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´╗┐Title: Chance - A Tale in Two Parts
Author: Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Chance - A Tale in Two Parts" ***

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Chance, A Tale in Two Parts, by Joseph Conrad.

________________________________________________________________________
Although this story is written in fairly simple language it is strangely
difficult to follow.  The setting is that of one man, an old ship's
officer, telling another of the same a long story.  The language slides
between the two men, lighting pipes, making and answering comments, and
so forth, and then back into the detail of the story, and sometimes
deeper still, into conversations that take place in the story.

This has its effect on the use of quotation signs. This is the hardest
part of this book to edit.  There are rules involving the use of these
signs, and most books obey them all the way through, but in this book
either the author was being experimental, or the typesetter was a bit
confused.  Because of the sliding in and out of the depth of the story,
the quotes rules often vary from one paragraph to the next.  What we
have done is to make the quotes rules hold true for each individual
paragraph right through the book, and as far as possible we have made
the rules consistent from paragraph to paragraph.  This is the second
time that we have scanned the same copy of this book, and we just hope
that we have made a good job of it.

________________________________________________________________________
CHANCE, A TALE IN TWO PARTS, BY JOSEPH CONRAD.



PART ONE, CHAPTER 1.

YOUNG POWELL AND HIS CHANCE.

I believe he had seen us out of the window coming off to dine in the
dinghy of a fourteen-ton yawl belonging to Marlow my host and skipper.
We helped the boy we had with us to haul the boat up on the
landing-stage before we went up to the riverside inn, where we found our
new acquaintance eating his dinner in dignified loneliness at the head
of a long table, white and inhospitable like a snow bank.

The red tint of his clear-cut face with trim short black whiskers under
a cap of curly iron-grey hair was the only warm spot in the dinginess of
that room cooled by the cheerless tablecloth.  We knew him already by
sight as the owner of a little five-ton cutter, which he sailed alone
apparently, a fellow yachtsman in the unpretending band of fanatics who
cruise at the mouth of the Thames.  But the first time he addressed the
waiter sharply as `steward' we knew him at once for a sailor as well as
a yachtsman.

Presently he had occasion to reprove that same waiter for the slovenly
manner in which the dinner was served.  He did it with considerable
energy and then turned to us.

"If we at sea," he declared, "went about our work as people ashore high
and low go about theirs we should never make a living.  No one would
employ us.  And moreover no ship navigated and sailed in the
happy-go-lucky manner people conduct their business on shore would ever
arrive into port."

Since he had retired from the sea he had been astonished to discover
that the educated people were not much better than the others.  No one
seemed to take any proper pride in his work: from plumbers who were
simply thieves to, say, newspaper men (he seemed to think them a
specially intellectual class) who never by any chance gave a correct
version of the simplest affair.  This universal inefficiency of what he
called "the shore gang" he ascribed in general to the want of
responsibility and to a sense of security.

"They see," he went on, "that no matter what they do this tight little
island won't turn turtle with them or spring a leak and go to the bottom
with their wives and children."

From this point the conversation took a special turn relating
exclusively to sea-life.  On that subject he got quickly in touch with
Marlow who in his time had followed the sea.  They kept up a lively
exchange of reminiscences while I listened.  They agreed that the
happiest time in their lives was as youngsters in good ships, with no
care in the world but not to lose a watch below when at sea and not a
moment's time in going ashore after work hours when in harbour.  They
agreed also as to the proudest moment they had known in that calling
which is never embraced on rational and practical grounds, because of
the glamour of its romantic associations.  It was the moment when they
had passed successfully their first examination and left the seamanship
Examiner with the little precious slip of blue paper in their hands.

"That day I wouldn't have called the Queen my cousin," declared our new
acquaintance enthusiastically.

At that time the Marine Board examinations took place at the Saint
Katherine's Dock House on Tower Hill, and he informed us that he had a
special affection for the view of that historic locality, with the
Gardens to the left, the front of the Mint to the right, the miserable
tumble-down little houses farther away, a cabstand, boot-blacks
squatting on the edge of the pavement and a pair of big policemen gazing
with an air of superiority at the doors of the Black Horse public-house
across the road.  This was the part of the world, he said, his eyes
first took notice of, on the finest day of his life.  He had emerged
from the main entrance of Saint Katherine's Dock House a full-fledged
second mate after the hottest time of his life with Captain R--, the
most dreaded of the three seamanship Examiners who at the time were
responsible for the merchant service officers qualifying in the Port of
London.

"We all who were preparing to pass," he said, "used to shake in our
shoes at the idea of going before him.  He kept me for an hour and a
half in the torture chamber and behaved as though he hated me.  He kept
his eyes shaded with one of his hands.  Suddenly he let it drop saying,
`You will do!'  Before I realised what he meant he was pushing the blue
slip across the table.  I jumped up as if my chair had caught fire.

"`Thank you, sir,' says I, grabbing the paper.

"`Good morning, good luck to you,' he growls at me.

"The old doorkeeper fussed out of the cloak-room with my hat.  They
always do.  But he looked very hard at me before he ventured to ask in a
sort of timid whisper: `Got through all right, sir?'  For all answer I
dropped a half-crown into his soft broad palm.  `Well,' says he with a
sudden grin from ear to ear, `I never knew him keep any of you gentlemen
so long.  He failed two second mates this morning before your turn came.
Less than twenty minutes each: that's about his usual time.'

"I found myself downstairs without being aware of the steps as if I had
floated down the staircase.  The finest day in my life.  The day you get
your first command is nothing to it.  For one thing a man is not so
young then and for another with us, you know, there is nothing much more
to expect.  Yes, the finest day of one's life, no doubt, but then it is
just a day and no more.  What comes after is about the most unpleasant
time for a youngster, the trying to get an officer's berth with nothing
much to show but a brand-new certificate.  It is surprising how useless
you find that piece of ass's skin that you have been putting yourself in
such a state about.  It didn't strike me at the time that a Board of
Trade certificate does not make an officer, not by a long long way.  But
the skippers of the ships I was haunting with demands for a job knew
that very well.  I don't wonder at them now, and I don't blame them
either.  But this `trying to get a ship' is pretty hard on a youngster
all the same..."

He went on then to tell us how tired he was and how discouraged by this
lesson of disillusion following swiftly upon the finest day of his life.
He told us how he went the round of all the ship-owners' offices in the
City where some junior clerk would furnish him with printed forms of
application which he took home to fill up in the evening.  He used to
run out just before midnight to post them in the nearest pillar-box.
And that was all that ever came of it.  In his own words: he might just
as well have dropped them all properly addressed and stamped into the
sewer grating.

Then one day, as he was wending his weary way to the docks, he met a
friend and former shipmate a little older than himself outside the
Fenchurch Street Railway Station.

He craved for sympathy but his friend had just "got a ship" that very
morning and was hurrying home in a state of outward joy and inward
uneasiness usual to a sailor who after many days of waiting suddenly
gets a berth.  This friend had the time to condole with him but briefly.
He must be moving.  Then as he was running off, over his shoulder as it
were, he suggested: "Why don't you go and speak to Mr Powell in the
Shipping Office."  Our friend objected that he did not know Mr Powell
from Adam.  And the other already pretty near round the corner shouted
back advice: "Go to the private door of the Shipping Office and walk
right up to him.  His desk is by the window.  Go up boldly and say I
sent you."

Our new acquaintance looking from one to the other of us declared: "Upon
my word, I had grown so desperate that I'd have gone boldly up to the
devil himself on the mere hint that he had a second mate's job to give
away."

It was at this point that interrupting his flow of talk to light his
pipe but holding us with his eye he inquired whether we had known
Powell.  Marlow with a slight reminiscent smile murmured that he
remembered him very well.

Then there was a pause.  Our new acquaintance had become involved in a
vexatious difficulty with his pipe which had suddenly betrayed his trust
and disappointed his anticipation of self-indulgence.  To keep the ball
rolling I asked Marlow if this Powell was remarkable in any way.

"He was not exactly remarkable," Marlow answered with his usual
nonchalance.  "In a general way it's very difficult for one to become
remarkable.  People won't take sufficient notice of one, don't you know.
I remember Powell so well simply because as one of the Shipping Masters
in the Port of London he dispatched me to sea on several long stages of
my sailor's pilgrimage.  He resembled Socrates.  I mean he resembled him
genuinely: that is in the face.  A philosophical mind is but an
accident.  He reproduced exactly, the familiar bust of, the immortal
sage, if you will imagine the bust with a high top hat riding far on the
back of the head, and a black coat over the shoulders.  As I never saw
him except from the other side of the long official counter bearing the
five writing-desks of the five Shipping Masters, Mr Powell has remained
a bust to me."

Our new acquaintance advanced now from the mantelpiece with his pipe in
good working order.

"What was the most remarkable about Powell," he enunciated dogmatically
with his head in a cloud of smoke, "is that he should have had just that
name.  You see, my name happens to be Powell too."

It was clear that this intelligence was not imparted to us for social
purposes.  It required no acknowledgment.  We continued to gaze at him
with expectant eyes.

He gave himself up to the vigorous enjoyment of his pipe for a silent
minute or two.  Then picking up the thread of his story he told us how
he had started hot foot for Tower Hill.  He had not been that way since
the day of his examination--the finest day of his life--the day of his
overweening pride.  It was very different now.  He would not have called
the Queen his cousin, still, but this time it was from a sense of
profound abasement.  He didn't think himself good enough for anybody's
kinship.  He envied the purple-nosed old cab-drivers on the stand, the
boot-black boys at the edge of the pavement, the two large bobbies
pacing slowly along the Tower Gardens railings in the consciousness of
their infallible might, and the bright scarlet sentries walking smartly
to and fro before the Mint.  He envied them their places in the scheme
of world's labour.  And he envied also the miserable sallow, thin-faced
loafers blinking their obscene eyes and rubbing their greasy shoulders
against the doorjambs of the Black Horse pub, because they were too far
gone to feel their degradation.

I must render the man the justice that he conveyed very well to us the
sense of his youthful hopelessness surprised at not finding its place in
the sun and no recognition of its right to live.

He went up the outer steps of Saint Katherine's Dock House, the very
steps from which he had some six weeks before surveyed the cabstand, the
buildings, the policemen, the boot-blacks, the paint, gilt, and
plate-glass of the Black Horse, with the eye of a Conqueror.  At the
time he had been at the bottom of his heart surprised that all this had
not greeted him with songs and incense, but now (he made no secret of
it) he made his entry in a slinking fashion past the doorkeeper's glass
box.  "I hadn't any half-crowns to spare for tips," he remarked grimly.
The man, however, ran out after him asking: "What do you require?" but
with a grateful glance up at the first floor in remembrance of Captain
R--'s examination room (how easy and delightful all that had been) he
bolted down a flight leading to the basement and found himself in a
place of dusk and mystery and many doors.  He had been afraid of being
stopped by some rule of no-admittance.  However he was not pursued.

The basement of Saint Katherine's Dock House is vast in extent and
confusing in its plan.  Pale shafts of light slant from above into the
gloom of its chilly passages.  Powell wandered up and down there like an
early Christian refugee in the catacombs; but what little faith he had
in the success of his enterprise was oozing out at his finger-tips.  At
a dark turn under a gas bracket whose flame was half turned down his
self-confidence abandoned him altogether.

"I stood there to think a little," he said.  "A foolish thing to do
because of course I got scared.  What could you expect?  It takes some
nerve to tackle a stranger with a request for a favour.  I wished my
namesake Powell had been the devil himself.  I felt somehow it would
have been an easier job.  You see, I never believed in the devil enough
to be scared of him; but a man can make himself very unpleasant.  I
looked at a lot of doors, all shut tight, with a growing conviction that
I would never have the pluck to open one of them.  Thinking's no good
for one's nerve.  I concluded I would give up the whole business.  But I
didn't give up in the end, and I'll tell you what stopped me.  It was
the recollection of that confounded doorkeeper who had called after me.
I felt sure the fellow would be on the look-out at the head of the
stairs.  If he asked me what I had been after, as he had the right to
do, I wouldn't know what to answer that wouldn't make me look silly if
no worse.  I got very hot.  There was no chance of slinking out of this
business.

"I had lost my bearings somehow down there.  Of the many doors of
various sizes, right and left, a good few had glazed lights above; some
however must have led merely into lumber rooms or such like, because
when I brought myself to try one or two I was disconcerted to find that
they were locked.  I stood there irresolute and uneasy like a baffled
thief.  The confounded basement was as still as a grave and I became
aware of my heart beats.  Very uncomfortable sensation.  Never happened
to me before or since.  A bigger door to the left of me, with a large
brass handle looked as if it might lead into the Shipping Office.  I
tried it, setting my teeth.  `Here goes!'

"It came open quite easily.  And lo! the place it opened into was hardly
any bigger than a cupboard.  Anyhow it wasn't more than ten feet by
twelve; and as I in a way expected to see the big shadowy cellar-like
extent of the Shipping Office where I had been once or twice before, I
was extremely startled.  A gas bracket hung from the middle of the
ceiling over a dark, shabby writing-desk covered with a litter of
yellowish dusty documents.  Under the flame of the single burner which
made the place ablaze with light, a plump, little man was writing hard,
his nose very near the desk.  His head was perfectly bald and about the
same drab tint as the papers.  He appeared pretty dusty too.

"I didn't notice whether there were any cobwebs on him, but I shouldn't
wonder if there were because he looked as though he had been imprisoned
for years in that little hole.  The way he dropped his pen and sat
blinking my way upset me very much.  And his dungeon was hot and musty;
it smelt of gas and mushrooms, and seemed to be somewhere 120 feet below
the ground.  Solid, heavy stacks of paper filled all the corners
half-way up to the ceiling.  And when the thought flashed upon me that
these were the premises of the Marine Board and that this fellow must be
connected in some way with ships and sailors and the sea, my
astonishment took my breath away.  One couldn't imagine why the Marine
Board should keep that bald, fat creature slaving down there.  For some
reason or other I felt sorry and ashamed to have found him out in his
wretched captivity.  I asked gently and sorrowfully: `The Shipping
Office, please.'

"He piped up in a contemptuous squeaky voice which made me start: `Not
here.  Try the passage on the other side.  Street side.  This is the
Dock side.  You've lost your way...'

"He spoke in such a spiteful tone that I thought he was going to round
off with the words: `You fool' ... and perhaps he meant to.  But what he
finished sharply with was: `Shut the door quietly after you.'

"And I did shut it quietly--you bet.  Quick and quiet.  The indomitable
spirit of that chap impressed me.  I wonder sometimes whether he has
succeeded in writing himself into liberty and a pension at last, or had
to go out of his gas-lighted grave straight into that other dark one
where nobody would want to intrude.  My humanity was pleased to discover
he had so much kick left in him, but I was not comforted in the least.
It occurred to me that if Mr Powell had the same sort of temper...
However, I didn't give myself time to think and scuttled across the
space at the foot of the stairs into the passage where I'd been told to
try.  And I tried the first door I came to, right away, without any
hanging back, because coming loudly from the hall above an amazed and
scandalised voice wanted to know what sort of game I was up to down
there.  `Don't you know there's no-admittance that way?' it roared.  But
if there was anything more I shut it out of my hearing by means of a
door marked _Private_ on the outside.  It let me into a six-feet wide
strip between a long counter and the wall, taken off a spacious, vaulted
room with a grated window and a glazed door giving daylight to the
further end.  The first thing I saw right in front of me were three
middle-aged men having a sort of romp together round about another
fellow with a thin, long neck and sloping shoulders who stood up at a
desk writing on a large sheet of paper and taking no notice except that
he grinned quietly to himself.  They turned very sour at once when they
saw me.  I heard one of them mutter: `Hullo!  What have we here?'

"`I want to see Mr Powell, please,' I said, very civil but firm; I
would let nothing scare me away now.  This was the Shipping Office right
enough.  It was after 3 o'clock and the business seemed over for the day
with them.  The long-necked fellow went on with his writing steadily.  I
observed that he was no longer grinning.  The three others tossed their
heads all together towards the far end of the room where a fifth man had
been looking on at their antics from a high stool.  I walked up to him
as boldly as if he had been the devil himself.  With one foot raised up
and resting on the cross-bar of his seat he never stopped swinging the
other which was well clear of the stone floor.  He had unbuttoned the
top of his waistcoat and he wore his tall hat very far at the back of
his head.  He had a full unwrinkled face and such clear-shining eyes
that his grey beard looked quite false on him, stuck on for a disguise.
You said just now he resembled Socrates--didn't you?  I don't know about
that.  This Socrates was a wise man, I believe?"

"He was," assented Marlow.  "And a true friend of youth.  He lectured
them in a peculiarly exasperating manner.  It was a way he had."

"Then give me Powell every time," declared our new acquaintance
sturdily.  "He didn't lecture me in any way.  Not he.  He said: `How do
you do?' quite kindly to my mumble.  Then says he looking very hard at
me: `I don't think I know you--do I?'

"`No, sir,' I said and down went my heart sliding into my boots, just as
the time had come to summon up all my cheek.  There's nothing meaner in
the world than a piece of impudence that isn't carried off well.  For
fear of appearing shamefaced I started about it so free and easy as
almost to frighten myself.  He listened for a while looking at my face
with surprise and curiosity and then held up his hand.  I was glad
enough to shut up, I can tell you.

"`Well, you are a cool hand,' says he.  `And that friend of yours too.
He pestered me coming here every day for a fortnight till a captain I'm
acquainted with was good enough to give him a berth.  And no sooner he's
provided for than he turns you on.  You youngsters don't seem to mind
whom you get into trouble.'

"It was my turn now to stare with surprise and curiosity.  He hadn't
been talking loud but he lowered his voice still more.

"`Don't you know it's illegal?'

"I wondered what he was driving at till I remembered that procuring a
berth for a sailor is a penal offence under the Act.  That clause was
directed of course against the swindling practices of the boarding-house
crimps.  It had never struck me it would apply to everybody alike no
matter what the motive, because I believed then that people on shore did
their work with care and foresight.

"I was confounded at the idea, but Mr Powell made me soon see that an
Act of Parliament hasn't any sense of its own.  It has only the sense
that's put into it; and that's precious little sometimes.  He didn't
mind helping a young man to a ship now and then, he said, but if we kept
on coming constantly it would soon get about that he was doing it for
money.

"`A pretty thing that would be: the Senior Shipping Master of the Port
of London hauled up in a police court and fined fifty pounds,' says he.
`I've another four years to serve to get my pension.  It could be made
to look very black against me and don't you make any mistake about it,'
he says.

"And all the time with one knee well up he went on swinging his other
leg like a boy on a gate and looking at me very straight with his
shining eyes.  I was confounded I tell you.  It made me sick to hear him
imply that somebody would make a report against him.

"`Oh!'--I asked shocked, `who would think of such a scurvy trick, sir?'
I was half disgusted with him for having the mere notion of it.

"`Who?' says he, speaking very low.  `Anybody.  One of the office
messengers maybe.  I've risen to be the Senior of this office and we are
all very good friends here, but don't you think that my colleague that
sits next to me wouldn't like to go up to this desk by the window four
years in advance of the regulation time?  Or even one year for that
matter.  It's human nature.'

"I could not help turning my head.  The three fellows who had been
skylarking when I came in were now talking together very soberly, and
the long-necked chap was going on with his writing still.  He seemed to
me the most dangerous of the lot.  I saw him side-face and his lips were
set very tight.  I had never looked at mankind in that light before.
When one's young human nature shocks one.  But what startled me most was
to see the door I had come through open slowly and give passage to a
head in a uniform cap with a Board of Trade badge.  It was that blamed
old doorkeeper from the hall.  He had run me to earth and meant to dig
me out too.  He walked up the office smirking craftily, cap in hand.

"`What is it, Symons?' asked Mr Powell.

"`I was only wondering where this 'ere gentleman 'ad gone to, sir.  He
slipped past me upstairs, sir.'

"I felt mighty uncomfortable.

"`That's all right, Symons.  I know the gentleman,' says Mr Powell as
serious as a judge.

"`Very well, sir.  Of course, sir.  I saw the gentleman running races
all by 'isself down 'ere, so I...'

"`It's all right I tell you,' Mr Powell cut him short with a wave of
his hand; and, as the old fraud walked off at last, he raised his eyes
to me.  I did not know what to do: stay there, or clear out, or say that
I was sorry.

"`Let's see,' says he, `what did you tell me your name was?'

"Now, observe, I hadn't given him my name at all and his question
embarrassed me a bit.  Somehow or other it didn't seem proper for me to
fling his own name at him as it were.  So I merely pulled out my new
certificate from my pocket and put it into his hand unfolded, so that he
could read _Charles Powell_ written very plain on the parchment.

"He dropped his eyes on to it and after a while laid it quietly on the
desk by his side.  I didn't know whether he meant to make any remark on
this coincidence.  Before he had time to say anything the glass door
came open with a bang and a tall, active man rushed in with great
strides.  His face looked very red below his high silk hat.  You could
see at once he was the skipper of a big ship.

"Mr Powell, after telling me in an undertone to wait a little,
addressed him in a friendly way.

"`I've been expecting you in every moment to fetch away your Articles,
Captain.  Here they are all ready for you.'  And turning to a pile of
agreements lying at his elbow he took up the topmost of them.  From
where I stood I could read the words: `Ship _Ferndale_' written in a
large round hand on the first page.

"`No, Mr Powell, they aren't ready, worse luck,' says that skipper.
`I've got to ask you to strike out my second officer.'  He seemed
excited and bothered.  He explained that his second mate had been
working on board all the morning.  At one o'clock he went out to get a
bit of dinner and didn't turn up at two as he ought to have done.
Instead there came a messenger from the hospital with a note signed by a
doctor.  Collar-bone and one arm broken.  Let himself be knocked down by
a pair-horse van while crossing the road outside the dock gate, as if he
had neither eyes nor ears.  And the ship ready to leave the dock at six
o'clock to-morrow morning!

"Mr Powell dipped his pen and began to turn the leaves of the agreement
over.  `We must then take his name off,' he says in a kind of
unconcerned sing-song.

"`What am I to do?' burst out the skipper.  `This office closes at four
o'clock.  I can't find a man in half an hour.'

"`This office closes at four,' repeats Mr Powell glancing up and down
the pages and touching up a letter here and there with perfect
indifference.

"`Even if I managed to lay hold some time to-day of a man ready to go at
such short notice I couldn't ship him regularly here--could I?'

"Mr Powell was busy drawing his pen through the entries relating to
that unlucky second mate and making a note in the margin.

"`You could sign him on yourself on board,' says he without looking up.
`But I don't think you'll find easily an officer for such a pier-head
jump.'

"Upon this the fine-looking skipper gave signs of distress.  The ship
mustn't miss the next morning's tide.  He had to take on board forty
tons of dynamite and a hundred and twenty tons of gunpowder at a place
down the river before proceeding to sea.  It was all arranged for next
day.  There would be no end of fuss and complications if the ship didn't
turn up in time.--I couldn't help hearing all this, while wishing him to
take himself off, because I wanted to know why Mr Powell had told me to
wait.  After what he had been saying there didn't seem any object in my
hanging about.  If I had had my certificate in my pocket I should have
tried to slip away quietly; but Mr Powell had turned about into the
same position I found him in at first and was again swinging his leg.
My certificate open on the desk was under his left elbow and I couldn't
very well go up and jerk it away.

"`I don't know,' says he carelessly, addressing the helpless captain but
looking fixedly at me with an expression as if I hadn't been there.  `I
don't know whether I ought to tell you that I know of a disengaged
second mate at hand.'

"`Do you mean you've got him here?' shouts the other looking all over
the empty public part of the office as if he were ready to fling himself
bodily upon anything resembling a second mate.  He had been so full of
his difficulty that I verily believe he had never noticed me.  Or
perhaps seeing me inside he may have thought I was some understrapper
belonging to the place.  But when Mr Powell nodded in my direction he
became very quiet and gave me a long stare.  Then he stooped to Mr
Powell's ear--I suppose he imagined he was whispering, but I heard him
well enough.

"`Looks very respectable.'

"`Certainly,' says the Shipping Master quite calm and staring all the
time at me.  `His name's Powell.'

"`Oh, I see!' says the skipper as if struck all of a heap.  `But is he
ready to join at once?'

"I had a sort of vision of my lodgings--in the North of London, too,
beyond Dalston, away to the devil--and all my gear scattered about, and
my empty sea-chest somewhere in an outhouse the good people I was
staying with had at the end of their sooty strip of garden.  I heard the
Shipping Master say in the coolest sort of way:--

"`He'll sleep on board to-night.'

"`He had better,' says the Captain of the _Ferndale_ very businesslike,
as if the whole thing were settled.  I can't say I was dumb for joy as
you may suppose.  It wasn't exactly that.  I was more by way of being
out of breath with the quickness of it.  It didn't seem possible that
this was happening to me.  But the skipper, after he had talked for a
while with Mr Powell, too low for me to hear became visibly perplexed.

"I suppose he had heard I was freshly passed and without experience as
an officer, because he turned about and looked me over as if I had been
exposed for sale.

"`He's young,' he mutters.  `Looks smart, though...  You're smart and
willing (this to me very sudden and loud) and all that, aren't you?'

"I just managed to open and shut my mouth, no more, being taken
unawares.  But it was enough for him.  He made as if I had deafened him
with protestations of my smartness and willingness.

"`Of course, of course.  All right.'  And then turning to the Shipping
Master who sat there swinging his leg, he said that he certainly
couldn't go to sea without a second officer.  I stood by as if all these
things were happening to some other chap whom I was seeing through with
it.  Mr Powell stared at me with those shining eyes of his.  But that
bothered skipper turns upon me again as though he wanted to snap my head
off.

"`You aren't too big to be told how to do things--are you?  You've a lot
to learn yet though you mayn't think so.'

"I had half a mind to save my dignity by telling him that if it was my
seamanship he was alluding to I wanted him to understand that a fellow
who had survived being turned inside out for an hour and a half by
Captain R--was equal to any demand his old ship was likely to make on
his competence.  However he didn't give me a chance to make that sort of
fool of myself because before I could open my mouth he had gone round on
another tack and was addressing himself affably to Mr Powell who
swinging his leg never took his eyes off me.

"`I'll take your young friend willingly, Mr Powell.  If you let him
sign on as second mate at once I'll take the Articles away with me now.'

"It suddenly dawned upon me that the innocent skipper of the _Ferndale_
had taken it for granted that I was a relative of the Shipping Master!
I was quite astonished at this discovery, though indeed the mistake was
natural enough under the circumstances.  What I ought to have admired
was the reticence with which this misunderstanding had been established
and acted upon.  But I was too stupid then to admire anything.  All my
anxiety was that this should be cleared up.  I was ass enough to wonder
exceedingly at Mr Powell failing to notice the misapprehension.  I saw
a slight twitch come and go on his face; but instead of setting right
that mistake the Shipping Master swung round on his stool and addressed
me as `Charles.'  He did.  And I detected him taking a hasty squint at
my certificate just before, because clearly till he did so he was not
sure of my christian name.  `Now then come round in front of the desk,
Charles,' says he in a loud voice.

"Charles!  At first, I declare to you, it didn't seem possible that he
was addressing himself to me.  I even looked round for that Charles but
there was nobody behind me except the thin-necked chap still hard at his
writing, and the other three Shipping Masters who were changing their
coats and reaching for their hats, making ready to go home.  It was the
industrious thin-necked man who without laying down his pen lifted with
his left hand a flap near his desk and said kindly:--

"`Pass this way.'

"I walked through in a trance, faced Mr Powell, from whom I learned
that we were bound to Port Elizabeth first, and signed my name on the
Articles of the ship _Ferndale_ as second mate--the voyage not to exceed
two years.

"`You won't fail to join--eh?' says the captain anxiously.  `It would
cause no end of trouble and expense if you did.  You've got a good six
hours to get your gear together, and then you'll have time to snatch a
sleep on board before the crew joins in the morning.'

"It was easy enough for him to talk of getting ready in six hours for a
voyage that was not to exceed two years.  He hadn't to do that trick
himself, and with his sea-chest locked up in an outhouse the key of
which had been mislaid for a week as I remembered.  But neither was I
much concerned.  The idea that I was absolutely going to sea at six
o'clock next morning hadn't got quite into my head yet.  It had been too
sudden.

"Mr Powell, slipping the Articles into a long envelope, spoke up with a
sort of cold half-laugh without looking at either of us.

"`Mind you don't disgrace the name, Charles.'

"And the skipper chimes in very kindly:--

"`He'll do well enough I dare say.  I'll look after him a bit.'

"Upon this he grabs the Articles, says something about trying to run in
for a minute to see that poor devil in the hospital, and off he goes
with his heavy swinging step after telling me sternly: `Don't you go
like that poor fellow and get yourself run over by a cart as if you
hadn't either eyes or ears.'

"`Mr Powell,' says I timidly (there was by then only the thin-necked
man left in the office with us and he was already by the door, standing
on one leg to turn the bottom of his trousers up before going away).
`Mr Powell,' says I, `I believe the Captain of the _Ferndale_ was
thinking all the time that I was a relation of yours.'

"I was rather concerned about the propriety of it, you know, but Mr
Powell didn't seem to be in the least.

"`Did he?' says he.  `That's funny, because it seems to me too that I've
been a sort of good uncle to several of you young fellows lately.  Don't
you think so yourself?  However, if you don't like it you may put him
right--when you get out to sea.'  At this I felt a bit queer.  Mr
Powell had rendered me a very good service:--because it's a fact that
with us merchant sailors the first voyage as officer is the real start
in life.  He had given me no less than that.  I told him warmly that he
had done for me more that day than all my relations put together ever
did.

"`Oh, no, no,' says he.  `I guess it's that shipment of explosives
waiting down the river which has done most for you.  Forty tons of
dynamite have been your best friend to-day, young man.'

"That was true too, perhaps.  Anyway I saw clearly enough that I had
nothing to thank myself for.  But as I tried to thank him, he checked my
stammering.

"`Don't be in a hurry to thank me,' says he.  `The voyage isn't finished
yet.'

"Our new acquaintance paused, then added meditatively: `Queer man.  As
if it made any difference.  Queer man.'"

"It's certainly unwise to admit any sort of responsibility for our
actions, whose consequences we are never able to foresee," remarked
Marlow by way of assent.

"The consequence of his action was that I got a ship," said the other.
"That could not do much harm," he added with a laugh which argued a
probably unconscious contempt of general ideas.

But Marlow was not put off.  He was patient and reflective.  He had been
at sea many years and I verily believe he liked sea-life because upon
the whole it is favourable to reflection.  I am speaking of the now
nearly vanished sea-life under sail.  To those who may be surprised at
the statement I will point out that this life secured for the mind of
him who embraced it the inestimable advantages of solitude and silence.
Marlow had the habit of pursuing general ideas in a peculiar manner,
between jest and earnest.

"Oh, I wouldn't suggest," he said, "that your namesake Mr Powell, the
Shipping Master, had done you much harm.  Such was hardly his intention.
And even if it had been he would not have had the power.  He was but a
man, and the incapacity to achieve anything distinctly good or evil is
inherent in our earthly condition.  Mediocrity is our mark.  And perhaps
it's just as well, since, for the most part, we cannot be certain of the
effect of our actions."

"I don't know about the effect," the other stood up to Marlow manfully.
"What effect did you expect anyhow?  I tell you he did something
uncommonly kind."

"He did what he could," Marlow retorted gently, "and on his own showing
that was not a very great deal.  I cannot help thinking that there was
some malice in the way he seized the opportunity to serve you.  He
managed to make you uncomfortable.  You wanted to go to sea, but he
jumped at the chance of accommodating your desire with a vengeance.  I
am inclined to think your cheek alarmed him.  And this was an excellent
occasion to suppress you altogether.  For if you accepted he was
relieved of you with every appearance of humanity, and if you made
objections (after requesting his assistance, mind you) it was open to
him to drop you as a sort of impostor.  You might have had to decline
that berth for some very valid reason.  From sheer necessity perhaps!
The notice was too uncommonly short.  But under the circumstances you'd
have covered yourself with ignominy."

Our new friend knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"Quite a mistake," he said.  "I am not of the declining sort, though
I'll admit it was something like telling a man that you would like a
bath and in consequence being instantly knocked overboard to sink or
swim with your clothes on.  However, I didn't feel as if I were in deep
water at first.  I left the shipping office quietly and for a time
strolled along the street as easy as if I had a week before me to fit
myself out.  But by and by I reflected that the notice was even shorter
than it looked.  The afternoon was well advanced; I had some things to
get, a lot of small matters to attend to, one or two persons to see: One
of them was an aunt of mine, my only relation, who quarrelled with poor
father as long as he lived about some silly matter that had neither
right nor wrong to it.  She left her money to me when she died.  I used
always to go and see her for decency's sake.  I had so much to do before
night that I didn't know where to begin.  I felt inclined to sit down on
the kerb and hold my head in my hands.  It was as if an engine had been
started going under my skull.  Finally I sat down in the first cab that
came along and it was a hard matter to keep on sitting there I can tell
you, while we rolled up and down the streets, pulling up here and there,
the parcels accumulating round me and the engine in my head gathering
more way every minute.  The composure of the people on the pavements was
provoking to a degree, and as to the people in shops, they were
benumbed, more than half frozen--imbecile.  Funny how it affects you to
be in a peculiar state of mind: everybody that does not act up to your
excitement seems so confoundedly unfriendly.  And my state of mind what
with the hurry, the worry and a growing exultation was peculiar enough.
That engine in my head went round at its top speed hour after hour till
at about eleven at night it let up on me suddenly at the entrance to the
Dock before large iron gates in a dead wall."

These gates were closed and locked.  The cabby, after shooting his
things off the roof of his machine into young Powell's arms, drove away
leaving him alone with his sea-chest, a sail cloth bag and a few parcels
on the pavement about his feet.  It was a dark, narrow thoroughfare he
told us.  A mean row of houses on the other side looked empty: there
wasn't the smallest gleam of light in them.  The white-hot glare of a
gin palace a good way off made the intervening piece of the street
pitch-black.  Some human shapes appearing mysteriously, as if they had
sprung up from the dark ground, shunned the edge of the faint light
thrown down by the gateway lamps.  These figures were wary in their
movements and perfectly silent of foot, like beasts of prey slinking
about a camp fire.  Powell gathered up his belongings and hovered over
them like a hen over her brood.  A gruffly, insinuating voice said:

"Let's carry your things in, Capt'in!  I've got my pal 'ere."

He was a tall, bony, grey-haired ruffian with a bulldog jaw, in a torn
cotton shirt and moleskin trousers.  The shadow of his hobnailed boots
was enormous and coffin-like.  His pal, who didn't come up much higher
than his elbow, stepping forward exhibited a pale face with a long
drooping nose and no chin to speak of.  He seemed to have just scrambled
out of a dust-bin in a tam-o'-shanter cap and a tattered soldier's coat
much too long for him.  Being so deadly white he looked like a horrible
dirty invalid in a ragged dressing-gown.  The coat flapped open in front
and the rest of his apparel consisted of one brace which crossed his
naked, bony chest, and a pair of trousers.  He blinked rapidly as if
dazed by the faint light, while his patron, the old bandit, glowered at
young Powell from under his beetling brow.

"Say the word, Capt'in.  The bobby'll let us in all right.  'E knows
both of us."

"I didn't answer him," continued Mr Powell.  "I was listening to
footsteps on the other side of the gate, echoing between the walls of
the warehouses as if in an uninhabited town of very high buildings dark
from basement to roof.  You could never have guessed that within a
stone's throw there was an open sheet of water and big ships lying
afloat.  The few gas lamps showing up a bit of brick work here and
there, appeared in the blackness like penny dips in a range of cellars--
and the solitary footsteps came on, tramp, tramp.  A dock policeman
strode into the light on the other side of the gate, very broad-chested
and stern.

"`Hallo!  What's up here?'

"He was really surprised, but after some palaver he let me in together
with the two loafers carrying my luggage.  He grumbled at them however
and slammed the gate violently with a loud clang.  I was startled to
discover how many night prowlers had collected in the darkness of the
street in such a short time and without my being aware of it.  Directly
we were through they came surging against the bars, silent, like a mob
of ugly spectres.  But suddenly, up the street somewhere, perhaps near
that public-house, a row started as if Bedlam had broken loose: shouts,
yells, an awful shrill shriek--and at that noise all these heads
vanished from behind the bars.

"Look at this," marvelled the constable.  "It's a wonder to me they
didn't make off with your things while you were waiting."

"I would have taken good care of that," I said defiantly.  But the
constable wasn't impressed.

"`Much you would have done.  The bag going off round one dark corner;
the chest round another.  Would you have run two ways at once?  And
anyhow you'd have been tripped up and jumped upon before you had run
three yards.  I tell you you've had a most extraordinary chance that
there wasn't one of them regular boys about to-night, in the High
Street, to twig your loaded cab go by.  Ted here is honest...  You are
on the honest lay, Ted, ain't you?'

"`Always was, orficer,' said the big ruffian with feeling.  The other
frail creature seemed dumb and only hopped about with the edge of its
soldier coat touching the ground.

"`Oh yes, I dare say,' said the constable.  `Now then, forward, march...
He's that because he ain't game for the other thing,' he confided to
me.  `He hasn't got the nerve for it.  However, I ain't going to lose
sight of them two till they go out through the gate.  That little chap's
a devil.  He's got the nerve for anything, only he hasn't got the
muscle.  Well!  Well!  You've had a chance to get in with a whole skin
and with all your things.'

"I was incredulous a little.  It seemed impossible that after getting
ready with so much hurry and inconvenience I should have lost my chance
of a start in life from such a cause.  I asked: `Does that sort of thing
happen often so near the dock-gates?'

"`Often!  No!  Of course not often.  But it ain't often either that a
man comes along with a cab-load of things to join a ship at this time of
night.  I've been in the dock police thirteen years and haven't seen it
done once.'

"Meantime we followed my sea-chest which was being carried down a sort
of deep narrow lane, separating two high warehouses, between honest Ted
and his little devil of a pal who had to keep up a trot to the other's
stride.  The skirt of his soldier's coat floating behind him nearly
swept the ground so that he seemed to be running on castors.  At the
corner of the gloomy passage a rigged jib boom with a dolphin-striker
ending in an arrow-head stuck out of the night close to a cast iron
lamp-post.  It was the quay side.  They set down their load in the light
and honest Ted asked hoarsely: `Where's your ship, guv'nor?'

"I didn't know.  The constable was interested at my ignorance.

"`Don't know where your ship is?' he asked with curiosity.  `And you the
second officer!  Haven't you been working on board of her?'

"I couldn't explain that the only work connected with my appointment was
the work of chance.  I told him briefly that I didn't know her at all.
At this he remarked: `So I see.  Here she is, right before you.  That's
her.'

"At once the head-gear in the gas light inspired me with interest and
respect; the spars were big, the chains and ropes stout and the whole
thing looked powerful and trustworthy.  Barely touched by the light her
bows rose faintly alongside the narrow strip of the quay; the rest of
her was a black smudge in the darkness.  Here I, was face to face with
my start in life.  We walked in a body a few steps on a greasy pavement
between her side and the towering wall of a warehouse and I hit my shins
cruelly against the end of the gangway.  The constable hailed her
quietly in a bass undertone `_Ferndale_ there!'  A feeble and dismal
sound, something in the nature of a buzzing groan, answered from behind
the bulwarks.

"I distinguished vaguely an irregular round knob, of wood, perhaps,
resting on the rail.  It did not move in the least; but as another
broken-down buzz like a still fainter echo of the first dismal sound
proceeded from it I concluded it must be the head of the ship-keeper.
The stalwart constable jeered in a mock-official manner.

"`Second officer coming to join.  Move yourself a bit.'

"The truth of the statement touched me in the pit of the stomach (you
know that's the spot where emotion gets home on a man) for it was borne
upon me that really and truly I was nothing but a second officer of a
ship just like any other second officer, to that constable.  I was moved
by this solid evidence of my new dignity.  Only his tone offended me.
Nevertheless I gave him the tip he was looking for.  Thereupon he lost
all interest in me, humorous or otherwise, and walked away driving
sternly before him the honest Ted, who went off grumbling to himself
like a hungry ogre, and his horrible dumb little pal in the soldier's
coat, who, from first to last, never emitted the slightest sound.

"It was very dark on the quarter-deck of the _Ferndale_ between the deep
bulwarks overshadowed by the break of the poop and frowned upon by the
front of the warehouse.  I plumped down on to my chest near the after
hatch as if my legs had been jerked from under me.  I felt suddenly very
tired and languid.  The ship-keeper, whom I could hardly make out hung
over the capstan in a fit of weak pitiful coughing.  He gasped out very
low `Oh! dear!  Oh! dear!' and struggled for breath so long that I got
up alarmed and irresolute.

"`I've been took like this since last Christmas twelvemonth.  It ain't
nothing.'

"He seemed a hundred years old at least.  I never saw him properly
because he was gone ashore and out of sight when I came on deck in the
morning; but he gave me the notion of the feeblest creature that ever
breathed.  His voice was thin like the buzzing of a mosquito.  As it
would have been cruel to demand assistance from such a shadowy wreck I
went to work myself, dragging my chest along a pitch-black passage under
the poop deck, while he sighed and moaned around me as if my exertions
were more than his weakness could stand.  At last as I banged pretty
heavily against the bulkheads he warned me in his faint breathless
wheeze to be more careful.

"`What's the matter?'  I asked rather roughly, not relishing to be
admonished by this forlorn broken-down ghost.

"`Nothing!  Nothing, sir,' he protested so hastily that he lost his poor
breath again and I felt sorry for him.  `Only the captain and his missus
are sleeping on board.  She's a lady that mustn't be disturbed.  They
came about half-past eight, and we had a permit to have lights in the
cabin till ten to-night.'

"This struck me as a considerable piece of news.  I had never been in a
ship where the captain had his wife with him.  I'd heard fellows say
that captains' wives could work a lot of mischief on board ship if they
happened to take a dislike to anyone; especially the new wives if young
and pretty.  The old and experienced wives on the other hand fancied
they knew more about the ship than the skipper himself and had an eye
like a hawk's for what went on.  They were like an extra chief mate of a
particularly sharp and unfeeling sort who made his report in the
evening.  The best of them were a nuisance.  In the general opinion a
skipper with his wife on board was more difficult to please; but whether
to show off his authority before an admiring female or from loving
anxiety for her safety or simply from irritation at her presence--nobody
I ever heard on the subject could tell for certain.

"After I had bundled in my things somehow I struck a match and had a
dazzling glimpse of my berth; then I pitched the roll of my bedding into
the bunk but took no trouble to spread it out.  I wasn't sleepy now,
neither was I tired.  And the thought that I was done with the earth for
many many months to come made me feel very quiet and self-contained as
it were.  Sailors will understand what I mean."

Marlow nodded.  "It is a strictly professional feeling," he commented.
"But other professions or trades know nothing of it.  It is only this
calling whose primary appeal lies in the suggestion of restless
adventure which holds out that deep sensation to those who embrace it.
It is difficult to define, I admit."

"I should call it the peace of the sea," said Mr Charles Powell in an
earnest tone but looking at us as though he expected to be met by a
laugh of derision and were half prepared to salve his reputation for
common sense by joining in it.  But neither of us laughed at Mr Charles
Powell in whose start in life we had been called to take a part.  He was
lucky in his audience.

"A very good name," said Marlow looking at him approvingly.  "A sailor
finds a deep feeling of security in the exercise of his calling.  The
exacting life of the sea has this advantage over the life of the earth
that its claims are simple and cannot be evaded."

"Gospel truth," assented Mr Powell.  "No! they cannot be evaded."

That an excellent understanding should have established itself between
my old friend and our new acquaintance was remarkable enough.  For they
were exactly dissimilar--one individuality projecting itself in length
and the other in breadth, which is already a sufficient ground for
irreconcilable difference.  Marlow who was lanky, loose, quietly
composed in varied shades of brown robbed of every vestige of gloss, had
a narrow, veiled glance, the neutral bearing and the secret irritability
which go together with a predisposition to congestion of the liver.  The
other, compact, broad and sturdy of limb, seemed extremely full of sound
organs functioning vigorously all the time in order to keep up the
brilliance of his colouring, the light curl of his coal-black hair and
the lustre of his eyes, which asserted themselves roundly in an open,
manly face.  Between two such organisms one would not have expected to
find the slightest temperamental accord.  But I have observed that
profane men living in ships like the holy men gathered together in
monasteries develop traits of profound resemblance.  This must be
because the service of the sea and the service of a temple are both
detached from the vanities and errors of a world which follows no severe
rule.  The men of the sea understand each other very well in their view
of earthly things, for simplicity is a good counsellor and isolation not
a bad educator.  A turn of mind composed of innocence and scepticism is
common to them all, with the addition of an unexpected insight into
motives, as of disinterested lookers-on at a game.  Mr Powell took me
aside to say, "I like the things he says."

"You understand each other pretty well," I observed.

"I know his sort," said Powell, going to the window to look at his
cutter still riding to the flood.  "He's the sort that's always chasing
some notion or other round and round his head just for the fun of the
thing."

"Keeps them in good condition," I said.

"Lively enough I dare say," he admitted.

"Would you like better a man who let his notions lie curled up?"

"That I wouldn't," answered our new acquaintance.  Clearly he was not
difficult to get on with.  "I like him, very well," he continued,
"though it isn't easy to make him out.  He seems to be up to a thing or
two.  What's he doing?"

I informed him that our friend Marlow had retired from the sea in a sort
of half-hearted fashion some years ago.

Mr Powell's comment was: "Fancied he'd had enough of it?"

"Fancied's the very word to use in this connection," I observed,
remembering the subtly provisional character of Marlow's long sojourn
amongst us.  From year to year he dwelt on land as a bird rests on the
branch of a tree, so tense with the power of brusque flight into its
true element that it is incomprehensible why it should sit still minute
after minute.  The sea is the sailor's true element, and Marlow,
lingering on shore, was to me an object of incredulous commiseration
like a bird, which, secretly, should have lost its faith in the high
virtue of flying.



PART ONE, CHAPTER 2.

THE FYNES AND THE GIRL-FRIEND.

We were on our feet in the room by then, and Marlow, brown and
deliberate, approached the window where Mr Powell and I had retired.

"What was the name of your chance again?" he asked.

Mr Powell stared for a moment.

"Oh!  The _Ferndale_.  A Liverpool ship.  Composite built."

"_Ferndale_," repeated Marlow thoughtfully.  "_Ferndale_."

"Know her?"

"Our friend," I said, "knows something of every ship.  He seems to have
gone about the seas prying into things considerably."

Marlow smiled.

"I've seen her, at least once."

"The finest sea-boat ever launched," declared Mr Powell sturdily.
"Without exception."

"She looked a stout, comfortable ship," assented Marlow.  "Uncommonly
comfortable.  Not very fast tho'."

"She was fast enough for any reasonable man--when I was in her," growled
Mr Powell with his back to us.

"Any ship is that--for a reasonable man," generalised Marlow in a
conciliatory tone.  "A sailor isn't a globetrotter."

"No," muttered Mr Powell.

"Time's nothing to him," advanced Marlow.

"I don't suppose it's much," said Mr Powell.  "All the same a quick
passage is a feather in a man's cap."

"True.  But that ornament is for the use of the master only.  And by the
by what was his name?"

"The master of the _Ferndale_?  Anthony.  Captain Anthony."

"Just so.  Quite right," approved Marlow thoughtfully.  Our new
acquaintance looked over his shoulder.

"What do you mean?  Why is it more right than if it had been Brown?"

"He has known him probably," I explained.  "Marlow here appears to know
something of every soul that ever went afloat in a sailor's body."

Mr Powell seemed wonderfully amenable to verbal suggestions for looking
again out of the window, he muttered:

"He was a good soul."

This clearly referred to Captain Anthony of the _Ferndale_.  Marlow
addressed his protest to me.

"I did not know him.  I really didn't.  He was a good soul.  That's
nothing very much out of the way--is it?  And I didn't even know that
much of him.  All I knew of him was an accident called Fyne."

At this Mr Powell who evidently could be rebellious too turned his back
squarely on the window.

"What on earth do you mean?" he asked.  "An--accident--called Fyne," he
repeated separating the words with emphasis.

Marlow was not disconcerted.

"I don't mean accident in the sense of a mishap.  Not in the least.
Fyne was a good little man in the Civil Service.  By accident I mean
that which happens blindly and without intelligent design.  That's
generally the way a brother-in-law happens into a man's life."

Marlow's tone being apologetic and our new acquaintance having again
turned to the window I took it upon myself to say:

"You are justified.  There is very little intelligent design in the
majority of marriages; but they are none the worse for that.
Intelligence leads people astray as far as passion sometimes.  I know
you are not a cynic."

Marlow smiled his retrospective smile which was kind as though he bore
no grudge against people he used to know.

"Little Fyne's marriage was quite successful.  There was no design at
all in it.  Fyne, you must know, was an enthusiastic pedestrian.  He
spent his holidays tramping all over our native land.  His tastes were
simple.  He put infinite conviction and perseverance into his holidays.
At the proper season you would meet in the fields, Fyne, a
serious-faced, broad-chested, little man, with a shabby knap-sack on his
back, making for some church steeple.  He had a horror of roads.  He
wrote once a little book called the `Tramp's Itinerary,' and was
recognised as an authority on the footpaths of England.  So one year, in
his favourite over-the-fields, back-way fashion he entered a pretty
Surrey village where he met Miss Anthony.  Pure accident, you see.  They
came to an understanding, across some stile, most likely.  Little Fyne
held very solemn views as to the destiny of women on this earth, the
nature of our sublunary love, the obligations of this transient life and
so on.  He probably disclosed them to his future wife.  Miss Anthony's
views of life were very decided too but in a different way.  I don't
know the story of their wooing.  I imagine it was carried on
clandestinely and, I am certain, with portentous gravity, at the back of
copses, behind hedges..."

"Why was it carried on clandestinely?"  I inquired.

"Because of the lady's father.  He was a savage sentimentalist who had
his own decided views of his paternal prerogatives.  He was a terror;
but the only evidence of imaginative faculty about Fyne was his pride in
his wife's parentage.  It stimulated his ingenuity too.  Difficult--is
it not?--to introduce one's wife's maiden name into general
conversation.  But my simple Fyne made use of Captain Anthony for that
purpose, or else I would never even have heard of the man.  `My wife's
sailor-brother' was the phrase.  He trotted out the sailor-brother in a
pretty wide range of subjects: Indian and colonial affairs, matters of
trade, talk of travels, of seaside holidays and so on.  Once I remember
`My wife's sailor-brother Captain Anthony' being produced in connection
with nothing less recondite than a sunset.  And little Fyne never failed
to add: `The son of Carleon Anthony, the poet--you know.'  He used to
lower his voice for that statement, and people were impressed or
pretended to be."

The late Carleon Anthony, the poet, sang in his time of the domestic and
social amenities of our age with a most felicitous versification, his
object being, in his own words, "to glorify the result of six thousand
years' evolution towards the refinement of thought, manners and
feelings."  Why he fixed the term at six thousand years I don't know.
His poems read like sentimental novels told in verse of a really
superior quality.  You felt as if you, were being taken out for a
delightful country drive by a charming lady in a pony carriage.  But in
his domestic life that same Carleon Anthony showed traces of the
primitive cave-dweller's temperament.  He was a massive, implacable man
with a handsome face, arbitrary, and exacting with his dependants, but
marvellously suave in his manner to admiring strangers.  These
contrasted displays must have been particularly exasperating to his
longsuffering family.  After his second wife's death his boy, whom he
persisted by a mere whim in educating at home, ran away in conventional
style and, as if disgusted with the amenities of civilisation, threw
himself, figuratively speaking, into the sea.  The daughter (the elder
of the two children) either from compassion or because women are
naturally more enduring, remained in bondage to the poet for several
years, till she too seized a chance of escape by throwing herself into
the arms, the muscular arms, of the pedestrian Fyne.  This was either
great luck or great sagacity.  A civil servant is, I should imagine, the
last human being in the world to preserve those traits of the
cave-dweller from which she was fleeing.  Her father would never consent
to see her after the marriage.  Such unforgiving selfishness is
difficult to understand unless as a perverse sort of refinement.  There
were also doubts as to Carleon Anthony's complete sanity for some
considerable time before he died.

Most of the above I elicited from Marlow, for all I knew of Carleon
Anthony was his unexciting but fascinating verse.  Marlow assured me
that the Fyne marriage was perfectly successful and even happy, in an
earnest, unplayful fashion, being blessed besides by three healthy,
active, self-reliant children, all girls.  They were all pedestrians
too.  Even the youngest would wander away for miles if not restrained.
Mrs Fyne had a ruddy out-of-doors complexion and wore blouses with a
starched front like a man's shirt, a stand-up collar and a long necktie.
Marlow had made their acquaintance one summer in the country, where
they were accustomed to take a cottage for the holidays...

At this point we were interrupted by Mr Powell who declared that he
must leave us.  The tide was on the turn, he announced coming away from
the window abruptly.  He wanted to be on board his cutter before she
swung and of course he would sleep on board.  Never slept away from the
cutter while on a cruise.  He was gone in a moment, unceremoniously, but
giving us no offence and leaving behind an impression as though we had
known him for a long time.  The ingenuous way he had told us of his
start in life had something to do with putting him on that footing with
us.  I gave no thought to seeing him again.  Marlow expressed a
confident hope of coming across him before long.

"He cruises about the mouth of the river all the summer.  He will be
easy to find any week-end," he remarked ringing the bell so that we
might settle up with the waiter.

Later on I asked Marlow why he wished to cultivate this chance
acquaintance.  He confessed apologetically that it was the commonest
sort of curiosity.  I flatter myself that I understand all sorts of
curiosity.  Curiosity about daily facts, about daily things, about daily
men.  It is the most respectable faculty of the human mind--in fact I
cannot conceive the uses of an incurious mind.  It would be like a
chamber perpetually locked up.  But in this particular case Mr Powell
seemed to have given us already a complete insight into his personality
such as it was; a personality capable of perception and with a feeling
for the vagaries of fate, but essentially simple in itself.

Marlow agreed with me so far.  He explained however that his curiosity
was not excited by Mr Powell exclusively.  It originated a good way
further back in the fact of his accidental acquaintance with the Fynes,
in the country.  This chance meeting with a man who had sailed with
Captain Anthony had revived it.  It had revived it to some purpose, to
such purpose that to me too was given the knowledge of its origin and of
its nature.  It was given to me in several stages, at intervals which
are not indicated here.  On this first occasion I remarked to Marlow
with some surprise:

"But, if I remember rightly you said you didn't know Captain Anthony."

"No.  I never saw the man.  It's years ago now, but I seem to hear
solemn little Fyne's deep voice announcing the approaching visit of his
wife's brother `the son of the poet, you know.'  He had just arrived in
London from a long voyage, and, directly his occupations permitted, was
coming down to stay with his relatives for a few weeks.  No doubt we two
should find many things to talk about by ourselves in reference to our
common calling, added little Fyne portentously in his grave undertones,
as if the Mercantile Marine were a secret society.

"You must understand that I cultivated the Fynes only in the country, in
their holiday time.  This was the third year.  Of their existence in
town I knew no more than may be inferred from analogy.  I played chess
with Fyne in the late afternoon, and sometimes came over to the cottage
early enough to have tea with the whole family at a big round table.
They sat about it, an unsmiling, sunburnt company of very few words
indeed.  Even the children were silent and as if contemptuous of each
other and of their elders.  Fyne muttered sometimes deep down in his
chest some insignificant remark.  Mrs Fyne smiled mechanically (she had
splendid teeth) while distributing tea and bread and butter.  A
something which was not coldness, nor yet indifference, but a sort of
peculiar self-possession gave her the appearance of a very trustworthy,
very capable and excellent governess; as if Fyne were a widower and the
children not her own but only entrusted to her calm, efficient,
unemotional care.  One expected her to address Fyne as Mr When she
called him John it surprised one like a shocking familiarity.  The
atmosphere of that holiday was--if I may put it so--brightly dull.
Healthy faces, fair complexions, clear eyes, and never a frank smile in
the whole lot, unless perhaps from a girl-friend.

"The girl-friend problem exercised me greatly.  How and where the Fynes
got all these pretty creatures to come and stay with them I can't
imagine.  I had at first the wild suspicion that they were obtained to
amuse Fyne.  But I soon discovered that he could hardly tell one from
the other, though obviously their presence met with his solemn approval.
These girls in fact came for Mrs Fyne.  They treated her with admiring
deference.  She answered to some need of theirs.  They sat at her feet.
They were like disciples.  It was very curious.  Of Fyne they took but
scanty notice.  As to myself I was made to feel that I did not exist.

"After tea we would sit down to chess and then Fyne's everlasting
gravity became faintly tinged by an attenuated gleam of something inward
which resembled sly satisfaction.  Of the divine frivolity of laughter
he was only capable over a chessboard.  Certain positions of the game
struck him as humorous, which nothing else on earth could do..."

"He used to beat you," I asserted with confidence.

"Yes.  He used to beat me," Marlow owned up hastily.

So he and Fyne played two games after tea.  The children romped together
outside, gravely, unplayfully, as one would expect from Fyne's children,
and Mrs Fyne would be gone to the bottom of the garden with the
girl-friend of the week.  She always walked off directly after tea with
her arm round the girl-friend's waist.  Marlow said that there was only
one girl-friend with whom he had conversed at all.  It had happened
quite unexpectedly, long after he had given up all hope of getting into
touch with these reserved girl-friends.

One day he saw a woman walking about on the edge of a high quarry, which
rose a sheer hundred feet, at least, from the road winding up the hill
out of which it had been excavated.  He shouted warningly to her from
below where he happened to be passing.  She was really in considerable
danger.  At the sound of his voice she started back and retreated out of
his sight amongst some young Scotch firs growing near the very brink of
the precipice.

"I sat down on a bank of grass," Marlow went on.  "She had given me a
turn.  The hem of her skirt seemed to float over that awful sheer drop,
she was so close to the edge.  An absurd thing to do.  A perfectly mad
trick--for no conceivable object!  I was reflecting on the foolhardiness
of the average girl and remembering some other instances of the kind,
when she came into view walking down the steep curve of the road.  She
had Mrs Fyne's walking-stick and was escorted by the Fyne dog.  Her
dead-white face struck me with astonishment, so that I forgot to raise
my hat.  I just sat and stared.  The dog, a vivacious and amiable animal
which for some inscrutable reason had bestowed his friendship on my
unworthy self, rushed up the bank demonstratively and insinuated himself
under my arm.

"The girl-friend (it was one of them) went past some way as though she
had not seen me, then stopped and called the dog to her several times;
but he only nestled closer to my side, and when I tried to push him away
developed that remarkable power of internal resistance by which a dog
makes himself practically immovable by anything short of a lack.  She
looked over her shoulder and her arched eyebrows frowned above her
blanched face.  It was almost a scowl.  Then the expression changed.
She looked unhappy.  `Come here!' she cried once more in an angry and
distressed tone.  I took off my hat at last, but the dog hanging out his
tongue with that cheerfully imbecile expression some dogs know so well
how to put on when it suits their purpose, pretended to be deaf."

She cried from the distance desperately.

"Perhaps you will take him to the cottage then.  I can't wait."

"I won't be responsible for that dog," I protested getting down the bank
and advancing towards her.  She looked very hurt, apparently by the
desertion of the dog.  "But: if you let me walk with you he will follow
us all right," I suggested.

She moved on without answering me.  The dog launched himself suddenly
full speed down the road receding from us in a small cloud of dust.  It
vanished in the distance, and presently we came up with him lying on the
grass.  He panted in the shade of the hedge with shining eyes but
pretended not to see us.  We had not exchanged a word so far.  The girl
by my side gave him a scornful glance in passing.

"He offered to come with me," she remarked bitterly.

"And then abandoned you!"  I sympathised.  "It looks very unchivalrous.
But that's merely his want of tact.  I believe he meant to protest
against your reckless proceedings.  What made you come so near the edge
of that quarry?  The earth might have given way.  Haven't you noticed a
smashed fir tree at the bottom?  Tumbled over only the other morning
after a night's rain."

"I don't see why I shouldn't be as reckless as I please."

I was nettled by her brusque manner of asserting her folly, and I told
her that neither did I as far as that went, in a tone which almost
suggested that she was welcome to break her neck for all I cared.  This
was considerably more than I meant, but I don't like rude girls.  I had
been introduced to her only the day before--at the round tea-table--and
she had barely acknowledged the introduction.  I had not caught her name
but I had noticed her fine, arched eyebrows which, so the physiognomists
say, are a sign of courage.

I examined her appearance quietly.  Her hair was nearly black, her eyes
blue, deeply shaded by long dark eyelashes.  She had a little colour
now.  She looked straight before her; the corner of her lip on my side
drooped a little; her chin was fine, somewhat pointed.  I went on to say
that some regard for others should stand in the way of one's playing
with danger.  I urged playfully the distress of the poor Fynes in case
of accident, if nothing else.  I told her that she did not know the
bucolic mind.  Had she given occasion for a coroner's inquest the
verdict would have been suicide, with the implication of unhappy love.
They would never be able to understand that she had taken the trouble to
climb over two post-and-rail fences only for the fun of being reckless.
Indeed even as I talked chaffingly I was greatly struck myself by the
fact.

She retorted that once one was dead what horrid people thought of one
did not matter.  It was said with infinite contempt; but something like
a suppressed quaver in the voice made me look at her again.  I perceived
then that her thick eyelashes were wet.  This surprising discovery
silenced me as you may guess.  She looked unhappy.  And--I don't know
how to say it--well--it suited her.  The clouded brow, the pained mouth,
the vague fixed glance!  A victim.  And this characteristic aspect made
her attractive; an individual touch--you know.

The dog had run on ahead and now gazed at us by the side of the Fyne's
garden-gate in a tense attitude and wagging his stumpy tail very, very
slowly, with an air of concentrated attention.  The girl-friend of the
Fynes bolted violently through the aforesaid gate and into the cottage
leaving me on the road--astounded.

A couple of hours afterwards I returned to the cottage for chess as
usual.  I saw neither the girl nor Mrs Fyne then.  We had our two games
and on parting I warned Fyne that I was called to town on business and
might be away for some time.  He regretted it very much.  His
brother-in-law was expected next day but he didn't know whether he was a
chess-player.  Captain Anthony ("the son of the poet--you know") was of
a retiring disposition, shy with strangers, unused to society and very
much devoted to his calling, Fyne explained.  All the time they had been
married he could be induced only once before to come and stay, with them
for a few days.  He had had a rather unhappy boyhood; and it made him a
silent man.  But no doubt, concluded Fyne, as if dealing portentously
with a mystery, we two sailors should find much to say to one another.

This point was never settled.  I was detained in town from week to week
till it seemed hardly worth while to go back.  But as I had kept on my
rooms in the farmhouse I concluded to go down again for a few days.

It was late, deep dusk, when I got out at our little country station.
My eyes fell on the unmistakable broad back and the muscular legs in
cycling stockings of little Fyne.  He passed along the carriages rapidly
towards the rear of the train, which presently pulled out and left him
solitary at the end of the rustic platform.  When he came back to where
I waited I perceived that he was much perturbed, so perturbed as to
forget the convention of the usual greetings.  He only exclaimed Oh! on
recognising me, and stopped irresolute.  When I asked him if he had been
expecting somebody by that train he didn't seem to know.  He stammered
disconnectedly.  I looked hard at him.  To all appearances he was
perfectly sober; moreover to suspect Fyne of a lapse from the
proprieties high or low, great or small, was absurd.  He was also a too
serious and deliberate person to go mad suddenly.  But as he seemed to
have forgotten that he had a tongue in his head I concluded I would
leave him to his mystery.  To my surprise he followed me out of the
station and kept by my side, though I did not encourage him.  I did not
however repulse his attempts at conversation.  He was no longer
expecting me, he said.  He had given me up.  The weather had been
uniformly fine--and so on.  I gathered also that the son of the poet had
curtailed his stay somewhat and gone back to his ship the day before.

That information touched me but little.  Believing in heredity in
moderation I knew well how sea-life fashions a man outwardly and stamps
his soul with the mark of a certain prosaic fitness--because a sailor is
not an adventurer.  I expressed no regret at missing Captain Anthony and
we proceeded in silence till, on approaching the holiday cottage, Fyne
suddenly and unexpectedly broke it by the hurried declaration that he
would go on with me a little farther.

"Go with you to your door," he mumbled and started forward to the little
gate where the shadowy figure of Mrs Fyne hovered, clearly on the
lookout for him.  She was alone.  The children must have been already in
bed and I saw no attending girl-friend shadow near her vague but
unmistakable form, half-lost in the obscurity of the little garden.

I heard Fyne exclaim "Nothing" and then Mrs Fyne's well-trained,
responsible voice uttered the words, "It's what I have said," with
incisive equanimity.  By that time I had passed on, raising my hat.
Almost at once Fyne caught me up and slowed down to my strolling gait
which must have been infinitely irksome to his high pedestrian
faculties.  I am sure that all his muscular person must have suffered
from awful physical boredom; but he did not attempt to charm it away by
conversation.  He preserved a portentous and dreary silence.  And I was
bored too.  Suddenly I perceived the menace of even worse boredom.  Yes!
He was so silent because he had something to tell me.

I became extremely frightened.  But man, reckless animal, is so made
that in him curiosity, the paltriest curiosity, will overcome all
terrors, every disgust, and even despair itself.  To my laconic
invitation to come in for a drink he answered by a deep, gravely
accented: "Thanks, I will" as though it were a response in church.  His
face as seen in the lamplight gave me no clue to the character of the
impending communication; as indeed from the nature of things it couldn't
do, its normal expression being already that of the utmost possible
seriousness.  It was perfect and immovable; and for a certainty if he
had something excruciatingly funny to tell me it would be all the same.

He gazed at me earnestly and delivered himself of some weighty remarks
on Mrs Fyne's desire to befriend, counsel, and guide young girls of all
sorts on the path of life.  It was a voluntary mission.  He approved his
wife's action and also her views and principles in general.

All this with a solemn countenance and in deep measured tones.  Yet
somehow I got an irresistible conviction that he was exasperated by
something in particular.  In the unworthy hope of being amused by the
misfortunes of a fellow-creature I asked him point-blank what was wrong
now.

What was wrong was that a girl-friend was missing.  She had been missing
precisely since six o'clock that morning.  The woman who did the work of
the cottage saw her going out at that hour, for a walk.  The pedestrian
Fyne's ideas of a walk were extensive, but the girl did not turn up for
lunch, nor yet for tea, nor yet for dinner.  She had not turned up by
footpath, road or rail.  He had been reluctant to make inquiries.  It
would have set all the village talking.  The Fynes had expected her to
reappear every moment, till the shades of the night and the silence of
slumber had stolen gradually over the wide and peaceful rural landscape
commanded by the cottage.

After felling me that much Fyne sat helpless in unconclusive agony.
Going to bed was out of the question--neither could any steps be taken
just then.  What to do with himself he did not know!

I asked him if this was the same young lady I saw a day or two before I
went to town?  He really could not remember.  Was she a girl with dark
hair and blue eyes?  I asked further.  He really couldn't tell what
colour her eyes were.  He was very unobservant except as to the
peculiarities of footpaths, on which he was an authority.

I thought with amazement and some admiration that Mrs Fyne's young
disciples were to her husband's gravity no more than evanescent shadows.
However, with but little hesitation Fyne ventured to affirm that--yes,
her hair was of some dark shade.

"We had a good deal to do with that girl first and last," he explained
solemnly; then getting up as if moved by a spring he snatched his cap
off the table.  "She may be back in the cottage," he cried in his bass
voice.  I followed him out on the road.

It was one of those dewy, clear, starry nights, oppressing our spirit,
crushing our pride, by the brilliant evidence of the awful loneliness,
of the hopeless obscure insignificance of our globe lost in the splendid
revelation of a glittering, soulless universe.  I hate such skies.
Daylight is friendly to man toiling under a sun which warms his heart;
and cloudy soft nights are more kindly to our littleness.  I nearly ran
back again to my lighted parlour; Fyne fussing in a knicker-bocker suit
before the hosts of heaven, on a shadowy earth, about a transient,
phantom-like girl, seemed too ridiculous to associate with.  On the
other hand there was something fascinating in the very absurdity.  He
cut along in his best pedestrian style and I found myself let in for a
spell of severe exercise at eleven o'clock at night.

In the distance over the fields and trees smudging and blotching the
vast obscurity, one lighted window of the cottage with the blind up was
like a bright beacon kept alight to guide the lost wanderer.  Inside, at
the table bearing the lamp, we saw Mrs Fyne sitting with folded arms
and not a hair of her head out of place.  She looked exactly like a
governess who had put the children to bed; and her manner to me was just
the neutral manner of a governess.  To her husband, too, for that
matter.

Fyne told her that I was fully informed.  Not a muscle of her ruddy
smooth handsome face moved.  She had schooled herself into that sort of
thing.  Having seen two successive wives of the delicate poet chivied
and worried into their graves, she had adopted that cool, detached
manner to meet her gifted father's outbreaks of selfish temper.  It had
now become a second nature.  I suppose she was always like that; even in
the very hour of elopement with Fyne.  That transaction when one
remembered it in her presence acquired a quaintly marvellous aspect to
one's imagination.  But somehow her self-possession matched very well
little Fyne's invariable solemnity.

I was rather sorry for him.  Wasn't he worried!  The agony of solemnity.
At the same time I was amused.  I didn't take a gloomy view of that
"vanishing girl" trick.  Somehow I couldn't.  But I said nothing.  None
of us said anything.  We sat about that big round table as if assembled
for a conference and looked at each other in a sort of fatuous
consternation.  I would have ended by laughing outright if I had not
been saved from that impropriety by poor Fyne becoming preposterous.

He began with grave anguish to talk of going to the police in the
morning, of printing descriptive bills, of setting people to drag the
ponds for miles around.  It was extremely gruesome.  I murmured
something about communicating with the young lady's relatives.  It
seemed to me a very natural suggestion; but Fyne and his wife exchanged
such a significant glance that I felt as though I had made a tactless
remark.

But I really wanted to help poor Fyne; and as I could see that, manlike,
he suffered from the present inability to act, the passive waiting, I
said: "Nothing of this can be done till to-morrow.  But as you have
given me an insight into the nature of your thoughts I can tell you what
may be done at once.  We may go and look at the bottom of the old quarry
which is on the level of the road, about a mile from here."

The couple made big eyes at this, and then I told them of my meeting
with the girl.  You may be surprised but I assure you I had not
perceived this aspect of it till that very moment.  It was like a
startling revelation; the past throwing a sinister light on the future.
Fyne opened his mouth gravely and as gravely shut it.  Nothing more.
Mrs Fyne said, "You had better go," with an air as if her
self-possession had been pricked with a pin in some secret place.

And I--you know how stupid I can be at times--I perceived with dismay
for the first time that by pandering to Fyne's morbid fancies I had let
myself in for some more severe exercise.  And wasn't I sorry I spoke!
You know how I hate walking--at least on solid, rural earth; for I can
walk a ship's deck a whole foggy night through, if necessary, and think
little of it.  There is some satisfaction too in playing the vagabond in
the streets of a big town till the sky pales above the ridges of the
roofs.  I have done that repeatedly for pleasure--of a sort.  But to
tramp the slumbering country-side in the dark is for me a wearisome
nightmare of exertion.

With perfect detachment Mrs Fyne watched me go out after her husband.
That woman was flint.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The fresh night had a smell of soil, of turned-up sods like a grave--an
association particularly odious to a sailor by its idea of confinement
and narrowness; yes, even when he has given up the hope of being buried
at sea; about the last hope a sailor gives up consciously after he has
been, as it does happen, decoyed by some chance into the toils of the
land.  A strong grave-like sniff.  The ditch by the side of the road
must have been freshly dug in front of the cottage.  Once clear of the
garden Fyne gathered way like a racing cutter.  What was a mile to him--
or twenty miles?  You think he might have gone shrinkingly on such an
errand.  But not a bit of it.  The force of pedestrian genius I suppose.
I raced by his side in a mood of profound self-derision, and infinitely
vexed with that minx.  Because dead or alive I thought of her as a
minx..."

I smiled incredulously at Marlow's ferocity; but Marlow pausing with a
whimsically retrospective air, never flinched.

"Yes, yes.  Even dead.  And now you are shocked.  You see, you are such
a chivalrous masculine beggar.  But there is enough of the woman in my
nature to free my judgment of women from glamorous reticency.  And then,
why should I upset myself?  A woman is not necessarily either a doll or
an angel to me.  She is a human being, very much like myself.  And I
have come across too many dead souls lying so to speak at the foot of
high unscaleable places for a merely possible dead body at the bottom of
a quarry to strike my sincerity dumb."

The cliff-like face of the quarry looked forbiddingly impressive.  I
will admit that Fyne and I hung back for a moment before we made a
plunge off the road into the bushes growing in a broad space at the foot
of the towering limestone wall.  These bushes were heavy with dew.
There were also concealed mudholes in there.  We crept and tumbled and
felt about with our hands along the ground.  We got wet, scratched, and
plastered with mire all over our nether garments.  Fyne fell suddenly
into a strange cavity--probably a disused lime-kiln.  His voice uplifted
in grave distress sounded more than usually rich, solemn and profound.
This was the comic relief of an absurdly dramatic situation.  While
hauling him out I permitted myself to laugh aloud at last.  Fyne, of
course, didn't.

I need not tell you that we found nothing after a most conscientious
search.  Fyne even pushed his way into a decaying shed half-buried in
dew-soaked vegetation.  He struck matches, several of them too, as if to
make absolutely sure that the vanished girl-friend of his wife was not
hiding there.  The short flares illuminated his grave, immovable
countenance while I let myself go completely and laughed in peals.

I asked him if he really and truly supposed that any sane girl would go
and hide in that shed; and if so why?

Disdainful of my mirth he merely muttered his basso-profundo
thankfulness that we had not found her anywhere about there.  Having
grown extremely sensitive (an effect of irritation) to the tonalities, I
may say, of this affair, I felt that it was only an imperfect, reserved,
thankfulness, with one eye still on the possibilities of the several
ponds in the neighbourhood.  And I remember I snorted, I positively
snorted, at that poor Fyne.

What really jarred upon me was the rate of his walking.  Differences in
politics, in ethics and even in aesthetics need not arouse angry
antagonism.  One's opinion may change; one's tastes may alter--in fact
they do.  One's very conception of virtue is at the mercy of some
felicitous temptation which may be sprung on one any day.  All these
things are perpetually on the swing.  But a temperamental difference,
temperament being immutable, is the parent of hate.  That's why
religious quarrels are the fiercest of all.  My temperament, in matters
pertaining to solid land, is the temperament of leisurely movement, of
deliberate gait.  And there was that little Fyne pounding along the road
in a most offensive manner; a man wedded to thick-soled, laced boots;
whereas my temperament demands thin shoes of the lightest kind.  Of
course there could never have been question of friendship between us;
but under the provocation of having to keep up with his pace I began to
dislike him actively.  I begged sarcastically to know whether he could
tell me if we were engaged in a farce or in a tragedy.  I wanted to
regulate my feelings which, I told him, were in an unbecoming state of
confusion.

But Fyne was as impervious to sarcasm as a turtle.  He tramped on, and
all he did was to ejaculate twice out of his deep chest, vaguely,
doubtfully.

"I am afraid.--I am afraid..."

This was tragic.  The thump of his boots was the only sound in a shadowy
world.  I kept by his side with a comparatively ghostly, silent tread.
By a strange illusion the road appeared to run up against a lot of low
stars at no very great distance, but as we advanced new stretches of
whitey-brown ribbon seemed to come up from under the black ground.  I
observed, as we went by, the lamp in my parlour in the farmhouse still
burning.  But I did not leave Fyne to run in and put it out.  The
impetus of his pedestrian excellence carried me past in his wake before
I could make up my mind.

"Tell me, Fyne," I cried, "you don't think the girl was mad--do you?"

He answered nothing.  Soon the lighted beacon-like window of the cottage
came into view.  Then Fyne uttered a solemn: "Certainly not," with
profound assurance.  But immediately after he added a "Very highly
strung young person indeed," which unsettled me again.  Was it a
tragedy?

"Nobody ever got up at six o'clock in the morning to commit suicide," I
declared crustily.  "It's unheard of!  This is a farce."

As a matter of fact it was neither farce nor tragedy.

Coming up to the cottage we had a view of Mrs Fyne inside still sitting
in the strong light at the round table with folded arms.  It looked as
though she had not moved her very head by as much as an inch since we
went away.  She was amazing in a sort of unsubtle way; crudely amazing--
I thought.  Why crudely?  I don't know.  Perhaps because I saw her then
in a crude light.  I mean this materially--in the light of an unshaded
lamp.  Our mental conclusions depend so much on momentary physical
sensations--don't they?  If the lamp had been shaded I should perhaps
have gone home after expressing politely my concern at the Fynes'
unpleasant predicament.

Losing a girl-friend in that manner is unpleasant.  It is also
mysterious.  So mysterious that a certain mystery attaches to the people
to whom such a thing does happen.  Moreover I had never really
understood the Fynes; he with his solemnity which extended to the very
eating of bread and butter; she with that air of detachment and
resolution in breasting the commonplace current of their unexciting
life, in which the cutting of bread and butter appeared to me, by a long
way, the most dangerous episode.  Sometimes I amused myself by supposing
that to their minds this world of ours must be wearing a perfectly
overwhelming aspect, and that their heads contained respectively awfully
serious and extremely desperate thoughts--and trying to imagine what an
exciting time they must be having of it in the inscrutable depths of
their being.  This last was difficult to a volatile person (I am sure
that to the Fynes I was a volatile person) and the amusement in itself
was not very great; but still--in the country--away from all mental
stimulants! ...  My efforts had invested them with a sort of amusing
profundity.

But when Fyne and I got back into the room, then in the searching,
domestic, glare of the lamp, inimical to the play of fancy, I saw these
two stripped of every vesture it had amused me to put on them for fun.
Queer enough they were.  Is there a human being that isn't that--more or
less secretly?  But whatever their secret, it was manifest to me that it
was neither subtle nor profound.  They were a good, stupid, earnest
couple and very much bothered.  They were that--with the usual unshaded
crudity of average people.  There was nothing in them that the lamplight
might not touch without the slightest risk of indiscretion.

Directly we had entered the room Fyne announced the result by saying
"Nothing" in the same tone as at the gate on his return from the railway
station.  And as then Mrs Fyne uttered an incisive "It's what I've
said," which might have been the veriest echo of her words in the
garden.  We three looked at each other as if on the brink of a
disclosure.  I don't know whether she was vexed at my presence.  It
could hardly be called intrusion--could it?  Little Fyne began it.  It
had to go on.  We stood before her, plastered with the same mud (Fyne
was a sight!), scratched by the same brambles, conscious of the same
experience.  Yes.  Before her.  And she looked at us with folded arms,
with an extraordinary fulness of assumed responsibility.  I addressed
her.

"You don't believe in an accident, Mrs Fyne, do you?"

