My First Voyage to Southern Seas, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is one of Kingston's earlier books, but is very much in the style for which he became famous. The theme is that the father of a family, a well-to-do merchant in London, dies suddenly. His eldest son had gone off to sea, but had not been heard of for some time, and by some was presumed dead. The second son is our young hero, who goes to sea as a midshipman. The book is thereafter filled with his adventures as he finds his way through rumour and chance to rescue his brother from where he is in captivity.
It's quite a long book, but the action never drags, and there are some interesting descriptions of the places visited, specially Ceylon.
As always with Kingston the seamanship is excellent. The action takes place in the 1850s, and we are in the age of sail. There are pirates, drunken captains, shipwrecks, strange coincidences, indeed all the usual components of a good Kingston novel.
MY FIRST VOYAGE TO SOUTHERN SEAS, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
MY ENGLISH HOME AND FAMILY—MY BROTHER GOES TO SEA—HEAR OF THE LOSS OF HIS SHIP—MY FATHER'S DEATH—WE ARE REDUCED TO POVERTY—RESOLVE TO VISIT MY GRANDFATHER, AND TO SEARCH FOR ALFRED—KINDNESS OF MY SCHOOLMASTER AND COMPANIONS—MY DOG SOLON.
Ours was a very united and a very happy family. We lived in the neighbourhood of London, near Blackheath, in Kent, on the elevated ground which overlooks Greenwich, its noble hospital, and the river Thames. Our father was a merchant, a thoroughly upright, industrious man, an honour to the profession to which he belonged. No man could be more attentive to business than he was, and yet no one enjoyed the country and the pursuits of the country more than he did. With what pleasure did we look forward, when we were children, to his return in the afternoon and even now I think I hear his cheerful laugh, and see his bland smile, as he took us up one by one in his arms and kissed us, and then often, though he must frequently have been tired and harassed, had a game of boisterous romps with us, seeming entirely to have forgotten all his cares and troubles. It was considered the privilege of little Kate, or one of the other young ones, to look slily into his pockets when, by a well-known significant gesture, he let us understand that they were not altogether empty. He had a little hand hamper or basket, such as many another paterfamilias possesses, which travelled with great regularity up and down nearly every day, and out of which all sorts of wonderful articles used to appear; and if a friend accompanied him unexpectedly down to dinner, our mother never had to complain that she was taken unawares and had nothing fit to offer him. The hamper, however, did not always contain eatables. Often our mother, or one of us, had been wishing very much for something which could not possibly have got into his pockets, and before many days were over, it was very nearly certain to make its appearance, when the top of the hamper was thrown back, imbedded in straw or paper. That dear old hamper always put us in mind of some magic chest in a fairy tale, only I doubt if any magic chest ever afforded so much pleasure, or produced so great a variety of articles as it did. I do not know if our kind father ever was out of humour; if he was, he left the appearance of it behind him in the city. Out of spirits he seldom or never was in my childhood's days.
The time was coming when a sad change was to occur. I mention these traits, trivial though they may seem, because I think that they speak well of my father's character. At the same time that he was a most affectionate father, he never forgot the necessity of correcting us for our faults; while he was deeply sensible of the importance of fitting us for the stations in life we might be destined to occupy, and of placing clearly before us the object of our existence on earth, and our duty to God and to our fellow-men. He watched over us with the most anxious solicitude during every moment he could spare; he took us out to walk with him, and had us constantly in his room, never wearying, apparently, of our society. This he did, I have no doubt, not only because he loved us, but that he might ascertain our different characters and dispositions, and at once eradicate, as far as he was able, each budding tendency to evil as it appeared.
Such was my father, a fine, intelligent, gentlemanly, handsome man; and though his hair was perfectly grey, his complexion was yet clear, nor had his eye lost the animation of youth. It is with great satisfaction that I can look back and picture him as I have now faithfully drawn his portrait.
Our dear mother, too, she was worthy to be his wife,—so amiable, and loving, and sensible, a pious Christian and a perfect gentlewoman, thoroughly educated, and capable of bringing up her daughters to fill the same station in life she occupied, which was all she desired for them. Indeed, we boys also received much of our early instruction from her, and I feel very certain that we retained far more of what she taught us than we acquired from any other source. To her we owed, especially, lessons of piety and instruction in the Holy Scriptures, never, I trust, to be forgotten, as well as much elementary secular knowledge, which probably we should otherwise have been very long in picking up. My mother had no relations of whom we, at all events, knew anything in England. She was the daughter of an Englishman, however, who had, when the Mauritius first came under the dominion of Great Britain, gone out there as a settler and planter, leaving her, his only child, to be educated in England.
Mr Coventry, my grandfather, was, we understood, of a somewhat eccentric disposition, and had for some years wandered about in the Eastern seas and among the islands of the Pacific, although he had ultimately returned again to his estate. He had transmitted home ample funds for his daughter's education, but he kept up very little communication with her, and had never even expressed any intention of sending for her to join him. The lady under whose charge she had been left was a very excellent person, and had thoroughly done her duty by her in cultivating to the utmost all the good qualities and talents she possessed. That lady was a friend of my father's family, and thus my father became acquainted with her pupil, to whom he was before long married.
It was necessary for me to give this brief account of my family history, to explain the causes which produced some of my subsequent adventures.
We were a large family. I had several brothers and sisters. I was the third son, and I had two elder sisters. Alfred, my eldest brother, was a fine joyous-spirited fellow. Some said he was too spirited, and unwilling to submit to discipline. He was just cut out for a sailor,— so everybody said, and so he thought himself, and to sea he had resolved to go. Our father exerted all the interest he possessed to get him into the navy, and succeeded. We thought it a very fine thing for him when we heard that he really and truly was going to be a midshipman. It appeared to us as if there was but one step between that and being an admiral, or, at all events, a post-captain in command of a fine line-of-battle ship. Neither our mother nor sisters had at first at all wished that Alfred should go to sea; indeed, our father would, I believe, have much rather seen him enter into the business of a merchant; but as soon as the matter was settled, they all set to work with the utmost zeal and energy to get his kit ready for sea. Many a sigh I heard, and many a tear I saw dropped over the shirts, and stockings, and pocket-handkerchiefs, as they were being marked, when he was not near. Too often had they read of dreadful shipwrecks, of pestiferous climates, of malignant fevers carrying off the young as well as the old, the strong as well as the weak, not to feel anxious about Alfred, and to dread that he might be among those gallant spirits who go away out-flowing with health, and hope, and confidence, and yet are destined never again to visit their native land, or to see the faces of those who love them so much. Alfred was full of life and animation, and very active in assisting in the preparations making for his departure. Well do I remember the evening when his uniform came down. With what hurried fingers we undid the parcel, and how eagerly I rushed up-stairs with him to help him to put it on! What a fine fellow I thought he looked; how proud I felt of him, as I walked round and round him, admiring the gold lace and the white patches worn by midshipmen in those days, and the dirk by his side, and the glossy belt, and the crown and anchor on his buttons and in his cap, and more than all, when I felt that he was really and truly an officer in the navy! Still more delighted was I when I accompanied him down-stairs, and heard the commendations of all the family on his appearance. Our father, with a hand on his shoulder, could not help exclaiming, "Well, Alfred, you are a jolly midshipman, my boy." And then all the servants had collected in the hall to have a look at him, and they were none of them chary of their expressions of admiration.
It was some days after this before all the multifarious contents of the chest were ready, and then came the parting day. That was a very sad one to our mother and elder sisters. I did not fully realise the fact that we were to be parted till he had actually gone, so my sorrow did not begin till I found his place empty, and had to go about by myself without his genial companionship. Our father took him down to Portsmouth, where he was to join his ship, the Aurora frigate, destined for the East India station, and our second brother Herbert accompanied him. Herbert was delicate, and required a change of scene and air. I longed to have gone too, but our father could not take both of us. My great desire was to see a large ship, a real man-of-war. I knew very well what a vessel was like, for I had seen numbers in the Thames, and one of Alfred's great pleasures was to take me with him to Greenwich Hospital, and to sit down on the benches and to watch the vessels sailing up and down the river, while we talked with the old pensioners, who were always ready to spin some of their longest yarns for our edification, though older people who went down there for the purpose found no little difficulty in getting anything out of them. This was not surprising. The old sailors found in us attentive and undoubting listeners. We never thought of even questioning them to let them suspect that we had not the most perfect reliance on what they said, which older people were apt to do, I observed, for the purpose of gaining more information from them. The old tars were either offended, from suspecting that their words were doubted, or fancied that their interrogators had some sinister motives in putting such questions, and, from an early habit of suspicion in all such instances, would shut up their mouths, and seem to have forgotten all about their early lives.
In the way I have mentioned, both Alfred and I gained a great deal of information about the sea and life in the navy, so that when he went afloat he was not nearly as ignorant as are many youngsters. In one respect, however, he had gained, unfortunately, no good from his intercourse with the old sailors. He had deeply imbibed many of the worst prejudices about the navy which even some old men-of-war's men retain to the present day, and he was taught to look upon all superior officers in the service as cruel and unjust tyrants, whom it was spirited to disobey when practicable, and ingenious to circumvent in every possible way. His feeling, in short, was very much that which schoolboys have for the ordinary run of masters whom they do not exactly detest for any unusual severity, but for whom they certainly do not entertain any undue affection. When he first received his appointment, he had forgotten all about this feeling; indeed, he had never expressed himself strongly on the matter; only I know that it existed. I mention it now as it accounted to me in some degree for his subsequent conduct.
