As an instance of the constant care which was taken to save Mr. Pulitzer from noise I remember that for some days almonds were served with our dessert at dinner, but that they suddenly ceased to form part of our menu. Being fond of almonds, I asked the chief steward why they had stopped serving them. After a little hesitation he said that it had been done at the suggestion of the butler, who had noticed that I broke the almonds in half before I ate them and that the noise made by their snapping was very disagreeable to Mr. Pulitzer.
With the best intentions in the world, our meals were now and then disturbed by noise. A knife suddenly slipped with a loud click against a plate, a waiter dropped a spoon on a silver tray, or some one knocked over a glass. We were all in such a state of nervous tension that whenever one of these little accidents occurred we jumped in our chairs as though a pistol had been fired, and looked at J. P. with horrified expectancy.
There could be no doubt whatever as to the effect these noises had upon him. He winced as a dog winces when you crack a whip over him; the only question was whether by a powerful effort he could regain his composure or whether his suffering would overcome his self-restraint to the extent of making him gloomy or querulous during the rest of the meal.
The effect by no means ceased when we rose from table. If by bad luck two or three noises occurred at dinner—and our excessive anxiety in the matter was sometimes our undoing—Mr. Pulitzer was so upset that he would pass a sleepless night. This in its turn meant a day during which his tortured body made itself master of his mind, and plunged him into a state of profound dejection.
Like most people who suffer acutely from noise Mr. Pulitzer was very differently affected by different kinds of noise. To any noise which was necessary, such as that caused by letting go the anchor, he could make himself indifferent; but very few noises were included in this category.
What caused him the most acute suffering was a noise which, while it inflicted pain upon him, neither gave pleasure to any one else nor achieved a useful purpose. Loud talking, whistling, slamming doors, carelessness in handling things, the barking of dogs, the “kick” of motor boats, these were the noises which made his existence miserable.
At the back of his physical reaction was a mental reaction which intensified every shock to his nerves. He complained, and with justice, that, leaving out of consideration an occasional noise which was purely the result of accident, his life was made a burden by the utter indifference of the majority of human beings to the rights of others. What right, he asked, had any one to run a motor boat with a machine so noisy that it destroyed the peace of a whole harbor? Above all, what right had such a person to come miles out to sea and cruise around the yacht, merely to gratify idle curiosity?