Chapter IV

By Mark Twain
From Following the Equator (1897).

A dozen direct censures are easier to bear than one morganatic compliment.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

Sailed from Honolulu.- From diary:

Sept. 2. Flocks of flying fish-slim, shapely, graceful, and intensely white. With the sun on them they look like a flight of silver fruit- knives. They are able to fly a hundred yards.

Sept. 3. In 9 deg. 50' north latitude, at breakfast. Approaching the equator on a long slant. Those of us who have never seen the equator are a good deal excited. I think I would rather see it than any other thing in the world. We entered the "doldrums" last night--variable winds, bursts of rain, intervals of calm, with chopping seas and a wobbly and drunken motion to the ship--a condition of things findable in other regions sometimes, but present in the doldrums always. The globe- girdling belt called the doldrums is 20 degrees wide, and the thread called the equator lies along the middle of it.

Sept. 4. Total eclipse of the moon last night. At 1.30 it began to go off. At total--or about that--it was like a rich rosy cloud with a tumbled surface framed in the circle and projecting from it--a bulge of strawberry-ice, so to speak. At half-eclipse the moon was like a gilded acorn in its cup.

Sept. 5. Closing in on the equator this noon. A sailor explained to a young girl that the ship's speed is poor because we are climbing up the bulge toward the center of the globe; but that when we should once get over, at the equator, and start down-hill, we should fly. When she asked him the other day what the fore-yard was, he said it was the front yard, the open area in the front end of the ship. That man has a good deal of learning stored up, and the girl is likely to get it all.

Afternoon. Crossed the equator. In the distance it looked like a blue ribbon stretched across the ocean. Several passengers kodak'd it. We had no fool ceremonies, no fantastics, no horse play. All that sort of thing has gone out. In old times a sailor, dressed as Neptune, used to come in over the bows, with his suite, and lather up and shave everybody who was crossing the equator for the first time, and then cleanse these unfortunates by swinging them from the yard-arm and ducking them three times in the sea. 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. At the close of the first inning I was 10 worse than nothing and Smith had scored 7. The luck continued against me. When I was 57, Smith was 97-- within 3 of out. The luck changed then. He picked up a 10-off or so, and couldn't recover. I beat him.

The next game would end tournament No. 1.

Mr. Thomas and I were the contestants. He won the lead and went to the bat--so to speak. And there he stood, with the crotch of his cue resting against his disk while the ship rose slowly up, sank slowly down, rose again, sank again. She never seemed to rise to suit him exactly. She started up once more; and when she was nearly ready for the turn, he let drive and landed his disk just within the left-hand end of the 10. (Applause). The umpire proclaimed " a good 10," and the game-keeper set it down. I played: my disk grazed the edge of Mr. Thomas's disk, and went out of the diagram. (No applause.)

Mr. Thomas played again--and landed his second disk alongside of the first, and almost touching its right-hand side. " Good 10." (Great applause.)

I played, and missed both of them. (No applause.)

Mr. Thomas delivered his third shot and landed his disk just at the right of the other two. " Good 10." (Immense applause.)

There they lay, side by side, the three in a row. It did not seem possible that anybody could miss them. Still I did it. (Immense silence.)

Mr. Thomas played his last disk. It seems incredible, but he actually landed that disk alongside of the others, and just to the right of them-a straight solid row of 4 disks. (Tumultuous and long-continued applause.)

Then I played my last disk. Again it did not seem possible that anybody could miss that row--a row which would have been 14 inches long if the disks had been clamped together; whereas, with the spaces separating them they made a longer row than that. But I did it. It may be that I was getting nervous.

I think it unlikely that that innings has ever had its parallel in the history of horse-billiards. To place the four disks side by side in the 10 was an extraordinary feat; indeed, it was a kind of miracle. To miss them was another miracle. It will take a century to produce another man who can place the four disks in the 10; and longer than that to find a man who can't knock them out. I was ashamed of my performance at the time, but now that I reflect upon it I see that it was rather fine and difficult.

Mr. Thomas kept his luck, and won the game, and later the championship.

In a minor tournament I won the prize, which was a Waterbury watch. I put it in my trunk. In Pretoria, South Africa, nine months afterward, my proper watch broke down and I took the Waterbury out, wound it, set it by the great clock on the Parliament House (8.05), then went back to my room and went to bed, tired from a long railway journey. The parliamentary clock had a peculiarity which I was not aware of at the time-- a peculiarity which exists in no other clock, and would not exist in that one if it had been made by a sane person; on the half-hour it strikes the succeeding hour, then strikes the hour again, at the proper time. I lay reading and smoking awhile; then, when I could hold my eyes open no longer and was about to put out the light, the great clock began to boom, and I counted ten. I reached for the Waterbury to see how it was getting along. It was marking 9.30. It seemed rather poor speed for a three- dollar watch, but I supposed that the climate was affecting it. I shoved it half an hour ahead; and took to my book and waited to see what would happen. At 10 the great clock struck ten again. I looked--the Waterbury was marking half-past 10. This was too much speed for the money, and it troubled me. I pushed the hands back a half hour, and waited once more; I had to, for I was vexed and restless now, and my sleepiness was gone. By and by the great clock struck 11. The Waterbury was marking 10.30. I pushed it ahead half an hour, with some show of temper. By and by the great clock struck 11 again. The Waterbury showed up 11.30, now, and I beat her brains out against the bedstead. I was sorry next day, when I found out.

To return to the ship.

The average human being is a perverse creature; and when he isn't that, he is a practical joker. The result to the other person concerned is about the same: that is, he is made to suffer. The washing down of the decks begins at a very early hour in all ships; in but few ships are any measures taken to protect the passengers, either by waking or warning them, or by sending a steward to close their ports. And so the deckwashers have their opportunity, and they use it. They send a bucket of water slashing along the side of the ship and into the ports, drenching the passenger's clothes, and often the passenger himself. This good old custom prevailed in this ship, and under unusually favorable circumstances, for in the blazing tropical regions a removable zinc thing like a sugarshovel projects from the port to catch the wind and bring it in; this thing catches the wash-water and brings it in, too--and in flooding abundance. Mrs. L, an invalid, had to sleep on the locker--sofa under her port, and every time she over-slept and thus failed to take care of herself, the deck-washers drowned her out.

And the painters, what a good time they had! This ship would be going into dock for a month in Sydney for repairs; but no matter, painting was going on all the time somewhere or other. The ladies' dresses were constantly getting ruined, nevertheless protests and supplications went for nothing. Sometimes a lady, taking an afternoon nap on deck near a ventilator or some other thing that didn't need painting, would wake up by and by and find that the humorous painter had been noiselessly daubing that thing and had splattered her white gown all over with little greasy yellow spots.

The blame for this untimely painting did not lie with the ship's officers, but with custom. As far back as Noah's time it became law that ships must be constantly painted and fussed at when at sea; custom grew out of the law, and at sea custom knows no death; this custom will continue until the sea goes dry.

Sept. 8.--Sunday. We are moving so nearly south that we cross only about two meridians of longitude a day. This morning we were in longitude 178 west from Greenwich, and 57 degrees west from San Francisco. To-morrow we shall be close to the center of the globe--the 180th degree of west longitude and 180th degree of east longitude.

And then we must drop out a day-lose a day out of our lives, a day never to be found again. We shall all die one day earlier than from the beginning of time we were foreordained to die. We shall be a day behindhand all through eternity. We shall always be saying to the other angels, "Fine day today," and they will be always retorting, "But it isn't to-day, it's tomorrow." We shall be in a state of confusion all the time and shall never know what true happiness is.

Next Day. Sure enough, it has happened. Yesterday it was September 8, Sunday; to-day, per the bulletin-board at the head of the companionway, it is September 10, Tuesday. There is something uncanny about it. And uncomfortable. In fact, nearly unthinkable, and wholly unrealizable, when one comes to consider it. While we were crossing the 180th meridian it was Sunday in the stern of the ship where my family were, and Tuesday in the bow where I was. They were there eating the half of a fresh apple on the 8th, and I was at the same time eating the other half of it on the 10th--and I could notice how stale it was, already. The family were the same age that they were when I had left them five minutes before, but I was a day older now than I was then. The day they were living in stretched behind them half way round the globe, across the Pacific Ocean and America and Europe; the day I was living in stretched in front of me around the other half to meet it. They were stupendous days for bulk and stretch; apparently much larger days than we had ever been in before. All previous days had been but shrunk-up little things by comparison. The difference in temperature between the two days was very marked, their day being hotter than mine because it was closer to the equator.

Along about the moment that we were crossing the Great Meridian a child was born in the steerage, and now there is no way to tell which day it was born on. The nurse thinks it was Sunday, the surgeon thinks it was Tuesday. The child will never know its own birthday. It will always be choosing first one and then the other, and will never be able to make up its mind permanently. This will breed vacillation and uncertainty in its opinions about religion, and politics, and business, and sweethearts, and everything, and will undermine its principles, and rot them away, and make the poor thing characterless, and its success in life impossible. Every one in the ship says so. And this is not all--in fact, not the worst. For there is an enormously rich brewer in the ship who said as much as ten days ago, that if the child was born on his birthday he would give it ten thousand dollars to start its little life with. His birthday was Monday, the 9th of September.

If the ships all moved in the one direction--westward, I mean--the world would suffer a prodigious loss--in the matter of valuable time, through the dumping overboard on the Great Meridian of such multitudes of days by ships crews and passengers. But fortunately the ships do not all sail west, half of them sail east. So there is no real loss. These latter pick up all the discarded days and add them to the world's stock again; and about as good as new, too; for of course the salt water preserves them.

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