Charles Dickens.

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making another ocean in the air. Add to all this, the
clattering on deck and down below; the tread of hurried
feet ; the loud hoarse shouts of seamen ; the gurgling in and
out of water through the scuppers ; with, every now and then,
the striking of a heavy sea upon the planks above, with the


deep, dead, heavy sound of thunder heard within a vault ;
and there is the head-wind of that January morning.

I say nothing of what may be called the domestic noises
of the ship : such as the breaking of glass and crockery, the
tumbling down of stewards, the gambols, overhead, of loose
casks and truant dozens of bottled porter, and the very
remarkable and far from exhilarating sounds raised in their
various state-rooms by the seventy passengers who were too
ill to get up to breakfast. I say nothing of them : for
although I lay listening to this concert for three or four days,
I don^t think I heard it for more than a quarter of a minute,
at the expiration of which term, I lay down again, excessively

Not sea-sick, be it understood, in the ordinary acceptation
of the term : I wish I had been : but in a form which I have
never seen or heard described, though I have no doubt it is
very common. I lay there, all the day long, quite coolly
and contentedly ; with no sense of weariness, with no desire
to get up, or get better, or take the air; with no curiosity,
or care, or regret, of any sort or degree, saving that I think
I can remember, in this universal indifference, having a kind
of laxy joy of fiendish delight, if anything so lethargic can
be dignified with the title in the fact of my wife being too
ill to talk to me. If I may be allowed to illustrate my state
of mind by such an example, I should say that I was exactly
in the condition of the elder Mr. Willet, after the incursion
of the rioters into his bar at Chigwell. Nothing would have
surprised me. If, in the momentary illumination of any ray
of intelligence that may have come upon me in the way of
thoughts of Home, a goblin postman, with a scarlet coat and
bell, had come into that little kennel before me, broad awake
in broad day, and, apologising for being damp through
walking in the sea, had handed me a letter directed to my-
self, in familiar characters, I am certain I should not have
felt one atom of astonishment : I should have been perfectly
satisfied. If Neptune himself had walked in, with a toasted


shark on his trident, I should have looked upon the event as
one of the very commonest everyday occurrences.

Once once I found myself on deck. I don't know how
I got there, or what possessed me to go there, but there I
was; and completely dressed too, with a huge pea-coat on,
and a pair of boots such as no weak man in his senses could
ever have got into. I found myself standing, when a gleam
of consciousness came upon me, holding on to something. I
don't know what. I think it was the boatswain : or it may
have been the pump : or possibly the cow. I can't say how
long I had been there ; whether a day or a minute. I recol-
lect trying to think about something (about anything in the
whole wide world, I was not particular) without the smallest
effect. I could not even make out which was the sea, and
which the sky, for the horizon seemed drunk, and was flying
wildly about in all directions. Even in that incapable state,
however, I recognised the lazy gentleman standing before me :
nautically clad in a suit of shaggy blue, with an oilskin hat.
But I was too imbecile, although I knew it to be he, to sepa-
rate him from his dress ; and tried to call him, I remember,
Pilot. After another interval of total unconsciousness, I
found he had gone, and recognised another figure in its place.
It seemed to wave and fluctuate before me as though I saw
it reflected in an unsteady looking-glass ; but I knew it for
the captain ; and such was the cheerful influence of his face,
that I tried to smile : yes, even then I tried to smile. I saw
by his gestures that he addressed me ; but it was a long time
before I could make out that he remonstrated against my
standing up to my knees in water as I was; of course I
don't know why. I tried to thank him, but couldn't. I
could only point to my boots or wherever I supposed my
boots to be and say in a plaintive voice, " Cork soles : " at
the same time endeavouring, I am told, to sit down in the
pool. Finding that I was quite insensible, and for the time
a maniac, he humanely conducted me below.

