Who Cares?

A poem by John Hartley

Down in a cellar cottage
In a dark and lonely street,
Was sat a widow and her boy,
With nothing left to eat.

The night was wild and stormy,
The wind howl'd round the door,
And heavy rain drops from above
Kept dripping to the floor.

They had no candle burning,
The fire was long since dead,
A wretched heap of straw was all
They had to call a bed.

They nestled close together,
On the cold and dampy ground,
And as the storm rush'd past them,
They trembled at the sound.

"Mother," the poor boy whispered,
"May I not go again?
I do not heed the wind, mother,
I'm not afraid of rain.

"May I not go and beg, mother,
For you are very ill;
Some one will give me something,
Mother, I'm sure they will?

"Do let me go and try, mother,
You know I won't be long;
I did feel weak and tired, mother,
But now I feel quite strong.

"Give me a kiss before I go,
And pray whilst I'm away,
That I may meet some Christian friend,
Who will not say me nay."

"Dear boy, the night is stormy,
Your ragged clothes are thin,
And soon the heavy rain-drops
Will wet you to the skin.

"I would go out myself, boy,
But, oh! I cannot rise,
I am too weak to dry the tears
That roll down from my eyes.

"I fear I soon must go, love,
And leave my boy alone.
And oh! what can you do, love,
When I am dead and gone?"

"Mother, you set me weeping,
Don't talk in such a strain,
Your tears are worse for me to bear
Than all the wind and rain.

"Wait till I'm rather bigger,
And then I'll work all day,
And shan't we both be happy
When I bring you home my pay?

"Then you shall have some tea, mother,
And bread as white as snow;
You won't be sickly then, mother,
You'll soon get well, I know.

"And when that time shall come, mother,
You shall have some Sunday clothes,
Then you can go to church, mother -
You cannot go in those.

"And then I'll take you walking,
And you shall see the flowers,
And sit upon the sweet green grass
Beneath the trees for hours.

"But I will haste away, mother,
I won't be long - good bye!"
"Farewell, my boy," she murmured,
Then she laid her down to die.

- - - - -

The lamps were dimly shining,
And the waters in a flood,
Came rolling o'er the pavement,
Where the little beggar stood.

He listened for a footstep,
Then he hurried on the street,
But the wind roared with such fury,
Till he scarce could keep his feet.

A few there were who passed him,
But they had no time to stay;
They did not even stop to look,
But hurried quick away.

He passed the marts of business,
Where the gaslights were ablaze,
And saw the countless heaps of things
Displayed to meet the gaze.

One window held him spell-bound -
From end to end 'twas piled
With loaves of bread a tempting sight
To a half-famished child.

He clapped his little cold wet hands,
And almost danced for joy,
It seemed a glimpse of paradise
To that poor hungry boy.

With timid step he ventured in,
And, trembling, thus began: -
"Please, sir, I've come to beg for bread -
Do help me if you can.

"I do not want it for myself,
My mother, too, shall share;
Do give me just one little crust,
If you've a crust to spare."

"Give!" cried the shopman in a rage -
"What shall we live to see?
Go tell your mother she must work,
And earn her bread, like me."

"But mother, sir, is very sick,
She cannot work, I'm sure;
Father died some months ago,
And left us very poor.

"She has not tasted food for days.
And die I fear she must.
Unless you'll help us, Christian sir;
Do spare a little crust!"

"I'll spare you nothing, saucy imp!
Away this moment! run!
And tell your sickly mother
I cannot thus be done!"

He left the shop, and in the street
He sat him down to cry,
He heard the trampling of the feet
Of those who passed him by.

He could not ask another,
For his every hope had fled, -
('Tis sad that in a land like this
A child needs beg for bread.)

Wet, cold, and faint, he reached his home,
No richer than before,
And noiselessly he entered in,
And gently closed the door.

There is no sound, the mother sleeps -
Then groping for the bed,
He bent his weak and stiffened knees,
And bowed his weary head,

And pray'd "that God would grant them help,
And bring them safely through."
The whisper'd prayer was borne above,
Was heard, and answered too:

And when the morning's sun looked in,
And filled the place with light,
Two lifeless bodies on the straw
Was all that met the sight.

Thus were they found, alone, and dead,
No reason left to show
How they had come to that sad end;
And no one cared to know.

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