Part 3 out of 5
"Under God--it did," he exclaimed fervently. "It was by a special
mercy, I firmly believe, that it stood some of those hurricane
"It was the setting of that sail which--" I began.
"God's own hand in it," he interrupted me. "Nothing less could
have done it. I don't mind telling you that I hardly dared give
the order. It seemed impossible that we could touch anything
without losing it, and then our last hope would have been gone."
The terror of that gale was on him yet. I let him go on for a bit,
then said, casually--as if returning to a minor subject:
"You were very anxious to give up your mate to the shore people, I
He was. To the law. His obscure tenacity on that point had in it
something incomprehensible and a little awful; something, as it
were, mystical, quite apart from his anxiety that he should not be
suspected of "countenancing any doings of that sort." Seven-and-
thirty virtuous years at sea, of which over twenty of immaculate
command, and the last fifteen in the Sephora, seemed to have laid
him under some pitiless obligation.
"And you know," he went on, groping shamefacedly amongst his
feelings, "I did not engage that young fellow. His people had some
interest with my owners. I was in a way forced to take him on. He
looked very smart, very gentlemanly, and all that. But do you
know--I never liked him, somehow. I am a plain man. You see, he
wasn't exactly the sort for the chief mate of a ship like the
I had become so connected in thoughts and impressions with the
secret sharer of my cabin that I felt as if I, personally, were
being given to understand that I, too, was not the sort that would
have done for the chief mate of a ship like the Sephora. I had no
doubt of it in my mind.
"Not at all the style of man. You understand," he insisted,
superfluously, looking hard at me.
I smiled urbanely. He seemed at a loss for a while.
"I suppose I must report a suicide."
"Suicide! That's what I'll have to write to my owners directly I
"Unless you manage to recover him before to-morrow," I assented,
dispassionately. . . "I mean, alive."
He mumbled something which I really did not catch, and I turned my
ear to him in a puzzled manner. He fairly bawled:
"The land--I say, the mainland is at least seven miles off my
My lack of excitement, of curiosity, of surprise, of any sort of
pronounced interest, began to arouse his distrust. But except for
the felicitous pretence of deafness I had not tried to pretend
anything. I had felt utterly incapable of playing the part of
ignorance properly, and therefore was afraid to try. It is also
certain that he had brought some ready-made suspicions with him,
and that he viewed my politeness as a strange and unnatural
phenomenon. And yet how else could I have received him? Not
heartily! That was impossible for psychological reasons, which I
need not state here. My only object was to keep off his inquiries.
Surlily? Yes, but surliness might have provoked a point-blank
question. From its novelty to him and from its nature, punctilious
courtesy was the manner best calculated to restrain the man. But
there was the danger of his breaking through my defence bluntly. I
could not, I think, have met him by a direct lie, also for
psychological (not moral) reasons. If he had only known how afraid
I was of his putting my feeling of identity with the other to the
test! But, strangely enough--(I thought of it only afterward)--I
believe that he was not a little disconcerted by the reverse side
of that weird situation, by something in me that reminded him of
the man he was seeking--suggested a mysterious similitude to the
young fellow he had distrusted and disliked from the first.
However that might have been, the silence was not very prolonged.
He took another oblique step.
"I reckon I had no more than a two-mile pull to your ship. Not a
"And quite enough, too, in this awful heat," I said.
Another pause full of mistrust followed. Necessity, they say, is
mother of invention, but fear, too, is not barren of ingenious
suggestions. And I was afraid he would ask me point-blank for news
of my other self.
"Nice little saloon, isn't it?" I remarked, as if noticing for the
first time the way his eyes roamed from one closed door to the
other. "And very well fitted out too. Here, for instance," I
continued, reaching over the back of my seat negligently and
flinging the door open, "is my bath-room."
He made an eager movement, but hardly gave it a glance. I got up,
shut the door of the bath-room, and invited him to have a look
round, as if I were very proud of my accommodation. He had to rise
and be shown round, but he went through the business without any
"And now we'll have a look at my stateroom," I declared, in a voice
as loud as I dared to make it, crossing the cabin to the starboard
side with purposely heavy steps.
He followed me in and gazed around. My intelligent double had
vanished. I played my part.
"Very convenient--isn't it?"
"Very nice. Very comf. . . " He didn't finish, and went out
brusquely as if to escape from some unrighteous wiles of mine. But
it was not to be. I had been too frightened not to feel vengeful;
I felt I had him on the run, and I meant to keep him on the run.
My polite insistence must have had something menacing in it,
because he gave in suddenly. And I did not let him off a single
item; mate's room, pantry, storerooms, the very sail-locker which
was also under the poop--he had to look into them all. When at
last I showed him out on the quarter-deck he drew a long,
spiritless sigh, and mumbled dismally that he must really be going
back to his ship now. I desired my mate, who had joined us, to see
to the captain's boat.
The man of whiskers gave a blast on the whistle which he used to
wear hanging round his neck, and yelled, "Sephoras away!" My
double down there in my cabin must have heard, and certainly could
not feel more relieved than I. Four fellows came running out from
somewhere forward and went over the side, while my own men,
appearing on deck too, lined the rail. I escorted my visitor to
the gangway ceremoniously, and nearly overdid it. He was a
tenacious beast. On the very ladder he lingered, and in that
unique, guiltily conscientious manner of sticking to the point:
"I say . . . you . . . you don't think that--"
I covered his voice loudly:
"Certainly not. . . . I am delighted. Good-bye."
I had an idea of what he meant to say, and just saved myself by the
privilege of defective hearing. He was too shaken generally to
insist, but my mate, close witness of that parting, looked
mystified and his face took on a thoughtful cast. As I did not
want to appear as if I wished to avoid all communication with my
officers, he had the opportunity to address me.
"Seems a very nice man. His boat's crew told our chaps a very
extraordinary story, if what I am told by the steward is true. I
suppose you had it from the captain, sir?"
"Yes. I had a story from the captain."
"A very horrible affair--isn't it, sir?"
"Beats all these tales we hear about murders in Yankee ships."
"I don't think it beats them. I don't think it resembles them in
"Bless my soul--you don't say so! But of course I've no
acquaintance whatever with American ships, not I, so I couldn't go
against your knowledge. It's horrible enough for me. . . . But the
queerest part is that those fellows seemed to have some idea the
man was hidden aboard here. They had really. Did you ever hear of
such a thing?"
We were walking to and fro athwart the quarterdeck. No one of the
crew forward could be seen (the day was Sunday), and the mate
"There was some little dispute about it. Our chaps took offence.
'As if we would harbour a thing like that,' they said. 'Wouldn't
you like to look for him in our coal-hole?' Quite a tiff. But
they made it up in the end. I suppose he did drown himself. Don't
"I don't suppose anything."
"You have no doubt in the matter, sir?"
I left him suddenly. I felt I was producing a bad impression, but
with my double down there it was most trying to be on deck. And it
was almost as trying to be below. Altogether a nerve-trying
situation. But on the whole I felt less torn in two when I was
with him. There was no one in the whole ship whom I dared take
into my confidence. Since the hands had got to know his story, it
would have been impossible to pass him off for any one else, and an
accidental discovery was to be dreaded now more than ever. . . .
The steward being engaged in laying the table for dinner, we could
talk only with our eyes when I first went down. Later in the
afternoon we had a cautious try at whispering. The Sunday
quietness of the ship was against us; the stillness of air and
water around her was against us; the elements, the men were against
us--everything was against us in our secret partnership; time
itself--for this could not go on forever. The very trust in
Providence was, I suppose, denied to his guilt. Shall I confess
that this thought cast me down very much? And as to the chapter of
accidents which counts for so much in the book of success, I could
only hope that it was closed. For what favourable accident could
"Did you hear everything?" were my first words as soon as we took
up our position side by side, leaning over my bed-place.
He had. And the proof of it was his earnest whisper, "The man told
you he hardly dared to give the order."
I understood the reference to be to that saving foresail.
"Yes. He was afraid of it being lost in the setting."
"I assure you he never gave the order. He may think he did, but he
never gave it. He stood there with me on the break of the poop
after the maintopsail blew away, and whimpered about our last hope-
-positively whimpered about it and nothing else--and the night
coming on! To hear one's skipper go on like that in such weather
was enough to drive any fellow out of his mind. It worked me up
into a sort of desperation. I just took it into my own hands and
went away from him, boiling, and-- But what's the use telling you?
YOU know! . . . Do you think that if I had not been pretty fierce
with them I should have got the men to do anything? Not it! The
bo's'n perhaps? Perhaps! It wasn't a heavy sea--it was a sea gone
mad! I suppose the end of the world will be something like that;
and a man may have the heart to see it coming once and be done with
it--but to have to face it day after day--I don't blame anybody. I
was precious little better than the rest. Only--I was an officer
of that old coal-waggon, anyhow--"
"I quite understand," I conveyed that sincere assurance into his
ear. He was out of breath with whispering; I could hear him pant
slightly. It was all very simple. The same strung-up force which
had given twenty-four men a chance, at least, for their lives, had,
in a sort of recoil, crushed an unworthy mutinous existence.
But I had no leisure to weigh the merits of the matter--footsteps
in the saloon, a heavy knock. "There's enough wind to get under
way with, sir." Here was the call of a new claim upon my thoughts
and even upon my feelings.
"Turn the hands up," I cried through the door. "I'll be on deck
I was going out to make the acquaintance of my ship. Before I left
the cabin our eyes met--the eyes of the only two strangers on
board. I pointed to the recessed part where the little camp-stool
awaited him and laid my finger on my lips. He made a gesture--
somewhat vague--a little mysterious, accompanied by a faint smile,
as if of regret.
This is not the place to enlarge upon the sensations of a man who
feels for the first time a ship move under his feet to his own
independent word. In my case they were not unalloyed. I was not
wholly alone with my command; for there was that stranger in my
cabin. Or rather, I was not completely and wholly with her. Part
of me was absent. That mental feeling of being in two places at
once affected me physically as if the mood of secrecy had
penetrated my very soul. Before an hour had elapsed since the ship
had begun to move, having occasion to ask the mate (he stood by my
side) to take a compass bearing of the Pagoda, I caught myself
reaching up to his ear in whispers. I say I caught myself, but
enough had escaped to startle the man. I can't describe it
otherwise than by saying that he shied. A grave, preoccupied
manner, as though he were in possession of some perplexing
intelligence, did not leave him henceforth. A little later I moved
away from the rail to look at the compass with such a stealthy gait
that the helmsman noticed it--and I could not help noticing the
unusual roundness of his eyes. These are trifling instances,
though it's to no commander's advantage to be suspected of
ludicrous eccentricities. But I was also more seriously affected.
