A Voyage Round the World, Chapter 01

My Home, and How I Left It.

The day arrived. A post-chaise stood in front of the old grey manor-house. I have it all before me. The pointed gables—the high-pitched, dark weather; stained roof—the numberless latticed windows—the moat, now dry, which had once served to keep out a body of Cromwell’s horse—the tall elms, which had nestled many a generation of rooks—the clump of beech trees, and the venerable wide-spreading oak—the broad gravelled court on one side, and the velvety lawn on the other, sloping away down to the fine, large, deep fish-pond, whose waters, on which I had obtained my first nautical experiences, as seen through the green foliage, were sparkling brighter than ever under the deep blue of the summer sky.

At the hall door were assembled all those I loved on earth—and dearly, too, I loved them. My mother, as good and kind a mother as ever nursed a somewhat numerous and noisy progeny; my sisters, dear, sweet, good girls; and half-a-dozen brothers, honest, generous, capital fellows; our father, too—such a father!—we always agreed that no one could come up to him. Other fellows might have very good fathers, but they were not equal to him! He could be just like one of us at cricket, or out fishing, or shooting, and yet he was always right, and there was not a finer-looking gentleman in the county, and that every one said. We were all at home for the Midsummer holidays—that is to say, we boys; our mother was not a person to let her girls go to school. Who could say that we were not met for the last time in our lives?

I was the third of the boys. Two of our sisters were older than any of us. I loved them, and they all loved me. Not that we ever talked about that; I knew it and felt it, and yet I was going to leave them by my own express wish.

I was not what is called a studious boy. I was fond of reading, and I read all the books of voyages and travels I could lay hands on, and before long began to wish to go and see with my own eyes what I had read about. My brothers were fond of shooting and fishing and rowing, and so was I; but I thought shooting tigers and lions and elephants, and fishing for whales, and sailing over the salt ocean, would be much grander work than killing partridges, catching perch, or rowing about our pond in a punt. I do not know that my imaginings and wishes, ardent as they grew, would ever have produced any definite form of action, had not an old schoolfellow of our father’s, called Captain Frankland, about a year before the day I speak of, come to our house. As soon as I knew he was coming I was very eager to see him, for I heard our father tell our mother that there was scarcely a part of the world he had not visited, and that he was looked upon as a first-rate navigator, and a most scientific seaman. He had been in the navy during the war-time, but peace came before he was made a lieutenant; and believing that he should not there find sufficient employment for his energies, he had quitted it and entered the merchant-service. While in command of a whaler, he had been far towards the north pole. He had traversed the Antarctic seas, and had often visited India and China, and the islands of the Pacific. Still, as money-making or idleness had never been his aim, and his strength was unabated, he kept at sea when many men would have sought for rest on shore. Such was the account my father gave of him.

How eagerly I waited for his coming! He had chosen the holidays on purpose that he might see our father’s young tribe, he wrote him word. He was the very sort of person I longed to talk to; still it was with no little awe that I thought of actually breakfasting, and dining, and speaking day after day with one who had seen so much of the world, and met with so many adventures. At last he arrived. I was not disappointed in his appearance. He was a tall, thin, spare man, all bone and muscle. His hair was almost white, and his features, which were not a little weather-beaten, had, I thought, a most pleasant expression. While, however, my brothers ran eagerly forward to meet him, I hung back, watching him at a distance, like a bashful child. Had he been one of England’s greatest heroes, I could not have looked at him with greater respect. “And that is the man,” I thought, “who has sailed over thousands and thousands of miles of water, and has seen Indians dressed in feathers and shells, and negroes running wild in their native woods, and Hottentots, and Esquimaux, and Chinese, and I do not know what other strange people!” I saw my father look round for me, so at last I went forward in time to be presented in my turn with the rest of my brothers. Very soon the feeling of awe wore off, and I became the most constant of his attendants wherever he wished to go. With the greatest eagerness I used to listen to the accounts he gave our father of his various adventures in the distant countries he had visited. My brothers listened also; but while they would at length betake themselves to other occupations, I remained his ever-attentive auditor. The interest I exhibited in what he was saying attracted his attention, and much pleased him, so that when I ventured to ask him questions, he both answered them willingly and encouraged me to ask more. Thus we before long became very great friends.

