Part 2 out of 4
the shore. The blackness of the island blotted out the stars with
its vague mass like a low thundercloud brooding over the waters and
ready to burst into flame and crashes.
"And so--this is Malata," she repeated dreamily, moving towards the
cabin door. The clear cloak hanging from her shoulders, the ivory
face--for the night had put out nothing of her but the gleams of
her hair--made her resemble a shining dream-woman uttering words of
wistful inquiry. She disappeared without a sign, leaving Renouard
penetrated to the very marrow by the sounds that came from her body
like a mysterious resonance of an exquisite instrument.
He stood stock still. What was this accidental touch which had
evoked the strange accent of her voice? He dared not answer that
question. But he had to answer the question of what was to be done
now. Had the moment of confession come? The thought was enough to
make one's blood run cold.
It was as if those people had a premonition of something. In the
taciturn days of the passage he had noticed their reserve even
amongst themselves. The professor smoked his pipe moodily in
retired spots. Renouard had caught Miss Moorsom's eyes resting on
himself more than once, with a peculiar and grave expression. He
fancied that she avoided all opportunities of conversation. The
maiden lady seemed to nurse a grievance. And now what had he to
The lights on the deck had gone out one after the other. The
About an hour after Miss Moorsom had gone below without a sign or a
word for him, Renouard got out of his hammock slung in the waist
under the midship awning--for he had given up all the accommodation
below to his guests. He got out with a sudden swift movement,
flung off his sleeping jacket, rolled his pyjamas up his thighs,
and stole forward, unseen by the one Kanaka of the anchor-watch.
His white torso, naked like a stripped athlete's, glimmered,
ghostly, in the deep shadows of the deck. Unnoticed he got out of
the ship over the knight-heads, ran along the back rope, and
seizing the dolphin-striker firmly with both hands, lowered himself
into the sea without a splash.
He swam away, noiseless like a fish, and then struck boldly for the
land, sustained, embraced, by the tepid water. The gentle,
voluptuous heave of its breast swung him up and down slightly;
sometimes a wavelet murmured in his ears; from time to time,
lowering his feet, he felt for the bottom on a shallow patch to
rest and correct his direction. He landed at the lower end of the
bungalow garden, into the dead stillness of the island. There were
no lights. The plantation seemed to sleep, as profoundly as the
schooner. On the path a small shell cracked under his naked heel.
The faithful half-caste foreman going his rounds cocked his ears at
the sharp sound. He gave one enormous start of fear at the sight
of the swift white figure flying at him out of the night. He
crouched in terror, and then sprang up and clicked his tongue in
"Tse! Tse! The master!"
"Be quiet, Luiz, and listen to what I say."
Yes, it was the master, the strong master who was never known to
raise his voice, the man blindly obeyed and never questioned. He
talked low and rapidly in the quiet night, as if every minute were
precious. On learning that three guests were coming to stay Luiz
clicked his tongue rapidly. These clicks were the uniform,
stenographic symbols of his emotions, and he could give them an
infinite variety of meaning. He listened to the rest in a deep
silence hardly affected by the low, "Yes, master," whenever
"You understand?" the latter insisted. "No preparations are to be
made till we land in the morning. And you are to say that Mr.
Walter has gone off in a trading schooner on a round of the
Renouard walked back towards the sea. Luiz, following him,
proposed to call out half a dozen boys and man the canoe.
"Tse! Tse! Tse!"
"Don't you understand that you haven't seen me?"
"Yes, master. But what a long swim. Suppose you drown."
"Then you can say of me and of Mr. Walter what you like. The dead
Renouard entered the sea and heard a faint "Tse! Tse! Tse!" of
concern from the half-caste, who had already lost sight of the
master's dark head on the overshadowed water.
Renouard set his direction by a big star that, dipping on the
horizon, seemed to look curiously into his face. On this swim back
he felt the mournful fatigue of all that length of the traversed
road, which brought him no nearer to his desire. It was as if his
love had sapped the invisible supports of his strength. There came
a moment when it seemed to him that he must have swum beyond the
confines of life. He had a sensation of eternity close at hand,
demanding no effort--offering its peace. It was easy to swim like
this beyond the confines of life looking at a star. But the
thought: "They will think I dared not face them and committed
suicide," caused a revolt of his mind which carried him on. He
returned on board, as he had left, unheard and unseen. He lay in
his hammock utterly exhausted and with a confused feeling that he
had been beyond the confines of life, somewhere near a star, and
that it was very quiet there.
Sheltered by the squat headland from the first morning sparkle of
the sea the little bay breathed a delicious freshness. The party
from the schooner landed at the bottom of the garden. They
exchanged insignificant words in studiously casual tones. The
professor's sister put up a long-handled eye-glass as if to scan
the novel surroundings, but in reality searching for poor Arthur
anxiously. Having never seen him otherwise than in his town
clothes she had no idea what he would look like. It had been left
to the professor to help his ladies out of the boat because
Renouard, as if intent on giving directions, had stepped forward at
once to meet the half-caste Luiz hurrying down the path. In the
distance, in front of the dazzlingly sunlit bungalow, a row of
dark-faced house-boys unequal in stature and varied in complexion
preserved the immobility of a guard of honour.
Luiz had taken off his soft felt hat before coming within earshot.
Renouard bent his head to his rapid talk of domestic arrangements
he meant to make for the visitors; another bed in the master's room
for the ladies and a cot for the gentleman to be hung in the room
opposite where--where Mr. Walter--here he gave a scared look all
round--Mr. Walter--had died.
"Very good," assented Renouard in an even undertone. "And remember
what you have to say of him."
"Yes, master. Only"--he wriggled slightly and put one bare foot on
the other for a moment in apologetic embarrassment--"only I--I--
don't like to say it."
Renouard looked at him without anger, without any sort of
expression. "Frightened of the dead? Eh? Well--all right. I
will say it myself--I suppose once for all. . . Immediately he
raised his voice very much.
"Send the boys down to bring up the luggage."
Renouard turned to his distinguished guests who, like a personally
conducted party of tourists, had stopped and were looking about
"I am sorry," he began with an impassive face. "My man has just
told me that Mr. Walter . . ." he managed to smile, but didn't
correct himself . . . "has gone in a trading schooner on a short
tour of the islands, to the westward."
This communication was received in profound silence.
Renouard forgot himself in the thought: "It's done!" But the
sight of the string of boys marching up to the house with suit-
cases and dressing-bags rescued him from that appalling
"All I can do is to beg you to make yourselves at home . . . with
what patience you may."
This was so obviously the only thing to do that everybody moved on
at once. The professor walked alongside Renouard, behind the two
"Rather unexpected--this absence."
"Not exactly," muttered Renouard. "A trip has to be made every
year to engage labour."
"I see . . . And he . . . How vexingly elusive the poor fellow has
become! I'll begin to think that some wicked fairy is favouring
this love tale with unpleasant attentions."
Renouard noticed that the party did not seem weighed down by this
new disappointment. On the contrary they moved with a freer step.
The professor's sister dropped her eye-glass to the end of its
chain. Miss Moorsom took the lead. The professor, his lips
unsealed, lingered in the open: but Renouard did not listen to
that man's talk. He looked after that man's daughter--if indeed
that creature of irresistible seductions were a daughter of
mortals. The very intensity of his desire, as if his soul were
streaming after her through his eyes, defeated his object of
keeping hold of her as long as possible with, at least, one of his
senses. Her moving outlines dissolved into a misty coloured
shimmer of a woman made of flame and shadows, crossing the
threshold of his house.
The days which followed were not exactly such as Renouard had
feared--yet they were not better than his fears. They were
accursed in all the moods they brought him. But the general aspect
of things was quiet. The professor smoked innumerable pipes with
the air of a worker on his holiday, always in movement and looking
at things with that mysteriously sagacious aspect of men who are
admittedly wiser than the rest of the world. His white head of
hair--whiter than anything within the horizon except the broken
water on the reefs--was glimpsed in every part of the plantation
always on the move under the white parasol. And once he climbed
the headland and appeared suddenly to those below, a white speck
elevated in the blue, with a diminutive but statuesque effect.
Felicia Moorsom remained near the house. Sometimes she could be
seen with a despairing expression scribbling rapidly in her lock-up
dairy. But only for a moment. At the sound of Renouard's
footsteps she would turn towards him her beautiful face, adorable
in that calm which was like a wilful, like a cruel ignoring of her
tremendous power. Whenever she sat on the verandah, on a chair
more specially reserved for her use, Renouard would stroll up and
sit on the steps near her, mostly silent, and often not trusting
himself to turn his glance on her. She, very still with her eyes
half-closed, looked down on his head--so that to a beholder (such
as Professor Moorsom, for instance) she would appear to be turning
over in her mind profound thoughts about that man sitting at her
feet, his shoulders bowed a little, his hands listless--as if
vanquished. And, indeed, the moral poison of falsehood has such a
decomposing power that Renouard felt his old personality turn to
dead dust. Often, in the evening, when they sat outside conversing
languidly in the dark, he felt that he must rest his forehead on
her feet and burst into tears.
The professor's sister suffered from some little strain caused by
the unstability of her own feelings toward Renouard. She could not
tell whether she really did dislike him or not. At times he
appeared to her most fascinating; and, though he generally ended by
saying something shockingly crude, she could not resist her
inclination to talk with him--at least not always. One day when
her niece had left them alone on the verandah she leaned forward in
her chair--speckless, resplendent, and, in her way, almost as
striking a personality as her niece, who did not resemble her in
the least. "Dear Felicia has inherited her hair and the greatest
part of her appearance from her mother," the maiden lady used to
She leaned forward then, confidentially.
"Oh! Mr. Renouard! Haven't you something comforting to say?"
He looked up, as surprised as if a voice from heaven had spoken
with this perfect society intonation, and by the puzzled profundity
of his blue eyes fluttered the wax-flower of refined womanhood.
She continued. "For--I can speak to you openly on this tiresome
subject--only think what a terrible strain this hope deferred must
be for Felicia's heart--for her nerves."
"Why speak to me about it," he muttered feeling half choked
"Why! As a friend--a well-wisher--the kindest of hosts. I am
afraid we are really eating you out of house and home." She
laughed a little. "Ah! When, when will this suspense be relieved!
That poor lost Arthur! I confess that I am almost afraid of the
great moment. It will be like seeing a ghost."
"Have you ever seen a ghost?" asked Renouard, in a dull voice.
She shifted her hands a little. Her pose was perfect in its ease
and middle-aged grace.
"Not actually. Only in a photograph. But we have many friends who
had the experience of apparitions."