There are to a seaman certain words, gestures, that should in given
conditions come as naturally, as instinctively as the winking of a
menaced eye. A certain order should spring on to his lips without
thinking; a certain sign should get itself made, so to speak,
without reflection. But all unconscious alertness had abandoned
me. I had to make an effort of will to recall myself back (from
the cabin) to the conditions of the moment. I felt that I was
appearing an irresolute commander to those people who were watching
me more or less critically.
And, besides, there were the scares. On the second day out, for
instance, coming off the deck in the afternoon (I had straw
slippers on my bare feet) I stopped at the open pantry door and
spoke to the steward. He was doing something there with his back
to me. At the sound of my voice he nearly jumped out of his skin,
as the saying is, and incidentally broke a cup.
"What on earth's the matter with you?" I asked, astonished.
He was extremely confused. "Beg your pardon, sir. I made sure you
were in your cabin."
"You see I wasn't."
"No, sir. I could have sworn I had heard you moving in there not a
moment ago. It's most extraordinary . . . very sorry, sir."
I passed on with an inward shudder. I was so identified with my
secret double that I did not even mention the fact in those scanty,
fearful whispers we exchanged. I suppose he had made some slight
noise of some kind or other. It would have been miraculous if he
hadn't at one time or another. And yet, haggard as he appeared, he
looked always perfectly self-controlled, more than calm--almost
invulnerable. On my suggestion he remained almost entirely in the
bathroom, which, upon the whole, was the safest place. There could
be really no shadow of an excuse for any one ever wanting to go in
there, once the steward had done with it. It was a very tiny
place. Sometimes he reclined on the floor, his legs bent, his head
sustained on one elbow. At others I would find him on the camp-
stool, sitting in his grey sleeping-suit and with his cropped dark
hair like a patient, unmoved convict. At night I would smuggle him
into my bed-place, and we would whisper together, with the regular
footfalls of the officer of the watch passing and repassing over
our heads. It was an infinitely miserable time. It was lucky that
some tins of fine preserves were stowed in a locker in my
stateroom; hard bread I could always get hold of; and so he lived
on stewed chicken, pate de foie gras, asparagus, cooked oysters,
sardines--on all sorts of abominable sham delicacies out of tins.
My early morning coffee he always drank; and it was all I dared do
for him in that respect.
Every day there was the horrible manoeuvring to go through so that
my room and then the bath-room should be done in the usual way. I
came to hate the sight of the steward, to abhor the voice of that
harmless man. I felt that it was he who would bring on the
disaster of discovery. It hung like a sword over our heads.
The fourth day out, I think (we were then working down the east
side of the Gulf of Siam, tack for tack, in light winds and smooth
water)--the fourth day, I say, of this miserable juggling with the
unavoidable, as we sat at our evening meal, that man, whose
slightest movement I dreaded, after putting down the dishes ran up
on deck busily. This could not be dangerous. Presently he came
down again; and then it appeared that he had remembered a coat of
mine which I had thrown over a rail to dry after having been wetted
in a shower which had passed over the ship in the afternoon.
Sitting stolidly at the head of the table I became terrified at the
sight of the garment on his arm. Of course he made for my door.
There was no time to lose.
"Steward," I thundered. My nerves were so shaken that I could not
govern my voice and conceal my agitation. This was the sort of
thing that made my terrifically whiskered mate tap his forehead
with his forefinger. I had detected him using that gesture while
talking on deck with a confidential air to the carpenter. It was
too far to hear a word, but I had no doubt that this pantomime
could only refer to the strange new captain.
"Yes, sir," the pale-faced steward turned resignedly to me. It was
this maddening course of being shouted at, checked without rhyme or
reason, arbitrarily chased out of my cabin, suddenly called into
it, sent flying out of his pantry on incomprehensible errands, that
accounted for the growing wretchedness of his expression.
"Where are you going with that coat?"
"To your room, sir."
"Is there another shower coming?"
"I'm sure I don't know, sir. Shall I go up again and see, sir?"
"No! never mind."
My object was attained, as of course my other self in there would
have heard everything that passed. During this interlude my two
officers never raised their eyes off their respective plates; but
the lip of that confounded cub, the second mate, quivered visibly.
I expected the steward to hook my coat on and come out at once. He
was very slow about it; but I dominated my nervousness sufficiently
not to shout after him. Suddenly I became aware (it could be heard
plainly enough) that the fellow for some reason or other was
opening the door of the bath-room. It was the end. The place was
literally not big enough to swing a cat in. My voice died in my
throat and I went stony all over. I expected to hear a yell of
surprise and terror, and made a movement, but had not the strength
to get on my legs. Everything remained still. Had my second self
taken the poor wretch by the throat? I don't know what I would
have done next moment if I had not seen the steward come out of my
room, close the door, and then stand quietly by the sideboard.
"Saved," I thought. "But, no! Lost! Gone! He was gone!"
I laid my knife and fork down and leaned back in my chair. My head
swam. After a while, when sufficiently recovered to speak in a
steady voice, I instructed my mate to put the ship round at eight
"I won't come on deck," I went on. "I think I'll turn in, and
unless the wind shifts I don't want to be disturbed before
midnight. I feel a bit seedy."
"You did look middling bad a little while ago," the chief mate
remarked without showing any great concern.
They both went out, and I stared at the steward clearing the table.
There was nothing to be read on that wretched man's face. But why
did he avoid my eyes I asked myself. Then I thought I should like
to hear the sound of his voice.
"Sir!" Startled as usual.
"Where did you hang up that coat?"
"In the bath-room, sir." The usual anxious tone. "It's not quite
dry yet, sir."
For some time longer I sat in the cuddy. Had my double vanished as
he had come? But of his coming there was an explanation, whereas
his disappearance would be inexplicable. . . . I went slowly into
my dark room, shut the door, lighted the lamp, and for a time dared
not turn round. When at last I did I saw him standing bolt-upright
in the narrow recessed part. It would not be true to say I had a
shock, but an irresistible doubt of his bodily existence flitted
through my mind. Can it be, I asked myself, that he is not visible
to other eyes than mine? It was like being haunted. Motionless,
with a grave face, he raised his hands slightly at me in a gesture
which meant clearly, "Heavens! what a narrow escape!" Narrow
indeed. I think I had come creeping quietly as near insanity as
any man who has not actually gone over the border. That gesture
restrained me, so to speak.
The mate with the terrific whiskers was now putting the ship on the
other tack. In the moment of profound silence which follows upon
the hands going to their stations I heard on the poop his raised
voice: "Hard alee!" and the distant shout of the order repeated on
the maindeck. The sails, in that light breeze, made but a faint
fluttering noise. It ceased. The ship was coming round slowly; I
held my breath in the renewed stillness of expectation; one
wouldn't have thought that there was a single living soul on her
decks. A sudden brisk shout, "Mainsail haul!" broke the spell, and
in the noisy cries and rush overhead of the men running away with
the main-brace we two, down in my cabin, came together in our usual
position by the bed-place.
He did not wait for my question. "I heard him fumbling here and
just managed to squat myself down in the bath," he whispered to me.
"The fellow only opened the door and put his arm in to hang the
coat up. All the same--"
"I never thought of that," I whispered back, even more appalled
than before at the closeness of the shave, and marvelling at that
something unyielding in his character which was carrying him
through so finely. There was no agitation in his whisper. Whoever
was being driven distracted, it was not he. He was sane. And the
proof of his sanity was continued when he took up the whispering
"It would never do for me to come to life again."
It was something that a ghost might have said. But what he was
alluding to was his old captain's reluctant admission of the theory
of suicide. It would obviously serve his turn--if I had understood
at all the view which seemed to govern the unalterable purpose of
"You must maroon me as soon as ever you can get amongst these
islands off the Cambodje shore," he went on.
"Maroon you! We are not living in a boy's adventure tale," I
protested. His scornful whispering took me up.
"We aren't indeed! There's nothing of a boy's tale in this. But
there's nothing else for it. I want no more. You don't suppose I
am afraid of what can be done to me? Prison or gallows or whatever
they may please. But you don't see me coming back to explain such
things to an old fellow in a wig and twelve respectable tradesmen,
do you? What can they know whether I am guilty or not--or of WHAT
I am guilty, either? That's my affair. What does the Bible say?
'Driven off the face of the earth.' Very well. I am off the face
of the earth now. As I came at night so I shall go."
"Impossible!" I murmured. "You can't."
"Can't? . . . Not naked like a soul on the Day of Judgment. I
shall freeze on to this sleeping-suit. The Last Day is not yet--
and you have understood thoroughly. Didn't you?"
I felt suddenly ashamed of myself. I may say truly that I
understood--and my hesitation in letting that man swim away from my
ship's side had been a mere sham sentiment, a sort of cowardice.
"It can't be done now till next night," I breathed out. "The ship
is on the off-shore tack and the wind may fail us."
"As long as I know that you understand," he whispered. "But of
course you do. It's a great satisfaction to have got somebody to
understand. You seem to have been there on purpose." And in the
same whisper, as if we two whenever we talked had to say things to
each other which were not fit for the world to hear, he added,
"It's very wonderful." We remained side by side talking in our
secret way--but sometimes silent or just exchanging a whispered
word or two at long intervals. And as usual he stared through the
port. A breath of wind came now and again into our faces. The
ship might have been moored in dock, so gently and on an even keel
she slipped through the water, that did not murmur even at our
passage, shadowy and silent like a phantom sea.
At midnight I went on deck, and to my mate's great surprise put the
ship round on the other tack. His terrible whiskers flitted round
me in silent criticism. I certainly should not have done it if it
had been only a question of getting out of that sleepy gulf as
quickly as possible. I believe he told the second mate, who
relieved him, that it was a great want of judgment. The other only
yawned. That intolerable cub shuffled about so sleepily and lolled
against the rails in such a slack, improper fashion that I came
down on him sharply.
"Aren't you properly awake yet?"
"Yes, sir! I am awake."
