On board steamer
DECEMBER 20TH. - Five days out from San Francisco. The fearful storm the first night out came near foundering the ship, and it did succeed in making everybody sea-sick. It stove in the forward bulwarks and flooded steerage and forward cabin with water, and amid a wild rush of floating boots and carpet-bags, miners from Washoe and California and "web-feet" from Oregon, who had never prayed in their lives before, perhaps, knelt down and did the best they could at it on short notice:
For three days afterward most of the ship's family brooded in sorrow and sea-sickness in their berths, and it took them all of the fourth day to get up a tolerable degree of cheerfulness. To day, however, Brown, Baker, Stribling, Smith, Kingdom, Hercules, Isaac, and several of the ladies, seem about restored to their natural selves. However, to say truly, Isaac has been his natural self from the beginning. His vanity, impudence, obsequiousness and utter imperviousness to insult trench upon the wonderful. He started in very confined quarters in the second cabin, but by sheer and persistent labor with his seductive tongue he has already worked up to a seat at the Purser's table and the choicest state-room on the upper deck - and without extra charge. He writes cards for a living, and came on board with a pack ready written and elaborately decorated with the familiar old tiresome flowers, cupids and birds of unknown species, for half the officers of the ship - and was surprised to learn that nautical etiquette forbade those gentlemen to accept of presents from passengers. He offered Captain Waxman (all the names I use - for ship, passengers, Captain and all - are fictitious,) a meerschaum pipe (bogus) and was utterly confounded at its non acceptance. Broad-shouldered, kinky-haired Isaac receives each addition to the list of convalescent passengers with his stereotyped complacent smile, and forces upon him a luncheon from his stock of bad foreign sausage, good tasting Limberg cheese, with a death-dealing smell, and execrable Dutch herrings - all of which conduct looks kind and considerate - it really does but it certainly must mean business. He probably knows what he is about.
The weather is beyond all praise. No sea-sick passengers may hope to resist it long. It is so soft and balmy, and so grateful to lungs accustomed to the frequent fogs of San Francisco. The whole promenade deck is sheltered from the sun by awnings, and it is delightful to march up and down the breezy deck in procession and smoke, or sit on the benches and look out upon the hills and valleys of Mexico.
MIDNIGHT - have been listening to Some of Captain Waxman's stunning forecastle yarns, and I will do him the credit to say he knows how to tell them. With his strong, cheery voice, animated countenance, quaint phraseology, defiance of grammar and extraordinary vim in the matter of gesture and emphasis, he makes a most effective story out of very unpromising materials. There is a contagion about his whole-souled jollity that the chief mourner at a funeral could not resist. He is fifty years old, and as rough as a bear in voice and action, and yet as kind-hearted and tender as a woman. He is a burly, hairy, sun burned, stormy-voiced old salt, who mixes strange oaths with incomprehensible sailor phraseology and the gentlest and most touching pathos, and is tattooed from head to foot like a Fejee Islander. His tongue is forever going when he has got no business on his hands, and though he knows nothing of policy or the ways of the world, he can cheer up any company of passengers that ever travelled in a ship, and keep them cheered up. He never drinks a drop, never gambles, and never swears where a lady or a child may chance to hear him - but with all things consonant with the occasion he sometimes soars into flights of fancy swearing that fill the listener with admiration. He is-
"Me - let me in."
The ship lurched, I unfastened the door, and the person named Brown plunged in head-foremost. It was thoughtless on my part. He stove in the middle berth and started his scalp.
"Well, what do you want, Brown?" [Here a chapter of blasphemy is omitted.]
"Why, the old man's going to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec Christmas Day, instead of going down shore in the quiet waters, as he's been ordered. It will throw this ship more double summersets than you can see in a circus. And I know the old man's idea: he means to get up a starchy Christmas dinner, and then hold her out four points, and all the paper weights in America couldn't keep it on a man's stomach."
The Gulf of Tehuantepec is the Hatteras of the Pacific. It always blows there, and is more or less stormy out from shore. But so deep and inscrutable a mind for strategy as the Captain's dark design implied - as imputed to him by Brown - never reposed in his honest, ingenuous head. While I was explaining this to Brown, I heard the Captain's hoarse voice shout:
"Rouse out the parson, and order the first cabin aft."
Of course, we turned out to learn what such an unusual order meant at the solemn hour of midnight. In a few minutes there were as many of us in the Captain's apartments as could find room.
MARRIAGE OF THE RUNAWAY COUPLE
The "Old Man" was sitting in his arm-chair in great state, and his swart countenance and his whole bearing frowned with a portentous dignity.
"Order up the convicts!"
They came and stood before him - a very young man with a surprised look on his face, and a blushing, frightened young girl of fifteen, with tears flowing fast from her pleading eyes.
"So, youngsters, you've been running the blockade, have you? You've slipped your cables and gone to sea when nobody was on the lookout? And you've been sailing under false colors! You've been letting on that you're married, and you ain't! - and now you say you're going to splice as soon as you get to where you're going, in New Jersey. This sort of doing ain't going to do in my ship - blood and wrath, I'm outraged! Jine hands." [The Captain stood up and uncovered - all others did the same.] "Stand by, Parson - stand by for a surge! Steady - so - let 'em slide into the joys and sorrows of matrimony!"
