Steerage Class - V. Pitch and Roll - The Rough Ride in
She did roll. She wallowed and pitched. There were not above twenty-five or thirty of us able to stand. The aft hatch opening on deck was closed and covered with canvas. We struggled up by the forward companion into the fo'ksle. On the leeside a safety rope had been stretched aft. Clinging to this we staggered to places of shelter under the hurricane deck. Here we clung for dear life, while the Aurania lurched almost to the point of dipping her rail. None of the cabin folk were visible. But for us the wet decks were paradise compared with the thick air below. The tossing sea was a sight worth beholding.
The galley cooks and stewards were having an awkward time with their morning tasks. It was just beside the galley doors that we found standing room, and now and then a crash of crockery sounded in our ears. Potatoes and apples rolled this way and that, and a white-aproned youngster got a bad fall with a panful of cauliflowers. We landlubbers tumbled about helplessly as often as we attempted to move. Salt water seasoned bread set to rise, and a lot of asparagus ready for table went overboard.
The day grew rougher, and one by one the fiend seasickness chose victims from our band. One by one the sufferers appealed to the sailors to take them below. One by one they were led away, till not above half a dozen remained. The ship was dipping her lee rail now, and an occasional wave wet our feet and ankles. We huddled in and about a drying closet next the galley, much in the way of stewards, who had great patience with us. Here we stood our ground till the decree came. The deck was unsafe. The next wave might take us off our feet and break our ribs or wash us overboard. All passengers must go below. The old seaman who didn't understand seasickness took me in charge.
"Mind now," he said, "hold on to me, and when I say run, run as fast as ever you can."
We made our way forward. A wave came over the fo'ksle head, splashing away aft. As soon as the deck was clear:
"Now for it, run!"
I ran, and just on my heels came another green wave, breaking over the bow and falling from the fo'ksle head, so my conductor said, like a "reglar Nagry Falls."
There were sounds of groaning and retching from below. "Pretty nigh every man Jack of em's sick down there," said somebody. I was determined not to add myself to the list of sufferers if I could help it and did not offer to go down. The sailors looked at me dubiously but suffered me to stay in the fo'ksle. They did more. The bos'n fixed my camp chair securely between two brass-bound water-butts, where no roll of the vessel could dislodge it and in the only dry spot there was.
There I sat all day looking out on the storm and listening to the laughter of the sailors as now one and now another of their number got a drenching. They joked in one breath and were full of anxious inquiries in the next for a young man who had been knocked against some standing work in iron. Niagara did not always flow aft. Sometimes the river invaded the fo'ksle and wet a luckless group to their skins. We were taking heavy water.. Tons thundered down past our ears. The gale was becoming a hurricane. The sailors stopped jesting.
"Mony a poor sailor'll rue this night4" said one of them to another.
In the evening the steward came and helped me down the companion. He was the same man with whom I had wrangled about the water, but he was a friend in need now. He apologized to me for the rude talk he thought I must have heard among the sailors and assured me they didn't mean any harm if they did swear. He brought me hot gruel. He urged me to take off my wet dress.
"There's no one noticin' and ye'll have rheumatism in yer legs if ye don't."
There was indeed no one noticing. There were not four sitting up and these leaned their heads on the table in disconsolate attitudes. I was a little melancholy myself and hurried to lie down.
In the in a wind. It was a night to remember. We gripped the canvas of our berths and held on to avoid being pitched out. The tinware in the bunks rattled and rolled. The soup and coffee kettles, hanging against the wall, played an anvil chorus. A half dozen trunks banged across the floor. Something that sounded like ice got loose and pounded with heavy thuds. Down, down we went; the electric lights went out; there was a general groan. Then the bow wormed up again, the ,light came back and voices broke out.
"Ah ne'er saw naught like this before !"
"Jesu pity !"
A brave, confident little pipe tuned up:
"Father! Father! Father! I want a drink of water!"
It was a lad of five or six. He prattled away with his sister of eight.
"In four days we'll be on land."
"And I'll have my new pinafore on."
The timbers creaked and strained. There were kneeling figures on the floor. I could hear the words of their prayers. , The ship lurched and they rolled over like so many tenpins knocking about the room. It was a W. Clarke Russell night, with hoarse cries of sailors and rattle of blocks.
Above the-noise of the wind I heard the continual clash of electric bells from the saloon staterooms aft, where frightened women were calling the stewardesses and chambermaids. For us, timid or suffering, there was no comforting word or feminine ministration. We had no stewardess.
In the morning everybody's mess utensils were missing. But nobody cared.
"We'll ne'er want them again," moaned a Scotch-woman in my room.
Her tinware had fallen into the bunk below. The stewards brought a little dry toast to the sick women in their berths. The ship was rolling like a porpoise, but the lee deck was fairly safe again. The wind had shifted and we took less water. There were tales of a foot of water in the intermediate cabin and of a wave that had knocked saloon people over in their deckhouse. The cabin passengers were still invisible, though one lady ventured out toward night, stopped beside me to see what I was reading and gave me a missionary talk on the pagan shrines of India.
By Friday the sea was comparatively smooth. The stewards half led, half carried the sick folks on deck. The children they picked up on their backs and deposited in sheltered spots with considerable gentleness.