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Chapter III
at sea

when the “Windermere” was deserted by the tug, and she rose and fell to the waves, I became troubled with a strange lightness of the head, and presently I seemed to stand in the centre of a great circle around which sea, and sky, and ship revolved at great speed. Then for three days I lay oblivious, helpless, and grieving; but, at the deck-washing on the fourth morning, I was quickened into sudden life and activity by hearing a hoarse, rasping voice, whose owner seemed in a violent passion, bawling down the scuttle: “Now then, come out of that, you — young Britisher! Step up here in a brace of shakes, or I'll come down and skin your----carcase alive!”

The furious peremptoriness of the voice was enough to rouse the dead, and the fear of the ogre's threats drove all feelings of sickly wretchedness away, and drew me on deck immediately. My nerves tingled, and my senses seemed to swim, as I cast a look at the unsteady sea and uneasy ship; but the strong penetrating breeze was certainly a powerful tonic, though not such a reviver as the sight of the ireful fellow who came on at a tearing pace towards me and hissed: “Seize that scrubbing-broom, you — joskin! Lay hold of it, I say, and scrub, you — son of a sea-cook! Scrub like--! Scrub until you drop! Sweat, you — swab! Dig into the deck you----white-livered lime-juicer!”

I stole the briefest possible glance at his inflamed face, to catch some idea of the man who could work himself into such an intense rage, for he was a kind of creature never dreamed of before by me. Seeing me bend to my task without argument or delay, he darted to another boy on the lee side, and with extreme irony and retracted lips, stooped, with hands on knees, and said to him: “Now, Harry, my lad, I am sure you don't want the toe of my boot to touch ungently those crescents of yours. Do you now?” [70]

“No, sir,” said the boy promptly.

“All right, then, my sweet son of a gun. Lay your weight on that broom, and let her rip, d'ye hear?”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

Nelson, for that was his name, straightened himself, and cruelly smiling, observed the sailors, who were scrubbing and holy-stoning with exemplary industry, and then moved towards them discharging salvoes of blasphemies on their heads, of varying force and character. I wondered, as between the tremendous oaths I heard the sigh of the sea and the moan of the wind, how long the Almighty would restrain His hand. I scrubbed away until I became heated, but my thoughts were far from my work. I was trying to unravel vague ideas about the oddness of things in this world. It seemed to me surprising that, while so many people on land feared to take the name of God in vain, men on the great sea, surrounded by perils and wonders, could shout aloud their defiance of heaven and hell. There was not a soul on board with whom I could exchange my inner thoughts, and, from this period, I contracted a habit of communing with myself.

At eight bells I was told I belonged to Nelson, the second mate's watch, and that my berth was with Harry, in the apprentice cabin on the main deck. There was no mention of the cabin-boy appointment. When the watch was relieved, Harry and I had a talk. This boy had already made one voyage on the “Windermere,” and, though he despised green-horns, among whom he classed me, he was pleased to be good-natured with me, probably because I showed such deference to his spirit and experience. He graciously promised to coach me, or, rather, put me “up to the ropes,” that I might avoid a few of the punishments mates are so quick to bestow on dull ship-boys.

When I told him that I had been engaged as cabin-boy, he was uncommonly amused, and said that the skipper was at his “old game.” On the last voyage we had two boys who had been induced to join in the same way, but, as soon as we were out to sea, Nelson got a hint from the “cappen” and fell on them like a thousand of bricks, and chased them forrard pretty quick, I tell ye. They were bully-ragged all the way to New Orleans, and at the pier they sloped, leaving their [71] sea-duds to me. We made a good thing out of the young duffers. The skipper must have cleared twenty-five dollars in wages from the pair of them, the mates had their fun out of them, and I had their toggery.

