Part 2 out of 5
you had better look out for yourself, you know, with a personage
like Jacobus who has no sort of reputation to lose."
He had recovered his gravity of a respectable citizen by that time
and added regretfully:
"All the women of our family are perfectly scandalised."
But by that time I had given up visiting the S- family and the D-
family. The elder ladies pulled such faces when I showed myself,
and the multitude of related young ladies received me with such a
variety of looks: wondering, awed, mocking (except Miss Mary, who
spoke to me and looked at me with hushed, pained compassion as
though I had been ill), that I had no difficulty in giving them all
up. I would have given up the society of the whole town, for the
sake of sitting near that girl, snarling and superb and barely clad
in that flimsy, dingy, amber wrapper, open low at the throat. She
looked, with the wild wisps of hair hanging down her tense face, as
though she had just jumped out of bed in the panic of a fire.
She sat leaning on her elbow, looking at nothing. Why did she stay
listening to my absurd chatter? And not only that; but why did she
powder her face in preparation for my arrival? It seemed to be her
idea of making a toilette, and in her untidy negligence a sign of
great effort towards personal adornment.
But I might have been mistaken. The powdering might have been her
daily practice and her presence in the verandah a sign of an
indifference so complete as to take no account of my existence.
Well, it was all one to me.
I loved to watch her slow changes of pose, to look at her long
immobilities composed in the graceful lines of her body, to observe
the mysterious narrow stare of her splendid black eyes, somewhat
long in shape, half closed, contemplating the void. She was like a
spellbound creature with the forehead of a goddess crowned by the
dishevelled magnificent hair of a gipsy tramp. Even her
indifference was seductive. I felt myself growing attached to her
by the bond of an irrealisable desire, for I kept my head--quite.
And I put up with the moral discomfort of Jacobus's sleepy
watchfulness, tranquil, and yet so expressive; as if there had been
a tacit pact between us two. I put up with the insolence of the
old woman's: "Aren't you ever going to leave us in peace, my good
fellow?" with her taunts; with her brazen and sinister scolding.
She was of the true Jacobus stock, and no mistake.
Directly I got away from the girl I called myself many hard names.
What folly was this? I would ask myself. It was like being the
slave of some depraved habit. And I returned to her with my head
clear, my heart certainly free, not even moved by pity for that
castaway (she was as much of a castaway as any one ever wrecked on
a desert island), but as if beguiled by some extraordinary promise.
Nothing more unworthy could be imagined. The recollection of that
tremulous whisper when I gripped her shoulder with one hand and
held a plate of chicken with the other was enough to make me break
all my good resolutions.
Her insulting taciturnity was enough sometimes to make one gnash
one's teeth with rage. When she opened her mouth it was only to be
abominably rude in harsh tones to the associate of her reprobate
father; and the full approval of her aged relative was conveyed to
her by offensive chuckles. If not that, then her remarks, always
uttered in the tone of scathing contempt, were of the most
How could it have been otherwise? That plump, ruffianly Jacobus
old maid in the tight grey frock had never taught her any manners.
Manners I suppose are not necessary for born castaways. No
educational establishment could ever be induced to accept her as a
pupil--on account of the proprieties, I imagine. And Jacobus had
not been able to send her away anywhere. How could he have done
it? Who with? Where to? He himself was not enough of an
adventurer to think of settling down anywhere else. His passion
had tossed him at the tail of a circus up and down strange coasts,
but, the storm over, he had drifted back shamelessly where, social
outcast as he was, he remained still a Jacobus--one of the oldest
families on the island, older than the French even. There must
have been a Jacobus in at the death of the last Dodo. . . . The
girl had learned nothing, she had never listened to a general
conversation, she knew nothing, she had heard of nothing. She
could read certainly; but all the reading matter that ever came in
her way were the newspapers provided for the captains' room of the
"store." Jacobus had the habit of taking these sheets home now and
then in a very stained and ragged condition.
As her mind could not grasp the meaning of any matters treated
there except police-court reports and accounts of crimes, she had
formed for herself a notion of the civilised world as a scene of
murders, abductions, burglaries, stabbing affrays, and every sort
of desperate violence. England and France, Paris and London (the
only two towns of which she seemed to have heard), appeared to her
sinks of abomination, reeking with blood, in contrast to her little
island where petty larceny was about the standard of current
misdeeds, with, now and then, some more pronounced crime--and that
only amongst the imported coolie labourers on sugar estates or the
negroes of the town. But in Europe these things were being done
daily by a wicked population of white men amongst whom, as that
ruffianly, aristocratic old Miss Jacobus pointed out, the wandering
sailors, the associates of her precious papa, were the lowest of
It was impossible to give her a sense of proportion. I suppose she
figured England to herself as about the size of the Pearl of the
Ocean; in which case it would certainly have been reeking with gore
and a mere wreck of burgled houses from end to end. One could not
make her understand that these horrors on which she fed her
imagination were lost in the mass of orderly life like a few drops
of blood in the ocean. She directed upon me for a moment the
uncomprehending glance of her narrowed eyes and then would turn her
scornful powdered face away without a word. She would not even
take the trouble to shrug her shoulders.
At that time the batches of papers brought by the last mail
reported a series of crimes in the East End of London, there was a
sensational case of abduction in France and a fine display of armed
robbery in Australia. One afternoon crossing the dining-room I
heard Miss Jacobus piping in the verandah with venomous animosity:
"I don't know what your precious papa is plotting with that fellow.
But he's just the sort of man who's capable of carrying you off far
away somewhere and then cutting your throat some day for your
There was a good half of the length of the verandah between their
chairs. I came out and sat down fiercely midway between them.
"Yes, that's what we do with girls in Europe," I began in a grimly
matter-of-fact tone. I think Miss Jacobus was disconcerted by my
sudden appearance. I turned upon her with cold ferocity:
"As to objectionable old women, they are first strangled quietly,
then cut up into small pieces and thrown away, a bit here and a bit
there. They vanish--"
I cannot go so far as to say I had terrified her. But she was
troubled by my truculence, the more so because I had been always
addressing her with a politeness she did not deserve. Her plump,
knitting hands fell slowly on her knees. She said not a word while
I fixed her with severe determination. Then as I turned away from
her at last, she laid down her work gently and, with noiseless
movements, retreated from the verandah. In fact, she vanished.
But I was not thinking of her. I was looking at the girl. It was
what I was coming for daily; troubled, ashamed, eager; finding in
my nearness to her a unique sensation which I indulged with dread,
self-contempt, and deep pleasure, as if it were a secret vice bound
to end in my undoing, like the habit of some drug or other which
ruins and degrades its slave.
I looked her over, from the top of her dishevelled head, down the
lovely line of the shoulder, following the curve of the hip, the
draped form of the long limb, right down to her fine ankle below a
torn, soiled flounce; and as far as the point of the shabby, high-
heeled, blue slipper, dangling from her well-shaped foot, which she
moved slightly, with quick, nervous jerks, as if impatient of my
presence. And in the scent of the massed flowers I seemed to
breathe her special and inexplicable charm, the heady perfume of
the everlastingly irritated captive of the garden.
I looked at her rounded chin, the Jacobus chin; at the full, red
lips pouting in the powdered, sallow face; at the firm modelling of
the cheek, the grains of white in the hairs of the straight sombre
eyebrows; at the long eyes, a narrowed gleam of liquid white and
intense motionless black, with their gaze so empty of thought, and
so absorbed in their fixity that she seemed to be staring at her
own lonely image, in some far-off mirror hidden from my sight
amongst the trees.
And suddenly, without looking at me, with the appearance of a
person speaking to herself, she asked, in that voice slightly harsh
yet mellow and always irritated:
"Why do you keep on coming here?"
"Why do I keep on coming here?" I repeated, taken by surprise. I
could not have told her. I could not even tell myself with
sincerity why I was coming there. "What's the good of you asking a
question like that?"
"Nothing is any good," she observed scornfully to the empty air,
her chin propped on her hand, that hand never extended to any man,
that no one had ever grasped--for I had only grasped her shoulder
once--that generous, fine, somewhat masculine hand. I knew well
the peculiarly efficient shape--broad at the base, tapering at the
fingers--of that hand, for which there was nothing in the world to
lay hold of. I pretended to be playful.
"No! But do you really care to know?"
She shrugged indolently her magnificent shoulders, from which the
dingy thin wrapper was slipping a little.
"Oh--never mind--never mind!"
There was something smouldering under those airs of lassitude. She
exasperated me by the provocation of her nonchalance, by something
elusive and defiant in her very form which I wanted to seize. I
"Why? Don't you think I should tell you the truth?"
Her eyes glided my way for a sidelong look, and she murmured,
moving only her full, pouting lips:
"I think you would not dare."
"Do you imagine I am afraid of you? What on earth. . . . Well,
it's possible, after all, that I don't know exactly why I am coming
here. Let us say, with Miss Jacobus, that it is for no good. You
seem to believe the outrageous things she says, if you do have a
row with her now and then."
She snapped out viciously:
"Who else am I to believe?
"I don't know," I had to own, seeing her suddenly very helpless and
condemned to moral solitude by the verdict of a respectable
community. "You might believe me, if you chose."
She made a slight movement and asked me at once, with an effort as
if making an experiment:
"What is the business between you and papa?"
"Don't you know the nature of your father's business? Come! He
sells provisions to ships."
She became rigid again in her crouching pose.
"Not that. What brings you here--to this house?"
"And suppose it's you? You would not call that business? Would
you? And now let us drop the subject. It's no use. My ship will
be ready for sea the day after to-morrow."
She murmured a distinctly scared "So soon," and getting up quickly,
went to the little table and poured herself a glass of water. She
walked with rapid steps and with an indolent swaying of her whole
young figure above the hips; when she passed near me I felt with
tenfold force the charm of the peculiar, promising sensation I had
formed the habit to seek near her. I thought with sudden dismay
that this was the end of it; that after one more day I would be no
longer able to come into this verandah, sit on this chair, and
taste perversely the flavour of contempt in her indolent poses,
drink in the provocation of her scornful looks, and listen to the
curt, insolent remarks uttered in that harsh and seductive voice.
As if my innermost nature had been altered by the action of some
moral poison, I felt an abject dread of going to sea.
