Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
All the journeyings I had ever done had been purely in the way of
business. The pleasant May weather suggested a novelty namely, a trip
for pure recreation, the bread-and-butter element left out. The Reverend
said he would go, too; a good man, one of the best of men, although a
clergyman. By eleven at night we were in New Haven and on board the New
York boat. We bought our tickets, and then went wandering around here
and there, in the solid comfort of being free and idle, and of putting
distance between ourselves and the mails and telegraphs.
After a while I went to my stateroom and undressed, but the night
was too enticing for bed. We were moving down the bay now, and it was
pleasant to stand at the window and take the cool night breeze and watch
the gliding lights on shore. Presently, two elderly men sat down
under that window and began a conversation. Their talk was properly
no business of mine, yet I was feeling friendly toward the world and
willing to be entertained. I soon gathered that they were brothers, that
they were from a small Connecticut village, and that the matter in hand
concerned the cemetery. Said one:
"Now, John, we talked it all over amongst ourselves, and this is what
we've done. You see, everybody was a-movin' from the old buryin'-ground,
and our folks was 'most about left to theirselves, as you may say. They
was crowded, too, as you know; lot wa'n't big enough in the first place;
and last year, when Seth's wife died, we couldn't hardly tuck her in.
She sort o' overlaid Deacon Shorb's lot, and he soured on her, so to
speak, and on the rest of us, too. So we talked it over, and I was for
a lay out in the new simitery on the hill. They wa'n't unwilling, if
it was cheap. Well, the two best and biggest plots was No. 8 and No.
9--both of a size; nice comfortable room for twenty-six--twenty-six
full-growns, that is; but you reckon in children and other shorts, and
strike an average, and I should say you might lay in thirty, or maybe
thirty-two or three, pretty genteel--no crowdin' to signify."
"That's a plenty, William. Which one did you buy?"
"Well, I'm a-comin' to that, John. You see, No. 8 was thirteen dollars,
No. 9 fourteen--"
"I see. So's't you took No. 8."
"You wait. I took No. 9. And I'll tell you for why. In the first place,
Deacon Shorb wanted it. Well, after the way he'd gone on about Seth's
wife overlappin' his prem'ses, I'd 'a' beat him out of that No. 9 if I'd
'a' had to stand two dollars extra, let alone one. That's the way I felt
about it. Says I, what's a dollar, anyway? Life's on'y a pilgrimage,
says I; we ain't here for good, and we can't take it with us, says I. So
I just dumped it down, knowin' the Lord don't suffer a good deed to go
for nothin', and cal'latin' to take it out o' somebody in the course
o' trade. Then there was another reason, John. No. 9's a long way the
handiest lot in the simitery, and the likeliest for situation. It lays
right on top of a knoll in the dead center of the buryin' ground; and
you can see Millport from there, and Tracy's, and Hopper Mount, and
a raft o' farms, and so on. There ain't no better outlook from a
buryin'-plot in the state. Si Higgins says so, and I reckon he ought to
know. Well, and that ain't all. 'Course Shorb had to take No. 8; wa'n't
no help for 't. Now, No. 8 jines onto No. 9, but it's on the slope
of the hill, and every time it rains it 'll soak right down onto the
Shorbs. Si Higgins says 't when the deacon's time comes, he better take
out fire and marine insurance both on his remains."
Here there was the sound of a low, placid, duplicate chuckle of
appreciation and satisfaction.
"Now, John, here's a little rough draft of the ground that I've made
on a piece of paper. Up here in the left-hand corner we've bunched the
departed; took them from the old graveyard and stowed them one alongside
o' t'other, on a first-come-first-served plan, no partialities, with
Gran'ther Jones for a starter, on'y because it happened so, and windin'
up indiscriminate with Seth's twins. A little crowded towards the end of
the lay-out, maybe, but we reckoned 'twa'n't best to scatter the twins.
Well, next comes the livin'. Here, where it's marked A, we're goin' to
put Mariar and her family, when they're called; B, that's for Brother
Hosea and hisn; C, Calvin and tribe. What's left is these two lots
here--just the gem of the whole patch for general style and outlook;
they're for me and my folks, and you and yourn. Which of them would you
rather be buried in?"
"I swan, you've took me mighty unexpected, William! It sort of started
the shivers. Fact is, I was thinkin' so busy about makin' things
comfortable for the others, I hadn't thought about being buried myself."
"Life's on'y a fleetin' show, John, as the sayin' is. We've all got to
go, sooner or later. To go with a clean record's the main thing. Fact
is, it's the on'y thing worth strivin' for, John."
"Yes, that's so, William, that's so; there ain't no getting around it.
Which of these lots would you recommend?"
"Well, it depends, John. Are you particular about outlook?"
"I don't say I am, William, I don't say I ain't. Reely, I don't know.
But mainly, I reckon, I'd set store by a south exposure."
"That's easy fixed, John. They're both south exposure. They take the
sun, and the Shorbs get the shade."
"How about site, William?"
"D's a sandy sile, E's mostly loom."
"You may gimme E, then; William; a sandy sile caves in, more or less,
and costs for repairs."
"All right, set your name down here, John, under E. Now, if you don't
mind payin' me your share of the fourteen dollars, John, while we're on
the business, everything's fixed."
After some Niggling and sharp bargaining the money was paid, and John
bade his brother good night and took his leave. There was silence for
some moments; then a soft chuckle welled up from the lonely William,
and he muttered: "I declare for 't, if I haven't made a mistake! It's
D that's mostly loom, not E. And John's booked for a sandy site after
There was another soft chuckle, and William departed to his rest also.
The next day, in New York, was a hot one. Still we managed to get more
or less entertainment out of it. Toward the middle of the afternoon we
arrived on board the stanch steamship Bermuda, with bag and baggage, and
hunted for a shady place. It was blazing summer weather, until we were
half-way down the harbor. Then I buttoned my coat closely; half an hour
later I put on a spring overcoat and buttoned that. As we passed the
light-ship I added an ulster and tied a handkerchief around the collar
to hold it snug to my neck. So rapidly had the summer gone and winter
By nightfall we were far out at sea, with no land in sight. No telegrams
could come here, no letters, no news. This was an uplifting thought. It
was still more uplifting to reflect that the millions of harassed people
on shore behind us were suffering just as usual.
The next day brought us into the midst of the Atlantic solitudes--out
of smoke-colored sounding into fathomless deep blue; no ships visible
anywhere over the wide ocean; no company but Mother Carey's chickens
wheeling, darting, skimming the waves in the sun. There were some
seafaring men among the passengers, and conversation drifted into matter
concerning ships and sailors. One said that "true as the needle to the
pole" was a bad figure, since the needle seldom pointed to the pole. He
said a ship's compass was not faithful to any particular point, but was
the most fickle and treacherous of the servants of man. It was forever
changing. It changed every day in the year; consequently the amount of
the daily variation had to be ciphered out and allowance made for it,
else the mariner would go utterly astray. Another said there was a vast
fortune waiting for the genius who should invent a compass that would
not be affected by the local influences of an iron ship. He said there
was only one creature more fickle than a wooden ship's compass, and that
was the compass of an iron ship. Then came reference to the well known
fact that an experienced mariner can look at the compass of a new iron
vessel, thousands of mile from her birthplace, and tell which way her
head was pointing when she was in process of building.
Now an ancient whale-ship master fell to talking about the sort of crews
they used to have in his early days. Said he:
"Sometimes we'd have a batch of college students Queer lot. Ignorant?
Why, they didn't know the catheads from the main brace. But if you took
them for fools you'd get bit, sure. They'd learn more in a month than
another man would in a year. We had one, once, in the Mary Ann, that
came aboard with gold spectacles on. And besides, he was rigged out from
main truck to keelson in the nobbiest clothes that ever saw a fo'castle.
He had a chestful, too: cloaks, and broadcloth coats, and velvet vests;
everything swell, you know; and didn't the saltwater fix them out for
him? I guess not! Well, going to sea, the mate told him to go aloft and
help shake out the foreto'gallants'l. Up he shins to the foretop,
with his spectacles on, and in a minute down he comes again, looking
insulted. Says the mate, 'What did you come down for?' Says the chap,
'P'r'aps you didn't notice that there ain't any ladders above there.'
You see we hadn't any shrouds above the foretop. The men bursted out in
a laugh such as I guess you never heard the like of. Next night,
which was dark and rainy, the mate ordered this chap to go aloft about
something, and I'm dummed if he didn't start up with an umbrella and a
lantern! But no matter; he made a mighty good sailor before the voyage
was done, and we had to hunt up something else to laugh at. Years
afterwards, when I had forgot all about him, I comes into Boston, mate
of a ship, and was loafing around town with the second mate, and it so
happened that we stepped into the Revere House, thinking maybe we would
chance the salt-horse in that big diningroom for a flyer, as the
boys say. Some fellows were talking just at our elbow, and one says,
'Yonder's the new governor of Massachusetts--at that table over there
with the ladies.' We took a good look my mate and I, for we hadn't
either of us ever see a governor before. I looked and looked at that
face and then all of a sudden it popped on me! But didn't give any sign.