"Ah! They see ghosts in London," mumbled Renouard, not looking at
"Frequently--in a certain very interesting set. But all sorts of
people do. We have a friend, a very famous author--his ghost is a
girl. One of my brother's intimates is a very great man of
science. He is friendly with a ghost . . . Of a girl too," she
added in a voice as if struck for the first time by the
coincidence. "It is the photograph of that apparition which I have
seen. Very sweet. Most interesting. A little cloudy naturally. .
. . Mr. Renouard! I hope you are not a sceptic. It's so consoling
to think. . ."
"Those plantation boys of mine see ghosts too," said Renouard
The sister of the philosopher sat up stiffly. What crudeness! It
was always so with this strange young man.
"Mr. Renouard! How can you compare the superstitious fancies of
your horrible savages with the manifestations . . . "
Words failed her. She broke off with a very faint primly angry
smile. She was perhaps the more offended with him because of that
flutter at the beginning of the conversation. And in a moment with
perfect tact and dignity she got up from her chair and left him
Renouard didn't even look up. It was not the displeasure of the
lady which deprived him of his sleep that night. He was beginning
to forget what simple, honest sleep was like. His hammock from the
ship had been hung for him on a side verandah, and he spent his
nights in it on his back, his hands folded on his chest, in a sort
of half conscious, oppressed stupor. In the morning he watched
with unseeing eyes the headland come out a shapeless inkblot
against the thin light of the false dawn, pass through all the
stages of daybreak to the deep purple of its outlined mass nimbed
gloriously with the gold of the rising sun. He listened to the
vague sounds of waking within the house: and suddenly he became
aware of Luiz standing by the hammock--obviously troubled.
"What's the matter?"
"Tse! Tse! Tse!"
"Well, what now? Trouble with the boys?"
"No, master. The gentleman when I take him his bath water he speak
to me. He ask me--he ask--when, when, I think Mr. Walter, he come
The half-caste's teeth chattered slightly. Renouard got out of the
"And he is here all the time--eh?"
Luiz nodded a scared affirmative, but at once protested, "I no see
him. I never. Not I! The ignorant wild boys say they see . . .
He clapped his teeth on another short rattle, and stood there,
shrunk, blighted, like a man in a freezing blast.
"And what did you say to the gentleman?"
"I say I don't know--and I clear out. I--I don't like to speak of
"All right. We shall try to lay that poor ghost," said Renouard
gloomily, going off to a small hut near by to dress. He was saying
to himself: "This fellow will end by giving me away. The last
thing that I . . . No! That mustn't be." And feeling his hand
being forced he discovered the whole extent of his cowardice.
That morning wandering about his plantation, more like a frightened
soul than its creator and master, he dodged the white parasol
bobbing up here and there like a buoy adrift on a sea of dark-green
plants. The crop promised to be magnificent, and the fashionable
philosopher of the age took other than a merely scientific interest
in the experiment. His investments were judicious, but he had
always some little money lying by, for experiments.
After lunch, being left alone with Renouard, he talked a little of
cultivation and such matters. Then suddenly:
"By the way, is it true what my sister tells me, that your
plantation boys have been disturbed by a ghost?"
Renouard, who since the ladies had left the table was not keeping
such a strict watch on himself, came out of his abstraction with a
start and a stiff smile.
"My foreman had some trouble with them during my absence. They
funk working in a certain field on the slope of the hill."
"A ghost here!" exclaimed the amused professor. "Then our whole
conception of the psychology of ghosts must be revised. This
island has been uninhabited probably since the dawn of ages. How
did a ghost come here. By air or water? And why did it leave its
native haunts. Was it from misanthropy? Was he expelled from some
community of spirits?"
Renouard essayed to respond in the same tone. The words died on
his lips. Was it a man or a woman ghost, the professor inquired.
"I don't know." Renouard made an effort to appear at ease. He
had, he said, a couple of Tahitian amongst his boys--a ghost-ridden
race. They had started the scare. They had probably brought their
ghost with them.
"Let us investigate the matter, Renouard," proposed the professor
half in earnest. "We may make some interesting discoveries as to
the state of primitive minds, at any rate."
This was too much. Renouard jumped up and leaving the room went
out and walked about in front of the house. He would allow no one
to force his hand. Presently the professor joined him outside. He
carried his parasol, but had neither his book nor his pipe with
him. Amiably serious he laid his hand on his "dear young friend's"
"We are all of us a little strung up," he said. "For my part I
have been like sister Anne in the story. But I cannot see anything
coming. Anything that would be the least good for anybody--I
Renouard had recovered sufficiently to murmur coldly his regret of
this waste of time. For that was what, he supposed, the professor
had in his mind.
"Time," mused Professor Moorsom. "I don't know that time can be
wasted. But I will tell you, my dear friend, what this is: it is
an awful waste of life. I mean for all of us. Even for my sister,
who has got a headache and is gone to lie down."
He shook gently Renouard's arm. "Yes, for all of us! One may
meditate on life endlessly, one may even have a poor opinion of it-
-but the fact remains that we have only one life to live. And it
is short. Think of that, my young friend."
He released Renouard's arm and stepped out of the shade opening his
parasol. It was clear that there was something more in his mind
than mere anxiety about the date of his lectures for fashionable
audiences. What did the man mean by his confounded platitudes? To
Renouard, scared by Luiz in the morning (for he felt that nothing
could be more fatal than to have his deception unveiled otherwise
than by personal confession), this talk sounded like encouragement
or a warning from that man who seemed to him to be very brazen and
very subtle. It was like being bullied by the dead and cajoled by
the living into a throw of dice for a supreme stake.
Renouard went away to some distance from the house and threw
himself down in the shade of a tree. He lay there perfectly still
with his forehead resting on his folded arms, light-headed and
thinking. It seemed to him that he must be on fire, then that he
had fallen into a cool whirlpool, a smooth funnel of water swirling
about with nauseating rapidity. And then (it must have been a
reminiscence of his boyhood) he was walking on the dangerous thin
ice of a river, unable to turn back. . . . Suddenly it parted from
shore to shore with a loud crack like the report of a gun.
With one leap he found himself on his feet. All was peace,
stillness, sunshine. He walked away from there slowly. Had he
been a gambler he would have perhaps been supported in a measure by
the mere excitement. But he was not a gambler. He had always
disdained that artificial manner of challenging the fates. The
bungalow came into view, bright and pretty, and all about
everything was peace, stillness, sunshine. . . .
While he was plodding towards it he had a disagreeable sense of the
dead man's company at his elbow. The ghost! He seemed to be
everywhere but in his grave. Could one ever shake him off? he
wondered. At that moment Miss Moorsom came out on the verandah;
and at once, as if by a mystery of radiating waves, she roused a
great tumult in his heart, shook earth and sky together--but he
plodded on. Then like a grave song-note in the storm her voice
came to him ominously.
"Ah! Mr. Renouard. . . " He came up and smiled, but she was very
serious. "I can't keep still any longer. Is there time to walk up
this headland and back before dark?"
The shadows were lying lengthened on the ground; all was stillness
and peace. "No," said Renouard, feeling suddenly as steady as a
rock. "But I can show you a view from the central hill which your
father has not seen. A view of reefs and of broken water without
end, and of great wheeling clouds of sea-birds."
She came down the verandah steps at once and they moved off. "You
go first," he proposed, "and I'll direct you. To the left."
She was wearing a short nankin skirt, a muslin blouse; he could see
through the thin stuff the skin of her shoulders, of her arms. The
noble delicacy of her neck caused him a sort of transport. "The
path begins where these three palms are. The only palms on the
She never turned her head. After a while she observed: "This path
looks as if it had been made recently."
"Quite recently," he assented very low.
They went on climbing steadily without exchanging another word; and
when they stood on the top she gazed a long time before her. The
low evening mist veiled the further limit of the reefs. Above the
enormous and melancholy confusion, as of a fleet of wrecked
islands, the restless myriads of sea-birds rolled and unrolled dark
ribbons on the sky, gathered in clouds, soared and stooped like a
play of shadows, for they were too far for them to hear their
Renouard broke the silence in low tones.
"They'll be settling for the night presently." She made no sound.
Round them all was peace and declining sunshine. Near by, the
topmost pinnacle of Malata, resembling the top of a buried tower,
rose a rock, weather-worn, grey, weary of watching the monotonous
centuries of the Pacific. Renouard leaned his shoulders against
it. Felicia Moorsom faced him suddenly, her splendid black eyes
full on his face as though she had made up her mind at last to
destroy his wits once and for all. Dazzled, he lowered his eyelids
"Mr. Renouard! There is something strange in all this. Tell me
where he is?"
He answered deliberately.
"On the other side of this rock. I buried him there myself."
She pressed her hands to her breast, struggled for her breath for a
moment, then: "Ohhh! . . . You buried him! . . . What sort of man
are you? . . . You dared not tell! . . . He is another of your
victims? . . . You dared not confess that evening. . . . You must
have killed him. What could he have done to you? . . . You
fastened on him some atrocious quarrel and . . ."
Her vengeful aspect, her poignant cries left him as unmoved as the
weary rock against which he leaned. He only raised his eyelids to
look at her and lowered them slowly. Nothing more. It silenced
her. And as if ashamed she made a gesture with her hand, putting
away from her that thought. He spoke, quietly ironic at first.
"Ha! the legendary Renouard of sensitive idiots--the ruthless
adventurer--the ogre with a future. That was a parrot cry, Miss
Moorsom. I don't think that the greatest fool of them all ever
dared hint such a stupid thing of me that I killed men for nothing.
No, I had noticed this man in a hotel. He had come from up country
I was told, and was doing nothing. I saw him sitting there lonely
in a corner like a sick crow, and I went over one evening to talk
to him. Just on impulse. He wasn't impressive. He was pitiful.
My worst enemy could have told you he wasn't good enough to be one
of Renouard's victims. It didn't take me long to judge that he was
drugging himself. Not drinking. Drugs."
"Ah! It's now that you are trying to murder him," she cried.
"Really. Always the Renouard of shopkeepers' legend. Listen! I
would never have been jealous of him. And yet I am jealous of the
air you breathe, of the soil you tread on, of the world that sees
you--moving free--not mine. But never mind. I rather liked him.
For a certain reason I proposed he should come to be my assistant
here. He said he believed this would save him. It did not save
him from death. It came to him as it were from nothing--just a
fall. A mere slip and tumble of ten feet into a ravine. But it
seems he had been hurt before up-country--by a horse. He ailed and
ailed. No, he was not a steel-tipped man. And his poor soul
seemed to have been damaged too. It gave way very soon."
"This is tragic!" Felicia Moorsom whispered with feeling.
