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An essay by George William Curtis

A Cruise In The Flying Dutchman

Title:     A Cruise In The Flying Dutchman
Author: George William Curtis [More Titles by Curtis]

"When I sailed: when I sailed."
Ballad of Robert Kidd.

With the opening of spring my heart opens. My fancy expands with the flowers, and, as I walk down town in the May morning, toward the dingy counting-room, and the old routine, you would hardly believe that I would not change my feelings for those of the French Barber-Poet Jasmin, who goes, merrily singing, to his shaving and hair cutting.

The first warm day puts the whole winter to flight. It stands in front of the summer like a young warrior before his host, and, single-handed, defies and destroys its remorseless enemy.

I throw up the chamber-window, to breathe the earliest breath of summer.

"The brave young David has hit old Goliath square in the forehead this morning," I say to Prue, as I lean out, and bathe in the soft sunshine.

My wife is tying on her cap at the glass, and, not quite disentangled from her dreams, thinks I am speaking of a street-brawl, and replies that I had better take care of my own head.

"Since you have charge of my heart, I suppose," I answer gaily, turning round to make her one of Titbottom's bows.

"But seriously, Prue, how is it about my summer wardrobe?"

Prue smiles, and tells me we shall have two months of winter yet, and I had better stop and order some more coal as I go down town.


Then I step back, and taking her by the arm, lead her to the window. I throw it open even wider than before. The sunlight streams on the great church-towers opposite, and the trees in the neighboring square glisten, and wave their boughs gently, as if they would burst into leaf before dinner. Cages are hung at the open chamber-windows in the street, and the birds, touched into song by the sun, make Memnon true. Prue's purple and white hyacinths are in full blossom, and perfume the warm air, so that the canaries and the mocking birds are no longer aliens in the city streets, but are once more swinging in their spicy native groves.

A soft wind blows upon us as we stand, listening and looking. Cuba and the Tropics are in the air. The drowsy tune of a hand-organ rises from the square, and Italy comes singing in upon the sound. My triumphant eyes meet Prue's. They are full of sweetness and spring.

"What do you think of the summer-wardrobe now?" I ask, and we go down to breakfast.

But the air has magic in it, and I do not cease to dream. If I meet Charles, who is bound for Alabama, or John, who sails for Savannah, with a trunk full of white jackets, I do not say to them, as their other friends say,--

"Happy travellers, who cut March and April out of the dismal year!"

I do not envy them. They will be sea-sick on the way. The southern winds will blow all the water out of the rivers, and, desolately stranded upon mud, they will relieve the tedium of the interval by tying with large ropes a young gentleman raving with delirium tremens. They will hurry along, appalled by forests blazing in the windy night; and, housed in a bad inn, they will find themselves anxiously asking, "Are the cars punctual in leaving?"--grimly sure that impatient travellers find all conveyances too slow. The travellers are very warm, indeed, even in March and April,--but Prue doubts if it is altogether the effect of the southern climate.

Why should they go to the South? If they only wait a little, the South will come to them. Savannah arrives in April; Florida in May; Cuba and the Gulf come in with June, and the full splendor of the Tropics burns through July and August. Sitting upon the earth, do we not glide by all the constellations, all the awful stars? Does not the flash of Orion's scimeter dazzle as we pass? Do we not hear, as we gaze in hushed midnights, the music of the Lyre; are we not throned with Cassiopea; do we not play with the tangles of Berenice's hair, as we sail, as we sail?

When Christopher told me that he was going to Italy, I went into Bourne's conservatory, saw a magnolia, and so reached Italy before him. Can Christopher bring Italy home? But I brought to Prue a branch of magnolia blossoms, with Mr. Bourne's kindest regards, and she put them upon her table, and our little house smelled of Italy for a week afterward. The incident developed Prue's Italian tastes, which I had not suspected to be so strong. I found her looking very often at the magnolias; even holding them in her hand, and standing before the table with a pensive air. I suppose she was thinking of Beatrice Cenci, or of Tasso and Leonora, or of the wife of Marino Faliero, or of some other of those sad old Italian tales of love and woe So easily Prue went to Italy!

Thus the spring comes in my heart as well as in the air, and leaps along my veins as well as through the trees. I immediately travel. An orange takes me to Sorrento, and roses, when they blow, to Paestum. The camelias in Aurelia's hair bring Brazil into the happy rooms she treads, and she takes me to South America as she goes to dinner. The pearls upon her neck make me free of the Persian gulf. Upon her shawl, like the Arabian prince upon his carpet, I am transported to the vales of Cashmere; and thus, as I daily walk in the bright spring days, I go round the world.

