A great many years ago.
there lived in the county of Norfolk a gentleman and his lady. The
gentleman was a brave, generous, and honourable; and the lady was
beautiful, and virtuous; they were beloved by all who knew them, and
were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl. The boy was only about
three years old, and the girl not quite two, when the gentleman was
seized with a dangerous malady, and the Iady, in attending her beloved
husband, caught the contagion. Notwithstanding every medical assistance,
their disorder daily increased; and, as they expected to be soon
snatched away from their little babes, they sent for the gentleman's
brother, and gave the darlings into his care.
"Ah! brother," said the
dying ma, "you see I have but a short time to live; yet neither death
nor pain can pierce my heart with half so much anguish as what I feel at
the thought of what these dear babes will do without a parent's care.
Brother, they will have none but you to be kind to them, to see them
clothed and fed, and to teach them to be good."
"Dear, dear brother."
said the dying lady, "you must be father, mother, and uncle too, to
these dear innocent lambs. First, let William be taught to read and then
he should be told how good his father was. And little Janeó "Oh!
brother, it wrings my heart to talk of her; think of the gentle usage
she will need, and take her fondly on your knee, brother, and she and
William too will pay your care with love."
"How it does grieve my
heart to see you, my dear relatives, in this mournful condition,"
replied the Uncle. "But be comforted, there may yet be hopes of your
well-doing; but should we have the misfortune to lose you, I will do all
on can desire for your darling children. In me they shall find father,
mother. and uncle; but, dear brother, von have said nothing of your
brother." replied he, "is my will, in which I have provided for my dear
The gentleman and his
lady then kissed their children, and a short time after they both died.
The uncle, after shedding
a few tears, opened the will, in which he found that to William was
bequeathed three hundred pounds a year when he became of age, and to
little Jane five hundred pounds in gold on her marriage day. But if the
children should chance to die before coming of age, then all their
wealth was to be enjoyed by their uncle. The will of the unfortunate
gentleman next desired that he and his beloved wife should be buried
side by side in the same grave.
The two little innocents
were now taken to the house of their uncle, who, for some time,
recollecting what their parents said so sorrowfully upon their
death-bed, behaved to them with great kindness. But when he had kept
them about a twelve month, he by degrees forgot to think both how their
parents looked when they gave their children to his care. and the
promises he made 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 the little
boy and girl would die, for he should then have all their wealth for
himself; and when he had begun to think this, he went on till he could
not think scarcely of anything else; and at last, says he to himself,
"It will not be very difficult for me to kill them, as nobody knows
anything of the matter, and then their gold is mine."
When the barbarous uncle
had once brought his mind to kill the helpless little creatures, he was
not long in finding a way to execute his cruel purpose. He hired two
sturdy ruffiarns, who had already killed many travellers in a dark,
thick wood, at some distance, and then robbed them of their money. These
two wicked creatures agreed, for a large reward, to do the blackest deed
that ever yet was heard of: and the uncle began to prepare everything
He told an artful story
to his wife, of what good it would be to put the children forward in
their learning; how he had a relation in London who would take the
greatest care of them. He then said to the innocent children, "Should
you not like, my pretty ones, 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 dolls and pretty pincushions, and a nice
gilded coach shall be got to take you there."
"Oh yes, I will go
uncle," said William.
"Oh yes, I will go,
uncle," said Jane.
And the uncle, with a
heart of stone, soon got them ready for their journey.
The unsuspecting little
creatures were a few days after put into a fine coach, and with them the
two inhuman butchers, who were soon to end their joyful prattle, and
turn their smiles to tears. One of' them served as coachman, and the
other sat 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 flowers;
and, while the children were skipping about like lambs, the ruffians
turned their backs on them. and began to consult about what they had to
"In good truth," says the
one who had been sitting all the way between the children, "now I have
seen their cherub faces, and heard their pretty speech, I have no heart
to do the bloody deed; let us fling away the ugly knife, and send the
children back to their uncle."
"That I will not," says
the other; "what boots their pretty speech to us? And who will pay us
for being so chicken-hearted?"
At last the ruffians fell
into so great a passion about butchering the innocent little creatures,
that he who wished to spare their lives suddenly opened the great knife
he had brought to kill them, and stabbed the other to the heart, so that
he fell down dead.
The one who had killed
him was now greatly 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 the
wood. He was not, however, long in determining that he must leave them
in the wood, to the chance of some traveller passing by. "Look ye, my
pretty ones," said he, "you must each take hold and come along with me."
The poor children each took a hand and went on, the tears bursting from
their eyes, and their little limbs trembling with fear.
Thus did he lead them
about two miles further on in the wood, and told them to wait there till
he carne back with some cakes.
William took his sister
Jane by the hand, and they wandered fearfully up and down the wood.
"Will the strange man
come back with some cakes, Billy?" says Jane.
"Presently, dear Jane,''
And soon again, "I wish I
had some cakes. Billy,'' said she.
And it would have melted
a heart of stone to see how sorrowfully they Iooked.
After waiting very long,
they tried to satisfy their hunger with blackberries, but they soon
devoured all that were within their reach; and night coming on, William,
who had tried all he could to comfort his little sister, now wanted
comfort himself; so when Jane said once more, "How hungry I am, Billy, I
b-e-l-i-e-v-e I cannot help crying." William burst out crying tool
and down they lay on the cold earth, and putting their arms round each
others neck, there they starved, and there they died.
Thus were these pretty
little innocents murdered and as no one knew of their death, so one
sought to give them burial.
The wicked uncle,
supposing they had been killed as he desired, told all who asked after
them an artful tale of their having died in London of the small pox, and
accordingly took possession openly of their fortune.
But all this did him very
little service, for soon after his wife. died; and being very unhappy,
and always thinking too that he saw the bleeding innocents before his
eyes, he neglected all his business; so that, instead of growing richer,
he every day grew poorer. His two sons, also, who had embarked for a
foreign land, were both drowned at sea, and he became completely
When things had gone on
in this manner for years, the ruffian who took pity on the children
committed another robbery in the wood, and, being pursued by some men,
he was laid hold of and brought to prison, and soon after was tried at
the assizes, and found guilty--so that he was condemned to be hanged for
As soon as he found what
his unhappy end must be, he sent for the keeper of the prison, and
confessed to him all the crimes he had been guilty of in his whole life,
and thus declared the story of the pretty innocents, telling him at the
same time in what part of the wood he had left them to starve.
The news of the discovery
he had made soon reached the uncle's ears, who, being already
broken-hearted by misfortunes that had befallen him, and unable to bear
the load of public shame that could not but await him, lay down upon his
bed and died that very day.
No sooner were the
tidings of the fate of the two children made public than proper persons
were sent to search the wood; when, after ma many fruitless endeavours,
the pretty babes were at length found outstretched 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 covered all over
with leaves. which in all that time never withered, and on a bush near
this cold grave a Robin-Redbreast watched and chirped so that many
gentle hearts still think that pretty bird did bring the leaves which
made their grave.