At last we were homeward bound. We had been seven weeks in the island. We had promised to be back in England, if possible, within the three months; and we had a certain pride in keeping our promise, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of the dear West Indies. We wished to show those at home how easy it was to get there; how easy to get home again. Moreover, though going to sea in the Shannon was not quite the same 'as going to sea in a sieve,' our stay-at-home friends were of the same mind as those of the dear little Jumblies, whom Mr. Lear has made immortal in his New Book of Nonsense; and we were bound to come back as soon as possible, and not 'in twenty years or more,' if we wished them to say --
'If we live,
We too will go to sea in a sieve,
To the Hills of the Chankly bore.'
So we left. But it was sore leaving. People had been very kind; and were ready to be kinder still; while we, busy -- perhaps too busy- -over our Natural History collections, had seen very little of our neighbours; had been able to accept very few of the invitations which were showered on us, and which would, I doubt not, have given us opportunities for liking the islanders still more than we liked them already.
Another cause made our leaving sore to us. The hunger for travel had been aroused -- above all for travel westward -- and would not be satisfied. Up the Orinoco we longed to go: but could not. To La Guayra and Caraccas we longed to go: but dared not. Thanks to Spanish Republican barbarism, the only regular communication with that once magnificent capital of Northern Venezuela was by a filthy steamer, the Regos Ferreos, which had become, from her very looks, a byword in the port. On board of her some friends of ours had lately been glad to sleep in a dog-hutch on deck, to escape the filth and vermin of the berths; and went hungry for want of decent food. Caraccas itself was going through one of its periodic revolutions -- it has not got through the fever fit yet -- and neither life nor property was safe.
But the longing to go westward was on us nevertheless. It seemed hard to turn back after getting so far along the great path of the human race; and one had to reason with oneself -- Foolish soul, whither would you go? You cannot go westward for ever. If you go up the Orinoco, you will long to go up the Meta. If you get to Sta. Fe de Bogota, you will not be content till you cross the Andes and see Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. When you look down on the Pacific, you will be craving to go to the Gallapagos, after Darwin; and then to the Marquesas, after Herman Melville; and then to the Fijis, after Seeman; and then to Borneo, after Brooke; and then to the Archipelago, after Wallace; and then to Hindostan, and round the world. And when you get home, the westward fever will be stronger on you than ever, and you will crave to start again. Go home at once, like a reasonable man, and do your duty, and thank God for what you have been allowed to see; and try to become of the same mind as that most brilliant of old ladies, who boasted that she had not been abroad since she saw the Apotheosis of Voltaire, before the French Revolution; and did not care to go, as long as all manner of clever people were kind enough to go instead, and write charming books about what they had seen for her.
But the westward fever was slow to cool: and with wistful eyes we watched the sun by day, and Venus and the moon by night, sink down into the gulf, to lighten lands which we should never see. A few days more, and we were steaming out to the Bocas -- which we had begun to love as the gates of a new home -- heaped with presents to the last minute, some of them from persons we hardly knew. Behind us Port of Spain sank into haze: before us Monos rose, tall, dark, and grim -- if Monos could be grim -- in moonless night. We ran on, and past the island; this time we were going, not through the Boca de Monos, but through the next, the Umbrella Bocas. It was too dark to see houses, palm-trees, aught but the ragged outline of the hills against the northern sky, and beneath, sparks of light in sheltered coves, some of which were already, to one of us, well-beloved nooks. There was the great gulf of the Boca de Monos. There was Morrison's -- our good Scotch host of seven weeks since; and the glasses were turned on it, to see, if possible, through the dusk, the almond-tree and the coco-grove for the last time. Ah, well -- When we next meet, what will he be, and where? And where the handsome Creole wife, and the little brown. Cupid who danced all naked in the log canoe, till the white gentlemen, swimming round, upset him; and canoe, and boy, and men rolled and splashed about like a shoal of seals at play, beneath the cliff with the Seguines and Cereuses; while the ripple lapped the Moriche-nuts about the roots of the Manchineel bush, and the skippers leaped and flashed outside, like silver splinters? And here, where we steamed along, was the very spot where we had seen the shark's back-fin when we rowed back from the first Guacharo cave. And it was all over.
We are such stuff as dreams are made of. And as in a dream, or rather as part of a dream, and myself a phantom and a play-actor, I looked out over the side, and saw on the right the black Avails of Monos, on the left the black walls of Huevos -- a gate even grander, though not as narrow, as that of Monos; and the Umbrella Rock, capped with Matapalo and Cactus, and night-blowing Cereus, dim in the dusk. And now we were outside. The roar of the surf, the tumble of the sea, the rush of the trade-wind, told us that at once. Out in the great sea, with Grenada, and kind friends in it, ahead; not to be seen or reached till morning light. But we looked astern and not ahead. We could see into and through the gap in Huevos, through which we had tried to reach the Guacharo cave. Inside that notch in the cliffs must be the wooded bay, whence we picked up the shells among the fallen leaves and flowers. From under that dark wall beyond it the Guacharos must be just trooping out for their nightly forage, as they had trooped out since -- He alone who made them knows how long. The outline of Huevos, the outline of Monos, were growing lower and grayer astern. A long ragged haze, far loftier than that on the starboard quarter, signified the Northern Mountains; and far off on the port quarter lay a flat bank of cloud, amid which rose, or seemed to rise, the Cordillera of the Main, and the hills where jaguars lie. Canopus blazed high astern, and Fomalhaut below him to the west, as if bidding us a kind farewell. Orion and Aldebaran spangled the zenith. The young moon lay on her back in the far west, thin and pale, over Cumana and the Cordillera, with Venus, ragged and red with earth mist, just beneath. And low ahead, with the pointers horizontal, glimmered the cold pole-star, for which we were steering, out of the summer into the winter once more. We grew chill as we looked at him; and shuddered, it may be, cowered for a moment, at the thought of 'Niflheim,' the home of frosts and fogs, towards which we were bound.
However, we were not yet out of the Tropics. We had still nearly a fortnight before us in which to feel sure there was a sun in heaven; a fortnight more of the 'warm champagne' atmosphere which was giving fresh life and health to us both. And up the islands we went, wiser, but not sadder, than when we went down them; casting wistful eyes, though, to windward, for there away -- and scarcely out of sight -- lay Tobago, to which we had a most kind invitation; and gladly would we have looked at that beautiful and fertile little spot, and have pictured to ourselves Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday pacing along the coral beach in one of its little southern coves. More wistfully still did we look to windward when we thought of Barbadoes, and of the kind people who were ready to welcome us into that prosperous and civilised little cane-garden, which deserves -- and has deserved for now two hundred years, far more than poor old Ireland -- the name of 'The Emerald Gem of the Western World.'
But it could not be. A few hours at Grenada, and a few hours at St. Lucia, were all the stoppages possible to us. The steamer only passes once a fortnight, and it is necessary to spend that time on each island which is visited, unless the traveller commits himself -- which he cannot well do if he has a lady with him -- to the chances and changes of coasting schooners. More frequent and easy intercommunication is needed throughout the Antilles. The good people, whether white or coloured, need to see more of each other, and more of visitors from home. Whether a small weekly steamer between the islands would pay in money, I know not. That it would pay morally and socially, I am sure. Perhaps, when the telegraph is laid down along the islands, the need of more steamers will be felt and supplied.
Very pleasant was the run up to St. Thomas's, not merely on account of the scenery, but because we had once more -- contrary to our expectation -- the most agreeable of captains. His French cultivation -- he had been brought up in Provence -- joined to brilliant natural talents, had made him as good a talker as he doubtless is a sailor; and the charm of his conversation, about all matters on earth, and some above the earth, will not be soon forgotten by those who went up with him to St. Thomas's, and left him there with regret.
