Part 3 out of 4
He did not move even when he heard slow shuffling
footsteps pass his cabin lazily. He contented himself
to bellow out through the closed door--
The footsteps came back without haste; the door
handle rattled, and the second engineer appeared in the
opening, shadowy in the sheen of the skylight at his
back, with his face apparently as black as the rest of
"We have been very long coming up this time," Mr.
Massy growled, without changing his attitude.
"What do you expect with half the boiler tubes
plugged up for leaks." The second defended himself
"None of your lip," said Massy.
"None of your rotten boilers--I say," retorted his
faithful subordinate without animation, huskily. "Go
down there and carry a head of steam on them yourself--
if you dare. I don't."
"You aren't worth your salt then," Massy said. The
other made a faint noise which resembled a laugh but
might have been a snarl.
"Better go slow than stop the ship altogether," he
admonished his admired superior. Mr. Massy moved
at last. He turned in his chair, and grinding his
"Dam' you and the ship! I wish she were at the
bottom of the sea. Then you would have to starve."
The trusty second engineer closed the door gently.
Massy listened. Instead of passing on to the bath-
room where he should have gone to clean himself, the
second entered his cabin, which was next door. Mr.
Massy jumped up and waited. Suddenly he heard the
lock snap in there. He rushed out and gave a violent
kick to the door.
"I believe you are locking yourself up to get drunk,"
A muffled answer came after a while.
"My own time."
"If you take to boozing on the trip I'll fire you out,"
An obstinate silence followed that threat. Massy
moved away perplexed. On the bank two figures ap-
peared, approaching the gangway. He heard a voice
tinged with contempt--
"I would rather doubt your word. But I shall cer-
tainly speak to him of this."
The other voice, Sterne's, said with a sort of regretful
"Thanks. That's all I want. I must do my duty."
Mr. Massy was surprised. A short, dapper figure
leaped lightly on the deck and nearly bounded into him
where he stood beyond the circle of light from the gang-
way lamp. When it had passed towards the bridge,
after exchanging a hurried "Good evening," Massy
said surlily to Sterne who followed with slow steps--
"What is it you're making up to Mr. Van Wyk for,
"Far from it, Mr. Massy. I am not good enough for
Mr. Van Wyk. Neither are you, sir, in his opinion, I
am afraid. Captain Whalley is, it seems. He's gone
to ask him to dine up at the house this evening."
Then he murmured to himself darkly--
"I hope he will like it."
Mr. Van Wyk, the white man of Batu Beru, an ex-
naval officer who, for reasons best known to himself, had
thrown away the promise of a brilliant career to become
the pioneer of tobacco-planting on that remote part of
the coast, had learned to like Captain Whalley. The
appearance of the new skipper had attracted his atten-
tion. Nothing more unlike all the diverse types he had
seen succeeding each other on the bridge of the Sofala
could be imagined.
At that time Batu Beru was not what it has become
since: the center of a prosperous tobacco-growing dis-
trict, a tropically suburban-looking little settlement of
bungalows in one long street shaded with two rows of
trees, embowered by the flowering and trim luxuriance
of the gardens, with a three-mile-long carriage-road for
the afternoon drives and a first-class Resident with a
fat, cheery wife to lead the society of married estate-
managers and unmarried young fellows in the service
of the big companies.
All this prosperity was not yet; and Mr. Van Wyk
prospered alone on the left bank on his deep clearing
carved out of the forest, which came down above and
below to the water's edge. His lonely bungalow faced
across the river the houses of the Sultan: a restless and
melancholy old ruler who had done with love and war,
for whom life no longer held any savor (except of evil
forebodings) and time never had any value. He was
afraid of death, and hoped he would die before the white
men were ready to take his country from him. He
crossed the river frequently (with never less than ten
boats crammed full of people), in the wistful hope of
extracting some information on the subject from his
own white man. There was a certain chair on the
veranda he always took: the dignitaries of the court
squatted on the rugs and skins between the furniture:
the inferior people remained below on the grass plot
between the house and the river in rows three or four
deep all along the front. Not seldom the visit began at
daybreak. Mr. Van Wyk tolerated these inroads. He
would nod out of his bedroom window, tooth-brush or
razor in hand, or pass through the throng of courtiers in
his bathing robe. He appeared and disappeared hum-
ming a tune, polished his nails with attention, rubbed
his shaved face with eau-de-Cologne, drank his early
tea, went out to see his coolies at work: returned, looked
through some papers on his desk, read a page or two
in a book or sat before his cottage piano leaning back
on the stool, his arms extended, fingers on the keys, his
body swaying slightly from side to side. When abso-
lutely forced to speak he gave evasive vaguely soothing
answers out of pure compassion: the same feeling per-
haps made him so lavishly hospitable with the aerated
drinks that more than once he left himself without soda-
water for a whole week. That old man had granted him
as much land as he cared to have cleared: it was neither
more nor less than a fortune.
Whether it was fortune or seclusion from his kind that
Mr. Van Wyk sought, he could not have pitched upon
a better place. Even the mail-boats of the subsidized
company calling on the veriest clusters of palm-thatched
hovels along the coast steamed past the mouth of Batu
Beru river far away in the offing. The contract was
old: perhaps in a few years' time, when it had expired,
Batu Beru would be included in the service; meantime
all Mr. Van Wyk's mail was addressed to Malacca,
whence his agent sent it across once a month by the
Sofala. It followed that whenever Massy had run short
of money (through taking too many lottery tickets),
or got into a difficulty about a skipper, Mr. Van Wyk
was deprived of his letter and newspapers. In so far
he had a personal interest in the fortunes of the Sofala.
Though he considered himself a hermit (and for no
passing whim evidently, since he had stood eight years
of it already), he liked to know what went on in the
Handy on the veranda upon a walnut etagere (it had
come last year by the Sofala--everything came by the
Sofala) there lay, piled up under bronze weights, a pile
of the Times' weekly edition, the large sheets of the
Rotterdam Courant, the Graphic in its world-wide
green wrappers, an illustrated Dutch publication with-
out a cover, the numbers of a German magazine with
covers of the "Bismarck malade" color. There were
also parcels of new music--though the piano (it had
come years ago by the Sofala in the damp atmosphere
of the forests was generally out of tune. It was vexing
to be cut off from everything for sixty days at a stretch
sometimes, without any means of knowing what was the
matter. And when the Sofala reappeared Mr. Van Wyk
would descend the steps of the veranda and stroll over
the grass plot in front of his house, down to the water-
side, with a frown on his white brow.
"You've been laid up after an accident, I presume."
He addressed the bridge, but before anybody could
answer Massy was sure to have already scrambled ashore
over the rail and pushed in, squeezing the palms of his
hands together, bowing his sleek head as if gummed all
over the top with black threads and tapes. And he
would be so enraged at the necessity of having to offer
such an explanation that his moaning would be posi-
tively pitiful, while all the time he tried to compose
his big lips into a smile.
"No, Mr. Van Wyk. You would not believe it. I
couldn't get one of those wretches to take the ship out.
Not a single one of the lazy beasts could be induced,
and the law, you know, Mr. Van Wyk . . ."
He moaned at great length apologetically; the words
conspiracy, plot, envy, came out prominently, whined
with greater energy. Mr. Van Wyk, examining with
a faint grimace his polished finger-nails, would say,
"H'm. Very unfortunate," and turn his back on him.
Fastidious, clever, slightly skeptical, accustomed to the
best society (he had held a much-envied shore appoint-
ment at the Ministry of Marine for a year preceding
his retreat from his profession and from Europe), he
possessed a latent warmth of feeling and a capacity for
sympathy which were concealed by a sort of haughty,
arbitrary indifference of manner arising from his early
training; and by a something an enemy might have
called foppish, in his aspect--like a distorted echo of
past elegance. He managed to keep an almost mili-
tary discipline amongst the coolies of the estate he had
dragged into the light of day out of the tangle and
shadows of the jungle; and the white shirt he put
on every evening with its stiff glossy front and high
collar looked as if he had meant to preserve the decent
ceremony of evening-dress, but had wound a thick crim-
son sash above his hips as a concession to the wilderness,
once his adversary, now his vanquished companion.
Moreover, it was a hygienic precaution. Worn wide
open in front, a short jacket of some airy silken stuff
floated from his shoulders. His fluffy, fair hair, thin
at the top, curled slightly at the sides; a carefully ar-
ranged mustache, an ungarnished forehead, the gleam
of low patent shoes peeping under the wide bottom of
trowsers cut straight from the same stuff as the gossa-
mer coat, completed a figure recalling, with its sash, a
pirate chief of romance, and at the same time the ele-
gance of a slightly bald dandy indulging, in seclusion,
a taste for unorthodox costume.
