But we must not tarry longer here for the setting sun warns us it is time to get on board.
Our patient "steeds" are at the foot of the stairs, each ready to claim his rider. These fellows will stick to you like a leech; follow you about for hours, never intruding their presence on you, and yet seem to anticipate all your movements and wants.
"I looked upon those hills and plains, And seemed as if let loose from chains, To live at liberty."
THE INLAND SEAS.—KOBE.—FUSI-YAMA.—YOKOHAMA. VISIT TO TOKIO.
The arrival of the "Vigilant" from Shanghai, with the admiral on board, brought our stay at charming Nagasaki to a close. During the absence of our band with the "Vigilant," one of its members, Henry Harper, a feeble old man, and far advanced in consumption, died at Shanghai.
June 11th.—Left Nagasaki en route for the eastward, via the Inland Seas. Our way to Simoneski lay through numerous islands of so beautiful an appearance that a writer has compared them to some of the fairest spots in Devon. But this, though it says much, is but a poor tribute to such enchanting loveliness.
At daylight the following morning we made the narrow channel at Simoneski, the western entrance to the seas; and as there is always a strong rush of water through the passage towards the ocean, we had to steam hard against a considerable current. The town, of which I spoke in my last chapter, has a very straggling and neat cleanly appearance. There are no forts or other defences to indicate that not so long ago this town offered defiance and a short resistance to a European squadron.
The Inland Sea has four chief divisions, which now commences to open out before us, and is reckoned to possess some of the finest scenery in the world. I had often wished to see it for myself; but I must confess I was unprepared, even with an imagination not liable to surprise, at a picture of nature's own producing, for such beauty and grandeur. For hundreds of miles, day after day, we were borne past a moving diorama of scenery unrivalled by anything here below. On a smooth blue sea, and under a cloudless sky, onward we sped, passing, one after another, the most delightful islets the eye ever dwelt on, each appearing to us a perfect paradise in itself. Further on, indicated by a mere purple haze, appeared others, and yet others, in almost endless perspective. I should say the islands in this sea may be numbered by thousands.
Not many years since, strangers were debarred from using this passage. I fancy I can imagine the impressions the first Europeans must have had of this fairy land, of such a climate, such a soil, and such delightful glades and woodlands!
On each of the larger islands we noticed snug temples, like miniature Swiss chalets, embowered in woods—their peculiar architecture standing out in relief from a tangled mass of vegetation.
The channels where there are so many islands as here are necessarily intricate and dangerous; and as it would be to court danger to continue our course after sundown, there are several well-marked anchorages where it is customary to bring up at night. The first of these was a sheltered bay with twin villages at its head, which I fancifully designated Kingsand and Cawsand—the promontory forming one arm of the bay, looking not unlike Penlee point—greatly adding to the conceit.
June 14th.—At noon we reached Kobe, or Hiogo, and let go our anchor far out in what appears to be an open roadstead. This town is one of the most recent of the treaty ports—in fact it and Osaca opposite, are the last thrown open to trade; hence we shall probably find Kobe more native and less Europeanized than are the other towns we shall visit.
The native town is very extensive, reaching far back to the basis of the hills, and well away to the left of the anchorage. To the right a stretch of low-lying land, with its tiny fields of ripe grain, looks very fine. This track leads to the water-falls—a prettier place for a pic-nic and one more accommodating one can scarcely find. Between this plain and the old town of Hiogo the Europeans have raised their pretty picturesque dwellings. The streets here are very regular and well kept, the trees planted along the sides giving the place quite a French appearance.
There is at least one I was about to say magnificent street in the town, with an extent of over two miles, along and in which all the bustle and business are conducted. Notwithstanding its recent opening, public-houses, with their alluring signs, have sprung up with mushroom-like rapidity. One in particular I will just mention, not that you are ever likely to forget "Good old Joe," but simply that you may smile, when reading this over, at the willingness with which you were led as lambs to the slaughter. I trust you escaped without the mark of the butcher's knife.
After traversing about half the length of the street I mentioned before, the traveller finds himself abreast of the Nanko temple, a large and imposing structure having a wide and noble-looking entrance from the street, and just now presenting a very festive and animated appearance. On either side the really grand avenue to the temple a veritable fair is being held, and such a spectacle was as welcome as it was unlooked for. The amusements were so like those provided at similar gatherings at home that the wonder is, that peoples separated by half a world of varied civilization can possess the details of such festivities in common. Confection stalls, wild beast shows, shooting galleries, archery grounds, theatres, music halls, even a Japanese edition of the thimble-and-pea business was not wanting. In one of the theatres we visited, the acting, although considered good from a Japanese point of view, possessed too many muscular contortions, too much contraction and expansion of the facial organs, to please an English audience. Men do all the acting, women never appear on the Japanese stage.
The music halls are not more enlivening than are the theatres, though the sight of an interior is worth the ten sen fee, if only to see their manner of conducting the opera. If you imagine the interior of a church, having all its pews removed, leaving only the cant pieces on which they were erected, and the spaces between these pieces covered and padded with the beautiful rice-straw matting of the country, you will get a fairly good idea of the simple fittings of a Japanese music hall. A whole family seats itself in one of these squares; and as a concert in this country is really a formidable affair, they bring their braziers, teapots, and chow-boxes with them. The performer—a lady—is seated, tailor fashion, on a raised platform, a music desk in front of her, and her musical instruments near at hand. The Japanese, like the Chinese, sing from the throat, and the effect produced on the tympanum is that of an amorous tom-cat chanting to his lady-love at midnight. The words she is singing, and has been singing for the—a friend who was with me said "the last week;" but knowing him to be a joker, I accept the statement with caution—for the last six hours, and which she will probably continue to sing for the next six, contain rather too much levity and grossness, could we understand them, to be at all suitable even for sailors. But her present audience receive them with the utmost indifference, only betraying that they are at all conscious of what is going on by an occasional clapping of the hands. Now and again the singer has a spell and a libation of saki, an attendant keeping her liberally supplied in this item, of which she manages to drink a quantity during her song; and, by way of a change at these times, she enters into a monologue or a recitation. Taken and viewed in an artistic light, the audience in their rich gala dresses is a pleasing piece of color and of harmonic contrasts.
Close to the temple a crowd is gathered around a horse box, in which is a milk-white steed—sacred, of course. Before him a little table is placed, covered with tiny saucers filled with beans; and the devout—and we in particular—can have the puerile satisfaction of seeing him munch his comfits in a strangely horselike manner for the small sum of a "sen!" Near at hand are some more sacred creatures—hundreds of turtles in a slimy pond rear their snake-like heads through the thick green water for the pieces of biscuit and little red balls of prepared food which the children are constantly flinging into their midst. These reptiles, it may be remembered, form an important figure-subject in Japanese carvings, paintings, and bronzes.
Within easy distance of Kobe, and connected with it by rail, are the cities of Osaca and Kioto, the former being the seaport of the latter, and, possibly, the greatest trade centre in the empire. It seems to be built at the delta of a river; and as there are scores of bridges spanning their several mouths, it has much the appearance of Venice. Kioto is the sacred city of Japan, and contains, amongst other interesting sights, a large temple, in which are no fewer than 33,333 gods! Yearly pilgrimages are made here; and to provide spiritual ministrations for the thousands of pilgrims, it is said that the priests form one-fifth of the entire population.
June 17th, to-day we completed with coal and started for Yokohama, leaving the Inland Sea by its south eastern entrance and entering on the broad bosom of the great Pacific. By the help of a splendid breeze we are speedily clear of the Linschoten strait and in view of a strange picture, for giant Fusi begins to rear his hoary head above the main.
At first it appears but a small conical shaped island, rising isolated from the midst of the sea, and which in a few hours we shall reach. But a few hours multiply into scores of hours, and still that island appears at a tantalizing distance, and it is not until the main land comes into view that we discover the misty island is no island at all, but a superb mountain. It can be seen at an immense distance from the sea; we, ourselves, are, at the very least, sixty miles from its base, and yet how clearly distinct, how tangibly present, how boldly out-lined it stands against the opal tints of the evening sky.
Fusi-yama—"the peerless," "the matchless," or "the unrivalled,"—is an extinct volcano, on the island of Niphon, though, only a century since, it was in active operation, and is said to have been brought into existence in the space of a few days. Few sights are likely to leave such an impression on one's mind, as solitary, graceful, cold looking Fusi, which, clothed in a mantle of snow, may, not inaptly, be compared to a grim sentinel guarding the destinies of a nation. But who shall attempt a description of its glories as we saw it that evening at sunset, and many an evening afterward, with the chance and transient effect of light and shade playing on its pearly sides.
June 19.—The freshening gale soon rattled us past the town of Simoda, and into the great bay of Yedo, with the volcano of Vries at its entrance. Hundreds of queer-shaped junks and smaller craft, laden with the produce of the busy nation, glide across the rolling seas with duck-like motions, on their peaceful mission to the capital.
