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And I sat down upon a kind of horsehair slab, or perch,
of which there were two within ; and looked, without any
expression of countenance whatever, at some friends who had
come on board with us, and who were crushing their faces
into all manner of shapes by endeavouring to squeeze them
through the small doorway.

We had experienced a pretty smart shock before coming
below, which, but that we were the most sanguine people
living, might have prepared us for the worst. The imagina-
tive artist to whom I have already made allusion, has depicted
in the same great work, a chamber of almost interminable
perspective, furnished, as Mr. Robins would say, in a style of
more than Eastern splendour, and filled (but not inconveniently
so) with groups of ladies and gentlemen, in the very highest
state of enjoyment and vivacity. Before descending into the
bowels of the ship, we had passed from the deck into a long
narrow apartment, not unlike a gigantic hearse with windows
in the sides ; having at the upper end a melancholy stove, at
which three or four chilly stewards were warming their
hands ; while on either side, extending down its whole dreary
length, was a long, long table, over each of which a rack,


fixed to the low roof, and stuck full of drink ing-glasses and
cruet-stands, hinted dismally at rolling seas and heavy weather.
I had not at that time seen the ideal presentment of this
chamber which has since gratified me so much, but I observed
that one of our friends who had made the arrangements for
our voyage, turned pale on entering, retreated on the friend
behind him, smote his forehead involuntarily, and said below
his breath, " Impossible ! it cannot be ! " or words to that
effect. He recovered himself however by a great effort, and
after a preparatory cough or two, cried, with a ghastly smile
which is still before me, looking at the same time round the
walls, "Ha! the breakfast-room, steward eh? " .We all
foresaw what the answer must be : we knew the agony he
suffered. He had often spoken of the saloon; had taken in
and lived upon the pictorial idea; had usually given us to
understand, at home, that to form a just conception of it, it
would be necessary to multiply the size and furniture of an
ordinary drawing-room by seven, and then fall short of the
reality. When the man in reply avowed the truth; the
blunt, remorseless, naked truth; "This is the saloon, sir"
he actually reeled beneath the blow.

In persons who were so soon to part, and interpose between
their else daily communication the formidable barrier of many
thousand miles of stormy space, and who were for that reason
anxious to cast no other cloud, not even the passing shadow
of a moment's disappointment or discomfiture, upon the
short interval of happy companionship that yet remained to
them in persons so situated, the natural transition from
these first surprises was obviously into peals of hearty
laughter, and I can report that I, for one, being still seated
upon the slab or perch before mentioned, roared outright
until the vessel rung again. Thus, in less than two minutes
after coming upon it for the first time, we all by common
consent agreed that this state-room was the pleasantest and
most facetious and capital contrivance possible ; and that
to have had it one inch larger, would have been quite a


disagreeable and deplorable state of things. And with this ;
and with showing how, by very nearly closing the door, and
twining in and out like serpents, and by counting the little
washing slab as standing-room, we could manage to insinuate
four people into it, all at one time ; and entreating each other
to observe how very airy it was (in dock), and how there was a
beautiful port-hole which could be kept open all day (weather
permitting), and how there was quite a large bull's-eye just
over the looking-glass which would render shaving a perfectly
easy and delightful process (when the ship didn't roll too
much); we arrived, at last, at the unanimous conclusion that
it was rather spacious than otherwise : though I do verily
believe that, deducting the two berths, one above the other,
than which nothing smaller for sleeping in was ever made
except coffins, it was no bigger than one of those hackney
cabriolets which have the door behind, and shoot their fares
out, like sacks of coals, upon the pavement.

Having settled this point to the perfect satisfaction of all
parties, concerned and unconcerned, we sat down round the
fire in the ladies 1 cabin just to try the effect. It was rather
dark, certainly; but somebody said, "of course it would be
light, at sea,"" a proposition to which we all assented ; echoing
" of course, of course ; " though it would be exceedingly
difficult to say why we thought so. I remember, too, when
we had discovered and exhausted another topic of consolation
in the circumstance of this ladies 1 cabin adjoining our state-
room, and the consequently immense feasibility of sitting
there at all times and seasons, and had fallen into a
momentary silence, leaning our faces on our hands and look-
ing at the fire, one of our party said, with the solemn air of
a man who had made a discovery, " What a relish mulled
claret will have down here ! " which appeared to strike us all
most forcibly ; as though there were something spicy and
high-flavoured in cabins, which essentially improved that
composition, and rendered it quite incapable of perfection
anywhere else.


