Infomotions, Inc.Chance / Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924



Author: Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924
Title: Chance
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): fyne; powell; anthony; flora; captain anthony; marlow; captain; little fyne; young powell
Contributor(s): Jordan, Charlotte Brewster [Translator]
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Size: 138,038 words (average) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 67 (easy)
Identifier: etext1476
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Title: Chance

Author: Joseph Conrad

Release Date: March 17, 2005  [eBook #1476]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHANCE***





Transcribed form the 1914 Methuen & Co. edition by David Price, email
ccx074@coventry.ac.uk





CHANCE--A TALE IN TWO PARTS


   Those that hold that all things are governed by Fortune had not erred,
   had they not persisted there

   SIR THOMAS BROWNE

TO SIR HUGH CLIFFORD, K.C.M.G. WHO STEADFAST FRIENDSHIP IS RESPONSIBLE
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF THESE PAGES




PART I--THE DAMSEL


CHAPTER ONE--YOUNG POWELL AND HIS CHANCE


I believe he had seen us out of the window coming off to dine in the
dinghy of a fourteen-ton yawl belonging to Marlow my host and skipper.  We
helped the boy we had with us to haul the boat up on the landing-stage
before we went up to the riverside inn, where we found our new
acquaintance eating his dinner in dignified loneliness at the head of a
long table, white and inhospitable like a snow bank.

The red tint of his clear-cut face with trim short black whiskers under a
cap of curly iron-grey hair was the only warm spot in the dinginess of
that room cooled by the cheerless tablecloth.  We knew him already by
sight as the owner of a little five-ton cutter, which he sailed alone
apparently, a fellow yachtsman in the unpretending band of fanatics who
cruise at the mouth of the Thames.  But the first time he addressed the
waiter sharply as 'steward' we knew him at once for a sailor as well as a
yachtsman.

Presently he had occasion to reprove that same waiter for the slovenly
manner in which the dinner was served.  He did it with considerable
energy and then turned to us.

"If we at sea," he declared, "went about our work as people ashore high
and low go about theirs we should never make a living.  No one would
employ us.  And moreover no ship navigated and sailed in the happy-go-
lucky manner people conduct their business on shore would ever arrive
into port."

Since he had retired from the sea he had been astonished to discover that
the educated people were not much better than the others.  No one seemed
to take any proper pride in his work: from plumbers who were simply
thieves to, say, newspaper men (he seemed to think them a specially
intellectual class) who never by any chance gave a correct version of the
simplest affair.  This universal inefficiency of what he called "the
shore gang" he ascribed in general to the want of responsibility and to a
sense of security.

"They see," he went on, "that no matter what they do this tight little
island won't turn turtle with them or spring a leak and go to the bottom
with their wives and children."

From this point the conversation took a special turn relating exclusively
to sea-life.  On that subject he got quickly in touch with Marlow who in
his time had followed the sea.  They kept up a lively exchange of
reminiscences while I listened.  They agreed that the happiest time in
their lives was as youngsters in good ships, with no care in the world
but not to lose a watch below when at sea and not a moment's time in
going ashore after work hours when in harbour.  They agreed also as to
the proudest moment they had known in that calling which is never
embraced on rational and practical grounds, because of the glamour of its
romantic associations.  It was the moment when they had passed
successfully their first examination and left the seamanship Examiner
with the little precious slip of blue paper in their hands.

"That day I wouldn't have called the Queen my cousin," declared our new
acquaintance enthusiastically.

At that time the Marine Board examinations took place at the St.
Katherine's Dock House on Tower Hill, and he informed us that he had a
special affection for the view of that historic locality, with the
Gardens to the left, the front of the Mint to the right, the miserable
tumble-down little houses farther away, a cabstand, boot-blacks squatting
on the edge of the pavement and a pair of big policemen gazing with an
air of superiority at the doors of the Black Horse public-house across
the road.  This was the part of the world, he said, his eyes first took
notice of, on the finest day of his life.  He had emerged from the main
entrance of St. Katherine's Dock House a full-fledged second mate after
the hottest time of his life with Captain R-, the most dreaded of the
three seamanship Examiners who at the time were responsible for the
merchant service officers qualifying in the Port of London.

"We all who were preparing to pass," he said, "used to shake in our shoes
at the idea of going before him.  He kept me for an hour and a half in
the torture chamber and behaved as though he hated me.  He kept his eyes
shaded with one of his hands.  Suddenly he let it drop saying, "You will
do!"  Before I realised what he meant he was pushing the blue slip across
the table.  I jumped up as if my chair had caught fire.

"Thank you, sir," says I, grabbing the paper.

"Good morning, good luck to you," he growls at me.

"The old doorkeeper fussed out of the cloak-room with my hat.  They
always do.  But he looked very hard at me before he ventured to ask in a
sort of timid whisper: "Got through all right, sir?"  For all answer I
dropped a half-crown into his soft broad palm.  "Well," says he with a
sudden grin from ear to ear, "I never knew him keep any of you gentlemen
so long.  He failed two second mates this morning before your turn came.
Less than twenty minutes each: that's about his usual time."

"I found myself downstairs without being aware of the steps as if I had
floated down the staircase.  The finest day in my life.  The day you get
your first command is nothing to it.  For one thing a man is not so young
then and for another with us, you know, there is nothing much more to
expect.  Yes, the finest day of one's life, no doubt, but then it is just
a day and no more.  What comes after is about the most unpleasant time
for a youngster, the trying to get an officer's berth with nothing much
to show but a brand-new certificate.  It is surprising how useless you
find that piece of ass's skin that you have been putting yourself in such
a state about.  It didn't strike me at the time that a Board of Trade
certificate does not make an officer, not by a long long way.  But the
slippers of the ships I was haunting with demands for a job knew that
very well.  I don't wonder at them now, and I don't blame them either.
But this 'trying to get a ship' is pretty hard on a youngster all the
same . . . "

He went on then to tell us how tired he was and how discouraged by this
lesson of disillusion following swiftly upon the finest day of his life.
He told us how he went the round of all the ship-owners' offices in the
City where some junior clerk would furnish him with printed forms of
application which he took home to fill up in the evening.  He used to run
out just before midnight to post them in the nearest pillar-box.  And
that was all that ever came of it.  In his own words: he might just as
well have dropped them all properly addressed and stamped into the sewer
grating.

Then one day, as he was wending his weary way to the docks, he met a
friend and former shipmate a little older than himself outside the
Fenchurch Street Railway Station.

He craved for sympathy but his friend had just "got a ship" that very
morning and was hurrying home in a state of outward joy and inward
uneasiness usual to a sailor who after many days of waiting suddenly gets
a berth.  This friend had the time to condole with him but briefly.  He
must be moving.  Then as he was running off, over his shoulder as it
were, he suggested: "Why don't you go and speak to Mr. Powell in the
Shipping Office."  Our friend objected that he did not know Mr. Powell
from Adam.  And the other already pretty near round the corner shouted
back advice: "Go to the private door of the Shipping Office and walk
right up to him.  His desk is by the window.  Go up boldly and say I sent
you."

Our new acquaintance looking from one to the other of us declared: "Upon
my word, I had grown so desperate that I'd have gone boldly up to the
devil himself on the mere hint that he had a second mate's job to give
away."

It was at this point that interrupting his flow of talk to light his pipe
but holding us with his eye he inquired whether we had known Powell.
Marlow with a slight reminiscent smile murmured that he "remembered him
very well."

Then there was a pause.  Our new acquaintance had become involved in a
vexatious difficulty with his pipe which had suddenly betrayed his trust
and disappointed his anticipation of self-indulgence.  To keep the ball
rolling I asked Marlow if this Powell was remarkable in any way.

"He was not exactly remarkable," Marlow answered with his usual
nonchalance.  "In a general way it's very difficult for one to become
remarkable.  People won't take sufficient notice of one, don't you know.
I remember Powell so well simply because as one of the Shipping Masters
in the Port of London he dispatched me to sea on several long stages of
my sailor's pilgrimage.  He resembled Socrates.  I mean he resembled him
genuinely: that is in the face.  A philosophical mind is but an accident.
He reproduced exactly the familiar bust of the immortal sage, if you will
imagine the bust with a high top hat riding far on the back of the head,
and a black coat over the shoulders.  As I never saw him except from the
other side of the long official counter bearing the five writing desks of
the five Shipping Masters, Mr. Powell has remained a bust to me."

Our new acquaintance advanced now from the mantelpiece with his pipe in
good working order.

"What was the most remarkable about Powell," he enunciated dogmatically
with his head in a cloud of smoke, "is that he should have had just that
name.  You see, my name happens to be Powell too."

It was clear that this intelligence was not imparted to us for social
purposes.  It required no acknowledgment.  We continued to gaze at him
with expectant eyes.

He gave himself up to the vigorous enjoyment of his pipe for a silent
minute or two.  Then picking up the thread of his story he told us how he
had started hot foot for Tower Hill.  He had not been that way since the
day of his examination--the finest day of his life--the day of his
overweening pride.  It was very different now.  He would not have called
the Queen his cousin, still, but this time it was from a sense of
profound abasement.  He didn't think himself good enough for anybody's
kinship.  He envied the purple-nosed old cab-drivers on the stand, the
boot-black boys at the edge of the pavement, the two large bobbies pacing
slowly along the Tower Gardens railings in the consciousness of their
infallible might, and the bright scarlet sentries walking smartly to and
fro before the Mint.  He envied them their places in the scheme of
world's labour.  And he envied also the miserable sallow, thin-faced
loafers blinking their obscene eyes and rubbing their greasy shoulders
against the door-jambs of the Black Horse pub, because they were too far
gone to feel their degradation.

I must render the man the justice that he conveyed very well to us the
sense of his youthful hopelessness surprised at not finding its place in
the sun and no recognition of its right to live.

He went up the outer steps of St. Katherine's Dock House, the very steps
from which he had some six weeks before surveyed the cabstand, the
buildings, the policemen, the boot-blacks, the paint, gilt, and
plateglass of the Black Horse, with the eye of a Conqueror.  At the time
he had been at the bottom of his heart surprised that all this had not
greeted him with songs and incense, but now (he made no secret of it) he
made his entry in a slinking fashion past the doorkeeper's glass box.  "I
hadn't any half-crowns to spare for tips," he remarked grimly.  The man,
however, ran out after him asking: "What do you require?" but with a
grateful glance up at the first floor in remembrance of Captain R-'s
examination room (how easy and delightful all that had been) he bolted
down a flight leading to the basement and found himself in a place of
dusk and mystery and many doors.  He had been afraid of being stopped by
some rule of no-admittance.  However he was not pursued.

The basement of St. Katherine's Dock House is vast in extent and
confusing in its plan.  Pale shafts of light slant from above into the
gloom of its chilly passages.  Powell wandered up and down there like an
early Christian refugee in the catacombs; but what little faith he had in
the success of his enterprise was oozing out at his finger-tips.  At a
dark turn under a gas bracket whose flame was half turned down his self-
confidence abandoned him altogether.

"I stood there to think a little," he said.  "A foolish thing to do
because of course I got scared.  What could you expect?  It takes some
nerve to tackle a stranger with a request for a favour.  I wished my
namesake Powell had been the devil himself.  I felt somehow it would have
been an easier job.  You see, I never believed in the devil enough to be
scared of him; but a man can make himself very unpleasant.  I looked at a
lot of doors, all shut tight, with a growing conviction that I would
never have the pluck to open one of them.  Thinking's no good for one's
nerve.  I concluded I would give up the whole business.  But I didn't
give up in the end, and I'll tell you what stopped me.  It was the
recollection of that confounded doorkeeper who had called after me.  I
felt sure the fellow would be on the look-out at the head of the stairs.
If he asked me what I had been after, as he had the right to do, I
wouldn't know what to answer that wouldn't make me look silly if no
worse.  I got very hot.  There was no chance of slinking out of this
business.

"I had lost my bearings somehow down there.  Of the many doors of various
sizes, right and left, a good few had glazed lights above; some however
must have led merely into lumber rooms or such like, because when I
brought myself to try one or two I was disconcerted to find that they
were locked.  I stood there irresolute and uneasy like a baffled thief.
The confounded basement was as still as a grave and I became aware of my
heart beats.  Very uncomfortable sensation.  Never happened to me before
or since.  A bigger door to the left of me, with a large brass handle
looked as if it might lead into the Shipping Office.  I tried it, setting
my teeth.  "Here goes!"

"It came open quite easily.  And lo! the place it opened into was hardly
any bigger than a cupboard.  Anyhow it wasn't more than ten feet by
twelve; and as I in a way expected to see the big shadowy cellar-like
extent of the Shipping Office where I had been once or twice before, I
was extremely startled.  A gas bracket hung from the middle of the
ceiling over a dark, shabby writing-desk covered with a litter of
yellowish dusty documents.  Under the flame of the single burner which
made the place ablaze with light, a plump, little man was writing hard,
his nose very near the desk.  His head was perfectly bald and about the
same drab tint as the papers.  He appeared pretty dusty too.

"I didn't notice whether there were any cobwebs on him, but I shouldn't
wonder if there were because he looked as though he had been imprisoned
for years in that little hole.  The way he dropped his pen and sat
blinking my way upset me very much.  And his dungeon was hot and musty;
it smelt of gas and mushrooms, and seemed to be somewhere 120 feet below
the ground.  Solid, heavy stacks of paper filled all the corners half-way
up to the ceiling.  And when the thought flashed upon me that these were
the premises of the Marine Board and that this fellow must be connected
in some way with ships and sailors and the sea, my astonishment took my
breath away.  One couldn't imagine why the Marine Board should keep that
bald, fat creature slaving down there.  For some reason or other I felt
sorry and ashamed to have found him out in his wretched captivity.  I
asked gently and sorrowfully: "The Shipping Office, please."

He piped up in a contemptuous squeaky voice which made me start: "Not
here.  Try the passage on the other side.  Street side.  This is the Dock
side.  You've lost your way . . . "

He spoke in such a spiteful tone that I thought he was going to round off
with the words: "You fool" . . . and perhaps he meant to.  But what he
finished sharply with was: "Shut the door quietly after you."

And I did shut it quietly--you bet.  Quick and quiet.  The indomitable
spirit of that chap impressed me.  I wonder sometimes whether he has
succeeded in writing himself into liberty and a pension at last, or had
to go out of his gas-lighted grave straight into that other dark one
where nobody would want to intrude.  My humanity was pleased to discover
he had so much kick left in him, but I was not comforted in the least.  It
occurred to me that if Mr. Powell had the same sort of temper . . .
However, I didn't give myself time to think and scuttled across the space
at the foot of the stairs into the passage where I'd been told to try.
And I tried the first door I came to, right away, without any hanging
back, because coming loudly from the hall above an amazed and scandalized
voice wanted to know what sort of game I was up to down there.  "Don't
you know there's no admittance that way?" it roared.  But if there was
anything more I shut it out of my hearing by means of a door marked
_Private_ on the outside.  It let me into a six-feet wide strip between a
long counter and the wall, taken off a spacious, vaulted room with a
grated window and a glazed door giving daylight to the further end.  The
first thing I saw right in front of me were three middle-aged men having
a sort of romp together round about another fellow with a thin, long neck
and sloping shoulders who stood up at a desk writing on a large sheet of
paper and taking no notice except that he grinned quietly to himself.
They turned very sour at once when they saw me.  I heard one of them
mutter 'Hullo!  What have we here?'

"'I want to see Mr. Powell, please,' I said, very civil but firm; I would
let nothing scare me away now.  This was the Shipping Office right
enough.  It was after 3 o'clock and the business seemed over for the day
with them.  The long-necked fellow went on with his writing steadily.  I
observed that he was no longer grinning.  The three others tossed their
heads all together towards the far end of the room where a fifth man had
been looking on at their antics from a high stool.  I walked up to him as
boldly as if he had been the devil himself.  With one foot raised up and
resting on the cross-bar of his seat he never stopped swinging the other
which was well clear of the stone floor.  He had unbuttoned the top of
his waistcoat and he wore his tall hat very far at the back of his head.
He had a full unwrinkled face and such clear-shining eyes that his grey
beard looked quite false on him, stuck on for a disguise.  You said just
now he resembled Socrates--didn't you?  I don't know about that.  This
Socrates was a wise man, I believe?"

"He was," assented Marlow.  "And a true friend of youth.  He lectured
them in a peculiarly exasperating manner.  It was a way he had."

"Then give me Powell every time," declared our new acquaintance sturdily.
"He didn't lecture me in any way.  Not he.  He said: 'How do you do?'
quite kindly to my mumble.  Then says he looking very hard at me: 'I
don't think I know you--do I?'

"No, sir," I said and down went my heart sliding into my boots, just as
the time had come to summon up all my cheek.  There's nothing meaner in
the world than a piece of impudence that isn't carried off well.  For
fear of appearing shamefaced I started about it so free and easy as
almost to frighten myself.  He listened for a while looking at my face
with surprise and curiosity and then held up his hand.  I was glad enough
to shut up, I can tell you.

"Well, you are a cool hand," says he.  "And that friend of yours too.  He
pestered me coming here every day for a fortnight till a captain I'm
acquainted with was good enough to give him a berth.  And no sooner he's
provided for than he turns you on.  You youngsters don't seem to mind
whom you get into trouble."

"It was my turn now to stare with surprise and curiosity.  He hadn't been
talking loud but he lowered his voice still more.

"Don't you know it's illegal?"

"I wondered what he was driving at till I remembered that procuring a
berth for a sailor is a penal offence under the Act.  That clause was
directed of course against the swindling practices of the boarding-house
crimps.  It had never struck me it would apply to everybody alike no
matter what the motive, because I believed then that people on shore did
their work with care and foresight.

"I was confounded at the idea, but Mr. Powell made me soon see that an
Act of Parliament hasn't any sense of its own.  It has only the sense
that's put into it; and that's precious little sometimes.  He didn't mind
helping a young man to a ship now and then, he said, but if we kept on
coming constantly it would soon get about that he was doing it for money.

"A pretty thing that would be: the Senior Shipping-Master of the Port of
London hauled up in a police court and fined fifty pounds," says he.
"I've another four years to serve to get my pension.  It could be made to
look very black against me and don't you make any mistake about it," he
says.

"And all the time with one knee well up he went on swinging his other leg
like a boy on a gate and looking at me very straight with his shining
eyes.  I was confounded I tell you.  It made me sick to hear him imply
that somebody would make a report against him.

"Oh!" I asked shocked, "who would think of such a scurvy trick, sir?"  I
was half disgusted with him for having the mere notion of it.

"Who?" says he, speaking very low.  "Anybody.  One of the office
messengers maybe.  I've risen to be the Senior of this office and we are
all very good friends here, but don't you think that my colleague that
sits next to me wouldn't like to go up to this desk by the window four
years in advance of the regulation time?  Or even one year for that
matter.  It's human nature."

"I could not help turning my head.  The three fellows who had been
skylarking when I came in were now talking together very soberly, and the
long-necked chap was going on with his writing still.  He seemed to me
the most dangerous of the lot.  I saw him sideface and his lips were set
very tight.  I had never looked at mankind in that light before.  When
one's young human nature shocks one.  But what startled me most was to
see the door I had come through open slowly and give passage to a head in
a uniform cap with a Board of Trade badge.  It was that blamed old
doorkeeper from the hall.  He had run me to earth and meant to dig me out
too.  He walked up the office smirking craftily, cap in hand.

