Part 1 out of 9
This etext was prepared by Judy Boss, Omaha, NE
A ROMANCE OF THE SHALLOWS
'Allas!' quod she, 'that ever this sholde happe!
For wende I never, by possibilitee,
That swich a monstre or merveille mighte be!'
--THE FRANKELEYN'S TALE
FREDERIC COURTLAND PENFIELD
LAST AMBASSADOR OF THE UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA TO THE LATE AUSTRIAN EMPIRE, THIS
OLD TIME TALE IS GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED
IN MEMORY OF THE RESCUE OF CERTAIN
DISTRESSED TRAVELLERS EFFECTED BY HIM
IN THE WORLD'S GREAT STORM OF THE YEAR 1914
Of the three long novels of mine which suffered an interruption,
"The Rescue" was the one that had to wait the longest for the
good pleasure of the Fates. I am betraying no secret when I state
here that it had to wait precisely for twenty years. I laid it
aside at the end of the summer of 1898 and it was about the end
of the summer of 1918 that I took it up again with the firm
determination to see the end of it and helped by the sudden
feeling that I might be equal to the task.
This does not mean that I turned to it with elation. I was well
aware and perhaps even too much aware of the dangers of such an
adventure. The amazingly sympathetic kindness which men of
various temperaments, diverse views and different literary tastes
have been for years displaying towards my work has done much for
me, has done all--except giving me that over-weening
self-confidence which may assist an adventurer sometimes but in
the long run ends by leading him to the gallows.
As the characteristic I want most to impress upon these short
Author's Notes prepared for my first Collected Edition is that of
absolute frankness, I hasten to declare that I founded my hopes
not on my supposed merits but on the continued goodwill of my
readers. I may say at once that my hopes have been justified out
of all proportion to my deserts. I met with the most considerate,
most delicately expressed criticism free from all antagonism and
in its conclusions showing an insight which in itself could not
fail to move me deeply, but was associated also with enough
commendation to make me feel rich beyond the dreams of avarice--I
mean an artist's avarice which seeks its treasure in the hearts
of men and women.
No! Whatever the preliminary anxieties might have been this
adventure was not to end in sorrow. Once more Fortune favoured
audacity; and yet I have never forgotten the jocular translation
of Audaces fortuna juvat offered to me by my tutor when I was a
small boy: "The Audacious get bitten." However he took care to
mention that there were various kinds of audacity. Oh, there are,
there are! . . . There is, for instance, the kind of audacity
almost indistinguishable from impudence. . . . I must believe
that in this case I have not been impudent for I am not conscious
of having been bitten.
The truth is that when "The Rescue" was laid aside it was not
laid aside in despair. Several reasons contributed to this
abandonment and, no doubt, the first of them was the growing
sense of general difficulty in the handling of the subject. The
contents and the course of the story I had clearly in my mind.
But as to the way of presenting the facts, and perhaps in a
certain measure as to the nature of the facts themselves, I had
many doubts. I mean the telling, representative facts, helpful to
carry on the idea, and, at the same time, of such a nature as not
to demand an elaborate creation of the atmosphere to the
detriment of the action. I did not see how I could avoid becoming
wearisome in the presentation of detail and in the pursuit of
clearness. I saw the action plainly enough. What I had lost for
the moment was the sense of the proper formula of expression, the
only formula that would suit. This, of course, weakened my
confidence in the intrinsic worth and in the possible interest of
the story--that is in my invention. But I suspect that all the
trouble was, in reality, the doubt of my prose, the doubt of its
adequacy, of its power to master both the colours and the shades.
It is difficult to describe, exactly as I remember it, the
complex state of my feelings; but those of my readers who take an
interest in artistic perplexities will understand me best when I
point out that I dropped "The Rescue" not to give myself up to
idleness, regrets, or dreaming, but to begin "The Nigger of the
'Narcissus'" and to go on with it without hesitation and without
a pause. A comparison of any page of "The Rescue" with any page
of "The Nigger" will furnish an ocular demonstration of the
nature and the inward meaning of this first crisis of my writing
life. For it was a crisis undoubtedly. The laying aside of a work
so far advanced was a very awful decision to take. It was wrung
from me by a sudden conviction that THERE only was the road of
salvation, the clear way out for an uneasy conscience. The
finishing of "The Nigger" brought to my troubled mind the
comforting sense of an accomplished task, and the first
consciousness of a certain sort of mastery which could accomplish
something with the aid of propitious stars. Why I did not return
to "The Rescue" at once then, was not for the reason that I had
grown afraid of it. Being able now to assume a firm attitude I
said to myself deliberately: "That thing can wait." At the same
time I was just as certain in my mind that "Youth," a story which
I had then, so to speak, on the tip of my pen, could NOT wait.
Neither could "Heart of Darkness" be put off; for the practical
reason that Mr. Wm. Blackwood having requested me to write
something for the No. M of his magazine I had to stir up at once
the subject of that tale which had been long lying quiescent in
my mind, because, obviously, the venerable Maga at her
patriarchal age of 1000 numbers could not be kept waiting. Then
"Lord Jim," with about seventeen pages already written at odd
times, put in his claim which was irresistible. Thus every stroke
of the pen was taking me further away from the abandoned
"Rescue," not without some compunction on my part but with a
gradually diminishing resistance; till at last I let myself go as
if recognising a superior influence against which it was useless
The years passed and the pages grew in number, and the long
reveries of which they were the outcome stretched wide between me
and the deserted "Rescue" like the smooth hazy spaces of a dreamy
sea. Yet I never actually lost sight of that dark speck in the
misty distance. It had grown very small but it asserted itself
with the appeal of old associations. It seemed to me that it
would be a base thing for me to slip out of the world leaving it
out there all alone, waiting for its fate--that would never come?
Sentiment, pure sentiment as you see, prompted me in the last
instance to face the pains and hazards of that return. As I moved
slowly towards the abandoned body of the tale it loomed up big
amongst the glittering shallows of the coast, lonely but not
forbidding. There was nothing about it of a grim derelict. It had
an air of expectant life. One after another I made out the
familiar faces watching my approach with faint smiles of amused
recognition. They had known well enough that I was bound to come
back to them. But their eyes met mine seriously as was only to be
expected since I, myself, felt very serious as I stood amongst
them again after years of absence. At once, without wasting
words, we went to work together on our renewed life; and every
moment I felt more strongly that They Who had Waited bore no
grudge to the man who however widely he may have wandered at
times had played truant only once in his life.
1920. J. C.
PART I. THE MAN AND THE BRIG
PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE
PART III. THE CAPTURE
PART IV. THE GIFT OF THE SHALLOWS
PART V. THE POINT OF HONOUR AND THE POINT OF PASSION
PART VI. THE CLAIM OF LIFE AND THE TOLL OF DEATH
PART I. THE MAN AND THE BRIG
The shallow sea that foams and murmurs on the shores of the
thousand islands, big and little, which make up the Malay
Archipelago has been for centuries the scene of adventurous
undertakings. The vices and the virtues of four nations have been
displayed in the conquest of that region that even to this day
has not been robbed of all the mystery and romance of its
past--and the race of men who had fought against the Portuguese,
the Spaniards, the Dutch and the English, has not been changed by
the unavoidable defeat. They have kept to this day their love of
liberty, their fanatical devotion to their chiefs, their blind
fidelity in friendship and hate--all their lawful and unlawful
instincts. Their country of land and water--for the sea was as
much their country as the earth of their islands--has fallen a
prey to the western race--the reward of superior strength if not
of superior virtue. To-morrow the advancing civilization will
obliterate the marks of a long struggle in the accomplishment of
its inevitable victory.
The adventurers who began that struggle have left no descendants.
The ideas of the world changed too quickly for that. But even far
into the present century they have had successors. Almost in our
own day we have seen one of them--a true adventurer in his
devotion to his impulse--a man of high mind and of pure heart,
lay the foundation of a flourishing state on the ideas of pity
and justice. He recognized chivalrously the claims of the
conquered; he was a disinterested adventurer, and the reward of
his noble instincts is in the veneration with which a strange and
faithful race cherish his memory.
Misunderstood and traduced in life, the glory of his achievement
has vindicated the purity of his motives. He belongs to history.
But there were others--obscure adventurers who had not his
advantages of birth, position, and intelligence; who had only his
sympathy with the people of forests and sea he understood and
loved so well. They can not be said to be forgotten since they
have not been known at all. They were lost in the common crowd of
seamen-traders of the Archipelago, and if they emerged from their
obscurity it was only to be condemned as law-breakers. Their
lives were thrown away for a cause that had no right to exist in
the face of an irresistible and orderly progress-- their
thoughtless lives guided by a simple feeling.
But the wasted lives, for the few who know, have tinged with
romance the region of shallow waters and forest-clad islands,
that lies far east, and still mysterious between the deep waters
of two oceans.
Out of the level blue of a shallow sea Carimata raises a lofty
barrenness of grey and yellow tints, the drab eminence of its
arid heights. Separated by a narrow strip of water, Suroeton, to
the west, shows a curved and ridged outline resembling the
backbone of a stooping giant. And to the eastward a troop of
insignificant islets stand effaced, indistinct, with vague
features that seem to melt into the gathering shadows. The night
following from the eastward the retreat of the setting sun
advanced slowly, swallowing the land and the sea; the land
broken, tormented and abrupt; the sea smooth and inviting with
its easy polish of continuous surface to wanderings facile and
There was no wind, and a small brig that had lain all the
afternoon a few miles to the northward and westward of Carimata
had hardly altered its position half a mile during all these
hours. The calm was absolute, a dead, flat calm, the stillness of
a dead sea and of a dead atmosphere. As far as the eye could
reach there was nothing but an impressive immobility. Nothing
moved on earth, on the waters, and above them in the unbroken
lustre of the sky. On the unruffled surface of the straits the
brig floated tranquil and upright as if bolted solidly, keel to
keel, with its own image reflected in the unframed and immense
mirror of the sea. To the south and east the double islands
watched silently the double ship that seemed fixed amongst them
forever, a hopeless captive of the calm, a helpless prisoner of
the shallow sea.