There was a stewardess, too, actively engaged in producing
clean sheets and table-cloths from the very entrails of the
sofas, and from unexpected lockers, of such artful mechanism,
that it made one's head ache to see them opened one after
another, and rendered it quite a distracting circumstance to
follow her proceedings, and to find that every nook and
corner and individual piece of furniture was something else
besides what it pretended to be, and was a mere trap and
deception and place of secret stowage, whose ostensible purpose
was its least useful one.

God bless that stewardess for her piously fraudulent account
of January voyages ! God bless her for her clear recollection
of the companion passage of last year, when nobody was ill,
and everybody dancing from morning to night, and it was
" a run " of twelve days, and a piece of the purest frolic, and
delight, and jollity! All happiness be with her for her
bright face and her pleasant Scotch tongue, which had sounds
of old Home in it for my fellow-traveller; and for her
predictions of fair winds and fine weather (all wrong, or I
shouldn't be half so fond of her); and for the ten thousand
small fragments of genuine womanly tact, by which, without
piecing them elaborately together, and patching them up
into shape and form and case and pointed application, she
nevertheless did plainly show that all young mothers on
one side of the Atlantic were near and close at hand to
their little children left upon the other; and that what
seemed to the uninitiated a serious journey, was, to those
who were in the secret, a mere frolic, to be sung about
and whistled at! Light be her heart, and gay her merry
eyes, for years !

The state-room had grown pretty fast ; but by this time it
had expanded into something quite bulky, and almost boasted
a bay-window to view the sea from. So we went upon deck
again in high spirits; and there, everything was in such a
state of bustle and active preparation, that the blood quickened
its pace, and whirled through one's veins on that clear frosty


morning with involuntary mirthfulness. For every gallant
ship was riding slowly up and down, and every little boat
was splashing noisily in the water ; and knots of people stood
upon the wharf, gazing with a kind of "dread delight 11 on
the far-famed fast American steamer ; and one party of men
were "taking in the milk," or, in other words, getting the
cow on board ; and another were filling the icehouses to the
very throat with fresh provisions ; with butcher-meat and
garden-stuff, pale sucking-pigs, calves 1 heads in scores, beef,
veal, and pork, and poultry out of all proportion ; and others
were coiling ropes and busy with oakum yarns ; and others were
lowering heavy packages into the hold ; and the purser's head
was barely visible as it loomed in a state of exquisite per-
plexity from the midst of a vast pile of passengers 1 luggage ;
and there seemed to be nothing going on anywhere, or
uppermost in the mind of anybody, but preparations for this
mighty voyage. This, with the bright cold sun, the bracing
air, the crisply-curling water, the thin white crust of morning
ice upon the decks which crackled with a sharp and cheerful
sound beneath the lightest tread, was irresistible. And when,
again upon the shore, we turned and saw from the vessel's
mast her name signalled in flags of joyous colours, and flutter-
ing by their side the beautiful American banner with its
stars and stripes, the long three thousand miles and more,
and, longer still, the six whole months of absence, so dwindled
and faded, that the ship had gone out and come home again,
and it was broad spring already in the Coburg Dock at

I have not inquired among my medical acquaintance,
whether Turtle, and cold Punch, with Hock, Champagne, and
Claret, and all the slight et cetera usually included in an
unlimited order for a good dinner especially when it is left
to the liberal construction of my faultless friend, Mr. Radley,
of the Adelphi Hotel are peculiarly calculated to suffer a
sea-change ; or whether a plain mutton-chop, and a glass or
two of sherry, would be less likely of conversion into foreign


and disconcerting material. My own opinion is, that whether
one is discreet or indiscreet in these particulars, on the eve
of a sea-voyage, is a matter of little consequence ; and that,
to use a common phrase, "it comes to very much the same
tiling in the end. 11 Be this as it may, I know that the
dinner of that day was undeniably perfect; that it compre-
hended all these items, and a great many more ; and that we
all did ample justice to it. And I know too, that, bating
a certain tacit avoidance of any allusion to to-morrow; such
as may be supposed to prevail between delicate-minded turn-
keys, and a sensitive prisoner who is to be hanged next
morning; we got on very well, and, all things considered,
were merry enough.

