Steamer COLUMBIA, at sea.
SUNDAY, December 23d. - Last night was magnificent - cool, balmy, breezy, an easy sea on, and all things so flooded with moonlight that each wave of the ocean, each rope and spar of the ship, and each face and form about the decks were almost as plain to the sight as if it were noonday. The six individuals who sing (think of it - only six persons out of five hundred who make the slightest pretensions to vocal talent!) organized themselves into a choir and practiced several hymns until a late hour - for we are to have religious services today. After that they sang "Dog Tray," and "Marching Through Georgia," and "What is Home Without a Mother," and other venerable melodies, and a few wretched volunteers joined in and completed the villainy of the performance. Home without a mother may not amount to much, but there is no use in aggravating the thing with such a tune as that. And the idea of resurrecting that infamous dog Tray at this day. That choir sang everything they ought not to have sung except one, and I trembled to think the surroundings would yet suggest it. I refer to the song called "Roll On, Silver
Moon." If they had attempted that outrage I would have scuttled the ship. I can stand a good deal, but I cannot stand everything. I would rather perish than lose my reason. Altogether, ours is a very poor choir. I will remark here, that although I hummed a tune occasionally, and whistled some, I was not requested to sing.
This is a beautiful morning and all parties seem as light hearted and happy as children. In fact the pastimes of the gentlemen on the promenade deck in the shade of the awnings, for their own and the ladies' amusement, have an entirely boyish cast about them. Two men are playing "mumble-peg" with absorbing interest; a large party are trying to see which shall be able to walk ten steps, blindfolded, and place a hat on the compass; a Colonel, who greatly distinguished himself in the war, is trying to sit on a champagne bottle, with feet crossed, arms folded, and thread a darning needle without falling over - the bottle lying on its side, of course, and pointing straight astern, while he faces towards the ship's head - he has just accomplished it, after the ninth attempt, and received a boisterous round of applause - some consolation for the bursts of laughter that greeted his failures. All are engaged in this sort of nonsense, (Isaac, the Israelite, included,) except the youth they call "Shape." With hat perched jauntily on one side of his head, and hands thrust into his coat pockets, he promenades the deck fore and aft, and admires his legs. They say he is a little "cracked," I don't know - the idea may have originated with Miss Slimmens of the " Thunderclap."
Being a little under the weather, I have intruded into the Captain's room, along with the veteran Sleet, a skipper of thirty years standing, going home on furlough from his ship. The forenoon is waning fast. Enter Captain Waxman, sweating and puffing from over-exertion, and says he has "tore up the whole ship" (he scorns grammar when his mind is seething with business,) has "tore up the whole ship" to build a pulpit at the after compass and rig benches and chairs athwart the quarter-deck and fetch up the organ from below and get everything shipshape for the parson -
"And - the passengers," said he, "as soon as they found they were going to be sermonized, they've up anchors and gone to sea - clean gone and deserted - there ain't a baker's dozen left on the after deck! They're worse than the rats in Hon - here, you velvet-head! you son of Afric's sunny clime! go forrard and tell the mate to let her go a couple of points free in Honolulu. Me and old Josephus - he was a Jew, and got rich as Creosote in San Francisco afterwards - we were going home passengers from the Sandwich Islands, in a bran-new brig, on her third voyage, and our trunks were down below - he went with me - laid over one vessel to do it - because he warn't no sailor, and he liked to be convoyed by a man that was - felt safer, you understand - and the brig was sliding out between the buoys, and her head line was paying out ashore - there was a wood-pile right where it was made fast on the pier - when up come the biggest rat - as big as any ordinary cat, he was - and darted out on that line and cantered for the shore! - and up come another! and another! and another! and away they galloped over that hawser, each one treading on t'other's tail, till they were so thick you couldn't see a thread of the cable, and there was a procession of 'em three hundred yards long over the levee like a streak of pismires, and the Kanakas, some throwing sticks from that wood-pile and chunks of lava and coral at 'em and knocking 'em endways every shot - for?' but do you suppose it made any difference to them rats? - not a particle - not a particle on earth, bless you ! - they'd smelt trouble! - they'd smelt it by their unearthly, supernatural instinct! - they wanted to go, and they never let up till the last rat was ashore out of that bran-new beautiful brig!