Since midday, when the light and capricious airs of these seas
had abandoned the little brig to its lingering fate, her head had
swung slowly to the westward and the end of her slender and
polished jib-boom, projecting boldly beyond the graceful curve of
the bow, pointed at the setting sun, like a spear poised high in
the hand of an enemy. Right aft by the wheel the Malay
quartermaster stood with his bare, brown feet firmly planted on
the wheel-grating, and holding the spokes at right angles, in a
solid grasp, as though the ship had been running before a gale.
He stood there perfectly motionless, as if petrified but ready to
tend the helm as soon as fate would permit the brig to gather way
through the oily sea.
The only other human being then visible on the brig's deck was
the person in charge: a white man of low stature, thick-set, with
shaven cheeks, a grizzled moustache, and a face tinted a scarlet
hue by the burning suns and by the sharp salt breezes of the
seas. He had thrown off his light jacket, and clad only in white
trousers and a thin cotton singlet, with his stout arms crossed
on his breast--upon which they showed like two thick lumps of raw
flesh--he prowled about from side to side of the half-poop. On
his bare feet he wore a pair of straw sandals, and his head was
protected by an enormous pith hat--once white but now very
dirty--which gave to the whole man the aspect of a phenomenal and
animated mushroom. At times he would interrupt his uneasy
shuffle athwart the break of the poop, and stand motionless with
a vague gaze fixed on the image of the brig in the calm water. He
could also see down there his own head and shoulders leaning out
over the rail and he would stand long, as if interested by his
own features, and mutter vague curses on the calm which lay upon
the ship like an immovable burden, immense and burning.
At last, he sighed profoundly, nerved himself for a great effort,
and making a start away from the rail managed to drag his
slippers as far as the binnacle. There he stopped again,
exhausted and bored. From under the lifted glass panes of the
cabin skylight near by came the feeble chirp of a canary, which
appeared to give him some satisfaction. He listened, smiled
faintly muttered "Dicky, poor Dick--" and fell back into the
immense silence of the world. His eyes closed, his head hung low
over the hot brass of the binnacle top. Suddenly he stood up with
a jerk and said sharply in a hoarse voice:
"You've been sleeping--you. Shift the helm. She has got stern way
The Malay, without the least flinch of feature or pose, as if he
had been an inanimate object called suddenly into life by some
hidden magic of the words, spun the wheel rapidly, letting the
spokes pass through his hands; and when the motion had stopped
with a grinding noise, caught hold again and held on grimly.
After a while, however, he turned his head slowly over his
shoulder, glanced at the sea, and said in an obstinate tone:
"No catch wind--no get way."
"No catch--no catch--that's all you know about it," growled the
red-faced seaman. "By and by catch Ali--" he went on with sudden
condescension. "By and by catch, and then the helm will be the
right way. See?"
The stolid seacannie appeared to see, and for that matter to
hear, nothing. The white man looked at the impassive Malay with
disgust, then glanced around the horizon--then again at the
helmsman and ordered curtly:
"Shift the helm back again. Don't you feel the air from aft? You
are like a dummy standing there."
The Malay revolved the spokes again with disdainful obedience,
and the red-faced man was moving forward grunting to himself,
when through the open skylight the hail "On deck there!" arrested
him short, attentive, and with a sudden change to amiability in
the expression of his face.
"Yes, sir," he said, bending his ear toward the opening. "What's
the matter up there?" asked a deep voice from below.
The red-faced man in a tone of surprise said:
"I hear that rudder grinding hard up and hard down. What are you
up to, Shaw? Any wind?"
"Ye-es," drawled Shaw, putting his head down the skylight and
speaking into the gloom of the cabin. "I thought there was a
light air, and--but it's gone now. Not a breath anywhere under
He withdrew his head and waited a while by the skylight, but
heard only the chirping of the indefatigable canary, a feeble
twittering that seemed to ooze through the drooping red blossoms
of geraniums growing in flower-pots under the glass panes. He
strolled away a step or two before the voice from down below
"Hey, Shaw? Are you there?"
"Yes, Captain Lingard," he answered, stepping back. "Have we
drifted anything this afternoon?"
"Not an inch, sir, not an inch. We might as well have been at
"It's always so," said the invisible Lingard. His voice changed
its tone as he moved in the cabin, and directly afterward burst
out with a clear intonation while his head appeared above the
slide of the cabin entrance:
"Always so! The currents don't begin till it's dark, when a man
can't see against what confounded thing he is being drifted, and
then the breeze will come. Dead on end, too, I don't doubt."
Shaw moved his shoulders slightly. The Malay at the wheel, after
making a dive to see the time by the cabin clock through the
skylight, rang a double stroke on the small bell aft. Directly
forward, on the main deck, a shrill whistle arose long drawn,
modulated, dying away softly. The master of the brig stepped out
of the companion upon the deck of his vessel, glanced aloft at
the yards laid dead square; then, from the door-step, took a
long, lingering look round the horizon.
He was about thirty-five, erect and supple. He moved freely, more
like a man accustomed to stride over plains and hills, than like
one who from his earliest youth had been used to counteract by
sudden swayings of his body the rise and roll of cramped decks of
small craft, tossed by the caprice of angry or playful seas.
He wore a grey flannel shirt, and his white trousers were held by
a blue silk scarf wound tightly round his narrow waist. He had
come up only for a moment, but finding the poop shaded by the
main-topsail he remained on deck bareheaded. The light chestnut
hair curled close about his well-shaped head, and the clipped
beard glinted vividly when he passed across a narrow strip of
sunlight, as if every hair in it had been a wavy and attenuated
gold wire. His mouth was lost in the heavy moustache; his nose
was straight, short, slightly blunted at the end; a broad band of
deeper red stretched under the eyes, clung to the cheek bones.
The eyes gave the face its remarkable expression. The eyebrows,
darker than the hair, pencilled a straight line below the wide
and unwrinkled brow much whiter than the sunburnt face. The eyes,
as if glowing with the light of a hidden fire, had a red glint in
their greyness that gave a scrutinizing ardour to the steadiness
of their gaze.
That man, once so well known, and now so completely forgotten
amongst the charming and heartless shores of the shallow sea, had
amongst his fellows the nickname of "Red-Eyed Tom." He was proud
of his luck but not of his good sense. He was proud of his brig,
of the speed of his craft, which was reckoned the swiftest
country vessel in those seas, and proud of what she represented.
She represented a run of luck on the Victorian goldfields; his
sagacious moderation; long days of planning, of loving care in
building; the great joy of his youth, the incomparable freedom of
the seas; a perfect because a wandering home; his independence,
his love--and his anxiety. He had often heard men say that Tom
Lingard cared for nothing on earth but for his brig--and in his
thoughts he would smilingly correct the statement by adding that
he cared for nothing LIVING but the brig.
To him she was as full of life as the great world. He felt her
live in every motion, in every roll, in every sway of her
tapering masts, of those masts whose painted trucks move forever,
to a seaman's eye, against the clouds or against the stars. To
him she was always precious--like old love; always
desirable--like a strange woman; always tender--like a mother;
always faithful --like the favourite daughter of a man's heart.
For hours he would stand elbow on rail, his head in his hand and
listen--and listen in dreamy stillness to the cajoling and
promising whisper of the sea, that slipped past in vanishing
bubbles along the smooth black-painted sides of his craft. What
passed in such moments of thoughtful solitude through the mind of
that child of generations of fishermen from the coast of Devon,
who like most of his class was dead to the subtle voices, and
blind to the mysterious aspects of the world--the man ready for
the obvious, no matter how startling, how terrible or menacing,
yet defenceless as a child before the shadowy impulses of his own
heart; what could have been the thoughts of such a man, when once
surrendered to a dreamy mood, it is difficult to say.
No doubt he, like most of us, would be uplifted at times by the
awakened lyrism of his heart into regions charming, empty, and
dangerous. But also, like most of us, he was unaware of his
barren journeys above the interesting cares of this earth. Yet
from these, no doubt absurd and wasted moments, there remained on
the man's daily life a tinge as that of a glowing and serene
half-light. It softened the outlines of his rugged nature; and
these moments kept close the bond between him and his brig.
He was aware that his little vessel could give him something not
to be had from anybody or anything in the world; something
specially his own. The dependence of that solid man of bone and
muscle on that obedient thing of wood and iron, acquired from
that feeling the mysterious dignity of love. She--the craft--had
all the qualities of a living thing: speed, obedience,
trustworthiness, endurance, beauty, capacity to do and to
suffer--all but life. He--the man--was the inspirer of that thing
that to him seemed the most perfect of its kind. His will was its
will, his thought was its impulse, his breath was the breath of
its existence. He felt all this confusedly, without ever shaping
this feeling into the soundless formulas of thought. To him she
was unique and dear, this brig of three hundred and fourteen tons
And now, bareheaded and burly, he walked the deck of his kingdom
with a regular stride. He stepped out from the hip, swinging his
arms with the free motion of a man starting out for a
fifteen-mile walk into open country; yet at every twelfth stride
he had to turn about sharply and pace back the distance to the
Shaw, with his hands stuck in his waistband, had hooked himself
with both elbows to the rail, and gazed apparently at the deck
between his feet. In reality he was contemplating a little house
with a tiny front garden, lost in a maze of riverside streets in
the east end of London. The circumstance that he had not, as yet,
been able to make the acquaintance of his son--now aged eighteen
months--worried him slightly, and was the cause of that flight of
his fancy into the murky atmosphere of his home. But it was a
placid flight followed by a quick return. In less than two
minutes he was back in the brig. "All there," as his saying was.
He was proud of being always "all there."
