An instant later and combined assaults of manifold officials, pregnant with prying questions and suspicious glances, had driven all thoughts from his mind and those of other steerage passengers that America meant freedom. Never had he been so suddenly and vigorously deluged with such an avalanche of legal interference and investigation. Many a Russian, fleeing here in search of liberty, has been dismayed into concluding that he has but stumbled into a new serfdom, when blue-coats and brass-buttons have descended on him as his ship reached New York Bay.
One arm clasped tight in one of his, the other holding M’riar closely to her side in the dense, swaying crowd, his daughter, as he pondered on these matters, answered questions, worried, was thinking of far different things. Ever since the champion of her cause and her father’s against the common enemy, Moresco, had sprung lightly to the steerage-deck from back of the first-cabin rail, her thoughts had been more of that champion than of all other combined details of these most exciting days. Shy and delighted, venturing on new and untried paths they had been, till now; but now, as the long voyage was ending, she was filled with blank dismay. She had heard the talk about the separation of the steerage passengers from the first-cabin passengers, before they landed, and this gave birth to painfully defined convictions that the dream, which, almost without her knowledge, had sprung into being in her heart, must now abruptly end. She would never see her champion again! The thought led on to others, equally disturbing. For the first time in her life her heart was asking questions of her reason.
Who was she? What was she? Why had her father kept her, all her life, in such seclusion? In London she had noted it and wondered at it, but had been content to make no inquiries, because she had not had the wish to go about and do as, from behind the lattice of the close seclusion which confined her, she saw other girls of her age do. She had never had a close friend in her life, except her father, unless one counted M’riar, humble and devoted worshiper, a friend, or unless some memories of bygone days, so faint that they might well be dreams, and which, sometimes, she thought were dreams, were truth instead of waking fancies. Vague, they were, and shadowy, including visions of a merry life, as a small tot, in a far country, and a lovely woman who sometimes, while propped up with the pillows of a bed, held her to her breast. Then it seemed as if all these delightful things had been brought to an end in one short day. Vaguely she recalled a dreadful time when the great bed on which the lovely woman had reclined was empty.