It was his evening get-up. The proper time for the
Sofala to arrive at Batu Beru was an hour before sun-
set, and he looked picturesque, and somehow quite cor-
rect too, walking at the water's edge on the background
of grass slope crowned with a low long bungalow with
an immensely steep roof of palm thatch, and clad to the
eaves in flowering creepers. While the Sofala was being
made fast he strolled in the shade of the few trees left
near the landing-place, waiting till he could go on
board. Her white men were not of his kind. The old
Sultan (though his wistful invasions were a nuisance)
was really much more acceptable to his fastidious taste.
But still they were white; the periodical visits of the
ship made a break in the well-filled sameness of the
days without disturbing his privacy. Moreover, they
were necessary from a business point of view; and
through a strain of preciseness in his nature he was
irritated when she failed to appear at the appointed
The cause of the irregularity was too absurd, and
Massy, in his opinion, was a contemptible idiot. The
first time the Sofala reappeared under the new agree-
ment swinging out of the bend below, after he had
almost given up all hope of ever seeing her again, he
felt so angry that he did not go down at once to the
landing-place. His servants had come running to him
with the news, and he had dragged a chair close against
the front rail of the veranda, spread his elbows out,
rested his chin on his hands, and went on glaring at
her fixedly while she was being made fast opposite his
house. He could make out easily all the white faces on
board. Who on earth was that kind of patriarch they
had got there on the bridge now?
At last he sprang up and walked down the gravel path.
It was a fact that the very gravel for his paths had
been imported by the Sofala. Exasperated out of his
quiet superciliousness, without looking at anyone right
or left, he accosted Massy straightway in so determined
a manner that the engineer, taken aback, began to
stammer unintelligibly. Nothing could be heard but
the words: "Mr. Van Wyk . . . Indeed, Mr. Van
Wyk . . . For the future, Mr. Van Wyk"--and by the
suffusion of blood Massy's vast bilious face acquired an
unnatural orange tint, out of which the disconcerted
coal-black eyes shone in an extraordinary manner.
"Nonsense. I am tired of this. I wonder you have
the impudence to come alongside my jetty as if I had
it made for your convenience alone."
Massy tried to protest earnestly. Mr. Van Wyk was
very angry. He had a good mind to ask that German
firm--those people in Malacca--what was their name?--
boats with green funnels. They would be only too glad
of the opening to put one of their small steamers on
the run. Yes; Schnitzler, Jacob Schnitzler, would in a
moment. Yes. He had decided to write without delay.
In his agitation Massy caught up his falling pipe.
"You don't mean it, sir!" he shrieked.
"You shouldn't mismanage your business in this
Mr. Van Wyk turned on his heel. The other three
whites on the bridge had not stirred during the scene.
Massy walked hastily from side to side, puffed out his
"Stuck up Dutchman!"
And he moaned out feverishly a long tale of griefs.
The efforts he had made for all these years to please
that man. This was the return you got for it, eh?
Pretty. Write to Schnitzler--let in the green-funnel
boats--get an old Hamburg Jew to ruin him. No,
really he could laugh. . . . He laughed sobbingly. . . .
Ha! ha! ha! And make him carry the letter in his own
He stumbled across a grating and swore. He would
not hesitate to fling the Dutchman's correspondence
overboard--the whole confounded bundle. He had
never, never made any charge for that accommodation.
But Captain Whalley, his new partner, would not let
him probably; besides, it would be only putting off the
evil day. For his own part he would make a hole in the
water rather than look on tamely at the green funnels
overrunning his trade.
He raved aloud. The China boys hung back with the
dishes at the foot of the ladder. He yelled from the
bridge down at the deck, "Aren't we going to have any
chow this evening at all?" then turned violently to
Captain Whalley, who waited, grave and patient, at
the head of the table, smoothing his beard in silence
now and then with a forbearing gesture.
"You don't seem to care what happens to me. Don't
you see that this affects your interests as much as mine?
It's no joking matter."
He took the foot of the table growling between his
"Unless you have a few thousands put away some-
where. I haven't."
Mr. Van Wyk dined in his thoroughly lit-up bunga-
low, putting a point of splendor in the night of his
clearing above the dark bank of the river. Afterwards
he sat down to his piano, and in a pause he became aware
of slow footsteps passing on the path along the front.
A plank or two creaked under a heavy tread; he swung
half round on the music-stool, listening with his finger-
tips at rest on the keyboard. His little terrier barked
violently, backing in from the veranda. A deep voice
apologized gravely for "this intrusion." He walked out
At the head of the steps the patriarchal figure, who
was the new captain of the Sofala apparently (he had
seen a round dozen of them, but not one of that sort),
towered without advancing. The little dog barked un-
ceasingly, till a flick of Mr. Van Wyk's handkerchief
made him spring aside into silence. Captain Whalley,
opening the matter, was met by a punctiliously polite
but determined opposition.
They carried on their discussion standing where they
had come face to face. Mr. Van Wyk observed his
visitor with attention. Then at last, as if forced out of
"I am surprised that you should intercede for such a
This outbreak was almost complimentary, as if its
meaning had been, "That such a man as you should
intercede!" Captain Whalley let it pass by without
flinching. One would have thought he had heard noth-
ing. He simply went on to state that he was personally
interested in putting things straight between them.
Personally . . .
But Mr. Van Wyk, really carried away by his disgust
with Massy, became very incisive--
"Indeed--if I am to be frank with you--his whole
character does not seem to me particularly estimable or
trustworthy . . ."
Captain Whalley, always straight, seemed to grow an
inch taller and broader, as if the girth of his chest had
suddenly expanded under his beard.
"My dear sir, you don't think I came here to discuss
a man with whom I am--I am--h'm--closely asso-
A sort of solemn silence lasted for a moment. He was
not used to asking favors, but the importance he at-
tached to this affair had made him willing to try. . . .
Mr. Van Wyk, favorably impressed, and suddenly mol-
lified by a desire to laugh, interrupted--
"That's all right if you make it a personal matter;
but you can do no less than sit down and smoke a cigar
A slight pause, then Captain Whalley stepped forward
heavily. As to the regularity of the service, for the
future he made himself responsible for it; and his name
was Whalley--perhaps to a sailor (he was speaking to
a sailor, was he not?) not altogether unfamiliar. There
was a lighthouse now, on an island. Maybe Mr. Van
Wyk himself . . .
"Oh yes. Oh indeed." Mr. Van Wyk caught on at
once. He indicated a chair. How very interesting.
For his own part he had seen some service in the last
Acheen War, but had never been so far East. Whalley
Island? Of course. Now that was very interesting.
What changes his guest must have seen since.
"I can look further back even--on a whole half-
Captain Whalley expanded a bit. The flavor of a
good cigar (it was a weakness) had gone straight to his
heart, also the civility of that young man. There was
something in that accidental contact of which he had
been starved in his years of struggle.
The front wall retreating made a square recess fur-
nished like a room. A lamp with a milky glass shade,
suspended below the slope of the high roof at the end
of a slender brass chain, threw a bright round of light
upon a little table bearing an open book and an ivory
paper-knife. And, in the translucent shadows beyond,
other tables could be seen, a number of easy-chairs of
various shapes, with a great profusion of skin rugs
strewn on the teakwood planking all over the veranda.
The flowering creepers scented the air. Their foliage
clipped out between the uprights made as if several
frames of thick unstirring leaves reflecting the lamp-
light in a green glow. Through the opening at his
elbow Captain Whalley could see the gangway lantern
of the Sofala burning dim by the shore, the shadowy
masses of the town beyond the open lustrous darkness
of the river, and, as if hung along the straight edge
of the projecting eaves, a narrow black strip of the
night sky full of stars--resplendent. The famous cigar
in hand he had a moment of complacency.
"A trifle. Somebody must lead the way. I just
showed that the thing could be done; but you men
brought up to the use of steam cannot conceive the
vast importance of my bit of venturesomeness to
the Eastern trade of the time. Why, that new route
reduced the average time of a southern passage by
eleven days for more than half the year. Eleven days!
It's on record. But the remarkable thing--speaking
to a sailor--I should say was . . ."
He talked well, without egotism, professionally. The
powerful voice, produced without effort, filled the
bungalow even into the empty rooms with a deep and
limpid resonance, seemed to make a stillness outside;
and Mr. Van Wyk was surprised by the serene quality
of its tone, like the perfection of manly gentleness.
Nursing one small foot, in a silk sock and a patent
leather shoe, on his knee, he was immensely entertained.
It was as if nobody could talk like this now, and the
overshadowed eyes, the flowing white beard, the big
frame, the serenity, the whole temper of the man, were
an amazing survival from the prehistoric times of the
world coming up to him out of the sea.
Captain Whalley had been also the pioneer of the early
trade in the Gulf of Pe-tchi-li. He even found occasion
to mention that he had buried his "dear wife" there
six-and-twenty years ago. Mr. Van Wyk, impassive,
could not help speculating in his mind swiftly as to
the sort of woman that would mate with such a man.
Did they make an adventurous and well-matched pair?
No. Very possible she had been small, frail, no doubt
very feminine--or most likely commonplace with do-
mestic instincts, utterly insignificant. But Captain
Whalley was no garrulous bore, and shaking his head
as if to dissipate the momentary gloom that had settled
on his handsome old face, he alluded conversationally to
Mr. Van Wyk's solitude.