“Should you like to go to sea, Harry?” said he to me one day, when he had begun to talk of taking his departure.

“With you, sir, indeed I should; there’s nothing in the world I should like so much,” I answered. The tone of my voice and the expression of my countenance showed him how much I was in earnest.

“Very well, my boy. You are rather young just yet to rough it at sea, and you will be the better for another year’s schooling; but when I come back from my next voyage, if you are in the same mind, and your father is willing to let you go, I will take you to sea with me. I’ll talk to him about it if I have an opportunity.”

“Thank you, sir—thank you!” I exclaimed, almost choking with the vehemence of my feelings; “it is what I have been longing for above all things. Do, pray, tell my father, or he may suppose it is only a passing fancy of mine, and may wish me to go into some other profession. Still, he’ll let me go with you—I know he will.”

Captain Frankland smiled at my eagerness, but he said not a word to dissuade me from my wish. Perhaps he remembered his own feelings at my age. Grown-up people are apt to forget how they thought and felt when they were boys, which is the reason so few men win the confidence of the young and manage them properly. The captain, on the contrary, seemed to understand me thoroughly, and thus gained a complete influence over me.

“I’ll be ready to go when you come back,” I added.

“Don’t be too sure of yourself, Harry,” he answered. “I’ve seen many people completely change their opinions in a year’s time, and I shall not be absent less than that. If you remain constant to your wish, remember my promise; but if your fancy changes, you are free to follow it as far as I am concerned.”

I thanked Captain Frankland over and over again for his kindness, and certainly did not think that there was a possibility of my changing my inclinations. So he went away, much to my regret, and I fancied that he had not mentioned our conversation to my father. We all returned to school, except our eldest brother, who went to college. I no longer enjoyed school as I once did—I was looked upon as having become very idle. My mind, however, was not idle, I know, for I was continually thinking over the idea which had got possession of it. By allowing my thoughts to rest on that idea, and that alone, the desire increased till I persuaded myself that the only life I could possibly lead with satisfaction was that of a life at sea. All this time the curious thing was, that of the sea itself I practically knew nothing. Born and bred in an inland county, my eyes had actually never rested on the wide ocean. Still, I had formed a notion of what it was like; and I fancied that a sailor was always wandering about from one wild country to another, and going through a rapid succession of wonderful adventures. I forgot all about those long voyages when ships are weeks and weeks together out of sight of land, and the many weary and often anxious hours which a seaman has to pass away; nor did I consider that he has frequently the same voyage to make over and over again, the same lands to visit, and the same people to see. However, though I looked with no little pleasure on the idea of becoming a sailor, I had still greater satisfaction in the anticipation of visiting strange and far-distant lands, in meeting with adventures, and in becoming acquainted with the various tribes of the human race.

With the absorbing passion which now possessed me ruling every thought, I could no longer properly fix my attention on my Latin and Greek books and usual school-lessons; and as for nonsense, and even sense verses, I abandoned all attempts at making them. I am ashamed to say that I allowed others to do the work which passed as mine; and even though I managed to present the required written exercises, I was constantly in richly-deserved disgrace for the neglect of those tasks which no one else could perform for me. I was decidedly wrong; I ought to have had the right feeling and manliness to perform to the best of my power those lessons which it was the master’s duty to set me, and then I might with a clear conscience have indulged freely in my own peculiar tastes. As it was, when the Christmas holidays arrived, I was sent home with a letter from the master containing severe complaints of my inattention and negligence of my duties, while my brothers were complimented on the progress they had made in their studies. The master told me he should write, but our father received us all in the same affectionate way; and as he said nothing on the matter, I hoped that he was not going to take notice of it.

The first joyous days of getting home had passed over, and New-Year’s Day come and gone, before he broached the subject. From his love and kind heart, he would not before mar my boyish happiness. He then, summoning me into his study, spoke seriously to me about my past conduct. I frankly owned my fault, and confessed to him the true cause of my idleness. From his answer I found, to my very great satisfaction, that Captain Frankland had already talked to him about my wish to go to sea, and had expressed his readiness to take me.

