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

Chapter 6.

An American Heiress.

I had not been asleep long, it seemed to me, until I waked to find myself standing upright beside my berth. It required but a second, a glance at my drenched self, and the sounds of vigorous scrubbing on the deck above to explain the cause of my being out of bed before I knew it. I had gone to sleep with the port-hole open, and as my berth was just beneath it, I received the full force of the scrub-water as it came pouring over the sides. I managed to let the heavy window down and went back to bed, wet, but confident that I would not again be caught napping under such circumstances.

I had not been asleep many moments until I heard a voice call: “Miss, will you have your tea now?” I opened my eyes and saw a steward standing at the door awaiting a reply. I refused the tea, as did the English girl on the other side of my cabin, managing to answer her bright smile with a very tired one, and then I was off to sleep again.

“Miss, will you have your bath now?” a voice broke in on my slumbers shortly afterwards. I looked up in disgust at a little white-capped woman who was bending over me, tempted to say I had just had my bath, a shower-bath, but thought better of it before speaking. I know I said something about “in a few minutes,” and then I was asleep again.

“Well, you are a lazy girl! You’ll miss your bath and breakfast if you don’t get up the instant,” was my third greeting. My surprise at the familiarity of the remark got the better of my sleepiness, and I thought:

“Well, by all that is wonderful, where am I? Am I in school again that a woman dare assume such a tone to me?” I kept my thoughts to myself, and said stiffly:

“I generally get up when I feel so inclined.”

I saw my room-mate was missing, but I felt like sleeping and I decided to sleep; whether it pleased the stewardess or not, it mattered little to me. The steward was the next one to put in an appearance.

“Miss, this ship is inspected every day and I must have this cabin made up before they come,” he said complainingly. “The captain will be here presently.”

There was nothing to do but to get up, which I did. I found my way to the bath-room, but soon saw that it was impossible for me to turn on the water, as I did not understand the mechanism of the faucet. I asked a steward I saw outside the door, the whereabouts of the stewardess, and was simply amazed to hear him reply:

“The stewardess is taking a rest and cannot be disturbed.”

After dressing I wandered up on the next deck and was told that breakfast was over long ago. I went out on deck, and the very first glimpse of the lazy looking passengers in their summer garments, lounging about in comfortable positions, or slowly promenading the deck, which was sheltered from the heat of the sun by a long stretch of awnings, and the smooth, velvety looking water, the bluest I had ever seen, softly gurgling against the side of the ship as it almost imperceptibly steamed on its course, and the balmy air, soft as a rose leaf, and just as sweet, air such as one dreams about but seldom finds; standing there alone among strange people, on strange waters, I thought how sweet life is!

Before an hour had passed I was acquainted with several persons. I had thought and expected that the English passengers would hold themselves aloof from a girl who was traveling alone, but my cabin-companion saw me before I got away from the door, and came forward to ask me to join herself and friends. We first had an amusing search for the steamer-chair which I had told the guard to buy at Brindisi and send on before our departure. There were over three hundred passengers on the ship, and I suppose they averaged a chair apiece, so it can easily be pictured the trouble it would be to find a chair among that number. I asked where the deck-stewards were when at last I felt the search was useless, and was surprised to learn that a deck-steward was an unknown commodity on the P. and O. line.

“I presume the quarter-master has charge of the decks,” my companion said in conclusion, “but we are expected to look after our own chairs and rugs, and if we don’t it is useless to inquire for them if they disappear.”

Shortly before noon I became acquainted with an Englishman who belongs to the Civil Service in Calcutta. He had been in India for the last twenty years, during which time he had repeatedly visited England, which made this trip an old story to him. He had made the same trip from Calais on the India express as I had, and said he noticed me on the train. Learning that I was traveling alone, he devoted most of his time looking out for my comfort and pleasure.

The bugle blew for luncheon, which is always called by the Indian title “tiffin” on ships traveling in Eastern seas. The Englishman asked if I would go with him to tiffin, and as I had gone without breakfast I was only too anxious to go at the first opportunity. The dining-hall is on the second deck. It is a small room nicely decorated with tropical foliage plants and looks quite cozy and pretty, but it was never intended to accommodate a ship carrying more than seven-five first-class passengers.

The head-waiter, who stood at the door, stared at us blankly as we went in. I hesitated, naturally thinking that he would show us to some table, but as he did not I suggested to the gentleman with me, that he ask before we take our places.

“Sit anywhere,” was the polite reply we received, so we sat down at the table nearest.