We transhipped to the Neva, Captain Woolward -- to whom I must tender my thanks, as I do to Captain Bax, of the Shannon, for all kinds of civility. We slept a night in the harbour, the town having just then a clean bill of health; and were very glad to find ourselves, during the next few days, none the worse for having done so. On remarking, the first evening, that I did not smell the harbour after all, I was comforted by the answer that -- 'When a man did, he had better go below and make his will.' It is a pity that the most important harbour in the Caribbean Sea should be so unhealthy. No doubt it offers advantages for traffic which can be found nowhere else: and there the steamers must continue to assemble, yellow fever or none. But why should not an hotel be built for the passengers in some healthy and airy spot outside the basin -- on the south slope of Water Island, for instance, or on Buck Island -- where they might land at once, and sleep in pure fresh air and sea-breeze? The establishment of such an hotel would surely, when once known, attract to the West Indies many travellers to whom St. Thomas's is now as much a name of fear as Colon or the Panama.
We left St. Thomas's by a different track from that by which we came to it. We ran northward up the magnificent land-locked channel between Tortola and Virgin Gorda, to pass to leeward of Virgin Gorda and Anegada, and so northward toward the Gulf Stream.
This channel has borne the name of Drake, I presume, ever since the year 1575. For in the account of that fatal, though successful voyage, which cost the lives both of Sir John Hawkins, who died off Porto Rico, and Sir Francis Drake, who died off Porto Bello, where Hosier and the greater part of the crews of a noble British fleet perished a hundred and fifty years afterward, it is written in Hakluyt how -- after running up N. and N.W. past Saba -- the fleet 'stood away S.W., and on the 8th of November, being a Saturday, we came to an anker some 7 or 8 leagues off among certain broken Ilands called Las Virgines, which have bene accounted dangerous: but we found there a very good rode, had it bene for a thousand sails of ships in 7 & 8 fadomes, fine sand, good ankorage, high Ilands on either side, but no fresh water that we could find: here is much fish to be taken with nets and hookes: also we stayed on shore and fowled. Here Sir John Hawkins was extreme sick' (he died within ten days), 'which his sickness began upon newes of the taking of the Francis' (his stern-most vessel). 'The 18th day wee weied and stood north and by east into a lesser sound, which Sir Francis in his barge discovered the night before; and ankored in 13 fadomes, having hie steepe hiles on either side, some league distant from our first riding.
'The 12 in the morning we weied and set sayle into the Sea due south through a small streit but without danger' -- possibly the very gap in which the Rhone's wreck now lies -- 'and then stode west and by north for S. Juan de Puerto Rico.'
This northerly course is, plainly, the most advantageous for a homeward-bound ship, as it strikes the Gulf Stream soonest, and keeps in it longest. Conversely, the southerly route by the Azores is best for outward-bound ships; as it escapes most of the Gulf Stream, and traverses the still Sargasso Sea, and even the extremity of the westward equatorial current.
Strange as these Virgin Isles had looked when seen from the south, outside, and at the distance of a few miles, they looked still more strange when we were fairly threading our way between them, sometimes not a rifle-shot from the cliffs, with the white coral banks gleaming under our keel. Had they ever carried a tropic vegetation? Had the hills of Tortola and Virgin Gorda, in shape and size much like those which surround a sea-loch in the Western Islands, ever been furred with forests like those of Guadaloupe or St. Lucia? The loftier were now mere mounds of almost barren earth; the lower were often, like 'Fallen Jerusalem,' mere long earthless moles, as of minute Cyclopean masonry. But what had destroyed their vegetation, if it ever existed? Were they not, too, the mere remnants of a submerged and destroyed land, connected now only by the coral shoals? So it seemed to us, as we ran out past the magnificent harbour at the back of Virgin Gorda, where, in the old war times, the merchantmen of all the West Indies used to collect, to be conveyed homeward by the naval squadron, and across a shallow sea white with coral beds. We passed to leeward of the island, or rather reef, of Anegada, so low that it could only be discerned, at a few miles' distance, by the breaking surf and a few bushes; and then plunged, as it were, suddenly out of shallow white water into deep azure ocean. An upheaval of only forty fathoms would, I believe, join all these islands to each other, and to the great mountain island of Porto Rico to the west. The same upheaval would connect with each other Anguilla, St. Martin, and St. Bartholomew, to the east. But Santa Cruz, though so near St. Thomas's, and the Virgin Gordas to the south, would still be parted from them by a gulf nearly two thousand fathoms deep -- a gulf which marks still, probably, the separation of two ancient continents, or at least two archipelagoes.
