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Soon after embarking, and wearied by the exertions I had been obliged to make for the last few days, I betook myself to my cabin and to rest. When I again ascended to the deck, I looked towards the shore we had left, but nothing was to be seen, but a long gray stripe that lay like a dim cloud along the distant horizon. It was the last sight of my native land, and gradually its faint purple outline faded until it was lost in the foam-crested waves. On all sides of me was the wild waste of waters; as far as the eye could reach, it rested upon moving masses like fields of sea-green. Above us was the blue and vaulted heavens that were now illumined with the burnished rays of an August sun, that was even now dipping his broad disk into the waves that formed the distant horizon.
All around was life and motion; ours had not been the only ship that had taken advantage of a favorable wind to put out from Cuxhaven to the open sea. Four or five other ships were sailing along side, and as they spread their snowy sails, on which the bright rays of the summer sun was playing, they skimmed like white-winged sea-mews over the dark green waters.
And now one of the pilot boats that lie here at anchor, yet tossed year in and year out by the restless waves, sending on board both, to the homeward and outward bound a skilful guide, to steer the ship through the perilous shoals and sand banks that lie on this coast, approached, to take up the pilot that had steered us safely into the open sea. He took charge of all our letters––from those written to parent, friend, or lady love left behind, to the tender lines penned by the least shipboy, taking a long farewell of the mother who standing on the pier, waved her hand to her child whose home was henceforward to be on the deep, until long after we sailed. The pilot thrust them all into his great leathern bag, held out his sea-hardened hand to bid each one farewell and gave us his sailor-like greeting: “Farewell, and a lucky voyage to you.” He jumped into the boat, four lusty rowers sat on the benches, and it flew over the glancing waters with the speed of a bird until it reached the one-sailed craft he called his pilot ship. This was our final adieu to the homes we had left, for with the departure of the pilot from on board, the last link that unites the sailor to his native land is broken, and it is then the traveller feels how really every rolling wave increases the distance between him and the fireside joys he has left behind.
Light winds soon drove us into the English channel, where we saw the chalk cliffs of Dover shimmering in the bright sunshine on one side––the coast of France like a soft blue cloud dipping into the sea on the other. We approached so near to the British shore, that we could distinguish the buildings and light-houses plainly. Near to Dover, and on a rocky precipice, stands an old fortress of the middle ages, looking out threateningly with bristling canon on the town and over the sea that breaks and murmurs at its rocky base.
As it became dark, numerous beacon lights blazed from the watch-towers, some speedily vanishing, others twinkling and glancing like meteors that beguile the wanderer from his way, but many with clear and steady ray, shone brightly over the face of the deep and guided the sailor on his adventurous course. The first were the so-called fire drakes, covered partly by metallic plates which turn, and thus is caused the appearing and vanishing of the light so speedily, the latter is the steady beacon of the light-house, which distinguishable from all others by its brilliancy and the color of its flame, enables the seaman to direct his craft safely through the channel. Hundreds of other lights were glancing everywhere, like the fire flies of the tropics upon the face of night, those were the burning lanterns carried at the prow of the steamboats, warning each other of approaching too near, and giving the same intelligence to ships.
On the following morning we found ourselves in the neighbourhood of the Isle of Wight, and vainly looked out for some compassionate fisher boat, that for a flask of brandy or some salted fish, would carry our last letters to some port, from whence they might be forwarded to our homes. A few days later, and we lost sight of the English coast; and with it the last land in Europe faded from our eyes. We found ourselves on the open sea, and with lightly swelling sails, steering for the Cape de Verd Islands. Of the many vessels which we hailed or passed in the British channel, not one was to be seen; here every ship held silently on her own monotonous way, without troubling herself about the fate of another; and here instead of the life and bustle to be met with on a coasting voyage, nothing was to be seen, but the dark blue waves of the broad Atlantic and the bright resplendent sky.
