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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 8
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 8 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :670

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 8


"'Tis strange--but true; for truth is always strange--
Stranger than fiction."--BYRON.

"Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows."--GRAY.

The least agreeable part of our voyage came near the end. It was when we were in the fogs off the coast of Newfoundland. The work that tired one to death was not sufficient to keep one warm; the cold mist seemed to soak through one's flesh as well as one's slops, and to cling to one's bones as it clung to the ship's gear. The deck was slippery and cold, everything, except the funnel, was sticky and cold, and the fog-horn made day and night hideous with noises like some unmusical giant trying in vain to hit the note Fa. The density of the fog varied. Sometimes we could not see each other a few feet off, at others we could see pretty well what we were about on the vessel, but could see nothing beyond.

We went very slowly, and the fog lasted unusually long. It included a Sunday, which is a blessed day to Jack at sea. No tarring, greasing, oiling, painting, scraping or scrubbing but what is positively necessary, and no yarn-spinning but that of telling travellers' tales, which seamen aptly describe as spinning yarns. I heard a great many that day which recalled the school-master's stories, and filled my head and heart with indefinable longings and impatience. More and more did it seem impossible that one could live content in one little corner of this interesting world when one has eyes to see and ears to hear, and hands for work, and legs to run away with.

Not that the tales that were told on this occasion were of an encouraging nature, for they were all about fogs and ice; but they were very interesting. One man had made this very voyage in a ship that got out of her course as it might be where we were then. She was too far to the north'ard when a fog came on, as it might be the very fog we were in at that moment, and it lasted, lifting a bit and falling again worse than ever, just the very same as it was a-doing now. Cold? He believed you this fog was cold, and you might believe him that fog was cold, but the cold of both together would not be a patch upon what it was when your bones chattered in your skin and you heard the ship's keel grinding, and said "Ice!" "He'd seen some queer faces--dead and living--in his time, but when _that fog lifted and the sun shone upon walls of green ice on both sides above our head, and the captain's face as cold and as green as them with knowing all was up--"

At this point the narrator was called away, and somebody asked,

"Has any one heard him tell how it ended?"

"I did," said Pat Shaughnessy, "and it spoilt me dinner that time."

"Go on, Pat! What happened to them?"

"The lowest depths of misfortune. Sorra a soul but himself and a boy escaped by climbing to a ledge on the topmost peak of one of the icebergs just in the nick of time to see the ship cracked like a walnut between your fingers. And the worst was to come, bad luck!"

"What? Go on, Paddy! What did he and the boy do?"

"They just eat each other," faltered Pat. "But, Heaven be praised! a whaler fetched off the survivor. It was then that he got the bad fever though, so maybe he dreamt the worst."

I felt great sympathy with Pat's evident disrelish for this tale, but the oldest and hairiest sailor seemed hardly to regard it as worth calling an adventure. If you wanted to see ice that was ice, you should try the coast of Greenland, he said. "Hartic Hexploration for choice, but seals or blubber took you pretty far up. He remembered the Christmas he lost _them two_." (And cocking one leg over the other, he drew a worsted sock from his foot, and displayed the fact that his great toe and the one next to it were gone.) "They lost more than toes that time too. You might believe it gave you a lonelyish kind of feel when there was no more to be done for the ship but get as much firewood out of her timber as you could, and all you had in the way of a home was huts on an ice-floe, and a white fox, with a black tip to its tail, for a pet. It wouldn't have lasted long, except for discipline," we young 'uns might take notice. "Pleasure's all very well ashore, where a man may go his own way a long time, and show his nasty temper at home, and there's other folks about him doing double duty to make up for it and keep things together; but when you come to a handful of men cast adrift to make a world for themselves, as one may say, Lord bless you! there's nothing's any good then but making every man do as he's bid and be content with what he gets--and clearing him out if he won't. It was a hard winter at that. But regularity pulled us through. Reg'lar work, reg'lar ways, reg'lar rations and reg'lar lime-juice, as long as it lasted. And not half a bad Christmas we didn't have neither, and poor Sal's Christmas-tree was the best part of it. 'What sort of a Christmas-tree, and why Sal's?' Well, the carpenter put it up, and an uncommon neat thing he made too, of pinewood and birch-broom, and some of the men hung it over with paper chains. And then the carpenter opened the bundle Sal made him take his oath he wouldn't open till Christmas, whatever came, and I'm blest if there wasn't a pair of brand-new socks for every soul of the ship's crew. Not that we were so badly off for socks, but washing 'em reg'lar, and never being able to get 'em really dry, and putting 'em on again like stones, was a mighty different thing to getting all our feet into something dry and warm. 'Who was Sal?' Well, poor Sal was a rum 'un, but she's dead. It's a queer thing, we only lost one hand, and that was the carpenter, and he died the same day poor Sal was murdered down Bermondsey way. It's a queer world, this, no matter where you're cruising! But there's one thing you'll learn if you live as long as me; a woman's heart and the ocean deep's much about the same. You can't reckon on 'em, and GOD A'mighty, as made 'em, alone knows the depths of 'em; but as our doctor used to say (and he was always fetching things out and putting 'em into bottles), it's the rough weather brings the best of it up."

