Who can forget his first glimpse of Old England after an ocean voyage? No matter how many times we have beheld it, it always fills us with surprise, rising so boldly out of the apparently unlimited expanse, through which we have been plowing night and day, a week or more, without a glimpse of anything more solid than the pitching steamer or the rolling waves.
How well I recollect my first arrival off the English coast! It was early in the morning, and my bones were in a state of mutiny within a berth which seemed to me a fearful combination of both bed and board. Suddenly a voice in the passageway cried, "Land in sight!" I sprang upon the narrow sofa and looked through the port-hole. It was true, the voyage was practically ended; for here was land at last. This was the lighthouse, then, whose friendly flame had welcomed us far out at sea; and from this headland, half an hour before, the news of our arrival had been flashed beneath the mighty ocean we had traversed, so that our friends (strange thought) might read that morning at their breakfast tables the little words which mean so much to them and us (so little to the outside world), "Arrived, the Umbria." All commonplace enough in one sense, it is true, but there is veritable romance in it yet to those who, notwithstanding their advancing years and the stupendous marvels of invention, still keep their hearts young and refuse to be blast.
Bust Of Longfellow In Westminster Abbey.
The Edge Of England.
Meantime the news of "land in sight" has had a wonderful effect in bringing unknown passengers to the surface. Pale, sallow creatures have appeared on deck whom we have never seen before, their faces pinched with traces of the woes they have endured. Some cruel travelers ask them when they came aboard. One wretched man, who has existed seven days and nights in the upper berth of an inside cabin, creeps forth from his seclusion like a hermit crab and, in the voice of one far gone in galloping consumption, gives three feeble cheers for England. We soon perceive changes of toilet in our passengers. Men who for seven days have looked like tramps, now shine resplendent in silk hats and glossy broadcloth. Ladies whose hair throughout the voyage has drooped about their heads like seaweed clinging to a rock, now charm us with tight crimps and stylish hats. Nor is this all. Their manners, too, have changed. With new clothes they have grown more dignified, and people who have played upon the deck, like children at the game of shovel-board, now talk with all the stiff propriety of worldly men at a church sociable. Only their noses, parboiled by the sun, shine as reminders of the happy past.
The Steamer's Deck.
To take us to the pier steams up a boat sarcastically called a "tender." Tender, indeed! A more appropriate title for it would be "tough," for a more comfortless conveyance rarely rode the waves. I grant in pleasant weather it can be endured; but, oh, what misery to land thus in a rainstorm ! This first specimen of England's traveling conveniences has not much roof at best, and but a few hard benches under it; yet here we huddle like "dumb, driven cattle," and wait, wait, wait, until the baggage is brought down from the ship and piled in great confusion all about us. At last, however, the agony is over. The tender starts, some ringing cheers go up for the good steamer and her officers, and we approach the pier.
But now be hold us in a kind of pen, like spring lambs ready for the slaughter, waiting again until our baggage is taken to the Custom House. This is perhaps the harder to endure because we know that we have nothing dutiable in our luggage. How sweet is that first consciousness of innocence! We shall not keep it long, nor do we dream of what we shall be capable when once more we land in New York. How our (as yet) untempted souls would here recoil, could we foresee the scores of Bon Marche kid gloves which then will lie concealed in coat-sleeves or the legs of trousers; the silks cut up and draped to represent old dresses, and then the presents (oh, those presents!), from jewelry to music-boxes, and perfect bargains from the Printemps and the Magasin du Louvre! Such things must cause us then more mental anguish than twice the money would atone for; since conscience will make cowards of us all.