<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Letter from Mark Twain to Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett - Jul. 30, 1866
Mark Twain Letters

Letter from Mark Twain to Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett

AT SEA (ON BOARD SHIP Smyrniote), July 30, 1866.

Mark Twain Mrs. Jane Clemens Pamela Moffett

DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,—I write, now, because I must go hard at work as soon as I get to San Francisco, and then I shall have no time for other things—though truth to say I have nothing now to write which will be calculated to interest you much. We left the Sandwich Islands eight or ten days—or twelve days ago—I don't know which, I have been so hard at work until today (at least part of each day,) that the time has slipped away almost unnoticed. The first few days we came at a whooping gait being in the latitude of the "North-east trades," but we soon ran out of them. We used them as long as they lasted-hundred of miles—and came dead straight north until exactly abreast of San Francisco precisely straight west of the city in a bee-line—but a long bee-line, as we were about two thousand miles at sea-consequently, we are not a hundred yards nearer San Francisco than you are. And here we lie becalmed on a glassy sea—we do not move an inch-we throw banana and orange peel overboard and it lies still on the water by the vessel's side. Sometimes the ocean is as dead level as the Mississippi river, and glitters glassily as if polished—but usually, of course, no matter how calm the weather is, we roll and surge over the grand ground-swell. We amuse ourselves tying pieces of tin to the ship's log and sinking them to see how far we can distinguish them under water—86 feet was the deepest we could see a small piece of tin, but a white plate would show about as far down as the steeple of Dr. Bullard's church would reach, I guess. The sea is very dark and blue here.

Ever since we got becalmed—five days—I have been copying the diary of one of the young Fergusons (the two boys who starved and suffered, with thirteen others, in an open boat at sea for forty-three days, lately, after their ship, the "Hornet," was burned on the equator.) Both these boys, and Captain Mitchell, are passengers with us. I am copying the diary to publish in Harper's Magazine, if I have time to fix it up properly when I get to San Francisco.

I suppose, from present appearances,—light winds and calms,—that we shall be two or three weeks at sea, yet—and I hope so—I am in no hurry to go to work.

Sunday Morning, Aug. 6.

This is rather slow. We still drift, drift, drift along—at intervals a spanking breeze and then—drift again—hardly move for half a day. But I enjoy it. We have such snowy moonlight, and such gorgeous sunsets. And the ship is so easy—even in a gale she rolls very little, compared to other vessels—and in this calm we could dance on deck, if we chose. You can walk a crack, so steady is she. Very different from the Ajax. My trunk used to get loose in the stateroom and rip and tear around the place as if it had life in it, and I always had to take my clothes off in bed because I could not stand up and do it.

There is a ship in sight—the first object we have seen since we left Honolulu. We are still 1300 or 1400 miles from land and so anything like this that varies the vast solitude of the ocean makes all hands light-hearted and cheerful. We think the ship is the "Comet," which left Honolulu several hours before we did. She is about twelve miles away, and so we cannot see her hull, but the sailors think it is the Comet because of some peculiarity about her fore-top-gallant sails. We have watched her all the forenoon.

Afternoon We had preaching on the quarter-deck by Rev. Mr. Rising, of Virginia City, old friend of mine. Spread a flag on the booby-hatch, which made a very good pulpit, and then ranged the chairs on either side against the bulwarks; last Sunday we had the shadow of the mainsail, but today we were on the opposite tack, close hauled, and had the sun. I am leader of the choir on this ship, and a sorry lead it is. I hope they will have a better opinion of our music in Heaven than I have down here. If they don't a thunderbolt will come down and knock the vessel endways.

The other ship is the Comet—she is right abreast three miles away, sailing on our course—both of us in a dead calm. With the glasses we can see what we take to be men and women on her decks. I am well acquainted with nearly all her passengers, and being so close seems right sociable.

Monday 7—I had just gone to bed a little after midnight when the 2d mate came and roused up the captain and said "The Comet has come round and is standing away on the other tack." I went up immediately, and so did all our passengers, without waiting to dress-men, women and children. There was a perceptible breeze. Pretty soon the other ship swept down upon us with all her sails set, and made a fine show in the luminous starlight. She passed within a hundred yards of us, so we could faintly see persons on her decks. We had two minutes' chat with each other, through the medium of hoarse shouting, and then she bore away to windward.

In the morning she was only a little black peg standing out of the glassy sea in the distant horizon—an almost invisible mark in the bright sky. Dead calm. So the ships have stood, all day long—have not moved 100 yards.

Aug. 8—The calm continues. Magnificent weather. The gentlemen have all turned boys. They play boyish games on the poop and quarter-deck. For instance: They lay a knife on the fife-rail of the mainmast—stand off three steps, shut one eye, walk up and strike at it with the fore-finger; (seldom hit it;) also they lay a knife on the deck and walk seven or eight steps with eyes close shut, and try to find it. They kneel—place elbows against knees—extend hands in front along the deck—place knife against end of fingers—then clasp hands behind back and bend forward and try to pick up the knife with their teeth and rise up from knees without rolling over or losing their balance. They tie a string to the shrouds—stand with back against it walk three steps (eyes shut)—turn around three times and go and put finger on the string; only a military man can do it. If you want to know how perfectly ridiculous a grown man looks performing such absurdities in the presence of ladies, get one to try it.

Afternoon—The calm is no more. There are three vessels in sight. It is so sociable to have them hovering about us on this broad waste of water. It is sunny and pleasant, but blowing hard. Every rag about the ship is spread to the breeze and she is speeding over the sea like a bird. There is a large brig right astern of us with all her canvas set and chasing us at her best. She came up fast while the winds were light, but now it is hard to tell whether she gains or not. We can see the people on the forecastle with the glass. The race is exciting. I am sorry to know that we shall soon have to quit the vessel and go ashore if she keeps up this speed.

Friday, Aug. 10—We have breezes and calms alternately. The brig is two miles to three astern, and just stays there. We sail directly east—this brings the brig, with all her canvas set, almost in the eye of the sun, when it sets—beautiful. She looks sharply cut and black as a coal, against a background of fire and in the midst of a sea of blood.

San Francisco, Aug. 20.—We never saw the Comet again till the 13th, in the morning, three miles away. At three o'clock that afternoon, 25 days out from Honolulu, both ships entered the Golden Gate of San Francisco side by side, and 300 yards apart. There was a gale blowing, and both vessels clapped on every stitch of canvas and swept up through the channel and past the fortresses at a magnificent gait.

I have been up to Sacramento and squared accounts with the Union. They paid me a great deal more than they promised me.

Yrs aff

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