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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter V

Innocents Abroad

Chapter V

Taking it "by and large," as the sailors say, we had a pleasant ten days'
run from New York to the Azores islands--not a fast run, for the distance
is only twenty-four hundred miles, but a right pleasant one in the main.
True, we had head winds all the time, and several stormy experiences
which sent fifty percent of the passengers to bed sick and made the ship
look dismal and deserted--stormy experiences that all will remember who
weathered them on the tumbling deck and caught the vast sheets of spray
that every now and then sprang high in air from the weather bow and swept
the ship like a thunder-shower; but for the most part we had balmy summer
weather and nights that were even finer than the days. We had the
phenomenon of a full moon located just in the same spot in the heavens at
the same hour every night. The reason of this singular conduct on the
part of the moon did not occur to us at first, but it did afterward when
we reflected that we were gaining about twenty minutes every day because
we were going east so fast--we gained just about enough every day to keep
along with the moon. It was becoming an old moon to the friends we had
left behind us, but to us Joshuas it stood still in the same place and
remained always the same.

Young Mr. Blucher, who is from the Far West and is on his first voyage,
was a good deal worried by the constantly changing "ship time." He was
proud of his new watch at first and used to drag it out promptly when
eight bells struck at noon, but he came to look after a while as if he
were losing confidence in it. Seven days out from New York he came on
deck and said with great decision:

"This thing's a swindle!"

"What's a swindle?"

"Why, this watch. I bought her out in Illinois--gave $150 for her--and I
thought she was good. And, by George, she is good onshore, but somehow
she don't keep up her lick here on the water--gets seasick may be. She
skips; she runs along regular enough till half-past eleven, and then, all
of a sudden, she lets down. I've set that old regulator up faster and
faster, till I've shoved it clear around, but it don't do any good; she
just distances every watch in the ship, and clatters along in a way
that's astonishing till it is noon, but them eight bells always gets in
about ten minutes ahead of her anyway. I don't know what to do with her
now. She's doing all she can--she's going her best gait, but it won't
save her. Now, don't you know, there ain't a watch in the ship that's
making better time than she is, but what does it signify? When you hear
them eight bells you'll find her just about ten minutes short of her
score sure."

The ship was gaining a full hour every three days, and this fellow was
trying to make his watch go fast enough to keep up to her. But, as he
had said, he had pushed the regulator up as far as it would go, and the
watch was "on its best gait," and so nothing was left him but to fold his
hands and see the ship beat the race. We sent him to the captain, and he
explained to him the mystery of "ship time" and set his troubled mind at
rest. This young man asked a great many questions about seasickness
before we left, and wanted to know what its characteristics were and how
he was to tell when he had it. He found out.

We saw the usual sharks, blackfish, porpoises, &c., of course, and by and
by large schools of Portuguese men-of-war were added to the regular list
of sea wonders. Some of them were white and some of a brilliant carmine
color. The nautilus is nothing but a transparent web of jelly that
spreads itself to catch the wind, and has fleshy-looking strings a foot
or two long dangling from it to keep it steady in the water. It is an
accomplished sailor and has good sailor judgment. It reefs its sail when
a storm threatens or the wind blows pretty hard, and furls it entirely
and goes down when a gale blows. Ordinarily it keeps its sail wet and in
good sailing order by turning over and dipping it in the water for a
moment. Seamen say the nautilus is only found in these waters between
the 35th and 45th parallels of latitude.

At three o'clock on the morning of the twenty-first of June, we were
awakened and notified that the Azores islands were in sight. I said I
did not take any interest in islands at three o'clock in the morning.
But another persecutor came, and then another and another, and finally
believing that the general enthusiasm would permit no one to slumber in
peace, I got up and went sleepily on deck. It was five and a half
o'clock now, and a raw, blustering morning. The passengers were huddled
about the smoke-stacks and fortified behind ventilators, and all were
wrapped in wintry costumes and looking sleepy and unhappy in the pitiless
gale and the drenching spray.

The island in sight was Flores. It seemed only a mountain of mud
standing up out of the dull mists of the sea. But as we bore down upon
it the sun came out and made it a beautiful picture--a mass of green
farms and meadows that swelled up to a height of fifteen hundred feet and
mingled its upper outlines with the clouds. It was ribbed with sharp,
steep ridges and cloven with narrow canyons, and here and there on the
heights, rocky upheavals shaped themselves into mimic battlements and
castles; and out of rifted clouds came broad shafts of sunlight, that
painted summit, and slope and glen, with bands of fire, and left belts of
somber shade between. It was the aurora borealis of the frozen pole
exiled to a summer land!

We skirted around two-thirds of the island, four miles from shore, and
all the opera glasses in the ship were called into requisition to settle
disputes as to whether mossy spots on the uplands were groves of trees or
groves of weeds, or whether the white villages down by the sea were
really villages or only the clustering tombstones of cemeteries. Finally
we stood to sea and bore away for San Miguel, and Flores shortly became a
dome of mud again and sank down among the mists, and disappeared. But to
many a seasick passenger it was good to see the green hills again, and
all were more cheerful after this episode than anybody could have
expected them to be, considering how sinfully early they had gotten up.

