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What Katy Did Next(chapter4)

2006-08-22 19:17

  CHAPTER 4

  ON THE SPARTACUS

  The ulster and the felt hat soon came off again, for a head wind lay waiting in the offing, and the Spartacus began to pitch and toss in a manner which made all her unseasoned passengers glad to betake themselves to their berths. Mrs Ashe and Amy were among the earliest victims of seasickness, and Katy, after helping them to settle in their state rooms, found herself too dizzy and ill to sit up a moment longer, and thankfully resorted to her own.

  As the night came on, the wind grew stronger and the motion worse. The Spartacus had the reputation of being a dreadful `roller', and seemed bound to justify it on this particular voyage. Down, down, down the great hull would slide till Katy would hold her breath with fear lest it might never right itself again; then slowly, slowly the turn would be made, and up, up, up it would go, till the list on the other side was equally alarming. On the whole, Katy preferred to have her own side of the ship the downward one, for it was less difficult to keep herself in the berth, from which she was in continual danger of being thrown. The night seemed endless, for she was too frightened to sleep except in broken snatches, and when day dawned, and she looked through the little round pane of glass in the port hole, only grey sky and grey weltering waves and flying spray and rain met her view.

  `Oh, dear, why do people ever go to sea, unless they must?' she thought feebly to herself. She wanted to get up and see how Mrs Ashe had lived through the night, but the attempt to move made her so miserably ill that she was glad to sink again on her pillows.

  The stewardess looked in with offers of tea and toast, the very idea of which was simply dreadful, and pronounced the other lady `'orribly ill, worse than you are, Miss,' and the little girl `takin' on dreadful in the h'upper berth'. Of this fact Katy soon had audible proof, for as her dizzy senses rallied a little, she could hear Amy in the opposite state room crying and sobbing pitifully. She seemed to be angry as well as sick, for she was scolding her poor mother in the most vehement fashion.

  `I hate being at sea,' Katy heard her say. `I won't stay in this nasty old ship. Mamma! Mamma! Do you hear me? I won't stay in this ship! It wasn't a bit kind of you to bring me to such a horrid place. It was very unkind; it was cruel. I want to go back, Mamma. Tell the captain to take me back to the land. Mamma, why don't you speak to me? Oh, I am so sick and so very unhappy! Don't you wish you were dead? I do!'

  And then came another storm of sobs, but never a sound from Mrs Ashe, who, Katy suspected, was too ill to speak. She felt very sorry for poor little Amy, raging there in her high berth like some imprisoned creature, but she was powerless to help her. She could only resign herself to her own discomforts, and try to believe that somehow, sometime, this state of things must mend; either they should all get to land or all go to the bottom and be drowned, and at that moment she didn't care very much which it turned out to be.

  The gale increased as the day wore on, and the vessel pitched dreadfully. Twice Katy was thrown out of her berth on the floor; then the stewardess came and fixed a sort of movable side to the berth, which held her in, but made her feel like a child fastened into a railed crib. At intervals she could still hear Amy crying and scolding her mother, and conjectured that they were having a dreadful time of it in the other state room. It was all like a bad dream. `And they call this travelling for pleasure!' thought poor Katy.

  One droll thing happened in the course of the second night - at least it seemed droll afterward; at the time Katy was too uncomfortable to enjoy it. Amid the rush of the wind, the creaking of the ship's timbers, and the shrill buzz of the screw, she heard a sound of queer little footsteps in the entry outside of her open door, hopping and leaping together in an odd irregular way, like a regiment of mice or toy soldiers. Nearer and nearer they came, and Katy, opening her eyes, saw a procession of boots and shoes of all sizes and shapes which had evidently been left on the floors or at the doors of various state rooms, and which, in obedience to the lurchings of the vessel, had collected in the cabin. They now seemed to be acting in concert with one another, and really looked alive as they bumped and trotted side by side, and two by two, in at the door and up close to her bedside. There they remained for several moments executing what looked like a dance; then the leading shoe turned on its heel as if giving a signal to the others, and they all hopped slowly again into the passage way and disappeared. It was exactly like one of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, Katy wrote to Clover afterward. She heard them going down the cabin, but how it ended, or whether the owners of the boots and shoes ever got their own particular pairs again, she never knew.

  Toward morning the gale abated, the sea became smoother, and she dropped asleep. When she woke the sun was struggling through the clouds, and she felt better.

