Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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The Golden Vanity Litmus Test

May 18, 2009

You probably know the song in one of its many variations: the captain of a warship sailing in the "lowland sea" (or the lonesome sea, or some similar place) wants to sink a ship belonging to the Turkish enemy, the Spanish enemy, or some other bad guys. Either he solicits volunteers from the crew, or the "little cabin boy" says, more or less, what'll you give me if I sink the Spanish/Turkish enemy. The captain promises 5,000 pounds and his daughter (who of course is not present) to wed. You pretty much know what's going to happen. No way is the plucky little cabin boy going to marry the captain's daughter. Sure enough, the boy swims over to the enemy ship, bores holes in its bottom with an auger, and sinks the ship. Exhausted, he swims back to his ship. Of course the captain won't bring him up: he threatens to shoot, drown, and sink him in the tide.

The older versions often end there. In some versions the captain is on the starboard side, so the boy swims round to the port side, pleads with his messmates, and is duly pulled on board, but then he dies of exhaustion. I've heard a variation or two in which the captain relents and boy gets girl, but these are rare and probably very modern.

So the Golden Vanity litmus test wants to know what ending you like best.

a) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy drowns

b) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy is rescued by messmates but dies anyway

c) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy pleads, captain relents

d) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy uses his auger to drill holes in the Golden Vanity, and everyone drowns (I'm sure I've heard at least one version that ends this way)

e) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy is rescued by messmates, boy and messmates mutiny and throw the captain overboard

f) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy is rescued by messmates, boy and messmates mutiny, captain relents

g) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy is rescued by messmates, boy and messmates mutiny, captain relents, captain's daughter says "forget it" and throws father overboard

h) Boy does deed, captain reneges, boy is rescued by messmates, boy and messmates mutiny, captain relents, cabin boy turns out to be a cabin girl, cabin girl and captain's daughter hijack ship and turn pirate all on the salt sea

What does this litmus test measure? I'm not sure yet but I think it's something about hope for the future.

Send in your scenarios. Extra credit if you actually write the verses.

 

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