“What you've got to do is to mind your eye. Look out for Nelson, and be lively. That man ain't no softy, I tell ye. If he comes down on you, you'll get it hot, and no mistake. When he sings out, jump, as though you were bitten, and answer, “Aye, aye, sir.” Never forget to “sir” him. Whether it's scrubbing, or brass-cleaning, or hauling, stick to your job like — and “sharp” ‘s the word every time. The second mate is bad enough, but Waters, the chief mate, is the very devil. With him the blow goes before the word, while Nelson roars like a true sea-dog before he strikes. Good Lord, I've seen some sights aboard this packet, I have.”

“But how did the captain make twenty-five dollars by the boys on the last voyage?”

“How? Well you are a goose! Why, they left their wages, over two months due, in his hands, when they ran away from the ship for fear of worse treatment going home. Aye, that's the ticket, and the size of it, my little matey. Haze and bully the young lubbers well at sea, and they scoot ashore the first chance they get.”

“Were the mates not hard on you?”

“Oh, Waters took me into his watch, and showed a liking for me, for, you see, I was not quite a greeny. My father saw me properly shipped, and I signed articles. They did n't, but came aboard with the cappen's permission, and so did you. The skipper has to account for me when he gets to port; but you, you may be blown overboard, and no one would be the wiser. I am now as good as an ordinary seaman, though too young for the forecastle. I can furl royals as spry as any bucco sailor on board, and know every rope on the ship, while you don't know stem from stern.”

These glib nautical phrases, most of which were but vaguely understood by me, his assurance, his daring, his want of feeling, made me admire and wonder at him. He was a typical sea-boy, with a glitter in his eyes and bloom in his smooth cheeks that told of superabundant health and hardiesse. But for one thing, a prince might have been proud of him as a son. [72] Satan, I thought, had already adopted him. His absolute ignorance of religion, his awful coarseness of speech, removed him miles away from me, as though he were a brave young savage of another nation and language, and utterly incomprehensible to me. He was not to be imitated in any way, and yet he obtained my admiration, because he had been to America, had manfully endured the tortures of sea-life, and bore himself indomitably.

Long Hart, the cook, was another kind of hero to me. He stood over six feet high in his galley felts, and his saffron complexion and creased neck spoke of foreign suns, maritime romance, and many voyages. The gold earrings he wore I suspected belonged to his dead wives. His nethers consisted of black doe-skin, his body was cased in a dark blue jersey, and a blue Phrygian cap covered his head. He disdained the use of sailors' colloquialisms, and spoke like a school-master in very grand words. My rustic innocence appeared to have an attraction for him; on the second evening after my recovery, he offered the freedom of his galley to me, and, when I brought the apprentice kids, he was generous in his helpings of softtack, scouse, and duff. During the dog-watches he spun long yarns about his experiences in deep-sea ships, and voyages to Callao, California, West Coast of Africa, and elsewhere, many of which were horrible on account of the cruelty practised on sailors. I heard of poor sailors hoisted up to the yard-arm, and ducked by the run in the sea until they were nearly drowned; of men being keel-hauled, tied stark-naked to the windlass, and subjected to the most horrible indignities, put over the ship's side to scrub the ship's coppers in the roasting hot sun, and much else which made me thankful that the captains of the day were not so cruel as those twenty years back. His condescension to a young lubber like myself, and his generosity, won from me such deference and civility that he assumed a kind of protectorship over me, and assisted in the enlightenment of my understanding about many things.

The crew consisted mainly of Anglo-Irish, Dutchmen, one or two English, and as many Yankees. They were undisciplined spirits, who found the wild sea-life congenial to their half-savage natures, and had formed the odd notion that to be sailors was to be of nobler stuff than shoremen, and accordingly [73] swaggered magnificently whenever they could do it safely. For some reason they had conceived their nobility to lie in the fact that they had voluntarily adopted a more perilous profession than any practised by landsmen. They were adored by the girls in port, and enjoyed the privilege of gloriously swearing whenever they chose, and the pleasure of this conceit gave them happiness. Shoremen seldom swore, except the dockmen, who aped sailors' manners and gait. They went to church, feared the constables, seldom got drunk or went on a spree, sported gloves, and seemed afraid of work.