She shook her head in curt negation while, caked in mud and
inexpressibly serious-faced, Fyne seemed to be backing her up with all
the weight of his solemn presence.  Nothing more absurd could be
conceived.  It was delicious.  And I went on in deferential accents: "Am
I to understand then that you entertain the theory of suicide?"

I don't know that I am liable to fits of delirium but by a sudden and
alarming aberration while waiting for her answer I became mentally aware
of three trained dogs dancing on their hind legs.  I don't know why.
Perhaps because of the pervading solemnity.  There's nothing more solemn
on earth than a dance of trained dogs.

"She has chosen to disappear.  That's all."

In these words Mrs Fyne answered me.  The aggressive tone was too much
for my endurance.  In an instant I found myself out of the dance and
down on all-fours so to speak, with liberty to bark and bite.

"The devil she has," I cried.  "Has chosen to...  Like this, all at
once, anyhow, regardless...  I've had the privilege of meeting that
reckless and brusque young lady and I must say that with her air of an
angry victim..."

"Precisely," Mrs Fyne said very unexpectedly like a steel trap going
off.  I stared at her.  How provoking she was!  So I went on to finish
my tirade.  "She struck me at first sight as the most inconsiderate
wrongheaded girl that I ever..."

"Why should a girl be more considerate than anyone else?  More than any
man, for instance?" inquired Mrs Fyne with a still greater assertion of
responsibility in her bearing.

Of course I exclaimed at this, not very loudly it is true, but forcibly.
Were then the feelings of friends, relations and even of strangers to
be disregarded?  I asked Mrs Fyne if she did not think it was a sort of
duty to show elementary consideration not only for the natural feelings
but even for the prejudices of one's fellow-creatures.

Her answer knocked me over.

"Not for a woman."

Just like that.  I confess that I went down flat.  And while in that
collapsed state I learned the true nature of Mrs Fyne's feminist
doctrine.  It was not political, it was not social.  It was a
knock-me-down doctrine--a practical individualistic doctrine.  You would
not thank me for expounding it to you at large.  Indeed I think that she
herself did not enlighten me fully.  There must have been things not fit
for a man to hear.  But shortly, and as far as my bewilderment allowed
me to grasp its naive atrociousness, it was something like this: that no
consideration, no delicacy, no tenderness, no scruples should stand in
the way of a woman (who by the mere fact of her sex was the predestined
victim of conditions created by men's selfish passions, their vices and
their abominable tyranny) from taking the shortest cut towards securing
for herself the easiest possible existence.  She had even the right to
go out of existence without considering anyone's feelings or convenience
since some women's existences were made impossible by the shortsighted
baseness of men.

I looked at her, sitting before the lamp at one o'clock in the morning,
with her mature, smooth-cheeked face of masculine shape robbed of its
freshness by fatigue; at her eyes dimmed by this senseless vigil.  I
looked also at Fyne; the mud was drying on him; he was obviously tired.
The weariness of solemnity.  But he preserved an unflinching, endorsing,
gravity of expression.  Endorsing it all as became a good, convinced
husband.

"Oh!  I see," I said.  "No consideration.--Well I hope you like it."

They amused me beyond the wildest imaginings of which I was capable.
After the first shock, you understand, I recovered very quickly.  The
order of the world was safe enough.  He was a civil servant and she his
good and faithful wife.  But when it comes to dealing with human beings
anything, anything may be expected.  So even my astonishment did not
last very long.  How far she developed and illustrated that
conscienceless and austere doctrine to the girl-friends, who were mere
transient shadows to her husband, I could not tell.  Any length I
supposed.  And he looked on, acquiesced, approved, just for that very
reason--because these pretty girls were but shadows to him.  O!  Most
virtuous Fyne!  He cast his eyes down.  He didn't like it.  But I eyed
him with hidden animosity for he had got me to run after him under
somewhat false pretences.

Mrs Fyne had only smiled at me very expressively, very
self-confidently.  "Oh I quite understand that you accept the fullest
responsibility," I said.  "I am the only ridiculous person in this--
this--I don't know how to call it--performance.  However, I've nothing
more to do here, so I'll say good-night--or good morning, for it must be
past one."

"But before departing, in common decency, I offered to take any wires
they might write.  My lodgings were nearer the post-office than the
cottage and I would send them off the first thing in the morning.  I
supposed they would wish to communicate, if only as to the disposal of
the luggage, with the young lady's relatives..."

Fyne, he looked rather downcast by then, thanked me and declined.

"There is really no one," he said, very grave.

"No one," I exclaimed.

"Practically," said curt Mrs Fyne.

And my curiosity was aroused again.

"Ah!  I see.  An orphan."

Mrs Fyne looked away weary and sombre, and Fyne said "Yes," impulsively
and then qualified the affirmative by the quaint statement: "To a
certain extent."

I became conscious of a languid, exhausted embarrassment, bowed to Mrs
Fyne, and went out of the cottage to be confronted outside its door by
the bespangled, cruel revelation of the Immensity of the Universe.  The
night was not sufficiently advanced for the stars to have paled; and the
earth seemed to me more profoundly asleep--perhaps because I was alone
now.  Not having Fyne with me to set the pace I let myself drift, rather
than walk, in the direction of the farmhouse.  To drift is the only
reposeful sort of motion (ask any ship if it isn't) and therefore
consistent with thoughtfulness.  And I pondered: How is one an orphan
"to a certain extent"?

No amount of solemnity could make such a statement other than bizarre.
What a strange condition to be in.  Very likely one of the parents only
was dead?  But no; it couldn't be, since Fyne had said just before that
"there was really no one" to communicate with.  No one!  And then
remembering Mrs Fyne's snappy "Practically" my thoughts fastened upon
that lady as a more tangible object of speculation.

I wondered--and wondering I doubted--whether she really understood
herself the theory she had propounded to me.  Everything may be said--
indeed ought to be said--providing we know how to say it.  She probably
did not.  She was not intelligent enough for that.  She had no knowledge
of the world.  She had got hold of words as a child might get hold of
some poisonous pills and play with them for "dear, tiny little marbles."
No!  The domestic-slave daughter of Carleon Anthony and the little Fyne
of the Civil Service (that flower of civilisation) were not intelligent
people.  They were commonplace, earnest, without smiles and without
guile.  But he had his solemnities and she had her reveries, her lurid,
violent, crude reveries.  And I thought with some sadness that all these
revolts and indignations, all these protests, revulsions of feeling,
pangs of suffering and of rage, expressed but the uneasiness of sensual
beings trying for their share in the joys of form, colour, sensations--
the only riches of our world of senses.  A poet may be a simple being
but he is bound to be various and full of wiles, ingenious and
irritable.  I reflected on the variety of ways the ingenuity of the late
bard of civilisation would be able to invent for the tormenting of his
dependants.  Poets not being generally foresighted in practical affairs,
no vision of consequences would restrain him.  Yes.  The Fynes were
excellent people, but Mrs Fyne wasn't the daughter of a domestic tyrant
for nothing.  There were no limits to her revolt.  But they were
excellent people.  It was clear that they must have been extremely good
to that girl whose position in the world seemed somewhat difficult, with
her face of a victim, her obvious lack of resignation and the bizarre
status of orphan "to a certain extent."

Such were my thoughts, but in truth I soon ceased to trouble about all
these people.  I found that my lamp had gone out leaving behind an awful
smell.  I fled from it up the stairs and went to bed in the dark.  My
slumbers--I suppose the one good in pedestrian exercise, confound it, is
that it helps our natural callousness--my slumbers were deep, dreamless
and refreshing.

My appetite at breakfast was not affected by my ignorance of the facts,
motives, events and conclusions.  I think that to understand everything
is not good for the intellect.  A well-stocked intelligence weakens the
impulse to action; an overstocked one leads gently to idiocy.  But Mrs
Fyne's individualist woman-doctrine, naively unscrupulous, flitted
through my mind.  The salad of unprincipled notions she put into these
girl-friends' heads!  Good innocent creature, worthy wife, excellent
mother (of the strict governess type), she was as guileless of
consequences as any determinist philosopher ever was.

"As to honour--you know--it's a very fine medieval inheritance which
women never got hold of.  It wasn't theirs.  Since it may be laid as a
general principle that women always get what they want we must suppose
they didn't want it.  In addition they are devoid of decency.  I mean
masculine decency.  Cautiousness too is foreign to them--the heavy
reasonable cautiousness which is our glory.  And if they had it they
would make of it a thing of passion, so that its own mother--I mean the
mother of cautiousness--wouldn't recognise it.  Prudence with them is a
matter of thrill like the rest of sublunary contrivances.  `Sensation at
any cost,' is their secret device.  All the virtues are not enough for
them; they want also all the crimes for their own.  And why?  Because in
such completeness there is power--the kind of thrill they love most..."

"Do you expect me to agree to all this?"  I interrupted.

"No, it isn't necessary," said Marlow, feeling the check to his
eloquence but with a great effort at amiability.  "You need not even
understand it.  I continue: with such disposition what prevents women--
to use the phrase an old boatswain of my acquaintance applied
descriptively to his captain--what prevents them from `coming on deck
and playing hell with the ship' generally, is that something in them
precise and mysterious, acting both as restraint and as inspiration;
their femininity in short which they think they can get rid of by trying
hard, but can't, and never will.  Therefore we may conclude that, for
all their enterprises, the world is and remains safe enough.  Feeling,
in my character of a lover of peace, soothed by that conclusion I
prepared myself to enjoy a fine day."

And it was a fine day; a delicious day, with the horror of the Infinite
veiled by the splendid tent of blue; a day innocently bright like a
child with a washed face, fresh like an innocent young girl, suave in
welcoming one's respects like--like a Roman prelate.  I love such days.
They are perfection for remaining indoors.  And I enjoyed it
temperamentally in a chair, my feet up on the sill of the open window, a
book in my hands and the murmured harmonies of wind and sun in my heart
making an accompaniment to the rhythms of my author.  Then looking up
from the page I saw outside a pair of grey eyes thatched by ragged
yellowy-white eyebrows gazing at me solemnly over the toes of my
slippers.  There was a grave, furrowed brow surmounting that portentous
gaze, a brown tweed cap set far back on the perspiring head.

"Come inside," I cried as heartily as my sinking heart would permit.

After a short but severe scuffle with his dog at the outer door, Fyne
entered.  I treated him without ceremony and only waved my hand towards
a chair.  Even before he sat down he gasped out:

"We've heard--midday post."

Gasped out!  The grave, immovable Fyne of the Civil Service, gasped!
This was enough, you'll admit, to cause me to put my feet to the ground
swiftly.  That fellow was always making me do things in subtle discord
with my meditative temperament.  No wonder that I had but a qualified
liking for him.  I said with just a suspicion of jeering tone:

"Of course.  I told you last night on the road that it was a farce we
were engaged in."

He made the little parlour resound to its foundations with a note of
anger positively sepulchral in its depth of tone.  "Farce be hanged!
She has bolted with my wife's brother, Captain Anthony."  This outburst
was followed by complete subsidence.  He faltered miserably as he added
from force of habit: "The son of the poet, you know."

A silence fell.  Fyne's several expressions were so many examples of
varied consistency.  This was the discomfiture of solemnity.  My
interest of course was revived.

"But hold on," I said.  "They didn't go together.  Is it a suspicion or
does she actually say that..."

"She has gone after him," stated Fyne in comminatory tones.  "By
previous arrangement.  She confesses that much."

He added that it was very shocking.  I asked him whether he should have
preferred them going off together; and on what ground he based that
preference.  This was sheer fun for me in regard of the fact that Fyne's
too was a runaway match, which even got into the papers in its time,
because the late indignant poet had no discretion and sought to avenge
this outrage publicly in some absurd way before a bewigged judge.  The
dejected gesture of little Fyne's hand disarmed my mocking mood.  But I
could not help expressing my surprise that Mrs Fyne had not detected at
once what was brewing.  Women were supposed to have an unerring eye.

He told me that his wife had been very much engaged in a certain work.
I had always wondered how she occupied her time.  It was in writing.
Like her husband she too published a little book.  Much later on I came
upon it.  It had nothing to do with pedestrianism.  It was a sort of
hand-book for women with grievances (and all women had them), a sort of
compendious theory and practice of feminine free morality.  It made you
laugh at its transparent simplicity.  But that authorship was revealed
to me much later.  I didn't of course ask Fyne what work his wife was
engaged on; but I marvelled to myself at her complete ignorance of the
world, of her own sex and of the other kind of sinners.  Yet, where
could she have got any experience?  Her father had kept her strictly
cloistered.  Marriage with Fyne was certainly a change but only to
another kind of claustration.  You may tell me that the ordinary powers
of observation ought to have been enough.  Why, yes!  But, then, as she
had set up for a guide and teacher, there was nothing surprising for me
in the discovery that she was blind.  That's quite in order.  She was a
profoundly innocent person; only it would not have been proper to tell
her husband so.



PART ONE, CHAPTER 3.

THRIFT--AND THE CHILD.

But there was nothing improper in my observing to Fyne that, last night,
Mrs Fyne seemed to have some idea where that enterprising young lady
had gone to.  Fyne shook his head.  No; his wife had been by no means so
certain as she had pretended to be.  She merely had her reasons to
think, to hope, that the girl might have taken a room somewhere in
London, had buried herself in town--in readiness or perhaps in horror of
the approaching day--

He ceased and sat solemnly dejected, in a brown study.  "What day?"  I
asked at last; but he did not hear me apparently.  He diffused such
portentous gloom into the atmosphere that I lost patience with him.

"What on earth are you so dismal about?"  I cried, being genuinely
surprised and puzzled.  "One would think the girl was a state prisoner
under your care."

And suddenly I became still more surprised at myself, at the way I had
somehow taken for granted things which did appear queer when one thought
them out.

"But why this secrecy?  Why did they elope, if it is an elopement?  Was
the girl afraid of your wife?  And your brother-in-law?  What on earth
possesses him to make a clandestine match of it?  Was he afraid of your
wife too?"

Fyne made an effort to rouse himself.

"Of course my brother-in-law, Captain Anthony, the son of..."  He
checked himself as if trying to break a bad habit.  "He would be
persuaded by her.  We have been most friendly to the girl!"

"She struck me as a foolish and inconsiderate little person.  But why
should you and your wife take to heart so strongly mere folly--or even a
want of consideration?"

"It's the most unscrupulous action," declared Fyne weightily--and
sighed.

"I suppose she is poor," I observed after a short silence.  "But after
all..."

"You don't know who she is."  Fyne had regained his average solemnity.

I confessed that I had not caught her name when his wife had introduced
us to each other.  "It was something beginning with an S--wasn't it?"
And then with the utmost coolness Fyne remarked that it did not matter.
The name was not her name.

"Do you mean to say that you made a young lady known to me under a false
name?"  I asked, with the amused feeling that the days of wonders and
portents had not passed away yet.  That the eminently serious Fynes
should do such an exceptional thing was simply staggering.  With a more
hasty enunciation than usual little Fyne was sure that I would not
demand an apology for this irregularity if I knew what her real name
was.  A sort of warmth crept into his deep tone.

"We have tried to befriend that girl in every way.  She is the daughter
and only child of de Barral."

Evidently he expected to produce a sensation; he kept his eyes fixed
upon me prepared for some sign of it.  But I merely returned his
intense, awaiting gaze.  For a time we stared at each other.  Conscious
of being reprehensibly dense I groped in the darkness of my mind: De
Barral, De Barral--and all at once noise and light burst on me as if a
window of my memory had been suddenly flung open on a street in the
City.  De Barral!  But could it be the same?  Surely not!

"The financier?"  I suggested half incredulous.

"Yes," said Fyne; and in this instance his native solemnity of tone
seemed to be strangely appropriate.  "The convict."

Marlow looked at me, significantly, and remarked in an explanatory tone:

"One somehow never thought of de Barral as having any children, or any
other home than the offices of the `Orb'; or any other existence,
associations or interests than financial.  I see you remember the
crash..."

"I was away in the Indian Seas at the time," I said.  "But of course--"

"Of course," Marlow struck in.  "All the world...  You may wonder at my
slowness in recognising the name.  But you know that my memory is merely
a mausoleum of proper names.  There they lie inanimate, awaiting the
magic touch--and not very prompt in arising when called, either.  The
name is the first thing I forget of a man.  It is but just to add that
frequently it is also the last, and this accounts for my possession of a
good many anonymous memories.  In de Barral's case, he got put away in
my mausoleum in company with so many names of his own creation that
really he had to throw off a monstrous heap of grisly bones before he
stood before me at the call of the wizard Fyne.  The fellow had a pretty
fancy in names: the `Orb' Deposit Bank, the `Sceptre' Mutual Aid
Society, the `Thrift and Independence' Association.  Yes, a very pretty
taste in names; and nothing else besides--absolutely nothing--no other
merit.  Well yes.  He had another name, but that's pure luck--his own
name of de Barral which he did not invent.  I don't think that a mere
Jones or Brown could have fished out from the depths of the Incredible
such a colossal manifestation of human folly as that man did.  But it
may be that I am under-estimating the alacrity of human folly in rising
to the bait.  No doubt I am.  The greed of that absurd monster is
incalculable, unfathomable, inconceivable.  The career of de Barral
demonstrates that it will rise to a naked hook.  He didn't lure it with
a fairy-tale.  He hadn't enough imagination for it..."

"Was he a foreigner?"  I asked.  "It's clearly a French name.  I suppose
it _was_ his name?"

"Oh, he didn't invent it.  He was born to it, in Bethnal Green, as it
came out during the proceedings.  He was in the habit of alluding to his
Scotch connections.  But every great man has done that.  The mother, I
believe, was Scotch, right enough.  The father de Barral whatever his
origins retired from the Customs Service (tide-waiter I think), and
started lending money in a very, very small way in the East-End to
people connected with the docks, stevedores, minor barge-owners,
ship-chandlers, tally clerks, all sorts of very small fry.  He made his
living at it.  He was a very decent man I believe.  He had enough
influence to place his only son as junior clerk in the account
department of one of the Dock Companies.  `Now, my boy,' he said to him,
`I've given you a fine start.'  But de Barral didn't start.  He stuck.
He gave perfect satisfaction.  At the end of three years he got a small
rise of salary and went out courting in the evenings.  He went courting
the daughter of an old sea-captain who was a churchwarden of his parish
and lived in an old badly preserved Georgian house with a garden: one of
these houses standing in a reduced bit of `grounds' that you discover in
a labyrinth of the most sordid streets, exactly alike and composed of
six-roomed hutches."

Some of them were the vicarages of slum parishes.  The old sailor had
got hold of one cheap, and de Barral got hold of his daughter--which was
a good bargain for him.  The old sailor was very good to the young
couple and very fond of their little girl.  Mrs de Barral was an
equable, unassuming woman, at that time.  With a fund of simple gaiety,
and with no ambitions; but, woman-like, she longed for change and for
something interesting to happen now and then.  It was she who encouraged
de Barral to accept the offer of a post in the west-end branch of a
great bank.  It appears he shrank from such a great adventure for a long
time.  At last his wife's arguments prevailed.  Later on she used to
say: "It's the only time he ever listened to me; and I wonder now if it
hadn't been better for me to die before I ever made him go into that
bank."

You may be surprised at my knowledge of these details.  Well, I had them
ultimately from Mrs Fyne.  Mrs Fyne while yet Miss Anthony, in her
days of bondage, knew Mrs de Barral in her days of exile.  Mrs de
Barral was living then in a big stone mansion with mullioned windows in
a large damp park, called the Priory, adjoining the village where the
refined poet had built himself a house.

These were the days of de Barral's success.  He had bought the place
without ever seeing it and had packed off his wife and child at once
there to take possession.  He did not know what to do with them in
London.  He himself had a suite of rooms in an hotel.  He gave there
dinner parties followed by cards in the evening.  He had developed the
gambling passion--or else a mere card mania--but at any rate he played
heavily, for relaxation, with a lot of dubious hangers on.

Meantime Mrs de Barral, expecting him every day, lived at the Priory,
with a carriage and pair, a governess for the child and many servants.
The village people would see her through the railings wandering under
the trees with her little girl lost in her strange surroundings.  Nobody
ever came near her.  And there she died as some faithful and delicate
animals die--from neglect, absolutely from neglect, rather unexpectedly
and without any fuss.  The village was sorry for her because, though
obviously worried about something, she was good to the poor and was
always ready for a chat with any of the humble folks.  Of course they
knew that she wasn't a lady--not what you would call a real lady.  And
even her acquaintance with Miss Anthony was only a cottage door, a
village-street acquaintance.  Carleon Anthony was a tremendous
aristocrat (his father had been a "restoring" architect) and his
daughter was not allowed to associate with anyone but the county young
ladies.  Nevertheless in defiance of the poet's wrathful concern for
undefiled refinement there were some quiet, melancholy strolls to and
fro in the great avenue of chestnuts leading to the park-gate, during
which Mrs de Barral came to call Miss Anthony "my dear"--and even "my
poor dear."  The lonely soul had no one to talk to but that not very
happy girl.  The governess despised her.  The housekeeper was distant in
her manner.  Moreover Mrs de Barral was no foolish gossiping woman.
But she made some confidences to Miss Anthony.  Such wealth was a
terrific thing to have thrust upon one she affirmed.  Once she went so
far as to confess that she was dying with anxiety.  Mr de Barral (so
she referred to him) had been an excellent husband and an exemplary
father but "you see my dear I have had a great experience of him.  I am
sure he won't know what to do with all that money people are giving to
him to take care of for them.  He's as likely as not to do something
rash.  When he comes here I must have a good long serious talk with him,
like the talks we often used to have together in the good old times of
our life."  And then one day a cry of anguish was wrung from her: "My
dear, he will never come here, he will never, never come!"

She was wrong.  He came to the funeral, was extremely cut up, and
holding the child tightly by the hand wept bitterly at the side of the
grave.  Miss Anthony, at the cost of a whole week of sneers and abuse
from the poet, saw it all with her own eyes.  De Barral clung to the
child like a drowning man.  He managed, though, to catch the half-past
five fast train, travelling to town alone in a reserved compartment,
with all the blinds down...

"Leaving the child?"  I said interrogatively.

"Yes.  Leaving--He shirked the problem.  He was born that way.  He had
no idea what to do with her or for that matter with anything or anybody
including himself.  He bolted back to his suite of rooms in the hotel.
He was the most helpless ...  She might have been left in the Priory to
the end of time had not the high-toned governess threatened to send in
her resignation.  She didn't care for the child a bit, and the lonely,
gloomy Priory had got on her nerves.  She wasn't going to put up with
such a life and, having just come out of some ducal family, she bullied
de Barral in a very lofty fashion.  To pacify her he took a splendidly
furnished house in the most expensive part of Brighton for them, and now
and then ran down for a week-end, with a trunk full of exquisite sweets
and with his hat full of money.  The governess spent it for him in extra
ducal style.  She was nearly forty and harboured a secret taste for
patronising young men of sorts--of a certain sort.  But of that Mrs
Fyne of course had no personal knowledge then; she told me however that
even in the Priory days she had suspected her of being an artificial,
heartless, vulgar-minded woman with the lowest possible-ideals.  But de
Barral did not know it.  He literally did not know anything..."

"But tell me, Marlow," I interrupted, "how do you account for this
opinion?  He must have been a personality in a sense--in some one sense
surely.  You don't work the greatest material havoc of a decade at
least, in a commercial community, without having something in you."

Marlow shook his head.

"He was a mere sign, a portent.  There was nothing in him.  Just about
that time the word Thrift was to the fore.  You know the power of words.
We pass through periods dominated by this or that word--it may be
development, or it may be competition, or education, or purity or
efficiency or even sanctity.  It is the word of the time.  Well just
then it was the word Thrift which was out in the streets walking arm in
arm with righteousness, the inseparable companion and backer up of all
such national catch-words, looking everybody in the eye as it were.  The
very drabs of the pavement, poor things, didn't escape the
fascination...  However! ...  Well the greatest portion of the press
were screeching in all possible tones, like a confounded company of
parrots instructed by some devil with a taste for practical jokes, that
the financier de Barral was helping the great moral evolution of our
character towards the newly-discovered virtue of Thrift.  He was helping
it by all these great establishments of his, which made the moral merits
of Thrift manifest to the most callous hearts, simply by promising to
pay ten per cent, interest on all deposits.  And you didn't want
necessarily to belong to the well-to-do classes in order to participate
in the advantages of virtue.  If you had but a spare sixpence in the
world and went and gave it to de Barral it was Thrift!  It's quite
likely that he himself believed it.  He must have.  It's inconceivable
that he alone should stand out against the infatuation of the whole
world.  He hadn't enough intelligence for that.  But to look at him one
couldn't tell..."

"You did see him then?"  I said with some curiosity.

"I did.  Strange, isn't it?  It was only once, but as I sat with the
distressed Fyne who had suddenly resuscitated his name buried in my
memory with other dead labels of the past, I may say I saw him again, I
saw him with great vividness of recollection, as he appeared in the days
of his glory or splendour.  No!  Neither of these words will fit his
success.  There was never any glory or splendour about that figure.
Well, let us say in the days when he was, according to the majority of
the daily press, a financial force working for the improvement of the
character of the people.  I'll tell you how it came about."

At that time I used to know a podgy, wealthy, bald little man having
chambers in the Albany; a financier too, in his way, carrying out
transactions of an intimate nature and of no moral character; mostly
with young men of birth and expectations--though I dare say he didn't
withhold his ministrations from elderly plebeians either.  He was a true
democrat; he would have done business (a sharp kind of business) with
the devil himself.  Everything was fly that came into his web.  He
received the applicants in an alert, jovial fashion which was quite
surprising.  It gave relief without giving too much confidence, which
was just as well perhaps.  His business was transacted in an apartment
furnished like a drawing-room, the walls hung with several brown,
heavily-framed, oil paintings.  I don't know if they were good, but they
were big, and with their elaborate, tarnished gilt-frames had a
melancholy dignity.  The man himself sat at a shining, inlaid writing
table which looked like a rare piece from a museum of art; his chair had
a high, oval, carved back, upholstered in faded tapestry; and these
objects made of the costly black Havana cigar, which he rolled
incessantly from the middle to the left corner of his mouth and back
again, an inexpressibly cheap and nasty object.  I had to see him
several times in the interest of a poor devil so unlucky that he didn't
even have a more competent friend than myself to speak for him at a very
difficult time in his life.

I don't know at what hour my private financier began his day, but he
used to give one appointments at unheard of times: such as a quarter to
eight in the morning, for instance.  On arriving one found him busy at
that marvellous writing table, looking very fresh and alert, exhaling a
faint fragrance of scented soap and with the cigar already well alight.
You may believe that I entered on my mission with many unpleasant
forebodings; but there was in that fat, admirably washed, little man
such a profound contempt for mankind that it amounted to a species of
good nature; which, unlike the milk of genuine kindness, was never in
danger of turning sour.  Then, once, during a pause in business, while
we were waiting for the production of a document for which he had sent
(perhaps to the cellar?)  I happened to remark, glancing round the room,
that I had never seen so many fine things assembled together out of a
collection.  Whether this was unconscious diplomacy on my part, or not,
I shouldn't like to say--but the remark was true enough, and it pleased
him extremely.  "It _is_ a collection," he said emphatically.  "Only I
live right in it, which most collectors don't.  But I see that you know
what you are looking at.  Not many people who come here on business do.
Stable fittings are more in their way."

I don't know whether my appreciation helped to advance my friend's
business but at any rate it helped our intercourse.  He treated me with
a shade of familiarity as one of the initiated.

The last time I called on him to conclude the transaction we were
interrupted by a person, something like a cross between a bookmaker and
a private secretary, who, entering through a door which was not the
anteroom door, walked up and stooped to whisper into his ear.

"Eh?  What?  Who, did you say?"

The nondescript person stooped and whispered again, adding a little
louder: "Says he won't detain you a moment."

My little man glanced at me, said "Ah!  Well," irresolutely.  I got up
from my chair and offered to come again later.  He looked whimsically
alarmed.  "No, no.  It's bad enough to lose my money but I don't want to
waste any more of my time over your friend.  We must be done with this
to-day.  Just go and have a look at that _garniture de cheminee_ yonder.
There's another, something like it, in the castle of Laeken, but mine's
much superior in design."

I moved accordingly to the other side of that big room.  The _garniture_
was very fine.  But while pretending to examine it I watched my man
going forward to meet a tall visitor, who said, "I thought you would be
disengaged so early.  It's only a word or two"--and after a whispered
confabulation of no more than a minute, reconduct him to the door and
shake hands ceremoniously.  "Not at all, not at all.  Very pleased to be
of use.  You can depend absolutely on my information"--"Oh thank you,
thank you.  I just looked in."

"Certainly, quite right.  Any time...  Good morning."

I had a good look at the visitor while they were exchanging these
civilities.  He was clad in black.  I remember perfectly that he wore a
flat, broad, black satin tie in which was stuck a large cameo pin; and a
small turn down collar.  His hair, discoloured and silky, curled
slightly over his ears.  His cheeks were hairless and round, and
apparently soft.  He held himself very upright, walked with small steps
and spoke gently in an inward voice.  Perhaps from contrast with the
magnificent polish of the room and the neatness of its owner, he struck
me as dingy, indigent, and, if not exactly humble, then much subdued by
evil fortune.

I wondered greatly at my fat little financier's civility to that dubious
personage when he asked me, as we resumed our respective seats, whether
I knew who it was that had just gone out.  On my shaking my head
negatively he smiled queerly, said "De Barral," and enjoyed my surprise.
Then becoming grave: "That's a deep fellow, if you like.  We all know
where he started from and where he got to; but nobody knows what he
means to do."  He became thoughtful for a moment and added as if
speaking to himself, "I wonder what his game is."

And, you know, there was no game, no game of any sort, or shape or kind.
It came out plainly at the trial.  As I've told you before, he was a
clerk in a bank, like thousands of others.  He got that berth as a
second start in life and there he stuck again, giving perfect
satisfaction.  Then one day as though a supernatural voice had whispered
into his ear or some invisible fly had stung him, he put on his hat,
went out into the street and began advertising.  That's absolutely all
that there was to it.  He caught in the street the word of the time and
harnessed it to his preposterous chariot.

One remembers his first modest advertisements headed with the magic word
Thrift, Thrift, Thrift, thrice repeated; promising ten per cent, on all
deposits and giving the address of the Thrift and Independence Aid
Association in Vauxhall Bridge Road.  Apparently nothing more was
necessary.  He didn't even explain what he meant to do with the money he
asked the public to pour into his lap.  Of course he meant to lend it
out at high rates of interest.  He did so--but he did it without system,
plan, foresight or judgment.  And as he frittered away the sums that
flowed in, he advertised for more--and got it.  During a period of
general business prosperity he set up The Orb Bank and The Sceptre
Trust, simply, it seems for advertising purposes.  They were mere names.
He was totally unable to organise anything, to promote any sort of
enterprise if it were only for the purpose of juggling with the shares.
At that time he could have had for the asking any number of Dukes,
retired Generals, active M.P.'s, ex-ambassadors and so on as Directors
to sit at the wildest boards of his invention.  But he never tried.  He
had no real imagination.  All he could do was to publish more
advertisements and open more branch offices of the Thrift and
Independence, of The Orb, of The Sceptre, for the receipt of deposits;
first in this town, then in that town, north and south--everywhere where
he could find suitable premises at a moderate rent.  For this was the
great characteristic of the management.  Modesty, moderation,
simplicity.  Neither The Orb nor The Sceptre nor yet their parent the
Thrift and Independence had built for themselves the usual palaces.  For
this abstention they were praised in silly public prints as illustrating
in their management the principle of Thrift for which they were founded.
The fact is that de Barral simply didn't think of it.  Of course he had
soon moved from Vauxhall Bridge Road.  He knew enough for that.  What he
got hold of next was an old; enormous, rat-infested brick house in a
small street off the Strand.  Strangers were taken in front of the
meanest possible, begrimed, yellowy, flat brick wall, with two rows of
unadorned window-holes one above the other, and were exhorted with bated
breath to behold and admire the simplicity of the head-quarters of the
great financial force of the day.  The word thrift perched right up on
the roof in giant gilt letters, and two enormous shield-like
brass-plates curved round the corners on each side of the doorway were
the only shining spots in de Barral's business outfit.  Nobody knew what
operations were carried on inside except this--that if you walked in and
tendered your money over the counter it would be calmly taken from you
by somebody who would give you a printed receipt.  That and no more.  It
appears that such knowledge is irresistible.  People went in and
tendered; and once it was taken from their hands their money was more
irretrievably gone from them than if they had thrown it into the sea.
This then, and nothing else was being carried on in there...

"Come, Marlow," I said, "you exaggerate surely--if only by your way of
putting things.  It's too startling."

"I exaggerate!" he defended himself.  "My way of putting things!  My
dear fellow I have merely stripped the rags of business verbiage and
financial jargon off my statements.  And you are startled!  I am giving
you the naked truth.  It's true too that nothing lays itself open to the
charge of exaggeration more than the language of naked truth.  What
comes with a shock is admitted with difficulty.  But what will you say
to the end of his career?"

It was of course sensational and tolerably sudden.  It began with the
Orb Deposit Bank.  Under the name of that institution de Barral with the
frantic obstinacy of an unimaginative man had been financing an Indian
prince who was prosecuting a claim for immense sums of money against the
government.  It was an enormous number of scores of lakhs--a miserable
remnant of his ancestors' treasures--that sort of thing.  And it was all
authentic enough.  There was a real prince; and the claim too was
sufficiently real--only unfortunately it was not a valid claim.  So the
prince lost his case on the last appeal and the beginning of de Barral's
end became manifest to the public in the shape of a half-sheet of note
paper watered by the four corners on the closed door of The Orb offices
notifying that payment was stopped at that establishment.

Its consort The Sceptre collapsed within the week.  I won't say in
American parlance that suddenly the bottom fell out of the whole of de
Barral concerns.  There never had been any bottom to it.  It was like
the cask of Danaides into which the public had been pleased to pour its
deposits.  That they were gone was clear; and the bankruptcy proceedings
which followed were like a sinister farce, bursts of laughter in a
setting of mute anguish--that of the depositors; hundreds of thousands
of them.  The laughter was irresistible; the accompaniment of the
bankrupt's public examination.

I don't know if it was from utter lack of all imagination or from the
possession in undue proportion of a particular kind of it, or from
both--and the three alternatives are possible--but it was discovered
that this man who had been raised to such a height by the credulity of
the public was himself more gullible than any of his depositors.  He had
been the prey of all sorts of swindlers, adventurers, visionaries and
even lunatics.  Wrapping himself up in deep and imbecile secrecy he had
gone in for the most fantastic schemes: a harbour and docks on the coast
of Patagonia, quarries in Labrador--such like speculations.  Fisheries
to feed a canning Factory on the banks of the Amazon was one of them.  A
principality to be bought in Madagascar was another.  As the grotesque
details of these incredible transactions came out one by one ripples of
laughter ran over the closely packed court--each one a little louder
than the other.  The audience ended by fairly roaring under the
cumulative effect of absurdity.  The Registrar laughed, the barristers
laughed, the reporters laughed, the serried ranks of the miserable
depositors watching anxiously every word, laughed like one man.  They
laughed hysterically--the poor wretches--on the verge of tears.

There was only one person who remained unmoved.  It was de Barral
himself.  He preserved his serene, gentle, expression, I am told (for I
have not witnessed those scenes myself), and looked around at the people
with an air of placid sufficiency which was the first hint to the world
of the man's overweening, immeasurable conceit, hidden hitherto under a
diffident manner.  It could be seen too in his dogged assertion that if
he had been given enough time and a lot more money everything would have
come right.  And there were some people (yes, amongst his very victims)
who more than half believed him, even after the criminal prosecution
which soon followed.  When placed in the dock he lost his steadiness as
if some sustaining illusion had gone to pieces within him suddenly.  He
ceased to be himself in manner completely, and even in disposition, in
so far that his faded neutral eyes matching his discoloured hair so
well, were discovered then to be capable of expressing a sort of
underhand hate.  He was at first defiant, then insolent, then broke down
and burst into tears; but it might have been from rage.  Then he calmed
down, returned to his soft manner of speech and to that unassuming quiet
bearing which had been usual with him even in his greatest days.  But it
seemed as though in this moment of change he had at last perceived what
a power he had been; for he remarked to one of the prosecuting counsel
who had assumed a lofty moral tone in questioning him, that--yes, he had
gambled--he liked cards.  But that only a year ago a host of smart
people would have been only too pleased to take a hand at cards with
him.  Yes--he went on--some of the very people who were there
accommodated with seats on the bench; and turning upon the counsel, "You
yourself as well," he cried.  He could have had half the town at his
rooms to fawn upon him if he had cared for that sort of thing.  "Why,
now I think of it, it took me most of my time to keep people, just of
your sort, off me," he ended with a good humoured--quite unobtrusive,
contempt, as though the fact had dawned upon him for the first time.

This was the moment, the only moment, when he had perhaps all the
audience in Court with him, in a hush of dreary silence.  And then the
dreary proceedings were resumed.  For all the outside excitement it was
the most dreary of all celebrated trials.  The bankruptcy proceedings
had exhausted all the laughter there was in it.  Only the fact of
wide-spread ruin remained; and the resentment of a mass of people for
having been fooled by means too simple to save their self-respect from a
deep wound which the cleverness of a consummate scoundrel would not have
inflicted.  A shamefaced amazement attended these proceedings in which
de Barral was not being exposed alone.  For himself his only cry was:
Time!  Time!  Time would have set everything right.  In time some of
these speculations of his were certain to have succeeded.  He repeated
this defence, this excuse, this confession of faith, with wearisome
iteration.  Everything he had done or left undone had been to gain time.
He had hypnotised himself with the word.  Sometimes, I am told, his
appearance was ecstatic, his motionless pale eyes seemed to be gazing
down the vista of future ages.  Time--and of course, more money.  "Ah!
If only you had left me alone for a couple of years more," he cried once
in accents of passionate belief.  "The money was coming in all right."
The deposits you understand--the savings of Thrift.  Oh yes they had
been coming in to the very last moment.  And he regretted them.  He had
arrived to regard them as his own by a sort of mystical persuasion.  And
yet it was a perfectly true cry, when he turned once more on the counsel
who was beginning a question with the words "You have had all these
immense sums..." with the indignant retort "_What_ have I had out of
them?"

"It was perfectly true.  He had had nothing out of them--nothing of the
prestigious or the desirable things of the earth, craved for by
predatory natures.  He had gratified no tastes, had known no luxury; he
had built no gorgeous palaces, had formed no splendid galleries out of
these `immense sums.'  He had not even a home.  He had gone into these
rooms in an hotel and had stuck there for years, giving no doubt perfect
satisfaction to the management.  They had twice raised his rent to show
I suppose their high sense of his distinguished patronage.  He had
bought for himself out of all the wealth streaming through his fingers
neither adulation nor love, neither splendour nor comfort.  There was
something perfect in his consistent mediocrity.  His very vanity seemed
to miss the gratification of even the mere show of power.  In the days
when he was most fully in the public eye the invincible obscurity of his
origins clung to him like a shadowy garment.  He had handled millions
without ever enjoying anything of what is counted as precious in the
community of men, because he had neither the brutality of temperament
nor the fineness of mind to make him desire them with the will power of
a masterful adventurer..."

"You seem to have studied the man," I observed.

"Studied," repeated Marlow thoughtfully.  "No!  Not studied.  I had no
opportunities.  You know that I saw him only on that one occasion I told
you of.  But may be that a glimpse and no more is the proper way of
seeing an individuality; and de Barral was that, in virtue of his very
deficiencies for they made of him something quite unlike one's
preconceived ideas.  There were also very few materials accessible to a
man like me to form a judgment from.  But in such a case I verily
believe that a little is as good as a feast--perhaps better.  If one has
a taste for that kind of thing the merest starting-point becomes a coign
of vantage, and then by a series of logically deducted verisimilitudes
one arrives at truth--or very near the truth--as near as any
circumstantial evidence can do.  I have not studied de Barral but that
is how I understand him so far as he could be understood through the din
of the crash; the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the newspaper contents
bills, `The Thrift Frauds.  Cross-examination of the accused.  Extra
special'--blazing fiercely; the charitable appeals for the victims, the
grave tones of the dailies rumbling with compassion as if they were the
national bowels.  All this lasted a whole week of industrious sittings.
A pressman whom I knew told me, `He's an idiot.'  Which was possible.
Before that I overheard once somebody declaring that he had a criminal
type of face; which I knew was untrue.  The sentence was pronounced by
artificial light in a stifling poisonous atmosphere.  Something edifying
was said by the judge weightily, about the retribution overtaking the
perpetrator of `the most heartless frauds on an unprecedented scale.'  I
don't understand these things much, but it appears that he had juggled
with accounts, cooked balance sheets, had gathered in deposits months
after he ought to have known himself to be hopelessly insolvent, and
done enough of other things, highly reprehensible in the eyes of the
law, to earn for himself seven years' penal servitude.  The sentence
making its way outside met with a good reception.  A small mob composed
mainly of people who themselves did not look particularly clever and
scrupulous, leavened by a slight sprinkling of genuine pickpockets
amused itself by cheering in the most penetrating, abominable cold
drizzle that I remember.  I happened to be passing there on my way from
the East-End where I had spent my day about the Docks with an old chum
who was looking after the fitting out of a new ship.  I am always eager,
when allowed, to call on a new ship.  They interest me like charming
young persons."

I got mixed up in that crowd seething with an animosity as senseless as
things of the street always are, and it was while I was laboriously
making my way out of it that the pressman of whom I spoke was jostled
against me.  He did me the justice to be surprised.  "What?  You here!
The last person in the world--If I had known I could have got you
inside.  Plenty of room.  Interest been over for the last three days.
Got seven years.  Well, I am glad."

"Why are you glad?  Because he's got seven years?"  I asked, greatly
incommoded by the pressure of a hulking fellow who was remarking to some
of his equally oppressive friends that the "beggar ought to have been
pole-axed."  I don't know whether he had ever confided his savings to de
Barral but if so, judging from his appearance, they must have been the
proceeds of some successful burglary.  The pressman by my side said
`No,' to my question.  He was glad because it was all over.  He had
suffered greatly from the heat and the bad air of the court.  The
clammy, raw, chill of the streets seemed to affect his liver instantly.
He became contemptuous and irritable and plied his elbows viciously
making way for himself and me.

A dull affair this.  All such cases were dull.  No really dramatic
moments.  The book-keeping of The Orb and all the rest of them was
certainly a burlesque revelation but the public did not care for
revelations of that kind.  Dull dog that de Barral--he grumbled.  He
could not or would not take the trouble to characterise for me the
appearance of that man now officially a criminal (we had gone across the
road for a drink) but told me with a sourly, derisive snigger that,
after the sentence had been pronounced the fellow clung to the dock long
enough to make a sort of protest.  `You haven't given me time.  If I had
been given time I would have ended by being made a peer like some of
them.'  And he had permitted himself his very first and last gesture in
all these days, raising a hard-clenched fist above his head.

"The pressman disapproved of that manifestation.  It was not his
business to understand it.  Is it ever the business of any pressman to
understand anything?  I guess not.  It would lead him too far away from
the actualities which are the daily bread of the public mind.  He
probably thought the display worth very little from a picturesque point
of view; the weak voice, the colourless personality as incapable of an
attitude as a bed-post, the very fatuity of the clenched hand so
ineffectual at that time and place--no, it wasn't worth much.  And then,
for him, an accomplished craftsman in his trade, thinking was distinctly
`bad business.'  His business was to write a readable account.  But I
who had nothing to write, I permitted myself to use my mind as we sat
before our still untouched glasses.  And the disclosure which so often
rewards a moment of detachment from mere visual impressions gave me a
thrill very much approaching a shudder.  I seemed to understand that,
with the shock of the agonies and perplexities of his trial, the
imagination of that man, whose moods, notions and motives wore
frequently an air of grotesque mystery--that his imagination had been at
last roused into activity.  And this was awful.  Just try to enter into
the feelings of a man whose imagination wakes up at the very moment he
is about to enter the tomb..."

"You must not think," went on Marlow after a pause, "that on that
morning with Fyne I went consciously in my mind over all this, let us
call it information; no, better say, this fund of knowledge which I had,
or rather which existed, in me in regard to de Barral.  Information is
something one goes out to seek and puts away when found as you might do
a piece of lead: ponderous, useful, unvibrating, dull.  Whereas
knowledge comes to one, this sort of knowledge, a chance acquisition
preserving in its repose a fine resonant quality...  But as such
distinctions touch upon the transcendental I shall spare you the pain of
listening to them.  There are limits to my cruelty.  No!  I didn't
reckon up carefully in my mind all this I have been telling you.  How
could I have done so, with Fyne right there in the room?  He sat
perfectly still, statuesque in homely fashion, after having delivered
himself of his effective assent: `Yes.  The convict,' and I, far from
indulging in a reminiscent excursion into the past, remained
sufficiently in the present to muse in a vague, absent-minded way on the
respectable proportions and on the (upon the whole) comely shape of his
great pedestrian's calves, for he had thrown one leg over his knee,
carelessly, to conceal the trouble of his mind by an air of ease.  But
all the same the knowledge was in me, the awakened resonance of which I
spoke just now; I was aware of it on that beautiful day, so fresh, so
warm and friendly, so accomplished--an exquisite courtesy of the much
abused English climate when it makes up its meteorological mind to
behave like a perfect gentleman.  Of course the English climate is never
a rough.  It suffers from spleen somewhat frequently--but that is
gentlemanly too, and I don't mind going to meet him in that mood.  He
has his days of grey, veiled, polite melancholy, in which he is very
fascinating.  How seldom he lapses into a blustering manner, after all!
And then it is mostly in a season when, appropriately enough, one may go
out and kill something.  But his fine days are the best for stopping at
home, to read, to think, to muse--even to dream; in fact to live fully,
intensely and quietly, in the brightness of comprehension, in that
receptive glow of the mind, the gift of the clear, luminous and serene
weather."

That day I had intended to live intensely and quietly, basking in the
weather's glory which would have lent enchantment to the most
unpromising of intellectual prospects.  For a companion I had found a
book, not bemused with the cleverness of the day--a fine-weather book,
simple and sincere like the talk of an unselfish friend.  But looking at
little Fyne seated in the room I understood that nothing would come of
my contemplative aspirations; that in one way or another I should be let
in for some form of severe exercise.  Walking, it would be, I feared,
since, for me, that idea was inseparably associated with the visual
impression of Fyne.  Where, why, how, a rapid striding rush could be
brought in helpful relation to the good Fyne's present trouble and
perplexity I could not imagine; except on the principle that senseless
pedestrianism was Fyne's panacea for all the ills and evils bodily and
spiritual of the universe.  It could be of no use for me to say or do
anything.  It was bound to come.  Contemplating his muscular limb
encased in a golf-stocking, and under the strong impression of the
information he had just imparted I said wondering, rather irrationally:

"And so de Barral had a wife and child!  That girl's his daughter.  And
how..."

Fyne interrupted me by stating again earnestly, as though it were
something not easy to believe, that his wife and himself had tried to
befriend the girl in every way--indeed they had!  I did not doubt him
for a moment, of course, but my wonder at this was more rational.  At
that hour of the morning, you mustn't forget, I knew nothing as yet of
Mrs Fyne's contact (it was hardly more) with de Barral's wife and child
during their exile at the Priory, in the culminating days of that man's
fame.

Fyne who had come over, it was clear, solely to talk to me on that
subject, gave me the first hint of this initial, merely out of doors,
connection.  "The girl was quite a child then," he continued.  "Later on
she was removed out of Mrs Fyne's reach in charge of a governess--a
very unsatisfactory person," he explained.  His wife had then--h'm--met
him; and on her marriage she lost sight of the child completely.  But
after the birth of Polly (Polly was the third Fyne girl) she did not get
on very well, and went to Brighton for some months to recover her
strength--and there, one day in the street, the child (she wore her hair
down her back still) recognised her outside a shop and rushed, actually
rushed, into Mrs Fyne's arms.  Rather touching this.  And so,
disregarding the cold impertinence of that ... h'm ... governess, his
wife naturally responded.

He was solemnly fragmentary.  I broke in with the observation that it
must have been before the crash.

Fyne nodded with deepened gravity, stating in his bass tone.

"Just before," and indulged himself with a weighty period of solemn
silence.

De Barral, he resumed suddenly, was not coming to Brighton for weekends
regularly, then.  Must have been conscious already of the approaching
disaster.  Mrs Fyne avoided being drawn into making his acquaintance,
and this suited the views of the governess person, very jealous of any
outside influence.  But in any case it would not have been an easy
matter.  Extraordinary, stiff-backed, thin figure all fin black, the
observed of all, while walking hand-in-hand with the girl; apparently
shy, but--and here Fyne came very near showing something like insight--
probably nursing under a diffident manner a considerable amount of
secret arrogance.  Mrs Fyne pitied Flora de Barral's fate long before
the catastrophe.  Most unfortunate guidance.  Very unsatisfactory
surroundings.  The girl was known in the streets, was stared at in
public places as if she had been a sort of princess, but she was kept
with a very ominous consistency, from making any acquaintances--though
of course there were many people no doubt who would have been more than
willing to--h'm--make themselves agreeable to Miss de Barral.  But this
did not enter into the plans of the governess, an intriguing person
hatching a most sinister plot under her severe air of distant,
fashionable exclusiveness.  Good little Fyne's eyes bulged with solemn
horror as he revealed to me, in agitated speech, his wife's more than
suspicions, at the time, of that, Mrs--Mrs What's her name's
perfidious conduct.  She actually seemed to have--Mrs Fyne asserted--
formed a plot already to marry eventually her charge to an impecunious
relation of her own--a young man with furtive eyes and something
impudent in his manner, whom that woman called her nephew, and whom she
was always having down to stay with her.

"And perhaps not her nephew.  No relation at all"--Fyne emitted with a
convulsive effort this, the most awful part of the suspicions Mrs Fyne
used to impart to him piecemeal when he came down to spend his weekends
gravely with her and the children.  The Fynes, in their good-natured
concern for the unlucky child of the man busied in stirring casually so
many millions, spent the moments of their weekly reunion in wondering
earnestly what could be done to defeat the most wicked of conspiracies,
trying to invent some tactful line of conduct in such extraordinary
circumstances.  I could see them, simple, and scrupulous, worrying
honestly about that unprotected big girl while looking at their own
little girls playing on the sea-shore.  Fyne assured me that his wife's
rest was disturbed by the great problem of interference.

"It was very acute of Mrs Fyne to spot such a deep game," I said,
wondering to myself where her acuteness had gone to now, to let her be
taken unawares by a game so much simpler and played to the end under her
very nose.  But then, at that time, when her nightly rest was disturbed
by the dread of the fate preparing for de Barral's unprotected child,
she was not engaged in writing a compendious and ruthless hand-book on
the theory and practice of life, for the use of women with a grievance.
She could as yet, before the task of evolving the philosophy of
rebellious action had affected her intuitive sharpness, perceive things
which were, I suspect, moderately plain.  For I am inclined to believe
that the woman whom chance had put in command of Flora de Barral's
destiny took no very subtle pains to conceal her game.  She was
conscious of being a complete master of the situation, having once for
all established her ascendancy over de Barral.  She had taken all her
measures against outside observation of her conduct; and I could not
help smiling at the thought what a ghastly nuisance the serious,
innocent Fynes must have been to her.  How exasperated she must have
been by that couple falling into Brighton as completely unforeseen as a
bolt from the blue--if not so prompt.  How she must have hated them!

But I conclude she would have carried out whatever plan she might have
formed.  I can imagine de Barral accustomed for years to defer to her
wishes and, either through arrogance, or shyness, or simply because of
his unimaginative stupidity, remaining outside the social pale, knowing
no one but some card-playing cronies; I can picture him to myself
terrified at the prospect of having the care of a marriageable girl
thrust on his hands, forcing on him a complete change of habits and the
necessity of another kind of existence which he would not even have
known how to begin.  It is evident to me that Mrs What's her name would
have had her atrocious way with very little trouble even if the
excellent Fynes had been able to do something.  She would simply have
bullied de Barral in a lofty style.  There's nothing more subservient
than an arrogant man when his arrogance has once been broken in some
particular instance.

However there was no time and no necessity for any one to do anything.
The situation itself vanished in the financial crash as a building
vanishes in an earthquake--here one moment and gone the next with only
an ill-omened, slight, preliminary rumble.  Well, to say `in a moment'
is an exaggeration perhaps; but that everything was over in just
twenty-four hours is an exact statement.  Fyne was able to tell me all
about it; and the phrase that would depict the nature of the change best
is: an instant and complete destitution.  I don't understand these
matters very well, but from Fyne's narrative it seemed as if the
creditors or the depositors, or the competent authorities, had got hold
in the twinkling of an eye of everything de Barral possessed in the
world, down to his watch and chain, the money in his trousers' pocket,
his spare suits of clothes, and I suppose the cameo pin out of his black
satin cravat.  Everything!  I believe he gave up the very wedding ring
of his late wife.  The gloomy Priory with its damp park and a couple of
farms had been made over to Mrs de Barral; but when she died (without
making a will) it reverted to him, I imagine.  They got that of course;
but it was a mere crumb in a Sahara of starvation, a drop in the thirsty
ocean.  I dare say that not a single soul in the world got the comfort
of as much as a recovered threepenny bit out of the estate.  Then, less
than crumbs, less than drops, there were to be grabbed, the lease of the
big Brighton house, the furniture therein, the carriage and pair, the
girl's riding horse, her costly trinkets; down to the heavily
gold-mounted collar of her pedigree Saint Bernard.  The dog too went:
the most noble-looking item in the beggarly assets.

What however went first of all or rather vanished was nothing in the
nature of an asset.  It was that plotting governess with the trick of a
"perfect lady" manner (severely conventional) and the soul of a
remorseless brigand.  When a woman takes to any sort of unlawful
man-trade, there's nothing to beat her in the way of thoroughness.  It's
true that you will find people who'll tell you that this terrific
virulence in breaking through all established things, is altogether the
fault of men.  Such people will ask you with a clever air why the
servile wars were always the most fierce; desperate and atrocious of all
wars.  And you may make such answer as you can--even the eminently
feminine one, if you choose, so typical of the women's literal mind.  "I
don't see what this has to do with it!"  How many arguments have been
knocked over (I won't say knocked down) by these few words!  For if we
men try to put the spaciousness of all experiences into our reasoning
and would fain put the Infinite itself into our love, it isn't, as some
writer has remarked, "It isn't women's doing."  Oh no.  They don't care
for these things.  That sort of aspiration is not much in their way; and
it shall be a funny world, the world of their arranging, where the
Irrelevant would fantastically step in to take the place of the sober
humdrum Imaginative...

I raised my hand to stop my friend Marlow.

"Do you really believe what you have said?"  I asked, meaning no
offence, because with Marlow one never could be sure.

"Only on certain days of the year," said Marlow readily with a malicious
smile.  "To-day I have been simply trying to be spacious and I perceive
I've managed to hurt your susceptibilities which are consecrated to
women.  When you sit alone and silent you are defending in your mind the
poor women from attacks which cannot possibly touch them.  I wonder
_what_ can touch them?  But to soothe your uneasiness I will point out
again that an Irrelevant world would be very amusing, if the women take
care to make it as charming as they alone can, by preserving for us
certain well-known, well-established, I'll almost say hackneyed,
illusions, without which the average male creature cannot get on!  And
that condition is very important.  For there is nothing more provoking
than the Irrelevant when it has ceased to amuse and charm; and then the
danger would be of the subjugated masculinity in its exasperation,
making some brusque, unguarded movement and accidentally putting its
elbow through the fine tissue of the world of which I speak.  And that
would be fatal to it.  For nothing looks more irretrievably deplorable
than fine tissue which has been damaged.  The women themselves would be
the first to become disgusted with their own creation."

There was something of women's highly practical sanity and also of their
irrelevancy in the conduct of Miss de Barral's amazing governess.  It
appeared from Fyne's narrative that the day before the first rumble of
the cataclysm the questionable young man arrived unexpectedly in
Brighton to stay with his "Aunt."  To all outward appearance everything
was going on normally; the fellow went out riding with the girl in the
afternoon as he often used to do--a sight which never failed to fill
Mrs Fyne with indignation.  Fyne himself was down there with his family
for a whole week and was called to the window to behold the iniquity in
its progress and to share in his wife's feelings.  There was not even a
groom with them.  And Mrs Fyne's distress was so strong at this glimpse
of the unlucky girl all unconscious of her danger riding smilingly by,
that Fyne began to consider seriously whether it wasn't their plain duty
to interfere at all risks--simply by writing a letter to de Barral.  He
said to his wife with a solemnity I can easily imagine, "You ought to
undertake that task, my dear.  You have known his wife after all.
That's something at any rate."  On the other hand the fear of exposing
Mrs Fyne to some nasty rebuff worried him exceedingly.  Mrs Fyne on
her side gave way to despondency.  Success seemed impossible.  Here was
a woman for more than five years in charge of the girl and apparently
enjoying the complete confidence of the father.  What, that would be
effective, could one say, without proofs, without ...  This Mr de
Barral must be, Mrs Fyne pronounced, either a very stupid or a
downright bad man, to neglect his child so.  You will notice that
perhaps because of Fyne's solemn view of our transient life and Mrs
Fyne's natural capacity for responsibility, it had never occurred to
them that the simplest way out of the difficulty was to do nothing and
dismiss the matter as no concern of theirs.  Which in a strict worldly
sense it certainly was not.  But they spent, Fyne told me, a most
disturbed afternoon, considering the ways and means of dealing with the
danger hanging over the head of the girl out for a ride (and no doubt
enjoying herself) with an abominable scamp.



PART ONE, CHAPTER 4.

THE GOVERNESS.

And the best of it was that the danger was all over already.  There was
no danger any more.  The supposed nephew's appearance had a purpose.  He
had come, full, full to trembling--with the bigness of his news.  There
must have been rumours already as to the shaky position of the de
Barral's concerns; but only amongst those in the very inmost know.  No
rumour or echo of rumour had reached the profane in the West-End--let
alone in the guileless marine suburb of Hove.  The Fynes had no
suspicion; the governess, playing with cold, distinguished exclusiveness
the part of mother to the fabulously wealthy Miss de Barral, had no
suspicion; the masters of music, of drawing, of dancing to Miss de
Barral, had no idea; the minds of her medical man, of her dentist, of
the servants in the house, of the tradesmen proud of having the name of
de Barral on their books, were in a state of absolute serenity.  Thus,
that fellow, who had unexpectedly received a most alarming straight tip
from somebody in the City arrived in Brighton, at about lunch-time, with
something very much in the nature of a deadly bomb in his possession.
But he knew better than to throw it on the public pavement.  He ate his
lunch impenetrably, sitting opposite Flora de Barral, and then, on some
excuse, closeted himself with the woman whom little Fyne's charity
described (with a slight hesitation of speech however) as his "Aunt."

What they said to each other in private we can imagine.  She came out of
her own sitting-room with red spots on her cheek-bones, which having
provoked a question from her "beloved" charge, were accounted for by a
curt "I have a headache coming on."  But we may be certain that the talk
being over she must have said to that young blackguard: "You had better
take her out for a ride as usual."  We have proof positive of this in
Fyne and Mrs Fyne observing them mount at the door and pass under the
windows of their sitting-room, talking together, and the poor girl all
smiles; because she enjoyed in all innocence the company of Charley.
She made no secret of it whatever to Mrs Fyne; in fact, she had
confided to her, long before, that she liked him very much: a confidence
which had filled Mrs Fyne with desolation and that sense of powerless
anguish which is experienced in certain kinds of nightmare.  For how
could she warn the girl?  She did venture to tell her once that she
didn't like Mr Charley.  Miss de Barral heard her with astonishment.
How was it possible not to like Charley?  Afterwards with naive loyalty
she told Mrs Fyne that, immensely as she was fond of her she could not
hear a word against Charley--the wonderful Charley.

The daughter of de Barral probably enjoyed her jolly ride with the jolly
Charley (infinitely more jolly than going out with a stupid old
riding-master), very much indeed, because the Fynes saw them coming back
at a later hour than usual.  In fact it was getting nearly dark.  On
dismounting, helped off by the delightful Charley, she patted the neck
of her horse and went up the steps.  Her last ride.  She was then within
a few days of her sixteenth birthday, a slight figure in a riding habit,
rather shorter than the average height for her age, in a black bowler
hat from under which her fine rippling dark hair cut square at the ends
was hanging well down her back.  The delightful Charley mounted again to
take the two horses round to the mews.  Mrs Fyne remaining at the
window saw the house door close on Miss de Barral returning from her
last ride.

And meantime what had the governess (out of a nobleman's family) so
judiciously selected (a lady, and connected with well-known county
people as she said) to direct the studies, guard the health, form the
mind, polish the manners, and generally play the perfect mother to that
luckless child--what had she been doing?  Well, having got rid of her
charge by the most natural device possible, which proved her practical
sense, she started packing her belongings, an act which showed her clear
view of the situation.  She had worked methodically, rapidly, and well,
emptying the drawers, clearing the tables in her special apartment of
that big house, with something silently passionate in her thoroughness;
taking everything belonging to her and some things of less
unquestionable ownership, a jewelled penholder, an ivory and gold paper
knife (the house was full of common, costly objects), some chased silver
boxes presented by de Barral and other trifles; but the photograph of
Flora de Barral, with the loving inscription, which stood on her
writing-desk, of the most modern and expensive style, in a silver-gilt
frame, she neglected to take.  Having accidentally, in the course of the
operations, knocked it off on the floor she let it lie there after a
downward glance.  Thus it, or the frame at least, became, I suppose,
part of the assets in the de Barral bankruptcy.

At dinner that evening the child found her company dull and brusque.  It
was uncommonly slow.  She could get nothing from her governess but
monosyllables, and the jolly Charley actually snubbed the various cheery
openings of his "little chum"--as he used to call her at times,--but not
at that time.  No doubt the couple were nervous and preoccupied.  For
all this we have evidence, and for the fact that Flora being offended
with the delightful nephew of her profoundly respected governess sulked
through the rest of the evening and was glad to retire early.  Mrs--
Mrs--I've really forgotten her name--the governess, invited her nephew
to her sitting-room, mentioning aloud that it was to talk over some
family matters.  This was meant for Flora to hear, and she heard it--
without the slightest interest.  In fact there was nothing sufficiently
unusual in such an invitation to arouse in her mind even a passing
wonder.  She went bored to bed and being tired with her long ride slept
soundly all night.  Her last sleep, I won't say of innocence--that word
would not render my exact meaning, because it has a special meaning of
its own--but I will say: of that ignorance, or better still, of that
unconsciousness of the world's ways, the unconsciousness of danger, of
pain, of humiliation, of bitterness, of falsehood.  An unconsciousness
which in the case of other beings like herself is removed by a gradual
process of experience and information, often only partial at that, with
saving reserves, softening doubts, veiling theories.  Her
unconsciousness of the evil which lives in the secret thoughts and
therefore in the open acts of mankind, whenever it happens that evil
thought meets evil courage; her unconsciousness was to be broken into
with profane violence with desecrating circumstances, like a temple
violated by a mad, vengeful impiety.  Yes, that very young girl, almost
no more than a child--this was what was going to happen to her.  And if
you ask me, how, wherefore, for what reason?  I will answer you: Why, by
chance!  By the merest chance, as things do happen, lucky and unlucky,
terrible or tender, important or unimportant; and even things which are
neither, things so completely neutral in character that you would wonder
why they do happen at all if you didn't know that they, too, carry in
their insignificance the seeds of further incalculable chances.

Of course, all the chances were that de Barral should have fallen upon a
perfectly harmless, naive, usual, inefficient specimen of respectable
governess for his daughter; or on a commonplace silly adventuress who
would have tried, say, to marry him or work some other sort of common
mischief in a small way.  Or again he might have chanced on a model of
all the virtues, or the repository of all knowledge, or anything equally
harmless, conventional, and middle class.  All calculations were in his
favour; but, chance being incalculable, he fell upon an individuality
whom it is much easier to define by opprobrious names than to classify
in a calm and scientific spirit--but an individuality certainly, and a
temperament as well.  Rare?  No.  There is a certain amount of what I
would politely call unscrupulousness in all of us.  Think for instance
of the excellent Mrs Fyne, who herself, and in the bosom of her family,
resembled a governess of a conventional type.  Only, her mental excesses
were theoretical, hedged in by so much humane feeling and conventional
reserves, that they amounted to no more than mere libertinage of
thought; whereas the other woman, the governess of Flora de Barral, was,
as you may have noticed, severely practical--terribly practical.  No!
Hers was not a rare temperament, except in its fierce resentment of
repression; a feeling which like genius or lunacy is apt to drive people
into sudden irrelevancy.  Hers was feminine irrelevancy.  A male genius,
a male ruffian, or even a male lunatic, would not have behaved exactly
as she did behave.  There is a softness in masculine nature, even the
most brutal, which acts as a check.

While the girl slept those two, the woman of forty, an age in itself
terrible, and that hopeless young "wrong 'un" of twenty-three (also well
connected I believe) had some sort of subdued row in the cleared rooms:
wardrobes open, drawers half pulled out and empty, trunks locked and
strapped, furniture in idle disarray, and not so much as a single scrap
of paper left behind on the tables.  The maid, whom the governess and
the pupil shared between them, after finishing with Flora, came to the
door as usual, but was not admitted.  She heard the two voices in
dispute before she knocked, and then being sent away retreated at once--
the only person in the house convinced at that time that there was
"something up."

"Dark and, so to speak, inscrutable spaces being met with in life there
must be such places in any statement dealing with life.  In what I am
telling you of now--an episode of one of my humdrum holidays in the
green country, recalled quite naturally after all the years by our
meeting a man who has been a blue-water sailor--this evening
confabulation is a dark, inscrutable spot.  And we may conjecture what
we like.  I have no difficulty in imagining that the woman--of forty,
and the chief of the enterprise--must have raged at large.  And perhaps
the other did not rage enough.  Youth feels deeply it is true, but it
has not the same vivid sense of lost opportunities.  It believes in the
absolute reality of time.  And then, in that abominable scamp with his
youth already soiled, withered like a plucked flower ready to be flung
on some rotting heap of rubbish, no very genuine feeling about anything
could exist--not even about the hazards of his own unclean existence.  A
sneering half-laugh with some such remark as: `We are properly sold and
no mistake' would have been enough to make trouble in that way.  And
then another sneer, `Waste time enough over it too,' followed perhaps by
the bitter retort from the other party, `You seemed to like it well
enough though, playing the fool with that chit of a girl.'  Something of
that sort.  Don't you see it--eh..."

Marlow looked at me with his dark penetrating glance.  I was struck by
the absolute verisimilitude of this suggestion.  But we were always
tilting at each other.  I saw an opening and pushed my uncandid thrust.

"You have a ghastly imagination," I said with a cheerfully sceptical
smile.

"Well, and if I have," he returned unabashed.  "But let me remind you
that this situation came to me unasked.  I am like a puzzle-headed chief
mate we had once in the dear old _Samarcand_ when I was a youngster.
The fellow went gravely about trying to `account to himself'--his
favourite expression--for a lot of things no one would care to bother
one's head about.  He was an old idiot but he was also an accomplished
practical seaman.  I was quite a boy and he impressed me.  I must have
caught the disposition from him."

"Well--go on with your accounting then," I said, assuming an air of
resignation.

"That's just it."  Marlow fell into his stride at once.  "That's just
it.  Mere disappointed cupidity cannot account for the proceedings of
the next morning; proceedings which I shall not describe to you--but
which I shall tell you of presently, not as a matter of conjecture but
of actual fact.  Meantime returning to that evening altercation in
deadened tones within the private apartment of Miss de Barral's
governess, what if I were to tell you that disappointment had most
likely made them touchy with each other, but that perhaps the secret of
his careless, railing behaviour, was in the thought, springing up within
him with an emphatic oath of relief.  `Now there's nothing to prevent me
from breaking away from that old woman.'  And that the secret of her
envenomed rage, not against this miserable and attractive wretch, but
against fate, accident and the whole course of human life, concentrating
its venom on de Barral and including the innocent girl herself, was in
the thought, in the fear crying within her, `Now I have nothing to hold
him with...'"

I couldn't refuse Marlow the tribute of a prolonged whistle "Phew!  So
you suppose that..."

He waved his hand impatiently.

"I don't suppose.  It was so.  And anyhow why shouldn't you accept the
supposition.  Do you look upon governesses as creatures above suspicion
or necessarily of moral perfection?  I suppose their hearts would not
stand looking into much better than other people's.  Why shouldn't a
governess have passions, all the passions, even that of libertinage, and
even ungovernable passions; yet suppressed by the very same means which
keep the rest of us in order: early training--necessity--circumstances--
fear of consequences; till there comes an age, a time when the restraint
of years becomes intolerable--and infatuation irresistible..."

"But if infatuation--quite possible I admit," I argued, "how do you
account for the nature of the conspiracy."

"You expect a cogency of conduct not usual in women," said Marlow.  "The
subterfuges of a menaced passion are not to be fathomed.  You think it
is going on the way it looks, whereas it is capable, for its own ends,
of walking backwards into a precipice."

When one once acknowledges that she was not a common woman, then all
this is easily understood.  She was abominable but she was not common.
She had suffered in her life not from its constant inferiority but from
constant self-repression.  A common woman finding herself placed in a
commanding position might have formed the design to become the second
Mrs de Barral.  Which would have been impracticable.  De Barral would
not have known what to do with a wife.  But even if by some impossible
chance he had made advances, this governess would have repulsed him with
scorn.  She had treated him always as an inferior being with an assured,
distant politeness.  In her composed, schooled manner she despised and
disliked both father and daughter exceedingly.  I have a notion that she
had always disliked intensely all her charges including the two ducal
(if they were ducal) little girls with whom she had dazzled de Barral.
What an odious, ungratified existence it must have been for a woman as
avid of all the sensuous emotions which life can give as most of her
betters.

She had seen her youth vanish, her freshness disappear, her hopes die,
and now she felt her flaming middle-age slipping away from her.  No
wonder that with her admirably dressed, abundant hair, thickly sprinkled
with white threads and adding to her elegant aspect the piquant
distinction of a powdered coiffure--no wonder, I say, that she clung
desperately to her last infatuation for that graceless young scamp, even
to the extent of hatching for him that amazing plot.  He was not so far
gone in degradation as to make him utterly hopeless for such an attempt.
She hoped to keep him straight with that enormous bribe.  She was
clearly a woman uncommon enough to live without illusions--which, of
course, does not mean that she was reasonable.  She had said to herself,
perhaps with a fury of self-contempt.  "In a few years I shall be too
old for anybody.  Meantime I shall have him--and I shall hold him by
throwing to him the money of that ordinary, silly, little girl of no
account."  Well, it was a desperate expedient--but she thought it worth
while.  And besides there is hardly a woman in the world, no matter how
hard, depraved or frantic, in whom something of the maternal instinct
does not survive, unconsumed like a salamander, in the fires of the most
abandoned passion.  Yes there might have been that sentiment for him
too.  There _was_ no doubt.  So I say again: No wonder!  No wonder that
she raged at everything--and perhaps even at him, with contradictory
reproaches: for regretting the girl, a little fool who would never in
her life be worth anybody's attention, and for taking the disaster
itself with a cynical levity in which she perceived a flavour of revolt.

And so the altercation in the night went on, over the irremediable.  He
arguing, "What's the hurry?  Why clear out like this?" perhaps a little
sorry for the girl and as usual without a penny in his pocket,
appreciating the comfortable quarters, wishing to linger on as long as
possible in the shameless enjoyment of this already doomed luxury.
There was really no hurry for a few days.  Always time enough to vanish.
And, with that, a touch of masculine softness, a sort of regard for
appearances surviving his degradation: "You might behave decently at the
last, Eliza."  But there was no softness in the sallow face under the
gala effect of powdered hair, its formal calmness gone, the dark-ringed
eyes glaring at him with a sort of hunger.  "No!  No!  If it is as you
say then not a day, not an hour, not a moment."  She stuck to it, very
determined that there should be no more of that boy and girl
philandering since the object of it was gone; angry with herself for
having suffered from it so much in the past, furious at its having been
all in vain.

But she was reasonable enough not to quarrel with him finally.  What was
the good?  She found means to placate him.  The only means.  As long as
there was some money to be got she had hold of him.  "Now go away.  We
shall do no good by any more of this sort of talk.  I want to be alone
for a bit."  He went away, sulkily acquiescent.  There was a room always
kept ready for him on the same floor, at the further end of a short
thickly carpeted passage.

How she passed the night, this woman with no illusions to help her
through the hours which must have been sleepless I shouldn't like to
say.  It ended at last; and this strange victim of the de Barral
failure, whose name would never be known to the Official Receiver, came
down to breakfast, impenetrable in her everyday perfection.  From the
very first, somehow, she had accepted the fatal news for true.  All her
life she had never believed in her luck, with that pessimism of the
passionate who at bottom feel themselves to be the outcasts of a morally
restrained universe.  But this did not make it any easier, on opening
the morning paper feverishly, to see the thing confirmed.  Oh yes!  It
was there.  The Orb had suspended payment--the first growl of the storm
faint as yet, but to the initiated the forerunner of a deluge.  As an
item of news it was not indecently displayed.  It was not displayed at
all in a sense.  The serious paper, the only one of the great dailies
which had always maintained an attitude of reserve towards the de Barral
group of banks, had its "manner."  Yes! a modest item of news!  But
there was also, on another page, a special financial article in a
hostile tone beginning with the words "We have always feared" and a
guarded, half-column leader, opening with the phrase: "It is a
deplorable sign of the times" what was, in effect, an austere, general
rebuke to the absurd infatuations of the investing public.  She glanced
through these articles, a line here and a line there--no more was
necessary to catch beyond doubt the murmur of the oncoming flood.
Several slighting references by name to de Barral revived her animosity
against the man, suddenly, as by the effect of unforeseen moral support.
The miserable wretch!...

"You understand," Marlow interrupted the current of his narrative, "that
in order to be consecutive in my relation of this affair I am telling
you at once the details which I heard from Mrs Fyne later in the day,
as well as what little Fyne imparted to me with his usual solemnity
during that morning call.  As you may easily guess the Fynes, in their
apartments, had read the news at the same time, and, as a matter of
fact, in the same august and highly moral newspaper, as the governess in
the luxurious mansion a few doors down on the opposite side of the
street.  But they read them with different feelings.  They were
thunderstruck.  Fyne had to explain the full purport of the intelligence
to Mrs Fyne whose first cry was that of relief.  Then that poor child
would be safe from these designing, horrid people.  Mrs Fyne did not
know what it might mean to be suddenly reduced from riches to absolute
penury.  Fyne with his masculine imagination was less inclined to
rejoice extravagantly at the girl's escape from the moral dangers which
had been menacing her defenceless existence.  It was a confoundedly big
price to pay.  What an unfortunate little thing she was!  `We might be
able to do something to comfort that poor child at any rate for the time
she is here,' said Mrs Fyne.  She felt under a sort of moral obligation
not to be indifferent.  But no comfort for anyone could be got by
rushing out into the street at this early hour; and so, following the
advice of Fyne not to act nastily, they both sat down at the window and
stared feelingly at the great house, awful to their eyes in its stolid,
prosperous, expensive respectability with ruin absolutely standing at
the door."

By that time, or very soon after, all Brighton had the information and
formed a more or less just appreciation of its gravity.  The butler in
Miss de Barral's big house had seen the news, perhaps earlier than
anybody within a mile of the Parade, in the course of his morning duties
of which one was to dry the freshly delivered paper before the fire--an
occasion to glance at it which no intelligent man could have neglected.
He communicated to the rest of the household his vaguely forcible
impression that something had gone damnably wrong with the affairs of
"her father in London."

This brought an atmosphere of constraint through the house, which Flora
de Barral coming down somewhat later than usual could not help noticing
in her own way.  Everybody seemed to stare so stupidly somehow; she
feared a dull day.

In the dining-room the governess in her place, a newspaper
half-concealed under the cloth on her lap, after a few words exchanged
with lips that seemed hardly to move, remaining motionless, her eyes
fixed before her in an enduring silence; and presently Charley coming in
to whom she did not even give a glance.  He hardly said good morning,
though he had a half-hearted try to smile at the girl, and sitting
opposite her with his eyes on his plate and slight quivers passing along
the line of his clean-shaven jaw, he too had nothing to say.  It was
dull, horribly dull to begin one's day like this; but she knew what it
was.  These never-ending family affairs!  It was not for the first time
that she had suffered from their depressing after-effects on these two.
It was a shame that the delightful Charley should be made dull by these
stupid talks, and it was perfectly stupid of him to let himself be upset
like this by his aunt.

When after a period of still, as if calculating, immobility her
governess got up abruptly and went out with the paper in her hand,
almost immediately afterwards followed by Charley who left his breakfast
half eaten, the girl was positively relieved.  They would have it out
that morning whatever it was, and be themselves again in the afternoon.
At least Charley would be.  To the moods of her governess she did not
attach so much importance.

For the first time that morning the Fynes saw the front door of the
awful house open and the objectionable young man issue forth, his
rascality visible to their prejudiced eyes in his very bowler hat and in
the smart cut of his short fawn overcoat.  He walked away rapidly like a
man hurrying to catch a train, glancing from side to side as though he
were carrying something off.  Could he be departing for good?
Undoubtedly, undoubtedly!  But Mrs Fyne's fervent "thank goodness"
turned out to be a bit, as the Americans--some Americans--say
"previous."  In a very short time the odious fellow appeared again,
strolling, absolutely strolling back, his hat now tilted a little on one
side, with an air of leisure and satisfaction.  Mrs Fyne groaned not
only in the spirit, at this sight, but in the flesh, audibly; and asked
her husband what it might mean.  Fyne naturally couldn't say.  Mrs Fyne
believed that there was something horrid in progress and meantime the
object of her detestation had gone up the steps and had knocked at the
door which at once opened to admit him.

He had been only as far as the bank.

His reason for leaving his breakfast unfinished to run after Miss de
Barral's governess, was to speak to her in reference to that very errand
possessing the utmost possible importance in his eyes.  He shrugged his
shoulders at the nervousness of her eyes and hands, at the
half-strangled whisper "I had to go out.  I could hardly contain
myself."  That was her affair.  He was, with a young man's
squeamishness, rather sick of her ferocity.  He did not understand it.
Men do not accumulate hate against each other in tiny amounts,
treasuring every pinch carefully till it grows at last into a monstrous
and explosive hoard.  He had run out after her to remind her of the
balance at the bank.  What about lifting that money without wasting any
more time?  She had promised him to leave nothing behind.

An account opened in her name for the expenses of the establishment in
Brighton, had been fed by de Barral with deferential lavishness.  The
governess crossed the wide hall into a little room at the side where she
sat down to write the cheque, which he hastened out to go and cash as if
it were stolen or a forgery.  As observed by the Fynes, his uneasy
appearance on leaving the house arose from the fact that his first
trouble having been caused by a cheque of doubtful authenticity, the
possession of a document of the sort made him unreasonably uncomfortable
till this one was safely cashed.  And after all, you know it was
stealing of an indirect sort; for the money was de Barral's money if the
account was in the name of the accomplished lady.  At any rate the
cheque was cashed.  On getting hold of the notes and gold he recovered
his jaunty bearing, it being well-known that with certain natures the
presence of money (even stolen) in the pocket, acts as a tonic, or at
least as a stimulant.  He cocked his hat a little on one side as though
he had had a drink or two--which indeed he might have had in reality, to
celebrate the occasion.

