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Owing to certain local causes, the winds along the American coast usually prevail from the southwest between the months of June and September, and have therefore been called by sailors the “American trade winds.” As our average course for Europe was about east-north-east, these semi-trades were on our quarter, and consequently the first part of the voyage was quickly and pleasantly performed. The breeze was variable in its freshness, and at times would die away to a mere fanning zephyr. It was my favorite amusement on such occasions to row off in the jolly-boat to some distance from the Java, that I might observe and admire her appearance. It has been said that “the two most beautiful sights, are a pretty woman in full dress, and a large ship under full sail.” Whether the former be correct or not, judge ye;—of the latter there can be no doubt. Whoever has seen it will acknowledge the truth of the assertion. Alone on the bosom of the ocean, the only object upon which the eye can rest, the gallant bark dispossesses us of the idea that she is but a collection of inanimate matter, united by the skill of man, and seems to be suddenly endued with life, and a noble queen of the billows as she is, to move among them as if conscious of her superiority and imperial dignity. Though they may at times conspire for her destruction, yet again and again are they baffled; or if some wave more desperate than the rest plays the assassin's part, then wrapping close around, her own white sails for a winding sheet, and raising herself to the very sky that she may give the parting kiss of forgiveness to the storm-clouds, as they vent their rage upon her, she dies as a queen should die,
—“nor unlamented nor unsung.”
From the day on which we took our departure from the Cape until the twentieth of September, the royals had not been taken in. So favorable had been the breeze, and so pleasant the weather, that even our little main-skysail had done us no unimportant service by exerting its insant strength to hasten us on our course. But these days of sunlight and serenity were drawing to a close. The westerly wind had entirely died away, and for the space of fisteen hours there was a dead calm. Not a ripple was to be seen on the waters, nor a sound heard except the flapping of the sails against the masts as the ship rose and fell with the fast expiring swell. The morning of the twentieth was as lovely a one as can be found in that season of the year when “summer seems to linger in the lap of autumn.” The sun drove up his burning chariot from his eastern palace unattended by a single cloud; and, clad in all his regal insignia about to cross the equinoctial line, seemed to shine with unusual warmth and brilliancy. The calm still continued, and alone the bright king rode on, until he reached his meridian height. Here, in his vanity, he lingered for a moment to gaze upon himself in the ocean's waveless mirror, and then hastened on to his western home. This movement was the signal for the elements. No sooner had the sun turned his back upon the meridian than cloud after cloud began, slowly at first and as if in fear, but afterwards more confidently, to rise above the eastern horizon. These were the “light scuds” coming as pioneers to select the spot and prepare the way for the meeting and revelry of the elements. Others more dense succeeded, and the dark heavy bank which lay along the eastern board, unbroken by a single glen,” warned us that a storm was rapidly approaching. Soon after the rising of the “scud” a slight dark-green ripple was seen at a distance upon the waters, and in a few moments the breeze reached the ship. All the light sails were taken in, and the topgallant-sails, together with the mainsail, handed. The wind continued rapidly to freshen, while the dashing of the spray beneath the bow, and the incessant gurgling of the water as it rolled up under the counter of the ship, indicated that we were leaping over the billows at no slow pace. As the wind was about northeast, and consequently ahead, the Java was going close-hauled; but so smooth as yet was the sea, that all sails being full she made no leeway, and sailed nearly as fast as if the wind had been abeam or on the quarter.
I was now about to witness, and, as I anticipated, to enjoy that sight which had been the ultimatum of my wishes, a storm at sea.
• A glen is a bright spot between the lower edge of the cloud-bank and the horiZOn.
As Captain N. was anxious to reach Europe as soon as possible, he continued to carry a heavy press of sail as long as the ship could possibly bear it. So vividly is that scene painted upon the canvass of memory, that I can see him even now standing, as he did, upon the weather quarter-deck, holding on to the monkey-rail to steady himself, while he watched the compass, and at one moment chided the man at the wheel for not keeping the ship close to the wind, and at another for shaking the sails, and then, as some fresh flaw struck the ship, casting an anxious glance aloft to the topmasts as they bent under the force of the breeze. ‘Now, my good madam,' said Capt. N., addressing the ship as he was often wont to do, “show my young friend here that of all the gallant craft which sail these waters, there is not one that can play with the gale like yoursels. Look,” said he, turning to me, * see how beautifully she flies along almost in the wind's eye. One half of the frigates in our navy, with a breeze like this, would be flinging the spray over the lee foreyard arm, while the good lady scarcely sprinkles her cat-heads. I have often wished that I could fall in with one of those frigates in a gale of wind, and if the Java did not shame them I am no sailor.” I knew very well that every sailor thinks his own craft the best, and consequently made all proper allowance for Captain N.'s enthusiasm ; yet I could not but acknowledge that beautiful as had been my ideas of a ship rushing over the waters under a full press of canvass, the Java exceeded them all. Though the wind had now increased to a gale, the captain manifested no disposition to shorten sail. His practiced eye, never still, was in every part of the vessel, ready to detect the first appearance of injury either to the spars or the rigging. As the men had nothing to do but stand ready to act at a moment's warning, they were all collected together under the lee of the camboose, at one moment telling their long yarns of the dangers they had passed through, and the storms they had witnessed, and at another watching and remarking upon the movements of Captain N. and the action of the vessel. “Many’s the craft,” said one of them, whose deep-lined, weatherbeaten features, bore evidence that he had been tossing upon the seas for many years, and to whom all looked up with deference as the most experienced among them, ‘many’s the craft that has carried this old hulk of mine across these same waters, and many’s the one I’ve been proud of in a gale like this, but blast my eyes if ever I want a better sea-boat than the Java. As for sailing, Old Breezer has to puff like a grampus to keep up with her, and she is no more afraid of salt water than a porpoise is. And there's our captain, a regular-built forecastle sailor;-he never crept into the cabin windows me, that I know by the roll of his walk and the cut of his whiskers. These fresh-water dandy captains, like the last I sailed