Renouard's lips twitched, but his level voice continued
"That's the story. He rallied a little one night and said he
wanted to tell me something. I, being a gentleman, he said, he
could confide in me. I told him that he was mistaken. That there
was a good deal of a plebeian in me, that he couldn't know. He
seemed disappointed. He muttered something about his innocence and
something that sounded like a curse on some woman, then turned to
the wall and--just grew cold."
"On a woman," cried Miss Moorsom indignantly. "What woman?"
"I wonder!" said Renouard, raising his eyes and noting the crimson
of her ear-lobes against the live whiteness of her complexion, the
sombre, as if secret, night-splendour of her eyes under the
writhing flames of her hair. "Some woman who wouldn't believe in
that poor innocence of his. . . Yes. You probably. And now you
will not believe in me--not even in me who must in truth be what I
am--even to death. No! You won't. And yet, Felicia, a woman like
you and a man like me do not often come together on this earth."
The flame of her glorious head scorched his face. He flung his hat
far away, and his suddenly lowered eyelids brought out startlingly
his resemblance to antique bronze, the profile of Pallas, still,
austere, bowed a little in the shadow of the rock. "Oh! If you
could only understand the truth that is in me!" he added.
She waited, as if too astounded to speak, till he looked up again,
and then with unnatural force as if defending herself from some
unspoken aspersion, "It's I who stand for truth here! Believe in
you! In you, who by a heartless falsehood--and nothing else,
nothing else, do you hear?--have brought me here, deceived,
cheated, as in some abominable farce!" She sat down on a boulder,
rested her chin in her hands, in the pose of simple grief--mourning
"It only wanted this. Why! Oh! Why is it that ugliness,
ridicule, and baseness must fall across my path."
On that height, alone with the sky, they spoke to each other as if
the earth had fallen away from under their feet.
"Are you grieving for your dignity? He was a mediocre soul and
could have given you but an unworthy existence."
She did not even smile at those words, but, superb, as if lifting a
corner of the veil, she turned on him slowly.
"And do you imagine I would have devoted myself to him for such a
purpose! Don't you know that reparation was due to him from me? A
sacred debt--a fine duty. To redeem him would not have been in my
power--I know it. But he was blameless, and it was for me to come
forward. Don't you see that in the eyes of the world nothing could
have rehabilitated him so completely as his marriage with me? No
word of evil could be whispered of him after I had given him my
hand. As to giving myself up to anything less than the shaping of
a man's destiny--if I thought I could do it I would abhor myself. .
. ." She spoke with authority in her deep fascinating, unemotional
voice. Renouard meditated, gloomy, as if over some sinister riddle
of a beautiful sphinx met on the wild road of his life.
"Yes. Your father was right. You are one of these aristocrats . .
She drew herself up haughtily.
"What do you say? My father! . . . I an aristocrat."
"Oh! I don't mean that you are like the men and women of the time
of armours, castles, and great deeds. Oh, no! They stood on the
naked soil, had traditions to be faithful to, had their feet on
this earth of passions and death which is not a hothouse. They
would have been too plebeian for you since they had to lead, to
suffer with, to understand the commonest humanity. No, you are
merely of the topmost layer, disdainful and superior, the mere pure
froth and bubble on the inscrutable depths which some day will toss
you out of existence. But you are you! You are you! You are the
eternal love itself--only, O Divinity, it isn't your body, it is
your soul that is made of foam."
She listened as if in a dream. He had succeeded so well in his
effort to drive back the flood of his passion that his life itself
seemed to run with it out of his body. At that moment he felt as
one dead speaking. But the headlong wave returning with tenfold
force flung him on her suddenly, with open arms and blazing eyes.
She found herself like a feather in his grasp, helpless, unable to
struggle, with her feet off the ground. But this contact with her,
maddening like too much felicity, destroyed its own end. Fire ran
through his veins, turned his passion to ashes, burnt him out and
left him empty, without force--almost without desire. He let her
go before she could cry out. And she was so used to the forms of
repression enveloping, softening the crude impulses of old humanity
that she no longer believed in their existence as if it were an
exploded legend. She did not recognise what had happened to her.
She came safe out of his arms, without a struggle, not even having
"What's the meaning of this?" she said, outraged but calm in a
He got down on his knees in silence, bent low to her very feet,
while she looked down at him, a little surprised, without
animosity, as if merely curious to see what he would do. Then,
while he remained bowed to the ground pressing the hem of her skirt
to his lips, she made a slight movement. He got up.
"No," he said. "Were you ever so much mine what could I do with
you without your consent? No. You don't conquer a wraith, cold
mist, stuff of dreams, illusion. It must come to you and cling to
your breast. And then! Oh! And then!"
All ecstasy, all expression went out of his face.
"Mr. Renouard," she said, "though you can have no claim on my
consideration after having decoyed me here for the vile purpose,
apparently, of gloating over me as your possible prey, I will tell
you that I am not perhaps the extraordinary being you think I am.
You may believe me. Here I stand for truth itself."
"What's that to me what you are?" he answered. "At a sign from you
I would climb up to the seventh heaven to bring you down to earth
for my own--and if I saw you steeped to the lips in vice, in crime,
in mud, I would go after you, take you to my arms--wear you for an
incomparable jewel on my breast. And that's love--true love--the
gift and the curse of the gods. There is no other."
The truth vibrating in his voice made her recoil slightly, for she
was not fit to hear it--not even a little--not even one single time
in her life. It was revolting to her; and in her trouble, perhaps
prompted by the suggestion of his name or to soften the harshness
of expression, for she was obscurely moved, she spoke to him in
"Assez! J'ai horreur de tout cela," she said.
He was white to his very lips, but he was trembling no more. The
dice had been cast, and not even violence could alter the throw.
She passed by him unbendingly, and he followed her down the path.
After a time she heard him saying:
"And your dream is to influence a human destiny?"
"Yes!" she answered curtly, unabashed, with a woman's complete
"Then you may rest content. You have done it."
She shrugged her shoulders slightly. But just before reaching the
end of the path she relented, stopped, and went back to him.
"I don't suppose you are very anxious for people to know how near
you came to absolute turpitude. You may rest easy on that point.
I shall speak to my father, of course, and we will agree to say
that he has died--nothing more."
"Yes," said Renouard in a lifeless voice. "He is dead. His very
ghost shall be done with presently."
She went on, but he remained standing stock still in the dusk. She
had already reached the three palms when she heard behind her a
loud peal of laughter, cynical and joyless, such as is heard in
smoking-rooms at the end of a scandalous story. It made her feel
positively faint for a moment.
Slowly a complete darkness enveloped Geoffrey Renouard. His
resolution had failed him. Instead of following Felicia into the
house, he had stopped under the three palms, and leaning against a
smooth trunk had abandoned himself to a sense of an immense
deception and the feeling of extreme fatigue. This walk up the
hill and down again was like the supreme effort of an explorer
trying to penetrate the interior of an unknown country, the secret
of which is too well defended by its cruel and barren nature.
Decoyed by a mirage, he had gone too far--so far that there was no
going back. His strength was at an end. For the first time in his
life he had to give up, and with a sort of despairing self-
possession he tried to understand the cause of the defeat. He did
not ascribe it to that absurd dead man.
The hesitating shadow of Luiz approached him unnoticed till it
spoke timidly. Renouard started.
"Eh? What? Dinner waiting? You must say I beg to be excused. I
can't come. But I shall see them to-morrow morning, at the landing
place. Take your orders from the professor as to the sailing of
the schooner. Go now."
Luiz, dumbfounded, retreated into the darkness. Renouard did not
move, but hours afterwards, like the bitter fruit of his
immobility, the words: "I had nothing to offer to her vanity,"
came from his lips in the silence of the island. And it was then
only that he stirred, only to wear the night out in restless
tramping up and down the various paths of the plantation. Luiz,
whose sleep was made light by the consciousness of some impending
change, heard footsteps passing by his hut, the firm tread of the
master; and turning on his mats emitted a faint Tse! Tse! Tse! of
Lights had been burning in the bungalow almost all through the
night; and with the first sign of day began the bustle of
departure. House boys walked processionally carrying suit-cases
and dressing-bags down to the schooner's boat, which came to the
landing place at the bottom of the garden. Just as the rising sun
threw its golden nimbus around the purple shape of the headland,
the Planter of Malata was perceived pacing bare-headed the curve of
the little bay. He exchanged a few words with the sailing-master
of the schooner, then remained by the boat, standing very upright,
his eyes on the ground, waiting.
He had not long to wait. Into the cool, overshadowed garden the
professor descended first, and came jauntily down the path in a
lively cracking of small shells. With his closed parasol hooked on
his forearm, and a book in his hand, he resembled a banal tourist
more than was permissible to a man of his unique distinction. He
waved the disengaged arm from a distance, but at close quarters,
arrested before Renouard's immobility, he made no offer to shake
hands. He seemed to appraise the aspect of the man with a sharp
glance, and made up his mind.
"We are going back by Suez," he began almost boisterously. "I have
been looking up the sailing lists. If the zephirs of your Pacific
are only moderately propitious I think we are sure to catch the
mail boat due in Marseilles on the 18th of March. This will suit
me excellently. . . ." He lowered his tone. "My dear young
friend, I'm deeply grateful to you."
Renouard's set lips moved.
"Why are you grateful to me?"
"Ah! Why? In the first place you might have made us miss the next
boat, mightn't you? . . . I don't thank you for your hospitality.
You can't be angry with me for saying that I am truly thankful to
escape from it. But I am grateful to you for what you have done,
and--for being what you are."
It was difficult to define the flavour of that speech, but Renouard
received it with an austerely equivocal smile. The professor
stepping into the boat opened his parasol and sat down in the
stern-sheets waiting for the ladies. No sound of human voice broke
the fresh silence of the morning while they walked the broad path,
Miss Moorsom a little in advance of her aunt.
When she came abreast of him Renouard raised his head.
"Good-bye, Mr. Renouard," she said in a low voice, meaning to pass
on; but there was such a look of entreaty in the blue gleam of his
sunken eyes that after an imperceptible hesitation she laid her
hand, which was ungloved, in his extended palm.
"Will you condescend to remember me?" he asked, while an emotion
with which she was angry made her pale cheeks flush and her black
"This is a strange request for you to make," she said exaggerating
the coldness of her tone.
"Is it? Impudent perhaps. Yet I am not so guilty as you think;
and bear in mind that to me you can never make reparation."
"Reparation? To you! It is you who can offer me no reparation for
the offence against my feelings--and my person; for what reparation
can be adequate for your odious and ridiculous plot so scornful in
its implication, so humiliating to my pride. No! I don't want to
Unexpectedly, with a tightening grip, he pulled her nearer to him,
and looking into her eyes with fearless despair -
"You'll have to. I shall haunt you," he said firmly.