I have before had occasion to mention these unintelligible pieces of naval architecture, but as they never before appeared to me at such advantage as now, as they struggle up the wind across our track, I have hitherto refrained from saying much about them. They are constructed very sharp forward and very broad aft, with high, rising sterns something after the manner of the Chinese junk, but far more picturesque and compact than the sister country's vessel; and, so far as looks go, a far more seaworthy craft than the latter. They carry an immense sail of pure white canvas, save where a black cloth is let in—for contrast perhaps—on the huge characters composing the owner's name, mar its fair surface; and a stout, heavy mast placed well abaft the centre of the vessel, and curved at its upper end, the better to form an overhanging derrick to hoist the sail by. The sail is made of any number of cloths laced together vertically—not sewn—by which method each cloth has a bellying property and wrinkled appearance, independent of its neighbours, thus the whole surface holds far more wind than one continuous sheet would do. The vessels, despite their unnautical appearance, sail well on a wind. Some writers have affirmed, that instead of reefing as we do, and as is pretty universal all over the world—namely, by reducing the perpendicular height of the sail—that the Japanese accomplish this by taking in sail at the sides, or laterally, by unlacing a cloth at a time. This seems to me highly absurd, and is certainly not borne out by the testimony of my own observation; and that they should not conform to the common usage of maritime nations—both savage and civilized—in this particular is improbable. Even the Chinese—who are generally admitted to be the most unconforming and irrational people in the world—reef their sails, at least, in the orthodox way. Besides taking a practical view of the matter, how are they in any sudden emergency, and with their limited crews, to undo the elaborate lacing, without going out on the yard and climbing down the sail, unlacing as they go? So far as I am able to judge, their method is a most simple and effective one, for all that they do is to lower the sail, gather in the slack at the bottom, and as there are several sheets up and down the breech of the sail, the thing is done with the utmost facility.
The build of a junk's stern is somewhat peculiar, for there is a great hollow which, apparently, penetrates the body of the vessel; a mode of construction said to be due to an edict of one of the tycoons, to prevent his subjects from leaving the country; for though it seems incredible, these junks have been known to voyage to India. The sampan has a similar faulty arrangement of stern. Though the people obeyed the spirit of the law, they evaded the letter of it by placing sliding watertight boards across the aperture.
By noon we had anchored off Yokohama, now a large and flourishing town, and the chief naval and foreign trading port of Japan, though, before the English arrived here in 1854, it was little more than a village.
Having got through the noise and smoke of salutes to no less than four admirals, and other minor consular expenditures of gunpowder, we prepared ourselves for a pleasurable stay in the sailor's paradise. Perhaps no place in the round of sailors' visits, certainly none on this station, offers so many inducements, so many and pleasing channels of getting rid of money, as does Yokohama. Certain it is that the officers, who form the banking committee on board, never complain of being over worked, during a ship's stay in this harbour, and plethoric bank books are frequently reduced to a sad and pitiable state of emaciation after having "done" Yokohama and its vicinity.
The residences of the Europeans are situated out of the town on a rising ground to the left, known as the Bluff. Here the merchants live in rural magnificence, each with his mansion surrounded by its own park-like grounds. The English and foreign naval hospitals are also situated in this healthy and beautiful spot; and it was here, too, that our recent marine contingent to Japan had their barrack.
The European concession is a small town in itself, and from the nomenclature of the landing places it would appear that the English and French claim the greatest interests here. These landing stages are called, from the division of the settlement which they front, the English and French "Hatobahs"—the "atter bar" of the sailor.
As this town is the great point of contest between the Japanese and the foreigner, everything in the shape of "curios" can be obtained in its marts and bazaars. Most of the objects are novel to us, and from their attractiveness generally induce sailors to purchase on the strength of that very quality. Except in very rare instances a piece of real lacquer can scarcely be obtained, most of it having already found its way to Europe; that which we see here is made chiefly for sailors, who needs must take something home—they care not what, nor are they very particular about the price asked. And how well these people have studied the "tar;" how they have discovered his weakness for startling colours! I am writing this about four years subsequent to this, our first visit, and one would think, that four years was amply sufficient for the purpose of opening our eyes to deceptions. Have they though? Not a bit of it, for we are quite as ready to be "taken in" to-day or to-morrow, as we were four years since. Still, there are some very handsome and, now and then, really elegant things to be picked up in the shops: bronzes, lacquers, china, tortoise-shell earrings, fans, paintings, or silk, combining in their execution, the most educated taste, and the most wonderful skill. Generally speaking a "Japper" after naming a price will rarely retract. The Chinaman always will, the rogue! The Japanese know this peculiarity of the Chinaman, and nothing will wound a Jap's self-respect more than to compare his mode of dealing with the celestial's.
They seem to enjoy arguing and chaffering over prices, and will frequently go to the length of pulling down masses of paper, supposed to be invoices, to shew that they are asking you fair. We pretend to examine these inventories with a most erudite expression on our ignorant faces, and invariably commence to open the wrong end of the book, forgetful that the Japanese commence at what we call the last page. The dealers display the utmost indifference as to whether you buy or not, and you may pull their shops to pieces without raising their ire in the slightest, for they will bow to you just as ceremoniously on leaving as though you had purchased twenty dollars' worth.
Strange as Japanese art appears to us, there is design in all their executions. This presents a marked contrast to Chinese art, which appears to be simply the result of the artist's fancy. A Chinaman seems to have no idea, when he commences a thing, what he is going to produce, he goes on cutting and scraping, taking advantage of, here a vein in a stone, perhaps, or there a knot in the gnarled branches of a tree, and his imagination, distorted by the diabolical forms with which his superstition surrounds him, does the rest.
* * * * *
And now I will ask you to take a run with me to Tokio, the capital of Japan.
The hour's ride by rail conducts us through a pleasant, well cultivated country. Fields of ripe grain, clusters of woods with cottages peeping out of their bosky shades, and surrounded by stacks of hay and corn, have, for the Englishman, a farm-like and altogether a home-like look.
The best and safest method to adopt on arriving at the terminus is to hire rickshas of the company at the railway station, by so doing you are saved from being victimised by the coolies, who are about as honest as the Jehus of our own streets. You may employ them for as many hours as you please, but to avoid fractions it is usual to engage them by the day.
Until Japan was opened to foreigners, Tokio, or Yedo, was a mystery to the civilized world. It was supposed to be fabulously large, and was said to contain more inhabitants than any other metropolis in the world; some accounts putting it down to as many as four millions. As regards its extent, the city certainly does cover an immense space. Its population, though, is but half that of London. Its large area is due, perhaps, more to the manner in which it is laid out, than to anything else—which is in the form of concentric circles, the mikado's palace, or castle, occupying the centre. Around this dismal, feudal looking, royal abode, the various embassies are erected; buildings which present a far finer—because more modern and European—appearance than does the imperial residence. Circling the whole is a large deep moat, the waters of which are thickly studded with beautiful water lilies, and spanned by several bridges. Then come the dingy and now disused houses and streets of those powerful men of a by-gone age, the daimios. The whole aspect of this question may be summed up in the word desolation. This, too, is surrounded by a canal, or moat. Beyond this, again comes the city proper, with its busy, bustling population.
We are entirely at the mercy of our "ricksha" men, and have not the remotest idea of where they are driving us; but assuming they know more about the city than we, this does not exercise us much. They rattle us along over unevenly paved streets, and whiz us around corners with the rapidity of thought; an uncomfortable sensation in the region of the dorsal vertebrae, resulting from the unusual bumping process, and a fear lest, haply, we may be flying out of our carriage at a tangent into somebody's shop front, a pleasing reflection should we take a header amongst china.
Our coolies had been directed to a quarter of the city called Shiba, and here at length we find ourselves, and are shortly set down before one of the grandest buddhist temples in Japan. How peacefully the great building reposes in its dark casket of solemn fir trees! To reach the main entrance, we traverse a broad pathway lined with praying lanterns on either hand. These lanterns are stone pedestals, surmounted by a hollow stone ball with a crescent shaped aperture in its surface, through which, at night, the rays of light proceeding from burning prayers penetrate the gloom. Scores of tombs, containing the remains of the defunct tycoons and their wives, fill the temple court; and as each successive tycoon looked forward to reposing here after death, during life he richly embellished it, and endeavoured to make it worthy to receive so august a body as his own.
A bald-headed priest, standing at the great entrance, bids us remove our shoes and follow him. He conducts us up grand stair cases, through corridors, into courtyards, chapels, and sanctuaries; unlocks recesses, and produces sacred vessels of massive gold work of vast antiquity and splendid design, intimating to us that these are for the sole use of the mikado, when he assumes his priestly office. Here we get our first idea of what real lacquer means. Our bonze brought out a small lacquered cubical box, of a dull gold colour, and about four inches in height, and gave us to understand that it could not be purchased for 500 dollars! Just fancy! And then the carving, gilding, colouring, and lacquer, everywhere, is something beyond description. Even the very floors on which we tread, the stairs, the hand-rails, are all gorgeous with vermilion lacquer. One sanctuary is really resplendent, its vessel's mouldings and ornaments being of dead gold work, wrought in all kinds of emblematical designs and shapes. I feel assured that no thoughtful man can visit Shiba's temple without being impressed with the high perfection to which the Japanese have attained in the arts; a perfection which the foreign mind can rarely grasp. After a donation to the polite bonze—which he receives on a gold salver and lays on the altar—we encase our feet in leather once more, and leave the sacred precincts. We may possibly never have the opportunity of paying Shiba a second visit; but the privilege of having done so once is—to a man of research—a liberal education in itself.
The streets and their busy throng are very gay and lively. Hosts of healthy-looking and prettily clad children are running here, there, and everywhere in pursuit of their kites, and other childish amusements. Vendors hawking their wares, as at home; the shrill melancholy whistle of the blind shampooer who, with a staff in one hand and a short bamboo pipe in the other, thus apprises people of his willingness to attend on them; ladies bowing and "sayonaraing" each other in musical tones; the encouraging voice of the driver to his jaded ox; and the warning "a—a" of the ricksha man; these are the music of the streets in "the land of the rising sun."
