Littell's Living Age/Volume 158/Issue 2044/Terry Wigan

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Littell's Living Age by Henrik Ibsen
Volume 158, Issue 2044 : Terry Wigan

Terry Wigan[edit]


A strange and grizzled man once dwelt
     On yonder outmost isle;
By land or sea he never dealt
     A human being guile:
But at times came an ugly gleam in his eye,
     When the weather wasn't good,
And then they thought he was mad thereby,
And then few men would dare go nigh
     Where Terry Wigan stood.

I saw him myself a single time, —
     He lay with his fish by the pier:
Though his hair was flecked with a foamy rime,
     Gay was his voice and clear.
With a quip and a jest the girls he cheered,
     With the village lads made fun;
He waved his sou'wester, and off he sheered,
Then up with his stay-sail and home he steered,
     Away in the setting sun.

I'll tell you now of Terry's tale,
     Whatever I have heard;
And if at times 'tis dry and stale,
     There's truth in every word.
I heard the story from those whose place
     Was with him when he died;
Who watched by his bed at his decease,
And closed his eyes to the sleep of peace,
     High up on yon hillside.

In his youth, a wild dare-devil Dick,
     He gave his folk the slip,
And bore with many a monkey trick
     As the youngest lad in the ship.
Then at Amsterdam away he ran,
     For his home-love urged him sore,
And returned in the "Union" — Captain Brann;
But at home there were none that saw in the man
     The little boy of yore.

For he'd grown to be dapper and tall and red,
     And was rigged out tight and trim:
But his father and mother both were dead,
     And all that were dear to him.
He mourned for a day — ay, maybe two,
     Then rose from sorrow free;
With earth at his feet no rest he knew;
It was better, he said, to have to do
     With the broad and boisterous sea.

In a year from then was Terry wed, —
     It came about in haste,
And he rather repented a step, folk said,
     That kept him firmly placed.
So beneath his roof in idle play
     The winter slowly sped,
Though the windows shone like the brightest day,
With their curtains small and their flower-pots gay
     In the little cottage red.

When fair winds broke the ice-lumps through,
     With the brig was Terry gone:
When the gray goose in autumn southwards flew,
     He met it half-way flown.
Then a gloom like the shade of the coming night
     Clouded the sailor's brow;
He came from the land of the sunshine bright,
Astern lay the world with its life and light,
     And winter before the bow.

They anchored, and his mates betook
     Themselves to their carouse;
He gave them just one longing look,
     As he stood by his quiet house.
In at the lattice he peeped. Not one,
     But two in the room were they;
His wife sat still and linen spun,
While in the cradle, full of fun,
     A rosy lassie lay.

By that one glance was he inspired
     With a resolution deep:
He toiled and moiled, and was never tired
     Of rocking his child to sleep.
Of a Sunday night, when the dances gay
     Were heard from the homesteads there,
He'd sing his merriest songs and play,
While in his lap little Anna lay
     With her hands in his auburn hair.

So the weeks went by till the war broke out
     In eighteen hundred and nine:
The troubles still are talked about
     That then made the people pine.
Every port was blocked by English crews,
     Inland there was famine sore;
The poor had to starve and the rich to lose,
And two strong arms were of little use
     With plague and death at the door.

Terry mourned for a day or two,
     Then rose from sorrow free;
He thought of a friend that was old and true,
     The broad and boisterous sea.
There's a western rhyme that still gives life
     To his deed as thing of note: —
"When the winds were loud with storm and strife,
Terry Wigan rowed for his child and wife,
     Over seas in an open boat."

His smallest skiff was chosen out,
     To Skagen he must go: -
Mast and sail he did without,
     For he thought it safer so.
He knew the boat could bear him far,
     Howe'er the sea might chop;
The Jutland-reef was a ticklish bar,
But a worse was the English man-o'-war
     With a watch on the mizen-top.

So he seized the oars and gave his fate
     Over to Fortune's care,
And, safe at Fladstrand, did but wait
     To ship his cargo there.
Not much of a freight, Lord knows, he drives,
     Three kegs with oats high piled;
But he came from a country where poverty thrives,
And aboard of his boat he'd the savin' o' lives,
     And it was for his wife and child.

Three nights and days to the thwarts bound close,
     Strongly and brave he rowed:
When next the morning sun arose,
     A misty line it showed.
It was no cloud that met his view,
     But land before him lay;
The Imenaes Saddle, broad and blue,
Stood out, the peaks and ridges through,
     And then he knew his way.

