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Then there began one of the prettiest and most exciting pieces of nautical manoeuvring that can be imagined. Every single soul on board was summoned upon deck; to all, their several stations and duties were assigned—always excepting the cook, who was merely directed to make himself generally useful. As soon as everybody was ready, down went the helm, -about came the ship,--and the critical part of the business commenced. Of course, in order to wind and twist the schooner in and out among the devious channels left among the hummocks, it was necessary she should have considerable way on her; at the same time so narrow were some of the passages, and so sharp their turnings, that unless she had been the most hardy vessel in the world, she would have had a very narrow squeak for it. I never saw anything so beautiful as her behaviour. Had she been a living creature, she could not have dodged, and wound, and doubled, with more conscious cunning and dexterity; and it was quite amusing to hear the endearing way in which the people spoke to her, each time the nimble creature contrived to elude some more than usually threatening tongue of ice.
Once or twice, in spite of all our exertions, it was impossible to save her from a collision; all that remained to be done, as soon as it became evident she could not clear some particular floe, or go about in time to avoid it, was to haul the staysail sheet to weather in order to deaden her way as much as possible, and-putting the helm down
- let her go right at it, so that she should receive the blow on her stern, and not on the bluff of her bow; while all hands, armed with spars and fenders, rushed forward to ease off the shock. And here I feel it just to pay a tribute of admiration to the cook, who on these occasions never failed to exhibit an immense amount of misdirected energy, breakingI remember, at the same moment both the cabin sky-light and an oar, in single combat with a large berg that was doing no particular harm to us, but against which he seemed suddenly to have conceived a violent spite. Luckily a con
siderable quantity of snow overlay the ice, and this, acting as a buffer, in some measure mitigated the violence of the concussion ; while the very fragility of her build diminishing the momentum, proved in the end the little schooner's greatest security. At last, after having received two or three pretty severe bumps,—though the loss of a little copper was the only damage they entailed, -we made our way back to the northern end of the island, where the pack was looser, and we had at all events a little more breathing room.
Of all things, living or lifeless, upon this strange earth, there is but one which, having reached the mid-term of appointed human endurance on it, I still regard with unmitigated amazement. I know, indeed, that all around me is wonderful; but I cannot answer it with wonder: a dark veil, with the foolish words ‘Nature of Things' upon it, casts its deadening folds between me and their dazzling strangeness. Flowers open, and stars rise, and it seems to me they could have done no less. The mystery of distant mountain-blue only makes me reflect that the earth is of necessity mountainous ; the sea wave breaks at my feet, and I do not see how it should have remained unbroken. But one object there is still, which I never pass without the renewed wonder of childhood, and that is the bow of a boat. Not of a racingwherry, or revenue cutter, or clipper-yacht, but the blunt head of a common, bluff, undecked sea-boat, lying aside in its furrow of beach sand. The sum of navigation is in that. You may magnify it or decorate it as you will ; you do not add to the wonder of it. Lengthen it into hatchet-like edge of iron, strengthen it with complex tracery of ribs of oak, carve it and gild it till a column of light moves beneath it on the sen, you have made no more of it than it was at first. That rude simplicity of bent plank, that can breast its way through the death that is in the deep sea, has in it the soul of shipping. Beyond this, we may have more work, more men, more money ; we cannot have more miracle.
For there is first an infinite strangeness in the perfection of the thing as work of human hands. I know nothing else that man does which is perfect but that. All his other doings have some sign of weakness, affectation, or ignorance in them. They are over-finished or under-finished ; they do not quite answer their end, or they show a mean vanity in answering it too well.
But the boat's bow is naïvely perfect ; complete without an effort. The man who made it knew not that he was making anything beautiful as he bent its planks into those mysterious, ever-changing curves. It grows under his hands into the image of a sea-shell,—the seal, as it were, of the flowing of the great tides and streams of ocean stamped on its delicate rounding. He leaves it when all is done, without a boast. It is simple work, but it will keep out water, and every plank, thenceforward, is a fate, and has men's lives wreathed in the knots of it, as the cloth-yard shaft had their deaths in its plumes.
Then, also, it is wonderful on account of the greatness of the thing accomplished. No other work of human hands ever gained so much. Steam-engines and telegraphs, indeed, help us to fetch and carry, and talk; they lift weights for us with less trouble than would have been needed otherwise ; this saving of trouble, however, does not constitute a new faculty, it only enhances the powers we already possess. But in that bow of the boat is the gift of another world. Without it, what prison wall would be so strong as that white and wailing fringe of sea? What maimed creatures were we, all chained to our rocks, Andromeda-like, or wandering by the endless shores, wasting our incommunicable strength, and pining in hopeless watch of unconquerable waves! The nails that fasten together the planks of the boat's bow are the rivets of the fellowship of the world. Their iron does more than draw lightning out of heaven, it leads love round the earth.
Then, also, it is wonderful on account of the greatness of the enemy that it does battle with. To lift dead weight, to overcome length of languid space, to multiply or systematize a given force ; this we may see done by the bar, or beam, or wheel, without wonder. But to war with that living fury of waters, to bare its breast, moment after moment, against the unwearied enmity of ocean ; the subtle, fitful, implacable smiting of the black waves, provoking each other on endlessly, all the infinite march of the Atlantic rolling on behind them to their help, and still to strike them back into a wreath of smoke and futile foam, and win its way against them, and keep its charge of life from them. Does any other soulless thing do as much as this ?
THE FORSAKEN MERMAN.
COME, dear children, let us away ;
Call her once before you go-
Children's voices wild with pain-
Come, dear children, come away down !
Call no more !
Then come down !
Come away, come away!
Children dear, was it yesterday
In the caverns where we lay,
Through the surf and through the swell,
When did music come this way?