He was abrupt in manner and grumpy in speech with the seamen. To
his successive captains, he was outwardly as deferential as he
knew how, and as a rule inwardly hostile--so very few seemed to
him of the "all there" kind. Of Lingard, with whom he had only
been a short time--having been picked up in Madras Roads out of a
home ship, which he had to leave after a thumping row with the
master--he generally approved, although he recognized with regret
that this man, like most others, had some absurd fads; he defined
them as "bottom-upwards notions."
He was a man--as there were many--of no particular value to
anybody but himself, and of no account but as the chief mate of
the brig, and the only white man on board of her besides the
captain. He felt himself immeasurably superior to the Malay
seamen whom he had to handle, and treated them with lofty
toleration, notwithstanding his opinion that at a pinch those
chaps would be found emphatically "not there."
As soon as his mind came back from his home leave, he detached
himself from the rail and, walking forward, stood by the break of
the poop, looking along the port side of the main deck. Lingard
on his own side stopped in his walk and also gazed absentmindedly
before him. In the waist of the brig, in the narrow spars that
were lashed on each side of the hatchway, he could see a group of
men squatting in a circle around a wooden tray piled up with
rice, which stood on the just swept deck. The dark-faced,
soft-eyed silent men, squatting on their hams, fed decorously
with an earnestness that did not exclude reserve.
Of the lot, only one or two wore sarongs, the others having
submitted--at least at sea--to the indignity of European
trousers. Only two sat on the spars. One, a man with a childlike,
light yellow face, smiling with fatuous imbecility under the
wisps of straight coarse hair dyed a mahogany tint, was the
tindal of the crew--a kind of boatswain's or serang's mate. The
other, sitting beside him on the booms, was a man nearly black,
not much bigger than a large ape, and wearing on his wrinkled
face that look of comical truculence which is often
characteristic of men from the southwestern coast of Sumatra.
This was the kassab or store-keeper, the holder of a position of
dignity and ease. The kassab was the only one of the crew taking
their evening meal who noticed the presence on deck of their
commander. He muttered something to the tindal who directly
cocked his old hat on one side, which senseless action invested
him with an altogether foolish appearance. The others heard, but
went on somnolently feeding with spidery movements of their lean
The sun was no more than a degree or so above the horizon, and
from the heated surface of the waters a slight low mist began to
rise; a mist thin, invisible to the human eye; yet strong enough
to change the sun into a mere glowing red disc, a disc vertical
and hot, rolling down to the edge of the horizontal and
cold-looking disc of the shining sea. Then the edges touched and
the circular expanse of water took on suddenly a tint, sombre,
like a frown; deep, like the brooding meditation of evil.
The falling sun seemed to be arrested for a moment in his descent
by the sleeping waters, while from it, to the motionless brig,
shot out on the polished and dark surface of the sea a track of
light, straight and shining, resplendent and direct; a path of
gold and crimson and purple, a path that seemed to lead dazzling
and terrible from the earth straight into heaven through the
portals of a glorious death. It faded slowly. The sea vanquished
the light. At last only a vestige of the sun remained, far off,
like a red spark floating on the water. It lingered, and all at
once--without warning--went out as if extinguished by a
"Gone," cried Lingard, who had watched intently yet missed the
last moment. "Gone! Look at the cabin clock, Shaw!"
"Nearly right, I think, sir. Three minutes past six."
The helmsman struck four bells sharply. Another barefooted
seacannie glided on the far side of the poop to relieve the
wheel, and the serang of the brig came up the ladder to take
charge of the deck from Shaw. He came up to the compass, and
stood waiting silently.
"The course is south by east when you get the wind, serang," said
"Sou' by eas'," repeated the elderly Malay with grave
"Let me know when she begins to steer," added Lingard.
"Ya, Tuan," answered the man, glancing rapidly at the sky. "Wind
coming," he muttered.
"I think so, too," whispered Lingard as if to himself.
The shadows were gathering rapidly round the brig. A mulatto put
his head out of the companion and called out:
"Let's get a mouthful of something to eat, Shaw," said Lingard.
"I say, just take a look around before coming below. It will be
dark when we come up again."
"Certainly, sir," said Shaw, taking up a long glass and putting
it to his eyes. "Blessed thing," he went on in snatches while he
worked the tubes in and out, "I can't--never somehow--Ah! I've
got it right at last!"
He revolved slowly on his heels, keeping the end of the tube on
the sky-line. Then he shut the instrument with a click, and said
"Nothing in sight, sir."
He followed his captain down below rubbing his hands cheerfully.
For a good while there was no sound on the poop of the brig. Then
the seacannie at the wheel spoke dreamily:
"Did the malim say there was no one on the sea?"
"Yes," grunted the serang without looking at the man behind him.
"Between the islands there was a boat," pronounced the man very
The serang, his hands behind his back, his feet slightly apart,
stood very straight and stiff by the side of the compass stand.
His face, now hardly visible, was as inexpressive as the door of
"Now, listen to me," insisted the helmsman in a gentle tone.
The man in authority did not budge a hair's breadth. The
seacannie bent down a little from the height of the wheel
"I saw a boat," he murmured with something of the tender
obstinacy of a lover begging for a favour. "I saw a boat, O Haji
Wasub! Ya! Haji Wasub!"
The serang had been twice a pilgrim, and was not insensible to
the sound of his rightful title. There was a grim smile on his
"You saw a floating tree, O Sali," he said, ironically.
"I am Sali, and my eyes are better than the bewitched brass thing
that pulls out to a great length," said the pertinacious
helmsman. "There was a boat, just clear of the easternmost
island. There was a boat, and they in her could see the ship on
the light of the west--unless they are blind men lost on the sea.
I have seen her. Have you seen her, too, O Haji Wasub?"
"Am I a fat white man?" snapped the serang. "I was a man of the
sea before you were born, O Sali! The order is to keep silence
and mind the rudder, lest evil befall the ship."
After these words he resumed his rigid aloofness. He stood, his
legs slightly apart, very stiff and straight, a little on one
side of the compass stand. His eyes travelled incessantly from
the illuminated card to the shadowy sails of the brig and back
again, while his body was motionless as if made of wood and built
into the ship's frame. Thus, with a forced and tense
watchfulness, Haji Wasub, serang of the brig Lightning, kept the
captain's watch unwearied and wakeful, a slave to duty.
In half an hour after sunset the darkness had taken complete
possession of earth and heavens. The islands had melted into the
night. And on the smooth water of the Straits, the little brig
lying so still, seemed to sleep profoundly, wrapped up in a
scented mantle of star light and silence.
It was half-past eight o'clock before Lingard came on deck again.
Shaw--now with a coat on--trotted up and down the poop leaving
behind him a smell of tobacco smoke. An irregularly glowing spark
seemed to run by itself in the darkness before the rounded form
of his head. Above the masts of the brig the dome of the clear
heaven was full of lights that flickered, as if some mighty
breathings high up there had been swaying about the flame of the
stars. There was no sound along the brig's decks, and the heavy
shadows that lay on it had the aspect, in that silence, of secret
places concealing crouching forms that waited in perfect
stillness for some decisive event. Lingard struck a match to
light his cheroot, and his powerful face with narrowed eyes stood
out for a moment in the night and vanished suddenly. Then two
shadowy forms and two red sparks moved backward and forward on
the poop. A larger, but a paler and oval patch of light from the
compass lamps lay on the brasses of the wheel and on the breast
of the Malay standing by the helm. Lingard's voice, as if unable
altogether to master the enormous silence of the sea, sounded
muffled, very calm--without the usual deep ring in it.
"Not much change, Shaw," he said.
"No, sir, not much. I can just see the island--the big one--still
in the same place. It strikes me, sir, that, for calms, this here
sea is a devil of loc-ality."
He cut "locality" in two with an emphatic pause. It was a good
word. He was pleased with himself for thinking of it. He went on
"Now--since noon, this big island--"
"Carimata, Shaw," interrupted Lingard.
"Aye, sir; Carimata--I mean. I must say--being a stranger
hereabouts--I haven't got the run of those--"
He was going to say "names" but checked himself and said,
"appellations," instead, sounding every syllable lovingly.
"Having for these last fifteen years," he continued, "sailed
regularly from London in East-Indiamen, I am more at home over
there--in the Bay."
He pointed into the night toward the northwest and stared as if
he could see from where he stood that Bay of Bengal where--as he
affirmed--he would be so much more at home.
"You'll soon get used--" muttered Lingard, swinging in his rapid
walk past his mate. Then he turned round, came back, and asked
"You said there was nothing afloat in sight before dark? Hey?"
"Not that I could see, sir. When I took the deck again at eight,
I asked that serang whether there was anything about; and I
understood him to say there was no more as when I went below at
six. This is a lonely sea at times--ain't it, sir? Now, one would
think at this time of the year the homeward-bounders from China
would be pretty thick here."
"Yes," said Lingard, "we have met very few ships since we left
Pedra Branca over the stern. Yes; it has been a lonely sea. But
for all that, Shaw, this sea, if lonely, is not blind. Every
island in it is an eye. And now, since our squadron has left for
the China waters--"
He did not finish his sentence. Shaw put his hands in his
pockets, and propped his back against the sky-light, comfortably.
"They say there is going to be a war with China," he said in a
gossiping tone, "and the French are going along with us as they
did in the Crimea five years ago. It seems to me we're getting
mighty good friends with the French. I've not much of an opinion
about that. What do you think, Captain Lingard?"
