Page:Once a Week Volume V.djvu/714

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Dec. 21, 1861.] MY ARRIVAL IN AUSTRALIA. 707


"My blackness is the cause. Let me not name it to you, ye chaste stars, that such a trifle as a difference in the colour of our skins can make a woman play false to all her sacred vows. Yet" (the old idolatry coming back), "though it has been my curse, I will not mar or injure the beauty I have worshipped."

———Yet I'll not shed her blood,
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,
And smooth as monumental alabaster.

The mention of her white skin at this moment proves the contrast which was in the speaker's mind; that contrast could only be brought vividly before the audience by the action Mr. Fechter has introduced, and which I conceive to be the best solution yet given of the words "It is the cause.." With apologies for trespassing on your space, believe me, Sir, yours faithfully.

The Author of " 'Othello' at The Princess's."

Dec. 1861.



MY ARRIVAL IN AUSTRALIA.

Light ahead!” shouted the man aloft on board the ship M——h, one evening in November, 1852.

The ship was crowded with people, and this intimation of its near approach to land was joyfully received by all of them.

Scandal, ill-temper, and discontent for some time had been making much mischief and trouble amongst the different classes of persons so unavoidably thrown into each other's society, and all were weary of the long voyage.

Several young men kept the other passengers in a state of nervous apprehension from morning till night lest they should set the ship on fire; for in their cabins they boiled coffee over spirit-lamps, they smoked, and they drank large quantities of brandy one against the other for wagers, getting dreadfully intoxicated of course; and as each cabin had to accommodate three, if not four passengers, besides berths and boxes here and there, wearing apparel hanging about, and stores of one kind or other filling up corners, there was really hardly room to move in any one of them; so that it was wonderful some dreadful accident did not occur.

My thoughts were always on fire; so were my dreams at night; and to go'to sleep again after such a dream was an impossibility, so I was condemned to lie awake, listening to the strange noises made in working the ship instead—the bell indicating the hours, the short, quick steps of the sailors when shifting sails, the loud, hoarse voice of the officer on duty singing out his orders, as he called it—perhaps the wind would be howling too, might be splitting a sail in its anger; and oh! how tired I got of the rolling, pitching, tossing motion of the ship, which never allowed me to lie still a moment. Then sometimes, in the dark, a big cockroach would alight on my face and startle me: the ship was full of them. Then, at four o‘clock, the pig would be squeaking and the fowls screeching, poor things, for at that hour the butcher was getting through his morning‘s work. Then came the splashing and the dashing down of pailfuls of water upon the decks and cuddy, and the swabbing and the holystoning them afterwards, and then—it was time to get up.

Having stayed in my cabin after breakfast next morning, packing up books and other things in readiness to go on shore, I was too late on deck to see the lighthouse on Cape Otway; but there was a little black figure, an aboriginal, fishing at the edge of the sandy shore on our left, to look at, and a number of gentlemen with telescopes were disputing and laying wagers about it.

It was a lovely morning; a fresh breeze was filling our sails, and we had even our skyscrapers up, as the sailors call them; so I seated myself on deck with my little girls, one on each side of me as usual, and we were soon busily employed at needlework.

Most of the people near us were talking of what they would have to eat and drink on their arrival, which caused some amusement, for we were all heartily tired of board-ship provisions, and longing to taste fish, fruit, and vegetables again.

“I have heard that peaches, nectarines, and melons are as common in Australia as apples in England," said an old lady sitting in her armchair opposite to us, with gold spectacles across her thin aquiline nose and a blue silk ugly over the front of her bonnet to shade her eyes from the glaring sun.

“I’ll have a duck and green peas for my dinner the first time I dine on shore," said the old lady's fat little husband: “that’s a favourite dish of mine—very—worth all the peaches and nectarines to be got anywhere, I think," and he nodded his round little head, and his big black eyes sparkled at the thought of the luxury in perspective.

“Dear me! will peas be in season, sir, at this time of year!" said a pretty rosy-checked girl sitting next him, whose large, soft blue eyes had been sending all the single men into fits of abstraction and thoughts of household expenses for some weeks past.

“Lord love you, my dear! they grow all the year round in these parts," said the old gentleman, looking admiringly into the young lady‘s face, which she did not at all seem to mind. “You see the climate does such wonders—such wonders!"

Then, screwing up his little mouth, as if he were going to whistle, and slily darting a glance at his old wife, who was now hobbling towards the companion-ladder, he added, in an under tone, “I’m told it even makes old ladies young again—he, he! The newspapers say it does—he, he! I do believe now that that was the reason my wife would insist upon coming with me this long voyage—he, he! I do, indeed—he, he, he!" and he chuckled for some minutes about it.

The old lady by this time had arrived at the companion-ladder, and she was standing there looking straight at her husband over the top of her gold spectacles.

“Charles, dear, lunch is ready,” said she, with the shadow of a rebuke, I thought, in the manner she spoke the words; “won’t you come with me and have some?"

The old gentleman instantly hastened to her; and just as his straw hat and her bonnet with