Contes de bord
Note de Boathouse:
 
Çe sera un long hiver et pour la plupart d’entre vous, une saison à la recherche et à la planification de voyages à venir, de journées à rêver à la navigation de plaisance et aussi à la lecture d’articles ou de livres sur la navigation de plaisance. Présenter ici,  un chapitre de «Contes de bord” onze récits de mer réunis par Édouard Corbière et publiés en 1834. Chaque semaine Boathouse présentera un chapitre ou deux de cette œuvre du domaine public et nous espérons que cela facilitera le passage de l’hiver pour nos lecteurs. Si vous êtiez impatients et ne pouviez pas attendre la suite de ce récit à chaque semaine,  vous pourriez lire le livre en entier sur  gutenburg.org.
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Boathouse

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PETITE GUERRE EN MER.

MYSTIFICATION DE PASSAGERS.

Deux frégates françaises, destinées pour l’Inde, étaient appareillées de Toulon, en pleine paix, avec un assez grand nombre de passagers du gouvernement.

L’une de ces frégates, la Bramine,était montée par le plus ancien des deux commandans: c’était un vieux marin de l’Empire, bon et brave homme, plus soigneux de bien faire son métier que d’arrondir de belles phrases à l’usage des passagers et des passagères qu’il avait à bord. C’était lui qui commandait, comme il le disait, la paire de frégates qui venait de mettre à la voile pour aller jeter à Chandernagor ou à Pondichéri quelques gens inutiles à la France et fort importuns au ministre.

La seconde frégate, l’Albanaise, avait pour commandant un assez jeune capitaine de vaisseau, aux manières franches et courtoises, au maintien élégant, mais décidé; c’était aussi un très-bon officier, aimant beaucoup le plaisir et la gaîté, mais aimant, avant tout, ses devoirs et son métier.

Rien n’était plus piquant que de voir se promener ensemble, sur le gaillard d’arrière, le commandant de la Bramine et son confrère de l’Albanaise: l’un s’emportait à tout propos, en rudoyant parfois, mais sans aucune aigreur, son collègue, qui tournait toujours toute la mauvaise humeur de son chef en plaisanterie. Souvent, après s’être chamaillés pendant une heure, les deux commandans se quittaient les meilleurs amis du monde et en se serrant cordialement la main. Personne n’estimait plus que le commandant de l’Albanaise son supérieur le commandant de la Bramine, et personne n’aimait plus le commandant de l’Albanaise que le vieux capitaine de la Bramine.

Quand à la mer le temps était trop mauvais pour que le jeune capitaine pût se rendre au bord de son vieil ami, on sentait qu’il manquait quelque chose à celui-ci: «Chien de métier! s’écriait-il; naviguer si près l’un de l’autre, et ne pouvoir pas mettre une embarcation à l’eau pour communiquer! Ce diable-là est peut-être malade; mais il ne m’en dit rien de peur de m’alarmer….» Et aussitôt le vieux commandant appelait l’officier chargé des signaux, pour lui dire: «Monsieur, ordonnez à l’Albanaise de passer a poupe; j’ai un ordre à lui donner.»

Le signal était fait. On voyait alors l’Albanaise manoeuvrer pour ranger l’arrière de la Bramine; et, dès qu’elle était à portée de voix, le vieux commandant lui criait dans son gueulard:

«Oh! de l’Albanaise, oh!…

—Holà! commandant, répondait le capitaine de cette dernière frégate.

—Comment vous portez-vous, mon bon ami?

—A merveille, mon commandant; et vous?

—Très-bien, très-bien; mais j’aurais envie de vous voir: j’ai quelque chose à vous dire.

—Cela suffit, commandant; si dans la nuit la mer devient moins grosse, comme il y a toute apparence, j’aurai l’honneur de me rendre à vos ordres.»

Les deux frégates, qui s’étaient mises en panne pendant ce petit entretien, reprenaient leur route, et le vieux capitaine se sentait plus content: il avait parlé à son ami.

Pour peu que le temps le permît, on pense bien que le jeune capitaine ne manquait pas de se rendre aux ordres de son supérieur; et, quand ils se revoyaient, il arrivait qu’aucun d’eux n’avait plus rien à dire à l’autre. Mais ils se promenaient ensemble, ils discutaient, dînaient, fumaient un peu, et le temps passait plus vite.

Un jour cependant il se fit que le commandant de la Bramine eut quelque chose à confier à son collègue.

Il lui dit, avec toute la naïve brusquerie de son caractère et de son langage:

«Vous savez, mon cher ami, que l’on m’a donné les principaux passagers et les plus belles passagères qu’il a plu au ministre de nous faire transporter dans l’Inde. Eh bien! au nombre de ces passagers, il en est un qui me taquine singulièrement par son ton dédaigneux et ses manières fanfaronnes.

—C’est, j’en suis sûr, cet ambassadeur qu’on envoie traiter avec les Malais et les Malabars. On devine ces gens-là en leur regardant seulement la coiffure.

—Précisément, c’est lui. Voyez comme il vous a sauté aux yeux de suite…. Tenez, il se promène avec un bonnet grec sur l’oreille, et son fusil armé pour tuer quelques méchans goëlans, afin, dit-il, de faire la guerre à quelque chose…. C’est un ambassadeur très-extraordinaire, je vous assure, que l’on envoie là aux Indiens.

—Mais que ne le laissez-vous tout entier dans sa fatuité! On boit, on mange avec ces hommes-là, et on ne leur parle pas.

—Tout cela est bien facile à dire; mais quand un fanfaron de cette espèce vient vous répéter à chaque instant: «Je croyais le métier de marin plus difficile et la mer plus terrible! Mais ce n’est rien que tout cela. Quel dommage que je n’aie pas navigué en temps de guerre! je serais devenu amiral.» Que voulez-vous qu’on lui réponde, ou plutôt qu’on ne lui réponde pas?

—On lui tourne le dos, et tout est dit.

—C’est bien aussi ce que je fais; mais j’enrage, corbleu! en revirant de bord. Tenez, le voyez-vous encore se pavaner au milieu de ces passagères, en leur répétant que notre métier est une vétille, et que nous ne sommes que des charlatans qui singeons le courage au milieu de périls imaginaires…. Oh! que ne vient-il donc un bon coup de vent pour faire descendre ce crâne-là à fond de cale…. Pourquoi ne sommes-nous pas en temps de guerre, comme il dit qu’il le souhaite! Je crois, le diable m’emporte, que j’irais attaquer toute une escadre, rien que pour faire peur à ce fat.»

En ce moment même le plénipotentiaire passager aborda nos deux commandans:

«Eh bien! graves et soucieux confidens d’Eole, que dites-vous de ce temps qui, quoique beau, nous contrarie dans notre route? Aurons-nous un coup de vent bientôt, ou voguerons-nous à pleines voiles vers notre destination, conduits et protégés par une brise légère?

—Quel fat! dit à part, à son collègue, le commandant de la Bramine.

—Quel sot plutôt! lui répond le commandant de l’Albanaise.

—En vérité, reprend le plénipotentiaire, je vous admire du plus profond de mon âme, Messieurs les marins. Il faut que vous ayez une grande vertu pour exercer votre profession.

—A la fin, monsieur l’envoyé du gouvernement, vous nous rendez donc justice. Vous convenez qu’il faut être doué de quelques qualités pour faire un bon marin.

—Mais, commandant, ai-je jamais refusé à ceux qui font le premier métier du monde la justice qui leur est due si légitimement? Personne plus que moi ne rend hommage au mérite dont il faut que l’homme de mer soit doué! et, comme je me suis fait l’honneur de vous le dire à l’instant même, j’admire en vous une vertu que l’on chercherait vainement dans ceux qui exercent une autre profession que la vôtre.

—Et quelle est donc cette vertu que vous admirez tant! Le courage?

—Oh! non: tout le monde en a.

—La franchise de notre caractère et de nos manières?

—Pas davantage; car, malgré les éloges que vous méritez sous ce rapport-là, la franchise n’est pas exclusivement le partage des marins.

—Mais quelle peut être enfin cette vertu que vous trouvez en nous seuls?

—La patience! Ne faut-il pas en effet que vous soyez cuirassés d’une angélique longanimité, pour vous résigner à supporter l’ennui d’une longue traversée, les contrariétés que vous font éprouver des mois entiers de calme ou de mauvais temps? Si encore, dans votre ennuyeuse carrière, quelques incidens inattendus, quelques espérances de gloire, venaient varier la monotonie de votre existence! Mais non, rien, rien que des tempêtes en temps de paix, et Dieu sait ce que c’est qu’une tempête! c’est toujours la même chose: de grands coups de roulis et quelques grosses lames qui viennent tomber à bord!

—Et vous appelez cela rien?

—Sans doute. M’avez-vous vu, par exemple, frémir le moins du monde, pendant la première bourrasque que nous avons essuyée en sortant du Détroit? Voyons, rendez-moi justice; ai-je sourcillé en face du coup de vent qui menaçait de nous démâter? Pendant que vous étiez dans l’anxiété en attendant l’événement, je riais avec nos jolies passagères, presqu’aussi résignées que moi. Et cependant, avant de m’embarquer, on m’avait fait redouter la mer et ses fureurs, le naufrage et ses angoisses. Tenez, mon cher commandant, cela soit dit sans vouloir diminuer votre mérite; votre mer ressemble un peu à ces bâtons flottans du Bonhomme:

De loin c’est quelque chose, et de près ce n’est rien.

—Ouf, dit le commandant à ce dernier trait d’ironie, je voudrais, pour deux des doigts de ma main droite, être en temps de guerre, et tenir ce gaillard-là à bord de ma frégate.

—Il n’est pas besoin de cela, reprend le confrère du commandant en attirant à lui le vieux loup de mer irrité: votre passager n’est qu’un mauvais fanfaron un peu soufflé d’orgueil et d’impudence. Rien n’est plus facile à mystifier que les gens de cette espèce.

—Oh! pour celui-là, il est à mystifier ou à claquer; et si je ne puis pas réussir à l’humilier, je sens là, au bout de mes cinq doigts, que j’aurai recours aux moyens violens, car, je vous l’avoue, mon cher ami, malgré la longanimité qu’il vient d’admirer si insolemment en nous, je n’y tiens en vérité plus.

—Voyons, calmons-nous un peu, mon cher commandant. Si vous voulez bien me laisser agir et vous prêter de bonne grâce au petit projet assez plaisant que je viens de concevoir et qu’il nous est très-facile d’exécuter, je vous promets une complète et risible vengeance.

—Disposez de moi, mon ami; tout ce que vous voudrez me faire faire pour tirer raison de l’impudence de cet impertinent passager, sera exécuté à la lettre par votre commandant. Parlez, vous vous entendez en malice beaucoup mieux que moi, et sous ce rapport-là j’amène pavillon devant vous.

—J’ai besoin de faire repeindre ma frégate. Depuis notre départ nos équipages n’ont pas fait l’exercice à feu…. Permettez-moi, une belle nuit et au premier petit coup de vent que nous éprouverons, de me séparer de vous pour cinq à six jours…. Comprenez-vous mon projet?

—Oui, j’entrevois bien quelque chose…. Votre intention serait…. Oh! je devine bien à peu près…. Mais expliquez-moi comment, par exemple, vous….

—On nous écoule. Votre plénipotentiaire paraît même nous observer avec curiosité; allons dans votre chambre concerter notre affaire. Là je vous déroulerai tout mon plan de campagne, et nous conviendrons de tous les faits.»

Les deux amis descendirent. Ils parlèrent bas assez long-temps, et à la suite de leur entretien, qui dura près d’une heure, on les entendit rire aux éclats. En montant sur le pont pour s’embarquer dans le canot qui devait le ramener à bord de sa frégate, le commandant de l’Albanaise serra joyeusement la main de son confrère, qui paraissait ne pas se tenir d’aise, et qui lui répéta plusieurs fois, de manière à être entendu de tout le monde: «Surtout, mon ami, n’oubliez pas que je vous recommande de naviguer le plus près possible de moi.

—Soyez assuré, mon commandant, qu’il ne faudrait rien moins que de bien mauvais temps ou qu’une forte avarie pour me faire abandonner mon chef de file.»

Mais, après avoir prononcé ces paroles le plus haut qu’ils avaient pu, l’un dit tout bas à l’oreille de l’autre: «Dans huit jours, par les 4 degrés sud et les 15 ouest…. C’est entendu.»

A la mer, en effet, deux navires se séparent et conviennent de se retrouver à tel point du globe, à peu près comme deux amis se donnent rendez-vous, à Paris, dans telle ou telle partie du Palais-Royal ou du jardin des Tuileries.

Les deux frégates amies, quelques quarante-huit heures après la dernière entrevue de leurs commandans, éprouvèrent dans la nuit une forte brise qui les força de naviguer sous leurs huniers au bas ris. Les passagers, un peu secoués dans leurs cabanes, crurent qu’il s’agissait d’une tempête; mais, malgré l’émotion qu’il ressentait, le plénipotentiaire pensa qu’il devait faire bonne contenance aux yeux du commandant devant qui il s’était mis dans la presque obligation de montrer du calme et du courage. Il monta sur le pont. L’obscurité était profonde. On distinguait à peine, de temps à autre, le fanal de poupe de l’Albanaise, balloté par les grosses lames et errant sur les flots plaintifs, comme ces feux qui, pendant les orages nocturnes, se balancent au-dessus des abîmes dont les funèbres échos rejettent aux vents le bruit de la foudre qui gronde au loin.

La nuit se passe: le calme renaît avec le jour, et la mer, encore un peu agitée, laisse voir à l’horizon, comme de hautes montagnes qui s’écroulent, les vagues qu’a soulevées pendant quelques heures l’impétuosité de la brise. L’officier de quart recommande aux premiers matelots qui montent en vigie sur les barres, de regarder au large pour tâcher de découvrir l’Albanaise. Les matelots promènent attentivement leurs regards sur la vaste étendue de mer au centre de laquelle ils sont perchés sur les barres de catacois…. Ils n’aperçoivent rien…. L’Albanaise a disparu dans la nuit, mais par quel motif? Le coup de vent n’a pas été assez fort pour lui occasioner des avaries! Elle n’a fait, au moyen de ses fanaux, aucun signal de détresse! S’il lui était arrivé quelque accident qui eût pu exiger le secours de sa conserve, elle n’aurait pas manqué de tirer un coup de canon, dans le cas où l’obscurité n’aurait pas permis d’apercevoir ses feux…. Qu’est-elle donc devenue?

La disparition de la frégate donna lieu, comme on doit bien le penser, à mille conjectures, à mille objections à bord de la Bramine. On attendit l’arrivée du commandant sur le pont, pour tâcher de lire sur sa physionomie l’effet que produirait la nouvelle de l’absence de sa compagne de route.

«Si notre commandant n’est pas surpris quand on lui annoncera cela, disaient les matelots, c’est une preuve qu’il aura permis à l’Albanaise de lui brûler la politesse.

—Mais s’il se montre étonné du coup de temps, répondaient d’autres matelots, quel signe ce sera-t-il?

—Ce sera signe que l’Albanaise aura été obligée de nous quitter par force majeure.»

Le commandant paraît sur le pont à sept heures du matin.

L’officier de quart, après l’avoir salué respectueusement, lui apprit qu’on ne voyait plus la frégate.

«A-t-on bien regardé partout de dessus les barres? reprend le commandant avec vivacité, et en feignant un air d’inquiétude.

—Partout, commandant: moi-même j’y suis monté pour parcourir avec ma longue-vue tous les points de l’horizon. Je n’ai rien aperçu.

—Diable! diable! c’est contrariant…. Que lui sera-t-il donc arrivé?…» Tout l’équipage prit un air inquiet. Les passagers et les passagères arrivèrent bientôt sur le pont, et en voyant toutes les figures se rembrunir, ils se mirent aussi à prendre un air soucieux. On ne parla plus de l’Albanaise qu’à voix basse et toujours en arrière du commandant. Le vieux marin avait au mieux joué son rôle.

Six à sept jours se passent sans qu’on revoie la fidèle compagne de la Bramine; chaque matin les hommes placés en vigie se crèvent les yeux pour découvrir quelque chose à l’horizon, et chaque matin la Bramine fait de la route, et l’on finit par oublier l’Albanaise, sur laquelle on ne compte presque plus. Le plénipotentiaire, ce passager qui va si mal au vieux commandant, s’avise encore de lancer quelques épigrammes sur la séparation forcée des deux frégates, et sur l’insuffisance des moyens qu’a l’homme de mer à sa disposition pour lutter contre la puissance ou le caprice des élémens. Le commandant enrage toujours; mais il sait se contenir pourtant, car il espère bientôt se venger de la crânerie de son insupportable passager. L’heure de la vengeance, en effet, va sonner.

Un beau jour, vers midi, les officiers, armés de leurs cercles de réflexion ou de leurs sextans, observent la hauteur du soleil qui darde perpendiculairement ses rayons sur les tentes qui abritent les gaillards. On est par 4 degrés de latitude sud. Bientôt on fait le point, et l’on trouve que la longitude est de 15 degrés et quelques minutes ouest.

Le commandant, après s’être entretenu un moment avec l’officier de route chargé des montres marines, se promène sur le pont; il laisse échapper des mouvemens d’impatience.

La vigie du grand mât crie: Navire!

Toutes les têtes se dressent.

