Page images

of fantastic dress. Often I woke in the night and lit my lamp and consulted these things. When I went to the city I made the lives of various agents miserable with my inquiries. It was hard it was nerve-racking to decide. But on one of these occasions I overheard the casual remark that the S. S. Grosser Kurfürst would set out on her cruise to the Orient with two tons of dressed chicken and four thousand bottles of champagne.

I hesitated no longer. Dear me, my dream had changed, then, after all! Such things had not in the least concerned the boy who had looked into the open fire, and pictured a pilgrimage to Damascus and Jerusalem, and a camp on the borders of the Nile.

My remembrance of the next few days is hazythat is, it is kaleidoscopic. I recall doing a good many things in a hurry and receiving a good deal of advice. Also the impression that everybody in the world except myself had been everywhere in the world, and that presently they were all going again, and that I should find them, no doubt, strewn all the way from Gibraltar to Jerusalem, when I had been persuading myself that in the places I had intended to visit I should meet only the fantastic stranger. Suddenly it was two days before sailing. Then it was the day before sailing. Then it was sailing day!

Perhaps it was the hurry and stress of those last days; perhaps it is the feeling natural to such a proximity. I do not know. But I do know that during those final flying hours, when I was looking across the very threshold of realization, the old fascination faded, and if somebody had only suggested a good reason for my staying at home, I would have stayed there, and I would have given that person something valuable, besides. But nobody did it. Not a soul was thoughtful enough to hint that I was either needed or desired in my native land, and I was too modest to mention it myself.

There had been rain, but it was bright enough that February morning of departure-just a bit squally along the west. What a gay crowd there was at the pier and on the vessel! I thought all of New York must be going. That was a mistake-they were mostly visitors, as I discovered later. It would average three visitors to one passenger, I should think. I had more than that—twice as many. I am not boasting—they came mainly to be sure that I got aboard and stayed there, and to see that I didn't lose most of my things. They knew me and what I would be likely to do, alone. They wanted to steer me to the right state-room and distribute my traps. Then they could put me in charge of Providence and the deck-steward, and wash their hands of me, and feel that whatever happened they had done their duty and were not to blame.

So I had six, as I say, and we worked our way through, among the passengers and visitors, who seemed all to be talking and laughing at once or pawing over mail and packages heaped upon the cabin table. I didn't feel like laughing and talking, and I wasn't interested in the mail. Almost everybody in the world that meant anything to me was in my crowd, and they were going away, presently, to leave me on this big ship, among strangers, bound for the strange lands. My long dream of the Orient dwindled to a decrepit thing.

But presently we found my state-room, and it was gratifying. I was impressed with its regal furnishings. After all, there were compensations in a habitation like that. Besides, there were always the two tons of dressed chicken and those thousands of champagne. I became more cheerful.

Only, I wish the ship people wouldn't find it necessary to blow their whistle so loud and suddenly to send one's friends ashore. There is no chance to carry off somebody-somebody you would enjoy having along. They blow that thing until it shivers the very marrow of one's soul.

How the visitors do crowd ashore! A word-a last kiss—a “God bless you”—your own are gone presently—you are left merely standing there, abandoned, marooned, deserted-feeling somehow that it's all wrong, and that something ought to be done about it. Why don't those people hurry? You want to get away now; you want it over with.

A familiar figure fights its way up the gang-plank, breasting the shoreward tide. Your pulse jumpsthey are going to take you home, after all. But no, he only comes to tell you that your six will be at a certain place near the end of the dock, where you can see them, and wave to them.

You push to the ship's side for a place at the rail. The last visitors are straggling off now, even to the final official. Then somewhere somebody does something that slackens the cables, the remaining gangplank is dragged away. That whistle again, and then a band-our band-turns loose a perfect storm of music.

We are going! We are going! We have dropped away from the pier and are gliding past the rows of upturned faces, the lines of frantic handkerchiefs. Yes, oh yes, we are going—there is no turning back now, no changing of one's mind again. All the cares of work, the claims of home—they cannot reach us any more. Those waiting at the pier's end to wave as we pass — whatever life holds for me is centred there, and I am leaving it all behind. There they are, now! Wave! Wave! Oh, I did not know it would be like this! I did not suppose that I might-need another handkerchief!

The smoke of a tug drifts between I have lost them. No, there they are again, still waving. That white spot—that is a little furry coat-such a little furry coat and getting so far off, and so blurry. My glass-if I can only get hold of myself enough to see through it. Yes, there they are! Oh, those wretched boats to drift in and shut that baby figure away! Now they are gone, but I cannot find her again. The smoke, the mist, and a sudden drift of snow have swept between. I have lost the direction—I don't know where to look any more. It is all over-we are off-we are going out to sea!

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

W E are through luncheon; we have left Sandy

n Hook, and the shores have dropped behind the western horizon. It was a noble luncheon we sat down to as we crossed the lower bay. One stopped at the serving-table to admire an exhibition like that. Banked up in splendid pyramids as for a World's Fair display, garnished and embroidered and fringed with every inviting trick of decoration, it was a spectacle to take one's breath and make him resolve to consume it all. One felt that he could recover a good deal on a luncheon like that, but I think the most of us recovered too much. I am sure, now, that I did—a good deal too much-and that my selections were not the best-not for the beginning of a strange, new life at sea.

Then there was Laura-Laura, age fourteen, whose place at the table is next to mine, and a rather sturdy young person; I think she also considered the bill of fare too casually. She ventured the information that this was her second voyage, that the first had been a short trip on a smaller vessel, and that she had been seasick. She did not intend to be seasick on a fine, big steamer like this, and I could tell by the liberality

« PreviousContinue »