Redburn: Chapters 46-50
XLVI. A MYSTERIOUS NIGHT IN LONDON
“No time to lose,” said Harry, “come along.”
He called a cab: in an undertone mentioned the number of a house in some street to the driver; we jumped in, and were off.
As we rattled over the boisterous pavements, past splendid squares, churches, and shops, our cabman turning corners like a skater on the ice, and all the roar of London in my ears, and no end to the walls of brick and mortar; I thought New York a hamlet, and Liverpool a coal-hole, and myself somebody else: so unreal seemed every thing about me. My head was spinning round like a top, and my eyes ached with much gazing; particularly about the comers, owing to my darting them so rapidly, first this side, and then that, so as not to miss any thing; though, in truth, I missed much.
“Stop,” cried Harry, after a long while, putting his head out of the window, all at once—“stop! do you hear, you deaf man? you have passed the house—No. 40 I told you—that’s it—the high steps there, with the purple light!”
The cabman being paid, Harry adjusting his whiskers and mustache, and bidding me assume a lounging look, pushed his hat a little to one side, and then locking arms, we sauntered into the house; myself feeling not a little abashed; it was so long since I had been in any courtly society.
It was some semi-public place of opulent entertainment; and far surpassed any thing of the kind I had ever seen before.
The floor was tesselated with snow-white, and russet-hued marbles; and echoed to the tread, as if all the Paris catacombs were underneath. I started with misgivings at that hollow, boding sound, which seemed sighing with a subterraneous despair, through all the magnificent spectacle around me; mocking it, where most it glared.
The walk were painted so as to deceive the eye with interminable colonnades; and groups of columns of the finest Scagliola work of variegated marbles—emerald-green and gold, St. Pons veined with silver, Sienna with porphyry—supported a resplendent fresco ceiling, arched like a bower, and thickly clustering with mimic grapes. Through all the East of this foliage, you spied in a crimson dawn, Guide’s ever youthful Apollo, driving forth the horses of the sun. From sculptured stalactites of vine-boughs, here and there pendent hung galaxies of gas lights, whose vivid glare was softened by pale, cream-colored, porcelain spheres, shedding over the place a serene, silver flood; as if every porcelain sphere were a moon; and this superb apartment was the moon-lit garden of Portia at Belmont; and the gentle lovers, Lorenzo and Jessica, lurked somewhere among the vines.
At numerous Moorish looking tables, supported by Caryatides of turbaned slaves, sat knots of gentlemanly men, with cut decanters and taper-waisted glasses, journals and cigars, before them.
To and fro ran obsequious waiters, with spotless napkins thrown over their arms, and making a profound salaam, and hemming deferentially, whenever they uttered a word.
At the further end of this brilliant apartment, was a rich mahogany turret-like structure, partly built into the wall, and communicating with rooms in the rear. Behind, was a very handsome florid old man, with snow-white hair and whiskers, and in a snow-white jacket—he looked like an almond tree in blossom—who seemed to be standing, a polite sentry over the scene before him; and it was he, who mostly ordered about the waiters; and with a silent salute, received the silver of the guests.
Our entrance excited little or no notice; for every body present seemed exceedingly animated about concerns of their own; and a large group was gathered around one tall, military looking gentleman, who was reading some India war-news from the Times, and commenting on it, in a very loud voice, condemning, in toto, the entire campaign.
We seated ourselves apart from this group, and Harry, rapping on the table, called for wine; mentioning some curious foreign name.
The decanter, filled with a pale yellow wine, being placed before us, and my comrade having drunk a few glasses; he whispered me to remain where I was, while he withdrew for a moment.
I saw him advance to the turret-like place, and exchange a confidential word with the almond tree there, who immediately looked very much surprised,—I thought, a Little disconcerted,—and then disappeared with him.
While my friend was gone, I occupied myself with looking around me, and striving to appear as indifferent as possible, and as much used to all this splendor as if I had been born in it. But, to tell the truth, my head was almost dizzy with the strangeness of the sight, and the thought that I was really in London. What would my brother have said? What would Tom Legare, the treasurer of the Juvenile Temperance Society, have thought?
But I almost began to fancy I had no friends and relatives living in a little village three thousand five hundred miles off, in America; for it was hard to unite such a humble reminiscence with the splendid animation of the London-like scene around me.
And in the delirium of the moment, I began to indulge in foolish golden visions of the counts and countesses to whom Harry might introduce me; and every instant I expected to hear the waiters addressing some gentleman as “My Lord,” or “four Grace.” But if there were really any lords present, the waiters omitted their titles, at least in my hearing.
Mixed with these thoughts were confused visions of St. Paul’s and the Strand, which I determined to visit the very next morning, before breakfast, or perish in the attempt. And I even longed for Harry’s return, that we might immediately sally out into the street, and see some of the sights, before the shops were all closed for the night.
While I thus sat alone, I observed one of the waiters eying me a little impertinently, as I thought, and as if he saw something queer about me. So I tried to assume a careless and lordly air, and by way of helping the thing, threw one leg over the other, like a young Prince Esterhazy; but all the time I felt my face burning with embarrassment, and for the time, I must have looked very guilty of something. But spite of this, I kept looking boldly out of my eyes, and straight through my blushes, and observed that every now and then little parties were made up among the gentlemen, and they retired into the rear of the house, as if going to a private apartment. And I overheard one of them drop the word Rouge; but he could not have used rouge, for his face was exceedingly pale. Another said something about Loo.
At last Harry came back, his face rather flushed.
“Come along, Redburn,” said he.
So making no doubt we were off for a ramble, perhaps to Apsley House, in the Park, to get a sly peep at the old Duke before he retired for the night, for Harry had told me the Duke always went to bed early, I sprang up to follow him; but what was my disappointment and surprise, when he only led me into the passage, toward a staircase lighted by three marble Graces, unitedly holding a broad candelabra, like an elk’s antlers, over the landing.
We rambled up the long, winding slope of those aristocratic stairs, every step of which, covered with Turkey rugs, looked gorgeous as the hammer-cloth of the Lord Mayor’s coach; and Harry hied straight to a rosewood door, which, on magical hinges, sprang softly open to his touch.
As we entered the room, methought I was slowly sinking in some reluctant, sedgy sea; so thick and elastic the Persian carpeting, mimicking parterres of tulips, and roses, and jonquils, like a bower in Babylon.
Long lounges lay carelessly disposed, whose fine damask was interwoven, like the Gobelin tapestry, with pictorial tales of tilt and tourney. And oriental ottomans, whose cunning warp and woof were wrought into plaited serpents, undulating beneath beds of leaves, from which, here and there, they flashed out sudden splendors of green scales and gold.
In the broad bay windows, as the hollows of King Charles’ oaks, were Laocoon-like chairs, in the antique taste, draped with heavy fringers of bullion and silk.
The walls, covered with a sort of tartan-French paper, variegated with bars of velvet, were hung round with mythological oil-paintings, suspended by tasseled cords of twisted silver and blue.
