JACK IN THE FORECASTLE
INCIDENTS IN THE EARLY LIFE OF HAWSER MARTINGALE
By John Sherburne Sleeper
Chapter I. FAREWELL TO NEW ENGLAND
I was born towards the close of the last century, in a village pleasantly situated on the banks of the Merrimack, in Massachusetts. For the satisfaction of the curious, and the edification of the genealogist, I will state that my ancestors came to this country from England in the middle of the seventeenth century. Why they left their native land to seek an asylum on this distant shore whether prompted by a spirit of adventure, or with a view to avoid persecution for religion's sake is now unknown. Even if they "left their country for their country's good," they were undoubtedly as respectable, honest, and noble, as the major part of those needy ruffians who accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy in his successful attempt to seize the British crown, and whose descendants now boast of their noble ancestry, and proudly claim a seat in the British House of Peers.
From my earliest years I manifested a strong attachment to reading; and as matters relating to ships and sailors captivated my boyish fancy, and exerted a magic influence on my mind, the "Adventures of Robinson Crusoe," "Peter Wilkins," "Philip Quarle," and vagabonds of a similar character, were my favorite books. An indulgence in this taste, and perhaps an innate disposition to lead a wandering, adventurous life, kindled in my bosom a strong desire, which soon became a fixed resolution, TO GO TO SEA. Indeed, this wish to go abroad, to encounter dangers on the mighty deep, to visit foreign countries and climes, to face shipwrecks and disasters, became a passion. It was my favorite theme of talk by day, and the subject of my dreams by night. As I increased in years my longing for a sailor's life also increased; and whenever my schoolfellows and myself were conversing about the occupations we should select as the means of gaining a livelihood hereafter, I invariably said, "I will be a sailor."
Had my parents lived, it is possible that this deep-seated inclination might have been thwarted; that my destiny might have taken another shape. But my father died while I was quite young, and my mother survived him but a few years. She lived long enough, however, to convince me that there is nothing more pure, disinterested, and enduring than a mother's love, and that those who are deprived of this blessing meet at the outset of their pilgrimage a misfortune which can never be remedied. Thus, before I had numbered fifteen years, I found myself thrown a waif on the waters of life, free to follow the bent of my inclination to become a sailor.
Fortune favored my wishes. Soon after the death of my parents, a relation of my mother was fitting out a vessel in Portsmouth, N.H., for a voyage to Demarara; and those who felt an interest in my welfare, conceiving this a good opportunity for me to commence my salt-water career, acceded to my wishes, and prevailed on my relative, against his inclination, to take me with him as a cabin boy.
With emotions of delight I turned my back on the home of my childhood, and gayly started off to seek my fortune in the world, with no other foundation to build upon than a slender frame, an imperfect education, a vivid imagination, ever picturing charming castles in the air, and a goodly share of quiet energy and perseverance, modified by an excess of diffidence, which to this day I have never been able to overcome.
I had already found in a taste for reading a valuable and never-failing source of information and amusement. This attachment to books has attended me through life, and been a comfort and solace in difficulties, perplexities, and perils. My parents, also, early ingrafted on my mind strict moral principles; taught me to distinguish between right and wrong; to cherish a love of truth, and even a chivalric sense of honor and honesty. To this, perhaps, more than to any other circumstance, may be attributed whatever success and respectability has attended my career through life. It has enabled me to resist temptations to evil with which I was often surrounded, and to grapple with and triumph over obstacles that might otherwise have overwhelmed me.
When I reached Portsmouth, my kinsman, Captain Tilton, gave me an ungracious reception. He rebuked me severely for expressing a determination to go to sea.
"Go to sea!" he exclaimed in a tone of the most sovereign contempt. "Ridiculous! You are a noodle for thinking of such a thing. A sailor's life is a dog's life at best! Besides, you are not fit for a sailor, either by habits, taste, or constitution. With such a pale face, and slight figure, and sheepish look, how can you expect to fight the battle of life on the ocean, and endure all the crosses, the perils, and the rough-and-tumble of a sailor's life? Hawser, you are not fit for a sailor. You had much better go home and try something else."
Finding me unconvinced by his arguments, and unshaken in my determination, he concluded his remarks by asking me abruptly the startling question, "Are you ready to die?"
I replied, that I had not bestowed much thought on the subject; but frankly admitted I was not altogether prepared for such a solemn event.
"Then, Hawser," said he with marked emphasis, "if you are not prepared to die to die of YELLOW FEVER don't go to Demarara at this season of the year!" And he left the room abruptly, apparently disgusted at my obstinacy.
On the following day, Captain Tilton took me on board the brig Dolphin. I did not mark her imperfections, which were many. She was a vessel, bound on a voyage to a foreign port, and, therefore, I was charmed with her appearance. In my eyes she was a model of excellence; as beautiful and graceful as the celebrated barge in which Cleopatra descended the Cyndnus to meet Mark Antony.
The captain led me to the mate, who was busily engaged about the decks. "Mr. Thompson," said he, "here is a lad who wants to go to sea, and I have foolishly engaged to take him as a cabin boy. Keep him on board the brig; look sharp after him; don't let him have an idle moment; and, if possible, make him useful in some way until the vessel is ready for sea."
Mr. William Thompson was a worthy man, who subsequently became a shipmaster and merchant of great respectability in Portsmouth. He treated me with consideration and kindness, and took pleasure in teaching me the details of the business I was about to undertake.
During the few days in which the Dolphin lay at the wharf I gained much nautical information. I learned the names of the different parts of a vessel; of the different masts, and some portions of the rigging. But the great number of ropes excited my admiration. I thought a lifetime would hardly suffice to learn their different names and purposes. I accomplished successfully the feat of going aloft; and one memorable day, assisted the riggers in "bending sails," and received an ill-natured rebuke from a crusty old tar, for my stupidity in failing to understand him when he told me to "pass the gasket" while furling the fore-topsail. Instead of passing the gasket around the yard, I gravely handed him a marlinspike!
In the course of my desultory reading, I had learned that vessels at sea were liable to "spring a leak," which was one of the most dreaded perils of navigation; and I had a vague notion that the hold of a ship was always so arranged that a leak could be discovered and stopped. I was, therefore, not a little puzzled when I found the hold of the Dolphin was crammed with lumber; not a space having been left large enough to stow away the ghost of a belaying pin. Finding the captain in a pleasant mood one day, I ventured to ask him what would be the consequence if the brig should spring a leak in her bottom.
"Spring a leak in her bottom!" he replied, in his gruff manner; "why, we should go to the bottom, of course."
The brig was now ready for sea. The sailors were shipped, and I watched them closely as they came on board, expecting to find the noble-looking, generous spirited tars I had become so familiar with in books. It happened, however, that three out of the five seamen who composed the crew were "old English men-of-war's-men," and had long since lost any refinement of character or rectitude of principle they originally possessed. They were brought on board drunk by the landlord with whom they boarded; for the "old tars" of those days fifty years ago had no homes; when on shore all they cared for was a roof to shelter them, and plenty of grog, in which they would indulge until their money was gone, when they would go to sea and get more.
Now ensued the bustle incident to such occasions. Captain William Boyd, who had volunteered to pilot the brig down the harbor, came on board; the sails were hoisted; the deck was crowded with persons to take leave of their friends, or gratify a morbid curiosity; and what with the numerous questions asked, the running to and fro, the peremptory commands of the mate, the unmusical singing and shouting of the crew as they executed the various orders, together with the bawling of the handcartmen and truckmen as they brought down the last of the trunks, chests, stores, and provisions, my brain was in a whirl of excitement; I hardly knew whether I stood on my head or my heels.
At last the captain came down the wharf, accompanied by Joshua Haven, one of the owners, and some friends, who had made arrangements to proceed in the brig so far as the mouth of the harbor. The single rope which connected the Dolphin with the shore was cast loose; the pilot gave some orders; that were Greek to me, in a loud and energetic tone; the men on the wharf gave three cheers, which were heartily responded to by the temporary passengers and crew; and with a pleasant breeze from the westward, we sailed merrily down the river.
Some few persons lingered on the wharf, and continued for a time to wave their handkerchiefs in token of an affectionate farewell to their friends. I seemed to stand alone while these interesting scenes were enacted. I took no part in the warm greetings or the tender adieus. I had bidden farewell to my friends and relatives in another town some days before; and no one took sufficient interest in my welfare to travel a few miles, look after my comforts, and wish me a pleasant voyage as I left my native land.
Although from the reception I had met with I had little reason to expect present indulgences or future favors from my kinsman who commanded the brig, I did not regret the step I had taken. On the contrary, my bosom bounded with joy when the last rope was severed, and the vessel on whose decks I proudly stood was actually leaving the harbor of Portsmouth, under full sail, bound to a foreign port. This was no longer "the baseless fabric of a vision." The dream of my early years had come to pass; and I looked forward with all the confidence of youth to a bold and manly career, checkered it might be with toil and suffering, but replete with stirring adventure, whose wild and romantic charms would be cheaply won by wading through a sea of troubles. I now realized the feeling which has since been so well described by the poet:
"A life on the ocean wave, A home on the rolling deep, Where the scattered waters rave, And the winds their revels keep.
"Like an eagle caged, I pine On this dull, unchanging shore; O, give me the flashing brine, The spray, and the tempest's roar."
Chapter II. INCIDENTS AT SEA
The Dolphin was what is termed, in nautical parlance, an "hermaphrodite brig," of about one hundred and fifty tons burden; and had been engaged, for some twelve or fifteen years, in the West India trade. This vessel could not with propriety be regarded as a model of grace and beauty, but gloried in bluff bows, a flat bottom, and a high quarter-deck; carried a large cargo for her tonnage, and moved heavily and reluctantly through the water.
