On a long ocean voyage, there are few things worse than being trapped at sea with a person who bores you to tears. The captain of The Princess of the Andes thinks he may have a solution to his annoying and talkative passenger, but his plan is going to require some VERY unusual intervention by his crew if it's to succeed.
The Princess of the Andes was registered in Ecuador, but her owners and
her crew were German. She was a freighter, and although the heyday of
the ocean freighters was long past, The Princess managed each year to
make a modest profit for her owners by trundling endlessly up and down
the coasts of North and South America, carrying from port to port at
modest rates whatever cargo she could gather—cattle or potatoes, cheap
rum and tin-ware, dates and palm oil. So long as it was legal and paid
an honest penny or two, anything was welcome.
She carried some passengers as well in a dozen cabins, six on the upper
deck and six below. These accommodations were not of the sort to be
found on the more luxurious ships that cruised the Mediterranean or the
Caribbean, but they were adequate and the food, though plain, was
plentiful and well prepared. Perhaps best of all, the fares were cheap,
which had been a deciding factor for Randolph Letterman.
Randolph liked to take a cruise each winter, when the tourist business
fell off at his little shop just off Hollywood Boulevard. Generally, he
closed down for the months of December and January. He had come on board
the Princess at the Port of Los Angeles, when the ship was filled with
Mexicans and Central Americans taking advantage of the modest fares to
return home for the holidays.
Randolph was placed at the chief engineer’s table and did not really get
acquainted with Captain Herrman until after they had discharged most of
their passengers at Mazatlan. Indeed, for the first week of the trip
Randolph found himself sharing a cabin with a Mexican gentleman who was
coal black, but Randolph, who was sixty and said of himself that he had
been around the dance floor a time or two, was fond of declaring that
one had to make the best of things and take things as they came. He was
no snob, which had enabled him to make a success of his little shop, and
he was a good mixer who fancied he could find something of interest to
talk about with anybody.
“If you take an interest in others,” he liked to say, “others will take
an interest in you. Practice makes perfect.” And, “It’s an ill wind…”
After Mazatlan, there were only a few passengers continuing on, some
getting off in Nicaragua and a handful more in Costa Rica, so that by
the time they reached Panama City, Randolph was the sole passenger on
the rest of the journey, through the Canal and as far as Haiti, where
the ship turned about for the return voyage.
“I hope you won’t be uncomfortable with no other company but ours,” the
captain said when he seated Randolph at his table for dinner. “We’re
only rough sailor men.” They were joined there by the first mate, the
chief engineer and the ship’s doctor.
The captain turned out to be a hearty fellow, short and thick-built.
When he talked, he bellowed more than not. Randolph thought him a rather
peculiar specimen but he was prepared to make allowances. Because he
found that the men at the table with him were inclined to be taciturn,
which he attributed to shyness, he quickly made it his business to take
charge of the conversation. Before he had opened his shop, he had been
by turns a schoolteacher and a librarian, and prior to embarking on this
journey he had made it a point to learn as much as he could about their
various ports of call. By the end of their first dinner together, he had
shared with his tablemates no end of interesting information about the
history of Panama, the building of the Canal and its importance to world
shipping. When at last Randolph retired to his cabin he said to himself,
“There’s no question about it, travel is the best kind of education. For