Her hand was wrenched out of his grasp before he had time to
release it. Felicia Moorsom stepped into the boat, sat down by the
side of her father, and breathed tenderly on her crushed fingers.
The professor gave her a sidelong look--nothing more. But the
professor's sister, yet on shore, had put up her long-handle double
eye-glass to look at the scene. She dropped it with a faint
"I've never in my life heard anything so crude said to a lady," she
murmured, passing before Renouard with a perfectly erect head.
When, a moment afterwards, softening suddenly, she turned to throw
a good-bye to that young man, she saw only his back in the distance
moving towards the bungalow. She watched him go in--amazed--before
she too left the soil of Malata.
Nobody disturbed Renouard in that room where he had shut himself in
to breathe the evanescent perfume of her who for him was no more,
till late in the afternoon when the half-caste was heard on the
other side of the door.
He wanted the master to know that the trader Janet was just
entering the cove.
Renouard's strong voice on his side of the door gave him most
unexpected instructions. He was to pay off the boys with the cash
in the office and arrange with the captain of the Janet to take
every worker away from Malata, returning them to their respective
homes. An order on the Dunster firm would be given to him in
And again the silence of the bungalow remained unbroken till, next
morning, the half-caste came to report that everything was done.
The plantation boys were embarking now.
Through a crack in the door a hand thrust at him a piece of paper,
and the door slammed to so sharply that Luiz stepped back. Then
approaching cringingly the keyhole, in a propitiatory tone he
"Do I go too, master?"
"Yes. You too. Everybody."
"Master stop here alone?"
Silence. And the half-caste's eyes grew wide with wonder. But he
also, like those "ignorant savages," the plantation boys, was only
too glad to leave an island haunted by the ghost of a white man.
He backed away noiselessly from the mysterious silence in the
closed room, and only in the very doorway of the bungalow allowed
himself to give vent to his feelings by a deprecatory and pained -
"Tse! Tse! Tse!"
The Moorsoms did manage to catch the homeward mail boat all right,
but had only twenty-four hours in town. Thus the sentimental
Willie could not see very much of them. This did not prevent him
afterwards from relating at great length, with manly tears in his
eyes, how poor Miss Moorsom--the fashionable and clever beauty--
found her betrothed in Malata only to see him die in her arms.
Most people were deeply touched by the sad story. It was the talk
of a good many days.
But the all-knowing Editor, Renouard's only friend and crony,
wanted to know more than the rest of the world. From professional
incontinence, perhaps, he thirsted for a full cup of harrowing
detail. And when he noticed Renouard's schooner lying in port day
after day he sought the sailing master to learn the reason. The
man told him that such were his instructions. He had been ordered
to lie there a month before returning to Malata. And the month was
nearly up. "I will ask you to give me a passage," said the Editor.
He landed in the morning at the bottom of the garden and found
peace, stillness, sunshine reigning everywhere, the doors and
windows of the bungalow standing wide open, no sight of a human
being anywhere, the plants growing rank and tall on the deserted
fields. For hours the Editor and the schooner's crew, excited by
the mystery, roamed over the island shouting Renouard's name; and
at last set themselves in grim silence to explore systematically
the uncleared bush and the deeper ravines in search of his corpse.
What had happened? Had he been murdered by the boys? Or had he
simply, capricious and secretive, abandoned his plantation taking
the people with him. It was impossible to tell what had happened.
At last, towards the decline of the day, the Editor and the sailing
master discovered a track of sandals crossing a strip of sandy
beach on the north shore of the bay. Following this track
fearfully, they passed round the spur of the headland, and there on
a large stone found the sandals, Renouard's white jacket, and the
Malay sarong of chequered pattern which the planter of Malata was
well known to wear when going to bathe. These things made a little
heap, and the sailor remarked, after gazing at it in silence -
"Birds have been hovering over this for many a day."
"He's gone bathing and got drowned," cried the Editor in dismay.
"I doubt it, sir. If he had been drowned anywhere within a mile
from the shore the body would have been washed out on the reefs.
And our boats have found nothing so far."
Nothing was ever found--and Renouard's disappearance remained in
the main inexplicable. For to whom could it have occurred that a
man would set out calmly to swim beyond the confines of life--with
a steady stroke--his eyes fixed on a star!
Next evening, from the receding schooner, the Editor looked back
for the last time at the deserted island. A black cloud hung
listlessly over the high rock on the middle hill; and under the
mysterious silence of that shadow Malata lay mournful, with an air
of anguish in the wild sunset, as if remembering the heart that was
"And that be hanged for a silly yarn. The boatmen here in Westport
have been telling this lie to the summer visitors for years. The
sort that gets taken out for a row at a shilling a head--and asks
foolish questions--must be told something to pass the time away.
D'ye know anything more silly than being pulled in a boat along a
beach? . . . It's like drinking weak lemonade when you aren't
thirsty. I don't know why they do it! They don't even get sick."
A forgotten glass of beer stood at his elbow; the locality was a
small respectable smoking-room of a small respectable hotel, and a
taste for forming chance acquaintances accounts for my sitting up
late with him. His great, flat, furrowed cheeks were shaven; a
thick, square wisp of white hairs hung from his chin; its waggling
gave additional point to his deep utterance; and his general
contempt for mankind with its activities and moralities was
expressed in the rakish set of his big soft hat of black felt with
a large rim, which he kept always on his head.
His appearance was that of an old adventurer, retired after many
unholy experiences in the darkest parts of the earth; but I had
every reason to believe that he had never been outside England.
From a casual remark somebody dropped I gathered that in his early
days he must have been somehow connected with shipping--with ships
in docks. Of individuality he had plenty. And it was this which
attracted my attention at first. But he was not easy to classify,
and before the end of the week I gave him up with the vague
definition, "an imposing old ruffian."
One rainy afternoon, oppressed by infinite boredom, I went into the
smoking-room. He was sitting there in absolute immobility, which
was really fakir-like and impressive. I began to wonder what could
be the associations of that sort of man, his "milieu," his private
connections, his views, his morality, his friends, and even his
wife--when to my surprise he opened a conversation in a deep,
I must say that since he had learned from somebody that I was a
writer of stories he had been acknowledging my existence by means
of some vague growls in the morning.
He was essentially a taciturn man. There was an effect of rudeness
in his fragmentary sentences. It was some time before I discovered
that what he would be at was the process by which stories--stories
for periodicals--were produced.
What could one say to a fellow like that? But I was bored to
death; the weather continued impossible; and I resolved to be
"And so you make these tales up on your own. How do they ever come
into your head?" he rumbled.
I explained that one generally got a hint for a tale.
"What sort of hint?"
"Well, for instance," I said, "I got myself rowed out to the rocks
the other day. My boatman told me of the wreck on these rocks
nearly twenty years ago. That could be used as a hint for a mainly
descriptive bit of story with some such title as 'In the Channel,'
It was then that he flew out at the boatmen and the summer visitors
who listen to their tales. Without moving a muscle of his face he
emitted a powerful "Rot," from somewhere out of the depths of his
chest, and went on in his hoarse, fragmentary mumble. "Stare at
the silly rocks--nod their silly heads [the visitors, I presume].
What do they think a man is--blown-out paper bag or what?--go off
pop like that when he's hit--Damn silly yarn--Hint indeed! . . . A
You must imagine this statuesque ruffian enhaloed in the black rim
of his hat, letting all this out as an old dog growls sometimes,
with his head up and staring-away eyes.
"Indeed!" I exclaimed. "Well, but even if untrue it IS a hint,
enabling me to see these rocks, this gale they speak of, the heavy
seas, etc., etc., in relation to mankind. The struggle against
natural forces and the effect of the issue on at least one, say,
He interrupted me by an aggressive -
"Would truth be any good to you?"
"I shouldn't like to say," I answered, cautiously. "It's said that
truth is stranger than fiction."
"Who says that?" he mouthed.
"Oh! Nobody in particular."
I turned to the window; for the contemptuous beggar was oppressive
to look at, with his immovable arm on the table. I suppose my
unceremonious manner provoked him to a comparatively long speech.
"Did you ever see such a silly lot of rocks? Like plums in a slice
of cold pudding."
I was looking at them--an acre or more of black dots scattered on
the steel-grey shades of the level sea, under the uniform gossamer
grey mist with a formless brighter patch in one place--the veiled
whiteness of the cliff coming through, like a diffused, mysterious
radiance. It was a delicate and wonderful picture, something
expressive, suggestive, and desolate, a symphony in grey and black-
-a Whistler. But the next thing said by the voice behind me made
me turn round. It growled out contempt for all associated notions
of roaring seas with concise energy, then went on -
"I--no such foolishness--looking at the rocks out there--more
likely call to mind an office--I used to look in sometimes at one
time--office in London--one of them small streets behind Cannon
Street Station. . . "
He was very deliberate; not jerky, only fragmentary; at times
"That's a rather remote connection," I observed, approaching him.
"Connection? To Hades with your connections. It was an accident."
"Still," I said, "an accident has its backward and forward
connections, which, if they could be set forth--"
Without moving he seemed to lend an attentive ear.
"Aye! Set forth. That's perhaps what you could do. Couldn't you
now? There's no sea life in this connection. But you can put it
in out of your head--if you like."
"Yes. I could, if necessary," I said. "Sometimes it pays to put
in a lot out of one's head, and sometimes it doesn't. I mean that
the story isn't worth it. Everything's in that."
It amused me to talk to him like this. He reflected audibly that
he guessed story-writers were out after money like the rest of the
world which had to live by its wits: and that it was extraordinary
how far people who were out after money would go. . . Some of them.
Then he made a sally against sea life. Silly sort of life, he
called it. No opportunities, no experience, no variety, nothing.
Some fine men came out of it--he admitted--but no more chance in
the world if put to it than fly. Kids. So Captain Harry Dunbar.
Good sailor. Great name as a skipper. Big man; short side-
whiskers going grey, fine face, loud voice. A good fellow, but no
more up to people's tricks than a baby.
"That's the captain of the Sagamore you're talking about," I said,
After a low, scornful "Of course" he seemed now to hold on the wall
with his fixed stare the vision of that city office, "at the back
of Cannon Street Station," while he growled and mouthed a
fragmentary description, jerking his chin up now and then, as if
It was, according to his account, a modest place of business, not
shady in any sense, but out of the way, in a small street now
rebuilt from end to end. "Seven doors from the Cheshire Cat public
house under the railway bridge. I used to take my lunch there when
my business called me to the city. Cloete would come in to have
his chop and make the girl laugh. No need to talk much, either,
for that. Nothing but the way he would twinkle his spectacles on
you and give a twitch of his thick mouth was enough to start you
off before he began one of his little tales. Funny fellow, Cloete.
