Janet Hamilton

1795-1873 / Scotland

The Black Snakes

A happy child, a girl of ten,
When autumn's golden tints were glowing,
And wilding fruits in brake and glen
From nature's bounteous lap o'erflowing,
Went far into the tangled wild,
Her little pail with luscious treasure
Of berries ripe to fill-the child
Knew they would give her mother pleasure;
And still the little maid went on,
And picked and gleaned till she grew weary;
She lost her way, the track was gone,
And ah! the wood was lone and dreary.
The land was not a land like ours-
From shingly mounds, and holes of hiding,
Leaving their trail on grass and flowers,
Snakes, many-hued, were often gliding.
A freezing horror chilled my blood
When first I heard what there befell her
Within that lone and darksome wood.
Alas! the mother-who shall tell her?
The child ne'er saw her home again;
And when the shades of eve were falling
The parents sought for her in vain,
Their darling's name still wildly calling.
Kind neighbours came, the search was sped-
In wood, in wild, in brake they sought her.
They sought in vain, till hope had fled-
The child was dead, and so they thought her!
Six wintry months had come and gone,
The earth was robed in summer glory;
And then to mourning friends was known
The fearful sequel of my story.
Some youths who to the wilds had gone.
Saw there a scene, the most appalling,
All o'er a spot they came upon
Were many black snakes, twisting, crawling.
Close by-a thing of dread and fear-
A little skeleton was lying.
They told the tale-soon far and near
And all around the news went flying.
As white and smooth as ivory lay
The bones, no speck of flesh remaining;
Devoured, ere it had felt decay,
By swarming snakes, the young blood draining.
The parents of the missing child
Came with the many thither flocking
To view the spot, far in the wild,
Where acted was a scene so shocking.
A little pail, all rusted brown,
Beside the small white bones was lying.
'My child, my child!'-it was her own-
They heard the sobbing mother crying.
They fired the reptiles' hole, and then
A hundred sable snakes came swarming
Out from the foul and foetid den,
A sight most hideous and alarming.
Sad mother, weeping for thy child,
A woeful mother shares thy mourning
My son, too, strayed into the wild,
I sought, but hope not, his returning.
Oh, early lost, my son, my son
He strayed afar, in quest of pleasure;
But found, ere he his quest had won,
The serpent sting for promised treasure.
They told me, and I stood aghast,
That on a spot where snakes were swarming,
A form, 'twas his, they found at last-
A sight of horror, strange, alarming.
A skeleton, a ghastly heap
Of naked bones, 'twas thus they found him;
By snakes devoured in drunken sleep,
The reptiles' holes yawned thickly round them.
Oh, ever open dens of death!
Where life-devouring snakes are lurking,
Whose deadly bite and poisonous breath
Inflame the curse for ever working.
Ah, pleasure-seeking youth! beware
The fiery curse your thousands dooming
To early death, disgrace, despair,
The mind, the heart, the flesh consuming!
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