The Shadow Line
Part 1 out of 3
Note: I have made the following changes to the text:
PAGE LINE ORIGINAL CHANGED TO
41 20 sh pping shipping
42 9 confidentally: confidentially:
51 15 t was, It was,
54 9 not yet nor yet
85 21 has kept had kept
89 1 Such "Such
122 24 ship's, ship's
136 4 Mr Burns Mr. Burns
159 1 He "He
159 1 cabin, cabin,"
179 23 denly. denly:
188 26 too." too?"
In addition, I have substituted the letter d for the degree symbol
where it occurred on page 121, line 12; page 127, line 16; page
127, line 21; and page 175, line 18; I have also omitted the umlaut
over the letter 3 in reestablished on page 136, line 4.
THE SHADOW LINE
By JOSEPH CONRAD
"Worthy of my undying regard"
AND ALL OTHERS WHO, LIKE HIMSELF, HAVE CROSSED
IN EARLY YOUTH THE SHADOW LINE OF
THEIR GENERATION WITH LOVE
THE SHADOW LINE
--D'autre fois, calme plat, grand miroir
De mon desespoir.
ONLY the young have such moments. I don't
mean the very young. No. The very young have,
properly speaking, no moments. It is the privi-
lege of early youth to live in advance of its days
in all the beautiful continuity of hope which
knows no pauses and no introspection.
One closes behind one the little gate of mere
boyishness--and enters an enchanted garden. Its
very shades glow with promise. Every turn of the
path has its seduction. And it isn't because it
is an undiscovered country. One knows well
enough that all mankind had streamed that way.
It is the charm of universal experience from which
one expects an uncommon or personal sensation--
a bit of one's own.
One goes on recognizing the landmarks of the
predecessors, excited, amused, taking the hard
luck and the good luck together--the kicks and
the halfpence, as the saying is--the picturesque
common lot that holds so many possibilities for
the deserving or perhaps for the lucky. Yes.
One goes on. And the time, too, goes on--till one
perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that
the region of early youth, too, must be left be-
This is the period of life in which such moments
of which I have spoken are likely to come. What
moments? Why, the moments of boredom, of
weariness, of dissatisfaction. Rash moments.
I mean moments when the still young are inclined
to commit rash actions, such as getting married
suddenly or else throwing up a job for no rea-
This is not a marriage story. It wasn't so bad
as that with me. My action, rash as it was, had
more the character of divorce--almost of deser-
tion. For no reason on which a sensible person
could put a finger I threw up my job--chucked
my berth--left the ship of which the worst that
could be said was that she was a steamship and
therefore, perhaps, not entitled to that blind
loyalty which. . . . However, it's no use try-
ing to put a gloss on what even at the time I myself
half suspected to be a caprice.
It was in an Eastern port. She was an Eastern
ship, inasmuch as then she belonged to that port.
She traded among dark islands on a blue reef-
scarred sea, with the Red Ensign over the taffrail
and at her masthead a house-flag, also red, but
with a green border and with a white crescent in
it. For an Arab owned her, and a Syed at that.
Hence the green border on the flag. He was the
head of a great House of Straits Arabs, but as
loyal a subject of the complex British Empire as
you could find east of the Suez Canal. World
politics did not trouble him at all, but he had a
great occult power amongst his own people.
It was all one to us who owned the ship. He
had to employ white men in the shipping part of
his business, and many of those he so employed
had never set eyes on him from the first to the
last day. I myself saw him but once, quite
accidentally on a wharf--an old, dark little man
blind in one eye, in a snowy robe and yellow
slippers. He was having his hand severely kissed
by a crowd of Malay pilgrims to whom he had
done some favour, in the way of food and money.
His alms-giving, I have heard, was most exten-
sive, covering almost the whole Archipelago. For
isn't it said that "The charitable man is the friend
Excellent (and picturesque) Arab owner, about
whom one needed not to trouble one's head, a
most excellent Scottish ship--for she was that
from the keep up--excellent sea-boat, easy to
keep clean, most handy in every way, and if it
had not been for her internal propulsion, worthy
of any man's love, I cherish to this day a profound
respect for her memory. As to the kind of trade
she was engaged in and the character of my ship-
mates, I could not have been happier if I had had
the life and the men made to my order by a
And suddenly I left all this. I left it in that,
to us, inconsequential manner in which a bird
flies away from a comfortable branch. It was as
though all unknowing I had heard a whisper or
seen something. Well--perhaps! One day I was
perfectly right and the next everything was gone
--glamour, flavour, interest, contentment--every-
thing. It was one of these moments, you know.
The green sickness of late youth descended on me
and carried me off. Carried me off that ship, I
We were only four white men on board, with a
large crew of Kalashes and two Malay petty
officers. The Captain stared hard as if wondering
what ailed me. But he was a sailor, and he, too,
had been young at one time. Presently a smile
came to lurk under his thick iron-gray moustache,
and he observed that, of course, if I felt I must
go he couldn't keep me by main force. And it was
arranged that I should be paid off the next morn-
ing. As I was going out of his cabin he added
suddenly, in a peculiar wistful tone, that he hoped
I would find what I was so anxious to go and look
for. A soft, cryptic utterance which seemed to
reach deeper than any diamond-hard tool could
have done. I do believe he understood my case.
But the second engineer attacked me differently.
He was a sturdy young Scot, with a smooth face and
light eyes. His honest red countenance emerged
out of the engine-room companion and then the
whole robust man, with shirt sleeves turned up,
wiping slowly the massive fore-arms with a lump
of cotton-waste. And his light eyes expressed
bitter distaste, as though our friendship had turned
to ashes. He said weightily: "Oh! Aye! I've
been thinking it was about time for you to run
away home and get married to some silly girl."
It was tacitly understood in the port that John
Nieven was a fierce misogynist; and the absurd
character of the sally convinced me that he meant
to be nasty--very nasty--had meant to say the
most crushing thing he could think of. My laugh
sounded deprecatory. Nobody but a friend could
be so angry as that. I became a little crestfallen.
Our chief engineer also took a characteristic view
of my action, but in a kindlier spirit.
He was young, too, but very thin, and with a
mist of fluffy brown beard all round his haggard
face. All day long, at sea or in harbour, he could
be seen walking hastily up and down the after-
deck, wearing an intense, spiritually rapt ex-
pression, which was caused by a perpetual con-
sciousness of unpleasant physical sensations in
his internal economy. For he was a confirmed
dyspeptic. His view of my case was very simple.
He said it was nothing but deranged liver. Of
course! He suggested I should stay for another
trip and meantime dose myself with a certain
patent medicine in which his own belief was ab-
solute. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll buy you
two bottles, out of my own pocket. There. I
can't say fairer than that, can I?"
I believe he would have perpetrated the atrocity
(or generosity) at the merest sign of weakening
on my part. By that time, however, I was more
discontented, disgusted, and dogged than ever.
The past eighteen months, so full of new and varied
experience, appeared a dreary, prosaic waste of
days. I felt--how shall I express it?--that there
was no truth to be got out of them.
What truth? I should have been hard put to it to
explain. Probably, if pressed, I would have burst
into tears simply. I was young enough for that.
Next day the Captain and I transacted our busi-
ness in the Harbour Office. It was a lofty, big,
cool, white room, where the screened light of day
glowed serenely. Everybody in it--the officials,
the public--were in white. Only the heavy
polished desks gleamed darkly in a central avenue,
and some papers lying on them were blue. Enor-
mous punkahs sent from on high a gentle draught
through that immaculate interior and upon our
The official behind the desk we approached
grinned amiably and kept it up till, in answer to
his perfunctory question, "Sign off and on again?"
my Captain answered, "No! Signing off for good."
And then his grin vanished in sudden solemnity.
He did not look at me again till he handed me my
papers with a sorrowful expression, as if they had
been my passports for Hades.
