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At Last   By: (1819-1875)

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Transcribed by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

AT LAST: A CHRISTMAS IN THE WEST INDIES

TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE HON. SIR ARTHUR GORDON, GOVERNOR OF MAURITIUS

My Dear Sir Arthur Gordon,

To whom should I dedicate this book, but to you, to whom I owe my visit to the West Indies? I regret that I could not consult you about certain matters in Chapters XIV and XV; but you are away again over sea; and I can only send the book after you, such as it is, with the expression of my hearty belief that you will be to the people of Mauritius what you have been to the people of Trinidad.

I could say much more. But it is wisest often to be most silent on the very points on which one longs most to speak.

Ever yours,

C. KINGSLEY.

CHAPTER I: OUTWARD BOUND

At last we, too, were crossing the Atlantic. At last the dream of forty years, please God, would be fulfilled, and I should see (and happily, not alone) the West Indies and the Spanish Main. From childhood I had studied their Natural History, their charts, their Romances, and alas! their Tragedies; and now, at last, I was about to compare books with facts, and judge for myself of the reported wonders of the Earthly Paradise. We could scarce believe the evidence of our own senses when they told us that we were surely on board a West Indian steamer, and could by no possibility get off it again, save into the ocean, or on the farther side of the ocean; and it was not till the morning of the second day, the 3d of December, that we began to be thoroughly aware that we were on the old route of Westward Ho, and far out in the high seas, while the Old World lay behind us like a dream.

Like dreams seemed now the last farewells over the taffrel, beneath the chill low December sun; and the shining calm of Southampton water, and the pleasant and well beloved old shores and woods and houses sliding by; and the fisher boats at anchor off Calshot, their brown and olive sails reflected in the dun water, with dun clouds overhead tipt with dull red from off the setting sun a study for Vandevelde or Backhuysen in the tenderest moods. Like a dream seemed the twin lights of Hurst Castle and the Needles, glaring out of the gloom behind us, as if old England were watching us to the last with careful eyes, and bidding us good speed upon our way. Then had come still like a dream a day of pouring rain, of lounging on the main deck, watching the engines, and watching, too (for it was calm at night), the water from the sponson behind the paddle boxes; as the live flame beads leaped and ran amid the swirling snow, while some fifteen feet beyond the untouched oily black of the deep sea spread away into the endless dark.

It took a couple of days to arrange our little cabin Penates; to discover who was on board; and a couple of days, too, to become aware, in spite of sudden starts of anxiety, that there was no post, and could be none; that one could not be wanted, or, if one was wanted, found and caught; and it was not till the fourth morning that the glorious sense of freedom dawned on the mind, as through the cabin port the sunrise shone in, yellow and wild through flying showers, and great north eastern waves raced past us, their heads torn off in spray, their broad backs laced with ripples, and each, as it passed, gave us a friendly onward lift away into the 'roaring forties,' as the sailors call the stormy seas between 50 and 40 degrees of latitude.

These 'roaring forties' seem all strangely devoid of animal life at least in a December north east gale; not a whale did we see only a pair of porpoises; not a sea bird, save a lonely little kittiwake or two, who swung round our stern in quest of food: but the seeming want of life was only owing to our want of eyes; each night the wake teemed more bright with flame atomies. One kind were little brilliant sparks, hurled helpless to and fro on the surface, probably Noctilucae; the others (what they may be we could not guess at first) showed patches of soft diffused light, paler than the sparks, yet of the same yellow white hue, which floated quietly past, seeming a foot or two below the foam... Continue reading book >>




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