This was considered funny. Nobody knows why. No, that is not true. We do know why. Such a thing could never be funny on land; no part of the old-time grotesque performances gotten up on shipboard to celebrate the passage of the line would ever be funny on shore--they would seem dreary and less to shore people. But the shore people would change their minds about it at sea, on a long voyage. On such a voyage, with its eternal monotonies, people's intellects deteriorate; the owners of the intellects soon reach a point where they almost seem to prefer childish things to things of a maturer degree. One is often surprised at the juvenilities which grown people indulge in at sea, and the interest they take in them, and the consuming enjoyment they get out of them. This is on long voyages only. The mind gradually becomes inert, dull, blunted; it loses its accustomed interest in intellectual things; nothing but horse-play can rouse it, nothing but wild and foolish grotesqueries can entertain it. On short voyages it makes no such exposure of itself; it hasn't time to slump down to this sorrowful level.
The short-voyage passenger gets his chief physical exercise out of "horse-billiards"--shovel-board. It is a good game. We play it in this ship. A quartermaster chalks off a diagram like this-on the deck.
The player uses a cue that is like a broom-handle with a quarter-moon of wood fastened to the end of it. With this he shoves wooden disks the size of a saucer--he gives the disk a vigorous shove and sends it fifteen or twenty feet along the deck and lands it in one of the squares if he can. If it stays there till the inning is played out, it will count as many points in the game as the figure in the square it has stopped in represents. The adversary plays to knock that disk out and leave his own in its place--particularly if it rests upon the 9 or 10 or some other of the high numbers; but if it rests in the "10off" he backs it up--lands his disk behind it a foot or two, to make it difficult for its owner to knock it out of that damaging place and improve his record. When the inning is played out it may be found that each adversary has placed his four disks where they count; it may be found that some of them are touching chalk lines and not counting; and very often it will be found that there has been a general wreckage, and that not a disk has been left within the diagram. Anyway, the result is recorded, whatever it is, and the game goes on. The game is 100 points, and it takes from twenty minutes to forty to play it, according to luck and the condition of the sea. It is an exciting game, and the crowd of spectators furnish abundance of applause for fortunate shots and plenty of laughter for the other kind. It is a game of skill, but at the same time the uneasy motion of the ship is constantly interfering with skill; this makes it a chancy game, and the element of luck comes largely in.
We had a couple of grand tournaments, to determine who should be "Champion of the Pacific"; they included among the participants nearly all the passengers, of both sexes, and the officers of the ship, and they afforded many days of stupendous interest and excitement, and murderous exercise--for horse-billiards is a physically violent game.
The figures in the following record of some of the closing games in the first tournament will show, better than any description, how very chancy the game is. The losers here represented had all been winners in the previous games of the series, some of them by fine majorities:
Chase,102 Mrs. D.,57 Mortimer, 105 The Surgeon, 92 Miss C.,105 Mrs. T.,9 Clemens, 101 Taylor,92 Taylor,109 Davies,95 Miss C., 108 Mortimer,55 Thomas,102 Roper,76 Clemens, 111 Miss C.,89 Coomber, 106 Chase,98
And so on; until but three couples of winners were left. Then I beat my man, young Smith beat his man, and Thomas beat his. This reduced the combatants to three. Smith and I took the deck, and I led off.