by Joseph Conrad
What was known of Captain Hagberd in the little
seaport of Colebrook was not exactly in his favour.
He did not belong to the place. He had come to
settle there under circumstances not at all myste-
rious--he used to be very communicative about
them at the time--but extremely morbid and un-
reasonable. He was possessed of some little money
evidently, because he bought a plot of ground, and
had a pair of ugly yellow brick cottages run up
very cheaply. He occupied one of them himself
and let the other to Josiah Carvil--blind Carvil,
the retired boat-builder--a man of evil repute as a
These cottages had one wall in common, shared
in a line of iron railing dividing their front gar-
dens; a wooden fence separated their back gardens.
Miss Bessie Carvil was allowed, as it were of right,
to throw over it the tea-cloths, blue rags, or an
apron that wanted drying.
"It rots the wood, Bessie my girl," the captain
would remark mildly, from his side of the fence,
each time he saw her exercising that privilege.
She was a tall girl; the fence was low, and
she could spread her elbows on the top. Her hands
would be red with the bit of washing she had done,
but her forearms were white and shapely, and she
would look at her father's landlord in silence--in
an informed silence which had an air of knowledge,
expectation and desire.
"It rots the wood," repeated Captain Hagberd.
"It is the only unthrifty, careless habit I know in
you. Why don't you have a clothes line out in your
Miss Carvil would say nothing to this--she only
shook her head negatively. The tiny back yard
on her side had a few stone-bordered little beds of
black earth, in which the simple flowers she found
time to cultivate appeared somehow extravagantly
overgrown, as if belonging to an exotic clime; and
Captain Hagberd's upright, hale person, clad in
No. 1 sail-cloth from head to foot, would be emer-
ging knee-deep out of rank grass and the tall weeks
on his side of the fence. He appeared, with the col-
our and uncouth stiffness of the extraordinary ma-
terial in which he chose to clothe himself--"for the
time being," would be his mumbled remark to any
observation on the subject--like a man roughened
out of granite, standing in a wilderness not big
enough for a decent billiard-room. A heavy figure
of a man of stone, with a red handsome face, a blue
wandering eye, and a great white beard flowing
to his waist and never trimmed as far as Colebrook
Seven years before, he had seriously answered,
"Next month, I think," to the chaffing attempt to
secure his custom made by that distinguished local
wit, the Colebrook barber, who happened to be sit-
ting insolently in the tap-room of the New Inn near
the harbour, where the captain had entered to buy
an ounce of tobacco. After paying for his pur-
chase with three half-pence extracted from the cor-
ner of a handkerchief which he carried in the cuff
of his sleeve, Captain Hagberd went out. As soon
as the door was shut the barber laughed. "The
old one and the young one will be strolling arm in
arm to get shaved in my place presently. The
tailor shall be set to work, and the barber, and the
candlestick maker; high old times are coming for
Colebrook, they are coming, to be sure. It used to
be 'next week,' now it has come to 'next month,'
and so on--soon it will be next spring, for all I
Noticing a stranger listening to him with a va-
cant grin, he explained, stretching out his legs cyn-
ically, that this queer old Hagberd, a retired coast-
ing-skipper, was waiting for the return of a son of
his. The boy had been driven away from home, he
shouldn't wonder; had run away to sea and had
never been heard of since. Put to rest in Davy
Jones's locker this many a day, as likely as not.
That old man came flying to Colebrook three
years ago all in black broadcloth (had lost his wife
lately then), getting out of a third-class smoker
as if the devil had been at his heels; and the only
thing that brought him down was a letter--a hoax
probably. Some joker had written to him about a
seafaring man with some such name who was sup-
posed to be hanging about some girl or other, either
in Colebrook or in the neighbourhood. "Funny,
ain't it?" The old chap had been advertising in
the London papers for Harry Hagberd, and offer-
ing rewards for any sort of likely information.
And the barber would go on to describe with sar-
donic gusto, how that stranger in mourning had
been seen exploring the country, in carts, on foot,
taking everybody into his confidence, visiting all
the inns and alehouses for miles around, stopping
people on the road with his questions, looking into
the very ditches almost; first in the greatest excite-
ment, then with a plodding sort of perseverance,
growing slower and slower; and he could not even
tell you plainly how his son looked. The sailor
was supposed to be one of two that had left a tim-
ber ship, and to have been seen dangling after some
girl; but the old man described a boy of fourteen
or so--"a clever-looking, high-spirited boy." And
when people only smiled at this he would rub his
forehead in a confused sort of way before he slunk
off, looking offended. He found nobody, of
course; not a trace of anybody--never heard of
anything worth belief, at any rate; but he had not
been able somehow to tear himself away from Cole-
"It was the shock of this disappointment, per-
haps, coming soon after the loss of his wife, that
had driven him crazy on that point," the barber
suggested, with an air of great psychological in-
sight. After a time the old man abandoned the ac-
tive search. His son had evidently gone away;
but he settled himself to wait. His son had been
once at least in Colebrook in preference to his na-
tive place. There must have been some reason for
it, he seemed to think, some very powerful induce-
ment, that would bring him back to Colebrook
"Ha, ha, ha! Why, of course, Colebrook.
Where else? That's the only place in the United
Kingdom for your long-lost sons. So he sold up
his old home in Colchester, and down he comes here.
Well, it's a craze, like any other. Wouldn't catch
me going crazy over any of my youngsters clear-
ing out. I've got eight of them at home." The
barber was showing off his strength of mind in the
midst of a laughter that shook the tap-room.
Strange, though, that sort of thing, he would
confess, with the frankness of a superior intelli-
gence, seemed to be catching. His establishment,
for instance, was near the harbour, and whenever a
sailorman came in for a hair-cut or a shave--if it
was a strange face he couldn't help thinking di-
rectly, "Suppose he's the son of old Hagberd!"
