Part 5 out of 8
under her own hand. In that letter to my wife she says she has
acted unscrupulously. She has owned up, then, for what else can it
mean, I should like to know. And so they are to be married before
that old idiot comes out . . . He will be surprised," commented Fyne
suddenly in a strangely malignant tone. "He shall be met at the
jail door by a Mrs. Anthony, a Mrs. Captain Anthony. Very pleasant
for Zoe. And for all I know, my brother-in-law means to turn up
dutifully too. A little family event. It's extremely pleasant to
think of. Delightful. A charming family party. We three against
the world--and all that sort of thing. And what for. For a girl
that doesn't care twopence for him."
The demon of bitterness had entered into little Fyne. He amazed me
as though he had changed his skin from white to black. It was quite
as wonderful. And he kept it up, too.
"Luckily there are some advantages in the--the profession of a
sailor. As long as they defy the world away at sea somewhere
eighteen thousand miles from here, I don't mind so much. I wonder
what that interesting old party will say. He will have another
surprise. They mean to drag him along with them on board the ship
straight away. Rescue work. Just think of Roderick Anthony, the
son of a gentleman, after all . . . "
He gave me a little shock. I thought he was going to say the "son
of the poet" as usual; but his mind was not running on such vanities
now. His unspoken thought must have gone on "and uncle of my
girls." I suspect that he had been roughly handled by Captain
Anthony up there, and the resentment gave a tremendous fillip to the
slow play of his wits. Those men of sober fancy, when anything
rouses their imaginative faculty, are very thorough. "Just think!"
he cried. "The three of them crowded into a four-wheeler, and
Anthony sitting deferentially opposite that astonished old jail-
The good little man laughed. An improper sound it was to come from
his manly chest; and what made it worse was the thought that for the
least thing, by a mere hair's breadth, he might have taken this
affair sentimentally. But clearly Anthony was no diplomatist. His
brother-in-law must have appeared to him, to use the language of
shore people, a perfect philistine with a heart like a flint. What
Fyne precisely meant by "wrangling" I don't know, but I had no doubt
that these two had "wrangled" to a profoundly disturbing extent.
How much the other was affected I could not even imagine; but the
man before me was quite amazingly upset.
"In a four-wheeler! Take him on board!" I muttered, startled by the
change in Fyne.
"That's the plan--nothing less. If I am to believe what I have been
told, his feet will scarcely touch the ground between the prison-
gates and the deck of that ship."
The transformed Fyne spoke in a forcibly lowered tone which I heard
without difficulty. The rumbling, composite noises of the street
were hushed for a moment, during one of these sudden breaks in the
traffic as if the stream of commerce had dried up at its source.
Having an unobstructed view past Fyne's shoulder, I was astonished
to see that the girl was still there. I thought she had gone up
long before. But there was her black slender figure, her white face
under the roses of her hat. She stood on the edge of the pavement
as people stand on the bank of a stream, very still, as if waiting--
or as if unconscious of where she was. The three dismal, sodden
loafers (I could see them too; they hadn't budged an inch) seemed to
me to be watching her. Which was horrible.
Meantime Fyne was telling me rather remarkable things--for him. He
declared first it was a mercy in a sense. Then he asked me if it
were not real madness, to saddle one's existence with such a
perpetual reminder. The daily existence. The isolated sea-bound
existence. To bring such an additional strain into the solitude
already trying enough for two people was the craziest thing.
Undesirable relations were bad enough on shore. One could cut them
or at least forget their existence now and then. He himself was
preparing to forget his brother-in-law's existence as much as
That was the general sense of his remarks, not his exact words. I
thought that his wife's brother's existence had never been very
embarrassing to him but that now of course he would have to abstain
from his allusions to the "son of the poet--you know." I said "yes,
yes" in the pauses because I did not want him to turn round; and all
the time I was watching the girl intently. I thought I knew now
what she meant with her--"He was most generous." Yes. Generosity
of character may carry a man through any situation. But why didn't
she go then to her generous man? Why stand there as if clinging to
this solid earth which she surely hated as one must hate the place
where one has been tormented, hopeless, unhappy? Suddenly she
stirred. Was she going to cross over? No. She turned and began to
walk slowly close to the curbstone, reminding me of the time when I
discovered her walking near the edge of a ninety-foot sheer drop.
It was the same impression, the same carriage, straight, slim, with
rigid head and the two hands hanging lightly clasped in front--only
now a small sunshade was dangling from them. I saw something
fateful in that deliberate pacing towards the inconspicuous door
with the words HOTEL ENTRANCE on the glass panels.
She was abreast of it now and I thought that she would stop again;
but no! She swerved rigidly--at the moment there was no one near
her; she had that bit of pavement to herself--with inanimate
slowness as if moved by something outside herself.
"A confounded convict," Fyne burst out.
With the sound of that word offending my ears I saw the girl extend
her arm, push the door open a little way and glide in. I saw
plainly that movement, the hand put out in advance with the gesture
of a sleep-walker.
She had vanished, her black figure had melted in the darkness of the
open door. For some time Fyne said nothing; and I thought of the
girl going upstairs, appearing before the man. Were they looking at
each other in silence and feeling they were alone in the world as
lovers should at the moment of meeting? But that fine forgetfulness
was surely impossible to Anthony the seaman directly after the
wrangling interview with Fyne the emissary of an order of things
which stops at the edge of the sea. How much he was disturbed I
couldn't tell because I did not know what that impetuous lover had
had to listen to.
"Going to take the old fellow to sea with them," I said. "Well I
really don't see what else they could have done with him. You told
your brother-in-law what you thought of it? I wonder how he took
"Very improperly," repeated Fyne. "His manner was offensive,
derisive, from the first. I don't mean he was actually rude in
words. Hang it all, I am not a contemptible ass. But he was
exulting at having got hold of a miserable girl."
"It is pretty certain that she will be much less poor and
miserable," I murmured.
It looked as if the exultation of Captain Anthony had got on Fyne's
nerves. "I told the fellow very plainly that he was abominably
selfish in this," he affirmed unexpectedly.
"You did! Selfish!" I said rather taken aback. "But what if the
girl thought that, on the contrary, he was most generous."
"What do you know about it," growled Fyne. The rents and slashes of
his solemnity were closing up gradually but it was going to be a
surly solemnity. "Generosity! I am disposed to give it another
name. No. Not folly," he shot out at me as though I had meant to
interrupt him. "Still another. Something worse. I need not tell
you what it is," he added with grim meaning.
"Certainly. You needn't--unless you like," I said blankly. Little
Fyne had never interested me so much since the beginning of the de
Barral-Anthony affair when I first perceived possibilities in him.
The possibilities of dull men are exciting because when they happen
they suggest legendary cases of "possession," not exactly by the
devil but, anyhow, by a strange spirit.
"I told him it was a shame," said Fyne. "Even if the girl did make
eyes at him--but I think with you that she did not. Yes! A shame
to take advantage of a girl's--a distresses girl that does not love
him in the least."
"You think it's so bad as that?" I said. "Because you know I
"What can you think about it," he retorted on me with a solemn
stare. "I go by her letter to my wife."
"Ah! that famous letter. But you haven't actually read it," I said.
"No, but my wife told me. Of course it was a most improper sort of
letter to write considering the circumstances. It pained Mrs. Fyne
to discover how thoroughly she had been misunderstood. But what is
written is not all. It's what my wife could read between the lines.
She says that the girl is really terrified at heart."
"She had not much in life to give her any very special courage for
it, or any great confidence in mankind. That's very true. But this
seems an exaggeration."
"I should like to know what reasons you have to say that," asked
Fyne with offended solemnity. "I really don't see any. But I had
sufficient authority to tell my brother-in-law that if he thought he
was going to do something chivalrous and fine he was mistaken. I
can see very well that he will do everything she asks him to do--
but, all the same, it is rather a pitiless transaction."
For a moment I felt it might be so. Fyne caught sight of an
approaching tram-car and stepped out on the road to meet it. "Have
you a more compassionate scheme ready?" I called after him. He made
no answer, clambered on to the rear platform, and only then looked
back. We exchanged a perfunctory wave of the hand. We also looked
at each other, he rather angrily, I fancy, and I with wonder. I may
also mention that it was for the last time. From that day I never
set eyes on the Fynes. As usual the unexpected happened to me. It
had nothing to do with Flora de Barral. The fact is that I went
away. My call was not like her call. Mine was not urged on me with
passionate vehemence or tender gentleness made all the finer and
more compelling by the allurements of generosity which is a virtue
as mysterious as any other but having a glamour of its own. No, it
was just a prosaic offer of employment on rather good terms which,
with a sudden sense of having wasted my time on shore long enough, I
accepted without misgivings. And once started out of my indolence I
went, as my habit was, very, very far away and for a long, long
time. Which is another proof of my indolence. How far Flora went I
can't say. But I will tell you my idea: my idea is that she went
as far as she was able--as far as she could bear it--as far as she
had to . . . "
PART II--THE KNIGHT
CHAPTER ONE--THE FERNDALE
I have said that the story of Flora de Barral was imparted to me in
stages. At this stage I did not see Marlow for some time. At last,
one evening rather early, very soon after dinner, he turned up in my
I had been waiting for his call primed with a remark which had not
occurred to me till after he had gone away.
"I say," I tackled him at once, "how can you be certain that Flora
de Barral ever went to sea? After all, the wife of the captain of
the Ferndale--" the lady that mustn't be disturbed "of the old ship-
keeper--may not have been Flora."
"Well, I do know," he said, "if only because I have been keeping in
touch with Mr. Powell."
"You have!" I cried. "This is the first I hear of it. And since
"Why, since the first day. You went up to town leaving me in the
inn. I slept ashore. In the morning Mr. Powell came in for
breakfast; and after the first awkwardness of meeting a man you have
been yarning with over-night had worn off, we discovered a liking
for each other."
As I had discovered the fact of their mutual liking before either of
them, I was not surprised.
"And so you kept in touch," I said.
"It was not so very difficult. As he was always knocking about the
river I hired Dingle's sloop-rigged three-tonner to be more on an
equality. Powell was friendly but elusive. I don't think he ever
wanted to avoid me. But it is a fact that he used to disappear out
of the river in a very mysterious manner sometimes. A man may land
anywhere and bolt inland--but what about his five-ton cutter? You
can't carry that in your hand like a suit-case.
"Then as suddenly he would reappear in the river, after one had
given him up. I did not like to be beaten. That's why I hired
Dingle's decked boat. There was just the accommodation in her to
sleep a man and a dog. But I had no dog-friend to invite. Fyne's
dog who saved Flora de Barral's life is the last dog-friend I had.
I was rather lonely cruising about; but that, too, on the river has
its charm, sometimes. I chased the mystery of the vanishing Powell
dreamily, looking about me at the ships, thinking of the girl Flora,
of life's chances--and, do you know, it was very simple."
"What was very simple?" I asked innocently.
"They generally are that," I said.
Marlow eyed me for a moment in a peculiar manner.
"Well, I have discovered the mystery of Powell's disappearances.
