The Bumboat Woman's Story
I'm old, my dears, and shrivelled with age, and work, and grief,
My eyes are gone, and my teeth have been drawn by Time, the Thief!
For terrible sights I've seen, and dangers great I've run -
I'm nearly seventy now, and my work is almost done!
Ah! I've been young in my time, and I've played the deuce with men!
I'm speaking of ten years past - I was barely sixty then:
My cheeks were mellow and soft, and my eyes were large and sweet,
POLL PINEAPPLE'S eyes were the standing toast of the Royal Fleet!
A bumboat woman was I, and I faithfully served the ships
With apples and cakes, and fowls, and beer, and halfpenny dips,
And beef for the generous mess, where the officers dine at nights,
And fine fresh peppermint drops for the rollicking midshipmites.
Of all the kind commanders who anchored in Portsmouth Bay,
By far the sweetest of all was kind LIEUTENANT BELAYE.'
LIEUTENANT BELAYE commanded the gunboat HOT CROSS BUN,
She was seven and thirty feet in length, and she carried a gun.
With a laudable view of enhancing his country's naval pride,
When people inquired her size, LIEUTENANT BELAYE replied,
"Oh, my ship, my ship is the first of the Hundred and Seventy-ones!"
Which meant her tonnage, but people imagined it meant her guns.
Whenever I went on board he would beckon me down below,
"Come down, Little Buttercup, come" (for he loved to call me so),
And he'd tell of the fights at sea in which he'd taken a part,
And so LIEUTENANT BELAYE won poor POLL PINEAPPLE'S heart!
But at length his orders came, and he said one day, said he,
"I'm ordered to sail with the HOT CROSS BUN to the German Sea."
And the Portsmouth maidens wept when they learnt the evil day,
For every Portsmouth maid loved good LIEUTENANT BELAYE.
And I went to a back back street, with plenty of cheap cheap shops,
And I bought an oilskin hat and a second-hand suit of slops,
And I went to LIEUTENANT BELAYE (and he never suspected ME!)
And I entered myself as a chap as wanted to go to sea.
We sailed that afternoon at the mystic hour of one, -
Remarkably nice young men were the crew of the HOT CROSS BUN,
I'm sorry to say that I've heard that sailors sometimes swear,
But I never yet heard a BUN say anything wrong, I declare.
When Jack Tars meet, they meet with a "Messmate, ho! What cheer?"
But here, on the HOT CROSS BUN, it was "How do you do, my dear?"
When Jack Tars growl, I believe they growl with a big big D-
But the strongest oath of the HOT CROSS BUNS was a mild "Dear me!"
Yet, though they were all well-bred, you could scarcely call them slick:
Whenever a sea was on, they were all extremely sick;
And whenever the weather was calm, and the wind was light and fair,
They spent more time than a sailor should on his back back hair.
They certainly shivered and shook when ordered aloft to run,
And they screamed when LIEUTENANT BELAYE discharged his only gun.
And as he was proud of his gun - such pride is hardly wrong -
The Lieutenant was blazing away at intervals all day long.
They all agreed very well, though at times you heard it said
That BILL had a way of his own of making his lips look red -
That JOE looked quite his age - or somebody might declare
That BARNACLE'S long pig-tail was never his own own hair.
BELAYE would admit that his men were of no great use to him,
"But, then," he would say, "there is little to do on a gunboat trim
I can hand, and reef, and steer, and fire my big gun too -
And it IS such a treat to sail with a gentle well-bred crew."
I saw him every day. How the happy moments sped!
Reef topsails! Make all taut! There's dirty weather ahead!
(I do not mean that tempests threatened the HOT CROSS BUN:
In THAT case, I don't know whatever we SHOULD have done!)
After a fortnight's cruise, we put into port one day,
And off on leave for a week went kind LIEUTENANT BELAYE,
And after a long long week had passed (and it seemed like a life),
LIEUTENANT BELAYE returned to his ship with a fair young wife!
He up, and he says, says he, "O crew of the HOT CROSS BUN,
Here is the wife of my heart, for the Church has made us one!"
And as he uttered the word, the crew went out of their wits,
And all fell down in so many separate fainting-fits.
And then their hair came down, or off, as the case might be,
And lo! the rest of the crew were simple girls, like me,
Who all had fled from their homes in a sailor's blue array,
To follow the shifting fate of kind LIEUTENANT BELAYE.
It's strange to think that I should ever have loved young men,
But I'm speaking of ten years past - I was barely sixty then,
And now my cheeks are furrowed with grief and age, I trow!
And poor POLL PINEAPPLE'S eyes have lost their lustre now!
