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Falk by Joseph Conrad

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comes of running your head against Mr. Falk.
Man'll stick at nothing."

I sat without stirring, and after surveying me
with a sort of commiseration in his eyes he burst
out in a hoarse whisper: "But for a fine lump of
a girl, she's a fine lump of a girl." He made a loud
smacking noise with his thick lips. "The finest
lump of a girl that I ever . . ." he was going on
with great unction, but for some reason or other
broke off. I fancied myself throwing something
at his head. "I don't blame you, captain. Hang
me if I do," he said with a patronising air.

"Thank you," I said resignedly. It was no use
fighting against this false fate. I don't know even
if I was sure myself where the truth of the matter
began. The conviction that it would end disas-
trously had been driven into me by all the succes-
sive shocks my sense of security had received. I
began to ascribe an extraordinary potency to
agents in themselves powerless. It was as if
Schomberg's baseless gossip had the power to bring
about the thing itself or the abstract enmity of
Falk could put my ship ashore.

I have already explained how fatal this last
would have been. For my further action, my
youth, my inexperience, my very real concern for
the health of my crew must be my excuse. The ac-
tion itself, when it came, was purely impulsive. It
was set in movement quite undiplomatically and
simply by Falk's appearance in the doorway.

The room was full by then and buzzing with
voices. I had been looked at with curiosity by
every one, but how am I to describe the sensation
produced by the appearance of Falk himself block-
ing the doorway? The tension of expectation
could be measured by the profundity of the silence
that fell upon the very click of the billiard balls.
As to Schomberg, he looked extremely frightened;
he hated mortally any sort of row (fracas he called
it) in his establishment. Fracas was bad for busi-
ness, he affirmed; but, in truth, this specimen of
portly, middle-aged manhood was of a timid dis-
position. I don't know what, considering my pres-
ence in the place, they all hoped would come of it.
A sort of stag fight, perhaps. Or they may have
supposed Falk had come in only to annihilate me
completely. As a matter of fact, Falk had come in
because Hermann had asked him to inquire after the
precious white cotton parasol which, in the worry
and excitement of the previous day, he had forgot-
ten at the table where we had held our little discus-

It was this that gave me my opportunity. I
don't think I would have gone to seek Falk out.
No. I don't think so. There are limits. But there
was an opportunity and I seized it--I have already
tried to explain why. Now I will merely state that,
in my opinion, to get his sickly crew into the sea
air and secure a quick despatch for his ship a skip-
per would be justified in going to any length, short
of absolute crime. He should put his pride in his
pocket; he may accept confidences; explain his in-
nocence as if it were a sin; he may take advantage
of misconceptions, of desires and of weaknesses; he
ought to conceal his horror and other emotions,
and, if the fate of a human being, and that human
being a magnificent young girl, is strangely in-
volved--why, he should contemplate that fate
(whatever it might seem to be) without turning a
hair. And all these things I have done; the ex-
plaining, the listening, the pretending--even to
the discretion--and nobody, not even Hermann's
niece, I believe, need throw stones at me now.
Schomberg at all events needn't, since from first to
last, I am happy to say, there was not the slightest

Overcoming a nervous contraction of the wind-
pipe, I had managed to exclaim "Captain Falk!"
His start of surprise was perfectly genuine, but
afterwards he neither smiled nor scowled. He sim-
ply waited. Then, when I had said, "I must have
a talk with you," and had pointed to a chair at my
table, he moved up to me, though he didn't sit
down. Schomberg, however, with a long tumbler
in his hand, was making towards us prudently, and
I discovered then the only sign of weakness in Falk.
He had for Schomberg a repulsion resembling that
sort of physical fear some people experience at the
sight of a toad. Perhaps to a man so essentially
and silently concentrated upon himself (though he
could talk well enough, as I was to find out
presently) the other's irrepressible loquacity, em-
bracing every human being within range of the
tongue, might have appeared unnatural, disgust-
ing, and monstrous. He suddenly gave signs of
restiveness--positively like a horse about to rear,
and, muttering hurriedly as if in great pain, "No.
I can't stand that fellow," seemed ready to bolt.
This weakness of his gave me the advantage at the
very start. "Verandah," I suggested, as if ren-
dering him a service, and walked him out by the
arm. We stumbled over a few chairs; we had the
feeling of open space before us, and felt the fresh
breath of the river--fresh, but tainted. The Chi-
nese theatres across the water made, in the sparsely
twinkling masses of gloom an Eastern town pre-
sents at night, blazing centres of light, and of a
distant and howling uproar. I felt him become
suddenly tractable again like an animal, like a
good-tempered horse when the object that scares
him is removed. Yes. I felt in the darkness there
how tractable he was, without my conviction of his
inflexibility--tenacity, rather, perhaps--being in
the least weakened. His very arm abandoning it-
self to my grasp was as hard as marble--like a limb
of iron. But I heard a tumultuous scuffling of
boot-soles within. The unspeakable idiots inside
were crowding to the windows, climbing over each
other's backs behind the blinds, billiard cues and all.
Somebody broke a window pane, and with the sound
of falling glass, so suggestive of riot and devasta-
tion, Schomberg reeled out after us in a state of
funk which had prevented his parting with his
brandy and soda. He must have trembled like an
aspen leaf. The piece of ice in the long tumbler
he held in his hand tinkled with an effect of chat-
tering teeth. "I beg you, gentlemen," he expost-
ulated thickly. "Come! Really, now, I must in-
sist . . ."

How proud I am of my presence of mind!
"Hallo," I said instantly in a loud and naive tone,
"somebody's breaking your windows, Schomberg.
Would you please tell one of your boys to bring
out here a pack of cards and a couple of lights?
And two long drinks. Will you?"

To receive an order soothed him at once. It was
business. "Certainly," he said in an immensely
relieved tone. The night was rainy, with wander-
ing gusts of wind, and while we waited for the can-
dles Falk said, as if to justify his panic, "I don't
interfere in anybody's business. I don't give any
occasion for talk. I am a respectable man. But
this fellow is always making out something wrong,
and can never rest till he gets somebody to believe

This was the first of my knowledge of Falk.
This desire of respectability, of being like every-
body else, was the only recognition he vouchsafed
to the organisation of mankind. For the rest he
might have been the member of a herd, not of a so-
ciety. Self-preservation was his only concern.
Not selfishness, but mere self-preservation. Sel-
fishness presupposes consciousness, choice, the pres-
ence of other men; but his instinct acted as though
he were the last of mankind nursing that law like
the only spark of a sacred fire. I don't mean to
say that living naked in a cavern would have satis-
fied him. Obviously he was the creature of the
conditions to which he was born. No doubt self-
preservation meant also the preservation of these
conditions. But essentially it meant something
much more simple, natural, and powerful. How
shall I express it? It meant the preservation of the
five senses of his body--let us say--taking it in its
narrowest as well as in its widest meaning. I think
you will admit before long the justice of this judg-
ment. However, as we stood there together in the
dark verandah I had judged nothing as yet--and
I had no desire to judge--which is an idle practice
anyhow. The light was long in coming.

"Of course," I said in a tone of mutual under-
standing, "it isn't exactly a game of cards I want
with you."

I saw him draw his hands down his face--the
vague stir of the passionate and meaningless ges-
ture; but he waited in silent patience. It was only
when the lights had been brought out that he
opened his lips. I understood his mumble to mean
that "he didn't know any game."

"Like this Schomberg and all the other fools
will have to keep off," I said tearing open the pack.
"Have you heard that we are universally supposed
to be quarrelling about a girl? You know who--
of course. I am really ashamed to ask, but is it
possible that you do me the honour to think me dan-

As I said these words I felt how absurd it was
and also I felt flattered--for, really, what else
could it be? His answer, spoken in his usual dis-
passionate undertone, made it clear that it was so,
but not precisely as flattering as I supposed. He
thought me dangerous with Hermann, more than
with the girl herself; but, as to quarrelling, I saw
at once how inappropriate the word was. We had
no quarrel. Natural forces are not quarrelsome.
You can't quarrel with the wind that inconveniences
and humiliates you by blowing off your hat in a
street full of people. He had no quarrel with me.
Neither would a boulder, falling on my head, have
had. He fell upon me in accordance with the law
by which he was moved--not of gravitation, like a
detached stone, but of self-preservation. Of course
this is giving it a rather wide interpretation.
Strictly speaking, he had existed and could have
existed without being married. Yet he told me that
he had found it more and more difficult to live
alone. Yes. He told me this in his low, careless
voice, to such a pitch of confidence had we arrived
at the end of half an hour.

