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INTO THE TROPICS.
O'er the glad waters - Arrival at Havana.
IT was easy to trace a direct route upon the map from New Orleans to Vera Cruz. Nothing could be more simple. Go straight across the Gulf of Mexico, and there you were. But in January, 1866, a traveller was obliged to take Cuba on his way and to make a couple of tacks like a vessel beating to windward. Without detailing the difficulties of the land journey, or guerilla side of the question, and the uncertainties of the "immediate dispatch" of merchant schooners direct to Vera Cruz, I had better at once suppose myself on board a British steamship bound to Havana and commence my account of our voyage.*
January 13th.-I found the vessel to be small and second-rate, her captain a very pleasant fellow,
* There are now steamers plying direct from New Orleans to Vera Cruz.
good attendance, and cabin overcrowded; but heard that the Company was putting on first-rate craft as fast as it could, so resolved to suppress this particular vessel's name. Such resolution being formed many hours later than our departure is here chronologically out of place; but what does that matter? We left New Orleans in torrents of rain, which were presently succeeded by rolling clouds of mist upon the river. Half-steam ahead as a consequence of the mist, and plenty of shouting to the man at the wheel. "Starboard!" "Aye, aye, sir, starboard!" 66 Steady!" again from dimly seen officer in communication with the pilot. by the man at the wheel. at these familiar sounds. them old-fashioned, and for'ard a better plan.
"Steady, sir," answered Joy of English passengers American passengers vote think the wheel-house Perhaps it may be, though we would not willingly rob a sailor's life of its fulllunged shouts, hail the maintop through a guttapercha speaking-tube, and have a musical box to give the "Yo, heave ho!" Darkness settled down upon the Mississippi, and the fog became so dense that we cast anchor a few miles below New Orleans to wait until morning.
January 14th.-We advanced cautiously through a moist, fleecy, atmosphere, bright sunshine overhead, and everything visible that was forty feet above the water. Our pilot was stationed in the foretop, whence he gave his orders with great energy, im
pressing those who stood upon deck with the idea that he could see many things of which they little dreamed. Yet, when the mist cleared away, there was nothing to be seen but flat swampy shores, occasional plantations, diminishing in scale to a tiny planter's house and a pair of tinier pair of tinier negro cabins. We passed between Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which are immediately above the delta of the river, saw their bristling cannon and groups of lounging soldiers, noted the impassable morasses which protect what may be called by courtesy their land side, and steamed away through the south-west pass. No alligators would show themselves, but they were known to be hibernating in untold depths of mud, and grey logs from far up country, floating on the stream, looked so like what those absent reptiles might have looked, that we professed ourselves content.
The land rather faded away than was left behind at any particular point. It grew more and more watery, trees gave place to rushes, and a strip of open sea could be observed beyond the reedy shoals that bordered our course. Here was a village inhabited by pilots; there a telegraph station and lighthouse. Fresh clouds of mist now hid everything from sight. We grounded for a few moments on the bar (in two-and-a-half fathoms), got off again, moved forward slowly until our pilot was put on board a little schooner barely visible through the
fog, and then went ahead at full speed, with the waves of the Gulf crunching and gurgling under our bow.
Farewell, Mississippi, miasma, and paper money. The Confederates on board, who have come away without taking any oath to their conquerors, can now boldly avow themselves unpardoned "Rebs;" whilst all of us are glad to be safely over that formidable bar, on which vessels often stick for a week at a time.
January 15th.-A fresh breeze blew from the southward, warm as the warmest of our August breezes and indescribably balmy. It was gratifying to know when they hove the log, or, in modern sea phrase, "hauled the reel," that we were making eight knots an hour. Those who spoke of ocean steamships generally going much faster were considered dangerous innovators. We sat under the awning on the poop and perched upon the cotton-bales which formed our deck cargo, looking out for natural wonders. Where were the sharks that should have glided round us and been killed by a daring swimmer, knife in hand? Where the flying fish? But stop! These last did make their appearance, and flitted high above the surface of the water, and dived beneath it, and came up once more, as though they had been little white birds instead of fish. Yet persons well acquainted with them maintained that fish they were, nevertheless. And now a waterspout
could be seen, not far off, on our port bow. From a dark cloud hanging low over the sea came a curious kind of hose, like a petrified flash of blue lightning, and this hose was sucking up gallons of water in the most mysterious way. Upon the surface there appeared about as much disturbance as if a forty-two pound shot had just alighted at that particular place, whilst between the top of the spray on the surface and the bottom of the hose in the sky was an interval in which only those with keen eyesight could perceive anything. We heard that cannon were sometimes fired to break down a waterspout by the concussion, as it would be very imprudent for a vessel to receive the shower-bath which a cloud, thus recruited, could pour upon her; but our experience went to show that nobody on board save the passengers seemed to care whether there were three or thirty waterspouts in sight. There was none of that awe-stricken attention to a strange phenomenon which is found in books of useful knowledge for boys, no pale helmsman straining every nerve to avoid the threatened danger, no six-pounder rammed home with breathless eagerness; only a man at the wheel who might have looked pale if he had washed his face and who held on sleepily to the polished spokes before him, and a small cannon supposed to be amongst the ballast.
January 16th.-The weather was calm and hot. Few vessels came in sight; our voyage was declared