Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, POSTHUMOUS TALES: TALE 16. THE DEALER AND CLERK, by GEORGE CRABBE



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POSTHUMOUS TALES: TALE 16. THE DEALER AND CLERK, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Bad men are seldom cheerful; but we see
Last Line: For all that wealthy widows have to give.


I

BAD men are seldom cheerful; but we see
That, when successful, they can merry be.
ONE whom I leave, his darling money lends,
On terms well known, to his unhappy friends;
He farms and trades, and in his method treats
His guests, whom first he comforts, then he cheats.
HE knows their private griefs, their inward groans,
And then applies his leeches and his loans,
To failing, falling families -- and gets,
I know not how, with large increase, their debts.
He early married, and the woman made
A losing bargain; she with scorn was paid
For no small fortune. On this slave he vents
His peevish slights, his moody discontents.
Her he neglects, indulging in her stead,
One whom he bribed to leave a husband's bed --
A young fair mother too, the pride and joy
Of him whom her desertion will destroy.
The poor man walks by the adulterer's door,
To see the wife, whom he must meet no more:
She will not look upon the face of one
Whom she has blighted, ruined, and undone.
He feels the shame; his heart with grief is rent;
Hers is the guilt, and his the punishment.
The cruel spoiler to his need would lend
Unsought relief -- his need will soon have end:
Let a few wint'ry months in sorrow pass,
And on his corse shall grow the vernal grass.
Neighbours, indignant, of his griefs partake,
And hate the villain for the victim's sake;
Wond'ring what bolt within the stores of heaven
Shall on that bold, offending wretch be driven.
Alas! my grieving friends, we cannot know
Why Heaven inflicts, and why suspends, the blow.
Mean while the godless man, who thus destroys
Another's peace, in peace his wealth enjoys,
And, every law evaded or defied,
Is with long life and prosperous fortune tried:
'How long?' the Prophet cried, and we, 'how long?'
But think how quick that Eye, that Arm how strong,
And bear what seems not right, and trust it is not wrong.
Does Heaven forbear? then sinners mercy find --
Do sinners fall? 'tis mercy to mankind.
ADIEU! can one so miserable be,
Rich, wretched man! to barter fates with thee?

II

YET, ere I go, some notice must be paid
TO JOHN, his Clerk, a man full sore afraid
Of his own frailty -- many a troubled day
Has he walk'd doubtful in some close by-way,
Beseeching Conscience on her watch to keep,
Afraid that she one day should fall asleep.
A quiet man was John: his mind was slow;
Little he knew, and little sought to know.
He gave respect to worth, to riches more,
And had instinctive dread of being poor.
Humble and careful, diligent and neat,
He in the Dealer's office found a seat:
Happy in all things, till a fear began
To break his rest -- He served a wicked man;
Who spurn'd the way direct of honest trade,
But praised the laws his cunning could evade.
This crafty Dealer of religion spoke,
As if design'd to be the wise man's cloak,
And the weak man's encumbrance, whom it awes,
And keeps in dread of conscience and the laws;
Yet, for himself, he loved not to appear
In her grave dress; 'twas troublesome to wear.
This Dealer played at games of skill, and won
Sums that surprised the simple mind of John:
Nor trusted skill alone; for well he knew,
What a sharp eye and dext'rous hand could do;
When, if suspected, he had always by
The daring oath to back the cunning lie.
John was distress'd, and said, with aching heart,
'I from the vile, usurious man must part;
For if I go not -- yet I mean to go --
This friend to me will to my soul be foe.
I serve my master: there is nought to blame;
But whom he serves, I tremble but to name.'
From such reflections sprung the painful fear, --
'The Foe of Souls is too familiar here:
My master stands between: so far, so good;
But 'tis at best a dangerous neighbourhood.'
Then livelier thoughts began this fear to chase, --
'It is a gainful, a convenient place:
If I should quit -- another takes the pen,
And what a chance for my preferment then?
Religion nothing by my going gains;
If I depart, my master still remains.
True, I record the deeds that I abhor,
But these that master has to answer for.
Then say I leave the office! his success,
And his injustice, will not be the less;
Nay, would be greater -- I am right to stay;
It checks him, doubtless, in his fearful way.
Fain would I stay, and yet be not beguiled;
But pitch is near, and man is soon defiled.'