"Well, then, be good enough to hold yourself as if you were. And
keep a look-out. If there's any current we'll be closing with some
islands before daylight."
The east side of the gulf is fringed with islands, some solitary,
others in groups. On the blue background of the high coast they
seem to float on silvery patches of calm water, arid and grey, or
dark green and rounded like clumps of evergreen bushes, with the
larger ones, a mile or two long, showing the outlines of ridges,
ribs of grey rock under the dank mantle of matted leafage. Unknown
to trade, to travel, almost to geography, the manner of life they
harbour is an unsolved secret. There must be villages--settlements
of fishermen at least--on the largest of them, and some
communication with the world is probably kept up by native craft.
But all that forenoon, as we headed for them, fanned along by the
faintest of breezes, I saw no sign of man or canoe in the field of
the telescope I kept on pointing at the scattered group.
At noon I gave no orders for a change of course, and the mate's
whiskers became much concerned and seemed to be offering themselves
unduly to my notice. At last I said:
"I am going to stand right in. Quite in--as far as I can take
The stare of extreme surprise imparted an air of ferocity also to
his eyes, and he looked truly terrific for a moment.
"We're not doing well in the middle of the gulf," I continued,
casually. "I am going to look for the land breezes to-night."
"Bless my soul! Do you mean, sir, in the dark amongst the lot of
all them islands and reefs and shoals?"
"Well--if there are any regular land breezes at all on this coast
one must get close inshore to find them, mustn't one?"
"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed again under his breath. All that
afternoon he wore a dreamy, contemplative appearance which in him
was a mark of perplexity. After dinner I went into my stateroom as
if I meant to take some rest. There we two bent our dark heads
over a half-unrolled chart lying on my bed.
"There," I said. "It's got to be Koh-ring. I've been looking at
it ever since sunrise. It has got two hills and a low point. It
must be inhabited. And on the coast opposite there is what looks
like the mouth of a biggish river--with some town, no doubt, not
far up. It's the best chance for you that I can see."
"Anything. Koh-ring let it be."
He looked thoughtfully at the chart as if surveying chances and
distances from a lofty height--and following with his eyes his own
figure wandering on the blank land of Cochin-China, and then
passing off that piece of paper clean out of sight into uncharted
regions. And it was as if the ship had two captains to plan her
course for her. I had been so worried and restless running up and
down that I had not had the patience to dress that day. I had
remained in my sleeping-suit, with straw slippers and a soft floppy
hat. The closeness of the heat in the gulf had been most
oppressive, and the crew were used to see me wandering in that airy
"She will clear the south point as she heads now," I whispered into
his ear. "Goodness only knows when, though, but certainly after
dark. I'll edge her in to half a mile, as far as I may be able to
judge in the dark--"
"Be careful," he murmured, warningly--and I realised suddenly that
all my future, the only future for which I was fit, would perhaps
go irretrievably to pieces in any mishap to my first command.
I could not stop a moment longer in the room. I motioned him to
get out of sight and made my way on the poop. That unplayful cub
had the watch. I walked up and down for a while thinking things
out, then beckoned him over.
"Send a couple of hands to open the two quarterdeck ports," I said,
He actually had the impudence, or else so forgot himself in his
wonder at such an incomprehensible order, as to repeat:
"Open the quarter-deck ports! What for, sir?"
"The only reason you need concern yourself about is because I tell
you to do so. Have them open wide and fastened properly."
He reddened and went off, but I believe made some jeering remark to
the carpenter as to the sensible practice of ventilating a ship's
quarter-deck. I know he popped into the mate's cabin to impart the
fact to him because the whiskers came on deck, as it were by
chance, and stole glances at me from below--for signs of lunacy or
drunkenness, I suppose.
A little before supper, feeling more restless than ever, I
rejoined, for a moment, my second self. And to find him sitting so
quietly was surprising, like something against nature, inhuman.
I developed my plan in a hurried whisper.
"I shall stand in as close as I dare and then put her round. I
shall presently find means to smuggle you out of here into the
sail-locker, which communicates with the lobby. But there is an
opening, a sort of square for hauling the sails out, which gives
straight on the quarter-deck and which is never closed in fine
weather, so as to give air to the sails. ' When the ship's way is
deadened in stays and all the hands are aft at the main-braces you
shall have a clear road to slip out and get overboard through the
open quarter-deck port. I've had them both fastened up. Use a
rope's end to lower yourself into the water so as to avoid a
splash--you know. It could be heard and cause some beastly
He kept silent for a while, then whispered, "I understand."
"I won't be there to see you go," I began with an effort. "The
rest . . . I only hope I have understood, too."
"You have. From first to last"--and for the first time there
seemed to be a faltering, something strained in his whisper. He
caught hold of my arm, but the ringing of the supper bell made me
start. He didn't, though; he only released his grip.
After supper I didn't come below again till well past eight
o'clock. The faint, steady breeze was loaded with dew; and the
wet, darkened sails held all there was of propelling power in it.
The night, clear and starry, sparkled darkly, and the opaque,
lightless patches shifting slowly against the low stars were the
drifting islets. On the port bow there was a big one more distant
and shadowily imposing by the great space of sky it eclipsed.
On opening the door I had a back view of my very own self looking
at a chart. He had come out of the recess and was standing near
"Quite dark enough," I whispered.
He stepped back and leaned against my bed with a level, quiet
glance. I sat on the couch. We had nothing to say to each other.
Over our heads the officer of the watch moved here and there. Then
I heard him move quickly. I knew what that meant. He was making
for the companion; and presently his voice was outside my door.
"We are drawing in pretty fast, sir. Land looks rather close."
"Very well," I answered. "I am coming on deck directly."
I waited till he was gone out of the cuddy, then rose. My double
moved too. The time had come to exchange our last whispers, for
neither of us was ever to hear each other's natural voice.
"Look here!" I opened a drawer and took out three sovereigns.
"Take this, anyhow. I've got six and I'd give you the lot, only I
must keep a little money to buy some fruit and vegetables for the
crew from native boats as we go through Sunda Straits."
He shook his head.
"Take it," I urged him, whispering desperately. "No one can tell
He smiled and slapped meaningly the only pocket of the sleeping-
jacket. It was not safe, certainly. But I produced a large old
silk handkerchief of mine, and tying the three pieces of gold in a
corner, pressed it on him. He was touched, I suppose, because he
took it at last and tied it quickly round his waist under the
jacket, on his bare skin.
Our eyes met; several seconds elapsed, till, our glances still
mingled, I extended my hand and turned the lamp out. Then I passed
through the cuddy, leaving the door of my room wide open. . . . .
He was still lingering in the pantry in the greatness of his zeal,
giving a rub-up to a plated cruet stand the last thing before going
to bed. Being careful not to wake up the mate, whose room was
opposite, I spoke in an undertone.
He looked round anxiously. "Sir!"
"Can you get me a little hot water from the galley?"
"I am afraid, sir, the galley fire's been out for some time now."
"Go and see."
He fled up the stairs.
"Now," I whispered, loudly, into the saloon--too loudly, perhaps,
but I was afraid I couldn't make a sound. He was by my side in an
instant--the double captain slipped past the stairs--through a tiny
dark passage . . . a sliding door. We were in the sail-locker,
scrambling on our knees over the sails. A sudden thought struck
me. I saw myself wandering barefooted, bareheaded, the sun beating
on my dark poll. I snatched off my floppy hat and tried hurriedly
in the dark to ram it on my other self. He dodged and fended off
silently. I wonder what he thought had come to me before he
understood and suddenly desisted. Our hands met gropingly,
lingered united in a steady, motionless clasp for a second. . . .
No word was breathed by either of us when they separated.
I was standing quietly by the pantry door when the steward
"Sorry, sir. Kettle barely warm. Shall I light the spirit-lamp?"
I came out on deck slowly. It was now a matter of conscience to
shave the land as close as possible--for now he must go overboard
whenever the ship was put in stays. Must! There could be no going
back for him. After a moment I walked over to leeward and my heart
flew into my mouth at the nearness of the land on the bow. Under
any other circumstances I would not have held on a minute longer.
The second mate had followed me anxiously.
I looked on till I felt I could command my voice. "She will
weather," I said then in a quiet tone. "Are you going to try that,
sir?" he stammered out incredulously.
I took no notice of him and raised my tone just enough to be heard
by the helmsman.
"Keep her good full."
"Good full, sir."
The wind fanned my cheek, the sails slept, the world was silent.
The strain of watching the dark loom of the land grow bigger and
denser was too much for me. I had shut my eyes--because the ship
must go closer. She must! The stillness was intolerable. Were we
When I opened my eyes the second view started my heart with a
thump. The black southern hill of Koh-ring seemed to hang right
over the ship like a towering fragment of the everlasting night.
On that enormous mass of blackness there was not a gleam to be
seen, not a sound to be heard. It was gliding irresistibly toward
us and yet seemed already within reach of the hand. I saw the
vague figures of the watch grouped in the waist, gazing in awed
"Are you going on, sir," inquired an unsteady voice at my elbow.
I ignored it. I had to go on.
"Keep her full. Don't check her way. That won't do now," I said,
"I can't see the sails very well," the helmsman answered me, in
strange, quavering tones.
Was she close enough? Already she was, I won't say in the shadow
of the land, but in the very blackness of it, already swallowed up
as it were, gone too close to be recalled, gone from me altogether.
"Give the mate a call," I said to the young man who stood at my
elbow as still as death. "And turn all hands up."
My tone had a borrowed loudness reverberated from the height of the
land. Several voices cried out together: "We are all on deck,
Then stillness again, with the great shadow gliding closer,
towering higher, without a light, without a sound. Such a hush had
fallen on the ship that she might have been a bark of the dead
floating in slowly under the very gate of Erebus.
"My God! Where are we?"
It was the mate moaning at my elbow. He was thunderstruck, and as
it were deprived of the moral support of his whiskers. He clapped
his hands and absolutely cried out, "Lost!"
"Be quiet," I said, sternly.
He lowered his tone, but I saw the shadowy gesture of his despair.
"What are we doing here?"
"Looking for the land wind."
He made as if to tear his hair, and addressed me recklessly.
"She will never get out. You have done it, sir. I knew it'd end
in something like this. She will never weather, and you are too
close now to stay. She'll drift ashore before she's round. O my
I caught his arm as he was raising it to batter his poor devoted
head, and shook it violently.