There I remained until I got better : suffering, whenever I


was recommended to eat anything, an amount of anguish
only second to that which is said to be endured by the
apparently drowned, in the process of restoration to life. One
gentleman on board had a letter of introduction to me from
a mutual friend in London. He sent it below with his card,'
on the morning of the head-wind ; and I was long troubled
with the idea that he might be up, and well, and a hundred
times a day .expecting me to call upon him in the saloon. I
imagined him one of those cast-iron images I will not call
them men who ask, with red faces, and lusty voices, what
sea-sickness means, and whether it really is as bad as it is
represented to be. This was very torturing indeed ; and I
don't think I ever felt such perfect gratification and gratitude
of heart, as I did when I heard from the ship's doctor that
he had been obliged to put a large mustard poultice on this
very gentleman's stomach. I date my recovery from the
receipt of that intelligence.

It was materially assisted though, I have no doubt, by a
heavy gale of wind, which came slowly up at sunset, when we
were about ten days out, and raged with gradually increasing
fury until morning, saving that it lulled for an hour a little
before midnight. There was something in the unnatural
repose of that hour, and in the after gathering of the storm,
so inconceivably awful and tremendous, that its bursting into
full violence was almost a relief.

The labouring of the ship in the troubled sea on this night
I shall never forget. " Will it ever be worse than this ? "
was a question I had often heard asked, when everything was
sliding and bumping about, and when it certainly did seem
difficult to comprehend the possibility of anything afloat
being more disturbed, without toppling over and going down.
But what the agitation of a steam-vessel is, on a bad winter's
night in the wild Atlantic, it is impossible for the most vivid
imagination to conceive. To say that she is flung down on
her side in the waves, with her masts dipping into them, and
that, springing up again, she rolls over on the other side,



until a heavy sea strikes her with the noise of a hundred
great guns, and hurls her back that she stops, and staggers,
and shivers, as though stunned, and then, with a violent
throbbing at her heart, darts onward like a monster goaded
into madness, to be beaten down, and battered, and crushed,
and leaped on by the angry sea that thunder, lightning,
hail, and rain, and wind, are all in fierce contention for the
mastery that every plank has its groan, every nail its shriek,
and every drop of water in the great ocean its howling voice
is nothing. To say that all is grand, and all appalling
and horrible in the last degree, is nothing. Words cannot
express it. Thoughts cannot convey it. Only a dream can
call it up again, in all its fury, rage, and passion.

And yet, in the very midst of these terrors, I was placed
in a situation so exquisitely ridiculous, that even then I had
as strong a sense of its absurdity as I have now, and could
no more help laughing than I can at any other comical
incident, happening under circumstances the most favourable
to its enjoyment. About midnight we shipped a sea, which
forced its way through the skylights, burst open the doors
above, and came raging and roaring down into the ladies 1
cabin, to the unspeakable consternation of my wife and a
little Scotch lady who, by the way, had previously sent a
message to the captain by the stewardess, requesting him,
with her compliments, to have a steel conductor immediately
attached to the top of every mast, and to the chimney, in
order that the ship might not be struck by lightning. They
and the handmaid before mentioned, being in such ecstasies
of fear that I scarcely knew what to do with them, I naturally
bethought myself of some restorative or comfortable cordial ;
and nothing better occurring to me, at the moment, than
hot brandy-and-water, I procured a tumbler full without
delay. It being impossible to stand or sit without holding
on, they were all heaped together in one corner of a long
sofa a fixture extending entirely across the cabin where
they clung to each other in momentary expectation of being


drowned. When I approached this place with my specific, and
was about to administer it with many consolatory expressions
to the nearest sufferer, wnat was my dismay to see them all
roll slowly down to the other end ! And when I staggered to
that end, and held out the glass once more, how immensely
baffled were my good intentions by the ship giving another
lurch, and their all rolling back again ! I suppose I dodged
them up and down this sofa for at least a quarter of an hour,
without reaching them once ; and by the time I did catch
them, the brandy-and- water was diminished, by constant
spilling, to a teaspoonful. To complete the group, it is
necessary to recognise in this disconcerted dodger, an indi-
vidual very pale from sea-sickness, who had shaved his beard
and brushed his hair, last, at Liverpool: and whose only
article of dress (linen not included) were a pair of dread-
nought trousers ; a blue jacket, formerly admired upon the
Thames at Richmond ; no stockings ; and one slipper.