When our father came back he gave a vivid description of the smart frigate in which dear Alfred was to sail, of the gentlemanly, pleasant captain, and of the nice lads in the midshipmen's berth who were to be his companions. The first lieutenant, he remarked, was a stern-looking, weather-beaten sailor of the old school, but he had the repute of being a first-rate officer, and the captain had told him that he was very glad to get him, as he was sure to make all the youngsters learn and do their duty, and to turn them into good seamen. Altogether, he was perfectly satisfied with all he had seen, and with Alfred's prospects.
Herbert's description of the midshipmen's berth made me regret more and more that I had not been allowed to accompany him, and I began to wish that I too might be able to go to sea. I did not talk about it; indeed, I tried to repress the feeling, because I knew that my father wished me to be brought up to his business. Herbert, it was seen, was not at all likely ever to become fitted for it. His health was delicate, and he was of a contemplative studious disposition, and of a simple trusting mind, which had a tendency to shut out from itself all thoughts or knowledge of the evil which exists in the world. This is, I believe, a very blessed and happy disposition, if rightly directed and educated, but, at the same time, those who possess it are not fitted for those pursuits in life which bring them into contact and competition with all classes and orders of men. They should not be thrown among the crowd struggling on to gain wealth, or name, or station, or they most assuredly will be trampled under foot. So our father said, and I think he judged rightly, when he advised Herbert to fix his thoughts on becoming a minister of the gospel. "If I am considered worthy, there is no vocation I would so gladly follow," was dear Herbert's answer. Those who knew him best would most assuredly have said that he was worthy, compared to the usual standard of frail human nature.
The time to which I have now been alluding was during our summer holidays. We all three went to a first-rate school near Blackheath, where I believe we were general favourites. I know that Alfred and Herbert were, and I had many friends among the boys, while the masters always expressed themselves kindly towards me. If not exactly what is called studiously disposed, I was, at all events, fond of learning and reading, and gaining information in every variety of way, and the commendations I received from my masters encouraged me to be diligent and attentive. My father also was pleased with my progress; and as I delighted in giving him pleasure, I had another strong motive to study hard, not only what I especially liked—for there is very little virtue in that—but what I was told would ultimately prove a benefit to me. I was especially fond of reading about foreign countries, and I thought to myself, if I am not allowed to enter the navy, I will, at all events, become a great traveller, and, perhaps, as a merchant, be able to visit all those wonderful lands, with the accounts of which I am now so much interested. I will not dwell upon my school life. It was a very happy one. We were boarders, but we came home frequently, and we did not thereby lose the love of home; for my part, I think we loved it the more for frequently going to it. We kept up our home interests, had our home amusements, and our home pets. Our more particular friends among our school-fellows frequently came home with us, especially to spend their Easter and Michaelmas holidays, when they would otherwise have had to remain at school. We had also generally a good supply of eatables, and for these and the reasons of which I have before spoken, we were probably altogether the most popular boys at school. Alfred had been so, and so was Herbert, and I in time came in for my share of popularity, and, as I found, for what is far more valuable, of sincere, true friendship. We all at that time undoubtedly enjoyed the sunshine of prosperity.
We heard occasionally from Alfred; but he was not an apt penman, and did not prove himself so good a correspondent as we had hoped. We had a letter from him written at Rio de Janeiro, and a short one from the Cape of Good Hope. Then the ship went to India, and was there a couple of years, during which time he wrote occasionally. At last he sent us a few hurried lines from the Mauritius, saying that he was well, but that the frigate was about to return to India, and on her way to visit several interesting places.
Waiting for some time after the receipt of that letter, we began to be anxious about receiving another, but none came. Day after day, week after week, and month after month passed by, and we heard nothing. Our disappointment was great, but our anxiety did not increase in the same proportion, as we had no doubt that his letters had by some means miscarried. We never allowed ourselves to suppose for a moment that the ship had been lost, or that any other misfortune had occurred, still less that Alfred himself was ill or had died. None of us, it seemed, could have borne that thought. At last my father became really anxious and wrote to the captain. He waited for a long time for a reply, and at last he got one, not from the former captain, who had died from fever, but from the officer who had been first lieutenant when my brother sailed, saying that Mr Marsden had thought fit to quit his ship without leave; he could not be considered as belonging to the navy, and that, therefore, he had no further charge over him. He did not say where Alfred had left the ship, or when, or why, allowing us to remain most cruelly in a dreadful state of suspense. My father instantly wrote again to make further inquiries, but during the time we were waiting for the reply to the second letter, we saw it stated in the papers that the gallant frigate had been lost, and that all hands on board had perished. We grieved much at the idea that Alfred should have left his ship and brought disgrace upon himself by becoming a deserter. At the same time, we could not but with gratitude rejoice that he had escaped the dreadful fate which had overtaken his companions. This circumstance was one of the first griefs which had befallen our family. My father was much troubled by it. He wrote again and again to various correspondents in that part of the world, but received no satisfactory replies; none of them had heard of Alfred. The surprising thing was that he did not write himself. His silence was most unaccountable and painful. We could not believe that he was lost to us for ever, nor could we suppose for a moment that he whose memory was so fondly cherished, and who had loved us all so much, had so completely changed as not to think it worth while even to communicate with us, and to let us know that he was alive.
"Oh no, no! that is impossible," exclaimed our mother, with tears in her eyes, when one day our father remarked that lads scarcely were aware how quickly time flew by, and that they often put off writing home from day to day till they forgot all about the matter. "I am sure our dear Alfred would have written if he could. Perhaps he has written, and his letters have been lost. This is by far the most likely thing to have occurred. So affectionate, kind, and dutiful as he always was, he certainly has not forgotten us."
Mary, and Charlotte, and Herbert, all thought the same. So did I. I felt sure that he had not forgotten us, and that, had he possessed the means of writing and of sending us a letter, that he would have done so; but I could not help fancying that he must have been made prisoner by some savages, or carried into slavery by some Malays or Malagash or other eastern people, or perhaps that he had been wrecked on some desolate island from which he had no means of escaping. I reasoned thus: Fond as he was of the sea, after he had left his ship and virtually quitted the navy, he was not at all likely to live a shore life. It was much more probable that he would engage in some trading voyage or other, and the more romance and adventure it might appear to offer, the more likely he was to select it; and thus he would have gone away to the South Seas or to the East Indian Islands, where all the contingencies I have just spoken of were very likely to occur. It at last became a fixed idea in my mind that poor Alfred was groaning somewhere or other in slavery, but the where was the question to solve. I told my sister Mary my idea, but she entreated me on no account to mention it to our mother, or to anybody else, as she was certain that it would make them still more unhappy about him than they were already.
At length a strong desire grew up in my bosom to set out and try to discover Alfred. I had heard my father quote a Portuguese proverb, "He who does not want sends, he who wants goes." Now, I certainly wanted very much indeed to find out where poor Alfred was, and I was ready and eager to sail the world round to discover him; but I was still very young, and I knew that there would be a great deal of difficulty in getting my father to allow me to go, if indeed he would give me permission at all. When or how the idea came into my mind I could not tell. There it was, however, and once there it was not likely to die out, but would grow with my growth and strengthen with my strength, till at length I was able to act upon it.
About this time I observed a great change coming over my father. He was kind and affectionate as ever, but his spirits were lower than I had ever known them; and day after day he came down late from London, looking weary and fagged. My mother, too, looked anxious and sad. Whatever was the cause which affected him, she was fully aware of it. He had always from the first told her how his affairs were going on, and he was not the person to conceal any expected misfortune from his long-trusted wife.
The looked-for blow which was to lay him low, destroy his credit, and bring him to utter ruin, came even more quickly and suddenly than he had anticipated. He had some heavy liabilities, but at considerable loss had collected the necessary sums, which were placed in the hands of his bankers to meet them. The morning of the very day on which the money was to be paid, his bankers failed, and he was in consequence compelled to stop payment. Still, his creditors had so much confidence in him that they would have enabled him to continue business; but scarcely a week had passed before he received news that two of his principal foreign correspondents, with whom he had at the time very large transactions, had likewise failed. Thus the remittances he was expecting from them did not arrive, and he was utterly unable to meet other and still heavier liabilities which were daily falling due. He at once manfully called his creditors together, and explained clearly to them the state of the case, and handed all his available property over to them. He bore up well under the trying situation in which he was placed; he even, I heard, looked cheerful. He was doing what he felt to be his duty. He trusted still, by industry and energy, to be able to support his family; but there was something working away at his heart which those who saw him did not suspect, and of which he himself possibly was not aware. He went back to his counting-house after this last meeting of his creditors. He wrung the hand of his faithful head-clerk, Mr Ward, who had himself suffered severely by the failure of the bank; and then, scarcely venturing to speak, set off to come home.
That home he never reached alive. Between the station and his house he was seen to fall, and being carried into the nearest shop, immediately breathed his last. Sad and almost overwhelming was the account which was brought us. I will not enter into the particulars, with which my readers generally cannot be interested.
