Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Lay of St. Cuthbert, or, The Devil’s Dinner-Party
By Richard Harris Barham (Thomas Ingoldsby) (1788–1845)
A Legend of the North Countree
  Nobilis quidam, cui nomen Monsr. Lescrop, Chivaler, cum invitasset convivas, et, hora convivii jam instante et apparatu facto, spe frustratus esset, excusantibus se convivis cur non compararent, prorupit iratus in hæc verba: “Veniant igitur omnes dæmones, si nullus hominum mecum esse potest!”
  Quod cum fieret, et Dominus, et famuli, et ancillæ, a domo properantes, forte obliti, infantem in cunis jacentem secum non auferent, Dæmones incipiunt commessari et vociferari, prospicereque per fenestras formis ursorum, luporum, felium, et monstrare pocula vino repleta. Ah, inquit pater, ubi infans meus? Vix cum hæc dixisset, unus ex Dæmonibus ulnis suis infantem ad fenestram gestat, etc.—Chronicon de Bolton.

IT’S in Bolton Hall, and the clock strikes One,
And the roast meat’s brown and the boiled meat’s done,
And the barbecued sucking-pig’s crisped to a turn,
And the pancakes are fried and beginning to burn;
          The fat stubble-goose        5
          Swims in gravy and juice,
With the mustard and apple-sauce ready for use;
Fish, flesh, and fowl, and all of the best,
Want nothing but eating—they’re all ready drest,
But where is the Host, and where is the Guest?        10
Pantler and serving-man, henchman and page
Stand sniffing the duck-stuffing (onion and sage),
          And the scullions and cooks,
              With fidgety looks,
Are grumbling and mutt’ring, and scowling as black        15
As cooks always do when the dinner’s put back;
For though the board’s deckt, and the napery, fair
As the unsunned snow-flake, is spread out with care,
And the Dais is furnished with stool and with chair,
And plate of orféverie costly and rare,        20
Apostle-spoons, salt-cellar, all are there,
          And Mess John in his place,
          With his rubicund face,
And his hands ready folded, prepared to say Grace,
Yet where is the Host?—and his convives—where?        25
The Scroope sits lonely in Bolton Hall,
And he watches the dial that hangs by the wall,
He watches the large hand, he watches the small,
          And he fidgets and looks
          As cross as the cooks,        30
And he utters—a word which we’ll soften to “Zooks!”
And he cries, “What on earth has become of them all?—
          What can delay
          De Vaux and De Saye?
What makes Sir Gilbert de Umfraville stay?        35
What’s gone with Poyntz, and Sir Reginald Braye?
Why are Ralph Ufford and Marny away?
And De Nokes and De Styles, and Lord Marmaduke Grey?
              And De Roe?
              And De Doe?        40
Poynings and Vavasour—where be they?
Fitz-Walter, Fitz-Osbert, Fitz-Hugh, and Fitz-John,
And the Mandevilles, père et filz (father and son);
Their cards said ‘Dinner precisely at One!’
          There’s nothing I hate, in        45
          The world, like waiting!
It’s a monstrous great bore, when a Gentleman feels
A good appetite, thus to be kept from his meals!”
It’s in Bolton Hall, and the clock strikes Two!
And the scullions and cooks are themselves “in a stew,”        50
And the kitchen-maids stand, and don’t know what to do,
For the rich plum-puddings are bursting their bags,
And the mutton and turnips are boiling to rags,
          And the fish is all spoiled,
          And the butter’s all oiled,        55
And the soup’s got cold in the silver tureen,
And there’s nothing, in short, that is fit to be seen!
While Sir Guy Le Scroope continues to fume,
And to fret by himself in the tapestried room,
          And still fidgets and looks        60
          More cross than the cooks,
And repeats that bad word, which we’ve softened to “Zooks!”
Two o’clock’s come, and Two o’clock’s gone,
And the large and the small hands move steadily on,
          Still nobody’s there,        65
          No De Roos, or De Clare,
To taste of the Scroope’s most delicate fare,
Or to quaff off a health unto Bolton’s Heir,
That nice little boy who sits in his chair,
Some four years old, and a few months to spare,        70
With his laughing blue eyes and his long curly hair,
Now sucking his thumb, and now munching his pear.
Again Sir Guy the silence broke,
“It’s hard upon Three!—it’s just on the stroke!
