Chapter XI. A Voyage Up the Hudson
 

As four P.M. approached, I took the children to a great glass window in the cabin, through which we could see the massive machinery.

"Now," said I, "watch the steel giant; he is motionless, but in a moment or two he will move."

True enough, he appeared to take a long breath of steam, and then slowly lifted his polished arms, or levers, and the boat that had been like a part of the wharf began to act as if it were alive and were waking up.

"Now," I asked, "shall we go to the after-deck and take our last look at the city, or forward and see the river and whither we are going?"

"Forward! forward!" cried all in chorus.

"That's the difference between youth and age," I thought. "With the young it is always 'forward.'" But we found that we could not go out on the forward deck, for the wind would have carried away my light, frail Mousie, like a feather. Indeed it was whistling a wild tune as we stood in a small room with glass windows all round. The waves were crowned with foaming white-caps, and the small craft that had to be out in the gale were bobbing up and down, as if possessed. On the river was a strange and lurid light, which seemed to come more from the dashing water than from the sky, so dark was the latter with skurrying clouds.

Mousie clung timidly to my side, but I reassured her by saying: "See how steadily, how evenly and boldly, our great craft goes out on the wide river. In the same way we must go forward, and never be afraid. These boats run every day after the ice disappears, and they are managed by men who know what to do in all sorts of weather."

She smiled, but whispered, "I think I'll go back and stay with mamma;" but she soon found much amusement in looking at passing scenes from the windows of the warm after-cabin--scenes that were like pictures set in oval frames.

The other children appeared fascinated by the scene, especially Winnie, whose bold black eyes flashed with excitement.

"I want to see everything and know everything," she said.

"I wish you to see and know about things like these," I replied, "but not such things as Melissa Daggett would show you."

"Melissy Daggett, indeed!" cried Winnie. "This beats all her stories. She tried to tell me the other day about a theatre at which a woman killed a man--"

"Horrid! I hope you didn't listen?"

"Only long enough to know the man came to life again, and danced in the next--"

"That will do. I'm not interested in Melissa's vulgar stories. As you say, this, and all like this, is much better, and will never prevent you from becoming a lady like mamma."

Winnie's ambition to become a lady promised to be one of my strong levers in uplifting her character.

I confess that I did not like the looks of the sky or of the snow- flakes that began to whirl in the air, but the strong steamer plowed her way rapidly past the city and the villa-crowned shores beyond. The gloom of the storm and of early coming night was over all, and from the distant western shores the Palisades frowned dimly through the obscurity.

My wife came, and after a brief glance shivered and was turning away, when I said, "You don't like your first glimpse of the country, Winifred?"

"It will look different next June. The children will take cold here. Let them come and watch the machinery."

This we all did for a time, and then I took them on excursions about the enclosed parts of the boat. The lamps were already lighted, and the piled-up freight stood out in grotesque light and shadow.

Before very long we were standing by one of the furnace rooms, and the sooty-visaged man threw open the iron doors of the furnace. In the glare of light that rushed forth everything near stood out almost as vividly as it would have done in a steady gleam of lightning. The fireman instantly became a startling silhouette, and the coal that he shovelled into what was like a flaming mouth of a cavern seemed sparkling black diamonds. The snow-flakes glimmered as the wind swept them by the wide-open window, and in the distance were seen the lights and the dim outline of another boat rushing toward the city. Clang! the iron doors are shut, and all is obscure again.

"Now the boat has had its supper," said Bobsey. "O dear! I wish I could have a big hot supper."

The smoking-room door stood open, and we lingered near it for some moments, attracted first by a picture of a great fat ox, that suggested grassy meadows, plowing, juicy steaks, and other pleasant things. Then our attention was drawn to a man, evidently a cattle- dealer, who was holding forth to others more or less akin to him in their pursuits.

"Yes," he was saying, "people in the country eat a mighty lot of cow-beef, poor and old at that. I was buying calves out near Shawangunk Mountains last week, and stopped at a small tavern. They brought me a steak and I tried to put my knife in it--thought the knife might be dull, but knew my grinders weren't. Jerusalem! I might have chawed on that steak till now and made no impression. I called the landlord, and said, 'See here, stranger, if you serve me old boot-leather for steak again I'll blow on your house.'--'I vow,' he said, 'it's the best I kin get in these diggin's. You fellers from the city buy up every likely critter that's for sale, and we have to take what you leave.' You see, he hit me right between the horns, for it's about so. Bless your soul, if I'd took in a lot of cow-beef like that to Steers and Pinkham, Washington Market, they'd 'a taken my hide off and hung me up 'longside of my beef."

"Grantin' all that," said another man, "folks in the country would be a sight better off if they'd eat more cow-beef and less pork. You know the sayin' about 'out of the frying-pan into the fire'? Well, in some parts I've travelled they had better get out of the fryin'- pan, no matter where they fetch up."

We went away laughing, and I said: "Don't you be troubled, Mousie; we won't go to the frying-pan altogether to find roses for your cheeks. We'll paint them red with strawberries and raspberries, the color put on from the inside."

As time passed, the storm increased, and the air became so thick with driving snow that the boat's speed was slackened. Occasionally we "slowed up" for some moments. The passengers shook their heads and remarked, dolefully, "There's no telling when we'll arrive."

I made up my mind that it would be good economy for us all to have a hearty hot supper, as Bobsey had suggested; and when, at last, the gong resounded through the boat, we trooped down with the others to the lower cabin, where there were several long tables, with colored waiters in attendance. We had not been in these lower regions before, and the eyes of the children soon wandered from their plates to the berths, or sleeping-bunks, which lined the sides of the cabin.

"Yes," I replied, in answer to their questions; "it is a big supper- room now, but by and by it will be a big bedroom, and people will be tucked away in these berths, just as if they were laid on shelves, one over the other."

The abundant and delicious supper, in which steaks, not from cow- beef, were the chief feature, gave each one of us solid comfort and satisfaction. Bobsey ate until the passengers around him were laughing, but he, with superb indifference, attended strictly to business.

My wife whispered, "You must all eat enough to last a week, for I sha'n't have time to cook anything;" and I was much pleased at the good example which she and Mousie set us.

Both before and after supper I conducted Bobsey to the wash-room, and he made the people laugh as he stood on a chair and washed his face. But he was a sturdy little fellow, and only laughed back when a man said he looked as though he was going to dive into the basin.

Mousie at last began to show signs of fatigue; and learning that it would be several hours still before we could hope to arrive, so severe was the storm, I procured the use of a state-room, and soon Bobsey was snoring in the upper berth, and my invalid girl smiling and talking in soft tones to her mother in the lower couch. Winnie, Merton, and I prowled around, spending the time as best we could. Occasionally we looked through the windows at the bow, and wondered how the pilot could find his way through the tempest. I confess I had fears lest he might not do this, and felt that I should be grateful indeed when my little band was safe on shore. The people in charge of the boat, however, knew their business.