Richard Harris Barham
The Witch's Frolic - Poem by Richard Harris Barham
[Scene, the 'Snuggery' at Tappington.-- Grandpapa in a high-backed cane-bottomed elbow-chair of carved walnut-tree, dozing; his nose at an angle of forty-five degrees,--his thumbs slowly perform the rotatory motion described by lexicographers as 'twiddling.'--The 'Hope of the family' astride on a walking-stick, with burnt-cork mustachios, and a pheasant's tail pinned in his cap, solaceth himself with martial music.-- Roused by a strain of surpassing dissonance, Grandpapa Loquitur. ]
Come hither, come hither, my little boy Ned!
Come hither unto my knee--
I cannot away with that horrible din,
That sixpenny drum, and that trumpet of tin.
Oh, better to wander frank and free
Through the Fair of good Saint Bartlemy,
Than list to such awful minstrelsie.
Now lay, little Ned, those nuisances by,
And I'll rede ye a lay of Grammarye.
[Grandpapa riseth, yawneth like the crater of an extinct volcano, proceedeth slowly to the window, and apostrophizeth the Abbey in the distance.]
I love thy tower, Grey Ruin,
I joy thy form to see,
Though reft of all,
Cell, cloister, and hall,
Nothing is left save a tottering wall,
That, awfully grand and darkly dull,
Threaten'd to fall and demolish my skull,
As, ages ago, I wander'd along
Careless thy grass-grown courts among,
In sky-blue jacket and trowsers laced,
The latter uncommonly short in the waist.
Thou art dearer to me, thou Ruin grey,
Than the Squire's verandah over the way;
And fairer, I ween,
The ivy sheen
That thy mouldering turret binds,
Than the Alderman's house about half a mile off,
With the green Venetian blinds.
Full many a tale would my Grandam tell,
In many a bygone day,
Of darksome deeds, which of old befell
In thee, thou Ruin grey!
And I the readiest ear would lend,
And stare like frighten'd pig;
While my Grandfather's hair would have stood up an end,
Had he not worn a wig.
One tale I remember of mickle dread--
Now lithe and listen, my little boy Ned!
Thou mayest have read, my little boy Ned,
Though thy mother thine idlesse blames,
In Doctor Goldsmith's history book,
Of a gentleman called King James,
In quilted doublet, and great trunk breeches,
Who held in abhorrence tobacco and witches.
Well,-- in King James's golden days,--
For the days were golden then,--
They could not be less, for good Queen Bess
Had died aged threescore and ten,
And her days, we know,
Were all of them so;
While the Court poets sung, and the Court gallants swore
That the days were as golden still as before.
Some people, 'tis true, a troublesome few,
Who historical points would unsettle,
Have lately thrown out a sort of a doubt
Of the genuine ring of the metal;
But who can believe to a monarch so wise
People would dare tell a parcel of lies?
-- Well, then, in good King James's days,--
Golden or not does not matter a jot,--
Yon ruin a sort of a roof had got;
For though, repairs lacking, its walls had been cracking
Since Harry the Eighth sent its friars a-packing,
Though joists, and floors,
And windows, and doors
Had all disappear'd, yet pillars by scores
Remain'd, and still propp'd up a ceiling or two,
While the belfry was almost as good as new;
You are not to suppose matters look'd just so
In the Ruin some two hundred years ago.
Just in that farthermost angle, where
You see the remains of a winding-stair,
One turret especially high in air
Uprear'd its tall gaunt form;
As if defying the power of Fate, or
The hand of 'Time the Innovator;'
And though to the pitiless storm
Its weaker brethren all around
Bowing, in ruin had strew'd the ground,
Alone it stood, while its fellows lay strew'd,
Like a four-bottle man in a company 'screw'd,'
Not firm on his legs, but by no means subdued.
One night --' twas in Sixteen hundred and six --
I like when I can, Ned, the date to fix,--
The month was May,
Though I can't well say
At this distance of time the particular day --
But oh! that night, that horrible night!