We had just been served, when four women ranging from twenty-four to thirty-five came in, and with indignant snorts of surprise, seated themselves at the same table. They were followed by a short, fat woman with a sweeping walk and air of satisfied assurance, who eyed us in a supercilious way and then turned to the others with an air of injured dignity that was intensely amusing. They were followed by two men and as there were only places for seven at the table the elderly man went out. Two of the girls sat on a lounge at the end of the table, which made room for the young man. Then we were made to suffer. All kinds of rude remarks were made about us. “They did hate people coming to their table;” “Too bad papa was robbed of his place;” “Shame people had to be crowded from their own table,” and similar pleasant speeches were hurled at us. The young woman who sat at my left was not content to confine her rudeness to her tongue, but repeatedly reached across my plate, brushing my food with her sleeves without one word of apology. I confess I never had a more disagreeable meal. I thought at first that this rudeness was due to my being an American and that they had taken this means of showing their hatred for all Americans. Still I could not understand why they should subject an Englishman to the same treatment unless it was because he was with me. After-experiences showed me that my first conclusion was wrong; that I was not insulted because I was an American, but because the people were simply ill-bred. When dinner came we found that we were debarred from the dining-room. Passengers who got on at London were given the preference, and as there was not accommodations for all, the passengers who boarded the ship at Brindisi had to wait for second dinner.

One never realizes, until they face such contingencies, what an important part dinner plays in one’s life. It was nine o’clock when the dining-room was cleared that night, and the Brindisi passengers were allowed to take their places at the table. I hardly believe they took much else. Everything was brought to us as it was left from the first dinner-cold soup, the remnants of fish, cut up bits of beef and fowl-all down the miserable course until at last came cold coffee! I had thought the food on the India Express might have been better until after my experience on the P. & O. steamer Victoria, and then I decided it might have been worse.

Such a roar of complaint as went up from those late dinner passengers. They wanted to get up a protest to serve on the captain, but I refused to take any part in it, and several of the more conservative ones followed my example.

The two women I have already referred to as having traveled on the India Express to Brindisi, were treated even worse than I was. When we made inquiries, we were told that at dinner only were the places reserved, but that at breakfast and tiffin, first there were first served. Acting on this information they went in to early tiffin the following day, and a young man who sat at the head of an empty table said to them as they went to sit down:

“You can’t sit there. I’ve reserved those places for some of my friends.” They went to another table and after sitting down, were requested by some late comers to get up and give the places to them. The one woman cried bitterly over it.

“I am a grandmother, and this is the sixth trip I have made to Australia, and I was never treated so insultingly in my life.”

There are circumstances under which a trip on the Mediterranean would be like a dream of Paradise. If one were in love, for instance; for they do say that people in love do not eat, and aside from the food, the trip is perfect. Probably it is a hope of finding the cure that will help them to forget a stomach void, that makes love the principal subject on the P. & O. boats. Travelers who care to be treated with courtesy, and furnished with palatable food, will never by any chance travel on the Victoria.

It is all rule and no practice on that ship. The impudence and rudeness of the servants in America is a standing joke, but if the servants on the Victoria are a sample of English servants, I am thankful to keep those we have, such as they are. I asked the stewardess to assist a woman who looked as if she was dying of consumption, to the deck with her rugs, only to be told in reply, that she would not help any one unless they came and requested her to do so.

I heard her tell a passenger one day, that she did not believe it was sickness, but laziness that ailed the woman. If complaints were made about the conduct of the servants, they were always met by the assertion that the servants had been for a long time in the company’s employ, and would take privileges.

The commander of the ship set an example for rudeness. A Spanish gentleman of high position who was traveling to China, where he represented his country in the diplomatic service, also got on at Brindisi. He thought that his first duty was to pay his respects to the Captain in charge of the ship, so he asked some one to point the Captain out to him. This was done on deck. He walked up to the Captain, and with a profound bow, hat in hand, begged the Captain’s pardon, and said that he was chargé d’affaires of China and Siam for the Spanish government, and he wished to pay his duty and respects to the Captain of the boat on which he was traveling. The Captain glared at him savagely for a moment after he had finished, and then asked rudely:

“Well, what of it?”

The Spaniard was speechless for a moment, but recovering, he said politely:

“I beg your pardon, I thought I was addressing a gentleman and the commander of this ship.” Turning, he walked away, and they never spoke afterwards.

