Part 7 out of 8
"Then don't joke in that way. Think of what would become of--me."
"Oh yes. I forgot. No, I didn't mean it. It wasn't a joke. It
was forgetfulness. You wouldn't have been wronged. I couldn't have
gone. I--I am too tired."
He saw she was swaying where she stood and restrained himself
violently from taking her into his arms, his frame trembling with
fear as though he had been tempted to an act of unparalleled
treachery. He stepped aside and lowering his eyes pointed to the
door of the stern-cabin. It was only after she passed by him that
he looked up and thus he did not see the angry glance she gave him
before she moved on. He looked after her. She tottered slightly
just before reaching the door and flung it to behind her nervously.
Anthony--he had felt this crash as if the door had been slammed
inside his very breast--stood for a moment without moving and then
shouted for Mrs. Brown. This was the steward's wife, his lucky
inspiration to make Flora comfortable. "Mrs. Brown! Mrs. Brown!"
At last she appeared from somewhere. "Mrs. Anthony has come on
board. Just gone into the cabin. Hadn't you better see if you can
be of any assistance?"
And again he was alone with the situation he had created in the
hardihood and inexperience of his heart. He thought he had better
go on deck. In fact he ought to have been there before. At any
rate it would be the usual thing for him to be on deck. But a sound
of muttering and of faint thuds somewhere near by arrested his
attention. They proceeded from Mr. Smith's room, he perceived. It
was very extraordinary. "He's talking to himself," he thought. "He
seems to be thumping the bulkhead with his fists--or his head."
Anthony's eyes grew big with wonder while he listened to these
noises. He became so attentive that he did not notice Mrs. Brown
till she actually stopped before him for a moment to say:
"Mrs. Anthony doesn't want any assistance, sir."
This was you understand the voyage before Mr. Powell--young Powell
then--joined the Ferndale; chance having arranged that he should get
his start in life in that particular ship of all the ships then in
the port of London. The most unrestful ship that ever sailed out of
any port on earth. I am not alluding to her sea-going qualities.
Mr. Powell tells me she was as steady as a church. I mean unrestful
in the sense, for instance in which this planet of ours is
unrestful--a matter of an uneasy atmosphere disturbed by passions,
jealousies, loves, hates and the troubles of transcendental good
intentions, which, though ethically valuable, I have no doubt cause
often more unhappiness than the plots of the most evil tendency.
For those who refuse to believe in chance he, I mean Mr. Powell,
must have been obviously predestined to add his native ingenuousness
to the sum of all the others carried by the honest ship Ferndale.
He was too ingenuous. Everybody on board was, exception being made
of Mr. Smith who, however, was simple enough in his way, with that
terrible simplicity of the fixed idea, for which there is also
another name men pronounce with dread and aversion. His fixed idea
was to save his girl from the man who had possessed himself of her
(I use these words on purpose because the image they suggest was
clearly in Mr. Smith's mind), possessed himself unfairly of her
while he, the father, was locked up.
"I won't rest till I have got you away from that man," he would
murmur to her after long periods of contemplation. We know from
Powell how he used to sit on the skylight near the long deck-chair
on which Flora was reclining, gazing into her face from above with
an air of guardianship and investigation at the same time.
It is almost impossible to say if he ever had considered the event
rationally. The avatar of de Barral into Mr. Smith had not been
effected without a shock--that much one must recognize. It may be
that it drove all practical considerations out of his mind, making
room for awful and precise visions which nothing could dislodge
And it might have been the tenacity, the unintelligent tenacity, of
the man who had persisted in throwing millions of other people's
thrift into the Lone Valley Railway, the Labrador Docks, the Spotted
Leopard Copper Mine, and other grotesque speculations exposed during
the famous de Barral trial, amongst murmurs of astonishment mingled
with bursts of laughter. For it is in the Courts of Law that Comedy
finds its last refuge in our deadly serious world. As to tears and
lamentations, these were not heard in the august precincts of
comedy, because they were indulged in privately in several thousand
homes, where, with a fine dramatic effect, hunger had taken the
place of Thrift.
But there was one at least who did not laugh in court. That person
was the accused. The notorious de Barral did not laugh because he
was indignant. He was impervious to words, to facts, to inferences.
It would have been impossible to make him see his guilt or his
folly--either by evidence or argument--if anybody had tried to
Neither did his daughter Flora try to argue with him. The cruelty
of her position was so great, its complications so thorny, if I may
express myself so, that a passive attitude was yet her best refuge--
as it had been before her of so many women.
For that sort of inertia in woman is always enigmatic and therefore
menacing. It makes one pause. A woman may be a fool, a sleepy
fool, an agitated fool, a too awfully noxious fool, and she may even
be simply stupid. But she is never dense. She's never made of wood
through and through as some men are. There is in woman always,
somewhere, a spring. Whatever men don't know about women (and it
may be a lot or it may be very little) men and even fathers do know
that much. And that is why so many men are afraid of them.
Mr. Smith I believe was afraid of his daughter's quietness though of
course he interpreted it in his own way.
He would, as Mr. Powell depicts, sit on the skylight and bend over
the reclining girl, wondering what there was behind the lost gaze
under the darkened eyelids in the still eyes. He would look and
look and then he would say, whisper rather, it didn't take much for
his voice to drop to a mere breath--he would declare, transferring
his faded stare to the horizon, that he would never rest till he had
"got her away from that man."
"You don't know what you are saying, papa."
She would try not to show her weariness, the nervous strain of these
two men's antagonism around her person which was the cause of her
languid attitudes. For as a matter of fact the sea agreed with her.
As likely as not Anthony would be walking on the other side of the
deck. The strain was making him restless. He couldn't sit still
anywhere. He had tried shutting himself up in his cabin; but that
was no good. He would jump up to rush on deck and tramp, tramp up
and down that poop till he felt ready to drop, without being able to
wear down the agitation of his soul, generous indeed, but weighted
by its envelope of blood and muscle and bone; handicapped by the
brain creating precise images and everlastingly speculating,
speculating--looking out for signs, watching for symptoms.
And Mr. Smith with a slight backward jerk of his small head at the
footsteps on the other side of the skylight would insist in his
awful, hopelessly gentle voice that he knew very well what he was
saying. Hadn't she given herself to that man while he was locked
"Helpless, in jail, with no one to think of, nothing to look forward
to, but my daughter. And then when they let me out at last I find
her gone--for it amounts to this. Sold. Because you've sold
yourself; you know you have."
With his round unmoved face, a lot of fine white hair waving in the
wind-eddies of the spanker, his glance levelled over the sea he
seemed to be addressing the universe across her reclining form. She
would protest sometimes.
"I wish you would not talk like this, papa. You are only tormenting
me, and tormenting yourself."
"Yes, I am tormented enough," he admitted meaningly. But it was not
talking about it that tormented him. It was thinking of it. And to
sit and look at it was worse for him than it possibly could have
been for her to go and give herself up, bad as that must have been.
"For of course you suffered. Don't tell me you didn't? You must
She had renounced very soon all attempts at protests. It was
useless. It might have made things worse; and she did not want to
quarrel with her father, the only human being that really cared for
her, absolutely, evidently, completely--to the end. There was in
him no pity, no generosity, nothing whatever of these fine things--
it was for her, for her very own self such as it was, that this
human being cared. This certitude would have made her put up with
worse torments. For, of course, she too was being tormented. She
felt also helpless, as if the whole enterprise had been too much for
her. This is the sort of conviction which makes for quietude. She
was becoming a fatalist.
What must have been rather appalling were the necessities of daily
life, the intercourse of current trifles. That naturally had to go
on. They wished good morning to each other, they sat down together
to meals--and I believe there would be a game of cards now and then
in the evening, especially at first. What frightened her most was
the duplicity of her father, at least what looked like duplicity,
when she remembered his persistent, insistent whispers on deck.
However her father was a taciturn person as far back as she could
remember him best--on the Parade. It was she who chattered, never
troubling herself to discover whether he was pleased or displeased.
And now she couldn't fathom his thoughts. Neither did she chatter
to him. Anthony with a forced friendly smile as if frozen to his
lips seemed only too thankful at not being made to speak. Mr. Smith
sometimes forgot himself while studying his hand so long that Flora
had to recall him to himself by a murmured "Papa--your lead." Then
he apologized by a faint as if inward ejaculation "Beg your pardon,
Captain." Naturally she addressed Anthony as Roderick and he
addressed her as Flora. This was all the acting that was necessary
to judge from the wincing twitch of the old man's mouth at every
uttered "Flora." On hearing the rare "Rodericks" he had sometimes a
scornful grimace as faint and faded and colourless as his whole
He would be the first to retire. He was not infirm. With him too
the life on board ship seemed to agree; but from a sense of duty, of
affection, or to placate his hidden fury, his daughter always
accompanied him to his state-room "to make him comfortable." She
lighted his lamp, helped him into his dressing-gown or got him a
book from a bookcase fitted in there--but this last rarely, because
Mr. Smith used to declare "I am no reader" with something like pride
in his low tones. Very often after kissing her good-night on the
forehead he would treat her to some such fretful remark: "It's like
being in jail--'pon my word. I suppose that man is out there
waiting for you. Head jailer! Ough!"
She would smile vaguely; murmur a conciliatory "How absurd." But
once, out of patience, she said quite sharply "Leave off. It hurts
me. One would think you hate me."
"It isn't you I hate," he went on monotonously breathing at her.
"No, it isn't you. But if I saw that you loved that man I think I
could hate you too."
That word struck straight at her heart. "You wouldn't be the first
then," she muttered bitterly. But he was busy with his fixed idea
and uttered an awfully equable "But you don't! Unfortunate girl!"
She looked at him steadily for a time then said "Good-night, papa."
As a matter of fact Anthony very seldom waited for her alone at the
table with the scattered cards, glasses, water-jug, bottles and
soon. He took no more opportunities to be alone with her than was
absolutely necessary for the edification of Mrs. Brown. Excellent,
faithful woman; the wife of his still more excellent and faithful
steward. And Flora wished all these excellent people, devoted to
Anthony, she wished them all further; and especially the nice,
pleasant-spoken Mrs. Brown with her beady, mobile eyes and her "Yes
certainly, ma'am," which seemed to her to have a mocking sound. And
so this short trip--to the Western Islands only--came to an end. It
was so short that when young Powell joined the Ferndale by a
memorable stroke of chance, no more than seven months had elapsed
since the--let us say the liberation of the convict de Barral and
his avatar into Mr. Smith.
For the time the ship was loading in London Anthony took a cottage
near a little country station in Essex, to house Mr. Smith and Mr.
