Around the World in Seventy-Two Days/Chapter XI
AGAINST THE MONSOON.
THAT evening we sailed for Hong Kong. The next day the sea was rough and head winds made the run slower than we had hoped for. Towards noon almost all the passengers disappeared. The roughness increased and the cook enjoyed a holiday. There was some chaffing among the passengers who remained on deck. During dinner the chief officer began to relate the woes of people he had seen suffering from the dire disease that threatened now to even overpower the captain. I listened for quite a while, merely because I could not help hearing; and if there was anything the chief could do well it was relating anecdotes. At last one made me get up and run, it was so vivid, and the moment the doctor, who sat opposite, saw me go he got up and followed. I managed to overcome my faintness without really being sick, but the doctor gave way entirely. I went back to dinner to find the cause of our misery had disappeared. When I saw him later, his face was pale and he confessed contritely that his realistic joke had made even him seasick.
During the roughness that followed the doctor would always say to me pleadingly:
"Don't make a start, for if you do I will have to follow."
The terrible swell of the sea during the Monsoon was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I would sit breathless on deck watching the bow of the ship standing upright on a wave then dash headlong down as if intending to carry us to the bottom. Some of the men made no secret of being seasick and were stretched out in their chairs on deck where they might hope to catch the first breath of air. Although there was a dreadful swell, still the atmosphere was heavy and close. Sometimes I felt as if I would smother. One man who had been quite attentive to me became seasick. I was relieved when I heard it, still I felt very cruel when I would see his pale face and hear him plead for sympathy. As heartless as I thought it was I could not sympathize with a seasick man. There was an effort on the part of others to tease the poor fellow. When I sat down on deck they would carefully take away all the chairs excepting those occupied by themselves, but it mattered little to the seasick man. He would quietly curl up on his rugs at my feet and there lie, in all his misery, gazing at me.
"You would not think that I am enjoying a vacation, but I am," he said plaintively to me one day.
"You don't know how nice I can look," he said pathetically at another time. "If you would only stay over at Hong Kong for a week you would see how pretty I can look."
"Indeed, such a phenomenon might induce me to remain there six weeks," I said coldly.
At last some one told him I was engaged to the chief officer, who did not approve of my talking to other men, thinking this would make him cease following me about, but it only served to increase his devotion. Finding me alone on deck one stormy evening he sat down at my feet and holding to the arms of my chair began to talk in a wild way.
"Do you think life is worth living?" he asked.
"Yes, life is very sweet. The thought of death is the only thing that causes me unhappiness," I answered truthfully.
"You cannot understand it or you would feel different. I could take you in my arms and jump overboard, and before they would know it we would be at rest," he said passionately.
"You can't tell. It might not be rest–" I began and he broke in hotly.
"I know, I know. I can show you. I will prove it to you. Death by drowning is a peaceful slumber, a quiet drifting away."
"Is it?" I said, with a pretense of eagerness. I feared to get up for I felt the first move might result in my burial beneath the angry sea.
"You know, tell me about it. Explain it to me," I gasped, a feeling of coldness creeping over me as I realized that I was alone with what for the time was a mad man. Just as he began to speak I saw the chief officer come on deck and slowly advance towards me. I dared not call. I dared not smile, lest he should notice. I feared the chief would go away, but no, he saw me, and with a desire to tease the man who had been so devoted he came up on tip-toe, then, clapping the poor fellow on the back, he said: "What a very pretty love scene!"
"Come," I shouted, breaking away before the startled man could understand. The chief, still in a spirit of fun, took my hand and we rushed down below. I told him and the captain what had occurred and the captain wanted to put the man in irons but I begged that he be left free. I was careful afterwards not to spend one moment alone and unprotected on deck.
The Parsees, traveling first class, were compelled to go below when a heavy swell was on. We welcomed the storm on that account if on no other, because they had a peculiar habit of dropping off their slippers when they sat down. As they wore no hose, this habit was annoying.
The doctor seriously affirmed that every time he sat down anywhere a Parsee was sure to squat alongside, drop his shoes and turn his bare, brown feet up to be gazed upon.
The monkey proved a good seaman. One day when I visited it I found the young men had been toasting its health. It was holding its aching head when I went in, and evidently thinking I was the cause of the swelling, it sprang at me, making me seek safety in flight.
