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THE BURDEN WHEREOF, IS HAIL COLUMBIA!
A dark and dreary night; people nestling in their beds or circling
late about the fire; Want, colder than Charity, shivering at the street
corners; church-towers humming with the faint vibration of their own
tongues, but newly resting from the ghostly preachment 'One!' The earth
covered with a sable pall as for the burial of yesterday; the clumps of
dark trees, its giant plumes of funeral feathers, waving sadly to and
fro: all hushed, all noiseless, and in deep repose, save the swift
clouds that skim across the moon, and the cautious wind, as, creeping
after them upon the ground, it stops to listen, and goes rustling on,
and stops again, and follows, like a savage on the trail.
Whither go the clouds and wind so eagerly? If, like guilty spirits, they
repair to some dread conference with powers like themselves, in what
wild regions do the elements hold council, or where unbend in terrible
Here! Free from that cramped prison called the earth, and out upon the
waste of waters. Here, roaring, raging, shrieking, howling, all night
long. Hither come the sounding voices from the caverns on the coast of
that small island, sleeping, a thousand miles away, so quietly in the
midst of angry waves; and hither, to meet them, rush the blasts from
unknown desert places of the world. Here, in the fury of their unchecked
liberty, they storm and buffet with each other, until the sea, lashed
into passion like their own, leaps up, in ravings mightier than theirs,
and the whole scene is madness.
On, on, on, over the countless miles of angry space roll the long
heaving billows. Mountains and caves are here, and yet are not; for
what is now the one, is now the other; then all is but a boiling heap of
rushing water. Pursuit, and flight, and mad return of wave on wave, and
savage struggle, ending in a spouting-up of foam that whitens the
black night; incessant change of place, and form, and hue; constancy in
nothing, but eternal strife; on, on, on, they roll, and darker grows the
night, and louder howls the wind, and more clamorous and fierce become
the million voices in the sea, when the wild cry goes forth upon the
storm 'A ship!'
Onward she comes, in gallant combat with the elements, her tall masts
trembling, and her timbers starting on the strain; onward she comes, now
high upon the curling billows, now low down in the hollows of the sea,
as hiding for the moment from its fury; and every storm-voice in the air
and water cries more loudly yet, 'A ship!'
Still she comes striving on; and at her boldness and the spreading cry,
the angry waves rise up above each other's hoary heads to look; and
round about the vessel, far as the mariners on the decks can pierce into
the gloom, they press upon her, forcing each other down and starting up,
and rushing forward from afar, in dreadful curiosity. High over her
they break; and round her surge and roar; and giving place to others,
moaningly depart, and dash themselves to fragments in their baffled
anger. Still she comes onward bravely. And though the eager multitude
crowd thick and fast upon her all the night, and dawn of day discovers
the untiring train yet bearing down upon the ship in an eternity of
troubled water, onward she comes, with dim lights burning in her hull,
and people there, asleep; as if no deadly element were peering in at
every seam and chink, and no drowned seaman's grave, with but a plank to
cover it, were yawning in the unfathomable depths below.
Among these sleeping voyagers were Martin and Mark Tapley, who, rocked
into a heavy drowsiness by the unaccustomed motion, were as insensible
to the foul air in which they lay, as to the uproar without. It was
broad day when the latter awoke with a dim idea that he was dreaming
of having gone to sleep in a four-post bedstead which had turned bottom
upwards in the course of the night. There was more reason in this too,
than in the roasting of eggs; for the first objects Mr Tapley recognized
when he opened his eyes were his own heels--looking down to him, as he
afterwards observed, from a nearly perpendicular elevation.
'Well!' said Mark, getting himself into a sitting posture, after various
ineffectual struggles with the rolling of the ship. 'This is the first
time as ever I stood on my head all night.'
'You shouldn't go to sleep upon the ground with your head to leeward
then,' growled a man in one of the berths.
'With my head to WHERE?' asked Mark.
The man repeated his previous sentiment.
'No, I won't another time,' said Mark, 'when I know whereabouts on the
map that country is. In the meanwhile I can give you a better piece of
advice. Don't you nor any other friend of mine never go to sleep with
his head in a ship any more.'
The man gave a grunt of discontented acquiescence, turned over in his
berth, and drew his blanket over his head.
'--For,' said Mr Tapley, pursuing the theme by way of soliloquy in a low
tone of voice; 'the sea is as nonsensical a thing as any going. It never
knows what to do with itself. It hasn't got no employment for its
mind, and is always in a state of vacancy. Like them Polar bears in the
wild-beast shows as is constantly a-nodding their heads from side to
side, it never CAN be quiet. Which is entirely owing to its uncommon
'Is that you, Mark?' asked a faint voice from another berth.
