The Club In Hoboken by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay

The advertisement ran as follows:

Schooner Hauppauge
By U.S. Marshal,
April 26, 1 P.M.,
Pier G, Erie R.R.,
Weehawken, N.J.
Built at Wilmington, N.C., 1918; net
tonnage 1,295; length 228; equipped with
sails, tackle, etc.

This had taken the eye of the Three Hours for Lunch Club. The club’s interest in nautical matters is well known and it is always looking forward to the day when it will be able to command a vessel of its own. Now it would be too much to say that the club expected to be able to buy the Hauppauge (the first thing it would have done, in that case, would have been to rename her). For it was in the slack and hollow of the week–shall we say, the bight of the week?–just midway between pay-days. But at any rate, thought the club, we can look her over, which will be an adventure in itself; and we can see just how people behave when they are buying a schooner, and how prices are running, so that when the time comes we will be more experienced. Besides, the club remembered the ship auction scene in “The Wrecker” and felt that the occasion might be one of most romantic excitement.

It is hard, it is very hard, to have to admit that the club was foiled. It had been told that at Cortlandt Street a ferry bound for Weehawken might be found; but when Endymion and the Secretary arrived there, at 12:20 o’clock, they learned that the traffic to Weehawken is somewhat sparse. Next boat at 2:40, said a sign. They hastened to the Lackawanna ferry at Barclay Street, thinking that by voyaging to Hoboken and then taking a car they might still be in time. But it was not to be. When the Ithaca docked, just south of the huge red-blotched profile of the rusty rotting Leviathan, it was already 1 o’clock. The Hauppauge, they said to themselves, is already on the block, and if we went up there now to study her, we would be regarded as impostors.

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But the club is philosophic. One Adventure is very nearly as good as another, and they trod ashore at Hoboken with light hearts. It was a day of tender and untroubled sunshine. They had a queer sensation of being in foreign lands. Indeed, the tall tragic funnels of the Leviathan and her motionless derelict masts cast a curious shadow of feeling over that region. For the great ship, though blameless herself, seems a thing of shame, a remembrance of days and deeds that soiled the simple creed of the sea. Her great shape and her majestic hull, pitiably dingy and stark, are yet plainly conscious of sin. You see it in every line of her as she lies there, with the attitude of a great dog beaten and crouching. You wonder how she would behave if she were towed out on the open bright water of the river, under that clear sky, under the eyes of other ships going about their affairs with the self-conscious rectitude and pride that ships have. For ships are creatures of intense caste and self-conscious righteousness. They rarely forgive a fallen sister–even when she has fallen through no fault of her own. Observe the Nieuw Amsterdam as she lies, very solid and spick, a few piers above. Her funnel is gay with bright green stripes; her glazed promenade deck is white and immaculate. But, is there not just a faint suggestion of smugness in her mien? She seems thanking the good old Dutch Deity of cleanliness and respectability that she herself is not like this poor trolloping giantess, degraded from the embrace of ocean and the unblemished circle of the sea.

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That section of Hoboken waterfront, along toward the green promontory crowned by Stevens Institute, still has a war-time flavour. The old Hamburg-American line piers are used by the Army Transport Service, and in the sunshine a number of soldiers, off duty, were happily drowsing on a row of two-tiered beds set outdoors in the April pleasantness. There was a racket of bugles, and a squad seemed to be drilling in the courtyard. Endymion and the Secretary, after sitting on a pier-end watching some barges, and airing their nautical views in a way they would never have done had any pukka seafaring men been along, were stricken with the very crisis of spring fever and lassitude. They considered the possibility of hiring one of the soldiers’ two-tiered beds for the afternoon. Perhaps it is the first two syllables of Hoboken’s name that make it so desperately debilitating to the wayfarer in an April noonshine. Perhaps it was a kind of old nostalgia, for the Secretary remembered that sailormen’s street as it had been some years ago, when he had been along there in search of schooners of another sort.

But anatomizing their anguish, these creatures finally decided that it might not be spring fever, but merely hunger. They saw the statue of the late Mr. Sloan of the Lackawanna Railroad–Sam Sloan, the bronze calls him, with friendly familiarity. The aspiring forelock of that statue, and the upraised finger of Samuel Sullivan Cox (“The Letter Carriers’ Friend”) in Astor Place, the club considers two of the most striking things in New York statuary. Mr. Pappanicholas, who has a candy shop in the high-spirited building called Duke’s House, near the ferry terminal, must be (Endymion thought) some relative of Santa Claus. Perhaps he is Santa Claus, and the club pondered on the quite new idea that Santa Claus has lived in Hoboken all these years and no one had guessed it. The club asked a friendly policeman if there were a second-hand bookstore anywhere near. “Not that I know of,” he said. But they did find a stationery store where there were a number of popular reprints in the window, notably “The Innocence of Father Brown,” and Andrew Lang’s “My Own Fairy Book.”

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But lunch was still to be considered. The club is happy to add The American Hotel, Hoboken, to its private list of places where it has been serenely happy. Consider corned beef hash, with fried egg, excellent, for 25 cents. Consider rhubarb pie, quite adequate, for 10 cents. Consider the courteous and urbane waiter. In one corner of the dining room was the hotel office, with a large array of push buttons communicating with the bedrooms. The club, its imagination busy, conceived that these were for the purpose of awakening seafaring guests early in the morning, so as not to miss their ship. If we were, for instance, second mate of the Hauppauge, and came to port in Hoboken, The American Hotel would be just the place where we would want to put up.

That brings us back to the Hauppauge. We wonder who bought her, and how much he paid; and why she carries the odd name of that Long Island village? If he would only invite us over to see her–and tell us how to get there!

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