Chapter 71617663

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleGOING AWAY.
Chapter Url
Full Date1843-08-11
Page Number4
Word Count3438
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleSouthern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 - 1844)
Trove TitleAmerican Notes for General Circulation
article text





I shall never forget the one-fourth serious and three fourths comical astonishment, with which, on the morning ot the third of January eighteen hundred and forty-two, I opened the door of, and put my head into, a " state-room" on board the Britannia steam-packet, twelve hundred tons burden per register, bound for Halifax and Bps ton, and carrying her Majesty's mails.

That this state-room had been specially en gaged for " Chartes Dickens, Esq., and Lady/' was rendered sufficiently clear even to my scared intellect by a very small manuscript, announc ing the fact, which was pinned on a very flat quilt, covering a very thin mattress, spread like a surgical plaster, on a most inaccessible shelf. But that this was the state-room concerning which Charles Dickens, Esq., and Lady, had held daily and nightly conferences for at least four months preceding : that this could by any possibility be that small snug chamber of the imagination, which Charles Dickens, Esq., with the spirit of prophecy strong upon him, had al ways foretold would contain at (east one little

sota, and which hts lady, with a modest yet most magnificent sense of its limited dimensions, had from the first opined would not hold more than two enormous portmanteaus in some old corner out of sight (portmanteaus which could now no more be got in at the door, not to say stowed away, than a giraffe could be persuaded or forced into a flower-pot); that this utterly impracticable,

thoroughly hopeless, and profoundly preposte- ¡

rous box, hid the remotest reference to, or con- j

nection with, those chaste and pretty, not to say ¡ gorgeous little bowers, sketched by a masterly j hand, in the highly varnished lithographic plan hanging up in the agents' counting-house in the city of Loudon : that this room of state, in short,

could be anything but a pleasant fiction and j cheerful jest of the captain's, invented and put j in practice for the better relish and enjoyment ol'the real state-room presently to be disclosed : - these were truths which I really could not, for the moment, bring my mind at ali to bear upon or comprehend. And I sat down upon a kind of horsehair slab, or perch, of which there were two within ; and looked, without any impression of countenance whatever, at some friends who h;td come on board with us, and who were crush ing their faces into ali manner of shapes by en

deavouring to squeeze them through the small


We had experienced a pretty smart shock be fore c »ming below, which, but that we were the most sanguine people living, might have prepar ed us for the worst. The imaginative artist to whom 1 have already made allusion, has depict ed in the same great work, a chamber of almost inteitninabie perspective, furnished, as Mr. Robins would say, in a style of more than east ern splendour, and filled (but not inconveniently so) with of ladies and gentlemen, in the very highest state of enjoyment and vivacity. Before descending into the bowels of the ship, wv ha l passed from the deck into a lung narrow apartment, not unlike a gigantic hearse with windows in the sides; having at the upper end a ¡urlaiichuly stove, at which three or four chilly st.puttfds were wanning their hands ; while on either side extending down its long dreary length, was a long, long table, over each of which a rack, fixed to the low roof, and stuck full of drinking glasses and cruet stands, hinted dis mally at rolling seas and heavy weather. I had not at that time seen the ideal presentment of this chamber which hassincegratified tneso much, but I" observed that one of our friends who had m<t<to the arrangements for our voyage, turned

p ile on entering, retreated on the friend behind [1 hi n, «tiiiote his forehead involuntarily, and said Ind ow his breath, " Impossible ! it cannot be !"

or words to that effect. He recovered himself

however by a great effort, and after a prepara tory cough or two, cried, with a ghastly smile which is still before me, looking at the sametime round «lie walls, " Ha! the breakfast room, ste ward-eh?" Weall foresaw what the auswer

must lu»: we knew the agony he suffered. He h id often spoken of the saloon ; had taken iii amt lived upon the pictorial idea ; had usually pveii us tu understand, at home, that io form a just conception of it, it would be necessary to multiply the size and furniture of an ordinary drawing-room by seven, and theu fall short ot the reality. When the man in reply avowed I lu* truth-the blunt, remorseless, naked truth " This is the saloon, sir» "-he actually reeled

beneath (he blow.