He was near his home, and he had just
     To bear a short delay;
His heart swelled high in faith and trust,
     He was near about to pray.
'Twas as if the words had stopped frostbound —
     He gazed, and in his track,
Through the fading fog that upward wound,
He saw a corvette in Hesnaes Sound
     That pitched as she lay aback.

The skiff was seen, the signal passed,
     That way was blocked outright;
But the west wind veered, and Terry steered
     Towards the west his flight.
Then they lowered the yawl — as the ropes uncoiled,
     He could hear the sailors shout:
With his feet on the frame of the boat he toiled
At the oars, till the water foamed and boiled,
     And the blood from his nails oozed out.

Gaesling's the name of a sunken shoal
     To the east of Homburg Sound:
There's an ugly surf and the breakers roll,
     And two foot down you're aground.
There are white spurts there and a yellow slough,
     Though the sea hasn't even rippled;
But, although the swell be never so rough,
Inside it is calm and smooth enough,
     For the force of the current's crippled.

There Terry Wigan's skiff shot through
     Over the foam and sands:
But in his wake behind him flew
     The yawl and fifteen hands.
It was then that he cried through the breakers' roar
     To God in his bitter dread: —
"On yonder famine-stricken shore
Sits my starving wife at my cottage door,
     And waits with her child for bread."

But the fifteen shouted louder then,
     'Twas the same as at Lyngor —
The luck is ever with Englishmen
     When they plunder Norway's shore.
When Terry touched on the sunk reef's top,
     The yawl too scraped the cliff:
From the stern the officer sang out, "Stop!"
Then he heaved up an oar, and he let it drop,
     And he thrust it through the skiff.

The thrust made a burst of frame and plank,
     The sea rushed in at the chink;
In the two foot o' water his cargo sank,
     But his spirit didn't sink.
He fought himself free from the armèd men,
     Their threats deterred him not:
He ducked and swam, and he ducked again;
But the yawl pushed off, and there flashed out then
     Cutlass and musket-shot.

They fished him up and aboard the craft,
     The sailors gave three cheers;
The commander stood on the poop abaft,
     A boy of eighteen years.
Terry's boat was the first prize e'er he made,
     So he struts with a proud stiff neck:
But Terry's mind was now dismayed,
The strong man lay and wept and prayed
     On his knees on the vessel's deck.

He bought with tears and they sold him smiles,
     They paid him scorn for prayer:
An east wind rose, and from out the isles
     Seaward the victors fare.
'Twas done: not a word had he to say, —
     He would bear his sorrow now;
But his captors — it was strange, thought they,
How a something stormy passed away
     From the vault of his cloudy brow.

In prison for many a year he lay, —
     Full five long years, say some;
His back was bowed, and his hair grown grey,
     With dreaming of his home.
He would think in silence, and never cease,
     Of a joy his heart waxed big at:
Then 1814 came with peace,
And the captives Norse on their release
     Sailed home in a Swedish frigate.

He stood on the pier by his home anew,
     Made a pilot since the war;
But the grizzled man was known to few
     As the sailor lad of yore.
His house was a stranger's — God him save
     From the fate his darlings found!
"When the husband left," was the tale they gave,
"They starved, and got a common grave
     From the parish in pauper's ground."

The years went by, and the pilot dwelt
     On yonder outmost isle;
By land or sea he never dealt
     A human being guile:
But at times came an ugly gleam in his eye,
     When storms by the reef were brewed,
And then they thought he was mad thereby,
And then few men would dare go nigh
     Where Terry Wigan stood.

The pilots were roused one moonlight night,
     When the breeze was landward borne;
An English yacht beat into sight
     With mainsail and foresail torn:
From her foremast top the red flag spoke
     Her need without a word;
And a small boat tacked where the breakers broke, —
It fought through the storm-waves stroke by stroke,
     And the pilot stood aboard.

He seemed so safe, the grizzled man,
     And he gripped the tiller so
That the yacht lunged forth, and seaward ran,
     With the skiff behind in tow.
A peer with his child and his dame demure
     Came aft, as pale as a ghost:
"I'll make you rich as you now are poor,
If you bear us safe from the waves and sure!"
     But the pilot left his post.

He paled at the mouth, and a smile he found
     Like a smile of power long sought.
Over they bore, and high aground
     Stood the Englishman's splendid yacht.
"Take to the boats! In the breakers wild
     The yacht will splintered be.
My wake will guide to a haven mild:
My lord and my lady and the little child
     Shall come in the skiff with me."

The wild fire flamed where the skiff flew along
     Toward land with its cargo rare;
Aft stood the pilot, tall and strong,
     His eye had an eerie glare.
Leeward he looked at the Gaesling's top,
     And windward at Hesnaes cliff;
Then he left the helm, and he sang out, "Stop!"
Then he heaved up an oar, andhe let it drop,
     And he thrust it through the skiff.

