The Great Offence

by Adam Acidophilus

One summer, a party of affluent tourists embarked upon a ocean cruise – on a luxury steamer, with beautiful staterooms, and an impeccable reputation. However, late on the third evening the passengers were awoken by the sound of a woman screaming – from a room in the vicinity of the afterdeck.

The passengers and crew – many in their nightclothes – rushed to the scene of the drama. Where, on the floor of the most exclusive suite, there lay an eccentric authoress. She was white with fear and shaking uncontrollably.

“My dear woman, what has happened?” asked the ship’s lieutenant.

“I’m . . . I’m . . . I’m offended,” she gasped.

“Eef you will permit me lieutenant – ” interrupted one of the guests, a man in an elaborate silk dressing gown – “I am a fammous investigateur, and I shall conduct ze investigation!”

The crowd in the room drew back as the famous investigator stepped forward. “Weel ze ship’s docteur kindly attend to zis woman?” he asked.

The ship’s doctor entered and, after establishing that the woman was, indeed, very seriously offended, he held a brief consultation with the investigator.

“It’s the worst case I have ever seen,” whispered the doctor. “She is terribly offended.”

“Zen you will give ’er one of zese sedatiffs,” the investigator instructed him. “Ze ship’s steward will place a maid upon permanent guard. And in ze morning, after le petit déjeuner, we will gazzer in ze first class lounge and get to ze bottom of zis matteur!”

The following morning, after a leisurely champagne breakfast, the guests, the crew, and the investigator – in a crisp white linen suit – assembled in the first class lounge.

“You say you were offended Madame?” the investigator began, turning to the authoress. “In your own words: please. Tell us what ’az ’appened.”

“Smoking . . . ” stuttered the woman. “Somebody was smoking, on the afterdeck. And muttering . . . profanities.” Her voice cracked, she could not continue.

“You are aszmatique?” asked investigator. “Ze smell ’as made you eel?”

“Not exactly,” said the authoress. “But I could hear him smoking, which was terribly distressing. And I could hear the language!”

“Hmm. So ze alarm was raised a little after midnight. We may assume ze offence – ” and here he chuckled – “was a mere instant before?”

“That’s right,” quaked the lady. “It was horrible.”

“Distress yourself no furzer,” the investigator assured her. “I ’ave no more kestions for you, for ze while . . . But now we ’ave anozzer kestion: Who was smoking on ze afterdeck at midnight?”

An older man with a crimson complexion spoke up. “It was I,” he confessed.

“Rear Admiral,” remarked the investigator. “I am surprised at you!”

“Couldn’t help meself,” explained the rear admiral – who was recently retired. “Needed to blow off steam. God I was angry. I apologise for any offence but I was, myself, quite furious.”

“And ze cause of zis furee?” the investigator asked.

“Well I was offended, of course!” spluttered the rear admiral. “The cheek of it! The effrontery! I was livid!”

“Because . . . ?”

“Insubordination!” he barked. “A member of the servant classes! Addressing his superior in such a tone! It was an outrage!”

“You speak per’aps of ze watter?” the investigator suggested.

“Yes! Yes! Him!” spat the rear admiral – pointing out the dining room waiter – at that very moment serving them all gin and tonics from a tray. The waiter flinched uneasily.

“’Ee az insulted you?” asked the investigator.

“No, no,” said the rear admiral. “He insulted one of the other diners and I overheard the remark: and that was quite bad enough.”

“Very well,” sighed the investigator. “You may rest now, Sir Admiral. Let us direct our enquiry to ze watter. What is your name watter?”

“Marco, sir,” said the waiter – with fire in his eyes.

“And you admit zat you ’ave insulted a passengeur?”

“Yessa. I ’ava. But she ’ad begun it! Mio father was a fisherman. Mio grandfather a fisherman. Mio brothers, they are all fishermen. Our life is the sea. The fishes, our brethren. And she insulta da fish!”

He pointed angrily at a young woman.

“And she insulta … ” he growled, “mio culture!”

“Hmm. So you too are offended?” mused the investigator. “But by zis leetle woman?”

Eyes turned to the dizzy and diminutive heiress – fanning herself in a rattan chair – fabulously rich yet barely twenty, and a citizen of the United States. She was a picture of good breeding and modern sophistication – sporting a bespoke cream-silk lady’s tropical day gown, with veiled fedora and amber accessories.

“You are Marybelle Windowlene van der Valk?” asked the investigator.

“Why so Ah am,” she answered breathily.

“And you admit zat you were insulting about zis gentleman’s feesh?”

“Ah wasn’t so much insultin’,” said the heiress, “as insulTED. Why yes. Ah never been so offended in all my born days!”