But the season wakes a finer longing, a desire that could only be satisfied if the pavilions of the clouds were real, and I could stroll among the towering splendors of a sultry spring evening. Ah! if I could leap those flaming battlements that glow along the west--if I could tread those cool, dewy, serene isles of sunset, and sink with them in the sea of stars.

I say so to Prue, and my wife smiles.

"But why is it so impossible," I ask, "if you go to Italy upon a magnolia branch?"

The smile fades from her eyes.

"I went a shorter voyage than that," she answered; "it was only to Mr. Bourne's."

I walked slowly out of the house, and overtook Titbottom as I went. He smiled gravely as he greeted me, and said:

"I have been asked to invite you to join a little pleasure party."

"Where is it going?"

"Oh! anywhere," answered Titbottom.

"And how?"

"Oh! anyhow," he replied.

"You mean that everybody is to go wherever he pleases, and in the way he best can. My dear Titbottom, I have long belonged to that pleasure party, although I never heard it called by so pleasant a name before."

My companion said only:

"If you would like to join, I will introduce you to the party. I cannot go, but they are all on board."

I answered nothing; but Titbottom drew me along. We took a boat, and put off to the most extraordinary craft I had ever seen. We approached her stern, and, as I curiously looked at it, I could think of nothing but an old picture that hung in my father's house. It was of the Flemish school, and represented the rear view of the vrouw of a burgomaster going to market. The wide yards were stretched like elbows, and even the studding-sails were spread. The hull was seared and blistered, and, in the tops, I saw what I supposed to be strings of turnips or cabbages, little round masses, with tufted crests; but Titbottom assured me they were sailors.

We rowed hard, but came no nearer the vessel.

"She is going with the tide and wind," said I; "we shall never catch her."

My companion said nothing.

"But why have they set the studding-sails?" asked I.

"She never takes in any sails," answered Titbottom.

"The more fool she," thought I, a little impatiently, angry at not getting nearer to the vessel. But I did not say it aloud. I would as soon have said it to Prue as to Titbottom. The truth is, I began to feel a little ill, from the motion of the boat, and remembered, with a shade of regret, Prue and peppermint. If wives could only keep their husbands a little nauseated, I am confident they might be very sure of their constancy.

But, somehow, the strange ship was gained, and I found myself among as singular a company as I have ever seen. There were men of every country, and costumes of all kinds. There was an indescribable mistiness in the air, or a premature twilight, in which all the figures looked ghostly and unreal. The ship was of a model such as I had never seen, and the rigging had a musty odor, so that the whole craft smelled like a ship-chandler's shop grown mouldy. The figures glided rather than walked about, and I perceived a strong smell of cabbage issuing from the hold.

But the most extraordinary thing of all was the sense of resistless motion which possessed my mind the moment my foot struck the deck. I could have sworn we were dashing through, the water at the rate of twenty knots an hour. (Prue has a great, but a little ignorant, admiration of my technical knowledge of nautical affairs and phrases.) I looked aloft and saw the sails taut with a stiff breeze, and. I heard a faint whistling of the wind in the rigging, but very faint, and rather, it seemed to me, as if it came from the creak of cordage in the ships of Crusaders; or of quaint old craft upon the Spanish main, echoing through remote years--so far away it sounded.

Yet I heard no orders given; I saw no sailors running aloft, and only one figure crouching over the wheel: He was lost behind his great beard as behind a snow-drift. But the startling speed with which we scudded along did not lift a solitary hair of that beard, nor did the old and withered face of the pilot betray any curiosity or interest as to what breakers, or reefs, or pitiless shores, might be lying in ambush to destroy us.

Still on we swept; and as the traveller in a night-train knows that he is passing green fields, and pleasant gardens, and winding streams fringed with flowers, and is now gliding through tunnels or darting along the base of fearful cliffs, so I was conscious that we were pressing through various climates and by romantic shores. In vain I peered into the gray twilight mist that folded all. I could only see the vague figures that grew and faded upon the haze, as my eye fell upon them, like the intermittent characters of sympathetic ink when heat touches them.

Now, it was a belt of warm, odorous air in which we sailed, and then cold as the breath of a polar ocean. The perfume of new-mown hay and the breath of roses, came mingled with the distant music of bells, and the twittering song of birds, and a low surf-like sound of the wind in summer woods. There were all sounds of pastoral beauty, of a tranquil landscape such as Prue loves--and which shall be painted as the background of her portrait whenever she sits to any of my many artist friends--and that pastoral beauty shall be called England; I strained my eyes into the cruel mist that held all that music and all that suggested beauty, but I could see nothing. It was so sweet that I scarcely knew if I cared to see. The very thought of it charmed my senses and satisfied my heart. I smelled and heard the landscape that I could not see.