While I was putting them away he murmured
some question to the Captain, and I heard the
latter answer good-humouredly:
"No. He leaves us to go home."
"Oh!" the other exclaimed, nodding mournfully
over my sad condition.
I didn't know him outside the official building,
but he leaned forward the desk to shake hands
with me, compassionately, as one would with some
poor devil going out to be hanged; and I am afraid
I performed my part ungraciously, in the hardened
manner of an impenitent criminal.
No homeward-bound mail-boat was due for
three or four days. Being now a man without a
ship, and having for a time broken my connection
with the sea--become, in fact, a mere potential
passenger--it would have been more appropriate
perhaps if I had gone to stay at an hotel. There
it was, too, within a stone's throw of the Harbour
Office, low, but somehow palatial, displaying its
white, pillared pavilions surrounded by trim grass
plots. I would have felt a passenger indeed in
there! I gave it a hostile glance and directed my
steps toward the Officers' Sailors' Home.
I walked in the sunshine, disregarding it, and in
the shade of the big trees on the esplanade without
enjoying it. The heat of the tropical East de-
scended through the leafy boughs, enveloping my
thinly-clad body, clinging to my rebellious dis-
content, as if to rob it of its freedom.
The Officers' Home was a large bungalow with
a wide verandah and a curiously suburban-looking
little garden of bushes and a few trees between it
and the street. That institution partook some-
what of the character of a residential club, but
with a slightly Governmental flavour about it,
because it was administered by the Harbour Office.
Its manager was officially styled Chief Steward.
He was an unhappy, wizened little man, who if put
into a jockey's rig would have looked the part to
perfection. But it was obvious that at some time
or other in his life, in some capacity or other, he
had been connected with the sea. Possibly in the
comprehensive capacity of a failure.
I should have thought his employment a very
easy one, but he used to affirm for some reason or
other that his job would be the death of him some
day. It was rather mysterious. Perhaps everything
naturally was too much trouble for him. He cer-
tainly seemed to hate having people in the house.
On entering it I thought he must be feeling
pleased. It was as still as a tomb. I could see no
one in the living rooms; and the verandah, too,
was empty, except for a man at the far end dozing
prone in a long chair. At the noise of my footsteps
he opened one horribly fish-like eye. He was a
stranger to me. I retreated from there, and cross-
ing the dining room--a very bare apartment with
a motionless punkah hanging over the centre table
--I knocked at a door labelled in black letters:
The answer to my knock being a vexed and dole-
ful plaint: "Oh, dear! Oh, dear! What is it
now?" I went in at once.
It was a strange room to find in the tropics.
Twilight and stuffiness reigned in there. The
fellow had hung enormously ample, dusty, cheap
lace curtains over his windows, which were shut.
Piles of cardboard boxes, such as milliners and
dressmakers use in Europe, cumbered the corners;
and by some means he had procured for himself
the sort of furniture that might have come out of
a respectable parlour in the East End of London
--a horsehair sofa, arm-chairs of the same. I
glimpsed grimy antimacassars scattered over that
horrid upholstery, which was awe-inspiring, in-
somuch that one could not guess what mysterious
accident, need, or fancy had collected it there.
Its owner had taken off his tunic, and in white
trousers and a thin, short-sleeved singlet prowled
behind the chair-backs nursing his meagre el-
An exclamation of dismay escaped him when he
heard that I had come for a stay; but he could not
deny that there were plenty of vacant rooms.
"Very well. Can you give me the one I had
He emitted a faint moan from behind a pile of
cardboard boxes on the table, which might have
contained gloves or handkerchies or neckties. I
wonder what the fellow did keep in them? There
was a smell of decaying coral, or Oriental dust
of zoological speciments in that den of his. I
could only see the top of his head and his un-
happy eyes levelled at me over the barrier.
"It's only for a couple of days," I said, intending
to cheer him up.
"Perhaps you would like to pay in advance?"
he suggested eagerly.
"Certainly not!" I burst out directly I could
speak. "Never heard of such a thing! This is
the most infernal cheek. . . ."
He had seized his head in both hands--a gesture
of despair which checked my indignation.
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Don't fly out like this.
I am asking everybody."
"I don't believe it," I said bluntly.
"Well, I am going to. And if you gentlemen
all agreed to pay in advance I could make Hamil-
ton pay up, too. He's always turning up ashore
dead broke, and even when he has some money
he won't settle his bills. I don't know what to do
with him. He swears at me and tells me I can't
chuck a white man out into the street here. So if
you only would. . . ."
I was amazed. Incredulous, too. I suspected
the fellow of gratuitous impertinence. I told him
with marked emphasis that I would see him and
Hamilton hanged first, and requested him to con-
duct me to my room with no more of his nonsense.
He produced then a key from somewhere and led
the way out of his lair, giving me a vicious sidelong
look in passing.
"Any one I know staying here?" I asked him
before he left my room.
He had recovered his usual pained impatient
tone, and said that Captain Giles was there, back
from a Solo Sea trip. Two other guests were stay-
ing also. He paused. And, of course, Hamilton,
"Oh, yes! Hamilton," I said, and the miserable
creature took himself off with a final groan.
His impudence still rankled when I came into the
dining room at tiffin time. He was there on duty
overlooking the Chinamen servants. The tiffin
was laid on one end only of the long table, and the
punkah was stirring the hot air lazily--mostly
above a barren waste of polished wood.
We were four around the cloth. The dozing
stranger from the chair was one. Both his eyes
were partly opened now, but they did not seem to
see anything. He was supine. The dignified
person next him, with short side whiskers and a
carefully scraped chin, was, of course, Hamilton.
I have never seen any one so full of dignity for the
station in life Providence had been pleased to
place him in. I had been told that he regarded me
as a rank outsider. He raised not only his eyes,
but his eyebrows as well, at the sound I made
pulling back my chair.
Captain Giles was at the head of the table. I
exchanged a few words of greeting with him and sat
down on his left. Stout and pale, with a great
shiny dome of a bald forehead and prominent
brown eyes, he might have been anything but a
seaman. You would not have been surprised to
learn that he was an architect. To me (I know
how absurd it is) to me he looked like a church-
warden. He had the appearance of a man from
whom you would expect sound advice, moral
sentiments, with perhaps a platitude or two thrown
in on occasion, not from a desire to dazzle, but
from honest conviction.
Though very well known and appreciated in the
shipping world, he had no regular employment.
He did not want it. He had his own peculiar
position. He was an expert. An expert in--how
shall I say it?--in intricate navigation. He was
supposed to know more about remote and im-
perfectly charted parts of the Archipelago than any
man living. His brain must have been a perfect
warehouse of reefs, positions, bearings, images of
headlands, shapes of obscure coasts, aspects of
innumerable islands, desert and otherwise. Any
ship, for instance, bound on a trip to Palawan or
somewhere that way would have Captain Giles on
board, either in temporary command or "to assist
the master." It was said that he had a retaining
fee from a wealthy firm of Chinese steamship
owners, in view of such services. Besides, he was
always ready to relieve any man who wished to
take a spell ashore for a time. No owner was ever
known to object to an arrangement of that sort.
For it seemed to be the established opinion at the
port that Captain Giles was as good as the best, if
not a little better. But in Hamilton's view he was
an "outsider." I believe that for Hamilton the
generalisation "outsider" covered the whole lot of
us; though I suppose that he made some dis-
tinctions in his mind.
I didn't try to make conversation with Captain
Giles, whom I had not seen more than twice in
my life. But, of course, he knew who I was.
After a while, inclining his big shiny head my way,
he addressed me first in his friendly fashion. He
presumed from seeing me there, he said, that I had
come ashore for a couple of days' leave.
He was a low-voiced man. I spoke a little
louder, saying that: No--I had left the ship for
"A free man for a bit," was his comment.
"I suppose I may call myself that--since eleven
o'clock," I said.