"What is it, Symons?" asked Mr. Powell.

"I was only wondering where this 'ere gentleman 'ad gone to, sir.  He
slipped past me upstairs, sir."

I felt mighty uncomfortable.

"That's all right, Symons.  I know the gentleman," says Mr. Powell as
serious as a judge.

"Very well, sir.  Of course, sir.  I saw the gentleman running races all
by 'isself down 'ere, so I . . ."

"It's all right I tell you," Mr. Powell cut him short with a wave of his
hand; and, as the old fraud walked off at last, he raised his eyes to me.
I did not know what to do: stay there, or clear out, or say that I was
sorry.

"Let's see," says he, "what did you tell me your name was?"

"Now, observe, I hadn't given him my name at all and his question
embarrassed me a bit.  Somehow or other it didn't seem proper for me to
fling his own name at him as it were.  So I merely pulled out my new
certificate from my pocket and put it into his hand unfolded, so that he
could read _Charles Powell_ written very plain on the parchment.

"He dropped his eyes on to it and after a while laid it quietly on the
desk by his side.  I didn't know whether he meant to make any remark on
this coincidence.  Before he had time to say anything the glass door came
open with a bang and a tall, active man rushed in with great strides.  His
face looked very red below his high silk hat.  You could see at once he
was the skipper of a big ship.

"Mr. Powell after telling me in an undertone to wait a little addressed
him in a friendly way.

"I've been expecting you in every moment to fetch away your Articles,
Captain.  Here they are all ready for you."  And turning to a pile of
agreements lying at his elbow he took up the topmost of them.  From where
I stood I could read the words: "Ship _Ferndale_" written in a large
round hand on the first page.

"No, Mr. Powell, they aren't ready, worse luck," says that skipper.  "I've
got to ask you to strike out my second officer."  He seemed excited and
bothered.  He explained that his second mate had been working on board
all the morning.  At one o'clock he went out to get a bit of dinner and
didn't turn up at two as he ought to have done.  Instead there came a
messenger from the hospital with a note signed by a doctor.  Collar bone
and one arm broken.  Let himself be knocked down by a pair horse van
while crossing the road outside the dock gate, as if he had neither eyes
nor ears.  And the ship ready to leave the dock at six o'clock to-morrow
morning!

"Mr. Powell dipped his pen and began to turn the leaves of the agreement
over.  "We must then take his name off," he says in a kind of unconcerned
sing-song.

"What am I to do?" burst out the skipper.  "This office closes at four
o'clock.  I can't find a man in half an hour."

"This office closes at four," repeats Mr. Powell glancing up and down the
pages and touching up a letter here and there with perfect indifference.

"Even if I managed to lay hold some time to-day of a man ready to go at
such short notice I couldn't ship him regularly here--could I?"

"Mr. Powell was busy drawing his pen through the entries relating to that
unlucky second mate and making a note in the margin.

"You could sign him on yourself on board," says he without looking up.
"But I don't think you'll find easily an officer for such a pier-head
jump."

"Upon this the fine-looking skipper gave signs of distress.  The ship
mustn't miss the next morning's tide.  He had to take on board forty tons
of dynamite and a hundred and twenty tons of gunpowder at a place down
the river before proceeding to sea.  It was all arranged for next day.
There would be no end of fuss and complications if the ship didn't turn
up in time . . . I couldn't help hearing all this, while wishing him to
take himself off, because I wanted to know why Mr. Powell had told me to
wait.  After what he had been saying there didn't seem any object in my
hanging about.  If I had had my certificate in my pocket I should have
tried to slip away quietly; but Mr. Powell had turned about into the same
position I found him in at first and was again swinging his leg.  My
certificate open on the desk was under his left elbow and I couldn't very
well go up and jerk it away.

"I don't know," says he carelessly, addressing the helpless captain but
looking fixedly at me with an expression as if I hadn't been there.  "I
don't know whether I ought to tell you that I know of a disengaged second
mate at hand."

"Do you mean you've got him here?" shouts the other looking all over the
empty public part of the office as if he were ready to fling himself
bodily upon anything resembling a second mate.  He had been so full of
his difficulty that I verify believe he had never noticed me.  Or perhaps
seeing me inside he may have thought I was some understrapper belonging
to the place.  But when Mr. Powell nodded in my direction he became very
quiet and gave me a long stare.  Then he stooped to Mr. Powell's ear--I
suppose he imagined he was whispering, but I heard him well enough.

"Looks very respectable."

"Certainly," says the shipping-master quite calm and staring all the time
at me.  "His name's Powell."

"Oh, I see!" says the skipper as if struck all of a heap.  "But is he
ready to join at once?"

"I had a sort of vision of my lodgings--in the North of London, too,
beyond Dalston, away to the devil--and all my gear scattered about, and
my empty sea-chest somewhere in an outhouse the good people I was staying
with had at the end of their sooty strip of garden.  I heard the Shipping
Master say in the coolest sort of way:

"He'll sleep on board to-night."

"He had better," says the Captain of the _Ferndale_ very businesslike, as
if the whole thing were settled.  I can't say I was dumb for joy as you
may suppose.  It wasn't exactly that.  I was more by way of being out of
breath with the quickness of it.  It didn't seem possible that this was
happening to me.  But the skipper, after he had talked for a while with
Mr. Powell, too low for me to hear became visibly perplexed.

"I suppose he had heard I was freshly passed and without experience as an
officer, because he turned about and looked me over as if I had been
exposed for sale.

"He's young," he mutters.  "Looks smart, though . . . You're smart and
willing (this to me very sudden and loud) and all that, aren't you?"

"I just managed to open and shut my mouth, no more, being taken unawares.
But it was enough for him.  He made as if I had deafened him with
protestations of my smartness and willingness.

"Of course, of course.  All right."  And then turning to the Shipping
Master who sat there swinging his leg, he said that he certainly couldn't
go to sea without a second officer.  I stood by as if all these things
were happening to some other chap whom I was seeing through with it.  Mr.
Powell stared at me with those shining eyes of his.  But that bothered
skipper turns upon me again as though he wanted to snap my head off.

"You aren't too big to be told how to do things--are you?  You've a lot
to learn yet though you mayn't think so."

"I had half a mind to save my dignity by telling him that if it was my
seamanship he was alluding to I wanted him to understand that a fellow
who had survived being turned inside out for an hour and a half by
Captain R- was equal to any demand his old ship was likely to make on his
competence.  However he didn't give me a chance to make that sort of fool
of myself because before I could open my mouth he had gone round on
another tack and was addressing himself affably to Mr. Powell who
swinging his leg never took his eyes off me.

"I'll take your young friend willingly, Mr. Powell.  If you let him sign
on as second-mate at once I'll take the Articles away with me now."

"It suddenly dawned upon me that the innocent skipper of the _Ferndale_
had taken it for granted that I was a relative of the Shipping Master!  I
was quite astonished at this discovery, though indeed the mistake was
natural enough under the circumstances.  What I ought to have admired was
the reticence with which this misunderstanding had been established and
acted upon.  But I was too stupid then to admire anything.  All my
anxiety was that this should be cleared up.  I was ass enough to wonder
exceedingly at Mr. Powell failing to notice the misapprehension.  I saw a
slight twitch come and go on his face; but instead of setting right that
mistake the Shipping Master swung round on his stool and addressed me as
'Charles.'  He did.  And I detected him taking a hasty squint at my
certificate just before, because clearly till he did so he was not sure
of my christian name.  "Now then come round in front of the desk,
Charles," says he in a loud voice.

"Charles!  At first, I declare to you, it didn't seem possible that he
was addressing himself to me.  I even looked round for that Charles but
there was nobody behind me except the thin-necked chap still hard at his
writing, and the other three Shipping Masters who were changing their
coats and reaching for their hats, making ready to go home.  It was the
industrious thin-necked man who without laying down his pen lifted with
his left hand a flap near his desk and said kindly:

"Pass this way."

I walked through in a trance, faced Mr. Powell, from whom I learned that
we were bound to Port Elizabeth first, and signed my name on the Articles
of the ship _Ferndale_ as second mate--the voyage not to exceed two
years.

"You won't fail to join--eh?" says the captain anxiously.  "It would
cause no end of trouble and expense if you did.  You've got a good six
hours to get your gear together, and then you'll have time to snatch a
sleep on board before the crew joins in the morning."

"It was easy enough for him to talk of getting ready in six hours for a
voyage that was not to exceed two years.  He hadn't to do that trick
himself, and with his sea-chest locked up in an outhouse the key of which
had been mislaid for a week as I remembered.  But neither was I much
concerned.  The idea that I was absolutely going to sea at six o'clock
next morning hadn't got quite into my head yet.  It had been too sudden.

"Mr. Powell, slipping the Articles into a long envelope, spoke up with a
sort of cold half-laugh without looking at either of us.

"Mind you don't disgrace the name, Charles."

"And the skipper chimes in very kindly:

"He'll do well enough I dare say.  I'll look after him a bit."

"Upon this he grabs the Articles, says something about trying to run in
for a minute to see that poor devil in the hospital, and off he goes with
his heavy swinging step after telling me sternly: "Don't you go like that
poor fellow and get yourself run over by a cart as if you hadn't either
eyes or ears."

"Mr. Powell," says I timidly (there was by then only the thin-necked man
left in the office with us and he was already by the door, standing on
one leg to turn the bottom of his trousers up before going away).  "Mr.
Powell," says I, "I believe the Captain of the _Ferndale_ was thinking
all the time that I was a relation of yours."

"I was rather concerned about the propriety of it, you know, but Mr.
Powell didn't seem to be in the least.

"Did he?" says he.  "That's funny, because it seems to me too that I've
been a sort of good uncle to several of you young fellows lately.  Don't
you think so yourself?  However, if you don't like it you may put him
right--when you get out to sea."  At this I felt a bit queer.  Mr. Powell
had rendered me a very good service:- because it's a fact that with us
merchant sailors the first voyage as officer is the real start in life.
He had given me no less than that.  I told him warmly that he had done
for me more that day than all my relations put together ever did.

"Oh, no, no," says he.  "I guess it's that shipment of explosives waiting
down the river which has done most for you.  Forty tons of dynamite have
been your best friend to-day, young man."

"That was true too, perhaps.  Anyway I saw clearly enough that I had
nothing to thank myself for.  But as I tried to thank him, he checked my
stammering.

"Don't be in a hurry to thank me," says he.  "The voyage isn't finished
yet."

Our new acquaintance paused, then added meditatively: "Queer man.  As if
it made any difference.  Queer man."

"It's certainly unwise to admit any sort of responsibility for our
actions, whose consequences we are never able to foresee," remarked
Marlow by way of assent.

"The consequence of his action was that I got a ship," said the other.
"That could not do much harm," he added with a laugh which argued a
probably unconscious contempt of general ideas.

But Marlow was not put off.  He was patient and reflective.  He had been
at sea many years and I verily believe he liked sea-life because upon the
whole it is favourable to reflection.  I am speaking of the now nearly
vanished sea-life under sail.  To those who may be surprised at the
statement I will point out that this life secured for the mind of him who
embraced it the inestimable advantages of solitude and silence.  Marlow
had the habit of pursuing general ideas in a peculiar manner, between
jest and earnest.

"Oh, I wouldn't suggest," he said, "that your namesake Mr. Powell, the
Shipping Master, had done you much harm.  Such was hardly his intention.
And even if it had been he would not have had the power.  He was but a
man, and the incapacity to achieve anything distinctly good or evil is
inherent in our earthly condition.  Mediocrity is our mark.  And perhaps
it's just as well, since, for the most part, we cannot be certain of the
effect of our actions."

"I don't know about the effect," the other stood up to Marlow manfully.
"What effect did you expect anyhow?  I tell you he did something
uncommonly kind."

"He did what he could," Marlow retorted gently, "and on his own showing
that was not a very great deal.  I cannot help thinking that there was
some malice in the way he seized the opportunity to serve you.  He
managed to make you uncomfortable.  You wanted to go to sea, but he
jumped at the chance of accommodating your desire with a vengeance.  I am
inclined to think your cheek alarmed him.  And this was an excellent
occasion to suppress you altogether.  For if you accepted he was relieved
of you with every appearance of humanity, and if you made objections
(after requesting his assistance, mind you) it was open to him to drop
you as a sort of impostor.  You might have had to decline that berth for
some very valid reason.  From sheer necessity perhaps.  The notice was
too uncommonly short.  But under the circumstances you'd have covered
yourself with ignominy."

Our new friend knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"Quite a mistake," he said.  "I am not of the declining sort, though I'll
admit it was something like telling a man that you would like a bath and
in consequence being instantly knocked overboard to sink or swim with
your clothes on.  However, I didn't feel as if I were in deep water at
first.  I left the shipping office quietly and for a time strolled along
the street as easy as if I had a week before me to fit myself out.  But
by and by I reflected that the notice was even shorter than it looked.
The afternoon was well advanced; I had some things to get, a lot of small
matters to attend to, one or two persons to see.  One of them was an aunt
of mine, my only relation, who quarrelled with poor father as long as he
lived about some silly matter that had neither right nor wrong to it.  She
left her money to me when she died.  I used always to go and see her for
decency's sake.  I had so much to do before night that I didn't know
where to begin.  I felt inclined to sit down on the kerb and hold my head
in my hands.  It was as if an engine had been started going under my
skull.  Finally I sat down in the first cab that came along and it was a
hard matter to keep on sitting there I can tell you, while we rolled up
and down the streets, pulling up here and there, the parcels accumulating
round me and the engine in my head gathering more way every minute.  The
composure of the people on the pavements was provoking to a degree, and
as to the people in shops, they were benumbed, more than half
frozen--imbecile.  Funny how it affects you to be in a peculiar state of
mind: everybody that does not act up to your excitement seems so
confoundedly unfriendly.  And my state of mind what with the hurry, the
worry and a growing exultation was peculiar enough.  That engine in my
head went round at its top speed hour after hour till eleven at about at
night it let up on me suddenly at the entrance to the Dock before large
iron gates in a dead wall."

* * * * *

These gates were closed and locked.  The cabby, after shooting his things
off the roof of his machine into young Powell's arms, drove away leaving
him alone with his sea-chest, a sail cloth bag and a few parcels on the
pavement about his feet.  It was a dark, narrow thoroughfare he told us.
A mean row of houses on the other side looked empty: there wasn't the
smallest gleam of light in them.  The white-hot glare of a gin palace a
good way off made the intervening piece of the street pitch black.  Some
human shapes appearing mysteriously, as if they had sprung up from the
dark ground, shunned the edge of the faint light thrown down by the
gateway lamps.  These figures were wary in their movements and perfectly
silent of foot, like beasts of prey slinking about a camp fire.  Powell
gathered up his belongings and hovered over them like a hen over her
brood.  A gruffly insinuating voice said:

"Let's carry your things in, Capt'in!  I've got my pal 'ere."

He was a tall, bony, grey-haired ruffian with a bulldog jaw, in a torn
cotton shirt and moleskin trousers.  The shadow of his hobnailed boots
was enormous and coffinlike.  His pal, who didn't come up much higher
than his elbow, stepping forward exhibited a pale face with a long
drooping nose and no chin to speak of.  He seemed to have just scrambled
out of a dust-bin in a tam-o'shanter cap and a tattered soldier's coat
much too long for him.  Being so deadly white he looked like a horrible
dirty invalid in a ragged dressing gown.  The coat flapped open in front
and the rest of his apparel consisted of one brace which crossed his
naked, bony chest, and a pair of trousers.  He blinked rapidly as if
dazed by the faint light, while his patron, the old bandit, glowered at
young Powell from under his beetling brow.

"Say the word, Capt'in.  The bobby'll let us in all right.  'E knows both
of us."

"I didn't answer him," continued Mr. Powell.  "I was listening to
footsteps on the other side of the gate, echoing between the walls of the
warehouses as if in an uninhabited town of very high buildings dark from
basement to roof.  You could never have guessed that within a stone's
throw there was an open sheet of water and big ships lying afloat.  The
few gas lamps showing up a bit of brick work here and there, appeared in
the blackness like penny dips in a range of cellars--and the solitary
footsteps came on, tramp, tramp.  A dock policeman strode into the light
on the other side of the gate, very broad-chested and stern.

"Hallo!  What's up here?"

"He was really surprised, but after some palaver he let me in together
with the two loafers carrying my luggage.  He grumbled at them however
and slammed the gate violently with a loud clang.  I was startled to
discover how many night prowlers had collected in the darkness of the
street in such a short time and without my being aware of it.  Directly
we were through they came surging against the bars, silent, like a mob of
ugly spectres.  But suddenly, up the street somewhere, perhaps near that
public-house, a row started as if Bedlam had broken loose: shouts, yells,
an awful shrill shriek--and at that noise all these heads vanished from
behind the bars.

"Look at this," marvelled the constable.  "It's a wonder to me they
didn't make off with your things while you were waiting."

"I would have taken good care of that," I said defiantly.  But the
constable wasn't impressed.

"Much you would have done.  The bag going off round one dark corner; the
chest round another.  Would you have run two ways at once?  And anyhow
you'd have been tripped up and jumped upon before you had run three
yards.  I tell you you've had a most extraordinary chance that there
wasn't one of them regular boys about to-night, in the High Street, to
twig your loaded cab go by.  Ted here is honest . . . You are on the
honest lay, Ted, ain't you?"

"Always was, orficer," said the big ruffian with feeling.  The other
frail creature seemed dumb and only hopped about with the edge of its
soldier coat touching the ground.

"Oh yes, I dare say," said the constable.  "Now then, forward, march . . .
He's that because he ain't game for the other thing," he confided to
me.  "He hasn't got the nerve for it.  However, I ain't going to lose
sight of them two till they go out through the gate.  That little chap's
a devil.  He's got the nerve for anything, only he hasn't got the muscle.
Well!  Well!  You've had a chance to get in with a whole skin and with
all your things."

"I was incredulous a little.  It seemed impossible that after getting
ready with so much hurry and inconvenience I should have lost my chance
of a start in life from such a cause.  I asked:

"Does that sort of thing happen often so near the dock gates?"

"Often!  No!  Of course not often.  But it ain't often either that a man
comes along with a cabload of things to join a ship at this time of
night.  I've been in the dock police thirteen years and haven't seen it
done once."

"Meantime we followed my sea-chest which was being carried down a sort of
deep narrow lane, separating two high warehouses, between honest Ted and
his little devil of a pal who had to keep up a trot to the other's
stride.  The skirt of his soldier's coat floating behind him nearly swept
the ground so that he seemed to be running on castors.  At the corner of
the gloomy passage a rigged jib boom with a dolphin-striker ending in an
arrow-head stuck out of the night close to a cast iron lamp-post.  It was
the quay side.  They set down their load in the light and honest Ted
asked hoarsely:

"Where's your ship, guv'nor?"

"I didn't know.  The constable was interested at my ignorance.

"Don't know where your ship is?" he asked with curiosity.  "And you the
second officer!  Haven't you been working on board of her?"

"I couldn't explain that the only work connected with my appointment was
the work of chance.  I told him briefly that I didn't know her at all.  At
this he remarked:

"So I see.  Here she is, right before you.  That's her."