The city can boast in the possession of several very fine and extensive parks, that in which the Naval College is situate being one of the largest. Here the youthful Japanese officers of the navy were educated by English instructors in all the branches and requirements of the modern naval service, and some of the work we saw in the different parts of the building shews that the Japanese have become thorough masters of the technicalities, and no mean adepts at their practical application. All the foreign instructors—except one—have now been discharged, the Japanese feeling themselves strong enough to walk alone in naval matters. That one exception is a chief gunner's mate, who so rarely uses the English language that, on conversing with us, he had frequently to pause to consider what words he should make use of, and even then his English was broken, and spoken just as a native would speak it.
On the return ride to Yokohama I was fortunate enough to find myself seated next a gentleman who has been resident in Japan upwards of twenty-five years, during which period he has travelled throughout the length and breadth of the empire. As may be imagined he was a repository of much valuable and varied information. He could hoist out facts and figures as easily as you would fling a weevily biscuit to leeward. From his conversation with me I gained much knowledge about Japan, which it was impossible I could have acquired in any other way, and all of which I have embodied in various parts of this narrative.
The manner in which the natural taste is assimilating itself to European ideas appears more evident when one comes to observe the hundreds of Japanese who take advantage of the railway. Stop at what station you like, you will find the platform suddenly alive with gaily dressed and clogged passengers, on pleasure bent, loaded with toys or wares that have been purchased, in the gay capital.
A few days after the above events the Japanese squadron of smart corvettes, and the large ironclad "Foo-soo" (Great Japan, as we say Great Britain,) got under way and proceeded to sea. It was rumoured that the mikado was to have accompanied in his yacht, and in anticipation of his embarkation all the men-of-war in harbour dressed ship, though, as it turned out, he did not put in an appearance.
July 3rd.—General Grant arrived this morning in the corvette "Richmond," and escorted by a Japanese man-of-war. All ships, except the English and German, dressed in honour of the American flag, which the corvette flew at her main. The two nationalities I have mentioned seem to have offered a marked discourtesy to the general, the German especially so, for just as the "Richmond" was about to anchor the "Prinz Adalbert" broke the German royal standard at her royal mast head, which, as it were, blew the charges out of guns already loaded for the American. The "Adalbert" has Prince Heinrich, the second son of our Princess Royal, on board as a midshipman; hence the standard.
It would appear that the slight passed on Jonathan did not go entirely unnoticed by him, for in the evening, at sunset, when, as is customary with that nation, her band played her colours down and then the national anthems, it was noticed that the English and German tunes were studiously omitted.
But the "Richmond" had taken up a bad billet to anchor in, and to find a more secure one she steamed out to the entrance of the harbour and made a wide sweep before returning. Some of our jocular shipmates had quite a different view of this proceeding, for, if we are to believe them, the American went out to take the turn out of her flags, or to allow her ship's company to bathe, the waters of the harbour being too shallow for the latter purpose!
Unwillingly my pen has once again to trace the lines which are to record the death of another of our poor fellows, Frederick Smyth, a stoker. Returning from leave in one of the open, dangerous, shallow boats of the place, and perhaps slightly the worse for liquor, the unfortunate man fell overboard, his body not being recovered until some days after the sad event.
July 22nd.—Up anchor once more! Onward is our motto, nor are we particularly sorry to be on the move, for I think everybody is surfeited with Yokohama, and perhaps the fact that everybody's money is all gone, has something to do with our eagerness to be off. So, boys, "We'll go to sea for more," as the old tars did. Just as the anchor was a-trip two royal personages came on board, the Princes Arisugawa—father and son; the father being the commander-in-chief of the Japanese army; the son a "midshipmite" in the Imperial navy. They were attended by their suite and Sir Harry Parkes, the British ambassador at Tokio. We took them a short distance to sea with us, and after seeing one or two evolutions they returned to Yokohama in the "Vigilant," whilst we resumed our voyage.
From clime to clime, from sea to sea, we roam, 'Tis one to us—we head not yet for home.
NORTHWARD—HAKODADI—DUI—CASTRIES BAY— BARRACOUTA—VLADIVOSTOCK.
Shortly after rounding Mela Head and shaping our course to the northward, the temperature underwent a marked change, in fact so suddenly were we ushered into a colder zone that everybody is on the search for pocket handkerchiefs, these articles being in very general demand.
The eastern coast of Niphon, along which we are now cruising, has several admirable harbours and sheltered anchorages. Two days after leaving Yokohama we found the ship standing in for the land and making for Yamada, one of the securest harbours on the coast. Bold hills and headlands, clothed in the easily recognisable dark green foliage of the fir, rear themselves on either hand as we pass into the outer bay. This outer sheet of water—for there is an inner—has a very broad opening seaward, but suddenly, on changing course, a narrow inlet reveals a noble bay, perfectly land-locked with a village of considerable size at its head. No sooner had our anchor left the bows than a volunteer party asked and obtained permission to go fishing. So far, however, as catching fish was concerned, the expedition was a signal failure, though, looked at in the light of enjoyment, it was a perfect success. Along the beach of this arcadia an abundance of flowers grow in a wild state, amongst them the rose, whose beauty, bloom, and fragrance equalled those of the choicest culture in our English garden; and on looking at them and the other familiar flowers around, we might have been forgiven for fancying ourselves at home. Whence come our associates, and why is it that even the fragrance of a flower is capable of seizing hold on the mind, and transporting it to the utmost limits of a continent?
The usual wondering throng of natives speedily gathered around us, eager to participate in the viands which we were endeavouring to stow away. Fortunately we had plenty of biscuit with which to satisfy their curiosity; but it was a long time before they could be prevailed upon to drink out of a basin of cocoa. When we offered it to them they touched their heads and swayed their bodies to and fro, making a very creditable pantomime of intoxication. At length, however, one of us used the Japanese word "tcha" (tea) which had the desired effect, for one man advanced, took a drink, and liked it; and though he of course discovered it was not tea, he also found out it was not rum.
July 27th—We have now reached the northern end of Niphon, and turned westward into the broad strait of Tsugar, which separates the greater island from Yesso. The scenery about the strait is very lovely; all day we have coasted the land down, and alternate hill and dale, and here and there a giant volcano peak were most refreshing objects on which to rest the eye. Towards evening the great open bay of Awomori came into view, and in a short time we had entered it, and cast anchor opposite a small town, built on a level grassy plain. The irregularly scattered houses, amidst trees and greensward, have something the appearance of Singapore, when viewed from the seaward.
Our stay was but short, for on the following morning our anchor was at the bows, and the ships heading for Hakodadi. This town—the largest in Yesso—reminds one very forcibly of Gibraltar. There is a similar high rock standing sheer out of the sea—almost the same narrow strip of land connecting it with the main; whilst the town is built on the slopes of the eminence, and circling the bay as at Gib. The town is not over large, and commodities are very scarce, the only thing obtainable being dried salmon.
During our stay the ship's company landed under arms—a by no means pleasurable treat, as you shall see. The waters near the shore were so shallow that the men experienced great difficulty in reaching the beach, and were only able to accomplish it after wading through about twenty yards of mud and water, dragging guns and ammunition with them. Add to this the inconvenience of drilling and marching in dripping clothes, and the knowledge that the same performance must be repeated to embark again; and you will see that a sailor's life is not all sugar. Hakodadi is not a place that sailors are likely to fall in love with, for there is no accommodation on shore for them; yet leave was given, and the men had to "bunk it out" where they could. On this occasion—let me record it in the reddest of red letters, or in the most emphatic italics—a liberty boat was granted.
August 3rd—To-day is Sunday, and a sort of preliminary inspection by the admiral, but—would you believe it?—he completely ignored the beautifully cleaned deck and stanchions, the glistening whitewash, and all the other aids to appearances, well known to sailors, and put on specially for the occasion! Yes, he actually took not the slightest notice of these, but, instead, poked his head into all the holes and corners where he was likely to find sundry and various small gear, such as dirty towels, "duff" bags, ditty bags, and so forth. The result might have been anticipated. He turned out so much that, before he had gone a third of the way around the lower deck, he gave the captain orders to make a personal inspection first, and then report to him; and as everyone knows, when once Captain Cleveland gets into that canvas suit of his, he is—in naval phrase—"a dead rivet."
One night, as we lay here ready for sea, a man-of-war was observed entering the harbour, and as soon as the flashing lights were brought to bear, and her number made, she proved to be the "Charybdis," last from Yokohama. She informed us that, subsequent to her leaving that port, cholera had broken out amongst her crew, one man having died of it on the passage, whilst a second was down with the disease, though he was now in a fair way towards recovery. She was at once ordered into quarantine, and to hoist the "yellow jack" at the fore. Young Prince Arisugawa was also on board, taking passage to join our ship as naval cadet; however, he was not permitted to come to us until he had been overhauled by the doctors on shore, and his clothes fumigated. Immediately he had left her the "Charybdis" was ordered to sea; the bracing sea air of a more northern clime being about the most effective medicine for her crew.
August 9.—To-day Prince Arisugawa came on board, and in due course was consigned to the tender mercies of the young English gentlemen in the gunroom; his future messmates—and shall I be wrong if I say tormentors? At the same time a most acceptable gift to the ship's company, consisting of eight bullocks, was brought alongside; the present, I believe, of the Emperor, whose health we ate next day.