To enjoy a sea-voyage one must have entirely overcome the severe ordeal of sea-sickness, and then with the high health that generally follows the departure of this disagreeable visitant, life on the ocean is not without a beauty and variety of its own. In a fortnight one becomes sufficiently versed in the laws of equilibrium to maintain his place in his hammock from a sudden lurching of the ship in a squall or night of tempest, or so skilfully to balance himself and his plate at table, that neither shall be thrown to the right or left. By degrees, too, one becomes accustomed to the slovenliness of the cabin servants, and the dusky appearance of stained and soiled table cloths, and at last even ceases to miss the newspapers and the absence of cream in his coffee.
During the first part of our voyage we had most beautiful weather; the deep blue sea upon which the foam-crested waves chased each other as if at play, and the bright heavens where thin and transparent clouds were floating like veils of gossamer, filled the heart with gladness and disposed it to profitable musings. Light winds filled the sails that swelled beautifully on their masts and drove the ship, that under a cloud of white canvass looked like a stately queen, onward. Sometimes she would lie motionless on the waves for a time, then urged by the breeze she would glide forth like a capricious beauty, cutting the water at the rate of more than four miles an hour. So gentle was the motion, that in the cabin one could scarce hear the murmur of the waves as the ship kissed them with her bowsprit, or raised a track of foam as she divided them with her sharp keel or directing rudder.
It may seem strange, but it is nevertheless true, that on the land, the Sabbath never speaks to man with such solemn voice as it does in beautiful weather on the deep blue sea. Then it seems as if wind and wave and sun and sky were all holding sacred festival, and Nature, such as she appears on that wide and wonderful expanse, invited man, the favored creature, to worship with her in her grand and sacred temple. On week days, with the perpetual industry usual on board a ship, the bustling of the sailors as they pursue their several avocations, the call of the boatswain, the noise of the carpenters’ hammer that cannot be excluded from the cabin, contrasts vividly with the calm brought by the solemn stillness of the Sabbath,––its influence is visible on all. No tar-bucket is seen on deck, no paint-pot stands in the way, the sailor intermits his weekly task of mending the sails, and the ropes that are to be repaired are laid aside. The deck is scoured white and smooth with sand; everything is clean, even the cabin-boy and the table-cloth, two articles that on weekdays seem to hold themselves privileged to be dirty.
The sailors indeed, that is only some of them, take advantage of the time bestowed by the Sabbath, to mend their jackets and stockings, or patch up old boots and shoes; others lie stretched out on the deck with a book in their hands or a cigar in their mouths, murmuring something to which the waves are the only listeners; others are down in the forecastle looking over their chests and coffers, the sight of their humble effects, or perhaps some cherished keepsake, recalling thoughts of loved ones at home. But in whatever business engaged, the influence of the Sabbath is seen on all, for there is no countenance but speaks the calm and quiet content, which this blessed day, so wisely ordered as a respite from toil and care, brings to all, whether on land or sea.
We were out four weeks without having seen anything but sky and water, when one day we saw the rugged crest of a high mountain rising above a pile of thick gray clouds. It was the high hill of the island of St. Anthony, the most westerly of the Cape de Verd group. Little by little the low-lying clouds ascend like a drawn up curtain, and the whole island lay spread out, a living panorama, to our view. But alas! we passengers were not permitted to leave the ship, and as soon as we had taken in provisions and water, the anchor was lifted and we held on our way towards the south.