"She's ashore already," he wailed, trying to tear himself away.
"Is she? . . . Keep good full there!"
"Good full, sir," cried the helmsman in a frightened, thin, child-
I hadn't let go the mate's arm and went on shaking it. "Ready
about, do you hear? You go forward"--shake--"and stop there"--
shake--"and hold your noise"--shake--"and see these head-sheets
properly overhauled"--shake, shake--shake.
And all the time I dared not look toward the land lest my heart
should fail me. I released my grip at last and he ran forward as
if fleeing for dear life.
I wondered what my double there in the sail-locker thought of this
commotion. He was able to hear everything--and perhaps he was able
to understand why, on my conscience, it had to be thus close--no
less. My first order "Hard alee!" re-echoed ominously under the
towering shadow of Koh-ring as if I had shouted in a mountain
gorge. And then I watched the land intently. In that smooth water
and light wind it was impossible to feel the ship coming-to. No!
I could not feel her. And my second self was making now ready to
slip out and lower himself overboard. Perhaps he was gone already
. . .?
The great black mass brooding over our very mastheads began to
pivot away from the ship's side silently. And now I forgot the
secret stranger ready to depart, and remembered only that I was a
total stranger to the ship. I did not know her. Would she do it?
How was she to be handled?
I swung the mainyard and waited helplessly. She was perhaps
stopped, and her very fate hung in the balance, with the black mass
of Koh-ring like the gate of the everlasting night towering over
her taffrail. What would she do now? Had she way on her yet? I
stepped to the side swiftly, and on the shadowy water I could see
nothing except a faint phosphorescent flash revealing the glassy
smoothness of the sleeping surface. It was impossible to tell--and
I had not learned yet the feel of my ship. Was she moving? What I
needed was something easily seen, a piece of paper, which I could
throw overboard and watch. I had nothing on me. To run down for
it I didn't dare. There was no time. All at once my strained,
yearning stare distinguished a white object floating within a yard
of the ship's side. White on the black water. A phosphorescent
flash passed under it. What was that thing? . . . I recognised my
own floppy hat. It must have fallen off his head . . . and he
Now I had what I wanted--the saving mark for my eyes. But I hardly
thought of my other self, now gone from the ship, to be hidden
forever from all friendly faces, to be a fugitive and a vagabond on
the earth, with no brand of the curse on his sane forehead to stay
a slaying hand . . . too proud to explain.
And I watched the hat--the expression of my sudden pity for his
mere flesh. It had been meant to save his homeless head from the
dangers of the sun. And now--behold--it was saving the ship, by
serving me for a mark to help out the ignorance of my strangeness.
Ha! It was drifting forward, warning me just in time that the ship
had gathered sternway.
"Shift the helm," I said in a low voice to the seaman standing
still like a statue.
The man's eyes glistened wildly in the binnacle light as he jumped
round to the other side and spun round the wheel.
I walked to the break of the poop. On the overshadowed deck all
hands stood by the forebraces waiting for my order. The stars
ahead seemed to be gliding from right to left. And all was so
still in the world that I heard the quiet remark "She's round,"
passed in a tone of intense relief between two seamen.
"Let go and haul."
The foreyards ran round with a great noise, amidst cheery cries.
And now the frightful whisker's made themselves heard giving
various orders. Already the ship was drawing ahead. And I was
alone with her. Nothing! no one in the world should stand now
between us, throwing a shadow on the way of silent knowledge and
mute affection, the perfect communion of a seaman with his first
Walking to the taffrail, I was in time to make out, on the very
edge of a darkness thrown by a towering black mass like the very
gateway of Erebus--yes, I was in time to catch an evanescent
glimpse of my white hat left behind to mark the spot where the
secret sharer of my cabin and of my thoughts, as though he were my
second self, had lowered himself into the water to take his
punishment: a free man, a proud swimmer striking out for a new
FREYA OF THE SEVEN ISLES
One day--and that day was many years ago now--I received a long,
chatty letter from one of my old chums and fellow-wanderers in
Eastern waters. He was still out there, but settled down, and
middle-aged; I imagined him--grown portly in figure and domestic in
his habits; in short, overtaken by the fate common to all except to
those who, being specially beloved by the gods, get knocked on the
head early. The letter was of the reminiscent "do you remember"
kind--a wistful letter of backward glances. And, amongst other
things, "surely you remember old Nelson," he wrote.
Remember old Nelson! Certainly. And to begin with, his name was
not Nelson. The Englishmen in the Archipelago called him Nelson
because it was more convenient, I suppose, and he never protested.
It would have been mere pedantry. The true form of his name was
Nielsen. He had come out East long before the advent of telegraph
cables, had served English firms, had married an English girl, had
been one of us for years, trading and sailing in all directions
through the Eastern Archipelago, across and around, transversely,
diagonally, perpendicularly, in semi-circles, and zigzags, and
figures of eights, for years and years.
There was no nook or cranny of these tropical waters that the
enterprise of old Nelson (or Nielsen) had not penetrated in an
eminently pacific way. His tracks, if plotted out, would have
covered the map of the Archipelago like a cobweb--all of it, with
the sole exception of the Philippines. He would never approach
that part, from a strange dread of Spaniards, or, to be exact, of
the Spanish authorities. What he imagined they could do to him it
is impossible to say. Perhaps at some time in his life he had read
some stories of the Inquisition.
But he was in general afraid of what he called "authorities"; not
the English authorities, which he trusted and respected, but the
other two of that part of the world. He was not so horrified at
the Dutch as he was at the Spaniards, but he was even more
mistrustful of them. Very mistrustful indeed. The Dutch, in his
view, were capable of "playing any ugly trick on a man" who had the
misfortune to displease them. There were their laws and
regulations, but they had no notion of fair play in applying them.
It was really pitiable to see the anxious circumspection of his
dealings with some official or other, and remember that this man
had been known to stroll up to a village of cannibals in New Guinea
in a quiet, fearless manner (and note that he was always fleshy all
his life, and, if I may say so, an appetising morsel) on some
matter of barter that did not amount perhaps to fifty pounds in the
Remember old Nelson! Rather! Truly, none of us in my generation
had known him in his active days. He was "retired" in our time.
He had bought, or else leased, part of a small island from the
Sultan of a little group called the Seven Isles, not far north from
Banka. It was, I suppose, a legitimate transaction, but I have no
doubt that had he been an Englishman the Dutch would have
discovered a reason to fire him out without ceremony. In this
connection the real form of his name stood him in good stead. In
the character of an unassuming Dane whose conduct was most correct,
they let him be. With all his money engaged in cultivation he was
naturally careful not to give even the shadow of offence, and it
was mostly for prudential reasons of that sort that he did not look
with a favourable eye on Jasper Allen. But of that later. Yes!
One remembered well enough old Nelson's big, hospitable bungalow
erected on a shelving point of land, his portly form, costumed
generally in a white shirt and trousers (he had a confirmed habit
of taking off his alpaca jacket on the slightest provocation), his
round blue eyes, his straggly, sandy-white moustache sticking out
all ways like the quills of the fretful porcupine, his propensity
to sit down suddenly and fan himself with his hat. But there's no
use concealing the fact that what one remembered really was his
daughter, who at that time came out to live with him--and be a sort
of Lady of the Isles.
Freya Nelson (or Nielsen) was the kind of girl one remembers. The
oval of her face was perfect; and within that fascinating frame the
most happy disposition of line and feature, with an admirable
complexion, gave an impression of health, strength, and what I
might call unconscious self-confidence--a most pleasant and, as it
were, whimsical determination. I will not compare her eyes to
violets, because the real shade of their colour was peculiar, not
so dark and more lustrous. They were of the wide-open kind, and
looked at one frankly in every mood. I never did see the long,
dark eyelashes lowered--I dare say Jasper Allen did, being a
privileged person--but I have no doubt that the expression must
have been charming in a complex way. She could--Jasper told me
once with a touchingly imbecile exultation--sit on her hair. I
dare say, I dare say. It was not for me to behold these wonders; I
was content to admire the neat and becoming way she used to do it
up so as not to conceal the good shape of her head. And this
wealth of hair was so glossy that when the screens of the west
verandah were down, making a pleasant twilight there, or in the
shade of the grove of fruit-trees near the house, it seemed to give
out a golden light of its own.
She dressed generally in a white frock, with a skirt of walking
length, showing her neat, laced, brown boots. If there was any
colour about her costume it was just a bit of blue perhaps. No
exertion seemed to distress her. I have seen her land from the
dinghy after a long pull in the sun (she rowed herself about a good
deal) with no quickened breath and not a single hair out of its
place. In the morning when she came out on the verandah for the
first look westward, Sumatra way, over the sea, she seemed as fresh
and sparkling as a dewdrop. But a dewdrop is evanescent, and there
was nothing evanescent about Freya. I remember her round, solid
arms with the fine wrists, and her broad, capable hands with
I don't know whether she was actually born at sea, but I do know
that up to twelve years of age she sailed about with her parents in
various ships. After old Nelson lost his wife it became a matter
of serious concern for him what to do with the girl. A kind lady
in Singapore, touched by his dumb grief and deplorable perplexity,
offered to take charge of Freya. This arrangement lasted some six
years, during which old Nelson (or Nielsen) "retired" and
established, himself on his island, and then it was settled (the
kind lady going away to Europe) that his daughter should join him.
As the first and most important preparation for that event the old
fellow ordered from his Singapore agent a Steyn and Ebhart's
"upright grand." I was then commanding a little steamer in the
island trade, and it fell to my lot to take it out to him, so I
know something of Freya's "upright grand." We landed the enormous
packing-case with difficulty on a flat piece of rock amongst some
bushes, nearly knocking the bottom out of one of my boats in the
course of that nautical operation. Then, all my crew assisting,
engineers and firemen included, by the exercise of much anxious
ingenuity, and by means of rollers, levers, tackles, and inclined
planes of soaped planks, toiling in the sun like ancient Egyptians
at the building of a pyramid, we got it as far as the house and up
on to the edge of the west verandah--which was the actual drawing-
room of the bungalow. There, the case being ripped off cautiously,
the beautiful rosewood monster stood revealed at last. In reverent
excitement we coaxed it against the wall and drew the first free
breath of the day. It was certainly the heaviest movable object on
that islet since the creation of the world. The volume of sound it
gave out in that bungalow (which acted as a sounding-board) was
really astonishing. It thundered sweetly right over the sea.
