« PředchozíPokračovat »
OFF VERA CRUZ, MEXICO.
ONCE more on board the good frigate Cumberland, my narrative in continuation will make record of the whereabouts—the rest and the unrest of the Home Squadron, for a twelvemonth onward and more, from the time of the arrival of the Cumberland at the station of the Flag, off the city and castle of Vera Cruz.
The Cumberland had now been for some days moored in her place of rest, on the bosom of the comparatively small expanse of water lying between the coral lip of the little island of SACRIFICIOS, and the yellow beach of the mainland. This sheet of water is generally unrippled during the morning, or, at least has been so during the time we have been reposing on its still bosom; and the decks of our ship have exhibited at such hours as little apparent motion to one's consciousness, while one promenades upon them, as the parlorfloor of one's dwelling on the shore. But, towards noon the sea-breeze begins to set in ; and though the mimic waves break the surface of the water as the sea-breeze freshens in the after part of the day, the frigate yet feels them not, as the breath of old ocean cools the-brows which have been heated by the intense rays of the morning sun.
The books, however, which narrate of this coast, speak of high northerly winds which frequently prevail here, called
the Northers, which sometimes rage with the fierceness of a hurricane ; and woe to the ship whose cables give way, or anchors drag-as the wind at such times comes from a point that makes it a hopeless case for the ship to escape the leeshore of the main, or the coral reefs, that nearly inhem this anchorage ground. To witness one of these Northers while we are lying at safe moorings, is a natural desire of us, newly arrived, as being one of the characteristics of these seas and shores during the months preceding April. And indeed, we find ourselves not too late, as March generally claims her proportion of these northern furies, which come down on a wing so fleet and heavy, that they try well the moorings of every vessel over which they sweep. For two or three days past there have seemed to be indications that our curiosity in this particular of the Norther should be grat. ified. It is said when this visitor is about to career over these neighboring seas and coasts, the high peak of Orizava, some hundred miles in the interior, comes up to the view and exhibits its once burning and still beautiful cone, high above the clouds, snow-capped and distinct, in the rarefied air. So has Orizava exhibited itself to us for a few days past, except its snow, towering high up in its softened and mellowed proportions, while the clouds, nearer to us, sailed below its conical summit. The barometer, too, has fallen. The calm that precedes the whirlwind has prevailed. And having sent these precursors before it, the Norther itself has come to-day, leaving no doubt as to its credentials, as it blows, with a voice of mournful cadence, through the rigging of the ship, and sends its spray, in sheets, like driven hail, along the sides of the frigate, and chafes the waters of the inner harbor into tumult, and foam, and fury. But the outer reefs present the greater beauty, agitation, and frenzy. As the blue wave comes rolling down under the impulse of the north wind, it meets, in its heave, the coral reef, while
these lines of rocks, which have stood the buffet of the seasurf for ages, yield not to the impulse, as their coral bulwarks, indignant, throw back the wave, and dash it into foam and froth, or disperse it into cascades and cataracts, high in the air and wide on the sea.
Wave after wave still comes on, unchecked and obedient to the call of the winds, whicn roar loud in their commands; but the heavy rolls of the sea, as they come in, meet a like fate, as they break, in tumult, and confusion, and death, on the reef. The whole surface of the sea is in wild agitation. The island of Sacrificios, on the north, east, and west, is surrounded by a line of cascades, as the surf breaks on its reefs; and the eleme. ments above and beneath seem on their errand of desolation ; while the ships under the lee of Sacrificios, riding at their three' anchors, with top-masts and top-gallant-masts housed, and yards sent down, lie easily, and almost quiet, though the murmur of the winds through the rigging, still aloft, seems to sound a requiem too loud for the rest of the dead or the dying, but yet in harmony with the scene of threatening destruction that menaces around. The roar of the elements still increases, and the swell of the sea yet rises; though the gale is unattended by mist or rain, and thus the indication is for a shorter duration of the Norther. We thank the elements for this specimen of their power, before their present season of carousal is over; and will take good care, when visiting these seas, in certain months, not to be found too near a lee shore with light ground tackle, and the prognostics of a Norther in the skies.
For several days after our frigate had dropped her anchors, I felt no disposition to vist the shore. The yellow beach, with the in-rolling breakers dashing on it--the reefs,
with their beautiful lines of coruscating light-Vera Cruz in the distance—the shipping surrounding us—the writing of letters—the moonlit skies above us by night-and the soft breezes that swept by us by day-together with a thousand nameless occupations in small things, occupied my attention and beguiled the hours as they insensibly passed away, while finishing, besides, the perusal of a few books to their conclusion, which had been commenced at the time of our sail. ing from Boston for our present moorings off Vera Cruz, the seaport town of Mexico. Our boats had been passing and repassing from the ship to the little island, under whose lee we are lying, and which was named SACRIFICIOS, by the Spaniards, it is said, from the circumstance that the original inhabitants, whom they found on this coast, had temple here, in which they offered the sacrifice of human beings—probably criminals who had been condemned by their laws to suffer a capital punishment, as the penalty of their offence. The remains of this temple are still to be seen, with the outline of its form. And there are walls of coral rock nearing the beach, which seem to indicate, at one period, the existence of a fortification. A French man-ofwar, while lying here, put her men to a laudable occupation, to fill up their leisure hours, in making excavations in different parts of this little island, which is made up of coral rock, and sand, and patches of green herbage, a wild matted bean, and bamboo. They were rewarded for their toil, by the discovery of many Indian remains, in the form of domestic utensils, war-weapons, and some vases, said to have done credit to the arts of the Aztecs, and the dependencies of that extensive people, who, when Cortez arrived on these coasts, and mailed himself for the conquest of the empire, were ruled by the unfortunate Montezuma. But the grounds now, within the walls of this temple, afford but little encouragement to the knights of the pickaxe and shovel.
Aside from the stories and olden legends connected with this island, it assumes a present interest, as being the place of interment for the dead, who are borne from the ships that lie at anchor at this station. Here, too, are the monuments of some, who have fallen in battle, a noble few-for all are called noble who die in battle-or, as is said on a French monument here, over some who thus fell :
“ Morts en faisant leur devoir."
And this was at the siege of the castle of San Juan de Ullua by the French.
An ocean beach is always beautiful—it is almost always grand-it sometimes is terrific. I walked quite around the beach of this little island, now in its calm, almost without a mimic breaker wetting its coral lips, where, sometimes, the troubled Norther throws his deep rollers far on and far up the north and western parts of the beach, and dashes on to the coral shore the shells from the ocean, and wrecks thousands of that gallant little fleet of gorgeous colors, that the sailors call the Portuguese men-of-war. Multitudes of these mollusca were now lying on the north beach, their sails shivered to shreds, and their hulks anchored by their glutinous cables to shells or pieces of coral, and still retaining the prismatic colors of the rainbow.' Their position on the shore almost disproves the idea, which, to some extent, prevails among mariners and the scientific, that they have the power, at their pleasure, to take in their sails, or to compress their thin inflated membrane, and sink fathoms down in the deep, and thus escape destruction in a gale at sea. And yet, in our course through the Caribbean sea, I watched these beautiful little yachts, suitable only for the fairies to sail in, and thought I marked them in greatest abundance on the sea at the hour of evening, when it was mildly cool, rather than at mid-day, when it was uncomfortably warm; and in the calm,