Menella Bute Smedley

Jack and Ned

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When the ship is but a speck
To the landsman's feeble eye,
Sailors, lying on the deck,
Feel at home with sea and sky:
When the land's no longer seen
Light of heart the sailor is;
Nothing sea and sky between
But that gallant ship of his!

Pretty Jack, with curly hair,
Sunny eye and saucy lip,
Heart to love and soul to dare,
Is the darling of the ship!
Mother's pet at mother's knee
Only yesterday, it seems—
Now a sailor-boy is he,
Mother sees him but in dreams!
Such a dashing little rogue!
Such a loving little coax!
With a tiny touch of brogue
To enhance his funny jokes;
With his childhood's innocence,
And the colour of the skies
And a charming impudence
Lighting his audacious eyes!

Jack is ailing—all deplore!
Jack is ill—and joy has fled;
Jack is dying—ah, no more!
Yes, alas! for—Jack is dead!
Grey old heads hang down in grief,
O'er rough cheeks tears trickle fast;
Strapping oaths give no relief—
So they turn to prayer at last.
Then an aged seaman said,
“Let me die instead of him;
Take a worn-out craft instead
Of a wherry tight and trim:
All my spars are getting loose—
Ropes and rigging are not taut;
Ned is useless, Jack's of use—
Give the thing a moment's thought!”

Is Jack only in a faint
That his blue eyes open wide
At this rough-and-ready saint
Who, to save him, would have died?
In amazement all start back;
How they look and listen too—
“Ned, don't die,” says little Jack;
“Who'll masthead me, if you do?”
So both lived to play their parts;
Death retreated from them far:
Sailors have such tender hearts
And such simple creatures are!
And I doubt, when all is said,
Which shows best in white and black,
An old sailor like our Ned
Or a sailor-boy like Jack!

In a cottage that I know
Both are welcome as the sun;
One, because it must be so—
T'other for the sake of one:
In the mother's heart and home
Ned may to the best aspire—
I have often seen him come
To his corner by the fire.
If you ask the truth of Jack—
Did he faint, or was he dead?
Was his little soul brought back
By the earnest prayer of Ned?
What can tell us?—who can say?
Answer none this earth may give:
We but know that Ned did pray—
We but know that Jack did live!

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Menella Bute Smedley