Much light has been thrown on this curious problem since our return, by an American naturalist, Mr. Bland, in a paper read before the American Philosophical Society, on 'The Geology and Physical Geography of the West Indies, with reference to the distribution of Mollusca.' It is plain that of all animals, land-shells and reptiles give the surest tokens of any former connection of islands, being neither able to swim nor fly from one to another, and very unlikely to be carried by birds or currents. Judging, therefore, as he has a right to do, by the similarity of the land-shells, Mr. Bland is of opinion that Porto Rico, the Virgins, and the Anguilla group once formed continuous dry land, connected with Cuba, the Bahamas, and Hayti; and that their shell-fauna is of a Mexican and Central American type. The shell-fauna of the islands to the south, on the contrary, from Barbuda and St. Kitts down to Trinidad, is South American: but of two types, one Venezuelan, the other Guianan. It seems, from Mr. Bland's researches, that there must have existed once not merely an extension of the North American Continent south-eastward, but that very extension of the South American Continent northward, at which I have hinted more than once in these pages. Moreover -- a fact which I certainly did not expect -- the western side of this supposed land, namely, Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, the Grenadines, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia, have, as far as land-shells are concerned, a Venezuelan fauna; while the eastern side of it, namely, Barbadoes, Martinique, Dominica, Guadaloupe, Antigua, etc., have, most strangely, the fauna of Guiana.
If this be so, a glance at the map will show the vast destruction of tropic land during almost the very latest geological epoch; and show, too, how little, in the present imperfect state of our knowledge, we ought to dare any speculations as to the absence of man, as well as of other creatures, on those great lands now destroyed. For, to supply the dry land which Mr. Bland's theory needs, we shall have to conceive a junction, reaching over at least five degrees of latitude, between the north of British Guiana and Barbadoes; and may freely indulge in the dream that the waters of the Orinoco, when they ran over the lowlands of Trinidad, passed east of Tobago; then northward between Barbadoes and St. Lucia; then turned westward between the latter island and Martinique; and that the mighty estuary formed -- for a great part at least of that line -- the original barrier which kept the land-shells of Venezuela apart from those of Guiana. A 'stretch of the imagination,' doubtless: but no greater stretch than will be required by any explanation of the facts whatsoever.
And so, thanking Mr. Bland heartily for his valuable contribution to the infant science of Bio-Geology -- I take leave, in these pages at least, of the Earthly Paradise.
Our run homeward was quite as successful as our run out. The magnificent Neva, her captain and her officers, were what these Royal Mail steamers and their crews are -- without, I believe, an exception -- all that we could wish. Our passengers, certainly, were neither so numerous nor so agreeable as when going out; and the most notable personage among them was a keen-eyed, strong-jawed little Corsican, who had been lately hired -- so ran his story -- by the coloured insurgents of Hayti, to put down the President -- alias (as usual in such Republics) Tyrant -- Salnave.