"What was he--a Dutchman?" I asked, not seeing in the least what
all this had to do with the Westport boatmen and the Westport
summer visitors and this extraordinary old fellow's irritable view
of them as liars and fools. "Devil knows," he grunted, his eyes on
the wall as if not to miss a single movement of a cinematograph
picture. "Spoke nothing but English, anyway. First I saw him--
comes off a ship in dock from the States--passenger. Asks me for a
small hotel near by. Wanted to be quiet and have a look round for
a few days. I took him to a place--friend of mine. . . Next time--
in the City--Hallo! You're very obliging--have a drink. Talks
plenty about himself. Been years in the States. All sorts of
business all over the place. With some patent medicine people,
too. Travels. Writes advertisements and all that. Tells me funny
stories. Tall, loose-limbed fellow. Black hair up on end, like a
brush; long face, long legs, long arms, twinkle in his specs,
jocular way of speaking--in a low voice. . . See that?"
I nodded, but he was not looking at me.
"Never laughed so much in my life. The beggar--would make you
laugh telling you how he skinned his own father. He was up to
that, too. A man who's been in the patent-medicine trade will be
up to anything from pitch-and-toss to wilful murder. And that's a
bit of hard truth for you. Don't mind what they do--think they can
carry off anything and talk themselves out of anything--all the
world's a fool to them. Business man, too, Cloete. Came over with
a few hundred pounds. Looking for something to do--in a quiet way.
Nothing like the old country, after all, says he. . . And so we
part--I with more drinks in me than I was used to. After a time,
perhaps six months or so, I run up against him again in Mr. George
Dunbar's office. Yes, THAT office. It wasn't often that I . . .
However, there was a bit of his cargo in a ship in dock that I
wanted to ask Mr. George about. In comes Cloete out of the room at
the back with some papers in his hand. Partner. You understand?"
"Aha!" I said. "The few hundred pounds."
"And that tongue of his," he growled. "Don't forget that tongue.
Some of his tales must have opened George Dunbar's eyes a bit as to
what business means."
"A plausible fellow," I suggested.
"H'm! You must have it in your own way--of course. Well.
Partner. George Dunbar puts his top-hat on and tells me to wait a
moment. . . George always looked as though he were making a few
thousands a year--a city swell. . . Come along, old man! And he
and Captain Harry go out together--some business with a solicitor
round the corner. Captain Harry, when he was in England, used to
turn up in his brother's office regularly about twelve. Sat in a
corner like a good boy, reading the paper and smoking his pipe. So
they go out. . . Model brothers, says Cloete--two love-birds--I am
looking after the tinned-fruit side of this cozy little show. . .
Gives me that sort of talk. Then by-and-by: What sort of old
thing is that Sagamore? Finest ship out--eh? I dare say all ships
are fine to you. You live by them. I tell you what; I would just
as soon put my money into an old stocking. Sooner!"
He drew a breath, and I noticed his hand, lying loosely on the
table, close slowly into a fist. In that immovable man it was
startling, ominous, like the famed nod of the Commander.
"So, already at that time--note--already," he growled.
"But hold on," I interrupted. "The Sagamore belonged to Mundy and
Rogers, I've been told."
He snorted contemptuously. "Damn boatmen--know no better. Flew
the firm's HOUSE-FLAG. That's another thing. Favour. It was like
this: When old man Dunbar died, Captain Harry was already in
command with the firm. George chucked the bank he was clerking in-
-to go on his own with what there was to share after the old chap.
George was a smart man. Started warehousing; then two or three
things at a time: wood-pulp, preserved-fruit trade, and so on.
And Captain Harry let him have his share to work with. . . I am
provided for in my ship, he says. . . But by-and-by Mundy and
Rogers begin to sell out to foreigners all their ships--go into
steam right away. Captain Harry gets very upset--lose command,
part with the ship he was fond of--very wretched. Just then, so it
happened, the brothers came in for some money--an old woman died or
something. Quite a tidy bit. Then young George says: There's
enough between us two to buy the Sagamore with. . . But you'll need
more money for your business, cries Captain Harry--and the other
laughs at him: My business is going on all right. Why, I can go
out and make a handful of sovereigns while you are trying to get
your pipe to draw, old man. . . Mundy and Rogers very friendly
about it: Certainly, Captain. And we will manage her for you, if
you like, as if she were still our own. . . Why, with a connection
like that it was good investment to buy that ship. Good! Aye, at
The turning of his head slightly toward me at this point was like a
sign of strong feeling in any other man.
"You'll mind that this was long before Cloete came into it at all,"
he muttered, warningly.
"Yes. I will mind," I said. "We generally say: some years
passed. That's soon done."
He eyed me for a while silently in an unseeing way, as if engrossed
in the thought of the years so easily dealt with; his own years,
too, they were, the years before and the years (not so many) after
Cloete came upon the scene. When he began to speak again, I
discerned his intention to point out to me, in his obscure and
graphic manner, the influence on George Dunbar of long association
with Cloete's easy moral standards, unscrupulously persuasive gift
of humour (funny fellow), and adventurously reckless disposition.
He desired me anxiously to elaborate this view, and I assured him
it was quite within my powers. He wished me also to understand
that George's business had its ups and downs (the other brother was
meantime sailing to and fro serenely); that he got into low water
at times, which worried him rather, because he had married a young
wife with expensive tastes. He was having a pretty anxious time of
it generally; and just then Cloete ran up in the city somewhere
against a man working a patent medicine (the fellow's old trade)
with some success, but which, with capital, capital to the tune of
thousands to be spent with both hands on advertising, could be
turned into a great thing--infinitely better--paying than a gold-
mine. Cloete became excited at the possibilities of that sort of
business, in which he was an expert. I understood that George's
partner was all on fire from the contact with this unique
"So he goes in every day into George's room about eleven, and sings
that tune till George gnashes his teeth with rage. Do shut up.
What's the good? No money. Hardly any to go on with, let alone
pouring thousands into advertising. Never dare propose to his
brother Harry to sell the ship. Couldn't think of it. Worry him
to death. It would be like the end of the world coming. And
certainly not for a business of that kind! . . . Do you think it
would be a swindle? asks Cloete, twitching his mouth. . . George
owns up: No-would be no better than a squeamish ass if he thought
that, after all these years in business.
"Cloete looks at him hard--Never thought of SELLING the ship.
Expected the blamed old thing wouldn't fetch half her insured value
by this time. Then George flies out at him. What's the meaning,
then, of these silly jeers at ship-owning for the last three weeks?
Had enough of them, anyhow.
"Angry at having his mouth made to water, see. Cloete don't get
excited. . . I am no squeamish ass, either, says he, very slowly.
'Tisn't selling your old Sagamore wants. The blamed thing wants
tomahawking (seems the name Sagamore means an Indian chief or
something. The figure-head was a half-naked savage with a feather
over one ear and a hatchet in his belt). Tomahawking, says he.
"What do you mean? asks George. . . Wrecking--it could be managed
with perfect safety, goes on Cloete--your brother would then put in
his share of insurance money. Needn't tell him exactly what for.
He thinks you're the smartest business man that ever lived. Make
his fortune, too. . . George grips the desk with both hands in his
rage. . . You think my brother's a man to cast away his ship on
purpose. I wouldn't even dare think of such a thing in the same
room with him--the finest fellow that ever lived. . . Don't make
such noise; they'll hear you outside, says Cloete; and he tells him
that his brother is the salted pattern of all virtues, but all
that's necessary is to induce him to stay ashore for a voyage--for
a holiday--take a rest--why not? . . . In fact, I have in view
somebody up to that sort of game--Cloete whispers.
"George nearly chokes. . . So you think I am of that sort--you
think ME capable--What do you take me for? . . . He almost loses
his head, while Cloete keeps cool, only gets white about the gills.
. . I take you for a man who will be most cursedly hard up before
long. . . He goes to the door and sends away the clerks--there were
only two--to take their lunch hour. Comes back . . . What are you
indignant about? Do I want you to rob the widow and orphan? Why,
man! Lloyd's a corporation, it hasn't got a body to starve.
There's forty or more of them perhaps who underwrote the lines on
that silly ship of yours. Not one human being would go hungry or
cold for it. They take every risk into consideration. Everything
I tell you. . . That sort of talk. H'm! George too upset to
speak--only gurgles and waves his arms; so sudden, you see. The
other, warming his back at the fire, goes on. Wood-pulp business
next door to a failure. Tinned-fruit trade nearly played out. . .
You're frightened, he says; but the law is only meant to frighten
fools away. . . And he shows how safe casting away that ship would
be. Premiums paid for so many, many years. No shadow of suspicion
could arise. And, dash it all! a ship must meet her end some day.
"I am not frightened. I am indignant," says George Dunbar.
"Cloete boiling with rage inside. Chance of a lifetime--his
chance! And he says kindly: Your wife'll be much more indignant
when you ask her to get out of that pretty house of yours and pile
in into a two-pair back--with kids perhaps, too. . .
"George had no children. Married a couple of years; looked forward
to a kid or two very much. Feels more upset than ever. Talks
about an honest man for father, and so on. Cloete grins: You be
quick before they come, and they'll have a rich man for father, and
no one the worse for it. That's the beauty of the thing.
"George nearly cries. I believe he did cry at odd times. This
went on for weeks. He couldn't quarrel with Cloete. Couldn't pay
off his few hundreds; and besides, he was used to have him about.
Weak fellow, George. Cloete generous, too. . . Don't think of my
little pile, says he. Of course it's gone when we have to shut up.
But I don't care, he says. . . And then there was George's new
wife. When Cloete dines there, the beggar puts on a dress suit;
little woman liked it; . . . Mr. Cloete, my husband's partner; such
a clever man, man of the world, so amusing! . . . When he dines
there and they are alone: Oh, Mr. Cloete, I wish George would do
something to improve our prospects. Our position is really so
mediocre. . . And Cloete smiles, but isn't surprised, because he
had put all these notions himself into her empty head. . . What
your husband wants is enterprise, a little audacity. You can
encourage him best, Mrs. Dunbar. . . She was a silly, extravagant
little fool. Had made George take a house in Norwood. Live up to
a lot of people better off than themselves. I saw her once; silk
dress, pretty boots, all feathers and scent, pink face. More like
the Promenade at the Alhambra than a decent home, it looked to me.
But some women do get a devil of a hold on a man."
"Yes, some do," I assented. "Even when the man is the husband."
"My missis," he addressed me unexpectedly, in a solemn,
surprisingly hollow tone, "could wind me round her little finger.
I didn't find it out till she was gone. Aye. But she was a woman
of sense, while that piece of goods ought to have been walking the
streets, and that's all I can say. . . You must make her up out of
your head. You will know the sort."
