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Being the story told by the holder of the sixth ball, Mr. Monty St. Vincent.
A donkey engine, next to a Sophomore at a football match that is going his way, is the noisiest thing man ever made, and No. 4-11-44, who travelled first-class on the American liner New York, was not inclined to let anybody forget the fact. He held a commanding position on the roof of the deck state-room No. 10, just aft of the forecastle stringer No. 3, and over the main jib-stay boom No. 67/8, that held the rudder-chains in place. All the little Taffrails and Swashbucklers looked up to him, and the Capstan loved him like a brother, for he very often helped the Capstan to bring the Anchor aboard, when otherwise that dissipated bit of iron would have staid out all night. The Port Tarpaulins insisted that the Donkey Engine was the greatest humorist that ever lived, although the Life Preservers hanging by the rail did not like him at all, because he once said they were Irish—“Cork all through,” said he. Even the Rivets that held the Top Gallant Bilges together used to strain their eyes to see the points of the Donkey Engine’s jokes, and the third Deputy-assistant Piston Rod, No. 683, in the hatchway stoke-hole, used to pound the cylinders almost to pieces trying to encore the Donkey Engine’s comic songs.
The Main Mast used to say that the Donkey Engine was as bright as the Starboard Lights, and the Smoke Stack is said to have told the Safety Valve that he’d rather give up smoking than lose the constant flow of wit the Donkey Engine was always giving forth.
Findlayson discovered all this. After his Bridge had gone safely through that terrible ordeal when the Ganges rose and struck for higher tides, Findlayson collapsed. The Bridge—But that is another story. This is this one, and there is little profit in telling two stories at once, especially in a day when one can get the two stories printed separately in the several magazines for which one writes exclusively.
After the ordeal of the Kashi Bridge, Findlayson, as I have said, collapsed, and it is no wonder, as you will see for yourself when you read that other story. As the Main Girder of the Bridge itself wrote later to the Suspension Cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, “It’s a wonder to me that the Sahib didn’t have the Bashi-bazouks earlier in the game. He suffered a terrible strain that night.”
To which the Cables of the Brooklyn Bridge wittily replied that while they sympathized with Findlayson, they didn’t believe he really knew what strain was. “Wait until he has five lines of trolley-cars running over him all day and night. That is a strain! He’d be worse cut up than ever if he had that. And yet we thrive under it. After all, for solid health, it’s better to be a Bridge than a Man. When are you coming across?”
Now Findlayson might have collapsed a dozen times before the Government would have cared enough to give him the vacation he needed. Not that Government is callous, like an elephant, but because it is conducted, as a witty Cobra once remarked in the jungle as he fascinated a Tigress, by a lot of Red Tapirs. Findlayson put in an application for a six months’ vacation, but by the time the necessary consent had reached him the six months were up. Everybody remembers the tale of Dorkins of the Welsh Fusileers and his appointment to the Department of the Poloese, how his term of office was to be six years, and how by the time his credentials reached him his term of office had expired. So with Findlayson. On the very date of the expiration of his desired leave he received permission to go, and of course could not then do so, because it was too late. Fortunately for Findlayson, however, the Viceroy himself happened to be passing through, and Findlayson entertained him at a luncheon on the Bridge. By some curious mistake, when the nuts and raisins were passed, Findlayson had provided a plateful of steel nuts, designed to hold rivets in place, instead of the usual assortment of almonds and hiki-ree.
“This man needs a rest,” said the Viceroy, as he broke his front tooth trying to crack one of the steel nuts, and he immediately extended Findlayson’s leave to twenty years without pay, for which Findlayson was very grateful.
“What is the matter with the man?” asked the Viceroy, as he drove to the station with the practising Jinrikshaw of the place.
“It’s my professional opinion,” replied the Jinrikshaw, “that the Sahib has a bad attack of melancholia. He hasn’t laughed for six months. If we could only get him to laugh, I think he’d recover.”
“Then it was not in a jocular spirit that he ruined my teeth with those nuts?” demanded the Viceroy, taking a small mirror out of his pocket and gazing ruefully on his ruined smile.
“No, your most Excellent Excellency,” replied the Jinrikshaw. “The fact that he ate five of them himself shows that it was an error, not a jest.”
It was thus that Findlayson got his vacation, and even to this day the Kaskalooloo folk are laughing over his error more heartily than they ever laughed over a joke.
A month after leaving his post Findlayson reached London, where he was placed under the care of the most famous physicians. They did everything they could to make him laugh, without success. Punch was furnished, and he read it through day after day, and burst into hysterical weeping. They took him to the theatres, and he never even smiled. They secured a front seat in the House of Commons for him during important debates, and he merely sobbed. They took him to the Army and Navy Stores, and he shivered with fear. Even Beerbohm Tree as Lady Macbeth, or whatever rôle it was he was playing at the time, failed to coax the old-time dimple to his cheek. His friends began to whisper among themselves that “old Findlayson was done for,” when Berkeley Hauksbee, who had been with him in the Soudan, suggested a voyage to the United States.
“He’ll see enough there to laugh at, or I’m an unshod, unbroken, saw-backed, shark-eating skate!” he asserted, and as a last resource Findlayson was packed, bag and baggage, aboard the liner New York.
The first three days out Findlayson was dead to the world. He lay like a fallen log in the primeval forest. Stewards were of no avail. Even the repeated calls of the doctor, whose apprehensions were aroused, could not restore him to life.
“They’ll be sewin’ him up in a jute bag and droppin’ him overboard if he doesn’t come to by to-morrow,” observed the Water Bottle to the Soap Dish, with a sympathetic glance at the prostrate Findlayson.
“He’ll be seasicker than ever if they do,” returned the Soap Dish. “It’s a long swim from here to Sandy Hook.”
But Findlayson came to in time to avert the catastrophe, and took several turns up and down the deck. He played horse-billiards with an English curate, but showed no sign of interest or amusement even at the curious aspect of the ladies who lay inert in the steamer chairs ranged along the deck.
“I’m afraid it’s hopeless,” said Peroo, his valet, shaking his head sadly. “Unless I take him in hand myself.” And Peroo was seized with an idea.
“I’ll do it!” he cried.
He approached Findlayson.
“The Sahib will not laugh,” he said. “He will not smile even. He has not snickered all day. Take these, then. They’re straight opium, but there’s fun in them.”
He took a small zinc bait-box from his fishing-kit and handed it to Findlayson, who, on opening it, found a dozen or more brown pellets. Hastily swallowing six of them, the sick man turned over in his bunk and tried to go to sleep, while Peroo went into the smoking-room for a game of Pok-Kah with a party of Drummerz who were crossing to America.
A soft yellow haze suffused the state-room, and Findlayson, nervously starting to his feet to see what had caused it, was surprised to find himself confronted by a grinning row of Technicalities ranged in a line upon the sofa under the port, while seated upon his steamer trunk was the Donkey Engine 4-11-44.
“Well, here we are,” said the Deck Beam, addressing the Donkey Engine. “What are we here for?”
“That’s it,” said the Capstan. “We’ve left our places at your command. Now, why?”
“I wanted you to meet my friend Findlayson,” said the Donkey Engine. “He’s a good fellow. Findlayson, let me present you to my associates—Mr. Capstan, Mr. Findlayson. And that gentleman over in the corner, Mr. Findlayson, is the Starboard Upper Deck Stringer. Rivet, come over here and meet Mr. Findlayson. The Davits will be here in a minute, and the Centrifugal Bilge Pump will drop in later.”
“I’m glad to meet you all,” said Findlayson, rather dazed.
“Thought you would be,” returned the Donkey Engine. “That’s why I asked them to come up.”
“Do you mind if I smoke in here?” said the Funnel.
“Not a bit,” said Findlayson, solemnly. “Let me offer you a cigar.”
The party roared at this.
“He doesn’t smoke cigars, Fin, old boy,” said the Donkey Engine. “Offer him a ton of coal Perfectos or a basket of kindling Invincibles and he’ll take you up. Old Funnel makes a cigarette of a cord of pine logs, you know.”
“I should think so much smoking would be bad for your nerves,” suggested Findlayson.
“’Ain’t got any,” said the Funnel. “I’m only a Flue, you know. Every once in a while I do get a sooty feeling inside, but beyond that I don’t suffer at all.”
“Where’s the Keel?” asked the Thrust Block, taking off one of his six collars, which hurt his neck.
“He can’t come up to-night,” said the Donkey Engine, with a sly wink at Findlayson, who, however, failed to respond. “The Hold is feeling a little rocky, and the Keel’s got to stay down and steady him.”
Findlayson looked blankly at the Donkey Engine. As an Englishman in a nervously disordered state, he did not seem quite able to appreciate the Donkey Engine’s joke. The latter sighed, shook his cylinder a trifle, and began again.
“Hear about the Bow Anchor’s row with the Captain?” he asked the Garboard Strake.
“No,” replied the Strake. “Wouldn’t he bow?”
“He’d bow all right,” said the Donkey Engine, “but he wouldn’t ank. Result is he’s been put in chains.”
“Serves him right,” said the Bilge Stringer, filling his pipe with Findlayson’s tooth-powder. “Serves him right. He ought to be chucked overboard.”
“True,” said the Donkey Engine. “An anchor can’t be made to ank unless you chuck him overboard.”
The company roared at this, but Findlayson never cracked a smile.
“That is very true,” he said. “In fact, how could an anchor ank, as you put it, without being lowered into the sea?”
“It’s a bad case,” observed Bulwark Plate, in a whisper, to the Upper Deck Plank.
“It floors me,” said the Plank. “I don’t think he’d laugh if his uncle died and left him a million.”
“Shut up,” said the Donkey Engine. “We’ve got to do it or bust. Let’s try again.”
Then he added, aloud,
“Say, Technicalities, did you ever hear that riddle of the Starboard Coal Bunker’s?”
The company properly had not.
“Well, the Starboard Coal Bunker got it off at Lady Airshaft’s last reception at Binks’s Ship-yard: ‘What’s the difference between a man-o’-war going through the Suez Canal under tow of a tug-boat and a boiler with a capacity of 6000 tons of steam loaded to 7000 tons, with no safety-valve, in charge of an engineer who has a certificate from Bellevue Hospital showing that he is a good ambulance-driver, but supports a widowed mother and seven uncles upon no income to speak of, all of which is invested in Spanish fours, bought on a margin of two per cent. in a Wall Street bucket-shop conducted by two professional card-players from Honolulu under indictment at San Francisco for arson?’”
“Tutt!” said the Rudder. “What a chestnut! I was brought up on riddles of that kind. They can’t climb a tree.”
“Nope,” said the Donkey Engine. “That’s not the answer.”
“You don’t know it yourself,” suggested the Funnel.
“Nope,” said the Donkey Engine.
“Well, what the deuce is the answer?” said Findlayson, irritably.
“Give it up—the rest of you?” cried the Donkey Engine.
“We do,” they roared in chorus.
“I’m surprised at you,” said the Donkey Engine. “It’s very simple indeed. The man-o’-war going through the Suez Canal under tow of a tug-boat has a pull—and the other hasn’t, don’t you know—eh?”
Findlayson scratched his forehead.
“I don’t see—” he began.
“There is no reason why you should. You’re not feeling well,” interrupted the Donkey Engine, “but it’s a good riddle—eh?”
“Quite so,” said Findlayson.
“It’s long, anyhow,” said the Screw.
“Which we can’t say for to-day’s run—only 867 miles?” suggested the Donkey Engine, interrogatively.
“It’s long enough,” growled the Screw.
“It certainly is, if it is reckoned in minutes,” retorted the Donkey Engine. “I never knew such a long day.”
And so they continued in an honest and technical effort to restore Findlayson. But he wouldn’t laugh, and finally the Screw and the Centrifugal Bilge Pump and the Stringers and the other well-meaning Technicalities rose up to leave. Day was approaching, and all were needed at their various posts.
“Good-night—or good-morning, Findlayson,” said the Donkey Engine. “We’ve had a very pleasant night. I am only sorry, however, we cannot make you laugh.”
“I never laugh,” said Findlayson. “But tell me, old chap, are you really human? You talk as if you were.”
“No,” returned the Donkey Engine, sadly. “I am neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. I’m a bivalve—a cockney bivalve,” he added.
“Oh,” replied Findlayson, with a gesture of deprecation, “you are not a clam!”
“No,” the Donkey Engine replied, as with a sudden inspiration; “but I’m a hoister.”
And Findlayson burst into a paroxysm of mirth—it must be remembered that he was English—the like of which the good old liner never heard before.
And later, when Peroo returned, having won at Pok-Kah with the Drummerz, he found his master sleeping like the veriest child.
Findlayson was saved.
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