The next in order of these 'lays of many lands' refers to a period far earlier in point of date, and has for its scene the banks of what our Teutonic friends are wont to call their 'own imperial River!' The incidents which it records afford sufficient proof (and these are days of demonstration), that a propensity to flirtation is not confined to age or country, and that its consequences were not less disastrous to the mail-clad Ritter of the dark ages than to the silken courtier of the seventeenth century. The whole narrative bears about it the stamp of truth, and from the papers among which it was discovered I am inclined to think it must have been picked up by Sir Peregrine in the course of one of his valetudinary visits to 'The German Spa.'
SIR RUPERT THE FEARLESS: A LEGEND OF GERMANY.
Sir Rupert the Fearless, a gallant young knight,
Was equally ready to tipple or fight,
Crack a crown, or a bottle,
Cut sirloin, or throttle!
In brief, or, as Hume says, 'to sum up the tottle,'
Unstain'd by dishonour, unsullied by fear,
All his neighbours pronounced him a preux chevalier.
Despite these perfections, corporeal and mental,
He had one slight defect, viz., a rather lean rental;
Besides, as 'tis own'd there are spots in the sun,
So it must be confessed that Sir Rupert had one;
Being rather unthinking,
He'd scarce sleep a wink in
A night, but addicted himself sadly to drinking,
And what moralists say,
Is as naughty -- to play,
To Rouge et Noir, Hazard, Short Whist, Ecarté;
Till these, and a few less defensible fancies
Brought the Knight to the end of his slender finances.
When at length through his boozing,
And tenants refusing
Their rents, swearing 'times were so bad they were losing,'
His steward said, 'O, sir, It's some time ago, sir,
Since aught through my hands reach'd the baker or grocer,
And the tradesmen in general are grown great complainers.'
Sir Rupert the Brave thus address'd his retainers:
'My friends, since the stock
Of my father's old hock
Is out, with the Kürchwasser, Barsac, Moselle,
And we're fairly reduced to the pump and the well,
I presume to suggest,
We shall all find it best
For each to shake hands with his friends ere he goes,
Mount his horse, if he has one, and -- follow his nose;
As to me, I opine,
Left sans money or wine,
My best way is to throw myself into the Rhine,
Where pitying trav'llers may sigh, as they cross over,
"Though he lived a roué, yet he died a philosopher."'
The Knight, having bow'd out his friends thus politely,
Got into his skiff, the full moon shining brightly,
By the light of whose beam,
He soon spied on the stream
A dame, whose complexion was fair as new cream;
Pretty pink silken hose
Cover'd ankles and toes
In other respects she was scanty of clothes;
For, so says tradition, both written and oral,
Her one garment was loop'd up with bunches of coral.
Full sweetly she sang to a sparkling guitar,
With silver chords stretch'd over Derbyshire spar,
And she smiled on the Knight,
Who, amazed at the sight,
Soon found his astonishment merged in delight;
But the stream by degrees
Now rose up to her knees,
Till at length it invaded her very chemise,
While the heavenly strain, as the wave seem'd to swallow her,
And slowly she sank, sounded fainter and hollower;
-- Jumping up in his boat
And discarding his coat,
'Here goes,' cried Sir Rupert, 'by jingo I'll follow her!'
Then into the water he plunged with a souse
That was heard quite distinctly by those in the house.
Down, down, forty fathom and more from the brink,
Sir Rupert the Fearless continues to sink,
And, as downward he goes,
Still the cold water flows
Through his ears, and his eyes, and his mouth, and his nose,
Till the rum and the brandy he'd swallow'd since lunch
Wanted nothing but lemon to fill him with punch;
Some minutes elapsed since he enter'd the flood,
Ere his heels touch'd the bottom, and stuck in the mud.
But oh! what a sight
Met the eyes of the Knight,
When he stood in the depth of the stream bolt upright!--
A grand stalactite hall,
Like the cave of Fingal,
Rose above and about him;-- great fishes and small
Came thronging around him, regardless of danger,
And seem'd all agog for a peep at the stranger.
