Page images
PDF
EPUB

felt in their full effect. In the morning, just before what ought to be the breakfast-time, a tremendous wave bursts over the starboard quarter, expending its whole fury over the galley, extinguishing the fire, swamping the boiler, and washing out the half-drowned cook. But things are worse still at what ought to be dinner-time. By dint of crawling, and holding on like grim death, you contrive to reach the cuddy, and place yourself right against one of the stauncheons at the table. As to soup, on such occasions, it is utterly hopeless, for it would be just as easy to hold it in a tureen reversed as to attempt to retain it in a soup-plate. The corned leg of pork, which ought to have been in the boiler, has been for the most part fluctuating between it and the galley floor, having been dislodged by terrific and repeated rolls of the ship, and is consequently served up" with the gravy in it." The steward attempts to bring you a piece of suet-pudding, but when about half way, a mountain wave suddenly lays the ship on her beam-ends; away goes the steward and the pudding to leeward; you and your chair follow, and bang come the chief mate and the doctor-the knee of the one in your stomach, the leg of the other's chair in your neck—all lying a common heap on the cabin-floor. If "adversity makes a man acquainted with strange bed-fellows," ship-board brings him into close intimacy with still stranger ones.

The gale we experienced worked its natural consequences. It continued unabated for three days and nights; at its commencement we were in company with a French brig, evidently making the same course; on the evening of the second day, we were still within a few miles of each other, but our captain and chief officer expressed great doubt as to whether she could live much longer, if the gale continued. At day-break the following morning, the fury of the storm unabated, she was reported "out of sight." If she foundered, I may truly say that it was providentially that we escaped a similar fate. During the whole gale, the captain was more or less drunk; several of the ablest of the crew were in a similar state, partly from the quantity of spirits served out to them, and partly from the remainder of the stock each had secreted in the Downs. The carpenter reported at one time "six feet two inches water in the hold;" no regular meal had been served during the whole time, and all hands had remained on deck. At length, however, the aspect of a better state of things appeared; the sea fell, the rain ceased, the wind abated, and an evening sun shone feebly through the clouds. We passengers had now an opportunity of estimating the fury of the storm from its effects; we found every topmast gone, the entire bulwarks washed away, the rudder so damaged as to be immediately useless, the jolly-boat carried off, and the live-stock in the long-boat drowned.

In some hours the weather became fine, and the wind favourable. Jurymasts were rigged, the ship's course was resumed, in nine days we reached Madeira, and, upon the evening of the ninth day, the wreck of the K-8 was at anchor in the roadsted at Funchal, and we “at ease in our inn," in the British Hotel. Moore, after the Persian poet, has said :

Oh! if there be an Elysium on earth,
It is this-it is this!

He speaks of the "tender passion" and its endearments; I would speak thus of Madeira and its delights. I by no means pretend that I could become an unexceptionable judge of both the bad and good of a country from a sixweeks' residence in it; I would only speak of what I found it, and judge of it only according to the aspect in which it presented itself to me; and I can

say that, since I quitted Madeira, I have a thousand times wished myself there again; and if I had the opportunity, I would be there in a month, even at the hazard of another hurricane in the Bay of Biscay.

Johnson must certainly have spoken perversely when he said that the man was a fool whose feelings were influenced by the atmosphere; there can be no doubt that a great physical effect is produced by climate, and if physical, then a moral and mental effect, by reaction and sympathy. To the valetudinarian, Madeira offers the most temperate sunshine, the serenest atmosphere, the purest air, the calmest night, the most refreshing fruits; to the imaginative and romantic, it supplies the plaintive music, the iron grating, the stealthy glance of the convent, and its silent, black-eyed inmates; to the poeticallyminded, it presents the orange grove, the citron's shade, the pendulous vine, the mountain streamlet, clear and cold as virtue, the wild canary singing on its hereditary branch, the mist of the mountain, and the sunset at sea. There does not exist in the island any venomous creature, nor was there ever known a case of hydrophobia. I am surprised that some yachters do not visit Madeira; surely it must be in some measure owing to the foolish idea that it is only fit to be the dying depôt of the consumptive; whereas it possesses ample means to gratify and employ for a temporary sojourn the young, the enthusiastic, and the healthy.

"It is a delicious island," says my Diary; "its sweet air, its calm appearance, its varied aspect, looking and breathing doubly sweet from comparison with the just-escaped closeness of the ship, and the recollection of the boisterous passage of the Bay of Biscay. The beautiful white houses, relieved by trellice-bound creepers of freshest green, and the deep arborage of the citron, orange, mulberry, give a most lovely aspect to that side of the island which overhangs the town and anchorage of Funchal. In the months of February and March, the sun shines bright and soft from its rising to its setting; while silence and serenity seem to hang over the shade of the lime-tree and sycamore: one as much expects to find the softer passions flourishing luxuriantly in such a climate and amid such scenes, as to discover them in full perfection in a beautiful and refined woman."

