Josephus Riley

A poem by Barcroft Henry Boake

The rum was rich and rare,
There were wagers in the air,
The atmosphere was rosy, and the tongues were wagging free;
But one was in the revel
Whose occiput was level
Plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

The conversation’s flow
Was not devoid of “blow,”
And neither was it wanting in the plain, colloquial “D.”
With a most ingenuous smile
“This here is not my style,”
Said plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

“And I wouldn’t be averse
To emptying my purse,
And laying some small wager with the present companee,
To cut the matter short
Foot racing is my forte,”
Said plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

“I think it’s on the cards
That I can run three hundred yards
(The match to be decided where you gentlemen agree)
Against your fleetest horse;
The race would prove a source
Of pleasure,” said Josephus, from the North Countree.

“To equalise the task,
This little start I ask
The rider, ere he follows, must imbibe a cup of tea;
A simple breakfast-cup
He will have to swallow up.
That’s me Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.”

Then a “knowing ’un” looked wise,
“Begged to apologise;
But might he ask what temp’rature the liquid was to be!
Would it come from out the pot
Milkless, steaming, boiling-hot?”
“Oh, not at all,” said Riley, from the North Countree.

“Allow me to explain;
I do observe with pain,
This jocular reflection on my native honestee,
My bump of truth is huge,
I’d scorn a subterfuge”
Said plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

“Before the parties start
I’ll take the Judge apart
To prove, by tasting, whether I have tampered with
And I beg to state again
Your suspicions give me pain,”
Said plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

Then they were all satisfied
That the match was “boneefied,”
The bond was signed, and Riley went to “preparate” the tea;
But his slow, ambiguous smile
Would have seemed to token guile
In any man but Riley, from the North Countree.

He brought the fatal cup
By its saucer covered up
The Judge examined its contents with awful gravitee,
Then read the papers o’er,
But could not find a flaw:
“Wade in! Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.”

Then the “wagerer” just bowed,
And, passing through the crowd,
He handed up the beverage unto the “wageree;”
And off across the flat,
Springing gaily, pit-a-pat,
Went plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

But behind him what a yell
Of execration fell
From lips that lent themselves to shapes of great profanitee!
For the people of that town
Were done a lovely brown
By plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

And here’s the reason why:
The tea was simply DRY,
You might eat it, but to drink it was impossibilitee;
But, curious to state,
Men did not appreciate
This hum’rous innovation from the North Countree.

You’ll understand, of course,
That wager was a source
Of very little profit to the hapless “wageree,”
And, dating from that day,
I much regret to say,
Men look askance at Riley, from the North Countree.

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