On this particular voyage, the hold of the brig, as I have already stated, was filled with lumber; and thirty-five thousand feet of the same article were carried on deck, together with an indefinite quantity of staves, shooks, hoop poles, and other articles of commerce too numerous to mention. On this enormous deck-load were constructed, on each side, a row of sheep-pens, sufficiently spacious to furnish with comfortable quarters some sixty or seventy sheep; and on the pens, ranged along in beautiful confusion, was an imposing display of hen-coops and turkey-coops, the interstices being ingeniously filled with bundles of hay and chunks of firewood. The quarter-deck was "lumbered up" with hogsheads of water, and casks of oats and barley, and hen-coops without number.
With such a deck-load, not an unusually large one in those days, the leading trucks attached to the fore-rigging were about half way between the main deck and the foretop. It was a work of difficulty and danger to descend from the deck-load to the forecastle; but to reach the foretop required only a hop, skip, and a jump. The locomotive qualities of this craft, misnamed the Dolphin, were little superior to those of a well constructed raft; and with a fresh breeze on the quarter, in spite of the skill of the best helmsman, her wake was as crooked as that of the "wounded snake," referred to by the poet, which "dragged its slow length along."
It was in the early part of July, in the year 1809, that the brig Dolphin left Portsmouth, bound on a voyage to Dutch Guiana, which at that time, in consequence of the malignant fevers that prevailed on the coast, was not inaptly termed "the grave of American seamen." The crew consisted of the captain and mate, five sailors, a green hand to act as cook, and a cabin boy. There was also a passenger on board, a young man named Chadwick, who had been residing in Portsmouth, and was going to Demarara, in the hope which fortunately for him was not realized of establishing himself in a mercantile house.
The forecastle being, for obvious reasons, untenable during the outward passage, these ten individuals, when below deck, were stowed away in the cabin and steerage, amid boxes, bales, chests, barrels, and water casks, in a manner somewhat miscellaneous, and not the most commodious or comfortable. Indeed, for several days after we left port, the usual and almost only access to the cabin was by the skylight; and those who made the cabin their home, were obliged to crawl on all fours over the heterogeneous mass of materials with which it was crowded, in order to reach their berths!
The owners of the brig must have calculated largely on favorable weather during the passage; for had we experienced a gale on the coast, or fallen in with the tail-end of a hurricane in the tropics, the whole deck-load would have been swept away, and the lives of the ship's company placed in imminent peril. The weather, however, proved remarkably mild, and the many inconveniences to which the crew were subjected were borne with exemplary patience, and sometimes even regarded as a capital joke.
We passed the Whale's Back at the mouth of the Piscataqua, and the Isles of Shoals loomed up through the hazy atmosphere; and although the wind was light, and the sea apparently smooth, the brig began to have a motion an awkward, uneasy motion for which I could not account, and which, to my great annoyance, continued to increase as we left the land. I staggered as I crossed the quarter-deck, and soon after we cleared the harbor, came near pitching overboard from the platform covering the sheep-pens. My head was strangely confused, and a dizziness seized me, which I in vain struggled to shake off. My spirits, so gay and buoyant as we sailed down the harbor, sunk to zero.
At length I could not resist the conviction that I was assailed with symptoms of seasickness, a malady which I had always held in contempt, believing it to exist more in imagination than in fact, and which I was determined to resist, as unsailor-like and unmanly. Other symptoms of a less equivocal description, soon placed the character of my illness beyond a doubt. My woe-begone looks must have betrayed my feelings, for one of the men told me, with a quizzical leer, that old Neptune always exacted toll in advance from a green hand for his passage over the waters.
Mr. Thompson, who seemed to pity my miserable condition, gravely assured me that exercise was a capital thing as a preventive or cure for seasickness, and advised me to try the pump. I followed his advice: a few strokes brought up the bilge water, than which nothing at that time could have been more insufferably nauseous! I left the pump in disgust, and retiring to the after part of the quarter-deck, threw myself down on a coil of rope, unable longer to struggle with my fate. There I remained unnoticed and uncared for for several hours, when, the wind having changed, the rope which formed my bed, and proved to be the "main sheet," was wanted, and I was unceremoniously ejected from my quarters, and roughly admonished to "go below and keep out of the way!" I crawled into the cabin, and, stretched on some boxes, endeavored to get a little sleep; but the conglomeration of smells of a most inodorous character, which, as it seemed to my distempered fancy, pervaded every part of the vessel, prevented my losing a sense of suffering in sleep.
As I lay musing on the changes which a few days had wrought in my condition, and, borne down by the pangs of seasickness, was almost ready to admit that there was prose as well as poetry in a sailor's life, I was startled by a terrific noise, the announcement, I supposed, of some appalling danger. I heard distinctly three loud knocks on the deck at the entrance of the steerage, and then a sailor put his head down the companion-way, and in a voice loud, cracked, and discordant, screamed in a tone which I thought must have split his jaws asunder, "LA-AR-BO-A-RD W-A-T-CH A-H-O-O-Y."
In spite of my sickness I started from my uncomfortable resting place, scrambled into the steerage, and by a roll of the brig was tumbled under the steps, and suffered additional pains and apprehensions before I ascertained that the unearthly sounds which had so alarmed me were nothing more than the usual mode of "calling the watch," or in other words, the man with the unmusical voice had gently hinted to the sleepers below that "turn-about was fair play," and they were wanted on deck.
To add to my troubles, the wind in the morning shifted to the south-east, and thus became a head wind, and the old brig became more restless than ever, and pitched and rolled to leeward occasionally with a lurch, performing clumsy antics in the water which my imagination never pictured, and which I could neither admire nor applaud.
For several days we were beating about Massachusetts Bay and St. George's Bank, making slow progress on our voyage. During that time I was really seasick, and took little note of passing events, being stretched on the deck, a coil of rope, or a chest, musing on the past or indulging in gloomy reflections in regard to the future. Seasickness never paints ideal objects of a roseate hue. Although I was not called upon for much actual work, I received no sympathy for my miserable condition; for seasickness, like the toothache, is seldom fatal, notwithstanding it is as distressing a malady as is found in the catalogue of diseases, and one for which no preventive or cure, excepting time, has yet been discovered. Time is a panacea for every ill; and after the lapse of ten or twelve days, as the brig was drawing towards the latitude of Bermuda, my sickness disappeared as suddenly as it commenced; and one pleasant morning I threw aside my shore dress, and with it my landsman's habits and feelings. I donned my short jacket and trousers, and felt every inch a sailor!
The Bermudas are a cluster of small islands and rocks lying in the track of vessels bound from New England to the West Indies. The climate is mild, and the atmosphere remarkably salubrious, while the trace of ocean in the vicinity has long been noted for severe squalls at every season of the year. A squall at sea no unusual occurrence is often the cause of anxiety, being attended with danger. Sometimes the rush of wind is so violent that nothing will resist its fury, and before the alarm is given and the canvas reduced, the masts are blown over the side or the vessel capsized. Therefore, on the approach of a squall, a vigilant officer will be prepared for the worst, by shortening sail and making other arrangements for averting the threatened danger.
I hardly knew how it happened, but one afternoon when we were a little to the northward of Bermuda, and should have kept a lookout for squalls, we were favored with a visit from one of a most energetic character. Its sudden approach from under the lee was either unnoticed or unheeded until the captain accidentally came on deck. He was instantly aware of the perilous condition of the brig, for the "white caps" of the waves could be distinctly seen, and even the roar of the wind could be heard as it rushed towards us over the water. Before any orders could be executed before the sails could be taken in, the yards braced round, or even the helm shifted, the tempest broke over us. The rain fell in torrents, the wind blew with tremendous violence, and a scene of indescribable confusion ensued.
The captain stood near the companion-way, much excited, giving directions with energy and rapidity. "Hard up your helm!" said he; "Hard up! Lower away the mainsail! Let go the peak halliards! Why DON'T you put the helm hard up? Let go all the halliards fore and aft! Clew down the fore-topsail! Haul in the starboard braces! There steady with the helm!"
The mate and sailors were running about the decks, looking frightened and bewildered, eagerly casting loose some ropes, and pulling desperately upon others; the sails were fluttering and shaking, as if anxious to quit the spars and fly away to unknown regions; the brig felt the force of the wind, and for a few moments was pressed over on her side until her beam ends were in the water; and what with the shouting of the captain, the answering shouts of the mate, the unearthly cries of the sailors, as they strove to execute the orders so energetically given; the struggling of the canvas, the roaring of the winds and the waves, the creaking of the cordage, the beating of the rain against the decks, and the careening of the vessel, it is not remarkable that I felt somewhat alarmed and excited, as well as deeply interested in witnessing for the first time in my life A SQUALL AT SEA.
The squall was of short duration; although the rain continued for a time, the wind, after a few minutes, gave but little inconvenience. In the course of an hour the murky clouds had disappeared, the sun shone out brightly as it was sinking towards the horizon, and the brig was again pursuing her way towards her destined port, urged slowly along by a light but favorable breeze.
Having got my sea legs on, I could proudly strut about among the lumber and sheep-pens without fear of rolling overboard. I found the sailors a rough but good-natured set of fellows, with but little refinement in ideas or language. Although they amused themselves with my awkwardness, and annoyed me with practical jokes, they took a pride and pleasure in inducting me into the mysteries of their craft. They taught me the difference between a granny knot and a square knot; how to whip a rope's end; form splices; braid sinnett; make a running bowline, and do a variety of things peculiar to the web-footed gentry. Some of them also tried hard, by precept and example, but in vain, to induce me to chew tobacco and drink grog! Indeed, they regarded the ability to swallow a stiff glass of New England rum, without making a wry face, as one of the most important qualifications of a sailor!
