Storm­bound at Har­bour Grace

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH - BY BUR­TON K. JANES

In the sum­mer of 1867, the Hant’s Har­bour na­tive, Malcolm G. Brem­ner (1847-1910), left his adopted home, On­tario, to visit his home­land, New­found­land.

In mid-July, while wait­ing to con­tinue his trip, the 19-year-old ed­i­tor of The Lon­don Free Press was storm­bound overnight at Har­bour Grace. He later wrote about the night in a let­ter, which was pub­lished in the Cana­dian Free Press, a weekly edi­tion of The Lon­don Free Press.

Ed­i­tor Brem­ner be­gan:“On a cold, wet, dull and dreary evening near the mid­dle of July - for such evenings some­times come in that month in Terra Nova - the lit­tle steamer Ariel touched at Har­bour Grace, bound for the north­ward, and I was soon on board, booked for Trin­ity, in the ad­join­ing Bay of that name.

“A steady rain poured down, a thick fog hung over the town like a dark­some pall, in­ter­mit­tent gusts of wind swept down from Sad­dle Hill and, al­to­gether, there was a pretty sure prospect of a dirty night.

“The skip­per, be­ing a cau­tious sailor, de­ter­mined not to put out in such weather. So, we made the best of a bad bar­gain and awaited the re­turn of morn­ing.

“My fel­low pas­sen­gers em­braced 15 young ladies and about eight young swells from the metropo­lis. It was as jolly a com­pany as one ever fell in with - the con­densed steam of the St. John’s so­cial boiler, out for a ‘lark’ and bent on be­ing merry or blown up.

“The Ariel has been built more with a view to car­ry­ing the mails than pas­sen­gers. Very sel­dom there are any pas­sen­gers at all and, to make up for this de­fi­ciency, a higher mail sub­sidy is ob­tained from gov­ern­ment and higher rates of pas­sage than we are ac­cus­tomed to are de­manded. A jour­ney of 60 miles costs a pound. There are no es­pe­cial con­ve­niences for ladies, and the or­di­nary cabin is made to serve the pur­poses of sit­ting room, din­ing room, cup­boards, lock­ers and, at bed­time, it is di­vided off into state­rooms or bunks. This, how­ever, is much su­pe­rior to the old method, when one was com­pelled to adopt any ac­com­mo­da­tion that of­fered.

“It was re­solved to keep up full steam all night and, when the fog lifted, we were to sail - in the mean­time, to be happy or mis­er­able, as it suited. We chose to be happy and suc­ceeded.

“In the prepa­ra­tion of sup­per, the waiter was obliged to let us into some of his house­keep­ing se­crets, which he did in this wise.

“Ap­proach­ing one of the 15 angels spo­ken of, with a grin on his ‘phaz’ and his fore­fin­ger stroking an imag­i­nary pim­ple on the chin, he said,‘I’ll dish­turb ye, ma’am.’ On her ris­ing gra­ciously, he re­moved the cush­ion and, open­ing a small locker in the seat, took out the cheese, su­gar and salt; de­posit­ing which on the ta­ble, he care­fully re­placed the cush­ion and, bid­ding the lady be re­seated, moved off to an­other side to ask an­other lady’s in­dul­gence, while he pro­duced the but­ter, bread and cold meat from a sim­i­lar hid­ing place. Then, lift­ing a small trap un­der the ta­ble, he de­scended into a dark hole and soon emerged with a sup­ple­men­tary stock.

“Sup­per over, mirth and mu­sic fol­lowed. In­deed, the jol­lity height­ened as the fog low­ered, the rain pat­tered on the deck and the wind whis­tled over­head. But for their hi­lar­ity, I con­fess my spir­its would have fallen in a de­gree cor­re­spond­ing to the weather, for the hu­man barom­e­ter is of­ten sus­cep­ti­ble of great de­pres­sion un­der such in­flu­ence.

“The mu­si­cal ge­nius of the awed party en­ter­tained us with 20 in­dif­fer­ent selections on the Ger­man con­certina, and one of the young ladies, who seemed af­flicted with a chronic cold in the head, sang some songs, war­bling forth some­what in this strain: Bood­light is be­abig, soft dews are stre­abig, Joy stars are gleabig, over the lea; Dight is reposig, whilst eyes are closig, Lips udopposig, cobe, love, with be; Whilst eyes are closig, cobe, love, with be!

The poem Moon­light is beam­ing, writ­ten by Des­mond Ryan, mu­sic by Cle­ment White, ac­tu­ally goes: Moon­light is beam­ing, Soft dews are stream­ing, Joy, stars are gleam­ing, Over the lea. Night is repos­ing, Whilst eyes are clos­ing Lips un­op­pos­ing Come, love, with me.

“When the in­ter­est flagged, a young school­mas­ter of Bon­av­ista, who was in liquor, gave us some quo­ta­tions from the Latin gram­mar which, how­ever in­ter­est­ing to him­self, soon wea­ried his lis­ten­ers and they were glad­dened at length by his fall­ing asleep.

“Bed­time came and the swells got a mys­te­ri­ous in­vi­ta­tion to go on deck, and they obeyed it, not mind­ing the pelt­ing rain, nor the cold, nor the fog, in­stinc­tively sur­mis­ing that the girls de­sired to be alone.

“The ine­bri­ated knight of the birch-rod, how­ever, was left, inas­much as it was thought his cups would hold him in a safe slum­ber.

“In 10 min­utes, the wa­ter had con­verted the cabin into a tol­er­a­bly neat suit of apart­ments af­ter the man­ner of the sleep­ing car. But how long it took the dear crea­tures to stow away, be­fore we were per­mit­ted again to en­ter, heaven only knows, but it must have been a full hour, dur­ing which time the ques­tion was dis­cussed whether, un­der the cir­cum­stances, the gal­lantry of th­ese par­tic­u­lar swells should go far­ther than 12 o’clock.

“At length, all grew quiet be­low. The merry laugh­ter died away and we went down, shiver­ing with cold and badly want­ing a ‘night­cap.’ We found the Do­minie still re­clin­ing on his chair, his head thrown back and his eye­brows and mous­tache co­pi­ously be­smeared with mus­tard and pep­per. While we stood, won­der­ing what this meant, a cho­rus of gig­gling came from be­hind mys­te­ri­ous red cur­tains and bright eyes were caught peer­ing out be­tween them. The poor school­mas­ter was well pun­ished and it was not dif­fi­cult to sad­dle the guilt on the right shoul­ders.

“The bunks on the right were speed­ily oc­cu­pied by some of the swells, while those who were de­prived, ac­com­mo­dated them­selves upon the floor. It was as­ton­ish­ing how read­ily they suited them­selves to their po­si­tion and how nat­u­rally their bodies de­scribed cer­tain let­ters in the al­pha­bet. One or two formed the let­ter 7, an­other L, while the school­mas­ter, at last tum­bling from his chair, dou­bled up in the form of an O. In this po­si­tion, we fell asleep, ex­pect­ing to leave the har­bour early in the morn­ing.”

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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