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- Europe Revised - 2/47 -
just a few hours' time she had altered her whole nature, and was rolling and sliding and charging and snorting like a warhorse. It was astonishing in the extreme, and you would not have expected it of her.
Even as I focused my mind on this phenomenon the doorway was stealthily entered by a small man in a uniform that made him look something like an Eton schoolboy and something like a waiter in a dairy lunch. I was about to have the first illuminating experience with an English manservant. This was my bedroom steward, by name Lubly--William Lubly. My hat is off to William Lubly--to him and to all his kind. He was always on duty; he never seemed to sleep; he was always in a good humor, and he always thought of the very thing you wanted just a moment or two before you thought of it yourself, and came a-running and fetched it to you. Now he was softly stealing in to close my port. As he screwed the round, brass-faced window fast he glanced my way and caught my apprehensive eye.
"Good morning, sir," he said, and said it in such a way as to convey a subtle compliment.
"Is it getting rough outside?" I said--I knew about the inside. "Thank you," he said; "the sea 'as got up a bit, sir--thank you, sir."
I was gratified--nay more, I was flattered. And it was so delicately done too. I really did not have the heart to tell him that I was not solely responsible--that I had, so to speak, collaborators; but Lubly stood ready always to accord me a proper amount of recognition for everything that happened on that ship. Only the next day, I think it was, I asked him where we were. This occurred on deck. He had just answered a lady who wanted to know whether we should have good weather on the day we landed at Fishguard and whether we should get in on time. Without a moment's hesitation he told her; and then he turned to me with the air of giving credit where credit is due, and said:
"Thank you, sir--we are just off the Banks, thank you."
Lubly ran true to form. The British serving classes are ever like that, whether met with at sea or on their native soil. They are a great and a noble institution. Give an English servant a kind word and he thanks you. Give him a harsh word and he still thanks you. Ask a question of a London policeman--he tells you fully and then he thanks you. Go into an English shop and buy something--the clerk who serves you thanks you with enthusiasm. Go in and fail to buy something--he still thanks you, but without the enthusiasm.
One kind of Englishman says Thank you, sir; and one kind--the Cockney who has been educated--says Thenks; but the majority brief it into a short but expressive expletive and merely say: Kew. Kew is the commonest word in the British Isles. Stroidinary runs it a close second, but Kew comes first. You hear it everywhere. Hence Kew Gardens; they are named for it.
All the types that travel on a big English-owned ship were on ours. I take it that there is a requirement in the maritime regulations to the effect that the set must be complete before a ship may put to sea. To begin with, there was a member of a British legation from somewhere going home on leave, for a holiday, or a funeral. At least I heard it was a holiday, but I should have said he was going home for the other occasion. He wore an Honorable attached to the front of his name and carried several extra initials behind in the rumble; and he was filled up with that true British reserve which a certain sort of Britisher always develops while traveling in foreign lands. He was upward of seven feet tall, as the crow flies, and very thin and rigid.
Viewing him, you got the impression that his framework all ran straight up and down, like the wires in a bird cage, with barely enough perches extending across from side to side to keep him from caving in and crushing the canaries to death. On second thought I judge I had better make this comparison in the singular number --there would not have been room in him for more than one canary.
Every morning for an hour, and again every afternoon for an hour, he marched solemnly round and round the promenade deck, always alone and always with his mournful gaze fixed on the far horizon. As I said before, however, he stood very high in the air, and it may have been he feared, if he ever did look down at his feet, he should turn dizzy and be seized with an uncontrollable desire to leap off and end all; so I am not blaming him for that.
He would walk his hour out to the sixtieth second of the sixtieth minute and then he would sit in his steamer chair, as silent as a glacier and as inaccessible as one. If it were afternoon he would have his tea at five o'clock and then, with his soul still full of cracked ice, he would go below and dress for dinner; but he never spoke to anyone. His steamer chair was right-hand chair to mine and often we practically touched elbows; but he did not see me once.
I had a terrible thought. Suppose now, I said to myself--just suppose that this ship were to sink and only we two were saved; and suppose we were cast away on a desert island and spent years and years there, never knowing each other's name and never mingling together socially until the rescue ship came along--and not even then unless there was some mutual acquaintance aboard her to introduce us properly! It was indeed a frightful thought! It made me shudder.