The "old men-of-war's-men" had passed through strange and eventful scenes; they were the type of a class of men which have long since passed away; they could spin many a long and interesting yarn, to which I listened with untiring eagerness. But no trait in their character astonished me more than their uncontrollable passion for intoxicating drinks. As cabin boy, it was my duty to serve out to the crew a half pint of rum a day. These old Tritons eagerly looked forward to the hour when this interesting ceremony came off; their eyes sparkled as they received their allotted portion of this enemy to the human race; and they practised every art to procure, by fair means or foul, an increased allowance. If by accident or shrewd management one of them succeeded in obtaining half a glass more than he was fairly entitled to, his triumph was complete. But if he imagined he had not received the full quantity which was his due, ill humor and sulky looks for the next twenty-four hours bore testimony to his anger and disappointment. These men ignored the good old proverb that "bread is the staff of life," and at any time, or at all times, would prefer grog to bread.
In those days it was believed that ardent spirit would strengthen the constitution, and enable a man to endure hardship and perform labor to a greater extent that would be the case if he drank nothing stronger than water. Rum was, therefore, included among the ship's stores as an important means of keeping the ship's company in good humor, reviving their spirits and energies when overcome with fatigue or exposure, and strengthening them for a hard day's work.
Those days have passed away. It is now known that those doctrines were false; that spiritous liquors, as a drink, never benefit mankind, but have proved one of the greatest scourges with which the human race has been afflicted. It is no longer believed that grog will insure the faithful performance of a seaman's duty, and it is excluded from our ships, so far as the forecastle is concerned; and if it were never allowed to visit the cabin, the crews, in some cases, would lead happier lives, there would be fewer instances of assault and battery, revolts and shipwrecks, and the owners and underwriters would find the balance at the end of the voyage more decidedly in their favor.
Among the customs on shipboard which attracted my particular attention, was the manner in which the sailors partook of their meals. There was no tedious ceremony or fastidious refinement witnessed on these occasions. At twelve o'clock the orders were promptly given, "Call the watch! Hold the reel! Pump ship! Get your dinners!" With never-failing alacrity the watch was called, the log thrown, and the ship pumped. When these duties were performed, a bustle was seen about the camboose, or large cooking stove, in which the meals were prepared. In pleasant weather it was usual for the sailors to take their meals on deck; but no table was arranged, no table-cloth was spread, no knives and forks or spoons were provided, no plates of any description were furnished, or glass tumblers or earthen mugs. The preliminary arrangements were of the simplest description.
The signal being given, the cook hastily transferred from his boilers whatever food he had prepared, into a wooden vessel, called a kid, resembling in size and appearance a peck measure. The kid with its contents was deposited on the spot selected; a bag or box, containing ship's biscuits was then produced, dinner was ready, and all hands, nothing loth, gathered around the kid and commenced operations.
The usual fare was salt beef and bread, varied at stated times or according to circumstances; and this has probably for centuries been the standing dish for the forecastle in English and American ships. On this passage, the Sunday dinner varied from the usual routine by the addition of fresh meat. Every Sabbath morning a sheep, the finest and fattest of the flock, was missing from the pens. Portions of the animal, however, would appear a few hours afterwards in the shape of a luscious sea-pie for the sailors, and in various inviting shapes during the following week to the inmates of the cabin. This loss of property was recorded by Mr. Thompson in the ship's log-book, with his accustomed accuracy, and with Spartan brevity. The language he invariably used was, "A sheep died this day."
Among the crew of the Dolphin were two weather-beaten tars, who were as careless of their costumes as of their characters. They recked little how ridiculously they looked, excepting in one respect. They could each boast of a magnificent head of hair, which they allowed to grow to a great length on the back of the head, where it was collected and fashioned into enormous queues, which, when permitted to hang down, reached to the small of their backs, and gave them the appearance of Chinese mandarins, or Turkish pachas of a single tail. These tails were their pets the only ornaments about their persons for which they manifested any interest. This pride in their queues was the weak point in their characters. Every Sunday they performed on each other the operation of manipulating the pendulous ornaments, straightening them out like magnified marlinspikes, and binding them with ribbons or rope-yarns, tastily fastened at the extremity by a double bow knot.
Queues, in those days, were worn on the land as well as on the sea, and were as highly prized by the owners. On the land, they were harmless enough, perhaps, and seldom ungratefully interfered with the comfort of their benefactors or lured them into scrapes. On shipboard the case was different, and they sometimes proved not only superfluous but troublesome.
On our homeward passage a case occurred which illustrated the absurdity of wearing a queue at sea a fashion which has been obsolete for many years. A gale of wind occurred on the coast, and the crew were ordered aloft to reef the fore-topsail. Jim Bilton, with his queue snugly clubbed and tucked away beneath his pea-jacket, was first on the yard, and passed the weather ear-ring; but, unfortunately, the standing rigging had recently been tarred, and his queue, escaping from bondage, was blown about, the sport of the wind, and after flapping against the yard, took a "round turn" over the lift, and stuck fast. Jim was in an awkward position. He could not immediately disengage his queue, and he could not willingly or conveniently leave it aloft. All hands but himself were promptly on deck, and ready to sway up the yard. The mate shouted to him in the full strength of his lungs to "Bear a hand and lay in off the yard," and unjustly berated him as a "lubber," while the poor fellow was tugging away, and working with might and main, to disengage his tail from the lift, in which he at length succeeded, but not without the aid of his jackknife.
I was greatly troubled during this passage by the impure character of the water. I had been taught to place a high value on water as a beverage; but when we had been three weeks at sea, and had entered the warm latitudes, on knocking a bung from one of the water casks on the quarter-deck, there issued an odor of "an ancient and fish-like" nature, which gave offence to my olfactories. On tasting the water, I found to my disgust that it was impregnated with a flavor of a like character, and after it was swallowed this flavor would cling to the palate with provoking tenacity for several minutes. The sailors smacked their lips over it once or twice, and pronounced it "from fair to middling." When boiled, and drank under the name of tea or coffee, it might have deserved that character; but when taken directly from the cask, and quaffed in hot weather, as a pleasant and refreshing beverage it was a signal failure.
To the inmates of the cabin, myself excepted, the peculiar flavor of the water served as an excuse, if any were required, for drawing liberally on the brandy kegs and liquor cases. A little "dash of spirit" removed the unpleasant taste by adding another, which, to my unsophisticated palate, was equally offensive. The water in every cask proved of a similar character; and I could hardly imagine how use, or even necessity, could reconcile a person to such water as that. The problem was solved, but not entirely to my satisfaction, on my next voyage.
The duties of cabin boy were of a nature different from my occupations in previous years. They engrossed a considerable portion of my time; and though they were not the kind of duties I most loved to perform, I endeavored to accommodate my feelings to my situation, comforting myself with the belief that the voyage would not be of long duration, and that I was now taking the first step in the rugged path which led to fame and fortune.
I devoted the hours which I could spare from my appropriate duties to the acquisition of a knowledge of seamanship, and developing its mysteries. I was fond of going aloft when the vessel was rolling or pitching in a strong breeze. I loved to mount upon the top-gallant yard, and from that proud eminence, while rocking to and fro, look down upon the sails and spars of the brig, take a bird's eye view of the deck, and scan the various operations; look at the foam beneath the bows, or at the smooth, eddying, serpentine track left far behind. I also loved to gaze from this elevated position upon the broad ocean, bounded on every side by the clear and distant horizon a grand and sublime sight. And then I indulged in daydreams of the most pleasing description, and built gay and fantastic castles in the air, which my reason told me the next moment would never be realized.
Chapter III. MANNING THE WOODEN WALLS OF OLD ENGLAND
One morning, soon after daybreak, as I was lying asleep in my berth, I was awakened by a trampling on deck and loud shouts. Aware that something unusual had occurred, I lost no time in hastening to the scene of action. Ere I reached the deck, I heard the word "porpoises" uttered in a loud key by one of the sailors, which explained the cause of the excitement.
The mate, with sparkling eye and rigid features, in which determination was strongly stamped, as if resolved "to do or die," was busily engaged in fitting a line to the harpoon, which had been sharpened and prepared for use some days before. I cast my eye to windward, and saw the ocean alive with fish. Hundreds of porpoises were swimming around the brig, crossing the bows, or following in the wake, or leaping out of water and snuffing the air, and racing with each other as if for a wager; passing so rapidly through the liquid element that it wearied the eye to follow them.
The mate was soon ready with the harpoon, and took his station on the bowsprit, within six feet of the water. The line, one end of which was fastened to the harpoon, was rove through a block attached to the main-topmast stay; and the cook, one of the sailors, and myself firmly grasped the rope, and stood ready, whenever the word might be given, to bowse the unsuspecting and deluded victim out of his native element and introduce him to the ship's company.
Mr. Thompson stood on the bowsprit, poising the death-dealing instrument, and with a keen eye watched the gambols of the fish. He looked as formidable and fierce as a Paladin intent on some daring and desperate enterprise. As I eyed him with admiration and envy I wondered if the time would ever arrive when, clad with authority, I should exercise the privilege of wielding the harpoon and striking a porpoise! Several of these interesting fish, not aware of the inhospitable reception awaiting them, and seemingly prompted by curiosity, rapidly approached the brig. "Stand by, my lads!" exclaimed the mate, his face lighted by a gleam of anticipated triumph. One huge fellow passed directly beneath the bowsprit, and Mr. Thompson let drive the harpoon with all the strength and energy he possessed. We hauled upon the line with vigor alas! It required but little exertion to haul it in; the mate had missed his mark.
