We were at sea now, for a very long voyage—we were to pass through
the entire length of the Levant; through the entire length of the
Mediterranean proper, also, and then cross the full width of the Atlantic—a
voyage of several weeks. We naturally settled down into a very slow,
stay-at-home manner of life, and resolved to be quiet, exemplary people,
and roam no more for twenty or thirty days. No more, at least, than from
stem to stern of the ship. It was a very comfortable prospect, though, for
we were tired and needed a long rest.
We were all lazy and satisfied, now, as the meager entries in my note-book
(that sure index, to me, of my condition,) prove. What a stupid thing a
note-book gets to be at sea, any way. Please observe the style:
"Sunday—Services, as usual, at four bells. Services at night,
also. No cards.
"Monday—Beautiful day, but rained hard. The cattle purchased at
Alexandria for beef ought to be shingled. Or else fattened. The water
stands in deep puddles in the depressions forward of their after
shoulders. Also here and there all over their backs. It is well they are
not cows—it would soak in and ruin the milk. The poor devil eagle—[Afterwards
presented to the Central Park.]—from Syria looks miserable and
droopy in the rain, perched on the forward capstan. He appears to have
his own opinion of a sea voyage, and if it were put into language and
the language solidified, it would probably essentially dam the widest
river in the world.
"Tuesday—Somewhere in the neighborhood of the island of Malta. Can
not stop there. Cholera. Weather very stormy. Many passengers seasick
"Wednesday—Weather still very savage. Storm blew two land birds to
sea, and they came on board. A hawk was blown off, also. He circled
round and round the ship, wanting to light, but afraid of the people. He
was so tired, though, that he had to light, at last, or perish. He
stopped in the foretop, repeatedly, and was as often blown away by the
wind. At last Harry caught him. Sea full of flying-fish. They rise in
flocks of three hundred and flash along above the tops of the waves a
distance of two or three hundred feet, then fall and disappear.
"Thursday—Anchored off Algiers, Africa. Beautiful city, beautiful
green hilly landscape behind it. Staid half a day and left. Not
permitted to land, though we showed a clean bill of health. They were
afraid of Egyptian plague and cholera.
"Friday—Morning, dominoes. Afternoon, dominoes. Evening,
promenading the deck. Afterwards, charades.
"Saturday—Morning, dominoes. Afternoon, dominoes. Evening,
promenading the decks. Afterwards, dominoes.
"Sunday—Morning service, four bells. Evening service, eight bells.
Monotony till midnight.—Whereupon, dominoes.
"Monday—Morning, dominoes. Afternoon, dominoes. Evening,
promenading the decks. Afterward, charades and a lecture from Dr. C.
"No date—Anchored off the picturesque city of Cagliari, Sardinia.
Staid till midnight, but not permitted to land by these infamous
foreigners. They smell inodorously—they do not wash—they
dare not risk cholera.
"Thursday—Anchored off the beautiful cathedral city of Malaga,
Spain.—Went ashore in the captain's boat—not ashore, either,
for they would not let us land. Quarantine. Shipped my newspaper
correspondence, which they took with tongs, dipped it in sea water,
clipped it full of holes, and then fumigated it with villainous vapors
till it smelt like a Spaniard. Inquired about chances to run to blockade
and visit the Alhambra at Granada. Too risky—they might hang a
body. Set sail—middle of afternoon.
"And so on, and so on, and so forth, for several days. Finally, anchored
off Gibraltar, which looks familiar and home-like."
It reminds me of the journal I opened with the New Year, once, when I was
a boy and a confiding and a willing prey to those impossible schemes of
reform which well-meaning old maids and grandmothers set for the feet of
unwary youths at that season of the year—setting oversized tasks for
them, which, necessarily failing, as infallibly weaken the boy's strength
of will, diminish his confidence in himself and injure his chances of
success in life. Please accept of an extract:
"Monday—Got up, washed, went to bed. "Tuesday—Got up,
washed, went to bed. "Wednesday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
"Thursday—Got up, washed, went to bed. "Friday—Got up,
washed, went to bed. "Next Friday—Got up, washed, went to bed.
"Friday fortnight—Got up, washed, went to bed. "Following month—Got
up, washed, went to bed."
I stopped, then, discouraged. Startling events appeared to be too rare, in
my career, to render a diary necessary. I still reflect with pride,
however, that even at that early age I washed when I got up. That journal
finished me. I never have had the nerve to keep one since. My loss of
confidence in myself in that line was permanent.
The ship had to stay a week or more at Gibraltar to take in coal for the
It would be very tiresome staying here, and so four of us ran the
quarantine blockade and spent seven delightful days in Seville, Cordova,
Cadiz, and wandering through the pleasant rural scenery of Andalusia, the
garden of Old Spain. The experiences of that cheery week were too varied
and numerous for a short chapter and I have not room for a long one.
Therefore I shall leave them all out.
Ten or eleven o'clock found us coming down to breakfast one morning in
Cadiz. They told us the ship had been lying at anchor in the harbor two or
three hours. It was time for us to bestir ourselves. The ship could wait
only a little while because of the quarantine. We were soon on board, and
within the hour the white city and the pleasant shores of Spain sank down
behind the waves and passed out of sight. We had seen no land fade from
view so regretfully.
