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Chapter 64

When your watch gets out of order you have choice of two things to do:
throw it in the fire or take it to the watch-tinker. The former is the
quickest.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

The Arundel Castle is the finest boat I have seen in these seas. She is
thoroughly modern, and that statement covers a great deal of ground. She
has the usual defect, the common defect, the universal defect, the defect
that has never been missing from any ship that ever sailed--she has
imperfect beds. Many ships have good beds, but no ship has very good
ones. In the matter of beds all ships have been badly edited, ignorantly
edited, from the beginning. The selection of the beds is given to some
hearty, strong-backed, self-made man, when it ought to be given to a
frail woman accustomed from girlhood to backaches and insomnia. Nothing
is so rare, on either side of the ocean, as a perfect bed; nothing is so
difficult to make. Some of the hotels on both sides provide it, but no
ship ever does or ever did. In Noah's Ark the beds were simply
scandalous. Noah set the fashion, and it will endure in one degree of
modification or another till the next flood.

8 A.M. Passing Isle de Bourbon. Broken-up sky-line of volcanic
mountains in the middle. Surely it would not cost much to repair them,
and it seems inexcusable neglect to leave them as they are.

It seems stupid to send tired men to Europe to rest. It is no proper
rest for the mind to clatter from town to town in the dust and cinders,
and examine galleries and architecture, and be always meeting people and
lunching and teaing and dining, and receiving worrying cables and
letters. And a sea voyage on the Atlantic is of no use--voyage too
short, sea too rough. The peaceful Indian and Pacific Oceans and the
long stretches of time are the healing thing.

May 2, AM. A fair, great ship in sight, almost the first we have seen in
these weeks of lonely voyaging. We are now in the Mozambique Channel,
between Madagascar and South Africa, sailing straight west for Delagoa
Bay.

Last night, the burly chief engineer, middle-aged, was standing telling a
spirited seafaring tale, and had reached the most exciting place, where a
man overboard was washing swiftly astern on the great seas, and uplifting
despairing cries, everybody racing aft in a frenzy of excitement and
fading hope, when the band, which had been silent a moment, began
impressively its closing piece, the English national anthem. As simply
as if he was unconscious of what he was doing, he stopped his story,
uncovered, laid his laced cap against his breast, and slightly bent his
grizzled head. The few bars finished, he put on his cap and took up his
tale again, as naturally as if that interjection of music had been a part
of it. There was something touching and fine about it, and it was moving
to reflect that he was one of a myriad, scattered over every part of the
globe, who by turn was doing as he was doing every hour of the
twenty-four--those awake doing it while the others slept--those
impressive bars forever floating up out of the various climes, never
silent and never lacking reverent listeners.

All that I remember about Madagascar is that Thackeray's little Billie
went up to the top of the mast and there knelt him upon his knee, saying,
"I see

"Jerusalem and Madagascar,
And North and South Amerikee."

May 3. Sunday. Fifteen or twenty Africanders who will end their voyage
to-day and strike for their several homes from Delagoa Bay to-morrow, sat
up singing on the afterdeck in the moonlight till 3 A.M. Good fun and
wholesome. And the songs were clean songs, and some of them were
hallowed by tender associations. Finally, in a pause, a man asked, "Have
you heard about the fellow that kept a diary crossing the Atlantic?"
It was a discord, a wet blanket. The men were not in the mood for
humorous dirt. The songs had carried them to their homes, and in spirit
they sat by those far hearthstones, and saw faces and heard voices other
than those that were about them. And so this disposition to drag in an
old indecent anecdote got no welcome; nobody answered. The poor man
hadn't wit enough to see that he had blundered, but asked his question
again. Again there was no response. It was embarrassing for him. In
his confusion he chose the wrong course, did the wrong thing--began the
anecdote. Began it in a deep and hostile stillness, where had been such
life and stir and warm comradeship before. He delivered himself of the
brief details of the diary's first day, and did it with some confidence
and a fair degree of eagerness. It fell flat. There was an awkward
pause. The two rows of men sat like statues. There was no movement, no
sound. He had to go on; there was no other way, at least none that an
animal of his calibre could think of. At the close of each day's diary,
the same dismal silence followed. When at last he finished his tale and
sprung the indelicate surprise which is wont to fetch a crash of
laughter, not a ripple of sound resulted. It was as if the tale had been
told to dead men. After what seemed a long, long time, somebody sighed,
somebody else stirred in his seat; presently, the men dropped into a low
murmur of confidential talk, each with his neighbor, and the incident was
closed. There were indications that that man was fond of his anecdote;
that it was his pet, his standby, his shot that never missed, his
reputation-maker. But he will never tell it again. No doubt he will
think of it sometimes, for that cannot well be helped; and then he will
see a picture, and always the same picture--the double rank of dead men;
the vacant deck stretching away in dimming perspective beyond them, the
wide desert of smooth sea all abroad; the rim of the moon spying from
behind a rag of black cloud; the remote top of the mizzenmast shearing a
zigzag path through the fields of stars in the deeps of space; and this
soft picture will remind him of the time that he sat in the midst of it
and told his poor little tale and felt so lonesome when he got through.

