5.20. Passing Quarantine Hulk. The infallible has done the business for all the party except the Scotchman's wife and the author of that formidable remedy.
Nearing the Light-Ship. Exit the Scotchman's wife, head drooped on stewardess's shoulder.
Entering the open sea. Exit doctor!
The rout seems permanent; hence the smallness of the company at table since the voyage began. Our captain is a grave, handsome Hercules of thirty-five, with a brown hand of such majestic size that one cannot eat for admiring it and wondering if a single kid or calf could furnish material for gloving it.
Conversation not general; drones along between couples. One catches a sentence here and there. Like this, from Bermudian of thirteen years' absence: "It is the nature of women to ask trivial, irrelevant, and pursuing questions--questions that pursue you from a beginning in nothing to a run-to-cover in nowhere." Reply of Bermudian of twenty-seven years' absence: "Yes; and to think they have logical, analytical minds and argumentative ability. You see 'em begin to whet up whenever they smell argument in the air." Plainly these be philosophers.
Twice since we left port our engines have stopped for a couple of minutes at a time. Now they stop again. Says the pale young man, meditatively, "There!--that engineer is sitting down to rest again."
Grave stare from the captain, whose mighty jaws cease to work, and whose harpooned potato stops in midair on its way to his open, paralyzed mouth. Presently he says in measured tones, "Is it your idea that the engineer of this ship propels her by a crank turned by his own hands?"
The pale young man studies over this a moment, then lifts up his guileless eyes, and says, "Don't he?"
Thus gently falls the death-blow to further conversation, and the dinner drags to its close in a reflective silence, disturbed by no sounds but the murmurous wash of the sea and the subdued clash of teeth.
After a smoke and a promenade on deck, where is no motion to discompose our steps, we think of a game of whist. We ask the brisk and capable stewardess from Ireland if there are any cards in the ship.
"Bless your soul, dear, indeed there is. Not a whole pack, true for ye, but not enough missing to signify."
However, I happened by accident to bethink me of a new pack in a morocco case, in my trunk, which I had placed there by mistake, thinking it to be a flask of something. So a party of us conquered the tedium of the evening with a few games and were ready for bed at six bells, mariner's time, the signal for putting out the lights.
There was much chat in the smoking-cabin on the upper deck after luncheon to-day, mostly whaler yarns from those old sea-captains. Captain Tom Bowling was garrulous. He had that garrulous attention to minor detail which is born of secluded farm life or life at sea on long voyages, where there is little to do and time no object. He would sail along till he was right in the most exciting part of a yarn, and then say, "Well, as I was saying, the rudder was fouled, ship driving before the gale, head-on, straight for the iceberg, all hands holding their breath, turned to stone, top-hamper giving 'way, sails blown to ribbons, first one stick going, then another, boom! smash! crash! duck your head and stand from under! when up comes Johnny Rogers, capstan-bar in hand, eyes a-blazing, hair a-flying . . . no, 'twa'n't Johnny Rogers. . . lemme see . . seems to me Johnny Rogers wa'n't along that voyage; he was along one voyage, I know that mighty well, but somehow it seems to me that he signed the articles for this voyage, but--but--whether he come along or not, or got left, or something happened--"
And so on and so on till the excitement all cooled down and nobody cared whether the ship struck the iceberg or not.
In the course of his talk he rambled into a criticism upon New England degrees of merit in ship building. Said he, "You get a vessel built away down Maine-way; Bath, for instance; what's the result? First thing you do, you want to heave her down for repairs--that's the result! Well, sir, she hain't been hove down a week till you can heave a dog through her seams.