Gertie
Whistlebritches
by
Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"

= = Auksford  = =

- Copyright Robin Gordon, 1995/2004

- 1 -

In our village, near its end,
where the road goes round a bend,
stood a house, apart, alone.
A woman there, all skin and bone,
ancient as a gnarled old tree,
lived as quietly as could be.
Because she had a tall black hat,
and had no family save a cat,
the children said she was a witch.
They always claimed that she was rich
and had a cellar full of gold
earned from magic spells she'd sold.
If any crossed her, it was said,
she'd cast her spell and he'd fall dead.
By her magic he'd be slain,
never more to rise again,
while the witch, with fiendish glee,
would cackle at her villainy.
They said the kitchen at the crone's
old house was full of children's bones
which she used for making soup.
When hens grew sick and died of croup,
and dogs or children got the twitches,
they all blamed Gertie Whistlebritches.

Some there were, I've heard it said,
who didn't look on her with dread,
but thought the herbs she grew were good
for cooking, that they gave the food
a flavour quite distinctly grand,
and were the best in all the land.
But, though these people went to buy
herbs from Gertie, none would try
popping in for tea and chat
with the witch and witch's cat -
not for all King Solomon's riches -
not with Gertie Whistlebritches.

Every village has a lad
or two who've turned out really bad.
Ours, you know, had five or six -
up to devilish monkey tricks
all day long from morn to night,
seeking victims for their spite.
When they heard small children say,
"She's a witch, let's keep away
in case she turns us into mice,"
it came upon them in a trice
that plaguing her whom people shun
would safely give them lots of fun.
No-one would shout at them or scream,
because no-one would ever dream
of looking after poor old Gertie,
or paying back for her the dirty
tricks those naughty boys would play -
they'd all just look the other way.

No magic feared these loathsome boys:
they'd left behind with childish toys,
with nursery rhymes and building blocks
all fears that spells could give them shocks,
for now these lads were in their teens,
their schoolboy shorts replaced by jeans.
They scorned the things that children fear
and thought that they could safely jeer
at silly, childish things like witches
and harmless Gertie Whistlebritches.

- 2 -

They went to sit on Gertie's walls,
against her cottage bounced their balls,
and trampled down her garden flowers,
breaking down her scented bowers.
From her beans they ripped the canes,
and then they broke her window panes.

Gertie, from her cottage door
called out, "Stop! Stop!" but more and more
unstoppable those boys became.
They trampled on her garden frame,
tore down the washing from her line,
uprooted cucumber and vine.
They trampled on her mignonettes,
and pelted her with green courgettes,
uprooted her tomatoes too,
set fire to her sage and rue,
and while her herbs and flowers burned
her greenhouse next they overturned.

Gertie took her tall black hat,
a broomstick in her hand, her cat
standing close beside her feet,
and told those boys they'd best retreat.
They laughed. They fell about in stitches,
and jeered at Gertie Whistlebritches.

The witch stood tall with stick and hat,
beside her her familiar cat,
and to those boys with sneering faces
she said, "I'll put you through your paces.
In future you'll steer clear of witches -
especially Gertie Whistlebritches."

She summoned from the East and West
her powerful spells, the very best.
She beckoned them from North and South,
then put two fingers in her mouth
and whistled with a long, shrill blast,
for judgement was to come at last.
Gertie's whistle, high and shrill,
seemed to fill the world and spill
over into outer space.
What foul beasts would come apace,
summoned from their slumberous lairs,
dragons, vampires, wolves or bears?

The boys felt shudders down their spines,
and, just as fretful porcupines
when startled raise their rattling quills,
so rose their hair, and frigid thrills
crawled upon their skins, but then
they calmed themselves and laughed again.

When judgement walks abroad on Earth
and falls on those who've given birth
to devilish plots and wicked schemes,
there's nothing left for them but screams
of anguish, agony, remorse.
By then it's far too late, of course,
to beg forgiveness for your sin:
the pit is open - you fall in.

Now Gertie hadn't called from Hell
foul fiends, she thought it just as well
to give those boys another chance
by merely leading them a dance.
Paul and Billy, Ed and John
felt a tingling, then came Ron
kicking them about the shins,
and down they went like bowling pins.
Then up they scrambled, feeling silly,
looked around and saw young Billy
leaping, bucking like a goat,
and, just as if he were a stoat
and they poor rabbits, mesmerised,
they stood and watched and were surprised
by the onslaught of his feet,
kicking them on leg and seat.

