On my right
hand there were lines of fishing stakes resembling a mysterious system
of half-submerged bamboo
in its division
of the domain
fishes, and crazy of aspect
as if abandoned forever
by some nomad
tribe of fishermen now gone to the other end of the ocean; for there was no sign of human habitation
as far as the eye could reach. To the left a group of barren
islets, suggesting ruins of stone walls, towers, and blockhouses, had its foundations set in a blue sea that itself looked solid
, so still and stable
did it lie below my feet; even the track
of light from the westering sun shone smoothly, without that animated glitter
which tells of an imperceptible ripple
. And when I turned my head to take a parting glance
at the tug which had just left us anchored outside the bar
, I saw the straight
line of the flat shore
joined to the stable
, with a perfect
and unmarked closeness, in one leveled floor half brown, half blue under the enormous dome
of the sky. Corresponding in their insignificance to the islets of the sea, two small clumps of trees, one on each side of the only fault
in the impeccable joint
the mouth of the river Meinam we had just left on the first preparatory
stage of our homeward journey
; and, far back on the inland level
, a larger and loftier mass
, the grove
surrounding the great Paknam pagoda
, was the only thing on which the eye could rest from the vain task
of exploring the monotonous
sweep of the horizon
. Here and there gleams as of a few scattered pieces of silver marked
the windings of the great river; and on the nearest of them, just within the bar
, the tug steaming right
into the land became lost
to my sight
and masts, as though the impassive earth
had swallowed her up without an effort
, without a tremor
. My eye followed the light cloud of her smoke, now here, now there, above the plain
to the devious
curves of the stream
, but always fainter and farther away, till
it at last behind the miter-shaped hill of the great pagoda
. And then I was left alone with my ship, anchored at the head of the Gulf of Siam.
She floated at the starting point of a long journey
, very still in an immense
stillness, the shadows of her spars flung far to the eastward by the setting
sun. At that moment
I was alone on her decks. There was not a sound
in her-and around us nothing moved, nothing lived, not a canoe
on the water, not a bird in the air, not a cloud in the sky. In this breathless pause
at the threshold
of a long passage
we seemed to be measuring our fitness
for a long and arduous enterprise
, the appointed task
of both our existences to be carried out, far from all human
eyes, with only sky and sea for spectators and for judges.
There must have been some glare
in the air to interfere
with one's sight
, because it was only just before the sun left us that my roaming eyes made out beyond the highest ridges of the principal
islet of the group something which did away with the solemnity
of perfect solitude
. The tide
of darkness flowed on swiftly; and with tropical
suddenness a swarm
of stars came out above the shadowy earth
, while I lingered yet, my hand resting lightly on my ship's rail
as if on the shoulder of a trusted friend. But, with all that multitude
bodies staring down at one, the comfort
of quiet communion
with her was gone for good. And there were also disturbing
sounds by this time-voices, footsteps forward
; the steward
flitted along the main-deck, a busily ministering spirit
; a hand bell tinkled urgently under the poop deck....
I found my two officers waiting for me near the supper table
, in the lighted cuddy. We sat down at once, and as I helped the chief mate, I said:
"Are you aware
that there is a ship anchored inside the islands? I saw her mastheads above the ridge
as the sun went down."
He raised sharply
face, overcharged by a terrible growth of whisker
, and emitted his usual ejaculations: "Bless my soul
, sir! You don't say so!"
My second mate was a round-cheeked, silent young man, grave
beyond his years, I thought
; but as our eyes happened to meet I detected a slight quiver
on his lips. I looked down at once. It was not my part to encourage
sneering on board
my ship. It must be said, too, that I knew very little of my officers. In consequence
events of no particular significance
, except to myself, I had been appointed to the command
only a fortnight
before. Neither did I know much of the hands forward
. All these people had been together for eighteen months or so, and my position was that of the only stranger
. I mention
this because it has some bearing
on what is to follow. But what I felt most was my being a stranger
to the ship; and if all the truth must be told, I was somewhat of a stranger
to myself. The youngest man on board
(barring the second mate), and untried as yet by a position of the fullest responsibility
, I was willing to take the adequacy
of the others for granted. They had simply to be equal
to their tasks; but I wondered how far I should turn out faithful
to that ideal conception
of one's own personality
every man sets up for himself secretly.