In a few minutes another of these portly inhabitants of the deep came rolling along with a rowdy, swaggering gait, close to the surface of the water. The mate, cool and collected, took a careful aim, and again threw the iron, which entered his victim, and then shouted with the voice of a Stentor, "Haul in! Haul in!" And we did haul in; but the fish was strong and muscular, and struggled hard for liberty and life. In spite of our prompt and vigorous exertions, he was dragged under the brig's bottom; and if he had not been struck in a workmanlike manner, the harpoon would have drawn out, and the porpoise would have escaped, to be torn to pieces by his unsympathizing companions. As it was, after a severe struggle on both sides, we roused him out of the water, when the mate called for the jib down-haul, with which he made a running bowline, which was clapped over his tail and drawn tight; and in this inglorious manner he was hauled in on the deck.
The porpoise is a fish five or six feet in length, weighing from one hundred and fifty to three hundred pounds. The name is derived from the Italian word PORCO-PERCE, or hog-fish; and indeed this animal resembles a hog in many respects. It has a long head, terminated by a projection of its jaws, which are well filled with sharp teeth, white as polished ivory. The body is covered with a coat of fat, or blubber, from one to three inches in thickness, which yields abundance of excellent oil; and the flesh beneath is not very unlike that of a hog, but more oily, coarser, and of a darker color. The flesh, excepting the harslet, is not much prized, though some sailors are fond of it, and rejoice at the capture of a porpoise, which gives them an agreeable change of diet.
A few days after this event, being to the southward of Bermuda, I climbed to the fore-top-gallant yard, and casting my eyes around, saw on the verge of the horizon a white speck, which made a singular appearance, contrasting, as it did, with the dark hue of the ocean and the clear azure of a cloudless sky, I called to a sailor who was at work in the cross-trees, and pointed it out to him. As soon as he saw it he exclaimed, "Sail, ho!"
The captain was on the quarter-deck, and responded to the announcement by the inquiry of "Where away?"
"About three points on the larboard bow," was the rejoinder.
We had not spoken a vessel since we left Portsmouth. Indeed, we had seen none, excepting a few fishing smacks on St. George's Bank. The sight of a vessel on the broad ocean ordinarily produces considerable excitement; and this excitement is of a pleasing character when there is no reason to believe the stranger an enemy. It varies the incidents of a tedious passage, and shows that you are not alone on the face of the waters; that others are traversing the ocean and tempting its dangers, urged by a love of adventure or thirst of gain.
The captain looked at the strange vessel through his spy-glass, and said it was standing towards us. We approached each other rapidly, for the stranger carried a cloud of sail, and was evidently a fast sailer. By the peculiar color and cut of the canvas, the captain was led to believe we were about to be overhauled by a British man-of-war. This announcement gave me pleasure. I longed for an opportunity to behold one of that class of vessels, of which I had heard so much. But all the crew did not participate in my feelings. Two of the sailors, whom I had good reason to believe were not "native Americans," although provided with American protections, looked unusually grave when the captain expressed his opinion, manifested no little anxiety, and muttered bitter curses against the English men-of-war!
I then learned that the British navy "the wooden walls of Old England" whose vaunted prowess was in every mouth, was manned almost exclusively by men who did not voluntarily enter the service, prompted by a feeling of patriotism, a sense of honor, or the expectation of emolument, but were victims to the unjust and arbitrary system of impressment.
It is singular that in the early part of the present century, when Clarkson, Wilberforce, and other philanthropists, with a zeal and perseverance which reflects immortal honor on their names, labored unceasingly and successfully to abolish an important branch of the African slave trade, no voice was raised in the British parliament to abolish the impressment of seamen a system of slavery as odious, unjust and degrading, as was ever established by a despotic government!
At that time Great Britain was engaged in sanguinary wars, and her flag was borne by her ships on every sea. It was difficult to man her navy, the pay being small, and the penalties for misconduct or venial errors terribly severe. Therefore, when on the ocean, British ships of war in want of men were in the habit of impressing sailors from merchant vessels, and often without regard to national character. American ships were fired at, brought to, and strictly searched by these tyrants of the ocean; and when foreigners were found on board, whether British, Swedes, Dutch, Russians, Norwegians, or Spaniards, they were liable to be claimed as fit persons to serve "His Majesty." In spite of remonstrances and menaces, they were conveyed on board the British men-of-war, doomed to submit to insult and injustice, and to risk their lives while fighting in quarrels in which they felt no interest.
British seamen were seized wherever met, whether pursuing their lawful business on the high seas, or while on shore walking quietly through the streets of a city or town; even in the bosom of their families, or when quietly reposing on their pillows! Press-gangs, composed of desperate men, headed by resolute and unscrupulous officers, were constantly on the lookout for men, and took them, sometimes after hard fighting, and dragged them away to undergo the horrors of slavery on board a man-of-war!
It is not remarkable that a sailor in those days should have dreaded a "man-of-war" as the most fearful of evils, and would resort to desperate means to avoid impressment or escape from bondage. Those few fortunate men, who, by resolution or cunning, had succeeded in escaping from their sea-girt prisons, detailed the treatment they had received with minute and hideous accuracy to others; and that they could not have exaggerated the statements is proved by the risks they voluntarily encountered to gain their freedom. The bullets of the marines on duty, the fear of the voracious shark in waters where they abounded, the dangers of a pestilential climate, or the certainty, if retaken, of being subjected to a more revolting and excruciating punishment than was every devised by the Spanish Inquisition FLOGGING THROUGH THE FLEET could not deter British seamen from attempting to flee from their detested prison-house.
American seamen were sometimes forcibly taken from American ships, and their protestations against the outrage, and their repeated declarations, "I am an American citizen!" served only as amusement to the kidnappers. Letters which they subsequently wrote to their friends, soliciting their aid, or the intercession of the government, seldom reached their destination. It was rarely that the poor fellows were heard of after they were pressed on board a man-of-war. They died of disease in pestilential climates, or fell in battle while warring in behalf of a government they hated, and principles with which they had no sympathy.
This gross violation of the laws of nations and the principles of justice furnished one of the strongest motives for the war which was declared in 1812.
Nor were these insults on the part of British cruisers confined to American merchant ships. Our government vessels were, in more than one instance, boarded with a view to examine the crews and take the men, if any, who happened to be born under the British flag. A successful attempt was made in the case of the Chesapeake, which frigate, under the command of Commodore Barron, made a feeble show of resistance, and was fired into in a time of peace, several of her crew killed and wounded, and compelled to strike her colors! The Chesapeake was then boarded, and the Englishmen found on board were seized upon and transferred to the British ship!
An attempt of a similar kind was made some years before, but with a different result. When the heroic Tingey commanded the Ganges, in 1799, being off Cape Nicola Mole, he was boarded by a boat from the English frigate Surprise, and a demand was very coolly made that all the Englishmen on board the Ganges should be given up, as they were wanted for the service of His Majesty, George III!
Captain Tingey returned the following noble reply: "Give my respects to your commander; the respects of Captain Tingey, of the American navy; and tell him from me, that A PUBLIC SHIP CARRIES NO PROTECTION FOR HER MEN BUT HER FLAG! I may not succeed in a contest with you, but I will die at my quarters before a man shall be taken from my ship!"
The crew gave three cheers, hastened with alacrity to their guns, and called for "Yankee Doodle." The captain of the Surprise, although one of the bravest officers in the British service, on hearing the determination of the Yankee, chose rather to continue on his cruise than do battle for dead men.
In less than an hour after the strange sail was seen from the decks of the Dolphin the surmises of the captain were proved to be correct. The stranger was undoubtedly an English brig-of-war of the largest class. We could see the port-holes, through which the cannon protruded, and distinguish the gleam of muskets and cutlasses, and other instruments of destruction. The sails were so large and so neatly fitted, and the hull was so symmetrical in its model, and the brig glided along so gracefully over the waves, that I was charmed with her appearance, and could hardly express my satisfaction.
We continued on our course, with the American ensign flying, our captain hoping that this emissary of John Bull, seeing the character of our vessel, which no one could mistake, would suffer us to pass on our way unmolested, when a volume of flame and smoke issued from the bow of the sloop-of-war, and a messenger, in the shape of a cannon ball, came whistling over the waves, and, after crossing our bows in a diagonal direction, and striking the surface of the water several times, buried itself in a huge billow at no great distance. This was language that required no interpreter. It was a mandate that must be obeyed. The helm was ordered "hard-a-lee," the foresail hauled up, and the topsail laid to the mast.
The armed brig hoisted British colors, and her boat was soon alongside the Dolphin. An officer sprang on board, followed by several sailors. With an off-hand, swaggering air, the officer addressed Captain Tilton, demanding where we were from, whither we were bound, and the character of our cargo. He then expressed an intention to examine the ship's papers, and went with the captain into the cabin for that purpose. When they returned on deck, Captain Tilton ordered the mate to summon aft the crew. This was not a work of difficulty, for they were standing in the waist, deeply interested spectators of the proceedings. At least three of them were trembling with fear, and speculating on the chances of being again impressed on board an English man-of-war.
"Where are these men's protections?" demanded the lieutenant.
By "protection," was meant a printed certificate, under the signature and seal of the collector of one of the revenue districts in the United States, stating that the person, whose age, height, and complexion were particularly described, had adduced satisfactory proof of being an American citizen. An American seaman found without this document, whether in a foreign port or on the high seas, was looked upon as an Englishman, notwithstanding the most conclusive proof to the contrary, and regardless of his rights or the engagements by which he might be bound, was dragged on board a man-of-war as a lawful prize.
"Here are the protections," said Captain Tilton, handing the papers to the Englishman.
The men were, one by one, examined, to see if the descriptions corresponded with their persons. They were found to correspond exactly.
The officer was not to be easily balked of his prey. Turning suddenly to one of them, a weather-beaten, case-hardened old tar, who wore a queue, and whose name was borne on the shipping paper as Harry Johnson, he sternly asked, "How long is it since you left His Majesty's service?"
