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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi (1741–1821)

The Three Warnings

A Tale

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 later stages,

When pain grows 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 Neighbor Dobson’s wedding-day,

Death called 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-night, 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—

“Neighbor,” 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 again I call 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, he 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 sat,

The unwelcome messenger of fate

Once more before him stood.

Half killed with anger and surprise,

“So soon returned!” old Dobson 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 are come on a fool’s errand,

With but a secretary’s warrant.

Besides, 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,” cried 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 Dobson, “so it might;

But latterly I’ve lost my sight.”

“This is a shocking story, faith,

Yet there’s some comfort still,” says Death:

“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 unwarrantable 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 Dobson, turning pale,

Yields to his fate. So ends my tale.