Jasper Allen told me that early of a morning on the deck of the
Bonito (his wonderfully fast and pretty brig) he could hear Freya
playing her scales quite distinctly. But the fellow always
anchored foolishly close to the point, as I told him more than
once. Of course, these seas are almost uniformly serene, and the
Seven Isles is a particularly calm and cloudless spot as a rule.
But still, now and again, an afternoon thunderstorm over Banka, or
even one of these vicious thick squalls, from the distant Sumatra
coast, would make a sudden sally upon the group, enveloping it for
a couple of hours in whirlwinds and bluish-black murk of a
particularly sinister aspect. Then, with the lowered rattan-
screens rattling desperately in the wind and the bungalow shaking
all over, Freya would sit down to the piano and play fierce Wagner
music in the flicker of blinding flashes, with thunderbolts falling
all round, enough to make your hair stand on end; and Jasper would
remain stock still on the verandah, adoring the back view of her
supple, swaying figure, the miraculous sheen of her fair head, the
rapid hands on the keys, the white nape of her neck--while the
brig, down at the point there, surged at her cables within a
hundred yards of nasty, shiny, black rock-heads. Ugh!
And this, if you please, for no reason but that, when he went on
board at night and laid his head on the pillow, he should feel that
he was as near as he could conveniently get to his Freya slumbering
in the bungalow. Did you ever! And, mind, this brig was the home
to be--their home--the floating paradise which he was gradually
fitting out like a yacht to sail his life blissfully away in with
Freya. Imbecile! But the fellow was always taking chances.
One day, I remember I watched with Freya on the verandah the brig
approaching the point from the northward. I suppose Jasper made
the girl out with his long glass. What does he do? Instead of
standing on for another mile and a half along the shoals and then
tacking for the anchorage in a proper and seamanlike manner, he
spies a gap between two disgusting old jagged reefs, puts the helm
down suddenly, and shoots the brig through, with all her sails
shaking and rattling, so that we could hear the racket on the
verandah. I drew my breath through my teeth, I can tell you, and
Freya swore. Yes! She clenched her capable fists and stamped with
her pretty brown boot and said "Damn!" Then, looking at me with a
little heightened colour--not much--she remarked, "I forgot you
were there," and laughed. To be sure, to be sure. When Jasper was
in sight she was not likely to remember that anybody else in the
world was there. In my concern at this mad trick I couldn't help
appealing to her sympathetic common sense.
"Isn't he a fool?" I said with feeling.
"Perfect idiot," she agreed warmly, looking at me straight with her
wide-open, earnest eyes and the dimple of a smile on her cheek.
"And that," I pointed out to her, "just to save twenty minutes or
so in meeting you."
We heard the anchor go down, and then she became very resolute and
"Wait a bit. I'll teach him."
She went into her own room and shut the door, leaving me alone on
the verandah with my instructions. Long before the brig's sails
were furled, Jasper came up three steps at a time, forgetting to
say how d'ye do, and looking right and left eagerly.
"Where's Freya? Wasn't she here just now?"
When I explained to him that he was to be deprived of Miss Freya's
presence for a whole hour, "just to teach him," he said I had put
her up to it, no doubt, and that he feared he would have yet to
shoot me some day. She and I were getting too thick together.
Then he flung himself into a chair, and tried to talk to me about
his trip. But the funny thing was that the fellow actually
suffered. I could see it. His voice failed him, and he sat there
dumb, looking at the door with the face of a man in pain. Fact. .
. . And the next still funnier thing was that the girl calmly
walked out of her room in less than ten minutes. And then I left.
I mean to say that I went away to seek old Nelson (or Nielsen) on
the back verandah, which was his own special nook in the
distribution of that house, with the kind purpose of engaging him
in conversation lest he should start roaming about and intrude
unwittingly where he was not wanted just then.
He knew that the brig had arrived, though he did not know that
Jasper was already with his daughter. I suppose he didn't think it
was possible in the time. A father naturally wouldn't. He
suspected that Allen was sweet on his girl; the fowls of the air
and the fishes of the sea, most of the traders in the Archipelago,
and all sorts and conditions of men in the town of Singapore were
aware of it. But he was not capable of appreciating how far the
girl was gone on the fellow. He had an idea that Freya was too
sensible to ever be gone on anybody--I mean to an unmanageable
extent. No; it was not that which made him sit on the back
verandah and worry himself in his unassuming manner during Jasper's
visits. What he worried about were the Dutch "authorities." For
it is a fact that the Dutch looked askance at the doings of Jasper
Allen, owner and master of the brig Bonito. They considered him
much too enterprising in his trading. I don't know that he ever
did anything illegal; but it seems to me that his immense activity
was repulsive to their stolid character and slow-going methods.
Anyway, in old Nelson's opinion, the captain of the Bonito was a
smart sailor, and a nice young man, but not a desirable
acquaintance upon the whole. Somewhat compromising, you
understand. On the other hand, he did not like to tell Jasper in
so many words to keep away. Poor old Nelson himself was a nice
fellow. I believe he would have shrunk from hurting the feelings
even of a mop-headed cannibal, unless, perhaps, under very strong
provocation. I mean the feelings, not the bodies. As against
spears, knives, hatchets, clubs, or arrows, old Nelson had proved
himself capable of taking his own part. In every other respect he
had a timorous soul. So he sat on the back verandah with a
concerned expression, and whenever the voices of his daughter and
Jasper Allen reached him, he would blow out his cheeks and let the
air escape with a dismal sound, like a much tried man.
Naturally I derided his fears which he, more or less, confided to
me. He had a certain regard for my judgment, and a certain
respect, not for my moral qualities, however, but for the good
terms I was supposed to be on with the Dutch "authorities." I knew
for a fact that his greatest bugbear, the Governor of Banka--a
charming, peppery, hearty, retired rear-admiral--had a distinct
liking for him. This consoling assurance which I used always to
put forward, made old Nelson (or Nielsen) brighten up for a moment;
but in the end he would shake his head doubtfully, as much as to
say that this was all very well, but that there were depths in the
Dutch official nature which no one but himself had ever fathomed.
On this occasion I am speaking of, old Nelson was even fretty; for
while I was trying to entertain him with a very funny and somewhat
scandalous adventure which happened to a certain acquaintance of
ours in Saigon, he exclaimed suddenly:
"What the devil he wants to turn up here for!"
Clearly he had not heard a word of the anecdote. And this annoyed
me, because the anecdote was really good. I stared at him.
"Come, come!" I cried. "Don't you know what Jasper Allen is
turning up here for?"
This was the first open allusion I had ever made to the true state
of affairs between Jasper and his daughter. He took it very
"Oh, Freya is a sensible girl!" he murmured absently, his mind's
eye obviously fixed on the "authorities." No; Freya was no fool.
He was not concerned about that. He didn't mind it in the least.
The fellow was just company for her; he amused the girl; nothing
When the perspicacious old chap left off mumbling, all was still in
the house. The other two were amusing themselves very quietly, and
no doubt very heartily. What more absorbing and less noisy
amusement could they have found than to plan their future? Side by
side on the verandah they must have been looking at the brig, the
third party in that fascinating game. Without her there would have
been no future. She was the fortune and the home, and the great
free world for them. Who was it that likened a ship to a prison?
May I be ignominiously hanged at a yardarm if that's true. The
white sails of that craft were the white wings--pinions, I believe,
would be the more poetical style--well, the white pinions, of their
soaring love. Soaring as regards Jasper. Freya, being a woman,
kept a better hold of the mundane connections of this affair.
But Jasper was elevated in the true sense of the word ever since
the day when, after they had been gazing at the brig in one of
those decisive silences that alone establish a perfect communion
between creatures gifted with speech, he proposed that she should
share the ownership of that treasure with him. Indeed, he
presented the brig to her altogether. But then his heart was in
the brig since the day he bought her in Manilla from a certain
middle-aged Peruvian, in a sober suit of black broadcloth,
enigmatic and sententious, who, for all I know, might have stolen
her on the South American coast, whence he said he had come over to
the Philippines "for family reasons." This "for family reasons"
was distinctly good. No true caballero would care to push on
inquiries after such a statement.
Indeed, Jasper was quite the caballero. The brig herself was then
all black and enigmatical, and very dirty; a tarnished gem of the
sea, or, rather, a neglected work of art. For he must have been an
artist, the obscure builder who had put her body together on lovely
lines out of the hardest tropical timber fastened with the purest
copper. Goodness only knows in what part of the world she was
built. Jasper himself had not been able to ascertain much of her
history from his sententious, saturnine Peruvian--if the fellow was
a Peruvian, and not the devil himself in disguise, as Jasper
jocularly pretended to believe. My opinion is that she was old
enough to have been one of the last pirates, a slaver perhaps, or
else an opium clipper of the early days, if not an opium smuggler.
However that may be, she was as sound as on the day she first took
the water, sailed like a witch, steered like a little boat, and,
like some fair women of adventurous life famous in history, seemed
to have the secret of perpetual youth; so that there was nothing
unnatural in Jasper Allen treating her like a lover. And that
treatment restored the lustre of her beauty. He clothed her in
many coats of the very best white paint so skilfully, carefully,
artistically put on and kept clean by his badgered crew of picked
Malays, that no costly enamel such as jewellers use for their work
could have looked better and felt smoother to the touch. A narrow
gilt moulding defined her elegant sheer as she sat on the water,
eclipsing easily the professional good looks of any pleasure yacht
that ever came to the East in those days. For myself, I must say I
prefer a moulding of deep crimson colour on a white hull. It gives
a stronger relief besides being less expensive; and I told Jasper
so. But no, nothing less than the best gold-leaf would do, because
no decoration could be gorgeous enough for the future abode of his
His feelings for the brig and for the girl were as indissolubly
united in his heart as you may fuse two precious metals together in
one crucible. And the flame was pretty hot, I can assure you. It
induced in him a fierce inward restlessness both of activity and
desire. Too fine in face, with a lateral wave in his chestnut
hair, spare, long-limbed, with an eager glint in his steely eyes
and quick, brusque movements, he made me think sometimes of a
flashing sword-blade perpetually leaping out of the scabbard. It
was only when he was near the girl, when he had her there to look
at, that this peculiarly tense attitude was replaced by a grave
devout watchfulness of her slightest movements and utterances. Her
cool, resolute, capable, good-humoured self-possession seemed to
steady his heart. Was it the magic of her face, of her voice, of
her glances which calmed him so? Yet these were the very things
one must believe which had set his imagination ablaze--if love
begins in imagination. But I am no man to discuss such mysteries,
and it strikes me that we have neglected poor old Nelson inflating
his cheeks in a state of worry on the back verandah.
