Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

End of the Tether by Joseph Conrad

Part 2 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

gathering the line busily for another cast. "Tiga
stengah," which means three fathom and a half. For
a mile or so from seaward there was a uniform depth
of water right up to the bar. "Half-three. Half-
three. Half-three,"--and his modulated cry, returned
leisurely and monotonous, like the repeated call of a
bird, seemed to float away in sunshine and disappear in
the spacious silence of the empty sea and of a lifeless
shore lying open, north and south, east and west, with-
out the stir of a single cloud-shadow or the whisper of
any other voice.

The owner-engineer of the Sofala remained very still
behind the two seamen of different race, creed, and
color; the European with the time-defying vigor of
his old frame, the little Malay, old, too, but slight and
shrunken like a withered brown leaf blown by a chance
wind under the mighty shadow of the other. Very
busy looking forward at the land, they had not a glance
to spare; and Massy, glaring at them from behind,
seemed to resent their attention to their duty like a per-
sonal slight upon himself.

This was unreasonable; but he had lived in his own
world of unreasonable resentments for many years. At
last, passing his moist palm over the rare lanky wisps
of coarse hair on the top of his yellow head, he began
to talk slowly.

"A leadsman, you want! I suppose that's your cor-
rect mail-boat style. Haven't you enough judgment
to tell where you are by looking at the land? Why,
before I had been a twelvemonth in the trade I was up
to that trick--and I am only an engineer. I can point
to you from here where the bar is, and I could tell you
besides that you are as likely as not to stick her in the
mud in about five minutes from now; only you would
call it interfering, I suppose. And there's that written
agreement of ours, that says I mustn't interfere."

His voice stopped. Captain Whalley, without relax-
ing the set severity of his features, moved his lips to ask
in a quick mumble--

"How near, Serang?"

"Very near now, Tuan," the Malay muttered rapidly.

"Dead slow," said the Captain aloud in a firm tone.

The Serang snatched at the handle of the telegraph.
A gong clanged down below. Massy with a scornful
snigger walked off and put his head down the engine-
room skylight.

"You may expect some rare fooling with the engines,
Jack," he bellowed. The space into which he stared was
deep and full of gloom; and the gray gleams of steel
down there seemed cool after the intense glare of the
sea around the ship. The air, however, came up clammy
and hot on his face. A short hoot on which it would
have been impossible to put any sort of interpretation
came from the bottom cavernously. This was the way
in which the second engineer answered his chief.

He was a middle-aged man with an inattentive man-
ner, and apparently wrapped up in such a taciturn con-
cern for his engines that he seemed to have lost the use
of speech. When addressed directly his only answer
would be a grunt or a hoot, according to the distance.
For all the years he had been in the Sofala he had never
been known to exchange as much as a frank Good-morn-
ing with any of his shipmates. He did not seem aware
that men came and went in the world; he did not seem
to see them at all. Indeed he never recognized his ship
mates on shore. At table (the four white men of the
Sofala messed together) he sat looking into his plate
dispassionately, but at the end of the meal would jump
up and bolt down below as if a sudden thought had im-
pelled him to rush and see whether somebody had not
stolen the engines while he dined. In port at the end of
the trip he went ashore regularly, but no one knew
where he spent his evenings or in what manner. The
local coasting fleet had preserved a wild and incoherent
tale of his infatuation for the wife of a sergeant in an
Irish infantry regiment. The regiment, however, had
done its turn of garrison duty there ages before, and
was gone somewhere to the other side of the earth, out
of men's knowledge. Twice or perhaps three times in
the course of the year he would take too much to drink.
On these occasions he returned on board at an earlier
hour than usual; ran across the deck balancing himself
with his spread arms like a tight-rope walker; and
locking the door of his cabin, he would converse and
argue with himself the livelong night in an amazing
variety of tones; storm, sneer, and whine with an inex-
haustible persistence. Massy in his berth next door,
raising himself on his elbow, would discover that his
second had remembered the name of every white man
that had passed through the Sofala for years and years
back. He remembered the names of men that had died,
that had gone home, that had gone to America: he
remembered in his cups the names of men whose con-
nection with the ship had been so short that Massy had
almost forgotten its circumstances and could barely re-
call their faces. The inebriated voice on the other side
of the bulkhead commented upon them all with an ex-
traordinary and ingenious venom of scandalous inven-
tions. It seems they had all offended him in some way,
and in return he had found them all out. He muttered
darkly; he laughed sardonically; he crushed them one
after another; but of his chief, Massy, he babbled with
an envious and naive admiration. Clever scoundrel!
Don't meet the likes of him every day. Just look at
him. Ha! Great! Ship of his own. Wouldn't catch
HIM going wrong. No fear--the beast! And Massy,
after listening with a gratified smile to these artless
tributes to his greatness, would begin to shout, thump-
ing at the bulkhead with both fists--

"Shut up, you lunatic! Won't you let me go to
sleep, you fool!"

But a half smile of pride lingered on his lips; outside
the solitary lascar told off for night duty in harbor,
perhaps a youth fresh from a forest village, would stand
motionless in the shadows of the deck listening to the
endless drunken gabble. His heart would be thumping
with breathless awe of white men: the arbitrary and
obstinate men who pursue inflexibly their incompre-
hensible purposes,--beings with weird intonations in the
voice, moved by unaccountable feelings, actuated by in-
scrutable motives.


For a while after his second's answering hoot Massy
hung over the engine-room gloomily. Captain Whal-
ley, who, by the power of five hundred pounds, had kept
his command for three years, might have been suspected
of never having seen that coast before. He seemed un-
able to put down his glasses, as though they had been
glued under his contracted eyebrows. This settled
frown gave to his face an air of invincible and just
severity; but his raised elbow trembled slightly, and
the perspiration poured from under his hat as if a
second sun had suddenly blazed up at the zenith by the
side of the ardent still globe already there, in whose
blinding white heat the earth whirled and shone like a
mote of dust.

From time to time, still holding up his glasses, he
raised his other hand to wipe his streaming face. The
drops rolled down his cheeks, fell like rain upon the
white hairs of his beard, and brusquely, as if guided
by an uncontrollable and anxious impulse, his arm
reached out to the stand of the engine-room telegraph.

The gong clanged down below. The balanced vibra-
tion of the dead-slow speed ceased together with every
sound and tremor in the ship, as if the great stillness
that reigned upon the coast had stolen in through her
sides of iron and taken possession of her innermost re-
cesses. The illusion of perfect immobility seemed to
fall upon her from the luminous blue dome without a
stain arching over a flat sea without a stir. The faint
breeze she had made for herself expired, as if all at
once the air had become too thick to budge; even the
slight hiss of the water on her stem died out. The nar-
row, long hull, carrying its way without a ripple,
seemed to approach the shoal water of the bar by
stealth. The plunge of the lead with the mournful,
mechanical cry of the lascar came at longer and longer
intervals; and the men on her bridge seemed to hold
their breath. The Malay at the helm looked fixedly
at the compass card, the Captain and the Serang stared
at the coast.

Massy had left the skylight, and, walking flat-footed,
had returned softly to the very spot on the bridge he
had occupied before. A slow, lingering grin exposed
his set of big white teeth: they gleamed evenly in the
shade of the awning like the keyboard of a piano in a
dusky room.

At last, pretending to talk to himself in excessive as-
tonishment, he said not very loud--

"Stop the engines now. What next, I wonder?"

He waited, stooping from the shoulders, his head
bowed, his glance oblique. Then raising his voice a

"If I dared make an absurd remark I would say that
you haven't the stomach to . . ."

But a yelling spirit of excitement, like some frantic
soul wandering unsuspected in the vast stillness of the
coast, had seized upon the body of the lascar at the lead.
The languid monotony of his sing-song changed to a
swift, sharp clamor. The weight flew after a single
whir, the line whistled, splash followed splash in haste.
The water had shoaled, and the man, instead of the
drowsy tale of fathoms, was calling out the soundings
in feet.

"Fifteen feet. Fifteen, fifteen! Fourteen, four-
teen . . ."

Captain Whalley lowered the arm holding the glasses.
It descended slowly as if by its own weight; no other
part of his towering body stirred; and the swift cries
with their eager warning note passed him by as though
he had been deaf.

Massy, very still, and turning an attentive ear, had
fastened his eyes upon the silvery, close-cropped back
of the steady old head. The ship herself seemed to be
arrested but for the gradual decrease of depth under
her keel.

"Thirteen feet . . . Thirteen! Twelve!" cried the
leadsman anxiously below the bridge. And suddenly
the barefooted Serang stepped away noiselessly to steal
a glance over the side.

