World Travel - Working My Passage
( Originally Published 1903 )
JUST before daylight I had succeeded in going to sleep, when I was awakened by someone shouting in my ear, " Get up, my lad, don't be lazy," and when I opened my eyes there was old " Butch," who had been sent to rout me out of bed. " There's not much danger of my getting lazy if I have to get up at this hour every morning," I replied. I pulled my watch out from under my pillow and saw that is was just four-thirty o'clock. I climbed down from aerial bunk, and after dressing I went on deck at once. There were no facilities for making one's toilet in the " glory-hole," as the little room was called, and I postponed washing until I could find a basin or pail. When I reached the upper deck one of the stewards was waiting for me, and he lost no time in assigning me to work. " You're to help in the pantry, there," he said, " and your principal duty will be to wash dishes." This was good news to me. I had a mistaken idea that dishwashing is always easy work, and I had no conception of the number of dishes I would have to take care of.
First Day at Sea
When I entered the pantry, I found a large pile of dirty plates and cups and saucers waiting to be washed, and I began work without delay. I prepared the hot water in the sink, put in plenty of soft soap, and soon the pile was fast disappearing. I was congratulating myself that I would soon be done, when one of the waiters brought in another and larger pile from the dining saloon. That was only the beginning, for there was a continual stream of dirty dishes throughout the day. I no sooner had one pile washed than there was another awaiting my attention, and I soon decided that I never in my life had seen so many dishes. There were about sixty passengers on board the ship, in addition to the crew, and five meals a day were served in the saloon. I sometimes thought that each passenger must soil at least six plates, from the number I had to wash.
I soon found that I would have to remain in the pantry from half after four in the morning until about nine o'clock at night, with just an hour off in the after-noon between luncheon and tea. When I made my appearance in the morning my first duty was to clear away the refuse of the midnight lunch, which had been served to the night-owls among the passengers. Then, when these dishes were done, " Pants," as the pantryman was called, for short, would send me to the icebox and the cold-storage room, to get the butter and milk and other provisions for breakfast. Then, perhaps, he would order me to make the coffee for the passengers, and as I had never before made coffee in such quantities, the result of my effort was very unpopular in the dining-room.
" Pants " was a very hard man to get on with. I never was able to please him with anything I did, and I was scolded from morning until night. I realize now that I was greatly imposed upon. I was 'made to do the work of one or two others, as well as my own, and when I rebelled I was told by " Pants " that I had better be careful how I talked. " You needn't think that because you're out of sight of land you can do as you please," he said, " for there are plenty of laws to govern unruly youngsters. If you don't do your work properly we will put you in chains in the hold, and when we reach London we'll have you up in court and send you to jail for mutiny." This warning had the desired effect. I was ignorant of the laws of the British Board of Trade, and thought it very likely that " Pants " could carry out his threat. I worked as hard and as long as I could and tried earnestly to please.
Troubles of a Pantry Boy
My efforts, however, were unavailing. I was continually " in hot water " it more senses than one, for " Pants " was in a chronic state of dissatisfaction with me and my work. I had many experiences on board which he never knew any-thing about, for I did my best to keep them from his ears. One evening, for instance, I was sent with his bunch of keys to the cold storage to get some milk for the passengers' dinner. I opened the door, went inside, and laid the keys on a shelf. When I had the milk I went out, closed the door, and sprung the lock, with the keys still inside. 'When I realized that all the keys were locked in, and that " Pants " would need them every few minutes at that hour of the day, I was fairly paralyzed by the terror of my position. I had no idea how to recover the keys, and I couldn't bear the idea of going to the pantry and stating the facts of the case. I would have given a good deal at that time to be back in New York, for I could see nothing but trouble ahead.
I decided at last that the best thing to do, under the circumstances, was to see the chief steward himself, and ask him to help me out. So I went to Mr. Morgan with my tale of woe. " You can't guess what I've done, now," I said, with evident agitation. The genial chief laughed. " Well," he said, " if it's anything worse than what you've been doing, it must be bad, indeed." I laughed, too, then, and explained the situation. Mr. Morgan didn't see anything to worry over. " Why," he said, " the ship's carpenter can pick the lock and recover the keys, and ` Pants' will never know anything at all about it. But be careful that you don't lock yourself in there before the voyage is over. You might have to stay in over night, and in the morning there'd be a pantry-boy glace in cold storage."
