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

Chapter 5.

On to Brindisi.

WHEN M. and Mme. Verne were no longer visible, my thoughts turned to my trip. I feared that the enjoyment of my visit to their home had jeopardized the success of my tour.

The driver had been told to make the best speed back to the station, but the carriage seemed to be rolling along so quietly that I could not rest until it was urged again upon the coachman to reach the station in the shortest possible time.

Some few moments after we reached there the train came in. Bidding a hearty good-bye to Mr. Sherard, I started again on my tour of the world, and the visit to Jules Verne was a thing of the past. I had gone without sleep and rest; I had traveled many miles out of my way for the privilege of meeting M. and Mme. Verne, and I felt that if I had gone around the world for that pleasure, I should not have considered the price too high.

The train which carried us to Calais is, I infer from what I have heard, the pride of France. It is called the Club train, and is built on the plan of the vestibule trains in America. The carriages are so narrow, that after having been accustomed to wide ones, the Club train seems like a toy.

I have been curious to know why this train is called the Club train. I had a foolish idea at first that it was the private property of some club, run for the special benefit of its members, and I felt some hesitancy about traveling on a train devoted to the use of men. However, the presence of a number of women put me at ease, and though I made many inquiries about the train, all I could learn was that it was considered quite the finest equipped train in Europe.

The car in which we sat, as I said before, contained some women, and was besides liberally filled with men passengers. Shortly after we left Amiens, a porter announced that dinner was served in a front car. Everybody at once filed out and into the dining car. I have thought since that probably the train carried two dining cars, because the dinner, and an excellent one it proved to be, was served table d’hôte, and there seemed to be accommodations for all.

After we had our cheese and salad, we returned to our drawing-room car, where we were served with coffee, the men having the privilege of smoking with it. I thought this manner of serving coffee a very pleasing one, quite an improvement on our own system, and quite worthy of adoption.

When I reached Calais, I found that I had two hours and more to spend in waiting. The train that I intended to take for Brindisi is a weekly mail train that runs to accommodate the mails and not passengers. It starts originally from London, at eight o’clock Friday evening of each week. The rule is that the persons desiring to travel on it must buy their tickets twenty-four hours in advance of the time of its departure. The mail and passengers are carried across the channel, and the train leaves Calais at 1.30 in the morning.

There are pleasanter places in the world to waste time in than Calais. I walked down along the pier and looked at the light-house, which I am told is one of the most perfect in the world, throwing its light farther away than any other. It is a revolving light, and it throws out long rays that seem so little above our heads that I found myself dodging to avoid being struck. Of course, that was purely imaginary on my part, for the rays are just the opposite to being near the ground, but they spread between the ground and the sky like the laths of an unfinished partition. I wonder if the people of Calais ever saw the moon and stars.

There is a very fine railway station built near the end of the pier. It is of generous size, but seemed, as far as I could judge, at this hour of the night, quite empty. There is a smoothly tiled enclosed promenade on the side of the station facing the pier that I should say would prove quite an attraction and comfort for passengers who were forced to wait in that place.

My escort took me into the restaurant where we found something to eat, which was served by a French waiter who could speak some English and understand more. When it was announced that the boat from England was in we went out and saw the be-bundled and be-baggaged passengers come ashore and go to the train which was waiting alongside. One thousand bags of mail were quickly transferred to the train, and then I bade my escort good-bye, and was shortly speeding away from Calais.

There is but one passenger coach on this train. It is a Pullman Palace sleeping-car with accommodations for twenty-two passengers, but it is the rule never to carry more than twenty-one, one berth being occupied by the guard.

The next morning, having nothing else to occupy my time, I thought that I would see what my traveling companions looked like. I had shared the stateroom at the extreme end of the car with a pretty English girl who had the rosiest cheeks and the greatest wealth of golden brown hair I ever saw. She was going with her father, an invalid, to Egypt, to spend the winter and spring months. She was an early riser, and before I was awake had gotten up and joined her father in the other part of the car.

When I went out so as to give the porter an opportunity to make up my stateroom, I was surprised at the strange appearance of the interior of the car. All the head and foot boards were left in place, giving the impression that the coach was divided into a series of small boxes. Some of the passengers were drinking, some were playing cards, and all were smoking until the air was stifling. I never object to cigar smoke when there is some little ventilation, but when it gets so thick that one feels as if it is molasses instead of air that one is inhaling, then I mildly protest. It was soon this occasion, and I wonder what would be the result in our land of boasted freedom if a Pullman car should be put to such purposes. I concluded it is due to this freedom that we do not suffer from such things. Women travelers in America command as much consideration as men.