Folks ever afterwards said with affright
That they never had seen such a terrible sight.
The Sun had gone down fiery red;
And if that evening he laid his head
In Thetis's lap beneath the seas,
He must have scalded the goddess's knees.
He left behind him a lurid track
Of blood-red light upon clouds so black,
That Warren and Hunt, with the whole of their crew,
Could scarcely have given them a darker hue.
There came a shrill and a whistling sound,
Above, beneath, beside, and around,
Yet leaf ne'er moved on tree!
So that some people thought old Beelzebub must
Have been lock'd out of doors, and was blowing the dust
From the pipe of his street-door key.
And then a hollow moaning blast
Came, sounding more dismally still than the last,
And the lightning flash'd, and the thunder growl'd,
And louder and louder the tempest howl'd,
And the rain came down in such sheets as would stagger a
Bard for a simile short of Niagara.
Rob Gilpin 'was a citizen;'
But, though of some 'renown,'
Of no great 'credit' in his own,
Or any other town.
He was a wild and roving lad,
For ever in the alehouse boozing;
Or romping,-- which is quite as bad,--
With female friends of his own choosing.
And Rob this very day had made,
Not dreaming such a storm was brewing,
An assignation with Miss Slade,--
Their trysting-place this same grey Ruin.
But Gertrude Slade became afraid,
And to keep her appointment unwilling,
When she spied the rain on her window-pane
In drops as big as a shilling;
She put off her hat and her mantle again,--
'He'll never expect me in all this rain!'
But little he recks of the fears of the sex,
Or that maiden false to her tryst could be,
He had stood there a good half hour
Ere yet commenced that perilous shower,
Alone by the trysting-tree!
Robin looks east, Robin looks west,
But he sees not her whom he loves the best;
Robin looks up, and Robin looks down,
But no one comes from the neighbouring town.
The storm came at last, loud roar'd the blast,
And the shades of evening fell thick and fast;
The tempest grew; and the straggling yew,
His leafy umbrella, was wet through and through;
Rob was half dead with cold and with fright,
When he spies in the ruins a twinkling light --
A hop, two skips, and a jump, and straight
Rob stands within that postern gate.
And there were gossips sitting there,
By one, by two, by three:
Two were an old ill-favour'd pair;
But the third was young, and passing fair,
With laughing eyes and with coal-black hair;
A daintie quean was she!
Rob would have given his ears to sip
But a single salute from her cherry lip.
As they sat in that old and haunted room,
In each one's hand was a huge birch broom,
On each one's head was a steeple-crown'd hat,
On each one's knee was a coal-black cat;
Each had a kirtle of Lincoln green --
It was, I trow, a fearsome scene.
'Now riddle me, riddle me right, Madge Gray,
What foot unhallow'd wends this way?
Goody Price, Goody Price, now areed me aright,
Who roams the old ruins this drearysome night?'
Then up and spake that sonsie quean,
And she spake both loud and clear:
'Oh, be it for weal, or be it for woe,
Enter friend, or enter foe,
Rob Gilpin is welcome here!--
'Now tread we a measure! a hall! a hall!
Now tread we a measure,' quoth she --
The heart of Robin
Beat thick and throbbing --
'Roving Rob, tread a measure with me!'--
'Ay, lassie!' quoth Rob, as her hand he gripes,
'Though Satan himself were blowing the pipes!'
Now around they go, and around, and around,
With hop-skip-and-jump, and frolicsome bound,
Such sailing and gilding,
Such sinking and sliding,
Such lofty curvetting,
And grand pirouetting;
Ned, you would swear that Monsieur Gilbert
And Miss Taglioni were capering there!
And oh! such awful music!-- ne'er
Fell sounds so uncanny on mortal ear,
There were the tones of a dying man's groans
Mix'd with the rattling of dead men's bones:
Had you heard the shrieks, and the squeals, and the squeaks,
You'd not have forgotten the sound for weeks.