The fellow used to run into one of these narrow tidal creeks on the
Essex shore. These creeks are so inconspicuous that till I had
studied the chart pretty carefully I did not know of their
existence. One afternoon, I made Powell's boat out, heading into
the shore. By the time I got close to the mud-flat his craft had
disappeared inland. But I could see the mouth of the creek by then.
The tide being on the turn I took the risk of getting stuck in the
mud suddenly and headed in. All I had to guide me was the top of
the roof of some sort of small building. I got in more by good luck
than by good management. The sun had set some time before; my boat
glided in a sort of winding ditch between two low grassy banks; on
both sides of me was the flatness of the Essex marsh, perfectly
still. All I saw moving was a heron; he was flying low, and
disappeared in the murk. Before I had gone half a mile, I was up
with the building the roof of which I had seen from the river. It
looked like a small barn. A row of piles driven into the soft bank
in front of it and supporting a few planks made a sort of wharf.
All this was black in the falling dusk, and I could just distinguish
the whitish ruts of a cart-track stretching over the marsh towards
the higher land, far away. Not a sound was to be heard. Against
the low streak of light in the sky I could see the mast of Powell's
cutter moored to the bank some twenty yards, no more, beyond that
black barn or whatever it was. I hailed him with a loud shout. Got
no answer. After making fast my boat just astern, I walked along
the bank to have a look at Powell's. Being so much bigger than mine
she was aground already. Her sails were furled; the slide of her
scuttle hatch was closed and padlocked. Powell was gone. He had
walked off into that dark, still marsh somewhere. I had not seen a
single house anywhere near; there did not seem to be any human
habitation for miles; and now as darkness fell denser over the land
I couldn't see the glimmer of a single light. However, I supposed
that there must be some village or hamlet not very far away; or only
one of these mysterious little inns one comes upon sometimes in most
unexpected and lonely places.
"The stillness was oppressive. I went back to my boat, made some
coffee over a spirit-lamp, devoured a few biscuits, and stretched
myself aft, to smoke and gaze at the stars. The earth was a mere
shadow, formless and silent, and empty, till a bullock turned up
from somewhere, quite shadowy too. He came smartly to the very edge
of the bank as though he meant to step on board, stretched his
muzzle right over my boat, blew heavily once, and walked off
contemptuously into the darkness from which he had come. I had not
expected a call from a bullock, though a moment's thought would have
shown me that there must be lots of cattle and sheep on that marsh.
Then everything became still as before. I might have imagined
myself arrived on a desert island. In fact, as I reclined smoking a
sense of absolute loneliness grew on me. And just as it had become
intense, very abruptly and without any preliminary sound I heard
firm, quick footsteps on the little wharf. Somebody coming along
the cart-track had just stepped at a swinging gait on to the planks.
That somebody could only have been Mr. Powell. Suddenly he stopped
short, having made out that there were two masts alongside the bank
where he had left only one. Then he came on silent on the grass.
When I spoke to him he was astonished.
"Who would have thought of seeing you here!" he exclaimed, after
returning my good evening.
"I told him I had run in for company. It was rigorously true."
"You knew I was here?" he exclaimed.
"Of course," I said. "I tell you I came in for company."
"He is a really good fellow," went on Marlow. "And his capacity for
astonishment is quickly exhausted, it seems. It was in the most
matter-of-fact manner that he said, 'Come on board of me, then; I
have here enough supper for two.' He was holding a bulky parcel in
the crook of his arm. I did not wait to be asked twice, as you may
guess. His cutter has a very neat little cabin, quite big enough
for two men not only to sleep but to sit and smoke in. We left the
scuttle wide open, of course. As to his provisions for supper, they
were not of a luxurious kind. He complained that the shops in the
village were miserable. There was a big village within a mile and a
half. It struck me he had been very long doing his shopping; but
naturally I made no remark. I didn't want to talk at all except for
the purpose of setting him going."
"And did you set him going?" I asked.
"I did," said Marlow, composing his features into an impenetrable
expression which somehow assured me of his success better than an
air of triumph could have done.
"You made him talk?" I said after a silence.
"Yes, I made him . . . about himself."
"And to the point?"
"If you mean by this," said Marlow, "that it was about the voyage of
the Ferndale, then again, yes. I brought him to talk about that
voyage, which, by the by, was not the first voyage of Flora de
Barral. The man himself, as I told you, is simple, and his faculty
of wonder not very great. He's one of those people who form no
theories about facts. Straightforward people seldom do. Neither
have they much penetration. But in this case it did not matter. I-
-we--have already the inner knowledge. We know the history of Flora
de Barral. We know something of Captain Anthony. We have the
secret of the situation. The man was intoxicated with the pity and
tenderness of his part. Oh yes! Intoxicated is not too strong a
word; for you know that love and desire take many disguises. I
believe that the girl had been frank with him, with the frankness of
women to whom perfect frankness is impossible, because so much of
their safety depends on judicious reticences. I am not indulging in
cheap sneers. There is necessity in these things. And moreover she
could not have spoken with a certain voice in the face of his
impetuosity, because she did not have time to understand either the
state of her feelings, or the precise nature of what she was doing.
Had she spoken ever so clearly he was, I take it, too elated to hear
her distinctly. I don't mean to imply that he was a fool. Oh dear
no! But he had no training in the usual conventions, and we must
remember that he had no experience whatever of women. He could only
have an ideal conception of his position. An ideal is often but a
flaming vision of reality.
To him enters Fyne, wound up, if I may express myself so
irreverently, wound up to a high pitch by his wife's interpretation
of the girl's letter. He enters with his talk of meanness and
cruelty, like a bucket of water on the flame. Clearly a shock. But
the effects of a bucket of water are diverse. They depend on the
kind of flame. A mere blaze of dry straw, of course . . . but there
can be no question of straw there. Anthony of the Ferndale was not,
could not have been, a straw-stuffed specimen of a man. There are
flames a bucket of water sends leaping sky-high.
We may well wonder what happened when, after Fyne had left him, the
hesitating girl went up at last and opened the door of that room
where our man, I am certain, was not extinguished. Oh no! Nor
cold; whatever else he might have been.
It is conceivable he might have cried at her in the first moment of
humiliation, of exasperation, "Oh, it's you! Why are you here? If
I am so odious to you that you must write to my sister to say so, I
give you back your word." But then, don't you see, it could not
have been that. I have the practical certitude that soon afterwards
they went together in a hansom to see the ship--as agreed. That was
my reason for saying that Flora de Barral did go to sea . . . "
"Yes. It seems conclusive," I agreed. "But even without that--if,
as you seem to think, the very desolation of that girlish figure had
a sort of perversely seductive charm, making its way through his
compassion to his senses (and everything is possible)--then such
words could not have been spoken."
"They might have escaped him involuntarily," observed Marlow.
"However, a plain fact settles it. They went off together to see
"Do you conclude from this that nothing whatever was said?" I
"I should have liked to see the first meeting of their glances
upstairs there," mused Marlow. "And perhaps nothing was said. But
no man comes out of such a 'wrangle' (as Fyne called it) without
showing some traces of it. And you may be sure that a girl so
bruised all over would feel the slightest touch of anything
resembling coldness. She was mistrustful; she could not be
otherwise; for the energy of evil is so much more forcible than the
energy of good that she could not help looking still upon her
abominable governess as an authority. How could one have expected
her to throw off the unholy prestige of that long domination? She
could not help believing what she had been told; that she was in
some mysterious way odious and unlovable. It was cruelly true--TO
HER. The oracle of so many years had spoken finally. Only other
people did not find her out at once . . . I would not go so far as
to say she believed it altogether. That would be hardly possible.
But then haven't the most flattered, the most conceited of us their
moments of doubt? Haven't they? Well, I don't know. There may be
lucky beings in this world unable to believe any evil of themselves.
For my own part I'll tell you that once, many years ago now, it came
to my knowledge that a fellow I had been mixed up with in a certain
transaction--a clever fellow whom I really despised--was going
around telling people that I was a consummate hypocrite. He could
know nothing of it. It suited his humour to say so. I had given
him no ground for that particular calumny. Yet to this day there
are moments when it comes into my mind, and involuntarily I ask
myself, 'What if it were true?' It's absurd, but it has on one or
two occasions nearly affected my conduct. And yet I was not an
impressionable ignorant young girl. I had taken the exact measure
of the fellow's utter worthlessness long before. He had never been
for me a person of prestige and power, like that awful governess to
Flora de Barral. See the might of suggestion? We live at the mercy
of a malevolent word. A sound, a mere disturbance of the air, sinks
into our very soul sometimes. Flora de Barral had been more
astounded than convinced by the first impetuosity of Roderick
Anthony. She let herself be carried along by a mysterious force
which her person had called into being, as her father had been
carried away out of his depth by the unexpected power of successful
They went on board that morning. The Ferndale had just come to her
loading berth. The only living creature on board was the ship-
keeper--whether the same who had been described to us by Mr. Powell,
or another, I don't know. Possibly some other man. He, looking
over the side, saw, in his own words, 'the captain come sailing
round the corner of the nearest cargo-shed, in company with a girl.'
He lowered the accommodation ladder down on to the jetty . . . "
"How do you know all this?" I interrupted.
Marlow interjected an impatient:
"You shall see by and by . . . Flora went up first, got down on deck
and stood stock-still till the captain took her by the arm and led
her aft. The ship-keeper let them into the saloon. He had the keys
of all the cabins, and stumped in after them. The captain ordered
him to open all the doors, every blessed door; state-rooms,
passages, pantry, fore-cabin--and then sent him away.
"The Ferndale had magnificent accommodation. At the end of a
passage leading from the quarter-deck there was a long saloon, its
sumptuosity slightly tarnished perhaps, but having a grand air of
roominess and comfort. The harbour carpets were down, the swinging
lamps hung, and everything in its place, even to the silver on the
sideboard. Two large stern cabins opened out of it, one on each
side of the rudder casing. These two cabins communicated through a
small bathroom between them, and one was fitted up as the captain's
state-room. The other was vacant, and furnished with arm-chairs and
a round table, more like a room on shore, except for the long curved
settee following the shape of the ship's stern. In a dim inclined
mirror, Flora caught sight down to the waist of a pale-faced girl in
a white straw hat trimmed with roses, distant, shadowy, as if
immersed in water, and was surprised to recognize herself in those
surroundings. They seemed to her arbitrary, bizarre, strange.
Captain Anthony moved on, and she followed him. He showed her the
other cabins. He talked all the time loudly in a voice she seemed
to have known extremely well for a long time; and yet, she
reflected, she had not heard it often in her life. What he was
saying she did not quite follow. He was speaking of comparatively
indifferent things in a rather moody tone, but she felt it round her
like a caress. And when he stopped she could hear, alarming in the
sudden silence, the precipitated beating of her heart.
