Across The Plains
by Stevenson

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Across The Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson
Scanned and proofed by David Price
Second proof by Margaret Price.


I. Across The Plains
II. The Old Pacific Capital
III. Fontainebleau
IV. Epilogue to "An Inland Voyage"
V. Random Memories
VI. Random Memories Continued
VII. The Lantern-bearers
VIII. A Chapter on Dreams
IX. Beggars
X. Letter to a Young Gentleman
XI. Pulvis et Umbra
XII. A Christmas Sermon



MONDAY. - It was, if I remember rightly, five o'clock when we were
all signalled to be present at the Ferry Depot of the railroad. An
emigrant ship had arrived at New York on the Saturday night,
another on the Sunday morning, our own on Sunday afternoon, a
fourth early on Monday; and as there is no emigrant train on Sunday
a great part of the passengers from these four ships was
concentrated on the train by which I was to travel. There was a
babel of bewildered men, women, and children. The wretched little
booking-office, and the baggage-room, which was not much larger,
were crowded thick with emigrants, and were heavy and rank with the
atmosphere of dripping clothes. Open carts full of bedding stood
by the half-hour in the rain. The officials loaded each other with
recriminations. A bearded, mildewed little man, whom I take to
have been an emigrant agent, was all over the place, his mouth full
of brimstone, blustering and interfering. It was plain that the
whole system, if system there was, had utterly broken down under
the strain of so many passengers.

My own ticket was given me at once, and an oldish man, who
preserved his head in the midst of this turmoil, got my baggage
registered, and counselled me to stay quietly where I was till he
should give me the word to move. I had taken along with me a small
valise, a knapsack, which I carried on my shoulders, and in the bag
of my railway rug the whole of BANCROFT'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED
STATES, in six fat volumes. It was as much as I could carry with
convenience even for short distances, but it insured me plenty of
clothing, and the valise was at that moment, and often after,
useful for a stool. I am sure I sat for an hour in the baggage-
room, and wretched enough it was; yet, when at last the word was
passed to me and I picked up my bundles and got under way, it was
only to exchange discomfort for downright misery and danger.

I followed the porters into a long shed reaching downhill from West
Street to the river. It was dark, the wind blew clean through it
from end to end; and here I found a great block of passengers and
baggage, hundreds of one and tons of the other. I feel I shall
have a difficulty to make myself believed; and certainly the scene
must have been exceptional, for it was too dangerous for daily
repetition. It was a tight jam; there was no fair way through the
mingled mass of brute and living obstruction. Into the upper
skirts of the crowd porters, infuriated by hurry and overwork,
clove their way with shouts. I may say that we stood like sheep,
and that the porters charged among us like so many maddened sheep-
dogs; and I believe these men were no longer answerable for their
acts. It mattered not what they were carrying, they drove straight
into the press, and when they could get no farther, blindly
discharged their barrowful. With my own hand, for instance, I
saved the life of a child as it sat upon its mother's knee, she
sitting on a box; and since I heard of no accident, I must suppose
that there were many similar interpositions in the course of the
evening. It will give some idea of the state of mind to which we
were reduced if I tell you that neither the porter nor the mother
of the child paid the least attention to my act. It was not till
some time after that I understood what I had done myself, for to
ward off heavy boxes seemed at the moment a natural incident of
human life. Cold, wet, clamour, dead opposition to progress, such
as one encounters in an evil dream, had utterly daunted the
spirits. We had accepted this purgatory as a child accepts the
conditions of the world. For my part, I shivered a little, and my
back ached wearily; but I believe I had neither a hope nor a fear,
and all the activities of my nature had become tributary to one
massive sensation of discomfort.