Chance - A Tale in Two Parts
by Joseph Conrad
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

It was a mercy that he didn't attempt to open the door at once. He only stuck his head and shoulders out of the window crying to the cabman. She saw the consequences, the cab stopping, a crowd collecting around a raving old gentleman.—In this terrible business of being a woman so full of fine shades, of delicate perplexities (and very small rewards) you can never know what rough work you may have to do, at any moment. Without hesitation Flora seized her father round the body and pulled back—being astonished at the ease with which she managed to make him drop into his seat again. She kept him there resolutely with one hand pressed against his breast, and leaning across him, she, in her turn put her head and shoulders out of the window. By then the cab had drawn up to the curbstone and was stopped. "No! I've changed my mind. Go on please where you were told first. To the docks."

She wondered at the steadiness of her own voice. She heard a grunt from the driver and the cab began to roll again. Only then she sank into her place keeping a watchful eye on her companion. He was hardly anything more by this time. Except for her childhood's impressions he was just— a man. Almost a stranger. How was one to deal with him? And there was the other too. Also almost a stranger. The trade of being a woman was very difficult. Too difficult. Flora closed her eyes saying to herself: "If I think too much about it I shall go mad." And then opening them she asked her father if the prospect of living always with his daughter and being taken care of by her affection away from the world, which had no honour to give to his grey hairs, was such an awful prospect.

"Tell me, is it so bad as that?"

She put that question sadly, without bitterness. The famous—or notorious—de Barral had lost his rigidity now. He was bent. Nothing more deplorably futile than a bent poker. He said nothing. She added gently, suppressing an uneasy remorseful sigh:

"And it might have been worse. You might have found no one, no one in all this town, no one in all the world, not even me! Poor papa!"

She made a conscience-stricken movement towards him thinking: "Oh! I am horrible, I am horrible." And old de Barral, scared, tired, bewildered by the extraordinary shocks of his liberation, swayed over and actually leaned his head on her shoulder, as if sorrowing over his regained freedom.

The movement by itself was touching. Flora supporting him lightly imagined that he was crying; and at the thought that had she smashed in a quarry that shoulder, together with some other of her bones, this grey and pitiful head would have had nowhere to rest, she too gave way to tears. They flowed quietly, easing her overstrained nerves. Suddenly he pushed her away from him so that her head struck the side of the cab, pushing himself away too from her as if something had stung him.

All the warmth went out of her emotion. The very last tears turned cold on her cheek. But their work was done. She had found courage, resolution, as women do, in a good cry. With his hand covering the upper part of his face whether to conceal his eyes or to shut out an unbearable sight, he was stiffening up in his corner to his usual poker-like consistency. She regarded him in silence. His thin obstinate lips moved. He uttered the name of the cousin—the man, you remember, who did not approve of the Fynes, and whom rightly or wrongly little Fyne suspected of interested motives, in view of de Barral having possibly put away some plunder, somewhere before the smash.

I may just as well tell you at once that I don't know anything more of him. But de Barral was of the opinion, speaking in his low voice from under his hand, that this relation would have been only too glad to have secured his guidance.

"Of course I could not come forward in my own name, or person. But the advice of a man of my experience is as good as a fortune to anybody wishing to venture into finance. The same sort of thing can be done again."

He shuffled his feet a little, let fall his hand; and turning carefully toward his daughter his puffy round cheeks, his round chin resting on his collar, he bent on her the faded, resentful gaze of his pale eyes, which were wet.

"The start is really only a matter of judicious advertising. There's no difficulty. And here you go and..."

He turned his face away. "After all I am still de Barral, the de Barral. Didn't you remember that?"

"Papa," said Flora; "listen. It's you who must remember that there is no longer a de Barral..." He looked at her sideways anxiously. "There is Mr Smith, whom no harm, no trouble, no wicked lies of evil people can ever touch."

"Mr Smith," he breathed out slowly. "Where does he belong to? There's not even a Miss Smith."

"There is your Flora."

"My Flora! You went and—I can't bear to think of it. It's horrible."

"Yes. It was horrible enough at times," she said with feeling, because somehow, obscurely, what this man said appealed to her as if it were her own thought clothed in an enigmatic emotion. "I think with shame sometimes how I—No not yet. I shall not tell you. At least not now."

The cab turned into the gateway of the dock. Flora handed the tall hat to her father. "Here, papa. And please be good. I suppose you love me. If you don't, then I wonder who—"

He put the hat on, and stiffened hard in his corner, kept a sidelong glance on his girl. "Try to be nice for my sake. Think of the years I have been waiting for you. I do indeed want support—and peace. A little peace."

She clasped his arm suddenly with both hands pressing with all her might as if to crush the resistance she felt in him. "I could not have peace if I did not have you with me. I won't let you go. Not after all I went through. I won't." The nervous force of her grip frightened him a little. She laughed suddenly. "It's absurd. It's as if I were asking you for a sacrifice. What am I afraid of? Where could you go? I mean now, to-day, to-night? You can't tell me. Have you thought of it? Well I have been thinking of it for the last year. Longer. I nearly went mad trying to find out. I believe I was mad for a time or else I should never have thought..."

"This was as near as she came to a confession," remarked Marlow in a changed tone. "The confession I mean of that walk to the top of the quarry which she reproached herself with so bitterly. And he made of it what his fancy suggested. It could not possibly be a just notion. The cab stopped alongside the ship and they got out in the manner described by the sensitive Franklin. I don't know if they suspected each other's sanity at the end of that drive. But that is possible. We all seem a little mad to each other; an excellent arrangement for the bulk of humanity which finds in it an easy motive of forgiveness. Flora crossed the quarter-deck with a rapidity born of apprehension. It had grown unbearable. She wanted this business over. She was thankful on looking back to see he was following her. 'If he bolts away,' she thought, 'then I shall know that I am of no account indeed! That no one loves me, that words and actions and protestations and everything in the world is false—and I shall jump into the dock. That at least won't lie.'"

Well I don't know. If it had come to that she would have been most likely fished out, what with her natural want of luck and the good many people on the quay and on board. And just where the Ferndale was moored there hung on a wall (I know the berth) a coil of line, a pole, and a life-buoy kept there on purpose to save people who tumble into the dock. It's not so easy to get away from life's betrayals as she thought. However it did not come to that. He followed her with his quick gliding walk. Mr Smith! The liberated convict de Barral passed off the solid earth for the last time, vanished for ever, and there was Mr Smith added to that world of waters which harbours so many queer fishes. An old gentleman in a silk hat, darting wary glances. He followed, because mere existence has its claims which are obeyed mechanically. I have no doubt he presented a respectable figure. Father-in-law. Nothing more respectable. But he carried in his heart the confused pain of dismay and affection, of involuntary repulsion and pity. Very much like his daughter. Only in addition he felt a furious jealousy of the man he was going to see.

A residue of egoism remains in every affection—even paternal. And this man in the seclusion of his prison had thought himself into such a sense of ownership of that single human being he had to think about, as may well be inconceivable to us who have not had to serve a long (and wickedly unjust) sentence of penal servitude. She was positively the only thing, the one point where his thoughts found a resting-place, for years. She was the only outlet for his imagination. He had not much of that faculty to be sure, but there was in it the force of concentration. He felt outraged, and perhaps it was an absurdity on his part, but I venture to suggest rather in degree than in kind. I have a notion that no usual, normal father is pleased at parting with his daughter. No. Not even when he rationally appreciates "Jane being taken off his hands" or perhaps is able to exult at an excellent match. At bottom, quite deep down, down in the dark (in some cases only by digging), there is to be found a certain repugnance... With mothers of course it is different. Women are more loyal, not to each other, but to their common femininity which they behold triumphant with a secret and proud satisfaction.

The circumstances of that match added to Mr Smith's indignation. And if he followed his daughter into that ship's cabin it was as if into a house of disgrace and only because he was still bewildered by the suddenness of the thing. His will, so long lying fallow, was overborne by her determination and by a vague fear of that regained liberty.

You will be glad to hear that Anthony, though he did shirk the welcome on the quay, behaved admirably, with the simplicity of a man who has no small meannesses and makes no mean reservations. His eyes did not flinch and his tongue did not falter. He was, I have it on the best authority, admirable in his earnestness, in his sincerity and also in his restraint. He was perfect. Nevertheless the vital force of his unknown individuality addressing him so familiarly was enough to fluster Mr Smith. Flora saw her father trembling in all his exiguous length, though he held himself stiffer than ever if that was possible. He muttered a little and at last managed to utter, not loud of course but very distinctly: "I am here under protest," the corners of his mouth sunk disparagingly, his eyes stony. "I am here under protest. I have been locked up by a conspiracy. I—"

He raised his hands to his forehead—his silk hat was on the table rim upwards; he had put it there with a despairing gesture as he came in—he raised his hands to his forehead. "It seems to me unfair. I—" He broke off again. Anthony looked at Flora who stood by the side of her father.

"Well, sir, you will soon get used to me. Surely you and she must have had enough of shore people and their confounded half-and-half ways to last you both for a lifetime. A particularly merciful lot they are too. You ask Flora. I am alluding to my own sister, her best friend, and not a bad woman either as they go."

The captain of the Ferndale checked himself. "Lucky thing I was there to step in. I want you to make yourself at home, and before long—"

The faded stare of the Great de Barral silenced Anthony by its inexpressive fixity. He signalled with his eyes to Flora towards the door of the state-room fitted specially to receive Mr Smith, the free man. She seized the free man's hat off the table and took him caressingly under the arm. "Yes! This is home, come and see your room. Papa!"

Anthony himself threw open the door and Flora took care to shut it carefully behind herself and her father.

