WHEN I had been at home a few days, visiting with my old friends, I decided that it was time for me to return to New York. It was hard to go; mother was miserable at the thought of my going so far from home again, though she was glad that I saw a career opening up for me in the city. She knew I would never again be satisfied in the town where I had been reared.
It wasn’t long before I felt quite at home in the metropolis. I enjoyed my work very much, and was interested in everything connected with the newspaper. In the beginning I was sent about the city on the simplest assignments, but the editor found that I was successful in obtaining interviews with well-known people, and finally I was given that sort of work all the time. Many accounts of my European experiences had been printed upon my return, and usually I had only to send in the name of the ” Boy Reporter ” to gain an audience with most men of affairs. They had read of my interviews in Europe, and probably a great many of them received me out of curiosity.
At Work in New York
I was very fortunate in my arrangements for living. When I was in New York, before sailing for Europe, I was loitering one day through the grocery department of one of the great department stores, when I was accosted by a well-dressed woman of pleasant appearance. ” Don’t you want to earn five cents ? ” she asked. I hesitated, hardly knowing what to say. I live just around the corner here,” she continued, ” but I have a good deal to carry, and I can’t find any boy to carry these heavier bundles.” ” In that case,” I said, ” I’ll be glad to carry them for you.” On the way to her house, I told her something of my plans for going abroad, and she was much interested in hearing them. ” How very remarkable ! ” she exclaimed. ” The very idea of a boy of your age going over there all alone. Haven’t you any one with you? ” I told her that I was quite alone, and she seemed to sympathize with me. Instead of handing me five cents when we reached her dwelling, she gave me ten, and asked me to send her a letter when I reached London.
When I wanted a place to live in New York, I went to see my department-store friend, for I knew that she kept a boarding-house. I was given a pleasant room, at an exceedingly low rate, and everything was done to make me comfortable. I now expected to remain permanently in New York, and it was very pleasant to have a place in which I could feel so much at home.
While I was at home, I had noticed a great change in my mother. The dear face, which had been careworn ever since I could remember, was now more sad than ever, and there was a far-away look in the patient eyes which went straight to my heart. It was that which had brought the tears to my eyes before I had been at home ten minutes, and which often changed my joy to worry. When I asked if she were well, there was always the same reply: ” Yes, dear, I’m well enough, and I’m happy, now that you’re home again.” But I felt that something was wrong, and when I received word from home that the doctor had ordered mother to bed, my fears were confirmed.
One evening there was a telegram at my plate in the boarding-house dining-room. I shuddered when I saw it. I knew before I opened it that there was bad news from home. Mother was worse, but there was no suggestion that I should return home. I knew, however, that I must go. It would be useless to try to accomplish anything while I was in ignorance of her condition. I went to see the friendly railroad president, who had so often been good to me. ” Well,” he said, as I entered his office, ” how’s the Boy Reporter to-day? ” I told him of my trouble, and he didn’t wait for me to ask for transportation West? ” You want to go home, don’t you? ” he said, giving me no opportunity to speak for myself. ” Here, David, this boy wants to go to Mattoon.” It was a great favor at the time, for I knew I would need all the money I had when I reached home.
It seemed to me that no train ever ran so slowly as the one which carried me up the Hudson and through the Mohawk Valley. It was one of the fastest trains in the world, but I was in an agony of suspense, and could not get home fast enough. When I at last arrived, there was bad news for me at the station ; mother was failing fast, and the doctors said there was no hope. The end was not long delayed, and it seemed to me that the end of the world had come. Somehow it had never occurred to me that my mother could die; it was terrible to be left alone at my age.
There is nothing that can bring about such a change in the life of a boy of seventeen as the death of his mother. My ideas were transformed; I realized more than ever before that life is not all pleasure and success. When I returned to the city, it was hard for me to take the same interest as formerly in my work. There was no one who would read my articles with proud joy when I sent them home, no one to call in the neighbors and have them listen to my letters describing my experiences. I stopped sending home the papers, and I had no desire to go West any more. New York was as good a place as any in which to live, now that my home was broken up.
The Desire to Travel
I made fair progress with my work, and liked my situation, but at the end of two years I was seized with a desire to visit Europe once again. For a long time I had been reading about the great Exposition to be held in Paris, and I thought I would like to be present. It would be fine, too, to revisit London and some of the other places where I had enjoyed myself. I knew that the trip needn’t cost me much money. I was accustomed to depending upon my own efforts for a living, and after my first trip I felt able to take care of myself in any part of the world where I happened to be.