Come, serve up the dinner!—A joke is a joke”—        75
Little he deems that Stephen de Hoaques,
Who “his fun,” as the Yankees say, everywhere “pokes,”
And is always a great deal too fond of his jokes,
Has written a circular note to De Nokes,
And De Styles and De Roe, and the rest of the folks,        80
                One and all,
                Great and small,
          Who were asked to the Hall
To dine there and sup, and wind up with a ball,
And had told all the party a great bouncing lie, he        85
Cooked up, that the “fête was postponed sine die,
The dear little curly-wigged heir of Le Scroope
Being taken alarmingly ill with the croop!”
          When the clock struck Three,
          And the Page on his knee        90
Said, “An’t please you, Sir Guy Le Scroope, On a servi!”
And the Knight found the banquet-hall empty and clear,
          With nobody near
          To partake of his cheer,
He stamped, and he stormed—then his language!—Oh dear!        95
’Twas awful to see, and ’twas awful to hear!
And he cried to the button-decked Page at his knee,
Who had told him so civilly “On a servi,”
“Ten thousand fiends seize them, wherever they be!
—The Devil take them! and the Devil take thee!        100
                In a terrible fume
          He bounced out of the room,
He bounced out of the house—and page, footman, and groom
Bounced after their master; for scarce had they heard        105
Of this left-handed grace the last finishing word,
Ere the horn at the gate of the Barbican tower
Was blown with a loud twenty-trumpeter power,
                And in rush’d a troop
          Of strange guests!—such a group        110
As had ne’er before darkened the door of the Scroope!
This looks like De Saye—yet—it is not De Saye—
And this is—no, ’tis not—Sir Reginald Braye,—
This has somewhat the favor of Marmaduke Grey—
But stay!—Where on earth did he get those long nails?        115
Why, they’re claws!—then Good Gracious!—they’ve all of them tails!
That can’t be De Vaux—why, his nose is a bill,
Or, I would say a beak!—and he can’t keep it still!—
Is that Poynings?—Oh, Gemini! look at his feet!!
Why, they’re absolute hoofs!—is it gout or his corns,        120
That have crumpled them up so?—by Jingo, he’s horns!
Run! run!—There’s Fitz-Walter, Fitz-Hugh, and Fitz-John,
And the Mandevilles, père et filz (father and son),
And Fitz-Osbert, and Ufford—they’ve all got them on!
          Then their great saucer eyes—        125
          It’s the Father of lies
And his Imps—run! run! run!—they’re all fiends in disguise,
Who’ve partly assumed, with more sombre complexions,
The forms of Sir Guy Le Scroope’s friends and connections,
And He—at the top there—that grim-looking elf—        130
Run! run!—that’s the “muckle-horned Clootie” himself!
              And now what a din
              Without and within!
For the courtyard is full of them.—How they begin
To mop, and to mowe, and to make faces, and grin!        135
          Cock their tails up together,
          Like cows in hot weather,
And butt at each other, all eating and drinking,
The viands and wine disappearing like winking,
              And then such a lot        140
              As together had got!
Master Cabbage, the steward, who’d made a machine
To calculate with, and count noses,—I ween
The cleverest thing of the kind ever seen,—
          Declared, when he’d made        145
          By the said machine’s aid,
Up, what’s now called the “tottle” of those he surveyed,
There were just—how he proved it I cannot divine—
Nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety and nine.
              Exclusive of Him        150
              Who, giant in limb,
And black as the crow they denominate Jim,
With a tail like a bull, and a head like a bear,
Stands forth at the window—and what holds he there,
          Which he hugs with such care,        155
          And pokes out in the air,
And grasps as its limbs from each other he’d tear?
          Oh! grief and despair!
          I vow and declare
It’s Le Scroope’s poor, dear, sweet, little, curly-wigged Heir!        160
Whom the nurse had forgot and left there in his chair,
Alternately sucking his thumb and his pear.
              What words can express
              The dismay and distress
Of Sir Guy, when he found what a terrible mess        165
His cursing and banning had now got him into?