Hamilton had stopped eating at the sound of
our voices. He laid down his knife and fork gently,
got up, and muttering something about "this
infernal heat cutting one's appetite," went out of
the room. Almost immediately we heard him
leave the house down the verandah steps.
On this Captain Giles remarked easily that the
fellow had no doubt gone off to look after my old
job. The Chief Steward, who had been leaning
against the wall, brought his face of an unhappy
goat nearer to the table and addressed us dole-
fully. His object was to unburden himself of his
eternal grievance against Hamilton. The man
kept him in hot water with the Harbour Office as
to the state of his accounts. He wished to good-
ness he would get my job, though in truth what
would it be? Temporary relief at best.
I said: "You needn't worry. He won't get my
job. My successor is on board already."
He was surprised, and I believe his face fell
a little at the news. Captain Giles gave a soft
laugh. We got up and went out on the verandah,
leaving the supine stranger to be dealt with by
the Chinamen. The last thing I saw they had put
a plate with a slice of pine-apple on it before him
and stood back to watch what would happen.
But the experiment seemed a failure. He sat in-
It was imparted to me in a low voice by Captain
Giles that this was an officer of some Rajah's yacht
which had come into our port to be dry-docked.
Must have been "seeing life" last night, he added,
wrinkling his nose in an intimate, confidential way
which pleased me vastly. For Captain Giles had
prestige. He was credited with wonderful ad-
ventures and with some mysterious tragedy in his
life. And no man had a word to say against him.
"I remember him first coming ashore here some
years ago. Seems only the other day. He was a
nice boy. Oh! these nice boys!"
I could not help laughing aloud. He looked
startled, then joined in the laugh. "No! No!
I didn't mean that," he cried. "What I meant
is that some of them do go soft mighty quick out
Jocularly I suggested the beastly heat as the
first cause. But Captain Giles disclosed himself
possessed of a deeper philosophy. Things out
East were made easy for white men. That was
all right. The difficulty was to go on keeping
white, and some of these nice boys did not know
how. He gave me a searching look, and in a
benevolent, heavy-uncle manner asked point blank:
"Why did you throw up your berth?"
I became angry all of a sudden; for you can
understand how exasperating such a question was
to a man who didn't know. I said to myself that
I ought to shut up that moralist; and to him
aloud I said with challenging politeness:
"Why . . . ? Do you disapprove?"
He was too disconcerted to do more than mutter
confusedly: "I! . . . In a general way.
. . ." and then gave me up. But he retired in
good order, under the cover of a heavily humorous
remark that he, too, was getting soft, and that this
was his time for taking his little siesta--when he
was on shore. "Very bad habit. Very bad
There was a simplicity in the man which would
have disarmed a touchiness even more youthful
than mine. So when next day at tiffin he bent his
head toward me and said that he had met my
late Captain last evening, adding in an undertone:
"He's very sorry you left. He had never had a
mate that suited him so well," I answered him
earnestly, without any affectation, that I certainly
hadn't been so comfortable in any ship or with any
commander in all my sea-going days.
"Well--then," he murmured.
"Haven't you heard, Captain Giles, that I in-
tend to go home?"
"Yes," he said benevolently. "I have heard
that sort of thing so often before."
"What of that?" I cried. I thought he was the
most dull, unimaginative man I had ever met. I
don't know what more I would have said, but
the much-belated Hamilton came in just then
and took his usual seat. So I dropped into a mum-
"Anyhow, you shall see it done this time."
Hamilton, beautifully shaved, gave Captain
Giles a curt nod, but didn't even condescend to
raise his eyebrows at me; and when he spoke it was
only to tell the Chief Steward that the food on his
plate wasn't fit to be set before a gentleman. The
individual addressed seemed much too unhappy to
groan. He cast his eyes up to the punkah and
that was all.
Captain Giles and I got up from the table, and
the stranger next to Hamilton followed our ex-
ample, manoeuvring himself to his feet with
difficulty. He, poor fellow, not because he was
hungry but I verily believe only to recover his
self-respect, had tried to put some of that un-
worthy food into his mouth. But after dropping
his fork twice and generally making a failure of
it, he had sat still with an air of intense mortifica-
tion combined with a ghastly glazed stare. Both
Giles and I had avoided looking his way at
On the verandah he stopped short on purpose to
address to us anxiously a long remark which I
failed to understand completely. It sounded like
some horrible unknown language. But when
Captain Giles, after only an instant for reflection,
assured him with homely friendliness, "Aye, to be
sure. You are right there," he appeared very
much gratified indeed, and went away (pretty
straight, too) to seek a distant long chair.
"What was he trying to say?" I asked with
"I don't know. Mustn't be down too much on
a fellow. He's feeling pretty wretched, you may
be sure; and to-morrow he'll feel worse yet."
Judging by the man's appearance it seemed im-
possible. I wondered what sort of complicated de-
bauch had reduced him to that unspeakable con-
dition. Captain Giles' benevolence was spoiled by
a curious air of complacency which I disliked. I
said with a little laugh:
"Well, he will have you to look after him."
He made a deprecatory gesture, sat down, and
took up a paper. I did the same. The papers
were old and uninteresting, filled up mostly with
dreary stereotyped descriptions of Queen Victoria's
first jubilee celebrations. Probably we should
have quickly fallen into a tropical afternoon doze
if it had not been for Hamilton's voice raised in
the dining room. He was finishing his tiffin there.
The big double doors stood wide open permanently,
and he could not have had any idea how near to the
doorway our chairs were placed. He was heard in
a loud, supercilious tone answering some state-
ment ventured by the Chief Steward.
"I am not going to be rushed into anything.
They will be glad enough to get a gentleman I
imagine. There is no hurry."
A loud whispering from the Steward succeeded
and then again Hamilton was heard with even
"What? That young ass who fancies himself
for having been chief mate with Kent so long?
. . . Preposterous."
Giles and I looked at each other. Kent being
the came of my late commander, Captain Giles'
whisper, "He's talking of you," seemed to me sheer
waste of breath. The Chief Steward must have
stuck to his point, whatever it was, because Hamil-
ton was heard again more supercilious if possible,
and also very emphatic:
"Rubbish, my good man! One doesn't COMPETE with
a rank outsider like that. There's plenty of time."
Then there were pushing of chairs, footsteps in
the next room, and plaintive expostulations from
the Steward, who was pursuing Hamilton, even out
of doors through the main entrance.
"That's a very insulting sort of man," remarked
Captain Giles--superfluously, I thought. "Very
insulting. You haven't offended him in some way,
"Never spoke to him in my life," I said grumpily.
"Can't imagine what he means by competing. He
has been trying for my job after I left--and didn't
get it. But that isn't exactly competition."
Captain Giles balanced his big benevolent head
thoughtfully. "He didn't get it," he repeated
very slowly. "No, not likely either, with Kent.
Kent is no end sorry you left him. He gives you
the name of a good seaman, too."
I flung away the paper I was still holding. I sat
up, I slapped the table with my open palm. I
wanted to know why he would keep harping on
that, my absolutely private affair. It was exas-
Captain Giles silenced me by the perfect
equanimity of his gaze. "Nothing to be annoyed
about," he murmured reasonably, with an evident
desire to soothe the childish irritation he had
aroused. And he was really a man of an appear-
ance so inoffensive that I tried to explain myself
as much as I could. I told him that I did not want
to hear any more about what was past and gone.
It had been very nice while it lasted, but now it
was done with I preferred not to talk about it or
even think about it. I had made up my mind to go
He listened to the whole tirade in a particular
lending-the-ear attitude, as if trying to detect a
false note in it somewhere; then straightened him-
self up and appeared to ponder sagaciously over
"Yes. You told me you meant to go home.
Anything in view there?"
Instead of telling him that it was none of his
business I said sullenly:
"Nothing that I know of."