The poor fellow turned pale as death. He lifted his hand to his hat, in a most anti-republican style, and stammered out something indistinctly.
"'Tis of no use, Johnson," exclaimed the officer. "I see how it is; and we must be better acquainted. Your protection was obtained by perjury. Get ready to go in the boat."
In vain Captain Tilton represented that Johnson was sailing under the American flag; that he had the usual certificate of being an American citizen; that his vessel was already short manned, considering the peculiar character of the cargo, and if his crew should be reduced, he might find himself unable to manage the brig in heavy weather, which there was reason to expect at that season in the latitude of the West Indies.
To these representations the lieutenant replied in a brief and dry manner. He said the man was an Englishman, and was wanted. He repeated his orders to Johnson, in a more peremptory tone, to "go in the boat."
To the threats of the captain that he would lay the matter before Congress, and make it a national affair, the officer seemed altogether indifferent. He merely bade his trembling victim "bear a hand," as he wished to return to the brig without delay.
When Johnson saw there was no alternative, that his fate was fixed, he prepared to meet it like a man. He looked at the American ensign, which was waving over his head, and said it was a pity the American flag could not protect those who sailed under it from insult and outrage. He shook each of us by the hand, gave us his best wishes, and followed his baggage into the boat, which immediately shoved off.
The officer told Captain Tilton that when the British ensign was hauled down, he might fill away, and proceed on his voyage. In about fifteen minutes the ensign was hauled down. Orders were given to fill away the foretopsail. The helm was put up, and we resumed our course for Demarara.
Steering to the southward, we reached that narrow belt of the Atlantic, called "the doldrums," which lies between the variable and the trade winds. This tract is from two to three degrees in width, and is usually fallen in with soon after crossing the thirtieth degree of latitude. Here the wind is apt to be light and baffling at all seasons; and sometimes calms prevail for several days. This tract of ocean was once known as the "horse latitudes," because many years ago vessels from Connecticut were in the habit of taking deck-loads of horses to the West India islands, and it not unfrequently happened that these vessels, being for the most part dull sailers, were so long detained in those latitudes that their hay, provender, and water were expended, and the animals died of hunger and thirst.
The Dolphin was a week in crossing three degrees of latitude. Indeed it was a calm during a considerable portion of that time. This drew largely on the patience of the captain, mate, and all hands. There are few things so annoying to a sailor at sea as a calm. A gale of wind, even a hurricane, with its life, its energy, its fury, though it may bring the conviction of danger, is preferred by an old sailor to the dull, listless monotony of a calm.
These slow movements in the "horse latitudes" were not distasteful to me. A calm furnished abundant food for curiosity. The immense fields of gulf-weed, with their parasitical inhabitants, that we now began to fall in with; the stately species of nautilus, known as he Portuguese man-of-war, floating so gracefully, with its transparent body and delicate tints; and the varieties of fish occasionally seen, including the flying-fish, dolphin, boneta, and shark, all furnish to an inquiring mind subjects of deep and abiding interest. My wonder was also excited by the singularly glassy smoothness of the surface of the water in a dead calm, while at the same time the long, rolling waves, or "seas," kept the brig in perpetual motion, and swept past as if despatched by some mysterious power on a mission to the ends of the earth.
Several kinds of fish that are met with on the ocean are really palatable, and find a hearty welcome in the cabin and the forecastle. To capture these denizens of the deep, a line, to which is attached a large hook baited with a small fish, or a piece of the rind of pork, shaped to resemble a fish, is sometimes kept towing astern in pleasant weather. This was the custom on board the Dolphin; and one afternoon, when the brig, fanned by gentle zephyrs, hardly had "steerage way," my attention was aroused by an exulting shout from the man at the helm, followed by a solemn asserveration, that "a fish was hooked at last."
All was bustle and excitement. Discipline was suddenly relaxed, and the captain, mate, and crew mounted the taffrail forthwith to satisfy their curiosity in regard to the character of the prowling intruder, which was distinctly seen struggling in the wake. It proved to be a shark. But the fellow disdained to be captured by such ignoble instruments as a cod line and a halibut hook. He remained comparatively passive for a time, and allowed himself to be hauled, by the united efforts of the crew, some three or four fathoms towards the brig, when, annoyed by the restraint imposed upon him, or disliking the wild and motley appearance of the ship's company, he took a broad sheer to starboard, the hook snapped like a pipestem, and the hated monster swam off in another direction, wagging his tail in the happy consciousness that he was "free, untrammelled, and disinthralled."
"Never mind," said Mr. Thompson, making an effort to console himself for the disappointment, "we'll have the rascal yet."
The shark manifested no disposition to leave our neighborhood, or in any other way showed displeasure at the trick we had played him. On the contrary, he drew nearer the vessel, and moved indolently and defiantly about, with his dorsal fin and a portion of his tail above the water. He was undoubtedly hungry as well as proud, and it is well known that sharks are not particular with regard to the quality of their food. Every thing that is edible, and much which is indigestible, is greedily seized and devoured by these voracious fish.
We had no shark hook on board; nevertheless, the mate lost no time in making arrangements to capture this enemy of sailors. He fastened a piece of beef to the end of a rope and threw it overboard, letting it drag astern. This attracted the attention of the shark, who gradually approached the tempting morsel, regarding it with a wistful eye, but with a lurking suspicion that all was not right.
It was now seen that the shark was not alone, but was attended by several fish of small size, beautifully mottled, and measuring from four to eight or ten inches in length. They swam boldly around the shark, above and beneath him, and sometimes passed directly in front of his jaws, while the shark manifested no desire to seize his companions and satisfy his hunger. These were "pilot fish," and in the neighborhood of the tropics a shark is seldom seen without one or more attendants of this description.
Two of these pilot fish swam towards the beef, examined it carefully with their eyes, and rubbed it with their noses, and then returned to their lord and master. It required but a slight stretch of the imagination to suppose that these well-meaning servants made a favorable report, and whispered in his ear that "all was right," and thus unwittingly betrayed him to his ruin.
Be that as it will, the shark now swam boldly towards the beef, as if eager to devour it; but Mr. Thompson hauled upon the rope until the precious viand was almost directly beneath the taffrail. In the mean time the mate had caused a running bowline, or noose, to be prepared from a small but strong rope. This was lowered over the stern into the water, and by a little dexterous management, the shark was coaxed to enter it in his eagerness to get at the beef. The mate let fall the running part of the bowline and hauled upon the other, and to the utter bewilderment of the hungry monster, he found himself entrapped in the power of his mortal enemies being firmly and ingloriously fastened by the tail. When he discovered the inhospitable deception of which he was the victim he appeared angry, and made furious efforts to escape; but the rope was strong, and his struggles served only to draw the noose tighter.
The shark was hauled on board, and made a terrible flouncing on the quarter-deck before he could be despatched. It was interesting to witness the eagerness with which he was assailed by the sailors. This animal is regarded as their most inveterate foe, and they seize with avidity any chance to diminish the numbers of these monsters of the deep. It was some time before he would succumb to the murderous attacks of his enemies. He wreaked his vengeance on the ropes around him, and severed them with his sharp teeth as completely and smoothly as if they had been cut with a knife. But when his head was nearly cut off, and his skull beat in by the cook's axe and handspikes, the shark, finding further resistance impossible as well as useless, resigned himself to his fate.
Sharks not unfrequently follow a vessel in moderate weather for several days, and in tropical latitudes sometimes lurk under a ship's bottom, watching a chance to gratify their appetites. For this reason it is dangerous for a person to bathe in the sea during a calm, as they are by no means choice in regard to their food, but will as readily make a meal from the leg of a sailor as from the wing of a chicken.
Mr. Thompson related a case which occurred on board a vessel belonging to Portsmouth, the year before, and to which he was a witness. One Sunday morning, in the warm latitudes, while the sea was calm, a young man, on his first voyage, quietly undressed himself, and without a word to any one, thoughtlessly mounted the cathead and plunged into the water. He swam off some distance from the ship, and laughing and shouting, seemed greatly to admire the refreshing exercise. The captain, on being informed of his imprudent conduct, called to him, rebuked him severely, and ordered him to return immediately to the ship. The young sailor turned about, wondering what impropriety there could be in taking a pleasant bath during such sultry weather. He swam beneath the fore-chain-wales, and took hold of a rope to aid him in getting on board. A couple of his shipmates also seized him by the wrists to assist him in climbing up the side. For a moment he remained motionless, with half his body in the water, when a huge shark, that had been lying in wait under the ship's bottom, seized him by the leg. The unfortunate young man uttered the most piteous screams, and every one was instinctively aware of the cause of his terrible agony. The captain ordered the men who held the arms of the sufferer to "hold on," and jumped in the chain-wale himself to assist them. By main strength the poor fellow was dragged fainting on board; but his foot was torn off, together with a portion of the integuments of the leg, and the bones were dreadfully crushed. He lived in agony a few days, when he expired. Incidents of this nature will satisfactorily account for the hatred which a sailor bears towards a shark.
Chapter IV. LAND, HO!
On the day succeeding the capture of the shark a fine breeze sprung up. Once more the white foam appeared beneath the bows, as the old brig plunged, and rolled, and wriggled along on her way towards Demarara. With a strong breeze on the quarter, it required not only labor, but skill, to steer the interesting craft. One of the "old salts," having been rebuked by the captain for steering wildly, declared, in a grave but respectful tone, that he could steer as good a trick at the helm as any man who ever handled a marlinspike; but he "verily believed the old critter knew as much as a Christian, and was obstinately determined to turn round and take a look at her starn!"