“Accepting zat zat is not a particularly long time – ” the investigator continued wittily – “let us probe a little, if we may, once encore, into ze nature of zis offence. Was ze feesh ’oeuf’?”

“Why no.”

“Was ze feesh too, eurm, saltee?”


“Too vinegary per’aps? Or zere were bones in it?”

“Oh no.”

“Too small? Too big? Insufficiently marinaded prior to ze cooking?”


“Are you per’aps one of zese people zat preffeurs ze ’ead to be removed so zat you are not disteurbed by ze tragic expression on ze face of your vanquished foe?”

“Well of course not, no!” snapped the heiress. “That’s mah whole point. Ah didn’t order the fish!”

The investigator recoiled; a great murmuring started up in the lounge as the assembled passengers and crew absorbed this revelation.

“She didn’t order it!” they mumbled.

“She didn’t have the fish!” they exclaimed. And the news was passed through the doorways and the portholes, all the way to the lowly stoker.

“It’s like this – ” the heiress began, trembling a little, pouting, and shedding a single tear. “When Ah was a girl back in Marybelle-Windowlene-Ville GA, Ah had but one true friend, Ol’ Goldie. An’ he was a fish. He was mah best fish an’ he lived in a lil’ glass bowl in mah room where Ah would talk to him every evening abaht everything. Anyways, one day the cat got him an’ ever since Ah just abhor the idea of anyone eatin’ a fish. An’ Ah never eat fish, an’ I don’t like fish-cooks, an’ Ah don’t like fishermen or nuthin’ like that. Ah don’t even like the word ‘hook’ – which is why Ah never learned crochay …

“And, when Ah saw that word ‘fish’ printed there on that menu – ” she continued, beginning to blub – “well, Ah just couldn’t stand it. Ah was so offended as Ah had to just tell that waiter what Ah thought of his serial killing tendencies!”

“And so you told eem what ee could do wiz iz feesh?” the investigator surmised.

“And I tella her – ” added the furious waiter – “that if she don’ta lika da fish, what de ella is she doing in mio dining room on an oceanic cruz!”

“And that made my blood boil,” growled the rear admiral. “He should be keel-hauled.”

“Words which you ’ave répété over a good cigar and ze remains of a bottle of port while leaning on ze taffrail, close to ze suite of ze eccentrique lady authoress? – wiz per’aps a few added expletiffs?” the investigator deduced.

“Don’t say it! Don’t say it!” squeaked the authoress – effervescent with dismay.

A silence fell.

“We will not repeat zose words,” the investigator assured her. “We shall instead consult a telemassage which I ’ave received a few short moments ago, which informs me Madame zat – before you were a best-selling authoress – you were for many years a typist in a shipyard upon ze Scottish River Claad!”

Everybody gasped. The authoress paled.

“Zere you would certainly ’ave encountered a great amount of ze smoking and ’erd a great amount of ze language – such as when ze ’ammer eets ze zumb? I put it to you Madame zat you were not offended at all. Indeed, ze sedatiff I persuaded ze docteur to administeur was in actuality – un placebo!”

The authoress turned glumly to the floor. “I was thinking of mother,” she wept. “I suffer from a rare form of ‘inherited sensitivity’ – when I feel offended on behalf of dead relatives and certain fictional characters.”

“Zat is obviously bullsheet – ” the investigator quipped – “Moreover, Rear Admiral, I fear zat your own many appearances in ze Bow Street Court for instances of public affray and ze assaulting of Police Officeurs ’az more zan weakened your allegiance to ze eye standards of which you speak.”

The admiral glowered.

“You, Marco, are a proud man,” the investigator continued, “but you are also a watter. Eef you cannot ’andle ze occasional womanish eesteria, you should join your brozzers in zeir chosen profession.

“As for you, Miss Marybelle Windowlene, you will ’ave to get over your feesh. I ’ave anozzer telemassage relating to ze collapse of your family investments and zeir chain of abattoirs which will give you somezing a leetle more substantial to cry about – ”

The heiress screamed and fainted.

“Hm. Zat’s betteur,” smiled the investigator.

The ship’s doctor called the room to order. “So it’s all been one huge misunderstanding!” he chuckled. “No damage done. And we can all get on with enjoying our holidays!”

There was a general concordance and a drying of tears (except for the heiress’s, obviously).

“I’m afraid not,” the investigator interrupted. “For you ’ave made one very simple mistake. I am myself appalled by any forms of ’umaine stupidity. You may even say: it offends me. To fake, to pretend, to concoct or synzesize a clam of offence when non ’az been given, is an act of low, gross, attention-seeking, pseudo-intellectualism and base greed. You are all under arrest!”

Moral: What he said.

© Adam Acidophilus 2021