Menella Bute Smedley

The Little Schooner

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They built a little ship,
By the rough sea-side;
They laid her keel in hope,
And they launched it in pride.
Five-and-twenty working men,
All day and half night,
Were hammering and clamouring
To make her all right.

Lightly was she rigged,
And strongly was she sparred;
She had bowlines and buntlines,
Topping-lift and yard;
They swung round her boom,
When the wind blew piff-paff;
For she was a little schooner,
And she sailed with a gaff.
The men who were making her
Talk'd of her at home—
“A smarter little creature
Shall never breast the foam;
She is not built for battle
Nor for any dark deed,
But for safety and money,
And comfort and speed.”

She made two trips
In the smooth summer days;
Back she came merrily,
All sang her praise.
Once she brought figs
From a land of good heat;
Once she brought Memel wood,
Strong, hard, and sweet.
She made three trips
When winter gales were strong;
Back she came gallantly,
Not a spar wrong;
She could scud before the wind
With just a sail set,
Or beat up and go about
With not a foot wet.

It was in September
That she went out anew,
As fresh as a little daisy
Brimful of morning dew,
Brush'd, painted, holystoned,
Tarred, trimmed, and laced,
Like a beauty in a ball-dress
With a sash round her waist.
She went out of harbour
With a light breeze and fair,
And every shred of canvas spread
Upon the soft blue air;
But when she pass'd the Needles
It was blowing half a gale,
And she took in a double reef,
And haul'd down half her sail.

Just as the sun was sinking,
A cloud sprang from the east,
Like an angry whiff of darkness
Before the daylight ceased;
It went rushing up the sky,
And a black wind rush'd below,
And struck the little schooner
As a man strikes his foe.
She fought like a hero—
Alas! how could she fight,
In the clutch of the hurling demons
Who roar in the seas by night?
White stars, wild stars,
With driving clouds before,
You saw her driven like a cloud
Upon a cruel lee-shore!

There were ten souls on board of her
The crew, I ween, were eight,
And the ninth was a woman,
And she was the skipper's mate;
The ninth was a woman,
With a prayer upon her lip;
And the tenth was a little cabin-boy,
And this was his first trip.
As they drove upon the rocks,
Before they settled down,
They could see the happy windows
Along a shining town;
The flicker of the firelight
Came through the swirls of foam,
And they cried to one another,
“Oh! thus it looks at home!”

By those bright hearths they guess'd not,
Closing their peaceful day,
How ten poor souls were drowning
Not half a mile away;
But there were some hardy fellows
Keeping a bright look-out,
Who had manned the life-boat long ago,
And launch'd her with a shout.
Out in the darkness, clinging
To broken mast and rope,
The ten were searching sea and sky
With eyes that had no hope;
And the moon made awful ridges
Of black against the clear,
And the life-boat over the ridges
Came leaping like a deer!

Up spoke the life-boat coxwain
When they came near the wreck,
“Who casts his life in this fierce sea
To carry a rope on deck?”
The men were all so willing
That they chose the first who spoke,
And he plunged into the breathless pause
Before a huge wave broke.
And the wave sprang like a panther
And caught him by the neck,
And toss'd him, as you toss a ball,
Upon the shuddering wreck;
Faint eager hands upheld him
Till he had got his breath,
And could make fast the blessed rope—
A bridge to life from death.

There's many a precious cargo
Comes safe to British sands,
There's many a gallant fighting-man
About our British lands;
But I think our truest heroes
Are men with names unknown,
Who save a priceless freight of lives,
And never heed their own.
Now bear those weary wanderers
From the dark shores below,
And warm them at the hearths whose light
They watch'd an hour ago;
And call the fishers and sailors
Gravely to see, and say,
“Our turn may come to-morrow,
As theirs has come to-day.”

Among the fishers and sailors
There came a sunburnt man,
And he stared at the little cabin-boy
Lying so white and wan;
Lying so white and speechless,
They thought his days were done:
And the sailor stared, and wrung his hands,
And cried, “It is my son!
“Oh! I was bound for Plymouth,
And he for the coast of Spain,
But little I thought when we set sail
How we should meet again;
And who will tell his mother
How he is come ashore?
For though I loved him very much,
I know she loved him more!

“I'll kiss his lips full gently
Before they are quite cold,
And she shall take that kiss from mine
Ere this moon waxes old.”
“Father!” the pale lips murmur,
“Is mother with you here?”
The answer to these welcome words
Was a sob and then a cheer!
The captain spoke at midnight,
When he saw the tossing sky,
“Alas! a woeful night is this,
And a woeful man am I.
Glad am I for my wife,” he said,
“And glad for my true men;
But alas for my little schooner,
She'll never sail agen!”

Now all you life-boat heroes
Who reckon your lives so cheap,
You banish tears from other homes—
Make not your own to weep!
You cannot die like lions,
For all you are so strong;
While you are saving other lives,
God keep your own from wrong!

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Menella Bute Smedley