Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Jan Van Hunks (1912)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1912
Publisher: T. Watts Dunton
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
JAN VAN HUNKS
JAN VAN HUNKS
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI
PRINTED FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION ONLY
- Full of smoke was the quaint old room
- And of pleasant winter heat;
- Whence you might hear the hall-door slap,
- And the wary shuffling of feet
- Which from the carpeted floor stepped out
- Into the ice-paved street.
- Van Hunks was laughing in his paunch;
- Ten golden pieces rare
- Lay in his hand; with neighbour Spratz
10He had smoked for a wager there;
- He laughed, and from his neighbour's pipe
- He looked into his neighbour's chair.
- Even as he laughed, the evening shades
- Rose stealthily and spread,
- Till the smoky clouds walled up the sun
- And hid his shining old head,
- As though he too had his evening pipe
- Before he tumbled to bed.
- Van Hunks still chuckled as he sat:
20It caused him an inward grin,
- When he heard the blast shake shutter and blind
- With its teeth-chattering din,
- To fancy the many who froze without
- While he sat thawing within.
- His bowl restuffed, again he puffed:
- No noise the stillness broke
- Save the tread of feet here and there in the street
- And the church-bell's hourly stroke;
- While silver-white through the deepening dusk
30Up leaped the rapid smoke.
- “For thirty years,” the Dutchman said,
- “I have smoked both night and day;
- I've laid great wagers on my pipe
- But never had once to pay,
- For my vapouring foes long ere the close
- Have all sneaked sickly away.
- “Ah! would that I could find but one
- Who knew me not too well
- To try his chance against me
40After the evening bell,
- Even though he came to challenge me
- From the smoking-crib of Hell!”
- His breath still lingered on the air
- And mingled with the smoke,
- When he was aware of a little old man
- In broidered hosen and tocque,
- Who looked as though from a century's sleep
- That instant he had woke.
- Small to scan was the little old man,
50Passing small and lean;
- Yet a something lurked about him,
- Felt strongly though unseen,
- Which made you fear the hidden soul
- Whose covering was so mean.
- What thunder dwelt there, which had left
- On his brow that lowering trace,—
- What lightning, which could kindle so
- The fitful glare on his face,—
- Though the sneering smile coursed over his lips,
60And the laughter rose apace?
- With cap in hand the stranger bowed
- Till the feather swept his shoe:—
- “A gallant wish was yours,” he said,
- “And I come to pleasure you;
- We're goodly gossips, you and I,—
- Let us wager and fall to.”
- The Dutchman stared. “How here you came
- Is nothing to me,” he said;
- “A stranger I sought to smoke withal,
70And my wish is seconded;
- But tell me, what shall the wager be,
- By these our pipes essay'd?”
- “Nay now,” the old man said, “what need
- Have we for a golden stake?
- What more do we ask but honour's spur
- To keep our hopes awake?
- And yet some bond 'twixt our goodwills
- Must stand for the wager's sake.
- “This be our bond:—two midnights hence
80The term of our strife shall be,
- And whichsoe'er to the other then
- Shall yield the victory,
- At the victor's hest must needs accept
- His hospitality.”
- “Done, done!” the Dutchman cried, “Your home,
- I'd reach be it far or near;
- But in my good pipe I set my trust,
- And 'tis you shall sojourn here;
- Here many a time we'll meet again
90For the smokers' welcome cheer.”
- With that, they lit their pipes and smoked
- And never a word they said;
- The dense cloud gathered about them there
- High over each smoke-crowned head,
- As if with the mesh of some secret thing
- They sat encompassèd.
- But now when a great blast shook the house,
- The Dutchman paused and spoke:—
- “If aught this night could be devised
100To sweeten our glorious smoke,
- 'Twere the thought of the outcast loons who freeze
- 'Neath the winter's bitter yoke.”
- The stranger laughed: “I most have watched
- The dire extremes of heat,
- Ay, more than you, I have seen men quail,
- And found their sufferings sweet.
- Fit gossips, you and I! But hark!
- What sound comes from the street?”
- To the street the chamber-windows stood,
110With shutters strongly barred.
- There came a timid knock without
- And another afterward;
- But both so low and faint and weak
- That the casement never jarred.
- And weak the voice that came with the knock:—
- “My father, lend your ear!
- 'Twas store of gold that you bade me wed
- But the wife I chose was dear;
- Now she and my babes crave only bread:
120O father, pity and hear!”
- Van Hunks looked after the feathered smoke:—
- “What thing so slight and vain
- As pride whose plume is torn in the wind
- And joy's rash flight to pain?”
- Then loud: “Thou mind'st when I bade thee hence,
- Poor fool, go hence again!”
- There came a moan to the lighted room,
- A moan to the frosty sky:—
- “O father, my loves are dying now,
130Father, you too must die.
- Oh! on your soul, by God's good grace,
- Let not this dread hour lie!”
