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worried a little about you, captain. They heard from you on Japan, somewhere in the middle of the season, but they didn't hear of your being at the islands in the fall, when we got the reports from the feet. 'Spose you made a port in some out-of-the-way place ?”
“Yes, I made a running cruise of it, and didn't anchor till I made my last port in Sydney; so I've brought my own report from there."
We ran into Holmes' Hole and anchored at nine o'clock among a large fleet of coasting vessels, who had made a harbor for the night like ourselves. Before daylight in the morning we were heaving up again, and, with a fair wind, we ran down for Nantucket Bar with all our bunting Aying. Down goes our anchor again in the old berth which we left three years ago, the sails are rolled up to the yards in a hurry, and a boat is lowered to pull the captain ashore. The owner is seen with his horse and the inevitable green box on wheels, waiting on the cliff shore to receive him, and take him to the arms of his family. The boat pulls square in, and lands him on the north beach, and returns to the ship, for an immense black Noah's-ark-looking craft is already seen moving out of the docks in the harbor, which the pilot tells us is “the camels." Several boats soon arrive, with friends and relatives of the Nantucket men. Here is our worthy mate's son in one of them, a stout, well-grown lad and evidently a “chip of the old block"; and here in another. boat is an embryo “Cape Horner,” a young brother of Obed B., who is already shipped, and is to sail in a fortnight.
“Ah, Obed"; he says, as he hops in over the rail, with hands outstretched, and his nut-brown, young face lighted up with pleasure and excitement, “I'm going in the
Ranger; and if you hadn't got home just as you did, you wouldn't have seen me for I don't know how many years. Yes, the folks are all well at home, and the camels will have you into the wharf before night. The steamer will be along soon. We've got a new steamboat, too, since you went away. Say, Obed, I got the dollar from Captain Upton's wife this morning. I was the first boy that knew it was the Arethusa. One of the men came down out of the old south tower, and told me what signal the ship had set, and I put for the captain's house. I got the dollar, and then I dug for another, for I knew where the mate's wife lived, too; but some other boys had found it out by that time, and I had a tight race for it with Jack Manter, but I was tired then, I had run so far, and Manter got ahead of me, and sung out first, as he rushed into the front entry, but I tumbled right in after him. Mrs. Grafton was scared half to death at first, till she understood what the matter was, and then she laughed and cried both at once, and handed out a dollar, and said we might divide it, if we liked, but it belonged to Jack, for he was a little ahead of me, and I didn't care much, for I'd got one. Some mate's wives don't give but half a dollar," said he, pausing to get breath.
I cannot stop to hear any more, for here is Richards, still out-door clerk of Messrs. Brooks & Co., and he is the only man likely to have any news for us "off islanders." He is ready with a hearty greeting and handshaking, and is prepared to "infit” us with clothing of any style, price or quality, as soon as we land. He produces a bunch of letters which have been directed to various ships expected to arrive soon, "care of Brooks & Co.," and rapidly shuffles them over. Yes! there is my beloved sister's
handwriting, and here is another from my parents.
I tear them open with a beating heart; all is well with those nearest and dearest to me. That is enough for the present. I will read the details when more at leisure, and in a few days I will be with them. I shall not write in reply, but, like the ship, I will bring home my own report.
"Here comes the camels round Brant Pointl" cries the mate, running with the spyglass to look at the clumsy, floating dock which is creeping slowly at us, without any visible means of propulsion, so far as we can see, for the propellers are under the stern. It looks like nothing in the way of naval architecture that we have ever seen, but might serve as an immense floating battery, to be moored for the defence of a harbor. As it draws nearer, we can see that it is built in two parts, being divided lengthwise. The inside of each section or half is built concave to receive the hull of the ship, and to fit round her sides, and under her bilge and floor, as nearly as possible to its general form. The two parts are connected by several heavy chains, which are secured on the deck of one "camel," passing down through it under the keel of the ship, and up through the other, where they are hove taut with windlasses.
The camels having taken up their position near the ship, the plugs are drawn, allowing them to fill with water and sink. Being now ready to receive the ship, our anchor is hove up, lines streamed, and she is hauled in between them. The connecting chains are then hove taut by the windlasses, and thus the ship is completely docked, her bottom resting fairly on the concave inner surfaces of the camels, and the chains passing under her keel. She is now ready to be raised, and as soon as the steamboat heaves in sight, returning from her regular trip to New Bedford, the steam pumps are set in operation throwing out the water from the camels. The steamer passes within hail, and goes on into the harbor to land her mails and passengers, the captain promising to return at once and hook on to us. Meanwhile the steam-pumps work steadily on, throwing out the water, and the whole fabric is seen gradually to rise, inch by inch, till the water is all out, and the ship is lifted out of the water, the camels themselves being flat and the draft very light. We are just in time for the returning steamboat, hawsers are run to us, she takes us in tow, and after a short struggle to overcome the vis inertiæ of the immense arklike contrivance, we move along under good headway. We round Brant Point and steam up nearly to the end of the wharf, when the steamer leaves us, the camels are filled and sink down again, the ship is dropped out from between them, lines run to the pier, and, in a few minutes, she is tied up head and stern alongside her wharf, and ready to discharge her oil. “Hurrah for the camels" is the sentiment of every man on board, and of nearly every one on shore, too, except the lightermen whose "occupation is gone."
Our old landlord is on hand to furnish us board and lodging at the old rates; Messrs. Brooks & Co. are in the same place, the same business operations are going on now as three years ago, and the same knots of seafaring men, or, at least, their very counterparts, pervade "the store," and pass their time in much the same manner. No one seems to have changed or grown any older. There is nothing new under the sun but the camels and the steamer Massachusetts.
Of course, we could not be paid off until the oil was discharged on the wharf, gauged, and filled up, so that
our "lays” could be calculated exactly. This detained me several days; for, although I might have drawn money from the owners, or from Brooks & Co., yet I preferred to settle up the whole matter before going home to my friends, rather than to be under the necessity of returning to Nantucket. I, of course, took my place among the veteran whalemen, now. I had earned the right to wear a fine, blue roundabout, and morocco pumps, with long streamers of ribbon, to roll and swagger as becomes the "ancient mariner,” and to patronize the green hands who formed the last cargo of the Lydia Ann, .for that gallant craft is still running as good as new.