"I have met their men-of-war in the Pacific," said Lingard,
slowly. "The ships were fine and the fellows in them were civil
enough to me--and very curious about my business," he added with
a laugh. "However, I wasn't there to make war on them. I had a
rotten old cutter then, for trade, Shaw," he went on with
"Had you, sir?" said Shaw without any enthusiasm. "Now give me a
big ship--a ship, I say, that one may--"
"And later on, some years ago," interrupted Lingard, "I chummed
with a French skipper in Ampanam--being the only two white men in
the whole place. He was a good fellow, and free with his red
wine. His English was difficult to understand, but he could sing
songs in his own language about ah-moor--Ah-moor means love, in
"So it does, sir--so it does. When I was second mate of a
Sunderland barque, in forty-one, in the Mediterranean, I could
pay out their lingo as easy as you would a five-inch warp over a
"Yes, he was a proper man," pursued Lingard, meditatively, as if
for himself only. "You could not find a better fellow for company
ashore. He had an affair with a Bali girl, who one evening threw
a red blossom at him from within a doorway, as we were going
together to pay our respects to the Rajah's nephew. He was a
good-looking Frenchman, he was--but the girl belonged to the
Rajah's nephew, and it was a serious matter. The old Rajah got
angry and said the girl must die. I don't think the nephew cared
particularly to have her krissed; but the old fellow made a great
fuss and sent one of his own chief men to see the thing done
--and the girl had enemies--her own relations approved! We could
do nothing. Mind, Shaw, there was absolutely nothing else between
them but that unlucky flower which the Frenchman pinned to his
coat--and afterward, when the girl was dead, wore under his
shirt, hung round his neck in a small box. I suppose he had
nothing else to put it into."
"Would those savages kill a woman for that?" asked Shaw,
"Aye! They are pretty moral there. That was the first time in my
life I nearly went to war on my own account, Shaw. We couldn't
talk those fellows over. We couldn't bribe them, though the
Frenchman offered the best he had, and I was ready to back him to
the last dollar, to the last rag of cotton, Shaw! No use--they
were that blamed respectable. So, says the Frenchman to me: 'My
friend, if they won't take our gunpowder for a gift let us burn
it to give them lead.' I was armed as you see now; six
eight-pounders on the main deck and a long eighteen on the
forecastle--and I wanted to try 'em. You may believe me! However,
the Frenchman had nothing but a few old muskets; and the beggars
got to windward of us by fair words, till one morning a boat's
crew from the Frenchman's ship found the girl lying dead on the
beach. That put an end to our plans. She was out of her trouble
anyhow, and no reasonable man will fight for a dead woman. I was
never vengeful, Shaw, and--after all--she didn't throw that
flower at me. But it broke the Frenchman up altogether. He began
to mope, did no business, and shortly afterward sailed away. I
cleared a good many pence out of that trip, I remember."
With these words he seemed to come to the end of his memories of
that trip. Shaw stifled a yawn.
"Women are the cause of a lot of trouble," he said,
dispassionately. "In the Morayshire, I remember, we had once a
passenger--an old gentleman--who was telling us a yarn about them
old-time Greeks fighting for ten years about some woman. The
Turks kidnapped her, or something. Anyway, they fought in Turkey;
which I may well believe. Them Greeks and Turks were always
fighting. My father was master's mate on board one of the
three-deckers at the battle of Navarino--and that was when we
went to help those Greeks. But this affair about a woman was long
before that time."
"I should think so," muttered Lingard, hanging over the rail, and
watching the fleeting gleams that passed deep down in the water,
along the ship's bottom.
"Yes. Times are changed. They were unenlightened in those old
days. My grandfather was a preacher and, though my father served
in the navy, I don't hold with war. Sinful the old gentleman
called it--and I think so, too. Unless with Chinamen, or niggers,
or such people as must be kept in order and won't listen to
reason; having not sense enough to know what's good for them,
when it's explained to them by their betters--missionaries, and
such like au-tho-ri-ties. But to fight ten years. And for a
"I have read the tale in a book," said Lingard, speaking down
over the side as if setting his words gently afloat upon the sea.
"I have read the tale. She was very beautiful."
"That only makes it worse, sir--if anything. You may depend on it
she was no good. Those pagan times will never come back, thank
God. Ten years of murder and unrighteousness! And for a woman!
Would anybody do it now? Would you do it, sir? Would you--"
The sound of a bell struck sharply interrupted Shaw's discourse.
High aloft, some dry block sent out a screech, short and
lamentable, like a cry of pain. It pierced the quietness of the
night to the very core, and seemed to destroy the reserve which
it had imposed upon the tones of the two men, who spoke now
"Throw the cover over the binnacle," said Lingard in his duty
voice. "The thing shines like a full moon. We mustn't show more
lights than we can help, when becalmed at night so near the land.
No use in being seen if you can't see yourself--is there? Bear
that in mind, Mr. Shaw. There may be some vagabonds prying
"I thought all this was over and done for," said Shaw, busying
himself with the cover, "since Sir Thomas Cochrane swept along
the Borneo coast with his squadron some years ago. He did a rare
lot of fighting--didn't he? We heard about it from the chaps of
the sloop Diana that was refitting in Calcutta when I was there
in the Warwick Castle. They took some king's town up a river
hereabouts. The chaps were full of it."
"Sir Thomas did good work," answered Lingard, "but it will be a
long time before these seas are as safe as the English Channel is
in peace time. I spoke about that light more to get you in the
way of things to be attended to in these seas than for anything
else. Did you notice how few native craft we've sighted for all
these days we have been drifting about--one may say--in this
"I can't say I have attached any significance to the fact, sir."
"It's a sign that something is up. Once set a rumour afloat in
these waters, and it will make its way from island to island,
without any breeze to drive it along."
"Being myself a deep-water man sailing steadily out of home ports
nearly all my life," said Shaw with great deliberation, "I cannot
pretend to see through the peculiarities of them out-of-the-way
parts. But I can keep a lookout in an ordinary way, and I have
noticed that craft of any kind seemed scarce, for the last few
days: considering that we had land aboard of us--one side or
another--nearly every day."
"You will get to know the peculiarities, as you call them, if you
remain any time with me," remarked Lingard, negligently.
"I hope I shall give satisfaction, whether the time be long or
short!" said Shaw, accentuating the meaning of his words by the
distinctness of his utterance. "A man who has spent thirty-two
years of his life on saltwater can say no more. If being an
officer of home ships for the last fifteen years I don't
understand the heathen ways of them there savages, in matters of
seamanship and duty, you will find me all there, Captain
"Except, judging from what you said a little while ago--except in
the matter of fighting," said Lingard, with a short laugh.
"Fighting! I am not aware that anybody wants to fight me. I am a
peaceable man, Captain Lingard, but when put to it, I could fight
as well as any of them flat-nosed chaps we have to make shift
with, instead of a proper crew of decent Christians. Fighting!"
he went on with unexpected pugnacity of tone, "Fighting! If
anybody comes to fight me, he will find me all there, I swear!"
"That's all right. That's all right," said Lingard, stretching
his arms above his head and wriggling his shoulders. "My word! I
do wish a breeze would come to let us get away from here. I am
rather in a hurry, Shaw."
"Indeed, sir! Well, I never yet met a thorough seafaring man who
was not in a hurry when a con-demned spell of calm had him by the
heels. When a breeze comes . . . just listen to this, sir!"
"I hear it," said Lingard. "Tide-rip, Shaw."
"So I presume, sir. But what a fuss it makes. Seldom heard such
On the sea, upon the furthest limits of vision, appeared an
advancing streak of seething foam, resembling a narrow white
ribbon, drawn rapidly along the level surface of the water by its
two ends, which were lost in the darkness. It reached the brig,
passed under, stretching out on each side; and on each side the
water became noisy, breaking into numerous and tiny wavelets, a
mimicry of an immense agitation. Yet the vessel in the midst of
this sudden and loud disturbance remained as motionless and
steady as if she had been securely moored between the stone walls
of a safe dock. In a few moments the line of foam and ripple
running swiftly north passed at once beyond sight and earshot,
leaving no trace on the unconquerable calm.
"Now this is very curious--" began Shaw.
Lingard made a gesture to command silence. He seemed to listen
yet, as if the wash of the ripple could have had an echo which he
expected to hear. And a man's voice that was heard forward had
something of the impersonal ring of voices thrown back from hard
and lofty cliffs upon the empty distances of the sea. It spoke in
"What?" hailed Shaw. "What is it?"
Lingard put a restraining hand for a moment on his chief
officer's shoulder, and moved forward smartly. Shaw followed,
puzzled. The rapid exchange of incomprehensible words thrown
backward and forward through the shadows of the brig's main deck
from his captain to the lookout man and back again, made him feel
sadly out of it, somehow.
Lingard had called out sharply--"What do you see?" The answer
direct and quick was--"I hear, Tuan. I hear oars."
"The night is all around us. I hear them near."
"Port or starboard?"
There was a short delay in answer this time. On the quarter-deck,
under the poop, bare feet shuffled. Somebody coughed. At last the
voice forward said doubtfully:
"Call the serang, Mr. Shaw," said Lingard, calmly, "and have the
hands turned up. They are all lying about the decks. Look sharp
now. There's something near us. It's annoying to be caught like
this," he added in a vexed tone.
He crossed over to the starboard side, and stood listening, one
hand grasping the royal back-stay, his ear turned to the sea, but
he could hear nothing from there. The quarter-deck was filled
with subdued sounds. Suddenly, a long, shrill whistle soared,
reverberated loudly amongst the flat surfaces of motionless
sails, and gradually grew faint as if the sound had escaped and
gone away, running upon the water. Haji Wasub was on deck and
ready to carry out the white man's commands. Then silence fell
again on the brig, until Shaw spoke quietly.
"I am going forward now, sir, with the tindal. We're all at
"Aye, Mr. Shaw. Very good. Mind they don't board you--but I can
hear nothing. Not a sound. It can't be much."
"The fellow has been dreaming, no doubt. I have good ears, too,
He went forward and the end of his sentence was lost in an
indistinct growl. Lingard stood attentive. One by one the three
seacannies off duty appeared on the poop and busied themselves
around a big chest that stood by the side of the cabin companion.
A rattle and clink of steel weapons turned out on the deck was
heard, but the men did not even whisper. Lingard peered steadily
into the night, then shook his head.
"Serang!" he called, half aloud.
The spare old man ran up the ladder so smartly that his bony feet
did not seem to touch the steps. He stood by his commander, his
hands behind his back; a figure indistinct but straight as an
"Who was looking out?" asked Lingard.