“I cannot, however, allow you, my dear Harry, to leave school under the present circumstances,” said my father. “You must learn to obey your superiors, and to command yourself, before you will be fit to go into the world. Whatever course of life you pursue, you will have many things to do which you will dislike, or in which you may from inclination take no interest; but this will afford you but a poor excuse for not doing your duty. What do you think the captain of a ship would say to an officer who had not obeyed his orders, should the latter remark to him, ‘Really, sir, I felt so little interest in the matter, or I disliked it so very much, that I could not bring myself to perform the work?’ Yet this is what you have been doing, my boy. I will say no more on the subject. You will go back to school at the end of the holidays; and if I find that, from a sense of duty, you are attending, to the best of your power, to the studies your master may select for you, I will take your wishes into my very earnest consideration, and see how I can best carry them out for your advantage.”

I felt how just, and kind, and considerate my father was, and I resolved to the utmost to follow his advice. I shall never forget those Christmas holidays. They were very, very happy ones. Our eldest brother Jack, who was at college, was a very clever fellow, and put us up to all sorts of fun. In doors and out of doors there was nothing he did not think of. He never bullied, and wasn’t a bit spoiled. He was going to study at the bar, that he might better look after the family property. James, the next, was the quiet one; he was preparing for the Church. Then came our third sister, Mary. Julia and Isabella were older than any of us. Mary was my favourite. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for me—or, for that matter, for any of us. She did not like baiting our hooks when we were fishing, but still she did it when we asked her; and I do really believe that the worms didn’t feel half the pain they otherwise would when handled by her fingers. She’d go out with us rat-catching and badger-hunting, and yet, to see her in the drawing-room, there wasn’t a sweeter, softer, more feminine girl in the county. When we were at school, she wrote us twice as many letters as anybody else, and told us how the pony and the dogs were getting on; and how old Martin had found a wasp’s nest, which he was keeping for us to blow up—and all that sort of thing. Willie and Georgie were at school with me, and Herbert was going the next half, and after him were two more girls, so that Mary had no companions of her own age, and that made her, I suppose, stick so much more to us than the older ones did, who were now young ladies—old enough to go to balls, and to talk when any gentlemen called.

I cannot stop to describe our amusements. I went to school with a more hopeful, manly spirit than I ever did before, and to the astonishment of Dr Summers, set to with a will at everything he gave me to do, and before long was nearly up at the head of my class. I wished to please my father, and to follow his advice, that I am sure of; but I confess that I was powerfully influenced by another motive. From what he had said, I saw that this was the surest way of obtaining the accomplishment of my wishes.

Hoops and driving had gone out, and cricket and marbles were in, and the days were getting long and warm, when I received a letter from Mary, saying that Captain Frankland had come home, and had written to our father, but she did not know what had passed between them. I always told Mary all I thought and wished; and though she cried very much at the thoughts of my going away, yet she promised to help me as best she could. How she was to help, I did not exactly know. I tried to console her by promising to bring her back parrots without end from Africa, and shawls from India, and fans and carved ivory bones from China, and poisoned arrows, and darts, and tomahawks, and all sorts of dreadful weapons, from America and the islands of the Pacific. Indeed, had I fulfilled my promises to the letter, I could pretty well have loaded a ship with my intended gifts. My father said nothing, and we all went home together at the usual time. At the end of this half, a very complimentary letter had preceded me.

“I am glad to hear that Dr Summers is pleased with you, my dear boy,” said my father, and I thought his countenance wore a graver expression than usual. “Tell me, are your wishes the same as when you last left home?”

I replied that I was as anxious as ever to go to sea.

“I will not, then, thwart your inclination, Harry,” he answered. “Your mother and I would rather you had selected a profession which would have kept you nearer to us. But you have chosen a fine line of life, and may Heaven protect you in your career! I should have been glad, for some reasons, to have had the power of sending you into the Royal Navy; but I have no interest to get you in, and still less any to advance you in it. The merchant-service should not be looked on as less noble and less creditable a profession. It is one of the chief means by which England’s greatness and prosperity is maintained. In it your progress and success will depend almost entirely on your own exertions. You must also so conduct yourself that you may sustain to the utmost the credit of the service, and, I doubt not, you will have no cause to regret entering it. I might have wished to keep you longer at home, but I am unwilling to miss the opportunity of sending you to sea under charge of a commander of the high character and attainments possessed by Captain Frankland. He, in the kindest way, tells me that he is ready to take you; and he also informs me that a relative of mine is one of the officers appointed to his ship, Silas Brand by name. You have heard as speak of my good Cousin Martha, Mrs Brand; Silas is her only son. He was a steady, good lad when I last heard of him before he went to sea, and I daresay that you will find him a firm friend. At all events, I am sure, from Captain Frankland’s remarks, that he will prove a profitable one. He tells me also that his proposed voyage will be one of very great interest; that the owners of the ship have a variety of objects in view; so that he expects to visit a number of interesting places during the voyage, which is, in fact, to be completely round the world.”