Then the pungent, penetrating fragrance of blossoming vineyards was wafted across the air; the flowery richness of orange groves, and the sacred odor of crushed bay leaves, such as is pressed from them when they are strewn upon the flat pavement of the streets of Florence, and gorgeous priestly processions tread them under foot. A steam of incense filled the air. I smelled Italy--as in the magnolia from Bourne's garden--and, even while my heart leaped with the consciousness, the odor passed, and a stretch of burning silence succeeded.

It was an oppressive zone of heat--oppressive not only from its silence, but from the sense of awful, antique forms, whether of art or nature, that were sitting, closely veiled, in that mysterious obscurity. I shuddered as I felt that if my eyes could pierce that mist, or if it should lift and roll away, I should see upon a silent shore low ranges of lonely hills, or mystic figures and huge temples trampled out of history by time.

This, too, we left. There was a rustling of distant palms, the indistinct roar of beasts, and the hiss of serpents. Then all was still again. Only at times the remote sigh of the weary sea, moaning around desolate isles undiscovered; and the howl of winds that had never wafted human voices, but had rung endless changes upon the sound of dashing waters, made the voyage more appalling and the figures around me more fearful.

As the ship plunged on through all the varying zones, as climate and country drifted behind us, unseen in the gray mist, but each, in turn, making that quaint craft England or Italy, Africa and the Southern seas, I ventured to steal a glance at the motley crew, to see what impression this wild career produced upon them.

They sat about the deck in a hundred listless postures. Some leaned idly over the bulwarks, and looked wistfully away from the ship, as if they fancied they saw all that I inferred but could not see. As the perfume, and sound, and climate changed, I could see many a longing eye sadden and grow moist, and as the chime of bells echoed distinctly like the airy syllables of names, and, as it were, made pictures in music upon the minds of those quaint mariners--then dry lips moved, perhaps to name a name, perhaps to breathe a prayer. Others sat upon the deck, vacantly smoking pipes that required no refilling, but had an immortality of weed and fire. The more they smoked the more mysterious they became. The smoke made the mist around them more impenetrable, and I could clearly see that those distant sounds gradually grew more distant, and, by some of the most desperate and constant smokers, were heard no more. The faces of such had an apathy, which, had it been human, would have been despair.

Others stood staring up into the rigging, as if calculating when the sails must needs be rent and the voyage end. But there was no hope in their eyes, only a bitter longing. Some paced restlessly up and down the deck. They had evidently been walking a long, long time. At intervals they, too threw a searching glance into the mist that enveloped the ship, and up into the sails and rigging that stretched over them in hopeless strength and order.

One of the promenaders I especially noticed. His beard was long and snowy, like that of the pilot. He had a staff in his hand, and his movement was very rapid. His body swung forward, as if to avoid something, and his glance half turned back over his shoulder, apprehensively, as if he were threatened from behind. The head and the whole figure were bowed as if under a burden, although I could not see that he had anything upon his shoulders; and his gait was not that of a man who is walking off the ennui of a voyage, but rather of a criminal flying, or of a startled traveller pursued.

As he came nearer to me in his walk, I saw that his features were strongly Hebrew, and there was an air of the proudest dignity, fearfully abased, in his mien and expression. It was more than the dignity of an individual. I could have believed that the pride of a race was humbled in his person.

His agile eye presently fastened itself upon me, as a stranger. He came nearer and nearer to me, as he paced rapidly to and fro, and was evidently several times on the point of addressing me, but, looking over his shoulder apprehensively, he passed on. At length, with a great effort, he paused for an instant, and invited me to join him in his walk. Before the invitation was fairly uttered, he was in motion again. I followed, but I could not overtake him. He kept just before me, and turned occasionally with an air of terror, as if he fancied I were dogging him; then glided on more rapidly.

His face was by no means agreeable, but it had an inexplicable fascination, as if it had been turned upon what no other mortal eyes had ever seen. Yet I could hardly tell whether it were, probably, an object of supreme beauty or of terror. He looked at everything as if he hoped its impression might obliterate some anterior and awful one; and I was gradually possessed with the unpleasant idea that his eyes were never closed--that, in fact, he never slept.

Suddenly, fixing me with his unnatural, wakeful glare, he whispered something which I could not understand, and then darted forward even more rapidly, as if he dreaded that, in merely speaking, he had lost time.