III

P. SUCH were the MAN and MASTER, -- and I now
Would know if they together live, and how.
To such enquiries, thus my Friend replied: --
F. The Wife was slain -- or, say at least, she died.
But there are murders, that the human eye
Cannot detect, -- which human laws defy:
There are the wrongs insulted fondness feels,
In many a secret wound that never heals;
The Savage murders with a single blow;
Murders like this are secret and are slow.
Yet, when his victim lay upon her bier,
There were who witness'd that he dropt a tear;
Nay, more, he praised the woman he had lost,
And undisputed paid the funeral cost.
The Favourite now, her lord and master freed,
Prepared to wed, and be a wife indeed.
The day, 'twas said, was fix'd, the robes were bought,
A feast was order'd; but a cold was caught,
And pain ensued, with fever -- grievous pain,
With the mind's anguish that disturb'd the brain, --
Till nature ceased to struggle, and the mind
Saw clearly death before, and sin behind.
Priests and physicians gave what they could give;
She turn'd away, and, shuddering, ceased to live.
The Dealer now appeared awhile as one
Lost; with but little of his race to run,
And that in sorrow: men with one consent,
And one kind hope, said, 'Bonner will repent.'
Alas! we saw not what his fate would be,
But this we fear'd, -- no penitence had he;
Nor time for penitence, nor any time,
So quick the summons, to look back on crime.
When he the partner of his sin entomb'd,
He paused awhile, and then the way resumed
Ev'n as before: yet was he not the same;
The tempter once, he now the dupe became.
John long had left him, nor did one remain
Who would his harlot in her course refrain;
Obsequious, humble, studious of his ease,
The present Phoebe only sought to please.
'With one so artless, what,' said he, 'to fear,
Or what to doubt, in one who holds me dear?
Friends she may have, but me she will not wrong;
If weak her judgment, yet her love is strong;
And I am lucky now in age to find
A friend so trusty, and a nurse so kind.'
Yet neither party was in peace: the man
Had restless nights, and in the morn began
To cough and tremble; he was hot and cold --
He had a nervous fever, he was told.
His dreams -- 'twas strange, for none reflected less
On his past life -- were frightful to excess;
His favourite dinners were no more enjoy'd,
And, in a word, his spirits were destroy'd.
And what of Phoebe? She her measures plann'd;
All but his money was at her command:
All would be hers when Heav'n her Friend should call;
But Heav'n was slow, and much she long'd for all: --
'Mine when he dies, mean wretch! and why not mine,
When it would prove him generous to resign
What he enjoys not?' -- Phoebe at command
Gave him his brandy with a liberal hand.
A way more quick and safe she did not know,
And brandy, though it might be sure, was slow.
But more she dared not; for she felt a dread
Of being tried, and only wish'd him dead.
Such was her restless strife of hope and fear --
He might cough on for many a weary year;
Nay, his poor mind was changing, and when ill,
