William Schwenck Gilbert
Annie Protheroe. A Legend Of Stratford-Le-Bow - Poem by William Schwenck Gilbert
OH! listen to the tale of little ANNIE PROTHEROE.
She kept a small post-office in the neighbourhood of BOW;
She loved a skilled mechanic, who was famous in his day -
A gentle executioner whose name was GILBERT CLAY.
I think I hear you say, "A dreadful subject for your rhymes!"
O reader, do not shrink - he didn't live in modern times!
He lived so long ago (the sketch will show it at a glance)
That all his actions glitter with the lime-light of Romance.
In busy times he laboured at his gentle craft all day -
"No doubt you mean his Cal-craft," you amusingly will say -
But, no - he didn't operate with common bits of string,
He was a Public Headsman, which is quite another thing.
And when his work was over, they would ramble o'er the lea,
And sit beneath the frondage of an elderberry tree,
And ANNIE'S simple prattle entertained him on his walk,
For public executions formed the subject of her talk.
And sometimes he'd explain to her, which charmed her very much,
How famous operators vary very much in touch,
And then, perhaps, he'd show how he himself performed the trick,
And illustrate his meaning with a poppy and a stick.
Or, if it rained, the little maid would stop at home, and look
At his favourable notices, all pasted in a book,
And then her cheek would flush - her swimming eyes would dance with
In a glow of admiration at the prowess of her boy.
One summer eve, at supper-time, the gentle GILBERT said
(As he helped his pretty ANNIE to a slice of collared head),
"This reminds me I must settle on the next ensuing day
The hash of that unmitigated villain PETER GRAY."
He saw his ANNIE tremble and he saw his ANNIE start,
Her changing colour trumpeted the flutter at her heart;
Young GILBERT'S manly bosom rose and sank with jealous fear,
And he said, "O gentle ANNIE, what's the meaning of this here?"
And ANNIE answered, blushing in an interesting way,
"You think, no doubt, I'm sighing for that felon PETER GRAY:
That I was his young woman is unquestionably true,
But not since I began a-keeping company with you."
Then GILBERT, who was irritable, rose and loudly swore
He'd know the reason why if she refused to tell him more;
And she answered (all the woman in her flashing from her eyes)
"You mustn't ask no questions, and you won't be told no lies!
"Few lovers have the privilege enjoyed, my dear, by you,
Of chopping off a rival's head and quartering him too!
Of vengeance, dear, to-morrow you will surely take your fill!"
And GILBERT ground his molars as he answered her, "I will!"
Young GILBERT rose from table with a stern determined look,
And, frowning, took an inexpensive hatchet from its hook;
And ANNIE watched his movements with an interested air -
For the morrow - for the morrow he was going to prepare!
He chipped it with a hammer and he chopped it with a bill,
He poured sulphuric acid on the edge of it, until
This terrible Avenger of the Majesty of Law
Was far less like a hatchet than a dissipated saw.
And ANNIE said, "O GILBERT, dear, I do not understand
Why ever you are injuring that hatchet in your hand?'
He said, "It is intended for to lacerate and flay
The neck of that unmitigated villain PETER GRAY!"
"Now, GILBERT," ANNIE answered, "wicked headsman, just beware -
I won't have PETER tortured with that horrible affair;
If you appear with that, you may depend you'll rue the day."
But GILBERT said, "Oh, shall I?" which was just his nasty way.
He saw a look of anger from her eyes distinctly dart,
For ANNIE was a woman, and had pity in her heart!
She wished him a good evening - he answered with a glare;
She only said, "Remember, for your ANNIE will be there!"
The morrow GILBERT boldly on the scaffold took his stand,
With a vizor on his face and with a hatchet in his hand,
And all the people noticed that the Engine of the Law
Was far less like a hatchet than a dissipated saw.
The felon very coolly loosed his collar and his stock,
And placed his wicked head upon the handy little block.
The hatchet was uplifted for to settle PETER GRAY,
When GILBERT plainly heard a woman's voice exclaiming, "Stay!"
'Twas ANNIE, gentle ANNIE, as you'll easily believe.
"O GILBERT, you must spare him, for I bring him a reprieve,
It came from our Home Secretary many weeks ago,
And passed through that post-office which I used to keep at Bow.
"I loved you, loved you madly, and you know it, GILBERT CLAY,
And as I'd quite surrendered all idea of PETER GRAY,
I quietly suppressed it, as you'll clearly understand,
For I thought it might be awkward if he came and claimed my hand.
"In anger at my secret (which I could not tell before),
To lacerate poor PETER GRAY vindictively you swore;
I told you if you used that blunted axe you'd rue the day,
And so you will, young GILBERT, for I'll marry PETER GRAY!"
[AND SO SHE DID.]
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