Mr. Van Wyk affirmed that sometimes he had more
company than he wanted. He mentioned smilingly
some of the peculiarities of his intercourse with "My
Sultan." He made his visits in force. Those people
damaged his grass plot in front (it was not easy to
obtain some approach to a lawn in the tropics, and the
other day had broken down some rare bushes he had
planted over there. And Captain Whalley remembered
immediately that, in 'forty-seven, the then Sultan, "this
man's grandfather," had been notorious as a great pro-
tector of the piratical fleets of praus from farther East.
They had a safe refuge in the river at Batu Beru. He
financed more especially a Balinini chief called Haji
Daman. Captain Whalley, nodding significantly his
bushy white eyebrows, had very good reason to know
something of that. The world had progressed since
Mr. Van Wyk demurred with unexpected acrimony.
Progressed in what? he wanted to know.
Why, in knowledge of truth, in decency, in justice, in
order--in honesty too, since men harmed each other
mostly from ignorance. It was, Captain Whalley con-
cluded quaintly, more pleasant to live in.
Mr. Van Wyk whimsically would not admit that Mr.
Massy, for instance, was more pleasant naturally than
the Balinini pirates.
The river had not gained much by the change. They
were in their way every bit as honest. Massy was less
ferocious than Haji Daman no doubt, but . . .
"And what about you, my good sir?" Captain
Whalley laughed a deep soft laugh. "YOU are an im-
He continued in a vein of pleasantry. A good cigar
was better than a knock on the head--the sort of wel-
come he would have found on this river forty or fifty
years ago. Then leaning forward slightly, he became
earnestly serious. It seems as if, outside their own sea-
gypsy tribes, these rovers had hated all mankind with
an incomprehensible, bloodthirsty hatred. Meantime
their depredations had been stopped, and what was the
consequence? The new generation was orderly, peace-
able, settled in prosperous villages. He could speak
from personal knowledge. And even the few survivors
of that time--old men now--had changed so much, that
it would have been unkind to remember against them
that they had ever slit a throat in their lives. He had
one especially in his mind's eye: a dignified, venerable
headman of a certain large coast village about sixty
miles sou'west of Tampasuk. It did one's heart good
to see him--to hear that man speak. He might have
been a ferocious savage once. What men wanted was
to be checked by superior intelligence, by superior
knowledge, by superior force too--yes, by force held in
trust from God and sanctified by its use in accordance
with His declared will. Captain Whalley believed a dis-
position for good existed in every man, even if the
world were not a very happy place as a whole. In the
wisdom of men he had not so much confidence. The dis-
position had to be helped up pretty sharply sometimes,
he admitted. They might be silly, wrongheaded, un-
happy; but naturally evil--no. There was at bottom
a complete harmlessness at least . . .
"Is there?" Mr. Van Wyk snapped acrimoniously.
Captain Whalley laughed at the interjection, in the
good humor of large, tolerating certitude. He could
look back at half a century, he pointed out. The smoke
oozed placidly through the white hairs hiding his kindly
"At all events," he resumed after a pause, "I am
glad that they've had no time to do you much harm as
This allusion to his comparative youthfulness did not
offend Mr. Van Wyk, who got up and wriggled his
shoulders with an enigmatic half-smile. They walked
out together amicably into the starry night towards
the river-side. Their footsteps resounded unequally on
the dark path. At the shore end of the gangway the
lantern, hung low to the handrail, threw a vivid light
on the white legs and the big black feet of Mr. Massy
waiting about anxiously. From the waist upwards he
remained shadowy, with a row of buttons gleaming up
to the vague outline of his chin.
"You may thank Captain Whalley for this," Mr. Van
Wyk said curtly to him before turning away.
The lamps on the veranda flung three long squares
of light between the uprights far over the grass. A bat
flitted before his face like a circling flake of velvety
blackness. Along the jasmine hedge the night air
seemed heavy with the fall of perfumed dew; flower-
beds bordered the path; the clipped bushes uprose in
dark rounded clumps here and there before the house;
the dense foliage of creepers filtered the sheen of the
lamplight within in a soft glow all along the front;
and everything near and far stood still in a great im-
mobility, in a great sweetness.
Mr. Van Wyk (a few years before he had had occasion
to imagine himself treated more badly than anybody
alive had ever been by a woman) felt for Captain
Whalley's optimistic views the disdain of a man who
had once been credulous himself. His disgust with the
world (the woman for a time had filled it for him com-
pletely) had taken the form of activity in retirement,
because, though capable of great depth of feeling, he
was energetic and essentially practical. But there was
in that uncommon old sailor, drifting on the outskirts
of his busy solitude, something that fascinated his
skepticism. His very simplicity (amusing enough) was
like a delicate refinement of an upright character. The
striking dignity of manner could be nothing else, in a
man reduced to such a humble position, but the ex-
pression of something essentially noble in the character.
With all his trust in mankind he was no fool; the seren-
ity of his temper at the end of so many years, since it
could not obviously have been appeased by success, wore
an air of profound wisdom. Mr. Van Wyk was amused
at it sometimes. Even the very physical traits of the
old captain of the Sofala, his powerful frame, his re-
poseful mien, his intelligent, handsome face, the big
limbs, the benign courtesy, the touch of rugged severity
in the shaggy eyebrows, made up a seductive person-
ality. Mr. Van Wyk disliked littleness of every kind,
but there was nothing small about that man, and in
the exemplary regularity of many trips an intimacy had
grown up between them, a warm feeling at bottom under
a kindly stateliness of forms agreeable to his fastidious-
They kept their respective opinions on all worldly
matters. His other convictions Captain Whalley never
intruded. The difference of their ages was like another
bond between them. Once, when twitted with the un-
charitableness of his youth, Mr. Van Wyk, running his
eye over the vast proportions of his interlocutor, re-
torted in friendly banter--
"Oh. You'll come to my way of thinking yet. You'll
have plenty of time. Don't call yourself old: you look
good for a round hundred."
But he could not help his stinging incisiveness, and
though moderating it by an almost affectionate smile,
"And by then you will probably consent to die from
Captain Whalley, smiling too, shook his head. "God
He thought that perhaps on the whole he deserved
something better than to die in such sentiments. The
time of course would have to come, and he trusted to
his Maker to provide a manner of going out of which
he need not be ashamed. For the rest he hoped he
would live to a hundred if need be: other men had been
known; it would be no miracle. He expected no miracles.
The pronounced, argumentative tone caused Mr. Van
Wyk to raise his head and look at him steadily. Cap-
tain Whalley was gazing fixedly with a rapt expression,
as though he had seen his Creator's favorable decree
written in mysterious characters on the wall. He kept
perfectly motionless for a few seconds, then got his vast
bulk on to his feet so impetuously that Mr. Van Wyk
He struck first a heavy blow on his inflated chest: and,
throwing out horizontally a big arm that remained
steady, extended in the air like the limb of a tree on
a windless day--
"Not a pain or an ache there. Can you see this shake
in the least?"
His voice was low, in an awing, confident contrast with
the headlong emphasis of his movements. He sat down
"This isn't to boast of it, you know. I am nothing,"
he said in his effortless strong voice, that seemed to
come out as naturally as a river flows. He picked up the
stump of the cigar he had laid aside, and added peace-
fully, with a slight nod, "As it happens, my life is
necessary; it isn't my own, it isn't--God knows."
He did not say much for the rest of the evening, but
several times Mr. Van Wyk detected a faint smile of
assurance flitting under the heavy mustache.
Later on Captain Whalley would now and then consent
to dine "at the house." He could even be induced to
drink a glass of wine. "Don't think I am afraid of it,
my good sir," he explained. "There was a very good
reason why I should give it up."
On another occasion, leaning back at ease, he remarked,
"You have treated me most--most humanely, my dear
Mr. Van Wyk, from the very first."
"You'll admit there was some merit," Mr. Van Wyk
hinted slyly. "An associate of that excellent Massy.
. . . Well, well, my dear captain, I won't say a word
"It would be no use your saying anything against
him," Captain Whalley affirmed a little moodily. "As
I've told you before, my life--my work, is necessary, not
for myself alone. I can't choose" . . . He paused,
turned the glass before him right round. . . . "I have
an only child--a daughter."
The ample downward sweep of his arm over the table
seemed to suggest a small girl at a vast distance. "I
hope to see her once more before I die. Meantime it's
enough to know that she has me sound and solid, thank
God. You can't understand how one feels. Bone of my
bone, flesh of my flesh; the very image of my poor wife.
Well, she . . ."
Again he paused, then pronounced stoically the words,
"She has a hard struggle."
And his head fell on his breast, his eyebrows remained
knitted, as by an effort of meditation. But generally his
mind seemed steeped in the serenity of boundless trust
in a higher power. Mr. Van Wyk wondered sometimes
how much of it was due to the splendid vitality of the
man, to the bodily vigor which seems to impart some-
thing of its force to the soul. But he had learned to
like him very much.
