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We had amusement enough, as we walked the deck with our cigars in our mouths, in watching the lights on shore and afloat, and the vessels as they came gliding noiselessly in, like dark spirits, and took up their berths wherever they could find room, and in listening to the hails from the ships of war, and those from the yachts' boats, as they pulled about trying to find their respective craft. We amused ourselves by marking the contrasts between the voices of the two nations-the sharp shrill cry of the French, and the deep bass of John Bull.
A good deal of sea tumbled into the bay during the night, in conse→ quence of the fresh northerly breeze, and many an appetite was put hors de combat in consequence: Poor Groggs, we heard him groaning as he lay in his berth, "Oh, why was I tempted to cross the sea to come to this outlandish place, for the sake of watching a few French ships moving about, which, I dare say, after all, don't differ much from as many English ones. He exclaimed, between the paroxysms of his agony, "Oh dear! oh dear! it's the last time I'll come yachting, that it is." Poor Gregory he was not the only one ill that night, I take it; and I am sure Ashmore pardoned his not very grateful observations. We were early on deck, to inhale the fresh breeze, after the somewhat close air of the cabin; then indeed a splendid sight met our view. In the first place, floating in the bay, were nine line-of-battle ships, in splendid fighting order, their dark batteries frowning down upon us; and, drawn up in another line, were a number of large war steamers, besides many other steamers, both British and French; and last, though not least in consideration, were some seventy or eighty yachts; it was impossible to count them-schooners, cutters and yawls, besides some merchantmen and innumerable small craft of every description, all so mingled together that it appeared as if they would never get free of each other again. To the south was the town, with its masses of houses and churches, and its mercantile docks in front. On the west, the naval arsenal and docks, the pride of France and Frenchmen, and which so many had come to see. On the other side were the shores of the harbour, stretching out to Pilee Island, and not far from the town a scarped hill looking down on it, with a fine view obtainable from the top, while to the north, outside all, was the famous digue, or breakwater, which is to eclipse that of Plymouth, as the big sea serpent would a common conger eel. It was begun by Louis XIV., and brought to its present state during the reign of Louis Philippe, during which period it was one night nearly washed away, while some hundred unfortunate workmen engaged on it were in the morning not to be found, but their place being supplied, the works were continued.
I wish no ill to France or Frenchmen, only I hope, if it ever shelters a flotilla for the invasion of Albion, it may, the night before they sail, meet with its former fate, and that their ships may be driven high and dry on the sand. It will be a mercy to the Frenchmen, and save them from being very sick and tremendously thrashed at the end of their voyage. Now, I would not have it supposed that I, a yachtsman, who have often set foot in France, have any rabid dislike to Frenchmen or Frenchwomen. Their cooks, I own, dress most digestible and palatable dinners, and their ladies and grisettes dress themselves to perfection, so that in both cases our tastes are captivated. They talk fluently and amusingly-they dance vehemently, and as if either they liked it or thought it an impor
tant occupation and they make very pretty clocks, which don't go very well, and very elegant toys, which are apt to break in the hands of clumsy little John Bulls. Indeed, I might enumerate numberless good qualities they possess, and I am not in the humour to pick out any of the bad ones which may be discernible; only I do wish that they would listen to the exhortations of Cobden of England, and Elihu Burritt of Uncle Sam's country-monarchs of thousands of humble adorers-and would not enlarge their arsenals in every direction, and increase their fleets as far as their means will allow.
Of course they don't sail along our coasts in the said fleets, and look into our harbours with any sinister motive. Of course they do not wish to accustom their seamen to the view of the much-dreaded coast of perfidious Albion, nor to show them the way into our numberless unprotected harbours, far away from railroads or the means of sending down troops in a hurry to dislodge an invading army-for, of course, no Frenchman doubts the possibility of their landing. Perhaps, however, they have listened to those angels of peace, the aforesaid Cobden of England, and Burritt of America; and that their only desire is to instruct their seamen in the art of sketching from nature, and to afford them a finer and bolder coast scenery than is to be found on their own shores. That, of course, was the reason why they selected Torbay for the honour of their first visit; and I hope their friends there were flattered by the compliment paid to their scenery.
So much for the French Channel fleet; and now to return to the show at Cherbourg, and the doings of our party there.
Arrival of the Fun-Lionizing on Shore-Groggs lost-His first Love-An irate Father-We rescue our Friend-Yacht Squadrons-Manœuvring-Our first Day over.