It took me just about that time to convince him
that I had never dreamed of marrying Hermann's
niece. Could any necessity have been more extrava-
gant? And the difficulty was the greater because
he was so hard hit that he couldn't imagine any-
body being able to remain in a state of indifference.
Any man with eyes in his head, he seemed to think,
could not help coveting so much bodily magnifi-
cence. This profound belief was conveyed by the
manner he listened sitting sideways to the table and
playing absently with a few cards I had dealt to
him at random. And the more I saw into him the
more I saw of him. The wind swayed the lights
so that his sunburnt face, whiskered to the eyes,
seemed to successively flicker crimson at me and to
go out. I saw the extraordinary breadth of the
high cheek-bones, the perpendicular style of the
features, the massive forehead, steep like a cliff,
denuded at the top, largely uncovered at the tem-
ples. The fact is I had never before seen him with-
out his hat; but now, as if my fervour had made
him hot, he had taken it off and laid it gently on
the floor. Something peculiar in the shape and
setting of his yellow eyes gave them the provoking
silent intensity which characterised his glance.
But the face was thin, furrowed, worn; I discov-
ered that through the bush of his hair, as you may
detect the gnarled shape of a tree trunk lost in a
dense undergrowth. These overgrown cheeks were
sunken. It was an anchorite's bony head fitted with
a Capuchin's beard and adjusted to a herculean
body. I don't mean athletic. Hercules, I take it,
was not an athlete. He was a strong man, suscep-
tible to female charms, and not afraid of dirt.
And thus with Falk, who was a strong man. He
was extremely strong, just as the girl (since I
must think of them together) was magnificently at-
tractive by the masterful power of flesh and blood,
expressed in shape, in size, in attitude--that is by
a straight appeal to the senses. His mind mean-
time, preoccupied with respectability, quailed be-
fore Schomberg's tongue and seemed absolutely
impervious to my protestations; and I went so far
as to protest that I would just as soon think of
marrying my mother's (dear old lady!) faithful
female cook as Hermann's niece. Sooner, I pro-
tested, in my desperation, much sooner; but it did
not appear that he saw anything outrageous in the
proposition, and in his sceptical immobility he
seemed to nurse the argument that at all events the
cook was very, very far away. It must be said that,
just before, I had gone wrong by appealing to the
evidence of my manner whenever I called on board
the Diana. I had never attempted to approach the
girl, or to speak to her, or even to look at her in any
marked way. Nothing could be clearer. But, as
his own idea of--let us say--courting, seemed to
consist precisely in sitting silently for hours in the
vicinity of the beloved object, that line of argu-
ment inspired him with distrust. Staring down his
extended legs he let out a grunt--as much as to
say, "That's all very fine, but you can't throw dust
in MY eyes."

At last I was exasperated into saying, "Why
don't you put the matter at rest by talking to Her-
mann?" and I added sneeringly: "You don't ex-
pect me perhaps to speak for you?"

To this he said, very loud for him, "Would

And for the first time he lifted his head to look
at me with wonder and incredulity. He lifted his
head so sharply that there could be no mistake. I
had touched a spring. I saw the whole extent of
my opportunity, and could hardly believe in it.

"Why. Speak to . . . Well, of course," I
proceeded very slowly, watching him with great at-
tention, for, on my word, I feared a joke. "Not,
perhaps, to the young lady herself. I can't speak
German, you know. But . . ."

He interrupted me with the earnest assurance
that Hermann had the highest opinion of me; and
at once I felt the need for the greatest possible
diplomacy at this juncture. So I demurred just
enough to draw him on. Falk sat up, but except
for a very noticeable enlargement of the pupils,
till the irises of his eyes were reduced to two narrow
yellow rings, his face, I should judge, was incapa-
ble of expressing excitement. "Oh, yes! Hermann
did have the greatest . . ."

"Take up your cards. Here's Schomberg peep-
ing at us through the blind!" I said.

We went through the motions of what might
have been a game of e'carte'. Presently the intoler-
able scandalmonger withdrew, probably to inform
the people in the billiard-room that we two were
gambling on the verandah like mad.

We were not gambling, but it was a game; a
game in which I felt I held the winning cards. The
stake, roughly speaking, was the success of the voy-
age--for me; and he, I apprehended, had nothing
to lose. Our intimacy matured rapidly, and before
many words had been exchanged I perceived that
the excellent Hermann had been making use of me.
That simple and astute Teuton had been, it seems,
holding me up to Falk in the light of a rival. I
was young enough to be shocked at so much duplic-
ity. "Did he tell you that in so many words?" I
asked with indignation.

Hermann had not. He had given hints only;
and of course it had not taken very much to alarm
Falk; but, instead of declaring himself, he had
taken steps to remove the family from under my in-
fluence. He was perfectly straightforward about
it--as straightforward as a tile falling on your
head. There was no duplicity in that man; and
when I congratulated him on the perfection of his
arrangements--even to the bribing of the wretched
Johnson against me--he had a genuine movement
of protest. Never bribed. He knew the man
wouldn't work as long as he had a few cents in his
pocket to get drunk on, and, naturally (he said--
"NATURALLY") he let him have a dollar or two. He
was himself a sailor, he said, and anticipated the
view another sailor, like myself, was bound to take.
On the other hand, he was sure that I should have
to come to grief. He hadn't been knocking about
for the last seven years up and down that river for
nothing. It would have been no disgrace to me--
but he asserted confidently I would have had my
ship very awkwardly ashore at a spot two miles
below the Great Pagoda. . . .

And with all that he had no ill-will. That was
evident. This was a crisis in which his only object
had been to gain time--I fancy. And presently
he mentioned that he had written for some jewel-
lery, real good jewellery--had written to Hong-
Kong for it. It would arrive in a day or two.

"Well, then," I said cheerily, "everything is all
right. All you've got to do is to present it to the
lady together with your heart, and live happy ever

Upon the whole he seemed to accept that view as
far as the girl was concerned, but his eyelids
drooped. There was still something in the way.
For one thing Hermann disliked him so much. As
to me, on the contrary, it seemed as though he could
not praise me enough. Mrs. Hermann too. He
didn't know why they disliked him so. It made
everything most difficult.

I listened impassive, feeling more and more dip-
lomatic. His speech was not transparently clear.
He was one of those men who seem to live, feel,
suffer in a sort of mental twilight. But as to being
fascinated by the girl and possessed by the desire
of home life with her--it was as clear as daylight.
So much being at stake, he was afraid of putting
it to the hazard of declaration. Besides, there
was something else. And with Hermann being so
set against him . . .

"I see," I said thoughtfully, while my heart beat
fast with the excitement of my diplomacy. "I
don't mind sounding Hermann. In fact, to show
you how mistaken you were, I am ready to do all I
can for you in that way."

A light sigh escaped him. He drew his hands
down his face, and it emerged, bony, unchanged of
expression, as if all the tissues had been ossified.
All the passion was in those big brown hands. He
was satisfied. Then there was that other matter.
If there were anybody on earth it was I who could
persuade Hermann to take a reasonable view! I
had a knowledge of the world and lots of expe-
rience. Hermann admitted this himself. And then
I was a sailor too. Falk thought that a sail-
or would be able to understand certain things
best. . . .

He talked as if the Hermanns had been living all
their life in a rural hamlet, and I alone had been
capable, with my practice in life, of a large and
indulgent view of certain occurrences. That was
what my diplomacy was leading me to. I began
suddenly to dislike it.

"I say, Falk," I asked quite brusquely, "you
haven't already a wife put away somewhere?"

The pain and disgust of his denial were very
striking. Couldn't I understand that he was as
respectable as any white man hereabouts; earning
his living honestly. He was suffering from my sus-
picion, and the low undertone of his voice made his
protestations sound very pathetic. For a moment
he shamed me, but, my diplomacy notwithstanding,
I seemed to develop a conscience, as if in very
truth it were in my power to decide the success of
this matrimonial enterprise. By pretending hard
enough we come to believe anything--anything to
our advantage. And I had been pretending very
hard, because I meant yet to be towed safely down
the river. But through conscience or stupidity, I
couldn't help alluding to the Vanlo affair. "You
acted rather badly there. Didn't you?" was what
I ventured actually to say--for the logic of our
conduct is always at the mercy of obscure and un-
foreseen impulses.

His dilated pupils swerved from my face, glan-
cing at the window with a sort of scared fury. We
heard behind the blinds the continuous and sudden
clicking of ivory, a jovial murmur of many voices,
and Schomberg's deep manly laugh.

"That confounded old woman of a hotel-keeper
then would never, never let it rest!" Falk ex-
claimed. "Well, yes! It had happened two years
ago." When it came to the point he owned he
couldn't make up his mind to trust Fred Vanlo--
no sailor, a bit of a fool too. He could not trust
him, but, to stop his row, he had lent him enough
money to pay all his debts before he left. I was
greatly surprised to hear this. Then Falk could
not be such a miser after all. So much the better
for the girl. For a time he sat silent; then he
picked up a card, and while looking at it he

"You need not think of anything bad. It was
an accident. I've been unfortunate once."