I had to exercise a sudden self-control, as one puts on a brake, to
prevent myself jumping up to stride about, shout, gesticulate, make
her a scene. What for? What about? I had no idea. It was just
the relief of violence that I wanted; and I lolled back in my
chair, trying to keep my lips formed in a smile; that half-
indulgent, half-mocking smile which was my shield against the
shafts of her contempt and the insulting sallies flung at me by the
She drank the water at a draught, with the avidity of raging
thirst, and let herself fall on the nearest chair, as if utterly
overcome. Her attitude, like certain tones of her voice, had in it
something masculine: the knees apart in the ample wrapper, the
clasped hands hanging between them, her body leaning forward, with
drooping head. I stared at the heavy black coil of twisted hair.
It was enormous, crowning the bowed head with a crushing and
disdained glory. The escaped wisps hung straight down. And
suddenly I perceived that the girl was trembling from head to foot,
as though that glass of iced water had chilled her to the bone.
"What's the matter now?" I said, startled, but in no very
She shook her bowed, overweighted head and cried in a stifled voice
but with a rising inflection:
"Go away! Go away! Go away!"
I got up then and approached her, with a strange sort of anxiety.
I looked down at her round, strong neck, then stooped low enough to
peep at her face. And I began to tremble a little myself.
"What on earth are you gone wild about, Miss Don't Care?"
She flung herself backwards violently, her head going over the back
of the chair. And now it was her smooth, full, palpitating throat
that lay exposed to my bewildered stare. Her eyes were nearly
closed, with only a horrible white gleam under the lids as if she
"What has come to you?" I asked in awe. "What are you terrifying
She pulled herself together, her eyes open frightfully wide now.
The tropical afternoon was lengthening the shadows on the hot,
weary earth, the abode of obscure desires, of extravagant hopes, of
"Never mind! Don't care!" Then, after a gasp, she spoke with such
frightful rapidity that I could hardly make out the amazing words:
"For if you were to shut me up in an empty place as smooth all
round as the palm of my hand, I could always strangle myself with
For a moment, doubting my ears, I let this inconceivable
declaration sink into me. It is ever impossible to guess at the
wild thoughts that pass through the heads of our fellow-creatures.
What monstrous imaginings of violence could have dwelt under the
low forehead of that girl who had been taught to regard her father
as "capable of anything" more in the light of a misfortune than
that of a disgrace; as, evidently, something to be resented and
feared rather than to be ashamed of? She seemed, indeed, as
unaware of shame as of anything else in the world; but in her
ignorance, her resentment and fear took a childish and violent
Of course she spoke without knowing the value of words. What could
she know of death--she who knew nothing of life? It was merely as
the proof of her being beside herself with some odious
apprehension, that this extraordinary speech had moved me, not to
pity, but to a fascinated, horrified wonder. I had no idea what
notion she had of her danger. Some sort of abduction. It was
quite possible with the talk of that atrocious old woman. Perhaps
she thought she could be carried off, bound hand and foot and even
gagged. At that surmise I felt as if the door of a furnace had
been opened in front of me.
"Upon my honour!" I cried. "You shall end by going crazy if you
listen to that abominable old aunt of yours--"
I studied her haggard expression, her trembling lips. Her cheeks
even seemed sunk a little. But how I, the associate of her
disreputable father, the "lowest of the low" from the criminal
Europe, could manage to reassure her I had no conception. She was
"Heavens and earth! What do you think I can do?"
"I don't know."
Her chin certainly trembled. And she was looking at me with
extreme attention. I made a step nearer to her chair.
"I shall do nothing. I promise you that. Will that do? Do you
understand? I shall do nothing whatever, of any kind; and the day
after to-morrow I shall be gone."
What else could I have said? She seemed to drink in my words with
the thirsty avidity with which she had emptied the glass of water.
She whispered tremulously, in that touching tone I had heard once
before on her lips, and which thrilled me again with the same
"I would believe you. But what about papa--"
"He be hanged!" My emotion betrayed itself by the brutality of my
tone. "I've had enough of your papa. Are you so stupid as to
imagine that I am frightened of him? He can't make me do
All that sounded feeble to me in the face of her ignorance. But I
must conclude that the "accent of sincerity" has, as some people
say, a really irresistible power. The effect was far beyond my
hopes,--and even beyond my conception. To watch the change in the
girl was like watching a miracle--the gradual but swift relaxation
of her tense glance, of her stiffened muscles, of every fibre of
her body. That black, fixed stare into which I had read a tragic
meaning more than once, in which I had found a sombre seduction,
was perfectly empty now, void of all consciousness whatever, and
not even aware any longer of my presence; it had become a little
sleepy, in the Jacobus fashion.
But, man being a perverse animal, instead of rejoicing at my
complete success, I beheld it with astounded and indignant eyes.
There was something cynical in that unconcealed alteration, the
true Jacobus shamelessness. I felt as though I had been cheated in
some rather complicated deal into which I had entered against my
better judgment. Yes, cheated without any regard for, at least,
the forms of decency.
With an easy, indolent, and in its indolence supple, feline
movement, she rose from the chair, so provokingly ignoring me now,
that for very rage I held my ground within less than a foot of her.
Leisurely and tranquil, behaving right before me with the ease of a
person alone in a room, she extended her beautiful arms, with her
hands clenched, her body swaying, her head thrown back a little,
revelling contemptuously in a sense of relief, easing her limbs in
freedom after all these days of crouching, motionless poses when
she had been so furious and so afraid.
All this with supreme indifference, incredible, offensive,
exasperating, like ingratitude doubled with treachery.
I ought to have been flattered, perhaps, but, on the contrary, my
anger grew; her movement to pass by me as if I were a wooden post
or a piece of furniture, that unconcerned movement brought it to a
I won't say I did not know what I was doing, but, certainly, cool
reflection had nothing to do with the circumstance that next moment
both my arms were round her waist. It was an impulsive action, as
one snatches at something falling or escaping; and it had no
hypocritical gentleness about it either. She had no time to make a
sound, and the first kiss I planted on her closed lips was vicious
enough to have been a bite.
She did not resist, and of course I did not stop at one. She let
me go on, not as if she were inanimate--I felt her there, close
against me, young, full of vigour, of life, a strong desirable
creature, but as if she did not care in the least, in the absolute
assurance of her safety, what I did or left undone. Our faces
brought close together in this storm of haphazard caresses, her
big, black, wide-open eyes looked into mine without the girl
appearing either angry or pleased or moved in any way. In that
steady gaze which seemed impersonally to watch my madness I could
detect a slight surprise, perhaps--nothing more. I showered kisses
upon her face and there did not seem to be any reason why this
should not go on for ever.
That thought flashed through my head, and I was on the point of
desisting, when, all at once, she began to struggle with a sudden
violence which all but freed her instantly, which revived my
exasperation with her, indeed a fierce desire never to let her go
any more. I tightened my embrace in time, gasping out: "No--you
don't!" as if she were my mortal enemy. On her part not a word was
said. Putting her hands against my chest, she pushed with all her
might without succeeding to break the circle of my arms. Except
that she seemed thoroughly awake now, her eyes gave me no clue
whatever. To meet her black stare was like looking into a deep
well, and I was totally unprepared for her change of tactics.
Instead of trying to tear my hands apart, she flung herself upon my
breast and with a downward, undulating, serpentine motion, a quick
sliding dive, she got away from me smoothly. It was all very
swift; I saw her pick up the tail of her wrapper and run for the
door at the end of the verandah not very gracefully. She appeared
to be limping a little--and then she vanished; the door swung
behind her so noiselessly that I could not believe it was
completely closed. I had a distinct suspicion of her black eye
being at the crack to watch what I would do. I could not make up
my mind whether to shake my fist in that direction or blow a kiss.
Either would have been perfectly consistent with my feelings. I
gazed at the door, hesitating, but in the end I did neither. The
monition of some sixth sense--the sense of guilt, maybe, that sense
which always acts too late, alas!--warned me to look round; and at
once I became aware that the conclusion of this tumultuous episode
was likely to be a matter of lively anxiety. Jacobus was standing
in the doorway of the dining-room. How long he had been there it
was impossible to guess; and remembering my struggle with the girl
I thought he must have been its mute witness from beginning to end.
But this supposition seemed almost incredible. Perhaps that
impenetrable girl had heard him come in and had got away in time.
He stepped on to the verandah in his usual manner, heavy-eyed, with
glued lips. I marvelled at the girl's resemblance to this man.
Those long, Egyptian eyes, that low forehead of a stupid goddess,
she had found in the sawdust of the circus; but all the rest of the
face, the design and the modelling, the rounded chin, the very
lips--all that was Jacobus, fined down, more finished, more
His thick hand fell on and grasped with force the back of a light
chair (there were several standing about) and I perceived the
chance of a broken head at the end of all this--most likely. My
mortification was extreme. The scandal would be horrible; that was
unavoidable. But how to act so as to satisfy myself I did not
know. I stood on my guard and at any rate faced him. There was
nothing else for it. Of one thing I was certain, that, however
brazen my attitude, it could never equal the characteristic Jacobus
He gave me his melancholy, glued smile and sat down. I own I was
relieved. The perspective of passing from kisses to blows had
nothing particularly attractive in it. Perhaps--perhaps he had
seen nothing? He behaved as usual, but he had never before found
me alone on the verandah. If he had alluded to it, if he had
asked: "Where's Alice?" or something of the sort, I would have
been able to judge from the tone. He would give me no opportunity.
The striking peculiarity was that he had never looked up at me yet.
"He knows," I said to myself confidently. And my contempt for him
relieved my disgust with myself.
"You are early home," I remarked.
"Things are very quiet; nothing doing at the store to-day," he
explained with a cast-down air.
"Oh, well, you know, I am off," I said, feeling that this, perhaps,
was the best thing to do.
"Yes," he breathed out. "Day after to-morrow."
This was not what I had meant; but as he gazed persistently on the
floor, I followed the direction of his glance. In the absolute
stillness of the house we stared at the high-heeled slipper the
girl had lost in her flight. We stared. It lay overturned.
