It was the evening of the sixteenth of March.
Exactly six months had elapsed since I left my father's snug villa at Peckham, with its walls shrouded by roses and honeysuckle; and now I found myself two thousand three hundred miles distant from it, in his agent's counting-room, in the dreary little town of St. John, in Newfoundland, writing in a huge ledger, and blowing my fingers from time to time, for snow more than ten feet deep covered all the desolate country, and the shipping in the harbour was imbedded in ice at least three feet in thickness; while the thermometer, at which I glanced pretty often, informed me that the mercury had sunk twelve degrees below the freezing point.
While busily engrossing quintals of salted fish, by the thousand, barrels of Hamburg meal and Irish pork, chests of bohea, bales of shingles, kegs of gunpowder, caplin nets, anchors and cables, and Indian corn from the United States, with all the heterogeneous mass of everything which usually fill the stores of a wealthy merchant in that terra nova, I thought of the noisy world of London, from which I had been banished, or, as tutors and guardians phrased it, "sent to learn something of my father's business—i.e., practically to begin life as he had begun it;" and so I sighed impatiently over my monotonous task, while melting the congealed ink, from time to time, on the birchwood fire, and reverting to what March is in England, where we may watch the bursting of the new buds and early flowers; where the birds are heard in every sprouting hedge and tree, and as we inhale the fresh breeze of the morning, a new and unknown delight makes our pulses quicken and a glow of tenderness fill the heart—for then we see and feel, as some one says, "what we have seen and felt only in childhood and spring."
"Belay this scribbling business, Jack," said a hearty voice in my ear; "come, ship on board my brig, and have a cruise with me in the North Sea. I shall have all my hands aboard to-morrow."
I looked up, threw away my pen, closed the gigantic ledger with a significant bang, and shook the hand of the speaker, who was my old friend and schoolfellow, Bob Hartly, whose face was as red as the keen frost of an American winter evening could make it, albeit he was buttoned to the throat in a thick, rough Flushing coat, and wore a cap with fur ear-covers tied under his chin—a monk-like hood much worn in these northern regions during the season of snow.
"I don't think your cruise after seals and blubber will be a very lively affair, Bob," said I, rubbing my hands at the stove, on which he was knocking the ashes of his long Havannah.