"Badroon, the Bugis," said Wasub, in his crisp, jerky manner.
"I can hear nothing. Badroon heard the noise in his mind."
"The night hides the boat."
"Have you seen it?"
"Yes, Tuan. Small boat. Before sunset. By the land. Now coming
here--near. Badroon heard him."
"Why didn't you report it, then?" asked Lingard, sharply.
"Malim spoke. He said: 'Nothing there,' while I could see. How
could I know what was in his mind or yours, Tuan?"
"Do you hear anything now?"
"No. They stopped now. Perhaps lost the ship--who knows? Perhaps
"Well!" muttered Lingard, moving his feet uneasily. "I believe
you lie. What kind of boat?"
"White men's boat. A four-men boat, I think. Small. Tuan, I hear
him now! There!"
He stretched his arm straight out, pointing abeam for a time,
then his arm fell slowly.
"Coming this way," he added with decision.
From forward Shaw called out in a startled tone:
"Something on the water, sir! Broad on this bow!"
"All right!" called back Lingard.
A lump of blacker darkness floated into his view. From it came
over the water English words--deliberate, reaching him one by
one; as if each had made its own difficult way through the
profound stillness of the night.
"English brig," answered Lingard, after a short moment of
"A brig! I thought you were something bigger," went on the voice
from the sea with a tinge of disappointment in its deliberate
tone. "I am coming alongside--if--you--please."
"No! you don't!" called Lingard back, sharply. The leisurely
drawl of the invisible speaker seemed to him offensive, and woke
up a hostile feeling. "No! you don't if you care for your boat.
Where do you spring from? Who are you--anyhow? How many of you
are there in that boat?"
After these emphatic questions there was an interval of silence.
During that time the shape of the boat became a little more
distinct. She must have carried some way on her yet, for she
loomed up bigger and nearly abreast of where Lingard stood,
before the self-possessed voice was heard again:
"I will show you."
Then, after another short pause, the voice said, less loud but
"Strike on the gunwale. Strike hard, John!" and suddenly a blue
light blazed out, illuminating with a livid flame a round patch
in the night. In the smoke and splutter of that ghastly halo
appeared a white, four-oared gig with five men sitting in her in
a row. Their heads were turned toward the brig with a strong
expression of curiosity on their faces, which, in this glare,
brilliant and sinister, took on a deathlike aspect and resembled
the faces of interested corpses. Then the bowman dropped into the
water the light he held above his head and the darkness, rushing
back at the boat, swallowed it with a loud and angry hiss.
"Five of us," said the composed voice out of the night that
seemed now darker than before. "Four hands and myself. We belong
to a yacht--a British yacht--"
"Come on board!" shouted Lingard. "Why didn't you speak at once?
I thought you might have been some masquerading Dutchmen from a
"Do I speak like a blamed Dutchman? Pull a stroke, boys--oars!
Tend bow, John."
The boat came alongside with a gentle knock, and a man's shape
began to climb at once up the brig's side with a kind of
ponderous agility. It poised itself for a moment on the rail to
say down into the boat--"Sheer off a little, boys," then jumped
on deck with a thud, and said to Shaw who was coming aft: "Good
evening . . . Captain, sir?"
"No. On the poop!" growled Shaw.
"Come up here. Come up," called Lingard, impatiently.
The Malays had left their stations and stood clustered by the
mainmast in a silent group. Not a word was spoken on the brig's
decks, while the stranger made his way to the waiting captain.
Lingard saw approaching him a short, dapper man, who touched his
cap and repeated his greeting in a cool drawl:
"Good evening. . . Captain, sir?"
"Yes, I am the master--what's the matter? Adrift from your ship?
"Adrift? No! We left her four days ago, and have been pulling
that gig in a calm, nearly ever since. My men are done. So is the
water. Lucky thing I sighted you."
"You sighted me!" exclaimed Lingard. "When? What time?"
"Not in the dark, you may be sure. We've been knocking about
amongst some islands to the southward, breaking our hearts
tugging at the oars in one channel, then in another--trying to
get clear. We got round an islet--a barren thing, in shape like a
loaf of sugar--and I caught sight of a vessel a long way off. I
took her bearing in a hurry and we buckled to; but another of
them currents must have had hold of us, for it was a long time
before we managed to clear that islet. I steered by the stars,
and, by the Lord Harry, I began to think I had missed you
somehow--because it must have been you I saw."
"Yes, it must have been. We had nothing in sight all day,"
assented Lingard. "Where's your vessel?" he asked, eagerly.
"Hard and fast on middling soft mud--I should think about sixty
miles from here. We are the second boat sent off for assistance.
We parted company with the other on Tuesday. She must have passed
to the northward of you to-day. The chief officer is in her with
orders to make for Singapore. I am second, and was sent off
toward the Straits here on the chance of falling in with some
ship. I have a letter from the owner. Our gentry are tired of
being stuck in the mud and wish for assistance."
"What assistance did you expect to find down here?"
"The letter will tell you that. May I ask, Captain, for a little
water for the chaps in my boat? And I myself would thank you for
a drink. We haven't had a mouthful since this afternoon. Our
breaker leaked out somehow."
"See to it, Mr. Shaw," said Lingard. "Come down the cabin, Mr.--"
"Carter is my name."
"Ah! Mr. Carter. Come down, come down," went on Lingard, leading
the way down the cabin stairs.
The steward had lighted the swinging lamp, and had put a decanter
and bottles on the table. The cuddy looked cheerful, painted
white, with gold mouldings round the panels. Opposite the
curtained recess of the stern windows there was a sideboard with
a marble top, and, above it, a looking-glass in a gilt frame. The
semicircular couch round the stern had cushions of crimson plush.
The table was covered with a black Indian tablecloth embroidered
in vivid colours. Between the beams of the poop-deck were fitted
racks for muskets, the barrels of which glinted in the light.
There were twenty-four of them between the four beams. As many
sword-bayonets of an old pattern encircled the polished teakwood
of the rudder-casing with a double belt of brass and steel. All
the doors of the state-rooms had been taken off the hinges and
only curtains closed the doorways. They seemed to be made of
yellow Chinese silk, and fluttered all together, the four of
them, as the two men entered the cuddy.
Carter took in all at a glance, but his eyes were arrested by a
circular shield hung slanting above the brass hilts of the
bayonets. On its red field, in relief and brightly gilt, was
represented a sheaf of conventional thunderbolts darting down the
middle between the two capitals T. L. Lingard examined his guest
curiously. He saw a young man, but looking still more youthful,
with a boyish smooth face much sunburnt, twinkling blue eyes,
fair hair and a slight moustache. He noticed his arrested gaze.
"Ah, you're looking at that thing. It's a present from the
builder of this brig. The best man that ever launched a craft.
It's supposed to be the ship's name between my initials--flash of
lightning--d'you see? The brig's name is Lightning and mine is
"Very pretty thing that: shows the cabin off well," murmured
They drank, nodding at each other, and sat down.
"Now for the letter," said Lingard.
Carter passed it over the table and looked about, while Lingard
took the letter out of an open envelope, addressed to the
commander of any British ship in the Java Sea. The paper was
thick, had an embossed heading: "Schooner-yacht Hermit" and was
dated four days before. The message said that on a hazy night the
yacht had gone ashore upon some outlying shoals off the coast of
Borneo. The land was low. The opinion of the sailing-master was
that the vessel had gone ashore at the top of high water, spring
tides. The coast was completely deserted to all appearance.
During the four days they had been stranded there they had
sighted in the distance two small native vessels, which did not
approach. The owner concluded by asking any commander of a
homeward-bound ship to report the yacht's position in Anjer on
his way through Sunda Straits--or to any British or Dutch man-of-
war he might meet. The letter ended by anticipatory thanks, the
offer to pay any expenses in connection with the sending of
messages from Anjer, and the usual polite expressions.
Folding the paper slowly in the old creases, Lingard said--"I am
not going to Anjer--nor anywhere near."
"Any place will do, I fancy," said Carter.
"Not the place where I am bound to," answered Lingard, opening
the letter again and glancing at it uneasily. "He does not
describe very well the coast, and his latitude is very
uncertain," he went on. "I am not clear in my mind where exactly
you are stranded. And yet I know every inch of that land--over
Carter cleared his throat and began to talk in his slow drawl. He
seemed to dole out facts, to disclose with sparing words the
features of the coast, but every word showed the minuteness of
his observation, the clear vision of a seaman able to master
quickly the aspect of a strange land and of a strange sea. He
presented, with concise lucidity, the picture of the tangle of
reefs and sandbanks, through which the yacht had miraculously
blundered in the dark before she took the ground.
"The weather seems clear enough at sea," he observed, finally,
and stopped to drink a long draught. Lingard, bending over the
table, had been listening with eager attention. Carter went on in
his curt and deliberate manner:
"I noticed some high trees on what I take to be the mainland to
the south--and whoever has business in that bight was smart
enough to whitewash two of them: one on the point, and another
farther in. Landmarks, I guess. . . . What's the matter,
Lingard had jumped to his feet, but Carter's exclamation caused
him to sit down again.
"Nothing, nothing . . . Tell me, how many men have you in that
"Twenty-three, besides the gentry, the owner, his wife and a
Spanish gentleman--a friend they picked up in Manila."
"So you were coming from Manila?"
"Aye. Bound for Batavia. The owner wishes to study the Dutch
colonial system. Wants to expose it, he says. One can't help
hearing a lot when keeping watch aft--you know how it is. Then we
are going to Ceylon to meet the mail-boat there. The owner is
going home as he came out, overland through Egypt. The yacht
would return round the Cape, of course."
"A lady?" said Lingard. "You say there is a lady on board. Are
"Not much," replied Carter, negligently. "There are a few muskets
and two sporting guns aft; that's about all--I fancy it's too
much, or not enough," he added with a faint smile.