The carpenter was successful in picking the lock, the keys were restored to me, and the pantryman never knew how near he came to getting a good excuse for scolding me. After that I was careful to leave the keys in the lock when I went after provisions. Another source of trouble for me was the hot water tank in the pantry. I was often warned not to let it go dry, and I watched it most carefully, but in spite of my vigilance there were times when it was quite empty. And every time this happened " Pants " repeated his lecture on this subject with great emphasis. One evening, when he was especially cross, I was the joyful witness of his total humiliation. He had been scolding one of the waiters from the saloon, and that worthy, for revenge, waited until " Pants " was out, and then placed a lot of soft soap on the pantry floor. The fat old man soon returned, bearing in his arms a pan of hot meat from the galley, and when he stepped on the tiled floor, both " Pants " and pan went down. There was a howl of anger and a scurrying of waiters in the corridor outside, and when the victim regained his feet there was not a person in sight, for I, too, had fled. The perpetrator of the trick was never discovered, but " Pants " refrained thereafter from losing his temper so frequently with the waiters.
Misery of the Mal de Mer
I had quite expected to suffer from seasickness during the voyage, and when I awoke on the second morning out of New York I saw that my expectations were to be realized. The dreadful feeling came over me as soon as I left my bunk, and a few minutes in the fresh air failed to improve me. When I entered the pantry to begin work I was nauseated by the stuffy atmosphere of the place, and I wondered how I would ever get through the day. I began at once to eat lemons, and I drank salt water and tried every other remedy of which I'd heard, but none of them had any effect. Finally I felt that I couldn't stand the pantry any longer, and I told the frowning " Pants " that I would have to go on deck for air. He was furious at the mere suggestion. " You stay where you are," he shouted, pointing to the garbage pail. " Use that, if necessary," he said, " but stay down here and get the dishes washed. Do you suppose the passengers can eat from dirty plates, just because you imagine you don't feel well. You're a jolly good one, anyhow, to come to sea with a stomach that can't withstand this sea."
I had to admit that the sea was fairly calm, but that didn't make me feel any better. I saw that " Pants " believed I was trying to shirk my work, and I determined then that I would stick it out, however badly I might feel. So for three days I had to wash dishes and be seasick at the same time, and I'm sure no one can imagine a worse combination than that.
The fact was, that I was quite as willing to stay in the pantry as to spend any time in the " glory-hole," where my companions and surroundings were not altogether satisfactory. Usually one of my roommates was to be found drunk in bed, and those who were sober were not companionable. One of them in particular, who was the ship's sculleryman, made things very uncomfortable for me. He was a half-witted fellow, of massive build, and with the strength of an ox. He seemed to take a violent dislike to me from the very beginning, though I was careful not to do or say anything which could offend him. He was continually making threats against me, and sometimes, as I caught his eyes, I thought that he fairly gloated over the prospect of doing me harm, as a tiger gloats over its prey. He even whispered in my ear that he was only awaiting a chance to kill me, and my blood ran cold when I thought of what he might do as I lay asleep. When I mentioned my fears to the stewards, they said he was harmless, and that I mustn't mind him; but I couldn't believe that he was joking, and I was constantly on the alert.
He appeared to grow more vicious as the days passed, and I complained to the chief steward, who told me that this would be his last trip with the ship, as it had been decided to place him in confinement when the vessel reached port. The chief also considered him harmless, and it seemed that no one would take my fears seriously. I asked to be assigned another place in which to sleep, but there was no other bunk available, and I had to put up with the conditions as they were.
A Thrilling Escape
The affair reached a climax one night as I was seated on the after-deck, thinking, as usual, of what I would do when the ship reached London. Around the corner of the wheel-house, from where I was seated, were several waiters, who were enjoying the cool evening breeze after their hard day's work. It was a moonlight night, and the ocean was beautiful, indeed. All at once I heard a stealthly sound, and when I turned my head I saw standing over me the brutal sculleryman, with a diabolical grim upon his face. He made a move to seize me as I looked up. " I've got you now," he said in a low tone, " and I'm going to fix you, too." I understood his intention in a moment. I was seated near the rail, and it was his evident intention to shove me overboard, and then explain that I had lost my balance. As soon as I saw him I gave one scream that brought the stewards to my side in a moment. The sculleryman ran down the hatchway, with the waiters after him, and he was given a beating that he must remember to this day. After that he was carefully watched, and forced to sleep with the firemen, so that I felt safer than for many days.