"Then in heaven's name say nothing about it."

As soon as these words were out of my mouth I
fancied I had said something immoral. He shook
his head negatively. It had to be told. He con-
sidered it proper that the relations of the lady
should know. No doubt--I thought to myself--
had Miss Vanlo not been thirty and damaged by the
climate he would have found it possible to entrust
Fred Vanlo with this confidence. And then the fig-
ure of Hermann's niece appeared before my mind's
eye, with the wealth of her opulent form, her rich
youth, her lavish strength. With that powerful
and immaculate vitality, her girlish form must have
shouted aloud of life to that man, whereas poor
Miss Vanlo could only sing sentimental songs to
the strumming of a piano.

"And that Hermann hates me, I know it!" he
cried in his undertone, with a sudden recrudescence
of anxiety. "I must tell them. It is proper that
they should know. You would say so yourself."

He then murmured an utterly mysterious allu-
sion to the necessity for peculiar domestic arrange-
ments. Though my curiosity was excited I did not
want to hear any of his confidences. I feared he
might give me a piece of information that would
make my assumed role of match-maker odious--
however unreal it was. I was aware that he could
have the girl for the asking; and keeping down a
desire to laugh in his face, I expressed a confident
belief in my ability to argue away Hermann's dis-
like for him. "I am sure I can make it all right,"
I said. He looked very pleased.

And when we rose not a word had been said about
towage! Not a word! The game was won and the
honour was safe. Oh! blessed white cotton um-
brella! We shook hands, and I was holding myself
with difficulty from breaking into a step dance of
joy when he came back, striding all the length of
the verandah, and said doubtfully:

"I say, captain, I have your word? You--you
--won't turn round?"

Heavens! The fright he gave me. Behind his
tone of doubt there was something desperate and
menacing. The infatuated ass. But I was equal to
the situation.

"My dear Falk," I said, beginning to lie with
a glibness and effrontery that amazed me even at
the time--"confidence for confidence." (He had
made no confidences.) "I will tell you that I am
already engaged to an extremely charming girl at
home, and so you understand. . . ."

He caught my hand and wrung it in a crushing

"Pardon me. I feel it every day more difficult
to live alone . . ."

"On rice and fish," I interrupted smartly, gig-
gling with the sheer nervousness of a danger es-

He dropped my hand as if it had become sud-
denly red hot. A moment of profound silence en-
sued, as though something extraordinary had hap-

"I promise you to obtain Hermann's consent,"
I faltered out at last, and it seemed to me that he
could not help seeing through that humbug-
ging promise. "If there's anything else to get
over I shall endeavour to stand by you," I conceded
further, feeling somehow defeated and overborne;
"but you must do your best yourself."

"I have been unfortunate once," he muttered
unemotionally, and turning his back on me he went
away, thumping slowly the plank floor as if his feet
had been shod with iron.

Next morning, however, he was lively enough as
man-boat, a combination of splashing and shout-
ing; of the insolent commotion below with the
steady overbearing glare of the silent head-piece
above. He turned us out most unnecessarily at an
ungodly hour, but it was nearly eleven in the morn-
ing before he brought me up a cable's length from
Hermann's ship. And he did it very badly too, in
a hurry, and nearly contriving to miss altogether
the patch of good holding ground, because, for-
sooth, he had caught sight of Hermann's niece on
the poop. And so did I; and probably as soon as
he had seen her himself. I saw the modest, sleek
glory of the tawny head, and the full, grey shape
of the girlish print frock she filled so perfectly, so
satisfactorily, with the seduction of unfaltering
curves--a very nymph of Diana the Huntress.
And Diana the ship sat, high-walled and as solid
as an institution, on the smooth level of the water,
the most uninspiring and respectable craft upon
the seas, useful and ugly, devoted to the support
of domestic virtues like any grocer's shop on shore.
At once Falk steamed away; for there was some
work for him to do. He would return in the even-

He ranged close by us, passing out dead slow,
without a hail. The beat of the paddle-wheels re-
verberating amongst the stony islets, as if from the
ruined walls of a vast arena, filled the anchorage
confusedly with the clapping sounds of a mighty
and leisurely applause. Abreast of Hermann's
ship he stopped the engines; and a profound si-
lence reigned over the rocks, the shore and the sea,
for the time it took him to raise his hat aloft before
the nymph of the grey print frock. I had snatched
up my binoculars, and I can answer for it she didn't
stir a limb, standing by the rail shapely and erect,
with one of her hands grasping a rope at the height
of her head, while the way of the tug carried slowly
past her the lingering and profound homage of the
man. There was for me an enormous significance
in the scene, the sense of having witnessed a solemn
declaration. The die was cast. After such a man-
ifestation he couldn't back out. And I reflected
that it was nothing whatever to me now. With a
rush of black smoke belching suddenly out of the
funnel, and a mad swirl of paddle-wheels provoking
a burst of weird and precipitated clapping, the tug
shot out of the desolate arena. The rocky islets
lay on the sea like the heaps of a cyclopean ruin
on a plain; the centipedes and scorpions lurked un-
der the stones; there was not a single blade of grass
in sight anywhere, not a single lizard sunning him-
self on a boulder by the shore. When I looked
again at Hermann's ship the girl had disappeared.
I could not detect the smallest dot of a bird on the
immense sky, and the flatness of the land continued
the flatness of the sea to the naked line of the hori-

This is the setting now inseparably connected
with my knowledge of Falk's misfortune. My di-
plomacy had brought me there, and now I had only
to wait the time for taking up the role of an ambas-
sador. My diplomacy was a success; my ship was
safe; old Gambril would probably live; a feeble
sound of a tapping hammer came intermittently
from the Diana. During the afternoon I looked
at times at the old homely ship, the faithful nurse
of Hermann's progeny, or yawned towards the dis-
tant temple of Buddha, like a lonely hillock on the
plain, where shaven priests cherish the thoughts of
that Annihilation which is the worthy reward of us
all. Unfortunate! He had been unfortunate once.
Well, that was not so bad as life goes. And what
the devil could be the nature of that misfortune?
I remembered that I had known a man before who
had declared himself to have fallen, years ago, a
victim to misfortune; but this misfortune, whose
effects appeared permanent (he looked desper-
ately hard up) when considered dispassionately,
seemed indistinguishable from a breach of trust.
Could it be something of that nature? Apart,
however, from the utter improbability that he
would offer to talk of it even to his future uncle-
in-law, I had a strange feeling that Falk's physique
unfitted him for that sort of delinquency. As the
person of Hermann's niece exhaled the profound
physical charm of feminine form, so her ador-
er's big frame embodied to my senses the hard,
straight masculinity that would conceivably kill
but would not condescend to cheat. The thing
was obvious. I might just as well have suspected
the girl of a curvature of the spine. And I per-
ceived that the sun was about to set.

The smoke of Falk's tug hove in sight, far
away at the mouth of the river. It was time for
me to assume the character of an ambassador, and
the negotiation would not be difficult except in the
matter of keeping my countenance. It was all too
extravagantly nonsensical, and I conceived that it
would be best to compose for myself a grave de-
meanour. I practised this in my boat as I went
along, but the bashfulness that came secretly upon
me the moment I stepped on the deck of the Diana
is inexplicable. As soon as we had exchanged
greetings Hermann asked me eagerly if I knew
whether Falk had found his white parasol.

"He's going to bring it to you himself directly,"
I said with great solemnity. "Meantime I am
charged with an important message for which he
begs your favourable consideration. He is in love
with your niece. . . ."

"Ach So!" he hissed with an animosity that
made my assumed gravity change into the most
genuine concern. What meant this tone? And I
hurried on.

"He wishes, with your consent of course, to ask
her to marry him at once--before you leave here,
that is. He would speak to the Consul."

Hermann sat down and smoked violently. Five
minutes passed in that furious meditation, and
then, taking the long pipe out of his mouth, he
burst into a hot diatribe against Falk--against his
cupidity, his stupidity (a fellow that can hardly
be got to say "yes" or "no" to the simplest ques-
tion)--against his outrageous treatment of the
shipping in port (because he saw they were at his
mercy)--and against his manner of walking,
which to his (Hermann's) mind showed a conceit
positively unbearable. The damage to the old
Diana was not forgotten, of course, and there was
nothing of any nature said or done by Falk (even
to the last offer of refreshment in the hotel) that
did not seem to have been a cause of offence.
"Had the cheek" to drag him (Hermann) into
that coffee-room; as though a drink from him could
make up for forty-seven dollars and fifty cents of
damage in the cost of wood alone--not counting
two days' work for the carpenter. Of course he
would not stand in the girl's way. He was going
home to Germany. There were plenty of poor
girls walking about in Germany.

"He's very much in love," was all I found to

"Yes," he cried. "And it is time too after mak-
ing himself and me talked about ashore the last
voyage I was here, and then now again; coming on
board every evening unsettling the girl's mind, and
saying nothing. What sort of conduct is that?"

The seven thousand dollars the fellow was always
talking about did not, in his opinion, justify such
behaviour. Moreover, nobody had seen them. He
(Hermann) seriously doubted if there were seven
thousand cents, and the tug, no doubt, was mort-
gaged up to the top of the funnel to the firm of
Siegers. But let that pass. He wouldn't stand in
the girl's way. Her head was so turned that she
had become no good to them of late. Quite unable
even to put the children to bed without her aunt.
It was bad for the children; they got unruly; and
yesterday he actually had to give Gustav a thrash-

For that, too, Falk was made responsible ap-
parently. And looking at my Hermann's heavy,
puffy, good-natured face, I knew he would not ex-
ert himself till greatly exasperated, and, therefore,
would thrash very hard, and being fat would resent
the necessity. How Falk had managed to turn the
girl's head was more difficult to understand. I sup-
posed Hermann would know. And then hadn't
there been Miss Vanlo? It could not be his silvery
tongue, or the subtle seduction of his manner; he
had no more of what is called "manner" than an
animal--which, however, on the other hand, is
never, and can never be called vulgar. Therefore
it must have been his bodily appearance, exhibiting
a virility of nature as exaggerated as his beard, and
resembling a sort of constant ruthlessness. It was
seen in the very manner he lolled in the chair. He
meant no offence, but his intercourse was charac-
terised by that sort of frank disregard of suscepti-
bilities a man of seven foot six, living in a world of
dwarfs, would naturally assume, without in the
least wishing to be unkind. But amongst men of
his own stature, or nearly, this frank use of his ad-
vantages, in such matters as the awful towage bills
for instance, caused much impotent gnashing of
teeth. When attentively considered it seemed ap-
palling at times. He was a strange beast. But
maybe women liked it. Seen in that light he was
well worth taming, and I suppose every woman at
the bottom of her heart considers herself as a tamer
of strange beasts. But Hermann arose with pre-
cipitation to carry the news to his wife. I had
barely the time, as he made for the cabin door, to
grab him by the seat of his inexpressibles. I
begged him to wait till Falk in person had spoken
with him. There remained some small matter to
talk over, as I understood.

He sat down again at once, full of suspicion.

"What matter?" he said surlily. "I have had
enough of his nonsense. There's no matter at all,
as he knows very well; the girl has nothing in the
world. She came to us in one thin dress when my
brother died, and I have a growing family."

"It can't be anything of that kind," I opined.
"He's desperately enamoured of your niece. I
don't know why he did not say so before. Upon
my word, I believe it is because he was afraid to
lose, perhaps, the felicity of sitting near her on
your quarter deck."

I intimated my conviction that his love was so
great as to be in a sense cowardly. The effects of
a great passion are unaccountable. It has been
known to make a man timid. But Hermann looked
at me as if I had foolishly raved; and the twilight
was dying out rapidly.

"You don't believe in passion, do you, Her-
mann?" I said cheerily. "The passion of fear will
make a cornered rat courageous. Falk's in a cor-
ner. He will take her off your hands in one thin
frock just as she came to you. And after ten years'
service it isn't a bad bargain," I added.

Far from taking offence, he resumed his air of
civic virtue. The sudden night came upon him
while he stared placidly along the deck, bringing
in contact with his thick lips, and taking away
again after a jet of smoke, the curved mouthpiece
fitted to the stem of his pipe. The night came
upon him and buried in haste his whiskers, his glob-
ular eyes, his puffy pale face, his fat knees and the
vast flat slippers on his fatherly feet. Only his
short arms in respectable white shirt-sleeves re-
mained very visible, propped up like the flippers of
a seal reposing on the strand.

"Falk wouldn't settle anything about repairs.
Told me to find out first how much wood I should
require and he would see," he remarked; and after
he had spat peacefully in the dusk we heard over
the water the beat of the tug's floats. There is, on
a calm night, nothing more suggestive of fierce and
headlong haste than the rapid sound made by the
paddle-wheels of a boat threshing her way through
a quiet sea; and the approach of Falk towards his
fate seemed to be urged by an impatient and pas-
sionate desire. The engines must have been driven
to the very utmost of their revolutions. We heard
them slow down at last, and, vaguely, the white
hull of the tug appeared moving against the black
islets, whilst a slow and rhythmical clapping as of
thousands of hands rose on all sides. It ceased all
at once, just before Falk brought her up. A sin-
gle brusque splash was followed by the long drawn
rumbling of iron links running through the hawse
pipe. Then a solemn silence fell upon the Road-

"He will soon be here," I murmured, and after
that we waited for him without a word. Meantime,
raising my eyes, I beheld the glitter of a lofty sky
above the Diana's mastheads. The multitude of
stars gathered into clusters, in rows, in lines, in
masses, in groups, shone all together, unanimously
--and the few isolated ones, blazing by themselves
in the midst of dark patches, seemed to be of a su-
perior kind and of an inextinguishable nature. But
long striding footsteps were heard hastening along
the deck; the high bulwarks of the Diana made a
deeper darkness. We rose from our chairs quickly,
and Falk, appearing before us, all in white, stood

Nobody spoke at first, as though we had been
covered with confusion. His arrival was fiery, but
his white bulk, of indefinite shape and without fea-
tures, made him loom up like a man of snow.

"The captain here has been telling me . . ."
Hermann began in a homely and amicable voice;
and Falk had a low, nervous laugh. His cool, neg-
ligent undertone had no inflexions, but the strength
of a powerful emotion made him ramble in his
speech. He had always desired a home. It was
difficult to live alone, though he was not answera-
ble. He was domestic; there had been difficulties;
but since he had seen Hermann's niece he found
that it had become at last impossible to live by him-
self. "I mean--impossible," he repeated with no
sort of emphasis and only with the slightest of
pauses, but the word fell into my mind with the
force of a new idea.

"I have not said anything to her yet," Hermann
observed quietly. And Falk dismissed this by a
"That's all right. Certainly. Very proper."
There was a necessity for perfect frankness--in
marrying, especially. Hermann seemed attentive,
but he seized the first opportunity to ask us into the
cabin. "And by-the-by, Falk," he said innocent-
ly, as we passed in, "the timber came to no less
than forty-seven dollars and fifty cents."

Falk, uncovering his head, lingered in the pas-
sage. "Some other time," he said; and Hermann
nudged me angrily--I don't know why. The girl
alone in the cabin sat sewing at some distance from
the table. Falk stopped short in the doorway.
Without a word, without a sign, without the slight-
est inclination of his bony head, by the silent in-
tensity of his look alone, he seemed to lay his her-
culean frame at her feet. Her hands sank slowly
on her lap, and raising her clear eyes, she let her
soft, beaming glance enfold him from head to foot
like a slow and pale caress. He was very hot when
he sat down; she, with bowed head, went on with
her sewing; her neck was very white under the light
of the lamp; but Falk, hiding his face in the palms
of his hands, shuddered faintly. He drew them
down, even to his beard, and his uncovered eyes as-
tonished me by their tense and irrational expres-
sion--as though he had just swallowed a heavy
gulp of alcohol. It passed away while he was
binding us to secrecy. Not that he cared, but he
did not like to be spoken about; and I looked at the
girl's marvellous, at her wonderful, at her regal
hair, plaited tight into that one astonishing and
maidenly tress. Whenever she moved her well-
shaped head it would stir stiffly to and fro on her
back. The thin cotton sleeve fitted the irreproach-
able roundness of her arm like a skin; and her very
dress, stretched on her bust, seemed to palpitate
like a living tissue with the strength of vitality ani-
mating her body. How good her complexion was,
the outline of her soft cheek and the small convo-
luted conch of her rosy ear! To pull her needle she
kept the little finger apart from the others; it
seemed a waste of power to see her sewing--eter-
nally sewing--with that industrious and precise
movement of her arm, going on eternally upon all
the oceans, under all the skies, in innumerable har-
bours. And suddenly I heard Falk's voice declare
that he could not marry a woman unless she knew
of something in his life that had happened ten
years ago. It was an accident. An unfortunate ac-
cident. It would affect the domestic arrangements
of their home, but, once told, it need not be alluded
to again for the rest of their lives. "I should want
my wife to feel for me," he said. "It has made me
unhappy." And how could he keep the knowledge
of it to himself--he asked us--perhaps through
years and years of companionship? What sort of
companionship would that be? He had thought it
over. A wife must know. Then why not at once?
He counted on Hermann's kindness for presenting
the affair in the best possible light. And Her-
mann's countenance, mystified before, became very
sour. He stole an inquisitive glance at me. I
shook my head blankly. Some people thought,
Falk went on, that such an experience changed a
man for the rest of his life. He couldn't say. It
was hard, awful, and not to be forgotten, but he
did not think himself a worse man than before.
Only he talked in his sleep now, he believed. . . .
At last I began to think he had accidentally killed
some one; perhaps a friend--his own father may-
be; when he went on to say that probably we were
aware he never touched meat. Throughout he
spoke English, of course of my account.