Le commandant continue de se promener, mais en riant sous cape, et en faisant demander où se trouve le navire aperçu. La vigie répond: Par le bossoir de tribord!

Tous les regards se portent sur les flots dans la direction indiquée.

Le navire approche: il est gros. La Bramine manoeuvre de manière à aller à sa rencontre. On n’est plus, au bout de quelque temps, qu’à une lieue de lui. Alors on l’observe.

«Ne serait-ce pas l’Albanaise? disent d’abord ceux qui croient avoir les meilleurs yeux.

—Mais l’Albanaise a un grand bord blanc et des mâts de catacois garnis, tandis que celui-ci est peint tout en noir et n’a que des mâts de perroquet à flèche.

—Cependant c’est bien une frégate que ce bâtiment!

—Et n’y a-t-il que l’Albanaise qui soit une frégate?»

Les officiers, qui tiennent leurs longues-vues braquées sur le navire qui s’avance toujours, ne prononcent pas une seule parole. Les passagers sont dans l’anxiété en voyant le commandant examiner avec une certaine préoccupation la manoeuvre du bâtiment dont on n’est plus qu’à deux portées de canon.

Le plénipotentiaire s’avance alors: «Commandant, que dites-vous de la rencontre que nous venons de faire? Ne serait-ce pas par hasard notre infidèle qui nous revient? Plusieurs de nos hommes croient reconnaître l’Albanaise dans ce grand navire si noir et d’une allure si lugubre….»

Le commandant ne répond rien à l’importun questionneur. Il ordonne au chef de timonerie de hisser le pavillon français.

Le grand pavillon monte rapidement au bout de la corne de la Bramine.

Le grand bâtiment noir répond à ce signal en hissant un long pavillon rouge dont la queue va se jouer sur sa poupe.

«Que diable cela signifie-t-il?» s’écrie le commandant en regardant son lieutenant.

Le lieutenant hausse les épaules en faisant une grimace qui signifie: «Ma foi, je n’en sais rien.»

«Branle-bas général de combat!» dit le commandant.

Le premier lieutenant ajoute: «Chacun à son poste: les gens de la batterie à la batterie, les gens de la manoeuvre à la manoeuvre.»

Les officiers et les aspirans de la batterie descendent. Les autres courent à leurs pièces sur les gaillards. Il se fait à bord un remue-ménage qui surprend assez désagréablement les passagers. Quelques minutes après l’ordre donné, le lieutenant annonce au commandant que tout est prêt pour le combat.

«Messieurs les passagers, et vous mesdames, dit le lieutenant en s’adressant au groupe des voyageurs plantés mornes et silencieux sur le gaillard d’arrière, voudriez-vous descendre dans la cale ou dans la sainte-barbe, pour ne pas gêner la manoeuvre ou pour vous rendre utiles, si vous le voulez, au pansement des blessés ou à la distribution des poudres?

—Mais monsieur, dit le plénipotentiaire, je demanderai à monsieur le commandant la faveur de rester encore un peu sur le pont, après avoir conduit ces dames en lieu de sûreté?»

Le commandant ne répond rien: il a bien autre chose à faire que de s’occuper de monsieur son passager!

Celui-ci descend dans le faux-pont avec madame son épouse. En passant dans la batterie, il voit une centaine de gaillards rangés le long d’une file de canons bien démarrés et bien chargés. Les mèches sont allumées: les officiers se promènent le sabre en main, sans dire mot. Un parfum de poudre et une odeur de carnage semblent déjà se répandre dans cette batterie si longue et si basse. Le passager se rend dans le faux-pont. Là c’est bien un autre spectacle! Trois chirurgiens, les manches retroussées, préparent, sur une longue table couverte de charpie et de bandelettes, leurs larges couteaux et leurs scies à amputation. Ils se disposent à nager dans le sang qui va couler. L’un d’eux, à l’aspect de notre ambassadeur, lui dit en plaisantant, et en lui montrant un couteau bien affilé: «Eh bien! monsieur l’ambassadeur, est-ce vous qui m’étrennerez?…» Le passager sourit, mais du bout des lèvres, pour accueillir cette saillie le plus gaîment possible. Mais il fait comprendre, par un signe, à l’Esculape goguenard, qu’il ne faut pas effrayer les dames qui viennent chercher un refuge dans la cale. L’Esculape se tait; mais, comme on dit proverbialement, il n’en pense pas moins sur le compte du passager, qui paraît un peu ému.

Après avoir placé ses dames en sûreté, l’ambassadeur remonte sur le pont, en passant toutefois par l’escalier de l’avant, car l’aspect des instrumens de chirurgie étalés sur l’arrière du faux-pont a produit sur lui une impression désagréable. Tous ces cadres tendus pour recevoir blessés, tant d’hommes qui sont encore si bien portans, si pleins d’ardeur, lui font faire des réflexions pénibles. Il aime mieux encore voir l’appareil du combat dans toute sa majesté, que tous ces préparatifs qui n’attestent que trop les tristes réalités qui accompagnent les illusions de la gloire.

En montant sur le pont et en regagnant le gaillard d’arrière, il s’aperçoit que la scène est changée: le navire, qu’il avait quitté à quelques portées de canon, n’est plus qu’à une portée de fusil de la frégate. Les deux bâtimens s’observent en continuant silencieusement leur route parallèle. La mer, qu’ils font clapotter le long de leurs bords, est douce et tranquille; la brise se joue dans le pavillon et les voiles qu’elle enfle gracieusement. Quel repos et quelle harmonie sur les flots, dans les airs et sous le ciel! Et c’est au sein de ce calme si délicieux que deux équipages vont bientôt se massacrer, que le sang humain va rougir la blanche écume des vagues que ces deux navires sillonnent encore en paix…. Cette idée fait frémir notre passager; mais il la repousse comme une faiblesse: il se passe la main sur le front comme pour chasser loin de lui toute pensée indigne du courage dont il veut faire preuve…. Il observe le commandant, dont l’air est calme, dont la contenance est ferme.

«Eh bien! mon brave commandant, que pensez-vous que puisse être ce navire?

—Je ne pense rien, mais je me prépare à tout événement.

—Ce n’est probablement qu’une frégate anglaise?

—Ou quelque pirate qui nous prend pour un bâtiment de la compagnie.

—Mais je ne savais pas que les pirates eussent des frégates!

—Et que croyez-vous donc qu’ils fassent des frégates qu’ils prennent?

—Les pirates ont donc pris quelquefois des frégates?

—Pourquoi pas, quand ils rencontrent des capitaines plus disposés à amener qu’à se faire sauter!»

L’entretien n’alla pas plus loin: le commandant ne paraissait guère disposé d’ailleurs à prolonger la conversation: d’autres soins réclamaient toute sa sollicitude.

Il ordonne à son second de faire envoyer un coup de caronade pour assurer le pavillon français.

Le coup de caronade part avec fracas. Personne ne dit mot à bord: c’est à l’artillerie seule et au commandant de parler.

La frégate au pavillon rouge répond à la Bramine, en lui lançant un coup de canon dont le boulet va ricocher sur l’arrière de celle-ci.

«Ils pointent bien mal, ces gaillards-là! dit le commandant; pointons mieux, mes amis: Feu tribord

Une détonation épouvantable jaillit du flanc droit de la Bramine: c’est un volcan qui vient de vomir la flamme de ses entrailles brûlantes, sur les flots que couvre un nuage épais de feu et de fumée.

La frégate ennemie n’attendait que cette volée. Elle riposte sans perdre une seconde. La canonnade est engagée. On n’entend plus que la voix des deux commandans qui mugit, majestueuse et solennelle, dans de longs porte-voix: Feu! feu partout!

Les pièces sont halées dedans une fois qu’elles ont fait feu: on les charge pour les pousser vivement aux sabords et pour faire feu encore. Feu toujours, et toujours feu! A peine songe-t-on à la manoeuvre des voiles. On s’aperçoit seulement que la Bramine a masqué son grand-hunier pour se canonner plus à l’aise avec son ennemie, qui de son côté a aussi mis en panne. Quelle situation!

Notre ambassadeur, qui jusque là avait perdu l’usage de ses sens, retrouve bientôt toute la force de ses jambes, au moins, pour regagner, non pas le fond de la cale, où il a placé les passagères, mais bien la sainte-barbe. La soute aux poudres est un lieu aussi sûr que la cale, et en se transportant là, il pourra au moins éviter la honte de se représenter pendant le combat aux yeux de ses dames; et d’ailleurs, en aidant les cambusiers et les non-combattans à distribuer des gargousses aux mousses, il saura se rendre utile. Il court donc à la sainte-barbe en traversant les nuages de fumée qui remplissent la batterie. Au brusque mouvement qu’il fait pour se jeter en double dans cette espèce de sépulcre qu’éclaire un large fanal cadenassé, un vieux canonnier invalide se retourne et reconnaît notre ambassadeur.

«Mettez-vous à côté de moi, dit l’invalide; ils ont besoin de munitions là-haut, nous leur-z-en donnerons tant qu’ils en voudront

Le plénipotentiaire se met à passer des gargousses; mais son voisin remarque que ses blanches mains tremblent un peu. Il cherche à le rassurer en causant avec lui assez familièrement. Rien ne vous nivèle mieux les conditions humaines que l’approche ou l’apparence du danger commun.

«Monsieur l’ambassadeur, il y a un grand bruit là-haut, et on manoeuvre.

—On manoeuvre!

—Oui; c’est sans doute cette chienne de frégate qui veut nous prendre en poupe. Mais notre vieux commandant est manoeuvrier aussi, et il ne se laissera pas juguler comme ça…. Tenez votre gargousse plus haute que ça un peu, et élongez-moi bien vos bras, monsieur l’ambassadeur…. Entendez—vous le boucan sempiternel qu’ils font sur le pont?

—Oui, j’entends des cris!… Qu’est-ce donc?…

—C’est l’abordage peut-être…. Ecoutez, écoutez…. Non…. on crie aux pompes! C’est comme si la frégate avait reçu, vous entendez bien, des boulets au-dessous de la flottaison. C’est bon ça: c’est pour former nos jeunes gens à l’exercice.

—Mais non, il me semble que c’est au feu! qu’on crie….

—Ah! C’est vrai! c’est comme s’il y avait le feu sur l’arrière du navire, voyez-vous….

—L’eau! le feu! le vent! Mais on n’est donc en sûreté nulle part à bord d’un bâtiment qui combat?

—Oui, en sûreté! ah bien oui! J’ai vu un agent comptable tué, sans vous faire tort, où vous êtes dans la sainte-barbe, à bord de la frégate la Clorinde…. Mais qu’ont-ils donc à gueuler de cette manière?… Est-ce qu’on ne commande pas de noyer les poudres!

—Ah! mon Dieu! noyer les poudres! Et nous aussi peut-être!

—Ne craignez rien; si c’était pour de bon, nous aurions sauté dans notre trou à poudre, avant d’être noyés…. V’là que ça se calme, v’là que ça se calme!… Attendez, je vas bientôt savoir ce que c’est (mettant la tête au panneau)…. Eh bien! bigres de mousses, pourquoi est-ce que vous ne demandez plus de poudre et que vous restez là, dans la batterie, comme des épiciers retraités avec vos gargoussiers vides?

—Père La Frimousse, c’est qu’on va battre le roulement; le commandant a dit de cesser le feu.

—Déjà!… Ah! c’est que l’autre frégate aura amené pour nous qui sommes la commandante. Tant mieux, autant de tués que de blessés, il n’y a personne de mort.»

Le roulement se fit effectivement entendre. L’officier commandant la batterie ordonne de taper et amarrer les canons. Au son roulant des tambours, le calme le plus parfait succède au fracas qui, pendant près d’une heure d’effroi, a retenti aux oreilles de notre ambassadeur niché encore dans la soute aux poudres. Mais, le combat fini, il se dispose à se présenter aux yeux du commandant … aux yeux du commandant, si toutefois il vit encore, car dans ce combat acharné bien des braves gens ont dû périr…. N’importe, il faut que notre ambassadeur s’assure par lui-même de ce qui s’est passé au dehors pendant sa longue absence…. Le canon ne ronfle plus: il sort lestement de la sainte-barbe, le nez et les mains barbouillés de poudre, l’habit tout noirci, la cravate toute défaite. Le désordre de sa toilette n’attestera que mieux la part active qu’il a prise a l’affaire…. Il traverse la batterie en détournant les yeux, de peur de frémir à l’aspect du sang répandu, et de voir le désordre que les boulets ennemis ont exercé dans la coque du bâtiment…. Là cependant rien n’est changé. Des matelots ou des chefs de pièces fredonnent gaîment un petit air, en amarrant leurs canons, restés en parfait état. Des novices fauberdent le pont de la batterie, sous la surveillance des quartiers-maîtres, qui leur indiquent l’endroit d’où il faut faire disparaître les taches de poudre…. L’ambassadeur enfin arrive sur le gaillard d’arrière: il cherche avec anxiété son commandant: il le demande aux timoniers placés flegmatiquement à la roue du gouvernail.

Un d’eux lui répond avec indifférence: «Le commandant, monsieur? le voilà qui se promène sur les passavans avec le commandant de l’Albanaise.

—Avec le commandant de l’Albanaise!» s’écrie le plénipotentiaire.

Et en effet, l’Albanaise, la grande frégate noire, la frégate pirate à laquelle on venait de livrer combat, naviguait côte à côte avec sa compagne la Bramine, qu’elle venait de rallier après huit jours de séparation. Le diplomate passager est furieux; il aborde son commandant en prenant une attitude menaçante qui contraste singulièrement avec la contenance calme et gaie du vieux capitaine:

«C’était donc une mystification, monsieur le commandant, que votre combat?

—Non, monsieur l’ambassadeur; c’était un exercice à feu: il y a huit jours que la chose était convenue entre mon collègue de l’Albanaise et moi.»

Puis les deux commandans continuèrent à se promener en reprenant le fil de la conversation que la brusque apparition du diplomate avait un instant interrompue. Leur ton d’indifférence et leur air presque méprisant durent humilier un peu sans doute notre pauvre diplomate, tout barbouillé de poudre, tout froissé encore de l’humble attitude qu’il avait été forcé de prendre dans sa chaude et sinistre sainte-barbe. Mais qu’y faire?

Depuis ce jour il n’adressa la parole à son vieux commandant que pour lui exprimer l’admiration que lui inspirait le dévoûment sans faste des bons et intrépides marins.

Riddle_of_the_Sands_1003

A note from Boathouse:

It’s going to be a long winter and winter for most is a season to research and plan upcoming trips,  day dream about boating  and also read about boating.  Presented here a chapter  of  ‘The Riddle of the sands’  an excellent  pre WWI sailing adventure.  Every week Boathouse will present a chapter or two of  this public domain work and hopefully this will ease the passage of winter for our readers. If you are inpatient and can’t wait for each weeks installment you can read the entire book  at gutenburg.org If you would rather listen to the book here is a link to an audio version:  Chapter 3 & Chapter 4

If you would like to be notified when posts are added to this blog please send an email to  blogadmin@boathouse.ca   with the words ‘Subscribe to blog’ as the subject.

Have fun!  Post a comment, let  us know what you think.

Boathouse

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III.

Davies

I DOZED but fitfully, with a fretful sense of sore elbows and neck and many a draughty hiatus among the blankets. It was broad daylight before I had reached the stage of torpor in which such slumber merges. That was finally broken by the descent through the skylight of a torrent of water. I started up, bumped my head hard against the decks, and blinked leaden-eyed upwards.

‘Sorry! I’m scrubbing decks. Come up and bathe. Slept well?’ I heard a voice saying from aloft.

‘Fairly well,’ I growled, stepping out into a pool of water on the oilcloth. Thence I stumbled up the ladder, dived overboard, and buried bad dreams, stiffness, frowsiness, and tormented nerves in the loveliest fiord of the lovely Baltic. A short and furious swim and I was back again, searching for a means of ascent up the smooth black side, which, low as it was, was slippery and unsympathetic. Davies, in a loose canvas shirt, with the sleeves tucked up, and flannels rolled up to the knee, hung over me with a rope’s end, and chatted unconcernedly about the easiness of the job when you know how, adjuring me to mind the paint, and talking about an accommodation ladder he had once had, but had thrown overboard because it was so horribly in the way. When I arrived, my knees and elbows were picked out in black paint, to his consternation. Nevertheless, as I plied the towel, I knew that I had left in those limpid depths yet another crust of discontent and self-conceit.

As I dressed into flannels and blazer, I looked round the deck, and with an unskilled and doubtful eye took in all that the darkness had hitherto hidden. She seemed very small (in point of fact she was seven tons), something over thirty feet in length and nine in beam, a size very suitable to week-ends in the Solent, for such as liked that sort of thing; but that she should have come from Dover to the Baltic suggested a world of physical endeavour of which I had never dreamed. I passed to the aesthetic side. Smartness and beauty were essential to yachts, in my mind, but with the best resolves to be pleased I found little encouragement here. The hull seemed too low, and the mainmast too high; the cabin roof looked clumsy, and the skylights saddened the eye with dull iron and plebeian graining. What brass there was, on the tiller-head and elsewhere, was tarnished with sickly green. The decks had none of that creamy purity which Cowes expects, but were rough and grey, and showed tarry exhalations round the seams and rusty stains near the bows. The ropes and rigging were in mourning when contrasted with the delicate buff manilla so satisfying to the artistic eye as seen against the blue of a June sky at Southsea. Nor was the whole effect bettered by many signs of recent refitting. An impression of paint, varnish, and carpentry was in the air; a gaudy new burgee fluttered aloft; there seemed to be a new rope or two, especially round the diminutive mizzen-mast, which itself looked altogether new. But all this only emphasized the general plainness, reminding one of a respectable woman of the working-classes trying to dress above her station, and soon likely to give it up.