He laughed at himself for it. It was a strong
craze. He could remember the time when the whole
town was full of it. But he had his hopes of the
old chap yet. He would cure him by a course of
judicious chaffing. He was watching the progress
of the treatment. Next week--next month--next
year! When the old skipper had put off the date
of that return till next year, he would be well on
his way to not saying any more about it. In other
matters he was quite rational, so this, too, was
bound to come. Such was the barber's firm opin-
Nobody had ever contradicted him; his own hair
had gone grey since that time, and Captain Hag-
berd's beard had turned quite white, and had ac-
quired a majestic flow over the No. 1 canvas suit,
which he had made for himself secretly with tarred
twine, and had assumed suddenly, coming out in
it one fine morning, whereas the evening before he
had been seen going home in his mourning of
broadcloth. It caused a sensation in the High
Street--shopkeepers coming to their doors, people
in the houses snatching up their hats to run out--
a stir at which he seemed strangely surprised at
first, and then scared; but his only answer to the
wondering questions was that startled and evasive,
"For the present."
That sensation had been forgotten, long ago;
and Captain Hagberd himself, if not forgotten,
had come to be disregarded--the penalty of daili-
ness--as the sun itself is disregarded unless it
makes its power felt heavily. Captain Hagberd's
movements showed no infirmity: he walked stiffly
in his suit of canvas, a quaint and remarkable fig-
ure; only his eyes wandered more furtively perhaps
than of yore. His manner abroad had lost its ex-
citable watchfulness; it had become puzzled and
diffident, as though he had suspected that there
was somewhere about him something slightly com-
promising, some embarrassing oddity; and yet had
remained unable to discover what on earth this
something wrong could be.
He was unwilling now to talk with the townsfolk.
He had earned for himself the reputation of an
awful skinflint, of a miser in the matter of living.
He mumbled regretfully in the shops, bought in-
ferior scraps of meat after long hesitations; and
discouraged all allusions to his costume. It was
as the barber had foretold. For all one could tell,
he had recovered already from the disease of hope;
and only Miss Bessie Carvil knew that he said noth-
ing about his son's return because with him it was
no longer "next week," "next month," or even
"next year." It was "to-morrow."
In their intimacy of back yard and front gar-
den he talked with her paternally, reasonably, and
dogmatically, with a touch of arbitrariness. They
met on the ground of unreserved confidence, which
was authenticated by an affectionate wink now and
then. Miss Carvil had come to look forward rather
to these winks. At first they had discomposed her:
the poor fellow was mad. Afterwards she had
learned to laugh at them: there was no harm in
him. Now she was aware of an unacknowledged,
pleasurable, incredulous emotion, expressed by a
faint blush. He winked not in the least vulgarly;
his thin red face with a well-modelled curved nose,
had a sort of distinction--the more so that when he
talked to her he looked with a steadier and more in-
telligent glance. A handsome, hale, upright, ca-
pable man, with a white beard. You did not think
of his age. His son, he affirmed, had resembled
him amazingly from his earliest babyhood.
Harry would be one-and-thirty next July, he
declared. Proper age to get married with a nice,
sensible girl that could appreciate a good home.
He was a very high-spirited boy. High-spirited
husbands were the easiest to manage. These mean,
soft chaps, that you would think butter wouldn't
melt in their mouths, were the ones to make a wom-
an thoroughly miserable. And there was nothing
like a home--a fireside--a good roof: no turning
out of your warm bed in all sorts of weather. "Eh,
Captain Hagberd had been one of those sailors
that pursue their calling within sight of land. One
of the many children of a bankrupt farmer, he had
been apprenticed hurriedly to a coasting skipper,
and had remained on the coast all his sea life. It
must have been a hard one at first: he had never
taken to it; his affection turned to the land, with
its innumerable houses, with its quiet lives gathered
round its firesides. Many sailors feel and profess
a rational dislike for the sea, but his was a pro-
found and emotional animosity--as if the love of
the stabler element had been bred into him through
"People did not know what they let their boys in
for when they let them go to sea," he expounded to
Bessie. "As soon make convicts of them at once."
He did not believe you ever got used to it. The
weariness of such a life got worse as you got older.
What sort of trade was it in which more than half
your time you did not put your foot inside your
house? Directly you got out to sea you had no
means of knowing what went on at home. One
might have thought him weary of distant voyages;
and the longest he had ever made had lasted a fort-
night, of which the most part had been spent at
anchor, sheltering from the weather. As soon as
his wife had inherited a house and enough to live on
(from a bachelor uncle who had made some money
in the coal business) he threw up his command of
an East-coast collier with a feeling as though he
had escaped from the galleys. After all these years
he might have counted on the fingers of his two
hands all the days he had been out of sight of Eng-
land. He had never known what it was to be out
of soundings. "I have never been further than
eighty fathoms from the land," was one of his
Bessie Carvil heard all these things. In front of
their cottage grew an under-sized ash; and on sum-
mer afternoons she would bring out a chair on the
grass-plot and sit down with her sewing. Captain
Hagberd, in his canvas suit, leaned on a spade. He
dug every day in his front plot. He turned it over
and over several times every year, but was not go-
ing to plant anything "just at present."
To Bessie Carvil he would state more explicitly:
"Not till our Harry comes home to-morrow." And
she had heard this formula of hope so often that it
only awakened the vaguest pity in her heart for
that hopeful old man.
Everything was put off in that way, and every-
thing was being prepared likewise for to-morrow.
There was a boxful of packets of various flower-
seeds to choose from, for the front garden. "He
will doubtless let you have your say about that, my
dear," Captain Hagberd intimated to her across
Miss Bessie's head remained bowed over her
work. She had heard all this so many times. But
now and then she would rise, lay down her sewing,
and come slowly to the fence. There was a charm
in these gentle ravings. He was determined that
his son should not go away again for the want of a
home all ready for him. He had been filling the
other cottage with all sorts of furniture. She im-
agined it all new, fresh with varnish, piled up as
in a warehouse. There would be tables wrapped
up in sacking; rolls of carpets thick and vertical
like fragments of columns, the gleam of white mar-
ble tops in the dimness of the drawn blinds. Cap-
tain Hagberd always described his purchases to
her, carefully, as to a person having a legitimate
interest in them. The overgrown yard of his cot-
tage could be laid over with concrete . . . after
"We may just as well do away with the fence.
You could have your drying-line out, quite clear of
your flowers." He winked, and she would blush
This madness that had entered her life through
the kind impulses of her heart had reasonable de-
tails. What if some day his son returned? But
she could not even be quite sure that he ever had a
son; and if he existed anywhere he had been too
long away. When Captain Hagberd got excited
in his talk she would steady him by a pretence of
belief, laughing a little to salve her conscience.
