Speaking of our pilgrims reminds me that we have one or two people among us who are sometimes an annoyance. However, I do not count the Oracle in that list. I will explain that the Oracle is an innocent old ass who eats for four and looks wiser than the whole Academy of France would have any right to look, and never uses a one-syllable word when he can think of a longer one, and never by any possible chance knows the meaning of any long word he uses or ever gets it in the right place; yet he will serenely venture an opinion on the most abstruse subject and back it up complacently with quotations from authors who never existed, and finally when cornered will slide to the other side of the question, say he has been there all the time, and come back at you with your own spoken arguments, only with the big words all tangled, and play them in your very teeth as original with himself. He reads a chapter in the guidebooks, mixes the facts all up, with his bad memory, and then goes off to inflict the whole mess on somebody as wisdom which has been festering in his brain for years and which he gathered in college from erudite authors who are dead now and out of print. This morning at breakfast he pointed out of the window and said:

"Do you see that there hill out there on that African coast? It's one of them Pillows of Herkewls, I should say--and there's the ultimate one alongside of it."

"The ultimate one--that is a good word--but the pillars are not both on the same side of the strait." (I saw he had been deceived by a carelessly written sentence in the guidebook.)

"Well, it ain't for you to say, nor for me. Some authors states it that way, and some states it different. Old Gibbons don't say nothing about it--just shirks it complete--Gibbons always done that when he got stuck-- but there is Rolampton, what does he say? Why, be says that they was both on the same side, and Trinculian, and Sobaster, and Syraccus, and Langomarganbl----"

"Oh, that will do--that's enough. If you have got your hand in for inventing authors and testimony, I have nothing more to say--let them be on the same side."

We don't mind the Oracle. We rather like him. We can tolerate the Oracle very easily, but we have a poet and a good-natured enterprising idiot on board, and they do distress the company. The one gives copies of his verses to consuls, commanders, hotel keepers, Arabs, Dutch--to anybody, in fact, who will submit to a grievous infliction most kindly meant. His poetry is all very well on shipboard, notwithstanding when he wrote an "Ode to the Ocean in a Storm" in one half hour, and an "Apostrophe to the Rooster in the Waist of the Ship" in the next, the transition was considered to be rather abrupt; but when he sends an invoice of rhymes to the Governor of Fayal and another to the commander in chief and other dignitaries in Gibraltar with the compliments of the Laureate of the Ship, it is not popular with the passengers.

The other personage I have mentioned is young and green, and not bright, not learned, and not wise. He will be, though, someday if he recollects the answers to all his questions. He is known about the ship as the "Interrogation Point," and this by constant use has become shortened to "Interrogation." He has distinguished himself twice already. In Fayal they pointed out a hill and told him it was 800 feet high and 1,100 feet long. And they told him there was a tunnel 2,000 feet long and 1,000 feet high running through the hill, from end to end. He believed it. He repeated it to everybody, discussed it, and read it from his notes. Finally, he took a useful hint from this remark, which a thoughtful old pilgrim made:

"Well, yes, it is a little remarkable--singular tunnel altogether--stands up out of the top of the hill about two hundred feet, and one end of it sticks out of the hill about nine hundred!"

Here in Gibraltar he corners these educated British officers and badgers them with braggadocio about America and the wonders she can perform! He told one of them a couple of our gunboats could come here and knock Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea!

At this present moment half a dozen of us are taking a private pleasure excursion of our own devising. We form rather more than half the list of white passengers on board a small steamer bound for the venerable Moorish town of Tangier, Africa. Nothing could be more absolutely certain than that we are enjoying ourselves. One can not do otherwise who speeds over these sparkling waters and breathes the soft atmosphere of this sunny land. Care cannot assail us here. We are out of its jurisdiction.

The Innocents Abroad Page 28

Mark Twain

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Mark Twain
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