That the ensemble was businesslike and solid even my untrained eye could see. Many of the deck fittings seemed disproportionately substantial. The anchor-chain looked contemptuous of its charge; the binnacle with its compass was of a size and prominence almost comically impressive, and was, moreover the only piece of brass which was burnished and showed traces of reverent care. Two huge coils of stout and dingy warp lay just abaft the mainmast, and summed up the weather-beaten aspect of the little ship. I should add here that in the distant past she had been a lifeboat, and had been clumsily converted into a yacht by the addition of a counter, deck, and the necessary spars. She was built, as all lifeboats are, diagonally, of two skins of teak, and thus had immense strength, though, in the matter of looks, all a hybrid’s failings.

Hunger and ‘Tea’s made!’ from below brought me down to the cabin, where I found breakfast laid out on the table over the centre-board case, with Davies earnestly presiding, rather flushed as to the face, and sooty as to the fingers. There was a slight shortage of plate and crockery, but I praised the bacon and could do so truthfully, for its crisp and steaming shavings would have put to shame the efforts of my London cook. Indeed, I should have enjoyed the meal heartily were it not for the lowness of the sofa and table, causing a curvature of the body which made swallowing a more lengthy process than usual, and induced a periodical yearning to get up and stretch—a relief which spelt disaster to the skull. I noticed, too, that Davies spoke with a zest, sinister to me, of the delights of white bread and fresh milk, which he seemed to consider unusual luxuries, though suitable to an inaugural banquet in honour of a fastidious stranger. ‘One can’t be always going on shore,’ he said, when I showed a discreet interest in these things. ‘I lived for ten days on a big rye loaf over in the Frisian Islands.’

‘And it died hard, I suppose?’

‘Very hard, but’ (gravely) ‘quite good. After that I taught myself to make rolls; had no baking powder at first, so used Eno’s fruit salt, but they wouldn’t rise much with that. As for milk, condensed is—I hope you don’t mind it?’

I changed the subject, and asked about his plans.

‘Let’s get under way at once,’ he said, ‘and sail down the fiord.’ I tried for something more specific, but he was gone, and his voice drowned in the fo’c’sle by the clatter and swish of washing up. Thenceforward events moved with bewildering rapidity. Humbly desirous of being useful I joined him on deck, only to find that he scarcely noticed me, save as a new and unexpected obstacle in his round of activity. He was everywhere at once—heaving in chain, hooking on halyards, hauling ropes; while my part became that of the clown who does things after they are already done, for my knowledge of a yacht was of that floating and inaccurate kind which is useless in practice. Soon the anchor was up (a great rusty monster it was!), the sails set, and Davies was darting swiftly to and fro between the tiller and jib-sheets, while the Dulcibella bowed a lingering farewell to the shore and headed for the open fiord. Erratic puffs from the high land behind made her progress timorous at first, but soon the fairway was reached and a true breeze from Flensburg and the west took her in its friendly grip. Steadily she rustled down the calm blue highway whose soft beauty was the introduction to a passage in my life, short, but pregnant with moulding force, through stress and strain, for me and others.

Davies was gradually resuming his natural self, with abstracted intervals, in which he lashed the helm to finger a distant rope, with such speed that the movements seemed simultaneous. Once he vanished, only to reappear in an instant with a chart, which he studied, while steering, with a success that its reluctant folds seemed to render impossible. Waiting respectfully for his revival I had full time to look about. The fiord here was about a mile broad. From the shore we had left the hills rose steeply, but with no rugged grandeur; the outlines were soft; there were green spaces and rich woods on the lower slopes; a little white town was opening up in one place, and scattered farms dotted the prospect. The other shore, which I could just see, framed between the gunwale and the mainsail, as I sat leaning against the hatchway, and sadly missing a deck-chair, was lower and lonelier, though prosperous and pleasing to the eye. Spacious pastures led up by slow degrees to ordered clusters of wood, which hinted at the presence of some great manor house. Behind us, Flensburg was settling into haze. Ahead, the scene was shut in by the contours of hills, some clear, some dreamy and distant. Lastly, a single glimpse of water shining between the folds of hill far away hinted at spaces of distant sea of which this was but a secluded inlet. Everywhere was that peculiar charm engendered by the association of quiet pastoral country and a homely human atmosphere with a branch of the great ocean that bathes all the shores of our globe.

There was another charm in the scene, due to the way in which I was viewing it—not as a pampered passenger on a ‘fine steam yacht’, or even on ‘a powerful modern schooner’, as the yacht agents advertise, but from the deck of a scrubby little craft of doubtful build and distressing plainness, which yet had smelt her persistent way to this distant fiord through I knew not what of difficulty and danger, with no apparent motive in her single occupant, who talked as vaguely and unconcernedly about his adventurous cruise as though it were all a protracted afternoon on Southampton Water.

I glanced round at Davies. He had dropped the chart and was sitting, or rather half lying, on the deck with one bronzed arm over the tiller, gazing fixedly ahead, with just an occasional glance around and aloft. He still seemed absorbed in himself, and for a moment or two I studied his face with an attention I had never, since I had known him, given it. I had always thought it commonplace, as I had thought him commonplace, so far as I had thought at all about either. It had always rather irritated me by an excess of candour and boyishness. These qualities it had kept, but the scales were falling from my eyes, and I saw others. I saw strength to obstinacy and courage to recklessness, in the firm lines of the chin; an older and deeper look in the eyes. Those odd transitions from bright mobility to detached earnestness, which had partly amused and chiefly annoyed me hitherto, seemed now to be lost in a sensitive reserve, not cold or egotistic, but strangely winning from its paradoxical frankness. Sincerity was stamped on every lineament. A deep misgiving stirred me that, clever as I thought myself, nicely perceptive of the right and congenial men to know, I had made some big mistakes—how many, I wondered? A relief, scarcely less deep because it was unconfessed, stole in on me with the suspicion that, little as I deserved it, the patient fates were offering me a golden chance of repairing at least one. And yet, I mused, the patient fates have crooked methods, besides a certain mischievous humour, for it was Davies who had asked me out—though now he scarcely seemed to need me—almost tricked me into coming out, for he might have known I was not suited to such a life; yet trickery and Davies sounded an odd conjuncture.

Probably it was the growing discomfort of my attitude which produced this backsliding. My night’s rest and the ‘ascent from the bath’ had, in fact, done little to prepare me for contact with sharp edges and hard surfaces. But Davies had suddenly come to himself, and with an ‘I say, are you comfortable? Have something to sit on?’ jerked the helm a little to windward, felt it like a pulse for a moment, with a rapid look to windward, and dived below, whence he returned with a couple of cushions, which he threw to me. I felt perversely resentful of these luxuries, and asked:

‘Can’t I be of any use?’

‘Oh, don’t you bother,’ he answered. ‘I expect you’re tired. Aren’t we having a splendid sail? That must be Ekken on the port bow,’ peering under the sail, ‘where the trees run in. I say, do you mind looking at the chart?’ He tossed it over to me. I spread it out painfully, for it curled up like a watch-spring at the least slackening of pressure. I was not familiar with charts, and this sudden trust reposed in me, after a good deal of neglect, made me nervous.

‘You see Flensburg, don’t you?’ he said. ‘That’s where we are,’ dabbing with a long reach at an indefinite space on the crowded sheet. ‘Now which side of that buoy off the point do we pass?’

I had scarcely taken in which was land and which was water, much less the significance of the buoy, when he resumed:

‘Never mind; I’m pretty sure it’s all deep water about here. I expect that marks the fairway for steamers.

In a minute or two we were passing the buoy in question, on the wrong side I am pretty certain, for weeds and sand came suddenly into view below us with uncomfortable distinctness. But all Davies said was:

‘There’s never any sea here, and the plate’s not down,’ a dark utterance which I pondered doubtfully. ‘The best of these Schleswig waters,’ he went on, ‘is that a boat of this size can go almost anywhere. There’s no navigation required. Why—’At this moment a faint scraping was felt, rather than heard, beneath us.

‘Aren’t we aground?’ I asked with great calmness.

‘Oh, she’ll blow over,’ he replied, wincing a little.

She ‘blew over’, but the episode caused a little naive vexation in Davies. I relate it as a good instance of one of his minor peculiarities. He was utterly without that didactic pedantry which yachting has a fatal tendency to engender in men who profess it. He had tossed me the chart without a thought that I was an ignoramus, to whom it would be Greek, and who would provide him with an admirable subject to drill and lecture, just as his neglect of me throughout the morning had been merely habitual and unconscious independence. In the second place, master of his métier, as I knew him afterwards to be, resourceful, skilful, and alert, he was liable to lapse into a certain amateurish vagueness, half irritating and half amusing. I think truly that both these peculiarities came from the same source, a hatred of any sort of affectation. To the same source I traced the fact that he and his yacht observed none of the superficial etiquette of yachts and yachtsmen, that she never, for instance, flew a national ensign, and he never wore a ‘yachting suit’.

We rounded a low green point which I had scarcely noticed before.

‘We must jibe,’ said Davies: ‘just take the helm, will you?’ and, without waiting for my co-operation, he began hauling in the mainsheet with great vigour. I had rude notions of steering, but jibing is a delicate operation. No yachtsman will be surprised to hear that the boom saw its opportunity and swung over with a mighty crash, with the mainsheet entangled round me and the tiller.

‘Jibed all standing,’ was his sorrowful comment. ‘You’re not used to her yet. She’s very quick on the helm.’

‘Where am I to steer for?’ I asked, wildly.

‘Oh, don’t trouble, I’ll take her now,’ he replied.

I felt it was time to make my position clear. ‘I’m an utter duffer at sailing,’ I began. ‘You’ll have a lot to teach me, or one of these days I shall be wrecking you. You see, there’s always been a crew’—’Crew!’—with sovereign contempt—’why, the whole fun of the thing is to do everything oneself.’

‘Well, I’ve felt in the way the whole morning.’

‘I’m awfully sorry!’ His dismay and repentance were comical. ‘Why, it’s just the other way; you may be all the use in the world.’ He became absent.

We were following the inward trend of a small bay towards a cleft in the low shore.

‘That’s Ekken Sound,’ said Davies; ‘let’s look into it,’ and a minute or two later we were drifting through a dainty little strait, with a peep of open water at the end of it. Cottages bordered either side, some overhanging the very water, some connecting with it by a rickety wooden staircase or a miniature landing-stage. Creepers and roses rioted over the walls and tiny porches. For a space on one side, a rude quay, with small smacks floating off it, spoke of some minute commercial interests; a very small tea-garden, with neglected-looking bowers and leaf-strewn tables, hinted at some equally minute tripping interest. A pervading hue of mingled bronze and rose came partly from the weather-mellowed woodwork of the cottages and stages, and partly from the creepers and the trees behind, where autumn’s subtle fingers were already at work. Down this exquisite sea-lane we glided till it ended in a broad mere, where our sails, which had been shivering and complaining, filled into contented silence.

‘Ready about!’ said Davies, callously. ‘We must get out of this again.’ And round we swung.

‘Why not anchor and stop here?’ I protested; for a view of tantalizing loveliness was unfolding itself.

‘Oh, we’ve seen all there is to be seen, and we must take this breeze while we’ve got it.’ It was always torture to Davies to feel a good breeze running to waste while he was inactive at anchor or on shore. The ‘shore’ to him was an inferior element, merely serving as a useful annexe to the water—a source of necessary supplies.

‘Let’s have lunch,’ he pursued, as we resumed our way down the fiord. A vision of iced drinks, tempting salads, white napery, and an attentive steward mocked me with past recollections.

‘You’ll find a tongue,’ said the voice of doom, ‘in the starboard sofa-locker; beer under the floor in the bilge. I’ll see her round that buoy, if you wouldn’t mind beginning.’ I obeyed with a bad grace, but the close air and cramped posture must have benumbed my faculties, for I opened the port-side locker, reached down, and grasped a sticky body, which turned out to be a pot of varnish. Recoiling wretchedly, I tried the opposite one, combating the embarrassing heel of the boat and the obstructive edges of the centre-board case. A medley of damp tins of varied sizes showed in the gloom, exuding a mouldy odour. Faded legends on dissolving paper, like the remnants of old posters on a disused hoarding, spoke of soups, curries, beefs, potted meats, and other hidden delicacies. I picked out a tongue, re-imprisoned the odour, and explored for beer. It was true, I supposed, that bilge didn’t hurt it, as I tugged at the plank on my hands and knees, but I should have myself preferred a more accessible and less humid wine-cellar than the cavities among slimy ballast from which I dug the bottles. I regarded my hard-won and ill-favoured pledges of a meal with giddiness and discouragement.

‘How are you getting on?’ shouted Davies; ‘the tin-opener’s hanging up on the bulkhead; the plates and knives are in the cupboard.’

I doggedly pursued my functions. The plates and knives met me half-way, for, being on the weather side, and thus having a downward slant, its contents, when I slipped the latch, slid affectionately into my bosom, and overflowed with a clatter and jingle on to the floor.

‘That often happens,’ I heard from above. ‘Never mind! There are no breakables. I’m coming down to help.’ And down he came, leaving the Dulcibella to her own devices.

‘I think I’ll go on deck,’ I said. ‘Why in the world couldn’t you lunch comfortably at Ekken and save this infernal pandemonium of a picnic? Where’s the yacht going to meanwhile? And how are we to lunch on that slanting table? I’m covered with varnish and mud, and ankle-deep in crockery. There goes the beer!’

‘You shouldn’t have stood it on the table with this list on,’ said Davies, with intense composure, ‘but it won’t do any harm; it’ll drain into the bilge’ (ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought). ‘You go on deck now, and I’ll finish getting ready.’ I regretted my explosion, though wrung from me under great provocation.

‘Keep her straight on as she’s going,’ said Davies, as I clambered up out of the chaos, brushing the dust off my trousers and varnishing the ladder with my hands. I unlashed the helm and kept her as she was going.

We had rounded a sharp bend in the fiord, and were sailing up a broad and straight reach which every moment disclosed new beauties, sights fair enough to be balm to the angriest spirit. A red-roofed hamlet was on our left, on the right an ivied ruin, close to the water, where some contemplative cattle stood knee-deep. The view ahead was a white strand which fringed both shores, and to it fell wooded slopes, interrupted here and there by low sandstone cliffs of warm red colouring, and now and again by a dingle with cracks of greensward.

I forgot petty squalors and enjoyed things—the coy tremble of the tiller and the backwash of air from the dingy mainsail, and, with a somewhat chastened rapture, the lunch which Davies brought up to me and solicitously watched me eat.

Later, as the wind sank to lazy airs, he became busy with a larger topsail and jib; but I was content to doze away the afternoon, drenching brain and body in the sweet and novel foreign atmosphere, and dreamily watching the fringe of glen cliff and cool white sand as they passed ever more slowly by.

IV.

Retrospect

‘WAKE up!’ I rubbed my eyes and wondered where I was; stretched myself painfully, too, for even the cushions had not given me a true bed of roses. It was dusk, and the yacht was stationary in glassy water, coloured by the last after-glow. A roofing of thin upper-cloud had spread over most of the sky, and a subtle smell of rain was in the air. We seemed to be in the middle of the fiord, whose shores looked distant and steep in the gathering darkness. Close ahead they faded away suddenly, and the sight lost itself in a grey void. The stillness was absolute.

‘We can’t get to Sonderburg to-night,’ said Davies.

‘What’s to be done then?’ I asked, collecting my senses.

‘Oh! we’ll anchor anywhere here, we’re just at the mouth of the fiord; I’ll tow her inshore if you’ll steer in that direction.’ He pointed vaguely at a blur of trees and cliff. Then he jumped into the dinghy, cast off the painter, and, after snatching at the slack of a rope, began towing the reluctant yacht by short jerks of the sculls. The menacing aspect of that grey void, combined with a natural preference for getting to some definite place at night, combined to depress my spirits afresh. In my sleep I had dreamt of Morven Lodge, of heather tea-parties after glorious slaughters of grouse, of salmon leaping in amber pools—and now—

‘Just take a cast of the lead, will you?’ came Davies’s voice above the splash of the sculls.

‘Where is it?’ I shouted back.

‘Never mind—we’re close enough now; let—Can you manage to let go the anchor?’

I hurried forward and picked impotently at the bonds of the sleeping monster. But Davies was aboard again, and stirred him with a deft touch or two, till he crashed into the water with a grinding of chain.

‘We shall do well here,’ said he.

‘Isn’t this rather an open anchorage?’ I suggested.

‘It’s only open from that quarter,’ he replied. ‘If it comes on to blow from there we shall have to clear out; but I think it’s only rain. Let’s stow the sails.’

Another whirlwind of activity, in which I joined as effectively as I could, oppressed by the prospect of having to ‘clear out’—who knows whither?—at midnight. But Davies’s sang froid was infectious, I suppose, and the little den below, bright-lit and soon fragrant with cookery, pleaded insistently for affection. Yachting in this singular style was hungry work, I found. Steak tastes none the worse for having been wrapped in newspaper, and the slight traces of the day’s news disappear with frying in onions and potato-chips. Davies was indeed on his mettle for this, his first dinner to his guest; for he produced with stealthy pride, not from the dishonoured grave of the beer, but from some more hallowed recess, a bottle of German champagne, from which we drank success to the Dulcibella.

