Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LAY OF ST. CUTHBERT; OR THE DEVIL'S DINNER-PARTY, by RICHARD HARRIS BARHAM



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THE LAY OF ST. CUTHBERT; OR THE DEVIL'S DINNER-PARTY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: It's in bolton hall, and the clock strikes one
Last Line: A poor, old, half-starved, country parson at last!
Alternate Author Name(s): Ingoldsby, Thomas
Subject(s): Devil; Feasts; Satan; Mephistopheles; Lucifer; Beelzebub


IT's in Bolton Hall, and the clock strikes One,
And the roast meat's brown and the boil'd meat's done,
And the barbecu'd sucking-pig's crisp'd to a turn,
And the pancakes are fried, and beginning to burn;
The fat stubble-goose 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?

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
As cooks always do when the dinner's put back;
For though the board's deckt, and the napery, fair
As the unsunn'd snow-flake, is spread out with care,
And the Dais is furnish'd with stool and with chair,
And plate of orfeverie costly and rare,
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?

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,
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?
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? --
Poynings, and Vavasour -- where be they?
Fitz-Walter, Fitz-Osbert, Fitz-Hugh, and Fitz-John,
And the Mandevilles, pere et filz (father and son)?
Their cards said "Dinner precisely at One"!
There's nothing I hate, in 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,'
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 spoil'd, And the butter's all oil'd,
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 More cross than the cooks,
And repeats that bad word, which we've soften'd 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, No De Roes, 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,
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!' --
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,
One and all, Great and small,
Who were ask'd 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
Cook'd up that 'the fete was postponed sine die,
The dear little curly-wigg'd heir of Le Scroope
Being taken alarmingly ill with the croup!'

When the clock struck Three, And the page on his knee
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 stamp'd, and he storm'd -- then his language! -- Oh dear!
'Twas awful to see, and 'twas awful to hear!
And he cried to the button-deck'd 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!
And the DEVIL MAY EAT UP THE DINNER FOR ME!!'

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
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
As had ne'er before darken'd 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 favour of Marmaduke Grey --
But stay! -- Where on earth did he get those long nails?
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
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, pere et filz (father and son),
And Fitz-Osbert, and Ufford -- they've all got them on!
Then their great saucer eyes -- 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 --
Run! run! -- that's the 'muckle-horn'd Clootie' himself!

And now what a din Without and within!
For the court-yard is full of them. -- How they begin
To mop, and to mowe, and make faces, and grin!
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 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, By the said machine's aid,
Up, what's now called, the 'tottle' of those he survey'd,
There were just -- how he proved it I cannot divine, --
Nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety and nine.
Exclusive of Him, 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, 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-wigg'd Heir!
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
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 recoil'd, and his malison
Placed in the hands of the Devil's own 'pal' his son! --
He sobb'd and he sigh'd, And he scream'd, and he cried,
And behaved like a man that is mad or in liquor, -- he
Tore his peak'd beard, and he dash'd off his 'Vicary,'
Stamp'd on the jasey As though he were crazy,
And staggering about just as if he were 'hazy,'
Exclaim'd, '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 bring down my curly-wi'----- here Sir Guy fainted!