Lingard looked at him narrowly.
"Did you come out from home in that craft?" he asked.
"Not I! I am not one of them regular yacht hands. I came out of
the hospital in Hongkong. I've been two years on the China
He stopped, then added in an explanatory murmur:
"Opium clippers--you know. Nothing of brass buttons about me. My
ship left me behind, and I was in want of work. I took this job
but I didn't want to go home particularly. It's slow work after
sailing with old Robinson in the Ly-e-moon. That was my ship.
Heard of her, Captain?"
"Yes, yes," said Lingard, hastily. "Look here, Mr. Carter, which
way was your chief officer trying for Singapore? Through the
Straits of Rhio?"
"I suppose so," answered Carter in a slightly surprised tone;
"why do you ask?"
"Just to know . . . What is it, Mr. Shaw?"
"There's a black cloud rising to the northward, sir, and we shall
get a breeze directly," said Shaw from the doorway.
He lingered there with his eyes fixed on the decanters.
"Will you have a glass?" said Lingard, leaving his seat. "I will
go up and have a look."
He went on deck. Shaw approached the table and began to help
himself, handling the bottles in profound silence and with
exaggerated caution, as if he had been measuring out of fragile
vessels a dose of some deadly poison. Carter, his hands in his
pockets, and leaning back, examined him from head to foot with a
cool stare. The mate of the brig raised the glass to his lips,
and glaring above the rim at the stranger, drained the contents
"You have a fine nose for finding ships in the dark, Mister," he
said, distinctly, putting the glass on the table with extreme
"Eh? What's that? I sighted you just after sunset."
"And you knew where to look, too," said Shaw, staring hard.
"I looked to the westward where there was still some light, as
any sensible man would do," retorted the other a little
impatiently. "What are you trying to get at?"
"And you have a ready tongue to blow about yourself--haven't
"Never saw such a man in my life," declared Carter, with a return
of his nonchalant manner. "You seem to be troubled about
"I don't like boats to come sneaking up from nowhere in
particular, alongside a ship when I am in charge of the deck. I
can keep a lookout as well as any man out of home ports, but I
hate to be circumvented by muffled oars and such ungentlemanlike
tricks. Yacht officer--indeed. These seas must be full of such
yachtsmen. I consider you played a mean trick on me. I told my
old man there was nothing in sight at sunset--and no more there
was. I believe you blundered upon us by chance--for all your
boasting about sunsets and bearings. Gammon! I know you came on
blindly on top of us, and with muffled oars, too. D'ye call that
"If I did muffle the oars it was for a good reason. I wanted to
slip past a cove where some native craft were moored. That was
common prudence in such a small boat, and not armed--as I am. I
saw you right enough, but I had no intention to startle anybody.
Take my word for it."
"I wish you had gone somewhere else," growled Shaw. "I hate to be
put in the wrong through accident and untruthfulness--there!
Here's my old man calling me--"
He left the cabin hurriedly and soon afterward Lingard came down,
and sat again facing Carter across the table. His face was grave
"We shall get the breeze directly," he said.
"Then, sir," said Carter, getting up, "if you will give me back
that letter I shall go on cruising about here to speak some other
ship. I trust you will report us wherever you are going."
"I am going to the yacht and I shall keep the letter," answered
Lingard with decision. "I know exactly where she is, and I must
go to the rescue of those people. It's most fortunate you've
fallen in with me, Mr. Carter. Fortunate for them and fortunate
for me," he added in a lower tone.
"Yes," drawled Carter, reflectively. "There may be a tidy bit of
salvage money if you should get the vessel off, but I don't think
you can do much. I had better stay out here and try to speak some
"You must come back to your ship with me," said Lingard,
authoritatively. "Never mind the gunboats."
"That wouldn't be carrying out my orders," argued Carter. "I've
got to speak a homeward-bound ship or a man-of-war--that's plain
enough. I am not anxious to knock about for days in an open boat,
but--let me fill my fresh-water breaker, Captain, and I will be
"Nonsense," said Lingard, sharply. "You've got to come with me to
show the place and--and help. I'll take your boat in tow."
Carter did not seem convinced. Lingard laid a heavy hand on his
"Look here, young fellow. I am Tom Lingard and there's not a
white man among these islands, and very few natives, that have
not heard of me. My luck brought you into my ship--and now I've
got you, you must stay. You must!"
The last "must" burst out loud and sharp like a pistol-shot.
Carter stepped back.
"Do you mean you would keep me by force?" he asked, startled.
"Force," repeated Lingard. "It rests with you. I cannot let you
speak any vessel. Your yacht has gone ashore in a most
inconvenient place--for me; and with your boats sent off here and
there, you would bring every infernal gunboat buzzing to a spot
that was as quiet and retired as the heart of man could wish. You
stranding just on that spot of the whole coast was my bad luck.
And that I could not help. You coming upon me like this is my
good luck. And that I hold!"
He dropped his clenched fist, big and muscular, in the light of
the lamp on the black cloth, amongst the glitter of glasses, with
the strong fingers closed tight upon the firm flesh of the palm.
He left it there for a moment as if showing Carter that luck he
was going to hold. And he went on:
"Do you know into what hornet's nest your stupid people have
blundered? How much d'ye think their lives are worth, just now?
Not a brass farthing if the breeze fails me for another
twenty-four hours. You may well open your eyes. It is so! And it
may be too late now, while I am arguing with you here."
He tapped the table with his knuckles, and the glasses, waking
up, jingled a thin, plaintive finale to his speech. Carter stood
leaning against the sideboard. He was amazed by the unexpected
turn of the conversation; his jaw dropped slightly and his eyes
never swerved for a moment from Lingard's face. The silence in
the cabin lasted only a few seconds, but to Carter, who waited
breathlessly, it seemed very long. And all at once he heard in
it, for the first time, the cabin clock tick distinctly, in
pulsating beats, as though a little heart of metal behind the
dial had been started into sudden palpitation.
"A gunboat!" shouted Lingard, suddenly, as if he had seen only in
that moment, by the light of some vivid flash of thought, all the
difficulties of the situation. "If you don't go back with me
there will be nothing left for you to go back to--very soon. Your
gunboat won't find a single ship's rib or a single corpse left
for a landmark. That she won't. It isn't a gunboat skipper you
want. I am the man you want. You don't know your luck when you
see it, but I know mine, I do--and--look here- -"
He touched Carter's chest with his forefinger, and said with a
sudden gentleness of tone:
"I am a white man inside and out; I won't let inoffensive people-
-and a woman, too--come to harm if I can help it. And if I can't
help, nobody can. You understand--nobody! There's no time for it.
But I am like any other man that is worth his salt: I won't let
the end of an undertaking go by the board while there is a chance
to hold on--and it's like this--"
His voice was persuasive--almost caressing; he had hold now of a
coat button and tugged at it slightly as he went on in a
"As it turns out, Mr. Carter, I would--in a manner of speaking--I
would as soon shoot you where you stand as let you go to raise an
alarm all over this sea about your confounded yacht. I have other
lives to consider--and friends-- and promises--and--and myself,
too. I shall keep you," he concluded, sharply.
Carter drew a long breath. On the deck above, the two men could
hear soft footfalls, short murmurs, indistinct words spoken near
the skylight. Shaw's voice rang out loudly in growling tones:
"Furl the royals, you tindal!"
"It's the queerest old go," muttered Carter, looking down on to
the floor. "You are a strange man. I suppose I must believe what
you say--unless you and that fat mate of yours are a couple of
escaped lunatics that got hold of a brig by some means. Why, that
chap up there wanted to pick a quarrel with me for coming aboard,
and now you threaten to shoot me rather than let me go. Not that
I care much about that; for some time or other you would get
hanged for it; and you don't look like a man that will end that
way. If what you say is only half true, I ought to get back to
the yacht as quick as ever I can. It strikes me that your coming
to them will be only a small mercy, anyhow--and I may be of some
use--But this is the queerest. . . . May I go in my boat?"
"As you like," said Lingard. "There's a rain squall coming."
"I am in charge and will get wet along of my chaps. Give us a
good long line, Captain."
"It's done already," said Lingard. "You seem a sensible sailorman
and can see that it would be useless to try and give me the
"For a man so ready to shoot, you seem very trustful," drawled
Carter. "If I cut adrift in a squall, I stand a pretty fair
chance not to see you again."
"You just try," said Lingard, drily. "I have eyes in this brig,
young man, that will see your boat when you couldn't see the
ship. You are of the kind I like, but if you monkey with me I
will find you--and when I find you I will run you down as surely
as I stand here."
Carter slapped his thigh and his eyes twinkled.
"By the Lord Harry!" he cried. "If it wasn't for the men with me,
I would try for sport. You are so cocksure about the lot you can
do, Captain. You would aggravate a saint into open mutiny."
His easy good humour had returned; but after a short burst of
laughter, he became serious.
"Never fear," he said, "I won't slip away. If there is to be any
throat-cutting--as you seem to hint--mine will be there, too, I
promise you, and. . . ."
He stretched his arms out, glanced at them, shook them a little.
"And this pair of arms to take care of it," he added, in his old,
ut the master of the brig sitting with both his elbows on the
table, his face in his hands, had fallen unexpectedly into a
meditation so concentrated and so profound that he seemed neither
to hear, see, nor breathe. The sight of that man's complete
absorption in thought was to Carter almost more surprising than
any other occurrence of that night. Had his strange host vanished
suddenly from before his eyes, it could not have made him feel
more uncomfortably alone in that cabin where the pertinacious
clock kept ticking off the useless minutes of the calm before it
would, with the same steady beat, begin to measure the aimless
disturbance of the storm.
After waiting a moment, Carter went on deck. The sky, the sea,
the brig itself had disappeared in a darkness that had become
impenetrable, palpable, and stifling. An immense cloud had come
up running over the heavens, as if looking for the little craft,
and now hung over it, arrested. To the south there was a livid
trembling gleam, faint and sad, like a vanishing memory of
destroyed starlight. To the north, as if to prove the impossible,
an incredibly blacker patch outlined on the tremendous blackness
of the sky the heart of the coming squall. The glimmers in the
water had gone out and the invisible sea all around lay mute and
still as if it had died suddenly of fright.
