Back to top

Thomas and Vivien


Tom, Tom, the piper's son,
Stole a pig and away he ran.
The pig was eat, and Tom was beat
And Tom went crying down the street.

Thomas the young, Thomas the mischievous,
Thomas the dark-brow'd lad of Camelot,
After a day of mirth and reveling
At court, in which, tho' oft rebuk'd, his voice
Had ever mingl'd, louder than the rest,
And shriller than the storm-drave seabird's cry,
Alone within a triple-window'd room
That in his father's dwelling faced the east,
Upon his bed, ere sleep her wings had wav'd
Above him, lay and meditated much
In what new mischief he should next engage;
Then, ere conclusion harmful could be reach'd,
Slipt into sleep, and dreaming, past to fields
Where youth and mischief held high holiday.

Sole son was he of old Sir Guy; a man
Of stature humble, but of wisdom great,
Who now was counted of the Table Round,
But in his youth, as some could still recall,
Ere from the land of Cameliard he came,
The sometime piper to its lord and King
Leodogran, 'gainst whom the heathen warr'd;
But after, when the peerless Guinevere,
The daughter of Leodogran, had been
By holy Dubric to King Arthur wed,
Had past to Camelot; and there by dint
Of faithful service in a humble place,
But more because the King the fire of truth
And nobleness perceiv'd in him and lov'd
Him for it, was now made knight, and brightly shone
In burnisht armor at King Arthur's court.
With him the King had counsel many times,
For knowledge deep of men and things Sir Guy
Possest, and year by year his wisdom grew
The riper as his head grew white. But since
To no man living perfect wisdom comes
It hapt therefore, that in one thing, not small,
Sir Guy, the sage was wanting, and the King
To him had that day put a question hard.

"How chances it, Sir Guy," had Arthur said,
"That thou whom all men reverently call
The wisest of our court, now Merlin lies
A pris'ner in the wood of Broceliande,
Hast fail'd, or so it seemeth to our eyes,
To rule and govern well thine only son?"
He ceas'd and then, from out a passage close
Beside, a woman came and stood before
And cried:
                "O king, who never yet wouldst see
And willingly, injustice done to aught,
Hearken to me. But now my son, in years
Scarce ten and slender as a flower, was set
Upon and beaten by a lad, the son,
It hap'neth, of thy wisest knight, Sir Guy,
And therefore may it please thee, noble King,
To see that this young Thomas, for so him
They call, be dealt with sternly, as is sure
His due."
              She spoke in haste, not seeing him
Who stood beside the king, and courteously
Made Arthur answer to her, and she went
From out the kingly presence glad of heart.
When the last echo of her steps had ceas'd,
The King again to his companion turn'd
Repeating in the glances of his eyes
The question that before was ask'd with lips.
Stroking his chin in thought, Sir Guy abode
In silence for a space, then, sudden, flasht
A face of mirthful radiance on the King,
And begg'd his lord would listen to a tale.
"Full willingly, Sir Guy," replied the King,
And smooth'd the gilded dragon on his robe.

"A peasant in the land of Cameliard,"
Began Sir Guy, "a slender living won
By keeping ducks and geese, and round his hut
Their constant screams and quackings harshly rang
From earliest hours,--sweet music to his ears.
One spring it chanced that from the nest two geese
Came off at once leading their callow young.
One mother proudly walk'd in front of ten
Yellow as gold, and all submissively
They follow'd where she led, nor seem'd to dream
Of will apart from hers. The other goose
Was mother of but one, and this one black
And wayward, such as never had been seen.
In vain the mother strove obedience
From this to gain; and oft her comrades shook
Their heads, foreboding ills that lay in wait
For errant goslings that obey'd no law.
At last the mother strove no more but left
Her single gosling to its own wild will:
But when a year had gone the peasant saw
No finer bird amongst his flock than this
Of which such dire prediction had been made.
But she that led abroad her brood of ten
Ere summer ended saw them fall a prey
To enemies that lurkt in grass and pool,
And one by one they slowly disappear'd
Till autumn came and found her desolate."

"A clever tale," here spoke the King, and smil'd
"But all things are not rul'd by accident,
Sir Guy, and seldom from the thorns do men
Attempt the purple-cluster'd grape to pluck,
And this, Sir Guy, the wise, should know as well,
Or better, even, than the King himself."
Then, rising, Arthur past with thoughtful step
Unto the bower of Guinevere, his Queen.