"See," she began but desisted because it was clear that he would look at none of the contrivances for his comfort.

She herself had hardly seen them before. He was looking only at the new carpet and she waited till he should raise his eyes.

He didn't do that but spoke in his usual voice. "So this is your husband, that ... And I locked up!"

"Papa, what's the good of harping on that," she remonstrated no louder. "He is kind."

"And you went and ... married him so that he should be kind to me. Is that it? How did you know that I wanted anybody to be kind to me?"

"How strange you are!" she said thoughtfully.

"It's hard for a man who has gone through what I have gone through to feel like other people. Has that occurred to you?..." He looked up at last... "Mrs Anthony, I can't bear the sight of the fellow." She met his eyes without flinching and he added, "You want to go to him now." His mild automatic manner seemed the effect of tremendous self-restraint—and yet she remembered him always like that. She felt cold all over.

"Why, of course, I must go to him," she said with a slight start.

He gnashed his teeth at her and she went out.

Anthony had not moved from the spot. One of his hands was resting on the table. She went up to him, stopped, then deliberately moved still closer. "Thank you, Roderick."

"You needn't thank me," he murmured. "It's I who..."

"No, perhaps I needn't. You do what you like. But you are doing it well."

He sighed then hardly above a whisper because they were near the state-room door, "Upset, eh?"

She made no sign, no sound of any kind. The thorough falseness of the position weighed on them both. But he was the braver of the two. "I dare say. At first. Did you think of telling him you were happy?"

"He never asked me," she smiled faintly at him. She was disappointed by his quietness. "I did not say more than I was absolutely obliged to say—of myself." She was beginning to be irritated with this man a little. "I told him I had been very lucky," she said suddenly despondent, missing Anthony's masterful manner, that something arbitrary and tender which, after the first scare, she had accustomed herself to look forward to with pleasurable apprehension. He was contemplating her rather blankly. She had not taken off her outdoor things, hat, gloves. She was like a caller. And she had a movement suggesting the end of a not very satisfactory business call. "Perhaps it would be just as well if we went ashore. Time yet."

He gave her a glimpse of his unconstrained self in the low vehement "You dare!" which sprang to his lips and out of them with a most menacing inflexion.

"You dare ... What's the matter now?"

These last words were shot out not at her but at some target behind her back. Looking over her shoulder she saw the bald head with black bunches of hair of the congested and devoted Franklin (he had his cap in his hand) gazing sentimentally from the saloon doorway with his lobster eyes. He was heard from the distance in a tone of injured innocence reporting that the berthing master was alongside and that he wanted to move the ship into the basin before the crew came on board.

His captain growled "Well, let him," and waved away the ulcerated and pathetic soul behind these prominent eyes which lingered on the offensive woman while the mate backed out slowly. Anthony turned to Flora.

"You could not have meant it. You are as straight as they make them."

"I am trying to be."

"Then don't joke in that way. Think of what would become of—me."

"Oh yes. I forgot. No, I didn't mean it. It wasn't a joke. It was forgetfulness. You wouldn't have been wronged. I couldn't have gone. I—I am too tired."

He saw she was swaying where she stood and restrained himself violently from taking her into his arms, his frame trembling with fear as though he had been tempted to an act of unparalleled treachery. He stepped aside and lowering his eyes pointed to the door of the stern-cabin. It was only after she passed by him that he looked up and thus he did not see the angry glance she gave him before she moved on. He looked after her. She tottered slightly just before reaching the door and flung it to behind her nervously.

Anthony—he had felt this crash as if the door had been slammed inside his very breast—stood for a moment without moving and then shouted for Mrs Brown. This was the steward's wife, his lucky inspiration to make Flora comfortable. "Mrs Brown! Mrs Brown!" At last she appeared from somewhere. "Mrs Anthony has come on board. Just gone into the cabin. Hadn't you better see if you can be of any assistance?"

"Yes, sir."

And again he was alone with the situation he had created in the hardihood and inexperience of his heart. He thought he had better go on deck. In fact he ought to have been there before. At any rate it would be the usual thing for him to be on deck. But a sound of muttering and of faint thuds somewhere near by arrested his attention. They proceeded from Mr Smith's room, he perceived. It was very extraordinary. "He's talking to himself," he thought. "He seems to be thumping the bulkhead with his fists—or his head."

Anthony's eyes grew big with wonder while he listened to these noises. He became so attentive that he did not notice Mrs Brown till she actually stopped before him for a moment to say:

"Mrs Anthony doesn't want any assistance, sir."

This was you understand the voyage before Mr Powell—young Powell then—joined the Ferndale; chance having arranged that he should get his start in life in that particular ship of all the ships then in the port of London. The most unrestful ship that ever sailed out of any port on earth. I am not alluding to her sea-going qualities. Mr Powell tells me she was as steady as a church. I mean unrestful in the sense, for instance in which this planet of ours is unrestful—a matter of an uneasy atmosphere disturbed by passions, jealousies, loves, hates and the troubles of transcendental good intentions, which, though ethically valuable, I have no doubt cause often more unhappiness than the plots of the most evil tendency. For those who refuse to believe in chance he, I mean Mr Powell, must have been obviously predestined to add his native ingenuousness to the sum of all the others carried by the honest ship Ferndale. He was too ingenuous. Everybody on board was, exception being made of Mr Smith who, however, was simple enough in his way, with that terrible simplicity of the fixed idea, for which there is also another name men pronounce with dread and aversion. His fixed idea was to save his girl from the man who had possessed himself of her (I use these words on purpose because the image they suggest was clearly in Mr Smith's mind), possessed himself unfairly of her while he, the father, was locked up.

"I won't rest till I have got you away from that man," he would murmur to her after long periods of contemplation. We know from Powell how he used to sit on the skylight near the long deck-chair on which Flora was reclining, gazing into her face from above with an air of guardianship and investigation at the same time.

It is almost impossible to say if he ever had considered the event rationally. The avatar of de Barral into Mr Smith had not been effected without a shock—that much one must recognise. It may be that it drove all practical considerations out of his mind, making room for awful and precise visions which nothing could dislodge afterwards. And it might have been the tenacity, the unintelligent tenacity, of the man who had persisted in throwing millions of other people's thrift into the Lone Valley Railway, the Labrador Docks, the Spotted Leopard Copper Mine, and other grotesque speculations exposed during the famous de Barral trial, amongst murmurs of astonishment mingled with bursts of laughter. For it is in the Courts of Law that Comedy finds its last refuge in our deadly serious world. As to tears and lamentations, these were not heard in the august precincts of comedy, because they were indulged in privately in several thousand homes, where, with a fine dramatic effect, hunger had taken the place of Thrift.

But there was one at least who did not laugh in court. That person was the accused. The notorious de Barral did not laugh because he was indignant. He was impervious to words, to facts, to inferences. It would have been impossible to make him see his guilt or his folly— either by evidence or argument—if anybody had tried to argue.

Neither did his daughter Flora try to argue with him. The cruelty of her position was so great, its complications so thorny, if I may express myself so, that a passive attitude was yet her best refuge—as it had been before her of so many women.

For that sort of inertia in woman is always enigmatic and therefore menacing. It makes one pause. A woman may be a fool, a sleepy fool, an agitated fool, a too awfully noxious fool, and she may even be simply stupid. But she is never dense. She's never made of wood through and through as some men are. There is in woman always, somewhere, a spring. Whatever men don't know about women (and it may be a lot or it may be very little) men and even fathers do know that much. And that is why so many men are afraid of them.

Mr Smith I believe was afraid of his daughter's quietness though of course he interpreted it in his own way.

He would, as Mr Powell depicts, sit on the skylight and bend over the reclining girl, wondering what there was behind the lost gaze under the darkened eyelids in the still eyes. He would look and look and then he would say, whisper rather, it didn't take much for his voice to drop to a mere breath—he would declare, transferring his faded stare to the horizon, that he would never rest till he had "got her away from that man."

"You don't know what you are saying, papa."

She would try not to show her weariness, the nervous strain of these two men's antagonism around her person which was the cause of her languid attitudes. For as a matter of fact the sea agreed with her.

As likely as not Anthony would be walking on the other side of the deck. The strain was making him restless. He couldn't sit still anywhere. He had tried shutting himself up in his cabin; but that was no good. He would jump up to rush on deck and tramp, tramp up and down that poop till he felt ready to drop, without being able to wear down the agitation of his soul, generous indeed, but weighted by its envelope of blood and muscle and bone; handicapped by the brain creating precise images and everlastingly speculating, speculating—looking out for signs, watching for symptoms.

And Mr Smith with a slight backward jerk of his small head at the footsteps on the other side of the skylight would insist in his awful, hopelessly gentle voice that he knew very well what he was saying. Hadn't she given herself to that man while he was locked up.

"Helpless, in jail, with no one to think of, nothing to look forward to, but my daughter. And then when they let me out at last I find her gone—for it amounts to this. Sold. Because you've sold yourself; you know you have."

With his round unmoved face, a lot of fine white hair waving in the wind-eddies of the spanker, his glance levelled over the sea he seemed to be addressing the universe across her reclining form. She would protest sometimes.

"I wish you would not talk like this, papa. You are only tormenting me, and tormenting yourself."

"Yes, I am tormented enough," he admitted meaningly. But it was not talking about it that tormented him. It was thinking of it. And to sit and look at it was worse for him than it possibly could have been for her to go and give herself up, bad as that must have been.

"For of course you suffered. Don't tell me you didn't? You must have."

