The Book of the Native

by Charles G.D. Roberts


 

Whitewaters


 

Beside the wharf at Whitewaters
The loitering ebb with noon confers;
And o’er the amber flats there seems
A sleep to brood of sun and dreams.

The white and clustering cottages,

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Thick shadowed by their windless trees,
Inhabit such a calm, that change
Goes by and lets her face grow strange.

And not far off, on tiptoe seen,
The brown dike and the sky between,

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A shifting field that heaves and slides,—
The blue breast of the Minas tides.

A-through the little harbor go
The currents of the scant Pereau,
Drawn slowly, drawn from springs unseen

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Amid the marsh’s vasts of green.

Up from the wharf at Whitewaters,
Where scarce a slim sandpiper stirs,
A yellow roadway climbs, that feels
Few footsteps and infrequent wheels.

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It climbs to meet the westering sun
Upon the heights of Blomidon,—
Bulwark of peace, whose bastioned form
Out-bars the serried hosts of storm.

Down to the wharf at Whitewaters,

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The children of the villagers
One drowsy, windless hour of noon
Deep in the green mid-heart of June,

Like swallows to a sunset pool
Came chattering, just let loose from school;

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And with them one small lad of four,
Picked up as they flocked past his door.

His sea-blue, merry eyes, his hair
Curling and like the corn-silk fair,
His red, sweet mouth, made Hally Clive

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Comely as any land alive.

His father, master of "The Foam,"
Drave his tight craft afar from home;
His mother—peaceful life was hers
With Hally, safe in Whitewaters.

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And in his sun-brown arms the boy
Carried his last, most cherished toy;
A small white kitten, free from fleck,
With a blue ribbon round its neck.

In the old timbers lapping cool,

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About the wharf the tide hung full;
And at the wharf-side, just afloat,
Swung lazily an old gray boat.

About the froth-white water’s edge,
The weedy planks, the washing sedge,

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And in and out the rocking craft,
The children clambered, splashed, and laughed,

Till presently, grown tired of play,
Up the bright road they raced away;
But in the boat, a drowsy heap,

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Curled boy and kitten, sound asleep.

Warm in the sunny boat they slept.
Soon to its ebb the slow tide crept.
By stealthy fingers, soft as dream,
The boat was lured into the stream.

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Out form the wharf it slipped and swung—
On the old rope one moment hung—
Then snapped its tether and away
For the storm-beaten outer bay.

In Whitewaters, in Whitewaters,

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No watcher heeds, no rescuer stirs.
Out from the port the currents sweep
With Hally, smiling in his sleep.

An hour they drifted, till the boat
From the low shore one scarce might note.

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The kitten climbed the prow, and mewed
Against the watery solitude.

Then Hally woke, and stared with eyes
Grown round and dark with grieved surprise.
Where were the children gone?  And where

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The gray old wharf, the weedy stair?

Bewildered, and but half awake,
He sobbed as if his heart would break;
Then, as his lonely terror grew,
Down in the boat himself he threw,

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And passionately for comfort pressed
The kind white kitten to his breast.
Through the thin plank his hand could feel
The little eddies clutch the keel;

Lost and alone, lost and alone,

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He heard the long wave hiss and moan,
He heard the wild ebb seethe and mourn
Along the outer shoals forlorn.

And now a wind that chafed the flood
Blew down from Noel’s haunted wood;

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And now in the dread tides that run
Past the grim front of Blomidon,

Over the rolling troughs, between
The purple gulfs, the slopes of green,
With sickening glide and sullen rest

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The old boat climbed from crest to crest.That day in his good ship, "The Foam,"
Shipmaster Clive was speeding home;
His heart was light, his eyes elate;
His voyage had been fortunate.
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"If the wind holds," said he, "to-night
We’ll anchor under Kingsport Light;—
I’ll change the fogs of Fundy wild
For Whitewaters and wife and child."

He marked the drifting boat, and laughed,

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"What clumsy lubber’s lost his craft?"
"What’s that that walks the gunwale?" cried
A sailor leaning o’er the side.

The Captain raised his glass.  Said he—
"A kitten! Some one’s pet, maybe!

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We’ll give it passage in ‘The Foam’"—
Soft is the heart that’s bound for home!

"Stop for a kitten?" growled the mate:—
"Look to the sun; we’re getting late!
If we lose this tack we’ll lie to-night

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A long ways off o’ Kingsport Light."

The Captain paused irresolute;—
"To leave the helpless little brute
To the wrecked seaman’s death accurst,
The slow fierce hunger, the mad thirst,—

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"I wish not my worst enemy
Such death as that! Lay to!" said he.
The ship came up into the wind;
The slackening canvas flapped and dinned;

And the ship’s boat with scant delay

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Was swung and lowered and away,—
The Captain at the helm, and four
Stout men of Avon at the oar.

They neared the drifting craft; and when
They bumped against her gunwhale, then

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Hally upraised his tumbled head!
"My God! My boy!" the Captain said.

And now with bellying sails "The Foam"
Up the tossed flood went straining home;
The wind blew fair; she lay that night
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At anchor under Kingsport Light.

And late that night, in gladness deep
Sank father, mother, child, to sleep,—
Where no storm breaks, nor terror stirs
The peace of God in Whitewaters.

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