Small Story

An International Row by Robert Barr

“A simple child
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of—-” kicking up a row
(NOTE.–Only the last four words of the above poem are claimed as original.)

“Then America declared war on England.”–History of 1812

Lady, not feeling particularly well, reclining in a steamer chair, covered up with rags. Little girl beside her, who wants to know. Gentleman in an adjoining steamer chair. The little girl begins to speak.

“And do you have to pay to go in, mamma?”

“Yes, dear.”

“How much do you have to pay? As much as at a theatre?”

“Oh, you need not pay anything particular–no set sum, you know. You pay just what you can afford.”

“Then it’s like a collection at church, mamma?”

“Yes, dear.”

“And does the captain get the money, mamma?”

“No, dear; the money goes to the poor orphans, I think.”

“Where are the orphans, mamma?”

“I don’t know, dear, I think they are in Liverpool.”

“Whose orphans are they, mamma?”

“They are the orphans of sailors, dear.”

“What kind of sailors, mamma?”

“British sailors, darling.”

“Aren’t there any sailors in America, mamma?”

“Oh yes, dear, lots of them.”

“And do they have any orphans?”

“Yes, dear, I suppose there are orphans there too.”

“And don’t they get any of the money, mamma?”

“I am sure I do not know, dear. By the way, Mr. Daveling, how is that? Do they give any of the money to American orphans?”

“I believe not, madam. Subscriptions at concerts given on board British steamers are of course donated entirely to the Seamen’s Hospital or Orphanage of Liverpool.”

“Well, that doesn’t seem to be quite fair, does it? A great deal of the money is subscribed by Americans.”

“Yes, madam, that is perfectly true.”

“I should think that ten Americans cross on these lines for every one Englishman.”

“I am sure I do not know, madam, what the proportion is. The Americans are great travellers, so are the English too, for that matter.”

“Yes; but I saw in one of the papers that this year alone over a hundred thousand persons had taken their passage from New York to England. It seems to me, that as all of them contribute to the receipts of the concerts, some sort of a division should be made.”

“Oh, I have no doubt if the case were presented to the captain, he would be quite willing to have part of the proceeds at least go to some American seamen’s charity.”

“I think that would be only fair.”

Two young ladies, arm in arm, approach, and ask Mrs. Pengo how she is feeling to-day.

Mrs. Pengo replies that she doesn’t suppose she will feel any better as long as this rolling of the ship continues.

They claim, standing there, endeavouring to keep as perpendicular as possible, that the rolling is something simply awful.

Then the lady says to them, “Do you know, girls, that all the money subscribed at the concerts goes to England?”

“Why, no; I thought it went to some charity.”

“Oh, it does go to a charity. It goes to the Liverpool Seamen’s Hospital.”

“Well, isn’t that all right?”

“Yes, it’s all right enough; but, as Sadie was just suggesting now, it doesn’t seem quite fair, when there are orphans of sailors belonging to America, and as long as such large sums are subscribed by Americans, that the money should not be divided and part of it at least given to an American charity.”

“Why, that seems perfectly fair, doesn’t it, Mr. Daveling?”

“Yes, it is perfectly fair. I was just suggesting that perhaps if the state of things was presented to the captain, he would doubtless give a portion at least of the proceeds to an American Seamen’s Home–if such an institution exists.”

“Then,” remarked the other girl, “I propose we form a committee, and interview the captain. I think that if Americans subscribe the bulk of the money, which they certainly do, they should have a voice in the disposal of it.”

This was agreed to on all hands, and so began one of the biggest rows that ever occurred on board an Atlantic liner. Possibly, if the captain had had any tact, and if he had not been so thoroughly impressed with his own tremendous importance, what happened later on would not have happened.

The lady in the steamer chair took little part in the matter, in fact it was not at that time assumed to be of any importance whatever; but the two young American girls were enthusiastic, and they spoke to several of the passengers about it, both American and English. The English passengers all recognised the justice of the proposed plan, so a committee of five young ladies, and one young gentleman as spokesman, waited upon the captain. The young ladies at first had asked the doctor of the ship to be the spokesman; but when the doctor heard what the proposal was, he looked somewhat alarmed, and stroked his moustache thoughtfully.

“I don’t know about that,” he said; “it is a little unusual. The money has always gone to the Liverpool Seamen’s Hospital, and–well, you see, we are a conservative people. We do a thing in one way for a number of years, and then keep on doing it because we have always done it in that way.”

“Yes,” burst out one of the young ladies, “that is no reason why an unjust thing should be perpetuated. Merely because a wrong has been done is no reason why it should be done again.”

