The Poacher and his Family

’Twas a cold night in November many years ago,
And the winter had set in with frost and snow:
And the villagers of Dusterly were very poor,
And, for want of work, they scarcely could bread procure.

Because the four-pound loaf was ninepence-halfpenny.
Besides, the winter had set in with great severity,
And the bread was going to be dearer — the baker said —
All through the severe winter, and for the want of trade.

And the public house in the village was called the “Crooked Billet,”
And in the evenings hard drinkers helped to fill it;
So night after night the big kitchen was filled,
And with the noisy tipplers fighting, innocent blood was spilled.

So, to proceed with my story, ’twas on a Saturday night,
And the kitchen fire in the public house was burning bright,
And the landlord sat in the chimney corner smoking his pipe,
While the servant girl was busy cooking potatoes and tripe.

Men of all ages — country labourers — were assembled there,
Cursing and shouting about their rights, I do declare,
Never thinking about their wives and families at home,
That were starving for want of bread, and could find none.

At least, the poacher’s family were crying for bread,
And their mother didn’t like to send them supperless to bed,
So she gathered up the dried crumbs, saved through the week,
While poor little Willie and Fanny wondered, but they didn’t speak.

Then she divided the crumbs, with a mother’s tender care,
So that Wille and Fanny might have an equal share;
Then she put the crumbs into two small bowls,
To appease the hunger of two hungry souls.

Then with boiling water she filled the little bowls,
While in amazement sat the two innocent souls;
Then she gave each child a spoon to sup the bread-sop,
Saying, now, my dear children, try and sup it every drop.

So Willie and Fanny made quick work of the bread-sop,
And in the little bowls they didn’t leave one single drop;
And they blessed their kind mamma, and thanked God for the food,
Crying, oh! Dear mamma, taste it; it’s really good.

Then the kind mother tasted it to please her children dear,
While adown her pale cheeks stole a silent tear,
When she thought of their father, who was poaching in Dusterly Wood,
And spending money on drink he should have spent on food.

At last, poor Willie, the eldest child said:
Mother, some harm has befell papa, I’m afraid,
And father will be wet when he comes home, won’t he?
Yes, indeed he will my dear, kind-hearted Willie.

As Mrs Strickland spoke, a noise was heard,
But to the noise she paid very little regard,
Until a tap at the window did her attention engage,
Then the door was opened, and her husband staggered into the cottage.

Then he cried — Bring a light! Mary, bring a light!
For I feel faint and a dimness coming o’er my eyesight,
And fetch me some water, Mary, quick if you can,
For I fear in a short time I will be a dead man.

Then poor Mary gave him some water, and put him to bed,
And little Willie and Fanny thought their father was killed dead;
And they asked mamma to tell them, and earnestly did beg,
So she told them he was wounded in the right leg.

Then their father cried — Children dear, come near to me,
I’ve been shot by the gamekeepers above the right knee,
And oh! My dear children, it gives me great pain,
But, my dear Willie and Fanny, I will never poach again!

So, the next morning, he was taken away to Dusterly Hall
To appear before the Magistrates, which did his heart appal,
When the judge sentenced him to ten years’ transportation,
He almost fainted with fear and consternation!

Then far across the sea he was sent,
And during his banishment he sincerely did repent,
And resolved to lead a better life,
And, if spared, be an affectionate husband to his wife.

So when ten long years were past,
Edward Strickland returned home at last,
And as it chanced to be on a Christmas Day,
It made his wife and children’s hearts feel gay.

So he settled down as a shepherd near Farmer Franks
In a little cottage, and every night God he thanks
For protecting him twelve thousand miles away from home,
And in conclusion, he never as a poacher again did roam!

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