Deep was our grief at our kind father's loss. We were left also almost penniless. He had insured his life, but by some unaccountable neglect of his trustees, we could not benefit by the insurance. Had Alfred been at home, we should, it appeared, have been placed above want, at all events. A considerable sum of money had been left him by his godfather, the interest of which was to be paid over to our father or mother for his use from the time he was sixteen. In case of his death, it was to go to another godson of the same old gentleman. Unless, therefore, the trustees in whose names the capital was invested were assured that he was alive, they, of course, could not venture to pay our mother the money.
After our first burst of grief, was over, and we could talk with some calmness, I told my mother of the idea which had so long occupied my mind, and besought her to allow me to carry it into execution. Herbert, it was very clear, was not so well fitted for the undertaking as I was. Somebody, I argued, ought to go, and as I had long set my heart on the work, and thought, or fancied that I had thought, of all the difficulties I should have to encounter, I was better fitted for it than anybody else. I would also visit my grandfather in the Mauritius, and he certainly would give me important assistance in tracing out my brother. Steadily and strenuously I pressed the point, till at length my mother came entirely into my view of the case, and gave me her full permission to set off, and to make such arrangements as I thought necessary. As soon as she had done this, though her fast falling tears told me how much the effort cost her, a load appeared to be taken off my heart. I felt as if I had at once grown into a man, and was about to begin the serious business of life. Scarcely a fortnight had elapsed after my father's funeral before it was arranged that I was to go. How to carry out my purpose was the next consideration. On one point I was resolved—not to deprive my mother and sisters of a farthing of the small sum which could be collected for their support. I had a fair stock of clothes, and Herbert insisted on my taking some of his, so that I was at no expense for my outfit. The first thing Herbert and I did was to set off for the London Docks, where I had been several times with my father, to try and find a ship bound for the Cape of Good Hope or the Mauritius, at one of which places I proposed commencing my search. I was ready to enter on board in any capacity in which I was not called upon to pay a premium; but as I had never been at sea, and knew nothing practical about the sea, it may be supposed that, although I had heard of several ships at the point of sailing to the very places I wished most to visit, I could not succeed in obtaining a berth on board any of them. We walked home again somewhat dispirited with our want of success; but, nevertheless, I was still as resolved as before to go by some means or other.
We had arranged the next day to visit our school, that I might take leave of our excellent master and school-fellows. I could not bear to go away without seeing them, though I fancied that I should find it a painful ceremony, I shall never forget how warmly and kindly I was greeted by every one; and still more gratified was I when one boy after another brought me up some present, which he asked me to accept as a keepsake. Some were trifles, but everything was of a character likely to prove useful to me. One gave me a knife with a hole in the handle, through which I might pass a lanyard to wear it round my neck; another a small writing-case; a third, a drawing-case; others, such things as sketch-hooks, pencils, some useful tools; and one of my greater friends, who was well off, gave me a first-rate spy-glass; while my kind master called me into his study, and showed me a serviceable sextant. "There, Ralph, I hope that, as you are going to sea, you will endeavour to acquire all the information in your power respecting nautical matters, even though you may not ultimately follow a sea life as your profession. Of course, you will fit yourself to become an officer by the study of navigation, which, you will find, is a distinct branch of a sailor's profession from seamanship. The possession of the sextant you will, I hope, find a considerable advantage to you, as it will enable you to gain experience in taking observations of the celestial bodies as you traverse the ocean. I offer you this gift on the condition that you accept another one. It consists of these two stout volumes of blank paper, and I shall expect you to do your best to fill them with the result of the observations you make during your voyages and travels. I want you to keep not merely an ordinary sea-log, remember, but a complete journal, as diffuse as you can. Never trust to your memory. Points which at the time you fancy you will never forget are often completely obliterated in a few months. I have frequently myself found this to be the case. So put down everything worth noting as soon after it has occurred, or you have seen it, as possible; and especially understand that no point connected with natural history, or science generally, is too trivial to be noted. Great and important truths are often discovered by what at first might have appeared a collection of trivialities."
I repeat these remarks of my master's, because I think that they may be of use to my readers, as I certainly found a very great advantage in following his advice. He gave me also a number of pocket-books with pencils, for producing indelible writing, which I also found very useful. Other friends gave me books to form a complete sea-library; indeed, I strongly suspected, from their character, that my master had assisted in their selection. I need not say that I was very grateful for all these numerous marks of kindness, and it made me very happy and proud to feel that I was so much esteemed by my companions; at the same time, I daresay I owed some of the kindness I received to the commiseration my friends felt for me in consequence of the misfortunes which had overtaken my family. Nearly everybody had given me something, except my friend, Henry Raymond. I knew that his means were not large; but still, I felt sure that he would wish to make me some trifling present or other. After all my treasures had been collected, I found him standing by my side.
"Come along, Ralph," he said, with the pleasant smile which constantly lighted up his countenance; "I want to give you something which you will like and value." He was leading me towards the courtyard at the back of the house. "I wish that I could go with you myself, that we might take care of each other; but as I cannot do that, I beg that you will take Solon with you. He will fight bravely in your cause, and will, I am sure, prove watchful and faithful; and it will be a great satisfaction to me to know that you have got so stout a friend by your side."
There stood Solon with a new chain and collar, with my name engraved on it. He was wagging his tail, and looking up with a pleased expression in our faces, as if he was fully aware of what had been said, and was perfectly ready to undertake the charge committed to him. He was an old friend of mine, and would follow me as readily as he would Henry if I let him loose, so that he possibly did not consider that he was about to change masters. He was a very intelligent and powerful dog, a cross between a mastiff and a Newfoundland dog. He was born in the island of Portland, in Dorsetshire, his immediate ancestors having belonged to some of the free trading population of that district, and employed in the not very creditable occupation of carrying casks of spirits and small bales of silks and laces into the interior, past the revenue officers stationed there to prevent smuggling. So sagacious were those dogs that they knew the appearance of a coastguardsman at a great distance, and employed every stratagem to avoid him, so that they were seldom captured or shot. Dogs trained in the same way are employed by the contrabandists to carry smuggled goods across the frontiers of both France and Portugal into Spain, in which country the high duties make smuggling a profitable business. We had called Henry's dog Solon, from the sagacity he displayed in everything in which he was called on to take a part.
"The very thing, of all others, I am delighted to have," I exclaimed, wringing Henry's hand. "I would rather have had you; but next to you, I think Solon is likely to prove as true a friend as any one I shall meet with. Dear old Solon, you will stick by me, I know, and help me to find out Alfred, won't you? That I know you will, old fellow." Solon, as I spoke to him, wagged his tail and licked my hand, and looked up in my face, as if he thoroughly understood all I was saying.
Henry Raymond that day accompanied me and Herbert home, to assist, as he said, in carrying my presents. My mother was much affected by the kindness of my school-fellows, and more especially with the liberality and consideration of our master, when Herbert told her that he was to go back and attend school regularly as before.
"Your father was very kind, and procured me many pupils," he remarked. "You need not consider yourself under any special obligation to me, for I should indeed regret if you had not the opportunity of continuing your studies at the most important period of your life. I need scarcely say that the best way you can repay me is to study hard, and to obtain all the advantage you can from the instruction I am happily able to afford you."
The circumstances I have been describing shed a gleam of bright sunshine over our late sorrowing household, and, as our mother said, she was sure that the widow and the fatherless who place their trust in God's protecting care will not be forgotten by him. The exertions my mother and sisters were compelled to make to prepare my kit, allayed somewhat their grief, at the same time that it reminded them of poor Alfred's departure, and many a tear they dropped on account of both of us.
I had still to hunt about to get a ship, and as I was anxious to lose no time, I resolved not to relax my search till I had found one. Of course, I knew that if I had been able to go to one of the large shipowners with a premium in my hand, and requested to be taken as an apprentice, I should have had little difficulty about the matter; but as I could not do that, I was compelled to try and obtain a berth by some other means. One night I scarcely closed my eyes, being employed in turning over in my mind various plans by which I fancied I might succeed in my object. I bethought me at length that I would go to Mr Ward, my father's old clerk. He had been very unwell ever since hearing of my father's death; but I knew his lodgings, and I was sure he would give me the best advice in his power, though he might not be able to help me in a more practical way. This resolution may not appear a very great result of a sleepless night's cogitations, yet I have found it often to be the case, that although during the night I have fancied that I have been thinking all sorts of important things, I have in the morning been unable to derive from them more than some very simple and insignificant results. I advise my readers, if they can help it, never to think at night. Let them go to sleep, get up early, and while they are taking a brisk walk in the bright, fresh air, let them think as much as they can—their thoughts then will be of ten times more value than all the produce of a sleepless night. A successful merchant once told me that he made a practice of rising with the sun, and walking round and round his grounds, while he laid plans for the day's work; and thus he got nearly all his thinking done while enjoying pure air and exercise, and while in the city had only to perform the less fatiguing duty of an overseer to watch that his plans were carried out. The result of my visit to Mr Ward I will detail in the following chapter.
OUR OLD CLERK—I FIND THAT HE HAS A HEART—LOOK OUT FOR A SHIP—THE ORION—HER OFFICERS AND CREW—LAST DAY AT HOME—PART FROM MR. WARD—THE PASSENGERS—SAIL DOWN THE THAMES—CHANGE OF CAPTAIN.
Old Mr Ward rose from his chair by the fire when, accompanied by Solon, I went in; and he made me sit down beside him with a great deal of courtesy and kindness, while the dog crouched down at my feet. The old gentleman sighed very much, and blew his nose, and wiped his eyes, when I told him of the plan I had resolved to follow. I ought to have said that I had not had much communication with him, for he was of a somewhat eccentric character; and although my father had frequently invited him, he would never come down and dine with us, as it is the custom of many head-clerks to do with their principals.