"I called a Kanaka, with his boat, and he hove alongside and shinned up a rope and stood off and on for orders, and says I:
" 'Do you see that trunk down there?'
" 'Well, yank it out of there and snake it ashore quicker'n you can wink. Lively, now!'
"Solomon, the Jew - what did I say his cussed name was? Anyhow, he says:
" 'What are you doing, Captain?'
" 'Doing! Why, I'm a taking my trunk ashore - that's about what I'm a doing.'
" 'Taking your trunk ashore? Why, bless us, what is that for?'
" 'What is it for?' says I, 'do you see them rats a leaving this ship? She's doomed, sir! she's doomed past retribution I Burnt brandy wouldn't save her, sir. She'll never finish this voyage - she'll never be heard of again, sir.'
"Solomon says - 'Boy, take that other trunk ashore, too.'
"And don't you know, that bran new beautiful brig sailed out of Honolulu without a rat on board, and was never seen again by mortal man, sir! It's so - as sure as you're born, it's so. We shipped in an old tub that was so rotten that you had to walk easy on her main deck to keep from going through - so crazy, sir, that in our berths, when there was a sea on, the timbers overhead worked backwards and forwards eleven inches in their sockets - just for the world like an old wicker basket, sir - and the rats were as big as greyhounds, and as lean, sir; and they bit the buttons off our coats, and chawed our toe-nails off while we slept; and there were so many of them that in a gale once they all scampered to the starboard side when we were going about, and put her down the wrong way, so that, she missed stays, and come monstrous near foundering. But she went through safe, I tell you, because she had rats aboard." [After this marvellous chapter of personal history the Captain rushed out in a business frenzy, and rushed back again in the course of a couple of minutes.]
"Everything's set - the passengers are back again and stowed, and the parson's all ready to cat his anchor and get under way - everybody ready and waiting on that bloody choir that was practicing and squawking and blatting all night, and now ain't come to time when their watch is called."
[Out again, and back in something like a minute.]
"D--n that choir! They're like the fellow's sow - had to haul her ears off to get her up to the trough, and then had to pull her tail out to get her away again. But rats! - don't tell me nothing about the talent of rats ! It's been noticed, sir ! - notes has been taken of it, sir ! and their judgment is better than a human's, sir! Didn't I hear old Ben Wilson, mate of the Empress of the Seas - as fine a sailor and as lovely a ship as ever rode a gale - didn't I hear him tell how, seventeen years ago, when he was laying at Liverpool docks empty - empty as a jug - and a full Indiaman right alongside, full of provisions, and corn, and everything a rat might prefer, and going to sail next day - how in the middle of the night the rats all left her and crossed his decks and went ashore every one of 'em! - every bloody one of 'em, sir! - and finally - it was moonlight - he saw a muss going on by the capstan of that other ship, and he slipped around, and there was a dozen old rats laying their heads together and chattering about something and looking down the forrard hatch every now and then, and finally they appeared to have got their minds made up, and one of 'em went aft and got a scrap of old stuns'l half a foot square, and they bored holes in the corners with their teeth, and bent on some long pieces of spun-yarn - made a sort of a little hammock of it, you understand - and then they lowered away gently for a while and stopped - and directly they begun heaving again, and up out of that forrard hatch, in full view of the mate, who was watching 'em all the time, up comes that little hammock with a poor, old, decrepit sick rat on it, all gone in with the consumption! - and they lugged him ashore, and they all went up town to the very last rat - and that ship sailed the next day for India, or Cape o' Good Hope, or somewheres, and the mate of the Empress didn't sail for as much as three weeks, and up to that time that ship hadn't been heard from, sir! Drat that choir! I must go and start 'em out - this sort of thing won't do !"
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