"At once the head-gear in the gas light inspired me with interest and
respect; the spars were big, the chains and ropes stout and the whole
thing looked powerful and trustworthy.  Barely touched by the light her
bows rose faintly alongside the narrow strip of the quay; the rest of her
was a black smudge in the darkness.  Here I was face to face with my
start in life.  We walked in a body a few steps on a greasy pavement
between her side and the towering wall of a warehouse and I hit my shins
cruelly against the end of the gangway.  The constable hailed her quietly
in a bass undertone '_Ferndale_ there!'  A feeble and dismal sound,
something in the nature of a buzzing groan, answered from behind the
bulwarks.

"I distinguished vaguely an irregular round knob, of wood, perhaps,
resting on the rail.  It did not move in the least; but as another broken-
down buzz like a still fainter echo of the first dismal sound proceeded
from it I concluded it must be the head of the ship-keeper.  The stalwart
constable jeered in a mock-official manner.

"Second officer coming to join.  Move yourself a bit."

"The truth of the statement touched me in the pit of the stomach (you
know that's the spot where emotion gets home on a man) for it was borne
upon me that really and truly I was nothing but a second officer of a
ship just like any other second officer, to that constable.  I was moved
by this solid evidence of my new dignity.  Only his tone offended me.
Nevertheless I gave him the tip he was looking for.  Thereupon he lost
all interest in me, humorous or otherwise, and walked away driving
sternly before him the honest Ted, who went off grumbling to himself like
a hungry ogre, and his horrible dumb little pal in the soldier's coat,
who, from first to last, never emitted the slightest sound.

"It was very dark on the quarter deck of the _Ferndale_ between the deep
bulwarks overshadowed by the break of the poop and frowned upon by the
front of the warehouse.  I plumped down on to my chest near the after
hatch as if my legs had been jerked from under me.  I felt suddenly very
tired and languid.  The ship-keeper, whom I could hardly make out hung
over the capstan in a fit of weak pitiful coughing.  He gasped out very
low 'Oh! dear!  Oh! dear!' and struggled for breath so long that I got up
alarmed and irresolute.

"I've been took like this since last Christmas twelvemonth.  It ain't
nothing."

"He seemed a hundred years old at least.  I never saw him properly
because he was gone ashore and out of sight when I came on deck in the
morning; but he gave me the notion of the feeblest creature that ever
breathed.  His voice was thin like the buzzing of a mosquito.  As it
would have been cruel to demand assistance from such a shadowy wreck I
went to work myself, dragging my chest along a pitch-black passage under
the poop deck, while he sighed and moaned around me as if my exertions
were more than his weakness could stand.  At last as I banged pretty
heavily against the bulkheads he warned me in his faint breathless wheeze
to be more careful.

"What's the matter?" I asked rather roughly, not relishing to be
admonished by this forlorn broken-down ghost.

"Nothing!  Nothing, sir," he protested so hastily that he lost his poor
breath again and I felt sorry for him.  "Only the captain and his missus
are sleeping on board.  She's a lady that mustn't be disturbed.  They
came about half-past eight, and we had a permit to have lights in the
cabin till ten to-night."

"This struck me as a considerable piece of news.  I had never been in a
ship where the captain had his wife with him.  I'd heard fellows say that
captains' wives could work a lot of mischief on board ship if they
happened to take a dislike to anyone; especially the new wives if young
and pretty.  The old and experienced wives on the other hand fancied they
knew more about the ship than the skipper himself and had an eye like a
hawk's for what went on.  They were like an extra chief mate of a
particularly sharp and unfeeling sort who made his report in the evening.
The best of them were a nuisance.  In the general opinion a skipper with
his wife on board was more difficult to please; but whether to show off
his authority before an admiring female or from loving anxiety for her
safety or simply from irritation at her presence--nobody I ever heard on
the subject could tell for certain.

"After I had bundled in my things somehow I struck a match and had a
dazzling glimpse of my berth; then I pitched the roll of my bedding into
the bunk but took no trouble to spread it out.  I wasn't sleepy now,
neither was I tired.  And the thought that I was done with the earth for
many many months to come made me feel very quiet and self-contained as it
were.  Sailors will understand what I mean."

Marlow nodded.  "It is a strictly professional feeling," he commented.
"But other professions or trades know nothing of it.  It is only this
calling whose primary appeal lies in the suggestion of restless adventure
which holds out that deep sensation to those who embrace it.  It is
difficult to define, I admit."

"I should call it the peace of the sea," said Mr. Charles Powell in an
earnest tone but looking at us as though he expected to be met by a laugh
of derision and were half prepared to salve his reputation for common
sense by joining in it.  But neither of us laughed at Mr. Charles Powell
in whose start in life we had been called to take a part.  He was lucky
in his audience.

"A very good name," said Marlow looking at him approvingly.  "A sailor
finds a deep feeling of security in the exercise of his calling.  The
exacting life of the sea has this advantage over the life of the earth
that its claims are simple and cannot be evaded."

"Gospel truth," assented Mr. Powell.  "No! they cannot be evaded."

That an excellent understanding should have established itself between my
old friend and our new acquaintance was remarkable enough.  For they were
exactly dissimilar--one individuality projecting itself in length and the
other in breadth, which is already a sufficient ground for irreconcilable
difference.  Marlow who was lanky, loose, quietly composed in varied
shades of brown robbed of every vestige of gloss, had a narrow, veiled
glance, the neutral bearing and the secret irritability which go together
with a predisposition to congestion of the liver.  The other, compact,
broad and sturdy of limb, seemed extremely full of sound organs
functioning vigorously all the time in order to keep up the brilliance of
his colouring, the light curl of his coal-black hair and the lustre of
his eyes, which asserted themselves roundly in an open, manly face.
Between two such organisms one would not have expected to find the
slightest temperamental accord.  But I have observed that profane men
living in ships like the holy men gathered together in monasteries
develop traits of profound resemblance.  This must be because the service
of the sea and the service of a temple are both detached from the
vanities and errors of a world which follows no severe rule.  The men of
the sea understand each other very well in their view of earthly things,
for simplicity is a good counsellor and isolation not a bad educator.  A
turn of mind composed of innocence and scepticism is common to them all,
with the addition of an unexpected insight into motives, as of
disinterested lookers-on at a game.  Mr. Powell took me aside to say,

"I like the things he says."

"You understand each other pretty well," I observed.

"I know his sort," said Powell, going to the window to look at his cutter
still riding to the flood.  "He's the sort that's always chasing some
notion or other round and round his head just for the fun of the thing."

"Keeps them in good condition," I said.

"Lively enough I dare say," he admitted.

"Would you like better a man who let his notions lie curled up?"

"That I wouldn't," answered our new acquaintance.  Clearly he was not
difficult to get on with.  "I like him, very well," he continued, "though
it isn't easy to make him out.  He seems to be up to a thing or two.
What's he doing?"

I informed him that our friend Marlow had retired from the sea in a sort
of half-hearted fashion some years ago.

Mr. Powell's comment was: "Fancied had enough of it?"

"Fancied's the very word to use in this connection," I observed,
remembering the subtly provisional character of Marlow's long sojourn
amongst us.  From year to year he dwelt on land as a bird rests on the
branch of a tree, so tense with the power of brusque flight into its true
element that it is incomprehensible why it should sit still minute after
minute.  The sea is the sailor's true element, and Marlow, lingering on
shore, was to me an object of incredulous commiseration like a bird,
which, secretly, should have lost its faith in the high virtue of flying.



CHAPTER TWO--THE FYNES AND THE GIRL-FRIEND


We were on our feet in the room by then, and Marlow, brown and
deliberate, approached the window where Mr. Powell and I had retired.
"What was the name of your chance again?" he asked.  Mr. Powell stared
for a moment.

"Oh!  The _Ferndale_.  A Liverpool ship.  Composite built."

"_Ferndale_," repeated Marlow thoughtfully.  "_Ferndale_."

"Know her?"

"Our friend," I said, "knows something of every ship.  He seems to have
gone about the seas prying into things considerably."

Marlow smiled.

"I've seen her, at least once."

"The finest sea-boat ever launched," declared Mr. Powell sturdily.
"Without exception."

"She looked a stout, comfortable ship," assented Marlow.  "Uncommonly
comfortable.  Not very fast tho'."

"She was fast enough for any reasonable man--when I was in her," growled
Mr. Powell with his back to us.

"Any ship is that--for a reasonable man," generalized Marlow in a
conciliatory tone.  "A sailor isn't a globe-trotter."

"No," muttered Mr. Powell.

"Time's nothing to him," advanced Marlow.

"I don't suppose it's much," said Mr. Powell.  "All the same a quick
passage is a feather in a man's cap."

"True.  But that ornament is for the use of the master only.  And by the
by what was his name?"

"The master of the _Ferndale_?  Anthony.  Captain Anthony."

"Just so.  Quite right," approved Marlow thoughtfully.  Our new
acquaintance looked over his shoulder.

"What do you mean?  Why is it more right than if it had been Brown?"

"He has known him probably," I explained.  "Marlow here appears to know
something of every soul that ever went afloat in a sailor's body."

Mr. Powell seemed wonderfully amenable to verbal suggestions for looking
again out of the window, he muttered:

"He was a good soul."

This clearly referred to Captain Anthony of the _Ferndale_.  Marlow
addressed his protest to me.

"I did not know him.  I really didn't.  He was a good soul.  That's
nothing very much out of the way--is it?  And I didn't even know that
much of him.  All I knew of him was an accident called Fyne.

At this Mr. Powell who evidently could be rebellious too turned his back
squarely on the window.

"What on earth do you mean?" he asked.  "An--accident--called Fyne," he
repeated separating the words with emphasis.

Marlow was not disconcerted.

"I don't mean accident in the sense of a mishap.  Not in the least.  Fyne
was a good little man in the Civil Service.  By accident I mean that
which happens blindly and without intelligent design.  That's generally
the way a brother-in-law happens into a man's life."

Marlow's tone being apologetic and our new acquaintance having again
turned to the window I took it upon myself to say:

"You are justified.  There is very little intelligent design in the
majority of marriages; but they are none the worse for that.  Intelligence
leads people astray as far as passion sometimes.  I know you are not a
cynic."

Marlow smiled his retrospective smile which was kind as though he bore no
grudge against people he used to know.

"Little Fyne's marriage was quite successful.  There was no design at all
in it.  Fyne, you must know, was an enthusiastic pedestrian.  He spent
his holidays tramping all over our native land.  His tastes were simple.
He put infinite conviction and perseverance into his holidays.  At the
proper season you would meet in the fields, Fyne, a serious-faced, broad-
chested, little man, with a shabby knap-sack on his back, making for some
church steeple.  He had a horror of roads.  He wrote once a little book
called the 'Tramp's Itinerary,' and was recognised as an authority on the
footpaths of England.  So one year, in his favourite over-the-fields,
back-way fashion he entered a pretty Surrey village where he met Miss
Anthony.  Pure accident, you see.  They came to an understanding, across
some stile, most likely.  Little Fyne held very solemn views as to the
destiny of women on this earth, the nature of our sublunary love, the
obligations of this transient life and so on.  He probably disclosed them
to his future wife.  Miss Anthony's views of life were very decided too
but in a different way.  I don't know the story of their wooing.  I
imagine it was carried on clandestinely and, I am certain, with
portentous gravity, at the back of copses, behind hedges . . .

"Why was it carried on clandestinely?" I inquired.

"Because of the lady's father.  He was a savage sentimentalist who had
his own decided views of his paternal prerogatives.  He was a terror; but
the only evidence of imaginative faculty about Fyne was his pride in his
wife's parentage.  It stimulated his ingenuity too.  Difficult--is it
not?--to introduce one's wife's maiden name into general conversation.
But my simple Fyne made use of Captain Anthony for that purpose, or else
I would never even have heard of the man.  "My wife's sailor-brother" was
the phrase.  He trotted out the sailor-brother in a pretty wide range of
subjects: Indian and colonial affairs, matters of trade, talk of travels,
of seaside holidays and so on.  Once I remember "My wife's sailor-brother
Captain Anthony" being produced in connection with nothing less recondite
than a sunset.  And little Fyne never failed to add "The son of Carleon
Anthony, the poet--you know."  He used to lower his voice for that
statement, and people were impressed or pretended to be."

The late Carleon Anthony, the poet, sang in his time of the domestic and
social amenities of our age with a most felicitous versification, his
object being, in his own words, "to glorify the result of six thousand
years' evolution towards the refinement of thought, manners and
feelings."  Why he fixed the term at six thousand years I don't know.  His
poems read like sentimental novels told in verse of a really superior
quality.  You felt as if you were being taken out for a delightful
country drive by a charming lady in a pony carriage.  But in his domestic
life that same Carleon Anthony showed traces of the primitive
cave-dweller's temperament.  He was a massive, implacable man with a
handsome face, arbitrary and exacting with his dependants, but
marvellously suave in his manner to admiring strangers.  These contrasted
displays must have been particularly exasperating to his long-suffering
family.  After his second wife's death his boy, whom he persisted by a
mere whim in educating at home, ran away in conventional style and, as if
disgusted with the amenities of civilization, threw himself, figuratively
speaking, into the sea.  The daughter (the elder of the two children)
either from compassion or because women are naturally more enduring,
remained in bondage to the poet for several years, till she too seized a
chance of escape by throwing herself into the arms, the muscular arms, of
the pedestrian Fyne.  This was either great luck or great sagacity.  A
civil servant is, I should imagine, the last human being in the world to
preserve those traits of the cave-dweller from which she was fleeing.  Her
father would never consent to see her after the marriage.  Such
unforgiving selfishness is difficult to understand unless as a perverse
sort of refinement.  There were also doubts as to Carleon Anthony's
complete sanity for some considerable time before he died.

Most of the above I elicited from Marlow, for all I knew of Carleon
Anthony was his unexciting but fascinating verse.  Marlow assured me that
the Fyne marriage was perfectly successful and even happy, in an earnest,
unplayful fashion, being blessed besides by three healthy, active, self-
reliant children, all girls.  They were all pedestrians too.  Even the
youngest would wander away for miles if not restrained.  Mrs. Fyne had a
ruddy out-of-doors complexion and wore blouses with a starched front like
a man's shirt, a stand-up collar and a long necktie.  Marlow had made
their acquaintance one summer in the country, where they were accustomed
to take a cottage for the holidays . . .

At this point we were interrupted by Mr. Powell who declared that he must
leave us.  The tide was on the turn, he announced coming away from the
window abruptly.  He wanted to be on board his cutter before she swung
and of course he would sleep on board.  Never slept away from the cutter
while on a cruise.  He was gone in a moment, unceremoniously, but giving
us no offence and leaving behind an impression as though we had known him
for a long time.  The ingenuous way he had told us of his start in life
had something to do with putting him on that footing with us.  I gave no
thought to seeing him again.

Marlow expressed a confident hope of coming across him before long.

"He cruises about the mouth of the river all the summer.  He will be easy
to find any week-end," he remarked ringing the bell so that we might
settle up with the waiter.

* * * * *

Later on I asked Marlow why he wished to cultivate this chance
acquaintance.  He confessed apologetically that it was the commonest sort
of curiosity.  I flatter myself that I understand all sorts of curiosity.
Curiosity about daily facts, about daily things, about daily men.  It is
the most respectable faculty of the human mind--in fact I cannot conceive
the uses of an incurious mind.  It would be like a chamber perpetually
locked up.  But in this particular case Mr. Powell seemed to have given
us already a complete insight into his personality such as it was; a
personality capable of perception and with a feeling for the vagaries of
fate, but essentially simple in itself.

Marlow agreed with me so far.  He explained however that his curiosity
was not excited by Mr. Powell exclusively.  It originated a good way
further back in the fact of his accidental acquaintance with the Fynes,
in the country.  This chance meeting with a man who had sailed with
Captain Anthony had revived it.  It had revived it to some purpose, to
such purpose that to me too was given the knowledge of its origin and of
its nature.  It was given to me in several stages, at intervals which are
not indicated here.  On this first occasion I remarked to Marlow with
some surprise:

"But, if I remember rightly you said you didn't know Captain Anthony."

"No.  I never saw the man.  It's years ago now, but I seem to hear solemn
little Fyne's deep voice announcing the approaching visit of his wife's
brother "the son of the poet, you know."  He had just arrived in London
from a long voyage, and, directly his occupations permitted, was coming
down to stay with his relatives for a few weeks.  No doubt we two should
find many things to talk about by ourselves in reference to our common
calling, added little Fyne portentously in his grave undertones, as if
the Mercantile Marine were a secret society.

You must understand that I cultivated the Fynes only in the country, in
their holiday time.  This was the third year.  Of their existence in town
I knew no more than may be inferred from analogy.  I played chess with
Fyne in the late afternoon, and sometimes came over to the cottage early
enough to have tea with the whole family at a big round table.  They sat
about it, an unsmiling, sunburnt company of very few words indeed.  Even
the children were silent and as if contemptuous of each other and of
their elders.  Fyne muttered sometimes deep down in his chest some
insignificant remark.  Mrs. Fyne smiled mechanically (she had splendid
teeth) while distributing tea and bread and butter.  A something which
was not coldness, nor yet indifference, but a sort of peculiar
self-possession gave her the appearance of a very trustworthy, very
capable and excellent governess; as if Fyne were a widower and the
children not her own but only entrusted to her calm, efficient,
unemotional care.  One expected her to address Fyne as Mr.  When she
called him John it surprised one like a shocking familiarity.  The
atmosphere of that holiday was--if I may put it so--brightly dull.
Healthy faces, fair complexions, clear eyes, and never a frank smile in
the whole lot, unless perhaps from a girl-friend.

The girl-friend problem exercised me greatly.  How and where the Fynes
got all these pretty creatures to come and stay with them I can't
imagine.  I had at first the wild suspicion that they were obtained to
amuse Fyne.  But I soon discovered that he could hardly tell one from the
other, though obviously their presence met with his solemn approval.
These girls in fact came for Mrs. Fyne.  They treated her with admiring
deference.  She answered to some need of theirs.  They sat at her feet.
They were like disciples.  It was very curious.  Of Fyne they took but
scanty notice.  As to myself I was made to feel that I did not exist.

After tea we would sit down to chess and then Fyne's everlasting gravity
became faintly tinged by an attenuated gleam of something inward which
resembled sly satisfaction.  Of the divine frivolity of laughter he was
only capable over a chess-board.  Certain positions of the game struck
him as humorous, which nothing else on earth could do . . .

"He used to beat you," I asserted with confidence.

"Yes.  He used to beat me," Marlow owned up hastily.

So he and Fyne played two games after tea.  The children romped together
outside, gravely, unplayfully, as one would expect from Fyne's children,
and Mrs. Fyne would be gone to the bottom of the garden with the girl-
friend of the week.  She always walked off directly after tea with her
arm round the girl-friend's waist.  Marlow said that there was only one
girl-friend with whom he had conversed at all.  It had happened quite
unexpectedly, long after he had given up all hope of getting into touch
with these reserved girl-friends.

One day he saw a woman walking about on the edge of a high quarry, which
rose a sheer hundred feet, at least, from the road winding up the hill
out of which it had been excavated.  He shouted warningly to her from
below where he happened to be passing.  She was really in considerable
danger.  At the sound of his voice she started back and retreated out of
his sight amongst some young Scotch firs growing near the very brink of
the precipice.

