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Title: 'Twixt Land and Sea
Author: Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924
Language: English
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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 "'Twixt Land and Sea" ***

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Transcribed from the 1920 J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]



                            ’TWIXT LAND & SEA
                                  TALES


                                    BY
                              JOSEPH CONRAD

                            A SMILE OF FORTUNE

                            THE SECRET SHARER

                            FREYA OF THE SEVEN
                                  ISLES

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

    _Life is a tragic folly_
    _Let us laugh and be jolly_
    _Away with melancholy_
    _Bring me a branch of holly_
    _Life is a tragic folly_

                                                                A. SYMONS.

                                * * * * *

                      LONDON: J. M. DENT & SONS LTD.
                    ALDINE HOUSE, COVENT GARDEN · 1920

FIRST EDITION     _October_ 1912
REPRINTED         _November_ 1912; _January_ 1913; _November_ 1918;
                  _December_ 1920

                                * * * * *

                          _All rights reserved_

                                * * * * *

                                    TO
                           CAPTAIN C. M. MARRIS
                          LATE MASTER AND OWNER
                                  OF THE
                      ARABY MAID: ARCHIPELAGO TRADER
                            IN MEMORY OF THOSE
                          OLD DAYS OF ADVENTURE



CONTENTS

                                PAGE
A Smile of Fortune                 1
The Secret Sharer                 99
Freya of the Seven Isles         161



A SMILE OF FORTUNE
HARBOUR STORY


EVER since the sun rose I had been looking ahead.  The ship glided gently
in smooth water.  After a sixty days’ passage I was anxious to make my
landfall, a fertile and beautiful island of the tropics.  The more
enthusiastic of its inhabitants delight in describing it as the “Pearl of
the Ocean.”  Well, let us call it the “Pearl.”  It’s a good name.  A
pearl distilling much sweetness upon the world.

This is only a way of telling you that first-rate sugar-cane is grown
there.  All the population of the Pearl lives for it and by it.  Sugar is
their daily bread, as it were.  And I was coming to them for a cargo of
sugar in the hope of the crop having been good and of the freights being
high.

Mr. Burns, my chief mate, made out the land first; and very soon I became
entranced by this blue, pinnacled apparition, almost transparent against
the light of the sky, a mere emanation, the astral body of an island
risen to greet me from afar.  It is a rare phenomenon, such a sight of
the Pearl at sixty miles off.  And I wondered half seriously whether it
was a good omen, whether what would meet me in that island would be as
luckily exceptional as this beautiful, dreamlike vision so very few
seamen have been privileged to behold.

But horrid thoughts of business interfered with my enjoyment of an
accomplished passage.  I was anxious for success and I wished, too, to do
justice to the flattering latitude of my owners’ instructions contained
in one noble phrase: “We leave it to you to do the best you can with the
ship.” . . . All the world being thus given me for a stage, my abilities
appeared to me no bigger than a pinhead.

Meantime the wind dropped, and Mr. Burns began to make disagreeable
remarks about my usual bad luck.  I believe it was his devotion for me
which made him critically outspoken on every occasion.  All the same, I
would not have put up with his humours if it had not been my lot at one
time to nurse him through a desperate illness at sea.  After snatching
him out of the jaws of death, so to speak, it would have been absurd to
throw away such an efficient officer.  But sometimes I wished he would
dismiss himself.

We were late in closing in with the land, and had to anchor outside the
harbour till next day.  An unpleasant and unrestful night followed.  In
this roadstead, strange to us both, Burns and I remained on deck almost
all the time.  Clouds swirled down the porphyry crags under which we lay.
The rising wind made a great bullying noise amongst the naked spars, with
interludes of sad moaning.  I remarked that we had been in luck to fetch
the anchorage before dark.  It would have been a nasty, anxious night to
hang off a harbour under canvas.  But my chief mate was uncompromising in
his attitude.

“Luck, you call it, sir!  Ay—our usual luck.  The sort of luck to thank
God it’s no worse!”

And so he fretted through the dark hours, while I drew on my fund of
philosophy.  Ah, but it was an exasperating, weary, endless night, to be
lying at anchor close under that black coast!  The agitated water made
snarling sounds all round the ship.  At times a wild gust of wind out of
a gully high up on the cliffs struck on our rigging a harsh and plaintive
note like the wail of a forsaken soul.



CHAPTER I


By half-past seven in the morning, the ship being then inside the harbour
at last and moored within a long stone’s-throw from the quay, my stock of
philosophy was nearly exhausted.  I was dressing hurriedly in my cabin
when the steward came tripping in with a morning suit over his arm.

Hungry, tired, and depressed, with my head engaged inside a white shirt
irritatingly stuck together by too much starch, I desired him peevishly
to “heave round with that breakfast.”  I wanted to get ashore as soon as
possible.

“Yes, sir.  Ready at eight, sir.  There’s a gentleman from the shore
waiting to speak to you, sir.”

This statement was curiously slurred over.  I dragged the shirt violently
over my head and emerged staring.

“So early!” I cried.  “Who’s he?  What does he want?”

On coming in from sea one has to pick up the conditions of an utterly
unrelated existence.  Every little event at first has the peculiar
emphasis of novelty.  I was greatly surprised by that early caller; but
there was no reason for my steward to look so particularly foolish.

“Didn’t you ask for the name?” I inquired in a stern tone.

“His name’s Jacobus, I believe,” he mumbled shamefacedly.

“Mr. Jacobus!” I exclaimed loudly, more surprised than ever, but with a
total change of feeling.  “Why couldn’t you say so at once?”

But the fellow had scuttled out of my room.  Through the momentarily
opened door I had a glimpse of a tall, stout man standing in the cuddy by
the table on which the cloth was already laid; a “harbour” table-cloth,
stainless and dazzlingly white.  So far good.

I shouted courteously through the closed door, that I was dressing and
would be with him in a moment.  In return the assurance that there was no
hurry reached me in the visitor’s deep, quiet undertone.  His time was my
own.  He dared say I would give him a cup of coffee presently.

“I am afraid you will have a poor breakfast,” I cried apologetically.
“We have been sixty-one days at sea, you know.”

A quiet little laugh, with a “That’ll be all right, Captain,” was his
answer.  All this, words, intonation, the glimpsed attitude of the man in
the cuddy, had an unexpected character, a something friendly in
it—propitiatory.  And my surprise was not diminished thereby.  What did
this call mean?  Was it the sign of some dark design against my
commercial innocence?

Ah!  These commercial interests—spoiling the finest life under the sun.
Why must the sea be used for trade—and for war as well?  Why kill and
traffic on it, pursuing selfish aims of no great importance after all?
It would have been so much nicer just to sail about with here and there a
port and a bit of land to stretch one’s legs on, buy a few books and get
a change of cooking for a while.  But, living in a world more or less
homicidal and desperately mercantile, it was plainly my duty to make the
best of its opportunities.

My owners’ letter had left it to me, as I have said before, to do my best
for the ship, according to my own judgment.  But it contained also a
postscript worded somewhat as follows:

“Without meaning to interfere with your liberty of action we are writing
by the outgoing mail to some of our business friends there who may be of
assistance to you.  We desire you particularly to call on Mr. Jacobus, a
prominent merchant and charterer.  Should you hit it off with him he may
be able to put you in the way of profitable employment for the ship.”

Hit it off!  Here was the prominent creature absolutely on board asking
for the favour of a cup of coffee!  And life not being a fairy-tale the
improbability of the event almost shocked me.  Had I discovered an
enchanted nook of the earth where wealthy merchants rush fasting on board
ships before they are fairly moored?  Was this white magic or merely some
black trick of trade?  I came in the end (while making the bow of my tie)
to suspect that perhaps I did not get the name right.  I had been
thinking of the prominent Mr. Jacobus pretty frequently during the
passage and my hearing might have been deceived by some remote similarity
of sound. . .  The steward might have said Antrobus—or maybe Jackson.

But coming out of my stateroom with an interrogative “Mr. Jacobus?” I was
met by a quiet “Yes,” uttered with a gentle smile.  The “yes” was rather
perfunctory.  He did not seem to make much of the fact that he was Mr.
Jacobus.  I took stock of a big, pale face, hair thin on the top,
whiskers also thin, of a faded nondescript colour, heavy eyelids.  The
thick, smooth lips in repose looked as if glued together.  The smile was
faint.  A heavy, tranquil man.  I named my two officers, who just then
came down to breakfast; but why Mr. Burns’s silent demeanour should
suggest suppressed indignation I could not understand.

While we were taking our seats round the table some disconnected words of
an altercation going on in the companionway reached my ear.  A stranger
apparently wanted to come down to interview me, and the steward was
opposing him.

“You can’t see him.”

“Why can’t I?”

“The Captain is at breakfast, I tell you.  He’ll be going on shore
presently, and you can speak to him on deck.”

“That’s not fair.  You let—”

“I’ve had nothing to do with that.”

“Oh, yes, you have.  Everybody ought to have the same chance.  You let
that fellow—”

The rest I lost.  The person having been repulsed successfully, the
steward came down.  I can’t say he looked flushed—he was a mulatto—but he
looked flustered.  After putting the dishes on the table he remained by
the sideboard with that lackadaisical air of indifference he used to
assume when he had done something too clever by half and was afraid of
getting into a scrape over it.  The contemptuous expression of Mr.
Burns’s face as he looked from him to me was really extraordinary.  I
couldn’t imagine what new bee had stung the mate now.

The Captain being silent, nobody else cared to speak, as is the way in
ships.  And I was saying nothing simply because I had been made dumb by
the splendour of the entertainment.  I had expected the usual
sea-breakfast, whereas I beheld spread before us a veritable feast of
shore provisions: eggs, sausages, butter which plainly did not come from
a Danish tin, cutlets, and even a dish of potatoes.  It was three weeks
since I had seen a real, live potato.  I contemplated them with interest,
and Mr. Jacobus disclosed himself as a man of human, homely sympathies,
and something of a thought-reader.

“Try them, Captain,” he encouraged me in a friendly undertone.  “They are
excellent.”

“They look that,” I admitted.  “Grown on the island, I suppose.”

“Oh, no, imported.  Those grown here would be more expensive.”

I was grieved at the ineptitude of the conversation.  Were these the
topics for a prominent and wealthy merchant to discuss?  I thought the
simplicity with which he made himself at home rather attractive; but what
is one to talk about to a man who comes on one suddenly, after sixty-one
days at sea, out of a totally unknown little town in an island one has
never seen before?  What were (besides sugar) the interests of that crumb
of the earth, its gossip, its topics of conversation?  To draw him on
business at once would have been almost indecent—or even worse:
impolitic.  All I could do at the moment was to keep on in the old
groove.

“Are the provisions generally dear here?” I asked, fretting inwardly at
my inanity.

“I wouldn’t say that,” he answered placidly, with that appearance of
saving his breath his restrained manner of speaking suggested.

He would not be more explicit, yet he did not evade the subject.  Eyeing
the table in a spirit of complete abstemiousness (he wouldn’t let me help
him to any eatables) he went into details of supply.  The beef was for
the most part imported from Madagascar; mutton of course was rare and
somewhat expensive, but good goat’s flesh—

“Are these goat’s cutlets?” I exclaimed hastily, pointing at one of the
dishes.

Posed sentimentally by the sideboard, the steward gave a start.

“Lor’, no, sir!  It’s real mutton!”

Mr. Burns got through his breakfast impatiently, as if exasperated by
being made a party to some monstrous foolishness, muttered a curt excuse,
and went on deck.  Shortly afterwards the second mate took his smooth red
countenance out of the cabin.  With the appetite of a schoolboy, and
after two months of sea-fare, he appreciated the generous spread.  But I
did not.  It smacked of extravagance.  All the same, it was a remarkable
feat to have produced it so quickly, and I congratulated the steward on
his smartness in a somewhat ominous tone.  He gave me a deprecatory smile
and, in a way I didn’t know what to make of, blinked his fine dark eyes
in the direction of the guest.

The latter asked under his breath for another cup of coffee, and nibbled
ascetically at a piece of very hard ship’s biscuit.  I don’t think he
consumed a square inch in the end; but meantime he gave me, casually as
it were, a complete account of the sugar crop, of the local business
houses, of the state of the freight market.  All that talk was
interspersed with hints as to personalities, amounting to veiled
warnings, but his pale, fleshy face remained equable, without a gleam, as
if ignorant of his voice.  As you may imagine I opened my ears very wide.
Every word was precious.  My ideas as to the value of business friendship
were being favourably modified.  He gave me the names of all the
disponible ships together with their tonnage and the names of their
commanders.  From that, which was still commercial information, he
condescended to mere harbour gossip.  The _Hilda_ had unaccountably lost
her figurehead in the Bay of Bengal, and her captain was greatly affected
by this.  He and the ship had been getting on in years together and the
old gentleman imagined this strange event to be the forerunner of his own
early dissolution.  The _Stella_ had experienced awful weather off the
Cape—had her decks swept, and the chief officer washed overboard.  And
only a few hours before reaching port the baby died.

Poor Captain H— and his wife were terribly cut up.  If they had only been
able to bring it into port alive it could have been probably saved; but
the wind failed them for the last week or so, light breezes, and . . .
the baby was going to be buried this afternoon.  He supposed I would
attend—

“Do you think I ought to?” I asked, shrinkingly.

He thought so, decidedly.  It would be greatly appreciated.  All the
captains in the harbour were going to attend.  Poor Mrs. H— was quite
prostrated.  Pretty hard on H— altogether.

“And you, Captain—you are not married I suppose?”

“No, I am not married,” I said.  “Neither married nor even engaged.”

Mentally I thanked my stars; and while he smiled in a musing, dreamy
fashion, I expressed my acknowledgments for his visit and for the
interesting business information he had been good enough to impart to me.
But I said nothing of my wonder thereat.

“Of course, I would have made a point of calling on you in a day or two,”
I concluded.

He raised his eyelids distinctly at me, and somehow managed to look
rather more sleepy than before.

“In accordance with my owners’ instructions,” I explained.  “You have had
their letter, of course?”

By that time he had raised his eyebrows too but without any particular
emotion.  On the contrary he struck me then as absolutely imperturbable.

“Oh!  You must be thinking of my brother.”

It was for me, then, to say “Oh!”  But I hope that no more than civil
surprise appeared in my voice when I asked him to what, then, I owed the
pleasure. . . . He was reaching for an inside pocket leisurely.

“My brother’s a very different person.  But I am well known in this part
of the world.  You’ve probably heard—”

I took a card he extended to me.  A thick business card, as I lived!
Alfred Jacobus—the other was Ernest—dealer in every description of ship’s
stores!  Provisions salt and fresh, oils, paints, rope, canvas, etc.,
etc.  Ships in harbour victualled by contract on moderate terms—

“I’ve never heard of you,” I said brusquely.

His low-pitched assurance did not abandon him.

“You will be very well satisfied,” he breathed out quietly.

I was not placated.  I had the sense of having been circumvented somehow.
Yet I had deceived myself—if there was any deception.  But the confounded
cheek of inviting himself to breakfast was enough to deceive any one.
And the thought struck me: Why!  The fellow had provided all these
eatables himself in the way of business.  I said:

“You must have got up mighty early this morning.”

He admitted with simplicity that he was on the quay before six o’clock
waiting for my ship to come in.  He gave me the impression that it would
be impossible to get rid of him now.

“If you think we are going to live on that scale,” I said, looking at the
table with an irritated eye, “you are jolly well mistaken.”

“You’ll find it all right, Captain.  I quite understand.”

Nothing could disturb his equanimity.  I felt dissatisfied, but I could
not very well fly out at him.  He had told me many useful things—and
besides he was the brother of that wealthy merchant.  That seemed queer
enough.

I rose and told him curtly that I must now go ashore.  At once he offered
the use of his boat for all the time of my stay in port.

“I only make a nominal charge,” he continued equably.  “My man remains
all day at the landing-steps.  You have only to blow a whistle when you
want the boat.”

And, standing aside at every doorway to let me go through first, he
carried me off in his custody after all.  As we crossed the quarter-deck
two shabby individuals stepped forward and in mournful silence offered me
business cards which I took from them without a word under his heavy eye.
It was a useless and gloomy ceremony.  They were the touts of the other
ship-chandlers, and he placid at my back, ignored their existence.

We parted on the quay, after he had expressed quietly the hope of seeing
me often “at the store.”  He had a smoking-room for captains there, with
newspapers and a box of “rather decent cigars.”  I left him very
unceremoniously.

My consignees received me with the usual business heartiness, but their
account of the state of the freight-market was by no means so favourable
as the talk of the wrong Jacobus had led me to expect.  Naturally I
became inclined now to put my trust in his version, rather.  As I closed
the door of the private office behind me I thought to myself: “H’m.  A
lot of lies.  Commercial diplomacy.  That’s the sort of thing a man
coming from sea has got to expect.  They would try to charter the ship
under the market rate.”

In the big, outer room, full of desks, the chief clerk, a tall, lean,
shaved person in immaculate white clothes and with a shiny,
closely-cropped black head on which silvery gleams came and went, rose
from his place and detained me affably.  Anything they could do for me,
they would be most happy.  Was I likely to call again in the afternoon?
What?  Going to a funeral?  Oh, yes, poor Captain H—.

He pulled a long, sympathetic face for a moment, then, dismissing from
this workaday world the baby, which had got ill in a tempest and had died
from too much calm at sea, he asked me with a dental, shark-like smile—if
sharks had false teeth—whether I had yet made my little arrangements for
the ship’s stay in port.

“Yes, with Jacobus,” I answered carelessly.  “I understand he’s the
brother of Mr. Ernest Jacobus to whom I have an introduction from my
owners.”

I was not sorry to let him know I was not altogether helpless in the
hands of his firm.  He screwed his thin lips dubiously.

“Why,” I cried, “isn’t he the brother?”

“Oh, yes. . . . They haven’t spoken to each other for eighteen years,” he
added impressively after a pause.

“Indeed!  What’s the quarrel about?”

“Oh, nothing!  Nothing that one would care to mention,” he protested
primly.  “He’s got quite a large business.  The best ship-chandler here,
without a doubt.  Business is all very well, but there is such a thing as
personal character, too, isn’t there?  Good-morning, Captain.”

He went away mincingly to his desk.  He amused me.  He resembled an old
maid, a commercial old maid, shocked by some impropriety.  Was it a
commercial impropriety?  Commercial impropriety is a serious matter, for
it aims at one’s pocket.  Or was he only a purist in conduct who
disapproved of Jacobus doing his own touting?  It was certainly
undignified.  I wondered how the merchant brother liked it.  But then
different countries, different customs.  In a community so isolated and
so exclusively “trading” social standards have their own scale.



CHAPTER II


I WOULD have gladly dispensed with the mournful opportunity of becoming
acquainted by sight with all my fellow-captains at once.  However I found
my way to the cemetery.  We made a considerable group of bareheaded men
in sombre garments.  I noticed that those of our company most approaching
to the now obsolete sea-dog type were the most moved—perhaps because they
had less “manner” than the new generation.  The old sea-dog, away from
his natural element, was a simple and sentimental animal.  I noticed
one—he was facing me across the grave—who was dropping tears.  They
trickled down his weather-beaten face like drops of rain on an old rugged
wall.  I learned afterwards that he was looked upon as the terror of
sailors, a hard man; that he had never had wife or chick of his own, and
that, engaged from his tenderest years in deep-sea voyages, he knew women
and children merely by sight.

Perhaps he was dropping those tears over his lost opportunities, from
sheer envy of paternity and in strange jealousy of a sorrow which he
could never know.  Man, and even the sea-man, is a capricious animal, the
creature and the victim of lost opportunities.  But he made me feel
ashamed of my callousness.  I had no tears.

I listened with horribly critical detachment to that service I had had to
read myself, once or twice, over childlike men who had died at sea.  The
words of hope and defiance, the winged words so inspiring in the free
immensity of water and sky, seemed to fall wearily into the little grave.
What was the use of asking Death where her sting was, before that small,
dark hole in the ground?  And then my thoughts escaped me altogether—away
into matters of life—and no very high matters at that—ships, freights,
business.  In the instability of his emotions man resembles deplorably a
monkey.  I was disgusted with my thoughts—and I thought: Shall I be able
to get a charter soon?  Time’s money. . . . Will that Jacobus really put
good business in my way?  I must go and see him in a day or two.

Don’t imagine that I pursued these thoughts with any precision.  They
pursued me rather: vague, shadowy, restless, shamefaced.  Theirs was a
callous, abominable, almost revolting, pertinacity.  And it was the
presence of that pertinacious ship-chandler which had started them.  He
stood mournfully amongst our little band of men from the sea, and I was
angry at his presence, which, suggesting his brother the merchant, had
caused me to become outrageous to myself.  For indeed I had preserved
some decency of feeling.  It was only the mind which—

It was over at last.  The poor father—a man of forty with black, bushy
side-whiskers and a pathetic gash on his freshly-shaved chin—thanked us
all, swallowing his tears.  But for some reason, either because I
lingered at the gate of the cemetery being somewhat hazy as to my way
back, or because I was the youngest, or ascribing my moodiness caused by
remorse to some more worthy and appropriate sentiment, or simply because
I was even more of a stranger to him than the others—he singled me out.
Keeping at my side, he renewed his thanks, which I listened to in a
gloomy, conscience-stricken silence.  Suddenly he slipped one hand under
my arm and waved the other after a tall, stout figure walking away by
itself down a street in a flutter of thin, grey garments:

“That’s a good fellow—a real good fellow”—he swallowed down a belated
sob—“this Jacobus.”

And he told me in a low voice that Jacobus was the first man to board his
ship on arrival, and, learning of their misfortune, had taken charge of
everything, volunteered to attend to all routine business, carried off
the ship’s papers on shore, arranged for the funeral—

“A good fellow.  I was knocked over.  I had been looking at my wife for
ten days.  And helpless.  Just you think of that!  The dear little chap
died the very day we made the land.  How I managed to take the ship in
God alone knows!  I couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t speak; I couldn’t.
. . . You’ve heard, perhaps, that we lost our mate overboard on the
passage?  There was no one to do it for me.  And the poor woman nearly
crazy down below there all alone with the . . . By the Lord!  It isn’t
fair.”

We walked in silence together.  I did not know how to part from him.  On
the quay he let go my arm and struck fiercely his fist into the palm of
his other hand.

“By God, it isn’t fair!” he cried again.  “Don’t you ever marry unless
you can chuck the sea first. . . . It isn’t fair.”

I had no intention to “chuck the sea,” and when he left me to go aboard
his ship I felt convinced that I would never marry.  While I was waiting
at the steps for Jacobus’s boatman, who had gone off somewhere, the
captain of the _Hilda_ joined me, a slender silk umbrella in his hand and
the sharp points of his archaic, Gladstonian shirt-collar framing a
small, clean-shaved, ruddy face.  It was wonderfully fresh for his age,
beautifully modelled and lit up by remarkably clear blue eyes.  A lot of
white hair, glossy like spun glass, curled upwards slightly under the
brim of his valuable, ancient, panama hat with a broad black ribbon.  In
the aspect of that vivacious, neat, little old man there was something
quaintly angelic and also boyish.

He accosted me, as though he had been in the habit of seeing me every day
of his life from my earliest childhood, with a whimsical remark on the
appearance of a stout negro woman who was sitting upon a stool near the
edge of the quay.  Presently he observed amiably that I had a very pretty
little barque.

I returned this civil speech by saying readily:

“Not so pretty as the _Hilda_.”

At once the corners of his clear-cut, sensitive mouth dropped dismally.

“Oh, dear!  I can hardly bear to look at her now.”

Did I know, he asked anxiously, that he had lost the figurehead of his
ship; a woman in a blue tunic edged with gold, the face perhaps not so
very, very pretty, but her bare white arms beautifully shaped and
extended as if she were swimming?  Did I?  Who would have expected such a
things . . . After twenty years too!

Nobody could have guessed from his tone that the woman was made of wood;
his trembling voice, his agitated manner gave to his lamentations a
ludicrously scandalous flavour. . . . Disappeared at night—a clear fine
night with just a slight swell—in the gulf of Bengal.  Went off without a
splash; no one in the ship could tell why, how, at what hour—after twenty
years last October. . . . Did I ever hear! . . .

I assured him sympathetically that I had never heard—and he became very
doleful.  This meant no good he was sure.  There was something in it
which looked like a warning.  But when I remarked that surely another
figure of a woman could be procured I found myself being soundly rated
for my levity.  The old boy flushed pink under his clear tan as if I had
proposed something improper.  One could replace masts, I was told, or a
lost rudder—any working part of a ship; but where was the use of sticking
up a new figurehead?  What satisfaction?  How could one care for it?  It
was easy to see that I had never been shipmates with a figurehead for
over twenty years.

“A new figurehead!” he scolded in unquenchable indignation.  “Why!  I’ve
been a widower now for eight-and-twenty years come next May and I would
just as soon think of getting a new wife.  You’re as bad as that fellow
Jacobus.”

I was highly amused.

“What has Jacobus done?  Did he want you to marry again, Captain?” I
inquired in a deferential tone.  But he was launched now and only grinned
fiercely.

“Procure—indeed!  He’s the sort of chap to procure you anything you like
for a price.  I hadn’t been moored here for an hour when he got on board
and at once offered to sell me a figurehead he happens to have in his
yard somewhere.  He got Smith, my mate, to talk to me about it.  ‘Mr.
Smith,’ says I, ‘don’t you know me better than that?  Am I the sort that
would pick up with another man’s cast-off figurehead?’  And after all
these years too!  The way some of you young fellows talk—”

I affected great compunction, and as I stepped into the boat I said
soberly:

“Then I see nothing for it but to fit in a neat fiddlehead—perhaps.  You
know, carved scrollwork, nicely gilt.”

He became very dejected after his outburst.

“Yes.  Scrollwork.  Maybe.  Jacobus hinted at that too.  He’s never at a
loss when there’s any money to be extracted from a sailorman.  He would
make me pay through the nose for that carving.  A gilt fiddlehead did you
say—eh?  I dare say it would do for you.  You young fellows don’t seem to
have any feeling for what’s proper.”

He made a convulsive gesture with his right arm.

“Never mind.  Nothing can make much difference.  I would just as soon let
the old thing go about the world with a bare cutwater,” he cried sadly.
Then as the boat got away from the steps he raised his voice on the edge
of the quay with comical animosity:

“I would!  If only to spite that figurehead-procuring bloodsucker.  I am
an old bird here and don’t you forget it.  Come and see me on board some
day!”

I spent my first evening in port quietly in my ship’s cuddy; and glad
enough was I to think that the shore life which strikes one as so pettily
complex, discordant, and so full of new faces on first coming from sea,
could be kept off for a few hours longer.  I was however fated to hear
the Jacobus note once more before I slept.

Mr. Burns had gone ashore after the evening meal to have, as he said, “a
look round.”  As it was quite dark when he announced his intention I
didn’t ask him what it was he expected to see.  Some time about midnight,
while sitting with a book in the saloon, I heard cautious movements in
the lobby and hailed him by name.

Burns came in, stick and hat in hand, incredibly vulgarised by his smart
shore togs, with a jaunty air and an odious twinkle in his eye.  Being
asked to sit down he laid his hat and stick on the table and after we had
talked of ship affairs for a little while:

“I’ve been hearing pretty tales on shore about that ship-chandler fellow
who snatched the job from you so neatly, sir.”

I remonstrated with my late patient for his manner of expressing himself.
But he only tossed his head disdainfully.  A pretty dodge indeed:
boarding a strange ship with breakfast in two baskets for all hands and
calmly inviting himself to the captain’s table!  Never heard of anything
so crafty and so impudent in his life.

I found myself defending Jacobus’s unusual methods.

“He’s the brother of one of the wealthiest merchants in the port.”  The
mate’s eyes fairly snapped green sparks.

“His grand brother hasn’t spoken to him for eighteen or twenty years,” he
declared triumphantly.  “So there!”

“I know all about that,” I interrupted loftily.

“Do you sir?  H’m!”  His mind was still running on the ethics of
commercial competition.  “I don’t like to see your good nature taken
advantage of.  He’s bribed that steward of ours with a five-rupee note to
let him come down—or ten for that matter.  He don’t care.  He will shove
that and more into the bill presently.”

“Is that one of the tales you have heard ashore?” I asked.

He assured me that his own sense could tell him that much.  No; what he
had heard on shore was that no respectable person in the whole town would
come near Jacobus.  He lived in a large old-fashioned house in one of the
quiet streets with a big garden.  After telling me this Burns put on a
mysterious air.  “He keeps a girl shut up there who, they say—”

“I suppose you’ve heard all this gossip in some eminently respectable
place?” I snapped at him in a most sarcastic tone.

The shaft told, because Mr. Burns, like many other disagreeable people,
was very sensitive himself.  He remained as if thunderstruck, with his
mouth open for some further communication, but I did not give him the
chance.  “And, anyhow, what the deuce do I care?” I added, retiring into
my room.

And this was a natural thing to say.  Yet somehow I was not indifferent.
I admit it is absurd to be concerned with the morals of one’s
ship-chandler, if ever so well connected; but his personality had stamped
itself upon my first day in harbour, in the way you know.

After this initial exploit Jacobus showed himself anything but intrusive.
He was out in a boat early every morning going round the ships he served,
and occasionally remaining on board one of them for breakfast with the
captain.

As I discovered that this practice was generally accepted, I just nodded
to him familiarly when one morning, on coming out of my room, I found him
in the cabin.  Glancing over the table I saw that his place was already
laid.  He stood awaiting my appearance, very bulky and placid, holding a
beautiful bunch of flowers in his thick hand.  He offered them to my
notice with a faint, sleepy smile.  From his own garden; had a very fine
old garden; picked them himself that morning before going out to
business; thought I would like. . . . He turned away.  “Steward, can you
oblige me with some water in a large jar, please.”

I assured him jocularly, as I took my place at the table, that he made me
feel as if I were a pretty girl, and that he mustn’t be surprised if I
blushed.  But he was busy arranging his floral tribute at the sideboard.
“Stand it before the Captain’s plate, steward, please.”  He made this
request in his usual undertone.

The offering was so pointed that I could do no less than to raise it to
my nose, and as he sat down noiselessly he breathed out the opinion that
a few flowers improved notably the appearance of a ship’s saloon.  He
wondered why I did not have a shelf fitted all round the skylight for
flowers in pots to take with me to sea.  He had a skilled workman able to
fit up shelves in a day, and he could procure me two or three dozen good
plants—

The tips of his thick, round fingers rested composedly on the edge of the
table on each side of his cup of coffee.  His face remained immovable.
Mr. Burns was smiling maliciously to himself.  I declared that I hadn’t
the slightest intention of turning my skylight into a conservatory only
to keep the cabin-table in a perpetual mess of mould and dead vegetable
matter.

“Rear most beautiful flowers,” he insisted with an upward glance.  “It’s
no trouble really.”

“Oh, yes, it is.  Lots of trouble,” I contradicted.  “And in the end some
fool leaves the skylight open in a fresh breeze, a flick of salt water
gets at them and the whole lot is dead in a week.”

Mr. Burns snorted a contemptuous approval.  Jacobus gave up the subject
passively.  After a time he unglued his thick lips to ask me if I had
seen his brother yet.  I was very curt in my answer.

“No, not yet.”

“A very different person,” he remarked dreamily and got up.  His
movements were particularly noiseless.  “Well—thank you, Captain.  If
anything is not to your liking please mention it to your steward.  I
suppose you will be giving a dinner to the office-clerks presently.”

“What for?” I cried with some warmth.  “If I were a steady trader to the
port I could understand it.  But a complete stranger! . . . I may not
turn up again here for years.  I don’t see why! . . . Do you mean to say
it is customary?”

“It will be expected from a man like you,” he breathed out placidly.
“Eight of the principal clerks, the manager, that’s nine, you three
gentlemen, that’s twelve.  It needn’t be very expensive.  If you tell
your steward to give me a day’s notice—”

“It will be expected of me!  Why should it be expected of me?  Is it
because I look particularly soft—or what?”

His immobility struck me as dignified suddenly, his imperturbable quality
as dangerous.  “There’s plenty of time to think about that,” I concluded
weakly with a gesture that tried to wave him away.  But before he
departed he took time to mention regretfully that he had not yet had the
pleasure of seeing me at his “store” to sample those cigars.  He had a
parcel of six thousand to dispose of, very cheap.

“I think it would be worth your while to secure some,” he added with a
fat, melancholy smile and left the cabin.

Mr. Burns struck his fist on the table excitedly.

“Did you ever see such impudence!  He’s made up his mind to get something
out of you one way or another, sir.”

At once feeling inclined to defend Jacobus, I observed philosophically
that all this was business, I supposed.  But my absurd mate, muttering
broken disjointed sentences, such as: “I cannot bear! . . . Mark my
words! . . .” and so on, flung out of the cabin.  If I hadn’t nursed him
through that deadly fever I wouldn’t have suffered such manners for a
single day.



CHAPTER III


JACOBUS having put me in mind of his wealthy brother I concluded I would
pay that business call at once.  I had by that time heard a little more
of him.  He was a member of the Council, where he made himself
objectionable to the authorities.  He exercised a considerable influence
on public opinion.  Lots of people owed him money.  He was an importer on
a great scale of all sorts of goods.  For instance, the whole supply of
bags for sugar was practically in his hands.  This last fact I did not
learn till afterwards.  The general impression conveyed to me was that of
a local personage.  He was a bachelor and gave weekly card-parties in his
house out of town, which were attended by the best people in the colony.

The greater, then, was my surprise to discover his office in shabby
surroundings, quite away from the business quarter, amongst a lot of
hovels.  Guided by a black board with white lettering, I climbed a narrow
wooden staircase and entered a room with a bare floor of planks littered
with bits of brown paper and wisps of packing straw.  A great number of
what looked like wine-cases were piled up against one of the walls.  A
lanky, inky, light-yellow, mulatto youth, miserably long-necked and
generally recalling a sick chicken, got off a three-legged stool behind a
cheap deal desk and faced me as if gone dumb with fright.  I had some
difficulty in persuading him to take in my name, though I could not get
from him the nature of his objection.  He did it at last with an almost
agonised reluctance which ceased to be mysterious to me when I heard him
being sworn at menacingly with savage, suppressed growls, then audibly
cuffed and finally kicked out without any concealment whatever; because
he came back flying head foremost through the door with a stifled shriek.

To say I was startled would not express it.  I remained still, like a man
lost in a dream.  Clapping both his hands to that part of his frail
anatomy which had received the shock, the poor wretch said to me simply:

“Will you go in, please.”  His lamentable self-possession was wonderful;
but it did not do away with the incredibility of the experience.  A
preposterous notion that I had seen this boy somewhere before, a thing
obviously impossible, was like a delicate finishing touch of weirdness
added to a scene fit to raise doubts as to one’s sanity.  I stared
anxiously about me like an awakened somnambulist.

“I say,” I cried loudly, “there isn’t a mistake, is there?  This is Mr.
Jacobus’s office.”

The boy gazed at me with a pained expression—and somehow so familiar!  A
voice within growled offensively:

“Come in, come in, since you are there. . . . I didn’t know.”

I crossed the outer room as one approaches the den of some unknown wild
beast; with intrepidity but in some excitement.  Only no wild beast that
ever lived would rouse one’s indignation; the power to do that belongs to
the odiousness of the human brute.  And I was very indignant, which did
not prevent me from being at once struck by the extraordinary resemblance
of the two brothers.

This one was dark instead of being fair like the other; but he was as
big.  He was without his coat and waistcoat; he had been doubtless
snoozing in the rocking-chair which stood in a corner furthest from the
window.  Above the great bulk of his crumpled white shirt, buttoned with
three diamond studs, his round face looked swarthy.  It was moist; his
brown moustache hung limp and ragged.  He pushed a common, cane-bottomed
chair towards me with his foot.

“Sit down.”

I glanced at it casually, then, turning my indignant eyes full upon him,
I declared in precise and incisive tones that I had called in obedience
to my owners’ instructions.

“Oh!  Yes.  H’m!  I didn’t understand what that fool was saying. . . .
But never mind!  It will teach the scoundrel to disturb me at this time
of the day,” he added, grinning at me with savage cynicism.

I looked at my watch.  It was past three o’clock—quite the full swing of
afternoon office work in the port.  He snarled imperiously: “Sit down,
Captain.”

I acknowledged the gracious invitation by saying deliberately:

“I can listen to all you may have to say without sitting down.”

Emitting a loud and vehement “Pshaw!” he glared for a moment, very
round-eyed and fierce.  It was like a gigantic tomcat spitting at one
suddenly.  “Look at him! . . . What do you fancy yourself to be?  What
did you come here for?  If you won’t sit down and talk business you had
better go to the devil.”

“I don’t know him personally,” I said.  “But after this I wouldn’t mind
calling on him.  It would be refreshing to meet a gentleman.”

He followed me, growling behind my back:

“The impudence!  I’ve a good mind to write to your owners what I think of
you.”

I turned on him for a moment:

“As it happens I don’t care.  For my part I assure you I won’t even take
the trouble to mention you to them.”

He stopped at the door of his office while I traversed the littered
anteroom.  I think he was somewhat taken aback.

“I will break every bone in your body,” he roared suddenly at the
miserable mulatto lad, “if you ever dare to disturb me before half-past
three for anybody.  D’ye hear?  For anybody! . . . Let alone any damned
skipper,” he added, in a lower growl.

The frail youngster, swaying like a reed, made a low moaning sound.  I
stopped short and addressed this sufferer with advice.  It was prompted
by the sight of a hammer (used for opening the wine-cases, I suppose)
which was lying on the floor.

“If I were you, my boy, I would have that thing up my sleeve when I went
in next and at the first occasion I would—”

What was there so familiar in that lad’s yellow face?  Entrenched and
quaking behind the flimsy desk, he never looked up.  His heavy, lowered
eyelids gave me suddenly the clue of the puzzle.  He resembled—yes, those
thick glued lips—he resembled the brothers Jacobus.  He resembled both,
the wealthy merchant and the pushing shopkeeper (who resembled each
other); he resembled them as much as a thin, light-yellow mulatto lad may
resemble a big, stout, middle-aged white man.  It was the exotic
complexion and the slightness of his build which had put me off so
completely.  Now I saw in him unmistakably the Jacobus strain, weakened,
attenuated, diluted as it were in a bucket of water—and I refrained from
finishing my speech.  I had intended to say: “Crack this brute’s head for
him.”  I still felt the conclusion to be sound.  But it is no trifling
responsibility to counsel parricide to any one, however deeply injured.

“Beggarly—cheeky—skippers.”

I despised the emphatic growl at my back; only, being much vexed and
upset, I regret to say that I slammed the door behind me in a most
undignified manner.

It may not appear altogether absurd if I say that I brought out from that
interview a kindlier view of the other Jacobus.  It was with a feeling
resembling partisanship that, a few days later, I called at his “store.”
That long, cavern-like place of business, very dim at the back and
stuffed full of all sorts of goods, was entered from the street by a
lofty archway.  At the far end I saw my Jacobus exerting himself in his
shirt-sleeves among his assistants.  The captains’ room was a small,
vaulted apartment with a stone floor and heavy iron bars in its windows
like a dungeon converted to hospitable purposes.  A couple of cheerful
bottles and several gleaming glasses made a brilliant cluster round a
tall, cool red earthenware pitcher on the centre table which was littered
with newspapers from all parts of the world.  A well-groomed stranger in
a smart grey check suit, sitting with one leg flung over his knee, put
down one of these sheets briskly and nodded to me.

I guessed him to be a steamer-captain.  It was impossible to get to know
these men.  They came and went too quickly and their ships lay moored far
out, at the very entrance of the harbour.  Theirs was another life
altogether.  He yawned slightly.

“Dull hole, isn’t it?”

I understood this to allude to the town.

“Do you find it so?” I murmured.

“Don’t you?  But I’m off to-morrow, thank goodness.”

He was a very gentlemanly person, good-natured and superior.  I watched
him draw the open box of cigars to his side of the table, take a big
cigar-case out of his pocket and begin to fill it very methodically.
Presently, on our eyes meeting, he winked like a common mortal and
invited me to follow his example.  “They are really decent smokes.”  I
shook my head.

“I am not off to-morrow.”

“What of that?  Think I am abusing old Jacobus’s hospitality?  Heavens!
It goes into the bill, of course.  He spreads such little matters all
over his account.  He can take care of himself!  Why, it’s business—”

I noted a shadow fall over his well-satisfied expression, a momentary
hesitation in closing his cigar-case.  But he ended by putting it in his
pocket jauntily.  A placid voice uttered in the doorway: “That’s quite
correct, Captain.”

The large noiseless Jacobus advanced into the room.  His quietness, in
the circumstances, amounted to cordiality.  He had put on his jacket
before joining us, and he sat down in the chair vacated by the
steamer-man, who nodded again to me and went out with a short, jarring
laugh.  A profound silence reigned.  With his drowsy stare Jacobus seemed
to be slumbering open-eyed.  Yet, somehow, I was aware of being
profoundly scrutinised by those heavy eyes.  In the enormous cavern of
the store somebody began to nail down a case, expertly: tap-tap . . .
tap-tap-tap.

Two other experts, one slow and nasal, the other shrill and snappy,
started checking an invoice.

“A half-coil of three-inch manilla rope.”

“Right!”

“Six assorted shackles.”

“Right!”

“Six tins assorted soups, three of paté, two asparagus, fourteen pounds
tobacco, cabin.”

“Right!”

“It’s for the captain who was here just now,” breathed out the immovable
Jacobus.  “These steamer orders are very small.  They pick up what they
want as they go along.  That man will be in Samarang in less than a
fortnight.  Very small orders indeed.”

The calling over of the items went on in the shop; an extraordinary
jumble of varied articles, paint-brushes, Yorkshire Relish, etc., etc. . . .
“Three sacks of best potatoes,” read out the nasal voice.

At this Jacobus blinked like a sleeping man roused by a shake, and
displayed some animation.  At his order, shouted into the shop, a
smirking half-caste clerk with his ringlets much oiled and with a pen
stuck behind his ear, brought in a sample of six potatoes which he
paraded in a row on the table.

