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THE BABES IN THE WOOD
ANY years ago there lived a gentleman and his lady. The
gentleman was brave and good, and the lady was gentle,
beautiful, and virtuous. They were much beloved by all
who knew them, for they were always trying to do good
This lady and gentleman lived together very happily for
many years, for they loved each other most tenderly.
They had two children, who were both very young, the
boy, who was the eldest, was about three years old, and
the youngest, who was a girl, not quite two years old.
The boy was very much like his father and the girl was
like her mother. By the end of this time the gentleman
fell sick, and day after day he grew worse. His lady
was so much grieved by his illness that she fell sick
too. No physic, nor anything else, was of the least
use to them, for they grew worse and worse; and they
saw that they would soon be taken away from their
little ones, and be forced to leave them in the world
without father or mother.
They bore this cruel thought as well as they could, and
trusted that after they were dead, their children would
find some kind friend to look after them. They talked
to one another tenderly about them, and at last agreed
to send for the gentleman's brother, and give their
darlings into his care.
As son as the gentleman's brother heard this news he
 made all the haste he could to the bedside of the
father and mother. "Ah! brother," said the dying man,
"you see how short a time I have to live, yet neither
death nor pain can give me half so much grief as the
thought of what these dear babes will do without a
parent's care. Brother, brother," continued the
gentleman, putting out his hand as well as he could,
and pointing to the children, "they will have none but
you to be kind to them, to see them clothed and fed,
and teach them to be good and happy."
"Dear, dear brother," said the dying lady, "you must be
father, mother, and uncle too, to these little lambs.
First let William be taught to read: and then he
should be told how good his father was. And little
Jane,—oh! brother, it wrings my heart to talk of
her: think of the gentle usage she will stand in need
of, and take her fondly on your knee, brother, and she
and William, too, will repay your care with love."
The uncle then answered: "Oh! how it grieves my heart
to see you, my dearest brother and sister, in this sad
state! but take comfort, there may still be hope of
your getting well: Yet if we should happen to lose
you, I will do all you can desire for your darling
children. In me they shall find a father, mother, and
uncle. William shall learn to read, and shall be told
how good his father was, that he may turn out as good
himself when he grows up to be a man. Jane shall be
used with the most tender care, and shall be fondled on
my knee. But, dear brother, you have said nothing of
the wealth you must leave behind. I am sure you know
my heart too well to think that I speak of this for any
other reason than your dear children's good, and that I
may be able to make use of your money only for their
"Pray, brother," said the dying man, "do not grieve me
with talking of any such thing; for how could you, who
will be their father, mother, and uncle, once think of
 them? Here, here, brother, is my will. You will see
how I have done the best I could for my babes."
A few moments after the gentleman had said these words
he pressed his cold lips to his children; the lady did
the same, and in a short time they both died. The
uncle shed a few tears at this sad sight, and then
broke open the will, in which he found that his brother
had left the little boy, William, the sum of three
hundred pounds a year, when he should be twenty-one
years old, and to Jane, the girl, the sum of five
hundred pounds in gold, to be paid to her on the day of
her marriage. But if the children should happen to die
before coming of age, then all the money was to belong
to their uncle. The will of the gentleman next ordered
that he and his dear wife should be buried side by side
in the same grave.
The two little children were now taken home to the
house of their uncle, who, for some time, did just as
their parents had told him upon their death-bed, and
used them with great kindness. But when he had kept
them about a year he forgot by degrees to think how
their father and mother looked when they gave their
children to his care, and how he himself had made a
promise to be their father, mother, and uncle all in
one. After a little more time had passed, the uncle
could not help thinking that he wished he could get rid
of the children, for then he should have all the money
for himself; and when he had once begun to think this,
he went on till he could hardly think of anything else.
At last he said to himself: "It would not be very hard
for me to get rid of them so that nobody should know
anything about the matter, and then the money will be
mine at once."
When the cruel uncle had once made up his mind to get
rid of the helpless little creatures, he was not long
in finding a way to bring it about. He hired two
sturdy ruffians, who had already held up many travelers
in a dark, thick wood, some
 way off, for the sake of robbing them of their money.
These two wicked men agreed with the uncle for a large
sum of money to do the most cruel thing that was ever
heard of; and so the uncle began to get everything
ready for them.
He had told an artful story to his wife of what good it
would do the children to put them forward in their
learning; and how he had a friend in London who would
take care of them. He then said to the poor little
things: "Should you not like to see the famous town of
London, where you, William, can buy a fine wooden horse
to ride upon all day long, and a whip to make him
gallop, and a fine sword to wear by your side? And
you, Jane, shall have pretty playthings, and a nice
gilded coach shall take you there."