I was anxious, if possible, to find some one to make the trip with me. It was sometimes lonesome traveling alone, and I hoped I could persuade another boy of my age to go. There was only one of my acquaintance who was very ambitious to visit Europe. Jack Irwin had always been ready for anything in the way of adventure, and he was desirous of seeing the world, so when I mentioned the plan to him, he was interested at once. He had some difficulty in gaining his mother’s consent, but in the end she said she would be very glad for Jack to have the experience.
We determined to work our passage. By this time I had forgotten the extremely unpleasant hours which I had spent as pantry-boy, and I hoped that I could now secure work in some other department of a ship, so that I would have something new to write about for the newspapers. I hoped, too, that we could get on one of the fastest ships, so that the voyage would quickly pass. One Fri-day morning we went down to visit a six-day vessel, which was to sail on the following day. I asked for the chief steward, and when it was discovered that we were in search of work, we were told to line-up alongside a number of others who were seeking an interview with the same object. When the chief steward made his appearance, Jack Irwin was leaning against a stairway, reading a paper. ” Drop that paper,” growled the chief, ” we don’t want any fellows who are going to spend all their time reading.” Jack looked insulted, and made a move, as if he were going ashore at once, but I motioned him to stay where he was. I had seen too much of ship’s officers to notice a little remark like that. When it came to my turn to speak to the chief, I explained that I was an experienced hand, having served as pantry-boy, and he hired the two of us at once. We were told to accompany the crowd to the office of the British Consul, where we were to ” sign on,” and to report for duty the following morning at nine o’clock.
Singing the articles at the Consul’s office was a mere formality. We were to receive no wages for our work during the trip, and were to be discharged as soon as we reached Liverpool. The papers stated that we were to be paid a shilling a month, and at this rate I figured that we would each have earned six cents when we reached Liverpool; but when I spoke about it, we were told that it was worth six cents to sign us on, and that we wouldn’t get a cent on the other side.
We carried very little luggage when we reported for duty the next morning. I had learned by experience that it was best to carry as little as possible, and when Jack had wanted to carry two or three suit-cases, I had convinced him of his folly. We were received by the third steward when we went on board, and, to my horror, we were led down to the No. 1 lower compartment of the steerage. It hadn’t occurred to me that we might have to work in that part of the ship, and when I saw our surroundings, I felt very much like going ashore again. The No. i lower is the worst located and most unpleasant compartment of the whole ship. It is up forward, where the vessel pitches most, and it is so much under water that the port-holes can never be opened for ventilation, even on the most pleasant days. When we realized these unpleasant facts, we felt like remaining at home.
We boys had on our oldest suits of clothing, but the third steward said they were far too good to wear in No. I lower. ” You’ll have to be on your knees scrubbing,” he said, ” and those pants won’t be fit to be seen when we reach the other side. You’d better go across the street and buy some blue jackets and overalls.” We liked the idea of wearing blue jeans, and for a dollar each we fitted ourselves out in neat suits. We felt like workmen then, and we changed our identity with our clothes. We knew that some of our friends would be among the saloon passengers, and we hoped they would never recognize us in our working clothes.
When we returned to the ship, we found enough going on about us to keep us interested. Those two last hours before sailing were about the busiest times we had ever seen. The steerage passengers were thronging aboard with their band-boxes and tin trunks, and it was as good as going to a circus to see them saying good-bye to all their friends. They were evidently leaving America for a long time, for many of them appeared to have the majority of their belongings with them, and they kissed their friends and cried over them as if they were parting from them forever. We were much encouraged by what we saw of these future companions of ours. From all that we had heard and read of the steerage, we had supposed that they would be a rough and dirty lot, but the majority of them were clean and well-behaved. Very many of them were Swedes and Irish, who were returning to their native lands after having worked in America, but there was a cosmopolitan crowd of people from every part of Europe. The English and Americans were in the minority, and it was evident in the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to understand much of the steerage conversation.