"Leave all that to me," I said.
"H'm!" he grunted, doubtfully, then going back to his scornful
tone: "A month or so afterwards the Sagamore arrives home. All
very jolly at first. . . Hallo, George boy! Hallo, Harry, old man!
. . . But by and by Captain Harry thinks his clever brother is not
looking very well. And George begins to look worse. He can't get
rid of Cloete's notion. It has stuck in his head. . . There's
nothing wrong--quite well. . . Captain Harry still anxious.
Business going all right, eh? Quite right. Lots of business.
Good business. . . Of course Captain Harry believes that easily.
Starts chaffing his brother in his jolly way about rolling in
money. George's shirt sticks to his back with perspiration, and he
feels quite angry with the captain. . . The fool, he says to
himself. Rolling in money, indeed! And then he thinks suddenly:
Why not? . . . Because Cloete's notion has got hold of his mind.
"But next day he weakens and says to Cloete . . . Perhaps it would
be best to sell. Couldn't you talk to my brother? and Cloete
explains to him over again for the twentieth time why selling
wouldn't do, anyhow. No! The Sagamore must be tomahawked--as he
would call it; to spare George's feelings, maybe. But every time
he says the word, George shudders. . . I've got a man at hand
competent for the job who will do the trick for five hundred, and
only too pleased at the chance, says Cloete. . . George shuts his
eyes tight at that sort of talk--but at the same time he thinks:
Humbug! There can be no such man. And yet if there was such a man
it would be safe enough--perhaps.
"And Cloete always funny about it. He couldn't talk about anything
without it seeming there was a great joke in it somewhere. . . Now,
says he, I know you are a moral citizen, George. Morality is
mostly funk, and I think you're the funkiest man I ever came across
in my travels. Why, you are afraid to speak to your brother.
Afraid to open your mouth to him with a fortune for us all in
sight. . . George flares up at this: no, he ain't afraid; he will
speak; bangs fist on the desk. And Cloete pats him on the back. .
. We'll be made men presently, he says.
"But the first time George attempts to speak to Captain Harry his
heart slides down into his boots. Captain Harry only laughs at the
notion of staying ashore. He wants no holiday, not he. But Jane
thinks of remaining in England this trip. Go about a bit and see
some of her people. Jane was the Captain's wife; round-faced,
pleasant lady. George gives up that time; but Cloete won't let him
rest. So he tries again; and the Captain frowns. He frowns
because he's puzzled. He can't make it out. He has no notion of
living away from his Sagamore. . .
"Ah!" I cried. "Now I understand."
"No, you don't," he growled, his black, contemptuous stare turning
on me crushingly.
"I beg your pardon," I murmured.
"H'm! Very well, then. Captain Harry looks very stern, and George
crumples all up inside. . . He sees through me, he thinks. . . Of
course it could not be; but George, by that time, was scared at his
own shadow. He is shirking it with Cloete, too. Gives his partner
to understand that his brother has half a mind to try a spell on
shore, and so on. Cloete waits, gnawing his fingers; so anxious.
Cloete really had found a man for the job. Believe it or not, he
had found him inside the very boarding-house he lodged in--
somewhere about Tottenham Court Road. He had noticed down-stairs a
fellow--a boarder and not a boarder--hanging about the dark--part
of the passage mostly; sort of 'man of the house,' a slinking chap.
Black eyes. White face. The woman of the house--a widow lady, she
called herself--very full of Mr. Stafford; Mr. Stafford this and
Mr. Stafford that. . . Anyhow, Cloete one evening takes him out to
have a drink. Cloete mostly passed away his evenings in saloon
bars. No drunkard, though, Cloete; for company; liked to talk to
all sorts there; just habit; American fashion.
"So Cloete takes that chap out more than once. Not very good
company, though. Little to say for himself. Sits quiet and drinks
what's given to him, eyes always half closed, speaks sort of
demure. . . I've had misfortunes, he says. The truth was they had
kicked him out of a big steam-ship company for disgraceful conduct;
nothing to affect his certificate, you understand; and he had gone
down quite easily. Liked it, I expect. Anything's better than
work. Lived on the widow lady who kept that boarding-house."
"That's almost incredible," I ventured to interrupt. "A man with a
master's certificate, do you mean?"
"I do; I've known them 'bus cads," he growled, contemptuously.
"Yes. Swing on the tail-board by the strap and yell, 'tuppence all
the way.' Through drink. But this Stafford was of another kind.
Hell's full of such Staffords; Cloete would make fun of him, and
then there would be a nasty gleam in the fellow's half-shut eye.
But Cloete was generally kind to him. Cloete was a fellow that
would be kind to a mangy dog. Anyhow, he used to stand drinks to
that object, and now and then gave him half a crown--because the
widow lady kept Mr. Stafford short of pocket-money. They had rows
almost every day down in the basement. . .
It was the fellow being a sailor that put into Cloete's mind the
first notion of doing away with the Sagamore. He studies him a
bit, thinks there's enough devil in him yet to be tempted, and one
evening he says to him . . . I suppose you wouldn't mind going to
sea again, for a spell? . . . The other never raises his eyes; says
it's scarcely worth one's while for the miserable salary one gets.
. . Well, but what do you say to captain's wages for a time, and a
couple of hundred extra if you are compelled to come home without
the ship. Accidents will happen, says Cloete. . . Oh! sure to,
says that Stafford; and goes on taking sips of his drink as if he
had no interest in the matter.
"Cloete presses him a bit; but the other observes, impudent and
languid like: You see, there's no future in a thing like that--is
there? . . Oh! no, says Cloete. Certainly not. I don't mean this
to have any future--as far as you are concerned. It's a 'once for
all' transaction. Well, what do you estimate your future at? he
asks. . . The fellow more listless than ever--nearly asleep.--I
believe the skunk was really too lazy to care. Small cheating at
cards, wheedling or bullying his living out of some woman or other,
was more his style. Cloete swears at him in whispers something
awful. All this in the saloon bar of the Horse Shoe, Tottenham
Court Road. Finally they agree, over the second sixpennyworth of
Scotch hot, on five hundred pounds as the price of tomahawking the
Sagamore. And Cloete waits to see what George can do.
"A week or two goes by. The other fellow loafs about the house as
if there had been nothing, and Cloete begins to doubt whether he
really means ever to tackle that job. But one day he stops Cloete
at the door, with his downcast eyes: What about that employment
you wished to give me? he asks. . . You see, he had played some
more than usual dirty trick on the woman and expected awful
ructions presently; and to be fired out for sure. Cloete very
pleased. George had been prevaricating to him such a lot that he
really thought the thing was as well as settled. And he says:
Yes. It's time I introduced you to my friend. Just get your hat
and we will go now. . .
"The two come into the office, and George at his desk sits up in a
sudden panic--staring. Sees a tallish fellow, sort of nasty-
handsome face, heavy eyes, half shut; short drab overcoat, shabby
bowler hat, very careful--like in his movements. And he thinks to
himself, Is that how such a man looks! No, the thing's impossible.
. . Cloete does the introduction, and the fellow turns round to
look behind him at the chair before he sits down. . . A thoroughly
competent man, Cloete goes on . . . The man says nothing, sits
perfectly quiet. And George can't speak, throat too dry. Then he
makes an effort: H'm! H'm! Oh yes--unfortunately--sorry to
disappoint--my brother--made other arrangements--going himself.
"The fellow gets up, never raising his eyes off the ground, like a
modest girl, and goes out softly, right out of the office without a
sound. Cloete sticks his chin in his hand and bites all his
fingers at once. George's heart slows down and he speaks to
Cloete. . . This can't be done. How can it be? Directly the ship
is lost Harry would see through it. You know he is a man to go to
the underwriters himself with his suspicions. And he would break
his heart over me. How can I play that on him? There's only two
of us in the world belonging to each other. . .
"Cloete lets out a horrid cuss-word, jumps up, bolts away into his
room, and George hears him there banging things around. After a
while he goes to the door and says in a trembling voice: You ask
me for an impossibility. . . Cloete inside ready to fly out like a
tiger and rend him; but he opens the door a little way and says
softly: Talking of hearts, yours is no bigger than a mouse's, let
me tell you. . . But George doesn't care--load off the heart,
anyhow. And just then Captain Harry comes in. . . Hallo, George
boy. I am little late. What about a chop at the Cheshire, now? .
. . Right you are, old man. . . And off they go to lunch together.
Cloete has nothing to eat that day.
"George feels a new man for a time; but all of a sudden that fellow
Stafford begins to hang about the street, in sight of the house
door. The first time George sees him he thinks he made a mistake.
But no; next time he has to go out, there is the very fellow
skulking on the other side of the road. It makes George nervous;
but he must go out on business, and when the fellow cuts across the
road-way he dodges him. He dodges him once, twice, three times;
but at last he gets nabbed in his very doorway. . . What do you
want? he says, trying to look fierce.
"It seems that ructions had come in the basement of that boarding-
house, and the widow lady had turned on him (being jealous mad), to
the extent of talking of the police. THAT Mr. Stafford couldn't
stand; so he cleared out like a scared stag, and there he was,
chucked into the streets, so to speak. Cloete looked so savage as
he went to and fro that he hadn't the spunk to tackle him; but
George seemed a softer kind to his eye. He would have been glad of
half a quid, anything. . . I've had misfortunes, he says softly, in
his demure way, which frightens George more than a row would have
done. . . Consider the severity of my disappointment, he says. . .
"George, instead of telling him to go to the devil, loses his head.
. . I don't know you. What do you want? he cries, and bolts up-
stairs to Cloete. . . . Look what's come of it, he gasps; now we
are at the mercy of that horrid fellow. . . Cloete tries to show
him that the fellow can do nothing; but George thinks that some
sort of scandal may be forced on, anyhow. Says that he can't live
with that horror haunting him. Cloete would laugh if he weren't
too weary of it all. Then a thought strikes him and he changes his
tune. . . Well, perhaps! I will go down-stairs and send him away
to begin with. . . He comes back. . . He's gone. But perhaps you
are right. The fellow's hard up, and that's what makes people
desperate. The best thing would be to get him out of the country
for a time. Look here, the poor devil is really in want of
employment. I won't ask you much this time: only to hold your
tongue; and I shall try to get your brother to take him as chief
officer. At this George lays his arms and his head on his desk, so
that Cloete feels sorry for him. But altogether Cloete feels more
cheerful because he has shaken the ghost a bit into that Stafford.