He swayed forward heavily.

The girl, with her hands raised before her pale
eyes, was threading her needle. He glanced at her,
and his mighty trunk overshadowed the table,
bringing nearer to us the breadth of his shoulders,
the thickness of his neck, and that incongruous, an-
chorite head, burnt in the desert, hollowed and lean
as if by excesses of vigils and fasting. His beard
flowed imposingly downwards, out of sight, be-
tween the two brown hands gripping the edge of
the table, and his persistent glance made sombre by
the wide dilations of the pupils, fascinated.

"Imagine to yourselves," he said in his ordinary
voice, "that I have eaten man."

I could only ejaculate a faint "Ah!" of com-
plete enlightenment. But Hermann, dazed by the
excessive shock, actually murmured, "Himmel!
What for?"

"It was my terrible misfortune to do so," said
Falk in a measured undertone. The girl, uncon-
scious, sewed on. Mrs. Hermann was absent in
one of the state-rooms, sitting up with Lena, who
was feverish; but Hermann suddenly put both his
hands up with a jerk. The embroidered calotte
fell, and, in the twinkling of an eye, he had rum-
pled his hair all ends up in a most extravagant
manner. In this state he strove to speak; with
every effort his eyes seemed to start further out of
their sockets; his head looked like a mop. He
choked, gasped, swallowed, and managed to shriek
out the one word, "Beast!"

From that moment till Falk went out of the cab-
in the girl, with her hands folded on the work lying
in her lap, never took her eyes off him. His own,
in the blindness of his heart, darted all over the
cabin, only seeking to avoid the sight of Hermann's
raving. It was ridiculous, and was made almost
terrible by the stillness of every other person pres-
ent. It was contemptible, and was made appalling
by the man's overmastering horror of this awful
sincerity, coming to him suddenly, with the confes-
sion of such a fact. He walked with great strides;
he gasped. He wanted to know from Falk how
dared he to come and tell him this? Did he think
himself a proper person to be sitting in this cabin
where his wife and children lived? Tell his niece!
Expected him to tell his niece! His own brother's
daughter! Shameless! Did I ever hear tell of such
impudence?--he appealed to me. "This man here
ought to have gone and hidden himself out of sight
instead of . . ."

"But it's a great misfortune for me. But it's a
great misfortune for me," Falk would ejaculate
from time to time.

However, Hermann kept on running frequently
against the corners of the table. At last he lost a
slipper, and crossing his arms on his breast, walked
up with one stocking foot very close to Falk, in or-
der to ask him whether he did think there was any-
where on earth a woman abandoned enough to mate
with such a monster. "Did he? Did he? Did
he?" I tried to restrain him. He tore himself out
of my hands; he found his slipper, and, endeavour-
ing to put it on, stormed standing on one leg--
and Falk, with a face unmoved and averted
eyes, grasped all his mighty beard in one vast

"Was it right then for me to die myself?" he
asked thoughtfully. I laid my hand on his shoul-

"Go away," I whispered imperiously, without
any clear reason for this advice, except that I
wished to put an end to Hermann's odious noise.
"Go away."

He looked searchingly for a moment at Hermann
before he made a move. I left the cabin too to see
him out of the ship. But he hung about the quar-

"It is my misfortune," he said in a steady

"You were stupid to blurt it out in such a man-
ner. After all, we don't hear such confidences
every day."

"What does the man mean?" he mused in deep
undertones. "Somebody had to die--but why

He remained still for a time in the dark--silent;
almost invisible. All at once he pinned my elbows
to my sides. I felt utterly powerless in his grip,
and his voice, whispering in my ear, vibrated.

"It's worse than hunger. Captain, do you know
what that means? And I could kill then--or be
killed. I wish the crowbar had smashed my skull
ten years ago. And I've got to live now. Without
her. Do you understand? Perhaps many years.
But how? What can be done? If I had allowed
myself to look at her once I would have carried her
off before that man in my hands--like this."

I felt myself snatched off the deck, then suddenly
dropped--and I staggered backwards, feeling
bewildered and bruised. What a man! All was
still; he was gone. I heard Hermann's voice de-
claiming in the cabin, and I went in.

I could not at first make out a single word, but
Mrs. Hermann, who, attracted by the noise, had
come in some time before, with an expression of
surprise and mild disapproval, depicted broadly on
her face, was giving now all the signs of profound,
helpless agitation. Her husband shot a string of
guttural words at her, and instantly putting out
one hand to the bulkhead as if to save herself from
falling, she clutched the loose bosom of her dress
with the other. He harangued the two women ex-
traordinarily, with much of his shirt hanging out of
his waistbelt, stamping his foot, turning from one
to the other, sometimes throwing both his arms to-
gether, straight up above his rumpled hair, and
keeping them in that position while he uttered a
passage of loud denunciation; at others folding
them tight across his breast--and then he hissed
with indignation, elevating his shoulders and pro-
truding his head. The girl was crying.

She had not changed her attitude. From her
steady eyes that, following Falk in his retreat, had
remained fixed wistfully on the cabin door, the
tears fell rapid, thick, on her hands, on the work in
her lap, warm and gentle like a shower in spring.
She wept without grimacing, without noise--very
touching, very quiet, with something more of pity
than of pain in her face, as one weeps in compassion
rather than in grief--and Hermann, before her,
declaimed. I caught several times the word
"Mensch," man; and also "Fressen," which last I
looked up afterwards in my dictionary. It means
"Devour." Hermann seemed to be requesting an
answer of some sort from her; his whole body
swayed. She remained mute and perfectly still;
at last his agitation gained her; she put the palms
of her hands together, her full lips parted, no
sound came. His voice scolded shrilly, his arms
went like a windmill--suddenly he shook a thick
fist at her. She burst out into loud sobs. He
seemed stupefied.

Mrs. Hermann rushed forward babbling rap-
dly. The two women fell on each other's necks,
and, with an arm round her niece's waist, she led her
away. Her own eyes were simply streaming, her
face was flooded. She shook her head back at me
negatively, I wonder why to this day. The girl's
head dropped heavily on her shoulder. They dis-

Then Hermann sat down and stared at the cabin

"We don't know all the circumstances," I ven-
tured to break the silence. He retorted tartly that
he didn't want to know of any. According to his
ideas no circumstances could excuse a crime--and
certainly not such a crime. This was the opinion
generally received. The duty of a human being
was to starve. Falk therefore was a beast, an ani-
mal; base, low, vile, despicable, shameless, and de-
ceitful. He had been deceiving him since last year.
He was, however, inclined to think that Falk must
have gone mad quite recently; for no sane person,
without necessity, uselessly, for no earthly reason,
and regardless of another's self-respect and peace
of mind, would own to having devoured human
flesh. "Why tell?" he cried. "Who was asking
him?" It showed Falk's brutality because after
all he had selfishly caused him (Hermann) much
pain. He would have preferred not to know that
such an unclean creature had been in the habit of
caressing his children. He hoped I would say noth-
ing of all this ashore, though. He wouldn't like it
to get about that he had been intimate with an
eater of men--a common cannibal. As to the scene
he had made (which I judged quite unnecessary)
he was not going to inconvenience and restrain
himself for a fellow that went about courting and
upsetting girls' heads, while he knew all the time
that no decent housewifely girl could think of mar-
rying him. At least he (Hermann) could not con-
ceive how any girl could. Fancy Lena! . . . No,
it was impossible. The thoughts that would come
into their heads every time they sat down to a meal.
Horrible! Horrible!

"You are too squeamish, Hermann," I said.

He seemed to think it was eminently proper to be
squeamish if the word meant disgust at Falk's con-
duct; and turning up his eyes sentimentally he
drew my attention to the horrible fate of the victims
--the victims of that Falk. I said that I knew
nothing about them. He seemed surprised. Could
not anybody imagine without knowing? He--for
instance--felt he would like to avenge them. But
what if--said I--there had not been any? They
might have died as it were, naturally--of starva-
tion. He shuddered. But to be eaten--after
death! To be devoured! He gave another deep
shudder, and asked suddenly, "Do you think it
is true?"