I walked down the car looking in the “boxes” only to find them all occupied by unsocial looking men. When I reached the middle of the car my little English room-mate, who was sitting with her father, saw me and kindly asked me to sit down with them.

Her father I remember as a cultured, broad-minded man, with a sense of humor that helped me to hear with less dread the racking cough that frequently stopped all speech and shook his thin frame as though he had the ague.

“Father,” the little English girl said in a clear, musical voice, “the clergyman sent you his large prayer-book just before our departure, and I put it in your bag.”

“My daughter is very thoughtful,” he said to me, then turning to her he added, with a smile in his eye, “Please take the first opportunity to return the prayer-book to the clergyman, and tell him, with my compliments, that he might have saved himself that trouble; that I was grieved to deprive him of his book for so long.”

The young girl’s face settled into a look that spoke disapproval of her father’s words, and a determination not to return the prayer-book. She held, clasped to her breast. a large prayer-book, and when her father jokingly told her she had bought the largest one she could find, which he looked on as wasting valuable packing space, when she could have carried a small one that would have been of as much service, I was actually startled by the hard, determined light on her face. In everything else she was the sweetest, most gentle girl I ever met, but her religion was of the hard, uncompromising kind, that condemns everything, forgives nothing, and swears the heathen is forever damned because he was not born to know the religion of her belief.

She spent all the afternoon trying to implant the seeds of her faith in my mind, and I listened, thinking from her words that if she was not the original Catherine Elsmere, she at least could not be more like that interesting character.

For the first day food was taken on the train at different stations, and the conductor, or guard, as they called him, served it to the passengers. A dining car was attached in the evening but I was informed by the women that it was not exactly the thing for us to eat in a public car with men, so we continued to be served in our state rooms.

I might have seen more while traveling through France if the car windows had been clean. From their appearance I judged that they had never been washed. We did not make many stops. The only purpose of stopping was for coal or water, as passengers are not taken on or off this train between Calais and Brindisi.

In the course of the afternoon we passed some high and picturesque mountains that were covered with a white frost. I found that even wearing my ulster and wrapped in a rug I was none too warm. About eight o’clock in the morning we reached Modena. The baggage was examined there and all the passengers were notified in advance to be prepared to get out and unlock the boxes that belonged to them. The conductor asked me several times if I was quite certain that I had no more than the handbag with me, telling me at the same time if any boxes were found locked, with no owner to open them, they would be detained by the custom inspectors. When partly assured that I had no trunks he said that it was not necessary to get out with my hand-bag, as no one would think it necessary to examine it.

Half an hour later we were in Italy. I was anxiously waiting to see that balmy, sunny land, but though I pressed my face close to the frosty window pane bleak night denied me even one glimpse of sunny Italy and its dusky people. I went to bed early. It was so very cold that I could not keep warm out of bed, and I cannot say that I got much warmer in bed. The berths were provided with only one blanket each. I piled all my clothing on the berth and spent half the night lying awake thinking how fortunate the passengers were the week previous on this train. Just in the very same place that we were traveling through Italian bandits had attacked the train and I thought, with regretful envy, if the passengers then felt the scarcity of blankets they at least had some excitement to make their blood circulate.

When I got awake in the morning I hastily threw up the window shade and eagerly looked out. I fell back in surprise, wondering, if for once in my life I had made a mistake and waked up early. I could not see any more than I had the night before on account of a heavy gray fog that completely hid everything more than a yard away. Looking at the watch on my wrist I found that it was ten o’clock, so I dressed with some haste determined to find the guard and demand an explanation of him.

“It is a most extraordinary thing,” he said to me; “I never saw such a fog in Italy before.”

There was nothing for it except to sit quietly counting the days I had been away from New York; subtracting them from the number that must elapse before my return. When this grew monotonous I carefully thought over the advisability of trying to introduce brown uniforms for railroad employees in the United States. I thought with wearied frenzy of the universal employment of navy-blue uniforms in America, and I turned with rest to the neat brown uniforms brightened with a touching of gold braid on the collars and cuffs, that adorned the conductor and porter of the India mail.