  The stewardess opened the port hole to freshen the air, and helped her to wash her face and smooth her tangled hair; then she produced a little basin of gruel and a triangular piece of toast, and Katy found that her appetite was come again and she could eat.

  `And 'ere's a letter, ma'am, which has come for you by post this morning,' said the nice old stewardess, producing an envelope from her pocket, and eyeing her patient with great satisfaction.

  `By post!' cried Katy in amazement, `why, how can that be?' Then, catching sight of Rose's handwriting on the envelope, she understood, and smiled at her own simplicity.

  The stewardess beamed at her as she opened it, then said again, `Yes, m'm, by post, m'm,' withdrew, and left Katy to enjoy the little surprise.

  The letter was not long, but it was very like its writer. Rose drew a picture of what Katy would probably be doing at the time it reached her - a picture so near the truth that Katy felt as if Rose must have the spirit of prophecy, especially as she kindly illustrated the situation with a series of pen-and-ink drawings, in which Katy was depicted as prone in her berth, refusing with horror to go to dinner, looking longingly backward to-ward the quarter where the United States was supposed to be, and fishing out of her port hole with a crooked pin in hopes of grappling the submarine cable and sending a message to her family to come out at once and take her home. It ended with this short `poem', over which Katy laughed till Mrs Ashe called feebly across the entry to ask what was the matter?

  Break, break, break,

  And misbehave, O sea,

  And I wish that my tongue could utter

  The hatred I feel for thee!

  Oh, well for the fisherman's child

  On the sandy beach at his play;

  Oh, well for all sensible folk

  Who are safe at home today!

  But this horrible ship keeps on,

  And is never a moment still,

  And I yearn for the touch of the nice dry land,

  Where I needn't feel so ill!

  Break! break! break! There is no good left in me;

  For the dinner I ate on the shore so late

  Has vanished into the sea!

  Laughter is very restorative after the forlornness of seasickness, and Katy was so stimulated by her letter that she managed to struggle into her dressing gown and slippers and across the entry to Mrs Ashes state room. Amy had fallen asleep at last and must not be woken up, so their interview was conducted in whispers. Mrs Ashe had by no means got to the tea-and-toast stage yet, and was feeling miserable enough.

  `I have had the most dreadful time with Amy,' she said. `All day yesterday, when she wasn't sick, she was raging at me from the upper berth, and I too ill to say a word in reply. I never knew her so naughty! And it seemed very neglectful not to come to see after you, poor dear child, but really I couldn't raise my head!'

  `Neither could I, and I felt just as guilty not to be taking care of you,' said Katy. `Well, the worst is over with all of us, I hope. The vessel doesn't pitch half so much now, and the stewardess says we shall feel a great deal better as soon as we get on deck. She is coming presently to help me up, and when Amy wakes, won't you let her be dressed, and I will take care of her while Mrs Barrett attends to you.'

  `I don't think I can be dressed,' sighed poor Mrs Ashe. `I feel as if I should just lie here till we get to Liverpool.'

  `Oh, no, h'indeed, mum - no, you won't,' put in Mrs Barrett, who at that moment appeared, gruel cup in hand. `I don't never let my ladies lie in their berths a moment longer than there is need of. I h'always get them on deck as soon as possible to get the h'air. It's the best medicine you can 'ave, ma'am, the fres h'air, h'indeed it h'is.'

  Stewardesses are all powerful on board ship, and Mrs Barrett was so persuasive and positive that it was not possible to resist her. She got Katy into her dress and wraps, and seated her on deck in a chair with a great rug wrapped about her feet, with very little effort on Katy's part. Then she dived down the companion way again, and in the course of an hour appeared escorting a big, burly steward, who carried poor little pale Amy in his arms as easily as though she had been a kitten. Amy gave a scream of joy at the sight of Katy, and cuddled down in her lap under the warm rug with a sigh of relief and satisfaction.

  `I thought I was never going to see you again,' she said, with a little squeeze. `Oh, Miss Katy, it has been so horrid! I never thought that going to Europe meant such dreadful things as this!'

  `This is only the beginning; we shall get across the sea in a few days, and then we shall find out what going to Europe really means. But what made you believe so, Amy, and cry and scold poor mamma when she was sick? I could hear you all the way across the entry.'

  `Could you? Then why didn't you come to me?'

  `I wanted to, but I was sick too, so sick that I couldn't move. But why were you so naughty? - you didn't tell me.