lu persons who were so soon to part, and in terpose between their else daily communication tiie foi amiable barrier of many thousand miles ot' stormy space, and who were tor that reasou anxious to cast no other cloud, not even the P'SMO¿ tshadow of a m o men l's disappointment or discomfiture, upon the short interval «»f happy companionship that yet remained to them-in persons so situated, the natural transition from these ti i st surprises w;is obviously into peals of hearty laughter; and [ can report that I, for .>oe, being still seated upon the slab or perch, before iucintoned, rúared outright until the ves sel rang again. Thus, in less than two minutes -?aitt-r coming into it for the first time, we all, by common consent, agreed that this state room was the pleasantest and most facetious and c .ipi la I contrivance possible ; and that to have had it one inch larger, would have been quite a disagreeable and deplorable state of things. And with this, and with showing how,-by very neatly closing the door, and twining in and out!

¡ike serpents, aud by counting the little washing

»lab as standing room,-we couid ra au age to j insinuate four people into it, all at one time; und entreating each other to observe how very »try it was (in dock), and how there was a beau tiful port hole which couid be kept open all day, (weather permitting), and how there was quite a targe bull's eye just over the looking glass, which would render shaving a perfectly easy and delightful process (when the ship didn't roll too much) ; weaarrived, at last, at the unani mous conclusion that it was rather spacious than otherwise; though I do verity believe that, deducting the two berths, one above the other, than which nothing smaller for sleeping in was «ver made except coffins, it was uo bigger than i:ne of those hackney cabriolets which have the door behind, and shoot their fares out, like sacks of coals, upon the pavement.

Having settled this point to the satisfaction of all parties, concerned and unconcerned, we sat down round the fire in th« ladies' cabin-just

to try the effect. It was rather dark, certainly; ? but somebody said, " of course it would be light i at sea/' a p roposition to which we all assented; echoing *' of course, of course ;" though it would be exceedingly difficult to say why we thought so. I remember ton, when we had discovered and exhausted another top'c of consolation in the circumstance of this ladies* cabin adjoining our state room, and the consequently immense feasibility of sitting there at all times and sea sons, and had fallen into a momentary silence, leaning our faces on our hands and looking at the fire, one of our party said, with the solemn air of a man who had made a discovery, " What

a relish mulled claret will have down here !"

which appeared to strike us all most forcibly ; as though there were something spicy and high flavoured in cabins which essentially improved that composition and rendered it quite incapable of perfection anywhere else.

There was a stewardess, too, actively engaged in producing clean sheets and table cloths from the very entrails of the sofas, and from unexpect- j ed lockers, of such artful mechanism, that it made oue's bead ache to see them opened one after another-and rendered it quite a distract ing circumstance to follow her proceedings, and to fiad that every nook and corner and indivi dual piece of furniture was something else be sides what it pretended to he, and was a mere trap and deception, and place of secret stowage, whose ostensible purpose was its least useful


God bless that stewardess, for her piously fraudulent account of January voyages ! God

bless her for her clear recollection of the com

panion passage of last year, when nobody was ill, and everybody dancing from morning to night and it was '* a run " of twelve days, and a piece of the purest frolic and delight and jollity ! All happiness be with her for her bright face and pleasant Scotch tongue, which had sounds of Home in it for my fellow-traveller; and for her predictions of (air winds and fine weather, (all wrong, or I should'ut be half so fond of her); and for the ten thousand small fragments of genuine womanly tact by which, without piecing them elaborately together, and patching them up into shape and form, and ease and pointed ap plication, she nevertheless did plainly show that all young mothers on one side of the Atlantic

were near and close at hand to their little chil dren left upon the other ; and what seemed to the uninitiated a serious injury, was, to those who were in the secret, a mere frolic, to be sung about and whistled at! Light be her heart, and gay her merry eyes, for years.