The ship-keeper dodged about the quarter-deck, out of hearing, and
trying to keep out of sight. At the same time, taking advantage of
the open doors with skill and prudence, he could see the captain and
"that girl" the captain had brought aboard. The captain was showing
her round very thoroughly. Through the whole length of the passage,
far away aft in the perspective of the saloon the ship-keeper had
interesting glimpses of them as they went in and out of the various
cabins, crossing from side to side, remaining invisible for a time
in one or another of the state-rooms, and then reappearing again in
the distance. The girl, always following the captain, had her
sunshade in her hands. Mostly she would hang her head, but now and
then she would look up. They had a lot to say to each other, and
seemed to forget they weren't alone in the ship. He saw the captain
put his hand on her shoulder, and was preparing himself with a
certain zest for what might follow, when the "old man" seemed to
recollect himself, and came striding down all the length of the
saloon. At this move the ship-keeper promptly dodged out of sight,
as you may believe, and heard the captain slam the inner door of the
passage. After that disappointment the ship-keeper waited
resentfully for them to clear out of the ship. It happened much
sooner than he had expected. The girl walked out on deck first. As
before she did not look round. She didn't look at anything; and she
seemed to be in such a hurry to get ashore that she made for the
gangway and started down the ladder without waiting for the captain.
What struck the ship-keeper most was the absent, unseeing expression
of the captain, striding after the girl. He passed him, the ship-
keeper, without notice, without an order, without so much as a look.
The captain had never done so before. Always had a nod and a
pleasant word for a man. From this slight the ship-keeper drew a
conclusion unfavourable to the strange girl. He gave them time to
get down on the wharf before crossing the deck to steal one more
look at the pair over the rail. The captain took hold of the girl's
arm just before a couple of railway trucks drawn by a horse came
rolling along and hid them from the ship-keeper's sight for good.
Next day, when the chief mate joined the ship, he told him the tale
of the visit, and expressed himself about the girl "who had got hold
of the captain" disparagingly. She didn't look healthy, he
explained. "Shabby clothes, too," he added spitefully.
The mate was very much interested. He had been with Anthony for
several years, and had won for himself in the course of many long
voyages, a footing of familiarity, which was to be expected with a
man of Anthony's character. But in that slowly-grown intimacy of
the sea, which in its duration and solitude had its unguarded
moments, no words had passed, even of the most casual, to prepare
him for the vision of his captain associated with any kind of girl.
His impression had been that women did not exist for Captain
Anthony. Exhibiting himself with a girl! A girl! What did he want
with a girl? Bringing her on board and showing her round the cabin!
That was really a little bit too much. Captain Anthony ought to
have known better.
Franklin (the chief mate's name was Franklin) felt disappointed;
almost disillusioned. Silly thing to do! Here was a confounded old
ship-keeper set talking. He snubbed the ship-keeper, and tried to
think of that insignificant bit of foolishness no more; for it
diminished Captain Anthony in his eyes of a jealously devoted
Franklin was over forty; his mother was still alive. She stood in
the forefront of all women for him, just as Captain Anthony stood in
the forefront of all men. We may suppose that these groups were not
very large. He had gone to sea at a very early age. The feeling
which caused these two people to partly eclipse the rest of mankind
were of course not similar; though in time he had acquired the
conviction that he was "taking care" of them both. The "old lady"
of course had to be looked after as long as she lived. In regard to
Captain Anthony, he used to say that: why should he leave him? It
wasn't likely that he would come across a better sailor or a better
man or a more comfortable ship. As to trying to better himself in
the way of promotion, commands were not the sort of thing one picked
up in the streets, and when it came to that, Captain Anthony was as
likely to give him a lift on occasion as anyone in the world.
From Mr. Powell's description Franklin was a short, thick black-
haired man, bald on the top. His head sunk between the shoulders,
his staring prominent eyes and a florid colour, gave him a rather
apoplectic appearance. In repose, his congested face had a
humorously melancholy expression.
The ship-keeper having given him up all the keys and having been
chased forward with the admonition to mind his own business and not
to chatter about what did not concern him, Mr. Franklin went under
the poop. He opened one door after another; and, in the saloon, in
the captain's state-room and everywhere, he stared anxiously as if
expecting to see on the bulkheads, on the deck, in the air,
something unusual--sign, mark, emanation, shadow--he hardly knew
what--some subtle change wrought by the passage of a girl. But
there was nothing. He entered the unoccupied stern cabin and spent
some time there unscrewing the two stern ports. In the absence of
all material evidences his uneasiness was passing away. With a last
glance round he came out and found himself in the presence of his
captain advancing from the other end of the saloon.
Franklin, at once, looked for the girl. She wasn't to be seen. The
captain came up quickly. 'Oh! you are here, Mr. Franklin.' And the
mate said, 'I was giving a little air to the place, sir.' Then the
captain, his hat pulled down over his eyes, laid his stick on the
table and asked in his kind way: 'How did you find your mother,
Franklin?'--'The old lady's first-rate, sir, thank you.' And then
they had nothing to say to each other. It was a strange and
disturbing feeling for Franklin. He, just back from leave, the ship
just come to her loading berth, the captain just come on board, and
apparently nothing to say! The several questions he had been
anxious to ask as to various things which had to be done had slipped
out of his mind. He, too, felt as though he had nothing to say.
The captain, picking up his stick off the table, marched into his
state-room and shut the door after him. Franklin remained still for
a moment and then started slowly to go on deck. But before he had
time to reach the other end of the saloon he heard himself called by
name. He turned round. The captain was staring from the doorway of
his state-room. Franklin said, "Yes, sir." But the captain,
silent, leaned a little forward grasping the door handle. So he,
Franklin, walked aft keeping his eyes on him. When he had come up
quite close he said again, "Yes, sir?" interrogatively. Still
silence. The mate didn't like to be stared at in that manner, a
manner quite new in his captain, with a defiant and self-conscious
stare, like a man who feels ill and dares you to notice it.
Franklin gazed at his captain, felt that there was something wrong,
and in his simplicity voiced his feelings by asking point-blank:
"What's wrong, sir?"
The captain gave a slight start, and the character of his stare
changed to a sort of sinister surprise. Franklin grew very
uncomfortable, but the captain asked negligently:
"What makes you think that there's something wrong?"
"I can't say exactly. You don't look quite yourself, sir," Franklin
"You seem to have a confoundedly piercing eye," said the captain in
such an aggressive tone that Franklin was moved to defend himself.
"We have been together now over six years, sir, so I suppose I know
you a bit by this time. I could see there was something wrong
directly you came on board."
"Mr. Franklin," said the captain, "we have been more than six years
together, it is true, but I didn't know you for a reader of faces.
You are not a correct reader though. It's very far from being
wrong. You understand? As far from being wrong as it can very well
be. It ought to teach you not to make rash surmises. You should
leave that to the shore people. They are great hands at spying out
something wrong. I dare say they know what they have made of the
world. A dam' poor job of it and that's plain. It's a confoundedly
ugly place, Mr. Franklin. You don't know anything of it? Well--no,
we sailors don't. Only now and then one of us runs against
something cruel or underhand, enough to make your hair stand on end.
And when you do see a piece of their wickedness you find that to set
it right is not so easy as it looks . . . Oh! I called you back to
tell you that there will be a lot of workmen, joiners and all that
sent down on board first thing to-morrow morning to start making
alterations in the cabin. You will see to it that they don't loaf.
There isn't much time."
Franklin was impressed by this unexpected lecture upon the
wickedness of the solid world surrounded by the salt, uncorruptible
waters on which he and his captain had dwelt all their lives in
happy innocence. What he could not understand was why it should
have been delivered, and what connection it could have with such a
matter as the alterations to be carried out in the cabin. The work
did not seem to him to be called for in such a hurry. What was the
use of altering anything? It was a very good accommodation,
spacious, well-distributed, on a rather old-fashioned plan, and with
its decorations somewhat tarnished. But a dab of varnish, a touch
of gilding here and there, was all that was necessary. As to
comfort, it could not be improved by any alterations. He resented
the notion of change; but he said dutifully that he would keep his
eye on the workmen if the captain would only let him know what was
the nature of the work he had ordered to be done.
"You'll find a note of it on this table. I'll leave it for you as I
go ashore," said Captain Anthony hastily. Franklin thought there
was no more to hear, and made a movement to leave the saloon. But
the captain continued after a slight pause, "You will be surprised,
no doubt, when you look at it. There'll be a good many alterations.
It's on account of a lady coming with us. I am going to get
married, Mr. Franklin!"
CHAPTER TWO--YOUNG POWELL SEES AND HEARS
"You remember," went on Marlow, "how I feared that Mr. Powell's want
of experience would stand in his way of appreciating the unusual.
The unusual I had in my mind was something of a very subtle sort:
the unusual in marital relations. I may well have doubted the
capacity of a young man too much concerned with the creditable
performance of his professional duties to observe what in the nature
of things is not easily observable in itself, and still less so
under the special circumstances. In the majority of ships a second
officer has not many points of contact with the captain's wife. He
sits at the same table with her at meals, generally speaking; he may
now and then be addressed more or less kindly on insignificant
matters, and have the opportunity to show her some small attentions
on deck. And that is all. Under such conditions, signs can be seen
only by a sharp and practised eye. I am alluding now to troubles
which are subtle often to the extent of not being understood by the
very hearts they devastate or uplift.
Yes, Mr. Powell, whom the chance of his name had thrown upon the
floating stage of that tragicomedy would have been perfectly useless
for my purpose if the unusual of an obvious kind had not aroused his
attention from the first.
We know how he joined that ship so suddenly offered to his anxious
desire to make a real start in his profession. He had come on board
breathless with the hurried winding up of his shore affairs,
accompanied by two horrible night-birds, escorted by a dock
policeman on the make, received by an asthmatic shadow of a ship-
keeper, warned not to make a noise in the darkness of the passage
because the captain and his wife were already on board. That in
itself was already somewhat unusual. Captains and their wives do
not, as a rule, join a moment sooner than is necessary. They prefer
to spend the last moments with their friends and relations. A ship
in one of London's older docks with their restrictions as to lights
and so on is not the place for a happy evening. Still, as the tide
served at six in the morning, one could understand them coming on
board the evening before.
Just then young Powell felt as if anybody ought to be glad enough to
be quit of the shore. We know he was an orphan from a very early
age, without brothers or sisters--no near relations of any kind, I
believe, except that aunt who had quarrelled with his father. No
affection stood in the way of the quiet satisfaction with which he
thought that now all the worries were over, that there was nothing
before him but duties, that he knew what he would have to do as soon
as the dawn broke and for a long succession of days. A most
soothing certitude. He enjoyed it in the dark, stretched out in his
bunk with his new blankets pulled over him. Some clock ashore
beyond the dock-gates struck two. And then he heard nothing more,
because he went off into a light sleep from which he woke up with a
start. He had not taken his clothes off, it was hardly worth while.
He jumped up and went on deck.
The morning was clear, colourless, grey overhead; the dock like a
sheet of darkling glass crowded with upside-down reflections of
warehouses, of hulls and masts of silent ships. Rare figures moved
here and there on the distant quays. A knot of men stood alongside
with clothes-bags and wooden chests at their feet. Others were
coming down the lane between tall, blind walls, surrounding a hand-
cart loaded with more bags and boxes. It was the crew of the
Ferndale. They began to come on board. He scanned their faces as
they passed forward filling the roomy deck with the shuffle of their
footsteps and the murmur of voices, like the awakening to life of a
world about to be launched into space.
