The Babes in the Wood
Now ponder well, you parents dear,
These words which I shall write;
A doleful story you shall hear,
In time brought forth to light.
A gentleman of good account
In Norfolk dwelt of late.
Who did in honour far surmount
Most men of his estate.
Sore sick he was, and like to die,
No help his life could save;
His wife by him as sick did lye,
And both possest one grave.
No love between these two was lost,
Each was to other kind;
In love they lived, in love they died,
And left two babes behind:
The one a fine and pretty boy,
Not passing three years old,
The other a girl more young than he
And framed in beauty's mold.
The father left his little son,
As plainly did appear,
When he to perfect age should come,
Three hundred pounds a year.
And to his little daughter Jane
Five hundred pounds in gold,
To be paid down on marriage-day,
Which might not be controll'd:
But if the children chanced to die,
Ere they to age should come,
Their uncle should possess their wealth;
For so the will did run.
"Now, brother," said the dying man,
"Look to my children dear;
Be good unto my boy and girl,
No friends else have they here:
"To God and you I do commend
My children dear this day;
But little while be sure we have
Within this world to stay.
"You must be father and mother both,
And uncle all in one;
God knows what will become of them,
When I am dead and gone."
With that bespake their mother dear:
"O brother kind," quoth she,
You are the man must bring our babes
To wealth or misery!
"And if you keep them carefully,
Then God will you reward;
But if you otherwise should deal,
God will your deeds regard."
With lips as cold as any stone.
They kiss'd their children small:
'God bless you both, my children dear!'
With that the tears did fall.
These speeches then their brother spake
To this sick couple there:
"The keeping of your little ones,
Sweet sister, do not fear:
"God never prosper me nor mine,
Nor aught else that I have,
If I do wrong your children dear,
When you are laid in grave."
The parents being dead and gone,
The children home he takes,
And brings them straight unto his house,
Where much of them he makes.
He had not kept these pretty babes
A twelvemonth and a day,
But, for their wealth, he did devise
To make them both away.
He bargain'd with two ruffians strong,
Which were of furious mood,
That they should take the children young,
And slay them in a wood.
He told his wife an artful tale,
He would the children send
To be brought up in faire London,
With one that was his friend.
Away then went those pretty babes,
Rejoicing at that tide,
Rejoicing with a merry mind,
They should on cock-horse ride.
They prate and prattle pleasantly
As they rode on the way,
To those that should their butchers be,
And work their lives' decay:
So that the pretty speech they had,
Made murderers' heart relent:
And they that undertook the deed,
Full sore did now repent.
Yet one of them, more hard of heart,
Did vow to do his charge,
Because the wretch, that hired him,
Had paid him very large.
The other would not agree thereto,
So here they fall to strife;
With one another they did fight,
About the children's life:
And he that was of mildest mood,
Did slay the other there,
Within an unfrequented wood,
Where babes did quake for fear!
He took the children by the hand,
While tears stood in their eye,
And bade them come and go with him,
And look they did not cry:
And two long miles he led them on,
While they for food complain:
"Stay here," quoth he, "I'll bring ye bread,
When I come back again."
These pretty babes, with hand in hand,
Went wandering up and down;
But never more they saw the man
Approaching from the town.
Their pretty lips with blackberries
Were all besmear'd and dyed;
And when they saw the darksome night,
They sat them down and cried.
Thus wandered these two pretty babes,
Till death did end their grief;
In one another's arms they dyed,
As babes wanting relief.
No burial these pretty babes
Of any man receives,
Till Robin-redbreast painfully
Did cover them with leaves.
Photos & Illustrations
The pictures above are from One of R. Caldecott's Picture Books which is available for free at Project Gutenberg.