- “Gossip, well done!” quoth the little old man;
- And in a silvery spire,
- Like a spider's web up leaped his smoke
- A-twisting higher and higher;
- And still through the veil his watchful eye
- Burned with a fell desire.
- A woman's voice came next to the wall:
140“Father, my mother's died,
- 'Twas three months since that you drove her forth
- In the bitter Christmastide:
- How could I care for your proffered gold
- And quit my mother's side?
- “For two months now I have begged my bread;
- Father, I can no more:
- My mother's deaf and blind in her grave,
- But her soul is at Heaven's door;
- And though we're parted on this side death,
150We may meet on the further shore.”
- Van Hunks laughed up at the scudding smoke:—
- “Ay, go what way you will!
- Of folly and pride, in life or death,
- Let a woman take her fill!
- My girl, even choose this road or that,
- So we be asunder still!”
- “Gossip, well done!” the old man shrieked,
- “And mark how her words come true!”
- The smoke soared wildly around his head
160In snakes of knotted blue;
- And eke at heart of the inmost coil,
- Two fiery eyes shone through.
- Above the hearth was a carven frame
- Where seven small mirrors shone;
- There six bright moon-shapes circled round
- A centre rayed like a sun;
- And ever the reflex image dwelt
- Alike in every one.
- No smokers' faces now appeared,
170But lo! by magic art,
- Seven times one squalid chamber showed
- A grave's dull counterpart;
- For there two starving parents lay
- With their starved babes heart to heart.
- Then changed the scene. In the watery street,
- 'Twixt houses dim and tall,
- Like shaggy dogs the pollards shake
- Above the dark canal;
- And a girl's thin form gleamed through the night,
180And sank; and that was all.
- And then the smoker beheld once more
- Seven times his own hard face;
- Half-dazed it seemed with sudden sights,
- But showed no sign of grace;
- And seven times flashed two fiery eyes
- In the mirror's narrow space.
- The hours wore on and still they sat
- Mid the vapour's stifling cloud;
- The one towards sudden stupor sank,
190While the other laughed aloud.
- Alas for the shrinking blinking owl,
- The vulture over him bowed!
- 'Twas the second night of the wager now,
- And the midnight hour was near,
- That glance like a kindled cresset blazed:—
- “Ho! gossip of mine, what cheer?”
- But the smoke from the Dutchman's pipe arose
- No longer swift and clear.
- The door-bell rang: “Peace to this house!”—
200'Twas the pastor's voice that spoke.
- Above Van Hunks's head still curled
- A fitful flickering smoke,
- As the last half-hour ere full midnight
- From the booming clock-tower broke.
- The old man doffed his bonnet and cringed
- As he opened the chamber door;
- The priest cast never a glance his way,
- But crossed the polished floor
- To where the Dutchman's head on his breast
210Lolled with a torpid snore.
- “Mynheer, your servant sought me out;
- He says that day and night
- You have sat——.” He shook the smoker's arm,
- But shrank in sudden fright;
- The arm dropped down like a weight of lead,
- The face was dull and white.
- And now the stranger stood astride,
- And taller he seemed to grow,
- The pipe sat firm in his sneering lips,
220And with victorious glow
- Like dancing figures around its bowl
- Did the smoke-wreaths come and go.
- “Nay, nay,” he said, “our gossip sits
- On contemplation bent;
- On son and daughter afar, his mind
- Is doubtless all intent;
- Haply his silence breathes a prayer
- Ere the midnight hour be spent.”
- “And who art thou?” the pastor cried
230With quaking countenance.
- —“A smoke-dried crony of our good friend
- Here rapt in pious trance.”
- And his chuckle shook the vaporous sprites
- To a madder, merrier dance.
- “Hence, mocking fiend, I do know thee now.”
- The pastor signed the cross.
- But the old man laughed and shrieked at once,
- As over turret and fosse
- The midnight hour in the sleeping town
240From bell to bell did toss.
- “Too late, poor priest!” In the pastor's ear,
- So rang the scornful croak.
- With that, a swoon fell over his sense;
- And when at length he woke,
- Two pipes lay shattered upon the floor,
- The room was black with smoke.
- That hour a dreadful monster sped
- Home to his fiery place;
- A shrieking wretch hung over his back
250As he sank through nether space.
- Of such a rider on such a steed
- What tongue the flight shall trace?
- The bearer shook his burden off
- As he reached his retinue:
- He has flung him into a knot of fiends,
- Red, yellow, green and blue:
- “I have brought a pipe for my private use,
- Go trim it, some of you!”
- They have sliced the very crown from his head,
260Worse tonsure than a monk's—
- Lopped arms and legs, stuck a red-hot tube
- In his wretchedest of trunks;
- And when the Devil wants his pipe
- They bring him Jan Van Hunks.
T. WATTS-DUNTON, the Pines,
Putney Hill, S.W.
Edition limited to Thirty Copies.
Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Copyright: Printed for private circulation.