He seemed, by his own account, to have done his work effectually. Seven thousand lives were lost in the attack on Salnave's quarters in Port au Prince. Whole families were bayonetted, to save the trouble of judging and shooting them. Women were not spared: and -- if all that I have heard of Hayti be true -- some of them did not deserve to be spared. The noble old French buildings of the city were ruined -- the Corsican said, not by his artillery, but by Salnave's. He had slain Salnave himself; and was now going back to France to claim his rights as a French citizen, carrying with him Salnave's sword, which was wrapped in a newspaper, save when taken out to be brandished on the main deck. One could not but be interested in the valiant adventurer. He seemed a man such as Red Republics and Revolutions breed, and need; very capable of doing rough work, and not likely to be hampered by scruples as to the manner of doing it. If he is, as I take for granted, busy in France just now, he will leave his mark behind.
The voyage, however, seemed likely to be a dull one; and to relieve the monotony, a wild-beast show was determined on, ere the weather grew too cold. So one day all the new curiosities were brought on deck at noon; and if some great zoologist had been on board, he would have found materials in our show for more than one interesting lecture. The doctor contributed an Alligator, some two feet six inches long; another officer, a curiously-marked Ant-eater -- of a species unknown to me. It was common, he said, in the Isthmus of Panama; and seemed the most foolish and helpless of beasts. As no ants were procurable, it was fed on raw yolk of egg, which it contrived to suck in with its long tongue -- not enough, however, to keep it alive during the voyage.
The chief engineer exhibited a live 'Tarantula,' or bird-catching spider, who was very safely barred into its box with strips of iron, as a bite from it is rather worse than that of an English adder.
We showed a Vulturine Parrot and a Kinkajou. The Kinkajou, by the by, got loose one night, and displayed his natural inclination by instantly catching a rat, and dancing between decks with it in his mouth: but was so tame withal, that he let the stewardess stroke him in passing. The good lady mistook him for a cat; and when she discovered next morning that she had been handling a 'loose wild beast,' her horror was as great as her thankfulness for the supposed escape. In curious contrast to the natural tameness of the Kinkajou was the natural untameness of a beautiful little Night-Monkey, belonging to the purser. Its great owl's eyes were instinct with nothing but abject terror of everybody and everything; and it was a miracle that ere the voyage was over it did not die of mere fright. How is it, en passant, that some animals are naturally fearless and tamable, others not; and that even in the same family? Among the South American monkeys the Howlers are untamable; the Sapajous less so; while the Spider Monkeys are instinctively gentle and fond of man: as may be seen in the case of the very fine Marimonda (Ateles Beelzebub) now dying, I fear, in the Zoological Gardens at Bristol.
As we got into colder latitudes, we began to lose our pets. The Ant-eater departed first: then the doctor, who kept his alligator in a tub on his cabin floor, was awoke by doleful wails, as of a babe. Being pretty sure that there was not likely to be one on board, and certainly not in his cabin, he naturally struck a light, and discovered the alligator, who had never uttered a sound before, outside his tub on the floor, bewailing bitterly his fate. Whether he 'wept crocodile tears' besides, the doctor could not discover; but it was at least clear, that if swans sing before they die, alligators do so likewise: for the poor thing was dead next morning.
It was time, after this, to stow the pets warm between decks, and as near the galley-fires as they could be put. For now, as we neared the 'roaring forties,' there fell on us a gale from the north-west, and would not cease.
The wind was, of course, right abeam; the sea soon ran very high. The Neva, being a long screw, was lively enough, and too lively; for she soon showed a chronic inclination to roll, and that suddenly, by fits and starts. The fiddles were on the tables for nearly a week: but they did not prevent more than one of us finding his dinner suddenly in his lap instead of his stomach. However, no one was hurt, nor even frightened: save two poor ladies -- not from Trinidad- -who spent their doleful days and nights in screaming, telling their beads, drinking weak brandy-and-water, and informing the hunted stewardess that if they had known what horrors they were about to endure, they would have gone to Europe in -- a sailing vessel. The foreigners -- who are usually, I know not why, bad sailors -- soon vanished to their berths: so did the ladies: even those who were not ill jammed themselves into their berths, and lay there, for fear of falls and bruises; while the Englishmen and a coloured man or two -- the coloured men usually stand the sea well -- had the deck all to themselves; and slopped about, holding on, and longing for a monkey's tail; but on the whole rather liking it.
