Page images

deepens as we creep farther around; the wedge shortens, contracts to a cone, a pyramid- the level sea changes to a desert. The feeling somehow grows that Africa has reclaimed its own--the Lion of England has become a pyramid of the sands.



UR first day in the Mediterranean was without

a flaw. It was a quiet, sunlit day—just pleasantly warm—the ship steady as a rock on that luminous, level sea. No wonder the ancients did not want to leave these placid tides and venture out upon the dark tossing Atlantic which they could see foaming just beyond the Pillars of Hercules. No wonder they peopled those hungry wastes with monsters and evil spirits. Here, on this tranquil sea, there were no unfamiliar dangers. The summer shores that shut them in held all their world-a golden world of romance wherein gods mingled with the affairs of men; where fauns and hamadryads flitted through the groves; where nereids and tritons sported along the waves.

We have all day and night to get to Algiers-now less than three hundred miles away—so we are just loafing along making wide circles—“to test the compass,” one of the officers said a while ago. I did not know they had to test compasses, and I'm rather doubtful about the matter, still. I suspect that officer is enjoying himself quietly at our expense. I suspect it, because he is the same officer who told the Credulous One the other day when the ship was rolling heavily, that the jarring, beating sound we heard every now and then was made by the ship running over whales. The noise was really made by the screw lifting out of the water, and pounding the surface with its blades, but the Credulous One, who is a trusting soul--a stout lady of middle age and gentle spirit-believed the whale story and repeated it around the ship. She said how many whales there must be down here, and pitied them whenever she heard that cruel sound.

That officer came along again, a moment ago, and told us that the mountains nearest are called the Sierra de Gata, which sounds true. Somewhere beyond them lies Grenada and the Alhambra, and there, too, is the old, old city of Cordova, capital of the Moorish kings, and for three hundred years one of the greatest centres of commerce in the world. But these things are only history. What we care for on a day like this is invention-romance and remembering that somewhere beyond that snowy rim Don Quixote and Sancho wandered through the fields of fancy and the woods of dream makes us wish that we might anchor along those shores and follow that vagrant quest.

I drifted into the smoking-room and mentioned these things to the Reprobates, but they did not seem interested. They had the place all to themselves and the Doctor was dozing in one corner--between naps administering philosophy to the Colonel and the Apostle, who were engaged in their everlasting game of piquet. He roused up when I came in to deal out a few comforting remarks.

“What do they care for scenery, or romance," he said, “or anything else except to gamble all day? All you've got to do is to look at them to get an inventory of their characters. Just look at the Colonel for instance; did you ever see a better picture of Captain Kidd ? Made his money out of publishing the Bible without reading it and thinks he must go to the Holy Land now to square himself. And the Apostle, there—look at him! Look at his shape—why, he's likely to blow up, any time. Some people think these are patients of mine. Nice advertisement, a pair like that!”

I thought the Doctor a trifle hard on his fellowReprobates. I thought the Colonel rather handsome, and I had seen him studying his guide-book more than once. As for the Apostle, I said that I never really felt that he was about to blow up; that appearances were often deceitful and very likely there was no immediate danger.

They were not inclined to be sociable--the Colonel and the Apostle. They merely intimated that we might go away, preferably to a place not down on the ship's itinerary, and kept on with their eternal game.

It is curious, the fascination of that game, piquetstill more curious how anybody can ever learn to play it. In fact nobody ever does learn it. There are no rules no discoverable rules.

It is purely an inspirational game, if one may judge from this exhibition of it. After the cards are dealt out, the Colonel picks up his hand, jerks his hat a little lower over his eyes, skins through his assortment, and says “Huh!” At the same time the Apostle puts on his holiest look — chin up, eye drooped, bland and childlike-examines his collection, and says, “Goddlemighty!”

Then they play-that is, they go through the motions. The Colonel puts down a handful of cards and says "Eight.” The Apostle never looks at them, but puts down a bigger handful of his own and says “Eleven.Then the Colonel puts down another lot and says “Fourteen.” Then the Apostle lays down the balance of his stock and the Colonel says, "Hell, Joe," and they set down some figures. When they are through, the Colonel owes the Apostle seven dollars.

Yes, it is a curious game, and would make the Colonel a pauper in time, if nature did not provide other means of adjustment. After the Apostle has his winnings comfortably put away and settled into place, the Colonel takes out a new five-dollar gold piece, regards it thoughtfully, turns it over, reads the date, and comments on its beauty. Then suddenly he slaps it down on the table under his hand.

“Match you, Joe,” he says, “match you for five!"

But the Apostle is wary. He smiles benignly while he turns his face from temptation.

“No you don't,” he says, “never again.”

The Colonel slaps the coin down again, quite smartly.

“Just once, Joe,” he wheedles; “just once, for luck!”

The Apostle strokes his chubby, child-like countenance with the tips of his fingers, still looking awayhis eyes turned heavenward.

“I won't do it, I tell you. No, now go on away. I told you yesterday I wouldn't match you againever.”

« PreviousContinue »