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- An Adventure With A Genius - 3/21 -
me as his guest for a fortnight, either at his villa or aboard his yacht Liberty, and informing me that I would find at my club early in the morning an envelope containing a ticket to Mentone, with sleeper and parlor-car accommodation, and a check to cover incidental expenses.
The tickets and the check were accompanied by a letter in which I was told that I was to consider this two weeks' visit as a trial, that during that time all my expenses would be paid, that I would receive an honorarium of so much a day from the time I left London until I was engaged by Mr. Pulitzer or had arrived back in London after rejection by him, and that everything depended upon the impression I made on my host.
I left London cold, damp, and foggy; and in less than twenty-four hours I was in the train between Marseilles and Mentone, watching the surf playing among the rocks in the brilliant sunshine of the Cote d'Azur. In the tiny harbor of Mentone I found, anchored stern-on to the quay, the steam yacht Liberty--a miracle of snowy decks and gleaming brass-work-- tonnage 1,607, length over all 316 feet, beam 35.6 feet, crew 60, all told.
A message from Mr. Pulitzer awaited me. Would I dine at his villa at Cap Martin? An automobile would call for me at seven o'clock.
I spent the day in looking over the yacht and in trying to pick up some information as to the general lay of the land, by observing every detail of my new surroundings.
The yacht itself claimed my first attention. Everything was new and fascinating to me, for although I had had my share of experiences in barques, and brigs, and full-rigged ships, in mail boats and tramp steamers, only once before had I had an opportunity to examine closely a large private yacht. Ten years before, I had spent some time cruising along the northern coast of Borneo in the yacht of His Highness Sir Charles Brooke, Raja of Sarawak; but with that single exception yachting was for me an unknown phase of sea life.
The Liberty--or, as the secretarial staff, for reasons which will become apparent later, called her, the Liberty, Ha! Ha!--was designed and built on the Clyde. I have never seen a vessel of more beautiful lines. Sailors would find, I think, but one fault in her appearance and one peculiarity. With a white-painted hull, her bridge and the whole of her upper structure, except the masts and funnel, were also white, giving to her general features a certain flatness which masked her fine proportions. Her bridge, instead of being well forward, was placed so far aft that it was only a few feet from the funnel. The object of this departure from custom was to prevent any walking over Mr. Pulitzer's head when he sat in his library, which was situated under the spot, where the bridge would have been in most vessels.
The boat was specially designed to meet Mr. Pulitzer's peculiar requirements. She had a flush deck from the bows to the stern, broken only, for perhaps twenty feet, by a well between the forecastle head and the fore part of the bridge.
Running aft from the bridge to within forty feet of the stern was an unbroken line of deck houses. Immediately afore the bridge was Mr. Pulitzer's library, a handsome room lined from floor to ceiling with books; abaft of that was the dining saloon, which could accommodate in comfort a dozen people; continuing aft there were, on the port side, the pantry, amidships the enclosed space over the engine room, and on the starboard side a long passage leading to the drawing-room and writing- room used by the secretaries and by members of Mr. Pulitzer's family when they were on the yacht.
The roof and sides of this line of deck houses were extended a few feet beyond the aftermost room, so as to provide a sheltered nook where Mr. Pulitzer could sit when the wind was too strong for his comfort on the open deck.
Between the sides of the deck houses and the sides of the ship there ran on each side a promenade about nine feet broad, unbroken by bolt or nut, stanchion or ventilator, smooth as a billiard table and made of the finest quality of seasoned teak. The promenade continued across the fore part of Mr. Pulitzer's library and across the after part of the line of deck houses, so that there was an oblong track round the greater part of the boat, a track covered overhead with double awnings and protected inboard by the sides of the deck houses, and outboard by adjustable canvas screens, which could be let down or rolled up in a few minutes.
About thirty feet from the stern a heavy double canvas screen ran 'thwartships from one side of the boat to the other, shutting off a small space of deck for the use of the crew. The main deck space was allotted as follows: under the forecastle head accommodation for two officers and two petty officers, abaft of that the well space, of which I have spoken; under the library was Mr. Pulitzer's bedroom, occupying the whole breadth of the ship and extending from the bulkhead at the after part of the well space as far aft as the companion way leading down between the library and the saloon, say twenty-five feet.
A considerable proportion of the sides of this bedroom was given up to books; in one corner was a very high wash-hand-stand, so high that Mr. Pulitzer, who was well over six feet tall, could wash his hands without stooping. The provision of this very high wash-hand-stand illustrates the minute care with which everything had been foreseen in the construction and fitting-up of the yacht. When a person stoops there is a slight impediment to the free flow of blood to the head, such an impediment might react unfavorably on the condition of Mr. Pulitzer's eyes, therefore the wash-hand-stand was high enough to be used without stooping.
