The Great South - Down the Mississippi

East St. Louis - The Journey Starts

"O, starboard side.”


"Nudder one down dar!"

St. Mary's Landing

THE roustabouts were loading sacks of corn from one of the immense elevators at East St. Louis into the recesses of that mammoth steamboat the "Great Republic,” and singing at their toil. Very lustily had they worked, these grimy and uncouth men and boys, clad in soiled and ragged garments, from early morning, and it was full midnight as we stood listening to their song. In their voices, and in the characteristic wail with which each refrain ended, there was a kind of grim passion, not unmixed with religious fervor. The singers’ tones seemed to sink into a lament, as if in despair at faulty expression. But the music kept them steadily at their work—tugging at the coarse, heavy sacks, while the rain poured down in torrents. The “torch—baskets" sent forth their cheery light and crackle, and the heat lightning so terrible in Missouri, now and then  disclosed to those of us who were still awake the slumbering city, with its myriad lights and its sloping hills packed with dark, smoke-discolored houses beyond the river.

Towards morning, the great steamer turned swiftly round, the very spray from the boiling water seeming crowded with oaths, as the officers drove the negroes to their several tasks; and the “Great Republic‘‘ glided slowly, and with scarcely a perceptible motion, down the stream. The blinking lights of the ferries behind us faded into distance. We passed tug-boats fuming a and growling like monsters, drawing after them mysterious trains of barges; and finally entered upon the solitude which one finds so impressive upon the Mississippi.

A journey of twelve hundred miles by water was before us. We were sailing from t h e treacherous, transition weather of  Missourian March to meet loveliest summer robed in green, and garlanded with fairest blooms. The thought was inspiring. Eight days of this restful sailing on the gently throbbing current, and we should see the lowlands, the Cherokee rose, the jessamine, the orange tree. Wakeful and pacing the deck,—across which swept a chill breeze,—with my Ulster close about me, I pondered upon my journey and the journey’s end.

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