Steam was already up when the prince embarked, and there was nothing further to detain us except the weather. That, indeed, was very threatening, and not to be ignored. Terrific peals of thunder and blinding lightning, accompanied by such heavy and persisted showers of rain that it was a mystery how the soil could withstand such an inundation, delayed our sailing for upwards of four hours. At the end of that time nature again resumed her wonted smiling appearance, the sun chasing away such evidences of bad temper with the rapidity of thought.
Nothing of moment occurred on our voyage up the gulf of Tartary, except that, during one middle watch, the ship narrowly escaped running on a rock; but as she did not actually touch, we verify the adage that "a miss is as good as a mile." The day following, the lifting of a fog bank revealed to us the "Charybdis" close in shore, under small sail. On signalling us that she had pitched her late unwelcome visitor overboard, she was allowed to join company, and afterwards proceeded on to Dui, to coal and order some for us.
August 13th.—Sad misfortune! direful calamity! Why? Read, and you will be as wise as myself. In the middle watch of this night, our two cats—have I told you that we brought two cats from England with us?—as was their wont, were skylarking and cutting capers on the hammock nettings and davits, when tabby the lesser, instead of jumping on something palpable, made a leap on space with the natural result, for he lighted on water and was rapidly whirled astern by the inky waters of the Tartar gulf. Poor pussy, little did we dream, or you either, that Siberian waters were to sing your requiem! We feel very sorry at the loss of our pet, for he was a thorough sailor, thinking it nothing to mount the rigging and seat himself on the crosstrees, whilst on his rounds; and as to the item "rats," shew me the rodent that could ever boast of weathering him, and I will shew you a clever beast.
At daybreak we made the harbour of Dui, in the island of Saghalien, a Russian penal settlement and coaling depot, though coaling is under such severe restrictions that the trouble to secure it is worth its cost. For instance, only a certain number of tons can be had each day, and then only for one ship at a time; and instead of using large lighters to bring it off, small boats are employed, rendering it necessary to make a multiplicity of visits to the shore. This island, until recently a part of the Japanese empire, is rich in coal, and other minerals, a fact Russia was careful to note when casting her covetous eyes over its broad surface.
It may be remembered, perhaps, that in the year 1879, Russia sent her first batch of Nihilists and other political offenders to Siberia, by the more expeditious sea route, and that alarming reports had crept into the European press, and especially into that of the national censor, the English, as to the cruelties and inhumanities these poor people had to endure on the voyage. The vessel, with the convicts on board, was lying at Dui on our arrival, and our admiral was not slow to avail himself of the means of satisfying himself, and, through him, the English press, as to the alleged enormities. He found, I believe, that far from being badly treated, the prisoners had every consideration allowed them consistent with their position as state prisoners. Indeed, the convicts on this island seem to enjoy almost perfect liberty of action, short of being permitted to escape, for I encountered about a score of them on shore—big, burly, well-fed fellows—smoking, playing at pitch-and-toss, and singing, as if to be a convict was a state to be desired rather than otherwise. Possibly, these were good characters, for I certainly saw some in the coaling hulks with heavy chains on their wrists and legs, and with half-shaved heads—a distinguishing mark which those I met on shore had not.
By dint of extra pressure we managed to procure our coal next day, though it took us till after sundown to get in 140 tons. We and the "Charybdis" then sailed—she for Yokohama and we for Castries bay—about sixty miles on the other side of the gulf—where we dropped anchor on the following morning.
We felt the weather bitterly cold, as contrasted with the temperature of our experience since leaving England, though, I suppose, at home such would be called genial.
There is not a sign or semblance of the human species, near this spot. All around us is forest, forest to the utmost limit of vision. Pines and firs, firs and pines, for acres upon acres; sufficient, I should think, to furnish all the navies of the world, present and yet unborn, with spars. What a solemn and wintry aspect these northern forests have; what weird murmurs and ghostly sighs haunt their virgin glades. Sometimes in the midst of this almost black greenness, some forest monarch, bleached and scared by the icy breath of generations of Siberian winters, stands out with skeleton distinctness. A dreary, desolate place altogether. There must be a town somewhere in the vicinity, though, for in the afternoon the military commandant hove in sight. This official had on the enormous bearskin head-dress, and dark green uniform of the Cossack regiment. An insignificant-looking man, all moustache and swagger.
On Monday, the day following our arrival, to all those who cared to avail themselves of it, a regular day's outing was granted. We started early, so as to have a long day before us. We had permission to fish to our heart's content, in waters where fish is specially abundant and good. It was rather a long pull to the shore, and shallow water there when we reached it, for we had gone a considerable distance up a small river. The town (so it is called) of Alexandrovsk—at the same time the village of "Tighee" (Torpoint) would make four such towns—was passed on our way up. We pushed on into the interior as far as we could drag our larger boats, and selected our encampment on a spit of beach, near the dwellings of some natives. These huts were of tent shape and constructed of bark, and covered with the skins of the reindeer, numbers of which animals we can see grazing in the vicinity.
The inhabitants of this little-known part of the great asiatic continent, are mongolian Tartars. They are possessed of a rather forbidding cast of feature, have great square, flat faces, the nose scarcely distinguishable, and swallowed up in the flattening process (this though, by the way, is an index of beauty amongst them), low foreheads, and dreamy-looking obliquely-set eyes. Their head-gear is much after the Chinese style, except, that in addition to the queue, they allow the remainder of the hair to develop itself, which it does in the wildest and most elfish manner. For dress, the untanned skins of the animals caught in the chase, with the hair outboard, answers all their requirements. At first one experiences a great difficulty in distinguishing the sexes, for the ordinary bearings by which we sight "danger" ahead are entirely wanting. Stay, are they all absent? Scarcely, for the vanity inherent in woman displays itself even here. These ladies have large iron rings in their ears, and through the cartilage of the nose a similar pendant is hung, on which is an additional ornament of a green stone, much resembling the mineral malachite. Their dress is a very capacious, continuous garment of the yellow skin of the hair seal, seamed with sinews, and very rudely put together. Hundreds of yelping dogs lay about in all possible attitudes of laziness, whilst a few other village pets, e.g., a great bald-headed eagle, of a most bloodthirsty and ferocious aspect, and a couple of large brown bears with uncomfortable looking teeth and arms, suggestive of a long embrace, stood unpleasantly near, though their owners had thought fit to secure them.
This people's religion is a strange mixture of heathenism and Greek church Christianity. The czar's soldiers have a very short and effective manner of converting the subjugated races which bow before their swords, by driving the whole batch at the point of the bayonet into the nearest stream, whilst a little Greek cross is put round the neck of each, and a copy of the bible given them. Near these huts I observed an idol of the rudest construction. It was supposed, I presume, to represent a man's shape—but it was merely a flat board, with the lower end sharpened to a point to fix in the ground, and the upper end fashioned into a very ambiguous circle to form a head; the mouth, nose, and eyes being afterwards added in pigment. One old gent pulled from some obscure retreat in the internal structure of his ample ulster, a pocket edition of the Acts of the Apostles, in English, and from the careful manner in which it was preserved, and the security of its hiding place, he seemed to set great store by it. I tried to surmise how such a volume could have come into his possession, and could only account for it by supposing it had washed up on the beach; but then, if so, why such reverential care of the book. Missionaries, say you. Well, a missionary would scarcely provide himself with copies of the English scripture for distribution amongst gilyaks and calmuck Tartars.
Meanwhile our fishers had pushed on still further inland, dragging the dingy after them, and had met with such success that they returned to camp with their boat laden to the gunwale with salmon and salmon trout. But of all the fish taken that day, by far the finest specimen was that captured near the camping ground. This was a magnificent salmon, of over forty pounds weight, that had become entangled in the long grass with which the surface of the river was covered, a circumstance which rendered him an easy prey to his enemies.
Resuming our southward voyage, our next place of call was Barracouta harbour. It was here, if I am rightly informed, that a French naval officer shot himself, because he had allowed the Russian squadron to overreach him. It was during the Crimean war, the English and French squadrons had hunted the station all over to come up with the Russians, but though they often sighted the enemy, they never succeeded in engaging them. From China to Japan, from Japan to Corea, and away in Siberian waters, it was all the same; the Russians were perfectly successful in out manoeuvring their enemy. At length the squadron was again sighted, and their capture seemed a dead certainty, when suddenly it disappeared into a small inlet, apparently in the iron-bound coast of Kamtschatka. Without charts, or the remotest knowledge of the locality, it would be madness to follow. The British, indeed, did manage to find their way into Petropoloski, and succeeded, I believe, in setting fire to one old hulk. It was a most inglorious business throughout, and so worked on the exciteable temperament of the French commanding officer, that he decided to die by his own hand rather than survive such a questionable victory.
On entering the harbour we observed the "Pegasus" at anchor, seemingly in a wilderness of fir trees. This is the first time we have seen this smart little sloop, as she is a recent addition to our fleet.