under, who can't tell a sheet anchor from a cat-hook, instead of cracking on and combing the snarls out of old Neptune's hair, would now be laying to under a close-reefed main-topsail, and saying their prayers in the cabin, blast the cowardly 2 The speaker was interrupted by the green hand, almost paralyzed with fright, ‘Ain’t none of you aseer'd we shall all sink and be drownded ?’ ‘Sink, you horse marine, sink? did you ever hear of a sailor's being afraid of sinking, you white-liver'd Varmounter I say, cook, just rub your black paws over this baby’s face and give it some color, or curse me we shall all be sea-sick together.’ “Oh don't—don't—I aint’t frightened—no I ain't a bit—” ‘You lie, you are; your knees shake worse than a piece of bunting in a hurricane. Clap a stopper on your jaw, I tell you, youngster,’ as the boy was about to interrupt him, ‘or I'll make youfi nd soundings in the lee scuppers.’ This threat, however severe it may have seemed, was thrown out only to create a laugh among the older sailors, in accordance with that right which all jack tars assume, of browbeating and frightening every green hand. But it was sufficient. The poor fellow withdrew himself from the circle, and leaning his head over the windlass-bit, grasping it at the same time with both hands to secure himself, began to repent the step he had taken in leaving his home. ‘Darn my eyes if I ain't sick of this business. I guess if I hain’t made a plaguy mistake in coming to sea, I don’t know. I wish I was back on the farm again hoeing potatoes. If ever I get back there safe, I’ll give any man the best wood lot in the whole state if he catches me on board a ship again. Oh dear,” (as the ship made a heavier plunge than usual) ‘what a wicked man that capting is to frighten me so. I mean to go and ask him to take down those sails a little while. Oh dear, how bad I begin to feel about the > Before he could close his sentence, a heavy sea striking the ship on the weather bow, dashed its spray completely across the forecastle, wetting him to the skin, and so frightened was he, that letting go his hold upon the bit, the ship at the same moment heeling down from the shock, the luckless fellow was pitched over backwards into the water that lay in the waist. It was now evident to the captain and officers that it was impossible to carry such a press of sail any longer. The conversation of the sailors therefore was soon interrupted by a cry from the chief mate. “All hands ast! come my boys, what we do now must be done at once and in true sailor style—stand by those maintopsail halliards—man the reef tackles—Are you ready?’ “Aye, aye, sir.’ “Slack away on your halliards then—round in the clue garnets— sway away on those reef-tackles—give them another pull and then jump aloft, my good fellows.’
‘How many reefs shall we put in,’ enquired the second mate. *Put in two—mind that you haul the earings chock out and knot your points well, as we may want to carry on that reef for some time.’ In a few minutes the topsail was reefed and hoisted—the soretopsail and spanker were also double reefed, and as the ship carried a stiff weather helm the mizen topsail was handed. By the time this was accomplished the sun had set. The gale still continued regularly to freshen and the seas, under its influence, to increase in size. The rain too had commenced falling and we had the prospect for the night before us of encountering one of those violent equinoctial gales which usually arise at this season of the year. At eight bells* the first watch for the night came on deck, well protected with their pea jackets and tarpaulins against the storm. The rest of the crew were permitted to go below, after having been reminded by the mate that their nap would be a short one. The captain and second mate had also retired to their state-rooms. So intense was the excitement created by the gathering storm that I had no inclination to leave the deck, and seating myself therefore upon the weather side of the companion way, regardless of the rain with which I was completely drenched, I gave full scope to my feelings. Possessing a lively imagination to which the spur rather than the curb had always been applied, I loved, when on the land, to stray away to some commanding elevation and there watch the rise and progress of the storm, when, grasping in its hand the lightning, with blackened brow and giant step it came rushing down the mountain's sides and through the valleys, leaving every where the impress of its fury. I could sit for hours listening to its wild scream until I fancied it a living being and longed to join in its revelry. Much more then was my imagination aroused, and far more wantonly did it sport, as I watched for the first time the movements of a storm upon the sea. Led on step by step I had forgotten the ship, the ocean, and the whistling of the blast among the rigging, and had created around me, under the inspiration of the moment, an ideal world, in which I was revelling in all the wildness of fancy. “Well Charles,” said the mate, who had seated himself by my side, ‘how like you old Boreas' lullaby while Neptune is rocking us in our cradle ** I started from my reverie with feelings strongly akin to anger at the sudden destruction of the beautiful bubble upon which I had been gazing. While endeavoring to recollect myself, I replied somewhat sharply, “what did you say?’
* The watches are reckoned from noon and consist of four hours each, with the exception of a short watch from six to eight, P. M., called “the dog watch.” The bell is struck every half hour.