"I sat down on a bank of grass," Marlow went on.  "She had given me a
turn.  The hem of her skirt seemed to float over that awful sheer drop,
she was so close to the edge.  An absurd thing to do.  A perfectly mad
trick--for no conceivable object!  I was reflecting on the foolhardiness
of the average girl and remembering some other instances of the kind,
when she came into view walking down the steep curve of the road.  She
had Mrs. Fyne's walking-stick and was escorted by the Fyne dog.  Her dead
white face struck me with astonishment, so that I forgot to raise my hat.
I just sat and stared.  The dog, a vivacious and amiable animal which for
some inscrutable reason had bestowed his friendship on my unworthy self,
rushed up the bank demonstratively and insinuated himself under my arm.

The girl-friend (it was one of them) went past some way as though she had
not seen me, then stopped and called the dog to her several times; but he
only nestled closer to my side, and when I tried to push him away
developed that remarkable power of internal resistance by which a dog
makes himself practically immovable by anything short of a kick.  She
looked over her shoulder and her arched eyebrows frowned above her
blanched face.  It was almost a scowl.  Then the expression changed.  She
looked unhappy.  "Come here!" she cried once more in an angry and
distressed tone.  I took off my hat at last, but the dog hanging out his
tongue with that cheerfully imbecile expression some dogs know so well
how to put on when it suits their purpose, pretended to be deaf.

She cried from the distance desperately.

"Perhaps you will take him to the cottage then.  I can't wait."

"I won't be responsible for that dog," I protested getting down the bank
and advancing towards her.  She looked very hurt, apparently by the
desertion of the dog.  "But if you let me walk with you he will follow us
all right," I suggested.

She moved on without answering me.  The dog launched himself suddenly
full speed down the road receding from us in a small cloud of dust.  It
vanished in the distance, and presently we came up with him lying on the
grass.  He panted in the shade of the hedge with shining eyes but
pretended not to see us.  We had not exchanged a word so far.  The girl
by my side gave him a scornful glance in passing.

"He offered to come with me," she remarked bitterly.

"And then abandoned you!" I sympathized.  "It looks very unchivalrous.
But that's merely his want of tact.  I believe he meant to protest
against your reckless proceedings.  What made you come so near the edge
of that quarry?  The earth might have given way.  Haven't you noticed a
smashed fir tree at the bottom?  Tumbled over only the other morning
after a night's rain."

"I don't see why I shouldn't be as reckless as I please."

I was nettled by her brusque manner of asserting her folly, and I told
her that neither did I as far as that went, in a tone which almost
suggested that she was welcome to break her neck for all I cared.  This
was considerably more than I meant, but I don't like rude girls.  I had
been introduced to her only the day before--at the round tea-table--and
she had barely acknowledged the introduction.  I had not caught her name
but I had noticed her fine, arched eyebrows which, so the physiognomists
say, are a sign of courage.

I examined her appearance quietly.  Her hair was nearly black, her eyes
blue, deeply shaded by long dark eyelashes.  She had a little colour now.
She looked straight before her; the corner of her lip on my side drooped
a little; her chin was fine, somewhat pointed.  I went on to say that
some regard for others should stand in the way of one's playing with
danger.  I urged playfully the distress of the poor Fynes in case of
accident, if nothing else.  I told her that she did not know the bucolic
mind.  Had she given occasion for a coroner's inquest the verdict would
have been suicide, with the implication of unhappy love.  They would
never be able to understand that she had taken the trouble to climb over
two post-and-rail fences only for the fun of being reckless.  Indeed even
as I talked chaffingly I was greatly struck myself by the fact.

She retorted that once one was dead what horrid people thought of one did
not matter.  It was said with infinite contempt; but something like a
suppressed quaver in the voice made me look at her again.  I perceived
then that her thick eyelashes were wet.  This surprising discovery
silenced me as you may guess.  She looked unhappy.  And--I don't know how
to say it--well--it suited her.  The clouded brow, the pained mouth, the
vague fixed glance!  A victim.  And this characteristic aspect made her
attractive; an individual touch--you know.

The dog had run on ahead and now gazed at us by the side of the Fyne's
garden-gate in a tense attitude and wagging his stumpy tail very, very
slowly, with an air of concentrated attention.  The girl-friend of the
Fynes bolted violently through the aforesaid gate and into the cottage
leaving me on the road--astounded.

A couple of hours afterwards I returned to the cottage for chess as
usual.  I saw neither the girl nor Mrs. Fyne then.  We had our two games
and on parting I warned Fyne that I was called to town on business and
might be away for some time.  He regretted it very much.  His brother-in-
law was expected next day but he didn't know whether he was a
chess-player.  Captain Anthony ("the son of the poet--you know") was of a
retiring disposition, shy with strangers, unused to society and very much
devoted to his calling, Fyne explained.  All the time they had been
married he could be induced only once before to come and stay with them
for a few days.  He had had a rather unhappy boyhood; and it made him a
silent man.  But no doubt, concluded Fyne, as if dealing portentously
with a mystery, we two sailors should find much to say to one another.

This point was never settled.  I was detained in town from week to week
till it seemed hardly worth while to go back.  But as I had kept on my
rooms in the farmhouse I concluded to go down again for a few days.

It was late, deep dusk, when I got out at our little country station.  My
eyes fell on the unmistakable broad back and the muscular legs in cycling
stockings of little Fyne.  He passed along the carriages rapidly towards
the rear of the train, which presently pulled out and left him solitary
at the end of the rustic platform.  When he came back to where I waited I
perceived that he was much perturbed, so perturbed as to forget the
convention of the usual greetings.  He only exclaimed Oh! on recognizing
me, and stopped irresolute.  When I asked him if he had been expecting
somebody by that train he didn't seem to know.  He stammered
disconnectedly.  I looked hard at him.  To all appearances he was
perfectly sober; moreover to suspect Fyne of a lapse from the proprieties
high or low, great or small, was absurd.  He was also a too serious and
deliberate person to go mad suddenly.  But as he seemed to have forgotten
that he had a tongue in his head I concluded I would leave him to his
mystery.  To my surprise he followed me out of the station and kept by my
side, though I did not encourage him.  I did not however repulse his
attempts at conversation.  He was no longer expecting me, he said.  He
had given me up.  The weather had been uniformly fine--and so on.  I
gathered also that the son of the poet had curtailed his stay somewhat
and gone back to his ship the day before.

That information touched me but little.  Believing in heredity in
moderation I knew well how sea-life fashions a man outwardly and stamps
his soul with the mark of a certain prosaic fitness--because a sailor is
not an adventurer.  I expressed no regret at missing Captain Anthony and
we proceeded in silence till, on approaching the holiday cottage, Fyne
suddenly and unexpectedly broke it by the hurried declaration that he
would go on with me a little farther.

"Go with you to your door," he mumbled and started forward to the little
gate where the shadowy figure of Mrs. Fyne hovered, clearly on the
lookout for him.  She was alone.  The children must have been already in
bed and I saw no attending girl-friend shadow near her vague but
unmistakable form, half-lost in the obscurity of the little garden.

I heard Fyne exclaim "Nothing" and then Mrs. Fyne's well-trained,
responsible voice uttered the words, "It's what I have said," with
incisive equanimity.  By that time I had passed on, raising my hat.
Almost at once Fyne caught me up and slowed down to my strolling gait
which must have been infinitely irksome to his high pedestrian faculties.
I am sure that all his muscular person must have suffered from awful
physical boredom; but he did not attempt to charm it away by
conversation.  He preserved a portentous and dreary silence.  And I was
bored too.  Suddenly I perceived the menace of even worse boredom.  Yes!
He was so silent because he had something to tell me.

I became extremely frightened.  But man, reckless animal, is so made that
in him curiosity, the paltriest curiosity, will overcome all terrors,
every disgust, and even despair itself.  To my laconic invitation to come
in for a drink he answered by a deep, gravely accented: "Thanks, I will"
as though it were a response in church.  His face as seen in the
lamplight gave me no clue to the character of the impending
communication; as indeed from the nature of things it couldn't do, its
normal expression being already that of the utmost possible seriousness.
It was perfect and immovable; and for a certainty if he had something
excruciatingly funny to tell me it would be all the same.

He gazed at me earnestly and delivered himself of some weighty remarks on
Mrs. Fyne's desire to befriend, counsel, and guide young girls of all
sorts on the path of life.  It was a voluntary mission.  He approved his
wife's action and also her views and principles in general.

All this with a solemn countenance and in deep measured tones.  Yet
somehow I got an irresistible conviction that he was exasperated by
something in particular.  In the unworthy hope of being amused by the
misfortunes of a fellow-creature I asked him point-blank what was wrong
now.

What was wrong was that a girl-friend was missing.  She had been missing
precisely since six o'clock that morning.  The woman who did the work of
the cottage saw her going out at that hour, for a walk.  The pedestrian
Fyne's ideas of a walk were extensive, but the girl did not turn up for
lunch, nor yet for tea, nor yet for dinner.  She had not turned up by
footpath, road or rail.  He had been reluctant to make inquiries.  It
would have set all the village talking.  The Fynes had expected her to
reappear every moment, till the shades of the night and the silence of
slumber had stolen gradually over the wide and peaceful rural landscape
commanded by the cottage.

After telling me that much Fyne sat helpless in unconclusive agony.  Going
to bed was out of the question--neither could any steps be taken just
then.  What to do with himself he did not know!

I asked him if this was the same young lady I saw a day or two before I
went to town?  He really could not remember.  Was she a girl with dark
hair and blue eyes?  I asked further.  He really couldn't tell what
colour her eyes were.  He was very unobservant except as to the
peculiarities of footpaths, on which he was an authority.

I thought with amazement and some admiration that Mrs. Fyne's young
disciples were to her husband's gravity no more than evanescent shadows.
However, with but little hesitation Fyne ventured to affirm that--yes,
her hair was of some dark shade.

"We had a good deal to do with that girl first and last," he explained
solemnly; then getting up as if moved by a spring he snatched his cap off
the table.  "She may be back in the cottage," he cried in his bass voice.
I followed him out on the road.

It was one of those dewy, clear, starry nights, oppressing our spirit,
crushing our pride, by the brilliant evidence of the awful loneliness, of
the hopeless obscure insignificance of our globe lost in the splendid
revelation of a glittering, soulless universe.  I hate such skies.
Daylight is friendly to man toiling under a sun which warms his heart;
and cloudy soft nights are more kindly to our littleness.  I nearly ran
back again to my lighted parlour; Fyne fussing in a knicker-bocker suit
before the hosts of heaven, on a shadowy earth, about a transient,
phantom-like girl, seemed too ridiculous to associate with.  On the other
hand there was something fascinating in the very absurdity.  He cut along
in his best pedestrian style and I found myself let in for a spell of
severe exercise at eleven o'clock at night.

In the distance over the fields and trees smudging and blotching the vast
obscurity, one lighted window of the cottage with the blind up was like a
bright beacon kept alight to guide the lost wanderer.  Inside, at the
table bearing the lamp, we saw Mrs. Fyne sitting with folded arms and not
a hair of her head out of place.  She looked exactly like a governess who
had put the children to bed; and her manner to me was just the neutral
manner of a governess.  To her husband, too, for that matter.

Fyne told her that I was fully informed.  Not a muscle of her ruddy
smooth handsome face moved.  She had schooled herself into that sort of
thing.  Having seen two successive wives of the delicate poet chivied and
worried into their graves, she had adopted that cool, detached manner to
meet her gifted father's outbreaks of selfish temper.  It had now become
a second nature.  I suppose she was always like that; even in the very
hour of elopement with Fyne.  That transaction when one remembered it in
her presence acquired a quaintly marvellous aspect to one's imagination.
But somehow her self-possession matched very well little Fyne's
invariable solemnity.

I was rather sorry for him.  Wasn't he worried!  The agony of solemnity.
At the same time I was amused.  I didn't take a gloomy view of that
"vanishing girl" trick.  Somehow I couldn't.  But I said nothing.  None
of us said anything.  We sat about that big round table as if assembled
for a conference and looked at each other in a sort of fatuous
consternation.  I would have ended by laughing outright if I had not been
saved from that impropriety by poor Fyne becoming preposterous.

He began with grave anguish to talk of going to the police in the
morning, of printing descriptive bills, of setting people to drag the
ponds for miles around.  It was extremely gruesome.  I murmured something
about communicating with the young lady's relatives.  It seemed to me a
very natural suggestion; but Fyne and his wife exchanged such a
significant glance that I felt as though I had made a tactless remark.

But I really wanted to help poor Fyne; and as I could see that, manlike,
he suffered from the present inability to act, the passive waiting, I
said: "Nothing of this can be done till to-morrow.  But as you have given
me an insight into the nature of your thoughts I can tell you what may be
done at once.  We may go and look at the bottom of the old quarry which
is on the level of the road, about a mile from here."

The couple made big eyes at this, and then I told them of my meeting with
the girl.  You may be surprised but I assure you I had not perceived this
aspect of it till that very moment.  It was like a startling revelation;
the past throwing a sinister light on the future.  Fyne opened his mouth
gravely and as gravely shut it.  Nothing more.  Mrs. Fyne said, "You had
better go," with an air as if her self-possession had been pricked with a
pin in some secret place.

And I--you know how stupid I can be at times--I perceived with dismay for
the first time that by pandering to Fyne's morbid fancies I had let
myself in for some more severe exercise.  And wasn't I sorry I spoke!  You
know how I hate walking--at least on solid, rural earth; for I can walk a
ship's deck a whole foggy night through, if necessary, and think little
of it.  There is some satisfaction too in playing the vagabond in the
streets of a big town till the sky pales above the ridges of the roofs.  I
have done that repeatedly for pleasure--of a sort.  But to tramp the
slumbering country-side in the dark is for me a wearisome nightmare of
exertion.

With perfect detachment Mrs. Fyne watched me go out after her husband.
That woman was flint.

* * * * *

The fresh night had a smell of soil, of turned-up sods like a grave--an
association particularly odious to a sailor by its idea of confinement
and narrowness; yes, even when he has given up the hope of being buried
at sea; about the last hope a sailor gives up consciously after he has
been, as it does happen, decoyed by some chance into the toils of the
land.  A strong grave-like sniff.  The ditch by the side of the road must
have been freshly dug in front of the cottage.

Once clear of the garden Fyne gathered way like a racing cutter.  What
was a mile to him--or twenty miles?  You think he might have gone
shrinkingly on such an errand.  But not a bit of it.  The force of
pedestrian genius I suppose.  I raced by his side in a mood of profound
self-derision, and infinitely vexed with that minx.  Because dead or
alive I thought of her as a minx . . ."

I smiled incredulously at Marlow's ferocity; but Marlow pausing with a
whimsically retrospective air, never flinched.

"Yes, yes.  Even dead.  And now you are shocked.  You see, you are such a
chivalrous masculine beggar.  But there is enough of the woman in my
nature to free my judgment of women from glamorous reticency.  And then,
why should I upset myself?  A woman is not necessarily either a doll or
an angel to me.  She is a human being, very much like myself.  And I have
come across too many dead souls lying so to speak at the foot of high
unscaleable places for a merely possible dead body at the bottom of a
quarry to strike my sincerity dumb.

The cliff-like face of the quarry looked forbiddingly impressive.  I will
admit that Fyne and I hung back for a moment before we made a plunge off
the road into the bushes growing in a broad space at the foot of the
towering limestone wall.  These bushes were heavy with dew.  There were
also concealed mudholes in there.  We crept and tumbled and felt about
with our hands along the ground.  We got wet, scratched, and plastered
with mire all over our nether garments.  Fyne fell suddenly into a
strange cavity--probably a disused lime-kiln.  His voice uplifted in
grave distress sounded more than usually rich, solemn and profound.  This
was the comic relief of an absurdly dramatic situation.  While hauling
him out I permitted myself to laugh aloud at last.  Fyne, of course,
didn't.

I need not tell you that we found nothing after a most conscientious
search.  Fyne even pushed his way into a decaying shed half-buried in dew-
soaked vegetation.  He struck matches, several of them too, as if to make
absolutely sure that the vanished girl-friend of his wife was not hiding
there.  The short flares illuminated his grave, immovable countenance
while I let myself go completely and laughed in peals.

I asked him if he really and truly supposed that any sane girl would go
and hide in that shed; and if so why?

Disdainful of my mirth he merely muttered his basso-profundo thankfulness
that we had not found her anywhere about there.  Having grown extremely
sensitive (an effect of irritation) to the tonalities, I may say, of this
affair, I felt that it was only an imperfect, reserved, thankfulness,
with one eye still on the possibilities of the several ponds in the
neighbourhood.  And I remember I snorted, I positively snorted, at that
poor Fyne.

What really jarred upon me was the rate of his walking.  Differences in
politics, in ethics and even in aesthetics need not arouse angry
antagonism.  One's opinion may change; one's tastes may alter--in fact
they do.  One's very conception of virtue is at the mercy of some
felicitous temptation which may be sprung on one any day.  All these
things are perpetually on the swing.  But a temperamental difference,
temperament being immutable, is the parent of hate.  That's why religious
quarrels are the fiercest of all.  My temperament, in matters pertaining
to solid land, is the temperament of leisurely movement, of deliberate
gait.  And there was that little Fyne pounding along the road in a most
offensive manner; a man wedded to thick-soled, laced boots; whereas my
temperament demands thin shoes of the lightest kind.  Of course there
could never have been question of friendship between us; but under the
provocation of having to keep up with his pace I began to dislike him
actively.  I begged sarcastically to know whether he could tell me if we
were engaged in a farce or in a tragedy.  I wanted to regulate my
feelings which, I told him, were in an unbecoming state of confusion.

But Fyne was as impervious to sarcasm as a turtle.  He tramped on, and
all he did was to ejaculate twice out of his deep chest, vaguely,
doubtfully.

"I am afraid . . . I am afraid! . . . "

This was tragic.  The thump of his boots was the only sound in a shadowy
world.  I kept by his side with a comparatively ghostly, silent tread.  By
a strange illusion the road appeared to run up against a lot of low stars
at no very great distance, but as we advanced new stretches of whitey-
brown ribbon seemed to come up from under the black ground.  I observed,
as we went by, the lamp in my parlour in the farmhouse still burning.  But
I did not leave Fyne to run in and put it out.  The impetus of his
pedestrian excellence carried me past in his wake before I could make up
my mind.

"Tell me, Fyne," I cried, "you don't think the girl was mad--do you?"

He answered nothing.  Soon the lighted beacon-like window of the cottage
came into view.  Then Fyne uttered a solemn: "Certainly not," with
profound assurance.  But immediately after he added a "Very highly strung
young person indeed," which unsettled me again.  Was it a tragedy?

"Nobody ever got up at six o'clock in the morning to commit suicide," I
declared crustily.  "It's unheard of!  This is a farce."

As a matter of fact it was neither farce nor tragedy.

Coming up to the cottage we had a view of Mrs. Fyne inside still sitting
in the strong light at the round table with folded arms.  It looked as
though she had not moved her very head by as much as an inch since we
went away.  She was amazing in a sort of unsubtle way; crudely amazing--I
thought.  Why crudely?  I don't know.  Perhaps because I saw her then in
a crude light.  I mean this materially--in the light of an unshaded lamp.
Our mental conclusions depend so much on momentary physical
sensations--don't they?  If the lamp had been shaded I should perhaps
have gone home after expressing politely my concern at the Fynes'
unpleasant predicament.