His indignation and his personality together
would have been enough to spoil the reality of the
most authentic thing. When I looked at him I
doubted the story--but the remembrance of Falk's
words, looks, gestures, invested it not only with
an air of reality but with the absolute truth of
primitive passion.

"It is true just as much as you are able to make
it; and exactly in the way you like to make it. For
my part, when I hear you clamouring about it, I
don't believe it is true at all."

And I left him pondering. The men in my boat
lying at the foot of Diana's side ladder told me that
the captain of the tug had gone away in his gig
some time ago.

I let my fellows pull an easy stroke; because of
the heavy dew the clear sparkle of the stars seemed
to fall on me cold and wetting. There was a sense
of lurking gruesome horror somewhere in my mind,
and it was mingled with clear and grotesque
images. Schomberg's gastronomic tittle-tattle
was responsible for these; and I half hoped I
should never see Falk again. But the first thing
my anchor-watchman told me was that the captain
of the tug was on board. He had sent his boat
away and was now waiting for me in the cuddy.

He was lying full length on the stern settee, his
face buried in the cushions. I had expected to see
it discomposed, contorted, despairing. It was
nothing of the kind; it was just as I had seen it
twenty times, steady and glaring from the bridge
of the tug. It was immovably set and hungry,
dominated like the whole man by the singleness of
one instinct.

He wanted to live. He had always wanted to
live. So we all do--but in us the instinct serves a
complex conception, and in him this instinct existed
alone. There is in such simple development a gi-
gantic force, and like the pathos of a child's naive
nd uncontrolled desire. He wanted that girl, and
the utmost that can be said for him was that he
wanted that particular girl alone. I think I saw
then the obscure beginning, the seed germinating
in the soil of an unconscious need, the first shoot
of that tree bearing now for a mature mankind the
flower and the fruit, the infinite gradation in
shades and in flavour of our discriminating love.
He was a child. He was as frank as a child too.
He was hungry for the girl, terribly hungry, as
he had been terribly hungry for food.

Don't be shocked if I declare that in my belief
it was the same need, the same pain, the same tor-
ture. We are in his case allowed to contemplate
the foundation of all the emotions--that one joy
which is to live, and the one sadness at the root of
the innumerable torments. It was made plain by
the way he talked. He had never suffered so. It
was gnawing, it was fire; it was there, like this!
And after pointing below his breastbone, he made
a hard wringing motion with his hands. And I as-
sure you that, seen as I saw it with my bodily eyes,
it was anything but laughable. And again, as he
was presently to tell me (alluding to an early inci-
dent of the disastrous voyage when some damaged
meat had been flung overboard), he said that a
time soon came when his heart ached (that was the
expression he used), and he was ready to tear his
hair out at the thought of all that rotten beef
thrown away.

I had heard all this; I witnessed his physical
struggles, seeing the working of the rack and hear-
ing the true voice of pain. I witnessed it all pa-
tiently, because the moment I came into the cuddy
he had called upon me to stand by him--and this,
it seems, I had diplomatically promised.

His agitation was impressive and alarming in
the little cabin, like the floundering of a great
whale driven into a shallow cove in a coast. He
stood up; he flung himself down headlong; he tried
to tear the cushion with his teeth; and again hug-
ging it fiercely to his face he let himself fall on the
couch. The whole ship seemed to feel the shock
of his despair; and I contemplated with wonder the
lofty forehead, the noble touch of time on the un-
covered temples, the unchanged hungry character
of the face--so strangely ascetic and so incapable
of portraying emotion.

What should he do? He had lived by being
near her. He had sat--in the evening--I knew?--
all his life! She sewed. Her head was bent--so.
Her head--like this--and her arms. Ah! Had I
seen? Like this.

He dropped on a stool, bowed his powerful neck
whose nape was red, and with his hands stitched
the air, ludicrous, sublimely imbecile and compre-

And now he couldn't have her? No! That was
too much. After thinking too that . . . What
had he done? What was my advice? Take her by
force? No? Mustn't he? Who was there then
to kill him? For the first time I saw one of his fea-
tures move; a fighting teeth-baring curl of the lip.
. . . "Not Hermann, perhaps." He lost himself
in thought as though he had fallen out of the

I may note that the idea of suicide apparently
did not enter his head for a single moment. It oc-
curred to me to ask:

"Where was it that this shipwreck of yours took

"Down south," he said vaguely with a start.

"You are not down south now," I said. "Vio-
lence won't do. They would take her away from
you in no time. And what was the name of the

"Borgmester Dahl," he said. "It was no ship-

He seemed to be waking up by degrees from that
trance, and waking up calmed.

"Not a shipwreck? What was it?"

"Break down," he answered, looking more like
himself every moment. By this only I learned that
it was a steamer. I had till then supposed they
had been starving in boats or on a raft--or per-
haps on a barren rock.

"She did not sink then?" I asked in surprise.
He nodded. "We sighted the southern ice," he
pronounced dreamily.

"And you alone survived?"

He sat down. "Yes. It was a terrible misfor-
tune for me. Everything went wrong. All the
men went wrong. I survived."

Remembering the things one reads of it was diffi-
cult to realise the true meaning of his answers. I
ought to have seen at once--but I did not; so diffi-
cult is it for our minds, remembering so much, in-
structed so much, informed of so much, to get in
touch with the real actuality at our elbow. And
with my head full of preconceived notions as to
how a case of "cannibalism and suffering at sea"
should be managed I said--"You were then so
lucky in the drawing of lots?"

"Drawing of lots?" he said. "What lots? Do
you think I would have allowed my life to go for
the drawing of lots?"

Not if he could help if, I perceived, no matter
what other life went.

"It was a great misfortune. Terrible. Awful,"
he said. "Many heads went wrong, but the best
men would live."

"The toughest, you mean," I said. He consid-
ered the word. Perhaps it was strange to him,
though his English was so good.

"Yes," he asserted at last. "The best. It was
everybody for himself at last and the ship open to

Thus from question to question I got the whole
story. I fancy it was the only way I could that
night have stood by him. Outwardly at least he
was himself again; the first sign of it was the re-
turn of that incongruous trick he had of drawing
both his hands down his face--and it had its mean-
ing now, with that slight shudder of the frame and
the passionate anguish of these hands uncovering
a hungry immovable face, the wide pupils of the
intent, silent, fascinating eyes.

It was an iron steamer of a most respectable ori-
gin. The burgomaster of Falk's native town had
built her. She was the first steamer ever launched
there. The burgomaster's daughter had christened
her. Country people drove in carts from miles
around to see her. He told me all this. He got the
berth as what we should call a chief mate. He
seemed to think it had been a feather in his cap;
and, in his own corner of the world, this lover of
life was of good parentage.

The burgomaster had advanced ideas in the
ship-owning line. At that time not every one
would have known enough to think of despatching
a cargo steamer to the Pacific. But he loaded her
with pitch-pine deals and sent her off to hunt for
her luck. Wellington was to be the first port, I
fancy. It doesn't matter, because in latitude 44 d
south and somewhere halfway between Good Hope
and New Zealand the tail shaft broke and the pro-
peller dropped off.

They were steaming then with a fresh gale on
the quarter and all their canvas set, to help the en-
gines. But by itself the sail power was not enough
to keep way on her. When the propeller went the
ship broached-to at once, and the masts got
whipped overboard.

The disadvantage of being dismasted consisted
in this, that they had nothing to hoist flags on to
make themselves visible at a distance. In the
course of the first few days several ships failed to
sight them; and the gale was drifting them out of
the usual track. The voyage had been, from the
first, neither very successful nor very harmonious.
There had been quarrels on board. The captain
was a clever, melancholic man, who had no unusual
grip on his crew. The ship had been amply pro-
visioned for the passage, but, somehow or other,
several barrels of meat were found spoiled on open-
ing, and had been thrown overboard soon after
leaving home, as a sanitary measure. Afterwards
the crew of the Borgmester Dahl thought of that
rotten carrion with tears of regret, covetousness
and despair.

