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A KANSAN ABROAD.
FROM SHORE TO SHORE.
YOMING down town in New York on the morning of July
4th, 1877, at an early hour, there was not much bunting visible flying from residences or public buildings, but when the pier was reached from which the harbor could be surveyed, a different sight was presented. Everything afloat was gay with the red, white and blue. A ship is always national. It is a fragment of the country floating out to sea. In the most secluded harbor of the most remote land, or in the midst of ocean, the hail is always promptly responded to with “The American ship, John Smith,” and the "old gridiron” gracefully waves the same reply.
But it is severe on an American's feelings to cross to Jersey City on such a morning, with his country's flag waving everywhere, and take passage on a British ship. It was doubly trying for one among whose childish recollections was numbered the launch of the magnificent Collins steamer Baltic, and who remembered the pride with which Americans looked on the Collins line, now swept from the ocean. But there was no help for it. Our marine has been protected too much, or too little—I do not pretend to know which; and if you wish to go abroad now from New York, you must do so under the shadow of a foreign flag.
The Bothnia lay at her pier, long and huge and black, the latest success in ship-building of the house of Cunard, for fifty years the most successful of ship owners. Think of it-fifty years sending ships to sea, and never yet with a vessel lost! Luck is nowhere in comparison with this. And, by-the-way, if you wish to go to England you had better embark on a Cunarder. You get there ten days earlier, at least, by the operation, for when you step on deck in New York you are in Great Britain already. It's all British, from the keel up. The massiveness and plainness of everything about you, the ponderous wood-work and brass-work, utterly destitute of ornament, show you that you are among people who are all for solidity, and opposed to “fummery, you know.”
Like ship, like man. Whether the officers of the Cunard ships are built on the Clyde for the use of the company, I cannot say, but I am inclined to think so. The commander of the Bothnia, Capt. McMickan, a relative perhaps of the veteran hotel navigator who walks the quarter-deck of the Tefft House, was standing about when I reached the pier, and various subordinates were scattered around. They looked enough alike to be cousins — big, bluff, red-faced fellows, with a width of shoulder and a circumference of abdomen fearful for a small passenger to contemplate. All of course wore the Cunard uniform, of solid dark blue, and not unlike that of our naval officers. I do not suppose a cannon ball could knock one of these officers over. Yet, with all their mastiff-like looks, they are not bad fellows, and certainly they know their business.
We were to start at ten o'clock, but we did not. There was a great crowd of passengers to embark, and no end, it seemed, of baggage, and there was hurrying to and fro. In the meantime, having nothing else to do, I wondered whether the Bothnia proposed to do anything about “the Fourth.” In time she did. Bang! went a gun, then another, and the white and crimson and azure of the American ensign rose to the fore, and long lines of gaycolored flags commenced rising higher and higher, creeping over the ends of the yards to the mast-heads until they formed three lofty arches of flags, and the great Bothnia was dressed like a bride.
The deck was crowded with passengers and their friends, but at last the bell rang impatiently as a signal for the land’s-people to go ashore; and then the kissing — but it's of no use for one man to try to describe everything. The deck was cleared of all save those who were to go, a tug commenced puffing and laboring somewhere about, and, backing nearly across the river, the huge mass swung slowly around, and just as her prow faced seaward it was noon on the Fourth of July. A flash broke from the dark side of an American man-of-war lying in the stream, there was a puff of smoke and a crash, then came another tongue of fire and cloud of smoke from the dark ports of Castle William, and then the boom of a gun, and, looking down the harbor, a cloud of smoke was seen rising about the forts at the Narrows. And so, greeted by the joyful guns announcing the 101st anniversary of American Independence, the Bothnia went to sea.
I am not going to give a journal of the voyage. It was as uneventful as a trip from the corner of Sixth and Kansas avenues to North Topeka. The ocean was, day after day, as ca duck pond. There was no rolling, no tumbling about, and the notes which this author had prepared in advance, describing the horrors of sea-sickness, proved of no use. There was little of it on board, and the few sufferers retired to their state-rooms and there remained.
Among three hundred passengers all sorts of people were to be found. No very distinguished people, however, sailed in the Bothnia. There was Mr. Abram S. Hewitt, looking roundshouldered and haggard after his tremendous exertions for Mr. Samuel J. Tilden; and there was Mrs. Hewitt, a daughter of Peter Cooper, and Miss Hewitt, a nice girl who played very well on the banjo. There was Mr. Joseph Seligman, a portly old Hebrew of benevolent aspect, who was once refused admission to Mr. Hilton's hotel at Saratoga, whereat there was a great row; there was a big fellow named Corbin, said to be a South Carolina Republican politician of eminence; there was Mr. George Jones, of the New York Times, whom nearly everybody on board supposed till the last moment was a Scotchman returning to his native land; and there was Col. Chambers, U. S. A., going to Turkey. Of course, somebody “formerly of Kansas” had to be on hand: the representative this time was Gen. A. L. Lee, formerly of Doniphan county, and known to all old Kansas citizens and soldiers.
Antipathies and friendships are formed very readily on shipboard, and last for the voyage. The association at table usually lays the foundation for acquaintance. At "our end” of our table was Mr. Robert Hemingray, of Covington, Kentucky, a brother of Judge Hemingray, formerly of Leavenworth, and with him his daughter, Miss Mintie Hemingray. There was a fine straight German, with a white mustache and imperial, Mr. George Ritter, of Vera Cruz, Mexico, who from over thirty years' residence in that country, interspersed with many trips to all parts of the world, had acquired the languages and the graces of half a dozen peoples. To Herr Ritter, with his good stories, told in English, interspersed with French, Spanish and German, the undersigned, and the members of the late “Club Mexique,” will always feel indebted, and especially the member known in the society as "Mr. Kansas." Then there was Mr. Jolly, a Scotchman, from Tampico, Mexico, the most successful conundrum-maker on board; then there was the Fitzgerald family, from Toronto, "douce honest” people; and occasionally there was talk from a young lady, born in Switzerland, who had lived long in the province of Courland, Russia, and who was voyaging to Sweden.
As I have said, the voyage was uneventful. The ocean was quite tame. Occasionally a whale spouted; occasionally a lot of porpoises gamboled about the ship; occasionally a sailing vessel came into sight and faded out of it, or a steamer glided by—and that was all. There were five meals a day, and some people devoured all of them; there was a small library, but reading at sea is not a success. They got up concerts in the saloon, and there was divine service on Sunday. According to the regulations of the Cunard line, the captain read the Episcopal service. I heard the Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales prayed for for the first time; a petition was also inserted for the President of the United States. An American preacher followed, a good-natured old gentleman, who seemed desirous of praising everything British, and who, figuratively speaking, took a seat between the hind legs of the British lion and wrapped the tail of that noble beast about his neck.
It was to be only ten days at sea, but we longed for land. I shall not soon forget when I saw it again.