I had indeed considered that rather blank side of
the situation I had created for myself by leaving
suddenly my very satisfactory employment. And
I was not very pleased with it. I had it on the tip
of my tongue to say that common sense had noth-
ing to do with my action, and that therefore it
didn't deserve the interest Captain Giles seemed
to be taking in it. But he was puffing at a short
wooden pipe now, and looked so guileless, dense,
and commonplace, that it seemed hardly worth
while to puzzle him either with truth or sarcasm.
He blew a cloud of smoke, then surprised me
by a very abrupt: "Paid your passage money
Overcome by the shameless pertinacity of a
man to whom it was rather difficult to be rude,
I replied with exaggerated meekness that I had
not done so yet. I thought there would be plenty
of time to do that to-morrow.
And I was about to turn away, withdrawing
my privacy from his fatuous, objectless attempts
to test what sort of stuff it was made of, when he
laid down his pipe in an extremely significant
manner, you know, as if a critical moment had
come, and leaned sideways over the table be-
"Oh! You haven't yet!" He dropped his
voice mysteriously. "Well, then I think you
ought to know that there's something going on
I had never in my life felt more detached from
all earthly goings on. Freed from the sea for a
time, I preserved the sailor's consciousness of
complete independence from all land affairs.
How could they concern me? I gazed at Captain
Giles' animation with scorn rather than with
To his obviously preparatory question whether
our Steward had spoken to me that day I said he
hadn't. And what's more he would have had
precious little encouragement if he had tried to.
I didn't want the fellow to speak to me at all.
Unrebuked by my petulance, Captain Giles,
with an air of immense sagacity, began to tell me
a minute tale about a Harbour Office peon. It
was absolutely pointless. A peon was seen walk-
ing that morning on the verandah with a letter
in his hand. It was in an official envelope. As
the habit of these fellows is, he had shown it
to the first white man he came across. That man
was our friend in the arm-chair. He, as I knew,
was not in a state to interest himself in any sub-
lunary matters. He could only wave the peon
away. The peon then wandered on along the
verandah and came upon Captain Giles, who
was there by an extraordinary chance. . . .
At this point he stopped with a profound look.
The letter, he continued, was addressed to the
Chief Steward. Now what could Captain Ellis,
the Master Attendant, want to write to the
Steward for? The fellow went every morning,
anyhow, to the Harbour Office with his report,
for orders or what not. He hadn't been back
more than an hour before there was an office
peon chasing him with a note. Now what was
And he began to speculate. It was not for this
--and it could not be for that. As to that other
thing it was unthinkable.
The fatuousness of all this made me stare. If
the man had not been somehow a sympathetic
personality I would have resented it like an in-
sult. As it was, I felt only sorry for him. Some-
thing remarkably earnest in his gaze prevented
me from laughing in his face. Neither did I
yawn at him. I just stared.
His tone became a shade more mysterious.
Directly the fellow (meaning the Steward) got
that note he rushed for his hat and bolted out of
the house. But it wasn't because the note called
him to the Harbour Office. He didn't go there.
He was not absent long enough for that. He came
darting back in no time, flung his hat away, and
raced about the dining room moaning and slapping
his forehead. All these exciting facts and mani-
festations had been observed by Captain Giles.
He had, it seems, been meditating upon them
I began to pity him profoundly. And in a
tone which I tried to make as little sarcastic as
possible I said that I was glad he had found
something to occupy his morning hours.
With his disarming simplicity he made me ob-
serve, as if it were a matter of some consequence,
how strange it was that he should have spent
the morning indoors at all. He generally was
out before tiffin, visiting various offices, seeing his
friends in the harbour, and so on. He had felt
out of sorts somewhat on rising. Nothing much.
Just enough to make him feel lazy.
All this with a sustained, holding stare which,
in conjunction with the general inanity of the
discourse, conveyed the impression of mild, dreary
lunacy. And when he hitched his chair a little
and dropped his voice to the low note of mystery,
it flashed upon me that high professional reputa-
tion was not necessarily a guarantee of sound
It never occurred to me then that I didn't
know in what soundness of mind exactly con-
sisted and what a delicate and, upon the whole,
unimportant matter it was. With some idea of
not hurting his feelings I blinked at him in an
interested manner. But when he proceeded to
ask me mysteriously whether I remembered what
had passed just now between that Steward of
ours and "that man Hamilton," I only grunted
sourly assent and turned away my head.
"Aye. But do you remember every word?" he
"I don't know. It's none of my business," I
snapped out, consigning, moreover, the Steward
and Hamilton aloud to eternal perdition.
I meant to be very energetic and final, but
Captain Giles continued to gaze at me thought-
fully. Nothing could stop him. He went on to
point out that my personality was involved in
that conversation. When I tried to preserve the
semblance of unconcern he became positively
cruel. I heard what the man had said? Yes?
What did I think of it then?--he wanted to know.
Captain Giles' appearance excluding the sus-
picion of mere sly malice, I came to the conclusion
that he was simply the most tactless idiot on earth.
I almost despised myself for the weakness of
attempting to enlighten his common understand-
ing. I started to explain that I did not think
anything whatever. Hamilton was not worth a
thought. What such an offensive loafer . . .
"Aye! that he is," interjected Captain Giles
. . . thought or said was below any decent
man's contempt, and I did not propose to take
the slightest notice of it.
This attitude seemed to me so simple and ob-
vious that I was really astonished at Giles giving
no sign of assent. Such perfect stupidity was
"What would you like me to do?" I asked,
laughing. "I can't start a row with him because
of the opinion he has formed of me. Of course,
I've heard of the contemptuous way he alludes
to me. But he doesn't intrude his contempt on
my notice. He has never expressed it in my
hearing. For even just now he didn't know we
could hear him. I should only make myself
That hopeless Giles went on puffing at his pipe
moodily. All at once his face cleared, and he spoke.
"You missed my point."
"Have I? I am very glad to hear it," I said.
With increasing animation he stated again
that I had missed his point. Entirely. And in a
tone of growing self-conscious complacency he
told me that few things escaped his attention,
and he was rather used to think them out, and
generally from his experience of life and men ar-
rived at the right conclusion.
This bit of self-praise, of course, fitted excel-
lently the laborious inanity of the whole conversa-
tion. The whole thing strengthened in me that
obscure feeling of life being but a waste of days,
which, half-unconsciously, had driven me out of
a comfortable berth, away from men I liked, to
flee from the menace of emptiness . . . and
to find inanity at the first turn. Here was a man
of recognized character and achievement disclosed
as an absurd and dreary chatterer. And it was
probably like this everywhere--from east to west,
from the bottom to the top of the social scale.
A great discouragement fell on me. A spiritual
drowsiness. Giles' voice was going on compla-
cently; the very voice of the universal hollow
conceit. And I was no longer angry with it.
There was nothing original, nothing new, star-
tling, informing, to expect from the world; no op-
portunities to find out something about oneself,
no wisdom to acquire, no fun to enjoy. Every-
thing was stupid and overrated, even as Captain
Giles was. So be it.
The name of Hamilton suddenly caught my
ear and roused me up.
"I thought we had done with him," I said, with
the greatest possible distaste.
"Yes. But considering what we happened to
hear just now I think you ought to do it."
"Ought to do it?" I sat up bewildered. "Do
Captain Giles confronted me very much sur-
"Why! Do what I have been advising you to
try. You go and ask the Steward what was there
in that letter from the Harbour Office. Ask him
I remained speechless for a time. Here was
something unexpected and original enough to be
altogether incomprehensible. I murmured, as-
"But I thought it was Hamilton that you . . ."
"Exactly. Don't you let him. You do what I
tell you. You tackle that Steward. You'll make
him jump, I bet," insisted Captain Giles, waving
his smouldering pipe impressively at me. Then
he took three rapid puffs at it.
