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Chapter 93


And now that the white jacket has sunk to the bottom of the sea,
and the blessed Capes of Virginia are believed to be broad on our
bow--though still out of sight--our five hundred souls are fondly
dreaming of home, and the iron throats of the guns round the
galley re-echo with their songs and hurras--what more remains?

Shall I tell what conflicting and almost crazy surmisings
prevailed concerning the precise harbour for which we were bound?
For, according to rumour, our Commodore had received sealed
orders touching that matter, which were not to be broken open
till we gained a precise latitude of the coast. Shall I tell how,
at last, all this uncertainty departed, and many a foolish
prophecy was proved false, when our noble frigate--her longest
pennant at her main--wound her stately way into the innermost
harbour of Norfolk, like a plumed Spanish Grandee threading the
corridors of the Escurial toward the throne-room within? Shall I
tell how we kneeled upon the holy soil? How I begged a blessing
of old Ushant, and one precious hair of his beard for a keepsake?
How Lemsford, the gun-deck bard, offered up a devout ode as a
prayer of thanksgiving? How saturnine Nord, the magnifico in
disguise, refusing all companionship, stalked off into the
woods, like the ghost of an old Calif of Bagdad? How I swayed and
swung the hearty hand of Jack Chase, and nipped it to mine with a
Carrick bend; yea, and kissed that noble hand of my liege lord
and captain of my top, my sea-tutor and sire?

Shall I tell how the grand Commodore and Captain drove off from
the pier-head? How the Lieutenants, in undress, sat down to their
last dinner in the ward-room, and the champagne, packed in ice,
spirted and sparkled like the Hot Springs out of a snow-drift in
Iceland? How the Chaplain went off in his cassock, without
bidding the people adieu? How shrunken Cuticle, the Surgeon,
stalked over the side, the wired skeleton carried in his wake by
his cot-boy? How the Lieutenant of Marines sheathed his sword on
the poop, and, calling for wax and a taper, sealed the end of the
scabbard with his family crest and motto--_Denique Coelum?_ How
the Purser in due time mustered his money-bags, and paid us all
off on the quarter-deck--good and bad, sick and well, all receiving
their wages; though, truth to tell, some reckless, improvident
seamen, who had lived too fast during the cruise, had little or
nothing now standing on the credit side of their Purser's accounts?

Shall I tell of the Retreat of the Five Hundred inland; not, alas! in
battle-array, as at quarters, but scattered broadcast over the land?

Shall I tell how the Neversink was at last stripped of spars, shrouds,
and sails--had her guns hoisted out--her powder-magazine, shot-lockers,
and armouries discharged--till not one vestige of a fighting thing was
left in her, from furthest stem to uttermost stern?

No! let all this go by; for our anchor still hangs from our bows,
though its eager flukes dip their points in the impatient waves.
Let us leave the ship on the sea--still with the land out of
sight--still with brooding darkness on the face of the deep. I
love an indefinite, infinite background--a vast, heaving,
rolling, mysterious rear!

It is night. The meagre moon is in her last quarter--that
betokens the end of a cruise that is passing. But the stars look
forth in their everlasting brightness--and _that_ is the
everlasting, glorious Future, for ever beyond us.

We main-top-men are all aloft in the top; and round our mast we
circle, a brother-band, hand in hand, all spliced together. We
have reefed the last top-sail; trained the last gun; blown the
last match; bowed to the last blast; been tranced in the last
calm. We have mustered our last round the capstan; been rolled to
grog the last time; for the last time swung in our hammocks; for
the last time turned out at the sea-gull call of the watch. We
have seen our last man scourged at the gangway; our last man gasp
out the ghost in the stifling Sick-bay; our last man tossed to
the sharks. Our last death-denouncing Article of War has been read;
and far inland, in that blessed clime whither-ward our frigate
now glides, the last wrong in our frigate will be remembered
no more; when down from our main-mast comes our Commodore's
pennant, when down sinks its shooting stars from the sky.

"By the mark, nine!" sings the hoary old leadsman, in the chains.
And thus, the mid-world Equator passed, our frigate strikes
soundings at last.

Hand in hand we top-mates stand, rocked in our Pisgah top. And
over the starry waves, and broad out into the blandly blue and
boundless night, spiced with strange sweets from the long-sought
land--the whole long cruise predestinated ours, though often in
tempest-time we almost refused to believe in that far-distant
shore--straight out into that fragrant night, ever-noble Jack
Chase, matchless and unmatchable Jack Chase stretches forth his
bannered hand, and, pointing shoreward, cries: "For the last
time, hear Camoens, boys!"

