Letters From The Cape By Lady Duff Gordon

 - LETTERS FROM THE CAPE

by Lady Duff Gordon

(From the 1921 edition)

LETTER I - THE VOYAGE



Wednesday, 24th July.
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LETTERS FROM THE CAPE

By Lady Duff Gordon

(From the 1921 edition)

LETTER I - THE VOYAGE

Wednesday, 24th July. Off the Scilly Isles, 6 P.M.

When I wrote last Sunday, we put our pilot on shore, and went down Channel. It soon came on to blow, and all night was squally and rough. Captain on deck all night. Monday, I went on deck at eight. Lovely weather, but the ship pitching as you never saw a ship pitch - bowsprit under water. By two o'clock a gale came on; all ordered below. Captain left dinner, and, about six, a sea struck us on the weather side, and washed a good many unconsidered trifles overboard, and stove in three windows on the poop; nurse and four children in fits; Mrs. T- and babies afloat, but good- humoured as usual. Army-surgeon and I picked up children and bullied nurse, and helped to bale cabin. Cuddy window stove in, and we were wetted. Went to bed at nine; could not undress, it pitched so, and had to call doctor to help me into cot; slept sound. The gale continues. My cabin is water-tight as to big splashes, but damp and dribbling. I am almost ashamed to like such miseries so much. The forecastle is under water with every lurch, and the motion quite incredible to one only acquainted with steamers. If one can sit this ship, which bounds like a tiger, one should sit a leap over a haystack. Evidently, I can never be sea- sick; but holding on is hard work, and writing harder.

Life is thus:- Avery - my cuddy boy - brings tea for S-, and milk for me, at six. S- turns out; when she is dressed, I turn out, and sing out for Avery, who takes down my cot, and brings a bucket of salt water, in which I wash with vast danger and difficulty; get dressed, and go on deck at eight. Ladies not allowed there earlier. Breakfast solidly at nine. Deck again; gossip; pretend to read. Beer and biscuit at twelve. The faithful Avery brings mine on deck. Dinner at four. Do a little carpentering in cabin, all the outfitters' work having broken loose. I am now in the captain's cabin, writing. We have the wind as ever, dead against us; and as soon as we get unpleasantly near Scilly, we shall tack and stand back to the French coast, where we were last night. Three soldiers able to answer roll-call, all the rest utterly sick; three middies helpless. Several of crew, ditto. Passengers very fairly plucky; but only I and one other woman, who never was at sea before, well. The food on board our ship is good as to meat, bread, and beer; everything else bad. Port and sherry of British manufacture, and the water with an incredible borachio, essence of tar; so that tea and coffee are but derisive names.

To-day, the air is quite saturated with wet, and I put on my clothes damp when I dressed, and have felt so ever since. I am so glad I was not persuaded out of my cot; it is the whole difference between rest, and holding on for life. No one in a bunk slept at all on Monday night; but then it blew as heavy a gale as it can blow, and we had the Cornish coast under our lee. So we tacked and tumbled all night. The ship being new, too, has the rigging all wrong; and the confusion and disorder are beyond description. The ship's officers are very good fellows. The mizen is entirely worked by the 'young gentlemen'; so we never see the sailors, and, at present, are not allowed to go forward. All lights are put out at half-past ten, and no food allowed in the cabin; but the latter article my friend Avery makes light of, and brings me anything when I am laid up. The young soldier-officers bawl for him with expletives; but he says, with a snigger, to me, 'They'll just wait till their betters, the ladies, is looked to.' I will write again some day soon, and take the chance of meeting a ship; you may be amused by a little scrawl, though it will probably be very stupid and ill-written, for it is not easy to see or to guide a pen while I hold on to the table with both legs and one arm, and am first on my back and then on my nose. Adieu, till next time. I have had a good taste of the humours of the Channel.

29th July, 4 Bells, i.e. 2 o'clock, p.m. - When I wrote last, I thought we had had our share of contrary winds and foul weather. Ever since, we have beaten about the bay with the variety of a favourable gale one night for a few hours, and a dead calm yesterday, in which we almost rolled our masts out of the ship. However, the sun was hot, and I sat and basked on deck, and we had morning service. It was a striking sight, with the sailors seated on oars and buckets, covered with signal flags, and with their clean frocks and faces. To-day is so cold that I dare not go on deck, and am writing in my black-hole of a cabin, in a green light, with the sun blinking through the waves as they rush over my port and scuttle. The captain is much vexed at the loss of time. I persist in thinking it a very pleasant, but utterly lazy life. I sleep a great deal, but don't eat much, and my cough has been bad; but, considering the real hardship of the life - damp, cold, queer food, and bad drink - I think I am better. When we can get past Finisterre, I shall do very well, I doubt not.

The children swarm on board, and cry unceasingly. A passenger-ship is no place for children.

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