Some foe to her may wicked thoughts instil!
Oh! 'tis a trial sore to watch a Miser's will.
Thus, though the pair appear'd in peace to live,
They felt that vice has not that peace to give.
There watch'd a cur before the Miser's gate,
A very cur, whom all men seem'd to hate;
Gaunt, savage, shaggy, with an eye that shone
Like a live coal, and he possess'd but one;
His bark was wild and eager, and became
That meagre body and that eye of flame;
His master prized him much, and Fang his name.
His master fed him largely; but not that,
Nor aught of kindness, made the snarler fat.
Flesh he devour'd, but not a bit would stay;
He bark'd, and snarl'd, and growl'd it all away.
His ribs were seen extended like a rack,
And coarse red hair hung roughly o'er his back.
Lamed in one leg, and bruised in wars of yore,
Now his sore body made his temper sore.
Such was the friend of him, who could not find,
Nor make him one, 'mong creatures of his kind.
Brave deeds of Fang his master often told,
The son of Fury, famed in days of old,
From Snatch and Rabid sprung; and noted they
In earlier times -- each dog will have his day.
The notes of Fang were to his master known,
And dear -- they bore some likeness to his own;
For both convey'd to the experienced ear,
'I snarl and bite, because I hate and fear.'
None pass'd ungreeted by the master's door,
Fang rail'd at all, but chiefly at the poor;
And when the nights were stormy, cold, and dark,
The act of Fang was a perpetual bark;
But though the master loved the growl of Fang,
There were who vow'd the ugly cur to hang;
Whose angry master, watchful for his friend,
As strongly vow'd his servant to defend.
In one dark night, and such as Fang before
Was ever known its tempests to outroar,
To his protector's wonder now express'd
No angry notes -- his anger was at rest.
The wond'ring master sought the silent yard,
Left Phoebe sleeping, and his door unbarr'd;
Nor more returned to that forsaken bed --
But lo! the morning came, and he was dead.
Fang and his master side by side were laid
In grim repose -- their debt of nature paid!
The master's hand upon the cur's cold chest
Was now reclined, and had before been press'd,
As if he search'd how deep and wide the wound
That laid such spirit in a sleep so sound;
And when he found it was the sleep of death,
A sympathising sorrow stopp'd his breath.
Close to his trusty servant he was found,
As cold his body, and his sleep as sound.
We know no more; but who on horrors dwell
Of that same night have dreadful things to tell:
Of outward force, they say, was not a sign --
The hand that struck him was the Hand Divine;
And then the Fiend, in that same stormy night,
Was heard -- as many thought -- to claim his right;
While grinning imps the body danced about,
And then they vanish'd with triumphant shout.
So think the crowd, and well it seems in them,
That ev'n their dreams and fancies vice condemn;
That not alone for virtue Reason pleads,
But Nature shudders at unholy deeds;
While our strong fancy lists in her defence,
And takes the side of Truth and Innocence.