Meantime the chief mate, with an almost visible effect
on the part of his round eyes and frightful
whiskers, was trying to evolve
of the anchored ship. His dominant trait
was to take all things into earnest consideration
. He was of a painstaking
turn of mind
. As he used to say, he "liked to account
to himself" for practically
everything that came in his way, down to a miserable
scorpion he had found in his cabin a week before. The why and the wherefore
of that scorpion-how it got on board
and came to select
his room rather than the pantry
(which was a dark place and more what a scorpion would be partial
to), and how on earth
it managed to drown
itself in the inkwell of his writing desk-had exercised him infinitely. The ship within the islands was much more easily accounted for; and just as we were about to rise from table
he made his pronouncement
. She was, he doubted not, a ship from home lately arrived. Probably she drew too much water to cross
except at the top of spring tides. Therefore she went into that natural harbor
to wait for a few days in preference
in an open roadstead.
"That's so," confirmed the second mate, suddenly
, in his slightly hoarse
voice. "She draws over twenty feet. She's the Liverpool ship Sephora with a cargo
of coal. Hundred and twenty-three days from Cardiff."
We looked at him in surprise
"The tugboat skipper told me when he came on board
for your letters, sir," explained the young man. "He expects to take her up the river the day after tomorrow."
After thus overwhelming
us with the extent
of his information
he slipped out of the cabin. The mate observed regretfully
that he "could not account
for that young fellow's whims." What prevented him telling us all about it at once, he wanted to know.
I detained him as he was making a move. For the last two days the crew
had had plenty
of hard work, and the night before they had very little sleep. I felt painfully that I-a stranger
-was doing something unusual when I directed him to let all hands turn in without setting
watch. I proposed to keep on deck myself till
one o'clock or thereabouts. I would get the second mate to relieve
me at that hour.
"He will turn out the cook and the steward
at four," I concluded, "and then give you a call. Of course at the slightest sign of any sort of wind we'll have the hands up and make a start at once."
. "Very well, sir." Outside the cuddy he put his head in the second mate's door to inform
him of my unheard-of caprice
to take a five hours' anchor
watch on myself. I heard the other raise
his voice incredulously
-"What? The Captain himself?" Then a few more murmurs, a door closed, then another. A few moments later I went on deck.
My strangeness, which had made me sleepless, had prompted that unconventional arrangement
, as if I had expected
in those solitary
hours of the night to get on terms with the ship of which I knew nothing, manned by men of whom I knew very little more. Fast alongside a wharf
, littered like any ship in port
with a tangle
things, invaded by unrelated shore
people, I had hardly seen her yet properly. Now, as she lay cleared for sea, the stretch
of her main-deck seemed to me very fine under the stars. Very fine, very roomy for her size, and very inviting. I descended the poop and paced the waist, my mind
picturing to myself the coming passage through
the Malay Archipelago, down the Indian Ocean, and up the Atlantic. All its phases were familiar
enough to me, every characteristic
, all the alternatives which were likely
to face me on the high seas-everything!... except the novel responsibility
. But I took heart
from the reasonable thought
that the ship was like other ships, the men like other men, and that the sea was not likely
to keep any special
surprises expressly for my discomfiture.
Arrived at that comforting conclusion
, I bethought myself of a cigar and went below to get it. All was still down there. Everybody at the after end of the ship was sleeping profoundly
. I came out again on the quarter-deck, agreeably at ease
in my sleeping suit
on that warm breathless night, barefooted, a glowing cigar in my teeth, and, going forward
, I was met by the profound silence
of the fore
end of the ship. Only as I passed the door of the forecastle, I heard a deep, quiet, trustful sigh
of some sleeper
inside. And suddenly
I rejoiced in the great security
of the sea as compared with the unrest of the land, in my choice
of that untempted life presenting no disquieting
problems, invested with an elementary moral
beauty by the absolute
straightforwardness of its appeal
and by the singleness of its purpose
The riding light in the forerigging burned with a clear, untroubled, as if symbolic
and bright in the mysterious
shades of the night. Passing on my way aft
along the other side of the ship, I observed that the rope side ladder, put over, no doubt
, for the master
of the tug when he came to fetch
away our letters, had not been hauled in as it should have been. I became annoyed
at this, for exactitude in some small matters is the very soul
. Then I reflected that I had myself peremptorily dismissed my officers from duty
, and by my own act had prevented the anchor
watch being formally
set and things properly attended to. I asked myself whether it was wise
ever to interfere
with the established routine