Their figures and forms to describe, language fails --
They'd such very odd heads, and such very odd tails;
Of their genus or species a sample to gain,
You would ransack all Hungerford market in vain;
E'en the famed Mr. Myers,
Would scarcely find buyers,
Though hundreds of passengers doubtless would stop
To stare, were such monsters exposed in his shop.
But little reck'd Rupert these queer-looking brutes,
Or the efts and the newts
That crawled up his boots,
For a sight, beyond any of which I've made mention,
In a moment completely absorb'd his attention.
A huge crystal bath, which, with water far clearer
Than George Robins's filters, or Thorpe's (which are dearer),
Have ever distill'd,
To the summit was fill'd,
Lay stretch'd out before him,-- and every nerve thrill'd
As scores of young women
Were diving and swimming,
Till the vision a perfect quandary put him in;--
All slightly accoutred in gauzes and lawns,
They came floating about him like so many prawns.
Sir Rupert, who (barring the few peccadilloes
Alluded to) ere he lept into the billows
Possessed irreproachable morals, began
To feel rather queer, as a modest young man;
When forth stepp'd a dame, whom he recognised soon
As the one he had seen by the light of the moon,
And lisp'd, while a soft smile attended each sentence,
'Sir Rupert, I'm happy to make your acquaintance;
My name is Lurline,
And the ladies you've seen,
All do me the honour to call me their Queen;
I'm delighted to see you, sir, down in the Rhine here,
And hope you can make it convenient to dine here.'
The Knight blush'd and bow'd,
As he ogled the crowd,
Of subaqueous beauties, then answer'd aloud:
'Ma'am, you do me much honour,-- I cannot express
The delight I shall feel -- if you'll pardon my dress,--
May I venture to say, when a gentleman jumps
In the river at midnight for want of 'the dumps,'
He rarely puts on his knee-breeches and pumps;
If I could but have guess'd -- what I sensibly feel --
Your politeness -- I'd not have come en déshabille,
But have put on my silk tights in lieu of my steel.'
Quoth the lady 'Dear sir, no apologies, pray,
You will take our 'pot-luck' in the family way;
We can give you a dish
Of some decentish fish,
And our water's thought fairish; but here in the Rhine
I can't say we pique ourselves much on our wine.'
The Knight made a bow more profound than before,
When a Dory-faced page oped the dining-room door,
And said, bending his knee,
'Madame, on a servi!'
Rupert tender'd his arm, led Lurline to her place,
And a fat little Mer-man stood up and said grace.
What boots it to tell of the viands or how she
Apologised much for their plain water-souchy,
Want of Harvey's, and Crosse's,
And Burgess's sauces?
Or how Rupert, on his side, protested, by Jove, he
Preferr'd his fish plain, without soy or anchovy.
Suffice it the meal
Boasted trout, perch, and eel,
Besides some remarkably fine salmon peel.
The Knight, sooth to say, thought much less of the fishes
Than of what they were served on, the massive gold dishes;
While his eye, as it glanced now and then on the girls,
Was caught by their persons much less than their pearls,
And a thought came across him and caused him to muse,
'If I could but get hold
Of some of that gold,
I might manage to pay off my rascally Jews?'
When dinner was done, at a sign to the lasses,
The table was clear'd, and they put on fresh glasses;
Then the lady addrest
Her redoubtable guest
Much as Dido, of old, did the pious Eneas,
'Dear sir, what induced you to come down and see us?'--
Rupert gave her a glance most bewitchingly tender,
Loll'd back in his chair, put his toes on the fender,
And told her outright
How that he, a young Knight,
Had never been last at a feast or a fight;
But that keeping good cheer,
Every day in the year,
And drinking neat wines all the same as small-beer,
Had exhausted his rent,
And, his money all spent,
How he borrow'd large sums at two hundred per cent.;
How they follow'd -- and then,
The once civillest of men,
Messrs. Howard and Gibbs, made him bitterly rue it he
'd ever raised money by way of annuity;
And, his mortgages being about to foreclose,
How he jump'd in the river to finish his woes!