“Round the World!” I exclaimed. “How delightful! And am I actually going to sail all round the world in my first voyage? Well, I did not expect anything so good as that. Isn’t it a first-rate chance, papa?”

“It may be very long before you return, my boy,” replied my father. “I trust, however, that you will proportionately profit by the voyage. Captain Frankland says, that he hopes to make you something of a seaman before you return. You will, I trust, make the best use of his instructions.”

I promised that I would, and sincerely intended to keep my promise. So it was finally settled that I was to go to sea, and few lads were ever sent afloat under better auspices than I enjoyed. I cannot fully describe the agitating sensations which passed through my bosom when I began to reflect on the approaching consummation of my wishes. While my heart beat with anticipated pleasure at the strange sights I was to behold, I could not but contemplate with sorrow the thoughts of leaving so many dear ones behind. Not that I for a moment hesitated what I would do, but the sharp edge of the enjoyment I might have felt was entirely blunted. Still, I went about talking with a keen relish of all I was to see, and what I was to do, while the preparations for my outfit were in progress; and I not a little excited the envy of my younger brothers, and of some of the boys near us, when they heard that I was starting on a voyage round the world.

At last the chest was packed, and lashed on behind the post-chaise. A few minutes more, and the old home which knew me would know me no more for many a long day. Can I describe that parting? Still, all bore up heroically. I did my best not to give way, but there was a hot, choking sensation in my throat, as if a Thug from India had got his fatal noose tight round my jugular vein; and a pulling away at the heart, as if the fangs of a stout double tooth were firmly clenched in it, and a strong-fisted dentist was hauling it out. My father and Jack were going with me to see me on board. I believe Jack envied me, and wished that he was going too, instead of having to pore over dusty parchments. My mother folded me in her arms, and kept me there. That was the worst. Still, I could not bear to break away.

“Come, Harry,” said my father, “we shall miss the train.” He took me gently by the shoulder, and guided me into the carriage. I took a last kiss from Mary’s dear lips as I passed her. “I shall be back to-morrow evening, I hope,” said he, following me.

“I say, Harry, don’t forget the bows and arrows you are to bring me from the Tonga Islands!” sung out Willie.

“Or the hunting-panther from South America!” cried Georgie.

“Or the parrots from Africa!” exclaimed Mary through her tears.

“Or the love-birds from India!” said Julia.

“Or my ivory fan from China, young sailor boy!” said Isabella.

“Don’t forget the journal you are to keep, or the subjects I asked you to note for me!” exclaimed the studious James.

Thus, amid various shouts and exclamations of a similar character, the moment Jack mounted on the box we drove off towards the nearest station on the railway which was to convey us to Liverpool. My father said nothing for some time, and I felt that I could not utter a word without allowing my feelings to get the better of me. However, by the time we reached the station, I had much recovered my spirits; and when once we were in the railway, Jack had so much to talk about, and cut so many jokes, that I became very happy, as he did not leave me a moment to think about the dear home I had left. I have often since thought, when I have seen people grumbling at home, or finding fault or quarrelling with their brothers and sisters or parents, let them go away and get knocked and kicked about the world, and they will have good reason to value their own quiet home as they ought.

I thought Liverpool a very fine city, with its large public buildings, and its broad streets, and its churches, and its Sailors’ Home, which I visited, where sailors have a large smoking-hall, and dining-rooms, and a lecture-room, and a chapel, and where some hundreds may each have a little separate cabin to himself. I wish every port in the world, much frequented by shipping, had a place of a similar character. Most of all, I was struck with the docks, crowded with ships of great size, and, indeed, craft of every description and nation; as also with its wide quays and wharfs, and floating landing-stages, and steamers dashing in and out, and running up and down the river in such a hurry, that they looked as if they were conscious that they had to struggle for their existence among the struggling human multitude of the place. We inquired for the Triton.

