John Maynard by Horatio Alger, Jr

John Maynard
by Horatio Alger, Jr

'Twas on Lake Erie's broad expanse

One bright midsummer day,

The gallant steamer Ocean Queen

Swept proudly on her way.

Bright faces clustered on the deck,

Or, leaning o'er the side,

Watched carelessly the feathery foam

That flecked the rippling tide.

Ah, who beneath that cloudless sky,

That smiling bends serene,

Could dream that danger, awful, vast,

Impended o'er the scene;

Could dream that ere an hour had sped

That frame of sturdy oak

Would sink beneath the lake's blue waves,

Blackened with fire and smoke?

A seaman sought the captain's side,

A moment whispered low;

The captain's swarthy face grew pale;

He hurried down below.

Alas, too late! Though quick, and sharp,

And clear his orders came,

No human efforts could avail

To quench th' insidious flame.

The bad news quickly reached the deck,

It sped from lip to lip,

And ghastly faces everywhere

Looked from the doomed ship.

"Is there no hope, no chance of life?"

A hundred lips implore;

"But one," the captain made reply,

"To run the ship on shore."

A sailor, whose heroic soul

That hour should yet reveal,

By name John Maynard, eastern-born,

Stood calmly at the wheel.

"Head her southeast!" the captain shouts,

Above the smothered roar,

"Head her southeast without delay!

Make for the nearest shore!"

No terror pales the helmsman's cheek,

Or clouds his dauntless eye,

As, in a sailor's measured tone,

His voice responds, "Ay! ay!"

Three hundred souls, the steamer's freight,

Crowd forward wild with fear,

While at the stern the dreaded flames

Above the deck appear.

John Maynard watched the nearing flames,

But still with steady hand

He grasped the wheel, and steadfastly

He steered the ship to land.

"John Maynard, can you still hold out?"

He heard the captain cry;

A voice from out the stifling smoke

Faintly responds, "Ay! ay!"

But half a mile! a hundred hands

Stretch eagerly to shore.

But half a mile! That distance sped

Peril shall all be o'er.

But half a mile! Yet stay, the flames

No longer slowly creep,

But gather round that helmsman bold,

With fierce, impetuous sweep.

"John Maynard!" with an anxious voice

The captain cries once more,

"Stand by the wheel five minutes yet,

And we shall reach the shore."

Through flame and smoke that dauntless heart

Responded firmly still,

Unawed, though face to face with death,

"With God's good help I will!"

The flames approach with giant strides,

They scorch his hand and brow;

One arm, disabled, seeks his side,

Ah! he is conquered now.

But no, his teeth are firmly set,

He crushes down his pain,

His knee upon the stanchion pressed,

He guides the ship again.

One moment yet! one moment yet!

Brave heart, thy task is o'er,

The pebbles grate beneath the keel,

The steamer touches shore.

Three hundred grateful voices rise

In praise to God that He

Hath saved them from the fearful fire,

And from the engulfing sea.

But where is he, that helmsman bold?

The captain saw him reel,

His nerveless hands released their task,

He sank beside the wheel.

The wave received his lifeless corse,

Blackened with smoke and fire.

God rest him! Never hero had

A nobler funeral pyre!