Of the outrageous antics performed by that ship next
morning ; which made bed a practical joke, and getting up,
by any process short of falling out, an impossibility ; I say
nothing. But anything like the utter dreariness and desola-
tion that met my eyes when I literally "tumbled up"" on
deck at noon, I never saw. Ocean and sky were all of one
dull, heavy, uniform, lead colour. There Avas no extent of
prospect even over the dreary waste that lay around us, for
the sea ran high, and the horizon encompassed us like a large
black hoop. Viewed from the air, or some tall bluff' on shore,
it would have been imposing and stupendous, no doubt ; but
seen from the wet and rolling decks, it only impressed one
giddily and painfully. In the gale of last night the life-boat
had been crushed by one blow of the sea like a walnut-shell ;
and there it hung dangling in the air : a mere faggot of crazy
boards. The planking of the paddle-boxes had been torn
sheer away. The wheels were exposed and bare ; and they
whirled and dashed their spray about the decks at random.
Chimney, white with crusted salt ; topmasts struck ; storm-


sails set ; rigging all knotted, tangled, wet, and drooping : a
gloomier picture it would be hard to look upon.

I was now comfortably established by courtesy in the ladies'
cabin, where, besides ourselves, there were only four other
passengers. First, the little Scotch lady before mentioned, on
her way to join her husband at New York, who had settled
there three years before. Secondly and thirdly, an honest
young Yorkshireman, connected with some American house ;
domiciled in that same city, and carrying thither his beauti-
ful young wife to whom he had been married but a fortnight,
and who was the fairest specimen of a comely English country
girl I have ever seen. Fourthy, fifthly, and lastly, another
couple : newly married too, if one might judge from the
endearments they frequently interchanged : of whom I know
no more than that they were rather a mysterious, run-away
kind of couple ; that the lady had great personal attractions
also ; and that the gentleman carried more guns with him
than Robinson Crusoe, wore a shooting-coat, and had two
great dogs on board. On further consideration, I remember
that he tried hot roast pig and bottled ale as a cure for sea-
sickness; and that he took these remedies (usually in bed)
day after day, with astonishing perseverance. I may add, for
the information of the curious, that they decidedly failed.

The weather continuing obstinately and almost unprecedent-
edly bad, we usually straggled into this cabin, more or less
faint and miserable, about an hour before noon, and lay down
on the sofas to recover ; during which interval, the captain
would look in to communicate the state of the wind, the
moral certainty of its changing to-morrow (the weather is
always going to improve to-morrow, at sea), the vessel's rate
of sailing, and so forth. Observations there were none to tell
us of, for there was no sun to take them by. But a descrip-
tion of one day will serve for all the rest. Here it is.

The captain being gone, we compose ourselves to read, if
the place be light enough ; and if not, we doze and talk
alternately. At one, a bell rings, and the stewardess comes


down with a steaming dish of baked potatoes, and another
of roasted apples ; and plates of pig's face, cold ham, salt beef;
or perhaps a smoking mess of rare hot collops. We fall to
upon these dainties ; eat as much as we can (we have great
appetites now) ; and are as long as possible about it. If the
fire will burn (it will sometimes) we are pretty cheerful. If
it won't, we all remark to each other that it's very cold, rub
our hands, cover ourselves with coats and cloaks, and lie
down again to doze, talk, and read (provided as aforesaid),
until dinner-time. At five, another bell rings, and the
stewardess reappears with another dish of potatoes boiled
this time and store of hot meat of various kinds : not for-
getting the roast pig, to be taken medicinally. We sit down
at table again (rather more cheerfully than before) ; prolong
the meal with a rather mouldy dessert of apples, grapes, and
oranges; and drink our wine and brandy-and-water. The
bottles and glasses are still upon the table, and the oranges
and so forth are rolling about according to their fancy and
the ship's way, when the doctor comes down, by special
nightly invitation, to join our evening rubber : immediately
on whose arrival we make a party at whist, and as it is a
rough night and the cards will not lie on the cloth, we put
the tricks in our pockets as we take them. At whist we
remain with exemplary gravity (deducting a short time for
tea and toast) until eleven o'clock, or thereabouts ; when the
captain comes down again, in a sou'-wester hat tied under
his chin, and a pilot-coat : making the ground wet where he
stands. By this time the card-playing is over, and the bottles
and glasses are again upon the table ; and after an hour's
pleasant conversation about the ship, the passengers, and
things in general, the captain (who never goes to bed, and is
never out of humour) turns up his coat collar for the deck
again ; shakes hands all round ; and goes laughing out into
the weather as merrily as to a birthday party.

