About that person's coat, it might be said,
'Twas the strangest garment ere was worn;
By an old country tailor it was made,
Who lived and worked and fuddled at Woodhorn.
The broad-backed country clowns might look with scorn
On Maister Snelly, who his craft did ply
In an old cottage by the miller's burn;
But he returned their scorn with scorn as high,
Or higher - more especially when his wife was by.
One night it chanced at Cresswell he was late,
And rather beery too was he withal,
Strange fancies galloped through his addled pate,
He thought himself of consequence not small.
And for another pint he aye would call
Of good home-brewed, which set his tongue so free,
The guests were there — he counted nought at all,
Poor, simple, silly clowns ; and only he
Knew what was wbat,— and what was not, and how things ought to be.
“Talk about cwots“ —said he, “talk about cwots!
I'll bet my life I'll mak' a cwot wi onny
Other man 'twixt here and John O'Groats.
I'll say a thing ye'll may be think's no canny” -
He got upright upon his feet, and then he
Did thump his bony hand upon the table,—
“Can onny man say mair than that? now can he?
Gude sirs, I dinna wish to be unceevil
At onny rate; but faix, I'll mak' a cwot to fit the Deevil.
A fisherman upon the settle sat,
And much he seemed to like the glorious fun;
A dark browed stranger with a three cocked hat,
Sat in the corner of a shadow dun,
He sat but word ne'er spoke to any one.
“Come out man,- come out here” said Maister Snelly—
“We're all good honest folk — ye need not shun
Wor company: —od, man, its very silly
“To sit there by yorsel — come out: I've something for to tell you.”
The stranger bowed, and nodded, but remained
As taciturn and solemn as before,
Nor of unmannered usage e'er complained
When Snelly vowed to kick him to the door;
For this he rose to walk across the floor,
But, being heavy in the upper story
His legs flew out beneath, and he fell o'er.
He rose again with visage somewhat gory
For which the landlady and servant lass said they were very sorry.
They washed his streaming nose as best they could,
And down his neck they put the back door key,
To stop, by such a charm, the welling blood.
Kind generous souls, they almost wept to see
Their friend in such predicament, and he
Could well appreciate each kind endeavour.
He vowed, for this their kindness, he would be
Their debtor,- aye, for ever and for ever,
Pass the house without a call, he swore that he would never.
He glanced around once more to see the stranger;
The stranger in the corner sat no more;
Perhaps, thought he, afraid of coming danger—
He's made his exit softly by the door:
And then he clasped his bony hand, and swore
What he would say, and eke what he would do
If e'er he came across that stranger more;
And boasting thus his courage greater grew;—
He'd have another pint, and in a twinkling he had two.
Ah! time flies swift, when we would have him stay,
And thus it was with Maister Snelly, when
The clock struck twelve, and he must hence away;
He bade the landlady “Good night“— and then
Went forth, and tried to stagger up the lane;
The lane was very crooked, so he said
Unto himself, as he went staggering on;
Him such a hero John Barleycorn had made,
Neither of ghost or goblin was he at all afraid.
He staggered through the fields, when near a stile
A tall, dark figure rose before his view;
Him for the stranger, who a little while
Ago sat in the corner, Snelly knew;
“Aha“— the stranger said, “So — that is you,
Good Maister Snelly — staggering home I guess” -
“Gude sir, I grant you, what you say is true”
Snelly replied again, “but nevertheless
“Just clear the road awhile - come by — an' let me pass.”
“But now you boasted you would make a coat
To fit old Nick! Now Snelly, if you can
Do what you say, then pray be quick and do't.
Just take my measure straight; for here's your man.”
Snelly to fumble for his tape began:
“Just turn about, Sir, how'll ye hae it made?
Would ye like the tails made short or lang?
There's mony a roguish trick, sor, in wor trade,
But I'll not cheat ye - no sir, ye need-na be afraid.”
“The bargain then is this“— the stranger said,
“That if you make it well and all complete,
When here delivered, you shall well be paid;
But should you ever attempt the least deceit,
Or in the length or breadth attempt to cheat,
Or fault be with the garment found at all,
Body and soul you shall to me forfeit,
On this night week, as this same hour shall fall,
I'll wait you here again, fail not,” thus spoke that stranger tall.
“A bargain be't“— said Snelly, and he turned
Upon his heel, and homeward took the road;
He fancied once or twice, that he had burned
His fingers 'gainst that stranger's shoulders broad.
A quiet curse or two he next bestowed
Upon the unknown stranger. Scarcely could he
Persuade his legs to travel with their load,
And yet he always vowed again, that should he
Live till the morn, he'd myek a cwot to fit
The Deevil, aye — that he would 't would 'e.
That live-long night through Snelly's muddled brain
Strange visions galloped, one succeeding t'other;
He thought he saw that stranger tall again,
Then came another, another, and another,
All wanting coats:— at last he shouted “bother!
Could they be all made at once, did they think?”
His better half awoke and asked him whether
He meant of sleep to let her have a wink;
But Snelly called her kindly names, and asked her for a drink.
He scarce had dropped to sleep again, when all
The bed with little imps was covered o'er:
In form they were so very slight and small,
Astride his nose there sat well nigh a score:
Well pleased were they whene'er they heard bim snore;
And laughed and shouted all; and then they made
Such fun of him, that Snelly woke, and swore,
He'd go and knock the Vicar out of bed
If such a durdurn on his nose the little monkeys led.
Thus passed the night, and when the morning rose,
Poor Snelly wakened with his throat on fire;
Upon his head the marks of sundry blows;
But when his good old wife 'gan to inquire
Where he had been; and learnt the tidings dire,
The compact he had made the night before,
She screamed so loud — no actress could scream higher -
And in her frenzy bolted out o't' door
Crying aloud “Her Willy dear was lost for evermore.”
