CHAPTER V. THE RIVER PLATE.
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.
Tuesday, September 5th. - We got under way at 6 a.m., and soon bade adieu to Rio, where we have spent so many happy days, and to our friends on board H.M.S. 'Volage' and 'Ready,' with whom we interchanged salutes in passing. It was a dull wet morning, and we could not see much of the beauties we were leaving behind us. The peak of Tijuca and the summit of the Corcovado were scarcely visible, and the Sugarloaf and Gavia looked cold and grey in the early mist. It was not long before we were rolling on the bar, and then tumbling about in very uncomfortable fashion in the rough sea outside. One by one we all disappeared below, where most of us remained during the greater part of the day. As for me, I went to bed for good at six o'clock in the evening, but was called up again at ten, to see some large bonitos playing about the bows of the yacht. It was really worth the trouble of getting up and climbing quite into the bows of the vessel to watch them, as they gambolled and frisked about, brightly illumined by the phosphorescence of the water, now swimming together steadily in pairs or fours, now starting in sudden pursuit of one of their number, who would make an independent rush forward in advance of his companions.
Saturday, September 9th. - The last three days have been showery, with squalls which have freshened to a gale, and we are now scudding along, under all storm canvas, followed by crowds of cape-pigeons and cape-hens, and a few albatrosses. Towards this evening, however, the wind fell light, and we got up steam, in order to be prepared for any emergency, as a calm is frequently succeeded on this coast by apampero, and we are now approaching a lee shore.
Sunday, September 10th. - Tom has been on deck nearly all night. The shore is very low and difficult to distinguish, and the lights are badly kept. If the lighthouse-keeper happens to have plenty of oil, and is not out shooting or fishing, he lights his lamp; otherwise, he omits to perform this rather important part of his duties. The lighthouses can therefore hardly be said to be of much use. About 5 a.m. Kindred rushed down into our cabin, and woke Tom, calling out, 'Land to leeward, sir!' and then rushed up on deck again. The first glimmer of dawn had enabled him to see that we were running straight on to the low sandy shore, about three miles off, a very strong current having set us ten miles out of our course. The yacht's head was accordingly at once put round, and steaming seaward we soon left all danger behind. The sun rose brilliantly, and the weather during the day was very fine. Morning service was impossible, owing to the necessity for a constant observation of the land; but, after making the lighthouse on Santa Maria, we had prayers at 4.30 p.m., with the hymn, 'For those at Sea.' In the night we made the light on Flores, burning brightly, and before morning those in the harbour of Monte Video.
Monday, September 11th. - After making the Flores light we proceeded slowly, and dropped our anchor in the outer roads of Monte Video at 4 a.m. At seven o'clock we got it up again, and by eight were anchored close to the shore. We found that our arrival was expected, and the health-officers' boat was soon alongside. Next came an officer from the United States' man-of-war 'Frolic,' with polite messages and offers of service; and then a steam-launch belonging to the Pacific Company, and another from the Consul, Major Monro, with piles of letters and newspapers for us.
Monte Video, as seen from the water, is not an imposing-looking place. On the opposite side of the entrance to the harbour rises a hill, called the Cerro, 450 feet high, from which the town derives its name, and further inland, on the town side, is another eminence, 200 feet high, called the Cerrito. With these exceptions the surrounding country looks perfectly flat, without even a tree to break the monotony.
Soon after breakfast we went ashore - in more senses of the word than one; for they have commenced to build a mole for the protection of small vessels, which, in its unfinished state, is not yet visible above the water. The consequence was that, at a distance of about half a mile from the landing-steps, we rowed straight on to the submerged stonework, but fortunately got off again very quickly, without having sustained any damage. On landing, we found ourselves opposite the Custom House, a fine building, with which we afterwards made a closer acquaintance.
There is a large and very good hotel here, l'Hotel Oriental. It is a handsome building outside, and the interior is full of marble courts, stone corridors, and lofty rooms, deliciously cool in the hottest weather. Having procured a carriage, Tom and I and the children drove through the streets, which are wide and handsome, though badly paved, and so full of holes that it is a wonder how the springs of a carriage can last a week. The houses seem built chiefly in the Italian style of architecture, with fine stucco fronts, and in many cases marble floors and facings, while the courtyards, seen through the grilles, blazed with flowers. All the lower windows were strongly barred, a precaution by no means unnecessary against the effects of the revolutions, which are of such frequent occurrence in this country. To enable the inhabitants the better to enjoy the sea-breeze, the tops of the houses are all flat, which gives the town, from a distance, somewhat of an eastern appearance. There are a great many Italian immigrants here, and most of the building and plastering work is done by them.