CHAPTER XII. A scene at starting - That dear little Harry - The old lady and the race - Running the Rapids - An aside - Snow and discomfort-A new country - An extemporised ball - Adventure with a madman - Shooting the cataract - First appearance of Montre
The Arabian, by which I left Toronto, was inferior to any American steamer I had travelled in. It was crowded with both saloon and steerage passengers, bound for Cobourg, Port Hope, and Montreal. It was very bustling and dirty, and the carpet was plentifully sprinkled with tobacco- juice. The captain was very much flustered with his unusually large living cargo, but he was a good-hearted man, and very careful, having, to use his own phrase, "climbed in at the hawse-holes, and worked his way aft, instead of creeping in at the cabin window with his gloves on." The stewards were dirty, and the stewardess too smart to attend to the comforts of the passengers.
As passengers, crates, and boxes poured in at both the fore and aft entrances, I went out on the little slip of deck to look at the prevalent confusion, having previously ascertained that all my effects were secure. The scene was a very amusing one, for, acting out the maxim that "time is money," comparatively few of the passengers came down to the wharf more than five minutes before the hour of sailing. People, among whom were a number of "unprotected females," and juveniles who would not move on, were entangled among trucks and carts discharging cargo - hacks, horses, crates, and barrels. These passengers, who would find it difficult to elbow their way unencumbered, find it next to impossible when their hands are burdened with uncut books, baskets of provender, and diminutive carpet-bags. Horses back carts against helpless females, barrels roll upon people's toes, newspaper hawkers puff their wares, bonbon venders push their plaster of Paris abominations almost at people's eyes, yet, strange to say, it is very seldom that any accident occurs. Family groups invariably are separated, and distracted mammas are running after children whom everybody wishes out of the way, giving utterance to hopes that they are not on shore. Then the obedient papa is sent on shore to look after "that dear little Harry," who is probably all the time in the ladies' saloon on some child-fancier's lap eating bonbons. The board is drawn in - the moorings are cast off - the wheels revolve - the bell rings - the engine squeals, and away speeds the steamer down the calm waters of Lake Ontario. Little children and inquisitive young ladies are knocked down or blackened in coiling the hawser, by "hands" who, being nothing but hands, evidently cannot say, "I beg your pardon, miss." There were children, who always will go where they ought not to go, running against people, and taking hold of their clothes with sticky, smeared hands, asking commercial gentlemen to spin their tops, and corpulent ladies to play at hide and seek. I saw one stern-visaged gentleman tormented in this way till he looked ready to give the child its "final quietus." [Footnote: American juveniles are, generally speaking, completely destitute of that agreeable shyness which prevents English and Scotch children from annoying strangers.] There were angry people who had lost their portmanteaus, and were ransacking the state-rooms in quest of them, and indolent people who lay on the sofas reading novels and chewing tobacco. Some gentleman, taking no heed of a printed notice, goes to the ladies' cabin to see if his wife is safe on board, and meets with a rebuff from the stewardess, who tells him that "gentlemen are not admitted," and, knowing that the sense, or, as he would say, the nonsense of the community is against him, he beats a reluctant retreat. Everybody seems to have lost somebody or something, but in an hour or two the ladies are deep in novels, the gentlemen in the morning papers, the children have quarrelled themselves to sleep, and the captain has gone to smoke by the funnel.
I sat on the slip of deck with a lady from Lake Superior, niece of the accomplished poetess Mrs. Hemans, and she tried to arouse me into admiration of the shore of Lake Ontario; but I confess that I was too much occupied with a race which we were running with the American steamer Maple-leaf, to look at the flat, gloomy, forest-fringed coast. There is an inherent love of the excitement of a race in all human beings - even old ladies are not exempt from it, if we may believe a story which I heard on the Mississippi. An old lady was going down the river for the first time, and expressed to the captain her earnest hope that there would be no racing. Presently another boat neared them, and half the passengers urged the captain to "pile on." The old lady shrieked and protested, but to no purpose; the skipper "piled on;" and as the race was a very long and doubtful one, she soon became excited. The rival boat shot ahead; the old lady gave a side of bacon, her sole possession, to feed the boiler fires - the boat was left behind - she clapped her hands - it ran ahead again, and, frantic, she seated herself upon the safety-valve! It was again doubtful, but, lo! the antagonist boat was snagged, and the lady gave a yell of perfect delight when she saw it discomfited, and a hundred human beings struggling in the water. Our race, however, was destitute of excitement, for the Maple-leaf was a much better sailer than ourselves.