She had renounced very soon all attempts at protests. It was useless. It might have made things worse; and she did not want to quarrel with her father, the only human being that really cared for her, absolutely, evidently, completely—to the end. There was in him no pity, no generosity, nothing whatever of these fine things—it was for her, for her very own self such as it was, that this human being cared. This certitude would have made her put up with worse torments. For, of course, she too was being tormented. She felt also helpless, as if the whole enterprise had been too much for her. This is the sort of conviction which makes for quietude. She was becoming a fatalist.

What must have been rather appalling were the necessities of daily life, the intercourse of current trifles. That naturally had to go on. They wished good morning to each other, they sat down together to meals—and I believe there would be a game of cards now and then in the evening, especially at first. What frightened her most was the duplicity of her father, at least what looked like duplicity, when she remembered his persistent, insistent whispers on deck. However her father was a taciturn person as far back as she could remember him best—on the Parade. It was she who chattered, never troubling herself to discover whether he was pleased or displeased. And now she couldn't fathom his thoughts. Neither did she chatter to him. Anthony with a forced friendly smile as if frozen to his lips seemed only too thankful at not being made to speak. Mr Smith sometimes forgot himself while studying his hand so long that Flora had to recall him to himself by a murmured "Papa—your lead." Then he apologised by a faint as if inward ejaculation "Beg your pardon, Captain." Naturally she addressed Anthony as Roderick and he addressed her as Flora. This was all the acting that was necessary to judge from the wincing twitch of the old man's mouth at every uttered "Flora." On hearing the rare "Rodericks" he had sometimes a scornful grimace as faint and faded and colourless as his whole stiff personality.

He would be the first to retire. He was not infirm. With him too the life on board ship seemed to agree; but from a sense of duty, of affection, or to placate his hidden fury, his daughter always accompanied him to his state-room "to make him comfortable." She lighted his lamp, helped him into his dressing-gown or got him a book from a bookcase fitted in there—but this last rarely, because Mr Smith used to declare "I am no reader" with something like pride in his low tones. Very often after kissing her good-night on the forehead he would treat her to some such fretful remark: "It's like being in jail—'pon my word. I suppose that man is out there waiting for you. Head jailer! Ough!"

She would smile vaguely; murmur a conciliatory "How absurd." But once, out of patience, she said quite sharply "Leave off. It hurts me. One would think you hate me."

"It isn't you I hate," he went on monotonously breathing at her. "No, it isn't you. But if I saw that you loved that man I think I could hate you too."

That word struck straight at her heart. "You wouldn't be the first then," she muttered bitterly. But he was busy with his fixed idea and uttered an awfully equable "But you don't! Unfortunate girl!"

She looked at him steadily for a time then said:

"Good-night, papa."

As a matter of fact Anthony very seldom waited for her alone at the table with the scattered cards, glasses, water-jug, bottles and so on. He took no more opportunities to be alone with her than was absolutely necessary for the edification of Mrs Brown. Excellent, faithful woman; the wife of his still more excellent and faithful steward. And Flora wished all these excellent people, devoted to Anthony, she wished them all further; and especially the nice, pleasant-spoken Mrs Brown with her beady, mobile eyes and her "Yes certainly, ma'am," which seemed to her to have a mocking sound. And so this short trip—to the Western Islands only—came to an end. It was so short that when young Powell joined the Ferndale by a memorable stroke of chance, no more than seven months had elapsed since the—let us say the liberation of the convict de Barral and his avatar into Mr Smith.

For the time the ship was loading in London Anthony took a cottage near a little country station in Essex, to house Mr Smith and Mr Smith's daughter. It was altogether his idea. How far it was necessary for Mr Smith to seek rural retreat I don't know. Perhaps to some extent it was a judicious arrangement. There were some obligations incumbent on the liberated de Barral (in connection with reporting himself to the police I imagine) which Mr Smith was not anxious to perform. De Barral had to vanish; the theory was that de Barral had vanished, and it had to be upheld. Poor Flora liked the country, even if the spot had nothing more to recommend it than its retired character.

Now and then Captain Anthony ran down; but as the station was a real wayside one, with no early morning trains up, he could never stay for more than the afternoon. It appeared that he must sleep in town so as to be early on board his ship. The weather was magnificent and whenever the captain of the Ferndale was seen on a brilliant afternoon coming down the road Mr Smith would seize his stick and toddle off for a solitary walk. But whether he would get tired or because it gave him some satisfaction to see "that man" go away—or for some cunning reason of his own, he was always back before the hour of Anthony's departure. On approaching the cottage he would see generally "that man" lying on the grass in the orchard at some distance from his daughter seated in a chair brought out of the cottage's living-room. Invariably Mr Smith made straight for them and as invariably had the feeling that his approach was not disturbing a very intimate conversation. He sat with them, through a silent hour or so, and then it would be time for Anthony to go. Mr Smith, perhaps from discretion, would casually vanish a minute or so before, and then watch through the diamond panes of an upstairs room "that man" take a lingering look outside the gate at the invisible Flora, lift his hat, like a caller, and go off down the road. Then only Mr Smith would join his daughter again.

These were the bad moments for her. Not always, of course, but frequently. It was nothing extraordinary to hear Mr Smith begin gently with some observation like this:

"That man is getting tired of you."

He would never pronounce Anthony's name. It was always "that man."

Generally she would remain mute with wide open eyes gazing at nothing between the gnarled fruit trees. Once, however, she got up and walked into the cottage. Mr Smith followed her carrying the chair. He banged it down resolutely and in that smooth inexpressive tone so many ears used to bend eagerly to catch when it came from the Great de Barral he said:

"Let's get away."

She had the strength of mind not to spin round. On the contrary she went on to a shabby bit of a mirror on the wall. In the greenish glass her own face looked far off like the livid face of a drowned corpse at the bottom of a pool. She laughed faintly.

"I tell you that man's getting—"

"Papa," she interrupted him. "I have no illusions as to myself. It has happened to me before but—"

Her voice failing her suddenly her father struck in with quite an unwonted animation. "Let's make a rush for it, then."

Having mastered both her fright and her bitterness, she turned round, sat down and allowed her astonishment to be seen. Mr Smith sat down too, his knees together and bent at right angles, his thin legs parallel to each other and his hands resting on the arms of the wooden armchair. His hair had grown long, his head was set stiffly, there was something fatuously venerable in his aspect.

"You can't care for him. Don't tell me. I understand your motive. And I have called you an unfortunate girl. You are that as much as if you had gone on the streets. Yes. Don't interrupt me, Flora. I was everlastingly being interrupted at the trial and I can't stand it any more. I won't be interrupted by my own child. And when I think that it is on the very day before they let me out that you..."

He had wormed this fact out of her by that time because Flora had got tired of evading the question. He had been very much struck and distressed. Was that the trust she had in him? Was that a proof of confidence and love? The very day before! Never given him even half a chance. It was as at the trial. They never gave him a chance. They would not give him time. And there was his own daughter acting exactly as his bitterest enemies had done. Not giving him time!

The monotony of that subdued voice nearly lulled her dismay to sleep. She listened to the unavoidable things he was saying.

"But what induced that man to marry you? Of course he's a gentleman. One can see that. And that makes it worse. Gentlemen don't understand anything about city affairs—finance. Why!—the people who started the cry after me were a firm of gentlemen. The counsel, the judge—all gentlemen—quite out of it! No notion of ... And then he's a sailor too. Just a skipper—"

"My grandfather was nothing else," she interrupted. And he made an angular gesture of impatience.

"Yes. But what does a silly sailor know of business? Nothing. No conception. He can have no idea of what it means to be the daughter of Mr de Barral—even after his enemies had smashed him. What on earth induced him—"

She made a movement because the level voice was getting on her nerves. And he paused, but only to go on again in the same tone with the remark:

"Of course you are pretty. And that's why you are lost—like many other poor girls. Unfortunate is the word for you."

She said: "It may be. Perhaps it is the right word; but listen, papa. I mean to be honest."

He began to exhale more speeches.

"Just the sort of man to get tired and then leave you and go off with his beastly ship. And anyway you can never be happy with him. Look at his face. I want to save you. You see I was not perhaps a very good husband to your poor mother. She would have done better to have left me long before she died. I have been thinking it all over. I won't have you unhappy."

He ran his eyes over her with an attention which was surprisingly noticeable. Then said, "H'm! Yes. Let's clear out before it is too late. Quietly, you and I."

She said as if inspired and with that calmness which despair often gives: "There is no money to go away with, papa."

He rose up straightening himself as though he were a hinged figure. She said decisively:

"And of course you wouldn't think of deserting me, papa?"

"Of course not," sounded his subdued tone. And he left her, gliding away with his walk which Mr Powell described to me as being as level and wary as his voice. He walked as if he were carrying a glass full of water on his head.

Flora naturally said nothing to Anthony of that edifying conversation. His generosity might have taken alarm at it and she did not want to be left behind to manage her father alone. And moreover she was too honest. She would be honest at whatever cost. She would not be the first to speak. Never. And the thought came into her head: "I am indeed an unfortunate creature!"

It was by the merest coincidence that Anthony coming for the afternoon two days later had a talk with Mr Smith in the orchard. Flora for some reason or other had left them for a moment; and Anthony took that opportunity to be frank with Mr Smith. He said: "It seems to me, sir, that you think Flora has not done very well for herself. Well, as to that I can't say anything. All I want you to know is that I have tried to do the right thing." And then he explained that he had willed everything he was possessed of to her. "She didn't tell you, I suppose?"

Mr Smith shook his head slightly. And Anthony, trying to be friendly, was just saying that he proposed to keep the ship away from home for at least two years: "I think, sir, that from every point of view it would be best," when Flora came back and the conversation, cut short in that direction, languished and died. Later in the evening, after Anthony had been gone for hours, on the point of separating for the night, Mr Smith remarked suddenly to his daughter after a long period of brooding:

"A will is nothing. One tears it up. One makes another." Then after reflecting for a minute he added unemotionally:

"One tells lies about it."