For, after all, it is a glorious pastime to find oneself in a real gale of wind, in a big ship, with not a rock to run against within a thousand miles. One seems in such danger; and one is so safe. And gradually the sense of security grows, and grows into a sense of victory, as with the boy who fears his first fence, plucks up heart for the second, is rather pleased at the third, and craves for the triumph of the fourth and of all the rest, sorry at last when the run is over. And when a man -- not being sea-sick -- has once discovered that the apparent heel of the ship in rolling is at least four times less than it looks, and that she will jump upright again in a quarter of a minute like a fisher's float; has learnt to get his trunk out from under his berth, and put it back again, by jamming his forehead against the berth-side and his heels against the ship's wall; has learnt -- if he sleep aft -- to sleep through the firing of the screw, though it does shake all the marrow in his backbone; and has, above all, made a solemn vow to shave and bathe every morning, let the ship be as lively as she will: then he will find a full gale a finer tonic, and a finer stirrer of wholesome appetite, than all the drugs of Apothecaries' Hall.
This particular gale, however, began to get a little too strong. We had a sail or two set to steady the ship: on the second night one split with a crack like a cannon; and was tied up in an instant, cordage and strips, into inextricable knots.
The next night I was woke by a slap which shook the Neva from stem to stern, and made her stagger and writhe like a live thing struck across the loins. Then a dull rush of water which there was no mistaking. We had shipped a green sea. Well, I could not bale it out again; and there was plenty of room for it on board. So, after ascertaining that R -- - was not frightened, I went back to my berth and slept again, somewhat wondering that the roll of the screw was all but silent.
Next morning we found that a sea had walked in over the bridge, breaking it, and washing off it the first officer and the look-out man -- luckily they fell into a sail and not overboard; put out the galley-fires, so that we got a cold breakfast; and eased the ship; for the shock turned the indicator in the engine-room to 'Ease her.' The engineer, thinking that the captain had given the order, obeyed it. The captain turned out into the wet to know who had eased his ship, and then returned to bed, wisely remarking, that the ship knew her own business best; and as she had chosen to ease the engines herself, eased she should be, his orders being 'not to prosecute a voyage so as to endanger the lives of the passengers or the property of the Company.'
So we went on easily for sixteen hours, the wise captain judging -- and his judgment proved true -- that the centre of the storm was crossing our course ahead; and that if we waited, it would pass us. So, as he expected, we came after a day or two into an almost windless sea, where smooth mountainous waves, the relics of the storm, were weltering aimlessly up and down under a dark sad sky.
Soon we began to sight ship after ship, and found ourselves on the great south-western high-road of the Atlantic; and found ourselves, too, nearing Niflheim day by day. Colder and colder grew the wind, lower the sun, darker the cloud-world overhead; and we went on deck each morning, with some additional garment on, sorely against our wills. Only on the very day on which we sighted land, we had one of those treacherously beautiful days which occur, now and then, in an English February, mild, still, and shining, if not with keen joyful blaze, at least with a cheerful and tender gleam from sea and sky.
The Land's End was visible at a great distance; and as we neared the Lizard, we could see not only the lighthouses on the Cliff, and every well-known cove and rock from Mullion and Kynance round to St. Keverne, but far inland likewise. Breage Church, and the great tin- works of Wheal Vor, stood out hard against the sky. We could see up the Looe Pool to Helston Church, and away beyond it, till we fancied that we could almost discern, across the isthmus, the sacred hill of Carnbrea.
Along the Cornish shore we ran, through a sea swarming with sails: an exciting contrast to the loneliness of the wide ocean which we had left -- and so on to Plymouth Sound.
