1 JANUARY 1954, Page 21

The Ballad of Captain May

Light was bad and a sudden tide Swinging the sea like a hammock Bore them away, the singers and Their serenade : but not before he heard them call his name.

Pride set instantly at rest the scars the weather nipped, The mockery of poor promotions fell like dry Sand castles and Captain May saw uninvited Fame in being the man the mermaids knew by name.

Stripped to the waist he dug a channel to the sea : High tides were forecast and accordingly he set A lighted lamp above his door, trusting the steady Flame to pilot in his longed-for guests.

He brought his wooden bed downstairs and lay between Wet sheets, watching the sea invade his house. Already ankle deep, the water jostled heavy Chests and put the fire out, but brought no company.

The captain, now afloat, saw suddenly that he had been Presumptuous : theirs was the invitation, he was not the host. Navy-fashion he weighed anchor, pushed the bed Free of nudging wall and on the ebb-tide put to sea.

Brine picked the bed apart and Captain May, without A mast to fly his signal of distress, bared his.grey