‘I wish you would tell me all about your cruise from England,’ I asked. ‘You must have had some exciting adventures. Here are the charts; let’s go over them.’

‘We must wash up first,’ he replied, and I was tactfully introduced to one of his very few ‘standing orders’, that tobacco should not burn, nor post-prandial chat begin, until that distasteful process had ended. ‘It would never get done otherwise,’ he sagely opined. But when we were finally settled with cigars, a variety of which, culled from many ports—German, Dutch, and Belgian—Davies kept in a battered old box in the net-rack, the promised talk hung fire.

‘I’m no good at description,’ he complained; ‘and there’s really very little to tell. We left Dover—Morrison and I—on 6th August; made a good passage to Ostend.’

‘You had some fun there, I suppose?’ I put in, thinking of—well, of Ostend in August.

‘Fun! A filthy hole I call it; we had to stop a couple of days, as we fouled a buoy coming in and carried away the bobstay; we lay in a dirty little tidal dock, and there was nothing to do on shore.’

‘Well, what next?’

‘We had a splendid sail to the East Scheldt, but then, like fools, decided to go through Holland by canal and river. It was good fun enough navigating the estuary—the tides and banks there are appalling—but farther inland it was a wretched business, nothing but paying lock-dues, bumping against schuyts, and towing down stinking canals. Never a peaceful night like this—always moored by some quay or tow-path, with people passing and boys. Heavens! shall I ever forget those boys! A perfect murrain of them infests Holland; they seem to have nothing in the world to do but throw stones and mud at foreign yachts.’

‘They want a Herod, with some statesmanlike views on infanticide.’

‘By Jove! yes; but the fact is that you want a crew for that pottering inland work; they can smack the boys and keep an eye on the sculls. A boat like this should stick to the sea, or out-of-the-way places on the coast. Well, after Amsterdam.’

‘You’ve skipped a good deal, haven’t you?’ I interrupted.

‘Oh! have I? Well, let me see, we went by Dordrecht to Rotterdam; nothing to see there, and swarms of tugs buzzing about and shaving one’s bows every second. On by the Vecht river to Amsterdam, and thence—Lord, what a relief it was!—out into the North Sea again. The weather had been still and steamy; but it broke up finely now, and we had a rattling three-reef sail to the Zuyder Zee.’

He reached up to the bookshelf for what looked like an ancient ledger, and turned over the leaves.

‘Is that your log?’ I asked. ‘I should like to have a look at it.’

‘Oh! you’d find it dull reading—if you could read it at all; it’s just short notes about winds and bearings, and so on.’ He was turning some leaves over rapidly. ‘Now, why don’t you keep a log of what we do? I can’t describe things, and you can.’

‘I’ve half a mind to try,’ I said.

‘We want another chart now,’ and he pulled down a second yet more stained and frayed than the first. ‘We had a splendid time then exploring the Zuyder Zee, its northern part at least, and round those islands which bound it on the north. Those are the Frisian Islands, and they stretch for 120 miles or so eastward. You see, the first two of them, Texel and Vlieland, shut in the Zuyder Zee, and the rest border the Dutch and German coasts.’

‘What’s all this?’ I said, running my finger over some dotted patches which covered much of the chart. The latter was becoming unintelligible; clean-cut coasts and neat regiments of little figures had given place to a confusion of winding and intersecting lines and bald spaces.

‘All sand,‘ said Davies, enthusiastically. ‘You can’t think what a splendid sailing-ground it is. You can explore for days without seeing a soul. These are the channels, you see; they’re very badly charted. This chart was almost useless, but it made it all the more fun. No towns or harbours, just a village or two on the islands, if you wanted stores.’

‘They look rather desolate,’ I said.

‘Desolate’s no word for it; they’re really only gigantic sand-banks themselves.’

‘Wasn’t all this rather dangerous?’ I asked.

‘Not a bit; you see, that’s where our shallow draught and flat bottom came in—we could go anywhere, and it didn’t matter running aground—she’s perfect for that sort of work; and she doesn’t really look bad either, does she?’ he asked, rather wistfully. I suppose I hesitated, for he said, abruptly:

‘Anyway, I don’t go in for looks.’

He had leaned back, and I detected traces of incipient absentmindedness. His cigar, which he had lately been lighting and relighting feverishly—a habit of his when excited—seemed now to have expired for good.

‘About running aground,’ I persisted; ‘surely that’s apt to be dangerous?’

He sat up and felt round for a match.

‘Not the least, if you know where you can run risks and where you can’t; anyway, you can’t possibly help it. That chart may look simple to you’—(‘simple!’ I thought)—’but at half flood all those banks are covered; the islands and coasts are scarcely visible, they are so low, and everything looks the same.’ This graphic description of a ‘splendid cruising-ground’ took away my breath. ‘Of course there is risk sometimes—choosing an anchorage requires care. You can generally get a nice berth under the lee of a bank, but the tides run strong in the channels, and if there’s a gale blowing—’

‘Didn’t you ever take a pilot?’ I interrupted.

‘Pilot? Why, the whole point of the thing’—he stopped short—’I did take one once, later on,’ he resumed, with an odd smile, which faded at once.

‘Well?’ I urged, for I saw a reverie was coming.

‘Oh! he ran me ashore, of course. Served me right. I wonder what the weather’s doing’; he rose, glanced at the aneroid, the clock, and the half-closed skylight with a curious circular movement, and went a step or two up the companion-ladder, where he remained for several minutes with head and shoulders in the open air.

There was no sound of wind outside, but the Dulcibella had begun to move in her sleep, as it were, rolling drowsily to some faint send of the sea, with an occasional short jump, like the start of an uneasy dreamer.

‘What does it look like?’ I called from my sofa. I had to repeat the question.

‘Rain coming,’ said Davies, returning, ‘and possibly wind; but we’re safe enough here. It’s coming from the sou’-west; shall we turn in?’

‘We haven’t finished your cruise yet,’ I said. ‘Light a pipe and tell me the rest.’

‘All right,’ he agreed, with more readiness than I expected.

‘After Terschelling—here it is, the third island from the west—I pottered along eastward.’

‘I?’

‘Oh! I forgot. Morrison had to leave me there. I missed him badly, but I hoped at that time to get—to join me. I could manage all right single-handed, but for that sort of work two are much better than one. The plate’s beastly heavy; in fact, I had to give up using it for fear of a smash.’

‘After Terschelling?’ I jogged his memory.

‘Well, I followed the Dutch islands, Ameland, Schiermonnikoog, Rottum (outlandish names, aren’t they?), sometimes outside them, sometimes inside. It was a bit lonely, but grand sport and very interesting. The charts were shocking, but I worried out most of the channels.’

‘I suppose those waters are only used by small local craft?’ I put in; ‘that would account for inaccuracies.’ Did Davies think that Admiralties had time to waste on smoothing the road for such quixotic little craft as his, in all its inquisitive ramblings? But he fired up.

‘That’s all very well,’ he said, ‘but think what folly it is. However, that’s a long story, and will bore you. To cut matters short, for we ought to be turning in, I got to Borkum—that’s the first of the German islands.’ He pointed at a round bare lozenge lying in the midst of a welter of sandbanks. ‘Rottum—this queer little one—it has only one house on it—is the most easterly Dutch island, and the mainland of Holland ends here, opposite it, at the Ems River’—indicating a dismal cavity in the coast, sown with names suggestive of mud, and wrecks, and dreariness.

‘What date was this?’ I asked.

‘About the ninth of this month.’

‘Why, that’s only a fortnight before you wired to me! You were pretty quick getting to Flensburg. Wait a bit, we want another chart. Is this the next?’

‘Yes; but we scarcely need it. I only went a little way farther on—to Norderney, in fact, the third German island—then I decided to go straight for the Baltic. I had always had an idea of getting there, as Knight did in the Falcon. So I made a passage of it to the Eider River, there on the West Schleswig coast, took the river and canal through to Kiel on the Baltic, and from there made another passage up north to Flensburg. I was a week there, and then you came, and here we are. And now let’s turn in. We’ll have a fine sail to-morrow!’ He ended with rather forced vivacity, and briskly rolled up the chart. The reluctance he had shown from the first to talk about his cruise had been for a brief space forgotten in his enthusiasm about a portion of it, but had returned markedly in this bald conclusion. I felt sure that there was more in it than mere disinclination to spin nautical yarns in the ‘hardy Corinthian’ style, which can be so offensive in amateur yachtsmen; and I thought I guessed the explanation. His voyage single-handed to the Baltic from the Frisian Islands had been a foolhardy enterprise, with perilous incidents, which, rather than make light of, he would not refer to at all. Probably he was ashamed of his recklessness and wished to ignore it with me, an inexperienced acquaintance not yet enamoured of the Dulcibella‘s way of life, whom both courtesy and interest demanded that he should inspire with confidence. I liked him all the better as I came to this conclusion, but I was tempted to persist a little.

‘I slept the whole afternoon,’ I said; ‘and, to tell the truth, I rather dread the idea of going to bed, it’s so tiring. Look here, you’ve rushed over that last part like an express train. That passage to the Schleswig coast—the Eider River, did you say?—was a longish one, wasn’t it?’

‘Well, you see what it was; about seventy miles, I suppose, direct.’ He spoke low, bending down to sweep up some cigar ashes on the floor.

‘Direct?’ I insinuated. ‘Then you put in somewhere?’

‘I stopped once, anchored for the night; oh, that’s nothing of a sail with a fair wind. By Jove! I’ve forgotten to caulk that seam over your bunk, and it’s going to rain. I must do it now. You turn in.’

He disappeared. My curiosity, never very consuming, was banished by concern as to the open seam; for the prospect of a big drop, remorseless and regular as Fate, falling on my forehead throughout the night, as in the torture-chamber of the Inquisition, was alarming enough to recall me wholly to the immediate future. So I went to bed, finding on the whole that I had made progress in the exercise, though still far from being the trained contortionist that the occasion called for. Hammering ceased, and Davies reappeared just as I was stretched on the rack—tucked up in my bunk, I mean.

‘I say,’ he said, when he was settled in his, and darkness reigned, ‘do you think you’ll like this sort of thing?’

‘If there are many places about here as beautiful as this,’ I replied, ‘I think I shall. But I should like to land now and then and have a walk. Of course, a great deal depends on the weather, doesn’t it? I hope this rain’ (drops had begun to patter overhead) ‘doesn’t mean that the summer’s over for good.’

‘Oh, you can sail just the same,’ said Davies, ‘unless it’s very bad. There’s plenty of sheltered water. There’s bound to be a change soon. But then there are the ducks. The colder and stormier it is, the better for them.’

I had forgotten the ducks and the cold, and, suddenly presented as a shooting-box in inclement weather, the Dulcibella lost ground in my estimation, which she had latterly gained.

‘I’m fond of shooting,’ I said, ‘but I’m afraid I’m only a fair-weather yachtsman, and I should much prefer sun and scenery.’

‘Scenery,’ he repeated, reflectively. ‘I say, you must have thought it a queer taste of mine to cruise about on that outlandish Frisian coast. How would you like that sort of thing?’

‘I should loathe it,’ I answered, promptly, with a clear conscience. ‘Weren’t you delighted yourself to get to the Baltic? It must be a wonderful contrast to what you described. Did you ever see another yacht there?’

‘Only one,’ he answered. ‘Good night!’

‘Good night!’

Written on November 26th, 2014 , Books about sailing

Contes de bord

Note de Boathouse:
 
Çe sera un long hiver et pour la plupart d’entre vous, une saison à la recherche et à la planification de voyages à venir, de journées à rêver à la navigation de plaisance et aussi à la lecture d’articles ou de livres sur la navigation de plaisance. Présenter ici,  un chapitre de «Contes de bord” onze récits de mer réunis par Édouard Corbière et publiés en 1834. Chaque semaine Boathouse présentera un chapitre ou deux de cette œuvre du domaine public et nous espérons que cela facilitera le passage de l’hiver pour nos lecteurs. Si vous êtiez impatients et ne pouviez pas attendre la suite de ce récit à chaque semaine,  vous pourriez lire le livre en entier sur  gutenburg.org.
Si vous souhaitez être informés lorsque les messages sont ajoutés à ce blog, s’ il vous plaît envoyer un courriel à blogadmin@boathouse.ca avec les mots «Inscription blog» comme sujet.Ayez du plaisir! Écrivez un commentaire, faites-nous savoir ce que vous en pensez.

Boathouse

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LES PREMIERS JOURS DE MER.

Moeurs des Marins au large.

Les observateurs qui ont vu d’un oeil curieux s’éloigner du port un navire emportant au loin sur les mers un équipage sortant du cabaret, n’ont pas manqué de raconter, et les adieux du matelot à ses amis, et les baisers effusifs dont il couvre les filles en pleurs qu’il va quitter peut-être pour toujours. Sans doute il y a quelque chose d’étrange dans ce spectacle du capitaine impatient, qui gourmande l’hésitation de ces marins, qui semblent se rattacher à la terre, en prodiguant toutes les marques possibles d’affection aux objets qu’ils abandonnent sur ce rivage qui va disparaître à leurs yeux pénétrés de regret. Mais ce n’est pas au moment du départ que le matelot est l’être le plus intéressant à observer: c’est quand il se sent une fois au large que la plus singulière des métamorphoses qu’il peut subir s’opère dans son individu pour ainsi dire multiple.

La première chose qu’il fait lorsqu’il a bien pris son parti et qu’il a dit adieu à la côte chérie qui va s’évanouir à l’horizon, c’est de changer son costume; il descend dans le logement de l’équipage, et il ne remontera sur le pont qu’après avoir fait subir à sa toilette le changement le plus complet. Le large pantalon bleu qu’il portait la veille est remplacé par la culotte de toile qui lui a servi dans la dernière campagne; l’escarpin fin et découvert est remis soigneusement dans le sac jusqu’au premier bal à venir; et, pour s’épargner l’embarras et les frais d’une autre chaussure, le matelot marchera nu-pieds, le pont étant, dit-il, assez propre pour qu’on ne craigne pas de couvrir de boue un pantalon déjà sale. Le chapeau ciré fait place au bonnet de laine, rouge ou brun, et une lourde vareuse goudronnée, faite des lambeaux d’un vieux hunier ou d’un reste de grand foc, couvrira le dos sur lequel la petite veste bleue, à double rang de boutons dorés, se dessinait avec tant de grâce quelques minutes encore avant le départ.

Une fois ce changement de costume opéré, notre homme montre sa tête au capot. Sa physionomie semble aussi s’être métamorphosée avec son costume. A l’air sémillant et galant qu’il affectait encore en montant avec souplesse à bord, a succédé un calme méditatif ou le ton d’un peu de mauvaise humeur. Il va ordinairement se joindre à la file des promeneurs qui s’est déjà formée sur le pont, pour parcourir, en revirant de bord à chaque instant, les dix ou douze pas que la longueur des passavans permet de faire à chacun. Il parle peu d’abord; il ne chante pas encore: il attend que la voix de l’officier de quart lui ordonne de prendre la barre ou de monter larguer un perroquet, prendre un ris, carguer ou amurer une basse-voile; c’est alors seulement qu’il paraîtra, en agissant avec activité, se dérouiller, et reprendre un peu les habitudes du bord; car tout le temps qu’il restera oisif, il semblera être encore tourmenté des souvenirs de la terre. J’ai vu d’anciens marins soupirer trois ou quatre heures encore après le départ. La plupart d’entre eux cependant se résignent avant cela.

Quand l’heure du premier repas vient, on se presse autour de la gamelle dans laquelle fume la soupe que vient de tremper le cook (le cuisinier); mais la gaîté ne préside pas encore à ce dîner ou à ce souper presque improvisé. L’ordre y manque surtout: c’est sa cuiller qu’il faut chercher; c’est un endroit commode qu’il faut trouver sur le pont, pour y assujétir la gamelle et ne pas exposer le précieux potage à être renversé par un coup de roulis ou submergé par un revolis de lame. Cette place commode, on ne la rencontre jamais bien la première fois; aussi la gamelle est-elle transportée d’un bord à l’autre, suivie par les six ou sept marins qui doivent y puiser, le clair bouillon de la chaudière. Jamais cette première soupe de la traversée n’est trouvée bonne: le cuisinier l’a manquée. Un des gastronomes lui reproche de n’avoir pas assez forcé sur le poivre; un autre, d’avoir fait aller trop de l’avant le consommé de l’équipage. Quand la ration de viande fraîche, traversée d’une broche en bois, arrive ficelée d’un bout de fil à voile qui a bouilli avec elle, c’est encore pis: elle n’est pas mangeable!… le cuisinier ne l’a pas mise assez tôt dans la marmite, ou l’a laissée se sécher dans la chaudière, comme de l’étoupe. L’un se lève, irrité de la maladresse du cook; l’autre, plus indigné, jette sa ration par-dessus le bord. Le cook s’excuse en alléguant l’impossibilité de faire de bonne soupe dans une chaudière neuve, et de faire cuire à point une viande coriace, avec un feu qu’il ne connaît pas bien encore. Vingt accusateurs sont là pour lui répondre que la viande est bonne et que c’est lui seul qui est mauvais. Il faut que le quart de vin, distribué à chaque mécontent par le mousse du plat, passe par-dessus cette petite contrariété, pour que les convives cessent de gourmander le pauvre cook, qui ne trouve de refuge contre l’unanimité des plaintes, qu’en se renfermant dans la cabane, dans l’espèce d’échoppe qui lui sert à la fois d’office, de laboratoire et de cuisine.