She put her bonnet on, and up the town
Went crying:— First she met with bold Scotch Jean
Who asked her, why she came without her gown,
And what, with tears, had filled her old gray e'en;
And next by Polly C—-n she was seen,
Who quietly advised her to go home;
And Mary S—-n asked her where she'd been,
And very kindly asked her if she'd come
And take a cup of Tea, as she herself was just going to have some.
From one end of the village to the other
The tidings spread; for Mistress Snelly told
The woeful tale to every wife and mother
How he, deluded man, last night had sold
His soul and body for the fiend's red gold:
And then she cried, and stopped, and cried again;
The little pigs, that in the gutters rolled,
Did almost weep at witnessing her pain,
And for a time the cocks and hens to crow or cackle did refrain.
And Bob the miller went and stopped the mill,
And raised his hands, and then cried “Wunterful,”
The blacksmith pondered on the matter till
Scarce any sense was left within his skull;
The sexton next, of comprehension dull,
Yet thinking he knew more than all the rest,
Looked in at Abram's just to have a pull
Of brown ale, and consider what was best
To do, when thus the matter settled was at last.
The Vicar Woolfall was a learned man,
A score of languages they say he'd speak;
At school his Latin well he learned to scan,
He mumbled Hebrew, and he grumbled Greek,
The Vicar Woolfall burly was and sleek,
A good broad shovel on his head he wore;
The Vicar Woolfall was of manners meek
And gentle, though 'tis said he sometimes swore,
When wandering muggers day by day, came knocking at his door.
Upon his head he's put his broad-brimmed hat,
And in his hand his silver-headed cane;
And o'er the road he saunters to see what
Was wrong, or why the neighbours did complain.
Poor Snelly told him, o'er and o'er again,
Of's interview and compact with Mahound,
The Vicar scarce from laughing could refrain,
But yet he gave him good advice and sound,
Particulars of which will afterwards in this same lay be found.
And when at length that awful night came round,
Towards the place appointed Snelly took
His way alone; at every simple sound
He started, and just like a jelly shook
All day he'd fretted in the chimney nook,
His good wife sat beside him all in tears;
E'en Niobe herself could never look
One half so sad, when all her little dears
Were dead, as Mistress Snelly, weeping by her knight of shears.
Alone, alone, that dark and dismal night,
Adown Jack's Lonnen went he all alone;
No star was out his weary way to light,
No sound was heard except the night wind's moan,
Which Snelly answered oft' with many a groan:
Down in the hollow, by the streamlet's side,
A hungry dog was gnawing at a bone,
Which, when poor Snelly, through the darkness spied,
With fear, poor fellow, on the spot he almost sank and died.
That stranger tall was waiting when he came
Unto the stile — ”Good evening, Sir“— said he,
“Gude e'en,” said Snelly —” I dinna ken yor nyme,
Though I've a bit o' guess wha ye may be —
I've brought yor cwot aw ready, d'ye see;
Just let's see how it fits — now put it on, sir.
See here's the sleeve — just gie your hand to me,
Ye'll be inclined to own the wager's won, sir,
Faix, it's a bonny cwot — why you look a perfect Don, sir.”
“Oh! but this sleeve is short,” the stranger said.
Snelly made answer, “ Sir, the other's longer,”
“Good Sir, this seam is weak ; I think your thread's
“Been far too fine”— ”You'll find the next one stronger”
“Just so it is;—“ the stranger said in anger;
He gnashed his teeth, and from his eyes there came
Red sparks of fire. “This pocket here is wrong : for
I cannot get my hand into the same.”
“The other's bigger, sir, just feel't — or Snelly's not my name.”
“Now, there's a pocket, sir,” said Maister Snelly;
“Just put your hand in't — why, sir, you may keep
A week's provision in't.— It's well to tell ye,
There ne'er was pocket made so broad and deep;
The cwot has ne'er a fault, sir, I will threep.
Just pay the money, sir, and let's away,
It's time all good folks were in bed asleep,
Pay for the cwot — I dinna want to stay,
D'ye mean to keep me here aw neet? pay for the cwot, I say.”
This stich is far o'er long,” the stranger said;
'Tis a good inch, I think.”— ”But, sir, the next
Is no sae lang,” said Snelly, half afraid,
He saw his customer was getting vext,
And only wished to find some small pretext
To rob him of his coat, and soul and all;
And so he stuck the closer to his text.
“Good sir, I see,” replied the stranger tall
“Before you came to meet me, you've been to see Woolfall.
“Why here's a button, now; well, I declare
'Tis scarcely bigger than a good grey pea”
“Just so,” said Snelly, with a roguish leer,
“The next one to't is bigger — you may see”
“Oh! but it's over big.”— ”How can that be?
You said the one that's next it was too small,
With questions cross you wish to puzzle me.
But pay me for the cwot you surely shall
I say the cwot's a cwot, sir, with ne'er a fault at all.”
“Why this tail reaches quite down to my heel,”—
“The other is much shorter, sir“— in haste
Said Snelly —”Put your hand behind and feel;
You'll find it hanging somewhere near your waist,”
“It's over short,” he thundered, as he placed
His hand behind —”who bade you make it so?
You'd been at Woolfalls - from the first I guessed,
A clever cunning wight he is I know —
I've heard him grumbling at his prayers for seven long miles below.”
'Twas then the strangers eyes grew fiery red,
His voice grew loud, and louder as he spoke;
From his broad shoulders two dark wings he spread,
And flew away mid sheets of fire and smoke.
And when from his troubled sleep poor Snelly woke —
The lark was singing gaily in the sky;
Back to his cottage home his way he took —
And oft in Abram's, when his throat was dry,
O'er a jug of ale he told the tale, how he was lost — very nigh.