As in all lands lying in the warm latitudes, the works of nature are found in greater and more vigorous beauty than beneath our colder and melancholy skies, so also do the tropical seas present appearances never seen in the northern waters. If a storm arises, the whole creation seems to be dissolving. No words can be found adequate to describe the scene, or in any measure to convey the frightful experience the sailor has to undergo. But on the other hand, in clear and calm weather, the tropical sea presents an aspect of gorgeousness and grandeur, with which the loveliest natural scenery of a northern climate cannot compare. Here the rising of the sun from his bed of waves, presents a spectacle that fills the heart with reverence and awe at the same time that it swells with rapture of the purest kind. The thick clouds that rested like a veil of darkness upon the illimitable surface of the sea, at the coming of the god of day, disperse in their vapors. The twinkling stars grow paler as he approaches, the dark gray color of the water changes to a cheerful blue, and streaks of clear purple are seen in the east, increasing each moment to a varied hue, and as the horizon brightens, darkness flies far from the bosom of the waters. Suddenly rays of glorious light break forth from heaven and pour their golden glory on the sea, the sun rises in his glowing strength above the bank of purple clouds, and as they disperse themselves over the azure firmament, various are the shapes, whether beautiful or grotesque, that they assume. One can imagine he sees towns, hills, castles with tall towers, ships, and a thousand other objects in their flitting shapes, but yet scarcely formed ere they lose their evanescent beauty both of form and color, as the sun mounts above the horizon.
The animal kingdom of the tropical ocean is extraordinarily rich and varied. The sea birds are distinguished by their size, and beauty of plumage, and greatly surpass those that belong to the north. Thousands of flying fish spring above the surface, in order to escape some lurking enemy below, only to find their death on the deck of the ship, but oftener to fall an easy prey to some rapacious bird. Nothing can equal the gay colors of the Bonito and Dorado, a smaller kind of ravenous fish peculiar to the Southern seas, and which are always found in close pursuit of their neighbors, the flying fish. With what enchantment does the astonished spectator fasten his gaze upon the lightly moving waters. His eye penetrates the depths that lie far below the crystal surface, and is lost in wonder at beholding the myriads of living creatures with which the mighty ocean teems! Not a moment but what presents some new and interesting subject for inquiry or contemplation, thus breaking in pleasantly on the otherwise monotonous current of sea life.
So the day passes over, full of interest, if man will only take the trouble to secure it; and the sun that here regularly measures his diurnal course in twelve hours, is declining to his setting. Again the attendant clouds, that at times assume the appearance of burning volcanoes, gather around him, as though to curtain him as he sinks to rest, but as his glancing rays reflected on the smooth water are refracted in gushing vapors, thousands of fireballs seemed to rise as from a crater, and streams of burning lava to flow into the ocean. At length the sun is hidden beneath the waves; for a few minutes the western horizon is like a sea of glowing purple, and then night comes, shrouding all in her darksome veil. But there is no gloom; thousands of stars far brighter than those of northern lands glitter in the firmament, and are mirrored in the chrystal waters; fiery meteors dart through the heavens, and the whole surface of the ocean is covered with luminous insects.
Pleasant as is life on shipboard, even in a slow voyage, when with sufficient wind, which is mostly the case in this latitude, to keep the vessel moving, bringing refreshing coolness to the sailor, and spreading life and healthful motion over the sea; not less uncomfortable is the condition of a vessel when becalmed, as is not seldom the case for many weeks together. With heavy heart the mariner sees the breeze that so lately rippled the waves, gradually die away, and leave the bosom of the ocean calm as a slumbering lake. The sails hang flapping from the yards, the sea is motionless, presenting a dull expanse of water as far as the eye can reach, and no zephyrs float through the atmosphere to give relief from the burning rays of the sun. The ship lies like a log on the water, the discontent and murmurs of the crew increase every day, and in vain do they try to drive the tedium away by practising all sorts of diversion. But the night brings some relief, not only in her calm beauty, but cooling dews refresh the heated atmosphere, and the moon and stars shine forth in unsurpassable glory in the cloudless heavens.
