Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, by Nellie Bly

Chapter 16.

Across the Pacific.

IT was a bright sunny morning when I left Yokohama. A number of new friends in launches escorted me to the Oceanic, and when we hoisted anchor the steam launches blew loud blasts upon their whistles in farewell to me, and the band upon the Omaha played “Home, Sweet Home,” “Hail Columbia,” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” in my honor; and I waved my handkerchief so long after they were out of sight that my arms were sore for days. My feverish eagerness to be off again on my race around the world was strongly mingled with regret at leaving such charming friends and such a lovely land.

Everything promised well for a pleasant and rapid voyage. Anticipating this, Chief-engineer Allen caused to be written over the engines and throughout the engine room, this date and couplet:

“For Nellie Bly,
We’ll win or die.
January 20, 1890.”

It was their motto and was all very sweet to me. The runs were marvelous until the third day out, and then a storm came upon us. They tried to cheer me, saying it would only last that day, but the next day found it worse, and it continued, never abating a moment; head winds, head sea, wild rolling, frightful pitching, until I fretfully waited for noon when I would slip off to the dining-room to see the run, hoping that it would have gained a few miles on the day before, and always being disappointed. And they were all so good to me! Bless them for it! If possible, they suffered more over the prospect of my failure than I did.

“If I fail, I will never return to New York,” I would say despondently; “I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time.”

“Don’t talk that way, child,” Chief Allen would plead, “I would do anything for you in my power. I have worked the engines as they never were worked before; I have sworn at this storm until I have no words left; I have even prayed–I haven’t prayed before for years-but I prayed that this storm may pass over and that we may get you in on time.”

“I know that I am not a sinner,” l laughed hysterically. “Day and night my plea has been, ‘Be merciful to me a sinner,’ and as the mercy has not been forthcoming, the natural conclusion is that I’m not a sinner. It’s hopeless, it’s hopeless!”

“Don’t think so,” the purser would beg; “don’t be so disheartened; why, child, if by jumping overboard I could bring you happiness and success, I should do so in a moment.”

“Never mind, little girl, you’re all right,” the jolly, happy-hearted captain would laugh. “I’ve bet every cent I have in the bank that you’ll get in before you are due. Just take my word for it, you’ll be in New York at least three days ahead of time.”

“Why do you try to cheat me? You know we are way behind time now,” I urged, longing to be still farther cheated into fresh hope, to which the doctor would say, dryly:

“Look here, Nellie Bly, if you don’t stop talking so I’ll make you take some pills for your liver.”

“You mean wretch, you know I can’t help being blue. It’s head sea, and head winds, and low runs-not liver!”

And then I would laugh, and so would they; and Mr. Allen, who had been pleading for me to “smile just once, give them but one glimpse of my old, jolly smile,” would go away content. This is but a repetition of the way in which I was coaxed out of my unhappiness every day, by those great-hearted, strong, tender men.

At last a rumor became current that there was a Jonah on board the ship. It was thought over and talked over and, much to my dismay, I was told that the sailors said monkeys were Jonahs. Monkeys brought bad weather to ships, and as long as the monkey was on board we would have storms. Some one asked if I would consent to the monkey being thrown overboard. A little struggle between superstition and a feeling of justice for the monkey followed. Chief Allen, when I spoke to him on the subject, told me not to do it. He said the monkey had just gotten outside of a hundred weight of cement, and had washed it down with a quart of lamp oil, and he, for one, did not want to interfere with the monkey’s happiness and digestion! Just then some one told me that ministers were Jonahs; they always brought bad weather to ships. We had two ministers on board! So I said quietly, if the ministers were thrown overboard I’d say nothing about the monkey. Thus the monkey’s life was saved.

Mr. Allen had a boy, Walter, who was very clever at tricks. One day Walter said he would show that he could lift a bottle merely by placing his open hand to the side of the bottle. He put everybody out of the cabin, as he said if they remained in it broke the influence. They watched intently through the open door as he rolled up his sleeve and rubbed his arm downward, quite vigorously, as if trying to get all the blood in his hand. Catching the wrist with the other hand, as if to hold all the blood there, he placed his open hand to the side of [the] bottle and, much to the amazement of his audience, the bottle went up with his hand. When urged to tell how to do the wonderful trick, he said:

“It’s all very easy; all you do is to rub your arm, that’s just for show; then you lay hold of your wrist just as if you wanted to keep all the blood in your hand; you keep one finger free-no one notices that-and you take the neck of the bottle between the hand and the finger, and the bottle goes up with the hand. See?”