I pointed out to him that, after all, Jasper was not a very
frequent visitor. He and his brig worked hard all over the
Archipelago. But all old Nelson said, and he said it uneasily,
"I hope Heemskirk won't turn up here while the brig's about."
Getting up a scare about Heemskirk now! Heemskirk! . . . Really,
one hadn't the patience--
For, pray, who was Heemskirk? You shall see at once how
unreasonable this dread of Heemskirk. . . . Certainly, his nature
was malevolent enough. That was obvious, directly you heard him
laugh. Nothing gives away more a man's secret disposition than the
unguarded ring of his laugh. But, bless my soul! if we were to
start at every evil guffaw like a hare at every sound, we shouldn't
be fit for anything but the solitude of a desert, or the seclusion
of a hermitage. And even there we should have to put up with the
unavoidable company of the devil.
However, the devil is a considerable personage, who has known
better days and has moved high up in the hierarchy of Celestial
Host; but in the hierarchy of mere earthly Dutchmen, Heemskirk,
whose early days could not have been very splendid, was merely a
naval officer forty years of age, of no particular connections or
ability to boast of. He was commanding the Neptun, a little
gunboat employed on dreary patrol duty up and down the Archipelago,
to look after the traders. Not a very exalted position truly. I
tell you, just a common middle-aged lieutenant of some twenty-five
years' service and sure to be retired before long--that's all.
He never bothered his head very much as to what was going on in the
Seven Isles group till he learned from some talk in Mintok or
Palembang, I suppose, that there was a pretty girl living there.
Curiosity, I presume, caused him to go poking around that way, and
then, after he had once seen Freya, he made a practice of calling
at the group whenever he found himself within half a day's steaming
I don't mean to say that Heemskirk was a typical Dutch naval
officer. I have seen enough of them not to fall into that absurd
mistake. He had a big, clean-shaven face; great flat, brown
cheeks, with a thin, hooked nose and a small, pursy mouth squeezed
in between. There were a few silver threads in his black hair, and
his unpleasant eyes were nearly black, too. He had a surly way of
casting side glances without moving his head, which was set low on
a short, round neck. A thick, round trunk in a dark undress jacket
with gold shoulder-straps, was sustained by a straddly pair of
thick, round legs, in white drill trousers. His round skull under
a white cap looked as if it were immensely thick too, but there
were brains enough in it to discover and take advantage maliciously
of poor old Nelson's nervousness before everything that was
invested with the merest shred of authority.
Heemskirk would land on the point and perambulate silently every
part of the plantation as if the whole place belonged to him,
before her went to the house. On the verandah he would take the
best chair, and would stay for tiffin or dinner, just simply stay
on, without taking the trouble to invite himself by so much as a
He ought to have been kicked, if only for his manner to Miss Freya.
Had he been a naked savage, armed with spears and poisoned arrows,
old Nelson (or Nielsen) would have gone for him with his bare
fists. But these gold shoulder-straps--Dutch shoulder-straps at
that--were enough to terrify the old fellow; so he let the beggar
treat him with heavy contempt, devour his daughter with his eyes,
and drink the best part of his little stock of wine.
I saw something of this, and on one occasion I tried to pass a
remark on the subject. It was pitiable to see the trouble in old
Nelson's round eyes. At first he cried out that the lieutenant was
a good friend of his; a very good fellow. I went on staring at him
pretty hard, so that at last he faltered, and had to own that, of
course, Heemskirk was not a very genial person outwardly, but all
the same at bottom. . . .
"I haven't yet met a genial Dutchman out here," I interrupted.
"Geniality, after all, is not of much consequence, but don't you
Nelson looked suddenly so frightened at what I was going to say
that I hadn't the heart to go on. Of course, I was going to tell
him that the fellow was after his girl. That just describes it
exactly. What Heemskirk might have expected or what he thought he
could do, I don't know. For all I can tell, he might have imagined
himself irresistible, or have taken Freya for what she was not, on
account of her lively, assured, unconstrained manner. But there it
is. He was after that girl. Nelson could see it well enough.
Only he preferred to ignore it. He did not want to be told of it.
"All I want is to live in peace and quietness with the Dutch
authorities," he mumbled shamefacedly.
He was incurable. I was sorry for him, and I really think Miss
Freya was sorry for her father, too. She restrained herself for
his sake, and as everything she did she did it simply,
unaffectedly, and even good humouredly. No small effort that,
because in Heemskirk's attentions there was an insolent touch of
scorn, hard to put up with. Dutchmen of that sort are over-bearing
to their inferiors, and that officer of the king looked upon old
Nelson and Freya as quite beneath him in every way.
I can't say I felt sorry for Freya. She was not the sort of girl
to take anything tragically. One could feel for her and sympathise
with her difficulty, but she seemed equal to any situation. It was
rather admiration she extorted by her competent serenity. It was
only when Jasper and Heemskirk were together at the bungalow, as it
happened now and then, that she felt the strain, and even then it
was not for everybody to see. My eyes alone could detect a faint
shadow on the radiance of her personality. Once I could not help
saying to her appreciatively:
"Upon my word you are wonderful."
She let it pass with a faint smile.
"The great thing is to prevent Jasper becoming unreasonable," she
said; and I could see real concern lurking in the quiet depths of
her frank eyes gazing straight at me. "You will help to keep him
quiet, won't you?"
"Of course, we must keep him quiet," I declared, understanding very
well the nature of her anxiety. "He's such a lunatic, too, when
"He is!" she assented, in a soft tone; for it was our joke to speak
of Jasper abusively. "But I have tamed him a bit. He's quite a
good boy now."
"He would squash Heemskirk like a blackbeetle all the same," I
"Rather!" she murmured. "And that wouldn't do," she added quickly.
"Imagine the state poor papa would get into. Besides, I mean to be
mistress of the dear brig and sail about these seas, not go off
wandering ten thousand miles away from here."
"The sooner you are on board to look after the man and the brig the
better," I said seriously. "They need you to steady them both a
bit. I don't think Jasper will ever get sobered down till he has
carried you off from this island. You don't see him when he is
away from you, as I do. He's in a state of perpetual elation which
almost frightens me."
At this she smiled again, and then looked serious. For it could
not be unpleasant to her to be told of her power, and she had some
sense of her responsibility. She slipped away from me suddenly,
because Heemskirk, with old Nelson in attendance at his elbow, was
coming up the steps of the verandah. Directly his head came above
the level of the floor his ill-natured black eyes shot glances here
"Where's your girl, Nelson?" he asked, in a tone as if every soul
in the world belonged to him. And then to me: "The goddess has
Nelson's Cove--as we used to call it--was crowded with shipping
that day. There was first my steamer, then the Neptun gunboat
further out, and the Bonito, brig, anchored as usual so close
inshore that it looked as if, with a little skill and judgment, one
could shy a hat from the verandah on to her scrupulously holystoned
quarter-deck. Her brasses flashed like gold, her white body-paint
had a sheen like a satin robe. The rake of her varnished spars and
the big yards, squared to a hair, gave her a sort of martial
elegance. She was a beauty. No wonder that in possession of a
craft like that and the promise of a girl like Freya, Jasper lived
in a state of perpetual elation fit, perhaps, for the seventh
heaven, but not exactly safe in a world like ours.
I remarked politely to Heemskirk that, with three guests in the
house, Miss Freya had no doubt domestic matters to attend to. I
knew, of course, that she had gone to meet Jasper at a certain
cleared spot on the banks of the only stream on Nelson's little
island. The commander of the Neptun gave me a dubious black look,
and began to make himself at home, flinging his thick, cylindrical
carcass into a rocking-chair, and unbuttoning his coat. Old Nelson
sat down opposite him in a most unassuming manner, staring
anxiously with his round eyes and fanning himself with his hat. I
tried to make conversation to while the time away; not an easy task
with a morose, enamoured Dutchman constantly looking from one door
to another and answering one's advances either with a jeer or a
However, the evening passed off all right. Luckily, there is a
degree of bliss too intense for elation. Jasper was quiet and
concentrated silently in watching Freya. As we went on board our
respective ships I offered to give his brig a tow out next morning.
I did it on purpose to get him away at the earliest possible
moment. So in the first cold light of the dawn we passed by the
gunboat lying black and still without a sound in her at the mouth
of the glassy cove. But with tropical swiftness the sun had
climbed twice its diameter above the horizon before we had rounded
the reef and got abreast of the point. On the biggest boulder
there stood Freya, all in white and, in her helmet, like a feminine
and martial statue with a rosy face, as I could see very well with
my glasses. She fluttered an expressive handkerchief, and Jasper,
running up the main rigging of the white and warlike brig, waved
his hat in response. Shortly afterwards we parted, I to the
northward and Jasper heading east with a light wind on the quarter,
for Banjermassin and two other ports, I believe it was, that trip.
This peaceful occasion was the last on which I saw all these people
assembled together; the charmingly fresh and resolute Freya, the
innocently round-eyed old Nelson, Jasper, keen, long limbed, lean
faced, admirably self-contained, in his manner, because
inconceivably happy under the eyes of his Freya; all three tall,
fair, and blue-eyed in varied shades, and amongst them the swarthy,
arrogant, black-haired Dutchman, shorter nearly by a head, and so
much thicker than any of them that he seemed to be a creature
capable of inflating itself, a grotesque specimen of mankind from
some other planet.
The contrast struck me all at once as we stood in the lighted
verandah, after rising from the dinner-table. I was fascinated by
it for the rest of the evening, and I remember the impression of
something funny and ill-omened at the same time in it to this day.
A few weeks later, coming early one morning into Singapore, from a
journey to the southward, I saw the brig lying at anchor in all her
usual symmetry and splendour of aspect as though she had been taken
out of a glass case and put delicately into the water that very
She was well out in the roadstead, but I steamed in and took up my
habitual berth close in front of the town. Before we had finished
breakfast a quarter-master came to tell me that Captain Allen's
boat was coming our way.