Cette cabane en bois, placée et amarrée sur le pont, est surmontée d’un capuchon en tôle par lequel s’échappe la fumée qui s’exhale des fourneaux; mais il faut, pour que cette fumée s’envole avec le vent qui enfle les voiles, que le tuyau du capuchon soit toujours tourné, ou pour mieux dire orienté selon la direction de la brise que l’on reçoit. Ainsi, chaque fois que l’on vire de bord, le cuisinier doit faire évoluer aussi sur sa base le tuyau mobile dont la manoeuvre lui est confiée. Pour peu que le pauvre diable ait indisposé les gens de l’équipage, dans le début de la traversée, c’est à la manoeuvre du capuchon qu’ils l’attendent, pour le tourmenter et signaler sa négligence au capitaine ou à l’officier de quart.

Vient-on à virer de bord, à changer d’allure, si le chef est en retard dans l’évolution de son tuyau de cuisine, aussitôt on entendra une grosse voix de matelot lui crier: «Allons donc, brûle-chaudière, orienterez-vous votre capuchon aujourd’hui? Jamais ce marmiton ne peut revirer de bord avec le navire! Il y a deux heures de différence entre la manoeuvre de boutique et celle du bord!…

—Non, ajoute un autre censeur, tu ne vois pas qu’il lui faudra un officier de manoeuvre pour faire envoyer vent-devant à son cabanon de cuisine, quand on enverra de l’autre bord, à bord du bâtiment!»

Alors le malheureux chef sort tout enfumé, l’oeil rouge et la bouche tombante, de sa chaude cahutte, pour grimper sur la toiture de son fragile édifice, et orienter selon la brise le maudit capuchon qui lui a déjà attiré tant de reproches, sans compter ceux qu’il lui fera essuyer tout le long de la traversée. Mais il faut voir, avant qu’il ait tourné l’appareil du tuyau dans le sens voulu, le regard interrogant qu’il jette de son oeil piteux sur l’horizon, pour voir de quel côté vient le vent, et sur quel bord il fera pirouetter sa machine!

Le mousse de la chambre et le cuisinier sont les deux martyrs du bord.

Les matelots qui composent un nouvel équipage ne se familiarisent bien les uns avec les autres que lorsque quelque circonstance un peu décisive est venue opérer un rapprochement forcé entre eux, les réunir côte à côte, en leur offrant l’occasion de faire connaissance dans la pratique du métier.

Au premier mauvais temps qu’on éprouve, les hommes qui ont été obligés de monter ensemble sur une vergue pour prendre le dernier ris ou pour serrer une voile que leur dispute la violence du vent, commencent à se traiter avec bienveillance et quelquefois même avec courtoisie: «Matelot, halez-moi, sans vous commander, un peu de toile au vent, pour que je puisse bien souquer mon empointure.

—Oui, matelot; avez-vous assez de mou comme ça?

—Oui, c’est suffisant, mon ancien.

—Dites si vous en avez à votre idée?

—C’est tout ce qu’il m’en faut.

—A la bonne heure!»

L’intimité, qui n’existait pas une minute avant de monter sur la vergue de hune, se trouve ainsi établie, en descendant sur le pont, entre les deux ou trois gaillards que l’officier a envoyés en haut.

Les marins, assez grands amateurs, pour la plupart, de chants langoureux et de romances plaintives, ne commencent ordinairement à fredonner leurs airs favoris que lorsque le temps devient sombre et que le vent se soulève et gémit autour d’eux. On dirait que ces Bardes monotones de l’Océan ont besoin d’être accompagnés par le mugissement des vagues et le hurlement de la tempête, pour jeter au vent les accords de leur triste mélopée. Rien au reste ne s’accorde mieux avec la sauvage harmonie des élémens courroucés, que les complaintes mélancoliques des matelots; mais ce sont les vieux maîtres d’équipage surtout qui paraissent ne retrouver les airs qu’ils ont appris ça et là, que quand la bourrasque souffle avec violence. Aussi entend-on quelquefois les matelots répéter, en entendant le maître grommeler un lambeau de couplet entre ses dents: «Maître un tel chante sur le bossoir: nous aurons bientôt du f…traud.»

L’eau dont on approvisionne les navires, pour une longue traversée, est ménagée à bord avec une parcimonie dont on se ferait difficilement une idée à terre. Cette habitude d’économiser cette partie si essentielle de l’alimentation en mer, finit par exercer un tel empire sur les marins, qu’il serait très-rare de trouver un matelot qui pût voir, même dans la ville la mieux pourvue de fontaines, répandre inutilement l’eau la plus abondante. Aussi faut-il voir la mine que font les gens de l’équipage aux passagers qui prodiguent, pour se laver la figure et les mains, l’eau qu’ils prennent dans les pièces amarrées sur le pont. Un maître d’équipage disait à deux dames qui s’amusaient à se jeter au visage les gouttes d’eau qu’elles avaient laissées dans leur verre: «Mes braves dames, sans vous faire de la peine, je dirai que vous êtes sans comparaison comme ces petits enfans qui jouent avec des armes à feu…. Peut-être avant qu’il soit quinze jours vous périrez faute de ces gouttes d’eau que vous vous jetez actuellement par la mine.»

Jamais l’eau potable n’est employée à laver des effets; on se contente d’en prendre un quart de verre pour se faire la barbe. L’eau de mer sert aux ablutions que prescrit la propreté.

Quand un nuage, poussé au-dessus du navire par le vent qui souffle, promet de la pluie, les hommes qui sont sur le pont tendent des prélars, pièces de toiles goudronnées, pour recevoir l’ondée qui se prépare. Les dallots, les trous par lesquels l’eau qui coule sur le pont pourrait s’échapper, sont bouchés soigneusement. Chacun prend son linge sale, s’arme d’une brosse à manche, et se dispose à faire la lessive. C’est dans ces momens que les passagères, qu’effraie la musculaire nudité des matelots, doivent se retirer dans leur chambre; car alors il est d’usage que chaque homme ne garde sur lui que son pantalon. La veste, la chemise, la cravatte, tout est placé à l’abri sous la chaloupe ou dans le fond du chapeau. La pluie peut tomber sur les épaules de ces lessiviers intrépides. Pendant qu’ils prennent un bain et que l’onde ruisselle sur leur dos, ils lavent avec impassibilité les effets qu’ils étreignent sous leurs pieds, et souvent la brosse qui a servi à frotter leur casaque ou leur chemise, passe sur l’omoplate et les reins du voisin. Chacun se fait un plaisir de frictionner ainsi son matelot, qui lui rend la pareille de la meilleure grâce possible.

Les mousses échappent rarement à cette lessive générale. Quand l’eau de pluie abonde, les laveurs ne manquent presque jamais d’élever, sur la propreté de ces jeunes gamins du bord, des soupçons que l’officier de quart accueille assez volontiers. On ordonne aux mousses de se déshabiller et de passer docilement sous l’inflexible brosse qui doit leur faire subir un nettoyage complet. Aucun effort n’est épargné par le brosseur, qui frotte l’épiderme des petits patiens, comme il ferait l’un des bordages du gaillard d’arrière, ou de la chambre du capitaine. Les mousses, ainsi balayés et fourbis une bonne fois, n’ont garde de manquer ensuite de se laver tous les matins, de crainte, à la première ondée, d’être encore accusés de malpropreté, et d’être forcés de subir la rigoureuse opération lustrale à laquelle on les a déjà si impitoyablement soumis.

Les matelots, avec le peu de vêtemens et de linge qu’ils possèdent, sont en général très-propres. L’idée de la vermine, qui s’engendre si facilement au milieu d’un grand nombre d’individus réunis dans un petit espace, leur fait horreur. L’homme qui parmi eux néglige de se laver ou de se peigner, éprouve à bord une espèce de proscription à laquelle il n’échappe que bien rarement. On l’exile du logement commun; on le force à manger seul, et nul ne lui adresse la parole que pour lui prodiguer les épithètes les plus dures et anathématiser sa saleté. Les jeunes marins, ceux que l’on appelle de jolis matelots, sont surtout soigneux de leur chevelure: chaque matin on les voit passer, avec une complaisance qui n’est pas toujours sans prétention, le peigne de buis bien nettoyé, dans les longs tire-bouchons chevelus dont ils ont soin d’encadrer leur figure quand ils descendent à terre pour faire ces rapides conquêtes dont ils ne sont pas toujours très-fiers en revenant à bord.

Il est pour les jeunes matelots un genre de coquetterie que l’on ne s’expliquerait pas facilement, si l’on ne savait l’amour-propre que chacun attache à la profession qu’il est forcé d’exercer.

Voici quel est ce raffinement d’élégance:

Quand un novice commence à travailler aux amarrages et à apprendre le matelotage sous la surveillance des gabiers du bord, il ne se pare jamais pour aller se promener, sans éviter de se laver trop les mains. Souvent même, lorsqu’il craint d’avoir les doigts trop blancs, il se les trempe dans du goudron pour compléter sa toilette. C’est un témoignage visible de ce qu’il peut faire comme matelot, qu’il veut laisser subsister à côté du costume destiné à relever sa bonne mine. Comme le travail qu’il sait faire l’honore à ses propres yeux, il croit que l’indice de sa capacité servira à le recommander à la considération des autres personnes, et même à la faveur des belles qu’il va courtiser. Est-ce là déjà si mal penser, et n’y a-t-il pas dans ce calcul de coquetterie du matelot, une opinion trop favorable de ce qui à terre détermine le plus souvent la préférence que les hommes et les femmes accordent à tels ou tels individus, à tel ou tel genre de mérite? Un métier qui condamne ceux qui l’exercent à lutter sans cesse contre des obstacles renaissans, ou à vaincre des incidens presque toujours imprévus, doit faire des marins les hommes les plus prompts et les plus ingénieux du monde. Un matelot est, au reste, l’être qui trouve le plus vite le plus d’expédiens possibles pour se tirer le mieux d’un mauvais pas ou d’une situation critique.

Que quelques matelots soient jetés sans ressource sur un rivage désert, et si quelques heures après leur naufrage ils ne se sont pas bâti une cabane, procuré du poisson ou du gibier, et s’ils ne sont pas parvenus à allumer du feu, vous pourrez à coup sûr en conclure que la côte sur laquelle ils se sont sauvés n’a ni bois, ni gibier, ni poisson. Les vieux soldats, qui sont incontestablement des hommes à expédiens, mourraient peut-être de faim ou de misère, là où des marins trouveraient encore à s’abriter, à se vêtir et à se nourrir assez convenablement.

C’est pendant les longues traversées que l’on est surtout à portée de se convaincre du parti qu’ils savent tirer, pour eux-mêmes, des moindres choses qu’on leur abandonne comme inutiles. Qu’un morceau de mauvaise toile à fourrure leur tombe sous la main, ils s’en font une casquette ou un chapeau. Si l’on peint le navire, ils barbouillent leur chapeau de toile des gouttes de peinture tombées sur le pont. Qu’un pantalon leur manque, ils retournent le pantalon d’un de leurs camarades pour tailler, sur les coupures du modèle qu’ils décousent, les parties du vêtement qu’ils veulent se faire. S’ils n’ont pu se procurer des aiguilles et du fil, ils se feront une aiguille avec un clou, ou même avec du bois dur, et du fil à coudre avec du fil à voile dédoublé. Pour peu qu’un morceau de basane, destiné à garnir les manoeuvres dormantes, soit mis au rebut, ils s’en emparent pour composer les semelles des souliers qu’ils confectionnent avec de la mauvaise toile. Long-temps avant que l’on songeât à fabriquer des capotes cirées, les matelots s’étaient fait des casaques inperméables, en goudronnant leurs hulots, et en passant, sur la toile dont ils étaient faits, deux ou trois copieuses couches de peinture.

Le goudron devient pour eux un topique universel. Se font-ils une coupure, aussitôt ils appliquent sur leur plaie un emplâtre de goudron. Pour certaines maladies internes, ils ne connaissent rien de mieux qu’une mixture de goudron. Ils prendraient du goudron en pilules, je crois même, si on ne cherchait pas par la persuasion, et quelquefois même par l’autorité qu’on a sur eux, à les guérir de la prédilection qu’ils ont pour cette étrange médication.

La vie du matelot à la mer est aussi simple qu’elle est active. A huit heures du matin il déjeûne d’un morceau de pain assaisonné d’un peu de fromage ou de beurre, et arrosé d’un petit verre d’eau-de-vie. A midi il dîne d’une demi-livre de viande salée. Le soir il mange une soupe aux haricots ou aux petits pois. Un quart de vin passe par là-dessus à chaque repas. Voilà toute sa cuisine; et pourtant encore il trouve moyen de faire, de temps à autre, un peu de gastronomie.

Distribue-t-on du lard, par exemple; il le coupe par tranche, au lieu de le faire bouillir dans la chaudière, avec la ration des autres. Il fait griller ensuite, sur des charbons ardens, les précieuses lèches qu’il a découpées avec précaution; puis il saupoudre de poivre et de biscuit râpé la grasse tamponne qu’il va manger avec délices, assis sur le bossoir ou sur le beaupré.

Mais c’est lorsque la pêche donne à bord, qu’il faut voir les Véry d’occasion mettre au jour leur science culinaire! Il n’est pas de partie d’un requin ou d’un marsouin, quelque dure qu’elle puisse être, qui ne soit macérée, exploitée, et livrée à l’appétit de ces mangeurs impitoyables.

Dès qu’un poisson est pris, soit au harpon ou à la ligne, l’heureux maraudeur qui a fait la capture, l’offre en tribut au capitaine: c’est un droit de suzeraineté que personne ne décline à bord. Le capitaine prend ce qui convient à sa table, et livre le reste aux gens de l’équipage. C’est alors que les fricoteurs pullulent: l’un demande qu’on lui avance sa ration de beurre pour cinq à six jours; l’autre, qu’on lui prête une poêle, et qu’on lui donne un peu de vinaigre à la cambuse. Chacun, armé de son couteau, dissèque le poisson, interroge ses entrailles palpitantes, non pour pénétrer, en augure téméraire, les secrets de l’avenir, mais pour chercher tout bonnement quelques muscles charnus à manger. Après cette autopsie plus gourmande que savante, il y a plaisir à voir l’activité avec laquelle les fricoteurs se disputent les places sur les fourneaux de la cuisine. Un requin de 200 livres, quelque coriace qu’il soit, quelque urineux que puisse être le goût de sa chair, trouvera encore des mangeurs plus voraces qu’il n’est dur lui-même. Deux jours suffiront à quinze ou vingt hommes, pour qu’il soit dévoré et qu’il passe de la poêle à frire dans les estomacs avides qui ne font autre chose que de l’avaler et de le digérer pendant quarante à quarante-huit heures consécutives.

Il existe chez les marins un préjugé médical qui peut-être n’est pas nuisible à leur santé, mais qui les conduit tout au moins à faire quelque chose de très-repoussant. Ces bonnes gens s’imaginent que le sang tiède d’un marsouin ou d’une tortue est le plus puissant anti-scorbutique qu’on puisse trouver. En sorte que, lorsqu’on vient de harponner un marsouin ou de chavirer la tortue qui passe endormie le long du bord, on voit les amateurs recueillir, dans le gobelet de fer-blanc qui sert à tout le plat, le sang fumant du poisson qu’on vient de tuer, et vite ils avalent d’un seul trait ce breuvage épais qui ne ressemble pas mal à du goudron liquide que l’on aurait fait tiédir. «Ça fait du bien à l’estomac,» disent-ils en buvant cette potion dont l’aspect seul soulèverait l’estomac de l’homme le moins délicat. Mais les marins ne sont pas gens à avoir mal au coeur pour si peu de chose.

Dès qu’un bâtiment marchand a quitté la terre, on s’occupe à bord de former les deux bordées pour le quart.

Pour former ces bordées, on divise l’équipage en deux parties égales. Chaque moitié de l’équipage, commandée par un officier et un maître, prend le quart à son tour, pendant que l’autre moitié dort ou se repose dans les cabanes ou les hamacs. La première bordée se nomme la bordée de tribord, et, par dérivation, on désigne les marins qui la composent, sous le nom de Tribordais. L’autre bordée est celle de babord, et elle se compose des Babordais.

Une cabane ou un hamac sert à deux hommes dont l’un est Tribordais et l’autre Babordais. Les deux hommes auxquels ce hamac est commun sont matelots l’un de l’autre; aussi chacun d’eux appelle-t-il son camarade son matelot. Les matelots sont, à prendre cette expression dans son acception la plus restreinte par rapport aux usages du bord, ce qu’à terre, dans les casernes, sont entre eux les camarades de lit.

Presque toujours il arrive que les deux marins qui se conviennent assez pour désirer d’être amatelotés ensemble, mettent en commun tout ce qui peut contribuer à solidariser les petites jouissances qu’ils peuvent se procurer à bord. La provision d’eau-de-vie se partage entre eux: le tabac qui doit servir dans la traversée est fumé ou chiqué en commun, et il est fort rare que le partage quelquefois inégal des objets mis en consommation pour l’usage des deux parties, fasse naître entre les deux intéressés d’égoïstes contestations. La paix et l’union règnent presque constamment dans ces sortes de ménages d’hommes, d’où la passion jet à coup sûr la jalousie sont exclues par la nature même de cette alliance toute confraternelle.