Losing a girl-friend in that manner is unpleasant.  It is also
mysterious.  So mysterious that a certain mystery attaches to the people
to whom such a thing does happen.  Moreover I had never really understood
the Fynes; he with his solemnity which extended to the very eating of
bread and butter; she with that air of detachment and resolution in
breasting the common-place current of their unexciting life, in which the
cutting of bread and butter appeared to me, by a long way, the most
dangerous episode.  Sometimes I amused myself by supposing that to their
minds this world of ours must be wearing a perfectly overwhelming aspect,
and that their heads contained respectively awfully serious and extremely
desperate thoughts--and trying to imagine what an exciting time they must
be having of it in the inscrutable depths of their being.  This last was
difficult to a volatile person (I am sure that to the Fynes I was a
volatile person) and the amusement in itself was not very great; but
still--in the country--away from all mental stimulants! . . . My efforts
had invested them with a sort of amusing profundity.

But when Fyne and I got back into the room, then in the searching,
domestic, glare of the lamp, inimical to the play of fancy, I saw these
two stripped of every vesture it had amused me to put on them for fun.
Queer enough they were.  Is there a human being that isn't that--more or
less secretly?  But whatever their secret, it was manifest to me that it
was neither subtle nor profound.  They were a good, stupid, earnest
couple and very much bothered.  They were that--with the usual unshaded
crudity of average people.  There was nothing in them that the lamplight
might not touch without the slightest risk of indiscretion.

Directly we had entered the room Fyne announced the result by saying
"Nothing" in the same tone as at the gate on his return from the railway
station.  And as then Mrs. Fyne uttered an incisive "It's what I've
said," which might have been the veriest echo of her words in the garden.
We three looked at each other as if on the brink of a disclosure.  I
don't know whether she was vexed at my presence.  It could hardly be
called intrusion--could it?  Little Fyne began it.  It had to go on.  We
stood before her, plastered with the same mud (Fyne was a sight!),
scratched by the same brambles, conscious of the same experience.  Yes.
Before her.  And she looked at us with folded arms, with an extraordinary
fulness of assumed responsibility.  I addressed her.

"You don't believe in an accident, Mrs. Fyne, do you?"

She shook her head in curt negation while, caked in mud and inexpressibly
serious-faced, Fyne seemed to be backing her up with all the weight of
his solemn presence.  Nothing more absurd could be conceived.  It was
delicious.  And I went on in deferential accents: "Am I to understand
then that you entertain the theory of suicide?"

I don't know that I am liable to fits of delirium but by a sudden and
alarming aberration while waiting for her answer I became mentally aware
of three trained dogs dancing on their hind legs.  I don't know why.
Perhaps because of the pervading solemnity.  There's nothing more solemn
on earth than a dance of trained dogs.

"She has chosen to disappear.  That's all."

In these words Mrs. Fyne answered me.  The aggressive tone was too much
for my endurance.  In an instant I found myself out of the dance and down
on all-fours so to speak, with liberty to bark and bite.

"The devil she has," I cried.  "Has chosen to . . . Like this, all at
once, anyhow, regardless . . . I've had the privilege of meeting that
reckless and brusque young lady and I must say that with her air of an
angry victim . . . "

"Precisely," Mrs. Fyne said very unexpectedly like a steel trap going
off.  I stared at her.  How provoking she was!  So I went on to finish my
tirade.  "She struck me at first sight as the most inconsiderate wrong-
headed girl that I ever . . . "

"Why should a girl be more considerate than anyone else?  More than any
man, for instance?" inquired Mrs. Fyne with a still greater assertion of
responsibility in her bearing.

Of course I exclaimed at this, not very loudly it is true, but forcibly.
Were then the feelings of friends, relations and even of strangers to be
disregarded?  I asked Mrs. Fyne if she did not think it was a sort of
duty to show elementary consideration not only for the natural feelings
but even for the prejudices of one's fellow-creatures.

Her answer knocked me over.

"Not for a woman."

Just like that.  I confess that I went down flat.  And while in that
collapsed state I learned the true nature of Mrs. Fyne's feminist
doctrine.  It was not political, it was not social.  It was a knock-me-
down doctrine--a practical individualistic doctrine.  You would not thank
me for expounding it to you at large.  Indeed I think that she herself
did not enlighten me fully.  There must have been things not fit for a
man to hear.  But shortly, and as far as my bewilderment allowed me to
grasp its naive atrociousness, it was something like this: that no
consideration, no delicacy, no tenderness, no scruples should stand in
the way of a woman (who by the mere fact of her sex was the predestined
victim of conditions created by men's selfish passions, their vices and
their abominable tyranny) from taking the shortest cut towards securing
for herself the easiest possible existence.  She had even the right to go
out of existence without considering anyone's feelings or convenience
since some women's existences were made impossible by the shortsighted
baseness of men.

I looked at her, sitting before the lamp at one o'clock in the morning,
with her mature, smooth-cheeked face of masculine shape robbed of its
freshness by fatigue; at her eyes dimmed by this senseless vigil.  I
looked also at Fyne; the mud was drying on him; he was obviously tired.
The weariness of solemnity.  But he preserved an unflinching, endorsing,
gravity of expression.  Endorsing it all as became a good, convinced
husband.

"Oh!  I see," I said.  "No consideration . . . Well I hope you like it."

They amused me beyond the wildest imaginings of which I was capable.
After the first shock, you understand, I recovered very quickly.  The
order of the world was safe enough.  He was a civil servant and she his
good and faithful wife.  But when it comes to dealing with human beings
anything, anything may be expected.  So even my astonishment did not last
very long.  How far she developed and illustrated that conscienceless and
austere doctrine to the girl-friends, who were mere transient shadows to
her husband, I could not tell.  Any length I supposed.  And he looked on,
acquiesced, approved, just for that very reason--because these pretty
girls were but shadows to him.  O!  Most virtuous Fyne!  He cast his eyes
down.  He didn't like it.  But I eyed him with hidden animosity for he
had got me to run after him under somewhat false pretences.

Mrs. Fyne had only smiled at me very expressively, very self-confidently.
"Oh I quite understand that you accept the fullest responsibility," I
said.  "I am the only ridiculous person in this--this--I don't know how
to call it--performance.  However, I've nothing more to do here, so I'll
say good-night--or good morning, for it must be past one."

But before departing, in common decency, I offered to take any wires they
might write.  My lodgings were nearer the post-office than the cottage
and I would send them off the first thing in the morning.  I supposed
they would wish to communicate, if only as to the disposal of the
luggage, with the young lady's relatives . . .

Fyne, he looked rather downcast by then, thanked me and declined.

"There is really no one," he said, very grave.

"No one," I exclaimed.

"Practically," said curt Mrs. Fyne.

And my curiosity was aroused again.

"Ah!  I see.  An orphan."

Mrs. Fyne looked away weary and sombre, and Fyne said "Yes" impulsively,
and then qualified the affirmative by the quaint statement: "To a certain
extent."

I became conscious of a languid, exhausted embarrassment, bowed to Mrs.
Fyne, and went out of the cottage to be confronted outside its door by
the bespangled, cruel revelation of the Immensity of the Universe.  The
night was not sufficiently advanced for the stars to have paled; and the
earth seemed to me more profoundly asleep--perhaps because I was alone
now.  Not having Fyne with me to set the pace I let myself drift, rather
than walk, in the direction of the farmhouse.  To drift is the only
reposeful sort of motion (ask any ship if it isn't) and therefore
consistent with thoughtfulness.  And I pondered: How is one an orphan "to
a certain extent"?

No amount of solemnity could make such a statement other than bizarre.
What a strange condition to be in.  Very likely one of the parents only
was dead?  But no; it couldn't be, since Fyne had said just before that
"there was really no one" to communicate with.  No one!  And then
remembering Mrs. Fyne's snappy "Practically" my thoughts fastened upon
that lady as a more tangible object of speculation.

I wondered--and wondering I doubted--whether she really understood
herself the theory she had propounded to me.  Everything may be
said--indeed ought to be said--providing we know how to say it.  She
probably did not.  She was not intelligent enough for that.  She had no
knowledge of the world.  She had got hold of words as a child might get
hold of some poisonous pills and play with them for "dear, tiny little
marbles."  No!  The domestic-slave daughter of Carleon Anthony and the
little Fyne of the Civil Service (that flower of civilization) were not
intelligent people.  They were commonplace, earnest, without smiles and
without guile.  But he had his solemnities and she had her reveries, her
lurid, violent, crude reveries.  And I thought with some sadness that all
these revolts and indignations, all these protests, revulsions of
feeling, pangs of suffering and of rage, expressed but the uneasiness of
sensual beings trying for their share in the joys of form, colour,
sensations--the only riches of our world of senses.  A poet may be a
simple being but he is bound to be various and full of wiles, ingenious
and irritable.  I reflected on the variety of ways the ingenuity of the
late bard of civilization would be able to invent for the tormenting of
his dependants.  Poets not being generally foresighted in practical
affairs, no vision of consequences would restrain him.  Yes.  The Fynes
were excellent people, but Mrs. Fyne wasn't the daughter of a domestic
tyrant for nothing.  There were no limits to her revolt.  But they were
excellent people.  It was clear that they must have been extremely good
to that girl whose position in the world seemed somewhat difficult, with
her face of a victim, her obvious lack of resignation and the bizarre
status of orphan "to a certain extent."

Such were my thoughts, but in truth I soon ceased to trouble about all
these people.  I found that my lamp had gone out leaving behind an awful
smell.  I fled from it up the stairs and went to bed in the dark.  My
slumbers--I suppose the one good in pedestrian exercise, confound it, is
that it helps our natural callousness--my slumbers were deep, dreamless
and refreshing.

My appetite at breakfast was not affected by my ignorance of the facts,
motives, events and conclusions.  I think that to understand everything
is not good for the intellect.  A well-stocked intelligence weakens the
impulse to action; an overstocked one leads gently to idiocy.  But Mrs.
Fyne's individualist woman-doctrine, naively unscrupulous, flitted
through my mind.  The salad of unprincipled notions she put into these
girl-friends' heads!  Good innocent creature, worthy wife, excellent
mother (of the strict governess type), she was as guileless of
consequences as any determinist philosopher ever was.

As to honour--you know--it's a very fine medieval inheritance which women
never got hold of.  It wasn't theirs.  Since it may be laid as a general
principle that women always get what they want we must suppose they
didn't want it.  In addition they are devoid of decency.  I mean
masculine decency.  Cautiousness too is foreign to them--the heavy
reasonable cautiousness which is our glory.  And if they had it they
would make of it a thing of passion, so that its own mother--I mean the
mother of cautiousness--wouldn't recognize it.  Prudence with them is a
matter of thrill like the rest of sublunary contrivances.  "Sensation at
any cost," is their secret device.  All the virtues are not enough for
them; they want also all the crimes for their own.  And why?  Because in
such completeness there is power--the kind of thrill they love most . . .
"

"Do you expect me to agree to all this?" I interrupted.

"No, it isn't necessary," said Marlow, feeling the check to his eloquence
but with a great effort at amiability.  "You need not even understand it.
I continue: with such disposition what prevents women--to use the phrase
an old boatswain of my acquaintance applied descriptively to his
captain--what prevents them from "coming on deck and playing hell with
the ship" generally, is that something in them precise and mysterious,
acting both as restraint and as inspiration; their femininity in short
which they think they can get rid of by trying hard, but can't, and never
will.  Therefore we may conclude that, for all their enterprises, the
world is and remains safe enough.  Feeling, in my character of a lover of
peace, soothed by that conclusion I prepared myself to enjoy a fine day.

And it was a fine day; a delicious day, with the horror of the Infinite
veiled by the splendid tent of blue; a day innocently bright like a child
with a washed face, fresh like an innocent young girl, suave in welcoming
one's respects like--like a Roman prelate.  I love such days.  They are
perfection for remaining indoors.  And I enjoyed it temperamentally in a
chair, my feet up on the sill of the open window, a book in my hands and
the murmured harmonies of wind and sun in my heart making an
accompaniment to the rhythms of my author.  Then looking up from the page
I saw outside a pair of grey eyes thatched by ragged yellowy-white
eyebrows gazing at me solemnly over the toes of my slippers.  There was a
grave, furrowed brow surmounting that portentous gaze, a brown tweed cap
set far back on the perspiring head.

"Come inside," I cried as heartily as my sinking heart would permit.

After a short but severe scuffle with his dog at the outer door, Fyne
entered.  I treated him without ceremony and only waved my hand towards a
chair.  Even before he sat down he gasped out:

"We've heard--midday post."

Gasped out!  The grave, immovable Fyne of the Civil Service, gasped!  This
was enough, you'll admit, to cause me to put my feet to the ground
swiftly.  That fellow was always making me do things in subtle discord
with my meditative temperament.  No wonder that I had but a qualified
liking for him.  I said with just a suspicion of jeering tone:

"Of course.  I told you last night on the road that it was a farce we
were engaged in."

He made the little parlour resound to its foundations with a note of
anger positively sepulchral in its depth of tone.  "Farce be hanged!  She
has bolted with my wife's brother, Captain Anthony."  This outburst was
followed by complete subsidence.  He faltered miserably as he added from
force of habit: "The son of the poet, you know."

A silence fell.  Fyne's several expressions were so many examples of
varied consistency.  This was the discomfiture of solemnity.  My interest
of course was revived.

"But hold on," I said.  "They didn't go together.  Is it a suspicion or
does she actually say that . . . "

"She has gone after him," stated Fyne in comminatory tones.  "By previous
arrangement.  She confesses that much."

He added that it was very shocking.  I asked him whether he should have
preferred them going off together; and on what ground he based that
preference.  This was sheer fun for me in regard of the fact that Fyne's
too was a runaway match, which even got into the papers in its time,
because the late indignant poet had no discretion and sought to avenge
this outrage publicly in some absurd way before a bewigged judge.  The
dejected gesture of little Fyne's hand disarmed my mocking mood.  But I
could not help expressing my surprise that Mrs. Fyne had not detected at
once what was brewing.  Women were supposed to have an unerring eye.

He told me that his wife had been very much engaged in a certain work.  I
had always wondered how she occupied her time.  It was in writing.  Like
her husband she too published a little book.  Much later on I came upon
it.  It had nothing to do with pedestrianism.  It was a sort of hand-book
for women with grievances (and all women had them), a sort of compendious
theory and practice of feminine free morality.  It made you laugh at its
transparent simplicity.  But that authorship was revealed to me much
later.  I didn't of course ask Fyne what work his wife was engaged on;
but I marvelled to myself at her complete ignorance of the world, of her
own sex and of the other kind of sinners.  Yet, where could she have got
any experience?  Her father had kept her strictly cloistered.  Marriage
with Fyne was certainly a change but only to another kind of
claustration.  You may tell me that the ordinary powers of observation
ought to have been enough.  Why, yes!  But, then, as she had set up for a
guide and teacher, there was nothing surprising for me in the discovery
that she was blind.  That's quite in order.  She was a profoundly
innocent person; only it would not have been proper to tell her husband
so.



CHAPTER THREE--THRIFT--AND THE CHILD


But there was nothing improper in my observing to Fyne that, last night,
Mrs. Fyne seemed to have some idea where that enterprising young lady had
gone to.  Fyne shook his head.  No; his wife had been by no means so
certain as she had pretended to be.  She merely had her reasons to think,
to hope, that the girl might have taken a room somewhere in London, had
buried herself in town--in readiness or perhaps in horror of the
approaching day--

He ceased and sat solemnly dejected, in a brown study.  "What day?" I
asked at last; but he did not hear me apparently.  He diffused such
portentous gloom into the atmosphere that I lost patience with him.

"What on earth are you so dismal about?" I cried, being genuinely
surprised and puzzled.  "One would think the girl was a state prisoner
under your care."

And suddenly I became still more surprised at myself, at the way I had
somehow taken for granted things which did appear queer when one thought
them out.

"But why this secrecy?  Why did they elope--if it is an elopement?  Was
the girl afraid of your wife?  And your brother-in-law?  What on earth
possesses him to make a clandestine match of it?  Was he afraid of your
wife too?"

Fyne made an effort to rouse himself.

"Of course my brother-in-law, Captain Anthony, the son of . . . "  He
checked himself as if trying to break a bad habit.  "He would be
persuaded by her.  We have been most friendly to the girl!"

"She struck me as a foolish and inconsiderate little person.  But why
should you and your wife take to heart so strongly mere folly--or even a
want of consideration?"

"It's the most unscrupulous action," declared Fyne weightily--and sighed.

"I suppose she is poor," I observed after a short silence.  "But after
all . . . "

"You don't know who she is."  Fyne had regained his average solemnity.

I confessed that I had not caught her name when his wife had introduced
us to each other.  "It was something beginning with an S- wasn't it?"  And
then with the utmost coolness Fyne remarked that it did not matter.  The
name was not her name.

"Do you mean to say that you made a young lady known to me under a false
name?" I asked, with the amused feeling that the days of wonders and
portents had not passed away yet.  That the eminently serious Fynes
should do such an exceptional thing was simply staggering.  With a more
hasty enunciation than usual little Fyne was sure that I would not demand
an apology for this irregularity if I knew what her real name was.  A
sort of warmth crept into his deep tone.

"We have tried to befriend that girl in every way.  She is the daughter
and only child of de Barral."

Evidently he expected to produce a sensation; he kept his eyes fixed upon
me prepared for some sign of it.  But I merely returned his intense,
awaiting gaze.  For a time we stared at each other.  Conscious of being
reprehensibly dense I groped in the darkness of my mind: De Barral, De
Barral--and all at once noise and light burst on me as if a window of my
memory had been suddenly flung open on a street in the City.  De Barral!
But could it be the same?  Surely not!

"The financier?" I suggested half incredulous.

"Yes," said Fyne; and in this instance his native solemnity of tone
seemed to be strangely appropriate.  "The convict."

Marlow looked at me, significantly, and remarked in an explanatory tone:

"One somehow never thought of de Barral as having any children, or any
other home than the offices of the "Orb"; or any other existence,
associations or interests than financial.  I see you remember the crash
. . . "

"I was away in the Indian Seas at the time," I said.  "But of course--"

"Of course," Marlow struck in.  "All the world . . . You may wonder at my
slowness in recognizing the name.  But you know that my memory is merely
a mausoleum of proper names.  There they lie inanimate, awaiting the
magic touch--and not very prompt in arising when called, either.  The
name is the first thing I forget of a man.  It is but just to add that
frequently it is also the last, and this accounts for my possession of a
good many anonymous memories.  In de Barral's case, he got put away in my
mausoleum in company with so many names of his own creation that really
he had to throw off a monstrous heap of grisly bones before he stood
before me at the call of the wizard Fyne.  The fellow had a pretty fancy
in names: the "Orb" Deposit Bank, the "Sceptre" Mutual Aid Society, the
"Thrift and Independence" Association.  Yes, a very pretty taste in
names; and nothing else besides--absolutely nothing--no other merit.  Well
yes.  He had another name, but that's pure luck--his own name of de
Barral which he did not invent.  I don't think that a mere Jones or Brown
could have fished out from the depths of the Incredible such a colossal
manifestation of human folly as that man did.  But it may be that I am
underestimating the alacrity of human folly in rising to the bait.  No
doubt I am.  The greed of that absurd monster is incalculable,
unfathomable, inconceivable.  The career of de Barral demonstrates that
it will rise to a naked hook.  He didn't lure it with a fairy tale.  He
hadn't enough imagination for it . . . "

"Was he a foreigner?" I asked.  "It's clearly a French name.  I suppose
it _was_ his name?"