John tripped him up and made him fall,
then John and Ed were kicked by Paul,
and Ed kicked Paul upon the ankles -
the sort of kick that really rankles -
then each of them, for vengeance out,
gave kicks and blows and many a clout,
attacked his friends with fists and feet,
all forgetting in the heat
of that fierce battle that at first
they hadn't felt a warlike thirst
for thus inflicting pain and hurt
on anyone but poor old Gert.
It was when she had shrilly whistled,
and when their hair in fear had bristled,
that most unwillingly they'd danced
as if their legs had been entranced,
with fingers tugging at their trousers,
queer, invisible arousers
urging them to fling around
their legs. Cavorting on the ground
amidst the scene of desolation
they danced as if in wild elation.
Each of them flung up one leg,
then, spinning madly like a peg
whipped about its axis - thwack! -
each fell down hard upon his back.

Gertie smiled a kindly smile,
the sort to make one run a mile,
but only one, not thirty-two
as her ferocious grin might do.
She said, "You've fallen down, poor chaps.
I'm sorry for this sudden lapse,
but do you think you might agree
to give some time to helping me
repair this dreadful mess you've made?
I'd be most grateful for your aid."

Thus the punishment is ended.
All will be well when they have mended
the damage to old Gertie's garden,
for she will gladly give her pardon.
Oh, most merciful of witches,
oh kindly Gertie Whistlebritches.

- 3 -

To their feet rose Paul and John,
dizzy Billy, Ed and Ron,
looked about them at the garden,
never once asked her for pardon,
but instead began to jeer,
using words not fit to hear,
then, pausing in their wild tirade,
they sent another fusillade
of vegetables, clods and stones
rattling round the witch's bones.
This time it wasn't just a game,
with murder in their hearts they came,
hurling flower pots and sticks,
and trowels, gardening tools and bricks.

Quickly Gertie skipped to shelter,
while her cat went helter-skelter
into a convenient hollow.
It looked to see what next would follow
with arching back and fur a-bristling,
while Gertie set herself to whistling
a little tune of her devising.
The naughty boys found this surprising,
but even more surprised were they
to find themselves being turned away
and made to walk and then to run
from the garden. Gertie's fun
was just beginning, as they found
by falling down upon the ground
in the muddy, cow-churned lane,
and rolling, rolling once again,
until each one from heels to head
with evil-smelling mud was spread.

Then up they hopped and quickly skipped
to the field, where they were tripped
at the sound of Gertie's whistles
into clumps of prickly thistles.
After this they had to hop
upon one leg till fit to drop,
but still old Gertie urged them on,
Bill and Ed and Paul and John,
and Ron as well, across a field,
freshly ploughed - their doom was sealed.

"You dirty boys, where have you been?"
said Gertie, "I must get you clean."
Then, to complete their nightmare dream,
she made them wade into the stream,
there let them in the water wallow
before she whistled them to follow.

Summoned back to Gertie's garden
they heard her say, "You'll have no pardon
until you've suffered for your crime.
But first a little rest, for I'm
getting hungry. You can stand
in the sunshine getting tanned
while puss and I both eat our dinner -
we can't afford to get much thinner."
And so they stood for what seemed hours
amid the broken trees and flowers
drying off, till Gertie came
and whistled them to play her game.

- 4 -

Then those boys felt something tugging,
unseen hands and fingers lugging,
moving them towards the gate,
inexorable as any fate -
for if it were the gate of Hell
they'd go their under Gertie's spell.
They couldn't make their legs obey
except when walking Gertie's way,
and she, as it was quickly seen,
led them to the village green,
where they climbed upon a wall,
compelled to dance and then to fall.

Some children saw their clumsy dance
and laughed, while Gertie, to enhance
it further, whistlingly exhorted
their trousers to roll up: beshorted
pranced our heroes. How they skipped,
till in the nettles they were tipped.
Then old Gertie made them go
through the nettles, to and fro,
feeling stings on calf and knee,
while the kids in giggling glee
laughed and jeered and made remarks
quite hurtful to those five bright sparks.

The boys laid hands upon their jeans
to try their best by any means
to roll their trousers down again
and save themselves from further pain
by covering their legs so sore -
but things grew worse than heretofore.

The children screamed in sheer delight
when they saw our heroes' plight:
unknown to them their belts had slipped
their buckles and their flies unzipped
themselves. In covering up their calves
they find they've not done things by halves
and meet a fate that really rankles:
their trousers slip down to their ankles,
and though they try with might and main
they cannot stretch them out again.
They have to choose the sting that hurts
or suffer jeering in their shirts.
Of course they chose the nettles' pain,
and Gertie made them walk again
through those plants until their legs
were red and burning as if clegs
or other biting insects had
drunk their fill from each bad lad.

