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The Widecombe Fair Chestnut Mare (A Trilogy)

As the dawn broke above the moorlands of Yorkshire, in the English countryside, all was still. I was up and about, although a little earlier than my usual time, as the day began to stir. Not far away the hoot of an owl let me know that there was a trespasser in her territory. I looked up and sure enough, as my eyes adjusted to the morning half-light, high in the sky a sparrow hawk patrolled the heavens above me. Like the owl, yet in her own different and special way, she was magnificent.
 † †
Memories of long ago flooded my thoughts as I watched her in flight. When I was a small boy, living and growing up in the countryside, I had few human friends although that was no botheration to me as I was surrounded by the creatures that made up the fur and feather of the landscape. These were my friends and one in particular, a sparrow hawk, called by daily to see me. Well, she didn't call especially to see me I just pretended that she did. No harm in pretending that ~ no harm at all! ~ When you are small! † †
I enjoyed watching her in command of the skies as she glided and dived and she was free ~ free as a bird. However, it was so that, to the gamekeepers who watched over the shooting moor, the sparrow hawk and her like were their enemies. They took the game bird chicks which the keepers were painstakingly rearing for the shooting season at years end. And so it was that one morning, as I watched my sparrow hawk, as she turned into the breeze and the sunlight caught her undescribably beautiful brown coat, a sharp crack split the morning air and she was gone. † †
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I shook my head in order to return to now and the day that lay before me. The stable doors were all open and the stalls were all vacant within. The horses were safely out in the fields because they slept outside at this time of the year. They were all contentedly munching the sweet, green, dew-soaked grass that grows in abundance on the low moor. All was well. The yard was silent again and I gazed admiringly at the grey painted Land Rover by the water trough. It was one of the larger, longer models which could seat a dozen people if needed, and was such a help around the place. Powerful and uncomplaining, I called her 'The Old Grey Mare'. Silly, I know, but then again there's no harm in that ~ no harm at all! † †
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The Land Rover had been washed and polished and it sparkled and shone. She needed to look her best as she had a long journey ahead of her today. And she had better get going if she was to make the six-or-seven-hour journey to the county of Devon in time for lunch. A small band of ageing but well meaning country folk were to gossip and sing their way southward to the famous Widecombe Fair. Here they would find old friends, not seen since last year, and all kinds of livestock being bought, sold, bartered for, traded and won or lost on the roll of the dice ~ an event not to be missed at any price. Just a thought though, the last thing I needed was an extra horse around the place even though there was plenty of room for a new-comer, but no! enough was enough. Still, I could hitch up the horse trailer and take that along with us. For a bit of a show-off really in its matching grey livery and an image of a horse's head expertly painted on either side. Yes! I could do that, no harm in doing it ~ no harm at all! † †
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The motor sprang into life faithfully (it always does) and, as though she knew the way blindfolded, she made her way out of the yard and along the lane to the main road a quarter of a mile distant. As The Old Grey Mare and I approached the gate I could make out, beyond the ancient tumbling stone wall there, a group of hats bobbing around above the wall toppings. Directly below the hats would be, I knew, the bodies of all that were to travel to the fair. I applied the brakes, stopped, and the doors were flung open as on board clambered, in noisy disorder, my very good friends of old. Tom Pearce was there along with Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, oh yes and Uncle Tom Cobley an' all. So off we all went headed for Widecombe-in-the-Moor. † †
† †  
After a long tiring journey of storytelling, song singing, and a little snoozing we eventually pulled into the fair ground. There were people and animals everywhere we looked so it was with great care and attention that we parked up the Grey Mare and, with much relief, stiffly alighted. It was, of course, time for lunch so we found a suitable tent and ordered a hearty country lunch whilst Uncle Tom sought out another suitable tent and ordered a large drinking glass filled with bubbling, foaming, frothing, dark-in-colour stout ale. † †
† †  
Lunch over we strolled around in the afternoon sun, halting to chat with friends and acquaintances and inspecting animals of all kinds in pens and enclosures. There were people with fistfuls of money or honourable handshakes which spoke to secure a particular deal. The air was charged with laughter and friendliness and we all thought how wonderful it was to be alive today and being hereabouts. † †
† †  
As the day gently coasted by it was nearing the time when, in the auctioneer's ring, the final sale was to take place. This most astute of salesmen usually saved the very best until the very last. I decided that I would saunter over there and soak up the atmosphere of a ferocious bidding frenzy, a deadly battle to secure a single animal. No harm in that, I thought ~ no harm at all! † †