Says I, 'Mate, I've a notion to go over and shake hands with him.' Says
he 'I think I see you doing it, Tom.' Says I, 'Mate I'm a-going to do
it.' Says he, 'Oh, yes, I guess so. Maybe you don't want to bet you
will, Tom?' Say I, 'I don't mind going a V on it, mate.' Says he 'Put it
up.' 'Up she goes,' says I, planking the cash. This surprised him. But
he covered it, and says pretty sarcastic, 'Hadn't you better take
your grub with the governor and the ladies, Tom?' Says I 'Upon second
thoughts, I will.' Says he, 'Well Tom, you aye a dum fool.' Says I,
'Maybe I am maybe I ain't; but the main question is, do you wan to risk
two and a half that I won't do it?' 'Make it a V,' says he. 'Done,' says
I. I started, him a giggling and slapping his hand on his thigh, he felt
so good. I went over there and leaned my knuckle: on the table a minute
and looked the governor in the face, and says I, 'Mr. Gardner, don't you
know me? He stared, and I stared, and he stared. Then all of a sudden
he sings out, 'Tom Bowling, by the holy poker! Ladies, it's old Tom
Bowling, that you've heard me talk about--shipmate of mine in the Mary
Ann.' He rose up and shook hands with me ever so hearty--I sort of
glanced around and took a realizing sense of my mate's saucer eyes--and
then says the governor, 'Plant yourself, Tom, plant yourself; you can't
cat your anchor again till you've had a feed with me and the ladies!' I
planted myself alongside the governor, and canted my eye around toward
my mate. Well, sir, his dead-lights were bugged out like tompions; and
his mouth stood that wide open that you could have laid a ham in it
without him noticing it."
There was great applause at the conclusion of the old captain's story;
then, after a moment's silence, a grave, pale young man said:
"Had you ever met the governor before?"
The old captain looked steadily at this inquirer awhile, and then got
up and walked aft without making any reply. One passenger after another
stole a furtive glance at the inquirer; but failed to make him out, and
so gave him up. It took some little work to get the talk-machinery
to running smoothly again after this derangement; but at length a
conversation sprang up about that important and jealously guarded
instrument, a ship's timekeeper, its exceeding delicate accuracy, and
the wreck and destruction that have sometimes resulted from its varying
a few seemingly trifling moments from the true time; then, in due
course, my comrade, the Reverend, got off on a yarn, with a fair
wind and everything drawing. It was a true story, too--about Captain
Rounceville's shipwreck--true in every detail. It was to this effect:
Captain Rounceville's vessel was lost in mid-Atlantic, and likewise his
wife and his two little children. Captain Rounceville and seven seamen
escaped with life, but with little else. A small, rudely constructed
raft was to be their home for eight days. They had neither provisions
nor water. They had scarcely any clothing; no one had a coat but the
captain. This coat was changing hands all the time, for the weather was
very cold. Whenever a man became exhausted with the cold, they put the
coat on him and laid him down between two shipmates until the garment
and their bodies had warmed life into him again. Among the sailors was a
Portuguese who knew no English. He seemed to have no thought of his own
calamity, but was concerned only about the captain's bitter loss of wife
and children. By day he would look his dumb compassion in the captain's
face; and by night, in the darkness and the driving spray and rain, he
would seek out the captain and try to comfort him with caressing pats
on the shoulder. One day, when hunger and thirst were making their sure
inroad; upon the men's strength and spirits, a floating barrel was seen
at a distance. It seemed a great find, for doubtless it contained food
of some sort. A brave fellow swam to it, and after long and exhausting
effort got it to the raft. It was eagerly opened. It was a barrel of
magnesia! On the fifth day an onion was spied. A sailor swam off and got
it. Although perishing with hunger, he brought it in its integrity and
put it into the captain's hand. The history of the sea teaches
that among starving, shipwrecked men selfishness is rare, and a
wonder-compelling magnanimity the rule. The onion was equally divided
into eight parts, and eaten with deep thanksgivings. On the eighth day
a distant ship was sighted. Attempts were made to hoist an oar, with
Captain Rounceville's coat on it for a signal. There were many failures,
for the men were but skeletons now, and strengthless. At last success
was achieved, but the signal brought no help. The ship faded out of
sight and left despair behind her. By and by another ship appeared, and
passed so near that the castaways, every eye eloquent with gratitude,
made ready to welcome the boat that would be sent to save them. But
this ship also drove on, and left these men staring their unutterable
surprise and dismay into each other's ashen faces. Late in the day,
still another ship came up out of the distance, but the men noted with
a pang that her course was one which would not bring her nearer. Their
remnant of life was nearly spent; their lips and tongues were swollen,
parched, cracked with eight days' thirst; their bodies starved; and here
was their last chance gliding relentlessly from them; they would not
be alive when the next sun rose. For a day or two past the men had lost
their voices, but now Captain Rounceville whispered, "Let us pray."
The Portuguese patted him on the shoulder in sign of deep approval. All
knelt at the base of the oar that was waving the signal-coat aloft, and
bowed their heads. The sea was tossing; the sun rested, a red, rayless
disk, on the sea-line in the west. When the men presently raised their
heads they would have roared a hallelujah if they had had a voice--the
ship's sails lay wrinkled and flapping against her masts--she was going
about! Here was rescue at last, and in the very last instant of time
that was left for it. No, not rescue yet--only the imminent prospect of
it. The red disk sank under the sea, and darkness blotted out the ship.
By and by came a pleasant sound-oars moving in a boat's rowlocks. Nearer
it came, and nearer-within thirty steps, but nothing visible. Then a
deep voice: "Hol-lo!" The castaways could not answer; their swollen
tongues refused voice. The boat skirted round and round the raft,
started away--the agony of it!--returned, rested the oars, close at
hand, listening, no doubt. The deep voice again: "Hol-lo! Where are ye,
shipmates?" Captain Rounceville whispered to his men, saying: "Whisper
your best, boys! now--all at once!" So they sent out an eightfold
whisper in hoarse concert: "Here!", There was life in it if it
succeeded; death if it failed. After that supreme moment Captain
Rounceville was conscious of nothing until he came to himself on board
the saving ship. Said the Reverend, concluding:
"There was one little moment of time in which that raft could be visible
from that ship, and only one. If that one little fleeting moment had
passed unfruitful, those men's doom was sealed. As close as that does
God shave events foreordained from the beginning of the world. When
the sun reached the water's edge that day, the captain of that ship was
sitting on deck reading his prayer-book. The book fell; he stooped to
pick it up, and happened to glance at the sun. In that instant that
far-off raft appeared for a second against the red disk, its needlelike
oar and diminutive signal cut sharp and black against the bright
surface, and in the next instant was thrust away into the dusk again.
But that ship, that captain, and that pregnant instant had had their
work appointed for them in the dawn of time and could not fail of the
performance. The chronometer of God never errs!"
There was deep, thoughtful silence for some moments. Then the grave,
pale young man said:
"What is the chronometer of God?"
At dinner, six o'clock, the same people assembled whom we had talked
with on deck and seen at luncheon and breakfast this second day out,
and at dinner the evening before. That is to say, three journeying
ship-masters, a Boston merchant, and a returning Bermudian who had been
absent from his Bermuda thirteen years; these sat on the starboard side.
On the port side sat the Reverend in the seat of honor; the pale young
man next to him; I next; next to me an aged Bermudian, returning to his
sunny islands after an absence of twenty-seven years. Of course, our
captain was at the head of the table, the purser at the foot of it. A
small company, but small companies are pleasantest.
No racks upon the table; the sky cloudless, the sun brilliant, the blue
sea scarcely ruffled; then what had become of the four married couples,
the three bachelors, and the active and obliging doctor from the rural
districts of Pennsylvania?--for all these were on deck when we
sailed down New York harbor. This is the explanation. I quote from my
Thursday, 3.30 P.M. Under way, passing the Battery. The large
party, of four married couples, three bachelors, and a cheery,
exhilarating doctor from the wilds of Pennsylvania, are evidently
traveling together. All but the doctor grouped in camp-chairs on
Passing principal fort. The doctor is one of those people who has
an infallible preventive of seasickness; is flitting from friend to
friend administering it and saying, "Don't you be afraid; I know
this medicine; absolutely infallible; prepared under my own
supervision." Takes a dose himself, intrepidly.
4.15 P.M. Two of those ladies have struck their colors,
notwithstanding the "infallible." They have gone below. The other
two begin to show distress.
5 P.M. Exit one husband and one bachelor. These still had their
infallible in cargo when they started, but arrived at the
companionway without it.
5.10. Lady No. 3, two bachelors, and one married man have gone
below with their own opinion of the infallible.
5.20. Passing Quarantine Hulk. The infallible has done the
business for all the party except the Scotchman's wife and the
author of that formidable remedy.
Nearing the Light-Ship. Exit the Scotchman's wife, head drooped on
Entering the open sea. Exit doctor!
The rout seems permanent; hence the smallness of the company at table
since the voyage began. Our captain is a grave, handsome Hercules of
thirty-five, with a brown hand of such majestic size that one cannot
eat for admiring it and wondering if a single kid or calf could furnish
material for gloving it.
Conversation not general; drones along between couples. One catches a
sentence here and there. Like this, from Bermudian of thirteen years'
absence: "It is the nature of women to ask trivial, irrelevant, and
pursuing questions--questions that pursue you from a beginning
in nothing to a run-to-cover in nowhere." Reply of Bermudian of
twenty-seven years' absence: "Yes; and to think they have logical,
analytical minds and argumentative ability. You see 'em begin to whet up
whenever they smell argument in the air." Plainly these be philosophers.
Twice since we left port our engines have stopped for a couple of
minutes at a time. Now they stop again. Says the pale young man,
meditatively, "There!--that engineer is sitting down to rest again."