of duties even from the kindest of motives. My action might
have made me appear eccentric
. Goodness only knew how that absurdly whiskered mate would "account
" for my conduct
, and what the whole ship thought
of that informality of their new captain. I was vexed
Not from compunction certainly
, but, as it were mechanically
, I proceeded to get the ladder in myself. Now a side ladder of that sort is a light affair
and comes in easily, yet my vigorous
tug, which should have brought it flying on board
recoiled upon my body in a totally unexpected jerk. What the devil!... I was so astounded by the immovableness of that ladder that I remained stock-still, trying to account
for it to myself like that imbecile
mate of mine
. In the end, of course, I put my head over the rail
The side of the ship made an opaque
belt of shadow
on the darkling glassy shimmer
of the sea. But I saw at once something elongated and pale
floating very close to the ladder. Before I could form a guess a faint flash
light, which seemed to issue suddenly
from the naked body of a man, flickered in the sleeping water with the elusive
, silent play of summer lightning
in a night sky. With a gasp
I saw revealed to my stare
of feet, the long legs, a broad livid
back immersed right
up to the neck in a greenish cadaverous glow
. One hand, awash
, clutched the bottom rung of the ladder. He was complete
but for the head. A headless corpse
! The cigar dropped out of my gaping mouth with a tiny
plop and a short hiss
in the absolute
stillness of all things under heaven. At that I suppose
he raised up his face, a dimly pale
oval in the shadow
of the ship's side. But even then I could only barely
make out down there the shape
of his black-haired head. However, it was enough for the horrid
, frost-bound sensation
which had gripped me about the chest to pass off. The moment
exclamations was past, too. I only climbed on the spare spar
and leaned over the rail
as far as I could, to bring my eyes nearer to that mystery
As he hung by the ladder, like a resting swimmer, the sea lightning
played about his limbs at every stir
; and he appeared in it ghastly
, silvery, fishlike. He remained as mute
as a fish, too. He made no motion
to get out of the water, either. It was inconceivable
that he should not attempt
to come on board
, and strangely troubling
that perhaps he did not want to. And my first words were prompted by just that troubled incertitude.
"What's the matter
?" I asked in my ordinary tone
, speaking down to the face upturned exactly under mine
"Cramp," it answered, no louder. Then slightly anxious
, "I say, no need
to call anyone."
"I was not going to," I said.
"Are you alone on deck?"
I had somehow the impression
that he was on the point of letting go the ladder to swim away beyond my ken-mysterious
as he came. But, for the moment
, this being appearing as if he had risen from the bottom of the sea (it was certainly
the nearest land to the ship) wanted only to know the time. I told him. And he, down there, tentatively
your captain's turned in?"
"I am sure he isn't," I said.
He seemed to struggle
with himself, for I heard something like the low, bitter murmur
. "What's the good?" His next words came out with a hesitating effort
"Look here, my man. Could you call him out quietly?"
the time had come to declare
"I am the captain."
I heard a "By Jove!" whispered at the level
of the water. The phosphorescence flashed in the swirl
of the water all about his limbs, his other hand seized the ladder.
"My name's Leggatt."
The voice was calm and resolute
. A good voice. The self-possession
of that man had somehow induced a corresponding state
in myself. It was very quietly that I remarked:
"You must be a good swimmer."
"Yes. I've been in the water practically
since nine o'clock. The question for me now is whether I am to let go this ladder and go on swimming till
, or-to come on board
I felt this was no mere formula
of desperate speech
, but a real alternative
in the view of a strong soul
. I should have gathered from this that he was young; indeed, it is only the young who are ever confronted by such clear issues. But at the time it was pure intuition
on my part. A mysterious communication
already between us two-in the face of that silent, darkened tropical
sea. I was young, too; young enough to make no . The man in the water began suddenly
to climb up the ladder, and I hastened away from the rail
Before entering the cabin I stood still, listening in the lobby
at the foot of the stairs. A faint
snore came through
the closed door of the chief mate's room. The second mate's door was on the hook, but the darkness in there was absolutely
soundless. He, too, was young and could sleep like a stone. Remained the steward
, but he was not likely
up before he was called. I got a sleeping suit
out of my room and, coming back on deck, saw the naked man from the sea sitting on the main hatch
, glimmering white in the darkness, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. In a moment
he had concealed
body in a sleeping suit
of the same gray-stripe pattern
as the one I was wearing and followed me like my double on the poop. Together we moved right aft
, barefooted, silent.
"What is it?" I asked in a deadened voice, taking the lighted lamp out of the binnacle, and raising it to his face.
