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The Muffled Ship

It was cold and gray, but the band on shore was playing, and the flags on shore fluttering, and the long double-tiered wharf crowded with welcomers in each of its open gaps, when our great strong ship slowly drew alongside, packed with its cheering chattering crowds of khaki figures, letting go all the pent-up excitement of getting home from the war. The songs and the laughter, the cheers, and the shouted questions, the hooting of the launches’ sirens, the flutter of flags and hands and handkerchiefs; the faces of old women, of girls, intent, expectant; and behind us the white gulls floating against the gray sky—all made an impression ineffaceable, while our great ship, listed slightly by those thousands of figures straining towards the land which had bred them, gently slurred up against the long, high wharf, and was made fast.

The landing went on till night had long fallen, and the band was gone. At last the chatter, the words of command, the snatches of song, and that most favorite chorus: “Me! Me! Me and my girl!” died away, and the wharf was silent and the great ship silent, and a wonderful dear dark beauty usurped the gray spaces of the sky. By the light of the stars and a half moon the far harbor shores were just visible, and the huddled dark buildings of the near shore, and all the inspiring masts and feathery appanage of ropes on the moored ships, and a bright red light, casting its blood-red gleam on the black water. All the night had that breathless beauty which steeps the soul in quivering quiet rapture....

Then it was that, dearly, as if I had been a welcomer standing on land in one of the wharf gaps, I saw her come—slow, slow, creeping up the narrow channel, in beside the wharf, a great gray silent ship. At first I thought her utterly empty, deserted, possessed only by the huge coiled cables forward, the great rusty anchors, the gray piled-up machinery of structure and funnel and mast, weird in the blue darkness. A lantern on the wharf cast a bobbing golden gleam deep into the oily water at her side. Gun-gray, perfectly mute, she ceased to move, coming to rest against the wharf, and then I saw with a shiver that something clung round her, a sort of gray film of emanation, which shifted and hovered, like the invisible wings of birds in a thick mist. Gradually to my straining eyes that gray filmy emanation granulated, and became faces attached to gray filmy forms, thousands upon thousands, and every face bent towards the shore, staring as it seemed, through me, at all that was behind. Slowly, very slowly I made out those faces of soldiers, helmeted, bulky with the gear of battle, their arms outstretched—and in every face the lips opened, so that one expected to hear the sound of cheering; but there came no sound. And now I could see their eyes. How wonderful they were I They seemed to ask, like the eyes of a little eager boy who asks his mother something that she cannot tell him; and their outstretched hands seemed to be trying to reach her, how lovingly, how desperately they seemed to be trying to reach her! And how terribly their opened lips seemed trying to speak! Yet from all the great gray muffled ship there came not one whisper of sound! “Mother! Mother Canada!” As if I had heard it, I knew they were saying—those opened lips that could speak no more! “Mother! Mother Canada! Home! Home!”

And then away down the wharf there jingled out the chanted words: “Me! Me! Me and my girl!” And, silent as she had come, the great gun-gray muffled ship vanished in all her length, and with her those forms and those mute faces; and I was standing again in the bows beside a coiled hawser, below me the golden gleam bobbing deep in the oily water, and above me the cold stars in beauty shining.