The Knight and the Two Friars



 A Knight , the pink of martial fame,
Sir Thomas Erpingham by name,
At Agincourt , in high degree,
With Edward's Garter on his knee;
Keen as a hawk in War's attack,
On Courts and Courtiers turn'd his back;
Of battles and of laurels tir'd,
The champion to his fields retir'd.
 His Dame —in Beauty's peaceful crown,
Was rival of her Lord's renown;
A Rib—to all but him —as chaste
As ever Knight or King embrac'd;
And yet her charms all eyes attracted;
The amorous were half-distracted.
 Blest in this jewel, call'd a wife,
His tent was a domestic life;
He had no armies to command,
Except the acres of his land;
But thought, unless he built a Church
Ere he was taken from his perch,
The soul , for want of such a cost,
Would or might happen to be lost .
  A Church he built from the estate,
Of ample size, and gloomy weight;
Near his own seat the fabrick stood,
And frown'd on Laymen , as it should —
But nearer still—with income proud,
A pious Convent he endow'd.
 There Friars twain , by Hell possess'd,
From feuds could never be at rest;
With Envy, and with Malice wild,
Could by no friends be reconcil'd.
 These, John and Richard , thus at war,
Their Heaven each other to abhor;
It was a custom of the Knight,
As early as the dawn of light,
Attended by his Helpmate fair,
To visit them for matin-prayer.
  Her affable and courteous look
In Friar John discretion shook;
With ducks and cringes he allur'd her,
And thought his graces had ensur'd her;
It grew so palpable at last,
That on the Knight reproach was cast;
It prompted obloquy and jest,
Which least of all its Hero guess'd;
And his fond Partner little dreamt,
That she was held in such contempt.
 In short, when passion broke its fetter,
The holy Tarquin penn'd a letter;
Which, after hints by way of dodging ,
In the Knight's bed propos'd a lodging,
When it should happen, as it might,
That it was empty of the Knight;
For, though he lov'd his quarters there,
Like other Knights— he took the air .
 The Dame, confounded by the suit
Of such a venerable brute,
Began to think it might, perhaps,
Be one of jealous Hymen's traps—
The Knight colluding with his Friar,
To mark if she could brave the fire.
She fear'd that, by herself conceal'd,
It would by others be reveal'd;
Her wits had all the native sense
That Love could whisper Innocence;
To the dear Partner of her breast,
Her faith and conscience were address'd;
Without one secret left behind,
She mark'd how Friars told their mind .
 The Knight repented of the gift,
That gave these hypocrites a lift;
But something to Revenge was due,
And how to pay the debt he knew;
A debt, of piety the sample,
For it was due to good example;
Yet, having learnt the Courtier's art,
Adept in the dissembler's part,
He pass'd his gibes on Friar John ,
As of a patient looker-on.
He wrote, and made Lucretia sign,
Love to the hilt in every line:
“She long'd for him—and such a night
Was to indulge their appetite;
When London would the Knight employ,
And Friar John his rights enjoy.”
The Lady's amorous consent
Wrapt in a holy Missal went:
And, by a rustic hand convey'd,
Upon the desk at prayer was laid.
 The Man of God his wreath assum'd,
His night-cap, shirt, and beard perfum'd;
Observ'd the time—forgot the sin,
Climb'd the back stairs, and hustled in.
 The Knight receiv'd him at the door,
And kill'd him —to lose time no more;
To cure him of a Lover's hope,
Upon his neck he tied a rope:
The soul was from its carcase freed,
Before one Saint could intercede;
Dead as a herring Friar John ,
With his perfum'd artillery on,
The Knight began to recollect,
That murder was not quite correct;
Besides another world's arrear,
The “ felon ” grated in his ear;
Detected, on the rope he 'd swing,
And with his goods enrich the King.
He thought he could repent at leisure ,
Could he but live —and save his treasure.
 An arch accomplice in the deed
Advis'd him how they should proceed:
Their project was—to shift the dead,
And give him a religious bed;
In other words, to re-convey him,
And in the Convent's garden lay him.
 Against the wall a ladder plac'd,
They took him by the culprit waist;
And, when all three had reach'd the top,
They let their guide the ladder drop;
When fast upon the Convent side,
Upon its back they took a ride;
With trembling step of hope and fear,
They reach'd the garden, safe and clear.
In a detach'd and snug retreat,
John was made firm upon the seat.
Charm'd at their frolick's air and shape,
They both accomplish'd their escape;
But, in the hurry of their plot,
Their friend the ladder was forgot;
They left it on the tell-tale side,
And flew to bed, their shame to hide.
The Knight into his chamber crept,
But found the wicked never slept:
With sudden fright he often rose,
By turns pull'd off, or on, his clothes;
At length, descending to the room
Of his co-partner in the doom,
He bade him listen, if the sound
Of clamour pierc'd the hallow'd ground.