"An ugly business."
He had rather regular features; a good mouth; light eyes under somewhat heavy, dark eyebrows; a smooth
, square forehead; no growth on his cheeks; a small, brown mustache, and a well-shaped, round chin. His expression
, under the inspecting light of the lamp I held up to his face; such as a man thinking hard in solitude might
wear. My sleeping suit
was just right
for his size. A well-knit young fellow of twenty-five at most. He caught his lower lip with the edge
of white, even teeth.
"Yes," I said, replacing the lamp in the binnacle. The warm, heavy tropical
night closed upon his head again.
"There's a ship over there," he murmured.
"Yes, I know. The Sephora. Did you know of us?"
"Hadn't the slightest idea. I am the mate of her-" He paused and corrected himself. "I should say I was."
"Aha! Something wrong?"
"Yes. Very wrong indeed. I've killed a man."
"What do you mean
? Just now?"
"No, on the passage
. Weeks ago. Thirty-nine south. When I say a man-"
"Fit of temper
," I suggested, confidently.
, dark head, like mine
, seemed to nod imperceptibly
above the ghostly
gray of my sleeping suit
. It was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own reflection
in the depths of a somber
"A pretty thing to have to own up to for a Conway boy," murmured my double, distinctly.
"You're a Conway boy?"
"I am," he said, as if startled. Then, slowly... "Perhaps you too-"
It was so; but being a couple
of years older I had left before he joined. After a quick interchange of dates a silence
fell; and I thought suddenly
of my absurd
mate with his terrific whiskers and the "Bless my soul
-you don't say so" type of intellect
. My double gave me an inkling
of his thoughts by saying: "My father's a parson
in Norfolk. Do you see me before a judge and jury
on that charge? For myself I can't see the necessity
. There are fellows that an angel from heaven-And I am not that. He was one of those creatures that are just simmering all the time with a silly sort of wickedness. Miserable devils that have no business to live at all. He wouldn't do his duty
and wouldn't let anybody else do theirs. But what's the good of talking! You know well enough the sort of ill-conditioned snarling cur
He appealed to me as if our experiences had been as identical
as our clothes. And I knew well enough the pestiferous danger of such a character
where there are no means of legal repression
. And I knew well enough also that my double there was no homicidal ruffian
. I did not think of asking him for details, and he told me the story roughly in brusque
, disconnected sentences. I needed no more. I saw it all going on as though I were myself inside that other sleeping suit
"It happened while we were setting
a reefed foresail, at dusk
. Reefed foresail! You understand
the sort of weather
. The only sail
we had left to keep the ship running; so you may guess what it had been like for days. Anxious sort of job
, that. He gave me some of his cursed insolence
at the sheet
. I tell you I was overdone with this terrific weather
that seemed to have no end to it. Terrific, I tell you-and a deep ship. I believe the fellow himself was half crazed with funk
. It was no time for gentlemanly reproof
, so I turned round and felled him like an ox. He up and at me. We closed just as an awful sea made for the ship. All hands saw it coming and took to the rigging, but I had him by the throat, and went on shaking him like a rat, the men above us yelling, 'Look out! look out!' Then a crash
as if the sky had fallen
on my head. They say that for over ten minutes hardly anything was to be seen of the ship-just the three masts and a bit of the forecastle head and of the poop all awash
driving along in a smother
of foam. It was a miracle
that they found us, jammed together behind the forebitts. It's clear that I meant business, because I was holding him by the throat still when they picked us up. He was black in the face. It was too much for them. It seems they rushed us aft
together, gripped as we were, screaming 'Murder!' like a lot of lunatics, and broke into the cuddy. And the ship running for her life, touch and go all the time, any minute
her last in a sea fit
to turn your hair gray only a-looking at it. I understand
that the skipper, too, started raving like the rest of them. The man had been deprived
of sleep for more than a week, and to have this sprung on him at the height
of a furious gale
nearly drove him out of his mind
. I wonder
they didn't fling
after getting the carcass
of their precious
shipmate out of my fingers. They had rather a job
us, I've been told. A sufficiently fierce
story to make an old judge and a respectable jury
sit up a bit. The first thing I heard when I came to myself was the maddening howling of that endless gale
, and on that the voice of the old man. He was hanging on to my bunk, staring into my face out of his sou'wester.
"'Mr. Leggatt, you have killed a man. You can act no longer as chief mate of this ship.'"