There is an abundance of wild fruits here; the raspberries, in particular, being specially fine in size, and delicious in flavour. These and sloes were the only two we recognised, and we took especial care to go in for none of the others; wisely deciding that it was better to confine ourselves to the known. After traversing a virgin forest—soft, mossy, and velvety to the naked feet—and now and again wading muddy streams, studded with artificial islets, composed of roots and other debris—in fact floating islands—we at length came out into a clearing, in which was a collection of huts, and a number of women engaged in the preparation of fish, but for what purpose I am to this day ignorant. The manner in which they set about their work is most revolting. Unpleasant though I know it will look in print, nevertheless it must be described. Each woman is armed with a sharp, crescent-shaped blade—seemingly of steel—with which she makes an incision in the back of the neck of the fish, sufficiently deep to penetrate the skin; then taking the animal in both her hands, and applying her teeth to the wound, she tears a long strip off towards the tail, which disappears down her throat with the rapidity and movements of an eel, or of macaroni "down the neck" of a Neapolitan beggar. This, I presume, is called the tit-bit, for the remainder is thrown on one side into a pit, amongst a heap of putrid, festering fish, to undergo the rotting process, necessary to a perfect cure. The appetite of these squaws seem unsatiable; for during the short time we looked on, three of them managed to get outside of about twenty salmon trout, in this manner.
After a stay of three days in this pretty little spot, we started, under very unfavourable circumstances. The weather was very cold and foggy, and rain fell in abundance, so altogether it was very unpleasant. But this was not all, for on making the open sea the wind began to rise, and we close to a lee shore. We speedily prepared for a gale, as night was coming on, and no indications of the wind going down. The "Pegasus" was still in company; and the two ships kept up a pretty lively conversation with each other during that night of fog, by means of that nautical toy, the steam whistle. Fast and furious they went at it, singing sweet lullabys to the slumbering tars of the watch below. Such horrible shrieks and appalling yells would startle a Red-Indian war-whoop into fits. I feel certain, from subsequent remarks on the subject—let fall in the manner peculiar to seamen—that if their wishes had been answered that night, all the waters in the sea would not have been sufficient to cool the place where they would have consigned the whole apparatus.
At daybreak, the little patch of blue up aloft that mariners so delight to see, shewed us hopes of a fine day. Shortly afterwards we observed a Russian corvette standing out from the land, having just left the anchorage we are about to visit, namely, Olga bay, another fine harbour on the Siberian seaboard. Here we found the Russian admiral, the "Vigilant," and an Italian frigate—the "Vittor Pisani." From hence the "Pegasus" was despatched to Nagasaki, whilst we and the "Vigilant" headed for Vladivostock, calling at Nayedznik bay on the way, and anchoring for the night.
We made three or four attempts to start in the morning, but each time were compelled to delay our departure, out of respect for the heavy fogs which would gather so rapidly in our vicinity. When at length we did get outside, things did not improve, by which we infer that the maritime region of Siberia is a dangerous one at this season. However we steamed along at a pretty brisk rate, and by 10 a.m. had the satisfaction of seeing Vladivostock open out before us. This town is Russia's principal seaport and naval station in this part of her dominions—the head quarters of her navy, and the great military depot. It has an extremely pleasant appearance from the harbour. On going on shore, though, and examining things in detail I saw that the houses which looked so charming from the ship were constructed of rough unhewn logs of timber, the crevices being filled up with mud. The inhabitants are principally Russian, of course—soldiers and sailors, with their wives; but, in addition, there are Coreans, Chinese, and a few (very few) Japanese. The Russian women are coarse and masculine in appearance, are dressed in cotton print gowns put on very slovenly, wear no covering on the head except their unkempt and dishevelled hair, ride on horseback like a man, and have their feet and legs encased in enormous sea-boots. Everybody wears these leather boots just as everyone is an equestrian. Even the officers' wives have a slovenly, faded look; and I can honestly say that I never saw one amongst them whom, from her appearance, I should style a lady. There is scarcely a street or road in the place, and the only thoroughfare is that suggested by the deep and sloppy ruts made by the heavy lumbering cart and the uncomfortable drosky—the latter a four-wheeled concern peculiar to Russia, possessing a couple of seats running fore and aft, and so near the ground that the passengers' feet are in imminent danger of being brought in contact with stray stones and other inequalities.
In a town such as this one would expect to find commodities both reasonable in price and plenty in variety. Not so, however; what little business there is in the provision line is in the hands of the "ubiquitous"—I mean the Chinaman. Lemonade is a thing unknown, and none of us was bold enough to tackle that vile brew—Russian beer. Of course, like all salt water fish, after being on shore for a short time we wanted "damping;" but there seemed no possibility of our wants being understood, as, seemingly, nobody could speak English. Now, when the British seaman particularly wants anything to drink, and can't get it, he generally uses language which (all things considered) is rather more forcible than polite—that is to say, we would not care for ladies to hear it. It was so here. Vladivostock was this, that, and the other, garnished with sundry and manifold adjectives; in fact it was anything but a town. I dare say, had our sailors the least inkling that all this while they were listened to and understood, they would have reserved some of their more choice figures of speech. It was so, however; for suddenly somebody asked, in splendid English, "Do you require anything, gentlemen?" Our interrogator was a Russian military officer, with several ribbons and crosses on his broad breast. We stated our difficulty, and he very politely directed us to a French hotel, and even accompanied us part of the way. I certainly was not prepared to hear English spoken so well by a Rooski.
"Come, friends, who plough the sea, A truce to navigation, let's take another station."
CHEFOO—NAGASAKI EN ROUTE.—JAPAN REVISITED.— KOBE.—YOKOHAMA.
August 31st.—At the early hour of four this morning the shrill sound of those ear-piercing instruments, the boatswains' pipes in combination, resounded clearly and distinctly in the pure raw air, as "all hands" summoned the sleepy crew to heave up anchor. In less than an hour, thanks to the modern sailors' help, the steam capstan, our white wings were spread for the expected breeze outside the harbour. As yet, however, the wind has not been enticed, it being, as one of our shipmates from the sister isle put it, "a dead calm, with what wind there was dead ahead." Further on we overhauled a splendid breeze, which caused our canvas to strain in every fibre as we careened to its pressure. This gave us such material help that by noon of next day we had carved a good big slice out of the six hundred miles to Nagasaki.
September 3rd.—From the greasy appearance of the moon last night, and from a study of other varied phenomena whereby sailors, from time immemorial, have learnt to forecast the weather, we "smelt" a change of some sort was about to happen; and we sleepers, on turning out in the morning, were in no wise surprised to find that the wind had headed us, that all the sails were furled, and the ship poking her nose into a nasty sea. But this was a blind: the clerk of the weather was evidently meditating a stronger blow from the original direction, and had only gone on ahead to seek some of his refractory forces to give us the full benefit of the combination. All sail again, fast and furious we drove through it, and succeeded in knocking "seven and a bit" out of the old "Duke;" 'twould take something like a hurricane to persuade her to more. We tore past Tsu-sima, an island in the Corea strait, and laughingly cleared the run down to Nagasaki.
September 4th.—As information had reached us at Vladivostock that cholera was raging pretty freely at Nagasaki, instead of proceeding at once to the anchorage we brought up at the mouth of the harbour, under the lee of Tacabuco, until such times as we should hear more definite and accurate accounts of the extent of the enemy's depredations. Like another much-libelled personage, who is often painted much blacker than he perhaps is, the cholera, through undoubtedly present, was confined to the poorer haunts of the city, so that with necessary precautions there was nothing to fear. Stopping everybody's leave, though, unfortunately happened to be a necessary precaution, and communication with the shore was limited to the visits of the bumboat and washermen.
On the following morning we commenced to fill up with coal. I have before remarked that in this port we have lady coal heavers. It so chanced that for once they were rather short-handed, and to expedite the work a party of blue-jackets were sent to clear a spare lighter. Whether or not they mistook the commander's order, or whether their eyes had got blinded with coal dust I can't say, but sure am I that they failed, every man-jack of them, to go into the indicated boat. May be, the sight of women at "unwomanly work" was too much for Jack's chivalry—at any rate, they had jumped in among the women and were cheerfully heaving out the coal whilst the latter bad a smoke. Now this, however laudable in itself, was clearly not the commander's intention, and the gallants, much against their will, had to yield to pressure and clear the bachelor lighter.
September 7th.—In company with the "Growler" and "Sylvia" we left the shores of fair Nagasaki; and after despatching the small fry about their business we shaped our course for Chefoo. The wind for a short distance was again fair; but having, presumably, discovered its mistake, and that we had had a full share of his favors lately, old boisterous suddenly changed his tactics, and intimated to us in unmistakable language, by alternate lulls and squalls, that he was about to do something rash. At noon of the second day out, after, we must confess, ample warning, he had apparently decided what to do, the wind came up as foul as it could well be. We were at this time off the island of Quelpart, still carrying reduced sail and barely going our course.
The breeze, though strong, was steady and all went well until the ship reached the western extremity of the mountainous island, when, with a roar and a screech truly terrific, a squall struck us in wild, fitful gusts. We were carrying reefed topsails and trysails at the time, and it was fortunate that we had no more sail on, or surely our spars must have gone over the side. As it was, the fore trysail split with the report of a cannon, and the main-topsail, unable to stand the enormous strain, was torn from top to bottom. To make things more cheerful, the clouds, in their sport, hurled blinding slanting sheets of water at us; for it would be an error to say that rain fell. An effort was made to furl sails; but though there was no lack of cheerful hands speedily on the yards, numbers became powerless to manipulate canvas which by the combined elements had been converted into deal boards. As it was impossible that orders could be heard from deck, the officers went aloft and lay out on the yards amongst the men, encouraging them by voice and example. The attempt had to be given up and the sails secured to the yards by lashings.
