At Dawn and Dusk

The Cruise of the “In Memoriam”

Victor James Daley

THE WAN light of a stormy dawn
    Gleamed on a tossing ship:
It was the In Memoriam
    Upon a mourning trip.

Wild waves were on the windward bow,
    And breakers on the lee;
And through her sides the women heard
    The seething of the sea.

“O Captain!” cried a widow fair,
    Her plump white hands clasped she,
“Thinkst thou, if drowned in this dread storm,
    That savèd we shall be?”

“You speak in riddles, lady dear,
    How savèd can we be
If we are drowned?” “Alas, I mean
    In Paradise!” said she.

“O I’ve sailed North, and I’ve sailed South”
    (He was a godless wight),
“But boy or man, since my days began,
    That shore I ne’er did sight!”

The Captain told the First Mate bold
    What that fair lady said;
The First Mate sneered in his black beard—
    His eyes burned in his head.

“Full forty souls are here aboard,
    A-sailing on the wave—
Without the crew, and, ’twixt us two,
    I think they’ve none to save—

“Full forty souls, and each one is
    A mourner, as you know.
They weep the scuppers full; the ship
    Is waterlogged with woe.”

Again he sneered in his black beard:
    “The cruise is not so brief,
But, ere we land on earthly strand,
    All will have found relief.”

“Nay, nay,” the Captain said, “First Mate,
    You have forgotten one
With eyes of blue; the tears are true
    From those dear eyes that run!

“She mourns her sweetheart drowned last year,
    A seaman he, forsooth!
I would not drown for Christ his crown
    If she were mine, Fair Ruth!”

“Brave words! but words,” the First Mate cried,
    “Are wind! Behold in me
The warmest lover and the last!
    Mine shall the maiden be.”

.     .     .     .     .

Fair Ruth stood by the taffrail high,
    A cross dropped in the sea,
If you lie here, my sweetheart dear,
    By this remember me!”

Fair Ruth stood by the taffrail high,
    A ring dropped in the sea:
“Marry him not, ye false mermaids,
    Married he’s now to me!”

The heavens flashed flame; a black cloud came,
    Its wings the sky did span,
And hovered above the fated ship
    Like death o’er a dying man.

Bended the spars and shrieked the shrouds,
    The sails flew from the mast,
And, like a soul by fiends pursued,
    The ship fled through the blast.

“More sail! more sail!” the First Mate cried
    (The Captain stood aghast),
“More sail! more sail!” and he laughed in scorn,
    All by the mizen mast.

“O brethren dear, there’s nought to fear,
    The steward told me so!”
’Twas the parson meek who thus did speak,
    Just come up from below:

“And were there,” he said, with upraised head,
    And hands clasped piously,
“I have a sainted spouse in Heaven—
    I trow she waits for me.”

Then grimly laughed the false First Mate
    “Good parson, let her be!
I’ve a wife in every port but that
    And that we shall not see.”

“Oh, pardon seek!” cried the parson meek,
    “And pray, if pray you can,
For much I fear, by your scornful sneer,
    That you are a sinful man.”

Then louder laughed the false First Mate,
    Louder and louder still,
And the wicked crew laughed loudly too,
    As wicked seamen will.

“O Captain!” whispered a gentle dame,
    “When shall we see the land?”
The Captain answered never a word,
    But clasped her by the hand.

.     .     .     .     .

Day after day, night after night,
    On, on the ship did reel:
The Captain drank with the second mate,
    The First Mate held the wheel.

Down came a black cloud on the ship,
    And wrapped her like a pall,
And horror of awful darkness fell
    Upon them one and all.

The night had swallowed them utterly,
    None could his fellow see,
But ghostly voices up and down
    Went whispering fearsomely.

No faint ray shone from moon or sun,
    The light of Heaven was gone,
But ever the First Mate held the wheel,
    And ever the ship rushed on.

.     .     .     .     .

Fair Ruth knelt down in that grim gloom,
    She prayed beneath her breath:
“God carry me o’er this dread sea
    That seems the Sea of Death!”

She ceased—and lo! a lurid glow
    O’er that dark water spread,
And in the blackness burned, afar,
    A line of bloody red.

“What lights are yon?” the Captain said.
    The First Mate answered then:
“No lights that ever shone upon
    The world of living men.”

“Down on your knees!” the parson cried;
    “Thank God, for all is well!”
The First Mate laughed: “Those lights, they are
    The harbour lights of Hell.”

On flew the ship; to every lip
    An ashen pallor came,
For all might see that suddenly
    The sea had turned to flame.

The lights were near; the Sea of Fear,
    Amid the silence dire,
On that dread shore broke evermore
    In soundless foam of fire.

“Oh, what are yon gray ghosts and wan!”
    The parson cried, “who seem
With coloured strings of beads to play,
    As in a dreadful dream?”

“Damned souls;” the First Mate said; “they sit
    And count, through endless years,
The moments of Eternity
    On beads of burning tears.”

Then, “Who are you,” the parson said,
    “That talk so free of Hell?”
“My name is Satan,” he replied,
    “Have I not steered you well?”

“Back—back the yards!” the Captain cried
    Then quoth the false First Mate:
“Like many more who sight this shore,
    You back your yards too late.”

“There are the dear deceased you mourned
    With such exceeding zest;
They call you—whoso freely goes
    E’en yet may save the rest.”

One pale ghost waved the vessel back
    With gestures sad and dumb—
Fair Ruth has plunged into the sea,
    “My love, my love, I come!”

.     .     .     .     .

All in a moment shone the sun,
    Blue gleamed the sky and sea,
The brave old ship upon the waves
    Was dancing merrily.

And merrily to sound of bells
    To her old port full soon
The In Memoriam that went forth
    Returned the Honeymoon.

There o’er their grog sea-captains still
    Her wondrous story tell,
And how her Captain backed his yards
    A biscuit-throw from Hell.

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