IV

P. BUT, what the fortune of the MAN, whose fear
Inform'd his Conscience that the foe was near;
But yet whose interest to his desk confined
That sober CLERK of indecisive mind?
F. JOHN served his master, with himself at strife,
For he with Conscience lived like man and wife;
Now jarring, now at peace, -- the life they led
Was all contention, both at board and bed:
His meals were troubled by his scruples all,
And in his dreams he was about to fall
Into some strong temptation -- for it seems
He never could resist it in his dreams.
At length his MASTER, dealer, smuggler, cheat,
As John would call him in his temper's heat,
Proposed a something -- what, is dubious still --
That John resisted with a stout good-will.
Scruples like his were treated with disdain,
Whose waking conscience spurn'd the offer'd gain.
'Quit then my office, scoundrel! and be gone.'
'I dare not do it,' said the affrighten'd John.
'What fear'st thou, driveller! can thy fancy tell?'
'I doubt,' said John -- 'I'm sure there is a hell.'
'No question, wretch! thy foot is on the door;
To be in hell, thou fool! is to be poor:
Wilt thou consent?' -- But John, with many a sigh,
Refused, then sank beneath his stronger eye,
Who with a curse dismiss'd the fool that dared
Not join a venture which he might have shared.
The worthy Clerk then served a man in trade,
And was his friend and his companion made --
A sickly man, who sundry wares retail'd,
Till, while his trade increased, his spirit fail'd.
John was to him a treasure, whom he proved,
And, finding faithful, as a brother loved.
To John his views and business he consign'd,
And forward look'd with a contented mind:
As sickness bore him onward to the grave,
A charge of all things to his friend he gave.
But neighbours talk'd -- 'twas idle -- of the day
When Richard Shale should walk the dark highway --
And whisper'd -- tatlers! -- that the wife received
Such hints with anger, but she nothing grieved.
These whispers reach'd the man, who weak, and ill
In mind and body, had to make his will;
And though he died in peace, and all resign'd,
'Twas plain he harbour'd fancies in his mind.
With jealous foresight, all that he had gain'd
His widow's was, while widow she remain'd;
But if another should the dame persuade
To wed again, farewell the gains of trade:
For if the widow'd dove could not refrain,
She must return to poverty again.
The man was buried, and the will was read,
And censure spared them not, alive or dead!
At first the Widow and the Clerk, her friend,
Spent their free days as prudence bade them spend.
At the same table they would dine, 'tis true,
And they would worship in the self-same pew:
Each had the common interest so at heart,
It would have grieved them terribly to part;
And as they both were serious and sedate,
'Twas long before the world began to prate:
But when it prated, -- though without a cause, --
It put the pair in mind of breaking laws,
Led them to reason what it was that gave
A husband power, when quiet in his grave.
The marriage contract they had now by heart --
'Till death!' -- you see, no longer -- 'do us part.'
'Well! death has loosed us from the tie, but still
The loosen'd husband makes a binding will:
Unjust and cruel are the acts of men.'
Thus they -- and then they sigh'd -- and then -- and then,
''Twas snaring souls,' they said; and how he dared
They did not know -- they wonder'd -- and were snared.
'It is a marriage, surely! Conscience might
Allow an act so very nearly right:
Was it not witness to our solemn vow,
As man and wife? it must the act allow.'
But Conscience, stubborn to the last, replied,
'It cannot be! I am not satisfied;
'Tis not a marriage: either dare be poor,
Or dare be virtuous -- part, and sin no more.'
Alas! they many a fond evasion made;
They could relinquish neither love nor trade.
They went to church, but thinking, fail'd to pray;
They felt not ease or comfort at a play:
If times were good, -- 'We merit not such times,'
If ill, -- 'Is this the produce of our crimes?'
When sick -- ''Tis thus forbidden pleasures cease.'
When well -- they both demand, 'Had Zimri peace?
For though our worthy master was not slain,
His injured ghost has reason to complain.'
Ah, John! bethink thee of thy generous joy,
When Conscience drove thee from thy late employ;
When thou wert poor, and knew not where to run,
But then could say 'The will of God be done!'
When thou that will, and not thine own obey'd, --
Of Him alone, and not of man afraid:
Thou then hadst pity on that wretch, and, free
Thyself, couldst pray for him who injured thee.
Then how alert thy step, thyself how light
All the day long! thy sleep how sound at night!
But now, though plenty on thy board be found,
And thou hast credit with thy neighbours round,
Yet there is something in thy looks that tells,
An odious secret in thy bosom dwells:
Thy form is not erect, thy neighbours trace
A coward spirit in thy shifting pace.
Thou goest to meeting, not from any call,
But just to hear, that we are sinners all,
And equal sinners, or the difference made
'Twixt man and man has but the slightest shade;
That reformation asks a world of pains,
And, after all, must leave a thousand stains
And, worst of all, we must the work begin
By first attacking the prevailing sin! --
These thoughts the feeble mind of John assail,
And o'er his reason and his fears prevail:
They fill his mind with hopes of gifts and grace,
Faith, feelings! -- something that supplies the place
Of true conversion -- this will he embrace;
For John perceives that he was scarcely tried
By the first conquest, that increased his pride,
When he refused his master's crime to aid,
And by his self-applause was amply paid;
But now he feels the difference -- feels it hard
Against his will and favourite wish to guard:
He mourns his weakness, hopes he shall prevail
Against his frailty, and yet still is frail.
Such is his life! and such the life must be
Of all who will be bound, yet would be free;
Who would unite what God to part decrees --
The offended conscience, and the mind at ease;
Who think, but vainly think, to sin and pray,
And God and Mammon in their turn obey.
Such is his life! -- and so I would not live
For all that wealthy widows have to give.





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