The BALLYSHANNON foundered off the coast of Cariboo,
And down in fathoms many went the captain and the crew;
Down went the owners - greedy men whom hope of gain allured:
Oh, dry the starting tear, for they were heavily insured.
Besides the captain and the mate, the owners and the crew,
The passengers were also drowned excepting only two:
Young PETER GRAY, who tasted teas for BAKER, CROOP, AND CO.,
And SOMERS, who from Eastern shores imported indigo.
These passengers, by reason of their clinging to a mast,
Upon a desert island were eventually cast.
They hunted for their meals, as ALEXANDER SELKIRK used,
But they couldn't chat together - they had not been introduced.
For PETER GRAY, and SOMERS too, though certainly in trade,
Were properly particular about the friends they made;
And somehow thus they settled it without a word of mouth -
That GRAY should take the northern half, while SOMERS took the south.
On PETER'S portion oysters grew - a delicacy rare,
But oysters were a delicacy PETER couldn't bear.
On SOMERS' side was turtle, on the shingle lying thick,
Which SOMERS couldn't eat, because it always made him sick.
GRAY gnashed his teeth with envy as he saw a mighty store
Of turtle unmolested on his fellow-creature's shore.
The oysters at his feet aside impatiently he shoved,
For turtle and his mother were the only things he loved.
And SOMERS sighed in sorrow as he settled in the south,
For the thought of PETER'S oysters brought the water to his mouth.
He longed to lay him down upon the shelly bed, and stuff:
He had often eaten oysters, but had never had enough.
How they wished an introduction to each other they had had
When on board the BALLYSHANNON! And it drove them nearly mad
To think how very friendly with each other they might get,
If it wasn't for the arbitrary rule of etiquette!
One day, when out a-hunting for the MUS RIDICULUS,
GRAY overheard his fellow-man soliloquizing thus:
"I wonder how the playmates of my youth are getting on,
M'CONNELL, S. B. WALTERS, PADDY BYLES, and ROBINSON?"
These simple words made PETER as delighted as could be,
Old chummies at the Charterhouse were ROBINSON and he!
He walked straight up to SOMERS, then he turned extremely red,
Hesitated, hummed and hawed a bit, then cleared his throat, and said:
I beg your pardon - pray forgive me if I seem too bold,
But you have breathed a name I knew familiarly of old.
You spoke aloud of ROBINSON - I happened to be by.
You know him?" "Yes, extremely well." "Allow me, so do I."
It was enough: they felt they could more pleasantly get on,
For (ah, the magic of the fact!) they each knew ROBINSON!
And Mr. SOMERS' turtle was at PETER'S service quite,
And Mr. SOMERS punished PETER'S oyster-beds all night.
They soon became like brothers from community of wrongs:
They wrote each other little odes and sang each other songs;
They told each other anecdotes disparaging their wives;
On several occasions, too, they saved each other's lives.
They felt quite melancholy when they parted for the night,
And got up in the morning soon as ever it was light;
Each other's pleasant company they reckoned so upon,
And all because it happened that they both knew ROBINSON!
They lived for many years on that inhospitable shore,
And day by day they learned to love each other more and more.
At last, to their astonishment, on getting up one day,
They saw a frigate anchored in the offing of the bay.
To PETER an idea occurred. "Suppose we cross the main?
So good an opportunity may not be found again."
And SOMERS thought a minute, then ejaculated, "Done!
I wonder how my business in the City's getting on?"
"But stay," said Mr. PETER: "when in England, as you know,
I earned a living tasting teas for BAKER, CROOP, AND CO.,
I may be superseded - my employers think me dead!"
"Then come with me," said SOMERS, "and taste indigo instead."
But all their plans were scattered in a moment when they found
The vessel was a convict ship from Portland, outward bound;
When a boat came off to fetch them, though they felt it very kind,
To go on board they firmly but respectfully declined.
As both the happy settlers roared with laughter at the joke,
They recognized a gentlemanly fellow pulling stroke:
'Twas ROBINSON - a convict, in an unbecoming frock!
Condemned to seven years for misappropriating stock!!!
They laughed no more, for SOMERS thought he had been rather rash
In knowing one whose friend had misappropriated cash;
And PETER thought a foolish tack he must have gone upon
In making the acquaintance of a friend of ROBINSON.
At first they didn't quarrel very openly, I've heard;
They nodded when they met, and now and then exchanged a word:
The word grew rare, and rarer still the nodding of the head,
And when they meet each other now, they cut each other dead.
To allocate the island they agreed by word of mouth,
And PETER takes the north again, and SOMERS takes the south;
And PETER has the oysters, which he hates, in layers thick,
And SOMERS has the turtle - turtle always makes him sick.