Lurline was affected, and own'd, with a tear,
That a story so mournful had ne'er met her ear;
Rupert, hearing her sigh, Look'd uncommonly sly,
And said with some emphasis, 'Ah! miss had I
A few pounds of those metals You waste here on kettles,
Then, Lord once again Of my spacious domain,
A free Count of the Empire once more I might reign,
With Lurline at my side,
My adorable bride,
(For the parson should come, and the knot should be tied;)
No couple so happy on earth should be seen,
As Sir Rupert the Brave and his charming Lurline;
Not that money's my object -- No, hang it! I scorn it --
And as for my rank -- but that you'd so adorn it --
I'd abandon it all
To remain your true thrall,
And instead of 'the Great,' be call'd 'Rupert the Small;'
-- To gain but your smiles, were I Sardanapalus,
I'd descend from my throne, and be boots at an alehouse.' < 1>
Lurline hung her head
Turn'd pale, and then red,
Growing faint at this sudden proposal to wed,
As though his abruptness, in 'popping the question'
So soon after dinner, disturb'd her digestion.
Then, averting her eye,
With a lover-like sigh,
'You are welcome,' she murmur'd in tones most bewitching,
'To every utensil I have in my kitchen!'
Up started the Knight,
Half mad with delight,
Round her finely-form'd waist He immediately placed
One arm, which the lady most closely embraced,
Of her lily-white fingers the other made capture,
And he press'd his adored to his bosom with rapture.
'And, oh!' he exclaim'd, 'let them go catch my skiff, I
'll be home in a twinkling and back, in a jiffy,
Nor one moment procrastinate longer my journey
Than to put up the banns and kick out the attorney.'
One kiss to her lip, and one squeeze to her hand,
And Sir Rupert already was half-way to land,
For a sour-visaged Triton,
With features would frighten
Old Nick, caught him up in one hand, though no light one,
Sprang up through the waves, popp'd him into his funny,
Which some others already had half fill'd with money;
In fact, 'twas so heavily laden with ore
And pearls, 'twas a mercy he got it to shore:
But Sir Rupert was strong, And while pulling along
Still he heard, faintly sounding, the water-nymphs' song.
LAY OF THE NAIADS.
'Away! away! to the mountain's brow,
Where the castle is darkly frowning;
And the vassals, all in goodly row,
Weep for their lord a-drowning!
Away! away! to the steward's room,
Where law with its wig and robe is;
Throw us out John Doe and Richard Roe,
And sweetly we'll tickle their tobies!'
The unearthly voices scarce had ceased their yelling,
When Rupert reach'd his old baronial dwelling.
What rejoicing was there!
How the vassals did stare!
The old housekeeper put a clean shirt down to air,
For she saw by her lamp
That her master's was damp,
And she fear'd he'd catch cold, and lumbago and cramp;
But, scorning what she did,
The Knight never heeded
Wet jacket or trousers, nor thought of repining,
Since their pockets had got such a delicate lining,
But oh! what dismay,
Fill'd the tribe of Ca Sa,
When they found he'd the cash, and intended to pay!
Away went 'cognovits,' 'bills,' 'bonds,' and 'escheats,'--
Rupert clear'd off all scores, and took proper receipts.
Now no more he sends out
For pots of brown stout,
Or schnaps, but resolves to do henceforth without,
Abjure from this hour all excess and ebriety,
Enrol himself one of a Temp'rance Society,
All riot eschew,
Begin life anew,
And new-cushion and hassock the family pew!
Nay, to strengthen him more in his new mode of life,
He boldly determines to take him a wife.
Now, many would think that the Knight, from a nice sense
Of honour, should put Lurline's name in the licence,
And that, for a man of his breeding and quality,
To break faith and troth,
Confirm'd by an oath,
Is not quite consistent with rigid morality;
But whether the nymph was forgot, or he thought her
From her essence scarce wife, but at best wife-and-water,
And declined as unsuited,
A bride so diluted --
Be this as it may,
He, I'm sorry to say,
(For, all things consider'd, I own 'twas a rum thing,)
Made proposals in form to Miss Una Von -- something,
(Her name has escaped me,) sole heiress, and niece
To a highly respectable Justice of Peace.
'Thrice happy's the wooing
That's not long a-doing!'