Thomas the young, Thomas the mischievous,
Awak'ning on the morrow from his sleep,
Beheld from out the windows of his room
A sight that fill'd his bosom with delight,
For while as down the narrow street he glanced,
A well-fed sow, attended by the train
Of youthful swine that made her litter small,
With grunts of deep content slow rang'd along.
A moment only gaz'd the lad, then stole
With soundless steps down the long stair, and peer'd
Into the street without. In narrow lines
Thro' rifts between high houses shone the sun
And lay in golden bars across the street.
A soft breeze lifted banners from the walls
And tost them lightly in the air. Scarce had
The city wak'd, and only here and there
An early-risen scullion, rubbing eyes
In which the sleep yet linger'd, went his way
To morning task. The lagging steps of these
And noise of swine the only sounds that stirr'd
The silence of the town. All cautiously
The lad with careful feet, on mischief bent
Crept toward the trustful, unsuspicious swine,
But, as his shadow fell across a bar
Of gold, the mother felt the danger near,
And, shrieking, fled, with all her litter'd tribe
At heels. But one, the smallest, tenderest
Of all, because less swift of foot than all
The rest, the ruthless Thomas seiz'd and bore
Triumphant to his friend, the palace cook,
The twain intending later on the pig
To dine.
             Ill reckon'd they, the knavish pair,
For wily Vivien thro' her lattice saw
The theft, and so, because she lov'd to tell
A tale, and more because the lad had been
Full oft a torment to her, later went
And told King Arthur what the son of Guy
Had done. The blameless King when he her tale
In silence heard, not doubting that for once
She spoke the truth, bade some one call Sir Guy
And Tom, and summon likewise all the court.
When this was done the King upon Sir Guy
Bent brows of sudden wrath and said:
                                                            "Thy 'one
Black gosling,' O Sir Guy, in growing up
To be the chiefest goose, or what thou wilt,
Of all his time, is like, I fear me much,
To prove a very fruitful source of ill
Among the youth of tender age at court."
To this in humbleness Sir Guy replied:
"It may be as thou sayest; therefore do
Unto him as thou wilt."
                                   Then call'd the King
Sir Kay, the seneschal, and gave command
That at the stroke of noon Sir Kay should lay
On thieving Thomas full twelve stripes with rod
Of season'd birch; and hearing this, a smile
Of joy ran round the court, and no one rais'd
A voice of pity, for none pitied him.
Then as Sir Kay the luckless Thomas led
From out the presence of the court and King,
The wily Vivien past to where the cooks
And scullions bode and singling out the one
She knew to be the friend of Thomas, drew
From him with all her wondrous woman's art
The after hist'ry of the stolen pig.
Won by the damsel's smile, before he knew,
The cook, a simple knave and all unus'd
To arts like these of Vivien's, promise gave
That he at noon the roasted pig would place
Upon the table in her private bower,
For on such fare full well she lov'd to dine.
The promise made again she smil'd and seem'd
As innocently fair as Enid, wife
To Prince Geraint, and, dazzl'd by such grace
To him, a kitchen servingman, he stood
With floury hands on hips and open mouth,
And wide eyes staring as she past without.

Thomas the young, Thomas the mischievous,
With dark anticipation watcht the sun
As rapidly it clomb the morning sky,
And much too short the time till from the tow'rs
Was clasht the hour of noon, but to the maid
The hours paced slow, and oft she sigh'd for noon
Impatiently exclaiming to herself
That never had been known a morn so long.
But when, on platter hot, the cook the pig
Brought it, her humor chang'd and thereupon
Grew all as sweet as breath of flowers in June.
Low bow'd the man as she within his palm
A gold'n token slipt from fingers white,
The while he heard her voice his cooking praise,
And felt the magic of her presence near
And vainly wish'd himself of her degree;
For breath of scandal soiling Vivien's name
Had not so far as palace kitchen blown,
And therefore deem'd he still the damsel pure.

Long linger'd she o'er this her fav'rite dish,
And none the less 'twas sweet to her who knew
That high above the tumult of the streets
Below, in direful anguish, rang the shrieks
Of Tom.