Richard Harris Barham
The Lay Of St. Odille - Poem by Richard Harris Barham
Odille was a maid of a dignified race;
Her father, Count Otto, was lord of Alsace;
Such an air, such a grace,
Such a form, such a face,
All agreed 'twere a fruitless endeavour to trace
In the Court, or within fifty miles of the place.
Many ladies in Strasburg were beautiful, still
They were beat all to sticks by the lovely Odille.
But Odille was devout, and, before she was nine,
Had 'experienced a call' she consider'd divine,
To put on the veil at St. Ermengarde's shrine.--
Lords, Dukes, and Electors, and Counts Palatine
Came to seek her in marriage from both sides the Rhine;
But vain their design,
They are all left to pine,
Their oglings and smiles are all useless; in fine,
Not one of these gentlefolks, try as they will,
Can draw 'Ask my papa' from the cruel Odille.
At length one of her suitors, a certain Count Herman,
A highly respectable man as a German,
Who smoked like a chimney, and drank like a merman,
Paid his court to her father, conceiving his firman
Would soon make her bend,
And induce her to lend
An ear to a love-tale in lieu of a sermon.
He gained the old Count, who said, 'Come, Mynheer, fill!--
Here's luck to yourself and my daughter Odille!'
The lady Odille was quite nervous with fear
When a little bird whisper'd that toast in her ear;
She murmur'd 'Oh, dear!
My papa has got queer,
I am sadly afraid, with that nasty strong beer!
He's so very austere, and severe, that it's clear
If he gets in his 'tantrums,' I can't remain here;
But St. Ermengarde's convent is luckily near;
It were folly to stay,
Pour prendre congé,
I shall put on my bonnet, and e'en run away!'
-- She unlock'd the back door, and descended the hill,
On whose crest stood the towers of the sire of Odille.
When he found she'd levanted, the Count of Alsace
At first turn'd remarkably red in the face;
He anathematized, with much unction and grace,
Every soul who came near, and consign'd the whole race
Of runaway girls to a very warm place.
With a frightful grimace
He gave orders for chase.
His vassals set off at a deuce of a pace,
And of all whom they met, high or low, Jack or Jill,
Ask'd, 'Pray, have you seen anything of Odille?'--
Now I think I've been told,-- for I'm no sporting man,--
That the 'knowing-ones' call this by far the best plan,
'Take the lead and then keep it!'-- that is if you can.--
Odille thought so too, so she set off and ran;
Put her best leg before,
Starting at score,
As I said some lines since, from that little back door,
And not being missed until half after four,
Had what hunters call 'law' for a good hour and more;
Doing her best,
Without stopping to rest,
Like 'young Lochinvar who came out of the West,'
''Tis done! I am gone!-- over briar, brook, and rill!
They'll be sharp lads who catch me!' said young Miss Odille.
But you've all read in Æsop, or Phædrus, or Gay,
How a tortoise and hare ran together one day,
How the hare, 'making play,
Progress'd right slick away,'
As 'them tarnation chaps' the Americans say;
While the tortoise, whose figure is rather outré
For racing, crawled straight on, without let or stay,
Having no post-horse duty or turnpikes to pay,
Till ere noon's ruddy ray
Changed to eve's sober grey,
Though her form and obesity caused some delay,
Perseverance and patience brought up her lee-way,
And she chased her fleet-footed 'praycursor,' until
She o'ertook her at last;-- so it fared with Odille.
For although, as I said, she ran gaily at first,
And show'd no inclination to pause, if she durst;
She at length felt opprest with the heat, and with thirst
Its usual attendant; nor was that the worst,
Her shoes went down at heel;-- at last one of them burst.
Now a gentleman smiles
At a trot of ten miles;
But not so the Fair; then consider the stiles,
And as then ladies seldom wore things with a frill
Round the ancle, these stiles sadly bother'd Odille.
Still, despite all the obstacles placed in her track,
She kept steadily on, though the terrible crack
In her shoe made of course her progression more slack,
Till she reached the Swartz Forest (in English The Black);
I cannot divine
How the boundary line
Was passed which is somewhere there formed by the Rhine.
Perhaps she'd the knack
To float o'er on her back.
Or perhaps crossed the old bridge of boats at Brisach,
(Which Vauban some years after secured from attack,
By a bastion of stone which the Germans call 'Wacke,')
All I know is she took not so much as a snack,
Till hungry and worn, feeling wretchedly ill,
On a mountain's brow sank down the weary Odille.
I said on its 'brow,' but I should have said 'crown,'
For 'twas quite on the summit, bleak, barren, and brown,
And so high that 'twas frightful indeed to look down
Upon Friburg, a place of some little renown,
That lay at its foot; but imagine the frown
That contracted her brow, when full many a clown
She perceived coming up from that horrid post-town.
They had followed her trail,
And now thought without fail,
As little boys say, to 'lay salt on her tail;'
While the Count, who knew no other law but his will,
Swore that Herman that evening should marry Odille.
Alas, for Odille; poor dear! what could she do?
Her father's retainers now had her in view,
As she found from their raising a joyous halloo;
While the Count, riding on at the head of his crew,
In their snuff-coloured doublets and breeches of blue,
Was huzzaing and urging them on to pursue.--
What, indeed, could she do?
She very well knew
If they caught her how much she should have to go through;
But then -- she'd so shocking a hole in her shoe!