The hurricane deck was a great resort for lovers, so Chief Officer Sleeman told me; and evidently he knew, for he talked a great deal about two American girls who had traveled to Egypt, I believe, on the Thames when he was first officer of it. He had lost their address but his heart was true, for he had lost a philopoena to one and though he did not know her habitation he bought the philopoena and put it in a bank in London where it awaits some farther knowledge of the fair young American's whereabouts.
Lovers were not plentiful on the Oriental, there were so few passengers. The "Spanish minister" had an eye for beauty and a heart for romance, though he led a most quiet life on shipboard, and was the very essence of gallantry.
"I was very much in love with a woman once. Traveling on the same ship with me was a woman, a beautiful woman, most beautiful, indeed. I watched her, she watched me, and my eyes told her I admired her and her eyes said back to me they were pleased that it should be so. Two men were traveling with her. One day I awkwardly knocked against her in a corridor and I said, 'I beg your pardon, Miss!' To which she answered lowly and sadly: 'I beg YOUR pardon, –Mrs!' When she came to dinner that night her eyes were red from weeping. I caught her glance; it spoke so sadly to me, her lips trembling like a grieved child's. She started in to drink a great deal of wine but one look from me made her push her glass away. Her husband, for she was married, was a very brutal fellow and my love for the beautiful woman almost made me forget my family and hers in my longing to claim her as my heart's companion. They left us at the first port. I stood on deck as they came up to go ashore. Her husband and his comrade went down the steps. Starting to follow she saw me, and stopped. Her eyes said to me as plain as speech, 'Say but the word and I am yours,' and although my feelings made me spring towards her, I paused before touching her and my aching eyes said: 'Go! be a good woman.' She went slowly down into the boat. Rising to her feet as it moved off, she held out her arms to me and with a great despairing cry fell back in the boat insensible! I never saw her since, I never knew her name, but I know as well as I know you are there that beautiful woman loved me!"
"And you?" I said inquiringly.
"I!" with a slight shrug of the shoulders, accompanied by a little cold laugh, which was not unpleasant to hear; it somehow reminded me of the sound of dripping water on a hot day. "Ah, she was a beautiful lady, very, ver-ry beautiful, most beautiful, indeed, but Señorita, I have a son older than you and I am devoted to my family."
Impatiently I turned to an Englishman who was sitting on the other side.
"Why do Englishmen always say 'Deah me!' " I lazily asked.
"Deah me! Do they? I can't sai, don't you know."
"Well, I can. It's because they think so wonderfully much of themselves," I said with a laugh.
"Deah me! Really?" was all he said in reply.
"You are so jolly clever, now; can you tell me why Eve did not take the measles?" he asked after a time.
"'Cause she'd 'ad 'em" (Adam), I said in a Bowery tone.
"I sai, now, you are jolly clever, but can you tell me why Cain did not take them? Hasten, now, I cannot dwell."
"Because he wasn't Abel. Now don't dwell, but move on and tell me what chestnuts are?" I said, teasingly.
"Oh come, now–"
"I sai, really, you Americans have such a jolly queer language. Deah me, I can't tell."
"I thought you could, you have such a jolly supply of them, 'don't you know.' "
"Deah me!" he exclaimed, as he rushed down below to brace on a whiskey and soda.
It is wonderful the amount of whiskey and soda Englishmen consume. They drink it at all times and places. There was an Englishman on the Oriental who drank whiskey and soda all the day, half a dozen different wines at dinner, and then complained, as he invariably staggered away from the table, that the wine list had no variety!
Talk about cranks! One woman told the chief officer one day that she wanted a cabin just over the ship's screw so she could tell that the ship was going! She got it, and she was the worst sea-sick woman I ever saw. Another passenger complained because the berths had spring mattresses!
One night during the monsoon the sea washed over the ship in a frightful manner. I found my cabin filled with water, which, however, did not touch my berth. Escape to the lower deck was impossible, as I could not tell the deck from the angry, pitching sea. As I crawled back into my bunk a feeling of awe crept over me and with it a conscious feeling of satisfaction. I thought it very possible that I had spoken my last word to any mortal, that the ship would doubtless sink, and with it all I thought, if the ship did go down, no one would be able to tell whether I could have gone around the world in seventy-five days or not. The thought was very comforting at that time, for I felt then I might not get around in one hundred days.
