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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter II

Innocents Abroad

Chapter II


Occasionally, during the following month, I dropped in at 117 Wall Street
to inquire how the repairing and refurnishing of the vessel was coming
on, how additions to the passenger list were averaging, how many people
the committee were decreeing not "select" every day and banishing in
sorrow and tribulation. I was glad to know that we were to have a little
printing press on board and issue a daily newspaper of our own. I was
glad to learn that our piano, our parlor organ, and our melodeon were to
be the best instruments of the kind that could be had in the market. I
was proud to observe that among our excursionists were three ministers of
the gospel, eight doctors, sixteen or eighteen ladies, several military
and naval chieftains with sounding titles, an ample crop of "Professors"
of various kinds, and a gentleman who had "COMMISSIONER OF THE UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA TO EUROPE, ASIA, AND AFRICA" thundering after his name
in one awful blast! I had carefully prepared myself to take rather a
back seat in that ship because of the uncommonly select material that
would alone be permitted to pass through the camel's eye of that
committee on credentials; I had schooled myself to expect an imposing
array of military and naval heroes and to have to set that back seat
still further back in consequence of it maybe; but I state frankly that I
was all unprepared for this crusher.

I fell under that titular avalanche a torn and blighted thing. I said
that if that potentate must go over in our ship, why, I supposed he must
--but that to my thinking, when the United States considered it necessary
to send a dignitary of that tonnage across the ocean, it would be in
better taste, and safer, to take him apart and cart him over in sections
in several ships.

Ah, if I had only known then that he was only a common mortal, and that
his mission had nothing more overpowering about it than the collecting of
seeds and uncommon yams and extraordinary cabbages and peculiar bullfrogs
for that poor, useless, innocent, mildewed old fossil the Smithsonian
Institute, I would have felt so much relieved.

During that memorable month I basked in the happiness of being for once
in my life drifting with the tide of a great popular movement. Everybody
was going to Europe--I, too, was going to Europe. Everybody was going to
the famous Paris Exposition--I, too, was going to the Paris Exposition.
The steamship lines were carrying Americans out of the various ports of
the country at the rate of four or five thousand a week in the aggregate.
If I met a dozen individuals during that month who were not going to
Europe shortly, I have no distinct remembrance of it now. I walked about
the city a good deal with a young Mr. Blucher, who was booked for the
excursion. He was confiding, good-natured, unsophisticated,
companionable; but he was not a man to set the river on fire. He had the
most extraordinary notions about this European exodus and came at last to
consider the whole nation as packing up for emigration to France. We
stepped into a store on Broadway one day, where he bought a handkerchief,
and when the man could not make change, Mr. B. said:

"Never mind, I'll hand it to you in Paris."

"But I am not going to Paris."

"How is--what did I understand you to say?"

"I said I am not going to Paris."

"Not going to Paris! Not g---- well, then, where in the nation are you
going to?"

"Nowhere at all."

"Not anywhere whatsoever?--not any place on earth but this?"

"Not any place at all but just this--stay here all summer."

My comrade took his purchase and walked out of the store without a word--
walked out with an injured look upon his countenance. Up the street
apiece he broke silence and said impressively: "It was a lie--that is my
opinion of it!"

In the fullness of time the ship was ready to receive her passengers.
I was introduced to the young gentleman who was to be my roommate, and
found him to be intelligent, cheerful of spirit, unselfish, full of
generous impulses, patient, considerate, and wonderfully good-natured.
Not any passenger that sailed in the Quaker City will withhold his
endorsement of what I have just said. We selected a stateroom forward of
the wheel, on the starboard side, "below decks." It bad two berths in
it, a dismal dead-light, a sink with a washbowl in it, and a long,
sumptuously cushioned locker, which was to do service as a sofa--partly--
and partly as a hiding place for our things. Notwithstanding all this
furniture, there was still room to turn around in, but not to swing a cat
in, at least with entire security to the cat. However, the room was
large, for a ship's stateroom, and was in every way satisfactory.

The vessel was appointed to sail on a certain Saturday early in June.

A little after noon on that distinguished Saturday I reached the ship and
went on board. All was bustle and confusion. [I have seen that remark
before somewhere.] The pier was crowded with carriages and men;
passengers were arriving and hurrying on board; the vessel's decks were
encumbered with trunks and valises; groups of excursionists, arrayed in
unattractive traveling costumes, were moping about in a drizzling rain
and looking as droopy and woebegone as so many molting chickens. The
gallant flag was up, but it was under the spell, too, and hung limp and
disheartened by the mast. Altogether, it was the bluest, bluest
spectacle! It was a pleasure excursion--there was no gainsaying that,
because the program said so--it was so nominated in the bond--but it
surely hadn't the general aspect of one.

Finally, above the banging, and rumbling, and shouting, and hissing of
steam rang the order to "cast off!"--a sudden rush to the gangways--a
scampering ashore of visitors-a revolution of the wheels, and we were
off--the pic-nic was begun! Two very mild cheers went up from the
dripping crowd on the pier; we answered them gently from the slippery
decks; the flag made an effort to wave, and failed; the "battery of guns"
spake not--the ammunition was out.

We steamed down to the foot of the harbor and came to anchor. It was
still raining. And not only raining, but storming. "Outside" we could
see, ourselves, that there was a tremendous sea on. We must lie still,
in the calm harbor, till the storm should abate. Our passengers hailed
from fifteen states; only a few of them had ever been to sea before;
manifestly it would not do to pit them against a full-blown tempest until
they had got their sea-legs on. Toward evening the two steam tugs that
had accompanied us with a rollicking champagne-party of young New Yorkers
on board who wished to bid farewell to one of our number in due and
ancient form departed, and we were alone on the deep. On deep five
fathoms, and anchored fast to the bottom. And out in the solemn rain, at
that. This was pleasuring with a vengeance.

It was an appropriate relief when the gong sounded for prayer meeting.
The first Saturday night of any other pleasure excursion might have been
devoted to whist and dancing; but I submit it to the unprejudiced mind if
it would have been in good taste for us to engage in such frivolities,
considering what we had gone through and the frame of mind we were in.
We would have shone at a wake, but not at anything more festive.

However, there is always a cheering influence about the sea; and in my
berth that night, rocked by the measured swell of the waves and lulled by
the murmur of the distant surf, I soon passed tranquilly out of all
consciousness of the dreary experiences of the day and damaging
premonitions of the future.

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