There they lay upon their pallets
In that crowded Workhouse room—
Not a sound disturbed the silence,
Not one ray relieved the gloom:
All that band of little vagrants,
Branded with the awful ban
Justice visits on the children,
For the crimes of fallen man.
Outcasts of a dark misfortune,
Offsprings of disgrace and shame,
Purchase of the fiend deception,
Wasted life and blighted fame;
Mites engendered in the pest-holes
Of pollution, filth, and crime,
Waifs washed up amid the surges
Of the cities’ mud and slime;
Pictures of a masked oppression,
Base unkindness, want and wrong;
All so thin and pale and hungry,
All so old and yet so young!
They had ate their scanty pittance
Long before the day had fled,
And were marshalled by the matron,
Like a mimic troop, to bed.
Long ago was hushed each whisper,
E’en the grieved had ceased to weep;
All oblivious of their sorrows,
Side by side lay fast asleep.
All but one poor little sufferer,
And alone she panting lay,
None to speak a word of kindness,
None to wipe her tears away;
No fond hand to mix the cordial,
None to soothe her bosom’s pain,
None to smooth her ruffled pillow,
None to cool her aching brain.
Wildly throbbed her little pulses
With a strange, inconstant beat,
And her throat was parched and thirsty
With the burning fever-heat.
Slowly rolled the perspiration
From her brow in muddy streaks;
Now and then a tear-drop trickled
Down her flushed and wasted cheeks.
Strangely fixed was every feature,
And the brilliant, restless eyes
Seemed to gaze beyond the ceiling
Up into the dusky skies;
And the little hands were folded
O’er her bosom thin and bare,
And the lips, so parched and swollen,
Slowly moved as if in prayer.
There she lay, nor sigh, nor murmur,
Till the clock within the tower,
Waking up a thousand echoes,
Boomed the solemn midnight hour.
And the sounds so weird and ghost-like,
As they pierced her throbbing brain,
Broke the spell that bound her senses,
Brought her back to earth again;
And she longed to reach the window,
Longed to sit and dream once more,
With the grated casement open,
As she oft had sat before,
Looking o’er the silent city,
To the mountains hoar and bare,
Listening to the night’s low whisperings
Drinking in the balmy air;
Gazing out into the distance,
Where the wondrous orbs of light
Roll in calm mysterious grandeur
Through the misty realms of night;
Gazing till a sad, sweet feeling,
O’er her listening senses stole,.
Veneration, love, and wonder,
Thrilled with solemn joy her soul.
For she seemed to see a vista,
Opening through the dark blue sky,
See a snow-white throng of minstrels,
Hear a rapturous strain of joy;
See a host of happy children,
Free from harsh rebuke and toil,
Dancing round a crystal fountain,
’Neath a loving father’s smile;
And she thought they seemed to beckon,
And to murmur softly, “Come!
Leave that world of pain and darkness,
Come, and share our radiant home.”
Yes, she longed to reach the window,
Longed to scan the midnight sky,
But her limbs were far too feeble,
And no other help was nigh.
Turned she slowly on her pillow,
With a weary, weary moan:
Oh! it seemed so hard to suffer,
Loveless, hopeless, all alone.
Faster came the scalding tear-drops,
Fiercer still the fever burned,
And the patient little spirit
With a strange persistence yearned
For a sweetly sympathising,
Loving face to gaze upon,
For a word of fond endearment,
Just one kiss, if only one:—
Ah! poor, patient, plaintless sufferer,
Thou hast never known the bliss
Which entrances all the being,
’Neath the pressure of a kiss;
Thou hast never proved the value
Of a tender mother’s care,
Ne’er received a brother’s blessing,
Never heard a father’s prayer;
Never romped with happy schoolmates
Through the sunny summer hours;
Never roamed among the meadows,
Culling dew-besprinkled flowers.
All thy life has been o’er-shadowed
With a cloud of darkest woes,
Un-illumined by the halo
Pure affection round it throws.
And in place of loving-kindness,
Gentle words and tender looks,
Vile abuse, contempt, subjection,
Harsh commands, and stern rebukes.
Ah! weep on, for thou art wretched,
And ’twill ease thy grieving breast;
After sorrow comes rejoicing,
After labour cometh rest.
Time moved on, though slowly, surely;
And the clock within the tower
Sang a solemn dirge-like requiem
Over each departing hour.
Agonized she lay and listened,
Till it changed the hour of four;
Then a change came stealing o’er her,
And she moaned and wept no more.
Sorrow, sighing, grief and anguish,
Gloom and darkness, passed away;
Round her burst a flood of glory,
Brighter than the noon of day;
And she stood upon the borders
Of that calm untroubled shore,
Where in blissful dreams and visions,
She had often stood before.
All the traces of affliction,
All the rags and dirt were gone,
And the disembodied spirit
With a dazzling lustre shone.
Came a host of shining children,
Floating through the lambent blaze,
With a loving shout of welcome,
And a joyous song of praise,
Came and kissed the little stranger,
Led her softly by the hand,
Through the groves of sweet pomegranate,
O’er the silvery shining sand.
Through the rich and fertile valleys,
Where the tree of knowledge grows,
Where the crystal fountains sparkle,
And where milk and honey flows.
O’er the gem-bespangled mountains,
Through the palm and olive bowers,
Through the verdure-mantled pastures,
Decked with never-fading flowers,
By the margin of a river,
Which in smiling grandeur rolled
Through the landscape and the city,
Like a thread of molten gold;
Led her through the gorgeous portals,
Of “that city bright and clear,”
Singing sweetly, as they journeyed:—
“But the pure have entrance here.”
Through the shining ranks of angels,
Onward to the centre seat,
With a shout of “Hallelujah,”
Laid her at her Saviour’s feet.
With a smile He stooped and raised her,
Placed her kindly on His knee,
Whispered softly as He kissed her,
“Suffer them to come to Me!”
Rest in peace, enraptured spirit,
Free at last from all thy pain,
From unkindness, hard and cruel,
From Oppression’s muffled chain.
They will hide thy little body
’Mongst the many nameless graves,
Where the heather scents the breezes,
And the mournful cypress waves;
They will read a pauper’s portion
Of the solemn funeral prayer,
They will heap the mould in silence
On the coffin rough and spare.
They will leave it light and tearless,
And it soon will be forgot,
But an eye will watch above it,
Though they comprehend it not.
Sweetly rest, pure little spirit,
Ever happy, ever blest,
“Where the wicked cease from troubling,
And the weary are at rest.”