"Oh, he didn't invent it.  He was born to it, in Bethnal Green, as it
came out during the proceedings.  He was in the habit of alluding to his
Scotch connections.  But every great man has done that.  The mother, I
believe, was Scotch, right enough.  The father de Barral whatever his
origins retired from the Customs Service (tide-waiter I think), and
started lending money in a very, very small way in the East End to people
connected with the docks, stevedores, minor barge-owners, ship-chandlers,
tally clerks, all sorts of very small fry.  He made his living at it.  He
was a very decent man I believe.  He had enough influence to place his
only son as junior clerk in the account department of one of the Dock
Companies.  "Now, my boy," he said to him, "I've given you a fine start."
But de Barral didn't start.  He stuck.  He gave perfect satisfaction.  At
the end of three years he got a small rise of salary and went out
courting in the evenings.  He went courting the daughter of an old sea-
captain who was a churchwarden of his parish and lived in an old badly
preserved Georgian house with a garden: one of these houses standing in a
reduced bit of "grounds" that you discover in a labyrinth of the most
sordid streets, exactly alike and composed of six-roomed hutches.

Some of them were the vicarages of slum parishes.  The old sailor had got
hold of one cheap, and de Barral got hold of his daughter--which was a
good bargain for him.  The old sailor was very good to the young couple
and very fond of their little girl.  Mrs. de Barral was an equable,
unassuming woman, at that time with a fund of simple gaiety, and with no
ambitions; but, woman-like, she longed for change and for something
interesting to happen now and then.  It was she who encouraged de Barral
to accept the offer of a post in the west-end branch of a great bank.  It
appears he shrank from such a great adventure for a long time.  At last
his wife's arguments prevailed.  Later on she used to say: 'It's the only
time he ever listened to me; and I wonder now if it hadn't been better
for me to die before I ever made him go into that bank.'

You may be surprised at my knowledge of these details.  Well, I had them
ultimately from Mrs. Fyne.  Mrs. Fyne while yet Miss Anthony, in her days
of bondage, knew Mrs. de Barral in her days of exile.  Mrs. de Barral was
living then in a big stone mansion with mullioned windows in a large damp
park, called the Priory, adjoining the village where the refined poet had
built himself a house.

These were the days of de Barral's success.  He had bought the place
without ever seeing it and had packed off his wife and child at once
there to take possession.  He did not know what to do with them in
London.  He himself had a suite of rooms in an hotel.  He gave there
dinner parties followed by cards in the evening.  He had developed the
gambling passion--or else a mere card mania--but at any rate he played
heavily, for relaxation, with a lot of dubious hangers on.

Meantime Mrs. de Barral, expecting him every day, lived at the Priory,
with a carriage and pair, a governess for the child and many servants.
The village people would see her through the railings wandering under the
trees with her little girl lost in her strange surroundings.  Nobody ever
came near her.  And there she died as some faithful and delicate animals
die--from neglect, absolutely from neglect, rather unexpectedly and
without any fuss.  The village was sorry for her because, though
obviously worried about something, she was good to the poor and was
always ready for a chat with any of the humble folks.  Of course they
knew that she wasn't a lady--not what you would call a real lady.  And
even her acquaintance with Miss Anthony was only a cottage-door, a
village-street acquaintance.  Carleon Anthony was a tremendous aristocrat
(his father had been a "restoring" architect) and his daughter was not
allowed to associate with anyone but the county young ladies.
Nevertheless in defiance of the poet's wrathful concern for undefiled
refinement there were some quiet, melancholy strolls to and fro in the
great avenue of chestnuts leading to the park-gate, during which Mrs. de
Barral came to call Miss Anthony 'my dear'--and even 'my poor dear.'  The
lonely soul had no one to talk to but that not very happy girl.  The
governess despised her.  The housekeeper was distant in her manner.
Moreover Mrs. de Barral was no foolish gossiping woman.  But she made
some confidences to Miss Anthony.  Such wealth was a terrific thing to
have thrust upon one she affirmed.  Once she went so far as to confess
that she was dying with anxiety.  Mr. de Barral (so she referred to him)
had been an excellent husband and an exemplary father but "you see my
dear I have had a great experience of him.  I am sure he won't know what
to do with all that money people are giving to him to take care of for
them.  He's as likely as not to do something rash.  When he comes here I
must have a good long serious talk with him, like the talks we often used
to have together in the good old times of our life."  And then one day a
cry of anguish was wrung from her: 'My dear, he will never come here, he
will never, never come!'

She was wrong.  He came to the funeral, was extremely cut up, and holding
the child tightly by the hand wept bitterly at the side of the grave.
Miss Anthony, at the cost of a whole week of sneers and abuse from the
poet, saw it all with her own eyes.  De Barral clung to the child like a
drowning man.  He managed, though, to catch the half-past five fast
train, travelling to town alone in a reserved compartment, with all the
blinds down . . . "

"Leaving the child?" I said interrogatively.

"Yes.  Leaving . . . He shirked the problem.  He was born that way.  He
had no idea what to do with her or for that matter with anything or
anybody including himself.  He bolted back to his suite of rooms in the
hotel.  He was the most helpless . . . She might have been left in the
Priory to the end of time had not the high-toned governess threatened to
send in her resignation.  She didn't care for the child a bit, and the
lonely, gloomy Priory had got on her nerves.  She wasn't going to put up
with such a life and, having just come out of some ducal family, she
bullied de Barral in a very lofty fashion.  To pacify her he took a
splendidly furnished house in the most expensive part of Brighton for
them, and now and then ran down for a week-end, with a trunk full of
exquisite sweets and with his hat full of money.  The governess spent it
for him in extra ducal style.  She was nearly forty and harboured a
secret taste for patronizing young men of sorts--of a certain sort.  But
of that Mrs. Fyne of course had no personal knowledge then; she told me
however that even in the Priory days she had suspected her of being an
artificial, heartless, vulgar-minded woman with the lowest possible
ideals.  But de Barral did not know it.  He literally did not know
anything . . . "

"But tell me, Marlow," I interrupted, "how do you account for this
opinion?  He must have been a personality in a sense--in some one sense
surely.  You don't work the greatest material havoc of a decade at least,
in a commercial community, without having something in you."

Marlow shook his head.

"He was a mere sign, a portent.  There was nothing in him.  Just about
that time the word Thrift was to the fore.  You know the power of words.
We pass through periods dominated by this or that word--it may be
development, or it may be competition, or education, or purity or
efficiency or even sanctity.  It is the word of the time.  Well just then
it was the word Thrift which was out in the streets walking arm in arm
with righteousness, the inseparable companion and backer up of all such
national catch-words, looking everybody in the eye as it were.  The very
drabs of the pavement, poor things, didn't escape the fascination . . .
However! . . . Well the greatest portion of the press were screeching in
all possible tones, like a confounded company of parrots instructed by
some devil with a taste for practical jokes, that the financier de Barral
was helping the great moral evolution of our character towards the newly-
discovered virtue of Thrift.  He was helping it by all these great
establishments of his, which made the moral merits of Thrift manifest to
the most callous hearts, simply by promising to pay ten per cent.
interest on all deposits.  And you didn't want necessarily to belong to
the well-to-do classes in order to participate in the advantages of
virtue.  If you had but a spare sixpence in the world and went and gave
it to de Barral it was Thrift!  It's quite likely that he himself
believed it.  He must have.  It's inconceivable that he alone should
stand out against the infatuation of the whole world.  He hadn't enough
intelligence for that.  But to look at him one couldn't tell . . . "

"You did see him then?" I said with some curiosity.

"I did.  Strange, isn't it?  It was only once, but as I sat with the
distressed Fyne who had suddenly resuscitated his name buried in my
memory with other dead labels of the past, I may say I saw him again, I
saw him with great vividness of recollection, as he appeared in the days
of his glory or splendour.  No!  Neither of these words will fit his
success.  There was never any glory or splendour about that figure.  Well,
let us say in the days when he was, according to the majority of the
daily press, a financial force working for the improvement of the
character of the people.  I'll tell you how it came about.

At that time I used to know a podgy, wealthy, bald little man having
chambers in the Albany; a financier too, in his way, carrying out
transactions of an intimate nature and of no moral character; mostly with
young men of birth and expectations--though I dare say he didn't withhold
his ministrations from elderly plebeians either.  He was a true democrat;
he would have done business (a sharp kind of business) with the devil
himself.  Everything was fly that came into his web.  He received the
applicants in an alert, jovial fashion which was quite surprising.  It
gave relief without giving too much confidence, which was just as well
perhaps.  His business was transacted in an apartment furnished like a
drawing-room, the walls hung with several brown, heavily-framed, oil
paintings.  I don't know if they were good, but they were big, and with
their elaborate, tarnished gilt-frames had a melancholy dignity.  The man
himself sat at a shining, inlaid writing table which looked like a rare
piece from a museum of art; his chair had a high, oval, carved back,
upholstered in faded tapestry; and these objects made of the costly black
Havana cigar, which he rolled incessantly from the middle to the left
corner of his mouth and back again, an inexpressibly cheap and nasty
object.  I had to see him several times in the interest of a poor devil
so unlucky that he didn't even have a more competent friend than myself
to speak for him at a very difficult time in his life.

I don't know at what hour my private financier began his day, but he used
to give one appointments at unheard of times: such as a quarter to eight
in the morning, for instance.  On arriving one found him busy at that
marvellous writing table, looking very fresh and alert, exhaling a faint
fragrance of scented soap and with the cigar already well alight.  You
may believe that I entered on my mission with many unpleasant
forebodings; but there was in that fat, admirably washed, little man such
a profound contempt for mankind that it amounted to a species of good
nature; which, unlike the milk of genuine kindness, was never in danger
of turning sour.  Then, once, during a pause in business, while we were
waiting for the production of a document for which he had sent (perhaps
to the cellar?) I happened to remark, glancing round the room, that I had
never seen so many fine things assembled together out of a collection.
Whether this was unconscious diplomacy on my part, or not, I shouldn't
like to say--but the remark was true enough, and it pleased him
extremely.  "It _is_ a collection," he said emphatically.  "Only I live
right in it, which most collectors don't.  But I see that you know what
you are looking at.  Not many people who come here on business do.  Stable
fittings are more in their way."

I don't know whether my appreciation helped to advance my friend's
business but at any rate it helped our intercourse.  He treated me with a
shade of familiarity as one of the initiated.

The last time I called on him to conclude the transaction we were
interrupted by a person, something like a cross between a bookmaker and a
private secretary, who, entering through a door which was not the
anteroom door, walked up and stooped to whisper into his ear.

"Eh?  What?  Who, did you say?"

The nondescript person stooped and whispered again, adding a little
louder: "Says he won't detain you a moment."

My little man glanced at me, said "Ah!  Well," irresolutely.  I got up
from my chair and offered to come again later.  He looked whimsically
alarmed.  "No, no.  It's bad enough to lose my money but I don't want to
waste any more of my time over your friend.  We must be done with this to-
day.  Just go and have a look at that _garniture de cheminee_ yonder.
There's another, something like it, in the castle of Laeken, but mine's
much superior in design."

I moved accordingly to the other side of that big room.  The _garniture_
was very fine.  But while pretending to examine it I watched my man going
forward to meet a tall visitor, who said, "I thought you would be
disengaged so early.  It's only a word or two"--and after a whispered
confabulation of no more than a minute, reconduct him to the door and
shake hands ceremoniously.  "Not at all, not at all.  Very pleased to be
of use.  You can depend absolutely on my information"--"Oh thank you,
thank you.  I just looked in."  "Certainly, quite right.  Any time . . .
Good morning."

I had a good look at the visitor while they were exchanging these
civilities.  He was clad in black.  I remember perfectly that he wore a
flat, broad, black satin tie in which was stuck a large cameo pin; and a
small turn down collar.  His hair, discoloured and silky, curled slightly
over his ears.  His cheeks were hairless and round, and apparently soft.
He held himself very upright, walked with small steps and spoke gently in
an inward voice.  Perhaps from contrast with the magnificent polish of
the room and the neatness of its owner, he struck me as dingy, indigent,
and, if not exactly humble, then much subdued by evil fortune.

I wondered greatly at my fat little financier's civility to that dubious
personage when he asked me, as we resumed our respective seats, whether I
knew who it was that had just gone out.  On my shaking my head negatively
he smiled queerly, said "De Barral," and enjoyed my surprise.  Then
becoming grave: "That's a deep fellow, if you like.  We all know where he
started from and where he got to; but nobody knows what he means to do."
He became thoughtful for a moment and added as if speaking to himself, "I
wonder what his game is."

And, you know, there was no game, no game of any sort, or shape or kind.
It came out plainly at the trial.  As I've told you before, he was a
clerk in a bank, like thousands of others.  He got that berth as a second
start in life and there he stuck again, giving perfect satisfaction.  Then
one day as though a supernatural voice had whispered into his ear or some
invisible fly had stung him, he put on his hat, went out into the street
and began advertising.  That's absolutely all that there was to it.  He
caught in the street the word of the time and harnessed it to his
preposterous chariot.

One remembers his first modest advertisements headed with the magic word
Thrift, Thrift, Thrift, thrice repeated; promising ten per cent. on all
deposits and giving the address of the Thrift and Independence Aid
Association in Vauxhall Bridge Road.  Apparently nothing more was
necessary.  He didn't even explain what he meant to do with the money he
asked the public to pour into his lap.  Of course he meant to lend it out
at high rates of interest.  He did so--but he did it without system,
plan, foresight or judgment.  And as he frittered away the sums that
flowed in, he advertised for more--and got it.  During a period of
general business prosperity he set up The Orb Bank and The Sceptre Trust,
simply, it seems for advertising purposes.  They were mere names.  He was
totally unable to organize anything, to promote any sort of enterprise if
it were only for the purpose of juggling with the shares.  At that time
he could have had for the asking any number of Dukes, retired Generals,
active M.P.'s, ex-ambassadors and so on as Directors to sit at the
wildest boards of his invention.  But he never tried.  He had no real
imagination.  All he could do was to publish more advertisements and open
more branch offices of the Thrift and Independence, of The Orb, of The
Sceptre, for the receipt of deposits; first in this town, then in that
town, north and south--everywhere where he could find suitable premises
at a moderate rent.  For this was the great characteristic of the
management.  Modesty, moderation, simplicity.  Neither The Orb nor The
Sceptre nor yet their parent the Thrift and Independence had built for
themselves the usual palaces.  For this abstention they were praised in
silly public prints as illustrating in their management the principle of
Thrift for which they were founded.  The fact is that de Barral simply
didn't think of it.  Of course he had soon moved from Vauxhall Bridge
Road.  He knew enough for that.  What he got hold of next was an old,
enormous, rat-infested brick house in a small street off the Strand.
Strangers were taken in front of the meanest possible, begrimed, yellowy,
flat brick wall, with two rows of unadorned window-holes one above the
other, and were exhorted with bated breath to behold and admire the
simplicity of the head-quarters of the great financial force of the day.
The word THRIFT perched right up on the roof in giant gilt letters, and
two enormous shield-like brass-plates curved round the corners on each
side of the doorway were the only shining spots in de Barral's business
outfit.  Nobody knew what operations were carried on inside except
this--that if you walked in and tendered your money over the counter it
would be calmly taken from you by somebody who would give you a printed
receipt.  That and no more.  It appears that such knowledge is
irresistible.  People went in and tendered; and once it was taken from
their hands their money was more irretrievably gone from them than if
they had thrown it into the sea.  This then, and nothing else was being
carried on in there . . . "

"Come, Marlow," I said, "you exaggerate surely--if only by your way of
putting things.  It's too startling."

"I exaggerate!" he defended himself.  "My way of putting things!  My dear
fellow I have merely stripped the rags of business verbiage and financial
jargon off my statements.  And you are startled!  I am giving you the
naked truth.  It's true too that nothing lays itself open to the charge
of exaggeration more than the language of naked truth.  What comes with a
shock is admitted with difficulty.  But what will you say to the end of
his career?

It was of course sensational and tolerably sudden.  It began with the Orb
Deposit Bank.  Under the name of that institution de Barral with the
frantic obstinacy of an unimaginative man had been financing an Indian
prince who was prosecuting a claim for immense sums of money against the
government.  It was an enormous number of scores of lakhs--a miserable
remnant of his ancestors' treasures--that sort of thing.  And it was all
authentic enough.  There was a real prince; and the claim too was
sufficiently real--only unfortunately it was not a valid claim.  So the
prince lost his case on the last appeal and the beginning of de Barral's
end became manifest to the public in the shape of a half-sheet of note
paper wafered by the four corners on the closed door of The Orb offices
notifying that payment was stopped at that establishment.

Its consort The Sceptre collapsed within the week.  I won't say in
American parlance that suddenly the bottom fell out of the whole of de
Barral concerns.  There never had been any bottom to it.  It was like the
cask of Danaides into which the public had been pleased to pour its
deposits.  That they were gone was clear; and the bankruptcy proceedings
which followed were like a sinister farce, bursts of laughter in a
setting of mute anguish--that of the depositors; hundreds of thousands of
them.  The laughter was irresistible; the accompaniment of the bankrupt's
public examination.

I don't know if it was from utter lack of all imagination or from the
possession in undue proportion of a particular kind of it, or from
both--and the three alternatives are possible--but it was discovered that
this man who had been raised to such a height by the credulity of the
public was himself more gullible than any of his depositors.  He had been
the prey of all sorts of swindlers, adventurers, visionaries and even
lunatics.  Wrapping himself up in deep and imbecile secrecy he had gone
in for the most fantastic schemes: a harbour and docks on the coast of
Patagonia, quarries in Labrador--such like speculations.  Fisheries to
feed a canning Factory on the banks of the Amazon was one of them.  A
principality to be bought in Madagascar was another.  As the grotesque
details of these incredible transactions came out one by one ripples of
laughter ran over the closely packed court--each one a little louder than
the other.  The audience ended by fairly roaring under the cumulative
effect of absurdity.  The Registrar laughed, the barristers laughed, the
reporters laughed, the serried ranks of the miserable depositors watching
anxiously every word, laughed like one man.  They laughed
hysterically--the poor wretches--on the verge of tears.

There was only one person who remained unmoved.  It was de Barral
himself.  He preserved his serene, gentle expression, I am told (for I
have not witnessed those scenes myself), and looked around at the people
with an air of placid sufficiency which was the first hint to the world
of the man's overweening, unmeasurable conceit, hidden hitherto under a
diffident manner.  It could be seen too in his dogged assertion that if
he had been given enough time and a lot more money everything would have
come right.  And there were some people (yes, amongst his very victims)
who more than half believed him, even after the criminal prosecution
which soon followed.  When placed in the dock he lost his steadiness as
if some sustaining illusion had gone to pieces within him suddenly.  He
ceased to be himself in manner completely, and even in disposition, in so
far that his faded neutral eyes matching his discoloured hair so well,
were discovered then to be capable of expressing a sort of underhand
hate.  He was at first defiant, then insolent, then broke down and burst
into tears; but it might have been from rage.  Then he calmed down,
returned to his soft manner of speech and to that unassuming quiet
bearing which had been usual with him even in his greatest days.  But it
seemed as though in this moment of change he had at last perceived what a
power he had been; for he remarked to one of the prosecuting counsel who
had assumed a lofty moral tone in questioning him, that--yes, he had
gambled--he liked cards.  But that only a year ago a host of smart people
would have been only too pleased to take a hand at cards with him.  Yes--he
went on--some of the very people who were there accommodated with seats
on the bench; and turning upon the counsel "You yourself as well," he
cried.  He could have had half the town at his rooms to fawn upon him if
he had cared for that sort of thing.  "Why, now I think of it, it took me
most of my time to keep people, just of your sort, off me," he ended with
a good humoured--quite unobtrusive, contempt, as though the fact had
dawned upon him for the first time.