Although I had brought a letter to the Captain, he never noticed me in any way. A bright faced, jolly boy, who was going to Hong Kong to enter a banking house of his uncle’s, brought a letter to the Captain. He presented himself one day on deck, stepping a foot or so away until the Captain should have time to read it and greet him. The Captain read the letter, folded it carefully, put it in his pocket, and walked away! He never spoke to the boy afterwards, and the boy was careful not to give him that trouble. The Captain had a tongue for gossip, too. Every time I heard a slighting story about any of the passengers, and would ask where it came from, the answer would always be the Captain had told it to somebody.

Notwithstanding all annoying trifles it was a very happy life we spent in those pleasant waters. The decks were filled all the day, and when the lights were put out at night the passengers reluctantly went to their cabins. The passengers formed two striking contrasts. There were some of the most refined and lovely people on board, and there were some of the most ill-bred and uncouth. Most of the women, whose acquaintance I formed, were very desirous of knowing all about American women, and frequently expressed their admiration for the free American woman, many going so far as to envy me, while admiring my unfettered happiness. Two clever Scotch women I met were traveling around the world, but are taking two years at it. One Irishwoman, with a laugh that rivaled her face in sweetness, was traveling alone to Australia. My cabin-mate was bound for New Zealand, but she was accompanied by her brother, a pleasant young Englishman, who insisted on relinquishing his place at first dinner in my favor, and who stayed away despite my protests and my determination not to deprive him of a warm dinner.

In the daytime the men played cricket and quoits. Sometimes, in the evenings, we had singing, and other times we went to the second-class deck and listened to better music given by second-class passengers. When there were no chairs we would all sit down on the deck, and I remember nothing that was more enjoyable than these little visits. There was one little girl with a pale, slender face, who was a great favorite with us all, though none of us ever spoke to her. She sang in a sweet, pathetic voice a little melody about “Who’ll buy my silver herrings?” until, I know, if she had tried to sell any, we should all have bought. The best we could do was to join her in the refrain, which we did most heartily.

Better than all to me, it was to sit in a dark corner on deck, above where the sailors had their food, and listen to the sounds of a tom-tom and a weird musical chanting that always accompanied their evening meal. The sailors were Lascars. They were not interesting to look at, and doubtless, if I could have seen as well as heard them at their evening meal, it would have lost its charm for me. They were the most untidy looking lot of sailors I ever saw. Over a pair of white muslin drawers they wore a long muslin slip very like in shape to the old-time night-shirt. This was tied about the waist with a colored handkerchief, and on their heads they wore gayly colored turbans, which are really nothing but a crown of straw with a scarf-shaped piece of bright cloth, often six feet in length, wound about the head. Their brown feet are always bare. They chant, as all sailors do, when hoisting sails, but otherwise are a grim, surly looking set, climbing about over the ship like a pack of monkeys.

When I boarded the boat at Brindisi the purser gave me some cables that had been sent to me, care of the Victoria. After we had been out several days, a young woman came to me with an unsealed cable and asked if I was Nellie Bly. Upon telling her I was, she said that the purser had given the cable to some of the passengers the day before, as he did not know who Nellie Bly was, and after two days traveling among them it reached me. Occasionally we would have a dance on deck to the worst music it has ever been my misfortune to hear. The members of the band also washed the dishes, and though I could not blame the passengers who always disappeared at the appearance of the musicians (?) still I felt sorry for them; it was both ridiculous and pathetic that they should be required to cultivate two such inharmonious arts! One of the officers told me that the band they had before were compelled to scrub the decks, and their hands became so rough from the work that it was impossible for them longer to fill the role of musicians, so they were discharged and the new band were turned into dish-washers instead of deck-scrubbers.

I had not been on the Victoria many days until some one who had become friendly with me, told me it was rumored on board that I was an eccentric American heiress, traveling about with a hair brush and a bank book. I judged that some of the attention I was receiving was due to the story of my wealth. I found it convenient, later on, to correct the report when a young man came to me to say that I was the kind of a girl he liked, and as he was the second son and his brother would get both the money and the title, his sole ambition was to find a wife who would settle £1,000 a year on him.

There was another young man on board who was quite as unique a character and much more interesting to me. He told me that he had been traveling constantly since he was nine years old, and that he had always killed the desire to love and marry because he never expected to find a woman who could travel without a number of trunks, and bundles innumerable. I noticed that he dressed very exquisitely and changed his apparel at least three times a day, so my curiosity made me bold enough to ask how many trunks he carried with him.

“Nineteen,” was the amazing reply. I no longer wondered at his fears of getting a wife who could not travel without trunks.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bly/nellie/around-the-world/chapter6.html

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