A Guernsey Tradition.

The Bailif’s * home was a lordly hall,1
And his land stretch’d far and wide,2
And many stout serving-men came at his call,3
And great were his pomp and pride.4
Near this mansion there stood a neat little cot,5
Nestling in bush and tree ;6
The owner, a peasant of humble lot,7
With one vergee † of land from his forefathers got,8
None happier seem’d than he.9
He loved his children, he loved his wife,10
Their words and their acts were right ;11
So they led in the cottage a peaceable life,12
Though they labour’d from morn till night.13
No spring there was on the peasant’s ground,14
But, whoe’er in the cot might dwell,15
(It was known to the country folks many miles
Had a right to the rich man’s well.17
When his earthen pitcher the villager brought18
At the rich man’s well to fill ;19
How the Bailiff grudged, he little thought,20
His draughts from that limpid rill.21
And why was he vex’d when the man he saw ?22
Oh, why for the water care ?23
’Twas because the man had a right to draw,24
That he hated to see him there.25
’Twould not perchance have been e’er denied,26
Had he begg’d it eve and noon,27
But it sadly offended the Bailiff’s pride28
That he had not to ask the boon.29
Thy land and hut I desire to buy,”30
He said one day with a frown ;31
Name the sum you expect, be it ever so high,32
I will instantly pay it down.”33
Poor Massey bow’d as he humbly spake34
My father first drew his breath35
In this cottage ; I prize it for his dear sake,36
And will never resign it till death.37
I lost my mother while yet a child,38
But once it was her abode ;39
Could I part with the home where my mother
Where she taught me the fear of God ?41
* The Bailiff, or chief judge, in the Royal Court of
Guernsey is, named, by.the English sovereign. Gualtier de
la Salle, the first Bailiff, was appointed in 1284.
† Vergee, about half an English acre.
’Tis here I’ve lived with my loving wife,42
And little ones, now in Heaven ;43
And those who survive me shall have it for life,44
To them by the law it is given.”45
On this fancied grievance the Bailiff dwelt,46
As Massey his pitcher fed ;47
Such hatred at length to the peasant he felt,48
That he wish’d the poor man dead !49
But he knew the cottage would then by law50
Descend (and it vex’d him sore)51
To those who would come for the water, and draw52
As their father had done before.53
But if he perish’d with infamy,54
The land would never be theirs ;55
By the Sovereign claim’d, no relations could be56
Accounted a felon’s heirs.57
At length there came to the Bailiff’s heart58
A plan— “ and it must succeed,”59
So he said to himself, for he dared not impart60
To any the shameful deed.61
In the vraiking * season he went one day,62
And a rich silver cup he bore,63
When the peasant and family all were away,64
And he enter’d the unlock’d door.65
He approach’d the timeworn oaken chest,66
And lifted the unlock’d lid,67
And under the raiment, their holiday best,68
The bright silver tankard hid.69
He went away with a hurried pace,70
And closed the door with care ;71
But the eyes of the Lord are in every place,72
And they surely beheld him there.73
In the dead of night he went forth once more,74
To a corn-stack that stood hard by,75
And a heavy burthen of plate he bore,76
And conceal’d it from mortal eye.77
The morning dawn’d and the Bailiff rose,78
And summon’d his menials soon ;79
In order my costliest service dispose,80
For guests will be here at noon.”81
Each man has now his appointed task ;82
For the service of plate they go ;83
Then questions in whispers they fearfully ask,84
And are hurrying to and fro.85
The Bailiff listens—at length a page,86
In the tremulous voice of fear,87
Announces the loss ; and his well-feign’d rage,88
It was dreadful (they said) to hear.89
Like a savage man, of sense bereft,90
With oaths he reviled them all ;91
And threaten’d, if no one acknowledg’d the theft,92
His vengeance on each should fall :93
But promised pardon to every one94
Who by noon had the crime confess’d ;—95
They were innocent all, so ere setting of sun96
The constables came, and the search was begun97
In the presence of many a guest.98
The stately mansion below, above,99
And the arbours for pleasure round,100
Are sear’d, and the servants their innocence prove ;101
No plate can be anywhere found.102
* Vraik is sea-weed used as fuel and manure.
