Over The Hill From The Poor-House

by Will McKendree Carleton

Will Carleton

I, who was always counted, they say,
Rather a bad stick any way,
Splintered all over with dodges and tricks,
Known as "the worst of the Deacon's six;"
I, the truant, saucy and bold,
The one black sheep in my father's fold,
"Once on a time," as the stories say,
Went over the hill on a winter's day--
Over the hill to the poor-house.

Tom could save what twenty could earn;
But givin' was somethin' he ne'er would learn;
Isaac could half o' the Scriptur's speak--
Committed a hundred verses a week;
Never forgot, an' never slipped;
But "Honor thy father and mother" he skipped;
So _over the hill to the poor-house._

As for Susan, her heart was kind
An' good--what there was of it, mind;
Nothin' too big, an' nothin' too nice,
Nothin' she wouldn't sacrifice
For one she loved; an' that 'ere one
Was herself, when all was said an' done.
An' Charley an' 'Becca meant well, no doubt,
But any one could pull 'em about;

An' all o' our folks ranked well, you see,
Save one poor fellow, and that was me;
An' when, one dark an' rainy night,
A neighbor's horse went out o' sight,
They hitched on me, as the guilty chap
That carried one end o' the halter-strap.
An' I think, myself, that view of the case
Wasn't altogether out o' place;
My mother denied it, as mothers do,
But I am inclined to believe 'twas true.
Though for me one thing might be said--
That I, as well as the horse, was led;
And the worst of whisky spurred me on,
Or else the deed would have never been done.
But the keenest grief I ever felt
Was when my mother beside me knelt,
An' cried an' prayed, till I melted down,
As I wouldn't for half the horses in town.
I kissed her fondly, then an' there,
An' swore henceforth to be honest and square.

I served my sentence--a bitter pill
Some fellows should take who never will;
And then I decided to go "out West,"
Concludin' 'twould suit my health the best;
Where, how I prospered, I never could tell,
But Fortune seemed to like we [me] well,
An' somehow every vein I struck
Was always bubblin' over with luck.
An', better than that, I was steady an' true,
An' put my good resolutions through.
But I wrote to a trusty old neighbor, an' said,
"You tell 'em, old fellow, that I am dead,
An' died a Christian; 'twill please 'em more,
Than if I had lived the same as before."

But when this neighbor he wrote to me,
"Your mother's in the poor-house," says he,
I had a resurrection straightway,
An' started for her that very day.
And when I arrived where I was grown,
I took good care that I shouldn't be known;
But I bought the old cottage, through and through,
Of some one Charley had sold it to;
And held back neither work nor gold,
To fix it up as it was of old.
The same big fire-place wide an' high,
Flung up its cinders toward the sky;
The old clock ticked on the corner-shelf--
I wound it an' set it agoin' myself;
An' if every thing wasn't just the same,
Neither I nor money was to blame;
Then--_over the hill to the poor-house!_

One blowin', blusterin' winter's day,
With a team an' cutter I started away;
My fiery nags was as black as coal;
(They some'at resembled the horse I stole);
I hitched, an' entered the poor-house door--
A poor old woman was scrubbin' the floor;
She rose to her feet in great surprise,
And looked, quite startled, into my eyes;
I saw the whole of her trouble's trace
In the lines that marred her dear old face;
"Mother!" I shouted, "your sorrows is done!
You're adopted along o' your horse-thief son,
Come _over the hill from the poor-house!"_

She didn't faint; she knelt by my side,
An' thanked the Lord, till I fairly cried.
An' maybe our ride wasn't pleasant an' gay,
An' maybe she wasn't wrapped up that day;
An' maybe our cottage wasn't warm an' bright,
An' maybe it wasn't a pleasant sight,
To see her a-gettin' the evenin's tea,
An' frequently stoppin' and kissin' me;
An' maybe we didn't live happy for years,
In spite of my brothers' and sisters' sneers,
Who often said, as I have heard,
That they wouldn't own a prison-bird;
(Though they're gettin' over that, I guess,
For all of 'em owe me more or less);

But I've learned one thing; an' it cheers a man
In always a-doin' the best he can;
That whether, on the big book, a blot
Gets over a fellow's name or not,
Whenever he does a deed that's white,
It's credited to him fair and right.
An' when you hear the great bugle's notes,
An' the Lord divides his sheep an' goats;
However they may settle my case,
Wherever they may fix my place,
My good old Christian mother, you'll see,
Will be sure to stand right up for me,
With _over the hill from the poor-house._

Last updated February 16, 2018