Now Gertie, of their fate the queen,
looked across the village green.
There the witch, the scheming ogress,
saw a football game in progress,
played by youths of massive girth.
A new idea was given birth.
The five bad lads were standing there
with jeans rolled up and knees all bare,
looking anything but bold.
She whistled once and downward rolled
their trouser legs: from foot to waist
they were all clad in perfect taste.
Another whistle, and the force
sets them on another course,
irresistible and strong
propels them by the legs along,
lifting feet and bending knees,
sending them where she may please.
Gertie's magic urges on
John and Bill and Ed and Ron
towards the game, and also Paul,
who swings his foot and kicks the ball
across the touchline and beyond
into the muddy village pond.

It seemed as though a hush crepuscular
had fallen on those large and muscular
youths, as though the sun's eclipse
had stilled their feet and hushed their lips;
and then from every one of those
offended youths a howl arose,
a howl of rage, of wrath the sign.
Enraged, to punishment condign
they bent their minds and all advanced
upon the boys, who nimbly danced
around the youths like whirling quins
and kicked them hard upon the shins.

The whistle's blast expired and faded.
The boys collapsed, quite tired and jaded,
in a heap upon the ground,
but, seeing gather all around
them youths with anger in their faces,
they longed for wider, opener spaces.
They scrambled to their feet to run.
The youths were ready for some fun.
With hands and feet they bashed
and kicked them,
spifflicated them and licked them,
let them know just what it means
when a boy is given beans.
Sore and bleeding, bruised and muddied,
tattered, limping, torn and bloodied,
limped away our heroes five
feeling dead more than alive.
The laughing children were in stitches,
till, seeing Gertie Whistlebritches,
they fled, their faces turning tragic,
stumbling, tumbling from her magic,
scurrying across the green,
till not a single one was seen.

The youths went over to the edge
of the pond, where grew the sedge,
irises and rushes tall,
to see if they could get their ball
back from where Paul's mighty kick
had sent it. Would they need a stick?
The largest youth was lanky Len,
taller he than many men.
Upon a stone he knelt beside
the water then stretched far and wide
a branch with which he hoped to rake
the football close enough to take.
The others, knowing their advice
would aid their friend, that in a trice
the branch would bring the ball ashore -
a trice or two ... or three or four -
all concentrated on the ball
and didn't look behind at all.

Len stretched his arm and stretched his stick,
but Gertie knew another trick.
From her mouth a chirrup came
to call her boys back to the game.
On their heels her victims spun,
compelled across the green to run.
Resistance useless back come John,
Ed and Bill and Paul and Ron,
back towards the youths they fear.
Then, coming at him from the rear,
John swings his foot at Leonard's bum
and sends him headlong in the scum
that greenly coats the village pond,
the sort of which the frogs are fond;
he sends him headlong in the mire,
a fate to rouse his utmost ire;
yes, sends him headlong in the mud,
a fate to rouse his fighting blood.

While Leonard, dripping mud and slime,
arises from the pond there's time
a-plenty for the youths to seize
those boys and force them to their knees.
"We're sorry!" cried out Bill and Ron.
"Don't hurt us," whimpered Bill and John.
"It wasn't us, not us at all,
at least not me, just John," said Paul.
"Yes! It was John! It's all his fault!
We're not so daft that we'd assault
big lads as strong as you and Len -
we'd rather fight two dozen men!
Please let us go, or if you must
grind any of us into dust,"
said Ed, and Paul and Bill and Ron,
"just remember, it was John!"

Thus they whimpered on their knees,
while Len stood dripping in the breeze,
and angry youths stood all around
glowering grimly. Not a sound
did any of them deign to utter
while those boys did vainly mutter
pleas for mercy, imprecations,
excuses, curses, protestations.
In the pond serenely floated
the football, and nearby there gloated
savouring their frightened twitches
the vengeful Gertie Whistlebritches.

Their pleadings died. The youths said "Right!"
and jumped upon them. What a fight!
What a struggle! Carnage! War!
They beat them up, then off they tore
the trousers from those battered, bloody
boys, and in the filthy, muddy
pond they threw first John and Paul,
then Ron and Ed to fetch the ball.
Another heave and Billy followed
the others. In the mud they wallowed,
slipping, spluttering, swallowing spawn.
They almost wished they'd not been born.