When the morning the morning came, and we met at
breakfast, it was curious to see how eager we all were to
prevent a moment's pause in the conversation, and how
astoundingly gay everybody was : the forced spirits of each
member of the little party having as much likeness to his
natural mirth, as hot-house peas at five guineas the quart,
resemble in flavour the growth of the dews, and air, and rain
of Heaven. But as one o'clock, the hour for going aboard,
drew near, this volubility dwindled away by little and little,
despite the most persevering efforts to the contrary, until at
last, the matter being now quite desperate, we threw off all
disguise ; openly speculated upon where we should be this
time to-morrow, this time next day, and so forth ; and
entrusted a vast number of messages to those who intended
returning to town that night, which were to be delivered at
home and elsewhere without fail, within the very shortest
possible space of time after the arrival of the railway train
at Euston Square. And commissions and remembrances do
so crowd upon one at such a time, that we were still busied
with this employment when we found ourselves fused, as it
were, into a dense conglomeration of passengers and passengers 1
friends and passengers 1 luggage, all jumbled together on the
deck of a small steamboat, and panting and snorting off to


the packet, which had worked out of dock yesterday afternoon
and was now lying at her moorings in the river.

And there she is ! all eyes are turned to where she lies,
dimly discernible through the gathering fog of the early
winter afternoon ; every finger is pointed in the same direction ;
and murmurs of interest and admiration as " How beautiful
she looks ! " " How trim she is ! " are heard on every side.
Even the lazy gentleman with his hat on one side and his
hands in his pockets, who has dispensed so much consolation
by inquiring with a yawn of another gentleman whether he
is "going across" as if it were a ferry even he condescends
to look that way, and nod his head, as who should say, "No
mistake about that:'* and not even the sage Lord Burleigh
in his nod, included half so much as this lazy gentleman of
might who has made the passage (as everybody on board
has found out already; it's impossible to say how) thirteen
times without a single accident ! There is another passenger
very much wrapped-up, who has been frowned down by the
rest, and morally trampled upon and crushed, for presuming
to inquire with a timid interest how long it is since the poor
President went down. He is standing close ' to the lazy
gentleman, and says with a faint smile that he believes She
is a very strong Ship ; to which the lazy gentleman, looking
first in his questioner's eye and then very hard in the wind's,
answers unexpectedly and ominously, that She need be. Upon
this the lazy gentleman instantly falls very low in the popular
estimation, and the passengers, with looks of defiance, whisper
to each other that he is an ass, and an impostor, and clearly
don't know anything at all about it.

But we are made fast alongside the packet, whose huge red
funnel is smoking bravely, giving rich promise of serious inten-
tions. Packing-cases, portmanteaus, carpet-bags, and boxes, are
already passed from hand to hand, and hauled on board with
breathless rapidity. The officers, smartly dressed, are at the
gangway handing the passengers up the side, and hurrying
the men. In five minutes' time, the little steamer is utterly


deserted, and the packet is beset and over-run by its late
freight, who instantly pervade the whole ship, and are to be
met with by the dozen in every nook and corner: swarming
down below with their own baggage, and stumbling over
other people's ; disposing themselves comfortably in wrong
cabins, and creating a most horrible confusion by having to
turn out again ; madly bent upon opening locked doors, and
on forcing a passage into all kinds of out-of-the-way places
where there is no thoroughfare ; sending wild stewards, with
elfin hair, to and fro upon the breezy decks on unintelligible
errands, impossible of execution : and in short, creating the
most extraordinary and bewildering tumult. In the midst of
all this, the lazy gentleman, who seems to have no luggage
of any kind not so much as a friend, even lounges up and
down the hurricane deck, coolly puffing a cigar ; and, as this
unconcerned demeanour again exalts, him in the opinion of
those who have leisure to observe his proceedings, every time
he looks up at the masts, or down at the decks, or over the
side, they look there too, as wondering whether he sees any-
thing wrong anywhere, and hoping that, in case he should,
he will have the goodness to mention it.