Grave stare from the captain, whose mighty jaws cease to work, and
whose harpooned potato stops in midair on its way to his open, paralyzed
mouth. Presently he says in measured tones, "Is it your idea that the
engineer of this ship propels her by a crank turned by his own hands?"
The pale young man studies over this a moment, then lifts up his
guileless eyes, and says, "Don't he?"
Thus gently falls the death-blow to further conversation, and the dinner
drags to its close in a reflective silence, disturbed by no sounds but
the murmurous wash of the sea and the subdued clash of teeth.
After a smoke and a promenade on deck, where is no motion to discompose
our steps, we think of a game of whist. We ask the brisk and capable
stewardess from Ireland if there are any cards in the ship.
"Bless your soul, dear, indeed there is. Not a whole pack, true for ye,
but not enough missing to signify."
However, I happened by accident to bethink me of a new pack in a morocco
case, in my trunk, which I had placed there by mistake, thinking it to
be a flask of something. So a party of us conquered the tedium of the
evening with a few games and were ready for bed at six bells, mariner's
time, the signal for putting out the lights.
There was much chat in the smoking-cabin on the upper deck after
luncheon to-day, mostly whaler yarns from those old sea-captains.
Captain Tom Bowling was garrulous. He had that garrulous attention to
minor detail which is born of secluded farm life or life at sea on long
voyages, where there is little to do and time no object. He would sail
along till he was right in the most exciting part of a yarn, and then
say, "Well, as I was saying, the rudder was fouled, ship driving before
the gale, head-on, straight for the iceberg, all hands holding their
breath, turned to stone, top-hamper giving 'way, sails blown to ribbons,
first one stick going, then another, boom! smash! crash! duck your head
and stand from under! when up comes Johnny Rogers, capstan-bar in hand,
eyes a-blazing, hair a-flying... no, 'twa'n't Johnny Rogers... lemme see
... seems to me Johnny Rogers wa'n't along that voyage; he was along
one voyage, I know that mighty well, but somehow it seems to me that he
signed the articles for this voyage, but--but--whether he come along or
not, or got left, or something happened--"
And so on and so on till the excitement all cooled down and nobody cared
whether the ship struck the iceberg or not.
In the course of his talk he rambled into a criticism upon New England
degrees of merit in ship building. Said he, "You get a vessel built away
down Maine-way; Bath, for instance; what's the result? First thing you
do, you want to heave her down for repairs--that's the result! Well,
sir, she hain't been hove down a week till you can heave a dog through
her seams. You send that vessel to sea, and what's the result? She wets
her oakum the first trip! Leave it to any man if 'tain't so. Well,
you let our folks build you a vessel--down New Bedford-way. What's the
result? Well, sir, you might take that ship and heave her down, and keep
her hove down six months, and she'll never shed a tear!"
Everybody, landsmen and all, recognized the descriptive neatness of
that figure, and applauded, which greatly pleased the old man. A moment
later, the meek eyes of the pale young fellow heretofore mentioned came
up slowly, rested upon the old man's face a moment, and the meek mouth
began to open.
"Shet your head!" shouted the old mariner.
It was a rather startling surprise to everybody, but it was effective
in the matter of its purpose. So the conversation flowed on instead of
There was some talk about the perils of the sea, and a landsman
delivered himself of the customary nonsense about the poor mariner
wandering in far oceans, tempest-tossed, pursued by dangers, every
storm-blast and thunderbolt in the home skies moving the friends by
snug firesides to compassion for that poor mariner, and prayers for his
succor. Captain Bowling put up with this for a while, and then burst out
with a new view of the matter.
"Come, belay there! I have read this kind of rot all my life in poetry
and tales and such-like rubbage. Pity for the poor mariner! sympathy for
the poor mariner! All right enough, but not in the way the poetry puts
it. Pity for the mariner's wife! all right again, but not in the way the
poetry puts it. Look-a here! whose life's the safest in the whole world
The poor mariner's. You look at the statistics, you'll see. So don't you
fool away any sympathy on the poor mariner's dangers and privations and
sufferings. Leave that to the poetry muffs. Now you look at the other
side a minute. Here is Captain Brace, forty years old, been at sea
thirty. On his way now to take command of his ship and sail south from
Bermuda. Next week he'll be under way; easy times; comfortable quarters;
passengers, sociable company; just enough to do to keep his mind healthy
and not tire him; king over his ship, boss of everything and everybody;
thirty years' safety to learn him that his profession ain't a dangerous
one. Now you look back at his home. His wife's a feeble woman; she's a
stranger in New York; shut up in blazing hot or freezing cold lodgings,
according to the season; don't know anybody hardly; no company but her
lonesomeness and her thoughts; husband gone six months at a time.
She has borne eight children; five of them she has buried without her
husband ever setting eyes on them. She watches them all the long nights
till they died--he comfortable on the sea; she followed them to the
grave she heard the clods fall that broke her heart he comfortable on
the sea; she mourned at home, weeks and weeks, missing them every day
and every hour--he cheerful at sea, knowing nothing about it. Now look
at it a minute--turn it over in your mind and size it: five children
born, she among strangers, and him not by to hearten her; buried,
and him not by to comfort her; think of that! Sympathy for the poor
mariner's perils is rot; give it to his wife's hard lines, where it
belongs! Poetry makes out that all the wife worries about is the dangers
her husband's running. She's got substantialer things to worry over,
I tell you. Poetry's always pitying the poor mariner on account of his
perils at sea; better a blamed sight pity him for the nights he can't
sleep for thinking of how he had to leave his wife in her very birth
pains, lonesome and friendless, in the thick of disease and trouble and
death. If there's one thing that can make me madder than another, it's
this sappy, damned maritime poetry!"
Captain Brace was a patient, gentle, seldom speaking man, with a
pathetic something in his bronzed face that had been a mystery up to
this time, but stood interpreted now since we had heard his story. He
had voyaged eighteen times to the Mediterranean, seven times to India,
once to the arctic pole in a discovery-ship, and "between times" had
visited all the remote seas and ocean corners of the globe. But he said
that twelve years ago, on account of his family, he "settled down," and
ever since then had ceased to roam. And what do you suppose was this
simple-hearted, lifelong wanderer's idea of settling down and ceasing to
roam? Why, the making of two five-month voyages a year between Surinam
and Boston for sugar and molasses!
Among other talk to-day, it came out that whale-ships carry no doctor.
The captain adds the doctorship to his own duties. He not only gives
medicines, but sets broken limbs after notions of his own, or saws
them off and sears the stump when amputation seems best. The captain is
provided with a medicine-chest, with the medicines numbered instead of
named. A book of directions goes with this. It describes diseases and
symptoms, and says, "Give a teaspoonful of No. 9 once an hour," or "Give
ten grains of No. 12 every half-hour," etc. One of our sea-captains
came across a skipper in the North Pacific who was in a state of great
surprise and perplexity. Said he:
"There's something rotten about this medicine-chest business. One of
my men was sick--nothing much the matter. I looked in the book: it said
give him a teaspoonful of No. 15. I went to the medicine-chest, and
I see I was out of No. 15. I judged I'd got to get up a combination
somehow that would fill the bill; so I hove into the fellow half a
teaspoonful of No. 8 and half a teaspoonful of No. 7, and I'll be hanged
if it didn't kill him in fifteen minutes! There's something about this
medicine-chest system that's too many for me!"
There was a good deal of pleasant gossip about old Captain "Hurricane"
Jones, of the Pacific Ocean--peace to his ashes! Two or three of
us present had known him; I particularly well, for I had made four
sea-voyages with him. He was a very remarkable man. He was born in a
ship; he picked up what little education he had among his shipmates;
he began life in the forecastle, and climbed grade by grade to the
captaincy. More than fifty years of his sixty-five were spent at sea.
He had sailed all oceans, seen all lands, and borrowed a tint from all
climates. When a man has been fifty years at sea he necessarily knows
nothing of men, nothing of the world but its surface, nothing of the
world's thought, nothing of the world's learning but it's a B C, and
that blurred and distorted by the unfocused lenses of an untrained mind.
Such a man is only a gray and bearded child. That is what old Hurricane
Jones was--simply an innocent, lovable old infant. When his spirit was
in repose he was as sweet and gentle as a girl; when his wrath was up he
was a hurricane that made his nickname seem tamely descriptive. He
was formidable in a fight, for he was of powerful build and dauntless
courage. He was frescoed from head to heel with pictures and mottoes
tattooed in red and blue India ink. I was with him one voyage when he
got his last vacant space tattooed; this vacant space was around his
left ankle. During three days he stumped about the ship with his ankle
bare and swollen, and this legend gleaming red and angry out from a
clouding of India ink: "Virtue is its own R'd." (There was a lack of
room.) He was deeply and sincerely pious, and swore like a fishwoman. He
considered swearing blameless, because sailors would not understand an
order unillumined by it. He was a profound biblical scholar--that is, he
thought he was. He believed everything in the Bible, but he had his own
methods of arriving at his beliefs. He was of the "advanced" school
of thinkers, and applied natural laws to the interpretation of all
miracles, somewhat on the plan of the people who make the six days of
creation six geological epochs, and so forth. Without being aware of it,
he was a rather severe satire on modern scientific religionists. Such
a man as I have been describing is rabidly fond of disquisition and
argument; one knows that without being told it.
One trip the captain had a clergyman on board, but did not know he was
a clergyman, since the passenger-list did not betray the fact. He took
a great liking to this Reverend Mr. Peters, and talked with him a great
deal; told him yarns, gave him toothsome scraps of personal history, and
wove a glittering streak of profanity through his garrulous fabric that
was refreshing to a spirit weary of the dull neutralities of undecorated
speech. One day the captain said, "Peters, do you ever read the Bible?"
