The Water-Cure. A Tale: In The Manner Of Prior.

A poem by Henry Austin Dobson

"--portentaque Thessala rides?"
"--Thessalian portents do you flout?"
* *

CARDENIO'S fortunes ne'er miscarried
Until the day CARDENIO married.
What then? the Nymph no doubt was young?
She was: but yet--she had a tongue!
Most women have, you seem to say.
I grant it--in a different way.

'Twas not that organ half-divine,
With which, Dear Friend, your spouse or mine,
What time we seek our nightly pillows,
Rebukes our easy peccadilloes:
'Twas not so tuneful, so composing;
'Twas louder and less often dozing;
At Ombre, Basset, Loo, Quadrille,
You heard it resonant and shrill;
You heard it rising, rising yet
Beyond SELINDA'S parroquet;
You heard it rival and outdo
The chair-men and the link-boy too;
In short, wherever lungs perform,
Like MARLBOROUGH, it rode the storm.

So uncontrolled it came to be,
CARDENIO feared his chère amie
(Like ECHO by Cephissus shore)
Would turn to voice and nothing more.

That ('tis conceded) must be cured
Which can't by practice be endured.
CARDENIO, though he loved the maid,
Grew daily more and more afraid;
And since advice could not prevail
(Reproof but seemed to fan the gale),
A prudent man, he cast about
To find some fitting nostrum out.
What need to say that priceless drug
Had not in any mine been dug?
What need to say no skilful leech
Could check that plethora of speech?
Suffice it, that one lucky day
CARDENIO tried--another way.

A Hermit (there were hermits then;
The most accessible of men!)
Near Vauxhall's sacred shade resided;
In him, at length, our friend confided.
(Simples, for show, he used to sell;
But cast Nativities as well.)
Consulted, he looked wondrous wise;
Then undertook the enterprise.

What that might be, the Muse must spare:
To tell the truth, she was not there.
She scorns to patch what she ignores
With Similes and Metaphors;
And so, in short, to change the scene,
She slips a fortnight in between.

Behold our pair then (quite by chance!)
In Vauxhall's garden of romance,--
That paradise of nymphs and grottoes,
Of fans, and fiddles, and ridottoes!
What wonder if, the lamps reviewed,
The song encored, the maze pursued,
No further feat could seem more pat
Than seek the Hermit after that?
Who then more keen her fate to see
Than this, the new LEUCONOË,
On fire to learn the lore forbidden
In Babylonian numbers hidden?
Forthwith they took the darkling road
To ALBUMAZAR his abode.

Arriving, they beheld the sage
Intent on hieroglyphic page,
In high Armenian cap arrayed
And girt with engines of his trade;
(As Skeletons, and Spheres, and Cubes;
As Amulets and Optic Tubes;)
With dusky depths behind revealing
Strange shapes that dangled from the ceiling,
While more to palsy the beholder
A Black Cat sat upon his shoulder.

The Hermit eyed the Lady o'er
As one whose face he'd seen before;
And then, with agitated looks,
He fell to fumbling at his books.

CARDENIO felt his spouse was frightened,
Her grasp upon his arm had tightened;
Judge then her horror and her dread
When "Vox Stellarum" shook his head;
Then darkly spake in phrase forlorn
Of Taurus and of Capricorn;
Of stars averse, and stars ascendant,
And stars entirely independent;
In fact, it seemed that all the Heavens
Were set at sixes and at sevens,
Portending, in her case, some fate
Too fearful to prognosticate.

Meanwhile the Dame was well-nigh dead.
"But is there naught," CARDENIO said,
"No sign or token, Sage, to show
From whence, or what, this dismal woe?"

The Sage, with circle and with plane,
Betook him to his charts again.
"It vaguely seems to threaten Speech:
No more (he said) the signs can teach."

But still CARDENIO tried once more:
"Is there no potion in your store,
No charm by Chaldee mage concerted
By which this doom can be averted?"

The Sage, with motion doubly mystic,
Resumed his juggling cabalistic.
The aspects here again were various;
But seemed to indicate Aquarius.
Thereat portentously he frowned;
Then frowned again, then smiled:--'twas found!
But 'twas too simple to be tried.
"What is it, then?" at once they cried.

"Whene'er by chance you feel incited
To speak at length, or uninvited;
Whene'er you feel your tones grow shrill
(At times, we know, the softest will!),
This word oracular, my daughter,
Bids you to fill your mouth with water:
Further, to hold it firm and fast,
Until the danger be o'erpast."

The Dame, by this in part relieved
The prospect of escape perceived,
Rebelled a little at the diet.
CARDENIO said discreetly, "Try it,
Try it, my Own. You have no choice,
What if you lose your charming voice!"
She tried, it seems. And whether then
Some god stepped in, benign to men;
Or Modesty, too long outlawed,
Contrived to aid the pious fraud,
I know not:--but from that same day
She talked in quite a different way.

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