Being urged to look at their beauty I gave them a cold and hostile
glance.  Calmly, Jacobus proposed that I should order ten or fifteen
tons—tons!  I couldn’t believe my ears.  My crew could not have eaten
such a lot in a year; and potatoes (excuse these practical remarks) are a
highly perishable commodity.  I thought he was joking—or else trying to
find out whether I was an unutterable idiot.  But his purpose was not so
simple.  I discovered that he meant me to buy them on my own account.

“I am proposing you a bit of business, Captain.  I wouldn’t charge you a
great price.”

I told him that I did not go in for trade.  I even added grimly that I
knew only too well how that sort of spec. generally ended.

He sighed and clasped his hands on his stomach with exemplary
resignation.  I admired the placidity of his impudence.  Then waking up
somewhat:

“Won’t you try a cigar, Captain?”

“No, thanks.  I don’t smoke cigars.”

“For once!” he exclaimed, in a patient whisper.  A melancholy silence
ensued.  You know how sometimes a person discloses a certain unsuspected
depth and acuteness of thought; that is, in other words, utters something
unexpected.  It was unexpected enough to hear Jacobus say:

“The man who just went out was right enough.  You might take one,
Captain.  Here everything is bound to be in the way of business.”

I felt a little ashamed of myself.  The remembrance of his horrid brother
made him appear quite a decent sort of fellow.  It was with some
compunction that I said a few words to the effect that I could have no
possible objection to his hospitality.

Before I was a minute older I saw where this admission was leading me.
As if changing the subject, Jacobus mentioned that his private house was
about ten minutes’ walk away.  It had a beautiful old walled garden.
Something really remarkable.  I ought to come round some day and have a
look at it.

He seemed to be a lover of gardens.  I too take extreme delight in them;
but I did not mean my compunction to carry me as far as Jacobus’s
flower-beds, however beautiful and old.  He added, with a certain
homeliness of tone:

“There’s only my girl there.”

It is difficult to set everything down in due order; so I must revert
here to what happened a week or two before.  The medical officer of the
port had come on board my ship to have a look at one of my crew who was
ailing, and naturally enough he was asked to step into the cabin.  A
fellow-shipmaster of mine was there too; and in the conversation, somehow
or other, the name of Jacobus came to be mentioned.  It was pronounced
with no particular reverence by the other man, I believe.  I don’t
remember now what I was going to say.  The doctor—a pleasant, cultivated
fellow, with an assured manner—prevented me by striking in, in a sour
tone:

“Ah!  You’re talking about my respected papa-in-law.”

Of course, that sally silenced us at the time.  But I remembered the
episode, and at this juncture, pushed for something noncommittal to say,
I inquired with polite surprise:

“You have your married daughter living with you, Mr. Jacobus?”

He moved his big hand from right to left quietly.  No!  That was another
of his girls, he stated, ponderously and under his breath as usual.  She
. . . He seemed in a pause to be ransacking his mind for some kind of
descriptive phrase.  But my hopes were disappointed.  He merely produced
his stereotyped definition.

“She’s a very different sort of person.”

“Indeed. . . . And by the by, Jacobus, I called on your brother the other
day.  It’s no great compliment if I say that I found him a very different
sort of person from you.”

He had an air of profound reflection, then remarked quaintly:

“He’s a man of regular habits.”

He might have been alluding to the habit of late siesta; but I mumbled
something about “beastly habits anyhow”—and left the store abruptly.



CHAPTER IV


MY little passage with Jacobus the merchant became known generally.  One
or two of my acquaintances made distant allusions to it.  Perhaps the
mulatto boy had talked.  I must confess that people appeared rather
scandalised, but not with Jacobus’s brutality.  A man I knew remonstrated
with me for my hastiness.

I gave him the whole story of my visit, not forgetting the tell-tale
resemblance of the wretched mulatto boy to his tormentor.  He was not
surprised.  No doubt, no doubt.  What of that?  In a jovial tone he
assured me that there must be many of that sort.  The elder Jacobus had
been a bachelor all his life.  A highly respectable bachelor.  But there
had never been open scandal in that connection.  His life had been quite
regular.  It could cause no offence to any one.

I said that I had been offended considerably.  My interlocutor opened
very wide eyes.  Why?  Because a mulatto lad got a few knocks?  That was
not a great affair, surely.  I had no idea how insolent and untruthful
these half-castes were.  In fact he seemed to think Mr. Jacobus rather
kind than otherwise to employ that youth at all; a sort of amiable
weakness which could be forgiven.

This acquaintance of mine belonged to one of the old French families,
descendants of the old colonists; all noble, all impoverished, and living
a narrow domestic life in dull, dignified decay.  The men, as a rule,
occupy inferior posts in Government offices or in business houses.  The
girls are almost always pretty, ignorant of the world, kind and agreeable
and generally bilingual; they prattle innocently both in French and
English.  The emptiness of their existence passes belief.

I obtained my entry into a couple of such households because some years
before, in Bombay, I had occasion to be of use to a pleasant, ineffectual
young man who was rather stranded there, not knowing what to do with
himself or even how to get home to his island again.  It was a matter of
two hundred rupees or so, but, when I turned up, the family made a point
of showing their gratitude by admitting me to their intimacy.  My
knowledge of the French language made me specially acceptable.  They had
meantime managed to marry the fellow to a woman nearly twice his age,
comparatively well off: the only profession he was really fit for.  But
it was not all cakes and ale.  The first time I called on the couple she
spied a little spot of grease on the poor devil’s pantaloons and made him
a screaming scene of reproaches so full of sincere passion that I sat
terrified as at a tragedy of Racine.

Of course there was never question of the money I had advanced him; but
his sisters, Miss Angele and Miss Mary, and the aunts of both families,
who spoke quaint archaic French of pre-Revolution period, and a host of
distant relations adopted me for a friend outright in a manner which was
almost embarrassing.

It was with the eldest brother (he was employed at a desk in my
consignee’s office) that I was having this talk about the merchant
Jacobus.  He regretted my attitude and nodded his head sagely.  An
influential man.  One never knew when one would need him.  I expressed my
immense preference for the shopkeeper of the two.  At that my friend
looked grave.

“What on earth are you pulling that long face about?” I cried
impatiently.  “He asked me to see his garden and I have a good mind to go
some day.”

“Don’t do that,” he said, so earnestly that I burst into a fit of
laughter; but he looked at me without a smile.

This was another matter altogether.  At one time the public conscience of
the island had been mightily troubled by my Jacobus.  The two brothers
had been partners for years in great harmony, when a wandering circus
came to the island and my Jacobus became suddenly infatuated with one of
the lady-riders.  What made it worse was that he was married.  He had not
even the grace to conceal his passion.  It must have been strong indeed
to carry away such a large placid creature.  His behaviour was perfectly
scandalous.  He followed that woman to the Cape, and apparently travelled
at the tail of that beastly circus to other parts of the world, in a most
degrading position.  The woman soon ceased to care for him, and treated
him worse than a dog.  Most extraordinary stories of moral degradation
were reaching the island at that time.  He had not the strength of mind
to shake himself free. . . .

The grotesque image of a fat, pushing ship-chandler, enslaved by an
unholy love-spell, fascinated me; and I listened rather open-mouthed to
the tale as old as the world, a tale which had been the subject of
legend, of moral fables, of poems, but which so ludicrously failed to fit
the personality.  What a strange victim for the gods!

Meantime his deserted wife had died.  His daughter was taken care of by
his brother, who married her as advantageously as was possible in the
circumstances.

“Oh!  The Mrs. Doctor!” I exclaimed.

“You know that?  Yes.  A very able man.  He wanted a lift in the world,
and there was a good bit of money from her mother, besides the
expectations. . . Of course, they don’t know him,” he added.  “The doctor
nods in the street, I believe, but he avoids speaking to him when they
meet on board a ship, as must happen sometimes.”

I remarked that this surely was an old story by now.

My friend assented.  But it was Jacobus’s own fault that it was neither
forgiven nor forgotten.  He came back ultimately.  But how?  Not in a
spirit of contrition, in a way to propitiate his scandalised
fellow-citizens.  He must needs drag along with him a child—a girl. . . .

“He spoke to me of a daughter who lives with him,” I observed, very much
interested.

“She’s certainly the daughter of the circus-woman,” said my friend.  “She
may be his daughter too; I am willing to admit that she is.  In fact I
have no doubt—”

But he did not see why she should have been brought into a respectable
community to perpetuate the memory of the scandal.  And that was not the
worst.  Presently something much more distressing happened.  That
abandoned woman turned up.  Landed from a mail-boat. . . .

“What!  Here?  To claim the child perhaps,” I suggested.

“Not she!”  My friendly informant was very scornful.  “Imagine a painted,
haggard, agitated, desperate hag.  Been cast off in Mozambique by
somebody who paid her passage here.  She had been injured internally by a
kick from a horse; she hadn’t a cent on her when she got ashore; I don’t
think she even asked to see the child.  At any rate, not till the last
day of her life.  Jacobus hired for her a bungalow to die in.  He got a
couple of Sisters from the hospital to nurse her through these few
months.  If he didn’t marry her _in extremis_ as the good Sisters tried
to bring about, it’s because she wouldn’t even hear of it.  As the nuns
said: ‘The woman died impenitent.’  It was reported that she ordered
Jacobus out of the room with her last breath.  This may be the real
reason why he didn’t go into mourning himself; he only put the child into
black.  While she was little she was to be seen sometimes about the
streets attended by a negro woman, but since she became of age to put her
hair up I don’t think she has set foot outside that garden once.  She
must be over eighteen now.”

Thus my friend, with some added details; such as, that he didn’t think
the girl had spoken to three people of any position in the island; that
an elderly female relative of the brothers Jacobus had been induced by
extreme poverty to accept the position of gouvernante to the girl.  As to
Jacobus’s business (which certainly annoyed his brother) it was a wise
choice on his part.  It brought him in contact only with strangers of
passage; whereas any other would have given rise to all sorts of
awkwardness with his social equals.  The man was not wanting in a certain
tact—only he was naturally shameless.  For why did he want to keep that
girl with him?  It was most painful for everybody.

I thought suddenly (and with profound disgust) of the other Jacobus, and
I could not refrain from saying slily:

“I suppose if he employed her, say, as a scullion in his household and
occasionally pulled her hair or boxed her ears, the position would have
been more regular—less shocking to the respectable class to which he
belongs.”

He was not so stupid as to miss my intention, and shrugged his shoulders
impatiently.

“You don’t understand.  To begin with, she’s not a mulatto.  And a
scandal is a scandal.  People should be given a chance to forget.  I dare
say it would have been better for her if she had been turned into a
scullion or something of that kind.  Of course he’s trying to make money
in every sort of petty way, but in such a business there’ll never be
enough for anybody to come forward.”

When my friend left me I had a conception of Jacobus and his daughter
existing, a lonely pair of castaways, on a desert island; the girl
sheltering in the house as if it were a cavern in a cliff, and Jacobus
going out to pick up a living for both on the beach—exactly like two
shipwrecked people who always hope for some rescuer to bring them back at
last into touch with the rest of mankind.

But Jacobus’s bodily reality did not fit in with this romantic view.
When he turned up on board in the usual course, he sipped the cup of
coffee placidly, asked me if I was satisfied—and I hardly listened to the
harbour gossip he dropped slowly in his low, voice-saving enunciation.  I
had then troubles of my own.  My ship chartered, my thoughts dwelling on
the success of a quick round voyage, I had been suddenly confronted by a
shortage of bags.  A catastrophe!  The stock of one especial kind, called
pockets, seemed to be totally exhausted.  A consignment was shortly
expected—it was afloat, on its way, but, meantime, the loading of my ship
dead stopped, I had enough to worry about.  My consignees, who had
received me with such heartiness on my arrival, now, in the character of
my charterers, listened to my complaints with polite helplessness.  Their
manager, the old-maidish, thin man, who so prudishly didn’t even like to
speak about the impure Jacobus, gave me the correct commercial view of
the position.

“My dear Captain”—he was retracting his leathery cheeks into a
condescending, shark-like smile—“we were not morally obliged to tell you
of a possible shortage before you signed the charter-party.  It was for
you to guard against the contingency of a delay—strictly speaking.  But
of course we shouldn’t have taken any advantage.  This is no one’s fault
really.  We ourselves have been taken unawares,” he concluded primly,
with an obvious lie.

This lecture I confess had made me thirsty.  Suppressed rage generally
produces that effect; and as I strolled on aimlessly I bethought myself
of the tall earthenware pitcher in the captains’ room of the Jacobus
“store.”

With no more than a nod to the men I found assembled there, I poured down
a deep, cool draught on my indignation, then another, and then, becoming
dejected, I sat plunged in cheerless reflections.  The others read,
talked, smoked, bandied over my head some unsubtle chaff.  But my
abstraction was respected.  And it was without a word to any one that I
rose and went out, only to be quite unexpectedly accosted in the bustle
of the store by Jacobus the outcast.

“Glad to see you, Captain.  What?  Going away?  You haven’t been looking
so well these last few days, I notice.  Run down, eh?”

He was in his shirt-sleeves, and his words were in the usual course of
business, but they had a human note.  It was commercial amenity, but I
had been a stranger to amenity in that connection.  I do verily believe
(from the direction of his heavy glance towards a certain shelf) that he
was going to suggest the purchase of Clarkson’s Nerve Tonic, which he
kept in stock, when I said impulsively:

“I am rather in trouble with my loading.”

Wide awake under his sleepy, broad mask with glued lips, he understood at
once, had a movement of the head so appreciative that I relieved my
exasperation by exclaiming:

“Surely there must be eleven hundred quarter-bags to be found in the
colony.  It’s only a matter of looking for them.”

Again that slight movement of the big head, and in the noise and activity
of the store that tranquil murmur:

“To be sure.  But then people likely to have a reserve of quarter-bags
wouldn’t want to sell.  They’d need that size themselves.”

“That’s exactly what my consignees are telling me.  Impossible to buy.
Bosh!  They don’t want to.  It suits them to have the ship hung up.  But
if I were to discover the lot they would have to—Look here, Jacobus!  You
are the man to have such a thing up your sleeve.”

He protested with a ponderous swing of his big head.  I stood before him
helplessly, being looked at by those heavy eyes with a veiled expression
as of a man after some soul-shaking crisis.  Then, suddenly:

“It’s impossible to talk quietly here,” he whispered.  “I am very busy.
But if you could go and wait for me in my house.  It’s less than ten
minutes’ walk.  Oh, yes, you don’t know the way.”

He called for his coat and offered to take me there himself.  He would
have to return to the store at once for an hour or so to finish his
business, and then he would be at liberty to talk over with me that
matter of quarter-bags.  This programme was breathed out at me through
slightly parted, still lips; his heavy, motionless glance rested upon me,
placid as ever, the glance of a tired man—but I felt that it was
searching, too.  I could not imagine what he was looking for in me and
kept silent, wondering.

“I am asking you to wait for me in my house till I am at liberty to talk
this matter over.  You will?”

“Why, of course!” I cried.

“But I cannot promise—”

“I dare say not,” I said.  “I don’t expect a promise.”

“I mean I can’t even promise to try the move I’ve in my mind.  One must
see first . . . h’m!”

“All right.  I’ll take the chance.  I’ll wait for you as long as you
like.  What else have I to do in this infernal hole of a port!”

Before I had uttered my last words we had set off at a swinging pace.  We
turned a couple of corners and entered a street completely empty of
traffic, of semi-rural aspect, paved with cobblestones nestling in grass
tufts.  The house came to the line of the roadway; a single story on an
elevated basement of rough-stones, so that our heads were below the level
of the windows as we went along.  All the jalousies were tightly shut,
like eyes, and the house seemed fast asleep in the afternoon sunshine.
The entrance was at the side, in an alley even more grass-grown than the
street: a small door, simply on the latch.

With a word of apology as to showing me the way, Jacobus preceded me up a
dark passage and led me across the naked parquet floor of what I supposed
to be the dining-room.  It was lighted by three glass doors which stood
wide open on to a verandah or rather loggia running its brick arches
along the garden side of the house.  It was really a magnificent garden:
smooth green lawns and a gorgeous maze of flower-beds in the foreground,
displayed around a basin of dark water framed in a marble rim, and in the
distance the massed foliage of varied trees concealing the roofs of other
houses.  The town might have been miles away.  It was a brilliantly
coloured solitude, drowsing in a warm, voluptuous silence.  Where the
long, still shadows fell across the beds, and in shady nooks, the massed
colours of the flowers had an extraordinary magnificence of effect.  I
stood entranced.  Jacobus grasped me delicately above the elbow,
impelling me to a half-turn to the left.

I had not noticed the girl before.  She occupied a low, deep, wickerwork
arm-chair, and I saw her in exact profile like a figure in a tapestry,
and as motionless.  Jacobus released my arm.

“This is Alice,” he announced tranquilly; and his subdued manner of
speaking made it sound so much like a confidential communication that I
fancied myself nodding understandingly and whispering: “I see, I see.” . . .
Of course, I did nothing of the kind.  Neither of us did anything; we
stood side by side looking down at the girl.  For quite a time she did
not stir, staring straight before her as if watching the vision of some
pageant passing through the garden in the deep, rich glow of light and
the splendour of flowers.

Then, coming to the end of her reverie, she looked round and up.  If I
had not at first noticed her, I am certain that she too had been unaware
of my presence till she actually perceived me by her father’s side.  The
quickened upward movement of the heavy eyelids, the widening of the
languid glance, passing into a fixed stare, put that beyond doubt.

Under her amazement there was a hint of fear, and then came a flash as of
anger.  Jacobus, after uttering my name fairly loud, said: “Make yourself
at home, Captain—I won’t be gone long,” and went away rapidly.  Before I
had time to make a bow I was left alone with the girl—who, I remembered
suddenly, had not been seen by any man or woman of that town since she
had found it necessary to put up her hair.  It looked as though it had
not been touched again since that distant time of first putting up; it
was a mass of black, lustrous locks, twisted anyhow high on her head,
with long, untidy wisps hanging down on each side of the clear sallow
face; a mass so thick and strong and abundant that, nothing but to look
at, it gave you a sensation of heavy pressure on the top of your head and
an impression of magnificently cynical untidiness.  She leaned forward,
hugging herself with crossed legs; a dingy, amber-coloured, flounced
wrapper of some thin stuff revealed the young supple body drawn together
tensely in the deep low seat as if crouching for a spring.  I detected a
slight, quivering start or two, which looked uncommonly like bounding
away.  They were followed by the most absolute immobility.

The absurd impulse to run out after Jacobus (for I had been startled,
too) once repressed, I took a chair, placed it not very far from her, sat
down deliberately, and began to talk about the garden, caring not what I
said, but using a gentle caressing intonation as one talks to soothe a
startled wild animal.  I could not even be certain that she understood
me.  She never raised her face nor attempted to look my way.  I kept on
talking only to prevent her from taking flight.  She had another of those
quivering, repressed starts which made me catch my breath with
apprehension.

Ultimately I formed a notion that what prevented her perhaps from going
off in one great, nervous leap, was the scantiness of her attire.  The
wicker armchair was the most substantial thing about her person.  What
she had on under that dingy, loose, amber wrapper must have been of the
most flimsy and airy character.  One could not help being aware of it.
It was obvious.  I felt it actually embarrassing at first; but that sort
of embarrassment is got over easily by a mind not enslaved by narrow
prejudices.  I did not avert my gaze from Alice.  I went on talking with
ingratiating softness, the recollection that, most likely, she had never
before been spoken to by a strange man adding to my assurance.  I don’t
know why an emotional tenseness should have crept into the situation.
But it did.  And just as I was becoming aware of it a slight scream cut
short my flow of urbane speech.

The scream did not proceed from the girl.  It was emitted behind me, and
caused me to turn my head sharply.  I understood at once that the
apparition in the doorway was the elderly relation of Jacobus, the
companion, the gouvernante.  While she remained thunderstruck, I got up
and made her a low bow.

The ladies of Jacobus’s household evidently spent their days in light
attire.  This stumpy old woman with a face like a large wrinkled lemon,
beady eyes, and a shock of iron-grey hair, was dressed in a garment of
some ash-coloured, silky, light stuff.  It fell from her thick neck down
to her toes with the simplicity of an unadorned nightgown.  It made her
appear truly cylindrical.  She exclaimed: “How did you get here?”

Before I could say a word she vanished and presently I heard a confusion
of shrill protestations in a distant part of the house.  Obviously no one
could tell her how I got there.  In a moment, with great outcries from
two negro women following her, she waddled back to the doorway,
infuriated.

“What do you want here?”

I turned to the girl.  She was sitting straight up now, her hands posed
on the arms of the chair.  I appealed to her.

“Surely, Miss Alice, you will not let them drive me out into the street?”

Her magnificent black eyes, narrowed, long in shape, swept over me with
an indefinable expression, then in a harsh, contemptuous voice she let
fall in French a sort of explanation:

“_C’est papa_.”

I made another low bow to the old woman.

She turned her back on me in order to drive away her black henchwomen,
then surveying my person in a peculiar manner with one small eye nearly
closed and her face all drawn up on that side as if with a twinge of
toothache, she stepped out on the verandah, sat down in a rocking-chair
some distance away, and took up her knitting from a little table.  Before
she started at it she plunged one of the needles into the mop of her grey
hair and stirred it vigorously.

Her elementary nightgown-sort of frock clung to her ancient, stumpy, and
floating form.  She wore white cotton stockings and flat brown velvet
slippers.  Her feet and ankles were obtrusively visible on the foot-rest.
She began to rock herself slightly, while she knitted.  I had resumed my
seat and kept quiet, for I mistrusted that old woman.  What if she
ordered me to depart?  She seemed capable of any outrage.  She had
snorted once or twice; she was knitting violently.  Suddenly she piped at
the young girl in French a question which I translate colloquially:

“What’s your father up to, now?”

The young creature shrugged her shoulders so comprehensively that her
whole body swayed within the loose wrapper; and in that unexpectedly
harsh voice which yet had a seductive quality to the senses, like certain
kinds of natural rough wines one drinks with pleasure:

“It’s some captain.  Leave me alone—will you!”

The chair rocked quicker, the old, thin voice was like a whistle.

“You and your father make a pair.  He would stick at nothing—that’s well
known.  But I didn’t expect this.”

I thought it high time to air some of my own French.  I remarked
modestly, but firmly, that this was business.  I had some matters to talk
over with Mr. Jacobus.

At once she piped out a derisive “Poor innocent!”  Then, with a change of
tone: “The shop’s for business.  Why don’t you go to the shop to talk
with him?”

The furious speed of her fingers and knitting-needles made one dizzy; and
with squeaky indignation:

“Sitting here staring at that girl—is that what you call business?”

“No,” I said suavely.  “I call this pleasure—an unexpected pleasure.  And
unless Miss Alice objects—”

I half turned to her.  She flung at me an angry and contemptuous “Don’t
care!” and leaning her elbow on her knees took her chin in her hand—a
Jacobus chin undoubtedly.  And those heavy eyelids, this black irritated
stare reminded me of Jacobus, too—the wealthy merchant, the respected
one.  The design of her eyebrows also was the same, rigid and ill-omened.
Yes!  I traced in her a resemblance to both of them.  It came to me as a
sort of surprising remote inference that both these Jacobuses were rather
handsome men after all.  I said:

“Oh!  Then I shall stare at you till you smile.”

She favoured me again with an even more viciously scornful “Don’t care!”

The old woman broke in blunt and shrill:

“Hear his impudence!  And you too!  Don’t care!  Go at least and put some
more clothes on.  Sitting there like this before this sailor riff-raff.”

The sun was about to leave the Pearl of the Ocean for other seas, for
other lands.  The walled garden full of shadows blazed with colour as if
the flowers were giving up the light absorbed during the day.  The
amazing old woman became very explicit.  She suggested to the girl a
corset and a petticoat with a cynical unreserve which humiliated me.  Was
I of no more account than a wooden dummy?  The girl snapped out:
“Shan’t!”

It was not the naughty retort of a vulgar child; it had a note of
desperation.  Clearly my intrusion had somehow upset the balance of their
established relations.  The old woman knitted with furious accuracy, her
eyes fastened down on her work.

“Oh, you are the true child of your father!  And _that_ talks of entering
a convent!  Letting herself be stared at by a fellow.”

“Leave off.”

“Shameless thing!”

“Old sorceress,” the girl uttered distinctly, preserving her meditative
pose, chin in hand, and a far-away stare over the garden.

It was like the quarrel of the kettle and the pot.  The old woman flew
out of the chair, banged down her work, and with a great play of thick
limb perfectly visible in that weird, clinging garment of hers, strode at
the girl—who never stirred.  I was experiencing a sort of trepidation
when, as if awed by that unconscious attitude, the aged relative of
Jacobus turned short upon me.

She was, I perceived, armed with a knitting-needle; and as she raised her
hand her intention seemed to be to throw it at me like a dart.  But she
only used it to scratch her head with, examining me the while at close
range, one eye nearly shut and her face distorted by a whimsical,
one-sided grimace.

“My dear man,” she asked abruptly, “do you expect any good to come of
this?”

“I do hope so indeed, Miss Jacobus.”  I tried to speak in the easy tone
of an afternoon caller.  “You see, I am here after some bags.”

“Bags!  Look at that now!  Didn’t I hear you holding forth to that
graceless wretch?”

“You would like to see me in my grave,” uttered the motionless girl
hoarsely.

“Grave!  What about me?  Buried alive before I am dead for the sake of a
thing blessed with such a pretty father!” she cried; and turning to me:
“You’re one of these men he does business with.  Well—why don’t you leave
us in peace, my good fellow?”

It was said in a tone—this “leave us in peace!”  There was a sort of
ruffianly familiarity, a superiority, a scorn in it.  I was to hear it
more than once, for you would show an imperfect knowledge of human nature
if you thought that this was my last visit to that house—where no
respectable person had put foot for ever so many years.  No, you would be
very much mistaken if you imagined that this reception had scared me
away.  First of all I was not going to run before a grotesque and
ruffianly old woman.

And then you mustn’t forget these necessary bags.  That first evening
Jacobus made me stay to dinner; after, however, telling me loyally that
he didn’t know whether he could do anything at all for me.  He had been
thinking it over.  It was too difficult, he feared. . . . But he did not
give it up in so many words.

We were only three at table; the girl by means of repeated “Won’t!”
“Shan’t!” and “Don’t care!” having conveyed and affirmed her intention
not to come to the table, not to have any dinner, not to move from the
verandah.  The old relative hopped about in her flat slippers and piped
indignantly, Jacobus towered over her and murmured placidly in his
throat; I joined jocularly from a distance, throwing in a few words, for
which under the cover of the night I received secretly a most vicious
poke in the ribs from the old woman’s elbow or perhaps her fist.  I
restrained a cry.  And all the time the girl didn’t even condescend to
raise her head to look at any of us.  All this may sound childish—and yet
that stony, petulant sullenness had an obscurely tragic flavour.

And so we sat down to the food around the light of a good many candles
while she remained crouching out there, staring in the dark as if feeding
her bad temper on the heavily scented air of the admirable garden.

Before leaving I said to Jacobus that I would come next day to hear if
the bag affair had made any progress.  He shook his head slightly at
that.

“I’ll haunt your house daily till you pull it off.  You’ll be always
finding me here.”

His faint, melancholy smile did not part his thick lips.

“That will be all right, Captain.”

Then seeing me to the door, very tranquil, he murmured earnestly the
recommendation: “Make yourself at home,” and also the hospitable hint
about there being always “a plate of soup.”  It was only on my way to the
quay, down the ill-lighted streets, that I remembered I had been engaged
to dine that very evening with the S— family.  Though vexed with my
forgetfulness (it would be rather awkward to explain) I couldn’t help
thinking that it had procured me a more amusing evening.  And
besides—business.  The sacred business—.

In a barefooted negro who overtook me at a run and bolted down the
landing-steps I recognised Jacobus’s boatman, who must have been feeding
in the kitchen.  His usual “Good-night, sah!” as I went up my ship’s
ladder had a more cordial sound than on previous occasions.



CHAPTER V


I KEPT my word to Jacobus.  I haunted his home.  He was perpetually
finding me there of an afternoon when he popped in for a moment from the
“store.”  The sound of my voice talking to his Alice greeted him on his
doorstep; and when he returned for good in the evening, ten to one he
would hear it still going on in the verandah.  I just nodded to him; he
would sit down heavily and gently, and watch with a sort of approving
anxiety my efforts to make his daughter smile.

I called her often “Alice,” right before him; sometimes I would address
her as Miss “Don’t Care,” and I exhausted myself in nonsensical chatter
without succeeding once in taking her out of her peevish and tragic self.
There were moments when I felt I must break out and start swearing at her
till all was blue.  And I fancied that had I done so Jacobus would not
have moved a muscle.  A sort of shady, intimate understanding seemed to
have been established between us.

I must say the girl treated her father exactly in the same way she
treated me.

And how could it have been otherwise?  She treated me as she treated her
father.  She had never seen a visitor.  She did not know how men behaved.
I belonged to the low lot with whom her father did business at the port.
I was of no account.  So was her father.  The only decent people in the
world were the people of the island, who would have nothing to do with
him because of something wicked he had done.  This was apparently the
explanation Miss Jacobus had given her of the household’s isolated
position.  For she had to be told something!  And I feel convinced that
this version had been assented to by Jacobus.  I must say the old woman
was putting it forward with considerable gusto.  It was on her lips the
universal explanation, the universal allusion, the universal taunt.

One day Jacobus came in early and, beckoning me into the dining-room,
wiped his brow with a weary gesture and told me that he had managed to
unearth a supply of quarter-bags.

“It’s fourteen hundred your ship wanted, did you say, Captain?”

“Yes, yes!” I replied eagerly; but he remained calm.  He looked more
tired than I had ever seen him before.

“Well, Captain, you may go and tell your people that they can get that
lot from my brother.”

As I remained open-mouthed at this, he added his usual placid formula of
assurance:

“You’ll find it correct, Captain.”

“You spoke to your brother about it?”  I was distinctly awed.  “And for
me?  Because he must have known that my ship’s the only one hung up for
bags.  How on earth—”

He wiped his brow again.  I noticed that he was dressed with unusual
care, in clothes in which I had never seen him before.  He avoided my
eye.

“You’ve heard people talk, of course. . . . That’s true enough.  He . . .
I . . . We certainly. . . for several years . . .”  His voice declined to
a mere sleepy murmur.  “You see I had something to tell him of, something
which—”

His murmur stopped.  He was not going to tell me what this something was.
And I didn’t care.  Anxious to carry the news to my charterers, I ran
back on the verandah to get my hat.

At the bustle I made the girl turned her eyes slowly in my direction, and
even the old woman was checked in her knitting.  I stopped a moment to
exclaim excitedly:

“Your father’s a brick, Miss Don’t Care.  That’s what he is.”

She beheld my elation in scornful surprise.  Jacobus with unwonted
familiarity seized my arm as I flew through the dining-room, and breathed
heavily at me a proposal about “A plate of soup” that evening.  I
answered distractedly: “Eh?  What?  Oh, thanks!  Certainly.  With
pleasure,” and tore myself away.  Dine with him?  Of course.  The merest
gratitude—

But some three hours afterwards, in the dusky, silent street, paved with
cobble-stones, I became aware that it was not mere gratitude which was
guiding my steps towards the house with the old garden, where for years
no guest other than myself had ever dined.  Mere gratitude does not gnaw
at one’s interior economy in that particular way.  Hunger might; but I
was not feeling particularly hungry for Jacobus’s food.

On that occasion, too, the girl refused to come to the table.

My exasperation grew.  The old woman cast malicious glances at me.  I
said suddenly to Jacobus: “Here!  Put some chicken and salad on that
plate.”  He obeyed without raising his eyes.  I carried it with a knife
and fork and a serviette out on the verandah.  The garden was one mass of
gloom, like a cemetery of flowers buried in the darkness, and she, in the
chair, seemed to muse mournfully over the extinction of light and colour.
Only whiffs of heavy scent passed like wandering, fragrant souls of that
departed multitude of blossoms.  I talked volubly, jocularly,
persuasively, tenderly; I talked in a subdued tone.  To a listener it
would have sounded like the murmur of a pleading lover.  Whenever I
paused expectantly there was only a deep silence.  It was like offering
food to a seated statue.

“I haven’t been able to swallow a single morsel thinking of you out here
starving yourself in the dark.  It’s positively cruel to be so obstinate.
Think of my sufferings.”

“Don’t care.”

I felt as if I could have done her some violence—shaken her, beaten her
maybe.  I said:

“Your absurd behaviour will prevent me coming here any more.”

“What’s that to me?”

“You like it.”

“It’s false,” she snarled.

My hand fell on her shoulder; and if she had flinched I verily believe I
would have shaken her.  But there was no movement and this immobility
disarmed my anger.

“You do.  Or you wouldn’t be found on the verandah every day.  Why are
you here, then?  There are plenty of rooms in the house.  You have your
own room to stay in—if you did not want to see me.  But you do.  You know
you do.”

I felt a slight shudder under my hand and released my grip as if
frightened by that sign of animation in her body.  The scented air of the
garden came to us in a warm wave like a voluptuous and perfumed sigh.

“Go back to them,” she whispered, almost pitifully.

As I re-entered the dining-room I saw Jacobus cast down his eyes.  I
banged the plate on the table.  At this demonstration of ill-humour he
murmured something in an apologetic tone, and I turned on him viciously
as if he were accountable to me for these “abominable eccentricities,” I
believe I called them.

“But I dare say Miss Jacobus here is responsible for most of this
offensive manner,” I added loftily.

She piped out at once in her brazen, ruffianly manner:

“Eh?  Why don’t you leave us in peace, my good fellow?”

I was astonished that she should dare before Jacobus.  Yet what could he
have done to repress her?  He needed her too much.  He raised a heavy,
drowsy glance for an instant, then looked down again.  She insisted with
shrill finality:

“Haven’t you done your business, you two?  Well, then—”

She had the true Jacobus impudence, that old woman.  Her mop of iron-grey
hair was parted, on the side like a man’s, raffishly, and she made as if
to plunge her fork into it, as she used to do with the knitting-needle,
but refrained.  Her little black eyes sparkled venomously.  I turned to
my host at the head of the table—menacingly as it were.

“Well, and what do you say to that, Jacobus?  Am I to take it that we
have done with each other?”

I had to wait a little.  The answer when it came was rather unexpected,
and in quite another spirit than the question.

“I certainly think we might do some business yet with those potatoes of
mine, Captain.  You will find that—”

I cut him short.

“I’ve told you before that I don’t trade.”

His broad chest heaved without a sound in a noiseless sigh.

“Think it over, Captain,” he murmured, tenacious and tranquil; and I
burst into a jarring laugh, remembering how he had stuck to the
circus-rider woman—the depth of passion under that placid surface, which
even cuts with a riding-whip (so the legend had it) could never raffle
into the semblance of a storm; something like the passion of a fish would
be if one could imagine such a thing as a passionate fish.

That evening I experienced more distinctly than ever the sense of moral
discomfort which always attended me in that house lying under the ban of
all “decent” people.  I refused to stay on and smoke after dinner; and
when I put my hand into the thickly-cushioned palm of Jacobus, I said to
myself that it would be for the last time under his roof.  I pressed his
bulky paw heartily nevertheless.  Hadn’t he got me out of a serious
difficulty?  To the few words of acknowledgment I was bound, and indeed
quite willing, to utter, he answered by stretching his closed lips in his
melancholy, glued-together smile.

“That will be all right, I hope, Captain,” he breathed out weightily.

“What do you mean?” I asked, alarmed.  “That your brother might yet—”

“Oh, no,” he reassured me.  “He . . . he’s a man of his word, Captain.”

My self-communion as I walked away from his door, trying to believe that
this was for the last time, was not satisfactory.  I was aware myself
that I was not sincere in my reflections as to Jacobus’s motives, and, of
course, the very next day I went back again.

How weak, irrational, and absurd we are!  How easily carried away
whenever our awakened imagination brings us the irritating hint of a
desire!  I cared for the girl in a particular way, seduced by the moody
expression of her face, by her obstinate silences, her rare, scornful
words; by the perpetual pout of her closed lips, the black depths of her
fixed gaze turned slowly upon me as if in contemptuous provocation, only
to be averted next moment with an exasperating indifference.

Of course the news of my assiduity had spread all over the little town.
I noticed a change in the manner of my acquaintances and even something
different in the nods of the other captains, when meeting them at the
landing-steps or in the offices where business called me.  The
old-maidish head clerk treated me with distant punctiliousness and, as it
were, gathered his skirts round him for fear of contamination.  It seemed
to me that the very niggers on the quays turned to look after me as I
passed; and as to Jacobus’s boatman his “Good-night, sah!” when he put me
on board was no longer merely cordial—it had a familiar, confidential
sound as though we had been partners in some villainy.

My friend S— the elder passed me on the other side of the street with a
wave of the hand and an ironic smile.  The younger brother, the one they
had married to an elderly shrew, he, on the strength of an older
friendship and as if paying a debt of gratitude, took the liberty to
utter a word of warning.

“You’re doing yourself no good by your choice of friends, my dear chap,”
he said with infantile gravity.

As I knew that the meeting of the brothers Jacobus was the subject of
excited comment in the whole of the sugary Pearl of the Ocean I wanted to
know why I was blamed.

“I have been the occasion of a move which may end in a reconciliation
surely desirable from the point of view of the proprieties—don’t you
know?”

“Of course, if that girl were disposed of it would certainly facilitate—”
he mused sagely, then, inconsequential creature, gave me a light tap on
the lower part of my waistcoat.  “You old sinner,” he cried jovially,
“much you care for proprieties.  But you had better look out for
yourself, you know, with a personage like Jacobus who has no sort of
reputation to lose.”

He had recovered his gravity of a respectable citizen by that time and
added regretfully:

“All the women of our family are perfectly scandalised.”

But by that time I had given up visiting the S— family and the D— family.
The elder ladies pulled such faces when I showed myself, and the
multitude of related young ladies received me with such a variety of
looks: wondering, awed, mocking (except Miss Mary, who spoke to me and
looked at me with hushed, pained compassion as though I had been ill),
that I had no difficulty in giving them all up.  I would have given up
the society of the whole town, for the sake of sitting near that girl,
snarling and superb and barely clad in that flimsy, dingy, amber wrapper,
open low at the throat.  She looked, with the wild wisps of hair hanging
down her tense face, as though she had just jumped out of bed in the
panic of a fire.

She sat leaning on her elbow, looking at nothing.  Why did she stay
listening to my absurd chatter?  And not only that; but why did she
powder her face in preparation for my arrival?  It seemed to be her idea
of making a toilette, and in her untidy negligence a sign of great effort
towards personal adornment.

But I might have been mistaken.  The powdering might have been her daily
practice and her presence in the verandah a sign of an indifference so
complete as to take no account of my existence.  Well, it was all one to
me.

I loved to watch her slow changes of pose, to look at her long
immobilities composed in the graceful lines of her body, to observe the
mysterious narrow stare of her splendid black eyes, somewhat long in
shape, half closed, contemplating the void.  She was like a spellbound
creature with the forehead of a goddess crowned by the dishevelled
magnificent hair of a gipsy tramp.  Even her indifference was seductive.
I felt myself growing attached to her by the bond of an irrealisable
desire, for I kept my head—quite.  And I put up with the moral discomfort
of Jacobus’s sleepy watchfulness, tranquil, and yet so expressive; as if
there had been a tacit pact between us two.  I put up with the insolence
of the old woman’s: “Aren’t you ever going to leave us in peace, my good
fellow?” with her taunts; with her brazen and sinister scolding.  She was
of the true Jacobus stock, and no mistake.

Directly I got away from the girl I called myself many hard names.  What
folly was this?  I would ask myself.  It was like being the slave of some
depraved habit.  And I returned to her with my head clear, my heart
certainly free, not even moved by pity for that castaway (she was as much
of a castaway as any one ever wrecked on a desert island), but as if
beguiled by some extraordinary promise.  Nothing more unworthy could be
imagined.  The recollection of that tremulous whisper when I gripped her
shoulder with one hand and held a plate of chicken with the other was
enough to make me break all my good resolutions.

Her insulting taciturnity was enough sometimes to make one gnash one’s
teeth with rage.  When she opened her mouth it was only to be abominably
rude in harsh tones to the associate of her reprobate father; and the
full approval of her aged relative was conveyed to her by offensive
chuckles.  If not that, then her remarks, always uttered in the tone of
scathing contempt, were of the most appalling inanity.

How could it have been otherwise?  That plump, ruffianly Jacobus old maid
in the tight grey frock had never taught her any manners.  Manners I
suppose are not necessary for born castaways.  No educational
establishment could ever be induced to accept her as a pupil—on account
of the proprieties, I imagine.  And Jacobus had not been able to send her
away anywhere.  How could he have done it?  Who with?  Where to?  He
himself was not enough of an adventurer to think of settling down
anywhere else.  His passion had tossed him at the tail of a circus up and
down strange coasts, but, the storm over, he had drifted back shamelessly
where, social outcast as he was, he remained still a Jacobus—one of the
oldest families on the island, older than the French even.  There must
have been a Jacobus in at the death of the last Dodo. . . . The girl had
learned nothing, she had never listened to a general conversation, she
knew nothing, she had heard of nothing.  She could read certainly; but
all the reading matter that ever came in her way were the newspapers
provided for the captains’ room of the “store.”  Jacobus had the habit of
taking these sheets home now and then in a very stained and ragged
condition.

As her mind could not grasp the meaning of any matters treated there
except police-court reports and accounts of crimes, she had formed for
herself a notion of the civilised world as a scene of murders,
abductions, burglaries, stabbing affrays, and every sort of desperate
violence.  England and France, Paris and London (the only two towns of
which she seemed to have heard), appeared to her sinks of abomination,
reeking with blood, in contrast to her little island where petty larceny
was about the standard of current misdeeds, with, now and then, some more
pronounced crime—and that only amongst the imported coolie labourers on
sugar estates or the negroes of the town.  But in Europe these things
were being done daily by a wicked population of white men amongst whom,
as that ruffianly, aristocratic old Miss Jacobus pointed out, the
wandering sailors, the associates of her precious papa, were the lowest
of the low.

