The stately galleon

This is another chapter of my children’s story abut Peggy who is staying with her grandmother near the sea. Grandma’s friend Mr Benbow an ex-lighthouse keeper has taken Peggy along to his cottage on stormy afternoon when there’s nothing else to do: I don’t quite know where it fits in the story yet!

When I got home I thought it had been like being on a ship, a stately galleon, except we weren’t going up and down up and down with the waves because we were in Keeper’s Cottage. I thought I had been very gallant, saying to Barbara did she want to come,. I knew she would say no because it was windy and rainy outside, and she would say it was cold when it wasn’t that bad and only the gap between my socks and my skirt got a bit parky. Mr Benbow said it was a bit parky; he said, ‘You wrap up, our Peg, it’s a bit parky out there.’ Barbara said she didn’t want to go to the park either, and I saw Mr Benbow and Granny exchange glances and I managed not to laugh and I didn’t say anything, but just did up my gaberdine.

I don’t think I have said exchange glances in any of my stories but I must remember and use it to make my language more interesting. We heard it on the wireless last night in the story Uncle David was reading and I asked Granny what it meant. She explained and then she and I practised exchanging glances.

Mr Benbow was sitting in his chair darning socks and Ben was making a model ship. It was too tricky for me to help him he said with a wink, and he said he was making it as a present for someone and he gave another wink. I winked back because I guessed Ben was making it as a present for Mr Benbow and I think he will be highly delighted. Mr Benbow had told me to look on his book shelf and see if there were any books I would like to read.

There was a real storm outside so we couldn’t go out for a walk, but I didn’t mind being in this galleon, with its round windows like portholes. They were the same as in Granny’s house, and Mr Benbow said they were built by the same builder a hundred and fifty years ago.

There were not many books on Mr Benbow’s bookshelf, he said he had lots when he was a lighthouse keeper, but now he’s retired and young Ben has taken over he doesn’t read as much, too busy he said. A smile played around my lips when he said young Ben because Ben is a man and not young. I am young. When I first read ‘a smile played around his lips’ I thought it was really funny. It was when daddy was with us and I asked him and he made funny smiley faces which made me laugh even more, But then he said it just meant he smiled slightly and sort of secretly.

“This looks an interesting book, Mr Benbow. It’s title is ‘Salt-Water Poems and Ballards’ and it is by John Masefield andillustrated by Chas Pears. That’s a funny name isn’t it, Chas Pears!”

“Perhaps he has a friend called Chas Apples,” said Ben and we both laughed.

“You find us a nice poem to read, Peg and I will make some cocoa,” Mr Benbow said and went into the galley. I was really silly when I first came here and when he said galley I thought of galley slaves. It led to some confusion and then when he told me I remembered that galley also meant a kitchen on a boat, ‘on a ship’ Mr Benbow corrected me. He corrects me in a nice way so I learn something and don’t feel stupid. My teacher corrects me in a nice way too.

I settled down with the book in my cosy chair and thought how nice it was that it was so cold and blustery outside and so lovely and cosy inside Mr Benbow’s cottage. I’d chosen a nice boo; it was all poems and there were pictures, some in colour and some in black and white. The poems told stories, and they had really difficult words sometimes, but they sounded really nice when I whispered them to myself.

Mr Benbow came back with a plate of biscuits. They looked like the ones Granny makes for us; perhaps she gave him her recipe.

“Find us a poem and give us a recital, Peg,” he said. “We’d like that, wouldn’t we Ben!”

Ben looked at me and gave me a wink. He has green eyes; I didn’t like to remark on it, but I have never seen anyone with green eyes before.

There was a poem near the back of the book called ‘Cargoes’ which seems an unusual thing to write a poem about, but it was full of interesting and unusual words which I didn’t know and had to guess. In fact the first word was the most unusual.

Quin-quire-me… I wonder what that is. Is it a place? Is it a person? It might be a person because it’s Quin-Quire-Me of Nineveh and I know Nineveh is a place in the Bible. Church is so boring, but the Bible is quite interesting although there is lots I don’t understand.

I took the book to Ben.

“How do you say this, Ben, and what is it? Is it a place do you think? Or is it a person?”

“I don’t rightly know, Peggy, it’s a mighty long word.”

“How do you pronounce it do you think? Quin-Quire-Me, do you think?”

“That sounds about right,” he didn’t really look but concentrated on rubbing a bit of wood with sandpaper.

“Look, it says cedar wood and sandal wood, is your boat made of cedar wood or sandal wood?”

I suddenly realised I was pestering him, and my face went red. I didn’t want Ben to be annoyed with me, or cross with me.

“I’m sorry, Ben I can see you are very busy, I should not be bothering you.” My eyes were all tingly. I didn’t want to spoil anything, it was so lovely being here and I didn’t want to spoil it or Ben to be cross with me or disappointed in me.

“Hey, now, Peggy, don’t take on so, I’m sorry I was sharp with you,” he smiled and his green eyes crinkled at the corners. “Do you want to know a secret? Do you want to know why you’re cleverer than me?”

I was very surprised. Ben is an adult, I can’t be cleverer than him, I’m only a young girl.

“”You know what, Peggy? I can’t read, that’s why you’re cleverer than me!”

My mouth was about to drop open but I managed to keep it shut but my eyes did nearly pop out of my head. Ben couldn’t read? How did that happen? He’s clever! He’s the assistant lighthouse keeper! He’s making a beautiful boat!

“Oh dear,” I said. “Would you like me to help you? I know I’m only eight but maybe I could help you?”

He burst out laughing and said he was beyond any help, but he thanked me very much and maybe instead I could help him eat some biscuits.

Later, when Mr Benbow was walking me back to Granny’s we talked about the poem called Cargoes, and what unusual things the ships were carrying, imagine a lot of apes on a ship? They would be very noisy. Then Mr Benbow said a strange thing. He said he was very proud of me for not laughing at Ben because he couldn’t read, and for offering to help him.

I wondered why he thought I might laugh. I think it must be really sad if you can’t read. I know I make mistakes sometimes but I’m a good reader, my teacher says so. I learned today that it’s not Quin-Quire-Me but Quinky-reme, and it’s a sort of old rowing boat, but a big one with a sail.



Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield

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