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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter VI. Life on board Ship


The party enjoyed a very excellent opportunity, as the ship sailed down the harbor, of viewing the scenery of the shores, and of seeing the other ships, steamers and sail-boats, that were going in various directions to and fro. While Mrs. Morelle remained at this seat, Grimkie and John went to take a walk about the ship to see what they could see. There was no difficulty now in going where they pleased, for since the visitors had left the ship and none but the regular passengers remained, there was ample room for all.

Accordingly, Grimkie and John took a long ramble all about the ship. They looked down into the engine-room, and there, at a vast depth below the deck, they saw half-naked stokers shoveling coal into the furnace. They walked along by the ranges of offices which extended on each side of the main deck through the whole middle portion of the ship, like two little streets of shops in a town. They saw the cow—a monstrous one—shut up in a pen, with the sides of it covered with carpeting and well padded, like the hack of a sofa, to prevent the cow from being hurt when thrown against them by th6 rolling of the ship in a storm. They went into the , saloon and were much struck with the brilliancy and magnificence of it. There was one arrangement which particularly attracted their attention. This was a row of hanging shelves extending up and down the room over the tables. These shelves were made of some highly polished wood and were so ornamented with brass mountings that they made quite an elegant appearance. They were all loaded, too, with cut-glass and silver-ware—such as decanters, tumblers, wine-glasses of different colors, castors, and silver spoons,—which added greatly to the brilliance of the effect. The shelves were double, or, as one might say, two stories high, the upper story of each having holes and openings in it of various forms, suited to the various articles which they were to contain. In these openings of the upper board the various vessels were placed, while the bottoms of them rested on the lower board. Each one had thus its own little nest, where it could rest in safety, no matter how much the ship might pitch or roll.

Grimkie found that cards were pinned along the sides of the table to mark the places where the different passengers were to sit, and there were also in the saloon two or three gentlemen who had cards in their hands, and were looking out for vacant places to put them.

“Ah, yes!” said Grimkie, “we must choose our places at the tables. Father told me about this and I have got the cards in my pocket all ready. I came very near forgetting it.”

So he took out the cards and one of the stewards who was there, helped him to choose good places. After he had pinned the cards to the table-cloth, opposite the seats which they were intended to secure, he and John went up to the upper deck again to where Mrs. Morelle and Florence were sitting. Mrs. Morelle asked John how he liked the ship.

He liked it very well he said. Every thing was complete and secure. The chairs and tables were all screwed down to the floor, and there were nests for all the tumblers, and a sofa for the cow.

The ship was now gradually getting out of the harbor, and coming upon the open sea where she met with a gentle swell over which she rose and fell in a manner very graceful and charming to the eye, but very bewildering and dizzying in its effects upon the brain. Mrs. Morelle and Florence soon went below, where, with the help of Mrs. McGregor, the stewardess, who was extremely kind and attentive to them, they undressed themselves and went to bed. Mrs. Morelle got into the lower berth, but as Florence felt a little afraid to climb up into the upper one, Mrs. McGregor made a bed for her upon the settee, where she could lie very comfortably.

Grimkie and John remained up and about the decks all that day. At times they felt sick and uncomfortable, but they were so much excited by the new and strange scenes which continually attracted their attention that they were extremely unwilling to go to their stateroom. From time to time they paid Mrs. Morelle and Florence a visit, but they found them lying silent and motionless, and very little inclined to talk. At twelve o'clock there was a grand luncheon in the dining saloon, with nearly all the passengers at the tables. At four a still grander dinner, though the places of the ladies were generally vacant.

The ship's bells tolled the hours regularly through the afternoon and evening watches, and at eight o'clock both Grimkie and John were very ready to go to bed. Grimkie allowed J ohn to have the lower berth because it was so much easier to get into. There was no real difficulty however in respect to the upper berth, for Mrs. McGregor, when the boys were ready to go to bed brought in a very nice step-ladder with iron hooks at the upper end of it to hook into the edge of the berth. She hooked the ladder on the berth and planted the lower end of it upon the floor, and then went away, saying that the ladder could remain there all night.

“It is a very nice ladder,” said John, “and it must be easy going up. But I never saw a ladder with hooks in it before. A ladder will stand steady enough without hooks.”

“On land it would,” said Grimkie. “But at sea, when the ship is rolling heavily in a gale of wind, the ladder must have claws to hold on by." “I hope we shall have a good gale of wind,” said John, after a brief pause. “I want to see if I can go up that ladder in it.”