Narrow of shoulder, in a suit of faded blue cotton, an
old gray felt hat rammed down on his head, with a hollow
in the nape of his dark neck, and with his slender limbs,
he appeared from the back no bigger than a boy of
fourteen. There was a childlike impulsiveness in the
curiosity with which he watched the spread of the
voluminous, yellowish convolutions rolling up from be-
low to the surface of the blue water like massive clouds
driving slowly upwards on the unfathomable sky. He
was not startled at the sight in the least. It was not
doubt, but the certitude that the keel of the Sofala must
be stirring the mud now, which made him peep over the

His peering eyes, set aslant in a face of the Chinese
type, a little old face, immovable, as if carved in old
brown oak, had informed him long before that the ship
was not headed at the bar properly. Paid off from
the Fair Maid, together with the rest of the crew, after
the completion of the sale, he had hung, in his faded
blue suit and floppy gray hat, about the doors of the
Harbor Office, till one day, seeing Captain Whalley
coming along to get a crew for the Sofala, he had put
himself quietly in the way, with his bare feet in the dust
and an upward mute glance. The eyes of his old com-
mander had fallen on him favorably--it must have
been an auspicious day--and in less than half an hour
the white men in the "Ofiss" had written his name on
a document as Serang of the fire-ship Sofala. Since
that time he had repeatedly looked at that estuary, upon
that coast, from this bridge and from this side of the
bar. The record of the visual world fell through his
eyes upon his unspeculating mind as on a sensitized
plate through the lens of a camera. His knowledge was
absolute and precise; nevertheless, had he been asked
his opinion, and especially if questioned in the down-
right, alarming manner of white men, he would have
displayed the hesitation of ignorance. He was certain
of his facts--but such a certitude counted for little
against the doubt what answer would be pleasing.
Fifty years ago, in a jungle village, and before he was
a day old, his father (who died without ever seeing
a white face) had had his nativity cast by a man of
skill and wisdom in astrology, because in the arrange-
ment of the stars may be read the last word of human
destiny. His destiny had been to thrive by the favor
of various white men on the sea. He had swept the
decks of ships, had tended their helms, had minded their
stores, had risen at last to be a Serang; and his placid
mind had remained as incapable of penetrating the sim-
plest motives of those he served as they themselves were
incapable of detecting through the crust of the earth
the secret nature of its heart, which may be fire or may
be stone. But he had no doubt whatever that the Sofala
was out of the proper track for crossing the bar at
Batu Beru.

It was a slight error. The ship could not have been
more than twice her own length too far to the north-
ward; and a white man at a loss for a cause (since it
was impossible to suspect Captain Whalley of blunder-
ing ignorance, of want of skill, or of neglect) would
have been inclined to doubt the testimony of his senses.
It was some such feeling that kept Massy motionless,
with his teeth laid bare by an anxious grin. Not so the
Serang. He was not troubled by any intellectual mis-
trust of his senses. If his captain chose to stir the mud
it was well. He had known in his life white men indulge
in outbreaks equally strange. He was only genuinely
interested to see what would come of it. At last, appar-
ently satisfied, he stepped back from the rail.

He had made no sound: Captain Whalley, however,
seemed to have observed the movements of his Serang.
Holding his head rigidly, he asked with a mere stir of
his lips--

"Going ahead still, Serang?"

"Still going a little, Tuan," answered the Malay.
Then added casually, "She is over."

The lead confirmed his words; the depth of water in-
creased at every cast, and the soul of excitement de-
parted suddenly from the lascar swung in the canvas
belt over the Sofala's side. Captain Whalley or-
dered the lead in, set the engines ahead without haste,
and averting his eyes from the coast directed the
Serang to keep a course for the middle of the en-

Massy brought the palm of his hand with a loud smack
against his thigh.

"You grazed on the bar. Just look astern and see
if you didn't. Look at the track she left. You can see
it plainly. Upon my soul, I thought you would! What
made you do that? What on earth made you do that?
I believe you are trying to scare me."

He talked slowly, as it were circumspectly, keeping his
prominent black eyes on his captain. There was also a
slight plaintive note in his rising choler, for, primarily,
it was the clear sense of a wrong suffered undeservedly
that made him hate the man who, for a beggarly five
hundred pounds, claimed a sixth part of the profits
under the three years' agreement. Whenever his resent-
ment got the better of the awe the person of Captain
Whalley inspired he would positively whimper with

"You don't know what to invent to plague my life
out of me. I would not have thought that a man of
your sort would condescend . . ."

He paused, half hopefully, half timidly, whenever
Captain Whalley made the slightest movement in the
deck-chair, as though expecting to be conciliated by a
soft speech or else rushed upon and hunted off the

"I am puzzled," he went on again, with the watchful
unsmiling baring of his big teeth. "I don't know what
to think. I do believe you are trying to frighten me.
You very nearly planted her on the bar for at least
twelve hours, besides getting the engines choked with
mud. Ships can't afford to lose twelve hours on a trip
nowadays--as you ought to know very well, and do
know very well to be sure, only . . ."

His slow volubility, the sideways cranings of his neck,
the black glances out of the very corners of his eyes,
left Captain Whalley unmoved. He looked at the deck
with a severe frown. Massy waited for some little time,
then began to threaten plaintively.

"You think you've got me bound hand and foot in
that agreement. You think you can torment me in any
way you please. Ah! But remember it has another
six weeks to run yet. There's time for me to dismiss
you before the three years are out. You will do yet
something that will give me the chance to dismiss you,
and make you wait a twelvemonth for your money before
you can take yourself off and pull out your five hundred,
and leave me without a penny to get the new boilers for
her. You gloat over that idea--don't you? I do be-
lieve you sit here gloating. It's as if I had sold my
soul for five hundred pounds to be everlastingly damned
in the end. . . ."

He paused, without apparent exasperation, then con-
tinued evenly--

". . . With the boilers worn out and the survey hang-
ing over my head, Captain Whalley-- Captain
Whalley, I say, what do you do with your money? You
must have stacks of money somewhere--a man like you
must. It stands to reason. I am not a fool, you know,
Captain Whalley--partner."

Again he paused, as though he had done for good.
He passed his tongue over his lips, gave a backward
glance at the Serang conning the ship with quiet whis-
pers and slight signs of the hand. The wash of the
propeller sent a swift ripple, crested with dark froth,
upon a long flat spit of black slime. The Sofala had
entered the river; the trail she had stirred up over the
bar was a mile astern of her now, out of sight, had dis-
appeared utterly; and the smooth, empty sea along the
coast was left behind in the glittering desolation of sun-
shine. On each side of her, low down, the growth of
somber twisted mangroves covered the semi-liquid banks;
and Massy continued in his old tone, with an abrupt
start, as if his speech had been ground out of him, like
the tune of a music-box, by turning a handle.

"Though if anybody ever got the best of me, it is you.
I don't mind saying this. I've said it--there! What
more can you want? Isn't that enough for your pride,
Captain Whalley. You got over me from the first. It's
all of a piece, when I look back at it. You allowed me
to insert that clause about intemperance without saying
anything, only looking very sick when I made a point
of it going in black on white. How could I tell what
was wrong about you. There's generally something
wrong somewhere. And, lo and behold! when you
come on board it turns out that you've been in the
habit of drinking nothing but water for years and

His dogmatic reproachful whine stopped. He brooded
profoundly, after the manner of crafty and unintelli-
gent men. It seemed inconceivable that Captain
Whalley should not laugh at the expression of disgust
that overspread the heavy, yellow countenance. But
Captain Whalley never raised his eyes--sitting in his
arm-chair, outraged, dignified, and motionless.

"Much good it was to me," Massy remonstrated
monotonously, "to insert a clause for dismissal for in-
temperance against a man who drinks nothing but water.
And you looked so upset, too, when I read my draft in
the lawyer's office that morning, Captain Whalley,--
you looked so crestfallen, that I made sure I had gone
home on your weak spot. A shipowner can't be too
careful as to the sort of skipper he gets. You must
have been laughing at me in your sleeve all the blessed
time. . . . Eh? What are you going to say?"

Captain Whalley had only shuffled his feet slightly.
A dull animosity became apparent in Massy's sideways

"But recollect that there are other grounds of dis-
missal. There's habitual carelessness, amounting to in-
competence--there's gross and persistent neglect of
duty. I am not quite as big a fool as you try to make
me out to be. You have been careless of late--leaving
everything to that Serang. Why! I've seen you let-
ting that old fool of a Malay take bearings for you,
as if you were too big to attend to your work yourself.
And what do you call that silly touch-and-go manner
in which you took the ship over the bar just now? You
expect me to put up with that?"

Leaning on his elbow against the ladder abaft the
bridge, Sterne, the mate, tried to hear, blinking the
while from the distance at the second engineer, who had
come up for a moment, and stood in the engine-room
companion. Wiping his hands on a bunch of cotton
waste, he looked about with indifference to the right
and left at the river banks slipping astern of the
Sofala steadily.

Massy turned full at the chair. The character of his
whine became again threatening.

"Take care. I may yet dismiss you and freeze to your
money for a year. I may . . ."

But before the silent, rigid immobility of the man
whose money had come in the nick of time to save him
from utter ruin, his voice died out in his throat.

"Not that I want you to go," he resumed after a si-
lence, and in an absurdly insinuating tone. "I want
nothing better than to be friends and renew the agree-
ment, if you will consent to find another couple of hun-
dred to help with the new boilers, Captain Whalley.
I've told you before. She must have new boilers; you
know it as well as I do. Have you thought this over?"

He waited. The slender stem of the pipe with its
bulky lump of a bowl at the end hung down from his
thick lips. It had gone out. Suddenly he took it from
between his teeth and wrung his hands slightly.

"Don't you believe me?" He thrust the pipe bowl
into the pocket of his shiny black jacket.

"It's like dealing with the devil," he said. "Why
don't you speak? At first you were so high and mighty
with me I hardly dared to creep about my own deck.
Now I can't get a word from you. You don't seem to
see me at all. What does it mean? Upon my soul, you
terrify me with this deaf and dumb trick. What's go-
ing on in that head of yours? What are you plotting
against me there so hard that you can't say a word?
You will never make me believe that you--you--don't
know where to lay your hands on a couple of hundred.
You have made me curse the day I was born. . . ."

"Mr. Massy," said Captain Whalley suddenly, with-
out stirring.

The engineer started violently.

"If that is so I can only beg you to forgive me."

"Starboard," muttered the Serang to the helmsman;
and the Sofala began to swing round the bend into the
second reach.

"Ough!" Massy shuddered. "You make my blood
run cold. What made you come here? What made you
come aboard that evening all of a sudden, with your
high talk and your money--tempting me? I always
wondered what was your motive? You fastened yourself
on me to have easy times and grow fat on my life blood,
I tell you. Was that it? I believe you are the greatest
miser in the world, or else why . . ."