Smith's daughter. It was altogether his idea. How far it was
necessary for Mr. Smith to seek rural retreat I don't know. Perhaps
to some extent it was a judicious arrangement. There were some
obligations incumbent on the liberated de Barral (in connection with
reporting himself to the police I imagine) which Mr. Smith was not
anxious to perform. De Barral had to vanish; the theory was that de
Barral had vanished, and it had to be upheld. Poor Flora liked the
country, even if the spot had nothing more to recommend it than its
Now and then Captain Anthony ran down; but as the station was a real
wayside one, with no early morning trains up, he could never stay
for more than the afternoon. It appeared that he must sleep in town
so as to be early on board his ship. The weather was magnificent
and whenever the captain of the Ferndale was seen on a brilliant
afternoon coming down the road Mr. Smith would seize his stick and
toddle off for a solitary walk. But whether he would get tired or
because it gave him some satisfaction to see "that man" go away--or
for some cunning reason of his own, he was always back before the
hour of Anthony's departure. On approaching the cottage he would
see generally "that man" lying on the grass in the orchard at some
distance from his daughter seated in a chair brought out of the
cottage's living room. Invariably Mr. Smith made straight for them
and as invariably had the feeling that his approach was not
disturbing a very intimate conversation. He sat with them, through
a silent hour or so, and then it would be time for Anthony to go.
Mr. Smith, perhaps from discretion, would casually vanish a minute
or so before, and then watch through the diamond panes of an
upstairs room "that man" take a lingering look outside the gate at
the invisible Flora, lift his hat, like a caller, and go off down
the road. Then only Mr. Smith would join his daughter again.
These were the bad moments for her. Not always, of course, but
frequently. It was nothing extraordinary to hear Mr. Smith begin
gently with some observation like this:
"That man is getting tired of you."
He would never pronounce Anthony's name. It was always "that man."
Generally she would remain mute with wide open eyes gazing at
nothing between the gnarled fruit trees. Once, however, she got up
and walked into the cottage. Mr. Smith followed her carrying the
chair. He banged it down resolutely and in that smooth inexpressive
tone so many ears used to bend eagerly to catch when it came from
the Great de Barral he said:
"Let's get away."
She had the strength of mind not to spin round. On the contrary she
went on to a shabby bit of a mirror on the wall. In the greenish
glass her own face looked far off like the livid face of a drowned
corpse at the bottom of a pool. She laughed faintly.
"I tell you that man's getting--"
"Papa," she interrupted him. "I have no illusions as to myself. It
has happened to me before but--"
Her voice failing her suddenly her father struck in with quite an
unwonted animation. "Let's make a rush for it, then."
Having mastered both her fright and her bitterness, she turned
round, sat down and allowed her astonishment to be seen. Mr. Smith
sat down too, his knees together and bent at right angles, his thin
legs parallel to each other and his hands resting on the arms of the
wooden arm-chair. His hair had grown long, his head was set
stiffly, there was something fatuously venerable in his aspect.
"You can't care for him. Don't tell me. I understand your motive.
And I have called you an unfortunate girl. You are that as much as
if you had gone on the streets. Yes. Don't interrupt me, Flora. I
was everlastingly being interrupted at the trial and I can't stand
it any more. I won't be interrupted by my own child. And when I
think that it is on the very day before they let me out that you . .
He had wormed this fact out of her by that time because Flora had
got tired of evading the question. He had been very much struck and
distressed. Was that the trust she had in him? Was that a proof of
confidence and love? The very day before! Never given him even
half a chance. It was as at the trial. They never gave him a
chance. They would not give him time. And there was his own
daughter acting exactly as his bitterest enemies had done. Not
giving him time!
The monotony of that subdued voice nearly lulled her dismay to
sleep. She listened to the unavoidable things he was saying.
"But what induced that man to marry you? Of course he's a
gentleman. One can see that. And that makes it worse. Gentlemen
don't understand anything about city affairs--finance. Why!--the
people who started the cry after me were a firm of gentlemen. The
counsel, the judge--all gentlemen--quite out of it! No notion of .
. . And then he's a sailor too. Just a skipper--"
"My grandfather was nothing else," she interrupted. And he made an
angular gesture of impatience.
"Yes. But what does a silly sailor know of business? Nothing. No
conception. He can have no idea of what it means to be the daughter
of Mr. de Barral--even after his enemies had smashed him. What on
earth induced him--"
She made a movement because the level voice was getting on her
nerves. And he paused, but only to go on again in the same tone
with the remark:
"Of course you are pretty. And that's why you are lost--like many
other poor girls. Unfortunate is the word for you."
She said: "It may be. Perhaps it is the right word; but listen,
papa. I mean to be honest."
He began to exhale more speeches.
"Just the sort of man to get tired and then leave you and go off
with his beastly ship. And anyway you can never be happy with him.
Look at his face. I want to save you. You see I was not perhaps a
very good husband to your poor mother. She would have done better
to have left me long before she died. I have been thinking it all
over. I won't have you unhappy."
He ran his eyes over her with an attention which was surprisingly
noticeable. Then said, "H'm! Yes. Let's clear out before it is
too late. Quietly, you and I."
She said as if inspired and with that calmness which despair often
gives: "There is no money to go away with, papa."
He rose up straightening himself as though he were a hinged figure.
She said decisively:
"And of course you wouldn't think of deserting me, papa?"
"Of course not," sounded his subdued tone. And he left her, gliding
away with his walk which Mr. Powell described to me as being as
level and wary as his voice. He walked as if he were carrying a
glass full of water on his head.
Flora naturally said nothing to Anthony of that edifying
conversation. His generosity might have taken alarm at it and she
did not want to be left behind to manage her father alone. And
moreover she was too honest. She would be honest at whatever cost.
She would not be the first to speak. Never. And the thought came
into her head: "I am indeed an unfortunate creature!"
It was by the merest coincidence that Anthony coming for the
afternoon two days later had a talk with Mr. Smith in the orchard.
Flora for some reason or other had left them for a moment; and
Anthony took that opportunity to be frank with Mr. Smith. He said:
"It seems to me, sir, that you think Flora has not done very well
for herself. Well, as to that I can't say anything. All I want you
to know is that I have tried to do the right thing." And then he
explained that he had willed everything he was possessed of to her.
"She didn't tell you, I suppose?"
Mr. Smith shook his head slightly. And Anthony, trying to be
friendly, was just saying that he proposed to keep the ship away
from home for at least two years. "I think, sir, that from every
point of view it would be best," when Flora came back and the
conversation, cut short in that direction, languished and died.
Later in the evening, after Anthony had been gone for hours, on the
point of separating for the night, Mr. Smith remarked suddenly to
his daughter after a long period of brooding:
"A will is nothing. One tears it up. One makes another." Then
after reflecting for a minute he added unemotionally:
"One tells lies about it."
Flora, patient, steeled against every hurt and every disgust to the
point of wondering at herself, said: "You push your dislike of--of-
-Roderick too far, papa. You have no regard for me. You hurt me."
He, as ever inexpressive to the point of terrifying her sometimes by
the contrast of his placidity and his words, turned away from her a
pair of faded eyes.
"I wonder how far your dislike goes," he began. "His very name
sticks in your throat. I've noticed it. It hurts me. What do you
think of that? You might remember that you are not the only person
that's hurt by your folly, by your hastiness, by your recklessness."
He brought back his eyes to her face. "And the very day before they
were going to let me out." His feeble voice failed him altogether,
the narrow compressed lips only trembling for a time before he added
with that extraordinary equanimity of tone, "I call it sinful."
Flora made no answer. She judged it simpler, kinder and certainly
safer to let him talk himself out. This, Mr. Smith, being naturally
taciturn, never took very long to do. And we must not imagine that
this sort of thing went on all the time. She had a few good days in
that cottage. The absence of Anthony was a relief and his visits
were pleasurable. She was quieter. He was quieter too. She was
almost sorry when the time to join the ship arrived. It was a
moment of anguish, of excitement; they arrived at the dock in the
evening and Flora after "making her father comfortable" according to
established usage lingered in the state-room long enough to notice
that he was surprised. She caught his pale eyes observing her quite
stonily. Then she went out after a cheery good-night.
Contrary to her hopes she found Anthony yet in the saloon. Sitting
in his arm-chair at the head of the table he was picking up some
business papers which he put hastily in his breast pocket and got
up. He asked her if her day, travelling up to town and then doing
some shopping, had tired her. She shook her head. Then he wanted
to know in a half-jocular way how she felt about going away, and for
a long voyage this time.
"Does it matter how I feel?" she asked in a tone that cast a gloom
over his face. He answered with repressed violence which she did
"No, it does not matter, because I cannot go without you. I've told
you . . . You know it. You don't think I could."
"I assure you I haven't the slightest wish to evade my obligations,"
she said steadily. "Even if I could. Even if I dared, even if I
had to die for it!"
He looked thunderstruck. They stood facing each other at the end of
the saloon. Anthony stuttered. "Oh no. You won't die. You don't
mean it. You have taken kindly to the sea."
She laughed, but she felt angry.
"No, I don't mean it. I tell you I don't mean to evade my
obligations. I shall live on . . . feeling a little crushed,
"Crushed!" he repeated. "What's crushing you?"
"Your magnanimity," she said sharply. But her voice was softened
after a time. "Yet I don't know. There is a perfection in it--do
you understand me, Roderick?--which makes it almost possible to
He sighed, looked away, and remarked that it was time to put out the
lamp in the saloon. The permission was only till ten o'clock.
"But you needn't mind that so much in your cabin. Just see that the
curtains of the ports are drawn close and that's all. The steward
might have forgotten to do it. He lighted your reading lamp in
there before he went ashore for a last evening with his wife. I
don't know if it was wise to get rid of Mrs. Brown. You will have
to look after yourself, Flora."
He was quite anxious; but Flora as a matter of fact congratulated
herself on the absence of Mrs. Brown. No sooner had she closed the
door of her state-room than she murmured fervently, "Yes! Thank
goodness, she is gone." There would be no gentle knock, followed by
her appearance with her equivocal stare and the intolerable: "Can I
do anything for you, ma'am?" which poor Flora had learned to fear
and hate more than any voice or any words on board that ship--her
only refuge from the world which had no use for her, for her
imperfections and for her troubles.
Mrs. Brown had been very much vexed at her dismissal. The Browns
were a childless couple and the arrangement had suited them
perfectly. Their resentment was very bitter. Mrs. Brown had to
remain ashore alone with her rage, but the steward was nursing his
on board. Poor Flora had no greater enemy, the aggrieved mate had
no greater sympathizer. And Mrs. Brown, with a woman's quick power
of observation and inference (the putting of two and two together)
had come to a certain conclusion which she had imparted to her
husband before leaving the ship. The morose steward permitted
himself once to make an allusion to it in Powell's hearing. It was
in the officers' mess-room at the end of a meal while he lingered
after putting a fruit pie on the table. He and the chief mate
started a dialogue about the alarming change in the captain, the
sallow steward looking down with a sinister frown, Franklin rolling
upwards his eyes, sentimental in a red face. Young Powell had heard
a lot of that sort of thing by that time. It was growing
monotonous; it had always sounded to him a little absurd. He struck
in impatiently with the remark that such lamentations over a man
merely because he had taken a wife seemed to him like lunacy.
Franklin muttered, "Depends on what the wife is up to." The steward
leaning against the bulkhead near the door glowered at Powell, that
newcomer, that ignoramus, that stranger without right or privileges.
"Wife! Call her a wife, do you?"
"What the devil do you mean by this?" exclaimed young Powell.
"I know what I know. My old woman has not been six months on board
for nothing. You had better ask her when we get back."
And meeting sullenly the withering stare of Mr. Powell the steward
Our young friend turned at once upon the mate. "And you let that
confounded bottle-washer talk like this before you, Mr. Franklin.