John was however evidently not much inclined to talk. He undressed himself in silence and crept into his berth. Grimkie also mounted the ladder and climbed over from the top of it into his. After covering himself up with the bed clothes and getting as well settled as was possible in so hard and narrow a bed, he extended his head over the edge of .his berth so as to look down toward John’s berth below, and said,

“Johnnie, are you comfortable?”

“Yes,” said John.

“Are you sleepy?” said Grimkie.

“No,” said John, “but I am sick.”

“Never mind,” said Grimkie. “Say your prayers to yourself, and then shut up your eyes and go to sleep, and forget all about it.”

For several days after this time the condition of our party of travelers was quite forlorn. Grimkie himself, in fulfillment of a positive resolution which he had made, clambered down from his berth, and went up to the saloon to all his meals, though frequently without being able to eat any thing when he got there. On these occasions he always went into Mrs. Morelle’s stateroom, to see how his aunt and Florence were. He found them generally lying in their beds, Mrs. Morelle in the berth, and Florence upon the settee, silent and motionless, and not at all inclined to conversation. His aunt opened her eyes and smiled faintly when he came in and usually asked him some questions about the progress of the ship. The weather was cold, rainy and foggy, and although the air was in itself tolerably calm, the motion of the ship through the water produced a raw and chilly wind across the decks which made it impossible to remain there long without extreme discomfort.

On the second night out, about eight o'clock, the engine stopped. Grimkie, who was always ready at a moment’s notice to go into his aunt's stateroom whenever she knocked upon the partition to call him, or there was any other occasion for going in to see her, and who for this purpose undressed very little during all the first part of the voyage, immediately climbed down from his berth, and slipping on a great coat which he kept always at hand, in lieu of a dressing gown, he opened his aunt's door.

The moment that he opened it, Mrs. Morelle raised her head suddenly, and asked him in a tone of alarm, what was the matter.

“I don't think any thing at all is the matter, Auntie," said he. “They are always stopping the engine on these voyages—to tighten up a screw or something or other."

“But Grimkie," said she, “I wish you would go and see if you can not find out what is the matter. I am afraid that something has happened."

There was, indeed, something almost awful in the solemn stillness which reigned throughout the ship, now that the engine had ceased its motion, and the ship lay rocking upon the waves as if powerless and helpless. Grimkie immediately left the stateroom in order to go upon deck, and Mrs. Morelle's alarm was very much increased a moment after he had gone, by a burst of steam from the steam-pipe, which suddenly began to be heard, occasioned by the letting off of the surplus steam, which, as it could now no longer be employed in driving the paddle-wheels, it was necessary to allow to escape into the atmosphere.

A moment after this sound began to be heard however, Mrs. McGregor came into the cabin, to say to Mrs. Morelle, that she must not be alarmed at the stopping of the engine, for there was nothing the matter.

“They have only stopped to sound,” said she. “You see we are drawing nigh to Halifax, and it is very thick and dark, and they can not see the land. So they have to sound and go on cautiously. We shall go on again presently.”

So saying Mrs. McGregor went away in order to convey the same relief and reassurance to the ladies in the other staterooms.

Grimkie went up on deck, but he could see nothing. The night was dark, and a heavy mist mingled with rain, was driving along the decks. He could hear the voices of some of the sailors occasionally, talking in ordinary tones, in the forward part of the vessel, and now and then a command given by an officer, but otherwise all was still.

Grimkie returned to the stateroom, and there found how much his aunt had been relieved by having learned that they had stopped the ship to sound.

“I was sure there could not be anything the matter,” said Grimkie. “So you must shut your eyes, Auntie, and go to sleep, and not pay any attention after this to any thing you hear. There are ever so many things going on in such a ship, and when any thing unusual happens we must not mind it. Whenever there is any danger—or at least whenever there is any thing for us to do, Mrs. McGregor will be sure to come and tell us.”

“That is true,” said Mrs. Morelle, “and I will try not to be afraid again.”

“But if you should be afraid at any time, Auntie,” continued Grimkie,”just knock at the head of your berth and I shall hear.”

So saying Grimkie bade his aunt good night and went back to his stateroom. As for John he heard nothing of all this, having slept soundly through the whole.

The steamer was soon put in motion again, but in the course of an hour she stopped anew. Grimkie was asleep, but the stopping wakened him. He knew it was not midnight by the stateroom light which was still burning. There was a little three-cornered box partitioned off in a comer between the two staterooms, with a door opening into the passage-way, and ground glass sides toward the staterooms. Into this box a lighted candle was placed by a steward standing in the passage-way, every evening, as soon as it was dark, and this gave a dim and indistinct light in the two staterooms adjoining it, through the ground glass panes. This was all the light for the staterooms that was allowed.