But even this subject would not fill the day, so I began to notice the difference between the whistles employed on these engines and those at home. There was no deafening, ear-racking blast from these, but plaintive sounds, pitched in a high key that was very soprano indeed, compared with our bass whistles.

I noticed in Italy, as in all the other countries where I found railroads, that trains are started by a blast from a tin horn-horns such as those that take conspicuous places in political campaigns once every four years, succeeding, by the aid of enthusiastic campaigners, in making night hideous for several months preceding the election.

In most cases these horn-blowers seemed to be located at the station, but in France and Italy they occupied the front platform of a coach, and I noticed, with amusement, that the tin horns were chained to them.

All day I traveled through Italy-sunny Italy, along the Adriatic Sea. The fog still hung in a heavy cloud over the earth, and only once did I get a glimpse of the land I had heard so much about. It was evening, just at the hour of sunset, when we stopped at some station. I went out on the platform, and the fog seemed to lift for an instant, and I saw on one side a beautiful beach and a smooth bay dotted with boats bearing oddly-shaped and brightly-colored sails, which somehow looked to me like mammoth butterflies, dipping, dipping about in search of honey. Most of the sails were red, and as the sun kissed them with renewed warmth, just before leaving us in darkness, the sails looked as if they were composed of brilliant fire.

A high rugged mountain was on the other side of the train. It made me feel dizzy to look at the white buildings perched on the perpendicular side. I noticed the road that went in a winding line up the hill had been built with a wall on the ocean side; still I thought I would not care to travel up it.

I got out for a few minutes at the next station where we stopped to take our dinners. I walked into a restaurant to look about. It was very neat and attractive. Just as I stepped inside a little girl with wonderful large black eyes and enormous gold hoop-rings in her ears, ran forward to me with the fearless boldness of a child. I touched her pretty black hair, and then naturally felt in my pocket for something to give her. Just as I drew forth a large copper coin-the less the value of a coin generally, the larger its size-a small man with a delicately refined face, flashing black eyes, wide expanse of white shirt front, broken by a brilliant diamond, came up and spoke to the baby. In the way she drew back from me, although her little hand had been stretched out expectantly before, I knew he had told her not to accept anything from me.

I felt on first impulse like boxing his ears, he was so tiny and impudent. The guard coming in search of me, found us at this critical moment.

“You have insulted him,” he said to me, as if I was not conscious of it! “The Italians are the poorest and proudest people on earth. They hate the English.”

“I am an American,” I said bluntly and abruptly. At this a waiter who had been standing close by apparently not listening, but catching every word just the same, came up and spoke to me in English. Then I determined to remedy the fault I had committed, but nevertheless I had a dogged determination that the child should yet take the coin.

“What a beautiful restaurant!” I exclaimed. “I am passing hurriedly through Italy and in my desire to see, judging from the samples of good cooking I have had en route, Italian eating houses are excellent. I hope I have not put you to any inconvenience. I almost forgot the restaurant when I saw that lovely baby. What exquisitely beautiful eyes! Exactly the same as her father’s, at least I judge from the similarity of their eyes that he is her father, though he looks so young.”

The waiter smiled and bowed and translated. I knew he would, and that is why I said it all. Then the little man’s pride melted away, and a smile replaced the frown on his face. He spoke to the baby who came up and shook hands with me. I gave her the coin and our peace was sealed. Then the little father brought forth a bottle of wine, and with the most cordial smiles and friendliest words, begged me to accept it. I did not intend to be out-done, so I told the waiter that I must take some wine with me, insisted on paying for it, and with low bows and sweet smiles we took leave of one another, and I rushed after the guard to the train, boarding it just as the horn blew for it to continue on its way.

We arrived at Brindisi two hours late. When the train stopped, our car was surrounded with men wanting to carry us as well as our baggage to the boats. Their making no mention of hotels led me to wonder if people always passed through Brindisi without stopping. All these men spoke English very well, but the guard said he would get one omnibus and escort the English women, the invalid man and his daughter, and myself to our boats, and would see that we were not charged more than the right fare.

We drove first to the boat bound for Alexandria, where we took leave of my room-mate, and her father. Then we drove to the boat that we expected to sail on.

I alighted from the omnibus, and followed my companions up the gang plank. I dreaded meeting English people with their much-talked-of prejudices, as I knew I would shortly have to do. I was earnestly hoping that everybody would be in bed. As it was after one in the morning, I hardly expected the trial of facing them at once. The crowds of men on the deck dispelled my fond hope. I think every man on board that boat was up waiting to see the new passengers. They must have felt but illy paid for their loss of sleep, for besides the men who came on board, there were only the two large English women and my own plain, uninteresting self.