Only once she had tried pityingly to throw some
doubt on that hope doomed to disappointment, but
the effect of her attempt had scared her very much.
All at once over that man's face there came an ex-
pression of horror and incredulity, as though he
had seen a crack open out in the firmament.
"You--you--you don't think he's drowned!"
For a moment he seemed to her ready to go out
of his mind, for in his ordinary state she thought
him more sane than people gave him credit for.
On that occasion the violence of the emotion was
followed by a most paternal and complacent re-
"Don't alarm yourself, my dear," he said a lit-
tle cunningly: "the sea can't keep him. He does
not belong to it. None of us Hagberds ever did
belong to it. Look at me; I didn't get drowned.
Moreover, he isn't a sailor at all; and if he is not a
sailor he's bound to come back. There's nothing
to prevent him coming back. . . ."
His eyes began to wander.
She never tried again, for fear the man should
go out of his mind on the spot. He depended on
her. She seemed the only sensible person in the
town; and he would congratulate himself frankly
before her face on having secured such a level-
headed wife for his son. The rest of the town, he
confided to her once, in a fit of temper, was certainly
queer. The way they looked at you--the way they
talked to you! He had never got on with any one
in the place. Didn't like the people. He would
not have left his own country if it had not been
clear that his son had taken a fancy to Colebrook.
She humoured him in silence, listening patiently
by the fence; crocheting with downcast eyes.
Blushes came with difficulty on her dead-white
complexion, under the negligently twisted opu-
lence of mahogany-coloured hair. Her father was
She had a full figure; a tired, unrefreshed face.
When Captain Hagberd vaunted the necessity and
propriety of a home and the delights of one's own
fireside, she smiled a little, with her lips only. Her
home delights had been confined to the nursing of
her father during the ten best years of her life.
A bestial roaring coming out of an upstairs win-
dow would interrupt their talk. She would begin
at once to roll up her crochet-work or fold her sew-
ing, without the slightest sign of haste. Mean-
while the howls and roars of her name would go on,
making the fishermen strolling upon the sea-wall
on the other side of the road turn their heads to-
wards the cottages. She would go in slowly at the
front door, and a moment afterwards there would
fall a profound silence. Presently she would re-
appear, leading by the hand a man, gross and un-
wieldy like a hippopotamus, with a bad-tempered,
He was a widowed boat-builder, whom blindness
had overtaken years before in the full flush of busi-
ness. He behaved to his daughter as if she had
been responsible for its incurable character. He
had been heard to bellow at the top of his voice,
as if to defy Heaven, that he did not care: he had
made enough money to have ham and eggs for his
breakfast every morning. He thanked God for it,
in a fiendish tone as though he were cursing.
Captain Hagberd had been so unfavourably im-
pressed by his tenant, that once he told Miss Bes-
sie, "He is a very extravagant fellow, my dear."
She was knitting that day, finishing a pair of
socks for her father, who expected her to keep up
the supply dutifully. She hated knitting, and, as
she was just at the heel part, she had to keep her
eyes on her needles.
"Of course it isn't as if he had a son to provide
for," Captain Hagberd went on a little vacantly.
"Girls, of course, don't require so much--h'm--
h'm. They don't run away from home, my dear."
"No," said Miss Bessie, quietly.
Captain Hagberd, amongst the mounds of
turned-up earth, chuckled. With his maritime rig,
his weather-beaten face, his beard of Father Nep-
tune, he resembled a deposed sea-god who had ex-
changed the trident for the spade.
"And he must look upon you as already pro-
vided for, in a manner. That's the best of it with
the girls. The husbands . . ." He winked. Miss
Bessie, absorbed in her knitting, coloured faintly.
"Bessie! my hat!" old Carvil bellowed out sud-
denly. He had been sitting under the tree mute
and motionless, like an idol of some remarkably
monstrous superstition. He never opened his
mouth but to howl for her, at her, sometimes about
her; and then he did not moderate the terms of his
abuse. Her system was never to answer him at all;
and he kept up his shouting till he got attended to
--till she shook him by the arm, or thrust the
mouthpiece of his pipe between his teeth. He was
one of the few blind people who smoke. When he
felt the hat being put on his head he stopped his
noise at once. Then he rose, and they passed to-
gether through the gate.
He weighed heavily on her arm. During their
slow, toilful walks she appeared to be dragging
with her for a penance the burden of that infirm
bulk. Usually they crossed the road at once (the
cottages stood in the fields near the harbour, two
hundred yards away from the end of the street),
and for a long, long time they would remain in
view, ascending imperceptibly the flight of wooden
steps that led to the top of the sea-wall. It ran
on from east to west, shutting out the Channel like
a neglected railway embankment, on which no train
had ever rolled within memory of man. Groups
of sturdy fishermen would emerge upon the sky,
walk along for a bit, and sink without haste. Their
brown nets, like the cobwebs of gigantic spiders,
lay on the shabby grass of the slope; and, looking
up from the end of the street, the people of the
town would recognise the two Carvils by the creep-
ing slowness of their gait. Captain Hagberd, pot-
tering aimlessly about his cottages, would raise his
head to see how they got on in their promenade.
He advertised still in the Sunday papers for
Harry Hagberd. These sheets were read in for-
eign parts to the end of the world, he informed Bes-
sie. At the same time he seemed to think that his
son was in England--so near to Colebrook that he
would of course turn up "to-morrow." Bessie,
without committing herself to that opinion in so
many words, argued that in that case the expense
of advertising was unnecessary; Captain Hagberd
had better spend that weekly half-crown on him-
self. She declared she did not know what he lived
on. Her argumentation would puzzle him and cast
him down for a time. "They all do it," he pointed
out. There was a whole column devoted to appeals
after missing relatives. He would bring the news-
paper to show her. He and his wife had advertised
for years; only she was an impatient woman. The
news from Colebrook had arrived the very day after
her funeral; if she had not been so impatient she
might have been here now, with no more than one
day more to wait. "You are not an impatient
woman, my dear."
"I've no patience with you sometimes," she
If he still advertised for his son he did not offer
rewards for information any more; for, with the
muddled lucidity of a mental derangement he had
reasoned himself into a conviction as clear as day-
light that he had already attained all that could be
expected in that way. What more could he want?