In swept the sea, the foam dashed by,
     On the wreck there raged a fight;
But the mother lifted her daughter high,
     Her terror turned her white.
"Anna, my child! my child!" cried she:
     Then quivered the grizzled man;
He gripped the sheet, set the helm to lee,
And the boat was 'most like a bird to see,
     As through surf and foam it ran.

It struck, they sank; but beyond the flood
     All quiet was the sea:
A ridge lay hid, and there they stood
     In water to the knee.
"The ground gives way!" the peer cried out, —
     "It is no rocky prow!"
But the pilot smiled: "Nay, tremble not;
Three kegs of oats and a sunken boat
     Are the ground we stand on now."

A light of the past that long had slept
     Gleamed out at Memory's beck,
And the peer knew the man that had lain and wept
     On his knees on the vessel's deck.
Then Terry: "All that was dear to me
     You crushed without remorse;
Now shall the retribution be —"
Then the English noble bowed the knee
     Before the pilot Norse.

But Terry leant on the shaft of an oar,
     Erect as in the past;
His eye had a gleam of boundless power,
     His hair streamed on the blast.
"You sailed at your ease in your big corvette,
     My little skiff I steered;
I toiled for my own till my strength was let,
You took their bread, and without regret
     My bitter weeping jeered.

"Your rich lady is fair and grand,
     Her hand is silky fine:
Coarse and hard was my wife's hand,
     And yet that hand was mine.
Your child has blue eyes and golden hair,
     Like a little child o' God:
My lass didn't look much anywhere;
God better it, she was pale and spare,
     Like the child of a common clod.

"Well, these were my kingdom on the earth,
     They were all the good I knew;
I thought them a treasure of mighty worth,
     But they weren't much to you.
But now is the time of reckoning nigh,
     And you with an hour shall cope
That'll well make up for the years gone by
That have bowed my back and dimmed my eye,
     And ruined all my hope."

He raised the child in his powerful grip,
     His arm round the lady coiled:
"Stand back, my lord! A single step
     Will cost you wife and child!"
Then up the Briton leapt in scorn,
     But was far too weak to fight;
His breath was hot and his eyes were worn,
And his hair, as they saw by the light of the morn,
     Turned grey that single night.

But Terry's brow has lost its frown,
     Freely his breast expands;
He sets the child full gently down,
     And tenderly kisses its hands.
He breathes as freed from a prison's pains,
     His voice is calm and still:
"Terry Wigan his better self regains;
Till now the blood was dammed in my veins,
     Revenge was in my will.

"The long, long years of a prison's woes
     Had wrought my heart amiss:
Since then I have been as a pine that grows
     Looking into a wild abyss.
But that is past: our debt is scored,
     And I am not to blame.
I gave what I could — you took my hoard, —
If you think you're wronged, appeal to the Lord
     Who made me what I am."

All were at daybreak saved. The yacht
     Safe to the haven came:
Though the tale of the night they whispered not,
     Yet wide went Terry's fame.
His dreams like storm-clouds swept away,
     Nor left the smallest speck,
And the head arose erect and gay
That was bowed yon day he wept as he lay
     On his knees on the vessel's deck.

The peer was come, and his lady as well,
     And many more were come
To bid good-bye, and their God-speeds tell,
     As they stood in his little home.
They thanked him that saved from the stormy press
     Of reef and breaker wild:
But Terry said, with a kind caress,
"Nay, the one that saved in the worst distress
     Was none but this little child."

When the yacht was bearing off Hesnaes Sound,
     They hoisted the Norse ensign;
A little to the west there's a foam-hid ground,
     Where they fired a salvo fine.
A tear in Terry's eye then shone,
     As out from the cliff he gazed:
"Much have I lost, but much have I won;
It was best, maybe, that it should be done,
     And so may God be praised!"

     It was thus that I saw him a single time, —
He lay with his fish by the pier:
Though his hair was flecked with a foamy rime,
      Gay was his voice and clear.
With a quip and a jest the girls he cheered,
      With the village lads made fun;
He waved his sou'wester, and off he sheered,
Then up with his stay-sail and home he steered,
      Away in the setting sun.

                         ________

I saw a grave by Faroe Church
     On a plot of grass and moss:
It wasn't tended, and sank with a lurch;
     But it had its blackened cross.
There "Thaerie Wiighen" stood in white
     With day and month and year:
He lay where the sun and the storm could light,
And that's why the grass was so coarse and tight,
     With a bluebell there and here.