† †  
I expected to see a magnificent bull being offered to the highest bidder but when I arrived at the bull ring this was no snorting horned beast. Before my eyes was the most beautiful chestnut mare, I had ever seen in my life ~ my whole life. She was trotting around the ring, head high, majestic and proud. I would certainly have to stay for this sale ~ just to see what happened you understand. I don't want to buy her, of course, just witness the proceedings. The last thing that I needed was another horse I reminded myself, still! no harm in watching ~ no harm at all! † †
After all I am a sensible adult, aren't I? † †
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WHEN THE DAY COMES O'ER THE HILLSIDE † †
† †  
As the day rides o'er the hillside, † †
A violet-primrose, subtle plash; † †
Galloping, gleaming, glowing day-tide † †
In gilded sunlit charging dash. † †
Wherein the light-soaked early morn † †
Sun streaks blissly dance at will; † †
A single cloud, detached, forlorn, † †
Drifting by above the hill. † †
† †  
A silhouette, a hovered bird, † †
A cameo shadow in the east, † †
Reposing, high, without a word † †
Silent, searching for her feast. † †
As far below her field mice scurry † †
Darting in/out twixt the grasses; † †
Hiding out and all a-flurry, † †
Laying low till peril passes. † †
† †  
Salmon leaping in the stream † †
Rippled splashes touching down. † †
Starting off the day's regime, † †
Glinting tones of golden brown. † †
Chasing off the last of night, † †
In the contest day-bright wins; † †
Triumphant with the cool first light † †
Here is where the day begins. † †
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THE SPARROW HAWK, THE KEEPER, AND I † †
† †  
"Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. † †
Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. † †
So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them † †
they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that † †
knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, † †
but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and † †
empty for their departure." ~ Stephen King † †
† †  
† †  
As a boy I applauded her magnificent figure; † †
As a boy I watched her fly, in the sky, so high. † †
As a boy I admired her almighty vigour; † †
As a boy I watched her deftly swoop and swirl. † †
As a boy my intransigent senses she was able to trigger. † †
† †  
She was coloured golden brown as she flew; † †
She flashed and dazzled in the early morning sunshine. † †
She commanded the air as she soared straight and true; † †
Her eyes could see far - much farther than those of you or I. † †
Below nothing could obscure her view of the ground, bathed in dew. † †
† †  
She adorned the sky as the night-time darkness was done; † †
She was so beautiful against the backdrop of the heavens. † †
She was seen at a time when blackness was on the run; † †
She, alone, ruled the universe ~ that is, but for one ~ † †
Beneath her prowled the keeper in his spats and breeches ~ and his gun. † †
† †  
Morning came to me easily, I ardently welcomed her here; † †
How could I not be in awe of this special time? † †
Now I could join the sparrowhawk, see her dive and veer. † †
She paid no heed to me ~ why should she? ~ I was her friend, you see! † †
She called out her 'Good morning' to me as I lent her my ear. † †
† †  
She flew in the peaceful stillness of the cool, clean air; † †
Silent, the world was silent all about us. † †
Then my exalted solitude was dashed , standing there; † †
A violent crack, a puff of smoke..... and she was gone, † †
I frantically searched the sky but she was nowhere. † †
† †  
As a man I recall my sparrowhawk, anamnesis she still dictates † †
(She even tumbled lifeless to the ground with dignity and grace). † †
As a man I may, myself, in time arrive at heaven's golden gates; † †
She knows that I will come and not betray her... † †
But she is ever patient and has faith ~ she awaits. † †
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THE WIDECOMBE FAIR CHESTNUT MARE † †
† †  
A young chestnut soon takes my fancy † †
At Widecombe Fair's summer sale. † †
A blaze on her nose † †
Sealed the deal, I suppose, † †
And the flail of a ruby red tail. † †
† †  
They cantered her round in the bull ring † †
I watched her, as handsome she stood; † †
I thought on the day † †
I would, if I may, † †
Adopt her ~ If only I could. † †
† †  
The auctioneer called her to enter † †
The bidding was due to be heard † †
I tendered a price † †
And amended it twice † †
Then followed it up with a third. † †
† †  
The offers were bellowed and gestured † †
And each drove the asking price high. † †
For horsehair and hoof † †
The price hits the roof † †
And is fixed with the wink of an eye. † †
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The arena ebbs heatedly silent † †
Where perspiring droplets are shed. † †
My heart skips a beat † †
And falls to my feet † †
As I just sense the nod of my head. † †
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So finally, everyone falters † †
(And much to the dealer's delight) † †
The gavel falls ~ slam! † †
How gladsome I am, † †
As she sleeps in my stable tonight.
Alan-S-Jeeves
Written by Alan-S-Jeeves (Alan S Jeeves)
Published | Edited 30th May 2021
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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