I have but few pleasant memories of my life on this ship. The work was hard and the hours were long, and my only recreation was to sit on deck for an hour in the evening, and listen to the fascinating yarns of the cattlemen. These rovers, who were working their passage by caring for the cattle, had traveled the world over, and they had an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and tales of adventure. They were all very good to me, and I made many friends among them. Every evening we had an informal concert of popular songs, and on Sundays we joined in singing some of the good old hymns. The cattlemen would hardly have been picked out as types of Christian gentlemen, but most of them had been to Sunday-school at some period of their lives, and they had learned the Christian songs. Some of them, I discovered, had a far deeper realization of the meaning of our religion than I had imagined could exist, and I learned in this, the beginning of my travels, that one cannot judge by appearances.
Our ship was slow, and I came to feel quite at home on board before the voyage was over. After I had recovered from my seasickness, and after I became accustomed to the routine of my work, the days passed quickly and almost pleasantly. I had plenty to think about, and I was happy in the knowledge that I would soon set foot in England, where I could begin to do some of the things I had planned so confidently. Toward the last I began to count the hours, and it was a happy day when the vessel steamed up the English Channel and dropped anchor in the Thames River off London Town. I was filled with excitement as I looked about the famous stream, for the scene was both new and wonderful to me. Little tugs, puffing and blowing, hurried up and down the stream, great heavy barges floated lazily with the current, steamers carefully picked their way among the smaller craft and out to sea, and the wharves were lined with the vessels of all nations, discharging cargo. The river was not at all beautiful, and not as large as I had expected it would be, but the scene upon its waters was decidedly picturesque.
Our ship was to land the passengers first, and when this was accomplished she was to steam down the river to Deptford, where the cattle were to be unloaded. I was told that the members of the crew would not be permitted to go ashore the next day, and as I was counted as a member of the crew I supposed that I, too, would have to remain on board. This was not at all to my liking. There before me loomed the great city of London, the city of my desire, and it was intolerable that I should have to remain twenty-four hours longer a prisoner, so near, and yet so far. Then, too, I was anxious to disembark before the crew on account of the sculleryman, who had often told me what he would do when he got me alone in London. I sought the chief steward and told him my desire, and he sent me to the first officer. That official was far from agreeable. He looked at me with a frown when he heard my request. " Well, now," he said, " that's Yankee cheek, for you. Don't let me hear any such nonsense. You stay on until we're ready to let you go."
A Hurried Departure
I hurried down to the lower deck to interview some of my cattlemen friends, and they rose to the occasion. " They have no right to keep you on," said one of them, " Because you never signed articles. You have a right to leave as soon as the ship has reached her destination." They set about to devise a plan for my departure, and they weren't long in reaching a decision. " Have you got a shilling? " one of them asked me. " No," said I, " but I've got a quarter, if that '11 do." " It's all the same," remarked my friend, " and now we'll tell you what to do with it. There's a man over at that bank with a rowboat. We'll get him to come over here with it, and we'll hang a rope ladder overboard, up near the prow, and you can climb down into the boat. Once you're in the boat and pulling away, you're all right, because they have no power to bring you back."
I was a little shocked at the boldness of the plan, and suggested that it would perhaps be wrong to take " French leave " in that fashion. But they laughed at my scruples. " Why," said one of the men, " they'll keep you on here just as long as they can, of course. You're not costing them anything, and they can always find something for you to do. You'd better go while you've got this chance; you may not have another so good when you reach Deptford and the cattle-pens."
I went below for my box, and by the time I had it on deck the rowboat was alongside and the rope ladder was in position. I asked the man to wait for just a minute, and I went to say good-bye to the chief steward, who had been so kind in giving me work. He smiled when I told him how I was going ashore and cautioned me to be careful. " Don't let the first officer see you," he said, " or he may try to make things uncomfortable for you."
When there was no officer in sight I shook hands with the cattlemen, dropped my box into the boat, and hurried down the ladder. In almost less time than it takes to write it I was moving toward the shore, and in a few minutes I set foot for the first time on foreign soil. It was a joyful moment. At Iast I had accomplished my ambition of reaching England, and I had done the thing which no one expected I could accomplish. Now for London Town, and the other things I had planned to do.