They were such pictures as the high-priests, for a bribe, showed to Alexander in the innermost shrine of the white temple in the Libyan oasis: such pictures as the pontiff of the sun strove to hide from Cortez, when, sword in hand, he burst open the sanctorum of the pyramid-fane at Cholula: such pictures as you may still see, perhaps, in the central alcove of the excavated mansion of Pansa, in Pompeii—in that part of it called by Varro the hollow of the house: such pictures as Martial and Seutonius mention as being found in the private cabinet of the Emperor Tiberius: such pictures as are delineated on the bronze medals, to this day dug up on the ancient island of Capreas: such pictures as you might have beheld in an arched recess, leading from the left hand of the secret side-gallery of the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth.
In the principal pier was a marble bracket, sculptured in the semblance of a dragon’s crest, and supporting a bust, most wonderful to behold. It was that of a bald-headed old man, with a mysteriously-wicked expression, and imposing silence by one thin finger over his lips. His ’marble mouth seemed tremulous with secrets.
“Sit down, Wellingborough,” said Harry; “don’t be frightened, we are at home.—Ring the bell, will you? But stop;”—and advancing to the mysterious bust, he whispered something in its ear.
“He’s a knowing mute, Wellingborough,” said he; “who stays in this one place all the time, while he is yet running of errands. But mind you don’t breathe any secrets in his ear.”
In obedience to a summons so singularly conveyed, to my amazement a servant almost instantly appeared, standing transfixed in the attitude of a bow.
“Cigars,” said Harry. When they came, he drew up a small table into the middle of the room, and lighting his cigar, bade me follow his example, and make myself happy.
Almost transported with such princely quarters, so undreamed of before, while leading my dog’s life in the filthy forecastle of the Highlander, I twirled round a chair, and seated myself opposite my friend.
But all the time, I felt ill at heart; and was filled with an undercurrent of dismal forebodings. But I strove to dispel them; and turning to my companion, exclaimed, “And pray, do you live here, Harry, in this Palace of Aladdin?”
“Upon my soul,” he cried, “you have hit it:—you must have been here before! Aladdin’s Palace! Why, Wellingborough, it goes by that very name.”
Then he laughed strangely: and for the first time, I thought he had been quaffing too freely: yet, though he looked wildly from his eyes, his general carriage was firm.
“Who are you looking at so hard, Wellingborough?” said he.
“I am afraid, Harry,” said I, “that when you left me just now, you must have been drinking something stronger than wine.”
“Hear him now,” said Harry, turning round, as if addressing the bald-headed bust on the bracket,—“a parson ’pon honor!—But remark you, Wellingborough, my boy, I must leave you again, and for a considerably longer time than before:—I may not be back again to-night.”
“What?” said I.
“Be still,” he cried, “hear me, I know the old duke here, and-”
“Who? not the Duke of Wellington,” said I, wondering whether Harry was really going to include him too, in his long list of confidential friends and acquaintances.
“Pooh!” cried Harry, “I mean the white-whiskered old man you saw below; they call him the Duke:—he keeps the house. I say, I know him well, and he knows me; and he knows what brings me here, also. Well; we have arranged every thing about you; you are to stay in this room, and sleep here tonight, and—and—” continued he, speaking low—“you must guard this letter—” slipping a sealed one into my hand-"and, if I am not back by morning, you must post right on to Bury, and leave the letter there;—here, take this paper—it’s all set down here in black and white—where you are to go, and what you are to do. And after that’s done—mind, this is all in case I don’t return—then you may do what you please: stay here in London awhile, or go back to Liverpool. And here’s enough to pay all your expenses.”
All this was a thunder stroke. I thought Harry was crazy. I held the purse in my motionless hand, and stared at him, till the tears almost started from my eyes.
“What’s the matter, Redburn?” he cried, with a wild sort of laugh—“you are not afraid of me, are you?—No, no! I believe in you, my boy, or you would not hold that purse in your hand; no, nor that letter.”
“What in heaven’s name do you mean?” at last I exclaimed, “you don’t really intend to desert me in this strange place, do you, Harry?” and I snatched him by the hand.
“Pooh, pooh,” he cried, “let me go. I tell you, it’s all right: do as I say: that’s all. Promise me now, will you? Swear it!-no, no,” he added, vehemently, as I conjured him to tell me more—“no, I won’t: I have nothing more to tell you—not a word. Will you swear?”
“But one sentence more for your own sake, Harry: hear me!”
“Not a syllable! Will you swear?—you will not? then here, give me that purse:—there—there—take that—and that—and that;—that will pay your fare back to Liverpool; good-by to you: you are not my friend,” and he wheeled round his back.
I know not what flashed through my mind, but something suddenly impelled me; and grasping his hand, I swore to him what he demanded.
Immediately he ran to the bust, whispered a word, and the white-whiskered old man appeared: whom he clapped on the shoulder, and then introduced me as his friend—young Lord Stormont; and bade the almond tree look well to the comforts of his lordship, while he—Harry—was gone.
The almond tree blandly bowed, and grimaced, with a peculiar expression, that I hated on the spot. After a few words more, he withdrew. Harry then shook my hand heartily, and without giving me a chance to say one word, seized his cap, and darted out of the room, saying, “Leave not this room tonight; and remember the letter, and Bury!”
I fell into a chair, and gazed round at the strange-looking walls and mysterious pictures, and up to the chandelier at the ceiling; then rose, and opened the door, and looked down the lighted passage; but only heard the hum from the roomful below, scattered voices, and a hushed ivory rattling from the closed apartments adjoining. I stepped back into the room, and a terrible revulsion came over me: I would have given the world had I been safe back in Liverpool, fast asleep in my old bunk in Prince’s Dock.
I shuddered at every footfall, and almost thought it must be some assassin pursuing me. The whole place seemed infected; and a strange thought came over me, that in the very damasks around, some eastern plague had been imported. And was that pale yellow wine, that I drank below, drugged? thought I. This must be some house whose foundations take hold on the pit. But these fearful reveries only enchanted me fast to my chair; so that, though I then wished to rush forth from the house, my limbs seemed manacled.
While thus chained to my seat, something seemed suddenly flung open; a confused sound of imprecations, mixed with the ivory rattling, louder than before, burst upon my ear, and through the partly open door of the room where I was, I caught sight of a tall, frantic man, with clenched hands, wildly darting through the passage, toward the stairs.
And all the while, Harry ran through my soul—in and out, at every door, that burst open to his vehement rush.
At that moment my whole acquaintance with him passed like lightning through my mind, till I asked myself why he had come here, to London, to do this thing?—why would not Liverpool have answered? and what did he want of me? But, every way, his conduct was unaccountable. From the hour he had accosted me on board the ship, his manner seemed gradually changed; and from the moment we had sprung into the cab, he had seemed almost another person from what he had seemed before.
But what could I do? He was gone, that was certain;-would he ever come back? But he might still be somewhere in the house; and with a shudder, I thought of that ivory rattling, and was almost ready to dart forth, search every room, and save him. But that would be madness, and I had sworn not to do so. There seemed nothing left, but to await his return. Yet, if he did not return, what then? I took out the purse, and counted over the money, and looked at the letter and paper of memoranda.
