The For’ard Hold [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in The Ways of Many Waters (1899).]


The For’ard Hold.

Oh, we all was tired o’ waiting in the spring of Eighty-three,
When The Duke came up the ’arbour an’ was berthed beside the Quay;
And the waiter breaks the ’atches, an’ we rushes in a mob
To the side of that ’ere vessel in the ’opes to get a job!
But the foreman blocks the gangway with the cove that takes our time,
And we stand ashore before ’em an’ we forms a sort o’ line.

Then it’s “You I want!” an’ “You there!” — and you’d fancy, by the Lord!
They was goin’ to be married by the way they gets aboard.
“Here you, Sugar Jack and Stitches! Here, Long Jones an’ Ginger Law!
Hi! stand back there — not you, Dutchy!” — an’ he drops his bloomin’ jaw.
He was always lean an’ scraggy, an’ his bony, ugly knees
Seemed a-pokin’ out before him through his faded dungarees;
An’ the lads had called him “Mudder” ’cause he often used to say,
“I haf left mine poor old mudder over dere in Norrovay,
An’ I save up all mine moneys till I pay her passage out,
Den I spend mit you for liquor; den, my boys, you see, I shout!”
That was when they chyacked Mudder, called him “Dutch!” and “Stingy cur!”
When he wouldn’t shout for loafers — he was saving up for her.

Well, I spotted poor old Mudder, an’ I guessed though times were bad,
They’d been extra bad with Dutchy; an’ the little bit he ’ad,
’Stead of going home to Norway, had been melting day by day
Into nightly doss and tucker, till it melted right away.
I ’ad got enough for breakfast, an’ I knew a place to doss,
An’ they calls me up the gangway, but I stops an’ asks the boss
(For I ’appened to be friendly, an’ I speaks a trifle free)
Sez I, “Mudder’s pretty ’ungry. Let ’im go instead o’ me!”
So he sings out “Come on, Mudder!” an’ he didn’t come, he rolled;
An’ they tells us to go for’ard to the iron in the hold.

Oh, her for’ard is a daisy! an’ the blasted rails she brings,
’T is the devil’s job to shift ’em or to get ’em in the slings;
An’ the way they build them vessels with a narrow kind o’ bows
It’s a terror to discharge ’em, as yer ’umble servant knows.
“Hist away!” an’ up she travels. “Wup! Hold on now! Steady there!”
An’ the sling of railroad metal hangs above us in the air,
“Lower away now, winchman, easy! Hey! Look out, there! Hey! Hey!” . . . smack! . . .
Chain has parted — rotten tackle — poor old Dutchy — broken back!

Oh, my Mudder!” . . . No one knew her, but I think that all the day
Most of us could dimly see her, waiting for him far away;
Waiting for her sailor laddie — and him gettin’ stiff an’ cold,
An’ the clots upon the iron drying in the for’ard-hold.

* * * *

He was always lean an’ scraggy, an’ his ugly, bony knees
Seemed a-poking out before him through his faded dungarees;
But I know if there’s a future, and Saint Peter minds the ’atch,
That he’ll give a show to Dutchy and he’ll save him from Old Scratch.
Though I ain’t so very pious — fact, I guess I’m full o’ sin —
Yet I’ll swear, if there’s a Heaven, that us stevedores gets in;
So I’ll go and look for “Mudder” if I reach the Land o’ Gold,
An’ I guess I’ll find him for’ard with the angels in the hold!

E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 55-58

Editor’s notes:
chyack = (also spelt “chiack”) to taunt or tease in jest, to engage in good-natured banter (may also refer to jeering or taunting in an ill-natured manner)

Old Scratch = the Devil, Old Nick, Satan (from Old Norse “skratte”, meaning goblin or wizard)

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