Chapter 3

Saturday morning saw me rising bright, if not particularly early. A hearty breakfast of kippers and poached eggs set me up nicely for the day and soon I was safely ensconced in a hansom cab on the way down to the docks. While I have read many a nautical tale, I have not had much direct experience of sea-going vessels, but I must say that the SS Bellerophon looked resplendent in the mid-morning sun. Every part seemed freshly painted, varnished, polished, scrubbed or tarred as was appropriate and she glistened like a bright jewel among the more starkly utilitarian cargo vessels that occupied the other piers. Embarkation was carried out with the minimum of fuss and I was shown to my well-appointed cabin by the steward, a genial young Scotsman by the name of Rufus. His manner was a little more informal than I am used to, but most helpful. He showed me around the various controls for lighting and ventilation and such like, and the bell by which I could summon him, day or night, should there be anything I needed. He pointed out the directions to the various facilities onboard and advised me that lunch would be served at one o’clock with drinks from twelve-thirty beforehand. Somewhat unusually, he flatly refused to accept a tip, explaining, “Oh, no sir, there’s no need to that on board the Bellerophon, no need at all. I am already adequately compensated for my labour, but it is kind of you to think of me.” This seemed to contradict what I had heard of service jobs and I resolved to discover what his preferences were in respect of food, drink or tobacco and to leave some small gift for him at the end of my voyage instead.

Lunch, and the preceding drinks, turned out to be an interesting affair. In explaining the layout of the ship, Rufus had intimated that there were no class divisions in respect of accommodation. No first class cabins, no steerage, just cabins that, barring minor differences caused by the design of the ship, were to all intents, equal. This seemed a little strange to me, but given the tales I had heard of conditions for travellers in steerage, perhaps it was for the better. The same lack of division appeared to apply to the dining facilities, and I found myself mixing with folk from all social classes. It was a little disconcerting at first, but after a while, I began to find it quite liberating. The conversation flowed freely and easily, unencumbered by the awkwardness that often inhibits those speaking with others not their social equals. Perhaps I should not be so surprised; after all, I had always been quite comfortable conversing with Mrs Harris and with my barber, at least, in private. I realised then that it was only in mixed company that I had ever felt awkward; leading me to suspect it had been the expectations of social convention that hindered me, rather than any personal inclination. Most surprised with this insight, I tucked it away for further examination.

Shortly before we were called to the luncheon table, the captain appeared and apologised for not joining us as we would shortly be sailing on the tide. This worthy was a fellow of magnificent size with a beard of near epic proportions, revelling in the name of Cyrus T Faltermeyer. He bad us enjoy our repast and left, presumably to take charge of things on the bridge. A few minutes later, I felt a great shudder and vibration throughout the ship, which I guessed to be the steam engines, and with a few blasts of the ship’s horn, we were under way. Some while later, from the position of the sun and the Isle of Wight, I judged us to be heading west. Maybe we were headed for the Mediterranean after all.

The lunch itself was an adventure in international cuisine, being a buffet of hot and cold fare from a variety of places. The stewards were most helpful and knowledgeable about the various items and forthright in recommending several of them. I had plenty of quail’s eggs, for which I have an inordinate fondness; some very spicy fried pasties, called samosas, which I was told hail from the Indian sub-continent; some laverbread, a dish of fried seaweed from Wales and some little savoury steamed buns of Oriental provenance. It was a most entertaining selection, which kept us amused and titillated well into the afternoon. One or two dishes remained mostly untouched. Only a Mr Andrews, a retired miner from Lancashire, so far as I could understand his accent, was brave enough to sample the fried locusts, which he judged to be not a patch on a decent Morecombe bay shrimp. Conversation, again, was wide-ranging and amiable. Each of us, it seemed, was more concerned on the getting away than whatever it was they were getting away from. Like me, they all exhibited reluctance to discuss the past. Curiously, I could find no commonality in their destinations. Certainly, I seemed to be the only one destined for Serendipity Island, though several others had obtained their passage through Mr Thanatos. From what I heard, all had found his shop by accident and all had found him disturbingly prescient in his suggestions, but despite this, were more than happy with the arrangements he had made.

The lunch filled more than time, and at the end of it, I felt quite replete. At the suggestion of one of the stewards, I repaired to one of the sun-decks and took a post-prandial nap before being inveigled into a few games of deck quoits. It was quite some way into the games that it occurred to me that I was feeling relaxed and comfortable in a social gathering; something I had not felt in a couple of years. This too seemed like a thought worthy of further contemplation and I resolved to make a note of it, and my previous one about social conventions, in my diary. Thus it was in quite a contemplative frame of mind that I later returned to my cabin to freshen up and get dressed for dinner.

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