Away to the Orient
( Originally Published 1903 )
FEW days later I observed another bit of news in the paper which interested me exceedingly. The transport Ingalls had been upset while in the dry-dock, and had sunk in Erie Basin. She had carried several workmen down with her, and altogether there was considerable excitement over the accident. I hurried to Brooklyn and tried to ascertain whether the ship was badly damaged, and whether it would now be possible for her to go out to the Philippines. At the gate of the shipyard, all information was refused, but when I went over to see the Major, who had been so kind, he said that he thought it wholly unlikely that the Ingalls could make the trip. " But you needn't worry," he said, " for the government is sure to send out another transport in her place, and probably it will prove to be a better ship." This was good news, for I had been fearful of what the Ingalls might do in a storm. It was announced a few days later that the McClellan would go out in place of the Ingalls, and she proved to be a larger and more seaworthy vessel. I went over her with great care, and examined especially the quarters for seamen in the forward end. They weren't very inviting. They weren't clean, and the bunks appeared anything but comfortable. It occurred to me, though, that things would appear different at sea, and I determined not to cross any bridges before I reached them on my way around the world.
I called at the Army Building every three or four days to see the Major. He assured me that he would certainly furnish me with a berth as A.B. on board the McClellan. He said it was almost unknown for a ship to start on a long voyage without some of the sailors leaving, and that I needn't worry for fear nothing would turn up. He advised me to wait until the very day of sailing before signing on as a seaman. " It's very possible," he said, " that you may yet be able to get a more pleasant position, and you'd better wait until the day of sailing, and see what happens."
The Day for Sailing Draws Near
I waited very impatiently for that eventful day to come. It had long been recognized among the boys in our crowd that I was really and truly going around the world, and I often noticed the fellows looking at me with a far-away expression in their eyes. I tried to persuade some one of them to go along with me for company's sake, but when I mentioned the matter one evening, " they one and all with one accord began to make excuses." One fellow said his mother wouldn't hear of his going so far from home, another asserted that he simply had to enter college next fall, and that he couldn't afford to miss school ; another insisted that he would die of seasickness before he reached the first port. It was very evident that I needn't expect any company from among my friends. This didn't cause me any uneasiness. I had been in many strange places, and had never failed to find companionable people, so I felt sure that I wouldn't be lonesome on the McClellan. I would have my work to attend to, whatever it would be, and doubtless the sailors would be very interesting friends to have. I would certainly have abundant opportunity to get acquainted with them on a three months' voyage.
As the eventful Saturday on which the transport was to sail drew near, I became nervous. I began to wonder whether the Major was really certain that he could find me a berth. It would be dreadful if I shouldn't get started, after all my plans were made, and my friends had said good-bye. I called at the Army Building on Friday morning, and the Major sent out word that I must be at the government pier at ten o'clock on Saturday. He didn't say whether or not he had a place in mind for me. That last day was very slow in passing. I went over to the pier and watched the busy scene. Provisions of all sorts were put in the McClellan's hold, and it seemed to me that they had enough to last through several voyages. The sailors all seemed busily engaged about the deck, and I examined them with considerable interest, expecting that we would be shipmates for so many weeks. Most of them had pleasant faces, and I had the comfortable thought that they would no doubt improve on acquaintance. The officers looked rather stern and forbidding, but I had served under a French pantryman for two weeks, and after him I felt ready for any sort of officer, however fierce he might look.
A Lively Farewell Gathering
Jack Irwin had asked a crowd of boys to a sort of farewell gathering at his house on Friday evening. It was anything but melancholy. Most of them thought it a great joke that I should be starting around the world without knowing what my work would be like, and they made all sorts of remarks about what my sailor's life would be. Few of them had any appreciation of what an undertaking it is to travel around the world without money to pay one's expenses, and those who had felt certain that I would be leaving the transport at the first port. " You'll be writing back for money," said Will Renwick, " and we'll have to play ball all summer to get enough to bring you home." This remark was received with laughter, and I told them that they had better begin booking games right away. Mrs. Irwin herself was the only person who seemed to appreciate what I was undertaking. She made me promise that I'd surely let them know if I ever needed help of any description. I assured her that I couldn't imagine any situation in which I would need to appeal for help. " The world is no longer an unknown sphere," I said. " All the ports we are booked to touch are at least partly civilized, and I am sure to find English and Americans wherever I go. There are hospitals and medical missionaries everywhere, so that if I become ill. I am sure to be cared for." All this didn't seem to make much of an impression. " I can imagine how your mother would worry if she were living," said Mrs. Irwin, " and you know I've sort of taken her place."
The boys were all earnest in wishing me a pleasant trip and success in the undertaking. I said good-bye to all of them that night, because I was going into New York very early in the morning. I didn't ask anyone to see me off at the pier because I couldn't be sure that I'd have a berth, and, anyhow, it might be necessary for me to stay below at the very time of sailing.