Carter could see nothing. He felt about him people moving; he
heard them in the darkness whispering faintly as if they had been
exchanging secrets important or infamous. The night effaced even
words, and its mystery had captured everything and every sound--
had left nothing free but the unexpected that seemed to hover
about one, ready to stretch out its stealthy hand in a touch
sudden, familiar, and appalling. Even the careless disposition of
the young ex-officer of an opium-clipper was affected by the
ominous aspect of the hour. What was this vessel? What were those
people? What would happen to-morrow? To the yacht? To himself? He
felt suddenly without any additional reason but the darkness that
it was a poor show, anyhow, a dashed poor show for all hands. The
irrational conviction made him falter for a second where he stood
and he gripped the slide of the companionway hard.
Shaw's voice right close to his ear relieved and cleared his
"Oh! it's you, Mister. Come up at last," said the mate of the
brig slowly. "It appears we've got to give you a tow now. Of all
the rum in-cidents, this beats all. A boat sneaks up from nowhere
and turns out to be a long-expected friend! For you are one of
them friends the skipper was going to meet somewhere here. Ain't
you now? Come! I know more than you may think. Are we off to--you
may just as well tell--off to--h'm ha . . . you know?"
"Yes. I know. Don't you?" articulated Carter, innocently.
Shaw remained very quiet for a minute.
"Where's my skipper?" he asked at last.
"I left him down below in a kind of trance. Where's my boat?"
"Your boat is hanging astern. And my opinion is that you are as
uncivil as I've proved you to be untruthful. Egzz-actly."
Carter stumbled toward the taffrail and in the first step he made
came full against somebody who glided away. It seemed to him that
such a night brings men to a lower level. He thought that he
might have been knocked on the head by anybody strong enough to
lift a crow-bar. He felt strangely irritated. He said loudly,
aiming his words at Shaw whom he supposed somewhere near:
"And my opinion is that you and your skipper will come to a
sudden bad end before--"
"I thought you were in your boat. Have you changed your mind?"
asked Lingard in his deep voice close to Carter's elbow.
Carter felt his way along the rail, till his hand found a line
that seemed, in the calm, to stream out of its own accord into
the darkness. He hailed his boat, and directly heard the wash of
water against her bows as she was hauled quickly under the
counter. Then he loomed up shapeless on the rail, and the next
moment disappeared as if he had fallen out of the universe.
Lingard heard him say:
"Catch hold of my leg, John." There were hollow sounds in the
boat; a voice growled, "All right."
"Keep clear of the counter," said Lingard, speaking in quiet
warning tones into the night. "The brig may get a lot of sternway
on her should this squall not strike her fairly."
"Aye, aye. I will mind," was the muttered answer from the water.
Lingard crossed over to the port side, and looked steadily at the
sooty mass of approaching vapours. After a moment he said curtly,
"Brace up for the port tack, Mr. Shaw," and remained silent, with
his face to the sea. A sound, sorrowful and startling like the
sigh of some immense creature, travelling across the starless
space, passed above the vertical and lofty spars of the
It grew louder, then suddenly ceased for a moment, and the taut
rigging of the brig was heard vibrating its answer in a singing
note to this threatening murmur of the winds. A long and slow
undulation lifted the level of the waters, as if the sea had
drawn a deep breath of anxious suspense. The next minute an
immense disturbance leaped out of the darkness upon the sea,
kindling upon it a livid clearness of foam, and the first gust of
the squall boarded the brig in a stinging flick of rain and
spray. As if overwhelmed by the suddenness of the fierce onset,
the vessel remained for a second upright where she floated,
shaking with tremendous jerks from trucks to keel; while high up
in the night the invisible canvas was heard rattling and beating
Then, with a quick double report, as of heavy guns, both topsails
filled at once and the brig fell over swiftly on her side. Shaw
was thrown headlong against the skylight, and Lingard, who had
encircled the weather rail with his arm, felt the vessel under
his feet dart forward smoothly, and the deck become less
slanting--the speed of the brig running off a little now, easing
the overturning strain of the wind upon the distended surfaces of
the sails. It was only the fineness of the little vessel's lines
and the perfect shape of her hull that saved the canvas, and
perhaps the spars, by enabling the ready craft to get way upon
herself with such lightning-like rapidity. Lingard drew a long
breath and yelled jubilantly at Shaw who was struggling up
against wind and rain to his commander's side.
"She'll do. Hold on everything."
Shaw tried to speak. He swallowed great mouthfuls of tepid water
which the wind drove down his throat. The brig seemed to sail
through undulating waves that passed swishing between the masts
and swept over the decks with the fierce rush and noise of a
cataract. From every spar and every rope a ragged sheet of water
streamed flicking to leeward. The overpowering deluge seemed to
last for an age; became unbearable--and, all at once, stopped. In
a couple of minutes the shower had run its length over the brig
and now could be seen like a straight grey wall, going away into
the night under the fierce whispering of dissolving clouds. The
wind eased. To the northward, low down in the darkness, three
stars appeared in a row, leaping in and out between the crests of
waves like the distant heads of swimmers in a running surf; and
the retreating edge of the cloud, perfectly straight from east to
west, slipped along the dome of the sky like an immense
hemispheric, iron shutter pivoting down smoothly as if operated
by some mighty engine. An inspiring and penetrating freshness
flowed together with the shimmer of light, through the augmented
glory of the heaven, a glory exalted, undimmed, and strangely
startling as if a new world had been created during the short
flight of the stormy cloud. It was a return to life, a return to
space; the earth coming out from under a pall to take its place
in the renewed and immense scintillation of the universe.
The brig, her yards slightly checked in, ran with an easy motion
under the topsails, jib and driver, pushing contemptuously aside
the turbulent crowd of noisy and agitated waves. As the craft
went swiftly ahead she unrolled behind her over the uneasy
darkness of the sea a broad ribbon of seething foam shot with
wispy gleams of dark discs escaping from under the rudder. Far
away astern, at the end of a line no thicker than a black thread,
which dipped now and then its long curve in the bursting froth, a
toy-like object could be made out, elongated and dark, racing
after the brig over the snowy whiteness of her wake.
Lingard walked aft, and, with both his hands on the taffrail,
looked eagerly for Carter's boat. The first glance satisfied
him that the yacht's gig was towing easily at the end of the long
scope of line, and he turned away to look ahead and to leeward
with a steady gaze. It was then half an hour past midnight and
Shaw, relieved by Wasub, had gone below. Before he went, he said
to Lingard, "I will be off, sir, if you're not going to make more
sail yet." "Not yet for a while," had answered Lingard in a
preoccupied manner; and Shaw departed aggrieved at such a neglect
of making the best of a good breeze.
On the main deck dark-skinned men, whose clothing clung to their
shivering limbs as if they had been overboard, had finished
recoiling the braces, and clearing the gear. The kassab, after
having hung the fore-topsail halyards in the becket, strutted
into the waist toward a row of men who stood idly with their
shoulders against the side of the long boat amidships. He passed
along looking up close at the stolid faces. Room was made for
him, and he took his place at the end.
"It was a great rain and a mighty wind, O men," he said,
dogmatically, "but no wind can ever hurt this ship. That I knew
while I stood minding the sail which is under my care."
A dull and inexpressive murmur was heard from the men. Over the
high weather rail, a topping wave flung into their eyes a handful
of heavy drops that stung like hail. There were low groans of
indignation. A man sighed. Another emitted a spasmodic laugh
through his chattering teeth. No one moved away. The little
kassab wiped his face and went on in his cracked voice, to the
accompaniment of the swishing sounds made by the seas that swept
regularly astern along the ship's side.
"Have you heard him shout at the wind--louder than the wind? I
have heard, being far forward. And before, too, in the many years
I served this white man I have heard him often cry magic words
that make all safe. Ya-wa! This is truth. Ask Wasub who is a
Haji, even as I am."
"I have seen white men's ships with their masts broken--also
wrecked like our own praus," remarked sadly a lean, lank fellow
who shivered beside the kassab, hanging his head and trying to
grasp his shoulder blades.
"True," admitted the kassab. "They are all the children of Satan
but to some more favour is shown. To obey such men on the sea or
in a fight is good. I saw him who is master here fight with wild
men who eat their enemies--far away to the eastward--and I dealt
blows by his side without fear; for the charms he, no doubt,
possesses protect his servants also. I am a believer and the
Stoned One can not touch my forehead. Yet the reward of victory
comes from the accursed. For six years have I sailed with that
white man; first as one who minds the rudder, for I am a man of
the sea, born in a prau, and am skilled in such work. And now,
because of my great knowledge of his desires, I have the care of
all things in this ship."
Several voices muttered, "True. True." They remained apathetic
and patient, in the rush of wind, under the repeated short
flights of sprays. The slight roll of the ship balanced them
stiffly all together where they stood propped against the big
boat. The breeze humming between the inclined masts enveloped
their dark and silent figures in the unceasing resonance of its
The brig's head had been laid so as to pass a little to windward
of the small islands of the Carimata group. They had been till
then hidden in the night, but now both men on the lookout
reported land ahead in one long cry. Lingard, standing to leeward
abreast of the wheel, watched the islet first seen. When it was
nearly abeam of the brig he gave his orders, and Wasub hurried
off to the main deck. The helm was put down, the yards on the
main came slowly square and the wet canvas of the main-topsail
clung suddenly to the mast after a single heavy flap. The
dazzling streak of the ship's wake vanished. The vessel lost her
way and began to dip her bows into the quick succession of the
running head seas. And at every slow plunge of the craft, the
song of the wind would swell louder amongst the waving spars,
with a wild and mournful note.
