Menella Bute Smedley

The Wives of Brixham

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A TRUE STORY

You see the gentle water,
How silently it floats;
How cautiously, how steadily,
It moves the sleepy boats;
And all the little loops of pearl
It strews along the sand,
Steal out as leisurely as leaves
When summer is at hand.

But you know it can be angry,
And thunder from its rest,
When the stormy taunts of winter
Are flying at its breast;
And if you like to listen,
And draw your chairs around,
I'll tell you what it did one night
When you were sleeping sound.
The merry boats of Brixham
Go out to search the seas;
A staunch and sturdy fleet are they,
Who love a swinging breeze;
And before the woods of Devon,
And the silver cliffs of Wales,
You may see, when summer evenings fall,
The light upon their sails.

But when the year grows darker,
And grey winds hunt the foam,
They go back to Little Brixham,
And ply their toil at home.
And thus it chanced one winter's night,
When a storm began to roar,
That all the men were out at sea,
And all the wives on shore.
Then as the wind grew fiercer,
The women's cheeks grew white,—
It was fiercer in the twilight,
And fiercest in the night;
The strong clouds set themselves like ice
Without a star to melt,
The blackness of the darkness
Was darkness to be felt.

The storm, like an assassin,
Went on its wicked way,
And struck a hundred boats adrift,
To reel about the bay.
They meet, they crash—God keep the men!
God give a moment's light!
There is nothing but the tumult,
And the tempest, and the night.
The men on shore were anxious,—
They dreaded what they knew;
What do you think the women did?
Love taught them what to do!
Outspake a wife, “We've beds at home,
We'll burn them for a light,—
Give us the men and the bare ground!
We want no more to-night.”

They took the grandame's blanket,
Who shiver'd and bade them go;
They took the baby's pillow,
Who could not say them no;
And they heap'd a great fire on the pier;
And knew not all the while
If they were heaping a bonfire,
Or only a funeral pile.
And, fed with precious food, the flame
Shone bravely on the black,
Till a cry rang through the people,
“A boat is coming back!”
Staggering dimly through the fog,
Come shapes of fear and doubt;
But when the first prow strikes the pier,
Cannot you hear them shout?

Then all along the breadth of flame
Dark figures shriek'd and ran,
With, “Child, here comes your father!”
Or, “Wife, is this your man?”
And faint feet touch the welcome stone,
And wait a little while;
And kisses drop from frozen lips,
Too tired to speak or smile.
So, one by one, they struggled in,
All that the sea would spare;
We will not reckon through our tears
The names that were not there;
But some went home without a bed,
When all the tale was told,
Who were too cold with sorrow
To know the night was cold.

And this is what the men must do
Who work in wind and foam;
And this is what the women bear
Who watch for them at home.
So when you see a Brixham boat
Go out to face the gales,
Think of the love that travels
Like light upon her sails!

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Menella Bute Smedley