This was the reason why Mr. Sterne's confidential com-
munication, delivered hurriedly on the shore alongside
the dark silent ship, had disturbed his equanimity. It
was the most incomprehensible and unexpected thing
that could happen; and the perturbation of his spirit
was so great that, forgetting all about his letters, he ran
rapidly up the bridge ladder.
The portable table was being put together for dinner
to the left of the wheel by two pig-tailed "boys," who
as usual snarled at each other over the job, while another,
a doleful, burly, very yellow Chinaman, resembling Mr.
Massy, waited apathetically with the cloth over his arm
and a pile of thick dinner-plates against his chest. A
common cabin lamp with its globe missing, brought up
from below, had been hooked to the wooden framework
of the awning; the side-screens had been lowered all
round; Captain Whalley filling the depths of the wicker-
chair seemed to sit benumbed in a canvas tent crudely
lighted, and used for the storing of nautical objects; a
shabby steering-wheel, a battered brass binnacle on a
stout mahogany stand, two dingy life-buoys, an old cork
fender lying in a corner, dilapidated deck-lockers with
loops of thin rope instead of door-handles.
He shook off the appearance of numbness to return
Mr. Van Wyk's unusually brisk greeting, but relapsed
directly afterwards. To accept a pressing invitation to
dinner "up at the house" cost him another very visible
physical effort. Mr. Van Wyk, perplexed, folded his
arms, and leaning back against the rail, with his little,
black, shiny feet well out, examined him covertly.
"I've noticed of late that you are not quite yourself,
He put an affectionate gentleness into the last two
words. The real intimacy of their intercourse had never
been so vividly expressed before.
"Tut, tut, tut!"
The wicker-chair creaked heavily.
"Irritable," commented Mr. Van Wyk to himself; and
aloud, "I'll expect to see you in half an hour, then," he
said negligently, moving off.
"In half an hour," Captain Whalley's rigid silvery
head repeated behind him as if out of a trance.
Amidships, below, two voices, close against the engine-
room, could be heard answering each other--one angry
and slow, the other alert.
"I tell you the beast has locked himself in to get
"Can't help it now, Mr. Massy. After all, a man has
a right to shut himself up in his cabin in his own time."
"Not to get drunk."
"I heard him swear that the worry with the boilers
was enough to drive any man to drink," Sterne said
Massy hissed out something about bursting the door
in. Mr. Van Wyk, to avoid them, crossed in the dark
to the other side of the deserted deck. The planking
of the little wharf rattled faintly under his hasty feet.
"Mr. Van Wyk! Mr. Van Wyk!"
He walked on: somebody was running on the path.
"You've forgotten to get your mail."
Sterne, holding a bundle of papers in his hand, caught
up with him.
But, as the other continued at his elbow, Mr. Van
Wyk stopped short. The overhanging eaves, descend-
ing low upon the lighted front of the bungalow, threw
their black straight-edged shadow into the great body
of the night on that side. Everything was very still.
A tinkle of cutlery and a slight jingle of glasses were
heard. Mr. Van Wyk's servants were laying the table
for two on the veranda.
"I'm afraid you give me no credit whatever for my
good intentions in the matter I've spoken to you about,"
"I simply don't understand you."
"Captain Whalley is a very audacious man, but he
will understand that his game is up. That's all that
anybody need ever know of it from me. Believe me, I
am very considerate in this, but duty is duty. I don't
want to make a fuss. All I ask you, as his friend, is
to tell him from me that the game's up. That will be
Mr. Van Wyk felt a loathsome dismay at this queer
privilege of friendship. He would not demean himself
by asking for the slightest explanation; to drive the
other away with contumely he did not think prudent--
as yet, at any rate. So much assurance staggered him.
Who could tell what there could be in it, he thought?
His regard for Captain Whalley had the tenacity of
a disinterested sentiment, and his practical instinct com-
ing to his aid, he concealed his scorn.
"I gather, then, that this is something grave."
"Very grave," Sterne assented solemnly, delighted at
having produced an effect at last. He was ready to add
some effusive protestations of regret at the "unavoida-
ble necessity," but Mr. Van Wyk cut him short--very
Once on the veranda Mr. Van Wyk put his hands in his
pockets, and, straddling his legs, stared down at a
black panther skin lying on the floor before a rocking-
chair. "It looks as if the fellow had not the pluck
to play his own precious game openly," he thought.
This was true enough. In the face of Massy's last
rebuff Sterne dared not declare his knowledge. His
object was simply to get charge of the steamer and
keep it for some time. Massy would never forgive him
for forcing himself on; but if Captain Whalley left
the ship of his own accord, the command would devolve
upon him for the rest of the trip; so he hit upon the
brilliant idea of scaring the old man away. A vague
menace, a mere hint, would be enough in such a brazen
case; and, with a strange admixture of compassion, he
thought that Batu Beru was a very good place for
throwing up the sponge. The skipper could go ashore
quietly, and stay with that Dutchman of his. Weren't
these two as thick as thieves together? And on reflec-
tion he seemed to see that there was a way to work the
whole thing through that great friend of the old man's.
This was another brilliant idea. He had an inborn
preference for circuitous methods. In this particular
case he desired to remain in the background as much
as possible, to avoid exasperating Massy needlessly.
No fuss! Let it all happen naturally.
Mr. Van Wyk all through the dinner was conscious
of a sense of isolation that invades sometimes the close-
ness of human intercourse. Captain Whalley failed
lamentably and obviously in his attempts to eat some-
thing. He seemed overcome by a strange absent-
mindedness. His hand would hover irresolutely, as if
left without guidance by a preoccupied mind. Mr. Van
Wyk had heard him coming up from a long way off in
the profound stillness of the river-side, and had noticed
the irresolute character of the footfalls. The toe of his
boot had struck the bottom stair as though he had come
along mooning with his head in the air right up to the
steps of the veranda. Had the captain of the Sofala
been another sort of man he would have suspected the
work of age there. But one glance at him was enough.
Time--after, indeed, marking him for its own--had
given him up to his usefulness, in which his simple
faith would see a proof of Divine mercy. "How could
I contrive to warn him?" Mr. Van Wyk wondered, as
if Captain Whalley had been miles and miles away, out
of sight and earshot of all evil. He was sickened by
an immense disgust of Sterne. To even mention his
threat to a man like Whalley would be positively inde-
cent. There was something more vile and insulting in
its hint than in a definite charge of crime--the debasing
taint of blackmailing. "What could anyone bring
against him?" he asked himself. This was a limpid
personality. "And for what object?" The Power
that man trusted had thought fit to leave him nothing
on earth that envy could lay hold of, except a bare crust
"Won't you try some of this?" he asked, pushing a
dish slightly. Suddenly it seemed to Mr. Van Wyk that
Sterne might possibly be coveting the command of the
Sofala. His cynicism was quite startled by what looked
like a proof that no man may count himself safe from
his kind unless in the very abyss of misery. An in-
trigue of that sort was hardly worth troubling about,
he judged; but still, with such a fool as Massy to deal
with, Whalley ought to and must be warned.
At this moment Captain Whalley, bolt upright, the
deep cavities of the eyes overhung by a bushy frown,
and one large brown hand resting on each side of his
empty plate, spoke across the tablecloth abruptly--
"Mr. Van Wyk, you've always treated me with the
most humane consideration."
"My dear captain, you make too much of a simple
fact that I am not a savage." Mr. Van Wyk, utterly
revolted by the thought of Sterne's obscure attempt,
raised his voice incisively, as if the mate had been hiding
somewhere within earshot. "Any consideration I have
been able to show was no more than the rightful due
of a character I've learned to regard by this time with
an esteem that nothing can shake."
A slight ring of glass made him lift his eyes from the
slice of pine-apple he was cutting into small pieces on
his plate. In changing his position Captain Whalley
had contrived to upset an empty tumbler.
Without looking that way, leaning sideways on his
elbow, his other hand shading his brow, he groped
shakily for it, then desisted. Van Wyk stared blankly,
as if something momentous had happened all at once.
He did not know why he should feel so startled; but he
forgot Sterne utterly for the moment.
"Why, what's the matter?"
And Captain Whalley, half-averted, in a deadened,
agitated voice, muttered--
"And I may add something more," Mr. Van Wyk,
very steady-eyed, pronounced slowly.
"Hold! Enough!" Captain Whalley did not
change his attitude or raise his voice. "Say no more!
I can make you no return. I am too poor even for that
now. Your esteem is worth having. You are not a
man that would stoop to deceive the poorest sort of devil
on earth, or make a ship unseaworthy every time he
takes her to sea."
Mr. Van Wyk, leaning forward, his face gone pink
all over, with the starched table-napkin over his knees,
was inclined to mistrust his senses, his power of com-
prehension, the sanity of his guest.
"Where? Why? In the name of God!--what's this?
What ship? I don't understand who . . ."
"Then, in the name of God, it is I! A ship's unsea-
worthy when her captain can't see. I am going blind."
