VI. The Secret to Extra Provisions in Steerage
I was wearying of the fare. The potted chicken and, tongue with which I had stowed my satchel proved to be so salt as to be small improvement. I had a shilling jar of jam which it comforted me to. look at. I opened it. The Aurania rolled. I dropped it. I picked it up broken. The jam was full of glass splinters, but it tore my hearstrings to throw it overboard. The same girl who had fiddled for the sailors distributed grapes among some of the children. I could almost have begged her to give me some. A good-hearted fellow-voyager, whose catering to his wife and little folks had excited my astonishment, showed me the way out of my difficulties.
"'An ye've got a spare shillin' tip a wink to the cook and tip yer shillin' too. Tell 'im ye doant feel well. 'E'll give ye summut good."
I tipped a wink to an under steward. I could not buy anything of him, but the shilling induced him to make me a free gift of a bowl of beef tea, "straight from the saloon lunch, mum," and a plate of cold meats and toast from the same paradisaical region.
I supposed that his industry was illegitimate, because of the miscellaneous nature of his offerings, cold chicken, ham and tongue hobnobbing with half a tomato and some leaves of lettuce without dressing. But if unauthorized, it was not interfered with. I tipped him a shilling every day till I went ashore and received some of the leavings of the saloon table for my lunch and dinner.
I recommended the same line of action to three or four others, and one sick woman, whose fancy twined itself about celery, subsisted for three days on sticks of that vegetable procured for sixpence a day. Most of the folk were too poor for tipping, but the galley cook gave them hot water when they wanted to indulge in a private cup of tea, and I think the stewards sometimes gave the more delicate women milk. Fully half of them brought their own tea on board, and liked it better than that supplied them.
Another way of obtaining food was to tip the stewards for seats at their tables. They spread their meals when ours was done, indulging in the luxury of a tablecloth with some other small refinements. After the storm, when appetites needed coaxing, I saw one man sitting with the stewards. The number increased daily, until sometimes eight or ten were thus exalted above their mates. To get a thorough understanding of the situation I asked for a breakfast on the morning before landing, and was supplied with eggs and bacon, luxuries which I had not before seen in the . I offered half a crown in payment. The rule against tipping was very laxly enforced, and lucky it was for my comfort that it could be broken.
"They want to look at your beauty spots today." This was Friday's announcement. In the afternoon we were mustered below. Notices posted in the had made us aware that we could not land without vaccination certificates, and the doctor was coming to inspect our vaccination marks and vaccinate us if we could not show satisfactory ones.
We rolled up our sleeves. The men were attended first because, the steward explained, some of the women might have to take off their gowns. The doctor stood at the foot of the companion on one side, a steward with vaccine points on the other. One by one we stepped forward, showed our arms, received tickets and climbed the staircase. Some children and more older people were vaccinated. A few objected strenuously. One woman told me that she had evaded compulsory vaccination in England because she did not believe in it. She said, if it were possible, she would turn about and go back sooner than see her "lads" vaccinated.
We were running through fog the greater part of the day, and according to rule the portholes were closed. The had grown by this time emphatically foul. Many of its occupants burrowed in their bunks like rabbits, ate in them and lay in them all day. One old woman in a white cap, just from the peat bogs, never quitted hers. She was in my room and I entered into a compact with a small anxious-looking Irishwoman, traveling with five children, to appeal to the doctor unless she were cleaned or removed as a nuisance. The stewards on our urgent representations brought chloride of lime and sprinkled all her surroundings. The stewards smiled at my talk of bad air.
"You'd orter see it in winter," said they. "In a March storm sometimes we 'av to keep 'em below decks four days at a time. You could cut it with a knife then."
Nevertheless, the atmosphere acted on me like a poison. I could not sleep in it. Within half an hour of lying down in my berth my head would thump like a trip hammer. By midnight the pain would pass, and I lay until morning as if numb and paralyzed, counting the half hours from bell to bell, creeping up stairs for something to breathe at sunrise, half alive, energy and strength coming slowly back to me as the bracing ocean atmosphere filled my lungs. I had fallen asleep but once in six nights, for not more than two hours then. I could hardly stand for fatigue. But I saw no remedy. The portholes were too low to open at night in a fog or in tumbling water.