The governess had been waiting for his return in the hall, disregarding
the side-glances of the butler as he went in and out of the dining-room
clearing away the breakfast things.  It was she, herself, who had opened
the door so promptly.  "It's all right," he said touching his
breast-pocket; and she did not dare, the miserable wretch without
illusions, she did not dare ask him to hand it over.  They looked at
each other in silence.  He nodded significantly: "Where is she now?" and
she whispered, "Gone into the drawing-room.  Want to see her again?"
with an archly black look which he acknowledged by a muttered, surly: "I
am damned if I do.  Well, as you want to bolt like this, why don't we go
now?"

She set her lips with cruel obstinacy and shook her head.  She had her
idea, her completed plan.  At that moment the Fynes, still at the window
and watching like a pair of private detectives, saw a man with a long
grey beard and a jovial face go up the steps helping himself with a
thick stick, and knock at the door.  Who could he be?

He was one of Miss de Barral's masters.  She had lately taken up
painting in water-colours, having read in a high-class woman's weekly
paper that a great many princesses of the European royal houses were
cultivating that art.  This was the water-colour morning; and the
teacher, a veteran of many exhibitions, of a venerable and jovial
aspect, had turned up with his usual punctuality.  He was no great
reader of morning papers, and even had he seen the news it is very
likely he would not have understood its real purport.  At any rate he
turned up, as the governess expected him to do, and the Fynes saw him
pass through the fateful door.

He bowed cordially to the lady in charge of Miss de Barral's education,
whom he saw in the hall engaged in conversation with a very good-looking
but somewhat raffish young gentleman.  She turned to him graciously:
"Flora is already waiting for you in the drawing-room."

The cultivation of the art said to be patronised by princesses was
pursued in the drawing-room from considerations of the right kind of
light.  The governess preceded the master up the stairs and into the
room where Miss de Barral was found arrayed in a holland pinafore (also
of the right kind for the pursuit of the art) and smilingly expectant.
The water-colour lesson enlivened by the jocular conversation of the
kindly, humorous, old man was always great fun; and she felt she would
be compensated for the tiresome beginning of the day.

Her governess generally was present at the lesson; but on this occasion
she only sat down till the master and pupil had gone to work in earnest,
and then as though she had suddenly remembered some order to give, rose
quietly and went out of the room.

Once outside, the servants summoned by the passing maid without a bell
being rung, and quick, quick, let all this luggage be taken down into
the hall, and let one of you call a cab.  She stood outside the
drawing-room door on the landing, looking at each piece, trunk, leather
cases, portmanteaus, being carried past her, her brows knitted and her
aspect so sombre and absorbed that it took some little time for the
butler to muster courage enough to speak to her.  But he reflected that
he was a free-born Briton and had his rights.  He spoke straight to the
point but in the usual respectful manner.

"Beg you pardon, ma'am--but are you going away for good?"

He was startled by her tone.  Its unexpected, unladylike harshness fell
on his trained ear with the disagreeable effect of a false note.  "Yes.
I am going away.  And the best thing for all of you is to go away too,
as soon as you like.  You can go now, to-day, this moment.  You had your
wages paid you only last week.  The longer you stay the greater your
loss.  But I have nothing to do with it now.  You are the servants of
Mr de Barral--you know."

The butler was astounded by the manner of this advice, and as his eyes
wandered to the drawing-room door the governess extended her arm as if
to bar the way.  "Nobody goes in there."  And that was said still in
another tone, such a tone that all trace of the trained respectfulness
vanished from the butler's bearing.  He stared at her with a frank
wondering gaze.  "Not till I am gone," she added, and there was such an
expression on her face that the man was daunted by the mystery of it.
He shrugged his shoulders slightly and without another word went down
the stairs on his way to the basement, brushing in the hall past Mr
Charles who hat on head and both hands rammed deep into his overcoat
pockets paced up and down as though on sentry duty there.

The ladies' maid was the only servant upstairs, hovering in the passage
on the first floor, curious and as if fascinated by the woman who stood
there guarding the door.  Being beckoned closer imperiously and asked by
the governess to bring out of the now empty rooms the hat and veil, the
only objects besides the furniture still to be found there, she did so
in silence but inwardly fluttered.  And while waiting uneasily, with the
veil, before that woman who, without moving a step away from the
drawing-room door was pinning with careless haste her hat on her head,
she heard within a sudden burst of laughter from Miss de Barral enjoying
the fun of the water-colour lesson given her for the last time by the
cheery old man.

Mr and Mrs Fyne ambushed at their window--a most incredible occupation
for people of their kind--saw with renewed anxiety a cab come to the
door, and watched some luggage being carried out and put on its roof.
The butler appeared for a moment, then went in again.  What did it mean?
Was Flora going to be taken to her father; or were these people, that
woman and her horrible nephew, about to carry her off somewhere?  Fyne
couldn't tell.  He doubted the last, Flora having now, he judged, no
value, either positive or speculative.  Though no great reader of
character he did not credit the governess with humane intentions.  He
confessed to me naively that he was excited as if watching some action
on the stage.  Then the thought struck him that the girl might have had
some money settled on her, be possessed of some means, of some little
fortune of her own and therefore--

He imparted this theory to his wife who shared fully his consternation.
"I can't believe the child will go away without running in to say
good-bye to us," she murmured.  "We must find out!  I shall ask her."
But at that very moment the cab rolled away, empty inside, and the door
of the house which had been standing slightly ajar till then was pushed
to.

They remained silent staring at it till Mrs Fyne whispered doubtfully
"I really think I must go over."  Fyne didn't answer for a while (his is
a reflective mind, you know), and then as if Mrs Fyne's whispers had an
occult power over that door it opened wide again and the white-bearded
man issued, astonishingly active in his movements, using his stick
almost like a leaping-pole to get down the steps; and hobbled away
briskly along the pavement.  Naturally the Fynes were too far off to
make out the expression of his face.  But it would not have helped them
very much to a guess at the conditions inside the house.  The expression
was humorously puzzled--nothing more.

For, at the end of his lesson, seizing his trusty stick and coming out
with his habitual vivacity, he very nearly cannoned just outside the
drawing-room door into the back of Miss de Barral's governess.  He
stopped himself in time and she turned round swiftly.  It was
embarrassing; he apologised; but her face was not startled; it was not
aware of him; it wore a singular expression of resolution.  A very
singular expression which, as it were, detained him for a moment.  In
order to cover his embarrassment, he made some inane remark on the
weather, upon which, instead of returning another inane remark according
to the tacit rules of the game, she only gave him a smile of
unfathomable meaning.  Nothing could have been more singular.  The
good-looking young gentleman of questionable appearance took not the
slightest notice of him in the hall.  No servant was to be seen.  He let
himself out pulling the door to behind him with a crash as, in a manner,
he was forced to do to get it shut at all.

When the echo of it had died away the woman on the landing leaned over
the banister and called out bitterly to the man below "Don't you want to
come up and say good-bye."  He had an impatient movement of the
shoulders and went on pacing to and fro as though he had not heard.  But
suddenly he checked himself, stood still for a moment, then with a
gloomy face and without taking his hands out of his pockets ran smartly
up the stairs.  Already facing the door she turned her head for a
whispered taunt: "Come!  Confess you were dying to see her stupid little
face once more,"--to which he disdained to answer.

Flora de Barral, still seated before the table at which she had been
working on her sketch, raised her head at the noise of the opening door.
The invading manner of their entrance gave her the sense of something
she had never seen before.  She knew them well.  She knew the woman
better than she knew her father.  There had been between them an
intimacy of relation as great as it can possibly be without the final
closeness of affection.  The delightful Charley walked in, with his eyes
fixed on the back of her governess whose raised veil hid her forehead
like a brown band above the black line of the eyebrows.  The girl was
astounded and alarmed by the altogether unknown expression in the
woman's face.  The stress of passion often discloses an aspect of the
personality completely ignored till then by its closest intimates.
There was something like an emanation of evil from her eyes and from the
face of the other, who, exactly behind her and overtopping her by half a
head, kept his eyelids lowered in a sinister fashion--which in the poor
girl, reached, stirred, set free that faculty of unreasoning explosive
terror lying locked up at the bottom of all human hearts and of the
hearts of animals as well.  With suddenly enlarged pupils and a movement
as instinctive almost as the bounding of a startled fawn, she jumped up
and found herself in the middle of the big room, exclaiming at those
amazing and familiar strangers.

"What do you want?"

You will note that she cried: What do you want?  Not: What has happened?
She told Mrs Fyne that she had received suddenly the feeling of being
personally attacked.  And that must have been very terrifying.  The
woman before her had been the wisdom, the authority, the protection of
life, security embodied and visible and undisputed.

You may imagine then the force of the shock in the intuitive perception
not merely of danger, for she did not know what was alarming her, but in
the sense of the security being gone.  And not only security.  I don't
know how to explain it clearly.  Look!  Even a small child lives, plays
and suffers in terms of its conception of its own existence.  Imagine,
if you can, a act coming in suddenly with a force capable of shattering
that very conception itself.  It was only because of the girl being
still so much of a child that she escaped mental destruction; that, in
other words she got over it.  Could one conceive of her more mature,
while still as ignorant as she was, one must conclude that she would
have become an idiot on the spot--long before the end of that
experience.  Luckily, people, whether mature or not mature (and who
really is ever mature?) are for the most part quite incapable of
understanding what is happening to them: a merciful provision of nature
to preserve an average amount of sanity for working purposes in this
world...

"But we, my dear Marlow, have the inestimable advantage of understanding
what is happening to others," I struck in.  "Or at least some of us seem
to.  Is that too a provision of nature?  And what is it for?  Is it that
we may amuse ourselves gossiping about each other's affairs?  You for
instance seem--"

"I don't know what I seem," Marlow silenced me, "and surely life must be
amused somehow.  It would be still a very respectable provision if it
were only for that end.  But from that same provision of understanding,
there springs in us compassion, charity, indignation, the sense of
solidarity; and in minds of any largeness an inclination to that
indulgence which is next door to affection.  I don't mean to say that I
am inclined to an indulgent view of the precious couple which broke in
upon an unsuspecting girl.  They came marching in (it's the very
expression she used later on to Mrs Fyne) but at her cry they stopped.
It must have been startling enough to them.  It was like having the mask
torn off when you don't expect it.  The man stopped, for good; he didn't
offer to move a step further.  But, though the governess had come in
there for the very purpose of taking the mask off for the first time in
her life, she seemed to look upon the frightened cry as a fresh
provocation.  `What are you screaming for, you little fool?' she said
advancing alone close to the girl who was affected exactly as if she had
seen Medusa's head with serpentine locks set mysteriously on the
shoulders of that familiar person, in that brown dress, under that hat
she knew so well.  It made her lose all her hold on reality.  She told
Mrs Fyne: `I didn't know where I was.  I didn't even know that I was
frightened.  If she had told me it was a joke I would have laughed.  If
she had told me to put on my hat and go out with her I would have gone
to put on my hat and gone out with her and never said a single word; I
should have been convinced I had been mad for a minute or so, and I
would have worried myself to death rather than breathe a hint of it to
her or anyone.  But the wretch put her face close to mine and I could
not move.  Directly I had looked into her eyes I felt grown on to the
carpet.'"

It was years afterwards that she used to talk like this to Mrs Fyne--
and to Mrs Fyne alone.  Nobody else ever heard the story from her lips.
But it was never forgotten.  It was always felt; it remained like a
mark on her soul, a sort of mystic wound, to be contemplated, to be
meditated over.  And she said further to Mrs Fyne, in the course of
many confidences provoked by that contemplation, that, as long as that
woman called her names, it was almost soothing, it was in a manner
reassuring.  Her imagination had, like her body, gone off in a wild
bound to meet the unknown; and then to hear after all something which
more in its tone than in its substance was mere venomous abuse, had
steadied the inward flutter of all her being.

"She called me a little fool more times than I can remember.  I!  A
fool!  Why, Mrs Fyne!  I do assure you I had never yet thought at all;
never of anything in the world, till then.  I just went on living.  And
one can't be a fool without one has at least tried to think.  But what
had I ever to think about?"

"And no doubt," commented Marlow, "her life had been a mere life of
sensations--the response to which can neither be foolish nor wise.  It
can only be temperamental; and I believe that she was of a generally
happy disposition, a child of the average kind.  Even when she was asked
violently whether she imagined that there was anything in her, apart
from her money, to induce any intelligent person to take any sort of
interest in her existence, she only caught her breath in one dry sob and
said nothing, made no other sound, made no movement.  When she was
viciously assured that she was in heart, mind, manner and appearance, an
utterly common and insipid creature, she remained still, without
indignation, without anger.  She stood, a frail and passive vessel into
which the other went on pouring all the accumulated dislike for all her
pupils, her scorn of all her employers (the ducal one included), the
accumulated resentment, the infinite hatred of all these unrelieved
years of--I won't say hypocrisy.  The practice of perfect hypocrisy is a
relief in itself, a secret triumph of the vilest sort, no doubt, but
still a way of getting even with the common morality from which some of
us appear to suffer so much.  No!  I will say the years, the passionate,
bitter years, of restraint, the iron, admirably mannered restraint at
every moment, in a never-failing perfect correctness of speech, glances,
movements, smiles, gestures, establishing for her a high reputation, an
impressive record of success in her sphere.  It had been like living
half-strangled for years."

And all this torture for nothing, in the end!  What looked at last like
a possible prize (oh, without illusions! but still a prize) broken in
her hands, fallen in the dust, the bitter dust, of disappointment, she
revelled in the miserable revenge--pretty safe too--only regretting the
unworthiness of the girlish figure which stood for so much she had
longed to be able to spit venom at, if only once, in perfect liberty.
The presence of the young man at her back increased both her
satisfaction and her rage.  But the very violence of the attack seemed
to defeat its end by rendering the representative victim as it were
insensible.  The cause of this outrage naturally escaping the girl's
imagination her attitude was in effect that of dense, hopeless
stupidity.  And it is a fact that the worst shocks of life are often
received without outcries, without gestures, without a flow of tears and
the convulsions of sobbing.  The insatiable governess missed these signs
exceedingly.  This pitiful stolidity was only a fresh provocation.  Yet
the poor girl was deadly pale.

"I was cold," she used to explain to Mrs Fyne.  "I had had time to get
terrified.  She had pushed her face so near mine and her teeth looked as
though she wanted to bite me.  Her eyes seemed to have become quite dry,
hard and small in a lot of horrible wrinkles.  I was too afraid of her
to shudder, too afraid of her to put my fingers to my ears.  I didn't
know what I expected her to call me next, but when she told me I was no
better than a beggar--that there would be no more masters, no more
servants, no more horses for me--I said to myself: Is that all?  I
should have laughed if I hadn't been too afraid of her to make the least
little sound."

It seemed that poor Flora had to know all the possible phases of that
sort of anguish, beginning with instinctive panic, through the
bewildered stage, the frozen stage and the stage of blanched
apprehension, down to the instinctive prudence of extreme terror--the
stillness of the mouse.  But when she heard herself called the child of
a cheat and a swindler, the very monstrous unexpectedness of this caused
in her a revulsion towards letting herself go.  She screamed out all at
once "You mustn't speak like this of Papa!"

The effort of it uprooted her from that spot where her little feet
seemed dug deep into the thick luxurious carpet, and she retreated
backwards to a distant part of the room, hearing herself repeat, "You
mustn't, you mustn't," as if it were somebody else screaming.  She came
to a chair and flung herself into it.  Thereupon the somebody else
ceased screaming and she lolled, exhausted, sightless, in a silent room,
as if indifferent to everything and without a single thought in her
head.

The next few seconds seemed to last for ever so long; a black abyss of
time separating what was past and gone from the reappearance of the
governess and the reawakening of fear.  And that woman was forcing the
words through her set teeth:

"You say I mustn't, I mustn't.  All the world will be speaking of him
like this to-morrow.  They will say it, and they'll print it.  You shall
hear it and you shall read it--and then you shall know whose daughter
you are."

Her face lighted up with an atrocious satisfaction.  "He's nothing but a
thief," she cried, "this father of yours.  As to you I have never been
deceived in you for a moment.  I have been growing more and more sick of
you for years.  You are a vulgar, silly nonentity, and you shall go back
to where you belong, whatever low place you have sprung from, and beg
your bread--that is if anybody's charity will have anything to do with
you, which I doubt--"

She would have gone on regardless of the enormous eyes, of the open
mouth of the girl who sat up suddenly with the wild staring expression
of being choked by invisible fingers on her throat, and yet horribly
pale.  The effect on her constitution was so profound, Mrs Fyne told
me, that she who as a child had a rather pretty delicate colouring,
showed a white bloodless face for a couple of years afterwards, and
remained always liable at the slightest emotion to an extraordinary
ghost-like whiteness.  The end came in the abomination of desolation of
the poor child's miserable cry for help: "Charley!  Charley!" coming
from her throat in hidden gasping efforts.  Her enlarged eyes had
discovered him where he stood motionless and dumb.

He started from his immobility, a hand withdrawn brusquely from the
pocket of his overcoat, strode up to the woman, seized her by the arm
from behind, saying in a rough commanding tone: "Come away, Eliza."  In
an instant the child saw them close together and remote, near the door,
gone through the door, which she neither heard nor saw being opened or
shut.  But it was shut.  Oh yes, it was shut.  Her slow unseeing glance
wandered all over the room.  For some time longer she remained leaning
forward, collecting her strength doubting if she would be able to stand.
She stood up at last.  Everything about her spun round in an oppressive
silence.  She remembered perfectly--as she told Mrs Fyne--that clinging
to the arm of the chair she called out twice "Papa!  Papa!"  At the
thought that he was far away in London everything about her became quite
still.  Then, frightened suddenly by the solitude of that empty room,
she rushed out of it blindly.

With that fatal diffidence in well doing, inherent in the present
condition of humanity, the Fynes continued to watch at their window.
"It's always so difficult to know what to do for the best," Fyne assured
me.  It is.  Good intentions stand in their own way so much.  Whereas if
you want to do harm to anyone you needn't hesitate.  You have only to go
on.  No one will reproach you with your mistakes or call you a
confounded, clumsy meddler.  The Fynes watched the door, the closed
street door inimical somehow to their benevolent thoughts, the face of
the house cruelly impenetrable.  It was just as on any other day.  The
unchanged daily aspect of inanimate things is so impressive that Fyne
went back into the room for a moment, picked up the paper again, and ran
his eyes over the item of news.  No doubt of it.  It looked very bad.
He came back to the window and Mrs Fyne.  Tired out as she was she sat
there resolute and ready for responsibility.  But she had no suggestion
to offer.  People do fear a rebuff wonderfully, and all her audacity was
in her thoughts.  She shrank from the incomparably insolent manner of
the governess.  Fyne stood by her side, as in those old-fashioned
photographs of married couples where you see a husband with his hand on
the back of his wife's chair.  And they were about as efficient as an
old photograph, and as still, till Mrs Fyne started slightly.  The
street door had swung open, and, bursting out, appeared the young man,
his hat (Mrs Fyne observed) tilted forward over his eyes.  After him
the governess slipped through, turning round at once to shut the door
behind her with care.  Meantime the man went down the white steps and
strode along the pavement, his hands rammed deep into the pockets of his
fawn overcoat.  The woman, that woman of composed movements, of
deliberate superior manner, took a little run to catch up with him, and
directly she had caught up with him tried to introduce her hand under
his arm.  Mrs Fyne saw the brusque half turn of the fellow's body as
one avoids an importunate contact, defeating her attempt rudely.  She
did not try again but kept pace with his stride, and Mrs Fyne watched
them, walking independently, turn the corner of the street side by side,
disappear for ever.

The Fynes looked at each other eloquently, doubtfully: What do you think
of this?  Then with common accord turned their eyes back to the street
door, closed, massive, dark; the great, clear-brass knocker shining in a
quiet slant of sunshine cut by a diagonal line of heavy shade filling
the further end of the street.  Could the girl be already gone?  Sent
away to her father?  Had she any relations?  Nobody but de Barral
himself ever came to see her, Mrs Fyne remembered; and she had the
instantaneous, profound, maternal perception of the child's loneliness--
and a girl too!  It was irresistible.  And, besides, the departure of
the governess was not without its encouraging influence.  "I am going
over at once to find out," she declared resolutely but still staring
across the street.  Her intention was arrested by the sight of that
awful, sombrely glistening door, swinging back suddenly on the yawning
darkness of the hall, out of which literally flew out, right out on the
pavement, almost without touching the white steps, a little figure
swathed in a holland pinafore up to the chin, its hair streaming back
from its head, darting past a lamp-post, past the red pillar-box...
"Here," cried Mrs Fyne; "she's coming here!  Run, John!  Run!"

Fyne bounded out of the room.  This is his own word.  Bounded!  He
assured me with intensified solemnity that he bounded; and the sight of
the short and muscular Fyne bounding gravely about the circumscribed
passages and staircases of a small, very high-class, private hotel,
would have been worth any amount of money to a man greedy of memorable
impressions.  But as I looked at him, the desire of laughter at my very
lips, I asked myself: how many men could be found ready to compromise
their cherished gravity for the sake of the unimportant child of a
ruined financier with an ugly, black cloud already wreathing his head.
I didn't laugh at little Fyne.  I encouraged him: "You did!--very
good...  Well?"

His main thought was to save the child from some unpleasant
interference.  There was a porter downstairs, page boys; some people
going away with their trunks in the passage; a railway omnibus at the
door, white-breasted waiters dodging about the entrance.

He was in time.  He was at the door before she reached it in her blind
course.  She did not recognise him; perhaps she did not see him.  He
caught her by the arm as she ran past and, very sensibly, without trying
to check her, simply darted in with her and up the stairs, causing no
end of consternation amongst the people in his way.  They scattered.
What might have been their thoughts at the spectacle of a shameless
middle-aged man abducting headlong into the upper regions of a
respectable hotel a terrified young girl obviously under age, I don't
know.  And Fyne (he told me so) did not care for what people might
think.  All he wanted was to reach his wife before the girl collapsed.
For a time she ran with him but at the last flight of stairs he had to
seize and half drag, half carry her to his wife.  Mrs Fyne waited at
the door with her quite unmoved physiognomy and her readiness to
confront any sort of responsibility, which already characterised her,
long before she became a ruthless theorist.  Relieved, his mission
accomplished, Fyne closed hastily the door of the sitting-room.

But before long both Fynes became frightened.  After a period of
immobility in the arms of Mrs Fyne, the girl, who had not said a word,
tore herself out from that slightly rigid embrace.  She struggled dumbly
between them, they did not know why, soundless and ghastly, till she
sank exhausted on a couch.  Luckily the children were out with the two
nurses.  The hotel housemaid helped Mrs Fyne to put Flora de Barral to
bed.  She was as if gone speechless and insane.  She lay on her back,
her face white like a piece of paper, her dark eyes staring at the
ceiling, her awful immobility broken by sudden shivering fits with a
loud chattering of teeth in the shadowy silence of the room, the blinds
pulled down, Mrs Fyne sitting by patiently, her arms folded, yet
inwardly moved by the riddle of that distress of which she could not
guess the word, and saying to herself: "That child is too emotional--
much too emotional to be ever really sound!"  As if anyone not made of
stone could be perfectly sound in this world.  And then how sound?  In
what sense--to resist what?  Force or corruption?  And even in the best
armour of steel there are joints a treacherous stroke can always find if
chance gives the opportunity.

General considerations never had the power to trouble Mrs Fyne much.
The girl not being in a state to be questioned she waited by the
bedside.  Fyne had crossed over to the house, his scruples overcome by
his anxiety to discover what really had happened.  He did not have to
lift the knocker; the door stood open on the inside gloom of the hall;
he walked into it and saw no one about, the servants having assembled
for a fatuous consultation in the basement.  Fyne's uplifted bass voice
startled them down there, the butler coming up, staring and in his shirt
sleeves, very suspicious at first, and then, on Fyne's explanation that
he was the husband of a lady who had called several times at the house--
Miss de Barral's mother's friend--becoming humanely concerned and
communicative, in a man to man tone, but preserving his trained
high-class servant's voice: "Oh bless you, sir, no!  She does not mean
to come back.  She told me so herself"--he assured Fyne with a faint
shade of contempt creeping into his tone.

As regards their young lady nobody downstairs had any idea that she had
run out of the house.  He dared say they all would have been willing to
do their very best for her, for the time being; but since she was now
with her mother's friends ...

He fidgeted.  He murmured that all this was very unexpected.  He wanted
to know what he had better do with letters or telegrams which might
arrive in the course of the day.

"Letters addressed to Miss de Barral, you had better bring over to my
hotel over there," said Fyne beginning to feel extremely worried about
the future.  The man said "Yes, sir," adding, "and if a letter comes
addressed to Mrs.."

Fyne stopped him by a gesture.  "I don't know...  Anything you like."

"Very well, sir."

The butler did not shut the street door after Fyne, but remained on the
doorstep for a while, looking up and down the street in the spirit of
independent expectation like a man who is again his own master.  Mrs
Fyne hearing her husband return came out of the room where the girl was
lying in bed.  "No change," she whispered; and Fyne could only make a
hopeless sign of ignorance as to what all this meant and how it would
end.

He feared future complications--naturally; a man of limited means, in a
public position, his time not his own.  Yes.  He owned to me in the
parlour of my farmhouse that he had been very much concerned then at the
possible consequences.  But as he was making this artless confession I
said to myself that, whatever consequences and complications he might
have imagined, the complication from which he was suffering now could
never, never have presented itself to his mind.  Slow but sure (for I
conceive that the Book of Destiny has been written up from the beginning
to the last page) it had been coming for something like six years--and
now it had come.  The complication was there!  I looked at his unshaken
solemnity with the amused pity we give the victim of a funny if somewhat
ill-natured practical joke.

"Oh hang it," he exclaimed--in no logical connection with what he had
been relating to me.  Nevertheless the exclamation was intelligible
enough.

However at first there were, he admitted, no untoward complications, no
embarrassing consequences.  To a telegram in guarded terms dispatched to
de Barral no answer was received for more than twenty-four hours.  This
certainly caused the Fynes some anxiety.  When the answer arrived late
on the evening of next day it was in the shape of an elderly man.  An
unexpected sort of man.  Fyne explained to me with precision that he
evidently belonged to what is most respectable in the lower middle
classes.  He was calm and slow in his speech.  He was wearing a
frock-coat, had grey whiskers meeting under his chin, and declared on
entering that Mr de Barral was his cousin.  He hastened to add that he
had not seen his cousin for many years, while he looked upon Fyne (who
received him alone) with so much distrust that Fyne felt hurt (the
person actually refusing at first the chair offered to him) and retorted
tartly that he, for his part, had _never_ seen Mr de Barral, in his
life, and that, since the visitor did not want to sit down, he, Fyne,
begged him to state his business as shortly as possible.  The man in
black sat down then with a faint superior smile.

He had come for the girl.  His cousin had asked him in a note delivered
by a messenger to go to Brighton at once and take "his girl" over from a
gentleman named Fyne and give her house-room for a time in his family.
And there he was.  His business had not allowed him to some sooner.  His
business was the manufacture on a large scale of cardboard boxes.  He
had two grown-up girls of his own.  He had consulted his wife and so
that was all right.  The girl would get a welcome in his home.  His home
most likely was not what she had been used to but, etcetera, etcetera.

All the time Fyne felt subtly in that man's manner a derisive
disapproval of everything that was not lower middle class, a profound
respect for money, a mean sort of contempt for speculators that fail,
and a conceited satisfaction with his own respectable vulgarity.

With Mrs Fyne the manner of the obscure cousin of de Barral was but
little less offensive.  He looked at her rather slyly but her cold,
decided demeanour impressed him.  Mrs Fyne on her side was simply
appalled by the personage, but did not show it outwardly.  Not even when
the man remarked with false simplicity that Florrie--her name was
Florrie wasn't it? would probably miss at first all her grand friends.
And when he was informed that the girl was in bed, not feeling well at
all he showed an unsympathetic alarm.  She wasn't an invalid was she?
No.  What was the matter with her then?

An extreme distaste for that respectable member of society was depicted
in Fyne's face even as he was telling me of him after all these years.
He was a specimen of precisely the class of which people like the Fynes
have the least experience; and I imagine he jarred on them painfully.
He possessed all the civic virtues in their very meanest form, and the
finishing touch was given by a low sort of consciousness he manifested
of possessing them.  His industry was exemplary.  He wished to catch the
earliest possible train next morning.  It seems that for seven and
twenty years he had never missed being seated on his office-stool at the
factory punctually at ten o'clock every day.  He listened to Mrs Fyne's
objections with undisguised impatience.  Why couldn't Florrie get up and
have her breakfast at eight like other people?  In his house the
breakfast was at eight sharp.  Mrs Fyne's polite stoicism overcame him
at last.  He had come down at a very great personal inconvenience, he
assured her with displeasure, but he gave up the early train.

The good Fynes didn't dare to look at each other before this unforeseen
but perfectly authorised guardian, the same thought springing up in
their minds: Poor girl!  Poor girl!  If the women of the family were
like this too! ...  And of course they would be.  Poor girl!  But what
could they have done even if they had been prepared to raise objections.
The person in the frock-coat had the father's, note; he had shown it to
Fyne.  Just a request to take care of the girl--as her nearest
relative--without any explanation or a single allusion to the financial
catastrophe, its tone strangely detached and in its very silence on the
point giving occasion to think that the writer was not uneasy as to the
child's future.  Probably it was that very idea which had set the cousin
so readily in motion.  Men had come before out of commercial crashes
with estates in the country and a comfortable income, if not for
themselves then for their wives.  And if a wife could be made
comfortable by a little dexterous management then why not a daughter?
Yes.  This possibility might have been discussed in the person's
household and judged worth acting upon.--

The man actually hinted broadly that such was his belief and in face of
Fyne's guarded replies gave him to understand that he was not the dupe
of such reticences.  Obviously he looked upon the Fynes as being
disappointed because the girl was taken away from them.  They, by a
diplomatic sacrifice in the interests of poor Flora, had asked the man
to dinner.  He accepted ungraciously, remarking that he was not used to
late hours.  He had generally a bit of supper about half-past eight or
nine.  However ...

He gazed contemptuously round the prettily decorated dining-room.  He
wrinkled his nose in a puzzled way at the dishes offered to him by the
waiter but refused none, devouring the food with a great appetite and
drinking ("swilling" Fyne called it) gallons of ginger beer, which was
procured for him (in stone bottles) at his request.  The difficulty of
keeping up a conversation with that being exhausted Mrs Fyne herself,
who had come to the table armed with adamantine resolution.  The only
memorable thing he said was when, in a pause of gorging himself "with
these French dishes" he deliberately let his eyes roam over the little
tables occupied by parties of diners, and remarked that his wife did for
a moment think of coming down with him, but that he was glad she didn't
do so.  "She wouldn't have been at all happy seeing all this alcohol
about.  Not at all happy," he declared weightily.

"You must have had a charming evening," I said to Fyne, "if I may judge
from the way you have kept the memory green."

"Delightful," he growled with, positively, a flash of anger at the
recollection, but lapsed back into his solemnity at once.  After we had
been silent for a while I asked whether the man took away the girl next
day.

Fyne said that he did; in the afternoon, in a fly, with a few clothes
the maid had got together and brought across from the big house.  He
only saw Flora again ten minutes before they left for the railway
station, in the Fynes' sitting-room at the hotel.  It was a most painful
ten minutes for the Fynes.  The respectable citizen addressed Miss de
Barral as "Florrie" and "my dear," remarking to her that she was not
very big "there's not much of you my dear," in a familiarly disparaging
tone.  Then turning to Mrs Fyne, and quite loud, "She's very white in
the face.  Why's that?"  To this Mrs Fyne made no reply.  She had put
the girl's hair up that morning with her own hands.  It changed her very
much, observed Fyne.  He, naturally, played a subordinate, merely
approving part.  All he could do for Miss de Barral personally was to go
downstairs and put her into the fly himself, while Miss de Barral's
nearest relation, having been shouldered out of the way, stood by, with
an umbrella and a little black bag, watching this proceeding with grim
amusement, as it seemed.  It was difficult to guess what the girl
thought or what she felt.  She no longer looked a child.  She whispered
to Fyne a faint "Thank you," from the fly, and he said to her in very
distinct tones and while still holding her hand: "Pray don't forget to
write fully to my wife in a day or two, Miss de Barral."  Then Fyne
stepped back and the cousin climbed into the fly muttering quite
audibly: "I don't think you'll be troubled much with her in the future;"
without however looking at Fyne on whom he did not even bestow a nod.
The fly drove away.



PART ONE, CHAPTER 5.

THE TEA-PARTY.

"Amiable personality," I observed seeing Fyne on the point of falling
into a brown study.  But I could not help adding with meaning: "He
hadn't the gift of prophecy though."

Fyne got up suddenly with a muttered "No, evidently not."  He was
gloomy, hesitating.  I supposed that he would not wish to play chess
that afternoon.  This would dispense me from leaving my rooms on a day
much too fine to be wasted in walking exercise.  And I was disappointed
when picking up his cap he intimated to me his hope of seeing me at the
cottage about four o'clock--as usual.

"It wouldn't be as usual."  I put a particular stress on that remark.
He admitted, after a short reflection, that it would not be.  No.  Not
as usual.  In fact it was his wife who hoped, rather, for my presence.
She had formed a very favourable opinion of my practical sagacity.

This was the first I ever heard of it.  I had never suspected that Mrs
Fyne had taken the trouble to distinguish in me the signs of sagacity or
folly.  The few words we had exchanged last night in the excitement--or
the bother--of the girl's disappearance, were the first moderately
significant words which had ever passed between us.  I had felt myself
always to be in Mrs Fyne's view her husband's chess-player and nothing
else--a convenience--almost an implement.

"I am highly flattered," I said.  "I have always heard that there are no
limits to feminine intuition; and now I am half inclined to believe it
is so.  But still I fail to see in what way my sagacity, practical or
otherwise, can be of any service to Mrs Fyne.  One man's sagacity is
very much like any other man's sagacity.  And with you at hand--"

Fyne, manifestly not attending to what I was saying, directed straight
at me his worried solemn eyes and struck in:

"Yes, yes.  Very likely.  But you will come--won't you?"

I had made up my mind that no Fyne of either sex would make me walk
three miles (there and back to their cottage) on this fine day.  If the
Fynes had been an average sociable couple one knows only because leisure
must be got through somehow, I would have made short work of that
special invitation.  But they were not that.  Their undeniable humanity
had to be acknowledged.  At the same time I wanted to have my own way.
So I proposed that I should be allowed the pleasure of offering them a
cup of tea at my rooms.

A short reflective pause--and Fyne accepted eagerly in his own and his
wife's name.  A moment after I heard the click of the gate-latch and
then in an ecstasy of barking from his demonstrative dog his serious
head went past my window on the other side of the hedge, its troubled
gaze fixed forward, and the mind inside obviously employed in earnest
speculation of an intricate nature.  One at least of his wife's
girl-friends had become more than a mere shadow for him.  I surmised
however that it was not of the girl-friend but of his wife that Fyne was
thinking.  He was an excellent husband.

I prepared myself for the afternoon's hospitalities, calling in the
farmer's wife and reviewing with her the resources of the house and the
village.  She was a helpful woman.  But the resources of my sagacity I
did not review.  Except in the gross material sense of the afternoon tea
I made _no_ preparations for Mrs Fyne.

It was impossible for me to make any such preparations.  I could not
tell what sort of sustenance she would look for from my sagacity.  And
as to taking stock of the wares of my mind no one I imagine is anxious
to do that sort of thing if it can be avoided.  A vaguely grandiose
state of mental self-confidence is much too agreeable to be disturbed
recklessly by such a delicate investigation.  Perhaps if I had had a
helpful woman at my elbow, a dear, flattering acute, devoted woman...
There are in life moments when one positively regrets not being married.
No!  I don't exaggerate.  I have said--moments, not years or even days.
Moments.  The farmer's wife obviously could not be asked to assist.
She could not have been expected to possess the necessary insight and I
doubt whether she would have known how to be nattering enough.  She was
being helpful in her own way, with an extraordinary black bonnet on her
head, a good mile off by that time, trying to discover in the village
shops a piece of eatable cake.  The pluck of women!  The optimism of the
dear creatures!

And she managed to find something which looked eatable.  That's all I
know as I had no opportunity to observe the more intimate effects of
that comestible.  I myself never eat cake, and Mrs Fyne, when she
arrived punctually, brought with her no appetite for cake.  She had no
appetite for anything.  But she had a thirst--the sign of deep, of
tormenting emotion.  Yes it was emotion, not the brilliant sunshine--
more brilliant than warm as is the way of our discreet self-repressed,
distinguished, insular sun, which would not turn a real lady scarlet--
not on any account.  Mrs Fyne looked even cool.  She wore a white skirt
and coat; a white hat with a large brim reposed on her smoothly arranged
hair.  The coat was cut something like an army mess-jacket and the style
suited her.  I dare say there are many youthful subalterns, and not the
worst-looking too, who resemble Mrs Fyne in the type of face, in the
sunburnt complexion, down to that something alert in bearing.  But not
many would have had that aspect breathing a readiness to assume any
responsibility under Heaven.  This is the sort of courage which ripens
late in life and of course Mrs Fyne was of mature years for all her
unwrinkled face.

She looked round the room, told me positively that I was very
comfortable there; to which I assented, humbly, acknowledging my
undeserved good fortune.

"Why undeserved?" she wanted to know.

"I engaged these rooms by letter without asking any questions.  It might
have been an abominable hole," I explained to her.  "I always do things
like that.  I don't like to be bothered.  This is no great proof of
sagacity--is it?  Sagacious people I believe like to exercise that
faculty.  I have heard that they can't even help showing it in the
veriest trifles.  It must be very delightful.  But I know nothing of it.
I think that I have no sagacity--no practical sagacity."

Fyne made an inarticulate bass murmur of protest.  I asked after the
children whom I had not seen yet since my return from town.  They had
been very well.  They were always well.  Both Fyne and Mrs Fyne spoke
of the rude health of their children as if it were a result of moral
excellence; in a peculiar tone which seemed to imply some contempt for
people whose children were liable to be unwell at times.  One almost
felt inclined to apologise for the inquiry.  And this annoyed me;
unreasonably, I admit, because the assumption of superior merit is not a
very exceptional weakness.  Anxious to make myself disagreeable by way
of retaliation I observed in accents of interested civility that the
dear girls must have been wondering at the sudden disappearance of their
mother's young friend.  Had they been putting any awkward questions
about Miss Smith.  Wasn't it as Miss Smith that Miss de Barral had been
introduced to me?

Mrs Fyne, staring fixedly but also colouring deeper under her tan, told
me that the children had never liked Flora very much.  She hadn't the
high spirits which endear grown-ups to healthy children, Mrs Fyne
explained unflinchingly.  Flora had been staying at the cottage several
times before.  Mrs Fyne assured me that she often found it very
difficult to have her in the house.

"But what else could we do?" she exclaimed.

That little cry of distress quite genuine in its inexpressiveness,
altered my feeling towards Mrs Fyne.  It would have been so easy to
have done nothing and to have thought no more about it.  My liking for
her began while she was trying to tell me of the night she spent by the
girl's bedside, the night before her departure with her unprepossessing
relative.  That Mrs Fyne found means to comfort the child I doubt very
much.  She had not the genius for the task of undoing that which the
hate of an infuriated woman had planned so well.

You will tell me perhaps that children's impressions are not durable.
That's true enough.  But here, child is only a manner of speaking.  The
girl was within a few days of her sixteenth birthday; she was old enough
to be matured by the shock.  The very effort she had to make in
conveying the impression to Mrs Fyne, in remembering the details, in
finding adequate words--or any words at all--was in itself a terribly
enlightening, an ageing process.  She had talked a long time,
uninterrupted by Mrs Fyne, childlike enough in her wonder and pain,
pausing now and then to interject the pitiful query: "It was cruel of
her.  Wasn't it cruel, Mrs Fyne?"

For Charley she found excuses.  He at any rate had not said anything,
while he had looked very gloomy and miserable.  He couldn't have taken
part against his aunt--could he?  But after all he did, when she called
upon him, take "that cruel woman away."  He had dragged her out by the
arm.  She had seen that plainly.  She remembered it.  That was it!  The
woman was mad.  "Oh!  Mrs Fyne, don't tell me she wasn't mad.  If you
had only seen her face..."

But Mrs Fyne was unflinching in her idea that as much truth as could be
told was due in the way of kindness to the girl, whose fate she feared
would be to live exposed to the hardest realities of unprivileged
existences.  She explained to her that there were in the world
evil-minded, selfish people.  Unscrupulous people...  These two persons
had been after her father's money.  The best thing she could do was to
forget all about them.

"After papa's money?  I don't understand," poor Flora de Barral had
murmured, and lay still as if trying to think it out in the silence and
shadows of the room where only a night-light was burning.  Then she had
a long shivering fit while holding tight the hand of Mrs Fyne whose
patient immobility by the bedside of that brutally murdered childhood
did infinite honour to her humanity.  That vigil must have been the more
trying because I could see very well that at no time did she think the
victim particularly charming or sympathetic.  It was a manifestation of
pure compassion, of compassion in itself, so to speak, not many women
would have been capable of displaying with that unflinching steadiness.
The shivering fit over, the girl's next words in an outburst of sobs
were, "Oh!  Mrs Fyne, am I really such a horrid thing as she has made
me out to be?"

"No, no!" protested Mrs Fyne.  "It is your former governess who is
horrid and odious.  She is a vile woman.  I cannot tell you that she was
mad but I think she must have been beside herself with rage and full of
evil thoughts.  You must try not to think of these abominations, my dear
child."

They were not fit for anyone to think of much, Mrs Fyne commented to me
in a curt positive tone.  All that had been very trying.  The girl was
like a creature struggling under a net.

"But how can I forget? she called my father a cheat and a swindler!  Do
tell me Mrs Fyne that it isn't true.  It can't be true.  How can it be
true?"

She sat up in bed with a sudden wild motion as if to jump out and flee
away from the sound of the words which had just passed her own lips.
Mrs Fyne restrained her, soothed her, induced her at last to lay her
head on her pillow again, assuring her all the time that nothing this
woman had had the cruelty to say deserved to be taken to heart.  The
girl, exhausted, cried quietly for a time.  It may be she had noticed
something evasive in Mrs Fyne's assurances.  After a while, without
stirring, she whispered brokenly:

"That awful woman told me that all the world would call papa these awful
names.  Is it possible?  Is it possible?"

Mrs Fyne kept silent.

"Do say something to me, Mrs Fyne," the daughter of de Barral insisted
in the same feeble whisper.

Again Mrs Fyne assured me that it had been very trying.  Terribly
trying.  "Yes, thanks, I will."  She leaned back in the chair with
folded arms while I poured another cup of tea for her, and Fyne went out
to pacify the dog which, tied up under the porch, had become suddenly
very indignant at somebody having the audacity to walk along the lane.
Mrs Fyne stirred her tea for a long time, drank a little, put the cup
down and said with that air of accepting all the consequences:

"Silence would have been unfair.  I don't think it would have been kind
either.  I told her that she must be prepared for the world passing a
very severe judgment on her father..."

"Wasn't it admirable," cried Marlow interrupting his narrative.
"Admirable!"  And as I looked dubiously at this unexpected enthusiasm he
started justifying it after his own manner.

"I say admirable because it was so characteristic.  It was perfect.
Nothing short of genius could have found better.  And this was nature!
As they say of an artist's work: this was a perfect Fyne.  Compassion--
judiciousness--something correctly measured.  None of your dishevelled
sentiment.  And right!  You must confess that nothing could have been
more right.  I had a mind to shout `Brava!  Brava!' but I did not do
that.  I took a piece of cake and went out to bribe the Fyne dog into
some sort of self-control.  His sharp comical yapping was unbearable,
like stabs through one's brain, and Fyne's deeply modulated
remonstrances abashed the vivacious animal no more than the deep,
patient murmur of the sea abashes a nigger minstrel on a popular beach.
Fyne was beginning to swear at him in low, sepulchral tones when I
appeared.  The dog became at once wildly demonstrative, half strangling
himself in his collar, his eyes and tongue hanging out in the excess of
his incomprehensible affection for me.  This was before he caught sight
of the cake in my hand.  A series of vertical springs high up in the air
followed, and then, when he got the cake, he instantly lost his interest
in everything else."

Fyne was slightly vexed with me.  As kind a master as any dog could wish
to have, he yet did not approve of cake being given to dogs.  The Fyne
dog was supposed to lead a Spartan existence on a diet of repulsive
biscuits with an occasional dry, hygienic, bone thrown in.  Fyne looked
down gloomily at the appeased animal, I too looked at that fool-dog; and
(you know how one's memory gets suddenly stimulated) I was reminded
visually, with an almost painful distinctness, of the ghostly white face
of the girl I saw last accompanied by that dog--deserted by that dog.  I
almost heard her distressed voice as if on the verge of resentful tears
calling to the dog, the unsympathetic dog.  Perhaps she had not the
power of evoking sympathy, that personal gift of direct appeal to the
feelings.  I said to Fyne, mistrusting the supine attitude of the dog:

"Why don't you let him come inside?"

Oh dear no!  He couldn't think of it!  I might indeed have saved my
breath, I knew it was one of the Fynes' rules of life, part of their
solemnity and responsibility, one of those things that were part of
their unassertive but ever present superiority, that their dog must not
be allowed in.  It was most improper to intrude the dog into the houses
of the people they were calling on--if it were only a careless bachelor
in farmhouse lodgings and a personal friend of the dog.  It was out of
the question.  But they would let him bark one's sanity away outside
one's window.  They were strangely consistent in their lack of
imaginative sympathy.  I didn't insist but simply led the way back to
the parlour, hoping that no wayfarer would happen along the lane for the
next hour or so to disturb the dog's composure.

Mrs Fyne seated immovable before the table charged with plates, cups,
jugs, a cold teapot, crumbs, and the general litter of the entertainment
turned her head towards us.

"You see, Mr Marlow," she said in an unexpectedly confidential tone:
"they are so utterly unsuited for each other."

At the moment I did not know how to apply this remark.  I thought at
first of Fyne and the dog.  Then I adjusted it to the matter in hand
which was neither more nor less than an elopement.  Yes, by Jove!  It
was something very much like an elopement--with certain unusual
characteristics of its own which made it in a sense equivocal.  With
amused wonder I remembered that my sagacity was requisitioned in such a
connection.  How unexpected!  But we never know what tests our gifts may
be put to.  Sagacity dictated caution first of all.  I believe caution
to be the first duty of sagacity.  Fyne sat down as if preparing himself
to witness a joust, I thought.

"Do you think so, Mrs Fyne?"  I said sagaciously.  "Of course you are
in a position..."  I was continuing with caution when she struck out
vivaciously for immediate assent.

"Obviously! dearly!  You yourself must admit..."

"But, Mrs Fyne," I remonstrated, "you forget that I don't know your
brother."

This argument which was not only sagacious but true, overwhelmingly
true, unanswerably true, seemed to surprise her.

I wondered why.  I did not know enough of her brother for the remotest
guess at what he might be like.  I had never set eyes on the man.  I
didn't know him so completely that by contrast I seemed to have known
Miss de Barral--whom I had seen twice (altogether about sixty minutes)
and with whom I had exchanged about sixty words--from the cradle so to
speak.  And perhaps, I thought, looking down at Mrs Fyne (I had
remained standing) perhaps she thinks that this ought to be enough for a
sagacious assent.

She kept silent; and I looking at her with polite expectation, went on
addressing her mentally in a mood of familiar approval which would have
astonished her had it been audible: "You my dear at any rate are a
sincere woman..."

"I call a woman sincere," Marlow began again after giving me a cigar and
lighting one himself, "I call a woman sincere when she volunteers a
statement resembling remotely in form what she really would like to say,
what she really thinks ought to be said if it were not for the necessity
to spare the stupid sensitiveness of men.  The women's rougher, simpler,
more upright judgment, embraces the whole truth, which their tact, their
mistrust of masculine idealism, ever prevents them from speaking in its
entirety.  And their tact is unerring.  We could not stand women
speaking the truth.  We could not bear it.  It would cause infinite
misery and bring about most awful disturbances in this rather mediocre,
but still idealistic fool's paradise in which each of us lives his own
little life--the unit in the great sum of existence.  And they know it.
They are merciful.  This generalisation does not apply exactly to Mrs
Fyne's outburst of sincerity in a matter in which neither my affections
nor my vanity were engaged.  That's why, may be, she ventured so far.
For a woman she chose to be as open as the day with me.  There was not
only the form but almost the whole substance of her thought in what she
said.  She believed she could risk it.  She had reasoned somewhat in
this way; there's a man, possessing a certain amount of sagacity..."

Marlow paused with a whimsical look at me.  The last few words he had
spoken with the cigar in his teeth.  He took it out now by an ample
movement of his arm and blew a thin cloud.

"You smile?  It would have been more kind to spare my blushes.  But as a
matter of fact I need not blush.  This is not vanity; it is analysis.
We'll let sagacity stand.  But we must also note what sagacity in this
connection stands for.  When you see this you shall see also that there
was nothing in it to alarm my modesty.  I don't think Mrs Fyne credited
me with the possession of wisdom tempered by common sense.  And had I
had the wisdom of the Seven Sages of Antiquity, she would not have been
moved to confidence or admiration.  The secret scorn of women for the
capacity to consider judiciously and to express profoundly a meditated
conclusion is unbounded.  They have no use for these lofty exercises
which they look upon as a sort of purely masculine game--game meaning a
respectable occupation devised to kill time in this man-arranged life
which must be got through somehow.  What women's acuteness really
respects are the inept `ideas' and the sheep-like impulses by which our
actions and opinions are determined in matters of real importance.  For
if women are not rational they are indeed acute.  Even Mrs Fyne was
acute.  The good woman was making up to her husband's chess-player
simply because she had scented in him that small portion of
`femininity,' that drop of superior essence of which I am myself aware;
which, I gratefully acknowledge, has saved me from one or two
misadventures in my life either ridiculous or lamentable, I am not very
certain which.  It matters very little.  Anyhow misadventures.  Observe
that I say `femininity,' a privilege--not `feminism,' an attitude.  I am
not a feminist.  It was Fyne who on certain solemn grounds had adopted
that mental attitude; but it was enough to glance at him sitting on one
side, to see that he was purely masculine to his finger-tips, masculine
solidly, densely, amusingly,--hopelessly."

I did glance at him.  You don't get your sagacity recognised by a man's
wife without feeling the propriety and even the need to glance at the
man now and again.  So I glanced at him.  Very masculine.  So much so
that "hopelessly" was not the last word of it.  He was helpless.  He was
bound and delivered by it.  And if by the obscure promptings of my
composite temperament I beheld him with malicious amusement, yet being
in fact, by definition and especially from profound conviction, a man, I
could not help sympathising with him largely.  Seeing him thus disarmed,
_so_ completely captive by the very nature of things I was moved to
speak to him kindly.

"Well.  And what do you think of it?"

"I don't know.  How's one to tell.  But I say that the thing is done now
and there's an end of it," said the masculine creature as bluntly as his
innate solemnity permitted.

Mrs Fyne moved a little in her chair.  I turned to her and remarked
gently that this was a charge, a criticism, which was often made.  Some
people always ask: What could he see in her?  Others wonder what she
could have seen in him?  Expressions of unsuitability.

She said with all the emphasis of her quietly folded arms:

"I know perfectly well what Flora has seen in my brother."

I bowed my head to the gust but pursued my point.

"And then the marriage in most cases turns out no worse than the
average, to say the least of it."

Mrs Fyne was disappointed by the optimistic turn of my sagacity.  She
rested her eyes on my face as though in doubt whether I had enough
femininity in my composition to understand the case.

I waited for her to speak.  She seemed to be asking herself; Is it after
all, worth while to talk to that man?  You understand how provoking this
was.  I looked in my mind for something appallingly stupid to say, with
the object of distressing and teasing Mrs Fyne.  It is humiliating to
confess a failure.  One would think that a man of average intelligence
could command stupidity at will.  But it isn't so.  I suppose it's a
special gift or else the difficulty consists in being relevant.
Discovering that I could find no really telling stupidity, I turned to
the next best thing; a platitude.  I advanced, in a common sense tone,
that, surely, in the matter of marriage a man had only himself to
please.

Mrs Fyne received this without the flutter of an eyelid.  Fyne's
masculine breast, as might have been expected, was pierced by that old,
regulation shaft.  He grunted most feelingly.  I turned to him with
false simplicity.  "Don't, you agree with me?"

"The very thing I've been telling my wife," he exclaimed in his
extra-manly bass.  "We have been discussing--"

A discussion in the Fyne menage!  How portentous!  Perhaps the very
first difference they had ever had: Mrs Fyne unflinching and ready for
any responsibility, Fyne solemn and shrinking--the children in bed
upstairs; and outside the dark fields, the shadowy contours of the land
on the starry background of the universe, with the crude light of the
open window like a beacon for the truant who would never come back now;
a truant no longer but a downright fugitive.  Yet a fugitive carrying
off spoils.  It was the flight of a raider--or a tractor?  This affair
of the purloined brother, as I had named it to myself, had a very
puzzling physiognomy.  The girl must have been desperate, I thought,
hearing the grave voice of Fyne well enough but catching the sense of
his words not at all, except the very last words which were:

"Of course, it's extremely distressing."

I looked at him inquisitively.  What was distressing him?  The
purloining of the son of the poet-tyrant by the daughter of the
financier-convict.  Or only, if I may say so, the wind of their flight
disturbing the solemn placidity of the Fynes' domestic atmosphere.  My
incertitude did not last long, for he added:

"Mrs Fyne urges me to go to London at once."

One could guess at, almost see, his profound distaste for the journey,
his distress at a difference of feeling with his wife.  With his serious
view of the sublunary comedy Fyne suffered from not being able to agree
solemnly with her sentiment as he was accustomed to do, in recognition
of having had his way in one supreme instance; when he made her elope
with him--the most momentous step imaginable in a young lady's life.  He
had been really trying to acknowledge it by taking the Tightness of her
feeling for granted on every other occasion.  It had become a sort of
habit at last.  And it is never pleasant to break a habit.  The man was
deeply troubled.  I said: "Really!  To go to London!"

He looked dumbly into my eyes.  It was pathetic and funny.  "And you of
course feel it would be useless," I pursued.

He evidently felt that, though he said nothing.  He only went on
blinking at me with a solemn and comical slowness.  "Unless it be to
carry there the family's blessing," I went on, indulging my chaffing
humour steadily, in a rather sneaking fashion, for I dared not look at
Mrs Fyne, to my right.  No sound or movement came from, that direction.
"You think very naturally that to match mere good, sound reasons,
against the passionate conclusions of love is a waste of intellect
bordering on the absurd."

He looked surprised as if I had discovered something very clever.  He,
dear man, had thought of nothing at all.  He simply knew that he did not
want to go to London on that mission.  Mere masculine delicacy.  In a
moment he became enthusiastic.

"Yes!  Yes!  Exactly.  A man in love ...  You hear, my dear?  Here you
have an independent opinion--"

"Can anything be more hopeless," I insisted to the fascinated little
Fyne, "than to pit reason against love.  I must confess however that in
this case when I think of that poor girl's sharp chin I wonder if..."

My levity was too much for Mrs Fyne.  Still leaning back in her chair
she exclaimed:

"Mr Marlow!"

"As if mysteriously affected by her indignation the absurd Fyne dog
began to bark in the porch.  It might have been at a trespassing
bumble-bee however.  That animal was capable of any eccentricity.  Fyne
got up quickly and went out to him.  I think he was glad to leave us
alone to discuss that matter of his journey to London.  A sort of
anti-sentimental journey.  He, too, apparently, had confidence in my
sagacity.  It was touching, this confidence.  It was at any rate more
genuine than the confidence his wife pretended to have in her husband's
chess-player, of three successive holidays.  Confidence be hanged!
Sagacity--indeed!  She had simply marched in without a shadow of
misgiving to make me back her up.  But she had delivered herself into my
hands..."

Interrupting his narrative Marlow addressed me in his tone between grim
jest and grim earnest:

"Perhaps you didn't know that my character is upon the whole rather
vindictive."

"No, I didn't know," I said with a grin.  "That's rather unusual for a
sailor.  They always seemed to me the least vindictive body of men in
the world."

"H'm!  Simple souls," Marlow muttered moodily.  "Want of opportunity.
The world leaves them alone for the most part.  For myself it's towards
women that I feel vindictive mostly, in my small way.  I admit that it
is small.  But then the occasions in themselves are not great.  Mainly.
I resent that pretence of winding us round their dear little fingers, as
of right.  Not that the result ever amounts to much generally.  There
are so very few momentous opportunities.  It is the assumption that each
of us is a combination of a kid and an imbecile which I find provoking--
in a small way; in a very small way.  You needn't stare as though I were
breathing fire and smoke out of my nostrils.  I am not a women-devouring
monster.  I am not even what is technically called `a brute.'  I hope
there's enough of a kid and an imbecile in me to answer the requirements
of some really good woman eventually--some day...  Some day.  Why do you
gasp?  You don't suppose I should be afraid of getting married?  That
supposition would be offensive..."

"I wouldn't dream of offending you," I said.

"Very well.  But meantime please remember that I was not married to Mrs
Fyne.  That lady's little finger was none of my legal property.  I had
not run off with it.  It was Fyne who had done that thing.  Let him be
wound round as much as his backbone could stand--or even more, for all I
cared.  His rushing away from the discussion on the transparent pretence
of quieting the dog confirmed my notion of there being a considerable
strain on his elasticity.  I confronted Mrs Fyne resolved not to assist
her in her eminently feminine occupation of thrusting a stick in the
spokes of another woman's wheel.

"She tried to preserve her calm-eyed superiority.  She was familiar and
olympian, fenced in by the tea-table, that excellent symbol of domestic
life in its lighter hour and its perfect security.  In a few severely
unadorned words she gave me to understand that she had ventured to hope
for some really helpful suggestion from me.  To this almost chiding
declaration--because my vindictiveness seldom goes further than a bit of
teasing--I said that I was really doing my best.  And being a
physiognomist..."

"Being what?" she interrupted me.

"A physiognomist," I repeated raising my voice a little.  "A
physiognomist, Mrs Fyne.  And on the principles of that science a
pointed little chin is a sufficient ground for interference.  You want
to interfere--do you not?"

Her eyes grew distinctly bigger.  She had never been bantered before in
her life.  The late subtle poet's method of making himself unpleasant
was merely savage and abusive.  Fyne had been always solemnly
subservient.  What other men she knew I cannot tell but I assume they
must have been gentlemanly creatures.  The girl-friends sat at her feet.
How could she recognise my intention.  She didn't know what to make of
my tone.

"Are you serious in what you say?" she asked slowly.  And it was
touching.  It was as if a very young, confiding girl had spoken.  I felt
myself relenting.

"No.  I am not, Mrs Fyne," I said.  "I didn't know I was expected to be
serious as well as sagacious.  No.  That science is farcical and
therefore I am not serious.  It's true that most sciences are farcical
except those which teach us how to put things together."

"The question is how to keep these two people apart," she struck in.
She had recovered.  I admired the quickness of women's wit.  Mental
agility is a rare perfection.  And aren't they agile!  Aren't they--
just!  And tenacious!  When they once get hold you may uproot the tree
but you won't shake them off the branch.  In fact the more you shake ...
But only look at the charm of contradictory perfections!  No wonder men
give in--generally.  I won't say I was actually charmed by Mrs Fyne.  I
was not delighted with her.  What affected me was not what she displayed
but something which she could not conceal.  And that was emotion--
nothing less.  The form of her declaration was dry, almost peremptory--
but not its ton.  Her voice faltered just the least bit, she smiled
faintly; and as we were looking straight at each other I observed that
her eye's were glistening in a peculiar manner.  She was distressed.
And indeed that Mrs Fyne should have appealed to me at all was in
itself the evidence of her profound distress.  "By Jove she's desperate
too," I thought.  This discovery was followed by a movement of
instinctive shrinking from this unreasonable and unmasculine affair.
They were all alike, with their supreme interest aroused only by
fighting with each other about some man: a lover, a son, a brother.

"But do you think there's time yet to do anything?"  I asked.

She had an impatient movement of her shoulders without detaching herself
from the back of the chair.  Time!  Of course?  It was less than
forty-eight hours since she had followed him to London.--I am no great
clerk at those matters but I murmured vaguely an allusion to special
licences.  We couldn't tell what might have happened to-day already.
But she knew better, scornfully.  Nothing had happened.

"Nothing's likely to happen before next Friday week,--if then."

This was wonderfully precise.  Then after a pause she added that she
should never forgive herself if some effort were not made, an appeal.

"To your brother?"  I asked.

"Yes.  John ought to go to-morrow.  Nine o'clock train."

"So early as that!"  I said.  But I could not find it in my heart to
pursue this discussion in a jocular tone.  I submitted to her several
obvious arguments, dictated apparently by common sense but in reality by
my secret compassion.  Mrs Fyne brushed them aside, with the
semi-conscious egoism of all safe, established, existences.  They had
known each other so little.  Just three weeks.  And of that time, too
short for the birth of any serious sentiment, the first week had to be
deducted.  They would hardly look at each other to begin with.  Flora
barely consented to acknowledge Captain Anthony's presence.  Good
morning--good-night--that was all--absolutely the whole extent of their
intercourse.  Captain Anthony was a silent man, completely unused to the
society of girls of any sort and so shy in fact that he avoided raising
his eyes to her face at the table.  It was perfectly absurd.  It was
even inconvenient, embarrassing to her--Mrs Fyne.  After breakfast
Flora would go off by herself for a long walk and Captain Anthony (Mrs
Fyne referred to him at times also as Roderick) joined the children.
But he was actually too shy to get on terms with his own nieces.

This would have sounded pathetic if I hadn't known the Fyne children who
were at the same time solemn and malicious, and nursed a secret contempt
for all the world.  No one could get on terms with those fresh and
comely young monsters!  They just tolerated their parents and seemed to
have a sort of mocking understanding among themselves against all
outsiders, yet with no visible affection for each other.  They had the
habit of exchanging derisive glances which to a shy man must have been
very trying.  They thought their uncle no doubt a bore and perhaps an
ass.

I was not surprised to hear that very soon Anthony formed the habit of
crossing the two neighbouring fields to seek the shade of a clump of
elms at a good distance from the cottage.  He lay on the grass and
smoked his pipe all the morning.  Mrs Fyne wondered at her brother's
indolent habits.  He had asked for books it is true but there were but
few in the cottage.  He read them through in three days and then
continued to lie contentedly on his back with no other companion but his
pipe.  Amazing indolence!  The live-long morning, Mrs Fyne, busy
writing upstairs in the cottage, could see him out of the window.  She
had a very long sight, and these elms were grouped on a rise of the
ground.  His indolence was plainly exposed to her criticism on a gentle
green slope.  Mrs Fyne wondered at it; she was disgusted too.  But
having just then `commenced author,' as you know, she could not tear
herself away from the fascinating novelty.  She let him wallow in his
vice.  I imagine Captain Anthony must have had a rather pleasant time in
a quiet way.  It was, I remember, a hot dry summer, favourable to
contemplative life out of doors.  And Mrs Fyne was scandalised.  Women
don't understand the force of a contemplative temperament.  It simply
shocks them.  They feel instinctively that it is the one which escapes
best the domination of feminine influences.  The dear girls were
exchanging jeering remarks about "lazy uncle Roderick" openly, in her
indulgent hearing.  And it was so strange, she told me, because as a boy
he was anything but indolent.  On the contrary.  Always active.

I remarked that a man of thirty-five was no longer a boy.  It was an
obvious remark but she received it without favour.  She told me
positively that the best, the nicest men remained boys all their lives.
She was disappointed not to be able to detect anything boyish in her
brother.  Very, very sorry.  She had not seen him for fifteen years or
thereabouts, except on three or four occasions for a few hours at a
time.  No.  Not a trace of the boy, he used to be, left in him.

She fell silent for a moment and I mused idly on the boyhood of little
Fyne.  I could not imagine what it might have been like.  His dominant
trait was clearly the remnant of still earlier days, because I've never
seen such staring solemnity as Fyne's except in a very young baby.  But
where was he all that time?  Didn't he suffer contamination from the
indolence of Captain Anthony, I inquired.  I was told that Mr Fyne was
very little at the cottage at the time.  Some colleague of his was
convalescing after a severe illness in a little seaside village in the
neighbourhood and Fyne went off every morning by train to spend the day
with the elderly invalid who had no one to look after him.  It was a
very praiseworthy excuse for neglecting his brother-in-law "the son of
the poet, you know," with whom he had nothing in common even in the
remotest degree.  If Captain Anthony (Roderick) had been a pedestrian it
would have been sufficient; but he was not.  Still, in the afternoon, he
went sometimes for a slow casual stroll, by himself of course, the
children having definitely cold-shouldered him, and his only sister
being busy with that inflammatory book which was to blaze upon the world
a year or more afterwards.  It seems however that she was capable of
detaching her eyes from her task now and then, if only for a moment,
because it was from that garret fitted out for a study that one
afternoon she observed her brother and Flora de Barral coming down the
road side by side.  They had met somewhere accidentally (which of them
crossed the other's path, as the saying is, I don't know), and were
returning to tea together.  She noticed that they appeared to be
conversing without constraint.

"I had the simplicity to be pleased," Mrs Fyne commented with a dry
little laugh.  "Pleased for both their sakes."  Captain Anthony shook
off his indolence from that day forth, and accompanied Miss Flora
frequently on her morning walks.  Mrs Fyne remained pleased.  She could
now forget them comfortably and give herself up to the delights of
audacious thought and literary composition.  Only a week before the blow
fell, she, happening to raise her eyes from the paper, saw two figures
seated on the grass under the shade of the elms.  She could make out the
white blouse.  There could be no mistake.

"I suppose they imagined themselves concealed by the hedge.  They forgot
no doubt I was working in the garret," she said bitterly.  "Or perhaps
they didn't care.  They were right.  I am rather a simple person..."
She laughed again ...  "I was incapable of suspecting such duplicity."

"Duplicity is a strong word, Mrs Fyne--isn't it?"  I expostulated.
"And considering that Captain Anthony himself..."

"Oh well--perhaps," she interrupted me.  Her eyes which never strayed
away from mine, her set features, her whole immovable figure, how well I
knew those appearances of a person who has "made up her mind."  A very
hopeless condition that, specially in women.  I mistrusted her
concession so easily, so stonily made.  She reflected a moment.  "Yes.
I ought to have said--ingratitude, perhaps."

After having thus disengaged her brother and pushed the poor girl a
little further off as it were--isn't women's cleverness perfectly
diabolic when they are really put on their mettle?--after having done
these things and also made me feel that I was no match for her, she went
on scrupulously: "One doesn't like to use that word either.  The claim
is very small.  It's so little one could do for her.  Still..."

"I dare say," I exclaimed, throwing diplomacy to the winds.  "But
really, Mrs Fyne, it's impossible to dismiss your brother like this out
of the business..."

"She threw herself at his head," Mrs Fyne uttered firmly.

"He had no business to put his head in the way, then," I retorted with
an angry laugh.  I didn't restrain myself because her fixed stare seemed
to express the purpose to daunt me.  I was not afraid of her, but it
occurred to me that I was within an ace of drifting into a downright
quarrel with a lady and, besides, my guest.  There was the cold teapot,
the emptied cups, emblems of hospitality.  It could not be.  I cut short
my angry laugh while Mrs Fyne murmured with a slight movement of her
shoulders, "He!  Poor man!  Oh come..."

By a great effort of will I found myself able to smile amiably, to speak
with proper softness.

"My dear Mrs Fyne, you forget that I don't know him--not even by sight.
It's difficult to imagine a victim as passive as all that; but granting
you the (I very nearly said: imbecility, but checked myself in time)
innocence of Captain Anthony, don't you think now, frankly, that there
is a little of your own fault in what has happened.  `You bring them
together, you leave your brother to himself!'

"She sat up and leaning her elbow on the table sustained her head in her
open palm casting down her eyes.  Compunction?  It was indeed a very
off-hand way of treating a brother come to stay for the first time in
fifteen years.  I suppose she discovered very soon that she had nothing
in common with that sailor, that stranger, fashioned and marked by the
sea of long voyages.  In her strong-minded way she had scorned
pretences, had gone to her writing which interested her immensely.  A
very praiseworthy thing your sincere conduct,--if it didn't at times
resemble brutality so much.  But I don't think it was compunction.  That
sentiment is rare in women..."

"Is it?"  I interrupted indignantly.

"You know more women than I do," retorted the unabashed Marlow.  "You
make it your business to know them--don't you?  You go about a lot
amongst all sorts of people.  You are a tolerably honest observer.
Well, just try to remember how many instances of compunction you have
seen.  I am ready to take your bare word for it.  Compunction!  Have you
ever seen as much as its shadow?  Have you ever?  Just a shadow--a
passing shadow!  I tell you it is so rare that you may call it
non-existent.  They are too passionate.  Too pedantic.  Too courageous
with themselves--perhaps.  No I don't think for a moment that Mrs Fyne
felt the slightest compunction at her treatment of her sea-going
brother.  What _he_ thought of it who can tell?  It is possible that he
wondered why he had been so insistently urged to come.  It is possible
that he wondered bitterly--or contemptuously--or humbly.  And it may be
that he was only surprised and bored.  Had he been as sincere in his
conduct as his only sister he would have probably taken himself off at
the end of the second day.  But perhaps he was afraid of appearing
brutal.  I am not far removed from the conviction that between the
sincerities of his sister and of his dear nieces, Captain Anthony of the
_Ferndale_ must have had his loneliness brought home to his bosom for
the first time of his life, at an age, thirty-five or thereabouts, when
one is mature, enough to feel the pang of such a discovery.  Angry or
simply sad but certainly disillusioned he wanders about and meets the
girl one afternoon and under the sway of a strong feeling forgets his
shyness.  This is no supposition.  It is a fact.  There was such a
meeting in which the shyness must have perished before we don't know
what encouragement, or in the community of mood made apparent by some
casual word.  You remember that Mrs Fyne saw them one afternoon coming
back to the cottage together.  Don't you think that I have hit on the
psychology of the situation?..."

"Doubtless..."  I began to ponder.

"I was very certain of my conclusions at the time," Marlow went on
impatiently.  "But don't think for a moment that Mrs Fyne in her new
attitude and toying thoughtfully with a teaspoon was about to surrender.
She murmured:--

"It's the last thing I should have thought could happen."

"You didn't suppose they were romantic enough," I suggested dryly.

She let it pass and with great decision but as if speaking to herself,
"Roderick really must be warned."

She didn't give me the time to ask of what precisely.  She raised her
head and addressed me.

"I am surprised and grieved more than I can tell you at Mr Fyne's
resistance.  We have been always completely at one on every question.
And that we should differ now on a point touching my brother so closely
is a most painful surprise to me."  Her hand rattled the teaspoon
brusquely by an involuntary movement.  "It is intolerable," she added
tempestuously--for Mrs Fyne that is.  I suppose she had nerves of her
own like any other woman.

Under the porch where Fyne had sought refuge with the dog there was
silence.  I took it for a proof of deep sagacity.  I don't mean on the
part of the dog.  He was a confirmed fool.

I said:

"You want absolutely to interfere...?"  Mrs Fyne nodded just
perceptibly...  "Well--for my part ... but I don't really know how
matters stand at the present time.  You have had a letter from Miss de
Barral.  What does that letter say?"

"She asks for her valise to be sent to her town address," Mrs Fyne
uttered reluctantly and stopped.  I waited a bit--then exploded.

"Well!  What's the matter?  Where's the difficulty?  Does your husband
object to that?  You don't mean to say that he wants you to appropriate
the girl's clothes?"

"Mr Marlow!"

"Well, but you talk of a painful difference of opinion with your
husband, and then, when I ask for information on the point, you bring
out a valise.  And only a few moments ago you reproached me for not
being serious.  I wonder who is the serious person of us two now."

She smiled faintly and in a friendly tone, from which I concluded at
once that she did not mean to show me the girl's letter, she said that
undoubtedly the letter disclosed an understanding between Captain
Anthony and Flora de Barral.

"What understanding?"  I pressed her.  "An engagement is an
understanding."

"There is no engagement--not yet," she said decisively.  "That letter,
Mr Marlow, is couched in very vague terms.  That is why--"

I interrupted her without ceremony.

"You still hope to interfere to some purpose.  Isn't it so?  Yes?  But
how should you have liked it if anybody had tried to interfere between
you and Mr Fyne at the time when _your_ understanding with each other
could still have been described in vague terms?"

She had a genuine movement of astonished indignation.  It is with the
accent of perfect sincerity that she cried out at me:

"But it isn't at all the same thing?  How can you!"

Indeed how could I!  The daughter of a poet and the daughter of a
convict are not comparable in the consequences of their conduct if their
necessity may wear at times a similar aspect.  Amongst these
consequences I could perceive undesirable cousins for these dear healthy
girls, and such like, possible, causes of embarrassment in the future.

"No!  You can't be serious," Mrs Fyne's smouldering resentment broke
out again.  "You haven't thought--"

"Oh yes, Mrs Fyne!  I have thought.  I am still thinking.  I am even
trying to think like you."

"Mr Marlow," she said earnestly.  "Believe me that I really am thinking
of my brother in all this..."  I assured her that I quite believed she
was.  For there is no law of nature making it impossible to think of
more than one person at a time.  Then I said:

"She has told him all about herself of course."

"All about her life," assented Mrs Fyne with an air, however, of making
some mental reservation which I did not pause to investigate.  "Her
life!"  I repeated.  "That girl must have had a mighty bad time of it."

"Horrible," Mrs Fyne admitted with a ready frankness very creditable
under the circumstances, and a warmth of tone which made me look at her
with a friendly eye.  "Horrible!  No!  You can't imagine the sort of
vulgar people she became dependent on ...  You know her father never
attempted to see her while he was still at large.  After his arrest he
instructed that relative of his--the odious person who took her away
from Brighton--not to let his daughter come to the court during the
trial.  He refused to hold any communication with her whatever."

I remembered what Mrs Fyne had told me before of the view she had years
ago of de Barral clinging to the child at the side of his wife's grave
and later on of these two walking hand in hand the observed of all eyes
by the sea.  Pictures from Dickens--pregnant with pathos.



PART ONE, CHAPTER 6.

FLORA.

"A Very singular prohibition," remarked Mrs Fyne after a short silence.
"He seemed to love the child."

She was puzzled.  But I surmised that it might have been the sullenness
of a man unconscious of guilt and standing at bay to fight his
"persecutors," as he called them; or else the fear of a softer emotion
weakening his defiant attitude; perhaps, even, it was a self-denying
ordinance, in order to spare the girl the sight of her father in the
dock, accused of cheating, sentenced as a swindler--proving the
possession of a certain moral delicacy.

Mrs Fyne didn't know what to think.  She supposed it might have been
mere callousness.  But the people amongst whom the girl had fallen had
positively not a grain of moral delicacy.  Of that she was certain.
Mrs Fyne could not undertake to give me an idea of their abominable
vulgarity.  Flora used to tell her something of her life in that
household, over there, down Limehouse way.  It was incredible.  It
passed Mrs Fyne's comprehension.  It was a sort of moral savagery which
she could not have thought possible.

I, on the contrary, thought it very possible.  I could imagine easily
how the poor girl must have been bewildered and hurt at her reception in
that household--envied for her past while delivered defenceless to the
tender mercies of people without any fineness either of feeling or mind,
unable to understand her misery, grossly curious, mistaking her manner
for disdain, her silent shrinking for pride.  The wife of the "odious
person" was witless and fatuously conceited.  Of the two girls of the
house one was pious and the other a romp; both were coarse-minded--if
they may be credited with any mind at all.  The rather numerous men of
the family were dense and grumpy, or dense and jocose.  None in that
grubbing lot had enough humanity to leave her alone.  At first she was
made much of, in an offensively patronising manner.  The connection with
the great de Barral gratified their vanity even in the moment of the
smash.  They dragged her to their place of worship, whatever it might
have been, where the congregation stared at her, and they gave parties
to other beings like themselves at which they exhibited her with ignoble
self-satisfaction.  She did not know how to defend herself from their
importunities, insolence and exigencies.  She lived amongst them, a
passive victim, quivering in every nerve, as if she were flayed.  After
the trial her position became still worse.  On the least occasion and
even on no occasions at all she was scolded, or else taunted with her
dependence.  The pious girl lectured her on her defects, the romping
girl teased her with contemptuous references to her accomplishments, and
was always trying to pick insensate quarrels with her about some
"fellow" or other.  The mother backed up her girls invariably, adding
her own silly, wounding remarks.  I must say they were probably not
aware of the ugliness of their conduct.  They were nasty amongst
themselves as a matter of course; their disputes were nauseating in
origin, in manner, in the spirit of mean selfishness.  These women, too,
seemed to enjoy greatly any sort of row and were always ready to combine
together to make awful scenes to the luckless girl on incredibly flimsy
pretences.  Thus Flora on one occasion had been reduced to rage and
despair, had her most secret feelings lacerated, had obtained a view of
the utmost baseness to which common human nature can descend--I won't
say _a propos de bottes_ as the French would excellently put it but
literally _a propos_ of some mislaid cheap lace trimmings for a
nightgown the romping one was making for herself.  Yes, that was the
origin of one of the grossest scenes which, in their repetition, must
have had a deplorable effect on the unformed character of the most
pitiful of de Barrel's victims.  I have it from Mrs Fyne.  The girl
turned up at the Fynes' house at half-past nine on a cold, drizzly
evening.  She had walked bareheaded, I believe, just as she ran out of
the house, from somewhere in Poplar to the neighbourhood of Sloane
Square--without stopping, without drawing breath, if only for a sob.

"We were having some people to dinner," said the anxious sister of
Captain Anthony.

She had heard the front door bell and wondered what it might mean.  The
parlourmaid managed to whisper to her without attracting attention.  The
servants had been frightened by the invasion of that wild girl in a
muddy skirt and with wisps of damp hair sticking to her pale cheeks.
But they had seen her before.  This was not the first occasion, nor yet
the last.

Directly she could slip away from her guests Mrs Fyne ran upstairs.

"I found her in the night nursery crouching on the floor, her head
resting on the cot of the youngest of my girls.  The eldest was sitting
up in bed looking at her across the room."

Only a night-light was burning there.  Mrs Fyne raised her up, took her
over to Mr Fyne's little dressing-room on the other side of the
landing, to a fire by which she could dry herself, and left her there.
She had to go back to her guests.

A most disagreeable surprise it must have been to the Fynes.  Afterwards
they both went up and interviewed the girl.  She jumped up at their
entrance.  She had shaken her damp hair loose; her eyes were dry--with
the heat of rage.

