The Wolves

YE who listen to stories told,
When hearths are cheery and nights are cold,
Of the lone wood-side, and the hungry pack
That howls on the fainting traveller's track,—
Flame-red eyeballs that waylay,
By the wintry moon, the belated sleigh, —
The lost child sought in the dismal wood,
The little shoes and the stains of blood
On the trampled snow,— O ye that hear,
With thrills of pity or chills of fear,
Wishing some angel had been sent
To shield the hapless and innocent, —
Know ye the fiend that is crueller far
Than the gaunt gray herds of the forest are ?
Swiftly vanish the wild fleet tracks
Before the rifle and woodman’s axe:
But hark to the coming of unseen feet,
Pattering by night through the city street!
Each wolf that dies in the woodland brown
Lives a spectre and haunts the town.
By square and market they slink and prowl,
In lane and alley they leap and howl.
All night they snuff and snarl before
The poor patched window and broken door.
They paw the clapboards and claw the latch,
At every crevice they whine and scratch.
Their tongues are subtle and long and thin,
And they lap the living blood within.
Icy keen are the teeth that tear,
Red as ruin the eyes that glare.
Children crouched in corners cold
Shiver in tattered garments old,
And start from sleep with bitter pangs
At the touch of the phantoms’ viewless fangs.
Weary the mother and worn with strife,
Still she watches and fights for life.
But her hand is feeble, and weapon small:
One little needle against them all!
In evil hour the daughter fled
From her poor shelter and wretched bed.
Through the city's pitiless solitude
To the door of sin the wolves pursued.
Fierce the father and grim with want,
His heart is gnawed by the spectres gaunt.
Frenzied stealing forth by night,
With whetted knife, to the desperate fight,
He thought to strike the spectres dead,
But he smites his brother man instead.
O you that listen to stories told,
When hearths are cheery and nights are cold,
Weep no more at the tales you hear,
The danger is close and the wolves are near.
Shudder not at the murderer’s name,
Marvel not at the maiden’s shame.
Pass not by with averted eye
The door where the stricken children cry.
But when the beat of the unseen feet
Sounds by night through the stormy street,
Follow thou where the spectres glide;
Stand like Hope by the mother’s side ;
And be thyself the angel sent
To shield the hapless and innocent
He gives but little who gives his tears,
He gives his best who aids and cheers.
He does well in the forest wild
Who slays the monster and saves the child;
But he does better, and merits more,
Who drives the wolf from the poor man’s door.