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Campanella by Knud Andersen

Translated by Lydia Cranfield

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 myself."

"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 "Campanella"?

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 sailors.

If only you could have seen the "Campanella" yourself! But then you might have died on the spot with longing to go with her.

Respectfully,

Knud Andersen.

 
 
 

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