  `I didn't mean to be naughty, but I couldn't help crying. You would have cried too, and so would Johnnie, if you had been cooped up in a dreadful old berth at the top of the wall that you couldn't get out of, and hadn't had anything to eat, and nobody to bring you any water when you wanted some. And mamma wouldn't answer when I called to her.

  `She couldn't answer; she was too ill,' explained Katy. `Well, my pet, it was pretty hard for you. I hope we shan't have any more such days. The sea is a great deal smoother now.'

  `Mabel looks quite pale; she was sick too,' said Amy, regarding the doll in her arms with an anxious air. `I hope the fresh h'air will do her good.'

  `Is she going to have any fresh hair?' asked Katy, wilfully misunderstanding.

  `That was what that woman called it - the fat one who made me come up here. But I'm glad she did, for I feel heaps better already; only I keep thinking of poor little Maria Matilda shut up in the trunk in that dark place, and wondering if she's sick. There's nobody to explain to her down there.'

  `They say that you don't feel the motion half so much in the bottom of the ship,' said Katy. `Perhaps she hasn't noticed it at all. Dear me, how good something smells! I wish they would bring us something to eat.'

  A good many passengers had come up by this time, and Robert, the deck steward, was going about, tray in hand, taking orders for lunch. Amy and Katy both felt suddenly ravenous, and when Mrs Ashe, a while later, was helped up the stairs, she was amazed to find them eating cold beef and roasted potatoes, with the finest appetites in the world. `They had served out their apprenticeships,' the kindly old captain told them, `and were part of the nautical guild from that time on.' So it proved, for after these two bad days none of the party were sick again during the voyage.

  Amy had a clamorous appetite for stories as well as for cold beef, and to appease this craving, Katy started a sort of ocean serial called `The History of Violet and Emma', which she meant to make last till they got to Liverpool, but which in reality lasted much longer. It might, with equal propriety, have been called `The Adventures of Two Little Girls Who Didn't Have Any Adventures', for nothing in particular happened to either Emma or Violet during the whole course of their long-drawn-out history. Amy, however, found them perfectly enchanting, and was never weary of hearing how they went to school and came home again, how they got into scrapes and got out of them, how they made good resolutions and broke them, about their Christmas presents and birthday treats, and what they said and how they felt. The first instalment of this unexciting romance was given that first afternoon on deck, and after that Amy claimed a new chapter daily, and it was a chief ingredient of her pleasure during that long sea voyage.

  On the third morning Katy woke and dressed so early that she gained the deck before the sailors had finished their scrubbing and holystoning. She took refuge within the companion way, and sat down on the top step of the ladder, to wait till the deck was dry enough to venture upon it. There the Captain found her and drew near for a talk.

  Captain Bryce was exactly the kind of sea captain that is found in story books, but not always in real life. He was stout, and grizzled, and brown, and kind. He had a bluff, weather-beaten face, lit up with a pair of shrewd blue eyes which twinkled when he was pleased, and his manner, though it was full of the habit of command, was quiet and pleasant. He was a martinet on board his ship. Not a sailor under him would have dared dispute his orders for a moment, but he was very popular with them, notwithstanding; they liked him as much as they feared him, for they knew him to be their best friend if it came to sickness or trouble with any of them.

  Katy and he grew quite intimate during their long morning talk. The Captain liked girls. He had one of his own, about Katy's age, and was fond of talking about her. Lucy was his mainstay at home, he told Katy. Her mother had been `weakly' now this long time back, and Bess and Nanny were but children yet, so Lucy had to take command and keep things shipshape when he was away.

  `She'll be on the look-out when the steamer comes in,' said the Captain. `There's a signal we've arranged which means “All's well”, and when we get up the river a little way I always look to see if it's flying. It's a bit of a towel hung from a particular window, and when I see it I say to myself, “Thank God! another voyage safely done and no harm come of it.” It's a sad kind of work for a man to go off for a twenty-four days' cruise leaving a sick wife on shore behind him. If it wasn't that I have Lucy to look after things, I should have thrown up my command long ago.

  `Indeed, I am glad you have Lucy; she must be a great comfort to you,' said Katy, sympathetically, for the Captain's hearty voice trembled a little as he spoke. She made him tell her the colour of Lucy's hair and eyes, and exactly how tall she was, and what she had studied, and what sort of books she liked. She seemed such a very nice girl, and Katy thought she should like to know her.

  The deck had dried fast in the fresh sea wind, and the Captain had just arranged Katy in her chair, and was wrapping the rug about her feet in a fatherly way, when Mrs Barrett, all smiles, appeared from below.

