06 Meitheamh 2010

Keats and Chapman 5

A man of principle

Chapman was eagerly anticipating a drink or two with Keats as he strode through the hotel foyer towards the most secluded of several bars in the establishment. Only the day before he had returned from a month-long trip to the Bodleian Library to research a monograph on Venetian incunabula. So engrossed had he been in his work while at Oxford that he had lost touch with events in the outside world and was hoping Keats would bring him up to date on recent events.

On entering the dimly lit room Chapman saw his friend seated on a stool half way along the bar but his heart sank as he noticed that another man, sallow and casually dressed, was seated immediately to the poet’s right. Chapman didn't recognise the fellow but, being acutely conscious that very few people were as interested in the classics as Keats, he resigned himself to the fact that he now had little chance of holding forth at length on the Bodleian’s collection of early Venetian editions in Greek.

‘Keats old man, how are things!’ said Chapman in as cheerful a tone as he could muster, while seating himself on the stool to the poet’s left.

‘Ah Chapman – perfect timing as always! I’ve just finished my gin and tonic – what are you having?’

‘Great minds and all that’, replied Chapman, ‘I rather fancy the same’.

‘Good grief!’, said the poet, striking his forehead with his palm, ‘I should have anticipated that answer I suppose, but I walked right into it, didn't I?’

‘Why, what on earth is the matter?’ asked Chapman in some confusion.

‘Ah, a trivial point really – it’s just that I've never known whether one should say “two gins and tonic” or “two gin and tonics”. The former seems to be required by logic yet it’s redolent of the schoolroom. On the other hand, the latter is distinctly demotic, not to say vulgar – perhaps even ... American.’

‘Americans don’t drink gin and tonic do they? From what I hear, it’s all cocktails over there. Here, leave the drinks to me – is your friend having anything?’ enquired Chapman, nodding in the direction of the sallow man.

‘What? Oh, he’s not with me’ said Keats, lowering his voice, ‘I’ve no idea who he is actually – he just sat down there a few minutes ago’, then added more loudly ‘you order the drinks so, but I insist on paying’.

Chapman did not demur and caught the barman’s eye: ‘two G ’n’ Ts please’ he ordered. He was about to comment that the sallow man’s behaviour was a little odd in view of the number of free stools at the bar but Keats spoke first: ‘Well played Chapman old boy – you cut the Gordon’s knot there and no mistake!’

While the barman was placing the drinks on the counter Chapman discretely observed, in the mirror behind the bar, the sallow man finishing his beer, standing up and moving towards the door.

‘This is my round! Leave this to me – I insist.’ announced Keats as he removed his jacket from the back of his stool and reached into an inside pocket for his wallet. ‘That’s strange’, said the poet, ‘I always keep it there – hold on, it must be on the other side ... no, it’s not there either ... now where could I ...’

Without a word, Chapman jumped from his stool to the door. He took in the foyer beyond with a single glance before rushing in the opposite direction down a corridor leading to the hotel’s garage. Emerging into a laneway at the rear of the building he was delighted to see the sallow man walking briskly towards the street. ‘Stop thief!’ he shouted. The suspect glanced over his shoulder and began to run but before he had covered ten yards a liveried attendant dashed from the garage and seized him by the arm.

‘Excellent work!’ said Chapman as he came up a moment later. ‘This miscreant has just relieved my friend of his wallet. Would you be so good as to summon a member of the constabulary?’

‘Certainly sir – right away’ replied the attendant, releasing his grip on the pick-pocket as Chapman took hold of his other arm. With his free hand, the sallow man reached into a trouser pocket and produced a wallet which he handed to Chapman, an insouciant expression on his face.

‘I’d be very worried if I were you’ said Chapman sternly as he took the wallet. ‘I warrant you’ll see the inside of a gaol for this – for six months at least, perhaps a year.’

The prisoner smiled. ‘Think that frightens me, do you? I’ve been inside oftener than you’ve had holidays. I’ve been inside so often, I’ve lost count. I know all the screws; a lot of my best mates are in there right now. Sure, it’s only a month since I got out after my last stretch. Ask any beak in this town if you don’t believe me – they all know me by my first name.’

‘Really?’ said Chapman, ‘how remarkable!’ Then, having reflected for a moment, he released his grip on the captive's arm: ‘be off with you so – go on, get out of here before I change my mind again!’

The sallow man’s face registered a look of amazement. Then he nodded his thanks, turned on his heels and hurried towards the street.

‘Chapman!’  shouted Keats, who had just emerged from the hotel, ‘am I very much mistaken or did I see you release that villain just now?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid I did’, said the classicist as he returned the poet’s wallet. ‘I don’t condone the fellow’s line of business for a moment, but I must confess that I've always admired a man who has the courage of his convictions.’


  1. Rud beag fada, sílim. Bheadh an bun Myles níos gonta. Ach go deas mar sin féin. Agus go deas freisin go bhfuil do thost briste agat.

    Conas atá ag éirí leis an tiontú ón Spáinnis?

  2. Thaitin a fhad liom - agus 'chase' istigh ina lár! Bónas. Agus bathos ar ndóigh. Bodleian, beár, bónas chase, agus bathos (tugtar faoi deara an chamóg) - cad eile a bheadh uait?

  3. Thaispeáin mé do theachtaireacht don deartháir a Aonghuis. Molann an deartháir duit an chéad scéal eile a léamh i gcomhluadar carad mar deir sé go ngiorraíonn beirt bóthar. Fear lán gaoise is ea an deartháir.
    A Chailliomachais, fan go bhfeicfidh tú 'Keats and Chapman: the Novel'.

  4. Ach deir Iníon an Ghobáin gurbh iad scéalta na beirte a níonn an bheart!

  5. Mura bhfuil aon chara agat, seo seift eile a mhol an deartháir: d'fhéadfá tosnú ar an léamh i lár an scéil. Déanann sé amach gurb é an deireadh an chuid is tábhachtaí de na scéalta agus gur minic nach gá an chéad leath a léamh in aon chor. Is iontach an fear é an deartháir chun seifteanna a chumadh.

  6. Nó mar a dúirt an Myles eile sin "Mura bhfuil scéal agat, bíodh dhá leithscéal agat".

    Tá amhras ag teacht orm faoi do dhintiúir dáiríreachta, a MhanNM!

  7. All jolly good stuff


    I am leafing though your back issues.

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