Cheerful neighbours. — Sunday at sea. — Sitting on deck. — Teneriffe again. — Cooler latitudes. — Rousing the inhabitants. — Funchal by moonlight. — An unexpected meeting. — American Astronomers. — Victims of curio vendors. — The Bay of Biscay. — A gale in Channel. — Home.
AND now followed a repetition of sea-discomfort—nausea and stuffiness ; but on this occasion it was short lived, for after a couple of days the captain kindly arranged that our cabin, near the screw, should be changed for one on deck, far forward.
Here we caught the welcome current of air caused by the ship's motion, and for the first time in my sea experience I awoke in the morning refreshed. I awoke too, with the sweet sense of home upon me, and pleasant recollections of a certain dear old farmhouse ; for my dreams had been mingled with the bleating of sheep, the cackling of geese and the crowing of cocks. Poor things, there was little chance of their being led out to green pastures, or participating ever again in the varied pleasures of a fascinating dung-hill. Prisoners they were, under sentence of death, but they crowed lustily, and "ba'a ba'aed" sweetly, nevertheless ; and, grateful for the cheer their good spirits gave to me, I would hope that they dreamt not of to-morrow. I know not whether to ascribe it to the inspiriting influence of these, my feathered and fourfooted neighbours, but certain it is, that on the third day of voyaging I could see things straight, and had sensations of pleasure in the prospect of dinner.
It was a welcome surprise ; and on Sunday I had the privilege of being able to attend divine service at sea for the first time. Always and under all circumstances are the prayers and collects of our English prayer book touching and beautiful, but they appeared to me especially so on that Sunday.
"O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens, and rulest the raging of the sea ; who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end,"—words so fitting that it seemed as if the murmuring sound of the waters, lapping against the ship's sides, was His gentle answer to our prayer—"That we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours."
We had very few passengers on board and only three of the number were ladies, yet this was to me an almost enjoyable voyage ; for during the greater part of the time I could sit on deck all the day, watching the dolphins and flying-fish at play in the unruffled sea ; and at night, what could be more beautiful than the water lit up by the balls and streams of phosphorescent light, which the ship seemed to cleave in her course, throwing them off to right and left of her, and leaving a golden river in her wake ?
Again we are approaching Teneriffe ; and I really ought to pass it by without comment, for it is long, long ago since Humboldt wrote, "From every traveller beginning the narrative of his adventures by a description of Madeira and Teneriffe, there remains now scarce anything untold."
Great pens scorn a scribbled page ; but mine must not skip (I leave my reader to do that), and I tread again the old track in my own footsteps, which are so slight that, methinks, a re-impression is their only chance of notice.
Again we are at Teneriffe ; but it is not the Teneriffe of six months ago. Then the Great Peak was in sunny summer garb, trimmed with bright floating ribbons ; now we only see. a snow-covered head in the heavens, and. the horizon below filled with the shadowy outline of a giant wrapped in a mantle of grey cloud.
It was here that we sniffed the first breath of "caller" air. No more tepid water to drink ; no more folding of the hands to rest ; and, when we arrived at Madeira two days later, the poor little diving boys showed blue lips, and shivered as they chattered in their scanty dripping garments.
Having had the welcome news that time would permit of our going ashore at Funchal for a few hours, we were very impatient for the custom-house and health-officers to come off while daylight lasted. But, according to their usual wont, they did not hurry, and the Captain, getting impatient as well as we, blew repeated whistles and roused splendid echoes among the rocks with his monster steam-horn.
At last two lazy-looking Portuguese officials came alongside, whereupon one of them called out in his distinct foreign English, "Sorry, Captain, but I think somebody on board has got a very sore throat."
"Sore throat!" said the Captain. "No ; why should you think so?"
"Because very hoarse cries come from your ship and disturb us," was the answer, with a good-humoured laugh ; and the joke was enjoyed by all on board, including the Captain himself, whose noisy method of commanding attention in lazy ports was well known to all the ship.