"Ah, Mr Ralph," he said, still sighing, "till our misfortunes came I always looked forward to your joining us in Crooked Lane when you were old enough; and now to have you go wandering about the world by yourself—so young as you are, too—I cannot bear the thoughts of it."
I did my best to persuade him of the importance of my object; and I argued that my youth was no disadvantage, and that I should enjoy the sort of life I proposed leading.
"Well, if that is the case, Mr Ralph, I will see what I can do," he exclaimed, getting up with more activity than I expected, and preparing to put on his great-coat and hat, though, by-the-by, the day was warm and genial.
I begged him, however, not to venture out if he was still ill. He looked at me almost reproachfully.
"Ah, Mr Ralph, for your honoured father's son it is a slight thing indeed that I am undertaking to do," he answered. "We will first go to Lloyds' and ascertain what vessels are on the berth for those places, and then I will go to the agents and see if I know any of the owners, or captains, or other officers of the ships, and endeavour to make some arrangement with them about you."
Mr Ward, though usually very silent, showed that he was a man of prompt action, which is much better than being a talker.
"Leave your dog, Mr Ralph, till we come back," he observed as we were about leaving the room; so patting Solon on the head, and making him lie down on the rug, I saw that he clearly understood that he was to stay where he was.
Mr Ward said very little during our walk to the Exchange. He went up into Lloyds' room, leaving me waiting on the pavement at the foot of the stairs. He was not long absent.
"Come along, Mr Ralph; it is possible we may be successful," was all he said, as he hurried me off to Billiter Street, and Saint Helen's, and to one or two other places in the neighbourhood, where some of the large ship-brokers have their offices.
He made a great variety of inquiries at a considerable number of offices, where he seemed always to be kindly received; but as he invariably spoke in a low tone of voice, and was answered in the same, I did not exactly comprehend the tenor of the information he obtained. I only know that he exhibited a great deal of patience and perseverance in going about from office to office, in waiting till some one was at leisure to speak to him, and in asking questions. I made some remark to that effect.
"Yes, Mr Ralph," he replied. "We have in the city to exercise patience as well as perseverance. We have often to hurry along as fast as our legs can carry us, for ten minutes, while perhaps we may at the end of it be kept waiting for an hour before we can speak to the person we have come to see; but you will understand that if we had not hurried along at first, we might have had to wait two hours, or have missed the interview altogether. Sailors are tried much in the same way, I fancy, as you will learn when making a voyage. Sometimes they get a fair breeze, and run before it for many days; and then they fall into a calm, and have to float about doing nothing, or they are driven back by contrary winds, and lose all the ground they have gained. Such is our voyage through life, Mr Ralph; and it is better to know beforehand what we are likely to meet with, and be prepared for it. That is the reason why I wish to draw your attention to the subject, my dear young gentleman, and to urge you to be prepared. Because the sun shines sometimes, and we have a fair breeze, we must not suppose that the sun will always be shining, or that we shall at all times enjoy a favourable wind."
These remarks were made by the kind old man as we sat waiting in one of the offices to see the principal, to whom he was well known. One so often reads in stories of roguish, or hard-hearted, or narrow-minded head-clerks, that it is pleasant to be able to record from my own experience an example of a very different character. I believe that clerks are often made hard-hearted or selfish, if not rogues, by the unsympathising or supercilious way in which they are treated by their employers. The successful general will always be found to have taken an interest in the welfare of the humblest private among his troops; and in the same way I am certain that the successful merchant has always shown that he can enter into the domestic affairs of his subordinates, and has treated them with kindness and consideration. At last Mr Ward was summoned into the private office of the broker. When he came out he took me by the arm.
"Come along, Mr Ralph," he said; "we will look in at my lodgings, and then hie off to the docks."
He hurried along the streets at a great rate without speaking. Not that he was really, I found, in a great hurry, but it was his habit to get over the ground as fast as possible when he could, so that he might not be inconvenienced by delays from impediments when they might occur. A very nice luncheon was spread out on the table, over which Solon was keeping a dutiful ward and watch. This, I knew, could not be according to the old gentleman's custom; but he had ordered the meal, I suspected, that I might not have the expense of paying for my own luncheon, and that he might not run the risk of hurting my feelings by paying for it himself at a chop-house.
"Perhaps you would like to take your dog with you, Mr Ralph," said the old man, when the meal was over, looking down kindly on Solon, who wagged his tail on being thus noticed. He had come in for his share of the bones of the mutton-chops we had had for luncheon.
"Yes, indeed, I should, thank you," I answered. "I never wish to be parted from Solon. Do you know, Mr Ward. I always fancy he knows that he has especially to look after me, and to keep me out of harm."
Mr Ward smiled. "He looks very intelligent, and I have no doubt will do his best for you on all occasions," said he. "But, my dear young gentleman, I must not lose the opportunity of urging you ever to look to One, our great and merciful Maker, for protection and support. But then, you cannot look to him for protection unless you show your love to him by obeying him, and trying to please him in all things. Do that, pray to him always, and then boldly and fearlessly go through life. You will be equipped with a better tempered armour, a larger shield, a stronger helmet than any steel-clad knight of old. Next trust to yourself, to your own energies, courage, and perseverance. Don't fancy that other people are to do things for you. Others, however good their intentions, may fail you. Just be true to yourself, and don't fear. The lad who is always fancying that his friends are going to do something for him (as the foolish phrase goes), is very sure to be left behind in the race. You will be surprised, I daresay, how a London counting-house clerk came to get these ideas into his head. Look—there are my masters." He pointed to some shelves well filled with books, not remarkable for the elegance or uniformity of their binding. "I have read every one of these—not once, but over and over again. When I have wanted a new friend to dine with me, I have stopped at a book-stall, and have managed to pick him up at the cost of sixpence or a shilling; sometimes I have expended several shillings on him, but I have seldom paid so much for any work as some of the city gentlemen pay for one dish of fish to feed three or four friends who have given them very little entertainment in return, whereas my new friend has afforded me interest for days and weeks afterwards. But I must not go on babbling in this way. Call your good dog. Come along, Mr Ralph."
Off we set, Solon keeping very close to my heels, as if he were afraid of losing me in the crowd, and whenever I put down my hand I felt him licking my fingers to show that he was near me. Mr Ward was again taciturn as before. He felt that, as a city man, he was among people who knew him, and lest he should be overheard he was habitually silent. He now appeared to me quite a different person to what I had fancied him to be. I had thought him what the world calls a very worthy, faithful, but rather stupid old man. I found him to be kind, thoughtful, and intelligent, and I felt very sure that my dear brother and sisters would find him the same, and that he would, in some way or other, prove a valuable friend to them.
The London, as well as the East and West India and several other docks, are well worthy of a visit. There are immense warehouses both under and above ground, those below being called vaults, by-the-by; and there are broad quays with huge basins, or I might describe them as vast tanks, which are full of fine ships, each of many hundred tons. The names of the ships were painted in large letters on black boards and hung up on the rigging, so that we had no necessity to make inquiries for the ship Mr Ward wished to find.
"We had not much to do with vessels," he observed. "We took freight, and shipped our cargoes, and received them in return without any communication with the master or his officers, so that I do not know many sea-going people. However, I have, fortunately, a cousin, who is second mate of a ship—the Orion—just sailing for the Cape of Good Hope and the Mauritius. My friends, Minnories, the brokers, have given me a letter to the master, and if we can arrange matters with him, you will, I hope, from what I hear, find him a pleasant man to sail with. At all events, I know that my cousin, William Henley, is a very fine young fellow, and will prove a good friend to you. If I am not too presumptuous, Mr Ralph, I might say, also, a worthy companion, though his birth was not much less humble than was mine."
"My father would not have allowed such a consideration to weigh with us in the choice of our companions, I assure you, Mr Ward," I answered, promptly; for well did I remember hearing him remark, that he would far rather his sons chose their friends from among right-principled, steady, industrious lads, than from among the most wealthy or high-born in the land.
"That was like him, Mr Ralph—that was like him," said the old man, warmly. "Now, here we are at the Orion. She is a fine-looking ship for her size—some four or five hundred tons, I should guess. Ah, there is William Henley himself!"
As he spoke, a dark man with a large black beard and whiskers looked over the bulwarks, and seeing Mr Ward, came along the plank which connected the ship with the quay towards us. He shook hands warmly with Mr Ward, who took him aside, while I stood patting Solon's head and admiring the appearance of the ship—the neat way in which she was rigged and painted, and the massive masts and yards to which the white sails had just been bent. I seldom had had an opportunity of examining so large a ship ready for sea so near, and I thought her, as she truly was, a very handsome production of human art.
"And so you wish to go to sea with us," said the mate, when he and Mr Ward rejoined me. I liked his tone of voice, and I saw that he was a much younger man than his dark appearance at first led me to suppose.
"Yes, indeed I do," I answered; "I always have wished to go to sea, and now I have a stronger motive than ever. Perhaps Mr Ward has told you."
"Yes; I know all about it—very right," said Mr Henley. "And you want to secure a berth for your four-footed companion there. He's a fine fellow. I'll try and arrange that for you. Captain Seaford is a very reasonable man, and you will like him, I know. We shall go out of dock to-morrow, or the next day at furthest. You may join us at Gravesend, if you like, but I would advise you to come on board here. It will save you expense and trouble, and you will find much to interest you in seeing the ship go out of dock."