Mr. Van Wyk made a slight movement, and sat very
still afterwards for a few seconds; then, with the
thought of Sterne's "The game's up," he ducked under
the table to pick up the napkin which had slipped off
his knees. This was the game that was up. And at
the same time the muffled voice of Captain Whalley
passed over him--
"I've deceived them all. Nobody knows."
He emerged flushed to the eyes. Captain Whalley,
motionless under the full blaze of the lamp, shaded his
face with his hand.
"And you had that courage?"
"Call it by what name you like. But you are a hu-
mane man--a--a--gentleman, Mr. Van Wyk. You may
have asked me what I had done with my conscience."
He seemed to muse, profoundly silent, very still in his
"I began to tamper with it in my pride. You begin
to see a lot of things when you are going blind. I
could not be frank with an old chum even. I was not
frank with Massy--no, not altogether. I knew he took
me for a wealthy sailor fool, and I let him. I wanted
to keep up my importance--because there was poor Ivy
away there--my daughter. What did I want to trade
on his misery for? I did trade on it--for her. And
now, what mercy could I expect from him? He would
trade on mine if he knew it. He would hunt the old
fraud out, and stick to the money for a year. Ivy's
money. And I haven't kept a penny for myself. How
am I going to live for a year. A year! In a year there
will be no sun in the sky for her father."
His deep voice came out, awfully veiled, as though he
had been overwhelmed by the earth of a landslide, and
talking to you of the thoughts that haunt the dead in
their graves. A cold shudder ran down Mr. Van Wyk's
"And how long is it since you have . . .?" he
"It was a long time before I could bring myself to
believe in this--this visitation." Captain Whalley
spoke with gloomy patience from under his hand.
He had not thought he had deserved it. He had begun
by deceiving himself from day to day, from week to
week. He had the Serang at hand there--an old
servant. It came on gradually, and when he could no
longer deceive himself . . .
His voice died out almost.
"Rather than give her up I set myself to deceive
"It's incredible," whispered Mr. Van Wyk. Captain
Whalley's appalling murmur flowed on.
"Not even the sign of God's anger could make me
forget her. How could I forsake my child, feeling my
vigor all the time--the blood warm within me? Warm
as yours. It seems to me that, like the blinded Samson,
I would find the strength to shake down a temple upon
my head. She's a struggling woman--my own child
that we used to pray over together, my poor wife and I.
Do you remember that day I as well as told you
that I believed God would let me live to a hundred for
her sake? What sin is there in loving your child? Do
you see it? I was ready for her sake to live for ever.
I half believed I would. I've been praying for death
since. Ha! Presumptuous man--you wanted to
live . . ."
A tremendous, shuddering upheaval of that big frame,
shaken by a gasping sob, set the glasses jingling all
over the table, seemed to make the whole house tremble
to the roof-tree. And Mr. Van Wyk, whose feeling of
outraged love had been translated into a form of strug-
gle with nature, understood very well that, for that man
whose whole life had been conditioned by action, there
could exist no other expression for all the emotions; that,
to voluntarily cease venturing, doing, enduring, for his
child's sake, would have been exactly like plucking his
warm love for her out of his living heart. Something
too monstrous, too impossible, even to conceive.
Captain Whalley had not changed his attitude, that
seemed to express something of shame, sorrow, and
"I have even deceived you. If it had not been for
that word 'esteem.' These are not the words for me.
I would have lied to you. Haven't I lied to you?
Weren't you going to trust your property on board this
"I have a floating yearly policy," Mr. Van Wyk said
almost unwittingly, and was amazed at the sudden crop-
ping up of a commercial detail.
"The ship is unseaworthy, I tell you. The policy
would be invalid if it were known . . ."
"We shall share the guilt, then."
"Nothing could make mine less," said Captain
He had not dared to consult a doctor; the man would
have perhaps asked who he was, what he was doing;
Massy might have heard something. He had lived on
without any help, human or divine. The very prayers
stuck in his throat. What was there to pray for? and
death seemed as far as ever. Once he got into his cabin
he dared not come out again; when he sat down he dared
not get up; he dared not raise his eyes to anybody's
face; he felt reluctant to look upon the sea or up to
the sky. The world was fading before his great fear
of giving himself away. The old ship was his last
friend; he was not afraid of her; he knew every inch
of her deck; but at her too he hardly dared to look, for
fear of finding he could see less than the day before.
A great incertitude enveloped him. The horizon was
gone; the sky mingled darkly with the sea. Who was
this figure standing over yonder? what was this thing
lying down there? And a frightful doubt of the reality
of what he could see made even the remnant of sight
that remained to him an added torment, a pitfall always
open for his miserable pretense. He was afraid to
stumble inexcusably over something--to say a fatal Yes
or No to a question. The hand of God was upon him,
but it could not tear him away from his child. And,
as if in a nightmare of humiliation, every featureless
man seemed an enemy.
He let his hand fall heavily on the table. Mr. Van
Wyk, arms down, chin on breast, with a gleam of white
teeth pressing on the lower lip, meditated on Sterne's
"The game's up."
"The Serang of course does not know."
"Nobody," said Captain Whalley, with assurance.
"Ah yes. Nobody. Very well. Can you keep it up
to the end of the trip? That is the last under the agree-
ment with Massy."
Captain Whalley got up and stood erect, very stately,
with the great white beard lying like a silver breastplate
over the awful secret of his heart. Yes; that was the
only hope there was for him of ever seeing her again,
of securing the money, the last he could do for her,
before he crept away somewhere--useless, a burden, a
reproach to himself. His voice faltered.
"Think of it! Never see her any more: the only
human being besides myself now on earth that can re-
member my wife. She's just like her mother. Lucky
the poor woman is where there are no tears shed over
those they loved on earth and that remain to pray not
to be led into temptation--because, I suppose, the
blessed know the secret of grace in God's dealings with
His created children."
He swayed a little, said with austere dignity--
"I don't. I know only the child He has given me."
And he began to walk. Mr. Van Wyk, jumping up,
saw the full meaning of the rigid head, the hesitating
feet, the vaguely extended hand. His heart was beat-
ing fast; he moved a chair aside, and instinctively ad-
vanced as if to offer his arm. But Captain Whalley
passed him by, making for the stairs quite straight.
"He could not see me at all out of his line," Van Wyk
thought, with a sort of awe. Then going to the head
of the stairs, he asked a little tremulously--
"What is it like--like a mist--like . . ."
Captain Whalley, half-way down, stopped, and turned
round undismayed to answer.
"It is as if the light were ebbing out of the world.
Have you ever watched the ebbing sea on an open
stretch of sands withdrawing farther and farther away
from you? It is like this--only there will be no flood
to follow. Never. It is as if the sun were growing
smaller, the stars going out one by one. There can't be
many left that I can see by this. But I haven't had the
courage to look of late . . ." He must have been able
to make out Mr. Van Wyk, because he checked him by
an authoritative gesture and a stoical--
"I can get about alone yet."
It was as if he had taken his line, and would accept no
help from men, after having been cast out, like a pre-
sumptuous Titan, from his heaven. Mr. Van Wyk, ar-
rested, seemed to count the footsteps right out of ear-
shot. He walked between the tables, tapping smartly
with his heels, took up a paper-knife, dropped it after
a vague glance along the blade; then happening upon
the piano, struck a few chords again and again, vigor-
ously, standing up before the keyboard with an atten-
tive poise of the head like a piano-tuner; closing it, he
pivoted on his heels brusquely, avoided the little terrier
sleeping trustfully on crossed forepaws, came upon the
stairs next, and, as though he had lost his balance on
the top step, ran down headlong out of the house. His
servants, beginning to clear the table, heard him mutter
to himself (evil words no doubt) down there, and then
after a pause go away with a strolling gait in the direc-
tion of the wharf.
The bulwarks of the Sofala lying alongside the bank
made a low, black wall on the undulating contour of the
shore. Two masts and a funnel uprose from behind it
with a great rake, as if about to fall: a solid, square
elevation in the middle bore the ghostly shapes of white
boats, the curves of davits, lines of rail and stanchions,
all confused and mingling darkly everywhere; but low
down, amidships, a single lighted port stared out on
the night, perfectly round, like a small, full moon,
whose yellow beam caught a patch of wet mud, the
edge of trodden grass, two turns of heavy cable
wound round the foot of a thick wooden post in the
Mr. Van Wyk, peering alongside, heard a muzzy
boastful voice apparently jeering at a person called
Prendergast. It mouthed abuse thickly, choked; then
pronounced very distinctly the word "Murphy," and
chuckled. Glass tinkled tremulously. All these sounds
came from the lighted port. Mr. Van Wyk hesitated,
stooped; it was impossible to look through unless he
went down into the mud.
"Sterne," he said, half aloud.
The drunken voice within said gladly--
"Sterne--of course. Look at him blink. Look at
him! Sterne, Whalley, Massy. Massy, Whalley,
Sterne. But Massy's the best. You can't come over
him. He would just love to see you starve."