One evening, when the ship was rolling frightfully, everybody was gathered in the dining-hall; an Englishman urged Walter to do some tricks, but Walter did not want to be bothered then, so he said: “Yes, sir; in a moment, sir,” and went on putting the things upon the table. He had put down the mustard pot, the salt cellar and various things, and was wiping a plate. As he went to put the plate down the ship gave a great roll, the plate knocked against the mustard pot and the mustard flew all over the Englishman, much to the horror of the others. Sitting up stiffly, the mustard dotting him from head to knees, he said sternly:

“Walter! What is this?”

“That, sir, is the first trick,” Walter replied softly, and he glided silently and swiftly off to the regions of the cook.

But Walter was caught one day. A sailor told him that he could hide an egg on him so no one would be able to find it. Walter had his doubts, but he willingly gave the sailor a test. The egg was hidden and a man called in to find it. He searched Walter all over without once coming upon the egg. The sailor suggested another trial to which Walter, now an interested and firm believer in the sailor’s ability, gladly consented. The sailor opened Walter’s shirt and placed the egg next to the skin in the region of his heart, carefully buttoning the shirt afterwards. The man was called in, he went up to Walter and hit him a resounding smack where Sullivan hit Kilrain. He found the egg and so did Walter!

Japanese “boys” serve in the dining-hall on the Oceanic, but the sailors are Chinese. They chant in a musical manner when hoisting sails. It sounds as if they say “Ah-Oh-Eh-Oh! Ah-Oh-Eh-Ah-Oh!” The “boys” shake the tablecloths into a plate. They put a plate in the tablecloth which two of them shake once or twice and then slide the plate to the floor. The plate will be seen to have gathered all the crumbs.

One Chinaman and one Japanese traveled first-class coming over. The Chinaman was confined to his cabin with sea-sickness all the time, so we saw very little of him. The Japanese wore European dress and endeavored to ape the manners of the Europeans. Evidently he thought it the custom to use tooth-picks. It is-with some people. After every meal he used a tooth-pick so that the whole table might see, as if wishing to show he was civilized! Then after a great amount of gorging he always placed the tooth-pick pen-like behind his ear where it stayed until the next meal.

But even with low runs our trip was bound to come to an end. One night it was announced that the next day we would be in San Francisco. I felt a feverish excitement, and many were the speculations as to whether there would be a snow blockade to hinder my trip across the Continent. A hopefulness that had not known me for many days came back, when in rushed the purser, his face a snow-white, crying:

“My God, the bill of health was left behind in Yokohama.”

“Well-well-what does that mean?” I demanded, fearing some misfortune, I knew not what.

“It means,” he said, dropping nerveless into a chair, “that no one will be permitted to land until the next ship arrives from Japan. That will be two weeks.”

The thought of being held two weeks in sight of San Francisco, in sight of New York almost, and the goal for which I had been striving and powerless to move, was maddening.

“I would cut my throat, for I could not live and endure it,” I said quietly, and that spurred him on to make another search, which resulted in finding the report safely lodged in the doctor’s desk.

Later came a scare about a small-pox case on board, but it proved to be only a rumor, and early in the morning the revenue officers came aboard bringing the newspapers. I read of the impassable snow blockade which for a week had put a stop to all railroad traffic, and my despair knew no bounds. While the Oceanic was waiting for the quarantine doctor, some men came out on a tug to take me ashore. There was no time for farewells. The monkey was taken on the tug with me, and my baggage, which had increased by gifts from friends, was thrown after me. Just as the tug steamed off the quarantine doctor called to me that he had forgotten to examine my tongue, and I could not land until he did. I stuck it out, he called out “all right;” the others laugh, I wave farewell, and in another moment I was parted from my good friends on the Oceanic.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31