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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802–1839)

The Red Fisherman

Or, The Devil’s Decoy

  • “O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!”

  • THE ABBOT arose, and closed his book,

    And donned his sandal shoon,

    And wandered forth, alone, to look

    Upon the summer moon:

    A starlight sky was o’er his head,

    A quiet breeze around;

    And the flowers a thrilling fragrance shed,

    And the waves a soothing sound:

    It was not an hour, nor a scene, for aught

    But love and calm delight;

    Yet the holy man had a cloud of thought

    On his wrinkled brow that night.

    He gazed on the river that gurgled by,

    But he thought not of the reeds;

    He clasped his gilded rosary,

    But he did not tell the beads;

    If he looked to the heaven, ’twas not to invoke

    The spirit that dwelleth there;

    If he opened his lips, the words they spoke

    Had never the tone of prayer.

    A pious priest might the Abbot seem,—

    He had swayed the crozier well;

    But what was the theme of the Abbot’s dream,

    The Abbot were loath to tell.

    Companionless, for a mile or more

    He traced the windings of the shore.

    Oh, beauteous is that river still,

    As it winds by many a sloping hill,

    And many a dim o’erarching grove,

    And many a flat and sunny cove,

    And terraced lawns whose bright arcades

    The honeysuckle sweetly shades,

    And rocks whose very crags seem bowers,

    So gay they are with grass and flowers!

    But the Abbot was thinking of scenery

    About as much, in sooth,

    As a lover thinks of constancy,

    Or an advocate of truth.

    He did not mark how the skies in wrath

    Grew dark above his head;

    He did not mark how the mossy path

    Grew damp beneath his tread:

    And nearer he came, and still more near,

    To a pool, in whose recess

    The water had slept for many a year,

    Unchanged and motionless;

    From the river-stream it spread away

    The space of half a rood;

    The surface had the hue of clay

    And the scent of human blood;

    The trees and the herbs that round it grew

    Were venomous and foul,

    And the birds that through the bushes flew

    Were the vulture and the owl;

    The water was as dark and rank

    As ever a Company pumped,

    And the perch, that was netted and laid on the bank,

    Grew rotten while it jumped;

    And bold was he who thither came

    At midnight, man or boy,

    For the place was cursed with an evil name,

    And that name was “The Devil’s Decoy!”

    The Abbot was weary as abbot could be,

    And he sat down to rest on the stump of a tree;

    When suddenly rose a dismal tone,—

    Was it a song, or was it a moan?—

    “O ho! O ho!


    Lightly and brightly they glide and go!

    The hungry and keen on the top are leaping,

    The lazy and fat in the depths are sleeping;

    Fishing is fine when the pool is muddy,

    Broiling is rich when the coals are ruddy!”—

    In a monstrous fright, by the murky light,

    He looked to the left and he looked to the right,

    And what was the vision close before him,

    That flung such a sudden stupor o’er him?

    ’Twas a sight to make the hair uprise,

    And the life-blood colder run:

    The startled Priest struck both his thighs,

    And the abbey-clock struck one!

    All alone, by the side of the pool,

    A tall man sat on a three-legged stool,

    Kicking his heels on the dewy sod,

    And putting in order his reel and rod:

    Red were the rags his shoulders wore,

    And a high red cap on his head he bore;

    His arms and his legs were long and bare;

    And two or three locks of long red hair

    Were tossing about his scraggy neck,

    Like a tattered flag o’er a splitting wreck.

    It might be time, or it might be trouble,

    Had bent that stout back nearly double,

    Sunk in their deep and hollow sockets

    That blazing couple of Congreve rockets,

    And shrunk and shriveled that tawny skin

    Till it hardly covered the bones within.

    The line the Abbot saw him throw

    Had been fashioned and formed long ages ago,

    And the hands that worked his foreign vest

    Long ages ago had gone to their rest:

    You would have sworn as you looked on them,

    He had fished in the Flood with Ham and Shem!

    There was turning of keys and creaking of locks,

    As he took forth a bait from his iron box.

    Minnow or gentle, worm or fly,—

    It seemed not such to the Abbot’s eye:

    Gayly it glittered with jewel and gem,

    And its shape was the shape of a diadem.

    It was fastened a gleaming hook about

    By a chain within and a chain without;

    The Fisherman gave it a kick and a spin,

    And the water fizzed as it tumbled in!

    From the bowels of the earth

    Strange and varied sounds had birth:

    Now the battle’s bursting peal,

    Neigh of steed and clang of steel;

    Now an old man’s hollow groan

    Echoed from the dungeon-stone;

    Now the weak and wailing cry

    Of a stripling’s agony!—

    Cold by this was the midnight air;

    But the Abbot’s blood ran colder

    When he saw a gasping Knight lie there,

    With a gash beneath his clotted hair,

    And a hump upon his shoulder.

    And the loyal churchman strove in vain

    To mutter a Pater Noster;

    For he who writhed in mortal pain

    Was camped that night on Bosworth plain—

    The cruel Duke of Gloster!