Well, I am astonished."
"Oh, it isn't what you think. It isn't what you think." Mr.
Franklin looked more apoplectic than ever. "If it comes to that I
could astonish you. But it's no use. I myself can hardly . . . You
couldn't understand. I hope you won't try to make mischief. There
was a time, young fellow, when I would have dared any man--any man,
you hear?--to make mischief between me and Captain Anthony. But not
now. Not now. There's a change! Not in me though . . . "
Young Powell rejected with indignation any suggestion of making
mischief. "Who do you take me for?" he cried. "Only you had better
tell that steward to be careful what he says before me or I'll spoil
his good looks for him for a month and will leave him to explain the
why of it to the captain the best way he can."
This speech established Powell as a champion of Mrs. Anthony.
Nothing more bearing on the question was ever said before him. He
did not care for the steward's black looks; Franklin, never
conversational even at the best of times and avoiding now the only
topic near his heart, addressed him only on matters of duty. And
for that, too, Powell cared very little. The woes of the apoplectic
mate had begun to bore him long before. Yet he felt lonely a bit at
times. Therefore the little intercourse with Mrs. Anthony either in
one dog-watch or the other was something to be looked forward to.
The captain did not mind it. That was evident from his manner. One
night he inquired (they were then alone on the poop) what they had
been talking about that evening? Powell had to confess that it was
about the ship. Mrs. Anthony had been asking him questions.
"Takes interest--eh?" jerked out the captain moving rapidly up and
down the weather side of the poop.
"Yes, sir. Mrs. Anthony seems to get hold wonderfully of what one's
"Sailor's granddaughter. One of the old school. Old sea-dog of the
best kind, I believe," ejaculated the captain, swinging past his
motionless second officer and leaving the words behind him like a
trail of sparks succeeded by a perfect conversational darkness,
because, for the next two hours till he left the deck, he didn't
open his lips again.
On another occasion . . . we mustn't forget that the ship had
crossed the line and was adding up south latitude every day by then
. . . on another occasion, about seven in the evening, Powell on
duty, heard his name uttered softly in the companion. The captain
was on the stairs, thin-faced, his eyes sunk, on his arm a Shetland
"Give this to Mrs. Anthony. Evenings are getting chilly."
And the haggard face sank out of sight. Mrs. Anthony was surprised
on seeing the shawl.
"The captain wants you to put this on," explained young Powell, and
as she raised herself in her seat he dropped it on her shoulders.
She wrapped herself up closely.
"Where was the captain?" she asked.
"He was in the companion. Called me on purpose," said Powell, and
then retreated discreetly, because she looked as though she didn't
want to talk any more that evening. Mr. Smith--the old gentleman--
was as usual sitting on the skylight near her head, brooding over
the long chair but by no means inimical, as far as his unreadable
face went, to those conversations of the two youngest people on
board. In fact they seemed to give him some pleasure. Now and then
he would raise his faded china eyes to the animated face of Mr.
Powell thoughtfully. When the young sailor was by, the old man
became less rigid, and when his daughter, on rare occasions, smiled
at some artless tale of Mr. Powell, the inexpressive face of Mr.
Smith reflected dimly that flash of evanescent mirth. For Mr.
Powell had come now to entertain his captain's wife with anecdotes
from the not very distant past when he was a boy, on board various
ships,--funny things do happen on board ship. Flora was quite
surprised at times to find herself amused. She was even heard to
laugh twice in the course of a month. It was not a loud sound but
it was startling enough at the after-end of the Ferndale where low
tones or silence were the rule. The second time this happened the
captain himself must have been startled somewhere down below;
because he emerged from the depths of his unobtrusive existence and
began his tramping on the opposite side of the poop.
Almost immediately he called his young second officer over to him.
This was not done in displeasure. The glance he fastened on Mr.
Powell conveyed a sort of approving wonder. He engaged him in
desultory conversation as if for the only purpose of keeping a man
who could provoke such a sound, near his person. Mr. Powell felt
himself liked. He felt it. Liked by that haggard, restless man who
threw at him disconnected phrases to which his answers were, "Yes,
sir," "No, sir," "Oh, certainly," "I suppose so, sir,"--and might
have been clearly anything else for all the other cared.
It was then, Mr. Powell told me, that he discovered in himself an
already old-established liking for Captain Anthony. He also felt
sorry for him without being able to discover the origins of that
sympathy of which he had become so suddenly aware.
Meantime Mr. Smith, bending forward stiffly as though he had a
hinged back, was speaking to his daughter.
She was a child no longer. He wanted to know if she believed in--in
hell. In eternal punishment?
His peculiar voice, as if filtered through cotton-wool was inaudible
on the other side of the deck. Poor Flora, taken very much
unawares, made an inarticulate murmur, shook her head vaguely, and
glanced in the direction of the pacing Anthony who was not looking
her way. It was no use glancing in that direction. Of young
Powell, leaning against the mizzen-mast and facing his captain she
could only see the shoulder and part of a blue serge back.
And the unworried, unaccented voice of her father went on tormenting
"You see, you must understand. When I came out of jail it was with
joy. That is, my soul was fairly torn in two--but anyway to see you
happy--I had made up my mind to that. Once I could be sure that you
were happy then of course I would have had no reason to care for
life--strictly speaking--which is all right for an old man; though
naturally . . . no reason to wish for death either. But this sort
of life! What sense, what meaning, what value has it either for you
or for me? It's just sitting down to look at the death, that's
coming, coming. What else is it? I don't know how you can put up
with that. I don't think you can stand it for long. Some day you
will jump overboard."
Captain Anthony had stopped for a moment staring ahead from the
break of the poop, and poor Flora sent at his back a look of
despairing appeal which would have moved a heart of stone. But as
though she had done nothing he did not stir in the least. She got
out of the long chair and went towards the companion. Her father
followed carrying a few small objects, a handbag, her handkerchief,
a book. They went down together.
It was only then that Captain Anthony turned, looked at the place
they had vacated and resumed his tramping, but not his desultory
conversation with his second officer. His nervous exasperation had
grown so much that now very often he used to lose control of his
voice. If he did not watch himself it would suddenly die in his
throat. He had to make sure before he ventured on the simplest
saying, an order, a remark on the wind, a simple good-morning.
That's why his utterance was abrupt, his answers to people
startlingly brusque and often not forthcoming at all.
It happens to the most resolute of men to find himself at grips not
only with unknown forces, but with a well-known force the real might
of which he had not understood. Anthony had discovered that he was
not the proud master but the chafing captive of his generosity. It
rose in front of him like a wall which his respect for himself
forbade him to scale. He said to himself: "Yes, I was a fool--but
she has trusted me!" Trusted! A terrible word to any man somewhat
exceptional in a world in which success has never been found in
renunciation and good faith. And it must also be said, in order not
to make Anthony more stupidly sublime than he was, that the
behaviour of Flora kept him at a distance. The girl was afraid to
add to the exasperation of her father. It was her unhappy lot to be
made more wretched by the only affection which she could not
suspect. She could not be angry with it, however, and out of
deference for that exaggerated sentiment she hardly dared to look
otherwise than by stealth at the man whose masterful compassion had
carried her off. And quite unable to understand the extent of
Anthony's delicacy, she said to herself that "he didn't care." He
probably was beginning at bottom to detest her--like the governess,
like the maiden lady, like the German woman, like Mrs. Fyne, like
Mr. Fyne--only he was extraordinary, he was generous. At the same
time she had moments of irritation. He was violent, headstrong--
perhaps stupid. Well, he had had his way.
A man who has had his way is seldom happy, for generally he finds
that the way does not lead very far on this earth of desires which
can never be fully satisfied. Anthony had entered with extreme
precipitation the enchanted gardens of Armida saying to himself "At
last!" As to Armida, herself, he was not going to offer her any
violence. But now he had discovered that all the enchantment was in
Armida herself, in Armida's smiles. This Armida did not smile. She
existed, unapproachable, behind the blank wall of his renunciation.
His force, fit for action, experienced the impatience, the
indignation, almost the despair of his vitality arrested, bound,
stilled, progressively worn down, frittered away by Time; by that
force blind and insensible, which seems inert and yet uses one's
life up by its imperceptible action, dropping minute after minute on
one's living heart like drops of water wearing down a stone.
He upbraided himself. What else could he have expected? He had
rushed in like a ruffian; he had dragged the poor defenceless thing
by the hair of her head, as it were, on board that ship. It was
really atrocious. Nothing assured him that his person could be
attractive to this or any other woman. And his proceedings were
enough in themselves to make anyone odious. He must have been
bereft of his senses. She must fatally detest and fear him.
Nothing could make up for such brutality. And yet somehow he
resented this very attitude which seemed to him completely
justifiable. Surely he was not too monstrous (morally) to be looked
at frankly sometimes. But no! She wouldn't. Well, perhaps, some
day . . . Only he was not going ever to attempt to beg for
forgiveness. With the repulsion she felt for his person she would
certainly misunderstand the most guarded words, the most careful
advances. Never! Never!
It would occur to Anthony at the end of such meditations that death
was not an unfriendly visitor after all. No wonder then that even
young Powell, his faculties having been put on the alert, began to
think that there was something unusual about the man who had given
him his chance in life. Yes, decidedly, his captain was "strange."
There was something wrong somewhere, he said to himself, never
guessing that his young and candid eyes were in the presence of a
passion profound, tyrannical and mortal, discovering its own
existence, astounded at feeling itself helpless and dismayed at
finding itself incurable.
Powell had never before felt this mysterious uneasiness so strongly
as on that evening when it had been his good fortune to make Mrs.
Anthony laugh a little by his artless prattle. Standing out of the
way, he had watched his captain walk the weather-side of the poop,
he took full cognizance of his liking for that inexplicably strange
man and saw him swerve towards the companion and go down below with
sympathetic if utterly uncomprehending eyes.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Smith came up alone and manifested a desire
for a little conversation. He, too, if not so mysterious as the
captain, was not very comprehensible to Mr. Powell's uninformed
candour. He often favoured thus the second officer. His talk
alluded somewhat enigmatically and often without visible connection
to Mr. Powell's friendliness towards himself and his daughter. "For
I am well aware that we have no friends on board this ship, my dear
young man," he would add, "except yourself. Flora feels that too."
And Mr. Powell, flattered and embarrassed, could but emit a vague
murmur of protest. For the statement was true in a sense, though
the fact was in itself insignificant. The feelings of the ship's
company could not possibly matter to the captain's wife and to Mr.
Smith--her father. Why the latter should so often allude to it was
what surprised our Mr. Powell. This was by no means the first
occasion. More like the twentieth rather. And in his weak voice,
with his monotonous intonation, leaning over the rail and looking at
the water the other continued this conversation, or rather his
remarks, remarks of such a monstrous nature that Mr. Powell had no
option but to accept them for gruesome jesting.
"For instance," said Mr. Smith, "that mate, Franklin, I believe he
would just as soon see us both overboard as not."