“True,” said the doctor, “true,” for he did not wish to fall out with the young lady, who was very pretty; “but, you see, in England we think a great deal of precedent.”

And so the result of it all was that the doctor demurred at going to see the captain in relation to the matter. He said it wouldn’t be the thing, as he was an official, and that it would be better to get one of the passengers.

I was not present at the interview, and of course know only what was told me by those who were there. It seems that the captain was highly offended at being approached on such a subject at all. A captain of an ocean liner, as I have endeavoured to show, is a very great personage indeed. And sometimes I imagine the passengers are not fully aware of this fact, or at least they do not show it as plainly as they ought to. Anyhow, the committee thought the captain had been exceedingly gruff with them, as well as just a trifle impolite. He told them that the money from the concerts had always gone to the Liverpool Seamen’s Hospital, and always would while he was commanding a ship. He seemed to infer that the permission given them to hold a concert on board the ship was a very great concession, and that people should be thankful for the privilege of contributing to such a worthy object.

So, beginning with the little girl who wanted to know, and ending with the captain who commanded the ship, the conflagration was started.

Such is British deference to authority that, as soon as the captain’s decision was known, those who had hitherto shown an open mind on the subject, and even those who had expressed themselves as favouring the dividing of the money, claimed that the captain’s dictum had settled the matter. Then it was that every passenger had to declare himself. “Those who are not with us,” said the young women, “are against us.” The ship was almost immediately divided into two camps. It was determined to form a committee of Americans to take the money received from the second concert; for it was soon resolved to hold two concerts, one for the American Seamen’s Orphans’ Home and the other for that at Liverpool.

One comical thing about the row was, that nobody on board knew whether an American Seamen’s Orphans’ Home existed or not. When this problem was placed before the committee of young people, they pooh-poohed the matter. They said it didn’t make any difference at all; if there was no Seamen’s Hospital in America, it was quite time there should be one; and so they proposed that the money should be given to the future hospital, if it did not already exist.

When everything was prepared for the second concert there came a bolt from the blue. It was rumoured round the ship that the captain had refused his permission for the second concert to be held. The American men, who had up to date looked with a certain amused indifference on the efforts of the ladies, now rallied and held a meeting in the smoking-room. Every one felt that a crisis had come, and that the time to let loose the dogs of war–sea-dogs in this instance–had arrived. A committee was appointed to wait upon the captain next day. The following morning the excitement was at its highest pitch. It was not safe for an American to be seen conversing with an Englishman, or vice versa.

Rumour had it at first–in fact all sorts of wild rumours were flying around the whole forenoon–that the captain refused to see the delegation of gentlemen who had requested audience with him. This rumour, however, turned out to be incorrect. He received the delegation in his room with one or two of the officers standing beside him. The spokesman said–

“Captain, we are informed that you have concluded not to grant permission to the Americans to hold a concert in aid of the American Seamen’s Orphans’ Home. We wish to know if this is true?”

“You have been correctly informed,” replied the captain.

“We are sorry to hear that,” answered the spokesman. “Perhaps you will not object to tell us on what grounds you have refused your permission?”

“Gentlemen,” said the captain, “I have received you in my room because you requested an interview. I may say, however, that I am not in the habit of giving reasons for anything I do, to the passengers who honour this ship with their company.”

“Then,” said the spokesman, endeavouring to keep calm, but succeeding only indifferently, “it is but right that we should tell you that we regard such a proceeding on your part as a high handed outrage; that we will appeal against your decision to the owners of this steamship, and that, unless an apology is tendered, we will never cross on this line again, and we will advise all our compatriots never to patronise a line where such injustice is allowed.”

“Might I ask you,” said the captain very suavely, “of what injustice you complain?”

“It seems to us,” said the spokesman, “that it is a very unjust thing to allow one class of passengers to hold a concert, and to refuse permission to another class to do the same thing.”

“If that is all you complain of,” said the captain, “I quite agree with you. I think that would be an exceedingly unjust proceeding.”

“Is not that what you are about to do?”

“Not that I am aware of.”

“You have prohibited the American concert?”

“Certainly. But I have prohibited the English concert as well.”

The American delegates looked rather blankly at each other, and then the spokesman smiled. “Oh, well,” he said, “if you have prohibited both of them, I don’t see that we have anything to grumble at.”

“Neither do I,” said the captain.

The delegation then withdrew; and the passengers had the unusual pleasure of making one ocean voyage without having to attend the generally inevitable amateur concert.


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