Nothing occurred to retard the progress of the vessel until Sunday morning, when the increasing thickness of the atmosphere betokened the approach of one of those heavy fogs which so frequently hover over the coast of Newfoundland.
There are few things more perplexing to the mariner than to find himself suddenly enveloped in one of these thick mists: it is impenetrable gloom; night and day are both alike; the sails, saturated with the watery vapour, hang heavily, and flap against the masts with a sad foreboding sound, whilst every heart on board feels more or less oppressed by the atmospheric influence, and every countenance expresses languor or discontent. But these discomforts are minor evils compared with other attendants upon a Newfoundland fog. It often happens that, in spite of every precaution on the part of the men on the look-out, the bows of the vessel run across some unfortunate fishing boat; and before a single voice can be raised in warning, a sudden shock, a smothered cry, a gurgling of the waves, tell the sad tale! One moment, and all is silent; the ship pursues her course, and no trace is left of the little vessel and her crew, for whom many days and nights will anxious love keep watch; but those objects of a mother’s tenderness and of a wife’s affection will never more gladden the eyes of the watchers, till ‘the sea shall give up her dead.’
Would that such calamities were of less frequent occurrence. There is one curious characteristic of these fogs, which in some degree mitigates the evil of them: they sometimes do not extend beyond a few miles, having the appearance of a huge wall of dense cloud or mist. A vessel, after beating about for hours, will suddenly emerge from almost total darkness, the clouds break away, and all hearts are gladdened by finding themselves once more beneath the rays of the glorious sun.
Captain Basil Hall gives an amusing instance of such an occurrence. The Cambrian ’had run in from sea towards the coast, enveloped in one of these dense fogs. Of course they took it for granted that the light-house and the adjacent land—Halifax included—were likewise covered with an impenetrable cloud of mist; but it so chanced, by what freak of Dame Nature I know not, that the fog on that day was confined to the deep water, so that we who were in the port could see it at the distance of several miles from the coast, lying on the ocean like a huge stratum of snow, with an abrupt face fronting the shore.
’The Cambrian, lost in the midst of this fog-bank, supposing herself to be near land, fired a gun. To this the light-house replied; and so the ship and the light-house went on pelting away gun for gun during half the day, without seeing one another.