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
To Her, in the Scroope's case, perhaps, to say Reason, --
But what saw he then? -- Oh! my goodness! a sight
Enough to have banish'd his reason outright! --
In that broad banquet-hall The fiends one and all,
Regardless of shriek, and of squeak, and of squall,
From one to another were tossing that small
Pretty, curly-wigg'd 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,
And bring down in safety his curly-wigg'd 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 melee,
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
Of hope darts through his midriff! -- His Saint! -- Oh, it's funny
And almost absurd, That it never occurr'd! --
'Ay! the Scroope's Patron Saint! -- he's the man for my money!
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!
Oh, holy St. Cuthbert, if forebears of mine, --
Of myself I say little, -- have knelt at your shrine,
And have lash'd their bare backs, and -- no matter -- with twine,
Oh! list to the vow Which I make to you now,
Only snatch my poor little boy out of the row
Which that Imp's kicking up with his fiendish bowwow,
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! --
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!' --
-- 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, grey man, with his beard long and wide,
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;
For while ev'ry one stared, with a dignified stride,
And without a word more, He march'd on before,
Up a flight of stone steps, and so through the front door,
To the banqueting-hall, that was on the first floor,
While the fiendish assembly were making a rare
Little shuttlecock there of the curly-wigg'd Heir. --
-- I wish, gentle Reader, that you could have seen
The pause that ensued when he stepp'd in between,
With his resolute air, and his dignified mien,
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 seem'd cow'd;
Not one of the crew volunteer'd a reply,
All shrunk from the glance of that keen-flashing eye,
Save one horrid Humgruffin, who seem'd by his talk,
And the airs he assumed, to be Cock of the walk,
He quail'd not before it, but saucily met it,
And as saucily said, 'Don't you wish you may get it?'

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,
And hand me that curly-wigg'd 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 seem'd half inclined, but afraid, to refuse.
'Well, Cuthbert,' said he, 'If so it must be,
For you've had your own way from the first time I knew ye; --
Take your curly-wigg'd brat, and much good may he do ye!
But I'll have in exchange' -- here his eye flash'd with rage --
'That chap with the buttons -- he gave me the Page!'

'Come, come,' the Saint answer'd, '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 -- 'If I do I'll be shot!
An you come to that, Cuthbert, I'll tell you what's what;
He has ask'd us to dine here, and go we will not
Why, you Skinflint, -- at least
You may leave us the feast!
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 hang'd if I do!
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 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-wigg'd boy he'd pick'd out of the fire,
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 turn'd on his heel,
He replied, 'Well, I'll leave you the mutton and veal,
And the soup a 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,
And don't make it late, But mind and go straight
Home to bed when you've finish'd -- and don't steal the plate,
Nor wrench off the knocker, or bell from the gate.
Walk away, like respectable Devils, in peace,
And don't "lark" with the watch, or annoy the police!'

Having thus said his say, That Palmer grey
Took up little Le Scroope, and walk'd coolly away,
While the Demons all set up a 'Hip! hip! hurray!'
Then fell, tooth and claw, 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 Than Madame Astarte,
And Hecate, -- consider'd 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,
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,
Who'd join'd 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, Said he'd 'blacken his eye,'
And dash'd in his face a whole cup of hot coffee-lees; --
Ramping and roaring, Hiccoughing, snoring,
Never was seen such a riot before in
A gentleman's house, or such profligate revelling
At any soiree -- where they don't let the Devil in.

Hark! -- as sure as fate The clock's striking Eight!
(An hour which our ancestors call'd 'getting late,')
When Nick, who by this time was rather elate,
Rose up and address'd 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;
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 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
In the toast my young friend there, the curly-wigg'd 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, --
May our curly-wigg'd Friend's shadow never be less!'
Nick took off his heel-taps -- bow'd -- smiled -- with an air
Most graciously grim, -- and vacated the chair. --

Of course the elite Rose at once on their feet,
And follow'd 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 fulfil 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.
In fact, when the votaries came there to pray,
All said there was nought to compare with it -- nay,
For fear that the Abbey Might think he was shabby,
Four Brethren thenceforward, two cleric, two lay,
He ordain'd 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
From any display'd 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
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,
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 He bamboozled Old Nick
And slipp'd 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, 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,
To wit, 'On a Prussian-blue Field, a Bend Or';
While the Grosvenor averr'd that his ancestor 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.

MORAL

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, --
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 ask'd out to dine by a Person of Quality,
Mind, and observe the most strict punctuality!
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,
They heartily wish you -- I need 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.
-- 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,
But -- DON'T SET YOUR CANDLES ALIGHT AT BOTH ENDS!! --
For of this be assured, if you 'go it' too fast,
You'll be 'dish'd' like Sir Guy
And like him, perhaps, die
A poor, old, half-starved, Country Parson at last!





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