The least agreeable part of our voyage came near the end. It was when we were in the fogs off the coast of Newfoundland. The work that tired one to death was not sufficient to keep one warm; the cold mist seemed to soak through one’s flesh as well as one’s slops, and to cling to one’s bones as it clung to the ship’s gear. The deck was slippery and cold, everything, except the funnel, was sticky and cold, and the fog-horn made day and night hideous with noises like some unmusical giant trying in vain to hit the note Fa. The density of the fog varied. Sometimes we could not see each other a few feet off, at others we could see pretty well what we were about on the vessel, but could see nothing beyond.
We went very slowly, and the fog lasted unusually long. It included a Sunday, which is a blessed day to Jack at sea. No tarring, greasing, oiling, painting, scraping or scrubbing but what is positively necessary, and no yarn-spinning but that of telling travellers’ tales, which seamen aptly describe as spinning yarns. I heard a great many that day which recalled the school-master’s stories, and filled my head and heart with indefinable longings and impatience. More and more did it seem impossible that one could live content in one little corner of this interesting world when one has eyes to see and ears to hear, and hands for work, and legs to run away with.
Not that the tales that were told on this occasion were of an encouraging nature, for they were all about fogs and ice; but they were very interesting. One man had made this very voyage in a ship that got out of her course as it might be where we were then. She was too far to the north’ard when a fog came on, as it might be the very fog we were in at that moment, and it lasted, lifting a bit and falling again worse than ever, just the very same as it was a-doing now. Cold? He believed you this fog was cold, and you might believe him that fog was cold, but the cold of both together would not be a patch upon what it was when your bones chattered in your skin and you heard the ship’s keel grinding, and said “Ice!” “He’d seen some queer faces—dead and living—in his time, but when that fog lifted and the sun shone upon walls of green ice on both sides above our head, and the captain’s face as cold and as green as them with knowing all was up—”
At this point the narrator was called away, and somebody asked,
“Has any one heard him tell how it ended?”
“I did,” said Pat Shaughnessy, “and it spoilt me dinner that time.”
“Go on, Pat! What happened to them?”
“The lowest depths of misfortune. Sorra a soul but himself and a boy escaped by climbing to a ledge on the topmost peak of one of the icebergs just in the nick of time to see the ship cracked like a walnut between your fingers. And the worst was to come, bad luck!”
“What? Go on, Paddy! What did he and the boy do?”
“They just eat each other,” faltered Pat. “But, Heaven be praised! a whaler fetched off the survivor. It was then that he got the bad fever though, so maybe he dreamt the worst.”