It was impossible to give her a sense of proportion.  I suppose she
figured England to herself as about the size of the Pearl of the Ocean;
in which case it would certainly have been reeking with gore and a mere
wreck of burgled houses from end to end.  One could not make her
understand that these horrors on which she fed her imagination were lost
in the mass of orderly life like a few drops of blood in the ocean.  She
directed upon me for a moment the uncomprehending glance of her narrowed
eyes and then would turn her scornful powdered face away without a word.
She would not even take the trouble to shrug her shoulders.

At that time the batches of papers brought by the last mail reported a
series of crimes in the East End of London, there was a sensational case
of abduction in France and a fine display of armed robbery in Australia.
One afternoon crossing the dining-room I heard Miss Jacobus piping in the
verandah with venomous animosity: “I don’t know what your precious papa
is plotting with that fellow.  But he’s just the sort of man who’s
capable of carrying you off far away somewhere and then cutting your
throat some day for your money.”

There was a good half of the length of the verandah between their chairs.
I came out and sat down fiercely midway between them.

“Yes, that’s what we do with girls in Europe,” I began in a grimly
matter-of-fact tone.  I think Miss Jacobus was disconcerted by my sudden
appearance.  I turned upon her with cold ferocity:

“As to objectionable old women, they are first strangled quietly, then
cut up into small pieces and thrown away, a bit here and a bit there.
They vanish—”

I cannot go so far as to say I had terrified her.  But she was troubled
by my truculence, the more so because I had been always addressing her
with a politeness she did not deserve.  Her plump, knitting hands fell
slowly on her knees.  She said not a word while I fixed her with severe
determination.  Then as I turned away from her at last, she laid down her
work gently and, with noiseless movements, retreated from the verandah.
In fact, she vanished.

But I was not thinking of her.  I was looking at the girl.  It was what I
was coming for daily; troubled, ashamed, eager; finding in my nearness to
her a unique sensation which I indulged with dread, self-contempt, and
deep pleasure, as if it were a secret vice bound to end in my undoing,
like the habit of some drug or other which ruins and degrades its slave.

I looked her over, from the top of her dishevelled head, down the lovely
line of the shoulder, following the curve of the hip, the draped form of
the long limb, right down to her fine ankle below a torn, soiled flounce;
and as far as the point of the shabby, high-heeled, blue slipper,
dangling from her well-shaped foot, which she moved slightly, with quick,
nervous jerks, as if impatient of my presence.  And in the scent of the
massed flowers I seemed to breathe her special and inexplicable charm,
the heady perfume of the everlastingly irritated captive of the garden.

I looked at her rounded chin, the Jacobus chin; at the full, red lips
pouting in the powdered, sallow face; at the firm modelling of the cheek,
the grains of white in the hairs of the straight sombre eyebrows; at the
long eyes, a narrowed gleam of liquid white and intense motionless black,
with their gaze so empty of thought, and so absorbed in their fixity that
she seemed to be staring at her own lonely image, in some far-off mirror
hidden from my sight amongst the trees.

And suddenly, without looking at me, with the appearance of a person
speaking to herself, she asked, in that voice slightly harsh yet mellow
and always irritated:

“Why do you keep on coming here?”

“Why do I keep on coming here?” I repeated, taken by surprise.  I could
not have told her.  I could not even tell myself with sincerity why I was
coming there.  “What’s the good of you asking a question like that?”

“Nothing is any good,” she observed scornfully to the empty air, her chin
propped on her hand, that hand never extended to any man, that no one had
ever grasped—for I had only grasped her shoulder once—that generous,
fine, somewhat masculine hand.  I knew well the peculiarly efficient
shape—broad at the base, tapering at the fingers—of that hand, for which
there was nothing in the world to lay hold of.  I pretended to be
playful.

“No!  But do you really care to know?”

She shrugged indolently her magnificent shoulders, from which the dingy
thin wrapper was slipping a little.

“Oh—never mind—never mind!”

There was something smouldering under those airs of lassitude.  She
exasperated me by the provocation of her nonchalance, by something
elusive and defiant in her very form which I wanted to seize.  I said
roughly:

“Why?  Don’t you think I should tell you the truth?”

Her eyes glided my way for a sidelong look, and she murmured, moving only
her full, pouting lips:

“I think you would not dare.”

“Do you imagine I am afraid of you?  What on earth. . . . Well, it’s
possible, after all, that I don’t know exactly why I am coming here.  Let
us say, with Miss Jacobus, that it is for no good.  You seem to believe
the outrageous things she says, if you do have a row with her now and
then.”

She snapped out viciously:

“Who else am I to believe?

“I don’t know,” I had to own, seeing her suddenly very helpless and
condemned to moral solitude by the verdict of a respectable community.
“You might believe me, if you chose.”

She made a slight movement and asked me at once, with an effort as if
making an experiment:

“What is the business between you and papa?”

“Don’t you know the nature of your father’s business?  Come!  He sells
provisions to ships.”

She became rigid again in her crouching pose.

“Not that.  What brings you here—to this house?”

“And suppose it’s you?  You would not call that business?  Would you?
And now let us drop the subject.  It’s no use.  My ship will be ready for
sea the day after to-morrow.”

She murmured a distinctly scared “So soon,” and getting up quickly, went
to the little table and poured herself a glass of water.  She walked with
rapid steps and with an indolent swaying of her whole young figure above
the hips; when she passed near me I felt with tenfold force the charm of
the peculiar, promising sensation I had formed the habit to seek near
her.  I thought with sudden dismay that this was the end of it; that
after one more day I would be no longer able to come into this verandah,
sit on this chair, and taste perversely the flavour of contempt in her
indolent poses, drink in the provocation of her scornful looks, and
listen to the curt, insolent remarks uttered in that harsh and seductive
voice.  As if my innermost nature had been altered by the action of some
moral poison, I felt an abject dread of going to sea.

I had to exercise a sudden self-control, as one puts on a brake, to
prevent myself jumping up to stride about, shout, gesticulate, make her a
scene.  What for?  What about?  I had no idea.  It was just the relief of
violence that I wanted; and I lolled back in my chair, trying to keep my
lips formed in a smile; that half-indulgent, half-mocking smile which was
my shield against the shafts of her contempt and the insulting sallies
flung at me by the old woman.

She drank the water at a draught, with the avidity of raging thirst, and
let herself fall on the nearest chair, as if utterly overcome.  Her
attitude, like certain tones of her voice, had in it something masculine:
the knees apart in the ample wrapper, the clasped hands hanging between
them, her body leaning forward, with drooping head.  I stared at the
heavy black coil of twisted hair.  It was enormous, crowning the bowed
head with a crushing and disdained glory.  The escaped wisps hung
straight down.  And suddenly I perceived that the girl was trembling from
head to foot, as though that glass of iced water had chilled her to the
bone.

“What’s the matter now?” I said, startled, but in no very sympathetic
mood.

She shook her bowed, overweighted head and cried in a stifled voice but
with a rising inflection:

“Go away!  Go away!  Go away!”

I got up then and approached her, with a strange sort of anxiety.  I
looked down at her round, strong neck, then stooped low enough to peep at
her face.  And I began to tremble a little myself.

“What on earth are you gone wild about, Miss Don’t Care?”

She flung herself backwards violently, her head going over the back of
the chair.  And now it was her smooth, full, palpitating throat that lay
exposed to my bewildered stare.  Her eyes were nearly closed, with only a
horrible white gleam under the lids as if she were dead.

“What has come to you?” I asked in awe.  “What are you terrifying
yourself with?”

She pulled herself together, her eyes open frightfully wide now.  The
tropical afternoon was lengthening the shadows on the hot, weary earth,
the abode of obscure desires, of extravagant hopes, of unimaginable
terrors.

“Never mind!  Don’t care!”  Then, after a gasp, she spoke with such
frightful rapidity that I could hardly make out the amazing words: “For
if you were to shut me up in an empty place as smooth all round as the
palm of my hand, I could always strangle myself with my hair.”

For a moment, doubting my ears, I let this inconceivable declaration sink
into me.  It is ever impossible to guess at the wild thoughts that pass
through the heads of our fellow-creatures.  What monstrous imaginings of
violence could have dwelt under the low forehead of that girl who had
been taught to regard her father as “capable of anything” more in the
light of a misfortune than that of a disgrace; as, evidently, something
to be resented and feared rather than to be ashamed of?  She seemed,
indeed, as unaware of shame as of anything else in the world; but in her
ignorance, her resentment and fear took a childish and violent shape.

Of course she spoke without knowing the value of words.  What could she
know of death—she who knew nothing of life?  It was merely as the proof
of her being beside herself with some odious apprehension, that this
extraordinary speech had moved me, not to pity, but to a fascinated,
horrified wonder.  I had no idea what notion she had of her danger.  Some
sort of abduction.  It was quite possible with the talk of that atrocious
old woman.  Perhaps she thought she could be carried off, bound hand and
foot and even gagged.  At that surmise I felt as if the door of a furnace
had been opened in front of me.

“Upon my honour!” I cried.  “You shall end by going crazy if you listen
to that abominable old aunt of yours—”

I studied her haggard expression, her trembling lips.  Her cheeks even
seemed sunk a little.  But how I, the associate of her disreputable
father, the “lowest of the low” from the criminal Europe, could manage to
reassure her I had no conception.  She was exasperating.

“Heavens and earth!  What do you think I can do?”

“I don’t know.”

Her chin certainly trembled.  And she was looking at me with extreme
attention.  I made a step nearer to her chair.

“I shall do nothing.  I promise you that.  Will that do?  Do you
understand?  I shall do nothing whatever, of any kind; and the day after
to-morrow I shall be gone.”

What else could I have said?  She seemed to drink in my words with the
thirsty avidity with which she had emptied the glass of water.  She
whispered tremulously, in that touching tone I had heard once before on
her lips, and which thrilled me again with the same emotion:

“I would believe you.  But what about papa—”

“He be hanged!”  My emotion betrayed itself by the brutality of my tone.
“I’ve had enough of your papa.  Are you so stupid as to imagine that I am
frightened of him?  He can’t make me do anything.”

All that sounded feeble to me in the face of her ignorance.  But I must
conclude that the “accent of sincerity” has, as some people say, a really
irresistible power.  The effect was far beyond my hopes,—and even beyond
my conception.  To watch the change in the girl was like watching a
miracle—the gradual but swift relaxation of her tense glance, of her
stiffened muscles, of every fibre of her body.  That black, fixed stare
into which I had read a tragic meaning more than once, in which I had
found a sombre seduction, was perfectly empty now, void of all
consciousness whatever, and not even aware any longer of my presence; it
had become a little sleepy, in the Jacobus fashion.

But, man being a perverse animal, instead of rejoicing at my complete
success, I beheld it with astounded and indignant eyes.  There was
something cynical in that unconcealed alteration, the true Jacobus
shamelessness.  I felt as though I had been cheated in some rather
complicated deal into which I had entered against my better judgment.
Yes, cheated without any regard for, at least, the forms of decency.

With an easy, indolent, and in its indolence supple, feline movement, she
rose from the chair, so provokingly ignoring me now, that for very rage I
held my ground within less than a foot of her.  Leisurely and tranquil,
behaving right before me with the ease of a person alone in a room, she
extended her beautiful arms, with her hands clenched, her body swaying,
her head thrown back a little, revelling contemptuously in a sense of
relief, easing her limbs in freedom after all these days of crouching,
motionless poses when she had been so furious and so afraid.

All this with supreme indifference, incredible, offensive, exasperating,
like ingratitude doubled with treachery.

I ought to have been flattered, perhaps, but, on the contrary, my anger
grew; her movement to pass by me as if I were a wooden post or a piece of
furniture, that unconcerned movement brought it to a head.

I won’t say I did not know what I was doing, but, certainly, cool
reflection had nothing to do with the circumstance that next moment both
my arms were round her waist.  It was an impulsive action, as one
snatches at something falling or escaping; and it had no hypocritical
gentleness about it either.  She had no time to make a sound, and the
first kiss I planted on her closed lips was vicious enough to have been a
bite.

She did not resist, and of course I did not stop at one.  She let me go
on, not as if she were inanimate—I felt her there, close against me,
young, full of vigour, of life, a strong desirable creature, but as if
she did not care in the least, in the absolute assurance of her safety,
what I did or left undone.  Our faces brought close together in this
storm of haphazard caresses, her big, black, wide-open eyes looked into
mine without the girl appearing either angry or pleased or moved in any
way.  In that steady gaze which seemed impersonally to watch my madness I
could detect a slight surprise, perhaps—nothing more.  I showered kisses
upon her face and there did not seem to be any reason why this should not
go on for ever.

That thought flashed through my head, and I was on the point of
desisting, when, all at once, she began to struggle with a sudden
violence which all but freed her instantly, which revived my exasperation
with her, indeed a fierce desire never to let her go any more.  I
tightened my embrace in time, gasping out: “No—you don’t!” as if she were
my mortal enemy.  On her part not a word was said.  Putting her hands
against my chest, she pushed with all her might without succeeding to
break the circle of my arms.  Except that she seemed thoroughly awake
now, her eyes gave me no clue whatever.  To meet her black stare was like
looking into a deep well, and I was totally unprepared for her change of
tactics.  Instead of trying to tear my hands apart, she flung herself
upon my breast and with a downward, undulating, serpentine motion, a
quick sliding dive, she got away from me smoothly.  It was all very
swift; I saw her pick up the tail of her wrapper and run for the door at
the end of the verandah not very gracefully.  She appeared to be limping
a little—and then she vanished; the door swung behind her so noiselessly
that I could not believe it was completely closed.  I had a distinct
suspicion of her black eye being at the crack to watch what I would do.
I could not make up my mind whether to shake my fist in that direction or
blow a kiss.



CHAPTER VI


EITHER would have been perfectly consistent with my feelings.  I gazed at
the door, hesitating, but in the end I did neither.  The monition of some
sixth sense—the sense of guilt, maybe, that sense which always acts too
late, alas!—warned me to look round; and at once I became aware that the
conclusion of this tumultuous episode was likely to be a matter of lively
anxiety.  Jacobus was standing in the doorway of the dining-room.  How
long he had been there it was impossible to guess; and remembering my
struggle with the girl I thought he must have been its mute witness from
beginning to end.  But this supposition seemed almost incredible.
Perhaps that impenetrable girl had heard him come in and had got away in
time.

He stepped on to the verandah in his usual manner, heavy-eyed, with glued
lips.  I marvelled at the girl’s resemblance to this man.  Those long,
Egyptian eyes, that low forehead of a stupid goddess, she had found in
the sawdust of the circus; but all the rest of the face, the design and
the modelling, the rounded chin, the very lips—all that was Jacobus,
fined down, more finished, more expressive.

His thick hand fell on and grasped with force the back of a light chair
(there were several standing about) and I perceived the chance of a
broken head at the end of all this—most likely.  My mortification was
extreme.  The scandal would be horrible; that was unavoidable.  But how
to act so as to satisfy myself I did not know.  I stood on my guard and
at any rate faced him.  There was nothing else for it.  Of one thing I
was certain, that, however brazen my attitude, it could never equal the
characteristic Jacobus impudence.

He gave me his melancholy, glued smile and sat down.  I own I was
relieved.  The perspective of passing from kisses to blows had nothing
particularly attractive in it.  Perhaps—perhaps he had seen nothing?  He
behaved as usual, but he had never before found me alone on the verandah.
If he had alluded to it, if he had asked: “Where’s Alice?” or something
of the sort, I would have been able to judge from the tone.  He would
give me no opportunity.  The striking peculiarity was that he had never
looked up at me yet.  “He knows,” I said to myself confidently.  And my
contempt for him relieved my disgust with myself.

“You are early home,” I remarked.

“Things are very quiet; nothing doing at the store to-day,” he explained
with a cast-down air.

“Oh, well, you know, I am off,” I said, feeling that this, perhaps, was
the best thing to do.

“Yes,” he breathed out.  “Day after to-morrow.”

This was not what I had meant; but as he gazed persistently on the floor,
I followed the direction of his glance.  In the absolute stillness of the
house we stared at the high-heeled slipper the girl had lost in her
flight.  We stared.  It lay overturned.

After what seemed a very long time to me, Jacobus hitched his chair
forward, stooped with extended arm and picked it up.  It looked a slender
thing in his big, thick hands.  It was not really a slipper, but a low
shoe of blue, glazed kid, rubbed and shabby.  It had straps to go over
the instep, but the girl only thrust her feet in, after her slovenly
manner.  Jacobus raised his eyes from the shoe to look at me.

“Sit down, Captain,” he said at last, in his subdued tone.

As if the sight of that shoe had renewed the spell, I gave up suddenly
the idea of leaving the house there and then.  It had become impossible.
I sat down, keeping my eyes on the fascinating object.  Jacobus turned
his daughter’s shoe over and over in his cushioned paws as if studying
the way the thing was made.  He contemplated the thin sole for a time;
then glancing inside with an absorbed air:

“I am glad I found you here, Captain.”

I answered this by some sort of grunt, watching him covertly.  Then I
added: “You won’t have much more of me now.”

He was still deep in the interior of that shoe on which my eyes too were
resting.

“Have you thought any more of this deal in potatoes I spoke to you about
the other day?”

“No, I haven’t,” I answered curtly.  He checked my movement to rise by an
austere, commanding gesture of the hand holding that fatal shoe.  I
remained seated and glared at him.  “You know I don’t trade.”

“You ought to, Captain.  You ought to.”

I reflected.  If I left that house now I would never see the girl again.
And I felt I must see her once more, if only for an instant.  It was a
need, not to be reasoned with, not to be disregarded.  No, I did not want
to go away.  I wanted to stay for one more experience of that strange
provoking sensation and of indefinite desire, the habit of which had made
me—me of all people!—dread the prospect of going to sea.

“Mr. Jacobus,” I pronounced slowly.  “Do you really think that upon the
whole and taking various’ matters into consideration—I mean everything,
do you understand?—it would be a good thing for me to trade, let us say,
with you?”

I waited for a while.  He went on looking at the shoe which he held now
crushed in the middle, the worn point of the toe and the high heel
protruding on each side of his heavy fist.

“That will be all right,” he said, facing me squarely at last.

“Are you sure?”

“You’ll find it quite correct, Captain.”  He had uttered his habitual
phrases in his usual placid, breath-saving voice and stood my hard,
inquisitive stare sleepily without as much as a wink.

“Then let us trade,” I said, turning my shoulder to him.  “I see you are
bent on it.”

I did not want an open scandal, but I thought that outward decency may be
bought too dearly at times.  I included Jacobus, myself, the whole
population of the island, in the same contemptuous disgust as though we
had been partners in an ignoble transaction.  And the remembered vision
at sea, diaphanous and blue, of the Pearl of the Ocean at sixty miles
off; the unsubstantial, clear marvel of it as if evoked by the art of a
beautiful and pure magic, turned into a thing of horrors too.  Was this
the fortune this vaporous and rare apparition had held for me in its hard
heart, hidden within the shape as of fair dreams and mist?  Was this my
luck?

“I think”—Jacobus became suddenly audible after what seemed the silence
of vile meditation—“that you might conveniently take some thirty tons.
That would be about the lot, Captain.”

“Would it?  The lot!  I dare say it would be convenient, but I haven’t
got enough money for that.”

I had never seen him so animated.

“No!” he exclaimed with what I took for the accent of grim menace.
“That’s a pity.”  He paused, then, unrelenting: “How much money have you
got, Captain?” he inquired with awful directness.

It was my turn to face him squarely.  I did so and mentioned the amount I
could dispose of.  And I perceived that he was disappointed.  He thought
it over, his calculating gaze lost in mine, for quite a long time before
he came out in a thoughtful tone with the rapacious suggestion:

“You could draw some more from your charterers.  That would be quite
easy, Captain.”

“No, I couldn’t,” I retorted brusquely.  “I’ve drawn my salary up to
date, and besides, the ship’s accounts are closed.”

I was growing furious.  I pursued: “And I’ll tell you what: if I could do
it I wouldn’t.”  Then throwing off all restraint, I added: “You are a bit
too much of a Jacobus, Mr. Jacobus.”

The tone alone was insulting enough, but he remained tranquil, only a
little puzzled, till something seemed to dawn upon him; but the unwonted
light in his eyes died out instantly.  As a Jacobus on his native heath,
what a mere skipper chose to say could not touch him, outcast as he was.
As a ship-chandler he could stand anything.  All I caught of his mumble
was a vague—“quite correct,” than which nothing could have been more
egregiously false at bottom—to my view, at least.  But I remembered—I had
never forgotten—that I must see the girl.  I did not mean to go.  I meant
to stay in the house till I had seen her once more.

“Look here!” I said finally.  “I’ll tell you what I’ll do.  I’ll take as
many of your confounded potatoes as my money will buy, on condition that
you go off at once down to the wharf to see them loaded in the lighter
and sent alongside the ship straight away.  Take the invoice and a signed
receipt with you.  Here’s the key of my desk.  Give it to Burns.  He will
pay you.”

He got up from his chair before I had finished speaking, but he refused
to take the key.  Burns would never do it.  He wouldn’t like to ask him
even.

“Well, then,” I said, eyeing him slightingly, “there’s nothing for it,
Mr. Jacobus, but you must wait on board till I come off to settle with
you.”

“That will be all right, Captain.  I will go at once.”

He seemed at a loss what to do with the girl’s shoe he was still holding
in his fist.  Finally, looking dully at me, he put it down on the chair
from which he had risen.

“And you, Captain?  Won’t you come along, too, just to see—”

“Don’t bother about me.  I’ll take care of myself.”

He remained perplexed for a moment, as if trying to understand; and then
his weighty: “Certainly, certainly, Captain,” seemed to be the outcome of
some sudden thought.  His big chest heaved.  Was it a sigh?  As he went
out to hurry off those potatoes he never looked back at me.

I waited till the noise of his footsteps had died out of the dining-room,
and I waited a little longer.  Then turning towards the distant door I
raised my voice along the verandah:

“Alice!”

Nothing answered me, not even a stir behind the door.  Jacobus’s house
might have been made empty for me to make myself at home in.  I did not
call again.  I had become aware of a great discouragement.  I was
mentally jaded, morally dejected.  I turned to the garden again, sitting
down with my elbows spread on the low balustrade, and took my head in my
hands.

The evening closed upon me.  The shadows lengthened, deepened, mingled
together into a pool of twilight in which the flower-beds glowed like
coloured embers; whiffs of heavy scent came to me as if the dusk of this
hemisphere were but the dimness of a temple and the garden an enormous
censer swinging before the altar of the stars.  The colours of the
blossoms deepened, losing their glow one by one.

The girl, when I turned my head at a slight noise, appeared to me very
tall and slender, advancing with a swaying limp, a floating and uneven
motion which ended in the sinking of her shadowy form into the deep low
chair.  And I don’t know why or whence I received the impression that she
had come too late.  She ought to have appeared at my call.  She ought to
have . . . It was as if a supreme opportunity had been missed.

I rose and took a seat close to her, nearly opposite her arm-chair.  Her
ever discontented voice addressed me at once, contemptuously:

“You are still here.”

I pitched mine low.

“You have come out at last.”

“I came to look for my shoe—before they bring in the lights.”

It was her harsh, enticing whisper, subdued, not very steady, but its low
tremulousness gave me no thrill now.  I could only make out the oval of
her face, her uncovered throat, the long, white gleam of her eyes.  She
was mysterious enough.  Her hands were resting on the arms of the chair.
But where was the mysterious and provoking sensation which was like the
perfume of her flower-like youth?  I said quietly:

“I have got your shoe here.”  She made no sound and I continued: “You had
better give me your foot and I will put it on for you.”

She made no movement.  I bent low down and groped for her foot under the
flounces of the wrapper.  She did not withdraw it and I put on the shoe,
buttoning the instep-strap.  It was an inanimate foot.  I lowered it
gently to the floor.

“If you buttoned the strap you would not be losing your shoe, Miss Don’t
Care,” I said, trying to be playful without conviction.  I felt more like
wailing over the lost illusion of vague desire, over the sudden
conviction that I would never find again near her the strange, half-evil,
half-tender sensation which had given its acrid flavour to so many days,
which had made her appear tragic and promising, pitiful and provoking.
That was all over.

“Your father picked it up,” I said, thinking she may just as well be told
of the fact.

“I am not afraid of papa—by himself,” she declared scornfully.

“Oh!  It’s only in conjunction with his disreputable associates,
strangers, the ‘riff-raff of Europe’ as your charming aunt or great-aunt
says—men like me, for instance—that you—”

“I am not afraid of you,” she snapped out.

“That’s because you don’t know that I am now doing business with your
father.  Yes, I am in fact doing exactly what he wants me to do.  I’ve
broken my promise to you.  That’s the sort of man I am.  And now—aren’t
you afraid?  If you believe what that dear, kind, truthful old lady says
you ought to be.”

It was with unexpected modulated softness that the affirmed:

“No.  I am not afraid.”  She hesitated. . . . “Not now.”

“Quite right.  You needn’t be.  I shall not see you again before I go to
sea.”  I rose and stood near her chair.  “But I shall often think of you
in this old garden, passing under the trees over there, walking between
these gorgeous flower-beds.  You must love this garden—”

“I love nothing.”

I heard in her sullen tone the faint echo of that resentfully tragic note
which I had found once so provoking.  But it left me unmoved except for a
sudden and weary conviction of the emptiness of all things under Heaven.

“Good-bye, Alice,” I said.

She did not answer, she did not move.  To merely take her hand, shake it,
and go away seemed impossible, almost improper.  I stooped without haste
and pressed my lips to her smooth forehead.  This was the moment when I
realised clearly with a sort of terror my complete detachment from that
unfortunate creature.  And as I lingered in that cruel self-knowledge I
felt the light touch of her arms falling languidly on my neck and
received a hasty, awkward, haphazard kiss which missed my lips.  No!  She
was not afraid; but I was no longer moved.  Her arms slipped off my neck
slowly, she made no sound, the deep wicker arm-chair creaked slightly;
only a sense of my dignity prevented me fleeing headlong from that
catastrophic revelation.

I traversed the dining-room slowly.  I thought: She’s listening to my
footsteps; she can’t help it; she’ll hear me open and shut that door.
And I closed it as gently behind me as if I had been a thief retreating
with his ill-gotten booty.  During that stealthy act I experienced the
last touch of emotion in that house, at the thought of the girl I had
left sitting there in the obscurity, with her heavy hair and empty eyes
as black as the night itself, staring into the walled garden, silent,
warm, odorous with the perfume of imprisoned flowers, which, like
herself, were lost to sight in a world buried in darkness.

The narrow, ill-lighted, rustic streets I knew so well on my way to the
harbour were extremely quiet.  I felt in my heart that the further one
ventures the better one understands how everything in our life is common,
short, and empty; that it is in seeking the unknown in our sensations
that we discover how mediocre are our attempts and how soon defeated!
Jacobus’s boatman was waiting at the steps with an unusual air of
readiness.  He put me alongside the ship, but did not give me his
confidential “Good-evening, sah,” and, instead of shoving off at once,
remained holding by the ladder.

I was a thousand miles from commercial affairs, when on the dark
quarter-deck Mr. Burns positively rushed at me, stammering with
excitement.  He had been pacing the deck distractedly for hours awaiting
my arrival.  Just before sunset a lighter loaded with potatoes had come
alongside with that fat ship-chandler himself sitting on the pile of
sacks.  He was now stuck immovable in the cabin.  What was the meaning of
it all?  Surely I did not—

“Yes, Mr. Burns, I did,” I cut him short.  He was beginning to make
gestures of despair when I stopped that, too, by giving him the key of my
desk and desiring him, in a tone which admitted of no argument, to go
below at once, pay Mr. Jacobus’s bill, and send him out of the ship.

“I don’t want to see him,” I confessed frankly, climbing the poop-ladder.
I felt extremely tired.  Dropping on the seat of the skylight, I gave
myself up to idle gazing at the lights about the quay and at the black
mass of the mountain on the south side of the harbour.  I never heard
Jacobus leave the ship with every single sovereign of my ready cash in
his pocket.  I never heard anything till, a long time afterwards, Mr.
Burns, unable to contain himself any longer, intruded upon me with his
ridiculously angry lamentations at my weakness and good nature.

“Of course, there’s plenty of room in the after-hatch.  But they are sure
to go rotten down there.  Well!  I never heard . . . seventeen tons!  I
suppose I must hoist in that lot first thing to-morrow morning.”

“I suppose you must.  Unless you drop them overboard.  But I’m afraid you
can’t do that.  I wouldn’t mind myself, but it’s forbidden to throw
rubbish into the harbour, you know.”

“That is the truest word you have said for many a day, sir—rubbish.
That’s just what I expect they are.  Nearly eighty good gold sovereigns
gone; a perfectly clean sweep of your drawer, sir.  Bless me if I
understand!”

As it was impossible to throw the right light on this commercial
transaction I left him to his lamentations and under the impression that
I was a hopeless fool.  Next day I did not go ashore.  For one thing, I
had no money to go ashore with—no, not enough to buy a cigarette.
Jacobus had made a clean sweep.  But that was not the only reason.  The
Pearl of the Ocean had in a few short hours grown odious to me.  And I
did not want to meet any one.  My reputation had suffered.  I knew I was
the object of unkind and sarcastic comments.

The following morning at sunrise, just as our stern-fasts had been let go
and the tug plucked us out from between the buoys, I saw Jacobus standing
up in his boat.  The nigger was pulling hard; several baskets of
provisions for ships were stowed between the thwarts.  The father of
Alice was going his morning round.  His countenance was tranquil and
friendly.  He raised his arm and shouted something with great heartiness.
But his voice was of the sort that doesn’t carry any distance; all I
could catch faintly, or rather guess at, were the words “next time” and
“quite correct.”  And it was only of these last that I was certain.
Raising my arm perfunctorily for all response, I turned away.  I rather
resented the familiarity of the thing.  Hadn’t I settled accounts finally
with him by means of that potato bargain?

This being a harbour story it is not my purpose to speak of our passage.
I was glad enough to be at sea, but not with the gladness of old days.
Formerly I had no memories to take away with me.  I shared in the blessed
forgetfulness of sailors, that forgetfulness natural and invincible,
which resembles innocence in so far that it prevents self-examination.
Now however I remembered the girl.  During the first few days I was for
ever questioning myself as to the nature of facts and sensations
connected with her person and with my conduct.

And I must say also that Mr. Burns’ intolerable fussing with those
potatoes was not calculated to make me forget the part which I had
played.  He looked upon it as a purely commercial transaction of a
particularly foolish kind, and his devotion—if it was devotion and not
mere cussedness as I came to regard it before long—inspired him with a
zeal to minimise my loss as much as possible.  Oh, yes!  He took care of
those infamous potatoes with a vengeance, as the saying goes.

Everlastingly, there was a tackle over the after-hatch and everlastingly
the watch on deck were pulling up, spreading out, picking over,
rebagging, and lowering down again, some part of that lot of potatoes.
My bargain with all its remotest associations, mental and visual—the
garden of flowers and scents, the girl with her provoking contempt and
her tragic loneliness of a hopeless castaway—was everlastingly dangled
before my eyes, for thousands of miles along the open sea.  And as if by
a satanic refinement of irony it was accompanied by a most awful smell.
Whiffs from decaying potatoes pursued me on the poop, they mingled with
my thoughts, with my food, poisoned my very dreams.  They made an
atmosphere of corruption for the ship.

I remonstrated with Mr. Burns about this excessive care.  I would have
been well content to batten the hatch down and let them perish under the
deck.

That perhaps would have been unsafe.  The horrid emanations might have
flavoured the cargo of sugar.  They seemed strong enough to taint the
very ironwork.  In addition Mr. Burns made it a personal matter.  He
assured me he knew how to treat a cargo of potatoes at sea—had been in
the trade as a boy, he said.  He meant to make my loss as small as
possible.  What between his devotion—it must have been devotion—and his
vanity, I positively dared not give him the order to throw my
commercial-venture overboard.  I believe he would have refused point
blank to obey my lawful command.  An unprecedented and comical situation
would have been created with which I did not feel equal to deal.

I welcomed the coming of bad weather as no sailor had ever done.  When at
last I hove the ship to, to pick up the pilot outside Port Philip Heads,
the after-hatch had not been opened for more than a week and I might have
believed that no such thing as a potato had ever been on board.

It was an abominable day, raw, blustering, with great squalls of wind and
rain; the pilot, a cheery person, looked after the ship and chatted to
me, streaming from head to foot; and the heavier the lash of the downpour
the more pleased with himself and everything around him he seemed to be.
He rubbed his wet hands with a satisfaction, which to me, who had stood
that kind of thing for several days and nights, seemed inconceivable in
any non-aquatic creature.

“You seem to enjoy getting wet, Pilot,” I remarked.

He had a bit of land round his house in the suburbs and it was of his
garden he was thinking.  At the sound of the word garden, unheard,
unspoken for so many days, I had a vision of gorgeous colour, of sweet
scents, of a girlish figure crouching in a chair.  Yes.  That was a
distinct emotion breaking into the peace I had found in the sleepless
anxieties of my responsibility during a week of dangerous bad weather.
The Colony, the pilot explained, had suffered from unparalleled drought.
This was the first decent drop of water they had had for seven months.
The root crops were lost.  And, trying to be casual, but with visible
interest, he asked me if I had perchance any potatoes to spare.

Potatoes!  I had managed to forget them.  In a moment I felt plunged into
corruption up to my neck.  Mr. Burns was making eyes at me behind the
pilot’s back.

Finally, he obtained a ton, and paid ten pounds for it.  This was twice
the price of my bargain with Jacobus.  The spirit of covetousness woke up
in me.  That night, in harbour, before I slept, the Custom House galley
came alongside.  While his underlings were putting seals on the
storerooms, the officer in charge took me aside confidentially.  “I say,
Captain, you don’t happen to have any potatoes to sell.”

Clearly there was a potato famine in the land.  I let him have a ton for
twelve pounds and he went away joyfully.  That night I dreamt of a pile
of gold in the form of a grave in which a girl was buried, and woke up
callous with greed.  On calling at my ship-broker’s office, that man,
after the usual business had been transacted, pushed his spectacles up on
his forehead.

“I was thinking, Captain, that coming from the Pearl of the Ocean you may
have some potatoes to sell.”

I said negligently: “Oh, yes, I could spare you a ton.  Fifteen pounds.”

He exclaimed: “I say!”  But after studying my face for a while accepted
my terms with a faint grimace.  It seems that these people could not
exist without potatoes.  I could.  I didn’t want to see a potato as long
as I lived; but the demon of lucre had taken possession of me.  How the
news got about I don’t know, but, returning on board rather late, I found
a small group of men of the coster type hanging about the waist, while
Mr. Burns walked to and fro the quarterdeck loftily, keeping a triumphant
eye on them.  They had come to buy potatoes.

“These chaps have been waiting here in the sun for hours,” Burns
whispered to me excitedly.  “They have drank the water-cask dry.  Don’t
you throw away your chances, sir.  You are too good-natured.”

I selected a man with thick legs and a man with a cast in his eye to
negotiate with; simply because they were easily distinguishable from the
rest.  “You have the money on you?” I inquired, before taking them down
into the cabin.

“Yes, sir,” they answered in one voice, slapping their pockets.  I liked
their air of quiet determination.  Long before the end of the day all the
potatoes were sold at about three times the price I had paid for them.
Mr. Burns, feverish and exulting, congratulated himself on his skilful
care of my commercial venture, but hinted plainly that I ought to have
made more of it.

That night I did not sleep very well.  I thought of Jacobus by fits and
starts, between snatches of dreams concerned with castaways starving on a
desert island covered with flowers.  It was extremely unpleasant.  In the
morning, tired and unrefreshed, I sat down and wrote a long letter to my
owners, giving them a carefully-thought-out scheme for the ship’s
employment in the East and about the China Seas for the next two years.
I spent the day at that task and felt somewhat more at peace when it was
done.

Their reply came in due course.  They were greatly struck with my
project; but considering that, notwithstanding the unfortunate difficulty
with the bags (which they trusted I would know how to guard against in
the future), the voyage showed a very fair profit, they thought it would
be better to keep the ship in the sugar trade—at least for the present.

I turned over the page and read on:

“We have had a letter from our good friend Mr. Jacobus.  We are pleased
to see how well you have hit it off with him; for, not to speak of his
assistance in the unfortunate matter of the bags, he writes us that
should you, by using all possible dispatch, manage to bring the ship back
early in the season he would be able to give us a good rate of freight.
We have no doubt that your best endeavours . . . etc. . . etc.”

I dropped the letter and sat motionless for a long time.  Then I wrote my
answer (it was a short one) and went ashore myself to post it.  But I
passed one letter-box, then another, and in the end found myself going up
Collins Street with the letter still in my pocket—against my heart.
Collins Street at four o’clock in the afternoon is not exactly a desert
solitude; but I had never felt more isolated from the rest of mankind as
when I walked that day its crowded pavement, battling desperately with my
thoughts and feeling already vanquished.

There came a moment when the awful tenacity of Jacobus, the man of one
passion and of one idea, appeared to me almost heroic.  He had not given
me up.  He had gone again to his odious brother.  And then he appeared to
me odious himself.  Was it for his own sake or for the sake of the poor
girl?  And on that last supposition the memory of the kiss which missed
my lips appalled me; for whatever he had seen, or guessed at, or risked,
he knew nothing of that.  Unless the girl had told him.  How could I go
back to fan that fatal spark with my cold breath?  No, no, that
unexpected kiss had to be paid for at its full price.

At the first letter-box I came to I stopped and reaching into my
breast-pocket I took out the letter—it was as if I were plucking out my
very heart—and dropped it through the slit.  Then I went straight on
board.

I wondered what dreams I would have that night; but as it turned out I
did not sleep at all.  At breakfast I informed Mr. Burns that I had
resigned my command.

He dropped his knife and fork and looked at me with indignation.

“You have, sir!  I thought you loved the ship.”

“So I do, Burns,” I said.  “But the fact is that the Indian Ocean and
everything that is in it has lost its charm for me.  I am going home as
passenger by the Suez Canal.”

“Everything that is in it,” he repeated angrily.  “I’ve never heard
anybody talk like this.  And to tell you the truth, sir, all the time we
have been together I’ve never quite made you out.  What’s one ocean more
than another?  Charm, indeed!”

He was really devoted to me, I believe.  But he cheered up when I told
him that I had recommended him for my successor.

“Anyhow,” he remarked, “let people say what they like, this Jacobus has
served your turn.  I must admit that this potato business has paid
extremely well.  Of course, if only you had—”

“Yes, Mr. Burns,” I interrupted.  “Quite a smile of fortune.”

But I could not tell him that it was driving me out of the ship I had
learned to love.  And as I sat heavy-hearted at that parting, seeing all
my plans destroyed, my modest future endangered—for this command was like
a foot in the stirrup for a young man—he gave up completely for the first
time his critical attitude.

“A wonderful piece of luck!” he said.



THE SECRET SHARER
AN EPISODE FROM THE COAST


CHAPTER I


ON my right hand there were lines of fishing-stakes resembling a
mysterious system of half-submerged bamboo fences, incomprehensible in
its division of the domain of tropical fishes, and crazy of aspect as if
abandoned forever by some nomad tribe of fishermen now gone to the other
end of the ocean; for there was no sign of human habitation as far as the
eye could reach.  To the left a group of barren islets, suggesting ruins
of stone walls, towers, and blockhouses, had its foundations set in a
blue sea that itself looked solid, so still and stable did it lie below
my feet; even the track of light from the westering sun shone smoothly,
without that animated glitter which tells of an imperceptible ripple.
And when I turned my head to take a parting glance at the tug which had
just left us anchored outside the bar, I saw the straight line of the
flat shore joined to the stable sea, edge to edge, with a perfect and
unmarked closeness, in one levelled floor half brown, half blue under the
enormous dome of the sky.  Corresponding in their insignificance to the
islets of the sea, two small clumps of trees, one on each side of the
only fault in the impeccable joint, marked the mouth of the river Meinam
we had just left on the first preparatory stage of our homeward journey;
and, far back on the inland level, a larger and loftier mass, the grove
surrounding the great Paknam pagoda, was the only thing on which the eye
could rest from the vain task of exploring the monotonous sweep of the
horizon.  Here and there gleams as of a few scattered pieces of silver
marked the windings of the great river; and on the nearest of them, just
within the bar, the tug steaming right into the land became lost to my
sight, hull and funnel and masts, as though the impassive earth had
swallowed her up without an effort, without a tremor.  My eye followed
the light cloud of her smoke, now here, now there, above the plain,
according to the devious curves of the stream, but always fainter and
farther away, till I lost it at last behind the mitre-shaped hill of the
great pagoda.  And then I was left alone with my ship, anchored at the
head of the Gulf of Siam.

She floated at the starting-point of a long journey, very still in an
immense stillness, the shadows of her spars flung far to the eastward by
the setting sun.  At that moment I was alone on her decks.  There was not
a sound in her—and around us nothing moved, nothing lived, not a canoe on
the water, not a bird in the air, not a cloud in the sky.  In this
breathless pause at the threshold of a long passage we seemed to be
measuring our fitness for a long and arduous enterprise, the appointed
task of both our existences to be carried out, far from all human eyes,
with only sky and sea for spectators and for judges.

There must have been some glare in the air to interfere with one’s sight,
because it was only just before the sun left us that my roaming eyes made
out beyond the highest ridge of the principal islet of the group
something which did away with the solemnity of perfect solitude.  The
tide of darkness flowed on swiftly; and with tropical suddenness a swarm
of stars came out above the shadowy earth, while I lingered yet, my hand
resting lightly on my ship’s rail as if on the shoulder of a trusted
friend.  But, with all that multitude of celestial bodies staring down at
one, the comfort of quiet communion with her was gone for good.  And
there were also disturbing sounds by this time—voices, footsteps forward;
the steward flitted along the maindeck, a busily ministering spirit; a
hand-bell tinkled urgently under the poop-deck. . . .

