The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain

Chapter 4

We plowed along bravely for a week or more, and without any conflict of jurisdiction among the captains worth mentioning. The passengers soon learned to accommodate themselves to their new circumstances, and life in the ship became nearly as systematically monotonous as the routine of a barrack. I do not mean that it was dull, for it was not entirely so by any means — but there was a good deal of sameness about it. As is always the fashion at sea, the passengers shortly began to pick up sailor terms — a sign that they were beginning to feel at home. Half-past six was no longer half-past six to these pilgrims from New England, the South, and the Mississippi Valley, it was “seven bells”; eight, twelve, and four o’clock were “eight bells”; the captain did not take the longitude at nine o’clock, but at “two bells.” They spoke glibly of the “after cabin,” the “for’rard cabin,” “port and starboard” and the “fo’castle.”

At seven bells the first gong rang; at eight there was breakfast, for such as were not too seasick to eat it. After that all the well people walked arm-in-arm up and down the long promenade deck, enjoying the fine summer mornings, and the seasick ones crawled out and propped themselves up in the lee of the paddle-boxes and ate their dismal tea and toast, and looked wretched. From eleven o’clock until luncheon, and from luncheon until dinner at six in the evening, the employments and amusements were various. Some reading was done, and much smoking and sewing, though not by the same parties; there were the monsters of the deep to be looked after and wondered at; strange ships had to be scrutinized through opera-glasses, and sage decisions arrived at concerning them; and more than that, everybody took a personal interest in seeing that the flag was run up and politely dipped three times in response to the salutes of those strangers; in the smoking room there were always parties of gentlemen playing euchre, draughts and dominoes, especially dominoes, that delightfully harmless game; and down on the main deck, “for’rard” — for’rard of the chicken-coops and the cattle — we had what was called “horse billiards.” Horse billiards is a fine game. It affords good, active exercise, hilarity, and consuming excitement. It is a mixture of “hop-scotch” and shuffleboard played with a crutch. A large hop-scotch diagram is marked out on the deck with chalk, and each compartment numbered. You stand off three or four steps, with some broad wooden disks before you on the deck, and these you send forward with a vigorous thrust of a long crutch. If a disk stops on a chalk line, it does not count anything. If it stops in division No. 7, it counts 7; in 5, it counts 5, and so on. The game is 100, and four can play at a time. That game would be very simple played on a stationary floor, but with us, to play it well required science. We had to allow for the reeling of the ship to the right or the left. Very often one made calculations for a heel to the right and the ship did not go that way. The consequence was that that disk missed the whole hopscotch plan a yard or two, and then there was humiliation on one side and laughter on the other.

When it rained the passengers had to stay in the house, of course — or at least the cabins — and amuse themselves with games, reading, looking out of the windows at the very familiar billows, and talking gossip.

By 7 o’clock in the evening, dinner was about over; an hour’s promenade on the upper deck followed; then the gong sounded and a large majority of the party repaired to the after cabin (upper), a handsome saloon fifty or sixty feet long, for prayers. The unregenerated called this saloon the “Synagogue.” The devotions consisted only of two hymns from the Plymouth Collection and a short prayer, and seldom occupied more than fifteen minutes. The hymns were accompanied by parlor-organ music when the sea was smooth enough to allow a performer to sit at the instrument without being lashed to his chair.

After prayers the Synagogue shortly took the semblance of a writing school. The like of that picture was never seen in a ship before. Behind the long dining tables on either side of the saloon, and scattered from one end to the other of the latter, some twenty or thirty gentlemen and ladies sat them down under the swaying lamps and for two or three hours wrote diligently in their journals. Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days’ voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

One of our favorite youths, Jack, a splendid young fellow with a head full of good sense, and a pair of legs that were a wonder to look upon in the way of length and straightness and slimness, used to report progress every morning in the most glowing and spirited way, and say:

“Oh, I’m coming along bully!” (he was a little given to slang in his happier moods.) “I wrote ten pages in my journal last night — and you know I wrote nine the night before and twelve the night before that. Why, it’s only fun!”

“What do you find to put in it, Jack?”

“Oh, everything. Latitude and longitude, noon every day; and how many miles we made last twenty-four hours; and all the domino games I beat and horse billiards; and whales and sharks and porpoises; and the text of the sermon Sundays (because that’ll tell at home, you know); and the ships we saluted and what nation they were; and which way the wind was, and whether there was a heavy sea, and what sail we carried, though we don’t ever carry any, principally, going against a head wind always — wonder what is the reason of that? — and how many lies Moult has told — Oh, every thing! I’ve got everything down. My father told me to keep that journal. Father wouldn’t take a thousand dollars for it when I get it done.”

“No, Jack; it will be worth more than a thousand dollars — when you get it done.”

“Do you? — no, but do you think it will, though?

“Yes, it will be worth at least as much as a thousand dollars — when you get it done. May be more.”

“Well, I about half think so, myself. It ain’t no slouch of a journal.”

But it shortly became a most lamentable “slouch of a journal.” One night in Paris, after a hard day’s toil in sightseeing, I said:

“Now I’ll go and stroll around the cafes awhile, Jack, and give you a chance to write up your journal, old fellow.”

His countenance lost its fire. He said:

“Well, no, you needn’t mind. I think I won’t run that journal anymore. It is awful tedious. Do you know — I reckon I’m as much as four thousand pages behind hand. I haven’t got any France in it at all. First I thought I’d leave France out and start fresh. But that wouldn’t do, would it? The governor would say, ‘Hello, here — didn’t see anything in France? That cat wouldn’t fight, you know. First I thought I’d copy France out of the guide-book, like old Badger in the for’rard cabin, who’s writing a book, but there’s more than three hundred pages of it. Oh, I don’t think a journal’s any use — do you? They’re only a bother, ain’t they?”