"It's not so bad as that," laughed Mr. Powell, feeling
uncomfortable, because his mind did not accommodate itself easily to
exaggeration of statement. "He isn't a bad chap really," he added,
very conscious of Mr. Franklin's offensive manner of which instances
were not far to seek. "He's such a fool as to be jealous. He has
been with the captain for years. It's not for me to say, perhaps,
but I think the captain has spoiled all that gang of old servants.
They are like a lot of pet old dogs. Wouldn't let anybody come near
him if they could help it. I've never seen anything like it. And
the second mate, I believe, was like that too."
"Well, he isn't here, luckily. There would have been one more
enemy," said Mr. Smith. "There's enough of them without him. And
you being here instead of him makes it much more pleasant for my
daughter and myself. One feels there may be a friend in need. For
really, for a woman all alone on board ship amongst a lot of
unfriendly men . . . "
"But Mrs Anthony is not alone," exclaimed Powell. "There's you, and
there's the . . . "
Mr. Smith interrupted him.
"Nobody's immortal. And there are times when one feels ashamed to
live. Such an evening as this for instance."
It was a lovely evening; the colours of a splendid sunset had died
out and the breath of a warm breeze seemed to have smoothed out the
sea. Away to the south the sheet lightning was like the flashing of
an enormous lantern hidden under the horizon. In order to change
the conversation Mr. Powell said:
"Anyway no one can charge you with being a Jonah, Mr. Smith. We
have had a magnificent quick passage so far. The captain ought to
be pleased. And I suppose you are not sorry either."
This diversion was not successful. Mr. Smith emitted a sort of
bitter chuckle and said: "Jonah! That's the fellow that was thrown
overboard by some sailors. It seems to me it's very easy at sea to
get rid of a person one does not like. The sea does not give up its
dead as the earth does."
"You forget the whale, sir," said young Powell.
Mr. Smith gave a start. "Eh? What whale? Oh! Jonah. I wasn't
thinking of Jonah. I was thinking of this passage which seems so
quick to you. But only think what it is to me? It isn't a life,
going about the sea like this. And, for instance, if one were to
fall ill, there isn't a doctor to find out what's the matter with
one. It's worrying. It makes me anxious at times."
"Is Mrs. Anthony not feeling well?" asked Powell. But Mr. Smith's
remark was not meant for Mrs. Anthony. She was well. He himself
was well. It was the captain's health that did not seem quite
satisfactory. Had Mr. Powell noticed his appearance?
Mr. Powell didn't know enough of the captain to judge. He couldn't
tell. But he observed thoughtfully that Mr. Franklin had been
saying the same thing. And Franklin had known the captain for
years. The mate was quite worried about it.
This intelligence startled Mr. Smith considerably. "Does he think
he is in danger of dying?" he exclaimed with an animation quite
extraordinary for him, which horrified Mr. Powell.
"Heavens! Die! No! Don't you alarm yourself, sir. I've never
heard a word about danger from Mr. Franklin."
"Well, well," sighed Mr. Smith and left the poop for the saloon
As a matter of fact Mr. Franklin had been on deck for some
considerable time. He had come to relieve young Powell; but seeing
him engaged in talk with the "enemy"--with one of the "enemies" at
least--had kept at a distance, which, the poop of the Ferndale being
aver seventy feet long, he had no difficulty in doing. Mr. Powell
saw him at the head of the ladder leaning on his elbow, melancholy
and silent. "Oh! Here you are, sir."
"Here I am. Here I've been ever since six o'clock. Didn't want to
interrupt the pleasant conversation. If you like to put in half of
your watch below jawing with a dear friend, that's not my affair.
Funny taste though."
"He isn't a bad chap," said the impartial Powell.
The mate snorted angrily, tapping the deck with his foot; then:
"Isn't he? Well, give him my love when you come together again for
another nice long yarn."
"I say, Mr. Franklin, I wonder the captain don't take offence at
"The captain. I wish to goodness he would start a row with me.
Then I should know at least I am somebody on board. I'd welcome it,
Mr. Powell. I'd rejoice. And dam' me I would talk back too till I
roused him. He's a shadow of himself. He walks about his ship like
a ghost. He's fading away right before our eyes. But of course you
don't see. You don't care a hang. Why should you?"
Mr. Powell did not wait for more. He went down on the main deck.
Without taking the mate's jeremiads seriously he put them beside the
words of Mr. Smith. He had grown already attached to Captain
Anthony. There was something not only attractive but compelling in
the man. Only it is very difficult for youth to believe in the
menace of death. Not in the fact itself, but in its proximity to a
breathing, moving, talking, superior human being, showing no sign of
disease. And Mr. Powell thought that this talk was all nonsense.
But his curiosity was awakened. There was something, and at any
time some circumstance might occur . . . No, he would never find out
. . . There was nothing to find out, most likely. Mr. Powell went
to his room where he tried to read a book he had already read a good
many times. Presently a bell rang for the officers' supper.
CHAPTER SIX--. . . A MOONLESS NIGHT, THICK WITH STARS ABOVE, VERY
DARK ON THE WATER
In the mess-room Powell found Mr. Franklin hacking at a piece of
cold salt beef with a table knife. The mate, fiery in the face and
rolling his eyes over that task, explained that the carver belonging
to the mess-room could not be found. The steward, present also,
complained savagely of the cook. The fellow got things into his
galley and then lost them. Mr. Franklin tried to pacify him with
"There, there! That will do. We who have been all these years
together in the ship have other things to think about than
quarrelling among ourselves."
Mr. Powell thought with exasperation: "Here he goes again," for
this utterance had nothing cryptic for him. The steward having
withdrawn morosely, he was not surprised to hear the mate strike the
usual note. That morning the mizzen topsail tie had carried away
(probably a defective link) and something like forty feet of chain
and wire-rope, mixed up with a few heavy iron blocks, had crashed
down from aloft on the poop with a terrifying racket.
"Did you notice the captain then, Mr. Powell. Did you notice?"
Powell confessed frankly that he was too scared himself when all
that lot of gear came down on deck to notice anything.
"The gin-block missed his head by an inch," went on the mate
impressively. "I wasn't three feet from him. And what did he do?
Did he shout, or jump, or even look aloft to see if the yard wasn't
coming down too about our ears in a dozen pieces? It's a marvel it
didn't. No, he just stopped short--no wonder; he must have felt the
wind of that iron gin-block on his face--looked down at it, there,
lying close to his foot--and went on again. I believe he didn't
even blink. It isn't natural. The man is stupefied."
He sighed ridiculously and Mr. Powell had suppressed a grin, when
the mate added as if he couldn't contain himself:
"He will be taking to drink next. Mark my words. That's the next
Mr. Powell was disgusted.
"You are so fond of the captain and yet you don't seem to care what
you say about him. I haven't been with him for seven years, but I
know he isn't the sort of man that takes to drink. And then--why
the devil should he?"
"Why the devil, you ask. Devil--eh? Well, no man is safe from the
devil--and that's answer enough for you," wheezed Mr. Franklin not
unkindly. "There was a time, a long time ago, when I nearly took to
drink myself. What do you say to that?"
Mr. Powell expressed a polite incredulity. The thick, congested
mate seemed on the point of bursting with despondency. "That was
bad example though. I was young and fell into dangerous company,
made a fool of myself--yes, as true as you see me sitting here.
Drank to forget. Thought it a great dodge."
Powell looked at the grotesque Franklin with awakened interest and
with that half-amused sympathy with which we receive unprovoked
confidences from men with whom we have no sort of affinity. And at
the same time he began to look upon him more seriously. Experience
has its prestige. And the mate continued:
"If it hadn't been for the old lady, I would have gone to the devil.
I remembered her in time. Nothing like having an old lady to look
after to steady a chap and make him face things. But as bad luck
would have it, Captain Anthony has no mother living, not a blessed
soul belonging to him as far as I know. Oh, aye, I fancy he said
once something to me of a sister. But she's married. She don't
need him. Yes. In the old days he used to talk to me as if we had
been brothers," exaggerated the mate sentimentally. "'Franklin,'--
he would say--'this ship is my nearest relation and she isn't likely
to turn against me. And I suppose you are the man I've known the
longest in the world.' That's how he used to speak to me. Can I
turn my back on him? He has turned his back on his ship; that's
what it has come to. He has no one now but his old Franklin. But
what's a fellow to do to put things back as they were and should be.
Should be--I say!"
His starting eyes had a terrible fixity. Mr. Powell's irresistible
thought, "he resembles a boiled lobster in distress," was followed
by annoyance. "Good Lord," he said, "you don't mean to hint that
Captain Anthony has fallen into bad company. What is it you want to
save him from?"
"I do mean it," affirmed the mate, and the very absurdity of the
statement made it impressive--because it seemed so absolutely
audacious. "Well, you have a cheek," said young Powell, feeling
mentally helpless. "I have a notion the captain would half kill you
if he were to know how you carry on."
"And welcome," uttered the fervently devoted Franklin. "I am
willing, if he would only clear the ship afterwards of that . . .
You are but a youngster and you may go and tell him what you like.
Let him knock the stuffing out of his old Franklin first and think
it over afterwards. Anything to pull him together. But of course
you wouldn't. You are all right. Only you don't know that things
are sometimes different from what they look. There are friendships
that are no friendships, and marriages that are no marriages. Phoo!
Likely to be right--wasn't it? Never a hint to me. I go off on
leave and when I come back, there it is--all over, settled! Not a
word beforehand. No warning. If only: 'What do you think of it,
Franklin?'--or anything of the sort. And that's a man who hardly
ever did anything without asking my advice. Why! He couldn't take
over a new coat from the tailor without . . . first thing, directly
the fellow came on board with some new clothes, whether in London or
in China, it would be: 'Pass the word along there for Mr. Franklin.
Mr. Franklin wanted in the cabin.' In I would go. 'Just look at my
back, Franklin. Fits all right, doesn't it?' And I would say:
'First rate, sir,' or whatever was the truth of it. That or
anything else. Always the truth of it. Always. And well he knew
it; and that's why he dared not speak right out. Talking about
workmen, alterations, cabins . . . Phoo! . . . instead of a
straightforward--'Wish me joy, Mr. Franklin!' Yes, that was the way
to let me know. God only knows what they are--perhaps she isn't his
daughter any more than she is . . . She doesn't resemble that old
fellow. Not a bit. Not a bit. It's very awful. You may well open
your mouth, young man. But for goodness' sake, you who are mixed up
with that lot, keep your eyes and ears open too in case--in case of
. . . I don't know what. Anything. One wonders what can happen
here at sea! Nothing. Yet when a man is called a jailer behind his
Mr. Franklin hid his face in his hands for a moment and Powell shut
his mouth, which indeed had been open. He slipped out of the mess-
room noiselessly. "The mate's crazy," he thought. It was his firm
conviction. Nevertheless, that evening, he felt his inner
tranquillity disturbed at last by the force and obstinacy of this
craze. He couldn't dismiss it with the contempt it deserved. Had
the word "jailer" really been pronounced? A strange word for the
mate to even IMAGINE he had heard. A senseless, unlikely word. But
this word being the only clear and definite statement in these
grotesque and dismal ravings was comparatively restful to his mind.
Powell's mind rested on it still when he came up at eight o'clock to
take charge of the deck. It was a moonless night, thick with stars
above, very dark on the water. A steady air from the west kept the
sails asleep. Franklin mustered both watches in low tones as if for
a funeral, then approaching Powell:
"The course is east-south-east," said the chief mate distinctly.
