CUNARD WHITE STAR
This is in the nature of a log-book as far as I've got, & it can't be posted for a long time yet. We finally got off 24 hours late, as you probably saw in the papers. The Morning Post and the Daily Sketch both had pictures of us, vainly trying to crab off the quay wall with 8 tugs. On Thursday it was not much better, but at length we got away, and left Cherbourg about 7 pm. From there all the way it has blown a gale, according to the extract from the log posted up in the companion way, varying from a "strong gale" to "very strong gale", and when the Captain says that in the log, he means it. The sea today is logged as "very high confused sea, strong gale, with sleet squalls" and the tops of the seas are being blown off in white smoke by the wind. I estimate the seas at about 80 to 100 feet high, but it is very difficult to judge.
From all this you would suppose we were being very much tossed about, but such is the portentous size of this boat that we are moving really very little. Dancing goes on every evening in the lounge, and that would not be possible in a ship that was moving much. But like an old Victorian dowager, you can hear our corsets creaking dreadfully all over the ship. I never knew a ship to complain so much in a seaway.
There are very few passengers – about 100 first class – and mostly business men. The women probably less than 30, and range from the unattractive to the unspeakable. I have not tried to make the acquaintance of any. My table mates, at the Purser's table, are with one exception, very nice. The Purser is a handsome man of 57, of a very wide experience of life, & a lot of war experiences. There is a nice young man, Franci[s] who owns Andrews Liver Salts, (Eton & Cambridge). There is a nice quiet man, very reticent, called Crowe, and a rather nasty Leicester Hosiery Manufacturer called Percy. And a nice quiet man called R.W.
Meals on this ship are really Lucullan banquets. There are at least 6 stewards to every diner, and the service partakes of the nature of a religious rite. The head steward who is bearing your jewelled dish is flanked by acolyte stewards, some in white raiment and some in blue, swinging censers & propelling trolly-buses [?], the whole done with a reverent awe. In the minstrels gallery, the concealed orchestra play Boccherini's Minuet and even the Air on the G-string!
Meals are all á la carte, & the choice of viands is enormous. As we are doing only half speed, & will be two days late at New York, it can't pay them to feed us like this.
This day being Sunday, we had Divine Service in the lounge, the whole Ship's Company & passengers of all classes being mustered, if well. The Skipper, Irving, made a much finer job of it than most parsons I have heard : it really was dramatically read. He chose some good tuneful hymns and music was made by the string orchestra. A most memorable affair, punctuated by the bursting seas over the boat deck & the flashes of lightning through the squalls of sleet. Tonight I am bidden to a cocktail party in the Purser's cabin, and tomorrow to a tour of the engine rooms.
From the Ship's library I have got out Buchan's Oliver Cromwell, which is very well written, but takes a lot of reading. I expect it will keep me busy all through the voyage. They have endless magazines, light & serious, and every type of book.
Each morning I go up to the gymnasium for exercise on an artificial camel, a ditto horse, a ditto rowing boat, bicycle, &c, and to do "floor exercises" under the taskmastership of the gym instructor. He fairly puts us through it. We had to quit going at 11-30, as an awful American girl, all bogus, goes then & distils a pervasive B.O. around her. We call her Seductive Sadie.
Tuesday 26 Feb'y.
This is the sixth day of our voyage, and we should, if we had ordinary weather, have been in New York. But so furious has been the gale all the way, that we are only half way across, and for the last 24 hours have averaged only 10 knots! The sea has been running monstrous high, and the whole ship is filled with the groans of the complaining structures. At dinner last night there was a bump so violent that the steward said the bottom had come out of her but I took leave to doubt him.
All this makes a dull ship the duller, as I estimate only half the passengers are out & about. Each afternoon at 5-15, after our sumptuous tea in the lounge, we have a cinema show, a talkie, but so far none has been a very good one. All badly-constructed Hollywood stuff, probably what they can't sell to any decent theatre ashore.