She drove south. To begin with, there had been
an appearance of organisation, but soon the bonds
of discipline became relaxed. A sombre idleness
succeeded. They looked with sullen eyes at the hori-
zon. The gales increased: she lay in the trough,
the seas made a clean breach over her. On one
frightful night, when they expected their hulk to
turn over with them every moment, a heavy sea
broke on board, deluged the store-rooms and spoiled
the best part of the remaining provisions. It seems
the hatch had not been properly secured. This in-
stance of neglect is characteristic of utter discour-
agement. Falk tried to inspire some energy into
his captain, but failed. From that time he retired
more into himself, always trying to do his utmost
in the situation. It grew worse. Gale succeeded
gale, with black mountains of water hurling them-
selves on the Borgmester Dahl. Some of the men
never left their bunks; many became quarrelsome.
The chief engineer, an old man, refused to speak
at all to anybody. Others shut themselves up in
their berths to cry. On calm days the inert steamer
rolled on a leaden sea under a murky sky, or
showed, in sunshine, the squalor of sea waifs, the
dried white salt, the rust, the jagged broken
places. Then the gales came again. They kept
body and soul together on short rations. Once, an
English ship, scudding in a storm, tried to stand
by them, heaving-to pluckily under their lee. The
seas swept her decks; the men in oilskins clinging
to her rigging looked at them, and they made des-
perate signs over their shattered bulwarks. Sud-
denly her main-topsail went, yard and all, in a ter-
rific squall; she had to bear up under bare poles,
and disappeared.

Other ships had spoken them before, but at first
they had refused to be taken off, expecting the as-
sistance of some steamer. There were very few
steamers in those latitudes then; and when they
desired to leave this dead and drifting carcase, no
ship came in sight. They had drifted south out of
men's knowledge. They failed to attract the atten-
tion of a lonely whaler, and very soon the edge of
the polar ice-cap rose from the sea and closed the
southern horizon like a wall. One morning they
were alarmed by finding themselves floating
amongst detached pieces of ice. But the fear of
sinking passed away like their vigour, like their
hopes; the shocks of the floes knocking against the
ship's side could not rouse them from their apathy:
and the Borgmester Dahl drifted out again un-
harmed into open water. They hardly noticed
the change.

The funnel had gone overboard in one of the
heavy rolls; two of their three boats had disap-
peared, washed away in bad weather, and the davits
swung to and fro, unsecured, with chafed rope's
ends waggling to the roll. Nothing was done on
board, and Falk told me how he had often listened
to the water washing about the dark engine-room
where the engines, stilled for ever, were decaying
slowly into a mass of rust, as the stilled heart de-
cays within the lifeless body. At first, after the
loss of the motive power, the tiller had been thor-
oughly secured by lashings. But in course of time
these had rotted, chafed, rusted, parting one by
one: and the rudder, freed, banged heavily to and
fro night and day, sending dull shocks through the
whole frame of the vessel. This was dangerous.
Nobody cared enough to lift a little finger. He
told me that even now sometimes waking up at
night, he fancied he could hear the dull vibrating
thuds. The pintles carried away, and it dropped
off at last.

The final catastrophe came with the sending off
of their one remaining boat. It was Falk who had
managed to preserve her intact, and now it was
agreed that some of the hands should sail away into
the track of the shipping to procure assistance.
She was provisioned with all the food they could
spare for the six who were to go. They waited for
a fine day. It was long in coming. At last one
morning they lowered her into the water.

Directly, in that demoralised crowd, trouble
broke out. Two men who had no business there
had jumped into the boat under the pretence of
unhooking the tackles, while some sort of squabble
arose on the deck amongst these weak, tottering
spectres of a ship's company. The captain, who
had been for days living secluded and unapproach-
able in the chart-room, came to the rail. He or-
dered the two men to come up on board and men-
aced them with his revolver. They pretended to
obey, but suddenly cutting the boat's painter, gave
a shove against the ship's side and made ready to
hoist the sail.

"Shoot, sir! Shoot them down!" cried Falk--
"and I will jump overboard to regain the boat."
But the captain, after taking aim with an irreso-
lute arm, turned suddenly away.

A howl of rage arose. Falk dashed into his cabin
for his own pistol. When he returned it was too
late. Two more men had leaped into the water, but
the fellows in the boat beat them off with the oars,
hoisted the boat's lug and sailed away. They were
never heard of again.

Consternation and despair possessed the remain-
ing ship's company, till the apathy of utter hope-
lessness re-asserted its sway. That day a fireman
committed suicide, running up on deck with his
throat cut from ear to ear, to the horror of all
hands. He was thrown overboard. The captain
had locked himself in the chart-room, and Falk,
knocking vainly for admittance, heard him recit-
ing over and over again the names of his wife and
children, not as if calling upon them or commend-
ing them to God, but in a mechanical voice like an
exercise of memory. Next day the doors of the
chart-room were swinging open to the roll of the
ship, and the captain had disappeared. He must
during the night have jumped into the sea. Falk
locked both the doors and kept the keys.

The organised life of the ship had come to an
end. The solidarity of the men had gone. They
became indifferent to each other. It was Falk who
took in hand the distribution of such food as re-
mained. They boiled their boots for soup to eke
out the rations, which only made their hunger more
intolerable. Sometimes whispers of hate were
heard passing between the languid skeletons that
drifted endlessly to and fro, north and south, east
and west, upon that carcase of a ship.

And in this lies the grotesque horror of this som-
bre story. The last extremity of sailors, overtaking
a small boat or a frail craft, seems easier to bear,
because of the direct danger of the seas. The con-
fined space, the close contact, the imminent menace
of the waves, seem to draw men together, in spite
of madness, suffering and despair. But there was
a ship--safe, convenient, roomy: a ship with beds,
bedding, knives, forks, comfortable cabins, glass
and china, and a complete cook's galley, pervaded,
ruled and possessed by the pitiless spectre of star-
vation. The lamp oil had been drunk, the wicks
cut up for food, the candles eaten. At night she
floated dark in all her recesses, and full of fears.
One day Falk came upon a man gnawing a splinter
of pine wood. Suddenly he threw the piece of wood
away, tottered to the rail, and fell over. Falk, too
late to prevent the act, saw him claw the ship's
side desperately before he went down. Next day
another man did the same thing, after uttering hor-
rible imprecations. But this one somehow man-
aged to get hold of the broken rudder chains and
hung on there, silently. Falk set about trying to
save him, and all the time the man, holding with
both hands, looked at him anxiously with his sunken
eyes. Then, just as Falk was ready to put his hand
on him, the man let go his hold and sank like a
stone. Falk reflected on these sights. His heart
revolted against the horror of death, and he said
to himself that he would struggle for every pre-
cious minute of his life.

One afternoon--as the survivors lay about on
the after deck--the carpenter, a tall man with a
black beard, spoke of the last sacrifice. There was
nothing eatable left on board. Nobody said a
word to this; but that company separated quickly,
these listless feeble spectres slunk off one by one
to hide in fear of each other. Falk and the car-
penter remained on deck together. Falk liked
the big carpenter. He had been the best man of
the lot, helpful and ready as long as there was
anything to do, the longest hopeful, and had
preserved to the last some vigour and decision of

They did not speak to each other. Henceforth
no voices were to be heard conversing sadly on
board that ship. After a time the carpenter tot-
tered away forward; but later on, Falk going to
drink at the fresh-water pump, had the inspiration
to turn his head. The carpenter had stolen upon
him from behind, and, summoning all his strength,
was aiming with a crowbar a blow at the back of
his skull.

Dodging just in time, Falk made his escape and
ran into his cabin. While he was loading his re-
volver there, he heard the sound of heavy blows
struck upon the bridge. The locks of the chart-
room doors were slight, they flew open, and the car-
penter, possessing himself of the captain's revolver,
fired a shot of defiance.

Falk was about to go on deck and have it out
at once, when he remarked that one of the ports of
his cabin commanded the approaches to the fresh-
water pump. Instead of going out he remained in
and secured the door. "The best man shall sur-
vive," he said to himself--and the other, he rea-
soned, must at some time or other come there to
drink. These starving men would drink often to
cheat the pangs of their hunger. But the carpen-
ter too must have noticed the position of the port.
They were the two best men in the ship, and the
game was with them. All the rest of the day Falk
saw no one and heard no sound. At night he
strained his eyes. It was dark--he heard a rustling
noise once, but he was certain that no one could
have come near the pump. It was to the left of his
deck port, and he could not have failed to see a
man, for the night was clear and starry. He saw
nothing; towards morning another faint noise
made him suspicious. Deliberately and quietly he
unlocked his door. He had not slept, and had not
given way to the horror of the situation. He
wanted to live.