"Everything's set, Mr. Powell."
"All right, sir."
The other lingered, his sentimental eyes gleamed silvery in the
shadowy face. "A quiet night before us. I don't know that there
are any special orders. A settled, quiet night. I dare say you
won't see the captain. Once upon a time this was the watch he used
to come up and start a chat with either of us then on deck. But now
he sits in that infernal stern-cabin and mopes. Jailer--eh?"
Mr. Powell walked away from the mate and when at some distance said,
"Damn!" quite heartily. It was a confounded nuisance. It had
ceased to be funny; that hostile word "jailer" had given the
situation an air of reality.
Franklin's grotesque mortal envelope had disappeared from the poop
to seek its needful repose, if only the worried soul would let it
rest a while. Mr. Powell, half sorry for the thick little man,
wondered whether it would let him. For himself, he recognized that
the charm of a quiet watch on deck when one may let one's thoughts
roam in space and time had been spoiled without remedy. What
shocked him most was the implied aspersion of complicity on Mrs.
Anthony. It angered him. In his own words to me, he felt very
"enthusiastic" about Mrs. Anthony. "Enthusiastic" is good;
especially as he couldn't exactly explain to me what he meant by it.
But he felt enthusiastic, he says. That silly Franklin must have
been dreaming. That was it. He had dreamed it all. Ass. Yet the
injurious word stuck in Powell's mind with its associated ideas of
prisoner, of escape. He became very uncomfortable. And just then
(it might have been half an hour or more since he had relieved
Franklin) just then Mr. Smith came up on the poop alone, like a
gliding shadow and leaned over the rail by his side. Young Powell
was affected disagreeably by his presence. He made a movement to go
away but the other began to talk--and Powell remained where he was
as if retained by a mysterious compulsion. The conversation started
by Mr. Smith had nothing peculiar. He began to talk of mail-boats
in general and in the end seemed anxious to discover what were the
services from Port Elizabeth to London. Mr. Powell did not know for
certain but imagined that there must be communication with England
at least twice a month. "Are you thinking of leaving us, sir; of
going home by steam? Perhaps with Mrs. Anthony," he asked
"No! No! How can I?" Mr. Smith got quite agitated, for him, which
did not amount to much. He was just asking for the sake of
something to talk about. No idea at all of going home. One could
not always do what one wanted and that's why there were moments when
one felt ashamed to live. This did not mean that one did not want
to live. Oh no!
He spoke with careless slowness, pausing frequently and in such a
low voice that Powell had to strain his hearing to catch the phrases
dropped overboard as it were. And indeed they seemed not worth the
effort. It was like the aimless talk of a man pursuing a secret
train of thought far removed from the idle words we so often utter
only to keep in touch with our fellow beings. An hour passed. It
seemed as though Mr. Smith could not make up his mind to go below.
He repeated himself. Again he spoke of lives which one was ashamed
of. It was necessary to put up with such lives as long as there was
no way out, no possible issue. He even alluded once more to mail-
boat services on the East coast of Africa and young Powell had to
tell him once more that he knew nothing about them.
"Every fortnight, I thought you said," insisted Mr. Smith. He
stirred, seemed to detach himself from the rail with difficulty.
His long, slender figure straightened into stiffness, as if hostile
to the enveloping soft peace of air and sea and sky, emitted into
the night a weak murmur which Mr. Powell fancied was the word,
"Abominable" repeated three times, but which passed into the faintly
louder declaration: "The moment has come--to go to bed," followed
by a just audible sigh.
"I sleep very well," added Mr. Smith in his restrained tone. "But
it is the moment one opens one's eyes that is horrible at sea.
These days! Oh, these days! I wonder how anybody can . . . "
"I like the life," observed Mr. Powell.
"Oh, you. You have only yourself to think of. You have made your
bed. Well, it's very pleasant to feel that you are friendly to us.
My daughter has taken quite a liking to you, Mr. Powell."
He murmured, "Good-night" and glided away rigidly. Young Powell
asked himself with some distaste what was the meaning of these
utterances. His mind had been worried at last into that questioning
attitude by no other person than the grotesque Franklin. Suspicion
was not natural to him. And he took good care to carefully separate
in his thoughts Mrs. Anthony from this man of enigmatic words--her
father. Presently he observed that the sheen of the two deck dead-
lights of Mr. Smith's room had gone out. The old gentleman had been
surprisingly quick in getting into bed. Shortly afterwards the lamp
in the foremost skylight of the saloon was turned out; and this was
the sign that the steward had taken in the tray and had retired for
Young Powell had settled down to the regular officer-of-the-watch
tramp in the dense shadow of the world decorated with stars high
above his head, and on earth only a few gleams of light about the
ship. The lamp in the after skylight was kept burning through the
night. There were also the dead-lights of the stern-cabins
glimmering dully in the deck far aft, catching his eye when he
turned to walk that way. The brasses of the wheel glittered too,
with the dimly lit figure of the man detached, as if phosphorescent,
against the black and spangled background of the horizon.
Young Powell, in the silence of the ship, reinforced by the great
silent stillness of the world, said to himself that there was
something mysterious in such beings as the absurd Franklin, and even
in such beings as himself. It was a strange and almost improper
thought to occur to the officer of the watch of a ship on the high
seas on no matter how quiet a night. Why on earth was he bothering
his head? Why couldn't he dismiss all these people from his mind?
It was as if the mate had infected him with his own diseased
devotion. He would not have believed it possible that he should be
so foolish. But he was--clearly. He was foolish in a way totally
unforeseen by himself. Pushing this self-analysis further, he
reflected that the springs of his conduct were just as obscure.
"I may be catching myself any time doing things of which I have no
conception," he thought. And as he was passing near the mizzen-mast
he perceived a coil of rope left lying on the deck by the oversight
of the sweepers. By an impulse which had nothing mysterious in it,
he stooped as he went by with the intention of picking it up and
hanging it up on its proper pin. This movement brought his head
down to the level of the glazed end of the after skylight--the
lighted skylight of the most private part of the saloon, consecrated
to the exclusiveness of Captain Anthony's married life; the part,
let me remind you, cut off from the rest of that forbidden space by
a pair of heavy curtains. I mention these curtains because at this
point Mr. Powell himself recalled the existence of that unusual
arrangement to my mind.
He recalled them with simple-minded compunction at that distance of
time. He said: "You understand that directly I stooped to pick up
that coil of running gear--the spanker foot-outhaul, it was--I
perceived that I could see right into that part of the saloon the
curtains were meant to make particularly private. Do you understand
me?" he insisted.
I told him that I understood; and he proceeded to call my attention
to the wonderful linking up of small facts, with something of awe
left yet, after all these years, at the precise workmanship of
chance, fate, providence, call it what you will! "For, observe,
Marlow," he said, making at me very round eyes which contrasted
funnily with the austere touch of grey on his temples, "observe, my
dear fellow, that everything depended on the men who cleared up the
poop in the evening leaving that coil of rope on the deck, and on
the topsail-tie carrying away in a most incomprehensible and
surprising manner earlier in the day, and the end of the chain
whipping round the coaming and shivering to bits the coloured glass-
pane at the end of the skylight. It had the arms of the city of
Liverpool on it; I don't know why unless because the Ferndale was
registered in Liverpool. It was very thick plate glass. Anyhow,
the upper part got smashed, and directly we had attended to things
aloft Mr. Franklin had set the carpenter to patch up the damage with
some pieces of plain glass. I don't know where they got them; I
think the people who fitted up new bookcases in the captain's room
had left some spare panes. Chips was there the whole afternoon on
his knees, messing with putty and red-lead. It wasn't a neat job
when it was done, not by any means, but it would serve to keep the
weather out and let the light in. Clear glass. And of course I was
not thinking of it. I just stooped to pick up that rope and found
my head within three inches of that clear glass, and--dash it all!
I found myself out. Not half an hour before I was saying to myself
that it was impossible to tell what was in people's heads or at the
back of their talk, or what they were likely to be up to. And here
I found myself up to as low a trick as you can well think of. For,
after I had stooped, there I remained prying, spying, anyway
looking, where I had no business to look. Not consciously at first,
may be. He who has eyes, you know, nothing can stop him from seeing
things as long as there are things to see in front of him. What I
saw at first was the end of the table and the tray clamped on to it,
a patent tray for sea use, fitted with holders for a couple of
decanters, water-jug and glasses. The glitter of these things
caught my eye first; but what I saw next was the captain down there,
alone as far as I could see; and I could see pretty well the whole
of that part up to the cottage piano, dark against the satin-wood
panelling of the bulkhead. And I remained looking. I did. And I
don't know that I was ashamed of myself either, then. It was the
fault of that Franklin, always talking of the man, making free with
him to that extent that really he seemed to have become our
property, his and mine, in a way. It's funny, but one had that
feeling about Captain Anthony. To watch him was not so much worse
than listening to Franklin talking him over. Well, it's no use
making excuses for what's inexcusable. I watched; but I dare say
you know that there could have been nothing inimical in this low
behaviour of mine. On the contrary. I'll tell you now what he was
doing. He was helping himself out of a decanter. I saw every
movement, and I said to myself mockingly as though jeering at
Franklin in my thoughts, 'Hallo! Here's the captain taking to drink
at last.' He poured a little brandy or whatever it was into a long
glass, filled it with water, drank about a fourth of it and stood
the glass back into the holder. Every sign of a bad drinking bout,
I was saying to myself, feeling quite amused at the notions of that
Franklin. He seemed to me an enormous ass, with his jealousy and
his fears. At that rate a month would not have been enough for
anybody to get drunk. The captain sat down in one of the swivel
arm-chairs fixed around the table; I had him right under me and as
he turned the chair slightly, I was looking, I may say, down his
back. He took another little sip and then reached for a book which
was lying on the table. I had not noticed it before. Altogether
the proceedings of a desperate drunkard--weren't they? He opened
the book and held it before his face. If this was the way he took
to drink, then I needn't worry. He was in no danger from that, and
as to any other, I assure you no human being could have looked safer
than he did down there. I felt the greatest contempt for Franklin
just then, while I looked at Captain Anthony sitting there with a
glass of weak brandy-and-water at his elbow and reading in the cabin
of his ship, on a quiet night--the quietest, perhaps the finest, of
a prosperous passage. And if you wonder why I didn't leave off my
ugly spying I will tell you how it was. Captain Anthony was a great
reader just about that time; and I, too, I have a great liking for
books. To this day I can't come near a book but I must know what it
is about. It was a thickish volume he had there, small close print,
double columns--I can see it now. What I wanted to make out was the
title at the top of the page. I have very good eyes but he wasn't
holding it conveniently--I mean for me up there. Well, it was a
history of some kind, that much I read and then suddenly he bangs
the book face down on the table, jumps up as if something had bitten
him and walks away aft.