This was the moment, the only moment, when he had perhaps all the
audience in Court with him, in a hush of dreary silence.  And then the
dreary proceedings were resumed.  For all the outside excitement it was
the most dreary of all celebrated trials.  The bankruptcy proceedings had
exhausted all the laughter there was in it.  Only the fact of wide-spread
ruin remained, and the resentment of a mass of people for having been
fooled by means too simple to save their self-respect from a deep wound
which the cleverness of a consummate scoundrel would not have inflicted.
A shamefaced amazement attended these proceedings in which de Barral was
not being exposed alone.  For himself his only cry was: Time! Time!  Time
would have set everything right.  In time some of these speculations of
his were certain to have succeeded.  He repeated this defence, this
excuse, this confession of faith, with wearisome iteration.  Everything
he had done or left undone had been to gain time.  He had hypnotized
himself with the word.  Sometimes, I am told, his appearance was
ecstatic, his motionless pale eyes seemed to be gazing down the vista of
future ages.  Time--and of course, more money.  "Ah!  If only you had
left me alone for a couple of years more," he cried once in accents of
passionate belief.  "The money was coming in all right."  The deposits
you understand--the savings of Thrift.  Oh yes they had been coming in to
the very last moment.  And he regretted them.  He had arrived to regard
them as his own by a sort of mystical persuasion.  And yet it was a
perfectly true cry, when he turned once more on the counsel who was
beginning a question with the words "You have had all these immense sums
. . . " with the indignant retort "_What_ have I had out of them?"

"It was perfectly true.  He had had nothing out of them--nothing of the
prestigious or the desirable things of the earth, craved for by predatory
natures.  He had gratified no tastes, had known no luxury; he had built
no gorgeous palaces, had formed no splendid galleries out of these
"immense sums."  He had not even a home.  He had gone into these rooms in
an hotel and had stuck there for years, giving no doubt perfect
satisfaction to the management.  They had twice raised his rent to show I
suppose their high sense of his distinguished patronage.  He had bought
for himself out of all the wealth streaming through his fingers neither
adulation nor love, neither splendour nor comfort.  There was something
perfect in his consistent mediocrity.  His very vanity seemed to miss the
gratification of even the mere show of power.  In the days when he was
most fully in the public eye the invincible obscurity of his origins
clung to him like a shadowy garment.  He had handled millions without
ever enjoying anything of what is counted as precious in the community of
men, because he had neither the brutality of temperament nor the fineness
of mind to make him desire them with the will power of a masterful
adventurer . . . "

"You seem to have studied the man," I observed.

"Studied," repeated Marlow thoughtfully.  "No!  Not studied.  I had no
opportunities.  You know that I saw him only on that one occasion I told
you of.  But it may be that a glimpse and no more is the proper way of
seeing an individuality; and de Barral was that, in virtue of his very
deficiencies for they made of him something quite unlike one's
preconceived ideas.  There were also very few materials accessible to a
man like me to form a judgment from.  But in such a case I verify believe
that a little is as good as a feast--perhaps better.  If one has a taste
for that kind of thing the merest starting-point becomes a coign of
vantage, and then by a series of logically deducted verisimilitudes one
arrives at truth--or very near the truth--as near as any circumstantial
evidence can do.  I have not studied de Barral but that is how I
understand him so far as he could be understood through the din of the
crash; the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the newspaper contents bills,
"The Thrift Frauds.  Cross-examination of the accused.  Extra
special"--blazing fiercely; the charitable appeals for the victims, the
grave tones of the dailies rumbling with compassion as if they were the
national bowels.  All this lasted a whole week of industrious sittings.  A
pressman whom I knew told me "He's an idiot."  Which was possible.  Before
that I overheard once somebody declaring that he had a criminal type of
face; which I knew was untrue.  The sentence was pronounced by artificial
light in a stifling poisonous atmosphere.  Something edifying was said by
the judge weightily, about the retribution overtaking the perpetrator of
"the most heartless frauds on an unprecedented scale."  I don't
understand these things much, but it appears that he had juggled with
accounts, cooked balance sheets, had gathered in deposits months after he
ought to have known himself to be hopelessly insolvent, and done enough
of other things, highly reprehensible in the eyes of the law, to earn for
himself seven years' penal servitude.  The sentence making its way
outside met with a good reception.  A small mob composed mainly of people
who themselves did not look particularly clever and scrupulous, leavened
by a slight sprinkling of genuine pickpockets amused itself by cheering
in the most penetrating, abominable cold drizzle that I remember.  I
happened to be passing there on my way from the East End where I had
spent my day about the Docks with an old chum who was looking after the
fitting out of a new ship.  I am always eager, when allowed, to call on a
new ship.  They interest me like charming young persons.

I got mixed up in that crowd seething with an animosity as senseless as
things of the street always are, and it was while I was laboriously
making my way out of it that the pressman of whom I spoke was jostled
against me.  He did me the justice to be surprised.  "What?  You here!
The last person in the world . . . If I had known I could have got you
inside.  Plenty of room.  Interest been over for the last three days.  Got
seven years.  Well, I am glad."

"Why are you glad?  Because he's got seven years?" I asked, greatly
incommoded by the pressure of a hulking fellow who was remarking to some
of his equally oppressive friends that the "beggar ought to have been
poleaxed."  I don't know whether he had ever confided his savings to de
Barral but if so, judging from his appearance, they must have been the
proceeds of some successful burglary.  The pressman by my side said 'No,'
to my question.  He was glad because it was all over.  He had suffered
greatly from the heat and the bad air of the court.  The clammy, raw,
chill of the streets seemed to affect his liver instantly.  He became
contemptuous and irritable and plied his elbows viciously making way for
himself and me.

A dull affair this.  All such cases were dull.  No really dramatic
moments.  The book-keeping of The Orb and all the rest of them was
certainly a burlesque revelation but the public did not care for
revelations of that kind.  Dull dog that de Barral--he grumbled.  He
could not or would not take the trouble to characterize for me the
appearance of that man now officially a criminal (we had gone across the
road for a drink) but told me with a sourly, derisive snigger that, after
the sentence had been pronounced the fellow clung to the dock long enough
to make a sort of protest.  'You haven't given me time.  If I had been
given time I would have ended by being made a peer like some of them.'
And he had permitted himself his very first and last gesture in all these
days, raising a hard-clenched fist above his head.

The pressman disapproved of that manifestation.  It was not his business
to understand it.  Is it ever the business of any pressman to understand
anything?  I guess not.  It would lead him too far away from the
actualities which are the daily bread of the public mind.  He probably
thought the display worth very little from a picturesque point of view;
the weak voice; the colourless personality as incapable of an attitude as
a bed-post, the very fatuity of the clenched hand so ineffectual at that
time and place--no, it wasn't worth much.  And then, for him, an
accomplished craftsman in his trade, thinking was distinctly "bad
business."  His business was to write a readable account.  But I who had
nothing to write, I permitted myself to use my mind as we sat before our
still untouched glasses.  And the disclosure which so often rewards a
moment of detachment from mere visual impressions gave me a thrill very
much approaching a shudder.  I seemed to understand that, with the shock
of the agonies and perplexities of his trial, the imagination of that
man, whose moods, notions and motives wore frequently an air of grotesque
mystery--that his imagination had been at last roused into activity.  And
this was awful.  Just try to enter into the feelings of a man whose
imagination wakes up at the very moment he is about to enter the tomb . . . "

* * * * *

"You must not think," went on Marlow after a pause, "that on that morning
with Fyne I went consciously in my mind over all this, let us call it
information; no, better say, this fund of knowledge which I had, or
rather which existed, in me in regard to de Barral.  Information is
something one goes out to seek and puts away when found as you might do a
piece of lead: ponderous, useful, unvibrating, dull.  Whereas knowledge
comes to one, this sort of knowledge, a chance acquisition preserving in
its repose a fine resonant quality . . . But as such distinctions touch
upon the transcendental I shall spare you the pain of listening to them.
There are limits to my cruelty.  No!  I didn't reckon up carefully in my
mind all this I have been telling you.  How could I have done so, with
Fyne right there in the room?  He sat perfectly still, statuesque in
homely fashion, after having delivered himself of his effective assent:
"Yes.  The convict," and I, far from indulging in a reminiscent excursion
into the past, remained sufficiently in the present to muse in a vague,
absent-minded way on the respectable proportions and on the (upon the
whole) comely shape of his great pedestrian's calves, for he had thrown
one leg over his knee, carelessly, to conceal the trouble of his mind by
an air of ease.  But all the same the knowledge was in me, the awakened
resonance of which I spoke just now; I was aware of it on that beautiful
day, so fresh, so warm and friendly, so accomplished--an exquisite
courtesy of the much abused English climate when it makes up its
meteorological mind to behave like a perfect gentleman.  Of course the
English climate is never a rough.  It suffers from spleen somewhat
frequently--but that is gentlemanly too, and I don't mind going to meet
him in that mood.  He has his days of grey, veiled, polite melancholy, in
which he is very fascinating.  How seldom he lapses into a blustering
manner, after all!  And then it is mostly in a season when, appropriately
enough, one may go out and kill something.  But his fine days are the
best for stopping at home, to read, to think, to muse--even to dream; in
fact to live fully, intensely and quietly, in the brightness of
comprehension, in that receptive glow of the mind, the gift of the clear,
luminous and serene weather.

That day I had intended to live intensely and quietly, basking in the
weather's glory which would have lent enchantment to the most unpromising
of intellectual prospects.  For a companion I had found a book, not
bemused with the cleverness of the day--a fine-weather book, simple and
sincere like the talk of an unselfish friend.  But looking at little Fyne
seated in the room I understood that nothing would come of my
contemplative aspirations; that in one way or another I should be let in
for some form of severe exercise.  Walking, it would be, I feared, since,
for me, that idea was inseparably associated with the visual impression
of Fyne.  Where, why, how, a rapid striding rush could be brought in
helpful relation to the good Fyne's present trouble and perplexity I
could not imagine; except on the principle that senseless pedestrianism
was Fyne's panacea for all the ills and evils bodily and spiritual of the
universe.  It could be of no use for me to say or do anything.  It was
bound to come.  Contemplating his muscular limb encased in a
golf-stocking, and under the strong impression of the information he had
just imparted I said wondering, rather irrationally:

"And so de Barral had a wife and child!  That girl's his daughter.  And
how . . . "

Fyne interrupted me by stating again earnestly, as though it were
something not easy to believe, that his wife and himself had tried to
befriend the girl in every way--indeed they had!  I did not doubt him for
a moment, of course, but my wonder at this was more rational.  At that
hour of the morning, you mustn't forget, I knew nothing as yet of Mrs.
Fyne's contact (it was hardly more) with de Barral's wife and child
during their exile at the Priory, in the culminating days of that man's
fame.

Fyne who had come over, it was clear, solely to talk to me on that
subject, gave me the first hint of this initial, merely out of doors,
connection.  "The girl was quite a child then," he continued.  "Later on
she was removed out of Mrs. Fyne's reach in charge of a governess--a very
unsatisfactory person," he explained.  His wife had then--h'm--met him;
and on her marriage she lost sight of the child completely.  But after
the birth of Polly (Polly was the third Fyne girl) she did not get on
very well, and went to Brighton for some months to recover her
strength--and there, one day in the street, the child (she wore her hair
down her back still) recognized her outside a shop and rushed, actually
rushed, into Mrs. Fyne's arms.  Rather touching this.  And so,
disregarding the cold impertinence of that . . . h'm . . . governess, his
wife naturally responded.

He was solemnly fragmentary.  I broke in with the observation that it
must have been before the crash.

Fyne nodded with deepened gravity, stating in his bass tone--

"Just before," and indulged himself with a weighty period of solemn
silence.

De Barral, he resumed suddenly, was not coming to Brighton for week-ends
regularly, then.  Must have been conscious already of the approaching
disaster.  Mrs. Fyne avoided being drawn into making his acquaintance,
and this suited the views of the governess person, very jealous of any
outside influence.  But in any case it would not have been an easy
matter.  Extraordinary, stiff-backed, thin figure all in black, the
observed of all, while walking hand-in-hand with the girl; apparently
shy, but--and here Fyne came very near showing something like
insight--probably nursing under a diffident manner a considerable amount
of secret arrogance.  Mrs. Fyne pitied Flora de Barral's fate long before
the catastrophe.  Most unfortunate guidance.  Very unsatisfactory
surroundings.  The girl was known in the streets, was stared at in public
places as if she had been a sort of princess, but she was kept with a
very ominous consistency, from making any acquaintances--though of course
there were many people no doubt who would have been more than willing
to--h'm--make themselves agreeable to Miss de Barral.  But this did not
enter into the plans of the governess, an intriguing person hatching a
most sinister plot under her severe air of distant, fashionable
exclusiveness.  Good little Fyne's eyes bulged with solemn horror as he
revealed to me, in agitated speech, his wife's more than suspicions, at
the time, of that, Mrs., Mrs. What's her name's perfidious conduct.  She
actually seemed to have--Mrs. Fyne asserted--formed a plot already to
marry eventually her charge to an impecunious relation of her own--a
young man with furtive eyes and something impudent in his manner, whom
that woman called her nephew, and whom she was always having down to stay
with her.

"And perhaps not her nephew.  No relation at all"--Fyne emitted with a
convulsive effort this, the most awful part of the suspicions Mrs. Fyne
used to impart to him piecemeal when he came down to spend his week-ends
gravely with her and the children.  The Fynes, in their good-natured
concern for the unlucky child of the man busied in stirring casually so
many millions, spent the moments of their weekly reunion in wondering
earnestly what could be done to defeat the most wicked of conspiracies,
trying to invent some tactful line of conduct in such extraordinary
circumstances.  I could see them, simple, and scrupulous, worrying
honestly about that unprotected big girl while looking at their own
little girls playing on the sea-shore.  Fyne assured me that his wife's
rest was disturbed by the great problem of interference.

"It was very acute of Mrs. Fyne to spot such a deep game," I said,
wondering to myself where her acuteness had gone to now, to let her be
taken unawares by a game so much simpler and played to the end under her
very nose.  But then, at that time, when her nightly rest was disturbed
by the dread of the fate preparing for de Barral's unprotected child, she
was not engaged in writing a compendious and ruthless hand-book on the
theory and practice of life, for the use of women with a grievance.  She
could as yet, before the task of evolving the philosophy of rebellious
action had affected her intuitive sharpness, perceive things which were,
I suspect, moderately plain.  For I am inclined to believe that the woman
whom chance had put in command of Flora de Barral's destiny took no very
subtle pains to conceal her game.  She was conscious of being a complete
master of the situation, having once for all established her ascendancy
over de Barral.  She had taken all her measures against outside
observation of her conduct; and I could not help smiling at the thought
what a ghastly nuisance the serious, innocent Fynes must have been to
her.  How exasperated she must have been by that couple falling into
Brighton as completely unforeseen as a bolt from the blue--if not so
prompt.  How she must have hated them!

But I conclude she would have carried out whatever plan she might have
formed.  I can imagine de Barral accustomed for years to defer to her
wishes and, either through arrogance, or shyness, or simply because of
his unimaginative stupidity, remaining outside the social pale, knowing
no one but some card-playing cronies; I can picture him to myself
terrified at the prospect of having the care of a marriageable girl
thrust on his hands, forcing on him a complete change of habits and the
necessity of another kind of existence which he would not even have known
how to begin.  It is evident to me that Mrs. What's her name would have
had her atrocious way with very little trouble even if the excellent
Fynes had been able to do something.  She would simply have bullied de
Barral in a lofty style.  There's nothing more subservient than an
arrogant man when his arrogance has once been broken in some particular
instance.

However there was no time and no necessity for any one to do anything.
The situation itself vanished in the financial crash as a building
vanishes in an earthquake--here one moment and gone the next with only an
ill-omened, slight, preliminary rumble.  Well, to say 'in a moment' is an
exaggeration perhaps; but that everything was over in just twenty-four
hours is an exact statement.  Fyne was able to tell me all about it; and
the phrase that would depict the nature of the change best is: an instant
and complete destitution.  I don't understand these matters very well,
but from Fyne's narrative it seemed as if the creditors or the
depositors, or the competent authorities, had got hold in the twinkling
of an eye of everything de Barral possessed in the world, down to his
watch and chain, the money in his trousers' pocket, his spare suits of
clothes, and I suppose the cameo pin out of his black satin cravat.
Everything!  I believe he gave up the very wedding ring of his late wife.
The gloomy Priory with its damp park and a couple of farms had been made
over to Mrs. de Barral; but when she died (without making a will) it
reverted to him, I imagine.  They got that of course; but it was a mere
crumb in a Sahara of starvation, a drop in the thirsty ocean.  I dare say
that not a single soul in the world got the comfort of as much as a
recovered threepenny bit out of the estate.  Then, less than crumbs, less
than drops, there were to be grabbed, the lease of the big Brighton
house, the furniture therein, the carriage and pair, the girl's riding
horse, her costly trinkets; down to the heavily gold-mounted collar of
her pedigree St. Bernard.  The dog too went: the most noble-looking item
in the beggarly assets.

What however went first of all or rather vanished was nothing in the
nature of an asset.  It was that plotting governess with the trick of a
"perfect lady" manner (severely conventional) and the soul of a
remorseless brigand.  When a woman takes to any sort of unlawful
man-trade, there's nothing to beat her in the way of thoroughness.  It's
true that you will find people who'll tell you that this terrific
virulence in breaking through all established things, is altogether the
fault of men.  Such people will ask you with a clever air why the servile
wars were always the most fierce, desperate and atrocious of all wars.
And you may make such answer as you can--even the eminently feminine one,
if you choose, so typical of the women's literal mind "I don't see what
this has to do with it!"  How many arguments have been knocked over (I
won't say knocked down) by these few words!  For if we men try to put the
spaciousness of all experiences into our reasoning and would fain put the
Infinite itself into our love, it isn't, as some writer has remarked, "It
isn't women's doing."  Oh no.  They don't care for these things.  That
sort of aspiration is not much in their way; and it shall be a funny
world, the world of their arranging, where the Irrelevant would
fantastically step in to take the place of the sober humdrum Imaginative
. . . "

I raised my hand to stop my friend Marlow.

"Do you really believe what you have said?" I asked, meaning no offence,
because with Marlow one never could be sure.