Mr. Van Wyk moved away, made out farther forward
a shadowy head stuck out from under the awnings as
if on the watch, and spoke quietly in Malay, "Is the
"No. Here, at your service."
In a moment Sterne appeared, walking as noiselessly
as a cat on the wharf.
"It's so jolly dark, and I had no idea you would be
"What's this horrible raving?" asked Mr. Van Wyk,
as if to explain the cause of a shudder than ran over
"Jack's broken out on a drunk. That's our second.
It's his way. He will be right enough by to-morrow
afternoon, only Mr. Massy will keep on worrying up
and down the deck. We had better get away."
He muttered suggestively of a talk "up at the house."
He had long desired to effect an entrance there, but Mr.
Van Wyk nonchalantly demurred: it would not, he
feared, be quite prudent, perhaps; and the opaque
black shadow under one of the two big trees left at the
landing-place swallowed them up, impenetrably dense,
by the side of the wide river, that seemed to spin into
threads of glitter the light of a few big stars dropped
here and there upon its outspread and flowing stillness.
"The situation is grave beyond doubt," Mr. Van Wyk
said. Ghost-like in their white clothes they could not
distinguish each others' features, and their feet made
no sound on the soft earth. A sort of purring was
heard. Mr. Sterne felt gratified by such a beginning.
"I thought, Mr. Van Wyk, a gentleman of your sort
would see at once how awkwardly I was situated."
"Yes, very. Obviously his health is bad. Perhaps
he's breaking up. I see, and he himself is well aware--
I assume I am speaking to a man of sense--he is well
aware that his legs are giving out."
"His legs--ah!" Mr. Sterne was disconcerted, and
then turned sulky. "You may call it his legs if you
like; what I want to know is whether he intends to clear
out quietly. That's a good one, too! His legs!
"Why, yes. Only look at the way he walks." Mr.
Van Wyk took him up in a perfectly cool and undoubt-
ing tone. "The question, however, is whether your
sense of duty does not carry you too far from your true
interest. After all, I too could do something to serve
you. You know who I am."
"Everybody along the Straits has heard of you, sir."
Mr. Van Wyk presumed that this meant something
favorable. Sterne had a soft laugh at this pleasantry.
He should think so! To the opening statement, that
the partnership agreement was to expire at the end of
this very trip, he gave an attentive assent. He was
aware. One heard of nothing else on board all the
blessed day long. As to Massy, it was no secret that he
was in a jolly deep hole with these worn-out boilers.
He would have to borrow somewhere a couple of hun-
dred first of all to pay off the captain; and then he
would have to raise money on mortgage upon the ship
for the new boilers--that is, if he could find a lender at
all. At best it meant loss of time, a break in the trade,
short earnings for the year--and there was always the
danger of having his connection filched away from him
by the Germans. It was whispered about that he had
already tried two firms. Neither would have anything
to do with him. Ship too old, and the man too well
known in the place. . . . Mr. Sterne's final rapid wink-
ing remained buried in the deep darkness sibilating with
"Supposing, then, he got the loan," Mr. Van Wyk
resumed in a deliberate undertone, "on your own show-
ing he's more than likely to get a mortgagee's man
thrust upon him as captain. For my part, I know that
I would make that very stipulation myself if I had to
find the money. And as a matter of fact I am thinking
of doing so. It would be worth my while in many ways.
Do you see how this would bear on the case under dis-
"Thank you, sir. I am sure you couldn't get any-
body that would care more for your interests."
"Well, it suits my interest that Captain Whalley
should finish his time. I shall probably take a passage
with you down the Straits. If that can be done, I'll be
on the spot when all these changes take place, and in a
position to look after YOUR interests."
"Mr. Van Wyk, I want nothing better. I am sure
I am infinitely . . ."
"I take it, then, that this may be done without any
"Well, sir, what risk there is can't be helped; but
(speaking to you as my employer now) the thing is
more safe than it looks. If anybody had told me of it
I wouldn't have believed it, but I have been looking on
myself. That old Serang has been trained up to the
game. There's nothing the matter with his--his--
limbs, sir. He's got used to doing things himself in a
remarkable way. And let me tell you, sir, that Cap-
tain Whalley, poor man, is by no means useless. Fact.
Let me explain to you, sir. He stiffens up that old
monkey of a Malay, who knows well enough what to do.
Why, he must have kept captain's watches in all sorts of
country ships off and on for the last five-and-twenty
years. These natives, sir, as long as they have a white
man close at the back, will go on doing the right thing
most surprisingly well--even if left quite to themselves.
Only the white man must be of the sort to put starch
into them, and the captain is just the one for that.
Why, sir, he has drilled him so well that now he needs
hardly speak at all. I have seen that little wrinkled
ape made to take the ship out of Pangu Bay on a
blowy morning and on all through the islands; take
her out first-rate, sir, dodging under the old man's
elbow, and in such quiet style that you could not have
told for the life of you which of the two was doing the
work up there. That's where our poor friend would be
still of use to the ship even if--if--he could no longer
lift a foot, sir. Provided the Serang does not know
that there's anything wrong."
"Naturally not. Quite beyond his apprehension.
They aren't capable of finding out anything about us,
"You seem to be a shrewd man," said Mr. Van Wyk
in a choked mutter, as though he were feeling sick.
"You'll find me a good enough servant, sir."
Mr. Sterne hoped now for a handshake at least, but
unexpectedly, with a "What's this? Better not to be
seen together," Mr. Van Wyk's white shape wavered,
and instantly seemed to melt away in the black air under
the roof of boughs. The mate was startled. Yes.
There was that faint thumping clatter.
He stole out silently from under the shade. The
lighted port-hole shone from afar. His head swam with
the intoxication of sudden success. What a thing it
was to have a gentleman to deal with! He crept aboard,
and there was something weird in the shadowy stretch
of empty decks, echoing with shouts and blows proceed-
ing from a darker part amidships. Mr. Massy was
raging before the door of the berth: the drunken voice
within flowed on undisturbed in the violent racket of
"Shut up! Put your light out and turn in, you
confounded swilling pig--you! D'you hear me, you
The kicking stopped, and in the pause the muzzy
oracular voice announced from within--
"Ah! Massy, now--that's another thing. Massy's
"Who's that aft there? You, Sterne? He'll drink
himself into a fit of horrors." The chief engineer ap-
peared vague and big at the corner of the engine-
"He will be good enough for duty to-morrow. I would
let him be, Mr. Massy."
Sterne slipped away into his berth, and at once had
to sit down. His head swam with exultation. He got
into his bunk as if in a dream. A feeling of profound
peace, of pacific joy, came over him. On deck all was
Mr. Massy, with his ear against the door of Jack's
cabin, listened critically to a deep stertorous breathing
within. This was a dead-drunk sleep. The bout was
over: tranquilized on that score, he too went in, and
with slow wriggles got out of his old tweed jacket. It
was a garment with many pockets, which he used to put
on at odd times of the day, being subject to sudden
chilly fits, and when he felt warmed he would take it off
and hang it about anywhere all over the ship. It would
be seen swinging on belaying-pins, thrown over the
heads of winches, suspended on people's very door-
handles for that matter. Was he not the owner? But
his favorite place was a hook on a wooden awning
stanchion on the bridge, almost against the binnacle.
He had even in the early days more than one tussle on
that point with Captain Whalley, who desired the
bridge to be kept tidy. He had been overawed then.
Of late, though, he had been able to defy his partner
with impunity. Captain Whalley never seemed to
notice anything now. As to the Malays, in their awe
of that scowling man not one of the crew would dream
of laying a hand on the thing, no matter where or what
it swung from.
With an unexpectedness which made Mr. Massy jump
and drop the coat at his feet, there came from the next
berth the crash and thud of a headlong, jingling, clat-
tering fall. The faithful Jack must have dropped to
sleep suddenly as he sat at his revels, and now had
gone over chair and all, breaking, as it seemed by the
sound, every single glass and bottle in the place. After
the terrific smash all was still for a time in there, as
though he had killed himself outright on the spot. Mr.
Massy held his breath. At last a sleepy uneasy groan-
ing sigh was exhaled slowly on the other side of the
"I hope to goodness he's too drunk to wake up now,"
muttered Mr. Massy.
The sound of a softly knowing laugh nearly drove
him to despair. He swore violently under his breath.
The fool would keep him awake all night now for cer-
tain. He cursed his luck. He wanted to forget his
maddening troubles in sleep sometimes. He could detect
no movements. Without apparently making the slight-
est attempt to get up, Jack went on sniggering to him-
self where he lay; then began to speak, where he had
left off as it were--
"Massy! I love the dirty rascal. He would like to
see his poor old Jack starve--but just you look where
he has climbed to." . . . He hiccoughed in a superior,
leisurely manner. . . . "Ship-owning it with the best.
A lottery ticket you want. Ha! ha! I will give you
lottery tickets, my boy. Let the old ship sink and the
old chum starve--that's right. He don't go wrong--
Massy don't. Not he. He's a genius--that man is.