As to daily news, there is no dearth of that commodity.
This passenger is reported to have lost fourteen pounds at


Vingt-et-un in the saloon yesterday ; and that passenger
drinks his bottle of champagne every day, and how he does
it (being only a clerk), nobody knows. The head engineer
has distinctly said that there never was such times meaning
weather and four good hands are ill, and have given in,
dead beat. Several berths are full of water, and all the
cabins are leaky. The ship's cook, secretly swigging damaged
whiskey, has been found drunk ; and has been played upon
by the fire-engine until quite sober. All the stewards have
fallen down-stairs at various dinner-times, and go about with
plasters in various places. The baker is ill, and so is the
pastry-cook. A new man, horribly indisposed, has been
required to fill the place of the latter officer ; and has been
propped and jammed up with empty casks in a little house
upon deck, and commanded to roll out pie-crust, which he
protests (being highly bilious) it is death to him to look at.
News ! A dozen murders on shore would lack the interest
of these slight incidents at sea.

Divided between our rubber and such topics as these, we
were running (as we thought) into Halifax Harbour, on the
fifteenth night, with little wind and a bright moon indeed,
we had made the Light at its outer entrance, and put the
pilot in charge when suddenly the ship struck upon a bank
of mud. An immediate rush on deck took place of course ;
the sides were crowded in an instant ; and for a few minutes
we were in as lively a state of confusion as the greatest lover
of disorder would desire to see. The passengers, and guns,
and water-casks, and other heavy matters, being all huddled
together aft, however, to lighten her in the head, she was
soon got off; and after some driving on towards an uncom-
fortable line of objects (whose vicinity had been announced
very early in the disaster by a loud cry of " Breakers a-head ! ")'
and much backing of paddles, and heaving of the lead into
a constantly decreasing depth of water, we dropped anchor
in a strange outlandish-looking nook which nobody on board
could recognise, although there was land all about us, and


so close that we could plainly see the waving branches of
the trees.

It was strange enough, in the silence of midnight, and the
dead stillness that seemed to be created by the sudden and
unexpected stoppage of the engine which had been clanking
and blasting in our ears incessantly for so many days, to
watch the look of blank astonishment expressed in every
face : beginning with the officers, tracing it through all the
passengers, and descending to the very stokers and furnace-
men, who emerged from below, one by one, and clustered
together in a smoky group about the hatchway of the engine-
room, comparing notes in whispers. After throwing up a
few rockets and firing signal guns in the hope of being hailed
from the land, or at least of seeing a light but without any
other sight or sound presenting itself it was determined to
send a boat on shore. It was amusing to observe how very
kind some of the passengers were, in volunteering to go
ashore in this same boat : for the general good, of course :
not by any means because they thought the ship in an unsafe
position, or contemplated the possibility of her heeling over
in case the tide were running out. Nor was it less amusing
to remark how desperately unpopular the poor pilot became
in one short minute. He had had his passage out from
Liverpool, and during the whole voyage had been quite a
notorious character, as a teller of anecdotes and cracker of
jokes. Yet here were the very men who had laughed the
loudest at his jests, now flourishing their fists in his face,
loading him with imprecations, and defying him to his teeth
as a villain !

The boat soon shoved off, with a lantern and sundry blue
lights on board ; and in less -than an hour returned ; the
<>f liter in command bringing with him a tolerably tall young
tree, which he had plucked up by the roots, to satisfy certain
distrustful passengers whose minds misgave them that they
were to be imposed upon and shipwrecked, and who would
on no other terms believe that he had been ashore, or had


done anything but fraudulently row a little way into the
mist, specially to deceive them and compass their deaths.
Our captain had foreseen from the first that we must be in
a place called the Eastern passage ; and so we were. It was
about the last place in the world in which we had any
business or reason to be, but a sudden fog, and some error
on the pilot's part, were the cause. We were surrounded by
banks, and rocks, and shoals of all kinds, but had happily
drifted, it seemed, upon the only safe speck that was to be
found thereabouts. Eased by this report, and by the assurance
that the tide was past the ebb, we turned in at three o'clock
in the morning.