 But now—in Ariosto's way,
Another call we must obey;
And learn whatever is the fate
Of John —upon his throne of state .


 Scarce had the Knight bound up his frolic,
When Friar Richard had the colic;
To the recess he bent his course,
And mov'd the door with gentle force;
A figure undistinguish'd—there,
Drove him at first into despair;
But, as the moon improv'd his aim,
He saw the face—and curs'd the name.
 “ Resign! ” he said, “or, by the Virgin,
I'll make you feel what I am urging:”
No answer came:—his temper flown,
He took, and threw a lump of stone;
It struck the hostile Friar's breast,
And swung him downward from his nest.
 The “ vanquish'd Victor ” trembling saw,
That he had brav'd his Country's Law,
And would—upon a gibbet hung—
Wish he had only us'd—his tongue .
But Friars (who the deuce can doubt 'em?)
Have all their wits at hand about 'em.
He saw the ladder—and he mus'd—
“ John must that vehicle have us'd;
And, from his Patron's wife return'd,
The doom he owes to me—has earn'd .
But, light though Conscience makes the load,
It 's murder in the Penal Code;
Life is no jest.”—He took the pack
Of John uplifted on his back;
Upon the ladder up they went,
And crept as mice in their descent;
At the hall gate, of sense bereft,
And bolt upright, the dead was left.
 Returning to the Convent—there,
Again he sunk into despair;
Though, with discernment in his fright,
He left his ladder to the Knight.
 But he was Clerk enough to know,
Two strings are best for every bow;
He saddled openly the mare,
And said, “the baker he would spare,
Enable him to save his heel,
And go himself—to fetch the meal.”
 Brisk as a bee the gate unbarr'd,
For all behind with no regard—
Away his guilty conscience flew,
And, careless of the lanes he knew,
Determin'd only to escape
From the detested hangman's rape.
 The scene of this adventurous flight,
Was a fam'd city, Norwich hight;
For there, its annals to adorn,
Sir Thomas Erpingham was born;
And there, when sick of barren praise,
He thought in peace to end his days.
 Before the Man of God had mounted,
The Knight's accomplice had recounted,
The Vision of the Castle-gate ,
And spar'd no colour of its fate;
With bristled head, and visage pale,
Had stamp'd the vengeance of the tale.
 The Knight began to think his doom
Had call'd accusers from the tomb;
He told his beads—the forehead cross'd—
(None of his orisons were lost);
But made with Heaven his own condition,
To rid him of the apparition—
A desperate adventure, still
Glanc'd on the culprit's phrenzied will;
Though stung with anguish of remorse,
He recollects a martial horse,
That in the dignity of stable,
As an old Patriarch, still was able
To multiply his puissant race,
For tilt, for battle, and the chace.
 A coat of armour in the hall
Beam'd on the military wall,
The helm—the pistols—and the lance,
Gave their proud help to the romance.
John was fast bound into the seat,
In his war-panoplies complete;
His beaver up, and cap-à-pie ,
Lance in the wrist—a Knight was he.
Keen for adventures off they went,
But chance entangled their consent;
The horse, to catch the baker's mare,
No sinews of pursuit would spare;
For each, consulting no attorney,
At the same time began the journey—
Appall'd the coward look'd behind,
And wish'd it could have struck him blind,
When Friar John thus arm'd he saw,
Avenger of the hangman's law;
He kick'd his mare—away it fled,
The rein was thrown upon her head;
But still the rider's cheek was pale,
And still the ghost was at his tail.
With clashing steel, and shriek sonorous,
The arms and Richard join'd in chorus.
Dull citizens began to wake:
The noise—an Alderman would shake.
At last, the persecuted mare
Found gable-ends no thorough fare.
The horse with clattering arms pursued,
Oppos'd, and scar'd the multitude;
With a contempt for all decorum,
His object was made known before 'em .
 The self-convicted Richard fell,
And rang himself the fatal knell;
With bleeding conscience from within,
Confess'd the judgment and the sin;
Before he was arraign'd, spoke out,
And prov'd the murder past a doubt.
Their antient grudge was hand and seal
To guilt that fear could thus reveal;
Conviction beam'd in holy eyes,
For miracles can tell no bies .
The self-accus'd—all hopes abjur'd—
Was to the penal rope ensur'd.
No prospect but an opening grave;
No spell at hand the neck to save.
 But guilty conscience wears a tongue.
The Knight, though safe, this hornet stung;
Express to Court, like wind he ran,
Confess'd himself to be the man;
At the King's feet his pardon crav'd;
Obtain'd it, and the Culprit sav'd;
The hopeless Friar was releas'd,
And made the Knight's Domestic Priest:
As long as he had breath he lasted;
When he could eat no more—he fasted.
He took as Confessor his post,
Appeas'd the murder'd Friar's ghost;
And, of the dead no more afraid,
Kept all the secrets of his trade.
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