September 11th.—The dreary, monotonous, unenlivening coast line of China, with its interminable sand hills and granite peaks, once more in sight. The landscapes of north China are, if anything, more dreary than ever. We must however take the bad with the good. Chefoo lies before us, and into Chefoo we are bound to go. We cannot, as yet, see any town, because of a sort of natural breakwater of sand and rocks which stretches almost across the harbour's mouth; but that there is an anchorage beyond is clear, from the thousands of masts pointing skyward. So slow was our progress into the harbour that it seemed as if we were never going to get there at all; but eventually we dropped anchor at about three miles from what I suppose pretends to be a town, but which from such a distance looked more like a straggling village. We had gone in quite far enough, though, for every revolution of the screws discoloured the water with sand and mud, and, furthermore, I believe we touched, for a distinct not to be mistaken vibration was clearly felt by all hands. This part of the anchorage is much exposed to the sea; and, in the event of a blow from the northward, we are in a position to encounter its full fury. Chefoo, notwithstanding its uninteresting appearance, seems to be a pretty regular port of call for men-of-war, several of which are lying at anchor within the bar.
There must be some spots in the neighbourhood capable of cultivation, for our bumboat is loaded with an abundance of tempting fruits—grapes of rich bloom and large growth, apples which would do no discredit to a West of England orchard, and peaches scarcely inferior to those v of the Mediterranean. And how cheap everything is—eggs you can get for the asking almost, whilst a whole fowl (prepared and cooked in a manner which, out of charity to the Chinese culinary art, we wont pry into too closely, but which our sailor gourmands relish nevertheless) is obtainable for five cents! I refer, of course, to that bird which our shipmates denominate "dungaree chicken." Our first impression of Chefoo is that it is the place of all others on the station to send emaciated ships' companies to regain their stamina.
The district has a special manufacture of silk, much prized by our female friends at home, made from the fibres of the bamboo. Did you ever see such a wonderful plant as that same bamboo? I could not enumerate half the uses to which the natives of China and Japan apply its beautiful slender golden stem. The silk, of a color resembling brown holland, is really very good, and makes excellent summer out-door dresses for the European ladies and girls at Chefoo. Some of the best costumes I noticed on shore were made of this material.
Shortly after our arrival the "Vigilant" came in, en route for Tientsin, a port further up the Gulf of Pe-chili, and to the westward of us. You may perhaps remember that it was here the recent massacre of some helpless French sisters of mercy took place, an event which at one time seemed very likely to have embroiled China into a war with France.
I wonder if I should be wrong in saying that one of the principal reasons which makes this so desirable a port for navy ships is the advantages presented by the sand-bar at the mouth of the harbour for shore evolutions? This may or may not be so; but scarcely a week passed without our captain taking us ashore to play at soldiers, and sometimes two or even three times a week. The bar has many qualities suitable for military operations; a rocky grass-covered mound at the western extremity in particular forming an excellent position for the field guns and assaulting parties. This spot will be always remembered by our ship's company by the name of Fort Cleveland, a name they themselves bestowed on it, because the captain, who conducted these landing parties with strict regard to military tactics, so frequently made it the culminating point in the day's manoeuvres.
After all it was deemed advisable to shift out of our present unsafe anchorage to a more secure one inside the bar, and, as the "Modeste" was about to leave for Chusan, she came alongside and took us in tow. We have met with no heavy weather here yet; but we shall be fortunate indeed if we don't get a "brew" at this season.
We had been here somewhere about ten days when the Chinese governor came on board, attended, as is the custom in China, by a numerous suite of lesser mandarins and their retainers. Chefoo is an important military command, as well as one of the chief naval ports in the empire; hence the governor is a high military mandarin. From the governor downwards they were all dressed pretty much alike. The mandarins were distinguishable only by a button, worn on the top of their mushroom hats. The colour and material of this button, like the "tails" of a pasha, indicate the position of the wearer, the red being considered the highest of all. In addition to the button the military insignia of a tuft of horse hair, dyed scarlet, depended from the top of the hat of each, whilst some of the more fortunate wore a peacock's feather stuck jauntily under the button. I say more fortunate because, like our K.C.B.'s, only a very few can ever hope to attain to such a mark of the sovereign's favor. These feathers are bestowed by the emperor, generally in person, on such of his subjects as have achieved some renown, either as a soldier or in the equally honorable province of letters. We may well believe, then, that amongst such a people as the Chinese, whose very breath almost is at the emperor's pleasure, such a distinction is the chiefest ambition of every man; for all may aspire to it.
A day or so subsequent to the events I have described before, the captain of a trading junk from Tientsin reported that the "Vigilant" had grounded in the Pei-ho, and had sustained considerable damage to her rudder and stern-post, a report which was strictly true; for soon the admiral returned, and at once ordered the "Vigilant" to Hong Kong for repairs.
Shortly before sailing the admiral inspected the ship. On this occasion "Sailor," our widowed cat, was decked out in all the gay and gaudy trappings of a field officer on parade, and, what is more to the point, he was seemingly quite aware that he was looking smart. I suppose "Sailor" can never have read the "Jackdaw of Rheims," but he certainly looked the words of that conceited bird as he strutted proudly along before the admiral; and I feel assured that, though the commander-in-chief may not have thought much about the matter, there was no doubt in pussy's mind as to his being one of the "greatest folk here to-day."
By the third day out we had reached the Corean archipelago, and found ourselves off the northern coast of Quelpart, where we had recently met with such rough handling. The course was slightly altered to enable us to touch at a small island in the same group, named Port Hamilton. This, until very recently, was, I believe, the only place in the peninsula empire where foreigners—Europeans and Americans—were allowed to hold any intercourse with the natives. It was left to our admiral to alter this edict, and to break through their prejudices.
October 23rd.—At four o'clock this morning we dashed through the strait of Simoneski under steam and canvas, with the wind dead aft and fresh, in company with some hundreds of junks, whose bellying snowy sails and neat trim hulls had much the appearance of a yachting contest.
By sundown we had made the original anchorage. Owing, I suppose, to the season being further advanced, the scenery has lost that freshness we noticed during our first trip through, but not its charm—I think it could never do that. The little bay looked very lovely to-night with the moon's flood of silver light streaming down on its thousand isles.
"Fair luna" had scarcely left us to gladden another world of night before the anchor was at the bows and the ship holding on her onward course; and though the wind was both strong and favourable, no advantage was taken of it to sail, for we were navigating such intricate labyrinths, cutting so sharply around islets, and dodging in and out so many channels and passages, that the jib and spanker were the only sails that could be used with any degree of safety; but when at length we broke out into the open again, we spread our wings to the gale and made short work of the distance to Kobe.
Our arrival was most opportune, both for ourselves and also for society on shore. To the regatta committee we were specially welcome, for a regatta was to be held in the afternoon, and the presence of our band was certainly a pleasing and unlooked-for item in the programme of proceedings. Our third cutter took the first prize in the navy race, though it was an open question whether the Russian boat did not deserve it. It was ruled that "Rooski" had forfeited all claim to a place, in consequence of fouling twice—so somebody said; though there were others who declared that ours fouled the Russians. This led to angry words, and a considerable show of splenetic feeling amongst the committee, which was at length toned down by the appearance of a Russian officer, who begged that, rightly or wrongly, the prize might be awarded to the English boat.
Whilst at Kobe an event took place on board, of small moment indeed to the big outside world, but one of considerable interest amongst ourselves, namely, the birth of a lamb. If we except the rats and cockroaches, and a few such-like atomies, this is the first being which has drawn its first breath on board. One of the sheep taken in at Chefoo happened to be in an "interesting condition," and as nature was not to be thwarted of her purpose by big guns and tarry sailors, the little fellow came along in due course. We are anxious that he may live, for it is wonderful what tricks and antics sailors can train a lamb to, not the least being the avidity with which, after a few lessons, he makes his number at the grog tub at the sound of the bugle.
November 3rd.—Onward, ever onward; a flying visit to Yokohama, and then back home again, or the nearest approach to home that this part of the world affords for Englishmen.
But how changed is Yokohama now! Dirty, wet, cold, and dreary, and all the other adjectives by which discomfort is usually interpreted. During our stay our negro troupe came prominently before the public. At the request of the managing committee of the Temperance Hall the captain yielded, a somewhat reluctant assent, to the attendance of the troupe. They performed before a highly pleased and encouraging audience, and had no occasion to blush at the report of the entertainment in the papers. At any rate many a disinterested resident in the cause of temperance was induced to unbutton his pockets to further that end.
An entertainment, on a vastly different scale, was given to our officers, by the imperial family at Tokio. For a whole day they were the guests of Prince Arisugawa in his capacity of heir-apparent to the royal dignities. Perhaps "heir-apparent" is not strictly the correct term to apply to the royal "mid," the emperor having the power to bestow the crown on whomsoever he lists at his demise. The prince is but the adopted son of the emperor, who has issue of his own; he may set aside, and it is generally understood that he will do so, his own children in favour of his adopted child; by no means an uncommon custom amongst the nobility of Japan.
Recent arrivals from the southward having reported stormy passage, more than the usual precautions were taken to prepare the ship for whatever might chance to fall athwart our hawse. A deck cargo of coals was taken in, storm sails bent, extra gripes put on the boats, and anchors lashed; but, as generally turns out in such cases, neither of these preparations were more than ordinary necessary, for save a roll or two in Formosa's tumbling channel, the splitting of a stunsail boom, and the snapping of a rope now and then, the passage was a fairly smooth one. We put in at Matson, en route, when we found the "Lapwing" awaiting our arrival with mails and the men we left behind in Malta hospital on the outward voyage. Theirs has been a chequered existence since that time; now one ship, now another, until up to this time they can reckon up eight such shifts.