'It's as much of me as is left, sir, after a fortnight of this work,'
Mr Tapley replied, 'What with leading the life of a fly, ever since I've
been aboard--for I've been perpetually holding-on to something or other
in a upside-down position--what with that, sir, and putting a very
little into myself, and taking a good deal out of myself, there an't too
much of me to swear by. How do you find yourself this morning, sir?'
'Very miserable,' said Martin, with a peevish groan. 'Ugh. This is
'Creditable,' muttered Mark, pressing one hand upon his aching head and
looking round him with a rueful grin. 'That's the great comfort. It IS
creditable to keep up one's spirits here. Virtue's its own reward. So's
Mark was so far right that unquestionably any man who retained his
cheerfulness among the steerage accommodations of that noble and
fast-sailing line-of-packet ship, 'THE SCREW,' was solely indebted to
his own resources, and shipped his good humour, like his provisions,
without any contribution or assistance from the owners. A dark, low,
stifling cabin, surrounded by berths all filled to overflowing with men,
women, and children, in various stages of sickness and misery, is not
the liveliest place of assembly at any time; but when it is so crowded
(as the steerage cabin of the Screw was, every passage out), that
mattresses and beds are heaped upon the floor, to the extinction of
everything like comfort, cleanliness, and decency, it is liable to
operate not only as a pretty strong banner against amiability of temper,
but as a positive encourager of selfish and rough humours. Mark felt
this, as he sat looking about him; and his spirits rose proportionately.
There were English people, Irish people, Welsh people, and Scotch people
there; all with their little store of coarse food and shabby clothes;
and nearly all with their families of children. There were children of
all ages; from the baby at the breast, to the slattern-girl who was as
much a grown woman as her mother. Every kind of domestic suffering that
is bred in poverty, illness, banishment, sorrow, and long travel in bad
weather, was crammed into the little space; and yet was there infinitely
less of complaint and querulousness, and infinitely more of mutual
assistance and general kindness to be found in that unwholesome ark,
than in many brilliant ballrooms.
Mark looked about him wistfully, and his face brightened as he looked.
Here an old grandmother was crooning over a sick child, and rocking it
to and fro, in arms hardly more wasted than its own young limbs; here a
poor woman with an infant in her lap, mended another little creature's
clothes, and quieted another who was creeping up about her from their
scanty bed upon the floor. Here were old men awkwardly engaged in little
household offices, wherein they would have been ridiculous but for their
good-will and kind purpose; and here were swarthy fellows--giants in
their way--doing such little acts of tenderness for those about them,
as might have belonged to gentlest-hearted dwarfs. The very idiot in
the corner who sat mowing there, all day, had his faculty of imitation
roused by what he saw about him; and snapped his fingers to amuse a
'Now, then,' said Mark, nodding to a woman who was dressing her three
children at no great distance from him--and the grin upon his face had
by this time spread from ear to ear--'Hand over one of them young 'uns
according to custom.'
'I wish you'd get breakfast, Mark, instead of worrying with people who
don't belong to you,' observed Martin, petulantly.
'All right,' said Mark. 'SHE'll do that. It's a fair division of labour,
sir. I wash her boys, and she makes our tea. I never COULD make tea, but
any one can wash a boy.'
The woman, who was delicate and ill, felt and understood his kindness,
as well she might, for she had been covered every night with his
greatcoat, while he had for his own bed the bare boards and a rug. But
Martin, who seldom got up or looked about him, was quite incensed by the
folly of this speech, and expressed his dissatisfaction by an impatient
'So it is, certainly,' said Mark, brushing the child's hair as coolly as
if he had been born and bred a barber.
'What are you talking about, now?' asked Martin.
'What you said,' replied Mark; 'or what you meant, when you gave that
there dismal vent to your feelings. I quite go along with it, sir. It IS
very hard upon her.'
'Making the voyage by herself along with these young impediments here,
and going such a way at such a time of the year to join her husband.
If you don't want to be driven mad with yellow soap in your eye, young
man,' said Mr Tapley to the second urchin, who was by this time under
his hands at the basin, 'you'd better shut it.'
'Where does she join her husband?' asked Martin, yawning.
'Why, I'm very much afraid,' said Mr Tapley, in a low voice, 'that she
don't know. I hope she mayn't miss him. But she sent her last letter by
hand, and it don't seem to have been very clearly understood between 'em
without it, and if she don't see him a-waving his pocket-handkerchief on
the shore, like a pictur out of a song-book, my opinion is, she'll break
'Why, how, in Folly's name, does the woman come to be on board ship on
such a wild-goose venture!' cried Martin.