Still the ship drove on, and I walked hurriedly along the deck, just behind my companion. But our speed and that of the ship contrasted strangely with the mouldy smell of old rigging, and the listless and lazy groups, smoking and leaning on the bulwarks. The seasons, in endless succession and iteration, passed over the ship. The twilight was summer haze at the stern, while it was the fiercest winter mist at the bows. But as a tropical breath, like the warmth of a Syrian day, suddenly touched the brow of my companion, he sighed, and I could not help saying:

"You must be tired."

He only shook his head and quickened his pace. But now that I had once spoken, it was not so difficult to speak, and I asked him why he did not stop and rest.

He turned for moment, and a mournful sweetness shone in his dark eyes and haggard, swarthy face. It played flittingly around that strange look of ruined human dignity, like a wan beam of late sunset about a crumbling and forgotten temple. He put his hand hurriedly to his forehead, as if he were trying to remember--like a lunatic, who, having heard only the wrangle of fiends in his delirium, suddenly in a conscious moment, perceives the familiar voice of love. But who could this be, to whom mere human sympathy was so startlingly sweet?

Still moving, he whispered with a woful sadness, "I want to stop, but I cannot. If I could only stop long enough to leap over the bulwarks!"

Then he sighed long and deeply, and added, "But I should not drown."

So much had my interest been excited by his face and movement, that I had not observed the costume of this strange being. He wore a black hat upon his head. It was not only black, but it was shiny. Even in the midst of this wonderful scene, I could observe that it had the artificial newness of a second-hand hat; and, at the same moment, I was disgusted by the odor of old clothes--very old clothes, indeed. The mist and my sympathy had prevented my seeing before what a singular garb the figure wore. It was all second-hand and carefully ironed, but the garments were obviously collected from every part of the civilized globe. Good heavens! as I looked at the coat, I had a strange sensation. I was sure that I had once worn that coat. It was my wedding surtout--long in the skirts--which Prue had told me, years and years before, she had given away to the neediest Jew beggar she had ever seen.

The spectral figure dwindled in my fancy--the features lost their antique grandeur, and the restless eye ceased to be sublime from immortal sleeplessness, and became only lively with mean cunning. The apparition was fearfully grotesque, but the driving ship and the mysterious company gradually restored its tragic interest. I stopped and leaned against the side, and heard the rippling water that I could not see, and flitting through the mist, with anxious speed, the figure held its way. What was he flying? What conscience with relentless sting pricked this victim on?

He came again nearer and nearer to me in his walk. I recoiled with disgust, this time, no less than terror. But he seemed resolved to speak, and, finally, each time, as he passed me, he asked single questions, as a ship which fires whenever it can bring a gun to bear.

"Can you tell me to what port we are bound?"

"No," I replied; "but how came you to take passage without inquiry? To me it makes little difference."

"Nor do I care," he answered, when he next came near enough; I have already been there."

"Where?" asked I.

"Wherever we are going," he replied. "I have been there a great many times, and, oh! I am very tired of it."

"But why are you here at all, then; and why don't you stop?"

There was a singular mixture of a hundred conflicting emotions in his face, as I spoke. The representative grandeur of a race, which he sometimes showed in his look, faded into a glance of hopeless and puny despair. His eyes looked at me curiously, his chest heaved, and there was clearly a struggle in his mind, between some lofty and mean desire. At times, I saw only the austere suffering of ages in his strongly-carved features, and again I could see nothing but the second-hand black hat above them. He rubbed his forehead with his skinny hand; he glanced over his shoulder, as if calculating whether he had time to speak to me; and then, as a splendid defiance flashed from his piercing eyes, so that I know how Milton's Satan looked, he said, bitterly, and with hopeless sorrow, that no mortal voice ever knew before:

"I cannot stop: my woe is infinite, like my sin!"--and he passed into the mist.

But, in a few moments, he reappeared. I could now see only the hat, which sank more and more over his face, until it covered it entirely; and I heard a querulous voice, which seemed to be quarrelling with itself, for saying what it was compelled to say, so that the words were even more appalling than what it had said before:

"Old clo'! old clo'!"

I gazed at the disappearing figure, in speechless amazement, and was still looking, when I was tapped upon the shoulder, and, turning round, saw a German cavalry officer, with a heavy moustache, and a dog-whistle in his hand.