"Funny thing shame is. I had been behaving badly and aware of it in
a way, but I didn't feel really ashamed till the fright of being
found out in my honourable occupation drove me from it. I slunk
away to the forward end of the poop and lounged about there, my face
and ears burning and glad it was a dark night, expecting every
moment to hear the captain's footsteps behind me. For I made sure
he was coming on deck. Presently I thought I had rather meet him
face to face and I walked slowly aft prepared to see him emerge from
the companion before I got that far. I even thought of his having
detected me by some means. But it was impossible, unless he had
eyes in the top of his head. I had never had a view of his face
down there. It was impossible; I was safe; and I felt very mean,
yet, explain it as you may, I seemed not to care. And the captain
not appearing on deck, I had the impulse to go on being mean. I
wanted another peep. I really don't know what was the beastly
influence except that Mr. Franklin's talk was enough to demoralize
any man by raising a sort of unhealthy curiosity which did away in
my case with all the restraints of common decency.
"I did not mean to run the risk of being caught squatting in a
suspicious attitude by the captain. There was also the helmsman to
consider. So what I did--I am surprised at my low cunning--was to
sit down naturally on the skylight-seat and then by bending forward
I found that, as I expected, I could look down through the upper
part of the end-pane. The worst that could happen to me then, if I
remained too long in that position, was to be suspected by the
seaman aft at the wheel of having gone to sleep there. For the rest
my ears would give me sufficient warning of any movements in the
"But in that way my angle of view was changed. The field too was
smaller. The end of the table, the tray and the swivel-chair I had
right under my eyes. The captain had not come back yet. The piano
I could not see now; but on the other hand I had a very oblique
downward view of the curtains drawn across the cabin and cutting off
the forward part of it just about the level of the skylight-end and
only an inch or so from the end of the table. They were heavy
stuff, travelling on a thick brass rod with some contrivance to keep
the rings from sliding to and fro when the ship rolled. But just
then the ship was as still almost as a model shut up in a glass case
while the curtains, joined closely, and, perhaps on purpose, made a
little too long moved no more than a solid wall."
Marlow got up to get another cigar. The night was getting on to
what I may call its deepest hour, the hour most favourable to evil
purposes of men's hate, despair or greed--to whatever can whisper
into their ears the unlawful counsels of protest against things that
are; the hour of ill-omened silence and chill and stagnation, the
hour when the criminal plies his trade and the victim of
sleeplessness reaches the lowest depth of dreadful discouragement;
the hour before the first sight of dawn. I know it, because while
Marlow was crossing the room I looked at the clock on the
mantelpiece. He however never looked that way though it is possible
that he, too, was aware of the passage of time. He sat down
"Our friend Powell," he began again, "was very anxious that I should
understand the topography of that cabin. I was interested more by
its moral atmosphere, that tension of falsehood, of desperate
acting, which tainted the pure sea-atmosphere into which the
magnanimous Anthony had carried off his conquest and--well--his
self-conquest too, trying to act at the same time like a beast of
prey, a pure spirit and the "most generous of men." Too big an
order clearly because he was nothing of a monster but just a common
mortal, a little more self-willed and self-confident than most, may
be, both in his roughness and in his delicacy.
As to the delicacy of Mr. Powell's proceedings I'll say nothing. He
found a sort of depraved excitement in watching an unconscious man--
and such an attractive and mysterious man as Captain Anthony at
that. He wanted another peep at him. He surmised that the captain
must come back soon because of the glass two-thirds full and also of
the book put down so brusquely. God knows what sudden pang had made
Anthony jump up so. I am convinced he used reading as an opiate
against the pain of his magnanimity which like all abnormal growths
was gnawing at his healthy substance with cruel persistence.
Perhaps he had rushed into his cabin simply to groan freely in
absolute and delicate secrecy. At any rate he tarried there. And
young Powell would have grown weary and compunctious at last if it
had not become manifest to him that he had not been alone in the
highly incorrect occupation of watching the movements of Captain
Powell explained to me that no sound did or perhaps could reach him
from the saloon. The first sign--and we must remember that he was
using his eyes for all they were worth--was an unaccountable
movement of the curtain. It was wavy and very slight; just
perceptible in fact to the sharpened faculties of a secret watcher;
for it can't be denied that our wits are much more alert when
engaged in wrong-doing (in which one mustn't be found out) than in a
He became suspicious, with no one and nothing definite in his mind.
He was suspicious of the curtain itself and observed it. It looked
very innocent. Then just as he was ready to put it down to a trick
of imagination he saw trembling movements where the two curtains
joined. Yes! Somebody else besides himself had been watching
Captain Anthony. He owns artlessly that this roused his
indignation. It was really too much of a good thing. In this state
of intense antagonism he was startled to observe tips of fingers
fumbling with the dark stuff. Then they grasped the edge of the
further curtain and hung on there, just fingers and knuckles and
nothing else. It made an abominable sight. He was looking at it
with unaccountable repulsion when a hand came into view; a short,
puffy, old, freckled hand projecting into the lamplight, followed by
a white wrist, an arm in a grey coat-sleeve, up to the elbow, beyond
the elbow, extended tremblingly towards the tray. Its appearance
was weird and nauseous, fantastic and silly. But instead of
grabbing the bottle as Powell expected, this hand, tremulous with
senile eagerness, swerved to the glass, rested on its edge for a
moment (or so it looked from above) and went back with a jerk. The
gripping fingers of the other hand vanished at the same time, and
young Powell staring at the motionless curtains could indulge for a
moment the notion that he had been dreaming.
But that notion did not last long. Powell, after repressing his
first impulse to spring for the companion and hammer at the
captain's door, took steps to have himself relieved by the
boatswain. He was in a state of distraction as to his feelings and
yet lucid as to his mind. He remained on the skylight so as to keep
his eye on the tray.
Still the captain did not appear in the saloon. "If he had," said
Mr. Powell, "I knew what to do. I would have put my elbow through
the pane instantly--crash."
I asked him why?
"It was the quickest dodge for getting him away from that tray," he
explained. "My throat was so dry that I didn't know if I could
shout loud enough. And this was not a case for shouting, either."
The boatswain, sleepy and disgusted, arriving on the poop, found the
second officer doubled up over the end of the skylight in a pose
which might have been that of severe pain. And his voice was so
changed that the man, though naturally vexed at being turned out,
made no comment on the plea of sudden indisposition which young
Powell put forward.
The rapidity with which the sick man got off the poop must have
astonished the boatswain. But Powell, at the moment he opened the
door leading into the saloon from the quarter-deck, had managed to
control his agitation. He entered swiftly but without noise and
found himself in the dark part of the saloon, the strong sheen of
the lamp on the other side of the curtains visible only above the
rod on which they ran. The door of Mr. Smith's cabin was in that
dark part. He passed by it assuring himself by a quick side glance
that it was imperfectly closed. "Yes," he said to me. "The old man
must have been watching through the crack. Of that I am certain;
but it was not for me that he was watching and listening. Horrible!
Surely he must have been startled to hear and see somebody he did
not expect. He could not possibly guess why I was coming in, but I
suppose he must have been concerned." Concerned indeed! He must
have been thunderstruck, appalled.
Powell's only distinct aim was to remove the suspected tumbler. He
had no other plan, no other intention, no other thought. Do away
with it in some manner. Snatch it up and run out with it.
You know that complete mastery of one fixed idea, not a reasonable
but an emotional mastery, a sort of concentrated exaltation. Under
its empire men rush blindly through fire and water and opposing
violence, and nothing can stop them--unless, sometimes, a grain of
sand. For his blind purpose (and clearly the thought of Mrs.
Anthony was at the bottom of it) Mr. Powell had plenty of time.
What checked him at the crucial moment was the familiar, harmless
aspect of common things, the steady light, the open book on the
table, the solitude, the peace, the home-like effect of the place.
He held the glass in his hand; all he had to do was to vanish back
beyond the curtains, flee with it noiselessly into the night on
deck, fling it unseen overboard. A minute or less. And then all
that would have happened would have been the wonder at the utter
disappearance of a glass tumbler, a ridiculous riddle in pantry-
affairs beyond the wit of anyone on board to solve. The grain of
sand against which Powell stumbled in his headlong career was a
moment of incredulity as to the truth of his own conviction because
it had failed to affect the safe aspect of familiar things. He
doubted his eyes too. He must have dreamt it all! "I am dreaming
now," he said to himself. And very likely for a few seconds he must
have looked like a man in a trance or profoundly asleep on his feet,
and with a glass of brandy-and-water in his hand.
What woke him up and, at the same time, fixed his feet immovably to
the spot, was a voice asking him what he was doing there in tones of
thunder. Or so it sounded to his ears. Anthony, opening the door
of his stern-cabin had naturally exclaimed. What else could you
expect? And the exclamation must have been fairly loud if you
consider the nature of the sight which met his eye. There, before
him, stood his second officer, a seemingly decent, well-bred young
man, who, being on duty, had left the deck and had sneaked into the
saloon, apparently for the inexpressibly mean purpose of drinking up
what was left of his captain's brandy-and-water. There he was,
caught absolutely with the glass in his hand.
But the very monstrosity of appearances silenced Anthony after the
first exclamation; and young Powell felt himself pierced through and
through by the overshadowed glance of his captain. Anthony advanced
quietly. The first impulse of Mr. Powell, when discovered, had been
to dash the glass on the deck. He was in a sort of panic. But deep
down within him his wits were working, and the idea that if he did
that he could prove nothing and that the story he had to tell was
completely incredible, restrained him. The captain came forward
slowly. With his eyes now close to his, Powell, spell-bound, numb
all over, managed to lift one finger to the deck above mumbling the
explanatory words, "Boatswain on the poop."
The captain moved his head slightly as much as to say, "That's all
right"--and this was all. Powell had no voice, no strength. The
air was unbreathable, thick, sticky, odious, like hot jelly in which
all movements became difficult. He raised the glass a little with
immense difficulty and moved his trammelled lips sufficiently to
form the words:
Anthony glanced at it for an instant, only for an instant, and again
fastened his eyes on the face of his second mate. Powell added a
fervent "I believe" and put the glass down on the tray. The
captain's glance followed the movement and returned sternly to his
face. The young man pointed a finger once more upwards and squeezed
out of his iron-bound throat six consecutive words of further
explanation. "Through the skylight. The white pane."
The captain raised his eyebrows very much at this, while young
Powell, ashamed but desperate, nodded insistently several times. He
meant to say that: Yes. Yes. He had done that thing. He had been
spying . . . The captain's gaze became thoughtful. And, now the
confession was over, the iron-bound feeling of Powell's throat
passed away giving place to a general anxiety which from his breast
seemed to extend to all the limbs and organs of his body. His legs
trembled a little, his vision was confused, his mind became blankly
expectant. But he was alert enough. At a movement of Anthony he
screamed in a strangled whisper.
"Don't, sir! Don't touch it."
The captain pushed aside Powell's extended arm, took up the glass
and raised it slowly against the lamplight. The liquid, of very
pale amber colour, was clear, and by a glance the captain seemed to
call Powell's attention to the fact. Powell tried to pronounce the
word, "dissolved" but he only thought of it with great energy which
however failed to move his lips. Only when Anthony had put down the
glass and turned to him he recovered such a complete command of his
voice that he could keep it down to a hurried, forcible whisper--a
whisper that shook him.
"Doctored! I swear it! I have seen. Doctored! I have seen."