Though I vividly remember it all, I will not give the superscription of the letter, nor the contents of the paper. But after I had looked at them attentively, and considered that Harry could have no conceivable object in deceiving me, I thought to myself, Yes, he’s in earnest; and here I am—yes, even in London! And here in this room will I stay, come what will. I will implicitly follow his directions, and so see out the last of this thing.
But spite of these thoughts, and spite of the metropolitan magnificence around me, I was mysteriously alive to a dreadful feeling, which I had never before felt, except when penetrating into the lowest and most squalid haunts of sailor iniquity in Liverpool. All the mirrors and marbles around me seemed crawling over with lizards; and I thought to myself, that though gilded and golden, the serpent of vice is a serpent still.
It was now grown very late; and faint with excitement, I threw myself upon a lounge; but for some time tossed about restless, in a sort of night-mare. Every few moments, spite of my oath, I was upon the point of starting up, and rushing into the street, to inquire where I was; but remembering Harry’s injunctions, and my own ignorance of the town, and that it was now so late, I again tried to be composed.
At last, I fell asleep, dreaming about Harry fighting a duel of dice-boxes with the military-looking man below; and the next thing I knew, was the glare of a light before my eyes, and Harry himself, very pale, stood before me.
“The letter and paper,” he cried.
I fumbled in my pockets, and handed them to him.
“There! there! there! thus I tear you,” he cried, wrenching the letter to pieces with both hands like a madman, and stamping upon the fragments. “I am off for America; the game is up.”
“For God’s sake explain,” said I, now utterly bewildered, and frightened. “Tell me, Harry, what is it? You have not been gambling?”
“Ha, ha,” he deliriously laughed. “Gambling? red and white, you mean?— cards?—dice?—the bones?—Ha, ha!—Gambling? gambling?” he ground out between his teeth—“what two devilish, stiletto-sounding syllables they are!”
“Wellingborough,” he added, marching up to me slowly, but with his eyes blazing into mine—“Wellingborough”—and fumbling in his breast-pocket, he drew forth a dirk—“Here, Wellingborough, take it—take it, I say—are you stupid?-there, there”—and he pushed it into my hands. “Keep it away from me—keep it out of my sight—I don’t want it near me, while I feel as I do. They serve suicides scurvily here, Wellingborough; they don’t bury them decently. See that bell-rope! By Heaven, it’s an invitation to hang myself’—and seizing it by the gilded handle at the end, he twitched it down from the wall.
“In God’s name, what ails you?” I cried.
“Nothing, oh nothing,” said Harry, now assuming a treacherous, tropical calmness—“nothing, Redburn; nothing in the world. I’m the serenest of men.”
“But give me that dirk,” he suddenly cried—“let me have it, I say. Oh! I don’t mean to murder myself—I’m past that now—give it me”—and snatching it from my hand, he flung down an empty purse, and with a terrific stab, nailed it fast with the dirk to the table.
“There now,” he cried, “there’s something for the old duke to see to-morrow morning; that’s about all that’s left of me—that’s my skeleton, Wellingborough. But come, don’t be downhearted; there’s a little more gold yet in Golconda; I have a guinea or two left. Don’t stare so, my boy; we shall be in Liverpool to-morrow night; we start in the morning”—and turning his back, he began to whistle very fiercely.
“And this, then,” said I, “is your showing me London, is it, Harry? I did not think this; but tell me your secret, whatever it is, and I will not regret not seeing the town.”
He turned round upon me like lightning, and cried, “Red-burn! you must swear another oath, and instantly.”
“And why?” said I, in alarm, “what more would you have me swear?”
“Never to question me again about this infernal trip to London!” he shouted, with the foam at his lips—“never to breathe it! swear!”
“I certainly shall not trouble you, Harry, with questions, if you do not desire it,” said I, “but there’s no need of swearing.”
“Swear it, I say, as you love me, Redburn,” he added, imploringly.
“Well, then, I solemnly do. Now lie down, and let us forget ourselves as soon as we can; for me, you have made me the most miserable dog alive.”
“And what am I?” cried Harry; “but pardon me, Redburn, I did not mean to offend; if you knew all—but no, no!—never mind, never mind!” And he ran to the bust, and whispered in its ear. A waiter came.
“Brandy,” whispered Harry, with clenched teeth.
“Are you not going to sleep, then?” said I, more and more alarmed at his wildness, and fearful of the effects of his drinking still more, in such a mood.
“No sleep for me! sleep if you can—I mean to sit up with a decanter!—let me see”—looking at the ormolu clock on the mantel—“it’s only two hours to morning.”
The waiter, looking very sleepy, and with a green shade on his brow, appeared with the decanter and glasses on a salver, and was told to leave it and depart.
Seeing that Harry was not to be moved, I once more threw myself on the lounge. I did not sleep; but, like a somnambulist, only dozed now and then; starting from my dreams; while Harry sat, with his hat on, at the table; the brandy before him; from which he occasionally poured into his glass. Instead of exciting him, however, to my amazement, the spirits seemed to soothe him down; and, ere long, he was comparatively calm.
At last, just as I had fallen into a deep sleep, I was wakened by his shaking me, and saying our cab was at the door.
“Look! it is broad day,” said he, brushing aside the heavy hangings of the window.
We left the room; and passing through the now silent and deserted hall of pillars, which, at this hour, reeked as with blended roses and cigar-stumps decayed; a dumb waiter; rubbing his eyes, flung open the street door; we sprang into the cab; and soon found ourselves whirled along northward by railroad, toward Prince’s Dock and the Highlander.
XLVII. HOMEWARD BOUND
Once more in Liverpool; and wending my way through the same old streets to the sign of the Golden Anchor; I could scarcely credit the events of the last thirty-six hours.
So unforeseen had been our departure in the first place; so rapid our journey; so unaccountable the conduct of Harry; and so sudden our return; that all united to overwhelm me. That I had been at all in London seemed impossible; and that I had been there, and come away little the wiser, was almost distracting to one who, like me, had so longed to behold that metropolis of marvels.
I looked hard at Harry as he walked in silence at my side; I stared at the houses we passed; I thought of the cab, the gas lighted hall in the Palace of Aladdin, the pictures, the letter, the oath, the dirk; the mysterious place where all these mysteries had occurred; and then, was almost ready to conclude, that the pale yellow wine had been drugged.
As for Harry, stuffing his false whiskers and mustache into his pocket, he now led the way to the boarding-house; and saluting the landlady, was shown to his room; where we immediately shifted our clothes, appearing once more in our sailor habiliments.
“Well, what do you propose to do now, Harry?” said I, with a heavy heart.
“Why, visit your Yankee land in the Highlander, of course—what else?’ he replied.
“And is it to be a visit, or a long stay?” asked I.
“That’s as it may turn out,” said Harry; “but I have now more than ever resolved upon the sea. There is nothing like the sea for a fellow like me, Redburn; a desperate man can not get any further than the wharf, you know; and the next step must be a long jump. But come, let’s see what they have to eat here, and then for a cigar and a stroll. I feel better already. Never say die, is my motto.”
We went to supper; after that, sallied out; and walking along the quay of Prince’s Dock, heard that the ship Highlander had that morning been advertised to sail in two days’ time.