To the imaginative mind, there is something peculiarly attractive connected with the mystery and condition of convents: in the first place, such minds are apt to connect youth, beauty, and ingenuousness, with their inmates, and this simply because we easily imagine things to be what we wish them to be ; concluding nuns, therefore, to be such, we deeply sympathize with them, as the victims of parental bigotry: an ideal passion is readily and naturally selfengendered, and a waking dream of rosicrucianism follows, that there might exist within the gloomy walls kindred spirits, who are to live here below linked by the secret bonds of an unconscious sympathy, but who are to be united hereafter in a happier world.

The nuns of Santa Clara were engaged at public vespers when R. and myself, for the first time, by mere accident, strolled into the chapel of the convent. The chapel was perfectly bare of worshippers; its pavement cold, its walls damp; here and there, in niches, were images of the Saviour, clad in tawdry, tarnished finery; recesses in various parts contained the monuments of the dead, with the dim lamp burning more dimly in the gloom of the pile. At the eastern end stood a highly-ornamented altar, of marble, raised upon a platform of six or seven steps ascent, and ornamented, as altars always are in Roman Catholic churches, with silver candlesticks, embroidered drapery, garlands, and wax images of the Virgin and Child. We had scarcely trod the

stone floor of the chapel, and taken off our hats, when we were startled by a sudden peal from an organ, placed somewhere out of sight, playing a voluntary; this, however, very soon was changed into an anthem, accompanied by the sweetest notes of female voices. We stood in mute wonder, for though we heard much, we could see nothing.

At the west end of the chapel, in the wall, was a large, square iron grating, about six feet wide, and behind which a curtain was dropt, so as completely to screen whatever was in the interior or beyond it. As soon, however, as the musical sounds had ceased, this curtain was drawn up, and then, through the grating, were to be seen some dozen females, engaged in silent worship on their knees, in a gloomy-looking sort of choir. The scene was one of deep interest; the rich, full, sweet notes of the organ, stealing round a vaulted roof, and mingled with the melody of harmonious voices, attuned to sacred music; the devout movements of the penitents; their chaste and sable dresses, according so well with the pervading gloom; "the dim religious light" within, that contrasted so strongly with the external evening light, visible at the very door of the chapel : these were sufficient to make a deep and solemn impression on the feelings.

The organ stopped, the voices died away, figure after figure within the grating glided noiselessly from the sight in succession; no word was spoken, no gesture seen, no sound heard but the transient rustling of a dress.

There was something peculiar in the manner of the female who was the last to retire, and which was evidently designed to attract our attention. Although she had been kneeling near the door at which the nuns had departed, she gave place to several, moving rather from than towards the door. She was the only one who seemed something more than an automaton, and her gesture and movements were as if she had dropped something, and was looking for it on the floor. She loitered so long, that all the devotees but herself had quitted the place, and, finding this to be the case, she advanced close to the iron grating, and threw a small bunch of flowers through it on to the floor of the chapel. Seeing that this was done designedly, I advanced in my turn to the grating, and, picking up the flowers, made an acknowledgment of thanks by bowing to her; upon which, to my amazement, she addressed me in pretty broken English, "How do you? you are Inglise ?" I was astonished, but immediately replied that "we were both Englishmen." She then said she must go away immediately, or her absence would be noticed, but requested that we would come on the morrow, at two o'clock, to the convent door, and inquire for the "English nun;" and so bidding us Good night," she went to her companions.

(c

Now, although first seen under such very pretty and romantic circumstances, I could not suffer fancy to beguile my eye into a belief that she was young, lovely, angelic; the short interview I had with her convinced me that she was not; neither was she the contrary. She was, in figure, rather embonpoint; in face, well-featured; in aspect, benevolent, calm, gentle; in age, about thirty-eight.

In touching upon this subject of my intercourse for several weeks with some of the inmates of the Santa Clara, I shall content myself with a very bare abstract from a Diary then and there kept.

My acquaintance was entirely limited to three, two of whom were certainly much younger and prettier than she by whom we were introduced to them. I know not of any reason why I should mention their names.

In Santa Clara, as in many other convents, there is a chamber or parloir in

which the friends of the nuns may hold communication with them. In such cases, you go first to the convent door, and there state your wish to speak with any particular nun-say, for instance, "Matildha Meninha di Jesu"you then go round a corner of the building, and through a little opening to a staircase which leads into a bare apartment, having a square iron grating in a wall, which parts it from an inner chamber, and by the time you reach this iron grating, the object of your communication has reached it on her side of the wall; here, seated on low stools, you may converse as long as you please for a given time through the grating: the nuns, however, always seat themselves on the floor. In this situation did I spend many and many an hour. Our conversation was very much upon the subject of England, for which, and for Englishmen, the three ladies avowed a most strong and decided partiality; nor did they hesitate to express a very poor opinion of their countrymen. The "English nun," so called from her speaking English tolerably well, was born of Portuguese parents, in America, where she learned English, and at the age of fifteen was placed in the convent of Santa Clara. I gave her an English Prayer-Book, which she always brought with her to our interviews. They sang trios sweetly, in the most plaintive and harmonious style, and as they are here nameless, I do not hesitate to say that they lamented bitterly their cruel destiny, and would not have hesitated a moment to escape to an honourable liberation, even in the arms of a heretic. But they did not complain of the discipline of the convent; on the contrary; and whoever saw the comely and portly lady, who filled the office of abbess, superintending the distribution of the convent largess to the poor, could have associated no ideas with her authority but those of beneficence and benevolence.