On the first of October, we passed the equator. Neptune, as is his custom with all ships, honored us with a visit. With the early twilight, we heard a deep bass voice that seemed to rise up out of the waves, hail the ship in true nautical style. The helmsman answered through his speaking trumpet, to the usual questions of where we were bound, and from whence we had sailed. Two of the ship boys were listening with all their ears, and peering curiously but vainly over the bulwarks in order to get a sight of old Neptune. At length the voice from the bowsprit made itself more audible, and in the following manner. “I see that there are a few on board that have never before been in my territory, and must submit to the regulations I demand, as it becomes them to do.” As the last words were uttered a gigantic figure, his head covered with a periwig of knotted sea-grass, with a false nose, and his face painted in various colors, now ascended the ship’s side, and clambered on deck. He carried a speaking trumpet of three feet long in his right hand, under his left arm was a few thick books, and from the leg of his boot a huge wooden compass protruded itself. A masculine woman in whose soot-begrimed lineaments I, with some trouble, recognized those of our boatswain, personating Amphitrite, followed the god of the sea, carrying a long lubberly boy in her arms, wrapped up in an old sail. They were introduced to us by Neptune as his wife and son. Having advanced to the after deck, where the sailors were assembled, he opened one of his colossal books and spread an old sea chart out upon the deck. “Hallo, helmsman,” he inquired, “what is your latitude and longitude?” The answer being given, he grumbled something as he pulled his huge compass from his boot, and having carefully measured his old chart, at last struck a hole in it, as he exclaimed, “Here you are––all right––what course are you steering?” “South, south-east!” “You must go four degrees to westward––you will have a better wind,” growled Neptune, and therewith he doubled up the chart, and stuck the compass in his boot again. “I must see after my new circumnavigators,” he added in the same gruff tone as he turned his eyes on the two before-mentioned boys and one old sailor who, although he had followed the sea for twelve years, had never, until now, crossed the equator; “we must make a nearer acquaintance.”
The name, birth, and age of each being inquired into, and duly registered in one of the large books, each one after having his eyes blindfolded, was led by the sailors to the forecastle and seated on a plank, under which was placed a large tub of water. The next operation was to shave them, and accordingly their faces were smeared over with a horrible mixture of shoemaker’s wax, train oil and soot, most ungently laid on with a coarse painter’s brush. Neptune then performed the office of barber himself, taking a long piece of iron which had once served as the hoop of a tun, he scraped their chins in the most unmerciful manner.
No sooner was this operation ended, then they pulled away the props of the plank on which the three tyros were seated, so that they fell over head and ears in the tub of water below, and thus received what the sailors call a “genuine Neptune’s baptism.” After all these ceremonies he turned as if to go, but the young sea-god at this moment set up a most fearful outcry––he bawled as loud and lustily as any mortal. “Just listen,” said Neptune; “now I cannot go back to my cave in peace, but that cub will roar and bellow the whole night, so as to disturb all the waves below,––nothing even quiets him but a stiff glass of grog, for he likes that far better than sea water.”
The captain understood the hint; he laughed and nodded to the steward. Young Neptune continued his lamentation nearly a quarter of an hour; I saw one of the cabin servants carrying a smoking bowl of punch to the foredeck, and the joyful shouts and loud hurrah that attested how welcome was its reception, reached us who were in the cabin below.
On the following day as the ship, driven by a light wind, moved lazily through the waters, we observed two large sharks following in her wake. The sailors were at great pains to take them, but greatly to the vexation of themselves and the passengers who entered quite as eagerly into this sport as themselves, the cunning fish disdained the bait and swam slowly away. To my enquiries of why they had not seized upon the meat thrown out as lure, sharks having always been represented as voracious and greedy, one of the passengers answered,
“It all depends on whether or not they are hungry. In some soundings, where fish abound, I have seen sharks by the hundred, which not only refused the bait, but did not injure the men who went into the water to bathe or accidentally fell overboard. Nevertheless, like yourself, I wonder that these creatures did not bite, for the sharks of the Atlantic are considered particularly greedy.”
“I can tell ye,” said the boatswain, who was standing close by, “why they did not take hold of the bait. It is because we are just in the track of the Brazilian slave ships; they throw many of the niggers overboard, for many die, and there’s no doubt but the creatures find richer morsels than a bit of salt beef.”
“Are there not several species of sharks?” I inquired of a passenger who seemed well acquainted with natural history in all its variety.