I found my two officers waiting for me near the supper table, in the
lighted cuddy.  We sat down at once, and as I helped the chief mate, I
said:

“Are you aware that there is a ship anchored inside the islands?  I saw
her mastheads above the ridge as the sun went down.”

He raised sharply his simple face, overcharged by a terrible growth of
whisker, and emitted his usual ejaculations: “Bless my soul, sir!  You
don’t say so!”

My second mate was a round-cheeked, silent young man, grave beyond his
years, I thought; but as our eyes happened to meet I detected a slight
quiver on his lips.  I looked down at once.  It was not my part to
encourage sneering on board my ship.  It must be said, too, that I knew
very little of my officers.  In consequence of certain events of no
particular significance, except to myself, I had been appointed to the
command only a fortnight before.  Neither did I know much of the hands
forward.  All these people had been together for eighteen months or so,
and my position was that of the only stranger on board.  I mention this
because it has some bearing on what is to follow.  But what I felt most
was my being a stranger to the ship; and if all the truth must be told, I
was somewhat of a stranger to myself.  The youngest man on board (barring
the second mate), and untried as yet by a position of the fullest
responsibility, I was willing to take the adequacy of the others for
granted.  They had simply to be equal to their tasks; but I wondered how
far I should turn out faithful to that ideal conception of one’s own
personality every man sets up for himself secretly.

                                * * * * *

Meantime the chief mate, with an almost visible effect of collaboration
on the part of his round eyes and frightful whiskers, was trying to
evolve a theory of the anchored ship.  His dominant trait was to take all
things into earnest consideration.  He was of a painstaking turn of mind.
As he used to say, he “liked to account to himself” for practically
everything that came in his way, down to a miserable scorpion he had
found in his cabin a week before.  The why and the wherefore of that
scorpion—how it got on board and came to select his room rather than the
pantry (which was a dark place and more what a scorpion would be partial
to), and how on earth it managed to drown itself in the inkwell of his
writing-desk—had exercised him infinitely.  The ship within the islands
was much more easily accounted for; and just as we were about to rise
from table he made his pronouncement.  She was, he doubted not, a ship
from home lately arrived.  Probably she drew too much water to cross the
bar except at the top of spring tides.  Therefore she went into that
natural harbour to wait for a few days in preference to remaining in an
open roadstead.

“That’s so,” confirmed the second mate, suddenly, in his slightly hoarse
voice.  “She draws over twenty feet.  She’s the Liverpool ship _Sephora_
with a cargo of coal.  Hundred and twenty-three days from Cardiff.”

We looked at him in surprise.

“The tugboat skipper told me when he came on board for your letters,
sir,” explained the young man.  “He expects to take her up the river the
day after to-morrow.”

After thus overwhelming us with the extent of his information he slipped
out of the cabin.  The mate observed regretfully that he “could not
account for that young fellow’s whims.”  What prevented him telling us
all about it at once, he wanted to know.

I detained him as he was making a move.  For the last two days the crew
had had plenty of hard work, and the night before they had very little
sleep.  I felt painfully that I—a stranger—was doing something unusual
when I directed him to let all hands turn in without setting an
anchor-watch.  I proposed to keep on deck myself till one o’clock or
thereabouts.  I would get the second mate to relieve me at that hour.

“He will turn out the cook and the steward at four,” I concluded, “and
then give you a call.  Of course at the slightest sign of any sort of
wind we’ll have the hands up and make a start at once.”

He concealed his astonishment.  “Very well, sir.”  Outside the cuddy he
put his head in the second mate’s door to inform him of my unheard-of
caprice to take a five hours’ anchor-watch on myself.  I heard the other
raise his voice incredulously—“What?  The captain himself?”  Then a few
more murmurs, a door closed, then another.  A few moments later I went on
deck.

My strangeness, which had made me sleepless, had prompted that
unconventional arrangement, as if I had expected in those solitary hours
of the night to get on terms with the ship of which I knew nothing,
manned by men of whom I knew very little more.  Fast alongside a wharf,
littered like any ship in port with a tangle of unrelated things, invaded
by unrelated shore people, I had hardly seen her yet properly.  Now, as
she lay cleared for sea, the stretch of her maindeck seemed to me very
fine under the stars.  Very fine, very roomy for her size, and very
inviting.  I descended the poop and paced the waist, my mind picturing to
myself the coming passage through the Malay Archipelago, down the Indian
Ocean, and up the Atlantic.  All its phases were familiar enough to me,
every characteristic, all the alternatives which were likely to face me
on the high seas—everything! . . . except the novel responsibility of
command.  But I took heart from the reasonable thought that the ship was
like other ships, the men like other men, and that the sea was not likely
to keep any special surprises expressly for my discomfiture.

Arrived at that comforting conclusion, I bethought myself of a cigar and
went below to get it.  All was still down there.  Everybody at the after
end of the ship was sleeping profoundly.  I came out again on the
quarter-deck, agreeably at ease in my sleeping-suit on that warm
breathless night, barefooted, a glowing cigar in my teeth, and, going
forward, I was met by the profound silence of the fore end of the ship.
Only as I passed the door of the forecastle I heard a deep, quiet,
trustful sigh of some sleeper inside.  And suddenly I rejoiced in the
great security of the sea as compared with the unrest of the land, in my
choice of that untempted life presenting no disquieting problems,
invested with an elementary moral beauty by the absolute
straightforwardness of its appeal and by the singleness of its purpose.

The riding-light in the fore-rigging burned with a clear, untroubled, as
if symbolic, flame, confident and bright in the mysterious shades of the
night.  Passing on my way aft along the other side of the ship, I
observed that the rope side-ladder, put over, no doubt, for the master of
the tug when he came to fetch away our letters, had not been hauled in as
it should have been.  I became annoyed at this, for exactitude in small
matters is the very soul of discipline.  Then I reflected that I had
myself peremptorily dismissed my officers from duty, and by my own act
had prevented the anchor-watch being formally set and things properly
attended to.  I asked myself whether it was wise ever to interfere with
the established routine of duties even from the kindest of motives.  My
action might have made me appear eccentric.  Goodness only knew how that
absurdly whiskered mate would “account” for my conduct, and what the
whole ship thought of that informality of their new captain.  I was vexed
with myself.

Not from compunction certainly, but, as it were mechanically, I proceeded
to get the ladder in myself.  Now a side-ladder of that sort is a light
affair and comes in easily, yet my vigorous tug, which should have
brought it flying on board, merely recoiled upon my body in a totally
unexpected jerk.  What the devil! . . . I was so astounded by the
immovableness of that ladder that I remained stock-still, trying to
account for it to myself like that imbecile mate of mine.  In the end, of
course, I put my head over the rail.

The side of the ship made an opaque belt of shadow on the darkling glassy
shimmer of the sea.  But I saw at once something elongated and pale
floating very close to the ladder.  Before I could form a guess a faint
flash of phosphorescent light, which seemed to issue suddenly from the
naked body of a man, flickered in the sleeping water with the elusive,
silent play of summer lightning in a night sky.  With a gasp I saw
revealed to my stare a pair of feet, the long legs, a broad livid back
immersed right up to the neck in a greenish cadaverous glow.  One hand,
awash, clutched the bottom rung of the ladder.  He was complete but for
the head.  A headless corpse!  The cigar dropped out of my gaping mouth
with a tiny plop and a short hiss quite audible in the absolute stillness
of all things under heaven.  At that I suppose he raised up his face, a
dimly pale oval in the shadow of the ship’s side.  But even then I could
only barely make out down there the shape of his black-haired head.
However, it was enough for the horrid, frost-bound sensation which had
gripped me about the chest to pass off.  The moment of vain exclamations
was past, too.  I only climbed on the spare spar and leaned over the rail
as far as I could, to bring my eyes nearer to that mystery floating
alongside.

As he hung by the ladder, like a resting swimmer, the sea-lightning
played about his limbs at every stir; and he appeared in it ghastly,
silvery, fish-like.  He remained as mute as a fish, too.  He made no
motion to get out of the water, either.  It was inconceivable that he
should not attempt to come on board, and strangely troubling to suspect
that perhaps he did not want to.  And my first words were prompted by
just that troubled incertitude.

“What’s the matter?” I asked in my ordinary tone, speaking down to the
face upturned exactly under mine.

“Cramp,” it answered, no louder.  Then slightly anxious, “I say, no need
to call any one.”

“I was not going to,” I said.

“Are you alone on deck?”

“Yes.”

I had somehow the impression that he was on the point of letting go the
ladder to swim away beyond my ken—mysterious as he came.  But, for the
moment, this being appearing as if he had risen from the bottom of the
sea (it was certainly the nearest land to the ship) wanted only to know
the time.  I told him.  And he, down there, tentatively:

“I suppose your captain’s turned in?”

“I am sure he isn’t,” I said.

He seemed to struggle with himself, for I heard something like the low,
bitter murmur of doubt.  “What’s the good?”  His next words came out with
a hesitating effort.

“Look here, my man.  Could you call him out quietly?”

I thought the time had come to declare myself.

“_I_ am the captain.”

I heard a “By Jove!” whispered at the level of the water.  The
phosphorescence flashed in the swirl of the water all about his limbs,
his other hand seized the ladder.

“My name’s Leggatt.”

The voice was calm and resolute.  A good voice.  The self-possession of
that man had somehow induced a corresponding state in myself.  It was
very quietly that I remarked:

“You must be a good swimmer.”

“Yes.  I’ve been in the water practically since nine o’clock.  The
question for me now is whether I am to let go this ladder and go on
swimming till I sink from exhaustion, or—to come on board here.”

I felt this was no mere formula of desperate speech, but a real
alternative in the view of a strong soul.  I should have gathered from
this that he was young; indeed, it is only the young who are ever
confronted by such clear issues.  But at the time it was pure intuition
on my part.  A mysterious communication was established already between
us two—in the face of that silent, darkened tropical sea.  I was young,
too; young enough to make no comment.  The man in the water began
suddenly to climb up the ladder, and I hastened away from the rail to
fetch some clothes.

Before entering the cabin I stood still, listening in the lobby at the
foot of the stairs.  A faint snore came through the closed door of the
chief mate’s room.  The second mate’s door was on the hook, but the
darkness in there was absolutely soundless.  He, too, was young and could
sleep like a stone.  Remained the steward, but he was not likely to wake
up before he was called.  I got a sleeping-suit out of my room and,
coming back on deck, saw the naked man from the sea sitting on the
main-hatch, glimmering white in the darkness, his elbows on his knees and
his head in his hands.  In a moment he had concealed his damp body in a
sleeping-suit of the same grey-stripe pattern as the one I was wearing
and followed me like my double on the poop.  Together we moved right aft,
barefooted, silent.

“What is it?” I asked in a deadened voice, taking the lighted lamp out of
the binnacle, and raising it to his face.

“An ugly business.”

He had rather regular features; a good mouth; light eyes under somewhat
heavy, dark eyebrows; a smooth, square forehead; no growth on his cheeks;
a small, brown moustache, and a well-shaped, round chin.  His expression
was concentrated, meditative, under the inspecting light of the lamp I
held up to his face; such as a man thinking hard in solitude might wear.
My sleeping-suit was just right for his size.  A well-knit young fellow
of twenty-five at most.  He caught his lower lip with the edge of white,
even teeth.

“Yes,” I said, replacing the lamp in the binnacle.  The warm, heavy
tropical night closed upon his head again.

“There’s a ship over there,” he murmured.

“Yes, I know.  The _Sephora_.  Did you know of us?”

“Hadn’t the slightest idea.  I am the mate of her—”  He paused and
corrected himself.  “I should say I _was_.”

“Aha!  Something wrong?”

“Yes.  Very wrong indeed.  I’ve killed a man.”

“What do you mean?  Just now?”

“No, on the passage.  Weeks ago.  Thirty-nine south.  When I say a man—”

“Fit of temper,” I suggested, confidently.

The shadowy, dark head, like mine, seemed to nod imperceptibly above the
ghostly grey of my sleeping-suit.  It was, in the night, as though I had
been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a sombre and immense
mirror.

“A pretty thing to have to own up to for a Conway boy,” murmured my
double, distinctly.

“You’re a Conway boy?”

“I am,” he said, as if startled.  Then, slowly . . . “Perhaps you too—”

It was so; but being a couple of years older I had left before he joined.
After a quick interchange of dates a silence fell; and I thought suddenly
of my absurd mate with his terrific whiskers and the “Bless my soul—you
don’t say so” type of intellect.  My double gave me an inkling of his
thoughts by saying:

“My father’s a parson in Norfolk.  Do you see me before a judge and jury
on that charge?  For myself I can’t see the necessity.  There are fellows
that an angel from heaven—And I am not that.  He was one of those
creatures that are just simmering all the time with a silly sort of
wickedness.  Miserable devils that have no business to live at all.  He
wouldn’t do his duty and wouldn’t let anybody else do theirs.  But what’s
the good of talking!  You know well enough the sort of ill-conditioned
snarling cur—”

He appealed to me as if our experiences had been as identical as our
clothes.  And I knew well enough the pestiferous danger of such a
character where there are no means of legal repression.  And I knew well
enough also that my double there was no homicidal ruffian.  I did not
think of asking him for details, and he told me the story roughly in
brusque, disconnected sentences.  I needed no more.  I saw it all going
on as though I were myself inside that other sleeping-suit.

“It happened while we were setting a reefed foresail, at dusk.  Reefed
foresail!  You understand the sort of weather.  The only sail we had left
to keep the ship running; so you may guess what it had been like for
days.  Anxious sort of job, that.  He gave me some of his cursed
insolence at the sheet.  I tell you I was overdone with this terrific
weather that seemed to have no end to it.  Terrific, I tell you—and a
deep ship.  I believe the fellow himself was half crazed with funk.  It
was no time for gentlemanly reproof, so I turned round and felled him
like an ox.  He up and at me.  We closed just as an awful sea made for
the ship.  All hands saw it coming and took to the rigging, but I had him
by the throat, and went on shaking him like a rat, the men above us
yelling, “Look out! look out!”  Then a crash as if the sky had fallen on
my head.  They say that for over ten minutes hardly anything was to be
seen of the ship—just the three masts and a bit of the forecastle head
and of the poop all awash driving along in a smother of foam.  It was a
miracle that they found us, jammed together behind the forebits.  It’s
clear that I meant business, because I was holding him by the throat
still when they picked us up.  He was black in the face.  It was too much
for them.  It seems they rushed us aft together, gripped as we were,
screaming “Murder!” like a lot of lunatics, and broke into the cuddy.
And the ship running for her life, touch and go all the time, any minute
her last in a sea fit to turn your hair grey only a-looking at it.  I
understand that the skipper, too, started raving like the rest of them.
The man had been deprived of sleep for more than a week, and to have this
sprung on him at the height of a furious gale nearly drove him out of his
mind.  I wonder they didn’t fling me overboard after getting the carcass
of their precious ship-mate out of my fingers.  They had rather a job to
separate us, I’ve been told.  A sufficiently fierce story to make an old
judge and a respectable jury sit up a bit.  The first thing I heard when
I came to myself was the maddening howling of that endless gale, and on
that the voice of the old man.  He was hanging on to my bunk, staring
into my face out of his sou’wester.

“‘Mr. Leggatt, you have killed a man.  You can act no longer as chief
mate of this ship.’”

His care to subdue his voice made it sound monotonous.  He rested a hand
on the end of the skylight to steady himself with, and all that time did
not stir a limb, so far as I could see.  “Nice little tale for a quiet
tea-party,” he concluded in the same tone.

One of my hands, too, rested on the end of the skylight; neither did I
stir a limb, so far as I knew.  We stood less than a foot from each
other.  It occurred to me that if old “Bless my soul—you don’t say so”
were to put his head up the companion and catch sight of us, he would
think he was seeing double, or imagine himself come upon a scene of weird
witchcraft; the strange captain having a quiet confabulation by the wheel
with his own grey ghost.  I became very much concerned to prevent
anything of the sort.  I heard the other’s soothing undertone.

“My father’s a parson in Norfolk,” it said.  Evidently he had forgotten
he had told me this important fact before.  Truly a nice little tale.

“You had better slip down into my stateroom now,” I said, moving off
stealthily.  My double followed my movements; our bare feet made no
sound; I let him in, closed the door with care, and, after giving a call
to the second mate, returned on deck for my relief.

“Not much sign of any wind yet,” I remarked when he approached.

“No, sir.  Not much,” he assented, sleepily, in his hoarse voice, with
just enough deference, no more, and barely suppressing a yawn.

“Well, that’s all you have to look out for.  You have got your orders.”

“Yes, sir.”

I paced a turn or two on the poop and saw him take up his position face
forward with his elbow in the ratlines of the mizzen-rigging before I
went below.  The mate’s faint snoring was still going on peacefully.  The
cuddy lamp was burning over the table on which stood a vase with flowers,
a polite attention from the ship’s provision merchant—the last flowers we
should see for the next three months at the very least.  Two bunches of
bananas hung from the beam symmetrically, one on each side of the
rudder-casing.  Everything was as before in the ship—except that two of
her captain’s sleeping-suits were simultaneously in use, one motionless
in the cuddy, the other keeping very still in the captain’s stateroom.

It must be explained here that my cabin had the form of the capital
letter L the door being within the angle and opening into the short part
of the letter.  A couch was to the left, the bed-place to the right; my
writing-desk and the chronometers’ table faced the door.  But any one
opening it, unless he stepped right inside, had no view of what I call
the long (or vertical) part of the letter.  It contained some lockers
surmounted by a bookcase; and a few clothes, a thick jacket or two, caps,
oilskin coat, and such like, hung on hooks.  There was at the bottom of
that part a door opening into my bath-room, which could be entered also
directly from the saloon.  But that way was never used.

The mysterious arrival had discovered the advantage of this particular
shape.  Entering my room, lighted strongly by a big bulkhead lamp swung
on gimbals above my writing-desk, I did not see him anywhere till he
stepped out quietly from behind the coats hung in the recessed part.

“I heard somebody moving about, and went in there at once,” he whispered.

I, too, spoke under my breath.

“Nobody is likely to come in here without knocking and getting
permission.”

He nodded.  His face was thin and the sunburn faded, as though he had
been ill.  And no wonder.  He had been, I heard presently, kept under
arrest in his cabin for nearly seven weeks.  But there was nothing sickly
in his eyes or in his expression.  He was not a bit like me, really; yet,
as we stood leaning over my bed-place, whispering side by side, with our
dark heads together and our backs to the door, anybody bold enough to
open it stealthily would have been treated to the uncanny sight of a
double captain busy talking in whispers with his other self.

“But all this doesn’t tell me how you came to hang on to our
side-ladder,” I inquired, in the hardly audible murmurs we used, after he
had told me something more of the proceedings on board the _Sephora_ once
the bad weather was over.

“When we sighted Java Head I had had time to think all those matters out
several times over.  I had six weeks of doing nothing else, and with only
an hour or so every evening for a tramp on the quarter-deck.”

He whispered, his arms folded on the side of my bed-place, staring
through the open port.  And I could imagine perfectly the manner of this
thinking out—a stubborn if not a steadfast operation; something of which
I should have been perfectly incapable.

“I reckoned it would be dark before we closed with the land,” he
continued, so low that I had to strain my hearing, near as we were to
each other, shoulder touching shoulder almost.  “So I asked to speak to
the old man.  He always seemed very sick when he came to see me—as if he
could not look me in the face.  You know, that foresail saved the ship.
She was too deep to have run long under bare poles.  And it was I that
managed to set it for him.  Anyway, he came.  When I had him in my
cabin—he stood by the door looking at me as if I had the halter round my
neck already—I asked him right away to leave my cabin door unlocked at
night while the ship was going through Sunda Straits.  There would be the
Java coast within two or three miles, off Angier Point.  I wanted nothing
more.  I’ve had a prize for swimming my second year in the Conway.”

“I can believe it,” I breathed out.

“God only knows why they locked me in every night.  To see some of their
faces you’d have thought they were afraid I’d go about at night
strangling people.  Am I a murdering brute?  Do I look it?  By Jove! if I
had been he wouldn’t have trusted himself like that into my room.  You’ll
say I might have chucked him aside and bolted out, there and then—it was
dark already.  Well, no.  And for the same reason I wouldn’t think of
trying to smash the door.  There would have been a rush to stop me at the
noise, and I did not mean to get into a confounded scrimmage.  Somebody
else might have got killed—for I would not have broken out only to get
chucked back, and I did not want any more of that work.  He refused,
looking more sick than ever.  He was afraid of the men, and also of that
old second mate of his who had been sailing with him for years—a
grey-headed old humbug; and his steward, too, had been with him devil
knows how long—seventeen years or more—a dogmatic sort of loafer who
hated me like poison, just because I was the chief mate.  No chief mate
ever made more than one voyage in the _Sephora_, you know.  Those two old
chaps ran the ship.  Devil only knows what the skipper wasn’t afraid of
(all his nerve went to pieces altogether in that hellish spell of bad
weather we had)—of what the law would do to him—of his wife, perhaps.
Oh, yes! she’s on board.  Though I don’t think she would have meddled.
She would have been only too glad to have me out of the ship in any way.
The ‘brand of Cain’ business, don’t you see.  That’s all right.  I was
ready enough to go off wandering on the face of the earth—and that was
price enough to pay for an Abel of that sort.  Anyhow, he wouldn’t listen
to me.  ‘This thing must take its course.  I represent the law here.’  He
was shaking like a leaf.  ‘So you won’t?’  ‘No!’  ‘Then I hope you will
be able to sleep on that,’ I said, and turned my back on him.  ‘I wonder
that _you_ can,’ cries he, and locks the door.

“Well, after that, I couldn’t.  Not very well.  That was three weeks ago.
We have had a slow passage through the Java Sea; drifted about Carimata
for ten days.  When we anchored here they thought, I suppose, it was all
right.  The nearest land (and that’s five miles) is the ship’s
destination; the consul would soon set about catching me; and there would
have been no object in bolting to these islets there.  I don’t suppose
there’s a drop of water on them.  I don’t know how it was, but to-night
that steward, after bringing me my supper, went out to let me eat it, and
left the door unlocked.  And I ate it—all there was, too.  After I had
finished I strolled out on the quarterdeck.  I don’t know that I meant to
do anything.  A breath of fresh air was all I wanted, I believe.  Then a
sudden temptation came over me.  I kicked off my slippers and was in the
water before I had made up my mind fairly.  Somebody heard the splash and
they raised an awful hullabaloo.  ‘He’s gone!  Lower the boats!  He’s
committed suicide!  No, he’s swimming.’  Certainly I was swimming.  It’s
not so easy for a swimmer like me to commit suicide by drowning.  I
landed on the nearest islet before the boat left the ship’s side.  I
heard them pulling about in the dark, hailing, and so on, but after a bit
they gave up.  Everything quieted down and the anchorage became as still
as death.  I sat down on a stone and began to think.  I felt certain they
would start searching for me at daylight.  There was no place to hide on
those stony things—and if there had been, what would have been the good?
But now I was clear of that ship, I was not going back.  So after a while
I took off all my clothes, tied them up in a bundle with a stone inside,
and dropped them in the deep water on the outer side of that islet.  That
was suicide enough for me.  Let them think what they liked, but I didn’t
mean to drown myself.  I meant to swim till I sank—but that’s not the
same thing.  I struck out for another of these little islands, and it was
from that one that I first saw your riding-light.  Something to swim for.
I went on easily, and on the way I came upon a flat rock a foot or two
above water.  In the daytime, I dare say, you might make it out with a
glass from your poop.  I scrambled up on it and rested myself for a bit.
Then I made another start.  That last spell must have been over a mile.”

His whisper was getting fainter and fainter, and all the time he stared
straight out through the port-hole, in which there was not even a star to
be seen.  I had not interrupted him.  There was something that made
comment impossible in his narrative, or perhaps in himself; a sort of
feeling, a quality, which I can’t find a name for.  And when he ceased,
all I found was a futile whisper: “So you swam for our light?”

“Yes—straight for it.  It was something to swim for.  I couldn’t see any
stars low down because the coast was in the way, and I couldn’t see the
land, either.  The water was like glass.  One might have been swimming in
a confounded thousand-feet deep cistern with no place for scrambling out
anywhere; but what I didn’t like was the notion of swimming round and
round like a crazed bullock before I gave out; and as I didn’t mean to go
back . . . No.  Do you see me being hauled back, stark naked, off one of
these little islands by the scruff of the neck and fighting like a wild
beast?  Somebody would have got killed for certain, and I did not want
any of that.  So I went on.  Then your ladder—”

“Why didn’t you hail the ship?” I asked, a little louder.

He touched my shoulder lightly.  Lazy footsteps came right over our heads
and stopped.  The second mate had crossed from the other side of the poop
and might have been hanging over the rail, for all we knew.

“He couldn’t hear us talking—could he?”  My double breathed into my very
ear, anxiously.

His anxiety was an answer, a sufficient answer, to the question I had put
to him.  An answer containing all the difficulty of that situation.  I
closed the port-hole quietly, to make sure.  A louder word might have
been overheard.

“Who’s that?” he whispered then.

“My second mate.  But I don’t know much more of the fellow than you do.”

And I told him a little about myself.  I had been appointed to take
charge while I least expected anything of the sort, not quite a fortnight
ago.  I didn’t know either the ship or the people.  Hadn’t had the time
in port to look about me or size anybody up.  And as to the crew, all
they knew was that I was appointed to take the ship home.  For the rest,
I was almost as much of a stranger on board as himself, I said.  And at
the moment I felt it most acutely.  I felt that it would take very little
to make me a suspect person in the eyes of the ship’s company.

He had turned about meantime; and we, the two strangers in the ship,
faced each other in identical attitudes.

“Your ladder—” he murmured, after a silence.  “Who’d have thought of
finding a ladder hanging over at night in a ship anchored out here!  I
felt just then a very unpleasant faintness.  After the life I’ve been
leading for nine weeks, anybody would have got out of condition.  I
wasn’t capable of swimming round as far as your rudder-chains.  And, lo
and behold! there was a ladder to get hold of.  After I gripped it I said
to myself, ‘What’s the good?’  When I saw a man’s head looking over I
thought I would swim away presently and leave him shouting—in whatever
language it was.  I didn’t mind being looked at.  I—I liked it.  And then
you speaking to me so quietly—as if you had expected me—made me hold on a
little longer.  It had been a confounded lonely time—I don’t mean while
swimming.  I was glad to talk a little to somebody that didn’t belong to
the _Sephora_.  As to asking for the captain, that was a mere impulse.
It could have been no use, with all the ship knowing about me and the
other people pretty certain to be round here in the morning.  I don’t
know—I wanted to be seen, to talk with somebody, before I went on.  I
don’t know what I would have said. . . . ‘Fine night, isn’t it?’ or
something of the sort.”

“Do you think they will be round here presently?” I asked with some
incredulity.

“Quite likely,” he said, faintly.

He looked extremely haggard all of a sudden.  His head rolled on his
shoulders.

“H’m.  We shall see then.  Meantime get into that bed,” I whispered.
“Want help?  There.”

It was a rather high bed-place with a set of drawers underneath.  This
amazing swimmer really needed the lift I gave him by seizing his leg.  He
tumbled in, rolled over on his back, and flung one arm across his eyes.
And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly as I
used to look in that bed.  I gazed upon my other self for a while before
drawing across carefully the two green serge curtains which ran on a
brass rod.  I thought for a moment of pinning them together for greater
safety, but I sat down on the couch, and once there I felt unwilling to
rise and hunt for a pin.  I would do it in a moment.  I was extremely
tired, in a peculiarly intimate way, by the strain of stealthiness, by
the effort of whispering and the general secrecy of this excitement.  It
was three o’clock by now and I had been on my feet since nine, but I was
not sleepy; I could not have gone to sleep.  I sat there, fagged out,
looking at the curtains, trying to clear my mind of the confused
sensation of being in two places at once, and greatly bothered by an
exasperating knocking in my head.  It was a relief to discover suddenly
that it was not in my head at all, but on the outside of the door.
Before I could collect myself the words “Come in” were out of my mouth,
and the steward entered with a tray, bringing in my morning coffee.  I
had slept, after all, and I was so frightened that I shouted, “This way!
I am here, steward,” as though he had been miles away.  He put down the
tray on the table next the couch and only then said, very quietly, “I can
see you are here, sir.”  I felt him give me a keen look, but I dared not
meet his eyes just then.  He must have wondered why I had drawn the
curtains of my bed before going to sleep on the couch.  He went out,
hooking the door open as usual.

I heard the crew washing decks above me.  I knew I would have been told
at once if there had been any wind.  Calm, I thought, and I was doubly
vexed.  Indeed, I felt dual more than ever.  The steward reappeared
suddenly in the doorway.  I jumped up from the couch so quickly that he
gave a start.

“What do you want here?”

“Close your port, sir—they are washing decks.”

“It is closed,” I said, reddening.

“Very well, sir.”  But he did not move from the doorway and returned my
stare in an extraordinary, equivocal manner for a time.  Then his eyes
wavered, all his expression changed, and in a voice unusually gentle,
almost coaxingly:

“May I come in to take the empty cup away, sir?”

“Of course!”  I turned my back on him while he popped in and out.  Then I
unhooked and closed the door and even pushed the bolt.  This sort of
thing could not go on very long.  The cabin was as hot as an oven, too.
I took a peep at my double, and discovered that he had not moved, his arm
was still over his eyes; but his chest heaved; his hair was wet; his chin
glistened with perspiration.  I reached over him and opened the port.

“I must show myself on deck,” I reflected.

Of course, theoretically, I could do what I liked, with no one to say nay
to me within the whole circle of the horizon; but to lock my cabin door
and take the key away I did not dare.  Directly I put my head out of the
companion I saw the group of my two officers, the second mate barefooted,
the chief mate in long india-rubber boots, near the break of the poop,
and the steward half-way down the poop-ladder talking to them eagerly.
He happened to catch sight of me and dived, the second ran down on the
main-deck shouting some order or other, and the chief mate came to meet
me, touching his cap.

There was a sort of curiosity in his eye that I did not like.  I don’t
know whether the steward had told them that I was “queer” only, or
downright drunk, but I know the man meant to have a good look at me.  I
watched him coming with a smile which, as he got into point-blank range,
took effect and froze his very whiskers.  I did not give him time to open
his lips.

“Square the yards by lifts and braces before the hands go to breakfast.”

It was the first particular order I had given on board that ship; and I
stayed on deck to see it executed, too.  I had felt the need of asserting
myself without loss of time.  That sneering young cub got taken down a
peg or two on that occasion, and I also seized the opportunity of having
a good look at the face of every foremast man as they filed past me to go
to the after braces.  At breakfast time, eating nothing myself, I
presided with such frigid dignity that the two mates were only too glad
to escape from the cabin as soon as decency permitted; and all the time
the dual working of my mind distracted me almost to the point of
insanity.  I was constantly watching myself, my secret self, as dependent
on my actions as my own personality, sleeping in that bed, behind that
door which faced me as I sat at the head of the table.  It was very much
like being mad, only it was worse because one was aware of it.

I had to shake him for a solid minute, but when at last he opened his
eyes it was in the full possession of his senses, with an inquiring look.

“All’s well so far,” I whispered.  “Now you must vanish into the
bath-room.”

He did so, as noiseless as a ghost, and I then rang for the steward, and
facing him boldly, directed him to tidy up my stateroom while I was
having my bath—“and be quick about it.”  As my tone admitted of no
excuses, he said, “Yes, sir,” and ran off to fetch his dust-pan and
brushes.  I took a bath and did most of my dressing, splashing, and
whistling softly for the steward’s edification, while the secret sharer
of my life stood drawn up bolt upright in that little space, his face
looking very sunken in daylight, his eyelids lowered under the stern,
dark line of his eyebrows drawn together by a slight frown.

When I left him there to go back to my room the steward was finishing
dusting.  I sent for the mate and engaged him in some insignificant
conversation.  It was, as it were, trifling with the terrific character
of his whiskers; but my object was to give him an opportunity for a good
look at my cabin.  And then I could at last shut, with a clear
conscience, the door of my stateroom and get my double back into the
recessed part.  There was nothing else for it.  He had to sit still on a
small folding stool, half smothered by the heavy coats hanging there.  We
listened to the steward going into the bath-room out of the saloon,
filling the water-bottles there, scrubbing the bath, setting things to
rights, whisk, bang, clatter—out again into the saloon—turn the
key—click.  Such was my scheme for keeping my second self invisible.
Nothing better could be contrived under the circumstances.  And there we
sat; I at my writing-desk ready to appear busy with some papers, he
behind me, out of sight of the door.  It would not have been prudent to
talk in daytime; and I could not have stood the excitement of that queer
sense of whispering to myself.  Now and then glancing over my shoulder, I
saw him far back there, sitting rigidly on the low stool, his bare feet
close together, his arms folded, his head hanging on his breast—and
perfectly still.  Anybody would have taken him for me.

I was fascinated by it myself.  Every moment I had to glance over my
shoulder.  I was looking at him when a voice outside the door said:

“Beg pardon, sir.”

“Well!” . . . I kept my eyes on him, and so, when the voice outside the
door announced, “There’s a ship’s boat coming our way, sir,” I saw him
give a start—the first movement he had made for hours.  But he did not
raise his bowed head.

“All right.  Get the ladder over.”

I hesitated.  Should I whisper something to him?  But what?  His
immobility seemed to have been never disturbed.  What could I tell him he
did not know already? . . . Finally I went on deck.



CHAPTER II


THE skipper of the _Sephora_ had a thin red whisker all round his face,
and the sort of complexion that goes with hair of that colour; also the
particular, rather smeary shade of blue in the eyes.  He was not exactly
a showy figure; his shoulders were high, his stature but middling—one leg
slightly more bandy than the other.  He shook hands, looking vaguely
around.  A spiritless tenacity was his main characteristic, I judged.  I
behaved with a politeness which seemed to disconcert him.  Perhaps he was
shy.  He mumbled to me as if he were ashamed of what he was saying; gave
his name (it was something like Archbold—but at this distance of years I
hardly am sure), his ship’s name, and a few other particulars of that
sort, in the manner of a criminal making a reluctant and doleful
confession.  He had had terrible weather on the passage
out—terrible—terrible—wife aboard, too.

By this time we were seated in the cabin and the steward brought in a
tray with a bottle and glasses.  “Thanks!  No.”  Never took liquor.
Would have some water, though.  He drank two tumblerfuls.  Terrible
thirsty work.  Ever since daylight had been exploring the islands round
his ship.

“What was that for—fun?” I asked, with an appearance of polite interest.

“No!”  He sighed.  “Painful duty.”

As he persisted in his mumbling and I wanted my double to hear every
word, I hit upon the notion of informing him that I regretted to say I
was hard of hearing.

“Such a young man, too!” he nodded, keeping his smeary blue,
unintelligent eyes fastened upon me.  What was the cause of it—some
disease? he inquired, without the least sympathy and as if he thought
that, if so, I’d got no more than I deserved.

“Yes; disease,” I admitted in a cheerful tone which seemed to shock him.
But my point was gained, because he had to raise his voice to give me his
tale.  It is not worth while to record that version.  It was just over
two months since all this had happened, and he had thought so much about
it that he seemed completely muddled as to its bearings, but still
immensely impressed.

“What would you think of such a thing happening on board your own ship?
I’ve had the _Sephora_ for these fifteen years.  I am a well-known
shipmaster.”

He was densely distressed—and perhaps I should have sympathised with him
if I had been able to detach my mental vision from the unsuspected sharer
of my cabin as though he were my second self.  There he was on the other
side of the bulkhead, four or five feet from us, no more, as we sat in
the saloon.  I looked politely at Captain Archbold (if that was his
name), but it was the other I saw, in a grey sleeping-suit, seated on a
low stool, his bare feet close together, his arms folded, and every word
said between us falling into the ears of his dark head bowed on his
chest.

“I have been at sea now, man and boy, for seven-and-thirty years, and
I’ve never heard of such a thing happening in an English ship.  And that
it should be my ship.  Wife on board, too.”

I was hardly listening to him.

“Don’t you think,” I said, “that the heavy sea which, you told me, came
aboard just then might have killed the man?  I have seen the sheer weight
of a sea kill a man very neatly, by simply breaking his neck.”

“Good God!” he uttered, impressively, fixing his smeary blue eyes on me.
“The sea!  No man killed by the sea ever looked like that.”  He seemed
positively scandalised at my suggestion.  And as I gazed at him,
certainly not prepared for anything original on his part, he advanced his
head close to mine and thrust his tongue out at me so suddenly that I
couldn’t help starting back.

After scoring over my calmness in this graphic way he nodded wisely.  If
I had seen the sight, he assured me, I would never forget it as long as I
lived.  The weather was too bad to give the corpse a proper sea burial.
So next day at dawn they took it up on the poop, covering its face with a
bit of bunting; he read a short prayer, and then, just as it was, in its
oilskins and long boots, they launched it amongst those mountainous seas
that seemed ready every moment to swallow up the ship herself and the
terrified lives on board of her.

“That reefed foresail saved you,” I threw in.

“Under God—it did,” he exclaimed fervently.  “It was by a special mercy,
I firmly believe, that it stood some of those hurricane squalls.”

“It was the setting of that sail which—” I began.

“God’s own hand in it,” he interrupted me.  “Nothing less could have done
it.  I don’t mind telling you that I hardly dared give the order.  It
seemed impossible that we could touch anything without losing it, and
then our last hope would have been gone.”

The terror of that gale was on him yet.  I let him go on for a bit, then
said, casually—as if returning to a minor subject:

“You were very anxious to give up your mate to the shore people, I
believe?”

He was.  To the law.  His obscure tenacity on that point had in it
something incomprehensible and a little awful; something, as it were,
mystical, quite apart from his anxiety that he should not be suspected of
“countenancing any doings of that sort.”  Seven-and-thirty virtuous years
at sea, of which over twenty of immaculate command, and the last fifteen
in the _Sephora_, seemed to have laid him under some pitiless obligation.

“And you know,” he went on, groping shamefacedly amongst his feelings, “I
did not engage that young fellow.  His people had some interest with my
owners.  I was in a way forced to take him on.  He looked very smart,
very gentlemanly, and all that.  But do you know—I never liked him,
somehow.  I am a plain man.  You see, he wasn’t exactly the sort for the
chief mate of a ship like the _Sephora_.”

I had become so connected in thoughts and impressions with the secret
sharer of my cabin that I felt as if I, personally, were being given to
understand that I, too, was not the sort that would have done for the
chief mate of a ship like the _Sephora_.  I had no doubt of it in my
mind.

“Not at all the style of man.  You understand,” he insisted,
superfluously, looking hard at me.

I smiled urbanely.  He seemed at a loss for a while.

“I suppose I must report a suicide.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Suicide!  That’s what I’ll have to write to my owners directly I get
in.”

“Unless you manage to recover him before to-morrow,” I assented,
dispassionately. . . “I mean, alive.”

He mumbled something which I really did not catch, and I turned my ear to
him in a puzzled manner.  He fairly bawled:

“The land—I say, the mainland is at least seven miles off my anchorage.”

“About that.”

My lack of excitement, of curiosity, of surprise, of any sort of
pronounced interest, began to arouse his distrust.  But except for the
felicitous pretence of deafness I had not tried to pretend anything.  I
had felt utterly incapable of playing the part of ignorance properly, and
therefore was afraid to try.  It is also certain that he had brought some
ready-made suspicions with him, and that he viewed my politeness as a
strange and unnatural phenomenon.  And yet how else could I have received
him?  Not heartily!  That was impossible for psychological reasons, which
I need not state here.  My only object was to keep off his inquiries.
Surlily?  Yes, but surliness might have provoked a point-blank question.
From its novelty to him and from its nature, punctilious courtesy was the
manner best calculated to restrain the man.  But there was the danger of
his breaking through my defence bluntly.  I could not, I think, have met
him by a direct lie, also for psychological (not moral) reasons.  If he
had only known how afraid I was of his putting my feeling of identity
with the other to the test!  But, strangely enough—(I thought of it only
afterward)—I believe that he was not a little disconcerted by the reverse
side of that weird situation, by something in me that reminded him of the
man he was seeking—suggested a mysterious similitude to the young fellow
he had distrusted and disliked from the first.

However that might have been, the silence was not very prolonged.  He
took another oblique step.

“I reckon I had no more than a two-mile pull to your ship.  Not a bit
more.”

“And quite enough, too, in this awful heat,” I said.

Another pause full of mistrust followed.  Necessity, they say, is mother
of invention, but fear, too, is not barren of ingenious suggestions.  And
I was afraid he would ask me point-blank for news of my other self.

“Nice little saloon, isn’t it?” I remarked, as if noticing for the first
time the way his eyes roamed from one closed door to the other.  “And
very well fitted out too.  Here, for instance,” I continued, reaching
over the back of my seat negligently and flinging the door open, “is my
bath-room.”

He made an eager movement, but hardly gave it a glance.  I got up, shut
the door of the bath-room, and invited him to have a look round, as if I
were very proud of my accommodation.  He had to rise and be shown round,
but he went through the business without any raptures whatever.

“And now we’ll have a look at my stateroom,” I declared, in a voice as
loud as I dared to make it, crossing the cabin to the starboard side with
purposely heavy steps.

He followed me in and gazed around.  My intelligent double had vanished.
I played my part.

“Very convenient—isn’t it?”

“Very nice.  Very comf. . . ”  He didn’t finish, and went out brusquely
as if to escape from some unrighteous wiles of mine.  But it was not to
be.  I had been too frightened not to feel vengeful; I felt I had him on
the run, and I meant to keep him on the run.  My polite insistence must
have had something menacing in it, because he gave in suddenly.  And I
did not let him off a single item; mate’s room, pantry, storerooms, the
very sail-locker which was also under the poop—he had to look into them
all.  When at last I showed him out on the quarter-deck he drew a long,
spiritless sigh, and mumbled dismally that he must really be going back
to his ship now.  I desired my mate, who had joined us, to see to the
captain’s boat.

