THE THREE WARNINGS*
MRS. [HESTER] THRALE
The tree of deepest root is found
Least willing still to quit the ground;
'Twas therefore said by ancient sages,
That love of life increased with years
So much, that in our latter stages,
When pains grow sharp, and sickness rages,
The greatest love of life appears.
This great affection to believe,
Which all confess, but few perceive,
If old assertions can't prevail,
Be pleased to hear a modern tale.
When sports went round, and all were gay,
On neighbour Dodson's wedding-day,
Death called him aside the jocund groom
With him into another room,
And looking grave — 'You must,' says he,
'Quit your sweet bride, and come with me.'
'With you! and quit my Susan's side?
'With you!' the hapless husband cried;
'Young as I am,' 'tis monstrous hard!
Besides, in truth, I'm not prepared:
My thoughts on other matters go;
This is my wedding day, you know.'
What more he urged I have not heard,
His reasons could not well be stronger;
So Death the poor delinquent spared,
And left to live a little longer.
Yet calling up a serious look,
His hour-glass trembled while he spoke —
'Neighbour,' he said, 'farewell! no more
Shall Death disturb your mirthful hour:
And further, to avoid all blame
Of cruelty upon my name,
To give you time for preparation,
And fit you for your future station,
Three several warnings you shall have,
Before you're summoned to the grave;
Willing for once I'll quit my prey,
And grant a kind reprieve;
In hopes you'll have no more to say;
But, when I call again this way,
Well pleased the world will leave.'
To these conditions both consented,
And parted perfectly contented.
What next the hero of our tale befell,
How long he lived, how wise, how well,
How roundly he pursued his course,
And smoked his pipe, and stroked his horse,
The willing muse shall tell:
He chaffered, then he bought and sold,
Nor once perceived his growing old,
Nor thought of Death as near:
His friends not false, his wife no shrew,
Many his gains, his children few,
He passed his hours in peace.
But while he viewed his wealth increase,
While thus along life's dusty road,
The beaten track content he trod,
Old Time, whose haste no mortal spares,
Uncalled, unheeded, unawares,
Brought on his eightieth year.
And now, one night, in musing mood,
As all alone he sate,
The unwelcome messenger of Fate
Once more before him stood.
Half-killed with anger and surprise,
'So soon returned!' old Dodson cries.
'So soon, d'ye call it?' Death replies:
'Surely, my friend, you're but in jest!
Since I was here before
'Tis six-and-thirty years at least,
And you are now fourscore.'
'So much the worse,' the clown rejoined:
'To spare the aged would be kind:
However, see your search be legal;
And your authority — is't regal?
Else you come on a fool's errand,
With but a secretary's warrant.
Beside, you promised me Three Warnings,
Which I have looked for nights and mornings,
But for that loss of time and ease,
I can recover damages.'
'I know,' cries Death, 'that at the best,
I seldom am a welcome guest;
But don't be captious, friend, at least;
I little thought you'd still be able
To stump about your farm and stable.
Your years have run to a great length;
I wish you joy, though, of your strength.'
'Hold!' says the farmer; 'not so fast!
I have been lame these four years past.'
'And no great wonder,' Death replies,
'However, you still keep your eyes;
And sure, to see one's loves and friends,
For legs and arms would make amends.'
'Perhaps,' says Dodson, 'so it might,
But latterly I've lost my sight.'
'This is a shocking tale, 'tis true;
But still there's comfort left for you:
Each strives your sadness to amuse;
I warrant you hear all the news.'
'There's none,' cries he; 'and if there were,
I'm grown so deaf, I could not hear.'
'Nay, then,' the spectre stern rejoined,
'These are unjustifiable yearnings:
If you are lame, and deaf, and blind,
You've had your Three sufficient Warnings;
So come along; no more we'll part;
He said, and touched him with his dart.
And now old Dodson, turning pale,
Yields to his fate — so ends my tale.
* From Living Thoughts in Words that Burn from Poet, Sage, and Humorist, Edited by Daphne Dale; 1891] Reprinted as Classic Gems of Prose and Poetry; Chicago Star Publishing Company; [no date]; pp. 105.