“A great many,” he answered, “and the largest and most rapacious is the white shark, to which class those that have just left us belong. He moves through the Atlantic as if it was his own realm, but is seldom seen beyond the solstitial point, preferring the latitude within the tropics; he is also found in the Mediterranean sea, and also in the gulf of Lyons, where he is peculiarly savage. The blue shark, seen in the English channel, is seldom dangerous; others, larger but less harmless, infest the northern seas, and are often pursued by the whalers merely for sport. Then there is the spotted or tiger shark, not very large but exceedingly rapacious; the hammer shark, which derives its name from the peculiar shape of its head, and the ground shark, which is the most to be dreaded of any, since he lies deep down in the water, and rising suddenly, seizes his prey without any one suspecting his vicinity.”
“Suppose a man is so unfortunate as to fall overboard, and a shark is in the neighborhood,” said I, “what can he do to save himself? Is there no hope of escaping from his dreadful jaws?”
“The best means I have seen tried,” he replied, “and with good effect is, if a man is a good swimmer, to throw himself on his back, splash the water with his feet, and shout with all his strength. The shark is a great coward and easily frightened––noise will always drive him off. When I was on a voyage to the West Indies, two or three years ago, I had a Newfoundland dog with me, who was accustomed to spring into the water from any height, and after anything. I was greatly attached to the animal, and you may imagine my alarm as, one day we were lying becalmed off the West India islands, I saw him jump down and with, loud barkings, as if delighted with the sport, swim after a large shark that was playing around the ship. I expected nothing else but to see him devoured in an instant, but to my astonishment the monster turned and swam vigorously, evidently frightened by the barking of the dog who continued to follow him, until a boat was let down and himself brought back by the sailors.
“A singular method,” continued my learned fellow-passenger, “is practised by the divers who collect pearls on the coast of Ceylon. They often let themselves down an hundred feet in order to reach the mud banks where the pearl oysters are to be found, and whilst they are filling their baskets they must watch carefully on all sides lest a shark fall upon them. If they see one near, they stir up the mud, and then while the enemy is blinded by the turbid water they rise as quickly as possible to the surface. Many escape in this manner, but many also fall victims. Fair ladies as they adorn their persons with these costly ornaments think little of the suffering by which they are obtained,––the arduous adventurous life, or of the unfortunates who are annually swallowed by those savages of the deep. When one considers how often those poor Indians must dive to the bottom, to say nothing of the loss of life, before a string of pearls can be obtained, we may confidently assert that every necklace has been purchased by at least the life of one human being.”
Scudding now before a fresher wind, we steered towards the south and soon found ourselves in a colder climate. The flying fish played lively as ever around the ship, and one night so many fell on deck as to furnish an excellent mess for breakfast. Black dolphins, the greatest enemy of their flying neighbors, tumbled playfully about in the rippling water, and at times encircled the ship in great numbers. Their motion is swift and vigorous,––so much so that it is scarcely possible to strike them with a harpoon.
On the 20th of October we reached the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope. Flocks of sea birds fluttered around our masts, for this colder region is the home of the beautiful sea dove, the great white albatross and an innumerable multitude of smaller kinds, that on the approach of stormy weather seem to rise, as by the stroke of a magician’s wand, from the sea. One of the few changes one meets with on a voyage to Africa is angling for birds, for they are as easily taken as the finny tribe, by baiting a fish-hook with a piece of fat meat, and especially so in those rough seas, upon whose surface little to nourish can be found, they seize greedily upon the hook, which fastens itself readily in their crooked bills. All these sea birds are clothed with a coat of feathers so thick and elastic that except in one or two places they are invulnerable to a bullet.