"I judge it ain't often, by the way you say it. Now, you tackle it
in dead earnest once, and you'll find it 'll pay. Don't you get
discouraged, but hang right on. First, you won't understand it; but by
and by things will begin to clear up, and then you wouldn't lay it down
"Yes, I have heard that said."
"And it's so, too. There ain't a book that begins with it. It lays
over 'm all, Peters. There's some pretty tough things in it--there ain't
any getting around that--but you stick to them and think them out, and
when once you get on the inside everything's plain as day."
"The miracles, too, captain?"
"Yes, sir! the miracles, too. Every one of them. Now, there's that
business with the prophets of Baal; like enough that stumped you?"
"Well, I don't know but--"
"Own up now; it stumped you. Well, I don't wonder. You hadn't had any
experience in raveling such things out, and naturally it was too many
for you. Would you like to have me explain that thing to you, and show
you how to get at the meat of these matters?"
"Indeed, I would, captain, if you don't mind."
Then the captain proceeded as follows: "I'll do it with pleasure.
First, you see, I read and read, and thought and thought, till I got
to understand what sort of people they were in the old Bible times, and
then after that it was all clear and easy. Now this was the way I put
it up, concerning Isaac--[This is the captain's own mistake]--and the
prophets of Baal. There was some mighty sharp men among the public
characters of that old ancient day, and Isaac was one of them. Isaac
had his failings--plenty of them, too; it ain't for me to apologize
for Isaac; he played it on the prophets of Baal, and like enough he was
justifiable, considering the odds that was against him. No, all I say
is, 'twa'n't any miracle, and that I'll show you so's't you can see it
"Well, times had been getting rougher and rougher for prophets--that
is, prophets of Isaac's denomination. There was four hundred and fifty
prophets of Baal in the community, and only one Presbyterian; that is,
if Isaac was a Presbyterian, which I reckon he was, but it don't say.
Naturally, the prophets of Baal took all the trade. Isaac was pretty
low-spirited, I reckon, but he was a good deal of a man, and no doubt
he went a-prophesying around, letting on to be doing a land-office
business, but 'twa'n't any use; he couldn't run any opposition to amount
to anything. By and by things got desperate with him; he sets his head
to work and thinks it all out, and then what does he do? Why, he
begins to throw out hints that the other parties are this and that and
t'other--nothing very definite, maybe, but just kind of undermining
their reputation in a quiet way. This made talk, of course, and finally
got to the king. The king asked Isaac what he meant by his talk. Says
Isaac, 'Oh, nothing particular; only, can they pray-down fire from
heaven on an altar? It ain't much, maybe, your majesty, only can they do
it? That's the idea.' So the king was a good deal disturbed, and he went
to the prophets of Baal, and they said, pretty airy, that if he had
an altar ready, they were ready; and they intimated he better get it
"So next morning all the children of Israel and their parents and the
other people gathered themselves together. Well, here was that great
crowd of prophets of Baal packed together on one side, and Isaac walking
up and down all alone on the other, putting up his job. When time was
called, Isaac let on to be comfortable and indifferent; told the other
team to take the first innings. So they went at it, the whole four
hundred and fifty, praying around the altar, very hopeful, and doing
their level best. They prayed an hour--two hours--three hours--and so
on, plumb till noon. It wa'n't any use; they hadn't took a trick. Of
course they felt kind of ashamed before all those people, and well they
might. Now, what would a magnanimous man do? Keep still, wouldn't he? Of
course. What did Isaac do? He graveled the prophets of Baal every way
he could think of. Says he, 'You don't speak up loud enough; your god's
asleep, like enough, or maybe he's taking a walk; you want to holler,
you know'--or words to that effect; I don't recollect the exact
language. Mind, I don't apologize for Isaac; he had his faults.
"Well, the prophets of Baal prayed along the best they knew how all the
afternoon, and never raised, a spark. At last, about sundown, they were
all tuckered out, and they owned up and quit.
"What does Isaac do now? He steps up and says to some friends of
his there, 'Pour four barrels of water on the altar!' Everybody was
astonished; for the other side had prayed at it dry, you know, and got
whitewashed. They poured it on. Says he, 'Heave on four more barrels.'
Then he says, 'Heave on four more.' Twelve barrels, you see, altogether.
The water ran all over the altar, and all down the sides, and filled up
a trench around it that would hold a couple of hogsheads-'measures,' it
says; I reckon it means about a hogshead. Some of the people were going
to put on their things and go, for they allowed he was crazy. They
didn't know Isaac. Isaac knelt down and began to pray; he strung along,
and strung along, about the heathen in distant lands, and about the
sister churches, and about the state and the country at large, and about
those that's in authority in the government, and all the usual program,
you know, till everybody had got tired and gone to thinking about
something else, and then, all of a sudden, when nobody was noticing, he
outs with a match and rakes it on the under side of his leg, and pff!
up the whole thing blazes like a house afire! Twelve barrels of water?
Petroleum, sir, PETROLEUM! that's what it was!"
"Yes, sir, the country was full of it. Isaac knew all about that. You
read the Bible. Don't you worry about the tough places. They ain't tough
when you come to think them out and throw light on them. There ain't a
thing in the Bible but what is true; all you want is to go prayerfully
to work and cipher out how 'twas done."
At eight o'clock on the third morning out from New York, land was
sighted. Away across the sunny waves one saw a faint dark stripe
stretched along under the horizon-or pretended to see it, for the credit
of his eyesight. Even the Reverend said he saw it, a thing which was
manifestly not so. But I never have seen any one who was morally strong
enough to confess that he could not see land when others claimed that
By and by the Bermuda Islands were easily visible. The principal one
lay upon the water in the distance, a long, dull-colored body; scalloped
with slight hills and valleys. We could not go straight at it, but had
to travel all the way around it, sixteen miles from shore, because it is
fenced with an invisible coral reef. At last we sighted buoys, bobbing
here and there, and then we glided into a narrow channel among them,
"raised the reef," and came upon shoaling blue water that soon further
shoaled into pale green, with a surface scarcely rippled. Now came the
resurrection hour; the berths gave up their dead. Who are these pale
specters in plug-hats and silken flounces that file up the companionway
in melancholy procession and step upon the deck? These are they which
took the infallible preventive of seasickness in New York harbor and
then disappeared and were forgotten. Also there came two or three faces
not seen before until this moment. One's impulse is to ask, "Where did
you come aboard?"
We followed the narrow channel a long time, with land on both sides--low
hills that might have been green and grassy, but had a faded look
instead. However, the land-locked water was lovely, at any rate, with
its glittering belts of blue and green where moderate soundings were,
and its broad splotches of rich brown where the rocks lay near the
surface. Everybody was feeling so well that even the grave, pale young
man (who, by a sort of kindly common consent, had come latterly to be
referred to as "The Ass") received frequent and friendly notice--which
was right enough, for there was no harm in him.
At last we steamed between two island points whose rocky jaws allowed
only just enough room for the vessel's body, and now before us loomed
Hamilton on her clustered hillsides and summits, the whitest mass of
terraced architecture that exists in the world, perhaps.
It was Sunday afternoon, and on the pier were gathered one or two
hundred Bermudians, half of them black, half of them white, and all of
them nobbily dressed, as the poet says.
Several boats came off to the ship, bringing citizens. One of these
citizens was a faded, diminutive old gentleman, who approached our most
ancient passenger with a childlike joy in his twinkling eyes, halted
before him, folded his arms, and said, smiling with all his might and
with all the simple delight that was in him, "You don't know me, John!
Come, out with it now; you know you don't!"
The ancient passenger scanned him perplexedly, scanned the napless,
threadbare costume of venerable fashion that had done Sunday service no
man knows how many years, contemplated the marvelous stovepipe hat of
still more ancient and venerable pattern, with its poor, pathetic old
stiff brim canted up "gallusly" in the wrong places, and said, with a
hesitation that indicated strong internal effort to "place" the gentle
old apparition, "Why... let me see... plague on it... there's something
about you that... er... er... but I've been gone from Bermuda for
twenty-seven years, and... hum, hum ... I don't seem to get at it,
somehow, but there's something about you that is just as familiar to me
"Likely it might be his hat," murmured the Ass, with innocent,
So the Reverend and I had at last arrived at Hamilton, the principal
town in the Bermuda Islands. A wonderfully white town; white as snow
itself. White as marble; white as flour. Yet looking like none of these,
exactly. Never mind, we said; we shall hit upon a figure by and by that
will describe this peculiar white.
It was a town that was compacted together upon the sides and tops of
a cluster of small hills. Its outlying borders fringed off and thinned
away among the cedar forests, and there was no woody distance of curving
coast or leafy islet sleeping upon the dimpled, painted sea, but was
flecked with shining white points--half-concealed houses peeping out of
the foliage. The architecture of the town was mainly Spanish,
inherited from the colonists of two hundred and fifty years ago. Some
ragged-topped cocoa-palms, glimpsed here and there, gave the land a
There was an ample pier of heavy masonry; upon this, under shelter, were
some thousands of barrels containing that product which has carried the
fame of Bermuda to many lands, the potato. With here and there an onion.
That last sentence is facetious; for they grow at least two onions in
Bermuda to one potato. The onion is the pride and joy of Bermuda. It
is her jewel, her gem of gems. In her conversation, her pulpit, her
literature, it is her most frequent and eloquent figure. In Bermuda
metaphor it stands for perfection--perfection absolute.