I could have worried myself over my impending fate had I not been a great believer in letting unchangeable affairs go their way. "If the ship does go down," I thought, "there is time enough to worry when it's going. All the worry in the world cannot change it one way or the other, and if the ship does not go down, I only waste so much time." So I went to sleep and slumbered soundly until the breakfast hour.
The ship was making its way laboriously through a very frisky sea when I looked out, but the deck was drained, even if it was not dry.
When I went out, the jolly Irish lad, for whom I had a great fondness, was stretched out languidly in a willow chair with a bottle of champagne on one arm-rest and a glass on the other. Every little motion of the ship made him vow that when he reached Hong Kong he would stay there until he could return to England overland!
"You should have seen my cabin-mate last night," he said with a laugh when I sat down beside him. The man he spoke of, a very clever Englishman, was the man who posed as a woman-hater, and naturally we enjoyed any joke at his expense.
"Finding our cabin filling with water, he got out of bed, put on a life preserver and bailed out the cabin with a cigarette box!"
I laughed until my sides ached at the mental picture presented to me of the little chunky Englishman in an enormous life preserver, bailing out his cabin with a tiny cigarette box! Even the box of the deadly cigarette seems to have its christian mission to perform. While I was wiping away the tears brought there by the strength of my laughter, the Englishman came up, and hearing what had amused us, said: "While I was bailing out the cabin, 'the boy,' "as we fondly called him, "clung to the upper berth all the time groaning and praying! He was certain the ship would sink, and I could not persuade him to get out of the top berth to help bail. He would do nothing but groan and pray."
The boy answered with a laugh, "I did not want to sleep the rest of the night in wet pajamas," which caused the woman-hater to flee!
Later in the day the rolling was frightful. I was sitting on deck when all at once the ship went down at one side like a wagon in a deep rut. I was thrown in my chair clear across the deck. A young man endeavored to come to my assistance just as the ship went the other way in a still deeper sea-rut. It flung me back again, and only by catching hold of an iron bar did I save my neck at least, for in another moment I would have been dashed through the skylight into the dining hall on the deck below.
As I caught the bar, I saw the man who had rushed to my assistance turned upside down and land on his face. I began to laugh, his position was so ludicrous. When I saw he made no move to get up, I ran to his side, still convulsed with laughter. I found his nose was bleeding profusely, but I was such an idiot that the sight of the blood only served to make the scene to me the more ridiculous. Helping him to a chair, I ran for the doctor and from laughing could hardly tell him what I wanted. The man's nose was broken, and the doctor said he would be scarred for life. Even the others laughed when I described the accident, and, although I felt a great pity for the poor fellow, hurt as he was in my behalf, still an irresistible impulse to laugh would sweep over me every time I endeavored to express my appreciation of his attempt to assist me.
Our passengers were rather queer. I always enjoy the queerness of people. One day, when speaking about the boat, I said:
"Everything is such an improvement on the Victoria. The food is good, the passengers are refined, the officers are polite and the ship is comfortable and pleasant."
When I finished my complimentary remarks about the ship, a little bride who had been a source of interest to us looked up and said:
"Yes, everything is very nice; but the life preservers are not quite comfortable to sleep in."
Shocked amazement spread over the countenances of all the passengers, and then in one grand shout that dining-room resounded with laughter. The bride said that ever since they left home on their bridal tour they had been sleeping in the life preservers. They thought it was the thing to do on board a ship.
But I never knew how queer our passengers were until we reached Hong Kong, which we did two days ahead of time, although we had the monsoon against us. When we landed, a man sued the company for getting him in ahead of time. He said he bought his tickets to cover a certain length of time, and if the company got him in before it expired they were responsible for his expenses, and they had to pay his hotel bill.
The captain asked a minister who was on board to read the service one Sunday. He did so, and when he reached Hong Kong he put in a bill for two pounds! He said he was enjoying a vacation and did not propose to work during that time unless he was paid for it! The company paid, but warned the officers not to let ministers read the service thereafter until they knew their price.
The evening of December 22 we all sat on deck in a dark corner. The men were singing and telling stories. The only other woman who was able to be up and I were the interested and appreciative audience. We all felt an eagerness for morning and yet the eagerness was mingled with much that was sad. Knowing that early in the day we would reach Hong Kong, and while it would bring us new scenes and new acquaintances, it would take us from old friends.