Mr Tapley glanced at him for a moment as he lay prostrate in his berth,
and then said, very quietly:
'Ah! How indeed! I can't think! He's been away from her for two year;
she's been very poor and lonely in her own country; and has always been
a-looking forward to meeting him. It's very strange she should be here.
Quite amazing! A little mad perhaps! There can't be no other way of
accounting for it.'
Martin was too far gone in the lassitude of sea-sickness to make any
reply to these words, or even to attend to them as they were spoken. And
the subject of their discourse returning at this crisis with some hot
tea, effectually put a stop to any resumption of the theme by Mr Tapley;
who, when the meal was over and he had adjusted Martin's bed, went up on
deck to wash the breakfast service, which consisted of two half-pint tin
mugs, and a shaving-pot of the same metal.
It is due to Mark Tapley to state that he suffered at least as much from
sea-sickness as any man, woman, or child, on board; and that he had a
peculiar faculty of knocking himself about on the smallest provocation,
and losing his legs at every lurch of the ship. But resolved, in his
usual phrase, to 'come out strong' under disadvantageous circumstances,
he was the life and soul of the steerage, and made no more of stopping
in the middle of a facetious conversation to go away and be excessively
ill by himself, and afterwards come back in the very best and gayest of
tempers to resume it, than if such a course of proceeding had been the
commonest in the world.
It cannot be said that as his illness wore off, his cheerfulness and
good nature increased, because they would hardly admit of augmentation;
but his usefulness among the weaker members of the party was much
enlarged; and at all times and seasons there he was exerting it. If
a gleam of sun shone out of the dark sky, down Mark tumbled into the
cabin, and presently up he came again with a woman in his arms, or
half-a-dozen children, or a man, or a bed, or a saucepan, or a basket,
or something animate or inanimate, that he thought would be the better
for the air. If an hour or two of fine weather in the middle of the day
tempted those who seldom or never came on deck at other times to crawl
into the long-boat, or lie down upon the spare spars, and try to eat,
there, in the centre of the group, was Mr Tapley, handing about salt
beef and biscuit, or dispensing tastes of grog, or cutting up the
children's provisions with his pocketknife, for their greater ease and
comfort, or reading aloud from a venerable newspaper, or singing some
roaring old song to a select party, or writing the beginnings of letters
to their friends at home for people who couldn't write, or cracking
jokes with the crew, or nearly getting blown over the side, or emerging,
half-drowned, from a shower of spray, or lending a hand somewhere or
other; but always doing something for the general entertainment. At
night, when the cooking-fire was lighted on the deck, and the driving
sparks that flew among the rigging, and the clouds of sails, seemed to
menace the ship with certain annihilation by fire, in case the elements
of air and water failed to compass her destruction; there, again, was Mr
Tapley, with his coat off and his shirt-sleeves turned up to his elbows,
doing all kinds of culinary offices; compounding the strangest dishes;
recognized by every one as an established authority; and helping all
parties to achieve something which, left to themselves, they never could
have done, and never would have dreamed of. In short, there never was a
more popular character than Mark Tapley became, on board that noble and
fast-sailing line-of-packet ship, the Screw; and he attained at last to
such a pitch of universal admiration, that he began to have grave doubts
within himself whether a man might reasonably claim any credit for being
jolly under such exciting circumstances.
'If this was going to last,' said Tapley, 'there'd be no great
difference as I can perceive, between the Screw and the Dragon. I
never am to get credit, I think. I begin to be afraid that the Fates is
determined to make the world easy to me.'
'Well, Mark,' said Martin, near whose berth he had ruminated to this
effect. 'When will this be over?'
'Another week, they say, sir,' returned Mark, 'will most likely bring
us into port. The ship's a-going along at present, as sensible as a ship
can, sir; though I don't mean to say as that's any very high praise.'
'I don't think it is, indeed,' groaned Martin.
'You'd feel all the better for it, sir, if you was to turn out,'
'And be seen by the ladies and gentlemen on the after-deck,' returned
Martin, with a scronful emphasis upon the words, 'mingling with the
beggarly crowd that are stowed away in this vile hole. I should be
greatly the better for that, no doubt.'
'I'm thankful that I can't say from my own experience what the feelings
of a gentleman may be,' said Mark, 'but I should have thought, sir, as a
gentleman would feel a deal more uncomfortable down here than up in the
fresh air, especially when the ladies and gentlemen in the after-cabin
know just as much about him as he does about them, and are likely to
trouble their heads about him in the same proportion. I should have
thought that, certainly.'
'I tell you, then,' rejoined Martin, 'you would have thought wrong, and
do think wrong.'