If any one is curious for a diary of a convent life, the following one may be received, as taken from the lips of an inmate. The hour of rising, generally, is six o'clock, from which until eight the time is supposed to be spent in private devotion; eight is the hour of breakfast, from the end of which until ten is spent in working for the poor; at ten, public prayer is commenced, the performance of which occupies more than an hour; after this, they retire to their rooms, use their spinnets or guitars, do needle-work, and beautiful specimens of ornamental embroidery in feather-work, assemble, perhaps, three or four in one room, to read aloud, or practise sacred music; one o'clock is the hour of repast again, to which they assemble in a common room; at two, a religious service is again performed, not, however, a general one, but an individual one, in the private chapel; this occupies an hour, after which they walk in the beautiful garden of the convent, which is full of verdant and shady trees, with little water-fountains, and ornamented with beds and borders of flowers; these they delight to cultivate. Vespers commence at six, and last an hour; at seven, supper is served, and at eight the abbess or her deputy visits them in their rooms, the doors of which are then locked for the night. Why such a precaution should be used it is hard to say, considering the tremendous obstacles which seem to oppose almost the possibility of intrusion, or of egress; and yet these all have been overcome, for bars and bolts are but a feeble defence against passion and the will.

A few days after our arrival, H.M.S. J―r, having on board Lord A., came into Funchal roadsted, where it remained nearly a week. One evening, as R. and I were lying on the sofas in the front up-stairs sitting-room of the British Hotel, our attention was drawn to the sound of voices in the street under our windows; the sound increased very soon into an evidence of parties quarrelling; upon which we both arose, and went to see what was the matter. It was evi

dent that a party of young officers from the Jr had been up the island upon mules and ponies, with their owners, who always go along with them, and that some dispute had arisen as to payment: what the actual amount of dispute was, we could not make out. The wordy war, however, raged with increasing violence, and a number of town's-fellows joined their muleteering brethren. "So high at last the contest rose," that they came actually to blows, but who struck first I cannot say. The officers were but four in number, the leader of whom was the son of a late eminent statesman (both father and son are since dead), while the mob might perhaps have amounted to thirty. The officers maintained the fight manfully for the few seconds that we were lookers on, for of course our almost immediate movement was to run down stairs to join them. My chief fear was a secret weapon, and, therefore, as soon as I could get into the fray, I bawled out to our countrymen to "make for the passage of the inn-yard." By good luck, they caught up my entreaty, and by a simultaneous rush, succeeded in so doing, when I immediately unloosed the folding-doors of the yard from their fastenings in the wall on each side, and with the help of the officers, succeeded in forcing them shut against the mob: one of the servants of the house had, in the mean time, closed the front door of the house. The storm without now seemed to rage with redoubled fury; the mob shouted and hooted, some battered with pitchingstones against the yard doors, some rattled sticks and driving-prongs against the front door, and two or three windows were smashed. It was evident that a large accession to the original number had taken place, and also that the people were determined, if possible, to force an entrance. Two of the officers were bleeding from the face, having been wounded by the spikes with which the peasants in the island urge on their loaded mules and ponies. It seemed very doubtful what would be the result of the battering and assault outside; and I believe, had the mob succeeded in gaining entrance, we should have been severely handled: this, however, it was my good fortune to prevent. I recollected that, at the far end of the yard, there was a heap of large stones, and I said to R., while the officers were all bewildered as to what to do, "Come along to the heap of stones!" He penetrated my intention in a moment; away we went, reached the heap, armed ourselves with two of the heaviest stones each we could carry, ran up stairs into the room where we had been sitting, and quietly dropped them one by one upon the heads of the mob beneath. The effect was magical-it created a panic-men, women, and children, set up a general cry of alarm, and away they all ran, leaving us invisible, but undisputed, masters of the field. The muleteers' demands were afterwards duly settled; in fact, I was bound, for our own sake, to see this done, inasmuch as we two were in daily communication with some or other of them.

There are many beautiful rides in Madeira, but the great attraction, to those who have only two or three days to remain there, is the ride up the mountain, to the grounds and house of a very wealthy Portuguese gentleman, whom the lower order of natives familiarly call "Johnny di Cavalha," at least when speaking of him to casual visitors. This place lies about four or five miles up the mountains; it consists of a good, handsome mansion, exceedingly well-furnished, and located in a park, which may probably contain three hundred acres of land, and in which there are little buildings scattered, inclosing specimens of birds and animals not indigenous in the island; in fact it is, or was then at least, a very humble attempt at imitating a zoological repertory. One whole day is generally dedicated to a visit to this place; and it was about the hire of the men and ponies there that the officers of the Jr and the peasants had quarrelled Asiat tourn N S Vor 25 No 197

« PreviousContinue »