That words, which to use are a shame and a sin too,
Had thus on their speaker recoiled, and his malison
Placed in the hands of the Devil’s own “pal” his son!—
          He sobbed and he sighed,        170
          And he screamed, and he cried,
And behaved like a man that is mad or in liquor—he
Tore his peaked beard, and he dashed off his “Vicary,”
            Stamped on the jasey
            As though he were crazy,        175
And staggering about just as if he were “hazy,”
Exclaimed, “Fifty pounds!” (a large sum in those times)
“To the person, whoever he may be, that climbs
To that window above there, en ogive, and painted,
And brings down my curly-wi’—” Here Sir Guy fainted!        180
              With many a moan,
                And many a groan,
What with tweaks of the nose, and some eau de Cologne,
He revived,—Reason once more remounted her throne,
Or rather the instinct of Nature—’twere treason        185
To her, in the Scroope’s case, perhaps, to say Reason—
But what saw he then—Oh! my goodness! a sight
Enough to have banished his reason outright!—
          In that broad banquet-hall
          The fiends one and all        190
Regardless of shriek, and of squeak, and of squall,
From one to another were tossing that small
Pretty, curly-wigged boy, as if playing at ball;
Yet none of his friends or his vassals might dare
To fly to the rescue or rush up the stair,        195
And bring down in safety his curly-wigged Heir!
          Well a day! Well a day!
              All he can say
Is but just so much trouble and time thrown away;
Not a man can be tempted to join the mêlée:        200
E’en those words cabalistic, “I promise to pay
Fifty pounds on demand,” have for once lost their sway,
          And there the Knight stands
              Wringing his hands
In his agony—when on a sudden, one ray        205
Of hope darts through his midriff!—His Saint!—
              Oh, it’s funny
            And almost absurd,
            That it never occurred!—
“Ay! the Scroope’s Patron Saint!—he’s the man for my money!        210
Saint—who is it?—really I’m sadly to blame,—
On my word I’m afraid,—I confess it with shame,—
That I’ve almost forgot the good Gentleman’s name,—
Cut—let me see—Cutbeard?—no—CUTHBERT!—egad!
St. Cuthbert of Bolton!—I’m right—he’s the lad!        215
O holy St. Cuthbert, if forbears of mine—
Of myself I say little—have knelt at your shrine,
And have lashed their bare backs, and—no matter—with twine,
          Oh! list to the vow
          Which I make to you now,        220
Only snatch my poor little boy out of the row
Which that Imp’s kicking up with his fiendish bow-wow,
And his head like a bear, and his tail like a cow!
Bring him back here in safety!—perform but this task,
And I’ll give—Oh!—I’ll give you whatever you ask!—        225
          There is not a shrine
          In the county shall shine
With a brilliancy half so resplendent as thine,
Or have so many candles, or look half so fine!—
Haste, holy St. Cuthbert, then,—hasten in pity!—”        230
          Conceive his surprise
          When a strange voice replies,
“It’s a bargain!—but, mind, sir, THE BEST SPERMACETI!”
Say, whose that voice?—whose that form by his side,
That old, old, gray man, with his beard long and wide,        235
          In his coarse Palmer’s weeds,
          And his cockle and beads?—
And how did he come?—did he walk?—did he ride?
Oh! none could determine,—oh! none could decide,—
The fact is, I don’t believe any one tried;        240
For while every one stared, with a dignified stride
          And without a word more,
            He marched on before,
Up a flight of stone steps, and so through the front door,
To the banqueting-hall that was on the first floor,        245
While the fiendish assembly were making a rare
Little shuttlecock there of the curly-wigged Heir.
—I wish, gentle Reader, that you could have seen
The pause that ensued when he stepped in between,
With his resolute air, and his dignified mien,        250
And said, in a tone most decided though mild,
“Come! I’ll trouble you just to hand over that child!”
          The Demoniac crowd
          In an instant seemed cowed;
Not one of the crew volunteered a reply,        255
All shrunk from the glance of that keen-flashing eye,
Save one horrid Humgruffin, who seemed by his talk,
And the airs he assumed, to be cock of the walk.
He quailed not before it, but saucily met it,
And as saucily said, “Don’t you wish you may get it?”        260
My goodness!—the look that the old Palmer gave!
And his frown!—’twas quite dreadful to witness—“Why, slave!
            You rascal!” quoth he,
            “This language to ME!
At once, Mr. Nicholas! down on your knee,        265
And hand me that curly-wigged boy!—I command it—
Come!—none of your nonsense!—you know I won’t stand it.”
