“Well! what is up now?” cries he, catching a glimpse of my disconsolate attitude. “You look as if the fungi had disagreed with you!”
“Then appearances are deceitful,” reply I, trying to be merry, “for they have not.”
He has only glanced in upon us in passing: he is gone again now. I rebury my hands in my locks, which, instead of a highly-cultivated garden, I am rapidly making into a wilderness.
“I suppose,” say I, in a tone which fitly matches the length of my face, “that Bobby will have got a ship before I come back; I hope they will not send him to any very unhealthy station—Hong-Kong, or the Gold Coast.”
“I hope not.”
“What port shall we sail from?”
“And how long—about how long will the voyage be?”
“About seventeen days to Antigua.”
“And how long”—(still in the same wretched and resignedly melancholy voice)—“shall we have to stay there?”
“It depends upon the state in which I find things?”
A good long pause. My elbows are growing quite painful, from the length of time during which they have been digging into the hard marqueterie table, and my hair is as wild as a red Indian’s. Ten days! ten little galloping days, and then seventeen long, slow, monstrous ones! Seventeen days at sea! seventeen days and seventeen nights, too—do not let us forget that—of that deadly nausea, of that unspeakable sinking of all one’s inside to the very depths of creation—of the smell of boiling oil, and the hot, sick, throbbing of engines!
“I hope,” say I, in a voice so small that I hardly recognize it for my own, “that I shall not be quite as ill all the way as I was crossing from Calais to Dover; and the steward,” continue I, in miserable meditation, “kept telling me all the while what a fine passage we were having, too!”
“So we were!”
Another pause. I am still thinking of the horrid theme; living over again my nearly-forgotten agonies.
“Do you remember,” say I, presently, “hearing about that Lady Somebody— I forget her name—but she was the wife of one Governor-General of India, and she always suffered so much from sea-sickness that she thought she should suffer less in a sailing-vessel, and so returned from India in one, and just as she came in sight of the shores of England she died!”
As I reach this awful climax, I open my eyes very wide, and sink my voice to a tragic depth.
“The moral is—” says Sir Roger, stopping beside me, laying his hand on my chair back, and regarding me with a mixture of pain and diversion in his eyes, “stick to steam!”
A heavy foot along the passage, a hand upon the door, a hatted head looking in.
“Roger,” says father, in that laboriously amiable voice in which he always addresses his son-in-law, “sorry to interrupt you, but could you come here for a minute—will not keep you long.”