The fable of the Flying Dutchman is well known––the Demon ship is still supposed to traverse his unwearied but unprofitable course in the neighborhood of the Cape. The weather is stormy almost throughout the year, the skies ever dark and cloudy, but while other ships, scarcely able to keep themselves steadily afloat, dare show but one or two storm sails, the phantom ship is scudding before the gale under a full press of canvass. Our captain assured us with an expression of countenance which showed that he himself believed what he asserted, that he had once seen the Dutchman under crowded sail in Table Bay hardly two English miles distant; that he had altered his course in order to come up with him, but all at once he vanished, and although he steered a long time in the same direction, he found no trace of him. The thing easily explains itself when one considers that the sky is always dark and foggy, the sea rough and tempestuous, and not seldom sudden storms of hail and snow prevent the voyager from seeing a quarter of a mile before him; how easy then to lose sight of a vessel in an instant.
Much more dangerous than the Flying Dutchman are the floating bodies of ice, found also in these latitudes; and which often cause great damage to ships, for owing to the thickness of the atmosphere they are not seen, until they are driven against them. A few years ago an English frigate in doubling the Cape, ran foul of an iceberg with such force that she sprung a leak, and broke the rudder in splinters. Luckily a puff of wind that streamed from a cleft in the ice and threw back the sails, freed the ship from her perilous condition since another stroke upon the iceberg would have dashed her to pieces.
There is no climate where gurnets are found in such numbers as in the neighborhood of the Cape. In stormy or cloudy nights the sparkle of these beautiful sea-fish is the brightest. The troubled waves as they dash their foam-crested waters against the ship, glitter as though thousands of brilliant stars were seen among them, and as the rushing keel divides them in her course, the effect is indescribable, and recalls to the mind of the spectator tales of fairies and sea-nymphs that come up from their ocean caves to gaze with bright and curious eyes on the daring mortals that invade their realm.
After doubling the Cape, we had sailed a whole week with a steady and favorable wind towards the Isle of Bourbon, when on one clear day whilst all were assembled on the deck, we were startled by a cannon shot fired at no great distance, and came booming over the waters like the voice of thunder. The captain was hastily summoned from his cabin, but ere he made his appearance a second report broke upon the deep stillness that succeeded the first. At the same moment a sailor on the lookout called out from above, that he “saw a light over the bows of the ship, but could not make out what it was.” “Is it a ship,” inquired the captain, as he began hastily to ascend the mainmast. “No, sir!” was the answer, “the light is too large to come from a ship’s lantern, and it cannot be the Isle of Bourbon.” “It must be a vessel on fire,” exclaimed the captain, as many cannon shots broke upon the silent air, “Bourbon lies much farther to the north. Aloft there! crowd on sail––in order to carry help to those unfortunates before it is too late!”
Whilst the sailors were busy in executing the captain’s orders, he bade the gunners fire the cannon so that the crew of the burning ship might know that help was near. In half an hour from the first alarm, we could plainly discern the blazing vessel with the naked eye, and soon after distinguished the whirling columns of flame as they towered above the masts. The night, too, had come on, and the impression made by the lurid light that shone far over the quiet waters, and the booming sound of cannon that from time to time burst on its stillness, was one too awful to be soon forgotten. “If we only do not reach them too late!” cried one of the passengers who, like the sailors, never even turned their eyes away from the burning spectacle. “I hope the crew have taken to their boats before this,” said the captain, who with his nightglass to his eye was steadfastly regarding the unfortunate ship.
The breeze springing up more freshly, we sailed with increased speed towards the distressed vessel, the forepart of which was now one sheet of flame; we saw the angry fiery element enveloping the foremast from top to bottom as in a garment, now sweep over to the mainmast, the sails of which were instantly on fire. How far the conflagration had proceeded inside we could not ascertain; but we were very certain the crew had left her and taken to the boats, for our continued cannon shots were answered by muskets fired from the barge and jolly boat.
