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Here follows an account, which shows how easily sailors may make mistakes, and also proves the advantage of a little closer examination.
Some English sailors, examining the coasts of an island in the Pacific, found a large cave, which they entered in their boats from the sea. After penetrating it to a little distance, they found their further progress impeded by some moving object, which seemed to them alive. The indistinctness of the light prevented an accurate examination, and as mystery always magnifies danger, they concluded it was some huge marine monster who made the cavern his home. One extra vigorous roll of the mass completely upset their nerves, and the sighing of the wind through the vaulted roofs and arches of the cave gave a moaning and indistinct sound, which had a powerful effect on their imagination; and to make this story brief, these men, who would have dared anything in battle or storm, pulled their boats' head round, and literally fled from the spot.
After a little discussion, they mustered up courage to return with some companions in another boat, and set about an investigation of the cause of their alarm. Upon close examination, the marine monster proved to be an old palm-tree, which had been blown into the sea from the coast, and had then drifted with the tide into the cavern. One end was poised upon a shelying rock, and time had covered the whole with seaweed and shells. The rising and falling of the water, caused by the swell of the sea outside, gave it that motion which their excited imaginations had conjured into life.
The sea-serpent in China does not greatly differ from that familiar to us in so many yarns. Dr. Macgowan tells us that in a popular legend, the Chien Tang river was at one time infested by a great Kiau or sea-serpent, and in 1129 A. D., a district graduate is said to have heroically thrown himself into the flood to encounter and destroy the monster. His wife forthwith put an end to her existence also, from devotion to him, and their virtues were commemorated by a temple erected for their worship. The sea-serpents noticed in Chinese records have always infested the mouths of rivers. Other remarkable animals are stated to have visited the Chien Tang. In 488 A. D., a salt inspector discovered near its mouth a marine monster three hundred feet long, of a black colour, and without scales, which was eaten by its captors.
Dennys points out a coincidence between two legends, one Chinese and the other English. At Nanking a large basin formerly decorated the top of the celebrated porcelain pagoda, and a late visitor discovered it among the ruins; it was thirty-nine feet in circumference. The basin being placed with its mouth upwards, was constantly full of rain water. The story goes that a bird, perched upon the edge of the basin, one day dropped a fish into the water, which grew and grew till it became a strange monster, exercising such an evil influence over the neighbourhood that the god of Thunder was at last compelled to attack it, and in so doing struck the pagoda and partially destroyed it. The erection itself was finally demolished by the rebels in 1856.
Now, if we turn to Henderson's "Folk-Lore of the Northern Countries," we find the story of the "Heir of Lambton.” Fishing one day in the Wear, he felt something tugging at his line, and thought he had secured a fine fish. But to his horror, he found that he had only caught a gigantic worm, or water-snake of unsightly appearance, which he hastily tore from his hook and flung into a well close by. A stranger of venerable appearance passing by, asked him what sport he had met with, to which he replied: "Why, truly, I think I have caught the devil himself. Look in and judge." The stranger looked, and remarked that he thought it boded no good. Meantime, the worm remained in the well till it outgrew a hiding-place so confined. It then emerged, and betook itself by day to the river, and by night to a neighbouring hill, round the base of which it would twine itself, while it continued to grow so fast that it soon could encircle the hill three times. The monster soon became the terror of the whole country side, till it was killed by the brave young knight, the "Heir of Lambton."
A BURIAL AT SEA
[From "Two Years Before the Mast," BY RICHARD HENRY Dana]
HIS was a black day in our calendar. At seven
o'clock in the morning, it being our watch be
low, we were aroused from a sound sleep by the cry of “All hands ahoy! a man overboard !" This unwonted cry sent a thrill through the heart of every one, and, hurrying on deck, we found the vessel hove flat aback, with all her studding-sails set; for, the boy who was at the helm leaving it to throw something overboard, the carpenter, who was an old sailor, knowing that the wind was light, put the helm down and hove her aback. The watch on deck were lowering away the quarter-boat, and I got on deck just in time to fling myself into her as she was leaving the side ; but it was not until out upon the wide Pacific, in our little boat, that I knew whom we had lost. It was George Ballmer, the young English sailor, whom I have before spoken of as the life of the crew. He was prized by the officers as an active and willing seaman, and by the men as a lively, hearty fellow, and a good shipmate. He was going aloft to fit a strap round the main topmasthead, for ringtail halyards, and had the strap and block, a coil of halyards, and a marline-spike about his neck. He fell from the starboard futtock shrouds, and, not knowing how to swim, and being heavily dressed, with all those things round his neck, he probably sank immediately. We pulled astern, in the direction in which he fell, and though we knew that there was no hope of saving him, yet no one wished to speak of returning, and we rowed about for nearly an hour, without an idea of doing anything, but unwilling to acknowledge to ourselves that we must give him up. At length we turned the boat's head and made towards the brig
Death is at all times solemn, but never so much so as at sea. A man dies on shore; his body remains with his friends, and "the mourners go about the streets"; but when a man falls overboard at sea and is lost, there is a suddenness in the event, and a difficulty in realizing it, which give to it an air of awful mystery. A man dies on shore,—you follow his body to the grave, and a stone marks the spot. You are often prepared for the event. There is always something which helps you to realize it when it happens, and to recall it when it has passed. A man is shot down by your side in battle, and the mangled body remains an object, and a real evidence; but at sea, the man is near you,—at your side, —you hear his voice, and in an instant he is gone, and nothing but a vacancy shows his loss. Then, too, at sea—to use a homely but expressive phrase—you miss a man so much. A dozen men are shut up together in a little bark upon the wide, wide sea, and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their own, and one is taken suddenly from among them, and they miss him at every turn. It is like losing a limb. There are no new faces or new scenes to fill up the gap. There is always an empty berth in the forecastle, and one man wanting when the small night-watch is mustered. There is one less to take the wheel, and one less to lay out with you upon the yard.