And then ; pursuing his wicked plan,103
(And, oh, with what vile intent !)104
To the cottage of Massey, good peaceable man,105
The Bailiff his constables sent.106
The man’s surprise was, indeed, extreme,107
Though assured there could be no cause ;108
Their visit appear’d like a troublesome dream109
To him who ne’er broke the laws.110
My friend,” said one, in a kindly tone,111
Our errand I’ll briefly state ;—112
In this cottage it seems not as yet to be known113
That the Bailiff has lost his plate.114
Throughout his mansion and grounds we sought ;115
Not even a cup was seen ;116
And, though to search here we a warrant have
We shall find nothing here, I ween.”118
He straightway went to the oaken chest,119
And lifted the unlock’d lid ;120
Then forward with wonder they every one press’d,121
For under some raiment, the countryman’s best,122
A rich silver cup was hid.123
’Twas the great man’s tankard, beyond mistake ;124
His arms were engraven fair ;125
With a truthful look Massey solemnly spake,126
I pray that the Lord may my children forsake,127
If I know how the cup came there !”128
At the stately mansion the news they hear,129
That the tankard is found at last :130
The Bailiff and guests at the cottage appear,—131
And now the plot ripens fast.132
He orders Massey at once to jail,133
Right glad that he had the power ;—134
They who heard the poor wife and her little ones
Could never forget that hour.136
And joy was seen in his eyes to shine,137
As he saw the good man depart ;—138
The vergee of land shall surely be mine,”139
He said, in his wicked heart.140
In her lonely cottage the mother kneels,141
The little ones round her cry ;142
She speaks not a word, for too keenly she feels ;143
Her prayer is a deep-drawn sigh.144
The cell held not the captive long,145
The Bailiff brook’d no delay ;146
He felt like a tiger, so savage, so strong,147
Impatient to seize his prey.148
The Court is summon’d, they meet in haste,149
The Bailiff as Judge presides ;150
Accused as a thief at the bar there is placed151
The man who in God confides.152
The case is stated, and clear his guilt,153
So most in the Court believe,—154
Now prove thyself honest, or surely thou wilt155
Be hang’d—there is no rereprieve.”156
With the learned (said Massey) I argue not,157
To their skill I make no pretence ;158
But from childhood till now a good name I have
I cannot tell how the cup came in my cot ;—160
And that is my sole defence.”161
A poor defence !” was on many a tongue,162
If Massey can say no more ;163
And guilty or not the poor man will be hung,164
And the-sooner his pangs be o’er.”165
The Bailiff rises, to pass no doubt166
The sentence of shameful death,167
When proceedings are stopp’d by a cry without ;168
Men, women, and children, unite in the shout,—169
In rushes a man out of breath.170
He gasps awhile, he is faint and weak,171
And wondering they gather round ;172
His errand to learn they all eagerly seek,173
Then faintly he utters, scarce able to speak,—174
The plate of the Bailiff is found !”175
Up rose the Judge with an angry frown176
(Yet his terror was great to see),177
That was not the stack which I bade them take down178
What man has done this to me !”179
On leaving home that important morn,180
He had given his men command181
To remove from the threshers a large stack of corn182
To which he then waved his hand.183
Which stack their master was pointing at,184
The men did not rightly know ;—185
In one was the plate, they began taking that ;186
It was God who had order’d it so.187
The Judge forgot that his words of ire188
Would surely himself condemn ;189
And no stronger proof did the Jurats* require,190
His guilt was quite clear to them.191
Poor Massey his eyes was seen to raise192
With a grateful look to heaven ;193
No word did he speak, but acceptable praise194
To God from his heart was given.195
And now, good man, you may go in peace,196
No longer detain’d you are.”197
The Jurats are happy to give him release,198
And the Bailiff is placed at the bar.199
That just and right in that ancient time200
Was the law of the Isle, we find :201
He was sentenced to die for his terrible crime ;202
The doom for Massey design’d.203