Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

a

[ocr errors]

result of their scrutiny, in prejudices for and against their neigh. bors.

There was a tall, thin, good-looking clergyman, who, having been ordained in England, was going to enter on his duties in Canada ; and a very shrewd-faced Irish attorney for Newfoundland, where we were to touch on the way. This part of the cargo was, however, neutralized by an honest, openhearted merchant and his good humored wife, from the same country, and with the same destination. Two gentlemen for Quebec ; a Jew for Montreal, whose face was like the reflection of a handsome countenance in a convex mirror; a thoughtful-looking, well-bred captain ; a rattling, mischievous youth, his lieutenant ; a quiet, handsome young ensign; and a Scotch doctor, belonging to the detachment of soldiers; these, with a middle-aged widow and her only child, a sickly boy of ten or twelve years of age, both in deepest mourning, formed the remainder of the party. The story of this family was a sad one. The lady was a Canadian, and had married a civil officer in her own country. After some years, he was unfortunately promoted to a valuable appointment in China; he immediately set out for the place of his new employ. ment, and, on his arrival, wrote for his wife and child. They sailed, full of hope and happiness, thinking nothing of their voyage

half round the world for the sake of the fond and anxious one who awaited them at its end. Nearly six months passed before their arrival. The march of the deadly pestilence was not so slow; they found but a new made grave where they expected a happy home; so the widow and orphan turned wearily to seek again the land of their birth, thousands of miles away.

This pale boy was all in all to her. Hers was a love of faith and hope ; she never doubted that in fulness of time he would grow to be great and good, and pay her back the debt of tenderness and care. She was the only person who did not see that the shadow of death was upon

him. I speedily became acquainted with everybody on board. Per. haps it was owing to my sleek and comfortable appearance that they concluded I was the fittest person to undertake the caterer's department for the cabin ; it turned out that I had one qualification for the duty in which all the rest were deficient—that of being weak enough to take it. Every one knows the weight of obloquy which falls upon the man in office when there is no fat on the sirloin, or the legs of the fowl have the flavor and consistency of guitar strings. It is impossible to divest people of the idea that, by some inexplicable ingenuity, and for some inscrutable object of his own, he has caused these imperfections on purpose.

My prime minister was a black cook; my kingdom, animal and vegetable; my subjects three or four gaunt sheep in the launch, and, under the forecastle, a couple of pigs, whose appearance and habits of living justified our Israelitish friend's anxiety that there should be more solidity than usual in the side dishes when a chine of pork was at the head of the table.

On the poop were several rows of coops, a sort of charitable institution for superannuated

geese

and ducks, and, in the list of sea stock furnished by the eminent outfitter in the west-end, was the item, six dozen chickens. These were represented by a grave assemblage of patriarchal cocks and venerable hens; among the former I speedily recognized, by his voice, the bird whose voice in the morning, like fire to a train, had set going the din so fatal to my slumbers. I promptly ordered his execution; he, however, amply revenged himself on those who tried to eat him the next day.

While I was thus entering on my official duties, the crew were not neglectful of their part of the business. The sails were shaken out, the anchor weighed, and the voyage commenced by running aboard of a merchant ship moored a little ahead of us. On this occasion I made a philological observation, which subsequent experience has only tended to strengthen—that the language used by sailors, under difficulties, is more worthy of imitation for terseness and vigor than for its elegance and propriety.

With a fair and gentle breeze we floated lazily down the river; the principal objects of interest which we passed were the splen. did ships of war, now lying dismasted and harmless, but ready, when the Lords of the Admiralty play their Frankenstein and breathe on them the breath of life, for any mission of destruction.

We pass Sheerness, roll in the Downs, enter the Channel, think and say everything that people usually think and say on leaving England, and go to bed.

The description of one day in the voyage suits for all. A seven o'clock breakfast opened the proceedings; at eight, a very small trumpeter sounded for the soldiers' parade ; a couple of hours' vigorous walking on the deck preceded luncheon ; then, as twelve approached, we all assembled on the poop, while the master took his observations; then great coats and cloaks turned the coops into sofas, and reading and sunshine kept us quiet till three, when dinner—the hour of my trial, and the delight of grumblers—interrupted our literary pursuits. We established a community of books; and, before the voyage was half over, Robinson Crusoe and Paul and Virginia were as much thumbed as if they had been fashionable novels in a circulating library.

The next re-union was of a select few on the forecastle, with cigars and pipes, a chat with the sailors, and a sharp look out for porpoise, whale, or strange ship, or any other monster of the deep. Our friend, the noisy lieutenant, used always to appear in the latter character at that period of the day. He had a strong nau. tical inclination, which he indulged by arraying himself in a suit of sailor's garments which would have been invaluable to Mr. T. P. Cooke : a red flannel shirt, trousers and jacket of blue pilot cloth, an oilskin hat, with a clay pipe stuck in the band ; nor was a clasp knife tied around his waist with a lanyard, forgotten, to complete his costume. Some of the others played at shuffleboard, fenced, wrestled, or exercised themselves laboriously on gymnastic poles.

