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( Originally Published 1920 )
"If not on board at 7 o'clock tomorrow morning- you will get left," said the New York agent of the State Line Steamship Florida, as I purchased my ticket at the office on Broadway. I was careful to be on board an hour before that time, and as the bells of the city rang out the hour of seven. the huge vessel quietly moved from the dock, the immense screw beginning its revolutions, to continue I hope till we reach the city of Glasgow. That the great ship with its valuable cargo and stores, and still more precious living freight, should start on its three thousand mile trip with the promptness of an express train surprised me. The leave takings were hardly observable, but few of the passengers residing in New York or its vicinity, and our departure was business-like, with but little suggestive of tears or romance. The magnitude and possibilities of my undertaking, however, impressed me seriously as soon as I discovered the ship to be in motion, and I felt myself a wanderer on the face of the earth, or rather, of the great deep. The man who can lightly assume the risk of a trip to Europe I do not envy, nor should I be surprised if his family were equally indifferent to his return.
Our sail out of New York Bay to Sandy Hook was like a river excursion, even the swell of the broad Atlantic was not unpleasant, and the passengers as they became acquainted exchanged congratulations on the prospect of a pleasant voyage. Ship life at its best, and with a calm sea, is wonderfully restful-nothing to do, and a total indisposition to doing anything. To kill time various games are resorted to on deck, but the voyager finds it difficult to interest himself and prefers lolling in an easy chair, gazing listlessly at the water, to be aroused occasionally by a school of porpoises or a passing ship.
We read of the "boundless ocean," and imagine a vast expanse of water reaching as far as the eye can see, and yet our ideas as to how much water is in sight may be very far from correct. Owing to the convexity of the earth's surface, the distance to the horizon is governed by the elevation of the observer. From the upper deck of an ocean steamer, with the eye twenty-five feet above the water, the distance is six miles, and the ship is apparently sailing day after day in the center of a small lake twelve miles in diameter, and this is all of the "boundless ocean" that can possibly be seen unless we climb higher. Were the eye six feet above the water the horizon would be three miles distant, and if thirtytwo inches above the water the distance would be two miles.
There are twenty-two first-cabin passengers, among them an Irish lord, an Episcopal rector from New York, the president of a Methodist college and the chaplain of a New England reform school. The ladies are agreeable and intelligent, and some of them quite proficient in music. There is a convenient music room with piano, and when the sea is favorable we are entertained with sweet sounds. On Saturday evening it seemed most natural to attend choir meeting, and although an extra roll of the ship would occasionally unseat the pianist, I considered the meeting a success. The Sabbath opened most auspiciously, the weather was all that could be desired, and it was pleasant to observe that the passengers of all grades, as well as the ship's crew, had put on their best attire in honor of the day. During the morning hours I sat on deck watching the busy waves, their white crests dancing in the bright sunlight.
At 11:00 o'clock we had Episcopal service in the cabin, to which all the passengers were summoned by the ringing of the ship's bell. Our rector from New York, a clerical looking man, appeared in "surplice and band" and read the beautiful Episcopal service from the English prayer book, furnished in quantities by the captain, careful however to Americanize it where it appeared to him necessary, and to interject a fervent prayer for the recovery of President Garfield. The sermon was appropriate, the choir did remarkably well, and the ocean conducted itself admirably. I call the rector's sermon appropriate because it had no reference to "the dangers by which we are surrounded." That congregation, far from home and friends, did not need to be told that there is but an iron plate between them and death, or that in case of fire most of them would perish, or that in crossing the Banks next day in a fog we might strike an ice berg and all go to the bottom. A narrow minded man might have considered it a glorious opportunity to deal out the "terrors of the Lord," and a very small man might have succeeded in frightening the timid ones almost out of their wits, but our genial rector did no such thing, and therefore 1 think his sermon was sing ularly appropriate to the occasion. In the afternoon we had Methodist service on deck, and in the evening an interesting praise meeting in the music room.
On Monday the wind had increased to a gale, and the large ship was tossed on the ocean as if a row boat, the waves dashing over the sides and keeping the decks constantly wet. Most of the passengers became sea sick. Very early in the storm I began to feel serious, and like a boy in trouble, I wanted to "go home." That being impossible I determined to reside permanently in Europe, if I lived to reach the other side, and in a short time didn't care a cent where I went or stayed.
The stars are intended to indicate an intermission of five minutes, or less, to attend to an act of charity, popularly and humorously called at sea "feeding the fishes."