All this seemed very easily and agreeably arranged. Mr Henley was, I found, a connection of Captain Seaford's, and much trusted by him, so that he did not speak without authority in what he said. He then took us round the ship. She had her cargo on board, but she was taking in stores and provisions, and appeared to be in a state of great confusion. She was, I found, to carry a certain number of first and second class emigrants to the Cape. Mr Ward insisted on accompanying me to London Bridge, declaring that the walking about in the service of my father's son did him more good than all the doctor's physic he could take. On our way there he told me that the first mate of the Orion, Mr Paul Grimes, was a very different sort of person to William Henley, and that he was certainly a bad-tempered and not a well-disposed man, at all events.
"Never mind, though," said my old friend. "Keep on doing your duty. Do not retort. Return good for evil, and so you will in the end 'heap coals of fire on his head.' There are few men's hearts which cannot be softened in that way."
Mr Ward kindly shook my hand when I parted from him, and begged that I would come to him early the next day with my chest before going on board the Orion.
I saw the tears trickling down my dear mother's cheeks as I gave her an account of what had occurred during the day.
"Surely He does not desert the fatherless and widows who cry unto him; and he employs his emissaries often in the shape of human beings to do his work," she exclaimed, as she put her head upon my shoulder while I stood by her side.
The next morning I was up by daybreak finishing all my preparations. I will not describe the parting at last. It was very grievous for us all to bear. I knew too well how much my poor mother felt it, for she could not help allowing the idea to enter that perhaps Alfred might be lost to her for ever, and that I, too, subject to the numberless vicissitudes of a sea-life, might never return. Herbert was to go with me to see the Orion, and Henry Raymond got leave to accompany us. We all four—that is to say, Solon, Herbert, Henry, and I—started away after an early breakfast, and in spite of the sad events which had occurred—such is the buoyancy of young spirits—a very merry party we soon became. Perhaps our spirits were rather forced at times. Mr Ward was not expecting so large a party, but he was not displeased at seeing us.
I found a tailor waiting to take my measure.
"You are to be received on board as a midshipman, Mr Ralph," said the kind old man, in a sort of hesitating way. "There are two other youngsters, I find, and as they wear uniforms, it is right that you should be dressed like them. Mr S—will get you yours ready in a few hours, and I can settle all about it some day with your mother, you know."
"But I do not like to put my mother to the additional expense," said I, drawing back.
Mr Ward almost gave me a hug, while a smile of satisfaction beamed brightly on his countenance. "Never mind, my dear lad," he exclaimed. "Mr S—is very liberal, and the whole matter will be arranged without the slightest difficulty, or having to trouble your mother in any way. You must have the uniform, and it would be a great disappointment to have to give up the expedition because you would not get it."
I saw that there was no use disputing the point further, so wringing Mr Ward's hand to show that I understood him, I let the tailor take my measure. The cab, with my sea-chest on the top of it, and a portmanteau, hat-box, and several other articles inside, was waiting at the door.
"We will put your property on board, Mr Ralph, and ascertain at what time the Orion goes out of dock," observed Mr Ward. "You will have plenty of time to come on shore again, and purchase any trifles you may have forgotten. William Henley will tell us all about the matter."
We were somewhat of a cabful, as Henry Raymond observed, for though Mr Ward said he would go outside, we would not let him, nor would he let Henry go on the box. At last the cab reached the docks, and disgorged its contents on the quay just before the Orion. While we watched over my property, Mr Ward went on board. Soon a couple of seamen appeared, and made very little difficulty in hauling my mighty chest on board. Mr Henley then came and showed me a place between decks, near his and the third mate's cabin, where I and the other first-class apprentices, or midshipmen, were to swing our hammocks. It was a gloomy, very unattractive spot, I thought; but I had made up my mind to be contented with whatever was provided for me, so I did not even think of grumbling. Herbert, however, whose tastes were very different from mine, shuddered when he found that this low, confined spot, was to be my future abode for so long a period.
"Horrible!" I heard him whisper to Henry Raymond. "Poor dear Ralph! it is sad indeed that he should have to live in so dark a hole."
Henry laughed. "If no worse fate befall him, I do not think that he should be unhappy," he answered.
We were all introduced to Captain Seaford, who had come on board to visit the ship only, and we found that he was going on shore again, and that she would after all not leave the docks for a couple of days. I liked Captain Seaford's appearance very much. He was a fine, gentlemanly-looking man, with a very kind expression of countenance; and Mr Henley, who had before sailed with him, assured us that his character was in accordance with his features. He looked unwell, and complained of being ill when he left the ship. He told me as he went away that I might, if I wished, remain on shore for at least forty-eight hours longer, as there was nothing just then for me to do on board. I scarcely knew whether to be glad or sorry at this. I should again see my mother and sisters, but then there would be the parting to go through once more.
"As you are to remain, we must try and get Mr Ward and Mr Henley to come down and dine with us to-morrow," observed Herbert, who was always thoughtful. "It will be a very great comfort to our mother to know one of the officers of the ship you are to sail in, and it will be gratifying to her to be able to thank Mr Ward for all his kindness to you."
We accordingly agreed that we would give the invitation, although I was afraid that Mr Ward, at all events, would not accept it. What was my surprise, therefore, to find that he did so readily and cheerfully, and he added that he was certain that William Henley would come if he could. The reason why he now came so readily was this. He had so much tact and consideration, and he knew that his so doing would gratify my mother, and that having to entertain him would assist to keep up her spirits, and prevent her from thinking too much of her forlorn condition. Mr Ward would not let me go back to Blackheath till my uniform was ready, when he made me put it on, not a little to my inward satisfaction, and said that he would send my other things on board the Orion. He made during the day many minute inquiries about my kit, and the various articles I possessed; and in a list he showed me in his lodgings, he made me point out what I did not possess, and insisted in supplying the deficiency. He also added all sorts of odds and ends, and many little articles which he said William Henley told him that I should find useful.
The next day both he and Mr Henley came down to Blackheath to dine with us. How gentle and kind they both were! That strong, weather-beaten, dark-whiskered young man, who, from his appearance, I should have expected to have a loud gruff voice, spoke on the contrary in the most quiet, pleasant way; and in a very little time, after having at first eyed him askance, the younger children collected round him, and were soon listening eagerly to an account he was giving them of some of his sea adventures, and which, when I overheard, I found he was exactly adapting to their comprehensions. A very pleasant afternoon was spent. My mother and sisters did their best to amuse Mr Ward, and to show him how much they appreciated his kindness to me. They were also, as I knew they would be, very much pleased with Mr Henley; and I am sure that the kind old gentleman must have been satisfied with the result of his unusual excursion. He asked my mother's leave, as he was wishing her good-bye, to be allowed to call in occasionally to see if he could be of use to her or to any of the little ones, and just to hear also if she had received any news of Mr Ralph. From the diffident way in which he spoke, it might have been supposed that she was a lady of rank and wealth, and that he was a humble person asking some great favour. Yet there was certainly no false humility in anything he said. I am very sure that he felt as he spoke, and that my mother's loss of property made no difference in his sight, but rather, from the way she bore it, raised her still higher in his estimation.
The next morning Herbert accompanied me and Solon once more on board the Orion. She was just then getting ready to move out of dock, it being close upon high water. Captain Seaford was not on board. He was still ill, and it was understood that he would join us at Gravesend. Mr Ward was on board, according to promise, to see me off.
"I wish, my dear Mr Ralph, that you would make me your banker," he said, after shaking hands, and leading me aside. I was not aware that he had already paid a considerable sum towards the premium required by the owners, though in my case they liberally lowered it.
I told him that I hoped to get assistance from my grandfather in the Mauritius, and that I ought not to take further advantage of his kindness.
"It is you who do me the favour. Mr Ralph," he answered warmly. "You may, indeed you are certain to want money at the Cape or elsewhere. You cannot carry out your object without it, depend on that, and so you see I have already directed William Henley to honour your drafts on me; and here, my dear Mr Ralph, I know that you will pardon an old man who made all he possesses through your father's means, take this little bag, it contains only twenty sovereigns—a mere trifle. Sew it up carefully in a belt about you; very likely you may find them useful. Sovereigns go everywhere, remember. They are just bright from the bank, and full weight. Oh no, no; don't thank me—there's a good boy—just take them, and stow them away at once. That matter is settled; not another word— not another word."
Thus he liberally and delicately made me a present which I could not help feeling might be of the greatest service to me. I shall have to mention several valuable and expensive presents which I afterwards found he had made me.
"But I thought that you suffered as did my father when the bank failed."
"Ah, well, I did lose something, certainly," he answered quickly; "but that would be but a bad excuse for not trying to do as much good as I can with the remainder which Providence has allowed me to retain. Ah, yes, I know people do make it an excuse, but it is a very bad one, and will not prove valid, I suspect, in the day of judgment. That is the time we should always be looking forward to, Mr Ralph; and we should ask ourselves, whatever we are doing, How will this stand the test on that great day? They have begun, sir, to cast off the wharfs. Good-bye, dear Mr Ralph. May you be preserved from all danger, and be successful in your search. Mr Herbert will go with you to Gravesend, and I shall esteem it a favour if he will come and let me know how you were, and how you got on at the last."