After what seemed a very long time to me, Jacobus hitched his chair
forward, stooped with extended arm and picked it up. It looked a
slender thing in his big, thick hands. It was not really a
slipper, but a low shoe of blue, glazed kid, rubbed and shabby. It
had straps to go over the instep, but the girl only thrust her feet
in, after her slovenly manner. Jacobus raised his eyes from the
shoe to look at me.
"Sit down, Captain," he said at last, in his subdued tone.
As if the sight of that shoe had renewed the spell, I gave up
suddenly the idea of leaving the house there and then. It had
become impossible. I sat down, keeping my eyes on the fascinating
object. Jacobus turned his daughter's shoe over and over in his
cushioned paws as if studying the way the thing was made. He
contemplated the thin sole for a time; then glancing inside with an
"I am glad I found you here, Captain."
I answered this by some sort of grunt, watching him covertly. Then
I added: "You won't have much more of me now."
He was still deep in the interior of that shoe on which my eyes too
"Have you thought any more of this deal in potatoes I spoke to you
about the other day?"
"No, I haven't," I answered curtly. He checked my movement to rise
by an austere, commanding gesture of the hand holding that fatal
shoe. I remained seated and glared at him. "You know I don't
"You ought to, Captain. You ought to."
I reflected. If I left that house now I would never see the girl
again. And I felt I must see her once more, if only for an
instant. It was a need, not to be reasoned with, not to be
disregarded. No, I did not want to go away. I wanted to stay for
one more experience of that strange provoking sensation and of
indefinite desire, the habit of which had made me--me of all
people!--dread the prospect of going to sea.
"Mr. Jacobus," I pronounced slowly. "Do you really think that upon
the whole and taking various' matters into consideration--I mean
everything, do you understand?--it would be a good thing for me to
trade, let us say, with you?"
I waited for a while. He went on looking at the shoe which he held
now crushed in the middle, the worn point of the toe and the high
heel protruding on each side of his heavy fist.
"That will be all right," he said, facing me squarely at last.
"Are you sure?"
"You'll find it quite correct, Captain." He had uttered his
habitual phrases in his usual placid, breath-saving voice and stood
my hard, inquisitive stare sleepily without as much as a wink.
"Then let us trade," I said, turning my shoulder to him. "I see
you are bent on it."
I did not want an open scandal, but I thought that outward decency
may be bought too dearly at times. I included Jacobus, myself, the
whole population of the island, in the same contemptuous disgust as
though we had been partners in an ignoble transaction. And the
remembered vision at sea, diaphanous and blue, of the Pearl of the
Ocean at sixty miles off; the unsubstantial, clear marvel of it as
if evoked by the art of a beautiful and pure magic, turned into a
thing of horrors too. Was this the fortune this vaporous and rare
apparition had held for me in its hard heart, hidden within the
shape as of fair dreams and mist? Was this my luck?
"I think"--Jacobus became suddenly audible after what seemed the
silence of vile meditation--"that you might conveniently take some
thirty tons. That would be about the lot, Captain."
"Would it? The lot! I dare say it would be convenient, but I
haven't got enough money for that."
I had never seen him so animated.
"No!" he exclaimed with what I took for the accent of grim menace.
"That's a pity." He paused, then, unrelenting: "How much money
have you got, Captain?" he inquired with awful directness.
It was my turn to face him squarely. I did so and mentioned the
amount I could dispose of. And I perceived that he was
disappointed. He thought it over, his calculating gaze lost in
mine, for quite a long time before he came out in a thoughtful tone
with the rapacious suggestion:
"You could draw some more from your charterers. That would be
quite easy, Captain."
"No, I couldn't," I retorted brusquely. "I've drawn my salary up
to date, and besides, the ship's accounts are closed."
I was growing furious. I pursued: "And I'll tell you what: if I
could do it I wouldn't." Then throwing off all restraint, I added:
"You are a bit too much of a Jacobus, Mr. Jacobus."
The tone alone was insulting enough, but he remained tranquil, only
a little puzzled, till something seemed to dawn upon him; but the
unwonted light in his eyes died out instantly. As a Jacobus on his
native heath, what a mere skipper chose to say could not touch him,
outcast as he was. As a ship-chandler he could stand anything.
All I caught of his mumble was a vague--"quite correct," than which
nothing could have been more egregiously false at bottom--to my
view, at least. But I remembered--I had never forgotten--that I
must see the girl. I did not mean to go. I meant to stay in the
house till I had seen her once more.
"Look here!" I said finally. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll
take as many of your confounded potatoes as my money will buy, on
condition that you go off at once down to the wharf to see them
loaded in the lighter and sent alongside the ship straight away.
Take the invoice and a signed receipt with you. Here's the key of
my desk. Give it to Burns. He will pay you.
He got up from his chair before I had finished speaking, but he
refused to take the key. Burns would never do it. He wouldn't
like to ask him even.
"Well, then," I said, eyeing him slightingly, "there's nothing for
it, Mr. Jacobus, but you must wait on board till I come off to
settle with you."
"That will be all right, Captain. I will go at once."
He seemed at a loss what to do with the girl's shoe he was still
holding in his fist. Finally, looking dully at me, he put it down
on the chair from which he had risen.
"And you, Captain? Won't you come along, too, just to see--"
"Don't bother about me. I'll take care of myself."
He remained perplexed for a moment, as if trying to understand; and
then his weighty: "Certainly, certainly, Captain," seemed to be
the outcome of some sudden thought. His big chest heaved. Was it
a sigh? As he went out to hurry off those potatoes he never looked
back at me.
I waited till the noise of his footsteps had died out of the
dining-room, and I waited a little longer. Then turning towards
the distant door I raised my voice along the verandah:
Nothing answered me, not even a stir behind the door. Jacobus's
house might have been made empty for me to make myself at home in.
I did not call again. I had become aware of a great
discouragement. I was mentally jaded, morally dejected. I turned
to the garden again, sitting down with my elbows spread on the low
balustrade, and took my head in my hands.
The evening closed upon me. The shadows lengthened, deepened,
mingled together into a pool of twilight in which the flower-beds
glowed like coloured embers; whiffs of heavy scent came to me as if
the dusk of this hemisphere were but the dimness of a temple and
the garden an enormous censer swinging before the altar of the
stars. The colours of the blossoms deepened, losing their glow one
The girl, when I turned my head at a slight noise, appeared to me
very tall and slender, advancing with a swaying limp, a floating
and uneven motion which ended in the sinking of her shadowy form
into the deep low chair. And I don't know why or whence I received
the impression that she had come too late. She ought to have
appeared at my call. She ought to have . . . It was as if a
supreme opportunity had been missed.
I rose and took a seat close to her, nearly opposite her arm-chair.
Her ever discontented voice addressed me at once, contemptuously:
"You are still here."
I pitched mine low.
"You have come out at last."
"I came to look for my shoe--before they bring in the lights."
It was her harsh, enticing whisper, subdued, not very steady, but
its low tremulousness gave me no thrill now. I could only make out
the oval of her face, her uncovered throat, the long, white gleam
of her eyes. She was mysterious enough. Her hands were resting on
the arms of the chair. But where was the mysterious and provoking
sensation which was like the perfume of her flower-like youth? I
"I have got your shoe here." She made no sound and I continued:
"You had better give me your foot and I will put it on for you."
She made no movement. I bent low down and groped for her foot
under the flounces of the wrapper. She did not withdraw it and I
put on the shoe, buttoning the instep-strap. It was an inanimate
foot. I lowered it gently to the floor.
"If you buttoned the strap you would not be losing your shoe, Miss
Don't Care," I said, trying to be playful without conviction. I
felt more like wailing over the lost illusion of vague desire, over
the sudden conviction that I would never find again near her the
strange, half-evil, half-tender sensation which had given its acrid
flavour to so many days, which had made her appear tragic and
promising, pitiful and provoking. That was all over.
"Your father picked it up," I said, thinking she may just as well
be told of the fact.
"I am not afraid of papa--by himself," she declared scornfully.
"Oh! It's only in conjunction with his disreputable associates,
strangers, the 'riff-raff of Europe' as your charming aunt or
great-aunt says--men like me, for instance--that you--"
"I am not afraid of you," she snapped out.
"That's because you don't know that I am now doing business with
your father. Yes, I am in fact doing exactly what he wants me to
do. I've broken my promise to you. That's the sort of man I am.
And now--aren't you afraid? If you believe what that dear, kind,
truthful old lady says you ought to be."
It was with unexpected modulated softness that the affirmed:
"No. I am not afraid." She hesitated. . . . "Not now."
"Quite right. You needn't be. I shall not see you again before I
go to sea." I rose and stood near her chair. "But I shall often
think of you in this old garden, passing under the trees over
there, walking between these gorgeous flower-beds. You must love
"I love nothing."
I heard in her sullen tone the faint echo of that resentfully
tragic note which I had found once so provoking. But it left me
unmoved except for a sudden and weary conviction of the emptiness
of all things under Heaven.
"Good-bye, Alice," I said.
She did not answer, she did not move. To merely take her hand,
shake it, and go away seemed impossible, almost improper. I
stooped without haste and pressed my lips to her smooth forehead.
This was the moment when I realised clearly with a sort of terror
my complete detachment from that unfortunate creature. And as I
lingered in that cruel self-knowledge I felt the light touch of her
arms falling languidly on my neck and received a hasty, awkward,
haphazard kiss which missed my lips. No! She was not afraid; but
I was no longer moved. Her arms slipped off my neck slowly, she
made no sound, the deep wicker arm-chair creaked slightly; only a
sense of my dignity prevented me fleeing headlong from that
I traversed the dining-room slowly. I thought: She's listening to
my footsteps; she can't help it; she'll hear me open and shut that
door. And I closed it as gently behind me as if I had been a thief
retreating with his ill-gotten booty. During that stealthy act I
experienced the last touch of emotion in that house, at the thought
of the girl I had left sitting there in the obscurity, with her
heavy hair and empty eyes as black as the night itself, staring
into the walled garden, silent, warm, odorous with the perfume of
imprisoned flowers, which, like herself, were lost to sight in a
world buried in darkness.