His care to subdue
his voice made it sound monotonous
. He rested a hand on the end of the skylight to steady
himself with, and all that time did not stir
, so far as I could see. "Nice little tale
for a quiet tea party," he concluded in the same tone
One of my hands, too, rested on the end of the skylight; neither did I stir
, so far as I knew. We stood less than a foot from each other. It occurred to me that if old "Bless my soul
-you don't say so" were to put his head up the companion
and catch sight
of us, he would think he was seeing double, or imagine
himself come upon a scene
witchcraft; the strange
captain having a quiet confabulation
by the wheel with his own gray ghost. I became very much concerned to prevent
anything of the sort. I heard the other's soothing
"My father's a parson
in Norfolk," it said. Evidently he had forgotten he had told me this important fact
before. Truly a nice little tale
"You had better slip down into my stateroom now," I said, moving off stealthily
. My double followed my movements; our bare feet made no sound
; I let him in, closed the door with care, and, after giving a call to the second mate, returned on deck for my relief
"Not much sign of any wind yet," I remarked when he approached.
"No, sir. Not much," he assented, sleepily, in his hoarse
voice, with just enough deference
, no more, and barely
suppressing a yawn.
"Well, that's all you have to look out for. You have got your orders."
I paced a turn or two on the poop and saw him take up his position face forward
with his elbow in the ratlines of the mizzen rigging before I went below. The mate's faint
snoring was still going on peacefully. The cuddy lamp was burning over the table
on which stood a vase with flowers, a polite attention
from the ship's provision
merchant-the last flowers we should see for the next three months at the very least. Two bunches of bananas hung from the beam symmetrically, one on each side of the rudder casing. Everything was as before in the ship-except that two of her captain's sleeping suits were simultaneously
in use, one motionless
in the cuddy, the other keeping very still in the captain's stateroom.
It must be explained here that my cabin had the form of the capital
letter L, the door being within the angle
and opening into the short part of the letter. A couch was to the left, the bed place to the right
; my writing desk and the chronometers' table
faced the door. But anyone opening it, unless he stepped right
inside, had no view of what I call the long (or vertical
) part of the letter. It contained some lockers surmounted by a bookcase; and a few clothes, a thick jacket or two, caps, oilskin coat, and such like, hung on hooks. There was at the bottom of that part a door opening into my bathroom, which could be entered also directly
from the saloon
. But that way was never used.
arrival had discovered the advantage
of this particular shape
. Entering my room, lighted strongly by a big bulkhead
lamp swung on gimbals above my writing desk, I did not see him anywhere till
he stepped out quietly from behind the coats hung in the recessed part.
"I heard somebody moving about, and went in there at once," he whispered.
I, too, spoke
under my breath.
"Nobody is likely
to come in here without knocking and getting permission
He nodded. His face was thin
and the sunburn faded, as though he had been ill. And no wonder
. He had been, I heard presently
, kept under arrest
in his cabin for nearly seven weeks. But there was nothing sickly
in his eyes or in his expression
. He was not a bit like me, really; yet, as we stood leaning over my bed place, whispering side by side, with our dark heads together and our backs to the door, anybody bold
enough to open it stealthily
would have been treated to the uncanny sight
of a double captain busy talking in whispers with his other self.
"But all this doesn't tell me how you came to hang on to our side ladder," I inquired, in the hardly audible
murmurs we used, after he had told me something more of the proceedings on board
the Sephora once the bad weather
"When we sighted Java Head I had had time to think all those matters out several
times over. I had six weeks of doing nothing else, and with only an hour or so every evening for a tramp
on the quarter-deck."
He whispered, his arms folded on the side of my bed place, staring through
the open port
. And I could imagine
perfectly the manner of this thinking out-a stubborn
if not a steadfast operation
; something of which I should have been perfectly incapable
"I reckoned it would be dark before we closed with the land," he continued, so low that I had to strain
my hearing near as we were to each other, shoulder touching shoulder almost. "So I asked to speak to the old man. He always seemed very sick when he came to see me-as if he could not look me in the face. You know, that foresail saved the ship. She was too deep to have run long under bare poles. And it was I that managed to set it for him. Anyway, he came. When I had him in my cabin-he stood by the door looking at me as if I had the halter round my neck already-I asked him right
away to leave my cabin door unlocked at night while the ship was going through
Sunda Straits. There would be the Java coast
within two or three miles, off Angier Point. I wanted nothing more. I've had a prize for swimming my second year in the Conway."
