"The Bold 'Prentice"
WHEN, with a pain he desires to explain to his servitors, Baby
Howls himself black in the face, toothlessly striving to curse;
And the six-months-old Mother begins to inquire of the Gods if it may be
Tummy, or Temper, or Pins—what does the adequate Nurse?
See! At a glance and a touch his trouble is guessed; and, thereafter,
She juggles (unscarred by his throes) with drops of hot water and spoons,
Till the hiccoughs are broken by smiles, and the smiles pucker up into laughter,
And he lies o'er her shoulder and crows, and she, as she nurses him, croons!
When at the head of the grade, tumultuous out of the cutting,
Pours the belated Express, roars at the night, and draws clear,
Redly obscured or displayed by her fire-door's opening and shutting—
Symbol of strength under stress what does her small engineer?
Clamour and darkness encircle his way. Do they deafen or blind him?
No!—nor the pace he must keep. He, being used to these things
Placidly follows his work, which is laying his mileage behind
While his passengers placidly sleep, and he, as he nurses her, sings.
When, with the gale at her heel, the ship lies down and recovers—
Rolling through forty degrees, combing the stars with her tops,
What says the man at the wheel, holding her straight as she hovers
On the summits of wind-screening seas; steadying her as she drops?
Behind him the blasts without check from the Pole to the Tropic, pursue him,
Heaving up, heaping high, slamming home, the surges he must not regard:
Beneath him the crazy wet deck, and all Ocean on end to undo him:
Above him one desperate sail, thrice-reefed but still buckling the yard!
Under his hand fleet the spokes and return, to be held or set free again;
And she bows and makes shift to obey their behest, till the master-wave comes
And her gunnel goes under in thunder and smokes, and she chokes in the trough of the sea again—
Ere she can lift and make way to its crest; and he, as he nurses her, hums!
These have so utterly mastered their work that they work without thinking;
Holding three-fifths of their brain in reserve for whatever betide.
So, when catastrophe threatens, of colic, collision or sinking,
They shunt the full gear into train, and take that small thing in their stride.