The narrow, ill-lighted, rustic streets I knew so well on my way to
the harbour were extremely quiet. I felt in my heart that the
further one ventures the better one understands how everything in
our life is common, short, and empty; that it is in seeking the
unknown in our sensations that we discover how mediocre are our
attempts and how soon defeated! Jacobus's boatman was waiting at
the steps with an unusual air of readiness. He put me alongside
the ship, but did not give me his confidential "Good-evening, sah,"
and, instead of shoving off at once, remained holding by the
I was a thousand miles from commercial affairs, when on the dark
quarter-deck Mr. Burns positively rushed at me, stammering with
excitement. He had been pacing the deck distractedly for hours
awaiting my arrival. Just before sunset a lighter loaded with
potatoes had come alongside with that fat ship-chandler himself
sitting on the pile of sacks. He was now stuck immovable in the
cabin. What was the meaning of it all? Surely I did not--
"Yes, Mr. Burns, I did," I cut him short. He was beginning to make
gestures of despair when I stopped that, too, by giving him the key
of my desk and desiring him, in a tone which admitted of no
argument, to go below at once, pay Mr. Jacobus's bill, and send him
out of the ship.
"I don't want to see him," I confessed frankly, climbing the poop-
ladder. I felt extremely tired. Dropping on the seat of the
skylight, I gave myself up to idle gazing at the lights about the
quay and at the black mass of the mountain on the south side of the
harbour. I never heard Jacobus leave the ship with every single
sovereign of my ready cash in his pocket. I never heard anything
till, a long time afterwards, Mr. Burns, unable to contain himself
any longer, intruded upon me with his ridiculously angry
lamentations at my weakness and good nature.
"Of course, there's plenty of room in the after-hatch. But they
are sure to go rotten down there. Well! I never heard . . .
seventeen tons! I suppose I must hoist in that lot first thing to-
"I suppose you must. Unless you drop them overboard. But I'm
afraid you can't do that. I wouldn't mind myself, but it's
forbidden to throw rubbish into the harbour, you know."
"That is the truest word you have said for many a day, sir--
rubbish. That's just what I expect they are. Nearly eighty good
gold sovereigns gone; a perfectly clean sweep of your drawer, sir.
Bless me if I understand!"
As it was impossible to throw the right light on this commercial
transaction I left him to his lamentations and under the impression
that I was a hopeless fool. Next day I did not go ashore. For one
thing, I had no money to go ashore with--no, not enough to buy a
cigarette. Jacobus had made a clean sweep. But that was not the
only reason. The Pearl of the Ocean had in a few short hours grown
odious to me. And I did not want to meet any one. My reputation
had suffered. I knew I was the object of unkind and sarcastic
The following morning at sunrise, just as our stern-fasts had been
let go and the tug plucked us out from between the buoys, I saw
Jacobus standing up in his boat. The nigger was pulling hard;
several baskets of provisions for ships were stowed between the
thwarts. The father of Alice was going his morning round. His
countenance was tranquil and friendly. He raised his arm and
shouted something with great heartiness. But his voice was of the
sort that doesn't carry any distance; all I could catch faintly, or
rather guess at, were the words "next time" and "quite correct."
And it was only of these last that I was certain. Raising my arm
perfunctorily for all response, I turned away. I rather resented
the familiarity of the thing. Hadn't I settled accounts finally
with him by means of that potato bargain?
This being a harbour story it is not my purpose to speak of our
passage. I was glad enough to be at sea, but not with the gladness
of old days. Formerly I had no memories to take away with me. I
shared in the blessed forgetfulness of sailors, that forgetfulness
natural and invincible, which resembles innocence in so far that it
prevents self-examination. Now however I remembered the girl.
During the first few days I was for ever questioning myself as to
the nature of facts and sensations connected with her person and
with my conduct.
And I must say also that Mr. Burns' intolerable fussing with those
potatoes was not calculated to make me forget the part which I had
played. He looked upon it as a purely commercial transaction of a
particularly foolish kind, and his devotion--if it was devotion and
not mere cussedness as I came to regard it before long--inspired
him with a zeal to minimise my loss as much as possible. Oh, yes!
He took care of those infamous potatoes with a vengeance, as the
Everlastingly, there was a tackle over the after-hatch and
everlastingly the watch on deck were pulling up, spreading out,
picking over, rebagging, and lowering down again, some part of that
lot of potatoes. My bargain with all its remotest associations,
mental and visual--the garden of flowers and scents, the girl with
her provoking contempt and her tragic loneliness of a hopeless
castaway--was everlastingly dangled before my eyes, for thousands
of miles along the open sea. And as if by a satanic refinement of
irony it was accompanied by a most awful smell. Whiffs from
decaying potatoes pursued me on the poop, they mingled with my
thoughts, with my food, poisoned my very dreams. They made an
atmosphere of corruption for the ship.
I remonstrated with Mr. Burns about this excessive care. I would
have been well content to batten the hatch down and let them perish
under the deck.
That perhaps would have been unsafe. The horrid emanations might
have flavoured the cargo of sugar. They seemed strong enough to
taint the very ironwork. In addition Mr. Burns made it a personal
matter. He assured me he knew how to treat a cargo of potatoes at
sea--had been in the trade as a boy, he said. He meant to make my
loss as small as possible. What between his devotion--it must have
been devotion--and his vanity, I positively dared not give him the
order to throw my commercial-venture overboard. I believe he would
have refused point blank to obey my lawful command. An
unprecedented and comical situation would have been created with
which I did not feel equal to deal.
I welcomed the coming of bad weather as no sailor had ever done.
When at last I hove the ship to, to pick up the pilot outside Port
Philip Heads, the after-hatch had not been opened for more than a
week and I might have believed that no such thing as a potato had
ever been on board.
It was an abominable day, raw, blustering, with great squalls of
wind and rain; the pilot, a cheery person, looked after the ship
and chatted to me, streaming from head to foot; and the heavier the
lash of the downpour the more pleased with himself and everything
around him he seemed to be. He rubbed his wet hands with a
satisfaction, which to me, who had stood that kind of thing for
several days and nights, seemed inconceivable in any non-aquatic
"You seem to enjoy getting wet, Pilot," I remarked.
He had a bit of land round his house in the suburbs and it was of
his garden he was thinking. At the sound of the word garden,
unheard, unspoken for so many days, I had a vision of gorgeous
colour, of sweet scents, of a girlish figure crouching in a chair.
Yes. That was a distinct emotion breaking into the peace I had
found in the sleepless anxieties of my responsibility during a week
of dangerous bad weather. The Colony, the pilot explained, had
suffered from unparalleled drought. This was the first decent drop
of water they had had for seven months. The root crops were lost.
And, trying to be casual, but with visible interest, he asked me if
I had perchance any potatoes to spare.
Potatoes! I had managed to forget them. In a moment I felt
plunged into corruption up to my neck. Mr. Burns was making eyes
at me behind the pilot's back.
Finally, he obtained a ton, and paid ten pounds for it. This was
twice the price of my bargain with Jacobus. The spirit of
covetousness woke up in me. That night, in harbour, before I
slept, the Custom House galley came alongside. While his
underlings were putting seals on the storerooms, the officer in
charge took me aside confidentially. "I say, Captain, you don't
happen to have any potatoes to sell."
Clearly there was a potato famine in the land. I let him have a
ton for twelve pounds and he went away joyfully. That night I
dreamt of a pile of gold in the form of a grave in which a girl was
buried, and woke up callous with greed. On calling at my ship-
broker's office, that man, after the usual business had been
transacted, pushed his spectacles up on his forehead.
"I was thinking, Captain, that coming from the Pearl of the Ocean
you may have some potatoes to sell."
I said negligently: "Oh, yes, I could spare you a ton. Fifteen
He exclaimed: "I say!" But after studying my face for a while
accepted my terms with a faint grimace. It seems that these people
could not exist without potatoes. I could. I didn't want to see a
potato as long as I lived; but the demon of lucre had taken
possession of me. How the news got about I don't know, but,
returning on board rather late, I found a small group of men of the
coster type hanging about the waist, while Mr. Burns walked to and
fro the quarterdeck loftily, keeping a triumphant eye on them.
They had come to buy potatoes.
"These chaps have been waiting here in the sun for hours," Burns
whispered to me excitedly. "They have drank the water-cask dry.
Don't you throw away your chances, sir. You are too good-natured."
I selected a man with thick legs and a man with a cast in his eye
to negotiate with; simply because they were easily distinguishable
from the rest. "You have the money on you?" I inquired, before
taking them down into the cabin.
"Yes, sir," they answered in one voice, slapping their pockets. I
liked their air of quiet determination. Long before the end of the
day all the potatoes were sold at about three times the price I had
paid for them. Mr. Burns, feverish and exulting, congratulated
himself on his skilful care of my commercial venture, but hinted
plainly that I ought to have made more of it.
That night I did not sleep very well. I thought of Jacobus by fits
and starts, between snatches of dreams concerned with castaways
starving on a desert island covered with flowers. It was extremely
unpleasant. In the morning, tired and unrefreshed, I sat down and
wrote a long letter to my owners, giving them a carefully-thought-
out scheme for the ship's employment in the East and about the
China Seas for the next two years. I spent the day at that task
and felt somewhat more at peace when it was done.
Their reply came in due course. They were greatly struck with my
project; but considering that, notwithstanding the unfortunate
difficulty with the bags (which they trusted I would know how to
guard against in the future), the voyage showed a very fair profit,
they thought it would be better to keep the ship in the sugar
trade--at least for the present.
I turned over the page and read on:
"We have had a letter from our good friend Mr. Jacobus. We are
pleased to see how well you have hit it off with him; for, not to
speak of his assistance in the unfortunate matter of the bags, he
writes us that should you, by using all possible dispatch, manage
to bring the ship back early in the season he would be able to give
us a good rate of freight. We have no doubt that your best
endeavours . . . etc. . . etc."
I dropped the letter and sat motionless for a long time. Then I
wrote my answer (it was a short one) and went ashore myself to post
it. But I passed one letter-box, then another, and in the end
found myself going up Collins Street with the letter still in my
pocket--against my heart. Collins Street at four o'clock in the
afternoon is not exactly a desert solitude; but I had never felt
more isolated from the rest of mankind as when I walked that day
its crowded pavement, battling desperately with my thoughts and
feeling already vanquished.