Flora, patient, steeled against every hurt and every disgust to the point of wondering at herself, said: "You push your dislike of—of— Roderick too far, papa. You have no regard for me. You hurt me."

He, as ever inexpressive to the point of terrifying her sometimes by the contrast of his placidity and his words, turned away from her a pair of faded eyes.

"I wonder how far your dislike goes," he began. "His very name sticks in your throat. I've noticed it. It hurts me. What do you think of that? You might remember that you are not the only person that's hurt by your folly, by your hastiness, by your recklessness." He brought back his eyes to her face. "And the very day before they were going to let me out." His feeble voice failed him altogether, the narrow compressed lips only trembling for a time before he added with that extraordinary equanimity of tone, "I call it sinful."

Flora made no answer. She judged it simpler, kinder and certainly safer to let him talk himself out. This, Mr Smith, being naturally taciturn, never took very long to do. And we must not imagine that this sort of thing went on all the time. She had a few good days in that cottage. The absence of Anthony was a relief and his visits were pleasurable. She was quieter. He was quieter too. She was almost sorry when the time to join the ship arrived. It was a moment of anguish, of excitement; they arrived at the dock in the evening and Flora after "making her father comfortable" according to established usage lingered in the state-room long enough to notice that he was surprised. She caught his pale eyes observing her quite stonily. Then she went out after a cheery good-night.

Contrary to her hopes she found Anthony yet in the saloon. Sitting in his armchair at the head of the table he was picking up some business papers which he put hastily in his breast-pocket and got up. He asked her if her day, travelling up to town and then doing some shopping, had tired her. She shook her head. Then he wanted to know in a half-jocular way how she felt about going away, and for a long voyage this time.

"Does it matter how I feel?" she asked in a tone that cast a gloom over his face. He answered with repressed violence which she did not expect:

"No, it does not matter, because I cannot go without you. I've told you... You know it. You don't think I could."

"I assure you I haven't the slightest wish to evade my obligations," she said steadily. "Even if I could. Even if I dared, even if I had to die for it!"

He looked thunderstruck. They stood facing each other at the end of the saloon. Anthony stuttered. "Oh no. You won't die. You don't mean it. You have taken kindly to the sea."

She laughed, but she felt angry.

"No, I don't mean it. I tell you I don't mean to evade my obligations. I shall live on ... feeling a little crushed, nevertheless."

"Crushed!" he repeated. "What's crushing you?"

"Your magnanimity," she said sharply. But her voice was softened after a time. "Yet I don't know. There is a perfection in it—do you understand me, Roderick?—which makes it almost possible to bear."

He sighed, looked away, and remarked that it was time to put out the lamp in the saloon. The permission was only till ten o'clock.

"But you needn't mind that so much in your cabin. Just see that the curtains of the ports are drawn close and that's all. The steward might have forgotten to do it. He lighted your reading lamp in there before he went ashore for a last evening with his wife. I don't know if it was wise to get rid of Mrs Brown. You will have to look after yourself, Flora."

He was quite anxious; but Flora as a matter of fact congratulated herself on the absence of Mrs Brown. No sooner had she closed the door of her state-room than she murmured fervently, "Yes! Thank goodness, she is gone." There would be no gentle knock, followed by her appearance with her equivocal stare and the intolerable: "Can I do anything for you, ma'am?" which poor Flora had learned to fear and hate more than any voice or any words on board that ship—her only refuge from the world which had no use for her for her imperfections and for her troubles.

Mrs Brown had been very much vexed at her dismissal. The Browns were a childless couple and the arrangement had suited them perfectly. Their resentment was very bitter. Mrs Brown had to remain ashore alone with her rage, but the steward was nursing his on board. Poor Flora had no greater enemy, the aggrieved mate had no greater sympathiser. And Mrs Brown, with a woman's quick power of observation and inference (the putting of two and two together) had come to a certain conclusion which she had imparted to her husband before leaving the ship. The morose steward permitted himself once to make an allusion to it in Powell's hearing. It was in the officers' mess-room at the end of a meal while he lingered after putting a fruit pie on the table. He and the chief mate started a dialogue about the alarming change in the captain, the sallow steward looking down with a sinister frown, Franklin rolling upwards his eyes, sentimental in a red face. Young Powell had heard a lot of that sort of thing by that time. It was growing monotonous; it had always sounded to him a little absurd. He struck in impatiently with the remark that such lamentations over a man merely because he had taken a wife seemed to him like lunacy.

Franklin muttered, "Depends on what the wife is up to." The steward leaning against the bulkhead near the door glowered at Powell, that newcomer, that ignoramus, that stranger without right or privileges. He snarled:

"Wife! Call her a wife, do you?"

"What the devil do you mean by this?" exclaimed young Powell.

"I know what I know. My old woman has not been six months on board for nothing. You had better ask her when we get back."

And meeting sullenly the withering stare of Mr Powell the steward retreated backwards.

Our young friend turned at once upon the mate. "And you let that confounded bottle-washer talk like this before you, Mr Franklin. Well, I am astonished."

"Oh, it isn't what you think. It isn't what you think." Mr Franklin looked more apoplectic than ever. "If it comes to that I could astonish you. But it's no use. I myself can hardly ... You couldn't understand. I hope you won't try to make mischief. There was a time, young fellow, when I would have dared any man—any man, you hear?—to make mischief between me and Captain Anthony. But not now. Not now. There's a change! Not in me though..."

Young Powell rejected with indignation any suggestion of making mischief. "Who do you take me for?" he cried. "Only you had better tell that steward to be careful what he says before me or I'll spoil his good looks for him for a month and will leave him to explain the why of it to the captain the best way he can."

This speech established Powell as a champion of Mrs Anthony. Nothing more bearing on the question was ever said before him. He did not care for the steward's black looks; Franklin, never conversational even at the best of times and avoiding now the only topic near his heart, addressed him only on matters of duty. And for that, too, Powell cared very little. The woes of the apoplectic mate had begun to bore him long before. Yet he felt lonely a bit at times. Therefore the little intercourse with Mrs Anthony either in one dog-watch or the other was something to be looked forward to. The captain did not mind it. That was evident from his manner. One night he inquired (they were then alone on the poop) what they had been talking about that evening? Powell had to confess that it was about the ship. Mrs Anthony had been asking him questions.

"Takes interest—eh?" jerked out the captain moving rapidly up and down the weather-side of the poop.

"Yes, sir. Mrs Anthony seems to get hold wonderfully of what one's telling her."

"Sailor's granddaughter. One of the old school. Old sea-dog of the best kind, I believe," ejaculated the captain, swinging past his motionless second officer and leaving the words behind him like a trail of sparks succeeded by a perfect conversational darkness, because, for the next two hours till he left the deck, he didn't open his lips again.

On another occasion ... we mustn't forget that the ship had crossed the line and was adding up south latitude every day by then—on another occasion, about seven in the evening, Powell on duty, heard his name uttered softly in the companion. The captain was on the stairs, thin-faced, his eyes sunk, on his arm a Shetland wool wrap.

"Mr Powell—here."

"Yes, sir."

"Give this to Mrs Anthony. Evenings are getting chilly."

And the haggard face sank out of sight. Mrs Anthony was surprised on seeing the shawl.

"The captain wants you to put this on," explained young Powell, and as she raised herself in her seat he dropped it on her shoulders. She wrapped herself up closely.

"Where was the captain?" she asked.

"He was in the companion. Called me on purpose," said Powell, and then retreated discreetly, because she looked as though she didn't want to talk any more that evening. Mr Smith—the old gentleman—was as usual sitting on the skylight near her head, brooding over the long chair but by no means inimical, as far as his unreadable face went, to those conversations of the two youngest people on board. In fact they seemed to give him some pleasure. Now and then he would raise his faded china eyes to the animated face of Mr Powell thoughtfully. When the young sailor was by, the old man became less rigid, and when his daughter, on rare occasions, smiled at some artless tale of Mr Powell, the inexpressive face of Mr Smith reflected dimly that flash of evanescent mirth. For Mr Powell had come now to entertain his captain's wife with anecdotes from the not very distant past when he was a boy, on board various ships,—funny things do happen on board ship. Flora was quite surprised at times to find herself amused. She was even heard to laugh twice in the course of a month. It was not a loud sound but it was startling enough at the after-end of the Ferndale where low tones or silence were the rule. The second time this happened the captain himself must have been startled somewhere down below; because he emerged from the depths of his unobtrusive existence and began his tramping on the opposite side of the poop.

Almost immediately he called his young second officer over to him. This was not done in displeasure. The glance he fastened on Mr Powell conveyed a sort of approving wonder. He engaged him in desultory conversation as if for the only purpose of keeping a man who could provoke such a sound, near his person. Mr Powell felt himself liked. He felt it. Liked by that haggard, restless man who threw at him disconnected phrases to which his answers were, "Yes, sir", "No, sir," "Oh, certainly", "I suppose so, sir,"—and might have been clearly anything else for all the other cared.

It was then, Mr Powell told me, that he discovered in himself an already old-established liking for Captain Anthony. He also felt sorry for him without being able to discover the origins of that sympathy of which he had become so suddenly aware.

Meantime Mr Smith, bending forward stiffly as though he had a hinged back, was speaking to his daughter.

She was a child no longer. He wanted to know if she believed in—in hell. In eternal punishment?

His peculiar voice, as if filtered through cotton-wool was inaudible on the other side of the deck. Poor Flora, taken very much unawares, made an inarticulate murmur, shook her head vaguely, and glanced in the direction of the pacing Anthony who was not looking her way. It was no use glancing in that direction. Of young Powell, leaning against the mizzen-mast and facing his captain she could only see the shoulder and part of a blue serge back.

