Abner and the Widow Jones: a Familiar Ballad


Well! I’m determin’d; that’s enough:—
Gee, Bayard! move your poor old bones.
I’ll take to-morrow, smooth or rough,
To go and court the Widow Jones.
Our master talks of stable-room,5
And younger horses on his grounds;
’Tis easy to foresee thy doom,
Bayard, thou’lt go to feed the hounds.
But could I win the widow’s hand,
I’d make a truce ’twixt death and thee;10
For thou upon the best of land
Should’st feed, and live, and die with me.
And must the pole-axe lay thee low?
And will they pick thy poor old bones?
No—hang me if it shall be so,— 15
If I can win the Widow Jones.
Twirl went his stick; his curly pate
A bran-new hat uplifted bore;
And Abner, as he leapt the gate,
Had never look’d so gay before.20
And every spark of love reviv’d
That had perplex’d him long ago,
When busy folks and fools contriv’d
To make his Mary answer—no.
But whether, freed from recent vows, 25
Her heart had back to Abner flown,
And mark’d him for a second spouse,
In truth is not exactly known.
Howbeit, as he came in sight,
She turn’d her from the garden stile,30
And downward look’d with pure delight,
With half a sigh and half a smile.
She heard his sounding step behind,
The blush of joy crept up her cheek,
As cheerly floated on the wind, 35
‘Hoi! Mary Jones—what wont you speak?’
Then, with a look that ne’er deceives,
She turn’d, but found her courage fled;
And scolding sparrows from the eaves
Peep’d forth upon the stranger’s head.40
Down Abner sat, with glowing heart,
Resolv’d, whatever might betide,
To speak his mind, no other art
He ever knew, or ever tried.
And gently twitching Mary’s hand, 45
The bench had ample room for two,
His first word made her understand
The plowman’s errand was to woo.
‘My Mary—may I call thee so?
For many a happy day we’ve seen,50
And if not mine, aye, years ago,
Whose was the fault? you might have been!
All that’s gone by: but I’ve been musing,
And vow’d, and hope to keep it true,
That she shall be my own heart’s choosing55
Whom I call wife.—Hey, what say you?
And as I drove my plough along,
And felt the strength that’s in my arm,
Ten years, thought I, amidst my song,
I’ve been head-man at Harewood farm. 60
And now, my own dear Mary’s free,
Whom I have lov’d this many a day,
Who knows but she may think on me?
I’ll go hear what she has to say.
Perhaps that little stock of land65
She holds, but knows not how to till,
Will suffer in the widow’s hand,
And make poor Mary poorer still.
That scrap of land, with one like her,
How we might live! and be so blest!70
And who should Mary Jones prefer?
Why, surely, him who loves her best!
Therefore I’m come to-night, sweet wench.
I would not idly thus intrude,’ —
Mary look’d downward on the bench,75
O’erpower’d by love and gratitude.
And lean’d her head against the vine,
With quick’ning sobs of silent bliss,
Till Abner cried, ‘You must be mine,
You must,’—and seal’d it with a kiss. 80
She talk’d of shame, and wip’d her cheek,
But what had shame with them to do,
Who nothing meant but truth to speak,
And downright honour to pursue?
His eloquence improv’d apace,85
As manly pity fill’d his mind;
‘You know poor Bayard; here’s the case,—
He’s past his labour, old, and blind:
If you and I should but agree
To settle here for good and all, 90
Could you give all your heart to me,
And grudge that poor old rogue a stall?
I’ll buy him, for the dogs shall never
Set tooth upon a friend so true;
He’ll not live long, but I for ever 95
Shall know I gave the beast his due.
’Mongst all I’ve known of plows and carts,
And ever since I learn’d to drive,
He was not match’d in all these parts;
There was not such a horse alive!100
Ready, as birds to meet the morn,
Were all his efforts at the plough;
Then, the mill-brook with hay or corn,
Good creature! how he’d spatter through!
He was a horse of mighty pow’r,105
Compact in frame, and strong of limb;
Went with a chirp from hour to hour;
Whip-cord! ’twas never made for him.