That very afternoon he buys him a suit of blue clothes, and tells
him that he will have to turn to and work for his living now. Go
to sea as mate of the Sagamore. The skunk wasn't very willing, but
what with having nothing to eat and no place to sleep in, and the
woman having frightened him with the talk of some prosecution or
other, he had no choice, properly speaking. Cloete takes care of
him for a couple of days. . . Our arrangement still stands, says
he. Here's the ship bound for Port Elizabeth; not a safe anchorage
at all. Should she by chance part from her anchors in a north-east
gale and get lost on the beach, as many of them do, why, it's five
hundred in your pocket--and a quick return home. You are up to the
job, ain't you?
"Our Mr. Stafford takes it all in with downcast eyes. . . I am a
competent seaman, he says, with his sly, modest air. A ship's
chief mate has no doubt many opportunities to manipulate the chains
and anchors to some purpose. . . At this Cloete thumps him on the
back: You'll do, my noble sailor. Go in and win. . .
"Next thing George knows, his brother tells him that he had
occasion to oblige his partner. And glad of it, too. Likes the
partner no end. Took a friend of his as mate. Man had his
troubles, been ashore a year nursing a dying wife, it seems. Down
on his luck. . . George protests earnestly that he knows nothing of
the person. Saw him once. Not very attractive to look at. . . And
Captain Harry says in his hearty way, That's so, but must give the
poor devil a chance. . .
"So Mr. Stafford joins in dock. And it seems that he did manage to
monkey with one of the cables--keeping his mind on Port Elizabeth.
The riggers had all the cable ranged on deck to clean lockers. The
new mate watches them go ashore--dinner hour--and sends the ship-
keeper out of the ship to fetch him a bottle of beer. Then he goes
to work whittling away the forelock of the forty-five-fathom
shackle-pin, gives it a tap or two with a hammer just to make it
loose, and of course that cable wasn't safe any more. Riggers come
back--you know what riggers are: come day, go day, and God send
Sunday. Down goes the chain into the locker without their foreman
looking at the shackles at all. What does he care? He ain't going
in the ship. And two days later the ship goes to sea. . . "
At this point I was incautious enough to breathe out another "I
see," which gave offence again, and brought on me a rude "No, you
don't"--as before. But in the pause he remembered the glass of
beer at his elbow. He drank half of it, wiped his mustaches, and
remarked grimly -
"Don't you think that there will be any sea life in this, because
there ain't. If you're going to put in any out of your own head,
now's your chance. I suppose you know what ten days of bad weather
in the Channel are like? I don't. Anyway, ten whole days go by.
One Monday Cloete comes to the office a little late--hears a
woman's voice in George's room and looks in. Newspapers on the
desk, on the floor; Captain Harry's wife sitting with red eyes and
a bag on the chair near her. . . Look at this, says George, in
great excitement, showing him a paper. Cloete's heart gives a
jump. Ha! Wreck in Westport Bay. The Sagamore gone ashore early
hours of Sunday, and so the newspaper men had time to put in some
of their work. Columns of it. Lifeboat out twice. Captain and
crew remain by the ship. Tugs summoned to assist. If the weather
improves, this well-known fine ship may yet be saved. . . You know
the way these chaps put it. . . Mrs. Harry there on her way to
catch a train from Cannon Street. Got an hour to wait.
"Cloete takes George aside and whispers: Ship saved yet! Oh,
damn! That must never be; you hear? But George looks at him
dazed, and Mrs. Harry keeps on sobbing quietly: . . . I ought to
have been with him. But I am going to him. . . We are all going
together, cries Cloete, all of a sudden. He rushes out, sends the
woman a cup of hot bovril from the shop across the road, buys a rug
for her, thinks of everything; and in the train tucks her in and
keeps on talking, thirteen to the dozen, all the way, to keep her
spirits up, as it were; but really because he can't hold his peace
for very joy. Here's the thing done all at once, and nothing to
pay. Done. Actually done. His head swims now and again when he
thinks of it. What enormous luck! It almost frightens him. He
would like to yell and sing. Meantime George Dunbar sits in his
corner, looking so deadly miserable that at last poor Mrs. Harry
tries to comfort him, and so cheers herself up at the same time by
talking about how her Harry is a prudent man; not likely to risk
his crew's life or his own unnecessarily--and so on.
"First thing they hear at Westport station is that the life-boat
has been out to the ship again, and has brought off the second
officer, who had hurt himself, and a few sailors. Captain and the
rest of the crew, about fifteen in all, are still on board. Tugs
expected to arrive every moment.
"They take Mrs. Harry to the inn, nearly opposite the rocks; she
bolts straight up-stairs to look out of the window, and she lets
out a great cry when she sees the wreck. She won't rest till she
gets on board to her Harry. Cloete soothes her all he can. . . All
right; you try to eat a mouthful, and we will go to make inquiries.
"He draws George out of the room: Look here, she can't go on
board, but I shall. I'll see to it that he doesn't stop in the
ship too long. Let's go and find the coxswain of the life-boat. .
. George follows him, shivering from time to time. The waves are
washing over the old pier; not much wind, a wild, gloomy sky over
the bay. In the whole world only one tug away off, heading to the
seas, tossed in and out of sight every minute as regular as
"They meet the coxswain and he tells them: Yes! He's going out
again. No, they ain't in danger on board--not yet. But the ship's
chance is very poor. Still, if the wind doesn't pipe up again and
the sea goes down something might be tried. After some talk he
agrees to take Cloete on board; supposed to be with an urgent
message from the owners to the captain.
"Whenever Cloete looks at the sky he feels comforted; it looks so
threatening. George Dunbar follows him about with a white face and
saying nothing. Cloete takes him to have a drink or two, and by
and by he begins to pick up. . . That's better, says Cloete; dash
me if it wasn't like walking about with a dead man before. You
ought to be throwing up your cap, man. I feel as if I wanted to
stand in the street and cheer. Your brother is safe, the ship is
lost, and we are made men.
"Are you certain she's lost? asks George. It would be an awful
blow after all the agonies I have gone through in my mind, since
you first spoke to me, if she were to be got off--and--and--all
this temptation to begin over again. . . For we had nothing to do
with this; had we?
"Of course not, says Cloete. Wasn't your brother himself in
charge? It's providential. . . Oh! cries George, shocked. . .
Well, say it's the devil, says Cloete, cheerfully. I don't mind!
You had nothing to do with it any more than a baby unborn, you
great softy, you. . . Cloete has got so that he almost loved George
Dunbar. Well. Yes. That was so. I don't mean he respected him.
He was just fond of his partner.
"They go back, you may say fairly skipping, to the hotel, and find
the wife of the captain at the open window, with her eyes on the
ship as if she wanted to fly across the bay over there. . . Now
then, Mrs. Dunbar, cries Cloete, you can't go, but I am going. Any
messages? Don't be shy. I'll deliver every word faithfully. And
if you would like to give me a kiss for him, I'll deliver that too,
dash me if I don't.
"He makes Mrs. Harry laugh with his patter. . . Oh, dear Mr.
Cloete, you are a calm, reasonable man. Make him behave sensibly.
He's a bit obstinate, you know, and he's so fond of the ship, too.
Tell him I am here--looking on. . . Trust me, Mrs. Dunbar. Only
shut that window, that's a good girl. You will be sure to catch
cold if you don't, and the Captain won't be pleased coming off the
wreck to find you coughing and sneezing so that you can't tell him
how happy you are. And now if you can get me a bit of tape to
fasten my glasses on good to my ears, I will be going. . .
"How he gets on board I don't know. All wet and shaken and excited
and out of breath, he does get on board. Ship lying over,
smothered in sprays, but not moving very much; just enough to jag
one's nerve a bit. He finds them all crowded on the deck-house
forward, in their shiny oilskins, with faces like sick men.
Captain Harry can't believe his eyes. What! Mr. Cloete! What are
you doing here, in God's name? . . . Your wife's ashore there,
looking on, gasps out Cloete; and after they had talked a bit,
Captain Harry thinks it's uncommonly plucky and kind of his
brother's partner to come off to him like this. Man glad to have
somebody to talk to. . . It's a bad business, Mr. Cloete, he says.
And Cloete rejoices to hear that. Captain Harry thinks he had done
his best, but the cable had parted when he tried to anchor her. It
was a great trial to lose the ship. Well, he would have to face
it. He fetches a deep sigh now and then. Cloete almost sorry he
had come on board, because to be on that wreck keeps his chest in a
tight band all the time. They crouch out of the wind under the
port boat, a little apart from the men. The life-boat had gone
away after putting Cloete on board, but was coming back next high
water to take off the crew if no attempt at getting the ship afloat
could be made. Dusk was falling; winter's day; black sky; wind
rising. Captain Harry felt melancholy. God's will be done. If
she must be left on the rocks--why, she must. A man should take
what God sends him standing up. . . Suddenly his voice breaks, and
he squeezes Cloete's arm: It seems as if I couldn't leave her, he
whispers. Cloete looks round at the men like a lot of huddled
sheep and thinks to himself: They won't stay. . . Suddenly the
ship lifts a little and sets down with a thump. Tide rising.
Everybody beginning to look out for the life-boat. Some of the men
made her out far away and also two more tugs. But the gale has
come on again, and everybody knows that no tug will ever dare come
near the ship.
"That's the end, Captain Harry says, very low. . . . Cloete thinks
he never felt so cold in all his life. . . And I feel as if I
didn't care to live on just now, mutters Captain Harry . . . Your
wife's ashore, looking on, says Cloete . . . Yes. Yes. It must be
awful for her to look at the poor old ship lying here done for.
Why, that's our home.
"Cloete thinks that as long as the Sagamore's done for he doesn't
care, and only wishes himself somewhere else. The slightest
movement of the ship cuts his breath like a blow. And he feels
excited by the danger, too. The captain takes him aside. . . The
life-boat can't come near us for more than an hour. Look here,
Cloete, since you are here, and such a plucky one--do something for
me. . . He tells him then that down in his cabin aft in a certain
drawer there is a bundle of important papers and some sixty
sovereigns in a small canvas bag. Asks Cloete to go and get these
things out. He hasn't been below since the ship struck, and it
seems to him that if he were to take his eyes off her she would
fall to pieces. And then the men--a scared lot by this time--if he
were to leave them by themselves they would attempt to launch one
of the ship's boats in a panic at some heavier thump--and then some
of them bound to get drowned. . . There are two or three boxes of
matches about my shelves in my cabin if you want a light, says
Captain Harry. Only wipe your wet hands before you begin to feel
for them. . .
"Cloete doesn't like the job, but doesn't like to show funk,
either--and he goes. Lots of water on the main-deck, and he
splashes along; it was getting dark, too. All at once, by the
mainmast, somebody catches him by the arm. Stafford. He wasn't
thinking of Stafford at all. Captain Harry had said something as
to the mate not being quite satisfactory, but it wasn't much.
Cloete doesn't recognise him in his oilskins at first. He sees a
white face with big eyes peering at him. . . Are you pleased, Mr.