Colebrook was the place, and there was no need to
ask for more. Miss Carvil praised him for his good
sense, and he was soothed by the part she took in
his hope, which had become his delusion; in that
idea which blinded his mind to truth and probabil-
ity, just as the other old man in the other cottage
had been made blind, by another disease, to the
light and beauty of the world.
But anything he could interpret as a doubt--
any coldness of assent, or even a simple inattention
to the development of his projects of a home with
his returned son and his son's wife--would irritate
him into flings and jerks and wicked side glances.
He would dash his spade into the ground and walk
to and fro before it. Miss Bessie called it his tan-
trums. She shook her finger at him. Then, when
she came out again, after he had parted with her
in anger, he would watch out of the corner of his
eyes for the least sign of encouragement to ap-
proach the iron railings and resume his fatherly
and patronising relations.
For all their intimacy, which had lasted some
years now, they had never talked without a fence
or a railing between them. He described to her all
the splendours accumulated for the setting-up of
their housekeeping, but had never invited her to an
inspection. No human eye was to behold them till
Harry had his first look. In fact, nobody had ever
been inside his cottage; he did his own housework,
and he guarded his son's privilege so jealously that
the small objects of domestic use he bought some-
times in the town were smuggled rapidly across the
front garden under his canvas coat. Then, coming
out, he would remark apologetically, "It was only
a small kettle, my dear."
And, if not too tired with her drudgery, or wor-
ried beyond endurance by her father, she would
laugh at him with a blush, and say: "That's all
right, Captain Hagberd; I am not impatient."
"Well, my dear, you haven't long to wait now,"
he would answer with a sudden bashfulness, and
looking uneasily, as though he had suspected that
there was something wrong somewhere.
Every Monday she paid him his rent over the
railings. He clutched the shillings greedily. He
grudged every penny he had to spend on his main-
tenance, and when he left her to make his purchases
his bearing changed as soon as he got into the
street. Away from the sanction of her pity, he felt
himself exposed without defence. He brushed the
walls with his shoulder. He mistrusted the queer-
ness of the people; yet, by then, even the town
children had left off calling after him, and the
tradesmen served him without a word. The slight-
est allusion to his clothing had the power to puzzle
and frighten especially, as if it were something
utterly unwarranted and incomprehensible.
In the autumn, the driving rain drummed on his
sailcloth suit saturated almost to the stiffness of
sheet-iron, with its surface flowing with water.
When the weather was too bad, he retreated under
the tiny porch, and, standing close against the
door, looked at his spade left planted in the middle
of the yard. The ground was so much dug up all
over, that as the season advanced it turned to a
quagmire. When it froze hard, he was disconso-
late. What would Harry say? And as he could
not have so much of Bessie's company at that time
of the year, the roars of old Carvil, that came muf-
fled through the closed windows, calling her in-
doors, exasperated him greatly.
"Why don't that extravagant fellow get you a
servant?" he asked impatiently one mild after-
noon. She had thrown something over her head to
run out for a while.
"I don't know," said the pale Bessie, wearily,
staring away with her heavy-lidded, grey, and un-
expectant glance. There were always smudgy
shadows under her eyes, and she did not seem able
to see any change or any end to her life.
"You wait till you get married, my dear," said
her only friend, drawing closer to the fence.
"Harry will get you one."
His hopeful craze seemed to mock her own want
of hope with so bitter an aptness that in her ner-
vous irritation she could have screamed at him out-
right. But she only said in self-mockery, and
speaking to him as though he had been sane,
"Why, Captain Hagberd, your son may not even
want to look at me."
He flung his head back and laughed his throaty
affected cackle of anger.
"What! That boy? Not want to look at the
only sensible girl for miles around? What do you
think I am here for, my dear--my dear--my dear?
. . . What? You wait. You just wait. You'll
see to-morrow. I'll soon--"
"Bessie! Bessie! Bessie!" howled old Carvil in-
side. "Bessie!--my pipe!" That fat blind man
had given himself up to a very lust of laziness. He
would not lift his hand to reach for the things she
took care to leave at his very elbow. He would not
move a limb; he would not rise from his chair, he
would not put one foot before another, in that par-
lour (where he knew his way as well as if he had his
sight), without calling her to his side and hanging
all his atrocious weight on her shoulder. He would
not eat one single mouthful of food without her
close attendance. He had made himself helpless
beyond his affliction, to enslave her better. She
stood still for a moment, setting her teeth in the
dusk, then turned and walked slowly indoors.
Captain Hagberd went back to his spade. The
shouting in Carvil's cottage stopped, and after a
while the window of the parlour downstairs was lit
up. A man coming from the end of the street with
a firm leisurely step passed on, but seemed to have
caught sight of Captain Hagberd, because he
turned back a pace or two. A cold white light lin-
gered in the western sky. The man leaned over the
gate in an interested manner.
"You must be Captain Hagberd," he said, with
The old man spun round, pulling out his spade,
startled by the strange voice.
"Yes, I am," he answered nervously.
The other, smiling straight at him, uttered very
slowly: "You've been advertising for your son, I
"My son Harry," mumbled Captain Hagberd,
off his guard for once. "He's coming home to-
"The devil he is!" The stranger marvelled
greatly, and then went on, with only a slight
change of tone: "You've grown a beard like
Father Christmas himself."
Captain Hagberd drew a little nearer, and
leaned forward over his spade. "Go your way,"
he said, resentfully and timidly at the same time,
because he was always afraid of being laughed at.
Every mental state, even madness, has its equi-
librium based upon self-esteem. Its disturbance
causes unhappiness; and Captain Hagberd lived
amongst a scheme of settled notions which it pained
him to feel disturbed by people's grins. Yes, peo-
ple's grins were awful. They hinted at something
wrong: but what? He could not tell; and that
stranger was obviously grinning--had come on
purpose to grin. It was bad enough on the streets,
but he had never before been outraged like this.
The stranger, unaware how near he was of hav-
ing his head laid open with a spade, said seriously:
"I am not trespassing where I stand, am I? I
fancy there's something wrong about your news.
Suppose you let me come in."
"YOU come in!" murmured old Hagberd, with
"I could give you some real information about
your son--the very latest tip, if you care to
"No," shouted Hagberd. He began to pace
wildly to and fro, he shouldered his spade, he ges-
ticulated with his other arm. "Here's a fellow--
a grinning fellow, who says there's something
wrong. I've got more information than you're
aware of. I've all the information I want. I've
had it for years--for years--for years--enough
to last me till to-morrow. Let you come in, indeed!