"Oh, yes, we will go, uncle," said the children, and,
with a heart as hard as stones, the uncle soon got them
ready for the journey. The harmless little creatures
were put into a fine coach a few days after, and along
with them the two cruel wretches, who were soon to put
an end to their merry prattle, and turn their smiles
into tears. One of them drove the coach, and the other
sat inside between little William and little Jane.
When they had reached the entrance to the dark thick
wood, the two ruffians took them out of the coach,
telling them they might now walk a little way and
gather some flowers; and while the children were
skipping about like lambs, the ruffians turned their
backs to them, and began to talk about what they had to
"In good truth," said the one who had been sitting
between the children all the way, "now I have seen
their sweet faces and heard their pretty talk I have no
heart to do the cruel deed: let us send the children
back to their uncle."
"But, indeed, I will not," said the other; "what is
their pretty talk to us?"
 "Think of your own children at home," answered the
"Yes, but I shall get nothing to take back to them if I
turn coward as you would have me do," replied the
other. At last the two ruffians fell into such a
passion about getting rid of the poor babes, that the
one who wished to spare their lives took out the great
knife he had brought to murder them with and stabbed
the other to the heart, so that he fell down dead at
his feet. The one who had killed him was quite at a
loss what to do with the children; for he wanted to get
away as fast as he could, for fear of being found in
At last he thought the only thing he could do was to
leave them in the wood by themselves, and trust them to
the kindness of anybody that might happen to pass by
and find them there.
"Come here, my pretty ones," said he; "you must take
hold of my hands and go with me." The poor children
took each a hand and went on; but the tears burst from
their eyes, and their little limbs shook with fear all
In this way he led them for about two miles farther on
in the wood, and then told them to wait there till he
came back from the next town, where he would go and get
them some food. William took his sister Jane by the
hand, and they walked in fear up and down in the wood.
"Will the strange man come with some cakes, Billy?"
said little Jane.
"By and by, dear Jane," said William.
And soon after, "I wish I had some cakes, Billy," said
They then looked about with their little eyes to every
part of the wood; and it would have melted a heart as
hard as stone to see how sad they looked, and how they
listened to every sound of wind in the trees. After
they had waiting a very long time, they tried to stay
their hunger with blackberries; but they soon ate all
that were within their reach.
Night was now coming on; and William, who had tried all
 he could to comfort his little sister, at last wanted
comfort himself; so when Jane said once more, "How
hungry I am, Billy. I b-e-l-ieve—I cannot help
crying—" William burst out a-crying too; and
down they lay upon the cold earth; and putting their
arms round each other's neck, there they starved, and
there they died.
Thus were those two pretty harmless babes murdered; and
as no one knew of their death, so there was no one to
dig a grave and bury them. In the mean time the wicked
uncle thought they had been killed as he ordered, so he
told all the folks who asked about them an artful tale
of their having died in London of the smallpox, and he
then took all their fortune to himself, and lived upon
it as if it had been his own by good right. But all
this did him very little service; for soon after his
wife died; and as he could not help being very unhappy,
and was always thinking, too, that he saw the children
before his eyes, he did not attend at all to his
affairs; so that, instead of growing richer, he became
poorer every day.
Besides this, his two sons had gone on board a ship to
try their fortune abroad. They both were drowned at
sea, and he became quite wretched, so that his life was
a burden to him. When things had gone on in this
manner for some years the ruffian who took pity on the
children and would not kill them robbed some person in
that very wood; and being pursued, he was caught and
brought to prison, and soon after was tried before a
judge and was found guilty; and sentenced to be hanged
for the crime. As soon as he found what his death must
be, he sent for the keeper of the prison, and told him
all the crimes he had been guilty of.
Thus he made known the story of the two children; and
at the same time told what part of the wood he had left
them to starve in. The news of this matter soon
reached the uncle's ears, who, already broken-hearted
by many ills and worries
 could not bear the load of public shame that must now
fall on him, so he lay down upon his bed and died that
As soon as the manner of the death of the two children
was made public, proper persons were sent to search the
wood for them; and after a great deal of trouble, the
pretty babes were at last found stretched in each
other's arms; with William's arm round the neck of
Jane, his face turned close to hers, and his frock
pulled over her body.
They were quite covered with leaves, which in all that
time had not withered; and on a bush near this cold
grave there sat a robin red-breast, watching and
chirping: so that many gentle hearts still think it was
this kind little bird that brought the leaves and
covered the little babes over with them.