I was dressing about half-past nine next day, when the
noise above hurried me on deck. When I had left it over-
night, it was dark, foggy, and damp, and there were bleak
hills all round us. Now, we were gliding down a smooth,
broad stream, at the rate of eleven miles an hour: our
colours flying gaily ; our crew rigged out in their smartest
clothes ; our officers in uniform again ; the sun shining as on
a brilliant April day in England ; the land stretched out
on either side, streaked with light patches of snow ; white
wooden houses ; people at their doors ; telegraphs working ;
flags hoisted ; wharfs appearing ; ships ; quays crowded with
people ; distant noises ; shouts ; men and boys running down
steep places towards the pier: all more bright and gay and
fresh to our unused eyes than words can paint them. We
came to a wharf, paved with uplifted faces ; got alongside,
and were made fast, after some shouting and straining of
cables ; darted, a score of us along the gangway, almost as
soon as it was thrust out to meet us, and . before it had
reached the ship and leaped upon the firm glad earth
again !

I suppose this Halifax would have appeared an Elysium,
though it had been a curiosity of ugly dulness. But I carried
away with me a most pleasant impression of the town and
its inhabitants, and have preserved it to this hour. Nor was


it without regret that I came home, without having found an
opportunity of returning thither, and once more shaking
hands with the friends I made that day.

It happened to be the opening of the Legislative Council
and General Assembly, at which ceremonial the forms observed
on the commencement of a new Session of Parliament in
England were so closely copied, and so gravely presented on
a small scale, that it was like looking at Westminster through
the wrong end of a telescope. The governor, as her Majesty's
representative, delivered what may be called the Speech from
the Throne. He said what he had to say manfully and well.
The military band outside the building struck up " God save
the Queen " with great vigour before his Excellency had quite
finished ; the people shouted ; the in's rubbed their hands ;
the out's shook their heads ; the Government party said there
never was such a good speech ; the Opposition declared there
never was such a bad one ; the Speaker and members of the
House of Assembly withdrew from the bar to say a great
deal among themselves and do a little : and, in short, every-
thing went on, and promised to go on, just as it does at home
upon the like occasions.

The town is built on the side of a hill, the highest point
being commanded by a strong fortress, not yet quite finished.
Several streets of good breadth and appearance extend
from its summit to the water-side, and are intersected by
cross streets running parallel with the river. The houses are
chiefly of wood. The market is abundantly supplied ; and
provisions are exceedingly cheap. The weather being unusually
mild at that time for the season of the year, there was no
sleighing : but there were plenty of those vehicles in yards and
by-places, and some of them, from the gorgeous quality of
their decorations, might have "gone on" without alteration
as triumphal cars in a melodrama at Astley's. The day was
uncommonly fine ; the air bracing and healthful ; the whole
aspect of the town cheerful, thriving, and industrious.

We lay there seven hours, to deliver and exchange the


mails. At length, having collected all our bags and all our
passengers (including two or three choice spirits, who, having
indulged too freely in oysters and champagne, were found
lying insensible on their backs in unfrequented streets), the
engines were again put in motion, and we stood off for

Encountering squally weather again in the Bay of Fundy,
we tumbled arid rolled about as usual all that night and all
next day. On the next afternoon, that is to say, on Saturday,
the twenty-second of January, an American pilot-boat came
alongside, and soon afterwards the Britannia steam-packet,
from Liverpool, eighteen days out, was telegraphed at Boston.

The indescribable interest with which I strained my eyes,
as the first patches of American soil peeped like molehills
from the green sea, and followed them, as they swelled, by
slow and almost imperceptible degrees, into a continuous line
of coast, can hardly be exaggerated. A sharp keen wind

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 3 of 43)