So much time is saved in the billing and cooing --
The ring is now bought, the white favours, and gloves,
And all the et cetera which crown people's loves;
A magnificent bride-cake comes home from the baker,
And lastly appears, from the German Long Acre,
That shaft which the sharpest in all Cupid's quiver is,
A plum-colour'd coach, and rich Pompadour liveries.
'Twas a comely sight
To behold the Knight,
With his beautiful bride, dress'd all in white,
And the bridesmaids fair with their long lace veils,
As they all walk'd up to the altar rails,
While nice little boys, the incense dispensers,
March'd in front with white surplices, bands, and gilt censers.
With a gracious air, and a smiling look,
Mess John had opened his awful book,
And had read so far as to ask if to wed he meant?
And if 'he knew any just cause of impediment?'
When from base to turret the castle shook!!!
Then came a sound of a mighty rain
Dashing against each storied pane,
The wind blew loud,
And a coal-black cloud
O'ershadow'd the church, and the party, and crowd;
How it could happen they could not divine,
The morning had been so remarkably fine!
Still the darkness increased, till it reach'd such a pass
That the sextoness hasten'd to turn on the gas;
But harder it pour'd,
And the thunder roar'd,
As if heaven and earth were coming together:
None ever had witness'd such terrible weather.
Now louder 'it crash'd,
And the lightning flash'd,
Exciting the fears
Of the sweet little dears
In the veils, as it danced on the brass chandeliers;
The parson ran off, though a stout-hearted Saxon,
When he found that a flash had set fire to his caxon.
Though all the rest trembled, as might be expected,
Sir Rupert was perfectly cool and collected,
And endeavour'd to cheer
His bride, in her ear
Whisp'ring tenderly, 'Pray don't be frighten'd, my dear;
Should it even set fire to the castle, and burn it, you're
Amply insured both for buildings and furniture.'
But now, from without,
A trustworthy scout
Rush'd hurriedly in,
Wet through to the skin,
Informing his master 'the river was rising,
And flooding the grounds in a way quite surprising.'
He'd no time to say more,
For already the roar
Of the waters was heard as they reach'd the church-door,
While, high on the first wave that roll'd in, was seen,
Riding proudly, the form of the angry Lurline;
And all might observe, by her glance fierce and stormy,
She was stung by the spretæ injuria formæ.
What she said to the Knight, what she said to the bride,
What she said to the ladies who stood by her side,
What she said to the nice little boys in white clothes,
Oh, nobody mentions,-- for nobody knows;
For the roof tumbled in, and the walls tumbled out,
And the folks tumbled down, all confusion and rout,
The rain kept on pouring,
The flood kept on roaring,
The billows and water-nymphs roll'd more and more in;
Ere the close of the day
All was clean wash'd away --
One only survived who could hand down the news,
A little old woman that open'd the pews;
She was borne off, but stuck,
By the greatest good luck,
In an oak-tree and there she hung, crying and screaming,
And saw all the rest swallow'd up the wild stream in;
In vain, all the week,
Did the fishermen seek
For the bodies, and poke in each cranny and creek;
In vain was their search,
After aught in the church,
They caught nothing but weeds, and perhaps a few perch;
The Humane Society Tried a variety
Of methods, and brought down, to drag for the wreck, tackles
But they only fish'd up the clerk's tortoise-shell spectacles.
This tale has a moral, Ye youths, oh, beware
Of liquor, and how you run after the fair!
Shun playing at shorts -- avoid quarrels and jars --
And don't take to smoking those nasty cigars!
-- Let no run of bad luck, or despair for some Jewess-eyed
Damsel, induce you to contemplate suicide;
Don't sit up much later than ten or eleven!--
Be up in the morning by half after seven!
Keep from flirting -- nor risk, warn'd by Rupert's miscarriage,
An action for breach of a promise of marriage;--
Don't fancy odd fishes!
Don't prig silver dishes!
And to sum the whole, in the shortest phrase I know,
BEWARE OF THE RHINE, AND TAKE CARE OF THE RHINO!
1. 'Sardanapalus' and 'Boots,' the Zenith and Nadir of human society. Back.