And around, and around, and around they go,
Heel to heel, and toe to toe,
Prance and caper, curvet and wheel,
Toe to toe, and heel to heel.
''Tis merry, 'tis merry, Cummers, I trow,
To dance thus beneath the nightshade bough!'--
'Goody Price, Goody Price, now riddle me right,
Where may we sup this frolicsome night?'--
'Mine Host of the Dragon hath mutton and veal!
The Squire hath partridge, and widgeon, and teal;
But old Sir Thopas hath daintier cheer,
A pasty made of the good red deer,
A huge grouse pie, and a fine Florentine,
A fat roast goose, and a turkey and chine.'--
--'Madge Gray, Madge Gray,
Now tell me, I pray,
Where's the best wassail bowl to our roundelay?'
'-- There is ale in the cellars of Tappington Hall,
But the Squire is a churl, and his drink is small;
Mine host of the Dragon
Hath many a flaggon
Of double ale, lamb's-wool, and eau de vie,
But Sir Thopas, the Vicar,
Hath costlier liquor,--
A butt of the choicest Malvoisie.
He doth not lack
Canary or Sack;
And a good pint stoup of Clary wine
Smacks merrily off with a Turkey and Chine!'
'Now away! and away! without delay,
Hey Cockalorum! my Broomstick gay,
We must be back ere the dawn of the day:
Hey up the chimney! away! away!'--
Old Goody Price
Mounts in a trice,
In showing her legs she is not over nice;
Old Goody Jones,
All skin and bones,
Follows 'like winking.' Away go the crones,
Knees and nose in a line with the toes,
Sitting their brooms like so many Ducrows;
Latest and last
The damsel pass'd,
One glance of her coal-black eye she cast;
She laugh'd with glee loud laughters three,
'Dost fear, Rob Gilpin, to ride with me!'--
Oh, never might man unscath'd espy
One single glance from that coal-black eye.
-- Away she flew!--
Without more ado
Rob seizes and mounts on a broomstick too,
'Hey! up the chimney, lass! Hey after you!'
It's a very fine thing on a fine day in June
To ride through the air in a Nassau Balloon;
But you'll find very soon, if you aim at the Moon
In a carriage like that you're a bit of a 'Spoon,'
For the largest can't fly
Above twenty miles high,
And you're not half way then on your journey, nor nigh;
While no man alive
Could ever contrive,
Mr. Green has declared, to get higher than five.
And the soundest Philosophers hold that, perhaps,
If you reach'd twenty miles your balloon would collapse,
Or pass by such action
The sphere of attraction,
Getting into the track of some comet -- Good-lack!
'Tis a thousand to one that you'd never come back;
And the boldest of mortals a danger like that must fear,
And be cautious of getting beyond our own atmosphere.
No, no; when I try
A trip to the sky,
I shan't go in that thing of yours, Mr. Gye,
Though Messieurs Monk Mason, and Spencer, and Beazly,
All join in saying it travels so easily.
No; there's nothing so good
As a pony of wood --
Not like that which, of late, they stuck up on the gate
At the end of the Park, which caused so much debate,
And gave so much trouble to make it stand straight,--
But a regular Broomstick -- you'll find that the favourite,--
Above all, when, like Robin, you haven't to pay for it.
-- Stay -- really I dread
I am losing the thread
Of my tale; and it's time you should be in your bed,
So lithe now, and listen, my little boy Ned!
The Vicarage walls are lofty and thick,
And the copings are stone, and the sides are brick,
The casements are narrow, and bolted and barr'd,
And the stout oak door is heavy and hard;
Moreover, by way of additional guard,
A great big dog runs loose in the yard,
And a horse-shoe is nail'd on the threshold sill,--
To keep out aught that savours of ill,--
But, alack! the chimney-pot's open still!