There came a moment when the awful tenacity of Jacobus, the man of
one passion and of one idea, appeared to me almost heroic. He had
not given me up. He had gone again to his odious brother. And
then he appeared to me odious himself. Was it for his own sake or
for the sake of the poor girl? And on that last supposition the
memory of the kiss which missed my lips appalled me; for whatever
he had seen, or guessed at, or risked, he knew nothing of that.
Unless the girl had told him. How could I go back to fan that
fatal spark with my cold breath? No, no, that unexpected kiss had
to be paid for at its full price.
At the first letter-box I came to I stopped and reaching into my
breast-pocket I took out the letter--it was as if I were plucking
out my very heart--and dropped it through the slit. Then I went
straight on board.
I wondered what dreams I would have that night; but as it turned
out I did not sleep at all. At breakfast I informed Mr. Burns that
I had resigned my command.
He dropped his knife and fork and looked at me with indignation.
"You have, sir! I thought you loved the ship."
"So I do, Burns," I said. "But the fact is that the Indian Ocean
and everything that is in it has lost its charm for me. I am going
home as passenger by the Suez Canal."
"Everything that is in it," he repeated angrily. "I've never heard
anybody talk like this. And to tell you the truth, sir, all the
time we have been together I've never quite made you out. What's
one ocean more than another? Charm, indeed!"
He was really devoted to me, I believe. But he cheered up when I
told him that I had recommended him for my successor.
"Anyhow," he remarked, "let people say what they like, this Jacobus
has served your turn. I must admit that this potato business has
paid extremely well. Of course, if only you had--"
"Yes, Mr. Burns," I interrupted. "Quite a smile of fortune."
But I could not tell him that it was driving me out of the ship I
had learned to love. And as I sat heavy-hearted at that parting,
seeing all my plans destroyed, my modest future endangered--for
this command was like a foot in the stirrup for a young man--he
gave up completely for the first time his critical attitude.
"A wonderful piece of luck!" he said.
THE SECRET SHARER--AN EPISODE FROM THE COAST
On my right hand there were lines of fishing-stakes resembling a
mysterious system of half-submerged bamboo fences, incomprehensible
in its division of the domain of tropical fishes, and crazy of
aspect as if abandoned forever by some nomad tribe of fishermen now
gone to the other end of the ocean; for there was no sign of human
habitation as far as the eye could reach. To the left a group of
barren islets, suggesting ruins of stone walls, towers, and
blockhouses, had its foundations set in a blue sea that itself
looked solid, so still and stable did it lie below my feet; even
the track of light from the westering sun shone smoothly, without
that animated glitter which tells of an imperceptible ripple. And
when I turned my head to take a parting glance at the tug which had
just left us anchored outside the bar, I saw the straight line of
the flat shore joined to the stable sea, edge to edge, with a
perfect and unmarked closeness, in one levelled floor half brown,
half blue under the enormous dome of the sky. Corresponding in
their insignificance to the islets of the sea, two small clumps of
trees, one on each side of the only fault in the impeccable joint,
marked the mouth of the river Meinam we had just left on the first
preparatory stage of our homeward journey; and, far back on the
inland level, a larger and loftier mass, the grove surrounding the
great Paknam pagoda, was the only thing on which the eye could rest
from the vain task of exploring the monotonous sweep of the
horizon. Here and there gleams as of a few scattered pieces of
silver marked the windings of the great river; and on the nearest
of them, just within the bar, the tug steaming right into the land
became lost to my sight, hull and funnel and masts, as though the
impassive earth had swallowed her up without an effort, without a
tremor. My eye followed the light cloud of her smoke, now here,
now there, above the plain, according to the devious curves of the
stream, but always fainter and farther away, till I lost it at last
behind the mitre-shaped hill of the great pagoda. And then I was
left alone with my ship, anchored at the head of the Gulf of Siam.
She floated at the starting-point of a long journey, very still in
an immense stillness, the shadows of her spars flung far to the
eastward by the setting sun. At that moment I was alone on her
decks. There was not a sound in her--and around us nothing moved,
nothing lived, not a canoe on the water, not a bird in the air, not
a cloud in the sky. In this breathless pause at the threshold of a
long passage we seemed to be measuring our fitness for a long and
arduous enterprise, the appointed task of both our existences to be
carried out, far from all human eyes, with only sky and sea for
spectators and for judges.
There must have been some glare in the air to interfere with one's
sight, because it was only just before the sun left us that my
roaming eyes made out beyond the highest ridge of the principal
islet of the group something which did away with the solemnity of
perfect solitude. The tide of darkness flowed on swiftly; and with
tropical suddenness a swarm of stars came out above the shadowy
earth, while I lingered yet, my hand resting lightly on my ship's
rail as if on the shoulder of a trusted friend. But, with all that
multitude of celestial bodies staring down at one, the comfort of
quiet communion with her was gone for good. And there were also
disturbing sounds by this time--voices, footsteps forward; the
steward flitted along the maindeck, a busily ministering spirit; a
hand-bell tinkled urgently under the poop-deck. . . .
I found my two officers waiting for me near the supper table, in
the lighted cuddy. We sat down at once, and as I helped the chief
mate, I said:
"Are you aware that there is a ship anchored inside the islands? I
saw her mastheads above the ridge as the sun went down."
He raised sharply his simple face, overcharged by a terrible growth
of whisker, and emitted his usual ejaculations: "Bless my soul,
sir! You don't say so!"
My second mate was a round-cheeked, silent young man, grave beyond
his years, I thought; but as our eyes happened to meet I detected a
slight quiver on his lips. I looked down at once. It was not my
part to encourage sneering on board my ship. It must be said, too,
that I knew very little of my officers. In consequence of certain
events of no particular significance, except to myself, I had been
appointed to the command only a fortnight before. Neither did I
know much of the hands forward. All these people had been together
for eighteen months or so, and my position was that of the only
stranger on board. I mention this because it has some bearing on
what is to follow. But what I felt most was my being a stranger to
the ship; and if all the truth must be told, I was somewhat of a
stranger to myself. The youngest man on board (barring the second
mate), and untried as yet by a position of the fullest
responsibility, I was willing to take the adequacy of the others
for granted. They had simply to be equal to their tasks; but I
wondered how far I should turn out faithful to that ideal
conception of one's own personality every man sets up for himself
Meantime the chief mate, with an almost visible effect of
collaboration on the part of his round eyes and frightful whiskers,
was trying to evolve a theory of the anchored ship. His dominant
trait was to take all things into earnest consideration. He was of
a painstaking turn of mind. As he used to say, he "liked to
account to himself" for practically everything that came in his
way, down to a miserable scorpion he had found in his cabin a week
before. The why and the wherefore of that scorpion--how it got on
board and came to select his room rather than the pantry (which was
a dark place and more what a scorpion would be partial to), and how
on earth it managed to drown itself in the inkwell of his writing-
desk--had exercised him infinitely. The ship within the islands
was much more easily accounted for; and just as we were about to
rise from table he made his pronouncement. She was, he doubted
not, a ship from home lately arrived. Probably she drew too much
water to cross the bar except at the top of spring tides.
Therefore she went into that natural harbour to wait for a few days
in preference to remaining in an open roadstead.
"That's so," confirmed the second mate, suddenly, in his slightly
hoarse voice. "She draws over twenty feet. She's the Liverpool
ship Sephora with a cargo of coal. Hundred and twenty-three days
We looked at him in surprise.
"The tugboat skipper told me when he came on board for your
letters, sir," explained the young man. "He expects to take her up
the river the day after to-morrow."
After thus overwhelming us with the extent of his information he
slipped out of the cabin. The mate observed regretfully that he
"could not account for that young fellow's whims." What prevented
him telling us all about it at once, he wanted to know.
I detained him as he was making a move. For the last two days the
crew had had plenty of hard work, and the night before they had
very little sleep. I felt painfully that I--a stranger--was doing
something unusual when I directed him to let all hands turn in
without setting an anchor-watch. I proposed to keep on deck myself
till one o'clock or thereabouts. I would get the second mate to
relieve me at that hour.
"He will turn out the cook and the steward at four," I concluded,
"and then give you a call. Of course at the slightest sign of any
sort of wind we'll have the hands up and make a start at once."
He concealed his astonishment. "Very well, sir." Outside the
cuddy he put his head in the second mate's door to inform him of my
unheard-of caprice to take a five hours' anchor-watch on myself. I
heard the other raise his voice incredulously--"What? The captain
himself?" Then a few more murmurs, a door closed, then another. A
few moments later I went on deck.
My strangeness, which had made me sleepless, had prompted that
unconventional arrangement, as if I had expected in those solitary
hours of the night to get on terms with the ship of which I knew
nothing, manned by men of whom I knew very little more. Fast
alongside a wharf, littered like any ship in port with a tangle of
unrelated things, invaded by unrelated shore people, I had hardly
seen her yet properly. Now, as she lay cleared for sea, the
stretch of her maindeck seemed to me very fine under the stars.
Very fine, very roomy for her size, and very inviting. I descended
the poop and paced the waist, my mind picturing to myself the
coming passage through the Malay Archipelago, down the Indian
Ocean, and up the Atlantic. All its phases were familiar enough to
me, every characteristic, all the alternatives which were likely to
face me on the high seas--everything! . . . except the novel
responsibility of command. But I took heart from the reasonable
thought that the ship was like other ships, the men like other men,
and that the sea was not likely to keep any special surprises
expressly for my discomfiture.
Arrived at that comforting conclusion, I bethought myself of a
cigar and went below to get it. All was still down there.
Everybody at the after end of the ship was sleeping profoundly. I
came out again on the quarter-deck, agreeably at ease in my
sleeping-suit on that warm breathless night, barefooted, a glowing
cigar in my teeth, and, going forward, I was met by the profound
silence of the fore end of the ship. Only as I passed the door of
the forecastle I heard a deep, quiet, trustful sigh of some sleeper
inside. And suddenly I rejoiced in the great security of the sea
as compared with the unrest of the land, in my choice of that
untempted life presenting no disquieting problems, invested with an
elementary moral beauty by the absolute straightforwardness of its
appeal and by the singleness of its purpose.