“There she is, with the blue Peter flying at the fore! She sails to-night, don’t she, Tom?” said a waterman whom we addressed. “Do you want a boat, gintlemen?”

My father said, “Yes;” and agreed with the man as to his fare.

We stepped into his boat, and away we pulled towards my future home—the good ship Triton. I had never seen a ship before, it must be remembered. I had looked at pictures of them, so I was acquainted with their shape; but I had formed no adequate idea of the size of a large ship; and as the boat lay alongside of the Triton, and I looked up and saw one of the officers standing at the gangway to receive us, it appeared something like scaling the walls of a castle to climb up to the deck. What should I have thought had the Triton been a hundred and twenty gun-ship, instead of a merchantman of 500 tons, for such was her size! However, I then thought her a magnificent ship; she was indeed a very fine one for her size. Side ropes being rigged, we soon gained her deck. The captain was still on shore, but my father at once made out Silas Brand. He was a shortish, rather thick-set, fair man, with a roundish face and a somewhat florid complexion. He had light hair, with largish whiskers, and he shaved his chin in harbour. I had to look at him frequently, and to talk to him more than once, before I discovered that his countenance showed much firmness and decision, and that his smile betokened more than a good-natured, easy disposition. My father had a good deal of talk with him, while Jack and I went round to see the ship. In the course of our peregrinations, we entered what I found was the captain’s cabin. A lad of about my own age was sitting at a table, with a book and slate before him. He turned round when the door opened, and eyed me narrowly before he got up from his chair. Then, apparently recollecting himself, he advanced towards us.

“Are you the new youngster who is to sail with us?” said he, putting out his hand. “My name is Gerard Frankland, though it is seldom people take the trouble of calling me more than Jerry. My father told me to expect you. I’m to look after you, and see you don’t get into mischief, I suppose. I’ll be very strict with you, mind that!”

Amused with his free and easy way, I told him that he was not mistaken as to my identity.

“That’s all right then,” he answered. “This gentleman is your brother. Take a seat, sir, and make yourself at home. You’ll have something? When my father is on shore, I reign here supreme, though on deck, to be sure, I can’t boast much of my authority. Steward, bring glasses, and biscuits, and anything else! You’re not going with us, sir? I wish you were. We’ll have rare fun before we come back, I’ll warrant.”

“No,” answered Jack, laughing, and highly diverted with Master Jerry’s volubility and perfect self-possession. “I should much like to take the trip though. However, my brother Harry will, I hope, on your return, give us a full account of all you see and do.”

“He’ll have plenty to tell then of what we do, and not a little of what we see,” answered Jerry, with a sort of a half wink at me, which was as much as to say, “We’ll be up to all sorts of things.” He added aloud, “My father is not the man to let the grass grow under the ship’s bottom; but here come the glasses! What will you have—hot or cold?”

“Thank you,” said Jack; “our father is here, and we must not stop. We came to see Harry on board, and have soon to return on shore.” While he was speaking, our father appeared at the door, accompanied by Silas Brand.

Gerard’s whole manner changed the moment he saw them. He got up to receive my father with perfect politeness; and, instead of exhibiting the forward, flippant manner with which he had treated us, he turned at once into a steady-looking, somewhat demure boy. My father, after addressing a few kind words to him, and telling him that he was his father’s oldest friend, signed to me that he wished to speak to me alone. He took me into Silas Brand’s cabin, and kneeling down, offered up a few prayers, full of deep, deep love, for my preservation from all earthly dangers, and for my acceptance as a forgiven sinner at the day of judgment.

“Look straight on beyond this transient world in all you think, or try, or do. Remember, delightful as this existence may appear, and undoubtedly is to those who know how to employ it properly, it is but a passage which leads to eternity. May Heaven guide you, my boy!” He took me in his arms, and then I knew how his fond, tender heart felt the parting. He burst into tears: he was not long in recovering himself.

Captain Frankland came on board. Last farewells were said. My dear father and Jack went down the ship’s side. The pilot remarked that the tide would suit. The anchor was hove up. A steamer took us in tow; then, after pulling ahead of us for a couple of hours or more, she cast off. All sail was set, and free of the Mersey’s mouth, away we glided on our voyage Round the World.