-- That great big dog begins to quail,
Between his hind-legs he drops his tail,
Crouch'd on the ground, the terrified hound
Gives vent to a very odd sort of a sound;
It is not a bark, loud, open, and free,
As an honest old watch-dog's bark should be;
It is not a yelp, it is not a growl,
But a something between a whine and a howl;
And, hark!--a sound from the window high
Responds to the watch-dog's pitiful cry:
It is not a moan,
It is not a groan;
It comes from a nose,-- but is not what a nose
Produces in healthy and sound repose.
Yet Sir Thopas the Vicar is fast asleep,
And his respirations are heavy and deep!
He snores, 'tis true, but he snores no more
As he's aye been accustom'd to snore before,
And as men of his kidney are wont to snore;--
(Sir Thopas's weight is sixteen stone four
He draws his breath like a man distress'd
By pain or grief, or like one oppress'd
By some ugly old Incubus perch'd on his breast.
A something seems
To disturb his dreams,
And thrice on his ear, distinct and clear,
Falls a voice as of somebody whispering near
In still small accents, faint and few,
'Hey down the chimney-pot!--Hey after you!'
Throughout the Vicarage, near and far,
There is no lack of bolt or of bar,
Plenty of locks
To closet and box,
Yet the pantry wicket is standing ajar!
And the little low door, through which you must go,
Down some half-dozen steps, to the cellar below,
Is also unfasten'd, though no one may know,
By so much as a guess, how it comes to be so;
For wicket and door,
The evening before,
Were both of them lock'd, and the key safely placed
On the bunch that hangs down from the Housekeeper's waist.
Oh! 'twas a jovial sight to view
In that snug little cellar that frolicsome crew!--
Old Goody Price
Had got something nice,
A turkey-poult larded with bacon and spice;--
Old Goody Jones
Would touch nought that had bones,--
She might just as well mumble a parcel of stones.
Goody Jones, in sooth, had got never a tooth,
And a New-College pudding of marrow and plums
Is the dish of all others that suiteth her gums.
Madge Gray was picking
The breast of a chicken,
Her coal-black eye, with its glance so sly,
Was fixed on Rob Gilpin himself, sitting by
With his heart full of love, and his mouth full of pie;
Grouse pie, with hare
In the middle, is fare
Which, duly concocted with science and care,
Doctor Kitchener says, is beyond all compare;
And a tenderer leveret
Robin had never ate;
So, in after times, oft he was wont to asseverate.
'Now pledge we the wine-cup!--a health! a health!
Sweet are the pleasures obtain'd by stealth!
Fill up! fill up!-- the brim of the cup
Is the part that aye holdeth the toothsomest sup!
Here's to thee, Goody Price! Goody Jones, to thee!
To thee, Roving Rob! and again to me!
Many a sip, never a slip
Come to us four 'twixt the cup and the lip!'
The cups pass quick,
The toasts fly thick,
Rob tries in vain out their meaning to pick,
But hears the words 'Scratch,' and 'Old Bogey,' and 'Nick.'
More familiar grown,
Now he stands up alone,
Volunteering to give them a toast of his own.
'A bumper of wine!
Fill thine! Fill mine!
Here's a health to old Noah who planted the Vine!'
Oh then what sneezing,
What coughing and wheezing,
Ensued in a way that was not over pleasing!
Goody Price, Goody Jones, and the pretty Madge Gray,
All seem'd as their liquor had gone the wrong way.
But the best of the joke was, the moment he spoke
Those words which the party seem'd almost to choke,
As by mentioning Noah some spell had been broke,
Every soul in the house at that instant awoke!
And, hearing the din from barrel and bin,
Drew at once the conclusion that thieves had got in.
Up jump'd the Cook and caught hold of her spit;
Up jump'd the Groom and took bridle and bit;
Up jump'd the Gardener and shoulder'd his spade;
Up jump'd the Scullion,-- the Footman,-- the Maid;
(The two last, by the way, occasion'd some scandal,
By appearing together with only one candle,
Which gave for unpleasant surmises some handle
Up jump'd the Swineherd,-- and up jump'd the big boy,
A nondescript under him, acting as pig boy;
Butler, Housekeeper, Coachman -- from bottom to top
Everybody jump'd up without parley or stop,
With the weapon which first in their way chanced to drop,--
Whip, warming-pan, wig-block, mug, musket and mop.