The riding-light in the fore-rigging burned with a clear,
untroubled, as if symbolic, flame, confident and bright in the
mysterious shades of the night. Passing on my way aft along the
other side of the ship, I observed that the rope side-ladder, put
over, no doubt, for the master of the tug when he came to fetch
away our letters, had not been hauled in as it should have been. I
became annoyed at this, for exactitude in small matters is the very
soul of discipline. Then I reflected that I had myself
peremptorily dismissed my officers from duty, and by my own act had
prevented the anchor-watch being formally set and things properly
attended to. I asked myself whether it was wise ever to interfere
with the established routine of duties even from the kindest of
motives. My action might have made me appear eccentric. Goodness
only knew how that absurdly whiskered mate would "account" for my
conduct, and what the whole ship thought of that informality of
their new captain. I was vexed with myself.
Not from compunction certainly, but, as it were mechanically, I
proceeded to get the ladder in myself. Now a side-ladder of that
sort is a light affair and comes in easily, yet my vigorous tug,
which should have brought it flying on board, merely recoiled upon
my body in a totally unexpected jerk. What the devil! . . . I was
so astounded by the immovableness of that ladder that I remained
stock-still, trying to account for it to myself like that imbecile
mate of mine. In the end, of course, I put my head over the rail.
The side of the ship made an opaque belt of shadow on the darkling
glassy shimmer of the sea. But I saw at once something elongated
and pale floating very close to the ladder. Before I could form a
guess a faint flash of phosphorescent light, which seemed to issue
suddenly from the naked body of a man, flickered in the sleeping
water with the elusive, silent play of summer lightning in a night
sky. With a gasp I saw revealed to my stare a pair of feet, the
long legs, a broad livid back immersed right up to the neck in a
greenish cadaverous glow. One hand, awash, clutched the bottom
rung of the ladder. He was complete but for the head. A headless
corpse! The cigar dropped out of my gaping mouth with a tiny plop
and a short hiss quite audible in the absolute stillness of all
things under heaven. At that I suppose he raised up his face, a
dimly pale oval in the shadow of the ship's side. But even then I
could only barely make out down there the shape of his black-haired
head. However, it was enough for the horrid, frost-bound sensation
which had gripped me about the chest to pass off. The moment of
vain exclamations was past, too. I only climbed on the spare spar
and leaned over the rail as far as I could, to bring my eyes nearer
to that mystery floating alongside.
As he hung by the ladder, like a resting swimmer, the sea-lightning
played about his limbs at every stir; and he appeared in it
ghastly, silvery, fish-like. He remained as mute as a fish, too.
He made no motion to get out of the water, either. It was
inconceivable that he should not attempt to come on board, and
strangely troubling to suspect that perhaps he did not want to.
And my first words were prompted by just that troubled incertitude.
"What's the matter?" I asked in my ordinary tone, speaking down to
the face upturned exactly under mine.
"Cramp," it answered, no louder. Then slightly anxious, "I say, no
need to call any one."
"I was not going to," I said.
"Are you alone on deck?"
I had somehow the impression that he was on the point of letting go
the ladder to swim away beyond my ken--mysterious as he came. But,
for the moment, this being appearing as if he had risen from the
bottom of the sea (it was certainly the nearest land to the ship)
wanted only to know the time. I told him. And he, down there,
"I suppose your captain's turned in?"
"I am sure he isn't," I said.
He seemed to struggle with himself, for I heard something like the
low, bitter murmur of doubt. "What's the good?" His next words
came out with a hesitating effort.
"Look here, my man. Could you call him out quietly?"
I thought the time had come to declare myself.
"_I_ am the captain."
I heard a "By Jove!" whispered at the level of the water. The
phosphorescence flashed in the swirl of the water all about his
limbs, his other hand seized the ladder.
"My name's Leggatt."
The voice was calm and resolute. A good voice. The self-
possession of that man had somehow induced a corresponding state in
myself. It was very quietly that I remarked:
"You must be a good swimmer."
"Yes. I've been in the water practically since nine o'clock. The
question for me now is whether I am to let go this ladder and go on
swimming till I sink from exhaustion, or--to come on board here."
I felt this was no mere formula of desperate speech, but a real
alternative in the view of a strong soul. I should have gathered
from this that he was young; indeed, it is only the young who are
ever confronted by such clear issues. But at the time it was pure
intuition on my part. A mysterious communication was established
already between us two--in the face of that silent, darkened
tropical sea. I was young, too; young enough to make no comment.
The man in the water began suddenly to climb up the ladder, and I
hastened away from the rail to fetch some clothes.
Before entering the cabin I stood still, listening in the lobby at
the foot of the stairs. A faint snore came through the closed door
of the chief mate's room. The second mate's door was on the hook,
but the darkness in there was absolutely soundless. He, too, was
young and could sleep like a stone. Remained the steward, but he
was not likely to wake up before he was called. I got a sleeping-
suit out of my room and, coming back on deck, saw the naked man
from the sea sitting on the main-hatch, glimmering white in the
darkness, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. In a
moment he had concealed his damp body in a sleeping-suit of the
same grey-stripe pattern as the one I was wearing and followed me
like my double on the poop. Together we moved right aft,
"What is it?" I asked in a deadened voice, taking the lighted lamp
out of the binnacle, and raising it to his face.
"An ugly business."
He had rather regular features; a good mouth; light eyes under
somewhat heavy, dark eyebrows; a smooth, square forehead; no growth
on his cheeks; a small, brown moustache, and a well-shaped, round
chin. His expression was concentrated, meditative, under the
inspecting light of the lamp I held up to his face; such as a man
thinking hard in solitude might wear. My sleeping-suit was just
right for his size. A well-knit young fellow of twenty-five at
most. He caught his lower lip with the edge of white, even teeth.
"Yes," I said, replacing the lamp in the binnacle. The warm, heavy
tropical night closed upon his head again.
"There's a ship over there," he murmured.
"Yes, I know. The Sephora. Did you know of us?"
"Hadn't the slightest idea. I am the mate of her--" He paused and
corrected himself. "I should say I WAS."
"Aha! Something wrong?"
"Yes. Very wrong indeed. I've killed a man."
"What do you mean? Just now?"
"No, on the passage. Weeks ago. Thirty-nine south. When I say a
"Fit of temper," I suggested, confidently.
The shadowy, dark head, like mine, seemed to nod imperceptibly
above the ghostly grey of my sleeping-suit. It was, in the night,
as though I had been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a
sombre and immense mirror.
"A pretty thing to have to own up to for a Conway boy," murmured my
"You're a Conway boy?"
"I am," he said, as if startled. Then, slowly . . . "Perhaps you
It was so; but being a couple of years older I had left before he
joined. After a quick interchange of dates a silence fell; and I
thought suddenly of my absurd mate with his terrific whiskers and
the "Bless my soul--you don't say so" type of intellect. My double
gave me an inkling of his thoughts by saying:
"My father's a parson in Norfolk. Do you see me before a judge and
jury on that charge? For myself I can't see the necessity. There
are fellows that an angel from heaven--And I am not that. He was
one of those creatures that are just simmering all the time with a
silly sort of wickedness. Miserable devils that have no business
to live at all. He wouldn't do his duty and wouldn't let anybody
else do theirs. But what's the good of talking! You know well
enough the sort of ill-conditioned snarling cur--"
He appealed to me as if our experiences had been as identical as
our clothes. And I knew well enough the pestiferous danger of such
a character where there are no means of legal repression. And I
knew well enough also that my double there was no homicidal
ruffian. I did not think of asking him for details, and he told me
the story roughly in brusque, disconnected sentences. I needed no
more. I saw it all going on as though I were myself inside that
"It happened while we were setting a reefed foresail, at dusk.
Reefed foresail! You understand the sort of weather. The only
sail we had left to keep the ship running; so you may guess what it
had been like for days. Anxious sort of job, that. He gave me
some of his cursed insolence at the sheet. I tell you I was
overdone with this terrific weather that seemed to have no end to
it. Terrific, I tell you--and a deep ship. I believe the fellow
himself was half crazed with funk. It was no time for gentlemanly
reproof, so I turned round and felled him like an ox. He up and at
me. We closed just as an awful sea made for the ship. All hands
saw it coming and took to the rigging, but I had him by the throat,
and went on shaking him like a rat, the men above us yelling, "Look
out! look out!" Then a crash as if the sky had fallen on my head.
They say that for over ten minutes hardly anything was to be seen
of the ship--just the three masts and a bit of the forecastle head
and of the poop all awash driving along in a smother of foam. It
was a miracle that they found us, jammed together behind the
forebits. It's clear that I meant business, because I was holding
him by the throat still when they picked us up. He was black in
the face. It was too much for them. It seems they rushed us aft
together, gripped as we were, screaming "Murder!" like a lot of
lunatics, and broke into the cuddy. And the ship running for her
life, touch and go all the time, any minute her last in a sea fit
to turn your hair grey only a-looking at it. I understand that the
skipper, too, started raving like the rest of them. The man had
been deprived of sleep for more than a week, and to have this
sprung on him at the height of a furious gale nearly drove him out
of his mind. I wonder they didn't fling me overboard after getting
the carcass of their precious ship-mate out of my fingers. They
had rather a job to separate us, I've been told. A sufficiently
fierce story to make an old judge and a respectable jury sit up a
bit. The first thing I heard when I came to myself was the
maddening howling of that endless gale, and on that the voice of
the old man. He was hanging on to my bunk, staring into my face
out of his sou'wester.
"'Mr. Leggatt, you have killed a man. You can act no longer as
chief mate of this ship.'"
His care to subdue his voice made it sound monotonous. He rested a
hand on the end of the skylight to steady himself with, and all
that time did not stir a limb, so far as I could see. "Nice little
tale for a quiet tea-party," he concluded in the same tone.
One of my hands, too, rested on the end of the skylight; neither
did I stir a limb, so far as I knew. We stood less than a foot
from each other. It occurred to me that if old "Bless my soul--you
don't say so" were to put his head up the companion and catch sight
of us, he would think he was seeing double, or imagine himself come
upon a scene of weird witchcraft; the strange captain having a
quiet confabulation by the wheel with his own grey ghost. I became
very much concerned to prevent anything of the sort. I heard the
other's soothing undertone.
