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Experiment 5

The Confidence - Something-or-Other

page 36

The Confidence - Something-or-Other

I had Just been checked through the Customs when [unclear: I f:] saw him. It was not that he was anything outstanding or [unclear: uni] to look at but he had stopped at the bottom of the gangplank I was slowly catching up with him. He was politely refusing eager assistance of an old mongrel steward who was insisting carrying a large roll of a canvas-like material that the [unclear: article] was holding under his arm. I presumed that he was an [unclear: artist] because I heard an old dear at the top of the gangway blurble and gush into her companion's unfortunate ear, "There's Van [unclear: I] and I had made a brilliant calculation taking into account he remark, Diego's three-quarter length charcoal duffle coat, his lurid blue beret belligerently balanced over his forehead, an a neatly arranged crop of short hair surrounding his mouth. So much for my first impression of Mr. Van Diego and his statesmanlike ability of warding off unwanted attention. "Charlie's me name Sir, can I take your bag ? Gotta show the I'm still a good worker. That last one'll get me the sack will." By the time Charlie had finished I was on the deck the ship being advised of the direction I was to take to gain cabin. "It's all right Sir, I'll show you. Been on this [unclear: tu] for thirty-three trips now, know every nook and cranny. If you find a nice, you know what Sir, I'll show you a fine poss where you'll never be found, comfy too." That was Charlie, obliging, fascinating Charlie.

Now I am extremely deaf and this has some advantages times. Any disadvantage it brings is more than compensated my ability to lip read. Of course I do make a few mistakes odd intervals, but not often. Fate was making me watchdog to Diego who had the cabin next door. We fed at the same table, drank in the same bar, swam in the same pool, even shared the bathroom, and I found that he was an extremely courteous young man who was always willing to help any other passenger if they showed the slightest signs of distress. He was seen everywhere engaged in pleasant conversation with passengers and crew [unclear: alike] and by the end of the first seven sea days he was, without [unclear: doubt] the most popular person on board. Yet, I found that his superlative qualities were merely a mask for his modesty and shyness. That he was a painter anyone could tell, but if the subject was broached at all he would blush furiously and back out of the discussion or cunningly divert the talk to music, races, anything bar his paintings, twice I had to sit through lectures on the differences between Cherubini and Beethoven just because I had harmlessly asked what he intended doing when he page 37arrived at his destination. In the morning he would be seen carrying his canvas up to some secluded spot in the bow. He would unroll it and gaze at it pensively, miles away from human contact. If a step was made in his direction he would panic, hastily roll his painting up and bluehingly dash back to his cabin where he would remain for a short time recomposing himself for the rest of the day abroad. There was great speculation and talk about Diego and probably ninety per cent of the conversation concerned him - even Charlie had to say, "He's all right that Dago, should've seen him when we 'it that last blow--" Should have seen him indeed! Huh; I was too busy with my own affairs to think about him. "--was dashing about like a regular blue bottom, minding kids, dishing out sick tablets and advice, wiping floors, even in the crews quarters and most of them were flat on their backs, went up to the Skipper too and offered ---"

That blasted storm — but thanks to it the mystery veil dropped from Diego's head, and it was Mrs. Lee-Jones (the old dear at the top of the gangway) who let everyone into the secret. Apparently, Diego was a young painter with great potentiality whose work had roused the passionate interest of a visiting artist, who, on return to his country had set to work clearing some of the debris in Diego's way by putting forward such an excitedly aggressive impressive speech on Diego's behalf that the Arts Council could only rid themselves of the nuisance by promising to look at one painting, but only one painting of Diego's which, if accepted, would allow entrance into a new world, and give a guarantee to prosperity and posterity. His own pillar in society would be waiting for him and he could work freely as long as he wanted. And so Diego had selected this painting of his called 'The Confidence --something-or-other', (Mrs. Lee-Jones could not remember what the last word was) and set about making money for his passage, selling all that he could, and working on the wharves for a couple of months until he had enough to make this trip, and here he was now on board on his way to fame with his painting.

Well, when this news broke everybody wanted to ensure that he had no upsets at all, and when he made his way to his favourite observation place people would place themselves in strategic positions in the approach passageways and would divert any human being from the area surrounding their hero who, if disturbed, would fly back to his room in utter confusion, and until Van Diego had finished his morning worship and had returned casually to his cabin with his canvas neatly rolled under his arm, they would maintain such a tight vigilance that not even a babe could have crawled through their net. And so page 38it went on ; Diego did this, Diego said that, Diego likes such and such, and so on. I have never seen anyone so idolised by so many different types at the one time, there was even an old grouse of a tycoon converted to a 'Hail fellow, well met' of Diego simply by being saved a few paltry coppers when he was losing a bartering battle to a shrewd native pedlar in one of the ports.