Far away down the clear glassy stretch in the middle of the long
dock Mr. Powell watched the tugs coming in quietly through the open
gates. A subdued firm voice behind him interrupted this
contemplation. It was Franklin, the thick chief mate, who was
addressing him with a watchful appraising stare of his prominent
black eyes: "You'd better take a couple of these chaps with you and
look out for her aft. We are going to cast off."
"Yes, sir," Powell said with proper alacrity; but for a moment they
remained looking at each other fixedly. Something like a faint
smile altered the set of the chief mate's lips just before he moved
off forward with his brisk step.
Mr. Powell, getting up on the poop, touched his cap to Captain
Anthony, who was there alone. He tells me that it was only then
that he saw his captain for the first time. The day before, in the
shipping office, what with the bad light and his excitement at this
berth obtained as if by a brusque and unscrupulous miracle, did not
count. He had then seemed to him much older and heavier. He was
surprised at the lithe figure, broad of shoulder, narrow at the
hips, the fire of the deep-set eyes, the springiness of the walk.
The captain gave him a steady stare, nodded slightly, and went on
pacing the poop with an air of not being aware of what was going on,
his head rigid, his movements rapid.
Powell stole several glances at him with a curiosity very natural
under the circumstances. He wore a short grey jacket and a grey
cap. In the light of the dawn, growing more limpid rather than
brighter, Powell noticed the slightly sunken cheeks under the
trimmed beard, the perpendicular fold on the forehead, something
hard and set about the mouth.
It was too early yet for the work to have begun in the dock. The
water gleamed placidly, no movement anywhere on the long straight
lines of the quays, no one about to be seen except the few dock
hands busy alongside the Ferndale, knowing their work, mostly silent
or exchanging a few words in low tones as if they, too, had been
aware of that lady 'who mustn't be disturbed.' The Ferndale was the
only ship to leave that tide. The others seemed still asleep,
without a sound, and only here and there a figure, coming up on the
forecastle, leaned on the rail to watch the proceedings idly.
Without trouble and fuss and almost without a sound was the Ferndale
leaving the land, as if stealing away. Even the tugs, now with
their engines stopped, were approaching her without a ripple, the
burly-looking paddle-boat sheering forward, while the other, a
screw, smaller and of slender shape, made for her quarter so gently
that she did not divide the smooth water, but seemed to glide on its
surface as if on a sheet of plate-glass, a man in her bow, the
master at the wheel visible only from the waist upwards above the
white screen of the bridge, both of them so still-eyed as to
fascinate young Powell into curious self-forgetfulness and
immobility. He was steeped, sunk in the general quietness,
remembering the statement 'she's a lady that mustn't be disturbed,'
and repeating to himself idly: 'No. She won't be disturbed. She
won't be disturbed.' Then the first loud words of that morning
breaking that strange hush of departure with a sharp hail: 'Look
out for that line there,' made him start. The line whizzed past his
head, one of the sailors aft caught it, and there was an end to the
fascination, to the quietness of spirit which had stolen on him at
the very moment of departure. From that moment till two hours
afterwards, when the ship was brought up in one of the lower reaches
of the Thames off an apparently uninhabited shore, near some sort of
inlet where nothing but two anchored barges flying a red flag could
be seen, Powell was too busy to think of the lady 'that mustn't be
disturbed,' or of his captain--or of anything else unconnected with
his immediate duties. In fact, he had no occasion to go on the
poop, or even look that way much; but while the ship was about to
anchor, casting his eyes in that direction, he received an absurd
impression that his captain (he was up there, of course) was sitting
on both sides of the aftermost skylight at once. He was too
occupied to reflect on this curious delusion, this phenomenon of
seeing double as though he had had a drop too much. He only smiled
As often happens after a grey daybreak the sun had risen in a warm
and glorious splendour above the smooth immense gleam of the
enlarged estuary. Wisps of mist floated like trails of luminous
dust, and in the dazzling reflections of water and vapour, the
shores had the murky semi-transparent darkness of shadows cast
mysteriously from below. Powell, who had sailed out of London all
his young sea-man's life, told me that it was then, in a moment of
entranced vision an hour or so after sunrise, that the river was
revealed to him for all time, like a fair face often seen before,
which is suddenly perceived to be the expression of an inner and
unsuspected beauty, of that something unique and only its own which
rouses a passion of wonder and fidelity and an unappeasable memory
of its charm. The hull of the Ferndale, swung head to the eastward,
caught the light, her tall spars and rigging steeped in a bath of
red-gold, from the water-line full of glitter to the trucks slight
and gleaming against the delicate expanse of the blue.
"Time we had a mouthful to eat," said a voice at his side. It was
Mr. Franklin, the chief mate, with his head sunk between his
shoulders, and melancholy eyes. "Let the men have their breakfast,
bo'sun," he went on, "and have the fire out in the galley in half an
hour at the latest, so that we can call these barges of explosives
alongside. Come along, young man. I don't know your name. Haven't
seen the captain, to speak to, since yesterday afternoon when he
rushed off to pick up a second mate somewhere. How did he get you?"
Young Powell, a little shy notwithstanding the friendly disposition
of the other, answered him smilingly, aware somehow that there was
something marked in this inquisitiveness, natural, after all--
something anxious. His name was Powell, and he was put in the way
of this berth by Mr. Powell, the shipping master. He blushed.
"Ah, I see. Well, you have been smart in getting ready. The ship-
keeper, before he went away, told me you joined at one o'clock. I
didn't sleep on board last night. Not I. There was a time when I
never cared to leave this ship for more than a couple of hours in
the evening, even while in London, but now, since--"
He checked himself with a roll of his prominent eyes towards that
youngster, that stranger. Meantime, he was leading the way across
the quarter-deck under the poop into the long passage with the door
of the saloon at the far end. It was shut. But Mr. Franklin did
not go so far. After passing the pantry he opened suddenly a door
on the left of the passage, to Powell's great surprise.
"Our mess-room," he said, entering a small cabin painted white,
bare, lighted from part of the foremost skylight, and furnished only
with a table and two settees with movable backs. "That surprises
you? Well, it isn't usual. And it wasn't so in this ship either,
before. It's only since--"
He checked himself again. "Yes. Here we shall feed, you and I,
facing each other for the next twelve months or more--God knows how
much more! The bo'sun keeps the deck at meal-times in fine
He talked not exactly wheezing, but like a man whose breath is
somewhat short, and the spirit (young Powell could not help
thinking) embittered by some mysterious grievance.
There was enough of the unusual there to be recognized even by
Powell's inexperience. The officers kept out of the cabin against
the custom of the service, and then this sort of accent in the
mate's talk. Franklin did not seem to expect conversational ease
from the new second mate. He made several remarks about the old,
deploring the accident. Awkward. Very awkward this thing to happen
on the very eve of sailing.
"Collar-bone and arm broken," he sighed. "Sad, very sad. Did you
notice if the captain was at all affected? Eh? Must have been."
Before this congested face, these globular eyes turned yearningly
upon him, young Powell (one must keep in mind he was but a youngster
then) who could not remember any signs of visible grief, confessed
with an embarrassed laugh that, owing to the suddenness of this
lucky chance coming to him, he was not in a condition to notice the
state of other people.
"I was so pleased to get a ship at last," he murmured, further
disconcerted by the sort of pent-up gravity in Mr. Franklin's
"One man's food another man's poison," the mate remarked. "That
holds true beyond mere victuals. I suppose it didn't occur to you
that it was a dam' poor way for a good man to be knocked out."
Mr. Powell admitted openly that he had not thought of that. He was
ready to admit that it was very reprehensible of him. But Franklin
had no intention apparently to moralize. He did not fall silent
either. His further remarks were to the effect that there had been
a time when Captain Anthony would have showed more than enough
concern for the least thing happening to one of his officers. Yes,
there had been a time!
"And mind," he went on, laying down suddenly a half-consumed piece
of bread and butter and raising his voice, "poor Mathews was the
second man the longest on board. I was the first. He joined a
month later--about the same time as the steward by a few days. The
bo'sun and the carpenter came the voyage after. Steady men. Still
here. No good man need ever have thought of leaving the Ferndale
unless he were a fool. Some good men are fools. Don't know when
they are well off. I mean the best of good men; men that you would
do anything for. They go on for years, then all of a sudden--"
Our young friend listened to the mate with a queer sense of
discomfort growing on him. For it was as though Mr. Franklin were
thinking aloud, and putting him into the delicate position of an
unwilling eavesdropper. But there was in the mess-room another
listener. It was the steward, who had come in carrying a tin
coffee-pot with a long handle, and stood quietly by: a man with a
middle-aged, sallow face, long features, heavy eyelids, a soldierly
grey moustache. His body encased in a short black jacket with
narrow sleeves, his long legs in very tight trousers, made up an
agile, youthful, slender figure. He moved forward suddenly, and
interrupted the mate's monologue.
"More coffee, Mr. Franklin? Nice fresh lot. Piping hot. I am
going to give breakfast to the saloon directly, and the cook is
raking his fire out. Now's your chance."
The mate who, on account of his peculiar build, could not turn his
head freely, twisted his thick trunk slightly, and ran his black
eyes in the corners towards the steward.
"And is the precious pair of them out?" he growled.
The steward, pouring out the coffee into the mate's cup, muttered
moodily but distinctly: "The lady wasn't when I was laying the
Powell's ears were fine enough to detect something hostile in this
reference to the captain's wife. For of what other person could
they be speaking? The steward added with a gloomy sort of fairness:
"But she will be before I bring the dishes in. She never gives that
sort of trouble. That she doesn't."
"No. Not in that way," Mr. Franklin agreed, and then both he and
the steward, after glancing at Powell--the stranger to the ship--
said nothing more.
But this had been enough to rouse his curiosity. Curiosity is
natural to man. Of course it was not a malevolent curiosity which,
if not exactly natural, is to be met fairly frequently in men and
perhaps more frequently in women--especially if a woman be in
question; and that woman under a cloud, in a manner of speaking.
For under a cloud Flora de Barral was fated to be even at sea. Yes.
Even that sort of darkness which attends a woman for whom there is
no clear place in the world hung over her. Yes. Even at sea!
And this is the pathos of being a woman. A man can struggle to get
a place for himself or perish. But a woman's part is passive, say
what you like, and shuffle the facts of the world as you may,
hinting at lack of energy, of wisdom, of courage. As a matter of
fact, almost all women have all that--of their own kind. But they
are not made for attack. Wait they must. I am speaking here of
women who are really women. And it's no use talking of
opportunities, either. I know that some of them do talk of it. But
not the genuine women. Those know better. Nothing can beat a true
woman for a clear vision of reality; I would say a cynical vision if
I were not afraid of wounding your chivalrous feelings--for which,
by the by, women are not so grateful as you may think, to fellows of
your kind . . .
"Upon my word, Marlow," I cried, "what are you flying out at me for
like this? I wouldn't use an ill-sounding word about women, but
what right have you to imagine that I am looking for gratitude?"
Marlow raised a soothing hand.
"There! There! I take back the ill-sounding word, with the remark,
though, that cynicism seems to me a word invented by hypocrites.
