'To-day was a grand field-day. I had steam up and tried the engine against pressure or resistance. One part of the machinery is driven by a belt or strap of leather. I always had my doubts this might slip; and so it did, wildly. I had made provision for doubling it, putting on two belts instead of one. No use - off they went, slipping round and off the pulleys instead of driving the machinery. Tighten them - no use. More strength there - down with the lever - smash something, tear the belts, but get them tight - now then, stand clear, on with the steam; - and the belts slip away as if nothing held them. Men begin to look queer; the circle of quidnuncs make sage remarks. Once more - no use. I begin to know I ought to feel sheepish and beat, but somehow I feel cocky instead. I laugh and say, "Well, I am bound to break something down" - and suddenly see. "Oho, there's the place; get weight on there, and the belt won't slip." With much labour, on go the belts again. "Now then, a spar thro' there and six men's weight on; mind you're not carried away." - "Ay, ay, sir." But evidently no one believes in the plan. "Hurrah, round she goes - stick to your spar. All right, shut off steam." And the difficulty is vanquished.

'This or such as this (not always quite so bad) occurs hour after hour, while five hundred tons of coal are rattling down into the holds and bunkers, riveters are making their infernal row all round, and riggers bend the sails and fit the rigging:- a sort of Pandemonium, it appeared to young Mrs. Newall, who was here on Monday and half-choked with guano; but it suits the likes o' me.

'S. S. ELBA, River Mersey: May 17.

'We are delayed in the river by some of the ship's papers not being ready. Such a scene at the dock gates. Not a sailor will join till the last moment; and then, just as the ship forges ahead through the narrow pass, beds and baggage fly on board, the men half tipsy clutch at the rigging, the captain swears, the women scream and sob, the crowd cheer and laugh, while one or two pretty little girls stand still and cry outright, regardless of all eyes.

'These two days of comparative peace have quite set me on my legs again. I was getting worn and weary with anxiety and work. As usual I have been delighted with my shipwrights. I gave them some beer on Saturday, making a short oration. To-day when they went ashore and I came on board, they gave three cheers, whether for me or the ship I hardly know, but I had just bid them good-bye, and the ship was out of hail; but I was startled and hardly liked to claim the compliment by acknowledging it.

'S. S. ELBA: May 25.

'My first intentions of a long journal have been fairly frustrated by sea-sickness. On Tuesday last about noon we started from the Mersey in very dirty weather, and were hardly out of the river when we met a gale from the south-west and a heavy sea, both right in our teeth; and the poor ELBA had a sad shaking. Had I not been very sea-sick, the sight would have been exciting enough, as I sat wrapped in my oilskins on the bridge; [but] in spite of all my efforts to talk, to eat, and to grin, I soon collapsed into imbecility; and I was heartily thankful towards evening to find myself in bed.

'Next morning, I fancied it grew quieter and, as I listened, heard, "Let go the anchor," whereon I concluded we had run into Holyhead Harbour, as was indeed the case. All that day we lay in Holyhead, but I could neither read nor write nor draw. The captain of another steamer which had put in came on board, and we all went for a walk on the hill; and in the evening there was an exchange of presents. We gave some tobacco I think, and received a cat, two pounds of fresh butter, a Cumberland ham, WESTWARD HO! and Thackeray's ENGLISH HUMOURISTS. I was astonished at receiving two such fair books from the captain of a little coasting screw. Our captain said he [the captain of the screw] had plenty of money, five or six hundred a year at least. - "What in the world makes him go rolling about in such a craft, then?" - "Why, I fancy he's reckless; he's desperate in love with that girl I mentioned, and she won't look at him." Our honest, fat, old captain says this very grimly in his thick, broad voice.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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