"I can believe it," I breathed out.
"God only knows why they locked me in every night. To see some of their faces you'd have thought
they were afraid I'd go about at night strangling people. Am I a murdering brute
? Do I look it? By Jove! If I had been he wouldn't have trusted himself like that into my room. You'll say I might
have chucked him aside
and bolted out, there and then-it was dark already. Well, no. And for the same reason
I wouldn't think of trying to smash
the door. There would have been a rush to stop me at the noise, and I did not mean
to get into a confounded scrimmage
. Somebody else might
have got killed-for I would not have broken out only to get chucked back, and I did not want any more of that work. He refused, looking more sick than ever. He was afraid of the men, and also of that old second mate of his who had been sailing with him for years-a gray-headed old humbug
; and his steward
, too, had been with him devil knows how long-seventeen years or more-a dogmatic
sort of loafer who hated me like poison
, just because I was the chief mate. No chief mate ever made more than one voyage
in the Sephora, you know. Those two old chaps ran the ship. Devil only knows what the skipper wasn't afraid of (all his nerve
went to pieces altogether in that hellish spell of bad weather
we had)-of what the law would do to him-of his wife, perhaps. Oh, yes! she's on board
. Though I don't think she would have meddled. She would have been only too glad to have me out of the ship in any way. The 'brand
of Cain' business, don't you see. That's all right
. I was ready enough to go off wandering on the face of the earth
-and that was price enough to pay for an Abel of that sort. Anyhow, he wouldn't listen to me. 'This thing must take its course. I represent
the law here.' He was shaking like a leaf
. 'So you won't?' 'No!' 'Then I hope you will be able
to sleep on that,' I said, and turned my back on him. 'I wonder
that you can,' cries he, and locks the door.
"Well after that, I couldn't. Not very well. That was three weeks ago. We have had a slow passage through
the Java Sea; drifted about Carimata for ten days. When we anchored here they thought
, I suppose
, it was all right
. The nearest land (and that's five miles) is the ship's destination
; the consul
would soon set about catching me; and there would have been no object
in holding to these islets there. I don't suppose
there's a drop
of water on them. I don't know how it was, but tonight that steward
, after bringing me my supper, went out to let me eat it, and left the door unlocked. And I ate it-all there was, too. After I had finished I strolled out on the quarter-deck. I don't know that I meant to do anything. A breath of fresh
air was all I wanted, I believe. Then a sudden temptation
came over me. I kicked off my slippers and was in the water before I had made up my mind
fairly. Somebody heard the splash and they raised an awful hullabaloo. 'He's gone! Lower the boats! He's committed suicide
! No, he's swimming.' Certainly I was swimming. It's not so easy for a swimmer like me to commit suicide
by drowning. I landed on the nearest islet before the boat left the ship's side. I heard them pulling about in the dark, hailing, and so on, but after a bit they gave up. Everything quieted down and the anchorage became still as death. I sat down on a stone and began to think. I felt certain
they would start searching for me at daylight. There was no place to hide
on those stony
things-and if there had been, what would have been the good? But now I was clear of that ship, I was not going back. So after a while I took off all my clothes, tied them up in a bundle
with a stone inside, and dropped them in the deep water on the outer side of that islet. That was suicide
enough for me. Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean
myself. I meant to swim till
I sank-but that's not the same thing. I struck out for another of these little islands, and it was from that one that I first saw your riding light. Something to swim for. I went on easily, and on the way I came upon a flat rock a foot or two above water. In the daytime, I dare
say, you might
make it out with a glass from your poop. I scrambled up on it and rested myself for a bit. Then I made another start. That last spell must have been over a mile."
was getting fainter and fainter, and all the time he stared straight
, in which there was not even a star to be seen. I had not interrupted him. There was something that made impossible
in his narrative
, or perhaps in himself; a sort of feeling, a quality
, which I can't find a name for. And when he ceased, all I found was a futile whisper
: "So you swam for our light?"
for it. It was something to swim for. I couldn't see any stars low down because the coast
was in the way, and I couldn't see the land, either. The water was like glass. One might
have been swimming in a confounded
thousand-feet deep cistern
with no place for scrambling out anywhere; but what I didn't like was the notion
of swimming round and round like a crazed bullock before I gave out; and as I didn't mean
to go back... No. Do you see me being hauled back, stark
naked, off one of these little islands by the scruff of the neck and fighting like a wild beast
? Somebody would have got killed for certain
, and I did not want any of that. So I went on. Then your ladder-"
"Why didn't you hail
the ship?" I asked, a little louder.