Not a feature of the captain's face moved. His was a calm to take
one's breath away. It did so to young Powell. Then for the first
time Anthony made himself heard to the point.
"You did! . . . Who was it?"
And Powell gasped freely at last. "A hand," he whispered fearfully,
"a hand and the arm--only the arm--like that."
He advanced his own, slow, stealthy, tremulous in faithful
reproduction, the tips of two fingers and the thumb pressed together
and hovering above the glass for an instant--then the swift jerk
back, after the deed.
"Like that," he repeated growing excited. "From behind this." He
grasped the curtain and glaring at the silent Anthony flung it back
disclosing the forepart of the saloon. There was on one to be seen.
Powell had not expected to see anybody. "But," he said to me, "I
knew very well there was an ear listening and an eye glued to the
crack of a cabin door. Awful thought. And that door was in that
part of the saloon remaining in the shadow of the other half of the
curtain. I pointed at it and I suppose that old man inside saw me
pointing. The captain had a wonderful self-command. You couldn't
have guessed anything from his face. Well, it was perhaps more
thoughtful than usual. And indeed this was something to think
about. But I couldn't think steadily. My brain would give a sort
of jerk and then go dead again. I had lost all notion of time, and
I might have been looking at the captain for days and months for all
I knew before I heard him whisper to me fiercely: "Not a word!"
This jerked me out of that trance I was in and I said "No! No! I
didn't mean even you."
"I wanted to explain my conduct, my intentions, but I read in his
eyes that he understood me and I was only too glad to leave off.
And there we were looking at each other, dumb, brought up short by
the question "What next?"
"I thought Captain Anthony was a man of iron till I saw him suddenly
fling his head to the right and to the left fiercely, like a wild
animal at bay not knowing which way to break out . . . "
"Truly," commented Marlow, "brought to bay was not a bad comparison;
a better one than Mr. Powell was aware of. At that moment the
appearance of Flora could not but bring the tension to the breaking
point. She came out in all innocence but not without vague dread.
Anthony's exclamation on first seeing Powell had reached her in her
cabin, where, it seems, she was brushing her hair. She had heard
the very words. "What are you doing here?" And the unwonted
loudness of the voice--his voice--breaking the habitual stillness of
that hour would have startled a person having much less reason to be
constantly apprehensive, than the captive of Anthony's masterful
generosity. She had no means to guess to whom the question was
addressed and it echoed in her heart, as Anthony's voice always did.
Followed complete silence. She waited, anxious, expectant, till she
could stand the strain no longer, and with the weary mental appeal
of the overburdened. "My God! What is it now?" she opened the door
of her room and looked into the saloon. Her first glance fell on
Powell. For a moment, seeing only the second officer with Anthony,
she felt relieved and made as if to draw back; but her sharpened
perception detected something suspicious in their attitudes, and she
came forward slowly.
"I was the first to see Mrs. Anthony," related Powell, "because I
was facing aft. The captain, noticing my eyes, looked quickly over
his shoulder and at once put his finger to his lips to caution me.
As if I were likely to let out anything before her! Mrs. Anthony
had on a dressing-gown of some grey stuff with red facings and a
thick red cord round her waist. Her hair was down. She looked a
child; a pale-faced child with big blue eyes and a red mouth a
little open showing a glimmer of white teeth. The light fell
strongly on her as she came up to the end of the table. A strange
child though; she hardly affected one like a child, I remember. Do
you know," exclaimed Mr. Powell, who clearly must have been, like
many seamen, an industrious reader, "do you know what she looked
like to me with those big eyes and something appealing in her whole
expression. She looked like a forsaken elf. Captain Anthony had
moved towards her to keep her away from my end of the table, where
the tray was. I had never seen them so near to each other before,
and it made a great contrast. It was wonderful, for, with his beard
cut to a point, his swarthy, sunburnt complexion, thin nose and his
lean head there was something African, something Moorish in Captain
Anthony. His neck was bare; he had taken off his coat and collar
and had drawn on his sleeping jacket in the time that he had been
absent from the saloon. I seem to see him now. Mrs. Anthony too.
She looked from him to me--I suppose I looked guilty or frightened--
and from me to him, trying to guess what there was between us two.
Then she burst out with a "What has happened?" which seemed
addressed to me. I mumbled "Nothing! Nothing, ma'am," which she
very likely did not hear.
"You must not think that all this had lasted a long time. She had
taken fright at our behaviour and turned to the captain pitifully.
"What is it you are concealing from me?" A straight question--eh?
I don't know what answer the captain would have made. Before he
could even raise his eyes to her she cried out "Ah! Here's papa" in
a sharp tone of relief, but directly afterwards she looked to me as
if she were holding her breath with apprehension. I was so
interested in her that, how shall I say it, her exclamation made no
connection in my brain at first. I also noticed that she had sidled
up a little nearer to Captain Anthony, before it occurred to me to
turn my head. I can tell you my neck stiffened in the twisted
position from the shock of actually seeing that old man! He had
dared! I suppose you think I ought to have looked upon him as mad.
But I couldn't. It would have been certainly easier. But I could
NOT. You should have seen him. First of all he was completely
dressed with his very cap still on his head just as when he left me
on deck two hours before, saying in his soft voice: "The moment has
come to go to bed"--while he meant to go and do that thing and hide
in his dark cabin, and watch the stuff do its work. A cold shudder
ran down my back. He had his hands in the pockets of his jacket,
his arms were pressed close to his thin, upright body, and he
shuffled across the cabin with his short steps. There was a red
patch on each of his old soft cheeks as if somebody had been
pinching them. He drooped his head a little, and looked with a sort
of underhand expectation at the captain and Mrs. Anthony standing
close together at the other end of the saloon. The calculating
horrible impudence of it! His daughter was there; and I am certain
he had seen the captain putting his finger on his lips to warn me.
And then he had coolly come out! He passed my imagination, I assure
you. After that one shiver his presence killed every faculty in me-
-wonder, horror, indignation. I felt nothing in particular just as
if he were still the old gentleman who used to talk to me familiarly
every day on deck. Would you believe it?"
"Mr. Powell challenged my powers of wonder at this internal
phenomenon," went on Marlow after a slight pause. "But even if they
had not been fully engaged, together with all my powers of attention
in following the facts of the case, I would not have been astonished
by his statements about himself. Taking into consideration his
youth they were by no means incredible; or, at any rate, they were
the least incredible part of the whole. They were also the least
interesting part. The interest was elsewhere, and there of course
all he could do was to look at the surface. The inwardness of what
was passing before his eyes was hidden from him, who had looked on,
more impenetrably than from me who at a distance of years was
listening to his words. What presently happened at this crisis in
Flora de Barral's fate was beyond his power of comment, seemed in a
sense natural. And his own presence on the scene was so strangely
motived that it was left for me to marvel alone at this young man, a
completely chance-comer, having brought it about on that night.
Each situation created either by folly or wisdom has its
psychological moment. The behaviour of young Powell with its
mixture of boyish impulses combined with instinctive prudence, had
not created it--I can't say that--but had discovered it to the very
people involved. What would have happened if he had made a noise
about his discovery? But he didn't. His head was full of Mrs.
Anthony and he behaved with a discretion beyond his years. Some
nice children often do; and surely it is not from reflection. They
have their own inspirations. Young Powell's inspiration consisted
in being "enthusiastic" about Mrs. Anthony. 'Enthusiastic' is
really good. And he was amongst them like a child, sensitive,
impressionable, plastic--but unable to find for himself any sort of
I don't know how much mine may be worth; but I believe that just
then the tension of the false situation was at its highest. Of all
the forms offered to us by life it is the one demanding a couple to
realize it fully, which is the most imperative. Pairing off is the
fate of mankind. And if two beings thrown together, mutually
attracted, resist the necessity, fail in understanding and
voluntarily stop short of the--the embrace, in the noblest meaning
of the word, then they are committing a sin against life, the call
of which is simple. Perhaps sacred. And the punishment of it is an
invasion of complexity, a tormenting, forcibly tortuous involution
of feelings, the deepest form of suffering from which indeed
something significant may come at last, which may be criminal or
heroic, may be madness or wisdom--or even a straight if despairing
Powell on taking his eyes off the old gentleman noticed Captain
Anthony, swarthy as an African, by the side of Flora whiter than the
lilies, take his handkerchief out and wipe off his forehead the
sweat of anguish--like a man who is overcome. "And no wonder,"
commented Mr. Powell here. Then the captain said, "Hadn't you
better go back to your room." This was to Mrs. Anthony. He tried
to smile at her. "Why do you look startled? This night is like any
"Which," Powell again commented to me earnestly, "was a lie . . . No
wonder he sweated." You see from this the value of Powell's
comments. Mrs. Anthony then said: "Why are you sending me away?"
"Why! That you should go to sleep. That you should rest." And
Captain Anthony frowned. Then sharply, "You stay here, Mr. Powell.
I shall want you presently."
As a matter of fact Powell had not moved. Flora did not mind his
presence. He himself had the feeling of being of no account to
those three people. He was looking at Mrs. Anthony as unabashed as
the proverbial cat looking at a king. Mrs. Anthony glanced at him.
She did not move, gripped by an inexplicable premonition. She had
arrived at the very limit of her endurance as the object of
Anthony's magnanimity; she was the prey of an intuitive dread of she
did not know what mysterious influence; she felt herself being
pushed back into that solitude, that moral loneliness, which had
made all her life intolerable. And then, in that close communion
established again with Anthony, she felt--as on that night in the
garden--the force of his personal fascination. The passive
quietness with which she looked at him gave her the appearance of a
person bewitched--or, say, mesmerically put to sleep--beyond any
notion of her surroundings.
After telling Mr. Powell not to go away the captain remained silent.
Suddenly Mrs. Anthony pushed back her loose hair with a decisive
gesture of her arms and moved still nearer to him. "Here's papa up
yet," she said, but she did not look towards Mr. Smith. "Why is it?
And you? I can't go on like this, Roderick--between you two.
Anthony interrupted her as if something had untied his tongue.
"Oh yes. Here's your father. And . . . Why not. Perhaps it is
just as well you came out. Between us two? Is that it? I won't
pretend I don't understand. I am not blind. But I can't fight any
longer for what I haven't got. I don't know what you imagine has
happened. Something has though. Only you needn't be afraid. No
shadow can touch you--because I give up. I can't say we had much
talk about it, your father and I, but, the long and the short of it
is, that I must learn to live without you--which I have told you was
impossible. I was speaking the truth. But I have done fighting, or
waiting, or hoping. Yes. You shall go."
At this point Mr. Powell who (he confessed to me) was listening with
uncomprehending awe, heard behind his back a triumphant chuckling
sound. It gave him the shudders, he said, to mention it now; but at
the time, except for another chill down the spine, it had not the
power to destroy his absorption in the scene before his eyes, and
before his ears too, because just then Captain Anthony raised his
voice grimly. Perhaps he too had heard the chuckle of the old man.
"Your father has found an argument which makes me pause, if it does
not convince me. No! I can't answer it. I--I don't want to answer
it. I simply surrender. He shall have his way with you--and with
me. Only," he added in a gloomy lowered tone which struck Mr.