Cette camaraderie des matelots a parfois quelque chose de touchant et de fort extraordinaire chez des hommes aussi peu accessibles aux sentimens tendres, que le sont en général les marins.

Un capitaine français, parti de la Guadeloupe avec quelques hommes à peine échappés à la fièvre jaune, qui venait de décimer son équipage, eut le malheur, une fois à la mer, de voir un de ses matelots, convalescent, retomber malade de manière à ne plus pouvoir quitter son hamac.

Le camarade, nous pouvons maintenant nous servir de la désignation plus généralement usitée parmi les marins, le matelot du pauvre fiévreux s’empressa de prodiguer à cet infortuné tous les soins que sa position et son amitié lui prescrivaient de lui offrir. Le garde-malade ne quittait le moribond que pour venir faire son quart, et la nuit il se réveillait vingt fois pour donner à boire à son matelot: la plus tendre femme n’aurait pas veillé avec plus de sollicitude au chevet du lit de son époux.

Le capitaine, aux premiers symptômes de la rechute du convalescent, eut la sage précaution d’ordonner à ses hommes de ne donner au malade que des boissons rafraîchissantes. Sa ration d’eau-de-vie fut soigneusement retranchée à la cambuse. Mais, malgré le régime sévère qu’avait prescrit le capitaine, un passager, qui se connaissait un peu en médecine, crut remarquer que le malade recevait des boissons spiritueuses propres à augmenter l’intensité de la fièvre qui le dévorait. Les précautions les plus rigoureuses furent prises pour que le régime diététique imposé au malheureux fût observé dans toute son austérité. Défense expresse fut faite à tout autre que le matelot d’Alain et le demi-médecin, d’approcher du hamac où le malade luttait depuis trois ou quatre jours contre la mort.

Tous les soins furent inutiles. Une nuit, pendant que Vauchel, le camarade d’Alain, faisait son quart, on vint annoncer au capitaine que le malade avait succombé.

On se figurerait difficilement l’impression que produisit cette nouvelle sur Vauchel:

«Mon pauvre matelot! s’écria-t-il; voilà cinq ans que nous naviguions ensemble et que jamais nous ne nous étions dit une parole plus haute l’une que l’autre!… C’était bien la peine de lui faire boire ma ration d’eau-de-vie à seule fin de lui donner de la force, pour le voir mourir comme ça!»

Le capitaine, à ces mots, demande à Vauchel avec colère et précipitation: «Tu lui donnais donc ta ration d’eau-de-vie, malgré la défense que j’avais faite?

—Pardié, capitaine, c’était la faiblesse qui le tuait, et je voulais lui rendre sa force.

—Malheureux, c’est toi qui l’as tué!

—Moi qui l’as tué! quoi! c’est moi qui as tué Alain, mon matelot! moi qui aurais donné cinq cent millions de fois ma vie, pour le sauver de la mort….

—Oui, misérable, c’est toi, c’est l’eau-de-vie, ou plutôt le poison que tu lui as fait boire, qui a redoublé l’effet de son mal.

—Ah ça, monsieur, vous qui connaissez la médecine (il s’adressait au passager qui avait vu le malade), est-ce bien vrai ce que le capitaine me dit là? est-il possible que j’aie empoisonné mon pauvre matelot?

—C’est bien involontairement sans doute que vous lui avez fait du mal; mais on peut croire que, sans les liqueurs spiritueuses que vous lui avez données, il vivrait encore.»

Cette réponse sembla attérer le matelot d’Alain. Sans chercher à s’excuser, il descendit dans le logement de l’équipage. Ceux de ses camarades qui s’efforçaient de le consoler ne purent obtenir un seul mot de lui, et pendant plusieurs jours toutes les prières, les injonctions et les menaces du capitaine furent vaines pour l’engager ou le forcer à prendre quelque nourriture.

Une fièvre cérébrale, produite par l’exaltation de sa douleur, se déclara avec la dernière intensité chez lui. Dans les accès de son délire, il répétait sans cesse: «Moi qui as tué ce pauvre Alain! Moi qui deux fois l’avais sauvé en me jetant à la mer après lui!… Ah bien, oui!… Alain! Alain! dis donc, mon matelot, est-ce que c’est vrai que c’est ce que je t’ai donné sur ma ration, qui t’a fait du mal, matelot?… Hein? Parle donc! Tu ne dis rien! tu ne réponds pas! C’est donc moi qui t’ai donné le coup de la mort!… Ah! mon Dieu, que je suis malheureux!…»

Le matelot d’Alain expira peu de jours après avoir reçu les reproches de son capitaine sur l’imprudence de sa conduite.

L’homme se résigne facilement à supporter et à subir l’empire des choses que sa volonté et ses efforts ne sauraient changer. L’idée de s’irriter contre les obstacles irrésistibles ne lui vient même pas dans les momens où il pourrait cependant, avec le plus d’apparence de raison, accuser d’injustice le malheur qui le poursuit ou la destinée qui l’accable. C’est ainsi, par exemple, que tel matelot qui s’emporte contre le chef qui le maltraite sans motifs, ne laissera échapper aucun signe de mécontentement parce qu’il plaît à la Providence de lui faire éprouver un temps horrible pendant des mois entiers. Que la tempête le tourmente nuit et jour, que les accidens qui se multiplient à bord durant le mauvais temps le forcent à monter deux ou trois fois par heure dans la mâture, au péril de sa vie, vous ne l’entendrez presque jamais jurer contre la mer qui grossit ou contre le vent qui continue à souffler. Il prend tout ce qui lui vient de là-haut avec résignation. Mais qu’après avoir passé une heure à la barre d’un navire difficile à gouverner, il revienne causer devant avec ses camarades, vous l’entendrez crier contre la chienne de barque qui est trop ardente ou trop molle. On croirait que les imperfections seules qui tiennent, dans les choses, à l’erreur ou à l’ignorance des hommes, ont le privilége d’exciter sa colère et de provoquer ses reproches. Ce n’est qu’à ce qui est irréformable ou irrésistible qu’il se soumet sans murmurer.

Les marins, à qui certes le don de la poésie n’est que très-rarement départi, et chez qui les habitudes du métier ne contribuent guère à développer l’imagination, sont portés cependant à animer tous les objets qui se meuvent autour d’eux; ils donnent de la vie à presque tout ce qui a du mouvement. Un navire, à leurs yeux, a une physionomie, une volonté, et presque des passions. Ils vous disent, en parlant du dernier bâtiment sur lequel ils ont navigué: «Jamais je n’ai vu de brick aussi capricieux que ce coquin-là! aussitôt qu’on ne veille pas à gouverner, il revient dans le vent comme un gredin! C’est trop volage et trop sensible au coup de barre. Mais ça vous a un air guerrier, par exemple! et puis il n’y a pas de boulinier comme ça!»

Quand un navire est rencontré à la mer, ils le personnifient en quelque sorte: «Voyez-vous, disent-ils, comme il éternue en plongeant son avant dans la lame!… Ah! voilà qu’il masque son grand hunier pour nous parler!… Il n’est pas vif pourtant à la manoeuvre; c’est dommage, car il est bien espalmé et bien faraud, ce coquin-là!»

Rarement, malgré cette tendance à tout individualiser, il leur arrive cependant de personnifier la mer, malgré la constante mobilité qu’ils observent en elle, et l’influence qu’elle exerce sur tout ce qui les entoure. Ils disent bien que la mer est mâle quand elle grossit, que la lame grimpe à bord comme un chat, que la houle est sourde; mais ils ne prêtent pas à cet élément une âme, une volonté, des passions et des caprices, enfin, comme ils le font quelquefois en parlant d’un navire.

Les funérailles du marin sont aussi modestes que sa vie a été obscure et que ses moeurs ont été simples. Dès qu’un homme meurt à la mer, soit de maladie ou par l’effet d’un de ces accidens qui n’arrivent que trop fréquemment à bord, le capitaine, qui a recueilli, quand la mort le lui a permis, les dernières volontés du malheureux, ordonne au voilier du navire, ou au matelot du défunt, de faire son sac; on sait ce que cela veut dire, et alors l’ensevelisseur se met à coudre le cadavre dans un morceau de serpillière ou de toile à voile usée. Quelquefois on se sert du hamac du trépassé pour en faire son linceul, ou d’un pavillon, si c’est un officier. Aussitôt que cette opération est terminée, on monte sur le pont le corps ainsi emballé. Une longue planche, qui est ordinairement celle du cook, est placée sur le plabord de dessous le vent, et deux hommes s’avancent pour la soutenir. C’est sur cette voie glissante qu’on va lancer le pauvre diable dans l’éternité, comme disent les Anglais. Si l’on a des boulets à bord, on en fourre un ou deux dans l’emballage du mort: c’est du luxe. Quand les boulets manquent, on les remplace par du lest, des cailloux ou du sable. Le moment fatal arrive: chacun se découvre et s’arrête. Si quelqu’un parmi l’équipage sait une prière, il la récite: on l’écoute avec recueillement, et, au signal donné par le capitaine ou l’un des officiers, le corps est lancé par-dessus le bord: il tombe, coule, disparaît. On jette les yeux sur les flots qui l’emportent derrière le navire, qui continue paisiblement sa route, et bientôt le souvenir du malheureux que la mer vient d’engloutir, s’efface comme la trace que laisse après lui le bâtiment sur la surface de l’onde immense.

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Written on November 16th, 2014 , Info

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Note from Boathouse:

It’s going to be a long winter and winter for most is a season to research and plan upcoming trips,  day dream about boating  and also read about boating.  Presented here a chapter  of  ‘The Riddle of the sands’  an excellent  pre WWI sailing adventure.  Every week Boathouse will present a chapter or two of  this public domain work and hopefully this will ease the passage of winter for our readers. If you are inpatient and can’t wait for each weeks installment you can read the entire book  at gutenburg.org If you would rather listen to the book here is a link to an audio version:  Chapter 2

If you would like to be notified when posts are added to this blog please send an email to  blogadmin@boathouse.ca   with the words ‘Subscribe to blog’ as the subject.

Have fun!  Post a comment, let  us know what you think.

Boathouse

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II.

The Dulcibella

THAT two days later I should be found pacing the deck of the Flushing steamer with a ticket for Hamburg in my pocket may seem a strange result, yet not so strange if you have divined my state of mind. You will guess, at any rate, that I was armed with the conviction that I was doing an act of obscure penance, rumours of which might call attention to my lot and perhaps awaken remorse in the right quarter, while it left me free to enjoy myself unobtrusively in the remote event of enjoyment being possible.

The fact was that, at breakfast on the morning after the arrival of the letter, I had still found that inexplicable lightening which I mentioned before, and strong enough to warrant a revival of the pros and cons. An important pro which I had not thought of before was that after all it was a good-natured piece of unselfishness to join Davies; for he had spoken of the want of a pal, and seemed honestly to be in need of me. I almost clutched at this consideration. It was an admirable excuse, when I reached my office that day, for a resigned study of the Continental Bradshaw, and an order to Carter to unroll a great creaking wall-map of Germany and find me Flensburg. The latter labour I might have saved him, but it was good for Carter to have something to do; and his patient ignorance was amusing. With most of the map and what it suggested I was tolerably familiar, for I had not wasted my year in Germany, whatever I had done or not done since. Its people, history, progress, and future had interested me intensely, and I had still friends in Dresden and Berlin. Flensburg recalled the Danish war of ’64, and by the time Carter’s researches had ended in success I had forgotten the task set him, and was wondering whether the prospect of seeing something of that lovely region of Schleswig-Holstein, [See Map A] as I knew from hearsay that it was, was at all to be set against such an uncomfortable way of seeing it, with the season so late, the company so unattractive, and all the other drawbacks which I counted and treasured as proofs of my desperate condition, if I were to go. It needed little to decide me, and I think K—’s arrival from Switzerland, offensively sunburnt, was the finishing touch. His greeting was ‘Hullo, Carruthers, you here? Thought you had got away long ago. Lucky devil, though, to be going now, just in time for the best driving and the early pheasants. The heat’s been shocking out there. Carter, bring me a Bradshaw’—(an extraordinary book, Bradshaw, turned to from habit, even when least wanted, as men fondle guns and rods in the close season).

By lunch-time the weight of indecision had been removed, and I found myself entrusting Carter with a telegram to Davies, P.O., Flensburg. ‘Thanks; expect me 9.34 p.m. 26th’; which produced, three hours later, a reply: ‘Delighted; please bring a No. 3 Rippingille stove’—a perplexing and ominous direction, which somehow chilled me in spite of its subject matter.

Indeed, my resolution was continually faltering. It faltered when I turned out my gun in the evening and thought of the grouse it ought to have accounted for. It faltered again when I contemplated the miscellaneous list of commissions, sown broadcast through Davies’s letter, to fulfil which seemed to make me a willing tool where my chosen rôle was that of an embittered exile, or at least a condescending ally. However, I faced the commissions manfully, after leaving the office.

At Lancaster’s I inquired for his gun, was received coolly, and had to pay a heavy bill, which it seemed to have incurred, before it was handed over. Having ordered the gun and No. 4′s to be sent to my chambers, I bought the Raven mixture with that peculiar sense of injury which the prospect of smuggling in another’s behalf always entails; and wondered where in the world Carey and Neilson’s was, a firm which Davies spoke of as though it were as well known as the Bank of England or the Stores, instead of specializing in ‘rigging-screws’, whatever they might be. They sounded important, though, and it would be only polite to unearth them. I connected them with the ‘few repairs,’ and awoke new misgivings. At the Stores I asked for a No. 3 Rippingille stove, and was confronted with a formidable and hideous piece of ironmongery, which burned petroleum in two capacious tanks, horribly prophetic of a smell of warm oil. I paid for this miserably, convinced of its grim efficiency, but speculating as to the domestic conditions which caused it to be sent for as an afterthought by telegram. I also asked about rigging-screws in the yachting department, but learnt that they were not kept in stock; that Carey and Neilson’s would certainly have them, and that their shop was in the Minories, in the far east, meaning a journey nearly as long as to Flensburg, and twice as tiresome. They would be shut by the time I got there, so after this exhausting round of duty I went home in a cab, omitted dressing for dinner (an epoch in itself), ordered a chop up from the basement kitchen, and spent the rest of the evening packing and writing, with the methodical gloom of a man setting his affairs in order for the last time.

The last of those airless nights passed. The astonished Withers saw me breakfasting at eight, and at 9.30 I was vacantly examining rigging-screws with what wits were left me after a sulphurous ride in the Underground to Aldgate. I laid great stress on the 3/8′s, and the galvanism, and took them on trust, ignorant as to their functions. For the eleven-shilling oilskins I was referred to a villainous den in a back street, which the shopman said they always recommended, and where a dirty and bejewelled Hebrew chaffered with me (beginning at 18s.) over two reeking orange slabs distantly resembling moieties of the human figure. Their odour made me close prematurely for 14s., and I hurried back (for I was due there at eleven) to my office with my two disreputable brown-paper parcels, one of which made itself so noticeable in the close official air that Carter attentively asked if I would like to have it sent to my chambers, and K— was inquisitive to bluntness about it and my movements. But I did not care to enlighten K—, whose comments I knew would be provokingly envious or wounding to my pride in some way.

I remembered, later on, the prismatic compass, and wired to the Minories to have one sent at once, feeling rather relieved that I was not present there to be cross-examined as to size and make.

The reply was, ‘Not stocked; try surveying-instrument maker’—a reply both puzzling and reassuring, for Davies’s request for a compass had given me more uneasiness than anything, while, to find that what he wanted turned out to be a surveying-instrument, was a no less perplexing discovery. That day I made my last précis and handed over my schedules—Procrustean beds, where unwilling facts were stretched and tortured—and said good-bye to my temporary chief, genial and lenient M—, who wished me a jolly holiday with all sincerity.

At seven I was watching a cab packed with my personal luggage and the collection of unwieldy and incongruous packages that my shopping had drawn down on me. Two deviations after that wretched prismatic compass—which I obtained in the end secondhand, faute de mieux, near Victoria, at one of those showy shops which look like jewellers’ and are really pawnbrokers’—nearly caused me to miss my train. But at 8.30 I had shaken off the dust of London from my feet, and at 10.30 I was, as I have announced, pacing the deck of a Flushing steamer, adrift on this fatuous holiday in the far Baltic.

An air from the west, cooled by a midday thunderstorm, followed the steamer as she slid through the calm channels of the Thames estuary, passed the cordon of scintillating lightships that watch over the sea-roads to the imperial city like pickets round a sleeping army, and slipped out into the dark spaces of the North Sea. Stars were bright, summer scents from the Kent cliffs mingled coyly with vulgar steamer-smells; the summer weather held immutably. Nature, for her part, seemed resolved to be no party to my penance, but to be imperturbably bent on shedding mild ridicule over my wrongs. An irresistible sense of peace and detachment, combined with that delicious physical awakening that pulses through the nerve-sick townsman when city airs and bald routine are left behind him, combined to provide me, however thankless a subject, with a solid background of resignation. Stowing this safely away, I could calculate my intentions with cold egotism. If the weather held I might pass a not intolerable fortnight with Davies. When it broke up, as it was sure to, I could easily excuse myself from the pursuit of the problematical ducks; the wintry logic of facts would, in any case, decide him to lay up his yacht, for he could scarcely think of sailing home at such a season. I could then take a chance lying ready of spending a few weeks in Dresden or elsewhere. I settled this programme comfortably and then turned in.