That's the way to win your money. Ship and chum
"The silly fool has taken it to heart," muttered Massy
to himself. And, listening with a softened expression
of face for any slight sign of returning drowsiness, he
was discouraged profoundly by a burst of laughter full
of joyful irony.
"Would like to see her at the bottom of the sea! Oh,
you clever, clever devil! Wish her sunk, eh? I should
think you would, my boy; the damned old thing and
all your troubles with her. Rake in the insurance money
--turn your back on your old chum--all's well--gentle-
A grim stillness had come over Massy's face. Only
his big black eyes rolled uneasily. The raving fool.
And yet it was all true. Yes. Lottery tickets, too.
All true. What? Beginning again? He wished he
wouldn't. . . .
But it was even so. The imaginative drunkard on
the other side of the bulkhead shook off the deathlike
stillness that after his last words had fallen on the dark
ship moored to a silent shore.
"Don't you dare to say anything against George
Massy, Esquire. When he's tired of waiting he will do
away with her. Look out! Down she goes--chum and
all. He'll know how to . . ."
The voice hesitated, weary, dreamy, lost, as if dying
away in a vast open space.
". . . Find a trick that will work. He's up to it--
never fear . . ."
He must have been very drunk, for at last the heavy
sleep gripped him with the suddenness of a magic spell,
and the last word lengthened itself into an interminable,
noisy, in-drawn snore. And then even the snoring
stopped, and all was still.
But it seemed as though Mr. Massy had suddenly come
to doubt the efficacy of sleep as against a man's troubles;
or perhaps he had found the relief he needed in the
stillness of a calm contemplation that may contain the
vivid thoughts of wealth, of a stroke of luck, of long
idleness, and may bring before you the imagined form
of every desire; for, turning about and throwing his
arms over the edge of his bunk, he stood there with his
feet on his favorite old coat, looking out through the
round port into the night over the river. Sometimes
a breath of wind would enter and touch his face, a cool
breath charged with the damp, fresh feel from a vast
body of water. A glimmer here and there was all he
could see of it; and once he might after all suppose he
had dozed off, since there appeared before his vision,
unexpectedly and connected with no dream, a row of
flaming and gigantic figures--three naught seven one
two--making up a number such as you may see on a
lottery ticket. And then all at once the port was no
longer black: it was pearly gray, framing a shore
crowded with houses, thatched roof beyond thatched
roof, walls of mats and bamboo, gables of carved teak
timber. Rows of dwellings raised on a forest of piles
lined the steely band of the river, brimful and still, with
the tide at the turn. This was Batu Beru--and the
day had come.
Mr. Massy shook himself, put on the tweed coat, and,
shivering nervously as if from some great shock, made
a note of the number. A fortunate, rare hint that.
Yes; but to pursue fortune one wanted money--ready
Then he went out and prepared to descend into the
engine-room. Several small jobs had to be seen to, and
Jack was lying dead drunk on the floor of his cabin,
with the door locked at that. His gorge rose at the
thought of work. Ay! But if you wanted to do noth-
ing you had to get first a good bit of money. A
ship won't save you. He cursed the Sofala. True, all
true. He was tired of waiting for some chance that
would rid him at last of that ship that had turned out
a curse on his life.
The deep, interminable hoot of the steam-whistle had,
in its grave, vibrating note, something intolerable,
which sent a slight shudder down Mr. Van Wyk's back.
It was the early afternoon; the Sofala was leaving Batu
Beru for Pangu, the next place of call. She swung in
the stream, scantily attended by a few canoes, and, glid-
ing on the broad river, became lost to view from the
Van Wyk bungalow.
Its owner had not gone this time to see her off. Gen-
erally he came down to the wharf, exchanged a few
words with the bridge while she cast off, and waved his
hand to Captain Whalley at the last moment. This day
he did not even go as far as the balustrade of the
veranda. "He couldn't see me if I did," he said to
himself. "I wonder whether he can make out the house
at all." And this thought somehow made him feel more
alone than he had ever felt for all these years. What
was it? six or seven? Seven. A long time.
He sat on the veranda with a closed book on his knee,
and, as it were, looked out upon his solitude, as if the
fact of Captain Whalley's blindness had opened his
eyes to his own. There were many sorts of heartaches
and troubles, and there was no place where they could
not find a man out. And he felt ashamed, as though
he had for six years behaved like a peevish boy.
His thought followed the Sofala on her way. On the
spur of the moment he had acted impulsively, turning
to the thing most pressing. And what else could he
have done? Later on he should see. It seemed neces-
sary that he should come out into the world, for a time
at least. He had money--something could be ar-
ranged; he would grudge no time, no trouble, no loss
of his solitude. It weighed on him now--and Captain
Whalley appeared to him as he had sat shading his
eyes, as if, being deceived in the trust of his faith, he
were beyond all the good and evil that can be wrought
by the hands of men.
Mr. Van Wyk's thoughts followed the Sofala down the
river, winding about through the belt of the coast forest,
between the buttressed shafts of the big trees, through
the mangrove strip, and over the bar. The ship crossed
it easily in broad daylight, piloted, as it happened, by
Mr. Sterne, who took the watch from four to six, and
then went below to hug himself with delight at the pros-
pect of being virtually employed by a rich man--like
Mr. Van Wyk. He could not see how any hitch could
occur now. He did not seem able to get over the feeling
of being "fixed up at last." From six to eight, in the
course of duty, the Serang looked alone after the ship.
She had a clear road before her now till about three in
the morning, when she would close with the Pangu
group. At eight Mr. Sterne came out cheerily to take
charge again till midnight. At ten he was still chir-
ruping and humming to himself on the bridge, and
about that time Mr. Van Wyk's thought abandoned the
Sofala. Mr. Van Wyk had fallen asleep at last.
Massy, blocking the engine-room companion, jerked
himself into his tweed jacket surlily, while the second
waited with a scowl.
"Oh. You came out? You sot! Well, what have
you got to say for yourself?"
He had been in charge of the engines till then. A
somber fury darkened his mind: a hot anger against
the ship, against the facts of life, against the men for
their cheating, against himself too--because of an in-
ward tremor of his heart.
An incomprehensible growl answered him.
"What? Can't you open your mouth now? You yelp
out your infernal rot loud enough when you are drunk.
What do you mean by abusing people in that way?--
you old useless boozer, you!"
"Can't help it. Don't remember anything about it.
You shouldn't listen."
"You dare to tell me! What do you mean by going
on a drunk like this!"
"Don't ask me. Sick of the dam' boilers--you would
be. Sick of life."
"I wish you were dead, then. You've made me sick
of you. Don't you remember the uproar you made last
night? You miserable old soaker!"
"No; I don't. Don't want to. Drink is drink."
"I wonder what prevents me from kicking you out.
What do you want here?"
"Relieve you. You've been long enough down there,
"Don't you George me--you tippling old rascal, you!
If I were to die to-morrow you would starve. Remem-
ber that. Say Mr. Massy."
"Mr. Massy," repeated the other stolidly.
Disheveled, with dull blood-shot eyes, a snuffy, grimy
shirt, greasy trowsers, naked feet thrust into ragged
slippers, he bolted in head down directly Massy had
made way for him.
The chief engineer looked around. The deck was
empty as far as the taffrail. All the native passengers
had left in Batu Beru this time, and no others had
joined. The dial of the patent log tinkled periodically
in the dark at the end of the ship. It was a dead calm,
and, under the clouded sky, through the still air that
seemed to cling warm, with a seaweed smell, to her slim
hull, on a sea of somber gray and unwrinkled, the ship
moved on an even keel, as if floating detached in empty
space. But Mr. Massy slapped his forehead, tottered
a little, caught hold of a belaying-pin at the foot of
"I shall go mad," he muttered, walking across the deck
unsteadily. A shovel was scraping loose coal down be-
low--a fire-door clanged. Sterne on the bridge began
whistling a new tune.
Captain Whalley, sitting on the couch, awake and fully
dressed, heard the door of his cabin open. He did not
move in the least, waiting to recognize the voice, with
an appalling strain of prudence.
A bulkhead lamp blazed on the white paint, the crim-
son plush, the brown varnish of mahogany tops. The
white wood packing-case under the bed-place had re-
mained unopened for three years now, as though Cap-
tain Whalley had felt that, after the Fair Maid was
gone, there could be no abiding-place on earth for his
affections. His hands rested on his knees; his hand-
some head with big eyebrows presented a rigid profile
to the doorway. The expected voice spoke out at
"Once more, then. What am I to call you?"
Ha! Massy. Again. The weariness of it crushed his
heart--and the pain of shame was almost more than he
could bear without crying out.
"Well. Is it to be 'partner' still?"
"You don't know what you ask."
"I know what I want . . ."
Massy stepped in and closed the door.
". . . And I am going to have a try for it with you
His whine was half persuasive, half menacing.
