JOB AND JOE
If I did not find Rose Aylmer's tomb, I found, in St. John's pleasant God's Acre, the comely mausoleum of Job Charnock, and this delighted me, because for how long has been ringing in my ears that line -
"The tall pale widow is mine, Joe, the little brown
girl's for you."
which I met with so many years ago in "The Light That Failed," where the Nilghai sings it to his own music! He got it, he said, from a tombstone, in a distant land; and the tombstone is now incorporated with Job Charnock's, the distant land being India; but the verses I have had to collect elsewhere. I found them in Calcutta, in my host's library.
Joe was Joseph, or Josiah, Townsend, a pilot of the Ganges, and tradition has it that he and Job Charnock, who, as an officer of the East India Company, founded Calcutta in 1690, saved a pretty young Hindu widow from ascending her husband's funeral pyre and committing suttee. Tradition states further that Job Charnock and his bride "lived lovingly for many years and had several children," until in due time she was buried in the mausoleum at St. John's, where her husband sacrificed a cock on each anniversary of her death ever after. The story has been examined and found to be improbable, but Charnock was a bold fellow who might easily have started many legends; and the poem remains, and if there is a livelier, I should like to know of it. I have been at the agreeable pains of reconstructing the verses as they were probably written, so that there are two more than the Nilghai sang. The whole is a very curious haunting ballad, leaving us with the desire to know much more of the lives of both men - Job Charnock the frontiersman, and Joseph Townsend, "skilful and industrious, a kind father and a useful friend," who could navigate not only the Ganges but the shifting Hooghli. Rarely can so much mixed autobiography and romance have been packed into six stanzas - and here too the adventurous East and West meet: -
I've shipped my cable, messmates, I'm dropping down
with the tide;
I have my sailing orders while ye at anchor ride,
And never, on fair June morning, have I put out to sea
With clearer conscience, or better hope, or heart more light and free.
An Ashburnham! A Fairfax! Hark how the corslets ring!
Why are the blacksmiths out to-day, beating those men at the spring?
Ho, Willie, Hob and Cuddie! - bring out your boats amain,
There's a great red pool to swim them o'er, yonder in Deadman's Lane.
Nay, do not cry, sweet Katie - only a month afloat
And then the ring and the parson, at Fairlight Church, my doat.
The flower-strewn path - the Press Gang! No, I shall never see
Her little grave where the daisies wave in the breeze on Fairlight Lee.
"Shoulder to shoulder, Joe, my boy, into the crowd like a wedge!
Out with the hangers, messmates, but do not strike with the edge!"
Cries Charnock, "Scatter the faggots! Double that Brahmin in two!
The tall pale widow is mine, Joe, the little brown girl for you."
Young Joe (you're nearing sixty), why is your hide so dark?
Katie had fair soft blue eyes - who blackened yours? Why, hark!
The morning gun! Ho, steady! The arquebuses to me;
I've sounded the Dutch High Admiral's heart as my lead doth sound the
Sounding, sounding the Ganges - floating down with the tide,
Moor me close by Charnock, next to my nut-brown bride.
My blessing to Katie at Fairlight - Howell, my thanks to you -
Steady! - We steer for Heaven through scud drifts cold and blue.