The man of whiskers gave a blast on the whistle which he used to wear
hanging round his neck, and yelled, “_Sephoras_ away!”  My double down
there in my cabin must have heard, and certainly could not feel more
relieved than I.  Four fellows came running out from somewhere forward
and went over the side, while my own men, appearing on deck too, lined
the rail.  I escorted my visitor to the gangway ceremoniously, and nearly
overdid it.  He was a tenacious beast.  On the very ladder he lingered,
and in that unique, guiltily conscientious manner of sticking to the
point:

“I say . . . you . . . you don’t think that—”

I covered his voice loudly:

“Certainly not. . . . I am delighted.  Good-bye.”

I had an idea of what he meant to say, and just saved myself by the
privilege of defective hearing.  He was too shaken generally to insist,
but my mate, close witness of that parting, looked mystified and his face
took on a thoughtful cast.  As I did not want to appear as if I wished to
avoid all communication with my officers, he had the opportunity to
address me.

“Seems a very nice man.  His boat’s crew told our chaps a very
extraordinary story, if what I am told by the steward is true.  I suppose
you had it from the captain, sir?”

“Yes.  I had a story from the captain.”

“A very horrible affair—isn’t it, sir?”

“It is.”

“Beats all these tales we hear about murders in Yankee ships.”

“I don’t think it beats them.  I don’t think it resembles them in the
least.”

“Bless my soul—you don’t say so!  But of course I’ve no acquaintance
whatever with American ships, not I, so I couldn’t go against your
knowledge.  It’s horrible enough for me. . . . But the queerest part is
that those fellows seemed to have some idea the man was hidden aboard
here.  They had really.  Did you ever hear of such a thing?”

“Preposterous—isn’t it?”

We were walking to and fro athwart the quarterdeck.  No one of the crew
forward could be seen (the day was Sunday), and the mate pursued:

“There was some little dispute about it.  Our chaps took offence.  ‘As if
we would harbour a thing like that,’ they said.  ‘Wouldn’t you like to
look for him in our coal-hole?’  Quite a tiff.  But they made it up in
the end.  I suppose he did drown himself.  Don’t you, sir?”

“I don’t suppose anything.”

“You have no doubt in the matter, sir?”

“None whatever.”

I left him suddenly.  I felt I was producing a bad impression, but with
my double down there it was most trying to be on deck.  And it was almost
as trying to be below.  Altogether a nerve-trying situation.  But on the
whole I felt less torn in two when I was with him.  There was no one in
the whole ship whom I dared take into my confidence.  Since the hands had
got to know his story, it would have been impossible to pass him off for
any one else, and an accidental discovery was to be dreaded now more than
ever. . . .

The steward being engaged in laying the table for dinner, we could talk
only with our eyes when I first went down.  Later in the afternoon we had
a cautious try at whispering.  The Sunday quietness of the ship was
against us; the stillness of air and water around her was against us; the
elements, the men were against us—everything was against us in our secret
partnership; time itself—for this could not go on forever.  The very
trust in Providence was, I suppose, denied to his guilt.  Shall I confess
that this thought cast me down very much?  And as to the chapter of
accidents which counts for so much in the book of success, I could only
hope that it was closed.  For what favourable accident could be expected?

“Did you hear everything?” were my first words as soon as we took up our
position side by side, leaning over my bed-place.

He had.  And the proof of it was his earnest whisper, “The man told you
he hardly dared to give the order.”

I understood the reference to be to that saving foresail.

“Yes.  He was afraid of it being lost in the setting.”

“I assure you he never gave the order.  He may think he did, but he never
gave it.  He stood there with me on the break of the poop after the
maintopsail blew away, and whimpered about our last hope—positively
whimpered about it and nothing else—and the night coming on!  To hear
one’s skipper go on like that in such weather was enough to drive any
fellow out of his mind.  It worked me up into a sort of desperation.  I
just took it into my own hands and went away from him, boiling, and—  But
what’s the use telling you?  _You_ know! . . . Do you think that if I had
not been pretty fierce with them I should have got the men to do
anything?  Not it!  The bo’s’n perhaps?  Perhaps!  It wasn’t a heavy
sea—it was a sea gone mad!  I suppose the end of the world will be
something like that; and a man may have the heart to see it coming once
and be done with it—but to have to face it day after day—I don’t blame
anybody.  I was precious little better than the rest.  Only—I was an
officer of that old coal-waggon, anyhow—”

“I quite understand,” I conveyed that sincere assurance into his ear.  He
was out of breath with whispering; I could hear him pant slightly.  It
was all very simple.  The same strung-up force which had given
twenty-four men a chance, at least, for their lives, had, in a sort of
recoil, crushed an unworthy mutinous existence.

But I had no leisure to weigh the merits of the matter—footsteps in the
saloon, a heavy knock.  “There’s enough wind to get under way with, sir.”
Here was the call of a new claim upon my thoughts and even upon my
feelings.

“Turn the hands up,” I cried through the door.  “I’ll be on deck
directly.”

I was going out to make the acquaintance of my ship.  Before I left the
cabin our eyes met—the eyes of the only two strangers on board.  I
pointed to the recessed part where the little camp-stool awaited him and
laid my finger on my lips.  He made a gesture—somewhat vague—a little
mysterious, accompanied by a faint smile, as if of regret.

This is not the place to enlarge upon the sensations of a man who feels
for the first time a ship move under his feet to his own independent
word.  In my case they were not unalloyed.  I was not wholly alone with
my command; for there was that stranger in my cabin.  Or rather, I was
not completely and wholly with her.  Part of me was absent.  That mental
feeling of being in two places at once affected me physically as if the
mood of secrecy had penetrated my very soul.  Before an hour had elapsed
since the ship had begun to move, having occasion to ask the mate (he
stood by my side) to take a compass bearing of the Pagoda, I caught
myself reaching up to his ear in whispers.  I say I caught myself, but
enough had escaped to startle the man.  I can’t describe it otherwise
than by saying that he shied.  A grave, preoccupied manner, as though he
were in possession of some perplexing intelligence, did not leave him
henceforth.  A little later I moved away from the rail to look at the
compass with such a stealthy gait that the helmsman noticed it—and I
could not help noticing the unusual roundness of his eyes.  These are
trifling instances, though it’s to no commander’s advantage to be
suspected of ludicrous eccentricities.  But I was also more seriously
affected.  There are to a seaman certain words, gestures, that should in
given conditions come as naturally, as instinctively as the winking of a
menaced eye.  A certain order should spring on to his lips without
thinking; a certain sign should get itself made, so to speak, without
reflection.  But all unconscious alertness had abandoned me.  I had to
make an effort of will to recall myself back (from the cabin) to the
conditions of the moment.  I felt that I was appearing an irresolute
commander to those people who were watching me more or less critically.

And, besides, there were the scares.  On the second day out, for
instance, coming off the deck in the afternoon (I had straw slippers on
my bare feet) I stopped at the open pantry door and spoke to the steward.
He was doing something there with his back to me.  At the sound of my
voice he nearly jumped out of his skin, as the saying is, and
incidentally broke a cup.

“What on earth’s the matter with you?” I asked, astonished.

He was extremely confused.  “Beg your pardon, sir.  I made sure you were
in your cabin.”

“You see I wasn’t.”

“No, sir.  I could have sworn I had heard you moving in there not a
moment ago.  It’s most extraordinary . . . very sorry, sir.”

I passed on with an inward shudder.  I was so identified with my secret
double that I did not even mention the fact in those scanty, fearful
whispers we exchanged.  I suppose he had made some slight noise of some
kind or other.  It would have been miraculous if he hadn’t at one time or
another.  And yet, haggard as he appeared, he looked always perfectly
self-controlled, more than calm—almost invulnerable.  On my suggestion he
remained almost entirely in the bathroom, which, upon the whole, was the
safest place.  There could be really no shadow of an excuse for any one
ever wanting to go in there, once the steward had done with it.  It was a
very tiny place.  Sometimes he reclined on the floor, his legs bent, his
head sustained on one elbow.  At others I would find him on the
camp-stool, sitting in his grey sleeping-suit and with his cropped dark
hair like a patient, unmoved convict.  At night I would smuggle him into
my bed-place, and we would whisper together, with the regular footfalls
of the officer of the watch passing and repassing over our heads.  It was
an infinitely miserable time.  It was lucky that some tins of fine
preserves were stowed in a locker in my stateroom; hard bread I could
always get hold of; and so he lived on stewed chicken, paté de foie gras,
asparagus, cooked oysters, sardines—on all sorts of abominable sham
delicacies out of tins.  My early morning coffee he always drank; and it
was all I dared do for him in that respect.

Every day there was the horrible manoeuvring to go through so that my
room and then the bath-room should be done in the usual way.  I came to
hate the sight of the steward, to abhor the voice of that harmless man.
I felt that it was he who would bring on the disaster of discovery.  It
hung like a sword over our heads.

The fourth day out, I think (we were then working down the east side of
the Gulf of Siam, tack for tack, in light winds and smooth water)—the
fourth day, I say, of this miserable juggling with the unavoidable, as we
sat at our evening meal, that man, whose slightest movement I dreaded,
after putting down the dishes ran up on deck busily.  This could not be
dangerous.  Presently he came down again; and then it appeared that he
had remembered a coat of mine which I had thrown over a rail to dry after
having been wetted in a shower which had passed over the ship in the
afternoon.  Sitting stolidly at the head of the table I became terrified
at the sight of the garment on his arm.  Of course he made for my door.
There was no time to lose.

“Steward,” I thundered.  My nerves were so shaken that I could not govern
my voice and conceal my agitation.  This was the sort of thing that made
my terrifically whiskered mate tap his forehead with his forefinger.  I
had detected him using that gesture while talking on deck with a
confidential air to the carpenter.  It was too far to hear a word, but I
had no doubt that this pantomime could only refer to the strange new
captain.

“Yes, sir,” the pale-faced steward turned resignedly to me.  It was this
maddening course of being shouted at, checked without rhyme or reason,
arbitrarily chased out of my cabin, suddenly called into it, sent flying
out of his pantry on incomprehensible errands, that accounted for the
growing wretchedness of his expression.

“Where are you going with that coat?”

“To your room, sir.”

“Is there another shower coming?”

“I’m sure I don’t know, sir.  Shall I go up again and see, sir?”

“No! never mind.”

My object was attained, as of course my other self in there would have
heard everything that passed.  During this interlude my two officers
never raised their eyes off their respective plates; but the lip of that
confounded cub, the second mate, quivered visibly.

I expected the steward to hook my coat on and come out at once.  He was
very slow about it; but I dominated my nervousness sufficiently not to
shout after him.  Suddenly I became aware (it could be heard plainly
enough) that the fellow for some reason or other was opening the door of
the bath-room.  It was the end.  The place was literally not big enough
to swing a cat in.  My voice died in my throat and I went stony all over.
I expected to hear a yell of surprise and terror, and made a movement,
but had not the strength to get on my legs.  Everything remained still.
Had my second self taken the poor wretch by the throat?  I don’t know
what I would have done next moment if I had not seen the steward come out
of my room, close the door, and then stand quietly by the sideboard.

“Saved,” I thought.  “But, no!  Lost!  Gone!  He was gone!”

I laid my knife and fork down and leaned back in my chair.  My head swam.
After a while, when sufficiently recovered to speak in a steady voice, I
instructed my mate to put the ship round at eight o’clock himself.

“I won’t come on deck,” I went on.  “I think I’ll turn in, and unless the
wind shifts I don’t want to be disturbed before midnight.  I feel a bit
seedy.”

“You did look middling bad a little while ago,” the chief mate remarked
without showing any great concern.

They both went out, and I stared at the steward clearing the table.
There was nothing to be read on that wretched man’s face.  But why did he
avoid my eyes I asked myself.  Then I thought I should like to hear the
sound of his voice.

“Steward!”

“Sir!”  Startled as usual.

“Where did you hang up that coat?”

“In the bath-room, sir.”  The usual anxious tone.  “It’s not quite dry
yet, sir.”

For some time longer I sat in the cuddy.  Had my double vanished as he
had come?  But of his coming there was an explanation, whereas his
disappearance would be inexplicable. . . . I went slowly into my dark
room, shut the door, lighted the lamp, and for a time dared not turn
round.  When at last I did I saw him standing bolt-upright in the narrow
recessed part.  It would not be true to say I had a shock, but an
irresistible doubt of his bodily existence flitted through my mind.  Can
it be, I asked myself, that he is not visible to other eyes than mine?
It was like being haunted.  Motionless, with a grave face, he raised his
hands slightly at me in a gesture which meant clearly, “Heavens! what a
narrow escape!”  Narrow indeed.  I think I had come creeping quietly as
near insanity as any man who has not actually gone over the border.  That
gesture restrained me, so to speak.

The mate with the terrific whiskers was now putting the ship on the other
tack.  In the moment of profound silence which follows upon the hands
going to their stations I heard on the poop his raised voice: “Hard
alee!” and the distant shout of the order repeated on the maindeck.  The
sails, in that light breeze, made but a faint fluttering noise.  It
ceased.  The ship was coming round slowly; I held my breath in the
renewed stillness of expectation; one wouldn’t have thought that there
was a single living soul on her decks.  A sudden brisk shout, “Mainsail
haul!” broke the spell, and in the noisy cries and rush overhead of the
men running away with the main-brace we two, down in my cabin, came
together in our usual position by the bed-place.

He did not wait for my question.  “I heard him fumbling here and just
managed to squat myself down in the bath,” he whispered to me.  “The
fellow only opened the door and put his arm in to hang the coat up.  All
the same—”

“I never thought of that,” I whispered back, even more appalled than
before at the closeness of the shave, and marvelling at that something
unyielding in his character which was carrying him through so finely.
There was no agitation in his whisper.  Whoever was being driven
distracted, it was not he.  He was sane.  And the proof of his sanity was
continued when he took up the whispering again.

“It would never do for me to come to life again.”

It was something that a ghost might have said.  But what he was alluding
to was his old captain’s reluctant admission of the theory of suicide.
It would obviously serve his turn—if I had understood at all the view
which seemed to govern the unalterable purpose of his action.

“You must maroon me as soon as ever you can get amongst these islands off
the Cambodje shore,” he went on.

“Maroon you!  We are not living in a boy’s adventure tale,” I protested.
His scornful whispering took me up.

“We aren’t indeed!  There’s nothing of a boy’s tale in this.  But there’s
nothing else for it.  I want no more.  You don’t suppose I am afraid of
what can be done to me?  Prison or gallows or whatever they may please.
But you don’t see me coming back to explain such things to an old fellow
in a wig and twelve respectable tradesmen, do you?  What can they know
whether I am guilty or not—or of _what_ I am guilty, either?  That’s my
affair.  What does the Bible say?  ‘Driven off the face of the earth.’
Very well.  I am off the face of the earth now.  As I came at night so I
shall go.”

“Impossible!” I murmured.  “You can’t.”

“Can’t? . . . Not naked like a soul on the Day of Judgment.  I shall
freeze on to this sleeping-suit.  The Last Day is not yet—and you have
understood thoroughly.  Didn’t you?”

I felt suddenly ashamed of myself.  I may say truly that I understood—and
my hesitation in letting that man swim away from my ship’s side had been
a mere sham sentiment, a sort of cowardice.

“It can’t be done now till next night,” I breathed out.  “The ship is on
the off-shore tack and the wind may fail us.”

“As long as I know that you understand,” he whispered.  “But of course
you do.  It’s a great satisfaction to have got somebody to understand.
You seem to have been there on purpose.”  And in the same whisper, as if
we two whenever we talked had to say things to each other which were not
fit for the world to hear, he added, “It’s very wonderful.”  We remained
side by side talking in our secret way—but sometimes silent or just
exchanging a whispered word or two at long intervals.  And as usual he
stared through the port.  A breath of wind came now and again into our
faces.  The ship might have been moored in dock, so gently and on an even
keel she slipped through the water, that did not murmur even at our
passage, shadowy and silent like a phantom sea.

At midnight I went on deck, and to my mate’s great surprise put the ship
round on the other tack.  His terrible whiskers flitted round me in
silent criticism.  I certainly should not have done it if it had been
only a question of getting out of that sleepy gulf as quickly as
possible.  I believe he told the second mate, who relieved him, that it
was a great want of judgment.  The other only yawned.  That intolerable
cub shuffled about so sleepily and lolled against the rails in such a
slack, improper fashion that I came down on him sharply.

“Aren’t you properly awake yet?”

“Yes, sir!  I am awake.”

“Well, then, be good enough to hold yourself as if you were.  And keep a
look-out.  If there’s any current we’ll be closing with some islands
before daylight.”

The east side of the gulf is fringed with islands, some solitary, others
in groups.  On the blue background of the high coast they seem to float
on silvery patches of calm water, arid and grey, or dark green and
rounded like clumps of evergreen bushes, with the larger ones, a mile or
two long, showing the outlines of ridges, ribs of grey rock under the
dank mantle of matted leafage.  Unknown to trade, to travel, almost to
geography, the manner of life they harbour is an unsolved secret.  There
must be villages—settlements of fishermen at least—on the largest of
them, and some communication with the world is probably kept up by native
craft.  But all that forenoon, as we headed for them, fanned along by the
faintest of breezes, I saw no sign of man or canoe in the field of the
telescope I kept on pointing at the scattered group.

At noon I gave no orders for a change of course, and the mate’s whiskers
became much concerned and seemed to be offering themselves unduly to my
notice.  At last I said:

“I am going to stand right in.  Quite in—as far as I can take her.”

The stare of extreme surprise imparted an air of ferocity also to his
eyes, and he looked truly terrific for a moment.

“We’re not doing well in the middle of the gulf,” I continued, casually.
“I am going to look for the land breezes to-night.”

“Bless my soul!  Do you mean, sir, in the dark amongst the lot of all
them islands and reefs and shoals?”

“Well—if there are any regular land breezes at all on this coast one must
get close inshore to find them, mustn’t one?”

“Bless my soul!” he exclaimed again under his breath.  All that afternoon
he wore a dreamy, contemplative appearance which in him was a mark of
perplexity.  After dinner I went into my stateroom as if I meant to take
some rest.  There we two bent our dark heads over a half-unrolled chart
lying on my bed.

“There,” I said.  “It’s got to be Koh-ring.  I’ve been looking at it ever
since sunrise.  It has got two hills and a low point.  It must be
inhabited.  And on the coast opposite there is what looks like the mouth
of a biggish river—with some town, no doubt, not far up.  It’s the best
chance for you that I can see.”

“Anything.  Koh-ring let it be.”

He looked thoughtfully at the chart as if surveying chances and distances
from a lofty height—and following with his eyes his own figure wandering
on the blank land of Cochin-China, and then passing off that piece of
paper clean out of sight into uncharted regions.  And it was as if the
ship had two captains to plan her course for her.  I had been so worried
and restless running up and down that I had not had the patience to dress
that day.  I had remained in my sleeping-suit, with straw slippers and a
soft floppy hat.  The closeness of the heat in the gulf had been most
oppressive, and the crew were used to see me wandering in that airy
attire.

“She will clear the south point as she heads now,” I whispered into his
ear.  “Goodness only knows when, though, but certainly after dark.  I’ll
edge her in to half a mile, as far as I may be able to judge in the
dark—”

“Be careful,” he murmured, warningly—and I realised suddenly that all my
future, the only future for which I was fit, would perhaps go
irretrievably to pieces in any mishap to my first command.

I could not stop a moment longer in the room.  I motioned him to get out
of sight and made my way on the poop.  That unplayful cub had the watch.
I walked up and down for a while thinking things out, then beckoned him
over.

“Send a couple of hands to open the two quarterdeck ports,” I said,
mildly.

He actually had the impudence, or else so forgot himself in his wonder at
such an incomprehensible order, as to repeat:

“Open the quarter-deck ports!  What for, sir?”

“The only reason you need concern yourself about is because I tell you to
do so.  Have them open wide and fastened properly.”

He reddened and went off, but I believe made some jeering remark to the
carpenter as to the sensible practice of ventilating a ship’s
quarter-deck.  I know he popped into the mate’s cabin to impart the fact
to him because the whiskers came on deck, as it were by chance, and stole
glances at me from below—for signs of lunacy or drunkenness, I suppose.

A little before supper, feeling more restless than ever, I rejoined, for
a moment, my second self.  And to find him sitting so quietly was
surprising, like something against nature, inhuman.

I developed my plan in a hurried whisper.

“I shall stand in as close as I dare and then put her round.  I shall
presently find means to smuggle you out of here into the sail-locker,
which communicates with the lobby.  But there is an opening, a sort of
square for hauling the sails out, which gives straight on the
quarter-deck and which is never closed in fine weather, so as to give air
to the sails.  When the ship’s way is deadened in stays and all the hands
are aft at the main-braces you shall have a clear road to slip out and
get overboard through the open quarter-deck port.  I’ve had them both
fastened up.  Use a rope’s end to lower yourself into the water so as to
avoid a splash—you know.  It could be heard and cause some beastly
complication.”

He kept silent for a while, then whispered, “I understand.”

“I won’t be there to see you go,” I began with an effort.  “The rest . . .
I only hope I have understood, too.”

“You have.  From first to last”—and for the first time there seemed to be
a faltering, something strained in his whisper.  He caught hold of my
arm, but the ringing of the supper bell made me start.  He didn’t,
though; he only released his grip.

After supper I didn’t come below again till well past eight o’clock.  The
faint, steady breeze was loaded with dew; and the wet, darkened sails
held all there was of propelling power in it.  The night, clear and
starry, sparkled darkly, and the opaque, lightless patches shifting
slowly against the low stars were the drifting islets.  On the port bow
there was a big one more distant and shadowily imposing by the great
space of sky it eclipsed.

On opening the door I had a back view of my very own self looking at a
chart.  He had come out of the recess and was standing near the table.

“Quite dark enough,” I whispered.

He stepped back and leaned against my bed with a level, quiet glance.  I
sat on the couch.  We had nothing to say to each other.  Over our heads
the officer of the watch moved here and there.  Then I heard him move
quickly.  I knew what that meant.  He was making for the companion; and
presently his voice was outside my door.

“We are drawing in pretty fast, sir.  Land looks rather close.”

“Very well,” I answered.  “I am coming on deck directly.”

I waited till he was gone out of the cuddy, then rose.  My double moved
too.  The time had come to exchange our last whispers, for neither of us
was ever to hear each other’s natural voice.

“Look here!” I opened a drawer and took out three sovereigns.  “Take
this, anyhow.  I’ve got six and I’d give you the lot, only I must keep a
little money to buy some fruit and vegetables for the crew from native
boats as we go through Sunda Straits.”

He shook his head.

“Take it,” I urged him, whispering desperately.  “No one can tell what—”

He smiled and slapped meaningly the only pocket of the sleeping-jacket.
It was not safe, certainly.  But I produced a large old silk handkerchief
of mine, and tying the three pieces of gold in a corner, pressed it on
him.  He was touched, I suppose, because he took it at last and tied it
quickly round his waist under the jacket, on his bare skin.

Our eyes met; several seconds elapsed, till, our glances still mingled, I
extended my hand and turned the lamp out.  Then I passed through the
cuddy, leaving the door of my room wide open. . . . . “Steward!”

He was still lingering in the pantry in the greatness of his zeal, giving
a rub-up to a plated cruet stand the last thing before going to bed.
Being careful not to wake up the mate, whose room was opposite, I spoke
in an undertone.

He looked round anxiously.  “Sir!”

“Can you get me a little hot water from the galley?”

“I am afraid, sir, the galley fire’s been out for some time now.”

“Go and see.”

He fled up the stairs.

“Now,” I whispered, loudly, into the saloon—too loudly, perhaps, but I
was afraid I couldn’t make a sound.  He was by my side in an instant—the
double captain slipped past the stairs—through a tiny dark passage . . .
a sliding door.  We were in the sail-locker, scrambling on our knees over
the sails.  A sudden thought struck me.  I saw myself wandering
barefooted, bareheaded, the sun beating on my dark poll.  I snatched off
my floppy hat and tried hurriedly in the dark to ram it on my other self.
He dodged and fended off silently.  I wonder what he thought had come to
me before he understood and suddenly desisted.  Our hands met gropingly,
lingered united in a steady, motionless clasp for a second. . . . No word
was breathed by either of us when they separated.

I was standing quietly by the pantry door when the steward returned.

“Sorry, sir.  Kettle barely warm.  Shall I light the spirit-lamp?”

“Never mind.”

I came out on deck slowly.  It was now a matter of conscience to shave
the land as close as possible—for now he must go overboard whenever the
ship was put in stays.  Must!  There could be no going back for him.
After a moment I walked over to leeward and my heart flew into my mouth
at the nearness of the land on the bow.  Under any other circumstances I
would not have held on a minute longer.  The second mate had followed me
anxiously.

I looked on till I felt I could command my voice.  “She will weather,” I
said then in a quiet tone.  “Are you going to try that, sir?” he
stammered out incredulously.

I took no notice of him and raised my tone just enough to be heard by the
helmsman.

“Keep her good full.”

“Good full, sir.”

The wind fanned my cheek, the sails slept, the world was silent.  The
strain of watching the dark loom of the land grow bigger and denser was
too much for me.  I had shut my eyes—because the ship must go closer.
She must!  The stillness was intolerable.  Were we standing still?

When I opened my eyes the second view started my heart with a thump.  The
black southern hill of Koh-ring seemed to hang right over the ship like a
towering fragment of the everlasting night.  On that enormous mass of
blackness there was not a gleam to be seen, not a sound to be heard.  It
was gliding irresistibly toward us and yet seemed already within reach of
the hand.  I saw the vague figures of the watch grouped in the waist,
gazing in awed silence.

“Are you going on, sir,” inquired an unsteady voice at my elbow.

I ignored it.  I had to go on.

“Keep her full.  Don’t check her way.  That won’t do now,” I said,
warningly.

“I can’t see the sails very well,” the helmsman answered me, in strange,
quavering tones.

Was she close enough?  Already she was, I won’t say in the shadow of the
land, but in the very blackness of it, already swallowed up as it were,
gone too close to be recalled, gone from me altogether.

“Give the mate a call,” I said to the young man who stood at my elbow as
still as death.  “And turn all hands up.”

My tone had a borrowed loudness reverberated from the height of the land.
Several voices cried out together: “We are all on deck, sir.”

Then stillness again, with the great shadow gliding closer, towering
higher, without a light, without a sound.  Such a hush had fallen on the
ship that she might have been a bark of the dead floating in slowly under
the very gate of Erebus.

“My God!  Where are we?”

It was the mate moaning at my elbow.  He was thunderstruck, and as it
were deprived of the moral support of his whiskers.  He clapped his hands
and absolutely cried out, “Lost!”

“Be quiet,” I said, sternly.

He lowered his tone, but I saw the shadowy gesture of his despair.  “What
are we doing here?”

“Looking for the land wind.”

He made as if to tear his hair, and addressed me recklessly.

“She will never get out.  You have done it, sir.  I knew it’d end in
something like this.  She will never weather, and you are too close now
to stay.  She’ll drift ashore before she’s round.  O my God!”

I caught his arm as he was raising it to batter his poor devoted head,
and shook it violently.

“She’s ashore already,” he wailed, trying to tear himself away.

“Is she? . . . Keep good full there!”

“Good full, sir,” cried the helmsman in a frightened, thin, child-like
voice.

I hadn’t let go the mate’s arm and went on shaking it.  “Ready about, do
you hear?  You go forward”—shake—“and stop there”—shake—“and hold your
noise”—shake—“and see these head-sheets properly overhauled”—shake,
shake—shake.

And all the time I dared not look toward the land lest my heart should
fail me.  I released my grip at last and he ran forward as if fleeing for
dear life.

I wondered what my double there in the sail-locker thought of this
commotion.  He was able to hear everything—and perhaps he was able to
understand why, on my conscience, it had to be thus close—no less.  My
first order “Hard alee!” re-echoed ominously under the towering shadow of
Koh-ring as if I had shouted in a mountain gorge.  And then I watched the
land intently.  In that smooth water and light wind it was impossible to
feel the ship coming-to.  No!  I could not feel her.  And my second self
was making now ready to slip out and lower himself overboard.  Perhaps he
was gone already . . .?

The great black mass brooding over our very mastheads began to pivot away
from the ship’s side silently.  And now I forgot the secret stranger
ready to depart, and remembered only that I was a total stranger to the
ship.  I did not know her.  Would she do it?  How was she to be handled?

I swung the mainyard and waited helplessly.  She was perhaps stopped, and
her very fate hung in the balance, with the black mass of Koh-ring like
the gate of the everlasting night towering over her taffrail.  What would
she do now?  Had she way on her yet?  I stepped to the side swiftly, and
on the shadowy water I could see nothing except a faint phosphorescent
flash revealing the glassy smoothness of the sleeping surface.  It was
impossible to tell—and I had not learned yet the feel of my ship.  Was
she moving?  What I needed was something easily seen, a piece of paper,
which I could throw overboard and watch.  I had nothing on me.  To run
down for it I didn’t dare.  There was no time.  All at once my strained,
yearning stare distinguished a white object floating within a yard of the
ship’s side.  White on the black water.  A phosphorescent flash passed
under it.  What was that thing? . . . I recognised my own floppy hat.  It
must have fallen off his head . . . and he didn’t bother.

Now I had what I wanted—the saving mark for my eyes.  But I hardly
thought of my other self, now gone from the ship, to be hidden forever
from all friendly faces, to be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth,
with no brand of the curse on his sane forehead to stay a slaying hand
. . . too proud to explain.

And I watched the hat—the expression of my sudden pity for his mere
flesh.  It had been meant to save his homeless head from the dangers of
the sun.  And now—behold—it was saving the ship, by serving me for a mark
to help out the ignorance of my strangeness.  Ha!  It was drifting
forward, warning me just in time that the ship had gathered sternway.

“Shift the helm,” I said in a low voice to the seaman standing still like
a statue.

The man’s eyes glistened wildly in the binnacle light as he jumped round
to the other side and spun round the wheel.

I walked to the break of the poop.  On the overshadowed deck all hands
stood by the forebraces waiting for my order.  The stars ahead seemed to
be gliding from right to left.  And all was so still in the world that I
heard the quiet remark “She’s round,” passed in a tone of intense relief
between two seamen.

“Let go and haul.”

The foreyards ran round with a great noise, amidst cheery cries.  And now
the frightful whisker’s made themselves heard giving various orders.
Already the ship was drawing ahead.  And I was alone with her.  Nothing!
no one in the world should stand now between us, throwing a shadow on the
way of silent knowledge and mute affection, the perfect communion of a
seaman with his first command.

Walking to the taffrail, I was in time to make out, on the very edge of a
darkness thrown by a towering black mass like the very gateway of
Erebus—yes, I was in time to catch an evanescent glimpse of my white hat
left behind to mark the spot where the secret sharer of my cabin and of
my thoughts, as though he were my second self, had lowered himself into
the water to take his punishment: a free man, a proud swimmer striking
out for a new destiny.



FREYA OF THE SEVEN ISLES
A STORY OF SHALLOW WATERS
CHAPTER I


ONE day—and that day was many years ago now—I received a long, chatty
letter from one of my old chums and fellow-wanderers in Eastern waters.
He was still out there, but settled down, and middle-aged; I imagined
him—grown portly in figure and domestic in his habits; in short,
overtaken by the fate common to all except to those who, being specially
beloved by the gods, get knocked on the head early.  The letter was of
the reminiscent “do you remember” kind—a wistful letter of backward
glances.  And, amongst other things, “surely you remember old Nelson,” he
wrote.

Remember old Nelson!  Certainly.  And to begin with, his name was not
Nelson.  The Englishmen in the Archipelago called him Nelson because it
was more convenient, I suppose, and he never protested.  It would have
been mere pedantry.  The true form of his name was Nielsen.  He had come
out East long before the advent of telegraph cables, had served English
firms, had married an English girl, had been one of us for years, trading
and sailing in all directions through the Eastern Archipelago, across and
around, transversely, diagonally, perpendicularly, in semi-circles, and
zigzags, and figures of eights, for years and years.

There was no nook or cranny of these tropical waters that the enterprise
of old Nelson (or Nielsen) had not penetrated in an eminently pacific
way.  His tracks, if plotted out, would have covered the map of the
Archipelago like a cobweb—all of it, with the sole exception of the
Philippines.  He would never approach that part, from a strange dread of
Spaniards, or, to be exact, of the Spanish authorities.  What he imagined
they could do to him it is impossible to say.  Perhaps at some time in
his life he had read some stories of the Inquisition.

But he was in general afraid of what he called “authorities”; not the
English authorities, which he trusted and respected, but the other two of
that part of the world.  He was not so horrified at the Dutch as he was
at the Spaniards, but he was even more mistrustful of them.  Very
mistrustful indeed.  The Dutch, in his view, were capable of “playing any
ugly trick on a man” who had the misfortune to displease them.  There
were their laws and regulations, but they had no notion of fair play in
applying them.  It was really pitiable to see the anxious circumspection
of his dealings with some official or other, and remember that this man
had been known to stroll up to a village of cannibals in New Guinea in a
quiet, fearless manner (and note that he was always fleshy all his life,
and, if I may say so, an appetising morsel) on some matter of barter that
did not amount perhaps to fifty pounds in the end.

Remember old Nelson!  Rather!  Truly, none of us in my generation had
known him in his active days.  He was “retired” in our time.  He had
bought, or else leased, part of a small island from the Sultan of a
little group called the Seven Isles, not far north from Banka.  It was, I
suppose, a legitimate transaction, but I have no doubt that had he been
an Englishman the Dutch would have discovered a reason to fire him out
without ceremony.  In this connection the real form of his name stood him
in good stead.  In the character of an unassuming Dane whose conduct was
most correct, they let him be.  With all his money engaged in cultivation
he was naturally careful not to give even the shadow of offence, and it
was mostly for prudential reasons of that sort that he did not look with
a favourable eye on Jasper Allen.  But of that later.  Yes!  One
remembered well enough old Nelson’s big, hospitable bungalow erected on a
shelving point of land, his portly form, costumed generally in a white
shirt and trousers (he had a confirmed habit of taking off his alpaca
jacket on the slightest provocation), his round blue eyes, his straggly,
sandy-white moustache sticking out all ways like the quills of the
fretful porcupine, his propensity to sit down suddenly and fan himself
with his hat.  But there’s no use concealing the fact that what one
remembered really was his daughter, who at that time came out to live
with him—and be a sort of Lady of the Isles.

Freya Nelson (or Nielsen) was the kind of girl one remembers.  The oval
of her face was perfect; and within that fascinating frame the most happy
disposition of line and feature, with an admirable complexion, gave an
impression of health, strength, and what I might call unconscious
self-confidence—a most pleasant and, as it were, whimsical determination.
I will not compare her eyes to violets, because the real shade of their
colour was peculiar, not so dark and more lustrous.  They were of the
wide-open kind, and looked at one frankly in every mood.  I never did see
the long, dark eyelashes lowered—I dare say Jasper Allen did, being a
privileged person—but I have no doubt that the expression must have been
charming in a complex way.  She could—Jasper told me once with a
touchingly imbecile exultation—sit on her hair.  I dare say, I dare say.
It was not for me to behold these wonders; I was content to admire the
neat and becoming way she used to do it up so as not to conceal the good
shape of her head.  And this wealth of hair was so glossy that when the
screens of the west verandah were down, making a pleasant twilight there,
or in the shade of the grove of fruit-trees near the house, it seemed to
give out a golden light of its own.

She dressed generally in a white frock, with a skirt of walking length,
showing her neat, laced, brown boots.  If there was any colour about her
costume it was just a bit of blue perhaps.  No exertion seemed to
distress her.  I have seen her land from the dinghy after a long pull in
the sun (she rowed herself about a good deal) with no quickened breath
and not a single hair out of its place.  In the morning when she came out
on the verandah for the first look westward, Sumatra way, over the sea,
she seemed as fresh and sparkling as a dewdrop.  But a dewdrop is
evanescent, and there was nothing evanescent about Freya.  I remember her
round, solid arms with the fine wrists, and her broad, capable hands with
tapering fingers.

I don’t know whether she was actually born at sea, but I do know that up
to twelve years of age she sailed about with her parents in various
ships.  After old Nelson lost his wife it became a matter of serious
concern for him what to do with the girl.  A kind lady in Singapore,
touched by his dumb grief and deplorable perplexity, offered to take
charge of Freya.  This arrangement lasted some six years, during which
old Nelson (or Nielsen) “retired” and established, himself on his island,
and then it was settled (the kind lady going away to Europe) that his
daughter should join him.

As the first and most important preparation for that event the old fellow
ordered from his Singapore agent a Steyn and Ebhart’s “upright grand.”  I
was then commanding a little steamer in the island trade, and it fell to
my lot to take it out to him, so I know something of Freya’s “upright
grand.”  We landed the enormous packing-case with difficulty on a flat
piece of rock amongst some bushes, nearly knocking the bottom out of one
of my boats in the course of that nautical operation.  Then, all my crew
assisting, engineers and firemen included, by the exercise of much
anxious ingenuity, and by means of rollers, levers, tackles, and inclined
planes of soaped planks, toiling in the sun like ancient Egyptians at the
building of a pyramid, we got it as far as the house and up on to the
edge of the west verandah—which was the actual drawing-room of the
bungalow.  There, the case being ripped off cautiously, the beautiful
rosewood monster stood revealed at last.  In reverent excitement we
coaxed it against the wall and drew the first free breath of the day.  It
was certainly the heaviest movable object on that islet since the
creation of the world.  The volume of sound it gave out in that bungalow
(which acted as a sounding-board) was really astonishing.  It thundered
sweetly right over the sea.  Jasper Allen told me that early of a morning
on the deck of the _Bonito_ (his wonderfully fast and pretty brig) he
could hear Freya playing her scales quite distinctly.  But the fellow
always anchored foolishly close to the point, as I told him more than
once.  Of course, these seas are almost uniformly serene, and the Seven
Isles is a particularly calm and cloudless spot as a rule.  But still,
now and again, an afternoon thunderstorm over Banka, or even one of these
vicious thick squalls, from the distant Sumatra coast, would make a
sudden sally upon the group, enveloping it for a couple of hours in
whirlwinds and bluish-black murk of a particularly sinister aspect.
Then, with the lowered rattan-screens rattling desperately in the wind
and the bungalow shaking all over, Freya would sit down to the piano and
play fierce Wagner music in the flicker of blinding flashes, with
thunderbolts falling all round, enough to make your hair stand on end;
and Jasper would remain stock still on the verandah, adoring the back
view of her supple, swaying figure, the miraculous sheen of her fair
head, the rapid hands on the keys, the white nape of her neck—while the
brig, down at the point there, surged at her cables within a hundred
yards of nasty, shiny, black rock-heads.  Ugh!

And this, if you please, for no reason but that, when he went on board at
night and laid his head on the pillow, he should feel that he was as near
as he could conveniently get to his Freya slumbering in the bungalow.
Did you ever!  And, mind, this brig was the home to be—their home—the
floating paradise which he was gradually fitting out like a yacht to sail
his life blissfully away in with Freya.  Imbecile!  But the fellow was
always taking chances.

One day, I remember I watched with Freya on the verandah the brig
approaching the point from the northward.  I suppose Jasper made the girl
out with his long glass.  What does he do?  Instead of standing on for
another mile and a half along the shoals and then tacking for the
anchorage in a proper and seamanlike manner, he spies a gap between two
disgusting old jagged reefs, puts the helm down suddenly, and shoots the
brig through, with all her sails shaking and rattling, so that we could
hear the racket on the verandah.  I drew my breath through my teeth, I
can tell you, and Freya swore.  Yes!  She clenched her capable fists and
stamped with her pretty brown boot and said “Damn!”  Then, looking at me
with a little heightened colour—not much—she remarked, “I forgot you were
there,” and laughed.  To be sure, to be sure.  When Jasper was in sight
she was not likely to remember that anybody else in the world was there.
In my concern at this mad trick I couldn’t help appealing to her
sympathetic common sense.

“Isn’t he a fool?” I said with feeling.

“Perfect idiot,” she agreed warmly, looking at me straight with her
wide-open, earnest eyes and the dimple of a smile on her cheek.

“And that,” I pointed out to her, “just to save twenty minutes or so in
meeting you.”

We heard the anchor go down, and then she became very resolute and
threatening.

“Wait a bit.  I’ll teach him.”

She went into her own room and shut the door, leaving me alone on the
verandah with my instructions.  Long before the brig’s sails were furled,
Jasper came up three steps at a time, forgetting to say how d’ye do, and
looking right and left eagerly.

“Where’s Freya?  Wasn’t she here just now?”

When I explained to him that he was to be deprived of Miss Freya’s
presence for a whole hour, “just to teach him,” he said I had put her up
to it, no doubt, and that he feared he would have yet to shoot me some
day.  She and I were getting too thick together.  Then he flung himself
into a chair, and tried to talk to me about his trip.  But the funny
thing was that the fellow actually suffered.  I could see it.  His voice
failed him, and he sat there dumb, looking at the door with the face of a
man in pain.  Fact. . . . And the next still funnier thing was that the
girl calmly walked out of her room in less than ten minutes.  And then I
left.  I mean to say that I went away to seek old Nelson (or Nielsen) on
the back verandah, which was his own special nook in the distribution of
that house, with the kind purpose of engaging him in conversation lest he
should start roaming about and intrude unwittingly where he was not
wanted just then.

He knew that the brig had arrived, though he did not know that Jasper was
already with his daughter.  I suppose he didn’t think it was possible in
the time.  A father naturally wouldn’t.  He suspected that Allen was
sweet on his girl; the fowls of the air and the fishes of the sea, most
of the traders in the Archipelago, and all sorts and conditions of men in
the town of Singapore were aware of it.  But he was not capable of
appreciating how far the girl was gone on the fellow.  He had an idea
that Freya was too sensible to ever be gone on anybody—I mean to an
unmanageable extent.  No; it was not that which made him sit on the back
verandah and worry himself in his unassuming manner during Jasper’s
visits.  What he worried about were the Dutch “authorities.”  For it is a
fact that the Dutch looked askance at the doings of Jasper Allen, owner
and master of the brig _Bonito_.  They considered him much too
enterprising in his trading.  I don’t know that he ever did anything
illegal; but it seems to me that his immense activity was repulsive to
their stolid character and slow-going methods.  Anyway, in old Nelson’s
opinion, the captain of the _Bonito_ was a smart sailor, and a nice young
man, but not a desirable acquaintance upon the whole.  Somewhat
compromising, you understand.  On the other hand, he did not like to tell
Jasper in so many words to keep away.  Poor old Nelson himself was a nice
fellow.  I believe he would have shrunk from hurting the feelings even of
a mop-headed cannibal, unless, perhaps, under very strong provocation.  I
mean the feelings, not the bodies.  As against spears, knives, hatchets,
clubs, or arrows, old Nelson had proved himself capable of taking his own
part.  In every other respect he had a timorous soul.  So he sat on the
back verandah with a concerned expression, and whenever the voices of his
daughter and Jasper Allen reached him, he would blow out his cheeks and
let the air escape with a dismal sound, like a much tried man.