The Bermudian weeping over the departed exhausts praise when he says,
"He was an onion!" The Bermudian extolling the living hero bankrupts
applause when he says, "He is an onion!" The Bermudian setting his son
upon the stage of life to dare and do for himself climaxes all counsel,
supplication, admonition, comprehends all ambition, when he says, "Be an
When parallel with the pier, and ten or fifteen steps outside it,
we anchored. It was Sunday, bright and sunny. The groups upon the
pier--men, youths, and boys-were whites and blacks in about equal
proportion. All were well and neatly dressed; many of them nattily, a
few of them very stylishly. One would have to travel far before he would
find another town of twelve thousand inhabitants that could represent
itself so respectably, in the matter of clothes, on a freight-pier,
without premeditation or effort. The women and young girls, black and
white, who occasionally passed by, were nicely clad, and many were
elegantly and fashionably so. The men did not affect summer clothing
much, but the girls and women did, and their white garments were good to
look at, after so many months of familiarity with somber colors.
Around one isolated potato-barrel stood four young gentlemen, two black,
two white, becomingly dressed, each with the head of a slender cane
pressed against his teeth, and each with a foot propped up on the
barrel. Another young gentleman came up, looked longingly at the barrel,
but saw no rest for his foot there, and turned pensively away to seek
another barrel. He wandered here and there, but without result. Nobody
sat upon a barrel, as is the custom of the idle in other lands, yet
all the isolated barrels were humanly occupied. Whosoever had a foot
to spare put it on a barrel, if all the places on it were not already
taken. The habits of all peoples are determined by their circumstances.
The Bermudians lean upon barrels because of the scarcity of lamp-posts.
Many citizens came on board and spoke eagerly to the officers--inquiring
about the Turco-Russian war news, I supposed. However, by listening
judiciously I found that this was not so. They said, "What is the price
of onions?" or, "How's onions?" Naturally enough this was their first
interest; but they dropped into the war the moment it was satisfied.
We went ashore and found a novelty of a pleasant nature: there were
no hackmen, hacks, or omnibuses on the pier or about it anywhere, and
nobody offered his services to us, or molested us in any way. I said it
was like being in heaven. The Reverend rebukingly and rather pointedly
advised me to make the most of it, then. We knew of a boarding-house,
and what we needed now was somebody to pilot us to it. Presently
a little barefooted colored boy came along, whose raggedness was
conspicuously not Bermudian. His rear was so marvelously bepatched with
colored squares and triangles that one was half persuaded he had got it
out of an atlas. When the sun struck him right, he was as good to follow
as a lightning-bug. We hired him and dropped into his wake. He piloted
us through one picturesque street after another, and in due course
deposited us where we belonged. He charged nothing for his map, and but
a trifle for his services: so the Reverend doubled it. The little chap
received the money with a beaming applause in his eye which plainly
said, "This man's an onion!"
We had brought no letters of introduction; our names had been misspelled
in the passenger-list; nobody knew whether we were honest folk or
otherwise. So we were expecting to have a good private time in case
there was nothing in our general aspect to close boarding-house doors
against us. We had no trouble. Bermuda has had but little experience of
rascals, and is not suspicious. We got large, cool, well-lighted rooms
on a second floor, overlooking a bloomy display of flowers and flowering
shrubscalia and annunciation lilies, lantanas, heliotrope, jasmine,
roses, pinks, double geraniums, oleanders, pomegranates, blue
morning-glories of a great size, and many plants that were unknown to
We took a long afternoon walk, and soon found out that that exceedingly
white town was built of blocks of white coral. Bermuda is a coral
island, with a six-inch crust of soil on top of it, and every man has
a quarry on his own premises. Everywhere you go you see square recesses
cut into the hillsides, with perpendicular walls unmarred by crack
or crevice, and perhaps you fancy that a house grew out of the ground
there, and has been removed in a single piece from the mold. If you do,
you err. But the material for a house has been quarried there. They cut
right down through the coral, to any depth that is convenient--ten to
twenty feet--and take it out in great square blocks. This cutting is
done with a chisel that has a handle twelve or fifteen feet long, and is
used as one uses a crowbar when he is drilling a hole, or a dasher when
he is churning. Thus soft is this stone. Then with a common handsaw they
saw the great blocks into handsome, huge bricks that are two feet long,
a foot wide, and about six inches thick. These stand loosely piled
during a month to harden; then the work of building begins.
The house is built of these blocks; it is roofed with broad coral slabs
an inch thick, whose edges lap upon each other, so that the roof looks
like a succession of shallow steps or terraces; the chimneys are built
of the coral blocks, and sawed into graceful and picturesque patterns;
the ground-floor veranda is paved with coral blocks; also the walk to
the gate; the fence is built of coral blocks--built in massive panels,
with broad capstones and heavy gate-posts, and the whole trimmed into
easy lines and comely shape with the saw. Then they put a hard coat of
whitewash, as thick as your thumb-nail, on the fence and all over the
house, roof, chimneys, and all; the sun comes out and shines on this
spectacle, and it is time for you to shut your unaccustomed eyes, lest
they be put out. It is the whitest white you can conceive of, and the
blindingest. A Bermuda house does not look like marble; it is a much
intenser white than that; and, besides, there is a dainty, indefinable
something else about its look that is not marble-like. We put in a great
deal of solid talk and reflection over this matter of trying to find a
figure that would describe the unique white of a Bermuda house, and we
contrived to hit upon it at last. It is exactly the white of the icing
of a cake, and has the same unemphasized and scarcely perceptible
polish. The white of marble is modest and retiring compared with it.
After the house is cased in its hard scale of whitewash, not a crack, or
sign of a seam, or joining of the blocks is detectable, from base-stone
to chimney-top; the building looks as if it had been carved from a
single block of stone, and the doors and windows sawed out afterward. A
white marble house has a cold, tomb-like, unsociable look, and takes
the conversation out of a body and depresses him. Not so with a Bermuda
house. There is something exhilarating, even hilarious, about its vivid
whiteness when the sun plays upon it. If it be of picturesque shape and
graceful contour--and many of the Bermudian dwellings are--it will so
fascinate you that you will keep your eyes on it until they ache. One
of those clean-cut, fanciful chimneys--too pure and white for this
world--with one side glowing in the sun and the other touched with a
soft shadow, is an object that will charm one's gaze by the hour. I know
of no other country that has chimneys worthy to be gazed at and gloated
over. One of those snowy houses, half concealed and half glimpsed
through green foliage, is a pretty thing to see; and if it takes one by
surprise and suddenly, as he turns a sharp corner of a country road, it
will wring an exclamation from him, sure.
Wherever you go, in town or country, you find those snowy houses, and
always with masses of bright-colored flowers about them, but with no
vines climbing their walls; vines cannot take hold of the smooth, hard
whitewash. Wherever you go, in the town or along the country roads,
among little potato farms and patches or expensive country-seats, these
stainless white dwellings, gleaming out from flowers and foliage, meet
you at every turn. The least little bit of a cottage is as white and
blemishless as the stateliest mansion. Nowhere is there dirt or stench,
puddle or hog-wallow, neglect, disorder, or lack of trimness and
neatness. The roads, the streets, the dwellings, the people, the
clothes--this neatness extends to everything that falls under the eye.
It is the tidiest country in the world. And very much the tidiest, too.
Considering these things, the question came up, Where do the poor live?
No answer was arrived at. Therefore, we agreed to leave this conundrum
for future statesmen to wrangle over.
What a bright and startling spectacle one of those blazing white
country palaces, with its brown-tinted window-caps and ledges, and green
shutters, and its wealth of caressing flowers and foliage, would be in
black London! And what a gleaming surprise it would be in nearly any
American city one could mention, too!
Bermuda roads are made by cutting down a few inches into the solid white
coral--or a good many feet, where a hill intrudes itself--and smoothing
off the surface of the road-bed. It is a simple and easy process. The
grain of the coral is coarse and porous; the road-bed has the look of
being made of coarse white sugar. Its excessive cleanness and whiteness
are a trouble in one way: the sun is reflected into your eyes with
such energy as you walk along that you want to sneeze all the time. Old
Captain Tom Bowling found another difficulty. He joined us in our walk,
but kept wandering unrestfully to the roadside. Finally he explained.
Said he, "Well, I chew, you know, and the road's so plagued clean."
We walked several miles that afternoon in the bewildering glare of the
sun, the white roads, and the white buildings. Our eyes got to paining
us a good deal. By and by a soothing, blessed twilight spread its cool
balm around. We looked up in pleased surprise and saw that it proceeded
from an intensely black negro who was going by. We answered his military
salute in the grateful gloom of his near presence, and then passed on
into the pitiless white glare again.
The colored women whom we met usually bowed and spoke; so did the
children. The colored men commonly gave the military salute. They borrow
this fashion from the soldiers, no doubt; England has kept a garrison
here for generations. The younger men's custom of carrying small canes
is also borrowed from the soldiers, I suppose, who always carry a cane,
in Bermuda as everywhere else in Britain's broad dominions.
