I was up early that Sabbath morning and was early to breakfast. I felt a perfectly natural desire to have a good, long, unprejudiced look at the passengers at a time when they should be free from self-consciousness--which is at breakfast, when such a moment occurs in the lives of human beings at all.
I was greatly surprised to see so many elderly people--I might almost say, so many venerable people. A glance at the long lines of heads was apt to make one think it was all gray. But it was not. There was a tolerably fair sprinkling of young folks, and another fair sprinkling of gentlemen and ladies who were noncommittal as to age, being neither actually old or absolutely young.
The next morning we weighed anchor and went to sea. It was a great happiness to get away after this dragging, dispiriting delay. I thought there never was such gladness in the air before, such brightness in the sun, such beauty in the sea. I was satisfied with the picnic then and with all its belongings. All my malicious instincts were dead within me; and as America faded out of sight, I think a spirit of charity rose up in their place that was as boundless, for the time being, as the broad ocean that was heaving its billows about us. I wished to express my feelings--I wished to lift up my voice and sing; but I did not know anything to sing, and so I was obliged to give up the idea. It was no loss to the ship, though, perhaps.
It was breezy and pleasant, but the sea was still very rough. One could not promenade without risking his neck; at one moment the bowsprit was taking a deadly aim at the sun in midheaven, and at the next it was trying to harpoon a shark in the bottom of the ocean. What a weird sensation it is to feel the stem of a ship sinking swiftly from under you and see the bow climbing high away among the clouds! One's safest course that day was to clasp a railing and hang on; walking was too precarious a pastime.
By some happy fortune I was not seasick. That was a thing to be proud of. I had not always escaped before. If there is one thing in the world that will make a man peculiarly and insufferably self-conceited, it is to have his stomach behave itself, the first day it sea, when nearly all his comrades are seasick. Soon a venerable fossil, shawled to the chin and bandaged like a mummy, appeared at the door of the after deckhouse, and the next lurch of the ship shot him into my arms. I said:
"Good-morning, Sir. It is a fine day."
He put his hand on his stomach and said, "Oh, my!" and then staggered away and fell over the coop of a skylight.
Presently another old gentleman was projected from the same door with great violence. I said:
"Calm yourself, sir--there is no hurry. It is a fine day, Sir."
He, also, put his hand on his stomach and said "Oh, my!" and reeled away.
In a little while another veteran was discharged abruptly from the same door, clawing at the air for a saving support I said:
"Good morning, Sir. It is a fine day for pleasuring. You were about to say--"
I thought so. I anticipated him, anyhow. I stayed there and was bombarded with old gentlemen for an hour, perhaps; and all I got out of any of them was "Oh, my!"
I went away then in a thoughtful mood. I said, this is a good pleasure excursion. I like it. The passengers are not garrulous, but still they are sociable. I like those old people, but somehow they all seem to have the "Oh, my" rather bad.
I knew what was the matter with them. They were seasick. And I was glad of it. We all like to see people seasick when we are not, ourselves. Playing whist by the cabin lamps when it is storming outside is pleasant; walking the quarterdeck in the moonlight is pleasant; smoking in the breezy foretop is pleasant when one is not afraid to go up there; but these are all feeble and commonplace compared with the joy of seeing people suffering the miseries of seasickness.
I picked up a good deal of information during the afternoon. At one time I was climbing up the quarterdeck when the vessel's stem was in the sky; I was smoking a cigar and feeling passably comfortable. Somebody ejaculated:
"Come, now, that won't answer. Read the sign up there--NO SMOKING ABAFT THE WHEEL!"
It was Captain Duncan, chief of the expedition. I went forward, of course. I saw a long spyglass lying on a desk in one of the upper-deck staterooms back of the pilothouse and reached after it--there was a ship in the distance.
"Ah, ah--hands off! Come out of that!"
I came out of that. I said to a deck sweep--but in a low voice:
"Who is that overgrown pirate with the whiskers and the discordant voice?"
"It's Captain Bursley--executive officer--sailing master."
I loitered about awhile, and then, for want of something better to do, fell to carving a railing with my knife. Somebody said, in an insinuating, admonitory voice:
"Now, say--my friend--don't you know any better than to be whittling the ship all to pieces that way? You ought to know better than that."
I went back and found the deck sweep.
"Who is that smooth-faced, animated outrage yonder in the fine clothes?"
"That's Captain L****, the owner of the ship--he's one of the main bosses."
In the course of time I brought up on the starboard side of the pilot-house and found a sextant lying on a bench. Now, I said, they "take the sun" through this thing; I should think I might see that vessel through it. I had hardly got it to my eye when someone touched me on the shoulder and said deprecatingly:
"I'll have to get you to give that to me, Sir. If there's anything you'd like to know about taking the sun, I'd as soon tell you as not--but I don't like to trust anybody with that instrument. If you want any figuring done--Aye, aye, sir!"
He was gone to answer a call from the other side. I sought the deck sweep.
"Who is that spider-legged gorilla yonder with the sanctimonious countenance?"
"It's Captain Jones, sir--the chief mate."
"Well. This goes clear away ahead of anything I ever heard of before. Do you--now I ask you as a man and a brother --do you think I could venture to throw a rock here in any given direction without hitting a captain of this ship?"
"Well, sir, I don't know--I think likely you'd fetch the captain of the watch maybe, because he's a-standing right yonder in the way."
I went below--meditating and a little downhearted. I thought, if five cooks can spoil a broth, what may not five captains do with a pleasure excursion?