Last of all doth appear,
With some symptoms of fear,
Sir Thopas in person to bring up the rear,
In a mix'd kind of costume, half Pontificalibus,
Half what scholars denominate Pure Naturalibus;
Nay, the truth to express,
As you'll easily guess,
They have none of them time to attend much to dress;
But He or She,
As the case may be,
He or She seizes what He or She pleases,
Trunk-hosen or kirtles, and shirts or chemises.
And thus one and all, great and small, short and tall,
Muster at once in the Vicarage-hall,
With upstanding locks, starting eyes, shorten'd breath,
Like the folks in the Gallery Scene in Macbeth,
When Macduff is announcing their Sovereign's death.
And hark! what accents clear and strong,
To the listening throng come floating along!
'Tis Robin encoring himself in a song--
'Very good song! very well sung!
Jolly companions every one!'--
On, on to the cellar! away! away!
On, on, to the cellar without more delay!
The whole posse rush onwards in battle array.
Conceive the dismay of the party so gay,
Old Goody Jones, Goody Price, and Madge Gray,
When the door bursting wide, they descried the allied
Troops, prepared for the onslaught, roll in like a tide,
And the spits, and the tongs, and the pokers beside!--
'Boot and saddle's the word! mount, Cummers, and ride!'--
Alarm was ne'er caused more strong and indigenous
By cats among rats, or a hawk in a pigeon-house;
Quick from the view
Away they all flew,
With a yell, and a screech, and a halliballoo,
'Hey up the chimney! Hey after you!'
The Volscians themselves made an exit less speedy
From Corioli, 'flutter'd like doves' by Macready.
They are gone, save one,
Robin, whose high state of civilization
Precludes all idea of aërostation,
And who now has no notion
Of more locomotion
Than suffices to kick, with much zeal and devotion,
Right and left at the party, who pounced on their victim,
And maul'd him, and kick'd him, and lick'd him, and prick'd him,
As they bore him away scarce aware what was done,
And believing it all but a part of the fun,
Hic -- hiccoughing out the same strain he'd begun,
'Jol -- jolly companions every one!'
Scarce bursts into day
Ere at Tappington Hall there's the deuce to pay;
The tables and chairs are all placed in array
In the old oak-parlour, and in and out
Domestics and neighbours, a motley rout,
Are walking, and whispering, and standing about;
And the Squire is there
In his large arm-chair,
Leaning back with a grave magisterial air;
In the front of his seat a
Huge volume, called Fleta,
And Bracton, both tomes of an old-fashion'd look,
And Coke upon Lyttleton, then a new book;
And he moistens his lips
With occasional sips
From a luscious sack-posset that smiles in a tankard
Close by on a side-table -- not that he drank hard,
But because at that day,
I hardly need say,
The Hong Merchants had not yet invented How Qua,
Nor as yet would you see Souchong or Bohea
At the tables of persons of any degree:
How our ancestors managed to do without tea
I must fairly confess is a mystery to me;
Yet your Lydgates and Chaucers
Had no cups and saucers;
Their breakfast, in fact, and the best they could get,
Was a sort of a déjeûner à la fourchette;
Instead of our slops
They had cutlets and chops,
And sack-possets, and ale in stoups, tankards, and pots;
And they wound up the meal with rumpsteaks and 'schalots.
Now the Squire lifts his hand
With an air of command,
And gives them a sign, which they all understand,
To bring in the culprit; and straightway the carter
And huntsman drag in that unfortunate martyr,
Still kicking, and crying, 'Come,-- what are you arter?'
The charge is prepared, and the evidence clear,
'He was caught in the cellar a-drinking the beer!
And came there, there's very great reason to fear,
With companions,-- to say but the least of them,-- queer;
Such as Witches, and creatures
With horrible features,
And horrible grins,
And hook'd noses and chins,
Who'd been playing the deuce with his Reverence's binns.'