But during the night the carpenter, without at
all trying to approach the pump, had managed to
creep quietly along the starboard bulwark, and,
unseen, had crouched down right under Falk's deck
port. When daylight came he rose up suddenly,
looked in, and putting his arm through the round
brass framed opening, fired at Falk within a foot.
He missed--and Falk, instead of attempting to
seize the arm holding the weapon, opened his door
unexpectedly, and with the muzzle of his long re-
volver nearly touching the other's side, shot him

The best man had survived. Both of them had
at the beginning just strength enough to stand on
their feet, and both had displayed pitiless resolu-
tion, endurance, cunning and courage--all the
qualities of classic heroism. At once Falk threw
overboard the captain's revolver. He was a born
monopolist. Then after the report of the two
shots, followed by a profound silence, there crept
out into the cold, cruel dawn of Antarctic regions,
from various hiding-places, over the deck of that
dismantled corpse of a ship floating on a grey sea
ruled by iron necessity and with a heart of ice--
there crept into view one by one, cautious, slow, ea-
ger, glaring, and unclean, a band of hungry and
livid skeletons. Falk faced them, the possessor of
the only fire-arm on board, and the second best man
--the carpenter--was lying dead between him and

"He was eaten, of course," I said.

He bent his head slowly, shuddered a little, draw-
ing his hands over his face, and said, "I had never
any quarrel with that man. But there were our
lives between him and me."

Why continue the story of that ship, that story
before which, with its fresh-water pump like a
spring of death, its man with the weapon, the sea
ruled by iron necessity, its spectral band swayed by
terror and hope, its mute and unhearing heaven?--
the fable of the Flying Dutchman with its conven-
tion of crime and its sentimental retribution fades
like a graceful wreath, like a wisp of white mist.
What is there to say that every one of us cannot
guess for himself? I believe Falk began by going
through the ship, revolver in hand, to annex all the
matches. Those starving wretches had plenty of
matches! He had no mind to have the ship set on
fire under his feet, either from hate or from despair.
He lived in the open, camping on the bridge, com-
manding all the after deck and the only approach
to the pump. He lived! Some of the others lived
too--concealed, anxious, coming out one by one
from their hiding-places at the seductive sound of
a shot. And he was not selfish. They shared, but
only three of them all were alive when a whaler, re-
turning from her cruising ground, nearly ran over
the water-logged hull of the Borgmester Dahl,
which, it seems, in the end had in some way sprung
a leak in both her holds, but being loaded with deals
could not sink.

"They all died," Falk said. "These three too,
afterwards. But I would not die. All died, all!
under this terrible misfortune. But was I too to
throw away my life? Could I? Tell me, captain?
I was alone there, quite alone, just like the others.
Each man was alone. Was I to give up my re-
volver? Who to? Or was I to throw it into the
sea? What would have been the good? Only the
best man would survive. It was a great, terrible,
and cruel misfortune."

He had survived! I saw him before me as
though preserved for a witness to the mighty truth
of an unerring and eternal principle. Great beads
of perspiration stood on his forehead. And sud-
denly it struck the table with a heavy blow, as he
fell forward throwing his hands out.

"And this is worse," he cried. "This is a worse
pain! This is more terrible."

He made my heart thump with the profound con-
viction of his cries. And after he had left me
alone I called up before my mental eye the image
of the girl weeping silently, abundantly, patiently,
and as if irresistibly. I thought of her tawny
hair. I thought how, if unplaited, it would have
covered her all round as low as the hips, like the
hair of a siren. And she had bewitched him. Fancy
a man who would guard his own life with the in-
flexibility of a pitiless and immovable fate, being
brought to lament that once a crowbar had missed
his skull! The sirens sing and lure to death, but
this one had been weeping silently as if for the pity
of his life. She was the tender and voiceless siren
of this appalling navigator. He evidently wanted
to live his whole conception of life. Nothing else
would do. And she too was a servant of that life
that, in the midst of death, cries aloud to our senses.
She was eminently fitted to interpret for him its
feminine side. And in her own way, and with her
own profusion of sensuous charms, she also seemed
to illustrate the eternal truth of an unerring prin-
ciple. I don't know though what sort of principle
Hermann illustrated when he turned up early on
board my ship with a most perplexed air. It
struck me, however, that he too would do his best
to survive. He seemed greatly calmed on the sub-
ject of Falk, but still very full of it.

"What is it you said I was last night? You
know," he asked after some preliminary talk.
"Too--too--I don't know. A very funny word."

"Squeamish?" I suggested.

"Yes. What does it mean?"

"That you exaggerate things--to yourself.
Without inquiry, and so on."

He seemed to turn it over in his mind. We went
on talking. This Falk was the plague of his life.
Upsetting everybody like this! Mrs. Hermann
was unwell rather this morning. His niece was
crying still. There was nobody to look after the
children. He struck his umbrella on the deck. She
would be like that for months. Fancy carrying all
the way home, second class, a perfectly useless girl
who is crying all the time. It was bad for Lena
too, he observed; but on what grounds I could not
guess. Perhaps of the bad example. That child
was already sorrowing and crying enough over the
rag doll. Nicholas was really the least sentimental
person of the family.

"Why does she weep?" I asked.

"From pity," cried Hermann.

It was impossible to make out women. Mrs. Her-
mann was the only one he pretended to understand.
She was very, very upset and doubtful.

"Doubtful about what?" I asked.

He averted his eyes and did not answer this. It
was impossible to make them out. For instance,
his niece was weeping for Falk. Now he (Her-
mann) would like to wring his neck--but then . . .
He supposed he had too tender a heart. "Frank-
ly," he asked at last, "what do you think of what
we heard last night, captain?"

"In all these tales," I observed, "there is always
a good deal of exaggeration."

And not letting him recover from his surprise I
assured him that I knew all the details. He begged
me not to repeat them. His heart was too tender.
They made him feel unwell. Then, looking at his
feet and speaking very slowly, he supposed that he
need not see much of them after they were married.
For, indeed, he could not bear the sight of Falk.
On the other hand it was ridiculous to take home a
girl with her head turned. A girl that weeps all
the time and is of no help to her aunt.

"Now you will be able to do with one cabin only
on your passage home," I said.

"Yes, I had thought of that," he said brightly,
almost. "Yes! Himself, his wife, four children
--one cabin might do. Whereas if his niece
went . . ."

"And what does Mrs. Hermann say to it?" I

Mrs. Hermann did not know whether a man of
that sort could make a girl happy--she had been
greatly deceived in Captain Falk. She had been
very upset last night.

Those good people did not seem to be able to re-
tain an impression for a whole twelve hours. I
assured him on my own personal knowledge that
Falk possessed in himself all the qualities to make
his niece's future prosperous. He said he was glad
to hear this, and that he would tell his wife. Then
the object of the visit came out. He wished me to
help him to resume relations with Falk. His niece,
he said, had expressed the hope I would do so in my
kindness. He was evidently anxious that I should,
for though he seemed to have forgotten nine-tenths
of his last night's opinions and the whole of his in-
dignation, yet he evidently feared to be sent to the
right-about. "You told me he was very much in
love," he concluded slyly, and leered in a sort of bu-
colic way.

"As soon as he had left my ship I called Falk on
board by signal--the tug still lying at the anchor-
age. He took the news with calm gravity, as
though he had all along expected the stars to fight
for him in their courses.

I saw them once more together, and only once--
on the quarter-deck of the Diana. Hermann sat
smoking with a shirt-sleeved elbow hooked over the
back of his chair. Mrs. Hermann was sewing
alone. As Falk stepped over the gangway, Her-
mann's niece, with a slight swish of the skirt and a
swift friendly nod to me, glided past my chair.

They met in sunshine abreast of the mainmast.
He held her hands and looked down at them, and
she looked up at him with her candid and unseeing
glance. It seemed to me they had come together
as if attracted, drawn and guided to each other by
a mysterious influence. They were a complete
couple. In her grey frock, palpitating with life,
generous of form, olympian and simple, she was in-
deed the siren to fascinate that dark navigator, this
ruthless lover of the five senses. From afar I
seemed to feel the masculine strength with which
he grasped those hands she had extended to him
with a womanly swiftness. Lena, a little pale,
nursing her beloved lump of dirty rags, ran to-
wards her big friend; and then in the drowsy si-
lence of the good old ship Mrs. Hermann's voice
rang out so changed that it made me spin round in
my chair to see what was the matter.

"Lena, come here!" she screamed. And this
good-natured matron gave me a wavering glance,
dark and full of fearsome distrust. The child ran
back, surprised to her knee. But the two, stand-
ing before each other in sunlight with clasped
hands, had heard nothing, had seen nothing and
no one. Three feet away from them in the shade
a seaman sat on a spar, very busy splicing a strop,
and dipping his fingers into a tar-pot, as if utterly
unaware of their existence.

When I returned in command of another ship,
some five years afterwards, Mr. and Mrs. Falk
had left the place. I should not wonder if Schom-
berg's tongue had succeeded at last in scaring Falk
away for good; and, indubitably, there was a tale
still going about the town of a certain Falk, owner
of a tug, who had won his wife at cards from the
captain of an English ship.


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