Saying this, the kind, generous old man wrung my hand and burned on shore. When I looked at the vast crowd of mighty ships as well as smaller craft of all sorts with which we were surrounded, it seemed impossible that the Orion could ever be got clear of them; yet by a proper application of hawsers, and by due pulling and hauling, she was, in a wonderfully short time, warped clear of all impediments, and then a steam-tug taking her in tow, away she went, aided by the ebb, down the stream, and past many of the scenes with which I was so familiar.
Solon and I looked our last on the old Dreadnought, the hospital ship for seamen of all nations, which lies just above Greenwich. I had more than once visited her with my father, who was a warm supporter of the institution. What a noble employment for a green old age, like that, I believe, of many a gallant sailor who, having fought the battles of his country in his youth, now employs himself by going about among his humble fellow-creatures, and doing all the good he can to their bodies and their souls! I have heard of several such men, admirals and others of high rank, who have thus happily occupied their declining years, just as the old ship is employed in receiving all who come to be cured of sickness and disease. Then I gazed at Greenwich Hospital—a building I could never look at without the greatest interest. I knew so many of the old inmates, and so many pleasant hours had been passed there. What a blessing it has proved to thousands of England's brave tars, who would otherwise in their decrepitude have been cast helpless on the cold world! Above the hospital is another magnificent institution connected with it, I believe, where the sons of naval officers, as well as seamen, receive a first-rate nautical education. I thought as I looked over the ship's side that I recognised some of my old acquaintances, and then there were some white handkerchiefs waved by some ladies in black. I felt certain that my mother and sisters had come to take a last glance at me. I waved and waved in return, and Solon stretched out his neck and barked in a low, significant way; for Henry Raymond was with them, I guessed, and the dog recognised him. The incident, however, very nearly unmanned me. Blackwall was next passed, and Woolwich, where several men-of-war were fitting out; but I will not further describe our voyage down the Thames.
Herbert and I continued our walk on the quarter-deck, with Solon pacing up and down between us. No one had told me to do any duty; and as Herbert was with me, I naturally did not ask what I was to do, as I should have thus been separated from him. Suddenly, however, I heard a gruff, harsh voice hailing me from the poop.
"Hillo, youngster, what are your dog and you come aboard here to do, I should like to know?" These words were spoken by Mr Grimes, the first mate. "That dog of yours will be hove overboard if he misbehaves himself, and that gold lace cap and those black kid gloves will follow, unless you can find something to do with your hands, let me tell you."
I looked up and caught the very unpleasant glance of the mate fixed on me. He was a tall, thin, light-haired man, with a freckled complexion— wiry and bony—his eyes were large and grey, but bleared, with a remarkably hard, sinister expression in them. I had read about people in whose eyes the light of pity never shone, and as I looked up at that man's, I could not help feeling that he belonged to that miserable class. I had been too well trained both at home and at school not to answer properly.
"I am ready to do anything I am ordered, sir," I replied promptly, taking off my gloves and putting them in my pocket, while I whispered to Herbert to take Solon out of the way.
The ill temper of the mate was disarmed for the moment. However, a minute afterwards, as I stood where he had at first addressed me, I heard him sing out—
"What's your name, youngster?"
I told him.
"Well, then, Mr Ralph Marsden, up aloft with you, and help to loose that fore-topsail. We shall be wanting a little head sail on the ship presently."
I knew perfectly well which was the fore-topsail, but how to loose it was a piece of practical seamanship of which I was as yet entirely ignorant. Up the rigging, however, I went as fast as I could—greatly, I fancy, to poor Herbert's horror, who trembled in every joint as he saw me, wondering how I could do such a thing, while Solon looked up and barked, and would, I am persuaded, have come up likewise, could he have managed it with his four legs, to help me. I knew that some of the seamen would be on the yard, and I hoped to get them to show me what was to be done. I never felt particularly giddy on a height, so I was not at all unhappy waiting in the top till some one came to join me. I found, however, that Mr Grimes had only sent me up there, as he said, to give me something to do. He knew at the same time that he was without necessity separating me from my brother. Still, I gained an advantage even from his ill nature, as I was thus somewhat accustomed to go aloft before the ship was in the open sea, and exposed to rough weather. I stood, therefore, in the fore-top watching what was going on below me on deck. Many of the first-class passengers were walking the poop. They were mostly going out as settlers to Cape Colony and Natal, while a few merchants, planters, and clerks were proceeding on to the Mauritius. The second-class passengers were nearly all emigrants to the first-mentioned places. They were mostly small shopkeepers, farmers, servants who had saved up a little money, and others who had belonged to a superior class, but were broken down, and all of whom had paid for their passages. They were a very independent set of people, apparently, and not at all inclined to submit to discipline. They were wonderfully varied in the style of their costume, and it struck me that all were aiming to be considered as belonging to a rank superior to what I suspect they had in general held. They were scattered about, sitting on the bulwarks or holding on by the main rigging, watching the vessels and the shores of the river, which few of them were destined ever to see again. There were fathers and mothers, with their young children, and single men, shopmen, and farmers, and artisans going out to seek their fortunes alone, and a few unmarried women, mostly connected with the married couples. There were even some old men, whom I should have supposed would have been content to spend their latter days at home; but, strange as it may seem, they were urged on by the same desire which animated many of their younger companions—to make money—to do what they had failed to do at home. As I watched the motley collection of people from my high perch, I observed that some were laughing and joking as if nothing important was taking place. Others were thoughtful, as if conscious that they were taking an important step in life, while others looked very sad, evidently feeling that they were quitting for ever the home of their birth. The little children were playing about, unconscious that they were going to sea, and running a great risk of tumbling down the hatchways, while several of the men were arguing and wrangling as if the welfare of the nation depended on the result of their discussions. I thought to myself, I am well out of all that. Belonging to the ship, I shall not have to associate with those people.
I had been some time in the top when the other two new midshipmen joined me. They had never been to sea before; and there we all stood looking very foolish, and staring at each other, wondering what we were to do. They also had been sent up by the first mate, as he told them to loose the topsail. To them it signified very little; but as I wished to be with poor Herbert, I was very much vexed at being kept up there doing nothing. At length several seamen did come into the top in a lazy, half-asleep sort of way. I found that they had all been tipsy the previous night, and were even then scarcely sober. They cut their jokes at us, loud enough for us to hear them, and addressed us as the three Master Greenhands with much mock respect, begging to know if they really were expected to loose the topsail, and to be informed how they were to do it. I was pretty well versed in nautical phraseology, though my practical experience of sea affairs was very limited; so, knowing that there was nothing like making a good impression at first, I turned round on them, and said quickly—
"Come, bear a hand, my hearties! You are sent up here to loose that topsail,—I was sent to see you do it. You do your duty; I'll do mine."
They looked at me with surprised glances, never suspecting my ignorance; and instantly laying out on the yard, they cast off the gaskets and let fall the topsail; which done, as soon as it was sheeted home, I descended on deck. I determined to try and make myself acquainted with everything about the ship as soon as I could, and to maintain, if possible, the superiority I had gained over the seamen in the top.
Among Mr Ward's many valuable gifts was one on practical seamanship, full of prints and diagrams, which made it very easy to understand. This also I resolved to study with all the attention I could give it, so that I might avoid the necessity of constantly asking questions of the seamen,—at the same time, I must say that it is very much wiser to ask questions about things than to remain ignorant of what one wants to know. When I got on deck I found Herbert and Solon waiting for me at the foot of the fore-mast, and we agreed to remain there, hoping by keeping out of the sight of Mr Grimes to avoid more of his annoyance. As I watched the scenes which were taking place, and the look of the crew, and the way they went about their work, I began to be sorry that Herbert had accompanied me on board to witness them, as I knew the unfavourable impression they would create in his mind—which was of an especially refined order—and that either he would fear that I might become vitiated by them, or that I should be made very unhappy by the sort of people with whom I should have to associate. I tried, therefore, to relieve his mind on that point.
"You know, Herbert, that I shall have to associate chiefly with Mr Henley and the third mate, Mr Waller, who seems a quiet sort of young man, while there appears to be no harm in my two fellow-midshipmen, Sills and Broom, though they certainly do not look very bright geniuses. I like the look, too, of Dr Cuff, the surgeon; so, depend on it, people will soon shake into their proper places, and everything will turn out right in the end."
We brought up at Gravesend, and had to remain there another twenty-four hours, that certain officers from the Government Emigration Board might visit the ship. That night Herbert would have had to go on shore, but Mr Henley very kindly told him that he should have his cabin, and thus we were able to remain longer together.
The next morning the passengers were all employed in arranging their berths, and the crew were busy in stowing away casks and bales, and so no one attended to me—which was an advantage, as I was thus able to be much more with Herbert. As the time for sailing approached, it was whispered about that Captain Seaford was very ill, and would be unable to take charge of the ship. Still, nothing certain was known. At length the hour arrived when it was necessary for Herbert to take his leave.
After Herbert had gone, it became known positively that Captain Seaford was unable to make the voyage; and after waiting a whole day longer, another master came on board with one of the owners, who formally put him in charge of the ship. I did not at all like his looks; nor did Solon, I suspect, for he snarled loudly at him, and in consequence, when getting in his way, received a severe kick in his ribs. It seemed as if there was at once an open declaration of war between the two. I was very sorry for it; for I was afraid that poor Solon, being the less powerful of the belligerents, would come off second best. Once more the anchor was hove up, and with a fair breeze we ran past the Nore, and stood down Channel under all sail. Captain Gunnell was the name by which our new master was known. I asked Mr Henley what sort of a man he was.
