The Paphian Ball

Another Christmas Experience of the Mellstock Quire

We went our Christmas rounds once more,
With quire and viols as theretofore.

Our path was near by Rushy-Pond,
Where Egdon-Heath outstretched beyond.

There stood a figure against the moon,
Tall, spare, and humming a weirdsome tune.

" You tire of Christian carols," he said:
" Come and lute at a ball instead.

" 'Tis to your gain, for it ensures
That many guineas will be yours.

" A slight condition hangs on't, true,
But you will scarce say nay thereto:

" That you go blindfold; that anon
The place may not be gossiped on."

They stood and argued with each other:
" Why sing from one house to another

" These ancient hymns in the freezing night,
And all for nought? 'Tis foolish, quite!"

" — 'Tis serving God, and shunning evil:
Might not elsedoing serve the devil?"

" But grand pay!" . . . They were lured by his call,
Agreeing to go blindfold all.

They walked, he guiding, some new track,
Doubting to find the pathway back.

In a strange hall they found them when
They were unblinded all again.

Gilded alcoves great chandeliers,
Voluptuous paintings ranged in tiers,

In brief, a mansion large and rare,
With rows of dancers waiting there.

They tuned and played; the couples danced;
Half-naked women tripped, advanced,

With handsome partners footing fast,
Who swore strange oaths, and whirled them past.

And thus and thus the slow hours wore them:
While shone their guineas heaped before them.

Drowsy at length, in lieu of the dance
" While Shepherds watched . . ." they bowed by chance;

And in a moment, at a blink,
There flashed a change; ere they could think

The ball-room vanished and all its crew:
Only the well-known heath they view —

The spot of their crossing overnight,
When wheedled by the stranger's sleight.

There, east, the Christmas dawn hung red,
And dark Rainbarrow with its dead

Bulged like a supine negress' breast
Against Clyffe-Clump's faint far-off crest.

Yea; the rare mansion, gorgeous, bright,
The ladies, gallants, gone were quite.

The heaped-up guineas, too, were gone
With the gold table they were on.

" Why did not grasp we what was owed!"
Cried some as homeward, shamed, they strode.

Now comes the marvel and the warning:
When they had dragged to church next morning,

With downcast heads and scarce a word,
They were astound at what they heard.

Praises from all came forth in showers
For how they'd cheered the midnight hours.

" We've heard you many times," friends said,
" But like that never have you played!

" Rejoice, ye tenants of the earth,
And celebrate your Saviour's birth,

" Never so thrilled the darkness through,
Or more inspired us so to do!" . . .

— The man who used to tell this tale
Was the tenor-viol, Michael Mail;

Yes; Mail the tenor, now but earth! —
I give it for what it may be worth.
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