The ship's a-going along at present, as sensible as a ship can, sir; though I don't mean to say as that's any very high praise.'
'I don't think it is, indeed,' groaned Martin.
'You'd feel all the better for it, sir, if you was to turn out,' observed Mark.
'And be seen by the ladies and gentlemen on the after-deck,' returned Martin, with a scronful emphasis upon the words, 'mingling with the beggarly crowd that are stowed away in this vile hole. I should be greatly the better for that, no doubt.'
'I'm thankful that I can't say from my own experience what the feelings of a gentleman may be,' said Mark, 'but I should have thought, sir, as a gentleman would feel a deal more uncomfortable down here than up in the fresh air, especially when the ladies and gentlemen in the after-cabin know just as much about him as he does about them, and are likely to trouble their heads about him in the same proportion. I should have thought that, certainly.'
'I tell you, then,' rejoined Martin, 'you would have thought wrong, and do think wrong.'
'Very likely, sir,' said Mark, with imperturbable good temper. 'I often do.'
'As to lying here,' cried Martin, raising himself on his elbow, and looking angrily at his follower. 'Do you suppose it's a pleasure to lie here?'
'All the madhouses in the world,' said Mr Tapley, 'couldn't produce such a maniac as the man must be who could think that.'
'Then why are you forever goading and urging me to get up?' asked Martin, 'I lie here because I don't wish to be recognized, in the better days to which I aspire, by any purse-proud citizen, as the man who came over with him among the steerage passengers. I lie here because I wish to conceal my circumstances and myself, and not to arrive in a new world badged and ticketed as an utterly poverty- stricken man. If I could have afforded a passage in the after-cabin I should have held up my head with the rest. As I couldn't I hide it. Do you understand that?'
'I am very sorry, sir,' said Mark. 'I didn't know you took it so much to heart as this comes to.'
'Of course you didn't know,' returned his master. 'How should you know, unless I told you? It's no trial to you, Mark, to make yourself comfortable and to bustle about. It's as natural for you to do so under the circumstances as it is for me not to do so. Why, you don't suppose there is a living creature in this ship who can by possibility have half so much to undergo on board of her as I have? Do you?' he asked, sitting upright in his berth and looking at Mark, with an expression of great earnestness not unmixed with wonder.
Mark twisted his face into a tight knot, and with his head very much on one side, pondered upon this question as if he felt it an extremely difficult one to answer. He was relieved from his embarrassment by Martin himself, who said, as he stretched himself upon his back again and resumed the book he had been reading:
'But what is the use of my putting such a case to you, when the very essence of what I have been saying is, that you cannot by possibility understand it! Make me a little brandy-and-water--cold and very weak--and give me a biscuit, and tell your friend, who is a nearer neighbour of ours than I could wish, to try and keep her children a little quieter to-night than she did last night; that's a good fellow.'
Mr Tapley set himself to obey these orders with great alacrity, and pending their execution, it may be presumed his flagging spirits revived; inasmuch as he several times observed, below his breath, that in respect of its power of imparting a credit to jollity, the Screw unquestionably had some decided advantages over the Dragon. He also remarked that it was a high gratification to him to reflect that he would carry its main excellence ashore with him, and have it constantly beside him wherever he went; but what he meant by these consolatory thoughts he did not explain.
And now a general excitement began to prevail on board; and various predictions relative to the precise day, and even the precise hour at which they would reach New York, were freely broached.