Moreover, as this light was put out at midnight, it afforded the passengers the means of knowing, when they awoke in the night, whether it was before or after midnight, by observing whether their light had gone out or was still burning.

Grimkie was awakened from his sleep by the stopping of the engine the second time, and he remained awake long enough to observe that his light was still burning. He, however, soon fell asleep again.

He awoke after this several times during the night and found the ship sometimes at rest, and sometimes in motion. On one of these occasions he heard a great sound of trampling upon the deck, as of persons going to and fro, and a sort of thumping, such as would be occasioned by the moving heavy boxes about upon deck. He determined to go up and see what was the matter.

So he climbed down from his berth, put on his great coat, his overshoes, and his cap, and went up to the deck. He saw lights, and the dim forms of many men were going to and fro forward and on the side of the ship a long range of black masses which looked so strange that they quite bewildered him. The wind blew, and the mist and rain were driven into his face so as almost to blind him. As he stood at the head of the stairs looking out, a passenger came by to go in.

“What is it?" asked Grimkie.

“Halifax," said the passenger. “I'm thankful that we have got in at last. We lost five hours beating about outside in the fog before we could get in."

Grimkie was determined to see Halifax, so he went out upon the main deck and thence along to the foot of a narrow winding stair which led up to the upper deck, and thence forward to the great funnel where he thought he could find a little shelter. He saw some lights glancing about upon the pier, and the dark and indistinct forms of men moving to and fro, and a range of black spectral looking roofs extending along the shore. But it was so cold, and the mist and rain were driven so furiously into his face by the wind, that he was glad to go below, saying to himself as he went.

“We may have better luck perhaps when we come back, and get to Halifax in the day time.”

When he awoke the next time he knew by the jar, and by the rocking motion of the ship, that they were not only on their way again, but were once more out upon the open sea.

Everything went on much in this way for a day or two longer. It was cold and wet upon the decks, and dreary and silent below. The horizon in every direction was obscured by fogs and mists, and the decks were kept always wet by driving rains which were continually sweeping over the sea. Grimkie went up regularly to his meals, but he was glad to come back again as soon as possible to his berth, and the rest of the party kept their berths all the time. Mrs. McGregor brought them soup, and porridge, and tea and toast, and other things, at regular intervals, but often they were taken away again, scarcely touched, and during the intervals of these visits Mrs. Morelle and Florence remained in their berths, sometimes hour after hour without speaking a word.

The only amusement which they had was to listen for the sound of the ship’s bells as they tolled the slow progress of the hours, and to hear the news which Grimkie brought in to them from time to time, in respect to the progress of the voyage. .

During a great portion of this time Mrs. Morelle was kept in a constant state of uneasiness, by the blowing of a monstrous steam trumpet which was attached to the engine, and which was sounded every two or three minutes, when the fog was too thick ahead to allow them to see whether any vessels were in the way. The intention in blowing this trumpet is, that if there should be any such vessels in the line of the steamer's advance, they may hear the sound and blow horns or fire guns in response, and then the steamer might be turned to one side to avoid them.

This blowing of the steam trumpet in a fog, is an example of the extreme caution and care which marks the whole management of the Cunard steamers, and which inspires the public with so great a degree of confidence in them. Many steamers in such cases push boldly on, without making any signals, trusting to the chance of not meeting anything by the way. I once heard the captain of a steamer say, when we were going on through a dense fog, on the Atlantic, without taking any of these precautions, that there was about as little chance of a steamer’s coming into collision with another vessel when pursuing her way upon the ocean, as there would be of hitting a bird by firing a gun at random into the air.

There is, however, something rather trying to the nerves of timid lady passengers, in hearing the unearthly scream of this awful trumpet sound its note of alarm, at regular intervals at midnight, while they lie sick, miserable and helpless in their berths. When for a time the sound ceases, indicating that the horizon has become so cleared ahead that the lookout-men can see, their hearts revive within them, only to sink again however when a few minutes later perhaps, or perhaps a few hours, the frightful sound is heard again, sending its screaming note of alarm far and wide over the sea.