In the forward bulkhead of the cabin were two silent fans, one drawing air into the room, the other drawing it out. The most striking feature of the room was an immense four-poster bed which stood in the center of the cabin, with a couch at the foot and one or two chairs at one side. Hanging at the head of the bed was a set of electric push-bells, the cords being of different lengths so that Mr. Pulitzer could call at will for the major-domo, the chief steward, the captain, the officer on watch, and so on.
The bedroom was heavily carpeted and was cut off from the rest of the ship by double bulkheads, double doors, and double portholes, with the object of protecting Mr. Pulitzer as much as possible from all noise, to which he was excessively sensitive. A large bathroom opened immediately off the bedroom, and a flight of steps led down to a gymnasium on the lower deck.
Abaft of Mr. Pulitzer's bedroom there were, on the port side, the cabins of the major-domo, the captain, the head butler, the chief engineer, an officers' mess room, the ship's galley, a steward's mess room, and the cabins of the chief steward and one or two officers.
Corresponding with these there were, on the starboard side, the cabins of the secretaries and the doctor, "The Cells," as we called them. They were comfortable rooms, all very much on one pattern, except that of the business secretary, which was a good deal larger than the others. He needed the additional space for newspaper files, documents, correspondence, and so on. Each cabin contained a bed, a wash-hand- stand, a chest of drawers, a cupboard for clothes, a small folding table, some book shelves, an arm chair, an ordinary chair, an electric fan, and a radiator. Each cabin had two portholes, and there were two bathrooms to the six cabins.
The center of the ship, between these cabins and the corresponding space on the port side, was occupied by the engine room; and the entrance to the secretaries' quarters was through a companionway opening on to the promenade deck, with a door on each side of the yacht, and leading down a flight of stairs to a long fore-and-aft passage, out of which all the secretaries' cabins opened.
Abaft the secretaries' cabins, and occupying the whole breadth of the boat, were a number of cabins and suites for the accommodation of Mrs. Pulitzer, other members of the family, and guests; and abaft of these, cut off by a 'thwartships bulkhead, were the quarters of the crew.
The lower deck was given over chiefly to stores, coal bunkers, the engine room, the stoke-hold, and to a large number of electric accumulators, which kept the electric lights going when the engines were not working. There were, however, on this deck the gymnasium, and a large room, directly under Mr. Pulitzer's bedroom, used to take the overflow from the library.
The engines were designed rather for smooth running than for speed, and twelve knots an hour was the utmost that could be got out of them, the average running speed being about eight knots. The yacht had an ample supply of boats, including two steam launches, one burning coal, the other oil.
During my inspection of the yacht I was accompanied by my cabin-steward, a young Englishman who had at one time served aboard the German Emperor's yacht, Meteor. Nothing could have been more courteous than his manner or more intelligent than his explanations; but the moment I tried to draw him out on the subject of life on the yacht he relapsed into a vagueness from which I could extract no gleam of enlightenment. After fencing for some time with my queries he suggested that I might like to have a glass of sherry and a biscuit in the secretaries' library, and, piloting me thither, he left me.
The smoking-room was furnished with writing tables, some luxurious arm chairs, and a comfortable lounge, and every spare nook was filled with book shelves. The contents of these shelves were extremely varied. A cursory glance showed me Meyer's Neues Konversations-Lexicon, The Yacht Register, Whitaker's Almanack, Who's Who, Burke's Peerage, The Almanack de Gotha, the British and the Continental Bradshaw, a number of Baedeker's "Guides," fifty or sixty volumes of the Tauchnitz edition, a large collection of files of reviews and magazines--The Nineteenth Century, Quarterly, Edinburgh, Fortnightly, Contemporary, National, Atlantic, North American, Revue de Deux Mondes--and a scattering of volumes by Kipling, Shaw, Hosebery, Pater, Ida Tarbell, Bryce, Ferrero, Macaulay, Anatole France, Maupassant, "Dooley," and a large number of French and German plays. I was struck by the entire absence of books of travel and scientific works.
I spent part of the afternoon in the drawing-room playing a large instrument of the gramophone type. There were several hundred records-- from grand opera, violin solos by Kreisler, and the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, to rag-time and the latest comic songs.
Before the time came to dress for dinner I had met the captain and some of the officers of the yacht. They were all very civil; and my own experience as a sailor enabled me to see that they were highly efficient men. I was a good deal puzzled, however, by something peculiar but very elusive in their attitude toward me, something which I had at once detected in the manner of my cabin-steward.
With their courtesy was mingled a certain flavor of curiosity tinged with amusement, which, so far from being offensive, was distinctly friendly, but which, nevertheless, gave me a vague sense of uneasiness. In fact the whole atmosphere of the yacht was one of restlessness and suspense; and the effect was heightened because each person who spoke to me appeared to be on the point of divulging some secret or delivering
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