"No. I am only poor," interrupted Captain Whalley,

"Steady," murmured the Serang. Massy turned away
with his chin on his shoulder.

"I don't believe it," he said in his dogmatic tone.
Captain Whalley made no movement. "There you sit
like a gorged vulture--exactly like a vulture."

He embraced the middle of the reach and both the
banks in one blank unseeing circular glance, and left the
bridge slowly.


On turning to descend Massy perceived the head of
Sterne the mate loitering, with his sly confident smile,
his red mustaches and blinking eyes, at the foot of the

Sterne had been a junior in one of the larger shipping
concerns before joining the Sofala. He had thrown up
his berth, he said, "on general principles." The pro-
motion in the employ was very slow, he complained, and
he thought it was time for him to try and get on a bit
in the world. It seemed as though nobody would ever
die or leave the firm; they all stuck fast in their berths
till they got mildewed; he was tired of waiting; and he
feared that when a vacancy did occur the best servants
were by no means sure of being treated fairly. Besides,
the captain he had to serve under--Captain Provost--
was an unaccountable sort of man, and, he fancied, had
taken a dislike to him for some reason or other. For
doing rather more than his bare duty as likely as not.
When he had done anything wrong he could take a
talking to, like a man; but he expected to be treated
like a man too, and not to be addressed invariably as
though he were a dog. He had asked Captain Provost
plump and plain to tell him where he was at fault, and
Captain Provost, in a most scornful way, had told him
that he was a perfect officer, and that if he disliked the
way he was being spoken to there was the gangway--
he could take himself off ashore at once. But everybody
knew what sort of man Captain Provost was. It was no
use appealing to the office. Captain Provost had too
much influence in the employ. All the same, they had
to give him a good character. He made bold to say
there was nothing in the world against him, and, as he
had happened to hear that the mate of the Sofala had
been taken to the hospital that morning with a sun-
stroke, he thought there would be no harm in seeing
whether he would not do. . . .

He had come to Captain Whalley freshly shaved, red-
faced, thin-flanked, throwing out his lean chest; and
had recited his little tale with an open and manly as-
surance. Now and then his eyelids quivered slightly,
his hand would steal up to the end of the flaming mus-
tache; his eyebrows were straight, furry, of a chestnut
color, and the directness of his frank gaze seemed to
tremble on the verge of impudence. Captain Whalley
had engaged him temporarily; then, the other man hav-
ing been ordered home by the doctors, he had remained
for the next trip, and then the next. He had now at-
tained permanency, and the performance of his duties
was marked by an air of serious, single-minded appli-
cation. Directly he was spoken to, he began to smile
attentively, with a great deference expressed in his
whole attitude; but there was in the rapid winking
which went on all the time something quizzical, as
though he had possessed the secret of some universal
joke cheating all creation and impenetrable to other

Grave and smiling he watched Massy come down step
by step; when the chief engineer had reached the deck
he swung about, and they found themselves face to face.
Matched as to height and utterly dissimilar, they con-
fronted each other as if there had been something be-
tween them--something else than the bright strip of
sunlight that, falling through the wide lacing of two
awnings, cut crosswise the narrow planking of the deck
and separated their feet as it were a stream; something
profound and subtle and incalculable, like an unex-
pressed understanding, a secret mistrust, or some sort
of fear.

At last Sterne, blinking his deep-set eyes and sticking
forward his scraped, clean-cut chin, as crimson as the
rest of his face, murmured--

"You've seen? He grazed! You've seen?"

Massy, contemptuous, and without raising his yellow,
fleshy countenance, replied in the same pitch--

"Maybe. But if it had been you we would have been
stuck fast in the mud."

"Pardon me, Mr. Massy. I beg to deny it. Of course
a shipowner may say what he jolly well pleases on his
own deck. That's all right; but I beg to . . ."

"Get out of my way!"

The other had a slight start, the impulse of suppressed
indignation perhaps, but held his ground. Massy's
downward glance wandered right and left, as though the
deck all round Sterne had been bestrewn with eggs that
must not be broken, and he had looked irritably for
places where he could set his feet in flight. In the end
he too did not move, though there was plenty of room
to pass on.

"I heard you say up there," went on the mate--"and
a very just remark it was too--that there's always
something wrong. . . ."

"Eavesdropping is what's wrong with YOU, Mr.

"Now, if you would only listen to me for a moment,
Mr. Massy, sir, I could . . ."

"You are a sneak," interrupted Massy in a great
hurry, and even managed to get so far as to repeat, "a
common sneak," before the mate had broken in argu-

"Now, sir, what is it you want? You want . . ."

"I want--I want," stammered Massy, infuriated and
astonished--"I want. How do you know that I want
anything? How dare you? . . . What do you
mean? . . . What are you after--you . . ."

"Promotion." Sterne silenced him with a sort of
candid bravado. The engineer's round soft cheeks quiv-
ered still, but he said quietly enough--

"You are only worrying my head off," and Sterne
met him with a confident little smile.

"A chap in business I know (well up in the world
he is now) used to tell me that this was the proper way.
'Always push on to the front,' he would say. 'Keep
yourself well before your boss. Interfere whenever you
get a chance. Show him what you know. Worry him
into seeing you.' That was his advice. Now I know
no other boss than you here. You are the owner, and
no one else counts for THAT much in my eyes. See, Mr.
Massy? I want to get on. I make no secret of it that
I am one of the sort that means to get on. These are
the men to make use of, sir. You haven't arrived at
the top of the tree, sir, without finding that out--I
dare say."

"Worry your boss in order to get on," mumbled
Massy, as if awestruck by the irreverent originality of
the idea. "I shouldn't wonder if this was just what the
Blue Anchor people kicked you out of the employ for.
Is that what you call getting on? You shall get on in
the same way here if you aren't careful--I can promise

At this Sterne hung his head, thoughtful, perplexed,
winking hard at the deck. All his attempts to enter into
confidential relations with his owner had led of late
to nothing better than these dark threats of dismissal;
and a threat of dismissal would check him at once into
a hesitating silence as though he were not sure that
the proper time for defying it had come. On this occa-
sion he seemed to have lost his tongue for a moment, and
Massy, getting in motion, heavily passed him by with
an abortive attempt at shouldering. Sterne defeated it
by stepping aside. He turned then swiftly, opening
his mouth very wide as if to shout something after the
engineer, but seemed to think better of it.

Always--as he was ready to confess--on the lookout
for an opening to get on, it had become an instinct with
him to watch the conduct of his immediate superiors for
something "that one could lay hold of." It was his
belief that no skipper in the world would keep his com-
mand for a day if only the owners could be "made to
know." This romantic and naive theory had led him
into trouble more than once, but he remained incorrigi-
ble; and his character was so instinctively disloyal that
whenever he joined a ship the intention of ousting his
commander out of the berth and taking his place was
always present at the back of his head, as a matter of
course. It filled the leisure of his waking hours with
the reveries of careful plans and compromising discov-
eries--the dreams of his sleep with images of lucky
turns and favorable accidents. Skippers had been
known to sicken and die at sea, than which nothing
could be better to give a smart mate a chance of showing
what he's made of. They also would tumble overboard
sometimes: he had heard of one or two such cases.
Others again . . . But, as it were constitutionally, he
was faithful to the belief that the conduct of no single
one of them would stand the test of careful watching
by a man who "knew what's what" and who kept his
eyes "skinned pretty well" all the time.

After he had gained a permanent footing on board
the Sofala he allowed his perennial hope to rise high.
To begin with, it was a great advantage to have an old
man for captain: the sort of man besides who in the
nature of things was likely to give up the job before
long from one cause or another. Sterne was greatly
chagrined, however, to notice that he did not seem any-
way near being past his work yet. Still, these old men
go to pieces all at once sometimes. Then there was the
owner-engineer close at hand to be impressed by his zeal
and steadiness. Sterne never for a moment doubted the
obvious nature of his own merits (he was really an ex-
cellent officer); only, nowadays, professional merit alone
does not take a man along fast enough. A chap must
have some push in him, and must keep his wits at work
too to help him forward. He made up his mind to
inherit the charge of this steamer if it was to be done
at all; not indeed estimating the command of the
Sofala as a very great catch, but for the reason that,
out East especially, to make a start is everything, and
one command leads to another.

He began by promising himself to behave with great
circumspection; Massy's somber and fantastic humors
intimidated him as being outside one's usual sea experi-
ence; but he was quite intelligent enough to realize al-
most from the first that he was there in the presence of
an exceptional situation. His peculiar prying imagina-
tion penetrated it quickly; the feeling that there was
in it an element which eluded his grasp exasperated his
impatience to get on. And so one trip came to an end,
then another, and he had begun his third before he saw
an opening by which he could step in with any sort of
effect. It had all been very queer and very obscure;
something had been going on near him, as if separated
by a chasm from the common life and the working
routine of the ship, which was exactly like the life and
the routine of any other coasting steamer of that class.

Then one day he made his discovery.

It came to him after all these weeks of watchful ob-
servation and puzzled surmises, suddenly, like the long-
sought solution of a riddle that suggests itself to the
mind in a flash. Not with the same authority, however.
Great heavens! Could it be that? And after remain-
ing thunderstruck for a few seconds he tried to shake
it off with self-contumely, as though it had been the
product of an unhealthy bias towards the Incredible,
the Inexplicable, the Unheard-of--the Mad!

