Moral Emblems

Page 05

'O she!' said Ben--'I think she died.'

'Battle and blood, death and disease, Upon the tainted Tropic seas - The attendant sharks that chew the cud - The abhorred scuppers spouting blood - The untended dead, the Tropic sun - The thunder of the murderous gun - The cut-throat crew--the Captain's curse - The tempest blustering worse and worse - These have I known and these can stand, But you--I settle out of hand!'

Out flashed the cutlass, down went Ben Dead and rotten, there and then.


In eighteen-twenty Deacon Thin Feu'd the land and fenced it in, And laid his broad foundations down About a furlong out of town.

Early and late the work went on. The carts were toiling ere the dawn; The mason whistled, the hodman sang; Early and late the trowels rang; And Thin himself came day by day To push the work in every way. An artful builder, patent king Of all the local building ring, Who was there like him in the quarter For mortifying brick and mortar, Or pocketing the odd piastre By substituting lath and plaster? With plan and two-foot rule in hand, He by the foreman took his stand, With boisterous voice, with eagle glance To stamp upon extravagance. For thrift of bricks and greed of guilders, He was the Buonaparte of Builders.

The foreman, a desponding creature, Demurred to here and there a feature: 'For surely, sir--with your permeession - Bricks here, sir, in the main parteetion. . . . ' The builder goggled, gulped, and stared, The foreman's services were spared. Thin would not count among his minions A man of Wesleyan opinions.

'Money is money,' so he said. 'Crescents are crescents, trade is trade. Pharaohs and emperors in their seasons Built, I believe, for different reasons - Charity, glory, piety, pride - To pay the men, to please a bride, To use their stone, to spite their neighbours, Not for a profit on their labours.

They built to edify or bewilder; I build because I am a builder. Crescent and street and square I build, Plaster and paint and carve and gild. Around the city see them stand, These triumphs of my shaping hand, With bulging walls, with sinking floors, With shut, impracticable doors, Fickle and frail in every part, And rotten to their inmost heart. There shall the simple tenant find Death in the falling window-blind, Death in the pipe, death in the faucet, Death in the deadly water-closet! A day is set for all to die: Caveat emptor! what care I?'

As to Amphion's tuneful kit Thebes rose, with towers encircling it; As to the Mage's brandished wand A spiry palace clove the sand; To Thin's indomitable financing, That phantom crescent kept advancing. When first the brazen bells of churches Called clerk and parson to their perches, The worshippers of every sect Already viewed it with respect; A second Sunday had not gone Before the roof was rattled on: And when the fourth was there, behold The crescent finished, painted, sold!

The stars proceeded in their courses, Nature with her subversive forces, Time, too, the iron-toothed and sinewed, And the edacious years continued. Thrones rose and fell; and still the crescent, Unsanative and now senescent, A plastered skeleton of lath, Looked forward to a day of wrath. In the dead night, the groaning timber Would jar upon the ear of slumber, And, like Dodona's talking oak, Of oracles and judgments spoke. When to the music fingered well The feet of children lightly fell, The sire, who dozed by the decanters, Started, and dreamed of misadventures. The rotten brick decayed to dust; The iron was consumed by rust; Each tabid and perverted mansion Hung in the article of declension.

So forty, fifty, sixty passed; Until, when seventy came at last, The occupant of number three Called friends to hold a jubilee. Wild was the night; the charging rack Had forced the moon upon her back; The wind piped up a naval ditty; And the lamps winked through all the city. Before that house, where lights were shining, Corpulent feeders, grossly dining, And jolly clamour, hum and rattle, Fairly outvoiced the tempest's battle. As still his moistened lip he fingered, The envious policeman lingered; While far the infernal tempest sped, And shook the country folks in bed, And tore the trees and tossed the ships, He lingered and he licked his lips. Lo, from within, a hush! the host Briefly expressed the evening's toast; And lo, before the lips were dry, The Deacon rising to reply! 'Here in this house which once I built, Papered and painted, carved and gilt, And out of which, to my content, I netted seventy-five per cent.; Here at this board of jolly neighbours, I reap the credit of my labours. These were the days--I will say more - These were the grand old days of yore! The builder laboured day and night; He watched that every brick was right:

The decent men their utmost did; And the house rose--a pyramid! These were the days, our provost knows, When forty streets and crescents rose, The fruits of my creative noddle, All more or less upon a model, Neat and commodious, cheap and dry, A perfect pleasure to the eye! I found this quite a country quarter; I leave it solid lath and mortar. In all, I was the single actor - And am this city's benefactor! Since then, alas! both thing and name, Shoddy across the ocean came - Shoddy that can the eye bewilder And makes me blush to meet a builder! Had this good house, in frame or fixture, Been tempered by the least admixture Of that discreditable shoddy, Should we to-day compound our toddy, Or gaily marry song and laughter Below its sempiternal rafter? Not so!' the Deacon cried.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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