It had long ago been decided in a noisy public meeting in the main cabin
that we could not go to Lisbon, because we must surely be quarantined
there. We did every thing by mass-meeting, in the good old national way,
from swapping off one empire for another on the programme of the voyage
down to complaining of the cookery and the scarcity of napkins. I am
reminded, now, of one of these complaints of the cookery made by a
passenger. The coffee had been steadily growing more and more execrable
for the space of three weeks, till at last it had ceased to be coffee
altogether and had assumed the nature of mere discolored water—so
this person said. He said it was so weak that it was transparent an inch
in depth around the edge of the cup. As he approached the table one
morning he saw the transparent edge—by means of his extraordinary
vision long before he got to his seat. He went back and complained in a
high-handed way to Capt. Duncan. He said the coffee was disgraceful. The
Captain showed his. It seemed tolerably good. The incipient mutineer was
more outraged than ever, then, at what he denounced as the partiality
shown the captain's table over the other tables in the ship. He flourished
back and got his cup and set it down triumphantly, and said:
"Just try that mixture once, Captain Duncan."
He smelt it—tasted it—smiled benignantly—then said:
"It is inferior—for coffee—but it is pretty fair tea."
The humbled mutineer smelt it, tasted it, and returned to his seat. He had
made an egregious ass of himself before the whole ship. He did it no more.
After that he took things as they came. That was me.
The old-fashioned ship-life had returned, now that we were no longer in
sight of land. For days and days it continued just the same, one day being
exactly like another, and, to me, every one of them pleasant. At last we
anchored in the open roadstead of Funchal, in the beautiful islands we
call the Madeiras.
The mountains looked surpassingly lovely, clad as they were in living,
green; ribbed with lava ridges; flecked with white cottages; riven by deep
chasms purple with shade; the great slopes dashed with sunshine and
mottled with shadows flung from the drifting squadrons of the sky, and the
superb picture fitly crowned by towering peaks whose fronts were swept by
the trailing fringes of the clouds.
But we could not land. We staid all day and looked, we abused the man who
invented quarantine, we held half a dozen mass-meetings and crammed them
full of interrupted speeches, motions that fell still-born, amendments
that came to nought and resolutions that died from sheer exhaustion in
trying to get before the house. At night we set sail.
We averaged four mass-meetings a week for the voyage—we seemed
always in labor in this way, and yet so often fallaciously that whenever
at long intervals we were safely delivered of a resolution, it was cause
for public rejoicing, and we hoisted the flag and fired a salute.
Days passed—and nights; and then the beautiful Bermudas rose out of
the sea, we entered the tortuous channel, steamed hither and thither among
the bright summer islands, and rested at last under the flag of England
and were welcome. We were not a nightmare here, where were civilization
and intelligence in place of Spanish and Italian superstition, dirt and
dread of cholera. A few days among the breezy groves, the flower gardens,
the coral caves, and the lovely vistas of blue water that went curving in
and out, disappearing and anon again appearing through jungle walls of
brilliant foliage, restored the energies dulled by long drowsing on the
ocean, and fitted us for our final cruise—our little run of a
thousand miles to New York—America—HOME.
We bade good-bye to "our friends the Bermudians," as our programme hath it—the
majority of those we were most intimate with were negroes—and
courted the great deep again. I said the majority. We knew more negroes
than white people, because we had a deal of washing to be done, but we
made some most excellent friends among the whites, whom it will be a
pleasant duty to hold long in grateful remembrance.
We sailed, and from that hour all idling ceased. Such another system of
overhauling, general littering of cabins and packing of trunks we had not
seen since we let go the anchor in the harbor of Beirout. Every body was
busy. Lists of all purchases had to be made out, and values attached, to
facilitate matters at the custom-house. Purchases bought by bulk in
partnership had to be equitably divided, outstanding debts canceled,
accounts compared, and trunks, boxes and packages labeled. All day long
the bustle and confusion continued.
And now came our first accident. A passenger was running through a
gangway, between decks, one stormy night, when he caught his foot in the
iron staple of a door that had been heedlessly left off a hatchway, and
the bones of his leg broke at the ancle. It was our first serious
misfortune. We had traveled much more than twenty thousand miles, by land
and sea, in many trying climates, without a single hurt, without a serious
case of sickness and without a death among five and sixty passengers. Our
good fortune had been wonderful. A sailor had jumped overboard at
Constantinople one night, and was seen no more, but it was suspected that
his object was to desert, and there was a slim chance, at least, that he
reached the shore. But the passenger list was complete. There was no name
missing from the register.
At last, one pleasant morning, we steamed up the harbor of New York, all
on deck, all dressed in Christian garb—by special order, for there
was a latent disposition in some quarters to come out as Turks—and
amid a waving of handkerchiefs from welcoming friends, the glad pilgrims
noted the shiver of the decks that told that ship and pier had joined
hands again and the long, strange cruise was over. Amen.