From Flushing eastward to Hamburg, then northward to Flensburg, I cut short the next day’s sultry story. Past dyke and windmill and still canals, on to blazing stubbles and roaring towns; at the last, after dusk, through a quiet level region where the train pottered from one lazy little station to another, and at ten o’clock I found myself, stiff and stuffy, on the platform at Flensburg, exchanging greetings with Davies.

‘It’s awfully good of you to come.’

‘Not at all; it’s very good of you to ask me.’

We were both of us ill at ease. Even in the dim gaslight he clashed on my notions of a yachtsman—no cool white ducks or neat blue serge; and where was the snowy crowned yachting cap, that precious charm that so easily converts a landsman into a dashing mariner? Conscious that this impressive uniform, in high perfection, was lying ready in my portmanteau, I felt oddly guilty. He wore an old Norfolk jacket, muddy brown shoes, grey flannel trousers (or had they been white?), and an ordinary tweed cap. The hand he gave me was horny, and appeared to be stained with paint; the other one, which carried a parcel, had a bandage on it which would have borne renewal. There was an instant of mutual inspection. I thought he gave me a shy, hurried scrutiny as though to test past conjectures, with something of anxiety in it, and perhaps (save the mark!) a tinge of admiration. The face was familiar, and yet not familiar; the pleasant blue eyes, open, clean-cut features, unintellectual forehead were the same; so were the brisk and impulsive movements; there was some change; but the moment of awkward hesitation was over and the light was bad; and, while strolling down the platform for my luggage, we chatted with constraint about trivial things.

‘By the way,’ he suddenly said, laughing, ‘I’m afraid I’m not fit to be seen; but it’s so late it doesn’t matter. I’ve been painting hard all day, and just got it finished. I only hope we shall have some wind to-morrow—it’s been hopelessly calm lately. I say, you’ve brought a good deal of stuff,’ he concluded, as my belongings began to collect.

Here was a reward for my submissive exertions in the far east!

‘You gave me a good many commissions!’

‘Oh, I didn’t mean those things,’ he said, absently. ‘Thanks for bringing them, by the way. That’s the stove, I suppose; cartridges, this one, by the weight. You got the rigging-screws all right, I hope? They’re not really necessary, of course’ (I nodded vacantly, and felt a little hurt); ‘but they’re simpler than lanyards, and you can’t get them here. It’s that portmanteau,’ he said, slowly, measuring it with a doubtful eye. ‘Never mind! we’ll try. You couldn’t do with the Gladstone only, I suppose? You see, the dinghy—h’m, and there’s the hatchway, too’—he was lost in thought. ‘Anyhow, we’ll try. I’m afraid there are no cabs; but it’s quite near, and the porter’ll help.’

Sickening forebodings crept over me, while Davies shouldered my Gladstone and clutched at the parcels.

‘Aren’t your men here?’ I asked, faintly.

‘Men?’ He looked confused. ‘Oh, perhaps I ought to have told you, I never have any paid hands; it’s quite a small boat, you know—I hope you didn’t expect luxury. I’ve managed her single-handed for some time. A man would be no use, and a horrible nuisance.’ He revealed these appalling truths with a cheerful assurance, which did nothing to hide a naive apprehension of their effect on me. There was a check in our mobilization.

‘It’s rather late to go on board, isn’t it?’ I said, in a wooden voice. Someone was turning out the gaslights, and the porter yawned ostentatiously. ‘I think I’d rather sleep at an hotel to-night.’ A strained pause.

‘Oh, of course you can do that, if you like,’ said Davies, in transparent distress of mind. ‘But it seems hardly worth while to cart this stuff all the way to an hotel (I believe they’re all on the other side of the harbour), and back again to the boat to-morrow. She’s quite comfortable, and you’re sure to sleep well, as you’re tired.’

‘We can leave the things here,’ I argued feebly, ‘and walk over with my bag.’

‘Oh, I shall have to go aboard anyhow,’ he rejoined; ‘I never sleep on shore.’

He seemed to be clinging timidly, but desperately, to some diplomatic end. A stony despair was invading me and paralysing resistance. Better face the worst and be done with it.

‘Come on,’ I said, grimly.

Heavily loaded, we stumbled over railway lines and rubble heaps, and came on the harbour. Davies led the way to a stairway, whose weedy steps disappeared below in gloom.

‘If you’ll get into the dinghy,’ he said, all briskness now, ‘I’ll pass the things down.’

I descended gingerly, holding as a guide a sodden painter which ended in a small boat, and conscious that I was collecting slime on cuffs and trousers.

‘Hold up!’ shouted Davies, cheerfully, as I sat down suddenly near the bottom, with one foot in the water.

I climbed wretchedly into the dinghy and awaited events.

‘Now float her up close under the quay wall, and make fast to the ring down there,’ came down from above, followed by the slack of the sodden painter, which knocked my cap off as it fell. ‘All fast? Any knot’ll do,’ I heard, as I grappled with this loathsome task, and then a big, dark object loomed overhead and was lowered into the dinghy. It was my portmanteau, and, placed athwart, exactly filled all the space amidships. ‘Does it fit?’ was the anxious inquiry from aloft.

‘Beautifully.’

‘Capital!’

Scratching at the greasy wall to keep the dinghy close to it, I received in succession our stores, and stowed the cargo as best I could, while the dinghy sank lower and lower in the water, and its precarious superstructure grew higher.

‘Catch!’ was the final direction from above, and a damp soft parcel hit me in the chest. ‘Be careful of that, it’s meat. Now back to the stairs!’

I painfully acquiesced, and Davies appeared.

‘It’s a bit of a load, and she’s rather deep; but I think we shall manage,’ he reflected. ‘You sit right aft, and I’ll row.’

I was too far gone for curiosity as to how this monstrous pyramid was to be rowed, or even for surmises as to its foundering by the way. I crawled to my appointed seat, and Davies extricated the buried sculls by a series of tugs, which shook the whole structure, and made us roll alarmingly. How he stowed himself into rowing posture I have not the least idea, but eventually we were moving sluggishly out into the open water, his head just visible in the bows. We had started from what appeared to be the head of a narrow loch, and were leaving behind us the lights of a big town. A long frontage of lamp-lit quays was on our left, with here and there the vague hull of a steamer alongside. We passed the last of the lights and came out into a broader stretch of water, when a light breeze was blowing and dark hills could be seen on either shore.

‘I’m lying a little way down the fiord, you see,’ said Davies. ‘I hate to be too near a town, and I found a carpenter handy here—There she is! I wonder how you’ll like her!’

I roused myself. We were entering a little cove encircled by trees, and approaching a light which flickered in the rigging of a small vessel, whose outline gradually defined itself.

‘Keep her off,’ said Davies, as we drew alongside.

In a moment he had jumped on deck, tied the painter, and was round at my end.

‘You hand them up,’ he ordered, ‘and I’ll take them.’

It was a laborious task, with the one relief that it was not far to hand them—a doubtful compensation, for other reasons distantly shaping themselves. When the stack was transferred to the deck I followed it, tripping over the flabby meat parcel, which was already showing ghastly signs of disintegration under the dew. Hazily there floated through my mind my last embarkation on a yacht; my faultless attire, the trim gig and obsequious sailors, the accommodation ladder flashing with varnish and brass in the August sun; the orderly, snowy decks and basket chairs under the awning aft. What a contrast with this sordid midnight scramble, over damp meat and littered packing-cases! The bitterest touch of all was a growing sense of inferiority and ignorance which I had never before been allowed to feel in my experience of yachts.

Davies awoke from another reverie over my portmanteau to say, cheerily: ‘I’ll just show you round down below first, and then we’ll stow things away and get to bed.’

He dived down a companion ladder, and I followed cautiously. A complex odour of paraffin, past cookery, tobacco, and tar saluted my nostrils.

‘Mind your head,’ said Davies, striking a match and lighting a candle, while I groped into the cabin. ‘You’d better sit down; it’s easier to look round.’

There might well have been sarcasm in this piece of advice, for I must have cut a ridiculous figure, peering awkwardly and suspiciously round, with shoulders and head bent to avoid the ceiling, which seemed in the half-light to be even nearer the floor than it was.

‘You see,’ were Davies’s reassuring words, ‘there’s plenty of room to sit upright’ (which was strictly true; but I am not very tall, and he is short). ‘Some people make a point of head-room, but I never mind much about it. That’s the centre-board case,’ he explained, as, in stretching my legs out, my knee came into contact with a sharp edge.

I had not seen this devilish obstruction, as it was hidden beneath the table, which indeed rested on it at one end. It appeared to be a long, low triangle, running lengthways with the boat and dividing the naturally limited space into two.

‘You see, she’s a flat-bottomed boat, drawing very little water without the plate; that’s why there’s so little headroom. For deep water you lower the plate; so, in one way or another, you can go practically anywhere.’

I was not nautical enough to draw any very definite conclusions from this, but what I did draw were not promising. The latter sentences were spoken from the forecastle, whither Davies had crept through a low sliding door, like that of a rabbit-hutch, and was already busy with a kettle over a stove which I made out to be a battered and disreputable twin brother of the No. 3 Rippingille.

‘It’ll be boiling soon,’ he remarked, ‘and we’ll have some grog.’

My eyes were used to the light now, and I took in the rest of my surroundings, which may be very simply described. Two long cushion-covered seats flanked the cabin, bounded at the after end by cupboards, one of which was cut low to form a sort of miniature sideboard, with glasses hung in a rack above it. The deck overhead was very low at each side but rose shoulder high for a space in the middle, where a ‘coach-house roof’ with a skylight gave additional cabin space. Just outside the door was a fold-up washing-stand. On either wall were long net-racks holding a medley of flags, charts, caps, cigar-boxes, hanks of yarn, and such like. Across the forward bulkhead was a bookshelf crammed to overflowing with volumes of all sizes, many upside down and some coverless. Below this were a pipe-rack, an aneroid, and a clock with a hearty tick. All the woodwork was painted white, and to a less jaundiced eye than mine the interior might have had an enticing look of snugness. Some Kodak prints were nailed roughly on the after bulkhead, and just over the doorway was the photograph of a young girl.

‘That’s my sister,’ said Davies, who had emerged and saw me looking at it. ‘Now, let’s get the stuff down.’ He ran up the ladder, and soon my portmanteau blackened the hatchway, and a great straining and squeezing began. ‘I was afraid it was too big,’ came down; ‘I’m sorry, but you’ll have to unpack on deck—we may be able to squash it down when it’s empty.’

Then the wearisome tail of packages began to form a fresh stack in the cramped space at my feet, and my back ached with stooping and moiling in unfamiliar places. Davies came down, and with unconcealed pride introduced me to the sleeping cabin (he called the other one ‘the saloon’). Another candle was lit and showed two short and narrow berths with blankets, but no sign of sheets; beneath these were drawers, one set of which Davies made me master of, evidently thinking them a princely allowance of space for my wardrobe.

‘You can chuck your things down the skylight on to your berth as you unpack them,’ he remarked. ‘By the way, I doubt if there’s room for all you’ve got. I suppose you couldn’t manage—’

‘No, I couldn’t,’ I said shortly.

The absurdity of argument struck me; two men, doubled up like monkeys, cannot argue.

‘If you’ll go out I shall be able to get out too,’ I added. He seemed miserable at this ghost of an altercation, but I pushed past, mounted the ladder, and in the expiring moonlight unstrapped that accursed portmanteau and, brimming over with irritation, groped among its contents, sorting some into the skylight with the same feeling that nothing mattered much now, and it was best to be done with it; repacking the rest with guilty stealth ere Davies should discover their character, and strapping up the whole again. Then I sat down upon my white elephant and shivered, for the chill of autumn was in the air. It suddenly struck me that if it had been raining things might have been worse still. The notion made me look round. The little cove was still as glass; stars above and stars below; a few white cottages glimmering at one point on the shore; in the west the lights of Flensburg; to the east the fiord broadening into unknown gloom. From Davies toiling below there were muffled sounds of wrenching, pushing, and hammering, punctuated occasionally by a heavy splash as something shot up from the hatchway and fell into the water.

How it came about I do not know. Whether it was something pathetic in the look I had last seen on his face—a look which I associated for no reason whatever with his bandaged hand; whether it was one of those instants of clear vision in which our separate selves are seen divided, the baser from the better, and I saw my silly egotism in contrast with a simple generous nature; whether it was an impalpable air of mystery which pervaded the whole enterprise and refused to be dissipated by its most mortifying and vulgarizing incidents—a mystery dimly connected with my companion’s obvious consciousness of having misled me into joining him; whether it was only the stars and the cool air rousing atrophied instincts of youth and spirits; probably, indeed, it was all these influences, cemented into strength by a ruthless sense of humour which whispered that I was in danger of making a mere commonplace fool of myself in spite of all my laboured calculations; but whatever it was, in a flash my mood changed. The crown of martyrdom disappeared, the wounded vanity healed; that precious fund of fictitious resignation drained away, but left no void. There was left a fashionable and dishevelled young man sitting in the dew and in the dark on a ridiculous portmanteau which dwarfed the yacht that was to carry it; a youth acutely sensible of ignorance in a strange and strenuous atmosphere; still feeling sore and victimized; but withal sanely ashamed and sanely resolved to enjoy himself. I anticipate; for though the change was radical its full growth was slow. But in any case it was here and now that it took its birth.

‘Grog’s ready!’ came from below. Bunching myself for the descent I found to my astonishment that all trace of litter had miraculously vanished, and a cosy neatness reigned. Glasses and lemons were on the table, and a fragrant smell of punch had deadened previous odours. I showed little emotion at these amenities, but enough to give intense relief to Davies, who delightedly showed me his devices for storage, praising the ‘roominess’ of his floating den. ‘There’s your stove, you see,’ he ended; ‘I’ve chucked the old one overboard.’ It was a weakness of his, I should say here, to rejoice in throwing things overboard on the flimsiest pretexts. I afterwards suspected that the new stove had not been ‘really necessary’ any more than the rigging-screws, but was an excuse for gratifying this curious taste.

We smoked and chatted for a little, and then came the problem of going to bed. After much bumping of knuckles and head, and many giddy writhings, I mastered it, and lay between the rough blankets. Davies, moving swiftly and deftly, was soon in his.

‘It’s quite comfortable, isn’t it?’ he said, as he blew out the light from where he lay, with an accuracy which must have been the fruit of long practice.

I felt prickly all over, and there was a damp patch on the pillow, which was soon explained by a heavy drop of moisture falling on my forehead.

‘I suppose the deck’s not leaking?’ I said, as mildly as I could. ‘I’m awfully sorry,’ said Davies, earnestly, tumbling out of his bunk. ‘It must be the heavy dew. I did a lot of caulking yesterday, but I suppose I missed that place. I’ll run up and square it with an oilskin.’

‘What’s wrong with your hand?’ I asked, sleepily, on his return, for gratitude reminded me of that bandage.

‘Nothing much; I strained it the other day,’ was the reply; and then the seemingly inconsequent remark: ‘I’m glad you brought that prismatic compass. It’s not really necessary, of course; but’ (muffled by blankets) ‘it may come in useful.’

 

speaker

Written on November 13th, 2014 , Books about sailing


4ème à Cap Town Bernard Humbert Skipper EZANA… by virtualregatta

Written on November 7th, 2014 , Regattas

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Note from Boathouse:

It’s going to be a long winter and winter for most is a season to research and plan upcoming trips,  day dream about boating  and also read about boating.  Presented here is chapter one of  ‘The Riddle of the sands’  an excellent  pre WWI sailing adventure.  Every week Boathouse will present a chapter or two of  this public domain work and hopefully this will ease the passage of winter for our readers. If you are inpatient and can’t wait for each weeks installment you can read the entire book  at gutenburg.org If you would rather listen to the book here is a link to an audio version: Preface,    Chapter 1

If you would like to be notified when posts are added to this blog please send an email to  blogadmin@boathouse.ca   with the words ‘Subscribe to blog’ as the subject.

Have fun!  Post a comment, let  us know what you think.

Boathouse

 

Preface

A WORD about the origin and authorship of this book.

In October last (1902), my friend ‘Carruthers’ visited me in my chambers, and, under a provisional pledge of secrecy, told me frankly the whole of the adventure described in these pages. Till then I had only known as much as the rest of his friends, namely, that he had recently undergone experiences during a yachting cruise with a certain Mr ‘Davies’ which had left a deep mark on his character and habits.

At the end of his narrative—which, from its bearing on studies and speculations of my own, as well as from its intrinsic interest and racy delivery, made a very deep impression on me—he added that the important facts discovered in the course of the cruise had, without a moment’s delay, been communicated to the proper authorities, who, after some dignified incredulity, due in part, perhaps, to the pitiful inadequacy of their own secret service, had, he believed, made use of them, to avert a great national danger. I say ‘he believed’, for though it was beyond question that the danger was averted for the time, it was doubtful whether they had stirred a foot to combat it, the secret discovered being of such a nature that mere suspicion of it on this side was likely to destroy its efficacy.

