If I had been harbouring hopes that the Grand Turk would be the least impressive exemplar of a riverboat possible, I was sorely disappointed on arrival at the wharves. In superficial degree, the Enterprise was similar to the Turk in many respects: there were no masts or rigging or any tackle at all. Just two large and indifferently housed paddles on either side of a long, flat barge-like hull, sitting low and turgid in the water like a whale in wait, if ever such beasts lay in wait for anything. Two improbably tall stacks were a little forward of amidships and - though the vessel was at anchor and seemed fastened along-side by the only hemp in evidence aboard – these sooty tubes belched forth a black and acrid smoke at frequent intervals. The pilot house had – at some long distant time - been fully-glazed. Now however, such glass as remained was a danger to all in terms of sharp edges. The view to the larboard side of this edifice was obscured by two highly contrasting pairs of pantaloons which had been fastened - one hoped in a temporary arrangement – to provide either privacy or shelter. I doubted their efficacy in the latter case.
Toward the stern, a miniature terrace of wooden-shackery of sharply contrasting styles evinced the availability of state-rooms, although clearly the state of which one was reminded most was Mr Swift's imaginary isle of homunculi. Immediately aft of these infinite varieties of accommodation, was a long, low structure, boasting only one entrance. Outwith this stood a man in clothes of uncertain provenance, in as much as it was difficult to tell whether they had originally been of cloth or leather. I approached him to ask the whereabouts of the Ship's Agent's office. He replied with some immediacy if not with great clarity,
'F'yer fixin' tuh travel, I'm your man. Ain't no Agent's Office. Leastways not now.'
'Well, I have passage booked,' I began, and the fellow continued as though I had not.
'State-room fer the show-folks, least the durn manager. Hell, ah usetuh sleep in that office!'
'Passage booked in the name of Northrup,' I hardened my voice a little.
'Whyncha say?' He stepped aside.
The hall-like superstructure was filled with tables placed end-to-end in the manner of a refectory, although the hubbub did not put one in mind of any religious or scholarly institution. Given the hour – a little after eight – the agglomeration of tea, coffee, bread, butter, salmon, shad, liver, steak, potatoes, pickles, ham, chops, black-puddings and sausages* could only have been breakfast. I could scarcely squeeze into a chair between a rapidly moving un-matched pair of elbows. Each of these was attached to a figure of some corpulence, each of these in turn was intent on maintaining or improving on this state of affairs, judging by the debris before them. No sooner had I made myself comfortable than two black men ran the length of the table several times in quick succession removing every dish and plate. This collection they piled upon a large sheet or tablecloth of which they each took hold by two corners and then bore the whole away as though it were some battle-slain unfortunate on a litter.
The two fellows at my side, having cleaned their forks and knives with diligent tongues, stood and began, with the help of the fellows opposite, to fold away the table at which we had been sitting. This action was repeated the length of the long refectory. A quantity of the tables, numbering about half of the total, were stockpiled at one end of the long room, to one side of a noxious and extremely noisy stove. The remaining tables, save one, were used as battering rams to force passengers, both those bearing their own tables and those without, aside from the plum positions; that is to say, in the vicinity of the stove. Toward the other end of the hall, two passengers erected a table quite close to the wall of the long room. A chest stood padlocked hard against the wall just behind the table. The Ship's Agent entered, brandishing a large and tarnished key. He removed bottles in some number from the chest and I resolved to breakfast on some alcoholic tincture, thinking that the journey ahead might require more fortitude than I currently felt.