As we approached carefully so as to avoid danger to ourselves from the collision with the burning ship, a wild cry arose from the foredeck of the latter––piercing yet mournful, and while pained and astonished we looked about to discover what it meant, a spectacle singular as fearful met our eyes. The ship had a number of animals on board which were being taken to England for a menagerie. In their haste to leave, the crew had either forgotten to unloose them, or feared that by liberating them, they might meet in their rage a worse enemy than even the fire. In wild and unavailing efforts, they dashed furiously against the iron bars that inclosed them, and their fearful cries almost drowned the hissing and crackling sound of the flames. At length they reached the mizzenmast, and the falling yards loosened a plank or two of one of the cages––a noble lion with flowing mane and glaring eyes burst forth and sprung overboard. At the same instant an elephant had freed himself from the rope which fettered his hind legs. Flourishing his long proboscis he rushed into the midst of the fire, but soon driven back by the heat he retreated to a portion of the foredeck which had not yet ignited, and his death-cry echoed loud and mournfully over the dusky ocean.
The falling of the mainmast ended the sad catastrophe. The cages of the other animals had taken fire, and their wild occupants bursting through the half burned planks, showed their dark forms here and there on the deck, and maddened with pain, shrieked aloud in agony as they plunged into the sea. The elephant drew himself up as for a last effort, and was about to spring overboard, as one bright, blinding glare shot athwart our eyes, and the next moment, vessel, animals, all had vanished as if by magic. The explosion that followed instantly––the sparkling brands that were hurled in all directions, explained that the flames had reached the magazine and thus blown up the luckless ship.
By this time, we had come up close to the boats, when a strange sound of snorting and moaning caused us to turn our eyes once more to the spot where the ship disappeared. We saw the huge form of the lion contending with the waves; attracted by the voices of men he was making every effort to reach the jolly boat. With consternation, the crew of the frail craft observed the advance of this dangerous messmate, for if he laid but one of his paws upon the side, overladen as she was already, she must inevitably sink by the increased weight. The sailors plied their oars with renewed force––the little boat shot over the waters like an arrow, and the poor animal was left far behind. For a long time, panting and toiling, he continued the pursuit, battling vigorously with wind and waves; but at last his strokes grew weaker, his breathing shorter, and we saw him finally yield quietly to the waves that settled over him even as they had closed above the devoted ship.
The captain now called the sailors, who silent and motionless were standing about, regarding the singular and impressive spectacle, to their several duties. The sails were taken in, ropes were thrown to the boats, and such a number of dark figures clambered up the deck that we began to be uneasy, and rather doubtful of the character of the rescued. We soon, however, became convinced that we had to do with honorable people, and who, singular as they looked to us in their oriental garb, took all possible pains to show their gratitude for our timely succor. From the few Europeans on board, we learned that the ship was from Sumatra bound to London; we therefore landed them on the Isle of Bourbon whose port we entered two days after.
With the cold climate that we exchanged for a warmer as we again approached the equator, we lost sight of the countless flocks of sea-birds that so long had accompanied us. It is something remarkable that they only inhabit the colder latitudes, for in a warmer climate it is a rare thing to find them. Sometimes a few weary land-birds that have strayed from their homeward way, skim over the ocean, or rest upon the masts; how they maintain themselves on the wing cannot be conjectured, but certain it is, they have been seen on the trackless ocean, when no point of land was within hundreds of miles.
On the first day of December, a long range of blue hills rose on the far horizon as if springing from the sea; we soon found it to be the coast of Sumatra. Contrary winds kept us beating about and prevented our entering the straits of Sunda, but we found ourselves surrounded by a number of ships from all nations sharing a like fate, and waiting with the same impatience for a favoring wind to blow them into Sunda Roads or to their different destinations. At last the wished for breeze sprung up, the sails swelled, and our gallant ship sailed proudly through the straits. On all sides were seen chains of blue hills and richly wooded islands rising out of the water; the long coast of Java and Sumatra covered with vegetation and groups of beautiful trees, and the thousand little green islets that studded the straits like emeralds cast at random, presented a lively picture that contrasted pleasantly with the late monotony we had endured. Huge trunks of pistangs and tops of cocoanut trees, broken off by the wind were driven about in all directions, and as they met us, awakened almost as much apprehension as would a reef of rocks. We passed many islands uninhabited, and with their impervious forests still remaining in primitive wildness, clothed in the beauty of a perpetual verdure unknown in northern regions, and soon came in sight of the white houses of the island of Java, which surrounded with lofty trees and blooming gardens, proclaimed themselves the dwellings of Europeans. From many eminences the Dutch flag was seen floating, and as we sailed along, a Java village looked out from among the tall cocoanut trees; little barks shot out from the shore and steered towards our ship, and one European boat manned with eight Javanese rowers, and bearing the flag of Holland at her stern reached us first.