And to go further on was impossible;-- true
She might jump o'er the precipice; still there are few
In her place who could manage their courage to screw
Up to bidding the world such a sudden adieu:
Alack! how she envied the birds as they flew;
No Nassau balloon with its wicker canoe
Came to bear her from him she loathed worse than a Jew;
So she fell on her knees in a terrible stew,
Crying 'Holy St. Ermengarde!
Oh, from these vermin guard
Her whose last hope rests entirely on you!
Don't let papa catch me, dear Saint!-- rather kill
At once, sur le champ, your devoted Odille!'
Its delightful to see those who strive to oppress
Get baulk'd when they think themselves sure of success.
The Saint came to the rescue! I fairly confess
I don't see, as a Saint, how she well could do less
Than to get such a votary out of her mess.
Odille had scarce closed her pathetic address
When the rock, gaping wide as the Thames at Sheerness,
Closed again, and secured her within its recess,
In a natural grotto,
Which puzzled Count Otto,
Who could not conceive where the deuce she had got to.
'Twas her voice!-- but 'twas Vox et præterea Nil!
Nor could any one guess what was gone with Odille.
Then burst from the mountain a splendour that quite
Eclipsed in its brilliance the finest Bude light,
And there stood St. Ermengarde drest all in white,
A palm-branch in her left hand, her beads in her right;
While with faces fresh gilt, and with wings burnish'd bright,
A great many little boys' heads took their flight
Above and around to a very great height,
And seem'd pretty lively considering their plight,
Since every one saw,
With amazement and awe,
They could never sit down, for they hadn't de quoi.
All at the sight,
From the knave to the knight,
Felt a very unpleasant sensation called fright;
While the Saint, looking down,
With a terrible frown,
Said, 'My Lords you are done most remarkably brown!--
I am really ashamed of you both; my nerves thrill
At your scandalous conduct to poor dear Odille!
Come, make yourselves scarce! it is useless to stay,
You will gain nothing here by a longer delay.
'Quick! Presto! Begone!' as the conjurors say;
For as to the lady, I've stow'd her away
In this hill, in a stratum of London blue clay;
And I shan't, I assure you, restore her to day
Till you faithfully promise no more to say Nay,
But declare, 'If she will be a nun, why she may.'
For this you've my word, and I never yet broke it,
So put that in your pipe, my Lord Otto, and smoke it!--
One hint to your vassals,-- a month at 'the Mill'
Shall be nuts to what they'll get who worry Odille!'
The Saint disappear'd as she ended, and so
Did the little boys' heads, which, above and below,
As I told you a very few stanzas ago,
Had been flying about her, and jumping Jem Crow;
Though, without any body, or leg, foot, or toe,
How they managed such antics, I really don't know;
Be that as it may, they all 'melted like snow
Off a dyke,' as the Scotch say in sweet Edinbro'.
And there stood the Count,
With his men on the mount,
Just like 'twenty-four jackasses all on a row.'
What was best to be done?--' twas a sad bitter pill;
But gulp it he must, or else lose his Odille.
The lord of Alsace therefore alter'd his plan,
And said to himself, like a sensible man,
'I can't do as I would,-- I must do as I can;'
It will not do to lie under any Saint's ban,
For your hide, when you do, they all manage to tan;
So Count Herman must pick up some Betsey or Nan,
Instead of my girl,-- some Sue, Polly, or Fan;--
If he can't get the corn he must do with the bran,
And make shift with the pot if he can't have the pan.
After words such as these
He went down on his knees,
And said, 'Blessed St. Ermengarde, just as you please--
They shall build a new convent,-- I'll pay the whole bill,
(Taking discount,)-- its Abbess shall be my Odille!'
There are some of my readers, I'll venture to say,
Who have never seen Friburg, though some of them may,
And others 'tis likely may go there some day.
Now if ever you happen to travel that way
I do beg and pray,--' twill your pains well repay,--
That you'll take what the Cockney folks call a 'po-shay,'
(Though in Germany these things are more like a dray);
You may reach this same hill with a single relay,--
And do look how the rock,
Through the whole of its block,
Is split open as though by some violent shock
From an earthquake, or lightning, or horrid hard knock
From the club-bearing fist of some jolly old cock
Of a Germanized giant, Thor, Woden, or Lok;
And see how it rears
Its two monstrous great ears,
For when once you're between them such each side appears;
And list to the sound of the water one hears
Drip, drip from the fissures, like rain-drops or tears:
-- Odille's, I believe,-- which have flow'd all these years;
-- I think they account for them so;-- but the rill
I'm sure is connected some way with Odille.
Now then for a moral, which always arrives
At the end, like the honey bees take to their hives,
And the more one observes it the better one thrives.--
We have all heard it said in the course of our lives
'Needs must when a certain old gentleman drives,'
'Tis the same with a lady,-- if once she contrives
To get hold of the ribands, how vainly one strives
To escape from her lash, or to shake off her gyves.
Then let's act like Count Otto, and while one survives
Succumb to our She-Saints -- videlicet wives.
That is if one has not a 'good bunch of fives.'--
(I can't think how that last line escaped from my quill,
For I am sure it has nothing to do with Odille.)
Now young ladies to you!--
Don't put on the shrew!
And don't be surprised if your father looks blue
When you're pert, and won't act as he wants you to do!
Be sure that you never elope;-- there are few,--
Believe me you'll find what I say to be true,--
Who run restive, but find as they bake they must brew,
And come off at the last with 'a hole in their shoe;'
Since not even Clapham, that sanctified ville,
Can produce enough Saints to save every Odille
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