His aspect of triumphant acuteness was inde-
scribable. Yet the man remained a strangely
sympathetic creature. Benevolence radiated from
him ridiculously, mildly, impressively. It was
irritating, too. But I pointed out coldly, as one
who deals with the incomprehensible, that I
didn't see any reason to expose myself to a snub
from the fellow. He was a very unsatisfactory
steward and a miserable wretch besides, but I
would just as soon think of tweaking his nose.
"Tweaking his nose," said Captain Giles in a
scandalized tone. "Much use it would be to
That remark was so irrelevant that one could
make no answer to it. But the sense of the ab-
surdity was beginning at last to exercise its well-
known fascination. I felt I must not let the
man talk to me any more. I got up, observing
curtly that he was too much for me--that I
couldn't make him out.
Before I had time to move away he spoke
again in a changed tone of obstinacy and puffing
nervously at his pipe.
"Well--he's a--no account cuss--anyhow.
You just--ask him. That's all."
That new manner impressed me--or rather
made me pause. But sanity asserting its sway
at once I left the verandah after giving him a
mirthless smile. In a few strides I found myself
in the dining room, now cleared and empty. But
during that short time various thoughts occurred
to me, such as: that Giles had been making fun
of me, expecting some amusement at my expense;
that I probably looked silly and gullible; that I
knew very little of life. . . .
The door facing me across the dining room flew
open to my extreme surprise. It was the door
inscribed with the word "Steward" and the man
himself ran out of his stuffy, Philistinish lair in
his absurd, hunted-animal manner, making for the
To this day I don't know what made me call
after him. "I say! Wait a minute." Perhaps
it was the sidelong glance he gave me; or possibly
I was yet under the influence of Captain Giles'
mysterious earnestness. Well, it was an impulse
of some sort; an effect of that force somewhere
within our lives which shapes them this way or
that. For if these words had not escaped from my
lips (my will had nothing to do with that) my
existence would, to be sure, have been still a sea-
man's existence, but directed on now to me utterly
No. My will had nothing to do with it. In-
deed, no sooner had I made that fateful noise
than I became extremely sorry for it. Had the
man stopped and faced me I would have had to
retire in disorder. For I had no notion to carry
out Captain Giles' idiotic joke, either at my own
expense or at the expense of the Steward.
But here the old human instinct of the chase
came into play. He pretended to be deaf, and I,
without thinking a second about it, dashed along
my own side of the dining table and cut him off
at the very door.
"Why can't you answer when you are spoken
to?" I asked roughly.
He leaned against the lintel of the door. He
looked extremely wretched. Human nature is, I
fear, not very nice right through. There are ugly
spots in it. I found myself growing angry, and
that, I believe, only because my quarry looked
so woe-begone. Miserable beggar!
I went for him without more ado. "I under-
stand there was an official communication to the
Home from the Harbour Office this morning. Is
Instead of telling me to mind my own business,
as he might have done, he began to whine with
an undertone of impudence. He couldn't see me
anywhere this morning. He couldn't be expected
to run all over the town after me.
"Who wants you to?" I cried. And then my
eyes became opened to the inwardness of things
and speeches the triviality of which had been so
baffling and tiresome.
I told him I wanted to know what was in that
letter. My sternness of tone and behaviour was
only half assumed. Curiosity can be a very fierce
He took refuge in a silly, muttering sulkiness.
It was nothing to me, he mumbled. I had told
him I was going home. And since I was going
home he didn't see why he should. . . .
That was the line of his argument, and it was
irrelevant enough to be almost insulting. Insult-
ing to one's intelligence, I mean.
In that twilight region between youth and
maturity, in which I had my being then, one is
peculiarly sensitive to that kind of insult. I am
afraid my behaviour to the Steward became very
rough indeed. But it wasn't in him to face out
anything or anybody. Drug habit or solitary
tippling, perhaps. And when I forgot myself so
far as to swear at him he broke down and began to
I don't mean to say that he made a great out-
cry. It was a cynical shrieking confession, only
faint--piteously faint. It wasn't very coherent
either, but sufficiently so to strike me dumb at first.
I turned my eyes from him in righteous indig-
nation, and perceived Captain Giles in the ve-
randah doorway surveying quietly the scene, his
own handiwork, if I may express it in that way.
His smouldering black pipe was very noticeable
in his big, paternal fist. So, too, was the glitter of
his heavy gold watch-chain across the breast of his
white tunic. He exhaled an atmosphere of virtu-
ous sagacity serene enough for any innocent soul to
fly to confidently. I flew to him.
"You would never believe it," I cried. "It was
a notification that a master is wanted for some
ship. There's a command apparently going about
and this fellow puts the thing in his pocket."
The Steward screamed out in accents of loud
despair: "You will be the death of me!"
The mighty slap he gave his wretched forehead
was very loud, too. But when I turned to look at
him he was no longer there. He had rushed away
somewhere out of sight. This sudden disappear-
ance made me laugh.
This was the end of the incident--for me.
Captain Giles, however, staring at the place where
the Steward had been, began to haul at his gor-
geous gold chain till at last the watch came up
from the deep pocket like solid truth from a well.
Solemnly he lowered it down again and only then
"Just three o'clock. You will be in time--if
you don't lose any, that is."
"In time for what?" I asked.
"Good Lord! For the Harbour Office. This
must be looked into.
Strictly speaking, he was right. But I've never
had much taste for investigation, for showing
people up and all that no doubt ethically meri-
torious kind of work. And my view of the episode
was purely ethical. If any one had to be the death
of the Steward I didn't see why it shouldn't be
Captain Giles himself, a man of age and standing,
and a permanent resident. Whereas, I in com-
parison, felt myself a mere bird of passage in that
port. In fact, it might have been said that I had
already broken off my connection. I muttered
that I didn't think--it was nothing to me. . . .
"Nothing!" repeated Captain Giles, giving some
signs of quiet, deliberate indignation. "Kent
warned me you were a peculiar young fellow. You
will tell me next that a command is nothing to you
--and after all the trouble I've taken, too!"
"The trouble!" I murmured, uncomprehending.
What trouble? All I could remember was being
mystified and bored by his conversation for a solid
hour after tiffin. And he called that taking a lot
He was looking at me with a self-complacency
which would have been odious in any other man.
All at once, as if a page of a book had been turned
over disclosing a word which made plain all that
had gone before, I perceived that this matter had
also another than an ethical aspect.
And still I did not move. Captain Giles lost his
patience a little. With an angry puff at his pipe he
turned his back on my hesitation.
But it was not hesitation on my part. I had
been, if I may express myself so, put out of gear
mentally. But as soon as I had convinced my-
self that this stale, unprofitable world of my dis-
content contained such a thing as a command
to be seized, I recovered my powers of locomo-
It's a good step from the Officers' Home to the
Harbour Office; but with the magic word "Com-
mand" in my head I found myself suddenly on
the quay as if transported there in the twinkling of
an eye, before a portal of dressed white stone above
a flight of shallow white steps.
All this seemed to glide toward me swiftly. The
whole great roadstead to the right was just a mere
flicker of blue, and the dim cool hall swallowed
me up out of the heat and glare of which I had not
been aware till the very moment I passed in from it.
The broad inner staircase insinuated itself under
my feet somehow. Command is a strong magic.
The first human beings I perceived distinctly since
I had parted with the indignant back of Captain
Giles were the crew of the harbour steam-launch
lounging on the spacious landing about the cur-
tained archway of the shipping office.
It was there that my buoyancy abandoned me.
The atmosphere of officialdom would kill anything
that breathes the air of human endeavour, would
extinguish hope and fear alike in the supremacy of
paper and ink. I passed heavily under the curtain
which the Malay coxswain of the harbour launch
raised for me. There was nobody in the office
except the clerks, writing in two industrious rows.
But the head Shipping-Master hopped down from
his elevation and hurried along on the thick mats
to meet me in the broad central passage.