Among our company was a younger son going home after a tour of the Colonies--Canada and Australia, and all that sort of bally rot. I believe there is always at least one younger son on every well-conducted English boat; the family keeps him on a remittance and seems to feel easier in its mind when he is traveling. The British statesman who said the sun never sets on British possessions spoke the truth, but the reporters in committing his memorable utterance to paper spelt the keyword wrong--undoubtedly he meant the other kind--the younger kind.
This particular example of the species was in every way up to grade and sample. A happy combination of open air, open pores and open casegoods gave to his face the exact color of a slice of rare roast beef; it also had the expression of one. With a dab of English mustard in the lobe of one ear and a savory bit of watercress stuck in his hair for a garnish, he could have passed anywhere for a slice of cold roast beef.
He was reasonably exclusive too. Not until the day we landed did he and the Honorable member of the legation learn--quite by chance --that they were third cousins--or something of that sort--to one another. And so, after the relationship had been thoroughly established through the kindly offices of a third party, they fraternized to the extent of riding up to London on the same boat-train, merely using different compartments of different carriages. The English aristocrat is a tolerably social animal when traveling; but, at the same time, he does not carry his sociability to an excess. He shows restraint.
Also, we had with us the elderly gentleman of impaired disposition, who had crossed thirty times before and was now completing his thirty-first trip, and getting madder and madder about it every minute. I saw him only with his clothes on; but I should say, speaking offhand, that he had at least fourteen rattles and a button. His poison sacs hung 'way down. Others may have taken them for dewlaps, but I knew better; they were poison sacs.
It was quite apparent that he abhorred the very idea of having to cross to Europe on the same ocean with the rest of us, let alone on the same ship. And for persons who were taking their first trip abroad his contempt was absolutely unutterable; he choked at the bare mention of such a criminal's name and offense. You would hear him communing with himself and a Scotch and soda.
"Bah!" he would say bitterly, addressing the soda-bottle. "These idiots who've never been anywhere talking about this being rough weather! Rough weather, mind you! Bah! People shouldn't be allowed to go to sea until they know something about it. Bah!"
By the fourth day out his gums were as blue as indigo, and he was so swelled up with his own venom he looked dropsical. I judged his bite would have caused death in from twelve to fourteen minutes, preceded by coma and convulsive rigors. We called him old Colonel Gila Monster or Judge Stinging Lizard, for short.
There was the spry and conversational gentleman who looked like an Englishman, but was of the type commonly denominated in our own land as breezy. So he could not have been an Englishman. Once in a while there comes along an Englishman who is windy, and frequently you meet one who is drafty; but there was never a breezy Englishman yet.
With that interest in other people's business which the close communion of a ship so promptly breeds in most of us, we fell to wondering who and what he might be; but the minute the suspect came into the salon for dinner the first night out I read his secret at a glance. He belonged to a refined song-and-dance team doing sketches in vaudeville. He could not have been anything else--he had jet buttons on his evening clothes.
There was the young woman--she had elocutionary talents, it turned out afterward, and had graduated with honors from a school of expression--who assisted in getting up the ship's concert and then took part in it, both of those acts being mistakes on her part, as it proved.
And there was the official he-beauty of the ship. He was without a wrinkle in his clothes--or his mind either; and he managed to maneuver so that when he sat in the smoking room he always faced a mirror. That was company enough for him. He never grew lonely or bored then. Only one night he discovered something wrong about one of his eyebrows. He gave a pained start; and then, oblivious of those of us who hovered about enjoying the spectacle, he spent a long time working with the blemish. The eyebrow was stubborn, though, and he just couldn't make it behave; so he grew petulant and fretful, and finally went away to bed in a huff. Had it not been for fear of stopping his watch, I am sure he would have slapped himself on the wrist.
This fair youth was one of the delights of the voyage. One felt that if he had merely a pair of tweezers and a mustache comb and a hand glass he would never, never be at a loss for a solution of the problem that worries so many writers for the farm journals--a way to spend the long winter evenings pleasantly.
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