What have we here ? The captain's boat ! and yonder the
captain himself. Now, by all our hopes and wishes, the very
man he ought to be ! A well-made, tight-built, dapper little
fellow ; with a ruddy face, which is a letter of invitation to
shake him by both hands at once ; and with a clear, blue
honest eye, that it does one good to see one's sparkling image
in. " Ring the bell ! " " Ding, ding, ding ! " the very bell is
in a hurry. "Now for the shore who's for the shore?"
"These gentlemen, I am sorry to say." They are away, and
never said, Good b'ye. Ah ! now they wave it from the little
boat " Good Vye ! Good b'ye ! " Three cheers from them ;
three more from us ; three more from them : and they are

To and fro, to and fro, to and fro again a hundred times !
This waiting for the latest mail-bags is worse than all. If


we could have gone off in the midst of that last burst, we
should have started triumphantly- : but to lie here, two hours
and more in the damp fog, neither staying at home nor going
abroad, is letting one gradually down into the very depths of
dulness and low spirits. A speck in the mist, at last ! That's
something. It is the boat we wait for ! That's more to the
purpose. The captain appears on the paddle-box with his
speaking trumpet ; the officers take their stations ; all hands
are on the alert ; the flagging hopes of the passengers revive ;
the cooks pause in their savoury work, and look out with
faces full of interest. The boat comes alongside ; the bags
are dragged in anyhow, and flung down for the moment any-
where. Three cheers more : and as the first one rings upon
our ears, the vessel throbs like a strong giant that has just
received the breath of life ; the two great wheels turn fiercely
round for the first time; and the noble ship, with wind and
tide astern, breaks proudly through the lashed and foaming



WE all dined together that day; and a rather formidable
party we were : no fewer than eighty-six strong. The vessel
being pretty deep in the water, with all her coals on board
and so many passengers, and the weather being calm and
quiet, there was but little motion ; so that before the dinner
was half over, even those passengers who were most distrustful
of themselves plucked up amazingly; and those who in the
morning had returned to the universal question, " Are you a
good sailor ? " a very decided negative, now either parried the
inquiry with the evasive reply, " Oh ! I suppose Tm no worse
than anybody else ; " or, reckless of all moral obligations,
answered boldly " Yes : " and with some irritation too, as
though they would add, " I should like to know what you
see in me, sir, particularly, to justify suspicion !"

Notwithstanding this high tone of courage and confidence, I
could not but observe that very few remained long over their
wine; and that everybody had an unusual love of the open
air; and that the favourite and most coveted seats were
invariably those nearest to the door. The tea-table, too, was
by no means as well attended as the dinner-table ; and there
was less whist-playing than might have been expected. Still,
with the exception of one lady, who had retired with some
precipitation at dinner-time, immediately after being assisted
to the finest cut of a very yellow boiled leg of mutton with


very green capers, there were no invalids as yet ; and walking,
and smoking, and drinking of brandy-and-water (but always
in the open air), went on with unabated spirit, until eleven
o'clock or thereabouts, when " turning in " no sailor of seven
hours 1 experience talks of going to bed became the order of
the night. The perpetual tramp of boot-heels on the decks
gave place to a heavy silence, and the whole human freight
was stowed away below, excepting a very few stragglers, like
myself, who were probably, like me, afraid to go there.