'Very likely, sir,' said Mark, with imperturbable good temper. 'I often
'As to lying here,' cried Martin, raising himself on his elbow, and
looking angrily at his follower. 'Do you suppose it's a pleasure to lie
'All the madhouses in the world,' said Mr Tapley, 'couldn't produce such
a maniac as the man must be who could think that.'
'Then why are you forever goading and urging me to get up?' asked
Martin, 'I lie here because I don't wish to be recognized, in the better
days to which I aspire, by any purse-proud citizen, as the man who came
over with him among the steerage passengers. I lie here because I wish
to conceal my circumstances and myself, and not to arrive in a new world
badged and ticketed as an utterly poverty-stricken man. If I could have
afforded a passage in the after-cabin I should have held up my head with
the rest. As I couldn't I hide it. Do you understand that?'
'I am very sorry, sir,' said Mark. 'I didn't know you took it so much to
heart as this comes to.'
'Of course you didn't know,' returned his master. 'How should you
know, unless I told you? It's no trial to you, Mark, to make yourself
comfortable and to bustle about. It's as natural for you to do so under
the circumstances as it is for me not to do so. Why, you don't suppose
there is a living creature in this ship who can by possibility have half
so much to undergo on board of her as I have? Do you?' he asked, sitting
upright in his berth and looking at Mark, with an expression of great
earnestness not unmixed with wonder.
Mark twisted his face into a tight knot, and with his head very much
on one side, pondered upon this question as if he felt it an extremely
difficult one to answer. He was relieved from his embarrassment by
Martin himself, who said, as he stretched himself upon his back again
and resumed the book he had been reading:
'But what is the use of my putting such a case to you, when the very
essence of what I have been saying is, that you cannot by possibility
understand it! Make me a little brandy-and-water--cold and very
weak--and give me a biscuit, and tell your friend, who is a nearer
neighbour of ours than I could wish, to try and keep her children a
little quieter to-night than she did last night; that's a good fellow.'
Mr Tapley set himself to obey these orders with great alacrity, and
pending their execution, it may be presumed his flagging spirits
revived; inasmuch as he several times observed, below his breath, that
in respect of its power of imparting a credit to jollity, the Screw
unquestionably had some decided advantages over the Dragon. He also
remarked that it was a high gratification to him to reflect that he
would carry its main excellence ashore with him, and have it constantly
beside him wherever he went; but what he meant by these consolatory
thoughts he did not explain.
And now a general excitement began to prevail on board; and various
predictions relative to the precise day, and even the precise hour
at which they would reach New York, were freely broached. There was
infinitely more crowding on deck and looking over the ship's side than
there had been before; and an epidemic broke out for packing up things
every morning, which required unpacking again every night. Those who had
any letters to deliver, or any friends to meet, or any settled plans of
going anywhere or doing anything, discussed their prospects a hundred
times a day; and as this class of passengers was very small, and the
number of those who had no prospects whatever was very large, there were
plenty of listeners and few talkers. Those who had been ill all along,
got well now, and those who had been well, got better. An American
gentleman in the after-cabin, who had been wrapped up in fur and oilskin
the whole passage, unexpectedly appeared in a very shiny, tall, black
hat, and constantly overhauled a very little valise of pale leather,
which contained his clothes, linen, brushes, shaving apparatus, books,
trinkets, and other baggage. He likewise stuck his hands deep into
his pockets, and walked the deck with his nostrils dilated, as already
inhaling the air of Freedom which carries death to all tyrants, and can
never (under any circumstances worth mentioning) be breathed by slaves.
An English gentleman who was strongly suspected of having run away from
a bank, with something in his possession belonging to its strong box
besides the key, grew eloquent upon the subject of the rights of man,
and hummed the Marseillaise Hymn constantly. In a word, one great
sensation pervaded the whole ship, and the soil of America lay close
before them; so close at last, that, upon a certain starlight night they
took a pilot on board, and within a few hours afterwards lay to until
the morning, awaiting the arrival of a steamboat in which the passengers
were to be conveyed ashore.
Off she came, soon after it was light next morning, and lying alongside
an hour or more--during which period her very firemen were objects of
hardly less interest and curiosity than if they had been so many angels,
good or bad--took all her living freight aboard. Among them Mark, who
still had his friend and her three children under his close protection;
and Martin, who had once more dressed himself in his usual attire, but
wore a soiled, old cloak above his ordinary clothes, until such time as
he should separate for ever from his late companions.
The steamer--which, with its machinery on deck, looked, as it worked its
long slim legs, like some enormously magnified insect or antediluvian
monster--dashed at great speed up a beautiful bay; and presently they
saw some heights, and islands, and a long, flat, straggling city.
'And this,' said Mr Tapley, looking far ahead, 'is the Land of Liberty,
is it? Very well. I'm agreeable. Any land will do for me, after so much