December 4th.—Whilst coaling at Amoy an accident happened, which has resulted in the death of another of our poor fellows, George Allen, an ordinary seaman. Whilst he and a companion were on a visit to a Chinese gunboat in the harbour, and both, it is to be feared, under the influence of liquor, Allen slipped as he was mounting the side, fell overboard, and was not seen afterward. Strangely enough, the man who was with him had not the slightest idea of the occurrence, and it was not until the captain of the Chinaman came on board the following morning and reported the circumstance, that we became aware that we had lost a shipmate. Before sailing we were joined by the "Egeria," and as it was the admiral's intention to visit Swatow we called in at Hope bay to allow him to turn over to the "Egeria" for that purpose. We arrived in Hong Kong on December 15th.
And now, dear reader, I have accomplished the round of our station, and have got through, I trust, to your satisfaction, the most difficult part of this narrative, viz.: the descriptive. Henceforward, to avoid tiring and useless repetition I shall refer you to the appendix for ports visited, only taking up for narrative purposes, such events in our subsequent history as I shall deem of major importance. If I do not adopt some such plan as this my book will far exceed its intended limits.
December 25th.—If we may believe the old saw, there are some things which have the misfortune to suffer by comparison. Accepting this as fact, the Christmas of last year must hide its diminished head before its present anniversary. We were determined on making our lower deck as home-like as possible, to deceive ourselves—pleasant fiction!—into the belief that there were not 120 degrees of longitude between us and our friends. The admiral behaved like a brick, by contributing largely to the good cheer. The mess-deck just showed how tastefully sailors can do things in the way of "get ups" when left to their own devices and resources. As Christmas, 1880, was by far the jolliest Christmas day we have spent during our sojourn in China, I will not anticipate by describing the present, but will reserve for a subsequent page the pleasure of telling you all about it.
"And there on reef we come to grief, Which has often occurred to we."
IN WHICH WE ATTEMPT AN OVERLAND ROUTE, WITH THE RESULT OF THE TRIAL.
Hail, all hail, to the glad new year! What though there be no crisp seasonable snow, no exhilarating frost, no cosy chimney nooks, or no ladies muffs and comfortable ulsters? Let us joy at his birth all the same, for does he not mark another year nearer the end?—of the commission I mean.
And now to work. At the annual inspection of our heavy guns it was found that three at least were so defective in the bore that it was necessary to condemn them, and replace them by new ones. This entailed a terrible amount of labour on our men. Hatchways had to be torn to pieces, and yards rigged with most ponderous blocks, and purchases for the safe transhipment of these iron playthings. Whatever may be urged against, there is this to be said in favour of such heavy and unusual evolutions, that observant men gain largely in practical experience and an extended acquaintance with the "might be's" of their profession. Fortunately, in one sense, but few commissions afford such unwelcome opportunities as ours, for it has been one of accidental, rather than of meditated experiment.
In the midst of dismal rainy weather the business of refitting had to be pushed forward, previous to our going in dock; then coaling and painting—in our ship separate work—and provisioning, swallowed up the greater part of the month of January.
February 11th.—To-day the "Tyne" arrived from England. To the expatiated seaman the arrival of a troopship has a greater interest than have ordinary arrivals; for has she not scarce two months since, perhaps, looked on the very scenes we so long to behold? She is thus a link between us and home. Then there is also the additional interest of seeing fresh faces, whilst to the more fortunate who are about to leave us she is the absorbing topic. She remained only eight days. On the occasion of her departure we were allowed to cheer—a wonderful concession; at the same time we were given clearly to understand that we were to accept it in the light of a great privilege; and that there should be no mistake on this point, the commander conducted the arrangements with the order "Three cheers for H.M.S. 'Tyne,' homeward bound;" "And no extras," added somebody in parenthesis.
* * * * *
And now came April 15th, not so rapidly as would appear from the above sketch; but it came, and with it the commencement of a second voyage to the northward.
In the interval between the sailing of the "Tyne" and our departure we were not idle. We had gone outside twice—once at target practice and once on steam tactics. The "Armide," French flag-ship, had left for Europe, and her relief, the "Themis," had arrived on the station, losing several sheets of copper off her starboard bow on the passage up from Singapore.
It is curious to observe the different customs of foreign sailors when sailing, homeward bound. The French, for instance, rig up a dummy man and trice him up to the main top, where he is made to oscillate with a pendulum movement until he gains sufficient impetus to clear the side, when he is let go overboard amidst the cheering of the men. The Russians man yards, white caps in hand, which, after waving in the air to make their cheering more energetic, they fling into the sea.
But to return to April 15th.—We had but cleared Hong Kong when we sighted the "Charybdis," with the long pennant flying. Fortunate fellows! how long, I wonder, before we shall be similarly decorated? I write this almost three years afterwards, and still the question remains unanswered.
On the way we put in to White Dogs, in expectation of finding the "Vigilant" with our mail. The mails latterly have been very erratic in their arrivals, due to a change in the postal system at home. Henceforth there is to be no penny mail—a fact which, seemingly, our friends have not yet grasped; hence it is no uncommon thing to go weeks without letters, and then suddenly to find oneself inundated with—say six or eight billets doux.
The "Vigilant" was only a few hours behind us; and after giving us our mail she left for Foo-chow, with the admiral and captain on board.
That night we rode out a very stiff gale. The seas were so heavy that all ports had to be barred in, and even then, such was the violence of the storm that water was occasionally shipped through the upper battery ports. From the manner in which the cable "surged" and bumbed, it was deemed expedient to let go a second anchor, and to get up steam; for in the event of the wind chopping around—nothing more likely—we should be on a dead lee shore, and our only alternative to slip and go to sea. Still the gale increased, and still the one anchor and cable held. How the wind did howl and screech through our cordage! This lasted for over two days. On the third day the "Moorhen" came down from Foo-chow with our captain; and as there was still a big lump of a sea on, she capered about in the lively manner peculiar to gun vessels.
April 21st.—We rounded the Shun-tung promontory in a thick fog, groped our way towards Chefoo in the same hazy atmosphere, and picked up our anchorage in nearly the same spot as last year, glad enough to get in anywhere out of such dangerous weather.
The cutter's crew of the "Pegasus," a day or two after our arrival, reminded us of a challenge they had previously thrown out, to pull any boat of similar size in our ship for forty-five dollars. Accordingly, one fine afternoon when the sea was as smooth as a pond, and on the occasion of a dance given by our officers, the contest came off. Contrary to the expectations of most, our boat beat almost without an effort. That same evening the "Lily's," with more pluck than discretion, tossed their oars under our bows. Well, like a great good-tempered Newfoundland dog, we can stand a deal of snapping at from insignificant puppies, but when at length their attacks begin to get acrimonious, we rise, and shake our shaggy coat; and in salt water language "go" for the torments. Thus we "went" for the "Lily's," beat them, and pocketed thirty-six dollars more.
On the arrival of the admiral a court-martial was held on a marine, of the "Mosquito," for insubordination. I mention this because of the extreme sentence of the court—twenty-five lashes with the "cat." The admiral, though, came to the rescue, and with mercy seasoned justice, for he refused to sign the warrant for the punishment.
We left Chefoo for Japan, calling in at the Golo islands—a group about 90 miles from Nagasaki—on the way. 'Twas a lovely spot, and recent rains had made nature look all the fairer for her ablutions. The gentle breeze wafted off such a delightful fragrance of pine, fir, hay, and flowers, so welcome after China's reeking smells. Slowly, and with caution, we wended our way up an intricate channel, meandering amongst the hills in a most striking and artistic manner, until further progress was barred, by the shores of a tiny bay, with a town at its head. We found ourselves so perfectly land-locked that everybody was wondering how we got in. Around us high volcanic hills, and under us,—not a volcano—but, between twenty and thirty fathoms of water. We could not anchor here, that was evident, so we set the spanker, slued about, and made tracks as rapidly as we could before the darkness should set in. Next morning we were at Nagasaki.
Early on the morning of the 29th of May we sailed for the eastward, by way of the Inland Seas. We turned slightly out of our course to call at Yobuko, a real bit of Japan, lovely and enchanting. We were objects of absorbing interest to the simple islanders. They wore very primitive and airy garments, some even none at all. They are not much like, in fact very unlike, a community of Japanese; for cleanliness amongst them is an "unknown quantity;" and their dwellings remind me very forcibly of the squalid dens in Chinese native towns. The people, though, were hospitable and kind to a degree, and highly glad to see us, offering us of their little sake and tea—nor would they take money, or accept any payment, though we pressed it upon them. At first they were shy, following us about in curious, respectful, distant crowds; but seeing we treated their chubby little children kindly they soon made friends with us.
We reached Kobe in due course where nothing of moment took place, if we except a gale of wind which compelled our liberty-men—much against their will, of course—to remain on shore all night. "Well ''tis an ill wind that blows nobody good,' is it not?"
