The Drunken Father

THE DRUNKEN FATHER

Poor Ellen married Andrew Hall,
Who dwells beside the moor,
Where yonder rose-tree shades the wall,
And woodbines grace the door.
Who does not know how blest, how loved5
Were her mild laughing eyes
By every youth!—but Andrew proved
Unworthy of his prize.
In tippling was his whole delight,
Each sign-post barr’d his way;10
He spent in muddy ale at night
The wages of the day.
Though Ellen still had charms, was young,
And he in manhood’s prime,
She sad beside her cradle sung,15
And sigh’d away her time.
One cold bleak night, the stars were hid,
In vain she wish’d him home;
Her children cried, half cheer’d, half chid,
‘O when will father come!’20
’Till Caleb, nine years old, upsprung,
And kick’d his stool aside,
And younger Mary round him clung,
‘I’ll go, and you shall guide.’
The children knew each inch of ground,25
Yet Ellen had her fears;
Light from the lantern glimmer’d round,
And show’d her falling tears.
‘Go by the mill and down the lane;
Return the same way home:30
Perhaps you’ll meet him, give him light;
O how I wish he’d come!’
Away they went, as close and true
As lovers in the shade,
And Caleb swung his father’s staff35
At every step he made.
The noisy mill-clack rattled on,
They saw the water flow,
And leap in silvery foam along,
Deep murmuring below.40
‘We’ll soon be there,’ the hero said,
‘Come on, ’tis but a mile,—
Here’s where the cricket-match was play’d,
And here’s the shady stile.
How the light shines up every bough!45
How strange the leaves appear!
Hark!—What was that?—’tis silent now,
Come, Mary, never fear.’
The staring oxen breathed aloud,
But never dream’d of harm;50
A meteor glanced along the cloud
That hung o’er Wood-Hill Farm.
Old Caesar bark’d and howl’d hard by,
All else was still as death,
But Caleb was ashamed to cry,55
And Mary held her breath.
At length they spied a distant light,
And heard a chorus brawl;
Wherever drunkards stopp’d at night,
Why there was Andrew Hall.60
The house was full, the landlord gay,
The bar-maid shook her head,
And wish’d the boobies far away
That kept her out of bed.
There Caleb enter’d, firm, but mild,65
And spoke in plaintive tone:—
‘My mother could not leave the child,
So we are come alone.’
E’en drunken Andrew felt the blow
That innocence can give,70
When its resistless accents flow
To bid affection live.
‘I’m coming, loves, I’m coming now,’—
Then, shuffling o’er the floor,
Contrived to make his balance true,75
And led them from the door.
The plain broad path that brought him there
By day, though faultless then,
Was up and down and narrow grown,
Though wide enough for ten.80
The stiles were wretchedly contrived,
The stars were all at play,
And many a ditch had moved itself
Exactly in his way.
But still conceit was uppermost,85
That stupid kind of pride:—
‘Dost think I cannot see a post?
Dost think I want a guide?
Why, Mary, how you twist and twirl!
Why dost not keep the track?90
I’ll carry thee home safe, my girl,’—
Then swung her on his back.
Poor Caleb muster’d all his wits
To bear the light ahead,
As Andrew reel’d and stopp’d by fits,95
Or ran with thund’ring tread.
Exult, ye brutes, traduc’d and scorn’d,
Though true to nature’s plan;
Exult, ye bristled, and ye horn’d,
When infants govern man.100
Down to the mill-pool’s dangerous brink
The headlong party drove;
The boy alone had power to think,
While Mary scream’d above.
‘Stop!’ Caleb cried, ‘you’ve lost the path;105
The water’s close before;
I see it shine, ’tis very deep,—
Why, don’t you hear it roar?’
And then in agony exclaim’d,
‘O where’s my mother now?’110
The Solomon of hops and malt
Stopp’d short and made a bow:
His head was loose, his neck disjointed,
It cost him little trouble;
But, to be stopp’d and disappointed,115
Poh! danger was a bubble.
Onward he stepp’d, the boy alert,
Calling his courage forth,
Hung like a log on Andrew’s skirt,
And down he brought them both.120
The tumb’ling lantern reach’d the stream,
Its hissing light soon gone;
’Twas night, without a single gleam,
And terror reign’d alone.
A general scream the miller heard,125
Then rubb’d his eyes and ran,
And soon his welcome light appear’d,
As grumbling he began:—
‘What have we here, and whereabouts?
Why what a hideous squall!130
Some drunken fool! I thought as much—
’Tis only Andrew Hall!
Poor children!’ tenderly he said,
‘But now the danger’s past.’
They thank’d him for his light and aid,135
And drew near home at last.
But who upon the misty path
To meet them forward press’d?
’Twas Ellen, shivering, with a babe
Close folded to her breast.140
Said Andrew, ‘Now you’re glad, I know,
To se-se-see us come;—
But I have taken care of both,
And brought them bo-bo-both safe home.’
With Andrew vex’d, of Mary proud,145
But prouder of her boy,
She kiss’d them both, and sobb’d aloud,—
The children cried for joy.
But what a home at last they found!
Of comforts all bereft;150
The fire out, the last candle gone,
And not one penny left!
But Caleb quick as lightning flew,
And raised a light instead;
And as the kindling brands he blew,155
His father snored in bed.
No brawling, boxing termagant
Was Ellen, though offended;
Who ever knew a fault like this
By violence amended?160
No:—she was mild as April morn,
And Andrew loved her too;
She rose at daybreak, though forlorn,
To try what love could do.
And as her waking husband groan’d,165
And roll’d his burning head,
She spoke with all the power of truth,
Down kneeling by his bed.
‘Dear Andrew, hear me,—though distress’d
Almost too much to speak,—170
This infant starves upon my breast—
To scold I am too weak.
I work, I spin, I toil all day,
Then leave my work to cry,
And start with horror when I think175
You wish to see me die.
But do you wish it? can that bring
More comfort, or more joy?
Look round the house, how destitute!
Look at your ragged boy!180
That boy should make a father proud,
If any feeling can;
Then save your children, save your wife,
Your honour as a man.
Hear me, for God’s sake hear me now,185
And act a father’s part!’
The culprit bless’d her angel tongue,
And clasp’d her to his heart;
And would have vow’d, and would have sworn,
But Ellen kiss’d him dumb,—190
‘Exert your mind, vow to yourself,
And better days will come.
I shall be well when you are kind,
And you’ll be better too.’—
‘I’ll drink no more,’—he quick rejoin’d,—195
‘Be’t poison if I do.’
From that bright day his plants, his flowers,
His crops began to thrive,
And for three years has Andrew been
The soberest man alive.200