When they catch these shore-lubbers at sea, the sailors' contempt for them is very manifest. They are delighted when they are sea-sick, oaths and blows are freely dealt to them, they take pleasure in provoking their aversion to slush and tar, and secretly enjoy their cruel treatment by the mates. As they made me feel my inferiority to Harry, I have since witnessed many another treated in the same way. Poor brutes! considering the slave life they lead, it would be a pity to deprive them of this miserable consolation.

The discipline of the “Windermere” was well begun by the time I regained health. It was the pride of the officers that, though the “Windermere” was not a “Black-ball” packet, she was big and smart enough to be one, and they were resolved that the customs of the Black-Baller should prevail on board, and that the discipline should be of the same quality. Whether it came up to the regulation standard I do not know, but just as Francis flogged, beat, and pummelled the infants under his charge, so the ruffian mates stormed, swore, and struck or booted the full-grown wretches on board the “Windermere.” The captain was too high and mighty to interfere, or he may have issued his orders to that purpose, and was satisfied with the zealous service of his mates: at any rate, I scarcely heard his voice except during gales of wind, and then it was stern and strident.

Strange to say, the majority of the sailors preferred the American ships, with all their brutality, to the English, with their daily doses of lime-juice. Harry, Long Hart, and the forecastle arguments which we had perforce to hear, as our den adjoined that of the sailors, sufficiently informed me of the fact that the soft-tack, plum-duff, good mess of beef of the [74] Yankees, were preferred to the weevilly-biscuit, horse-beef, and gill of lime-juice of the British. “Give me,” said a fore-castle orator, “a Yankee ship, and not a lousy lime-juicer. Even on the worst Yankee ship afloat no bucco sailor need fear the mates. If a man knows his duty and won't shirk, he is safe against the devil himself, I say. Watch Bully Waters himself. He never drops on a real shell-back, but on some infernal land-lubber who has shipped as an A. B., when he is not fit to carry guts to a bear. It is the loutish Dutchmen and Swedes who have spoiled these packet-ships. You can't expect mates, in a squall of wind that may whip the masts off, to stand still until their orders enter the stupid head of a Dutch-man who does n't know a word of English. Well, what must they do? The ship is their first duty, and they fly at the Dutchman, and if the Dutchman don't understand that he must skip-he must stand and be skinned. There's my sentiments.”

I heard such defence scores of times, which proves that the worst side has something to say for itself.

It may have been the shell-back's boast or Harry's criticism which induced me, when on deck, to observe more closely that professional superiority which made the “bucco sailor” so fearless. It seemed to me that though the ‘old hands’ knew their work well, they took precious care to do as little as possible; and, had anyone asked me, after I had got safely ashore, what I thought of them, I should have said that they did more “dusting round” than real work.

It is true the ‘old salts’ were loudest in their responses to the mate's commands, that they led the bowline song and the halliard chant, were cheerier with their “Aye, ayes,” “Belays,” “Vast hauling,” and chorus; that they strove whose hands should be uppermost at the halliards and nearest to the tackles; but all this did not impress me so much as they might think it did. When the officers thundered out, “All hands shorten sail,” “Furl top-gallant sails,” or “ Reef topsail,” the shell-backs appeared to delay under various shifty pretexts to climb up the rigging, in order that being last they might occupy the safe position at the bunt of the sails; and when it was only a four-man job, the way in which they noisily passed the word along, without offering to move, was most [75] artful. At serving, splicing, and steering, the skill of the old hands counted greatly, no doubt; but in work aloft they were nowhere, compared to those Dutchmen and Norwegians they so much derided. They were, in fact, strategists in the arts of shirking.

Sometimes the “sojering,” as it was called, was a little too conspicuous; and then Bully Waters, with awful energy and frantic malice, drew blood from “old salt” and ‘joskin’ indiscriminately, with iron belaying-pins, and kicked, and pounded, until I sickened at the sound of the deadly thuds, and the faces streaming with blood; but I was compelled to admit that for some days after there would be a more spontaneous briskness to obey orders, and old and young regarded the fiery mate from the corners of their eyes.