The regular "trade wind" now commenced, and there was a prospect, although still a distant one, of ultimately reaching the port to which we were bound. The trade winds blow almost constantly from one direction, and prevail in most parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, between the latitudes of twenty-eight degrees north and twenty-eight degrees south. In northern latitudes the trade wind blows from north-east, or varies but a few points from that direction. South of the equator it blows constantly from the south-east; and the "south-east trade" is more steady than the trade wind north of the line.
It often happens that vessels bound to the United States from India, after passing the Cape of Good Hope, steer a course nearly north-west, carrying studding-sails on both sides, uninterruptedly, through fifteen or twenty degrees of latitude.
The cause of the trade winds is supposed to be the joint influence of the higher temperature of the torrid zone and the rotation of the earth on its axis. On the equator, and extending sometimes a few degrees on either side, is a tract where light easterly winds, calms, and squalls, with thunder, lightning, and inundating rains, prevail.
From what I have said, it will be seen that vessels bound from the American coast to the West Indies or Guiana should steer to the eastward in the early part of their passage, while they have the advantage of variable winds. And this precaution is the more important, as these vessels, being generally dull sailers and deeply laden, will fail to reach their port if they fall to leeward, unless by returning north into the latitude of the variable winds, and making another trial, with the benefit of more experience.
In those days there were no chronometers in use, and but few of our West India captains were in possession of a sextant, or indeed able to work a lunar observation. The latitude was accurately determined every day by measuring the altitude of the sun as it passed the meridian. To ascertain the longitude was a more difficult matter. They were obliged to rely mainly on their dead reckoning; that is, to make a calculation of the course and distance run daily, from the points steered by the compass and the rate as indicated by the log-line and half-glass. A reckoning on such a basis, where unknown currents prevail, where a vessel is steered wildly, or where the rate of sailing may be inaccurately recorded, is liable to many errors; therefore it was customary with all prudent masters, in those days, especially if they distrusted their own skill or judgment in keeping a reckoning to KEEP WELL TO THE EASTWARD. This was a general rule, and looked upon as the key to West India navigation. Sometimes a vessel bound to the Windward Islands, after reaching the latitude of her destined port, found it necessary to "run down," steering due west, a week or ten days before making the land.
An incident occurred in those waters, a few weeks after we passed over them, which will illustrate this mode of navigation, and the consequences that sometimes attend it. A large brig belonging to an eastern port, and commanded by a worthy and cautious man, was bound to St. Pierre in Martinico. The latitude of that island was reached in due time, but the island could not bee seen, the captain having steered well to the eastward. The brig was put before the wind, and while daylight lasted every stitch of canvas was spread, and every eye was strained to catch a glimpse of the high land which was expected to loom up in the western horizon. This proceeding continued for several days; the brig carrying a press of sail by day, and lying to by night, until patience seemed no longer a virtue. The worthy captain began to fear he had not steered far enough to the eastward, but had been carried by unknown currents to leeward of his port, and that the first land he should make might prove to be the Musquito coast on the continent. He felt anxious, and looked in vain for a vessel from which he could obtain a hint in regard to his true position. Neither land nor vessel could he meet with.
At the close of the fifth day after he had commenced "running down," no land, at sunset, was in sight from the top-gallant yard; and at eight o'clock the brig was again hove to. The captain declared with emphasis, that unless he should make the island of Martinico on the following day, he would adopt some different measures. The nature of those measures, however, he never was called upon to explain. In the morning, just as the gray light of dawn was visible in the east, while a dark cloud seemed to hang over the western horizon, all sail was again packed on the brig. A fresh breeze which sprung up during the night gave the captain assurance that his passage would soon be terminated; and terminated it was, but in a manner he hardly anticipated, and which he certainly had not desired. The brig had not been fifteen minutes under way when the dreadful sound of breakers was heard a sound which strikes dismay to a sailor's heart. The dark cloud in the west proved to be the mountains of Martinico, and the brig was dashed upon the shore. The vessel and cargo were lost, and it was with difficulty the crew were saved.
Captain Tilton, however, was a good navigator. He had been a European trader, understood and practised "lunar observations," and always knew with sufficient accuracy the position of the brig.
Few things surprised me more on my first voyage to sea than the sudden and mysterious manner in which the coverings of the head were spirited away from the decks of the Dolphin. Hats, caps, and even the temporary apologies for such articles of costume, were given unwittingly and most unwillingly to the waves. A sudden flaw of wind, the flap of a sail, an involuntary jerk of the head, often elicited an exclamation of anger or a torrent of invectives from some unfortunate being who had been cruelly rendered bareheaded, attended with a burst of laughter from unsympathizing shipmates.
The inimitable Dickens, in his best production, says, with all the shrewdness and point of a practical philosopher, "There are very few moments in a man's existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat." But, unfortunately, on shipboard, if a man's hat is taken off by the wind, he cannot chase it and recover it; nor is it swept from his sight into the DEPTHS of the sea. On looking astern, he will see it gracefully and sportively riding on the billows, as if unconscious of any impropriety, reckless of the inconvenience which such desertion may cause its rightful proprietor, and an object of wonder, it may be, to the scaly inhabitants of old Neptune's dominions.
Before we reached Demarara every hat and cap belonging to the ship's company, with a single exception, had been involuntarily given, as a propitiatory offering, to the god of Ocean. This exception was a beaver hat belonging to the captain; and this would have followed its leaders, had it not been kept in a case hermetically sealed. After the captain's stock of sea-going hats and caps had disappeared he wore around his head a kerchief, twisted fancifully, like a turban. Others followed his example, while some fashioned for themselves skullcaps of fantastic shapes from pieces of old canvas; so that when we reached Demarara we looked more like a ship's company of Mediterranean pirates than honest Christians.
I became accustomed to a sea life, and each succeeding day brought with it some novelty to wonder at or admire. The sea is truly beautiful, and has many charms, notwithstanding a fresh-water poet, affecting to be disgusted with its monotony, has ill naturedly vented his spleen by describing the vanities of a sea life in two short lines:
"Where sometimes you ship a sea, And sometimes see a ship."
Yet in spite of its attractions, there are few persons, other than a young enthusiast on his first voyage, who, after passing several weeks on the ocean, are not ready to greet with gladness the sight of land, although it may be a desolate shore or a barren island. Its very aspect fills the heart with joy, and excites feelings of gratitude to Him, whose protecting hand has led you safely through the dangers to which those who frequent the waste of waters are exposed.
The gratification of every man on board the Dolphin may therefore be conceived, when, after a passage of FIFTY-THREE DAYS, in a very uncomfortable and leaky vessel, a man, sent one morning by the captain to the fore-top-gallant yard, after taking a bird's eye view from his elevated position, called out, in a triumphant voice, LAND, HO!
The coast of Guiana was in sight.
Guiana is an extensive tract of country, extending along the sea coast from the Orinoco to the Amazon. When discovered in 1504, it was inhabited by the Caribs. Settlements, however, were soon made on the shore by the Dutch, the French, and the Portuguese; and the country was divided into several provinces. It was called by the discoverers "the wild coast," and is accessible only by the mouths of its rivers the shores being every where lined with dangerous banks, or covered with impenetrable forests. Its appearance from the sea is singularly wild and uncultivated, and it is so low and flat that, as it is approached, the trees along the beach are the first objects visible. The soil, however, is fertile, and adapted to every variety of tropical production, sugar, rum, molasses, coffee, and cacao being its staple commodities.
To the distance of thirty or forty miles from the sea coast the land continues level, and in the rainy season some districts are covered with water. Indeed, the whole country bordering on the coast is intersected with swamps, marshes, rivers, artificial canals, and extensive intervals. This renders it unhealthy; and many natives of a more genial clime have perished in the provinces of Guiana by pestilential fevers.
These marshes and forests are nurseries of reptiles. Alligators of immense size are found in the rivers, creeks, and pools, and serpents are met with on the swampy banks of the river, as large as the main-topmast of a merchant ship, and much larger! The serpents being amphibious, often take to the water, and being driven unconsciously down the rivers by the currents, have been fallen in with on the coast several miles from the land.
An incident took place on this coast in 1841, on board the bark Jane, of Boston, Captain Nickerson, which created quite a sensation on the decks of that vessel. The bark was ready for sea, and had anchored in the afternoon outside the bar at the mouth of the Surinam River, when the crew turned in and the watch was set that night. The bark was a well-conditioned, orderly vessel, harboring no strangers, interlopers, or vagrants of any description.
The next morning, soon after daybreak, the mate put his hand into an open locker, at a corner of the round-house, for a piece of canvas, when it came in contact with a soft, clammy substance, which, to his consternation and horror, began to move! He drew back, uttering an exclamation, in a voice so loud and startling as to alarm the captain and all hands, who hastened on deck in time to see an enormous serpent crawl sluggishly out of the closet, and stretch himself along the deck, with as much coolness and impudence as if he thought he really belonged to the brig, and with the monkeys and parrots, constituted a portion of the ship's company!
Not so thought Captain Nickerson and the brave men with him. The word was passed along "There is a snake on board, as long as the main-top bowline! Kill him, kill him!"
The sailors seized handspikes, the cook flourished his tormentors, the mate wielded an axe, and the captain grasped a pistol! Thus equipped and armed, they rushed to the encounter.
The reptile found himself among foes instead of friends. Where he looked for hospitality and kind treatment he found cruelty, oppression, and even murder! He saw it was useless to contend against his fate when the odds were so decidedly against him, and wisely made no resistance. He was stabbed by the cook, cudgelled by the crew, brained by the mate, and shot by the captain. And, adding insult to injury, he was stripped of his skin, which was beautifully variegated and measured fourteen feet in length, and brought to Boston, where it was examined and admired by many of the citizens.
