We, too, walked into an elevator. A lad in a red tunic with gold buttons gracefully lifted his arm and pressed a knob. The shining new elevator rose a little, stopped and suddenly moved down, paying no heed whatever to the uniformed operator who desperately continued to press the knob. After falling three floors instead of rising two, we heard the painfully familiar phrase – on thisoccasion pronounced in impeccable French: “The elevator is out of order!”
We took the stairway to our cabin, a stairway covered throughout with a non-inflammаblе rubber carpet of bright green. Тhе соrridоrs and vestibules of the ship were covered with the same carpeting, which makes each footfall soft and soundless. But one does not fully appreciate the merits of rubber carpeting until the ship begins to roll in earnest. Then the carpeting seems to grip the soles. True, that does not save one from being seasick, but it does keep one from falling.
The stairway was not at аll of the steamship type. It was broad, slanting, with runs and landings of dimensions generous enough for a mansion.
The cabin was likewise quite unsteamerlike. A spacious room with two ample windows, two broad wooden beds, easy-chairs, wall closets, tables, mirrors-in fact, all the blessings of a communal dwelling, even unto a telephone.
Only in a storm does the Normandie resemble a ship. But in good weather it is a large hotel, with a sweeping view of the ocean, which, having suddenly torn loose from its moorings in a modern seaside health resort, is floating away at the rate of thirty-odd knots an hour.
Down below, from the platforms of the various floors of the station people who were seeing the passengers off shouted their final good wishes and farewells. They shouted in French, in English, in Spanish. They also shouted in Russian. A strange chap in a black seafaring uniform with a silver anchor and a shield of David on one sleeve, a beret on his head and a sad little beard on his chin, was shouting something in Jewish. Later we learned that he was the ship’s rabbi; the General Transatlantic Company had engaged him to minister to the spiritual needs of a certain portion of its passengers. Other passengers had at their disposal Catholic and Protestant priests. Moslems, fire worshippers, and Soviet engineers travelled without benefit of clergy; on that score the General Transatlantic Company left them entirely to their own devices.
The Normandie has a spacious church with dim electric lights; it is designed primarily for Catholic services, but may be adjusted to suit other denominational needs. Thus, the altar and the icons may be covered with special shields designed for that purpose and the Catholic church converted automatically into a Protestant house of worship. As for the rabbi of the sad little beard, there being no available room for him, the children’s nursery was assigned for the performance of his rites. Whereupon the company provided him with a tallith and even with special drapery for covering temporarily the mundane representations of bunnies and kittens.
The ship left the harbour. On the pier, at the mole, everywhere were crowds of people. The Normandie was still a novelty to the citizens of Le Havre. They forgathered from all corners of the city to greet the transatlantic titan and bid it bon voyage.
But the French shore was finally lost in the smoky mists of the murky day. Toward evening we saw the lights of Southampton. For an hour and a half the Normandie stood in its roadstead there, taking on passengers from England, surrounded on three sides by the distant and mysterious lights of a strange city. Then again she put out to sea, and again began the seething tumult of unseen waves aroused by tempestuous winds.
In the stern, where we were located, everything trembled. The deck and the walls and the lights and the easy-chairs and the glasses on the washstand and the washstand itself trembled. The ship’s vibration was so pronounced that even objects from which one did not expect any sound made a noise. For the first time we heard the sound of towels, soap, the carpet on the floor, the paper on the table, the electric bulb, the curtain, the collar thrown on the bed. Everything in the cabin resounded, and some things even thundered. If a passenger became thoughtful for a moment and relaxed his facial muscles, his teeth at once began to chatter of their own free will. All through the night it seemed to us that someone was trying to break down the door of our cabin and someone else was constantly rapping at our window-pane and laughing ominously. We discovered no less than a hundred different sounds inside our cabin.
The Normandie was on its tenth voyage between Europe and America. It was scheduled to go into dry dock after its eleventh trip, when its stern would be taken apart and the structural deficiencies that caused vibration eliminated.
In the morning a sailor came into our cabin and closed its windows with metal shutters. A storm was rising. A small freighter was having a difficult time making its way to the French shore. At times it disappeared in the waves, only the tips of its masts remaining visible.
We had always expected to find the ocean roadway between the Old and New Worlds quite lively with traffic. Now and then, – we imagined, we would come across ships blaring music and waving flags. But we found the ocean a grandiosely deserted expanse. The little boat that we saw bucking the storm four hundred miles from Europe was the only ship we passed during the entire five days of our crossing. The Normandie rolled with slow and dignified deliberateness. It steamed ahead, never decreasing its accustomed speed, nonchalantly flinging aside the high waves that attacked it on all sides. Rarely would it dip – and then in even tenor with the ocean. Here was no unequal struggle between some miserable contraption fashioned by man’s hand and the unbridled forces of nature. It was rather a contest between well-matched titans.
In a semicircular smoking saloon three famous wrestlers with cauliflower ears were sitting with their coats off, playing cards. Shirts bulged out from under their vests. They were in the throes of painful thinking. Huge cigars dangled from their mouths. At table two men played chess, every minute adjusting the chessmen that kept sliding off the board. Two others, their chins cupped in the palms of their hands, watched the chess game. Who but Soviet folk would ever think of playing the queen’s gambit in such weather? We guessed it: the charming Botvinniks proved to be Soviet engineers.
In time people met one another and formed congenial groups. A printed list of passengers was distributed. There we found a very amusing surname: Sandwich— a whole family of Sandwiches, Mr. Sandwich, Mrs. Sandwich, and young Master Sandwich.
We entered the Gulf Stream. A warm rain drizzled. In the oppressive hothouse atmosphere hung the heavy sediment of the oily smoke that the Normandie’s smokestacks belched forth.
We set out to inspect the ship. A third-class passenger does not see much of the boat on which he travels. He is not allowed either into the first or into the tourist class. Nor does the tourist-class passenger see much more of the Normandie, for he likewise is not permitted to trespass certain limits. But the first-class passenger is the Normandie.
He occupies no less than nine-tenths of the entire ship. Everything is immense in the first class – the promenade decks, the lounges, the saloons for smoking and the saloons for playing cards, and the saloons especially for ladies, and a hothouse where fat little French swallows swing on glass branches and hundreds of orchids hang from the ceiling, and the theatre with its four hundred seats, and the swimming-pool full of water illuminated through its bottom with green electric lights, and the marketing square with its department store, and the saloons for sport where elderly bald-headed gentlemen, flat on their backs, play ball with their feet, and other saloons where the same bald-headed men, tired of tossing balls and jumping up and down on a cinder-path platform, dream in embroidered easy-chairs; above all immense is the carpet that covers the main saloon, for surely it weighs more than half a ton.
Even the smokestacks of the Normandie, which one might think would belong to the entire ship, are reserved exclusively for the first class. In one of them the dogs of the first-class passengers are kept. Beautiful pedigree dogs, bored to the verge of madness, stand in their cages. Most of the time they are rocked to dizziness. Now and then they are led out on a leash for a walk on a special deck reserved for them. Then they bark