But let that pass. As to women, they know that the clamour for
opportunities for them to become something which they cannot be is
as reasonable as if mankind at large started asking for
opportunities of winning immortality in this world, in which death
is the very condition of life. You must understand that I am not
talking here of material existence. That naturally is implied; but
you won't maintain that a woman who, say, enlisted, for instance
(there have been cases) has conquered her place in the world. She
has only got her living in it--which is quite meritorious, but not
quite the same thing.
All these reflections which arise from my picking up the thread of
Flora de Barral's existence did not, I am certain, present
themselves to Mr. Powell--not the Mr. Powell we know taking solitary
week-end cruises in the estuary of the Thames (with mysterious
dashes into lonely creeks) but to the young Mr. Powell, the chance
second officer of the ship Ferndale, commanded (and for the most
part owned) by Roderick Anthony, the son of the poet--you know. A
Mr. Powell, much slenderer than our robust friend is now, with the
bloom of innocence not quite rubbed off his smooth cheeks, and apt
not only to be interested but also to be surprised by the experience
life was holding in store for him. This would account for his
remembering so much of it with considerable vividness. For
instance, the impressions attending his first breakfast on board the
Ferndale, both visual and mental, were as fresh to him as if
The surprise, it is easy to understand, would arise from the
inability to interpret aright the signs which experience (a thing
mysterious in itself) makes to our understanding and emotions. For
it is never more than that. Our experience never gets into our
blood and bones. It always remains outside of us. That's why we
look with wonder at the past. And this persists even when from
practice and through growing callousness of fibre we come to the
point when nothing that we meet in that rapid blinking stumble
across a flick of sunshine--which our life is--nothing, I say, which
we run against surprises us any more. Not at the time, I mean. If,
later on, we recover the faculty with some such exclamation: 'Well!
Well! I'll be hanged if I ever, . . . ' it is probably because this
very thing that there should be a past to look back upon, other
people's, is very astounding in itself when one has the time, a
fleeting and immense instant to think of it . . . "
I was on the point of interrupting Marlow when he stopped of
himself, his eyes fixed on vacancy, or--perhaps--(I wouldn't be too
hard on him) on a vision. He has the habit, or, say, the fault, of
defective mantelpiece clocks, of suddenly stopping in the very
fulness of the tick. If you have ever lived with a clock afflicted
with that perversity, you know how vexing it is--such a stoppage. I
was vexed with Marlow. He was smiling faintly while I waited. He
even laughed a little. And then I said acidly:
"Am I to understand that you have ferreted out something comic in
the history of Flora de Barral?"
"Comic!" he exclaimed. "No! What makes you say? . . . Oh, I
laughed--did I? But don't you know that people laugh at absurdities
that are very far from being comic? Didn't you read the latest
books about laughter written by philosophers, psychologists? There
is a lot of them . . . "
"I dare say there has been a lot of nonsense written about laughter-
-and tears, too, for that matter," I said impatiently.
"They say," pursued the unabashed Marlow, "that we laugh from a
sense of superiority. Therefore, observe, simplicity, honesty,
warmth of feeling, delicacy of heart and of conduct, self-
confidence, magnanimity are laughed at, because the presence of
these traits in a man's character often puts him into difficult,
cruel or absurd situations, and makes us, the majority who are
fairly free as a rule from these peculiarities, feel pleasantly
"Speak for yourself," I said. "But have you discovered all these
fine things in the story; or has Mr. Powell discovered them to you
in his artless talk? Have you two been having good healthy laughs
together? Come! Are your sides aching yet, Marlow?"
Marlow took no offence at my banter. He was quite serious.
"I should not like to say off-hand how much of that there was," he
pursued with amusing caution. "But there was a situation, tense
enough for the signs of it to give many surprises to Mr. Powell--
neither of them shocking in itself, but with a cumulative effect
which made the whole unforgettable in the detail of its progress.
And the first surprise came very soon, when the explosives (to which
he owed his sudden chance of engagement)--dynamite in cases and
blasting powder in barrels--taken on board, main hatch battened for
sea, cook restored to his functions in the galley, anchor fished and
the tug ahead, rounding the South Foreland, and with the sun sinking
clear and red down the purple vista of the channel, he went on the
poop, on duty, it is true, but with time to take the first freer
breath in the busy day of departure. The pilot was still on board,
who gave him first a silent glance, and then passed an insignificant
remark before resuming his lounging to and fro between the steering
wheel and the binnacle. Powell took his station modestly at the
break of the poop. He had noticed across the skylight a head in a
grey cap. But when, after a time, he crossed over to the other side
of the deck he discovered that it was not the captain's head at all.
He became aware of grey hairs curling over the nape of the neck.
How could he have made that mistake? But on board ship away from
the land one does not expect to come upon a stranger.
Powell walked past the man. A thin, somewhat sunken face, with a
tightly closed mouth, stared at the distant French coast, vague like
a suggestion of solid darkness, lying abeam beyond the evening light
reflected from the level waters, themselves growing more sombre than
the sky; a stare, across which Powell had to pass and did pass with
a quick side glance, noting its immovable stillness. His passage
disturbed those eyes no more than if he had been as immaterial as a
ghost. And this failure of his person in producing an impression
affected him strangely. Who could that old man be?
He was so curious that he even ventured to ask the pilot in a low
voice. The pilot turned out to be a good-natured specimen of his
kind, condescending, sententious. He had been down to his meals in
the main cabin, and had something to impart.
"That? Queer fish--eh? Mrs. Anthony's father. I've been
introduced to him in the cabin at breakfast time. Name of Smith.
Wonder if he has all his wits about him. They take him about with
them, it seems. Don't look very happy--eh?"
Then, changing his tone abruptly, he desired Powell to get all hands
on deck and make sail on the ship. "I shall be leaving you in half
an hour. You'll have plenty of time to find out all about the old
gent," he added with a thick laugh.
In the secret emotion of giving his first order as a fully
responsible officer, young Powell forgot the very existence of that
old man in a moment. The following days, in the interest of getting
in touch with the ship, with the men in her, with his duties, in the
rather anxious period of settling down, his curiosity slumbered; for
of course the pilot's few words had not extinguished it.
This settling down was made easy for him by the friendly character
of his immediate superior--the chief. Powell could not defend
himself from some sympathy for that thick, bald man, comically
shaped, with his crimson complexion and something pathetic in the
rolling of his very movable black eyes in an apparently immovable
head, who was so tactfully ready to take his competency for granted.
There can be nothing more reassuring to a young man tackling his
life's work for the first time. Mr. Powell, his mind at ease about
himself, had time to observe the people around with friendly
interest. Very early in the beginning of the passage, he had
discovered with some amusement that the marriage of Captain Anthony
was resented by those to whom Powell (conscious of being looked upon
as something of an outsider) referred in his mind as 'the old lot.'
They had the funny, regretful glances, intonations, nods of men who
had seen other, better times. What difference it could have made to
the bo'sun and the carpenter Powell could not very well understand.
Yet these two pulled long faces and even gave hostile glances to the
poop. The cook and the steward might have been more directly
concerned. But the steward used to remark on occasion, 'Oh, she
gives no extra trouble,' with scrupulous fairness of the most gloomy
kind. He was rather a silent man with a great sense of his personal
worth which made his speeches guarded. The cook, a neat man with
fair side whiskers, who had been only three years in the ship,
seemed the least concerned. He was even known to have inquired once
or twice as to the success of some of his dishes with the captain's
wife. This was considered a sort of disloyal falling away from the
The mate's annoyance was yet the easiest to understand. As he let
it out to Powell before the first week of the passage was over:
'You can't expect me to be pleased at being chucked out of the
saloon as if I weren't good enough to sit down to meat with that
woman.' But he hastened to add: 'Don't you think I'm blaming the
captain. He isn't a man to be found fault with. You, Mr. Powell,
are too young yet to understand such matters.'
Some considerable time afterwards, at the end of a conversation of
that aggrieved sort, he enlarged a little more by repeating: 'Yes!
You are too young to understand these things. I don't say you
haven't plenty of sense. You are doing very well here. Jolly sight
better than I expected, though I liked your looks from the first.'
It was in the trade-winds, at night, under a velvety, bespangled
sky; a great multitude of stars watching the shadows of the sea
gleaming mysteriously in the wake of the ship; while the leisurely
swishing of the water to leeward was like a drowsy comment on her
progress. Mr. Powell expressed his satisfaction by a half-bashful
laugh. The mate mused on: 'And of course you haven't known the
ship as she used to be. She was more than a home to a man. She was
not like any other ship; and Captain Anthony was not like any other
master to sail with. Neither is she now. But before one never had
a care in the world as to her--and as to him, too. No, indeed,
there was never anything to worry about.'
Young Powell couldn't see what there was to worry about even then.
The serenity of the peaceful night seemed as vast as all space, and
as enduring as eternity itself. It's true the sea is an uncertain
element, but no sailor remembers this in the presence of its
bewitching power any more than a lover ever thinks of the proverbial
inconstancy of women. And Mr. Powell, being young, thought naively
that the captain being married, there could be no occasion for
anxiety as to his condition. I suppose that to him life, perhaps
not so much his own as that of others, was something still in the
nature of a fairy-tale with a 'they lived happy ever after'
termination. We are the creatures of our light literature much more
than is generally suspected in a world which prides itself on being
scientific and practical, and in possession of incontrovertible
theories. Powell felt in that way the more because the captain of a
ship at sea is a remote, inaccessible creature, something like a
prince of a fairy-tale, alone of his kind, depending on nobody, not
to be called to account except by powers practically invisible and
so distant, that they might well be looked upon as supernatural for
all that the rest of the crew knows of them, as a rule.
So he did not understand the aggrieved attitude of the mate--or
rather he understood it obscurely as a result of simple causes which
did not seem to him adequate. He would have dismissed all this out
of his mind with a contemptuous: 'What the devil do I care?' if the
captain's wife herself had not been so young. To see her the first
time had been something of a shock to him. He had some preconceived
ideas as to captain's wives which, while he did not believe the
testimony of his eyes, made him open them very wide. He had stared
till the captain's wife noticed it plainly and turned her face away.
Captain's wife! That girl covered with rugs in a long chair.
Captain's . . . ! He gasped mentally. It had never occurred to him
that a captain's wife could be anything but a woman to be described
as stout or thin, as jolly or crabbed, but always mature, and even,
in comparison with his own years, frankly old. But this! It was a
sort of moral upset as though he had discovered a case of abduction
or something as surprising as that. You understand that nothing is
more disturbing than the upsetting of a preconceived idea. Each of
us arranges the world according to his own notion of the fitness of
things. To behold a girl where your average mediocre imagination
had placed a comparatively old woman may easily become one of the
strongest shocks . . . "
Marlow paused, smiling to himself.
"Powell remained impressed after all these years by the very
recollection," he continued in a voice, amused perhaps but not
mocking. "He said to me only the other day with something like the
first awe of that discovery lingering in his tone--he said to me:
"Why, she seemed so young, so girlish, that I looked round for some
woman which would be the captain's wife, though of course I knew
there was no other woman on board that voyage." The voyage before,
it seems, there had been the steward's wife to act as maid to Mrs.
