Pieces People Ask For/The Flag

For works with similar titles, see The Flag.

THE FLAG.

AN INCIDENT OF STRAIN'S EXPEDITION.

I never have got the bearings quite,
Though I've followed the course for many a year,
If he was crazy, clean outright,
Or only what you might say was "queer."

He was just a simple sailor man.
I mind it as well as yisterday,
When we messed aboard of the old "Cyane."
Lord! how the time does slip away!
That was five and thirty year ago,
When ships was ships, and men was men,
And sailors wasn't afraid to go
To sea in a Yankee vessel then.
He was only a sort of bosun's mate,
But every inch of him taut and trim;
Stars and anchors and togs of state
Tailors don't build for the likes of him.
He flew a no-account sort of name,
A reg'lar fo'castle "Jim" or "Jack,"
With a plain "McGinnis" abaft the same,
Giner'ly reefed to simple "Mack."
Mack, we allowed, was sorter queer—
Ballast or compass wasn't right;
Till he licked four juicers, one day, a fear
Prevailed that he hadn't larned to fight.
But I reckoned the captain knowed his man,
When he put the flag in his hand the day
That we went ashore from the old "Cyane,"
On a madman's cruise for Darien Bay.

Forty days in the wilderness
We toiled and suffered and starved with Strain.
Losing the number of many a mess
In the Devil's swamps of the Spanish Main.
All of us starved, and many died.
One lay down, in his dull despair;
His stronger messmate went to his side,—
We left them both in the jungle there.

It was hard to part with shipmates so;
But standing by would have done no good.
We heard them moaning all day, so slow
We dragged along through the weary wood.
McGinnis, he suffered the worst of all;
Not that he ever piped his eye,
Or wouldn't have answered to the call
If they'd sounded it for "All hands to die."
I guess 'twould have sounded for him before,
But the grit inside of him kept him strong,
Till we met relief on the river shore;
And we all broke down when it came along.

All but McGinnis. Gaunt and tall,
Touching his hat, and standing square:
"Captain, the flag" … And that was all.
He just keeled over and foundered there.
The flag? We thought he had lost his head,—
It mightn't be much to lose at best,—
Till we came, by and by, to dig his bed,
And we found it folded around his breast.
He lay so calm and smiling there,
With the flag wrapped tight around his heart—
Maybe he saw his course all fair,
Only we couldn't read the chart.

James Jeffrey Roche.