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I went, and presented the ticket to some very yellow-skinned old women, one of whom took me under her direction, and conducted me to a bathing-room. There she commenced operations; and, having left me sitting on a stool, went out for a moment, and came back with a tin can full of warm, soft, slimy, black mud. This she rubbed on smoothly, until it was clear that though the Ethiopian cannot change his skin, a European woman can. When the Ethiopian colouring process was complete, she put me to stand in a deep bath of warm water, and raising a sort of pump, or immense squirt, she discharged at me a volume of cold water. At this I shrieked, and entreated mercy; but on she went—I suppose my ticket had said so— until the water-battery was exhausted. She then turned more hot water into the bath, ceased the cannonade, said something very polite, and went away; thinking, I suppose, that I had now got the worth of my ticket, and leaving me to faint or revive in the warm-bath, as seemed most convenient to me.
This slimy mud—taken, I believe, from the bottom of the sea, and made warm—is reckoned very good for rheumatism; but the baths of Stromstad in summer, and the Gymnastics of Stockholm in winter, are the Swedish panaceas, more especially for the daughters of Swedish families. For my part, I found two days at Stromstad rather too much of a good thing. It is a small group of houses held in granite jaws, without a bud or blossom, leaf or sprig, to diversify the earthen grey and iron-hard aspects of all around.
I lay awake all night in order to be in time to leave this Paradise of Swedish bath-lovers at four o'clock in the morning. The kind British Consul came to me with his little bill, and said I should have a rough day. I thought the morning looked charming.
"The Captain says he can go," said the Consul, looking up, and out to sea.
I looked only at the sun, which was as bright as sua need be, though there was what I have heard sailors call " a bit of a breeze."
Well! what a day it proved to be! What a scene I beheld! I am glad I saw it, very glad; but I hope I may never see it again. I had imagined something to myself of the coast of old Scandinavia; I had heard of the granite frame of Sweden; I had seen it in sunny and calm weather. But fancy what it is to coast along the 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 pour tray 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'eauz, 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, 1 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 billoAVs; now to the chimney-top; now to the wheels; to the groaning, creeking, 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 Russian 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.