He had a Scottish name, but his complexion was
of a rich olive hue, his short beard was jet black,
and his eyes, also black, had a languishing ex-
pression. He asked confidentially:
"You want to see Him?"
All lightness of spirit and body having departed
from me at the touch of officialdom, I looked at
the scribe without animation and asked in my turn
"What do you think? Is it any use?"
"My goodness! He has asked for you twice to-
This emphatic He was the supreme authority,
the Marine Superintendent, the Harbour-Master
--a very great person in the eyes of every single
quill-driver in the room. But that was nothing to
the opinion he had of his own greatness.
Captain Ellis looked upon himself as a sort of
divine (pagan) emanation, the deputy-Neptune for
the circumambient seas. If he did not actually
rule the waves, he pretended to rule the fate of
the mortals whose lives were cast upon the
This uplifting illusion made him inquisitorial
and peremptory. And as his temperament was
choleric there were fellows who were actually afraid
of him. He was redoubtable, not in virtue of his
office, but because of his unwarrantable assump-
tions. I had never had anything to do with him
I said: "Oh! He has asked for me twice. Then
perhaps I had better go in."
"You must! You must!"
The Shipping-Master led the way with a mincing
gait around the whole system of desks to a tall and
important-looking door, which he opened with a
deferential action of the arm.
He stepped right in (but without letting go of
the handle) and, after gazing reverently down the
room for a while, beckoned me in by a silent jerk
of the head. Then he slipped out at once and shut
the door after me most delicately.
Three lofty windows gave on the harbour.
There was nothing in them but the dark-blue
sparkling sea and the paler luminous blue of the
sky. My eye caught in the depths and distances
of these blue tones the white speck of some big ship
just arrived and about to anchor in the outer road-
stead. A ship from home--after perhaps ninety
days at sea. There is something touching about a
ship coming in from sea and folding her white
wings for a rest.
The next thing I saw was the top-knot of silver
hair surmounting Captain Ellis' smooth red face,
which would have been apoplectic if it hadn't had
such a fresh appearance.
Our deputy-Neptune had no beard on his chin,
and there was no trident to be seen standing in a
corner anywhere, like an umbrella. But his hand
was holding a pen--the official pen, far mightier
than the sword in making or marring the fortune of
simple toiling men. He was looking over his
shoulder at my advance.
When I had come well within range he saluted
me by a nerve-shattering: "Where have you been
all this time?"
As it was no concern of his I did not take the
slightest notice of the shot. I said simply that I
had heard there was a master needed for some
vessel, and being a sailing-ship man I thought I
would apply. . . .
He interrupted me. "Why! Hang it! YOU are
the right man for that job--if there had been
twenty others after it. But no fear of that. They
are all afraid to catch hold. That's what's the
He was very irritated. I said innocently: "Are
they, sir. I wonder why?"
"Why!" he fumed. "Afraid of the sails.
Afraid of a white crew. Too much trouble. Too
much work. Too long out here. Easy life and
deck-chairs more their mark. Here I sit with the
Consul-General's cable before me, and the only
man fit for the job not to be found anywhere. I
began to think you were funking it, too. . . ."
"I haven't been long getting to the office," I
"You have a good name out here, though," he
growled savagely without looking at me.
"I am very glad to hear it from you, sir," I said.
"Yes. But you are not on the spot when you
are wanted. You know you weren't. That stew-
ard of yours wouldn't dare to neglect a message
from this office. Where the devil did you hide
yourself for the best part of the day?"
I only smiled kindly down on him, and he seemed
to recollect himself, and asked me to take a seat. He
explained that the master of a British ship having
died in Bangkok the Consul-General had cabled to
him a request for a competent man to be sent out to
Apparently, in his mind, I was the man from the
first, though for the looks of the thing the notifica-
tion addressed to the Sailors' Home was general.
An agreement had already been prepared. He
gave it to me to read, and when I handed it back to
him with the remark that I accepted its terms, the
deputy-Neptune signed it, stamped it with his own
exalted hand, folded it in four (it was a sheet of
blue foolscap) and presented it to me--a gift of ex-
traordinary potency, for, as I put it in my pocket,
my head swam a little.
"This is your appointment to the command," he
said with a certain gravity. "An official appoint-
ment binding the owners to conditions which you
have accepted. Now--when will you be ready to
I said I would be ready that very day if neces-
sary. He caught me at my word with great
alacrity. The steamer Melita was leaving for
Bangkok that evening about seven. He would
request her captain officially to give me a passage
and wait for me till ten o'clock.
Then he rose from his office chair, and I got up,
too. My head swam, there was no doubt about it,
and I felt a certain heaviness of limbs as if they
had grown bigger since I had sat down on that
chair. I made my bow.
A subtle change in Captain Ellis' manner became
perceptible as though he had laid aside the trident
of deputy-Neptune. In reality, it was only his
official pen that he had dropped on getting up.
HE SHOOK hands with me: "Well, there you are, on
your own, appointed officially under my re-
He was actually walking with me to the door.
What a distance off it seemed! I moved like a
man in bonds. But we reached it at last. I opened
it with the sensation of dealing with mere dream-
stuff, and then at the last moment the fellowship
of seamen asserted itself, stronger than the differ-
ence of age and station. It asserted itself in
Captain Ellis' voice.
"Good-bye--and good luck to you," he said so
heartily that I could only give him a grateful
glance. Then I turned and went out, never to see
him again in my life. I had not made three steps
into the outer office when I heard behind my back
a gruff, loud, authoritative voice, the voice of our
It was addressing the head Shipping-Master
who, having let me in, had, apparently, remained
hovering in the middle distance ever since
"Mr. R., let the harbour launch have steam up to
take the captain here on board the Melita at half-
past nine to-night."
I was amazed at the startled alacrity of R's
"Yes, sir." He ran before me out on the landing.
My new dignity sat yet so lightly on me that I was
not aware that it was I, the Captain, the object of
this last graciousness. It seemed as if all of a sud-
den a pair of wings had grown on my shoulders. I
merely skimmed along the polished floor.
But R. was impressed.
"I say!" he exclaimed on the landing, while the
Malay crew of the steam-launch standing by looked
stonily at the man for whom they were going to be
kept on duty so late, away from their gambling,
from their girls, or their pure domestic joys. "I
say! His own launch. What have you done to
His stare was full of respectful curiosity. I was
"Was it for me? I hadn't the slightest notion,"
I stammered out.
He nodded many times. "Yes. And the last
person who had it before you was a Duke. So,
I think he expected me to faint on the spot.
But I was in too much of a hurry for emotional
displays. My feelings were already in such a whirl
that this staggering information did not seem to
make the slightest difference. It merely fell into
the seething cauldron of my brain, and I carried it
off with me after a short but effusive passage of
leave-taking with R.
The favour of the great throws an aureole round
the fortunate object of its selection. That ex-
cellent man enquired whether he could do anything
for me. He had known me only by sight, and he
was well aware he would never see me again; I was,
in common with the other seamen of the port,
merely a subject for official writing, filling up of
forms with all the artificial superiority of a man of
pen and ink to the men who grapple with realities
outside the consecrated walls of official buildings.
What ghosts we must have been to him! Mere
symbols to juggle with in books and heavy
registers, without brains and muscles and per-
plexities; something hardly useful and decidedly
And he--the office hours being over--wanted to
know if he could be of any use to me!
I ought--properly speaking--I ought to have
been moved to tears. But I did not even think of it.
It was merely another miraculous manifestation of
that day of miracles. I parted from him as if he
were a mere symbol. I floated down the staircase.
I floated out of the official and imposing portal. I
went on floating along.
I use that word rather than the word "flew," be-
cause I have a distinct impression that, though up-
lifted by my aroused youth, my movements were
deliberate enough. To that mixed white, brown,
and yellow portion of mankind, out abroad on their
own affairs, I presented the appearance of a man
walking rather sedately. And nothing in the way
of abstraction could have equalled my deep de-
tachment from the forms and colours of this world.