The state- room had grown pretty fast ; but by this time it had expanded into something quite bulky, and almost boasted a bay window to view the sea from. So we weut upon deck again in high spirits ; and there, everything was in such a state of bustle and active preparation, that the blood quickened its pace, and whirled through oue's veins on that clear frosty morn ing with involuntary mirthfulness. For every gallant ship was riding slowly up and down, and every little boat was plashing noisily in the water, gazing with a kind of " dread delight " on the far-famed fast American steamer; and one party of men were " laking tn the milk," or, in other words, getting the cow on board : and another were filling the ice-houses to the very throat vvith fresh provisions ; with butchers' meat and gardeu-stuff, pale sucking pigs, calves' heads in scores, beef, veal, and pork, and poul try out of ail proportion : and others were coiling ropes, or busy with oakum yarns ; and others were towering heavy packages into the hold : and the purser's head was barely visible

as it loomed in a state of exquisite perplexity from the midst of a large pile of passenger's luggage; and there seemed to be nothing going on anywhere, or uppermost in the mind of any body, but preparations for this mighty voyage. This, with the bright cold sun, the bracing air, the crisply-curling water, thin white crust of morning ice upon the decks, which cracked with a sharp and cheerful sound beneath the lightest tread, was irresistible. And when, again upon the shore, we turned and saw from the vessel's mast her name signalled in flags of joyous colours, and fluttering by her side the beautiful American banner with its stars and stripes-the long three thousand miles and more, and, longer still, the six whole months of absence, so dwindled and faded, that the ship had gone out and come home again, and it was broad spriug already in the Coburg Dock at Liverpool.

1 have not inquired among my medical acquaintance, whether turtle and cold punch, with hock, champagne, and claret, and all the slight etcetera, usually included in an unlimited

order for a good dinner-especially when it is left to the liberal construction of my faultless friend, Mr Badly, of the Adelphi Hotel-are peculiarly calculated to suffer a sea change ; or whether a plain mutton chop, and a glass or two of sherry, would be less likely of conversion into foreign and disconcerting material. Af y own opinion is, that whether one is discreet or indiscreet in these particulars, on the eve of a sea voyage, is a matter of little consequence ; and that, to use a common phrase "it comes to very much the same thing in the end." Be this as it may, I know that the dinner of thatday » as undeniably perfect; that it comprehended all these items, and a great many more ; and that we all did ample justice to it. And 1 know too, that bating a certain tacit avoidance of any allusion to to-morrow; such as may be supposed to prevail between delicate minded turnkeys, and a sensitive prisoner who is j to be hanged next morning ; we got on very I well, and, all things considered, were merty

¡ enough.

When the morning-ike morning-came, and we met at breakfast, it was curious to see how eager we all were to prevent a moment's pause in the conversation, and how astonishingly gay everybody was : the forced spirits of each mem ber of the little party having as much likeness to his ualuial mirth, as hot house peas at five guineas the quart, resemble in flavour the growth

of the dews, and air, and rain, of heaven. But as one o'clock, the hour for going aboard, drew near, this volubility dwindled away, by little and little, despite the most persevering efforts to the contrary, until at last, the matter being now quite desperate, we threw off all disguise; openly speculated upon where we should be this time to morrow, this time next day, and so forth ; arid entrusted a vast number of messages to those whoiutended returning to town that night, which were to he delivered at home and elsewhere without fail, within the very shortest possible space of lime alter the arrival of the railway train at Euston-square. And commissions and

remembrances do so crowd upon one at such a time, that we were stiU busied with this employ ment when we found ourselves fused, as it wete into a dense conglomeration of passen

gers and passengers' friends and passengers' luggage, all jumbled together on the deck of a small steamboat, and panting and snorting off to the packet, which had worked out of dock yes terday afternoon, and was now lying at her moorings in the river.