“Good!” exclaimed Harry; and I was glad enough myself.
Although I had now been absent from the ship a full forty-eight hours, and intended to return to her, yet I did not anticipate being called to any severe account for it from the officers; for several of our men had absented themselves longer than I had, and upon their return, little or nothing was said to them. Indeed, in some cases, the mate seemed to know nothing about it. During the whole time we lay in Liverpool, the discipline of the ship was altogether relaxed; and I could hardly believe they were the same officers who were so dictatorial at sea. The reason of this was, that we had nothing important to do; and although the captain might now legally refuse to receive me on board, yet I was not afraid of that, as I was as stout a lad for my years, and worked as cheap, as any one he could engage to take my place on the homeward passage.
Next morning we made our appearance on board before the rest of the crew; and the mate perceiving me, said with an oath, “Well, sir, you have thought best to return then, have you? Captain Riga and I were flattering ourselves that you had made a run of it for good.”
Then, thought I, the captain, who seems to affect to know nothing of the proceedings of the sailors, has been aware of my absence.
“But turn to, sir, turn to,” added the mate; “here! aloft there, and free that pennant; it’s foul of the backstay—jump!”
The captain coming on board soon after, looked very benevolently at Harry; but, as usual, pretended not to take the slightest notice of myself.
We were all now very busy in getting things ready for sea. The cargo had been already stowed in the hold by the stevedores and lumpers from shore; but it became the crew’s business to clear away the between-decks, extending from the cabin bulkhead to the forecastle, for the reception of about five hundred emigrants, some of whose boxes were already littering the decks.
To provide for their wants, a far larger supply of water was needed than upon the outward-bound passage. Accordingly, besides the usual number of casks on deck, rows of immense tierces were lashed amid-ships, all along the between-decks, forming a sort of aisle on each side, furnishing access to four rows of bunks,—three tiers, one above another,—against the ship’s sides; two tiers being placed over the tierces of water in the middle. These bunks were rapidly knocked together with coarse planks. They looked more like dog-kennels than any thing else; especially as the place was so gloomy and dark; no light coming down except through the fore and after hatchways, both of which were covered with little houses called “booby-hatches.” Upon the main-hatches, which were well calked and covered over with heavy tarpaulins, the “passengers-gattey” was solidly lashed down.
This galley was a large open stove, or iron range—made expressly for emigrant ships, wholly unprotected from the weather, and where alone the emigrants are permitted to cook their food while at sea.
After two days’ work, every thing was in readiness; most of the emigrants on board; and in the evening we worked the ship close into the outlet of Prince’s Dock, with the bow against the water-gate, to go out with the tide in the morning.
In the morning, the bustle and confusion about us was indescribable. Added to the ordinary clamor of the docks, was the hurrying to and fro of our five hundred emigrants, the last of whom, with their baggage, were now coming on board; the appearance of the cabin passengers, following porters with their trunks; the loud orders of the dock-masters, ordering the various ships behind us to preserve their order of going out; the leave-takings, and good-by’s, and God-bless-you’s, between the emigrants and their friends; and the cheers of the surrounding ships.
At this time we lay in such a way, that no one could board us except by the bowsprit, which overhung the quay. Staggering along that bowsprit, now came a one-eyed crimp leading a drunken tar by the collar, who had been shipped to sail with us the day previous. It has been stated before, that two or three of our men had left us for good, while in port. When the crimp had got this man and another safely lodged in a bunk below, he returned on shore; and going to a miserable cab, pulled out still another apparently drunken fellow, who proved completely helpless. However, the ship now swinging her broadside more toward the quay, this stupefied sailor, with a Scotch cap pulled down over his closed eyes, only revealing a sallow Portuguese complexion, was lowered on board by a rope under his arms, and passed forward by the crew, who put him likewise into a bunk in the forecastle, the crimp himself carefully tucking him in, and bidding the bystanders not to disturb him till the ship was away from the land.
This done, the confusion increased, as we now glided out of the dock. Hats and handkerchiefs were waved; hurrahs were exchanged; and tears were shed; and the last thing I saw, as we shot into the stream, was a policeman collaring a boy, and walking him off to the guard-house.
A steam-tug, the Goliath, now took us by the arm, and gallanted us down the river past the fort.
The scene was most striking.
Owing to a strong breeze, which had been blowing up the river for four days past, holding wind-bound in the various docks a multitude of ships for all parts of the world; there was now under weigh, a vast fleet of merchantmen, all steering broad out to sea. The white sails glistened in the clear morning air like a great Eastern encampment of sultans; and from many a forecastle, came the deep mellow old song Ho-o-he-yo, cheerily men! as the crews called their anchors.
The wind was fair; the weather mild; the sea most smooth; and the poor emigrants were in high spirits at so auspicious a beginning of their voyage. They were reclining all over the decks, talking of soon seeing America, and relating how the agent had told them, that twenty days would be an uncommonly long voyage.
Here it must be mentioned, that owing to the great number of ships sailing to the Yankee ports from Liverpool, the competition among them in obtaining emigrant passengers, who as a cargo are much more remunerative than crates and bales, is exceedingly great; so much so, that some of the agents they employ, do not scruple to deceive the poor applicants for passage, with all manner of fables concerning the short space of time, in which their ships make the run across the ocean.
This often induces the emigrants to provide a much smaller stock of provisions than they otherwise would; the effect of which sometimes proves to be in the last degree lamentable; as will be seen further on. And though benevolent societies have been long organized in Liverpool, for the purpose of keeping offices, where the emigrants can obtain reliable information and advice, concerning their best mode of embarkation, and other matters interesting to them; and though the English authorities have imposed a law, providing that every captain of an emigrant ship bound for any port of America shall see to it, that each passenger is provided with rations of food for sixty days; yet, all this has not deterred mercenary ship-masters and unprincipled agents from practicing the grossest deception; nor exempted the emigrants themselves, from the very sufferings intended to be averted.
No sooner had we fairly gained the expanse of the Irish Sea, and, one by one, lost sight of our thousand consorts, than the weather changed into the most miserable cold, wet, and cheerless days and nights imaginable. The wind was tempestuous, and dead in our teeth; and the hearts of the emigrants fell. Nearly all of them had now hied below, to escape the uncomfortable and perilous decks: and from the two “booby-hatches” came the steady hum of a subterranean wailing and weeping. That irresistible wrestler, sea-sickness, had overthrown the stoutest of their number, and the women and children were embracing and sobbing in all the agonies of the poor emigrant’s first storm at sea.
Bad enough is it at such times with ladies and gentlemen in the cabin, who have nice little state-rooms; and plenty of privacy; and stewards to run for them at a word, and put pillows under their heads, and tenderly inquire how they are getting along, and mix them a posset: and even then, in the abandonment of this soul and body subduing malady, such ladies and gentlemen will often give up life itself as unendurable, and put up the most pressing petitions for a speedy annihilation; all of which, however, only arises from their intense anxiety to preserve their valuable lives.