I can imagine little Fyne solemnly sympathetic, solemnly listening,
solemnly retreating to the marital bedroom.  Mrs Fyne pacified the
girl, and, fortunately, there was a bed which could be made up for her
in the dressing-room.

"But what could one do after all!" concluded Mrs Fyne.

And this stereotyped exclamation, expressing the difficulty of the
problem and the readiness (at any rate) of good intentions, made me, as
usual, feel more kindly towards her.

Next morning, very early, long before Fyne had to start for his office,
the "odious personage" turned up, not exactly unexpected perhaps, but
startling all the same, if only by the promptness of his action.  From
what Flora herself related to Mrs Fyne, it seems that without being
very perceptibly less "odious" than his family he had in a rather
mysterious fashion interposed his authority for the protection of the
girl.  "Not that he cares," explained Flora.  "I am sure he does not.  I
could not stand being liked by any of these people.  If I thought he
liked me I would drown myself rather than go back with him."

For of course he had come to take "Florrie" home.  The scene was the
dining-room--breakfast interrupted, dishes growing cold, little Fyne's
toast growing leathery, Fyne out of his chair with his back to the fire,
the newspaper on the carpet, servants shut out, Mrs Fyne rigid in her
place with the girl sitting beside her--the "odious person," who had
bustled in with hardly a greeting, looking from Fyne to Mrs Fyne as
though he were inwardly amused at something he knew of them; and then
beginning ironically his discourse.  He did not apologise for disturbing
Fyne and his "good lady" at breakfast, because he knew they did not want
(with a nod at the girl) to have more of her than could be helped.  He
came the first possible moment because he had his business to attend to.
He wasn't drawing a tip-top salary (this staring at Fyne) in a
luxuriously furnished office.  Not he.  He had risen to be an employer
of labour and was bound to give a good example.

I believe the fellow was aware of, and enjoyed quietly, the
consternation his presence brought to the bosom of Mr and Mrs Fyne.
He turned briskly to the girl.  Mrs Fyne confessed to me that they had
remained all three silent and inanimate.  He turned to the girl: "What's
this game, Florrie?  You had better give it up.  If you expect me to run
all over London looking for you every time you happen to have a tiff
with your auntie and cousins you are mistaken.  I can't afford it."

Tiff--was the sort of definition to take one's breath away, having
regard to the fact that both the word convict and the word pauper had
been used a moment before Flora de Barral ran away from the quarrel
about the lace trimmings.  Yes, these very words!  So at least the girl
had told Mrs Fyne the evening before.  The word tiff in connection with
her tale had a peculiar savour, a paralysing effect.  Nobody made a
sound.  The relative of de Barral proceeded uninterrupted to a display
of magnanimity.  "Auntie told me to tell you she's sorry--there!  And
Amelia (the romping sister) shan't worry you again.  I'll see to that.
You ought to be satisfied.  Remember your position."

Emboldened by the utter stillness pervading the room he addressed
himself to Mrs Fyne with stolid effrontery:

"What I say is that people should be good-natured.  She can't stand
being chaffed.  She puts on her grand airs.  She won't take a bit of a
joke from people as good as herself anyway.  We are a plain lot.  We
don't like it.  And that's how trouble begins."

Insensible to the stony stare of three pairs of eyes, which, if the
stories of our childhood as to the power of the human eye are true,
ought to have been enough to daunt a tiger, that unabashed manufacturer
from the East-End fastened his fangs, figuratively speaking, into the
poor girl and prepared to drag her away for a prey to his cubs of both
sexes.  "Auntie has thought of sending you your hat and coat.  I've, got
them outside in the cab."

Mrs Fyne looked mechanically out of the window.  A four-wheeler stood
before the gate under the weeping sky.  The driver in his conical cape
and tarpaulin hat, streamed with water.  The drooping horse looked as
though it had been fished out, half unconscious, from a pond.  Mrs Fyne
found some relief in looking at that miserable sight, away from the room
in which the voice of the amiable visitor resounded with a vulgar
intonation exhorting the strayed sheep to return to the delightful fold.
"Come, Florrie, make a move.  I can't wait on you all day here."

Mrs Fyne heard all this without turning her head away from the window.
Fyne on the hearthrug had to listen and to look on too.  I shall not try
to form a surmise as to the real nature of the suspense.  Their very
goodness must have made it very anxious.  The girl's hands were lying in
her lap; her head was lowered as if in deep thought; and the other went
on delivering a sort of homily.  Ingratitude was condemned in it, the
sinfulness of pride was pointed out--together with the proverbial fact
that it "goes before a fall."  There were also some sound remarks as to
the danger of nonsensical notions and the disadvantages of a quick
temper.  It sets one's best friends against one.  "And if anybody ever
wanted friends in the world it's you, my girl."  Even respect for
parental authority was invoked.  "In the first hour of his trouble your
father wrote to me to take care of you--don't forget it.  Yes, to me,
just a plain man, rather than to any of his fine West-End friends.  You
can't get over that.  And a father's a father no matter what a mess he's
got himself into.  You ain't going to throw over your own father--are
you?"

It was difficult to say whether he was more absurd than cruel or more
cruel than absurd.  Mrs Fyne, with the fine ear of a woman, seemed to
detect a jeering intention in his meanly unctuous tone, something more
vile than mere cruelty.  She glanced quickly over her shoulder and saw
the girl raise her two hands to her head, then let them fall again on
her lap.  Fyne in front of the fire was like the victim of an unholy
spell--bereft of motion and speech but obviously in pain.  It was a
short pause of perfect silence, and then that "odious creature" (he must
have been really a remarkable individual in his way) struck out into
sarcasm.

"Well?..."  Again a silence.  "If you have fixed it up with the lady and
gentleman present here for your board and lodging you had better say so.
I don't want to interfere in a bargain I know nothing of.  But I wonder
how your father will take it when he comes out--or don't you expect him
ever to come out?"

At that moment, Mrs Fyne told me she met the girl's eyes.  There was
that in them which made her shut her own.  She also felt as though she
would have liked to put her fingers in her ears.  She restrained
herself, however; and the "plain man" passed in his appalling
versatility from sarcasm to veiled menace.

"You have--eh?  Well and good.  But before I go home let me ask you, my
girl, to think if by any chance you throwing us over like this won't be
rather bad for your father later on?  Just think it over."

He looked at his victim with an air of cunning mystery.  She jumped up
so suddenly that he started back.  Mrs Fyne rose too, and even the
spell was removed from her husband.  But the girl dropped again into the
chair and turned her head to look at Mrs Fyne.  This time it was no
accidental meeting of fugitive glances.  It was a deliberate
communication.  To my question as to its nature Mrs Fyne said she did
not know.  "Was it appealing?"  I suggested.  "No," she said.  "Was it
frightened, angry, crushed, resigned?"

"No!  No!  Nothing of these."  But it had frightened her.  She
remembered it to this day.  She had been ever since fancying she could
detect the lingering reflection of that look in all the girl's glances.
In the attentive, in the casual--even in the grateful glances--in the
expression of the softest moods.

"Has she her soft moods, then?"  I asked with interest.

Mrs Fyne, much moved by her recollections, heeded not my inquiry.  All
her mental energy was concentrated on the nature of that memorable
glance.  The general tradition of mankind teaches us that glances occupy
a considerable place in the self-expression of women.  Mrs Fyne was
trying honestly to give me some idea, as much perhaps to satisfy her own
uneasiness as my curiosity.  She was frowning in the effort as you see
sometimes a child do (what is delightful in women is that they so often
resemble intelligent children--I mean the crustiest, the sourest, the
most battered of them do--at times).  She was frowning, I say, and I was
beginning to smile faintly at her when all at once she came out with
something totally unexpected.

"It was horribly merry," she said.

I suppose she must have been satisfied by my sudden gravity because she
looked at me in a friendly manner.

"Yes, Mrs Fyne," I said, smiling no longer.  "I see.  It would have
been horrible even on the stage."

"Ah!" she interrupted me--and I really believe her change of attitude
back to folded arms was meant to check a shudder.  "But it wasn't on the
stage, and it was not with her lips that she laughed."

"Yes.  It must have been horrible," I assented.  "And then she had to go
away ultimately--I suppose.  You didn't say anything?"

"No," said Mrs Fyne.  "I rang the bell and told one of the maids to go
and bring the hat and coat out of the cab.  And then we waited."

I don't think that there ever was such waiting unless possibly in a jail
at some moment or other on the morning of an execution.  The servant
appeared with the hat and coat, and then, still as on the morning of an
execution, when the condemned, I believe, is offered a breakfast, Mrs
Fyne, anxious that the white-faced girl should swallow something warm
(if she could) before leaving her house for an interminable drive
through raw cold air in a damp four-wheeler--Mrs Fyne broke the awful
silence: "You really must try to eat something," in her best resolute
manner.  She turned to the "odious person" with the same determination.
"Perhaps you will sit down and have a cup of coffee, too."

The worthy "employer of labour" sat down.  He might have been awed by
Mrs Fyne's peremptory manner--for she did not think of conciliating him
then.  He sat down, provisionally, like a man who finds himself much
against his will in doubtful company.  He accepted ungraciously the cup
handed to him by Mrs Fyne, took an unwilling sip or two and put it down
as if there were some moral contamination in the coffee of these
"swells."  Between whiles he directed mysteriously inexpressive glances
at little Fyne, who, I gather, had no breakfast that morning at all.
Neither had the girl.  She never moved her hands from her lap till her
appointed guardian got up, leaving his cup half full.

"Well.  If you don't mean to take advantage of this lady's kind offer I
may just as well take you home at once.  I want to begin my day--I do."

After a few more dumb, leaden-footed minutes while Flora was putting on
her hat and jacket, the Fynes without moving, without saying anything,
saw these two leave the room.

"She never looked back at us," said Mrs Fyne.  "She just followed him
out.  I've never had such a crushing impression of the miserable
dependence of girls--of women.  This was an extreme case.  But a young
man--any man--could have gone to break stones on the roads or something
of that kind--or enlisted--or--"

It was very true.  Women can't go forth on the high roads and by-ways to
pick up a living even when dignity, independence, or existence itself
are at stake.  But what made me interrupt Mrs Fyne's tirade was my
profound surprise at the fact of that respectable citizen being so
willing to keep in his home the poor girl for whom it seemed there was
no place in the world.  And not only willing but anxious.  I couldn't
credit him with generous impulses.  For it seemed obvious to me from
what I had learned that, to put it mildly, he was not an impulsive
person.

"I confess that I can't understand his motive," I exclaimed.

"This is exactly what John wondered at, at first," said Mrs Fyne.  By
that time an intimacy--if not exactly confidence--had sprung up between
us which permitted her in this discussion to refer to her husband as
John.  "You know he had not opened his lips all that time," she pursued.
"I don't blame his restraint.  On the contrary.  What could he have
said?  I could see he was observing the man very thoughtfully."

"And so, Mr Fyne listened, observed and meditated," I said.  "That's an
excellent way of coming to a conclusion.  And may I ask at what
conclusion he had managed to arrive?  On what ground did he cease to
wonder at the inexplicable?  For I can't admit humanity to be the
explanation.  It would be too monstrous."

It was nothing of the sort, Mrs Fyne assured me with some resentment,
as though I had aspersed little Fyne's sanity.  Fyne very sensibly had
set himself the mental task of discovering the self-interest.  I should
not have thought him capable of so much cynicism.  He said to himself
that for people of that sort (religious fears or the vanity of
righteousness put aside) money--not great wealth, but, money, just a
little money--is the measure of virtue, of expediency, of wisdom--of
pretty well everything.  But the girl was absolutely destitute.  The
father was in prison after the most terribly complete and disgraceful
smash of modern times.  And then it dawned upon Fyne that this was just
it.  The great smash, in the great dust of vanishing millions!  Was it
possible that they all had vanished to the last penny?  Wasn't there,
somewhere, something palpable; some fragment of the fabric left?

"That's it," had exclaimed Fyne, startling his wife by this explosive
unsealing of his lips less than half an hour after the departure of de
Barral's cousin with de Barral's daughter.  It was still in the
dining-room, very near the time for him to go forth affronting the
elements in order to put in another day's work in his country's service.
All he could say at the moment in elucidation of this breakdown from
his usual placid solemnity was:

"The fellow imagines that de Barral has got some plunder put away
somewhere."

This being the theory arrived at by Fyne, his comment on it was that a
good many bankrupts had been known to have taken such a precaution.  It
was possible in de Barral's case.  Fyne went so far in his display of
cynical pessimism as to say that it was extremely probable.

He explained at length to Mrs Fyne that de Barral certainly did not
take anyone into his confidence.  But the beastly relative had made up
his low mind that it was so.  He was selfish and pitiless in his
stupidity, but he had clearly conceived the notion of making a claim on
de Barral when de Barral came out of prison on the strength of having
"looked after" (as he would have himself expressed it) his daughter.  He
nursed his hopes, such as they were, in secret, and it is to be supposed
kept them even from his wife.

I could see it very well.  That belief accounted for his mysterious air
while he interfered in favour of the girl.  He was the only protector
she had.  It was as though Flora had been fated to be always surrounded
by treachery and lies stifling every better impulse, every instinctive
aspiration of her soul to trust and to love.  It would have been enough
to drive a fine nature into the madness of universal suspicion--into any
sort of madness.  I don't know how far a sense of humour will stand by
one.  To the foot of the gallows, perhaps.  But from my recollection of
Flora de Barral I feared that she hadn't much sense of humour.  She had
cried at the desertion of the absurd Fyne dog.  That animal was
certainly free from duplicity.  He was frank and simple and ridiculous.
The indignation of the girl at his unhypocritical behaviour had been
funny but not humorous.

As you may imagine I was not very anxious to resume the discussion on
the justice, expediency, effectiveness or what not, of Fyne's journey to
London.  It isn't that I was unfaithful to little Fyne out in the porch
with the dog.  (They kept amazingly quiet there.  Could they have gone
to sleep?)  What I felt was that either my sagacity or my conscience
would come out damaged from that campaign.  And no man will willingly
put himself in the way of moral damage.  I did not want a war with Mrs
Fyne.  I much preferred to hear something more of the girl.  I said:

"And so she went away with that respectable ruffian."  Mrs Fyne moved
her shoulders slightly--"What else could she have done?"  I agreed with
her by another hopeless gesture.  It isn't so easy for a girl like Flora
de Barral to become a factory hand, a pathetic seamstress or even a
barmaid.  She wouldn't have known how to begin.  She was the captive of
the meanest conceivable fate.  And she wasn't mean enough for it.  It is
to be remarked that a good many people are born curiously unfitted for
the fate awaiting them on this earth.  As I don't want you to think that
I am unduly partial to the girl we shall say that she failed decidedly
to endear herself to that simple, virtuous and, I believe, teetotal
household.  It's my conviction that an angel would have failed likewise.
It's no use going into details; suffice it to state that before the
year was out she was again at the Fynes' door.  This time she was
escorted by a stout youth.  His large pale face wore a smile of inane
cunning soured by annoyance.  His clothes were new and the indescribable
smartness of their cut, a _genre_ which had never been obtruded on her
notice before, astonished Mrs Fyne, who came out into the hall with her
hat on; for she was about to go out to hear a new pianist (a girl) in a
friend's house.  The youth addressing Mrs Fyne easily begged her not to
let "that silly thing go back to us any more."  There had been, he said,
nothing but "ructions" at home about her for the last three weeks.
Everybody in the family was heartily sick of quarrelling.  His governor
had charged him to bring her to this address and say that the lady and
gentleman were quite welcome to all there was in it.  She hadn't enough
sense to appreciate a plain, honest English home and she was better out
of it.

The young, pimply-faced fellow was vexed by this job his governor had
sprung on him.  It was the cause of his missing an appointment for that
afternoon with a certain young lady.  The lady he was engaged to.  But
he meant to dash back and try for a sight of her that evening yet "if he
were to burst over it."

"Good-bye, Florrie.  Good luck to you--and I hope I'll never see your
face again."

With that he ran out in lover-like haste leaving the hall-door wide
open.  Mrs Fyne had not found a word to say.  She had been too much
taken aback even to gasp freely.  But she had the presence of mind to
grab the girl's arm just as she, too, was running out into the street--
with the haste, I suppose, of despair and to keep I don't know what
tragic tryst.

"You stopped her with your own hand, Mrs Fyne," I said.  "I presume she
meant to get away.  That girl is no comedian--if I am any judge."

"Yes!  I had to use some force to drag her in."

Mrs Fyne had no difficulty in stating the truth.  "You see I was in the
very act of letting myself out when these two appeared.  So that, when
that unpleasant young man ran off, I found myself alone with Flora.  It
was all I could do to hold her in the hall while I called to the
servants to come and shut the door."

As is my habit, or my weakness, or my gift, I don't know which, I
visualised the story for myself.  I really can't help it.  And the
vision of Mrs Fyne dressed for a rather special afternoon function,
engaged in wrestling with a wild-eyed, white-faced girl had a certain
dramatic fascination.

"Really!"  I murmured.

"Oh!  There's no doubt that she struggled," said Mrs Fyne.  She
compressed her lips for a moment and then added: "As to her being a
comedian that's another question."

Mrs Fyne had returned to her attitude of folded arms.  I saw before me
the daughter of the refined poet accepting life whole with its
unavoidable conditions of which one of the first is the instinct of
self-preservation and the egoism of every living creature.  "The fact
remains nevertheless that you--yourself--have, in your own words, pulled
her in," I insisted in a jocular tone, with a serious intention.

"What was one to do," exclaimed Mrs Fyne with almost comic
exasperation.  "Are you reproaching me with being too impulsive?"

And she went on telling me that she was not that in the least.  One of
the recommendations she always insisted on (to the girl-friends, I
imagine) was to be on guard against impulse.  Always!  But I had not
been there to see the face of Flora at the time.  If I had it would be
haunting me to this day.  Nobody unless made of iron would have allowed
a human being with a face like that to rush out alone into the streets.

"And doesn't it haunt you, Mrs Fyne?"  I asked.

"No, not now," she said implacably.  "Perhaps if I had let her go it
might have done...  Don't conclude, though, that I think she was playing
a comedy then, because after struggling at first she ended by remaining.
She gave up very suddenly.  She collapsed in our arms, mine and the
maid's who came running up in response to my calls, and..."

"And the door was then shut," I completed the phrase in my own way.

"Yes, the door was shut," Mrs Fyne lowered and raised her head slowly.

I did not ask her for details.  Of one thing I am certain, and that is
that Mrs Fyne did not go out to the musical function that afternoon.
She was no doubt considerably annoyed at missing the privilege of
hearing privately an interesting young pianist (a girl) who, since, had
become one of the recognised performers.  Mrs Fyne did not dare leave
her house.  As to the feelings of little Fyne when he came home from the
office, via his club, just half an hour before dinner, I have no
information.  But I venture to affirm that in the main they were kindly,
though it is quite possible that in the first moment of surprise he had
to keep down a swear-word or two.

The long and the short of it all is that next day the Fynes made up
their minds to take into their confidence a certain wealthy old lady.
With certain old ladies the passing years bring back a sort of mellowed
youthfulness of feeling, an optimistic outlook, liking for novelty,
readiness for experiment.  The old lady was very much interested: "Do
let me see the poor thing!"  She was accordingly allowed to see Flora de
Barral in Mrs Fyne's drawing-room on a day when there was no one else
there, and she preached to her with charming, sympathetic authority:
"The only way to deal with our troubles, my dear child, is to forget
them.  You must forget yours.  It's very simple.  Look at me.  I always
forget mine.  At your age one ought to be cheerful."

Later on when left alone with Mrs Fyne she said to that lady: "I do
hope the child will manage to be cheerful.  I can't have sad faces near
me.  At my age one needs cheerful companions."

And in this hope she carried off Flora de Barral to Bournemouth for the
winter months in the quality of reader and companion.  She had said to
her with kindly jocularity: "We shall have a good time together.  I am
not a grumpy old woman."  But on their return to London she sought Mrs
Fyne at once.  She had discovered that Flora was not naturally cheerful.
When she made efforts to be it was still worse.  The old lady couldn't
stand the strain of that.  And then, to have the whole thing out, she
could not bear to have for a companion anyone who did not love her.  She
was certain that Flora did not love her.  Why?  She couldn't say.
Moreover, she had caught the girl looking at her in a peculiar way at
times.  Oh no!--it was not an evil look--it was an unusual expression
which one could not understand.  And when one remembered that her father
was in prison shut up together with a lot of criminals and so on--it
made one uncomfortable.  If the child had only tried to forget her
troubles!  But she obviously was incapable or unwilling to do so.  And
that was somewhat perverse--wasn't it?  Upon the whole, she thought it
would be better perhaps--

Mrs Fyne assented hurriedly to the unspoken conclusion: "Oh certainly!
Certainly," wondering to herself what was to be done with Flora next;
but she was not very much surprised at the change in the old lady's view
of Flora de Barral.  She almost understood it.

What came next was a German family, the continental acquaintances of the
wife of one of Fyne's colleagues in the Home Office.  Flora of the
enigmatical glances was dispatched to them without much reflection.  As
it was not considered absolutely necessary to take them into full
confidence, they neither expected the girl to be specially cheerful nor
were they discomposed unduly by the indescribable quality of her
glances.  The German woman was quite ordinary; there were two boys to
look after; they were ordinary, too, I presume; and Flora, I understand,
was very attentive to them.  If she taught them anything it must have
been by inspiration alone, for she certainly knew nothing of teaching.
But it was mostly "conversation" which was demanded from her.  Flora de
Barral conversing with two small German boys, regularly, industriously,
conscientiously, in order to keep herself alive in the world which held
for her the past we know and the future of an even more undesirable
quality--seems to me a very fantastic combination.  But I believe it was
not so bad.  She was being, she wrote, mercifully drugged by her task.
She had learned to "converse" all day long, mechanically, absently, as
if in a trance.  An uneasy trance it must have been!  Her worst moments
were when off duty--alone in the evening, shut up in her own little
room, her dulled thoughts waking up slowly till she started into the
full consciousness of her position, like a person waking up in contact
with something venomous--a snake, for instance--experiencing a mad
impulse to fling the thing away and run off screaming to hide somewhere.

At this period of her existence Flora de Barral used to write to Mrs
Fyne not regularly but fairly often.  I don't know how long she would
have gone on "conversing" and, incidentally, helping to supervise the
beautifully stocked linen closets of that well-to-do German household,
if the man of it had not developed in the intervals of his avocations
(he was a merchant and a thoroughly domesticated character) a
psychological resemblance to the Bournemouth old lady.  It appeared that
he, too, wanted to be loved.

He was not, however, of a conquering temperament--a kiss-snatching,
door-bursting type of libertine.  In the very act of straying from the
path of virtue he remained a respectable merchant.  It would have been
perhaps better for Flora if he had been a mere brute.  But he set about
his sinister enterprise in a sentimental, cautious, almost paternal
manner; and thought he would be safe with a pretty orphan.  The girl for
all her experience was still too innocent, and indeed not yet
sufficiently aware of herself as a woman, to mistrust these masked
approaches.  She did not see them, in fact.  She thought him
sympathetic--the first expressively sympathetic person she had ever met.
She was so innocent that she could not understand the fury of the
German woman.  For, as you may imagine, the wifely penetration was not
to be deceived for any great length of time--the more so that the wife
was older than the husband.  The man with the peculiar cowardice of
respectability never said a word in Flora's defence.  He stood by and
heard her reviled in the most abusive terms, only nodding and frowning
vaguely from time to time.  It will give you the idea of the girl's
innocence when I say that at first she actually thought this storm of
indignant reproaches was caused by the discovery of her real name and
her relation to a convict.  She had been sent out under an assumed
name--a highly recommended orphan of honourable parentage.  Her
distress, her burning cheeks, her endeavours to express her regret for
this deception were taken for a confession of guilt.  "You attempted to
bring dishonour to my home," the German woman screamed at her.

Here's a misunderstanding for you!  Flora de Barral, who felt the shame
but did not believe in the guilt of her father, retorted fiercely,
"Nevertheless I am as honourable as you are."  And then the German woman
nearly went into a fit from rage.  "I shall have you thrown out into the
street."

Flora was not exactly thrown out into the street, I believe, but she was
bundled bag and baggage on board a steamer for London.  Did I tell you
these people lived in Hamburg?  Well yes--sent to the docks late on a
rainy winter evening in charge of some sneering lackey or other who
behaved to her insolently and left her on deck burning with indignation,
her hair half down, shaking with excitement and, truth to say, scared as
near as possible into hysterics.  If it had not been for the stewardess
who, without asking questions, good soul, took charge of her quietly in
the ladies' saloon (luckily it was empty) it is by no means certain she
would ever have reached England.  I can't tell if a straw ever saved a
drowning man, but I know that a mere glance is enough to make despair
pause.  For in truth we who are creatures of impulse are not creatures
of despair.  Suicide, I suspect, is very often the outcome of mere
mental weariness--not an act of savage energy but the final symptom of
complete collapse.  The quiet, matter-of-fact attentions of a ship's
stewardess, who did not seem aware of other human agonies than
seasickness, who talked of the probable weather of the passage--it would
be a rough night, she thought--and who insisted in a professionally busy
manner, "Let me make you comfortable down below at once, miss," as
though she were thinking of nothing else but her tip--was enough to
dissipate the shades of death gathering round the mortal weariness of
bewildered thinking which makes the idea of non-existence welcome so
often to the young.  Flora de Barral did lie down, and it may be
presumed she slept.  At any rate she survived the voyage across the
North Sea and told Mrs Fyne all about it, concealing nothing and
receiving no rebuke--for Mrs Fyne's opinions had a large freedom in
their pedantry.  She held, I suppose, that a woman holds an absolute
right--or possesses a perfect excuse--to escape in her own way from a
man-mismanaged world.

What is to be noted is that even in London, having had time to take a
reflective view, poor Flora was far from being certain as to the true
inwardness of her violent dismissal.  She felt the humiliation of it
with an almost maddened resentment.

"And did you enlighten her on the point?"  I ventured to ask.

Mrs Fyne moved her shoulders with a philosophical acceptance of all the
necessities which ought not to be.  Something had to be said, she
murmured.  She had told the girl enough to make her come to the right
conclusion by herself.

"And she did?"

"Yes.  Of course.  She isn't a goose," retorted Mrs Fyne tartly.

"Then her education is completed," I remarked with some bitterness.
"Don't you think she ought to be given a chance?"

Mrs Fyne understood my meaning.

"Not this one," she snapped in a quite feminine way.  "It's all very
well for you to plead, but I--"

"I do not plead.  I simply asked.  It seemed natural to ask what you
thought."

"It's what I feel that matters.  And I can't help my feelings.  You may
guess," she added in a softer tone, "that my feelings are mostly
concerned with my brother.  We were very fond of each other.  The
difference of our ages was not very great.  I suppose you know he is a
little younger than I am.  He was a sensitive boy.  He had the habit of
brooding.  It is no use concealing from you that neither of us was happy
at home.  You have heard, no doubt...  Yes?  Well, I was made still more
unhappy and hurt--I don't mind telling you that.  He made his way to
some distant relations of our mother's people who I believe were not
known to my father at all.  I don't wish to judge their action."

I interrupted Mrs Fyne here.  I had heard.  Fyne was not very
communicative in general, but he was proud of his father-in-law.
"Carleon Anthony, the poet, you know."  Proud of his celebrity without
approving of his character.  It was on that account, I strongly suspect,
that he seized with avidity upon the theory of poetical genius being
allied to madness, which he got hold of in some idiotic book everybody
was reading a few years ago.  It struck him as being truth itself--
illuminating like the sun.  He adopted it devoutly.  He bored me with it
sometimes.  Once, just to shut him up, I asked quietly if this theory
which he regarded as so incontrovertible did not cause him some
uneasiness about his wife and the dear girls?  He transfixed me with a
pitying stare and requested me in his deep solemn voice to remember the
"well-established fact" that genius was not transmissible.

I said only "Oh!  Isn't it?" and he thought he had silenced me by an
unanswerable argument.  But he continued to talk of his glorious
father-in-law, and it was in the course of that conversation that he
told me how, when the Liverpool relations of the poet's late wife
naturally addressed themselves to him in considerable concern,
suggesting a friendly consultation as to the boy's future, the incensed
(but always refined) poet wrote in answer a letter of mere polished
_badinage_ which offended mortally the Liverpool people.  This witty
outbreak of what was in fact mortification and rage appeared to them so
heartless that they simply kept the boy.  They let him go to sea not
because he was in their way but because he begged hard to be allowed to
go.

"Oh!  You do know," said Mrs Fyne after a pause.  "Well--I felt myself
very much abandoned.  Then his choice of life--so extraordinary, so
unfortunate, I may say.  I was very much grieved.  I should have liked
him to have been distinguished--or at any rate to remain in the social
sphere where we could have had common interests, acquaintances,
thoughts.  Don't think that I am estranged from him.  But the precise
truth is that I do not know him.  I was most painfully affected when he
was here by the difficulty of finding a single topic we could discuss
together."

While Mrs Fyne was talking of her brother I let my thoughts wander out
of the room to little Fyne who by leaving me alone with his wife had, so
to speak, entrusted his domestic peace to my honour.

"Well, then, Mrs Fyne, does it not strike you that it would be
reasonable under the circumstances to let your brother take care of
himself?"

"And suppose I have grounds to think that he can't take care of himself
in a given instance."  She hesitated in a funny, bashful manner which
roused my interest.  Then:

"Sailors I believe are very susceptible," she added with forced
assurance.

I burst into a laugh which only increased the coldness of her observing
stare.

"They are.  Immensely!  Hopelessly!  My dear Mrs Fyne, you had better
give it up!  It only makes your husband miserable."

"And I am quite miserable too.  It is really our first difference..."

"Regarding Miss de Barral?"  I asked.

"Regarding everything.  It's really intolerable that this girl should be
the occasion.  I think he really ought to give way."

She turned her chair round a little and picking up the book I had been
reading in the morning began to turn the leaves absently.

Her eyes being off me, I felt I could allow myself to leave the room.
Its atmosphere had become hopeless for little Fyne's domestic peace.
You may smile.  But to the solemn all things are solemn.  I had enough
sagacity to understand that.

I slipped out into the porch.  The dog was slumbering at Fyne's feet.
The muscular little man leaning on his elbow and gazing over the fields
presented a forlorn figure.  He turned his head quickly, but seeing I
was alone, relapsed into his moody contemplation of the green landscape.

I said loudly and distinctly: "I've come out to smoke a cigarette," and
sat down near him on the little bench.  Then lowering my voice:
"Tolerance is an extremely difficult virtue," I said.  "More difficult
for some than heroism.  More difficult than compassion."

I avoided looking at him.  I knew well enough that he would not like
this opening.  General ideas were not to his taste.  He mistrusted them.
I lighted a cigarette, not that I wanted to smoke, but to give another
moment to the consideration of the advice--the diplomatic advice I had
made up my mind to bowl him over with.  And I continued in subdued
tones.

"I have been led to make these remarks by what I have discovered since
you left us.  I suspected from the first.  And now I am certain.  What
your wife cannot tolerate in this affair is Miss de Barral being what
she is."

He made a movement, but I kept my eyes away from him and went on
steadily.  "That is--her being a woman.  I have some idea of Mrs Fyne's
mental attitude towards society with its injustices, with its atrocious
or ridiculous conventions.  As against them there is no audacity of
action your wife's mind refuses to sanction.  The doctrine which I
imagine she stuffs into the pretty heads of your girl-guests is almost
vengeful.  A sort of moral fire-and-sword doctrine.  How far the lesson
is wise is not for me to say.  I don't permit myself to judge.  I seem
to see her very delightful disciples singeing themselves with the
torches, and cutting their fingers with the swords of Mrs Fyne's
furnishing."

"My wife holds her opinions very seriously," murmured Fyne suddenly.

"Yes.  No doubt," I assented in a low voice as before.  "But it is a
mere intellectual exercise.  What I see is that in dealing with reality
Mrs Fyne ceases to be tolerant.  In other words, that she can't forgive
Miss de Barral for being a woman and behaving like a woman.  And yet
this is not only reasonable and natural, but it is her only chance.  A
woman against the world has no resources but in herself.  Her only means
of action is to be what _she is_.  You understand what I mean."

Fyne mumbled between his teeth that he understood.  But he did not seem
interested.  What he expected of me was to extricate him from a
difficult situation.  I don't know how far credible this may sound, to
less solemn married couples, but to remain at variance with his wife
seemed to him a considerable incident.  Almost a disaster.

"It looks as though I didn't care what happened to her brother," he
said.  "And after all if anything..."

I became a little impatient but without raising my tone: "What thing?"
I asked.  "The liability to get penal servitude is so far like genius
that it isn't hereditary.  And what else can be objected to the girl?
All the energy of her deeper feelings, which she would use up vainly in
the danger and fatigue of a struggle with society may be turned into
devoted attachment to the man who offers her a way of escape from what
can be only a life of moral anguish.  I don't mention the physical
difficulties."

Glancing at Fyne out of the corner of one eye I discovered that he was
attentive.  He made the remark that I should have said all this to his
wife.  It was a sensible enough remark.  But I had given Mrs Fyne up.
I asked him if his impression was that his wife meant to entrust him
with a letter for her brother?

No.  He didn't think so.  There were certain reasons which made Mrs
Fyne unwilling to commit her arguments to paper.  Fyne was to be primed
with them.  But he had no doubt that if he persisted in his refusal she
would make up her mind to write.

"She does not wish me to go unless with a full conviction that she is
right," said Fyne solemnly.

"She's very exacting," I commented.  And then I reflected that she was
used to it.  "Would nothing less do for once?"

"You don't mean that I should give way--do you?" asked Fyne in a whisper
of alarmed suspicion.

As this was exactly what I meant, I let his fright sink into him.  He
fidgeted.  If the word may be used of so solemn a personage, he
wriggled.  And when the horrid suspicion had descended into his very
heels, so to speak, he became very still.  He sat gazing stonily into
space bounded by the yellow, burnt-up slopes of the rising ground a
couple of miles away.  The face of the down showed the white scar of the
quarry where not more than sixteen hours before Fyne and I had been
groping in the dark with horrible apprehension of finding under our
hands the shattered body of a girl.  For myself I had in addition the
memory of my meeting with her.  She was certainly walking very near the
edge--courting a sinister solution.  But, now, having by the most
unexpected chance come upon a man, she had found another way to escape
from the world.  Such world as was open to her--without shelter, without
bread, without honour.  The best she could have found in it would have
been a precarious dole of pity diminishing as her years increased.  The
appeal of the abandoned child Flora to the sympathies of the Fynes had
been irresistible.  But now she had become a woman, and Mrs Fyne was
presenting an implacable front to a particularly feminine transaction.
I may say triumphantly feminine.  It is true that Mrs Fyne did not want
women to be women.  Her theory was that they should turn themselves into
unscrupulous sexless nuisances.  An offended theorist dwelt in her bosom
somewhere.  In what way she expected Flora de Barral to set about saving
herself from a most miserable existence I can't conceive; but I verily
believe that she would have found it easier to forgive the girl an
actual crime; say the rifling of the Bournemouth old lady's desk, for
instance.  And then--for Mrs Fyne was very much of a woman herself--her
sense of proprietorship was very strong within her; and though she had
not much use for her brother, yet she did not like to see him annexed by
another woman.  By a chit of a girl.  And such a girl, too.  Nothing is
truer than that, in this world, the luckless have no right to their
opportunities--as if misfortune were a legal disqualification.  Fyne's
sentiments (as they naturally would be in a man) had more stability.  A
good deal of his sympathy survived.  Indeed I heard him murmur "Ghastly
nuisance," but I knew it was of the integrity of his domestic accord
that he was thinking.  With my eyes on the dog lying curled up in sleep
in the middle of the porch I suggested in a subdued impersonal tone:
"Yes.  Why not let yourself be persuaded?"

I never saw little Fyne less solemn.  He hissed through his teeth in
unexpectedly figurative style that it would take a lot to persuade him
to "push under the head of a poor devil of a girl quite sufficiently
plucky"--and snorted.  He was still gazing at the distant quarry, and I
think he was affected by that sight.  I assured him that I was far from
advising him to do anything so cruel.  I am convinced he had always
doubted the soundness of my principles, because he turned on me swiftly
as though he had been on the watch for a lapse from the straight path.

"Then what do you mean?  That I should pretend!"

"No!  What nonsense!  It would be immoral.  I may however tell you that
if I had to make a choice I would rather do something immoral than
something cruel.  What I meant was that, not believing in the efficacy
of the interference, the whole question is reduced to your consenting to
do what your wife wishes you to do.  That would be acting like a
gentleman, surely.  And acting unselfishly too, because I can very well
understand how distasteful it may be to you.  Generally speaking, an
unselfish action is a moral action.  I'll tell you what.  I'll go with
you."

He turned round and stared at me with surprise and suspicion.  "You
would go with me?" he repeated.

"You don't understand," I said, amused at the incredulous disgust of his
tone.  "I must run up to town, to-morrow morning.  Let us go together.
You have a set of travelling chessmen."

His physiognomy, contracted by a variety of emotions, relaxed to a
certain extent at the idea of a game.  I told him that as I had business
at the Docks he should have my company to the very ship.

"We shall beguile the way to the wilds of the East by improving
conversation," I encouraged him.

"My brother-in-law is staying at an hotel--the Eastern Hotel," he said,
becoming sombre again.  "I haven't the slightest idea where it is."

"I know the place.  I shall leave you at the door with the comfortable
conviction that you are doing what's right since it pleases a lady and
cannot do any harm to anybody whatever."

"You think so?  No harm to anybody?" he repeated doubtfully.

"I assure you it's not the slightest use," I said with all possible
emphasis which seemed only to increase the solemn discontent of his
expression.

"But in order that my going should be a perfectly candid proceeding I
must first convince my wife that it isn't the slightest use," he
objected portentously.

"Oh, you casuist!"  I said.  And I said nothing more because at that
moment Mrs Fyne stepped out into the porch.  We rose together at her
appearance.  Her clear, colourless, unflinching glance enveloped us both
critically.  I sustained the chill smilingly, but Fyne stooped at once
to release the dog.  He was some time about it; then simultaneously with
his recovery of upright position the animal passed at one bound from
profoundest slumber into most tumultuous activity.  Enveloped in the
tornado of his inane scurryings and barkings, I took Mrs Fyne's hand
extended to me woodenly and bowed over it with deference.  She walked
down the path without a word; Fyne had preceded her and was waiting by
the open gate.  They passed out and walked up the road surrounded by a
low cloud of dust raised by the dog gyrating madly about their two
figures progressing side by side with rectitude and propriety, and (I
don't know why) looking to me as if they had annexed the whole
country-side.  Perhaps it was that they had impressed me somehow with
the sense of their superiority.  What superiority?  Perhaps it consisted
just in their limitations.  It was obvious that neither of them had
carried away a high opinion of me.  But what affected me most was the
indifference of the Fyne dog.  He used to precipitate himself at full
speed and with a frightful final upward spring upon my waistcoat, at
least once at each of our meetings.  He had neglected that ceremony this
time notwithstanding my correct and even conventional conduct in
offering him a cake; it seemed to me symbolic of my final separation
from the Fyne household.  And I remembered against him how on a certain
day he had abandoned poor Flora de Barral--who was morbidly sensitive.

I sat down in the porch and, maybe inspired by secret antagonism to the
Fynes, I said to myself deliberately that Captain Anthony must be a fine
fellow.  Yet on the facts as I knew them he might have been a dangerous
trifler or a downright scoundrel.  He had made a miserable, hopeless
girl follow him clandestinely to London.  It is true that the girl had
written since, only Mrs Fyne had been remarkably vague as to the
contents.  They were unsatisfactory.  They did not positively announce
imminent nuptials as far as I could make it out from her rather
mysterious hints.  But then her inexperience might have led her astray.
There was no fathoming the innocence of a woman-like Mrs Fyne who,
venturing as far as possible in theory, would know nothing of the real
aspect of things.  It would have been comic if she were making all this
fuss for nothing.  But I rejected this suspicion for the honour of human
nature.

I imagined to myself Captain Anthony as simple and romantic.  It was
much more pleasant.  Genius is not hereditary but temperament may be.
And he was the son of a poet with an admirable gift of individualising,
of etherealising the commonplace; of making touching, delicate,
fascinating the most hopeless conventions of the so-called refined
existence.

What I could not understand was Mrs Fyne's dog-in-the-manger attitude.
Sentimentally she needed that brother of hers so little!  What could it
matter to her one way or another--setting aside common humanity which
would suggest at least a neutral attitude.  Unless indeed it was the
blind working of the law that in our world of chances the luckless
_must_ be put in the wrong somehow.

And musing thus on the general inclination of our instincts towards
injustice I met unexpectedly, at the turn of the road, as it were, a
shape of duplicity.  It might have been unconscious on Mrs Fyne's part,
but her leading idea appeared to me to be not to keep, not to preserve
her brother, but to get rid of him definitely.  She did not hope to stop
anything.  She had too much sense for that.  Almost anyone out of an
idiot asylum would have had enough sense for that.  She wanted the
protest to be made, emphatically, with Fyne's fullest concurrence in
order to make all intercourse for the future impossible.  Such an action
would estrange the pair for ever from the Fynes.  She understood her
brother and the girl too.  Happy together, they would never forgive that
outspoken hostility--and should the marriage turn out badly...  Well, it
would be just the same.  Neither of them would be likely to bring their
troubles to such a good prophet of evil.

Yes.  That must have been her motive.  The inspiration of a possibly
unconscious Machiavellism!  Either she was afraid of having a
sister-in-law to look after during the husband's long absences; or
dreaded the more or less distant eventuality of her brother being
persuaded to leave the sea, the friendly refuge of his unhappy youth,
and to settle on shore, bringing to her very door this undesirable, this
embarrassing connection.  She wanted to be done with it--maybe simply
from the fatigue of continuous effort in good or evil, which, in the
bulk of common mortals, accounts for so many surprising inconsistencies
of conduct.

I don't know that I had classed Mrs Fyne, in my thoughts, amongst
common mortals.  She was too quietly sure of herself for that.  But
little Fyne, as I spied him next morning (out of the carriage window)
speeding along the platform, looked very much like a common, flustered
mortal who has made a very near thing of catching his train: the
starting wild eyes, the tense and excited face, the distracted gait, all
the common symptoms were there, rendered more impressive by his native
solemnity which flapped about him like a disordered garment.  Had he--I
asked myself with interest--resisted his wife to the very last minute
and, then bolted up the road from the last conclusive argument, as
though it had been a loaded gun suddenly produced?  I opened the
carriage door, and a vigorous porter shoved him in from behind just as
the end of the rustic platform went gliding swiftly from under his feet.
He was very much out of breath, and I waited with some curiosity for
the moment he would recover his power of speech.  That moment came.  He
said "Good morning" with a slight gasp, remained very still for another
minute and then pulled out of his pocket the travelling chessboard, and
holding it in his hand, directed at me a glance of inquiry.  "Yes.
Certainly," I said, very much disappointed.



PART ONE, CHAPTER 7.

ON THE PAVEMENT.

Fyne was not willing to talk; but as I had been already let into the
secret, the fair-minded little man recognised that I had some right to
information if I insisted on it.  And I did insist, after the third
game.  We were yet some way from the end of our journey.

"Oh, if you want to know," was his somewhat impatient opening.  And then
he talked rather volubly.  First of all his wife had not given him to
read the letter received from Flora (I had suspected him of having it in
his pocket), but had told him all about the contents.  It was not at all
what it should have been even if the girl had wished to affirm her right
to disregard the feelings of all the world.  Her own had been trampled
in the dirt out of all shape.  Extraordinary thing to say--I would
admit, for a young girl of her age.  The whole tone of that letter was
wrong, quite wrong.  It was certainly not the product of a--say, of a
well-balanced mind.

"If she were given some sort of footing in this world," I said, "if only
no bigger than the palm of my hand, she would probably learn to keep a
better balance."

Fyne ignored this little remark.  His wife, he said, was not the sort of
person to be addressed mockingly on a serious subject.  There was an
unpleasant strain of levity in that letter, extending even to the
references to Captain Anthony himself.  Such a disposition was enough,
his wife had pointed out to him, to alarm one for the future, had all
the circumstances of that preposterous project been as satisfactory as
in fact they were not.  Other parts of the letter seemed to have a
challenging tone--as if daring them (the Fynes) to approve her conduct.
And at the same time implying that she did not care, that it was for
their own sakes that she hoped they would "go against the world--the
horrid world which had crushed poor papa."

Fyne called upon me to admit that this was pretty cool--considering.
And there was another thing, too.  It seems that for the last six months
(she had been assisting two ladies who kept a kindergarten school in
Bayswater--a mere pittance), Flora had insisted on devoting all her
spare time to the study of the trial.  She had been looking up files of
old newspapers, and working herself up into a state of indignation with
what she called the injustice and the hypocrisy of the prosecution.  Her
father, Fyne reminded me, had made some palpable hits in his answers in
Court, and she had fastened on them triumphantly.  She had reached the
conclusion of her father's innocence, and had been brooding over it.
Mrs Fyne had pointed out to him the danger of this.

The train ran into the station and Fyne, jumping out directly it came to
a standstill, seemed glad to cut short the conversation.  We walked in
silence a little way, boarded a bus, then walked again.  I don't suppose
that since the days of his childhood, when surely he was taken to see
the Tower, he had been once east of Temple Bar.  He looked about him
sullenly; and when I pointed out in the distance the rounded front of
the Eastern Hotel at the bifurcation of two very broad, mean, shabby
thoroughfares, rising like a grey stucco tower above the lowly roofs of
the dirty-yellow, two-storey houses, he only grunted disapprovingly.

"I wouldn't lay too much stress on what you have been telling me," I
observed quietly as we approached that unattractive building.  "No man
will believe a girl who has just accepted his suit to be not
well-balanced,--you know."

"Oh, accepted his suit," muttered Fyne, who seemed to have been very
thoroughly convinced indeed.  "It may have been the other way about."
And then he added: "I am going through with it."

I said that this was very praiseworthy but that a certain moderation of
statement--He waved his hand at me and mended his pace.  I guessed that
he was anxious to get his mission over as quickly as possible.  He
barely gave himself time to shake hands with me and made a rush at the
narrow glass door with the words Hotel Entrance on it.  It swung to
behind his back with no more noise than the snap of a toothless jaw.

The absurd temptation to remain and see what would come of it got over
my better judgment.  I hung about irresolute, wondering how long an
embassy of that sort would take, and whether Fyne on coming out would
consent to be communicative.  I feared he would be shocked at finding me
there, would consider my conduct incorrect, conceivably treat me with
contempt.  I walked off a few paces.  Perhaps it would be possible to
read something on Fyne's face as he came out; and, if necessary, I could
always eclipse myself discreetly through the door of one of the bars.
The ground floor of the Eastern Hotel was an unabashed pub, with
plate-glass fronts, a display of brass rails, and divided into many
compartments each having its own entrance.

But of course all this was silly.  The marriage, the love, the affairs
of Captain Anthony were none of my business.  I was on the point of
moving down the street for good when my attention was attracted by a
girl approaching the hotel entrance from the west.  She was dressed very
modestly in black.  It was the white straw hat of a good form and
trimmed with a bunch of pale roses which had caught my eye.  The whole
figure seemed familiar.  Of course!  Flora de Barral.  She was making
for the hotel, she was going in.  And Fyne was with Captain Anthony!  To
meet him could not be pleasant for her.  I wished to save her from the
awkwardness, and as I hesitated what to do she looked up and our eyes
happened to meet just as she was turning off the pavement into the hotel
doorway.  Instinctively I extended my arm.  It was enough to make her
stop.  I suppose she had some faint notion that she had seen me before
somewhere.  She walked slowly forward, prudent and attentive, watching
my faint smile.

"Excuse me," I said directly she had approached me near enough.
"Perhaps you would like to know that Mr Fyne is upstairs with Captain
Anthony at this moment."

She uttered a faint "Ah!  Mr Fyne!"  I could read in her eyes that she
had recognised me now.  Her serious expression extinguished the imbecile
grin of which I was conscious.  I raised my hat.  She responded with a
slow inclination of the head while her luminous, mistrustful, maiden's
glance seemed to whisper, "What is this one doing here?"

"I came up to town with Fyne this morning," I said in a businesslike
tone.  "I have to see a friend in East India Dock.  Fyne and I parted
this moment at the door here..."  The girl regarded me with darkening
eyes ...  "Mrs Fyne did not come with her husband," I went on, then
hesitated before that white face so still in the pearly shadow thrown
down by the hat-brim.  "But she sent him," I murmured by way of warning.

Her eyelids fluttered slowly over the fixed stare.  I imagine she was
not much disconcerted by this development.  "I live a long way from
here," she whispered.

I said perfunctorily, "Do you?"  And we remained gazing at each other.
The uniform paleness of her complexion was not that of an anaemic girl.
It had a transparent vitality and at that particular moment the faintest
possible rosy tinge, the merest suspicion of colour; an equivalent, I
suppose, in any other girl to blushing like a peony, while she told me
that Captain Anthony had arranged to show her the ship that morning.

It was easy to understand that she did not want to meet Fyne.  And when
I mentioned in a discreet murmur that he had come because of her letter
she glanced at the hotel door quickly, and moved off a few steps to a
position where she could watch the entrance without being seen.  I
followed her.  At the junction of the two thoroughfares she stopped in
the thin traffic of the broad pavement and turned to me with an air of
challenge.  "And so you know."

I told her that I had not seen the letter.  I had only heard of it.  She
was a little impatient.  "I mean all about me."

Yes.  I knew all about her.  The distress of Mr and Mrs Fyne--
especially of Mrs Fyne--was so great that they would have shared it
with anybody almost--not belonging to their circle of friends.  I
happened to be at hand--that was all.

"You understand that I am not their friend.  I am only a holiday
acquaintance."

"She was not very much upset?" queried Flora de Barral, meaning, of
course, Mrs Fyne.  And I admitted that she was less so than her
husband--and even less than myself.  Mrs Fyne was a very self-possessed
person whom nothing could startle out of her extreme theoretical
position.  She did not seem startled when Fyne and I proposed going to
the quarry.

"You put that notion into their heads," the girl said.

I advanced that the notion was in their heads already.  But it was much
more vividly in my head since I had seen her up there with my own eyes,
tempting Providence.

She was looking at me with extreme attention, and murmured:

"Is that what you called it to them?  Tempting..."

"No.  I told them that you were making up your mind and I came along
just then.  I told them that you were saved by me.  My shout checked
you..."  She moved her head gently from right to left in negation.--"No?
Well, have it your own way."

I thought to myself: She has found another issue.  She wants to forget
now.  And no wonder.  She wants to persuade herself that she had never
known such an ugly and poignant minute in her life.  "After all," I
conceded aloud, "things are not always what they seem."

Her little head with its deep blue eyes, eyes of tenderness and anger
under the black arch of fine eyebrows was very still.  The mouth looked
very red in the white face peeping from under the veil, the little
pointed chin had in its form something aggressive.  Slight and even
angular in her modest black dress she was an appealing and--yes--she was
a desirable little figure.

Her lips moved very fast asking me:

"And they believed you at once?"

"Yes, they believed me at once.  Mrs Fyne's word to us was `Go!'"

A white gleam between the red lips was so short that I remained
uncertain whether it was a smile or a ferocious baring of little even
teeth.  The rest of the face preserved its innocent, tense and
enigmatical expression.  She spoke rapidly.

"No, it wasn't your shout.  I had been there some time before you saw
me.  And I was not there to tempt Providence, as you call it.  I went up
there for--for what you thought I was going to do.  Yes.  I climbed two
fences.  I did not mean to leave anything to Providence.  There seem to
be people for whom Providence can do nothing.  I suppose you are shocked
to hear me talk like that?"

I shook my head.  I was not shocked.  What had kept her back all that
time, till I appeared on the scene below, she went on, was neither fear
nor any other kind of hesitation.  One reaches a point, she said with
appalling youthful simplicity, where nothing that concerns one matters
any longer.  But something did keep her back.  I should have never
guessed what it was.  She herself confessed that it seemed absurd to
say.  It was the Fyne dog.

Flora de Barral paused, looking at me with a peculiar expression and
then went on.  You see, she imagined the dog had become extremely
attached to her.  She took it into her head that he might fall over or
jump down after her.  She tried to drive him away.  She spoke sternly to
him.  It only made him more frisky.  He barked and jumped about her
skirt in his usual, idiotic, high spirits.  He scampered away in circles
between the pines charging upon her and leaping as high as her waist.
She commanded, "Go away.  Go home."  She even picked up from the ground
a bit of a broken branch and threw it at him.  At this his delight knew
no bounds; his rushes became faster, his yapping louder; he seemed to be
having the time of his life.  She was convinced that the moment she
threw herself down he would spring over after her as if it were part of
the game.  She was vexed almost to tears.  She was touched too.  And
when he stood still at some distance as if suddenly rooted to the ground
wagging his tail slowly and watching her intensely with his shining eyes
another fear came to her.  She imagined herself gone and the creature
sitting on the brink, its head thrown up to the sky and howling for
hours.  This thought was not to be borne.  Then my shout reached her
ears.

She told me all this with simplicity.  My voice had destroyed her
poise--the suicide poise of her mind.  Every act of ours, the most
criminal, the most mad, presupposes a balance of thought, feeling and
will, like a correct attitude for an effective stroke in a game.  And I
had destroyed it.  She was no longer in proper form for the act.  She
was not very much annoyed.  Next day would do.  She would have to slip
away without attracting the notice of the dog.  She thought of the
necessity almost tenderly.  She came down the path carrying her despair
with lucid calmness.  But when she saw herself deserted by the dog, she
had an impulse to turn round, go up again and be done with it.  Not even
that animal cared for her--in the end.

"I really did think that he was attached to me.  What did he want to
pretend for, like this?  I thought nothing could hurt me any more.  Oh
yes.  I would have gone up, but I felt suddenly so tired.  So tired.
And then you were there.  I didn't know what you would do.  You might
have tried to follow me and I didn't think I could run--not up hill--not
then."

She had raised her white face a little, and it was queer to hear her say
these things.  At that time of the morning there are comparatively few
people out in that part of the town.  The broad interminable perspective
of the East India Dock Road, the great perspective of drab brick walls,
of grey pavement, of muddy roadway rumbling dismally with loaded carts
and vans lost itself in the distance, imposing and shabby in its
spacious meanness of aspect, in its immeasurable poverty of forms, of
colouring, of life--under a harsh, unconcerned sky dried by the wind to
a clear blue.  It had been raining during the night.  The sunshine
itself seemed poor.  From time to time a few bits of paper, a little
dust and straw whirled past us on the broad flat promontory of the
pavement before the rounded front of the hotel.

Flora de Barral was silent for a while.  I said:

"And next day you thought better of it."

Again she raised her eyes to mine with that peculiar expression of
informed innocence; and again her white cheeks took on the faintest
tinge of pink--the merest shadow of a blush.

"Next day," she uttered distinctly, "I didn't think.  I remembered.
That was enough.  I remembered what I should never have forgotten.
Never.  And Captain Anthony arrived at the cottage in the evening."

"Ah yes.  Captain Anthony," I murmured.  And she repeated also in a
murmur, "Yes!  Captain Anthony."  The faint flush of warm life left her
face.  I subdued my voice still more and not looking at her: "You found
him sympathetic?"  I ventured.

Her long dark lashes went down a little with an air of calculated
discretion.  At least so it seemed to me.  And yet no one could say that
I was inimical to that girl.  But there you are!  Explain it as you may,
in this world the friendless, like the poor, are always a little
suspect, as if honesty and delicacy were only possible to the privileged
few.

"Why do you ask?" she said after a time, raising her eyes suddenly to
mine in an effect of candour which on the same principle (of the
disinherited not being to be trusted) might have been judged equivocal.

"If you mean what right I have..."  She moved slightly a hand in a worn
brown glove as much as to say she could not question anyone's right
against such an outcast as herself.

I ought to have been moved perhaps; but I only noted the total absence
of humility.--"No right at all," I continued, "but just interest.  Mrs
Fyne--it's too difficult to explain how it came about--has talked to me
of you--well--extensively."

No doubt Mrs Fyne had told me the truth, Flora said brusquely with an
unexpected hoarseness of tone.  This very dress she was wearing had been
given her by Mrs Fyne.  Of course I looked at it.  It could not have
been a recent gift.  Close-fitting and black, with heliotrope silk
facings under a figured net, it looked far from new, just on this side
of shabbiness; in fact, it accentuated the slightness of her figure, it
went well in its suggestion of half mourning with the white face in
which the unsmiling red lips alone seemed warm with the rich blood of
life and passion.

Little Fyne was staying up there an unconscionable time.  Was he
arguing, preaching, remonstrating?  Had he discovered in himself a
capacity and a taste for that sort of thing?  Or was he perhaps, in an
intense dislike for the job, beating about the bush and only puzzling
Captain Anthony, the providential man, who, if he expected the girl to
appear at any moment, must have been on tenterhooks all the time, and
beside himself with impatience to see the back of his brother-in-law.
How was it that he had not got rid of Fyne long before in any case?  I
don't mean by actually throwing him out of the window, but in some other
resolute manner.

Surely Fyne had not impressed him.  That he was an impressionable man I
could not doubt.  The presence of the girl there on the pavement before
me proved this up to the hilt--and, well, yes, touchingly enough.

It so happened that in their wanderings to and fro our glances met.
They met and remained in contact more familiar than a hand-clasp, more
communicative, more expressive.  There was something comic too in the
whole situation, in the poor girl and myself waiting together on the
broad pavement at a corner public-house for the issue of Fyne's
ridiculous mission.  But the comic when it is human becomes quickly
painful.  Yes, she was infinitely anxious.  And I was asking myself
whether this poignant tension of her suspense depended--to put it
plainly--on hunger or love.

The answer would have been of some interest to Captain Anthony.  For my
part, in the presence of a young girl I always become convinced that the
dreams of sentiment--like the consoling mysteries of Faith--are
invincible; that it is never never reason which governs men and women.

Yet what sentiment could there have been on her part?  I remembered her
tone only a moment since when she said: "That evening Captain Anthony
arrived at the cottage."  And considering, too, what the arrival of
Captain Anthony meant in this connection, I wondered at the calmness
with which she could mention that fact.  He arrived at the cottage.  In
the evening.  I knew that late train.  He probably walked from the
station.  The evening would be well advanced.  I could almost see a dark
indistinct figure opening the wicket gate of the garden.  Where was she?
Did she see him enter?  Was she somewhere near by and did she hear
without the slightest premonition his chance and fateful footsteps on
the flagged path leading to the cottage door?  In the shadow of the
night made more cruelly sombre for her by the very shadow of death he
must have appeared too strange, too remote, too unknown to impress
himself on her thought as a living force--such a force as a man can
bring to bear on a woman's destiny.

She glanced towards the hotel door again; I followed suit and then our
eyes met once more, this time intentionally.  A tentative, uncertain
intimacy was springing up between us two.  She said simply: "You are
waiting for Mr Fyne to come out; are you?"

I admitted to her that I was waiting to see Mr Fyne come out.  That was
all.  I had nothing to say to him.

"I have said yesterday all I had to say to him," I added meaningly.  "I
have said it to them both, in fact.  I have also heard all they had to
say."

"About me?" she murmured.

"Yes.  The conversation was about you."

"I wonder if they told you everything."

If she wondered I could do nothing else but wonder too.  But I did not
tell her that.  I only smiled.  The material point was that Captain
Anthony should be told everything.  But as to that I was very certain
that the good sister would see to it.  Was there anything more to
disclose--some other misery, some other deception of which that girl had
been a victim?  It seemed hardly probable.  It was not even easy to
imagine.  What struck me most was her--I suppose I must call it--
composure.  One could not tell whether she understood what she had done.
One wondered.  She was not so much unreadable as blank; and I did not
know whether to admire her for it or dismiss her from my thoughts as a
passive butt of ferocious misfortune.

Looking back at the occasion when we first got on speaking terms on the
road by the quarry, I had to admit that she presented some points of a
problematic appearance.  I don't know why I imagined Captain Anthony as
the sort of man who would not be likely to take the initiative; not
perhaps from indifference but from that peculiar timidity before women
which often enough is found in conjunction with chivalrous instincts,
with a great need for affection and great stability of feelings.  Such
men are easily moved.  At the least encouragement they go forward with
the eagerness, with the recklessness of starvation.  This accounted for
the suddenness of the affair.  No!  With all her inexperience this girl
could not have found any great difficulty in her conquering enterprise.
She must have begun it.  And yet there she was, patient, almost unmoved,
almost pitiful, waiting outside like a beggar, without a right to
anything but compassion, for a promised dole.

Every moment people were passing close by us, singly, in two and threes;
the inhabitants of that end of the town where life goes on unadorned by
grace or splendour; they passed us in their shabby garments, with sallow
faces, haggard, anxious or weary, or simply without expression, in an
unsmiling sombre stream not made up of lives but of mere unconsidered
existences whose joys, struggles, thoughts, sorrows and their very hopes
were miserable, glamourless, and of no account in the world.  And when
one thought of their reality to themselves one's heart became oppressed.
But of all the individuals who passed by none appeared to me for the
moment so pathetic in unconscious patience as the girl standing before
me; none more difficult to understand.  It is perhaps because I was
thinking of things which I could not ask her about.

In fact we had nothing to say to each other; but we two, strangers as we
really were to each other, had dealt with the most intimate and final of
subjects, the subject of death.  It had created a sort of bond between,
us.  It made our silence weighty and uneasy.  I ought to have left her
there and then; but, as I think I've told you before, the fact of having
shouted her away from the edge of a precipice seemed somehow to have
engaged my responsibility as to this other leap.  And so we had still an
intimate subject between us to lend more weight and more uneasiness to
our silence.  The subject of marriage.  I use the word not so much in
reference to the ceremony itself (I had no doubt of this, Captain
Anthony being a decent fellow) or in view of the social institution in
general, as to which I have no opinion, but in regard to the human
relation.  The first two views are not particularly interesting.  The
ceremony, I suppose, is adequate; the institution, I dare say, is useful
or it would not have endured.  But the human relation thus recognised is
a mysterious thing in its origins, character and consequences.
Unfortunately you can't buttonhole familiarly a young girl as you would
a young fellow.  I don't think that even another woman could really do
it.  She would not be trusted.  There is not between women that fund of
at least conditional loyalty which men may depend on in their dealings
with each other.  I believe that any woman would rather trust a man.
The difficulty in such a delicate case was how to get on terms.

So we held our peace in the odious uproar of that wide roadway thronged
with heavy carts.  Great vans carrying enormous piled-up loads advanced
swaying like mountains.  It was as if the whole world existed only for
selling and buying and those who had nothing to do with the movement of
merchandise were of no account.

"You must be tired," I said.  One had to say something if only to assert
oneself against that wearisome, passionless and crushing uproar.  She
raised her eyes for a moment.  No, she was not.  Not very.  She had not
walked all the way.  She came by train as far as Whitechapel Station and
had only walked from there.

She had had an ugly pilgrimage; but whether of love or of necessity who
could tell?  And that precisely was what I should have liked to get at.
This was not however a question to be asked point-blank, and I could not
think of any effective circumlocution.  It occurred to me too that she
might conceivably know nothing of it herself--I mean by reflection.
That young woman had been obviously considering death.  She had gone the
length of forming some conception of it.  But as to its companion
fatality--love, she, I was certain, had never reflected upon its
meaning.

With that man in the hotel, whom I did not know, and this girl standing
before me in the street I felt that it was an exceptional case.  He had
broken away from his surroundings; she stood outside the pale.  One
aspect of conventions which people who declaim against them lose sight
of is that conventions make both joy and suffering easier to bear in a
becoming manner.  But those two were outside all conventions.  They
would be as untrammelled in a sense as the first man and the first
woman.  The trouble was that I could not imagine anything about Flora de
Barral and the brother of Mrs Fyne.  Or, if you like, I could imagine
_anything_ which comes practically to the same thing.  Darkness and
chaos are first cousins.  I should have liked to ask the girl for a word
which would give my imagination its line.  But how was one to venture so
far?  I can be rough sometimes but I am not naturally impertinent.  I
would have liked to ask her for instance: "Do you know what you have
done with yourself?"  A question like that.  Anyhow it was time for one
of us to say something.  A question it must be.  And the question I
asked was: "So he's going to show you the ship?"

She seemed glad I had spoken at last and glad of the opportunity to
speak herself.

"Yes.  He said he would--this morning.  Did you say you did not know
Captain Anthony?"

"No.  I don't know him.  Is he anything like his sister?"

She looked startled and murmured "Sister!" in a puzzled tone which
astonished me.  "Oh!  Mrs Fyne," she exclaimed, recollecting herself,
and avoiding my eyes while I looked at her curiously.

What an extraordinary detachment!  And all the time the stream of shabby
people was hastening by us, with the continuous dreary shuffling of
weary footsteps on the flagstones.  The sunshine falling on the grime of
surfaces, on the poverty of tones and forms seemed of an inferior
quality, its joy faded, its brilliance tarnished and dusty.  I had to
raise my voice in the dull vibrating noise of the roadway.

"You don't mean to say you have forgotten the connection?"

She cried readily enough: "I wasn't thinking."  And then, while I
wondered what could have been the images occupying her brain at this
time, she asked me: "You didn't see my letter to Mrs Fyne--did you?"

"No.  I didn't," I shouted.  Just then the racket was distracting, a
pair-horse trolly lightly loaded with loose rods of iron passing slowly
very near us.  "I wasn't trusted so far."  And remembering Mrs Fyne's
hints that the girl was unbalanced, I added: "Was it an unreserved
confession you wrote?"

She did not answer me for a time, and as I waited I thought that there's
nothing like a confession to make one look mad; and that of all
confessions a written one is the most detrimental all round.  Never
confess!  Never, never!  An untimely joke is a source of bitter regret
always.  Sometimes it may ruin a man; not because it is a joke, but
because it is untimely.  And a confession of whatever sort is always
untimely.  The only thing which makes it supportable for a while is
curiosity.  You smile?  Ah, but it is so, or else people would be sent
to the rightabout at the second sentence.  How many sympathetic souls
can you reckon on in the world?  One in ten, one in a hundred--in a
thousand--in ten thousand?  Ah!  What a sell these confessions are!
What a horrible sell!  You seek sympathy, and all you get is the most
evanescent sense of relief--if you get that much.  For a confession,
whatever it may be, stirs the secret depths of the hearer's character.
Often depths that he himself is but dimly aware of.  And so the
righteous triumph secretly, the lucky are amused, the strong are
disgusted, the weak either upset or irritated with you according to the
measure of their sincerity with themselves.  And all of them in their
hearts brand you for either mad or impudent...

I had seldom seen Marlow so vehement, so pessimistic, so earnestly
cynical before.  I cut his declamation short by asking what answer Flora
de Barral had given to his question.  "Did the poor girl admit firing
off her confidences at Mrs Fyne--eight pages of close writing--that
sort of thing?"

Marlow shook his head.

She did not tell me.  I accepted her silence, as a kind of answer and
remarked that it would have been better if she had simply announced the
fact to Mrs Fyne at the cottage.  "Why didn't you do it?"  I asked
point-blank.

She said: "I am not a very plucky girl."  She looked up at me and added
meaningly: "And _you_ know it.  And you know why."

I must remark that she seemed to have become very subdued since our
first meeting at the quarry.  Almost a different person from the
defiant, angry and despairing girl with quivering lips and resentful
glances.

"I thought it was very sensible of you to get away from that sheer
drop," I said.

She looked up with something of that old expression.

"That's not what I mean.  I see you will have it that you saved my life.
Nothing of the kind.  I was concerned for that vile little beast of a
dog.  No!  It was the idea of--of doing away with myself which was
cowardly.  That's what I meant by saying I am not a very plucky girl."

"Oh!"  I retorted airily.  "That little dog.  He isn't really a bad
little dog."  But she lowered her eyelids and went on:

"I was so miserable that I could think only of myself.  This was mean.
It was cruel too.  And besides I had _not_ given it up--not then."

Marlow changed his tone.

"I don't know much of the psychology of self-destruction.  It's a sort
of subject one has few opportunities to study closely.  I knew a man
once who came to my rooms one evening, and while smoking a cigar
confessed to me moodily that he was trying to discover some graceful way
of retiring out of Existence.  I didn't study his case, but I had a
glimpse of him the other day at a cricket match, with some women, having
a good time.  That seems a fairly reasonable attitude.  Considered as a
sin, it is a case for repentance before the throne of a merciful God.
But I imagine that Flora de Barral's religion under the care of the
distinguished governess could have been nothing but outward formality.
Remorse in the sense of gnawing shame and unavailing regret is only
understandable to me when some wrong had been done to a fellow-creature.
But why she, that girl who existed on sufferance, so to speak--why she
should writhe inwardly with remorse because she had once thought of
getting rid of a life which was nothing in every respect but a curse--
that I could not understand.  I thought it was very likely some obscure
influence of common forms of speech, some traditional or inherited
feeling--a vague notion that suicide is a legal crime; words of old
moralists and preachers which remain in the air and help to form all the
authorised moral conventions.  Yes, I was surprised at her remorse.  But
lowering her glance unexpectedly till her dark eyelashes seemed to rest
against her white cheeks she presented a perfectly demure aspect.  It
was so attractive that I could not help a faint smile.  That Flora de
Barral should ever, in any aspect, have the power to evoke a smile was
the very last thing I should have believed.  She went on after a slight
hesitation:--

"One day I started for there, for that place."

Look at the influence of a mere play of physiognomy!  If you remember
what we were talking about you will hardly believe that I caught myself
grinning down at that demure little girl.  I must say too that I felt
more friendly to her at the moment than ever before.

"Oh, you did?  To take that jump?  You are a determined young person.
Well, what happened that time?"

An almost imperceptible alteration in her bearing; a slight droop of her
head perhaps--a mere nothing--made her look more demure than ever.

"I had left the cottage," she began a little hurriedly.  "I was walking
along the road--you know, _the_ road.  I had made up my mind I was not
coming back this time."

I won't deny that these words spoken from under the brim of her hat (oh
yes, certainly, her head was down--she had put it down) gave me a
thrill; for indeed I had never doubted her sincerity.  It could never
have been, a make-believe despair.

"Yes," I whispered.  "You were going along the road."

"When..."  Again she hesitated with an effect of innocent shyness worlds
asunder from tragic issues; then glided on--"When suddenly Captain
Anthony came through a gate out of a field."

I coughed down the beginning of a most improper fit of laughter, and
felt ashamed of myself.  Her eyes raised for a moment seemed full of
innocent suffering and unexpressed menace in the depths of the dilated
pupils within the rings of sombre blue.  It was--how shall I say it?--a
night effect when you seem to see vague shapes and don't know what
reality you may come upon at any time.  Then she lowered her eyelids
again, shutting all mysteriousness out of the situation except for the
sobering memory of that glance, nightlike in the sunshine, expressively
still in the brutal unrest of the street.

"So Captain Anthony joined you--did he?"

"He opened a field-gate and walked out on the road.  He crossed to my
side and went on with me.  He had his pipe in his hand.  He said: `Are
you going far this morning?'"

These words (I was watching her white face as she spoke) gave me a
slight shudder.  She remained demure, almost prim.  And I remarked:

"You have been talking together before, of course."

"Not more than twenty words altogether since he arrived," she declared
without emphasis.  "That day he had said `Good morning' to me when we
met at breakfast two hours before.  And I said good morning to him.  I
did not see him afterwards till he came out on the road."

I thought to myself that this was not accidental.  He had been observing
her.  I felt certain also that he had not been asking any questions of
Mrs Fyne.

"I wouldn't look at him," said Flora de Barral.  "I had done with
looking at people.  He said to me: `My sister does not put herself out
much for us.  We had better keep each other company.  I have read every
book there is in that cottage.'  I walked on.  He did not leave me.  I
thought he ought to.  But he didn't.  He didn't seem to notice that I
would not talk to him."

She was now perfectly still.  The wretched little parasol hung down
against her dress from her joined hands.  I was rigid with attention.
It isn't every day that one culls such a volunteered tale on a girl's
lips.  The ugly street-noises swelling up for a moment covered the next
few words she said.  It was vexing.  The next word I heard was
"worried."

"It worried you to have him there, walking by your side."

"Yes.  Just that," she went on with downcast eyes.  There was something
prettily comical in her attitude and her tone, while I pictured to
myself a poor white-faced girl walking to her death with an unconscious
man striding by her side.  Unconscious?  I don't know.  First of all, I
felt certain that this was no chance meeting.  Something had happened
before.  Was he a man for a _coup-de-foudre_, the lightning stroke of
love?  I don't think so.  That sort of susceptibility is luckily rare.
A world of inflammable lovers of the Romeo and Juliet type would very
soon end in barbarism and misery.  But it is a fact that in every man
(not in every woman) there lives a lover; a lover who is called out in
all his potentialities often by the most insignificant little things--as
long as they come at the psychological moment: the glimpse of a face at
an unusual angle, an evanescent attitude, the curve of a cheek often
looked at before, perhaps, but then, at the moment, charged with
astonishing significance.  These are great mysteries, of course.  Magic
signs.

I don't know in what the sign consisted in this case.  It might have
been her pallor (it wasn't pasty nor yet papery) that white face with
eyes like blue gleams of fire and lips like red coals.  In certain
lights, in certain poises of head it suggested tragic sorrow.  Or it
might have been her wavy hair.  Or even just that pointed chin stuck out
a little, resentful and not particularly distinguished, doing away with
the mysterious aloofness of her fragile presence.  But any way at a
given moment Anthony must have suddenly _seen_ the girl.  And then, that
something had happened to him.  Perhaps nothing more than the thought
coming into his head that this was "a possible woman."

Followed this waylaying!  Its resolute character makes me think it was
the chin's doing; that "common mortal" touch which stands in such good
stead to some women.  Because men, I mean really masculine men, those
whose generations have evolved an ideal woman, are often very timid.
Who wouldn't be before the ideal?  It's your sentimental trifler, who
has just missed being nothing at all, who is enterprising, simply
because it is easy to appear enterprising when one does not mean to put
one's belief to the test.

Well, whatever it was that encouraged him, Captain Anthony stuck to
Flora de Barral in a manner which in a timid man might have been called
heroic if it had not been so simple.  Whether policy, diplomacy,
simplicity, or just inspiration, he kept up his talk, rather deliberate,
with very few pauses.  Then suddenly as if recollecting himself:

"It's funny.  I don't think you are annoyed with me for giving you my
company unasked.  But why don't you say something?"

I asked Miss de Barral what answer she made to this query.

"I made no answer," she said in that even, unemotional low voice which
seemed to be her voice for delicate confidences.  "I walked on.  He did
not seem to mind.  We came to the foot of the quarry where the road
winds up hill, past the place where you were sitting by the roadside
that day.  I began to wonder what I should do.  After we reached the top
Captain Anthony said that he had not been for a walk with a lady for
years and years--almost since he was a boy.  We had then come to where I
ought; to have turned off and struck across a field.  I thought of
making a run of it.  But he would have caught me up.  I knew he would;
and, of course, he would not have allowed me.  I couldn't give him the
slip."

"Why didn't you ask him to leave you?"  I inquired curiously.

"He would not have taken any notice," she went on steadily.  "And what
could I have done then?  I could not have started quarrelling with him--
could I?  I hadn't enough energy to get angry.  I felt very tired
suddenly.  I just stumbled on straight along the road.  Captain Anthony
told me that the family--some relations of his mother--he used to know
in Liverpool was broken up now, and he had never made any friends since.
All gone their different ways.  All the girls married.  Nice girls they
were and very friendly to him when he was but little more than a boy.
He repeated: `Very nice, cheery, clever girls.'  I sat down on a bank
against a hedge and began to cry."

"You must have astonished him not a little," I observed.

Anthony, it seems, remained on the road looking down at her.  He did not
offer to approach her, neither did he make any other movement or
gesture.  Flora de Barral told me all this.  She could see him through
her tears, blurred to a mere shadow on the white road, and then again
becoming more distinct, but always absolutely still and as if lost in
thought before a strange phenomenon which demanded the closest possible
attention.

Flora learned later that he had never seen a woman cry; not in that way,
at least.  He was impressed and interested by the mysteriousness of the
effect.  She was very conscious of being looked at, but was not able to
stop herself crying.  In fact, she was not capable of any effort.
Suddenly he advanced two steps, stooped, caught hold of her hands lying
on her lap and pulled her up to her feet; she found herself standing
close to him almost before she realised what he had done.  Some people
were coming briskly along the road and Captain Anthony muttered: "You
don't want to be stared at.  What about that stile over there?  Can we
go back across the fields?"

She snatched her hands out of his grasp (it seems he had omitted to let
them go), marched away from him and got over the stile.  It was a big
field sprinkled profusely with white sheep.  A trodden path crossed it
diagonally.  After she had gone more than half-way she turned her head
for the first time.  Keeping five feet or so behind, Captain Anthony was
following her with an air of extreme interest.  Interest or eagerness.
At any rate she caught an expression on his face which frightened her.
But not enough to make her run.  And indeed it would have had to be
something incredibly awful to scare into a run a girl who had come to
the end of her courage to live.

As if encouraged by this glance over the shoulder Captain Anthony came
up boldly, and now that he was by her side, she felt his nearness
intimately, like a touch.  She tried to disregard this sensation.  But
she was not angry with him now.  It wasn't worth while.  She was
thankful that he had the sense not to ask questions as to this crying.
Of course he didn't ask because he didn't care.  No one in the world
cared for her, neither those who pretended nor yet those who did not
pretend.  She preferred the latter.

Captain Anthony opened for her a gate into another field; when they got
through he kept walking abreast, elbow to elbow almost.  His voice
growled pleasantly in her very ear.  Staying in this dull place was
enough to give anyone the blues.  His sister scribbled all day.  It was
positively unkind.  He alluded to his nieces as rude, selfish monkeys,
without either feelings or manners.  And he went on to talk about his
ship being laid up for a month and dismantled for repairs.  The worst
was that on arriving in London he found he couldn't get the rooms he was
used to, where they made him as comfortable as such a confirmed sea-dog
as himself could be anywhere on shore.

In the effort to subdue by dint of talking and to keep in check the
mysterious, the profound attraction he felt already for that delicate
being of flesh and blood, with pale cheeks, with, darkened eyelids and
eyes scalded with hot tears, he went on speaking of himself as a
confirmed enemy of life on shore--a perfect terror to a simple man, what
with the fads and proprieties and the ceremonies and affectations.  He
hated all that.  He wasn't fit for it.  There was no rest and peace and
security but on the sea.

This gave one a view of Captain Anthony as a hermit withdrawn from a
wicked world.  It was amusingly unexpected to me and nothing more.  But
it must have appealed straight to that bruised and battered young soul.
Still shrinking from his nearness she had ended by listening to him with
avidity.  His deep murmuring voice soothed her.  And she thought
suddenly that there was peace and rest in the grave too.

She heard him say: "Look at my sister.  She isn't a bad woman by any
means.  She asks me here because it's right and proper, I suppose, but
she has no use for me.  There you have your shore people.  I quite
understand anybody crying.  I would have been gone already, only, truth
to say, I haven't any friends to go to."  He added brusquely: "And you?"