Five days from Liverpool there suddenly appeared on deck three stowaways,--two Irish boys of about fourteen and fifteen, and an Irishman,--ragged, haggard, and spiritless from hunger, sickness, and confinement. Of course they had to undergo the ordeal of inspection by the stern captain, who contemptuously dismissed them as though they were too vile to look at; but Nelson chivied the three unfortunates from the poop to the bow to “warm their cockles,” as he phrased it. The cries of the youngest boy were shrillest and loudest, but, when he afterwards emerged to beg food, we guessed by his roguish smile that he had been least hurt. Harry expressed his opinion that he was a “Liverpool rat,” who would certainly end his days in the State's prison.

Curiously enough, the presence of these two young stowaways acted as a buffer between me and a considerable amount of inglorious mauling, which Nelson, for practice‘ sake, would have inflicted on my “Royal Bengal, British person,” as, with playful devilry, he admitted. But the rogues did not appear to be very sensitive about the indignity to which they were subjected. The younger Paddy disturbed the ship with shrill screams if Nelson but raised his hand, and thus his rat's wit saved him often. O'Flynn, the eldest boy, would run and dodge his tormentor, until Nelson, who seemed to love the fun of licking them, through cunning caught them, and then the cries of the innocents would be heart-rending.

Before many days had passed, I had discovered that Nelson [76] had also his arts. Though I had never been in a theatre, and could not understand, at first, why one man should assume so many poses, I should have been blind not to perceive that the real self of Nelson was kept in reserve, and that he amused himself by behaving differently to each on board. He had one way with the captain, another with his colleague, and various were the styles he assumed before the sailors. From profound deference to Captain Hardinge, and respectful fellowship with Waters, he gradually rose in his own estimation as he addressed himself to the lower grades, until to me he was arrogance personified, and to the stowaways a “born-hellian.” With Harry he indulged in broad irony, to the more stodgy of the crew he was a champion prize-fighter, to others he spoke with a dangerous smoothness, with lips retracted; but behind every character he adopted stood the real Nelson, a ferocious and short-tempered brute, ready to blaze up into bloody violence.

Until we were abreast of Biscay Bay we experienced no bad weather, but rolled along comfortably under moderate breezes, with a spiteful gust or two. I was gradually becoming seasoned, and indifferent to the swing-swang of the sea. As Nelson said, with a condescending but evil smile, I was “fresh as a daisy.” The gales and tempests about which Harry and Long Hart loved to talk were so long a-coming that I doubted whether the sea was really so very dreadful, or that the canvas towers would ever need to be taken in. From sunrise down to the decline of day our mast-heads drew apparently the same regular lines and curves against a clear sky. But now the blue disappeared under depths of clouds which intensified into blackness very rapidly, and the whistling whispers in the shrouds changed their note. The sea abandoned its mechanical heave, and languid upshoot of scattered crests. Whether the sky had signalled the change and the sea obeyed, or whether the elements were acting simultaneously, I knew not, but, just as the cloudiness had deepened, a shadow passed over the ocean, until it was almost black in colour; and then, to windward, I could see battalion after battalion of white-caps rushing gaily, exultingly, towards us. The watches were mustered: captain and mates appeared with oil-skins ready, and when the wind began to sing in [77] louder notes, and the great packet surged over on her side, and the water shot through the scuppers, the captain shook his head disparagingly and cried, “Shorten sail, Mr. Waters; in with royals and top-gallant sails, down with the flying jib,” etc., etc.

This was the period when I thought Mr. Waters was at his grandest. His trumpet-like voice was heard in ‘larum tones, as though the existence of a fleet was at stake; and every “man-jack” seemed electrified and flew to his duty with all ardour. Nor was Nelson behind Waters in energy. The warning sounds of the wind had announced that intensity of action was expected from every soul. The waves leaped over the high foreboard, and the ship was pressed over until the deck was as steep as the roof of a church, and a foaming cataract impended over us. Then it was the mates bawled out aloud, and sailors clambered up the shrouds in a frenzy of briskness, and the deck-hands bawled and sang after a fashion I had not heard before, while blocks tam-tammed recklessly, great sail-sheets danced wildly in the air, and every now and then a thunder sound, from bursting canvas, added to the general excitement. Though somewhat bewildered by the windy blasts, the uproar of rushing waters, and the fury of captain and crew, I could not help being fascinated by the scene, and admiring the passionate energy of officers and crew. A gale at sea is as stimulating as a battle.