All the voyagers lined the rail of the steerage deck while the ship was making ready to start, saying last farewells to their friends on the pier, and receiving messages for the folks in the Old Country. On the deck above us the cabin passengers were going through the same performance with their friends, and after we had watched the scene for a while, Jack and I made up our minds that we were glad there was no one there to see us off. The noise of the crowd and of the steamer made a terrible din. The vessel was shooting steam and blowing her whistle almost constantly, and the longshoremen were shouting at the people on the dock to avoid the luggage which was being hoisted to the decks. As the time before sailing grew shorter, the noise increased, and finally the signal was given for every one who was not a passenger to leave the ship.
Farewell to New York
We boys remained on deck as much as possible, watching the great buildings of Manhattan and the sights along shore. Soon we passed the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island, then the forts loomed up ahead of us, and we entered the Lower Bay. Next we saw the great bathing pavilions on Coney Island, quite deserted in April, but soon to be thronged with happy water-splashers, and then we passed the lighthouse at Sandy Hook, the last bit of American land we were to see for many weeks.
By this time we were sent for to go below and begin work. We found a very pleasant little man in charge of No. I lower, and he informed us that we were. to act as his assistants during the voyage. There were a hundred and five men in our compartment, and we had to serve them three meals each day for seven days. It didn’t require any knowledge of the restaurant business for us to realize that we three would have our hands full.
Our superior was known all over the ship as ” Pierpont,” because his family name happened to be Morgan. He was not hard to get along with, and we were glad to find that he was willing to do his share of the work. There was so much of it that all three would have to keep hustling if we didn’t want to be snowed under. The vessel had sailed at two o’clock, and as soon as we passed Sandy Hook it was time to get ready for the ” tea,” which is served to the steerage at five in the afternoon. ” Pierpont ” showed us how to ” lay up ” the tables for the evening meal. The tables were only shelves which were placed along the walls of the compartment, with benches before them for seats. We had to lay out the plates and other utensils for the hundred-and-five passengers, for ” Pierpont ” said that everyone would be down for the first meal. ” Wait until to-morrow,” he said ; ” if we get a little wind to-night there won’t be one-fourth of them at breakfast, and you’ll have it easy to-morrow.” We were not so sure about having it easy. If the sea was rough we’d probably be seasick ourselves, and in that event we probably wouldn’t feel like waiting upon even one-fourth of the passengers. We decided that we’d rather keep well and do our quota of work.
Our Work in the Steerage
We had the tables spread with dishes in a few minutes, and were then told to go to the upper deck and ” stand by.” We were given some stew-pans to carry, and some white cloths, and without asking for any information, we mounted the three flights of stairs to the cook’s galley. There we found in line the helpers from the other steerages. They all had pans and cloths, and we guessed that they were waiting for the food to be ready. I hadn’t been standing long when the third steward appeared at the door of the galley, and shouted ” Number One Lower.” I supposed that meant me, so I went forward and received a large pan full of a kind of meat stew, which I carried down stairs. It was rather difficult to carry such a load down the steep stairs while the vessel was in motion, but I accomplished the journey without accident. On my way upstairs again I met Jack descending with a pan of peaches and rice, which was to be the evening dessert. My next load was two great pots of tea, and this finished the material for the tea.
The ringing of a bell announced mealtime to the passengers, and in about two minutes every seat at the tables was occupied. We found it rather awkward work, trying to serve them all within a few minutes, for the compartment was so crowded that it was difficult to move from one table to another. But in time they were all satisfied and trooped on deck again. Then came the work of clearing off the tables and washing the dishes. I was used to such work, for I had washed what seemed to me millions of dishes when I was a pantry-boy, and I proved a good assistant for ” Pierpont.” It was half after eight o’clock when we finally had the dishes done, and then we were told that the floor would have to be swept and mopped before the chief came round on inspection at nine. We hurried with the broom and the mop, and when the inspection party looked in everything was in order for the night. I was so tired then that I felt I would go to sleep standing up, and I asked ” Pierpont ” if we couldn’t go to bed. ” No,” he said, ” you can’t go yet. I’ve just had word that they need you to wash dishes in the saloon pantry, and you’d better go down there right away.” This seemed almost too much. We had done our duty in ” Number One Lower,” and now we were sent for to help some one else with his work. There was nothing to do but to obey. The order probably came from the second steward, and there would be an awful row if we refused to go. So down the deck we marched, and into the pantry, where great piles of plates were awaiting our attention. We were kept washing for nearly two hours, and when we finally ” turned in,” at eleven-thirty, we felt we had earned our first day’s passage at least.