List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
< < Previous Page    

      Into port she safely glides.


   Swift, as by good angels carried,
      Right and left the news has spread.
   Wives long widowed-yet scarce married--
      Brides that never hoped to wed,
   From a hundred pathways meeting
      Crowd along the narrow quay,
   Maddened by the hope of meeting
      Those long counted cast away.


   Soon a crowd of small boats flutter
      O'er the intervening space,
   Bearing hearts too full to utter
      Thoughts that flush the eager face!
   See young Eric foremost gaining--
      (For a father's love athirst!)
   Every nerve and muscle straining,
      But to touch the dear hand FIRST.


   In the ship's green shadow rocking
      Lies his little boat at last,
   Wherefore is the warm heart knocking
      At his side, so loud and fast?
   "What strange aspect is she wearing,
      Vessel once so taut and trim?
   Shout!--MY heart has lost its daring;
      Comrades, search!--MY eyes are dim."


   Sad the search, and fearful finding!
      On the deck lay parched and dry
   Men--who in some burning, blinding
      Clime--had laid them down to die!
   Hands--prayer--clenched--that would not sever,
      Eyes that stared against the sun,
   Sights that haunt the soul for ever,
      Poisoning life--till life is done!


   Strength from fear doth Eric gather,
      Wide the cabin door he threw--
   Lo! the face of his dead father,
      Stern and still, confronts his view!
   Stately as in life he bore him,
      Seated--motionless and grand,
   On the blotted page before him
      Lingers still the livid hand!


   What sad entry was he making,
      When the death-stroke fell at last?
   "Is it then God's will, in taking
      All, that I am left the last?
   I have closed the cabin doorway,
      That I may not see them die:--
   Would our bones might rest in Norway,--
      'Neath our own cool Northern sky!"


   Then the ghastly log-book told them
      How-in some accursed clime,
   Where the breathless land-swell rolled them,
      For an endless age of time--
   Sudden broke the plague among them,
      'Neath that sullen Tropic sun;
   As if fiery scorpions stung them--
      Died they raving, one by one!


   --Told the vain and painful striving,
      By shot-weighted shrouds to hide
   (Last fond care), from those surviving,
      What good comrade last had died;
   Yet the ghastly things kept showing,
      Waist deep in the unquiet grave--
   To each other gravely bowing
      On the slow swing of the wave!


   Eric's boat is near the landing--
      From that dark ship bring they aught?
   In the stern sheets ONE is standing,
      Though their eyes perceive him not;
   But a curdling horror creepeth
      Thro' their veins, with icy darts,
   And each hurried oar-stroke keepeth
      Time with their o'er-labouring hearts!


   Heavy seems their boat returning,
      Weighted with a world of care!
   Oh, ye blind ones--none discerning
      WHAT the spectral freight ye bear.
   Glad they hear the sea-beach grating
      Harsh beneath the small boat's stem--
   Forth they leap, for no man waiting--


   Viewless--soundless--stalks the spectre
      Thro' the city chill and pale,
   Which like bride, this morn, had decked her
      For the advent of that sail.
   Oft by Bergen women, mourning,
      Shall the dismal tale be told,
   Of that lost ship home returning,
      With "THE BLACK DEATH" in her hold!

I would gladly dwell on the pleasures of my second visit
to Christiansund, which has a charm of its own, independent
of its interest as the spot from whence we really "start
for home." But though strange lands, and unknown or
indifferent people, are legitimate subjects for travellers'
tales, our FRIENDS and their pleasant homes are NOT; so
I shall keep all I have to say of gratitude to our
excellent and hospitable Consul, Mr. Morch, and of
admiration for his charming wife, until I can tell you
viva voce how much I wish that you also knew them.

And now, though fairly off from Norway, and on our homeward
way, it was a tedious business--what with fogs, calms,
and headwinds--working towards Copenhagen. We rounded
the Scaw in a thick mist, saw the remains of four ships
that had run aground upon it, and were nearly run into
ourselves by a clumsy merchantman, whom we had the relief
of being able to abuse in our native vernacular, and the
most racy sea-slang.

Those five last days were certainly the only tedious
period of the whole cruise. I suppose there is something
magnetic in the soil of one's own country, which may
account for that impatient desire to see it again, which
always grows, as the distance from it diminishes; if so,
London clay,--and its superstratum of foul, greasy,
gas-discoloured mud--began about this time to exercise
a tender influence upon me, which has been increasing
every hour since: it is just possible that the thoughts
of seeing you again may have some share in the matter.

Somebody (I think Fuller) says somewhere, that "every
one with whom you converse, and every place wherein you
tarry awhile, giveth somewhat to you, and taketh somewhat
away, either for evil or for good;" a startling
consideration for circumnavigators, and such like restless
spirits, but a comfortable thought, in some respects,
for voyagers to Polar regions, as (except seals and bears)
few things could suffer evil from us there; though for
our own parts, there were solemn and wholesome influences
enough "to be taken away" from those icy solitudes, if
one were but ready and willing to "stow" them.

To-morrow I leave Copenhagen, and my good Sigurdr, whose
companionship has been a constant source of enjoyment,
both to Fitz and myself, during the whole voyage; I trust
that I leave with him a friendly remembrance of our too
short connexion, and pleasant thoughts of the strange
places and things we have seen together; as I take away
with me a most affectionate memory of his frank and kindly
nature, his ready sympathy, and his imperturbable good
humour.  From the day on which I shipped him--an entire
stranger--until this eve of our separation--as friends,
through scenes of occasional discomfort, and circumstances
which might sometimes have tried both temper and
spirits--shut up as we were for four months in the
necessarily close communion of life on board a vessel of
eighty tons,--there has never been the shadow of a cloud
between us; henceforth, the words "an Icelander" can
convey no cold or ungenial associations to my ears, and
however much my imagination has hitherto delighted in
the past history of that singular island, its Present
will always claim a deeper and warmer interest from me,
for Sigurdr's sake.

To-morrow Fitz and I start for Hamburg, and very soon
after--at least as soon as railroad and steamer can bring
me--I look for the joy of seeing your face again.

By the time this reaches Portsmouth, the "Foam" will have
perfomed a voyage of six thousand miles.

I have had a most happy time of it, but I fear my amusement
will have cost you many a weary hour of anxiety and suspense.

< < Previous Page    

Other sites: