Come, list to my story,
More sorry, by far,
To her who must tell it,
And you who will hear it,
Than all others are!
'Tis the darling of each, who
Has spirit so mild
As to grieve for the Human--
The sad man or woman,
Or desolate child!
Of eyes, my dear children,
Yours are not the first,
Through whose teary lashes,
In soft, pitying splashes,
The warm drops have burst
At hearing it. Many,
For hundreds of years,
Have in the same fashion
Their heartfelt compassion
Shown thus--with their tears!
A dying father in his arms
Two children did enfold.
The eldest one, a little boy,
Was only three years old;
Even less than that had served to tint
The baby's head with gold.
The mother, too, lay ill to death,
No human power might save,
And to her darlings, that same hour,
Her farewell blessing gave.
Father and mother--one in life--
Were laid in the same grave.
But, ere the latest breath was drawn,
The father's brother came--
Nearest of kin, upon whose love
The orphaned ones had claim--
And he made oath to cherish them
As his own blood and name.
The will devised three hundred pounds
A year unto the son,
Three hundred, on her marriage-day,
To Jane, the little one.
Thus it was from the uncle's greed
That trouble first begun.
For if, by chance, they both should die,
He was to have their gold;
He felt no love for either child--
His heart was hard and cold.
And, while he promised fair, he planned
A scheme both bad and bold.
A twelvemonth did his darksome mind
Plot for the dreadful deed.
Two brutal ruffians he hired
To help him in his need;
And yet, so secret were his ways,
None knew to intercede.
He formed a wily, plausive tale,
And told it everywhere,
How the two children were to go,
Under the best of care--
Two friends of his--for holiday
To London, for the fair.
The horses stood before the gate,
The ruffians twain astride;
And gay with scarlet girth and rein
They started, side by side.
O, blithe the babies' spirits were,
That they could have a ride!
For every pretty sight they saw,
For every sound they heard,
The boy had noisy laugh or shout,
The girl had winsome word--
He questioned, never satisfied,
She chattered like a bird.
Meanwhile each ruffian surly sat,
In dark and restless mood;
Little the prattlers, in their joy,
Such silence understood,
As on through the warm early day
They rode towards the wood.
They reached the leafy wilderness,
And then the way grew wild;
But ever with new glee the babes
The gathering gloom beguiled.
Until, at last, quite cheered and won,
One of the ruffians smiled.
Love had o'ercome within his breast
His wicked avarice.
"I will not kill the little things,"
He said, "for any price!"
Then passed hot words between the two,
But only once or twice,
For blows fell, and the kindly one
Dropped to the earth and died;
The children sank upon the ground,
Trembling and terrified,
And clung together, wondering,
And moaned, and sobbed, and cried.
Then he who lived led them away,
Both shivering with dread;
They begged for food; he paused a space;
"Stay here awhile," he said,
"And I will go into the town
At once, and fetch you bread."
He went. In their sweet innocence
They trusted to his word;
Meanwhile, the sparkling morning sun
With a grey cloud was blurred;
And long, in vain, they waited there,
Nor cried again, nor stirred!
How can I write the mournful end--
And tell how, up and down,
At last, by hunger driven, they stray
Over the mosses brown--
She clutching at his little coat,
He clinging to her gown?
More than one day--more than one night,
Comes on them there alone!
They search for blackberries, so weak
And starving they are grown,
Now through a thicket of wild brier,
Now 'gainst a hindering stone!
Then they lie down to die, poor babes!
The cruel ground receives
Their little bodies as a bed;
Long time the south wind grieves
Above them; and a hovering bough
A pall of shadow weaves;
And robin-red-breasts pity them,
And cover them with leaves!