To Cuba and Back

To Cuba and Back

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FROM MANHATTAN TO EL MORRO

The steamer is to sail at one P.M.; and, by half-past twelve, her decks are full, and the mud and snow of the pier are well trodden by men and horses. Coaches drive down furiously, and nervous passengers put their heads out to see if the steamer is off before her time; and on the decks, and in the gangways, inexperienced passengers run against everybody, and mistake the engineer for the steward, and come up the same stairs they go down, without knowing it. In the dreary snow, the newspaper vendors cry the papers, and the book vendors thrust yellow covers into your face—"Reading for the voyage, sir—five hundred pages, close print!" And that being rejected, they reverse the process of the Sibyl—with "Here's another, sir, one thousand pages, double columns." The great beam of the engine moves slowly up and down, and the black hull sways at its fasts. A motley group are the passengers. Shivering Cubans, exotics that have taken slight root in the hothouses of the Fifth Avenue, are to brave a few days of sleet and cold at sea, for the palm trees and mangoes, the cocoas and orange trees, they will be sitting under in six days, at farthest. There are Yankee shipmasters going out to join their "cotton wagons" at New Orleans and Mobile, merchants pursuing a commerce that knows no rest and no locality; confirmed invalids advised to go to Cuba to die under mosquito nets and be buried in a Potter's Field; and other invalids wisely enough avoiding our March winds; and here and there a mere vacationmaker, like myself.

Captain Bullock is sure to sail at the hour; and at the hour he is on the paddle-box, the fasts are loosed, the warp run out, the crew pull in on the warp on the port quarter, and the head swings off. No word is spoken, but all is done by signs; or, if a word is necessary, a low clear tone carries it to the listener. There is no tearing and rending escape of steam, deafening and distracting all, and giving a kind of terror to a peaceful scene; but our ship swings off, gathers way, and enters upon her voyage, in a quiet like that of a bank or counting-room, almost under a spell of silence.

The state-rooms of the "Cahawba," like those of most American sea-going steamers, are built so high above the water that the windows may be open in all but the worst of weather, and good ventilation be ensured. I have a very nice fellow for my room-mate, in the berth under me; but, in a state-room, no room-mate is better than the best; so I change my quarters to a state-room further forward, nearer "the eyes of her," which the passengers generally shun, and get one to myself, free from the rattle of the steering gear, while the delightful rise and fall of the bows, and leisurely weather roll and lee roll, cradle and nurse one to sleep.

The routine of the ship, as regards passengers, is this: a cup of coffee, if you desire it, when you turn out; breakfast at eight, lunch at twelve, dinner at three, tea at seven, and lights put out at ten.

Throughout the day, sailing down the outer edge of the Gulf Stream, we see vessels of all forms and sizes, coming in sight and passing away, as in a dioramic show....