OLD SYKES, HIS WIFE AND THEIR GOLD

Upon an unassuming farm
Close by old Samlesbury Hall,
Old Sykes and his wife lived like paupers,
As if they’d nothing at all.

No friends it seemed, nor family,
To ask after their health,
But, what they lacked in kith and kin
Was made up for by their wealth.

Bequests had left a store of gold
Which had been complemented
By frugal living all their lives:
Their fortune represented

All they cared about, their pleasure
And their purpose amounting
To gathering it together
And, coin by gold coin, counting.

They’d close the shutters, bolt the doors,
Stop up all chinks and spaces,
Then, when secured, they’d go around
Their secret hiding places.

Under a flagstone in the floor,
Behind the range where they’d cook,
Above a beam in their bedroom,
Loose brick in the ingle nook.

Little leather bags they gathered
On their oaken table top
And once they commenced the counting
They couldn’t bring themselves to stop.

All through the night the gold coins clinked
As they stacked them score by score,
Over and over, but come the dawn
They’d hide them away once more.

They lived as happy harmless misers,
But, tragedy lay in store
As King Charles and his Parliament
With each other went to war.

Too many lives lost! Buildings burned!
The conflict was coming near
To the land around Samlesbury,
Where two misers lived in fear.

What if marauding soldiers came
Should proud Preston have fallen?
Their farmhouse would be ransacked and
Their precious gold coins stolen.

So, they sealed their wealth in stone jars
One night, when no one might see,
Then buried them in their orchard
Beneath an old apple tree.

Cavaliers and Roundheads fought until
The King was captured and tried.
On the day he was beheaded
Old Sykes and his wife both died.

Following the funeral their house
Was thoroughly searched all round,
Hiding places were discovered,
But not a single coin found.

Years passed by as decades do, then
Centuries had come and gone,
The house, passing owner to owner,
Didn’t settle with anyone.

At last a young man moved in to
Make the ancient house his own,
His greatest pleasure being to sit
In the old orchard alone,

Watching birds hop from bough to bough,
The chaffinch and the blue-tit,
Sombre blackbird perched up high like
A preacher in his pulpit.

One evening, as the sun went down,
Shadows stretched when darkness neared,
He felt he was no longer alone:
Then a vague figure appeared.

Quite feint but clearly visible,
Beneath an old apple tree,
In a gown from another age,
Stood a woman who couldn’t be.

Yet, there she was looking pale and drawn,
And not a word did she speak,
Just pointed at the apple tree roots,
Night after night for a week.

The young man made no sense of her,
His speculations ran rife,
Till a neighbour told him the tale
Of Old Sykes and his wife.

Next morning the young man dug deep
Looking for the Old Sykes gold,
As he worked the wraith stood by him
And he felt he was being told

To dig even faster and deeper
Until he struck with his spade
A horde of antique stone vessels;
The spectre began to fade.

As he lifted the jars one by one
Her expression turned to bliss,
Then, vanishing, she’s not been seen
From that day on to this.

Round Samlesbury Hall it’s whispered,
In Samlesbury Bottoms told,
The tale of a favoured young man,
Old Sykes, his wife and their gold.

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