In a day or two after leaving Halifax, the ship came upon the banks of Newfoundland, a vast area of foggy and stormy sea, the darkest, dreariest and most dangerous portion of the Atlantic. Indeed upon these banks almost all conceivable dangers of the sea seem to congregate. The water is shallow upon the banks and that brings fish, and the fish bring fishermen in immense numbers, and the steamers in dark and foggy nights and days are in constant danger of running foul of them. The gulf stream brings a vast quantity of comparatively warm water from the Gulf of Mexico and the tropics, which at the same time the winds and currents from Baffin's hay float down immense fields and mountains of ice, which chill the air and produce fogs, mists, rains and driving storms.

The steamer was two or three days in crossing the banks, and during almost all this time she was enveloped in thick misty rains, which kept the decks continually wet, and covered the surface of the sea in every direction, concealing the fishing vessels, and the icebergs, and all other dangers entirely from view. The trumpet was kept continually blowing, by which means it was probable that fishermen might be warned,—but the greatest danger was from icebergs, for which, of course, no warning could be of any avail.

At length, on Monday evening, Mrs. McGregor comforted all the ladies, by saying, that the next morning the ship would be off the banks, and that then in all probability they would find good weather. This proved to be the case. Grimkie went up to the deck before breakfast, and he found instead of thick mists and rain covering the whole surface of the water, only a stratum of clouds in the sky, while the horizon was open and clear in every direction around. Mrs. Morelle and Florence too, had now become somewhat accustomed to the motion of the ship, and their appetites began to return. And when at length, about the middle of the forenoon, a sunbeam made its appearance in the little prismatic piece of glass which was set in the ceiling of the stateroom, overhead, they began to feel quite cheerful and happy. The same effect was produced in many other staterooms, occupied by ladies. They began to feel as if they could get up and dress themselves, so as to eat their dinners in a somewhat civilized manner.

Things improved after this every day. The ladies of the different staterooms began to become somewhat acquainted with each other through Mrs. McGregor, who informed them of each other’s condition, and conveyed messages of politeness and good will to and fro. There were a number of children too, who played in the passages, and thus became acquainted with each other, and were brought in by each other to visit their mothers still lying perhaps upon their settees or in their berths.

Mrs. Morelle became so well acquainted with one of her neighbors who occupied the stateroom opposite to hers, across the passage-way, one which was quite small and confined, that she often invited her to come and dine with her. Sometimes Florence was of the party too, but generally from this time Florence preferred to go up to the great saloon, and take dinner there with Grimkie and John. In such cases she would come after leaving the table and look in at her mother’s stateroom, where she usually found her mother and her visitor enjoying themselves very well indeed, with nice beef-steaks, fried potatoes, and tumblers of iced lemonade.

After this time every thing went on smoothly and prosperously till the end of the voyage. After leaving the banks there are no special dangers to be apprehended by a Cunard ship, in crossing the Atlantic, and every body on board was now in good spirits, looking forward with great pleasure to the approaching termination of the voyage.

At length, on Saturday afternoon, about four o’clock, news came down to the ladies in the staterooms that land was in sight. The land first seen consisted of certain high mountains in the vicinity of the town of Killamey, in the southwestern part of Ireland. A few hours later the ship passed Cape Clear, which is the southernmost point of Ireland, and then bearing a little to the northward followed the coast toward the Cove of Cork, where she was to touch in order to land passengers and mails.

She reached this place between eight and nine o’clock. A tender came off from Queenstown, which is a town situated at the mouth of the harbor, to take the mails and the passengers that were to be landed here. The other passengers, who were to go on with the ship to Liverpool, and who were now all in excellent spirits as they considered their voyage substantially over, established themselves upon camp-stools and settees upon the upper deck, watching the operation of putting the mails on board the tender, or looking upon the green shores of Ireland, which as the sun had but just gone down, were brightly illuminated by the golden radiance of the western sky.

The passengers all seemed to feel a peculiar pleasure in thus approaching the land again; and they watched the shores, until, as it grew dark, one after another they went below for the night. Grimkie and John remained some time after Mrs. Morelle and Florence had retired.

The next day being Sunday, divine service was held in the saloon, and though the ship was out of sight of land for a large part of the day, the ladies were nearly all well enough, not only to attend service in the saloon, but also to sit upon the upper deck nearly all the afternoon, to watch for the reappearance of the land, and to talk about what they were to do after their arrival. As for Mrs. Morelle she had concluded to postpone forming any definite plan in respect to her tour, until she was safe on shore.

The children, who had become acquainted on the voyage, finding they were so soon to bid good-by to their new friends, made various projects of excursions together, in case they should meet each other in the course of their travels.


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