It was, as it were, final.
And yet, suddenly, I recognized Hamilton. I
recognized him without effort, without a shock,
without a start. There he was, strolling toward
the Harbour Office with his stiff, arrogant dignity.
His red face made him noticeable at a distance. It
flamed, over there, on the shady side of the street.
He had perceived me, too. Something (uncon-
scious exuberance of spirits perhaps) moved me to
wave my hand to him elaborately. This lapse
from good taste happened before I was aware that
I was capable of it.
The impact of my impudence stopped him short,
much as a bullet might have done. I verily believe
he staggered, though as far as I could see he didn't
actually fall. I had gone past in a moment and did
not turn my head. I had forgotten his existence.
The next ten minutes might have been ten
seconds or ten centuries for all my consciousness
had to do with it. People might have been falling
dead around me, houses crumbling, guns firing,
I wouldn't have known. I was thinking: "By
Jove! I have got it." IT being the command. It
had come about in a way utterly unforeseen in my
I perceived that my imagination had been run-
ning in conventional channels and that my hopes
had always been drab stuff. I had envisaged a
command as a result of a slow course of promotion
in the employ of some highly respectable firm.
The reward of faithful service. Well, faithful
service was all right. One would naturally give
that for one's own sake, for the sake of the ship,
for the love of the life of one's choice; not for the
sake of the reward.
There is something distasteful in the notion of a
And now here I had my command, absolutely in
my pocket, in a way undeniable indeed, but most
unexpected; beyond my imaginings, outside all
reasonable expectations, and even notwithstanding
the existence of some sort of obscure intrigue to
keep it away from me. It is true that the intrigue
was feeble, but it helped the feeling of wonder--as
if I had been specially destined for that ship I did
not know, by some power higher than the prosaic
agencies of the commercial world.
A strange sense of exultation began to creep into
me. If I had worked for that command ten years
or more there would have been nothing of the kind.
I was a little frightened.
"Let us be calm," I said to myself.
Outside the door of the Officers' Home the
wretched Steward seemed to be waiting for me.
There was a broad flight of a few steps, and he ran
to and fro on the top of it as if chained there. A
distressed cur. He looked as though his throat
were too dry for him to bark.
I regret to say I stopped before going in. There
had been a revolution in my moral nature. He
waited open-mouthed, breathless, while I looked
at him for half a minute.
"And you thought you could keep me out of it,"
I said scathingly.
"You said you were going home," he squeaked
miserably. "You said so. You said so."
"I wonder what Captain Ellis will have to say
to that excuse," I uttered slowly with a sinister
His lower jaw had been trembling all the time and
his voice was like the bleating of a sick goat. "You
have given me away? You have done for me?"
Neither his distress nor yet the sheer absurdity
of it was able to disarm me. It was the first in-
stance of harm being attempted to be done to me
--at any rate, the first I had ever found out. And
I was still young enough, still too much on this side
of the shadow line, not to be surprised and indig-
nant at such things.
I gazed at him inflexibly. Let the beggar suffer.
He slapped his forehead and I passed in, pursued,
into the dining room, by his screech: "I always
said you'd be the death of me."
This clamour not only overtook me, but went
ahead as it were on to the verandah and brought
out Captain Giles.
He stood before me in the doorway in all the
commonplace solidity of his wisdom. The gold
chain glittered on his breast. He clutched a
I extended my hand to him warmly and he
seemed surprised, but did respond heartily enough
in the end, with a faint smile of superior knowledge
which cut my thanks short as if with a knife. I
don't think that more than one word came out.
And even for that one, judging by the temperature
of my face, I had blushed as if for a bad action.
Assuming a detached tone, I wondered how on
earth he had managed to spot the little underhand
game that had been going on.
He murmured complacently that there were but
few things done in the town that he could not see
the inside of. And as to this house, he had been
using it off and on for nearly ten years. Nothing
that went on in it could escape his great experience.
It had been no trouble to him. No trouble at all.
Then in his quiet, thick tone he wanted to know
if I had complained formally of the Steward's
I said that I hadn't--though, indeed, it was not
for want of opportunity. Captain Ellis had gone
for me bald-headed in a most ridiculous fashion for
being out of the way when wanted.
"Funny old gentleman," interjected Captain
Giles. "What did you say to that?"
"I said simply that I came along the very mo-
ment I heard of his message. Nothing more. I
didn't want to hurt the Steward. I would scorn
to harm such an object. No. I made no com-
plaint, but I believe he thinks I've done so. Let
him think. He's got a fright he won't forget in a
hurry, for Captain Ellis would kick him out into
the middle of Asia. . . ."
"Wait a moment," said Captain Giles, leaving
me suddenly. I sat down feeling very tired,
mostly in my head. Before I could start a train of
thought he stood again before me, murmuring the
excuse that he had to go and put the fellow's mind
I looked up with surprise. But in reality I was
indifferent. He explained that he had found the
Steward lying face downward on the horsehair sofa.
He was all right now.
"He would not have died of fright," I said con-
"No. But he might have taken an overdose out
of one of them little bottles he keeps in his room,"
Captain Giles argued seriously. "The confounded
fool has tried to poison himself once--a few years
"Really," I said without emotion. "He doesn't
seem very fit to live, anyhow."
"As to that, it may be said of a good many."
"Don't exaggerate like this!" I protested,
laughing irritably. "But I wonder what this part
of the world would do if you were to leave off look-
ing after it, Captain Giles? Here you have got me
a command and saved the Steward's life in one
afternoon. Though why you should have taken all
that interest in either of us is more than I can
Captain Giles remained silent for a minute.
"He's not a bad steward really. He can find a
good cook, at any rate. And, what's more, he can
keep him when found. I remember the cooks we
had here before his time! . . ."
I must have made a movement of impatience,
because he interrupted himself with an apology for
keeping me yarning there, while no doubt I needed
all my time to get ready.
What I really needed was to be alone for a bit.
I seized this opening hastily. My bedroom was a
quiet refuge in an apparently uninhabited wing of
the building. Having absolutely nothing to do
(for I had not unpacked my things), I sat down on
the bed and abandoned myself to the influences of
the hour. To the unexpected influences. . . .
And first I wondered at my state of mind. Why
was I not more surprised? Why? Here I was, in-
vested with a command in the twinkling of an eye,
not in the common course of human affairs, but
more as if by enchantment. I ought to have been
lost in astonishment. But I wasn't. I was very
much like people in fairy tales. Nothing ever
astonishes them. When a fully appointed gala
coach is produced out of a pumpkin to take
her to a ball, Cinderella does not exclaim. She
gets in quietly and drives away to her high for-
Captain Ellis (a fierce sort of fairy) had pro-
duced a command out of a drawer almost as un-
expectedly as in a fairy tale. But a command is an
abstract idea, and it seemed a sort of "lesser
marvel" till it flashed upon me that it involved the
concrete existence of a ship.
A ship! My ship! She was mine, more abso-
lutely mine for possession and care than anything
in the world; an object of responsibility and de-
votion. She was there waiting for me, spell-bound,
unable to move, to live, to get out into the world
(till I came), like an enchanted princess. Her call
had come to me as if from the clouds. I had never
suspected her existence. I didn't know how she
looked, I had barely heard her name, and yet we
were indissolubly united for a certain portion of our
future, to sink or swim together!
A sudden passion of anxious impatience rushed
through my veins, gave me such a sense of the in-
tensity of existence as I have never felt before or
since. I discovered how much of a seaman I was,
in heart, in mind, and, as it were, physically--a
man exclusively of sea and ships; the sea the only
world that counted, and the ships, the test of man-
liness, of temperament, of courage and fidelity--
and of love.