And there she is ! all eyes are turned to where she lies, dimly discernible through the gathering fog of the early winter afternoon ; every finger is pointed in the same direction ; and murmurs of interest and admiration, as - " How beautiful she looks !" " How trim she

is !"-are heard on every side. Even the lazy gentleman with his hat on one side and his hands in his pockets, who has dispensed so much con solation by enquiring with a yawn off another

gentleman whether he is '* going across"-as if it were a ferry-even he condescends to look that way, and nods his head, as who should say, '* No mistake about that ;" and not even the sage Lord Burleigh in hts nod, included half so much as this lazy gentleman of might who has made the passage (as everybody on board has found out already ; it's impossible to say how) thirteen times without a single accident. There is another passenger very much wrapped-up, who has been frowned down by the rest, and morally trampled upon and crushed, for pre suming to inquire with a timid interest how long it is since the poor President went down. He is standing close to the lazy gentleman, and says with a faint smile that she is a very strong ship ; to which the lazy gentleman, looking first in his questioner's eye and then very hard in the wind's, answers unexpectedly and ominously, that she ueed be. Upon this the lazy gentleman instantly falls very low in the popular estimation, and the passengers, with looks of defiance, whisper to each Oiher that he is an ass, and an imposter, and clearly dont know anything about it.

But we are made fast alongside tue packet, whose huge red funnel is smoking bravely, giving promise of serious intentions. Packing-cases, portmanteaus, carpet-bags,and boxes, are already passed from hand to hand, and hauled on board with breathless rapidity. The officers, smartly dressed, are at the gangway handing the pas sengers up the side, and hurrying the men. In (ive minute's time, the little steamer is utterly deserted, and the packet is beset and over-run ! by its late freight, who instantly pervade the j whole ship, and are to be met with by the dozen ; in every nook and corner ; swarming down be

low with their own baggage, and stumbling over other people' s disposing themselves comfortably in wrong cabins, and creating a most horrible I confusion by having to turn out again ; madly

bent upon opening locked doors, and on forcing j a passage into all kinds of out-of-the-way places where lhere is no thoroughfare ; sending wild stewards, with elfin hair, to and fro upon the decks, in unintelligible errands, impossible of executiou ; and, in short, creating the most ex traordinary and bewildered tumult. In the midst of ail this, the lazy gentleman, who seems to have no luggage of any kind, not so much as a friend, even, lounges up and down the hurricane deck, coolly puffing a cigar; and as this uncon cerned demeanour exalts him in the opinion of those who have leisure to observe his pro ceedings, every time he looks up at the masts, or down at the decks, or over the side, they look there too, as wondering whether he sees anything wrong anywhere, and hoping that, in case he should, he will have the goodness to

mention it.

What have we here ? The Captain's boat, and yonder the captain himself. Now, by all your hopes aud wishes, the very man he ought to be. À well-made, tight-built, dapper little fellow, with a ruddy face, which is a letter of invitation to shake him with both hands at once; and with a clear blue honest eye, that it does one good to see one's sparkling image in. " Ring the bell !" " Ding, ding, ding 1" " Now for the shore-who's for the shore ?" These gen tlenien, I am sorry to say : they are awav, and never said good b'ye. Ah, now they wave it from the little boat. *. Good b'ye ! good b'ye!" Three cheers from them ; three more from us ; three more from them, and they are gone.

' To and fro, to and fro, to and tro again a

hundred times ! This waiting for the latest i mail bags is worse than all. If we could have

j gone off in the midst of that last burst, we should

; have started triumphantly : but to lie here, two ! hours and more, in the damp fog, neither staying ¡ at home nor going abroad, is letting one dowu 1 into the depths of dulness and tow spirits. A

speck in the mist, at last ! That's something. lt is the boat we wait for ! That's more to the purpose. The Captain appears on the paddle box with his speaking trumpet ; the officers take their stations ; all hands are on the alert ; the flagging hopes of the passengers revive ; the cooks pause in their savoury work, and look out

with faces full of interest. The boat comes

alongside ; the bags are dragged in anyhow. Three cheere more : and as the first one rings upon our ears, the vessel throbs like a strong giant that has just received the breath of life; I ;he two great wheels turn fiercely rouud for the first time ; and the noble ship, with wind and ' tide astern, breaks proudly through the lashed and foaming water.

! (To be continued.)

___ I