To one unaccustomed to such scenes, this is a very striking
time on shipboard. Afterwards, and when its novelty had
long worn off', it never ceased to have a peculiar interest and
charm for me. The gloom through which the great black
mass holds its direct and certain course ; the rushing water,
plainly heard, but dimly seen; the broad, white, glistening
track, that follows in the vessePs wake ; the men on the look-
out forward, who would be scarcely visible against the dark
sky, but for their blotting out some score of glistening stars ;
the helmsman at the wheel, with the illuminated card before
him, shining, a speck of light amidst the darkness, like some-
thing sentient and of Divine intelligence ; the melancholy
sighing of the wind through block, and rope, and chain ; the
gleaming forth of light from every crevice, nook, and tiny
piece of glass about the decks, as though the ship were filled
with fire in hiding, ready to burst through any outlet, wild
with its resistless power of death and ruin. At first, too, and
even when the hour, and all the objects it exalts, have come
to be familiar, it is difficult, alone and thoughtful, to hold
them to their proper shapes and forms. They change with
the wandering fancy ; assume the semblance of things left far
away ; put on the well-remembered aspect of favourite places
dearly loved; and even people them with shadows. Streets,
houses, rooms ; figures so like their usual occupants, that they
have startled me by their reality, which far exceeded, as it
seemed to me, all power of mine to conjure up the absent ;
have, many and many a time, at such an hour, grown suddenly


out of objects with whose real look, and use, and purpose, I
was as well acquainted as with my own two hands.

My own two hands, and feet likewise, being very cold, how-
ever, on this particular occasion, I crept below at midnight.
It was not exactly comfortable below. It was decidedly close ;
and it was impossible to be unconscious of the presence of
that extraordinary compound of strange smells, which is to
be found nowhere but on board ship, and which is such a
subtle perfume that it seems to enter at every pore of the
skin, and whisper of the hold. Two passengers' 1 wives (one
of them my own) lay already in silent agonies on the sofa;
and one lady's maid (my lady's) was a mere bundle on the
floor, execrating her destiny, and pounding her curl-papers
among the stray boxes. Everything sloped the wrong way :
which in itself was an aggravation scarcely to be borne. I
had left the door open, a moment before, in the bosom of a
gentle declivity, and, when I turned to shut it, it was on the
summit of a lofty eminence. Now every plank and timber
creaked, as if the ship were made of wicker-work ; and now
crackled, like an enormous fire of the driest possible twigs.
There was nothing for it but bed ; so I went to bed.

It was pretty much the same for the next two days, with a
tolerably fair wind and dry weather. I read in bed (but to
this hour I don't know what) a good deal ; and reeled on deck
a little; drank cold brandy-and-water with an unspeakable
disgust, and ate hard biscuit perseveringly : not ill, but going
to be.

It is the third morning. I am awakened out of my sleep
by a dismal shriek from my wife, who demands to know
whether there's any danger. I rouse myself, and look out of
bed. The water-jug is plunging and leaping like a lively
dolphin ; all the smaller articles are afloat, except my shoes,
which are stranded on a carpet-bag, high and dry, like a couple
of coal-barges. Suddenly I see them spring into the air, and
behold the looking-glass, which is nailed to the wall, sticking
fast upon the ceiling. At the same time the door entirely


disappears, and a new one is opened in the floor. Then I
begin to comprehend that the state-room is standing on its

Before it is possible to make any arrangement at all
compatible with this novel state of things, the ship rights.
Before one can say " Thank Heaven ! " she wrongs again.
Before one can cry she is wrong, she seems to have started
forward, and to be a creature actually running of its own
accord, with broken knees and failing legs, through every
variety of hole and pitfall, and stumbling constantly. Before
one can so much as wonder, she takes a high leap into the
air. Before she has well done that, she takes a deep dive
into the water. Before she has gained the surface, she throws
a summerset. The instant she is on her legs, she rushes
backward. And so she goes on staggering, heaving, wrestling,
leaping, diving, jumping, pitching, throbbing, rolling, and
rocking: and going through all these movements, sometimes
by turns, and sometimes altogether : until one feels disposed
to roar for mercy.

A steward passes. "Steward!" "Sir?" "What is the
matter ? what do you call this ? "" " Rather a heavy sea on,
sir, and a head-wind."

A head-wind ! Imagine a human face upon the vessel's
prow, with fifteen thousand Samsons in one bent upon driving
her back, and hitting her exactly between the eyes whenever
she attempts to advance an inch. Imagine the ship herself,
with every pulse and artery of her huge body swollen and
bursting under this maltreatment, sworn to go on or die.
Imagine the wind howling, the sea roaring, the rain beating :
all in furious array against her. Picture the sky both dark
and wild, and the clouds, in fearful sympathy with the waves,

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 2 of 43)