This--the illuminating moment--had occurred the trip
before, on the return passage. They had just left a
place of call on the mainland called Pangu; they were
steaming straight out of a bay. To the east a massive
headland closed the view, with the tilted edges of the
rocky strata showing through its ragged clothing of
rank bushes and thorny creepers. The wind had begun
to sing in the rigging; the sea along the coast, green
and as if swollen a little above the line of the horizon,
seemed to pour itself over, time after time, with a slow
and thundering fall, into the shadow of the leeward
cape; and across the wide opening the nearest of a
group of small islands stood enveloped in the hazy
yellow light of a breezy sunrise; still farther out the
hummocky tops of other islets peeped out motionless
above the water of the channels between, scoured
tumultuously by the breeze.

The usual track of the Sofala both going and return-
ing on every trip led her for a few miles along this reef-
infested region. She followed a broad lane of water,
dropping astern, one after another, these crumbs of the
earth's crust resembling a squadron of dismasted hulks
run in disorder upon a foul ground of rocks and shoals.
Some of these fragments of land appeared, indeed, no
bigger than a stranded ship; others, quite flat, lay
awash like anchored rafts, like ponderous, black rafts
of stone; several, heavily timbered and round at the
base, emerged in squat domes of deep green foliage that
shuddered darkly all over to the flying touch of cloud
shadows driven by the sudden gusts of the squally sea-
son. The thunderstorms of the coast broke frequently
over that cluster; it turned then shadowy in its whole
extent; it turned more dark, and as if more still in the
play of fire; as if more impenetrably silent in the peals
of thunder; its blurred shapes vanished--dissolving ut-
terly at times in the thick rain--to reappear clear-cut
and black in the stormy light against the gray sheet of
the cloud--scattered on the slaty round table of
the sea. Unscathed by storms, resisting the work of
years, unfretted by the strife of the world, there it lay
unchanged as on that day, four hundred years ago,
when first beheld by Western eyes from the deck of
a high-pooped caravel.

It was one of these secluded spots that may be found
on the busy sea, as on land you come sometimes upon the
clustered houses of a hamlet untouched by men's rest-
lessness, untouched by their need, by their thought, and
as if forgotten by time itself. The lives of uncounted
generations had passed it by, and the multitudes of sea-
fowl, urging their way from all the points of the horizon
to sleep on the outer rocks of the group, unrolled the
converging evolutions of their flight in long somber
streamers upon the glow of the sky. The palpitating
cloud of their wings soared and stooped over the pinna-
cles of the rocks, over the rocks slender like spires, squat
like martello towers; over the pyramidal heaps like fallen
ruins, over the lines of bald bowlders showing like a wall
of stones battered to pieces and scorched by lightning--
with the sleepy, clear glimmer of water in every breach.
The noise of their continuous and violent screaming
filled the air.

This great noise would meet the Sofala coming up from
Batu Beru; it would meet her on quiet evenings, a piti-
less and savage clamor enfeebled by distance, the
clamor of seabirds settling to rest, and struggling for
a footing at the end of the day. No one noticed it
especially on board; it was the voice of their ship's un-
erring landfall, ending the steady stretch of a hundred
miles. She had made good her course, she had run her
distance till the punctual islets began to emerge one by
one, the points of rocks, the hummocks of earth . . .
and the cloud of birds hovered--the restless cloud emit-
ting a strident and cruel uproar, the sound of the fa-
miliar scene, the living part of the broken land beneath,
of the outspread sea, and of the high sky without a

But when the Sofala happened to close with the land
after sunset she would find everything very still there
under the mantle of the night. All would be still, dumb,
almost invisible--but for the blotting out of the low
constellations occulted in turns behind the vague masses
of the islets whose true outlines eluded the eye amongst
the dark spaces of the heaven: and the ship's three lights,
resembling three stars--the red and the green with the
white above--her three lights, like three companion
stars wandering on the earth, held their unswerving
course for the passage at the southern end of the group.
Sometimes there were human eyes open to watch them
come nearer, traveling smoothly in the somber void; the
eyes of a naked fisherman in his canoe floating over a
reef. He thought drowsily: "Ha! The fire-ship that
once in every moon goes in and comes out of Pangu
bay." More he did not know of her. And just as he
had detected the faint rhythm of the propeller beating
the calm water a mile and a half away, the time would
come for the Sofala to alter her course, the lights would
swing off him their triple beam--and disappear.

A few miserable, half-naked families, a sort of outcast
tribe of long-haired, lean, and wild-eyed people, strove
for their living in this lonely wilderness of islets, lying
like an abandoned outwork of the land at the gates of
the bay. Within the knots and loops of the rocks the
water rested more transparent than crystal under their
crooked and leaky canoes, scooped out of the trunk of
a tree: the forms of the bottom undulated slightly to
the dip of a paddle; and the men seemed to hang in the
air, they seemed to hang inclosed within the fibers of a
dark, sodden log, fishing patiently in a strange, un-
steady, pellucid, green air above the shoals.

Their bodies stalked brown and emaciated as if dried
up in the sunshine; their lives ran out silently; the
homes where they were born, went to rest, and died--
flimsy sheds of rushes and coarse grass eked out with
a few ragged mats--were hidden out of sight from the
open sea. No glow of their household fires ever kindled
for a seaman a red spark upon the blind night of the
group: and the calms of the coast, the flaming long
calms of the equator, the unbreathing, concentrated
calms like the deep introspection of a passionate nature,
brooded awfully for days and weeks together over the
unchangeable inheritance of their children; till at last
the stones, hot like live embers, scorched the naked sole,
till the water clung warm, and sickly, and as if thick-
ened, about the legs of lean men with girded loins, wad-
ing thigh-deep in the pale blaze of the shallows. And
it would happen now and then that the Sofala, through
some delay in one of the ports of call, would heave in
sight making for Pangu bay as late as noonday.

Only a blurring cloud at first, the thin mist of her
smoke would arise mysteriously from an empty point on
the clear line of sea and sky. The taciturn fishermen
within the reefs would extend their lean arms towards
the offing; and the brown figures stooping on the tiny
beaches, the brown figures of men, women, and children
grubbing in the sand in search of turtles' eggs, would
rise up, crooked elbow aloft and hand over the eyes, to
watch this monthly apparition glide straight on, swerve
off--and go by. Their ears caught the panting of that
ship; their eyes followed her till she passed between the
two capes of the mainland going at full speed as though
she hoped to make her way unchecked into the very
bosom of the earth.

On such days the luminous sea would give no sign of
the dangers lurking on both sides of her path. Every-
thing remained still, crushed by the overwhelming power
of the light; and the whole group, opaque in the sun-
shine,--the rocks resembling pinnacles, the rocks resem-
bling spires, the rocks resembling ruins; the forms of
islets resembling beehives, resembling mole-hills, the
islets recalling the shapes of haystacks, the contours of
ivy-clad towers,--would stand reflected together upside
down in the unwrinkled water, like carved toys of ebony
disposed on the silvered plate-glass of a mirror.

The first touch of blowing weather would envelop the
whole at once in the spume of the windward breakers,
as if in a sudden cloudlike burst of steam; and the clear
water seemed fairly to boil in all the passages. The
provoked sea outlined exactly in a design of angry foam
the wide base of the group; the submerged level of
broken waste and refuse left over from the building of
the coast near by, projecting its dangerous spurs, all
awash, far into the channel, and bristling with wicked
long spits often a mile long: with deadly spits made of
froth and stones.

And even nothing more than a brisk breeze--as on
that morning, the voyage before, when the Sofala left
Pangu bay early, and Mr. Sterne's discovery was to
blossom out like a flower of incredible and evil aspect
from the tiny seed of instinctive suspicion,--even such
a breeze had enough strength to tear the placid mask
from the face of the sea. To Sterne, gazing with indif-
ference, it had been like a revelation to behold for the
first time the dangers marked by the hissing livid
patches on the water as distinctly as on the engraved
paper of a chart. It came into his mind that this was
the sort of day most favorable for a stranger attempt-
ing the passage: a clear day, just windy enough for
the sea to break on every ledge, buoying, as it were,
the channel plainly to the sight; whereas during a calm
you had nothing to depend on but the compass and the
practiced judgment of your eye. And yet the suc-
cessive captains of the Sofala had had to take her
through at night more than once. Nowadays you could
not afford to throw away six or seven hours of a
steamer's time. That you couldn't. But then use is
everything, and with proper care . . . The channel
was broad and safe enough; the main point was to hit
upon the entrance correctly in the dark--for if a man
got himself involved in that stretch of broken water
over yonder he would never get out with a whole ship--
if he ever got out at all.

This was Sterne's last train of thought independent
of the great discovery. He had just seen to the secur-
ing of the anchor, and had remained forward idling
away a moment or two. The captain was in charge on
the bridge. With a slight yawn he had turned away
from his survey of the sea and had leaned his shoulders
against the fish davit.

These, properly speaking, were the very last moments
of ease he was to know on board the Sofala. All the
instants that came after were to be pregnant with pur-
pose and intolerable with perplexity. No more idle,
random thoughts; the discovery would put them on the
rack, till sometimes he wished to goodness he had been
fool enough not to make it at all. And yet, if his
chance to get on rested on the discovery of "something
wrong," he could not have hoped for a greater stroke
of luck.


The knowledge was too disturbing, really. There was
"something wrong" with a vengeance, and the moral
certitude of it was at first simply frightful to contem-
plate. Sterne had been looking aft in a mood so idle,
that for once he was thinking no harm of anyone. His
captain on the bridge presented himself naturally to
his sight. How insignificant, how casual was the
thought that had started the train of discovery--like an
accidental spark that suffices to ignite the charge of a
tremendous mine!