July 2nd.—We are at Yokohama, and are a-taut; for to-day some members of the Japanese imperial family are to visit us. At noon they arrived amidst salvoes of artillery from the shore and from the Japanese men-of-war. The party consisted of prince Arisugawa's father and sister, her maids of honor, and two admirals. The princess was of course the "lion"—excuse the gender—of the party. But how lost, how utterly bewildered, she looked in reaching our quarter-deck! like little Alice in wonderland. I hear it is the first time she has ever been afloat. Her style of dress is different to anything we have yet seen in this country. A red silk skirt clothed her lower limbs, whilst a transparent gauzy purple tunic, figured with the imperial emblem, fell from her shoulders to the ground. But her hair was what drew most of our attention, for it was the most remarkable piece of head architecture possible. How shall I describe it? Imagine a frying-pan inverted, its inner rim resting on the crown of the head, and the handle depending down the back, and you will have a correct, though a homely idea, of the fashion of her hair. Each individual hair seemed as if picked out from it fellows, stiffened by some process until it appeared like a wire bent into shape; gathered in and tied a little below the nape of the neck, and from thence downward traced into a queue. Hers was the ideal type of Japanese feature, so rarely seen amongst the common people, and considered so unlovely by Europeans. A long face, narrow straight nose, almond eyes, very obliquely set in the head, and a mouth so tiny, so thin the upper lip, that it looks more like a scarlet button than any thing designed for kissing.
She was childishly pleased at everything she saw whilst accompanying the admiral around the decks, twitching at his arm incessantly that she might indulge her curiosity as to hatchways, stoke-hole gratings, and so on; clapping her hands continually in the exuberance of her joy.
The "Modeste" accompanied us in our trip to the north on this occasion.
A few days out we called in at Kamaishi, in the neighbourhood of which are the imperial copper mines and smelting works. The people here lack the rosiness and freshness of face of the Japanese, and have a dowdy, sickly look, due, I suppose, to the unhealthy exhalations from the copper.
Instead of calling in at Hakodadi we continued on along the eastern coast of Yezo until we reached Endermo harbour, sentinelled at its entrance by a grim vomiting volcano which, in addition to its charred and fire-scored crater, has innumerable other little outlets in its sides, giving out jets of steam and sulphurous smoke until the very air is loaded with the oppressive vapour.
At the anchorage we saw the "Pegasus."
Here we are then! in the country of Miss Bird's Ainos, a people whom she describes as the most gentle and docile in the world. We had ample opportunity of making their acquaintance, for during our stay the decks were daily thronged with them. In these men the advocates of Darwinism might well behold the missing link. From head to heel they are covered with thick shaggy unkempt masses of hair; that on their heads and faces hanging down in wild elfish locks. They wear but scant raiment, a sort of over-all, which does not pretend to the use of even the most primitive covering. It is of the men I speak. Strangely enough, though, they all have their ears pierced, metal ornaments are not worn by any, but, instead, they have a thin strip of scarlet cloth, just simply placed through the hole. The women are strange looking creatures. Their garments are modest enough, far more so even than those of their southern sisters with whom, by the way, they have nothing in common, save their sex. Can it be that this is the primitive Japanese race—that the more enlightened people of Niphon trace their origin to such a degraded source? I should be inclined to say no, if I did not remember that history furnishes us with so many parallel cases of similar degraded origin—our own for example.
Well built, but oh! so ugly these women; and, as if nature had not done enough for them in this particular, they render their faces still more repulsive looking by tattooing the lips on the outside to the depth of an inch all around, elongating the mark at the corners. This, of course, does not tend to lessen the apparent size of an aperture, already suggestive of a main hatchway. This unhandsome, open, flat countenance, is also further decorated with bands of blue on the forehead. The females wear large rings of iron—some few of silver—in their ears.
Now, though of course I don't pretend to the faithfulness of portraiture, nor to the accuracy of observation of the travelled lady I have before quoted, yet I must add that my estimate of this people, in my own small way, is antagonistic to hers. To me they are only a very little removed from savages. Their women seem to be in abject slavery to the men, and are treated by them in the most shameful manner. An instance, which came under my own observation, will perhaps shew this. Whilst on shore fishing, I had wandered away from the main party to where I saw a native engaged at work on an upturned canoe. Up the beach was his hut—I have seen many a stye a king to it—and in the doorway his—wife must I call her? Curious I suppose like all her sex she came down the strand to get a look at the white-skinned, light-haired stranger, and was rewarded for temerity in a most summary manner. The man, at first, seemed to expostulate with her, and so far as I could judge, ordered her back to her domicile; but as the lady did not seem prompt to obey the mandate, he further emphasised his meaning and accelerated her movements by flinging a billet of wood at her with all the irresponsible and unrestrained force of a savage nature. In the face of this can I agree with Miss Bird? My first feeling was one of indignation and an angry twitching of my ten digits to form themselves into bunches of fives, but on second thoughts, seeing that the poor woman took the chastisement as a matter of course, and that she was seemingly used to such like gentle reminders, my indignation cooled down to matter of fact surprise.
This place is the exile home of one of the banished daimios I spoke of in a former chapter.
From Endermo we retraced ours steps to Hakodadi, where, during a short stay, we had some amusement in the shape of messes pulling for bags of "spuds" (the potatoe of the non-sailor world) and other comestibles.
July 30th.—The date of the most important event of the commission. Referring to my "journal" I find recorded below this date that word of terrible import, "stranded." Yea, truly are we. And this is how it all came about. We had sailed from Hakodadi with a fair wind, through the strait of Sangar and out into the sea of Japan, shaped our course for Aniwa bay, in Sagalien, with—except that the atmosphere was rather hazy—every prospect of a fair and quick passage.
Off the south western corner of Yezo, and about ninety miles from Hakodadi, lies the small island of O'Kosiri, in the track of vessels going north. By morning we had reached its neighbourhood—it could be seen in fact—when suddenly a thick fog enveloped it, us, and the surrounding sea. We were to have gone outside the island, though the inner passage is navigable, still, to avoid any possibility of an accident, it was deemed best to go to seaward of it. At 4 a.m., whilst steaming at six knots, the look out man reported land dead ahead. The officer of the watch, seemingly pretty confident as to his whereabouts, altered course a point or so, and kept on at the same speed. An hour passed, the fog had settled thicker than ever. At ten minutes past two bells in the morning, without any warning—the lead even shewing deep soundings—a crashing, grating sound was heard, accompanied by a distinct trembling vibration, proceeding, apparently, from under the ship's bottom. Even then, no one dreamed we were ashore; such a sound, such a sensation, might have been produced by running over a junk. At this moment the leadsman got a throw of the lead, and "a quarter less four," indicated only too plainly the origin of the sounds.
With his usual promptness—as if running ashore was a matter of ordinary evolution—our captain at once gave orders for engines to be reversed, for boats to be hoisted out, and anchors placed away, where they would be of most use; at the same time directions were given to have the steam launch coaled and provisioned to go back to Hakodadi for assistance. On soundings being taken along the starboard side plenty of water was obtained; it was only on her port bottom that the ship had grounded. Efforts were made to roll her off, all hands rushing from one side of the deck to the other, but without result. Through the crystal clear water, and in the deep shadow of the ship, the nature of the bottom could be clearly seen—coral rocks and yellow sand. Fortunately the sea was a flat calm, or it must have fared ill indeed with us.
At ordinary times the sailor prefers plenty of sea room, and the further he is from land the safer he feels; but when one's ship has suddenly converted "mare" into "terram" with, may be, a hole in her to boot, then indeed the proximity to some friendly shore is his first consideration.
The lifting fog revealed to us our whereabouts; within a hundred yards of us the surf washed edges of a reef, and before us the low shores and high hills of O'Kosiri.
The unusual sight of a large ship so near their island soon brought the natives off in their queer canoes. By means of our interpreter we learn that the people had never seen a man-of-war before; that there was no rise and fall of tide there; and much more about the ways and means available for opening up communications with Hakodadi.
Meanwhile shot and shell were got out and sent on shore, and coals pitched overboard, because no lighters were obtainable at this stage in the proceedings. The divers having gone down reported the ship aground in three distinct places, aft, amidships under the batteries, and forward. Thus ended the first day. With the morrow a swell set in from seaward, which caused us to bump heavily, though it did not alter our position. On this day the expected assistance arrived from Hakodadi. Close on each other's heels the following ships bore down upon us:—the "Modeste," with lighters in tow, the "Kerguelen," "Champlain," and "Themis," Frenchmen, the latter the admiral's ship; and the Russian corvette "Naezdnik," with the admiral's flag at the mizen.
These five ships at once anchored in the best positions consistent with their own safety to help us; the "Kerguelen" a little on our starboard quarter, and the "Champlain" right astern with our steel hawsers on board and two anchors down.
With the second night came a chapter of accidents.
At sunset a rolling sea again set in, heavier than that of the morning. The swell and the weight of our hawsers acting on the necessarily short cables of the "Champlain" caused that vessel to drag and take the ground on our port quarter. In her attempts to extricate herself, our steel hawser got foul of her propeller and wound itself around it in such a confused mass, that the vessel's machinery became practically useless. Thus, side by side, the two companions in distress kept the watches of that night. But this was not all; the "Modeste" coming to the rescue of the "Champlain," ran into the "Kerguelen," but fortunately without any serious result.
Sunday, August 1st.—At daylight the "Modeste" succeeded in towing the "Champlain" out of her perilous position. As she did so a large piece of the Frenchman's false keel floated to the surface, whilst she was found to be making two and a half tons of water per hour. A turn of her propeller the other way caused the now useless hawser to fall off. When recovered by the divers, this mass of steel wire was a gordian knot of utter confusion.
The swell of last night, though it did our ship and the "Champlain" some harm, rendered us at least one service, by causing a higher influx of water than usual, which resulted in lifting us off our pinnacled and dangerous resting place into deep soundings again. And now it was discovered that we too were taking in water in one of our compartments which, however, thanks to our double bottom system, we were enabled to confine to the one space.