THE first day nothing of public importance took place. Yachts came gliding in from all quarters, and steamers, if with less grace, at all events with more noise, bustle, and smoke, paddled up the harbour, with their cargoes of felicity-hunting human beings, very sick and very full of regrets at their folly at having left terra firma to cross the unstable element. Among other English craft, the Fun came in with Jack Mizzen and a large party on board. We quickly pulled alongside to welcome our friends. The ladies had proved better sailors than most of the gentlemen; and though good Mrs. Mizzen, the chaperon of the party, had been a little put out, and still looked rather yellow about the lower extremity of the face, the young ladies, who had been cruising all the summer, and tumbling about in all sorts of weather, had borne the passage remarkably well, and were as frisky and full of laughter as their dear sex are apt to be when they have everything their own way.
We, of course, as in duty bound, undertook to escort them on shore to show them the lions of the place. As the President was not expected till the evening, there was nothing particular to be done, so we had full time to walk about and to lionize to our heart's content. Ashmore took especial charge of Laura Mizzen, while the owner of the Fun kept Fanny Farlie under his arm, and looked unutterable things into her bonnet every now and then, while Susan Simms fell to my share; for
Porpoise made it a point of conscience, I believe, always to watch over the welfare of the chaperon. It was one of his many good points.
Remember, in forming a party of pleasure, never fail to secure a man who likes to make himself agreeable to the chaperon, or you will inevitably make some promising youth miserable, and bore the old lady into the bargain. Groggs was the only man not paired. It was a pity the Miss Rullocks had not come; no blame to them, but their pa would not let them. Mizzen had brought no other gentlemen, as he had to give up all the after-part of his craft to his fair passengers, in order to make them comfortable.
The two gigs carried the party properly apportioned between each, and in fine style we dashed up under the eyes of thousands of admiring spectators to the landing-place at the entrance of the inner basin, now filled with a number of yachts, which had got in there for shelter. The hotel was, of course, full; so the ladies resolved to live on board the yacht while they remained.
Our first visit was to the dockyard, through which we were conducted by a gendarme. We were particularly struck by the large proportion of anchors, of which, as Mizzen observed, he supposed there was a considerable expenditure in the French fleet. The vast inner basins, yet incomplete, look like huge pits, as if excavated to discover some hidden city. There are lines of heavy batteries seaward, which would doubtlessly much inconvenience an approaching fleet; but as their shot would not reach a blockading squadron, they could not prevent an enemy's fleet from shutting up theirs inside the breakwater, while it remained fine, supposing such a squadron ready to convoy over a fleet of troop-ships to the opposite shore; and were it to come on to blow, they might be welcome to put to sea as fast as they like, and a pleasant sail to them across channel.
We went into a church where mass was being performed, and had to pay a sous each for our seats: the faithful who do not like paying must kneel on the ground, which is kept in the most holy state of filth, in order not to tempt them to economise. Our next visit was to the Museum. Its attractions were not great, with the exception of some large pictures of naval combats, drawn by artists of merit undoubted by the citizens of Cherbourg, but who, nevertheless, had not read "James's Naval History" to any good purpose; for, by some extraordinary oversight, the English were invariably getting tremendously thrashed (without their knowing it), and the French fleet were with colours flying, proudly victorious. Perhaps our histories differ; for certain battles, which we consider of importance, were not even in any way represented. Trafalgar, St. Vincent, the Nile, were totally ignored. Porpoise said that, to show his gratitude for the attention we received, he should present them with a correct painting of the first-named battle.
They'll alter the buntin, if you do, and hoist the French over the English," observed Ashmore. "Though they may suspect that they cannot deceive the present generation, they hope to give their descendants an idea that they were everywhere victorious. They will boast of their glory, even at the risk of being convicted of fibbing by their posterity." They know pretty well that the easy credulity of their countrymen will allow them to go any length, in direct opposition to truth, without fear of contradiction," replied Porpoise. "Why, the greater the scrape Sept.-VOL. XCVI. NO. CCCLXXXI.
Nap. or any of his generals got into, the more glowing and grandiloquent was their despatch. Depend on it that humbug has vast influence in the world, and the French knowing it, small blame to them, they make use of it whenever it suits their purpose."
After we had shown all the sights to be seen to our fair companions, we were walking through the somewhat crowded streets on our return to the boats, when by some chance we got separated from each other. We, however, managed to find our way at the rendezvous, with the exception of Groggs, who was not forthcoming. As he was guiltless of speaking a word of any other language than his mother-tongue, we could not leave him to find his way by himself on board, and accordingly Porpoise and I, handing our charges into the boat, hurried off in search of him. We agreed not to be absent more than a quarter of an hour, and away we started, taking different routes among the crowds of women with high butterfly muslin caps, and bearded soldiers with worsted epaulettes, and sailors totally unlike English, notwithstanding all the pains they had taken to imitate them. We agreed that this dissimilarity arose much from the different mould in which the men are cast, and the utter impossibility of a French tailor cutting a seaman's jacket and trousers correctly. Poor fellows, they all wore braces, and though they tried to swagger a little in imitation of the English seaman's roll, we could not help pitying them, as destined to be soundly thrashed one day or other, if their leaders chose to go to war with us.