And the unworried, unaccented voice of her father went on tormenting her.

"You see, you must understand. When I came out of jail it was with joy. That is, my soul was fairly torn in two—but anyway to see you happy—I had made up my mind to that. Once I could be sure that you were happy then of course I would have had no reason to care for life—strictly speaking—which is all right for an old man; though naturally—no reason to wish for death either. But this sort of life! What sense, what meaning, what value has it either for you or for me? It's just sitting down to look at the death, that's coming, coming. What else is it? I don't know how you can put up with that. I don't think you can stand it for long. Some day you will jump overboard."

Captain Anthony had stopped for a moment staring ahead from the break of the poop, and poor Flora sent at his back a look of despairing appeal which would have moved a heart of stone. But as though she had done nothing he did not stir in the least. She got out of the long chair and went towards the companion. Her father followed carrying a few small objects, a handbag, her handkerchief, a book. They went down together.

It was only then that Captain Anthony turned, looked at the place they had vacated and resumed his tramping, but not his desultory conversation with his second officer. His nervous exasperation had grown so much that now very often he used to lose control of his voice. If he did not watch himself it would suddenly die in his throat. He had to make sure before he ventured on the simplest saying, an order, a remark on the wind, a simple good morning. That's why his utterance was abrupt, his answers to people startlingly brusque and often not forthcoming at all.

It happens to the most resolute of men to find himself at grips not only with unknown forces, but with a well-known force the real might of which he had not understood. Anthony had discovered that he was not the proud master but the chafing captive of his generosity. It rose in front of him like a wall which his respect for himself forbade him to scale. He said to himself: "Yes, I was a fool—but she has trusted me!" Trusted! A terrible word to any man somewhat exceptional in a world in which success has never been found in renunciation and good faith. And it must also be said, in order not to make Anthony more stupidly sublime than he was, that the behaviour of Flora kept him at a distance. The girl was afraid to add to the exasperation of her father. It was her unhappy lot to be made more wretched by the only affection which she could not suspect. She could not be angry with it, however, and out of deference for that exaggerated sentiment she hardly dared to look otherwise than by stealth at the man whose masterful compassion had carried her off. And quite unable to understand the extent of Anthony's delicacy, she said to herself that "he didn't care." He probably was beginning at bottom to detest her—like the governess, like the maiden lady, like the German woman, like Mrs Fyne, like Mr Fyne—only he was extraordinary, he was generous. At the same time she had moments of irritation. He was violent, headstrong—perhaps stupid. Well, he had had his way.

A man who has had his way is seldom happy, for generally he finds that the way does not lead very far on this earth of desires which can never be fully satisfied. Anthony had entered with extreme precipitation the enchanted gardens of Armida saying to himself "At last!" As to Armida, herself, he was not going to offer her any violence. But now he had discovered that all the enchantment was in Armida herself, in Armida's smiles. This Armida did not smile. She existed, unapproachable, behind the blank wall of his renunciation. His force, fit for action, experienced the impatience, the indignation, almost the despair of his vitality arrested, bound, stilled, progressively worn down, frittered away by Time; by that force blind and insensible, which seems inert and yet uses one's life up by its imperceptible action, dropping minute after minute on one's living heart like drops of water wearing down a stone.

He upbraided himself. What else could he have expected? He had rushed in like a ruffian; he had dragged the poor defenceless thing by the hair of her head, as it were, on board that ship. It was really atrocious. Nothing assured him that his person could be attractive to this or any other woman. And his proceedings were enough in themselves to make anyone odious. He must have been bereft of his senses. She must fatally detest and fear him. Nothing could make up for such brutality. And yet somehow he resented this very attitude which seemed to him completely justifiable. Surely he was not too monstrous (morally) to be looked at frankly sometimes. But no! She wouldn't. Well, perhaps, some day... Only he was not going ever to attempt to beg for forgiveness. With the repulsion she felt for his person she would certainly misunderstand the most guarded words, the most careful advances. Never! Never!

It would occur to Anthony at the end of such meditations that death was not an unfriendly visitor after all. No wonder then that even young Powell, his faculties having been put on the alert, began to think that there was something unusual about the man who had given him his chance in life. Yes, decidedly, his captain was "strange." There was something wrong somewhere, he said to himself, never guessing that his young and candid eyes were in the presence of a passion profound, tyrannical and mortal, discovering its own existence, astounded at feeling itself helpless and dismayed at finding itself incurable.

Powell had never before felt this mysterious uneasiness so strongly as on that evening when it had been his good fortune to make Mrs Anthony laugh a little by his artless prattle. Standing out of the way, he had watched his captain walk the weather-side of the poop, he took full cognizance of his liking for that inexplicably strange man and saw him swerve towards the companion and go down below with sympathetic if utterly uncomprehending eyes.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Smith came up alone and manifested a desire for a little conversation. He, too, if not so mysterious as the captain, was not very comprehensible to Mr Powell's uninformed candour. He often favoured thus the second officer. His talk alluded somewhat enigmatically and often without visible connection to Mr Powell's friendliness towards himself and his daughter. "For I am well aware that we have no friends on board this ship, my dear young man," he would add, "except yourself. Flora feels that too."

And Mr Powell, flattered and embarrassed, could but emit a vague murmur of protest. For the statement was true in a sense, though the fact was in itself insignificant. The feelings of the ship's company could not possibly matter to the captain's wife and to Mr Smith—her father. Why the latter should so often allude to it was what surprised our Mr Powell. This was by no means the first occasion. More like the twentieth rather. And in his weak voice, with his monotonous intonation, leaning over the rail and looking at the water the other continued this conversation, or rather his remarks, remarks of such a monstrous nature that Mr Powell had no option but to accept them for gruesome jesting.

"For instance," said Mr Smith, "that mate, Franklin, I believe he would just as soon see us both overboard as not."

"It's not so bad as that," laughed Mr Powell, feeling uncomfortable, because his mind did not accommodate itself easily to exaggeration of statement. "He isn't a bad chap really," he added, very conscious of Mr Franklin's offensive manner of which instances were not far to seek. "He's such a fool as to be jealous. He has been with the captain for years. It's not for me to say, perhaps, but I think the captain has spoiled all that gang of old servants. They are like a lot of pet old dogs. Wouldn't let anybody come near him if they could help it. I've never seen anything like it. And the second mate, I believe, was like that too."

"Well, he isn't here, luckily. There would have been one more enemy," said Mr Smith. "There's enough of them without him. And you being here instead of him makes it much more pleasant for my daughter and myself. One feels there may be a friend in need. For really, for a woman all alone on board ship amongst a lot of unfriendly men..."

"But Mrs Anthony is not alone," exclaimed Powell. "There's you, and there's the..."

Mr Smith interrupted him.

"Nobody's immortal. And there are times when one feels ashamed to live. Such an evening as this for instance."

It was a lovely evening; the colours of a splendid sunset had died out and the breath of a warm breeze seemed to have smoothed out the sea. Away to the south the sheet lightning was like the flashing of an enormous lantern hidden under the horizon. In order to change the conversation Mr Powell said:

"Anyway no one can charge you with being a Jonah, Mr Smith. We have had a magnificent quick passage so far. The captain ought to be pleased. And I suppose you are not sorry either."

This diversion was not successful. Mr Smith emitted a sort of bitter chuckle and said: "Jonah! That's the fellow that was thrown overboard by some sailors. It seems to me it's very easy at sea to get rid of a person one does not like. The sea does not give up its dead as the earth does."

"You forget the whale, sir," said young Powell.

Mr Smith gave a start. "Eh? What whale? Oh! Jonah. I wasn't thinking of Jonah. I was thinking of this passage which seems so quick to you. But only think what it is to me? It isn't a life, going about the sea like this. And, for instance, if one were to fall ill, there isn't a doctor to find out what's the matter with one. It's worrying. It makes me anxious at times."

"Is Mrs Anthony not feeling well?" asked Powell. But Mr Smith's remark was not meant for Mrs Anthony. She was well. He himself was well. It was the captain's health that did not seem quite satisfactory. Had Mr Powell noticed his appearance?

Mr Powell didn't know enough of the captain to judge. He couldn't tell. But he observed thoughtfully that Mr Franklin had been saying the same thing. And Franklin had known the captain for years. The mate was quite worried about it.

This intelligence startled Mr Smith considerably. "Does he think he is in danger of dying?" he exclaimed with an animation quite extraordinary for him, which horrified Mr Powell.

"Heavens! Die! No! Don't you alarm yourself, sir. I've never heard a word about danger from Mr Franklin."

"Well, well," sighed Mr Smith and left the poop for the saloon rather abruptly.

As a matter of fact Mr Franklin had been on deck for some considerable time. He had come to relieve young Powell; but seeing him engaged in talk with the "enemy"—with one of the "enemies" at least—had kept at a distance, which, the poop of the Ferndale being over seventy feet long, he had no difficulty in doing. Mr Powell saw him at the head of the ladder leaning on his elbow, melancholy and silent. "Oh! Here you are, sir."

"Here I am. Here I've been ever since six o'clock. Didn't want to interrupt the pleasant conversation. If you like to put in half of your watch below jawing with a dear friend, that's not my affair. Funny taste though."

"He isn't a bad chap," said the impartial Powell.

The mate snorted angrily, tapping the deck with his foot; then: "Isn't he? Well, give him my love when you come together again for another nice long yarn."

"I say, Mr Franklin, I wonder the captain don't take offence at your manners."

