“It will be heaven for them!” declared the volatile young Frenchman, clasping his hands in apparent ecstasy.
His exaggerated manner amused Patty, for she dearly loved to study new types of people, and she began to think there was a varied assortment on board.
Suddenly several people rushed wildly to the side of the boat. They were followed by others, until it seemed as if everybody was crowding to the rail. Patty followed, of course, and found herself standing by the side of Bert Chester.
“What is it?” she exclaimed.
“A porpoise!” he replied, as if announcing an event of greatest importance.
“A porpoise!” echoed Patty, disgusted. “Such a fuss about a porpoise? Why, it’s nothing but a fish!”
“My dear Miss Fairfield,” said the Englishman, looking at her through his single eyeglass, “tradition demands that steamer passengers shall always make a fuss over a passing porpoise. To be sure it’s only a fish, but the fuss is because of tradition, not because of the fish.”
Patty had always thought that a single eyeglass betokened a brainless fop, but this stalwart young Englishman wore his monocle so naturally, and, moreover, so securely, that it seemed a component part of him. And, too, his speech was that of a quick-witted, humorous mind, and Patty began to think she must readjust her opinion.
“Is it an English national trait,” she said, “to be so in thrall to tradition?”
“I’m sorry to say it is,” young Chester responded, somewhat gravely. “In the matter of the porpoise it is of no great importance; but there are other matters, do you see, where Englishmen are so hampered by tradition that individual volition is often lost.”
This was more serious talk than Patty was accustomed to, but somehow she felt rather flattered to be addressed thus, and she tried to answer in kind.
“But,” she said, “if the tradition is the result of the wisdom of past ages, may it not be of more value than individual volition?”
“By Jove!” exclaimed Mr. Chester, “you have a clever little head on your young shoulders, to take that point so adroitly. But let us defer this somewhat serious discussion until another time and see if it is a porpoise or something else that it attracting the curious crowd to the other side of the ship.”
As they followed the hurrying people across the deck, Mr. Chester went on: “After you have crossed the ocean a few more times you will discover that there are only two things which make the people rush frantically and in hordes to the rail. The one that isn’t a porpoise is a passing steamer.”
Sure enough, the object of interest this time was a distant steamer, which was clearly visible on the horizon. It was sharply outlined against the blue sky, and the sunlight gave it its true value of colour, while the dark smoke that poured from its smokestack floated back horizontally like a broad ribbon. But owing to the distance there was no effect of motion, and even the smoke as well as the vessel seemed to be stationary.