"Most extraordinary man, your friend yonder," said the officer; "I don't remember to have seen him in Turkey, and yet I recognize upon his feet the boots that I wore in the great Russian cavalry charge, where I individually rode down five hundred and thirty Turks, slew seven hundred, at a moderate computation, by the mere force of my rush, and, taking the seven insurmountable walls of Constantinople at one clean flying leap, rode straight into the seraglio, and, dropping the bridle, cut the sultan's throat with my bridle-hand, kissed the other to the ladies of the hareem, and was back again within our lines and taking a glass of wine with the hereditary Grand Duke Generalissimo before he knew that I had mounted. Oddly enough, your old friend is now sporting the identical boots I wore on that occasion."

The cavalry officer coolly curled his moustache with his fingers. I looked at him in silence.

"Speaking of boots," he resumed, "I don't remember to have told you of that little incident of the Princess of the Crimea's diamonds. It was slight, but curious. I was dining one day with the Emperor of the Crimea, who always had a cover laid for me at his table, when he said, in great perplexity, 'Baron, my boy, I am in straits. The Shah of Persia has just sent me word that he has presented me with two thousand pearl-of-Oman necklaces, and I don't know how to get them over, the duties are so heavy.' 'Nothing easier,' replied I; 'I'll bring them in my boots.' 'Nonsense!' said the Emperor of the Crimea. 'Nonsense! yourself,' replied I, sportively: for the Emperor of the Crimea always gives me my joke; and so after dinner I went over to Persia. The thing was easily enough done. I ordered a hundred thousand pairs of boots or so, filled them with the pearls; said at the Custom-house that they were part of my private wardrobe, and I had left the blocks in to keep them stretched, for I was particular about my bunions. The officers bowed, and said that their own feet were tender,--upon which I jokingly remarked that I wished their consciences were, and so in the pleasantest manner possible the pearl-of-Oman necklaces were bowed out of Persia, and the Emperor of the Crimea gave me three thousand of them as my share. It was no trouble. It was only ordering the boots, and whistling to the infernal rascals of Persian shoe-makers to hang for their pay."

I could reply nothing to my new acquaintance, but I treasured his stories to tell to Prue, and at length summoned courage to ask him why he had taken passage.

"Pure fun," answered he, "nothing else under the sun. You see, it happened in this way:--I was sitting quietly and swinging in a cedar of Lebanon, on the very summit of that mountain, when suddenly, feeling a little warm, I took a brisk dive into the Mediterranean. Now I was careless, and got going obliquely, and with the force of such a dive I could not come up near Sicily, as I had intended, but I went clean under Africa, and came out at the Cape of Grood Hope, and as Fortune would have it, just as this good ship was passing. So I sprang over the side, and offered the crew to treat all round if they would tell me where I started from. But I suppose they had just been piped to grog, for not a man stirred, except your friend yonder, and he only kept on stirring."

"Are you going far?" I asked.

The cavalry officer looked a little disturbed. "I cannot precisely tell," answered he, "in fact, I wish I could;" and he glanced round nervously at the strange company.

"If you should come our way, Prue and I will be very glad to see you," said I, "and I can promise you a warm welcome from the children."

"Many thanks," said the officer,--and handed me his card, upon which I read, Le Baron Munchausen.

"I beg your pardon," said a low voice at my side; and, turning, I saw one of the most constant smokers--a very old man--"I beg your pardon, but can you tell me where I came from?"

"I am sorry to say I cannot," answered I, as I surveyed a man with a very bewildered and wrinkled face, who seemed to be intently looking for something.

"Nor where I am going?"

I replied that it was equally impossible. He mused a few moments, and then said slowly, "Do you know, it is a very strange thing that I have not found anybody who can answer me either of those questions. And yet I must have come from somewhere," said he, speculatively--"yes, and I must be going somewhere, and I should really like to know something about it."

"I observe," said I, "that you smoke a good deal, and perhaps you find tobacco clouds your brain a little."

"Smoke! Smoke!" repeated he, sadly, dwelling upon the words; "why, it all seems smoke to me;" and he looked wistfully around the deck, and I felt quite ready to agree with him.

"May I ask what you are here for," inquired I; "perhaps your health, or business of some kind; although I was told it was a pleasure party?"

"That's just it," said he; "if I only knew where we were going, I might be able to say something about it. But where are you going?"

"I am going home as fast as I can," replied I warmly, for I began to be very uncomfortable. The old man's eyes half closed, and his mind seemed to have struck a scent.

"Isn't that where I was going? I believe it is; I wish I knew; I think that's what it is called, Where is home?"

And the old man puffed a prodigious cloud of smoke, in which he was quite lost.

"It is certainly very smoky," said he, "I came on board this ship to go to--in fact, I meant, as I was saying, I took passage for--." He smoked silently. "I beg your pardon, but where did you say I was going?"