What would Harry say?"
Bessie Carvil's figure appeared in black silhou-
ette on the parlour window; then, with the sound of
an opening door, flitted out before the other cot-
tage, all black, but with something white over
her head. These two voices beginning to talk sud-
denly outside (she had heard them indoors) had
given her such an emotion that she could not utter
Captain Hagberd seemed to be trying to find his
way out of a cage. His feet squelched in the pud-
dles left by his industry. He stumbled in the holes
of the ruined grass-plot. He ran blindly against
"Here, steady a bit!" said the man at the gate,
gravely stretching his arm over and catching him
by the sleeve. "Somebody's been trying to get at
you. Hallo! what's this rig you've got on? Storm
canvas, by George!" He had a big laugh.
"Well, you ARE a character!"
Captain Hagberd jerked himself free, and began
to back away shrinkingly. "For the present," he
muttered, in a crestfallen tone.
"What's the matter with him?" The stranger
addressed Bessie with the utmost familiarity, in a
deliberate, explanatory tone. "I didn't want to
startle the old man." He lowered his voice as
though he had known her for years. "I dropped
into a barber's on my way, to get a twopenny
shave, and they told me there he was something of
a character. The old man has been a character all
Captain Hagberd, daunted by the allusion to his
clothing, had retreated inside, taking his spade
with him; and the two at the gate, startled by the
unexpected slamming of the door, heard the bolts
being shot, the snapping of the lock, and the echo
of an affected gurgling laugh within.
"I didn't want to upset him," the man said,
after a short silence. "What's the meaning of all
this? He isn't quite crazy."
"He has been worrying a long time about his
lost son," said Bessie, in a low, apologetic tone.
"Well, I am his son."
"Harry!" she cried--and was profoundly si-
"Know my name? Friends with the old man,
"He's our landlord," Bessie faltered out, catch-
ing hold of the iron railing.
"Owns both them rabbit-hutches, does he?"
commented young Hagberd, scornfully; "just the
thing he would be proud of. Can you tell me who's
that chap coming to-morrow? You must know
something of it. I tell you, it's a swindle on the old
She did not answer, helpless before an insur-
mountable difficulty, appalled before the necessity,
the impossibility and the dread of an explanation
in which she and madness seemed involved together.
"Oh--I am so sorry," she murmured.
"What's the matter?" he said, with serenity.
"You needn't be afraid of upsetting me. It's the
other fellow that'll be upset when he least expects
it. I don't care a hang; but there will be some fun
when he shows his mug to-morrow. I don't care
THAT for the old man's pieces, but right is right.
You shall see me put a head on that coon--whoever
He had come nearer, and towered above her on
the other side of the railings. He glanced at her
hands. He fancied she was trembling, and it oc-
curred to him that she had her part perhaps in that
little game that was to be sprung on his old man
to-morrow. He had come just in time to spoil their
sport. He was entertained by the idea--scornful
of the baffled plot. But all his life he had been full
of indulgence for all sorts of women's tricks. She
really was trembling very much; her wrap had
slipped off her head. "Poor devil!" he thought.
"Never mind about that chap. I daresay he'll
change his mind before to-morrow. But what
about me? I can't loaf about the gate til the morn-
She burst out: "It is YOU--you yourself that he's
waiting for. It is YOU who come to-morrow."
He murmured. "Oh! It's me!" blankly, and
they seemed to become breathless together. Ap-
parently he was pondering over what he had heard;
then, without irritation, but evidently perplexed,
he said: "I don't understand. I hadn't written or
anything. It's my chum who saw the paper and
told me--this very morning. . . . Eh? what?"
He bent his ear; she whispered rapidly, and he
listened for a while, muttering the words "yes"
and "I see" at times. Then, "But why won't to-
day do?" he queried at last.
"You didn't understand me!" she exclaimed,
impatiently. The clear streak of light under the
clouds died out in the west. Again he stooped
slightly to hear better; and the deep night buried
everything of the whispering woman and the
attentive man, except the familiar contiguity of
their faces, with its air of secrecy and caress.
He squared his shoulders; the broad-brimmed
shadow of a hat sat cavalierly on his head. "Awk-
ward this, eh?" he appealed to her. "To-morrow?
Well, well! Never heard tell of anything like this.
It's all to-morrow, then, without any sort of to-day,
as far as I can see."
She remained still and mute.
"And you have been encouraging this funny
notion," he said.
"I never contradicted him."
"Why didn't you?"
"What for should I?" she defended herself.
"It would only have made him miserable. He
would have gone out of his mind."
"His mind!" he muttered, and heard a short
nervous laugh from her.
"Where was the harm? Was I to quarrel with
the poor old man? It was easier to half believe it
"Aye, aye," he meditated, intelligently. "I
suppose the old chap got around you somehow with
his soft talk. You are good-hearted."
Her hands moved up in the dark nervously.
"And it might have been true. It was true. It
has come. Here it is. This is the to-morrow we
have been waiting for."
She drew a breath, and he said, good-humour-
edly: "Aye, with the door shut. I wouldn't care
if . . . And you think he could be brought round
to recognise me . . . Eh? What? . . . You
could do it? In a week you say? H'm, I daresay
you could--but do you think I could hold out a
week in this dead-alive place? Not me! I want
either hard work, or an all-fired racket, or more
space than there is in the whole of England. I
have been in this place, though, once before, and for
more than a week. The old man was advertising
for me then, and a chum I had with me had a no-
tion of getting a couple quid out of him by writ-
ing a lot of silly nonsense in a letter. That lark did
not come off, though. We had to clear out--and
none too soon. But this time I've a chum waiting
for me in London, and besides . . ."
Bessie Carvil was breathing quickly.
"What if I tried a knock at the door?" he sug-
"Try," she said.
Captain Hagberd's gate squeaked, and the shad-
ow of the son moved on, then stopped with another
deep laugh in the throat, like the father's, only
soft and gentle, thrilling to the woman's heart,
awakening to her ears.
"He isn't frisky--is he? I would be afraid to
lay hold of him. The chaps are always telling me
I don't know my own strength."
"He's the most harmless creature that ever
lived," she interrupted.
