The Ballad of the Lord and His Thief
He buys her when she is a child of four,
small, hungry, agile, fingers long and thin.
He takes her to a window, shoves her in
the tiny gap. It’s what he bought her for.
He is a lord, who battles with ennui.
Some race their horses; he commissions crime.
It’s a diverting way to pass his time,
Arrange a theft, then ring the bell for tea.
He is her master and she loves him so
and brings him necklaces, snuffboxes, gold,
as many shiny things as she can hold
in the large leather bag, tied with a bow,
that he has given her to hold the swag.
It is amazing she can even lift,
or that the fence down in St Giles can shift.
All of the loot she places in that bag.
He had a theory if he trained them young
he could produce some kind of perfect thief.
She is the proof; he feels a kind of grief
that one day she’ll be caught, and tried, and hung.
He’s used to have her there to light his pipe
and pour his gin and bring him cheese and bread.
It saddens him to think she’ll soon be dead.
He’s had her for ten years, she’ll soon be ripe.
Perhaps he’ll sell her on. A death from pox
is surely better than a strangling rope.
Then she and some young boy she’s found elope
and take with them the contents of the box
in which he’s kept the finest things she stole.
She learned to pay attention; stole herself
that he had thought he owned. All of the wealth
she takes, he’ll do without, but not her soul.
And so he hires a strangler with a noose,
a poisoner who’s good at dosing drinks,
two men with knives. That is enough, he thinks.
She thinks she’s won. He really hates to lose.
The dagger-men are torn apart by cuts
from their own knives. The poisoner’s face is black
from her own poison. Taken from the back,
the strangler’s choked, a poker in his guts
and he died hard. But first he killed her man
and so it’s war. He takes a gun to bed
and pulls the eiderdown over his head
and warm and scared thinks out his battle plan.
Tells the thief-takers to watch out for her.
Describes her hands, and sketches them her face.
Avoids the slums, and purchases a brace
of hunting cats. He strokes them till they purr
trained to his hand, and will tear out the throat
of any who come near him. Moves from town
to a remote estate, house falling down,
but usefully protected by a moat.
And sits at home two years and does not leave
and grows complacent. Maybe she is dead,
perhaps revenge has vanished from her head.
Black melancholic bile kills girls who grieve
She’s dead and gone, simply from being sad.
He smiles again, and in St James Park,
is seen walking his cats. And after dark
investigates new ways of being bad.
Debauches merchants’ wives. Breaks into schools
to burn their grammar books. Breeds giant rats
so there’s beasts mad enough to fight his cats.
There’s one big rat with biting teeth, that drools
in ropes of spit that he calls by her name
watches it torn apart. Drinks, plays piquet
all night, and wins at cards, until one day
some young man calls him cheat after a game.
He asks for satisfaction. Yes indeed
the young man says. Pistols will surely do.
At twenty paces. If his aim is true,
he’ll kill this upstart boy who’ll fall and bleed.
And he is not the fiddler at this dance.
They mark the field of battle, pace by pace.
She tears the false moustache off from her face.
Shoots him, astounded, dead. Escapes to France.