  `Oh, 'ere you hare, miss. I couldn't think what 'ad come to you so early; and you're looking ever so well again, I'm pleased to see. 'Ere's a bundle just arrived, miss, by the parcels delivery.'

  `What!' cried simple Katy. Then she laughed at her own foolishness, and took the `bundle', which was directed in Rose's unmistakable hand.

  It contained a pretty little green-bound copy of Emerson's Poems, with Katy's name and `To be read at sea' written on the flyleaf. Somehow, the little gift seemed to bridge the long misty distance which stretched between the vessel's stern and Boston Bay, and to bring home and friends a great deal nearer. With a half-happy, half-tearful pleasure Katy recognized the fact that distance counts for little if people love one another, and that hearts have a telegraph of their own whose messages are as sure and swift as any of those sent over the material lines which link continent to continent and shore with shore.

  Later in the morning, Katy, going down to her state room for something, came across a pallid, exhausted-looking lady who lay stretched on one of the long sofas in the cabin; she had a baby in her arms and a little girl sitting at her feet, quite still, with a pair of small hands folded in her lap. The little girl did not seem to be more than four years old. She had two pigtails of thick flaxen hail hanging over her shoulders, and at Katy's approach raised a pair of solemn blue eyes, which had so much appeal in them, though she said nothing, that Katy stopped at once.

  `Can I do anything for you?' she asked. `I am afraid you have been very ill.'

  At the sound of her voice the lady on the sofa opened her eyes. She tried to speak, but to Katy's dismay began to cry instead, and when the words came they were strangled with sobs.

  `You are so kind to ask,' she said. `If you would give my little girl something to eat! She has had nothing since yesterday, and I have been so ill, and nobody has come near us!'

  `Oh!' cried Katy, with horror, `nothing to eat since yesterday! How did it happen?'

  `Everybody has been sick on our side of the ship,' explained the poor lady, `and I suppose the stewardess thought, as I had a maid with me, that I needed her less than the others. But my maid has been sick too, and oh, so selfish! She wouldn't even take the baby into the berth with her, and I have had all I could do to manage with him, when I couldn't lift up my head. Little Gretchen has had to go without anything, and she has been so good and patient!'

  Katy lost no time, but ran for Mrs Barrett, whose indignation knew no bounds when she heard how the helpless party had been neglected.

  `It's a new person that stewardess h'is, ma'am,' she explained, `and most h'inefficient! I told the Captain when she come aboard that I didn't 'ave much opinion of her, and now he'll see how it h'is. I'm h'ashamed that such a thing should 'appen on the Spartacus, ma'am - I h'am, h'indeed. H'it never would 'ave been so h'unde h'Eliza, ma'am - she's the one that went h'off and got herself married the trip before last, and this person came to take her place.'

  All the time that she talked Mrs Barrett was busy in making Mrs Ware - for that, it seemed, was the sick lady's name - more comfortable, and Katy was feeding Gretchen out of a big bowl full of bread and milk which one of the stewards had brought. The little uncomplaining thing was evidently half starved, but with the mouthfuls the pink began to steal back into her cheeks and lips, and the dark circles lessened under the blue eyes. By the time the bottom of the bowl was reached she could smile, but still she said not a word except a whispered danke sch?n. Her mother explained that she had been born in Germany, and always had till now been cared for by a German nurse, so that she knew that language better than English.

  Gretchen was a great amusement to Katy and Amy during the rest of the voyage. They kept her on deck with them a great deal, and she was perfectly content with them and very good, though always solemn and quiet. Pleasant people turned up among the passengers, as always happens on an ocean steamship, and others not so pleasant, perhaps, who were rather curious and interesting to watch.

  Katy grew to feel as if she knew a great deal about her fellow travellers as time went on. There was the young girl going out to join her parents under the care of a severe governess, whom everybody on board rather pitied. There was the other girl on her way to study art, who was travelling quite alone, and seemed to have nobody to meet her or to go to except a fellow student of her own age, already in Paris; but she seemed quite unconscious of her lonely position, and was competent to grapple with anything or anybody. There was the queer old gentleman who had `crossed' eleven times before, and had advice and experience to spare for anyone who would listen to them; and the other gentleman, not so old but even more queer, who had `frozen his stomach', eight years before, by indulging, on a hot summer's day, in sixteen successive ice creams, alternated with ten glasses of equally cold soda water, and who related this exciting experience in turn to everybody on board. There was the bad little boy, whose parents were powerless to oppose him, and who carried terror to the hearts of all beholders whenever he appeared, and the pretty widow who filled the role of reigning belle; and the other widow, not quite so pretty or so much a belle, who had a good deal to say, in a voice made discreetly low, about the activities of her competitor. A great sea-going steamer is a little world in itself, and gives one a glimpse of all sorts and conditions of people and characters.