There, however that may be, the matter rested for a while, as, for personal reasons which will be manifest to the reader, he and Mr ‘Davies’ expressly wished it to rest.

But events were driving them to reconsider their decision. These seemed to show that the information wrung with such peril and labour from the German Government, and transmitted so promptly to our own, had had none but the most transitory influence on our policy. Forced to the conclusion that the national security was really being neglected, the two friends now had a mind to make their story public; and it was about this that ‘Carruthers’ wished for my advice. The great drawback was that an Englishman, bearing an honoured name, was disgracefully implicated, and that unless infinite delicacy were used, innocent persons, and, especially, a young lady, would suffer pain and indignity, if his identity were known. Indeed, troublesome rumours, containing a grain of truth and a mass of falsehood, were already afloat.

After weighing both sides of the question, I gave my vote emphatically for publication. The personal drawbacks could, I thought, with tact be neutralized; while, from the public point of view, nothing but good could come from submitting the case to the common sense of the country at large. Publication, therefore, was agreed upon, and the next point was the form it should take. ‘Carruthers’, with the concurrence of Mr ‘Davies’, was for a bald exposition of the essential facts, stripped of their warm human envelope. I was strongly against this course, first, because it would aggravate instead of allaying the rumours that were current; secondly, because in such a form the narrative would not carry conviction, and would thus defeat its own end. The persons and the events were indissolubly connected; to evade, abridge, suppress, would be to convey to the reader the idea of a concocted hoax. Indeed, I took bolder ground still, urging that the story should be made as explicit and circumstantial as possible, frankly and honestly for the purpose of entertaining and so of attracting a wide circle of readers. Even anonymity was undesirable. Nevertheless, certain precautions were imperatively needed.

To cut the matter short, they asked for my assistance and received it at once. It was arranged that I should edit the book; that ‘Carruthers’ should give me his diary and recount to me in fuller detail and from his own point of view all the phases of the ‘quest’, as they used to call it; that Mr ‘Davies’ should meet me with his charts and maps and do the same; and that the whole story should be written, as from the mouth of the former, with its humours and errors, its light and its dark side, just as it happened; with the following few limitations. The year it belongs to is disguised; the names of persons are throughout fictitious; and, at my instance certain slight liberties have been taken to conceal the identity of the English characters.

Remember, also that these persons are living now in the midst of us, and if you find one topic touched on with a light and hesitating pen, do not blame the Editor, who, whether they are known or not, would rather say too little than say a word that might savour of impertinence.

E. C.

March 1903

 

I.

The Letter

I HAVE read of men who, when forced by their calling to live for long periods in utter solitude—save for a few black faces—have made it a rule to dress regularly for dinner in order to maintain their self-respect and prevent a relapse into barbarism. It was in some such spirit, with an added touch of self-consciousness, that, at seven o’clock in the evening of 23rd September in a recent year, I was making my evening toilet in my chambers in Pall Mall. I thought the date and the place justified the parallel; to my advantage even; for the obscure Burmese administrator might well be a man of blunted sensibilities and coarse fibre, and at least he is alone with nature, while I—well, a young man of condition and fashion, who knows the right people, belongs to the right clubs, has a safe, possibly a brilliant, future in the Foreign Office—may be excused for a sense of complacent martyrdom, when, with his keen appreciation of the social calendar, he is doomed to the outer solitude of London in September. I say ‘martyrdom’, but in fact the case was infinitely worse. For to feel oneself a martyr, as everybody knows, is a pleasurable thing, and the true tragedy of my position was that I had passed that stage. I had enjoyed what sweets it had to offer in ever dwindling degree since the middle of August, when ties were still fresh and sympathy abundant. I had been conscious that I was missed at Morven Lodge party. Lady Ashleigh herself had said so in the kindest possible manner, when she wrote to acknowledge the letter in which I explained, with an effectively austere reserve of language, that circumstances compelled me to remain at my office. ‘We know how busy you must be just now’, she wrote, ‘and I do hope you won’t overwork; we shall all miss you very much.’ Friend after friend ‘got away’ to sport and fresh air, with promises to write and chaffing condolences, and as each deserted the sinking ship, I took a grim delight in my misery, positively almost enjoying the first week or two after my world had been finally dissipated to the four bracing winds of heaven.

I began to take a spurious interest in the remaining five millions, and wrote several clever letters in a vein of cheap satire, indirectly suggesting the pathos of my position, but indicating that I was broad-minded enough to find intellectual entertainment in the scenes, persons, and habits of London in the dead season. I even did rational things at the instigation of others. For, though I should have liked total isolation best, I, of course, found that there was a sediment of unfortunates like myself, who, unlike me, viewed the situation in a most prosaic light. There were river excursions, and so on, after office-hours; but I dislike the river at any time for its noisy vulgarity, and most of all at this season. So I dropped out of the fresh air brigade and declined H—’s offer to share a riverside cottage and run up to town in the mornings. I did spend one or two week-ends with the Catesbys in Kent; but I was not inconsolable when they let their house and went abroad, for I found that such partial compensations did not suit me. Neither did the taste for satirical observation last. A passing thirst, which I dare say many have shared, for adventures of the fascinating kind described in the New Arabian Nights led me on a few evenings into some shady haunts in Soho and farther eastward; but was finally quenched one sultry Saturday night after an hour’s immersion in the reeking atmosphere of a low music-hall in Ratcliffe Highway, where I sat next a portly female who suffered from the heat, and at frequent intervals refreshed herself and an infant from a bottle of tepid stout.

By the first week in September I had abandoned all palliatives, and had settled into the dismal but dignified routine of office, club, and chambers. And now came the most cruel trial, for the hideous truth dawned on me that the world I found so indispensable could after all dispense with me. It was all very well for Lady Ashleigh to assure me that I was deeply missed; but a letter from F—, who was one of the party, written ‘in haste, just starting to shoot’, and coming as a tardy reply to one of my cleverest, made me aware that the house party had suffered little from my absence, and that few sighs were wasted on me, even in the quarter which I had assumed to have been discreetly alluded to by the underlined all in Lady Ashleigh’s ‘we shall all miss you’. A thrust which smarted more, if it bit less deeply, came from my cousin Nesta, who wrote: ‘It’s horrid for you to have to be baking in London now; but, after all, it must be a great pleasure to you’ (malicious little wretch!) ‘to have such interesting and important work to do.’ Here was a nemesis for an innocent illusion I had been accustomed to foster in the minds of my relations and acquaintances, especially in the breasts of the trustful and admiring maidens whom I had taken down to dinner in the last two seasons; a fiction which I had almost reached the point of believing in myself. For the plain truth was that my work was neither interesting nor important, and consisted chiefly at present in smoking cigarettes, in saying that Mr So-and-So was away and would be back about 1st October, in being absent for lunch from twelve till two, and in my spare moments making précis of—let us say—the less confidential consular reports, and squeezing the results into cast-iron schedules. The reason of my detention was not a cloud on the international horizon—though I may say in passing that there was such a cloud—but a caprice on the part of a remote and mighty personage, the effect of which, ramifying downwards, had dislocated the carefully-laid holiday plans of the humble juniors, and in my own small case had upset the arrangement between myself and K—, who positively liked the dog-days in Whitehall.

Only one thing was needed to fill my cup of bitterness, and this it was that specially occupied me as I dressed for dinner this evening. Two days more in this dead and fermenting city and my slavery would be at an end. Yes, but—irony of ironies!—I had nowhere to go to! The Morven Lodge party was breaking up. A dreadful rumour as to an engagement which had been one of its accursed fruits tormented me with the fresh certainty that I had not been missed, and bred in me that most desolating brand of cynicism which is produced by defeat through insignificance. Invitations for a later date, which I had declined in July with a gratifying sense of being much in request, now rose up spectrally to taunt me. There was at least one which I could easily have revived, but neither in this case nor in any other had there been any renewal of pressure, and there are moments when the difference between proposing oneself and surrendering as a prize to one of several eagerly competing hostesses seems too crushing to be contemplated. My own people were at Aix for my father’s gout; to join them was a pis aller whose banality was repellent. Besides, they would be leaving soon for our home in Yorkshire, and I was not a prophet in my own country. In short, I was at the extremity of depression.

The usual preliminary scuffle on the staircase prepared me for the knock and entry of Withers. (One of the things which had for some time ceased to amuse me was the laxity of manners, proper to the season, among the servants of the big block of chambers where I lived.) Withers demurely handed me a letter bearing a German post-mark and marked ‘Urgent’. I had just finished dressing, and was collecting my money and gloves. A momentary thrill of curiosity broke in upon my depression as I sat down to open it. A corner on the reverse of the envelope bore the blotted legend: ‘Very sorry, but there’s one other thing—a pair of rigging screws from Carey and Neilson’s, size 1-3/8, galvanized.’ Here it is:

Yacht ‘Dulcibella,’

Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein, 21st Sept.

DEAR CARRUTHERS,—I daresay you’ll be surprised at hearing from me, as it’s ages since we met. It is more than likely, too, that what I’m going to suggest won’t suit you, for I know nothing of your plans, and if you’re in town at all you’re probably just getting into harness again and can’t get away. So I merely write on the offchance to ask if you would care to come out here and join me in a little yachting, and, I hope, duck shooting. I know you’re keen on shooting, and I sort of remember that you have done some yachting too, though I rather forget about that. This part of the Baltic—the Schleswig fiords—is a splendid cruising-ground—A 1 scenery—and there ought to be plenty of duck about soon, if it gets cold enough. I came out here via Holland and the Frisian Islands, starting early in August. My pals have had to leave me, and I’m badly in want of another, as I don’t want to lay up yet for a bit. I needn’t say how glad I should be if you could come. If you can, send me a wire to the P.O. here. Flushing and on by Hamburg will be your best route, I think. I’m having a few repairs done here, and will have them ready sharp by the time your train arrives. Bring your gun and a good lot of No. 4′s; and would you mind calling at Lancaster’s and asking for mine, and bringing it too? Bring some oilskins. Better get the eleven-shilling sort, jacket and trousers—not the ‘yachting’ brand; and if you paint bring your gear. I know you speak German like a native, and that will be a great help. Forgive this hail of directions, but I’ve a sort of feeling that I’m in luck and that you’ll come. Anyway, I hope you and the F.O. both flourish. Good-bye.

Yours ever, ARTHUR H. DAVIES.

Would you mind bringing me out a prismatic compass, and a pound of Raven Mixture.

This letter marked an epoch for me; but I little suspected the fact as I crumpled it into my pocket and started languidly on the voie douloureuse which I nightly followed to the club. In Pall Mall there were no dignified greetings to be exchanged now with well-groomed acquaintances. The only people to be seen were some late stragglers from the park, with a perambulator and some hot and dusty children lagging fretfully behind; some rustic sightseers draining the last dregs of the daylight in an effort to make out from their guide-books which of these reverend piles was which; a policeman and a builder’s cart. Of course the club was a strange one, both of my own being closed for cleaning, a coincidence expressly planned by Providence for my inconvenience. The club which you are ‘permitted to make use of’ on these occasions always irritates with its strangeness and discomfort. The few occupants seem odd and oddly dressed, and you wonder how they got there. The particular weekly that you want is not taken in; the dinner is execrable, and the ventilation a farce. All these evils oppressed me to-night. And yet I was puzzled to find that somewhere within me there was a faint lightening of the spirits; causeless, as far as I could discover. It could not be Davies’s letter. Yachting in the Baltic at the end of September! The very idea made one shudder. Cowes, with a pleasant party and hotels handy, was all very well. An August cruise on a steam yacht in French waters or the Highlands was all very well; but what kind of a yacht was this? It must be of a certain size to have got so far, but I thought I remembered enough of Davies’s means to know that he had no money to waste on luxuries. That brought me to the man himself. I had known him at Oxford—not as one of my immediate set; but we were a sociable college, and I had seen a good deal of him, liking him for his physical energy combined with a certain simplicity and modesty, though, indeed, he had nothing to be conceited about; liked him, in fact, in the way that at that receptive period one likes many men whom one never keeps up with later. We had both gone down in the same year—three years ago now. I had gone to France and Germany for two years to learn the languages; he had failed for the Indian Civil, and then had gone into a solicitor’s office. I had only seen him since at rare intervals, though I admitted to myself that for his part he had clung loyally to what ties of friendship there were between us. But the truth was that we had drifted apart from the nature of things. I had passed brilliantly into my profession, and on the few occasions I had met him since I made my triumphant début in society I had found nothing left in common between us. He seemed to know none of my friends, he dressed indifferently, and I thought him dull. I had always connected him with boats and the sea, but never with yachting, in the sense that I understood it. In college days he had nearly persuaded me into sharing a squalid week in some open boat he had picked up, and was going to sail among some dreary mud-flats somewhere on the east coast. There was nothing else, and the funereal function of dinner drifted on. But I found myself remembering at the entrée that I had recently heard, at second or third hand, of something else about him—exactly what I could not recall. When I reached the savoury, I had concluded, so far as I had centred my mind on it at all, that the whole thing was a culminating irony, as, indeed, was the savoury in its way. After the wreck of my pleasant plans and the fiasco of my martyrdom, to be asked as consolation to spend October freezing in the Baltic with an eccentric nonentity who bored me! Yet, as I smoked my cigar in the ghastly splendour of the empty smoking-room, the subject came up again. Was there anything in it? There were certainly no alternatives at hand. And to bury myself in the Baltic at this unearthly time of year had at least a smack of tragic thoroughness about it.

I pulled out the letter again, and ran down its impulsive staccato sentences, affecting to ignore what a gust of fresh air, high spirits, and good fellowship this flimsy bit of paper wafted into the jaded club-room. On reperusal, it was full of evil presage— ‘A 1 scenery’—but what of equinoctial storms and October fogs? Every sane yachtsman was paying off his crew now. ‘There ought to be duck’—vague, very vague. ‘If it gets cold enough’ . . . cold and yachting seemed to be a gratuitously monstrous union. His pals had left him; why? ‘Not the “yachting” brand’; and why not? As to the size, comfort, and crew of the yacht—all cheerfully ignored; so many maddening blanks. And, by the way, why in Heaven’s name ‘a prismatic compass’? I fingered a few magazines, played a game of fifty with a friendly old fogey, too importunate to be worth the labour of resisting, and went back to my chambers to bed, ignorant that a friendly Providence had come to my rescue; and, indeed, rather resenting any clumsy attempt at such friendliness.

 

 

Written on November 7th, 2014 , Books about sailing

Here is an excerpt for a sailing  forum  article on head sail reefing :

That’s pretty much it. I have an extra pennant on the jib at the reefing tack. That stays on always. I just snap it in down at the tack shackle. The sheets get moved up to  the reefing leech grommet. I use a button arrangement so it’s quick and easy to change. Then the bunt of the sail gets rolled and tied just like a main sail would, although knot’s are much more important on the jib that they be tied tightly and neatly. Whole thing takes just a few minutes.

This is the best pic I can find of the jib with it’s reefing points. I have since added permanent nettles at each point.

1286726145Here’s how I attach my jib sheets (soft shackle)

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Charlie J
Sailing on S/V Tehani
Meridian 25

 

The entire thread can be found here

 

riggingJPG

Written on November 7th, 2014 , Technical

Voici un extrait d’un article d’un forum de voile sur la prise de ris d’une voile d’avant:

Le point d’amure et les écoutes sont déplacés jusqu’aux œillets de la bande de ris . À l’extrémité de l’écoute, je fais une manille souple qui permet un changement de voile rapide et facile. La bordure de la voile est enroulée comme pour la grande voile sauf que les noeuds des garcettes sont bien serrés et proprement fait. Ainsi, la prise de ris se fait en quelques minutes.

Ceci est la meilleure photo que j’ai prise de la bande de ris sur le foc. Depuis, j’ai ajouté les garcettes fixées aux oeillets de la bande de ris.

 

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Charlie J
S/V Tehani
Meridian 25

La totalité de la conversation peut être trouvé ici

 

sert

Written on November 6th, 2014 , Technical

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Read more here

Written on November 4th, 2014 , Race Notices, Video, Voyages Tags: ,

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This is one of the biggest challenges of the natural world and an endurance test like no other. With no previous sailing experience necessary, it’s a record breaking 40,000 mile race around the world on a 70-foot ocean racing yacht. All that is asked of participants is a good level of fitness, an age over 18 – and a thirst for adventure into the unknown. Divided into eight legs and 16 individual races, you can choose to complete the full circumnavigation or select individual legs. It is the only race in the world where the organisers supply a fleet of twelve identical racing yachts, each with a fully qualified skipper to safely guide the crew.

Normally the domain of seasoned pros, this supreme challenge is taken on by ordinary, everyday people. Having completed a rigorous training course, participants are suited and booted in the latest extreme protection gear to commence the race of their lives – an unparalleled challenge where taxi drivers rub shoulders with chief executives, vicars mix with housewives, students work alongside bankers, and engineers team up with rugby players.

The sea does not distinguish between Olympians or novices. There is nowhere to hide – if Mother Nature throws down the gauntlet, you must be ready to face the same challenges as the pro racer. Navigate the Doldrums en route to South America, endure epic Southern Ocean storms, experience South African sunsets, face the mountainous seas of the North Pacific – and bond with an international crew creating lifelong memories before returning victorious.

Applications are now open for the tenth anniversary series of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which starts in summer 2015. Seize the moment, unleash the adventure.

Read more here

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