His smart gig dashed alongside, and in two bounds he was up our
accommodation-ladder and shaking me by the hand with his nervous
grip, his eyes snapping inquisitively, for he supposed I had called
at the Seven Isles group on my way. I reached into my pocket for a
nicely folded little note, which he grabbed out of my hand without
ceremony and carried off on the bridge to read by himself. After a
decent interval I followed him up there, and found him pacing to
and fro; for the nature of his emotions made him restless even in
his most thoughtful moments.
He shook his head at me triumphantly.
"Well, my dear boy," he said, "I shall be counting the days now."
I understood what he meant. I knew that those young people had
settled already on a runaway match without official preliminaries.
This was really a logical decision. Old Nelson (or Nielsen) would
never have agreed to give up Freya peaceably to this compromising
Jasper. Heavens! What would the Dutch authorities say to such a
match! It sounds too ridiculous for words. But there's nothing in
the world more selfishly hard than a timorous man in a fright about
his "little estate," as old Nelson used to call it in apologetic
accents. A heart permeated by a particular sort of funk is proof
against sense, feeling, and ridicule. It's a flint.
Jasper would have made his request all the same and then taken his
own way; but it was Freya who decided that nothing should be said,
on the ground that, "Papa would only worry himself to distraction."
He was capable of making himself ill, and then she wouldn't have
the heart to leave him. Here you have the sanity of feminine
outlook and the frankness of feminine reasoning. And for the rest,
Miss Freya could read "poor dear papa" in the way a woman reads a
man--like an open book. His daughter once gone, old Nelson would
not worry himself. He would raise a great outcry, and make no end
of lamentable fuss, but that's not the same thing. The real
agonies of indecision, the anguish of conflicting feelings would be
spared to him. And as he was too unassuming to rage, he would,
after a period of lamentation, devote himself to his "little
estate," and to keeping on good terms with the authorities.
Time would do the rest. And Freya thought she could afford to
wait, while ruling over her own home in the beautiful brig and over
the man who loved her. This was the life for her who had learned
to walk on a ship's deck. She was a ship-child, a sea-girl if ever
there was one. And of course she loved Jasper and trusted him; but
there was a shade of anxiety in her pride. It is very fine and
romantic to possess for your very own a finely tempered and trusty
sword-blade, but whether it is the best weapon to counter with the
common cudgel-play of Fate--that's another question.
She knew that she had the more substance of the two--you needn't
try any cheap jokes, I am not talking of their weights. She was
just a little anxious while he was away, and she had me who, being
a tried confidant, took the liberty to whisper frequently "The
sooner the better." But there was a peculiar vein of obstinacy in
Miss Freya, and her reason for delay was characteristic. "Not
before my twenty-first birthday; so that there shall be no mistake
in people's minds as to me being old enough to know what I am
Jasper's feelings were in such subjection that he had never even
remonstrated against the decree. She was just splendid, whatever
she did or said, and there was an end of it for him. I believe
that he was subtle enough to be even flattered at bottom--at times.
And then to console him he had the brig which seemed pervaded by
the spirit of Freya, since whatever he did on board was always done
under the supreme sanction of his love.
"Yes. I'll soon begin to count the days," he repeated. "Eleven
months more. I'll have to crowd three trips into that."
"Mind you don't come to grief trying to do too much," I admonished
him. But he dismissed my caution with a laugh and an elated
gesture. Pooh! Nothing, nothing could happen to the brig, he
cried, as if the flame of his heart could light up the dark nights
of uncharted seas, and the image of Freya serve for an unerring
beacon amongst hidden shoals; as if the winds had to wait on his
future, the stars fight for it in their courses; as if the magic of
his passion had the power to float a ship on a drop of dew or sail
her through the eye of a needle--simply because it was her
magnificent lot to be the servant of a love so full of grace as to
make all the ways of the earth safe, resplendent, and easy.
"I suppose," I said, after he had finished laughing at my innocent
enough remark, "I suppose you will be off to-day."
That was what he meant to do. He had not gone at daylight only
because he expected me to come in.
"And only fancy what has happened yesterday," he went on. "My mate
left me suddenly. Had to. And as there's nobody to be found at a
short notice I am going to take Schultz with me. The notorious
Schultz! Why don't you jump out of your skin? I tell you I went
and unearthed Schultz late last evening, after no end of trouble.
'I am your man, captain,' he says, in that wonderful voice of his,
'but I am sorry to confess I have practically no clothes to my
back. I have had to sell all my wardrobe to get a little food from
day to day.' What a voice that man has got. Talk about moving
stones! But people seem to get used to it. I had never seen him
before, and, upon my word, I felt suddenly tears rising to my eyes.
Luckily it was dusk. He was sitting very quiet under a tree in a
native compound as thin as a lath, and when I peered down at him
all he had on was an old cotton singlet and a pair of ragged
pyjamas. I bought him six white suits and two pairs of canvas
shoes. Can't clear the ship without a mate. Must have somebody.
I am going on shore presently to sign him on, and I shall take him
with me as I go back on board to get under way. Now, I am a
lunatic--am I not? Mad, of course. Come on! Lay it on thick.
Let yourself go. I like to see you get excited."
He so evidently expected me to scold that I took especial pleasure
in exaggerating the calmness of my attitude.
"The worst that can be brought up against Schultz," I began,
folding my arms and speaking dispassionately, "is an awkward habit
of stealing the stores of every ship he has ever been in. He will
do it. That's really all that's wrong. I don't credit absolutely
that story Captain Robinson tells of Schultz conspiring in
Chantabun with some ruffians in a Chinese junk to steal the anchor
off the starboard bow of the Bohemian Girl schooner. Robinson's
story is too ingenious altogether. That other tale of the
engineers of the Nan-Shan finding Schultz at midnight in the
engine-room busy hammering at the brass bearings to carry them off
for sale on shore seems to me more authentic. Apart from this
little weakness, let me tell you that Schultz is a smarter sailor
than many who never took a drop of drink in their lives, and
perhaps no worse morally than some men you and I know who have
never stolen the value of a penny. He may not be a desirable
person to have on board one's ship, but since you have no choice he
may be made to do, I believe. The important thing is to understand
his psychology. Don't give him any money till you have done with
him. Not a cent, if he begs ever so. For as sure as Fate the
moment you give him any money he will begin to steal. Just
I enjoyed Jasper's incredulous surprise.
"The devil he will!" he cried. "What on earth for? Aren't you
trying to pull my leg, old boy?"
"No. I'm not. You must understand Schultz's psychology. He's
neither a loafer nor a cadger. He's not likely to wander about
looking for somebody to stand him drinks. But suppose he goes on
shore with five dollars, or fifty for that matter, in his pocket?
After the third or fourth glass he becomes fuddled and charitable.
He either drops his money all over the place, or else distributes
the lot around; gives it to any one who will take it. Then it
occurs to him that the night is young yet, and that he may require
a good many more drinks for himself and his friends before morning.
So he starts off cheerfully for his ship. His legs never get
affected nor his head either in the usual way. He gets aboard and
simply grabs the first thing that seems to him suitable--the cabin
lamp, a coil of rope, a bag of biscuits, a drum of oil--and
converts it into money without thinking twice about it. This is
the process and no other. You have only to look out that he
doesn't get a start. That's all."
"Confound his psychology," muttered Jasper. "But a man with a
voice like his is fit to talk to the angels. Is he incurable do
I said that I thought so. Nobody had prosecuted him yet, but no
one would employ him any longer. His end would be, I feared, to
starve in some hole or other.
"Ah, well," reflected Jasper. "The Bonito isn't trading to any
ports of civilisation. That'll make it easier for him to keep
That was true. The brig's business was on uncivilised coasts, with
obscure rajahs dwelling in nearly unknown bays; with native
settlements up mysterious rivers opening their sombre, forest-lined
estuaries among a welter of pale green reefs and dazzling sand-
banks, in lonely straits of calm blue water all aglitter with
sunshine. Alone, far from the beaten tracks, she glided, all
white, round dark, frowning headlands, stole out, silent like a
ghost, from behind points of land stretching out all black in the
moonlight; or lay hove-to, like a sleeping sea-bird, under the
shadow of some nameless mountain waiting for a signal. She would
be glimpsed suddenly on misty, squally days dashing disdainfully
aside the short aggressive waves of the Java Sea; or be seen far,
far away, a tiny dazzling white speck flying across the brooding
purple masses of thunderclouds piled up on the horizon. Sometimes,
on the rare mail tracks, where civilisation brushes against wild
mystery, when the naive passengers crowding along the rail
exclaimed, pointing at her with interest: "Oh, here's a yacht!"
the Dutch captain, with a hostile glance, would grunt
contemptuously: "Yacht! No! That's only English Jasper. A
"A good seaman you say," ejaculated Jasper, still in the matter of
the hopeless Schultz with the wonderfully touching voice.
"First rate. Ask any one. Quite worth having--only impossible," I
"He shall have his chance to reform in the brig," said Jasper, with
a laugh. "There will be no temptations either to drink or steal
where I am going to this time."
I didn't press him for anything more definite on that point. In
fact, intimate as we were, I had a pretty clear notion of the
general run of his business.
But as we are going ashore in his gig he asked suddenly: "By the
way, do you know where Heemskirk is?"
I eyed him covertly, and was reassured. He had asked the question,
not as a lover, but as a trader. I told him that I had heard in
Palembang that the Neptun was on duty down about Flores and
Sumbawa. Quite out of his way. He expressed his satisfaction.
"You know," he went on, "that fellow, when he gets on the Borneo
coast, amuses himself by knocking down my beacons. I have had to
put up a few to help me in and out of the rivers. Early this year
a Celebes trader becalmed in a prau was watching him at it. He
steamed the gunboat full tilt at two of them, one after another,
smashing them to pieces, and then lowered a boat on purpose to pull
out a third, which I had a lot of trouble six months ago to stick
up in the middle of a mudflat for a tide mark. Did you ever hear
of anything more provoking--eh?"
"I wouldn't quarrel with the beggar," I observed casually, yet
disliking that piece of news strongly. "It isn't worth while."