The last time I had been on that water, I was looking up in awe at Sir Edward Codrington's fleet just home from the battle of Navarino. Even then, as a mere boy, I was struck by the grand symmetry of that ample basin: the break water -- then unfinished -- lying across the centre; the heights of Bovisand and Cawsand, and those again of Mount Batten and Mount Edgecumbe, left and right; the citadel and the Hoe across the bottom of the Sound, the southern sun full on their walls, with the twin harbours and their forests of masts, winding away into dim distance on each side; and behind all and above all, the purple range of Dartmoor, with the black rain-clouds crawling along its top. And now, after nearly forty years, the place looked to me even more grand than my recollections had pictured it. The newer fortifications have added to the moral effect of the scene, without taking away from its physical beauty: and I heard without surprise -- though not without pride -- the foreigners express their admiration of this, their first specimen of an English port.
We steamed away again, after landing our letters, close past the dear old Mewstone. The warrener's hut stood on it still: and I wondered whether the old he-goat, who used to terrify me as a boy, had left any long-bearded descendants. Then under the Revelstoke and Bolt Head cliffs, with just one flying glance up into the hidden nooks of delicious little Salcombe, and away south-west into the night, bound for Cherbourg, and a very different scene.
We were awakened soon after midnight by the stopping of the steamer. Then a gun. After awhile another; and presently a third: but there was no reply, though our coming had been telegraphed from England; and for nearly six hours we lay in the heart of the most important French arsenal, with all our mails and passengers waiting to get ashore; and nobody deigning to notice us. True, we could do no harm there: but our delay, and other things which happened, were proofs- -and I was told not uncommon ones -- of that carelessness, unreadiness, and general indiscipline of French arrangements, which has helped to bring about, since then, an utter ruin.
As the day dawned through fog, we went on deck to find the ship lying inside a long breakwater bristling with cannon, which looked formidable enough: but the whole thing, I was told, was useless against modern artillery and ironclads: and there was more than one jest on board as to the possibility of running the Channel Squadron across, and smashing Cherbourg in a single night, unless the French learnt to keep a better look-out in time of war than they did in time of peace.
Just inside us lay two or three ironclads; strong and ugly: untidy, too, to a degree shocking to English eyes. All sorts of odds and ends were hanging over the side, and about the rigging; the yards were not properly squared, and so forth; till -- as old sailors would say -- the ships had no more decency about them than so many collier- brigs.
Beyond them were arsenals, docks, fortifications, of which of course we could not judge; and backing all, a cliff, some two hundred feet high, much quarried for building-stone. An ugly place it is to look at; and, I should think, an ugly place to get into, with the wind anywhere between N.W. and N.E.; an artificial and expensive luxury, built originally as a mere menace to England, in days when France, which has had too long a moral mission to right some one, thought of fighting us, who only wished to live in peace with our neighbours. Alas! alas! 'Tu l'a voulu, George Dandin.' She has fought at last: but not us.
Out of Cherbourg we steamed again, sulky enough; for the delay would cause us to get home on the Sunday evening instead of the Sunday morning; and ran northward for the Needles. With what joy we saw at last the white wall of the island glooming dim ahead. With what joy we first discerned that huge outline of a visage on Freshwater Cliff, so well known to sailors, which, as the eye catches it in one direction, is a ridiculous caricature; in another, really noble, and even beautiful. With what joy did we round the old Needles, and run past Hurst Castle; and with what shivering, too. For the wind, though dead south, came to us as a continental wind, harsh and keen from off the frozen land of France, and chilled us to the very marrow all the way up to Southampton.
But there were warm hearts and kind faces waiting us on the quay, and good news too. The gentlemen at the Custom-house courteously declined the least inspection of our luggage; and we were at once away in the train home. At first, I must confess, an English winter was a change for the worse. Fine old oaks and beeches looked to us, fresh from ceibas and balatas, like leafless brooms stuck into the ground by their handles; while the want of light was for some days painful and depressing But we had done it; and within the three months, as we promised. As the king in the old play says, 'What has been, has been, and I've had my hour.' At last we had seen it; and we could not unsee it. We could not not have been in the Tropics.