"The captain. I wish to goodness he would start a row with me. Then I should know at least I am somebody on board. I'd welcome it, Mr Powell. I'd rejoice. And dam' me I would talk back too till I roused him. He's a shadow of himself. He walks about his ship like a ghost. He's fading away right before our eyes. But of course you don't see. You don't care a hang. Why should you?"

Mr Powell did not wait for more. He went down on the main deck. Without taking the mate's jeremiads seriously he put them beside the words of Mr Smith. He had grown already attached to Captain Anthony. There was something not only attractive but compelling in the man. Only it is very difficult for youth to believe in the menace of death. Not in the fact itself, but in its proximity to a breathing, moving, talking, superior human being, showing no sign of disease. And Mr Powell thought that this talk was all nonsense. But his curiosity was awakened. There was something, and at any time some circumstance might occur ... No, he would never find out ... There was nothing to find out, most likely. Mr Powell went to his room where he tried to read a book he had already read a good many times. Presently a bell rang for the officers' supper.



In the mess-room Powell found Mr Franklin hacking at a piece of cold salt beef with a table knife. The mate, fiery in the face and rolling his eyes over that task, explained that the carver belonging to the mess-room could not be found. The steward, present also, complained savagely of the cook. The fellow got things into his galley and then lost them. Mr Franklin tried to pacify him with mournful firmness.

"There, there! That will do. We who have been all these years together in the ship have other things to think about than quarrelling among ourselves."

Mr Powell thought with exasperation: "Here he goes again," for this utterance had nothing cryptic for him. The steward having withdrawn morosely, he was not surprised to hear the mate strike the usual note. That morning the mizzen topsail-tie had carried away (probably a defective link) and something like forty feet of chain and wire-rope, mixed up with a few heavy iron blocks, had crashed down from aloft on the poop with a terrifying racket.

"Did you notice the captain then, Mr Powell. Did you notice?"

Powell confessed frankly that he was too scared himself when all that lot of gear came down on deck to notice anything.

"The gin-block missed his head by an inch," went on the mate impressively. "I wasn't three feet from him. And what did he do? Did he shout, or jump, or even look aloft to see if the yard wasn't coming down too about our ears in a dozen pieces? It's a marvel it didn't. No, he just stopped short—no wonder; he must have felt the wind of that iron gin-block on his face—looked down at it, there, lying close to his foot—and went on again. I believe he didn't even blink. It isn't natural. The man is stupefied."

He sighed ridiculously and Mr Powell had suppressed a grin, when the mate added as if he couldn't contain himself:

"He will be taking to drink next. Mark my words. That's the next thing."

Mr Powell was disgusted.

"You are so fond of the captain and yet you don't seem to care what you say about him. I haven't been with him for seven years, but I know he isn't the sort of man that takes to drink. And then—why the devil should he?"

"Why the devil, you ask. Devil—eh? Well, no man is safe from the devil—and that's answer enough for you," wheezed Mr Franklin not unkindly. "There was a time, a long time ago, when I nearly took to drink myself. What do you say to that?"

Mr Powell expressed a polite incredulity. The thick, congested mate seemed on the point of bursting with despondency. "That was bad example though. I was young and fell into dangerous company, made a fool of myself—yes, as true as you see me sitting here. Drank to forget. Thought it a great dodge."

Powell looked at the grotesque Franklin with awakened interest and with that half-amused sympathy with which we receive unprovoked confidences from men with whom we have no sort of affinity. And at the same time he began to look upon him more seriously. Experience has its prestige. And the mate continued:

"If it hadn't been for the old lady, I would have gone to the devil. I remembered her in time. Nothing like having an old lady to look after to steady a chap and make him face things. But as bad luck would have it, Captain Anthony has no mother living, not a blessed soul belonging to him as far as I know. Oh, ay, I fancy he said once something to me of a sister. But she's married. She don't need him. Yes. In the old days he used to talk to me as if we had been brothers," exaggerated the mate sentimentally. "'Franklin,'—he would say—'this ship is my nearest relation and she isn't likely to turn against me. And I suppose you are the man I've known the longest in the world.' That's how he used to speak to me. Can I turn my back on him? He has turned his back on his ship; that's what it has come to. He has no one now but his old Franklin. But what's a fellow to do to put things back as they were and should be. Should be—I say!"

His starting eyes had a terrible fixity. Mr Powell's irresistible thought, "he resembles a boiled lobster in distress," was followed by annoyance. "Good Lord," he said, "you don't mean to hint that Captain Anthony has fallen into bad company. What is it you want to save him from?"

"I do mean it," affirmed the mate, and the very absurdity of the statement made it impressive—because it seemed so absolutely audacious. "Well, you have a cheek," said young Powell, feeling mentally helpless. "I have a notion the captain would half kill you if he were to know how you carry on."

"And welcome," uttered the fervently devoted Franklin. "I am willing, if he would only clear the ship afterwards of that ... You are but a youngster and you may go and tell him what you like. Let him knock the stuffing out of his old Franklin first and think it over afterwards. Anything to pull him together. But of course you wouldn't. You are all right. Only you don't know that things are sometimes different from what they look. There are friendships that are no friendships, and marriages that are no marriages... Phoo! Likely to be right—wasn't it? Never a hint to me. I go off on leave and when I come back, there it is—all over, settled! Not a word beforehand. No warning. If only: 'What do you think of it, Franklin?'—or anything of the sort. And that's a man who hardly ever did anything without asking my advice. Why! He couldn't take over a new coat from the tailor without ... first thing, directly the fellow came on board with some new clothes, whether in London or in China, it would be: 'Pass the word along there for Mr Franklin. Mr Franklin wanted in the cabin.' In I would go. 'Just look at my back, Franklin. Fits all right, doesn't it?' And I would say: 'First-rate, sir,' or whatever was the truth of it. That or anything else. Always the truth of it. Always. And well he knew it; and that's why he dared not speak right out. Talking about workmen, alterations, cabins... Phoo! ... instead of a straightforward—'Wish me joy, Mr Franklin!' Yes, that was the way to let me know. God only knows what they are—perhaps she isn't his daughter any more than she is... She doesn't resemble that old fellow. Not a bit. Not a bit. It's very awful. You may well open your mouth, young man. But for goodness' sake, you who are mixed up with that lot, keep your eyes and ears open too in case—in case of—I don't know what. Anything. One wonders what can happen here at sea! Nothing. Yet when a man is called a jailer behind his back."

Mr Franklin hid his face in his hands for a moment and Powell shut his mouth, which indeed had been open. He slipped out of the mess-room noiselessly. "The mate's crazy," he thought. It was his firm conviction. Nevertheless, that evening, he felt his inner tranquillity disturbed at last by the force and obstinacy of this craze. He couldn't dismiss it with the contempt it deserved. Had the word "jailer" really been pronounced? A strange word for the mate to even imagine he had heard. A senseless, unlikely word. But this word being the only clear and definite statement in these grotesque and dismal ravings was comparatively restful to his mind. Powell's mind rested on it still when he came up at eight o'clock to take charge of the deck. It was a moonless night, thick with stars above, very dark on the water. A steady air from the west kept the sails asleep. Franklin mustered both watches in low tones as if for a funeral, then approaching Powell:

"The course is east-south-east," said the chief mate distinctly.

"East-south-east, sir."

"Everything's set, Mr Powell."

"All right, sir."

The other lingered, his sentimental eyes gleamed silvery in the shadowy face. "A quiet night before us. I don't know that there are any special orders. A settled, quiet night. I dare say you won't see the captain. Once upon a time this was the watch he used to come up and start a chat with either of us then on deck. But now he sits in that infernal stern-cabin and mopes. Jailer—eh?"

Mr Powell walked away from the mate and when at some distance said, "Damn!" quite heartily. It was a confounded nuisance. It had ceased to be funny; that hostile word "jailer" had given the situation an air of reality.

Franklin's grotesque mortal envelope had disappeared from the poop to seek its needful repose, if only the worried soul would let it rest a while. Mr Powell, half sorry for the thick little man, wondered whether it would let him. For himself, he recognised that the charm of a quiet watch on deck when one may let one's thoughts roam in space and time had been spoiled without remedy. What shocked him most was the implied aspersion of complicity on Mrs Anthony. It angered him. In his own words to me, he felt very "enthusiastic" about Mrs Anthony. "Enthusiastic" is good; especially as he couldn't exactly explain to me what he meant by it. But he felt enthusiastic, he says. That silly Franklin must have been dreaming. That was it. He had dreamed it all. Ass. Yet the injurious word stuck in Powell's mind with its associated ideas of prisoner, of escape. He became very uncomfortable. And just then (it might have been half an hour or more since he had relieved Franklin) just then Mr Smith came up on the poop alone, like a gliding shadow and leaned over the rail by his side. Young Powell was affected disagreeably by his presence. He made a movement to go away but the other began to talk—and Powell remained where he was as if retained by a mysterious compulsion. The conversation started by Mr Smith had nothing peculiar. He began to talk of mail-boats in general and in the end seemed anxious to discover what were the services from Port Elizabeth to London. Mr Powell did not know for certain but imagined that there must be communication with England at least twice a month. "Are you thinking of leaving us, sir; of going home by steam? Perhaps with Mrs Anthony," he asked anxiously.

"No! No! How can I?" Mr Smith got quite agitated, for him, which did not amount to much. He was just asking for the sake of something to talk about. No idea at all of going home. One could not always do what one wanted and that's why there were moments when one felt ashamed to live. This did not mean that one did not want to live. Oh no!

