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INTRODUCING THE REPROBATES
W E are a week at sea now, and have been making
w our courtesy to the sunrise half an hour earlier every morning. That is to say, we have gained three hours and a half, and when the first bugle blows for half-past seven, and commands us to get up and muss around and be ready for the next bugle half an hour later, it means in the well-regulated civilized country we've left behind that it's just four o'clock, and time to turn over and settle down and really enjoy life. The result is you swear at the bugler, when you ought to love him for the trouble he takes to get you up in time for breakfast.
After breakfast, the deck. It is good to walk around and around the promenade these fine mornings down here, even though the sea keeps billowy and the horizon line lifts and falls with its majestic swing. You are no longer disturbed by it. Your body has adapted itself to the motion,and sways like an inverted pendulum. You feel that you have your sea-legs almost as well as the stewards, and this makes you proud and showy before the other passengers. It is February, but it is not cold down in this violet, semitropic sea. The air is fresh enough, but it is soft and gratifying, and one almost imagines that he can smell flowers in it. Perhaps it is a fact, too, for we are not far from land now; we shall reach Madeira to-morrow morning
Yet somehow the thought of land is not exciting. I do not believe any of us are eager for it. We are quite restored now, even the Diplomat, and the days on shipboard are serene and pleasantly satisfying.
So many happy things go to make up the day. It is refreshing to play shuffleboard on the after deck with Laura, age fourteen, and her companion, the only other girl of her age on board. It is inspiring to hear the band play every morning at ten when one is not too close to the strenuous music. I suppose beating a bass drum and cymbals makes muscle, and the man does not realize how strong he is. It is diverting to drift into the smoking-room-now that I do not mind its fragrance any more—and watch the Apostle (so christened because of his name and general build and inspired look) winning money from the Colonel at piquet, while the Horse Doctor discusses the philosophies of life in a manner at least pleasing to the unregenerates.
I should add, I suppose, that the Horse Doctor is not really that by profession, but having been dubbed so one day by his fellow-Reprobates, the Apostle and the Colonel, his cheerful reply: “Yes, I expect to be taken for one-travelling, as I do, with a couple of asses,” fixed the title for him permanently. We enjoy. the Reprobates. They are so ingenuous in their morals, and are corrupting the smoking-room in such a frank, unrestricted way. We enjoy their arguments too, they are so free and personal. We disapprove of the Reprobates, but we love them because we are
human and born in sin, and they stand for all things we would like to do-if we dared.
It is inviting and comfortable almost anywhere on the ship these days. It is good just to sit in the sun and dream; to lean over the rail and watch the little rainbow that travels with us, the white lace that the ship makes in its majestic sweep, to wander back to the stern and follow the interminable wake of the screw as it stretches back beyond the horizon line. Then there is the sunset; it was wonderful to-night. The air was perfectly clear, the sun a red disk going down cleanly cut into the sea. Laura and I saw it from amidships, looking out across the high stern of the vessel that sank now below the horizon, then lifted into the sky. Even the chief engineer and the ship's doctor came out to look at it, and told us to watch for the green sun which would appear the instant after setting. Later-after dinner, I mean, we danced.
They have put a stout awning over the quarter-deck and strung a lot of electric globes there so that when the music is going and the illumination is turned on, the place is gay and pretty and cosey, and those of us who have not danced for twenty years or more begin to sit up straighter when the music starts, and presently we forget that all is vanity and life a sorry mess at best, and look about for a partner, and there on the wide, lifting, falling quarter - deck caper away the years. It is not so much wonder, then, that the prospect of land does not arouse any feverish interest. We are willing to go right on sailing for a while and not bother about land at all.
IT was a mistake, however, to be indifferent to MaI deira. We are no longer so. Whatever enthusiasm we lacked beforehand we have acquired now. Of all fair, jewelled islands of the sea, it is the particular gem. Not one of us on this ship but has made up his mind to go to Madeira again some day, and to stay there and live happy ever after; or, if not during life, to try to exchange a corner of heaven for it when he dies.
We knew nothing about Madeira except what the little prospectus told us, and the day before arrival we began to look up guide-book information on the subject. There was not much of this on the ship; I suspect that there is not much anywhere. Madeira was known to the Phoenicians, of course, that race of people who knew everything, went everywhere, built all the first cities, invented all the arts, named everything, and then perished. I ought to be sorry that they perished, I suppose, but I'm not. I've heard enough of that tribe on this ship.
The Patriarch is stuffed full of Phænician statistics, and to touch any line of historical discussion in his hearing is like tripping over a cord attached to a spring gun. He is as fatal as an Irishman I once knew who was perfectly adorable until some question of race came up. Then it was time to stand from under. According to Malone there was originally but one race—the Irish. All the early saints were Irish; so was Abraham; so was Noah; so was Adam; so was—but that is far enough back. I remember hearing him tell one night how, in a later day, when Alexander the Great set out to conquer Asia, he first sent emissaries to make peace with Ireland as a precaution against being attacked in the rear.
. But I am beginning to wander. There is no trace of the Phoenicians, I believe, on Madeira to-day, and the early history of the island is mainly mythical. When ancient Mediterranean sailors went exploring a little into the Atlantic and saw its purple form rise on the horizon they decided that it must be the mouth of hell, or at all events the abode of evil creatures, and hastily turned back. One account says that in the course of time a gentleman named Taxicabprobably the inventor of the vehicle later known by that name—and his companion were shipwrecked on Madeira and set up a monument in celebration of the event. I don't know what became of Taxicab and his friend or the monument, but about the same time it was discovered again by a Portuguese named Zargo, who set it afire as a means of clearing the land