This snake was doubtless an aboma, a species of serpent of large size and great beauty, which is not venomous. In attempting to cross the river, it had probably been drifted down with the current, and carried out to sea. It might have been swimming about in the waters for some time without finding a resting-place, and, having fallen in with a vessel at anchor, thought no harm would accrue to itself or others if it should silently glide on board through the rudder-hole, and take up its residence for the night. But Captain Nickerson entertained a different opinion. He looked upon "his snakesnip" as an "ugly customer," and gave him a reception as such.
In the course of the day on which land was discovered we reached the mouth of Demarara River, and received a pilot on board, and a queer-looking fellow, for a pilot I thought him. He was a negro, with a skin dark as ebony, which shone with an exquisite polish. His costume was simplicity itself consisting of an old straw hat, and a piece of coarse "osnaburg" tied around the waist! But he was active and intelligent, notwithstanding his costume and color, and carried the brig over the bar in safety. Soon after twilight the Dolphin was snugly anchored in smooth water in the river opposite the capital of the province.
The next morning, at an early hour, I went on deck, anxious to scrutinize the surrounding objects. The river was about a mile and a half wide, the tide flowed with great rapidity, and the waters were turbid in the extreme. The shores were lined with trees and shrubs, presenting nothing of an attractive character. A number of vessels, chiefly English and American, were moored in the river, engaged in taking in or discharging cargoes; and sundry small schooners, called "droghers," manned by blacks, nearly naked, were sailing up or down the river, laden with produce.
The town, half concealed in the low, swampy grounds, appeared insignificant and mean, and the wharves and landing places at the river's side were neither picturesque nor beautiful. The architecture of the houses, however, with porticoes, verandas, and terraces, excited my admiration. I also saw, in the distance, palm and cocoanut trees, and banana and plantain shrubs, with leaves six or eight feet long. These Various objects, with the sultry stagnation of the atmosphere, and the light and airy costume of those of the inhabitants I had seen convinced me that I was not laboring under a dream, but was actually in a foreign port, two thousand miles from home, and in a tropical climate.
The following day being Sunday, I accompanied Mr. Thompson on a visit to the market, in order to obtain a supply of fresh provisions and vegetables. I was surprised to find the public market open on the Sabbath. The very idea of such a custom conflicted with my pre-conceived notions of propriety and religion. But Sunday was a great holiday in Demarara indeed the only day which the slaves on the plantations could call their own. On Sunday they were allowed to visit each other, frolic as they pleased, cultivate their little gardens, make their purchases at the shops which were open on that day, and carry their produce to market.
Hence the spacious market square, in the midst of the town, was covered with articles of traffic. The venders were chiefly negro women, who exposed for sale immense quantities of yams, tomatoes, cassava bread, sugar-cane, plantains, water-cresses, oranges, bananas, avocado pears, etc., with fancy articles of almost every description.
The scene was a novel and interesting one. The market women were habited in garments of a marvelously scanty pattern, better adapted to the sultry character of the climate than to the notions of delicacy which prevail among civilized people in a more northern clime. The head-dress consisted, in almost every instance, of a calico kerchief, of gaudy colors, fantastically wreathed around the head. They were respectful in their deportment, exhibited their wares to the best advantage, and with cheerful countenances and occasional jokes, accompanied with peals of merry laughter, seemed happier than millionaires or kings! Their dialect was a strange jumble of Dutch, English, and African. All were fond of talking, and, like aspiring politicians in happy New England, neglected no chance to display their extraordinary power of language. And such a jabbering, such a confusion of tongues, as I listened to that Sunday morning in the market-place of Demarara, overwhelmed me with wonder, and days elapsed before I could get the buzz out of my head!
In answer to inquiries relative to the health of the place, it was gratifying to learn that the province had not been so free from yellow fever at that season for several years. While the Dolphin remained in port but few fatal cases occurred in the harbor, and the origin of those could be traced to intemperance or other imprudent conduct. There was no serious sickness on board the brig while we remained, and only one "regular drunken scrape." This occurred a few days after we arrived in port. Two of the crew, on some plausible pretext, one afternoon obtained leave of Mr. Thompson to go on shore. He cautioned them to keep sober, and be early on board, and they solemnly promised to comply with his instructions.
But these "noble old tars" had no sooner set their feet upon the land than they rushed to a grog shop. It is well know that grog shops are found in abundance in all parts of the world where civilization extends its genial influence. Temptations of the most alluring character are every where offered to weak-minded and unprincipled men to abandon the prerogative of reason and become brutes. In exchange for their money, these sailors procured the means of becoming drunk! They quarreled with the shopkeeper, insulted his customers, were severely threshed for their brutality and insolence, and were finally picked up in the street, and brought on board by two of the crew of an American vessel which was moored near the Dolphin.
They looked wretchedly enough. Their clothes, which were neat and trim when they went ashore, were mostly torn from their backs, their faces were bruised and bloody, and their eyes surrounded by livid circles. Their shipmates, seeing their degraded condition, assisted them on board, and persuaded them to go into the forecastle, which was now appropriated to the accommodation of the ship's company. But instead of retiring to their berths, and sleeping off the effects of their liquor, these men determined to have a ROW.
The craziest of them made his way on deck, and began to sing, and dance, and halloo like a madman. One of his shipmates, named Wilkins, remonstrated against such unruly conduct, and received in return a blow on the side of the head, which sent him with great force against the gunwale. The peacemaker, indignant at such unexpected and undeserved treatment, returned the blow with interest. The other inebriate, hearing the disturbance, came to the assistance of his drunken companion. A general fight ensued; some heavy blows were interchanged, and for a few minutes there was a scene of confusion, profanity, and hard fighting on the decks of the Dolphin, which showed me a new, and not very attractive phase in the sailor's character.
Mr. Thompson, armed with authority and a heaver, soon made his appearance among them, and with the assistance of the sober ones, after a severe struggle, succeeded in mastering and pinioning the two men, who, though in full possession of their physical faculties, were actually crazed with alcoholic drinks. When thus rendered harmless, their yells were terrific, until it was found necessary for the peace of the harbor to GAG THEM; which was done by gently placing an iron pump-bolt between the jaws of each of the maniacs, and fastening it by a rope-yarn behind the ear. Thus, unable to give utterance to their feelings, and exhausted by fruitless struggles, they fell asleep.
In the morning cool reflection came. They looked as ruefully as Don Quixote after his battle with the shepherds, and bore as many marks of the prowess of their opponents. But, unlike "the Knight of the Rueful Countenance," they seemed heartily ashamed of their exploits, and promised better behavior in future.
Nevertheless, a few days after this affair, Jim Bilton, one of the men who had figured so conspicuously in the row, and owed Wilkins a grudge for the black eye he had received in the melee, challenged his shipmate to a "fair stand-up fight!"
The challenge was accepted; but as the main deck of the brig was still "lumbered up," and the forecastle furnished a field altogether too confined for such recreations, it was agreed that this "stand-up fight" should take place while each of the combatants were sitting astride a chest! Accordingly a large chest was roused up from below, and placed athwart-ships on the forecastle, between the bowsprit bitts and the cathead. The parties took their seats on the ends of the chest, facing each other, and the business was to be settled by hard knocks.
The men faced each other boldly, some weighty compliments were interchanged, when Bilton, to avoid a favor from his antagonist which in all probability would have finished him, slipped off the end of the chest, to the disgust of his shipmates and his own everlasting disgrace.
One of the crew, however, who was ingenious at expedients, and determined to see fair play, by means of a hammer and a tenpenny nail fastened both parties firmly to the chest by the seats of their canvas trousers. There being no longer a possibility of BACKING OUT, the battle was resumed, but did not last long; for Bilton soon received a blow on his left temple, which, in spite of the tenpenny nail, knocked him off the chest, and decided the contest.
Chapter V. DEMARARA
A circumstance occurred not long before our arrival at Demarara, which, being somewhat remarkable in its character, furnished a fruitful theme for conversation and comment. This was the arrival of a vessel from Cadiz, with only one person on board.
It seems that a Captain Shackford, of Portsmouth, N.H., was the master and owner of a sloop of some sixty or eighty tons. He proceeded to Cadiz, and there took in a cargo for Guiana. When on the eve of sailing, his crew, dissatisfied with some of his proceedings, left the vessel.
Captain Shackford, a resolute but eccentric man, resolved not to be disappointed in his calculations, or delayed in his voyage by the desertion of his crew, and boldly put to sea on the day appointed for sailing, trusting in his own unaided efforts and energies to manage the vessel on a passage across the ocean of thirty-five hundred miles. He was seventy-four days on his passage; but brought his vessel into port in tolerable order, having experienced no difficulty on his way, and losing only one day of his reckoning.
The arrival of a vessel in Demarara, under such singular circumstances, caused quite a sensation among the authorities, and gave rise to suspicions by no means favorable to the character of the captain as an honest man, and which his long, tangled locks and hirsute countenance for he had not combed his hair or shaved his face during the passage tended to confirm. It was thought by some that a mutiny might have broken out among the crew of the sloop, which resulted in scenes of violence and bloodshed, and that this wild-looking man was the only survivor of a desperate struggle between the officers and crew. Indeed, he looked not unlike a mutineer and murderer.
Captain Shackford was indignant at these suspicions, and would hardly deign to give explanations. It was fortunate for him that some vessels belonging to Portsmouth were in the harbor, the captains of which recognized him as an old acquaintance, and vouched for his character as an honest, well-meaning man, although at times indulging in strange freaks, more akin to madness than method. He was released from arrest, and subsequently disposed of his merchandise at remunerating prices, and with a cargo of assorted articles, and a crew, sailed for a port in the United States.
After the cargo of the Dolphin was discharged, preparations were made for receiving a return cargo, to consist principally of molasses. The process of taking in and stowing a cargo of this description is a peculiar one; and as I shall recur to this subject hereafter, I avail myself of this opportunity to describe, briefly, the mode of operation.