When the area of sail had been reduced to the limit of safety, we had a clearer view fore and aft, and I had more leisure to listen to the wind-music in the shrouds, to observe the graver aspect of the sea, and to be influenced by unspeakable impressions. What a power this invisible element, which had stirred the sea to madness, was! If I raised my head above the bulwarks, it filled my eyes with tears, tore at my hair, drove up my nostrils with such force as to make me gasp. It flew up our trousers, and under our oilskin jackets, and inflated us until we resembled the plumpest effigies conceivable.

In the height of the turmoil, while trying to control my ideas, I was startled by the penetrating voice of Waters singing in my ear.

“Now, my young pudding-faced joker, why are you standing [78] here with your mouth wide open? Get a swab, you monkey, and swab up this poop, or I'll jump down your — throat. Look alive now, you sweet-scented son of a sea-cook!”

That first voyage of mine was certainly a remarkable one, were it only for the new-fangled vocabulary I was constantly hearing. Every sentence contained some new word or phrase, coined extempore, and accentuated by a rope's end, or ungentle back-hander, with gutter adjectives and explosive epithets. Every order appeared to require the force of a gathered passion, as though obedience was impossible without it.

From this date began, I think, the noting of a strange coincidence, which has since been so common with me that I accept it as a rule. When I pray for a man, it happens that at that moment he is cursing me; when I praise, I am slandered; if I command, I am reviled; if I feel affectionate or sympathetic towards one, it is my fate to be detested or scorned by him. I first noticed this curious coincidence on board the “Winder-mere.” I bore no grudge, and thought no evil of any person, but prayed for all, morning and evening, extolled the courage, strength, and energy of my ship-mates, likened them to sea-lions, and felt it an honour to be in the company of such brave men; but, invariably, they damned my eyes, my face, my heart, my soul, my person, my nationality; I was damned aft, and damned forward. I was wholly obnoxious to everyone aboard, and the only service they asked of God towards me was that He should damn me to all eternity. It was a new idea that came across my mind. My memory clung to it as a novelty, and at every instance of the coincidence I became more and more confirmed that it was a rule, as applied to me; but, until it was established, I continued to bless those who persecuted me with their hideous curses. I am glad to think that I was sustained by a belief that I was doing right; for, without it, I should have given scope to a ferocious and blasphemous resentment. It cheered me with a hope that, by and by, their curses would be blessings; and, in the meantime, my mind was becoming as impervious to such troubles as a swan's back to a shower of rain.

Harry, on the contrary, made a distinction. He allowed no one to curse him, except the officers. When a sailor ventured [79] to swear at him, he returned the swearing with interest, and clenched his fist ready for the violent sequel. He had long ago overcome the young boy's squeamishness at an oath. If anything, he was rather prone to take the boy's advantage over a man, and dare him to prove himself a coward by striking one younger and weaker. It is a cunning method of fence, which I have since found is frequently practised by those who, cannot, without loss of manliness, resort to screaming. When I confided to him that the crew of the “Windermere” were a very wicked set, he said the “Windermere” was Heaven compared to a Black-Ball packet-ship. I believe that he would have liked to see more belaying-pins and marline-spikes thrown at the men by the mates, more knuckle-dusting, and sling-shot violence. According to him, brutal sailors should be commanded by brutal mates. ‘Lime-juicers’ were too soft altogether for his kidney.