"You wouldn't say so if you had seen him chas-
ing me upstairs with a hard leather strap," he said;
"I haven't forgotten it in sixteen years."
She got warm from head to foot under another
soft, subdued laugh. At the rat-tat-tat of the
knocker her heart flew into her mouth.
"Hey, dad! Let me in. I am Harry, I am.
Straight! Come back home a day too soon."
One of the windows upstairs ran up.
"A grinning, information fellow," said the voice
of old Hagberd, up in the darkness. "Don't you
have anything to do with him. It will spoil every-
She heard Harry Hagberd say, "Hallo, dad,"
then a clanging clatter. The window rumbled
down, and he stood before her again.
"It's just like old times. Nearly walloped the
life out of me to stop me going away, and now I
come back he throws a confounded shovel at my
head to keep me out. It grazed my shoulder."
"I wouldn't care," he began, "only I spent my
last shillings on the railway fare and my last two-
pence on a shave--out of respect for the old man."
"Are you really Harry Hagberd?" she asked.
"Can you prove it?"
"Can I prove it? Can any one else prove it?"
he said jovially. "Prove with what? What do I
want to prove? There isn't a single corner in the
world, barring England, perhaps, where you could
not find some man, or more likely woman, that
would remember me for Harry Hagberd. I am
more like Harry Hagberd than any man alive; and
I can prove it to you in a minute, if you will let me
step inside your gate."
"Come in," she said.
He entered then the front garden of the Carvils.
His tall shadow strode with a swagger; she turned
her back on the window and waited, watching the
shape, of which the footfalls seemed the most mate-
rial part. The light fell on a tilted hat; a power-
ful shoulder, that seemed to cleave the darkness;
on a leg stepping out. He swung about and stood
still, facing the illuminated parlour window at her
back, turning his head from side to side, laughing
softly to himself.
"Just fancy, for a minute, the old man's beard
stuck on to my chin. Hey? Now say. I was the
very spit of him from a boy."
"It's true," she murmured to herself.
"And that's about as far as it goes. He was al-
ways one of your domestic characters. Why, I re-
member how he used to go about looking very sick
for three days before he had to leave home on one
of his trips to South Shields for coal. He had a
standing charter from the gas-works. You would
think he was off on a whaling cruise--three years
and a tail. Ha, ha! Not a bit of it. Ten days on
the outside. The Skimmer of the Seas was a smart
craft. Fine name, wasn't it? Mother's uncle
owned her. . . ."
He interrupted himself, and in a lowered voice,
"Did he ever tell you what mother died of?" he
"Yes," said Miss Bessie, bitterly; "from impa-
He made no sound for a while; then brusquely:
"They were so afraid I would turn out badly that
they fairly drove me away. Mother nagged at me
for being idle, and the old man said he would cut
my soul out of my body rather than let me go to
sea. Well, it looked as if he would do it too--so I
went. It looks to me sometimes as if I had been
born to them by a mistake--in that other hutch of
"Where ought you to have been born by
rights?" Bessie Carvil interrupted him, defiantly.
"In the open, upon a beach, on a windy night,"
he said, quick as lightning. Then he mused slowly.
"They were characters, both of them, by George;
and the old man keeps it up well--don't he? A
damned shovel on the--Hark! who's that mak-
ing that row? 'Bessie, Bessie.' It's in your
"It's for me," she said, with indifference.
He stepped aside, out of the streak of light.
"Your husband?" he inquired, with the tone of a
man accustomed to unlawful trysts. "Fine voice
for a ship's deck in a thundering squall."
"No; my father. I am not married."
"You seem a fine girl, Miss Bessie, dear," he said
She turned her face away.
"Oh, I say,--what's up? Who's murdering
"He wants his tea." She faced him, still and
tall, with averted head, with her hands hanging
clasped before her.
"Hadn't you better go in?" he suggested, after
watching for a while the nape of her neck, a patch
of dazzling white skin and soft shadow above the
sombre line of her shoulders. Her wrap had slipped
down to her elbows. "You'll have all the town
coming out presently. I'll wait here a bit."
Her wrap fell to the ground, and he stooped to
pick it up; she had vanished. He threw it over
his arm, and approaching the window squarely he
saw a monstrous form of a fat man in an arm-
chair, an unshaded lamp, the yawning of an enor-
mous mouth in a big flat face encircled by a ragged
halo of hair--Miss Bessie's head and bust. The
shouting stopped; the blind ran down. He lost
himself in thinking how awkward it was. Father
mad; no getting into the house. No money to get
back; a hungry chum in London who would begin
to think he had been given the go-by. "Damn!"
he muttered. He could break the door in, cer-
tainly; but they would perhaps bundle him into
chokey for that without asking questions--no great
matter, only he was confoundedly afraid of being
locked up, even in mistake. He turned cold at the
thought. He stamped his feet on the sod-
"What are you?--a sailor?" said an agitated
She had flitted out, a shadow herself, attracted
by the reckless shadow waiting under the wall of
"Anything. Enough of a sailor to be worth
my salt before the mast. Came home that way this
"Where do you come from?" she asked.
"Right away from a jolly good spree," he said,
"by the London train--see? Ough! I hate being
shut up in a train. I don't mind a house so
"Ah," she said; "that's lucky."
"Because in a house you can at any time open
the blamed door and walk away straight before
"And never come back?"
"Not for sixteen years at least," he laughed.
"To a rabbit hutch, and get a confounded old
shovel . . ."
"A ship is not so very big," she taunted.
"No, but the sea is great."
She dropped her head, and as if her ears had
been opened to the voices of the world, she heard,
beyond the rampart of sea-wall, the swell of yester-
day's gale breaking on the beach with monotonous
and solemn vibrations, as if all the earth had been
a tolling bell.
"And then, why, a ship's a ship. You love her
and leave her; and a voyage isn't a marriage." He
quoted the sailor's saying lightly.
"It is not a marriage," she whispered.
"I never took a false name, and I've never yet
told a lie to a woman. What lie? Why, THE lie--.
Take me or leave me, I say: and if you take me,
then it is . . ." He hummed a snatch very low,
leaning against the wall.
Oh, ho, ho Rio!