He touched my shoulder lightly. Lazy footsteps came right
over our heads and stopped. The second mate had crossed from the other side of the poop and might
have been hanging over the rail
for all we knew.
"He couldn't hear us talking-could he?" My double breathed into my very ear, anxiously.
was in answer, a sufficient
answer, to the question I had put to him. An answer containing all the difficulty
of that situation
. I closed the porthole
quietly, to make sure. A louder word might
have been overheard.
"Who's that?" he whispered then.
"My second mate. But I don't know much more of the fellow than you do."
And I told him a little about myself. I had been appointed to take charge while I least expected
anything of the sort, not quite a fortnight
ago. I didn't know either the ship or the people. Hadn't had the time in port
to look about me or size anybody up. And as to the crew
, all they knew was that I was appointed to take the ship home. For the rest, I was almost as much of a stranger
as himself, I said. And at the moment
I felt it most acutely. I felt that it would take very little to make me a suspect
person in the eyes of the ship's company.
He had turned about meantime; and we, the two strangers in the ship, faced each other in identical
"Your ladder-" he murmured, after a silence
. "Who'd have thought
of finding a ladder hanging over at night in a ship anchored out here! I felt just then a very unpleasant faintness. After the life I've been leading for nine weeks, anybody would have got out of condition
. I wasn't capable
of swimming round as far as your rudder chains. And, lo and behold
! there was a ladder to get hold of. After I gripped it I said to myself, 'What's the good?' When I saw a man's head looking over I thought
I would swim away presently
and leave him shouting-in whatever language
it was. I didn't mind
being looked at. I-I liked it. And then you speaking to me so quietly-as if you had expected
me-made me hold on a little longer. It had been a confounded lonely
time-I don't mean
while swimming. I was glad to talk a little to somebody that didn't belong to the Sephora. As to asking for the captain, that was a mere impulse
. It could have been no use, with all the ship knowing about me and the other people pretty certain
to be round here in the morning. I don't know-I wanted to be seen, to talk with somebody, before I went on. I don't know what I would have said.... 'Fine night, isn't it?' or something of the sort."
"Do you think they will be round here presently
?" I asked with some incredulity
," he said, faintly.
"He looked extremely haggard
all of a sudden. His head rolled on his shoulders.
"H'm. We shall see then. Meantime get into that bed," I whispered. "Want help? There."
It was a rather high bed place with a set of drawers underneath. This amazing
swimmer really needed the lift I gave him by seizing his leg. He tumbled in, rolled over on his back, and flung one arm across his eyes. And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly as I used to look in that bed. I gazed upon my other self for a while before drawing across carefully the two green serge curtains which ran on a brass rod. I thought
for a moment
of pinning them together for greater safety, but I sat down on the couch, and once there I felt unwilling to rise and hunt for a pin. I would do it in a moment
. I was extremely tired
, in a peculiarly intimate
way, by the strain
of stealthiness, by the effort
of whispering and the general secrecy
of this excitement
. It was three o'clock by now and I had been on my feet since nine, but I was not sleepy; I could not have gone to sleep. I sat there, fagged out, looking at the curtains, trying to clear my mind
of the confused sensation
of being in two places at once, and greatly bothered by an exasperating
knocking in my head. It was a relief
to discover suddenly
that it was not in my head at all, but on the outside of the door. Before I could collect
myself the words "Come in" were out of my mouth, and the steward
entered with a tray, bringing in my morning coffee. I had slept, after all, and I was so frightened
that I shouted, "This way! I am here, steward
," as though he had been miles away. He put down the tray on the table
next the couch and only then said, very quietly, "I can see you are here, sir." I felt him give me a keen
look, but I dared not meet his eyes just then. He must have wondered why I had drawn the curtains of my bed before going to sleep on the couch. He went out, hooking the door open as usual.
I heard the crew
washing decks above me. I knew I would have been told at once if there had been any wind. Calm, I thought
, and I was doubly vexed
. Indeed, I felt dual
more than ever. The steward
in the doorway. I jumped up from the couch so quickly that he gave a start.
"What do you want here?"
"Close your port
, sir-they are washing decks."
"It is closed," I said, reddening.
