CHAPTER VII. SUEZ TO ADEN.
While on board the Berenice, the following paragraph in a Bombay newspaper struck my eye, and as it is a corroboration of the statements which I deem it to be a duty to make, I insert it in this place. "The voyager (from Agra) must not think his troubles at an end on reaching Bombay, or that the steam-packets are equal to the passenger Indiaman in accommodation. In fact, I cannot conceive how a lady manages; we have, however, five. There are only seven very small cabins, into each of which two people are crammed; no room to swing cats. Eight other deluded individuals, of whom I am one, are given to understand that a cabin-passage is included in permission to sleep on the benches and table of the cuddy. For this you pay Rs. 200 extra. The vessel is dirty beyond measure, from the soot, and with the difficulty of copious ablution and private accommodation, is almost worse, to a lover of Indian habits, than the journey to Bombay from Agra upon camels. No civility is to be got from the officers. If they are not directly uncivil, the passengers are luckier than we have been. They declare themselves disgusted with passenger ships, but do not take the proper way of showing their superiority to the duty."
The only officer of the Berenice who dined at the captain's table was the surgeon of the vessel, and in justice to him it must be said, that he left no means untried to promote the comfort of the passengers. It is likewise necessary to state, that we were never put upon an allowance of water, although, in consequence of late alterations made in the dockyard, the vessel had been reduced to about half the quantity she had been accustomed to carry in iron tanks constructed for the purpose. Notwithstanding this reduction, we could always procure a sufficiency, either of hot or cold water, for ablutions, rendered doubly necessary in consequence of the atmosphere of coal-dust which we breathed. Not that it was possible to continue clean for a single hour; nevertheless, there was some comfort in making the attempt.
There were eight cabins in the Berenice, besides the three appropriated to ladies; these were ranged four on either side of the saloon, reaching up two-thirds of the length. The apartment, therefore, took the form of a T, and the upper end or cross was furnished with horse-hair sofas; upon these, and upon the table, those passengers slept who were not provided with cabins. Many preferred the deck, but being washed out of it by the necessary cleaning process, which took place at day-break, were obliged to make their toilettes in the saloon. This also formed the dressing-place for dinner, and the basins of dirty water, hair-brushes, &c. were scarcely removed from the side-tables before the party were summoned to their repast. The preparations for this meal were a work of time, always beginning at half-past one; an hour was employed in placing the dishes upon the table, in order that every thing might have time to cool.
The reason assigned for not putting Venetian blinds to the cabin-doors was this: it would injure the appearance of the cabin - an appearance certainly not much improved by the dirty sail which hung against our portal. The saloon itself, without this addition, was dingy enough, being panelled with dark oak, relieved by a narrow gilt cornice, and the royal arms carved and gilded over an arm-chair at the rudder-case, the ornaments of a clock which never kept time. All the servants, who could not find accommodation elsewhere, slept under the table; thus adding to the abominations of this frightful place. And yet we were congratulated upon our good fortune, in being accommodated in the Berenice, being told that the Zenobia, which passed us on our way, had been employed in carrying pigs between Waterford and Bristol, and that the Hugh Lindsay was in even worse condition; the Berenice being, in short, the crack ship.
Every day added to the heat and the dirt, and in the evening, when going upon deck to inhale the odours of the hen-coops, the smell was insufferable. When to this annoyance coal-dust, half an inch deep, is added, my preference of my own cabin will not be a subject of surprise. With what degree of truth, I cannot pretend to say, all the disagreeable circumstances sustained on board the Berenice were attributed to the alterations made in the docks. Previously to these changes, we were told, the furnaces were supplied with coal by a method which obviated the necessity of having it upon deck, whence the dust was now carried all over the ship upon the feet of the persons who were continually passing to and fro.