The ball was found and brought to land.
The boys received no helping hand
to pull them out, but jeers and curses
and blows with sticks, but what is worse is,
while they squelched on hands and knees
and wept for mercy, to the trees
a couple of those youths had run,
and, as the climax to their fun,
climbed up until they had to stop
and hung the trousers near the top.

The youths then left them to their shame
and went back to the football game,
and Gertie, too, went home to tea,
leaving them to climb the tree.
No matter how their skins were torn
by rough gnarled bark and spiky thorn,
they strained and struggled
through the prickly
boughs to get their trousers quickly,
spurred on by fears they might be seen
by people walking on the green.
But all was quiet, no jubilation
marked a new humiliation.
They reached their trousers and descended,
and so their punishment is ended.
Perhaps now they'll be kind to witches -
especially Gertie Whistlebritches.

- 5 -

As soon as he was down young John
swiftly put his trousers on.
Not far behind the others all
did the same, except for Paul,
who'd caught himself upon a thorn
and couldn't move until he'd torn
his shirt. Then down he scrambled fast,
dismayed at being alone and last.
Across the open field he fled,
following where his friends had led,
and ran as quickly as he could
to join them in the nearby wood.

Retrousered, but with cheeks still burning,
they found their thoughts
to vengeance turning,
for Gertie was the authoress
of their sad plight and sore distress;
Gertie, by some secret power,
condemned them to this shameful hour;
Gertie, with a witch's spell,
had given them a taste of Hell.
In olden times men burned cruel witches,
so they'd burn Gertie Whistlebritches.

Now meanwhile, unaware of dirty
work afoot, our poor old Gertie,
chuckling inwardly with pleasure
at the humour of the measure
that she'd meted out to vandals,
girt her loins and tied her sandals
and set about to tidy up
her garden, till she thought a cup
of tea would be the very thing
to make her work go with a swing.
So she sat there in her fustian
gown and did not know combustion
was on the point of overtaking
her cottage as a means of slaking
the thirst for vengeance of those boys.
But now her cat has heard a noise
and, creeping out, sees them advance.
Its warning yowl gives Gert her chance.

Again her wrinkled lips she purses
and whistles up the wind. What curses
rend the air, what ghastly moans
from those bad boys, as, straining bones
and muscles to come at their prey,
they find that they have got to stay
stuck fast, while Gertie calls them scum,
tells them off, then beckons, "Come!
If it's pranks that give you pleasure
you shall have them in full measure.
Come on, my boys! Let's have some fun!"
Then once again they have to run
wherever Gertie's humour takes them,
and do whatever Gertie makes them.

Here and there, in every street,
they're seen with kicking, trampling feet,
or dancing, as if glass or pins
were underfoot. They kicked the shins
of Colonel Piper, trampled flowers,
kicked gates and dogs. For what seemed hours
they kicked each other, as in strife,
and then, before the vicar's wife,
they downed their trouser, so it seemed,
while she stood shocked,
then gasped, then screamed.
She couldn't know, of course, that their
hands were struggling not to bare
their lower halves but hold on tight
to trousers that, in unfair fight,
had come alive and were obeying
the tune that someone else was playing.

Reports came in from every side
of bad behaviour far and wide.
They even kicked their own headmaster
about the ankles - oh disaster!
Throughout the village young and old
were angered by their cheeky, bold,
insolent, destructive jig.
They didn't seem to care a fig
for anyone in all the town.
"We ought to take their trousers down
and spank 'em hard!" said one old man.
Pursuing those bad boys there ran
men and women, children too,
calling out what they would do
when they caught them. From that crowd
the five boys fled across the ploughed
fields and through the prickly gorse,
and now, at last, they felt remorse.
It pricked their souls, its dreaded thorn
no longer blunted by their scorn.

Their hearts were thumping and their boots
clung to the earth like thirsty roots.
Fear churned their stomachs, and they fled.
dragging weary limbs of lead.
Fear spurred them on and they increased
their lead until their hunters ceased
their furious, enraged pursuit.
Then Gertie, chirping like a flute,
made them stop, and turn, and prance
a wild, insulting, mocking dance.

After that, as if demented,
they ran about, and kicked and dented
several cars, broke several gates,
and each one kicked his several mates
upon the shins and made them bawl.
Then after that the five boys all
performed a can-can down the street,
and, as the climax of their treat,
dropped their trousers once again,
then fled from the avenging men
and furious women who all came
to put a stop to their wild game.

Safe from pursuit again, Bill gasped,
and raucously his harsh breath rasped:
"The witch controls us through our pants,
makes us perform like mindless ants,
not by controlling brains or thoughts
or even limbs - her cruel sports
are forced upon us through our clothes."
"So what?" the others snarled with oaths
and imprecations that would turn
the fresh milk sour and cause to burn
the ears of any innocent
who to their words his ears had lent.

