IT was ten o’clock of a Friday night when the vessel on which I was a passenger came in sight of Sandy Hook lighthouse, and when I saw the revolving light, and knew that it stood upon American soil, I could have cried for joy. All the afternoon I had remained on deck, in hopes of catching a glimpse of land, and I could hardly persuade myself to go to saloon for dinner, for fear that the shore would become visible before I appeared on deck again. We had hoped that we could land before dark, but we arrived too late, and anchored in the lower bay until morning.
I didn’t sleep much that night, and at three in the morning I was on deck awaiting the dawn, so that I could see the shore. It was a long, dreary wait, for the sun is lazy in December, but at last the shores of Long Island and Staten Island were visible, and I looked until my eyes ached. I realized then what I had so often heard travelers say; that it is worth a journey to Europe, just to experience the joy of getting back again to America. The hours dragged until the vessel was passed at Quarantine, and she had steamed up the bay to her pier. Then, when the gangways were in place, I was the first person down, and I breathed a prayer of thankfulness at being safely on American soil. A reporter was there from the newspaper to which I had sent my articles, and I was very careful that he should see which gangway I stepped from. I wanted him to know that I had come back in the best possible way, and that I had not suffered because the checks for my articles had not arrived.
An Interview with the Editor
When I had settled in a hotel, the first thing I did was to call at the news-paper office to interview the editor. I wondered what excuse he would have to offer for not sending me the money which was due for my articles, and when I mentioned the matter, I was surprised at the reply. ” Why,” he said, ” I thought it would be far more interesting for you to be over there without any money except what you have made for yourself, and now that you are back, there is a much better story in it.” I smiled rather feebly. ” Well,” I said, ” it was always interesting, but I can’t say that it was always pleasant. I think the money would have been more useful to me in Paris than it will be in New York.” And I thought of my first days in the great French city, and how I had to go hungry to bed because I couldn’t afford to buy sufficient nourishing food. But that experience was over now, and there was nothing but pleasant prospects ahead of me.
The editor told me that if I wanted to do newspaper work, now that I was back, he would be very glad to give me a position. I was delighted to accept. My one object in making my trip had been to secure a beginning in newspaper work, and now I had attained that desired position. This offer was the crown of the long journey, and I felt that I could hardly desire any thing more.
It was delightful and pleasant to be in New York, but I was anxious to be off at once to Illinois, where I knew my mother was anxiously awaiting my return. She had never complained while I was away, and in her letters she had advised me to remain as long as I could and learn as much as possible from the trip, but I knew that the months had been long to her.
The President of the New York Central Railroad furnished me with transportation home. I was talking with him one day, telling him of some of my experiences, and when I mentioned that I was about to return to the Illinois town, he at once wrote me out a return ticket. He said he was glad to help me to complete my journey, and though, of course, I had sufficient money to pay my fare, his kindness was a great help.
Bound for Illinois
When Christmas was but four days off, I boarded the limited train for Buffalo and Chicago and Mattoon, and as I sat in the car, looking out of the window, my thoughts were not with the passing scenes, but with the events of the past few months. I remembered the journey from Chicago to Washington and New York, and those first discouraging days when I tried in vain to find a chance to work my passage. I thought of the twelve long days spent in washing dishes on the cattle-ship, and of the day when I arrived in London.
Then there were the first joyful days in the British metropolis, when every-thing had seemed so bright and happy, and the following days when I began to realize what a great task I had undertaken. I remembered dear Mr. Gladstone as if I had talked with him but yesterday, and I knew that I would carry his image with me always. He had been the first to give me an upward lift in England, and the success of my trip was due more to him, perhaps, than to any other person. I remembered the Queen as she had looked at Windsor, and when I realized my American surroundings, it was hard to believe that I had indeed been in that grand old castle.
There was snow on the ground, and I thought of the time I was lost in the Alps when I saw its chilly whiteness. It was different, now, when I was safe in a comfortable car, speeding toward my own dear home. I shuddered as I thought of those pitiful days when I was walking to Paris, and when I felt as if I hadn’t a friend in the world. It was good to remember my reception in New York, and to think of the friends who were awaiting me at home. I could hardly realize that so few weeks had passed since those melancholy days.
So, as I lived through the trip in my mind, I said to myself that though I was glad it was over, I was glad, too, that I had been through all those experiences. I had been privileged to meet a great number of men and women, I had gained a vast knowledge of life which I could have gained in no other way, and I knew instinctively that I was a better and wiser boy on account of all that I had passed through. There were many unpleasant experiences, of course, but in the retrospect these were far outweighed by the memory of the triumphs and pleasures. they had all helped me to learn to know myself. I had discovered my limitations. as well as my capabilities, and now I could continue to advance, knowing where I wanted to go.
Expense of the Trip
When I figured the cost of the trip in actual money, I found that from the time I left Chicago until I reached London on my way home, I had paid out less than a hundred dollars in all. If I had counted the expense of my second stay in London and of my voyage home, the amount would have been much greater. But a hundred dollars would cover my actual expenses during the greater part of the trip, and I am sure that no one ever had better value for such a sum of money.
As I neared Mattoon, I thought of nothing but home, and the dear mother who was awaiting me there. During my absence I had learned to appreciate her far more than when I saw her every day, and no happiness could equal my delight at the prospect of being with her again. I pressed my face to the car window, and as we entered the town I noted each familiar house, barn and shed. It had been more than a year since I saw them last, and the time seemed much longer, but everything had the same familiar look. Appearances do not change rapidly in the country.
As the train stopped at the station platform my heart beat faster and faster, and I felt actually faint. I went to the door, and saw there was quite a crowd to meet me. Many of the neighbors and my old school friends were there, and though I was glad to see them all, I looked over their heads for another. Then I was told that my mother had remained at home to welcome me there, and I didn’t wait to hear anything more. I hurried up the street to the old house as fast as I could ; I was through the gate in a moment, and then my mother’s arms were about my neck, and I was truly home at last.
Christmas at Home
Every one can picture the smiles and the tears of joy and the happy days which followed. In the evening of my first day at home some of my friends gathered at the church to hear about my experiences in Europe, and I told them about my adventures and interviews. And for fear that some of the boys of the neighborhood would want to start for Europe with twenty-five dollars, I dwelt especially upon the hardships of the trip. People said that I was wonderfully brave, but I explained that they were mistaken. I wasn’t brave, because when I started out I had no conception of the difficulties which were ahead of me. If I had known of some of the experiences which were before me, I probably would have remained in Chicago.
The Christmas of that year was a joyful one for us all, and mother said it was the happiest of her life. She got more pleasure out of my success than I did myself, and I was grateful to God that I was able to give her such delight. The one thing that marred my pleasure at being at home was the fact that my mother had aged rapidly during my absence. My heart ached when I noticed the deep lines of care and suffering in her face, and I felt as if I could never leave her again. But my work was awaiting me in New York, and as soon as the holidays were over I said good-bye again, and started for the metropolis. There was a busy time ahead of me ; I had proved that I could take care of myself while traveling, but it remained to be seen whether I would be successful in regular employment as a reporter.