Fitz James O'Brien

The Lost Steamship

"HO, there,! Fisherman, hold your hand!
Tell me what is that far away,--
There, where over the isle of sand
Hangs the mist-cloud sullen and gray?
See! it rocks with a ghastly life,
Rising and rolling through clouds of spray,
Right in the midst of the breakers' strife,--
Tell me what is it, Fisherman, pray?"

"That, good sir, was a steamer stout
As ever paddled around Cape Race;
And many's the wild and stormy bout
She had with the winds, in that selfsame place;
But her time was come; and at ten o'clock
Last night she struck on that lonesome shore;
And her sides were gnawed by the hidden rock,
And at dawn this morning she was no more."

"Come, as you seem to know, good man,
The terrible fate of this gallant ship,
Tell me about her all that you can;
And here's my flask to moisten your lip.
Tell me how many she had aboard,--
Wives, and husbands, and lovers true,--
How did it fare with her human hoard?
Lost she many, or lost she few?"

"Master, I may not drink of your flask,
Already too moist I feel my lip;
But I'm ready to do what else you ask,
And spin you my yarn about the ship:
'Twas ten o'clock, as I said, last night,
When she struck the breakers, and went ashore;
And scarce had broken the morning's light
Than she sank in twelve feet of water or more.

"But long ere this they knew her doom,
And the captain called all hands to prayer;
And solemnly over the ocean's boom
Their orisons wailed on the troublous air.
And round about the vessel there rose
Tall plumes of spray as white as snow,
Like angels in their ascension clothes,
&nbs;Waiting for those who prayed below.

"So these three hundred people clung
As well as they could to spar and rope;
With a word of prayer upon every tongue,
Nor on any face a glimmer of hope
But there was no blubbering weak and wild,--
Of tearful faces I saw but one,
A rough old salt, who cried like a child,
And not for himself, but the captain's son.

"The captain stood on the quarter-deck,
Firm, but pale, with trumpet in hand;
Sometimes he looked at the breaking wreck,
Sometimes he sadly looked to land.
And often he smiled to cheer the crew--
But, Lord! the smile was terribly grim--
Till over the quarter a huge sea flew;
And that was the last they saw of him.

"I saw one young fellow with his bride,
Standing amidships upon the wreck;
His face was white as the boiling tide,
And she was clinging about his neck.
And I saw them try to say good-by,
But neither could hear the other speak;
So they floated away through the sea to die--
Shoulder to shoulder, and cheek to cheek.

"And there was a child, but eight at best,
Who went his way in a sea she shipped;
All the while holding upon his breast
A little pet parrot whose wings were clipped.
And as the boy and the bird went by,
Swinging away on a tall wave's crest,
They were gripped by a man, with a drowning cry,
And together the three went down to rest.

"And so the crew went one by one,
Some with gladness, and few with fear;
Cold and hardship such work had done
That few seemed frightened when death was near.
Thus every soul on board went down,--
Sailor and passenger, little and great;
The last that sank was a man of my town,
A capital swimmer,--the second mate."

"Now, lonely Fisherman, who are you
That say you saw this terrible wreck?
How do I know what you say is true,
When every mortal was swept from the deck?
Where were you in that hour of death?
How did you learn what you relate?"
His answer came in an under-breath,--
"Master, I was the second mate!"

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Fitz James O'Brien