I reached the government pier at nine o'clock instead of ten on Saturday. All was rush and bustle in the neighborhood, and any landsman could see that a ship was about to start on a long voyage. The gangways were crowded with hurrying messengers, and every man aboard the ship was busy. The baggage belonging to passengers was being hoisted over the rail, and the passengers themselves were already on hand with their friends, although the ship wasn't due to sail until eleven o'clock. The transport was gayly decorated with flags and bunting and a military band was playing the latest popular airs. The scene was one to rouse the lover of travel to a frenzy of excitement, and as I saw all these preparations for the greatest trip in the world, I determined to sail on the McClellan if I had to stowaway. I felt that I simply couldn't exist if I missed the trip after all my planning and the effort I had expended in trying for a position.
An Opening at Last
I looked all about for my good Major, but he wasn't anywhere around. None of the dock hands had seen him that morning. I stationed myself at the pier entrance and watched for his coming. He finally appeared at half after nine, and I went up to him at once. I didn't think it necessary to ask whether he had found a berth for me. He had seen me often enough in the past few weeks to know my desire perfectly. He looked at me smiling, " Don't be excited, my boy," he said. " The ship won't sail for two hours, and when she goes you'll go along in some capacity. You needn't be afraid that you've had all your hard work for nothing. You be around where I can find you in about ten minutes, and I'll go and speak to the captain." I followed him up the gangplank, and when he entered the captain's room I stood outside the door. He was inside what seemed an interminable time to me. When he came out he motioned me to follow him. We went down the deck and he explained that he had good news for me. " One of the masters-at-arms has left this morning," he said, " and I've arranged for you to take his place. It will be much better than a seaman's berth and the pay is better, too. You come into the chief officer's cabin and sign the articles now, and then you can hustle out and buy a uniform."
The chief officer's room was just aft of the sailing-master's, and the three of us had scarcely room to turn around in it. The officer brought out a large sheet of paper with the " articles " printed on it. I observed in reading them that I was agreeing to remain with the ship for twelve months, and felt obliged to object. " But I want to leave at Manila," I said, " I don't want to come back to New York in the same way that I go out." The chief officer frowned and grunted. The Major said that I could leave at Manila without any difficulty at all, so I took his word for it and signed the paper. " Now," he said, " you'll just have time to run over to New York and buy your uniform before the ship sails. Go to this address and tell the man you want a master-at-arms' suit. You needn't pay for it, as I don't suppose you've got any money to spare. It can be taken out of your first month's pay."
I got over the great suspension bridge as quickly as I could, and on the way my mind was occupied in trying to solve the puzzle of what " master-at-arms " could mean. The title sounded rather important, but I thought of other high-sounding names for menial positions and deferred judgment until I should find out from some one on board the McClellan just what my duties would be. The tailor gave me a suit which fitted me fairly well, and I felt very good when I had it on. It was of blue, with brass buttons, and a double-breasted coat. The cap had a gold wreath in front and in the wreath a star. When I looked at myself in the mirror I decided that being a master-at-arms was decidedly better than being a seaman.
Off for the Far East
I returned to the pier just in time to get on board before the McClellan sailed. There was great excitement all around, and I stood by the rail without being noticed by any of the officers. Everyone was too busy to pay any attention to a petty officer. The passengers, who numbered about thirty in all, were giving last messages to their friends on the pier, and the crew were all engaged in making ready to sail. At last the screaming tugs began to puff and blow, and a tremor told us that we were off for Manila. The transport was pulled out into the ship channel, and then, under her own steam, she started down the upper bay, with the band playing and flags a-flying. As the dime-novel heroes so often exclaim, " it was a thrilling moment." I was launched on a venture the end of which was very uncertain. I had at last been successful in leaving New York on a ship bound for the Far East, but would I ever get back again, and would the trip be the failure which was predicted by so many people in my town?
I feasted my eyes on the familiar scenes of New York harbor. I observed the tall sky-scrapers on the lower island and wondered when I would ever see a thirty-story building again. I looked at the great bridge, which appeared as if, in the dim distance, with its iron cables, apparently as thin as a telegraph wire. A Staten Island ferry-boat passed us with crowded decks. The people cheered when they saw the recruits in khaki uniforms and understood that we were bound for Manila. A fishing-boat tooted her whistle a dozen times as she passed us, and at Fort Wadsworth the garrison cheered us to the echo. I felt as if I were really going to war myself. When we passed Coney Island I took in every detail of the iron tower and the great wheel, and thought of Jack Irwin and Will Renwick and the good times they'd be having there on summer days, while I was far away in the romantic storied East. When I saw the hotels at Manhattan Beach, I remembered some good dinners I had eaten there, and began to wonder what sort of food would be given the masters-at-arms on board the transport, and I was still thinking of what might be before me, when I was recalled to the present by the gruff voice of the chief officer. He had stepped outside his cabin and stood looking at me as I leaned over the rail. " By heaven," he exclaimed, " why ain't you down below? Come here and I'll give you a bit of information."