"I sailed with him once, and I had hoped never to sail with him again," was his unsatisfactory reply.
AT SEA—A SURLY MATE—SOLON'S ASTONISHMENT AT SEEING THE OCEAN—THE BAY OF BISCAY—MADEIRA—FUNCHAL—VISIT ON SHORE—STORY OF THE DISCOVERY OF MADEIRA—TRIP TO THE PICO—TOMMY BIGG—ROUGHNESS OF CREW.
At length we were fairly on our voyage, far away out on the wide ocean without the most distant glimpse of land. Nothing but dark, heaving, white-crested waves around us. To me, as I looked over the bulwarks, the scene was inexpressibly strange, and grand, and awe-producing. I should have liked to have been for a short time perfectly alone, to have enjoyed it to the full, not another human being near me, with only Solon, my dumb companion, by my side. Far more I could have enjoyed it, I thought, than among the noisy, quarrelling crowd of passengers who formed the little coarsely composed world confined within those wooden walls, as the expression runs. Still, I did not think that I could have endured the solitude I wished for during any long period, but felt that I should soon have been glad to return to the midst of my noisy associates, Solon seemed as much surprised as I was when, looking out first at one port, then through the other, he found that there was no land to be seen. Several times he ran backwards and forwards, evidently trying to settle in his mind the state of the case. At last he was satisfied; then came up and licked my hand, as much as to say,—"I understand it all now, master. We are embarked in the same boat; and whatever befalls us, I intend to stick by you." Thanks to Mr Henley's kindness, I had been allowed to arrange a berth for Solon just outside his cabin, between two chests, and within sight of my hammock. I made a mattress for him with some bits of old canvas stuffed with straw; for although a dog will do well enough even without a rug on the quiet ground, when a ship is pitching and rolling about he is very much the better for something soft to protect his ribs, as well as to keep him off the damp deck. He was also able in his snug corner to save himself from slipping about. Mr Grimes, I suspect, never discovered where he slept, for the place was so dark that when he passed through that part of the ship he did not perceive him, and Solon, whose instinct told him that an enemy with whom he could not compete was near, always kept perfectly quiet and silent, with his bright eyes closed or hid away under his paws. His movements were regulated entirely by mine. When I went below, so did he, either to crouch at my feet at meals, or to go to his berth when I turned into my hammock; and the instant I was summoned by the hoarse voice of the boatswain, or of one of his mates, to keep my watch, he was on his feet ready to accompany me on deck. He was only unhappy when I had to go aloft, and then Sills and Broom told me that he kept running under wherever I was, looking up into the rigging, and watching me with intense earnestness—evidently showing that he was ready to run to my assistance if he could possibly get to me, and they declared that they saw him often examining the ratlines, and considering whether he could manage to get up them. He soon became a great favourite with most of my messmates, who appreciated his affection for me; but he was certainly not one with the first mate or the captain. He gave further evidence of his sagacity by managing, in the most active manner, to keep out of their way whenever they came on deck. The moment they appeared, although he might just before have been frolicking and frisking about in the merriest style possible, he slunk away with his tail between his legs, and hid himself forward, at some spot, if possible, whence he could see the quarter-deck, and watch for their retiring. Then he would run out from his hiding-place and look about on every side to be sure that they really were not on deck, and would again come bounding aft as joyous as before. I could not help fancying sometimes that he must have understood the threat Mr Grimes uttered against him the first day he came on board. At all events, he evidently mistrusted the first mate's tone of voice, as he did the stern eye of the captain.
I must not enter very minutely into what may be called the nautical particulars of the voyage, interesting as they were to me. Our start was not satisfactory. No sooner did some heavy weather come on than the working of the ship opened the seams of her decks, and numerous other crevices through which wet could find its way—the bull's-eye lights, screw bolts, and skylights—the water poured down upon the unfortunate passengers, as it did, indeed, into all the standing bed-places both of officers and men, and soon made everybody in a most wretched condition. Neither the captain nor Mr Grimes seemed to care about the matter. Mr Henley and I, therefore, accompanied the surgeon round the between-decks to try and assist the suffering passengers. Never had I seen any set of people more thoroughly wretched. The deck was in some places an inch or more deep in water, the bedding was saturated, and the women's petticoats and shoes and stockings were wet through and through, while all sorts of articles were floating about amid a mass of dirt.
"We shall have fever break out among these poor people before long," observed Dr Cuff to the second mate. "I must represent the state of the case to the captain, and advise him to put back to Plymouth."
"I am glad to hear you say so, as I have thought the same," said Mr Henley. "The cargo, too, which I have to think about, will be damaged, if not destroyed; and the ship, from being overloaded, steers so badly, that it is a work to get her about, and if she was caught on a lee shore with a heavy sea, so that we could not tack, but had to wear, the chances are that we should run aground before we could do it. It would require two or three miles to wear this ship with any sea on in her present state."
This was unpleasant information. I had learned enough seamanship by this time fully to comprehend what Mr Henley meant. Tacking and wearing are both manoeuvres to get a ship's head round so as to have the wind on the side opposite to what it was at first. In tacking, the helm is put down, and the head comes up close to the wind, and then is forced round by it till it strikes the sails on the opposite side. Wearing, on the contrary, is performed by putting the helm up and keeping the ship's head away from the wind, gradually squaring the yards till she is directly before it. Then the helm is put down, and the yards are braced up till she is once more brought as close to the wind as she will lie. As she must be kept moving all this time, and as, in a gale, the ship moves very rapidly, it may be conceived that a great extent of ground must be run over before the whole manoeuvre can be completed. I thought to myself, I hope that we shall not have to tack or wear ship on a lee shore in a dark night,—for although a shipwreck is a very interesting incident to read about, it is a thoroughly disagreeable one to suffer.
When Dr Cuff made his report, the captain was highly indignant. "He would sooner see the ship go down, or all the people rot with fever, than put back,—that was not his way," was the answer he was reported to have made.
"Awful is the responsibility that man has taken on his shoulders!" observed Dr Cuff to Mr Henley.
I have scarcely spoken of Waller, our third mate. He was a rough, uneducated young man; not much, even, of a practical sailor; and Mr Grimes soon made a complete, though not a willing tool of him. He was like Caliban under Prospero,—he grumbled, but could not help himself. After knocking about with heavy, contrary winds, somewhere in the latitude of Cape Ushant, and running a great risk of being driven up either the Irish Channel or on to the English coast, we at length shaped a course across the Bay of Biscay. That bay, famed for turbulent seas, did not lose its character with us. What a dark mass of troubled waters were around us! how gloomy the sky overhead! I could not help fancying that disasters were about to overtake us; and, indeed, the aspect of affairs on board was sufficiently discouraging. I never, indeed, had before felt so low-spirited. The second mate predicted shipwreck; the doctor, pestilence and death. What else was to happen I could not tell. Several sharp showers fell, then suddenly the sun burst forth from behind some dark clouds with resplendent beauty, spreading over, with a sheet of silver, a wide extent of the raging sea, along which flitted the sombre shadows from masses of clouds, casting an occasional gloom, but leaving the ocean once more to roll on in glorious brightness.
After all, I thought to myself, the evil anticipated may pass away like the clouds; I was wrong to have desponded.
"You admire this, my lad," said Dr Cuff, in a kind way, as he came up to take a short turn on deck after attending to his laborious duties below. "The sea presents changeful scenes and extraordinary beauties, of which those who live always on shore have little conception. You will find yourself, I hope, amply repaid in the life you have chosen, by the numberless objects of interest you will meet with in your voyages. It is a grievous pity that lads are so often sent to sea with so small an amount of education that they cannot appreciate the advantages they enjoy, or make use of the opportunities which are presented to them of acquiring information. A sailor—an officer, I mean—unless he is content not to be superior to a waggoner who drives his team up and down between London and his native town, should have a fuller and more varied style of education than men of any other profession. He should know the history of every country he visits, the character of its people, and their institutions and language, its natural productions and natural history,—indeed, no knowledge will come amiss to him."
As may be seen, I was more fortunate in my associates than I might have expected. I had often read of waves running mountains high in books of poetry and other works, and I fully expected to see them as high, as the mast-heads. I was surprised, therefore, to find our big ship tumbled about so much by those over which we sailed, and which seldom rose very much higher than the bulwarks. I told Mr Henley what I had expected to see. He laughed very much, and said that it was fortunate they did not run to the height I had supposed. He then told me that those we were watching were generally not rising more than twenty feet, though, occasionally, some attained an elevation of from twenty-two to twenty-four feet. He calculated the height of the wave by first estimating the height of our eyes above the water, and then the height of the crest which intercepted the horizon.
A fortnight after leaving London the gale passed away, and the next morning we sighted a high land to the south, which was announced to be the island of Madeira. Latterly, we had made a good run of it. The captain was for giving it a wide berth, but Dr Cuff made such strong representations as to the condition of the passengers, that, with a very bad grace, he stood towards it. Brightly the sun shone forth, and, with a light breeze, we soon found ourselves enjoying a summer climate.
