Across The Plains
by Stevenson

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At length, and after how long an interval I hesitate to guess, the
crowd began to move, heavily straining through itself. About the
same time some lamps were lighted, and threw a sudden flare over
the shed. We were being filtered out into the river boat for
Jersey City. You may imagine how slowly this filtering proceeded,
through the dense, choking crush, every one overladen with packages
or children, and yet under the necessity of fishing out his ticket
by the way; but it ended at length for me, and I found myself on
deck under a flimsy awning and with a trifle of elbow-room to
stretch and breathe in. This was on the starboard; for the bulk of
the emigrants stuck hopelessly on the port side, by which we had
entered. In vain the seamen shouted to them to move on, and
threatened them with shipwreck. These poor people were under a
spell of stupor, and did not stir a foot. It rained as heavily as
ever, but the wind now came in sudden claps and capfuls, not
without danger to a boat so badly ballasted as ours; and we crept
over the river in the darkness, trailing one paddle in the water
like a wounded duck, and passed ever and again by huge, illuminated
steamers running many knots, and heralding their approach by
strains of music. The contrast between these pleasure embarkations
and our own grim vessel, with her list to port and her freight of
wet and silent emigrants, was of that glaring description which we
count too obvious for the purposes of art.

The landing at Jersey City was done in a stampede. I had a fixed
sense of calamity, and to judge by conduct, the same persuasion was
common to us all. A panic selfishness, like that produced by fear,
presided over the disorder of our landing. People pushed, and
elbowed, and ran, their families following how they could.
Children fell, and were picked up to be rewarded by a blow. One
child, who had lost her parents, screamed steadily and with
increasing shrillness, as though verging towards a fit; an official
kept her by him, but no one else seemed so much as to remark her
distress; and I am ashamed to say that I ran among the rest. I was
so weary that I had twice to make a halt and set down my bundles in
the hundred yards or so between the pier and the railway station,
so that I was quite wet by the time that I got under cover. There
was no waiting-room, no refreshment room; the cars were locked; and
for at least another hour, or so it seemed, we had to camp upon the
draughty, gaslit platform. I sat on my valise, too crushed to
observe my neighbours; but as they were all cold, and wet, and
weary, and driven stupidly crazy by the mismanagement to which we
had been subjected, I believe they can have been no happier than
myself. I bought half-a-dozen oranges from a boy, for oranges and
nuts were the only refection to be had. As only two of them had
even a pretence of juice, I threw the other four under the cars,
and beheld, as in a dream, grown people and children groping on the
track after my leavings.

At last we were admitted into the cars, utterly dejected, and far
from dry. For my own part, I got out a clothes-brush, and brushed
my trousers as hard as I could till I had dried them and warmed my
blood into the bargain; but no one else, except my next neighbour
to whom I lent the brush, appeared to take the least precaution.
As they were, they composed themselves to sleep. I had seen the
lights of Philadelphia, and been twice ordered to change carriages
and twice countermanded, before I allowed myself to follow their
example.

TUESDAY. - When I awoke, it was already day; the train was standing
idle; I was in the last carriage, and, seeing some others strolling
to and fro about the lines, I opened the door and stepped forth, as
from a caravan by the wayside. We were near no station, nor even,
as far as I could see, within reach of any signal. A green, open,
undulating country stretched away upon all sides. Locust trees and
a single field of Indian corn gave it a foreign grace and interest;
but the contours of the land were soft and English. It was not
quite England, neither was it quite France; yet like enough either
to seem natural in my eyes. And it was in the sky, and not upon
the earth, that I was surprised to find a change. Explain it how
you may, and for my part I cannot explain it at all, the sun rises
with a different splendour in America and Europe. There is more
clear gold and scarlet in our old country mornings; more purple,
brown, and smoky orange in those of the new. It may be from habit,
but to me the coming of day is less fresh and inspiriting in the
latter; it has a duskier glory, and more nearly resembles sunset;
it seems to fit some subsequential, evening epoch of the world, as
though America were in fact, and not merely in fancy, farther from
the orient of Aurora and the springs of day. I thought so then, by
the railroad side in Pennsylvania, and I have thought so a dozen
times since in far distant parts of the continent. If it be an
illusion it is one very deeply rooted, and in which my eyesight is
accomplice.