He spoke with careless slowness, pausing frequently and in such a low voice that Powell had to strain his hearing to catch the phrases dropped overboard as it were. And indeed they seemed not worth the effort. It was like the aimless talk of a man pursuing a secret train of thought far removed from the idle words we so often utter only to keep in touch with our fellow beings. An hour passed. It seemed as though Mr Smith could not make up his mind to go below. He repeated himself. Again he spoke of lives which one was ashamed of. It was necessary to put up with such lives as long as there was no way out, no possible issue. He even alluded once more to mail-boat services on the East coast of Africa and young Powell had to tell him once more that he knew nothing about them.

"Every fortnight, I thought you said," insisted Mr Smith. He stirred, seemed to detach himself from the rail with difficulty. His long, slender figure straightened into stiffness, as if hostile to the enveloping soft peace of air and sea and sky, emitted into the night a weak murmur which Mr Powell fancied was the word, "Abominable" repeated three times, but which passed into the faintly louder declaration: "The moment has come—to go to bed," followed by a just audible sigh.

"I sleep very well," added Mr Smith in his restrained tone. "But it is the moment one opens one's eyes that is horrible at sea. These days! Oh, these days! I wonder how anybody can..."

"I like the life," observed Mr Powell.

"Oh, you. You have only yourself to think of. You have made your bed. Well, it's very pleasant to feel that you are friendly to us. My daughter has taken quite a liking to you, Mr Powell."

He murmured, "Good-night" and glided away rigidly. Young Powell asked himself with some distaste what was the meaning of these utterances. His mind had been worried at last into that questioning attitude by no other person than the grotesque Franklin. Suspicion was not natural to him. And he took good care to carefully separate in his thoughts Mrs Anthony from this man of enigmatic words—her father. Presently he observed that the sheen of the two deck dead-lights of Mr Smith's room had gone out. The old gentleman had been surprisingly quick in getting into bed. Shortly afterwards the lamp in the foremost skylight of the saloon was turned out; and this was the sign that the steward had taken in the tray and had retired for the night.

Young Powell had settled down to the regular officer-of-the-watch tramp in the dense shadow of the world decorated with stars high above his head, and on earth only a few gleams of light about the ship. The lamp in the after skylight was kept burning through the night. There were also the dead-lights of the stern-cabins glimmering dully in the deck far aft, catching his eye when he turned to walk that way. The brasses of the wheel glittered too, with the dimly lit figure of the man detached, as if phosphorescent, against the black and spangled background of the horizon.

Young Powell, in the silence of the ship, reinforced by the great silent stillness of the world, said to himself that there was something mysterious in such beings as the absurd Franklin, and even in such beings as himself. It was a strange and almost improper thought to occur to the officer of the watch of a ship on the high seas on no matter how quiet a night. Why on earth was he bothering his head? Why couldn't he dismiss all these people from his mind? It was as if the mate had infected him with his own diseased devotion. He would not have believed it possible that he should be so foolish. But he was—clearly. He was foolish in a way totally unforeseen by himself. Pushing this self-analysis further, he reflected that the springs of his conduct were just as obscure.

"I may be catching myself any time doing things of which I have no conception," he thought. And as he was passing near the mizzen-mast he perceived a coil of rope left lying on the deck by the oversight of the sweepers. By an impulse which had nothing mysterious in it, he stooped as he went by with the intention of picking it up and hanging it up on its proper pin. This movement brought his head down to the level of the glazed end of the after skylight—the lighted skylight of the most private part of the saloon, consecrated to the exclusiveness of Captain Anthony's married life; the part, let me remind you, cut off from the rest of that forbidden space by a pair of heavy curtains. I mention these curtains because at this point Mr Powell himself recalled the existence of that unusual arrangement, to my mind.

He recalled them with simple-minded compunction at that distance of time. He said: "You understand that directly I stooped to pick up that coil of running gear—the spanker foot-outhaul, it was—I perceived that I could see right into that part of the saloon the curtains were meant to make particularly private. Do you understand me?" he insisted.

I told him that I understood; and he proceeded to call my attention to the wonderful linking up of small facts, with something of awe left yet, after all these years, at the precise workmanship of chance, fate, providence, call it what you will! "For, observe, Marlow," he said, making at me very round eyes which contrasted funnily with the austere touch of grey on his temples, "observe, my dear fellow, that everything depended on the men who cleared up the poop in the evening leaving that coil of rope on the deck, and on the topsail-tie carrying away in a most incomprehensible and surprising manner earlier in the day, and the end of the chain whipping round the coaming and shivering to bits the coloured glass-pane at the end of the skylight. It had the arms of the city of Liverpool on it; I don't know why unless because the Ferndale was registered in Liverpool. It was very thick plate-glass. Anyhow, the upper part got smashed, and directly we had attended to things aloft Mr Franklin had set the carpenter to patch up the damage with some pieces of plain glass. I don't know where they got them; I think the people who fitted up new bookcases in the captain's room had left some spare panes. Chips was there the whole afternoon on his knees, messing with putty and red-lead. It wasn't a neat job when it was done, not by any means, but it would serve to keep the weather out and let the light in. Clear glass. And of course I was not thinking of it. I just stooped to pick up that rope and found my head within three inches of that clear glass, and—dash it all! I found myself out. Not half an hour before I was saying to myself that it was impossible to tell what was in people's heads or at the back of their talk, or what they were likely to be up to. And here I found myself up to as low a trick as you can well think of. For, after I had stooped, there I remained prying, spying, anyway looking, where I had no business to look. Not consciously at first, may be. He who has eyes, you know, nothing can stop him from seeing things as long as there are things to see in front of him. What I saw at first was the end of the table and the tray clamped on to it, a patent tray for sea use, fitted with holders for a couple of decanters, water-jug and glasses. The glitter of these things caught my eye first; but what I saw next was the captain down there, alone as far as I could see; and I could see pretty well the whole of that part up to the cottage piano, dark against the satin-wood panelling of the bulkhead. And I remained looking. I did. And I don't know that I was ashamed of myself either, then. It was the fault of that Franklin, always talking of the man, making free with him to that extent that really he seemed to have become our property, his and mine, in a way. It's funny, but one had that feeling about Captain Anthony. To watch him was not so much worse than listening to Franklin talking him over. Well, it's no use making excuses for what's inexcusable. I watched; but I dare say you know that there could have been nothing inimical in this low behaviour of mine. On the contrary. I'll tell you now what he was doing. He was helping himself out of a decanter. I saw every movement, and I said to myself mockingly as though jeering at Franklin in my thoughts 'Hallo! Here's the captain taking to drink at last.' He poured a little brandy or whatever it was into a long glass, filled it with water, drank about a fourth of it and stood the glass back into the holder. Every sign of a bad drinking bout, I was saying to myself, feeling quite amused at the notions of that Franklin. He seemed to me an enormous ass; with his jealousy and his fears. At that rate a month would not have been enough for anybody to get drunk. The captain sat down in one of the swivel armchairs fixed around the table; I had him right under me and as he turned the chair slightly, I was looking, I may say, down his back. He took another little sip and then reached for a book which was lying on the table. I had not noticed it before. Altogether the proceedings of a desperate drunkard—weren't they? He opened the book and held it before his face. If this was the way he took to drink, then I needn't worry. He was in no danger from that, and as to any other, I assure you no human being could have looked safer than he did down there. I felt the greatest contempt for Franklin just then, while I looked at Captain Anthony sitting there with a glass of weak brandy-and-water at his elbow and reading in the cabin of his ship, on a quiet night—the quietest, perhaps the finest, of a prosperous passage. And if you wonder why I didn't leave off my ugly spying I will tell you how it was. Captain Anthony was a great reader just about that time; and I, too, I have a great liking for books. To this day I can't come near a book but I must know what it is about. It was a thickish volume he had there, small close print, double columns—I can see it now. What I wanted to make out was the title at the top of the page. I have very good eyes but he wasn't holding it conveniently— I mean for me up there. Well, it was a history of some kind, that much I read and then suddenly he bangs the book face down on the table, jumps up as if something had bitten him and walks away aft.

"Funny thing shame is. I had been behaving badly and aware of it in a way, but I didn't feel really ashamed till the fright of being found out in my honourable occupation drove me from it. I slunk away to the forward end of the poop and lounged about there, my face and ears burning and glad it was a dark night, expecting every moment to hear the captain's footsteps behind me. For I made sure he was coming on deck. Presently I thought I had rather meet him face to face and I walked slowly aft prepared to see him emerge from the companion before I got that far. I even thought of his having detected me by some means. But it was impossible, unless he had eyes in the top of his head. I had never had a view of his face down there. It was impossible; I was safe; and I felt very mean, yet, explain it as you may, I seemed not to care. And the captain not appearing on deck, I had the impulse to go on being mean. I wanted another peep. I really don't know what was the beastly influence except that Mr Franklin's talk was enough to demoralise any man by raising a sort of unhealthy curiosity which did away in my case with all the restraints of common decency.

"I did not mean to run the risk of being caught squatting in a suspicious attitude by the captain. There was also the helmsman to consider. So what I did—I am surprised at my low cunning—was to sit down naturally on the skylight-seat and then by bending forward I found that, as I expected, I could look down through the upper part of the end-pane. The worst that could happen to me then, if I remained too long in that position, was to be suspected by the seaman aft at the wheel of having gone to sleep there. For the rest my ears would give me sufficient warning of any movements in the companion.

"But in that way my angle of view was changed. The field too was smaller. The end of the table, the tray and the swivel-chair I had right under my eyes. The captain had not come back yet. The piano I could not see now; but on the other hand I had a very oblique downward view of the curtains drawn across the cabin and cutting off the forward part of it just about the level of the skylight-end and only an inch or so from the end of the table. They were heavy stuff, travelling on a thick brass rod with some contrivance to keep the rings from sliding to and fro when the ship rolled. But just then the ship was as still almost as a model shut up in a glass case while the curtains, joined closely, and, perhaps on purpose, made a little too long moved no more than a solid wall."