How, then, with the friendless emigrants, stowed away like bales of cotton, and packed like slaves in a slave-ship; confined in a place that, during storm time, must be closed against both light and air; who can do no cooking, nor warm so much as a cup of water; for the drenching seas would instantly flood their fire in their exposed galley on deck? How, then, with these men, and women, and children, to whom a first voyage, under the most advantageous circumstances, must come just as hard as to the Honorable De Lancey Fitz Clarence, lady, daughter, and seventeen servants.
Nor is this all: for in some of these ships, as in the case of the Highlander, the emigrant passengers are cut off from the most indispensable conveniences of a civilized dwelling. This forces them in storm time to such extremities, that no wonder fevers and plagues are the result. We had not been at sea one week, when to hold your head down the fore hatchway was like holding it down a suddenly opened cesspool.
But still more than this. Such is the aristocracy maintained on board some of these ships, that the most arbitrary measures are enforced, to prevent the emigrants from intruding upon the most holy precincts of the quarter-deck, the only completely open space on ship-board. Consequently—even in fine weather—when they come up from below, they are crowded in the waist of the ship, and jammed among the boats, casks, and spars; abused by the seamen, and sometimes cuffed by the officers, for unavoidably standing in the way of working the vessel.
The cabin-passengers of the Highlander numbered some fifteen in all; and to protect this detachment of gentility from the barbarian incursions of the “wild Irish” emigrants, ropes were passed athwart-ships, by the main-mast, from side to side: which defined the boundary line between those who had paid three pounds passage-money, from those who had paid twenty guineas. And the cabin-passengers themselves were the most urgent in having this regulation maintained.
Lucky would it be for the pretensions of some parvenus, whose souls are deposited at their banker’s, and whose bodies but serve to carry about purses, knit of poor men’s heartstrings, if thus easily they could precisely define, ashore, the difference between them and the rest of humanity.
But, I, Redburn, am a poor fellow, who have hardly ever known what it is to have five silver dollars in my pocket at one time; so, no doubt, this circumstance has something to do with my slight and harmless indignation at these things.
XLVIII. A LIVING CORPSE
It was destined that our departure from the English strand, should be marked by a tragical event, akin to the sudden end of the suicide, which had so strongly impressed me on quitting the American shore.
Of the three newly shipped men, who in a state of intoxication had been brought on board at the dock gates, two were able to be engaged at their duties, in four or five hours after quitting the pier. But the third man yet lay in his bunk, in the self-same posture in which his limbs had been adjusted by the crimp, who had deposited him there.
His name was down on the ship’s papers as Miguel Saveda, and for Miguel Saveda the chief mate at last came forward, shouting down the forecastle-scuttle, and commanding his instant presence on deck. But the sailors answered for their new comrade; giving the mate to understand that Miguel was still fast locked in his trance, and could not obey him; when, muttering his usual imprecation, the mate retired to the quarterdeck.
This was in the first dog-watch, from four to six in the evening. At about three bells, in the next watch, Max the Dutchman, who, like most old seamen, was something of a physician in cases of drunkenness, recommended that Miguel’s clothing should be removed, in order that he should lie more comfortably. But Jackson, who would seldom let any thing be done in the forecastle that was not proposed by himself, capriciously forbade this proceeding.
So the sailor still lay out of sight in his bunk, which was in the extreme angle of the forecastle, behind the bowsprit-bitts—two stout timbers rooted in the ship’s keel. An hour or two afterward, some of the men observed a strange odor in the forecastle, which was attributed to the presence of some dead rat among the hollow spaces in the side planks; for some days before, the forecastle had been smoked out, to extirpate the vermin overrunning her. At midnight, the larboard watch, to which I belonged, turned out; and instantly as every man waked, he exclaimed at the now intolerable smell, supposed to be heightened by the shaking up the bilge-water, from the ship’s rolling.
“Blast that rat!” cried the Greenlander.
“He’s blasted already,” said Jackson, who in his drawers had crossed over to the bunk of Miguel. “It’s a water-rat, shipmates, that’s dead; and here he is”—and with that, he dragged forth the sailor’s arm, exclaiming, “Dead as a timber-head!”
Upon this the men rushed toward the bunk, Max with the light, which he held to the man’s face.
“No, he’s not dead,” he cried, as the yellow flame wavered for a moment at the seaman’s motionless mouth. But hardly had the words escaped, when, to the silent horror of all, two threads of greenish fire, like a forked tongue, darted out between the lips; and in a moment, the cadaverous face was crawled over by a swarm of wormlike flames.
The lamp dropped from the hand of Max, and went out; while covered all over with spires and sparkles of flame, that faintly crackled in the silence, the uncovered parts of the body burned before us, precisely like phosphorescent shark in a midnight sea.
The eyes were open and fixed; the mouth was curled like a scroll, and every lean feature firm as in life; while the whole face, now wound in curls of soft blue flame, wore an aspect of grim defiance, and eternal death. Prometheus, blasted by fire on the rock.
One arm, its red shirt-sleeve rolled up, exposed the man’s name, tattooed in vermilion, near the hollow of the middle joint; and as if there was something peculiar in the painted flesh, every vibrating letter burned so white, that you might read the flaming name in the flickering ground of blue.
“Where’s that d—d Miguel?” was now shouted down among us from the scuttle by the mate, who had just come on deck, and was determined to have every man up that belonged to his watch.
“He’s gone to the harbor where they never weigh anchor,” coughed Jackson. “Come you down, sir, and look.”
Thinking that Jackson intended to beard him, the mate sprang down in a rage; but recoiled at the burning body as if he had been shot by a bullet. “My God!” he cried, and stood holding fast to the ladder.
“Take hold of it,” said Jackson, at last, to the Greenlander; “it must go overboard. Don’t stand shaking there, like a dog; take hold of it, I say! But stop”—and smothering it all in the blankets, he pulled it partly out of the bunk.
A few minutes more, and it fell with a bubble among the phosphorescent sparkles of the damp night sea, leaving a coruscating wake as it sank.
This event thrilled me through and through with unspeakable horror; nor did the conversation of the watch during the next four hours on deck at all serve to soothe me.
But what most astonished me, and seemed most incredible, was the infernal opinion of Jackson, that the man had been actually dead when brought on board the ship; and that knowingly, and merely for the sake of the month’s advance, paid into his hand upon the strength of the bill he presented, the body-snatching crimp had knowingly shipped a corpse on board of the Highlander, under the pretense of its being a live body in a drunken trance. And I heard Jackson say, that he had known of such things having been done before. But that a really dead body ever burned in that manner, I can not even yet believe. But the sailors seemed familiar with such things; or at least with the stories of such things having happened to others.
For me, who at that age had never so much as happened to hear of a case like this, of animal combustion, in the horrid mood that came over me, I almost thought the burning body was a premonition of the hell of the Calvinists, and that Miguel’s earthly end was a foretaste of his eternal condemnation.
Immediately after the burial, an iron pot of red coals was placed in the bunk, and in it two handfuls of coffee were roasted. This done, the bunk was nailed up, and was never opened again during the voyage; and strict orders were given to the crew not to divulge what had taken place to the emigrants; but to this, they needed no commands.
