The Mate’s Story

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The Mate’s Story
by Arthur Hugh Clough

‘I’ve often wondered how it is, at times
Good people do what are as bad as crimes.
A common person would have been ashamed
To do what once a family far-famed
For their religious ways was known to do.
Small harm befell, small thanks to them were due.
They from abroad, perhaps it cost them less,
Had brought a young French girl as governess,
A pretty, youthful thing as e’er you saw;
She taught the children how to play and draw,
Of course, the language of her native land;
English she scarcely learnt to understand.
After a time they wanted her no more;
She must go home, but how to send her o’er,
Far in the south of France she lived, and they
In Ireland there was more than they could say.
A monthly steamer, as they chanced to know,
From Liverpool went over to Bordeaux,
And would, they thought, exactly meet the case.
They wrote and got a friend to take a place;
And from her salary paid her money down.
A trading steamer from the sea-port town
Near which they lived, across the Channel plied,
And this, they said, a passage would provide.
With pigs, and with the Irish reaping horde,
This pretty tender girl was put on board;
And a rough time of it, no doubt, had she,
Tossing about upon the Irish Sea.
Arrived at last and set ashore, she found
The steamer gone for which she had been bound.
The pious people, in their careless way,
Had made some loose mistake about the day.
She stood; the passengers with whom she crossed
Went off, and she remained as one that ’s lost.
Think of the hapless creature standing here
Alone, beside her boxes on the pier.
Whither to turn, and where to try and go,
She knew not; nay, the language did not know.
So young a girl, so pretty too, set down
Here, in the midst of a great sea-port town,
What might have happened one may sadly guess,
Had not the captain, seeing her distress,
Made out the cause, and told her she could stay
On board the vessel till the following day.
Next day, he said the steamer to Bordeaux
Was gone no doubt, next month the next would go;
For this her passage-money she had paid,
But some arrangement could, he thought, be made,
If only she could manage to afford
To wait a month and pay for bed and board.
She sadly shook her head well, after all,
’Twas a bad town, and mischief might befall,
Would she go back? Indeed ’twas but a shame,
To take her back to those from whom she came.
‘There’s one thing, Miss,’ said he, ‘that you can do,
It’s speaking somewhat sudden-like, it’s true,
But if you’ll marry me, I’ll marry you.
May be you won’t, but if you will you can.’
This captain was a young and decent man,
And I suppose she saw no better way;
Marry they did, and married live this day.
Another friend, these previous nights away,
An officer of engineers, and round
By Halifax to far Bermuda bound,
Joined us this night; a rover he had been.
Many strange sights and many climes had seen,
And much of various life; his comment was, ’twas well
There was no further incident to tell.
He’d been afraid that ere the tale was o’er,
’Twould prove the captain had a wife before.
The poor French girl was luckier than she knew;
Soldiers and sailors had so often two.
And it was something, too, for men who went
From port to port to be with two content.
In every place the marriage rite supplied
A decent spouse to whom you were not tied.
Of course the women would at times suspect,
But felt their reputations were not wrecked.

One after night we took ourselves to task
For our neglect who had forborne to ask
The clergyman, who told his tale so well,.
Another tale for our behalf to tell.
He to a second had himself confessed,
Now, when to hear it eagerly we pressed,
He put us off; but, ere the night was done,
Told us his second, and his sadder one.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.