Caught under by the breeze, the awnings of the fore-
deck bellied upwards and collapsed slowly, and above
their heavy flapping the gray stuff of Captain Whalley's
roomy coat fluttered incessantly around his arms and
trunk. He faced the wind in full light, with his great
silvery beard blown forcibly against his chest; the eye-
brows overhung heavily the shadows whence his glance
appeared to be staring ahead piercingly. Sterne could
just detect the twin gleam of the whites shifting under
the shaggy arches of the brow. At short range these
eyes, for all the man's affable manner, seemed to look
you through and through. Sterne never could defend
himself from that feeling when he had occasion to speak
with his captain. He did not like it. What a big
heavy man he appeared up there, with that little
shrimp of a Serang in close attendance--as was usual
in this extraordinary steamer! Confounded absurd cus-
tom that. He resented it. Surely the old fellow could
have looked after his ship without that loafing native
at his elbow. Sterne wriggled his shoulders with dis-
gust. What was it? Indolence or what?

That old skipper must have been growing lazy for
years. They all grew lazy out East here (Sterne was
very conscious of his own unimpaired activity); they
got slack all over. But he towered very erect on the
bridge; and quite low by his side, as you see a small
child looking over the edge of a table, the battered soft
hat and the brown face of the Serang peeped over the
white canvas screen of the rail.

No doubt the Malay was standing back, nearer to the
wheel; but the great disparity of size in close associa-
tion amused Sterne like the observation of a bizarre fact
in nature. They were as queer fish out of the sea as
any in it.

He saw Captain Whalley turn his head quickly to
speak to his Serang; the wind whipped the whole white
mass of the beard sideways. He would be directing the
chap to look at the compass for him, or what not. Of
course. Too much trouble to step over and see for him-
self. Sterne's scorn for that bodily indolence which
overtakes white men in the East increased on reflection.
Some of them would be utterly lost if they hadn't all
these natives at their beck and call; they grew perfectly
shameless about it too. He was not of that sort, thank
God! It wasn't in him to make himself dependent for
his work on any shriveled-up little Malay like that. As
if one could ever trust a silly native for anything in
the world! But that fine old man thought differently,
it seems. There they were together, never far apart;
a pair of them, recalling to the mind an old whale at-
tended by a little pilot-fish.

The fancifulness of the comparison made him smile.
A whale with an inseparable pilot-fish! That's what
the old man looked like; for it could not be said he
looked like a shark, though Mr. Massy had called him
that very name. But Mr. Massy did not mind what he
said in his savage fits. Sterne smiled to himself--and
gradually the ideas evoked by the sound, by the im-
agined shape of the word pilot-fish; the ideas of aid, of
guidance needed and received, came uppermost in his
mind: the word pilot awakened the idea of trust, of
dependence, the idea of welcome, clear-eyed help brought
to the seaman groping for the land in the dark: groping
blindly in fogs: feeling their way in the thick weather
of the gales that, filling the air with a salt mist blown
up from the sea, contract the range of sight on all
sides to a shrunken horizon that seems within reach of
the hand.

A pilot sees better than a stranger, because his local
knowledge, like a sharper vision, completes the shapes
of things hurriedly glimpsed; penetrates the veils of
mist spread over the land by the storms of the sea; de-
fines with certitude the outlines of a coast lying under
the pall of fog, the forms of landmarks half buried in a
starless night as in a shallow grave. He recognizes be-
cause he already knows. It is not to his far-reaching
eye but to his more extensive knowledge that the pilot
looks for certitude; for this certitude of the ship's posi-
tion on which may depend a man's good fame and the
peace of his conscience, the justification of the trust
deposited in his hands, with his own life too, which is
seldom wholly his to throw away, and the humble lives
of others rooted in distant affections, perhaps, and made
as weighty as the lives of kings by the burden of the
awaiting mystery. The pilot's knowledge brings relief
and certitude to the commander of a ship; the Serang,
however, in his fanciful suggestion of a pilot-fish at-
tending a whale, could not in any way be credited with
a superior knowledge. Why should he have it? These
two men had come on that run together--the white and
the brown--on the same day: and of course a white man
would learn more in a week than the best native would
in a month. He was made to stick to the skipper as
though he were of some use--as the pilot-fish, they say,
is to the whale. But how--it was very marked--how?
A pilot-fish--a pilot--a . . . But if not superior
knowledge then . . .

Sterne's discovery was made. It was repugnant to his
imagination, shocking to his ideas of honesty, shocking
to his conception of mankind. This enormity affected
one's outlook on what was possible in this world: it was
as if for instance the sun had turned blue, throwing a
new and sinister light on men and nature. Really in
the first moment he had felt sickish, as though he had
got a blow below the belt: for a second the very color
of the sea seemed changed--appeared queer to his wan-
dering eye; and he had a passing, unsteady sensation in
all his limbs as though the earth had started turning
the other way.

A very natural incredulity succeeding this sense of
upheaval brought a measure of relief. He had gasped;
it was over. But afterwards during all that day sudden
paroxysms of wonder would come over him in the midst
of his occupations. He would stop and shake his head.
The revolt of his incredulity had passed away almost as
quick as the first emotion of discovery, and for the next
twenty-four hours he had no sleep. That would never
do. At meal-times (he took the foot of the table set
up for the white men on the bridge) he could not help
losing himself in a fascinated contemplation of Captain
Whalley opposite. He watched the deliberate upward
movements of the arm; the old man put his food to his
lips as though he never expected to find any taste in
his daily bread, as though he did not know anything
about it. He fed himself like a somnambulist. "It's an
awful sight," thought Sterne; and he watched the long
period of mournful, silent immobility, with a big brown
hand lying loosely closed by the side of the plate, till
he noticed the two engineers to the right and left look-
ing at him in astonishment. He would close his mouth
in a hurry then, and lowering his eyes, wink rapidly at
his plate. It was awful to see the old chap sitting
there; it was even awful to think that with three words
he could blow him up sky-high. All he had to do was
to raise his voice and pronounce a single short sentence,
and yet that simple act seemed as impossible to attempt
as moving the sun out of its place in the sky. The old
chap could eat in his terrific mechanical way; but Sterne,
from mental excitement, could not--not that evening,
at any rate.

He had had ample time since to get accustomed to the
strain of the meal-hours. He would never have believed
it. But then use is everything; only the very potency
of his success prevented anything resembling elation.
He felt like a man who, in his legitimate search for a
loaded gun to help him on his way through the world,
chances to come upon a torpedo--upon a live torpedo
with a shattering charge in its head and a pressure of
many atmospheres in its tail. It is the sort of weapon
to make its possessor careworn and nervous. He had
no mind to be blown up himself; and he could not get
rid of the notion that the explosion was bound to damage
him too in some way.

This vague apprehension had restrained him at first.
He was able now to eat and sleep with that fearful
weapon by his side, with the conviction of its power
always in mind. It had not been arrived at by any
reflective process; but once the idea had entered his
head, the conviction had followed overwhelmingly in a
multitude of observed little facts to which before he had
given only a languid attention. The abrupt and falter-
ing intonations of the deep voice; the taciturnity put
on like an armor; the deliberate, as if guarded, move-
ments; the long immobilities, as if the man he watched
had been afraid to disturb the very air: every familiar
gesture, every word uttered in his hearing, every sigh
overheard, had acquired a special significance, a con-
firmatory import.

Every day that passed over the Sofala appeared to
Sterne simply crammed full with proofs--with incon-
trovertible proofs. At night, when off duty, he would
steal out of his cabin in pyjamas (for more proofs) and
stand a full hour, perhaps, on his bare feet below the
bridge, as absolutely motionless as the awning stanchion
in its deck socket near by. On the stretches of easy
navigation it is not usual for a coasting captain to re-
main on deck all the time of his watch. The Serang
keeps it for him as a matter of custom; in open water,
on a straight course, he is usually trusted to look after
the ship by himself. But this old man seemed incapable
of remaining quietly down below. No doubt he could
not sleep. And no wonder. This was also a proof.
Suddenly in the silence of the ship panting upon the
still, dark sea, Sterne would hear a low voice above him
exclaiming nervously--



"You are watching the compass well?"

"Yes, I am watching, Tuan."

"The ship is making her course?"

"She is, Tuan. Very straight."

"It is well; and remember, Serang, that the order
is that you are to mind the helmsmen and keep a look-
out with care, the same as if I were not on deck."

Then, when the Serang had made his answer, the low
tones on the bridge would cease, and everything round
Sterne seemed to become more still and more profoundly
silent. Slightly chilled and with his back aching a little
from long immobility, he would steal away to his room
on the port side of the deck. He had long since parted
with the last vestige of incredulity; of the original
emotions, set into a tumult by the discovery, some trace
of the first awe alone remained. Not the awe of the
man himself--he could blow him up sky-high with six
words--rather it was an awestruck indignation at the
reckless perversity of avarice (what else could it be?),
at the mad and somber resolution that for the sake of a
few dollars more seemed to set at naught the common
rule of conscience and pretended to struggle against
the very decree of Providence.

You could not find another man like this one in the
whole round world--thank God. There was something
devilishly dauntless in the character of such a deception
which made you pause.

Other considerations occurring to his prudence had
kept him tongue-tied from day to day. It seemed to
him now that it would yet have been easier to speak out
in the first hour of discovery. He almost regretted not
having made a row at once. But then the very mon-
strosity of the disclosure . . . Why! He could hardly
face it himself, let alone pointing it out to somebody
else. Moreover, with a desperado of that sort one never
knew. The object was not to get him out (that was
as well as done already), but to step into his place.
Bizarre as the thought seemed he might have shown
fight. A fellow up to working such a fraud would have
enough cheek for anything; a fellow that, as it were,
stood up against God Almighty Himself. He was a
horrid marvel--that's what he was: he was perfectly
capable of brazening out the affair scandalously till he
got him (Sterne) kicked out of the ship and everlast-
ingly damaged his prospects in this part of the East.
Yet if you want to get on something must be risked. At
times Sterne thought he had been unduly timid of taking
action in the past; and what was worse, it had come to
this, that in the present he did not seem to know what
action to take.