"I quarrel?" cried Jasper. "I don't want to quarrel. I don't want
to hurt a single hair of his ugly head. My dear fellow, when I
think of Freya's twenty-first birthday, all the world's my friend,
Heemskirk included. It's a nasty, spiteful amusement, all the
We parted rather hurriedly on the quay, each of us having his own
pressing business to attend to. I would have been very much cut up
had I known that this hurried grasp of the hand with "So long, old
boy. Good luck to you!" was the last of our partings.
On his return to the Straits I was away, and he was gone again
before I got back. He was trying to achieve three trips before
Freya's twenty-first birthday. At Nelson's Cove I missed him again
by only a couple of days. Freya and I talked of "that lunatic" and
"perfect idiot" with great delight and infinite appreciation. She
was very radiant, with a more pronounced gaiety, notwithstanding
that she had just parted from Jasper. But this was to be their
"Do get aboard as soon as you can, Miss Freya," I entreated.
She looked me straight in the face, her colour a little heightened
and with a sort of solemn ardour--if there was a little catch in
"The very next day."
Ah, yes! The very next day after her twenty-first birthday. I was
pleased at this hint of deep feeling. It was as if she had grown
impatient at last of the self-imposed delay. I supposed that
Jasper's recent visit had told heavily.
"That's right," I said approvingly. "I shall be much easier in my
mind when I know you have taken charge of that lunatic. Don't you
lose a minute. He, of course, will be on time--unless heavens
"Yes. Unless--" she repeated in a thoughtful whisper, raising her
eyes to the evening sky without a speck of cloud anywhere. Silent
for a time, we let our eyes wander over the waters below, looking
mysteriously still in the twilight, as if trustfully composed for a
long, long dream in the warm, tropical night. And the peace all
round us seemed without limits and without end.
And then we began again to talk Jasper over in our usual strain.
We agreed that he was too reckless in many ways. Luckily, the brig
was equal to the situation. Nothing apparently was too much for
her. A perfect darling of a ship, said Miss Freya. She and her
father had spent an afternoon on board. Jasper had given them some
tea. Papa was grumpy. . . . I had a vision of old Nelson under the
brig's snowy awnings, nursing his unassuming vexation, and fanning
himself with his hat. A comedy father. . . . As a new instance of
Jasper's lunacy, I was told that he was distressed at his inability
to have solid silver handles fitted to all the cabin doors. "As if
I would have let him!" commented Miss Freya, with amused
indignation. Incidentally, I learned also that Schultz, the
nautical kleptomaniac with the pathetic voice, was still hanging on
to his job, with Miss Freya's approval. Jasper had confided to the
lady of his heart his purpose of straightening out the fellow's
psychology. Yes, indeed. All the world was his friend because it
breathed the same air with Freya.
Somehow or other, I brought Heemskirk's name into conversation,
and, to my great surprise, startled Miss Freya. Her eyes expressed
something like distress, while she bit her lip as if to contain an
explosion of laughter. Oh! Yes. Heemskirk was at the bungalow at
the same time with Jasper, but he arrived the day after. He left
the same day as the brig, but a few hours later.
"What a nuisance he must have been to you two," I said feelingly.
Her eyes flashed at me a sort of frightened merriment, and suddenly
she exploded into a clear burst of laughter. "Ha, ha, ha!"
I echoed it heartily, but not with the game charming tone: "Ha,
ha, ha! . . . Isn't he grotesque? Ha, ha, ha!" And the
ludicrousness of old Nelson's inanely fierce round eyes in
association with his conciliatory manner to the lieutenant
presenting itself to my mind brought on another fit.
"He looks," I spluttered, "he looks--Ha, ha, ha!--amongst you three
. . . like an unhappy black-beetle. Ha, ha, ha!"
She gave out another ringing peal, ran off into her own room, and
slammed the door behind her, leaving me profoundly astounded. I
stopped laughing at once.
"What's the joke?" asked old Nelson's voice, half way down the
He came up, sat down, and blew out his cheeks, looking
inexpressibly fatuous. But I didn't want to laugh any more. And
what on earth, I asked myself, have we been laughing at in this
uncontrollable fashion. I felt suddenly depressed.
Oh, yes. Freya had started it. The girl's overwrought, I thought.
And really one couldn't wonder at it.
I had no answer to old Nelson's question, but he was too aggrieved
at Jasper's visit to think of anything else. He as good as asked
me whether I wouldn't undertake to hint to Jasper that he was not
wanted at the Seven Isles group. I declared that it was not
necessary. From certain circumstances which had come to my
knowledge lately, I had reason to think that he would not be much
troubled by Jasper Allen in the future.
He emitted an earnest "Thank God!" which nearly set me laughing
again, but he did not brighten up proportionately. It seemed
Heemskirk had taken special pains to make himself disagreeable.
The lieutenant had frightened old Nelson very much by expressing a
sinister wonder at the Government permitting a white man to settle
down in that part at all. "It is against our declared policy," he
had remarked. He had also charged him with being in reality no
better than an Englishman. He had even tried to pick a quarrel
with him for not learning to speak Dutch.
"I told him I was too old to learn now," sighed out old Nelson (or
Nielsen) dismally. "He said I ought to have learned Dutch long
before. I had been making my living in Dutch dependencies. It was
disgraceful of me not to speak Dutch, he said. He was as savage
with me as if I had been a Chinaman."
It was plain he had been viciously badgered. He did not mention
how many bottles of his best claret he had offered up on the altar
of conciliation. It must have been a generous libation. But old
Nelson (or Nielsen) was really hospitable. He didn't mind that;
and I only regretted that this virtue should be lavished on the
lieutenant-commander of the Neptun. I longed to tell him that in
all probability he would be relieved from Heemskirk's visitations
also. I did not do so only from the fear (absurd, I admit) of
arousing some sort of suspicion in his mind. As if with this
guileless comedy father such a thing were possible!
Strangely enough, the last words on the subject of Heemskirk were
spoken by Freya, and in that very sense. The lieutenant was
turning up persistently in old Nelson's conversation at dinner. At
last I muttered a half audible "Damn the lieutenant." I could see
that the girl was getting exasperated, too.
"And he wasn't well at all--was he, Freya?" old Nelson went on
moaning. "Perhaps it was that which made him so snappish, hey,
Freya? He looked very bad when he left us so suddenly. His liver
must be in a bad state, too."
"Oh, he will end by getting over it," said Freya impatiently. "And
do leave off worrying about him, papa. Very likely you won't see
much of him for a long time to come."
The look she gave me in exchange for my discreet smile had no
hidden mirth in it. Her eyes seemed hollowed, her face gone wan in
a couple of hours. We had been laughing too much. Overwrought!
Overwrought by the approach of the decisive moment. After all,
sincere, courageous, and self-reliant as she was, she must have
felt both the passion and the compunction of her resolve. The very
strength of love which had carried her up to that point must have
put her under a great moral strain, in which there might have been
a little simple remorse, too. For she was honest--and there,
across the table, sat poor old Nelson (or Nielsen) staring at her,
round-eyed and so pathetically comic in his fierce aspect as to
touch the most lightsome heart.
He retired early to his room to soothe himself for a night's rest
by perusing his account-books. We two remained on the verandah for
another hour or so, but we exchanged only languid phrases on things
without importance, as though we had been emotionally jaded by our
long day's talk on the only momentous subject. And yet there was
something she might have told a friend. But she didn't. We parted
silently. She distrusted my masculine lack of common sense,
perhaps. . . . O! Freya!
Going down the precipitous path to the landing-stage, I was
confronted in the shadows of boulders and bushes by a draped
feminine figure whose appearance startled me at first. It glided
into my way suddenly from behind a piece of rock. But in a moment
it occurred to me that it could be no one else but Freya's maid, a
half-caste Malacca Portuguese. One caught fleeting glimpses of her
olive face and dazzling white teeth about the house. I had
observed her at times from a distance, as she sat within call under
the shade of some fruit trees, brushing and plaiting her long raven
locks. It seemed to be the principal occupation of her leisure
hours. We had often exchanged nods and smiles--and a few words,
too. She was a pretty creature. And once I had watched her
approvingly make funny and expressive grimaces behind Heemskirk's
back. I understood (from Jasper) that she was in the secret, like
a comedy camerista. She was to accompany Freya on her irregular
way to matrimony and "ever after" happiness. Why should she be
roaming by night near the cove--unless on some love affair of her
own--I asked myself. But there was nobody suitable within the
Seven Isles group, as far as I knew. It flashed upon me that it
was myself she had been lying in wait for.
She hesitated, muffled from head to foot, shadowy and bashful. I
advanced another pace, and how I felt is nobody's business.
"What is it?" I asked, very low.
"Nobody knows I am here," she whispered.
"And nobody can see us," I whispered back.
The murmur of words "I've been so frightened" reached me. Just
then forty feet above our head, from the yet lighted verandah,
unexpected and startling, Freya's voice rang out in a clear,
With a stifled exclamation, the hesitating girl vanished out of the
path. A bush near by rustled; then silence. I waited wondering.
The lights on the verandah went out. I waited a while longer then
continued down the path to my boat, wondering more than ever.
I remember the occurrences of that visit especially, because this
was the last time I saw the Nelson bungalow. On arriving at the
Straits I found cable messages which made it necessary for me to
throw up my employment at a moment's notice and go home at once. I
had a desperate scramble to catch the mailboat which was due to
leave next day, but I found time to write two short notes, one to
Freya, the other to Jasper. Later on I wrote at length, this time
to Allen alone. I got no answer. I hunted up then his brother,
or, rather, half-brother, a solicitor in the city, a sallow, calm,
little man who looked at me over his spectacles thoughtfully.
Jasper was the only child of his father's second marriage, a
transaction which had failed to commend itself to the first, grown-
"You haven't heard for ages," I repeated, with secret annoyance.
"May I ask what 'for ages' means in this connection?"
"It means that I don't care whether I ever hear from him or not,"
retorted the little man of law, turning nasty suddenly.
I could not blame Jasper for not wasting his time in correspondence
with such an outrageous relative. But why didn't he write to me--a
decent sort of friend, after all; enough of a friend to find for
his silence the excuse of forgetfulness natural to a state of
transcendental bliss? I waited indulgently, but nothing ever came.
And the East seemed to drop out of my life without an echo, like a
stone falling into a well of prodigious depth.