On the last morning of the voyage we were steaming up the Channel accompanied by a slight cross breeze. Diego was in his usual position by the side of the ship and I was on the top deck a little distance away from where he was. I could make out a splash of colour on one corner of his canvas, but, that was all. He seemed to be absorbed in a meditive prayer holding the canvas wide in hie arms his head drooping slightly with eyes closed. I then noticed Mrs. Lee-Jones moving along on the opposite side to Van Diego. Suddenly she saw him and immediately turned to go back the way she came, but he looked up at that moment, panicked and stumbled round helplessly trying to roll the painting and regain his footing at the same time. He stubbed his foot on a metal projection, lost his balance completely, threw his hands out to save hie head from hitting the bulwark and I saw the painting leap into the air, caught by the bullying breeze and drift drunkenly lower and lower into the fast moving sea. Charlie had seen the canvas float by; "What a proper splurge of paint it was, getting soggier all the time, now if 'e ' ad let me look after it for 'im it would never [unclear: '] ve got drowned."

Mrs. Lee-Jones rushed over to the sprawling Diego whose face was filled with a feeble vacant expression, looked at him and dashed away again and I watched her straining towards the bridge and the unaware captain - but what could he do ? Stopping the ship and reversing were quite out of the question, and so was dropping a lifeboat over the side with a crew of willing volunteers, even if they had not been so near the home port. People were running everywhere, looking everywhere, over the bow, over the sides, over the stern, and over other people but they saw nothing of the painting. Diego was carried back to his cabin speechless and broken. All was silent and even Charlie was quiet.

The last meal was served without the slightest sign from the crew that this meal was an occasion for alms gathering. Food slowly disappeared, mournfully descending into its own peculiar Hades. Then Mrs. Lee-Jones walked through the doorway and straight on towards the Captain. Her shoulders were squared and her head held high, but it was obvious that she had been suffering like the rest. She stopped at her objective, passed a small slip of paper to him and with a growing agitation whispered a few words page 39burst into tears and fled blindly. from the dining room. The Captain stood up: "Ladies and Gentlemen" his words were charged with an emotion that threatened to break all round him, "We are all aware of the rather unfortunate incident which befell us two hours ago and we are all aware of the consequences that it has brought with it. Until a minute ago, it was not possible for us to help in any way, we could not furnish a painting with the characteristics that Mr. Van Diego would instil, nor could we regain that which is now lost for ever. It has been a great shock, not only for Mr. Diego, but for all of us who in the past few weeks must have felt some healthy overpowering influence exerted by him, but whereas we are not affected in substance, he has lost everything. Mrs. Lee-Jones has shown one way in which we can recompense him for his tragic loss. It is a way that will enable him to set about some work in this country without having any minor troubles to worry him further and to enable him to paint another canvas for the Arts Council. We all know that Mr. Diego used every device he could to save enough money to buy his passage and we must be aware of his financial position in some way, and I presume that it is not at its peak today. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mrs. Leo-Jones has led the way to Mr. Van Diego's rehabilitation by donating fifty pounds, and I myself will be pleased and honoured to double this sum. For all of you who, I am sure, would like to increase the total the Purser will be available to assist in every way possible. Thank you."

There was an immediate hubbub and people rose from their seats and pressed towards the purser. I could hear an occasional shrill, "Here's another fifty," and "Put me down for twenty,". A solitary American flipped into the kitty a hundred dollar bill. An Indian who joined us at Bombay removed a small gold nugget from his watch chain and slipped it into the growing pile and the tycoon wrote a cheque for two-fifty pounds and offered his Summer house for six months for Diego's use, and the word spread down through the kitchen through the crews' quarters and into the other dining room and finally everyone had queued to donate some gift. ---

We arrived in port at last and Van Diego had been helped back on his feet and out of his remorse by the presentation of an enormous cheque made out to him by the Ship's company on behalf of everyone on board. I was standing on deck making a final check on my luggage and I could see the old dear now on the quay gushing into some unfortunate's ear. I made my way slowly along the passage and I saw Diego politely refusing the assistance of the old mongrel Charlie - "Remember me Sir?" and while Charlie page 40grabbed my bags I watched Van Diego shyly smile a smile of extreme gratification to all around, to those on the quay, and to those still on board. He walked down the gangplank and was almost in the Custom's shed when Mrs. Lee-Jones called to him. I watched him turn and wait for her with his arms outstretched. I watched him listen carefully to what she had to say. I saw him answer. He said, "But of course, I'll see you in town next week, thanks again." and "Goodbye ---". Now I can not be absolutely sure, but, I could have sworn that his last word was, "Mother" .

End piece by Barbara Moffat and Ross O'Rourke

page 41

End piece by Barbara Moffat and Ross O'Rourke