I was much struck with the extraordinary beauty of Funchal and the surrounding country, as we brought up in the roads, which are on the south side of the island. Before us, piled one upon another, were numberless precipitous hills, separated by ravines, with houses, churches, and public buildings perched on every accessible point, and climbing up, as it were, from the sea-beach to a considerable height above the water. On our left, on the summit of some rocks, were two forts of somewhat ancient appearance, the guardians of the town, while on the west was another fort of no very terrific aspect. But perhaps the chief attraction of the landscape, next to the picturesque outline, was its exquisitely varied tinting and colouring, and the ever-changeful shadows which were cast over it by the passing clouds. White and bright are the houses in the town, with their red tiles; and green and shining are the quintas in the suburbs, with orange groves and coffee plantations, extending far and wide up the hills to the height of 1500 feet or more. One of the most conspicuous objects, standing high above the town, is the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte—the Lady of the Mount—a well-known landmark to heretics as well as Catholics. The latter, however, offer up their vows while they look towards it as they start on their voyage, and pay their tribute to it, if they have escaped the perils to which they may have been exposed, on their return.
Dr Cuff, who had been there frequently before, told me that some of the native residents had assured him that Nossa Senhora worked all sorts of miracles. On one occasion a famine threatened the island. A pilgrimage was accordingly made to the mount with great ceremony, to entreat the beneficent lady to supply them with food. The very next morning a vessel laden with corn arrived from Portugal. There could be no doubt that the saint had had a hand in the matter. So said the priests of the Church; and on examining her clothes, they were found to be perfectly wet with salt water. The sailors, too—so it was said— confirmed this statement by asserting that, while their vessel lay becalmed, a white figure had risen suddenly out of the ocean, and towed them into the roads. Of course, the truth of the miracle being thus satisfactorily established, the Church gained immensely by it; and no one thought of asking the sailors whether they really had seen the figure towing them into harbour or not.
"The way any new miracle is managed is this," continued the doctor: "The priests boldly assert that the saint has done some wonderful thing or other, and then they tell another story, without any foundation in truth, as a proof of the first. The credulous people go about and say there can be no doubt as to such a miracle having been worked, because so and so happened, whereas so and so never did happen. That reminds me of the old story of the wicked baker having been seen by the crews of several merchantmen anchored off Stromboli, in the Mediterranean, being driven down the crater by a number of black imps. The proof adduced is, that an action was brought by the widow of the old baker, who had died at the time specified, against some of the maligners of her husband's character. The case was tried before Lord Eldon, or some other learned judge, who decided against the widow, in consequence of the exact agreement of the logs of all the vessels as to the incident narrated. The real state of the case is, that no trial took place, and that the whole story is a complete fiction; yet I have heard people argue on the subject with the greatest warmth, and bring forward the trial as a proof that such an occurrence had taken place."
However, I must not repeat the numberless yarns I heard, or I shall not have space for my own adventures. As soon as we had anchored, the health-boat came off to us. She was a large, gaily-painted boat, manned by a mahogany-coloured crew with red caps and sashes, and white shirts, all jabbering away in very unpleasant-sounding Portuguese. As no one had actually died on board, the passengers were allowed to go on shore; but the captain warned them that, should a southerly wind spring up, he would have instantly to put to sea, and that, should any of them not have returned on board, they would lose their passages. Very few, therefore, took advantage of the privilege. Meantime all the passengers' bedding and clothes were got up on deck, and their berths were well fumigated and dried with hanging stoves, and the whole space they occupied thoroughly cleansed.
The great difficulty was to get the ship into better trim by heaving overboard some of the ballast. Mr Henley exerted himself greatly to get this done by shifting a little of the cargo at a time, so as to get down to the ballast; but after all, very little could be done to remedy the evil.
I was very anxious to get on shore, both for my own sake to see the place, and also to give Solon the means of stretching his legs. I was delighted, therefore, when Dr Cuff told me that he had obtained leave for me to accompany him. We went in a shore boat. Dr Cuff advised me always to make use of the boats belonging to a place, as more suited for the purpose. He said that he had seen so many accidents occur in consequence of officers despising this caution, and insisting on landing without necessity in their own boats. An unexpected roller has come in and turned them over and over, drowning all hands, while the odd-looking and despised native boat has landed her passengers in perfect safety.
Away bounded Solon the moment he saw me fairly landed, scampering along the sand, throwing it up and barking, and then hurrying back to me and licking my hand, and leaping up over and over again, and then, in the exuberance of his joy, away he went once more to repeat the same manoeuvres.
Funchal struck me as a clean, well-paved town, built entirely of brick, and free from mud and dust; indeed, from the steepness of the streets and the constant supply of running water, it would be a disgrace if it were not clean. I fancy that the English residents have contributed much to effect this object. The streets are narrow, and thus shade is obtained, a great object in a hot climate. The largest houses are occupied by the merchants, whose stores of wine and other goods are on the ground floor, they living in the upper rooms. The dress of the peasants we met in the town on landing I thought very picturesque. The cap, worn both by men and women, is like an inverted funnel, made of blue cloth lined with red, and covers only the crown of the head. The men have as little clothing as is consistent with decency,—a pair of full linen drawers reaching to the knees, with a loose linen shirt, and sometimes a jacket thrown over the shoulder, completes the costume of most of them, stockings and shoes not being thought of. Some, however, we saw with trousers and long yellow boots, turned over at the tops. They were evidently the dandies of the population. The women appeared in coloured petticoats, with a well-fitting bodice and a red cape. Some wore handkerchiefs instead of the funnel cap, and others mantillas and black hoods, by which the whole face and figure can be concealed. In consequence of the steepness and hardness of the roads, wheeled vehicles cannot be used, and a sort of sledge, a cart on runners, is employed instead. In the town people who cannot walk are carried about in palanquins, slung on a long pole, and borne on the shoulders of two men. The passenger can sit upright in them; but as they are very heavy, people travelling to any distance into the country use hammocks, or as the natives call them redes, made of fine network, and also slung on a single pole and borne by two men. With cushions arranged in them I can fancy no more luxurious conveyance for an invalid, though for my part, as I think exertion gives zest to travelling, I should prefer being bumped on the back of a mule, or employing my own legs. As Dr Cuff was anxious to return on board to look after his charges, we had not seen much of the town.
Just before embarking we went into the counting-house of a merchant, to whom the doctor happened to speak about me. While I was waiting outside a gentleman came forward and invited me into an inner office, and told me that he knew my father, and begged that I would remain with him till the ship sailed. I could only say that I should like it very much, if the captain would allow me.
"Oh, we will settle all that," he answered promptly. "We are the agents of the owners here; he will not refuse us."
Still, I said that I must go back with the doctor, for I had determined not in the slightest degree to disobey orders, notwithstanding any excuse I might have to offer, and the captain had directed me to return with the doctor.
My new friend thereupon gave me a letter containing his request, and walked with us down to the beach. On the way, however, we met the captain, and I was much amused with the deferential, almost servile, manner in which he addressed the wealthy merchant, so different to the rough blustering way in which he treated all on board.
As William Henley observed when I told him of it, "That man is very different on blue water and on shore."
When Solon saw the captain he grew as sedate as a judge, and shrunk back behind my heels, scarcely venturing to lift his eyes from the ground. The captain instantly granted the merchant's request, with many polite expressions, warning me to keep an eye on the weather, and to return instantly at the slightest sign of a change of wind.
My adventures in Madeira were not very exciting; I shall, therefore, be brief. Mr Marshall, my new friend, told me, however, much about the place during our walk to his quinta, where I went to dine with him. Madeira is situated between the thirty-second and thirty-third parallels of north latitude. Its extreme length is about 33 miles, and its greatest breadth 14, and it contains about 115,000 inhabitants. It was well known to the ancients, and re-discovered by the Portuguese captain, Zarco, sent out by the great Don Henry. Zarco was appointed governor of the southern and western portion of the island, and Captain Vaz of the northern and eastern. It afterwards, with the mother-country, fell under the dominion of Spain, who ruled it, as she has invariably done her foreign settlements, with cruelty and oppression; but at length, in 1640, under Don Joao IV, it was restored to Portugal, and the island recovered its prosperity. For a short time in 1801 and 1807, the English held it to protect it from the French. Mr Marshall told me an interesting story about its early discovery. An Englishman, Robert Machin, in the reign of Edward III, fell in love with a lady, Anna D'Abret, whose father would not consent to his marriage with her. He at length, however, succeeded in running off with her, and embarked in a vessel, intending to proceed to France. He was, however, driven by a storm to the southward, and the first land he saw was that of Madeira. He having landed with the lady Anna and some of the ship's company, the vessel was driven out to sea. Those who remained on shore underwent great suffering, in consequence of which the lady died. Heartbroken Machin, refusing all food, died also, desiring to be buried in the same grave with her whose untimely end he had caused. The survivors escaping in a boat, landed on the coast of Barbary, where they were made prisoners by the Moors. Having related their adventures to a fellow-prisoner, the information at length reached the ears of Goncalves Zarco, who certainly brought the first news of the discovery of the island to Europe. The tale, however, is doubted; but there is an air of probability about it, which makes me fancy that it has its foundation in truth, and I can no more speak of Madeira without thinking of the unfortunate, high-born, and lovely Anna D'Abret, and the bold plebeian, Robert Machin, than I can of the Mauritius, and forget Paul and Virginia, or of Juan Fernandez, without believing that Robinson Crusoe lived on it.