She made a slight negative sign.  He must have been observing her,
putting two and two together.  After a pause he said simply: "When I
first came here I thought you were governess to these girls.  My sister
didn't say a word about you to me."

Then Flora spoke for the first time.

"Mrs Fyne is my best friend."

"So she is mine," he said without the slightest irony or bitterness, but
added with conviction: "That shows you what life ashore is.  Much better
be out of it."

As they were approaching the cottage he was heard again as though a long
silent walk had not intervened: "But anyhow I shan't ask her anything
about you."

He stopped short and she went on alone.  His last words had impressed
her.  Everything he had said seemed somehow to have a special meaning
under its obvious conversational sense.  Till she went in at the door of
the cottage she felt his eyes resting on her.

That is it.  He had made himself felt.  That girl was, one may say,
washing about with slack limbs in the ugly surf of life with no
opportunity to strike out for herself, when suddenly she had been made
to feel that there was somebody beside her in the bitter water.  A most
considerable moral event for her; whether she was aware of it or not.
They met again at the one o'clock dinner.  I am inclined to think that,
being a healthy girl under her frail appearance, and fast walking and
what I may call relief-crying (there are many kinds of crying) making
one hungry, she made a good meal.  It was Captain Anthony who had no
appetite.  His sister commented on it in a curt, businesslike manner,
and the eldest of his delightful nieces said mockingly: "You have been
taking too much exercise this morning, Uncle Roderick."  The mild Uncle
Roderick turned upon her with a "What do you know about it, young lady?"
so charged with suppressed savagery that the whole round table gave one
gasp and went dumb for the rest of the meal.  He took no notice whatever
of Flora de Barral.  I don't think it was from prudence or any
calculated motive.  I believe he was so full of her aspects that he did
not want to look in her direction when there were other people to hamper
his imagination.

You understand I am piecing here bits of disconnected statements.  Next
day Flora saw him leaning over the field-gate.  When she told me this, I
didn't of course ask her how it was she was there.  Probably she could
not have told me how it was she was there.  The difficulty here is to
keep steadily in view the then conditions of her existence, a
combination of dreariness and horror.

That hermit-like but not exactly misanthropic sailor was leaning over
the gate moodily.  When he saw the white-faced restless Flora drifting
like a lost thing along the road he put his pipe in his pocket and
called out "Good morning, Miss Smith" in a tone of amazing happiness.
She, with one foot in life and the other in a nightmare, was at the same
time inert and unstable, and very much at the mercy of sudden impulses.
She swerved, came distractedly right up to the gate and looking straight
into his eyes: "I am not Miss Smith.  That's not my name.  Don't call me
by it."

She was shaking as if in a passion.  His eyes expressed nothing; he only
unlatched the gate in silence, grasped her arm and drew her in.  Then
closing it with a kick--

"Not your name?  That's all one to me.  Your name's the least thing
about you I care for."  He was leading her firmly away from the gate
though she resisted slightly.  There was a sort of joy in his eyes which
frightened her.  "You are not a princess in disguise," he said with an
unexpected laugh she found blood-curdling.  "And that's all I care for.
You had better understand that I am not blind and not a fool.  And then
it's plain for even a fool to see that things have been going hard with
you.  You are on a lee shore and eating your heart out with worry."

What seemed most awful to her was the elated light in his eyes, the
rapacious smile that would come and go on his lips as if he were
gloating over her misery.  But her misery was his opportunity and he
rejoiced while the tenderest pity seemed to flood his whole being.  He
pointed out to her that she knew who he was.  He was Mrs Fyne's
brother.  And, well, if his sister was the best friend she had in the
world, then, by Jove, it was about time somebody came along to look
after her a little.

Flora had tried more than once to free herself, but he tightened his
grasp of her arm each time and even shook it a little without ceasing to
speak.  The nearness of his face intimidated her.  He seemed striving to
look her through.  It was obvious the world had been using her ill.  And
even as he spoke with indignation the very marks and stamp of this
ill-usage of which he was so certain seemed to add to the inexplicable
attraction he felt for her person.  It was not pity alone, I take it.
It was something more spontaneous, perverse and exciting.  It gave him
the feeling that if only he could get hold of her, no woman would belong
to him so completely as this woman.

"Whatever your troubles," he said, "I am the man to take you away from
them; that is, if you are not afraid.  You told me you had no friends.
Neither have I.  Nobody ever cared for me as far as I can remember.
Perhaps you could.  Yes, I live on the sea.  But who would you be
parting from?  No one.  You have no one belonging to you."

At this point she broke away from him and ran.  He did not pursue her.
The tall hedges tossing in the wind, the wide fields, the clouds driving
over the sky and the sky itself wheeled about her in masses of green and
white and blue as if the world were breaking up silently in a whirl, and
her foot at the next step were bound to find the void.  She reached the
gate all right, got out, and, once on the road, discovered that she had
not the courage to look back.  The rest of that day she spent with the
Fyne girls who gave her to understand that she was a slow and
unprofitable person.  Long after tea, nearly at dusk, Captain Anthony
(the son of the poet) appeared suddenly before her in the little garden
in front of the cottage.  They were alone for the moment.  The wind had
dropped.  In the calm evening air the voices of Mrs Fyne and the girls
strolling aimlessly on the road could be heard.  He said to her
severely:

"You have understood?"

She looked at him in silence.

"That I love you," he finished.

She shook her head the least bit.

"Don't you believe me?" he asked in a low, infuriated voice.

"Nobody would love me," she answered in a very quiet tone.  "Nobody
could."

He was dumb for a time, astonished beyond measure, as he well might have
been.  He doubted his ears.  He was outraged.

"Eh?  What?  Can't love you?  What do you know about it?  It's my
affair, isn't it?  You dare say _that_ to a man who has just told you!
You must be mad!"

"Very nearly," she said with the accent of pent-up sincerity, and even
relieved because she was able to say something which she felt was true.
For the last few days she had felt herself several times near that
madness which is but an intolerable lucidity of apprehension.

The clear voices of Mrs Fyne and the girls were coming nearer, sounding
affected in the peace of the passion-laden earth.  He began storming at
her hastily.

"Nonsense!  Nobody can ...  Indeed!  Pah!  You'll have to be shown that
somebody can.  I can.  Nobody..."  He made a contemptuous hissing noise.
"More likely _you_ can't.  They have done something to you.
Something's crushed your pluck.  You can't face a man--that's what it
is.  What made you like this?  Where do you come from?  You have been
put upon.  The scoundrels--whoever they are, men or women, seem to have
robbed you of your very name.  You say you are not Miss Smith.  Who are
you, then?"

She did not answer.  He muttered, "Not that I care," and fell silent,
because the fatuous self-confident chatter of the Fyne girls could be
heard at the very gate.  But they were not going to bed yet.  They
passed on.  He waited a little in silence and immobility, then stamped
his foot and lost control of himself.  He growled at her in a savage
passion.  She felt certain that he was threatening her and calling her
names.  She was no stranger to abuse, as we know, but there seemed to be
a particular kind of ferocity in this which was new to her.  She began
to tremble.  The especially terrifying thing was that she could not make
out the nature of these awful menaces and names.  Not a word.  Yet it
was not the shrinking anguish of her other experiences of angry scenes.
She made a mighty effort, though her knees were knocking together, and
in an expiring voice demanded that he should let her go indoors.  "Don't
stop me.  It's no use.  It's no use," she repeated faintly, feeling an
invincible obstinacy rising within her, yet without anger against that
raging man.

He became articulate suddenly, and, without raising his voice, perfectly
audible.

"No use?  No use!  You dare stand here and tell me that--you white-faced
wisp, you wreath of mist, you little ghost of all the sorrow in the
world.  You dare!  Haven't I been looking at you?  You are all eyes.
What makes your cheeks always so white as if you had seen something ...
Don't speak.  I love it--No use!  And you really think that I can now go
to sea for a year or more, to the other side of the world somewhere,
leaving you behind.  Why!  You would vanish ... what little there is of
you.  Some rough wind will blow you away altogether.  You have no
holding ground on earth.  Well, then trust yourself to me--to the sea--
which is deep like your eyes."

She said: "Impossible."  He kept quiet for a while, then asked in a
totally changed tone, a tone of gloomy curiosity:

"You can't stand me then?  Is that it?"

"No," she said, more steady herself.  "I am not thinking of you at all."

The inane voices of the Fyne girls were heard over the sombre fields
calling to each other, thin and clear.  He muttered: "You could try to.
Unless you are thinking of somebody else."

"Yes.  I am thinking of somebody else, of someone who has nobody to
think of him but me."

His shadowy form stepped out of her way, and suddenly leaned sideways
against the wooden support of the porch.  And as she stood still,
surprised by this staggering movement, his voice spoke up in a tone
quite strange to her.

"Go in then.  Go out of my sight--I thought you said nobody could love
you."

She was passing him when suddenly he struck her as so forlorn that she
was inspired to say: "No one has ever loved me--not in that way--if
that's what you mean.  Nobody, would."

He detached himself brusquely from the post, and she did not shrink; but
Mrs Fyne and the girls were already at the gate.

All he understood was that everything was not over yet.  There was no
time to lose; Mrs Fyne and the girls had come in at the gate.  He
whispered "Wait" with such authority (he was the son of Carleon Anthony,
the domestic autocrat) that it did arrest her for a moment, long enough
to hear him say that he could not be left like this to puzzle over her
nonsense all night.  She was to slip down again into the garden later
on, as soon as she could do so without being heard.  He would be there
waiting for her till--till daylight.  She didn't think he could go to
sleep, did she?  And she had better come, or--he broke off on an
unfinished threat.

She vanished into the unlighted cottage just as Mrs Fyne came up to the
porch.  Nervous, holding her breath in the darkness of the living-room,
she heard her best friend say: "You ought to, have joined us, Roderick."
And then: "Have you seen Miss Smith anywhere?"

Flora shuddered, expecting Anthony to break out into betraying
imprecations on Miss Smith's head, and cause a painful and humiliating
explanation.  She imagined him full of his mysterious ferocity.  To her
great surprise, Anthony's voice sounded very much as usual, with perhaps
a slight tinge of grimness.  "Miss Smith!  No.  I've seen no Miss
Smith."

Mrs Fyne seemed satisfied--and not much concerned really.

Flora, relieved, got clear away to her room upstairs, and shutting her
door quietly, dropped into a chair.  She was used to reproaches, abuse,
to all sorts of wicked ill-usage--short of actual beating on her body.
Otherwise inexplicable angers had cut and slashed and trampled down her
youth without mercy--and mainly, it appeared, because she was the
financier de Barral's daughter and also condemned to a degrading sort of
poverty through the action of treacherous men who had turned upon her
father in his hour of need.  And she thought with the tenderest possible
affection of that upright figure buttoned up in a long frock-coat,
soft-voiced and having but little to say to his girl.  She seemed to
feel his hand closed round hers.  On his flying visits to Brighton he
would always walk hand in hand with her.  People stared covertly at
them; the band was playing; and there was the sea--the blue gaiety of
the sea.  They were quietly happy together.--It was all over!

An immense anguish of the present wrung her heart, and she nearly cried
aloud.  That dread of what was before her which had been eating up her
courage slowly in the course of odious years, flamed up into an access
of panic, that sort of headlong panic which had already driven her out
twice to the top of the cliff-like quarry.  She jumped up saying to
herself: "Why not now?  At once!  Yes.  I'll do it now--in the dark!"
The very horror of it seemed to give her additional resolution.

She came down the staircase quietly, and only on the point of opening
the door and because of the discovery that it was unfastened, she
remembered Captain Anthony's threat to stay in the garden all night.
She hesitated.  She did not understand the mood of that man clearly.  He
was violent.  But she had gone beyond the point where things matter.
What would he think of her coming down to him--as he would naturally
suppose.  And even that didn't matter.  He could not despise her more
than she despised herself.  She must have been light-headed because the
thought came into her mind that should he get into ungovernable fury
from disappointment, and perchance strangle her, it would be as good a
way to be done with it as any.

"You had that thought," I exclaimed in wonder.

With downcast eyes and speaking with an almost painstaking precision
(her very lips, her red lips, seemed to move just enough to be heard and
no more), she said that, yes, the thought came into her head.  This
makes one shudder at the mysterious ways girls acquire knowledge.  For
this was a thought, wild enough, I admit, but which could only have come
from the depths of that sort of experience which she had not had, and
went far beyond a young girl's possible conception of the strongest and
most veiled of human emotions.

"He was there, of course?"  I said.

"Yes, he was there."  She saw him on the path directly she stepped
outside the porch.  He was very still.  It was as though he had been
standing there with his face to the door for hours.

Shaken up by the changing moods of passion and tenderness, he must have
been ready for any extravagance of conduct.  Knowing the profound
silence each night brought to that nook of the country, I could imagine
them having the feeling of being the only two people on the wide earth.
A row of six or seven lofty elms just across the road opposite the
cottage made the night more obscure in that little garden.  If these two
could just make out each other that was all.

"Well!  And were you very much terrified?"  I asked.

She made me wait a little before she said, raising her eyes: "He was
gentleness itself."

I noticed three abominable, drink-sodden loafers, sallow and dirty, who
had come to range themselves in a row within ten feet of us against the
front of the public-house.  They stared at Flora de Barral's back with
unseeing, mournful fixity.  "Let's move this way a little," I proposed.

She turned at once and we made a few paces; not too far to take us out
of sight of the hotel door, but very nearly.  I could just keep my eyes
on it.  After all, I had not been so very long with the girl.  If you
were to disentangle the words we actually exchanged from my comments you
would see that they were not so very many, including everything she had
so unexpectedly told me of her story.  No, not so very many.  And now it
seemed as though there would be no more.  No!  I could expect no more.
The confidence was wonderful enough in its nature as far as it went, and
perhaps not to have been expected from any other girl under the sun.
And I felt a little ashamed.  The origin of our intimacy was too
gruesome.  It was as if listening to her I had taken advantage of having
seen her poor bewildered, scared soul without its veils.  But I was
curious, too; or, to render myself justice without false modesty--I was
anxious; anxious to know a little more.

I felt like a blackmailer all the same when I made my attempt with a
light-hearted remark.

"And so you gave up that walk you proposed to take?"

"Yes, I gave up the walk," she said slowly before raising her downcast
eyes.  When she did so it was with an extraordinary effect.  It was like
catching sight of a piece of blue sky, of a stretch of open water.  And
for a moment I understood the desire of that man to whom the sea and sky
of his solitary life had appeared suddenly incomplete without that
glance which seemed to belong to them both.  He was not for nothing the
son of a poet.  I looked into those unabashed eyes while the girl went
on, her demure appearance and precise tone changed to a very earnest
expression.  Woman is various indeed.

"But I want you to understand, Mr.." she had actually to think of my
name...  "Mr Marlow, that I have written to Mrs Fyne that I haven't
been--that I have done nothing to make Captain Anthony behave to me as
he had behaved.  I haven't.  I haven't.  It isn't my doing.  It isn't my
fault--if she likes to put it in that way.  But she, with her ideas,
ought to understand that I couldn't, that I couldn't--I know she hates
me now.  I think she never liked me.  I think nobody ever cared for me.
I was told once nobody could care for me; and I think it is true.  At
any rate I can't forget it."

Her abominable experience with the governess had implanted in her
unlucky breast a lasting doubt, an ineradicable suspicion of herself and
of others I said:

"Remember, Miss de Barral, that to be fair you must trust a man
altogether--or not at all."

She dropped her eyes suddenly.  I thought I heard a faint sigh.  I tried
to take a light tone again, and yet it seemed impossible to get off the
ground which gave me my standing with her.

"Mrs Fyne is absurd.  She's an excellent woman, but really you could
not be expected to throw away your chance of life simply that she might
cherish a good opinion of your memory.  That would be excessive."

"It was not of my life that I was thinking while Captain Anthony was--
was speaking to me," said Flora de Barral with an effort.

I told her that she was wrong then.  She ought to have been thinking of
her life, and not only of her life but of the life of the man who was
speaking to her too.  She let me finish, then shook her head
impatiently.

"I mean--death."

"Well," I said, "when he stood before you there, outside the cottage, he
really stood between you and that.  I have it out of your own mouth.
You can't deny it."

"If you will have it that he saved my life, then he has got it.  It was
not for me.  Oh no!  It was not for me that I--It was not fear!  There!"
She finished petulantly: "And you may just as well know it."

She hung her head and swung the parasol slightly to and fro.  I thought
a little.

"Do you know French, Miss de Barral?"  I asked.

She made a sign with her head that she did, but without showing any
surprise at the question and without ceasing to swing her parasol.

"Well then, somehow or other I have the notion that Captain Anthony is
what the French call _un galant homme_.  I should like to think he is
being treated as he deserves."

The form of her lips (I could see them under the brim of her hat) was
suddenly altered into a line of seriousness.  The parasol stopped
swinging.

"I have given him what he wanted--that's myself," she said without a
tremor and with a striking dignity of tone.

Impressed by the manner and the directness of the words, I hesitated for
a moment what to say.  Then made up my mind to clear up the point.

"And you have got what you wanted?  Is that it?"

The daughter of the egregious financier de Barral did not answer at once
this question going to the heart of things.  Then raising her head and
gazing wistfully across the street noisy with the endless transit of
innumerable bargains, she said with intense gravity:

"He has been most generous."

I was pleased to hear these words.  Not that I doubted the infatuation
of Roderick Anthony, but I was pleased to hear something which proved
that she was sensible and open to the sentiment of gratitude which in
this case was significant.  In the face of man's desire a girl is
excusable if she thinks herself priceless.  I mean a girl of our
civilisation which has established a dithyrambic phraseology for the
expression of love.  A man in love will accept any convention exalting
the object of his passion and in this indirect way his passion itself.
In what way the captain of the ship _Ferndale_ gave proofs of lover-like
lavishness I could not guess very well.  But I was glad she was
appreciative.  It is lucky that small things please women.  And it is
not silly of them to be thus pleased.  It is in small things that the
deepest loyalty, that which they need most, the loyalty of the passing
moment, is best expressed.

She had remained thoughtful, letting her deep motionless eyes rest on
the streaming jumble of traffic.  Suddenly she said:

"And I wanted to ask you--I was really glad when I saw you actually
here.  Who would have expected you here, at this spot, before this
hotel!  I certainly never ...  You see it meant a lot to me.  You are
the only person who knows ... who knows for certain..."

"Knows what?"  I said, not discovering at first what she had in her
mind.  Then I saw it.  "Why can't you leave that alone?"  I
remonstrated, rather annoyed at the invidious position she was forcing
on me in a sense.  "It's true that I was the only person to see," I
added.  "But, as it happens, after your mysterious disappearance I told
the Fynes the story of our meeting."

Her eyes raised to mine had an expression of dreamy, unfathomable
candour, if I dare say so.  And if you wonder what I mean I can only say
that I have seen the sea wear such an expression on one or two occasions
shortly before sunrise on a calm, fresh day.  She said as if meditating
aloud that she supposed the Fynes were not likely to talk about that.
She couldn't imagine any connection in which...  Why should they?

As her tone had become interrogatory I assented.  "To be sure.  There's
no reason whatever"--thinking to myself that they would be more likely
indeed to keep quiet about it.  They had other things to talk of.  And
then remembering little Fyne stuck upstairs for an unconscionable time,
enough to blurt out everything he ever knew in his life, I reflected
that he would assume naturally that Captain Anthony had nothing to learn
from him about Flora de Barral.  It had been up to now my assumption
too.  I saw my mistake.  The sincerest of women will make no unnecessary
confidences to a man.  And this is as it should be.

"No--no!"  I said reassuringly.  "It's most unlikely.  Are you much
concerned?"

"Well, you see, when I came down," she said again in that precise demure
tone, "when I came down--into the garden Captain Anthony
misunderstood--"

"Of course he would.  Men are so conceited," I said.

I saw it well enough that he must have thought she had come down to him.
What else could he have thought?  And then he had been "gentleness
itself."  A new experience for that poor, delicate, and yet so resisting
creature.  Gentleness in passion!  What could have been more seductive
to the scared, starved heart of that girl?  Perhaps had he been violent,
she might have told him that what she came down to keep was the tryst of
death--not of love.  It occurred to me as I looked at her, young,
fragile in aspect, and intensely alive in her quietness, that perhaps
she did not know herself then what sort of tryst she was coming down to
keep.

She smiled faintly, almost awkwardly as if she were totally unused to
smiling, at my cheap jocularity.  Then she said with that forced
precision, a sort of conscious primness:

"I didn't want him to know."

I approved heartily.  Quite right.  Much better.  Let him ever remain
under his misapprehension which was so much more flattering for him.

I tried to keep it in the tone of comedy; but she was, I believe, too
simple to understand my intention.  She went on, looking down.

"Oh!  You think so?  When I saw you I didn't know why you were here.  I
was glad when you spoke to me because this is exactly what I wanted to
ask you for.  I wanted to ask you if you ever meet Captain Anthony--by
any chance--anywhere--you are a sailor too, are you not?--that you,
would never mention--never--that--that you had seen me over there."

"My dear young lady," I cried, horror-struck at the supposition.  "Why
should I?  What makes you think I should dream of..."

She had raised her head at my vehemence.  She did not understand it.
The world had treated her so dishonourably that she had no notion even
of what mere decency of feeling is like.  It was not her fault.  Indeed,
I don't know why she should have put her trust in anybody's promises.
But I thought it would be better to promise.  So I assured her that she
could depend on my absolute silence.

"I am not likely to ever set eyes on Captain Anthony," I added with
conviction--as a further guarantee.

She accepted my assurance in silence, without a sign.  Her gravity had
in it something acute, perhaps because of that chin.  While we were
still looking at each other she declared:

"There's no deception in it really.  I want you to believe that if I am
here, like this, to-day, it is not from fear.  It is not!"

"I quite understand," I said.  But her firm yet self-conscious gaze
became doubtful.  "I do," I insisted.  "I understand perfectly that it
was not of death that you were afraid."

She lowered her eyes slowly, and I went on:

"As to life, that's another thing.  And I don't know that one ought to
blame you very much--though it seemed rather an excessive step.  I
wonder now if it isn't the ugliness rather than the pain of the struggle
which..."

She shuddered visibly: "But I do blame myself," she exclaimed with
feeling.  "I am ashamed."  And, dropping her head, she looked in a
moment the very picture of remorse and shame.

"Well, you will be going away from all its horrors," I said.  "And
surely you are not afraid of the sea.  You are a sailor's granddaughter,
I understand."

She sighed deeply.  She remembered her grandfather only a little.  He
was a clean-shaven man with a ruddy complexion and long, perfectly white
hair.  He used to take her on his knee, and putting his face near hers,
talk to her in loving whispers.  If only he were alive now...

She remained silent for a while.

"Aren't you anxious to see the ship?"  I asked.

She lowered her head still more so that I could not see anything of her
face.

"I don't know," she murmured.

I had already the suspicion that she did not know her own feelings.  All
this work of the merest chance had been so unexpected, so sudden.  And
she had nothing to fall back upon, no experience but such as to shake
her belief in every human being.  She was dreadfully and pitifully
forlorn.  It was almost in order to comfort my own depression that I
remarked cheerfully:

"Well, I know of somebody who must be growing extremely anxious to see
you."

"I am before my time," she confessed simply, rousing herself.  "I had
nothing to do.  So I came out."

I had the sudden vision of a shabby, lonely little room at the other end
of the town.  It had grown intolerable to her restlessness.  The mere
thought of it oppressed her.  Flora de Barral was looking frankly at her
chance confidant.

"And I came this way," she went on.  "I appointed the time myself
yesterday, but Captain Anthony would not have minded.  He told me he was
going to look over some business papers till I came."

The idea of the son of the poet, the rescuer of the most forlorn damsel
of modern times, the man of violence, gentleness and generosity, sitting
up to his neck in ship's accounts amused me.  "I am sure he would not
have minded," I said, smiling.  But the girl's stare was sombre, her
thin white face seemed pathetically careworn.

"I can hardly believe yet," she murmured anxiously.

"It's quite real.  Never fear," I said encouragingly, but had to change
my tone at once.  "You had better go down that way a little," I directed
her abruptly.

I had seen Fyne come striding out of the hotel door.  The intelligent
girl, without staying to ask questions, walked away from me quietly down
one street while I hurried on to meet Fyne coming up the other at his
efficient pedestrian gait.  My object was to stop him getting as far as
the corner.  He must have been thinking too hard to be aware of his
surroundings.  I put myself in his way, and he nearly walked into me.

"Hallo!"  I said.

His surprise was extreme.  "You here!  You don't mean to say you have
been waiting for me?"

I said negligently that I had been detained by unexpected business in
the neighbourhood, and thus happened to catch sight of him coming out.

He stared at me with solemn distraction, obviously thinking of something
else.  I suggested that he had better take the next city-ward tram-car.
He was inattentive, and I perceived that he was profoundly perturbed.
As Miss de Barral (she had moved out of sight) could not possibly
approach the hotel door as long as we remained where we were I proposed
that we should wait for the car on the other side of the street.  He
obeyed rather the slight touch on his arm than my words, and while we
were crossing the wide roadway in the midst of the lumbering wheeled
traffic, he exclaimed in his deep tone, "I don't know which of these two
is more mad than the other!"

"Really!"  I said, pulling him forward from under the noses of two
enormous sleepy-headed cart-horses.  He skipped wildly out of the way
and up on the curbstone with a purely instinctive precision; his mind
had nothing to do with his movements.  In the middle of his leap, and
while in the act of sailing gravely through the air, he continued to
relieve his outraged feelings.

"You would never believe!  They _are_ mad!"

I took care to place myself in such a position that to face me he had to
turn his back on the hotel across the road.  I believe he was glad I was
there to talk to.  But I thought there was some misapprehension in the
first statement he shot out at me without loss of time, that Captain
Anthony had been glad to see him.  It was indeed difficult to believe
that, directly he opened the door, his wife's "sailor-brother" had
positively shouted: "Oh, it's you!  The very man I wanted to see."

"I found him sitting there," went on Fyne impressively in his
effortless, grave chest voice, "drafting his will."

This was unexpected, but I preserved a non-committal attitude, knowing
full well that our actions in themselves are neither mad nor sane.  But
I did not see what there was to be excited about.  And Fyne was
distinctly excited.  I understood it better when I learned that the
captain of the _Ferndale_ wanted little Fyne to be one of the trustees.
He was leaving everything to his wife.  Naturally, a request which
involved him into sanctioning in a way a proceeding which he had been
sent by his wife to oppose, must have appeared sufficiently mad to Fyne.

"Me!  Me, of all people in the world!" he repeated portentously.  But I
could see that he was frightened.  Such want of tact!

"He knew I came from his sister.  You don't put a man into such an
awkward position," complained Fyne.  "It made me speak much more
strongly against all this very painful business than I would have had
the heart to do otherwise."

I pointed out to him concisely, and keeping my eyes on the door of the
hotel, that he and his wife were the only bond with the land Captain
Anthony had.  Who else could he have asked?

"I explained to him that he was breaking this bond," declared Fyne
solemnly.  "Breaking it once for all.  And for what--for what?"

He glared at me.  I could perhaps have given him an inkling for what,
but I said nothing.  He started again:

"My wife assures me that the girl does not love him a bit.  She goes by
that letter she received from her.  There is a passage in it where she
practically admits that she was quite unscrupulous in accepting this
offer of marriage, but says to my wife that she supposes she, my wife,
will not blame her--as it was in self-defence.  My wife has her own
ideas, but this is an outrageous misapprehension of her views.
Outrageous."

The good little man paused and then added weightily:

"I didn't tell that to my brother-in-law--I mean, my wife's views."

"No," I said.  "What would have been the good?"

"It's positive infatuation," agreed, little Fyne, in the tone as though
he had made an awful discovery.  "I have never seen anything so hopeless
and inexplicable in my life.  I--I felt quite frightened and sorry," he
added, while I looked at him curiously asking myself whether this
excellent civil servant and notable pedestrian had felt the breath of a
great and fatal love-spell passing him by in the room of that East-End
hotel.  He did look for a moment as though he had seen a ghost, an
other-world thing.  But that look vanished instantaneously, and he
nodded at me with mere exasperation at something quite of this world--
whatever it was.  "It's a bad business.  My brother-in-law knows nothing
of women," he cried with an air of profound, experienced wisdom.

What he imagined he knew of women himself I can't tell.  I did not know
anything of the opportunities he might have had.  But this is a subject
which, if approached with undue solemnity, is apt to elude one's grasp
entirely.  No doubt Fyne knew something of a woman who was Captain
Anthony's sister.  But that, admittedly, had been a very solemn study.
I smiled at him gently, and as if encouraged or provoked, he completed
his thought rather explosively.

"And that girl understands nothing...  It's sheer lunacy."

"I don't know," I said, "whether the circumstances of isolation at sea
would be any alleviation to the danger.  But it's certain that they
shall have the opportunity to learn everything about each other in a
lonely _tete-a-tete_."

"But dash it all," he cried in hollow accents which at the same time had
the tone of bitter irony--I had never before heard a sound so quaintly
ugly and almost horrible--"You forget Mr Smith."

"What Mr Smith?"  I asked innocently.

Fyne made an extraordinary simiesque grimace.  I believe it was quite
involuntary, but you know that a grave, much-lined, shaven countenance
when distorted in an unusual way is extremely apelike.  It was a
surprising sight, and rendered me not only speechless but stopped the
progress of my thought completely.  I must have presented a remarkably
imbecile appearance.

"My brother-in-law considered it amusing to chaff me about us
introducing the girl as Miss Smith," said Fyne, going surly in a moment.
"He said that perhaps if he had heard her real name from the first it
might have restrained him.  As it was, he made the discovery too late.
Asked me to tell Zoe this together with a lot more nonsense."

Fyne gave me the impression of having escaped from a man inspired by a
grimly playful ebullition of high spirits.  It must have been most
distasteful to him; and his solemnity got damaged somehow in the
process, I perceived.  There were holes in it through which I could see
a new, an unknown Fyne.

"You wouldn't believe it," he went on, "but she looks upon her father
exclusively as a victim.  I don't know," he burst out suddenly through
an enormous rent in his solemnity, "if she thinks him absolutely a
saint, but she certainly imagines him to be a martyr."

It is one of the advantages of that magnificent invention, the prison,
that you may forget people whom are put there as though they were dead.
One needn't worry about them.  Nothing can happen to them that you can
help.  They can do nothing which might possibly matter to anybody.  They
come out of it, though, but that seems hardly an advantage to themselves
or anyone else.  I had completely forgotten the financier de Barral.
The girl for me was an orphan, but now I perceived suddenly the force of
Fyne's qualifying statement, "to a certain extent."  It would have been
infinitely more kind all round for the law to have shot, beheaded,
strangled, or otherwise destroyed this absurd de Barral, who was a
danger to a moral world inhabited by a credulous multitude not fit to
take care of itself.  But I observed to Fyne that, however insane was
the view she held, one could not declare the girl mad on that account.

"So she thinks of her father--does she?  I suppose she would appear to
us saner if she thought only of herself."

"I am positive," Fyne said earnestly, "that she went and made desperate
eyes at Anthony..."

"Oh come!"  I interrupted.  "You haven't seen her make eyes.  You don't
know the colour of her eyes."

"Very well!  It don't matter.  But it could hardly have come to that if
she hadn't...  It's all one, though.  I tell you she has led him on, or
accepted him, if you like, simply because she was thinking of her
father.  She doesn't care a bit about Anthony, I believe.  She cares for
no one.  Never cared for anyone.  Ask Zoe.  For myself I don't blame
her," added Fyne, giving me another view of unsuspected things through
the rags and tatters of his damaged solemnity.  "No! by heavens, I don't
blame her--the poor devil."

I agreed with him silently.  I suppose affections are, in a sense, to be
learned.  If there exists a native spark of love in all of us, it must
be fanned while we are young.  Hers, if she ever had it, had been
drenched in as ugly a lot of corrosive liquid as could be imagined.  But
I was surprised at Fyne obscurely feeling this.

"She loves no one except that preposterous advertising shark," he
pursued venomously, but in a more deliberate manner.  "And Anthony knows
it."

"Does he?"  I said doubtfully.

"She's quite capable of having told him herself," affirmed Fyne, with
amazing insight.  "But whether or no, _I've_ told him."

"You did?  From Mrs Fyne, of course."

Fyne only blinked owlishly at this piece of my insight.

"And how did Captain Anthony receive this interesting information?"  I
asked further.

"Most improperly," said Fyne, who really was in a state in which he
didn't mind what he blurted out.  "He isn't himself.  He begged me to
tell his sister that he offered no remarks on her conduct.  Very
improper and inconsequent.  He said--I was tired of this wrangling.  I
told him I made allowances for the state of excitement he was in."

"You know, Fyne," I said, "a man in jail seems to me such an incredible,
cruel, nightmarish sort of thing that I can hardly believe in his
existence.  Certainly not in relation to any other existences."

"But dash it all," cried Fyne, "he isn't shut up for life.  They are
going to let him out.  He's coming out!  That's the whole trouble.  What
is he coming out to, I want to know?  It seems a more cruel business
than the shutting him up was.  This has been the worry for weeks.  Do
you see now?"

I saw, all sorts of things!  Immediately before me I saw the excitement
of little Fyne--mere food for wonder.  Further off, in a sort of gloom
and beyond the light of day and the movement of the street, I saw the
figure of a man, stiff like a ramrod, moving with small steps, a slight
girlish figure by his side.  And the gloom was like the gloom of
villainous slums, of misery, of wretchedness, of a starved and degraded
existence.  It was a relief that I could see only their shabby hopeless
backs.  He was an awful ghost.  But indeed to call him a ghost was only
a refinement of polite speech, and a manner of concealing one's terror
of such things.  Prisons are wonderful contrivances.  Shut--open.  Very
neat.  Shut--open.  And out comes some sort of corpse, to wander awfully
in a world in which it has no possible connections and carrying with it
the appalling tainted atmosphere of its silent abode.  Marvellous
arrangement.  It works automatically, and, when you look at it, the
perfection makes you sick; which for a mere mechanism is no mean
triumph.  Sick and scared.  It had nearly scared that poor girl to her
death.  Fancy having to take such a thing by the hand!  Now I understood
the remorseful strain I had detected in her speeches.

"By Jove!"  I said.  "They are about to let him out!  I never thought of
that."

Fyne was contemptuous either of me or of things at large.

"You didn't suppose he was to be kept in jail for life?"

At that moment I caught sight of Flora de Barral at the junction of the
two streets.  Then some vehicles following each other in quick
succession hid from my sight the black slight figure with just a touch
of colour in her hat.  She was walking slowly; and it might have been
caution or reluctance.  While listening to Fyne I stared hard past his
shoulder trying to catch sight of her again.  He was going on with
positive heat, the rags of his solemnity dropping off him at every
second sentence.

That was just it.  His wife and he had been perfectly aware of it.  Of
course the girl never talked of her father with Mrs Fyne.  I suppose
with her theory of innocence she found it difficult.  But she must have
been thinking of it day and night.  What to do with him?  Where to go?
How to keep body and soul together?  He had never made any friends.  The
only relations were the atrocious East-End cousins.  We know what they
were.  Nothing but wretchedness, whichever way she turned in an unjust
and prejudiced world.  And to look at him helplessly she felt would be
too much for her.

I won't say I was thinking these thoughts.  It was not necessary.  This
complete knowledge was in my head while I stared hard across the wide
road, so hard that I failed to hear little Fyne till he raised his deep
voice indignantly.

"I don't blame the girl," he was saying.  "He is infatuated with her.
Anybody can see that.  Why she should have got such a hold on him I
can't understand.  She said `Yes' to him only for the sake of that
fatuous, swindling father of hers.  It's perfectly plain if one thinks
it over a moment.  One needn't even think of it.  We have it under her
own hand.  In that letter to my wife she says she has acted
unscrupulously.  She has owned up, then, for what else can it mean, I
should like to know.  And so they are to be married before that old
idiot comes out.--He will be surprised," commented Fyne suddenly in a
strangely malignant tone.  "He shall be met at the jail door by a Mrs
Anthony, a Mrs Captain Anthony.  Very pleasant for Zoe.  And for all I
know, my brother-in-law means to turn up dutifully too.  A little family
event.  It's extremely pleasant to think of.  Delightful.  A charming
family party.  We three against the world--and all that sort of thing.
And what for.  For a girl that doesn't care twopence for him."

The demon of bitterness had entered into little Fyne.  He amazed me as
though he had changed his skin from white to black.  It was quite as
wonderful.  And he kept it up, too.

"Luckily there are some advantages in the--the profession of a sailor.
As long as they defy the world away at sea somewhere eighteen thousand
miles from here, I don't mind so much.  I wonder what that interesting
old party will say.  He will have another surprise.  They mean to drag
him along with them on board the ship straight away.  Rescue work.  Just
think of Roderick Anthony, the son of a gentleman, after all..."

He gave me a little shock.  I thought he was going to say the "son of
the poet" as usual; but his mind was not running on such vanities now.
His unspoken thought must have gone on "and uncle of my girls."  I
suspect that he had been roughly handled by Captain Anthony up there,
and the resentment gave a tremendous fillip to the slow play of his
wits.  Those men of sober fancy, when anything rouses their imaginative
faculty, are very thorough.  "Just think!" he cried.  "The three of them
crowded into a four-wheeler, and Anthony sitting deferentially opposite
that astonished old jail-bird!"

The good little man laughed.  An improper sound it was to come from his
manly chest; and what made it worse was the thought that for the least
thing, by a mere hair's breadth, he might have taken this affair
sentimentally.  But clearly Anthony was no diplomatist.  His
brother-in-law must have appeared to him, to use the language of shore
people, a perfect philistine with a heart like a flint.  What Fyne
precisely meant by "wrangling" I don't know, but I had no doubt that
these two had "wrangled" to a profoundly disturbing extent.  How much
the other was affected I could not even imagine; but the man before me
was quite amazingly upset.

"In a four-wheeler!  Take him on board!"  I muttered, startled by the
change in Fyne.

"That's the plan--nothing less.  If I am to believe what I have been
told, his feet will scarcely touch the ground between the prison-gates
and the deck of that ship."

The transformed Fyne spoke in a forcibly lowered tone which I heard
without difficulty.  The rumbling, composite noises of the street were
hushed for a moment, during one of these sudden breaks in the traffic as
if the stream of commerce had dried up at its source.  Having an
unobstructed view past Fyne's shoulder, I was astonished to see that the
girl was still there.  I thought she had gone up long before.  But there
was her black slender figure, her white face under the roses of her hat.
She stood on the edge of the pavement as people stand on the bank of a
stream, very still, as if waiting--or as if unconscious of where she
was.  The three dismal, sodden loafers (I could see them too; they
hadn't budged an inch) seemed to me to be watching her.  Which was
horrible.

Meantime Fyne was telling me rather remarkable things--for him.  He
declared first it was a mercy in a sense.  Then he asked me if it were
not real madness, to saddle one's existence with such a perpetual
reminder.  The daily existence.  The isolated sea-bound existence.  To
bring such an additional strain into the solitude already trying enough
for two people was the craziest thing.  Undesirable relations were bad
enough on shore.  One could cut them or at least forget their existence
now and then.  He himself was preparing to forget his brother-in-law's
existence as much as possible.

That was the general sense of his remarks, not his exact words.  I
thought that his wife's brother's existence had never been very
embarrassing to him but that now of course he would have to abstain from
his allusions to the "son of the poet--you know."  I said "yes, yes," in
the pauses because I did not want him to turn round; and all the time I
was watching the girl intently.  I thought I knew now what she meant
with her "He was most generous."  Yes.  Generosity of character may
carry a man through any situation.  But why didn't she go then to her
generous man?  Why stand there as if clinging to this solid earth which
she surely hated as one must hate the place where one has been
tormented, hopeless, unhappy?  Suddenly she stirred.  Was she going to
cross over?  No.  She turned and began to walk slowly close to the
curbstone, reminding me of the time when I discovered her walking near
the edge of a ninety-foot sheer drop.  It was the same impression, the
same carriage, straight, slim, with rigid head and the two hands hanging
lightly clasped in front--only now a small sunshade was dangling from
them.  I saw something fateful in that deliberate pacing towards the
inconspicuous door with the words _Hotel Entrance_ on the glass-panels.

She was abreast of it now and I thought that she would stop again; but
no!  She swerved rigidly--at the moment there was no one near her; she
had that bit of pavement to herself--with inanimate slowness as if moved
by something outside herself.

"A confounded convict," Fyne burst out.

With the sound of that word offending my ears I saw the girl extend her
arm, push the door open a little way and glide in.  I saw plainly that
movement, the hand put out in advance with the gesture of a
sleep-walker.

She had vanished, her black figure had melted in the darkness of the
open door.  For some time Fyne said nothing; and I thought of the girl
going upstairs, appearing before the man.  Were they looking at each
other in silence and feeling they were alone in the world as lovers
should at the moment of meeting?  But that fine forgetfulness was surely
impossible to Anthony the seaman directly after the wrangling interview
with Fyne the emissary of an order of things which stops at the edge of
the sea.  How much he was disturbed I couldn't tell because I did not
know what that impetuous lover had had to listen to.

"Going to take the old fellow to sea with them," I said.  "Well I really
don't see what else they could have done with him.  You told your
brother-in-law what you thought of it?  I wonder how he took it."

"Very improperly," repeated Fyne.  "His manner was offensive, derisive,
from the first.  I don't mean he was actually rude in words.  Hang it
all, I am not a contemptible ass.  But he was exulting at having got
hold of a miserable girl."

"It is pretty certain that she will be much less poor and miserable," I
murmured.

It looked as if the exultation of Captain Anthony had got on Fyne's
nerves.  "I told the fellow very plainly that he was abominably selfish
in this," he affirmed unexpectedly.

"You did!  Selfish!"  I said rather taken aback.  "But what if the girl
thought that, on the contrary, he was most generous."

"What do you know about it," growled Fyne.  The rents and slashes of his
solemnity were closing up gradually but it was going to be a surly
solemnity.  "Generosity!  I am disposed to give it another name.  No.
Not folly," he shot out at me as though I had meant to interrupt him.
"Still another.  Something worse.  I need not tell you what it is," he
added with grim meaning.

"Certainly.  You needn't--unless you like," I said blankly.  Little Fyne
had never interested me so much since the beginning of the de
Barral-Anthony affair when I first perceived possibilities in him.  The
possibilities of dull men are exciting because when they happen they
suggest legendary cases of "possession," not exactly by the devil but,
anyhow, by a strange spirit.

"I told him it was a shame," said Fyne.  "Even if the girl did make eyes
at him--but I think with you that she did not.  Yes!  A shame to take
advantage of a girl's distress--a girl that does not love him in the
least."

"You think it's so bad as that?"  I said.  "Because you know I don't."

"What can you think about it," he retorted on me with a solemn stare.
"I go by her letter to my wife."

"Ah! that famous letter.  But you haven't actually read it," I said.

"No, but my wife told me.  Of course it was a most improper sort of
letter to write considering the circumstances.  It pained Mrs Fyne to
discover how thoroughly she had been misunderstood.  But what is written
is not all.  It's what my wife could read between the lines.  She says
that the girl is really terrified at heart."

"She had not much in life to give her any very special courage for it,
or any great confidence in mankind.  That's very true.  But this seems
an exaggeration."

"I should like to know what reasons you have to say that," asked Fyne
with offended solemnity.  "I really don't see any.  But I had sufficient
authority to tell my brother-in-law that if he thought he was going to
do something chivalrous and fine he was mistaken.  I can see very well
that he will do everything she asks him to do--but, all the same, it is
rather a pitiless transaction."

For a moment I felt it might be so.  Fyne caught sight of an approaching
tram-car and stepped out on the road to meet it.  "Have you a more
compassionate scheme ready?"  I called after him.  He made no answer,
clambered on to the rear platform, and only then looked back.  We
exchanged a perfunctory wave of the hand.  We also looked at each other,
he rather angrily, I fancy, and I with wonder.  I may also mention that
it was for the last time.  From that day I never set eyes on the Fynes.
As usual the unexpected happened to me.  It had nothing to do with Flora
de Barral.  The fact is that I went away.  My call was not like her
call.  Mine was not urged on me with passionate vehemence or tender
gentleness made all the finer and more compelling by the allurements of
generosity which is a virtue as mysterious as any other but having a
glamour of its own.  No, it was just a prosaic offer of employment on
rather good terms which, with a sudden sense of having wasted my time on
shore long enough, I accepted without misgivings.  And once started out
of my indolence I went, as my habit was, very, very far away and for a
long, long time.  Which is another proof of my indolence.  How far Flora
went I can't say.  But I will tell you my idea: my idea is that she went
as far as she was able--as far as she could bear it--as far as she had
to...



PART TWO, CHAPTER 1.

THE FERNDALE.

I have said that the story of Flora de Barral was imparted to me in
stages.  At this stage I did not see Marlow for some time.  At last, one
evening rather early, very soon after dinner, he turned up in my rooms.

I had been waiting for his call primed with a remark which had not
occurred to me till after he had gone away.

"I say," I tackled him at once, "how can you be certain that Flora de
Barral ever went to sea?  After all, the wife of the captain of the
_Ferndale_--`the lady that mustn't be disturbed' of the old
ship-keeper--may not have been Flora."

"Well, I do know," he said, "if only because I have been keeping in
touch with Mr Powell."

"You have!"  I cried.  "This is the first I hear of it.  And since
when?"

"Why, since the first day.  You went up to town leaving me in the inn.
I slept ashore.  In the morning Mr Powell came in for breakfast; and
after the first awkwardness of meeting a man you have been yarning with
overnight had worn off, we discovered a liking for each other."

As I had discovered the fact of their mutual liking before either of
them, I was not surprised.

"And so you kept in touch," I said.

"It was not so very difficult.  As he was always knocking about the
river I hired Dingle's sloop-rigged three-tonner to be more on an
equality.  Powell was friendly but elusive.  I don't think he ever
wanted to avoid me.  But it is a fact that he used to disappear out of
the river in a very mysterious manner sometimes.  A man may land
anywhere and bolt inland--but what about his five-ton cutter?  You can't
carry that in your hand like a suit-case.

"Then as suddenly he would reappear in the river, after one had given
him up.  I did not like to be beaten.  That's why I hired Dingle's
decked boat.  There was just the accommodation in her to sleep a man and
a dog.  But I had no dog-friend to invite.  Fyne's dog who saved Flora
de Barral's life is the last dog-friend I had.  I was rather lonely
cruising about; but that, too, on the river has its charm, sometimes.  I
chased the mystery of the vanishing Powell dreamily, looking about me at
the ships, thinking of the girl Flora, of life's chances--and, do you
know, it was very simple."

"What was very simple?"  I asked innocently.

"The mystery."

"They generally are that," I said.

Marlow eyed me for a moment in a peculiar manner.

"Well, I have discovered the mystery of Powell's disappearances.  The
fellow used to run into one of these narrow tidal creeks on the Essex
shore.  These creeks are so inconspicuous that till I had studied the
chart pretty carefully I did not know of their existence.  One
afternoon, I made Powell's boat out, heading into the shore.  By the
time I got close to the mud-flat his craft had disappeared inland.  But
I could see the mouth of the creek by then.  The tide being on the turn
I took the risk of getting stuck in the mud suddenly and headed in.  All
I had to guide me was the top of the roof of some sort of small
building.  I got in more by good luck than by good management.  The sun
had set some time before; my boat glided in a sort of winding ditch
between two low grassy banks; on both sides of me was the flatness of
the Essex marsh, perfectly still.  All I saw moving was a heron; he was
flying low, and disappeared in the murk.  Before I had gone half a mile,
I was up with the building the roof of which I had seen from the river.
It looked like a small barn.  A row of piles driven into the soft bank
in front of it and supporting a few planks made a sort of wharf.  All
this was black in the falling dusk, and I could just distinguish the
whitish ruts of a cart-track stretching over the marsh towards the
higher land, far away.  Not a sound was to be heard.  Against the low
streak of light in the sky I could see the mast of Powell's cutter
moored to the bank some twenty yards, no more, beyond that black barn or
whatever it was.  I hailed him with a loud shout.  Got no answer.  After
making fast my boat just astern, I walked along the bank to have a look
at Powell's.  Being so much bigger than mine she was aground already.
Her sails were furled; the slide of her scuttle hatch was closed and
padlocked.  Powell was gone.  He had walked off into that dark, still
marsh somewhere.  I had not seen a single house anywhere near; there did
not seem to be any human habitation for miles; and now as darkness fell
denser over the land I couldn't see the glimmer of a single light.
However, I supposed that there must be some village or hamlet not very
far away; or only one of these mysterious little inns one comes upon
sometimes in most unexpected and lonely places.

"The stillness was oppressive.  I went back to my boat, made some coffee
over a spirit-lamp, devoured a few biscuits, and stretched myself aft,
to smoke and gaze at the stars.  The earth was a mere shadow, formless
and silent, and empty, till a bullock turned up from somewhere, quite
shadowy too.  He came smartly to the very edge of the bank as though he
meant to step on board, stretched his muzzle right over my boat, blew
heavily once, and walked off contemptuously into the darkness from which
he had come.  I had not expected a call from a bullock, though a
moment's thought would have shown me that there must be lots of cattle
and sheep on that marsh.  Then everything became still as before.  I
might have imagined myself arrived on a desert island.  In fact, as I
reclined smoking a sense of absolute loneliness grew on me.  And just as
it had become intense, very abruptly and without any preliminary sound I
heard firm, quick footsteps on the little wharf.  Somebody coming along
the cart-track had just stepped at a swinging gait on to the planks.
That somebody could only have been Mr Powell.  Suddenly he stopped
short, having made out that there were two masts alongside the bank
where he had left only one.  Then he came on silent on the grass.  When
I spoke to him he was astonished.

"Who would have thought of seeing you here!" he exclaimed, after
returning my good evening.

"I told him I had run in for company.  It was rigorously true.

"You knew I was here?" he exclaimed.

"Of course," I said.  "I tell you I came in for company."

"He is a really good fellow," went on Marlow.  "And his capacity for
astonishment is quickly exhausted, it seems.  It was in the most
matter-of-fact manner that he said, `Come on board of me, then; I have
here enough supper for two.'  He was holding a bulky parcel in the crook
of his arm.  I did not wait to be asked twice, as you may guess.  His
cutter has a very neat little cabin, quite big enough for two men not
only to sleep but to sit and smoke in.  We left the scuttle wide open,
of course.  As to his provisions for supper, they were not of a
luxurious kind.  He complained that the shops in the village were
miserable.  There was a big village within a mile and a half.  It struck
me he had been very long doing his shopping; but naturally I made no
remark.  I didn't want to talk at all except for the purpose of setting
him going."

"And did you set him going?"  I asked.

"I did," said Marlow, composing his features into an impenetrable
expression which somehow assured me of his success better than an air of
triumph could have done.

"You made him talk?"  I said after a silence.

"Yes, I made him ... about himself."

"And to the point?"

"If you mean by this," said Marlow, "that it was about the voyage of the
_Ferndale_, then again, yes.  I brought him to talk about that voyage,
which, by the by, was not the first voyage of Flora de Barral.  The man
himself, as I told you, is simple, and his faculty of wonder not very
great.  He's one of those people who form no theories about facts.
Straightforward people seldom do.  Neither have they much penetration.
But in this case it did not matter I--we--have already the inner
knowledge.  We know the history of Flora de Barral.  We know something
of Captain Anthony.  We have the secret of the situation.  The man was
intoxicated with the pity and tenderness of his part.  Oh yes!
Intoxicated is not too strong a word; for you know that love and desire
take many disguises.  I believe that the girl had been frank with him,
with the frankness of women to whom perfect frankness is impossible,
because so much of their safety depends on judicious reticences.  I am
not indulging in cheap sneers.  There is necessity in these things.  And
moreover she could not have spoken with a certain voice in the face of
his impetuosity, because she did not have time to understand either the
state of her feelings, or the precise nature of what she was doing."

Had she spoken ever so clearly he was, I take it, too elated to hear her
distinctly.  I don't mean to imply that he was a fool.  Oh dear no!  But
he had no training in the usual conventions, and we must remember that
he had no experience whatever of women.  He could only have an ideal
conception of his position.  An ideal is often but a flaming vision of
reality.

To him enters Fyne, wound up, if I may express myself so irreverently,
wound up to a high pitch by his wife's interpretation of the girl's
letter.  He enters with his talk of meanness and cruelty, like a bucket
of water on the flame.--Clearly a shock.  But the effects of a bucket of
water are diverse.  They depend on the kind of flame.  A mere blaze of
dry straw, of course ... but there can be no question of straw there.
Anthony of the _Ferndale_ was not, could not have been, a straw-stuffed
specimen of a man.  There are flames a bucket of water sends leaping
sky-high.

We may well wonder what happened when, after Fyne had left him, the
hesitating girl went up at last and opened the door of that room where
our man, I am certain, was not extinguished.  Oh no!  Nor cold; whatever
else he might have been.

"It is conceivable he might have cried at her in the first moment of
humiliation, of exasperation, `Oh, it's you!  Why are you here?  If I am
so odious to you that you must write to my sister to say so, I give you
back your word.'  But then, don't you see, it could not have been that.
I have the practical certitude that soon afterwards they went together
in a hansom to see the ship--as agreed.  That was my reason for saying
that Flora de Barral did go to sea..."

"Yes.  It seems conclusive," I agreed.  "But even without that--if, as
you seem to think, the very desolation of that girlish figure had a sort
of perversely seductive charm, making its way through his compassion to
his senses (and everything is possible)--then such words could not have
been spoken."

"They might have escaped him involuntarily," observed Marlow.  "However,
a plain fact settles it.  They went off together to see the ship."

"Do you conclude from this that nothing whatever was said?"  I inquired.

"I should have liked to see the first meeting of their glances upstairs
there," mused Marlow.  "And perhaps nothing was said.  But no man comes
but of such a `wrangle' (as Fyne called it) without showing some traces
of it.  And you may be sure that a girl so bruised all over would feel
the slightest touch of anything resembling coldness.  She was
mistrustful; she could not be otherwise; for the energy of evil is so
much more forcible than the energy of good that she could not help
looking still upon her abominable governess as an authority.  How could
one have expected her to throw off the unholy prestige of that long
domination?  She could not help believing what she had been told; that
she was in some mysterious way odious and unlovable.  It was cruelly
true--_to her_.  The oracle of so many years had spoken finally.  Only
other people did not find her out at once.--I would not go so far as to
say she believed it altogether.  That would be hardly possible.  But
then haven't the most flattered, the most conceited of us their moments
of doubt?  Haven't they?  Well, I don't know.  There may be lucky beings
in this world unable to believe any evil of themselves.  For my own part
I'll tell you that once, many years ago now, it came to my knowledge
that a fellow I had been mixed up with in a certain transaction--a
clever fellow whom I really despised--was going around telling people
that I was a consummate hypocrite.  He could know nothing of it.  It
suited his humour to say so.  I had given him no ground for that
particular calumny.  Yet to this day there are moments when it comes
into my mind, and involuntarily I ask myself, `What if it were true?'
It's absurd, but it has on one or two occasions nearly affected my
conduct.  And yet I was not an impressionable ignorant young girl.  I
had taken the exact measure of the fellow's utter worthlessness long
before.  He had never been for me a person of prestige and power, like
that awful governess to Flora de Barral.  See the might of suggestion?
We live at the mercy of a malevolent word.  A sound, a mere disturbance
of the air, sinks into our very soul sometimes.  Flora de Barral had
been more astounded than convinced by the first impetuosity of Roderick
Anthony.  She let herself be carried along by a mysterious force which
her person had called into being, as her father had been carried away
out of his depth by the unexpected power of successful advertising.

"They went on board that morning.  The _Ferndale_ had just come to her
loading berth.  The only living creature on board was the ship-keeper--
whether the same who, had been described to us by Mr Powell, or
another, I don't know.  Possibly some other man.  He, looking over the
side, saw, in his own words, `the captain come sailing round the corner
of the nearest cargo-shed, in company with a girl.'  He lowered the
accommodation ladder down on to the jetty..."

"How do you know all this?"  I interrupted.

Marlow interjected an impatient:

"You shall see by and by...  Flora went up first, got down on deck and
stood stock-still till the captain took her by the arm and led her aft.
The ship-keeper let them into the saloon.  He had the keys of all the
cabins, and stumped in after them.  The captain ordered him to open all
the doors, every blessed door; state-rooms, passages, pantry,
fore-cabin--and then sent him away.

"The _Ferndale_ had magnificent accommodation.  At the end of a passage
leading from the quarter-deck there was a long saloon, its sumptuosity
slightly tarnished perhaps, but having a grand air of roominess and
comfort.  The harbour carpets were down, the swinging lamps hung, and
everything in its place, even to the silver on the sideboard.  Two large
stern-cabins opened out of it, one on each side of the rudder casing.
These two cabins communicated through a small bathroom between them, and
one was fitted up as the captain's state-room.  The other was vacant,
and furnished with armchairs and a round table, more like a room on
shore, except for the long curved settee following the shape of the
ship's stern.  In a dim inclined mirror, Flora caught sight down to the
waist of a pale-faced girl in a white straw hat trimmed with roses,
distant, shadowy, as if immersed in water, and was surprised to
recognise herself in those surroundings.  They seemed to her arbitrary,
bizarre, strange.  Captain Anthony moved on, and she followed him.  He
showed her the other cabins.  He talked all the time loudly in a voice
she seemed to have known extremely well for a long time; and yet, she
reflected, she had not heard it often in her life.  What he was saying
she did not quite follow.  He was speaking of comparatively indifferent
things in a rather moody tone, but she felt it round her like a caress.
And when he stopped she could hear, alarming in the sudden silence, the
precipitated beating of her heart."

The ship-keeper dodged about the quarter-deck, out of hearing, and
trying to keep out of sight.  At the same time, taking advantage of the
open doors with skill and prudence, he could see the captain and "that
girl" the captain had brought aboard.  The captain was showing her round
very thoroughly.  Through the whole length of the passage, far away aft
in the perspective of the saloon the ship-keeper had interesting
glimpses of them as they went in and out of the various cabins, crossing
from side to side, remaining invisible for a time in one or another of
the state-rooms, and then reappearing again in the distance.  The girl,
always following the captain, had her sunshade in her hands.  Mostly she
would hang her head, but now and then she would look up.  They had a lot
to say to each other, and seemed to forget they weren't alone in the
ship.  He saw the captain put his hand on her shoulder, and was
preparing himself with a certain zest for what might follow, when the
"old man" seemed to recollect himself, and came striding down all the
length of the saloon.  At this move the ship-keeper promptly dodged out
of sight, as you may believe, and heard the captain slam the inner door
of the passage.  After that disappointment the ship-keeper waited
resentfully for them to clear out of the ship.  It happened much sooner
than he had expected.  The girl walked out on deck first.  As before she
did not look round.  She didn't look at anything; and she seemed to be
in such a hurry to get ashore that she made for the gangway and started
down the ladder without waiting for the captain.

What struck the ship-keeper most was the absent, unseeing expression of
the captain, striding after the girl.  He passed him, the ship-keeper,
without notice, without an order, without so much as a look.  The
captain had never done so before.  Always had a nod and a pleasant word
for a man.  From this slight the ship-keeper drew a conclusion
unfavourable to the strange girl.  He gave them time to get down on the
wharf before crossing the deck to steal one more look at the pair over
the rail.  The captain took hold of the girl's arm just before a couple
of railway trucks drawn by a horse came rolling along and hid them from
the ship-keeper's sight for good.

Next day, when the chief mate joined the ship, he told him the tale of
the visit, and expressed himself about the girl "who had got hold of the
captain" disparagingly.  She didn't look healthy, he explained.  "Shabby
clothes, too," he added spitefully.

The mate was very much interested.  He had been with Anthony for several
years, and had won for himself in the course of many long voyages, a
footing of familiarity, which was to be expected with a man of Anthony's
character.  But in that slowly-grown intimacy of the sea, which in its
duration and solitude had its unguarded moments, no words had passed,
even of the most casual, to prepare him for the vision of his captain
associated with any kind of girl.  His impression had been that women
did not exist for Captain Anthony.  Exhibiting himself with a girl!  A
girl!  What did he want with a girl?  Bringing her on board and showing
her round the cabin!  That was really a little bit too much.  Captain
Anthony ought to have known better.

Franklin (the chief mate's name was Franklin) felt disappointed; almost
disillusioned.  Silly thing to do!  Here was a confounded old
ship-keeper set talking.  He snubbed the ship-keeper, and tried to think
of that insignificant bit of foolishness no more; for it diminished
Captain Anthony in his eyes of a jealously devoted subordinate.

Franklin was over forty; his mother was still alive.  She stood in the
forefront of all women for him, just as Captain Anthony stood in the
forefront of all men.  We may suppose that these groups were not very
large.  He had gone to sea at a very early age.  The feeling which
caused these two people to partly eclipse the rest of mankind were of
course not similar; though in time he had acquired the conviction that
he was "taking care" of them both.  The "old lady" of course had to be
looked after as long as she lived.  In regard to Captain Anthony, he
used to say that: why should he leave him?  It wasn't likely that he
would come across a better sailor or a better man or a more comfortable
ship.  As to trying to better himself in the way of promotion, commands
were not the sort of thing one picked up in the streets, and when it
came to that, Captain Anthony was as likely to give him a lift on
occasion as anyone in the world.

From Mr Powell's description Franklin was a short, thick black-haired
man, bald on the top.  His head sunk between the shoulders, his staring
prominent eyes and a florid colour, gave him a rather apoplectic
appearance.  In repose, his congested face had a humorously melancholy
expression.

The ship-keeper having given him up all the keys and having been chased
forward with the admonition to mind his own business and not to chatter
about what did not concern him, Mr Franklin went under the poop.  He
opened one door after another; and, in the saloon, in the captain's
state-room and everywhere, he stared anxiously as if expecting to see on
the bulkheads, on the deck, in the air, something unusual--sign, mark,
emanation, shadow--he hardly knew what--some subtle change wrought by
the passage of a girl.  But there was nothing.  He entered the
unoccupied stern-cabin and spent some time there unscrewing the two
stern ports.  In the absence of all material evidences his uneasiness
was passing away.  With a last glance round he came out and found
himself in the presence of his captain advancing from the other end of
the saloon.

Franklin, at once, looked for the girl.  She wasn't to be seen.  The
captain came up quickly.  `Oh! you are here, Mr Franklin.'  And the
mate said, `I was giving a little air to the place, sir.'  Then the
captain, his hat pulled down over his eyes, laid his stick on the table
and asked in his kind way: `How did you find your mother,
Franklin?'--`The old lady's first-rate, sir, thank you.'  And then they
had nothing to say to each other.  It was a strange and disturbing
feeling for Franklin.  He, just back from leave, the ship just come to
her loading berth, the captain just come on board, and apparently
nothing to say!  The several questions he had been anxious to ask as to
various things which had to be done had slipped out of his mind.  He,
too, felt as though he had nothing to say.

The captain, picking up his stick off the table, marched into his
state-room and shut the door after him.  Franklin remained still for a
moment and then started slowly to go on deck.  But before he had time to
reach the other end of the saloon he heard himself called by name.  He
turned round.  The captain was staring from the doorway of his
state-room.  Franklin said, "Yes, sir."  But the captain, silent, leaned
a little forward grasping the door handle.  So he, Franklin, walked aft
keeping his eyes on him.  When he had come up quite close he said again,
"Yes, sir?" interrogatively.  Still silence.  The mate didn't like to be
stared at in that manner, a manner quite new in his captain, with a
defiant and self-conscious stare, like a man who feels ill and dares you
to notice it.  Franklin gazed at his captain, felt that there was
something wrong, and in his simplicity voiced his feelings by asking
point-blank:

"What's wrong, sir?"

The captain gave a slight start, and the character of his stare changed
to a sort of sinister surprise.  Franklin grew very uncomfortable, but
the captain asked negligently:

"What makes you think that there's something wrong?"

"I can't say exactly.  You don't look quite yourself, sir," Franklin
owned up.

"You seem to have a confoundedly piercing eye," said the captain in such
an aggressive tone that Franklin was moved to defend himself.

"We have been together now over six years, sir, so I suppose I know you
a bit by this time.  I could see there was something wrong directly you
came on board."

"Mr Franklin," said the captain, "we have been more than six years
together, it is true, but I didn't know you for a reader of faces.  You
are not a correct reader though.  It's very far from being wrong.  You
understand?  As far from being wrong as it can very well be.  It ought
to teach you not to make rash surmises.  You should leave that to the
shore people.  They are great hands at spying out something wrong.  I
dare say they know what they have made of the world.  A dam' poor job of
it and that's plain.  It's a confoundedly ugly place, Mr Franklin.  You
don't know anything of it?  Well--no, we sailors don't.  Only now and
then one of us runs against something cruel or underhand, enough to make
your hair stand on end.  And when you do see a piece of their wickedness
you find that to set it right is not so easy as it looks...  Oh!  I
called you back to tell you that there will be a lot of workmen, joiners
and all that, sent down on board first thing to-morrow morning to start
making alterations in the cabin.  You will see to it that they don't
loaf.  There isn't much time."

Franklin was impressed by this unexpected lecture upon the wickedness of
the solid world surrounded by the salt, uncorruptible waters on which he
and his captain had dwelt all their lives in happy innocence.  What he
could not understand was why it should have been delivered, and what
connection it could have with such a matter as the alterations to be
carried out in the cabin.  The work did not seem to him to be called for
in such a hurry.  What was the use of altering anything?  It was a very
good accommodation, spacious, well-distributed, on a rather
old-fashioned plan, and with its decorations somewhat tarnished.  But a
dab of varnish, a touch of gilding here and there, was all that was
necessary.  As to comfort, it could not be improved by any alterations.
He resented the notion of change; but he said dutifully that he would
keep his eye on the workmen if the captain would only let him know what
was the nature of the work he had ordered to be done.

"You'll find a note of it on this table.  I'll leave it for you as I go
ashore," said Captain Anthony hastily.  Franklin thought there was no
more to hear, and made a movement to leave the saloon.  But the captain
continued after a slight pause, "You will be surprised, no doubt, when
you look at it.  There'll be a good many alterations.  It's on account
of a lady coming with us.  I am going to get married, Mr Franklin!"



PART TWO, CHAPTER 2.

YOUNG POWELL SEES AND HEARS.

"You remember," went on Marlow, "how I feared that Mr Powell's want of
experience would stand in his way of appreciating the unusual.  The
unusual I had in my mind was something of a very subtle sort: the
unusual in marital relations.  I may well have doubted the capacity of a
young man too much concerned with the creditable performance of his
professional duties to observe what in the nature of things is not
easily observable in itself, and still less so under the special
circumstances.  In the majority of ships a second officer has not many
points of contact with the captain's wife.  He sits at the same table
with her at meals, generally speaking; he may now and then be addressed
more or less kindly on insignificant matters, and have the opportunity
to show her some small attentions on deck.  And that is all.  Under such
conditions, signs can be seen only by a sharp and practised eye.  I am
alluding now to troubles which are subtle often to the extent of not
being understood by the very hearts they devastate or uplift.

"Yes, Mr Powell, whom the chance of his name had thrown upon the
floating stage of that tragi-comedy would have been perfectly useless
for my purpose if the unusual of an obvious kind had not aroused his
attention from the first.

"We know how he joined that ship so suddenly offered to his anxious
desire to make a real start in his profession.  He had come on board
breathless with the hurried winding up of his shore affairs, accompanied
by two horrible nightbirds, escorted by a dock policeman on the make,
received by an asthmatic shadow of a ship-keeper, warned not to make a
noise in the darkness of the passage because the captain and his wife
were already on board.  That in itself was already somewhat unusual.
Captains and their wives do not, as a rule, join a moment sooner than is
necessary.  They prefer to spend the last moments with their friends and
relations.  A ship in one of London's older docks with their
restrictions as to lights and so on is not the place for a happy
evening.  Still, as the tide served at six in the morning, one could
understand them coming on board the evening before.

"Just then young Powell felt as if anybody ought to be glad enough to be
quit of the shore.  We know he was an orphan from a very early age,
without brothers or sisters--no near relations of any kind, I believe,
except that aunt who had quarrelled with his father.  No affection stood
in the way of the quiet satisfaction with which he thought that now all
the worries were over, that there was nothing before him but duties,
that he knew what he would have to do as soon as the dawn broke and for
a long succession of days.  A most soothing certitude.  He enjoyed it in
the dark, stretched out in his bunk with his new blankets pulled over
him.  Some clock ashore beyond the dock-gates struck two.  And then he
heard nothing more, because he went off into a light sleep from which he
woke up with a start.  He had not taken his clothes off, it was hardly
worth while.  He jumped up and went on deck.

"The morning was clear, colourless, grey overhead; the dock like a sheet
of darkling glass crowded with upside-down reflections of warehouses, of
hulls and masts of silent ships.  Rare figures moved here and there on
the distant quays.  A knot of men stood alongside with clothes-bags and
wooden chests at their feet.  Others were coming down the lane between
tall, blind walls, surrounding a hand-cart loaded with more bags and
boxes.  It was the crew of the _Ferndale_.  They began to come on board.
He scanned their faces as they passed forward filling the roomy deck
with the shuffle of their footsteps and the murmur of voices, like the
awakening to life of a world about to be launched into space."

Far away down the clear glassy stretch in the middle of the long dock
Mr Powell watched the tugs coming in quietly through the open gates.  A
subdued firm voice behind him interrupted this contemplation.  It was
Franklin, the thick chief mate, who was addressing him with a watchful
appraising stare of his prominent black eyes: "You'd better take a
couple of these chaps with you and look out for her aft.  We are going
to cast off."

"Yes, sir," Powell said with proper alacrity; but for a moment they
remained looking at each other fixedly.  Something like a faint smile
altered the set of the chief mate's lips just before he moved off
forward with his brisk step.

Mr Powell, getting up on the poop, touched his cap to Captain Anthony,
who was there alone.  He tells me that it was only then that he saw his
captain for the first time.  The day before, in the shipping office,
what with the bad light and his excitement at this berth obtained as if
by a brusque and unscrupulous miracle, did not count.  He had then
seemed to him much older and heavier.  He was surprised at the lithe
figure, broad of shoulder, narrow at the hips, the fire of the deep-set
eyes, the springiness of the walk.  The captain gave him a steady stare,
nodded slightly, and went on pacing the poop with an air of not being
aware of what was going on, his head rigid, his movements rapid.

Powell stole several glances at him with a curiosity very natural under
the circumstances.  He wore a short grey jacket and a grey cap.  In the
light of the dawn, growing more limpid rather than brighter, Powell
noticed the slightly sunken cheeks under the trimmed beard, the
perpendicular fold on the forehead, something hard and set about the
mouth.

It was too early yet for the work to have begun in the dock.  The water
gleamed placidly, no movement anywhere in the long straight lines of the
quays, no one about to be seen except the few dock hands busy alongside
the _Ferndale_, knowing their work, mostly silent or exchanging a few
words in low tones as if they, too, had been aware of that lady `who
mustn't be disturbed.'  The _Ferndale_ was the only ship to leave that
tide.  The others seemed still asleep, without a sound, and only here
and there a figure, coming up on the forecastle, leaned on the rail to
watch the proceedings idly.  Without trouble and fuss and almost without
a sound was the _Ferndale_ leaving the land, as if stealing away.  Even
the tugs, now with their engines stopped, were approaching her without a
ripple, the burly-looking paddle-boat sheering forward, while the other,
a screw, smaller and of slender shape, made for her quarter so gently
that she did not divide the smooth water, but seemed to glide on its
surface as if on a sheet of plate-glass, a man in her bow, the master at
the wheel visible only from the waist upwards above the white screen of
the bridge, both of them so still-eyed as to fascinate young Powell into
curious self-forgetfulness and immobility.  He was steeped, sunk in the
general quietness, remembering the statement `she's a lady that mustn't
be disturbed,' and repeating to himself idly: `No.  She won't be
disturbed.  She won't be disturbed.'  Then the first loud words of that
morning breaking that strange hush of departure with a sharp hail: `Look
out for that line there,' made him start.  The line whizzed past his
head, one of the sailors aft caught it, and there was an end to the
fascination, to the quietness of spirit which had stolen on him at the
very moment of departure.  From that moment till two hours afterwards,
when the ship was brought up in one of the lower reaches of the Thames
off an apparently uninhabited shore, near some sort of inlet where
nothing but two anchored barges flying a red flag could be seen, Powell
was too busy to think of the lady `that mustn't be disturbed,' or of his
captain--or of anything else unconnected with his immediate duties.  In
fact, he had no occasion to go on the poop, or even look that way much;
but while the ship was about to anchor, casting his eyes in that
direction, he received an absurd impression that his captain (he was up
there, of course) was sitting on both sides of the aftermost skylight at
once.  He was too occupied to reflect on this curious delusion, this
phenomenon of seeing double as though he had had a drop too much.  He
only smiled at himself.

As often happens after a grey daybreak the sun had risen in a warm and
glorious splendour above the smooth immense gleam of the enlarged
estuary.  Wisps of mist floated like trails of luminous dust, and in the
dazzling reflections of water and vapour, the shores had the murky
semi-transparent darkness of shadows cast mysteriously from below.
Powell, who had sailed out of London all his young seaman's life, told
me that it was then, in a moment of entranced vision an hour or so after
sunrise, that the river was revealed to him for all time, like a fair
face often seen before, which is suddenly perceived to be the expression
of an inner and unsuspected beauty, of that something unique and only
its own which rouses a passion of wonder and fidelity and an
unappeasable memory of its charm.  The hull of the _Ferndale_, swung
head to the eastward, caught the light, her tall spars and rigging
steeped in a bath of red-gold, from the water-line full of glitter to
the trucks slight and gleaming against the delicate expanse of the blue.

"Time we had a mouthful to eat," said a voice at his side.  It was Mr
Franklin, the chief mate, with his head sunk between his shoulders, and
melancholy eyes.  "Let the men have their breakfast, bo'sun," he went
on, "and have the fire out in the galley in half an hour at the latest,
so that we can call these barges of explosives alongside.  Come along,
young man.  I don't know your name.  Haven't seen the captain, to speak
to, since yesterday afternoon when he rushed off to pick up a second
mate somewhere.  How did he get you?"

Young Powell, a little shy notwithstanding the friendly disposition of
the other, answered him smilingly, aware somehow that there was
something marked in this inquisitiveness, natural, after all--something
anxious.  His name was Powell, and he was put in the way of this berth
by Mr Powell, the Shipping Master.  He blushed.

"Ah, I see.  Well, you have been smart in getting ready.  The
ship-keeper, before he went away, told me you joined at one o'clock.  I
didn't sleep on board last night.  Not I.  There was a time when I never
cared to leave this ship for more than a couple of hours in the evening,
even while in London, but now, since--"

He checked himself with a roll of his prominent eyes towards that
youngster, that stranger.  Meantime, he was leading the way across the
quarter-deck under the poop into the long passage with the door of the
saloon at the far end.  It was shut.  But Mr Franklin did not go so
far.  After passing the pantry he opened suddenly a door on the left of
the passage, to Powell's great surprise.

"Our mess-room," he said, entering a small cabin painted white, bare,
lighted from part of the foremost skylight, and furnished only with a
table and two settees with movable backs.  "That surprises you?  Well,
it isn't usual.  And it wasn't so in this ship either, before.  It's
only since--"

He checked himself again.  "Yes.  Here we shall feed, you and I, facing
each other for the next twelve months or more--God knows how much more!
The bo'sun keeps the deck at meal-times in fine-weather."

He talked not exactly wheezing, but like a man whose breath is somewhat
short, and the spirit (young Powell could not help thinking) embittered
by some mysterious grievance.

There was enough of the unusual there to be recognised even by Powell's
inexperience.  The officers kept out of the cabin against the custom of
the service, and then this sort of accent in the mate's talk.  Franklin
did not seem to expect conversational ease from the new second mate.  He
made several remarks about the old, deploring the accident.  Awkward.
Very awkward this thing to happen on the very eve of sailing.

"Collar-bone and arm broken," he sighed.  "Sad, very sad.  Did you
notice if the captain was at all affected?  Eh?  Must have been."

Before this congested face, these globular eyes turned yearningly upon
him, young Powell (one must keep in mind he was but a youngster then)
who could not remember any signs of visible grief, confessed with an
embarrassed laugh that, owing to the suddenness of this lucky chance
coming to him, he was not in a condition to notice the state of other
people.

"I was so pleased to get a ship at last," he murmured, further
disconcerted by the sort of pent-up gravity in Mr Franklin's aspect.

"One man's food another man's poison," the mate remarked.  "That holds
true beyond mere victuals.  I suppose it didn't occur to you that it was
a dam' poor way for a good man to be knocked out."

Mr Powell admitted openly that he had not thought of that.  He was
ready to admit that it was very reprehensible of him.  But Franklin had
no intention apparently, to moralise.  He did not fall silent either.
His further remarks were to the effect that there had been a time when
Captain Anthony would have showed more than enough concern for the least
thing happening to one of his officers.  Yes, there had been a time!

"And mind," he went on, laying down suddenly a half-consumed piece of
bread and butter and raising his voice, "poor Mathews was the second man
the longest on board.  I was the first.  He joined a month later--about
the same time as the steward by a few days.  The bo'sun and the
carpenter came the voyage after.  Steady men.  Still here.  No good man
need ever have thought of leaving the _Ferndale_ unless he were a fool.
Some good men are fools.  Don't know when they are well off.  I mean the
best of good men; men that you would do anything for.  They go on for
years, then all of a sudden--"

Our young friend listened to the mate with a queer sense of discomfort
growing on him.  For it was as though Mr Franklin were thinking aloud,
and putting him into the delicate position of an unwilling eavesdropper.
But there was in the mess-room another listener.  It was the steward,
who had come in carrying a tin coffee-pot with a long handle, and stood
quietly by: a man with a middle-aged, sallow face, long features, heavy
eyelids, a soldierly grey moustache.  His body encased in a short black
jacket with narrow sleeves, his long legs in very tight trousers, made
up an agile, youthful, slender figure.  He moved forward suddenly, and
interrupted the mate's monologue.

"More coffee, Mr Franklin?  Nice fresh lot.  Piping hot.  I am going to
give breakfast to the saloon directly, and the cook is raking his fire
out.  Now's your chance."

The mate who, on account of his peculiar build, could not turn his head
freely, twisted his thick trunk slightly, and ran his black eyes in the
corners towards the steward.

"And is the precious pair of them out?" he growled.

The steward, pouring out the coffee into the mate's cup, muttered
moodily but distinctly: "The lady wasn't when I was laying the table."

Powell's ears were fine enough to detect something hostile in this
reference to the captain's wife.  For of what other person could they be
speaking?  The steward added with a gloomy sort of fairness: "But she
will be before I bring the dishes in.  She never gives that sort of
trouble.  That she doesn't."

"No.  Not in that way," Mr Franklin agreed, and then both he and the
steward, after glancing at Powell--the stranger to the ship--said
nothing more.

