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NJE had another full day at sea, after Madeira-a VV day of reflection and reminiscence, for each of us had some special joy to recall. Perhaps that of the Diplomat was as picturesque as any. He told it to me privately, but a thing like that should not be allowed to remain concealed forever; besides, the young lady is in darkest Germany now and does not know English, anyway. That last-named fact was responsible for the incident.
The Diplomat had just landed at the bottom of the slide, he said, when two of our party-Americans -came along with a bright-faced and quite stylish
looking German girl who was not having a very good time because they knew no German and she no English. It was clearly a case for the Diplomat, who is an unattached person, full of the joy of travel and familiar with all languages, living and dead.
He had not been presented to the young German person on the ship, but he had seen her now and again in company with an older, rather plain - looking woman, very likely her maid. No doubt the young woman was a countess, or a baroness, or at all events a person of station and importance. Politely enough he proffered his services as escort, was accepted, and the two set out gayly to enjoy the halcyon Madeira afternoon.
She was a most sociable companion, the Diplomat said, ready for anything that resembled a good time. They visited places of interest; they dropped into little shops; he bought flowers for her; they had refreshments here and there—dainty dishes and pleasant Madeira wines—keeping up, meantime, their merry German clatter. They became quite gay, in fact, and whenever they met any of the ship party, which they did frequently enough, the Diplomat, as he confessed to me, became rather vain and showyset his hat on one side and did a sort of fandarole, accompanying his step with operatic German airs. At such moments she even took his hand and entered into the spirit of the occasion.
Altogether it was a charming experience, and they were both sorry when it was time to return to the ship. Arriving there they were met by the older, plainlooking woman, who greeted his companion with
words that were pleasant enough, gentle enough, but which partook of the nature of a command. Then it dawned upon the Diplomat; it was not the older, plain-looking woman who was the maid!
“I would have done it just the same,” he explained to me in a dark corner of the deck, after dinner, “just the same, of course, being a gentleman, only under the circumstances I might have cut out the cakewalk and the music.”
A ship is a curious place altogether; a place of
narrow limits and close contact, yet full of subterranean depths from which surprises may develop at any moment. The Chief Engineer, to whom I sit next at meals, often quotes meditatively,
“A ship it is a funny thing,
It sails upon the sea—".
The Chief does not recall the rest of the stanza, but we all admit the truth of what he does remember. Ship life on the whole is not like other life; ship characteristics do not altogether resemble those on land.
Take the “Porpoise,” for instance. I have no doubt that the Porpoise on land is a most excellent and industrious business man, more or less absorbed in the daily round of his ventures-a happy-hearted contented Hebrew person, fairly quiet (it doesn't seem possible, but I am willing to believe it), on the whole a good citizen, satisfied if his name appears now and then in the local paper, when he gets in some new line of goods or makes an improvement on his home.
But on shipboard the Porpoise is just-a porpoise. He is fat, as his name implies, and describes revolutions of the ship, blowing constantly. At no time of day and in no part of the ship will you be safe from the Porpoise. He is from an interior town — an unimportant town, by its census and location, but it has become important on this vessel.
He has instructed us upon other subjects, too. Nothing is too complicated, or too deep, or too abstruse for the Porpoise. He will attack any question at sight, and he will puff and spout and describe circles and wallow in his oratory, and follow his audience about until he has swept the deck clean. Yet we love that Porpoise, in spite of everything. He is so happy and harmless and gentle. It is only because he is on a ship that he is a bore.
Also, we love the “Mill.” The Mill is a womana good woman-one of the kindliest souls on earth, I suspect, and her mouth is her warrant for her name. It goes all the time, but it does not deal with important things. Indeed, nothing is too unimportant for her hopper, and she grinds exceeding small. Just now, for an hour or so, she has been explaining that she did not sleep very well last night, and minutely cataloguing the reasons why. She will keep it up for another hour, and then if somebody hasn't dropped her overboard she will dig up something else of equal value and go right on, refreshed and rejoicing in the consciousness of well-doing.
The Mill would not act this way at home—she would not have time. It is only because she is on a ship where everybody is idle and irresponsible and “different,” and likely to be peculiar. As Laura, age fourteen, said to me to-day-paraphrasing the words of the old Quaker spinster to her sister, “I think everybody on this ship is peculiar except thee and me, and sometimes I think thee is a little peculiar.” That expresses the situation, and on the whole we enjoy it. We are like the little boy whose reputation for being a strange child did not interfere with his happiness. “Gee, ain't it great to be crazy!” was his favorite remark, and whatever we may be on this ship, we are content with the conditions, and would not change them, even if we could.