Out of the mist where he had been leaning over the side, and gazing earnestly into the surrounding obscurity, now came a pale young man, and put his arm in mine.

"I see," said he, "that you have rather a general acquaintance, and, as you know many persons, perhaps you know many things. I am young, you see, but I am a great traveller. I have been all over the world, and in all kinds of conveyances; but," he continued, nervously, starting continually, and looking around, "I haven't yet got abroad."

"Not got abroad, and yet you have been everywhere?"

"Oh! yes; I know," he replied, hurriedly; "but I mean that I haven't yet got away. I travel constantly, but it does no good--and perhaps you can tell me the secret I want to know. I will pay any sum for it. I am very rich and very young, and, if money cannot buy it, I will give as many years of my life as you require."

He moved his hands convulsively, and his hair was wet upon his forehead. He was very handsome in that mystic light, but his eye burned with eagerness, and his slight, graceful frame thrilled with the earnestness of his emotion. The Emperor Hadrian, who loved the boy Antinous, would have loved the youth.

"But what is it that you wish to leave behind?" said I, at length, holding his arm paternally; "what do you wish to escape?"

He threw his arms straight down by his side, clenched his, hands, and looked fixedly in my eyes. The beautiful head was thrown a little back upon one shoulder, and the wan faced glowed with yearning desire and utter abandonment to confidence, so that, without his saying it, I knew that he had never whispered the secret which he was about to impart to me. Then, with a long sigh, as if his life were exhaling, he whispered,


"Ah! my boy, you are bound upon a long journey."

"I know it," he replied mournfully; "and I cannot even get started. If I don't get off in this ship, I fear I shall never escape." His last words were lost in the mist which gradually removed him from my view.

"The youth has been amusing you with some of his wild fancies, I suppose," said a venerable man, who might have been twin brother of that snowy-bearded pilot. "It is a great pity so promising a young man should be the victim of such vagaries."

He stood looking over the side for some time, and at length added,

"Don't you think we ought to arrive soon?"

"Where?" asked I.

"Why, in Eldorado, of course," answered he.

"The truth is, I became very tired of that long process to find the Philosopher's Stone, and, although I was just upon the point of the last combination which must infallibly have produced the medium, I abandoned it when I heard Orellana's account, and found that Nature had already done in Eldorado precisely what I was trying to do. You see," continued the old man abstractedly, "I had put youth, and love, and hope, besides a great many scarce minerals, into the crucible, and they all dissolved slowly, and vanished--in vapor. It was curious, but they left no residuum except a little ashes, which were not strong enough to make a lye to cure a lame finger. But, as I was saying, Orellana told us about Eldorado just in time, and I thought, if any ship would carry me there it must be this. But I am very sorry to find that any one who is in pursuit of such a hopeless goal as that pale young man yonder, should have taken passage. It is only age," he said, slowly stroking his white beard, "that teaches us wisdom, and persuades us to renounce the hope of escaping ourselves; and just as we are discovering the Philosopher's Stone, relieves our anxiety by pointing the way to Eldorado."

"Are we really going there?" asked I, in some trepidation.

"Can there be any doubt of it?" replied the old man. "Where should we be going, if not there? However, let us summon the passengers and ascertain."

So saying, the venerable man beckoned to the various groups that were clustered, ghost-like, in the mist that enveloped the ship. They seemed to draw nearer with listless curiosity, and stood or sat near us, smoking as before, or, still leaning on the side, idly gazing. But the restless figure who had first accosted me, still paced the deck, flitting in and out of the obscurity; and as he passed there was the same mien of humbled pride, and the air of a fate of tragic grandeur, and still the same faint odor of old clothes, and the low querulous cry, "Old clo!' old clo'!"

The ship dashed on. Unknown odors and strange sounds still filled the air, and all the world went by us as we flew, with no other noise than the low gurgling of the sea around the side.

"Gentlemen," said the reverend passenger for Eldorado, "I hope there is no misapprehension as to our destination?"

As he said this, there was a general movement of anxiety and curiosity. Presently the smoker, who had asked me where he was going, said, doubtfully:

"I don't know--it seems to me--I mean I wish somebody would distinctly say where we are going."

"I think I can throw a light upon this subject," said a person whom I had not before remarked. He was dressed like a sailor, and had a dreamy eye. "It is very clear to me where we are going. I have been taking observations for some time, and I am glad to announce that we are on the eve of achieving great fame; and I may add," said he, modestly, "that my own good name for scientific acumen will be amply vindicated. Gentlemen, we are undoubtedly going into the Hole."