The country roads curve and wind hither and thither in the delightfulest
way, unfolding pretty surprises at every turn: billowy masses of
oleander that seem to float out from behind distant projections like the
pink cloud-banks of sunset; sudden plunges among cottages and gardens,
life and activity, followed by as sudden plunges into the somber
twilight and stillness of the woods; flitting visions of white
fortresses and beacon towers pictured against the sky on remote
hilltops; glimpses of shining green sea caught for a moment through
opening headlands, then lost again; more woods and solitude; and by and
by another turn lays bare, without warning, the full sweep of the
inland ocean, enriched with its bars of soft color and graced with its
Take any road you please, you may depend upon it you will not stay in
it half a mile. Your road is everything that a road ought to be: it is
bordered with trees, and with strange plants and flowers; it is shady
and pleasant, or sunny and still pleasant; it carries you by the
prettiest and peacefulest and most homelike of homes, and through
stretches of forest that lie in a deep hush sometimes, and sometimes are
alive with the music of birds; it curves always, which is a continual
promise, whereas straight roads reveal everything at a glance and kill
interest. Your road is all this, and yet you will not stay in it half a
mile, for the reason that little seductive, mysterious roads are always
branching out from it on either hand, and as these curve sharply also
and hide what is beyond, you cannot resist the temptation to desert your
own chosen road and explore them. You are usually paid for your trouble;
consequently, your walk inland always turns out to be one of the most
crooked, involved, purposeless, and interesting experiences a body can
imagine. There is enough of variety. Sometimes you are in the level
open, with marshes thick grown with flag-lances that are ten feet high
on the one hand, and potato and onion orchards on the other; next, you
are on a hilltop, with the ocean and the islands spread around you;
presently the road winds through a deep cut, shut in by perpendicular
walls thirty or forty feet high, marked with the oddest and abruptest
stratum lines, suggestive of sudden and eccentric old upheavals, and
garnished with here and there a clinging adventurous flower, and here
and there a dangling vine; and by and by your way is along the sea edge,
and you may look down a fathom or two through the transparent water and
watch the diamond-like flash and play of the light upon the rocks and
sands on the bottom until you are tired of it--if you are so constituted
as to be able to get tired of it.
You may march the country roads in maiden meditation, fancy free, by
field and farm, for no dog will plunge out at you from unsuspected gate,
with breath-taking surprise of ferocious bark, notwithstanding it is
a Christian land and a civilized. We saw upward of a million cats in
Bermuda, but the people are very abstemious in the matter of dogs. Two
or three nights we prowled the country far and wide, and never once were
accosted by a dog. It is a great privilege to visit such a land. The
cats were no offense when properly distributed, but when piled they
As we entered the edge of the town that Sunday afternoon, we stopped
at a cottage to get a drink of water. The proprietor, a middle-aged
man with a good face, asked us to sit down and rest. His dame brought
chairs, and we grouped ourselves in the shade of the trees by the door.
Mr. Smith--that was not his name, but it will answer--questioned us
about ourselves and our country, and we answered him truthfully, as a
general thing, and questioned him in return. It was all very simple
and pleasant and sociable. Rural, too; for there was a pig and a small
donkey and a hen anchored out, close at hand, by cords to their legs, on
a spot that purported to be grassy. Presently, a woman passed along, and
although she coldly said nothing she changed the drift of our talk. Said
"She didn't look this way, you noticed? Well, she is our next neighbor
on one side, and there's another family that's our next neighbors on the
other side; but there's a general coolness all around now, and we don't
speak. Yet these three families, one generation and another, have lived
here side by side and been as friendly as weavers for a hundred and
fifty years, till about a year ago."
"Why, what calamity could have been powerful enough to break up so old a
"Well, it was too bad, but it couldn't be helped. It happened like this:
About a year or more ago, the rats got to pestering my place a good
deal, and I set up a steel trap in my back yard. Both of these neighbors
run considerable to cats, and so I warned them about the trap, because
their cats were pretty sociable around here nights, and they might get
into trouble without my intending it. Well, they shut up their cats for
a while, but you know how it is with people; they got careless, and sure
enough one night the trap took Mrs. Jones's principal tomcat into camp
and finished him up. In the morning Mrs. Jones comes here with the
corpse in her arms, and cries and takes on the same as if it was a
child. It was a cat by the name of Yelverton--Hector G. Yelverton--a
troublesome old rip, with no more principle than an Injun, though you
couldn't make her believe it. I said all a man could to comfort her, but
no, nothing would do but I must pay for him. Finally, I said I warn't
investing in cats now as much as I was, and with that she walked off in
a huff, carrying the remains with her. That closed our intercourse with
the Joneses. Mrs. Jones joined another church and took her tribe with
her. She said she would not hold fellowship with assassins. Well, by and
by comes Mrs. Brown's turn--she that went by here a minute ago. She had
a disgraceful old yellow cat that she thought as much of as if he was
twins, and one night he tried that trap on his neck, and it fitted him
so, and was so sort of satisfactory, that he laid down and curled up and
stayed with it. Such was the end of Sir John Baldwin."
"Was that the name of the cat?"
"The same. There's cats around here with names that would surprise
you. Maria" (to his wife), "what was that cat's name that eat a keg of
ratsbane by mistake over at Hooper's, and started home and got struck by
lightning and took the blind staggers and fell in the well and was 'most
drowned before they could fish him out?"
"That was that colored Deacon Jackson's cat. I only remember the last
end of its name, which was Hold-The-Fort-For-I-Am-Coming Jackson."
"Sho! that ain't the one. That's the one that eat up an entire box of
Seidlitz powders, and then hadn't any more judgment than to go and take
a drink. He was considered to be a great loss, but I never could see it.
Well, no matter about the names. Mrs. Brown wanted to be reasonable, but
Mrs. Jones wouldn't let her. She put her up to going to law for damages.
So to law she went, and had the face to claim seven shillings and
sixpence. It made a great stir. All the neighbors went to court.
Everybody took sides. It got hotter and hotter, and broke up all the
friendships for three hundred yards around friendships that had lasted
for generations and generations.
"Well, I proved by eleven witnesses that the cat was of a low character
and very ornery, and warn't worth a canceled postage-stamp, anyway,
taking the average of cats here; but I lost the case. What could I
expect? The system is all wrong here, and is bound to make revolution
and bloodshed some day. You see, they give the magistrate a poor little
starvation salary, and then turn him loose on the public to gouge for
fees and costs to live on. What is the natural result? Why, he never
looks into the justice of a case--never once. All he looks at is which
client has got the money. So this one piled the fees and costs and
everything on to me. I could pay specie, don't you see? and he knew
mighty well that if he put the verdict on to Mrs. Brown, where it
belonged, he'd have to take his swag in currency."
"Currency? Why, has Bermuda a currency?"
"Yes--onions. And they were forty per cent. discount, too, then, because
the season had been over as much as three months. So I lost my case. I
had to pay for that cat. But the general trouble the case made was the
worst thing about it. Broke up so much good feeling. The neighbors don't
speak to each other now. Mrs. Brown had named a child after me. But she
changed its name right away. She is a Baptist. Well, in the course of
baptizing it over again it got drowned. I was hoping we might get to be
friendly again some time or other, but of course this drowning the child
knocked that all out of the question. It would have saved a world of
heartbreak and ill blood if she had named it dry."
I knew by the sigh that this was honest. All this trouble and all this
destruction of confidence in the purity of the bench on account of a
seven-shilling lawsuit about a cat! Somehow, it seemed to "size" the
At this point we observed that an English flag had just been placed at
half-mast on a building a hundred yards away. I and my friends were
busy in an instant trying to imagine whose death, among the island
dignitaries, could command such a mark of respect as this. Then a
shudder shook them and me at the same moment, and I knew that we
had jumped to one and the same conclusion: "The governor has gone to
England; it is for the British admiral!"
At this moment Mr. Smith noticed the flag. He said with emotion:
"That's on a boarding-house. I judge there's a boarder dead."
A dozen other flags within view went to half-mast.
"It's a boarder, sure," said Smith.
"But would they half-mast the flags here for a boarder, Mr. Smith?"
"Why, certainly they would, if he was dead."
That seemed to size the country again.
The early twilight of a Sunday evening in Hamilton, Bermuda, is an
alluring time. There is just enough of whispering breeze, fragrance of
flowers, and sense of repose to raise one's thoughts heavenward; and
just enough amateur piano music to keep him reminded of the other
place. There are many venerable pianos in Hamilton, and they all play
at twilight. Age enlarges and enriches the powers of some musical
instruments--notably those of the violin--but it seems to set a piano's
teeth on edge. Most of the music in vogue there is the same that those
pianos prattled in their innocent infancy; and there is something very
pathetic about it when they go over it now, in their asthmatic second
childhood, dropping a note here and there where a tooth is gone.
We attended evening service at the stately Episcopal church on the hill,
where five or six hundred people, half of them white and the other
half black, according to the usual Bermudian proportions; and all well
dressed--a thing which is also usual in Bermuda and to be confidently
expected. There was good music, which we heard, and doubtless--a good
sermon, but there was a wonderful deal of coughing, and so only the high
parts of the argument carried over it. As we came out, after service, I
overheard one young girl say to another:
"Why, you don't mean to say you pay duty on gloves and laces! I only pay
postage; have them done up and sent in the Boston Advertiser."
There are those that believe that the most difficult thing to create
is a woman who can comprehend that it is wrong to smuggle; and that an
impossible thing to create is a woman who will not smuggle, whether or
no, when she gets a chance. But these may be errors.
We went wandering off toward the country, and were soon far down in
the lonely black depths of a road that was roofed over with the dense
foliage of a double rank of great cedars. There was no sound of any kind
there; it was perfectly still. And it was so dark that one could detect
nothing but somber outlines. We strode farther and farther down this
tunnel, cheering the way with chat.
