The Dream of the Bilious Beadle

by Arthur Shirley

'Twas in the grimy winter time, an evening cold and damp,
And four and twenty work'us boys, all of one ill-fed stamp,
Were blowing on blue finger tips, bent double with the cramp;
And when the skilly poured out fell into each urchin's pan
They swallowed it at such a pace as only boyhood can.
But the Beadle sat remote from all, a bilious-looking man—
His hat was off, red vest apart, to catch the evening breeze:
He thought that that might cool his brow; it only made him sneeze,
So pressed his side with his hand, and tried to seem as if at ease.
Heave after heave his waistcoat gave, to him was peace denied,
It tortured him to see them eat, he couldn't though he tried!
Good fare had made him much too fat, and rather goggle-eyed;
At length he started to his feet, some hurried steps he took,
Now up the ward, now down the ward, with wild dyspeptic look,
And lo! he saw a work'us boy, who read a penny book—
"You beastly brat! What is't you're at? I warrant 'tis no good!
What's this? 'The life of Turpin Bold!' or 'Death of Robin Hood'?"
"It's 'Hessays on the Crumpet,' sir, as a harticle of food!"
He started from that boy as tho' in's ear he'd blown a trumpet,
His hand he pressed upon his chest, then with his fist did thump it,
And down he sat beside the brat and talked about The Crumpet.
How now and then that muffin men of whom tradition tells,
By pastry trade, fortunes had made, and come out awful swells,
While their old patrons suffered worse than Irving in "The Bells!"
"And well, I know," said he, "forsooth, for plenty have I bought,
The sufferings of foolish folk who eat more than they ought.
"With pepsine pills and liver pads is their consumption fraught,
Oh! oh! my boy, my pauper boy! Take my advice, 'tis best shun
All such tempting tasty things, tho' nice beyond all question,
Unless you wish like me to feel the pangs of indigestion!
One, who had ever made me long—a muffin man and old—
I watched into a public-house, he called for whisky cold,
And for one moment left his stock within green baize enrolled.
I crept up to them, thinking what an appetite I'd got,
I gloated o'er them lying there elastic and all hot;
I thought of butter laid on thick, and then I prigged the lot!
"I took them home, I toasted them, p'raps upwards of a score,
And never had so fine a feast on luscious fare before,
'And now,' I said, 'I'll go to bed, and dream of eating more.'
All night I lay uneasily, and rolled from side to side,
At first without one wink of sleep, no matter how I tried;
And then I dreamt I was a 'bus, and gurgled 'Full inside!'
I was a 'bus by nightmares drawn on to some giddy crest,
Now launched like lightning through the air, now stop'd and now compressed;
I felt a million muffin men were seated on my chest!
"I heard their bells—their horrid bells—in sound as loud as trumpets,
Oh, curses on ye, spongy tribe! Ye cruffins and ye mumpets!
I must be mad! I mean to say ye muffins and ye crumpets!
Then came a chill like Wenham ice; then hot as hottest steam;
I could not move a single limb! I could not even scream!
You pauper brat, remember that all this was but a dream!"
The boy gazed on his troubled brow, from which big drops were oozing,
And for the moment all respect for his dread function losing,
Made this remark, "Well, blow me tight, our Beadle's been a-boozing!"
That very week, before the beak, they brought that beadle burly;
He pleaded guilty in a tone dyspeptically surly,
And he lives still at Pentonville with hair not long or curly!