“Yes, a journal that is incomplete isn’t of much use, but a journal properly kept is worth a thousand dollars — when you’ve got it done.”

“A thousand! — well, I should think so. I wouldn’t finish it for a million.”

His experience was only the experience of the majority of that industrious night school in the cabin. If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

A good many expedients were resorted to to keep the excursionists amused and satisfied. A club was formed, of all the passengers, which met in the writing school after prayers and read aloud about the countries we were approaching and discussed the information so obtained.

Several times the photographer of the expedition brought out his transparent pictures and gave us a handsome magic-lantern exhibition. His views were nearly all of foreign scenes, but there were one or two home pictures among them. He advertised that he would “open his performance in the after cabin at ‘two bells’ (nine P.M.) and show the passengers where they shall eventually arrive” — which was all very well, but by a funny accident the first picture that flamed out upon the canvas was a view of Greenwood Cemetery!

On several starlight nights we danced on the upper deck, under the awnings, and made something of a ball-room display of brilliancy by hanging a number of ship’s lanterns to the stanchions. Our music consisted of the well-mixed strains of a melodeon which was a little asthmatic and apt to catch its breath where it ought to come out strong, a clarinet which was a little unreliable on the high keys and rather melancholy on the low ones, and a disreputable accordion that had a leak somewhere and breathed louder than it squawked — a more elegant term does not occur to me just now. However, the dancing was infinitely worse than the music. When the ship rolled to starboard the whole platoon of dancers came charging down to starboard with it, and brought up in mass at the rail; and when it rolled to port they went floundering down to port with the same unanimity of sentiment. Waltzers spun around precariously for a matter of fifteen seconds and then went scurrying down to the rail as if they meant to go overboard. The Virginia reel, as performed on board the Quaker City, had more genuine reel about it than any reel I ever saw before, and was as full of interest to the spectator as it was full of desperate chances and hairbreadth escapes to the participant. We gave up dancing, finally.

Dancing Under Difficulties

We celebrated a lady’s birthday anniversary with toasts, speeches, a poem, and so forth. We also had a mock trial. No ship ever went to sea that hadn’t a mock trial on board. The purser was accused of stealing an overcoat from stateroom No. 10. A judge was appointed; also clerks, a crier of the court, constables, sheriffs; counsel for the State and for the defendant; witnesses were subpoenaed, and a jury empaneled after much challenging. The witnesses were stupid and unreliable and contradictory, as witnesses always are. The counsel were eloquent, argumentative, and vindictively abusive of each other, as was characteristic and proper. The case was at last submitted and duly finished by the judge with an absurd decision and a ridiculous sentence.

The Mock Trial

The acting of charades was tried on several evenings by the young gentlemen and ladies, in the cabins, and proved the most distinguished success of all the amusement experiments.

An attempt was made to organize a debating club, but it was a failure. There was no oratorical talent in the ship.

We all enjoyed ourselves — I think I can safely say that, but it was in a rather quiet way. We very, very seldom played the piano; we played the flute and the clarinet together, and made good music, too, what there was of it, but we always played the same old tune; it was a very pretty tune — how well I remember it — I wonder when I shall ever get rid of it. We never played either the melodeon or the organ except at devotions — but I am too fast: young Albert did know part of a tune something about “O Something-Or-Other How Sweet It Is to Know That He’s His What’s-his-Name” (I do not remember the exact title of it, but it was very plaintive and full of sentiment); Albert played that pretty much all the time until we contracted with him to restrain himself. But nobody ever sang by moonlight on the upper deck, and the congregational singing at church and prayers was not of a superior order of architecture. I put up with it as long as I could and then joined in and tried to improve it, but this encouraged young George to join in too, and that made a failure of it; because George’s voice was just “turning,” and when he was singing a dismal sort of bass it was apt to fly off the handle and startle everybody with a most discordant cackle on the upper notes. George didn’t know the tunes, either, which was also a drawback to his performances. I said:

“Come, now, George, don’t improvise. It looks too egotistical. It will provoke remark. Just stick to ‘Coronation,’ like the others. It is a good tune — you can’t improve it any, just off-hand, in this way.”

“Why, I’m not trying to improve it — and I am singing like the others — just as it is in the notes.”

And he honestly thought he was, too; and so he had no one to blame but himself when his voice caught on the center occasionally and gave him the lockjaw.

There were those among the unregenerated who attributed the unceasing head-winds to our distressing choir-music. There were those who said openly that it was taking chances enough to have such ghastly music going on, even when it was at its best; and that to exaggerate the crime by letting George help was simply flying in the face of Providence. These said that the choir would keep up their lacerating attempts at melody until they would bring down a storm some day that would sink the ship.

There were even grumblers at the prayers. The executive officer said the pilgrims had no charity:

“There they are, down there every night at eight bells, praying for fair winds — when they know as well as I do that this is the only ship going east this time of the year, but there’s a thousand coming west — what’s a fair wind for us is a head wind to them — the Almighty’s blowing a fair wind for a thousand vessels, and this tribe wants him to turn it clear around so as to accommodate one — and she a steamship at that! It ain’t good sense, it ain’t good reason, it ain’t good Christianity, it ain’t common human charity. Avast with such nonsense!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/twain/mark/innocents/chapter4.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05