Presently the chat took this shape: "How insensibly the character of the
people and of a government makes its impress upon a stranger, and gives
him a sense of security or of insecurity without his taking deliberate
thought upon the matter or asking anybody a question! We have been in
this land half a day; we have seen none but honest faces; we have noted
the British flag flying, which means efficient government and good
order; so without inquiry we plunge unarmed and with perfect confidence
into this dismal place, which in almost any other country would swarm
with thugs and garroters--"
'Sh! What was that? Stealthy footsteps! Low voices! We gasp, we close up
together, and wait. A vague shape glides out of the dusk and confronts
us. A voice speaks--demands money!
"A shilling, gentlemen, if you please, to help build the new Methodist
Blessed sound! Holy sound! We contribute with thankful avidity to the
new Methodist church, and are happy to think how lucky it was that those
little colored Sunday-school scholars did not seize upon everything
we had with violence, before we recovered from our momentary helpless
condition. By the light of cigars we write down the names of weightier
philanthropists than ourselves on the contribution cards, and then pass
on into the farther darkness, saying, What sort of a government do
they call this, where they allow little black pious children, with
contribution cards, to plunge out upon peaceable strangers in the dark
and scare them to death?
We prowled on several hours, sometimes by the seaside, sometimes inland,
and finally managed to get lost, which is a feat that requires talent in
Bermuda. I had on new shoes. They were No. 7's when I started, but were
not more than 5's now, and still diminishing. I walked two hours in
those shoes after that, before we reached home. Doubtless I could have
the reader's sympathy for the asking. Many people have never had the
headache or the toothache, and I am one of those myself; but every body
has worn tight shoes for two or three hours, and known the luxury of
taking them off in a retired place and seeing his feet swell up and
obscure the firmament. Once when I was a callow, bashful cub, I took a
plain, unsentimental country girl to a comedy one night. I had known her
a day; she seemed divine; I wore my new boots. At the end of the first
half-hour she said, "Why do you fidget so with your feet?" I said, "Did
I?" Then I put my attention there and kept still. At the end of another
half-hour she said, "Why do you say, 'Yes, oh yes!' and 'Ha, ha, oh,
certainly! very true!' to everything I say, when half the time those are
entirely irrelevant answers?" I blushed, and explained that I had been a
little absent-minded. At the end of another half-hour she said, "Please,
why do you grin so steadfastly at vacancy, and yet look so sad?" I
explained that I always did that when I was reflecting. An hour passed,
and then she turned and contemplated me with her earnest eyes and said,
"Why do you cry all the time?" I explained that very funny comedies
always made me cry. At last human nature surrendered, and I secretly
slipped my boots off. This was a mistake. I was not able to get them on
any more. It was a rainy night; there were no omnibuses going our way;
and as I walked home, burning up with shame, with the girl on one
arm and my boots under the other, I was an object worthy of some
compassion--especially in those moments of martyrdom when I had to
pass through the glare that fell upon the pavement from street-lamps.
Finally, this child of the forest said, "Where are your boots?" and
being taken unprepared, I put a fitting finish to the follies of the
evening with the stupid remark, "The higher classes do not wear them to
The Reverend had been an army chaplain during the war, and while we were
hunting for a road that would lead to Hamilton he told a story about two
dying soldiers which interested me in spite of my feet. He said that in
the Potomac hospitals rough pine coffins were furnished by government,
but that it was not always possible to keep up with the demand; so, when
a man died, if there was no coffin at hand he was buried without one.
One night, late, two soldiers lay dying in a ward. A man came in with
a coffin on his shoulder, and stood trying to make up his mind which of
these two poor fellows would be likely to need it first. Both of them
begged for it with their fading eyes--they were past talking. Then one
of them protruded a wasted hand from his blankets and made a feeble
beckoning sign with the fingers, to signify, "Be a good fellow; put
it under my bed, please." The man did it, and left. The lucky soldier
painfully turned himself in his bed until he faced the other warrior,
raised himself partly on his elbow, and began to work up a mysterious
expression of some kind in his face. Gradually, irksomely, but surely
and steadily, it developed, and at last it took definite form as a
pretty successful wink. The sufferer fell back exhausted with his
labor, but bathed in glory. Now entered a personal friend of No. 2,
the despoiled soldier. No. 2 pleaded with him with eloquent eyes, till
presently he understood, and removed the coffin from under No. 1's bed
and put it under No. 2's. No. 2 indicated his joy, and made some more
signs; the friend understood again, and put his arm under No. 2's
shoulders and lifted him partly up. Then the dying hero turned the dim
exultation of his eye upon No. 1, and began a slow and labored work with
his hands; gradually he lifted one hand up toward his face; it grew weak
and dropped back again; once more he made the effort, but failed again.
He took a rest; he gathered all the remnant of his strength, and this
time he slowly but surely carried his thumb to the side of his nose,
spread the gaunt fingers wide in triumph, and dropped back dead. That
picture sticks by me yet. The "situation" is unique.
The next morning, at what seemed a very early hour, the little white
table-waiter appeared suddenly in my room and shot a single word out of
This was a remarkable boy in many ways. He was about eleven years old;
he had alert, intent black eyes; he was quick of movement; there was
no hesitation, no uncertainty about him anywhere; there was a military
decision in his lip, his manner, his speech, that was an astonishing
thing to see in a little chap like him; he wasted no words; his answers
always came so quick and brief that they seemed to be part of the
question that had been asked instead of a reply to it. When he stood
at table with his fly-brush, rigid, erect, his face set in a cast-iron
gravity, he was a statue till he detected a dawning want in somebody's
eye; then he pounced down, supplied it, and was instantly a statue
again. When he was sent to the kitchen for anything, he marched upright
till he got to the door; he turned hand-springs the rest of the way.
I thought I would make one more effort to get some conversation out of
"Have you called the Reverend, or are--"
"Is it early, or is--"
"Do you have to do all the 'chores,' or is there somebody to give you
"Is there only one parish in this island, or are there--"
"Is the big church on the hill a parish church, or is it--"
"Is taxation here classified into poll, parish, town, and--"
Before I could cudgel another question out of my head, he was below,
hand-springing across the back yard. He had slid down the balusters,
headfirst. I gave up trying to provoke a discussion with him. The
essential element of discussion had been left out of him; his answers
were so final and exact that they did not leave a doubt to hang
conversation on. I suspect that there is the making of a mighty man or
a mighty rascal in this boy--according to circumstances--but they are
going to apprentice him to a carpenter. It is the way the world uses its
During this day and the next we took carriage drives about the island
and over to the town of St. George's, fifteen or twenty miles away. Such
hard, excellent roads to drive over are not to be found elsewhere out
of Europe. An intelligent young colored man drove us, and acted as
guide-book. In the edge of the town we saw five or six mountain-cabbage
palms (atrocious name!) standing in a straight row, and equidistant from
each other. These were not the largest or the tallest trees I have ever
seen, but they were the stateliest, the most majestic. That row of
them must be the nearest that nature has ever come to counterfeiting
a colonnade. These trees are all the same height, say sixty feet;
the trunks as gray as granite, with a very gradual and perfect taper;
without sign of branch or knot or flaw; the surface not looking like
bark, but like granite that has been dressed and not polished. Thus all
the way up the diminishing shaft for fifty feet; then it begins to take
the appearance of being closely wrapped, spool-fashion, with gray
cord, or of having been turned in a lathe. Above this point there is an
outward swell, and thence upward for six feet or more the cylinder is a
bright, fresh green, and is formed of wrappings like those of an ear
of green Indian corn. Then comes the great, spraying palm plume, also
green. Other palm trees always lean out of the perpendicular, or have a
curve in them. But the plumb-line could not detect a deflection in any
individual of this stately row; they stand as straight as the colonnade
of Baalbec; they have its great height, they have its gracefulness, they
have its dignity; in moonlight or twilight, and shorn of their plumes,
they would duplicate it.
The birds we came across in the country were singularly tame; even that
wild creature, the quail, would pick around in the grass at ease while
we inspected it and talked about it at leisure. A small bird of the
canary species had to be stirred up with the butt-end of the whip before
it would move, and then it moved only a couple of feet. It is said that
even the suspicious flea is tame and sociable in Bermuda, and will allow
himself to be caught and caressed without misgivings. This should be
taken with allowance, for doubtless there is more or less brag about it.
In San Francisco they used to claim that their native flea could kick a
child over, as if it were a merit in a flea to be able to do that; as if
the knowledge of it trumpeted abroad ought to entice immigration. Such a
thing in nine cases out of ten would be almost sure to deter a thinking
man from coming.
We saw no bugs or reptiles to speak of, and so I was thinking of saying
in print, in a general way, that there were none at all; but one
night after I had gone to bed, the Reverend came into my room carrying
something, and asked, "Is this your boot?" I said it was, and he said he
had met a spider going off with it. Next morning he stated that just at
dawn the same spider raised his window and was coming in to get a shirt,
but saw him and fled.
I inquired, "Did he get the shirt?"
"How did you know it was a shirt he was after?"
"I could see it in his eye."
We inquired around, but could hear of no Bermudian spider capable of
doing these things. Citizens said that their largest spiders could not
more than spread their legs over an ordinary saucer, and that they had
always been considered honest. Here was testimony of a clergyman against
the testimony of mere worldlings--interested ones, too. On the whole, I
judged it best to lock up my things.