A police officer, corpulent and full of importance, now came on board and handed the captain a sheet of paper on which he was desired to inscribe the name and destination of the vessel, from what port she had sailed, what burthen she carried, and other notices of the same kind.
This finished, the Javanese barks rowed swiftly along side; these small crafts are generally made of the trunk of a tree, neatly hollowed out; they are filled with fruit, fowls, eggs, apes, parrots, shells, and such like wares, with which the owner drives a profitable trade with the ships. He sits on a little bench in the midst of his merchandize with a short, broad oar in either hand; with this he propels his fragile vessel; which is often not more than an inch or two above the water’s edge. After we had exchanged our pure Spanish piastres, which is the coin they most prefer, for such things as we needed, the traffic with the sailors commenced.
Such old jackets, woolen shirts, caps and whatever other articles of clothing they could spare were bartered for eggs, cocoanuts, pine apples and other eatables. This accounts for the singular garb of the Javanese boatmen,––striped shirts, woolen caps and duck trowsers are strangely mingled with portions of the oriental dress, and a sailor’s jacket with large brass buttons is considered quite ornamental. Next to clothing they prefer knives, scissors and articles of iron ware. In general the Javanese are pretty good judges of the value of these articles, and mostly contrive to make a more profitable traffic from their fruit and poultry than the European sailor with his stock of old clothes. In the evening it is often the case at this time of year that constant lightnings play round the horizon, illumining the picturesque shores of Java and Sumatra. Impenetrable darkness shrouds both earth and sea, and only by the light of the electric flash is the mariner shown how to keep off land, and with shortened sail holds on his way. On board of all vessels, on binnacle, masts and spars are hung lighted lanterns in order to avoid collision with each other, for in the thick darkness that envelopes all around, no object can be discerned at a distance of three yards. In the meantime the wind pipes shrilly through the shrouds, and lashes the waves into foam white as snow-wreaths. After a few hours all again is still, no breeze disturbs the ocean, the sails flap lazily against the mast, the waves subside to a glassy smoothness, and the rain gradually ceases as the dawn approaches. So pass the nights in this climate during the rainy season.
In the morning we found ourselves surrounded with a great number of vessels, the white sails of European ships covered the sea on all sides, contrasting strongly with the small coasters made of plaited hemp that darted gaily over the blue waves, and fishing boats of all sorts and sizes were crossing our path or following in our wake. We were seemingly enclosed in a nest of small islands, and it was a mystery to conceive how it would be possible to find our way out of such a labyrinth. Only by the high volcanic hills, with their crowns of light smoke were we able to recognize the mainland of Java, whilst the flowery coast of Sumatra faded gradually from our view, until at length it was lost on the distant horizon. But the experienced eye of our captain discerned clearly the way that lay before us; for many years he had guided his ship in safety through these dangerous seas, and attentive to his duty and his chart, he disentangled her from among this knot of islands and we found ourselves once more in a free offing. Soon the Roads of Batavia were in sight, where more than fifty large ships and an incredible number of smaller ones were lying at anchor. The French, Dutch, Austrian and English flags greeted our arrival, one ship after another welcomed us to the roads with their thundering cannon, which was regularly answered by the guard ship constantly stationed here. At last our anchor was let down and fell rattling into the deep. But, different from Sumatra and the coast of Java we had left, nothing was to be seen at Batavia but a flat, low beach overgrown with bushes, behind which appeared some groups of green trees, and in the far distance rose a chain of blue hills from the summits of which clouds of smoke were issuing, that told of the many volcanic fires that are constantly burning in the Island of Java.
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