Massy's savage moroseness was too disconcerting. It
was an incalculable factor of the situation. You could
not tell what there was behind that insulting ferocity.
How could one trust such a temper; it did not put
Sterne in bodily fear for himself, but it frightened him
exceedingly as to his prospects.

Though of course inclined to credit himself with ex-
ceptional powers of observation, he had by now lived
too long with his discovery. He had gone on looking
at nothing else, till at last one day it occurred to him
that the thing was so obvious that no one could miss
seeing it. There were four white men in all on board
the Sofala. Jack, the second engineer, was too dull to
notice anything that took place out of his engine-room.
Remained Massy--the owner--the interested person--
nearly going mad with worry. Sterne had heard and
seen more than enough on board to know what ailed him;
but his exasperation seemed to make him deaf to cau-
tious overtures. If he had only known it, there was the
very thing he wanted. But how could you bargain with
a man of that sort? It was like going into a tiger's den
with a piece of raw meat in your hand. He was as
likely as not to rend you for your pains. In fact, he
was always threatening to do that very thing; and the
urgency of the case, combined with the impossibility of
handling it with safety, made Sterne in his watches below
toss and mutter open-eyed in his bunk, for hours, as
though he had been burning with fever.

Occurrences like the crossing of the bar just now were
extremely alarming to his prospects. He did not want
to be left behind by some swift catastrophe. Massy be-
ing on the bridge, the old man had to brace himself up
and make a show, he supposed. But it was getting very
bad with him, very bad indeed, now. Even Massy had
been emboldened to find fault this time; Sterne, listen-
ing at the foot of the ladder, had heard the other's
whimpering and artless denunciations. Luckily the
beast was very stupid and could not see the why of all
this. However, small blame to him; it took a clever man
to hit upon the cause. Nevertheless, it was high time to
do something. The old man's game could not be kept
up for many days more.

"I may yet lose my life at this fooling--let alone my
chance," Sterne mumbled angrily to himself, after the
stooping back of the chief engineer had disappeared
round the corner of the skylight. Yes, no doubt--he
thought; but to blurt out his knowledge would not ad-
vance his prospects. On the contrary, it would blast
them utterly as likely as not. He dreaded another
failure. He had a vague consciousness of not being
much liked by his fellows in this part of the world; inex-
plicably enough, for he had done nothing to them.
Envy, he supposed. People were always down on a
clever chap who made no bones about his determination
to get on. To do your duty and count on the gratitude
of that brute Massy would be sheer folly. He was a bad
lot. Unmanly! A vicious man! Bad! Bad! A brute!
A brute without a spark of anything human about him;
without so much as simple curiosity even, or else surely
he would have responded in some way to all these hints
he had been given. . . . Such insensibility was almost
mysterious. Massy's state of exasperation seemed to
Sterne to have made him stupid beyond the ordinary
silliness of shipowners.

Sterne, meditating on the embarrassments of that stu-
pidity, forgot himself completely. His stony, unwink-
ing stare was fixed on the planks of the deck.

The slight quiver agitating the whole fabric of the
ship was more perceptible in the silent river, shaded and
still like a forest path. The Sofala, gliding with an
even motion, had passed beyond the coast-belt of mud
and mangroves. The shores rose higher, in firm slop-
ing banks, and the forest of big trees came down to the
brink. Where the earth had been crumbled by the
floods it showed a steep brown cut, denuding a mass of
roots intertwined as if wrestling underground; and in
the air, the interlaced boughs, bound and loaded with
creepers, carried on the struggle for life, mingled their
foliage in one solid wall of leaves, with here and there
the shape of an enormous dark pillar soaring, or a
ragged opening, as if torn by the flight of a cannon-
ball, disclosing the impenetrable gloom within, the
secular inviolable shade of the virgin forest. The
thump of the engines reverberated regularly like the
strokes of a metronome beating the measure of the vast
silence, the shadow of the western wall had fallen across
the river, and the smoke pouring backwards from the
funnel eddied down behind the ship, spread a thin
dusky veil over the somber water, which, checked by
the flood-tide, seemed to lie stagnant in the whole
straight length of the reaches.

Sterne's body, as if rooted on the spot, trembled slightly
from top to toe with the internal vibration of the ship;
from under his feet came sometimes a sudden clang of
iron, the noisy burst of a shout below; to the right the
leaves of the tree-tops caught the rays of the low sun,
and seemed to shine with a golden green light of their
own shimmering around the highest boughs which stood
out black against a smooth blue sky that seemed to
droop over the bed of the river like the roof of a tent.
The passengers for Batu Beru, kneeling on the planks,
were engaged in rolling their bedding of mats busily;
they tied up bundles, they snapped the locks of wooden
chests. A pockmarked peddler of small wares threw his
head back to drain into his throat the last drops out of
an earthenware bottle before putting it away in a roll
of blankets. Knots of traveling traders standing about
the deck conversed in low tones; the followers of a small
Rajah from down the coast, broad-faced, simple young
fellows in white drawers and round white cotton caps
with their colored sarongs twisted across their bronze
shoulders, squatted on their hams on the hatch, chewing
betel with bright red mouths as if they had been tasting
blood. Their spears, lying piled up together within the
circle of their bare toes, resembled a casual bundle of
dry bamboos; a thin, livid Chinaman, with a bulky
package wrapped up in leaves already thrust under his
arm, gazed ahead eagerly; a wandering Kling rubbed
his teeth with a bit of wood, pouring over the side a
bright stream of water out of his lips; the fat Rajah
dozed in a shabby deck-chair,--and at the turn of every
bend the two walls of leaves reappeared running
parallel along the banks, with their impenetrable solidity
fading at the top to a vaporous mistiness of countless
slender twigs growing free, of young delicate branches
shooting from the topmost limbs of hoary trunks, of
feathery heads of climbers like delicate silver sprays
standing up without a quiver. There was not a sign
of a clearing anywhere; not a trace of human habita-
tion, except when in one place, on the bare end of a low
point under an isolated group of slender tree-ferns, the
jagged, tangled remnants of an old hut on piles ap-
peared with that peculiar aspect of ruined bamboo walls
that look as if smashed with a club. Farther on, half
hidden under the drooping bushes, a canoe containing
a man and a woman, together with a dozen green cocoa-
nuts in a heap, rocked helplessly after the Sofala had
passed, like a navigating contrivance of venturesome
insects, of traveling ants; while two glassy folds of
water streaming away from each bow of the steamer
across the whole width of the river ran with her up
stream smoothly, fretting their outer ends into a brown
whispering tumble of froth against the miry foot of
each bank.

"I must," thought Sterne, "bring that brute Massy
to his bearings. It's getting too absurd in the end.
Here's the old man up there buried in his chair--he
may just as well be in his grave for all the use he'll ever
be in the world--and the Serang's in charge. Because
that's what he is. In charge. In the place that's mine
by rights. I must bring that savage brute to his bear-
ings. I'll do it at once, too . . ."

When the mate made an abrupt start, a little brown
half-naked boy, with large black eyes, and the string
of a written charm round his neck, became panic-struck
at once. He dropped the banana he had been munch-
ing, and ran to the knee of a grave dark Arab in flow-
ing robes, sitting like a Biblical figure, incongruously,
on a yellow tin trunk corded with a rope of twisted
rattan. The father, unmoved, put out his hand to pat
the little shaven poll protectingly.


Sterne crossed the deck upon the track of the chief
engineer. Jack, the second, retreating backwards down
the engine-room ladder, and still wiping his hands,
treated him to an incomprehensible grin of white teeth
out of his grimy hard face; Massy was nowhere to be
seen. He must have gone straight into his berth.
Sterne scratched at the door softly, then, putting his
lips to the rose of the ventilator, said--

"I must speak to you, Mr. Massy. Just give me a
minute or two."

"I am busy. Go away from my door."

"But pray, Mr. Massy . . ."

"You go away. D'you hear? Take yourself off alto-
gether--to the other end of the ship--quite away . . ."
The voice inside dropped low. "To the devil."

Sterne paused: then very quietly--

"It's rather pressing. When do you think you will
be at liberty, sir?"

The answer to this was an exasperated "Never"; and
at once Sterne, with a very firm expression of face,
turned the handle.

Mr. Massy's stateroom--a narrow, one-berth cabin--
smelt strongly of soap, and presented to view a swept,
dusted, unadorned neatness, not so much bare as barren,
not so much severe as starved and lacking in humanity,
like the ward of a public hospital, or rather (owing to
the small size) like the clean retreat of a desperately
poor but exemplary person. Not a single photograph
frame ornamented the bulkheads; not a single article of
clothing, not as much as a spare cap, hung from the
brass hooks. All the inside was painted in one plain
tint of pale blue; two big sea-chests in sailcloth covers
and with iron padlocks fitted exactly in the space under
the bunk. One glance was enough to embrace all the
strip of scrubbed planks within the four unconcealed
corners. The absence of the usual settee was striking;
the teak-wood top of the washing-stand seemed hermeti-
cally closed, and so was the lid of the writing-desk,
which protruded from the partition at the foot of the
bed-place, containing a mattress as thin as a pancake
under a threadbare blanket with a faded red stripe, and
a folded mosquito-net against the nights spent in harbor.
There was not a scrap of paper anywhere in sight, no
boots on the floor, no litter of any sort, not a speck of
dust anywhere; no traces of pipe-ash even, which, in
a heavy smoker, was morally revolting, like a manifesta-
tion of extreme hypocrisy; and the bottom of the old
wooden arm-chair (the only seat there), polished with
much use, shone as if its shabbiness had been waxed.
The screen of leaves on the bank, passing as if unrolled
endlessly in the round opening of the port, sent a waver-
ing network of light and shade into the place.

