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The Canal Boat
by [?]

Of all the ways of travelling which obtain among our locomotive nation, this said vehicle, the canal boat, is the most absolutely prosaic and inglorious. There is something picturesque, nay, almost sublime, in the lordly march of your well-built, high-bred steamboat. Go, take your stand on some overhanging bluff, where the blue Ohio winds its thread of silver, or the sturdy Mississippi tears its path through unbroken forests, and it will do your heart good to see the gallant boat walking the waters with unbroken and powerful tread; and, like some fabled monster of the wave, breathing fire, and making the shores resound with its deep respirations. Then there is something mysterious, even awful, in the power of steam. See it curling up against a blue sky, some rosy morning–graceful, floating, intangible, and to all appearance the softest and gentlest of all spiritual things; and then think that it is this fairy spirit that keeps all the world alive and hot with motion; think how excellent a servant it is, doing all sorts of gigantic works, like the genii of old; and yet, if you let slip the talisman only for a moment, what terrible advantage it will take of you! and you will confess that steam has some claims both to the beautiful and the terrible. For our own part, when we are down among the machinery of a steamboat in full play, we conduct ourself very reverently, for we consider it as a very serious neighborhood; and every time the steam whizzes with such red-hot determination from the escape valve, we start as if some of the spirits were after us. But in a canal boat there is no power, no mystery, no danger; one cannot blow up, one cannot be drowned, unless by some special effort: one sees clearly all there is in the case–a horse, a rope, and a muddy strip of water–and that is all.

Did you ever try it, reader? If not, take an imaginary trip with us, just for experiment. “There’s the boat!” exclaims a passenger in the omnibus, as we are rolling down from the Pittsburg Mansion House to the canal. “Where?” exclaim a dozen of voices, and forthwith a dozen heads go out of the window. “Why, down there, under that bridge; don’t you see those lights?” “What! that little thing?” exclaims an inexperienced traveller; “dear me! we can’t half of us get into it!” “We! indeed,” says some old hand in the business; “I think you’ll find it will hold us and a dozen more loads like us.” “Impossible!” say some. “You’ll see,” say the initiated; and, as soon as you get out, you do see, and hear too, what seems like a general breaking loose from the Tower of Babel, amid a perfect hail storm of trunks, boxes, valises, carpet bags, and every describable and indescribable form of what a westerner calls “plunder.”

“That’s my trunk!” barks out a big, round man. “That’s my bandbox!” screams a heart-stricken old lady, in terror for her immaculate Sunday caps. “Where’s my little red box? I had two carpet bags and a–My trunk had a scarle–Halloo! where are you going with that portmanteau? Husband! husband! do see after the large basket and the little hair trunk–O, and the baby’s little chair!” “Go below–go below, for mercy’s sake, my dear; I’ll see to the baggage.” At last, the feminine part of creation, perceiving that, in this particular instance, they gain nothing by public speaking, are content to be led quietly under hatches; and amusing is the look of dismay which each new comer gives to the confined quarters that present themselves. Those who were so ignorant of the power of compression as to suppose the boat scarce large enough to contain them and theirs, find, with dismay, a respectable colony of old ladies, babies, mothers, big baskets, and carpet bags already established. “Mercy on us!” says one, after surveying the little room, about ten feet long and six high, “where are we all to sleep to-night?” “O me! what a sight of children!” says a young lady, in a despairing tone. “Poh!” says an initiated traveller; “children! scarce any here; let’s see: one; the woman in the corner, two; that child with the bread and butter, three; and then there’s that other woman with two. Really, it’s quite moderate for a canal boat. However, we can’t tell till they have all come.”