But this had been enough to rouse his curiosity.  Curiosity is natural
to man.  Of course it was not a malevolent curiosity which, if not
exactly natural, is to be met fairly frequently in men and perhaps more
frequently in women--especially if a woman be in question; and that
woman under a cloud, in a manner of speaking.  For under a cloud Flora
de Barral was fated to be even at sea.  Yes.  Even that sort of darkness
which attends a woman for whom there is no clear place in the world hung
over her.  Yes.  Even at sea!

"And this is the pathos of being a woman.  A man can struggle to get a
place for himself or perish.  But a woman's part is passive, say what
you like, and shuffle the facts of the world as you may, hinting at lack
of energy, of wisdom, of courage.  As a matter of fact, almost all women
have all that--of their own kind.  But they are not made for attack.
Wait they must.  I am speaking here of women who are really women.  And
it's no use talking of opportunities, either.  I know that some of them
do talk of it.  But not the genuine women.  Those know better.  Nothing
can beat a true woman for a clear vision of reality; I would say a
cynical vision if I were not afraid of wounding your chivalrous
feelings--for which, by the by, women are not so grateful as you may
think, to fellows of your kind..."

"Upon my word, Marlow," I cried, "what are you flying out at me for like
this?  I wouldn't use an ill-sounding word about women, but what right
have you to imagine that I am looking for gratitude?"

Marlow raised a soothing hand.

"There!  There!  I take back the ill-sounding word, with the remark,
though, that cynicism seems to me a word invented by hypocrites.  But
let that pass.  As to women, they know that the clamour for
opportunities for them to become something which they cannot be is as
reasonable as if mankind at large started asking for opportunities of
winning immortality in this world, in which death is the very condition
of life.  You must understand that I am not talking here of material
existence.  That naturally is implied; but you won't maintain that a
woman who, say, enlisted, for instance (there have been cases) has
conquered her place in the world.  She has only got her living in it--
which is quite meritorious, but not quite the same thing."

All these reflections which arise from my picking up the thread of Flora
de Barral's existence did not, I am certain, present themselves to Mr
Powell--not the Mr Powell we know taking solitary week-end cruises in
the estuary of the Thames (with mysterious dashes into lonely creeks)
but to the young Mr Powell, the chance second officer of the ship
_Ferndale_, commanded (and for the most part owned) by Roderick Anthony,
the son of the poet--you know.  A Mr Powell, much slenderer than our
robust friend is now, with the bloom of innocence not quite rubbed off
his smooth cheeks, and apt not only to be interested but also to be
surprised by the experience life was holding in store for him.  This
would account for his remembering so much of it with considerable
vividness.  For instance, the impressions attending his first breakfast
on board the _Ferndale_, both visual and mental, were as fresh to him as
if received yesterday.

"The surprise, it is easy to understand, would arise from the inability
to interpret aright the signs which experience (a thing mysterious in
itself) makes to our understanding and emotions.  For it is never more
than that.  Our experience never gets into our blood and bones.  It
always remains outside of us.  That's why we look with wonder at the
past.  And this persists even when from practice and through growing
callousness of fibre we come to the point when nothing that we meet in
that rapid blinking stumble across a flick of sunshine--which our life
is--nothing, I say, which we run against surprises us any more.  Not at
the time, I mean.  If, later on, we recover the faculty with some such
exclamation: `Well!  Well!  I'll be hanged if I ever...' it is probably
because this very thing that there should be a past to look back upon,
other people's, is very astounding in itself when one has the time, a
fleeting and immense instant to think of it..."

I was on the point of interrupting Marlow when he stopped of himself,
his eyes fixed on vacancy, or--perhaps--(I wouldn't be too hard on him)
on a vision.  He has the habit, or, say, the fault, of defective
mantelpiece clocks, of suddenly stopping in the very fulness of the
tick.  If you have ever lived with a clock afflicted with that
perversity, you know how vexing it is--such a stoppage.  I was vexed
with Marlow.  He was smiling faintly while I waited.  He even laughed a
little.  And then I said acidly:

"Am I to understand that you have ferreted out something comic in the
history of Flora de Barral?"

"Comic!" he exclaimed.  "No!  What makes you say? ...  Oh, I laughed--
did I?  But don't you know that people laugh at absurdities that are
very far from being comic?  Didn't you read the latest books about
laughter written by philosophers, psychologists?  There is a lot of
them..."

"I dare say there has been a lot of nonsense written about laughter--and
tears, too, for that matter," I said impatiently.

"They say," pursued the unabashed Marlow, "that we laugh from a sense of
superiority.  Therefore, observe, simplicity, honesty, warmth of
feeling, delicacy of heart and of conduct, self-confidence, magnanimity
are laughed at, because the presence of these traits in a man's
character often puts him into difficult, cruel or absurd situations, and
makes us, the majority who are fairly free as a rule from these
peculiarities, feel pleasantly superior."

"Speak for yourself," I said.  "But have you discovered all these fine
things in the story; or has Mr Powell discovered them to you in his
artless talk?  Have you two been having good healthy laughs together?
Come!  Are your sides aching yet, Marlow?"

Marlow took no offence at my banter.  He was quite serious.

"I should not like to say off-hand how much of that there was," he
pursued with amusing caution.  "But there was a situation, tense enough
for the signs of it to give many surprises to Mr Powell--neither of
them shocking in itself, but with a cumulative effect which made the
whole unforgettable in the detail of its progress.  And the first
surprise came very soon, when the explosives (to which he owed his
sudden chance of engagement)--dynamite in cases and blasting powder in
barrels--taken on board, main hatch battened for sea, cook restored to
his functions in the galley, anchor fished and the tug ahead, rounding
the South Foreland, and with the sun sinking clear and red down the
purple vista of the channel, he went on the poop, on duty, it is true,
but with time to take the first freer breath in the busy day of
departure.  The pilot was still on board, who gave him first a silent
glance, and then passed an insignificant remark before resuming his
lounging to and fro between the steering wheel and the binnacle.  Powell
took his station modestly at the break of the poop.  He had noticed
across the skylight a head in a grey cap.  But when, after a time, he
crossed over to the other side of the deck he discovered that it was not
the captain's head at all.  He became aware of grey hairs curling over
the nape of the neck.  How could he have made that mistake?  But on
board ship away from the land one does not expect to come upon a
stranger."

Powell walked past the man.  A thin, somewhat sunken face, with a
tightly closed mouth, stared at the distant French coast, vague like a
suggestion of solid darkness, lying abeam beyond the evening light
reflected from the level waters, themselves growing more sombre than the
sky; a stare, across which Powell had to pass and did pass with a quick
side glance, noting its immovable stillness.  His passage disturbed
those eyes no more than if he had been as immaterial as a ghost.  And
this failure of his person in producing an impression affected him
strangely.  Who could that old man be?

He was so curious that he even ventured to ask the pilot in a low voice.
The pilot turned out to be a good-natured specimen of his kind,
condescending, sententious.  He had been down to his meals in the main
cabin, and had something to impart.

"That?  Queer fish--eh?  Mrs Anthony's father.  I've been introduced to
him in the cabin at breakfast time.  Name of Smith.  Wonder if he has
all his wits about him.  They take him about with them, it seems.  Don't
look very happy--eh?"

Then, changing his tone abruptly, he desired Powell to get all hands on
deck and make sail on the ship.  "I shall be leaving you in half an
hour.  You'll have plenty of time to find out all about the old gent,"
he added with a thick laugh.

In the secret emotion of giving his first order as a fully responsible
officer, young Powell forgot the very existence of that old man in a
moment.  The following days, in the interest of getting in touch with
the ship, with the men in her, with his duties, in the rather anxious
period of settling down, his curiosity slumbered; for of course the
pilot's few words had not extinguished it.

This settling down was made easy for him by the friendly character of
his immediate superior--the chief.  Powell could not defend himself from
some sympathy for that thick, bald man, comically shaped, with his
crimson complexion and something pathetic in the rolling of his very
movable black eyes in an apparently immovable head, who was so tactfully
ready to take his competency for granted.

There can be nothing more reassuring to a young man tackling his life's
work for the first time.  Mr Powell, his mind at ease about himself,
had time to observe the people around with friendly interest.  Very
early in the beginning of the passage, he had discovered with some
amusement that the marriage of Captain Anthony was resented by those to
whom Powell (conscious of being looked upon as something of an outsider)
referred in his mind as `the old lot.'

They had the funny, regretful glances, intonations, nods of men who had
seen other, better times.  What difference it could have made to the
bo'sun, and the carpenter Powell could not very well understand.  Yet
these two pulled long faces and even gave hostile glances to the poop.
The cook and the steward might have been more directly concerned.  But
the steward used to remark on occasion, `Oh, she gives no extra
trouble,' with scrupulous fairness of the most gloomy kind.  He was
rather a silent man with a great sense of his personal worth which made
his speeches guarded.  The cook, a neat man with fair side whiskers, who
had been only three years in the ship, seemed the least concerned.  He
was even known to have inquired once or twice as to the success of some
of his dishes with the captain's wife.  This was considered a sort of
disloyal falling away from the ruling feeling.

The mate's annoyance was yet the easiest to understand.  As he let it
out to Powell before the first week of the passage was over: `You can't
expect me to be pleased at being chucked out of the saloon as if I
weren't good enough to sit down to meat with that woman.'  But he
hastened to add: `Don't you think I'm blaming the captain.  He isn't a
man to be found fault with.  You, Mr Powell, are too young yet to
understand such matters.'

Some considerable time afterwards, at the end of a conversation of that
aggrieved sort, he enlarged a little more by repeating: `Yes!  You are
too young to understand these things.  I don't say you haven't plenty of
sense.  You are doing very well here.  Jolly sight better than I
expected, though I liked your looks from the first.'

It was in the trade-winds, at night, under a velvety, bespangled sky; a
great multitude of stars watching the shadows of the sea gleaming
mysteriously in the wake of the ship; while the leisurely swishing of
the water to leeward was like a drowsy comment on her progress.  Mr
Powell expressed his satisfaction by a half-bashful laugh.  The mate
mused on: `And of course you haven't known the ship as she used to be.
She was more than a home to a man.  She was not like any other ship; and
Captain Anthony was not like any other master to sail with.  Neither is
she now.  But before one never had a care in the world as to her--and as
to him, too.  No, indeed, there was never anything to worry about.'

Young Powell couldn't see what there was to worry about even then.  The
serenity of the peaceful night seemed as vast as all space, and as
enduring as eternity itself.  It's true the sea is an uncertain element,
but no sailor remembers this in the presence of its bewitching power any
more than a lover ever thinks of the proverbial inconstancy of women.
And Mr Powell, being young, thought naively that the captain being
married, there could be no occasion for anxiety as to his condition.  I
suppose that to him life, perhaps not so much his own as that of others,
was something still in the nature of a fairy-tale with a `they lived
happy ever after' termination.  We are the creatures of our light
literature much more than is generally suspected in a world which prides
itself on being scientific and practical, and in possession of
incontrovertible theories.  Powell felt in that way the more because the
captain of a ship at sea is a remote, inaccessible creature, something
like a prince of a fairy-tale, alone of his kind, depending on nobody,
not to be called to account except by powers practically invisible and
so distant, that they might well be looked upon as supernatural for all
that the rest of the crew knows of them, as a rule.

"So he did not understand the aggrieved attitude of the mate--or rather
he understood it obscurely as a result of simple causes which did not
seem to him adequate.  He would have dismissed all this out of his mind
with a contemptuous: `What the devil do I care?' if the captain's wife
herself had not been so young.  To see her the first time had been
something of a shock to him.  He had some preconceived ideas as to
captain's wives which, while he did not believe the testimony of his
eyes, made him open them very wide.  He had stared till the captain's
wife noticed it plainly and turned her face away.  Captain's wife!  That
girl covered with rugs in a long chair.  Captain's...!  He gasped
mentally.  It had never occurred to him that a captain's wife could be
anything but a woman to be described as stout or thin, as jolly or
crabbed, but always mature, and even, in comparison with his own years,
frankly old.  But this!  It was a sort of moral upset as though he had
discovered a case of abduction or something as surprising as that.  You
understand that nothing is more disturbing than the upsetting of a
preconceived idea.  Each of us arranges the world according to his own
notion of the fitness of things.  To behold a girl where your average
mediocre imagination had placed a comparatively old woman may easily
become one of the strongest shocks..."

Marlow paused, smiling to himself.

"Powell remained impressed after all these years by the very
recollection," he continued in a voice, amused perhaps but not mocking.
"He said to me only the other day with something like the first awe of
that discovery lingering in his tone--he said to me: `Why, she seemed so
young, so girlish, that I looked round for some woman which would be the
captain's wife, though of course I knew there was no other woman on
board that voyage.'  The voyage before, it seems, there had been the
steward's wife to act as maid to Mrs Anthony; but she was not taken
that time for some reason he didn't know.  Mrs Anthony...!  If it
hadn't been the captain's wife he would have referred to her mentally as
a kid, he said.  I suppose there must be a sort of divinity hedging in a
captain's wife (however incredible) which prevented him applying to her
that contemptuous definition in the secret of his thoughts."

I asked him when this had happened; and he told me that it was three
days after parting from the tug, just outside the channel--to be
precise.  A head wind had set in with unpleasant damp weather.  He had
come up to leeward of the poop, still feeling very much of a stranger,
and an untried officer, at six in the evening to take his watch.  To see
her was quite as unexpected as seeing a vision.  When she turned away
her head he recollected himself and dropped his eyes.  What he could see
then was only, close to the long chair on which she reclined, a pair of
long, thin legs ending in black cloth boots tucked in close to the
skylight-seat.  Whence he concluded that the `old gentleman,' who wore a
grey cap like the captain's, was sitting by her--his daughter.  In his
first astonishment he had stopped dead short, with the consequence that
now he felt very much abashed at having betrayed his surprise.  But he
couldn't very well turn tail and bolt off the poop.  He had come there
on duty.  So, still with downcast eyes, he made his way past them.  Only
when he got as far as the wheel-grating did he look up.  She was hidden
from him by the back of her deck-chair; but he had the view of the owner
of the thin, aged legs seated on the skylight, his clean-shaved cheek,
his thin compressed mouth with a hollow in each corner, the sparse grey
locks escaping from under the tweed cap, and curling slightly on the
collar of the coat.  He leaned forward a little over Mrs Anthony, but
they were not talking.  Captain Anthony, walking with a springy hurried
gait on the other side of the poop from end to end, gazed straight
before him.  Young Powell might have thought that his captain was not
aware of his presence either.  However, he knew better, and for that
reason spent a most uncomfortable hour motionless by the compass before
his captain stopped in his swift pacing and with an almost visible
effort made some remark to him about the weather in a low voice.  Before
Powell, who was startled, could find a word of answer, the captain swung
off again on his endless tramp with a fixed gaze.  And till the supper
bell rang silence dwelt over that poop like an evil spell.  The captain
walked up and down looking straight before him, the helmsman steered,
looking upwards at the sails, the old gent on the skylight looked down
on his daughter--and Mr Powell confessed to me that he didn't know
where to look, feeling as though he had blundered in where he had no
business--which was absurd.  At last he fastened his eyes on the compass
card, took refuge, in spirit, inside the binnacle.  He felt chilled more
than he should have been by the chilly dusk falling on the muddy green
sea of the soundings from a smoothly clouded sky.  A fitful wind swept
the cheerless waste, and the ship, hauled up so close as to check her
way, seemed to progress by languid fits and starts against the short
seas which swept along her sides with a snarling sound.

Young Powell thought that this was the dreariest evening aspect of the
sea he had ever seen.  He was glad when the other occupants of the poop
left it at the sound of the bell.  The captain first, with a sudden
swerve in his walk towards the companion, and not even looking once
towards his wife and his wife's father.  Those two got up and moved
towards the companion, the old gent very erect, his thin locks stirring
gently about the nape of his neck, and carrying the rugs over his arm.
The girl who was Mrs Anthony went down first.  The murky twilight had
settled in deep shadow on her face.  She looked at Mr Powell in
passing.  He thought that she was very pale.  Cold perhaps.  The old
gent stopped a moment, thin and stiff, before the young man, and in a
voice which was low but distinct enough, and without any particular
accent--not even of inquiry--he said:

"You are the new second officer, I believe."

Mr Powell answered in the affirmative, wondering if this were a
friendly overture.  He had noticed that Mr Smith's eyes had a sort of
inward look as though he had disliked or disdained his surroundings.
The captain's wife had disappeared then down the companion stairs.  Mr
Smith said `Ah!' and waited a little longer to put another question in
his incurious voice.

"And did you know the man who was here before you?"

"No," said young Powell, "I didn't know anybody belonging to this ship
before I joined."

"He was much older than you.  Twice your age.  Perhaps more.  His hair
was iron-grey.  Yes.  Certainly more."

The low, repressed voice paused, but the old man did not move away.  He
added: "Isn't it unusual?"

Mr Powell was surprised not only by being engaged in conversation, but
also by its character.  It might have been the suggestion of the word
uttered by this old man, but it was distinctly at that moment that he
became aware of something unusual not only in this encounter but
generally around him, about everybody, in the atmosphere.  The very sea,
with short flashes of foam bursting out here and there in the gloomy
distances, the unchangeable, safe sea sheltering a man from all
passions, except its own anger, seemed queer to the quick glance he
threw to windward where the already effaced horizon traced no reassuring
limit to the eye.  In the expiring, diffused twilight, and before the
clouded night dropped its mysterious veil, it was the immensity of space
made visible--almost palpable.  Young Powell felt it.  He felt it in the
sudden sense of his isolation; the trustworthy, powerful ship of his
first acquaintance reduced to a speck, to something almost
undistinguishable, the mere support for the soles of his two feet before
that unexpected old man becoming so suddenly articulate in a darkening
universe.

It took him a moment or so to seize the drift of the question.  He
repeated slowly: `Unusual...  Oh, you mean for an elderly man to be the
second of a ship.  I don't know.  There are a good many of us who don't
get on.  He didn't get on, I suppose.'

The other, his head bowed a little, had the air of listening with acute
attention.

"And now he has been taken to the hospital," he said.

"I believe so.  Yes.  I remember Captain Anthony saying so in the
shipping office."

"Possibly about to die," went on the old man, in his careful deliberate
tone.  "And perhaps glad enough to die."

Mr Powell was young enough, to be startled at the suggestion, which
sounded confidential and blood-curdling in the dusk.  He said sharply
that it was not very likely, as if defending the absent victim of the
accident from an unkind aspersion.  He felt, in fact, indignant.  The
other emitted a short stifled laugh of a conciliatory nature.  The
second bell rang under the poop.  He made a movement at the sound, but
lingered.

"What I said was not meant seriously," he murmured, with that strange
air of fearing to be overheard.  "Not in this case.  I know the man."

The occasion, or rather the want of occasion, for this conversation, had
sharpened the perceptions of the unsophisticated second officer of the
_Ferndale_.  He was alive to the slightest shade of tone, and felt as if
this "I know the man" should have been followed by a "he was no friend
of mine."  But after the shortest possible break the old gentleman
continued to murmur distinctly and evenly:

"Whereas you have never seen him.  Nevertheless, when you have gone
through as many years as I have, you will understand how an event
putting an end to one's existence may not be altogether unwelcome.  Of
course there are stupid accidents.  And even then one needn't be very
angry.  What is it to be deprived of life?  It's soon done.  But what
would you think of the feelings of a man who should have had his life
stolen from him?  Cheated out of it, I say!"

He ceased abruptly, and remained still long enough for the astonished
Powell to stammer out an indistinct: "What do you mean?  I don't
understand."  Then, with a low `Good-night' glided a few steps, and sank
through the shadow of the companion into the lamplight below which did
not reach higher than the turn of the staircase.

The strange words, the cautious tone, the whole person left a strong
uneasiness in the mind of Mr Powell.  He started walking the poop in
great mental confusion.  He felt all adrift.  This was funny talk and no
mistake.  And this cautious low tone as though he were watched by
someone was more than funny.  The young second officer hesitated to
break the established rule of every ship's discipline; but at last could
not resist the temptation of getting hold of some other human being, and
spoke to the man at the wheel.

"Did you hear what this gentleman was saying to me?"

"No, sir," answered the sailor quietly.  Then, encouraged by this
evidence of laxity in his officer, made bold to add, "A queer fish,
sir."  This was tentative, and Mr Powell, busy with his own view, not
saying anything, he ventured further.  "They are more like passengers.
One sees some queer passengers."

"Who are like passengers?" asked Powell gruffly.

"Why, these two, sir."



PART TWO, CHAPTER 3.

DEVOTED SERVANTS--AND THE LIGHT OF A FLARE.

Young Powell thought to himself: "The men, too, are noticing it."
Indeed, the captain's behaviour to his wife and to his wife's father was
noticeable enough.  It was as if they had been a pair of not very
congenial passengers.  But perhaps it was not always like that.  The
captain might have been put out by something.

When the aggrieved Franklin came on deck Mr Powell made a remark to
that effect.  For his curiosity was aroused.

The mate grumbled "Seems to you? ...  Put out? ... eh?"  He buttoned his
thick jacket up to the throat, and only then added a gloomy "Ay, likely
enough," which discouraged further conversation.  But no encouragement
would have induced the newly-joined second mate to enter the way of
confidences.  His was an instinctive prudence.  Powell did not know why
it was he had resolved to keep his own counsel as to his colloquy with
Mr Smith.  But his curiosity did not slumber.  Some time afterwards,
again at the relief of watches, in the course of a little talk, he
mentioned Mrs Anthony's father quite casually, and tried to find out
from the mate who he was.

"It would take a clever man to find that out, as things are on board
now," Mr Franklin said, unexpectedly communicative.  "The first I saw
of him was when she brought him alongside in a four-wheeler one morning
about half-past eleven.  The captain had come on board early, and was
down in the cabin that had been fitted out for him.  Did I tell you that
if you want the captain for anything you must stamp on the port side of
the deck?  That's so.  This ship is not only unlike what she used to be,
but she is like no other ship, anyhow.  Did you ever hear of the
captain's room being on the port side?  Both of them stern-cabins have
been fitted up afresh like a blessed palace.  A gang of people from some
tip-top West-End house were fussing here on board with hangings and
furniture for a fortnight, as if the Queen were coming with us.  Of
course the starboard cabin is the bedroom one, but the poor captain
hangs out to port on a couch, so that in case we want him on deck at
night, Mrs Anthony should not be startled.  Nervous!  Phoo!  A woman
who marries a sailor and makes up her mind to come to sea should have no
blamed jumpiness about her, I say.  But never mind.  Directly the old
cab pointed round the corner of the warehouse I called out to the
captain that his lady was coming aboard.  He answered me, but as I
didn't see him coming, I went down the gangway myself to help her
alight.  She jumps out excitedly without touching my arm, or as much as
saying `thank you' or `good morning' or anything, turns back to the cab,
and then that old joker comes out slowly.  I hadn't noticed him inside.
I hadn't expected to see anybody.  It gave me a start.  She says: `My
father--Mr Franklin.'  He was staring at me like an owl.  `How do you
do, sir?' says I.  Both of them looked funny.  It was as if something
had happened to them on the way.  Neither of them moved, and I stood by
waiting.  The captain showed himself on the poop; and I saw him at the
side looking over, and then he disappeared; on the way to meet them on
shore, I expected.  But he just went down below again.  So, not seeing
him, I said: `Let me help you on board, sir.'

"On board!" says he in a silly fashion.

"On board!"

"It's not a very good ladder, but it's quite firm," says I, as he seemed
to be afraid of it.  And he didn't look a broken-down old man, either.
You can see yourself what he is.  Straight as a poker, and life enough
in him yet.  But he made no move, and I began to feel foolish.  Then she
comes forward.  "Oh!  Thank you, Mr Franklin.  I'll help my father up."
Flabbergasted me--to be choked off like this.  Pushed in between him
and me without as much as a look my way.  So of course I dropped it.
What do you think?  I fell back.  I would have gone up on board at once
and left them on the quay to come up or stay there till next week, only
they were blocking the way.  I couldn't very well shove them on one
side.  Devil only knows what was up between them.  There she was, pale
as death, talking to him very fast.  He got as red as a turkey-cock--
dash me if he didn't.  A bad-tempered old bloke, I can tell you.  And a
bad lot, too.  Never mind.  I couldn't hear what she was saying to him,
but she put force enough into it to shake her.  It seemed--it seemed,
mind!--that he didn't want to go on board.  Of course it couldn't have
been that.  I know better.  Well, she took him by the arm, above the
elbow, as if to lead him, or push him rather.  I was standing not quite
ten feet off.  Why should I have gone away?  I was anxious to get back
on board as soon as they would let me.  I didn't want to overhear her
blamed whispering either.  But I couldn't stay there for ever, so I made
a move to get past them if I could.  And that's how I heard a few words.
It was the old chap--something nasty about being "under the heel" of
somebody or other.  Then he says, "I don't want this sacrifice."  What
it meant I can't tell.  It was a quarrel--of that I am certain.  She
looks over her shoulder, and sees me pretty close to them.  I don't know
what she found to say into his ear, but he gave way suddenly.  He looked
round at me too, and they went up together so quickly then that when I
got on the quarter-deck I was only in time to see the inner door of the
passage close after them.  Queer--eh?  But if it were only queerness one
wouldn't mind.  Some luggage in new trunks came on board in the
afternoon.  We undocked at midnight.  And may I be hanged if I know who
or what he was or is.  I haven't been able to find out.  No, I don't
know.  He may have been anything.  All I know is that once, years ago
when I went to see the Derby with a friend, I saw a pea-and-thimble chap
who looked just like that old mystery father out of a cab.

All this the goggle-eyed mate had said in a resentful and melancholy
voice, with pauses, to the gentle murmur of the sea.  It was for him a
bitter sort of pleasure to have a fresh pair of ears, a newcomer, to
whom he could repeat all these matters of grief and suspicion talked
over endlessly by the band of Captain Anthony's faithful subordinates.
It was evidently so refreshing to his worried spirit that it made him
forget the advisability of a little caution with a complete stranger.
But really with Mr Powell there was no danger.  Amused, at first, at
these plaints, he provoked them for fun.  Afterwards, turning them over
in his mind, he became impressed; and as the impression grew stronger
with the days his resolution to keep it to himself grew stronger too.

What made it all the easier to keep--I mean the resolution--was that
Powell's sentiment of amused surprise at what struck him at first as
mere absurdity was not unmingled with indignation.  And his years were
too few, his position too novel, his reliance on his own opinion not yet
firm enough to allow him to express it with any effect.  And then--what
would have been the use, anyhow--and where was the necessity?

But this thing, familiar and mysterious at the same time, occupied his
imagination.  The solitude of the sea intensifies the thoughts and the
facts of one's experience which seems to lie at the very centre of the
world, as the ship which carries one always remains the centre figure of
the round horizon.  He viewed the apoplectic, goggle-eyed mate and the
saturnine, heavy-eyed steward as the victims of a peculiar and secret
form of lunacy which poisoned their lives.  But he did not give them his
sympathy on that account.  No.  That strange affliction awakened in him
a sort of suspicious wonder.

Once--and it was at night again; for the officers of the _Ferndale_
keeping watch and watch as was customary in those days, had but few
occasions for intercourse--once, I say, the thick Mr Franklin, a
quaintly bulky figure under the stars, the usual witnesses of his
outpourings, asked him with an abruptness which was not callous, but in
his simple way:

"I believe you have no parents living?"  Mr Powell said that he had
lost his father and mother at a very early age.

"My mother is still alive," declared Mr Franklin in a tone which
suggested that he was gratified by the fact.  "The old lady is lasting
well.  Of course she's got to be made comfortable.  A woman must be
looked after, and, if it comes to that, I say, give me a mother.  I dare
say if she had not lasted it out so well I might have gone and got
married.  I don't know, though.  We sailors haven't got much time to
look about us to any purpose.  Anyhow, as the old lady was there I
haven't, I may say, looked at a girl in all my life.  Not that I wasn't
partial to female society in my time," he added with a pathetic
intonation, while the whites of his goggle eyes gleamed amorously under
the clear night sky.  "Very partial, I may say."

Mr Powell was amused; and as these communications took place only when
the mate was relieved off duty he had no serious objection to them.  The
mate's presence made the first half-hour and sometimes even more of his
watch on deck pass away.  If his senior did not mind losing some of his
rest it was not Mr Powell's affair.  Franklin was a decent fellow.  His
intention was not to boast of his filial piety.

"Of course I mean respectable female society," he explained.  "The other
sort is neither here nor there.  I blame no man's conduct, but a
well-brought-up young fellow like you knows that there's precious little
fun to be got out of it."  He fetched a deep sigh.  "I wish Captain
Anthony's mother had been a lasting sort like my old lady.  He would
have had to look after her and he would have done it well.  Captain
Anthony is a proper man.  And it would have saved him from the most
foolish--"

He did not finish the phrase which certainly was turning bitter in his
mouth.  Mr Powell thought to himself: "There he goes again."  He
laughed a little.

"I don't understand why you are so hard on the captain, Mr Franklin.  I
thought you were a great friend of his."

"Mr Franklin exclaimed at this.  He was not hard on the captain.
Nothing was further from his thoughts.  Friend!  Of course he was a good
friend and a faithful servant.  He begged Powell to understand that if
Captain Anthony chose to strike a bargain with Old Nick to-morrow, and
Old Nick were good to the captain, he (Franklin) would find it in his
heart to love Old Nick for the captain's sake.  That was so.  On the
other hand, if a saint, an angel with white wings came along and--"

He broke off short again as if his own vehemence had frightened him.
Then in his strained pathetic voice (which he had never raised) he
observed that it was no use talking.  Anybody could see that the man was
changed.

"As to that," said young Powell, "it is impossible for me to judge."

"Good Lord!" whispered the mate.  "An educated, clever young fellow like
you with a pair of eyes on him and some sense too!  Is that how a happy
man looks?  Eh?  Young you may be, but you aren't a kid; and I dare you
to say `Yes!'"

Mr Powell did not take up the challenge.  He did not know what to think
of the mate's view.  Still, it seemed as if it had opened his
understanding in a measure.  He conceded that the captain did not look
very well.

"Not very well," repeated the mate mournfully.  "Do you think a man with
a face like that can hope to live his life out?  You haven't knocked
about long in this world yet, but you are a sailor, you have been in
three or four ships, you say.  Well, have you ever seen a shipmaster
walking his own deck as if he did not know what he had underfoot?  Have
you?  Dam' me if I don't think that he forgets where he is.  Of course
he can be no other than a prime seaman; but it's lucky, all the same, he
has me on board.  I know by this time what he wants done without being
told.  Do you know that I have had no order given me since we left port?
Do you know that he has never once opened his lips to me unless I spoke
to him first?  I?  His chief officer; his shipmate for full six years,
with whom he had no cross word--not once in all that time.  Ay.  Not a
cross look even.  True that when I do make him speak to me, there is his
dear old self, the quick eye, the kind voice.  Could hardly be other to
his old Franklin.  But what's the good?  Eyes, voice, everything's miles
away.  And for all that I take good care never to address him when the
poop isn't clear.  Yes!  Only we two and nothing but the sea with us.
You think it would be all right; the only chief mate he ever had--Mr
Franklin here and Mr Franklin there--when anything went wrong the first
word you would hear about the decks was `Franklin!'--I am thirteen years
older than he is--you would think it would be all right, wouldn't you?
Only we two on this poop on which we saw each other first--he a young
master--told me that he thought I would suit him very well--we two, and
thirty-one days out at sea, and it's no good!  It's like talking to a
man standing on shore.  I can't get him back.  I can't get at him.  I
feel sometimes as if I must shake him by the arm: `Wake up!  Wake up!
You are wanted, sir!'"

Young Powell recognised the expression of a true sentiment, a thing so
rare in this world where there are so many mutes and so many excellent
reasons even at sea for an articulate man not to give himself away, that
he felt something like respect for this outburst.  It was not loud.  The
grotesque squat shape, with the knob of the head as if rammed down
between the square shoulders by a blow from a club, moved vaguely in a
circumscribed space limited by the two harness-casks lashed to the front
rail of the poop, without gestures, hands in the pockets of the jacket,
elbows pressed closely to its side; and the voice without resonance,
passed from anger to dismay and back again without a single louder word
in the hurried delivery, interrupted only by slight gasps for air as if
the speaker were being choked by the suppressed passion of his grief.

Mr Powell, though moved to a certain extent, was by no means carried
away.  And just as he thought that it was all over, the other, fidgeting
in the darkness, was heard again explosive, bewildered but not very loud
in the silence of the ship and the great empty peace of the sea.

"They have done something to him!  What is it?  What can it be?  Can't
you guess?  Don't you know?"

"Good heavens!"  Young Powell was astounded on discovering that this was
an appeal addressed to him.  "How on earth can I know?"

"You do talk to that white-faced, black-eyed ...  I've seen you talking
to her more than a dozen times."

Young Powell, his sympathy suddenly chilled, remarked in a disdainful
tone that Mrs Anthony's eyes were not black.

"I wish to God she had never set them on the captain, whatever colour
they are," retorted Franklin.  "She and that old chap with the scraped
jaws who sits over her and stares down at her dead-white face with his
yellow eyes--confound them!  Perhaps you will tell us that his eyes are
not yellow?"

Powell, not interested in the colour of Mr Smith's eyes, made a vague
gesture.  Yellow or not yellow, it was all one to him.

The mate murmured to himself.  "No.  He can't know.  No!  No more than a
baby.  It would take an older head."

"I don't even understand what you mean," observed Mr Powell coldly.

"And even the best head would be puzzled by such devil-work," the mate
continued, muttering.  "Well, I have heard tell of women doing for a man
in one way or another when they got him fairly ashore.  But to bring
their devilry to sea and fasten on such a man! ...  It's something I
can't understand.  But I can watch.  Let them look out--I say!"

His short figure, unable to stoop, without flexibility, could not
express dejection.  He was very tired suddenly; he dragged his feet
going off the poop.  Before he left it with nearly an hour of his watch
below sacrificed, he addressed himself once more to our young man who
stood abreast of the mizzen rigging in an unreceptive mood expressed by
silence and immobility.  He did not regret, he said, having spoken
openly on this very serious matter.

"I don't know about its seriousness, sir," was Mr Powell's frank
answer.  "But if you think you have been telling me something very new
you are mistaken.  You can't keep that matter out of your speeches.
It's the sort of thing I've been hearing more or less ever since I came
on board."

Mr Powell, speaking truthfully, did not mean to speak offensively.  He
had instincts of wisdom; he felt that this was a serious affair, for it
had nothing to do with reason.  He did not want to raise an enemy for
himself in the mate.  And Mr Franklin did not take offence.  To Mr
Powell's truthful statement he answered with equal truth and simplicity
that it was very likely, very likely.  With a thing like that (next door
to witchcraft almost) weighing on his mind, the wonder was that he could
think of anything else.  The poor man must have found in the
restlessness of his thoughts the illusion of being engaged in an active
contest with some power of evil; for his last words as he went
lingeringly down the poop ladder expressed the quaint hope that he would
get him, Powell, "on our side yet."

Mr Powell--just imagine a straightforward youngster assailed in this
fashion on the high seas--answered merely by an embarrassed and uneasy
laugh which reflected exactly the state of his innocent soul.  The
apoplectic mate, already half-way down, went up again three steps of the
poop ladder.  Why, yes.  A proper young fellow, the mate expected,
wouldn't stand by and see a man, a good sailor and his own skipper, in
trouble without taking his part against a couple of shore people who--

Mr Powell interrupted him impatiently, asking what was the trouble?

"What is it you are hinting at?" he cried with an inexplicable
irritation.

"I don't like to think of him all alone down there with these two,"
Franklin whispered impressively.  "Upon my word I don't.  God only knows
what may be going on there...  Don't laugh.--It was bad enough last
voyage when Mrs Brown had a cabin aft; but now it's worse.  It
frightens me.  I can't sleep sometimes for thinking of him all alone
there, shut off from us all."

Mrs Brown was the steward's wife.  You must understand that shortly
after his visit to the Fyne cottage (with all its consequences), Anthony
had got an offer to go to the Western Islands, and bring home the cargo
of some ship which, damaged in a collision or a stranding, took refuge
in Saint Michael, and was condemned there.  Roderick Anthony had
connections which would put such paying jobs in his way.  So Flora de
Barral had but a five months' voyage, a mere excursion, for her first
trial of sea-life.  And Anthony, clearly trying to be most attentive,
had induced this Mrs Brown, the wife of his faithful steward, to come
along as maid to his bride.  But for some reason or other this
arrangement was not continued.  And the mate, tormented by indefinite
alarms and forebodings, regretted it.  He regretted that Jane Brown was
no longer on board--as a sort of representative of Captain Anthony's
faithful servants, to watch quietly what went on in that part of the
ship this fatal marriage had closed to their vigilance.  That had been
excellent.  For she was a dependable woman.

Powell did not detect any particular excellence in what seemed a spying
employment.  But in his simplicity he said that he should have thought
Mrs Anthony would have been glad anyhow to have another woman on board.
He was thinking of the white-faced girlish personality which it seemed
to him ought to have been cared for.  The innocent young man always
looked upon the girl as immature; something of a child yet.

"She! glad!  Why it was she who had her fired out.  She didn't want
anybody around the cabin.  Mrs Brown is certain of it.  She told her
husband so.  You ask the steward and hear what he has to say about it.
That's why I don't like it.  A capable woman who knew her place.  But
no.  Out she must go.  For no fault, mind you.  The captain was ashamed
to send her away.  But that wife of his--ay the precious pair of them
have got hold of him.  I can't speak to him for a minute on the poop
without that thimble-rigging coon coming gliding up.  I'll tell you
what.  I overheard once--God knows.  I didn't try to, only he forgot I
was on the other side of the skylight with my sextant--I overheard him--
you know how he sits hanging over her chair and talking away without
properly opening his mouth--yes I caught the word right enough.  He was
alluding to the captain as `the jailer.'  The jail!"

Franklin broke off with a profane execration.  A silence reigned for a
long time and the slight, very gentle rolling of the ship slipping
before the N.E. trade-wind seemed to be a soothing device for lulling to
sleep the suspicions of men who trust themselves to the sea.

A deep sigh was heard followed by the mate's voice asking dismally if
that was the way one would speak of a man to whom one wished well?  No
better proof of something wrong was needed.  Therefore he hoped, as he
vanished at last, that Mr Powell would be on their side.  And this time
Mr Powell did not answer this hope with an embarrassed laugh.

That young officer was more and more surprised at the nature of the
incongruous revelations coming to him in the surroundings and in the
atmosphere of the open sea.  It is difficult for us to understand the
extent, the completeness, the comprehensiveness of his inexperience, for
us who didn't go to sea out of a small private school at the age of
fourteen years and nine months.  Leaning on his elbow in the mizzen
rigging and so still that the helmsman over there at the other end of
the poop might have (and he probably did) suspect him of being
criminally asleep on duty, he tried to "get hold of that thing" by some
side which would fit in with his simple notions of psychology.  "What
the deuce are they worrying about?" he asked himself in a dazed and
contemptuous impatience.  But all the same "jailer" was a funny name to
give a man; unkind, unfriendly, nasty.  He was sorry that Mr Smith was
guilty in that matter because, the truth must be told, he had been to a
certain extent sensible of having been noticed in a quiet manner by the
father of Mrs Anthony.  Youth appreciates that sort of recognition
which is the subtlest form of flattery age can offer.  Mr Smith seized
opportunities to approach him on deck.  His remarks were sometimes weird
and enigmatical.  He was doubtless an eccentric old gent.  But from that
to calling his son-in-law (whom he never approached on deck) nasty names
behind his back was a long step.

And Mr Powell marvelled...

"While he was telling me all this,"--Marlow changed his tone--"I
marvelled even more.  It was as if misfortune marked its victims on the
forehead for the dislike of the crowd.  I am not thinking here of
numbers.  Two men may behave like a crowd, three certainly will when
their emotions are engaged.  It was as if the forehead of Flora de
Barral were marked.  Was the girl born to be a victim; to be always
disliked and crushed as if she were too fine for this world?  Or too
luckless--since that also is often counted as sin."

Yes, I marvelled more since I knew more of the girl than Mr Powell--if
only her true name; and more of Captain Anthony--if only the fact that
he was the son of a delicate erotic poet of a markedly refined and
autocratic temperament.  Yes, I knew their joint stories which Mr
Powell did not know.  The chapter in it he was opening to me, the
sea-chapter, with such new personages as the sentimental and apoplectic
chief mate and the morose steward, however astounding to him in its
detached condition was much more so to me as a member of a series,
following the chapter outside the Eastern Hotel in which I myself had
played my part.  In view of her declarations and my sage remarks it was
very unexpected.  She had meant well, and I had certainly meant well
too.  Captain Anthony--as far as I could gather from little Fyne--had
meant well.  As far as such lofty words may be applied to the obscure
personages of this story we were all filled with the noblest sentiments
and intentions.  The sea was there to give them the shelter of its
solitude free from the earth's petty suggestions.  I could well marvel
in myself, as to what had happened.

I hope that if he saw it, Mr Powell forgave me the smile of which I was
guilty at that moment.  The light in the cabin of his little cutter was
dim.  And the smile was dim too.  Dim and fleeting.  The girl's life had
presented itself to me as a tragi-comical adventure, the saddest thing
on earth, slipping between frank laughter and unabashed tears.  Yes, the
saddest facts and the most common, and, being common perhaps the most
worthy of our unreserved pity.

The purely human reality is capable of lyrism but not of abstraction.
Nothing will serve for its understanding but the evidence of rational
linking up of characters and facts.  And beginning with Flora de Barral,
in the light of my memories I was certain that she at least must have
been passive; for that is of necessity the part of women, this waiting
on fate which some of them, and not the most intelligent, cover up by
the vain appearances of agitation.  Flora de Barral was not
exceptionally intelligent but she was thoroughly feminine.  She would be
passive (and that does not mean inanimate) in the circumstances, where
the mere fact of being a woman was enough to give her an occult and
supreme significance.  And she would be enduring which is the essence of
woman's visible, tangible power.  Of that I was certain.  Had she not
endured already?  Yet it is so true that the germ of destruction lies in
wait for us mortals, even at the very source of our strength, that one
may die of too much endurance as well as of too little of it.

"Such was my train of thought.  And I was mindful also of my first view
of her--toying or perhaps communing in earnest with the possibilities of
a precipice.  But I did not ask Mr Powell anxiously what had happened
to Mrs Anthony in the end.  I let him go on in his own way feeling that
no matter what strange facts he would have to disclose, I was certain to
know much more of them than he ever did know or could possibly guess..."

Marlow paused for quite a long time.  He seemed uncertain as though he
had advanced something beyond my grasp.  Purposely I made no sign.  "You
understand?" he asked.

"Perfectly," I said.  "You are the expert in the psychological
wilderness.  This is like one of those Redskin stories where the noble
savages carry off a girl and the honest backwoodsman with his
incomparable knowledge follows the track and reads the signs of her fate
in a footprint here, a broken twig there, a trinket dropped by the way.
I have always liked such stories.  Go on."

Marlow smiled indulgently at my jesting.  "It is not exactly a story for
boys," he said.  "I go on then.  The sign, as you call it, was not very
plentiful but very much to the purpose, and when Mr Powell heard (at a
certain moment I felt bound to tell him) when he heard that I had known
Mrs Anthony before her marriage, that, to a certain extent, I was her
confidant ...  For you can't deny that to a certain extent ...  Well let
us say that I had a look in.--A young girl, you know, is something like
a temple.  You pass by and wonder what mysterious rites are going on in
there, what prayers, what visions?  The privileged men, the lover, the
husband, who are given the key of the sanctuary do not always know how
to use it.  For myself, without claim, without merit, simply by chance I
had been allowed to look through the half-opened door and I had seen the
saddest possible desecration, the withered brightness of youth, a spirit
neither made cringing nor yet dulled but as if bewildered in quivering
hopelessness by gratuitous cruelty; self-confidence destroyed and,
instead, a resigned recklessness, a mournful callousness (and all this
simple, almost naive)--before the material and moral difficulties of the
situation.  The passive anguish of the luckless!"

I asked myself: wasn't that ill-luck exhausted yet?  Ill-luck which is
like the hate of invisible powers interpreted, made sensible and
injurious by the actions of men?

Mr Powell as you may well imagine had opened his eyes at my statement.
But he was full of his recalled experiences on board the _Ferndale_, and
the strangeness of being mixed up in what went on aboard, simply because
his name was also the name of a Shipping Master, kept him in a state of
wonder which made other coincidences, however unlikely, not so very
surprising after all.

This astonishing occurrence was so present to his mind that he always
felt as though he were there under false pretences.  And this feeling
was so uncomfortable that it nerved him to break through the
awe-inspiring aloofness of his captain.  He wanted to make a clean
breast of it.  I imagine that his youth stood in good stead to Mr
Powell.  Oh, yes.  Youth is a power.  Even Captain Anthony had to take
some notice of it, as if it refreshed him to see something untouched,
unscarred, unhardened by suffering.  Or perhaps the very novelty of that
face, on board a ship where he had seen the same faces for years,
attracted his attention.

Whether one day he dropped a word to his new second officer or only
looked at him I don't know; but Mr Powell seized the opportunity
whatever it was.  The captain who had started and stopped in his
everlasting rapid walk smoothed his brow very soon, heard him to the end
and then laughed a little.

"Ah!  That's the story.  And you felt you must put me right as to this."

"Yes, sir."

"It doesn't matter how you came on board," said Anthony.  And then
showing that perhaps he was not so utterly absent from his ship as
Franklin supposed: "That's all right.  You seem to be getting on very
well with everybody," he said in his curt hurried tone, as if talking
hurt him, and his eyes already straying over the sea as usual.

"Yes, sir."

Powell tells me that looking then at the strong face to which that
haggard expression was returning, he had the impulse, from some confused
friendly feeling, to add: "I am very happy on board here, sir."

The quickly returning glance, its steadiness, abashed Mr Powell and
made him even step back a little.  The captain looked as though he had
forgotten the meaning of the word.

"You--what?  Oh yes ...  You--of course ...  Happy.  Why not?"

This was merely muttered; and next moment Anthony was off on his
headlong tramp his eyes turned to the sea away from his ship.

A sailor indeed looks generally into the great distances, but in Captain
Anthony's case there was--as Powell expressed it--something particular,
something purposeful like the avoidance of pain or temptation.  It was
very marked once one had become aware of it.  Before, one felt only a
pronounced strangeness.  Not that the captain--Powell was careful to
explain--didn't see things as a shipmaster should.  The proof of it was
that on that very occasion he desired him suddenly after a period of
silent pacing, to have all the staysails sheets eased off, and he was
going on with some other remarks on the subject of these staysails when
Mrs Anthony followed by her father emerged from the companion.  She
established herself in her chair to leeward of the skylight as usual.
Thereupon the captain cut short whatever he was going to say, and in a
little while went down below.

I asked Mr Powell whether the captain and his wife never conversed on
deck.  He said no--or at any rate they never exchanged more than a
couple of words.  There was some constraint between them.  For instance,
on that very occasion, when Mrs Anthony came out they did look at each
other; the captain's eyes indeed followed her till she sat down; but he
did not speak to her; he did not approach her; and afterwards left the
deck without turning his head her way after this first silent exchange
of glances.

I asked Mr Powell what did he do then, the captain being out of the
way.  "I went over and talked to Mrs Anthony.  I was thinking that it
must be very dull for her.  She seemed to be such a stranger to the
ship."

"The father was there of course?"

"Always," said Powell.  "He was always there sitting on the skylight, as
if he were keeping watch over her.  And I think," he added, "that he was
worrying her.  Not that she showed it in any way.  Mrs Anthony was
always very quiet and always ready to look one straight in the face."

"You talked together a lot?"  I pursued my inquiries.

"She mostly let me talk to her," confessed Mr Powell.  "I don't know
that she was very much interested--but still she let me.  She, never cut
me short."

All the sympathies of Mr Powell were for Flora Anthony nee de Barral.
She was the only human being younger than himself on board that ship
since the _Ferndale_ carried no boys and was manned by a full crew of
able seamen.  Yes! their youth had created a sort of bond between them.
Mr Powell's open countenance must have appeared to her distinctly
pleasing amongst the mature, rough, crabbed or even inimical faces she
saw around her.  With the warm generosity of his age young Powell was on
her side, as it were, even before he knew that there were sides to be
taken on board that ship, and what this taking sides was about.  There
was a girl.  A nice girl.  He asked himself no questions.  Flora de
Barral was not so much younger in years than himself; but for some
reason, perhaps by contrast with the accepted idea of a captain's wife,
he could not regard her otherwise but as an extremely youthful creature.
At the same time, apart from her exalted position, she exercised over
him the supremacy a woman's earlier maturity gives her over a young man
of her own age.  As a matter of fact we can see that, without ever
having more than a half an hour's consecutive conversation together, and
the distances duly preserved, these two were becoming friends--under the
eye of the old man, I suppose.

How he first got in touch with his captain's wife Powell relates in this
way.  It was long before his memorable conversation with the mate and
shortly after getting clear of the channel.  It was gloomy weather; dead
head wind, blowing quite half a gale; the _Ferndale_ under reduced sail
was stretching close-hauled across the track of the homeward bound
ships, just moving through the water and no more, since there was no
object in pressing her and the weather looked threatening.  About ten
o'clock at night he was alone on the poop, in charge, keeping well aft
by the weather rail and staring to windward, when amongst the white,
breaking seas, under the black sky, he made out the lights of a ship.
He watched them for some time.  She was running dead before the wind of
course.  She will pass jolly close--he said to himself; and then
suddenly he felt a great mistrust of that approaching ship.  She's
heading straight for us--he thought.  It was not his business to get out
of the way.  On the contrary.  And his uneasiness grew by the
recollection of the forty tons of dynamite in the body of the
_Ferndale_; not the sort of cargo one thinks of with equanimity in
connection with a threatened collision.  He gazed at the two small
lights in the dark immensity filled with the angry noise of the seas.
They fascinated him till their plainness to his sight gave him a
conviction that there was danger there.  He knew in his mind what to do
in the emergency, but very properly he felt that he must call the
captain out at once.

He crossed the deck in one bound.  By the immemorial custom and usage of
the sea the captain's room is on the starboard side.  You would just as
soon expect your captain to have his nose at the back of his head as to
have his state-room on the port side of the ship.  Powell forgot all
about the direction on that point given him by the chief.  He flew over
as I said, stamped with his foot and then putting his face to the cowl
of the big ventilator shouted down there: "Please come on deck, sir," in
a voice which was not trembling or scared but which we may call fairly
expressive.  There could not be a mistake as to the urgence of the call.
But instead of the expected alert "All right!" and the sound of a rush
down there, he heard only a faint exclamation--then silence.

Think of his astonishment!  He remained there, his ear in the cowl of
the ventilator, his eyes fastened on those menacing sidelights dancing
on the gusts of wind which swept the angry darkness of the sea.  It was
as though he had waited an hour but it was something much less than a
minute before he fairly bellowed into the wide tube "Captain Anthony!"
An agitated "What is it?" was what he heard down there in Mrs Anthony's
voice, light rapid footsteps...  Why didn't she try to wake him up!  "I
want the captain," he shouted, then gave it up, making a dash at the
companion where a blue light was kept, resolved to act for himself.

On the way he glanced at the helmsman whose face lighted up by the
binnacle lamps was calm.  He said rapidly to him: "Stand by to spin that
helm up at the first word."  The answer "Ay, ay, sir," was delivered in
a steady voice.  Then Mr Powell after a shout for the watch on deck to
"lay aft," ran to the ship's side and struck the blue light on the rail.

A sort of nasty little spitting of sparks was all that came.  The light
(perhaps affected by damp) had failed to ignite.  The time of all these
various acts must be counted in seconds.  Powell confessed to me that at
this failure he experienced a paralysis of thought, of voice, of limbs.
The unexpectedness of this misfire positively overcame his faculties.
It was the only thing for which his imagination was not prepared.  It
was knocked clean over.  When it got up it was with the suggestion that
he must do something at once or there would be a broadside smash
accompanied by the explosion of dynamite, in which both ships would be
blown up and every soul on board of them would vanish off the earth in
an enormous flame and uproar.

He saw the catastrophe happening and at the same moment, before he could
open his mouth or stir a limb to ward off the vision, a voice very near
his ear, the measured voice of Captain Anthony said: "Wouldn't light--
eh?  Throw it down!  Jump for the flare-up."

The spring of activity in Mr Powell was released with great force.  He
jumped.  The flare-up was kept inside the companion with a box of
matches ready to hand.  Almost before he knew he had moved he was diving
under the companion slide.  He got hold of the can in the dark and tried
to strike a light.  But he had to press the flare-holder to his breast
with one arm, his fingers were damp and stiff, his hands trembled a
little.  One match broke.  Another went out.  In its flame he saw the
colourless face of Mrs Anthony a little below him, standing on the
cabin stairs.  Her eyes which were very close to his (he was in a
crouching posture on the top step) seemed to burn darkly in the
vanishing light.  On deck the captain's voice was heard sudden and
unexpectedly sardonic: "You had better look sharp, if you want to be in
time."

"Let me have the box," said Mrs Anthony in a hurried and familiar
whisper which sounded amused as if they had been a couple of children up
to some lark behind a wall.  He was glad of the offer which seemed to
him very natural, and without ceremony--

"Here you are.  Catch hold."

Their hands touched in the dark and she took the box while he held the
paraffin soaked torch in its iron holder.  He thought of warning her:
"Look out for yourself."  But before he had the time to finish the
sentence the flare blazed up violently between them and he saw her throw
herself back with an arm across her face.  "Hallo," he exclaimed; only
he could not stop a moment to ask if she was hurt.  He bolted out of the
companion straight into his captain who took the flare from him and held
it high above his head.

The fierce flame fluttered like a silk flag, throwing an angry swaying
glare mingled with moving shadows over the poop, lighting up the concave
surfaces of the sails, gleaming on the wet paint of the white rails.
And young Powell turned his eyes to windward with a catch in his breath.

The strange ship, a darker shape in the night, did not seem to be moving
onwards but only to grow more distinct right abeam, staring at the
_Ferndale_ with one green and one red eye which swayed and tossed as if
they belonged to the restless head of some invisible monster ambushed in
the night amongst the waves.  A moment, long like eternity, elapsed,
and, suddenly, the monster which seemed to take to itself the shape of a
mountain shut its green eye without as much as a preparatory wink.

Mr Powell drew a free breath.  "All right now," said Captain Anthony in
a quiet undertone.  He gave the blazing flare to Powell and walked aft
to watch the passing of that menace of destruction coming blindly with
its parti-coloured stare out of a blind night on the wings of a sweeping
wind.  Her very form could be distinguished now black and elongated
amongst the hissing patches of foam bursting along her path.

As is always the case with a ship running before wind and sea she did
not seem to an onlooker to move very fast; but to be progressing
indolently in long leisurely bounds and pauses in the midst of the
overtaking waves.  It was only when actually passing the stern within
easy hail of the _Ferndale_ that her headlong speed became apparent to
the eye.  With the red light shut off and soaring like an immense shadow
on the crest of a wave she was lost to view in one great, forward swing,
melting into the lightless space.

"Close shave," said Captain Anthony in an indifferent voice just
raised-enough to be heard in the wind.  "A blind lot on board that ship.
Put out the flare now."

Silently Mr Powell inverted the holder, smothering the flame in the
can, bringing about by the mere turn of his wrist the fall of darkness
upon the poop.  And at the same time vanished out of his mind's eye the
vision of another flame enormous and fierce shooting violently from a
white churned patch of the sea, lighting up the very clouds and carrying
upwards in its volcanic rush flying spars, corpses, the fragments of two
destroyed ships.  It vanished and there was an immense relief.  He told
me he did not know how scared he had been, not generally but of that
very thing his imagination had conjured, till it was all over.  He
measured it (for fear is a great tension) by the feeling of slack
weariness which came over him all at once.

He walked to the companion and stooping low to put the flare in its
usual place saw in the darkness the motionless pale oval of Mrs
Anthony's face.  She whispered quietly:

"Is anything going to happen?  What is it?"

"It's all over now," he whispered back.

He remained bent low, his head inside the cover staring at that white
ghostly oval.  He wondered she had not rushed out on deck.  She had
remained quietly there.  This was pluck.  Wonderful self-restraint.  And
it was not stupidity on her part.  She knew there was imminent danger
and probably had some notion of its nature.

"You stayed here waiting for what would come," he murmured admiringly.

"Wasn't that the best thing to do?" she asked.

He didn't know.  Perhaps.  He confessed he could not have done it.  Not
he.  His flesh and blood could not have stood it.  He would have felt he
must see what was coming.  Then he remembered that the flare might have
scorched her face, and expressed his concern.

"A bit.  Nothing to hurt.  Smell the singed hair?"

There was a sort of gaiety in her tone.  She might have been frightened
but she certainly was not overcome and suffered from no reaction.  This
confirmed and augmented if possible Mr Powell's good opinion of her as
a "jolly girl," though it seemed to him positively monstrous to refer in
such terms to one's captain's wife.  "But she doesn't look it," he
thought in extenuation and was going to say something more to her about
the lighting of that flare when another voice was heard in the
companion, saying some indistinct words.  Its tone was contemptuous; it
came from below, from the bottom of the stairs.  It was a voice in the
cabin.  And the only other voice which could be heard in the main cabin
at this time of the evening was the voice of Mrs Anthony's father.  The
indistinct white oval sank from Mr Powell's sight so swiftly as to take
him by surprise.  For a moment he hung at the opening of the companion
and now that her slight form was no longer obstructing the narrow and
winding staircase the voices came up louder but the words were still
indistinct.  The old gentleman was excited about something and Mrs
Anthony was "managing him" as Powell expressed it.  They moved away from
the bottom of the stairs and Powell went away from the companion.  Yet
he fancied he had heard the words "Lost to me" before he withdrew his
head.  They had been uttered by Mr Smith.

Captain Anthony had not moved away from the taffrail.  He remained in
the very position he took up to watch the other ship go by rolling and
swinging all shadowy in the uproar of the following seas.  He stirred
not; and Powell keeping near by did not dare speak to him, so
enigmatical in its contemplation of the night did his figure appear to
his young eyes: indistinct--and in its immobility staring into gloom,
the prey of some incomprehensible grief, longing or regret.

Why is it that the stillness of a human being is often so impressive, so
suggestive of evil--as if our proper fate were a ceaseless agitation?
The stillness of Captain Anthony became almost intolerable to his second
officer.  Mr Powell loitering about the skylight wanted his captain off
the deck now.  "Why doesn't he go below?" he asked himself impatiently.
He ventured a cough.

Whether the effect of the cough or not Captain Anthony spoke.  He did
not move the least bit.  With his back remaining turned to the whole
length of the ship he asked Mr Powell with some brusqueness if the
chief mate had neglected to instruct him that the captain was to be
found on the port side.

"Yes, sir," said Mr Powell approaching his back.  "The mate told me to
stamp on the port side when I wanted you; but I didn't remember at the
moment."

"You should remember," the captain uttered with an effort.  Then added
mumbling "I don't want Mrs Anthony frightened.  Don't you see?"

"She wasn't this time," Powell said innocently: "She lighted the
flare-up for me, sir."

"This time," Captain Anthony exclaimed and turned round.  "Mrs Anthony
lighted the flare?  Mrs Anthony!..."  Powell explained that she was in
the companion all the time.

"All the time," repeated the captain.  It seemed queer to Powell that
instead of going himself to see the captain should ask him:

"Is she there now?"  Powell said, that she had gone below after the ship
had passed clear of the _Ferndale_.  Captain Anthony made a movement
towards the companion himself, when Powell added the information.  "Mr
Smith called to Mrs Anthony from the saloon, sir.  I believe they are
talking there now."

He was surprised to see the captain give up the idea of going below
after all.

He began to walk the poop instead regardless of the cold, of the damp
wind and of the sprays.  And yet he had nothing on but his sleeping suit
and slippers.  Powell placing himself on the break of the poop kept a
look-out.  When after some time he turned his head to steal a glance at
his eccentric captain he could not see his active and shadowy figure
swinging to and fro.  The second mate of the _Ferndale_ walked aft
peering about and addressed the seaman who steered.

"Captain gone below?"

"Yes, sir," said the fellow who with a quid of tobacco bulging out his
left cheek kept his eyes on the compass card.  "This minute.  He
laughed."

"Laughed," repeated Powell incredulously.  "Do you mean the captain did?
You must be mistaken.  What would he want to laugh for?"

"Don't know, sir."

The elderly sailor displayed a profound indifference towards human
emotions.  However, after a longish pause he conceded a few words more
to the second officer's weakness.  "Yes.  He was walking the deck as
usual when suddenly he laughed a little and made for the companion.
Thought of something funny all at once."

Something funny!  That Mr Powell could not believe.  He did not ask
himself why, at the time.  Funny thoughts come to men, though, in all
sorts of situations; they come to all sorts of men.  Nevertheless Mr
Powell was shocked to learn that Captain Anthony had laughed without
visible cause on a certain night.  The impression for some reason was
disagreeable.  And it was then, while finishing his watch, with the
chilly gusts of wind sweeping at him out of the darkness where the short
sea of the soundings growled spitefully all round the ship, that it
occurred to his unsophisticated mind that perhaps things are not what
they are confidently expected to be; that it was possible that Captain
Anthony was not a happy man.--In so far you will perceive he was to a
certain extent prepared for the apoplectic and sensitive Franklin's
lamentations about his captain.  And though he treated them with a
contempt which was in a great measure sincere, yet he admitted to me
that deep down within him an inexplicable and uneasy suspicion that all
was not well in that cabin, so unusually cut off from the rest of the
ship, came into being and grew against his will...



PART TWO, CHAPTER 4.

ANTHONY AND FLORA.

Marlow emerged out of the shadow of the bookcase to get himself a cigar
from a box which stood on a little table by my side.  In the full light
of the room I saw in his eyes that slightly mocking expression with
which he habitually covers up his sympathetic impulses of mirth and pity
before the unreasonable complications the idealism of mankind puts into
the simple but poignant problem of conduct on this earth.

He selected and lit the cigar with affected care, then turned upon me.
I had been looking at him silently.

"I suppose," he said, the mockery of his eyes giving a pellucid quality
to his tone, "that you think it's high time I told you something
definite.  I mean something about that psychological cabin mystery of
discomfort (for it's obvious that it must be psychological) which
affected so profoundly Mr Franklin the chief mate, and had even
disturbed the serene innocence of Mr Powell, the second of the ship
_Ferndale_, commanded by Roderick Anthony--the son of the poet, you
know."

"You are going to confess now that you have failed to find it out," I
said in pretended indignation.

"It would serve you right if I told you that I have.  But I won't.  I
haven't failed.  I own though that for a time, I was puzzled.  However,
I have now seen our Powell many times under the most favourable
conditions--and besides I came upon a most unexpected source of
information...  But never mind that.  The means don't concern you except
in so far as they belong to the story.  I'll admit that for some time
the old-maiden-lady-like occupation of putting two and two together
failed to procure a coherent theory.  I am speaking now as an
investigator--a man of deductions.  With what we know of Roderick
Anthony and Flora de Barral I could not deduct an ordinary marital
quarrel beautifully matured in less than a year--could I.  If you ask me
what is an ordinary marital quarrel I will tell you, that it is a
difference about nothing; I mean, these nothings which, as Mr Powell
told us when we first met him, shore people are so prone to start a row
about, and nurse into hatred from an idle sense of wrong, from perverted
ambition, for spectacular reasons too.  There are on earth no actors too
humble and obscure not to have a gallery; that gallery which envenoms
the play by stealthy jeers, counsels of anger, amused comments or words
of perfidious compassion.  However, the Anthonys were free from all
demoralising influences.  At sea, you know, there is no gallery.  You
hear no tormenting echoes of your own littleness there, where either a
great elemental voice roars defiantly under the sky or else an elemental
silence seems to be part of the infinite stillness of the universe."

Remembering Flora de Barral in the depths of moral misery, and Roderick
Anthony carried away by a gust of tempestuous tenderness, I asked
myself, Is it all forgotten already?  What could they have found to
estrange them from each other with this rapidity and this thoroughness
so far from all temptations, in the peace of the sea and in an isolation
so complete that if it had not been the jealous devotion of the
sentimental Franklin stimulating the attention of Powell, there would
have been no record, no evidence of it at all.

I must confess at once that it was Flora de Barral whom I suspected.  In
this world as at present organised women are the suspected half of the
population.  There are good reasons for that.  These reasons are so
discoverable with a little reflection that it is not worth my while to
set them out for you.  I will only mention this: that the part falling
to women's share being all "influence" has an air of occult and
mysterious action, something not altogether trustworthy like all natural
forces which, for us, work in the dark because of our imperfect
comprehension.

"If women were not a force of nature, blind in its strength and
capricious in its power, they would not be mistrusted.  As it is one
can't help it.  You will say that this force having been in the person
of Flora de Barral captured by Anthony ...  Why yes.  He had dealt with
her masterfully.  But man has captured electricity too.  It lights him
on his way, it warms his home, it will even cook his dinner for him--
very much like a woman.  But what sort of conquest would you call it?
He knows nothing of it.  He has got to be mighty careful what he is
about with his captive.  And the greater the demand he makes on it in
the exultation of his pride the more likely it is to turn on him and
burn him to a cinder..."

"A far-fetched enough parallel," I observed coldly to Marlow.  He had
returned to the armchair in the shadow of the bookcase.  "But accepting
the meaning you have in your mind it reduces itself to the knowledge of
how to use it.  And if you mean that this ravenous Anthony--"

"Ravenous is good," interrupted Marlow.  "He was a-hungering and
a-thirsting for femininity to enter his life in a way no mere feminist
could have the slightest conception of.  I reckon that this accounts for
much of Fyne's disgust with him.  Good little Fyne.  You have no idea
what infernal mischief he had worked during his call at the hotel.  But
then who could have suspected Anthony of being a heroic creature.  There
are several kinds of heroism and one of them at least is idiotic.  It is
the one which wears the aspect of sublime delicacy.  It is apparently
the one of which the son of the delicate poet was capable."

He certainly resembled his father, who, by the way, wore out two women
without any satisfaction to himself, because they did not come up to his
supra-refined standard of the delicacy which is so perceptible in his
verses.  That's your poet.  He demands too much from others.  The
inarticulate son had set up a standard for himself with that need for
embodying in his conduct the dreams, the passion, the impulses the poet
puts into arrangements of verses, which are dearer to him than his own
self--and may make his own self appear sublime in the eyes of other
people, and even in his own eyes.

Did Anthony wish to appear sublime in his own eyes?  I should not like
to make that charge; though indeed there are other, less noble,
ambitions at which the world does not dare to smile.  But I don't think
so; I do not even think that there was in what he did a conscious and
lofty confidence in himself, a particularly pronounced sense of power
which leads men so often into impossible or equivocal situations.
Looked at abstractedly (the way in which truth is often seen in its real
shape) his life had been a life of solitude and silence--and desire.

Chance had thrown that girl in his way; and if we may smile at his
violent conquest of Flora de Barral we must admit also that this eager
appropriation was truly the act of a man of solitude and desire; a man
also, who, unless a complete imbecile, must have been a man of long and
ardent reveries wherein the faculty of sincere passion matures slowly in
the unexplored recesses of the heart.  And I know also that a passion,
dominating or tyrannical, invading the whole man and subjugating all his
faculties to its own unique end, may conduct him whom it spurs and
drives, into all sorts of adventures, to the brink of unfathomable
dangers, to the limits of folly, and madness, and death.

To the man then of a silence made only more impressive by the
inarticulate thunders and mutters of the great seas, an utter stranger
to the clatter of tongues, there comes the muscular little Fyne, the
most marked representative of that mankind whose voice is so strange to
him, the husband of his sister, a personality standing out from the
misty and remote multitude.  He comes and throws at him more talk than
he had ever heard boomed out in an hour, and certainly touching the
deepest things Anthony had ever discovered in himself, and flings words
like "unfair" whose very sound is abhorrent to him.  Unfair!  Undue
advantage!  He!  Unfair to that girl?  Cruel to her!

No scorn could stand against the impression of such charges advanced
with heat and conviction.  They shook him.  They were yet vibrating in
the air of that stuffy hotel-room, terrific, disturbing, impossible to
get rid of, when the door opened and Flora de Barral entered.

He did not even notice that she was late.  He was sitting on a sofa
plunged in gloom.  Was it true?  Having himself always said exactly what
he meant he imagined that people (unless they were liars, which of
course his brother-in-law could not be) never said more than they meant.
The deep chest voice of little Fyne was still in his ear.  "He knows,"
Anthony said to himself.  He thought he had better go away and never see
her again.  But she stood there before him accusing and appealing.  How
could he abandon her?  That was out of the question.  She had no one.
Or rather she had someone.  That father.  Anthony was willing to take
him at her valuation.  This father may have been the victim of the most
atrocious injustice.  But what could a man coming out of jail do?  An
old man too.  And then--what sort of man?  What would become of them
both?  Anthony shuddered slightly and the faint smile with which Flora
had entered the room faded on her lips.  She was used to his impetuous
tenderness.  She was no longer afraid of it.  But she had never seen him
look like this before, and she suspected at once some new cruelty of
life.  He got up with his usual ardour but as if sobered by a momentous
resolve and said:

"No.  I can't let you out of my sight.  I have seen you.  You have told
me your story.  You are honest.  You have never told me you loved me."

She waited, saying to herself that he had never given her time, that he
had never asked her!  And that, in truth, she did not know!

I am inclined to believe that she did not.  As abundance of experience
is not precisely her lot in life, a woman is seldom an expert in matters
of sentiment.  It is the man who can and generally does "see himself"
pretty well inside and out.  Women's self-possession is an outward
thing; inwardly they flutter, perhaps because they are, or they feel
themselves to be, encaged.  All this speaking generally.  In Flora de
Barral's particular case ever since Anthony had suddenly broken his way
into her hopeless and cruel existence she lived like a person liberated
from a condemned cell by a natural cataclysm, a tempest, an earthquake;
not absolutely terrified, because nothing can be worse than the eve of
execution, but stunned, bewildered--abandoning herself passively.  She
did not want to make a sound, to move a limb.  She hadn't the strength.
What was the good?  And deep down, almost unconsciously she was seduced
by the feeling of being supported by this violence.  A sensation she had
never experienced before in her life.

She felt as if this whirlwind were calming down somehow!  As if this
feeling of support, which was tempting her to close her eyes deliriously
and let herself be carried on and on into the unknown undefiled by vile
experiences, were less certain, had wavered threateningly.  She tried to
read something in his face, in that energetic kindly face to which she
had become accustomed so soon.  But she was not yet capable of
understanding its expression.  Scared, discouraged on the threshold of
adolescence, plunged in moral misery of the bitterest kind, she had not
learned to read--not that sort of language.

If Anthony's love had been as egoistic as love generally is, it would
have been greater than the egoism of his vanity--or of his generosity,
if you like--and all this could not have happened.  He would not have
hit upon that renunciation at which one does not know whether to grin or
shudder.  It is true too that then his love would not have fastened
itself upon the unhappy daughter of de Barral.  But it was a love born
of that rare pity which is not akin to contempt because rooted in an
overwhelmingly strong capacity for tenderness--the tenderness of the
fiery predatory kind--the tenderness of silent solitary men, the
voluntary, passionate outcasts of their kind.  At the same time I am
forced to think that his vanity must have been enormous.

"What big eyes she has," he said to himself amazed.  No wonder.  She was
staring at him with all the might of her soul awakening slowly from a
poisoned sleep, in which it could only quiver with pain but could
neither expand nor move.  He plunged into them breathless and tense,
deep, deep, like a mad sailor taking a desperate dive from the masthead
into the blue unfathomable sea so many men have execrated and loved at
the same time.  And his vanity was immense.  It had been touched to the
quick by that muscular little feminist, Fyne.  "I!  I!  Take advantage
of her helplessness.  I!  Unfair to that creature--that wisp of mist,
that white shadow homeless in an ugly dirty world.  I could blow her
away with a breath," he was saying to himself with horror.  "Never!"
All the supremely refined delicacy of tenderness, expressed in so many
fine lines of verse by Carleon Anthony, grew to the size of a passion
filling with inward sobs the big frame of the man who had never in his
life read a single one of those famous sonnets singing of the most
highly civilised, chivalrous love, of those sonnets which ...  You know
there's a volume of them.  My edition has the portrait of the author at
thirty, and when I showed it to Mr Powell the other day he exclaimed:
"Wonderful!  One would think this the portrait of Captain Anthony
himself if..."  I wanted to know what that if was.  But Powell could not
say.  There was something--a difference.  No doubt there was--in
fineness perhaps.  The father, fastidious, cerebral, morbidly shrinking
from all contacts, could only sing in harmonious numbers of what the son
felt with a dumb and reckless sincerity.

Possessed by most strong men's touching illusion as to the frailness of
women and their spiritual fragility, it seemed to Anthony that he would
be destroying, breaking something very precious inside that being.  In
fact nothing less than partly murdering her.  This seems a very extreme
effect to flow from Fyne's words.  But Anthony, unaccustomed to the
chatter of the firm earth, never stayed to ask himself what value these
words could have in Fyne's mouth.  And indeed the mere dark sound of
them was utterly abhorrent to his native rectitude, sea-salted, hardened
in the winds of wide horizons, open as the day.

He wished to blurt out his indignation but she regarded him with an
expectant air which checked him.  His visible discomfort made her
uneasy.  He could only repeat "Oh yes.  You are perfectly honest.  You
might have, but I dare say you are right.  At any rate you have never
said anything to me which you didn't mean."

"Never," she whispered after a pause.

He seemed distracted, choking with an emotion she could not understand
because it resembled embarrassment, a state of mind inconceivable in
that man.

She wondered what it was she had said; remembering that in very truth
she had hardly spoken to him except when giving him the bare outline of
her story which he seemed to have hardly had the patience to hear,
waving it perpetually aside with exclamations of horror and anger, with
fiercely sombre mutters "Enough!  Enough!" and with alarming starts from
a forced stillness, as though he meant to rush out at once and take
vengeance on somebody.  She was saying to herself that he caught her
words in the air, never letting her finish her thought.  Honest.
Honest.  Yes certainly she had been that.  Her letter to Mrs Fyne had
been prompted by honesty.  But she reflected sadly that she had never
known what to say to him.  That perhaps she had nothing to say.

"But you'll find out that I can be honest too," he burst out in a
menacing tone, she had learned to appreciate with an amused thrill.

She waited for what was coming.  But he hung in the wind.  He looked
round the room with disgust as if he could see traces on the walls of
all the casual tenants that had ever passed through it.  People had
quarrelled in that room; they had been ill in it, there had been misery
in that room, wickedness, crime perhaps--death most likely.  This was
not a fit place.  He snatched up his hat.  He had made up his mind.  The
ship--the ship he had known ever since she came off the stocks, his
home--her shelter--the uncontaminated, honest ship, was the place.

"Let us go on board.  We'll talk there," he said.  "And you will have to
listen to me.  For whatever happens, no matter what they say, I cannot
let you go."

You can't say that (misgivings or no misgivings) she could have done
anything else but go on board.  It was the appointed business of that
morning.  During the drive he was silent.  Anthony was the last man to
condemn conventionally any human being, to scorn and despise even
deserved misfortune.  He was ready to take old de Barral--the convict--
on his daughter's valuation without the slightest reserve.  But love
like his, though it may drive one into risky folly by the proud
consciousness of its own strength, has a sagacity of its own.  And now,
as if lifted up into a higher and serene region by its purpose of
renunciation, it gave him leisure to reflect for the first time in these
last few days.  He said to himself: "I don't know that man.  She does
not know him either.  She was barely sixteen when they locked him up.
She was a child.  What will he say?  What will he do?  No, he concluded,
I cannot leave her behind with that man who would come into the world as
if out of a grave."

They went on board in silence, and it was after showing her round and
when they had returned to the saloon that he assailed her in his fiery,
masterful fashion.  At first she did not understand.  Then when she
understood that he was giving her her liberty she went stiff all over,
her hand resting on the edge of the table, her face set like a carving
of white marble.  It was all over.  It was as that abominable governess
had said.  She was insignificant, contemptible.  Nobody could love her.
Humiliation clung to her like a cold shroud--never to be shaken off,
unwarmed by this madness of generosity.

"Yes.  Here.  Your home.  I can't give it to you and go away, but it is
big enough for us two.  You need not be afraid.  If you say so I shall
not even look at you.  Remember that grey head of which you have been
thinking night and day.  Where is it going to rest?  Where else if not
here, where nothing evil can touch it.  Don't you understand that I
won't let you buy shelter from me at the cost of your very soul.  I
won't.  You are too much part of me.  I have, found myself since I came
upon you and I would rather sell my own soul to the devil than let you
go out of my keeping.  But I must have the right."

He went away brusquely to shut the door leading on deck and came back
the whole length of the cabin repeating:

"I must have the legal right.  Are you ashamed of letting people think
you are my wife?"

He opened his arms as if to clasp her to his breast but mastered the
impulse and shook his clenched hands at her, repeating: "I must have the
right if only for your father's sake.  I must have the right.  Where
would you take him?  To that infernal cardboard box-maker.  I don't know
what keeps me from hunting him up in his virtuous home and bashing his
head in.  I can't bear the thought.  Listen to me, Flora!  Do you hear
what I am saying to you?  You are not so proud that you can't understand
that I as a man have my pride too?"

He saw a tear glide down her white cheek from under each lowered eyelid.
Then, abruptly, she walked out of the cabin.  He stood for a moment,
concentrated, reckoning his own strength, interrogating his heart,
before he followed her hastily.  Already she had reached the wharf.

At the sound of his pursuing footsteps her strength failed her.  Where
could she escape from this?  From this new perfidy of life taking upon
itself the form of magnanimity.  His very voice was changed.  The
sustaining whirlwind had let her down, to stumble on again, weakened by
the fresh stab, bereft of moral support which is wanted in life more
than all the charities of material help.  She had never had it.  Never.
Not from the Fynes.  But where to go?  Oh yes, this dock--a placid sheet
of water close at hand.  But there was that old man with whom she had
walked hand in hand on the parade by the sea.  She seemed to see him
coming to meet her, pitiful, a little greyer, with an appealing look and
an extended, tremulous arm.  It was for her now to take the hand of that
wronged man more helpless than a child.  But where could she lead him?
Where?  And what was she to say to him?  What words of cheer, of courage
and of hope?  There were none.  Heaven and earth were mute, unconcerned
at their meeting.  But this other man was coming up behind her.  He was
very close now.  His fiery person seemed to radiate heat, a tingling
vibration into the atmosphere.  She was exhausted, careless, afraid to
stumble, ready to fall.  She fancied she could hear his breathing.  A
wave of languid warmth overtook her, she seemed to lose touch with the
ground under her feet; and when she felt him slip his hand under her arm
she made no attempt to disengage herself from that grasp which closed
upon her limb, insinuating and firm.

