Though Robert has always loved the sea, the conditions on the S.S. Massanabie are grim. The ship rocks violently as it moves through cold, stormy waters. The men are crowded together in small bunks and makeshift latrines that lack any privacy, and the stuffy, polluted air causes some of them to pass out. Robert and the other officers try their best to prevent mutiny as the soldiers resort to fighting for entertainment.
The men’s struggle with the rough sea water and polluted air is symbolic of the larger struggle between life and death that they will soon face at war. The poor conditions on the ship also suggest that the military does not value the soldiers’ lives enough to prioritize their safety.
Captain Ord, one of Robert’s cabinmates, claims to have lost his voice and spends the rest of the journey in bed reading G.A. Henty novels. Clifford, on the other hand, takes the trip seriously, viewing the war as “deadly serious” and his chance to become a man.
G.A. Henty was a 19th century English author who wrote adventure novels for young adults. Whereas Ord is content to lose himself in the nostalgia of these books, Clifford is eager to shed his childhood innocence. Like Robert, he believes that becoming a war hero is his path to manhood, showing the self-sacrificial mindset that war can create among young men.
Harris, another one of Robert’s cabinmates, catches pneumonia and is sent to the infirmary. Ord, who is Harris’s company commander, appoints Robert as Harris’s successor in overseeing the detail that cares for the horses onboard.
Harris’s illness further demonstrates the army’s trivialization of their soldiers’ health and show that the more mundane aspects of war can be just as dangerous as battle.