From the day we reached the region of the Trades, we enjoyed blue skies and dry decks, speeding along under square yards, with studding-sails below and aloft. Our work, however, was not a whit easier. The mates hated to see idleness, and found endless jobs of scrubbing paint-work, brass-cleaning, painting, oiling, slushing, and tarring, not to mention sennet-making, and serving shrouds and stays. Sundays, however,--weather permitting,--were restful. The sailors occupied themselves with overhauling their kits, shaving, hair-cutting, and clothes-mending. In the afternoon, after gorging themselves on duff, they were more given to smoke, and to spinning such sanguinary yarns of sea-life that I wondered they could find pleasure in following such a gory profession. When sea and sky were equally sympathetic, and Waters and Nelson gave a rest to their vocal machines, there might have been worse places than the deck of the “Winder-mere” on a Sunday; and, to us boys, the Sunday feed of plumduff, with its “Nantucket raisins,” soft-tack, and molasses, or gingerbread, contributed to render it delightful.

We were on the verge of the Gulf of Mexico, when one night, just after eight bells were struck, and the watch was turning out, Waters, who was ever on the alert for a drop on someone, hurled an iron belaying-pin at a group of sailors on the main deck, and felled a Norwegian senseless. Then, as [80] though excited at the effect, he bounded over the poop-railing to the main deck, amongst the half-sleepy men, and struck right and left with a hand-spike, and created such a panic that old salts and joskins began to leap over each other in their wild hurry to escape from the demon. Four men lay on the deck still as death for a while, but, fortunately, they recovered in a short time, though the Norwegian was disabled for a week.

The next day, Nelson tried to distinguish himself. While washing decks, he caught the youngest Paddy fairly, and availed himself of the opportunity to avenge former failures so effectually that the boy had not a joke left in him. His fellow-stowaway was next made to regret ever having chosen the “Windermere” to escape from the miseries inseparable from Liverpool poverty. Before many minutes Nelson was dancing about me, and wounding me in many a vulnerable point; and then, aspiring for bigger game, he affected to feel outraged at the conduct of the man at the wheel, and proceeded to relieve himself by clouting and kicking the poor fellow, until the bright day must have appeared like a starry sky to him.

Labouring under the notion that Liverpool sailors needed the most ferocious discipline, our two mates seldom omitted a chance to prove to them that they were resolved to follow every detail of the code, and to promote their efficiency; but, when about four days from the mouth of the Mississippi, they suddenly abstained from physical violence, and except by intermittent fits of mild swearing, and mordant sarcasm, they discontinued all efforts at the improvement of the men. The day before we arrived at the Balize, the mates astonished me by their extravagant praise of those they had so cruelly mauled and beaten. They called them “Jolly Tars,” ‘Yankee Boys’ (a very high compliment), “Ocean heroes,” etc., etc. Bully Waters exhibited his brilliantly white teeth in broad smiles, and Nelson gushed, and was jovially ebullient. I heard one sailor remark upon this sudden change of demeanour in them, that the mates knew when to “‘bout face” and sing a new tune; and that old hands could tell how near they were to the levee by the way Yankee mates behaved, and that there was no place so unwholesome for bullies as the [81] New Orleans levee. Another sailor was of the opinion that the mates were more afraid of being hauled up before the court; he had often seen their like,--“hellians at sea, and sweet as molasses near port.”

On the fifty-second day from Liverpool, the “Windermere” anchored off one of the four mouths of the Mississippi River, in twenty-seven feet of water. The shore is called the Balize. Early next morning a small tug took our ship, and another of similar size, in tow, and proceeded up the river with us. We were kept very busy preparing the vessel for port, but I had abundant opportunities to note the strange shores, and the appearance of the greatest of American rivers. After several hours' steaming, we passed “English turn,” which Harry described as the place where the English were “licked” by the Americans on the 8th of January, 1815--a story that was then incredible to me. After an ascent of about one hundred miles up the river, we came in view of the chief port of the Mississippi Valley, and, in due time, our vessel became one of three lying at a pier-head, pointing up among a seemingly countless number of ships and river-steamers, ranged below and above our berth. The boarding-house touts poured aboard and took possession of the sailors; and, before many minutes, Harry and I alone remained of the crew that had brought the big “Windermere” across the sea to New Orleans.

