There was once an old soldier who had fought a bitter campaign in the Napoleonic wars. When in 1815 that bitter conflict came to an end he like many of his brave comrades he returned home to find that there was no home, no job and no prospects. His only option was to wander the countryside seeking the odd job and the kindness of strangers. He wandered up hill and down dale until his journey took him upon the lonely wastes of Dartmoor. For what seemed an eternity he wandered over stream and tor until he eventually came across a lonely farmhouse.
Now let’s rewind the tale to a few hours before the old veteran came across the farmhouse. It was market day in Chagford and the old farmer was taking some of his prized bullocks to be sold. It would be fair to say that as one of the most noted of cattle breeders these prime animals would make a pretty price. It was because of his skill and at times his frugality that over the years he had managed to accumulate a small fortune. So knowing that he would probably be away the best part of the day he entrusted his wife with the money bag which was on the dresser and told her to hide it well until his return. With that he kissed her goodbye, whistled the dogs and set off with his bullocks down the lane towards Chagford. Once he had gone the woman looked around the parlour for the best place to hide their fortune, finally settling on putting up the chimney in the huge fireplace.
Fast forward back to when the old soldier came to the farmhouse. His first thoughts were that this looked like quite a prosperous farm and maybe there would be some work but if not at least a tasty bite to eat. He shuffled up the path to the front door and gently knocked noting that there were no dogs barking which he took to mean the farmer was away. The farmer’s wife came to the door and was greeted by this dishevelled looking old man dressed in a ragged old army uniform. “Who be ee a knockin an’ where be ee vrom?” she asked. The old soldier stood to attention and proudly announced that he was from; “Paradise“. “Lawd almighty,” she exclaimed, “my vurst ‘usband be in Paradise ‘ave ee seen un?” He was slightly amazed at her question but seeking an opportunity for some charity he said in no uncertain terms that he had. “How be ee a doin’,” she asked with raised eyebrows. The old veteran slightly bowed his head and informed her that he was cobbling shoes for the saints but recently had fallen on hard times because all the leather in Paradise had run out and he that had no money to buy some more. Just to add a twist he also noted that this meant her first husband could only afford to eat cabbage. Clearly the woman still had fond thoughts of her first husband and urgently demanded to know if; “ee had sent a message for I.” Just like an angler on the nearby Teign river he had cast his line and the trout had taken the bait and now it was time to gently real it in. A furrowed frown came across the old mans face and he gently stroked his faded medals which hung on his jacket. Looking her straight in the yes he told her that her husband had asked if she could spare a few shillings in order to buy some more leather. Without hesitation she rushed over to the chimney breast and amidst a cloud of soot pulled out the money bag. “Here, take him this,” she said as she thrusted the money bag in the old veterans hands, “an’ tell ee that when I gets tu Paradise I u’ll ‘elp him with his cobblin’.” The bag weighed heavy in the old boys hand and he knew straight away that he had landed a fine catch and so promising the farmer’s wife that he would deliver it in person beat a hasty retreat down the path and off up the lane.
As the early evening light began casting its golden glow over the distant tors the old farmer came stumbling down the lane. It had been a very profitable sale and some of his gain he had spent at The Three Crown Inn at Chagford. Pleased with the days work he went into the kitchen where his wife was preparing a fine mutton stew and asked her for the money bag in which he could add to their fortune. Then the events of the day were relayed to him by his wife. An old soldier had come from Paradise and said that her first husband was making shoes for the saints. She the added that he had run out of leather and needed some money to buy more stock. So all the money had been given to the old veteran who was returning to Paradise and would take the money to him. Well, you can imagine the farmer’s reaction, after ranting and cussing he dashed out to the stable, saddled his pony and dashed off in search of the old soldier.
By this time the old veteran had found a comfortable haystack in which he would spend the night and make plans of how to spend his ill-gotten fortune. Suddenly he heard the sound of pony hooves clattering down the lane and by their urgency realised it was probably the farmer. So without hesitation he crawled out of the stack, laid on his back with one hand shading his eyes as he pointed up to the sky. As soon as the farmer spotted him he charged over to where the old soldier lay. “What be a doin’ led thar an’ where’s my money,” he demanded. With utter astonishment in his voice the old soldier explained that he was watching a man walking up into the sky on a golden road to Paradise and that he had given him the money. “Can ee still seed un?” asked the farmer to which once again the veteran pointed a little higher into the sky and nodded vigorously. The farmer stood squinting and intently peering into the heavens exclaimed that, “ee could see nought.” Detecting a rising anger in the farmer’s voice the old soldier politely suggested that if the farmer lay on his back too he would surely see the road and the man. The farmer was not convinced and so the soldier offered to hold the pony whilst he laid down and that once he saw the road he could then give chase to the figure walking up it. Desperate for his fortune back the farmer leapt off his pony, handed the reins to the soldier and flopped down on the ground. No sooner had he done this than the crafty soldier leapt into the saddle and galloped off with leather bag safely ensconced in his pocket, never to be seen again.
The moral of this story is that a fool and their money are soon parted but also a fool and their pony are also soon parted. Having berated his gullible wife for her stupidity the farmer then had to go home and explain how he had managed to lose their pony. It just goes to show that ‘scams’ were around much earlier than the arrival of the internet and there are still gullible folk around who can be parted from their fortunes.