Old Nicholas trembled,—he shook in his shoes,
And seemed half inclined, but afraid, to refuse.
          “Well, Cuthbert,” said he,        270
            “If so it must be,
For you’ve had your own way from the first time I knew ye;—
Take your curly-wigged brat, and much good may he do ye!
But I’ll have in exchange”—here his eye flashed with rage—
“That chap with the buttons—he gave me the Page!”        275
“Come, come,” the saint answered, “you very well know
The young man’s no more his than your own to bestow.
Touch one button of his if you dare, Nick—no! no!
Cut your stick, sir—come, mizzle! be off with you! go!”—
              The Devil grew hot—        280
              “If I do I’ll be shot!
An you come to that, Cuthbert, I’ll tell you what’s what;
He has asked us to dine here, and go we will not!
          Why, you Skinflint,—at least
          You may leave us the feast!        285
Here we’ve come all that way from our brimstone abode,
Ten million good leagues, sir, as ever you strode,
And the deuce of a luncheon we’ve had on the road—
‘Go!’—‘Mizzle!’ indeed—Mr. Saint, who are you,
I should like to know?—‘Go!’ I’ll be hanged if I do!        290
He invited us all—we’ve a right here—it’s known
That a Baron may do what he likes with his own—
Here, Asmodeus—a slice of that beef;—now the mustard!—
What have you got?—oh, apple-pie—try it with custard.”
          The Saint made a pause        295
          As uncertain, because
He knew Nick is pretty well “up” in the laws,
And they might be on his side—and then, he’d such claws!
On the whole, it was better, he thought, to retire
With the curly-wigged boy he’d picked out of the fire,        300
And give up the victuals—to retrace his path,
And to compromise—(spite of the Member for Bath).
          So to Old Nick’s appeal,
          As he turned on his heel,
He replied, “Well, I’ll leave you the mutton and veal,        305
And the soup à la Reine, and the sauce Bechamel;
As the Scroope did invite you to dinner, I feel
I can’t well turn you out—’twould be hardly genteel—
But be moderate, pray,—and remember thus much,
Since you’re treated as Gentlemen—show yourselves such,        310
          And don’t make it late,
          But mind and go straight
Home to bed when you’ve finished—and don’t steal the plate,
Nor wrench off the knocker, or bell from the gate.
Walk away, like respectable Devils, in peace,        315
And don’t ‘lark’ with the watch, or annoy the police!”
          Having thus said his say,
              That Palmer gray
Took up little La Scroope, and walked coolly away,
While the Demons all set up a “Hip! hip! hurrah!”        320
Then fell, tooth and nail, on the victuals, as they
Had been guests at Guildhall upon Lord Mayor’s day,
All scrambling and scuffling for what was before ’em,
No care for precedence or common decorum.
          Few ate more hearty        325
          Than Madame Astarte,
And Hecate,—considered the Belles of the party.
Between them was seated Leviathan, eager
To “do the polite,” and take wine with Belphegor;
Here was Morbleu (a French devil), supping soup-meagre,        330
And there, munching leeks, Davy Jones of Tredegar
(A Welsh one), who’d left the domains of Ap Morgan
To “follow the sea,”—and next him Demogorgon,—
Then Pan with his pipes, and Fauns grinding the organ
To Mammon and Belial, and half a score dancers,        335
Who’d joined with Medusa to get up ‘the Lancers’;
Here’s Lucifer lying blind drunk with Scotch ale,
While Beelzebub’s tying huge knots in his tail.
There’s Setebos, storming because Mephistopheles
            Gave him the lie,        340
        Said he’d “blacken his eye,”
And dashed in his face a whole cup of hot coffee-lees;—
          Ramping and roaring,
          Hiccoughing, snoring,
Never was seen such a riot before in        345
A gentleman’s house, or such profligate reveling
At any soirée—where they don’t let the Devil in.
            Hark! as sure as fate
            The clock’s striking Eight!
(An hour which our ancestors called “getting late,”)        350
When Nick, who by this time was rather elate,
Rose up and addressed them:—
                        “’Tis full time,” he said,
“For all elderly Devils to be in their bed;
For my own part I mean to be jogging, because
I don’t find myself now quite so young as I was;        355
But, Gentlemen, ere I depart from my post
I must call on you all for one bumper—the toast
Which I have to propose is,—OUR EXCELLENT HOST!
