Winnie Thomson

The ballad of Ben and Amy

Amy and Ben loved long and true
But fate had decreed they’d never be wed.
She waited for months and for years
She moistened the ground with her fast-flowing tears.
She waited for Ben’s horse bringing him home.
But all that she did was grow older and older,
And the winds blew colder and colder.
And the wind swept her away.
And all that we have are flowers and flowers.

Most people in the town knew about Ben and Amy and how, during a war, where Ben was away fighting, Amy would wait every day for him. Everyone knew, too, the fountain in the children’s park (now filled with flowers and lovingly tended by one of the ladies who lived near the park) had been their meeting-place; it was here that Amy went every day towards sun-set to wait for Ben to come riding back from the farm where he worked and there that they would talk about their future and make plans. Ben was sure that one day, he would be able to buy the farm next to Jones’s field and there he and Amy would set up a little house: a few chickens and ducks for Amy to tend, plenty of space for children to play and be happy and free…. Yes, everyone knew that story and everyone knew that Ben did not come back and that Jones’s field was no longer an open space, but part of the playing-fields of the school.

Kate loved to visit her Great-Aunt Amy and once again this is what she was doing. She would always beg her Great- Aunt to tell her the story of Ben and Amy: she even thought that her aunt had been named for that long-ago Amy of the story.

As she and her aunt were putting the finishing touches to that night’s chicken-pie supper, (Aunt Amy was actually doing the work, and Kate was shaping the cut-off pieces of dough into little gingerbread men “But without the ginger” she said and laughed at her own joke.)
“Please Aunt A, “she said, “Please tell me the story of Ben the soldier and Amy, the lady in the field.”

“Go on, “said her aunt. “ You know that story as well as I do. Why don’t you write it down? You’re always writing things in your note-book”

“I will. I will,” promised Kate,” but please, pleeeas … tell it to me again.”

“I know what you’re thinking. You imagine that the Amy of the story was really me. And you just want to have a pretty story so that you can have an excuse to wonder why I’m not married! In any case, that story happened a very long time ago and I’m not so old!”

“No, I don’t think that at all. But I really, really love that story …”

Once the chicken-pie was in the oven (“Only 30 minutes now, mind,” said great- Aunt Amy.) the two sat in the warm window-seat of the kitchen.

“Well, this story goes back a very, very long time…” began Aunt Amy…

“Amy was the daughter of a man and woman who were very rich and who lived in a very grand house on the edge of an open field. The field was known as Jones’s field because many years before, even before Amy’s family came to live in the house, a gypsy whom everyone called Jones (because they couldn’t pronounce his real name) (insert something here? Would sell pretty scarves and tin brooches or he would mend pots and pans. The field was used for fêtes and playing in. People would walk in the field and everyone enjoyed it. Sometimes, there would be picnics in the field, sometimes concerts.

“It was also a trysting place.”

“What’s that?” asked Kate.

“A place where a girl would meet her sweetheart and where they would make plans for the future.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Among the young people who would meet in the field were Ben and Amy. But their meetings had to be in secret, because Ben wasn’t rich and Amy’s father wanted her to marry a rich man, the son of a great friend so that the two families could set up their business in this town, where they would establish their own special dynasty…”

“What’s a dynasty?”

“Oh, it’s a rich, powerful family who are proud and want to be important and powerful.”

“But Ben was a farm-boy and would not even own his own horse; never mind lots of land and money.”

“That’s dreadful!”

“If you’re going to keep on interrupting, I’m not going to finish the story.”

“All right.”

“Ben and Amy met in secret and were planning that soon they would just go away and get married and then no one could do anything about things. But not many months later, war broke out and all the young men in many towns and from many villages had to go and fight.

“Ben had to go as well. One evening, instead of his clean, but rather rough, farm-clothes, he was wearing a smart new uniform: he’d come to say goodbye to Amy. ‘Be brave, and wait for me. I’ll come home soon. I’ll be a hero and then your father wouldn’t dare not let us get married.’

“And a few days later, Ben had left with the other young men, now all soldiers.

“Amy still went to the horse- fountain where she and Ben used to meet. Every day she waited for him. There was little news about the war. Once she received a grubby, smudged envelope. In it there was a short letter from Ben telling her that he was well, and that he would soon be home. The letter had a six-month-old date. Amy continued to wait.

“Months passed. A year. Two years. And still Ben did not return and there were no more letters. Some of the other young men had come back. Others hadn’t. But Amy wouldn’t believe that Ben was dead and long after it had been made known that the war was over, Amy waited every evening, just before sun-set at the fountain.

And then, on an evening when the late summer was becoming early autumn and a fresh wind announced that soon the days would change and be colder and darker, she saw coming towards her through the mists, a man on a horse. His head was bandaged, and one sleeve of his tunic was flat and empty.

“Amy ran towards the rider, her own arms outstretched…

“After that day, no one ever saw her. No one in the town had heard the horse’s hooves; other people had been walking in the park, but no one else had seen anything unusual. Yes, they’d seen Amy, but as it was getting dark and colder, they thought that she must have gone home.

“No one saw her ever again.

“Her father, almost dead from grief, Amy had been his only child, ordered that the fountain be turned into a pretty garden. He and Amy’s mother died not many years later, but there was always enough money to ensure that the horse-fountain garden was full of flowers.”

“So that is the legend of Ben and Amy. That’s why so many girls here are called Amy.”

The timer rang shrilly. “Goodness! Our pie’s cooked. Will you set the table, please dear, while I take it out of the oven?”

As Kate was setting the table for the supper, she thought about the story her Great-Aunt had told her. She placed the knives and forks correctly and then ran out quickly to the garden to pick a few fresh flowers to place in a little blue vase.

“That looks pretty, “said her aunt. “And do you know that violets were Amy’s favourite flowers?”

“Aunty A, “said Kate, “This pie’s yummy. And… do you know? I’m going to write that story tomorrow!”

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