Slowly and distinctly the clergyman asked the questions, while the witnesses looked eagerly on. As the ceremony closed, the Captain took up its parting injunction and repeated it with grave and deep-voiced impressiveness:
"Ay, lads - them whom God has spliced together, let no man put 'em asunder! A-men."
The minister prayed, then blessed the couple, and all the guests shook hands with them, and wished them well. The witnesses signed the certificate, the marriage was entered on the ship's log with marvellous ceremony, and we were all about to depart, when the Captain rose up solemnly and addressed the bride and groom in a few words of homely eloquence - words which he probably honestly considered absolutely necessary to the due completion of the marriage rites.
THE CAPTAIN'S SPEECH
"Young People! - You're all right now. No more dodging - no more shirking the revenue - no more smuggling - no more sailing under false colors. You can fly your flag from the mizzen peak halliards now, where all men may see it, and sail where ye will on the broad seas. Your papers are made out correct, and nobody can ever overhaul you any more.
"It's best for you the way it is. You love one another - I see that - we all see it. Every man and every woman was sent into the world for some fore-ordinated purpose or other. They ain't going to carry it out cruisin' around single, and packing off from this place to that place, and from that place to t'other place, never taking root anywheres, and never having any set aim in this life or hereafter. The world's got little enough fair weather in it as it is. Splice and make the most of it. Sail in company and help one another. When one's aground t'other's there to help him off; when one's stove, t'other's there to save him; when one's dismasted and drifting ashore, t'other's there to lend him an anchor. Up canvas and away! and a happy voyage to ye! The wind is fair, now, and you can carry skys'ls, r'yals, stuns'ls - every rag you've got; but by and by it'll be on your quarter, then abeam, and finally ahead. But hold your grip - don't mind it - it ain't every gale that founders a ship. You'll have sun on the line, and ice at the pole; you'll have calms that aggravate you, and head winds that drive you back; you'll have storms that'll sweep your decks as clean as a desert. But stick together - hold your grip, and stick together - and by and by, when your voyage is up, you'll ride safe at anchor, in a haven where calms, nor storms, nor breaching seas can ever distress you any more."
DECEMBER 23D. - Gossiping has begun, scandal is in full blast, and -
"I wouldn't put that in there if I was you."
"Mr. Brown, the matter is none of your business. It is none of your business, I repeat, but, as long as you have mentioned it, why wouldn't you put it in?"
"Because it ain't any use because you've as much as said it before - because you've said that some of the women are out and healthy; and don't anybody that knows as much as a clam know that whenever a woman is out and healthy, she's going to start in and make trouble?"
"Mr. Brown, no man can sit in this state-room after making such a shameful remark as that. Go."
"Oh, certainly - that's all right. I expect maybe I'm wrong and you're right, anyway. However, it was old Slimmens that made me make the mistake. She was the first one out, and she said - old Slimmens with the-"
" Say Miss Slimmens, Brown - it is more respectful. Well, what did she say?"
"What did she say? Why there is not a solitary passenger in the ship but what that double-chinned old pelican has black guarded. She says awful things about that pretty girl that sits at the middle of the Purser's table; and she says that poor crippled, gray-headed old grandmother in the second cabin is no better than she ought to be; and she says she knew that innocent old fat girl that's always asleep and has to be shovelled out of her room at four-bells for the inspection, and always eats till her eyes bug out like the bolt-heads on a jail door - knew her long ago up on the San Joaquin, and knows the clothes she's got on now she's travelled in eleven weeks without changing - says her stockings are awful - they're eleven weeks gone, too - and when she complained of the weather being so hot, old Slimmens said 'Why don't she go and scrape herself and then wash - it would be equal to taking off two suits of flannell' - and she blackguards the choir that's been started, and says if they come serenading those girls in her end of the ship any more, she'll stop their caterwauling almighty quick - she swears she wishes she may never flutter her tongue again if she don't scald 'em! You bet she'll do it, too. And she says all the women in the ship are secesh, and are going to Washington to hatch up some deviltry against the Government, and she's going to show them up in the Hangtown Thunderclap of Freedom - because, you know, she's a correspondent, like you - a sister correspondent, as you may say - and my! but she's savage on that old rooster that's religious! She says if ever a man had a hangdog countenance on him, it's him; and moreover, she's satisfied he stole a bottle of cologne out of her room yesterday, when she let him go in there to borrow her prayer-book; (she calls it cologne, you know, but it's gin;) and - and - well, I believe that's all - except that she says you was very sick last night, it seemed - you was almighty sick, every body said, but if she ain't blind and a born fool to boot, you was as drunk as the piper that played before Moses! There you are, now. Maybe you don't believe it; if you don't, you just come and hear the old sage-hen cackle for yourself Good day."
Poor Brown, he is a man of no tact - he always leaves just as he is about to become interesting to me. I have no more curiosity than other people, but still I would like to know what else that venomous old hag has been saying about me. But we are all catching it - we are all being carefully dissected - men, women, and children. Slimmens is the chief operator, but she is not alone. Everybody takes a hand in it - fires his charge of detraction and winces under the return shot. It serves one good purpose at any rate - it makes things exceedingly lively some times, and keeps the passengers in material for conversation always.
Return to Alta index