Naturally I derided his fears which he, more or less, confided to me.  He
had a certain regard for my judgment, and a certain respect, not for my
moral qualities, however, but for the good terms I was supposed to be on
with the Dutch “authorities.”  I knew for a fact that his greatest
bugbear, the Governor of Banka—a charming, peppery, hearty, retired
rear-admiral—had a distinct liking for him.  This consoling assurance
which I used always to put forward, made old Nelson (or Nielsen) brighten
up for a moment; but in the end he would shake his head doubtfully, as
much as to say that this was all very well, but that there were depths in
the Dutch official nature which no one but himself had ever fathomed.
Perfectly ridiculous.

On this occasion I am speaking of, old Nelson was even fretty; for while
I was trying to entertain him with a very funny and somewhat scandalous
adventure which happened to a certain acquaintance of ours in Saigon, he
exclaimed suddenly:

“What the devil he wants to turn up here for!”

Clearly he had not heard a word of the anecdote.  And this annoyed me,
because the anecdote was really good.  I stared at him.

“Come, come!” I cried.  “Don’t you know what Jasper Allen is turning up
here for?”

This was the first open allusion I had ever made to the true state of
affairs between Jasper and his daughter.  He took it very calmly.

“Oh, Freya is a sensible girl!” he murmured absently, his mind’s eye
obviously fixed on the “authorities.”  No; Freya was no fool.  He was not
concerned about that.  He didn’t mind it in the least.  The fellow was
just company for her; he amused the girl; nothing more.

When the perspicacious old chap left off mumbling, all was still in the
house.  The other two were amusing themselves very quietly, and no doubt
very heartily.  What more absorbing and less noisy amusement could they
have found than to plan their future?  Side by side on the verandah they
must have been looking at the brig, the third party in that fascinating
game.  Without her there would have been no future.  She was the fortune
and the home, and the great free world for them.  Who was it that likened
a ship to a prison?  May I be ignominiously hanged at a yardarm if that’s
true.  The white sails of that craft were the white wings—pinions, I
believe, would be the more poetical style—well, the white pinions, of
their soaring love.  Soaring as regards Jasper.  Freya, being a woman,
kept a better hold of the mundane connections of this affair.

But Jasper was elevated in the true sense of the word ever since the day
when, after they had been gazing at the brig in one of those decisive
silences that alone establish a perfect communion between creatures
gifted with speech, he proposed that she should share the ownership of
that treasure with him.  Indeed, he presented the brig to her altogether.
But then his heart was in the brig since the day he bought her in Manilla
from a certain middle-aged Peruvian, in a sober suit of black broadcloth,
enigmatic and sententious, who, for all I know, might have stolen her on
the South American coast, whence he said he had come over to the
Philippines “for family reasons.”  This “for family reasons” was
distinctly good.  No true _caballero_ would care to push on inquiries
after such a statement.

Indeed, Jasper was quite the _caballero_.  The brig herself was then all
black and enigmatical, and very dirty; a tarnished gem of the sea, or,
rather, a neglected work of art.  For he must have been an artist, the
obscure builder who had put her body together on lovely lines out of the
hardest tropical timber fastened with the purest copper.  Goodness only
knows in what part of the world she was built.  Jasper himself had not
been able to ascertain much of her history from his sententious,
saturnine Peruvian—if the fellow was a Peruvian, and not the devil
himself in disguise, as Jasper jocularly pretended to believe.  My
opinion is that she was old enough to have been one of the last pirates,
a slaver perhaps, or else an opium clipper of the early days, if not an
opium smuggler.

However that may be, she was as sound as on the day she first took the
water, sailed like a witch, steered like a little boat, and, like some
fair women of adventurous life famous in history, seemed to have the
secret of perpetual youth; so that there was nothing unnatural in Jasper
Allen treating her like a lover.  And that treatment restored the lustre
of her beauty.  He clothed her in many coats of the very best white paint
so skilfully, carefully, artistically put on and kept clean by his
badgered crew of picked Malays, that no costly enamel such as jewellers
use for their work could have looked better and felt smoother to the
touch.  A narrow gilt moulding defined her elegant sheer as she sat on
the water, eclipsing easily the professional good looks of any pleasure
yacht that ever came to the East in those days.  For myself, I must say I
prefer a moulding of deep crimson colour on a white hull.  It gives a
stronger relief besides being less expensive; and I told Jasper so.  But
no, nothing less than the best gold-leaf would do, because no decoration
could be gorgeous enough for the future abode of his Freya.

His feelings for the brig and for the girl were as indissolubly united in
his heart as you may fuse two precious metals together in one crucible.
And the flame was pretty hot, I can assure you.  It induced in him a
fierce inward restlessness both of activity and desire.  Too fine in
face, with a lateral wave in his chestnut hair, spare, long-limbed, with
an eager glint in his steely eyes and quick, brusque movements, he made
me think sometimes of a flashing sword-blade perpetually leaping out of
the scabbard.  It was only when he was near the girl, when he had her
there to look at, that this peculiarly tense attitude was replaced by a
grave devout watchfulness of her slightest movements and utterances.  Her
cool, resolute, capable, good-humoured self-possession seemed to steady
his heart.  Was it the magic of her face, of her voice, of her glances
which calmed him so?  Yet these were the very things one must believe
which had set his imagination ablaze—if love begins in imagination.  But
I am no man to discuss such mysteries, and it strikes me that we have
neglected poor old Nelson inflating his cheeks in a state of worry on the
back verandah.

I pointed out to him that, after all, Jasper was not a very frequent
visitor.  He and his brig worked hard all over the Archipelago.  But all
old Nelson said, and he said it uneasily, was:

“I hope Heemskirk won’t turn up here while the brig’s about.”

Getting up a scare about Heemskirk now!  Heemskirk! . . . Really, one
hadn’t the patience—



CHAPTER II


FOR, pray, who was Heemskirk?  You shall see at once how unreasonable
this dread of Heemskirk. . . . Certainly, his nature was malevolent
enough.  That was obvious, directly you heard him laugh.  Nothing gives
away more a man’s secret disposition than the unguarded ring of his
laugh.  But, bless my soul! if we were to start at every evil guffaw like
a hare at every sound, we shouldn’t be fit for anything but the solitude
of a desert, or the seclusion of a hermitage.  And even there we should
have to put up with the unavoidable company of the devil.

However, the devil is a considerable personage, who has known better days
and has moved high up in the hierarchy of Celestial Host; but in the
hierarchy of mere earthly Dutchmen, Heemskirk, whose early days could not
have been very splendid, was merely a naval officer forty years of age,
of no particular connections or ability to boast of.  He was commanding
the _Neptun_, a little gunboat employed on dreary patrol duty up and down
the Archipelago, to look after the traders.  Not a very exalted position
truly.  I tell you, just a common middle-aged lieutenant of some
twenty-five years’ service and sure to be retired before long—that’s all.

He never bothered his head very much as to what was going on in the Seven
Isles group till he learned from some talk in Mintok or Palembang, I
suppose, that there was a pretty girl living there.  Curiosity, I
presume, caused him to go poking around that way, and then, after he had
once seen Freya, he made a practice of calling at the group whenever he
found himself within half a day’s steaming from it.

I don’t mean to say that Heemskirk was a typical Dutch naval officer.  I
have seen enough of them not to fall into that absurd mistake.  He had a
big, clean-shaven face; great flat, brown cheeks, with a thin, hooked
nose and a small, pursy mouth squeezed in between.  There were a few
silver threads in his black hair, and his unpleasant eyes were nearly
black, too.  He had a surly way of casting side glances without moving
his head, which was set low on a short, round neck.  A thick, round trunk
in a dark undress jacket with gold shoulder-straps, was sustained by a
straddly pair of thick, round legs, in white drill trousers.  His round
skull under a white cap looked as if it were immensely thick too, but
there were brains enough in it to discover and take advantage maliciously
of poor old Nelson’s nervousness before everything that was invested with
the merest shred of authority.

Heemskirk would land on the point and perambulate silently every part of
the plantation as if the whole place belonged to him, before her went to
the house.  On the verandah he would take the best chair, and would stay
for tiffin or dinner, just simply stay on, without taking the trouble to
invite himself by so much as a word.

He ought to have been kicked, if only for his manner to Miss Freya.  Had
he been a naked savage, armed with spears and poisoned arrows, old Nelson
(or Nielsen) would have gone for him with his bare fists.  But these gold
shoulder-straps—Dutch shoulder-straps at that—were enough to terrify the
old fellow; so he let the beggar treat him with heavy contempt, devour
his daughter with his eyes, and drink the best part of his little stock
of wine.

I saw something of this, and on one occasion I tried to pass a remark on
the subject.  It was pitiable to see the trouble in old Nelson’s round
eyes.  At first he cried out that the lieutenant was a good friend of
his; a very good fellow.  I went on staring at him pretty hard, so that
at last he faltered, and had to own that, of course, Heemskirk was not a
very genial person outwardly, but all the same at bottom. . . .

“I haven’t yet met a genial Dutchman out here,” I interrupted.
“Geniality, after all, is not of much consequence, but don’t you see—”

Nelson looked suddenly so frightened at what I was going to say that I
hadn’t the heart to go on.  Of course, I was going to tell him that the
fellow was after his girl.  That just describes it exactly.  What
Heemskirk might have expected or what he thought he could do, I don’t
know.  For all I can tell, he might have imagined himself irresistible,
or have taken Freya for what she was not, on account of her lively,
assured, unconstrained manner.  But there it is.  He was after that girl.
Nelson could see it well enough.  Only he preferred to ignore it.  He did
not want to be told of it.

“All I want is to live in peace and quietness with the Dutch
authorities,” he mumbled shamefacedly.

He was incurable.  I was sorry for him, and I really think Miss Freya was
sorry for her father, too.  She restrained herself for his sake, and as
everything she did she did it simply, unaffectedly, and even good
humouredly.  No small effort that, because in Heemskirk’s attentions
there was an insolent touch of scorn, hard to put up with.  Dutchmen of
that sort are over-bearing to their inferiors, and that officer of the
king looked upon old Nelson and Freya as quite beneath him in every way.

I can’t say I felt sorry for Freya.  She was not the sort of girl to take
anything tragically.  One could feel for her and sympathise with her
difficulty, but she seemed equal to any situation.  It was rather
admiration she extorted by her competent serenity.  It was only when
Jasper and Heemskirk were together at the bungalow, as it happened now
and then, that she felt the strain, and even then it was not for
everybody to see.  My eyes alone could detect a faint shadow on the
radiance of her personality.  Once I could not help saying to her
appreciatively:

“Upon my word you are wonderful.”

She let it pass with a faint smile.

“The great thing is to prevent Jasper becoming unreasonable,” she said;
and I could see real concern lurking in the quiet depths of her frank
eyes gazing straight at me.  “You will help to keep him quiet, won’t
you?”

“Of course, we must keep him quiet,” I declared, understanding very well
the nature of her anxiety.  “He’s such a lunatic, too, when he’s roused.”

“He is!” she assented, in a soft tone; for it was our joke to speak of
Jasper abusively.  “But I have tamed him a bit.  He’s quite a good boy
now.”

“He would squash Heemskirk like a blackbeetle all the same,” I remarked.

“Rather!” she murmured.  “And that wouldn’t do,” she added quickly.
“Imagine the state poor papa would get into.  Besides, I mean to be
mistress of the dear brig and sail about these seas, not go off wandering
ten thousand miles away from here.”

“The sooner you are on board to look after the man and the brig the
better,” I said seriously.  “They need you to steady them both a bit.  I
don’t think Jasper will ever get sobered down till he has carried you off
from this island.  You don’t see him when he is away from you, as I do.
He’s in a state of perpetual elation which almost frightens me.”

At this she smiled again, and then looked serious.  For it could not be
unpleasant to her to be told of her power, and she had some sense of her
responsibility.  She slipped away from me suddenly, because Heemskirk,
with old Nelson in attendance at his elbow, was coming up the steps of
the verandah.  Directly his head came above the level of the floor his
ill-natured black eyes shot glances here and there.

“Where’s your girl, Nelson?” he asked, in a tone as if every soul in the
world belonged to him.  And then to me: “The goddess has flown, eh?”

Nelson’s Cove—as we used to call it—was crowded with shipping that day.
There was first my steamer, then the _Neptun_ gunboat further out, and
the _Bonito_, brig, anchored as usual so close inshore that it looked as
if, with a little skill and judgment, one could shy a hat from the
verandah on to her scrupulously holystoned quarter-deck.  Her brasses
flashed like gold, her white body-paint had a sheen like a satin robe.
The rake of her varnished spars and the big yards, squared to a hair,
gave her a sort of martial elegance.  She was a beauty.  No wonder that
in possession of a craft like that and the promise of a girl like Freya,
Jasper lived in a state of perpetual elation fit, perhaps, for the
seventh heaven, but not exactly safe in a world like ours.

I remarked politely to Heemskirk that, with three guests in the house,
Miss Freya had no doubt domestic matters to attend to.  I knew, of
course, that she had gone to meet Jasper at a certain cleared spot on the
banks of the only stream on Nelson’s little island.  The commander of the
_Neptun_ gave me a dubious black look, and began to make himself at home,
flinging his thick, cylindrical carcass into a rocking-chair, and
unbuttoning his coat.  Old Nelson sat down opposite him in a most
unassuming manner, staring anxiously with his round eyes and fanning
himself with his hat.  I tried to make conversation to while the time
away; not an easy task with a morose, enamoured Dutchman constantly
looking from one door to another and answering one’s advances either with
a jeer or a grunt.

However, the evening passed off all right.  Luckily, there is a degree of
bliss too intense for elation.  Jasper was quiet and concentrated
silently in watching Freya.  As we went on board our respective ships I
offered to give his brig a tow out next morning.  I did it on purpose to
get him away at the earliest possible moment.  So in the first cold light
of the dawn we passed by the gunboat lying black and still without a
sound in her at the mouth of the glassy cove.  But with tropical
swiftness the sun had climbed twice its diameter above the horizon before
we had rounded the reef and got abreast of the point.  On the biggest
boulder there stood Freya, all in white and, in her helmet, like a
feminine and martial statue with a rosy face, as I could see very well
with my glasses.  She fluttered an expressive handkerchief, and Jasper,
running up the main rigging of the white and warlike brig, waved his hat
in response.  Shortly afterwards we parted, I to the northward and Jasper
heading east with a light wind on the quarter, for Banjermassin and two
other ports, I believe it was, that trip.

This peaceful occasion was the last on which I saw all these people
assembled together; the charmingly fresh and resolute Freya, the
innocently round-eyed old Nelson, Jasper, keen, long limbed, lean faced,
admirably self-contained, in his manner, because inconceivably happy
under the eyes of his Freya; all three tall, fair, and blue-eyed in
varied shades, and amongst them the swarthy, arrogant, black-haired
Dutchman, shorter nearly by a head, and so much thicker than any of them
that he seemed to be a creature capable of inflating itself, a grotesque
specimen of mankind from some other planet.

The contrast struck me all at once as we stood in the lighted verandah,
after rising from the dinner-table.  I was fascinated by it for the rest
of the evening, and I remember the impression of something funny and
ill-omened at the same time in it to this day.



CHAPTER III


A FEW weeks later, coming early one morning into Singapore, from a
journey to the southward, I saw the brig lying at anchor in all her usual
symmetry and splendour of aspect as though she had been taken out of a
glass case and put delicately into the water that very moment.

She was well out in the roadstead, but I steamed in and took up my
habitual berth close in front of the town.  Before we had finished
breakfast a quarter-master came to tell me that Captain Allen’s boat was
coming our way.

His smart gig dashed alongside, and in two bounds he was up our
accommodation-ladder and shaking me by the hand with his nervous grip,
his eyes snapping inquisitively, for he supposed I had called at the
Seven Isles group on my way.  I reached into my pocket for a nicely
folded little note, which he grabbed out of my hand without ceremony and
carried off on the bridge to read by himself.  After a decent interval I
followed him up there, and found him pacing to and fro; for the nature of
his emotions made him restless even in his most thoughtful moments.

He shook his head at me triumphantly.

“Well, my dear boy,” he said, “I shall be counting the days now.”

I understood what he meant.  I knew that those young people had settled
already on a runaway match without official preliminaries.  This was
really a logical decision.  Old Nelson (or Nielsen) would never have
agreed to give up Freya peaceably to this compromising Jasper.  Heavens!
What would the Dutch authorities say to such a match!  It sounds too
ridiculous for words.  But there’s nothing in the world more selfishly
hard than a timorous man in a fright about his “little estate,” as old
Nelson used to call it in apologetic accents.  A heart permeated by a
particular sort of funk is proof against sense, feeling, and ridicule.
It’s a flint.

Jasper would have made his request all the same and then taken his own
way; but it was Freya who decided that nothing should be said, on the
ground that, “Papa would only worry himself to distraction.”  He was
capable of making himself ill, and then she wouldn’t have the heart to
leave him.  Here you have the sanity of feminine outlook and the
frankness of feminine reasoning.  And for the rest, Miss Freya could read
“poor dear papa” in the way a woman reads a man—like an open book.  His
daughter once gone, old Nelson would not worry himself.  He would raise a
great outcry, and make no end of lamentable fuss, but that’s not the same
thing.  The real agonies of indecision, the anguish of conflicting
feelings would be spared to him.  And as he was too unassuming to rage,
he would, after a period of lamentation, devote himself to his “little
estate,” and to keeping on good terms with the authorities.

Time would do the rest.  And Freya thought she could afford to wait,
while ruling over her own home in the beautiful brig and over the man who
loved her.  This was the life for her who had learned to walk on a ship’s
deck.  She was a ship-child, a sea-girl if ever there was one.  And of
course she loved Jasper and trusted him; but there was a shade of anxiety
in her pride.  It is very fine and romantic to possess for your very own
a finely tempered and trusty sword-blade, but whether it is the best
weapon to counter with the common cudgel-play of Fate—that’s another
question.

She knew that she had the more substance of the two—you needn’t try any
cheap jokes, I am not talking of their weights.  She was just a little
anxious while he was away, and she had me who, being a tried confidant,
took the liberty to whisper frequently “The sooner the better.”  But
there was a peculiar vein of obstinacy in Miss Freya, and her reason for
delay was characteristic.  “Not before my twenty-first birthday; so that
there shall be no mistake in people’s minds as to me being old enough to
know what I am doing.”

Jasper’s feelings were in such subjection that he had never even
remonstrated against the decree.  She was just splendid, whatever she did
or said, and there was an end of it for him.  I believe that he was
subtle enough to be even flattered at bottom—at times.  And then to
console him he had the brig which seemed pervaded by the spirit of Freya,
since whatever he did on board was always done under the supreme sanction
of his love.

“Yes.  I’ll soon begin to count the days,” he repeated.  “Eleven months
more.  I’ll have to crowd three trips into that.”

“Mind you don’t come to grief trying to do too much,” I admonished him.
But he dismissed my caution with a laugh and an elated gesture.  Pooh!
Nothing, nothing could happen to the brig, he cried, as if the flame of
his heart could light up the dark nights of uncharted seas, and the image
of Freya serve for an unerring beacon amongst hidden shoals; as if the
winds had to wait on his future, the stars fight for it in their courses;
as if the magic of his passion had the power to float a ship on a drop of
dew or sail her through the eye of a needle—simply because it was her
magnificent lot to be the servant of a love so full of grace as to make
all the ways of the earth safe, resplendent, and easy.

“I suppose,” I said, after he had finished laughing at my innocent enough
remark, “I suppose you will be off to-day.”

That was what he meant to do.  He had not gone at daylight only because
he expected me to come in.

“And only fancy what has happened yesterday,” he went on.  “My mate left
me suddenly.  Had to.  And as there’s nobody to be found at a short
notice I am going to take Schultz with me.  The notorious Schultz!  Why
don’t you jump out of your skin?  I tell you I went and unearthed Schultz
late last evening, after no end of trouble.  ‘I am your man, captain,’ he
says, in that wonderful voice of his, ‘but I am sorry to confess I have
practically no clothes to my back.  I have had to sell all my wardrobe to
get a little food from day to day.’  What a voice that man has got.  Talk
about moving stones!  But people seem to get used to it.  I had never
seen him before, and, upon my word, I felt suddenly tears rising to my
eyes.  Luckily it was dusk.  He was sitting very quiet under a tree in a
native compound as thin as a lath, and when I peered down at him all he
had on was an old cotton singlet and a pair of ragged pyjamas.  I bought
him six white suits and two pairs of canvas shoes.  Can’t clear the ship
without a mate.  Must have somebody.  I am going on shore presently to
sign him on, and I shall take him with me as I go back on board to get
under way.  Now, I am a lunatic—am I not?  Mad, of course.  Come on!  Lay
it on thick.  Let yourself go.  I like to see you get excited.”

He so evidently expected me to scold that I took especial pleasure in
exaggerating the calmness of my attitude.

“The worst that can be brought up against Schultz,” I began, folding my
arms and speaking dispassionately, “is an awkward habit of stealing the
stores of every ship he has ever been in.  He will do it.  That’s really
all that’s wrong.  I don’t credit absolutely that story Captain Robinson
tells of Schultz conspiring in Chantabun with some ruffians in a Chinese
junk to steal the anchor off the starboard bow of the _Bohemian Girl_
schooner.  Robinson’s story is too ingenious altogether.  That other tale
of the engineers of the _Nan-Shan_ finding Schultz at midnight in the
engine-room busy hammering at the brass bearings to carry them off for
sale on shore seems to me more authentic.  Apart from this little
weakness, let me tell you that Schultz is a smarter sailor than many who
never took a drop of drink in their lives, and perhaps no worse morally
than some men you and I know who have never stolen the value of a penny.
He may not be a desirable person to have on board one’s ship, but since
you have no choice he may be made to do, I believe.  The important thing
is to understand his psychology.  Don’t give him any money till you have
done with him.  Not a cent, if he begs ever so.  For as sure as Fate the
moment you give him any money he will begin to steal.  Just remember
that.”

I enjoyed Jasper’s incredulous surprise.

“The devil he will!” he cried.  “What on earth for?  Aren’t you trying to
pull my leg, old boy?”

“No.  I’m not.  You must understand Schultz’s psychology.  He’s neither a
loafer nor a cadger.  He’s not likely to wander about looking for
somebody to stand him drinks.  But suppose he goes on shore with five
dollars, or fifty for that matter, in his pocket?  After the third or
fourth glass he becomes fuddled and charitable.  He either drops his
money all over the place, or else distributes the lot around; gives it to
any one who will take it.  Then it occurs to him that the night is young
yet, and that he may require a good many more drinks for himself and his
friends before morning.  So he starts off cheerfully for his ship.  His
legs never get affected nor his head either in the usual way.  He gets
aboard and simply grabs the first thing that seems to him suitable—the
cabin lamp, a coil of rope, a bag of biscuits, a drum of oil—and converts
it into money without thinking twice about it.  This is the process and
no other.  You have only to look out that he doesn’t get a start.  That’s
all.”

“Confound his psychology,” muttered Jasper.  “But a man with a voice like
his is fit to talk to the angels.  Is he incurable do you think?”

I said that I thought so.  Nobody had prosecuted him yet, but no one
would employ him any longer.  His end would be, I feared, to starve in
some hole or other.

“Ah, well,” reflected Jasper.  “The _Bonito_ isn’t trading to any ports
of civilisation.  That’ll make it easier for him to keep straight.”

That was true.  The brig’s business was on uncivilised coasts, with
obscure rajahs dwelling in nearly unknown bays; with native settlements
up mysterious rivers opening their sombre, forest-lined estuaries among a
welter of pale green reefs and dazzling sand-banks, in lonely straits of
calm blue water all aglitter with sunshine.  Alone, far from the beaten
tracks, she glided, all white, round dark, frowning headlands, stole out,
silent like a ghost, from behind points of land stretching out all black
in the moonlight; or lay hove-to, like a sleeping sea-bird, under the
shadow of some nameless mountain waiting for a signal.  She would be
glimpsed suddenly on misty, squally days dashing disdainfully aside the
short aggressive waves of the Java Sea; or be seen far, far away, a tiny
dazzling white speck flying across the brooding purple masses of
thunderclouds piled up on the horizon.  Sometimes, on the rare mail
tracks, where civilisation brushes against wild mystery, when the naïve
passengers crowding along the rail exclaimed, pointing at her with
interest: “Oh, here’s a yacht!” the Dutch captain, with a hostile glance,
would grunt contemptuously: “Yacht!  No!  That’s only English Jasper.  A
pedlar—”

“A good seaman you say,” ejaculated Jasper, still in the matter of the
hopeless Schultz with the wonderfully touching voice.

“First rate.  Ask any one.  Quite worth having—only impossible,” I
declared.

“He shall have his chance to reform in the brig,” said Jasper, with a
laugh.  “There will be no temptations either to drink or steal where I am
going to this time.”

I didn’t press him for anything more definite on that point.  In fact,
intimate as we were, I had a pretty clear notion of the general run of
his business.

But as we are going ashore in his gig he asked suddenly: “By the way, do
you know where Heemskirk is?”

I eyed him covertly, and was reassured.  He had asked the question, not
as a lover, but as a trader.  I told him that I had heard in Palembang
that the _Neptun_ was on duty down about Flores and Sumbawa.  Quite out
of his way.  He expressed his satisfaction.

“You know,” he went on, “that fellow, when he gets on the Borneo coast,
amuses himself by knocking down my beacons.  I have had to put up a few
to help me in and out of the rivers.  Early this year a Celebes trader
becalmed in a prau was watching him at it.  He steamed the gunboat full
tilt at two of them, one after another, smashing them to pieces, and then
lowered a boat on purpose to pull out a third, which I had a lot of
trouble six months ago to stick up in the middle of a mudflat for a tide
mark.  Did you ever hear of anything more provoking—eh?”

“I wouldn’t quarrel with the beggar,” I observed casually, yet disliking
that piece of news strongly.  “It isn’t worth while.”

“I quarrel?” cried Jasper.  “I don’t want to quarrel.  I don’t want to
hurt a single hair of his ugly head.  My dear fellow, when I think of
Freya’s twenty-first birthday, all the world’s my friend, Heemskirk
included.  It’s a nasty, spiteful amusement, all the same.”

We parted rather hurriedly on the quay, each of us having his own
pressing business to attend to.  I would have been very much cut up had I
known that this hurried grasp of the hand with “So long, old boy.  Good
luck to you!” was the last of our partings.

On his return to the Straits I was away, and he was gone again before I
got back.  He was trying to achieve three trips before Freya’s
twenty-first birthday.  At Nelson’s Cove I missed him again by only a
couple of days.  Freya and I talked of “that lunatic” and “perfect idiot”
with great delight and infinite appreciation.  She was very radiant, with
a more pronounced gaiety, notwithstanding that she had just parted from
Jasper.  But this was to be their last separation.

“Do get aboard as soon as you can, Miss Freya,” I entreated.

She looked me straight in the face, her colour a little heightened and
with a sort of solemn ardour—if there was a little catch in her voice.

“The very next day.”

Ah, yes!  The very next day after her twenty-first birthday.  I was
pleased at this hint of deep feeling.  It was as if she had grown
impatient at last of the self-imposed delay.  I supposed that Jasper’s
recent visit had told heavily.

“That’s right,” I said approvingly.  “I shall be much easier in my mind
when I know you have taken charge of that lunatic.  Don’t you lose a
minute.  He, of course, will be on time—unless heavens fall.”

“Yes.  Unless—” she repeated in a thoughtful whisper, raising her eyes to
the evening sky without a speck of cloud anywhere.  Silent for a time, we
let our eyes wander over the waters below, looking mysteriously still in
the twilight, as if trustfully composed for a long, long dream in the
warm, tropical night.  And the peace all round us seemed without limits
and without end.

And then we began again to talk Jasper over in our usual strain.  We
agreed that he was too reckless in many ways.  Luckily, the brig was
equal to the situation.  Nothing apparently was too much for her.  A
perfect darling of a ship, said Miss Freya.  She and her father had spent
an afternoon on board.  Jasper had given them some tea.  Papa was grumpy.
. . . I had a vision of old Nelson under the brig’s snowy awnings,
nursing his unassuming vexation, and fanning himself with his hat.  A
comedy father. . . . As a new instance of Jasper’s lunacy, I was told
that he was distressed at his inability to have solid silver handles
fitted to all the cabin doors.  “As if I would have let him!” commented
Miss Freya, with amused indignation.  Incidentally, I learned also that
Schultz, the nautical kleptomaniac with the pathetic voice, was still
hanging on to his job, with Miss Freya’s approval.  Jasper had confided
to the lady of his heart his purpose of straightening out the fellow’s
psychology.  Yes, indeed.  All the world was his friend because it
breathed the same air with Freya.

Somehow or other, I brought Heemskirk’s name into conversation, and, to
my great surprise, startled Miss Freya.  Her eyes expressed something
like distress, while she bit her lip as if to contain an explosion of
laughter.  Oh!  Yes.  Heemskirk was at the bungalow at the same time with
Jasper, but he arrived the day after.  He left the same day as the brig,
but a few hours later.

“What a nuisance he must have been to you two,” I said feelingly.

Her eyes flashed at me a sort of frightened merriment, and suddenly she
exploded into a clear burst of laughter.  “Ha, ha, ha!”

I echoed it heartily, but not with the game charming tone: “Ha, ha, ha!
. . . Isn’t he grotesque?  Ha, ha, ha!”  And the ludicrousness of old
Nelson’s inanely fierce round eyes in association with his conciliatory
manner to the lieutenant presenting itself to my mind brought on another
fit.

“He looks,” I spluttered, “he looks—Ha, ha, ha!—amongst you three . . .
like an unhappy black-beetle.  Ha, ha, ha!”

She gave out another ringing peal, ran off into her own room, and slammed
the door behind her, leaving me profoundly astounded.  I stopped laughing
at once.

“What’s the joke?” asked old Nelson’s voice, half way down the steps.

He came up, sat down, and blew out his cheeks, looking inexpressibly
fatuous.  But I didn’t want to laugh any more.  And what on earth, I
asked myself, have we been laughing at in this uncontrollable fashion.  I
felt suddenly depressed.

Oh, yes.  Freya had started it.  The girl’s overwrought, I thought.  And
really one couldn’t wonder at it.

I had no answer to old Nelson’s question, but he was too aggrieved at
Jasper’s visit to think of anything else.  He as good as asked me whether
I wouldn’t undertake to hint to Jasper that he was not wanted at the
Seven Isles group.  I declared that it was not necessary.  From certain
circumstances which had come to my knowledge lately, I had reason to
think that he would not be much troubled by Jasper Allen in the future.

He emitted an earnest “Thank God!” which nearly set me laughing again,
but he did not brighten up proportionately.  It seemed Heemskirk had
taken special pains to make himself disagreeable.  The lieutenant had
frightened old Nelson very much by expressing a sinister wonder at the
Government permitting a white man to settle down in that part at all.
“It is against our declared policy,” he had remarked.  He had also
charged him with being in reality no better than an Englishman.  He had
even tried to pick a quarrel with him for not learning to speak Dutch.

“I told him I was too old to learn now,” sighed out old Nelson (or
Nielsen) dismally.  “He said I ought to have learned Dutch long before.
I had been making my living in Dutch dependencies.  It was disgraceful of
me not to speak Dutch, he said.  He was as savage with me as if I had
been a Chinaman.”

It was plain he had been viciously badgered.  He did not mention how many
bottles of his best claret he had offered up on the altar of
conciliation.  It must have been a generous libation.  But old Nelson (or
Nielsen) was really hospitable.  He didn’t mind that; and I only
regretted that this virtue should be lavished on the lieutenant-commander
of the _Neptun_.  I longed to tell him that in all probability he would
be relieved from Heemskirk’s visitations also.  I did not do so only from
the fear (absurd, I admit) of arousing some sort of suspicion in his
mind.  As if with this guileless comedy father such a thing were
possible!

Strangely enough, the last words on the subject of Heemskirk were spoken
by Freya, and in that very sense.  The lieutenant was turning up
persistently in old Nelson’s conversation at dinner.  At last I muttered
a half audible “Damn the lieutenant.”  I could see that the girl was
getting exasperated, too.

“And he wasn’t well at all—was he, Freya?” old Nelson went on moaning.
“Perhaps it was that which made him so snappish, hey, Freya?  He looked
very bad when he left us so suddenly.  His liver must be in a bad state,
too.”

“Oh, he will end by getting over it,” said Freya impatiently.  “And do
leave off worrying about him, papa.  Very likely you won’t see much of
him for a long time to come.”

The look she gave me in exchange for my discreet smile had no hidden
mirth in it.  Her eyes seemed hollowed, her face gone wan in a couple of
hours.  We had been laughing too much.  Overwrought!  Overwrought by the
approach of the decisive moment.  After all, sincere, courageous, and
self-reliant as she was, she must have felt both the passion and the
compunction of her resolve.  The very strength of love which had carried
her up to that point must have put her under a great moral strain, in
which there might have been a little simple remorse, too.  For she was
honest—and there, across the table, sat poor old Nelson (or Nielsen)
staring at her, round-eyed and so pathetically comic in his fierce aspect
as to touch the most lightsome heart.

He retired early to his room to soothe himself for a night’s rest by
perusing his account-books.  We two remained on the verandah for another
hour or so, but we exchanged only languid phrases on things without
importance, as though we had been emotionally jaded by our long day’s
talk on the only momentous subject.  And yet there was something she
might have told a friend.  But she didn’t.  We parted silently.  She
distrusted my masculine lack of common sense, perhaps. . . . O!  Freya!

Going down the precipitous path to the landing-stage, I was confronted in
the shadows of boulders and bushes by a draped feminine figure whose
appearance startled me at first.  It glided into my way suddenly from
behind a piece of rock.  But in a moment it occurred to me that it could
be no one else but Freya’s maid, a half-caste Malacca Portuguese.  One
caught fleeting glimpses of her olive face and dazzling white teeth about
the house.  I had observed her at times from a distance, as she sat
within call under the shade of some fruit trees, brushing and plaiting
her long raven locks.  It seemed to be the principal occupation of her
leisure hours.  We had often exchanged nods and smiles—and a few words,
too.  She was a pretty creature.  And once I had watched her approvingly
make funny and expressive grimaces behind Heemskirk’s back.  I understood
(from Jasper) that she was in the secret, like a comedy camerista.  She
was to accompany Freya on her irregular way to matrimony and “ever after”
happiness.  Why should she be roaming by night near the cove—unless on
some love affair of her own—I asked myself.  But there was nobody
suitable within the Seven Isles group, as far as I knew.  It flashed upon
me that it was myself she had been lying in wait for.

She hesitated, muffled from head to foot, shadowy and bashful.  I
advanced another pace, and how I felt is nobody’s business.

“What is it?” I asked, very low.

“Nobody knows I am here,” she whispered.

“And nobody can see us,” I whispered back.

The murmur of words “I’ve been so frightened” reached me.  Just then
forty feet above our head, from the yet lighted verandah, unexpected and
startling, Freya’s voice rang out in a clear, imperious call:

“Antonia!”

With a stifled exclamation, the hesitating girl vanished out of the path.
A bush near by rustled; then silence.  I waited wondering.  The lights on
the verandah went out.  I waited a while longer then continued down the
path to my boat, wondering more than ever.

I remember the occurrences of that visit especially, because this was the
last time I saw the Nelson bungalow.  On arriving at the Straits I found
cable messages which made it necessary for me to throw up my employment
at a moment’s notice and go home at once.  I had a desperate scramble to
catch the mailboat which was due to leave next day, but I found time to
write two short notes, one to Freya, the other to Jasper.  Later on I
wrote at length, this time to Allen alone.  I got no answer.  I hunted up
then his brother, or, rather, half-brother, a solicitor in the city, a
sallow, calm, little man who looked at me over his spectacles
thoughtfully.

Jasper was the only child of his father’s second marriage, a transaction
which had failed to commend itself to the first, grown-up family.

“You haven’t heard for ages,” I repeated, with secret annoyance.  “May I
ask what ‘for ages’ means in this connection?”

“It means that I don’t care whether I ever hear from him or not,”
retorted the little man of law, turning nasty suddenly.

I could not blame Jasper for not wasting his time in correspondence with
such an outrageous relative.  But why didn’t he write to me—a decent sort
of friend, after all; enough of a friend to find for his silence the
excuse of forgetfulness natural to a state of transcendental bliss?  I
waited indulgently, but nothing ever came.  And the East seemed to drop
out of my life without an echo, like a stone falling into a well of
prodigious depth.



CHAPTER IV


I SUPPOSE praiseworthy motives are a sufficient justification almost for
anything.  What could be more commendable in the abstract than a girl’s
determination that “poor papa” should not be worried, and her anxiety
that the man of her choice should be kept by any means from every
occasion of doing something rash, something which might endanger the
whole scheme of their happiness?

Nothing could be more tender and more prudent.  We must also remember the
girl’s self-reliant temperament, and the general unwillingness of women—I
mean women of sense—to make a fuss over matters of that sort.

As has been said already, Heemskirk turned up some time after Jasper’s
arrival at Nelson’s Cove.  The sight of the brig lying right under the
bungalow was very offensive to him.  He did not fly ashore before his
anchor touched the ground as Jasper used to do.  On the contrary, he hung
about his quarter-deck mumbling to himself; and when he ordered his boat
to be manned it was in an angry voice.  Freya’s existence, which lifted
Jasper out of himself into a blissful elation, was for Heemskirk a cause
of secret torment, of hours of exasperated brooding.

While passing the brig he hailed her harshly and asked if the master was
on board.  Schultz, smart and neat in a spotless white suit, leaned over
the taffrail, finding the question somewhat amusing.  He looked
humorously down into Heemskirk’s boat, and answered, in the most amiable
modulations of his beautiful voice: “Captain Allen is up at the house,
sir.”  But his expression changed suddenly at the savage growl: “What the
devil are you grinning at?” which acknowledged that information.

He watched Heemskirk land and, instead of going to the house, stride away
by another path into the grounds.

The desire-tormented Dutchman found old Nelson (or Nielsen) at his
drying-sheds, very busy superintending the manipulation of his tobacco
crop, which, though small, was of excellent quality, and enjoying himself
thoroughly.  But Heemskirk soon put a stop to this simple happiness.  He
sat down by the old chap, and by the sort of talk which he knew was best
calculated for the purpose, reduced him before long to a state of
concealed and perspiring nervousness.  It was a horrid talk of
“authorities,” and old Nelson tried to defend himself.  If he dealt with
English traders it was because he had to dispose of his produce somehow.
He was as conciliatory as he knew how to be, and this very thing seemed
to excite Heemskirk, who had worked himself up into a heavily breathing
state of passion.

“And the worst of them all is that Allen,” he growled.  “Your particular
friend—eh?  You have let in a lot of these Englishmen into this part.
You ought never to have been allowed to settle here.  Never.  What’s he
doing here now?”

Old Nelson (or Nielsen), becoming very agitated, declared that Jasper
Allen was no particular friend of his.  No friend at all—at all.  He had
bought three tons of rice from him to feed his workpeople on.  What sort
of evidence of friendship was that?  Heemskirk burst out at last with the
thought that had been gnawing at his vitals:

“Yes.  Sell three tons of rice and flirt three days with that girl of
yours.  I am speaking to you as a friend, Nielsen.  This won’t do.  You
are only on sufferance here.”

Old Nelson was taken aback at first, but recovered pretty quickly.  Won’t
do!  Certainly!  Of course, it wouldn’t do!  The last man in the world.
But his girl didn’t care for the fellow, and was too sensible to fall in
love with any one.  He was very earnest in impressing on Heemskirk his
own feeling of absolute security.  And the lieutenant, casting doubting
glances sideways, was yet willing to believe him.

“Much you know about it,” he grunted nevertheless.

“But I do know,” insisted old Nelson, with the greater desperation
because he wanted to resist the doubts arising in his own mind.  “My own
daughter!  In my own house, and I not to know!  Come!  It would be a good
joke, lieutenant.”

“They seem to be carrying on considerably,” remarked Heemskirk moodily.
“I suppose they are together now,” he added, feeling a pang which changed
what he meant for a mocking smile into a strange grimace.

The harassed Nelson shook his hand at him.  He was at bottom shocked at
this insistence, and was even beginning to feel annoyed at the absurdity
of it.

“Pooh!  Pooh!  I’ll tell you what, lieutenant: you go to the house and
have a drop of gin-and-bitters before dinner.  Ask for Freya.  I must see
the last of this tobacco put away for the night, but I’ll be along
presently.”

Heemskirk was not insensible to this suggestion.  It answered to his
secret longing, which was not a longing for drink, however.  Old Nelson
shouted solicitously after his broad back a recommendation to make
himself comfortable, and that there was a box of cheroots on the
verandah.

It was the west verandah that old Nelson meant, the one which was the
living-room of the house, and had split-rattan screens of the very finest
quality.  The east verandah, sacred to his own privacy, puffing out of
cheeks, and other signs of perplexed thinking, was fitted with stout
blinds of sailcloth.  The north verandah was not a verandah at all,
really.  It was more like a long balcony.  It did not communicate with
the other two, and could only be approached by a passage inside the
house.  Thus it had a privacy which made it a convenient place for a
maiden’s meditations without words, and also for the discourses,
apparently without sense, which, passing between a young man and a maid,
become pregnant with a diversity of transcendental meanings.

