared that nothing was more dramatically effective than an old murder ballad. With anyone like all to recite it, I can well believe him… To the ordinary reader the following lines would seem mere jingle:-

“One lonely night, as I sat high,

Instead of one there two pass’d by.

The boughs did bend, my should did quake,

To see the hole the fox did make.”

To her they represented part of a tragedy more real than Macbeth’s to lovers of Shakespeare, though the heroine was only a humble servinb-maid. She, it seemed, had arranged to meet her lover by moonlight in a spinner near her master’s house. First at the trysting place, she climbed afar-tree to vive the laggard a fright when he should appear. After a long wait she heard footsteps and voices and, looking dow, saw her lover enter the glade accompanied by a man carrying a spade. Not daring to speak, she watched them while they dug a deep hole just beneath her. Then the truth dawned on her: she was stop be murdered, and it was her grave they were digging. At last their task was finished, and the villains patiently awaited her arrival. But they were to be disappointed, for, though trembling in every limb with terror, she did not reveal her presence. Eventually they departed, and she descended the tree, fled back to her master’s house, and told what she had seen. An alarm was  raised, her lover, Fox, whose name seemed well suited to his character, was arrested, confessed his evil intentions, and was hanged.”An’ sarv him right!” Simon would grunt, when Sall had left him swinging “From the gallows tree so high.”

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