Sterne, holding the door open with one hand, had thrust
in his head and shoulders. At this amazing intrusion
Massy, who was doing absolutely nothing, jumped up

"Don't call names," murmured Sterne hurriedly. "I
won't be called names. I think of nothing but your
good, Mr. Massy."

A pause as of extreme astonishment followed. They
both seemed to have lost their tongues. Then the mate
went on with a discreet glibness.

"You simply couldn't conceive what's going on on
board your ship. It wouldn't enter your head for a
moment. You are too good--too--too upright, Mr.
Massy, to suspect anybody of such a . . . It's enough
to make your hair stand on end."

He watched for the effect: Massy seemed dazed, un-
comprehending. He only passed the palm of his hand
on the coal-black wisps plastered across the top of his
head. In a tone suddenly changed to confidential au-
dacity Sterne hastened on.

"Remember that there's only six weeks left to
run . . ." The other was looking at him stonily . . .
"so anyhow you shall require a captain for the ship
before long."

Then only, as if that suggestion had scarified his flesh
in the manner of red-hot iron, Massy gave a start and
seemed ready to shriek. He contained himself by a
great effort.

"Require a captain," he repeated with scathing slow-
ness. "Who requires a captain? You dare to tell me
that I need any of you humbugging sailors to run my
ship. You and your likes have been fattening on me
for years. It would have hurt me less to throw
my money overboard. Pam--pe--red us--e--less
f-f-f-frauds. The old ship knows as much as the best
of you." He snapped his teeth audibly and growled
through them, "The silly law requires a captain."

Sterne had taken heart of grace meantime.

"And the silly insurance people too, as well," he said
lightly. "But never mind that. What I want to ask
is: Why shouldn't _I_ do, sir? I don't say but you could
take a steamer about the world as well as any of us
sailors. I don't pretend to tell YOU that it is a very
great trick . . ." He emitted a short, hollow guffaw,
familiarly . . . "I didn't make the law--but there it
is; and I am an active young fellow! I quite hold with
your ideas; I know your ways by this time, Mr. Massy.
I wouldn't try to give myself airs like that--that--er
lazy specimen of an old man up there."

He put a marked emphasis on the last sentence, to
lead Massy away from the track in case . . . but he
did not doubt of now holding his success. The chief
engineer seemed nonplused, like a slow man invited to
catch hold of a whirligig of some sort.

"What you want, sir, is a chap with no nonsense about
him, who would be content to be your sailing-master.
Quite right, too. Well, I am fit for the work as much
as that Serang. Because that's what it amounts to.
Do you know, sir, that a dam' Malay like a monkey is
in charge of your ship--and no one else. Just listen
to his feet pit-patting above us on the bridge--real
officer in charge. He's taking her up the river while
the great man is wallowing in the chair--perhaps asleep;
and if he is, that would not make it much worse either--
take my word for it."

He tried to thrust himself farther in. Massy, with
lowered forehead, one hand grasping the back of the
arm-chair, did not budge.

"You think, sir, that the man has got you tight in
his agreement . . ." Massy raised a heavy snarling
face at this . . . "Well, sir, one can't help hearing
of it on board. It's no secret. And it has been the
talk on shore for years; fellows have been making bets
about it. No, sir! It's YOU who have got him at your
mercy. You will say that you can't dismiss him for
indolence. Difficult to prove in court, and so on. Why,
yes. But if you say the word, sir, I can tell you some-
thing about his indolence that will give you the clear
right to fire him out on the spot and put me in charge
for the rest of this very trip--yes, sir, before we leave
Batu Beru--and make him pay a dollar a day for his
keep till we get back, if you like. Now, what do you
think of that? Come, sir. Say the word. It's really
well worth your while, and I am quite ready to take
your bare word. A definite statement from you would
be as good as a bond."

His eyes began to shine. He insisted. A simple state-
ment,--and he thought to himself that he would man-
age somehow to stick in his berth as long as it suited
him. He would make himself indispensable; the ship
had a bad name in her port; it would be easy to scare
the fellows off. Massy would have to keep him.

"A definite statement from me would be enough,"
Massy repeated slowly.

"Yes, sir. It would." Sterne stuck out his chin
cheerily and blinked at close quarters with that uncon-
scious impudence which had the power to enrage Massy
beyond anything.

The engineer spoke very distinctly.

"Listen well to me, then, Mr. Sterne: I wouldn't--
d'ye hear?--I wouldn't promise you the value of two
pence for anything YOU can tell me."

He struck Sterne's arm away with a smart blow, and
catching hold of the handle pulled the door to. The
terrific slam darkened the cabin instantaneously to his
eye as if after the flash of an explosion. At once he
dropped into the chair. "Oh, no! You don't!" he
whispered faintly.

The ship had in that place to shave the bank so close
that the gigantic wall of leaves came gliding like a
shutter against the port; the darkness of the primeval
forest seemed to flow into that bare cabin with the odor
of rotting leaves, of sodden soil--the strong muddy smell
of the living earth steaming uncovered after the pass-
ing of a deluge. The bushes swished loudly alongside;
above there was a series of crackling sounds, with a
sharp rain of small broken branches falling on the
bridge; a creeper with a great rustle snapped on the
head of a boat davit, and a long, luxuriant green twig
actually whipped in and out of the open port, leaving
behind a few torn leaves that remained suddenly at rest
on Mr. Massy's blanket. Then, the ship sheering out
in the stream, the light began to return but did not
augment beyond a subdued clearness: for the sun was
very low already, and the river, wending its sinuous
course through a multitude of secular trees as if at the
bottom of a precipitous gorge, had been already in-
vaded by a deepening gloom--the swift precursor of
the night.

"Oh, no, you don't!" murmured the engineer again.
His lips trembled almost imperceptibly; his hands too,
a little: and to calm himself he opened the writing-desk,
spread out a sheet of thin grayish paper covered with
a mass of printed figures and began to scan them at-
tentively for the twentieth time this trip at least.

With his elbows propped, his head between his hands,
he seemed to lose himself in the study of an abstruse
problem in mathematics. It was the list of the winning
numbers from the last drawing of the great lottery
which had been the one inspiring fact of so many years
of his existence. The conception of a life deprived of
that periodical sheet of paper had slipped away from
him entirely, as another man, according to his nature,
would not have been able to conceive a world without
fresh air, without activity, or without affection. A
great pile of flimsy sheets had been growing for years
in his desk, while the Sofala, driven by the faithful
Jack, wore out her boilers in tramping up and down the
Straits, from cape to cape, from river to river, from
bay to bay; accumulating by that hard labor of an
overworked, starved ship the blackened mass of these
documents. Massy kept them under lock and key like
a treasure. There was in them, as in the experience
of life, the fascination of hope, the excitement of a half-
penetrated mystery, the longing of a half-satisfied

For days together, on a trip, he would shut himself
up in his berth with them: the thump of the toiling
engines pulsated in his ear; and he would weary his
brain poring over the rows of disconnected figures, be-
wildering by their senseless sequence, resembling the
hazards of destiny itself. He nourished a conviction
that there must be some logic lurking somewhere in the
results of chance. He thought he had seen its very
form. His head swam; his limbs ached; he puffed at
his pipe mechanically; a contemplative stupor would
soothe the fretfulness of his temper, like the passive
bodily quietude procured by a drug, while the intellect
remains tensely on the stretch. Nine, nine, aught, four,
two. He made a note. The next winning number of
the great prize was forty-seven thousand and five. These
numbers of course would have to be avoided in the future
when writing to Manilla for the tickets. He mumbled,
pencil in hand . . . "and five. Hm . . . hm." He
wetted his finger: the papers rustled. Ha! But what's
this? Three years ago, in the September drawing, it
was number nine, aught, four, two that took the first
prize. Most remarkable. There was a hint there of
a definite rule! He was afraid of missing some recondite
principle in the overwhelming wealth of his material.
What could it be? and for half an hour he would remain
dead still, bent low over the desk, without twitching a
muscle. At his back the whole berth would be thick
with a heavy body of smoke, as if a bomb had burst
in there, unnoticed, unheard.

At last he would lock up the desk with the decision of
unshaken confidence, jump and go out. He would
walk swiftly back and forth on that part of the foredeck
which was kept clear of the lumber and of the bodies of
the native passengers. They were a great nuisance, but
they were also a source of profit that could not be dis-
dained. He needed every penny of profit the Sofala
could make. Little enough it was, in all conscience!
The incertitude of chance gave him no concern, since
he had somehow arrived at the conviction that, in the
course of years, every number was bound to have his
winning turn. It was simply a matter of time and of
taking as many tickets as he could afford for every
drawing. He generally took rather more; all the earn-
ings of the ship went that way, and also the wages he
allowed himself as chief engineer. It was the wages he
paid to others that he begrudged with a reasoned and
at the same time a passionate regret. He scowled at
the lascars with their deck brooms, at the quarter-
masters rubbing the brass rails with greasy rags; he
was eager to shake his fist and roar abuse in bad Malay
at the poor carpenter--a timid, sickly, opium-fuddled
Chinaman, in loose blue drawers for all costume, who
invariably dropped his tools and fled below, with stream-
ing tail and shaking all over, before the fury of that
"devil." But it was when he raised up his eyes to the
bridge where one of these sailor frauds was always
planted by law in charge of his ship that he felt almost
dizzy with rage. He abominated them all; it was an
old feud, from the time he first went to sea, an un-
licked cub with a great opinion of himself, in the
engine-room. The slights that had been put upon him.
The persecutions he had suffered at the hands of skip-
pers--of absolute nobodies in a steamship after all.
And now that he had risen to be a shipowner they were
still a plague to him: he had absolutely to pay away
precious money to the conceited useless loafers:--As if
a fully qualified engineer--who was the owner as well--
were not fit to be trusted with the whole charge of a
ship. Well! he made it pretty warm for them; but it
was a poor consolation. He had come in time to hate
the ship too for the repairs she required, for the coal-
bills he had to pay, for the poor beggarly freights she
earned. He would clench his hand as he walked and hit
the rail a sudden blow, viciously, as though she could
be made to feel pain. And yet he could not do without
er; he needed her; he must hang on to her tooth and
nail to keep his head above water till the expected flood
of fortune came sweeping up and landed him safely on
the high shore of his ambition.