After the event, no one sailor but Jackson would stay alone in the forecastle, by night or by noon; and no more would they laugh or sing, or in any way make merry there, but kept all their pleasantries for the watches on deck. All but Jackson: who, while the rest would be sitting silently smoking on their chests, or in their bunks, would look toward the fatal spot, and cough, and laugh, and invoke the dead man with incredible scoffs and jeers. He froze my blood, and made my soul stand still.
There was on board our ship, among the emigrant passengers, a rich-cheeked, chestnut-haired Italian boy, arrayed in a faded, olive-hued velvet jacket, and tattered trowsers rolled up to his knee. He was not above fifteen years of age; but in the twilight pensiveness of his full morning eyes, there seemed to sleep experiences so sad and various, that his days must have seemed to him years. It was not an eye like Harry’s tho’ Harry’s was large and womanly. It shone with a soft and spiritual radiance, like a moist star in a tropic sky; and spoke of humility, deep-seated thoughtfulness, yet a careless endurance of all the ills of life.
The head was if any thing small; and heaped with thick clusters of tendril curls, half overhanging the brows and delicate ears, it somehow reminded you of a classic vase, piled up with Falernian foliage.
From the knee downward, the naked leg was beautiful to behold as any lady’s arm; so soft and rounded, with infantile ease and grace. His whole figure was free, fine, and indolent; he was such a boy as might have ripened into life in a Neapolitan vineyard; such a boy as gipsies steal in infancy; such a boy as Murillo often painted, when he went among the poor and outcast, for subjects wherewith to captivate the eyes of rank and wealth; such a boy, as only Andalusian beggars are, full of poetry, gushing from every rent.
Carlo was his name; a poor and friendless son of earth, who had no sire; and on life’s ocean was swept along, as spoon-drift in a gale.
Some months previous, he had landed in Prince’s Dock, with his hand-organ, from a Messina vessel; and had walked the streets of Liverpool, playing the sunny airs of southern chines, among the northern fog and drizzle. And now, having laid by enough to pay his passage over the Atlantic, he had again embarked, to seek his fortunes in America.
From the first, Harry took to the boy.
“Carlo,” said Harry, “how did you succeed in England?”
He was reclining upon an old sail spread on the long-boat; and throwing back his soiled but tasseled cap, and caressing one leg like a child, he looked up, and said in his broken English—that seemed like mixing the potent wine of Oporto with some delicious syrup:—said he, “Ah! I succeed very well!—for I have tunes for the young and the old, the gay and the sad. I have marches for military young men, and love-airs for the ladies, and solemn sounds for the aged. I never draw a crowd, but I know from their faces what airs will best please them; I never stop before a house, but I judge from its portico for what tune they will soonest toss me some silver. And I ever play sad airs to the merry, and merry airs to the sad; and most always the rich best fancy the sad, and the poor the merry.”
“But do you not sometimes meet with cross and crabbed old men,” said Harry, “who would much rather have your room than your music?”
“Yes, sometimes,” said Carlo, playing with his foot, “sometimes I do.”
“And then, knowing the value of quiet to unquiet men, I suppose you never leave them under a shilling?”
“No,” continued the boy, “I love my organ as I do myself, for it is my only friend, poor organ! it sings to me when I am sad, and cheers me; and I never play before a house, on purpose to be paid for leaving off, not I; would I, poor organ?”—looking down the hatchway where it was. “No, that I never have done, and never will do, though I starve; for when people drive me away, I do not think my organ is to blame, but they themselves are to blame; for such people’s musical pipes are cracked, and grown rusted, that no more music can be breathed into their souls.”
“No, Carlo; no music like yours, perhaps,” said Harry, with a laugh.
“Ah! there’s the mistake. Though my organ is as full of melody, as a hive is of bees; yet no organ can make music in unmusical breasts; no more than my native winds can, when they breathe upon a harp without chords.”
Next day was a serene and delightful one; and in the evening when the vessel was just rippling along impelled by a gentle yet steady breeze, and the poor emigrants, relieved from their late sufferings, were gathered on deck; Carlo suddenly started up from his lazy reclinings; went below, and, assisted by the emigrants, returned with his organ.
Now, music is a holy thing, and its instruments, however humble, are to be loved and revered. Whatever has made, or does make, or may make music, should be held sacred as the golden bridle-bit of the Shah of Persia’s horse, and the golden hammer, with which his hoofs are shod. Musical instruments should be like the silver tongs, with which the high-priests tended the Jewish altars—never to be touched by a hand profane. Who would bruise the poorest reed of Pan, though plucked from a beggar’s hedge, would insult the melodious god himself.
And there is no humble thing with music in it, not a fife, not a negro-fiddle, that is not to be reverenced as much as the grandest architectural organ that ever rolled its flood-tide of harmony down a cathedral nave. For even a Jew’s-harp may be so played, as to awaken all the fairies that are in us, and make them dance in our souls, as on a moon-lit sward of violets.
But what subtle power is this, residing in but a bit of steel, which might have made a tenpenny nail, that so enters, without knocking, into our inmost beings, and shows us all hidden things?
Not in a spirit of foolish speculation altogether, in no merely transcendental mood, did the glorious Greek of old fancy the human soul to be essentially a harmony. And if we grant that theory of Paracelsus and Campanella, that every man has four souls within him; then can we account for those banded sounds with silver links, those quartettes of melody, that sometimes sit and sing within us, as if our souls were baronial halls, and our music were made by the hoarest old harpers of Wales.
But look! here is poor Carlo’s organ; and while the silent crowd surrounds him, there he stands, looking mildly but inquiringly about him; his right hand pulling and twitching the ivory knobs at one end of his instrument.
Behold the organ!
Surely, if much virtue lurk in the old fiddles of Cremona, and if their melody be in proportion to their antiquity, what divine ravishments may we not anticipate from this venerable, embrowned old organ, which might almost have played the Dead March in Saul, when King Saul himself was buried.
A fine old organ! carved into fantastic old towers, and turrets, and belfries; its architecture seems somewhat of the Gothic, monastic order; in front, it looks like the West-Front of York Minster.
What sculptured arches, leading into mysterious intricacies!—what mullioned windows, that seem as if they must look into chapels flooded with devotional sunsets!—what flying buttresses, and gable-ends, and niches with saints!—But stop! ’tis a Moorish iniquity; for here, as I live, is a Saracenic arch; which, for aught I know, may lead into some interior Alhambra.
Ay, it does; for as Carlo now turns his hand, I hear the gush of the Fountain of Lions, as he plays some thronged Italian air—a mixed and liquid sea of sound, that dashes its spray in my face.
Play on, play on, Italian boy! what though the notes be broken, here’s that within that mends them. Turn hither your pensive, morning eyes; and while I list to the organs twain—one yours, one mine—let me gaze fathoms down into thy fathomless eye;—’tis good as gazing down into the great South Sea, and seeing the dazzling rays of the dolphins there.
Play on, play on! for to every note come trooping, now, triumphant standards, armies marching—all the pomp of sound. Methinks I am Xerxes, the nucleus of the martial neigh of all the Persian studs. Like gilded damask-flies, thick clustering on some lofty bough, my satraps swarm around me.
