Most honoured Madam,
It is now some time since I promised your son I would write to you.
That was at the railway station in Liverpool when he said: "You simply
must be a friend and write to my old lady and tell her exactly how
things are. Say that there must be a Cape Horn'er lying somewhere
hereabouts waiting to stretch her topgallant sails in a stiff
nor'wester down St. George's Channel and that I must just make one
more trip before going home."
Those were his last words to me, and now I am fulfilling the
promise I gave him.
You see, I was quartermaster in the "Northumberland", which you may
have heard of. She is one of the old Atlantic packets, and your son
came on board as a passenger in New York for the voyage home with us
in order to visit you, Madam, and he was neatly dressed and decent in
every way. We got to know each other well, and I can tell you
straightaway that I have seldom met a man with a stronger
determination to visit his mother. Besides, I've never heard anyone
talk more proudly of a lady, and even supposing I did take it for
granted that most of it, anyway, was exaggerated and fanciful—and
I've since forgotten much of the rest—I must say that you are still
my idea of a tip-top mother.—In every respect.—
I remember one evening when we had just sighted Fastnet. A real
Irish snorter had come down on us, with sleet from the northwest. Your
son and I were sitting under the lee of the engine-room casing,
because the "Northumberland", the old wench, was groaning and heaving,
and shipping water fore and aft.
He said only a few words, and I left him in peace, for I knew his
thoughts were only of you. But all of a sudden he exclaimed: "So that
was Ireland; I wonder how an Irishman would feel now."
I made no reply, for don't I know the Irish. A lot of them, too,
roam about for a long time before returning to their own poor island.
"To-morrow evening we shall be in Liverpool," he went on, "and then
Harwich, then Esbjerg, and then——"
Dear Madam, you can see that he was thinking of you! In your place
I should be perfectly satisfied with such a son.
"It's strange returning home," he said suddenly.
"Of course, but we can travel over together. I'm going home
"That's good," he said, "for I don't want to go alone, I haven't
been home for ten years."
Those were his words—and they were plain enough.
No more was said that night, and the next morning everything looked
promising. The "Northumberland" was making a steady fifteen knots from
Tuskar Rock to the South Stack through the snow-squalls, although we
could not see a ship's length from the crow's nest. Suddenly there was
a clearing between two snow-squalls and—God help you, Madam, that did
it, and neither he nor I could undo it.
I am anxious to try to make you understand your son, but then, of
course, you have never seen the full-rigged ship "Campanella", the
record beaker, outward bound from Liverpool. She came along on our
weather side less than a ship's length away. She was running free and
passed us like a vision, dipping her bows to the cat-heads as she
pitched, though the green water was surging along her hatches on
leeward, she carried herself with elegance, Madam, like the newly
created earth when she trod her first dance in the solar system.
Both watches were on deck setting fore-and mizzen-topgallant sails
to a roaring "Blow the Man Down, Bullies", for they were the lads of
the "Campanella", the record breaker. Thank your Creator, dear lady,
that you did not hear them, for you might have died on the spot with
longing to go with them.
When they were abeam we could see the man at her wheel. He stood
there in his thin dungarees, with his cap pushed back, for the
"Campanella" was hard on the helm. Up to windward Old Man White was
balancing on the taffrail with one hand on the main-brace and the
other clutching a megaphone.—You'll hardly credit it when I tell you
that just as she was passing us, he put the megaphone to his mouth,
yelling: "Loose the royals!"—Would you believe it, to crack on royals
in a north-westerly gale! But he did it, although his beard was grey,
for wasn't he Old Man White himself, the skipper of the famous
Another snow-squall wiped her from view and, dear Madam, when I
turned round there was your son standing next to me. He was as pale as
a ghost, and if you could have looked into his eyes you too would have
understood how he felt.
"Now she's getting royals as well!" was all he murmured so nicely,
Madam.—Apart from that we did not speak, nor did I try to dissuade
him when we landed in Liverpool the next day; but as I've already
said, he came to the station to see me off, and his last words were:
"Now you must write and tell my old lady exactly how it is"—
You must forgive him for choosing a dog's life instead of coming
home to see you. He was so neat and decently dressed, and sober, and
if you should think that he made a mistake then it is simply because I
have explained things badly—writing is not much in the line of us
If only you could have seen the "Campanella" yourself! But then you
might have died on the spot with longing to go with her.