Richard Harris Barham
The Tragedy, - Poem by Richard Harris Barham
Quæque ipse miserrima vidi.-- VIRGIL.
Catherine of Cleves was a Lady of rank,
She had lands and fine houses, and cash in the Bank;
She had jewels and rings,
And a thousand smart things;
Was lovely and young,
With a rather sharp tongue,
And she wedded a Noble of high degree
With the star of the order of St. Esprit;
But the Duke de Guise
Was, by many degrees,
Her senior, and not very easy to please;
He'd a sneer on his lip, and a scowl with his eye,
And a frown on his brow,-- and he look'd like a Guy,--
So she took to intriguing
With Monsieur St. Megrin,
A young man of fashion, and figure, and worth,
But with no great pretensions to fortune or birth;
He would sing, fence, and dance
With the best man in France,
And took his rappee with genteel nonchalance;
He smiled, and he flatter'd, and flirted with ease,
And was very superior to Monseigneur de Guise.
Now Monsieur St. Megrin was curious to know
If the Lady approved of his passion or no;
So without more ado,
He put on his surtout,
And went to a man with a beard like a Jew.
One Signor Ruggieri,
A Cunning-man near, he
Could conjure, tell fortunes, and calculate tides,
Perform tricks on the cards, and Heaven knows what besides,
Bring back a stray'd cow, silver ladle, or spoon,
And was thought to be thick with the Man in the Moon.
The Sage took his stand
With his wand in his hand,
Drew a circle, then gave the dread word of command,
Saying solemnly --' Presto!-- Hey, quick!-- Cock-alorum!!'
When the Duchess immediately popped up before 'em.
Just then a Conjunction of Venus and Mars,
Or something peculiar above in the stars,
Attracted the notice of Signor Ruggieri,
Who 'bolted,' and left him alone with his deary.--
Monsieur St. Megrin went down on his knees,
And the Duchess shed tears large as marrow-fat peas,
When,-- fancy the shock,--
A loud double-knock,
Made the Lady cry 'Get up, you fool!-- there's De Guise!'--
'Twas his Grace, sure enough;
So Monsieur, looking bluff,
Strutted by, with his hat on, and fingering his ruff,
While, unseen by either, away flew the Dame
Through the opposite key-hole, the same way she came;
But, alack! and alas!
A mishap came to pass,
In her hurry she, somehow or other, let fall
A new silk Bandana she'd worn as a shawl;
She had used it for drying
Her bright eyes while crying,
And blowing her nose, as her Beau talk'd of 'dying!'
Now the Duke, who had seen it so lately adorn her,
And knew the great C with the Crown in the corner;
The instant he spied it smoked something amiss,
And said with some energy, 'D-- it! what's this?'
He went home in a fume,
And bounced into her room,
Crying, 'So, Ma'am, I find I've some cause to be jealous;
Look here!-- here's a proof you run after the fellows!
-- Now take up that pen,-- if it's bad choose a better,--
And write, as I dictate, this moment a letter
To Monsieur -- you know who!'
The Lady look'd blue;
But replied with much firmness --' Hang me if I do!'
De Guise grasped her wrist
With his great bony fist,
And pinch'd it, and gave it so painful a twist,
That his hard, iron gauntlet the flesh went an inch in,--
She did not mind death, but she could not stand pinching;
So she sat down and wrote
This polite little note:--
'Dear Mister St. Megrin,
The Chiefs of the League in
Our house mean to dine
This evening at nine;
I shall, soon after ten,
Slip away from the men,
And you'll find me up stairs in the drawing-room then;
Come up the back way, or those impudent thieves
Of Servants will see you; Yours,
Catherine of Cleves.'
She directed and sealed it, all pale as a ghost,
And De Guise put it into the Twopenny Post.
St. Megrin had almost jumped out of his skin
For joy that day when the post came in;
He read the note through,
Then began it anew,
And thought it almost too good news to be true.--
He clapped on his hat,
And a hood over that,
With a cloak to disguise him, and make him look fat;
So great his impatience, from half after four
He was waiting till Ten at De Guise's back-door.
When he heard the great clock of St. Genevieve chime
He ran up the back staircase six steps at a time;
He had scare made his bow,
He hardly knew how,
When alas! and alack!
There was no getting back,
For the drawing-room door was bang'd to with a whack;--
In vain he applied
To the handle and tried,
Somebody or other had locked it outside!
And the Duchess in agony mourn'd her mishap,
'We are caught like a couple of rats in a trap.'
Now the Duchess's Page,
About twelve years of age,
For so little a boy was remarkably sage;
And, just in the nick, to their joy and amazement,
Popp'd the Gas-lighter's ladder close under the casement.
But all would not do,--
Though St. Megrin got through
The window,-- below stood De Guise and his crew,
And though never man was more brave than St. Megrin,
Yet fighting a score is extremely fatiguing;
He thrust carte and tierce
But not Beelzebub's self could their cuirasses pierce,
While his doublet and hose,
Being holiday clothes,
Were soon cut through and through from his knees to his nose.
Still an old crooked sixpence the Conjuror gave him
From pistol and sword was sufficient to save him,
But, when beat on his knees,
That confounded De Guise
Came behind with the 'fogle' that caused all this breeze,
Whipp'd it tight round his neck, and, when backward he'd jerk'd him,
The rest of the rascals jump'd on him and Burk'd him.
The poor little Page too himself got no quarter, but
Was served the same way,
And was found the next day
With his heels in the air and his head in the water-butt.
Catherine of Cleves
Roar'd 'Murder!' and 'Thieves!'
From the window above
While they murder'd her love;
Till, finding the rogues had accomplish'd his slaughter,
She drank Prussic acid without any water,
And died like a Duke and a Duchess's daughter!
Take warning, ye Fair, from this tale of the Bard's,
And don't go where fortunes are told on the cards!
But steer clear of Conjurors,-- never put query
To 'Wise Mrs. Williams,' or folks like Ruggieri.
When alone in your room shut the door close, and lock it;
Above all,-- keep your handkerchief safe in your pocket!
Lest you too should stumble, and Lord Leveson Gower, he
Be call'd on,-- sad poet!-- to tell your sad story
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