Canto V


"DON'T they consult the 'Victims,' though?"
 I said. "They should, by rights,
Give them a chance---because, you know,
The tastes of people differ so,
 Especially in Sprites."

The Phantom shook his head and smiled.
 "Consult them? Not a bit!
'Twould be a job to drive one wild,
To satisfy one single child---
 There'd be no end to it!"

"Of course you can't leave children free,"
 Said I, "to pick and choose:
But, in the case of men like me,
I think 'Mine Host' might fairly be
 Allowed to state his views."

He said "It really wouldn't pay---
 Folk are so full of fancies.
We visit for a single day,
And whether then we go, or stay,
 Depends on circumstances.

"And, though we don't consult 'Mine Host'
 Before the thing's arranged,
Still, if he often quits his post,
Or is not a well-mannered Ghost,
 Then you can have him changed.

"But if the host's a man like you---
 I mean a man of sense;
And if the house is not too new---"
"Why, what has that," said I, "to do
 With Ghost's convenience?"

"A new house does not suit, you know---
 It's such a job to trim it:
But, after twenty years or so,
The wainscotings begin to go,
 So twenty is the limit."

"To trim" was not a phrase I could
 Remember having heard:
"Perhaps," I said, "you'll be so good
As tell me what is understood
 Exactly by that word?"

"It means loosening all the doors,"
 The Ghost replied and laughed:
"It means the drilling holes by scores
In all the skirting-boards and floors,
 To make a thorough draught.

"You'll sometime find that one or two
 Are all you really need
To let the wind come whistling through---
But here there'll be a lot to do!"
 I faintly gasped "Indeed!

"If I'd been rather later, I'll
 Be bound," I added, trying
(Most unsuccessfully) to smile,
"You'd have been busy all this while,
 Trimming and beautifying?"

"Why, no," said he; "perhaps I should
 Have stayed another minute---
But still no Ghost, that's any good,
Without an introduction would
 Have ventured to begin it.

"The proper thing, as you were late,
 Was certainly to go:
But, with the roads in such a state,
I got the Knight-Mayor's leave to wait
 For half and hour or so."

"Who's the Khight-Mayor?" I cried.
 Of answering my question,
"Well, if you don't know that," he said,
"Either you never go to bed,
 Or you've got a grand digestion!

"He goes about and sits on folk
 That eat too much at night:
His duties are to pinch, and poke,
And squeeze them till they nearly choke."
 (I said "It serves them right!")

"And folk who sup on things like these---"
 He muttered, "eggs and bacon---
Lobster---and duck---and toasted cheese---
If they don't get an awful squeeze,
 I'm very much mistaken!

"He is immensely fat, and so
 Well suits the occupation:
In point of fact, if you must know,
We used to call him years ago,
 The Mayor and Corporation!

"The day he was elected Mayor
 I know that every Sprite meant
To vote for me, but did not dare---
He was so frantic with despair
 And furious with excitement.

"When it was over, for a whim,
 He ran to tell the King;
And being the reverse of slim,
A two-mile trot was not for him
 A very easy thing.

"So, to reward him for his run
 (As it was baking hot,
And he was over twenty stone),
The King proceeded, half in fun,
 To knight him on the spot."

"'Twas a great liberty to take!"
 (I fired up like rocket.)
"He did it for punning's sake:
'The man,' says Johnson, 'that would make
 A pun, would pick a pocket!'"

"A man," said he, "is not a King."
 I argued for a while,
And did my best to prove the thing---
The Phantom merely listening
 With a contemptuous smile.

At last, when, breath and patience spent,
 I had recourse to smoking---
"Your aim," he said, "is excellent:
But---when you call it argument---
 Of course you're only joking?"

Stung by his cold and snaky eye,
 I roused myself at length
To say, "At least I do defy
The veriest skeptic to deny
 That union is strength!"

"That's true enough," said he, "yet stay---"
 I listened in all meekness---
"Union is strength, I'm bound to say;
In fact, the thing's as clear as day;
 But onions are a weakness."

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Stefan Bilaniuk, Department of Mathematics, Trent University
Maintained by Stefan Bilaniuk. Last updated 1998.08.22.