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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Famine
By Sir Henry Taylor (1800–1886)
 
From ‘Philip Van Artevelde’

ARTEVELDE—Now render me account of what befell
Where thou hast been to-day.
  Clara—                    Not much is that.
I paid a visit first to Ukenheim,
The man who whilome saved our father’s life
When certain Clementists and ribald folk        5
Assailed him at Malines. He came last night,
And said he knew not if we owed him aught;
But if we did, a peck of oatmeal now
Would pay the debt and save more lives than one.
I went. It seemed a wealthy man’s abode:        10
The costly drapery and good house-gear
Had, in an ordinary time, made known
That with the occupant the world went well.
By a low couch, curtained with cloth of frieze,
Sat Ukenheim, a famine-stricken man,        15
With either bony fist upon his knees
And his long back upright. His eyes were fixed
And moved not, though some gentle words I spake:
Until a little urchin of a child
That called him father, crept to where he sat        20
And plucked him by the sleeve, and with its small
And skinny finger pointed; then he rose
And with a low obeisance, and a smile
That looked like watery moonlight on his face,
So pale and weak a smile, he bade me welcome.        25
I told him that a lading of wheat-flour
Was on its way; whereat, to my surprise,
His countenance fell, and he had almost wept.
  Artevelde—Poor soul! and wherefore?
  Clara—                    That I saw too soon.
He plucked aside the curtain of the couch,        30
And there two children’s bodies lay composed.
They seemed like twins of some ten years of age,
And they had died so nearly both at once
He scarce could say which first; and being dead,
He put them, for some fanciful affection,        35
Each with its arm about the other’s neck,
So that a fairer sight I had not seen
Than those two children with their little faces
So thin and wan, so calm and sad and sweet.
I looked upon them long, and for a while        40
I wished myself their sister, and to lie
With them in death as with each other they;
I thought that there was nothing in the world
I could have loved so much; and then I wept:
And when he saw I wept, his own tears fell,        45
And he was sorely shaken and convulsed
Through weakness of his frame and his great grief.
  Artevelde—Much pity was it he so long deferred
To come to us for aid.
  Clara—                It was indeed;
But whatsoe’er had been his former pride,        50
He seemed a humble and heart-broken man.
He thanked me much for what I said was sent,
But I knew well his thanks were for my tears.
He looked again upon the children’s couch,
And said, low down, they wanted nothing now.        55
So, to turn off his eyes and change his mood,
I drew the small survivor of the three
Before him, and he snatched it up, and soon
Seemed lost and quite forgetful; and with that
I stole away.        60
 
 
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