Marlow got up to get another cigar. The night was getting on to what I may call its deepest hour, the hour most favourable to evil purposes of men's hate, despair or greed—to whatever can whisper into their ears the unlawful counsels of protest against things that are; the hour of ill-omened silence and chill and stagnation, the hour when the criminal plies his trade and the victim of sleeplessness reaches the lowest depth of dreadful discouragement; the hour before the first sight of dawn. I know it, because while Marlow was crossing the room I looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. He however never looked that way though it is possible that he, too, was aware of the passage of time. He sat down heavily.

"Our friend Powell," he began again, "was very anxious that I should understand the topography of that cabin. I was interested more by its moral atmosphere, that tension of falsehood, of desperate acting, which tainted the pure sea-atmosphere into which the magnanimous Anthony had carried off his conquest and—well—his self-conquest too, trying to act at the same time like a beast of prey, a pure spirit and the 'most generous of men.' Too big an order clearly because he was nothing of a monster but just a common mortal, a little more self-willed and self-confident than most, may be, both in his roughness and in his delicacy."

As to the delicacy of Mr Powell's proceedings I'll say nothing. He found a sort of depraved excitement in watching an unconscious man—and such an attractive and mysterious man as Captain Anthony at that. He wanted another peep at him. He surmised that the captain must come back soon because of the glass two-thirds full and also of the book put down so brusquely. God knows what sudden pang had made Anthony jump up so. I am convinced he used reading as an opiate against the pain of his magnanimity which like all abnormal growths was gnawing at his healthy substance with cruel persistence. Perhaps he had rushed into his cabin simply to groan freely in absolute and delicate secrecy. At any rate he tarried there. And young Powell would have grown weary and compunctious at last if it had not become manifest to him that he had not been alone in the highly incorrect occupation of watching the movements of Captain Anthony.

Powell explained to me that no sound did or perhaps could reach him from the saloon. The first sign—and we must remember that he was using his eyes for all they were worth—was an unaccountable movement of the curtain. It was wavy and very slight; just perceptible in fact to the sharpened faculties of a secret watcher; for it can't be denied that our wits are much more alert when engaged in wrong-doing (in which one mustn't be found out) than in a righteous occupation.

He became suspicious, with no one and nothing definite in his mind. He was suspicious of the curtain itself and observed it. It looked very innocent. Then just as he was ready to put it down to a trick of imagination he saw trembling movements where the two curtains joined. Yes! Somebody else besides himself had been watching Captain Anthony. He owns artlessly that this roused his indignation. It was really too much of a good thing. In this state of intense antagonism he was startled to observe tips of fingers fumbling with the dark stuff. Then they grasped the edge of the further curtain and hung on there, just fingers and knuckles and nothing else. It made an abominable sight. He was looking at it with unaccountable repulsion when a hand came into view; a short, puffy, old, freckled hand projecting into the lamplight, followed by a white wrist, an arm in a grey coat-sleeve, up to the elbow, beyond the elbow, extended tremblingly towards the tray. Its appearance was weird and nauseous, fantastic and silly. But instead of grabbing the bottle as Powell expected, this hand, tremulous with senile eagerness, swerved to the glass, rested on its edge for a moment (or so it looked from above) and went back with a jerk. The gripping fingers of the other hand vanished at the same time, and young Powell staring at the motionless curtains could indulge for a moment the notion that he had been dreaming.

But that notion did not last long. Powell, after repressing his first impulse to spring for the companion and hammer at the captain's door, took steps to have himself relieved by the boatswain. He was in a state of distraction as to his feelings and yet lucid as to his mind. He remained on the skylight so as to keep his eye on the tray.

Still the captain did not appear in the saloon. "If he had," said Mr Powell, "I knew what to do. I would have put my elbow through the pane instantly—crash."

I asked him why?

"It was the quickest dodge for getting him away from that tray," he explained. "My throat was so dry that I didn't know if I could shout loud enough. And this was not a case for shouting, either."

The boatswain, sleepy and disgusted, arriving on the poop, found the second officer doubled up over the end of the skylight in a pose which might have been that of severe pain. And his voice was so changed that the man, though naturally vexed at being turned out, made no comment on the plea of sudden indisposition which young Powell put forward.

The rapidity with which the sick man got off the poop must have astonished the boatswain. But Powell, at the moment he opened the door leading into the saloon from the quarter-deck, had managed to control his agitation. He entered swiftly but without noise and found himself in the dark part of the saloon, the strong sheen of the lamp on the other side of the curtains visible only above the rod on which they ran. The door of Mr Smith's cabin was in that dark part. He passed by it assuring himself by a quick side glance that it was imperfectly closed. "Yes," he said to me. "The old man must have been watching through the crack. Of that I am certain; but it was not for me that he was watching and listening. Horrible! Surely he must have been startled to hear and see somebody he did not expect. He could not possibly guess why I was coming in, but I suppose he must have been concerned." Concerned indeed! He must have been thunderstruck, appalled.

Powell's only distinct aim was to remove the suspected tumbler. He had no other plan, no other intention, no other thought. Do away with it in some manner. Snatch it up and run out with it.

You know that complete mastery of one fixed idea, not a reasonable but an emotional mastery, a sort of concentrated exaltation. Under its empire men rush blindly through fire and water and opposing violence, and nothing can stop them—unless, sometimes, a grain of sand. For his blind purpose (and clearly the thought of Mrs Anthony was at the bottom of it) Mr Powell had plenty of time. What checked him at the crucial moment was the familiar, harmless aspect of common things, the steady light, the open book on the table, the solitude, the peace, the home-like effect of the place. He held the glass in his hand; all he had to do was to vanish back beyond the curtains, flee with it noiselessly into the night on deck, fling it unseen overboard. A minute or less. And then all that would have happened would have been the wonder at the utter disappearance of a glass tumbler, a ridiculous riddle in pantry-affairs beyond the wit of anyone on board to solve. The grain of sand against which Powell stumbled in his headlong career was a moment of incredulity as to the truth of his own conviction because it had failed to affect the safe aspect of familiar things. He doubted his eyes too. He must have dreamt it all! "I am dreaming now," he said to himself. And very likely for a few seconds he must have looked like a man in a trance or profoundly asleep on his feet, and with a glass of brandy-and-water in his hand.

What woke him up and, at the same time, fixed his feet immovably to the spot, was a voice asking him what he was doing there in tones of thunder. Or so it sounded to his ears. Anthony, opening the door of his stern-cabin had naturally exclaimed. What else could you expect? And the exclamation must have been fairly loud if you consider the nature of the sight which met his eye. There, before him, stood his second officer, a seemingly decent, well-bred young man, who, being on duty, had left the deck and had sneaked into the saloon, apparently for the inexpressibly mean purpose of drinking up what was left of his captain's brandy-and-water. There he was, caught absolutely with the glass in his hand.

But the very monstrosity of appearances silenced Anthony after the first exclamation; and young Powell felt himself pierced through and through by the overshadowed glance of his captain. Anthony advanced quietly. The first impulse of Mr Powell, when discovered, had been to dash the glass on the deck. He was in a sort of panic. But deep down within him his wits were working, and the idea that if he did that he could prove nothing and that the story he had to tell was completely incredible, restrained him. The captain came forward slowly. With his eyes now close to his, Powell, spell-bound, numb all over, managed to lift one finger to the deck above mumbling the explanatory words, "Boatswain on the poop."

The captain moved his head slightly as much as to say, "That's all right"—and this was all. Powell had no voice, no strength. The air was unbreathable, thick, sticky, odious, like hot jelly in which all movements became difficult. He raised the glass a little with immense difficulty and moved his trammelled lips sufficiently to form the words:


Anthony glanced at it for an instant, only for an instant, and again fastened his eyes on the face of his second mate. Powell added a fervent "I believe" and put the glass down on the tray. The captain's glance followed the movement and returned sternly to his face. The young man pointed a finger once more upwards and squeezed out of his iron-bound throat six consecutive words of further explanation. "Through the skylight. The white pane."

The captain raised his eyebrows very much at this, while young Powell, ashamed but desperate, nodded insistently several times. He meant to say that: Yes. Yes. He had done that thing. He had been spying... The captain's gaze became thoughtful. And, now the confession was over, the iron-bound feeling of Powell's throat passed away giving place to a general anxiety which from his breast seemed to extend to all the limbs and organs of his body. His legs trembled a little, his vision was confused, his mind became blankly expectant. But he was alert enough. At a movement of Anthony he screamed in a strangled whisper.

"Don't, sir! Don't touch it."

The captain pushed aside Powell's extended arm, took up the glass and raised it slowly against the lamplight. The liquid, of very pale amber colour, was clear, and by a glance the captain seemed to call Powell's attention to the fact. Powell tried to pronounce the word, "dissolved" but he only thought of it with great energy which however failed to move his lips. Only when Anthony had put down the glass and turned to him he recovered such a complete command of his voice that he could keep it down to a hurried, forcible whisper—a whisper that shook him.

"Doctored! I swear it! I have seen. Doctored! I have seen."

Not a feature of the captain's face moved. His was a calm to take one's breath away. It did so to young Powell. Then for the first time Anthony made himself heard to the point.

"You did! ... Who was it?"

And Powell gasped freely at last. "A hand," he whispered fearfully, "a hand and the arm—only the arm—like that."

He advanced his own, slow, stealthy, tremulous in faithful reproduction, the tips of two fingers and the thumb pressed together and hovering above the glass for an instant—then the swift jerk back, after the deed.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse