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Kenan Buel walked the deck alone in the evening light, and felt that he ought to be enjoying the calmness and serenity of the ocean expanse around him after the noise and squalor of London; but now that the excitement of the recent quarrel was over, he felt the reaction, and his natural diffidence led him to blame himself. Most of the passengers were below, preparing for dinner, and he had the deck to himself. As he turned on one of his rounds, he saw approaching him the girl of Euston Station, as he mentally termed her. She had his book in her hand.
"I have come to beg your pardon," she said. "I see it was your own book I took from you to-day."
"My own book!" cried Buel, fearing she had somehow discovered his guilty secret.
"Yes. Didn't you buy this for yourself?" She held up the volume.
"Oh, certainly. But you are quite welcome to it, I am sure."
"I couldn't think of taking it away from you before you have read it."
"But I have read it," replied Buel, eagerly: "and I shall be very pleased to lend it to you."
"Indeed? And how did you manage to read it without undoing the parcel?"
"That is to say I--I skimmed over it before it was done up," he said in confusion. The clear eyes of the girl disconcerted him, and, whatever his place in fiction is now, he was at that time a most unskilful liar.
"You see, I bought it because it is written by a namesake of mine. My name is Buel, and I happened to notice that was the name on the book; in fact, if you remember, when you were looking over it at the stall, the clerk mentioned the author's name, and that naturally caught my attention."
The girl glanced with renewed interest at the volume.
"Was this the book I was looking at? The story I bought was Hodden's latest. I found it a moment ago down in my state-room, so it was not lost after all."
They were now walking together as if they were old acquaintances, the girl still holding the volume in her hand.
"By the way," she said innocently, "I see on the passenger list that there is a Mr. Hodden on board. Do you think he can be the novelist?"
"I believe he is," answered Buel, stiffly.
"Oh, that will be too jolly for anything. I would so like to meet him. I am sure he must be a most charming man. His books show such insight into human nature, such sympathy and noble purpose. There could be nothing petty or mean about such a man."
"Why, of course there couldn't. You have read his books, have you not?"
"All of them except his latest."
"Well, I'll lend you that, as you have been so kind as to offer me the reading of this one."
"Thank you. After you have read it yourself."
"And when you have become acquainted with Mr. Hodden, I want you to introduce him to me."
"With pleasure. And--and when I do so, who shall I tell him the young lady is?"
The audacious girl laughed lightly, and, stepping back, made him a saucy bow.
"You will introduce me as Miss Caroline Jessop, of New York. Be sure that you say 'New York,' for that will account to Mr. Hodden for any eccentricities of conduct or conversation he may be good enough to notice. I suppose you think American girls are very forward? All Englishmen do."
"On the contrary, I have always understood that they are very charming."
"Indeed? And so you are going over to see?"
Buel laughed. All the depression he felt a short time before had vanished.
"I had no such intention when I began the voyage, but even if I should quit the steamer at Queenstown, I could bear personal testimony to the truth of the statement."
"Oh, Mr. Buel, that is very nicely put. I don't think you can improve on it, so I shall run down and dress for dinner. There is the first gong. Thanks for the book."
The young man said to himself, "Buel, my boy, you're getting on;" and he smiled as he leaned over the bulwark and looked at the rushing water. He sobered instantly as he remembered that he would have to go to his state-room and perhaps meet Hodden. It is an awkward thing to quarrel with your room-mate at the beginning of a long voyage. He hoped Hodden had taken his departure to the saloon, and he lingered until the second gong rang. Entering the stateroom, he found Hodden still there. Buel gave him no greeting. The other cleared his throat several times and then said--
"I have not the pleasure of knowing your name."
"My name is Buel."
"Well, Mr. Buel, I am sorry that I spoke to you in the manner I did, and I hope you will allow me to apologise for doing so. Various little matters had combined to irritate me, and--Of course, that is no excuse. But----"
"Don't say anything more. I unreservedly retract what I was heated enough to say, and so we may consider the episode ended. I may add that if the purser has a vacant berth anywhere, I shall be very glad to take it, if the occupants of the room make no objection."
"You are very kind," said Hodden, but he did not make any show of declining the offer.
"Very well, then, let us settle the matter while we are at it." And Buel pressed the electric button.
The steward looked in, saying,--
"Dinner is ready, gentlemen."
"Yes, I know. Just ask the purser if he can step here for a moment."
The purser came promptly, and if he was disturbed at being called at such a moment he did not show it. Pursers are very diplomatic persons.
"Have you a vacant berth anywhere, purser?"
An expression faintly suggestive of annoyance passed over the purser's serene brow. He thought the matter had been settled. "We have several berths vacant, but they are each in rooms that already contain three persons."
"One of those will do for me; that is, if the occupants have no objection."
"It will be rather crowded, sir."
"That doesn't matter, if the others are willing."
"Very good, sir. I will see to it immediately after dinner."
The purser was as good as his word, and introduced Buel and his portmanteau to a room that contained three wild American collegians who had been doing Europe "on the cheap" and on foot. They received the new-comer with a hilariousness that disconcerted him.
"Hello, purser!" cried one, "this is an Englishman. You didn't tell us you were going to run in an Englishman on us."
"Never, mind, we'll convert him on the way over."
"I say, purser, if you sling a hammock from the ceiling and put up a cot on the floor you can put two more men in here. Why didn't you think of that?"
"It's not too late yet. Why did you suggest it?"
"Gentlemen," said Buel, "I have no desire to intrude, if it is against your wish."
"Oh, that's all right. Never mind them. They have to talk or die. The truth is, we were lonesome without a fourth man."
"What's his name, purser?"
"My name is Buel."
One of them shouted out the inquiry, "What's the matter with Buel?" and all answered in concert with a yell that made the steamer ring, "He's all right."
"You'll have to sing 'Hail Columbia' night and morning if you stay in this cabin."
"Very good," said Buel, entering into the spirit of the occasion. "Singing is not my strong point, and after you hear me at it once, you will be glad to pay a heavy premium to have it stopped."
"Say, Buel, can you play poker?"
"No, but I can learn."
"That's business. America's just yearning for men who can learn. We have had so many Englishmen who know it all, that we'll welcome a change. But poker's an expensive game to acquire."
"Don't be bluffed, Mr. Buel. Not one of the crowd has enough money left to buy the drinks all round. We would never have got home if we hadn't return tickets."
"Say, boys, let's lock the purser out, and make Buel an American citizen before he can call for help. You solemnly swear that you hereby and hereon renounce all emperors, kings, princes, and potentates, and more especially--how does the rest of it go!"
"He must give up his titles, honours, knighthoods, and things of that sort."
"Say, Buel, you're not a lord or a duke by any chance? Because, if you are, we'll call back the purser and have you put out yet."
"No, I haven't even the title esquire, which, I understand, all American citizens possess."
"Oh, you'll do. Now, I propose that Mr. Buel take his choice of the four bunks, and that we raffle for the rest."
When Buel reached the deck out of this pandemonium, he looked around for another citizen of the United States, but she was not there. He wondered if she were reading his book, and how she liked it.
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