The empty casks are carefully stowed in the hold, with small pieces of board between the quarter-hoops of each cask, so that the bilge of a cask shall touch no other substance whatever. The bungholes must also be uppermost; thus, in the brief but expressive language of commerce, "every cask must be bung up and bilge free." A "molasses hose" is then procured, consisting of a half barrel with a hole in the bottom, to which is attached a leathern hose an inch and a half in diameter, and long enough to reach to the most distant part of the hold. A hogshead filled with molasses is then hoisted over the hatchway, hung down, and the hose-tub is placed directly beneath; the bung is taken out, and the molasses passes through the hose to any cask in the hold that may be wished. When the cask is filled the hose is shifted to another, and in this way the casks are all filled and the cargo stowed. The process is tedious; and although a sweet, by no means a pleasant one, to those engaged in it.
It may be imagined that the crew, after working all day among molasses in that hot climate, should wish to bathe in the evening; and the river alongside, although the element was neither pure nor transparent, offered, at high or low water, a tempting opportunity. To the very natural and proper inquiry whether the harbor of Demarara was infested with sharks a man-eating shark not being the most desirable "companion of the bath" we were told that a shark had never been seen in the harbor; that the river water, being turbid and fresher than the ocean water, was offensive to that much dreaded animal, which delights in the clear waters of the salt sea. We were further told that up the river, in the creeks and pools which abound in that region, alligators were met with in large numbers; some of them of large size, and had been known to attack a man in the water; but they never ventured down the river among the shipping.
The reports being thus favorable, the crew of the Dolphin, being good swimmers, were indeed, whenever it was "slack water" of an evening, to take a swim in the river; and the crews of other American vessels followed the example. One evening, at twilight, there were swimming about and sporting in the water, deriving the highest enjoyment from this healthy and refreshing exercise, some fifteen or twenty American sailors. On the following day an incident occurred, which operated as an impressive warning against bathing in the waters of the Demarara.
On the afternoon of that day, a sailor at work on the mizzen-topsail yard of an English ship moored within the distance of a cable's length from the Dolphin, accidentally fell from the yard. As he fell he caught hold of the main brace, and was suspended for a minute over the water. There was quite a commotion on the deck of the ship, which attracted the attention of the crews of neighboring vessels. On hearing the distressing cry of the man, and witnessing the tumult on board the ship, the crew of the Dolphin ran to the side of the brig and gazed with interest on the scene.
The poor fellow was unable to retain his hold of the rope until he could receive assistance. He fell into the water alongside, but rose to the surface almost immediately, and being, apparently, a good swimmer, struck out vigorously towards the ship. Some of his shipmates jumped into the boat to pick him up, as, notwithstanding his exertions, he was swept away by the tide; but none of the lookers-on apprehended any danger.
While we were intently watching the result, the unfortunate man gave a shrill and piercing shriek; and we then saw by the commotion in the water, and the appearance of a large fin above the surface, that a shark had seized the unlucky sailor, which caused him to give utterance to that dreadful cry. He immediately sank with his prey, and the muddy state of the water prevented the ruthless monster or his victim from being seen.
We were still gazing on the spot where this fearful tragedy was enacted, transfixed and mute with horror, when the shark again rose to the surface, bearing in his jaws the lifeless body of the English sailor; and for a brief period we beheld the voracious fish devouring his human food.
The cargo of the Dolphin being completed, there ensued the usual bustle and confusion in making preparations for sea. Owing to the lateness of the season, Captain Tilton was unwilling to encounter the storms of the New England coast in a vessel hardly seaworthy, and expressed an intention to proceed to Charleston, in South Carolina.
About a week before we left Demarara a small English brig-of-war arrived in the harbor, causing much consternation among the sailors, and not without reason. The brig was deficient in her complement of men, and this deficiency was supplied by impressment from crews of British vessels in port. The commander was a young man, who in common with most of the British naval officers of that day, had an exalted opinion of his dignity and importance, and held the Yankees in contempt.
The pennant at the main is a distinguishing mark of a man-of-war, and it was considered disrespectful on the part of the master of a merchant vessel to wear a pennant in the presence of a cruiser. But on the Sunday following the arrival of the gun brig the captain of a fine-looking American brig, who did not entertain that respect for John Bull which the representatives of that dignitary were disposed to exact, hoisted his colors, as usual, on the Sabbath. He did not confine his display of bunting to the ensign at the peak, a burgee studded with stars at the fore, and a jack on the bowsprit, but ran up a pennant of most preposterous length at the main, which proudly flaunted in the breeze, as if bidding defiance to the Englishman.
The young naval commander foolishly allowed himself to be annoyed by this proceeding on the part of the Yankee, and resolved to administer an appropriate rebuke. He sent an officer alongside the American brig, who, in a peremptory tone, told the mate to cause that Yankee pennant to be hauled down immediately.
The captain, hearing of the mandate, made his appearance on deck; and on a repetition of the order from the officer, exhibited unequivocal symptoms of a choleric temper. After letting off a little of his exuberant wrath, he declared with emphasis that he had a RIGHT to wear a pennant, and WOULD wear it in spite of all the officers in the British navy.
The midshipman, finding it of no avail to continue the parley, told his cockswain to go aloft and "dowse the pennant and leave it in the cross-trees." This was done, regardless of the protest of the captain, and his threats to lay the subject before the government and make it a national matter. The boat had hardly reached the man-of-war, when the pennant was again flying on board the American brig, and seemed to wave more proudly than before.
The man-of-war's boat was sent back, and some sharp words were exchanged between the British officer and the Yankee captain; but the former, possessing superior physical force, was triumphant. The pennant was again hauled down, but this time it was not left in the cross-trees. The cockswain took it with him and it was carried on board the English brig, in spite of the denunciation hurled against men-of-war's men, in which the epithets "thieves," "robbers," and "pirates," were distinctly heard.
A few nights after the above-mentioned occurrence we received an unexpected addition to the number of our crew. It was about an hour after midnight, when the man who had the watch on deck was comfortably seated on a coil of rope beneath the main deck awning, and probably dozing, while sheltered from a heavy and protracted shower of rain. The night was dark and gloomy; the ebb tide made a moaning, monotonous noise under the bows, and rushed swiftly by the sides of the vessel, leaving a broad wake astern. The sailor was roused from his comfortable position by a sound resembling the cry of a person in distress. He started to his feet, and stepped out from beneath the awning. He listened, and again distinctly heard the cry, which seemed to come from the water under the bows. Supposing it might proceed from some person who had fallen overboard and wanted help, he went forward to the knight-heads, and called out, "Who's there?"
A voice from below the bowsprit faintly replied, "Shipmate, for God's sake bear a hand, and give me help. I can hold on but a few minutes longer."
He was now aware that a man, in an exhausted condition, was clinging to the cable, and required immediate assistance. He called up his shipmates, and with little difficulty they succeeded in hauling him safely on board. He proved to be a fine-looking English sailor; and as soon as he recovered strength enough to converse, explained the cause of his perilous situation.
He belonged to the brig-of-war, which was lying at anchor about half a mile above. He had been impressed two years before; and being treated with cruelty and harshness, had been eagerly watching an opportunity to escape from his inhuman bondage. At length he formed a plan with one of his messmates, to slip overboard quietly the first dark night, and relying on skill in swimming, attempt to reach some vessel at anchor in the harbor.
The plan was carried into effect. They succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the sentries, dropped gently into the water, and were soon floating astern. But their situation was one of extreme peril. The current was stronger than they anticipated, and the darkness of the night prevented them from distinguishing any vessel in time to get on board. As soon as they were swept out of hearing of the man-of-war, they shouted loudly for help; but the murmuring of the tide, the pattering of the rain, and the howling of the wind prevented their voices from being heard, as, notwithstanding their exertions to stem the tide, they floated rapidly down the river towards the bar.
What risks will a man encounter to secure his liberty! It was not long before these friends separated, never to meet again. One of them sank beneath the waters. The other had given up all expectation of being rescued, when he beheld an object, darker than the murky atmosphere by which it was surrounded, rising, as it appeared to him, out of the water. His heart beat quicker within his bosom. In a moment more he had seized the cable of the Dolphin, and shouted for help. This man was grateful for the succor he had received, and expressed a wish to work his passage to the United States. To this suggestion Captain Tilton offered no objection, and he subsequently proved to be one of the best men on board.
That very morning the black pilot made his appearance, grinning as he thrust his dark muzzle over the gunwale. He was greeted with answering smiles, for we were "homeward bound," and all hands cheerfully commenced heaving up the anchor and making sail. With a favorable breeze and an ebb tide we soon passed the bar, and entered upon the broad ocean. The fresh trade wind was welcome after sweltering for weeks in the sultry and unwholesome atmosphere of Demarara; and the clear and pellucid waters of the ocean bore a cheerful aspect, contrasted with the thick and opaque waters of the river in which we had remained several weeks at anchor.
Nothing remarkable occurred during the homeward passage, until we reached the Gulf Stream, that extraordinary current, sixty or seventy miles in width, and many degrees warmer than the ocean water on either side, and which reaches from the Gulf of Florida to the Shoals of Nantucket. There can be no doubt that this current of the Gulf Stream is owing to the trade winds in the tropical seas, which, blowing at all times from the eastward, drive a large body of water towards the American continent. Vessels bound to India invariably meet with a strong westerly current within the tropics, and particularly in the vicinity of the equator. This volume of water is thus forced along the shores of Brazil and Guiana, until it enters the Caribbean Sea, from which it has no outlet excepting through the strait bounded by Cape Catouche in Yucatan, on one side, and Cape St. Antonio, in Cuba, on the other.