With the hauling taut and making fast of the fore and aft hawsers, a group of sailors broke away from the flat mass and began tugging at the gangplank, lifting it into position, the boatswain’s orders ringing clear. Another group stripped off the tarpaulins from the piles of luggage, and a third—the gangplank in place—swarmed about the heaps of trunks, shouldering the separate pieces as ants shoulder grains of sand, then scurrying toward the tender’s rail, where other ants reached down and relieved them of their loads.
The mass of people below now took on the shape of a funnel, its spout resting on the edge of the gangplank, from out which poured a steady stream of people up and over the Liner’s side.
Two decks below where Miss Jennings and her fellow-travellers were leaning over the steamer’s rail craning their necks, other sights came into view. Here not only the funnel-shaped mass could be seen, but the faces of the individuals composing it, as well as their nationality and class; whether first, second or steerage. There, too, was the line of stewards reaching out with open hands, relieving the passengers of their small belongings; here too stood the First Officer in white gloves and gold lace bowing to those he knew and smiling at others; and here too was a smooth-shaven, closely-knit young man in dark clothes and derby hat, who had taken up his position just behind the First Officer, and whose steady steel gray eyes followed the movements of each and every one of the passengers from the moment their feet touched the gangplank until they had disappeared in charge of the stewards.
These passengers made a motley group: first came a stout American with two pretty daughters; then a young Frenchman and his valet; then a Sister of Charity draped in black, her close-fitting, white, starched cap and broad white collar framing her face, one hand clutching the rope rail as she stepped feebly toward the steamer, the other grasping a bandbox, her only luggage; next wriggled some college boys in twos and threes, and then the rest of the hurrying mass, followed close by a herd of emigrants crowding and stumbling like sheep, the men with pillow-case bundles over their backs, the women with babies muffled in shawls.
When the last passenger was aboard, the closely-knit young man with the steel gray eyes leaned forward and said in a low voice to the First Officer:
“He’s not in this bunch.”
“Where will you look for him now, Hobson?” continued the officer.
“Paris, maybe. I told the Chief we wouldn’t get anywhere on this lead. Well, so long”—and the closely-knit young man swung himself down the gangplank and disappeared into the cabin of the tender.
The scenes on the gangplank were now repeated on the steamer. The old travellers, whose hand luggage had been properly numbered, gave themselves no concern—the stewards would look after their belongings. The new travellers—the Sister of Charity among them—wandered about asking questions that for the moment no one had time to answer. She, poor soul, had spent her life in restful places, and the in-rush of passengers and their proper bestowal seemed to have completely dazed her.