Dream Tales and Prose Poems/Poems in Prose/On The Sea

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I was going from Hamburg to London in a small steamer. We were two passengers; I and a little female monkey, whom a Hamburg merchant was sending as a present to his English partner.

She was fastened by a light chain to one of the seats on deck, and was moving restlessly and whining in a little plaintive pipe like a bird's.

Every time I passed by her she stretched out her little, black, cold hand, and peeped up at me out of her little mournful, almost human eyes. I took her hand, and she ceased whining and moving restlessly about.

There was a dead calm. The sea stretched on all sides like a motionless sheet of leaden colour. It seemed narrowed and small; a thick fog overhung it, hiding the very mast-tops in cloud, and dazing and wearying the eyes with its soft obscurity. The sun hung, a dull red blur in this obscurity; but before evening it glowed with strange, mysterious, lurid light.

Long, straight folds, like the folds in some heavy silken stuff, passed one after another over the sea from the ship's prow, and broadening as they passed, and wrinkling and widening, were smoothed out again with a shake, and vanished. The foam flew up, churned by the tediously thudding wheels; white as milk, with a faint hiss it broke up into serpentine eddies, and then melted together again and vanished too, swallowed up by the mist.

Persistent and plaintive as the monkey's whine rang the small bell at the stern.

From time to time a porpoise swam up, and with a sudden roll disappeared below the scarcely ruffled surface.

And the captain, a silent man with a gloomy, sunburnt face, smoked a short pipe and angrily spat into the dull, stagnant sea.

To all my inquiries he responded by a disconnected grumble. I was obliged to turn to my sole companion, the monkey.

I sat down beside her; she ceased whining, and again held out her hand to me.

The clinging fog oppressed us both with its drowsy dampness; and buried in the same unconscious dreaminess, we sat side by side like brother and sister.

I smile now . . . but then I had another feeling.

We are all children of one mother, and I was glad that the poor little beast was soothed and nestled so confidingly up to me, as to a brother.

November 1879.