The Sixth Brother’s Tale

Miss Vardill

Our Bibo dwelt on southern land
Where olives bloom by zephyrs fann’d,
And poets tell a thousand tales
Of silver moons and spicy dales.
His Laura look’d as Tasso says
Like clouds that float on April days;
Sometimes they scowl, but sometimes show
A rosy, soft, coquettish glow.
What! had she lovers more than one?
Patience, our tale is scarce begun!
Stern Bertram of Clanharold’s race
Paid homage to her beauteous face;
And Bibo, hero of our tale,
Was once call’d Edwin of the vale.
Bertram, the dauntless and the wise,
Thought Edwin’s simpers won the prize
But those who love’s approaches scan
Declare he sent an Indian fan,
Real Decca chintz, cornelians rare,
And three long shawls of camel’s hair!
Could Beauty’s heart the siege withstand?
No; and she pawn’d both heart and hand
To Edwin if from India’s shore
He brought — three silver muslins more.

Sad Bertram sigh’d — “a shawl is dear,
And who can purchase chintzes here?
I’ll go to India too — perhaps
Some tissued gold for turban-caps,
Or half a chest of pekoe tea
May Laura’s heart redeem for me —
Besides, if white cornelians fail,
How pearls from Ormus my prevail!”

To eastern shores the lovers haste —
Each fills his chest and shews his taste,
But Edwin with unmeasur’d bounty
Buys more than bards or belles could count ye:
One, only one he leaves unbought,
A precious web by sultans sought,
In twice two thousand colours wrought.
Five hundred pounds! — ’tis far too much —
In Europe ’twould buy twenty such!
But Laura! — O, in Laura’s gown
How would that tissue charm the town!
’Tis done — while lovesick Edwin pauses
Grave Bertram has secured the gauzes.

Old sages swear and well define, ah!
That men are flint, and women china;
But tho’ ’tis whisper’d some have cause
To think that porcelain has flaws,
Some flints a hundred blows require
Before they yield a spark of fire:
So Edwin thought, and wisely strove
To fright his rival out of love.
From Ganges’ shore to Mosul’s sand
He sought his rival overland;
There sent a challenge nobly penn’d,
The contest and expense to end.

Bertram in grave and cautious mood
The gauntlet of his foe review’d —
“If ’tis of constancy a test
To yield up what we value best,
A hero who declines to fight
That he may live for love’s delight
Shews more his constancy and valour
Than bravoes who a bullet call for.”
Thus Bertram thought and sent reply —
“Let madmen fight for wives — not I!”

Edwin with wondorous rapture saw
His rival’s courage apt to thaw;
And boldly puts his soul in pawn
That swords for combat must be drawn.

Grave Bertram answers — “Sir, I deem
Man’s greatness is his own esteem;
And patience, tho’ the brave so high stand,
Is the true courage of a wise man.
Great Aristotle, Hume, and Jephson
Teach — none but cowards wish for death soon,
And ergo, he who runs to meet it
Against himself does treason-petite.
But, Sir, as Brutus and old Cato
Dar’d for their mortal lives such hate show,
I'll sign my will to-night and fix
Our rendezvous at half past six.”

Fast fades the rose in Edwin's cheek —
“What, Sir, to-night! — ’twill do next week.”
“Sir, I have sign’d my will, and choose
To break no evening rendezvous.”
“But, dearest Bertram! — ’tis but jest —
Fight for a lady! — I protest
I would not lose a friend like you
For all the eyes of black or blue...
Come, Laura’s favor I resign;
We’ll wash the rest away in wine!”

“Sir, I have turn’d o’er twenty tomes
Of Athen's sages and of Rome’s:
And read in Horace and in Crito
This always — “Bis dat qui dat cito,”
Which thus in English we may read,
’Tis giving twice to give with speed —
So if we meet before ’tis late
Four shots will serve instead of eight.”

Gods of Olympian love and war,
Must common-sense and honour jar?
Is there no safer way to settle
The oxygen of valour’s mettle?
Might not two opium-phials shaken
In dark and secret pomp, be taken
With equal courage, equal graces,
And equal chance to make wry faces?
Well — now the combatants are met,
The pistols primed, the paces set —
Alas! on Mosul’s lonely sand
Unseen no constable can stand
To bid the rites of honour cease
And call on knights to keep the peace!
Bertram with eye and soul of flame
Has taken thrice his destin’d aim;
Already with uplifted ears
Edwin the buzzing bullet hears —
It comes — it strikes — and prostrate low
Dark Bertram sees his conquer’d foe.

“What, is he dead?” — unmov’d he lies —
The frighted victor wheels and flies,
While Edwin pants “with lips apart
And listens to his beating heart,”
Much doubting that the fiery blast
Of death has kill’d him as it passed!
Quite sure, at length, that pulses beat,
He homeward turns his roving feet.
How kind is fate! his foe has fled,
His gold is safe, his wife is dead;
“Thank heav’n, the bullets were but cork!
He cried, and took the mail to York.

Now safe from slander’s busy tale
He lodges in the Hermit’s dale,
But ever mindful of the thanks
He owed to cork on Mosul’s banks
He once a week at least sets free
Twelve corks from their captivity;
For well the rosy hermits know
What med’cine fits a lover’s woe
And well their empty cellars prove
Corks yield a cure in hate or love.