Just as the brig's boat had been swung out, ready for lowering,
the yacht's gig hauled up by its line appeared tossing and
splashing on the lee quarter. Carter stood up in the stern sheets
balancing himself cleverly to the disordered motion of his
cockleshell. He hailed the brig twice to know what was the
matter, not being able from below and in the darkness to make out
what that confused group of men on the poop were about. He got no
answer, though he could see the shape of a man standing by
himself aft, and apparently watching him. He was going to repeat
his hail for the third time when he heard the rattling of tackles
followed by a heavy splash, a burst of voices, scrambling hollow
sounds--and a dark mass detaching itself from the brig's side
swept past him on the crest of a passing wave. For less than a
second he could see on the shimmer of the night sky the shape of
a boat, the heads of men, the blades of oars pointing upward
while being got out hurriedly. Then all this sank out of sight,
reappeared once more far off and hardly discernible, before
vanishing for good.
"Why, they've lowered a boat!" exclaimed Carter, falling back in
his seat. He remembered that he had seen only a few hours ago
three native praus lurking amongst those very islands. For a
moment he had the idea of casting off to go in chase of that
boat, so as to find out. . . . Find out what? He gave up his idea
at once. What could he do?
The conviction that the yacht, and everything belonging to her,
were in some indefinite but very real danger, took afresh a
strong hold of him, and the persuasion that the master of the
brig was going there to help did not by any means assuage his
alarm. The fact only served to complicate his uneasiness with a
sense of mystery.
The white man who spoke as if that sea was all his own, or as if
people intruded upon his privacy by taking the liberty of getting
wrecked on a coast where he and his friends did some queer
business, seemed to him an undesirable helper. That the boat had
been lowered to communicate with the praus seen and avoided by
him in the evening he had no doubt. The thought had flashed on
him at once. It had an ugly look. Yet the best thing to do after
all was to hang on and get back to the yacht and warn them. . . .
Warn them against whom? The man had been perfectly open with him.
Warn them against what? It struck him that he hadn't the
slightest conception of what would happen, of what was even
likely to happen. That strange rescuer himself was bringing the
news of danger. Danger from the natives of course. And yet he was
in communication with those natives. That was evident. That boat
going off in the night. . . . Carter swore heartily to himself.
His perplexity became positive bodily pain as he sat, wet,
uncomfortable, and still, one hand on the tiller, thrown up and
down in headlong swings of his boat. And before his eyes,
towering high, the black hull of the brig also rose and fell,
setting her stern down in the sea, now and again, with a
tremendous and foaming splash. Not a sound from her reached
Carter's ears. She seemed an abandoned craft but for the outline
of a man's head and body still visible in a watchful attitude
above the taffrail.
Carter told his bowman to haul up closer and hailed:
"Brig ahoy. Anything wrong?"
He waited, listening. The shadowy man still watched. After some
time a curt "No" came back in answer.
"Are you going to keep hove-to long?" shouted Carter.
"Don't know. Not long. Drop your boat clear of the ship. Drop
clear. Do damage if you don't."
"Slack away, John!" said Carter in a resigned tone to the elderly
seaman in the bow. "Slack away and let us ride easy to the full
scope. They don't seem very talkative on board there."
Even while he was speaking the line ran out and the regular
undulations of the passing seas drove the boat away from the
brig. Carter turned a little in his seat to look at the land. It
loomed up dead to leeward like a lofty and irregular cone only a
mile or a mile and a half distant. The noise of the surf beating
upon its base was heard against the wind in measured detonations.
The fatigue of many days spent in the boat asserted itself above
the restlessness of Carter's thoughts and, gradually, he lost the
notion of the passing time without altogether losing the
consciousness of his situation.
In the intervals of that benumbed stupor--rather than sleep--he
was aware that the interrupted noise of the surf had grown into a
continuous great rumble, swelling periodically into a loud roar;
that the high islet appeared now bigger, and that a white fringe
of foam was visible at its feet. Still there was no stir or
movement of any kind on board the brig. He noticed that the wind
was moderating and the sea going down with it, and then dozed off
again for a minute. When next he opened his eyes with a start, it
was just in time to see with surprise a new star soar noiselessly
straight up from behind the land, take up its position in a
brilliant constellation--and go out suddenly. Two more followed,
ascending together, and after reaching about the same elevation,
expired side by side.
"Them's rockets, sir--ain't they?" said one of the men in a
"Aye, rockets," grunted Carter. "And now, what's the next move?"
he muttered to himself dismally.
He got his answer in the fierce swishing whirr of a slender ray
of fire that, shooting violently upward from the sombre hull of
the brig, dissolved at once into a dull red shower of falling
sparks. Only one, white and brilliant, remained alone poised high
overhead, and after glowing vividly for a second, exploded with a
feeble report. Almost at the same time he saw the brig's head
fall off the wind, made out the yards swinging round to fill the
main topsail, and heard distinctly the thud of the first wave
thrown off by the advancing bows. The next minute the tow-line
got the strain and his boat started hurriedly after the brig with
a sudden jerk.
Leaning forward, wide awake and attentive, Carter steered. His
men sat one behind another with shoulders up, and arched backs,
dozing, uncomfortable but patient, upon the thwarts. The care
requisite to steer the boat properly in the track of the seething
and disturbed water left by the brig in her rapid course
prevented him from reflecting much upon the incertitude of the
future and upon his own unusual situation.
Now he was only exceedingly anxious to see the yacht again, and
it was with a feeling of very real satisfaction that he saw all
plain sail being made on the brig. Through the remaining hours of
the night he sat grasping the tiller and keeping his eyes on the
shadowy and high pyramid of canvas gliding steadily ahead of his
boat with a slight balancing movement from side to side.
It was noon before the brig, piloted by Lingard through the deep
channels between the outer coral reefs, rounded within
pistol-shot a low hummock of sand which marked the end of a long
stretch of stony ledges that, being mostly awash, showed a black
head only, here and there amongst the hissing brown froth of the
yellow sea. As the brig drew clear of the sandy patch there
appeared, dead to windward and beyond a maze of broken water,
sandspits, and clusters of rocks, the black hull of the yacht
heeling over, high and motionless upon the great expanse of
glittering shallows. Her long, naked spars were inclined slightly
as if she had been sailing with a good breeze. There was to the
lookers-on aboard the brig something sad and disappointing in the
yacht's aspect as she lay perfectly still in an attitude that in
a seaman's mind is associated with the idea of rapid motion.
"Here she is!" said Shaw, who, clad in a spotless white suit,
came just then from forward where he had been busy with the
anchors. "She is well on, sir--isn't she? Looks like a mudflat to
me from here."
"Yes. It is a mudflat," said Lingard, slowly, raising the long
glass to his eye. "Haul the mainsail up, Mr. Shaw," he went on
while he took a steady look at the yacht. "We will have to work
in short tacks here."
He put the glass down and moved away from the rail. For the next
hour he handled his little vessel in the intricate and narrow
channel with careless certitude, as if every stone, every grain
of sand upon the treacherous bottom had been plainly disclosed to
his sight. He handled her in the fitful and unsteady breeze with
a matter-of-fact audacity that made Shaw, forward at his station,
gasp in sheer alarm. When heading toward the inshore shoals the
brig was never put round till the quick, loud cries of the
leadsmen announced that there were no more than three feet of
water under her keel; and when standing toward the steep inner
edge of the long reef, where the lead was of no use, the helm
would be put down only when the cutwater touched the faint line
of the bordering foam. Lingard's love for his brig was a man's
love, and was so great that it could never be appeased unless he
called on her to put forth all her qualities and her power, to
repay his exacting affection by a faithfulness tried to the very
utmost limit of endurance. Every flutter of the sails flew down
from aloft along the taut leeches, to enter his heart in a sense
of acute delight; and the gentle murmur of water alongside,
which, continuous and soft, showed that in all her windings his
incomparable craft had never, even for an instant, ceased to
carry her way, was to him more precious and inspiring than the
soft whisper of tender words would have been to another man. It
was in such moments that he lived intensely, in a flush of strong
feeling that made him long to press his little vessel to his
breast. She was his perfect world full of trustful joy.
The people on board the yacht, who watched eagerly the first sail
they had seen since they had been ashore on that deserted part of
the coast, soon made her out, with some disappointment, to be a
small merchant brig beating up tack for tack along the inner edge
of the reef--probably with the intention to communicate and offer
assistance. The general opinion among the seafaring portion of
her crew was that little effective assistance could be expected
from a vessel of that description. Only the sailing-master of the
yacht remarked to the boatswain (who had the advantage of being
his first cousin): "This man is well acquainted here; you can see
that by the way he handles his brig. I shan't be sorry to have
somebody to stand by us. Can't tell when we will get off this
A long board, sailed very close, enabled the brig to fetch the
southern limit of discoloured water over the bank on which the
yacht had stranded. On the very edge of the muddy patch she was
put in stays for the last time. As soon as she had paid off on
the other tack, sail was shortened smartly, and the brig
commenced the stretch that was to bring her to her anchorage,
under her topsails, lower staysails and jib. There was then less
than a quarter of a mile of shallow water between her and the
yacht; but while that vessel had gone ashore with her head to the
eastward the brig was moving slowly in a west-northwest
direction, and consequently, sailed--so to speak--past the whole
length of the yacht. Lingard saw every soul in the schooner on
deck, watching his advent in a silence which was as unbroken and
perfect as that on board his own vessel.
A little man with a red face framed in white whiskers waved a
gold-laced cap above the rail in the waist of the yacht. Lingard
raised his arm in return. Further aft, under the white awnings,
he could see two men and a woman. One of the men and the lady
were in blue. The other man, who seemed very tall and stood with
his arm entwined round an awning stanchion above his head, was
clad in white. Lingard saw them plainly. They looked at the brig
through binoculars, turned their faces to one another, moved
their lips, seemed surprised. A large dog put his forepaws on the
rail, and, lifting up his big, black head, sent out three loud