THE RETURN

WE left Copenhagen with regrets, for the entity of the town was very
romantic and attractive. Even the humble New Haven, where we sheltered
from the eye of the harbor-master, had its charm for us. It was the real
sailors’ quarter, thoroughly ungentlemanly and downright. The shops on
each side of the creek were below the level of the street and even of
the water, and every one of them was either a café, with mysterious
music heating behind glazed doors, or an emporium of some sort for
sailors. Revelries began in the afternoon. You might see a nice neat
Danish wife guiding an obstreperously intoxicated Danish sailor down the
steps leading to a cigar shop. Not a pleasant situation for a nice wife!
But, then, you reflected that he was a sailor, and that he had doubtless
been sober and agreeable a short while before, and would soon be sober
and agreeable again; and that perhaps there were great compensations
in his character. At night Bacchus and Pan were the true gods of that
quarter, and the worship of them was loud and yet harmonious.

We prepared reluctantly to depart; the engine also. The engine would not
depart, and it was a new engine. Two hours were spent in wheedling and
conciliating its magneto. After that the boat traveled faster than it
had ever traveled. We passed out of Copenhagen into the sound, leaving
a noble array of yachts behind, and so up the sound. Soon Copenhagen
was naught but a bouquet of copper domes, and its beautiful women became
legendary with us, and our memory heightened their beauty. And then the
engine developed a “knock.” Now, in a small internal-combustion engine
a “knock” may be due to bad petrol or to a misplacement of the magneto
or to a hundred other schisms in the secret economy of the affair.
We slowed to half-speed and sought eagerly the origin of the “knock,”
which, however, remained inexplicable. We were engloomed; we were in
despair.

We had just decided to stop the engine when it stopped of itself, with a
fearful crash of broken metal One side of the casing was shattered. The
skipper’s smile was tragical. The manliness of all of us trembled under
the severity of the ordeal which fate had administered. To open out
the engine-box and glance at the wreck in the depths thereof was
heart-rending. We could not closely examine the chaos of steel and brass
because it was too hot, but we knew that the irremediable had occurred
in the bowels of the _Velsa_. We made sail, and crawled back to the
sound, and mournfully anchored with our unseen woe among the other
yachts.

The engine was duly inspected bit by bit; and it appeared that only the
bearing of the forward piston was broken, certainly owing to careless
mounting of the engine in the shops. It was an enormous catastrophe, but
perhaps not irremediable.

Indeed, within a short time the skipper was calculating that he could
get a new bearing made in Copenhagen in twenty-four hours. Anyhow,
we had to reconcile ourselves to a second visit to Copenhagen. And
Copenhagen, a few hours earlier so sweet a name in our ears, was now
hateful to us, a kind of purgatory to which we were condemned for the
sins of others.

[Illustration: 0216]

The making and fitting of the new bearing occupied just seventy hours.
During this interminable period we enjoyed the scenery of the sound and
grew acquainted with its diverse phenomena. The weather, if wet, was
calm, and the surface of the water smooth; but every steamer that passed
would set up a roll that flung hooks, if not crockery, about the saloon.
And the procession of steamers in both directions was constant from
five a. m. to midnight. They came from and went to every part of
the archipelago and of Sweden and of northern Germany. We gradually
understood that at Copenhagen railways are a trifle, and the sea a
matter of the highest importance. Nearly all traffic is seaborne.

We discovered, too, that the immediate shore of the sound, and of the
yacht-basin scooped out of it, was a sort of toy seaside resort for
the city. Part of the building in which the Royal Danish Yacht Club
is housed was used as a public restaurant, with a fine terrace that
commanded the yacht-club landing-stage and all the traffic of the sound.
Moreover, it was a good restaurant, except that the waiters seemed to be
always eating some titbit on the sly.

Here we sat and watched the business and pleasure of the sound. The
czar’s yacht came to anchor, huge and old-fashioned and ungraceful, with
a blue-and-white standard large enough to make a suit of sails for a
schooner–the biggest yacht afloat, I think, but not a pleasing object,
though better than the antique ship of the Danish king. The unwieldy
ceremoniousness of Russian courts seemed to surround this pompous
vessel, and the solitary tragedy of imperial existence was made manifest
in her. Ah, the savage and hollow futility of saluting guns! The two
English royal yachts, both of which we saw in the neighborhood, were in
every way strikingly superior to the Russian.

Impossible to tire of the spectacle offered by that restaurant terrace.
At night the steamers would slip down out of Copenhagen one after the
other to the ends of the Baltic, and each was a moving parterre of
electricity on the darkness. And then we would walk along the nocturnal
shore and find it peopled with couples and larger groups, whose bicycles
were often stacked in groups, too. And the little yachts in the little
yacht-basin were each an illuminated household! A woman would emerge
from a cabin and ask a question of a man on the dark bank, and he would
flash a lantern-light in her face like a missile, and “Oh!” she would
cry. And farther on the great hulk which is the home of the Copenhagen
Amateur Sailing Club would be lit with festoons of lamps, and from
within it would come the sounds of song and the laughter of two sexes.
And then we would yell, “_Velsa_, ahoy!” and keep on yelling until all
the lightly clad couples were drawn out of the chilly night like moths
by the strange English signaling. And at last the _Velsa_ would wake
up, and the dinghy would detach itself from her side, and we would go
aboard. But not until two o’clock or so would the hilarity and music of
the Amateur Sailing Club cease, and merge into a frantic whistling for
taxicabs from the stand beyond the restaurant.

Then a few hours’ slumber, broken by nightmares of the impossibility of
ever quitting Copenhagen, and we would get up and gaze at the sadness
of the dismantled engine, and over the water at the yachts dozing
and rocking in the dawn. And on a near yacht, out of the maw of a
forecastle-hatch left open for air, a half-dressed sailor would appear,
and yawn, and stretch his arms, and then begin to use a bucket on the
yacht’s deck.

[Illustration: 0221]

The day was born. A green tug would hurry northward, splashing; and the
first of the morning steamers would arrive from some mystical distant
island, a vessel, like most of the rest, of about six hundred tons, red
and black funnels, the captain looking down at us from the bridge; a
nice handful of passengers, including a few young women in bright
hats; everything damp and fresh, and everybody expectant and braced
for Copenhagen. A cheerful, ordinary sight! And then our skipper would
emerge, and the cook with my morning apple on a white plate. And the
skipper would say, “We ought to be able to make a start to-day, sir.”
And on the third day we did make a start, the engine having been
miraculously recreated; and we left Copenhagen, hating it no more.

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