He conducted her through the dangers of the quayside.  Her sight was
dim.  A moving truck was like a mountain gliding by.  Men passed by as
if in a mist; and the buildings, the sheds, the unexpected open spaces,
the ships, had strange, distorted, dangerous shapes.  She said to
herself that it was good not to be bothered with what all these things
meant in the scheme of creation (if indeed anything had a meaning), or
were just piled-up matter without any sense.  She felt how she had
always been unrelated to this world.  She was hanging on to it merely by
that one arm grasped firmly just above the elbow.  It was a captivity.
So be it.  Till they got out into the street and saw the hansom waiting
outside the gates Anthony spoke only once, beginning brusquely but in a
much gentler tone than she had ever heard from his lips.

"Of course I ought to have known that you could not care for a man like
me, a stranger.  Silence gives consent.  Yes?  Eh?  I don't want any of
that sort of consent.  And unless some day you find you can speak--No!
No!  I shall never ask you.  For all the sign I will give you you may go
to your grave with sealed lips.  But what I have said you must do!"

He bent his head over her with tender care.  At the same time she felt
her arm pressed and shaken inconspicuously, but in an undeniable manner.
"You must do it."  A little shake that no passer-by could notice; and
this was going on in a deserted part of the dock.  "It must be done.
You are listening to me--eh? or would you go again to my sister?"

His ironic tone, perhaps from want of use, had an awful grating
ferocity.

"Would you go to her?" he pursued in the same strange voice.  "Your best
friend!  And say nicely--I am sorry.  Would you?  No!  You couldn't.
There are things that even you, poor dear lost girl, couldn't stand.
Eh?  Die rather.  That's it.  Of course.  Or can you be thinking of
taking your father to that infernal cousin's house.  No!  Don't speak.
I can't bear to think of it.  I would follow you there and smash the
door!"

The catch in his voice astonished her by its resemblance to a sob.  It
frightened her too.  The thought that came to her head was: "He
mustn't."  He was putting her into the hansom.  "Oh!  He mustn't, he
mustn't."  She was still more frightened by the discovery that he was
shaking all over.  Bewildered, shrinking into the far off corner,
avoiding his eyes, she yet saw the quivering of his mouth and made a
wild attempt at a smile, which broke the rigidity of her lips and set
her teeth chattering suddenly.

"I am not coming with you," he was saying.  "I'll tell the man--I can't.
Better not.  What is it?  Are you cold?  Come!  What is it?  Only to go
to a confounded stuffy room, a hole of an office.  Not a quarter of an
hour.  I'll come for you--in ten days.  Don't think of it too much.
Think of no man, woman or child of all that silly crowd cumbering the
ground.  Don't think of me either.  Think of yourself.  Ha!  Nothing
will be able to touch you then--at last.  Say nothing.  Don't move.
I'll have everything arranged; and as long as you don't hate the sight
of me--and you don't--there's nothing to be frightened about.  One of
their silly offices with a couple of ink-slingers of no consequence;
poor, scribbling devils."

The hansom drove away with Flora de Barral inside, without movement,
without thought, only too glad to rest, to be alone and still moving
away without effort, in solitude and silence.

Anthony roamed the streets for hours without being able to remember in
the evening where he had been--in the manner of a happy and exulting
lover.  But nobody could have thought so from his face, which bore no
signs of blissful anticipation.  Exulting indeed he was but it was a
special sort of exultation which seemed to take him by the throat like
an enemy.

Anthony's last words to Flora referred to the registry office where they
were married ten days later.  During that time Anthony saw no one or
anything, though he went about restlessly, here and there, amongst men
and things.  This special state is peculiar to common lovers, who are
known to have no eyes for anything except for the contemplation, actual
or inward, of one human form which for them contains the soul of the
whole world in all its beauty, perfection, variety and infinity.  It
must be extremely pleasant.  But felicity was denied to Roderick
Anthony's contemplation.  He was not a common sort of lover; and he was
punished for it as if Nature (which it is said abhors a vacuum) were so
very conventional as to abhor every sort of exceptional conduct.
Roderick Anthony had begun already to suffer.  That is why perhaps he
was so industrious in going about amongst his fellow-men who would have
been surprised and humiliated, had they known how little solidity and
even existence they had in his eyes.  But they could not suspect
anything so queer.  They saw nothing extraordinary in him during that
fortnight.  The proof of this is that they were willing to transact
business with him.  Obviously they were; since it is then that the offer
of chartering his ship for the special purpose of proceeding to the
Western Islands was put in his way by a firm of shipbrokers who had no
doubt of his sanity.

He probably looked sane enough for all the practical purposes of
commercial life.  But I am not so certain that he really was quite sane
at that time.

However, he jumped at the offer.  Providence itself was offering him
this opportunity to accustom the girl to sea-life by a comparatively
short trip.  This was the time when everything that happened, everything
he heard, casual words, unrelated phrases, seemed a provocation or an
encouragement, confirmed him in his resolution.  And indeed to be busy
with material affairs is the best preservative against reflection,
fears, doubts--all these things which stand in the way of achievement.
I suppose a fellow proposing to cut his throat would experience a sort
of relief while occupied in stropping his razor carefully.

And Anthony was extremely careful in preparing for himself and for the
luckless Flora, an impossible existence.  He went about it with no more
tremors than if he had been stuffed with rags or made of iron instead of
flesh and blood.  An existence, mind you, which, on shore, in the thick
of mankind, of varied interests, of distractions, of infinite
opportunities to preserve your distance from each other, is hardly
conceivable; but on board ship, at sea, _en tete-a-tete_ for days and
weeks and months together, could mean nothing but mental torture, an
exquisite absurdity of torment.  He was a simple soul.  His hopelessly
masculine ingenuousness is displayed in a touching way by his care to
procure some woman to attend on Flora.  The condition of guaranteed
perfect respectability gave him moments of anxious thought.  When he
remembered suddenly his steward's wife he must have exclaimed _eureka_
with particular exultation.  One does not like to call Anthony an ass.
But really to put any woman within scenting distance of such a secret
and suppose that she would not track it out!  No woman, however simple,
could be as ingenuous as that.  I don't know how Flora de Barral
qualified him in her thoughts when he told her of having done this
amongst other things intended to make her comfortable.  I should think
that, for all _her_ simplicity, she must have been appalled.  He stood
before her on the appointed day outwardly calmer than she had ever seen
him before.  And this very calmness, that scrupulous attitude which he
felt bound in honour to assume then and for ever, unless she would
condescend to make a sign at some future time, added to the heaviness of
her heart innocent of the most pardonable guile.

The night before she had slept better than she had done for the past ten
nights.  Both youth and weariness will assert themselves in the end
against the tyranny of nerve-racking stress.  She had slept but she woke
up with her eyes full of tears.  There were no traces of them when she
met him in the shabby little parlour downstairs.  She had swallowed them
up.  She was not going to let him see.  She felt bound in honour to
accept the situation for ever and ever unless--Ah, unless ...  She
dissembled all her sentiments but it was not duplicity on her part.  All
she wanted was to get at the truth; to see what would come of it.

She beat him at his own honourable game and the thoroughness of her
serenity disconcerted Anthony a bit.  It was he who stammered when it
came to talking.  The suppressed fierceness of his character carried him
on after the first word or two masterfully enough.  But it was as if
they both had taken a bite of the same bitter fruit.  He was thinking
with mournful regret not unmixed with surprise: "That fellow Fyne has
been telling me the truth.  She does not care for me a bit."  It
humiliated him and also increased his compassion for the girl who in
this darkness of life, buffeted and despairing, had fallen into the grip
of his stronger will, abandoning herself to his arms as on a night of
shipwreck.  Flora on her side with partial insight (for women are never
blind with the complete masculine blindness) looked on him with some
pity; and she felt pity for herself too.  It was a rejection, a casting
out; nothing new to her.  But she who supposed all her sensibility dead
by this time, discovered in herself a resentment of this ultimate
betrayal.  She had no resignation for this one.  With a sort of mental
sullenness she said to herself: "Well, I am here.  I am here without any
nonsense.  It is not my fault that I am a mere worthless object of
pity."

And these things which she could tell herself with a clear conscience
served her better than the passionate obstinacy of purpose could serve
Roderick Anthony.  She was much more sure of herself than he was.  Such
are the advantages of mere rectitude over the most exalted generosity.

And so they went out to get married, the people of the house where she
lodged having no suspicion of anything of the sort.  They were only
excited at a "gentleman friend" (a very fine man too) calling on Miss
Smith for the first time since she had come to live in the house.  When
she returned, for she did come back alone, there were allusions made to
that outing.  She had to take her meals with these rather vulgar people.
The woman of the house, a scraggy, genteel person, tried even to
provoke confidences.  Flora's white face with the deep blue eyes did not
strike their hearts as it did the heart of Captain Anthony, as the very
face of the suffering world.  Her pained reserve had no power to awe
them into decency.

Well, she returned alone--as in fact might have been expected.  After
leaving the Registry Office Flora de Barral and Roderick Anthony had
gone for a walk in a park.  It must have been an East-End park but I am
not sure.  Anyway that's what they did.  It was a sunny day.  He said to
her: "Everything I have in the world belongs to you.  I have seen to
that without troubling my brother-in-law.  They have no call to
interfere."

She walked with her hand resting lightly on his arm.  He had offered it
to her on coming out of the Registry Office, and she had accepted it
silently.  Her head drooped, she seemed to be turning matters over in
her mind.  She said, alluding to the Fynes: "They have been very good to
me."  At that he exclaimed:

"They have never understood you.  Well, not properly.  My sister is not
a bad woman, but..."

Flora didn't protest; asking herself whether he imagined that he himself
understood her so much better.  Anthony dismissing his family out of his
thoughts went on: "Yes.  Everything is yours.  I have kept nothing back.
As to the piece of paper we have just got from that miserable
quill-driver if it wasn't for the law, I wouldn't mind if you tore it up
here, now, on this spot.  But don't you do it.  Unless you should some
day feel that--"

He choked, unexpectedly.  She, reflective, hesitated a moment then
making up her mind bravely.

"Neither am I keeping anything back from you."

She had said it!  But he in his blind generosity assumed that she was
alluding to her deplorable history and hastened to mutter:

"Of course!  Of course!  Say no more.  I have been lying awake thinking
of it all no end of times."

He made a movement with his other arm as if restraining himself from
shaking an indignant fist at the universe; and she never even attempted
to look at him.  His voice sounded strangely, incredibly lifeless in
comparison with these tempestuous accents that in the broad fields, in
the dark garden had seemed to shake the very earth under her weary and
hopeless feet.

She regretted them.  Hearing the sigh which escaped her Anthony instead
of shaking his fist at the universe began to pat her hand resting on his
arm and then desisted, suddenly, as though he had burnt himself.  Then
after a silence:

"You will have to go by yourself to-morrow.  I ...  No, I think I
mustn't come.  Better not.  What you two will have to say to each
other--"

She interrupted him quickly:

"Father is an innocent man.  He was cruelly wronged."

"Yes.  That's why," Anthony insisted earnestly.  "And you are the only
human being that can make it up to him.  You alone must reconcile him
with the world if anything can.  But of course you shall.  You'll have
to find words.  Oh you'll know.  And then the sight of you, alone, would
soothe--"

"He's the gentlest of men," she interrupted again.

Anthony shook his head.  "It would take no end of generosity, no end of
gentleness to forgive such a dead set.  For my part I, would have liked
better to have been killed and done with at once.  It could not have
been worse for you--and I suppose it was of you that he was thinking
most while those infernal lawyers were badgering him in court.  Of you.
And now I think of it perhaps the sight of you may bring it all back to
him.  All these years, all these years--and you his child left alone in
the world.  I would have gone crazy.  For even if he had done wrong--"

"But he hasn't," insisted Flora de Barral with a quite unexpected
fierceness.  "You mustn't even suppose it.  Haven't you read the
accounts of the trial?"

"I am not supposing anything," Anthony defended himself.  He just
remembered hearing of the trial.  He assured her that he was away from
England, the second voyage of the _Ferndale_.  He was crossing the
Pacific from Australia at the time and didn't see any papers for weeks
and weeks.  He interrupted himself to suggest:

"You had better tell him at once that you are happy."

He had stammered a little, and Flora de Barral uttered a deliberate and
concise "Yes."

A short silence ensued.  She withdrew her hand from his arm.  They
stopped.  Anthony looked as if a totally unexpected catastrophe had
happened.

"Ah," he said.  "You mind..."

"No!  I think I had better," she murmured.

"I dare say.  I dare say.  Bring him along straight on board to-morrow.
Stop nowhere."

She had a movement of vague gratitude, a momentary feeling of peace
which she referred to the man before her.  She looked up at Anthony.
His face was sombre.  He was miles away and muttered as if to himself:

"Where could he want to stop though?"

"There's not a single being on earth that I would want to look at his
dear face now, to whom I would willingly take him," she said extending
her hand frankly and with a slight break in her voice, "but you--
Roderick."

He took that hand, felt it very small and delicate in his broad palm.

"That's right.  That's right," he said with a conscious and hasty
heartiness and, as if suddenly ashamed of the sound of his voice, turned
half round and absolutely walked away from the motionless girl.  He even
resisted the temptation to look back till it was too late.  The gravel
path lay empty to the very gate of the park.  She was gone--vanished.
He had an impression that he had missed some sort of chance.  He felt
sad.  That excited sense of his own conduct which had kept him up for
the last ten days buoyed him no more.  He had succeeded!

He strolled on aimlessly a prey to gentle melancholy.  He walked and
walked.  There were but few people about in this breathing space of a
poor neighbourhood.  Under certain conditions of life there is precious
little time left for mere breathing.  But still a few here and there
were indulging in that luxury; yet few as they were Captain Anthony,
though the least exclusive of men, resented their presence.  Solitude
had been his best friend.  He wanted some place where he could sit down
and be alone.  And in his need his thoughts turned to the sea which had
given him so much of that congenial solitude.  There, if always with his
ship (but that was an integral part of him) he could always be as
solitary as he chose.  Yes.  Get out to sea!

The night of the town with its strings of lights, rigid, and crossed
like a net of flames, thrown over the sombre immensity of walls, closed
round him, with its artificial brilliance overhung by an emphatic
blackness, its unnatural animation of a restless, overdriven humanity.
His thoughts which somehow were inclined to pity every passing figure,
every single person glimpsed under a street lamp, fixed themselves at
last upon a figure which certainly could not have been seen under the
lamps on that particular night.  A figure unknown to him.  A figure shut
up within high unscaleable walls of stone or bricks till next morning
...  The figure of Flora de Barral's father.  De Barral the financier--
the convict.

There is something in that word with its suggestions of guilt and
retribution which arrests the thought.  We feel ourselves in the
presence of the power of organised society--a thing mysterious in itself
and still more mysterious in its effect.  Whether guilty or innocent, it
was as if old de Barral had been down to the Nether Regions.  Impossible
to imagine what he would bring out from there to the light of this world
of uncondemned men.  What would he think?  What would he have to say?
And what was one to say to him?

Anthony, a little awed, as one is by a range of feelings stretching
beyond one's grasp, comforted himself by the thought that probably the
old fellow would have little to say.  He wouldn't want to talk about it.
No man would.  It must have been a real hell to him.

And then Anthony, at the end of the day in which he had gone through a
marriage ceremony with Flora de Barral, ceased to think of Flora's
father except, as in some sort, the captive of his triumph.  He turned
to the mental contemplation of the white, delicate and appealing face
with great blue eyes which he had seen weep and wonder and look
profoundly at him, sometimes with incredulity, sometimes with doubt and
pain, but always irresistible in the power to find their way right into
his breast, to stir there a deep response which was something more than
love--he said to himself,--as men understand it.  More?  Or was it only
something other?  Yes.  It was something other.  More or less.
Something as incredible as the fulfilment of an amazing and startling
dream in which he could take the world in his arms--all the suffering
world--not to possess its pathetic fairness but to console and cherish
its sorrow.

Anthony walked slowly to the ship and that night slept without dreams.



PART TWO, CHAPTER 5.

THE GREAT DE BARRAL.

Renovated certainly the saloon of the _Ferndale_ was to receive the
"strange woman."  The mellowness of its old-fashioned, tarnished
decoration was gone.  And Anthony looking round saw the glitter, the
gleams, the colour of new things, untried, unused, very bright--too
bright.  The workmen had gone only last night; and the last piece of
work they did was the hanging of the heavy curtains which looped midway
the length of the saloon--divided it in two if released, cutting off the
after-end with its companion-way leading direct on the poop, from the
forepart with its outlet on the deck; making a privacy within a privacy,
as though Captain Anthony could not place obstacles enough between his
new happiness and the men who shared his life at sea.  He inspected that
arrangement with an approving eye then made a particular visitation of
the whole, ending by opening a door which led into a large state-room
made of two knocked into one.  It was very well furnished and had,
instead of the usual bed-place of such cabins, an elaborate swinging cot
of the latest pattern.  Anthony tilted it a little by way of trial.
"The old man will be very comfortable in here," he said to himself, and
stepped back into the saloon closing the door gently.  Then another
thought occurred to him obvious under the circumstances but strangely
enough presenting itself for the first time.  "Jove!  Won't he get a
shock," thought Roderick Anthony.

He went hastily on deck.  "Mr Franklin, Mr Franklin."

The mate was not very far.  "Oh!  Here you are.  Miss ...  Mrs
Anthony'll be coming on board presently.  Just give me a call when you
see the cab."

Then, without noticing the gloominess of the mate's countenance he went
in again.  Not a friendly word, not a professional remark, or a small
joke, not as much as a simple and inane "fine day."  Nothing.  Just
turned about and went in.

We know that, when the moment came, he thought better of it and decided
to meet Flora's father in that privacy of the main cabin which he had
been so careful to arrange.  Why Anthony appeared to shrink from the
contact, he who was sufficiently self-confident not only to face but to
absolutely create a situation almost insane in its audacious generosity,
is difficult to explain.  Perhaps when he came on the poop for a glance
he found that man so different outwardly from what he expected that he
decided to meet him for the first time out of everybody's sight.
Possibly the general secrecy of his relation to the girl might have
influenced him.  Truly he may well have been dismayed.  That man's
coming brought him face to face with the necessity to speak and act a
lie; to appear what he was not and what he could never be, unless,
unless--

In short, we'll say if you like that for various reasons, all having to
do with the delicate rectitude of his nature, Roderick Anthony (a man of
whom his chief mate used to say: he doesn't know what fear is) was
frightened.  There is a Nemesis which overtakes generosity too, like all
the other imprudences of men who dare to be lawless and proud...

"Why do you say this?"  I inquired, for Marlow had stopped abruptly and
kept silent in the shadow of the bookcase.

"I say this because that man whom chance had thrown in Flora's way was
both: lawless and proud.  Whether he knew anything about it or not it
does not matter.  Very likely not.  One may fling a glove in the face of
nature and in the face of one's own moral endurance quite innocently,
with a simplicity which wears the aspect of perfectly Satanic conceit.
However, as I have said it does not matter.  It's a transgression all
the same and has got to be paid for in the usual way.  But never mind
that.  I paused because, like Anthony, I find a difficulty, a sort of
dread in coming to grips with old de Barral."

You remember I had a glimpse of him once.  He was not an imposing
personality: tall, thin, straight, stiff, faded, moving with short steps
and with a gliding motion, speaking in an even low voice.  When the sea
was rough he wasn't much seen on deck--at least not walking.  He caught
hold of things then and dragged himself along as far as the after
skylight where he would sit for hours.  Our, then young, friend offered
once to assist him and this service was the first beginning of a sort of
friendship.  He clung hard to one--Powell says, with no figurative
intention.  Powell was always on the lookout to assist, and to assist
mainly Mrs Anthony, because he clung so jolly hard to her that Powell
was afraid of her being dragged down notwithstanding that she very soon
became very sure-footed in all sorts of weather.  And Powell was the
only one ready to assist at hand because Anthony (by that time) seemed
to be afraid to come near them; the unforgiving Franklin always looked
wrathfully the other way; the boatswain, if up there, acted likewise but
sheepishly; and any hands that happened to be on the poop (a feeling
spreads mysteriously all over a ship) shunned him as though he had been
the devil.

We know how he arrived on board.  For my part I know so little of
prisons that I haven't the faintest notion how one leaves them.  It
seems as abominable an operation as the other, the shutting up with its
mental suggestions of bang, snap, crash and the empty silence outside--
where an instant before you were--you _were_--and now no longer are.
Perfectly devilish.  And the release!  I don't know which is worse.  How
do they do it?  Pull the string, door flies open, man flies through: Out
you go!  _Adios_!  And in the space where a second before you were not,
in the silent space there is a figure going away, limping.  Why limping?
I don't know.  That's how I see it.  One has a notion of a maiming,
crippling process; of the individual coming back damaged in some subtle
way.  I admit it is a fantastic hallucination, but I can't help it.  Of
course I know that the proceedings of the best machine-made humanity are
employed with judicious care and so on.  I am absurd, no doubt, but
still...  Oh yes it's idiotic.  When I pass one of these places ... did
you notice that there is something infernal about the aspect of every
individual stone or brick of them, something malicious as if matter were
enjoying its revenge of the contemptuous spirit of man.  Did you notice?
You didn't?  Eh?  Well I am perhaps a little mad on that point.  When I
pass one of these places I must avert my eyes.  I couldn't have gone to
meet de Barral.  I should have shrunk from the ordeal.  You'll notice
that it looks as if Anthony (a brave man indubitably) had shirked it
too.  Little Fyne's flight of fancy picturing three people in the fatal
four-wheeler--you remember?--went wide of the truth.  There were only
two people in the four-wheeler.  Flora did not shrink.  Women can stand
anything.  The dear creatures have no imagination when it comes to solid
facts of life.  In sentimental regions--I won't say.  It's another thing
altogether.  There they shrink from or rush to embrace ghosts of their
own creation just the same as any fool-man would.

"No.  I suppose the girl Flora went on that errand reasonably.  And
then, why!  This was the moment for which she had lived.  It was her
only point of contact with existence.  Oh yes.  She had been assisted by
the Fynes.  And kindly.  Certainly.  Kindly.  But that's not enough.
There is a kind way of assisting our fellow-creatures which is enough to
break their hearts while it saves their outer envelope.  How cold, how
infernally cold she must have felt--unless when she was made to burn
with indignation or shame.  Man, we know, cannot live by bread alone but
hang me if I don't believe that some women could live by love alone.  If
there be a flame in human beings fed by varied ingredients earthly and
spiritual which tinge it in different hues, then I seem to see the
colour of theirs.  It is azure ...  What the devil are you laughing
at..."

Marlow jumped up and strode out of the shadow as if lifted by
indignation but there was the flicker of a smile on his lips.  "You say
I don't know women.  Maybe.  It's just as well not to come too close to
the shrine.  But I have a clear notion of _woman_.  In all of them,
termagant, flirt, crank, washerwoman, blue-stocking, outcast and even in
the ordinary fool of the ordinary commerce there is something left, if
only a spark.  And when there is a spark there can always be a flame..."

He went back into the shadow and sat down again.

"I don't mean to say that Flora de Barral was one of the sort that could
live by love alone.  In fact she had managed to live without.  But
still, in the distrust of herself and of others she looked for love, any
kind of love, as women will.  And that confounded jail was the only spot
where she could see it--for she had no reason to distrust her father."

She was there in good time.  I see her gazing across the road at these
walls which are, properly speaking, awful.  You do indeed seem to feel
along the very lines and angles of the unholy bulk, the fall of time,
drop by drop, hour by hour, leaf by leaf, with a gentle and implacable
slowness.  And a voiceless melancholy comes over one, invading,
overpowering like a dream, penetrating and mortal like poison.

When de Barral came out she experienced a sort of shock to see that he
was exactly as she remembered him.  Perhaps a little smaller.  Otherwise
unchanged.  You come out in the same clothes, you know.  I can't tell
whether he was looking for her.  No doubt he was.  Whether he recognised
her?  Very likely.  She crossed the road and at once there was
reproduced at a distance of years, as if by some mocking witchcraft, the
sight so familiar on the Parade at Brighton of the financier de Barral
walking with his only daughter.  One comes out of prison in the same
clothes one wore on the day of condemnation, no matter how long one has
been put away there.  Oh, they last!  They last!  But there is something
which is preserved by prison life even better than one's discarded
clothing.  It is the force, the vividness of one's sentiments.  A
monastery will do that too; but in the unholy claustration of a jail you
are thrown back wholly upon yourself--for God and Faith are not there.
The people outside disperse their affections, you hoard yours, you nurse
them into intensity.  What they let slip, what they forget in the
movement and changes of free life, you hold on to, amplify, exaggerate
into a rank growth of memories.  They can look with a smile at the
troubles and pains of the past; but you can't.  Old pains keep on
gnawing at your heart, old desires, old deceptions, old dreams,
assailing you in the dead stillness of your present where nothing moves
except the irrecoverable minutes of your life.

De Barral was out and, for a time speechless, being led away almost
before he had taken possession of the free world, by his daughter.
Flora controlled herself well.  They walked along quickly for some
distance.  The cab had been left round the corner--round several corners
for all I know.  He was flustered, out of breath, when she helped him in
and followed herself.  Inside that rolling box, turning towards that
recovered presence with her heart too full for words she felt the desire
of tears she had managed to keep down abandon her suddenly, her
half-mournful, half-triumphant exultation subside, every fibre of her
body, relaxed in tenderness, go stiff in the close look she took at his
face.  He _was_ different.  There was something.  Yes, there was
something between them, something hard and impalpable, the ghost of
these high walls.

How old he was, how unlike!

She shook off this impression, amazed and frightened by it of course.
And remorseful too.  Naturally.  She threw her arms round his neck.  He
returned that hug awkwardly, as if not in perfect control of his arms,
with a fumbling and uncertain pressure.  She hid her face on his breast.
It was as though she were pressing it against a stone.  They released
each other and presently the cab was rolling along at a jog-trot to the
docks with those two people as far apart as they could get from each
other, in opposite corners.

After a silence given up to mutual examination he uttered his first
coherent sentence outside the walls of the prison.

"What has done for me was envy.  Envy.  There was a lot of them just
bursting with it every time they looked my way.  I was doing too well.
So they went to the Public Prosecutor--"

She said hastily "Yes!  Yes!  I know," and he glared as if resentful
that the child had turned into a young woman without waiting for him to
come out.  "What do you know about it?" he asked.  "You were too young."
His speech was soft.  The old voice, the old voice!  It gave her a
thrill.  She recognised its pointless gentleness always the same no
matter what he had to say.  And she remembered that he never had much to
say when he came down to see her.  It was she who chattered, chattered,
on their walks, while stiff and with a rigidly-carried head, he dropped
a gentle word now and then.

Moved by these recollections waking up within her, she explained to him
that within the last year she had read and studied the report of the
trial.

"I went through the files of several papers, papa."

He looked at her suspiciously.  The reports were probably very
incomplete.  No doubt the reporters had garbled his evidence.  They were
determined to give him no chance either in court or before the public
opinion.  It was a conspiracy...  "My counsel was a fool too," he added.
"Did you notice?  A perfect fool."

She laid her hand on his arm soothingly.  "Is it worth while talking
about that awful time?  It is so far away now."  She shuddered slightly
at the thought of all the horrible years which had passed over her young
head; never guessing that for him the time was but yesterday.  He folded
his arms on his breast, leaned back in his corner and bowed his head.
But in a little while he made her jump by asking suddenly:

"Who has got hold of the Lone Valley Railway?  That's what they were
after mainly.  Somebody has got it.  Parfitts and Co. grabbed it--eh?
Or was it that fellow Warner..."

"I--I don't know," she said quite scared by the twitching of his lips.

"Don't know!" he exclaimed softly.  Hadn't her cousin told her?  Oh yes.
She had left them--of course.  Why did she?  It was his first question
about herself but she did not answer it.  She did not want to talk of
these horrors.  They were impossible to describe.  She perceived though
that he had not expected an answer, because she heard him muttering to
himself that: "There was half a million's worth of work done and
material accumulated there."

"You mustn't think of these things, papa," she said firmly.  And he
asked her with that invariable gentleness, in which she seemed now to
detect some rather ugly shades, what else had he to think about?
Another year or two, if they had only left him alone, he and everybody
else would have been all right, rolling in money; and she, his daughter,
could have married anybody--anybody.  A lord.

All this was to him like yesterday, a long yesterday a yesterday gone
over innumerable times, analysed meditated upon for years.  It had a
vividness and force for that old man of which his daughter who had not
been shut out of the world could have no idea.  She was to him the only
living figure out of that past, and it was perhaps in perfect good faith
that he added, coldly, inexpressive and thin-lipped: "I lived only for
you, I may say.  I suppose you understand that.  There were only you and
me."

Moved by this declaration, wondering that it did not warm her heart
more, she murmured a few endearing words while the uppermost thought in
her mind was that she must tell him now of the situation.  She had
expected to be questioned anxiously about herself--and while she desired
it she shrank from the answers she would have to make.  But her father
seemed strangely, unnaturally incurious.  It looked as if there would be
no questions.  Still this was an opening.  This seemed to be the time
for her to begin.  And she began.  She began by saying that she had
always felt like that.  There were two of them, to live for each other.
And if he only knew what she had gone through!

Ensconced in his corner, with his arms folded, he stared out of the cab
window at the street.  How little he was changed after all.  It was the
unmovable expression, the faded stare she used to see on the esplanade
whenever walking by his side hand in hand she raised her eyes to his
face--while she chattered, chattered.  It was the same stiff, silent
figure which at a word from her would turn rigidly into a shop and buy
her anything it occurred to her that she would like to have.  Flora de
Barral's voice faltered.  He bent on her that well-remembered glance in
which she had never read anything as a child, except the consciousness
of her existence.  And that was enough for a child who had never known
demonstrative affection.  But she had lived a life so starved of all
feeling that this was no longer enough for her.  What was the good of
telling him the story of all these miseries now past and gone, of all
those bewildering difficulties and humiliations?  What she _must_ tell
him was difficult enough to say.  She approached it by remarking
cheerfully:

"You haven't even asked me where I am taking you."

He started like a somnambulist awakened suddenly, and there was now some
meaning in his stare; a sort of alarmed speculation.  He opened his
mouth slowly.  Flora struck in with forced gaiety.  "You would never
guess."

He waited, still more startled and suspicious.  "Guess!  Why don't you
tell me?"

He uncrossed his arms and leaned forward towards her.  She got hold of
one of his hands.  "You _must know_ first..."  She paused, made an
effort: "I am married, papa."

For a moment they kept perfectly still in that cab rolling on at a
steady jog-trot through a narrow city street full of bustle.  Whatever
she expected she did not expect to feel his hand snatched away from her
grasp as if from a burn or a contamination.  De Barral fresh from the
stagnant torment of the prison (where nothing happens) had not expected
that sort of news.  It seemed to stick in his throat.  In strangled low
tones he cried out, "You--married?  You, Flora!  When?  Married!  What
for?  Who to?  Married?"

His eyes which were blue like hers, only faded, without depth, seemed to
start out of their orbits.  He did really look as if he were choking.
He even put his hand to his collar...

"You know," continued Marlow out of the shadow of the bookcase and
nearly invisible in the depths of the armchair, "the only time I saw him
he had given me the impression of absolute rigidity, as though he had
swallowed a poker.  But it seems that he could collapse.  I can hardly
picture this to myself.  I understand that he did collapse to a certain
extent in his corner of the cab.  The unexpected had crumpled him up.
She regarded him perplexed, pitying, a little disillusioned, and nodded
at him gravely: Yes.  Married.  What she did not like was to see him
smile in a manner far from encouraging to the devotion of a daughter.
There was something unintentionally savage in it.  Old de Barral could
not quite command his muscles, as yet.  But he had recovered command of
his gentle voice.

"You were just saying that in this wide world there we were, only you
and I, to stick to each other."

She was dimly aware of the scathing intention lurking in these soft low
tones, in these words which appealed to her poignantly.  She defended
herself.  Never, never for a single moment had she ceased to think of
him.  Neither did he cease to think of her, he said, with as much
sinister emphasis as he was capable of.

"But, papa," she cried, "I haven't been shut up like you."  She didn't
mind speaking of it because he was innocent.  He hadn't been understood.
It was a misfortune of the most cruel kind but no more disgraceful than
an illness, a maiming accident or some other visitation of blind fate.
"I wish I had been too.  But I was alone out in the world, the horrid
world, that very world which had used you so badly."

"And you couldn't go about in it without finding somebody to fall in
love with?" he said.  A jealous rage affected his brain like the fumes
of wine, rising from some secret depths of his being so long deprived of
all emotions.  The hollows at the corners of his lips became more
pronounced in the puffy roundness of his cheeks.  Images, visions,
obsess with particular force, men withdrawn from the sights and sounds
of active life.  "And I did nothing but think of you!" he exclaimed
under his breath, contemptuously.  "Think of you!  You haunted me, I
tell you."

Flora said to herself that there was a being who loved her.  "Then we
have been haunting each other," she declared with a pang of remorse.
For indeed he had haunted her nearly out of the world, into a final and
irremediable desertion.  "Some day I shall tell you...  No.  I don't
think I can ever tell you.  There was a time when I was mad.  But what's
the good?  It's all over now.  We shall forget all this.  There shall be
nothing to remind us."

De Barral moved his shoulders.

"I should think you were mad to tie yourself to ...  How long is it
since you are married?"

She answered "Not long" that being the only answer she dared to make.
Everything was so different from what she imagined it would be.  He
wanted to know why she had said nothing of it in any of her letters; in
her last letter.  She said:

"It was after."

"So recently!" he wondered.  "Couldn't you wait at least till I came
out?  You could have told me; asked me; consulted me!  Let me see--"

She shook her head negatively.  And he was appalled.  He thought to
himself: Who can he be?  Some miserable, silly youth without a penny.
Or perhaps some scoundrel?  Without making any expressive movement he
wrung his loosely-clasped hands till the joints cracked.  He looked at
her.  She was pretty.  Some low scoundrel who will cast her off.  Some
plausible vagabond...  "You couldn't wait--eh?"

Again she made a slight negative sign.

Why not?  What was the hurry?  She cast down her eyes.  "It had to be.
Yes.  It was sudden, but it had to be."

He leaned towards her, his mouth open, his eyes wild with virtuous
anger, but meeting the absolute candour of her raised glance threw
himself back into his corner again.

"So tremendously in love with each other--was that it?  Couldn't let a
father have his daughter all to himself even for a day after--after such
a separation.  And you know I never had anyone, I had no friends.  What
did I want with those people one meets in the City.  The best of them
are ready to cut your throat.  Yes!  Business men, gentlemen, any sort
of men and women--out of spite, or to get something.  Oh yes, they can
talk fair enough if they think there's something to be got out of
you..."  His voice was a mere breath yet every word came to Flora as
distinctly as if charged with all the moving power of passion.--"My
girl, I looked at them making up to me and I would say to myself: What
do I care for all that!  I am a business man.  I am the great Mr de
Barral (yes, yes, some of them twisted their mouths at it, but I _was_
the great Mr de Barral) and I have my little girl.  I wanted nobody and
I have never had anybody."

A true emotion had unsealed his lips but the words that came out of them
were no louder than the murmur of a light wind.  It died away.

"That's just it," said Flora de Barral under her breath.  Without
removing his eyes from her he took off his hat.  It was a tall hat.  The
hat of the trial.  The hat of the thumb-nail sketches in the illustrated
papers.  One comes out in the same clothes, but seclusion counts!  It is
well-known that lurid visions haunt secluded men, monks, hermits--then
why not prisoners?  De Barral the convict took off the silk hat of the
financier de Barral and deposited it on the front seat of the cab.  Then
he blew out his cheeks.  He was red in the face.

"And then what happens?" he began again in his contained voice.  "Here I
am, overthrown, broken by envy, malice and all uncharitableness.  I come
out--and what do I find?  I find that my girl Flora has gone and married
some man or other, perhaps a fool, how do I know; or perhaps--anyway not
good enough."

"Stop, papa."

"A silly love affair as likely as not," he continued monotonously, his
thin lips writhing between the ill-omened sunk corners.  "And a very
suspicious thing it is too, on the part of a loving daughter."

She tried to interrupt him but he went on till she actually clapped her
hand on his mouth.  He rolled his eyes a bit but when she took her hand
away he remained silent.

"Wait.  I must tell you...  And first of all, papa, understand this, for
everything's in that: he is the most generous man in the world.  He
is..."

De Barral very still in his corner uttered with an effort:

"You are in love with him."

"Papa!  He came to me.  I was thinking of you.  I had no eyes for
anybody.  I could no longer bear to think of you.  It was then that he
came.  Only then.  At that time when--when I was going to give up."

She gazed into his faded blue eyes as if yearning to be understood, to
be given encouragement, peace--a word of sympathy.  He declared without
animation:

"I would like to break his neck."

She had the mental exclamation of the overburdened.  "Oh my God!" and
watched him with frightened eyes.  But he did not appear insane or in
any other way formidable.  This comforted her.  The silence lasted for
some little time.  Then suddenly he asked:

"What's your name then?"

For a moment in the profound trouble of the task before her she did not
understand what the question meant.  Then, her face faintly flushing,
she whispered: "Anthony."

Her father, a red spot on each cheek, leaned his head back wearily in
the corner of the cab.

"Anthony.  What is he?  Where did he spring from?"

"Papa, it was in the country, on a road--"

He groaned, "On a road," and closed his eyes.

"It's too long to explain to you now.  We shall have lots of time.
There are things I could not tell you now.  But some day.  Some day.
For now nothing can part us.  Nothing.  We are safe as long as we live--
nothing can ever come between us."

"You are infatuated with the fellow," he remarked, without opening his
eyes.  And she said: "I believe in him," in a low voice.  "You and I
must believe in him?"

"Who the devil is he?"

"He's the brother of the lady--you know Mrs Fyne, she knew mother--who
was so kind to me.  I was staying in the country, in a cottage, with Mr
and Mrs Fyne.  It was there that we met.  He came on a visit.  He
noticed me.  I--well--we are married now."

She was thankful that his eyes were shut.  It made it easier to talk of
the future she had arranged, which now was an unalterable thing.  She
did not enter on the path of confidences.  That was impossible.  She
felt he would not understand her.  She felt also that he suffered.  Now
and then a great anxiety gripped her heart with a mysterious sense of
guilt--as though she had betrayed him into the hands of an enemy.  With
his eyes shut he had an air of weary and pious meditation.  She was a
little afraid of it.  Next moment a great pity for him filled her heart.
And in the background there was remorse.  His face twitched now and
then just perceptibly.  He managed to keep his eyelids down till he
heard that the `husband' was a sailor and that he, the father, was being
taken straight on board ship ready to sail away from this abominable
world of treacheries, and scorns and envies and lies, away, away over
the blue sea, the sure, the inaccessible, the uncontaminated and
spacious refuge for wounded souls.

Something like that.  Not the very words perhaps but such was the
general sense of her overwhelming argument--the argument of refuge.

I don't think she gave a thought to material conditions.  But as part of
that argument set forth breathlessly, as if she were afraid that if she
stopped for a moment she could never go on again, she mentioned that
generosity of a stormy type, which had come to her from the sea, had
caught her up on the brink of unmentionable failure, had whirled her
away in its first ardent gust and could be trusted now, implicitly
trusted, to carry them both, side by side, into absolute safety.

She believed it, she affirmed it.  He understood thoroughly at last, and
at once the interior of that cab, of an aspect so pacific in the eyes of
the people on the pavements, became the scene of a great agitation.  The
generosity of Roderick Anthony--the son of the poet--affected the
ex-financier de Barral in a manner which must have brought home to Flora
de Barral the extreme arduousness of the business of being a woman.
Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists
principally of dealings with men.  This man--the man inside the cab--
cast off his stiff placidity and behaved like an animal.  I don't mean
it in an offensive sense.  What he did was to give way to an instinctive
panic.  Like some wild creature scared by the first touch of a net
falling on its back, old de Barral began to struggle, lank and angular,
against the empty air--as much of it as there was in the cab--with
staring eyes and gasping mouth from which his daughter shrank as far as
she could in the confined space.

"Stop the cab.  Stop him I tell you.  Let me get out!" were the
strangled exclamations she heard.  Why?  What for?  To do what?  He
would hear nothing.  She cried to him "Papa!  Papa!  What do you want to
do?"  And all she got from him was: "Stop.  I must get out.  I want to
think.  I must get out to think."

It was a mercy that he didn't attempt to open the door at once.  He only
stuck his head and shoulders out of the window crying to the cabman.
She saw the consequences, the cab stopping, a crowd collecting around a
raving old gentleman.--In this terrible business of being a woman so
full of fine shades, of delicate perplexities (and very small rewards)
you can never know what rough work you may have to do, at any moment.
Without hesitation Flora seized her father round the body and pulled
back--being astonished at the ease with which she managed to make him
drop into his seat again.  She kept him there resolutely with one hand
pressed against his breast, and leaning across him, she, in her turn put
her head and shoulders out of the window.  By then the cab had drawn up
to the curbstone and was stopped.  "No!  I've changed my mind.  Go on
please where you were told first.  To the docks."

She wondered at the steadiness of her own voice.  She heard a grunt from
the driver and the cab began to roll again.  Only then she sank into her
place keeping a watchful eye on her companion.  He was hardly anything
more by this time.  Except for her childhood's impressions he was just--
a man.  Almost a stranger.  How was one to deal with him?  And there was
the other too.  Also almost a stranger.  The trade of being a woman was
very difficult.  Too difficult.  Flora closed her eyes saying to
herself: "If I think too much about it I shall go mad."  And then
opening them she asked her father if the prospect of living always with
his daughter and being taken care of by her affection away from the
world, which had no honour to give to his grey hairs, was such an awful
prospect.

"Tell me, is it so bad as that?"

She put that question sadly, without bitterness.  The famous--or
notorious--de Barral had lost his rigidity now.  He was bent.  Nothing
more deplorably futile than a bent poker.  He said nothing.  She added
gently, suppressing an uneasy remorseful sigh:

"And it might have been worse.  You might have found no one, no one in
all this town, no one in all the world, not even me!  Poor papa!"

She made a conscience-stricken movement towards him thinking: "Oh!  I am
horrible, I am horrible."  And old de Barral, scared, tired, bewildered
by the extraordinary shocks of his liberation, swayed over and actually
leaned his head on her shoulder, as if sorrowing over his regained
freedom.

The movement by itself was touching.  Flora supporting him lightly
imagined that he was crying; and at the thought that had she smashed in
a quarry that shoulder, together with some other of her bones, this grey
and pitiful head would have had nowhere to rest, she too gave way to
tears.  They flowed quietly, easing her overstrained nerves.  Suddenly
he pushed her away from him so that her head struck the side of the cab,
pushing himself away too from her as if something had stung him.

All the warmth went out of her emotion.  The very last tears turned cold
on her cheek.  But their work was done.  She had found courage,
resolution, as women do, in a good cry.  With his hand covering the
upper part of his face whether to conceal his eyes or to shut out an
unbearable sight, he was stiffening up in his corner to his usual
poker-like consistency.  She regarded him in silence.  His thin
obstinate lips moved.  He uttered the name of the cousin--the man, you
remember, who did not approve of the Fynes, and whom rightly or wrongly
little Fyne suspected of interested motives, in view of de Barral having
possibly put away some plunder, somewhere before the smash.

I may just as well tell you at once that I don't know anything more of
him.  But de Barral was of the opinion, speaking in his low voice from
under his hand, that this relation would have been only too glad to have
secured his guidance.

"Of course I could not come forward in my own name, or person.  But the
advice of a man of my experience is as good as a fortune to anybody
wishing to venture into finance.  The same sort of thing can be done
again."

He shuffled his feet a little, let fall his hand; and turning carefully
toward his daughter his puffy round cheeks, his round chin resting on
his collar, he bent on her the faded, resentful gaze of his pale eyes,
which were wet.

"The start is really only a matter of judicious advertising.  There's no
difficulty.  And here you go and..."

He turned his face away.  "After all I am still de Barral, _the_ de
Barral.  Didn't you remember that?"

"Papa," said Flora; "listen.  It's you who must remember that there is
no longer a de Barral..."  He looked at her sideways anxiously.  "There
is Mr Smith, whom no harm, no trouble, no wicked lies of evil people
can ever touch."

"Mr Smith," he breathed out slowly.  "Where does he belong to?  There's
not even a Miss Smith."

"There is your Flora."

"My Flora!  You went and--I can't bear to think of it.  It's horrible."

"Yes.  It was horrible enough at times," she said with feeling, because
somehow, obscurely, what this man said appealed to her as if it were her
own thought clothed in an enigmatic emotion.  "I think with shame
sometimes how I--No not yet.  I shall not tell you.  At least not now."

The cab turned into the gateway of the dock.  Flora handed the tall hat
to her father.  "Here, papa.  And please be good.  I suppose you love
me.  If you don't, then I wonder who--"

He put the hat on, and stiffened hard in his corner, kept a sidelong
glance on his girl.  "Try to be nice for my sake.  Think of the years I
have been waiting for you.  I do indeed want support--and peace.  A
little peace."

She clasped his arm suddenly with both hands pressing with all her might
as if to crush the resistance she felt in him.  "I could not have peace
if I did not have you with me.  I won't let you go.  Not after all I
went through.  I won't."  The nervous force of her grip frightened him a
little.  She laughed suddenly.  "It's absurd.  It's as if I were asking
you for a sacrifice.  What am I afraid of?  Where could you go?  I mean
now, to-day, to-night?  You can't tell me.  Have you thought of it?
Well I have been thinking of it for the last year.  Longer.  I nearly
went mad trying to find out.  I believe I was mad for a time or else I
should never have thought..."

"This was as near as she came to a confession," remarked Marlow in a
changed tone.  "The confession I mean of that walk to the top of the
quarry which she reproached herself with so bitterly.  And he made of it
what his fancy suggested.  It could not possibly be a just notion.  The
cab stopped alongside the ship and they got out in the manner described
by the sensitive Franklin.  I don't know if they suspected each other's
sanity at the end of that drive.  But that is possible.  We all seem a
little mad to each other; an excellent arrangement for the bulk of
humanity which finds in it an easy motive of forgiveness.  Flora crossed
the quarter-deck with a rapidity born of apprehension.  It had grown
unbearable.  She wanted this business over.  She was thankful on looking
back to see he was following her.  `If he bolts away,' she thought,
`then I shall know that I am of no account indeed!  That no one loves
me, that words and actions and protestations and everything in the world
is false--and I shall jump into the dock.  _That_ at least won't lie.'"

Well I don't know.  If it had come to that she would have been most
likely fished out, what with her natural want of luck and the good many
people on the quay and on board.  And just where the _Ferndale_ was
moored there hung on a wall (I know the berth) a coil of line, a pole,
and a life-buoy kept there on purpose to save people who tumble into the
dock.  It's not so easy to get away from life's betrayals as she
thought.  However it did not come to that.  He followed her with his
quick gliding walk.  Mr Smith!  The liberated convict de Barral passed
off the solid earth for the last time, vanished for ever, and there was
Mr Smith added to that world of waters which harbours so many queer
fishes.  An old gentleman in a silk hat, darting wary glances.  He
followed, because mere existence has its claims which are obeyed
mechanically.  I have no doubt he presented a respectable figure.
Father-in-law.  Nothing more respectable.  But he carried in his heart
the confused pain of dismay and affection, of involuntary repulsion and
pity.  Very much like his daughter.  Only in addition he felt a furious
jealousy of the man he was going to see.

A residue of egoism remains in every affection--even paternal.  And this
man in the seclusion of his prison had thought himself into such a sense
of ownership of that single human being he had to think about, as may
well be inconceivable to us who have not had to serve a long (and
wickedly unjust) sentence of penal servitude.  She was positively the
only thing, the one point where his thoughts found a resting-place, for
years.  She was the only outlet for his imagination.  He had not much of
that faculty to be sure, but there was in it the force of concentration.
He felt outraged, and perhaps it was an absurdity on his part, but I
venture to suggest rather in degree than in kind.  I have a notion that
no usual, normal father is pleased at parting with his daughter.  No.
Not even when he rationally appreciates "Jane being taken off his hands"
or perhaps is able to exult at an excellent match.  At bottom, quite
deep down, down in the dark (in some cases only by digging), there is to
be found a certain repugnance...  With mothers of course it is
different.  Women are more loyal, not to each other, but to their common
femininity which they behold triumphant with a secret and proud
satisfaction.

The circumstances of that match added to Mr Smith's indignation.  And
if he followed his daughter into that ship's cabin it was as if into a
house of disgrace and only because he was still bewildered by the
suddenness of the thing.  His will, so long lying fallow, was overborne
by her determination and by a vague fear of that regained liberty.

You will be glad to hear that Anthony, though he did shirk the welcome
on the quay, behaved admirably, with the simplicity of a man who has no
small meannesses and makes no mean reservations.  His eyes did not
flinch and his tongue did not falter.  He was, I have it on the best
authority, admirable in his earnestness, in his sincerity and also in
his restraint.  He was perfect.  Nevertheless the vital force of his
unknown individuality addressing him so familiarly was enough to fluster
Mr Smith.  Flora saw her father trembling in all his exiguous length,
though he held himself stiffer than ever if that was possible.  He
muttered a little and at last managed to utter, not loud of course but
very distinctly: "I am here under protest," the corners of his mouth
sunk disparagingly, his eyes stony.  "I am here under protest.  I have
been locked up by a conspiracy.  I--"

He raised his hands to his forehead--his silk hat was on the table rim
upwards; he had put it there with a despairing gesture as he came in--he
raised his hands to his forehead.  "It seems to me unfair.  I--" He
broke off again.  Anthony looked at Flora who stood by the side of her
father.

"Well, sir, you will soon get used to me.  Surely you and she must have
had enough of shore people and their confounded half-and-half ways to
last you both for a lifetime.  A particularly merciful lot they are too.
You ask Flora.  I am alluding to my own sister, her best friend, and
not a bad woman either as they go."

The captain of the _Ferndale_ checked himself.  "Lucky thing I was there
to step in.  I want you to make yourself at home, and before long--"

The faded stare of the Great de Barral silenced Anthony by its
inexpressive fixity.  He signalled with his eyes to Flora towards the
door of the state-room fitted specially to receive Mr Smith, the free
man.  She seized the free man's hat off the table and took him
caressingly under the arm.  "Yes!  This is home, come and see your room.
Papa!"

Anthony himself threw open the door and Flora took care to shut it
carefully behind herself and her father.

"See," she began but desisted because it was clear that he would look at
none of the contrivances for his comfort.

She herself had hardly seen them before.  He was looking only at the new
carpet and she waited till he should raise his eyes.

He didn't do that but spoke in his usual voice.  "So this is your
husband, that ...  And I locked up!"

"Papa, what's the good of harping on that," she remonstrated no louder.
"He is kind."

"And you went and ... married him so that he should be kind to me.  Is
that it?  How did you know that I wanted anybody to be kind to me?"

"How strange you are!" she said thoughtfully.

"It's hard for a man who has gone through what I have gone through to
feel like other people.  Has that occurred to you?..."  He looked up at
last...  "Mrs Anthony, I can't bear the sight of the fellow."  She met
his eyes without flinching and he added, "You want to go to him now."
His mild automatic manner seemed the effect of tremendous
self-restraint--and yet she remembered him always like that.  She felt
cold all over.

"Why, of course, I must go to him," she said with a slight start.

He gnashed his teeth at her and she went out.

Anthony had not moved from the spot.  One of his hands was resting on
the table.  She went up to him, stopped, then deliberately moved still
closer.  "Thank you, Roderick."

"You needn't thank me," he murmured.  "It's I who..."

"No, perhaps I needn't.  You do what you like.  But you are doing it
well."

He sighed then hardly above a whisper because they were near the
state-room door, "Upset, eh?"

She made no sign, no sound of any kind.  The thorough falseness of the
position weighed on them both.  But he was the braver of the two.  "I
dare say.  At first.  Did you think of telling him you were happy?"

"He never asked me," she smiled faintly at him.  She was disappointed by
his quietness.  "I did not say more than I was absolutely obliged to
say--of myself."  She was beginning to be irritated with this man a
little.  "I told him I had been very lucky," she said suddenly
despondent, missing Anthony's masterful manner, that something arbitrary
and tender which, after the first scare, she had accustomed herself to
look forward to with pleasurable apprehension.  He was contemplating her
rather blankly.  She had not taken off her outdoor things, hat, gloves.
She was like a caller.  And she had a movement suggesting the end of a
not very satisfactory business call.  "Perhaps it would be just as well
if we went ashore.  Time yet."

He gave her a glimpse of his unconstrained self in the low vehement "You
dare!" which sprang to his lips and out of them with a most menacing
inflexion.

"You dare ...  What's the matter now?"

These last words were shot out not at her but at some target behind her
back.  Looking over her shoulder she saw the bald head with black
bunches of hair of the congested and devoted Franklin (he had his cap in
his hand) gazing sentimentally from the saloon doorway with his lobster
eyes.  He was heard from the distance in a tone of injured innocence
reporting that the berthing master was alongside and that he wanted to
move the ship into the basin before the crew came on board.

His captain growled "Well, let him," and waved away the ulcerated and
pathetic soul behind these prominent eyes which lingered on the
offensive woman while the mate backed out slowly.  Anthony turned to
Flora.

"You could not have meant it.  You are as straight as they make them."

"I am trying to be."

"Then don't joke in that way.  Think of what would become of--me."

"Oh yes.  I forgot.  No, I didn't mean it.  It wasn't a joke.  It was
forgetfulness.  You wouldn't have been wronged.  I couldn't have gone.
I--I am too tired."

He saw she was swaying where she stood and restrained himself violently
from taking her into his arms, his frame trembling with fear as though
he had been tempted to an act of unparalleled treachery.  He stepped
aside and lowering his eyes pointed to the door of the stern-cabin.  It
was only after she passed by him that he looked up and thus he did not
see the angry glance she gave him before she moved on.  He looked after
her.  She tottered slightly just before reaching the door and flung it
to behind her nervously.

Anthony--he had felt this crash as if the door had been slammed inside
his very breast--stood for a moment without moving and then shouted for
Mrs Brown.  This was the steward's wife, his lucky inspiration to make
Flora comfortable.  "Mrs Brown!  Mrs Brown!"  At last she appeared
from somewhere.  "Mrs Anthony has come on board.  Just gone into the
cabin.  Hadn't you better see if you can be of any assistance?"

"Yes, sir."

And again he was alone with the situation he had created in the
hardihood and inexperience of his heart.  He thought he had better go on
deck.  In fact he ought to have been there before.  At any rate it would
be the usual thing for him to be on deck.  But a sound of muttering and
of faint thuds somewhere near by arrested his attention.  They proceeded
from Mr Smith's room, he perceived.  It was very extraordinary.  "He's
talking to himself," he thought.  "He seems to be thumping the bulkhead
with his fists--or his head."

Anthony's eyes grew big with wonder while he listened to these noises.
He became so attentive that he did not notice Mrs Brown till she
actually stopped before him for a moment to say:

"Mrs Anthony doesn't want any assistance, sir."

This was you understand the voyage before Mr Powell--young Powell
then--joined the _Ferndale_; chance having arranged that he should get
his start in life in that particular ship of all the ships then in the
port of London.  The most unrestful ship that ever sailed out of any
port on earth.  I am not alluding to her sea-going qualities.  Mr
Powell tells me she was as steady as a church.  I mean unrestful in the
sense, for instance in which this planet of ours is unrestful--a matter
of an uneasy atmosphere disturbed by passions, jealousies, loves, hates
and the troubles of transcendental good intentions, which, though
ethically valuable, I have no doubt cause often more unhappiness than
the plots of the most evil tendency.  For those who refuse to believe in
chance he, I mean Mr Powell, must have been obviously predestined to
add his native ingenuousness to the sum of all the others carried by the
honest ship _Ferndale_.  He was too ingenuous.  Everybody on board was,
exception being made of Mr Smith who, however, was simple enough in his
way, with that terrible simplicity of the fixed idea, for which there is
also another name men pronounce with dread and aversion.  His fixed idea
was to save his girl from the man who had possessed himself of her (I
use these words on purpose because the image they suggest was clearly in
Mr Smith's mind), possessed himself unfairly of her while he, the
father, was locked up.

"I won't rest till I have got you away from that man," he would murmur
to her after long periods of contemplation.  We know from Powell how he
used to sit on the skylight near the long deck-chair on which Flora was
reclining, gazing into her face from above with an air of guardianship
and investigation at the same time.

It is almost impossible to say if he ever had considered the event
rationally.  The avatar of de Barral into Mr Smith had not been
effected without a shock--that much one must recognise.  It may be that
it drove all practical considerations out of his mind, making room for
awful and precise visions which nothing could dislodge afterwards.  And
it might have been the tenacity, the unintelligent tenacity, of the man
who had persisted in throwing millions of other people's thrift into the
Lone Valley Railway, the Labrador Docks, the Spotted Leopard Copper
Mine, and other grotesque speculations exposed during the famous de
Barral trial, amongst murmurs of astonishment mingled with bursts of
laughter.  For it is in the Courts of Law that Comedy finds its last
refuge in our deadly serious world.  As to tears and lamentations, these
were not heard in the august precincts of comedy, because they were
indulged in privately in several thousand homes, where, with a fine
dramatic effect, hunger had taken the place of Thrift.

But there was one at least who did not laugh in court.  That person was
the accused.  The notorious de Barral did not laugh because he was
indignant.  He was impervious to words, to facts, to inferences.  It
would have been impossible to make him see his guilt or his folly--
either by evidence or argument--if anybody had tried to argue.

Neither did his daughter Flora try to argue with him.  The cruelty of
her position was so great, its complications so thorny, if I may express
myself so, that a passive attitude was yet her best refuge--as it had
been before her of so many women.

For that sort of inertia in woman is always enigmatic and therefore
menacing.  It makes one pause.  A woman may be a fool, a sleepy fool, an
agitated fool, a too awfully noxious fool, and she may even be simply
stupid.  But she is never dense.  She's never made of wood through and
through as some men are.  There is in woman always, somewhere, a spring.
Whatever men don't know about women (and it may be a lot or it may be
very little) men and even fathers do know that much.  And that is why so
many men are afraid of them.

Mr Smith I believe was afraid of his daughter's quietness though of
course he interpreted it in his own way.

He would, as Mr Powell depicts, sit on the skylight and bend over the
reclining girl, wondering what there was behind the lost gaze under the
darkened eyelids in the still eyes.  He would look and look and then he
would say, whisper rather, it didn't take much for his voice to drop to
a mere breath--he would declare, transferring his faded stare to the
horizon, that he would never rest till he had "got her away from that
man."

"You don't know what you are saying, papa."

She would try not to show her weariness, the nervous strain of these two
men's antagonism around her person which was the cause of her languid
attitudes.  For as a matter of fact the sea agreed with her.

As likely as not Anthony would be walking on the other side of the deck.
The strain was making him restless.  He couldn't sit still anywhere.
He had tried shutting himself up in his cabin; but that was no good.  He
would jump up to rush on deck and tramp, tramp up and down that poop
till he felt ready to drop, without being able to wear down the
agitation of his soul, generous indeed, but weighted by its envelope of
blood and muscle and bone; handicapped by the brain creating precise
images and everlastingly speculating, speculating--looking out for
signs, watching for symptoms.

And Mr Smith with a slight backward jerk of his small head at the
footsteps on the other side of the skylight would insist in his awful,
hopelessly gentle voice that he knew very well what he was saying.
Hadn't she given herself to that man while he was locked up.

"Helpless, in jail, with no one to think of, nothing to look forward to,
but my daughter.  And then when they let me out at last I find her
gone--for it amounts to this.  Sold.  Because you've sold yourself; you
know you have."

With his round unmoved face, a lot of fine white hair waving in the
wind-eddies of the spanker, his glance levelled over the sea he seemed
to be addressing the universe across her reclining form.  She would
protest sometimes.

"I wish you would not talk like this, papa.  You are only tormenting me,
and tormenting yourself."

"Yes, I am tormented enough," he admitted meaningly.  But it was not
talking about it that tormented him.  It was thinking of it.  And to sit
and look at it was worse for him than it possibly could have been for
her to go and give herself up, bad as that must have been.

"For of course you suffered.  Don't tell me you didn't?  You must have."

She had renounced very soon all attempts at protests.  It was useless.
It might have made things worse; and she did not want to quarrel with
her father, the only human being that really cared for her, absolutely,
evidently, completely--to the end.  There was in him no pity, no
generosity, nothing whatever of these fine things--it was for _her_, for
her very own self such as it was, that this human being cared.  This
certitude would have made her put up with worse torments.  For, of
course, she too was being tormented.  She felt also helpless, as if the
whole enterprise had been too much for her.  This is the sort of
conviction which makes for quietude.  She was becoming a fatalist.

What must have been rather appalling were the necessities of daily life,
the intercourse of current trifles.  That naturally had to go on.  They
wished good morning to each other, they sat down together to meals--and
I believe there would be a game of cards now and then in the evening,
especially at first.  What frightened her most was the duplicity of her
father, at least what looked like duplicity, when she remembered his
persistent, insistent whispers on deck.  However her father was a
taciturn person as far back as she could remember him best--on the
Parade.  It was she who chattered, never troubling herself to discover
whether he was pleased or displeased.  And now she couldn't fathom his
thoughts.  Neither did she chatter to him.  Anthony with a forced
friendly smile as if frozen to his lips seemed only too thankful at not
being made to speak.  Mr Smith sometimes forgot himself while studying
his hand so long that Flora had to recall him to himself by a murmured
"Papa--your lead."  Then he apologised by a faint as if inward
ejaculation "Beg your pardon, Captain."  Naturally she addressed Anthony
as Roderick and he addressed her as Flora.  This was all the acting that
was necessary to judge from the wincing twitch of the old man's mouth at
every uttered "Flora."  On hearing the rare "Rodericks" he had sometimes
a scornful grimace as faint and faded and colourless as his whole stiff
personality.

He would be the first to retire.  He was not infirm.  With him too the
life on board ship seemed to agree; but from a sense of duty, of
affection, or to placate his hidden fury, his daughter always
accompanied him to his state-room "to make him comfortable."  She
lighted his lamp, helped him into his dressing-gown or got him a book
from a bookcase fitted in there--but this last rarely, because Mr Smith
used to declare "I am no reader" with something like pride in his low
tones.  Very often after kissing her good-night on the forehead he would
treat her to some such fretful remark: "It's like being in jail--'pon my
word.  I suppose that man is out there waiting for you.  Head jailer!
Ough!"

She would smile vaguely; murmur a conciliatory "How absurd."  But once,
out of patience, she said quite sharply "Leave off.  It hurts me.  One
would think you hate me."

"It isn't you I hate," he went on monotonously breathing at her.  "No,
it isn't you.  But if I saw that you loved that man I think I could hate
you too."

That word struck straight at her heart.  "You wouldn't be the first
then," she muttered bitterly.  But he was busy with his fixed idea and
uttered an awfully equable "But you don't!  Unfortunate girl!"

She looked at him steadily for a time then said:

"Good-night, papa."

As a matter of fact Anthony very seldom waited for her alone at the
table with the scattered cards, glasses, water-jug, bottles and so on.
He took no more opportunities to be alone with her than was absolutely
necessary for the edification of Mrs Brown.  Excellent, faithful woman;
the wife of his still more excellent and faithful steward.  And Flora
wished all these excellent people, devoted to Anthony, she wished them
all further; and especially the nice, pleasant-spoken Mrs Brown with
her beady, mobile eyes and her "Yes certainly, ma'am," which seemed to
her to have a mocking sound.  And so this short trip--to the Western
Islands only--came to an end.  It was so short that when young Powell
joined the _Ferndale_ by a memorable stroke of chance, no more than
seven months had elapsed since the--let us say the liberation of the
convict de Barral and his avatar into Mr Smith.

For the time the ship was loading in London Anthony took a cottage near
a little country station in Essex, to house Mr Smith and Mr Smith's
daughter.  It was altogether his idea.  How far it was necessary for Mr
Smith to seek rural retreat I don't know.  Perhaps to some extent it was
a judicious arrangement.  There were some obligations incumbent on the
liberated de Barral (in connection with reporting himself to the police
I imagine) which Mr Smith was not anxious to perform.  De Barral had to
vanish; the theory was that de Barral had vanished, and it had to be
upheld.  Poor Flora liked the country, even if the spot had nothing more
to recommend it than its retired character.

Now and then Captain Anthony ran down; but as the station was a real
wayside one, with no early morning trains up, he could never stay for
more than the afternoon.  It appeared that he must sleep in town so as
to be early on board his ship.  The weather was magnificent and whenever
the captain of the _Ferndale_ was seen on a brilliant afternoon coming
down the road Mr Smith would seize his stick and toddle off for a
solitary walk.  But whether he would get tired or because it gave him
some satisfaction to see "that man" go away--or for some cunning reason
of his own, he was always back before the hour of Anthony's departure.
On approaching the cottage he would see generally "that man" lying on
the grass in the orchard at some distance from his daughter seated in a
chair brought out of the cottage's living-room.  Invariably Mr Smith
made straight for them and as invariably had the feeling that his
approach was not disturbing a very intimate conversation.  He sat with
them, through a silent hour or so, and then it would be time for Anthony
to go.  Mr Smith, perhaps from discretion, would casually vanish a
minute or so before, and then watch through the diamond panes of an
upstairs room "that man" take a lingering look outside the gate at the
invisible Flora, lift his hat, like a caller, and go off down the road.
Then only Mr Smith would join his daughter again.

These were the bad moments for her.  Not always, of course, but
frequently.  It was nothing extraordinary to hear Mr Smith begin gently
with some observation like this:

"That man is getting tired of you."

He would never pronounce Anthony's name.  It was always "that man."

Generally she would remain mute with wide open eyes gazing at nothing
between the gnarled fruit trees.  Once, however, she got up and walked
into the cottage.  Mr Smith followed her carrying the chair.  He banged
it down resolutely and in that smooth inexpressive tone so many ears
used to bend eagerly to catch when it came from the Great de Barral he
said:

"Let's get away."

She had the strength of mind not to spin round.  On the contrary she
went on to a shabby bit of a mirror on the wall.  In the greenish glass
her own face looked far off like the livid face of a drowned corpse at
the bottom of a pool.  She laughed faintly.

"I tell you that man's getting--"

"Papa," she interrupted him.  "I have no illusions as to myself.  It has
happened to me before but--"

Her voice failing her suddenly her father struck in with quite an
unwonted animation.  "Let's make a rush for it, then."

Having mastered both her fright and her bitterness, she turned round,
sat down and allowed her astonishment to be seen.  Mr Smith sat down
too, his knees together and bent at right angles, his thin legs parallel
to each other and his hands resting on the arms of the wooden armchair.
His hair had grown long, his head was set stiffly, there was something
fatuously venerable in his aspect.

"You can't care for him.  Don't tell me.  I understand your motive.  And
I have called you an unfortunate girl.  You are that as much as if you
had gone on the streets.  Yes.  Don't interrupt me, Flora.  I was
everlastingly being interrupted at the trial and I can't stand it any
more.  I won't be interrupted by my own child.  And when I think that it
is on the very day before they let me out that you..."

He had wormed this fact out of her by that time because Flora had got
tired of evading the question.  He had been very much struck and
distressed.  Was that the trust she had in him?  Was that a proof of
confidence and love?  The very day before!  Never given him even half a
chance.  It was as at the trial.  They never gave him a chance.  They
would not give him time.  And there was his own daughter acting exactly
as his bitterest enemies had done.  Not giving him time!

The monotony of that subdued voice nearly lulled her dismay to sleep.
She listened to the unavoidable things he was saying.

"But what induced that man to marry you?  Of course he's a gentleman.
One can see that.  And that makes it worse.  Gentlemen don't understand
anything about city affairs--finance.  Why!--the people who started the
cry after me were a firm of gentlemen.  The counsel, the judge--all
gentlemen--quite out of it!  No notion of ...  And then he's a sailor
too.  Just a skipper--"

"My grandfather was nothing else," she interrupted.  And he made an
angular gesture of impatience.

"Yes.  But what does a silly sailor know of business?  Nothing.  No
conception.  He can have no idea of what it means to be the daughter of
Mr de Barral--even after his enemies had smashed him.  What on earth
induced him--"

She made a movement because the level voice was getting on her nerves.
And he paused, but only to go on again in the same tone with the remark:

"Of course you are pretty.  And that's why you are lost--like many other
poor girls.  Unfortunate is the word for you."

She said: "It may be.  Perhaps it is the right word; but listen, papa.
I mean to be honest."

He began to exhale more speeches.

"Just the sort of man to get tired and then leave you and go off with
his beastly ship.  And anyway you can never be happy with him.  Look at
his face.  I want to save you.  You see I was not perhaps a very good
husband to your poor mother.  She would have done better to have left me
long before she died.  I have been thinking it all over.  I won't have
you unhappy."

He ran his eyes over her with an attention which was surprisingly
noticeable.  Then said, "H'm!  Yes.  Let's clear out before it is too
late.  Quietly, you and I."

She said as if inspired and with that calmness which despair often
gives: "There is no money to go away with, papa."

He rose up straightening himself as though he were a hinged figure.  She
said decisively:

"And of course you wouldn't think of deserting me, papa?"

"Of course not," sounded his subdued tone.  And he left her, gliding
away with his walk which Mr Powell described to me as being as level
and wary as his voice.  He walked as if he were carrying a glass full of
water on his head.

Flora naturally said nothing to Anthony of that edifying conversation.
His generosity might have taken alarm at it and she did not want to be
left behind to manage her father alone.  And moreover she was too
honest.  She would be honest at whatever cost.  She would not be the
first to speak.  Never.  And the thought came into her head: "I am
indeed an unfortunate creature!"

It was by the merest coincidence that Anthony coming for the afternoon
two days later had a talk with Mr Smith in the orchard.  Flora for some
reason or other had left them for a moment; and Anthony took that
opportunity to be frank with Mr Smith.  He said: "It seems to me, sir,
that you think Flora has not done very well for herself.  Well, as to
that I can't say anything.  All I want you to know is that I have tried
to do the right thing."  And then he explained that he had willed
everything he was possessed of to her.  "She didn't tell you, I
suppose?"

Mr Smith shook his head slightly.  And Anthony, trying to be friendly,
was just saying that he proposed to keep the ship away from home for at
least two years: "I think, sir, that from every point of view it would
be best," when Flora came back and the conversation, cut short in that
direction, languished and died.  Later in the evening, after Anthony had
been gone for hours, on the point of separating for the night, Mr Smith
remarked suddenly to his daughter after a long period of brooding:

"A will is nothing.  One tears it up.  One makes another."  Then after
reflecting for a minute he added unemotionally:

"One tells lies about it."

Flora, patient, steeled against every hurt and every disgust to the
point of wondering at herself, said: "You push your dislike of--of--
Roderick too far, papa.  You have no regard for me.  You hurt me."

He, as ever inexpressive to the point of terrifying her sometimes by the
contrast of his placidity and his words, turned away from her a pair of
faded eyes.

"I wonder how far _your_ dislike goes," he began.  "His very name sticks
in your throat.  I've noticed it.  It hurts me.  What do you think of
that?  You might remember that you are not the only person that's hurt
by your folly, by your hastiness, by your recklessness."  He brought
back his eyes to her face.  "And the very day before they were going to
let me out."  His feeble voice failed him altogether, the narrow
compressed lips only trembling for a time before he added with that
extraordinary equanimity of tone, "I call it sinful."

Flora made no answer.  She judged it simpler, kinder and certainly safer
to let him talk himself out.  This, Mr Smith, being naturally taciturn,
never took very long to do.  And we must not imagine that this sort of
thing went on all the time.  She had a few good days in that cottage.
The absence of Anthony was a relief and his visits were pleasurable.
She was quieter.  He was quieter too.  She was almost sorry when the
time to join the ship arrived.  It was a moment of anguish, of
excitement; they arrived at the dock in the evening and Flora after
"making her father comfortable" according to established usage lingered
in the state-room long enough to notice that he was surprised.  She
caught his pale eyes observing her quite stonily.  Then she went out
after a cheery good-night.

Contrary to her hopes she found Anthony yet in the saloon.  Sitting in
his armchair at the head of the table he was picking up some business
papers which he put hastily in his breast-pocket and got up.  He asked
her if her day, travelling up to town and then doing some shopping, had
tired her.  She shook her head.  Then he wanted to know in a
half-jocular way how she felt about going away, and for a long voyage
this time.

"Does it matter how I feel?" she asked in a tone that cast a gloom over
his face.  He answered with repressed violence which she did not expect:

"No, it does not matter, because I cannot go without you.  I've told
you...  You know it.  You don't think I could."

"I assure you I haven't the slightest wish to evade my obligations," she
said steadily.  "Even if I could.  Even if I dared, even if I had to die
for it!"

He looked thunderstruck.  They stood facing each other at the end of the
saloon.  Anthony stuttered.  "Oh no.  You won't die.  You don't mean it.
You have taken kindly to the sea."

She laughed, but she felt angry.

"No, I don't mean it.  I tell you I don't mean to evade my obligations.
I shall live on ... feeling a little crushed, nevertheless."

"Crushed!" he repeated.  "What's crushing you?"

"Your magnanimity," she said sharply.  But her voice was softened after
a time.  "Yet I don't know.  There is a perfection in it--do you
understand me, Roderick?--which makes it almost possible to bear."

He sighed, looked away, and remarked that it was time to put out the
lamp in the saloon.  The permission was only till ten o'clock.

"But you needn't mind that so much in your cabin.  Just see that the
curtains of the ports are drawn close and that's all.  The steward might
have forgotten to do it.  He lighted your reading lamp in there before
he went ashore for a last evening with his wife.  I don't know if it was
wise to get rid of Mrs Brown.  You will have to look after yourself,
Flora."

He was quite anxious; but Flora as a matter of fact congratulated
herself on the absence of Mrs Brown.  No sooner had she closed the door
of her state-room than she murmured fervently, "Yes!  Thank goodness,
she is gone."  There would be no gentle knock, followed by her
appearance with her equivocal stare and the intolerable: "Can I do
anything for you, ma'am?" which poor Flora had learned to fear and hate
more than any voice or any words on board that ship--her only refuge
from the world which had no use for her for her imperfections and for
her troubles.

Mrs Brown had been very much vexed at her dismissal.  The Browns were a
childless couple and the arrangement had suited them perfectly.  Their
resentment was very bitter.  Mrs Brown had to remain ashore alone with
her rage, but the steward was nursing his on board.  Poor Flora had no
greater enemy, the aggrieved mate had no greater sympathiser.  And Mrs
Brown, with a woman's quick power of observation and inference (the
putting of two and two together) had come to a certain conclusion which
she had imparted to her husband before leaving the ship.  The morose
steward permitted himself once to make an allusion to it in Powell's
hearing.  It was in the officers' mess-room at the end of a meal while
he lingered after putting a fruit pie on the table.  He and the chief
mate started a dialogue about the alarming change in the captain, the
sallow steward looking down with a sinister frown, Franklin rolling
upwards his eyes, sentimental in a red face.  Young Powell had heard a
lot of that sort of thing by that time.  It was growing monotonous; it
had always sounded to him a little absurd.  He struck in impatiently
with the remark that such lamentations over a man merely because he had
taken a wife seemed to him like lunacy.

Franklin muttered, "Depends on what the wife is up to."  The steward
leaning against the bulkhead near the door glowered at Powell, that
newcomer, that ignoramus, that stranger without right or privileges.  He
snarled:

"Wife!  Call her a wife, do you?"

"What the devil do you mean by this?" exclaimed young Powell.

"I know what I know.  My old woman has not been six months on board for
nothing.  You had better ask her when we get back."

And meeting sullenly the withering stare of Mr Powell the steward
retreated backwards.

Our young friend turned at once upon the mate.  "And you let that
confounded bottle-washer talk like this before you, Mr Franklin.  Well,
I am astonished."

"Oh, it isn't what you think.  It isn't what you think."  Mr Franklin
looked more apoplectic than ever.  "If it comes to that I _could_
astonish you.  But it's no use.  I myself can hardly ...  You couldn't
understand.  I hope you won't try to make mischief.  There was a time,
young fellow, when I would have dared any man--any man, you hear?--to
make mischief between me and Captain Anthony.  But not now.  Not now.
There's a change!  Not in me though..."

Young Powell rejected with indignation any suggestion of making
mischief.  "Who do you take me for?" he cried.  "Only you had better
tell that steward to be careful what he says before me or I'll spoil his
good looks for him for a month and will leave him to explain the why of
it to the captain the best way he can."

This speech established Powell as a champion of Mrs Anthony.  Nothing
more bearing on the question was ever said before him.  He did not care
for the steward's black looks; Franklin, never conversational even at
the best of times and avoiding now the only topic near his heart,
addressed him only on matters of duty.  And for that, too, Powell cared
very little.  The woes of the apoplectic mate had begun to bore him long
before.  Yet he felt lonely a bit at times.  Therefore the little
intercourse with Mrs Anthony either in one dog-watch or the other was
something to be looked forward to.  The captain did not mind it.  That
was evident from his manner.  One night he inquired (they were then
alone on the poop) what they had been talking about that evening?
Powell had to confess that it was about the ship.  Mrs Anthony had been
asking him questions.

"Takes interest--eh?" jerked out the captain moving rapidly up and down
the weather-side of the poop.

"Yes, sir.  Mrs Anthony seems to get hold wonderfully of what one's
telling her."

"Sailor's granddaughter.  One of the old school.  Old sea-dog of the
best kind, I believe," ejaculated the captain, swinging past his
motionless second officer and leaving the words behind him like a trail
of sparks succeeded by a perfect conversational darkness, because, for
the next two hours till he left the deck, he didn't open his lips again.

On another occasion ... we mustn't forget that the ship had crossed the
line and was adding up south latitude every day by then--on another
occasion, about seven in the evening, Powell on duty, heard his name
uttered softly in the companion.  The captain was on the stairs,
thin-faced, his eyes sunk, on his arm a Shetland wool wrap.

"Mr Powell--here."

"Yes, sir."

"Give this to Mrs Anthony.  Evenings are getting chilly."

And the haggard face sank out of sight.  Mrs Anthony was surprised on
seeing the shawl.

"The captain wants you to put this on," explained young Powell, and as
she raised herself in her seat he dropped it on her shoulders.  She
wrapped herself up closely.

"Where was the captain?" she asked.

"He was in the companion.  Called me on purpose," said Powell, and then
retreated discreetly, because she looked as though she didn't want to
talk any more that evening.  Mr Smith--the old gentleman--was as usual
sitting on the skylight near her head, brooding over the long chair but
by no means inimical, as far as his unreadable face went, to those
conversations of the two youngest people on board.  In fact they seemed
to give him some pleasure.  Now and then he would raise his faded china
eyes to the animated face of Mr Powell thoughtfully.  When the young
sailor was by, the old man became less rigid, and when his daughter, on
rare occasions, smiled at some artless tale of Mr Powell, the
inexpressive face of Mr Smith reflected dimly that flash of evanescent
mirth.  For Mr Powell had come now to entertain his captain's wife with
anecdotes from the not very distant past when he was a boy, on board
various ships,--funny things do happen on board ship.  Flora was quite
surprised at times to find herself amused.  She was even heard to laugh
twice in the course of a month.  It was not a loud sound but it was
startling enough at the after-end of the _Ferndale_ where low tones or
silence were the rule.  The second time this happened the captain
himself must have been startled somewhere down below; because he emerged
from the depths of his unobtrusive existence and began his tramping on
the opposite side of the poop.