Cloete . . . ?
"Cloete is moved to laugh at the whine, and shakes him off. But
the fellow scrambles on after him on the poop and follows him down
into the cabin of that wrecked ship. And there they are, the two
of them; can hardly see each other. . . You don't mean to make me
believe you have had anything to do with this, says Cloete. . .
"They both shiver, nearly out of their wits with the excitement of
being on board that ship. She thumps and lurches, and they stagger
together, feeling sick. Cloete again bursts out laughing at that
wretched creature Stafford pretending to have been up to something
so desperate. . . Is that how you think you can treat me now? yells
the other man all of a sudden. . .
"A sea strikes the stern, the ship trembles and groans all round
them, there's the noise of the seas about and overhead, confusing
Cloete, and he hears the other screaming as if crazy. . . Ah, you
don't believe me! Go and look at the port chain. Parted? Eh? Go
and see if it's parted. Go and find the broken link. You can't.
There's no broken link. That means a thousand pounds for me. No
less. A thousand the day after we get ashore--prompt. I won't
wait till she breaks up, Mr. Cloete. To the underwriters I go if
I've to walk to London on my bare feet. Port cable! Look at her
port cable, I will say to them. I doctored it--for the owners--
tempted by a low rascal called Cloete.
"Cloete does not understand what it means exactly. All he sees is
that the fellow means to make mischief. He sees trouble ahead. . .
Do you think you can scare me? he asks,--you poor miserable skunk.
. . And Stafford faces him out--both holding on to the cabin table:
No, damn you, you are only a dirty vagabond; but I can scare the
other, the chap in the black coat. . .
"Meaning George Dunbar. Cloete's brain reels at the thought. He
doesn't imagine the fellow can do any real harm, but he knows what
George is; give the show away; upset the whole business he had set
his heart on. He says nothing; he hears the other, what with the
funk and strain and excitement, panting like a dog--and then a
snarl. . . A thousand down, twenty-four hours after we get ashore;
day after to-morrow. That's my last word, Mr. Cloete. . . A
thousand pounds, day after to-morrow, says Cloete. Oh yes. And
to-day take this, you dirty cur. . . He hits straight from the
shoulder in sheer rage, nothing else. Stafford goes away spinning
along the bulk-head. Seeing this, Cloete steps out and lands him
another one somewhere about the jaw. The fellow staggers backward
right into the captain's cabin through the open door. Cloete,
following him up, hears him fall down heavily and roll to leeward,
then slams the door to and turns the key. . . There! says he to
himself, that will stop you from making trouble."
"By Jove!" I murmured.
The old fellow departed from his impressive immobility to turn his
rakishly hatted head and look at me with his old, black, lack-
"He did leave him there," he uttered, weightily, returning to the
contemplation of the wall. "Cloete didn't mean to allow anybody,
let alone a thing like Stafford, to stand in the way of his great
notion of making George and himself, and Captain Harry, too, for
that matter, rich men. And he didn't think much of consequences.
These patent-medicine chaps don't care what they say or what they
do. They think the world's bound to swallow any story they like to
tell. . . He stands listening for a bit. And it gives him quite a
turn to hear a thump at the door and a sort of muffled raving
screech inside the captain's room. He thinks he hears his own
name, too, through the awful crash as the old Sagamore rises and
falls to a sea. That noise and that awful shock make him clear out
of the cabin. He collects his senses on the poop. But his heart
sinks a little at the black wildness of the night. Chances that he
will get drowned himself before long. Puts his head down the
companion. Through the wind and breaking seas he can hear the
noise of Stafford's beating against the door and cursing. He
listens and says to himself: No. Can't trust him now. . .
"When he gets back to the top of the deck-house he says to Captain
Harry, who asks him if he got the things, that he is very sorry.
There was something wrong with the door. Couldn't open it. And to
tell you the truth, says he, I didn't like to stop any longer in
that cabin. There are noises there as if the ship were going to
pieces. . . Captain Harry thinks: Nervous; can't be anything wrong
with the door. But he says: Thanks--never mind, never mind. . .
All hands looking out now for the life-boat. Everybody thinking of
himself rather. Cloete asks himself, will they miss him? But the
fact is that Mr. Stafford had made such poor show at sea that after
the ship struck nobody ever paid any attention to him. Nobody
cared what he did or where he was. Pitch dark, too--no counting of
heads. The light of the tug with the lifeboat in tow is seen
making for the ship, and Captain Harry asks: Are we all there? . .
. Somebody answers: All here, sir. . . Stand by to leave the ship,
then, says Captain Harry; and two of you help the gentleman over
first. . . Aye, aye, sir. . . Cloete was moved to ask Captain Harry
to let him stay till last, but the life-boat drops on a grapnel
abreast the fore-rigging, two chaps lay hold of him, watch their
chance, and drop him into her, all safe.
"He's nearly exhausted; not used to that sort of thing, you see.
He sits in the stern-sheets with his eyes shut. Don't want to look
at the white water boiling all around. The men drop into the boat
one after another. Then he hears Captain Harry's voice shouting in
the wind to the coxswain, to hold on a moment, and some other words
he can't catch, and the coxswain yelling back: Don't be long, sir.
. . What is it? Cloete asks feeling faint. . . Something about the
ship's papers, says the coxswain, very anxious. It's no time to be
fooling about alongside, you understand. They haul the boat off a
little and wait. The water flies over her in sheets. Cloete's
senses almost leave him. He thinks of nothing. He's numb all
over, till there's a shout: Here he is! . . . They see a figure in
the fore-rigging waiting--they slack away on the grapnel-line and
get him in the boat quite easy. There is a little shouting--it's
all mixed up with the noise of the sea. Cloete fancies that
Stafford's voice is talking away quite close to his ear. There's a
lull in the wind, and Stafford's voice seems to be speaking very
fast to the coxswain; he tells him that of course he was near his
skipper, was all the time near him, till the old man said at the
last moment that he must go and get the ship's papers from aft;
would insist on going himself; told him, Stafford, to get into the
life-boat. . . He had meant to wait for his skipper, only there
came this smooth of the seas, and he thought he would take his
chance at once.
"Cloete opens his eyes. Yes. There's Stafford sitting close by
him in that crowded life-boat. The coxswain stoops over Cloete and
cries: Did you hear what the mate said, sir? . . . Cloete's face
feels as if it were set in plaster, lips and all. Yes, I did, he
forces himself to answer. The coxswain waits a moment, then says:
I don't like it. . . And he turns to the mate, telling him it was a
pity he did not try to run along the deck and hurry up the captain
when the lull came. Stafford answers at once that he did think of
it, only he was afraid of missing him on the deck in the dark.
For, says he, the captain might have got over at once, thinking I
was already in the life-boat, and you would have hauled off
perhaps, leaving me behind. . . True enough, says the coxswain. A
minute or so passes. This won't do, mutters the coxswain.
Suddenly Stafford speaks up in a sort of hollow voice: I was by
when he told Mr. Cloete here that he didn't know how he would ever
have the courage to leave the old ship; didn't he, now? . . . And
Cloete feels his arm being gripped quietly in the dark. . . Didn't
he now? We were standing together just before you went over, Mr.
Cloete? . . .
"Just then the coxswain cries out: I'm going on board to see. . .
Cloete tears his arm away: I am going with you. . .
"When they get aboard, the coxswain tells Cloete to go aft along
one side of the ship and he would go along the other so as not to
miss the captain. . . And feel about with your hands, too, says he;
he might have fallen and be lying insensible somewhere on the deck.
. . When Cloete gets at last to the cabin companion on the poop the
coxswain is already there, peering down and sniffing. I detect a
smell of smoke down there, says he. And he yells: Are you there,
sir? . . . This is not a case for shouting, says Cloete, feeling
his heart go stony, as it were. . . Down they go. Pitch dark; the
inclination so sharp that the coxswain, groping his way into the
captain's room, slips and goes tumbling down. Cloete hears him cry
out as though he had hurt himself, and asks what's the matter. And
the coxswain answers quietly that he had fallen on the captain,
lying there insensible. Cloete without a word begins to grope all
over the shelves for a box of matches, finds one, and strikes a
light. He sees the coxswain in his cork jacket kneeling over
Captain Harry. . . Blood, says the coxswain, looking up, and the
match goes out. . .
"Wait a bit, says Cloete; I'll make paper spills. . . He had felt
the back of books on the shelves. And so he stands lighting one
spill from another while the coxswain turns poor Captain Harry
over. Dead, he says. Shot through the heart. Here's the
revolver. . . He hands it up to Cloete, who looks at it before
putting it in his pocket, and sees a plate on the butt with H.
Dunbar on it. . . His own, he mutters. . . Whose else revolver did
you expect to find? snaps the coxswain. And look, he took off his
long oilskin in the cabin before he went in. But what's this lot
of burnt paper? What could he want to burn the ship's papers for?
. . .
Cloete sees all, the little drawers drawn out, and asks the
coxswain to look well into them. . . There's nothing, says the man.
Cleaned out. Seems to have pulled out all he could lay his hands
on and set fire to the lot. Mad--that's what it is--went mad. And
now he's dead. You'll have to break it to his wife. . .
"I feel as if I were going mad myself, says Cloete, suddenly, and
the coxswain begs him for God's sake to pull himself together, and
drags him away from the cabin. They had to leave the body, and as
it was they were just in time before a furious squall came on.
Cloete is dragged into the life-boat and the coxswain tumbles in.
Haul away on the grapnel, he shouts; the captain has shot himself.
"Cloete was like a dead man--didn't care for anything. He let that
Stafford pinch his arm twice without making a sign. Most of
Westport was on the old pier to see the men out of the life-boat,
and at first there was a sort of confused cheery uproar when she
came alongside; but after the coxswain has shouted something the
voices die out, and everybody is very quiet. As soon as Cloete has
set foot on something firm he becomes himself again. The coxswain
shakes hands with him: Poor woman, poor woman, I'd rather you had
the job than I. . .
"Where's the mate?" asks Cloete. He's the last man who spoke to
the master. . . Somebody ran along--the crew were being taken to
the Mission Hall, where there was a fire and shake-downs ready for
them--somebody ran along the pier and caught up with Stafford. . .
Here! The owner's agent wants you. . . Cloete tucks the fellow's
arm under his own and walks away with him to the left, where the
fishing-harbour is. . . I suppose I haven't misunderstood you. You
wish me to look after you a bit, says he. The other hangs on him
rather limp, but gives a nasty little laugh: You had better, he
mumbles; but mind, no tricks; no tricks, Mr. Cloete; we are on land
"There's a police office within fifty yards from here, says Cloete.
He turns into a little public house, pushes Stafford along the