And fare thee well,
My bonnie young girl,
We're bound to Rio Grande
"Capstan song," he explained. Her teeth chat-
"You are cold," he said. "Here's that affair
of yours I picked up." She felt his hands about
her, wrapping her closely. "Hold the ends to-
gether in front," he commanded.
"What did you come here for?" she asked, re-
pressing a shudder.
"Five quid," he answered, promptly. "We let
our spree go on a little too long and got hard up."
"You've been drinking?" she said.
"Blind three days; on purpose. I am not given
that way--don't you think. There's nothing and
nobody that can get over me unless I like. I can
be as steady as a rock. My chum sees the paper
this morning, and says he to me: 'Go on, Harry:
loving parent. That's five quid sure.' So we
scraped all our pockets for the fare. Devil of a
"You have a hard heart, I am afraid," she
"What for? For running away? Why! he
wanted to make a lawyer's clerk of me--just to
please himself. Master in his own house; and my
poor mother egged him on--for my good, I sup-
pose. Well, then--so long; and I went. No, I
tell you: the day I cleared out, I was all black and
blue from his great fondness for me. Ah! he was
always a bit of a character. Look at that shovel
now. Off his chump? Not much. That's just
exactly like my dad. He wants me here just to
have somebody to order about. However, we two
were hard up; and what's five quid to him--once
in sixteen hard years?"
"Oh, but I am sorry for you. Did you never
want to come back home?"
"Be a lawyer's clerk and rot here--in some such
place as this?" he cried in contempt. "What! if
the old man set me up in a home to-day, I would
kick it down about my ears--or else die there be-
fore the third day was out."
"And where else is it that you hope to die?"
"In the bush somewhere; in the sea; on a blamed
mountain-top for choice. At home? Yes! the
world's my home; but I expect I'll die in a hospital
some day. What of that? Any place is good
enough, as long as I've lived; and I've been every-
thing you can think of almost but a tailor or a
soldier. I've been a boundary rider; I've sheared
sheep; and humped my swag; and harpooned a
whale. I've rigged ships, and prospected for gold,
and skinned dead bullocks,--and turned my back
on more money than the old man would have
scraped in his whole life. Ha, ha!"
He overwhelmed her. She pulled herself to-
gether and managed to utter, "Time to rest
He straightened himself up, away from the wall,
and in a severe voice said, "Time to go."
But he did not move. He leaned back again,
and hummed thoughtfully a bar or two of an out-
She felt as if she were about to cry. "That's
another of your cruel songs," she said.
"Learned it in Mexico--in Sonora." He talked
easily. "It is the song of the Gambucinos. You
don't know? The song of restless men. Nothing
could hold them in one place--not even a woman.
You used to meet one of them now and again, in
the old days, on the edge of the gold country, away
north there beyond the Rio Gila. I've seen it. A
prospecting engineer in Mazatlan took me along
with him to help look after the waggons. A
sailor's a handy chap to have about you anyhow.
It's all a desert: cracks in the earth that you can't
see the bottom of; and mountains--sheer rocks
standing up high like walls and church spires, only
a hundred times bigger. The valleys are full of
boulders and black stones. There's not a blade of
grass to see; and the sun sets more red over that
country than I have seen it anywhere--blood-red
and angry. It IS fine."
"You do not want to go back there again?"
she stammered out.
He laughed a little. "No. That's the blamed
gold country. It gave me the shivers sometimes
to look at it--and we were a big lot of men together,
mind; but these Gambucinos wandered alone.
They knew that country before anybody had ever
heard of it. They had a sort of gift for prospect-
ing, and the fever of it was on them too; and they
did not seem to want the gold very much. They
would find some rich spot, and then turn their backs
on it; pick up perhaps a little--enough for a
spree--and then be off again, looking for more.
They never stopped long where there were houses;
they had no wife, no chick, no home, never a chum.
You couldn't be friends with a Gambucino; they
were too restless--here to-day, and gone, God
knows where, to-morrow. They told no one of
their finds, and there has never been a Gambucino
well off. It was not for the gold they cared; it was
the wandering about looking for it in the stony
country that got into them and wouldn't let them
rest; so that no woman yet born could hold a Gam-
bucino for more than a week. That's what the
song says. It's all about a pretty girl that tried
hard to keep hold of a Gambucino lover, so that he
should bring her lots of gold. No fear! Off he
went, and she never saw him again."
"What became of her?" she breathed out.
"The song don't tell. Cried a bit, I daresay.
They were the fellows: kiss and go. But it's the
looking for a thing--a something . . . Sometimes
I think I am a sort of Gambucino myself."
"No woman can hold you, then," she began in
a brazen voice, which quavered suddenly before the
"No longer than a week," he joked, playing
upon her very heartstrings with the gay, tender
note of his laugh; "and yet I am fond of them
all. Anything for a woman of the right sort.
The scrapes they got me into, and the scrapes they
got me out of! I love them at first sight. I've
fallen in love with you already, Miss--Bessie's your
She backed away a little, and with a trembling
"You haven't seen my face yet."
He bent forward gallantly. "A little pale: it
suits some. But you are a fine figure of a girl, Miss
She was all in a flutter. Nobody had ever said
so much to her before.
His tone changed. "I am getting middling
hungry, though. Had no breakfast to-day.
Couldn't you scare up some bread from that tea
for me, or--"
She was gone already. He had been on the point
of asking her to let him come inside. No matter.
Anywhere would do. Devil of a fix! What would
his chum think?
"I didn't ask you as a beggar," he said, jest-
ingly, taking a piece of bread-and-butter from the
plate she held before him. "I asked as a friend.
My dad is rich, you know."
"He starves himself for your sake."
"And I have starved for his whim," he said, tak-
ing up another piece.
"All he has in the world is for you," she
"Yes, if I come here to sit on it like a dam' toad
in a hole. Thank you; and what about the shovel,
eh? He always had a queer way of showing his
"I could bring him round in a week," she sug-
He was too hungry to answer her; and, holding
the plate submissively to his hand, she began to
whisper up to him in a quick, panting voice. He
listened, amazed, eating slower and slower, till at
last his jaws stopped altogether. "That's his
game, is it?" he said, in a rising tone of scathing
contempt. An ungovernable movement of his arm
sent the plate flying out of her fingers. He shot
out a violent curse.
