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Home -> Mark Twain -> Following the Equator -> Chapter 4

Following the Equator - Chapter 4

1. Contents

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Chapter 37

39. Chapter 38

40. Chapter 39

41. Chapter 40

42. Chapter 41

43. Chapter 42

44. Chapter 43

45. Chapter 44

46. Chapter 45

47. Chapter 46

48. Chapter 47

49. Chapter 48

50. Chapter 49

51. Chapter 50

52. Chapter 51

53. Chapter 52

54. Chapter 53

55. Chapter 54

56. Chapter 55

57. Chapter 56

58. Chapter 57

59. Chapter 58

60. Chapter 59

61. Chapter 60

62. Chapter 61

63. Chapter 62

64. Chapter 63

65. Chapter 64

66. Chapter 65

67. Chapter 66

68. Chapter 67

69. Chapter 68

70. Chapter 69

71. Conclusion


A dozen direct censures are easier to bear than one morganatic
--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

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

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

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

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