James Brunton Stephens

Here you will find the Long Poem King Billy's Skull. of poet James Brunton Stephens

King Billy's Skull.

THE scene is the Southern Hemisphere;
The time ? oh, any time of the year
Will do as well as another; say June,
Put it down likewise as the full of the moon,
And midnight to boot, when churchyards, they say,
Yawn in a most unmannerly way;
And restless ghosts in winding-sheets
Go forth and gibber about the streets,
And rehearse old crimes that were better hid
In the darkness beneath the coffin-lid.
Observe, that I merely say, on dit;
But though it never happened to me
To encounter, either in-doors or out,
A posthumous gentleman walking about,
In regulation sepulchral guise,
Or in shirt, Crimean or otherwise,
Or in hat and boots and usual wear,
Or, save for a cloud, unbecomingly bare,
Or in gaseous form, with the stars shining through him,
Beckoning me to interview him ?
On mission of solemnest import bound,
Or merely a constitutional round,
Beginning at twelve as books declare,
And ending at first sniff of morning air; ?
Though all such things, you will understand,
Have reached me only at second-hand,
Or third, or fourth, as the case may be,
Yet there really did occur to me
Something which I perforce must call
Ultra-super-natural; ?
In fact trans-ultra-super-preter-
Natural suits both truth and metre.
There is an Island, I won't say where,
For some yet live who mightn't care
To have the address too widely known;
Suffice it to say: South Temperate Zone.
In that same Isle, thus precisely set down,
There's a certain township, and also a town ?
(For, to ears colonial, I need not state
That the two do not always homologate). ?
And in that same town there's a certain street;
And in that same street, the locals to complete,
There's a certain Surgery, trim and neat,
Kept by ?? well, perhaps it were rash
To call him other than Doctor Dash.
At midnight, then, in the month of June
(And don't forget the full of the moon),
I sat in that Surgery, writhing with pain,
Having waited fully two hours in vain
For Doctor Dash, who, I understood,
Was engaged in the questionable good
Of adding one to the sum of woe
That includes all creatures here below, ?
Especially those whose particular dolour,
As mine was then, is a rotten molar!
Have you noted that midnight's final stroke
Has a way of solemnizing folk?
Though, goodness knows, in my special case,
With a cheek that was quite a three-quarter face,
There needed no solemnizing power,
No eerie vibration of midnight hour,
Chilling through heart, and thrilling through limb,
To put me en rapport with all things grim,
With all things dreary and dismal and dim,
The whole Night side of Nature (see Crow ? not Jim).
Hardly was tolled the day's decease
From the ormolu clock on the mantelpiece,
When a running fire of perplexing knocks
Seemed to proceed from a rosewood box,
That stood on a table whereon were laid
The horrible tools of the surgical trade.
Somewhat slowly the notes began
With minims, and then into crotchets ran, ?
From crotchets to quavers, then faster they grew,
Galloping, galloping, thirty-two
Beats to the semibreve ? doubling once more
To a semibreve split into sixty-four,
Till failing to follow so rapid a rate,
I gave in at a hundred and twenty-eight.
I was scared, I confess, but the wish to know
Was stronger than terror of ghostly foe;
And stealthily, stealthily nearing the knocks,
I pressed my ear on the rosewood box,
And fancied I could discern beneath
The peculiar rattle of chattering teeth;
Which, as need hardly be said or penned,
Set each particular hair on end,
Froze all my young blood in a moment of time,
And curdled my bile, and my chyle, and my chyme!
But though terror undoubtedly gained the day,
Yet curiosity too had its way,
And the first had no sooner sung out Avaunt!
When the second cried Stay! what the deuce do you want?
Often as I have told the tale,
This particular part is so 'like a whale,'
That I always feel an apology due
For insisting upon it as perfectly true,
This is what followed, ? a grinding noise,
A friction of bones that grew to a voice;
And I heard these words (on my honour, I did),
'Hi! . . . Cooey! . . . You fella . . . Open 'm lid!'
Trembling all over from foot to head,
'How shall I open it, Spirit?' I said;
'Lies there, oh lies there no key about?
For how can I open the coffer without?'
A kind of an audible ossified grin,
A gnashing of laughter, came from within,
And little by little I understood,
'You fella. . . . new chum. . . . You no good;
White fella. . . . crawler. . . . you no go,
Key in 'm lock. . . . my word. . . . 'tis so.'
It was so indeed. I opened, and lo!
An afrit? A goblin? A bottle-imp?. . . . No;
Simply a Human Skull, enshrined
In rosewood, padded and velvet-lined, ?
A low type of skul