"What hole is that?" asked M. le Baron Munchausen, a little contemptuously.

"Sir, it will make you more famous than you ever were before," replied the first speaker, evidently much enraged.

"I am persuaded we are going into no such absurd place," said the Baron, exasperated.

The sailor with the dreamy eye was fearfully angry. He drew himself up stiffiy and said:

"Sir, you lie!"

M. le Baron Munchausen took it in very good part. He smiled and held out his hand:

"My friend," said he, blandly, "that is precisely what I have always heard. I am glad you do me no more than justice. I fully assent to your theory: and your words constitute me the proper historiographer of the expedition. But tell me one thing, how soon, after getting into the Hole, do you think we shall get out?"

"The result will prove," said the marine gentleman, handing the officer his card, upon which was written, Captain Symmes. The two gentlemen then walked aside; and the groups began to sway to and fro in the haze as if not quite contented.

"Good God," said the pale youth, running up to me and clutching my arm, "I cannot go into any Hole alone with myself. I should die--I should kill myself. I thought somebody was on board, and I hoped you were he, who would steer us to the fountain of oblivion."

"Very well, that is in the Hole," said M. le Baron, who came out of the mist at that moment, leaning upon the Captain's arm.

"But can I leave myself outside?" asked the youth, nervously.

"Certainly," interposed the old Alchemist; "you may be sure that you will not get into the Hole, until you have left yourself behind."

The pale young man grasped his hand, and gazed into his eyes.

"And then I can drink and be happy," murmured he, as he leaned over the side of the ship and listened to the rippling water, as if it had been the music of the fountain of oblivion.

"Drink! drink!" said the smoking old man. "Fountain! fountain! Why, I believe that is what I am after. I beg your pardon," continued he, addressing the Alchemist. "But can you tell me if I am looking for a fountain?"

"The fountain of youth, perhaps," replied the Alchemist.

"The very thing!" cried the smoker, with a shrill laugh, while his pipe fell from his mouth, and was shattered upon the deck, and the old man tottered away into the mist, chuckling feebly to himself, "Youth! youth!"

"He'll find that in the Hole, too," said the Alchemist, as he gazed after the receding figure.

The crowd now gathered more nearly around us.

"Well, gentlemen," continued the Alchemist, "where shall we go, or, rather, where are we going?"

A man in a friar's habit, with the cowl closely drawn about his head, now crossed himself, and whispered:

"I have but one object. I should not have been here if I had not supposed we were going to find Prester John, to whom I have been appointed father confessor, and at whose court I am to live splendidly, like a cardinal at Rome. Gentlemen, if you will only agree that we shall go there, you shall all be permitted to hold my train when I proceed to be enthroned as Bishop of Central Africa."

While he was speaking, another old man came from the bows of the ship, a figure which had been so immoveable in its place that I supposed it was the ancient figure-head of the craft, and said in a low, hollow voice, and a quaint accent:

"I have been looking for centuries, and I cannot see it. I supposed we were heading for it. I thought sometimes I saw the flash of distant spires, the sunny gleam of upland pastures, the soft undulation of purple hills. Ah! me. I am sure I heard the singing of birds, and the faint low of cattle. But I do not know: we come no nearer; and yet I felt its presence in the air. If the mist would only lift, we should see it lying so fair upon the sea, so graceful against the sky. I fear we may have passed it. Gentlemen," said he, sadly, "I am afraid we may have lost the island of Atlantis for ever."

There was a look of uncertainty in the throng upon the deck.

"But yet," said a group of young men in every kind of costume, and of every country and time, "we have a chance at the Encantadas, the Enchanted Islands. We were reading of them only the other day, and the very style of the story had the music of waves. How happy we shall be to reach a land where there is no work, nor tempest, nor pain, and we shall be for ever happy."

"I am content here," said a laughing youth, with heavily matted curls. "What can be better than this? We feel every climate, the music and the perfume of every zone, are ours. In the starlight I woo the mermaids, as I lean over the side, and no enchanted island will show us fairer forms. I am satisfied. The ship sails on. We cannot see but we can dream. What work or pain have we here? I like the ship; I like the voyage; I like my company, and am content."

As he spoke he put something into his mouth, and, drawing a white substance from his pocket, offered it to his neighbor, saying, "Try a bit of this lotus; you will find it very soothing to the nerves, and an infallible remedy for home-sickness."

"Gentlemen," said M. le Baron Munchausen, "I have no fear. The arrangements are well made; the voyage has been perfectly planned, and each passenger will discover what he took passage to find, in the Hole into which we are going, under the auspices of this worthy Captain."