"But don't you see? The witch bewitches
through our trousers. Whistlebritches!
That's her name, and that's her trick.
We've just one chance! Come on! Be quick!
However people jeer and scoff
we've got to get our trousers off!"

At his words the others paled.
Although before naught else they quailed,
they feared the ribald, lewd derision
that they would meet if this decision
proved their only hope of freeing
themselves from Gertie's power. There being
no other way, with trembling fingers
they fumbled at their belts. Who lingers,
fails to seize the tide, is lost,
as they discovered to their cost,
for Gertie, whistling like a bird,
appeared and said, "Now how absurd!
Are these the brave and manly boys
who put off with their nursery toys
all thought of magic spells and witches,
imagined when they changed their breeches
from shorts to longs that they were men,
brave heroes who would ne'er again
tremble at a fairy tale,
bold tyrants who would never fail
in any rascally endeavour?
Who would have thought that they would ever
abase themselves, accept such shame,
and trouserless flee from the game?
Not so, my lads! There's no escape
for you from Gertie's little jape.
My secret's out. You've guessed at length
my magic's hidden power and strength,
but what the time and what the place
for you to suffer your disgrace
is something that's not yours to say,
for I decide what's what today!"

And then in pirouetting whirls
she sent them out to kick the girls,
the boys, the dogs, the youths, the men,
the women and the cats again,
to kick the doors, the gates, the cars,
invade the shops and kick down jars,
to kick down bottles, boxes, cans,
buckets, shovels, pots and pans,
whirling faster, faster, faster -
desolation and disaster -
till their madness reached its crisis.

Abruptly to their own devices
Gertie left them, stopped her piping.
The boys collapsed, their foreheads wiping,
then quickly saw a chance to free
themselves from magic, seized the key,
strained and struggled to their feet,
and pulled their jeans off in the street.
Then far away they cast their garments
like vile and sharp-toothed
poisonous varmints.

So now they stand there in their shirts.
Their punishment, howe'er it hurts,
howe'er the children laugh with glee,
they will accept, just to be free
of that most dangerous of witches,
enchanting Gertie Whistlebritches.

- 6 -

Free they are. The magic's finished,
their enchantment quite diminished,
dwindled, vanished, disappeared -
but to punishment is geared
the village's collective mind,
as those bad boys will quickly find.
Trouserless they're marched along
by the vengeful, angry throng,
and, in a place where all can see,
each put across his father's knee,
and then on every bare backside
a slipper painfully is plied.

Their parents next, in wrathful fury
met together as a jury.
"Now if you think we're going to pay
for all the things you've spoiled today,
you're wrong!" they said. "No, you will mend
what can be mended. We'll not spend
a penny to redeem your crime.
You'll pay for it, you will, with time,
for from now on you'll have to work -
and don't suppose that you can shirk,
for we're determined you shall learn
your lesson. You will have to earn
your trousers!" "Put 'em all in skirts,"
some said, "or leave 'em in their shirts!"
But others, though it was agreed
those wicked boys should stay bare-kneed,
feared the village's good name
might be besmirched by further shame,
so these extremist plans were thwarted:
the boys condemned to go beshorted.

In trousers short they went to school,
where they'd no need to play the fool,
for fools they were, as all could see.
Their schoolmates laughed
and jeered with glee.
Through evenings and weekends they toiled
to mend the gardens they had spoiled,
and while they dug and hoed the ground
the boys and girls from all around
would cluster in a scornful flock,
and stare and point and laugh and mock -
and thus they toiled for weeks and weeks
clad in abbreviated breeks.

The months went by, their jeans returned,
but still their ears and faces burned.
They blushed for shame and felt embittered
when people looked at them and tittered;
and, so that they should not forget
their lesson, Gert had shrewdly set
another spell. Now if they ever
thought it might be rather clever
to try some secret, spiteful trick,
they felt at once a sort of kick,
and fingers tugging at their trousers,
queer, invisible arousers,
urging them to skip and prance
and join once more the magic dance,
rolling up their jeans like shorts,
until they banished from their thoughts
all naughtiness and wicked pranks,
enrolled themselves among the ranks
of those who walk the narrow way.
That's why, e'er since that fateful day,
those boys have been so kind and good
you'd scarce believe that youth's hot blood
had ever coursed within their veins -
for they're held fast on magic reins
and ruled through those trouserian twitches
by sweet old Gertie Whistlebritches.

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