It is soon time for tea, the widow doing the honors; after that, the hot water and lemons, with little bright glass bottles, and a snappish argument between the Irish attorney and the Montreal Jew; a quiet talk with the clergyman and the captain, a rubber of whist, a chess board, and words of courtesy and kindness to the widow.

Sometimes when the evening was very fine, we went on deck, and listened to wonderful narratives by the soldiers and sailors, and quaint ditties with overgrown

choruses. One of the top-men had a splendid voice; he was the beau ideal of an English seaman, active, good tempered, handsome, and full of fun :-a fa. yorite with all.

There was among the passengers a family of three brothers and a sister, from the north of Ireland, about to settle in Canada; they were hardy, serious, respectable people, having some little capital in money and goods, with their own strong arms and honest hearts to depend upon; the class of people of all others the most useful in a colony. They, too, used to sing for us at times; they knew but one kind of music, and that best suited to their powerful, but harsh and untrained voices. Many a cunning stage arrangement might have failed to give the deep effect which lay in their solemn, stern, Presbyterian hymns.

Then came another pipe, seasoned with discussion on what passed for events in the day, a little moralizing, and always a rigid examination of the conduct of that constant offender, the weather, and then we slept.

One night, when we were off the coast of Ireland, the wind freshened up, and the clouds thickened ominously. The next morning dawned upon a gale of wind; the sea had risen a good deal, and the ship rolled sufficiently to account for the very small party at breakfast. The storm was against us, blowing with in. creasing violence that day and night, and the next day. Nearly all the passengers were sick, and the sailors were doing their work in a quiet, steady way, that showed they were in earnest.

At about five in the afternoon, the clouds seemed to have been all blown up together into one dense mass of dark and threatening gloom, and, as if for miles around the wind had focussed to one spot, it burst upon the ship. The masts bent slowly down as she rose upon the wave, and the receding spray foamed spars. They must shorten sail ; it seems madness to ascend the straining ropes, but no one hesitates : there is a moment's lull in the trough of the sea; some of the sailors are up already ; our favorite, the top-man, is first, busy with the reef of the main-top

The ship rises on the swell, and the storm roars through the shrouds again : the sheets snap like a thread; light as a cloud the canvass flies to leeward ; a man is entangled in its ropes, borne away upon the wind;—the mist closes over him he is

among the

sail.

a

seen no more.

The tempest soon after subsided, without further mischief; when the weather cleared, we found ourselves close to the head. land we had seen two days before : we had been travelling backthe first sup

wards and forwards, ten miles an hour, ever since. At the climax of the gale the noise had been so great, that many of those in their berths below thought we were assuredly lost. This convic. tion had very different effects upon different individuals; some pulled the bed-clothes over their heads, and lay in shivering inactivity ; others were so dreadfully ill, that death itself scarcely appeared a change for the worse. Not so our nautically-inclined lieutenant ; he could no longer remain in doubt, and, determined to know the worst, emerged from the hatchway in full pirate costume, as he had lain down at the beginning of the storm. Sprawling on the deck, he looked out upon the sea: just at this moment a gigantic green wave, with a crest of foam, stood right over the ship; with a shout of terror, and an expression of face in which fright had overcome starvation and sea-sickness, he rushed across the deck, grasping at the stanchion under the

poop, port he could lay hold of, twining his arms and legs round it with a force no persuasions could relax; there he remained for two hours, a figure of fun never to be forgotten. The ship was soon put to rights, not having sustained any serious injury, and we went our way.

A whale was always an object of sufficient interest to collect us upon deck, and unmask a baitery of telescopes. Our nearest view of one was under circumstances as advantageous to us as disagreeable to him. The ship was going through the water about four knots an hour, when the monster overtook us; as we were travelling in the same direction, there was ample opportunity for observing the state of his affairs. He was attacked by three threshers, formidable looking fellows, about eight feet long, and had evidently much the worst of it, though he flourished his tail tremendously, flogging his track into a bloody foam. His enemies were most systematic in their attack; each in his turn threw himself out of the water, falling with full weight on the whale's head, thus keeping up a continual hammering while it was above the surface. It is said, but I am not pledged to the fact, that a sword. fish is always in league with these pursuers, poking the whale underneath with his sword, when sinking to avoid them. So that the poor

victim is much in the situation of a member of the Church of England of the present day, as he swims in the sea of contro

a

« ZurückWeiter »