I had an exquisite moment. It was unique also.
Jumping up from my seat, I paced up and down
my room for a long time. But when I came down-
stairs I behaved with sufficient composure. I
only couldn't eat anything at dinner.
Having declared my intention not to drive but
to walk down to the quay, I must render the
wretched Steward justice that he bestirred himself
to find me some coolies for the luggage. They de-
parted, carrying all my worldly possessions (except
a little money I had in my pocket) slung from a long
pole. Captain Giles volunteered to walk down
We followed the sombre, shaded alley across the
Esplanade. It was moderately cool there under
the trees. Captain Giles remarked, with a sudden
laugh: "I know who's jolly thankful at having seen
the last of you."
I guessed that he meant the Steward. The fellow
had borne himself to me in a sulkily frightened
manner at the last. I expressed my wonder that
he should have tried to do me a bad turn for no
reason at all.
"Don't you see that what he wanted was to get
rid of our friend Hamilton by dodging him in front
of you for that job? That would have removed
him for good. See?"
"Heavens!" I exclaimed, feeling humiliated
somehow. "Can it be possible? What a fool he
must be! That overbearing, impudent loafer!
Why! He couldn't. . . . And yet he's nearly
done it, I believe; for the Harbour Office was bound
to send somebody."
"Aye. A fool like our Steward can be dangerous
sometimes," declared Captain Giles sententiously.
"Just because he is a fool," he added, imparting
further instruction in his complacent low tones.
"For," he continued in the manner of a set demon-
stration, "no sensible person would risk being
kicked out of the only berth between himself and
starvation just to get rid of a simple annoyance--
a small worry. Would he now?"
"Well, no," I conceded, restraining a desire to
laugh at that something mysteriously earnest in
delivering the conclusions of his wisdom as though
it were the product of prohibited operations. "But
that fellow looks as if he were rather crazy. He
"As to that, I believe everybody in the world is a
little mad," he announced quietly.
"You make no exceptions?" I inquired, just to
hear his manner.
"Why! Kent says that even of you."
"Does he?" I retorted, extremely embittered
all at once against my former captain. "There's
nothing of that in the written character from him
which I've got in my pocket. Has he given you
any instances of my lunacy?"
Captain Giles explained in a conciliating tone
that it had been only a friendly remark in refer-
ence to my abrupt leaving the ship for no apparent
I muttered grumpily: "Oh! leaving his ship,"
and mended my pace. He kept up by my side in
the deep gloom of the avenue as if it were his con-
scientious duty to see me out of the colony as an
undesirable character. He panted a little, which
was rather pathetic in a way. But I was not
moved. On the contrary. His discomfort gave
me a sort of malicious pleasure.
Presently I relented, slowed down, and said:
"What I really wanted was to get a fresh grip.
I felt it was time. Is that so very mad?"
He made no answer. We were issuing from the
avenue. On the bridge over the canal a dark, ir-
resolute figure seemed to be awaiting something or
It was a Malay policeman, barefooted, in his
blue uniform. The silver band on his little round
cap shone dimly in the light of the street lamp. He
peered in our direction timidly.
Before we could come up to him he turned about
and walked in front of us in the direction of the
jetty. The distance was some hundred yards; and
then I found my coolies squatting on their heels.
They had kept the pole on their shoulders, and all
my worldly goods, still tied to the pole, were resting
on the ground between them. As far as the eye
could reach along the quay there was not another
soul abroad except the police peon, who saluted us.
It seems he had detained the coolies as suspicious
characters, and had forbidden them the jetty. But
at a sign from me he took off the embargo with
alacrity. The two patient fellows, rising together
with a faint grunt, trotted off along the planks, and
I prepared to take my leave of Captain Giles, who
stood there with an air as though his mission were
drawing to a close. It could not be denied that he
had done it all. And while I hesitated about an
appropriate sentence he made himself heard:
"I expect you'll have your hands pretty full of
I asked him what made him think so; and he an-
swered that it was his general experience of the
world. Ship a long time away from her port,
owners inaccessible by cable, and the only man who
could explain matters dead and buried.
"And you yourself new to the business in a way,"
he concluded in a sort of unanswerable tone.
"Don't insist," I said. "I know it only too well.
I only wish you could impart to me some small
portion of your experience before I go. As it can't
be done in ten minutes I had better not begin to ask
you. There's that harbour launch waiting for me,
too. But I won't feel really at peace till I have that
ship of mine out in the Indian Ocean."
He remarked casually that from Bangkok to the
Indian Ocean was a pretty long step. And this
murmur, like a dim flash from a dark lantern,
showed me for a moment the broad belt of islands
and reefs between that unknown ship, which was
mine, and the freedom of the great waters of the
But I felt no apprehension. I was familiar
enough with the Archipelago by that time. Ex-
treme patience and extreme care would see me
through the region of broken land, of faint airs, and
of dead water to where I would feel at last my
command swing on the great swell and list over to
the great breath of regular winds, that would give
her the feeling of a large, more intense life. The
road would be long. All roads are long that lead
toward one's heart's desire. But this road my
mind's eye could see on a chart, professionally,
with all its complications and difficulties, yet simple
enough in a way. One is a seaman or one is not.
And I had no doubt of being one.
The only part I was a stranger to was the Gulf of
Siam. And I mentioned this to Captain Giles.
Not that I was concerned very much. It belonged
to the same region the nature of which I knew, into
whose very soul I seemed to have looked during the
last months of that existence with which I had
broken now, suddenly, as one parts with some en-
"The gulf . . . Ay! A funny piece of
water--that," said Captain Giles.
Funny, in this connection, was a vague word.
The whole thing sounded like an opinion uttered
by a cautious person mindful of actions for slander.
I didn't inquire as to the nature of that funni-
ness. There was really no time. But at the very
last he volunteered a warning.
"Whatever you do keep to the east side of it.
The west side is dangerous at this time of the year.
Don't let anything tempt you over. You'll find
nothing but trouble there."
Though I could hardly imagine what could tempt
me to involve my ship amongst the currents and
reefs of the Malay shore, I thanked him for the
He gripped my extended arm warmly, and the
end of our acquaintance came suddenly in the
That was all he said: "Good-night." Nothing
more. I don't know what I intended to say, but
surprise made me swallow it, whatever it was. I
choked slightly, and then exclaimed with a sort of
nervous haste: "Oh! Good-night, Captain Giles,
His movements were always deliberate, but his
back had receded some distance along the deserted
quay before I collected myself enough to follow his
example and made a half turn in the direction of
Only my movements were not deliberate. I
hurried down to the steps, and leaped into the
launch. Before I had fairly landed in her stern-
sheets the slim little craft darted away from the
jetty with a sudden swirl of her propeller and the
hard, rapid puffing of the exhaust in her vaguely
gleaming brass funnel amidships.
The misty churning at her stern was the only
sound in the world. The shore lay plunged in the
silence of the deeper slumber. I watched the town
recede still and soundless in the hot night, till the
abrupt hail, "Steam-launch, ahoy!" made me spin
round face forward. We were close to a white
ghostly steamer. Lights shone on her decks, in her
portholes. And the same voice shouted from her:
"Is that our passenger?"
"It is," I yelled.
Her crew had been obviously on the jump. I
could hear them running about. The modern
spirit of haste was loudly vocal in the orders to
"Heave away on the cable"--to "Lower the side-
ladder," and in urgent requests to me to "Come
along, sir! We have been delayed three hours for
you. . . . Our time is seven o'clock, you know!"
I stepped on the deck. I said "No! I don't
know." The spirit of modern hurry was embodied
in a thin, long-armed, long-legged man, with a
closely clipped gray beard. His meagre hand was
hot and dry. He declared feverishly:
"I am hanged if I would have waited another
five minutes Harbour-Master or no Harbour-
"That's your own business," I said. "I didn't
ask you to wait for me."
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