Though about thirty-five years have elapsed since I first stood upon the levee of the Crescent City, scarcely one of all my tumultuous sensations of pleasure, wonder, and curiosity, has been forgotten by me. The levee sloped down with a noble breadth to the river, and stretched for miles up and down in front of the city, and was crowded with the cargoes of the hundreds of vessels which lay broadside to it. In some places the freights lay in mountainous heaps, but the barrels, and hogsheads, and cotton bales, covered immense spaces, though arranged in precise order; and, with the multitudes of men,--white, red, black, yellow,--horses, mules, and drays and wagons, the effect of such a scene, with its fierce activity and new atmosphere, upon a raw boy from St. Asaph, may be better imagined than described.

During my fifty-two days of ship-life there had filtered [82] into my mind curious ideas respecting the new land of America and the character of the people. In a large measure they were more complimentary than otherwise; but the levee of New Orleans carried with its name a reputation for sling-shots, doctored liquor, Shanghai-ing, and wharf-ratting, which made it a dubious place for me. When Harry directed my attention to the numerous liquor saloons fronting the river-side, all the scandalous stories I had heard of knifing, fighting, and manslaughter, recurred at once to my mind, and made me very shy of these haunts of villainy and devilry. As he could not forego the pleasure of introducing me to a city which he had constantly praised, he insisted that I should accompany him for a walk that first night up Tchapitoulas Street, and to some ‘diggins’ where he had acquaintances. I accepted his invitation without any misgiving, or any other thought than of satisfying a natural curiosity.

I think it is one of the most vivid recollections I possess. The details of my first impressions, and an analysis of my thoughts, would fill many pages. Of the thousands of British boys who have landed in this city, I fancy none was so utterly unsophisticated as myself — for reasons which have already been related.

Directly the sun was set we were relieved from duty, and were allowed liberty to go ashore. We flew over the planking laid across the ships, light as young fawns; and, when I felt the shore under my feet, I had to relieve myself by an ecstatic whirl or two about Harry, crying out, “At last! At last! New Orleans! It is too good to be true!” I was nearly overwhelmed with blissful feeling that rises from emancipation. I was free!--and I was happy, yes, actually happy, for I was free — at last the boy was free!

We raced across the levee, for joy begets activity, and activity is infectious. What was a vivid joy to me, was the delight of gratified pride to Harry. “I told you,” he said, beaming, “what New Orleans was. Is it not grand?” But “grand” did not convey its character, as it appeared to my fresh young eyes. Some other word was wanted to express the whole of what I felt. The soft, balmy air, with its strange scents of fermenting molasses, semi-baked sugar, green coffee, pitch, Stockholm tar, brine of mess-beef, rum, and whiskey drippings, [83] contributed a great deal towards imparting the charm of romance to everything I saw. The people I passed appeared to me to be nobler than any I had seen. They had a swing of the body wholly un-English, and their facial expressions differed from those I had been accustomed to. I strove hard to give a name to what was so unusual. Now, of course, I know that it was the sense of equality and independence that made each face so different from what I had seen in Liverpool. These people knew no master, and had no more awe of their employers than they had of their fellow-employees.

We reached the top of Tchapitoulas Street, the main commercial artery of the city. The people were thronging home from the business quarters, to the more residential part. They passed by in many hundreds, with their lunch-buckets, and, though soiled by their labours, they were not wearied or depressed. In the vicinity of Poydras Street, we halted before a boarding-house, where Harry was welcomed with the warmth which is the due of the returned voyager. He ordered dinner, and, with appetites sharpened by youth and ocean airs, we sat down to a spread of viands which were as excellent as they were novel. Okra soup, grits, sweet potatoes, brinjalls, corn scones, mush-pudding, and ‘fixings’--every article but the bread was strange and toothsome. Harry appropriated my praise of the meal to himself, paid for it with the air of one whose purse was deep beyond soundings, and then invested a silver piece in cigars; for American boys always smoked cigars, and, when in New Orleans, English boys loved to imitate them.