"My father's a parson in Norfolk," it said. Evidently he had
forgotten he had told me this important fact before. Truly a nice
"You had better slip down into my stateroom now," I said, moving
off stealthily. My double followed my movements; our bare feet
made no sound; I let him in, closed the door with care, and, after
giving a call to the second mate, returned on deck for my relief.
"Not much sign of any wind yet," I remarked when he approached.
"No, sir. Not much," he assented, sleepily, in his hoarse voice,
with just enough deference, no more, and barely suppressing a yawn.
"Well, that's all you have to look out for. You have got your
I paced a turn or two on the poop and saw him take up his position
face forward with his elbow in the ratlines of the mizzen-rigging
before I went below. The mate's faint snoring was still going on
peacefully. The cuddy lamp was burning over the table on which
stood a vase with flowers, a polite attention from the ship's
provision merchant--the last flowers we should see for the next
three months at the very least. Two bunches of bananas hung from
the beam symmetrically, one on each side of the rudder-casing.
Everything was as before in the ship--except that two of her
captain's sleeping-suits were simultaneously in use, one motionless
in the cuddy, the other keeping very still in the captain's
It must be explained here that my cabin had the form of the capital
letter L the door being within the angle and opening into the short
part of the letter. A couch was to the left, the bed-place to the
right; my writing-desk and the chronometers' table faced the door.
But any one opening it, unless he stepped right inside, had no view
of what I call the long (or vertical) part of the letter. It
contained some lockers surmounted by a bookcase; and a few clothes,
a thick jacket or two, caps, oilskin coat, and such like, hung on
hooks. There was at the bottom of that part a door opening into my
bath-room, which could be entered also directly from the saloon.
But that way was never used.
The mysterious arrival had discovered the advantage of this
particular shape. Entering my room, lighted strongly by a big
bulkhead lamp swung on gimbals above my writing-desk, I did not see
him anywhere till he stepped out quietly from behind the coats hung
in the recessed part.
"I heard somebody moving about, and went in there at once," he
I, too, spoke under my breath.
"Nobody is likely to come in here without knocking and getting
He nodded. His face was thin and the sunburn faded, as though he
had been ill. And no wonder. He had been, I heard presently, kept
under arrest in his cabin for nearly seven weeks. But there was
nothing sickly in his eyes or in his expression. He was not a bit
like me, really; yet, as we stood leaning over my bed-place,
whispering side by side, with our dark heads together and our backs
to the door, anybody bold enough to open it stealthily would have
been treated to the uncanny sight of a double captain busy talking
in whispers with his other self.
"But all this doesn't tell me how you came to hang on to our side-
ladder," I inquired, in the hardly audible murmurs we used, after
he had told me something more of the proceedings on board the
Sephora once the bad weather was over.
"When we sighted Java Head I had had time to think all those
matters out several times over. I had six weeks of doing nothing
else, and with only an hour or so every evening for a tramp on the
He whispered, his arms folded on the side of my bed-place, staring
through the open port. And I could imagine perfectly the manner of
this thinking out--a stubborn if not a steadfast operation;
something of which I should have been perfectly incapable.
"I reckoned it would be dark before we closed with the land," he
continued, so low that I had to strain my hearing, near as we were
to each other, shoulder touching shoulder almost. "So I asked to
speak to the old man. He always seemed very sick when he came to
see me--as if he could not look me in the face. You know, that
foresail saved the ship. She was too deep to have run long under
bare poles. And it was I that managed to set it for him. Anyway,
he came. When I had him in my cabin--he stood by the door looking
at me as if I had the halter round my neck already--I asked him
right away to leave my cabin door unlocked at night while the ship
was going through Sunda Straits. There would be the Java coast
within two or three miles, off Angier Point. I wanted nothing
more. I've had a prize for swimming my second year in the Conway."
"I can believe it," I breathed out.
"God only knows why they locked me in every night. To see some of
their faces you'd have thought they were afraid I'd go about at
night strangling people. Am I a murdering brute? Do I look it?
By Jove! if I had been he wouldn't have trusted himself like that
into my room. You'll say I might have chucked him aside and bolted
out, there and then--it was dark already. Well, no. And for the
same reason I wouldn't think of trying to smash the door. There
would have been a rush to stop me at the noise, and I did not mean
to get into a confounded scrimmage. Somebody else might have got
killed--for I would not have broken out only to get chucked back,
and I did not want any more of that work. He refused, looking more
sick than ever. He was afraid of the men, and also of that old
second mate of his who had been sailing with him for years--a grey-
headed old humbug; and his steward, too, had been with him devil
knows how long--seventeen years or more--a dogmatic sort of loafer
who hated me like poison, just because I was the chief mate. No
chief mate ever made more than one voyage in the Sephora, you know.
Those two old chaps ran the ship. Devil only knows what the
skipper wasn't afraid of (all his nerve went to pieces altogether
in that hellish spell of bad weather we had)--of what the law would
do to him--of his wife, perhaps. Oh, yes! she's on board. Though
I don't think she would have meddled. She would have been only too
glad to have me out of the ship in any way. The 'brand of Cain'
business, don't you see. That's all right. I was ready enough to
go off wandering on the face of the earth--and that was price
enough to pay for an Abel of that sort. Anyhow, he wouldn't listen
to me. 'This thing must take its course. I represent the law
here.' He was shaking like a leaf. 'So you won't?' 'No!' 'Then
I hope you will be able to sleep on that,' I said, and turned my
back on him. 'I wonder that YOU can,' cries he, and locks the
"Well, after that, I couldn't. Not very well. That was three
weeks ago. We have had a slow passage through the Java Sea;
drifted about Carimata for ten days. When we anchored here they
thought, I suppose, it was all right. The nearest land (and that's
five miles) is the ship's destination; the consul would soon set
about catching me; and there would have been no object in bolting
to these islets there. I don't suppose there's a drop of water on
them. I don't know how it was, but to-night that steward, after
bringing me my supper, went out to let me eat it, and left the door
unlocked. And I ate it--all there was, too. After I had finished
I strolled out on the quarterdeck. I don't know that I meant to do
anything. A breath of fresh air was all I wanted, I believe. Then
a sudden temptation came over me. I kicked off my slippers and was
in the water before I had made up my mind fairly. Somebody heard
the splash and they raised an awful hullabaloo. 'He's gone! Lower
the boats! He's committed suicide! No, he's swimming.' Certainly
I was swimming. It's not so easy for a swimmer like me to commit
suicide by drowning. I landed on the nearest islet before the boat
left the ship's side. I heard them pulling about in the dark,
hailing, and so on, but after a bit they gave up. Everything
quieted down and the anchorage became as still as death. I sat
down on a stone and began to think. I felt certain they would
start searching for me at daylight. There was no place to hide on
those stony things--and if there had been, what would have been the
good? But now I was clear of that ship, I was not going back. So
after a while I took off all my clothes, tied them up in a bundle
with a stone inside, and dropped them in the deep water on the
outer side of that islet. That was suicide enough for me. Let
them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I
meant to swim till I sank--but that's not the same thing. I struck
out for another of these little islands, and it was from that one
that I first saw your riding-light. Something to swim for. I went
on easily, and on the way I came upon a flat rock a foot or two
above water. In the daytime, I dare say, you might make it out
with a glass from your poop. I scrambled up on it and rested
myself for a bit. Then I made another start. That last spell must
have been over a mile."
His whisper was getting fainter and fainter, and all the time he
stared straight out through the port-hole, in which there was not
even a star to be seen. I had not interrupted him. There was
something that made comment impossible in his narrative, or perhaps
in himself; a sort of feeling, a quality, which I can't find a name
for. And when he ceased, all I found was a futile whisper: "So
you swam for our light?"
"Yes--straight for it. It was something to swim for. I couldn't
see any stars low down because the coast was in the way, and I
couldn't see the land, either. The water was like glass. One
might have been swimming in a confounded thousand-feet deep cistern
with no place for scrambling out anywhere; but what I didn't like
was the notion of swimming round and round like a crazed bullock
before I gave out; and as I didn't mean to go back . . . No. Do
you see me being hauled back, stark naked, off one of these little
islands by the scruff of the neck and fighting like a wild beast?
Somebody would have got killed for certain, and I did not want any
of that. So I went on. Then your ladder--"
"Why didn't you hail the ship?" I asked, a little louder.
He touched my shoulder lightly. Lazy footsteps came right over our
heads and stopped. The second mate had crossed from the other side
of the poop and might have been hanging over the rail, for all we
"He couldn't hear us talking--could he?" My double breathed into
my very ear, anxiously.
His anxiety was an answer, a sufficient answer, to the question I
had put to him. An answer containing all the difficulty of that
situation. I closed the port-hole quietly, to make sure. A louder
word might have been overheard.
"Who's that?" he whispered then.
"My second mate. But I don't know much more of the fellow than you
And I told him a little about myself. I had been appointed to take
charge while I least expected anything of the sort, not quite a
fortnight ago. I didn't know either the ship or the people.
Hadn't had the time in port to look about me or size anybody up.
And as to the crew, all they knew was that I was appointed to take
the ship home. For the rest, I was almost as much of a stranger on
board as himself, I said. And at the moment I felt it most
acutely. I felt that it would take very little to make me a
suspect person in the eyes of the ship's company.
He had turned about meantime; and we, the two strangers in the
ship, faced each other in identical attitudes.
"Your ladder--" he murmured, after a silence. "Who'd have thought
of finding a ladder hanging over at night in a ship anchored out
here! I felt just then a very unpleasant faintness. After the
life I've been leading for nine weeks, anybody would have got out
of condition. I wasn't capable of swimming round as far as your
rudder-chains. And, lo and behold! there was a ladder to get hold
of. After I gripped it I said to myself, 'What's the good?' When
I saw a man's head looking over I thought I would swim away
presently and leave him shouting--in whatever language it was. I
didn't mind being looked at. I--I liked it. And then you speaking
to me so quietly--as if you had expected me--made me hold on a
little longer. It had been a confounded lonely time--I don't mean
while swimming. I was glad to talk a little to somebody that
didn't belong to the Sephora. As to asking for the captain, that
was a mere impulse. It could have been no use, with all the ship
knowing about me and the other people pretty certain to be round
here in the morning. I don't know--I wanted to be seen, to talk
with somebody, before I went on. I don't know what I would have
said. . . . 'Fine night, isn't it?' or something of the sort."