"Very well, sir." But he did not move from the doorway and returned my stare
in an , equivocal
manner for a time. Then his eyes wavered, all his expression
changed, and in a voice unusually gentle
, almost coaxingly:
"May I come in to take the empty
cup away, sir?"
"Of course!" I turned my back on him while he popped in and out. Then I unhooked and closed the door and even pushed the bolt
. This sort of thing could not go on very long. The cabin was as hot as an oven, too. I took a peep at my double, and discovered that he had not moved, his arm was still over his eyes; but his chest heaved; his hair was wet; his chin glistened with perspiration
. I reached over him and opened the port
"I must show myself on deck," I reflected.
Of course, theoretically, I could do what I liked, with no one to say nay to me within the whole circle of the horizon
; but to lock my cabin door and take the key away I did not dare
. Directly I put my head out of the companion
I saw the group of my two officers, the second mate barefooted, the chief mate in long India-rubber boots, near the break of the poop, and the steward
halfway down the poop ladder talking to them eagerly. He happened to catch sight
of me and dived, the second ran down on the main-deck shouting some order or other, and the chief mate came to meet me, touching his cap.
There was a sort of curiosity
in his eye that I did not like. I don't know whether the steward
had told them that I was "queer" only, or downright drunk, but I know the man meant to have a good look at me. I watched him coming with a smile which, as he got into point-blank range
, took effect
and froze his very whiskers. I did not give him time to open his lips.
"Square the yards by lifts and braces before the hands go to breakfast."
It was the first particular
order I had given on board
that ship; and I stayed on deck to see it executed, too. I had felt the need
of asserting myself without loss of time. That sneering young cub got taken down a peg or two on that occasion
, and I also seized the opportunity
of having a good look at the face of every foremast man as they filed past me to go to the after braces. At breakfast time, eating nothing myself, I presided with such frigid dignity
that the two mates were only too glad to escape
from the cabin as soon as decency
permitted; and all the time the dual
working of my mind distracted
me almost to the point of insanity
. I was constantly watching myself, my secret self, as dependent
on my actions as my own personality
, sleeping in that bed, behind that door which faced me as I sat at the head of the table
. It was very much like being mad
, only it was worse because one was aware
I had to shake him for a solid minute
, but when at last he opened his eyes it was in the full possession
of his senses, with an inquiring look.
"All's well so far," I whispered. "Now you must vanish
into the bathroom."
He did so, as noiseless as a ghost, and then I rang for the steward
, and facing him boldly, directed him to tidy
up my stateroom while I was having my bath-"and be quick about it." As my tone
admitted of no excuses, he said, "Yes, sir," and ran off to fetch
his dustpan and brushes. I took a bath and did most of my dressing, splashing, and whistling softly for the steward
, while the secret sharer of my life stood drawn up bolt upright
in that little space, his face looking very sunken in daylight, his eyelids lowered under the stern
, dark line of his eyebrows drawn together by a slight frown
When I left him there to go back to my room the steward
was finishing dusting. I sent for the mate and engaged
him in some insignificant conversation
. It was, as it were, trifling
with the terrific character
of his whiskers; but my object
was to give him an opportunity
for a good look at my cabin. And then I could at last shut, with a clear conscience
, the door of my stateroom and get my double back into the recessed part. There was nothing else for it. He had to sit still on a small folding stool, half smothered by the heavy coats hanging there. We listened to the steward
going into the bathroom out of the saloon
, filling the water bottles there, scrubbing the bath, setting
things to rights, whisk
, bang, clatter-out again into the saloon
-turn the key-click. Such was my scheme
for keeping my second self invisible
. Nothing better could be contrived
under the circumstances. And there we sat; I at my writing desk ready to appear busy with some papers, he behind me out of sight
of the door. It would not have been prudent
to talk in daytime; and I could not have stood the excitement
of that queer sense of whispering to myself. Now and then, glancing over my shoulder, I saw him far back there, sitting rigidly on the low stool, his bare feet close together, his arms folded, his head hanging on his breast-and perfectly still. Anybody would have taken him for me.
I was fascinated
by it myself. Every moment
I had to glance
over my shoulder. I was looking at him when a voice outside the door said:
"Well!..." I kept my eyes on him, and so when the voice outside the door announced, "There's a ship's boat coming our way, sir," I saw him give a start-the first movement
he had made for hours. But he did not raise
his bowed head.
. Get the ladder over."
I hesitated. Should I whisper
something to him? But what? His immobility
seemed to have been never disturbed. What could I tell him he did not know already?... Finally I went on deck.