This north verandah was embowered with climbing plants.  Freya, whose
room opened out on it, had furnished it as a sort of boudoir for herself,
with a few cane chairs and a sofa of the same kind.  On this sofa she and
Jasper sat as close together as is possible in this imperfect world where
neither can a body be in two places at once nor yet two bodies can be in
one place at the same time.  They had been sitting together all the
afternoon, and I won’t say that their talk had been without sense.
Loving him with a little judicious anxiety lest in his elation he should
break his heart over some mishap, Freya naturally would talk to him
soberly.  He, nervous and brusque when away from her, appeared always as
if overcome by her visibility, by the great wonder of being palpably
loved.  An old man’s child, having lost his mother early, thrown out to
sea out of the way while very young, he had not much experience of
tenderness of any kind.

In this private, foliage-embowered verandah, and at this late hour of the
afternoon, he bent down a little, and, possessing himself of Freya’s
hands, was kissing them one after another, while she smiled and looked
down at his head with the eyes of approving compassion.  At that same
moment Heemskirk was approaching the house from the north.

Antonia was on the watch on that side.  But she did not keep a very good
watch.  The sun was setting; she knew that her young mistress and the
captain of the _Bonito_ were about to separate.  She was walking to and
fro in the dusky grove with a flower in her hair, and singing softly to
herself, when suddenly, within a foot of her, the lieutenant appeared
from behind a tree.  She bounded aside like a startled fawn, but
Heemskirk, with a lucid comprehension of what she was there for, pounced
upon her, and, catching her arm, clapped his other thick hand over her
mouth.

“If you try to make a noise I’ll twist your neck!”

This ferocious figure of speech terrified the girl sufficiently.
Heemskirk had seen plainly enough on the verandah Freya’s golden head
with another head very close to it.  He dragged the unresisting maid with
him by a circuitous way into the compound, where he dismissed her with a
vicious push in the direction of the cluster of bamboo huts for the
servants.

She was very much like the faithful camerista of Italian comedy, but in
her terror she bolted away without a sound from that thick, short,
black-eyed man with a cruel grip of fingers like a vice.  Quaking all
over at a distance, extremely scared and half inclined to laugh, she saw
him enter the house at the back.

The interior of the bungalow was divided by two passages crossing each
other in the middle.  At that point Heemskirk, by turning his head
slightly to the left as he passed, secured the evidence of “carrying on”
so irreconcilable with old Nelson’s assurances that it made him stagger,
with a rush of blood to his head.  Two white figures, distinct against
the light, stood in an unmistakable attitude.  Freya’s arms were round
Jasper’s neck.  Their faces were characteristically superimposed on each
other, and Heemskirk went on, his throat choked with a sudden rising of
curses, till on the west verandah he stumbled blindly against a chair and
then dropped into another as though his legs had been swept from under
him.  He had indulged too long in the habit of appropriating Freya to
himself in his thoughts.  “Is that how you entertain your visitors—you . . . ”
he thought, so outraged that he could not find a sufficiently
degrading epithet.

Freya struggled a little and threw her head back.

“Somebody has come in,” she whispered.  Jasper, holding her clasped
closely to his breast, and looking down into her face, suggested
casually:

“Your father.”

Freya tried to disengage herself, but she had not the heart absolutely to
push him away with her hands.

“I believe it’s Heemskirk,” she breathed out at him.

He, plunging into her eyes in a quiet rapture, was provoked to a vague
smile by the sound of the name.

“The ass is always knocking down my beacons outside the river,” he
murmured.  He attached no other meaning to Heemskirk’s existence; but
Freya was asking herself whether the lieutenant had seen them.

“Let me go, kid,” she ordered in a peremptory whisper.  Jasper obeyed,
and, stepping back at once, continued his contemplation of her face under
another angle.  “I must go and see,” she said to herself anxiously.

She instructed him hurriedly to wait a moment after she was gone and then
to slip on to the back verandah and get a quiet smoke before he showed
himself.

“Don’t stay late this evening,” was her last recommendation before she
left him.

Then Freya came out on the west verandah with her light, rapid step.
While going through the doorway she managed to shake down the folds of
the looped-up curtains at the end of the passage so as to cover Jasper’s
retreat from the bower.  Directly she appeared Heemskirk jumped up as if
to fly at her.  She paused and he made her an exaggerated low bow.

It irritated Freya.

“Oh!  It’s you, Mr. Heemskirk.  How do you do?”  She spoke in her usual
tone.  Her face was not plainly visible to him in the dusk of the deep
verandah.  He dared not trust himself to speak, his rage at what he had
seen was so great.  And when she added with serenity: “Papa will be
coming in before long,” he called her horrid names silently, to himself,
before he spoke with contorted lips.

“I have seen your father already.  We had a talk in the sheds.  He told
me some very interesting things.  Oh, very—”

Freya sat down.  She thought: “He has seen us, for certain.”  She was not
ashamed.  What she was afraid of was some foolish or awkward
complication.  But she could not conceive how much her person had been
appropriated by Heemskirk (in his thoughts).  She tried to be
conversational.

“You are coming now from Palembang, I suppose?”

“Eh?  What?  Oh, yes!  I come from Palembang.  Ha, ha, ha!  You know what
your father said?  He said he was afraid you were having a very dull time
of it here.”

“And I suppose you are going to cruise in the Moluccas,” continued Freya,
who wanted to impart some useful information to Jasper if possible.  At
the same time she was always glad to know that those two men were a few
hundred miles apart when not under her eye.

Heemskirk growled angrily.

“Yes.  Moluccas,” glaring in the direction of her shadowy figure.  “Your
father thinks it’s very quiet for you here.  I tell you what, Miss Freya.
There isn’t such a quiet spot on earth that a woman can’t find an
opportunity of making a fool of somebody.”

Freya thought: “I mustn’t let him provoke me.”  Presently the Tamil boy,
who was Nelson’s head servant, came in with the lights.  She addressed
him at once with voluble directions where to put the lamps, told him to
bring the tray with the gin and bitters, and to send Antonia into the
house.

“I will have to leave you to yourself, Mr. Heemskirk, for a while,” she
said.

And she went to her room to put on another frock.  She made a quick
change of it because she wished to be on the verandah before her father
and the lieutenant met again.  She relied on herself to regulate that
evening’s intercourse between these two.  But Antonia, still scared and
hysterical, exhibited a bruise on her arm which roused Freya’s
indignation.

“He jumped on me out of the bush like a tiger,” said the girl, laughing
nervously with frightened eyes.

“The brute!” thought Freya.  “He meant to spy on us, then.”  She was
enraged, but the recollection of the thick Dutchman in white trousers
wide at the hips and narrow at the ankles, with his shoulder-straps and
black bullet head, glaring at her in the light of the lamps, was so
repulsively comical that she could not help a smiling grimace.  Then she
became anxious.  The absurdities of three men were forcing this anxiety
upon her: Jasper’s impetuosity, her father’s fears, Heemskirk’s
infatuation.  She was very tender to the first two, and she made up her
mind to display all her feminine diplomacy.  All this, she said to
herself, will be over and done with before very long now.

Heemskirk on the verandah, lolling in a chair, his legs extended and his
white cap reposing on his stomach, was lashing himself into a fury of an
atrocious character altogether incomprehensible to a girl like Freya.
His chin was resting on his chest, his eyes gazed stonily at his shoes.
Freya examined him from behind the curtain.  He didn’t stir.  He was
ridiculous.  But this absolute stillness was impressive.  She stole back
along the passage to the east verandah, where Jasper was sitting quietly
in the dark, doing what he was told, like a good boy.

“Psst,” she hissed.  He was by her side in a moment.

“Yes.  What is it?” he murmured.

“It’s that beetle,” she whispered uneasily.  Under the impression of
Heemskirk’s sinister immobility she had half a mind to let Jasper know
that they had been seen.  But she was by no means certain that Heemskirk
would tell her father—and at any rate not that evening.  She concluded
rapidly that the safest thing would be to get Jasper out of the way as
soon as possible.

“What has he been doing?” asked Jasper in a calm undertone.

“Oh, nothing!  Nothing.  He sits there looking cross.  But you know how
he’s always worrying papa.”

“Your father’s quite unreasonable,” pronounced Jasper judicially.

“I don’t know,” she said in a doubtful tone.  Something of old Nelson’s
dread of the authorities had rubbed off on the girl since she had to live
with it day after day.  “I don’t know.  Papa’s afraid of being reduced to
beggary, as he says, in his old days.  Look here, kid, you had better
clear out to-morrow, first thing.”

Jasper had hoped for another afternoon with Freya, an afternoon of quiet
felicity with the girl by his side and his eyes on his brig, anticipating
a blissful future.  His silence was eloquent with disappointment, and
Freya understood it very well.  She, too, was disappointed.  But it was
her business to be sensible.

“We shan’t have a moment to ourselves with that beetle creeping round the
house,” she argued in a low, hurried voice.  “So what’s the good of your
staying?  And he won’t go while the brig’s here.  You know he won’t.”

“He ought to be reported for loitering,” murmured Jasper with a vexed
little laugh.

“Mind you get under way at daylight,” recommended Freya under her breath.

He detained her after the manner of lovers.  She expostulated without
struggling because it was hard for her to repulse him.  He whispered into
her ear while he put his arms round her.

“Next time we two meet, next time I hold you like this, it shall be on
board.  You and I, in the brig—all the world, all the life—”  And then he
flashed out: “I wonder I can wait!  I feel as if I must carry you off
now, at once.  I could run with you in my hands—down the path—without
stumbling—without touching the earth—”

She was still.  She listened to the passion in his voice.  She was saying
to herself that if she were to whisper the faintest yes, if she were but
to sigh lightly her consent, he would do it.  He was capable of doing
it—without touching the earth.  She closed her eyes and smiled in the
dark, abandoning herself in a delightful giddiness, for an instant, to
his encircling arm.  But before he could be tempted to tighten his grasp
she was out of it, a foot away from him and in full possession of
herself.

That was the steady Freya.  She was touched by the deep sigh which
floated up to her from the white figure of Jasper, who did not stir.

“You are a mad kid,” she said tremulously.  Then with a change of tone:
“No one could carry me off.  Not even you.  I am not the sort of girl
that gets carried off.”  His white form seemed to shrink a little before
the force of that assertion and she relented.  “Isn’t it enough for you
to know that you have—that you have carried me away?” she added in a
tender tone.

He murmured an endearing word, and she continued:

“I’ve promised you—I’ve said I would come—and I shall come of my own free
will.  You shall wait for me on board.  I shall get up the side—by
myself, and walk up to you on the deck and say: ‘Here I am, kid.’  And
then—and then I shall be carried off.  But it will be no man who will
carry me off—it will be the brig, your brig—our brig. . . . I love the
beauty!”

She heard an inarticulate sound, something like a moan wrung out by pain
or delight, and glided away.  There was that other man on the other
verandah, that dark, surly Dutchman who could make trouble between Jasper
and her father, bring about a quarrel, ugly words, and perhaps a physical
collision.  What a horrible situation!  But, even putting aside that
awful extremity, she shrank from having to live for some three months
with a wretched, tormented, angry, distracted, absurd man.  And when the
day came, the day and the hour, what should she do if her father tried to
detain her by main force—as was, after all, possible?  Could she actually
struggle with him hand to hand?  But it was of lamentations and
entreaties that she was really afraid.  Could she withstand them?  What
an odious, cruel, ridiculous position would that be!

“But it won’t be.  He’ll say nothing,” she thought as she came out
quickly on the west verandah, and, seeing that Heemskirk did not move,
sat down on a chair near the doorway and kept her eyes on him.  The
outraged lieutenant had not changed his attitude; only his cap had fallen
off his stomach and was lying on the floor.  His thick black eyebrows
were knitted by a frown, while he looked at her out of the corners of his
eyes.  And their sideways glance in conjunction with the hooked nose, the
whole bulky, ungainly, sprawling person, struck Freya as so comically
moody that, inwardly discomposed as she was, she could not help smiling.
She did her best to give that smile a conciliatory character.  She did
not want to provoke Heemskirk needlessly.

And the lieutenant, perceiving that smile, was mollified.  It never
entered his head that his outward appearance, a naval officer, in
uniform, could appear ridiculous to that girl of no position—the daughter
of old Nielsen.  The recollection of her arms round Jasper’s neck still
irritated and excited him.  “The hussy!” he thought.  “Smiling—eh?
That’s how you are amusing yourself.  Fooling your father finely, aren’t
you?  You have a taste for that sort of fun—have you?  Well, we shall
see—”  He did not alter his position, but on his pursed-up lips there
also appeared a smile of surly and ill-omened amusement, while his eyes
returned to the contemplation of his boots.

Freya felt hot with indignation.  She sat radiantly fair in the
lamplight, her strong, well-shaped hands lying one on top of the other in
her lap. . . “Odious creature,” she thought.  Her face coloured with
sudden anger.  “You have scared my maid out of her senses,” she said
aloud.  “What possessed you?”

He was thinking so deeply of her that the sound of her voice, pronouncing
these unexpected words, startled him extremely.  He jerked up his head
and looked so bewildered that Freya insisted impatiently:

“I mean Antonia.  You have bruised her arm.  What did you do it for?”

“Do you want to quarrel with me?” he asked thickly, with a sort of
amazement.  He blinked like an owl.  He was funny.  Freya, like all
women, had a keen sense of the ridiculous in outward appearance.

“Well, no; I don’t think I do.”  She could not help herself.  She laughed
outright, a clear, nervous laugh in which Heemskirk joined suddenly with
a harsh “Ha, ha, ha!”

Voices and footsteps were heard in the passage, and Jasper, with old
Nelson, came out.  Old Nelson looked at his daughter approvingly, for he
liked the lieutenant to be kept in good humour.  And he also joined
sympathetically in the laugh.  “Now, lieutenant, we shall have some
dinner,” he said, rubbing his hands cheerily.  Jasper had gone straight
to the balustrade.  The sky was full of stars, and in the blue velvety
night the cove below had a denser blackness, in which the riding-lights
of the brig and of the gunboat glimmered redly, like suspended sparks.
“Next time this riding-light glimmers down there, I’ll be waiting for her
on the quarter-deck to come and say ‘Here I am,’” Jasper thought; and his
heart seemed to grow bigger in his chest, dilated by an oppressive
happiness that nearly wrung out a cry from him.  There was no wind.  Not
a leaf below him stirred, and even the sea was but a still uncomplaining
shadow.  Far away on the unclouded sky the pale lightning, the
heat-lightning of the tropics, played tremulously amongst the low stars
in short, faint, mysteriously consecutive flashes, like incomprehensible
signals from some distant planet.

The dinner passed off quietly.  Freya sat facing her father, calm but
pale.  Heemskirk affected to talk only to old Nelson.  Jasper’s behaviour
was exemplary.  He kept his eyes under control, basking in the sense of
Freya’s nearness, as people bask in the sun without looking up to heaven.
And very soon after dinner was over, mindful of his instructions, he
declared that it was time for him to go on board his ship.

Heemskirk did not look up.  Ensconced in the rocking-chair, and puffing
at a cheroot, he had the air of meditating surlily over some odious
outbreak.  So at least it seemed to Freya.  Old Nelson said at once:
“I’ll stroll down with you.”  He had begun a professional conversation
about the dangers of the New Guinea coast, and wanted to relate to Jasper
some experience of his own “over there.”  Jasper was such a good
listener!  Freya made as if to accompany them, but her father frowned,
shook his head, and nodded significantly towards the immovable Heemskirk
blotting out smoke with half-closed eyes and protruded lips.  The
lieutenant must not be left alone.  Take offence, perhaps.

Freya obeyed these signs.  “Perhaps it is better for me to stay,” she
thought.  Women are not generally prone to review their own conduct,
still less to condemn it.  The embarrassing masculine absurdities are in
the main responsible for its ethics.  But, looking at Heemskirk, Freya
felt regret and even remorse.  His thick bulk in repose suggested the
idea of repletion, but as a matter of fact he had eaten very little.  He
had drunk a great deal, however.  The fleshy lobes of his unpleasant big
ears with deeply folded rims were crimson.  They quite flamed in the
neighbourhood of the flat, sallow cheeks.  For a considerable time he did
not raise his heavy brown eyelids.  To be at the mercy of such a creature
was humiliating; and Freya, who always ended by being frank with herself,
thought regretfully: “If only I had been open with papa from the first!
But then what an impossible life he would have led me!”  Yes.  Men were
absurd in many ways; lovably like Jasper, impracticably like her father,
odiously like that grotesquely supine creature in the chair.  Was it
possible to talk him over?  Perhaps it was not necessary?  “Oh!  I can’t
talk to him,” she thought.  And when Heemskirk, still without looking at
her, began resolutely to crush his half-smoked cheroot on the
coffee-tray, she took alarm, glided towards the piano, opened it in
tremendous haste, and struck the keys before she sat down.

In an instant the verandah, the whole carpetless wooden bungalow raised
on piles, became filled with an uproarious, confused resonance.  But
through it all she heard, she felt on the floor the heavy, prowling
footsteps of the lieutenant moving to and fro at her back.  He was not
exactly drunk, but he was sufficiently primed to make the suggestions of
his excited imagination seem perfectly feasible and even clever;
beautifully, unscrupulously clever.  Freya, aware that he had stopped
just behind her, went on playing without turning her head.  She played
with spirit, brilliantly, a fierce piece of music, but when his voice
reached her she went cold all over.  It was the voice, not the words.
The insolent familiarity of tone dismayed her to such an extent that she
could not understand at first what he was saying.  His utterance was
thick, too.

“I suspected. . . . Of course I suspected something of your little goings
on.  I am not a child.  But from suspecting to seeing—seeing, you
understand—there’s an enormous difference.  That sort of thing. . . .
Come!  One isn’t made of stone.  And when a man has been worried by a
girl as I have been worried by you, Miss Freya—sleeping and waking, then,
of course. . . . But I am a man of the world.  It must be dull for you
here . . . I say, won’t you leave off this confounded playing . . .?”

This last was the only sentence really which she made out.  She shook her
head negatively, and in desperation put on the loud pedal, but she could
not make the sound of the piano cover his raised voice.

“Only, I am surprised that you should. . . . An English trading skipper,
a common fellow.  Low, cheeky lot, infesting these islands.  I would make
short work of such trash!  While you have here a good friend, a gentleman
ready to worship at your feet—your pretty feet—an officer, a man of
family.  Strange, isn’t it?  But what of that!  You are fit for a
prince.”

Freya did not turn her head.  Her face went stiff with horror and
indignation.  This adventure was altogether beyond her conception of what
was possible.  It was not in her character to jump up and run away.  It
seemed to her, too, that if she did move there was no saying what might
happen.  Presently her father would be back, and then the other would
have to leave off.  It was best to ignore—to ignore.  She went on playing
loudly and correctly, as though she were alone, as if Heemskirk did not
exist.  That proceeding irritated him.

“Come!  You may deceive your father,” he bawled angrily, “but I am not to
be made a fool of!  Stop this infernal noise . . . Freya . . . Hey!  You
Scandinavian Goddess of Love!  Stop!  Do you hear?  That’s what you
are—of love.  But the heathen gods are only devils in disguise, and
that’s what you are, too—a deep little devil.  Stop it, I say, or I will
lift you off that stool!”

Standing behind her, he devoured her with his eyes, from the golden crown
of her rigidly motionless head to the heels of her shoes, the line of her
shapely shoulders, the curves of her fine figure swaying a little before
the keyboard.  She had on a light dress; the sleeves stopped short at the
elbows in an edging of lace.  A satin ribbon encircled her waist.  In an
access of irresistible, reckless hopefulness he clapped both his hands on
that waist—and then the irritating music stopped at last.  But, quick as
she was in springing away from the contact (the round music-stool going
over with a crash), Heemskirk’s lips, aiming at her neck, landed a
hungry, smacking kiss just under her ear.  A deep silence reigned for a
time.  And then he laughed rather feebly.

He was disconcerted somewhat by her white, still face, the big light
violet eyes resting on him stonily.  She had not uttered a sound.  She
faced him, steadying herself on the corner of the piano with one extended
hand.  The other went on rubbing with mechanical persistency the place
his lips had touched.

“What’s the trouble?” he said, offended.  “Startled you?  Look here:
don’t let us have any of that nonsense.  You don’t mean to say a kiss
frightens you so much as all that. . . . I know better. . . . I don’t
mean to be left out in the cold.”

He had been gazing into her face with such strained intentness that he
could no longer see it distinctly.  Everything round him was rather
misty.  He forgot the overturned stool, caught his foot against it, and
lurched forward slightly, saying in an ingratiating tone:

“I’m not bad fun, really.  You try a few kisses to begin with—”

He said no more, because his head received a terrific concussion,
accompanied by an explosive sound.  Freya had swung her round, strong arm
with such force that the impact of her open palm on his flat cheek turned
him half round.  Uttering a faint, hoarse yell, the lieutenant clapped
both his hands to the left side of his face, which had taken on suddenly
a dusky brick-red tinge.  Freya, very erect, her violet eyes darkened,
her palm still tingling from the blow, a sort of restrained determined
smile showing a tiny gleam of her white teeth, heard her father’s rapid,
heavy tread on the path below the verandah.  Her expression lost its
pugnacity and became sincerely concerned.  She was sorry for her father.
She stooped quickly to pick up the music-stool, as if anxious to
obliterate the traces. . . . But that was no good.  She had resumed her
attitude, one hand resting lightly on the piano, before old Nelson got up
to the top of the stairs.

Poor father!  How furious he will be—how upset!  And afterwards, what
tremors, what unhappiness!  Why had she not been open with him from the
first?  His round, innocent stare of amazement cut her to the quick.  But
he was not looking at her.  His stare was directed to Heemskirk, who,
with his back to him and with his hands still up to his face, was hissing
curses through his teeth, and (she saw him in profile) glaring at her
balefully with one black, evil eye.

“What’s the matter?” asked old Nelson, very much bewildered.

She did not answer him.  She thought of Jasper on the deck of the brig,
gazing up at the lighted bungalow, and she felt frightened.  It was a
mercy that one of them at least was on board out of the way.  She only
wished he were a hundred miles off.  And yet she was not certain that she
did.  Had Jasper been mysteriously moved that moment to reappear on the
verandah she would have thrown her consistency, her firmness, her
self-possession, to the winds, and flown into his arms.

“What is it?  What is it?” insisted the unsuspecting Nelson, getting
quite excited.  “Only this minute you were playing a tune, and—”

Freya, unable to speak in her apprehension of what was coming (she was
also fascinated by that black, evil, glaring eye), only nodded slightly
at the lieutenant, as much as to say: “Just look at him!”

“Why, yes!” exclaimed old Nelson.  “I see.  What on earth—”

Meantime he had cautiously approached Heemskirk, who, bursting into
incoherent imprecations, was stamping with both feet where he stood.  The
indignity of the blow, the rage of baffled purpose, the ridicule of the
exposure, and the impossibility of revenge maddened him to a point when
he simply felt he must howl with fury.

“Oh, oh, oh!” he howled, stamping across the verandah as though he meant
to drive his foot through the floor at every step.

“Why, is his face hurt?” asked the astounded old Nelson.  The truth
dawned suddenly upon his innocent mind.  “Dear me!” he cried,
enlightened.  “Get some brandy, quick, Freya. . . . You are subject to
it, lieutenant?  Fiendish, eh?  I know, I know!  Used to go crazy all of
a sudden myself in the time. . . . And the little bottle of laudanum from
the medicine-chest, too, Freya.  Look sharp. . . . Don’t you see he’s got
a toothache?”

And, indeed, what other explanation could have presented itself to the
guileless old Nelson, beholding this cheek nursed with both hands, these
wild glances, these stampings, this distracted swaying of the body?  It
would have demanded a preternatural acuteness to hit upon the true cause.
Freya had not moved.  She watched Heemskirk’s savagely inquiring, black
stare directed stealthily upon herself.  “Aha, you would like to be let
off!” she said to herself.  She looked at him unflinchingly, thinking it
out.  The temptation of making an end of it all without further trouble
was irresistible.  She gave an almost imperceptible nod of assent, and
glided away.

“Hurry up that brandy!” old Nelson shouted, as she disappeared in the
passage.

Heemskirk relieved his deeper feelings by a sudden string of curses in
Dutch and English which he sent after her.  He raved to his heart’s
content, flinging to and fro the verandah and kicking chairs out of his
way; while Nelson (or Nielsen), whose sympathy was profoundly stirred by
these evidences of agonising pain, hovered round his dear (and dreaded)
lieutenant, fussing like an old hen.

“Dear me, dear me!  Is it so bad?  I know well what it is.  I used to
frighten my poor wife sometimes.  Do you get it often like this,
lieutenant?”

Heemskirk shouldered him viciously out of his way, with a short, insane
laugh.  But his staggering host took it in good part; a man beside
himself with excruciating toothache is not responsible.

“Go into my room, lieutenant,” he suggested urgently.  “Throw yourself on
my bed.  We will get something to ease you in a minute.”

He seized the poor sufferer by the arm and forced him gently onwards to
the very bed, on which Heemskirk, in a renewed access of rage, flung
himself down with such force that he rebounded from the mattress to the
height of quite a foot.

“Dear me!” exclaimed the scared Nelson, and incontinently ran off to
hurry up the brandy and the laudanum, very angry that so little alacrity
was shown in relieving the tortures of his precious guest.  In the end he
got these things himself.

Half an hour later he stood in the inner passage of the house, surprised
by faint, spasmodic sounds of a mysterious nature, between laughter and
sobs.  He frowned; then went straight towards his daughter’s room and
knocked at the door.

Freya, her glorious fair hair framing her white face and rippling down a
dark-blue dressing-gown, opened it partly.

The light in the room was dim.  Antonia, crouching in a corner, rocked
herself backwards and forwards, uttering feeble moans.  Old Nelson had
not much experience in various kinds of feminine laughter, but he was
certain there had been laughter there.

“Very unfeeling, very unfeeling!” he said, with weighty displeasure.
“What is there so amusing in a man being in pain?  I should have thought
a woman—a young girl—”

“He was so funny,” murmured Freya, whose eyes glistened strangely in the
semi-obscurity of the passage.  “And then, you know, I don’t like him,”
she added, in an unsteady voice.

“Funny!” repeated old Nelson, amazed at this evidence of callousness in
one so young.  “You don’t like him!  Do you mean to say that, because you
don’t like him, you—Why, it’s simply cruel!  Don’t you know it’s about
the worst sort of pain there is?  Dogs have been known to go mad with
it.”

“He certainly seemed to have gone mad,” Freya said with an effort, as if
she were struggling with some hidden feeling.

But her father was launched.

“And you know how he is.  He notices everything.  He is a fellow to take
offence for the least little thing—regular Dutchman—and I want to keep
friendly with him.  It’s like this, my girl: if that rajah of ours were
to do something silly—and you know he is a sulky, rebellious beggar—and
the authorities took into their heads that my influence over him wasn’t
good, you would find yourself without a roof over your head—”

She cried: “What nonsense, father!” in a not very assured tone, and
discovered that he was angry, angry enough to achieve irony; yes, old
Nelson (or Nielsen), irony!  Just a gleam of it.

“Oh, of course, if you have means of your own—a mansion, a plantation
that I know nothing of—”  But he was not capable of sustained irony.  “I
tell you they would bundle me out of here,” he whispered forcibly;
“without compensation, of course.  I know these Dutch.  And the
lieutenant’s just the fellow to start the trouble going.  He has the ear
of influential officials.  I wouldn’t offend him for anything—for
anything—on no consideration whatever. . . . What did you say?”

It was only an inarticulate exclamation.  If she ever had a half-formed
intention of telling him everything she had given it up now.  It was
impossible, both out of regard for his dignity and for the peace of his
poor mind.

“I don’t care for him myself very much,” old Nelson’s subdued undertone
confessed in a sigh.  “He’s easier now,” he went on, after a silence.
“I’ve given him up my bed for the night.  I shall sleep on my verandah,
in the hammock.  No; I can’t say I like him either, but from that to
laugh at a man because he’s driven crazy with pain is a long way.  You’ve
surprised me, Freya.  That side of his face is quite flushed.”

Her shoulders shook convulsively under his hands, which he laid on her
paternally.  His straggly, wiry moustache brushed her forehead in a
good-night kiss.  She closed the door, and went away from it to the
middle of the room before she allowed herself a tired-out sort of laugh,
without buoyancy.

“Flushed!  A little flushed!” she repeated to herself.  “I hope so,
indeed!  A little—”

Her eyelashes were wet.  Antonia, in her corner, moaned and giggled, and
it was impossible to tell where the moans ended and the giggles began.

The mistress and the maid had been somewhat hysterical, for Freya, on
fleeing into her room, had found Antonia there, and had told her
everything.

“I have avenged you, my girl,” she exclaimed.

And then they had laughingly cried and cryingly laughed with
admonitions—“Ssh, not so loud!  Be quiet!” on one part, and interludes of
“I am so frightened. . . . He’s an evil man,” on the other.

Antonia was very much afraid of Heemskirk.  She was afraid of him because
of his personal appearance: because of his eyes and his eyebrows, and his
mouth and his nose and his limbs.  Nothing could be more rational.  And
she thought him an evil man, because, to her eyes, he looked evil.  No
ground for an opinion could be sounder.  In the dimness of the room, with
only a nightlight burning at the head of Freya’s bed, the camerista crept
out of her corner to crouch at the feet of her mistress, supplicating in
whispers:

“There’s the brig.  Captain Allen.  Let us run away at once—oh, let us
run away!  I am so frightened.  Let us!  Let us!”

“I!  Run away!” thought Freya to herself, without looking down at the
scared girl.  “Never.”

Both the resolute mistress under the mosquito-net and the frightened maid
lying curled up on a mat at the foot of the bed did not sleep very well
that night.  The person that did not sleep at all was Lieutenant
Heemskirk.  He lay on his back staring vindictively in the darkness.
Inflaming images and humiliating reflections succeeded each other in his
mind, keeping up, augmenting his anger.  A pretty tale this to get about!
But it must not be allowed to get about.  The outrage had to be swallowed
in silence.  A pretty affair!  Fooled, led on, and struck by the girl—and
probably fooled by the father, too.  But no.  Nielsen was but another
victim of that shameless hussy, that brazen minx, that sly, laughing,
kissing, lying . . .

“No; he did not deceive me on purpose,” thought the tormented lieutenant.
“But I should like to pay him off, all the same, for being such an
imbecile—”

Well, some day, perhaps.  One thing he was firmly resolved on: he had
made up his mind to steal early out of the house.  He did not think he
could face the girl without going out of his mind with fury.

“Fire and perdition!  Ten thousand devils!  I shall choke here before the
morning!” he muttered to himself, lying rigid on his back on old Nelson’s
bed, his breast heaving for air.

He arose at daylight and started cautiously to open the door.  Faint
sounds in the passage alarmed him, and remaining concealed he saw Freya
coming out.  This unexpected sight deprived him of all power to move away
from the crack of the door.  It was the narrowest crack possible, but
commanding the view of the end of the verandah.  Freya made for that end
hastily to watch the brig passing the point.  She wore her dark
dressing-gown; her feet were bare, because, having fallen asleep towards
the morning, she ran out headlong in her fear of being too late.
Heemskirk had never seen her looking like this, with her hair drawn back
smoothly to the shape of her head, and hanging in one heavy, fair tress
down her back, and with that air of extreme youth, intensity, and
eagerness.  And at first he was amazed, and then he gnashed his teeth.
He could not face her at all.  He muttered a curse, and kept still behind
the door.

With a low, deep-breathed “Ah!” when she first saw the brig already under
way, she reached for Nelson’s long glass reposing on brackets high up the
wall.  The wide sleeve of the dressing-gown slipped back, uncovering her
white arm as far as the shoulder.  Heemskirk gripping the door-handle, as
if to crush it, felt like a man just risen to his feet from a drinking
bout.

And Freya knew that he was watching her.  She knew.  She had seen the
door move as she came out of the passage.  She was aware of his eyes
being on her, with scornful bitterness, with triumphant contempt.

“You are there,” she thought, levelling the long glass.  “Oh, well, look
on, then!”

The green islets appeared like black shadows, the ashen sea was smooth as
glass, the clear robe of the colourless dawn, in which even the brig
appeared shadowy, had a hem of light in the east.  Directly Freya had
made out Jasper on deck, with his own long glass directed to the
bungalow, she laid hers down and raised both her beautiful white arms
above her head.  In that attitude of supreme cry she stood still, glowing
with the consciousness of Jasper’s adoration going out to her figure held
in the field of his glass away there, and warmed, too, by the feeling of
evil passion, the burning, covetous eyes of the other, fastened on her
back.  In the fervour of her love, in the caprice of her mind, and with
that mysterious knowledge of masculine nature women seem to be born to,
she thought:

“You are looking on—you will—you must!  Then you shall see something.”

She brought both her hands to her lips, then flung them out, sending a
kiss over the sea, as if she wanted to throw her heart along with it on
the deck of the brig.  Her face was rosy, her eyes shone.  Her repeated,
passionate gesture seemed to fling kisses by the hundred again and again
and again, while the slowly ascending sun brought the glory of colour to
the world, turning the islets green, the sea blue, the brig below her
white—dazzlingly white in the spread of her wings—with the red ensign
streaming like a tiny flame from the peak.

And each time she murmured with a rising inflexion:

“Take this—and this—and this—” till suddenly her arms fell.  She had seen
the ensign dipped in response, and next moment the point below hid the
hull of the brig from her view.  Then she turned away from the
balustrade, and, passing slowly before the door of her father’s room with
her eyelids lowered, and an enigmatic expression on her face, she
disappeared behind the curtain.

But instead of going along the passage, she remained concealed and very
still on the other side to watch what would happen.  For some time the
broad, furnished verandah remained empty.  Then the door of old Nelson’s
room came open suddenly, and Heemskirk staggered out.  His hair was
rumpled, his eyes bloodshot, his unshaven face looked very dark.  He
gazed wildly about, saw his cap on a table, snatched it up, and made for
the stairs quietly, but with a strange, tottering gait, like the last
effort of waning strength.

Shortly after his head had sunk below the level of the floor, Freya came
out from behind the curtain, with compressed, scheming lips, and no
softness at all in her luminous eyes.  He could not be allowed to sneak
off scot free.  Never—never!  She was excited, she tingled all over, she
had tasted blood!  He must be made to understand that she had been aware
of having been watched; he must know that he had been seen slinking off
shamefully.  But to run to the front rail and shout after him would have
been childish, crude—undignified.  And to shout—what?  What word?  What
phrase?  No; it was impossible.  Then how? . . . She frowned, discovered
it, dashed at the piano, which had stood open all night, and made the
rosewood monster growl savagery in an irritated bass.  She struck chords
as if firing shots after that straddling, broad figure in ample white
trousers and a dark uniform jacket with gold shoulder-straps, and then
she pursued him with the same thing she had played the evening before—a
modern, fierce piece of love music which had been tried more than once
against the thunderstorms of the group.  She accentuated its rhythm with
triumphant malice, so absorbed in her purpose that she did not notice the
presence of her father, who, wearing an old threadbare ulster of a check
pattern over his sleeping suit, had run out from the back verandah to
inquire the reason of this untimely performance.  He stared at her.

“What on earth? . . . Freya!”  His voice was nearly drowned by the piano.
“What’s become of the lieutenant?” he shouted.

She looked up at him as if her soul were lost in her music, with unseeing
eyes.

“Gone.”

“Wha-a-t? . . . Where?”

She shook her head slightly, and went on playing louder than before.  Old
Nelson’s innocently anxious gaze starting from the open door of his room,
explored the whole place high and low, as if the lieutenant were
something small which might have been crawling on the floor or clinging
to a wall.  But a shrill whistle coming somewhere from below pierced the
ample volume of sound rolling out of the piano in great, vibrating waves.
The lieutenant was down at the cove, whistling for the boat to come and
take him off to his ship.  And he seemed to be in a terrific hurry, too,
for he whistled again almost directly, waited for a moment, and then sent
out a long, interminable, shrill call as distressful to hear as though he
had shrieked without drawing breath.  Freya ceased playing suddenly.

“Going on board,” said old Nelson, perturbed by the event.  “What could
have made him clear out so early?  Queer chap.  Devilishly touchy, too!
I shouldn’t wonder if it was your conduct last night that hurt his
feelings?  I noticed you, Freya.  You as well as laughed in his face,
while he was suffering agonies from neuralgia.  It isn’t the way to get
yourself liked.  He’s offended with you.”

Freya’s hands now reposed passive on the keys; she bowed her fair head,
feeling a sudden discontent, a nervous lassitude, as though she had
passed through some exhausting crisis.  Old Nelson (or Nielsen), looking
aggrieved, was revolving matters of policy in his bald head.

“I think it would be right for me to go on board just to inquire, some
time this morning,” he declared fussily.  “Why don’t they bring me my
morning tea?  Do you hear, Freya?  You have astonished me, I must say.  I
didn’t think a young girl could be so unfeeling.  And the lieutenant
thinks himself a friend of ours, too!  What?  No?  Well, he calls himself
a friend, and that’s something to a person in my position.  Certainly!
Oh, yes, I must go on board.”

“Must you?” murmured Freya listlessly; then added, in her thought: “Poor
man!”



CHAPTER V


IN respect of the next seven weeks, all that is necessary to say is,
first, that old Nelson (or Nielsen) failed in paying his politic call.
The _Neptun_ gunboat of H.M. the King of the Netherlands, commanded by an
outraged and infuriated lieutenant, left the cove at an unexpectedly
early hour.  When Freya’s father came down to the shore, after seeing his
precious crop of tobacco spread out properly in the sun, she was already
steaming round the point.  Old Nelson regretted the circumstance for many
days.

“Now, I don’t know in what disposition the man went away,” he lamented to
his hard daughter.  He was amazed at her hardness.  He was almost
frightened by her indifference.

Next, it must be recorded that the same day the gunboat _Neptun_,
steering east, passed the brig _Bonito_ becalmed in sight of Carimata,
with her head to the eastward, too.  Her captain, Jasper Allen, giving
himself up consciously to a tender, possessive reverie of his Freya, did
not get out of his long chair on the poop to look at the _Neptun_ which
passed so close that the smoke belching out suddenly from her short black
funnel rolled between the masts of the Bonito, obscuring for a moment the
sunlit whiteness of her sails, consecrated to the service of love.
Jasper did not even turn his head for a glance.  But Heemskirk, on the
bridge, had gazed long and earnestly at the brig from the distance,
gripping hard the brass rail in front of him, till, the two ships
closing, he lost all confidence in himself, and retreating to the
chartroom, pulled the door to with a crash.  There, his brows knitted,
his mouth drawn on one side in sardonic meditation, he sat through many
still hours—a sort of Prometheus in the bonds of unholy desire, having
his very vitals torn by the beak and claws of humiliated passion.

That species of fowl is not to be shooed off as easily as a chicken.
Fooled, cheated, deceived, led on, outraged, mocked at—beak and claws!  A
sinister bird!  The lieutenant had no mind to become the talk of the
Archipelago, as the naval officer who had had his face slapped by a girl.
Was it possible that she really loved that rascally trader?  He tried not
to think, but, worse than thoughts, definite impressions beset him in his
retreat.  He saw her—a vision plain, close to, detailed, plastic,
coloured, lighted up—he saw her hanging round the neck of that fellow.
And he shut his eyes, only to discover that this was no remedy.  Then a
piano began to play near by, very plainly; and he put his fingers to his
ears with no better effect.  It was not to be borne—not in solitude.  He
bolted out of the chartroom, and talked of indifferent things somewhat
wildly with the officer of the watch on the bridge, to the mocking
accompaniment of a ghostly piano.

The last thing to be recorded is that Lieutenant Heemskirk instead of
pursuing his course towards Ternate, where he was expected, went out of
his way to call at Makassar, where no one was looking for his arrival.
Once there, he gave certain explanations and laid a certain proposal
before the governor, or some other authority, and obtained permission to
do what he thought fit in these matters.  Thereupon the _Neptun_, giving
up Ternate altogether, steamed north in view of the mountainous coast of
Celebes, and then crossing the broad straits took up her station on the
low coast of virgin forests, inviolate and mute, in waters phosphorescent
at night; deep blue in daytime with gleaming green patches over the
submerged reefs.  For days the _Neptun_ could be seen moving smoothly up
and down the sombre face of the shore, or hanging about with a watchful
air near the silvery breaks of broad estuaries, under the great luminous
sky never softened, never veiled, and flooding the earth with the
everlasting sunshine of the tropics—that sunshine which, in its unbroken
splendour, oppresses the soul with an inexpressible melancholy more
intimate, more penetrating, more profound than the grey sadness of the
northern mists.

                                . . . . .

The trading brig _Bonito_ appeared gliding round a sombre forest-clad
point of land on the silvery estuary of a great river.  The breath of air
that gave her motion would not have fluttered the flame of a torch.  She
stole out into the open from behind a veil of unstirring leaves,
mysteriously silent, ghostly white, and solemnly stealthy in her
imperceptible progress; and Jasper, his elbow in the main rigging, and
his head leaning against his hand, thought of Freya.  Everything in the
world reminded him of her.  The beauty of the loved woman exists in the
beauties of Nature.  The swelling outlines of the hills, the curves of a
coast, the free sinuosities of a river are less suave than the harmonious
lines of her body, and when she moves, gliding lightly, the grace of her
progress suggests the power of occult forces which rule the fascinating
aspects of the visible world.

Dependent on things as all men are, Jasper loved his vessel—the house of
his dreams.  He lent to her something of Freya’s soul.  Her deck was the
foothold of their love.  The possession of his brig appeased his passion
in a soothing certitude of happiness already conquered.

The full moon was some way up, perfect and serene, floating in air as
calm and limpid as the glance of Freya’s eyes.  There was not a sound in
the brig.

“Here she shall stand, by my side, on evenings like this,” he thought,
with rapture.

And it was at that moment, in this peace, in this serenity, under the
full, benign gaze of the moon propitious to lovers, on a sea without a
wrinkle, under a sky without a cloud, as if all Nature had assumed its
most clement mood in a spirit of mockery, that the gunboat _Neptun_,
detaching herself from the dark coast under which she had been lying
invisible, steamed out to intercept the trading brig _Bonito_ standing
out to sea.

