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Voyaging At Sea
by [?]

The sweet morning passes away, and somehow our thoughts run in bright grooves. That is the strange thing about the sea–its moods have an instant effect on the mind; and, as it changes with wild and swift caprice, the seafarer finds that his views of life alter with tantalizing but pleasant suddenness. Just now I am speaking only of content and exhilaration; but I may soon see another side of the picture. The afternoon glides by like the morning; no churlish houses and chimney-pots hide the sun, and we see him describe his magnificent curve, while, with mysterious potency, he influences the wind. Dull! Why, on shore we should gaze out on the same streets or fields or trees; but here our residence is driven along like a flying cloud, and we gain a fresh view with every mile! I confess that I like sailing in populous waters, for indeed the lonely tropical seas and the brassy skies are not by any means to be regarded as delightful; but for the present we are supposing ourselves to be in the track of vessels, and there is some new and poignant interest for every hour. Watch this vast pallid cloud that looms up far away; the sun strikes on the cloud, and straightway the snowy mass gleams like silver; on it comes, and soon we see a superb four-masted clipper broadside on to us. A royal fabric she is; every snowy sail is drawing, and she moves with resistless force and matchless grace through the water, while a boiling wreath of milky foam rushes away from her bows, and swathes of white dapple the green river that seems to pour past her majestic sides. The emigrants lean over the rail, and gaze wistfully at us. Ah, how many thousands of miles they must travel ere they reach their new home! Strange and pitiful it is to think that so few of them will ever see the old home again; and yet there is something bright and hopeful in the spectacle, if we think not of individuals, but of the world’s future. Under the Southern Cross a mighty state is rising; the inevitable movement of populations is irresistible as the tides of mid-ocean; and those wistful emigrants who quietly wave their handkerchiefs to us are about to assist in working out the destiny of a new world. Dull! The passing of that great vessel gives matter for grave thought. She swings away, and we may perhaps try to run alongside for a while, but the immense drag of her four towers of canvas soon draws her clear, and she speedily looms once more like a cloud on the horizon. Good-bye! The squat collier lumbers along, and her leisurely grimy skipper salutes as we near him. It is marvellous to reflect that the whole of our coal-trade was carried on in those queer tubs only sixty years ago. They are passing away, and the gallant, ignorant, comical race of sailors who manned them has all but disappeared; the ugly sordid iron box that goes snorting past us, belching out jets of water from her dirty side–that is the agency that destroyed the colliers, and, alas, destroyed the finest breed of seamen that ever the world saw! So rapidly do new sights and sounds greet us that the night steals down almost before we are aware of its approach. The day is for joy; but, ah, the night is for subtle overmastering rapture, for pregnant gloom, for thoughts that lie too deep for tears! If a wind springs up when the last ray of the sun shoots over the shoulder of the earth, then the ship roars through an inky sea, and the mysterious blending of terror and ecstasy cannot be restrained. Hoarsely the breeze shrieks in the cordage, savagely the water roars as it darts away astern like a broad fierce white flame. The vessel seems to spring forward and shake herself with passion as the sea retards her, and the whole wild symphony of humming ropes, roaring water, screaming wind, sets every pulse bounding. Should the moon shine out from the charging clouds, then earth has not anything to show more fair; the broad track of light looks like an immeasurable river peopled by fiery serpents that dart and writhe and interwind, until the eye aches with gazing on them. Sleep seems impossible at first, and yet by degrees the poppied touch lulls our nerves, and we slumber without heeding the harrowing groans of the timbers or the confused cries of the wind.

So much for the glad weather; but, when the sky droops low, and leaping waves of mournful hue seem to rear themselves and mingle with the clouds, then the gladness is not so apparent. Still the exulting rush of the ship through the gray seas and her contemptuous shudder as she shakes off the masses of water that thunder down on her are fine to witness. Even a storm, when cataracts of hissing water plunge over the vessel and force every one to “hang on anywhere,” is by no means without its delights; but I must candidly say that a ship is hardly the place for a woman when the wild winds try their strength against the works of man. On the whole, if we reckon up the pains and pleasures of life on board ship, the balance is all in favour of pleasure. The sailors have a toilsome life, and must endure much; but they have health. It is the sense of physical well-being that makes the mind so easy when one is on the sea; and refined men who have lived in the forecastle readily declare that they were happy but for the invariable dirt. Instead of trooping to stuffy lodgings, those of my readers who have the nerve should, if not this year, then next summer, go right away and take a cheap and charming holiday on the open sea.

October, 1887.