_______________

Soon as he ended, acclamations ’rose,
Endang’ring modesty and self-repose,
Till the good host his prudent counsel gave,
Then listen’d all, the flippant and the grave.
‘Let not applauses vanity inspire,5
Deter humility, or damp desire;
Neighbours we are, then let the stream run fair,
And every couplet be as free as air;
Be silent when each speaker claims his right,
Enjoy the day as I enjoy the sight:10
They shall not class us with the knavish elves,
Who banish shame, and criticise themselves.’
Thenceforward converse flow’d with perfect ease,
Midst country wit, and rustic repartees.
One drank to Ellen, if such might be found,15
And archly glanced at female faces round.
If one with tilted can began to bawl,
Another cried, ‘Remember Andrew Hall.’
Then, multifarious topics, corn and hay,
Vestry intrigues, the rates they had to pay,20
The thriving stock, the lands too wet, too dry,
And all that bears on fruitful husbandry,
Ran mingling through the crowd—a crowd that might,
Transferr’d to canvas, give the world delight;
A scene that Wilkie might have touch’d with pride [1] 25
The May-day banquet then had never died.
But who is he, uprisen, with eye so keen,
In garb of shining plush of grassy green—
Dogs climbing round him, eager for the start,
With ceaseless tail, and doubly beating heart?30
A stranger, who from distant forests came,
The sturdy keeper of the Oakly game.
Short prelude made, he pointed o’er the hill,
And raised a voice that every ear might fill;
His heart was in his theme, and in the forest still.35

Notes

[1] [David Wilkie (1785–1841), painter of rural customs] BACK

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