Anthony; but she was not taken that time for some reason he didn't
know. Mrs. Anthony . . . ! If it hadn't been the captain's wife he
would have referred to her mentally as a kid, he said. I suppose
there must be a sort of divinity hedging in a captain's wife
(however incredible) which prevented him applying to her that
contemptuous definition in the secret of his thoughts.
I asked him when this had happened; and he told me that it was three
days after parting from the tug, just outside the channel--to be
precise. A head wind had set in with unpleasant damp weather. He
had come up to leeward of the poop, still feeling very much of a
stranger, and an untried officer, at six in the evening to take his
watch. To see her was quite as unexpected as seeing a vision. When
she turned away her head he recollected himself and dropped his
eyes. What he could see then was only, close to the long chair on
which she reclined, a pair of long, thin legs ending in black cloth
boots tucked in close to the skylight seat. Whence he concluded
that the 'old gentleman,' who wore a grey cap like the captain's,
was sitting by her--his daughter. In his first astonishment he had
stopped dead short, with the consequence that now he felt very much
abashed at having betrayed his surprise. But he couldn't very well
turn tail and bolt off the poop. He had come there on duty. So,
still with downcast eyes, he made his way past them. Only when he
got as far as the wheel-grating did he look up. She was hidden from
him by the back of her deck-chair; but he had the view of the owner
of the thin, aged legs seated on the skylight, his clean-shaved
cheek, his thin compressed mouth with a hollow in each corner, the
sparse grey locks escaping from under the tweed cap, and curling
slightly on the collar of the coat. He leaned forward a little over
Mrs. Anthony, but they were not talking. Captain Anthony, walking
with a springy hurried gait on the other side of the poop from end
to end, gazed straight before him. Young Powell might have thought
that his captain was not aware of his presence either. However, he
knew better, and for that reason spent a most uncomfortable hour
motionless by the compass before his captain stopped in his swift
pacing and with an almost visible effort made some remark to him
about the weather in a low voice. Before Powell, who was startled,
could find a word of answer, the captain swung off again on his
endless tramp with a fixed gaze. And till the supper bell rang
silence dwelt over that poop like an evil spell. The captain walked
up and down looking straight before him, the helmsman steered,
looking upwards at the sails, the old gent on the skylight looked
down on his daughter--and Mr. Powell confessed to me that he didn't
know where to look, feeling as though he had blundered in where he
had no business--which was absurd. At last he fastened his eyes on
the compass card, took refuge, in spirit, inside the binnacle. He
felt chilled more than he should have been by the chilly dusk
falling on the muddy green sea of the soundings from a smoothly
clouded sky. A fitful wind swept the cheerless waste, and the ship,
hauled up so close as to check her way, seemed to progress by
languid fits and starts against the short seas which swept along her
sides with a snarling sound.
Young Powell thought that this was the dreariest evening aspect of
the sea he had ever seen. He was glad when the other occupants of
the poop left it at the sound of the bell. The captain first, with
a sudden swerve in his walk towards the companion, and not even
looking once towards his wife and his wife's father. Those two got
up and moved towards the companion, the old gent very erect, his
thin locks stirring gently about the nape of his neck, and carrying
the rugs over his arm. The girl who was Mrs. Anthony went down
first. The murky twilight had settled in deep shadow on her face.
She looked at Mr. Powell in passing. He thought that she was very
pale. Cold perhaps. The old gent stopped a moment, thin and stiff,
before the young man, and in a voice which was low but distinct
enough, and without any particular accent--not even of inquiry--he
"You are the new second officer, I believe."
Mr. Powell answered in the affirmative, wondering if this were a
friendly overture. He had noticed that Mr. Smith's eyes had a sort
of inward look as though he had disliked or disdained his
surroundings. The captain's wife had disappeared then down the
companion stairs. Mr. Smith said 'Ah!' and waited a little longer
to put another question in his incurious voice.
"And did you know the man who was here before you?"
"No," said young Powell, "I didn't know anybody belonging to this
ship before I joined."
"He was much older than you. Twice your age. Perhaps more. His
hair was iron grey. Yes. Certainly more."
The low, repressed voice paused, but the old man did not move away.
He added: "Isn't it unusual?"
Mr. Powell was surprised not only by being engaged in conversation,
but also by its character. It might have been the suggestion of the
word uttered by this old man, but it was distinctly at that moment
that he became aware of something unusual not only in this encounter
but generally around him, about everybody, in the atmosphere. The
very sea, with short flashes of foam bursting out here and there in
the gloomy distances, the unchangeable, safe sea sheltering a man
from all passions, except its own anger, seemed queer to the quick
glance he threw to windward where the already effaced horizon traced
no reassuring limit to the eye. In the expiring, diffused twilight,
and before the clouded night dropped its mysterious veil, it was the
immensity of space made visible--almost palpable. Young Powell felt
it. He felt it in the sudden sense of his isolation; the
trustworthy, powerful ship of his first acquaintance reduced to a
speck, to something almost undistinguishable, the mere support for
the soles of his two feet before that unexpected old man becoming so
suddenly articulate in a darkening universe.
It took him a moment or so to seize the drift of the question. He
repeated slowly: 'Unusual . . . Oh, you mean for an elderly man to
be the second of a ship. I don't know. There are a good many of us
who don't get on. He didn't get on, I suppose.'
The other, his head bowed a little, had the air of listening with
"And now he has been taken to the hospital," he said.
"I believe so. Yes. I remember Captain Anthony saying so in the
"Possibly about to die," went on the old man, in his careful
deliberate tone. "And perhaps glad enough to die."
Mr. Powell was young enough to be startled at the suggestion, which
sounded confidential and blood-curdling in the dusk. He said
sharply that it was not very likely, as if defending the absent
victim of the accident from an unkind aspersion. He felt, in fact,
indignant. The other emitted a short stifled laugh of a
conciliatory nature. The second bell rang under the poop. He made
a movement at the sound, but lingered.
"What I said was not meant seriously," he murmured, with that
strange air of fearing to be overheard. "Not in this case. I know
The occasion, or rather the want of occasion, for this conversation,
had sharpened the perceptions of the unsophisticated second officer
of the Ferndale. He was alive to the slightest shade of tone, and
felt as if this "I know the man" should have been followed by a "he
was no friend of mine." But after the shortest possible break the
old gentleman continued to murmur distinctly and evenly:
"Whereas you have never seen him. Nevertheless, when you have gone
through as many years as I have, you will understand how an event
putting an end to one's existence may not be altogether unwelcome.
Of course there are stupid accidents. And even then one needn't be
very angry. What is it to be deprived of life? It's soon done.
But what would you think of the feelings of a man who should have
had his life stolen from him? Cheated out of it, I say!"
He ceased abruptly, and remained still long enough for the
astonished Powell to stammer out an indistinct: "What do you mean?
I don't understand." Then, with a low 'Good-night' glided a few
steps, and sank through the shadow of the companion into the
lamplight below which did not reach higher than the turn of the
The strange words, the cautious tone, the whole person left a strong
uneasiness in the mind of Mr. Powell. He started walking the poop
in great mental confusion. He felt all adrift. This was funny talk
and no mistake. And this cautious low tone as though he were
watched by someone was more than funny. The young second officer
hesitated to break the established rule of every ship's discipline;
but at last could not resist the temptation of getting hold of some
other human being, and spoke to the man at the wheel.
"Did you hear what this gentleman was saying to me?"
"No, sir," answered the sailor quietly. Then, encouraged by this
evidence of laxity in his officer, made bold to add, "A queer fish,
sir." This was tentative, and Mr. Powell, busy with his own view,
not saying anything, he ventured further. "They are more like
passengers. One sees some queer passengers."
"Who are like passengers?" asked Powell gruffly.
"Why, these two, sir."
CHAPTER THREE--DEVOTED SERVANTS--AND THE LIGHT OF A FLARE
Young Powell thought to himself: "The men, too, are noticing it."
Indeed, the captain's behaviour to his wife and to his wife's father
was noticeable enough. It was as if they had been a pair of not
very congenial passengers. But perhaps it was not always like that.
The captain might have been put out by something.
When the aggrieved Franklin came on deck Mr. Powell made a remark to
that effect. For his curiosity was aroused.
The mate grumbled "Seems to you? . . . Putout? . . . eh?" He
buttoned his thick jacket up to the throat, and only then added a
gloomy "Aye, likely enough," which discouraged further conversation.
But no encouragement would have induced the newly-joined second mate
to enter the way of confidences. His was an instinctive prudence.
Powell did not know why it was he had resolved to keep his own
counsel as to his colloquy with Mr. Smith. But his curiosity did
not slumber. Some time afterwards, again at the relief of watches,
in the course of a little talk, he mentioned Mrs. Anthony's father
quite casually, and tried to find out from the mate who he was.
"It would take a clever man to find that out, as things are on board
now," Mr. Franklin said, unexpectedly communicative. "The first I
saw of him was when she brought him alongside in a four-wheeler one
morning about half-past eleven. The captain had come on board
early, and was down in the cabin that had been fitted out for him.
Did I tell you that if you want the captain for anything you must
stamp on the port side of the deck? That's so. This ship is not
only unlike what she used to be, but she is like no other ship,
anyhow. Did you ever hear of the captain's room being on the port
side? Both of them stern cabins have been fitted up afresh like a
blessed palace. A gang of people from some tip-top West-End house
were fussing here on board with hangings and furniture for a
fortnight, as if the Queen were coming with us. Of course the
starboard cabin is the bedroom one, but the poor captain hangs out
to port on a couch, so that in case we want him on deck at night,
Mrs. Anthony should not be startled. Nervous! Phoo! A woman who
marries a sailor and makes up her mind to come to sea should have no
blamed jumpiness about her, I say. But never mind. Directly the
old cab pointed round the corner of the warehouse I called out to
the captain that his lady was coming aboard. He answered me, but as
I didn't see him coming, I went down the gangway myself to help her
alight. She jumps out excitedly without touching my arm, or as much
as saying "thank you" or "good morning" or anything, turns back to
the cab, and then that old joker comes out slowly. I hadn't noticed
him inside. I hadn't expected to see anybody. It gave me a start.
She says: "My father--Mr. Franklin." He was staring at me like an
owl. "How do you do, sir?" says I. Both of them looked funny. It
was as if something had happened to them on the way. Neither of
them moved, and I stood by waiting. The captain showed himself on
the poop; and I saw him at the side looking over, and then he
disappeared; on the way to meet them on shore, I expected. But he
just went down below again. So, not seeing him, I said: "Let me
help you on board, sir." "On board!" says he in a silly fashion.
"On board!" "It's not a very good ladder, but it's quite firm,"
says I, as he seemed to be afraid of it. And he didn't look a
broken-down old man, either. You can see yourself what he is.
Straight as a poker, and life enough in him yet. But he made no
move, and I began to feel foolish. Then she comes forward. "Oh!