Ocean experiences have been often related, and some may think they have so far lost their interest by repetition that they should be omitted altogether. Put the great American dailies, that reflect so truly the popular taste, do not reason in this way. They share no expense to collect for their Saturday editions, by special reporters and by telegraph, the hangings of the previous day throughout the length and breadth of the great republic-and there is more sameness in hangings than in ocean voyages. The hero of the occasion always rests well the night before, and no matter how many or aggravated his crimes, graciously forgives everybody, invariably closing his pious valedictory with a general and cordial invitation to the lookers-on to meet him in the happy hunting grounds. Now in an ocean voyage the experiences, and the degrees of misery, are various. Sometimes the vessel pitches and sometimes it rolls, the most agreeable form of either being that which is absent. You seldom strike the deck twice at the same angle, and it is now the soup and now the coffee you receive in your bosom at the table. While sea sickness may, in most cases, present the same general features, there is a wonderful variety in the remedies employed. Among those recommended to me I may mention. eating heartily and fasting, cathartics and emetics, homeopathic appo-morphia and allopathic blue-pill, sitting on deck and remaining in my berth, brandy and gruel, beef tea and salt pork, painting myself with collodion and wearing a liver pad !
The gymnastics practised on deck are surprising, but those performed in the state room are on the whole more difficult, and introduce, as the circus bills say, "novel and startling effects." Making your morning ablution holding on with one hand, and marking with your feet the segment of a circle around the corner where the wash basin is anchored, with all tlze variations which your cramped position imposes, is a severe test of piety. The effort to undress and stow yourself away on the rocking and pitching shelf where your nights are spent is a serious and sometimes difficult matter. The state room door and berth act as "buffers," between which you are tossed back and forth like a shuttlecock.
But there is one cause of discomfort that never ceases. That immense auger, the screw, began at New York to bore a hole to Glasgow, 3,000 miles distant. It revolves about fifty times a minute, and with a monotonous and exasperating regularity, giving a perticuliar and disagreeable throb or pulsation to the whole ship. At night especially, with nothing to distract the attention, it is to the nervous a cause of great irritation. One of the dreariest of sounds is the wash of the sea against the ship's sides, as heard from the berths, with nothing but the iron plates between. Even the storm that sends the waves with powerful strokes as with a mighty hammer to break in the ship's sides, is a welcome relief from the monotonous swash of the ordinary sea.
There is nothing joyous or assuring in the ocean, however we may admire its ever changing forms and hues. It is the emblem of remorseless power, not of mercy or favor. The study of nature on land may leave impressions of the Divine goodness, but on the ocean, never. "Cruel as the grave "would he more forcible if rendered "cruel as the sea." The grave but furnishes a cherished resting place for the remains of our loved ones. The sea receives their living forms in its chill embrace to engulph them forever. "Mother earth " seems the natural home for the remains of her sons, but what so dreary and repulsive as a burial at sea? Its winds recall not nodding branches or rustling leaves ; They bear no fragrance of woods and flowers. Theirs to sound the requiem of departed hopes, or
"Mock the cry
Of some strong swimmer in his agony "
However it may be with sailors, there is with the ordinary landsman an ever present sense of danger. He looks down through a grating on deck thirty or forty feet and discovers that the bottom of the ship is a mass of fire, confined in furnaces it is true, but still fire ; and grimy and sweating men ascending from the fiery region to cool themselves remind him of possible danger from that element. The boats swung so as to be lowered in the least possible time suggest danger by water. Indeed, every precautionary arrangement, and they are numerous, as well as every special care on the part of officers and crew speak of possible peril. Poets may invest the sea with all sorts of foolish romance, to the great deception of landsmen, but the only real comfort of an ocean voyage is its successful termination. The man who wrote of "a home on the rolling deep" must, if not an arrant hypocrite, have been brought up in a poor house or under the eagle eye of a step mother with more bantlings of her own than she could care for. "Home" and the "rolling deep " are the antipodes -of each other.
Neptune I am afraid must look with contempt on the mortals that cross his domain ; the tottering step, woe-begone look, and forebodings of danger that affect the greater number must give him a poor opinion of human nature. And then, if he keeps a stenographer-if all the solemn vows made at sea are recorded ! Good heavens what a possibility I As a party interested, and on behalf of all that "go down to the sea in ships," I protest against the jurisdiction, and competency of the record-on shore. I am afraid the Irishman who promised the Virgin to devote a large sum to charitable uses if safely landed, and when reminded by a companion. of his promise replied, "An' faith the Vargin Mairy 'll nivir ketch me at say agin," is but a type of the majority.
On shipboard many expedients are resorted to, to interest and amuse. During the fine weather, games of "shovel board" and "ring toss" were played on deck. Since that time, music, recitations, riddles and story-telling have relieved somewhat the dreariness of the cabin. A story told by a lady from Chatham, Ontario, interested me very much. "In 1858 the Eastern Monarch left England for Australia, with two hundred and fifty emigrant passengers, of all ages. At sea the vessel was discovered to be on fire, and on an ocean where for the preceding ten days not a vessel had been seen. A panic ensued, the sailors making for the boats, with the intention of deserting the ship and leaving the emigrants to their fate- The captain coolly presented his pistols, with the emphatic declaration that the first man who attempted to lower a boat would be a dead man on the spot, and that his orders must be implicitly obeyed.