Now, when I stepped on the levee, frisky as a lamb, I was about as good as a religious observance of the Commandments can make one. To me those were the principal boundary-stones that separated the region of right from that of wrong. Between the greater landmarks, there were many well-known minor indexes; but there were some which were almost un-discoverable to one so young and untravelled as I was. Only the angelically-immaculate could tread along the limits of right and wrong without a misstep.

After dinner we sauntered through a few streets, in a state of sweet content, and, by and by, entered another house, the proprietress of which was extremely gracious. Harry whispered [84] something to her, and we were shown to a room called a parlour. Presently, there bounced in four gay young ladies, in such scant clothing that I was speechless with amazement. My ignorance of their profession was profound, and I was willing enough to be enlightened; but, when they proceeded to take liberties with my person, they seemed to me to be so appallingly wicked that I shook them off and fled out of the house. Harry followed me, and, with all the arts he could use, tried to induce me to return; but I would as soon have jumped into the gruel-coloured Mississippi as have looked into the eyes of those giggling wantons again. My disgust was so great that I never, in after years, could overcome my repugnance to females of that character.

Then Harry persuaded me to enter a bar-room, and called for liquor, but here, again, I was obstinate. “Drink yourself, if you like,” said I, “but I belong to the Band of Hope and have signed the pledge, so I must not.”

“Well smoke then, do something like other fellows,” he said, offering me my choice.

As I had never heard that smoking was a moral offence, and had a desire to appear manly, I weakly yielded, and, putting a great cigar between my lips, puffed proudly and with vigour. But alas! my punishment was swift. My head seemed to swim, and my limbs were seized with a trembling; and, while vainly trying to control myself, a surge of nausea quite over-powered me, and I tried to steal back to the ship, as abjectly contrite as ever repentant wretch could well be. Thus ended my first night at New Orleans.

Harry's story of the two English boys, who had been compelled to abscond from the “Windermere” the voyage before, recurred to me more than once after Nelson's greeting next morning. “Hello! you here still! I thought you had vamoosed like the Irish stowaways. Not enough physic, eh? Well, sonny, we must see what we can do for you.”

I was put to cleaning brass-work — a mechanical occupation that breeds thought. If, attracted by a lively levee scene, I lifted my eyes, one or other of the mates bawled out, “Now, you scalawag, or, you little sweep, what in — are you doing? Get on with that work, you putty-faced son of a--!” and so on! Ever some roaring blasphemy, some hideous [85] epithet, with a kick or a clout, until, on the fifth day, conviction stole upon every sense that it was to a set purpose; and my small remnant of self-respect kindled into a revolt. I understand now that it was the pitiful sum of money due to me they wished to save for the ship-owners or captain, that prevented them from saying right out, “You may go, and be — to you.” Such a dismissal entailed a settlement. Just as Moses Owen lacked the moral courage to despatch me from his presence, these men were at the same game of nagging; and it succeeded in inspiring indifference as to what would become of me. I could say, at last, “Better to rot on this foreign strand than endure this slave's life longer.”

That evening I declined to go ashore with Harry, and sat pondering in the loneliness of my cabin, and prayer, somewhat fallen into disuse of late, was remembered; and I rose from my knees primed for the venture. Habit of association, as usual with me, had knit some bonds of attachment between me and the ship. She connected me with England; by her I came, and by her I could return. Now that was impossible; I must follow the stowaways, and leave the floating hell for ever.

I lit the swinging pewter lamp, emptied my sea-bag on the floor, and out of its contents picked my best shore clothes, and the bishop's Bible. I dressed myself with care, and, blowing out the lamp, lay down. By and by, Harry reeled in, half-stupefied with his excesses, rolled into his bunk above me; and, when he was unconscious, I rose and glided out. Five minutes later, I was hurrying rapidly along the river-side of the levee; and, when about half a mile from the ship, I plunged into the shadows caused by a pile of cotton bales, and lay down to await day-break.

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