Many thanks for his kind hospitality—may
          We also be able        360
          To see at our table
Himself, and enjoy, in a family way,
His good company down-stairs at no distant day!
        You’d, I’m sure, think me rude
        If I did not include,        365
In the toast my young friend there, the curly-wigged Heir!
He’s in very good hands, for you’re all well aware
That St. Cuthbert has taken him under his care;
        Though I must not say ‘bless,’—
          Why, you’ll easily guess,—        370
May our curly-wigged Friend’s shadow never be less!”
Nick took off his heel-taps—bowed—smiled—with an air
Most graciously grim,—and vacated the chair.
              Of course the élite
          Rose at once on their feet,        375
And followed their leader, and beat a retreat;
When a sky-larking Imp took the President’s seat,
And requesting that each would replenish his cup,
Said, “Where we have dined, my boys, there let us sup!”—
It was three in the morning before they broke up!!!
*        *        *        *        *
            I scarcely need say
            Sir Guy didn’t delay
To fulfill his vow made to St. Cuthbert, or pay
For the candles he’d promised, or make light as day
The shrine he assured him he’d render so gay.        385
In fact, when the votaries came there to pray,
All said there was naught to compare with it—nay,
          For fear that the Abbey
          Might think he was shabby,
Four Brethren, thenceforward, two cleric, two lay,        390
He ordained should take charge of a new-founded chantry,
With six marcs apiece, and some claims on the pantry;
          In short, the whole county
          Declared, through his bounty,
The Abbey of Bolton exhibited fresh scenes        395
From any displayed since Sir William de Meschines
And Cecily Roumeli came to this nation
With William the Norman, and laid its foundation.
            For the rest, it is said,
            And I know I have read        400
In some Chronicle—whose, has gone out of my head—
That what with these candles, and other expenses,
Which no man would go to if quite in his senses,
          He reduced and brought low
              His property so,        405
That at last he’d not much of it left to bestow;
And that many years after that terrible feast,
Sir Guy, in the Abbey, was living a priest;
And there, in one thousand and—something—deceased.
            (It’s supposed by this trick        410
            He bamboozled Old Nick,
And slipped through his fingers remarkably “slick.”)
While as to young Curly-wig,—dear little Soul,
Would you know more of him, you must look at “The Roll,”
            Which records the dispute,        415
            And the subsequent suit,
Commenced in “Thirteen sev’nty-five,”—which took root
In Le Grosvenor’s assuming the arms Le Scroope swore
That none but his ancestors, ever before,
In foray, joust, battle, or tournament wore,        420
To wit, “On a Prussian-blue Field, a Bend Or;”
While the Grosvenor averred that his ancestors bore
The same, and Scroope lied like a—somebody tore
Off the simile,—so I can tell you no more,
Till some A double S shall the fragment restore.        425
        This Legend sound maxims exemplifies—e.g.
1mo.        Should anything tease you,
            Annoy, or displease you,
    Remember what Lilly says, “Animum rege!”
    And as for that shocking bad habit of swearing,—        430
    In all good society voted past bearing,—
    Eschew it! and leave it to dustmen and mobs,
  Nor commit yourself much beyond “Zooks!” or “Odsbobs!”
2do.  When asked out to dine by a Person of Quality,
    Mind, and observe the most strict punctuality!        435
            For should you come late,
            And make dinner wait,
    And the victuals get cold, you’ll incur, sure as fate,
    The Master’s displeasure, the Mistress’s hate.
  And though both may perhaps be too well-bred to swear,        440
    They’ll heartily wish you—I will not say Where.
3tio.  Look well to your Maid-servants!—say you expect them
    To see to the children, and not to neglect them!
    And if you’re a widower, just throw a cursory
    Glance in, at times, when you go near the Nursery.        445
    Perhaps it’s as well to keep children from plums,
    And from pears in the season,—and sucking their thumbs!
4to.  To sum up the whole with a “saw” of much use,
    Be just and be generous,—don’t be profuse!
  Pay the debts that you owe,—keep your word to your friends,        450
    For of this be assured, if you “go it” too fast,
            You’ll be “dished” like Sir Guy,
            And like him, perhaps, die
    A poor, old, half-starved Country Parson at last!        455

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