High over her they break; and round her surge and roar; and giving place to others, moaningly depart, and dash themselves to fragments in their baffled anger. Still she comes onward bravely. And though the eager multitude crowd thick and fast upon her all the night, and dawn of day discovers the untiring train yet bearing down upon the ship in an eternity of troubled water, onward she comes, with dim lights burning in her hull, and people there, asleep; as if no deadly element were peering in at every seam and chink, and no drowned seaman's grave, with but a plank to cover it, were yawning in the unfathomable depths below.
Among these sleeping voyagers were Martin and Mark Tapley, who, rocked into a heavy drowsiness by the unaccustomed motion, were as insensible to the foul air in which they lay, as to the uproar without. It was broad day when the latter awoke with a dim idea that he was dreaming of having gone to sleep in a four-post bedstead which had turned bottom upwards in the course of the night. There was more reason in this too, than in the roasting of eggs; for the first objects Mr Tapley recognized when he opened his eyes were his own heels--looking down to him, as he afterwards observed, from a nearly perpendicular elevation.
'Well!' said Mark, getting himself into a sitting posture, after various ineffectual struggles with the rolling of the ship. 'This is the first time as ever I stood on my head all night.'
'You shouldn't go to sleep upon the ground with your head to leeward then,' growled a man in one of the berths.
'With my head to WHERE?' asked Mark.
The man repeated his previous sentiment.
'No, I won't another time,' said Mark, 'when I know whereabouts on the map that country is. In the meanwhile I can give you a better piece of advice. Don't you nor any other friend of mine never go to sleep with his head in a ship any more.'
The man gave a grunt of discontented acquiescence, turned over in his berth, and drew his blanket over his head.
'--For,' said Mr Tapley, pursuing the theme by way of soliloquy in a low tone of voice; 'the sea is as nonsensical a thing as any going. It never knows what to do with itself. It hasn't got no employment for its mind, and is always in a state of vacancy. Like them Polar bears in the wild-beast shows as is constantly a-nodding their heads from side to side, it never CAN be quiet. Which is entirely owing to its uncommon stupidity.'
'Is that you, Mark?' asked a faint voice from another berth.
'It's as much of me as is left, sir, after a fortnight of this work,' Mr Tapley replied, 'What with leading the life of a fly, ever since I've been aboard--for I've been perpetually holding-on to something or other in a upside-down position--what with that, sir, and putting a very little into myself, and taking a good deal out of myself, there an't too much of me to swear by. How do you find yourself this morning, sir?'
'Very miserable,' said Martin, with a peevish groan. 'Ugh. This is wretched, indeed!'
'Creditable,' muttered Mark, pressing one hand upon his aching head and looking round him with a rueful grin. 'That's the great comfort. It IS creditable to keep up one's spirits here. Virtue's its own reward. So's jollity.'
Mark was so far right that unquestionably any man who retained his cheerfulness among the steerage accommodations of that noble and fast-sailing line-of-packet ship, 'THE SCREW,' was solely indebted to his own resources, and shipped his good humour, like his provisions, without any contribution or assistance from the owners. A dark, low, stifling cabin, surrounded by berths all filled to overflowing with men, women, and children, in various stages of sickness and misery, is not the liveliest place of assembly at any time; but when it is so crowded (as the steerage cabin of the Screw was, every passage out), that mattresses and beds are heaped upon the floor, to the extinction of everything like comfort, cleanliness, and decency, it is liable to operate not only as a pretty strong banner against amiability of temper, but as a positive encourager of selfish and rough humours.