He ceased, and silence fell upon the ship's company. Still on we swept; it seemed a weary way. The tireless pedestrians still paced to and fro, and the idle smokers puffed. The ship sailed on, and endless music and odor chased each other through the misty air. Suddenly a deep sigh drew universal attention to a person who had not yet spoken. He held a broken harp in his hand, the strings fluttered loosely in the air, and the head of the speaker, bound with a withered wreath of laurels, bent over it.

"No, no," said he, "I will not eat your lotus, nor sail into the Hole. No magic root can cure the home-sickness I feel; for it is no regretful remembrance, but an immortal longing. I have roamed farther than I thought the earth extended. I have climbed mountains; I have threaded rivers; I have sailed seas; but nowhere have I seen the home for which my heart aches. Ah! my friends, you look very weary; let us go home."

The pedestrian paused a moment in his walk, and the smokers took their pipes from their mouths. The soft air which blew in that moment across the deck, drew a low sound from the broken harp-strings, and a light shone in the eyes of the old man of the figure-head, as if the mist had lifted for an instant, and he had caught a glimpse of the lost Atlantis.

"I really believe that is where I wish to go," said the seeker of the fountain of youth. "I think I would give up drinking at the fountain if I could get there. I do not know," he murmured, doubtfully; "it is not sure; I mean, perhaps, I should not have strength to get to the fountain, even if I were near it."

"But is it possible to get home?" inquired the pale young man. "I think I should be resigned if I could get home."

"Certainly," said the dry, hard voice of Prester John's confessor, as his cowl fell a little back, and a sudden flush burned upon his gaunt face; "if there is any chance of home, I will give up the Bishop's palace in Central Africa."

"But Eldorado is my home," interposed the old Alchemist.

"Or is home Eldorado?" asked the poet, with the withered wreath, turning towards the Alchemist.

It was a strange company and a wondrous voyage. Here were all kinds of men, of all times and countries, pursuing the wildest hopes, the most chimerical desires. One took me aside to request that I would not let it be known, but that he inferred from certain signs we were nearing Utopia. Another whispered gaily in my ear that he thought the water was gradually becoming of a ruby color--the hue of wine; and he had no doubt we should wake in the morning and find ourselves in the land of Cockaigne. A third, in great anxiety, stated to me that such continuous mists were unknown upon the ocean; that they were peculiar to rivers, and that, beyond question, we were drifting along some stream, probably the Nile, and immediate measures ought to be taken that we did riot go ashore at the foot of the mountains of the moon. Others were quite sure that we were in the way of striking the great southern continent; and a young man, who gave his name as Wilkins, said we might be quite at ease for presently some friends of his would come flying over from the neighboring islands and tell us all we wished.

Still I smelled the mouldy rigging, and the odor of cabbage was strong from the hold.

O Prue, what could the ship be, in which such fantastic characters were sailing toward impossible bournes--characters which in every age have ventured all the bright capital of life in vague speculations and romantic dreams? What could it be but the ship that haunts the sea for ever, and, with all sails set, drives onward before a ceaseless gale, and is not hailed, nor ever comes to port?

I know the ship is always full; I know the gray-beard still watches at the prow for the lost Atlantis, and still the alchemist believes that Eldorado is at hand. Upon his aimless quest, the dotard still asks where he is going, and the pale youth knows that he shall never fly himself. Yet they would gladly renounce that wild chase and the dear dreams of years, could they find what I have never lost. They were ready to follow the poet home, if he would have told them where it lay.

I know where it lies. I breathe the soft air of the purple uplands which they shall never tread. I hear the sweet music of the voices they long for in vain. I am no traveller; my only voyage is to the office and home again. William and Christopher, John and Charles sail to Europe and the South, but I defy their romantic distances. When the spring comes and the flowers blow, I drift through the year belted with summer and with spice.

With the changing months I keep high carnival in all the zones. I sit at home and walk with Prue, and if the sun that stirs the sap quickens also the wish to wander, I remember my fellow-voyagers on that romantic craft, and looking round upon my peaceful room, and pressing more closely the arm of Prue, I feel that I have reached the port for which they hopelessly sailed. And when winds blow fiercely and the night-storm rages, and the thought of lost mariners and of perilous voyages touches the soft heart of Prue, I hear a voice sweeter to my ear than that of the syrens to the tempest-tost sailor: "Thank God! Your only cruising is in the Flying Dutchman!"

[The end]
George William Curtis's essay: Cruise In The Flying Dutchman