Fifty Indians and Chinamen asleep in a big tent in the waist of the ship
forward; they lie side by side with no space between; the former wrapped
up, head and all, as in the Indian streets, the Chinamen uncovered; the
lamp and things for opium smoking in the center.

A passenger said it was ten 2-ton truck loads of dynamite that lately
exploded at Johannesburg. Hundreds killed; he doesn't know how many;
limbs picked up for miles around. Glass shattered, and roofs swept away
or collapsed 200 yards off; fragment of iron flung three and a half
miles.

It occurred at 3 p.m.; at 6, L65,000 had been subscribed. When this
passenger left, L35,000 had been voted by city and state governments and
L100,000 by citizens and business corporations. When news of the
disaster was telephoned to the Exchange L35,000 were subscribed in the
first five minutes. Subscribing was still going on when he left; the
papers had ceased the names, only the amounts--too many names; not enough
room. L100,000 subscribed by companies and citizens; if this is true, it
must be what they call in Australia "a record"--the biggest instance of a
spontaneous outpour for charity in history, considering the size of the
population it was drawn from, $8 or $10 for each white resident, babies
at the breast included.

Monday, May 4. Steaming slowly in the stupendous Delagoa Bay, its dim
arms stretching far away and disappearing on both sides. It could
furnish plenty of room for all the ships in the world, but it is shoal.
The lead has given us 3 1/2 fathoms several times and we are drawing
that, lacking 6 inches.

A bold headland--precipitous wall, 150 feet high, very strong, red color,
stretching a mile or so. A man said it was Portuguese blood--battle
fought here with the natives last year. I think this doubtful. Pretty
cluster of houses on the tableland above the red-and rolling stretches of
grass and groups of trees, like England.

The Portuguese have the railroad (one passenger train a day) to the
border--70 miles--then the Netherlands Company have it. Thousands of
tons of freight on the shore--no cover. This is Portuguese allover
--indolence, piousness, poverty, impotence.

Crews of small boats and tugs, all jet black woolly heads and very
muscular.

Winter. The South African winter is just beginning now, but nobody but
an expert can tell it from summer. However, I am tired of summer; we
have had it unbroken for eleven months. We spent the afternoon on shore,
Delagoa Bay. A small town--no sights. No carriages. Three 'rickshas,
but we couldn't get them--apparently private. These Portuguese are a
rich brown, like some of the Indians. Some of the blacks have the long
horse beads and very long chins of the negroes of the picture books; but
most of them are exactly like the negroes of our Southern States round
faces, flat noses, good-natured, and easy laughers.

Flocks of black women passed along, carrying outrageously heavy bags of
freight on their heads. The quiver of their leg as the foot was planted
and the strain exhibited by their bodies showed what a tax upon their
strength the load was. They were stevedores and doing full stevedores
work. They were very erect when unladden--from carrying heavy loads on
their heads--just like the Indian women. It gives them a proud fine
carriage.

Sometimes one saw a woman carrying on her head a laden and top-heavy
basket the shape of an inverted pyramid-its top the size of a soup-plate,
its base the diameter of a teacup. It required nice balancing--and got
it.

No bright colors; yet there were a good many Hindoos.

The Second Class Passenger came over as usual at "lights out" (11) and we
lounged along the spacious vague solitudes of the deck and smoked the
peaceful pipe and talked. He told me an incident in Mr. Barnum's life
which was evidently characteristic of that great showman in several ways:

This was Barnum's purchase of Shakespeare's birthplace, a quarter of a
century ago. The Second Class Passenger was in Jamrach's employ at the
time and knew Barnum well. He said the thing began in this way. One
morning Barnum and Jamrach were in Jamrach's little private snuggery back
of the wilderness of caged monkeys and snakes and other commonplaces of
Jamrach's stock in trade, refreshing themselves after an arduous stroke
of business, Jamrach with something orthodox, Barnum with something
heterodox--for Barnum was a teetotaler. The stroke of business was in
the elephant line. Jamrach had contracted to deliver to Barnum in New
York 18 elephants for $360,000 in time for the next season's opening.
Then it occurred to Mr. Barnum that he needed a "card" He suggested
Jumbo. Jamrach said he would have to think of something else--Jumbo
couldn't be had; the Zoo wouldn't part with that elephant. Barnum said
he was willing to pay a fortune for Jumbo if he could get him. Jamrach
said it was no use to think about it; that Jumbo was as popular as the
Prince of Wales and the Zoo wouldn't dare to sell him; all England would
be outraged at the idea; Jumbo was an English institution; he was part of
the national glory; one might as well think of buying the Nelson
monument. Barnum spoke up with vivacity and said:

"It's a first-rate idea. I'll buy the Monument."