But now the pageant passes, and I droop; while Carlo taps his ivory knobs; and plays some flute-like saraband—soft, dulcet, dropping sounds, like silver cans in bubbling brooks. And now a clanging, martial air, as if ten thousand brazen trumpets, forged from spurs and swordhilts, called North, and South, and East, to rush to West!
Again-what blasted heath is this?—what goblin sounds of Macbeth’s witches?—Beethoven’s Spirit Waltz! the muster-call of sprites and specters. Now come, hands joined, Medusa, Hecate, she of Endor, and all the Blocksberg’s, demons dire.
Once more the ivory knobs are tapped; and long-drawn, golden sounds are heard-some ode to Cleopatra; slowly loom, and solemnly expand, vast, rounding orbs of beauty; and before me float innumerable queens, deep dipped in silver gauzes.
All this could Carlo do—make, unmake me; build me up; to pieces take me; and join me limb to limb. He is the architect of domes of sound, and bowers of song.
And all is done with that old organ! Reverenced, then, be all street organs; more melody is at the beck of my Italian boy, than lurks in squadrons of Parisian orchestras.
But look! Carlo has that to feast the eye as well as ear; and the same wondrous magic in me, magnifies them into grandeur; though every figure greatly needs the artist’s repairing hand, and sadly needs a dusting.
His York Minster’s West-Front opens; and like the gates of Milton’s heaven, it turns on golden binges.
What have we here? The inner palace of the Great Mogul? Group and gilded columns, in confidential clusters; fixed fountains; canopies and lounges; and lords and dames in silk and spangles.
The organ plays a stately march; and presto! wide open arches; and out come, two and two, with nodding plumes, in crimson turbans, a troop of martial men; with jingling scimiters, they pace the hall; salute, pass on, and disappear.
Now, ground and lofty tumblers; jet black Nubian slaves. They fling themselves on poles; stand on their heads; and downward vanish.
And now a dance and masquerade of figures, reeling from the side-doors, among the knights and dames. Some sultan leads a sultaness; some emperor, a queen; and jeweled sword-hilts of carpet knights fling back the glances tossed by coquettes of countesses.
On this, the curtain drops; and there the poor old organ stands, begrimed, and black, and rickety.
Now, tell me, Carlo, if at street corners, for a single penny, I may thus transport myself in dreams Elysian, who so rich as I? Not he who owns a million.
And Carlo! ill betide the voice that ever greets thee, my Italian boy, with aught but kindness; cursed the slave who ever drives thy wondrous box of sights and sounds forth from a lordling’s door!
L. HARRY BOLTON AT SEA
As yet I have said nothing about how my friend, Harry, got along as a sailor.
Poor Harry! a feeling of sadness, never to be comforted, comes over me, even now when I think of you. For this voyage that you went, but carried you part of the way to that ocean grave, which has buried you up with your secrets, and whither no mourning pilgrimage can be made.
But why this gloom at the thought of the dead? And why should we not be glad? Is it, that we ever think of them as departed from all joy? Is it, that we believe that indeed they are dead? They revisit us not, the departed; their voices no more ring in the air; summer may come, but it is winter with them; and even in our own limbs we feel not the sap that every spring renews the green life of the trees.
But Harry! you live over again, as I recall your image before me. I see you, plain and palpable as in life; and can make your existence obvious to others. Is he, then, dead, of whom this may be said?
But Harry! you are mixed with a thousand strange forms, the centaurs of fancy; half real and human, half wild and grotesque. Divine imaginings, like gods, come down to the groves of our Thessalies, and there, in the embrace of wild, dryad reminiscences, beget the beings that astonish the world.
But Harry! though your image now roams in my Thessaly groves, it is the same as of old; and among the droves of mixed beings and centaurs, you show like a zebra, banding with elks.
And indeed, in his striped Guernsey frock, dark glossy skin and hair, Harry Bolton, mingling with the Highlander’s crew, looked not unlike the soft, silken quadruped-creole, that, pursued by wild Bushmen, bounds through Caffrarian woods.
How they hunted you, Harry, my zebra! those ocean barbarians, those unimpressible, uncivilized sailors of ours! How they pursued you from bowsprit to mainmast, and started you out of your every retreat!
Before the day of our sailing, it was known to the seamen that the girlish youth, whom they daily saw near the sign of the Clipper in Union-street, would form one of their homeward-bound crew. Accordingly, they cast upon him many a critical glance; but were not long in concluding that Harry would prove no very great accession to their strength; that the hoist of so tender an arm would not tell many hundred-weight on the maintop-sail halyards. Therefore they disliked him before they became acquainted with him; and such dislikes, as every one knows, are the most inveterate, and liable to increase. But even sailors are not blind to the sacredness that hallows a stranger; and for a time, abstaining from rudeness, they only maintained toward my friend a cold and unsympathizing civility.
As for Harry, at first the novelty of the scene filled up his mind; and the thought of being bound for a distant land, carried with it, as with every one, a buoyant feeling of undefinable expectation. And though his money was now gone again, all but a sovereign or two, yet that troubled him but little, in the first flush of being at sea.
But I was surprised, that one who had certainly seen much of life, should evince such an incredible ignorance of what was wholly inadmissible in a person situated as he was. But perhaps his familiarity with lofty life, only the less qualified him for understanding the other extreme. Will you believe me, this Bury blade once came on deck in a brocaded dressing-gown, embroidered slippers, and tasseled smoking-cap, to stand his morning watch.
As soon as I beheld him thus arrayed, a suspicion, which had previously crossed my mind, again recurred, and I almost vowed to myself that, spite his protestations, Harry Bolton never could have been at sea before, even as a Guinea-pig in an Indiaman; for the slightest acquaintance with the sea-life and sailors, should have prevented him, it would seem, from enacting this folly.
“Who’s that Chinese mandarin?” cried the mate, who had made voyages to Canton. “Look you, my fine fellow, douse that mainsail now, and furl it in a trice.”
“Sir?” said Harry, starting back. “Is not this the morning watch, and is not mine a morning gown?”
But though, in my refined friend’s estimation, nothing could be more appropriate; in the mate’s, it was the most monstrous of incongruities; and the offensive gown and cap were removed.
“It is too bad!” exclaimed Harry to me; “I meant to lounge away the watch in that gown until coffee time;—and I suppose your Hottentot of a mate won’t permit a gentleman to smoke his Turkish pipe of a morning; but by gad, I’ll wear straps to my pantaloons to spite him!”
Oh! that was the rock on which you split, poor Harry! Incensed at the want of polite refinement in the mates and crew, Harry, in a pet and pique, only determined to provoke them the more; and the storm of indignation he raised very soon overwhelmed him.
The sailors took a special spite to his chest, a large mahogany one, which he had had made to order at a furniture warehouse. It was ornamented with brass screw-heads, and other devices; and was well filled with those articles of the wardrobe in which Harry had sported through a London season; for the various vests and pantaloons he had sold in Liverpool, when in want of money, had not materially lessened his extensive stock.