But we had to change our purpose about San Miguel, for a storm came up
about noon that so tossed and pitched the vessel that common sense
dictated a run for shelter. Therefore we steered for the nearest island
of the group--Fayal (the people there pronounce it Fy-all, and put the
accent on the first syllable). We anchored in the open roadstead of
Horta, half a mile from the shore. The town has eight thousand to ten
thousand inhabitants. Its snow-white houses nestle cosily in a sea of
fresh green vegetation, and no village could look prettier or more
attractive. It sits in the lap of an amphitheater of hills which are
three hundred to seven hundred feet high, and carefully cultivated clear
to their summits--not a foot of soil left idle. Every farm and every
acre is cut up into little square inclosures by stone walls, whose duty
it is to protect the growing products from the destructive gales that
blow there. These hundreds of green squares, marked by their black lava
walls, make the hills look like vast checkerboards.

The islands belong to Portugal, and everything in Fayal has Portuguese
characteristics about it. But more of that anon. A swarm of swarthy,
noisy, lying, shoulder-shrugging, gesticulating Portuguese boatmen, with
brass rings in their ears and fraud in their hearts, climbed the ship's
sides, and various parties of us contracted with them to take us ashore
at so much a head, silver coin of any country. We landed under the walls
of a little fort, armed with batteries of twelve-and-thirty-two-pounders,
which Horta considered a most formidable institution, but if we were ever
to get after it with one of our turreted monitors, they would have to
move it out in the country if they wanted it where they could go and find
it again when they needed it. The group on the pier was a rusty one--men
and women, and boys and girls, all ragged and barefoot, uncombed and
unclean, and by instinct, education, and profession beggars. They
trooped after us, and never more while we tarried in Fayal did we get rid
of them. We walked up the middle of the principal street, and these
vermin surrounded us on all sides and glared upon us; and every moment
excited couples shot ahead of the procession to get a good look back,
just as village boys do when they accompany the elephant on his
advertising trip from street to street. It was very flattering to me to
be part of the material for such a sensation. Here and there in the
doorways we saw women with fashionable Portuguese hoods on. This hood is
of thick blue cloth, attached to a cloak of the same stuff, and is a
marvel of ugliness. It stands up high and spreads far abroad, and is
unfathomably deep. It fits like a circus tent, and a woman's head is
hidden away in it like the man's who prompts the singers from his tin
shed in the stage of an opera. There is no particle of trimming about
this monstrous capote, as they call it--it is just a plain, ugly dead-
blue mass of sail, and a woman can't go within eight points of the wind
with one of them on; she has to go before the wind or not at all. The
general style of the capote is the same in all the islands, and will
remain so for the next ten thousand years, but each island shapes its
capotes just enough differently from the others to enable an observer to
tell at a glance what particular island a lady hails from.

The Portuguese pennies, or reis (pronounced rays), are prodigious. It
takes one thousand reis to make a dollar, and all financial estimates are
made in reis. We did not know this until after we had found it out
through Blucher. Blucher said he was so happy and so grateful to be on
solid land once more that he wanted to give a feast--said he had heard it
was a cheap land, and he was bound to have a grand banquet. He invited
nine of us, and we ate an excellent dinner at the principal hotel. In
the midst of the jollity produced by good cigars, good wine, and passable
anecdotes, the landlord presented his bill. Blucher glanced at it and
his countenance fell. He took another look to assure himself that his
senses had not deceived him and then read the items aloud, in a faltering
voice, while the roses in his cheeks turned to ashes:

"'Ten dinners, at 600 reis, 6,000 reis!' Ruin and desolation!

"'Twenty-five cigars, at 100 reis, 2,500 reis!' Oh, my sainted mother!

"'Eleven bottles of wine, at 1,200 reis, 13,200 reis!' Be with us all!

There ain't money enough in the ship to pay that bill! Go--leave me to
my misery, boys, I am a ruined community."

I think it was the blankest-looking party I ever saw. Nobody could say a
word. It was as if every soul had been stricken dumb. Wine glasses
descended slowly to the table, their contents untasted. Cigars dropped
unnoticed from nerveless fingers. Each man sought his neighbor's eye,
but found in it no ray of hope, no encouragement. At last the fearful
silence was broken. The shadow of a desperate resolve settled upon
Blucher's countenance like a cloud, and he rose up and said:

"Landlord, this is a low, mean swindle, and I'll never, never stand it.
Here's a hundred and fifty dollars, Sir, and it's all you'll get--I'll
swim in blood before I'll pay a cent more."

Our spirits rose and the landlord's fell--at least we thought so; he was
confused, at any rate, notwithstanding he had not understood a word that
had been said. He glanced from the little pile of gold pieces to Blucher
several times and then went out. He must have visited an American, for
when he returned, he brought back his bill translated into a language
that a Christian could understand--thus:

10 dinners, 6,000 reis, or . . .$6.00

25 cigars, 2,500 reis, or . . . 2.50

11 bottles wine, 13,200 reis, or 13.20

Total 21,700 reis, or . . . . $21.70

Happiness reigned once more in Blucher's dinner party. More refreshments
were ordered.

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