Jamrach was speechless for a second. Then he said, like one ashamed
"You caught me. I was napping. For a moment I thought you were in
earnest."

Barnum said pleasantly--

"I was in earnest. I know they won't sell it, but no matter, I will not
throw away a good idea for all that. All I want is a big advertisement.
I will keep the thing in mind, and if nothing better turns up I will
offer to buy it. That will answer every purpose. It will furnish me a
couple of columns of gratis advertising in every English and American
paper for a couple of months, and give my show the biggest boom a show
ever had in this world."

Jamrach started to deliver a burst of admiration, but was interrupted by
Barnum, who said:

"Here is a state of things! England ought to blush."

His eye had fallen upon something in the newspaper. He read it through
to himself, then read it aloud. It said that the house that Shakespeare
was born in at Stratford-on-Avon was falling gradually to ruin through
neglect; that the room where the poet first saw the light was now serving
as a butcher's shop; that all appeals to England to contribute money (the
requisite sum stated) to buy and repair the house and place it in the
care of salaried and trustworthy keepers had fallen resultless. Then
Barnum said:

"There's my chance. Let Jumbo and the Monument alone for the present
--they'll keep. I'll buy Shakespeare's house. I'll set it up in my
Museum in New York and put a glass case around it and make a sacred thing
of it; and you'll see all America flock there to worship; yes, and
pilgrims from the whole earth; and I'll make them take their hats off,
too. In America we know how to value anything that Shakespeare's touch
has made holy. You'll see."

In conclusion the S. C. P. said:

"That is the way the thing came about. Barnum did buy Shakespeare's
house. He paid the price asked, and received the properly attested
documents of sale. Then there was an explosion, I can tell you. England
rose! That, the birthplace of the master-genius of all the ages and all
the climes--that priceless possession of Britain--to be carted out of the
country like so much old lumber and set up for sixpenny desecration in a
Yankee show-shop--the idea was not to be tolerated for a moment. England
rose in her indignation; and Barnum was glad to relinquish his prize and
offer apologies. However, he stood out for a compromise; he claimed a
concession--England must let him have Jumbo. And England consented, but
not cheerfully."

It shows how, by help of time, a story can grow--even after Barnum has
had the first innings in the telling of it. Mr. Barnum told me the story
himself, years ago. He said that the permission to buy Jumbo was not a
concession; the purchase was made and the animal delivered before the
public knew anything about it. Also, that the securing of Jumbo was all
the advertisement he needed. It produced many columns of newspaper talk,
free of cost, and he was satisfied. He said that if he had failed to get
Jumbo he would have caused his notion of buying the Nelson Monument to be
treacherously smuggled into print by some trusty friend, and after he had
gotten a few hundred pages of gratuitous advertising out of it, he would
have come out with a blundering, obtuse, but warm-hearted letter of
apology, and in a postscript to it would have naively proposed to let the
Monument go, and take Stonehenge in place of it at the same price.

It was his opinion that such a letter, written with well-simulated
asinine innocence and gush would have gotten his ignorance and stupidity
an amount of newspaper abuse worth six fortunes to him, and not
purchasable for twice the money.

I knew Mr. Barnum well, and I placed every confidence in the account
which he gave me of the Shakespeare birthplace episode. He said he found
the house neglected and going-to decay, and he inquired into the matter
and was told that many times earnest efforts had been made to raise money
for its proper repair and preservation, but without success. He then
proposed to buy it. The proposition was entertained, and a price named
--$50,000, I think; but whatever it was, Barnum paid the money down,
without remark, and the papers were drawn up and executed. He said that
it had been his purpose to set up the house in his Museum, keep it in
repair, protect it from name-scribblers and other desecrators, and leave
it by bequest to the safe and perpetual guardianship of the Smithsonian
Institute at Washington.

But as soon as it was found that Shakespeare's house had passed into
foreign hands and was going to be carried across the ocean, England was
stirred as no appeal from the custodians of the relic had ever stirred
England before, and protests came flowing in--and money, too, to stop the
outrage. Offers of repurchase were made--offers of double the money that
Mr. Barnum had paid for the house. He handed the house back, but took
only the sum which it had cost him--but on the condition that an
endowment sufficient for the future safeguarding and maintenance of the
sacred relic should be raised. This condition was fulfilled.

That was Barnum's account of the episode; and to the end of his days he
claimed with pride and satisfaction that not England, but America
--represented by him--saved the birthplace of Shakespeare from destruction.

At 3 P.M., May 6th, the ship slowed down, off the land, and thoughtfully
and cautiously picked her way into the snug harbor of Durban, South
Africa.

Mark Twain