Thank you, Mr. Franklin. I'll help my father up." Flabbergasted
me--to be choked off like this. Pushed in between him and me
without as much as a look my way. So of course I dropped it. What
do you think? I fell back. I would have gone up on board at once
and left them on the quay to come up or stay there till next week,
only they were blocking the way. I couldn't very well shove them on
one side. Devil only knows what was up between them. There she
was, pale as death, talking to him very fast. He got as red as a
turkey-cock--dash me if he didn't. A bad-tempered old bloke, I can
tell you. And a bad lot, too. Never mind. I couldn't hear what
she was saying to him, but she put force enough into it to shake
her. It seemed--it seemed, mind!--that he didn't want to go on
board. Of course it couldn't have been that. I know better. Well,
she took him by the arm, above the elbow, as if to lead him, or push
him rather. I was standing not quite ten feet off. Why should I
have gone away? I was anxious to get back on board as soon as they
would let me. I didn't want to overhear her blamed whispering
either. But I couldn't stay there for ever, so I made a move to get
past them if I could. And that's how I heard a few words. It was
the old chap--something nasty about being "under the heel" of
somebody or other. Then he says, "I don't want this sacrifice."
What it meant I can't tell. It was a quarrel--of that I am certain.
She looks over her shoulder, and sees me pretty close to them. I
don't know what she found to say into his ear, but he gave way
suddenly. He looked round at me too, and they went up together so
quickly then that when I got on the quarter-deck I was only in time
to see the inner door of the passage close after them. Queer--eh?
But if it were only queerness one wouldn't mind. Some luggage in
new trunks came on board in the afternoon. We undocked at midnight.
And may I be hanged if I know who or what he was or is. I haven't
been able to find out. No, I don't know. He may have been
anything. All I know is that once, years ago when I went to see the
Derby with a friend, I saw a pea-and-thimble chap who looked just
like that old mystery father out of a cab."
All this the goggle-eyed mate had said in a resentful and melancholy
voice, with pauses, to the gentle murmur of the sea. It was for him
a bitter sort of pleasure to have a fresh pair of ears, a newcomer,
to whom he could repeat all these matters of grief and suspicion
talked over endlessly by the band of Captain Anthony's faithful
subordinates. It was evidently so refreshing to his worried spirit
that it made him forget the advisability of a little caution with a
complete stranger. But really with Mr. Powell there was no danger.
Amused, at first, at these plaints, he provoked them for fun.
Afterwards, turning them over in his mind, he became impressed, and
as the impression grew stronger with the days his resolution to keep
it to himself grew stronger too.
What made it all the easier to keep--I mean the resolution--was that
Powell's sentiment of amused surprise at what struck him at first as
mere absurdity was not unmingled with indignation. And his years
were too few, his position too novel, his reliance on his own
opinion not yet firm enough to allow him to express it with any
effect. And then--what would have been the use, anyhow--and where
was the necessity?
But this thing, familiar and mysterious at the same time, occupied
his imagination. The solitude of the sea intensifies the thoughts
and the facts of one's experience which seems to lie at the very
centre of the world, as the ship which carries one always remains
the centre figure of the round horizon. He viewed the apoplectic,
goggle-eyed mate and the saturnine, heavy-eyed steward as the
victims of a peculiar and secret form of lunacy which poisoned their
lives. But he did not give them his sympathy on that account. No.
That strange affliction awakened in him a sort of suspicious wonder.
Once--and it was at night again; for the officers of the Ferndale
keeping watch and watch as was customary in those days, had but few
occasions for intercourse--once, I say, the thick Mr. Franklin, a
quaintly bulky figure under the stars, the usual witnesses of his
outpourings, asked him with an abruptness which was not callous, but
in his simple way:
"I believe you have no parents living?"
Mr. Powell said that he had lost his father and mother at a very
"My mother is still alive," declared Mr. Franklin in a tone which
suggested that he was gratified by the fact. "The old lady is
lasting well. Of course she's got to be made comfortable. A woman
must be looked after, and, if it comes to that, I say, give me a
mother. I dare say if she had not lasted it out so well I might
have gone and got married. I don't know, though. We sailors
haven't got much time to look about us to any purpose. Anyhow, as
the old lady was there I haven't, I may say, looked at a girl in all
my life. Not that I wasn't partial to female society in my time,"
he added with a pathetic intonation, while the whites of his goggle
eyes gleamed amorously under the clear night sky. "Very partial, I
Mr. Powell was amused; and as these communications took place only
when the mate was relieved off duty he had no serious objection to
them. The mate's presence made the first half-hour and sometimes
even more of his watch on deck pass away. If his senior did not
mind losing some of his rest it was not Mr. Powell's affair.
Franklin was a decent fellow. His intention was not to boast of his
"Of course I mean respectable female society," he explained. "The
other sort is neither here nor there. I blame no man's conduct, but
a well-brought-up young fellow like you knows that there's precious
little fun to be got out of it." He fetched a deep sigh. "I wish
Captain Anthony's mother had been a lasting sort like my old lady.
He would have had to look after her and he would have done it well.
Captain Anthony is a proper man. And it would have saved him from
the most foolish--"
He did not finish the phrase which certainly was turning bitter in
his mouth. Mr. Powell thought to himself: "There he goes again."
He laughed a little.
"I don't understand why you are so hard on the captain, Mr.
Franklin. I thought you were a great friend of his."
Mr. Franklin exclaimed at this. He was not hard on the captain.
Nothing was further from his thoughts. Friend! Of course he was a
good friend and a faithful servant. He begged Powell to understand
that if Captain Anthony chose to strike a bargain with Old Nick to-
morrow, and Old Nick were good to the captain, he (Franklin) would
find it in his heart to love Old Nick for the captain's sake. That
was so. On the other hand, if a saint, an angel with white wings
came along and--"
He broke off short again as if his own vehemence had frightened him.
Then in his strained pathetic voice (which he had never raised) he
observed that it was no use talking. Anybody could see that the man
"As to that," said young Powell, "it is impossible for me to judge."
"Good Lord!" whispered the mate. "An educated, clever young fellow
like you with a pair of eyes on him and some sense too! Is that how
a happy man looks? Eh? Young you may be, but you aren't a kid; and
I dare you to say 'Yes!'"
Mr. Powell did not take up the challenge. He did not know what to
think of the mate's view. Still, it seemed as if it had opened his
understanding in a measure. He conceded that the captain did not
look very well.
"Not very well," repeated the mate mournfully. "Do you think a man
with a face like that can hope to live his life out? You haven't
knocked about long in this world yet, but you are a sailor, you have
been in three or four ships, you say. Well, have you ever seen a
shipmaster walking his own deck as if he did not know what he had
underfoot? Have you? Dam'me if I don't think that he forgets where
he is. Of course he can be no other than a prime seaman; but it's
lucky, all the same, he has me on board. I know by this time what
he wants done without being told. Do you know that I have had no
order given me since we left port? Do you know that he has never
once opened his lips to me unless I spoke to him first? I? His
chief officer; his shipmate for full six years, with whom he had no
cross word--not once in all that time. Aye. Not a cross look even.
True that when I do make him speak to me, there is his dear old
self, the quick eye, the kind voice. Could hardly be other to his
old Franklin. But what's the good? Eyes, voice, everything's miles
away. And for all that I take good care never to address him when
the poop isn't clear. Yes! Only we two and nothing but the sea
with us. You think it would be all right; the only chief mate he
ever had--Mr. Franklin here and Mr. Franklin there--when anything
went wrong the first word you would hear about the decks was
'Franklin!'--I am thirteen years older than he is--you would think
it would be all right, wouldn't you? Only we two on this poop on
which we saw each other first--he a young master--told me that he
thought I would suit him very well--we two, and thirty-one days out
at sea, and it's no good! It's like talking to a man standing on
shore. I can't get him back. I can't get at him. I feel sometimes
as if I must shake him by the arm: "Wake up! Wake up! You are
wanted, sir . . . !"
Young Powell recognized the expression of a true sentiment, a thing
so rare in this world where there are so many mutes and so many
excellent reasons even at sea for an articulate man not to give
himself away, that he felt something like respect for this outburst.
It was not loud. The grotesque squat shape, with the knob of the
head as if rammed down between the square shoulders by a blow from a
club, moved vaguely in a circumscribed space limited by the two
harness-casks lashed to the front rail of the poop, without
gestures, hands in the pockets of the jacket, elbows pressed closely
to its side; and the voice without resonance, passed from anger to
dismay and back again without a single louder word in the hurried
delivery, interrupted only by slight gasps for air as if the speaker
were being choked by the suppressed passion of his grief.
Mr. Powell, though moved to a certain extent, was by no means
carried away. And just as he thought that it was all over, the
other, fidgeting in the darkness, was heard again explosive,
bewildered but not very loud in the silence of the ship and the
great empty peace of the sea.
"They have done something to him! What is it? What can it be?
Can't you guess? Don't you know?"
"Good heavens!" Young Powell was astounded on discovering that this
was an appeal addressed to him. "How on earth can I know?"
"You do talk to that white-faced, black-eyed . . . I've seen you
talking to her more than a dozen times."
Young Powell, his sympathy suddenly chilled, remarked in a
disdainful tone that Mrs. Anthony's eyes were not black.
"I wish to God she had never set them on the captain, whatever
colour they are," retorted Franklin. "She and that old chap with
the scraped jaws who sits over her and stares down at her dead-white
face with his yellow eyes--confound them! Perhaps you will tell us
that his eyes are not yellow?"
Powell, not interested in the colour of Mr. Smith's eyes, made a
vague gesture. Yellow or not yellow, it was all one to him.
The mate murmured to himself. "No. He can't know. No! No more
than a baby. It would take an older head."
"I don't even understand what you mean," observed Mr. Powell coldly.
"And even the best head would be puzzled by such devil-work," the
mate continued, muttering. "Well, I have heard tell of women doing
for a man in one way or another when they got him fairly ashore.
But to bring their devilry to sea and fasten on such a man! . . .
It's something I can't understand. But I can watch. Let them look
His short figure, unable to stoop, without flexibility, could not
express dejection. He was very tired suddenly; he dragged his feet
going off the poop. Before he left it with nearly an hour of his
watch below sacrificed, he addressed himself once more to our young
man who stood abreast of the mizzen rigging in an unreceptive mood
expressed by silence and immobility. He did not regret, he said,
having spoken openly on this very serious matter.
"I don't know about its seriousness, sir," was Mr. Powell's frank
answer. "But if you think you have been telling me something very
new you are mistaken. You can't keep that matter out of your
speeches. It's the sort of thing I've been hearing more or less
ever since I came on board."
Mr. Powell, speaking truthfully, did not mean to speak offensively.
He had instincts of wisdom; he felt that this was a serious affair,
for it had nothing to do with reason. He did not want to raise an
enemy for himself in the mate. And Mr. Franklin did not take
offence. To Mr. Powell's truthful statement he answered with equal
truth and simplicity that it was very likely, very likely. With a
thing like that (next door to witchcraft almost) weighing on his
mind, the wonder was that he could think of anything else. The poor
man must have found in the restlessness of his thoughts the illusion
of being engaged in an active contest with some power of evil; for
his last words as he went lingeringly down the poop ladder expressed
the quaint hope that he would get him, Powell, "on our side yet."