After some lively bargaining from the gangway, a party of us got into a boat and rowed ashore—unfortunately just as the sun was setting ; but soon a glorious moon I took his place, and, seen by her light, the group of dusky men, who almost seized upon us as we set foot on the beach, clamouring to be taken as guides, was a striking and strong-coloured picture. In the rising background glimmered pretty white houses ; and there was quite light enough for us to admire the glorious masses of red and purple Bougainvillea, which over-ran the garden-walls and terraces, making a perfect Eden to our flower-starved eyes.
We were in search of no lions, and wanted no guides—simply a stroll on terra firma, and a peep down the narrow streets. Everywhere, as we passed along, dark eyes questioned us with curious glances ; and every now and then we encountered some portly matron en route for an evening party—not in a fly, nor in a sedan chair, but in a "thing," partaking somewhat of the nature of both: a sort of wheelless couch, or rather sleigh, hung with curtains, and generally dragged by a couple of small bullocks.
Everything was dragged up and down these steep, slippery streets, which are mostly paved with small pebbles, edge upward, and worn smooth by constant friction. This mode of locomotion seems easy and pleasant, and certainly gives an air of repose and leisurely dignity to the scene. Life seemed to pass slowly on this pretty island, and, in the feverish bustle of London life, one's thoughts turn to it with a sense of rest.
By the merest chance, my husband heard that an American astronomical party was here for the purpose of making longitude determinations ; so, leaving me in the hands of some of our fellow-passengers, he went off to find out these kindred spirits. This he had no difficulty in doing, and they welcomed him most kindly and courteously ; one of the party taking the trouble to bring a chronometer on board to compare it with ours, thus making a strong rivet in our longitude run from Ascension to England.
Meanwhile I searched several of the shops, hoping to buy some of the cotton embroidery which at home we value so much for trimmings, but I could find none so good nor so cheap as what I had seen in London ; so I confined my purchases to some sprays of feather flowers and a few fancy baskets, all of which I lost at Plymouth!
The meeting of our party at the boat was most amusing. Everybody had been victimised in some way by curio vendors except David, who was empty-handed, and kept an anxious eye on his American friend with the chronometer, when, at the last, wicker-chairs and other goods were being thrown helter-skelter into the boat. We were a perfect floating bazaar, with our baskets, chairs, poodles, embroidered eggs, walking-sticks, mats (sewn with soap-berries and Job's tears), and such like.
Some young officers who were of our party had decked themselves with peasant caps, made of soft black cloth, fitting tight to the forehead, and terminating in a long upright peak, which gave them quite an air of Mephistopheles in the moonlight.
These hours ashore made a charming variety in the monotony of sea-life and were perfectly enjoyable, if one could but have forgotten the Bay of Biscay lying between this peaceful haven and Plymouth Harbour. After Madeira the weather became quite cold, and all summer attire rapidly vanished into trunks, giving place to long-neglected serge gowns and fur overcoats ; still wind and sea were gentle, and it was only when within two days of home that the face of sky and water changed for the worse.
From that time things continued to grow worse and worse, until the last night, when it blew a regular gale in the Channel. The sea ran very high, and every lurch of the ship sent a flood of water sweeping over the decks. Heavy boxes were skipping about the cabin, where I lay packed into my berth with numerous pillows, sick and excited. It was especially miserable during the night, which I am sure is the longest on record. All through its weary dark hours the Captain was on the bridge, and constant signalling went on to the engine-room ; but so thick were fog and blinding rain and so strong the current, that we were able to make neither the Lizard nor the Eddystone Lighthouse, and daylight found us several miles up Channel, with Plymouth behind us.
But a few turns of the screw brought us back again, and at noon on the 24th of January we once more set foot on England. Dear old England! Still warm to our hearts, in spite of her cold reception of wind, rain, and snow-showers.
Land—England—a fireside! It is only when these are again in sweet possession that one thoroughly enjoys travelling. Then, when all bodily fatigue and discomfort are forgotten, and there still remain in the mind pleasant pictures of strange life and scenes, and in the heart the softening influence of a wider knowledge of men and things—it is then that the delights of travelling are fully known, for it is then, and only then, that one is able to enjoy to the fall the pleasures and privileges of Home.
BRADBURY, AGNEW, & Co., PRINTERS, WHTTEFRIARS, LONDON.