Page images
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

THERE was an old and quiet man,

And by the fire sate he ; And now,” he said, “ to you I'll tell A dismal thing, which once befel

In a ship upon the sea. “ 'Tis five-and-fifty years gone by,

Since, from the river Plate, A young man, in a home-bound ship, I sailed as second mate.

“ She was a trim, stout-timbered ship,

And built for stormy seas, A lovely thing on the wave was she, With her canvass set so gallantly Before a steady breeze.

“ For forty days, like a winged thing,

She went before the gale,
Nor all that time we slackened speed,

Turn'd helm, or alter'd sail.

“ She was a laden argosy

Of wealth from the Spanish main, And the treasure hoards of a Portuguese.

Returning home again.

“ An old and silent man was he,

And his face was yellow and lean ; In the golden lands of Mexico

A miner he had been.

“ His body was wasted, bent, and bowed

And amid his gold he lay; Amid iron chests that were bound with brass

And he watched them night and day.

“ No word he spoke to any on board,

And his step was heavy and slow; And all men deemed that an evil life

He had led in Mexico.

“ But list ye me-on the lone high seas,

As the ship went smoothly on,
It chanced, in the silent, second watch,

I sate on the deck alone;
And I heard, from among those iron chests,

A sound like a dying groan.

“ I started to my feet, and, lo!

The captain stood by me;
And he bore a body in his arms,

And dropped it in the sea.

“ I heard it drop into the sea,

With a heavy, splashing sound,
And I saw the captain's bloody hands

As he quickly turned him round;
And he drew in his breath when me he saw
Like one convulsed, whom the withering awe

“ But I saw his white and palsied lips,

And the stare of his ghastly eye, When he turned in hurried haste away,

Yet he had no power to fly; He was chained to the deck with his heavy guilt,

And the blood that was not dry.

« « 'Twas a cursed thing,' said I, - to kill

That old man in his sleep! And the plagues of the storm will come from him,

Ten thousand fathoms deep!

" And the plagues of the storm will follow us,

For Heaven his groans hath heard ! Still the captain's eye was fixed on me,

But he answer'd never a word.

“ And he slowly lifted his bloody hand,

His aching eyes to shade; But the blood that was wet did freeze his soul,

And he shrinked like one afraid.

“ And even then—that very hour

The wind dropped, and a spell Was on the ship,—was on the sea ; And we lay for weeks, how wearily,

Where the old man's body fell.

“ I told no one within the ship

That horrid deed of sin ;
For I saw the hand of God at work,

And punishment begin.

“ And when they spoke of the murdered man,

And the El Dorado hoard,
They all surmised he had walked in dreams,

And had fallen overboard.

“ But I, alone, and the murderer,

That dreadful thing did know,
How he lay in his sin—a murdered man,

A thousand fathom low.

" And many days, and many more

Came on, and lagging sped ;
And the heavy waves of that sleeping sea

Were dark, like molten lead.

“ And not a breeze came, east or west,

And burning was the sky;
And stifling was each breath we drew

Of the air so hot and dry.

" Oh me! there was a smell of death

Hung round us night and day;
And I dared not look in the sea below

Where the old man's body lay.

" In his cabin, alone, the captain kept,

And he bolted fast the door;
And up and down the sailors walked,

And wish'd that the calm was o'er.

“ The captain's son was on board with us,

A fair child, seven years old,
With a merry look, that all men loved,

And a spirit kind and bold.

“ I loved the child,—and I took his hand,

And made him kneel, and pray That the crime, for which the calm was sent,

Might be purged clean away.

“ For I thought that God would hear his prayer,

And set the vessel free;
For a dreadful thing it was to lie

Upon that charnel sea.

“ Yet I told him not wherefore he prayed,

Nor why the calm was sent ;
I would not give that knowledge dark

To a soul so innocent.

" At length I saw a little cloud

Arise in that sky of flame ;
A little cloud, but it grew, and grew,

And we saw the sea beneath its track

Grow dark as the frowning sky;
And water-spouts, with a rushing sound,

Like giants, passed us by.

“ And all around, 'twixt sky and sea,

A hollow wind did blow; And the waves were heaved from the ocean depths,

And the ship rocked to and fro.

“ I knew it was that fierce death calm

Its horrid hold undoing;
And I saw the plagues of wind and storm

Their missioned work pursuing.

“ There was a yell in the gathering winds,

A groan in the heaving sea;
And the captain rushed from the hold below,

But he durst not look on me.

“ He seized each rope with a madman's haste,

And he set the helm to go; And every sail he crowded on

As the furious winds did blow.

“ And away they went, like autumn leaves

Before the tempest's rout;
And the naked masts with a crash came down,

And the wild ship tossed about.

“ The men to spars and splintered boards

Clung, till their strength was gone; And I saw them from their feeble hold

Washed over, one by one.
“ And ʼmid the creaking timber's din,

And the roaring of the sea,
I heard the dismal, drowning cries,

Of their last agony.

“ There was a curse in the wind that blew,

A curse in the boiling wave;
And the captain knew that vengeance came

From the old man's ocean grave.

« PreviousContinue »