() (Thomas Hardy)

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 ont, 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 strangers sleight.

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

Bulged like a supine negress breast
Against Clyffe-Clumps 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 theyd cheered the midnight hours.

Weve heard you many times, friends said,
But like that never have you played!

Rejoice, ye tenants of the earth,
And celebrate your Saviours 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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