The Presbyter And The Pitch-Men [Poem]

By A.D. Russell

The Presbyter lay on a lordly bed,
A silken canopy hung o'er his head;
His cheeks were plump, his nose was red.
And he had an easy conscience.

A silvery sound the stillness broke;
The clock kept striking, stroke on stroke.
At the twelfth, the Presbyter awoke . . .
He woke with an easy conscience.

"Pax vobiscum," thrice he said:
What do these Ghosts about my bed?"
The Presbyter was not afraid,
Because of his easy conscience.

The first Ghost, he began to say:
"All we were dwellers at La Brea. "
The Presbyter wished them far away,
In spite of his easy conscience.

"By La Brea Church we slept full sound,
For the ground, we thought, was holy ground;
An odour of sanctity wrapped us round,
And we had an easy conscience.

But men they came with picks and staves ;
They dug the pitch, nor spared our graves.
And earned our bodies over the waves!
Can they have an easy conscience?

In New York our remains were bought
By a Syndicate, which heeded nought.
Bones or pitch?— Not worth a thought!
They seldom have a conscience.

They smashed us up to pieces small,
Skull and cross-bones, legs and all:
We're mixed up quite beyond recall . . .
It's really beyond all conscience!

They wear us out in various modes,
For some are roofs, and some are roads;
We labotu: tmder heavy loads . . .
The wagons have no conscience.

And so we've come across the seas.
To try and get a little ease;
'Tis high, high time, as Your Rev'rence sees,
To deal with us in conscience!

The Presbyter's voice rang like a bell:
"There's a bigger Pitch Lake down in . . .
For sinners — ay, and slackers as well;
And the Devil has no conscience!

Each of us has his work to do,
I as Presbyter, you as you;
A ghostly work, and a temporal too,
Which calls for an easy conscience.

Think, men, 'twas not for some paltry pence !
But piles of dollars — leave out the cents.
Bargain? What I — such as a man of sense
Accepts with an easy conscience.

Our island pitch has quite a name :
We pitched you in, so it's all the same ;
You may think of yourselves as men of fame,
And still have an easy conscience.

Your bodies were grown so much like pitch.
The Lord alone knew which was which;
The Church was poor, and now it's rich
And it has an easy conscience.

You've helped the Church, you've blessed the poor;
None now need beg from door to door.
I only wish we had some more . . .
I'd still have an easy conscience.

Go back to your roads, and back to your roofs
You merit more severe reproofs ;
But by serving; well the world's behoofs
You may still have an easy conscience.

So he blessed the Ghosts with a heart a-glow,
They whimpered their thanks, and turned to go.
It cheered their hearts at least to know
They'd been sold with an easy conscience.

pp. 51-53


"An Auto-da-fé!" carolled the Count. "An Auto-da-fé!"
We haven't had one this year. High time to begin. We must
not let ancient customs fall into desuetude."

"An Auto-da-fé?" faltered Scribbler, turning green and

"Certainly, an Auto-da-fé!" and the Count, despite
bulk, jumped around like a school-boy. "Don't you know our
Spanish laws are in force? Anyone making fun of a priest is
burnt, in a Sanbenito, with most interesting ceremonies."

"But, but, but," faltered Scribbler, his knees knocking
together. "m—m—my man isn't a priest. He's only a

He had gone to visit the Pitch Lake. There, of all mankind
he encountered a Chinaman.

Trinidad is a land of many nationalities. English, Welsh,
Scotch, Irish, Manxmen, Channel Islanders, Canadians, Yanks,
French, Corsicans, Venezuelans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Col-
ombians, Costa Ricans, Peruvians, Chilians, Nicaraguans,

p. 53

Mexicans, Barbadians, Demerarians, Tobagonians, Vincent-
ians, Jamaicans, and the overflow of other West Indian Islands,
Italians. Danes, Dutchmen, Swiss — no, thank God, no Germans
-—Swedes, Norwegians, Poles, Czechs and Slavs of various
hyphens, Russians, Negroes, Jews, Syrians, Caribs (a few I
now learn). East Indians — a third of the whole population —

Mostly shop-keepers, the Chinese: rum-and-provision.
Which end of the building Scribbler went to, we will not

Anyhow, out of the Celestial's unintelligible gutturals and
gesticulations, he conceived — erroneously, beyond doubt — that
a churchyard adjoining pitch-lands had been . . .

See the Legend!

Auto-da-fé or not. Scribbler was well roasted. The Count had no mercy. So graphically did he picture the flames,
so liberally pile up the faggots, the Child too, finally, believed.

Did she flinch? Was she frightened?

No, sir!

Heaps of girls go through life looking for their chance to
be heroines. The Child found hers right now.

Stake? She would go to a dozen stakes with her beloved

She was the stuff to do it, too.

The Count, whose face had been like stone, softened

"Bless you, ma chère," he said, patting her head, "you will be a brave woman one of these days. You are one already.
They are wrong to call you 'The Child.' We won't have
Scribbler burnt this time — for your sake."

He never told them it was all a hoax. He cleared out. He
was wise, the Count.

Would I have been wise too! When the Magnate came
home, my innocence did not save me from his wrath.

"My daughter hoaxed! My daughter made a fool of!"
The relationship to himself made it lèse-majesté.

His language threatened to bring down the roof. Mrs.
Magnate dissolved in tears. A doctor was called in, and ordered
the Child to bed. She remained there for a fortnight.

The Count wrote a letter of apology. I did the same, and
went to Tobago for the round trip.

Some are roofs, etc. Roof- and road-making are the principal purposes for which Trinidad asphalt is applied.

p. 54

SOURCE: Legends of the Bocas, Trinidad. By A.D. Russell, London: Cecil Palmer, 1922. pp. 51-54

"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!