It was curious to listen to the various hints and opinings thrown out by the sailors at the occasional glimpses they had of this collection of silks, velvets, broadcloths, and satins. I do not know exactly what they thought Harry had been; but they seemed unanimous in believing that, by abandoning his country, Harry had left more room for the gamblers. Jackson even asked him to lift up the lower hem of his browsers, to test the color of his calves.
It is a noteworthy circumstance, that whenever a slender made youth, of easy manners and polite address happens to form one of a ship’s company, the sailors almost invariably impute his sea-going to an irresistible necessity of decamping from terra-firma in order to evade the constables.
These white-fingered gentry must be light-fingered too, they say to themselves, or they would not be after putting their hands into our tar. What else can bring them to sea?
Cogent and conclusive this; and thus Harry, from the very beginning, was put down for a very equivocal character.
Sometimes, however, they only made sport of his appearance; especially one evening, when his monkey jacket being wet through, he was obliged to mount one of his swallow-tailed coats. They said he carried two mizzen-peaks at his stern; declared he was a broken-down quill-driver, or a footman to a Portuguese running barber, or some old maid’s tobacco-boy. As for the captain, it had become all the same to Harry as if there were no gentlemanly and complaisant Captain Riga on board. For to his no small astonishment,—but just as I had predicted,—Captain Riga never noticed him now, but left the business of indoctrinating him into the little experiences of a greenhorn’s career solely in the hands of his officers and crew.
But the worst was to come. For the first few days, whenever there was any running aloft to be done, I noticed that Harry was indefatigable in coiling away the slack of the rigging about decks; ignoring the fact that his shipmates were springing into the shrouds. And when all hands of the watch would be engaged clewing up a t’-gallant-sail, that is, pulling the proper ropes on deck that wrapped the sail up on the yard aloft, Harry would always manage to get near the belaying-pin, so that when the time came for two of us to spring into the rigging, he would be inordinately fidgety in making fast the clew-lines, and would be so absorbed in that occupation, and would so elaborate the hitchings round the pin, that it was quite impossible for him, after doing so much, to mount over the bulwarks before his comrades had got there. However, after securing the clew-lines beyond a possibility of their getting loose, Harry would always make a feint of starting in a prodigious hurry for the shrouds; but suddenly looking up, and seeing others in advance, would retreat, apparently quite chagrined that he had been cut off from the opportunity of signalizing his activity.
At this I was surprised, and spoke to my friend; when the alarming fact was confessed, that he had made a private trial of it, and it never would do: he could not go aloft; his nerves would not hear of it.
“Then, Harry,” said I, “better you had never been born. Do you know what it is that you are coming to? Did you not tell me that you made no doubt you would acquit yourself well in the rigging? Did you not say that you had been two voyages to Bombay? Harry, you were mad to ship. But you only imagine it: try again; and my word for it, you will very soon find yourself as much at home among the spars as a bird in a tree.”
But he could not be induced to try it over again; the fact was, his nerves could not stand it; in the course of his courtly career, he had drunk too much strong Mocha coffee and gunpowder tea, and had smoked altogether too many Havannas.
At last, as I had repeatedly warned him, the mate singled him out one morning, and commanded him to mount to the main-truck, and unreeve the short signal halyards.
“Sir?” said Harry, aghast.
“Away you go!” said the mate, snatching a whip’s end.
“Don’t strike me!” screamed Harry, drawing himself up.
“Take that, and along with you,” cried the mate, laying the rope once across his back, but lightly.
“By heaven!” cried Harry, wincing—not with the blow, but the insult: and then making a dash at the mate, who, holding out his long arm, kept him lazily at bay, and laughed at him, till, had I not feared a broken head, I should infallibly have pitched my boy’s bulk into the officer.
“Captain Riga!” cried Harry.
“Don’t call upon him” said the mate; “he’s asleep, and won’t wake up till we strike Yankee soundings again. Up you go!” he added, flourishing the rope’s end.
Harry looked round among the grinning tars with a glance of terrible indignation and agony; and then settling his eye on me, and seeing there no hope, but even an admonition of obedience, as his only resource, he made one bound into the rigging, and was up at the main-top in a trice. I thought a few more springs would take him to the truck, and was a little fearful that in his desperation he might then jump overboard; for I had heard of delirious greenhorns doing such things at sea, and being lost forever. But no; he stopped short, and looked down from the top. Fatal glance! it unstrung his every fiber; and I saw him reel, and clutch the shrouds, till the mate shouted out for him not to squeeze the tar out of the ropes. “Up you go, sir.” But Harry said nothing.
“You Max,” cried the mate to the Dutch sailor, “spring after him, and help him; you understand?”
Max went up the rigging hand over hand, and brought his red head with a bump against the base of Harry’s back. Needs must when the devil drives; and higher and higher, with Max bumping him at every step, went my unfortunate friend. At last he gained the royal yard, and the thin signal halyards—, hardly bigger than common twine—were flying in the wind. “Unreeve!” cried the mate.
I saw Harry’s arm stretched out—his legs seemed shaking in the rigging, even to us, down on deck; and at last, thank heaven! the deed was done.
He came down pale as death, with bloodshot eyes, and every limb quivering. From that moment he never put foot in rattlin; never mounted above the bulwarks; and for the residue of the voyage, at least, became an altered person.
At the time, he went to the mate—since he could not get speech of the captain—and conjured him to intercede with Riga, that his name might be stricken off from the list of the ship’s company, so that he might make the voyage as a steerage passenger; for which privilege, he bound himself to pay, as soon as he could dispose of some things of his in New York, over and above the ordinary passage-money. But the mate gave him a blunt denial; and a look of wonder at his effrontery. Once a sailor on board a ship, and always a sailor for that voyage, at least; for within so brief a period, no officer can bear to associate on terms of any thing like equality with a person whom he has ordered about at his pleasure.
Harry then told the mate solemnly, that he might do what he pleased, but go aloft again he could not, and would not. He would do any thing else but that.
This affair sealed Harry’s fate on board of the Highlander; the crew now reckoned him fair play for their worst jibes and jeers, and he led a miserable life indeed.
Few landsmen can imagine the depressing and self-humiliating effects of finding one’s self, for the first time, at the beck of illiterate sea-tyrants, with no opportunity of exhibiting any trait about you, but your ignorance of every thing connected with the sea-life that you lead, and the duties you are constantly called upon to perform. In such a sphere, and under such circumstances, Isaac Newton and Lord Bacon would be sea-clowns and bumpkins; and Napoleon Bonaparte be cuffed and kicked without remorse. In more than one instance I have seen the truth of this; and Harry, poor Harry, proved no exception. And from the circumstances which exempted me from experiencing the bitterest of these evils, I only the more felt for one who, from a strange constitutional nervousness, before unknown even to himself, was become as a hunted hare to the merciless crew.
But how was it that Harry Bolton, who spite of his effeminacy of appearance, had evinced, in our London trip, such unmistakable flashes of a spirit not easily tamed—how was it, that he could now yield himself up to the almost passive reception of contumely and contempt? Perhaps his spirit, for the time, had been broken. But I will not undertake to explain; we are curious creatures, as every one knows; and there are passages in the lives of all men, so out of keeping with the common tenor of their ways, and so seemingly contradictory of themselves, that only He who made us can expound them.