20 Dec 2019

The Dream of an Old Meltonian

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I am old, I am old, and my eyes are grown weaker,
My beard is as white as the foam on the sea,
Yet pass me the bottle, and fill me a beaker,
A bright brimming toast in a bumper for me.
Back, back through long vistas of years I am wafted.
But the glow at my heart’s undiminished in force.
Deep, deep in that heart has fond memory engrafted
Those quick thirty minutes from Ranksboro’ Gorse.

What is time? the effluxion of life zoophitic
In dreary pursuit of position or gain.
What is life? The absorption of vapours mephitic.
And the bursting of sunlight on senses and brain!
Such a life have I lived– though so speedily over,
Condensing the joys of a century’s course,
From the find till we eat him near Woodwellhead Cover,
In thirty bright minutes from Ranksboro’ Gorse.

Last night in St. Stephen’s so wearily sitting
(The member for Boreham sustained the debate),
Some pitying spirit that round me was flitting
Vouchsafed a sweet vision my pains to abate.
The Mace, and the Speaker, and House disappearing,
The leather-clad bench is a thorough-bred horse ;
‘Tis the whimpering cry of the foxhound I’m hearing.
And my ‘seat’ is a pig-skin at Ranksboro’ Gorse.

He’s away! I can hear the identical holloa!
I can feel my young thorough-bred strain down the ride,
I can hear the dull thunder of hundreds that follow,
I can see my old comrades in life by my side.
Do I dream? all around me I see the dead riding,
And voices long silent re-echo with glee;
I can hear the far wail of the Master’s vain chiding,
As vain as the Norseman’s reproof to the sea.

Vain indeed! for the bitches are racing before us —
Not a nose to the earth — not a stern in the air;
And we know by the notes of that modified chorus
How straight we must ride if we wish to be there
With a crash o’er the turnpike, and onward I’m sailing,
Released from the throes of the blundering mass,
“Which dispersed right and left as I topped the high railing,
And shape my own course o’er the billowy grass.

Select is the circle in which I am moving,
Yet open and free the admission to all;
Still, still more select is that company proving.
Weeded out by the funker and thinned by the fall;
Yet here all are equal — no class legislation,
No privilege hinders, no family pride:
In the ‘image of war’ show the pluck of the nation;
Ride, ancient patrician! democracy, ride!

Oh! gently, my young one; the fence we are nearing
Is leaning towards us — ’tis hairy and black.
The binders are strong, and necessitate clearing,
Or the wide ditch beyond will find room for your back.
Well saved! We are over! now far down the pastures
Of Ashwell the willows betoken the line
Of the dull-flowing stream of historic disasters;
We must face, my bold young one, the dread Whissendine!

No shallow-dug pan with a hurdle to screen it.
That cock-tail imposture the steeple chase brook;
But the steep broken banks tell us plain, if we mean it,
The less we shall like it the longer we look.
Then steady, my young one, my place I’ve selected,
Above the dwarf willow ’tis sound I’ll be bail,
With your muscular quarters beneath you collected,
Prepare for a rush like the ‘limited mail.’

Oh ! now let me know the full worth of your breeding,
Brave son of Belzoni, be true to your sires,
Sustain old traditions — remember you’re leading
The cream of the cream in the shire of the shires!
With a quick shortened stride as the distance you measure,
With a crack of the nostril and cock of the ear,
And a rocketing bound, and we ‘re over, my treasure.
Twice nine feet of water, and landed all clear!

What! four of us only? Are these the survivors
Of all that rode gaily from Ranksboro’s ridge?
I hear the faint splash of a few hardy divers,
The rest are in hopeless research of a bridge;
Vae Victis! the way of the world and the winners!
Do we ne’er ride away from a friend in distress?
Alas! we are anti- Samaritan sinners,
And streaming past Stapleford, onward we press.

Ah! don’t they mean mischief, the merciless ladies?
What fox can escape such implacable foes?
Of the sex cruel slaughter for ever the trade is,
Whether human or animal — Yonder he goes!
Never more for the woodland! his purpose has failed him,
Though to gain the old shelter he gallantly tries;
In vain the last double, for Jezebel’s nailed him!
Whoohoop! in the open the veteran dies!

Yes, four of us only! but is it a vision?
Dear lost ones, how came ye with mortals to mix?
Methought that ye hunted the pastures Elysian,
And between us there rolled the unjumpable Styx!
Stay, stay but a moment! the grass fields are fading,
And heavy obscurity palsies my brain:
Through what country, what ploughs, and what sloughs
am I wading?
Alas! ’tis the member for Boreham again!

Oh, glory of youth! consolation of age!
Sublimest of ecstasies under the sun;
Though the veteran may linger too long on the stage,
Yet he’ll drink a last toast to a fox-hunting run.
And oh! young descendants of ancient top-sawyers!
By your lives to the world their example enforce;
Whether landlords, or parsons, or statesmen, or lawyers.
Ride straight as they rode it from Ranksboro’ Gorse.

Though a rough-riding world may bespatter your breeches.
Though sorrow may cross you, or slander revile.
Though you plunge overhead in misfortune’s blind ditches.
Shun the gap of deception, the hand-gate of guile:
Oh, avoid them! for there, see the crowd is contending,
Ignoble the object — ill-mannered the throng;
Shun the miry lane, falsehood, with turns never ending.
Ride straight for truth’s timber, no matter how strong.

I’ll pound you safe over! sit steady and quiet;
Along the sound headland of honesty steer;
Beware of false holloas and juvenile riot.
Though the oxer of duty be wide, never fear!
And when the run ‘s over of earthly existence.
And you get safe to ground, you will fear no remorse.
If you ride it — no matter what line or what distance —
As straight as your fathers from Ranksboro’ Gorse.

–William Bromley-Davenport


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