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Helen Gray Cone (Хелен Грей Коун)

The Story of the “Orient”

  'T was a pleasant Sunday morning while the spring was in its glory,
  English spring of gentle glory; smoking by his cottage door,
  Florid-faced, the man-o'-war's-man told his white-head boy the story,
  Noble story of Aboukir, told a hundred times before.

  "Here, the Theseus—here, the Vanguard;" as he spoke
        each name sonorous,—
  Minotaur, Defence, Majestic, stanch old comrades of the brine,
  That against the ships of Brucys made their broadsides roar
       in chorus,—
  Ranging daisies on his doorstone, deft he mapped the battle-line.

  Mapped the curve of tall three-deckers, deft as might
       a man left-handed,
  Who had given an arm to England later on at Trafalgar.
  While he poured the praise of Nelson to the child with eyes expanded,
  Bright athwart his honest forehead blushed the scarlet cutlass-scar.

  For he served aboard the Vanguard, saw the Admiral blind and bleeding
  Borne below by silent sailors, borne to die as then they deemed.
  Every stout heart sick but stubborn, fought the sea-dogs on unheeding,
  Guns were cleared and manned and cleared, the battle thundered,
        flashed, and screamed.

  Till a cry swelled loud and louder,—towered on fire the
        Orient stately,
  Brucys' flag-ship, she that carried guns a hundred and a score;
  Then came groping up the hatchway he they counted dead but lately,
  Came the little one-armed Admiral to guide the fight once more.

  "'Lower the boats!' was Nelson's order."—
          But the listening boy beside him,
  Who had followed all his motions with an eager wide blue eye,
  Nursed upon the name of Nelson till he half had deified him,
  Here, with childhood's crude consistence, broke the tale
        to question "Why?"

  For by children facts go streaming in a throng that never pauses,
  Noted not, till, of a sudden, thought, a sunbeam, gilds the motes,
  All at once the known words quicken, and the child would deal
        with causes.
  Since to kill the French was righteous, why bade Nelson lower
        the boats?

  Quick the man put by the question. "But the Orient, none
        could save her;
  We could see the ships, the ensigns, clear as daylight by the flare;
  And a many leaped and left her; but, God rest 'em! some were braver;
  Some held by her, firing steady till she blew to God knows where."

  At the shock, he said, the Vanguard shook through all
        her timbers oaken;
  It was like the shock of Doomsday,—not a tar but shuddered hard.
  All was hushed for one strange moment; then that awful calm was broken
  By the heavy plash that answered the descent of mast and yard.

  So, her cannon still defying, and her colors flaming, flying,
  In her pit her wounded helpless, on her deck her Admiral dead,
  Soared the Orient into darkness with her living and her dying:
  "Yet our lads made shift to rescue three-score souls," the seaman said.

  Long the boy with knit brows wondered o'er that friending
        of the foeman;
  Long the man with shut lips pondered; powerless he to tell the cause
  Why the brother in his bosom that desired the death of no man,
  In the crash of battle wakened, snapped the bonds of hate like straws.

  While he mused, his toddling maiden drew the daisies to a posy;
  Mild the bells of Sunday morning rang across the church-yard sod;
  And, helped on by tender hands, with sturdy feet all bare and rosy,
  Climbed his babe to mother's breast, as climbs the slow world
        up to God.

Helen Gray Cone's other poems:
  1. King Raedwald
  2. When Willows Green
  3. The Trumpeter
  4. The Arrowmaker
  5. Sere Wisdom

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