"For it's no manner of use to tell me that you are
poor. You don't spend anything on yourself, that's
true enough; but there's another name for that. You
think you are going to have what you want out of me
for three years, and then cast me off without hearing
what I think of you. You think I would have submitted
to your airs if I had known you had only a beggarly
five hundred pounds in the world. You ought to have
"Perhaps," said Captain Whalley, bowing his head.
"And yet it has saved you." . . . Massy laughed
scornfully. . . . "I have told you often enough
"And I don't believe you now. When I think how
I let you lord it over my ship! Do you remember how
you used to bullyrag me about my coat and YOUR bridge?
It was in his way. HIS bridge! 'And I won't be a
party to this--and I couldn't think of doing that.'
Honest man! And now it all comes out. 'I am poor,
and I can't. I have only this five hundred in the world.'"
He contemplated the immobility of Captain Whalley,
that seemed to present an inconquerable obstacle in
his path. His face took a mournful cast.
"You are a hard man."
"Enough," said Captain Whalley, turning upon him.
"You shall get nothing from me, because I have noth-
ing of mine to give away now."
"Tell that to the marines!"
Mr. Massy, going out, looked back once; then the door
closed, and Captain Whalley, alone, sat as still as before.
He had nothing of his own--even his past of honor,
of truth, of just pride, was gone. All his spotless life
had fallen into the abyss. He had said his last good-by
to it. But what belonged to HER, that he meant to save.
Only a little money. He would take it to her in his own
hands--this last gift of a man that had lasted too long.
And an immense and fierce impulse, the very passion of
paternity, flamed up with all the unquenched vigor of
his worthless life in a desire to see her face.
Just across the deck Massy had gone straight to his
cabin, struck a light, and hunted up the note of the
dreamed number whose figures had flamed up also with
the fierceness of another passion. He must contrive
somehow not to miss a drawing. That number meant
something. But what expedient could he contrive to
keep himself going?
"Wretched miser!" he mumbled.
If Mr. Sterne could at no time have told him anything
new about his partner, he could have told Mr. Sterne
that another use could be made of a man's affliction than
just to kick him out, and thus defer the term of a diffi-
cult payment for a year. To keep the secret of the
affliction and induce him to stay was a better move. If
without means, he would be anxious to remain; and that
settled the question of refunding him his share. He did
not know exactly how much Captain Whalley was dis-
abled; but if it so happened that he put the ship ashore
somewhere for good and all, it was not the owner's fault
--was it? He was not obliged to know that there was
anything wrong. But probably nobody would raise
such a point, and the ship was fully insured. He had
had enough self-restraint to pay up the premiums. But
this was not all. He could not believe Captain Whalley
to be so confoundedly destitute as not to have some more
money put away somewhere. If he, Massy, could get
hold of it, that would pay for the boilers, and every-
thing went on as before. And if she got lost in the
end, so much the better. He hated her: he loathed the
troubles that took his mind off the chances of fortune.
He wished her at the bottom of the sea, and the in-
surance money in his pocket. And as, baffled, he left
Captain Whalley's cabin, he enveloped in the same
hatred the ship with the worn-out boilers and the man
with the dimmed eyes.
And our conduct after all is so much a matter of outside
suggestion, that had it not been for his Jack's drunken
gabble he would have there and then had it out with this
miserable man, who would neither help, nor stay, nor
yet lose the ship. The old fraud! He longed to kick
him out. But he restrained himself. Time enough for
that--when he liked. There was a fearful new thought
put into his head. Wasn't he up to it after all? How
that beast Jack had raved! "Find a safe trick to get
rid of her." Well, Jack was not so far wrong. A very
clever trick had occurred to him. Aye! But what of
A feeling of pride--the pride of superiority to com-
mon prejudices--crept into his breast, made his heart
beat fast, his mouth turn dry. Not everybody would
dare; but he was Massy, and he was up to it!
Six bells were struck on deck. Eleven! He drank a
glass of water, and sat down for ten minutes or so to
calm himself. Then he got out of his chest a small
bull's-eye lantern of his own and lit it.
Almost opposite his berth, across the narrow passage
under the bridge, there was, in the iron deck-structure
covering the stokehold fiddle and the boiler-space, a
storeroom with iron sides, iron roof, iron-plated floor,
too, on account of the heat below. All sorts of rubbish
was shot there: it had a mound of scrap-iron in a corner;
rows of empty oil-cans; sacks of cotton-waste, with a
heap of charcoal, a deck-forge, fragments of an old hen-
coop, winch-covers all in rags, remnants of lamps, and
a brown felt hat, discarded by a man dead now (of a
fever on the Brazil coast), who had been once mate of
the Sofala, had remained for years jammed forcibly be-
hind a length of burst copper pipe, flung at some time
or other out of the engine-room. A complete and im-
perious blackness pervaded that Capharnaum of for-
gotten things. A small shaft of light from Mr. Massy's
bull's-eye fell slanting right through it.
His coat was unbuttoned; he shot the bolt of the door
(there was no other opening), and, squatting before the
scrap-heap, began to pack his pockets with pieces of
iron. He packed them carefully, as if the rusty nuts,
the broken bolts, the links of cargo chain, had been so
much gold he had that one chance to carry away. He
packed his side-pockets till they bulged, the breast
pocket, the pockets inside. He turned over the pieces.
Some he rejected. A small mist of powdered rust began
to rise about his busy hands. Mr. Massy knew some-
thing of the scientific basis of his clever trick. If you
want to deflect the magnetic needle of a ship's compass,
soft iron is the best; likewise many small pieces in the
pockets of a jacket would have more effect than a few
large ones, because in that way you obtain a greater
amount of surface for weight in your iron, and it's sur-
face that tells.
He slipped out swiftly--two strides sufficed--and in
his cabin he perceived that his hands were all red--red
with rust. It disconcerted him, as though he had found
them covered with blood: he looked himself over hastily.
Why, his trowsers too! He had been rubbing his rusty
palms on his legs.
He tore off the waistband button in his haste, brushed
his coat, washed his hands. Then the air of guilt left
him, and he sat down to wait.
He sat bolt upright and weighted with iron in his
chair. He had a hard, lumpy bulk against each hip,
felt the scrappy iron in his pockets touch his ribs at
every breath, the downward drag of all these pounds
hanging upon his shoulders. He looked very dull too,
sitting idle there, and his yellow face, with motionless
black eyes, had something passive and sad in its quiet-
When he heard eight bells struck above his head, he
rose and made ready to go out. His movements seemed
aimless, his lower lip had dropped a little, his eyes
roamed about the cabin, and the tremendous tension of
his will had robbed them of every vestige of intelligence.
With the last stroke of the bell the Serang appeared
noiselessly on the bridge to relieve the mate. Sterne
overflowed with good nature, since he had nothing more
"Got your eyes well open yet, Serang? It's middling
dark; I'll wait till you get your sight properly."
The old Malay murmured, looked up with his worn
eyes, sidled away into the light of the binnacle, and,
crossing his hands behind his back, fixed his eyes on the
"You'll have to keep a good look-out ahead for
land, about half-past three. It's fairly clear, though.
You have looked in on the captain as you came
along--eh? He knows the time? Well, then, I am
At the foot of the ladder he stood aside for the captain.
He watched him go up with an even, certain tread, and
remained thoughtful for a moment. "It's funny," he
said to himself, "but you can never tell whether that
man has seen you or not. He might have heard me
breathe this time."
He was a wonderful man when all was said and done.
They said he had had a name in his day. Mr. Sterne
could well believe it; and he concluded serenely that
Captain Whalley must be able to see people more or less
--as himself just now, for instance--but not being cer-
tain of anybody, had to keep up that unnoticing silence
of manner for fear of giving himself away. Mr. Sterne
was a shrewd guesser.
This necessity of every moment brought home to Cap-
tain Whalley's heart the humiliation of his falsehood.
He had drifted into it from paternal love, from in-
credulity, from boundless trust in divine justice meted
out to men's feelings on this earth. He would give his
poor Ivy the benefit of another month's work; perhaps
the affliction was only temporary. Surely God would
not rob his child of his power to help, and cast him
naked into a night without end. He had caught at
every hope; and when the evidence of his misfortune
was stronger than hope, he tried not to believe the mani-
In vain. In the steadily darkening universe a sinister
clearness fell upon his ideas. In the illuminating mo-
ments of suffering he saw life, men, all things, the whole
earth with all her burden of created nature, as he had
never seen them before.
Sometimes he was seized with a sudden vertigo and an
overwhelming terror; and then the image of his daughter
appeared. Her, too, he had never seen so clearly before.
Was it possible that he should ever be unable to do
anything whatever for her? Nothing. And not see
her any more? Never.
Why? The punishment was too great for a little pre-
sumption, for a little pride. And at last he came to
cling to his deception with a fierce determination to carry
it out to the end, to save her money intact, and behold
her once more with his own eyes. Afterwards--what?
The idea of suicide was revolting to the vigor of his
manhood. He had prayed for death till the prayers had
stuck in his throat. All the days of his life he had