Mr. Powell--just imagine a straightforward youngster assailed in
this fashion on the high seas--answered merely by an embarrassed and
uneasy laugh which reflected exactly the state of his innocent soul.
The apoplectic mate, already half-way down, went up again three
steps of the poop ladder. Why, yes. A proper young fellow, the
mate expected, wouldn't stand by and see a man, a good sailor and
his own skipper, in trouble without taking his part against a couple
of shore people who--Mr. Powell interrupted him impatiently, asking
what was the trouble?
"What is it you are hinting at?" he cried with an inexplicable
"I don't like to think of him all alone down there with these two,"
Franklin whispered impressively. "Upon my word I don't. God only
knows what may be going on there . . . Don't laugh . . . It was bad
enough last voyage when Mrs. Brown had a cabin aft; but now it's
worse. It frightens me. I can't sleep sometimes for thinking of
him all alone there, shut off from us all."
Mrs. Brown was the steward's wife. You must understand that shortly
after his visit to the Fyne cottage (with all its consequences),
Anthony had got an offer to go to the Western Islands, and bring
home the cargo of some ship which, damaged in a collision or a
stranding, took refuge in St. Michael, and was condemned there.
Roderick Anthony had connections which would put such paying jobs in
his way. So Flora de Barral had but a five months' voyage, a mere
excursion, for her first trial of sea-life. And Anthony, dearly
trying to be most attentive, had induced this Mrs. Brown, the wife
of his faithful steward, to come along as maid to his bride. But
for some reason or other this arrangement was not continued. And
the mate, tormented by indefinite alarms and forebodings, regretted
it. He regretted that Jane Brown was no longer on board--as a sort
of representative of Captain Anthony's faithful servants, to watch
quietly what went on in that part of the ship this fatal marriage
had closed to their vigilance. That had been excellent. For she
was a dependable woman.
Powell did not detect any particular excellence in what seemed a
spying employment. But in his simplicity he said that he should
have thought Mrs. Anthony would have been glad anyhow to have
another woman on board. He was thinking of the white-faced girlish
personality which it seemed to him ought to have been cared for.
The innocent young man always looked upon the girl as immature;
something of a child yet.
"She! glad! Why it was she who had her fired out. She didn't want
anybody around the cabin. Mrs. Brown is certain of it. She told
her husband so. You ask the steward and hear what he has to say
about it. That's why I don't like it. A capable woman who knew her
place. But no. Out she must go. For no fault, mind you. The
captain was ashamed to send her away. But that wife of his--aye the
precious pair of them have got hold of him. I can't speak to him
for a minute on the poop without that thimble-rigging coon coming
gliding up. I'll tell you what. I overheard once--God knows I
didn't try to--only he forgot I was on the other side of the
skylight with my sextant--I overheard him--you know how he sits
hanging over her chair and talking away without properly opening his
mouth--yes I caught the word right enough. He was alluding to the
captain as "the jailer." The jail . . . !"
Franklin broke off with a profane execration. A silence reigned for
a long time and the slight, very gentle rolling of the ship slipping
before the N.E. trade-wind seemed to be a soothing device for
lulling to sleep the suspicions of men who trust themselves to the
A deep sigh was heard followed by the mate's voice asking dismally
if that was the way one would speak of a man to whom one wished
well? No better proof of something wrong was needed. Therefore he
hoped, as he vanished at last, that Mr. Powell would be on their
side. And this time Mr. Powell did not answer this hope with an
That young officer was more and more surprised at the nature of the
incongruous revelations coming to him in the surroundings and in the
atmosphere of the open sea. It is difficult for us to understand
the extent, the completeness, the comprehensiveness of his
inexperience, for us who didn't go to sea out of a small private
school at the age of fourteen years and nine months. Leaning on his
elbow in the mizzen rigging and so still that the helmsman over
there at the other end of the poop might have (and he probably did)
suspect him of being criminally asleep on duty, he tried to "get
hold of that thing" by some side which would fit in with his simple
notions of psychology. "What the deuce are they worrying about?" he
asked himself in a dazed and contemptuous impatience. But all the
same "jailer" was a funny name to give a man; unkind, unfriendly,
nasty. He was sorry that Mr. Smith was guilty in that matter
because, the truth must be told, he had been to a certain extent
sensible of having been noticed in a quiet manner by the father of
Mrs. Anthony. Youth appreciates that sort of recognition which is
the subtlest form of flattery age can offer. Mr. Smith seized
opportunities to approach him on deck. His remarks were sometimes
weird and enigmatical.
He was doubtless an eccentric old gent. But from that to calling
his son-in-law (whom he never approached on deck) nasty names behind
his back was a long step.
And Mr. Powell marvelled . . . "
"While he was telling me all this,"--Marlow changed his tone--"I
marvelled even more. It was as if misfortune marked its victims on
the forehead for the dislike of the crowd. I am not thinking here
of numbers. Two men may behave like a crowd, three certainly will
when their emotions are engaged. It was as if the forehead of Flora
de Barral were marked. Was the girl born to be a victim; to be
always disliked and crushed as if she were too fine for this world?
Or too luckless--since that also is often counted as sin.
Yes, I marvelled more since I knew more of the girl than Mr. Powell-
-if only her true name; and more of Captain Anthony--if only the
fact that he was the son of a delicate erotic poet of a markedly
refined and autocratic temperament. Yes, I knew their joint stories
which Mr. Powell did not know. The chapter in it he was opening to
me, the sea-chapter, with such new personages as the sentimental and
apoplectic chief-mate and the morose steward, however astounding to
him in its detached condition was much more so to me as a member of
a series, following the chapter outside the Eastern Hotel in which I
myself had played my part. In view of her declarations and my sage
remarks it was very unexpected. She had meant well, and I had
certainly meant well too. Captain Anthony--as far as I could gather
from little Fyne--had meant well. As far as such lofty words may be
applied to the obscure personages of this story we were all filled
with the noblest sentiments and intentions. The sea was there to
give them the shelter of its solitude free from the earth's petty
suggestions. I could well marvel in myself, as to what had
I hope that if he saw it, Mr. Powell forgave me the smile of which I
was guilty at that moment. The light in the cabin of his little
cutter was dim. And the smile was dim too. Dim and fleeting. The
girl's life had presented itself to me as a tragi-comical adventure,
the saddest thing on earth, slipping between frank laughter and
unabashed tears. Yes, the saddest facts and the most common, and,
being common perhaps the most worthy of our unreserved pity.
The purely human reality is capable of lyrism but not of
abstraction. Nothing will serve for its understanding but the
evidence of rational linking up of characters and facts. And
beginning with Flora de Barral, in the light of my memories I was
certain that she at least must have been passive; for that is of
necessity the part of women, this waiting on fate which some of
them, and not the most intelligent, cover up by the vain appearances
of agitation. Flora de Barral was not exceptionally intelligent but
she was thoroughly feminine. She would be passive (and that does
not mean inanimate) in the circumstances, where the mere fact of
being a woman was enough to give her an occult and supreme
significance. And she would be enduring which is the essence of
woman's visible, tangible power. Of that I was certain. Had she
not endured already? Yet it is so true that the germ of destruction
lies in wait for us mortals, even at the very source of our
strength, that one may die of too much endurance as well as of too
little of it.
Such was my train of thought. And I was mindful also of my first
view of her--toying or perhaps communing in earnest with the
possibilities of a precipice. But I did not ask Mr. Powell
anxiously what had happened to Mrs. Anthony in the end. I let him
go on in his own way feeling that no matter what strange facts he
would have to disclose, I was certain to know much more of them than
he ever did know or could possibly guess . . . "
Marlow paused for quite a long time. He seemed uncertain as though
he had advanced something beyond my grasp. Purposely I made no
sign. "You understand?" he asked.
"Perfectly," I said. "You are the expert in the psychological
wilderness. This is like one of those Red-skin stories where the
noble savages carry off a girl and the honest backwoodsman with his
incomparable knowledge follows the track and reads the signs of her
fate in a footprint here, a broken twig there, a trinket dropped by
the way. I have always liked such stories. Go on."
Marlow smiled indulgently at my jesting. "It is not exactly a story
for boys," he said. "I go on then. The sign, as you call it, was
not very plentiful but very much to the purpose, and when Mr. Powell
heard (at a certain moment I felt bound to tell him) when he heard
that I had known Mrs. Anthony before her marriage, that, to a
certain extent, I was her confidant . . . For you can't deny that to
a certain extent . . . Well let us say that I had a look in . . . A
young girl, you know, is something like a temple. You pass by and
wonder what mysterious rites are going on in there, what prayers,
what visions? The privileged men, the lover, the husband, who are
given the key of the sanctuary do not always know how to use it.
For myself, without claim, without merit, simply by chance I had
been allowed to look through the half-opened door and I had seen the
saddest possible desecration, the withered brightness of youth, a
spirit neither made cringing nor yet dulled but as if bewildered in
quivering hopelessness by gratuitous cruelty; self-confidence
destroyed and, instead, a resigned recklessness, a mournful
callousness (and all this simple, almost naive)--before the material
and moral difficulties of the situation. The passive anguish of the
I asked myself: wasn't that ill-luck exhausted yet? Ill-luck which
is like the hate of invisible powers interpreted, made sensible and
injurious by the actions of men?
Mr. Powell as you may well imagine had opened his eyes at my
statement. But he was full of his recalled experiences on board the
Ferndale, and the strangeness of being mixed up in what went on
aboard, simply because his name was also the name of a shipping-
master, kept him in a state of wonder which made other coincidences,
however unlikely, not so very surprising after all.
This astonishing occurrence was so present to his mind that he
always felt as though he were there under false pretences. And this
feeling was so uncomfortable that it nerved him to break through the
awe-inspiring aloofness of his captain. He wanted to make a clean
breast of it. I imagine that his youth stood in good stead to Mr.
Powell. Oh, yes. Youth is a power. Even Captain Anthony had to
take some notice of it, as if it refreshed him to see something
untouched, unscarred, unhardened by suffering. Or perhaps the very
novelty of that face, on board a ship where he had seen the same
faces for years, attracted his attention.
Whether one day he dropped a word to his new second officer or only
looked at him I don't know; but Mr. Powell seized the opportunity
whatever it was. The captain who had started and stopped in his
everlasting rapid walk smoothed his brow very soon, heard him to the
end and then laughed a little.
"Ah! That's the story. And you felt you must put me right as to
"It doesn't matter how you came on board," said Anthony. And then
showing that perhaps he was not so utterly absent from his ship as
Franklin supposed: "That's all right. You seem to be getting on
very well with everybody," he said in his curt hurried tone, as if
talking hurt him, and his eyes already straying over the sea as
Powell tells me that looking then at the strong face to which that
haggard expression was returning, he had the impulse, from some
confused friendly feeling, to add: "I am very happy on board here,
The quickly returning glance, its steadiness, abashed Mr. Powell and
made him even step back a little. The captain looked as though he
had forgotten the meaning of the word.
"You--what? Oh yes . . . You . . . of course . . . Happy. Why
This was merely muttered; and next moment Anthony was off on his
headlong tramp his eyes turned to the sea away from his ship.