Order was restored, the hatches battened down to confine the fire, and everything possible done for its extinguishment, but to no purpose. It was the third day since the fire had been discovered and the flames were bursting from their confinement. A sailor on the look-out reported no sail in sight. In this, their great extremity, an old woman of seventy years exclaimed, " I see a ship !" and sure enough a distant vessel greeted their eyes, and proved to be the ship Merchantman from England for India with troops. She carne to their aid, and every passenger was removed in safety from the shih, which was now in flames. After this it was thirteen days before the Merchantrnan sighted another vessel."
The lady who told us the story was especially interested in it from the fact that her son was at the time second officer on board the Merchantman After we had in turn commended the noble conduct of the captain who stood so bravely by his emigrant passengers, one of the stewards, who had listened to the story, quietly remarked, "That man is Captain Johnson of our ship This proved to be true ; our social kind hearted captain was the hero of the Eastern Monarch. Queen Victoria gave him a gold watch, and the Royal Humane society a gold medal. Frank Leslie published his portrait, but as he was at that time a young man and his picture in the illustrated weekly represented him as a gray-beard, he rather holds a grudge against the publisher.
For six days we had clouds and fog, and during all that time our captain was unable to catch a glimpse of the sun. Running by what is called "dead reckoning" is not considered one of the exact sciences, and it was a great relief when we sighted the lighthouse on Tory Island, on the north-west coast of Ireland. Passing between the Irish Island of Rathlin and a Scotch promontory known as the Mull of Cantire, we entered the Firth of Clyde. Finer scenery is seldom found than between the Island of Arran and Greenock, and as we passed up the Firth the morning sun shone brightly on the hills, mountains, rocks, Bays. in lets, towns and villas on each side. Among the towns may be mentioned Ardrossan,Millport, Dunoon Greenock, Rothsay and Kilcraggan. The Islands of Arran, Bute, Cumbrae, and others of less note were passed. I was much amused by a story, told by an old Scotch gentleman, of the pastor of the church at Cumbrae, who was accustomed to pray for his little parish as follows: "God bless little Cumbrae, big Cumbrae, Bute and the adjacemt Ilands Great Britain and Ireland. "
A pilot came on board, a staid-looking Scotchman, and was greeted by a hundred voices in chorus, " How's Garfield?" "What's the latest?" "How's the President, is he alive?" etc. He seemed puzzled, but looked calmly on the noisy, gesticulating crowd, and spoke not. Some one seized a newspaper that protruded from his pocket and it proved to be a Glasgow morning paper, but contained no news from the sufferer at Washington. All that could be obtained from the owner of the paper in reply to our eager inquiries was, "I hav'na heerd ; he is'na deed that I knaw o';" and with this the anxious but somewhat disgusted crowd of Americans, who had for ten days discussed earnestly and apprehensively the President's condition, were obliged to he content. " We know just as much now as if we had all the morning telegrams in the New York papers to select from," remarked a clergyman of a satirical turn of mind. "Where ignorance is Bliss "-began a young M. D. from Chicago, but the threatening looks of the passengers warned him that punning is out of place on shipboard.
We anchored in the river opposite Greenock, and were soon visited by a tug, evidently on official business. The passengers were requested to place their baggage in line and open it. I suggested to some of the passengers who had but seldom appeared at the abundantly supplied table, that probably the Company was about to reimburse us for the lost meals by sending the steward to place a handsome present in each man's baggage. At this moment a man of bustling importance approached, and pointing to my valise which headed the line, and without being introduced or making any inquiry as to my moral or social status in the United States, remarked in a tone of peremptory inquiry: "Any liquors or tobacco in that bag?" I was so surprised that such a question should be asked me, that I presume I hesitated before giving a decided "No." This encouraged him, and -seizing my valise he gave the contents a good shaking up. He looked disappointed, and made a chalk-mark on the outside, meaning I suppose "no use," to deter other fellows who were looking for liquors and tobacco from trying the same game. "Passing the customs" this ceremony is called in Scotland.
On stepping ashore at Greenock the first person to accost me was a big barefooted Scotchwoman, with a basket of very large red gooseberries on her arm. She picked out the biggest and ripest berry and handed it to me, saying in the vernacular of the country: "Tak yin sir, thir gude." I was so overcome by her unexpected hospitality that I at once invested in the fruit.
Greenock contains a population of about 60,000, has a fine wharf, and is the seat of a large iron manufacturing and ship building trade. The very largest vessels find it inconvenient, though possible, to navigate the Clyde above Greenock, and many of them stop here. It is twenty-three miles to Glasgow by railroad.