Almost immediately he called his young second officer over to him.  This
was not done in displeasure.  The glance he fastened on Mr Powell
conveyed a sort of approving wonder.  He engaged him in desultory
conversation as if for the only purpose of keeping a man who could
provoke such a sound, near his person.  Mr Powell felt himself liked.
He felt it.  Liked by that haggard, restless man who threw at him
disconnected phrases to which his answers were, "Yes, sir", "No, sir,"
"Oh, certainly", "I suppose so, sir,"--and might have been clearly
anything else for all the other cared.

It was then, Mr Powell told me, that he discovered in himself an
already old-established liking for Captain Anthony.  He also felt sorry
for him without being able to discover the origins of that sympathy of
which he had become so suddenly aware.

Meantime Mr Smith, bending forward stiffly as though he had a hinged
back, was speaking to his daughter.

She was a child no longer.  He wanted to know if she believed in--in
hell.  In eternal punishment?

His peculiar voice, as if filtered through cotton-wool was inaudible on
the other side of the deck.  Poor Flora, taken very much unawares, made
an inarticulate murmur, shook her head vaguely, and glanced in the
direction of the pacing Anthony who was not looking her way.  It was no
use glancing in that direction.  Of young Powell, leaning against the
mizzen-mast and facing his captain she could only see the shoulder and
part of a blue serge back.

And the unworried, unaccented voice of her father went on tormenting
her.

"You see, you must understand.  When I came out of jail it was with joy.
That is, my soul was fairly torn in two--but anyway to see you happy--I
had made up my mind to that.  Once I could be sure that you were happy
then of course I would have had no reason to care for life--strictly
speaking--which is all right for an old man; though naturally--no reason
to wish for death either.  But this sort of life!  What sense, what
meaning, what value has it either for you or for me?  It's just sitting
down to look at the death, that's coming, coming.  What else is it?  I
don't know how you can put up with that.  I don't think you can stand it
for long.  Some day you will jump overboard."

Captain Anthony had stopped for a moment staring ahead from the break of
the poop, and poor Flora sent at his back a look of despairing appeal
which would have moved a heart of stone.  But as though she had done
nothing he did not stir in the least.  She got out of the long chair and
went towards the companion.  Her father followed carrying a few small
objects, a handbag, her handkerchief, a book.  They went down together.

It was only then that Captain Anthony turned, looked at the place they
had vacated and resumed his tramping, but not his desultory conversation
with his second officer.  His nervous exasperation had grown so much
that now very often he used to lose control of his voice.  If he did not
watch himself it would suddenly die in his throat.  He had to make sure
before he ventured on the simplest saying, an order, a remark on the
wind, a simple good morning.  That's why his utterance was abrupt, his
answers to people startlingly brusque and often not forthcoming at all.

It happens to the most resolute of men to find himself at grips not only
with unknown forces, but with a well-known force the real might of which
he had not understood.  Anthony had discovered that he was not the proud
master but the chafing captive of his generosity.  It rose in front of
him like a wall which his respect for himself forbade him to scale.  He
said to himself: "Yes, I was a fool--but she has trusted me!"  Trusted!
A terrible word to any man somewhat exceptional in a world in which
success has never been found in renunciation and good faith.  And it
must also be said, in order not to make Anthony more stupidly sublime
than he was, that the behaviour of Flora kept him at a distance.  The
girl was afraid to add to the exasperation of her father.  It was her
unhappy lot to be made more wretched by the only affection which she
could not suspect.  She could not be angry with it, however, and out of
deference for that exaggerated sentiment she hardly dared to look
otherwise than by stealth at the man whose masterful compassion had
carried her off.  And quite unable to understand the extent of Anthony's
delicacy, she said to herself that "he didn't care."  He probably was
beginning at bottom to detest her--like the governess, like the maiden
lady, like the German woman, like Mrs Fyne, like Mr Fyne--only he was
extraordinary, he was generous.  At the same time she had moments of
irritation.  He was violent, headstrong--perhaps stupid.  Well, he had
had his way.

A man who has had his way is seldom happy, for generally he finds that
the way does not lead very far on this earth of desires which can never
be fully satisfied.  Anthony had entered with extreme precipitation the
enchanted gardens of Armida saying to himself "At last!"  As to Armida,
herself, he was not going to offer her any violence.  But now he had
discovered that all the enchantment was in Armida herself, in Armida's
smiles.  This Armida did not smile.  She existed, unapproachable, behind
the blank wall of his renunciation.  His force, fit for action,
experienced the impatience, the indignation, almost the despair of his
vitality arrested, bound, stilled, progressively worn down, frittered
away by Time; by that force blind and insensible, which seems inert and
yet uses one's life up by its imperceptible action, dropping minute
after minute on one's living heart like drops of water wearing down a
stone.

He upbraided himself.  What else could he have expected?  He had rushed
in like a ruffian; he had dragged the poor defenceless thing by the hair
of her head, as it were, on board that ship.  It was really atrocious.
Nothing assured him that his person could be attractive to this or any
other woman.  And his proceedings were enough in themselves to make
anyone odious.  He must have been bereft of his senses.  She must
fatally detest and fear him.  Nothing could make up for such brutality.
And yet somehow he resented this very attitude which seemed to him
completely justifiable.  Surely he was not too monstrous (morally) to be
looked at frankly sometimes.  But no!  She wouldn't.  Well, perhaps,
some day...  Only he was not going ever to attempt to beg for
forgiveness.  With the repulsion she felt for his person she would
certainly misunderstand the most guarded words, the most careful
advances.  Never!  Never!

It would occur to Anthony at the end of such meditations that death was
not an unfriendly visitor after all.  No wonder then that even young
Powell, his faculties having been put on the alert, began to think that
there was something unusual about the man who had given him his chance
in life.  Yes, decidedly, his captain was "strange."  There was
something wrong somewhere, he said to himself, never guessing that his
young and candid eyes were in the presence of a passion profound,
tyrannical and mortal, discovering its own existence, astounded at
feeling itself helpless and dismayed at finding itself incurable.

Powell had never before felt this mysterious uneasiness so strongly as
on that evening when it had been his good fortune to make Mrs Anthony
laugh a little by his artless prattle.  Standing out of the way, he had
watched his captain walk the weather-side of the poop, he took full
cognizance of his liking for that inexplicably strange man and saw him
swerve towards the companion and go down below with sympathetic if
utterly uncomprehending eyes.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Smith came up alone and manifested a desire for
a little conversation.  He, too, if not so mysterious as the captain,
was not very comprehensible to Mr Powell's uninformed candour.  He
often favoured thus the second officer.  His talk alluded somewhat
enigmatically and often without visible connection to Mr Powell's
friendliness towards himself and his daughter.  "For I am well aware
that we have no friends on board this ship, my dear young man," he would
add, "except yourself.  Flora feels that too."

And Mr Powell, flattered and embarrassed, could but emit a vague murmur
of protest.  For the statement was true in a sense, though the fact was
in itself insignificant.  The feelings of the ship's company could not
possibly matter to the captain's wife and to Mr Smith--her father.  Why
the latter should so often allude to it was what surprised our Mr
Powell.  This was by no means the first occasion.  More like the
twentieth rather.  And in his weak voice, with his monotonous
intonation, leaning over the rail and looking at the water the other
continued this conversation, or rather his remarks, remarks of such a
monstrous nature that Mr Powell had no option but to accept them for
gruesome jesting.

"For instance," said Mr Smith, "that mate, Franklin, I believe he would
just as soon see us both overboard as not."

"It's not so bad as that," laughed Mr Powell, feeling uncomfortable,
because his mind did not accommodate itself easily to exaggeration of
statement.  "He isn't a bad chap really," he added, very conscious of
Mr Franklin's offensive manner of which instances were not far to seek.
"He's such a fool as to be jealous.  He has been with the captain for
years.  It's not for me to say, perhaps, but I think the captain has
spoiled all that gang of old servants.  They are like a lot of pet old
dogs.  Wouldn't let anybody come near him if they could help it.  I've
never seen anything like it.  And the second mate, I believe, was like
that too."

"Well, he isn't here, luckily.  There would have been one more enemy,"
said Mr Smith.  "There's enough of them without him.  And you being
here instead of him makes it much more pleasant for my daughter and
myself.  One feels there may be a friend in need.  For really, for a
woman all alone on board ship amongst a lot of unfriendly men..."

"But Mrs Anthony is not alone," exclaimed Powell.  "There's you, and
there's the..."

Mr Smith interrupted him.

"Nobody's immortal.  And there are times when one feels ashamed to live.
Such an evening as this for instance."

It was a lovely evening; the colours of a splendid sunset had died out
and the breath of a warm breeze seemed to have smoothed out the sea.
Away to the south the sheet lightning was like the flashing of an
enormous lantern hidden under the horizon.  In order to change the
conversation Mr Powell said:

"Anyway no one can charge you with being a Jonah, Mr Smith.  We have
had a magnificent quick passage so far.  The captain ought to be
pleased.  And I suppose you are not sorry either."

This diversion was not successful.  Mr Smith emitted a sort of bitter
chuckle and said: "Jonah!  That's the fellow that was thrown overboard
by some sailors.  It seems to me it's very easy at sea to get rid of a
person one does not like.  The sea does not give up its dead as the
earth does."

"You forget the whale, sir," said young Powell.

Mr Smith gave a start.  "Eh?  What whale?  Oh!  Jonah.  I wasn't
thinking of Jonah.  I was thinking of this passage which seems so quick
to you.  But only think what it is to me?  It isn't a life, going about
the sea like this.  And, for instance, if one were to fall ill, there
isn't a doctor to find out what's the matter with one.  It's worrying.
It makes me anxious at times."

"Is Mrs Anthony not feeling well?" asked Powell.  But Mr Smith's
remark was not meant for Mrs Anthony.  She was well.  He himself was
well.  It was the captain's health that did not seem quite satisfactory.
Had Mr Powell noticed his appearance?

Mr Powell didn't know enough of the captain to judge.  He couldn't
tell.  But he observed thoughtfully that Mr Franklin had been saying
the same thing.  And Franklin had known the captain for years.  The mate
was quite worried about it.

This intelligence startled Mr Smith considerably.  "Does he think he is
in danger of dying?" he exclaimed with an animation quite extraordinary
for him, which horrified Mr Powell.

"Heavens!  Die!  No!  Don't you alarm yourself, sir.  I've never heard a
word about danger from Mr Franklin."

"Well, well," sighed Mr Smith and left the poop for the saloon rather
abruptly.

As a matter of fact Mr Franklin had been on deck for some considerable
time.  He had come to relieve young Powell; but seeing him engaged in
talk with the "enemy"--with one of the "enemies" at least--had kept at a
distance, which, the poop of the _Ferndale_ being over seventy feet
long, he had no difficulty in doing.  Mr Powell saw him at the head of
the ladder leaning on his elbow, melancholy and silent.  "Oh!  Here you
are, sir."

"Here I am.  Here I've been ever since six o'clock.  Didn't want to
interrupt the pleasant conversation.  If you like to put in half of your
watch below jawing with a dear friend, that's not my affair.  Funny
taste though."

"He isn't a bad chap," said the impartial Powell.

The mate snorted angrily, tapping the deck with his foot; then: "Isn't
he?  Well, give him my love when you come together again for another
nice long yarn."

"I say, Mr Franklin, I wonder the captain don't take offence at your
manners."

"The captain.  I wish to goodness he would start a row with me.  Then I
should know at least I am somebody on board.  I'd welcome it, Mr
Powell.  I'd rejoice.  And dam' me I would talk back too till I roused
him.  He's a shadow of himself.  He walks about his ship like a ghost.
He's fading away right before our eyes.  But of course you don't see.
You don't care a hang.  Why should you?"

Mr Powell did not wait for more.  He went down on the main deck.
Without taking the mate's jeremiads seriously he put them beside the
words of Mr Smith.  He had grown already attached to Captain Anthony.
There was something not only attractive but compelling in the man.  Only
it is very difficult for youth to believe in the menace of death.  Not
in the fact itself, but in its proximity to a breathing, moving,
talking, superior human being, showing no sign of disease.  And Mr
Powell thought that this talk was all nonsense.  But his curiosity was
awakened.  There was something, and at any time some circumstance might
occur ...  No, he would never find out ...  There was nothing to find
out, most likely.  Mr Powell went to his room where he tried to read a
book he had already read a good many times.  Presently a bell rang for
the officers' supper.



PART TWO, CHAPTER 6.

A MOONLESS NIGHT, THICK WITH STARS ABOVE, VERY DARK ON THE WATER.

In the mess-room Powell found Mr Franklin hacking at a piece of cold
salt beef with a table knife.  The mate, fiery in the face and rolling
his eyes over that task, explained that the carver belonging to the
mess-room could not be found.  The steward, present also, complained
savagely of the cook.  The fellow got things into his galley and then
lost them.  Mr Franklin tried to pacify him with mournful firmness.

"There, there!  That will do.  We who have been all these years together
in the ship have other things to think about than quarrelling among
ourselves."

Mr Powell thought with exasperation: "Here he goes again," for this
utterance had nothing cryptic for him.  The steward having withdrawn
morosely, he was not surprised to hear the mate strike the usual note.
That morning the mizzen topsail-tie had carried away (probably a
defective link) and something like forty feet of chain and wire-rope,
mixed up with a few heavy iron blocks, had crashed down from aloft on
the poop with a terrifying racket.

"Did you notice the captain then, Mr Powell.  Did you notice?"

Powell confessed frankly that he was too scared himself when all that
lot of gear came down on deck to notice anything.

"The gin-block missed his head by an inch," went on the mate
impressively.  "I wasn't three feet from him.  And what did he do?  Did
he shout, or jump, or even look aloft to see if the yard wasn't coming
down too about our ears in a dozen pieces?  It's a marvel it didn't.
No, he just stopped short--no wonder; he must have felt the wind of that
iron gin-block on his face--looked down at it, there, lying close to his
foot--and went on again.  I believe he didn't even blink.  It isn't
natural.  The man is stupefied."

He sighed ridiculously and Mr Powell had suppressed a grin, when the
mate added as if he couldn't contain himself:

"He will be taking to drink next.  Mark my words.  That's the next
thing."

Mr Powell was disgusted.

"You are so fond of the captain and yet you don't seem to care what you
say about him.  I haven't been with him for seven years, but I know he
isn't the sort of man that takes to drink.  And then--why the devil
should he?"

"Why the devil, you ask.  Devil--eh?  Well, no man is safe from the
devil--and that's answer enough for you," wheezed Mr Franklin not
unkindly.  "There was a time, a long time ago, when I nearly took to
drink myself.  What do you say to that?"

Mr Powell expressed a polite incredulity.  The thick, congested mate
seemed on the point of bursting with despondency.  "That was bad example
though.  I was young and fell into dangerous company, made a fool of
myself--yes, as true as you see me sitting here.  Drank to forget.
Thought it a great dodge."

Powell looked at the grotesque Franklin with awakened interest and with
that half-amused sympathy with which we receive unprovoked confidences
from men with whom we have no sort of affinity.  And at the same time he
began to look upon him more seriously.  Experience has its prestige.
And the mate continued:

"If it hadn't been for the old lady, I would have gone to the devil.  I
remembered her in time.  Nothing like having an old lady to look after
to steady a chap and make him face things.  But as bad luck would have
it, Captain Anthony has no mother living, not a blessed soul belonging
to him as far as I know.  Oh, ay, I fancy he said once something to me
of a sister.  But she's married.  She don't need him.  Yes.  In the old
days he used to talk to me as if we had been brothers," exaggerated the
mate sentimentally.  "`Franklin,'--he would say--`this ship is my
nearest relation and she isn't likely to turn against me.  And I suppose
you are the man I've known the longest in the world.'  That's how he
used to speak to me.  Can I turn my back on him?  He has turned his back
on his ship; that's what it has come to.  He has no one now but his old
Franklin.  But what's a fellow to do to put things back as they were and
should be.  Should be--I say!"

His starting eyes had a terrible fixity.  Mr Powell's irresistible
thought, "he resembles a boiled lobster in distress," was followed by
annoyance.  "Good Lord," he said, "you don't mean to hint that Captain
Anthony has fallen into bad company.  What is it you want to save him
from?"

"I do mean it," affirmed the mate, and the very absurdity of the
statement made it impressive--because it seemed so absolutely audacious.
"Well, you have a cheek," said young Powell, feeling mentally helpless.
"I have a notion the captain would half kill you if he were to know how
you carry on."

"And welcome," uttered the fervently devoted Franklin.  "I am willing,
if he would only clear the ship afterwards of that ...  You are but a
youngster and you may go and tell him what you like.  Let him knock the
stuffing out of his old Franklin first and think it over afterwards.
Anything to pull him together.  But of course you wouldn't.  You are all
right.  Only you don't know that things are sometimes different from
what they look.  There are friendships that are no friendships, and
marriages that are no marriages...  Phoo!  Likely to be right--wasn't
it?  Never a hint to me.  I go off on leave and when I come back, there
it is--all over, settled!  Not a word beforehand.  No warning.  If only:
`What do you think of it, Franklin?'--or anything of the sort.  And
that's a man who hardly ever did anything without asking my advice.
Why!  He couldn't take over a new coat from the tailor without ... first
thing, directly the fellow came on board with some new clothes, whether
in London or in China, it would be: `Pass the word along there for Mr
Franklin.  Mr Franklin wanted in the cabin.'  In I would go.  `Just
look at my back, Franklin.  Fits all right, doesn't it?'  And I would
say: `First-rate, sir,' or whatever was the truth of it.  That or
anything else.  Always the truth of it.  Always.  And well he knew it;
and that's why he dared not speak right out.  Talking about workmen,
alterations, cabins...  Phoo! ... instead of a straightforward--`Wish me
joy, Mr Franklin!'  Yes, that was the way to let me know.  God only
knows what they are--perhaps she isn't his daughter any more than she
is...  She doesn't resemble that old fellow.  Not a bit.  Not a bit.
It's very awful.  You may well open your mouth, young man.  But for
goodness' sake, you who are mixed up with that lot, keep your eyes and
ears open too in case--in case of--I don't know what.  Anything.  One
wonders what can happen here at sea!  Nothing.  Yet when a man is called
a jailer behind his back."

Mr Franklin hid his face in his hands for a moment and Powell shut his
mouth, which indeed had been open.  He slipped out of the mess-room
noiselessly.  "The mate's crazy," he thought.  It was his firm
conviction.  Nevertheless, that evening, he felt his inner tranquillity
disturbed at last by the force and obstinacy of this craze.  He couldn't
dismiss it with the contempt it deserved.  Had the word "jailer" really
been pronounced?  A strange word for the mate to even _imagine_ he had
heard.  A senseless, unlikely word.  But this word being the only clear
and definite statement in these grotesque and dismal ravings was
comparatively restful to his mind.  Powell's mind rested on it still
when he came up at eight o'clock to take charge of the deck.  It was a
moonless night, thick with stars above, very dark on the water.  A
steady air from the west kept the sails asleep.  Franklin mustered both
watches in low tones as if for a funeral, then approaching Powell:

"The course is east-south-east," said the chief mate distinctly.

"East-south-east, sir."

"Everything's set, Mr Powell."

"All right, sir."

The other lingered, his sentimental eyes gleamed silvery in the shadowy
face.  "A quiet night before us.  I don't know that there are any
special orders.  A settled, quiet night.  I dare say you won't see the
captain.  Once upon a time this was the watch he used to come up and
start a chat with either of us then on deck.  But now he sits in that
infernal stern-cabin and mopes.  Jailer--eh?"

Mr Powell walked away from the mate and when at some distance said,
"Damn!" quite heartily.  It was a confounded nuisance.  It had ceased to
be funny; that hostile word "jailer" had given the situation an air of
reality.

Franklin's grotesque mortal envelope had disappeared from the poop to
seek its needful repose, if only the worried soul would let it rest a
while.  Mr Powell, half sorry for the thick little man, wondered
whether it would let him.  For himself, he recognised that the charm of
a quiet watch on deck when one may let one's thoughts roam in space and
time had been spoiled without remedy.  What shocked him most was the
implied aspersion of complicity on Mrs Anthony.  It angered him.  In
his own words to me, he felt very "enthusiastic" about Mrs Anthony.
"Enthusiastic" is good; especially as he couldn't exactly explain to me
what he meant by it.  But he felt enthusiastic, he says.  That silly
Franklin must have been dreaming.  That was it.  He had dreamed it all.
Ass.  Yet the injurious word stuck in Powell's mind with its associated
ideas of prisoner, of escape.  He became very uncomfortable.  And just
then (it might have been half an hour or more since he had relieved
Franklin) just then Mr Smith came up on the poop alone, like a gliding
shadow and leaned over the rail by his side.  Young Powell was affected
disagreeably by his presence.  He made a movement to go away but the
other began to talk--and Powell remained where he was as if retained by
a mysterious compulsion.  The conversation started by Mr Smith had
nothing peculiar.  He began to talk of mail-boats in general and in the
end seemed anxious to discover what were the services from Port
Elizabeth to London.  Mr Powell did not know for certain but imagined
that there must be communication with England at least twice a month.
"Are you thinking of leaving us, sir; of going home by steam?  Perhaps
with Mrs Anthony," he asked anxiously.

"No!  No!  How can I?"  Mr Smith got quite agitated, for him, which did
not amount to much.  He was just asking for the sake of something to
talk about.  No idea at all of going home.  One could not always do what
one wanted and that's why there were moments when one felt ashamed to
live.  This did not mean that one did not want to live.  Oh no!

He spoke with careless slowness, pausing frequently and in such a low
voice that Powell had to strain his hearing to catch the phrases dropped
overboard as it were.  And indeed they seemed not worth the effort.  It
was like the aimless talk of a man pursuing a secret train of thought
far removed from the idle words we so often utter only to keep in touch
with our fellow beings.  An hour passed.  It seemed as though Mr Smith
could not make up his mind to go below.  He repeated himself.  Again he
spoke of lives which one was ashamed of.  It was necessary to put up
with such lives as long as there was no way out, no possible issue.  He
even alluded once more to mail-boat services on the East coast of Africa
and young Powell had to tell him once more that he knew nothing about
them.

"Every fortnight, I thought you said," insisted Mr Smith.  He stirred,
seemed to detach himself from the rail with difficulty.  His long,
slender figure straightened into stiffness, as if hostile to the
enveloping soft peace of air and sea and sky, emitted into the night a
weak murmur which Mr Powell fancied was the word, "Abominable" repeated
three times, but which passed into the faintly louder declaration: "The
moment has come--to go to bed," followed by a just audible sigh.

"I sleep very well," added Mr Smith in his restrained tone.  "But it is
the moment one opens one's eyes that is horrible at sea.  These days!
Oh, these days!  I wonder how anybody can..."

"I like the life," observed Mr Powell.

"Oh, you.  You have only yourself to think of.  You have made your bed.
Well, it's very pleasant to feel that you are friendly to us.  My
daughter has taken quite a liking to you, Mr Powell."

He murmured, "Good-night" and glided away rigidly.  Young Powell asked
himself with some distaste what was the meaning of these utterances.
His mind had been worried at last into that questioning attitude by no
other person than the grotesque Franklin.  Suspicion was not natural to
him.  And he took good care to carefully separate in his thoughts Mrs
Anthony from this man of enigmatic words--her father.  Presently he
observed that the sheen of the two deck dead-lights of Mr Smith's room
had gone out.  The old gentleman had been surprisingly quick in getting
into bed.  Shortly afterwards the lamp in the foremost skylight of the
saloon was turned out; and this was the sign that the steward had taken
in the tray and had retired for the night.

Young Powell had settled down to the regular officer-of-the-watch tramp
in the dense shadow of the world decorated with stars high above his
head, and on earth only a few gleams of light about the ship.  The lamp
in the after skylight was kept burning through the night.  There were
also the dead-lights of the stern-cabins glimmering dully in the deck
far aft, catching his eye when he turned to walk that way.  The brasses
of the wheel glittered too, with the dimly lit figure of the man
detached, as if phosphorescent, against the black and spangled
background of the horizon.

Young Powell, in the silence of the ship, reinforced by the great silent
stillness of the world, said to himself that there was something
mysterious in such beings as the absurd Franklin, and even in such
beings as himself.  It was a strange and almost improper thought to
occur to the officer of the watch of a ship on the high seas on no
matter how quiet a night.  Why on earth was he bothering his head?  Why
couldn't he dismiss all these people from his mind?  It was as if the
mate had infected him with his own diseased devotion.  He would not have
believed it possible that he should be so foolish.  But he was--clearly.
He was foolish in a way totally unforeseen by himself.  Pushing this
self-analysis further, he reflected that the springs of his conduct were
just as obscure.

"I may be catching myself any time doing things of which I have no
conception," he thought.  And as he was passing near the mizzen-mast he
perceived a coil of rope left lying on the deck by the oversight of the
sweepers.  By an impulse which had nothing mysterious in it, he stooped
as he went by with the intention of picking it up and hanging it up on
its proper pin.  This movement brought his head down to the level of the
glazed end of the after skylight--the lighted skylight of the most
private part of the saloon, consecrated to the exclusiveness of Captain
Anthony's married life; the part, let me remind you, cut off from the
rest of that forbidden space by a pair of heavy curtains.  I mention
these curtains because at this point Mr Powell himself recalled the
existence of that unusual arrangement, to my mind.

He recalled them with simple-minded compunction at that distance of
time.  He said: "You understand that directly I stooped to pick up that
coil of running gear--the spanker foot-outhaul, it was--I perceived that
I could see right into that part of the saloon the curtains were meant
to make particularly private.  Do you understand me?" he insisted.

I told him that I understood; and he proceeded to call my attention to
the wonderful linking up of small facts, with something of awe left yet,
after all these years, at the precise workmanship of chance, fate,
providence, call it what you will!  "For, observe, Marlow," he said,
making at me very round eyes which contrasted funnily with the austere
touch of grey on his temples, "observe, my dear fellow, that everything
depended on the men who cleared up the poop in the evening leaving that
coil of rope on the deck, and on the topsail-tie carrying away in a most
incomprehensible and surprising manner earlier in the day, and the end
of the chain whipping round the coaming and shivering to bits the
coloured glass-pane at the end of the skylight.  It had the arms of the
city of Liverpool on it; I don't know why unless because the _Ferndale_
was registered in Liverpool.  It was very thick plate-glass.  Anyhow,
the upper part got smashed, and directly we had attended to things aloft
Mr Franklin had set the carpenter to patch up the damage with some
pieces of plain glass.  I don't know where they got them; I think the
people who fitted up new bookcases in the captain's room had left some
spare panes.  Chips was there the whole afternoon on his knees, messing
with putty and red-lead.  It wasn't a neat job when it was done, not by
any means, but it would serve to keep the weather out and let the light
in.  Clear glass.  And of course I was not thinking of it.  I just
stooped to pick up that rope and found my head within three inches of
that clear glass, and--dash it all!  I found myself out.  Not half an
hour before I was saying to myself that it was impossible to tell what
was in people's heads or at the back of their talk, or what they were
likely to be up to.  And here I found myself up to as low a trick as you
can well think of.  For, after I had stooped, there I remained prying,
spying, anyway looking, where I had no business to look.  Not
consciously at first, may be.  He who has eyes, you know, nothing can
stop him from seeing things as long as there are things to see in front
of him.  What I saw at first was the end of the table and the tray
clamped on to it, a patent tray for sea use, fitted with holders for a
couple of decanters, water-jug and glasses.  The glitter of these things
caught my eye first; but what I saw next was the captain down there,
alone as far as I could see; and I could see pretty well the whole of
that part up to the cottage piano, dark against the satin-wood panelling
of the bulkhead.  And I remained looking.  I did.  And I don't know that
I was ashamed of myself either, then.  It was the fault of that
Franklin, always talking of the man, making free with him to that extent
that really he seemed to have become our property, his and mine, in a
way.  It's funny, but one had that feeling about Captain Anthony.  To
watch him was not so much worse than listening to Franklin talking him
over.  Well, it's no use making excuses for what's inexcusable.  I
watched; but I dare say you know that there could have been nothing
inimical in this low behaviour of mine.  On the contrary.  I'll tell you
now what he was doing.  He was helping himself out of a decanter.  I saw
every movement, and I said to myself mockingly as though jeering at
Franklin in my thoughts `Hallo!  Here's the captain taking to drink at
last.'  He poured a little brandy or whatever it was into a long glass,
filled it with water, drank about a fourth of it and stood the glass
back into the holder.  Every sign of a bad drinking bout, I was saying
to myself, feeling quite amused at the notions of that Franklin.  He
seemed to me an enormous ass; with his jealousy and his fears.  At that
rate a month would not have been enough for anybody to get drunk.  The
captain sat down in one of the swivel armchairs fixed around the table;
I had him right under me and as he turned the chair slightly, I was
looking, I may say, down his back.  He took another little sip and then
reached for a book which was lying on the table.  I had not noticed it
before.  Altogether the proceedings of a desperate drunkard--weren't
they?  He opened the book and held it before his face.  If this was the
way he took to drink, then I needn't worry.  He was in no danger from
that, and as to any other, I assure you no human being could have looked
safer than he did down there.  I felt the greatest contempt for Franklin
just then, while I looked at Captain Anthony sitting there with a glass
of weak brandy-and-water at his elbow and reading in the cabin of his
ship, on a quiet night--the quietest, perhaps the finest, of a
prosperous passage.  And if you wonder why I didn't leave off my ugly
spying I will tell you how it was.  Captain Anthony was a great reader
just about that time; and I, too, I have a great liking for books.  To
this day I can't come near a book but I must know what it is about.  It
was a thickish volume he had there, small close print, double columns--I
can see it now.  What I wanted to make out was the title at the top of
the page.  I have very good eyes but he wasn't holding it conveniently--
I mean for me up there.  Well, it was a history of some kind, that much
I read and then suddenly he bangs the book face down on the table, jumps
up as if something had bitten him and walks away aft.

"Funny thing shame is.  I had been behaving badly and aware of it in a
way, but I didn't feel really ashamed till the fright of being found out
in my honourable occupation drove me from it.  I slunk away to the
forward end of the poop and lounged about there, my face and ears
burning and glad it was a dark night, expecting every moment to hear the
captain's footsteps behind me.  For I made sure he was coming on deck.
Presently I thought I had rather meet him face to face and I walked
slowly aft prepared to see him emerge from the companion before I got
that far.  I even thought of his having detected me by some means.  But
it was impossible, unless he had eyes in the top of his head.  I had
never had a view of his face down there.  It was impossible; I was safe;
and I felt very mean, yet, explain it as you may, I seemed not to care.
And the captain not appearing on deck, I had the impulse to go on being
mean.  I wanted another peep.  I really don't know what was the beastly
influence except that Mr Franklin's talk was enough to demoralise any
man by raising a sort of unhealthy curiosity which did away in my case
with all the restraints of common decency.

"I did not mean to run the risk of being caught squatting in a
suspicious attitude by the captain.  There was also the helmsman to
consider.  So what I did--I am surprised at my low cunning--was to sit
down naturally on the skylight-seat and then by bending forward I found
that, as I expected, I could look down through the upper part of the
end-pane.  The worst that could happen to me then, if I remained too
long in that position, was to be suspected by the seaman aft at the
wheel of having gone to sleep there.  For the rest my ears would give me
sufficient warning of any movements in the companion.

"But in that way my angle of view was changed.  The field too was
smaller.  The end of the table, the tray and the swivel-chair I had
right under my eyes.  The captain had not come back yet.  The piano I
could not see now; but on the other hand I had a very oblique downward
view of the curtains drawn across the cabin and cutting off the forward
part of it just about the level of the skylight-end and only an inch or
so from the end of the table.  They were heavy stuff, travelling on a
thick brass rod with some contrivance to keep the rings from sliding to
and fro when the ship rolled.  But just then the ship was as still
almost as a model shut up in a glass case while the curtains, joined
closely, and, perhaps on purpose, made a little too long moved no more
than a solid wall."

Marlow got up to get another cigar.  The night was getting on to what I
may call its deepest hour, the hour most favourable to evil purposes of
men's hate, despair or greed--to whatever can whisper into their ears
the unlawful counsels of protest against things that are; the hour of
ill-omened silence and chill and stagnation, the hour when the criminal
plies his trade and the victim of sleeplessness reaches the lowest depth
of dreadful discouragement; the hour before the first sight of dawn.  I
know it, because while Marlow was crossing the room I looked at the
clock on the mantelpiece.  He however never looked that way though it is
possible that he, too, was aware of the passage of time.  He sat down
heavily.

"Our friend Powell," he began again, "was very anxious that I should
understand the topography of that cabin.  I was interested more by its
moral atmosphere, that tension of falsehood, of desperate acting, which
tainted the pure sea-atmosphere into which the magnanimous Anthony had
carried off his conquest and--well--his self-conquest too, trying to act
at the same time like a beast of prey, a pure spirit and the `most
generous of men.'  Too big an order clearly because he was nothing of a
monster but just a common mortal, a little more self-willed and
self-confident than most, may be, both in his roughness and in his
delicacy."

As to the delicacy of Mr Powell's proceedings I'll say nothing.  He
found a sort of depraved excitement in watching an unconscious man--and
such an attractive and mysterious man as Captain Anthony at that.  He
wanted another peep at him.  He surmised that the captain must come back
soon because of the glass two-thirds full and also of the book put down
so brusquely.  God knows what sudden pang had made Anthony jump up so.
I am convinced he used reading as an opiate against the pain of his
magnanimity which like all abnormal growths was gnawing at his healthy
substance with cruel persistence.  Perhaps he had rushed into his cabin
simply to groan freely in absolute and delicate secrecy.  At any rate he
tarried there.  And young Powell would have grown weary and compunctious
at last if it had not become manifest to him that he had not been alone
in the highly incorrect occupation of watching the movements of Captain
Anthony.

Powell explained to me that no sound did or perhaps could reach him from
the saloon.  The first sign--and we must remember that he was using his
eyes for all they were worth--was an unaccountable movement of the
curtain.  It was wavy and very slight; just perceptible in fact to the
sharpened faculties of a secret watcher; for it can't be denied that our
wits are much more alert when engaged in wrong-doing (in which one
mustn't be found out) than in a righteous occupation.

He became suspicious, with no one and nothing definite in his mind.  He
was suspicious of the curtain itself and observed it.  It looked very
innocent.  Then just as he was ready to put it down to a trick of
imagination he saw trembling movements where the two curtains joined.
Yes!  Somebody else besides himself had been watching Captain Anthony.
He owns artlessly that this roused his indignation.  It was really too
much of a good thing.  In this state of intense antagonism he was
startled to observe tips of fingers fumbling with the dark stuff.  Then
they grasped the edge of the further curtain and hung on there, just
fingers and knuckles and nothing else.  It made an abominable sight.  He
was looking at it with unaccountable repulsion when a hand came into
view; a short, puffy, old, freckled hand projecting into the lamplight,
followed by a white wrist, an arm in a grey coat-sleeve, up to the
elbow, beyond the elbow, extended tremblingly towards the tray.  Its
appearance was weird and nauseous, fantastic and silly.  But instead of
grabbing the bottle as Powell expected, this hand, tremulous with senile
eagerness, swerved to the glass, rested on its edge for a moment (or so
it looked from above) and went back with a jerk.  The gripping fingers
of the other hand vanished at the same time, and young Powell staring at
the motionless curtains could indulge for a moment the notion that he
had been dreaming.

But that notion did not last long.  Powell, after repressing his first
impulse to spring for the companion and hammer at the captain's door,
took steps to have himself relieved by the boatswain.  He was in a state
of distraction as to his feelings and yet lucid as to his mind.  He
remained on the skylight so as to keep his eye on the tray.

Still the captain did not appear in the saloon.  "If he had," said Mr
Powell, "I knew what to do.  I would have put my elbow through the pane
instantly--crash."

I asked him why?

"It was the quickest dodge for getting him away from that tray," he
explained.  "My throat was so dry that I didn't know if I could shout
loud enough.  And this was not a case for shouting, either."

The boatswain, sleepy and disgusted, arriving on the poop, found the
second officer doubled up over the end of the skylight in a pose which
might have been that of severe pain.  And his voice was so changed that
the man, though naturally vexed at being turned out, made no comment on
the plea of sudden indisposition which young Powell put forward.

The rapidity with which the sick man got off the poop must have
astonished the boatswain.  But Powell, at the moment he opened the door
leading into the saloon from the quarter-deck, had managed to control
his agitation.  He entered swiftly but without noise and found himself
in the dark part of the saloon, the strong sheen of the lamp on the
other side of the curtains visible only above the rod on which they ran.
The door of Mr Smith's cabin was in that dark part.  He passed by it
assuring himself by a quick side glance that it was imperfectly closed.
"Yes," he said to me.  "The old man must have been watching through the
crack.  Of that I am certain; but it was not for me that he was watching
and listening.  Horrible!  Surely he must have been startled to hear and
see somebody he did not expect.  He could not possibly guess why I was
coming in, but I suppose he must have been concerned."  Concerned
indeed!  He must have been thunderstruck, appalled.

Powell's only distinct aim was to remove the suspected tumbler.  He had
no other plan, no other intention, no other thought.  Do away with it in
some manner.  Snatch it up and run out with it.

You know that complete mastery of one fixed idea, not a reasonable but
an emotional mastery, a sort of concentrated exaltation.  Under its
empire men rush blindly through fire and water and opposing violence,
and nothing can stop them--unless, sometimes, a grain of sand.  For his
blind purpose (and clearly the thought of Mrs Anthony was at the bottom
of it) Mr Powell had plenty of time.  What checked him at the crucial
moment was the familiar, harmless aspect of common things, the steady
light, the open book on the table, the solitude, the peace, the
home-like effect of the place.  He held the glass in his hand; all he
had to do was to vanish back beyond the curtains, flee with it
noiselessly into the night on deck, fling it unseen overboard.  A minute
or less.  And then all that would have happened would have been the
wonder at the utter disappearance of a glass tumbler, a ridiculous
riddle in pantry-affairs beyond the wit of anyone on board to solve.
The grain of sand against which Powell stumbled in his headlong career
was a moment of incredulity as to the truth of his own conviction
because it had failed to affect the safe aspect of familiar things.  He
doubted his eyes too.  He must have dreamt it all!  "I am dreaming now,"
he said to himself.  And very likely for a few seconds he must have
looked like a man in a trance or profoundly asleep on his feet, and with
a glass of brandy-and-water in his hand.

What woke him up and, at the same time, fixed his feet immovably to the
spot, was a voice asking him what he was doing there in tones of
thunder.  Or so it sounded to his ears.  Anthony, opening the door of
his stern-cabin had naturally exclaimed.  What else could you expect?
And the exclamation must have been fairly loud if you consider the
nature of the sight which met his eye.  There, before him, stood his
second officer, a seemingly decent, well-bred young man, who, being on
duty, had left the deck and had sneaked into the saloon, apparently for
the inexpressibly mean purpose of drinking up what was left of his
captain's brandy-and-water.  There he was, caught absolutely with the
glass in his hand.

But the very monstrosity of appearances silenced Anthony after the first
exclamation; and young Powell felt himself pierced through and through
by the overshadowed glance of his captain.  Anthony advanced quietly.
The first impulse of Mr Powell, when discovered, had been to dash the
glass on the deck.  He was in a sort of panic.  But deep down within him
his wits were working, and the idea that if he did that he could prove
nothing and that the story he had to tell was completely incredible,
restrained him.  The captain came forward slowly.  With his eyes now
close to his, Powell, spell-bound, numb all over, managed to lift one
finger to the deck above mumbling the explanatory words, "Boatswain on
the poop."

The captain moved his head slightly as much as to say, "That's all
right"--and this was all.  Powell had no voice, no strength.  The air
was unbreathable, thick, sticky, odious, like hot jelly in which all
movements became difficult.  He raised the glass a little with immense
difficulty and moved his trammelled lips sufficiently to form the words:

"Doctored."

Anthony glanced at it for an instant, only for an instant, and again
fastened his eyes on the face of his second mate.  Powell added a
fervent "I believe" and put the glass down on the tray.  The captain's
glance followed the movement and returned sternly to his face.  The
young man pointed a finger once more upwards and squeezed out of his
iron-bound throat six consecutive words of further explanation.
"Through the skylight.  The white pane."

The captain raised his eyebrows very much at this, while young Powell,
ashamed but desperate, nodded insistently several times.  He meant to
say that: Yes.  Yes.  He had done that thing.  He had been spying...
The captain's gaze became thoughtful.  And, now the confession was over,
the iron-bound feeling of Powell's throat passed away giving place to a
general anxiety which from his breast seemed to extend to all the limbs
and organs of his body.  His legs trembled a little, his vision was
confused, his mind became blankly expectant.  But he was alert enough.
At a movement of Anthony he screamed in a strangled whisper.

"Don't, sir!  Don't touch it."

The captain pushed aside Powell's extended arm, took up the glass and
raised it slowly against the lamplight.  The liquid, of very pale amber
colour, was clear, and by a glance the captain seemed to call Powell's
attention to the fact.  Powell tried to pronounce the word, "dissolved"
but he only thought of it with great energy which however failed to move
his lips.  Only when Anthony had put down the glass and turned to him he
recovered such a complete command of his voice that he could keep it
down to a hurried, forcible whisper--a whisper that shook him.

"Doctored!  I swear it!  I have seen.  Doctored!  I have seen."

Not a feature of the captain's face moved.  His was a calm to take one's
breath away.  It did so to young Powell.  Then for the first time
Anthony made himself heard to the point.

"You did! ...  Who was it?"

And Powell gasped freely at last.  "A hand," he whispered fearfully, "a
hand and the arm--only the arm--like that."

He advanced his own, slow, stealthy, tremulous in faithful reproduction,
the tips of two fingers and the thumb pressed together and hovering
above the glass for an instant--then the swift jerk back, after the
deed.

"Like that," he repeated growing excited.  "From behind this."  He
grasped the curtain and glaring at the silent Anthony flung it back
disclosing the forepart of the saloon.  There was on one to be seen.

Powell had not expected to see anybody.  "But," he said to me, "I knew
very well there was an ear listening and an eye glued to the crack of a
cabin door.  Awful thought.  And that door was in that part of the
saloon remaining in the shadow of the other half of the curtain.  I
pointed at it and I suppose that old man inside saw me pointing.  The
captain had a wonderful self-command.  You couldn't have guessed
anything from his face.  Well, it was perhaps more thoughtful than
usual.  And indeed this was something to think about.  But I couldn't
think steadily.  My brain would give a sort of jerk and then go dead
again.  I had lost all notion of time, and I might have been looking at
the captain for days and months for all I knew before I heard him
whisper to me fiercely: `Not a word!'  This jerked me out of that trance
I was in and I said `No!  No!  I didn't mean even you.'"

"I wanted to explain my conduct, my intentions, but I read in his eyes
that he understood me and I was only too glad to leave off.  And there
we were looking at each other, dumb, brought up short by the question
`What next?'

"I thought Captain Anthony was a man of iron till I saw him suddenly
fling his head to the right and to the left fiercely, like a wild animal
at bay not knowing which way to break out..."

"Truly," commented Marlow, "brought to bay was not a bad comparison; a
better one than Mr Powell was aware of.  At that moment the appearance
of Flora could not but bring the tension to the breaking point.  She
came out in all innocence but not without vague dread.  Anthony's
exclamation on first seeing Powell had reached her in her cabin, where,
it seems, she was brushing her hair.  She had heard the very words.
`What are you doing here?'  And the unwonted loudness of the voice--his
voice--breaking the habitual stillness of that hour would have startled
a person having much less reason to be constantly apprehensive, than the
captive of Anthony's masterful generosity.  She had no means to guess to
whom the question was addressed and it echoed in her heart, as Anthony's
voice always did.  Followed complete silence.  She waited, anxious,
expectant, till she could stand the strain no longer, and with the weary
mental appeal of the overburdened.  `My God!  What is it now?' she
opened the door of her room and looked into the saloon.  Her first
glance fell on Powell.  For a moment, seeing only the second officer
with Anthony, she felt relieved and made as if to draw back; but her
sharpened perception detected something suspicious in their attitudes,
and she came forward slowly.

"I was the first to see Mrs Anthony," related Powell, "because I was
facing aft.  The captain, noticing my eyes, looked quickly over his
shoulder and at once put his finger to his lips to caution me.  As if I
were likely to let out anything before her!  Mrs Anthony had on a
dressing-gown of some grey stuff with red facings and a thick red cord
round her waist.  Her hair was down.  She looked a child; a pale-faced
child with big blue eyes and a red mouth a little open showing a glimmer
of white teeth.  The light fell strongly on her as she came up to the
end of the table.  A strange child though; she hardly affected one like
a child, I remember.  Do you know," exclaimed Mr Powell, who clearly
must have been, like many seamen, an industrious reader, "do you know
what she looked like to me with those big eyes and something appealing
in her whole expression.  She looked like a forsaken elf.  Captain
Anthony had moved towards her to keep her away from my end of the table,
where the tray was.  I had never seen them so near to each other before,
and it made a great contrast.  It was wonderful, for, with his beard cut
to a point, his swarthy, sunburnt complexion, thin nose and his lean
head there was something African, something Moorish in Captain Anthony.
His neck was bare; he had taken off his coat and collar and had drawn on
his sleeping jacket in the time that he had been absent from the saloon.
I seem to see him now.  Mrs Anthony too.  She looked from him to me--I
suppose I looked guilty or frightened--and from me to him, trying to
guess what there was between us two.  Then she burst out with a `What
has happened?' which seemed addressed to me.  I mumbled `Nothing!
Nothing, ma'am,' which she very likely did not hear.

"You must not think that all this had lasted a long time.  She had taken
fright at our behaviour and turned to the captain pitifully.  `What is
it you are concealing from me?'  A straight question--eh?  I don't know
what answer the captain would have made.  Before he could even raise his
eyes to her she cried out `Ah!  Here's papa!' in a sharp tone of relief,
but directly afterwards she looked to me as if she were holding her
breath with apprehension.  I was so interested in her that, how shall I
say it, her exclamation made no connection in my brain at first.  I also
noticed that she had sidled up a little nearer to Captain Anthony,
before it occurred to me to turn my head.  I can tell you my neck
stiffened in the twisted position from the shock of actually seeing that
old man!  He had dared!  I suppose you think I ought to have looked upon
him as mad.  But I couldn't.  It would have been certainly easier.  But
I could _not_.  You should have seen him.  First of all he was
completely dressed with his very cap still on his head just as when he
left me on deck two hours before, saying in his soft voice: `The moment
has come to go to bed'--while he meant to go and do that thing and hide
in his dark cabin, and watch the stuff do its work.  A cold shudder ran
down my back.  He had his hands in the pockets of his jacket, his arms
were pressed close to his thin, upright body, and he shuffled across the
cabin with his short steps.  There was a red patch on each of his old
soft cheeks as if somebody had been pinching them.  He drooped his head
a little, and looked with a sort of underhand expectation at the captain
and Mrs Anthony standing close together at the other end of the saloon.
The calculating horrible impudence of it!  His daughter was there; and
I am certain he had seen the captain putting his finger on his lips to
warn me.  And then he had coolly come out!  He passed my imagination, I
assure you.  After that one shiver his presence killed every faculty in
me--wonder, horror, indignation.  I felt nothing in particular just as
if he were still the old gentleman who used to talk to me familiarly
every day on deck.  Would you believe it?"

"Mr Powell challenged my powers of wonder at this internal phenomenon,"
went on Marlow after a slight pause.  "But even if they had not been
fully engaged, together with all my powers of attention in following the
facts of the case, I would not have been astonished by his statements
about himself.  Taking into consideration his youth they were by no
means incredible; or, at any rate, they were the least incredible part
of the whole.  They were also the least interesting part.  The interest
was elsewhere, and there of course all he could do was to look at the
surface.  The inwardness of what was passing before his eyes was hidden
from him, who had looked on, more impenetrably than from me who at a
distance of years was listening to his words.  That what presently
happened at this crisis in Flora de Barral's fate was beyond his power
of comment, seemed in a sense natural.  And his own presence on the
scene was so strangely motived that it was left for me to marvel alone
at this young man, a completely chance-comer, having brought it about on
that night."

Each situation created either by folly or wisdom has its psychological
moment.  The behaviour of young Powell with its mixture of boyish
impulses combined with instinctive prudence, had not created it--I can't
say that--but had discovered it to the very people involved.  What would
have happened if he had made a noise about his discovery?  But he
didn't.  His head was full of Mrs Anthony and he behaved with a
discretion beyond his years.  Some nice children often do; and surely it
is not from reflection.  They have their own inspirations.  Young
Powell's inspiration consisted in being "enthusiastic" about Mrs
Anthony.  `Enthusiastic' is really good.  And he was amongst them like a
child, sensitive, impressionable, plastic--but unable to find for
himself any sort of comment.

I don't know how much mine may be worth; but I believe that just then
the tension of the false situation was at its highest.  Of all the forms
offered to us by life it is the one demanding a couple to realise it
fully, which is the most imperative.  Pairing off is the fate of
mankind.  And if two beings thrown together, mutually attracted, resist
the necessity, fail in understanding and voluntarily stop short of the--
the embrace, in the noblest meaning of the word, then they are
committing a sin against life, the call of which is simple.  Perhaps
sacred.  And the punishment of it is an invasion of complexity, a
tormenting, forcibly tortuous involution of feelings, the deepest form
of suffering from which indeed something significant may come at last,
which may be criminal or heroic, may be madness or wisdom--or even a
straight if despairing decision.

Powell on taking his eyes off the old gentleman noticed Captain Anthony,
swarthy as an African, by the side of Flora whiter than the lilies, take
his handkerchief out and wipe off his forehead the sweat of anguish--
like a man who is overcome.  "And no wonder," commented Mr Powell here.
Then the captain said, "Hadn't you better go back to your room."  This
was to Mrs Anthony.  He tried to smile at her.  "Why do you look
startled?  This night is like any other night."

"Which," Powell again commented to me earnestly, "was a lie...  No
wonder he sweated."  You see from this the value of Powell's comments.
Mrs Anthony then said: "Why are you sending me away?"

"Why!  That you should go to sleep.  That you should rest."  And Captain
Anthony frowned.  Then sharply, "You stay here, Mr Powell.  I shall
want you presently."

As a matter of fact Powell had not moved.  Flora did not mind his
presence.  He himself had the feeling of being of no account to those
three people.  He was looking at Mrs Anthony as unabashed as the
proverbial cat looking at a king.  Mrs Anthony glanced at him.  She did
not move, gripped by an inexplicable premonition.  She had arrived at
the very limit of her endurance as the object of Anthony's magnanimity;
she was the prey of an intuitive dread of she did not know what
mysterious influence; she felt herself being pushed back into that
solitude, that moral loneliness, which had made all her life
intolerable.  And then, in that close communion established again with
Anthony, she felt--as on that night in the garden--the force of his
personal fascination.  The passive quietness with which she looked at
him gave her the appearance of a person bewitched--or, say, mesmerically
put to sleep--beyond any notion of her surroundings.

After telling Mr Powell not to go away the captain remained silent.
Suddenly Mrs Anthony pushed back her loose hair with a decisive gesture
of her arms and moved still nearer to him.  "Here's papa up yet," she
said, but she did not look towards Mr Smith.  "Why is it?  And you?  I
can't go on like this, Roderick--between you two.  Don't."

Anthony interrupted her as if something had untied his tongue.

"Oh yes.  Here's your father.  And ...  Why not.  Perhaps it is just as
well you came out.  Between us two?  Is that it?  I won't pretend I
don't understand.  I am not blind.  But I can't fight any longer for
what I haven't got.  I don't know what you imagine has happened.
Something has though.  Only you needn't be afraid.  No shadow can touch
you--because I give up.  I can't say we had much talk about it, your
father and I, but, the long and the short of it is, that I must learn to
live without you--which I have told you was impossible.  I was speaking
the truth.  But I have done fighting, or waiting, or hoping.  Yes.  You
shall go."

At this point Mr Powell who (he confessed to me) was listening with
uncomprehending awe, heard behind his back a triumphant chuckling sound.
It gave him the shudders, he said, to mention it now; but at the time,
except for another chill down the spine, it had not the power to destroy
his absorption in the scene before his eyes, and before his ears too,
because just then Captain Anthony raised his voice grimly.  Perhaps he
too had heard the chuckle of the old man.

"Your father has found an argument which makes me pause, if it does not
convince me.  No!  I can't answer it.  I--I don't want to answer it.  I
simply surrender.  He shall have his way with you--and with me.  Only,"
he added in a gloomy lowered tone which struck Mr Powell as if a pedal
had been put down, "only it shall take a little time.  I have never lied
to you.  Never.  I renounce not only my chance but my life.  In a few
days, directly we get into port, the very moment we do, I, who have said
I could never let you go, I shall let you go."

To the innocent beholder Anthony seemed at this point to become
physically exhausted.  My view is that the utter falseness of his, I may
say, aspirations, the vanity of grasping the empty air, had come to him
with an overwhelming force, leaving him disarmed before the other's mad
and sinister sincerity.  As he had said himself he could not fight for
what he did not possess; he could not face such a thing as this for the
sake of his mere magnanimity.  The normal alone can overcome the
abnormal.  He could not even reproach that man over there.  "I own
myself beaten," he said in a firmer tone.  "You are free.  I let you off
since I must."

Powell, the onlooker, affirms that at these incomprehensible words Mrs
Anthony stiffened into the very image of astonishment, with a frightened
stare and frozen lips.  But next minute a cry came out from her heart,
not very loud but of a quality which made not only Captain Anthony (he
was not looking at her), not only him but also the more distant (and
equally unprepared) young man, catch their breath: "But I don't want to
be let off," she cried.

She was so still that one asked oneself whether the cry had come from
her.  The restless shuffle behind Powell's back stopped short, the
intermittent shadowy chuckling ceased too.  Young Powell, glancing
round, saw Mr Smith raise his head with his faded eyes very still,
puckered at the corners, like a man perceiving something coming at him
from a great distance.  And Mrs Anthony's voice reached Powell's ears,
entreating and indignant.

"You can't cast me off like this, Roderick.  I won't go away from you.
I won't--"

Powell turned about and discovered then that what Mr Smith was
puckering his eyes at, was the sight of his daughter clinging round
Captain Anthony's neck--a sight not in itself improper, but which had
the power to move young Powell with a bashfully profound emotion.  It
was different from his emotion while spying at the revelations of the
skylight, but in this case too he felt the discomfort, if not the guilt,
of an unseen beholder.  Experience was being piled-up on his young
shoulders.  Mrs Anthony's hair hung back in a dark mass like the hair
of a drowned woman.  She looked as if she would let go and sink to the
floor if the captain were to withhold his sustaining arm.  But the
captain obviously had no such intention.  Standing firm and still he
gazed with sombre eyes at Mr Smith.  For a time the low convulsive
sobbing of Mr Smith's daughter was the only sound to trouble the
silence.  The strength of Anthony's clasp pressing Flora to his breast
could not be doubted even at that distance, and suddenly, awakening to
his opportunity, he began to partly support her, partly carry her in the
direction of her cabin.  His head was bent over her solicitously, then
recollecting himself, with a glance full of unwonted fire, his voice
ringing in a note unknown to Mr Powell, he cried to him, "Don't you go
on deck yet.  I want you to stay down here till I come back.  There are
some instructions I want to give you."

And before the young man could answer, Anthony had disappeared in the
stern-cabin, burdened and exulting.

"Instructions," commented Mr Powell.  "That was all right.  Very
likely; but they would be such instructions as, I thought to myself, no
ship's officer perhaps had ever been given before.  It made me feel a
little sick to think what they would be dealing with, probably.  But
there!  Everything that happens on board ship on the high seas has got
to be dealt with somehow.  There are no special people to fly to for
assistance.  And there I was with that old man left in my charge.  When
he noticed me looking at him he started to shuffle again athwart the
saloon.  He kept his hands rammed in his pockets, he was as stiff-backed
as ever, only his head hung down.  After a bit he says in his gentle
soft tone: `Did you see it?'"

There were in Powell's head no special words to fit the horror of his
feelings.  So he said--he had to say something, "Good God!  What were
you thinking of, Mr Smith, to try to..."  And then he left off.  He
dared not utter the awful word poison.  Mr Smith stopped his prowl.

"Think!  What do you know of thinking?  I don't think.  There is
something in my head that thinks.  The thoughts in men, it's like being
drunk with liquor or--You can't stop them.  A man who thinks will think
anything.  No.  But have you seen it.  Have you?"

"I tell you I have!  I am certain!" said Powell forcibly.  "I was
looking at you all the time.  You've done something to the drink in that
glass."

Then Powell lost his breath somehow.  Mr Smith looked at him curiously,
with mistrust.

"My good young man, I don't know what you are talking about.  I ask
you--have you seen?  Who would have believed it? with her arms round his
neck.  When!  Oh!  Ha!  Ha!  You did see!  Didn't you?  It wasn't a
delusion--was it?  Her arms round ...  But I have never wholly trusted
her."

"Then I flew out at him, said Mr Powell.  I told him he was jolly lucky
to have fallen upon Captain Anthony.  A man in a million.  He started
again shuffling to and fro.  `You too,' he said mournfully, keeping his
eyes down.  `Eh?  Wonderful man?  But have you a notion who I am?
Listen!  I have been the Great Mr de Barral.  So they printed it in the
papers while they were getting up a conspiracy.  And I have been doing
time.  And now I am brought low.'  His voice died down to a mere breath.
`Brought low.'"

He took his hands out of his pocket, dragged the cap down on his head
and stuck them back into his pockets, exactly as if preparing himself to
go out into a great wind.  "But not so low as to put up with this
disgrace, to see her, fast in this fellow's clutches, without doing
something.  She wouldn't listen to me.  Frightened?  Silly?  I had to
think of some way to get her out of this.  Did _you_ think she cared for
him?  No!  Would anybody have thought so?  No!  She pretended it was for
my sake.  She couldn't understand that if I hadn't been an old man I
would have flown at his throat months ago.  As it was I was tempted
every time he looked at her.  My girl.  Ough!  Any man but this.  And
all the time the wicked little fool was lying to me.  It was their plot,
their conspiracy!  These conspiracies are the devil.  She has been
leading me on, till she has fairly put my head under the heel of that
jailer, of that scoundrel, of her husband...  Treachery!  Bringing me
low.  Lower than herself.  In the dirt.  That's what it means.  Doesn't
it?  Under his heel!"

He paused in his restless shuffle and again, seizing his cap with both
hands, dragged it furiously right down on his ears.  Powell had lost
himself in listening to these broken ravings, in looking at that old
feverish face when, suddenly, quick as lightning, Mr Smith spun round,
snatched up the captain's glass and with a stifled, hurried exclamation,
"Here's luck," tossed the liquor down his throat.

"I know now the meaning of the word `Consternation,'" went on Mr
Powell.  "That was exactly my state of mind.  I thought to myself
directly: There's nothing in that drink.  I have been dreaming, I have
made the awfullest mistake!"

Mr Smith put the glass down.  He stood before Powell unharmed, quieted
down, in a listening attitude, his head inclined on one side, chewing
his thin lips.  Suddenly he blinked queerly, grabbed Powell's shoulder
and collapsed, subsiding all at once as though he had gone soft all
over, as a piece of silk stuff collapses.  Powell seized his arm
instinctively and checked his fall; but as soon as Mr Smith was fairly
on the floor he jerked himself free and backed away.  Almost as quick he
rushed forward again and tried to lift up the body.  But directly he
raised his shoulders he knew that the man was dead!  Dead!

He lowered him down gently.  He stood over him without fear or any other
feeling, almost indifferent, far away, as it were.  And then he made
another start and, if he had not kept Mrs Anthony always in his mind,
he would have let out a yell for help.  He staggered to her cabin door,
and, as it was, his call for "Captain Anthony" burst out of him much too
loud; but he made a great effort of self-control.  "I am waiting for my
orders, sir," he said outside that door distinctly, in a steady tone.

It was very still in there; still as death.  Then he heard a shuffle of
feet and the captain's voice "All right.  Coming."  He leaned his back
against the bulkhead as you see a drunken man sometimes propped up
against a wall, half doubled up.  In that attitude the captain found
him, when he came out, pulling the door to after him quickly.  At once
Anthony let his eyes run all over the cabin.  Powell, without a word,
clutched his forearm, led him round the end of the table and began to
justify himself.  "I couldn't stop him," he whispered shakily.  "He was
too quick for me.  He drank it up and fell down."  But the captain was
not listening.  He was looking down at Mr Smith, thinking perhaps that
it was a mere chance his own body was not lying there.  They did not
want to speak.  They made signs to each other with their eyes.  The
captain grasped Powell's shoulder as if in a vice and glanced at Mrs
Anthony's cabin door, and it was enough.  He knew that the young man
understood him.  Rather!  Silence!  Silence for ever about this.  Their
very glances became stealthy.  Powell looked from the body to the door
of the dead man's state-room.  The captain nodded and let him go; and
then Powell crept over, hooked the door open and crept back with fearful
glances towards Mrs Anthony's cabin.  They stooped over the corpse.
Captain Anthony lifted up the shoulders.

Mr Powell shuddered.  "I'll never forget that interminable journey
across the saloon, step by step, holding our breath.  For part of the
way the drawn half of the curtain concealed us from view had Mrs
Anthony opened her door; but I didn't draw a free breath till after we
laid the body down on the swinging cot.  The reflection of the saloon
light left most of the cabin in the shadow.  Mr Smith's rigid, extended
body looked shadowy too, shadowy and alive.  You know he always carried
himself as stiff as a poker.  We stood by the cot as though waiting for
him to make us a sign that he wanted to be left alone.  The captain
threw his arm over my shoulder and said in my very ear: `The steward'll
find him in the morning.'

"I made no answer.  It was for him to say.  It was perhaps the best way.
It's no use talking about my thoughts.  They were not concerned with
myself, nor yet with that old man who terrified me more now than when he
was alive.  Him whom I pitied was the captain.  He whispered: `I am
certain of you, Mr Powell.  You had better go on deck now.  As to
me...' and I saw him raise his hands to his head as if distracted.  But
his last words before we stole out that cabin stick to my mind with the
very tone of his mutter--to himself, not to me:--

"No!  No!  I am not going to stumble now over that corpse."

"This is what our Mr Powell had to tell me," said Marlow, changing his
tone.  I was glad to learn that Flora de Barral had been saved from
_that_ sinister shadow at least falling upon her path.

We sat silent then, my mind running on the end of de Barral, on the
irresistible pressure of imaginary griefs, crushing conscience,
scruples, prudence, under their ever-expanding volume; on the sombre and
venomous irony in the obsession which had mastered that old man.

"Well," I said.

"The steward found him," Mr Powell roused himself.  "He went in there
with a cup of tea at five and of course dropped it.  I was on watch
again.  He reeled up to me on deck pale as death.  I had been expecting
it; and yet I could hardly speak.  `Go and tell the captain quietly,' I
managed to say.  He ran off muttering `My God!  My God!' and I'm hanged
if he didn't get hysterical while trying to tell the captain, and start
screaming in the saloon, `Fully dressed!  Dead!  Fully dressed!'  Mrs
Anthony ran out of course but she didn't get hysterical.  Franklin, who
was there too, told me that she hid her face on the captain's breast and
then he went out and left them there.  It was days before Mrs Anthony
was seen on deck.  The first time I spoke to her she gave me her hand
and said, `My poor father was quite fond of you, Mr Powell.'  She
started wiping her eyes and I fled to the other side of the deck.  One
would like to forget all this had ever come near her."

But clearly he could not, because after lighting his pipe he began
musing aloud: "Very strong stuff it must have been.  I wonder where he
got it.  It could hardly be at a common chemist.  Well, he had it from
somewhere--a mere pinch it must have been, no more."

"I have my theory," observed Marlow, "which to a certain extent does
away with the added horror of a coldly premeditated crime.  Chance had
stepped in there too.  It was not Mr Smith who obtained the poison.  It
was the Great de Barral.  And it was not meant for the obscure,
magnanimous conqueror of Flora de Barral; it was meant for the notorious
financier whose enterprises had nothing to do with magnanimity.  He had
his physician in his days of greatness.  I even seem to remember that
the man was called at the trial on some small point or other.  I can
imagine that de Barral went to him when he saw, as he could hardly help
seeing, the possibility of a `triumph of envious rivals'--a heavy
sentence."

I doubt if for love or even for money, but I think possibly, from pity
that man provided him with what Mr Powell called "strong stuff."  From
what Powell saw of the very act I am fairly certain it must have been
contained in a capsule and that he had it about him on the last day of
his trial, perhaps secured by a stitch in his waistcoat pocket.  He
didn't use it.  Why?  Did he think of his child at the last moment?  Was
it want of courage?  We can't tell.  But he found it in his clothes when
he came out of jail.  It had escaped investigation if there was any.
Chance had armed him.  And chance alone, the chance of Mr Powell's
life, forced him to turn the abominable weapon against himself.

I imparted my theory to Mr Powell who accepted it at once as, in a
sense, favourable to the father of Mrs Anthony.  Then he waved his
hand.  "Don't let us think of it."

I acquiesced and very soon he observed dreamily:

"I was with Captain and Mrs Anthony sailing all over the world for near
on six years.  Almost as long as Franklin."

"Oh yes!  What about Franklin?"  I asked.

Powell smiled.  "He left the _Ferndale_ a year or so afterwards, and I
took his place.  Captain Anthony recommended him for a command.  You
don't think Captain Anthony would chuck a man aside like an old glove.
But of course Mrs Anthony did not like him very much.  I don't think
she ever let out a whisper against him but Captain Anthony could read
her thoughts."

And again Powell seemed to lose himself in the past.  I asked, for
suddenly the vision of the Fynes passed through my mind.

"Any children?"

Powell gave a start.  "No!  No!  Never had any children," and again
subsided, puffing at his short briar pipe.

"Where are they now?"  I inquired next as if anxious to ascertain that
all Fyne's fears had been misplaced and vain as our fears often are;
that there were no undesirable cousins for his dear girls, no danger of
intrusion on their spotless home.  Powell looked round at me slowly, his
pipe smouldering in his hand.

"Don't you know?" he uttered in a deep voice.

"Know what?"

"That the _Ferndale_ was lost this four years or more.  Sunk.
Collision.  And Captain Anthony went down with her."

"You don't say so!"  I cried quite affected as if I had known Captain
Anthony personally.  "Was--was Mrs Anthony lost too?"

"You might as well ask if I was lost," Mr Powell rejoined so testily as
to surprise me.  "You see me here,--don't you."

He was quite huffy, but noticing my wondering stare he smoothed his
ruffled plumes.  And in a musing tone.

"Yes.  Good men go out as if there was no use for them in the world.  It
seems as if there were things that, as the Turks say, are written.  Or
else fate has a try and sometimes misses its mark.  You remember that
close shave we had of being run down at night, I told you of, my first
voyage with them.  This go it was just at dawn.  A flat calm and a fog
thick enough to slice with a knife.  Only there were no explosives on
board.  I was on deck and I remember the cursed, murderous thing looming
up alongside and Captain Anthony (we were both on deck) calling out,
`Good God!  What's this!  Shout for all hands, Powell, to save
themselves.  There's no dynamite on board now.  I am going to get the
wife!...'  I yelled, all the watch on deck yelled.  Crash!"

Mr Powell gasped at the recollection.  "It was a Belgian Green Star
liner, the _Westland_," he went on, "commanded by one of those
stop-for-nothing skippers.  Flaherty was his name and I hope he will die
without absolution.  She cut half through the old _Ferndale_ and after
the blow there was a silence like death.  Next I heard the captain back
on deck shouting, `Set your engines slow ahead,' and a howl of `Yes,
yes,' answering him from her forecastle; and then a whole crowd of
people up there began making a row in the fog.  They were throwing ropes
down to us in dozens, I must say.  I and the captain fastened one of
them under Mrs Anthony's arms: I remember she had a sort of dim smile
on her face."

"Haul up carefully," I shouted to the people on the steamer's deck.
"You've got a woman on that line."

The captain saw her landed up there safe.  And then we made a rush round
our decks to see no one was left behind.  As we got back the captain
says: "Here she's gone at last, Powell; the dear old thing!  Run down at
sea."

"Indeed she is gone," I said.  "But it might have been worse.  Shin up
this rope, sir, for God's sake.  I will steady it for you."

"What are you thinking about," he says angrily.  "It isn't my turn.  Up
with you."

These were the last words he ever spoke on earth I suppose.  I knew he
meant to be the last to leave his ship, so I swarmed up as quick as I
could, and those damned lunatics up there grab at me from above, lug me
in, drag me along aft through the row and the riot of the silliest
excitement I ever did see.  Somebody hails from the bridge, "Have you
got them all on board?" and a dozen silly asses start yelling all
together, "All saved!  All saved," and then that accursed Irishman on
the bridge, with me roaring No!  No! till I thought my head would burst,
rings his engines astern.  He rings the engines astern--I fighting like
mad to make myself heard!  And of course...

I saw tears, a shower of them fall down Mr Powell's face.  His voice
broke.

"The _Ferndale_ went down like a stone and Captain Anthony went down
with her, the finest man's soul that ever left a sailor's body.  I raved
like a maniac, like a devil, with a lot of fools crowding round me and
asking, `Aren't you the captain?'

"I wasn't fit to tie the shoe-strings of the man you have drowned," I
screamed at them...  Well!  Well!  I could see for myself that it was no
good lowering a boat.  You couldn't have seen her alongside.  No use.
And only think, Marlow, it was I who had to go and tell Mrs Anthony.
They had taken her down below somewhere, first-class saloon.  I had to
go and tell her!  That Flaherty, God forgive him, comes to me as white
as a sheet, "I think you are the proper person."  God forgive him.  I
wished to die a hundred times.  A lot of kind ladies, passengers, were
chattering excitedly around Mrs Anthony--a real parrot house.  The
ship's doctor went before me.  He whispers right and left and then there
falls a sudden hush.  Yes, I wished myself dead.  But Mrs Anthony was a
brick.

Here Mr Powell fairly burst into tears.  "No one could help loving
Captain Anthony.  I leave you to imagine what he was to her.  Yet before
the week was out it was she who was helping me to pull myself together."

"Is Mrs Anthony in England now?"  I asked after a while.

He wiped his eyes without any false shame.  "Oh yes."  He began to look
for matches, and while diving for the box under the table added: "And
not very far from here either.  That little village up there--you know."

"No!  Really!  Oh I see!"

Mr Powell smoked austerely, very detached.  But I could not let him off
like this.  The sly beggar.  So this was the secret of his passion for
sailing about the river, the reason of his fondness for that creek.

"And I suppose," I said, "that you are still as `enthusiastic' as ever.
Eh?  If I were you I would just mention my enthusiasm to Mrs Anthony.
Why not?"

He caught his falling pipe neatly.  But if what the French call
_effarement_ was ever expressed on a human countenance it was on this
occasion, testifying to his modesty, his sensibility and his innocence.
He looked afraid of somebody overhearing my audacious--almost
sacrilegious hint--as if there had not been a mile and a half of lonely
marshland and dykes between us and the nearest human habitation.  And
then perhaps he remembered the soothing fact for he allowed a gleam to
light up his eyes, like the reflection of some inward fire tended in the
sanctuary of his heart by a devotion as pure as that of any vestal.

It flashed and went out.  He smiled a bashful smile, sighed:

"Pah!  Foolishness.  You ought to know better," he said, more sad than
annoyed.  "But I forgot that you never knew Captain Anthony," he added
indulgently.

I reminded him that I knew Mrs Anthony; even before he--an old friend
now--had ever set eyes on her.  And as he told me that Mrs Anthony had
heard of our meetings I wondered whether she would care to see me.  Mr
Powell volunteered no opinion then; but next time we lay in the creek he
said, "She will be very pleased.  You had better go to-day."

The afternoon was well advanced before I approached the cottage.  The
amenity of a fine day in its decline surrounded me with a beneficent, a
calming influence; I felt it in the silence of the shady lane, in the
pure air, in the blue sky.  It is difficult to retain the memory of the
conflicts, miseries, temptations and crimes of men's self-seeking
existence when one is alone with the charming serenity of the
unconscious nature.  Breathing the dreamless peace around the
picturesque cottage I was approaching, it seemed to me that it must
reign everywhere, over all the globe of water and land and in the hearts
of all the dwellers on this earth.

Flora came down to the garden-gate to meet me, no longer the perversely
tempting, sorrowful, wisp of white mist drifting in the complicated bad
dream of existence: Neither did she look like a forsaken elf.  I
stammered out stupidly, "Again in the country, Miss ...  Mrs.."  She
was very good, returned the pressure of my hand, but we were slightly
embarrassed.  Then we laughed a little.  Then we became grave.

I am no lover of day-breaks.  You know how thin, equivocal, is the light
of the dawn.  But she was now her true self, she was like a fine
tranquil afternoon--and not so very far advanced either.  A woman not
much over thirty, with a dazzling complexion and a little colour, a lot
of hair, a smooth brow, a fine chin, and only the eyes of the Flora of
the old days, absolutely unchanged.

In the room into which she led me we found a Miss Somebody--I didn't
catch the name,--an unobtrusive, even an indistinct, middle-aged person
in black.  A companion.  All very proper.  She came and went and even
sat down at times in the room, but a little apart, with some sewing.  By
the time she had brought in a lighted lamp I had heard all the details
which really matter in this story.  Between me and her who was once
Flora de Barral the conversation was not likely to keep strictly to the
weather.

The lamp had a rosy shade; and its glow wreathed her in perpetual
blushes, made her appear wonderfully young as she sat before me in a
deep, high-backed armchair.  I asked:

"Tell me what is it you said in that famous letter which so upset Mrs
Fyne, and caused little Fyne to interfere in this offensive manner?"

"It was simply crude," she said earnestly.  "I was feeling reckless and
I wrote recklessly.  I knew she would disapprove and I wrote foolishly.
It was the echo of her own stupid talk.  I said that I did not love her
brother but that I had no scruples whatever in marrying him."

She paused, hesitating, then with a shy half-laugh:

"I really believed I was selling myself, Mr Marlow.  And I was proud of
it.  What I suffered afterwards I couldn't tell you; because I only
discovered my love for my poor Roderick through agonies of rage and
humiliation.  I came to suspect him of despising me; but I could not put
it to the test because of my father.  Oh!  I would not have been too
proud.  But I had to spare poor papa's feelings.  Roderick was perfect,
but I felt as though I were on the rack and not allowed even to cry out.
Papa's prejudice against Roderick was my greatest grief.  It was
distracting.  It frightened me.  Oh!  I have been miserable!  That night
when my poor father died suddenly I am certain they had some sort of
discussion, about me.  But I did not want to hold out any longer against
my own heart!  I could not."

She stopped short, then impulsively:

"Truth will out, Mr Marlow."

"Yes," I said.

She went on musingly.

"Sorrow and happiness were mingled at first like darkness and light.
For months I lived in a dusk of feelings.  But it was quiet.  It was
warm..."

Again she paused, then going back in her thoughts.  "No!  There was no
harm in that letter.  It was simply foolish.  What did I know of life
then?  Nothing.  But Mrs Fyne ought to have known better.  She wrote a
letter to her brother, a little later.  Years afterwards Roderick
allowed me to glance at it.  I found in it this sentence: `For years I
tried to make a friend of that girl; but I warn you once more that she
has the nature of a heartless adventuress' ...  `Adventuress!' repeated
Flora slowly.  `So be it.  I have had a fine adventure.'"

"It was fine, then," I said interested.

"The finest in the world!  Only think!  I loved and I was loved,
untroubled, at peace, without remorse, without fear.  All the world, all
life were transformed for me.  And how much I have seen!  How good
people were to me!  Roderick was so much liked everywhere.  Yes, I have
known kindness and safety.  The most familiar things appeared lighted up
with a new light, clothed with a loveliness I had never suspected.  The
sea itself! ...  You are a sailor.  You have lived your life on it.  But
do you know how beautiful it is, how strong, how charming, how friendly,
how mighty..."

I listened amazed and touched.  She was silent only a little while.

"It was too good to last.  But nothing can rob me of it now...  Don't
think that I repine.  I am not even sad now.  Yes, I have been happy.
But I remember also the time when I was unhappy beyond endurance, beyond
desperation.  Yes.  You remember that.  And later on, too.  There was a
time on board the _Ferndale_ when the only moments of relief I knew were
when I made Mr Powell talk to me a little on the poop.  You like him?--
Don't you?"

"Excellent fellow," I said warmly.  "You see him often?"

"Of course.  I hardly know another soul in the world.  I am alone.  And
he has plenty of time on his hands.  His aunt died a few years ago.
He's doing nothing, I believe."

"He is fond of the sea," I remarked.  "He loves it."

"He seems to have given it up," she murmured.

"I wonder why?"

She remained silent.  "Perhaps it is because he loves something else
better," I went on.  "Come, Mrs Anthony, don't let me carry away from
here the idea that you are a selfish person, hugging the memory of your
past happiness, like a rich man his treasure, forgetting the poor at the
gate."

I rose to go, for it was getting late.  She got up in some agitation and
went out with me into the fragrant darkness of the garden.  She detained
my hand for a moment and then in the very voice of the Flora of old
days, with the exact intonation, showing the old mistrust, the old doubt
of herself, the old scar of the blow received in childhood, pathetic and
funny, she murmured, "Do you think it possible that he should care for
me?"

"Just ask him yourself.  You are brave."

"Oh, I am brave enough," she said with a sigh.

"Then do.  For if you don't you will be wronging that patient man
cruelly."

I departed leaving her dumb.  Next day, seeing Powell making
preparations to go ashore, I asked him to give my regards to Mrs
Anthony.  He promised he would.

"Listen, Powell," I said.  "We got to know each other by chance?"

"Oh, quite!" he admitted, adjusting his hat.

"And the science of life consists in seizing every chance that presents
itself," I pursued.  "Do you believe that?"

"Gospel truth," he declared innocently.

"Well, don't forget it."

"Oh, I!  I don't expect now anything to present itself," he said,
jumping ashore.

He didn't turn up at high water.  I set my sail and just as I had cast
off from the bank, round the black barn, in the dusk, two figures
appeared and stood silent, indistinct.

"Is that you, Powell?"  I hailed.

"And Mrs Anthony," his voice came impressively through the silence of
the great marsh.  "I am not sailing to-night.  I have to see Mrs
Anthony home."

"Then I must even go alone," I cried.

Flora's voice wished me "_bon voyage_" in a most friendly but tremulous
tone.

"You shall hear from me before long," shouted Powell, suddenly, just as
my boat had cleared the mouth of the creek.

"This was yesterday," added Marlow, lolling in the armchair lazily.  "I
haven't heard yet; but I expect to hear any moment...  What on earth are
you grinning at in this sarcastic manner?  I am not afraid of going to
church with a friend.  Hang it all, for all my belief in Chance I am not
exactly a pagan..."





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