  On the whole, there was no one on the Spartacus whom Katy liked so well as sedate little Gretchen except the dear old Captain, with whom she was a prime favourite. He gave Mrs Ashe and herself the seats next to him at table, looked after their comfort in every possible way, and each night at dinner sent Katy one of the apple dumplings made specially for him by the cook, who had gone many voyages with the Captain and knew his fancies. Katy did not care particularly for the dumpling, but she valued it as a mark of regard, and always ate it when she could.

  Meanwhile, every morning brought a fresh surprise from that dear, painstaking Rose, who had evidently worked hard and thought harder in contriving pleasures for Katy's first voyage at sea. Mrs Barrett was enlisted in the plot, there could be no doubt of that, and enjoyed the joke as much as anyone, as she presented herself each day with the invariable formula, `A letter for you, ma'am,' or `A bundle, miss, come by the Parcels Delivery'. On the fourth morning it was a photograph of Baby Rose, in a little flat morocco case. The fifth brought a wonderful epistle, full of startling pieces of news, none of them true. On the sixth appeared a long, narrow box containing a fountain pen. Then came Mr Howell's A Foregone Conclusion, which Katy had never seen; then a box of quinine pills; then a sachet for her trunk; then another burlesque poem; and last of all, a cake of delicious violet soap, `to wash the sea smell from her hands', the label said. It grew to be one of the little excitements of ship life to watch for the arrival of these daily gifts, and `What did the mail bring for you this time, Miss Carr?' was a question frequently asked. Each arrival Katy thought must be the final one, but Rose's forethought had gone so far even as to provide an extra parcel in case the voyage was a day longer than usual, and `Miss Carr's mail' continued to come in till the very last morning.

  Katy never forgot the thrill that went through her when, after so many days of sea, her eyes first caught sight of the dim line of the Irish coast. An exciting and interesting day followed as, after stopping at Queens-town to leave the mails, they sped north-eastward between shores which grew more distinct and beautiful with every hour on one side Ireland, on the other the bold mountain lines of the Welsh coast. It was late afternoon when they entered the Mersey, and dusk had fallen before the Captain got out his glass to look for the white, fluttering speck in his own window which meant so much to him. Long he studied before he made quite sure that it was there. At last he shut the glass with a satisfied air.

  `It's all right,' he said to Katy, who stood near, almost as much interested as he. `Lucy never forgets, bless her! Well, there's another voyage over and done with, thank God, and my Mary is where she was. It's a load taken from my mind.'

  The moon had risen and was shining softly on the river as the crowded tender landed the passengers from the Spartacus at the Liverpool docks.

  `We shall meet again in London or in Paris,' said one to another, and cards and addresses were exchanged. Then, after a brief delay at the Custom House they separated, each to his own particular destination; and as a general thing, none of them ever saw any of the others again. It is often thus with those who have been fellow voyagers at sea, and it is always a surprise and perplexity to inexperienced travellers that it can be so, and that those who have been so much to each other for ten days can melt away into space and disappear as though the brief intimacy had never existed.

  `Four-wheeler or hansom, ma'am?' said a porter to Mrs Ashe.

  `Which, Katy?'

  `Oh, let us have a hansom! I never saw one, and they look so nice in Punch.'

  So a hansom cab was called, the two ladies got in, Amy cuddled down between them, the folding doors were shut over their knees like a lap robe, and away they drove up the solidly-paved streets to the hotel where they were to pass the night. It was too late to see or do anything but enjoy the sense of being on firm land once more.

  `How lovely it will be to sleep in a bed that doesn't tip or roll from side to side!' said Mrs Ashe.

  `Yes, and that is wide enough and long enough and soft enough to be comfortable!' replied Katy. `I feel as if I could sleep for a fortnight to make up for the bad nights at sea.'

  Everything seemed delightful to her the space for undressing, the great tub of fresh water which stood beside the English-looking wash stand with its ample basin and ewer, the chintz-curtained bed, the coolness, the silence - and she closed her eyes with the pleasant thought it her mind, `It is really England, and we are really here!'

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