I left him in the shafts behind,
His fellows all unhook’d and gone,110
He neigh’d, and deem’d the thing unkind,
Then, starting, drew the load alone!
But I might talk till pitch-dark night,
And then have something left to say;
But, Mary, am I wrong or right, 115
Or, do I throw my words away?
Leave me, or take me and my horse;
I’ve told thee truth, and all I know:
Truth should breed truth; that comes of course;
If I sow wheat, why wheat will grow.’120
‘Yes, Abner, but thus soon to yield,
Neighbours would fleer, and look behind ’em;
Though, with a husband in the field,
Perhaps, indeed, I should not mind ’em.
I’ve known your generous nature well,125
My first denial cost me dear;
How this may end we cannot tell,
But, as for Bayard, bring him here.’
‘Bless thee for that,’ the plowman cried,
At once both starting from the seat,130
He stood a guardian by her side,
But talk’d of home,—’twas growing late.
Then step for step within his arm,
She cheer’d him down the dewy way;
And no two birds upon the farm135
E’er prated with more joy than they.
What news at home? The smile he wore
One little sentence turn’d to sorrow;
An order met him at the door.
‘Take Bayard to the dogs to-morrow.’140
Yes, yes, thought he; and heav’d a sigh,
Die when he will he’s not your debtor:
I must obey, and he must die,—
That’s if I can’t contrive it better.
He left his Mary late at night,145
And had succeeded in the main,
No sooner peep’d the morning light
But he was on the road again!
Suppose she should refuse her hand?
Such thoughts will come, I know not why; 150
Shall I, without a wife or land,
Want an old horse? then wherefore buy?
From bush to bush, from stile to stile,
Perplex’d he trod the fallow ground,
And told his money all the while155
And weigh’d the matter round and round.
‘I’ll borrow,’ that’s the best thought yet;
Mary shall save the horse’s life.—
Kind-hearted wench! what, run in debt
Before I know she’ll be my wife?160
These women wo’nt speak plain and free.—
Well, well, I’ll keep my service still;
She has not said she’d marry me,
But yet I dare to say she will.
But while I take this shay-brain’d course, 165
And like a fool run to and fro,
Master, perhaps, may sell the horse!
Therefore this instant home I’ll go.
The nightly rains had drench’d the grove,
He plung’d right on with headlong pace;170
A man but half as much in love
Perhaps had found a cleaner place.
The day rose fair; with team a-field,
He watch’d the farmer’s cheerful brow;
And in a lucky hour reveal’d175
His secret at his post, the plow.
And there without a whine began,
‘Master, you’ll give me your advice;
I’m going to marry—if I can—
And want old Bayard; what’s his price?180
For Mary Jones last night agreed,
Or near upon’t, to be my wife:
The horse’s value I don’t heed,
I only want to save his life.’
‘Buy him, hey! Abner! trust me I 185
Have not the thought of gain in view;
Bayard’s best days we’ve seen go by;
He shall be cheap enough to you.’
The wages paid, the horse brought out,
The hour of separation come; 190
The farmer turn’d his chair about,
‘Good fellow, take him, take him home.
You’re welcome, Abner, to the beast,
For you’ve a faithful servant been;
They’ll thrive I doubt not in the least,195
Who know what work and service mean.’
The maids at parting, one and all,
From different windows different tones;
Bade him farewel with many a bawl,
And sent their love to Mary Jones.200
He wav’d his hat, and turn’d away,
When loud the cry of children rose;
‘Abner, good bye!’ they stopt their play;
‘There goes poor Bayard ! there he goes!’
Half choak’d with joy, with love, and pride, 205
He now with dainty clover fed him,
Now took a short triumphant ride,
And then again got down and led him.
And hobbling onward up the hill,
The widow’s house was full in sight, 210
He pull’d the bridle harder still,
‘Come on, we shan’t be there to-night.’
She met them with a smile so sweet,
The stable-door was open thrown;
The blind horse lifted high his feet, 215
And loudly snorting, laid him down.
O Victory! from that stock of laurels
You keep so snug for camps and thrones,
Spare us one twig from all their quarrels
For Abner and the Widow Jones. 220