"How calm the waves, how mild the balmy gale!
The Halcyons call, ye Lusians spread the sail!
Appeased, old Ocean now shall rage no more;
Haste, point our bowsprit for yon shadowy shore.
Soon shall the transports of your natal soil
O'erwhelm in bounding joy the thoughts of every toil."

* * * * *


As a man-of-war that sails through the sea, so this earth that
sails through the air. We mortals are all on board a fast-sailing,
never-sinking world-frigate, of which God was the shipwright; and
she is but one craft in a Milky-Way fleet, of which God is the Lord
High Admiral. The port we sail from is for ever astern. And though
far out of sight of land, for ages and ages we continue to sail with
sealed orders, and our last destination remains a secret to ourselves
and our officers; yet our final haven was predestinated ere we slipped
from the stocks at Creation.

Thus sailing with sealed orders, we ourselves are the repositories
of the secret packet, whose mysterious contents we long to learn.
There are no mysteries out of ourselves. But let us not give ear
to the superstitious, gun-deck gossip about whither we may be
gliding, for, as yet, not a soul on board of us knows--not even
the Commodore himself; assuredly not the Chaplain; even our
Professor's scientific surmisings are vain. On that point,
the smallest cabin-boy is as wise as the Captain. And believe
not the hypochondriac dwellers below hatches, who will tell you,
with a sneer, that our world-frigate is bound to no final harbour
whatever; that our voyage will prove an endless circumnavigation
of space. Not so. For how can this world-frigate prove our eventual
abiding place, when upon our first embarkation, as infants in arms,
her violent rolling--in after life unperceived--makes every soul of
us sea-sick? Does not this show, too, that the very air we here
inhale is uncongenial, and only becomes endurable at last through
gradual habituation, and that some blessed, placid haven, however
remote at present, must be in store for us all?

Glance fore and aft our flush decks. What a swarming crew! All
told, they muster hard upon eight hundred millions of souls. Over
these we have authoritative Lieutenants, a sword-belted Officer
of Marines, a Chaplain, a Professor, a Purser, a Doctor, a Cook,
a Master-at-arms.

Oppressed by illiberal laws, and partly oppressed by themselves,
many of our people are wicked, unhappy, inefficient. We have
skulkers and idlers all round, and brow-beaten waisters, who, for
a pittance, do our craft's shabby work. Nevertheless, among our
people we have gallant fore, main, and mizzen top-men aloft, who,
well treated or ill, still trim our craft to the blast.

We have a _brig_ for trespassers; a bar by our main-mast, at
which they are arraigned; a cat-o'-nine-tails and a gangway, to
degrade them in their own eyes and in ours. These are not always
employed to convert Sin to Virtue, but to divide them, and
protect Virtue and legalised Sin from unlegalised Vice.

We have a Sick-bay for the smitten and helpless, whither we hurry
them out of sight, and however they may groan beneath hatches, we
hear little of their tribulations on deck; we still sport our gay
streamer aloft. Outwardly regarded, our craft is a lie; for all
that is outwardly seen of it is the clean-swept deck, and oft-painted
planks comprised above the waterline; whereas, the vast mass of our
fabric, with all its storerooms of secrets, for ever slides along
far under the surface.

When a shipmate dies, straightway we sew him up, and overboard he
goes; our world-frigate rushes by, and never more do we behold
him again; though, sooner or later, the everlasting under-tow
sweeps him toward our own destination.

We have both a quarter-deck to our craft and a gun-deck;
subterranean shot-lockers and gunpowder magazines; and the
Articles of War form our domineering code.

Oh, shipmates and world-mates, all round! we the people suffer
many abuses. Our gun-deck is full of complaints. In vain from
Lieutenants do we appeal to the Captain; in vain--while on board
our world-frigate--to the indefinite Navy Commissioners, so far
out of sight aloft. Yet the worst of our evils we blindly inflict
upon ourselves; our officers cannot remove them, even if they
would. From the last ills no being can save another; therein each
man must be his own saviour. For the rest, whatever befall us,
let us never train our murderous guns inboard; let us not mutiny
with bloody pikes in our hands. Our Lord High Admiral will yet
interpose; and though long ages should elapse, and leave our
wrongs unredressed, yet, shipmates and world-mates! let us never
forget, that,

Whoever afflict us, whatever surround,
Life is a voyage that's homeward-bound!


Herman Melville