There was a widow, once upon a time--
Yet stop--with truth we must commence our rhyme--
She had been such, but now another spouse
Had sought her love, and won the widow's vows.
One evening she was quite alone at home
(For the best husbands sometimes like to roam);
She sat, her cheek reposing on her hand,
The tea-things spread upon the table, and
The kettle singing by, or on the fire--
A sort of a monotonous steam lyre:
Her thoughts from this low world of fogs had flown
Up to the husband she first called her own;
She could not quite the dear, kind soul forget--
And ah! the other one was absent yet.
'But thou art happy now,' she cried--'in case
In Abraham's bosom thou hast found a place:
Thou pitiest us, in these rooms close and old,
Where one so often gets a cough or cold.'
Then into a brown study she did fall,
When suddenly some sounds her thoughts recall;
She hears a gentle knocking at the door;
She starts--looks at the roof, then at the floor--
Then peers into each corner, as she cries,
'Well--who is there?' To be right brave she tries,
But truth to tell, she almost shook with fear
To see some ghost, or corpse-like form appear.
Another knock--then in the doorway stood
No spectre, but a youth of flesh and blood
'Twas an apprentice who had run away
From work, and chose from town to town to stray:
The rogue lived by his wits as best he might,
For nought he scrupled at--except to fight.
The quondam widow very soon perceived
The intruder was not what she had believed--
That he was mortal, not a form of air.
She questioned whence he came, and also where
He might be bound. 'I'm on my way,' said he,
'To Paris, madam, viā Germany.'
With joyous heart she listened to his tale,
And then she placed before him meat and ale,
Kindly inviting him to eat and drink;
While she exclaimed, 'How very strange to think
That you to Paradise are journeying on!--
Why, that's the land where my first husband's gone!
Please give my love to him, our daughter's, too,
And--his successor's compliments, will you?'
Quickly the knave observed that the good dame
In her geography was rather lame--
That Paradise with Paris she confounded.
And though one moment he looked up astounded,
The next into her droll conceit he fell,
Saying, 'Oh, yes! I know the good man well.'
'What! have you really been already there?'
She cried. 'Then say, how does the dear one fare?'
'Ah! very badly. 'Tis a tale of woe!
I was up there about a month ago.
A sort of a dog's life the poor thing led,
Early he had to rise--get late to bed;
Worked hard, and scarce a stitch of clothing had.
His shroud and grave-clothes from the first were bad;
They very soon wore out, and now he goes
Without a coat, and with bare legs and toes.'
These words went like a dagger to her heart;
She shuddered--groaned--then, with a sudden start,
She rose, and soon an ample bundle made
Of linen, coats, warm woollen socks; and said,
Whilst with big tear-drops both her eyes looked dim.
'This package, sir, I pray you take to him.
Tell the poor fellow I shall send him more
By the first opportunity--a store
I'll surely send. Oh dear! oh dear! 'tis sad
His fate in yonder place should be so bad!'
The rogue had stuffed quite to his heart's content,
So, taking up the bundle, off he went;
But first he thanked her for the food, and vowed
The clothes she sent should soon replace the shroud.
Long, long she sits, her eyes still full of tears;
The absent husband now at length appears
('Tis to the second one that I allude--
The first, as has been shown, was gone for good).
'Well, I have curious tidings for your ear--
A man from Paradise has just been here;
He knew poor Thi--is there.' (Such was the name
Of him who was first husband to the dame.)
And thereupon, with a most serious face,
She told him all that had just taken place.
The husband, when he heard her, smelled a rat,
But only saying he would have a chat
Himself with the great traveller, he sent
For his best horse, and after him he went.
'Twas a sweet night, the moon was shining clearly--
Just such a night as poets love most dearly;
The nightingales were pouring forth their notes,
The owls were exercising, too, their throats;
But, what was better still, he found the track
The thief had ta'en, and hoped to bring him back.
Thieves, by the way, like the moon's silver rays
Far better than the sun's meridian blaze.
And now, how fared it with the thief himself,
Thus making off with his ill-gotten pelf?
He spied a man, who like old Nick was riding,
And felt that he was in for a good hiding;
Therefore into a neighbouring ditch he flung
The burden that across his back had slung,
Then casting himself down upon a bank,
Quite in a lounging attitude he sank,
And gazing on the clear calm skies above,
He sang some ditty about ladies' love.
Up comes the rider at a rapid trot--
The pace had made him and his steed both hot--
And asked abruptly, reining in his grey,
If he had seen a rascal pass that way,
Who on his shoulders a large bundle bore--
A horrid thief he was, the horseman swore.
'Why, yes,' was the reply. 'I have just seen
A fellow with long legs pass by--I ween
It is the same you seek; for he looked round
Soon as your horse's footfall on the ground
Was heard--and then, as quickly as he could,
He fled to hide himself in yonder wood.
If you make haste, you there will catch him soon.'
The horseman thanked him much and craved a boon--
It was to hold his steed, while in pursuit
He went himself into the wood on foot.
'Twas granted, and the husband rushed among
The bushes tall--while the thief laughing sprung
Upon the horse; he took the bundle too,
And fast away he rode, or rather flew.
Angry, fatigued, and scratched till he was sore,
The husband came, his bootless errand o'er.
Fancy what was his grief, his rage, to find
The horse he thought he left so safe behind,
Gone too! he cried, 'Hey! hey!' its name he called,
But all in vain he shouted and he bawled--
The clever thief the faster rode away.
There was no creature near on whom to lay
The blame; so the poor foolish dupe abused
The moon, for having thus her light misused.
Home on his weary legs he had to trudge;
His steed to the vile thief did he not grudge!
'Well, did you find him?' asked his smiling wife.
He answered, in a tone subdued, 'My life,
I did. I found him, and--and--for your sake,
Our best, our swiftest horse I let him take,
That he with greater speed might find his way.'
The dame smiled on him, and in accents gay
Exclaimed, 'O best of husbands! who could find
Your equal--one so thoughtful, wise, and kind!'