« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
bare ribs of that iron peninsula, •within an islandlined channel; while the sea, rolling from windward, drives its billows and breakers right over your little bit of a steam-boat, which is too small even to allow of a cabin; and you sit on deck, piled up among baggage, and sick and half-dead passengers, and think if it be the will of Providence you perish among these in that strange sea, no friend, at home or elsewhere, can find out that you came off in a steam-boat to Stromstad, instead of going, as you intended, to Gottenburg. Such thoughts often distract one more than deeper ones do, when, in the sight of dangers, one reflects on the suspense and perplexities of absent friends. I wish I could give you a sketch of what I have very distinct in my own mind, but cannot pourtray elsewhere. At one time we were going in a narrow channel, lined and studded with most enormous grey, earthy-coloured, and barren granite rocks; among, and sometimes over which the roaring sea was constantly flinging up jets d'eaux, which might have been a beautiful sight to see anywhere but from the deck of a pitching steam-boat. This was the most tranquil time; at another, the outer screen of rocks gave way, and then the open sea came rolling in its breakers, and driving our wretched little boat all but keel uppermost; it would seem to go right over under the shock; and when the showerbath had passed over you, it was almost a surprise to feel that your head was still directed to the skies, which looked wonderfully bright all the time, and quite as pleasant as usual.
Now, in all cases of conjectured, imagined, or real sea danger, it has been my wont to look at the Captain; so now I fixed my eyes on our Captain, and I said to myself, "If that red face grows pale, or that great, rolling blue eye becomes firmly set, I shall know we are in danger. The bulky Captain stood, holding on by a rail, before the helm. I looked at him long and wistfully • and I saw the scarlet red face grow redder, and the restless blue eye roll more and more restlessly —now to the skies; now to the rocks; now to the billows; now to the chimney-top; now to the wheels; to the groaning, ereeking, straining planks, every one of which seemed longing and striving to burst asunder and end their united contest. I knew not what to think.
"I am watching the Captain," said I to a sick man beside me; "when danger is urgent I shall know it by his face."
"If he knows it himself," growled the sick man. "He knows nothing about it; never was at sea in his life. He has an interest in the vessel, however, and is anxious. Look at the pilot, if you want to know something."
This was the clue to all. I looked at the pilot. There stood the old fellow, just as I see him now, with both hands on one side of the wheel, while a sailor held the other; his tarpaulin cap drawn over the brown forehead, the flaps shading his face into the very physiognomy of a Laplander. And the deep-set eye was fixed, and the Eussian leathercoloured face never varied; and when the breaker came rolling in, a grim smile came on the corner of the mouth, as he pressed the mysterious wheel to meet it; and when in some, to me, most unknown way, he lifted us up again from the deep, the grim smile was the least bit more grim. I think he knew that I was making him my index, and meant that smile for me. But he never looked at me, nor seemed to look at anything else; his eye never wandered, to sky, or chimney, or wheels, or rocks. And, after all, I said to myself that his face was like the words of an old diplomatist, one is no wiser for trying to find out.
There was a fine timber ship split on a rock as we drifted by; her masts were partly above water, and the rescued crew, taken off by a line, were on the adjoining rock. On some of these most singular island rocks are many houses, and even villages. I saw one church; and I could not help thinking, with regret, that had this been a Roman Catholic country there would have been several. How peaceful it looks there! even that one—to the tempest-tost passengers—bringing thoughts of another life—another destiny!
The coast we came by, which surpasses in dreary desolateness any I ever saw, is one, I believe, rarely, if ever, visited by English tourists; it is known as Bonus Lan, and is, if I do not mistake, the scene of a romance by the Swedish authoress, Emilie Carlen, which is to me a very unpleasing one.
We stopped a little for shelter at one of these rocky islands, where there is a station; and here a council was held as to whether we ought to proceed or not; but all the worst was then over, and the passengers agreed to go on.
We seemed to make the rest of our way with greater rapidity, sometimes exposed to the horrible rolling in of the sea, sometimes sheltered by the rocks. And so at last we got to the other fashionable watering place of Sweden, called Marlstrand; a place much resorted to by the rich merchants of Gottenburg, who congregate there, with Stockholmers and others, on a rocky island which allows them a little more than room to stand. Some very smart-looking young ladies and handsome gentlemen adorned the pier; and looked at us in our miserable plight, and seemed trying hard to make use of the advantages of their position.
Then we were in calm water; and so we came to Gottenburg in the dead of night; and the bulky Captain rushed up to me, still wearing the white waistcoat, which true Swedes don on all state occasions, in the morning as well as evening; and the face was redder, and the great blue eye rolled still, as he caught my hand, and cried, "Here is my wife; you will lodge with me; she will take care of you."
So I was transferred from the pitching steamboat to a really handsome room in the Captain's house. His wife went to get supper, and when it was ready the Captain came in and said grace very devoutly, and instantly added, "Thank God it is finished!"—which words puzzled me until I