Yesterday I went up to the bridge to pay a call on Captain Irving (whose sister lives next door to [Robert's brother] Peter, and found him a very pleasant man. He is the laird of a border keep near Ecclefechan, of the most ancient border lineage. No-one is allowed to call on him who is not guaranteed against sea-sickness, as the motion in the chart room is so violent (it is 100 feet above the water). My sponsor, the Purser, assured him I was an old destroyer man, and that sufficed as my passport.
Today at noon there was a blink of wintry sun, and the gale has abated somewhat, so that for the first time they are beginning to drive this ship. If they can continue to drive her, we may get into New York early on Friday morning, 3 days late, and this will make it very awkward for me to start anything useful. As the clock is put back one hour each midnight, I am getting a wonderful lot of sleeping, and am doing it thoroughly. The motion is not violent enough to throw me out of bed, and acts as a soothing narcotic. I wedge an extra pillow in between me & the side rail of my bed, which anchors me down.
Wed 27 Feb 35.
This letter is growing to the size of a novel, but the blame is the weather's, not mine. For the 24 hours ending at noon today we had the only reasonable weather of the trip so far. The wind was logged as "strong" only, and the sea as "moderate". As a result we ran 540 miles, compared with 270 the previous day. But the improvement was short-lived, as the wind has risen again to a gale, and the seas are running higher than ever. Speed has been reduced once more, and we now hope to reach New York on Friday – 3 days overdue. If this be true of the largest ship afloat, I should have had a tottering [?] time on the little Ascania. The moving pictures have run out, so we had none today, but the food is still plentiful!
Yesterday, the ship being fairly quiet, they filled the swimming bath, & I had an exciting half hour in it. The water was charging up & down, bursting in great explosions of spray at the shallow end, and you had to keep in the middle to avoid injury. But today is too rough again, & the tank is empty.
My friend the Purser organised a trip for four of us today through the engine & boiler rooms, a most inspiring experience, but not in your line of country. Suffice it tat there is 100,000 horsepower there, and 48 boilers. And it is a sobering thought that 1000 men labour & sweat day & night, for a very little pay, that 100 passengers, mostly fools, & some knaves, may fare delicately and growl about trifles. I'd like some of the vacuous women aboard to spend only one day in the stoke holes – it would sweat some of the paint off them.
I propose to entrust this letter to the Purser to take back with him, as the ship must now be turned round in 12 hours. No other mail could get it to you sooner, but you may be surprised to see a British stamp on the envelope. With luck you should get this 9 or 10 days from now.
I shall send with it this music programme to amuse Frances, as I think it is rather artistic. Note that it has Bach's Air, & also the prelude which Gounod borrowed from Bach to make his Ave Maria.
Thursday 28 Feb'y.
This will be the last chapter of this Epistle. We have just passed the Nantucket lightship, and are only 250 miles from the journey's end. We expect to get to Quarantine about midnight, and go ashore about 8 am tomorrow (Friday). The weather is fine, but bitterly cold, and the sea is for the first time smooth. I hear today that we had an S.O.S. from a British ship two days ago, but the German Europa signalled she was much nearer, & would take the job on. The ship sank just when Europa arrived, so the rumour goes. You probably heard more of it than I am likely to, as they are very dumb about these things on board, so as not to scare the passengers, bless their little hearts.
I have just had the unique experience of being told a mild smoke-room story which I launched three days ago. It has now gone round the ship, & come home incredibly altered – for the worse.
I am now going to spend the rest of this afternoon in packing, and am faced with the delicate job of getting rid of my tattered shirts & "scanties" for which I have worn for the voyage. I don't like to disillusion my cabin steward of the impression of careless wealth I hope he entertains of me, but there seems no way of getting rid of the incriminating evidence. If I make a parcel of [them] & drop it [overboard], the lookout is bound to see it & stop the ship. What a scandal. There is no place to burn it, & I can't put it down this duggle [wc?], so what is a poor girl to do? I am still left cogitating this awful problem.
I hope my bank has transferred my cheque to you according to plan – it will be a smaller one than usual as I was overdrawn.
Keep well and send me all your good wishes,
All my love,