Here and there on the country roads we found lemon, papaw, orange, lime,
and fig trees; also several sorts of palms, among them the cocoa, the
date, and the palmetto. We saw some bamboos forty feet high, with stems
as thick as a man's arm. Jungles of the mangrove tree stood up out of
swamps; propped on their interlacing roots as upon a tangle of stilts.
In drier places the noble tamarind sent down its grateful cloud of
shade. Here and there the blossomy tamarisk adorned the roadside. There
was a curious gnarled and twisted black tree, without a single leaf on
it. It might have passed itself off for a dead apple tree but for the
fact that it had a a star-like, red-hot flower sprinkled sparsely over
its person. It had the scattery red glow that a constellation might
have when glimpsed through smoked glass. It is possible that our
constellations have been so constructed as to be invisible through
smoked glass; if this is so it is a great mistake.
We saw a tree that bears grapes, and just as calmly and unostentatiously
as a vine would do it. We saw an India-rubber tree, but out of season,
possibly, so there were no shoes on it, nor suspenders, nor anything
that a person would properly expect to find there. This gave it an
impressively fraudulent look. There was exactly one mahogany tree on the
island. I know this to be reliable, because I saw a man who said he had
counted it many a time and could not be mistaken. He was a man with a
harelip and a pure heart, and everybody said he was as true as steel.
Such men are all too few.
One's eye caught near and far the pink cloud of the oleander and the
red blaze of the pomegranate blossom. In one piece of wild wood the
morning-glory vines had wrapped the trees to their very tops, and
decorated them all over with couples and clusters of great bluebells--a
fine and striking spectacle, at a little distance. But the dull cedar is
everywhere, and is the prevailing foliage. One does not appreciate how
dull it is until the varnished, bright green attire of the infrequent
lemon tree pleasantly intrudes its contrast. In one thing Bermuda is
eminently tropical--was in May, at least--the unbrilliant, slightly
faded, unrejoicing look of the landscape. For forests arrayed in a
blemishless magnificence of glowing green foliage that seems to exult in
its own existence and can move the beholder to an enthusiasm that
will make him either shout or cry, one must go to countries that have
We saw scores of colored farmers digging their crops of potatoes
and onions, their wives and children helping--entirely contented and
comfortable, if looks go for anything. We never met a man, or woman, or
child anywhere in this sunny island who seemed to be unprosperous, or
discontented, or sorry about anything. This sort of monotony became very
tiresome presently, and even something worse. The spectacle of an entire
nation groveling in contentment is an infuriating thing. We felt the
lack of something in this community--a vague, an indefinable, an elusive
something, and yet a lack. But after considerable thought we made out
what it was--tramps. Let them go there, right now, in a body. It is
utterly virgin soil. Passage is cheap. Every true patriot in America
will help buy tickets. Whole armies of these excellent beings can be
spared from our midst and our polls; they will find a delicious climate
and a green, kind-hearted people. There are potatoes and onions for all,
and a generous welcome for the first batch that arrives, and elegant
graves for the second.
It was the Early Rose potato the people were digging. Later in the
year they have another crop, which they call the Garnet. We buy their
potatoes (retail) at fifteen dollars a barrel; and those colored farmers
buy ours for a song, and live on them. Havana might exchange cigars with
Connecticut in the same advantageous way, if she thought of it.
We passed a roadside grocery with a sign up, "Potatoes Wanted." An
ignorant stranger, doubtless. He could not have gone thirty steps from
his place without finding plenty of them.
In several fields the arrowroot crop was already sprouting. Bermuda used
to make a vast annual profit out of this staple before firearms came
into such general use.
The island is not large. Somewhere in the interior a man ahead of us
had a very slow horse. I suggested that we had better go by him; but
the driver said the man had but a little way to go. I waited to see,
wondering how he could know. Presently the man did turn down another
road. I asked, "How did you know he would?"
"Because I knew the man, and where he lived."
I asked him, satirically, if he knew everybody in the island; he
answered, very simply, that he did. This gives a body's mind a good
substantial grip on the dimensions of the place.
At the principal hotel at St. George's, a young girl, with a sweet,
serious face, said we could not be furnished with dinner, because we had
not been expected, and no preparation had been made. Yet it was still an
hour before dinner-time. We argued, she yielded not; we supplicated,
she was serene. The hotel had not been expecting an inundation of two
people, and so it seemed that we should have to go home dinnerless. I
said we were not very hungry a fish would do. My little maid answered,
it was not the market-day for fish. Things began to look serious; but
presently the boarder who sustained the hotel came in, and when the case
was laid before him he was cheerfully willing to divide. So we had much
pleasant chat at table about St. George's chief industry, the repairing
of damaged ships; and in between we had a soup that had something in it
that seemed to taste like the hereafter, but it proved to be only pepper
of a particularly vivacious kind. And we had an iron-clad chicken that
was deliciously cooked, but not in the right way. Baking was not
the thing to convince this sort. He ought to have been put through a
quartz-mill until the "tuck" was taken out of him, and then boiled till
we came again. We got a good deal of sport out of him, but not enough
sustenance to leave the victory on our side. No matter; we had potatoes
and a pie and a sociable good time. Then a ramble through the town,
which is a quaint one, with interesting, crooked streets, and narrow,
crooked lanes, with here and there a grain of dust. Here, as in
Hamilton, the dwellings had Venetian blinds of a very sensible pattern.
They were not double shutters, hinged at the sides, but a single broad
shutter, hinged at the top; you push it outward, from the bottom, and
fasten it at any angle required by the sun or desired by yourself.
All about the island one sees great white scars on the hill-slopes.
These are dished spaces where the soil has been scraped off and the
coral exposed and glazed with hard whitewash. Some of these are a
quarter-acre in size. They catch and carry the rainfall to reservoirs;
for the wells are few and poor, and there are no natural springs and no
They say that the Bermuda climate is mild and equable, with never any
snow or ice, and that one may be very comfortable in spring clothing the
year round, there. We had delightful and decided summer weather in May,
with a flaming sun that permitted the thinnest of raiment, and yet there
was a constant breeze; consequently we were never discomforted by heat.
At four or five in the afternoon the mercury began to go down, and then
it became necessary to change to thick garments. I went to St. George's
in the morning clothed in the thinnest of linen, and reached home at
five in the afternoon with two overcoats on. The nights are said to be
always cool and bracing. We had mosquito-nets, and the Reverend said the
mosquitoes persecuted him a good deal. I often heard him slapping and
banging at these imaginary creatures with as much zeal as if they had
been real. There are no mosquitoes in the Bermudas in May.
The poet Thomas Moore spent several months in Bermuda more than seventy
years ago. He was sent out to be registrar of the admiralty. I am
not quite clear as to the function of a registrar of the admiralty of
Bermuda, but I think it is his duty to keep a record of all the admirals
born there. I will inquire into this. There was not much doing in
admirals, and Moore got tired and went away. A reverently preserved
souvenir of him is still one of the treasures of the islands: I gathered
the idea, vaguely, that it was a jug, but was persistently thwarted in
the twenty-two efforts I made to visit it. However, it was no matter,
for I found out afterward that it was only a chair.
There are several "sights" in the Bermudas, of course, but they are
easily avoided. This is a great advantage--one cannot have it in Europe.
Bermuda is the right country for a jaded man to "loaf" in. There are
no harassments; the deep peace and quiet of the country sink into one's
body and bones and give his conscience a rest, and chloroform the legion
of invisible small devils that are always trying to whitewash his hair.
A good many Americans go there about the first of March and remain until
the early spring weeks have finished their villainies at home.
The Bermudians are hoping soon to have telegraphic communication with
the world. But even after they shall have acquired this curse it will
still be a good country to go to for a vacation, for there are charming
little islets scattered about the inclosed sea where one could live
secure from interruption. The telegraph-boy would have to come in a
boat, and one could easily kill him while he was making his landing.
We had spent four days in Bermuda--three bright ones out of doors and
one rainy one in the house, we being disappointed about getting a yacht
for a sail; and now our furlough was ended, and we entered into the ship
again and sailed homeward.
We made the run home to New York quarantine in three days and five
hours, and could have gone right along up to the city if we had had a
health permit. But health permits are not granted after seven in the
evening, partly because a ship cannot be inspected and overhauled
with exhaustive, thoroughness except in daylight, and partly because
health-officers are liable to catch cold if they expose themselves to
the night air. Still, you can buy a permit after hours for five dollars
extra, and the officer will do the inspecting next week. Our ship and
passengers lay under expense and in humiliating captivity all night,
under the very nose of the little official reptile who is supposed to
protect New York from pestilence by his vigilant "inspections." This
imposing rigor gave everybody a solemn and awful idea of the beneficent
watchfulness of our government, and there were some who wondered if
anything finer could be found in other countries.
In the morning we were all a-tiptoe to witness the intricate ceremony
of inspecting the ship. But it was a disappointing thing. The
health-officer's tug ranged alongside for a moment, our purser handed
the lawful three-dollar permit fee to the health-officer's bootblack,
who passed us a folded paper in a forked stick, and away we went. The
entire "inspection" did not occupy thirteen seconds.
The health-officer's place is worth a hundred thousand dollars a year
to him. His system of inspection is perfect, and therefore cannot be
improved on; but it seems to me that his system of collecting his fees
might be amended. For a great ship to lie idle all night is a most
costly loss of time; for her passengers to have to do the same thing
works to them the same damage, with the addition of an amount of
exasperation and bitterness of soul that the spectacle of that
health-officer's ashes on a shovel could hardly sweeten. Now why would
it not be better and simpler to let the ships pass in unmolested, and
the fees and permits be exchanged once a year by post.