These women were more helpless than I. As they were among their own people, I waited for them to take the lead; but after we had stood at the foot of the stairs for some time, gazed at by the passengers, and no one came forward to attend to our wants, which were few and simple, I gently asked if that was the usual manner of receiving passengers on English boats.

“It is strange, very strange. A steward, or some one should come to our assistance,” was all they could say.

At last a man came down below, and as he looked as if he was in some way connected with the boat, I ventured to stop him and inquire if it was expecting too much to ask if we might have a steward to show us to our cabins. He said there should be some about, and began lustily to call for one. Even this brought no one to us, and as he started to find one himself, I started in the opposite direction.

Among the crowd that stood about was but one man that dared to speak without waiting for an introduction before he could be commonly polite.

“You will find the purser in his office the first door to the left there,” he said; and I went that way, followed by the guard from the train.

Sitting in the office was the purser and a man I supposed to be the doctor. I gave my ticket and a letter I had been given at the P. & O. office in London, to the purser. This letter requested that the commanders and pursers of all the P. & O. boats on which I traveled should give me all the care and attention it was in their power as such officers to bestow.

After leisurely reading the letter, the purser very carelessly turned around and told me the number of my cabin. I asked for a steward to show me the way, but he replied that there did not seen to be any about, that the cabin was on the port side, and with this meagre information, he impolitely turned his back and busied himself with some papers on the desk before him.

The train guard who still stood by my side, said he would help me find the cabin. After a little search, we did find it. I opened the door and stepped in, and the sight that met my eyes both amused me and dismayed me. At the opening of the door, two bushy heads were stuck out of the two lower berths, and two high pitched voices exclaimed simultaneously with a vexed intonation, “Oh!” I looked at the band-boxes, boots, hand bags, gowns and the upper berth that was also filled with clothes, and I echoed their “Oh!” in a little different tone and retired.

I returned to the purser and told him I could not sleep in an upper berth, and would not occupy a cabin with two other women. After looking again over the letter I had brought him, as if to see how much weight he should give it, he referred me to another cabin. This time a steward made his appearance and he took the part of an escort.

I found a pretty girl in that cabin, who lifted her head anxiously, and then gave me a friendly smile when I entered. I put my bag down and returned to the guard who was waiting to take me to the cable office. I stopped to ask the purser if I had time to make the trip, to which he replied in the affirmative, with the proviso, “If you hurry.” The two women who had traveled with me from Calais, had by this time found their way to the purser’s office, and I heard them telling that they had come away from home and left their purse and tickets lying on the table in the sitting-room, they had started in such a rush!

The guard took me down the gang plank, and along several dark streets. At last, coming to a building where a door stood open, he stopped and I followed him in. The room in which we stood was perfectly bare and lighted by a lamp whose chimney was badly smoked. The only things in the room were two stationary desks. On the one lay a piece of blank paper before an ancient ink well and a much used pen.

I thought that everybody had retired for the night, and the cable would have to wait until I reached the next port, until the guard explained to me that it was customary to ring for the operator, who would get up and attend to the message for me. Suiting the action to the words, the guard pulled at a knob near a small closed window, much like a postage stamp window. The bell made quite a clatter, still I had begun to think that hopeless, when the window opened with a clink, and a head appeared at the opening. The guard spoke in Italian, but hearing me speak English, the operator replied in the same language.

I told him I wanted to send a cable to New York. He asked me where New York was! I explained as best I could; then he brought out a lot of books, through which he searched first, to know by which line he could send the message; at least, so he explained; then what it would cost. The whole thing was so new and amusing to me that I forgot all about the departure of the boat until we had finished the business and stepped outside.

A whistle blew long and warningly. I looked at the guard, the guard looked at me. It was too dark to see each other, but I know our faces were the picture of dismay. My heart stopped beating and I thought with emotions akin to horror, “My boat was gone-and with it my limited wardrobe!”

“Can you run?” the guard asked in a husky voice. I said I could, and he taking a close grasp of my hand, we started down the dark street with a speed that would have startled a deer. Down the dark streets, past astonished watchmen and late pedestrians, until a sudden bend brought us in full view of my ship still in port. The boat for Alexandria had gone, but I was saved.

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