"Do you think they will be round here presently?" I asked with some
"Quite likely," he said, faintly.
He looked extremely haggard all of a sudden. His head rolled on
"H'm. We shall see then. Meantime get into that bed," I
whispered. "Want help? There."
It was a rather high bed-place with a set of drawers underneath.
This amazing swimmer really needed the lift I gave him by seizing
his leg. He tumbled in, rolled over on his back, and flung one arm
across his eyes. And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must
have looked exactly as I used to look in that bed. I gazed upon my
other self for a while before drawing across carefully the two
green serge curtains which ran on a brass rod. I thought for a
moment of pinning them together for greater safety, but I sat down
on the couch, and once there I felt unwilling to rise and hunt for
a pin. I would do it in a moment. I was extremely tired, in a
peculiarly intimate way, by the strain of stealthiness, by the
effort of whispering and the general secrecy of this excitement.
It was three o'clock by now and I had been on my feet since nine,
but I was not sleepy; I could not have gone to sleep. I sat there,
fagged out, looking at the curtains, trying to clear my mind of the
confused sensation of being in two places at once, and greatly
bothered by an exasperating knocking in my head. It was a relief
to discover suddenly that it was not in my head at all, but on the
outside of the door. Before I could collect myself the words "Come
in" were out of my mouth, and the steward entered with a tray,
bringing in my morning coffee. I had slept, after all, and I was
so frightened that I shouted, "This way! I am here, steward," as
though he had been miles away. He put down the tray on the table
next the couch and only then said, very quietly, "I can see you are
here, sir." I felt him give me a keen look, but I dared not meet
his eyes just then. He must have wondered why I had drawn the
curtains of my bed before going to sleep on the couch. He went
out, hooking the door open as usual.
I heard the crew washing decks above me. I knew I would have been
told at once if there had been any wind. Calm, I thought, and I
was doubly vexed. Indeed, I felt dual more than ever. The steward
reappeared suddenly in the doorway. I jumped up from the couch so
quickly that he gave a start.
"What do you want here?"
"Close your port, sir--they are washing decks."
"It is closed," I said, reddening.
"Very well, sir." But he did not move from the doorway and
returned my stare in an extraordinary, equivocal manner for a time.
Then his eyes wavered, all his expression changed, and in a voice
unusually gentle, almost coaxingly:
"May I come in to take the empty cup away, sir?"
"Of course!" I turned my back on him while he popped in and out.
Then I unhooked and closed the door and even pushed the bolt. This
sort of thing could not go on very long. The cabin was as hot as
an oven, too. I took a peep at my double, and discovered that he
had not moved, his arm was still over his eyes; but his chest
heaved; his hair was wet; his chin glistened with perspiration. I
reached over him and opened the port.
"I must show myself on deck," I reflected.
Of course, theoretically, I could do what I liked, with no one to
say nay to me within the whole circle of the horizon; but to lock
my cabin door and take the key away I did not dare. Directly I put
my head out of the companion I saw the group of my two officers,
the second mate barefooted, the chief mate in long india-rubber
boots, near the break of the poop, and the steward half-way down
the poop-ladder talking to them eagerly. He happened to catch
sight of me and dived, the second ran down on the main-deck
shouting some order or other, and the chief mate came to meet me,
touching his cap.
There was a sort of curiosity in his eye that I did not like. I
don't know whether the steward had told them that I was "queer"
only, or downright drunk, but I know the man meant to have a good
look at me. I watched him coming with a smile which, as he got
into point-blank range, took effect and froze his very whiskers. I
did not give him time to open his lips.
"Square the yards by lifts and braces before the hands go to
It was the first particular order I had given on board that ship;
and I stayed on deck to see it executed, too. I had felt the need
of asserting myself without loss of time. That sneering young cub
got taken down a peg or two on that occasion, and I also seized the
opportunity of having a good look at the face of every foremast man
as they filed past me to go to the after braces. At breakfast
time, eating nothing myself, I presided with such frigid dignity
that the two mates were only too glad to escape from the cabin as
soon as decency permitted; and all the time the dual working of my
mind distracted me almost to the point of insanity. I was
constantly watching myself, my secret self, as dependent on my
actions as my own personality, sleeping in that bed, behind that
door which faced me as I sat at the head of the table. It was very
much like being mad, only it was worse because one was aware of it.
I had to shake him for a solid minute, but when at last he opened
his eyes it was in the full possession of his senses, with an
"All's well so far," I whispered. "Now you must vanish into the
He did so, as noiseless as a ghost, and I then rang for the
steward, and facing him boldly, directed him to tidy up my
stateroom while I was having my bath--"and be quick about it." As
my tone admitted of no excuses, he said, "Yes, sir," and ran off to
fetch his dust-pan and brushes. I took a bath and did most of my
dressing, splashing, and whistling softly for the steward's
edification, while the secret sharer of my life stood drawn up bolt
upright in that little space, his face looking very sunken in
daylight, his eyelids lowered under the stern, dark line of his
eyebrows drawn together by a slight frown.
When I left him there to go back to my room the steward was
finishing dusting. I sent for the mate and engaged him in some
insignificant conversation. It was, as it were, trifling with the
terrific character of his whiskers; but my object was to give him
an opportunity for a good look at my cabin. And then I could at
last shut, with a clear conscience, the door of my stateroom and
get my double back into the recessed part. There was nothing else
for it. He had to sit still on a small folding stool, half
smothered by the heavy coats hanging there. We listened to the
steward going into the bath-room out of the saloon, filling the
water-bottles there, scrubbing the bath, setting things to rights,
whisk, bang, clatter--out again into the saloon--turn the key--
click. Such was my scheme for keeping my second self invisible.
Nothing better could be contrived under the circumstances. And
there we sat; I at my writing-desk ready to appear busy with some
papers, he behind me, out of sight of the door. It would not have
been prudent to talk in daytime; and I could not have stood the
excitement of that queer sense of whispering to myself. Now and
then glancing over my shoulder, I saw him far back there, sitting
rigidly on the low stool, his bare feet close together, his arms
folded, his head hanging on his breast--and perfectly still.
Anybody would have taken him for me.
I was fascinated by it myself. Every moment I had to glance over
my shoulder. I was looking at him when a voice outside the door
"Beg pardon, sir."
"Well!" . . . I kept my eyes on him, and so, when the voice outside
the door announced, "There's a ship's boat coming our way, sir," I
saw him give a start--the first movement he had made for hours.
But he did not raise his bowed head.
"All right. Get the ladder over."
I hesitated. Should I whisper something to him? But what? His
immobility seemed to have been never disturbed. What could I tell
him he did not know already? . . . Finally I went on deck.
The skipper of the Sephora had a thin red whisker all round his
face, and the sort of complexion that goes with hair of that
colour; also the particular, rather smeary shade of blue in the
eyes. He was not exactly a showy figure; his shoulders were high,
his stature but middling--one leg slightly more bandy than the
other. He shook hands, looking vaguely around. A spiritless
tenacity was his main characteristic, I judged. I behaved with a
politeness which seemed to disconcert him. Perhaps he was shy. He
mumbled to me as if he were ashamed of what he was saying; gave his
name (it was something like Archbold--but at this distance of years
I hardly am sure), his ship's name, and a few other particulars of
that sort, in the manner of a criminal making a reluctant and
doleful confession. He had had terrible weather on the passage
out--terrible--terrible--wife aboard, too.
By this time we were seated in the cabin and the steward brought in
a tray with a bottle and glasses. "Thanks! No." Never took
liquor. Would have some water, though. He drank two tumblerfuls.
Terrible thirsty work. Ever since daylight had been exploring the
islands round his ship.
"What was that for--fun?" I asked, with an appearance of polite
"No!" He sighed. "Painful duty."
As he persisted in his mumbling and I wanted my double to hear
every word, I hit upon the notion of informing him that I regretted
to say I was hard of hearing.
"Such a young man, too!" he nodded, keeping his smeary blue,
unintelligent eyes fastened upon me. What was the cause of it--
some disease? he inquired, without the least sympathy and as if he
thought that, if so, I'd got no more than I deserved.
"Yes; disease," I admitted in a cheerful tone which seemed to shock
him. But my point was gained, because he had to raise his voice to
give me his tale. It is not worth while to record that version.
It was just over two months since all this had happened, and he had
thought so much about it that he seemed completely muddled as to
its bearings, but still immensely impressed.
"What would you think of such a thing happening on board your own
ship? I've had the Sephora for these fifteen years. I am a well-
He was densely distressed--and perhaps I should have sympathised
with him if I had been able to detach my mental vision from the
unsuspected sharer of my cabin as though he were my second self.
There he was on the other side of the bulkhead, four or five feet
from us, no more, as we sat in the saloon. I looked politely at
Captain Archbold (if that was his name), but it was the other I
saw, in a grey sleeping-suit, seated on a low stool, his bare feet
close together, his arms folded, and every word said between us
falling into the ears of his dark head bowed on his chest.
"I have been at sea now, man and boy, for seven-and-thirty years,
and I've never heard of such a thing happening in an English ship.
And that it should be my ship. Wife on board, too."
I was hardly listening to him.
"Don't you think," I said, "that the heavy sea which, you told me,
came aboard just then might have killed the man? I have seen the
sheer weight of a sea kill a man very neatly, by simply breaking
"Good God!" he uttered, impressively, fixing his smeary blue eyes
on me. "The sea! No man killed by the sea ever looked like that."
He seemed positively scandalised at my suggestion. And as I gazed
at him, certainly not prepared for anything original on his part,
he advanced his head close to mine and thrust his tongue out at me
so suddenly that I couldn't help starting back.
After scoring over my calmness in this graphic way he nodded
wisely. If I had seen the sight, he assured me, I would never
forget it as long as I lived. The weather was too bad to give the
corpse a proper sea burial. So next day at dawn they took it up on
the poop, covering its face with a bit of bunting; he read a short
prayer, and then, just as it was, in its oilskins and long boots,
they launched it amongst those mountainous seas that seemed ready
every moment to swallow up the ship herself and the terrified lives
on board of her.
"That reefed foresail saved you," I threw in.