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Anna Jane Vardill

The Rivals

A Second Tradition of Tabby-Hall

Our lover dwelt on southern land
Where myrtles bloom by zephyrs fann’d,
And poets tell a thousand tales,
Of silver moons and flowr’y vales:
His Laura look’d, as Tasso says,
Like clouds that float on April days;
Sometimes they scowl—but sometimes show
A rosy, soft, heart-cheering glow.
What! had she lovers more than one?
Patience!—Our tale is scarce begun.

Dark Bertram of Clanalbin’s race
Paid homage to her beauteous face;
And Edwin, hero of our tale,
Sigh’d often as the southern gale.

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 pledged 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 Peko tea
May Laura’s heart redeem for me:
Besides,—if while cornelians fail,
How pearls from Ormus may 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 we have cause
To think that porcelain has flaws;
Some flints a hundred blows require
Before they yield a spark of fire :
Thus Edwin thought, and wisely strove
To fright his rival out of love.
From Ganges’ shore to Mosul’s sand
He sought Sir Bertram over-land,
Then 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 fortitude a test
To yield up what we value best,
The 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 mus'd, and sent reply
“Let madmen fight for wives—not I.”

Edwin with wondorous rapture saw
His rival’s courage apt to thaw,
And boldly placed his soul in pawn,
That lots 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.
Sage Aristotle, Hume, and Jephson
Teach none but cowards wish for death soon;—
But, sir, as Brutus and old Cato
Dar’d for their mortal lives such hate show,
I'll sign my will to-day 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 shall sign my will, and chuse
To keep our evening rendezvous.”
“But, dearest Bertram!—’tis but jest—
Fight for a lady!—I protest
I would not risk friend like you
For all the eyes of black or blue!—
Come, Laura’s favour 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 learn from Seneca and Crito
This always—“Bis dat qui dat cito,”
Which thus in English we may read—
He giveth twice who gives 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 scorch’d him as it past—
Quite sure, at length, that pulses beat,
He rises on his faithful feet—
Valour and love have done their work,
And lo!——the bullet is a cork.

Home to his native land he turns
Lest willow-wreaths and fun’ral urns
To grace his memory should spring,
And Laura buy a mourning ring.
Too late he comes!—the chintz so rare
Bought by his hand, she lov’d to wear,
And wore so oft in beauty’s pride
That (catching cold) she mourn’d and died:—
“Thank heav'n! the bullets were but cork!”
He cried, and took the mail to York.
Soon safe from slander’s venom’d tale
Wise Edwin sought the hermit’s dale *,
But ever mindful of the thanks
He owed to cork on Mosul’s banks,
He thrice a week at least set free
Twelve corks from their captivity;
And well their healing tributes prove
Lead serves in war, but cork in love.


* The historians of Tabby-hall seem desirous to refute the heroic “Legends of the Hermitage.”

The European Magazine, Vol. 69, February 1816, pp. 151-152