    There was turning of keys and creaking of locks,

    As he took forth a bait from his iron box.

    It was a haunch of princely size,

    Filling with fragrance earth and skies.

    The corpulent Abbot knew full well

    The swelling form and the steaming smell:

    Never a monk that wore a hood

    Could better have guessed the very wood

    Where the noble hart had stood at bay,

    Weary and wounded, at close of day.

    Sounded then the noisy glee

    Of a reveling company,—

    Sprightly story, wicked jest,

    Rated servant, greeted guest,

    Flow of wine and flight of cork,

    Stroke of knife and thrust of fork:

    But where’er the board was spread,

    Grace, I ween, was never said!—

    Pulling and tugging the Fisherman sat;

    And the Priest was ready to vomit

    When he hauled out a gentleman, fine and fat,

    With a belly as big as a brimming vat,

    And a nose as red as a comet.

    “A capital stew,” the Fisherman said,

    “With cinnamon and sherry!”

    And the Abbot turned away his head,

    For his brother was lying before him dead,

    The mayor of St. Edmund’s Bury!

    There was turning of keys and creaking of locks,

    As he took forth a bait from his iron box.

    It was a bundle of beautiful things,—

    A peacock’s tail, and a butterfly’s wings,

    A scarlet slipper, an auburn curl,

    A mantle of silk, and a bracelet of pearl,

    And a packet of letters, from whose sweet fold

    Such a stream of delicate odors rolled,

    That the Abbot fell on his face and fainted,

    And deemed his spirit was half-way sainted.

    Sounds seemed dropping from the skies,—

    Stifled whispers, smothered sighs,

    And the breath of vernal gales,

    And the voice of nightingales:

    But the nightingales were mute,

    Envious, when an unseen lute

    Shaped the music of its chords

    Into passion’s thrilling words:—

    “Smile, Lady, smile!—I will not set

    Upon my brow the coronet,

    Till thou wilt gather roses white

    To wear around its gems of light.

    Smile, Lady, smile!—I will not see

    Rivers and Hastings bend the knee,

    Till those bewitching lips of thine

    Will bid me rise in bliss from mine.

    Smile, Lady, smile! for who would win

    A loveless throne through guilt and sin?

    Or who would reign o’er vale and hill,

    If woman’s heart were rebel still?”

    One jerk, and there a lady lay,

    A lady wondrous fair;

    But the rose of her lip had faded away,

    And her cheek was as white and as cold as clay,

    And torn was her raven hair.

    “Ah ha!” said the Fisher, in merry guise,

    “Her gallant was hooked before;”

    And the Abbot heaved some piteous sighs,

    For oft he had blessed those deep blue eyes,—

    The eyes of Mistress Shore!

    There was turning of keys and creaking of locks,

    As he took forth a bait from his iron box.

    Many the cunning sportsman tried,

    Many he flung with a frown aside:

    A minstrel’s harp, and a miser’s chest,

    A hermit’s cowl, and a baron’s crest,

    Jewels of lustre, robes of price,

    Tomes of heresy, loaded dice,

    And golden cups of the brightest wine

    That ever was pressed from the Burgundy vine.

    There was a perfume of sulphur and nitre,

    As he came at last to a bishop’s mitre!

    From top to toe the Abbot shook,

    As the Fisherman armed his golden hook,

    And awfully were his features wrought

    By some dark dream or wakened thought.

    Look how the fearful felon gazes

    On the scaffold his country’s vengeance raises,

    When the lips are cracked and the jaws are dry

    With the thirst which only in death shall die;

    Mark the mariner’s frenzied frown

    As the swaling wherry settles down,

    When peril has numbed the senses and will,

    Though the hand and the foot may struggle still;—

    Wilder far was the Abbot’s glance,

    Deeper far was the Abbot’s trance:

    Fixed as a monument, still as air,

    He bent no knee, and he breathed no prayer;

    But he signed—he knew not why or how—

    The sign of the Cross on his clammy brow.

    There was turning of keys and creaking of locks,

    As he stalked away with his iron box.

    “O ho! O ho!

    The cock doth crow;

    It is time for the Fisher to rise and go.

    Fair luck to the Abbot, fair luck to the shrine!

    He hath gnawed in twain my choicest line:

    Let him swim to the north, let him swim to the south,

    The Abbot will carry my hook in his mouth!”

    The Abbot had preached for many years

    With as clear articulation

    As ever was heard in the House of Peers

    Against Emancipation;

    His words had made battalions quake,

    Had roused the zeal of martyrs,

    Had kept the Court an hour awake,

    And the King himself three-quarters:

    But ever from that hour, ’tis said,

    He stammered and he stuttered,

    As if an axe went through his head

    With every word he uttered.

    He stuttered o’er blessing, he stuttered o’er ban,

    He stuttered, drunk or dry;

    And none but he and the Fisherman

    Could tell the reason why!