She shrank from him, putting her hand against
"No!" he raged. "He expects! Expects ME
--for his rotten money! . . . . Who wants his
home? Mad--not he! Don't you think. He
wants his own way. He wanted to turn me into a
miserable lawyer's clerk, and now he wants to make
of me a blamed tame rabbit in a cage. Of me! Of
me!" His subdued angry laugh frightened her
"The whole world ain't a bit too big for me to
spread my elbows in, I can tell you--what's your
name--Bessie--let alone a dam' parlour in a hutch.
Marry! He wants me to marry and settle! And
as likely as not he has looked out the girl too--
dash my soul! And do you know the Judy, may
She shook all over with noiseless dry sobs; but
he was fuming and fretting too much to notice her
distress. He bit his thumb with rage at the mere
idea. A window rattled up.
"A grinning, information fellow," pronounced
old Hagberd dogmatically, in measured tones.
And the sound of his voice seemed to Bessie to make
the night itself mad--to pour insanity and dis-
aster on the earth. "Now I know what's wrong
with the people here, my dear. Why, of course!
With this mad chap going about. Don't you have
anything to do with him, Bessie. Bessie, I say!"
They stood as if dumb. The old man fidgeted
and mumbled to himself at the window. Suddenly
he cried, piercingly: "Bessie--I see you. I'll tell
She made a movement as if to run away, but
stopped and raised her hands to her temples.
Young Hagberd, shadowy and big, stirred no more
than a man of bronze. Over their heads the crazy
night whimpered and scolded in an old man's voice.
"Send him away, my dear. He's only a vaga-
bond. What you want is a good home of your own.
That chap has no home--he's not like Harry. He
can't be Harry. Harry is coming to-morrow. Do
you hear? One day more," he babbled more ex-
citedly; "never you fear--Harry shall marry
His voice rose very shrill and mad against the
regular deep soughing of the swell coiling heavily
about the outer face of the sea-wall.
"He will have to. I shall make him, or if not"
--he swore a great oath--"I'll cut him off with a
shilling to-morrow, and leave everything to you.
I shall. To you. Let him starve."
The window rattled down.
Harry drew a deep breath, and took one step
toward Bessie. "So it's you--the girl," he said,
in a lowered voice. She had not moved, and she re-
mained half turned away from him, pressing her
head in the palms of her hands. "My word!" he
continued, with an invisible half-smile on his lips.
"I have a great mind to stop. . . ."
Her elbows were trembling violently.
"For a week," he finished without a pause.
She clapped her hands to her face.
He came up quite close, and took hold of her
wrists gently. She felt his breath on her ear.
"It's a scrape I am in--this, and it is you that
must see me through." He was trying to uncover
her face. She resisted. He let her go then, and
stepping back a little, "Have you got any
money?" he asked. "I must be off now."
She nodded quickly her shamefaced head, and he
waited, looking away from her, while, trembling
all over and bowing her neck, she tried to find the
pocket of her dress.
"Here it is!" she whispered. "Oh, go away!
go away for God's sake! If I had more--more--
I would give it all to forget--to make you for-
He extended his hand. "No fear! I haven't
forgotten a single one of you in the world. Some
gave me more than money--but I am a beggar now
--and you women always had to get me out of my
He swaggered up to the parlour window, and in
the dim light filtering through the blind, looked at
the coin lying in his palm. It was a half-sovereign.
He slipped it into his pocket. She stood a little on
one side, with her head drooping, as if wounded;
with her arms hanging passive by her side, as if
"You can't buy me in," he said, "and you can't
buy yourself out."
He set his hat firmly with a little tap, and next
moment she felt herself lifted up in the powerful
embrace of his arms. Her feet lost the ground;
her head hung back; he showered kisses on her face
with a silent and over-mastering ardour, as if in
haste to get at her very soul. He kissed her pale
cheeks, her hard forehead, her heavy eyelids, her
faded lips; and the measured blows and sighs of
the rising tide accompanied the enfolding power
of his arms, the overwhelming might of his caresses.
It was as if the sea, breaking down the wall pro-
tecting all the homes of the town, had sent a wave
over her head. It passed on; she staggered back-
wards, with her shoulders against the wall, ex-
hausted, as if she had been stranded there after a
storm and a shipwreck.
She opened her eyes after awhile; and listening
to the firm, leisurely footsteps going away with
their conquest, began to gather her skirts, staring
all the time before her. Suddenly she darted
through the open gate into the dark and deserted
"Stop!" she shouted. "Don't go!"
And listening with an attentive poise of the head,
she could not tell whether it was the beat of the
swell or his fateful tread that seemed to fall cruelly
upon her heart. Presently every sound grew
fainter, as though she were slowly turning into
stone. A fear of this awful silence came to her--
worse than the fear of death. She called upon her
ebbing strength for the final appeal:
Not even the dying echo of a footstep. Noth-
ing. The thundering of the surf, the voice of the
restless sea itself, seemed stopped. There was not
a sound--no whisper of life, as though she were
alone and lost in that stony country of which she
had heard, where madmen go looking for gold and
spurn the find.
Captain Hagberd, inside his dark house, had
kept on the alert. A window ran up; and in the
silence of the stony country a voice spoke above her
head, high up in the black air--the voice of mad-
ness, lies and despair--the voice of inextinguish-
able hope. "Is he gone yet--that information
fellow? Do you hear him about, my dear?"
She burst into tears. "No! no! no! I don't
hear him any more," she sobbed.
He began to chuckle up there triumphantly.
"You frightened him away. Good girl. Now we
shall be all right. Don't you be impatient, my dear.
One day more."
In the other house old Carvil, wallowing regally
in his arm-chair, with a globe lamp burning by his
side on the table, yelled for her, in a fiendish voice:
"Bessie! Bessie! you Bessie!"
She heard him at last, and, as if overcome by
fate, began to totter silently back toward her stuffy
little inferno of a cottage. It had no lofty portal,
no terrific inscription of forfeited hopes--she did
not understand wherein she had sinned.
Captain Hagberd had gradually worked himself
into a state of noisy happiness up there.
"Go in! Keep quiet!" she turned upon him
tearfully, from the doorstep below.
He rebelled against her authority in his great
joy at having got rid at last of that "something
wrong." It was as if all the hopeful madness of the
world had broken out to bring terror upon her
heart, with the voice of that old man shouting of
his trust in an everlasting to-morrow.
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