In despair of finding Groggs among such a collection of idlers, I was wending my way back, when I was attracted by a crowd in front of the shop of a marchand d'eau-de-Cologne, and above the din of shrill voices I heard one which, by its unmistakable accents, I recognised as that of our lost companion. At the same time, Porpoise appearing some way up the street, I beckoned him towards me, and together we worked our way through the grinning crowd. In the shop was a damsel with considerable pretensions to beauty, before whom, on his knees, appeared Groggs, fervently clasping her hand, while with no less fervour, and much more gesticulation, his hair was grasped by a little man, the father, we found, of the damsel, and whose dress and highly-curled locks at once betrayed the peruquier, or the hair-artist, as he would probably have styled himself.
"But I tell you, old gentleman, my intentions are most honourable towards the lady!" exclaimed Groggs, trying to save his head from being scalped entirely. "I tell you, sir, I have rarely seen so much beauty and excellence combined; and, if she is not displeased with my attentions, I don't see why you or any other man should interfere."
"Je suis son père, je vous dit, et je ne permets pas des libertés avec ma fille!" cried the irate Frenchman, giving another tug at his unlucky locks.
Groggs now caught sight of us, and appealed to us to save him. As we advanced, the young lady disengaged herself from his hand and ran behind the counter, the peruquier withdrew his clutches, and Groggs rushed forward to meet us. The Frenchman gazed at us with a fierce look of inquiry; but the uniform Porpoise wore on the occasion, and my yachting costume, gained us some respect, I suppose.
"What in the name of wonder is all this about?" I exclaimed, looking at Groggs; and then turning to the Frenchman, I observed, in my best
French and blandest tone, "that our arrival was fortunate, as I hoped instantly to appease his wrath, and put everything on a pleasing footing."
Groggs then, in a few words, gave us his eventful history since he parted from us. He had been attracted by the words "Eau-de-Cologne" in the affiche over the door, and being anxious to show well how he could make a purchase by himself, he had entered. Instantly struck all of a heap by the beauty and elegant costume of the lady, forgetting all about the eau-de-Cologne, he endeavoured to address her. What was his delight to discover that she could speak some English! Forgetful of the quick passing of time, he stayed on, till the father, hearing a stranger talking to his daughter in a tongue he could not understand, made his appearance. It was at the moment that Groggs, grown bold, had seized her hand, to vow eternal constancy. The lady was not unmoved, though somewhat amused, and not offended. It was probably not the first time her hand had been so taken, she nothing loath; of which fact her most respectable sire was doubtlessly cognizant. To pacify the irate barber, we interpreted the protestations of his honourable intentions which Groggs was pouring out. The daughter, Mademoiselle Eulalie Sophie de Marabout, ably seconded our endeavours, by assuring her papa that the gentleman had behaved in the most respectful manner, nor uttered a word to offend her modest ears. At length we succeeded not only in appeasing the wrath of the artiste, but in propitiating him to such a degree that, assuring us that he felt convinced we were most honourable gentlemen, he invited us all to a soirée in his rooms over the shop that evening. Eulalie, with sweet smiles, seconded the invitation. Groggs was delighted; and we, provided we could manage it, consented to avail ourselves of the respectable gentleman's kindness.
We now hurried off Groggs, for the ladies were all this time waiting in the boats; not before, however, he had whispered to Eulalie that nothing should prevent him, at all events, from renewing the acquaintance thus somewhat inauspiciously begun. It was impossible to refrain from telling the story when we got on board; and had Groggs's admiration for Eulalie been proof against all the raillery and banter with which he was assailed, it would have been powerful indeed. The ladies did not openly allude to his adventure, but they said enough to show him that they knew all about it, or, perhaps, surmised more than had actually occurred, which was worse still.
We returned on board just in time to get under weigh at a signal from our respective commodores, when the yachts of the various squadrons sailed in line outside the breakwater, under the command of the Earl of Wilton, who acted as Admiral of the Fleet. We formed in two columns, and performed a number of evolutions we flattered ourselves, in the most creditable manner and then we re-entered the harbour, and, running down the French line in gallant style, took up our stations again according to signal. Our hearts swelled with pride, and we felt very grand indeed, only wishing that each of our little craft were 74 or 120 gunships, and that the French fleet were what they were. O'Wiggins's yacht was the only one continually out of line, or somewhere where she ought not to have been. This was owing partly to his imagining that he knew more about the matter than the commodore or any one else, and partly to the bad sailing of his craft.