Directly the gunboat had been made out emerging from her ambush, Schultz,
of the fascinating voice, had given signs of strange agitation.  All that
day, ever since leaving the Malay town up the river, he had shown a
haggard face, going about his duties like a man with something weighing
on his mind.  Jasper had noticed it, but the mate, turning away, as
though he had not liked being looked at, had muttered shamefacedly of a
headache and a touch of fever.  He must have had it very badly when,
dodging behind his captain he wondered aloud: “What can that fellow want
with us?” . . . A naked man standing in a freezing blast and trying not
to shiver could not have spoken with a more harshly uncertain intonation.
But it might have been fever—a cold fit.

“He wants to make himself disagreeable, simply,” said Jasper, with
perfect good humour.  “He has tried it on me before.  However, we shall
soon see.”

And, indeed, before long the two vessels lay abreast within easy hail.
The brig, with her fine lines and her white sails, looked vaporous and
sylph-like in the moonlight.  The gunboat, short, squat, with her stumpy
dark spars naked like dead trees, raised against the luminous sky of that
resplendent night, threw a heavy shadow on the lane of water between the
two ships.

Freya haunted them both like an ubiquitous spirit, and as if she were the
only woman in the world.  Jasper remembered her earnest recommendation to
be guarded and cautious in all his acts and words while he was away from
her.  In this quite unforeseen encounter he felt on his ear the very
breath of these hurried admonitions customary to the last moment of their
partings, heard the half-jesting final whisper of the “Mind, kid, I’d
never forgive you!” with a quick pressure on his arm, which he answered
by a quiet, confident smile.  Heemskirk was haunted in another fashion.
There were no whispers in it; it was more like visions.  He saw that girl
hanging round the neck of a low vagabond—that vagabond, the vagabond who
had just answered his hail.  He saw her stealing bare-footed across a
verandah with great, clear, wide-open, eager eyes to look at a brig—that
brig.  If she had shrieked, scolded, called names! . . . But she had
simply triumphed over him.  That was all.  Led on (he firmly believed
it), fooled, deceived, outraged, struck, mocked at. . . . Beak and claws!
The two men, so differently haunted by Freya of the Seven Isles, were not
equally matched.

In the intense stillness, as of sleep, which had fallen upon the two
vessels, in a world that itself seemed but a delicate dream, a boat
pulled by Javanese sailors crossing the dark lane of water came alongside
the brig.  The white warrant officer in her, perhaps the gunner, climbed
aboard.  He was a short man, with a rotund stomach and a wheezy voice.
His immovable fat face looked lifeless in the moonlight, and he walked
with his thick arms hanging away from his body as though he had been
stuffed.  His cunning little eyes glittered like bits of mica.  He
conveyed to Jasper, in broken English, a request to come on board the
_Neptun_.

Jasper had not expected anything so unusual.  But after a short
reflection he decided to show neither annoyance, nor even surprise.  The
river from which he had come had been politically disturbed for a couple
of years, and he was aware that his visits there were looked upon with
some suspicion.  But he did not mind much the displeasure of the
authorities, so terrifying to old Nelson.  He prepared to leave the brig,
and Schultz followed him to the rail as if to say something, but in the
end stood by in silence.  Jasper getting over the side, noticed his
ghastly face.  The eyes of the man who had found salvation in the brig
from the effects of his peculiar psychology looked at him with a dumb,
beseeching expression.

“What’s the matter?” Jasper asked.

“I wonder how this will end?” said he of the beautiful voice, which had
even fascinated the steady Freya herself.  But where was its charming
timbre now?  These words had sounded like a raven’s croak.

“You are ill,” said Jasper positively.

“I wish I were dead!” was the startling statement uttered by Schultz
talking to himself in the extremity of some mysterious trouble.  Jasper
gave him a keen glance, but this was not the time to investigate the
morbid outbreak of a feverish man.  He did not look as though he were
actually delirious, and that for the moment must suffice.  Schultz made a
dart forward.

“That fellow means harm!” he said desperately.  “He means harm to you,
Captain Allen.  I feel it, and I—”

He choked with inexplicable emotion.

“All right, Schultz.  I won’t give him an opening.”  Jasper cut him short
and swung himself into the boat.

On board the _Neptun_ Heemskirk, standing straddle-legs in the flood of
moonlight, his inky shadow falling right across the quarter-deck, made no
sign at his approach, but secretly he felt something like the heave of
the sea in his chest at the sight of that man.  Jasper waited before him
in silence.

Brought face to face in direct personal contact, they fell at once into
the manner of their casual meetings in old Nelson’s bungalow.  They
ignored each other’s existence—Heemskirk moodily; Jasper, with a
perfectly colourless quietness.

“What’s going on in that river you’ve just come out of?” asked the
lieutenant straight away.

“I know nothing of the troubles, if you mean that,” Jasper answered.
“I’ve landed there half a cargo of rice, for which I got nothing in
exchange, and went away.  There’s no trade there now, but they would have
been starving in another week—if I hadn’t turned up.”

“Meddling!  English meddling!  And suppose the rascals don’t deserve
anything better than to starve, eh?”

“There are women and children there, you know,” observed Jasper, in his
even tone.

“Oh, yes!  When an Englishman talks of women and children, you may be
sure there’s something fishy about the business.  Your doings will have
to be investigated.”

They spoke in turn, as though they had been disembodied spirits—mere
voices in empty air; for they looked at each other as if there had been
nothing there, or, at most, with as much recognition as one gives to an
inanimate object, and no more.  But now a silence fell.  Heemskirk had
thought, all at once: “She will tell him all about it.  She will tell him
while she hangs round his neck laughing.”  And the sudden desire to
annihilate Jasper on the spot almost deprived him of his senses by its
vehemence.  He lost the power of speech, of vision.  For a moment he
absolutely couldn’t see Jasper.  But he heard him inquiring, as of the
world at large:

“Am I, then, to conclude that the brig is detained?”

Heemskirk made a recovery in a flush of malignant satisfaction.

“She is.  I am going to take her to Makassar in tow.”

“The courts will have to decide on the legality of this,” said Jasper,
aware that the matter was becoming serious, but with assumed
indifference.

“Oh, yes, the courts!  Certainly.  And as to you, I shall keep you on
board here.”

Jasper’s dismay at being parted from his ship was betrayed by a stony
immobility.  It lasted but an instant.  Then he turned away and hailed
the brig.  Mr. Schultz answered:

“Yes, sir.”

“Get ready to receive a tow-rope from the gunboat!  We are going to be
taken to Makassar.”

“Good God!  What’s that for, sir?” came an anxious cry faintly.

“Kindness, I suppose,” Jasper, ironical, shouted with great deliberation.
“We might have been—becalmed in here—for days.  And hospitality.  I am
invited to stay—on board here.”

The answer to this information was a loud ejaculation of distress.
Jasper thought anxiously: “Why, the fellow’s nerve’s gone to pieces;” and
with an awkward uneasiness of a new sort, looked intently at the brig.
The thought that he was parted from her—for the first time since they
came together—shook the apparently careless fortitude of his character to
its very foundations, which were deep.  All that time neither Heemskirk
nor even his inky shadow had stirred in the least.

“I am going to send a boat’s crew and an officer on board your vessel,”
he announced to no one in particular.  Jasper, tearing himself away from
the absorbed contemplation of the brig, turned round, and, without
passion, almost without expression in his voice, entered his protest
against the whole of the proceedings.  What he was thinking of was the
delay.  He counted the days.  Makassar was actually on his way; and to be
towed there really saved time.  On the other hand, there would be some
vexing formalities to go through.  But the thing was too absurd.  “The
beetle’s gone mad,” he thought.  “I’ll be released at once.  And if not,
Mesman must enter into a bond for me.”  Mesman was a Dutch merchant with
whom Jasper had had many dealings, a considerable person in Makassar.

“You protest?  H’m!” Heemskirk muttered, and for a little longer remained
motionless, his legs planted well apart, and his head lowered as though
he were studying his own comical, deeply-split shadow.  Then he made a
sign to the rotund gunner, who had kept at hand, motionless, like a
vilely-stuffed specimen of a fat man, with a lifeless face and glittering
little eyes.  The fellow approached, and stood at attention.

“You will board the brig with a boat’s crew!”

“Ya, mynherr!”

“You will have one of your men to steer her all the time,” went on
Heemskirk, giving his orders in English, apparently for Jasper’s
edification.  “You hear?”

“Ya, mynherr.”

“You will remain on deck and in charge all the time.”

“Ya, mynherr.”

Jasper felt as if, together with the command of the brig, his very heart
were being taken out of his breast.  Heemskirk asked, with a change of
tone:

“What weapons have you on board?”

At one time all the ships trading in the China Seas had a licence to
carry a certain quantity of firearms for purposes of defence.  Jasper
answered:

“Eighteen rifles with their bayonets, which were on board when I bought
her, four years ago.  They have been declared.”

“Where are they kept?”

“Fore-cabin.  Mate has the key.”

“You will take possession of them,” said Heemskirk to the gunner.

“Ya, mynherr.”

“What is this for?  What do you mean to imply?” cried out Jasper; then
bit his lip.  “It’s monstrous!” he muttered.

Heemskirk raised for a moment a heavy, as if suffering, glance.

“You may go,” he said to his gunner.  The fat man saluted, and departed.

During the next thirty hours the steady towing was interrupted once.  At
a signal from the brig, made by waving a flag on the forecastle, the
gunboat was stopped.  The badly-stuffed specimen of a warrant-officer,
getting into his boat, arrived on board the _Neptun_ and hurried straight
into his commander’s cabin, his excitement at something he had to
communicate being betrayed by the blinking of his small eyes.  These two
were closeted together for some time, while Jasper at the taffrail tried
to make out if anything out of the common had occurred on board the brig.

But nothing seemed to be amiss on board.  However, he kept a look-out for
the gunner; and, though he had avoided speaking to anybody since he had
finished with Heemskirk, he stopped that man when he came out on deck
again to ask how his mate was.

“He was feeling not very well when I left,” he explained.

The fat warrant-officer, holding himself as though the effort of carrying
his big stomach in front of him demanded a rigid carriage, understood
with difficulty.  Not a single one of his features showed the slightest
animation, but his little eyes blinked rapidly at last.

“Oh, ya!  The mate.  Ya, ya!  He is very well.  But, mein Gott, he is one
very funny man!”

Jasper could get no explanation of that remark, because the Dutchman got
into the boat hurriedly, and went back on board the brig.  But he
consoled himself with the thought that very soon all this unpleasant and
rather absurd experience would be over.  The roadstead of Makassar was in
sight already.  Heemskirk passed by him going on the bridge.  For the
first time the lieutenant looked at Jasper with marked intention; and the
strange roll of his eyes was so funny—it had been long agreed by Jasper
and Freya that the lieutenant was funny—so ecstatically gratified, as
though he were rolling a tasty morsel on his tongue, that Jasper could
not help a broad smile.  And then he turned to his brig again.

To see her, his cherished possession, animated by something of his
Freya’s soul, the only foothold of two lives on the wide earth, the
security of his passion, the companion of adventure, the power to snatch
the calm, adorable Freya to his breast, and carry her off to the end of
the world; to see this beautiful thing embodying worthily his pride and
his love, to see her captive at the end of a tow-rope was not indeed a
pleasant experience.  It had something nightmarish in it, as, for
instance, the dream of a wild sea-bird loaded with chains.

Yet what else could he want to look at?  Her beauty would sometimes come
to his heart with the force of a spell, so that he would forget where he
was.  And, besides, that sense of superiority which the certitude of
being loved gives to a young man, that illusion of being set above the
Fates by a tender look in a woman’s eyes, helped him, the first shock
over, to go through these experiences with an amused self-confidence.
For what evil could touch the elect of Freya?

It was now afternoon, the sun being behind the two vessels as they headed
for the harbour.  “The beetle’s little joke shall soon be over,” thought
Jasper, without any great animosity.  As a seaman well acquainted with
that part of the world, a casual glance was enough to tell him what was
being done.  “Hallo,” he thought, “he is going through Spermonde Passage.
We shall be rounding Tamissa reef presently.”  And again he returned to
the contemplation of his brig, that main-stay of his material and
emotional existence which would be soon in his hands again.  On a sea,
calm like a millpond, a heavy smooth ripple undulated and streamed away
from her bows, for the powerful _Neptun_ was towing at great speed, as if
for a wager.  The Dutch gunner appeared on the forecastle of the
_Bonito_, and with him a couple of men.  They stood looking at the coast,
and Jasper lost himself in a loverlike trance.

The deep-toned blast of the gunboat’s steam-whistle made him shudder by
its unexpectedness.  Slowly he looked about.  Swift as lightning he
leaped from where he stood, bounding forward along the deck.

“You will be on Tamissa reef!” he yelled.

High up on the bridge Heemskirk looked back over his shoulder heavily;
two seamen were spinning the wheel round, and the _Neptun_ was already
swinging rapidly away from the edge of the pale water over the danger.
Ha! just in time.  Jasper turned about instantly to watch his brig; and,
even before he realised that—in obedience, it appears, to Heemskirk’s
orders given beforehand to the gunner—the tow-rope had been let go at the
blast of the whistle, before he had time to cry out or to move a limb, he
saw her cast adrift and shooting across the gunboat’s stern with the
impetus of her speed.  He followed her fine, gliding form with eyes
growing big with incredulity, wild with horror.  The cries on board of
her came to him only as a dreadful and confused murmur through the loud
thumping of blood in his ears, while she held on.  She ran upright in a
terrible display of her gift of speed, with an incomparable air of life
and grace.  She ran on till the smooth level of water in front of her
bows seemed to sink down suddenly as if sucked away; and, with a strange,
violent tremor of her mast-heads she stopped, inclined her lofty spars a
little, and lay still.  She lay still on the reef, while the _Neptun_,
fetching a wide circle, continued at full speed up Spermonde Passage,
heading for the town.  She lay still, perfectly still, with something
ill-omened and unnatural in her attitude.  In an instant the subtle
melancholy of things touched by decay had fallen on her in the sunshine;
she was but a speck in the brilliant emptiness of space, already lonely,
already desolate.

“Hold him!” yelled a voice from the bridge.

Jasper had started to run to his brig with a headlong impulse, as a man
dashes forward to pull away with his hands a living, breathing, loved
creature from the brink of destruction.  “Hold him!  Stick to him!”
vociferated the lieutenant at the top of the bridge-ladder, while Jasper
struggled madly without a word, only his head emerging from the heaving
crowd of the _Neptun’s_ seamen, who had flung themselves upon him
obediently.  “Hold—I would not have that fellow drown himself for
anything now!”

Jasper ceased struggling.

One by one they let go of him; they fell back gradually farther and
farther, in attentive silence, leaving him standing unsupported in a
widened, clear space, as if to give him plenty of room to fall after the
struggle.  He did not even sway perceptibly.  Half an hour later, when
the _Neptun_ anchored in front of the town, he had not stirred yet, had
moved neither head nor limb as much as a hair’s breadth.  Directly the
rumble of the gunboat’s cable had ceased, Heemskirk came down heavily
from the bridge.

“Call a sampan” he said, in a gloomy tone, as he passed the sentry at the
gangway, and then moved on slowly towards the spot where Jasper, the
object of many awed glances, stood looking at the deck, as if lost in a
brown study.  Heemskirk came up close, and stared at him thoughtfully,
with his fingers over his lips.  Here he was, the favoured vagabond, the
only man to whom that infernal girl was likely to tell the story.  But he
would not find it funny.  The story how Lieutenant Heemskirk—No, he would
not laugh at it.  He looked as though he would never laugh at anything in
his life.

Suddenly Jasper looked up.  His eyes, without any other expression but
bewilderment, met those of Heemskirk, observant and sombre.

“Gone on the reef!” he said, in a low, astounded tone.  “On-the-reef!” he
repeated still lower, and as if attending inwardly to the birth of some
awful and amazing sensation.

“On the very top of high-water, spring tides,” Heemskirk struck in, with
a vindictive, exulting violence which flashed and expired.  He paused, as
if weary, fixing upon Jasper his arrogant eyes, over which secret
disenchantment, the unavoidable shadow of all passion, seemed to pass
like a saddening cloud.  “On the very top,” he repeated, rousing himself
in fierce reaction to snatch his laced cap off his head with a
horizontal, derisive flourish towards the gangway.  “And now you may go
ashore to the courts, you damned Englishman!” he said.



CHAPTER VI


THE affair of the brig _Bonito_ was bound to cause a sensation in
Makassar, the prettiest, and perhaps the cleanest-looking of all the
towns in the Islands; which however knows few occasions for excitement.
The “front,” with its special population, was soon aware that something
had happened.  A steamer towing a sailing vessel had been observed far
out to sea for some time, and when the steamer came in alone, leaving the
other outside, attention was aroused.  Why was that?  Her masts only
could be seen—with furled sails—remaining in the same place to the
southward.  And soon the rumour ran all along the crowded seashore street
that there was a ship on Tamissa reef.  That crowd interpreted the
appearance correctly.  Its cause was beyond their penetration, for who
could associate a girl nine hundred miles away with the stranding of a
ship on Tamissa reef, or look for the remote filiation of that event in
the psychology of at least three people, even if one of them, Lieutenant
Heemskirk, was at that very moment passing amongst them on his way to
make his verbal report?

No; the minds on the “front” were not competent for that sort of
investigation, but many hands there—brown hands, yellow hands, white
hands—were raised to shade the eyes gazing out to sea.  The rumour spread
quickly.  Chinese shopkeepers came to their doors, more than one white
merchant, even, rose from his desk to go to the window.  After all, a
ship on Tamissa was not an everyday occurrence.  And presently the rumour
took a more definite shape.  An English trader—detained on suspicion at
sea by the _Neptun_—Heemskirk was towing him in to test a case, and by
some strange accident—

Later on the name came out.  “The _Bonito_—what!  Impossible!  Yes—yes,
the _Bonito_.  Look!  You can see from here; only two masts.  It’s a
brig.  Didn’t think that man would ever let himself be caught.
Heemskirk’s pretty smart, too.  They say she’s fitted out in her cabin
like a gentleman’s yacht.  That Allen is a sort of gentleman too.  An
extravagant beggar.”

A young man entered smartly Messrs. Mesman Brothers’ office on the
“front,” bubbling with some further information.

“Oh, yes; that’s the _Bonito_ for certain!  But you don’t know the story
I’ve heard just now.  The fellow must have been feeding that river with
firearms for the last year or two.  Well, it seems he has grown so
reckless from long impunity that he has actually dared to sell the very
ship’s rifles this time.  It’s a fact.  The rifles are not on board.
What impudence!  Only, he didn’t know that there was one of our warships
on the coast.  But those Englishmen are so impudent that perhaps he
thought that nothing would be done to him for it.  Our courts do let off
these fellows too often, on some miserable excuse or other.  But, at any
rate, there’s an end of the famous _Bonito_.  I have just heard in the
harbour-office that she must have gone on at the very top of high-water;
and she is in ballast, too.  No human power, they think, can move her
from where she is.  I only hope it is so.  It would be fine to have the
notorious _Bonito_ stuck up there as a warning to others.”

Mr. J. Mesman, a colonial-born Dutchman, a kind, paternal old fellow,
with a clean-shaven, quiet, handsome fade, and a head of fine iron-grey
hair curling a little on his collar, did not say a word in defence of
Jasper and the _Bonito_.  He rose from his arm-chair suddenly.  His face
was visibly troubled.  It had so happened that once, from a business talk
of ways and means, island trade, money matters, and so on, Jasper had
been led to open himself to him on the subject of Freya; and the
excellent man, who had known old Nelson years before and even remembered
something of Freya, was much astonished and amused by the unfolding of
the tale.

“Well, well, well!  Nelson!  Yes; of course.  A very honest sort of man.
And a little child with very fair hair.  Oh, yes!  I have a distinct
recollection.  And so she has grown into such a fine girl, so very
determined, so very—”  And he laughed almost boisterously.  “Mind, when
you have happily eloped with your future wife, Captain Allen, you must
come along this way, and we shall welcome her here.  A little fair-headed
child!  I remember.  I remember.”

It was that knowledge which had brought trouble to his face at the first
news of the wreck.  He took up his hat.

“Where are you going, Mr. Mesman?”

“I am going to look for Allen.  I think he must be ashore.  Does anybody
know?”

No one of those present knew.  And Mr. Mesman went out on the “front” to
make inquiries.

The other part of the town, the part near the church and the fort, got
its information in another way.  The first thing disclosed to it was
Jasper himself, walking rapidly, as though he were pursued.  And, as a
matter of fact, a Chinaman, obviously a sampan man, was following him at
the same headlong pace.  Suddenly, while passing Orange House, Jasper
swerved and went in, or, rather, rushed in, startling Gomez, the hotel
clerk, very much.  But a Chinaman beginning to make an unseemly noise at
the door claimed the immediate attention of Gomez.  His grievance was
that the white man whom he had brought on shore from the gunboat had not
paid him his boat-fare.  He had pursued him so far, asking for it all the
way.  But the white man had taken no notice whatever of his just claim.
Gomez satisfied the coolie with a few coppers, and then went to look for
Jasper, whom he knew very well.  He found him standing stiffly by a
little round table.  At the other end of the verandah a few men sitting
there had stopped talking, and were looking at him in silence.  Two
billiard-players, with cues in their hands, had come to the door of the
billiard-room and stared, too.

On Gomez coming up to him, Jasper raised one hand to point at his own
throat.  Gomez noted the somewhat soiled state of his white clothes, then
took one look at his face, and fled away to order the drink for which
Jasper seemed to be asking.

Where he wanted to go—or what purpose—where he, perhaps, only imagined
himself to be going, when a sudden impulse or the sight of a familiar
place had made him turn into Orange House—it is impossible to say.  He
was steadying himself lightly with the tips of his fingers on the little
table.  There were on that verandah two men whom he knew well personally,
but his gaze roaming incessantly as though he were looking for a way of
escape, passed and repassed over them without a sign of recognition.
They, on their side, looking at him, doubted the evidence of their own
eyes.  It was not that his face was distorted.  On the contrary, it was
still, it was set.  But its expression, somehow, was unrecognisable.  Can
that be him? they wondered with awe.

In his head there was a wild chaos of clear thoughts.  Perfectly clear.
It was this clearness which was so terrible in conjunction with the utter
inability to lay hold of any single one of them all.  He was saying to
himself, or to them: “Steady, steady.”  A China boy appeared before him
with a glass on a tray.  He poured the drink down his throat, and rushed
out.  His disappearance removed the spell of wonder from the beholders.
One of the men jumped up and moved quickly to that side of the verandah
from which almost the whole of the roadstead could be seen.  At the very
moment when Jasper, issuing from the door of the Orange House, was
passing under him in the street below, he cried to the others excitedly:

“That was Allen right enough!  But where is his brig?”

Jasper heard these words with extraordinary loudness.  The heavens rang
with them, as if calling him to account; for those were the very words
Freya would have to use.  It was an annihilating question; it struck his
consciousness like a thunderbolt and brought a sudden night upon the
chaos of his thoughts even as he walked.  He did not check his pace.  He
went on in the darkness for another three strides, and then fell.

The good Mesman had to push on as far as the hospital before he found
him.  The doctor there talked of a slight heatstroke.  Nothing very much.
Out in three days. . . . It must be admitted that the doctor was right.
In three days, Jasper Allen came out of the hospital and became visible
to the town—very visible indeed—and remained so for quite a long time;
long enough to become almost one of the sights of the place; long enough
to become disregarded at last; long enough for the tale of his haunting
visibility to be remembered in the islands to this day.

The talk on the “front” and Jasper’s appearance in the Orange House stand
at the beginning of the famous _Bonito_ case, and give a view of its two
aspects—the practical and the psychological.  The case for the courts and
the case for compassion; that last terribly evident and yet obscure.

It has, you must understand, remained obscure even for that friend of
mine who wrote me the letter mentioned in the very first lines of this
narrative.  He was one of those in Mr. Mesman’s office, and accompanied
that gentleman in his search for Jasper.  His letter described to me the
two aspects and some of the episodes of the case.  Heemskirk’s attitude
was that of deep thankfulness for not having lost his own ship, and that
was all.  Haze over the land was his explanation of having got so close
to Tamissa reef.  He saved his ship, and for the rest he did not care.
As to the fat gunner, he deposed simply that he thought at the time that
he was acting for the best by letting go the tow-rope, but admitted that
he was greatly confused by the suddenness of the emergency.

As a matter of fact, he had acted on very precise instructions from
Heemskirk, to whom through several years’ service together in the East he
had become a sort of devoted henchman.  What was most amazing in the
detention of the _Bonito_ was his story how, proceeding to take
possession of the firearms as ordered, he discovered that there were no
firearms on board.  All he found in the fore-cabin was an empty rack for
the proper number of eighteen rifles, but of the rifles themselves never
a single one anywhere in the ship.  The mate of the brig, who looked
rather ill and behaved excitedly, as though he were perhaps a lunatic,
wanted him to believe that Captain Allen knew nothing of this; that it
was he, the mate, who had recently sold these rifles in the dead of night
to a certain person up the river.  In proof of this story he produced a
bag of silver dollars and pressed it on his, the gunner’s, acceptance.
Then, suddenly flinging it down on the deck, he beat his own head with
both his fists and started heaping shocking curses upon his own soul for
an ungrateful wretch not fit to live.

All this the gunner reported at once to his commanding officer.

What Heemskirk intended by taking upon himself to detain the _Bonito_ it
is difficult to say, except that he meant to bring some trouble into the
life of the man favoured by Freya.  He had been looking at Jasper with a
desire to strike that man of kisses and embraces to the earth.  The
question was: How could he do it without giving himself away?  But the
report of the gunner created a serious case enough.  Yet Allen had
friends—and who could tell whether he wouldn’t somehow succeed in
wriggling out of it?  The idea of simply towing the brig so much
compromised on to the reef came to him while he was listening to the fat
gunner in his cabin.  There was but little risk of being disapproved now.
And it should be made to appear an accident.

Going out on deck he had gloated upon his unconscious victim with such a
sinister roll of his eyes, such a queerly pursed mouth, that Jasper could
not help smiling.  And the lieutenant had gone on the bridge, saying to
himself:

“You wait!  I shall spoil the taste of those sweet kisses for you.  When
you hear of Lieutenant Heemskirk in the future that name won’t bring a
smile on your lips, I swear.  You are delivered into my hands.”

And this possibility had come about without any planning, one could
almost say naturally, as if events had mysteriously shaped themselves to
fit the purposes of a dark passion.  The most astute scheming could not
have served Heemskirk better.  It was given to him to taste a
transcendental, an incredible perfection of vengeance; to strike a deadly
blow into that hated person’s heart, and to watch him afterwards walking
about with the dagger in his breast.

For that is what the state of Jasper amounted to.  He moved, acted,
weary-eyed, keen-faced, lank and restless, with brusque movements and
fierce gestures; he talked incessantly in a frenzied and fatigued voice,
but within himself he knew that nothing would ever give him back the
brig, just as nothing can heal a pierced heart.  His soul, kept quiet in
the stress of love by the unflinching Freya’s influence, was like a still
but overwound string.  The shock had started it vibrating, and the string
had snapped.  He had waited for two years in a perfectly intoxicated
confidence for a day that now would never come to a man disarmed for life
by the loss of the brig, and, it seemed to him, made unfit for love to
which he had no foothold to offer.

Day after day he would traverse the length of the town, follow the coast,
and, reaching the point of land opposite that part of the reef on which
his brig lay stranded, look steadily across the water at her beloved
form, once the home of an exulting hope, and now, in her inclined,
desolated immobility, towering above the lonely sea-horizon, a symbol of
despair.

The crew had left her in due course in her own boats which directly they
reached the town were sequestrated by the harbour authorities.  The
vessel, too, was sequestrated pending proceedings; but these same
authorities did not take the trouble to set a guard on board.  For,
indeed, what could move her from there?  Nothing, unless a miracle;
nothing, unless Jasper’s eyes, fastened on her tensely for hours
together, as though he hoped by the mere power of vision to draw her to
his breast.

All this story, read in my friend’s very chatty letter, dismayed me not a
little.  But it was really appalling to read his relation of how Schultz,
the mate, went about everywhere affirming with desperate pertinacity that
it was he alone who had sold the rifles.  “I stole them,” he protested.
Of course, no one would believe him.  My friend himself did not believe
him, though he, of course, admired this self-sacrifice.  But a good many
people thought it was going too far to make oneself out a thief for the
sake of a friend.  Only, it was such an obvious lie, too, that it did not
matter, perhaps.

I, who, in view of Schultz’s psychology, knew how true that must be,
admit that I was appalled.  So this was how a perfidious destiny took
advantage of a generous impulse!  And I felt as though I were an
accomplice in this perfidy, since I did to a certain extent encourage
Jasper.  Yet I had warned him as well.

“The man seemed to have gone crazy on this point,” wrote my friend.  “He
went to Mesman with his story.  He says that some rascally white man
living amongst the natives up that river made him drunk with some gin one
evening, and then jeered at him for never having any money.  Then he,
protesting to us that he was an honest man and must be believed,
described himself as being a thief whenever he took a drop too much, and
told us that he went on board and passed the rifles one by one without
the slightest compunction to a canoe which came alongside that night,
receiving ten dollars apiece for them.

“Next day he was ill with shame and grief, but had not the courage to
confess his lapse to his benefactor.  When the gunboat stopped the brig
he felt ready to die with the apprehension of the consequences, and would
have died happily, if he could have been able to bring the rifles back by
the sacrifice of his life.  He said nothing to Jasper, hoping that the
brig would be released presently.  When it turned out otherwise and his
captain was detained on board the gunboat, he was ready to commit suicide
from despair; only he thought it his duty to live in order to let the
truth be known.  ‘I am an honest man!  I am an honest man!’ he repeated,
in a voice that brought tears to our eyes.  ‘You must believe me when I
tell you that I am a thief—a vile, low, cunning, sneaking thief as soon
as I’ve had a glass or two.  Take me somewhere where I may tell the truth
on oath.’

“When we had at last convinced him that his story could be of no use to
Jasper—for what Dutch court, having once got hold of an English trader,
would accept such an explanation; and, indeed, how, when, where could one
hope to find proofs of such a tale?—he made as if to tear his hair in
handfuls, but, calming down, said: ‘Good-bye, then, gentlemen,’ and went
out of the room so crushed that he seemed hardly able to put one foot
before the other.  That very night he committed suicide by cutting his
throat in the house of a half-caste with whom he had been lodging since
he came ashore from the wreck.”

That throat, I thought with a shudder, which could produce the tender,
persuasive, manly, but fascinating voice which had aroused Jasper’s ready
compassion and had secured Freya’s sympathy!  Who could ever have
supposed such an end in store for the impossible, gentle Schultz, with
his idiosyncrasy of naïve pilfering, so absurdly straightforward that,
even in the people who had suffered from it, it aroused nothing more than
a sort of amused exasperation?  He was really impossible.  His lot
evidently should have been a half-starved, mysterious, but by no means
tragic existence as a mild-eyed, inoffensive beachcomber on the fringe of
native life.  There are occasions when the irony of fate, which some
people profess to discover in the working out of our lives, wears the
aspect of crude and savage jesting.

I shook my head over the manes of Schultz, and went on with my friend’s
letter.  It told me how the brig on the reef, looted by the natives from
the coast villages, acquired gradually the lamentable aspect, the grey
ghastliness of a wreck; while Jasper, fading daily into a mere shadow of
a man, strode brusquely all along the “front” with horribly lively eyes
and a faint, fixed smile on his lips, to spend the day on a lonely spit
of sand looking eagerly at her, as though he had expected some shape on
board to rise up and make some sort of sign to him over the decaying
bulwarks.  The Mesmans were taking care of him as far as it was possible.
The _Bonito_ case had been referred to Batavia, where no doubt it would
fade away in a fog of official papers. . . . It was heartrending to read
all this.  That active and zealous officer, Lieutenant Heemskirk, his air
of sullen, darkly-pained self-importance not lightened by the approval of
his action conveyed to him unofficially, had gone on to take up his
station in the Moluccas. . . .

Then, at the end of the bulky, kindly-meant epistle, dealing with the
island news of half a year at least, my friend wrote: “A couple of months
ago old Nelson turned up here, arriving by the mail-boat from Java.  Came
to see Mesman, it seems.  A rather mysterious visit, and extraordinarily
short, after coming all that way.  He stayed just four days at the Orange
House, with apparently nothing in particular to do, and then caught the
south-going steamer for the Straits.  I remember people saying at one
time that Allen was rather sweet on old Nelson’s daughter, the girl that
was brought up by Mrs. Harley and then went to live with him at the Seven
Isles group.  Surely you remember old Nelson—”

Remember old Nelson!  Rather!

The letter went on to inform me further that old Nelson, at least,
remembered me, since some time after his flying visit to Makassar he had
written to the Mesmans asking for my address in London.

That old Nelson (or Nielsen), the note of whose personality was a
profound, echoless irresponsiveness to everything around him, should wish
to write, or find anything to write about to anybody, was in itself a
cause for no small wonder.  And to me, of all people!  I waited with
uneasy impatience for whatever disclosure could come from that naturally
benighted intelligence, but my impatience had time to wear out before my
eyes beheld old Nelson’s trembling, painfully-formed handwriting, senile
and childish at the same time, on an envelope bearing a penny stamp and
the postal mark of the Notting Hill office.  I delayed opening it in
order to pay the tribute of astonishment due to the event by flinging my
hands above my head.  So he had come home to England, to be definitely
Nelson; or else was on his way home to Denmark, where he would revert for
ever to his original Nielsen!  But old Nelson (or Nielsen) out of the
tropics seemed unthinkable.  And yet he was there, asking me to call.

His address was at a boarding-house in one of those Bayswater squares,
once of leisure, which nowadays are reduced to earning their living.
Somebody had recommended him there.  I started to call on him on one of
those January days in London, one of those wintry days composed of the
four devilish elements, cold, wet, mud, and grime, combined with a
particular stickiness of atmosphere that clings like an unclean garment
to one’s very soul.  Yet on approaching his abode I saw, like a flicker
far behind the soiled veil of the four elements, the wearisome and
splendid glitter of a blue sea with the Seven Islets like minute specks
swimming in my eye, the high red roof of the bungalow crowning the very
smallest of them all.  This visual reminiscence was profoundly
disturbing.  I knocked at the door with a faltering hand.

Old Nelson (or Nielsen) got up from the table at which he was sitting
with a shabby pocket-book full of papers before him.  He took off his
spectacles before shaking hands.  For a moment neither of us said a word;
then, noticing me looking round somewhat expectantly, he murmured some
words, of which I caught only “daughter” and “Hong Kong,” cast his eyes
down, and sighed.

His moustache, sticking all ways out, as of yore, was quite white now.
His old cheeks were softly rounded, with some colour in them; strangely
enough, that something childlike always noticeable in the general contour
of his physiognomy had become much more marked.  Like his handwriting, he
looked childish and senile.  He showed his age most in his
unintelligently furrowed, anxious forehead and in his round, innocent
eyes, which appeared to me weak and blinking and watery; or was it that
they were full of tears? . . .

To discover old Nelson fully informed upon any matter whatever was a new
experience.  And after the first awkwardness had worn off he talked
freely, with, now and then, a question to start him going whenever he
lapsed into silence, which he would do suddenly, clasping his hands on
his waistcoat in an attitude which would recall to me the east verandah,
where he used to sit talking quietly and puffing out his cheeks in what
seemed now old, very old days.  He talked in a reasonable somewhat
anxious tone.

“No, no.  We did not know anything for weeks.  Out of the way like that,
we couldn’t, of course.  No mail service to the Seven Isles.  But one day
I ran over to Banka in my big sailing-boat to see whether there were any
letters, and saw a Dutch paper.  But it looked only like a bit of marine
news: English brig _Bonito_ gone ashore outside Makassar roads.  That was
all.  I took the paper home with me and showed it to her.  ‘I will never
forgive him!’ she cries with her old spirit.  ‘My dear,’ I said, ‘you are
a sensible girl.  The best man may lose a ship.  But what about your
health?’  I was beginning to be frightened at her looks.  She would not
let me talk even of going to Singapore before.  But, really, such a
sensible girl couldn’t keep on objecting for ever.  ‘Do what you like,
papa,’ she says.  Rather a job, that.  Had to catch a steamer at sea, but
I got her over all right.  There, doctors, of course.  Fever.  Anæmia.
Put her to bed.  Two or three women very kind to her.  Naturally in our
papers the whole story came out before long.  She reads it to the end,
lying on the couch; then hands the newspaper back to me, whispers
‘Heemskirk,’ and goes off into a faint.”

He blinked at me for quite a long time, his eyes running full of tears
again.

“Next day,” he began, without any emotion in his voice, “she felt
stronger, and we had a long talk.  She told me everything.”

Here old Nelson, with his eyes cast down, gave me the whole story of the
Heemskirk episode in Freya’s words; then went on in his rather jerky
utterance, and looking up innocently:

“‘My dear,’ I said, ‘you have behaved in the main like a sensible girl.’
‘I have been horrid,’ she cries, ‘and he is breaking his heart over
there.’  Well, she was too sensible not to see she wasn’t in a state to
travel.  But I went.  She told me to go.  She was being looked after very
well.  Anæmia.  Getting better, they said.”

He paused.

“You did see him?” I murmured.

“Oh, yes; I did see him,” he started again, talking in that reasonable
voice as though he were arguing a point.  “I did see him.  I came upon
him.  Eyes sunk an inch into his head; nothing but skin on the bones of
his face, a skeleton in dirty white clothes.  That’s what he looked like.
How Freya . . . But she never did—not really.  He was sitting there, the
only live thing for miles along that coast, on a drift-log washed up on
the shore.  They had clipped his hair in the hospital, and it had not
grown again.  He stared, holding his chin in his hand, and with nothing
on the sea between him and the sky but that wreck.  When I came up to him
he just moved his head a bit.  ‘Is that you, old man?’ says he—like that.

“If you had seen him you would have understood at once how impossible it
was for Freya to have ever loved that man.  Well, well.  I don’t say.
She might have—something.  She was lonely, you know.  But really to go
away with him!  Never!  Madness.  She was too sensible . . . I began to
reproach him gently.  And by and by he turns on me.  ‘Write to you!  What
about?  Come to her!  What with?  If I had been a man I would have
carried her off, but she made a child, a happy child, of me.  Tell her
that the day the only thing I had belonging to me in the world perished
on this reef I discovered that I had no power over her. . . Has she come
here with you?’ he shouts, blazing at me suddenly with his hollow eyes.
I shook my head.  Come with me, indeed!  Anæmia!  ‘Aha!  You see?  Go
away, then, old man, and leave me alone here with that ghost,’ he says,
jerking his head at the wreck of his brig.

“Mad!  It was getting dusk.  I did not care to stop any longer all by
myself with that man in that lonely place.  I was not going to tell him
of Freya’s illness.  Anæmia!  What was the good?  Mad!  And what sort of
husband would he have made, anyhow, for a sensible girl like Freya?  Why,
even my little property I could not have left them.  The Dutch
authorities would never have allowed an Englishman to settle there.  It
was not sold then.  My man Mahmat, you know, was looking after it for me.
Later on I let it go for a tenth of its value to a Dutch half-caste.  But
never mind.  It was nothing to me then.  Yes; I went away from him.  I
caught the return mail-boat.  I told everything to Freya.  ‘He’s mad,’ I
said; ‘and, my dear, the only thing he loved was his brig.’

“‘Perhaps,’ she says to herself, looking straight away—her eyes were
nearly as hollow as his—‘perhaps it is true.  Yes!  I would never allow
him any power over me.’”

Old Nelson paused.  I sat fascinated, and feeling a little cold in that
room with a blazing fire.

“So you see,” he continued, “she never really cared for him.  Much too
sensible.  I took her away to Hong Kong.  Change of climate, they said.
Oh, these doctors!  My God!  Winter time!  There came ten days of cold
mists and wind and rain.  Pneumonia.  But look here!  We talked a lot
together.  Days and evenings.  Who else had she? . . . She talked a lot
to me, my own girl.  Sometimes she would laugh a little.  Look at me and
laugh a little—”

I shuddered.  He looked up vaguely, with a childish, puzzled moodiness.

“She would say: ‘I did not really mean to be a bad daughter to you,
papa.’  And I would say: ‘Of course, my dear.  You could not have meant
it.’  She would lie quiet and then say: ‘I wonder?’  And sometimes, ‘I’ve
been really a coward,’ she would tell me.  You know, sick people they say
things.  And so she would say too: ‘I’ve been conceited, headstrong,
capricious.  I sought my own gratification.  I was selfish or afraid.’
. . . But sick people, you know, they say anything.  And once, after lying
silent almost all day, she said: ‘Yes; perhaps, when the day came I would
not have gone.  Perhaps!  I don’t know,’ she cried.  ‘Draw the curtain,
papa.  Shut the sea out.  It reproaches me with my folly.’”  He gasped
and paused.

“So you see,” he went on in a murmur.  “Very ill, very ill indeed.
Pneumonia.  Very sudden.”  He pointed his finger at the carpet, while the
thought of the poor girl, vanquished in her struggle with three men’s
absurdities, and coming at last to doubt her own self, held me in a very
anguish of pity.

“You see yourself,” he began again in a downcast manner.  “She could not
have really . . . She mentioned you several times.  Good friend.
Sensible man.  So I wanted to tell you myself—let you know the truth.  A
fellow like that!  How could it be?  She was lonely.  And perhaps for a
while . . . Mere nothing.  There could never have been a question of love
for my Freya—such a sensible girl—”

“Man!” I cried, rising upon him wrathfully, “don’t you see that she died
of it?”

He got up too.  “No! no!” he stammered, as if angry.  “The doctors!
Pneumonia.  Low state.  The inflammation of the . . . They told me.
Pneu—”

He did not finish the word.  It ended in a sob.  He flung his arms out in
a gesture of despair, giving up his ghastly pretence with a low,
heartrending cry:

“And I thought that she was so sensible!”





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