Powell as if a pedal had been put down, "only it shall take a little
time. I have never lied to you. Never. I renounce not only my
chance but my life. In a few days, directly we get into port, the
very moment we do, I, who have said I could never let you go, I
shall let you go."
To the innocent beholder Anthony seemed at this point to become
physically exhausted. My view is that the utter falseness of his, I
may say, aspirations, the vanity of grasping the empty air, had come
to him with an overwhelming force, leaving him disarmed before the
other's mad and sinister sincerity. As he had said himself he could
not fight for what he did not possess; he could not face such a
thing as this for the sake of his mere magnanimity. The normal
alone can overcome the abnormal. He could not even reproach that
man over there. "I own myself beaten," he said in a firmer tone.
"You are free. I let you off since I must."
Powell, the onlooker, affirms that at these incomprehensible words
Mrs. Anthony stiffened into the very image of astonishment, with a
frightened stare and frozen lips. But next minute a cry came out
from her heart, not very loud but of a quality which made not only
Captain Anthony (he was not looking at her), not only him but also
the more distant (and equally unprepared) young man, catch their
breath: "But I don't want to be let off," she cried.
She was so still that one asked oneself whether the cry had come
from her. The restless shuffle behind Powell's back stopped short,
the intermittent shadowy chuckling ceased too. Young Powell,
glancing round, saw Mr. Smith raise his head with his faded eyes
very still, puckered at the corners, like a man perceiving something
coming at him from a great distance. And Mrs. Anthony's voice
reached Powell's ears, entreating and indignant.
"You can't cast me off like this, Roderick. I won't go away from
you. I won't--"
Powell turned about and discovered then that what Mr. Smith was
puckering his eyes at, was the sight of his daughter clinging round
Captain Anthony's neck--a sight not in itself improper, but which
had the power to move young Powell with a bashfully profound
emotion. It was different from his emotion while spying at the
revelations of the skylight, but in this case too he felt the
discomfort, if not the guilt, of an unseen beholder. Experience was
being piled up on his young shoulders. Mrs. Anthony's hair hung
back in a dark mass like the hair of a drowned woman. She looked as
if she would let go and sink to the floor if the captain were to
withhold his sustaining arm. But the captain obviously had no such
intention. Standing firm and still he gazed with sombre eyes at Mr.
Smith. For a time the low convulsive sobbing of Mr. Smith's
daughter was the only sound to trouble the silence. The strength of
Anthony's clasp pressing Flora to his breast could not be doubted
even at that distance, and suddenly, awakening to his opportunity,
he began to partly support her, partly carry her in the direction of
her cabin. His head was bent over her solicitously, then
recollecting himself, with a glance full of unwonted fire, his voice
ringing in a note unknown to Mr. Powell, he cried to him, "Don't you
go on deck yet. I want you to stay down here till I come back.
There are some instructions I want to give you."
And before the young man could answer, Anthony had disappeared in
the stern-cabin, burdened and exulting.
"Instructions," commented Mr. Powell. "That was all right. Very
likely; but they would be such instructions as, I thought to myself,
no ship's officer perhaps had ever been given before. It made me
feel a little sick to think what they would be dealing with,
probably. But there! Everything that happens on board ship on the
high seas has got to be dealt with somehow. There are no special
people to fly to for assistance. And there I was with that old man
left in my charge. When he noticed me looking at him he started to
shuffle again athwart the saloon. He kept his hands rammed in his
pockets, he was as stiff-backed as ever, only his head hung down.
After a bit he says in his gentle soft tone: "Did you see it?"
There were in Powell's head no special words to fit the horror of
his feelings. So he said--he had to say something, "Good God! What
were you thinking of, Mr. Smith, to try to . . . " And then he
left off. He dared not utter the awful word poison. Mr. Smith
stopped his prowl.
"Think! What do you know of thinking. I don't think. There is
something in my head that thinks. The thoughts in men, it's like
being drunk with liquor or--You can't stop them. A man who thinks
will think anything. No! But have you seen it. Have you?"
"I tell you I have! I am certain!" said Powell forcibly. "I was
looking at you all the time. You've done something to the drink in
Then Powell lost his breath somehow. Mr. Smith looked at him
curiously, with mistrust.
"My good young man, I don't know what you are talking about. I ask
you--have you seen? Who would have believed it? with her arms round
his neck. When! Oh! Ha! Ha! You did see! Didn't you? It
wasn't a delusion--was it? Her arms round . . . But I have never
wholly trusted her."
"Then I flew out at him, said Mr. Powell. I told him he was jolly
lucky to have fallen upon Captain Anthony. A man in a million. He
started again shuffling to and fro. "You too," he said mournfully,
keeping his eyes down. "Eh? Wonderful man? But have you a notion
who I am? Listen! I have been the Great Mr. de Barral. So they
printed it in the papers while they were getting up a conspiracy.
And I have been doing time. And now I am brought low." His voice
died down to a mere breath. "Brought low."
He took his hands out of his pocket, dragged the cap down on his
head and stuck them back into his pockets, exactly as if preparing
himself to go out into a great wind. "But not so low as to put up
with this disgrace, to see her, fast in this fellow's clutches,
without doing something. She wouldn't listen to me. Frightened?
Silly? I had to think of some way to get her out of this. Did you
think she cared for him? No! Would anybody have thought so? No!
She pretended it was for my sake. She couldn't understand that if I
hadn't been an old man I would have flown at his throat months ago.
As it was I was tempted every time he looked at her. My girl.
Ough! Any man but this. And all the time the wicked little fool
was lying to me. It was their plot, their conspiracy! These
conspiracies are the devil. She has been leading me on, till she
has fairly put my head under the heel of that jailer, of that
scoundrel, of her husband . . . Treachery! Bringing me low. Lower
than herself. In the dirt. That's what it means. Doesn't it?
Under his heel!"
He paused in his restless shuffle and again, seizing his cap with
both hands, dragged it furiously right down on his ears. Powell had
lost himself in listening to these broken ravings, in looking at
that old feverish face when, suddenly, quick as lightning, Mr. Smith
spun round, snatched up the captain's glass and with a stifled,
hurried exclamation, "Here's luck," tossed the liquor down his
"I know now the meaning of the word 'Consternation,'" went on Mr.
Powell. "That was exactly my state of mind. I thought to myself
directly: There's nothing in that drink. I have been dreaming, I
have made the awfulest mistake! . . ."
Mr. Smith put the glass down. He stood before Powell unharmed,
quieted down, in a listening attitude, his head inclined on one
side, chewing his thin lips. Suddenly he blinked queerly, grabbed
Powell's shoulder and collapsed, subsiding all at once as though he
had gone soft all over, as a piece of silk stuff collapses. Powell
seized his arm instinctively and checked his fall; but as soon as
Mr. Smith was fairly on the floor he jerked himself free and backed
away. Almost as quick he rushed forward again and tried to lift up
the body. But directly he raised his shoulders he knew that the man
was dead! Dead!
He lowered him down gently. He stood over him without fear or any
other feeling, almost indifferent, far away, as it were. And then
he made another start and, if he had not kept Mrs. Anthony always in
his mind, he would have let out a yell for help. He staggered to
her cabin-door, and, as it was, his call for "Captain Anthony" burst
out of him much too loud; but he made a great effort of self-
control. "I am waiting for my orders, sir," he said outside that
door distinctly, in a steady tone.
It was very still in there; still as death. Then he heard a shuffle
of feet and the captain's voice "All right. Coming." He leaned his
back against the bulkhead as you see a drunken man sometimes propped
up against a wall, half doubled up. In that attitude the captain
found him, when he came out, pulling the door to after him quickly.
At once Anthony let his eyes run all over the cabin. Powell,
without a word, clutched his forearm, led him round the end of the
table and began to justify himself. "I couldn't stop him," he
whispered shakily. "He was too quick for me. He drank it up and
fell down." But the captain was not listening. He was looking down
at Mr. Smith, thinking perhaps that it was a mere chance his own
body was not lying there. They did not want to speak. They made
signs to each other with their eyes. The captain grasped Powell's
shoulder as if in a vice and glanced at Mrs. Anthony's cabin door,
and it was enough. He knew that the young man understood him.
Rather! Silence! Silence for ever about this. Their very glances
became stealthy. Powell looked from the body to the door of the
dead man's state-room. The captain nodded and let him go; and then
Powell crept over, hooked the door open and crept back with fearful
glances towards Mrs. Anthony's cabin. They stooped over the corpse.
Captain Anthony lifted up the shoulders.
Mr. Powell shuddered. "I'll never forget that interminable journey
across the saloon, step by step, holding our breath. For part of
the way the drawn half of the curtain concealed us from view had
Mrs. Anthony opened her door; but I didn't draw a free breath till
after we laid the body down on the swinging cot. The reflection of
the saloon light left most of the cabin in the shadow. Mr. Smith's
rigid, extended body looked shadowy too, shadowy and alive. You
know he always carried himself as stiff as a poker. We stood by the
cot as though waiting for him to make us a sign that he wanted to be
left alone. The captain threw his arm over my shoulder and said in
my very ear: "The steward'll find him in the morning."
"I made no answer. It was for him to say. It was perhaps the best
way. It's no use talking about my thoughts. They were not
concerned with myself, nor yet with that old man who terrified me
more now than when he was alive. Him whom I pitied was the captain.
He whispered. "I am certain of you, Mr. Powell. You had better go
on deck now. As to me . . . " and I saw him raise his hands to his
head as if distracted. But his last words before we stole out that
cabin stick to my mind with the very tone of his mutter--to himself,
not to me:
"No! No! I am not going to stumble now over that corpse."
* * *
"This is what our Mr. Powell had to tell me," said Marlow, changing
his tone. I was glad to learn that Flora de Barral had been saved
from THAT sinister shadow at least falling upon her path.
We sat silent then, my mind running on the end of de Barral, on the
irresistible pressure of imaginary griefs, crushing conscience,
scruples, prudence, under their ever-expanding volume; on the sombre
and venomous irony in the obsession which had mastered that old man.
"Well," I said.
"The steward found him," Mr. Powell roused himself. "He went in
there with a cup of tea at five and of course dropped it. I was on
watch again. He reeled up to me on deck pale as death. I had been
expecting it; and yet I could hardly speak. "Go and tell the
captain quietly," I managed to say. He ran off muttering "My God!
My God!" and I'm hanged if he didn't get hysterical while trying to
tell the captain, and start screaming in the saloon, "Fully dressed!
Dead! Fully dressed!" Mrs. Anthony ran out of course but she
didn't get hysterical. Franklin, who was there too, told me that
she hid her face on the captain's breast and then he went out and
left them there. It was days before Mrs. Anthony was seen on deck.
The first time I spoke to her she gave me her hand and said, "My
poor father was quite fond of you, Mr. Powell." She started wiping
her eyes and I fled to the other side of the deck. One would like
to forget all this had ever come near her."
But clearly he could not, because after lighting his pipe he began
musing aloud: "Very strong stuff it must have been. I wonder where
he got it. It could hardly be at a common chemist. Well, he had it
from somewhere--a mere pinch it must have been, no more."
"I have my theory," observed Marlow, "which to a certain extent does
away with the added horror of a coldly premeditated crime. Chance