Departmental Ditties and Other Verses

The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding-House

Rudyard Kipling

That night, when through the mooring-chains
     The wide-eyed corpse rolled free,
To blunder down by Garden Reach
     And rot at Kedgeree,
The tale the Hughli told the shoal
     The lean shoal told to me.

’TWAS Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house,
     Where sailor-men reside,
And there were men of all the ports
     From Mississip to Clyde,
And regally they spat and smoked,
     And fearsomely they lied.

They lied about the purple Sea
     That gave them scanty bread,
They lied about the Earth beneath,
     The Heavens overhead,
For they had looked too often on
     Black rum when that was red.

They told their tales of wreck and wrong,
     Of shame and lust and fraud,
They backed their toughest statements with
     The Brimstone of the Lord,
And crackling oaths went to and fro
     Across the fist-banged board.

And there was Hans the blue-eyed Dane,
     Bull-throated, bare of arm,
Who carried on his hairy chest
     The maid Ultruda’s charm—
The little silver crucifix
     That keeps a man from harm.

And there was Jake Withouth-the-Ears,
     And Pamba the Malay,
And Carboy Gin the Guinea cook,
     And Luz from Vigo Bay,
And Honest Jack who sold them slops
     And harvested their pay.

And there was Salem Hardieker,
     A lean Bostonian he—
Russ, German, English, Halfbreed, Finn,
     Yank, Dane, and Portuguee,
At Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house
     The rested from the sea.

Now Anne of Austria shared their drinks,
     Collinga knew her fame,
From Tarnau in Galicia
     To Jaun Bazaar she came,
To eat the bread of infamy
     And take the wage of shame.

She held a dozen men to heel—
     Rich spoil of war was hers,
In hose and gown and ring and chain,
     From twenty mariners,
And, by Port Law, that week, men called
     Her Salem Hardieker’s.

But seamen learnt—what landsmen know—
     That neither gifts nor gain
Can hold a winking Light o’ Love
     Or Fancy's flight restrain,
When Anne of Austria rolled her eyes
     On Hans the blue-eyed Dane.

Since Life is strife, and strife means knife,
     From Howrah to the Bay,
And he may die before the dawn
     Who liquored out the day,
In Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house
     We woo while yet we may.

But cold was Hans the blue-eyed Dane,
     Bull-throated, bare of arm,
And laughter shook the chest beneath
     The maid Ultruda’s charm—
The little silver crucifix
     That keeps a man from harm.

“You speak to Salem Hardieker;
     “You was his girl, I know.
“I ship mineselfs to-morrow, see,
     “Und round the Skaw we go,
“South, down the Cattegat, by Hjelm,
     “To Besser in Saro.”

When love rejected turns to hate,
     All ill betide the man.
“You speak to Salem Hardieker”—
     She spoke as woman can.
A scream—a sob—“He called me—names!”
     And then the fray began.

An oath from Salem Hardieker,
     A shriek upon the stairs,
A dance of shadows on the wall,
     A knife-thrust unawares—
And Hans came down, as cattle drop,
     Across the broken chairs.

         .         .         .         .         .

In Anne of Austria’s trembling hands
     The weary head fell low:—
“I ship mineselfs to-morrow, straight
     “For Besser in Saro;
“Und there Ultruda comes to me
     “At Easter, und I go

“South, down the Cattegat—What's here?
     “There—are—no—lights—to guide!”
The mutter ceased, the spirit passed,
     And Anne of Austria cried
In Fultah Fisher’s boarding-house
     When Hans the mighty died.

Thus slew they Hans the blue-eyed Dane,
     Bull-throated, bare of arm,
But Anne of Austria looted first
     The maid Ultruda’s charm—
The little silver crucifix
     That keeps a man from harm.

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