The face of his worship grows graver and graver,
As the parties detail Robin's shameful behaviour;
Mister Buzzard, the clerk, while the tale is reciting,
Sits down to reduce the affair into writing,
With all proper diction,
And due 'legal fiction;'
Viz: 'That he, the said prisoner, as clearly was shown,
Conspiring with folks to deponents unknown,
With divers, that is to say, two thousand, people,
In two thousand hats, each hat peak'd like a steeple,
With force and with arms,
And with sorcery and charms,
Upon two thousand brooms
Enter'd four thousand rooms;
To wit, two thousand pantries, and two thousand cellars,
Put in bodily fear twenty-thousand in-dwellers,
And with sundry,-- that is to say, two thousand,-- forks,
Drew divers,-- that is to say, ten thousand,-- corks,
And, with malice prepense, down their two thousand throttles,
Emptied various,--that is to say, ten thousand,-- bottles;
All in breach of the peace, moved by Satan's malignity,
And in spite of King James, and his Crown, and his Dignity.'
At words so profound
Rob gazes around,
But no glance sympathetic to cheer him is found.
-- No glance, did I say?
Yes, one!-- Madge Gray!--
She is there in the midst of the crowd standing by,
And she gives him one glance from her coal-black eye,
One touch to his hand, and one word to his ear,--
(That's a line which I've stolen from Sir Walter, I fear,)--
While nobody near
Seems to see her or hear;
As his worship takes up, and surveys with a strict eye
The broom now produced as the corpus delicti,
Ere his fingers can clasp,
It is snatch'd from his grasp,
The end poked in his chest with a force makes him gasp,
And, despite the decorum so due to the Quorum,
His worship's upset, and so too is his jorum;
And Madge is astride on the broomstick before'em.
'Hocus Pocus! Quick, Presto! and Hey Cockalorum!
Mount, mount for your life, Rob!-- Sir Justice, adieu!--
-- Hey up the chimney-pot! hey after you!'
Through the mystified group,
With a halloo and whoop,
Madge on the pommel, and Robin en croupe,
The pair through the air ride as if in a chair,
While the party below stand mouth open and stare!
'Clean bumbaized' and amazed, and fix'd, all the room stick,
'Oh! what's gone with Robin,-- and Madge,-- and the broomstick?'
Ay, 'what's gone' indeed, Ned?-- of what befell
Madge Gray, and the broomstick I never heard tell;
But Robin was found, that morn, on the ground,
In yon old grey Ruin again, safe and sound,
Except that at first he complain'd much of thirst,
And a shocking bad headach, of all ills the worst,
And close by his knee
A flask you might see,
But an empty one, smelling of eau de vie.
Rob from this hour is an alter'd man;
He runs home to his lodgings as fast as he can,
Sticks to his trade,
Marries Miss Slade,
Becomes a Te-totaller -- that is the same
As Te-totallers now, one in all but the name;
Grows fond of Small-beer, which is always a steady sign,
Never drinks spirits except as a medicine;
Learns to despise
Minds pretty girls no more than so many Guys;
Has a family, lives to be sixty, and dies!
Now my little boy Ned,
Brush off to your bed,
Tie your night-cap on safe, or a napkin instead,
Or these terrible nights you'll catch cold in your head;
And remember my tale, and the moral it teaches,
Which you'll find much the same as what Solomon preaches.
Don't flirt with young ladies! don't practise soft speeches;
Avoid waltzes, quadrilles, pumps, silk hose, and kneebreeches;--
Frequent not grey ruins,--shun riot and revelry,
Hocus Pocus, and Conjuring, and all sorts of devilry;--
Don't meddle with broomsticks,--they're Beelzebub's switches;
Of cellars keep clear,--they're the devil's own ditches;
And beware of balls, banquettings, brandy, and -- witches!
Above all! don't run after black eyes,-- if you do,--
Depend on't you'll find what I say will come true,--
Old Nick, some fine morning, will 'hey after you!
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