This was not a cheerful story, but it was soon driven out of our heads by others. Fog was the prevailing topic; yarns of the fogs of the northern seas being varied by "red fogs" off the Cape de Verd Islands; and not the least dismal of the narratives was told by Alister Auchterlay, of a fog on Ben Nevis, in which his own grandmother's uncle perished, chiefly, as it appeared, in consequence of a constitutional objection to taking advice, or to "going back upon his word," when he had made up his mind to do something or to go somewhere. And this drew from the boatswain the sad fate of a comrade of his, who had sailed twice round the world, been ship-wrecked four times, in three collisions, and twice aboard ships that took fire, had Yellow Jack in the West Indies, and sunstroke at the Cape, lost a middle finger from frost-bite in the north of China, and one eye in a bit of a row at San Francisco, and came safe home after it all, and married a snug widow in a pork-shop at Wapping Old Stairs, and got out of his course steering home through a London fog on Guy Fawkes Day, and walked straight into the river, and was found at low tide next morning with a quid of tobacco in his cheek, and nothing missing about him but his glass eye, which shows, as the boatswain said, that "Fogs is fogs anywhere, and a nasty thing too."

It was towards dark, when we had been fourteen days at sea, that our own fog suddenly lifted, and the good news flew from mouth to mouth that we might be "in about midnight." But the fog came down again, and I do not think that the whole fourteen days put together felt so long as the hours of that one night through which the fog-horn blew, and we longed for day.

I was leaning against the bulwarks at eight o'clock the next morning. White mist was all around us, a sea with no horizon. Suddenly, like the curtain of a theatre, the mist rose. Gradually the horizon-line appeared, then a line of low coast, which, muddy-looking as it was, made one's heart beat thick and fast. Then lines of dark wood; then the shore was dotted with grey huts; then the sun came out, the breeze was soft and mild, and the air became strangely scented, and redolent of pine forests. Nearer the coast took more shape, though it was still low, rather bare and dotted with brushwood and grey stones low down, and always crowned with pines. Then habitations began to sparkle along the shore. Red roofs, cardboard-looking churches, little white wooden houses, and stiffish trees mixed everywhere. And the pine odour on the breeze was sweeter and sweeter with every breath one drew.

Suddenly I found Alister's arm round my shoulder.

"Isn't it glorious?" I exclaimed.

"Aye, aye," he said, and then, as if afraid he had not said enough, he added with an effort: "The toun's built almost entirely of wood, I'm told, with a population of close on 30,000 inhabitants."

"What a fellow you are!" I groaned: "Alister, aren't you glad we're safe here? Are you ever pleased about anything?"

He didn't speak, and I turned in his arm to look up at his face. His eyes, which always remind me of the sea, were looking away over it, but he brought them back to meet mine, and pressed my shoulder.

"It is bonnie," he said, "verra bonnie. But eh, man! if strange land shines like yon, hoo'll oor ain shores look whenever we win Home?"

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