It was now to do nothing, nothing whatever, and have
plenty of money to do it on. He had tasted of power,
the highest form of it his limited experience was aware
of--the power of shipowning. What a deception!
Vanity of vanities! He wondered at his folly. He had
thrown away the substance for the shadow. Of the
gratification of wealth he did not know enough to excite
his imagination with any visions of luxury. How could
he--the child of a drunken boiler-maker--going
straight from the workshop into the engine-room of a
north-country collier! But the notion of the absolute
idleness of wealth he could very well conceive. He
reveled in it, to forget his present troubles; he imagined
himself walking about the streets of Hull (he knew their
gutters well as a boy) with his pockets full of sov-
ereigns. He would buy himself a house; his married
sisters, their husbands, his old workshop chums, would
render him infinite homage. There would be nothing
to think of. His word would be law. He had been out
of work for a long time before he won his prize, and he
remembered how Carlo Mariani (commonly known as
Paunchy Charley), the Maltese hotel-keeper at the
slummy end of Denham Street, had cringed joyfully
before him in the evening, when the news had come.
Poor Charley, though he made his living by ministering
to various abject vices, gave credit for their food to
many a piece of white wreckage. He was naively over-
joyed at the idea of his old bills being paid, and he
reckoned confidently on a spell of festivities in the
cavernous grog-shop downstairs. Massy remembered
the curious, respectful looks of the "trashy" white men
in the place. His heart had swelled within him. Massy
had left Charley's infamous den directly he had realized
the possibilities open to him, and with his nose in the air.
Afterwards the memory of these adulations was a great

This was the true power of money,--and no trouble
with it, nor any thinking required either. He thought
with difficulty and felt vividly; to his blunt brain the
problems offered by any ordered scheme of life seemed
in their cruel toughness to have been put in his way
by the obvious malevolence of men. As a shipowner
everyone had conspired to make him a nobody. How
could he have been such a fool as to purchase that ac-
cursed ship. He had been abominably swindled; there
was no end to this swindling; and as the difficulties of his
improvident ambition gathered thicker round him, he
really came to hate everybody he had ever come in con-
tact with. A temper naturally irritable and an amazing
sensitiveness to the claims of his own personality had
ended by making of life for him a sort of inferno--a
place where his lost soul had been given up to the tor-
ment of savage brooding.

But he had never hated anyone so much as that old
man who had turned up one evening to save him from
an utter disaster,--from the conspiracy of the wretched
sailors. He seemed to have fallen on board from the
sky. His footsteps echoed on the empty steamer, and
the strange deep-toned voice on deck repeating inter-
rogatively the words, "Mr. Massy, Mr. Massy there?"
had been startling like a wonder. And coming up from
the depths of the cold engine-room, where he had been
pottering dismally with a candle amongst the enormous
shadows, thrown on all sides by the skeleton limbs of ma-
chinery, Massy had been struck dumb by astonishment
in the presence of that imposing old man with a beard
like a silver plate, towering in the dusk rendered lurid
by the expiring flames of sunset.

"Want to see me on business? What business? I am
doing no business. Can't you see that this ship is laid
up?" Massy had turned at bay before the pursuing
irony of his disaster. Afterwards he could not believe
his ears. What was that old fellow getting at? Things
don't happen that way. It was a dream. He would
presently wake up and find the man vanished like a
shape of mist. The gravity, the dignity, the firm and
courteous tone of that athletic old stranger impressed
Massy. He was almost afraid. But it was no dream.
Five hundred pounds are no dream. At once he became
suspicious. What did it mean? Of course it was an
offer to catch hold of for dear life. But what could
there be behind?

Before they had parted, after appointing a meeting
in a solicitor's office early on the morrow, Massy was
asking himself, What is his motive? He spent the night
in hammering out the clauses of the agreement--a
unique instrument of its sort whose tenor got bruited
abroad somehow and became the talk and wonder of the

Massy's object had been to secure for himself as many
ways as possible of getting rid of his partner without
being called upon at once to pay back his share. Cap-
tain Whalley's efforts were directed to making the money
secure. Was it not Ivy's money--a part of her fortune
whose only other asset was the time-defying body of her
old father? Sure of his forbearance in the strength of
his love for her, he accepted, with stately serenity,
Massy's stupidly cunning paragraphs against his in-
competence, his dishonesty, his drunkenness, for the sake
of other stringent stipulations. At the end of three
years he was at liberty to withdraw from the partner-
ship, taking his money with him. Provision was made
for forming a fund to pay him off. But if he left the
Sofala before the term, from whatever cause (barring
death), Massy was to have a whole year for paying.
"Illness?" the lawyer had suggested: a young man
fresh from Europe and not overburdened with business,
who was rather amused. Massy began to whine unctu-
ously, "How could he be expected? . . ."

"Let that go," Captain Whalley had said with a
superb confidence in his body. "Acts of God," he
added. In the midst of life we are in death, but he
trusted his Maker with a still greater fearlessness--his
Maker who knew his thoughts, his human affections, and
his motives. His Creator knew what use he was making
of his health--how much he wanted it . . . "I trust
my first illness will be my last. I've never been ill that
I can remember," he had remarked. "Let it go."

But at this early stage he had already awakened
Massy's hostility by refusing to make it six hundred
instead of five. "I cannot do that," was all he had said,
simply, but with so much decision that Massy desisted
at once from pressing the point, but had thought to
himself, "Can't! Old curmudgeon. WON'T! He must
have lots of money, but he would like to get hold of a
soft berth and the sixth part of my profits for nothing
if he only could."

And during these years Massy's dislike grew under the
restraint of something resembling fear. The simplicity
of that man appeared dangerous. Of late he had
changed, however, had appeared less formidable and
with a lessened vigor of life, as though he had received
a secret wound. But still he remained incomprehensible
in his simplicity, fearlessness, and rectitude. And when
Massy learned that he meant to leave him at the end of
the time, to leave him confronted with the problem of
boilers, his dislike blazed up secretly into hate.

It had made him so clear-eyed that for a long time now
Mr. Sterne could have told him nothing he did not
know. He had much ado in trying to terrorize that
mean sneak into silence; he wanted to deal alone with
the situation; and--incredible as it might have ap-
peared to Mr. Sterne--he had not yet given up the de-
sire and the hope of inducing that hated old man to
stay. Why! there was nothing else to do, unless he were
to abandon his chances of fortune. But now, suddenly,
since the crossing of the bar at Batu Beru things
seemed to be coming rapidly to a point. It disquieted
him so much that the study of the winning numbers
failed to soothe his agitation: and the twilight in the
cabin deepened, very somber.

He put the list away, muttering once more, "Oh, no,
my boy, you don't. Not if I know it." He did not
mean the blinking, eavesdropping humbug to force his
action. He took his head again into his hands; his im-
mobility confined in the darkness of this shut-up little
place seemed to make him a thing apart infinitely re-
moved from the stir and the sounds of the deck.

He heard them: the passengers were beginning to
jabber excitedly; somebody dragged a heavy box
past his door. He heard Captain Whalley's voice

"Stations, Mr. Sterne." And the answer from some-
where on deck forward--

"Ay, ay, sir."

"We shall moor head up stream this time; the ebb
has made."

"Head up stream, sir."

"You will see to it, Mr. Sterne."

The answer was covered by the autocratic clang on the
engine-room gong. The propeller went on beating
slowly: one, two, three; one, two, three--with pauses as
if hesitating on the turn. The gong clanged time after
time, and the water churned this way and that by the
blades was making a great noisy commotion alongside.
Mr. Massy did not move. A shore-light on the other
bank, a quarter of a mile across the river, drifted, no
bigger than a tiny star, passing slowly athwart the cir-
cle of the port. Voices from Mr. Van Wyk's jetty an-
swered the hails from the ship; ropes were thrown and
missed and thrown again; the swaying flame of a torch
carried in a large sampan coming to fetch away in state
the Rajah from down the coast cast a sudden ruddy
glare into his cabin, over his very person. Mr. Massy
did not move. After a few last ponderous turns the
engines stopped, and the prolonged clanging of the
gong signified that the captain had done with them. A
great number of boats and canoes of all sizes boarded
the off-side of the Sofala. Then after a time the tumult
of splashing, of cries, of shuffling feet, of packages
dropped with a thump, the noise of the native passen-
gers going away, subsided slowly. On the shore, a
voice, cultivated, slightly authoritative, spoke very
close alongside--

"Brought any mail for me this time?"

"Yes, Mr. Van Wyk." This was from Sterne, an-
swering over the rail in a tone of respectful cordiality.
"Shall I bring it up to you?"

But the voice asked again--

"Where's the captain?"

"Still on the bridge, I believe. He hasn't left his
chair. Shall I . . ."

The voice interrupted negligently.

"I will come on board."

"Mr. Van Wyk," Sterne suddenly broke out with an
eager effort, "will you do me the favor . . ."

The mate walked away quickly towards the gangway.
A silence fell. Mr. Massy in the dark did not move.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest