Grandly glowing that autumn sunset,
O’er the Lake’s expanse of blue,
Till across her fair, broad
Streamed a path of golden hue:
Brightly gleamed that fleece of glory,
O’er the shimmering waves away,
Till it flamed upon Grand River,
Where the old Alpena lay.
Captain Napier—prompt and watchful—
Paces her deck with nervous tread,
Scanning closely every feature
Of the strange skies overhead:
Long, long years he’d sailed the ocean,
Every lake and inland sea;
Though he may have been too daring—
Braver man there need not be.
Slowly, twilight drew her curtains
Round the couch of dying day,
Till upon the lake and river,
Night resumed her royal sway:
Some one said—“There’s danger coming!
See the red light, burning high”!
“How the scuds are racing—flying—Through the strangely yellow sky”!
“Danger”! proudly said the Captain—
“I have always kept afloat”’
“And have yet to meet the tempest that can
Swamp this noble boat”!
“Yonder red light, is a signal often wrong,
And seldom right:
My advice is from Chicago, sir,
Alpena goes tonight”!
Then we saw the steamer tremble,
Heard her engines lift and groan;
Watched her gliding down the river,
Out into the lake alone;
Like a thing of grace and beauty;
Like some fairy water sprite;
Old Alpena neared Chicago
On that strangely, pleasant night.
On, and onward; fearing nothing;
Heeding not the sullen roar,
Of the fearful tempest raging,
All along the western shore:—
Fast, and faster; rough, and rougher;
Till the winds and waves grew high:
And a storm of wildest fury
Burst upon them from the sky!
When the dawn began to glimmer—
Just at moonrise in the east;
Napier saw the coming waters,
Foaming like a sea of yeast!
Saw his steamer stagger—shudder—
Wrestle bravely in the tide—
Till a pond’rous, mighty billow,
Whirled her head to leeward side!
“Head her to the wind”! Cried Napier!
“Keep her steady in its eye”!
“I have started for Chicago,
And make it, now, or die”
Like a war horse, trained for battle,
Old Alpena minds the wheel;
And, she leaps hard up to windward,
Trembling from her stem to keel.
Fiercer, wilder howls the tempest!
Slower, works the engines now!
Harder, harder lift the billows
Up against her guarded bow!
Hark! they’ve broken in the gangways!
Fires are out! The decks are free!
And the steamer lurches sternway,
In the hollows of the sea!
Standing at his post of duty,
Shouting to the tempest-tossed,
Captain Napier cried, “I’m beaten!
She is sinking! “We are lost!”
O what terror and confusion seize
Upon that frantic throng!
Cries for help, and prayers, to heaven,
Ring those fated decks along!
Help, there is none! Hope is
Hearts are palsied with despair!
Helpless men, and helpless women,
All alike, are helpless there!
Down among the hungry billows,
Yawning like the jaws of hell,
There they struggle, sink and perish!
How, and wherefore none can tell!
He who sees the falling sparrow;
Hears the raven when it cries;
He who took the dying robber,
From the cross to Paradise;
He who knows where Alpena foundered;
He has marked each lowly bed;
And he’ll claim shipwrecked children,
When the “Sea gives up its dead!”
Grand Haven, Mich., 1880.