"Only on certain days of the year," said Marlow readily with a malicious
smile.  "To-day I have been simply trying to be spacious and I perceive
I've managed to hurt your susceptibilities which are consecrated to
women.  When you sit alone and silent you are defending in your mind the
poor women from attacks which cannot possibly touch them.  I wonder what
can touch them?  But to soothe your uneasiness I will point out again
that an Irrelevant world would be very amusing, if the women take care to
make it as charming as they alone can, by preserving for us certain well-
known, well-established, I'll almost say hackneyed, illusions, without
which the average male creature cannot get on.  And that condition is
very important.  For there is nothing more provoking than the Irrelevant
when it has ceased to amuse and charm; and then the danger would be of
the subjugated masculinity in its exasperation, making some brusque,
unguarded movement and accidentally putting its elbow through the fine
tissue of the world of which I speak.  And that would be fatal to it.  For
nothing looks more irretrievably deplorable than fine tissue which has
been damaged.  The women themselves would be the first to become
disgusted with their own creation.

There was something of women's highly practical sanity and also of their
irrelevancy in the conduct of Miss de Barral's amazing governess.  It
appeared from Fyne's narrative that the day before the first rumble of
the cataclysm the questionable young man arrived unexpectedly in Brighton
to stay with his "Aunt."  To all outward appearance everything was going
on normally; the fellow went out riding with the girl in the afternoon as
he often used to do--a sight which never failed to fill Mrs. Fyne with
indignation.  Fyne himself was down there with his family for a whole
week and was called to the window to behold the iniquity in its progress
and to share in his wife's feelings.  There was not even a groom with
them.  And Mrs. Fyne's distress was so strong at this glimpse of the
unlucky girl all unconscious of her danger riding smilingly by, that Fyne
began to consider seriously whether it wasn't their plain duty to
interfere at all risks--simply by writing a letter to de Barral.  He said
to his wife with a solemnity I can easily imagine "You ought to undertake
that task, my dear.  You have known his wife after all.  That's something
at any rate."   On the other hand the fear of exposing Mrs. Fyne to some
nasty rebuff worried him exceedingly.  Mrs. Fyne on her side gave way to
despondency.  Success seemed impossible.  Here was a woman for more than
five years in charge of the girl and apparently enjoying the complete
confidence of the father.  What, that would be effective, could one say,
without proofs, without . . .  This Mr. de Barral must be, Mrs. Fyne
pronounced, either a very stupid or a downright bad man, to neglect his
child so.

You will notice that perhaps because of Fyne's solemn view of our
transient life and Mrs. Fyne's natural capacity for responsibility, it
had never occurred to them that the simplest way out of the difficulty
was to do nothing and dismiss the matter as no concern of theirs.  Which
in a strict worldly sense it certainly was not.  But they spent, Fyne
told me, a most disturbed afternoon, considering the ways and means of
dealing with the danger hanging over the head of the girl out for a ride
(and no doubt enjoying herself) with an abominable scamp.



CHAPTER FOUR--THE GOVERNESS


And the best of it was that the danger was all over already.  There was
no danger any more.  The supposed nephew's appearance had a purpose.  He
had come, full, full to trembling--with the bigness of his news.  There
must have been rumours already as to the shaky position of the de
Barral's concerns; but only amongst those in the very inmost know.  No
rumour or echo of rumour had reached the profane in the West-End--let
alone in the guileless marine suburb of Hove.  The Fynes had no
suspicion; the governess, playing with cold, distinguished exclusiveness
the part of mother to the fabulously wealthy Miss de Barral, had no
suspicion; the masters of music, of drawing, of dancing to Miss de
Barral, had no idea; the minds of her medical man, of her dentist, of the
servants in the house, of the tradesmen proud of having the name of de
Barral on their books, were in a state of absolute serenity.  Thus, that
fellow, who had unexpectedly received a most alarming straight tip from
somebody in the City arrived in Brighton, at about lunch-time, with
something very much in the nature of a deadly bomb in his possession.  But
he knew better than to throw it on the public pavement.  He ate his lunch
impenetrably, sitting opposite Flora de Barral, and then, on some excuse,
closeted himself with the woman whom little Fyne's charity described
(with a slight hesitation of speech however) as his "Aunt."

What they said to each other in private we can imagine.  She came out of
her own sitting-room with red spots on her cheek-bones, which having
provoked a question from her "beloved" charge, were accounted for by a
curt "I have a headache coming on."  But we may be certain that the talk
being over she must have said to that young blackguard: "You had better
take her out for a ride as usual."  We have proof positive of this in
Fyne and Mrs. Fyne observing them mount at the door and pass under the
windows of their sitting-room, talking together, and the poor girl all
smiles; because she enjoyed in all innocence the company of Charley.  She
made no secret of it whatever to Mrs. Fyne; in fact, she had confided to
her, long before, that she liked him very much: a confidence which had
filled Mrs. Fyne with desolation and that sense of powerless anguish
which is experienced in certain kinds of nightmare.  For how could she
warn the girl?  She did venture to tell her once that she didn't like Mr.
Charley.  Miss de Barral heard her with astonishment.  How was it
possible not to like Charley?  Afterwards with naive loyalty she told
Mrs. Fyne that, immensely as she was fond of her she could not hear a
word against Charley--the wonderful Charley.

The daughter of de Barral probably enjoyed her jolly ride with the jolly
Charley (infinitely more jolly than going out with a stupid old riding-
master), very much indeed, because the Fynes saw them coming back at a
later hour than usual.  In fact it was getting nearly dark.  On
dismounting, helped off by the delightful Charley, she patted the neck of
her horse and went up the steps.  Her last ride.  She was then within a
few days of her sixteenth birthday, a slight figure in a riding habit,
rather shorter than the average height for her age, in a black bowler hat
from under which her fine rippling dark hair cut square at the ends was
hanging well down her back.  The delightful Charley mounted again to take
the two horses round to the mews.  Mrs. Fyne remaining at the window saw
the house door close on Miss de Barral returning from her last ride.

And meantime what had the governess (out of a nobleman's family) so
judiciously selected (a lady, and connected with well-known county people
as she said) to direct the studies, guard the health, form the mind,
polish the manners, and generally play the perfect mother to that
luckless child--what had she been doing?  Well, having got rid of her
charge by the most natural device possible, which proved her practical
sense, she started packing her belongings, an act which showed her clear
view of the situation.  She had worked methodically, rapidly, and well,
emptying the drawers, clearing the tables in her special apartment of
that big house, with something silently passionate in her thoroughness;
taking everything belonging to her and some things of less unquestionable
ownership, a jewelled penholder, an ivory and gold paper knife (the house
was full of common, costly objects), some chased silver boxes presented
by de Barral and other trifles; but the photograph of Flora de Barral,
with the loving inscription, which stood on her writing desk, of the most
modern and expensive style, in a silver-gilt frame, she neglected to
take.  Having accidentally, in the course of the operations, knocked it
off on the floor she let it lie there after a downward glance.  Thus it,
or the frame at least, became, I suppose, part of the assets in the de
Barral bankruptcy.

At dinner that evening the child found her company dull and brusque.  It
was uncommonly slow.  She could get nothing from her governess but
monosyllables, and the jolly Charley actually snubbed the various cheery
openings of his "little chum"--as he used to call her at times,--but not
at that time.  No doubt the couple were nervous and preoccupied.  For all
this we have evidence, and for the fact that Flora being offended with
the delightful nephew of her profoundly respected governess sulked
through the rest of the evening and was glad to retire early.  Mrs.,
Mrs.--I've really forgotten her name--the governess, invited her nephew
to her sitting-room, mentioning aloud that it was to talk over some
family matters.  This was meant for Flora to hear, and she heard
it--without the slightest interest.  In fact there was nothing
sufficiently unusual in such an invitation to arouse in her mind even a
passing wonder.  She went bored to bed and being tired with her long ride
slept soundly all night.  Her last sleep, I won't say of innocence--that
word would not render my exact meaning, because it has a special meaning
of its own--but I will say: of that ignorance, or better still, of that
unconsciousness of the world's ways, the unconsciousness of danger, of
pain, of humiliation, of bitterness, of falsehood.  An unconsciousness
which in the case of other beings like herself is removed by a gradual
process of experience and information, often only partial at that, with
saving reserves, softening doubts, veiling theories.  Her unconsciousness
of the evil which lives in the secret thoughts and therefore in the open
acts of mankind, whenever it happens that evil thought meets evil
courage; her unconsciousness was to be broken into with profane violence
with desecrating circumstances, like a temple violated by a mad, vengeful
impiety.  Yes, that very young girl, almost no more than a child--this
was what was going to happen to her.  And if you ask me, how, wherefore,
for what reason?  I will answer you: Why, by chance!  By the merest
chance, as things do happen, lucky and unlucky, terrible or tender,
important or unimportant; and even things which are neither, things so
completely neutral in character that you would wonder why they do happen
at all if you didn't know that they, too, carry in their insignificance
the seeds of further incalculable chances.

Of course, all the chances were that de Barral should have fallen upon a
perfectly harmless, naive, usual, inefficient specimen of respectable
governess for his daughter; or on a commonplace silly adventuress who
would have tried, say, to marry him or work some other sort of common
mischief in a small way.  Or again he might have chanced on a model of
all the virtues, or the repository of all knowledge, or anything equally
harmless, conventional, and middle class.  All calculations were in his
favour; but, chance being incalculable, he fell upon an individuality
whom it is much easier to define by opprobrious names than to classify in
a calm and scientific spirit--but an individuality certainly, and a
temperament as well.  Rare?   No.  There is a certain amount of what I
would politely call unscrupulousness in all of us.  Think for instance of
the excellent Mrs. Fyne, who herself, and in the bosom of her family,
resembled a governess of a conventional type.  Only, her mental excesses
were theoretical, hedged in by so much humane feeling and conventional
reserves, that they amounted to no more than mere libertinage of thought;
whereas the other woman, the governess of Flora de Barral, was, as you
may have noticed, severely practical--terribly practical.  No!  Hers was
not a rare temperament, except in its fierce resentment of repression; a
feeling which like genius or lunacy is apt to drive people into sudden
irrelevancy.  Hers was feminine irrelevancy.  A male genius, a male
ruffian, or even a male lunatic, would not have behaved exactly as she
did behave.  There is a softness in masculine nature, even the most
brutal, which acts as a check.

While the girl slept those two, the woman of forty, an age in itself
terrible, and that hopeless young "wrong 'un" of twenty-three (also well
connected I believe) had some sort of subdued row in the cleared rooms:
wardrobes open, drawers half pulled out and empty, trunks locked and
strapped, furniture in idle disarray, and not so much as a single scrap
of paper left behind on the tables.  The maid, whom the governess and the
pupil shared between them, after finishing with Flora, came to the door
as usual, but was not admitted.  She heard the two voices in dispute
before she knocked, and then being sent away retreated at once--the only
person in the house convinced at that time that there was "something up."

Dark and, so to speak, inscrutable spaces being met with in life there
must be such places in any statement dealing with life.  In what I am
telling you of now--an episode of one of my humdrum holidays in the green
country, recalled quite naturally after all the years by our meeting a
man who has been a blue-water sailor--this evening confabulation is a
dark, inscrutable spot.  And we may conjecture what we like.  I have no
difficulty in imagining that the woman--of forty, and the chief of the
enterprise--must have raged at large.  And perhaps the other did not rage
enough.  Youth feels deeply it is true, but it has not the same vivid
sense of lost opportunities.  It believes in the absolute reality of
time.  And then, in that abominable scamp with his youth already soiled,
withered like a plucked flower ready to be flung on some rotting heap of
rubbish, no very genuine feeling about anything could exist--not even
about the hazards of his own unclean existence.  A sneering half-laugh
with some such remark as: "We are properly sold and no mistake" would
have been enough to make trouble in that way.  And then another sneer,
"Waste time enough over it too," followed perhaps by the bitter retort
from the other party "You seemed to like it well enough though, playing
the fool with that chit of a girl."  Something of that sort.  Don't you
see it--eh . . . "

Marlow looked at me with his dark penetrating glance.  I was struck by
the absolute verisimilitude of this suggestion.  But we were always
tilting at each other.  I saw an opening and pushed my uncandid thrust.

"You have a ghastly imagination," I said with a cheerfully sceptical
smile.

"Well, and if I have," he returned unabashed.  "But let me remind you
that this situation came to me unasked.  I am like a puzzle-headed chief-
mate we had once in the dear old _Samarcand_ when I was a youngster.  The
fellow went gravely about trying to "account to himself"--his favourite
expression--for a lot of things no one would care to bother one's head
about.  He was an old idiot but he was also an accomplished practical
seaman.  I was quite a boy and he impressed me.  I must have caught the
disposition from him."

"Well--go on with your accounting then," I said, assuming an air of
resignation.

"That's just it."  Marlow fell into his stride at once.  "That's just it.
Mere disappointed cupidity cannot account for the proceedings of the next
morning; proceedings which I shall not describe to you--but which I shall
tell you of presently, not as a matter of conjecture but of actual fact.
Meantime returning to that evening altercation in deadened tones within
the private apartment of Miss de Barral's governess, what if I were to
tell you that disappointment had most likely made them touchy with each
other, but that perhaps the secret of his careless, railing behaviour,
was in the thought, springing up within him with an emphatic oath of
relief "Now there's nothing to prevent me from breaking away from that
old woman."  And that the secret of her envenomed rage, not against this
miserable and attractive wretch, but against fate, accident and the whole
course of human life, concentrating its venom on de Barral and including
the innocent girl herself, was in the thought, in the fear crying within
her "Now I have nothing to hold him with . . . "

I couldn't refuse Marlow the tribute of a prolonged whistle "Phew!  So
you suppose that . . . "

He waved his hand impatiently.

"I don't suppose.  It was so.  And anyhow why shouldn't you accept the
supposition.  Do you look upon governesses as creatures above suspicion
or necessarily of moral perfection?  I suppose their hearts would not
stand looking into much better than other people's.  Why shouldn't a
governess have passions, all the passions, even that of libertinage, and
even ungovernable passions; yet suppressed by the very same means which
keep the rest of us in order: early training--necessity--circumstances--fear
of consequences; till there comes an age, a time when the restraint of
years becomes intolerable--and infatuation irresistible . . . "

"But if infatuation--quite possible I admit," I argued, "how do you
account for the nature of the conspiracy."

"You expect a cogency of conduct not usual in women," said Marlow.  "The
subterfuges of a menaced passion are not to be fathomed.  You think it is
going on the way it looks, whereas it is capable, for its own ends, of
walking backwards into a precipice.

When one once acknowledges that she was not a common woman, then all this
is easily understood.  She was abominable but she was not common.  She
had suffered in her life not from its constant inferiority but from
constant self-repression.  A common woman finding herself placed in a
commanding position might have formed the design to become the second
Mrs. de Barral.  Which would have been impracticable.  De Barral would
not have known what to do with a wife.  But even if by some impossible
chance he had made advances, this governess would have repulsed him with
scorn.  She had treated him always as an inferior being with an assured,
distant politeness.  In her composed, schooled manner she despised and
disliked both father and daughter exceedingly.  I have a notion that she
had always disliked intensely all her charges including the two ducal (if
they were ducal) little girls with whom she had dazzled de Barral.  What
an odious, ungratified existence it must have been for a woman as avid of
all the sensuous emotions which life can give as most of her betters.

She had seen her youth vanish, her freshness disappear, her hopes die,
and now she felt her flaming middle-age slipping away from her.  No
wonder that with her admirably dressed, abundant hair, thickly sprinkled
with white threads and adding to her elegant aspect the piquant
distinction of a powdered coiffure--no wonder, I say, that she clung
desperately to her last infatuation for that graceless young scamp, even
to the extent of hatching for him that amazing plot.  He was not so far
gone in degradation as to make him utterly hopeless for such an attempt.
She hoped to keep him straight with that enormous bribe.  She was clearly
a woman uncommon enough to live without illusions--which, of course, does
not mean that she was reasonable.  She had said to herself, perhaps with
a fury of self-contempt "In a few years I shall be too old for anybody.
Meantime I shall have him--and I shall hold him by throwing to him the
money of that ordinary, silly, little girl of no account."  Well, it was
a desperate expedient--but she thought it worth while.  And besides there
is hardly a woman in the world, no matter how hard, depraved or frantic,
in whom something of the maternal instinct does not survive, unconsumed
like a salamander, in the fires of the most abandoned passion.  Yes there
might have been that sentiment for him too.  There _was_ no doubt.  So I
say again: No wonder!  No wonder that she raged at everything--and
perhaps even at him, with contradictory reproaches: for regretting the
girl, a little fool who would never in her life be worth anybody's
attention, and for taking the disaster itself with a cynical levity in
which she perceived a flavour of revolt.

And so the altercation in the night went on, over the irremediable.  He
arguing "What's the hurry?  Why clear out like this?" perhaps a little
sorry for the girl and as usual without a penny in his pocket,
appreciating the comfortable quarters, wishing to linger on as long as
possible in the shameless enjoyment of this already doomed luxury.  There
was really no hurry for a few days.  Always time enough to vanish.  And,
with that, a touch of masculine softness, a sort of regard for
appearances surviving his degradation: "You might behave decently at the
last, Eliza."  But there was no softness in the sallow face under the
gala effect of powdered hair, its formal calmness gone, the dark-ringed
eyes glaring at him with a sort of hunger.  "No!  No!  If it is as you
say then not a day, not an hour, not a moment."  She stuck to it, very
determined that there should be no more of that boy and girl philandering
since the object of it was gone; angry with herself for having suffered
from it so much in the past, furious at its having been all in vain.

But she was reasonable enough not to quarrel with him finally.  What was
the good?  She found means to placate him.  The only means.  As long as
there was some money to be got she had hold of him.  "Now go away.  We
shall do no good by any more of this sort of talk.  I want to be alone
for a bit."  He went away, sulkily acquiescent.  There was a room always
kept ready for him on the same floor, at the further end of a short
thickly carpeted passage.

How she passed the night, this woman with no illusions to help her
through the hours which must have been sleepless I shouldn't like to say.
It ended at last; and this strange victim of the de Barral failure, whose
name would never be known to the Official Receiver, came down to
breakfast, impenetrable in her everyday perfection.  From the very first,
somehow, she had accepted the fatal news for true.  All her life she had
never believed in her luck, with that pessimism of the passionate who at
bottom feel themselves to be the outcasts of a morally restrained
universe.  But this did not make it any easier, on opening the morning
paper feverishly, to see the thing confirmed.  Oh yes!  It was there.  The
Orb had suspended payment--the first growl of the storm faint as yet, but
to the initiated the forerunner of a deluge.  As an item of news it was
not indecently displayed.  It was not displayed at all in a sense.  The
serious paper, the only one of the great dailies which had always
maintained an attitude of reserve towards the de Barral group of banks,
had its "manner."  Yes! a modest item of news!  But there was also, on
another page, a special financial article in a hostile tone beginning
with the words "We have always feared" and a guarded, half-column leader,
opening with the phrase: "It is a deplorable sign of the times" what was,
in effect, an austere, general rebuke to the absurd infatuations of the
investing public.  She glanced through these articles, a line here and a
line there--no more was necessary to catch beyond doubt the murmur of the
oncoming flood.  Several slighting references by name to de Barral
revived her animosity against the man, suddenly, as by the effect of
unforeseen moral support.  The miserable wretch! . . . "

* * * * *

"--You understand," Marlow interrupted the current of his narrative,
"that in order to be consecutive in my relation of this affair I am
telling you at once the details which I heard from Mrs. Fyne later in the
day, as well as what little Fyne imparted to me with his usual solemnity
during that morning call.  As you may easily guess the Fynes, in their
apartments, had read the news at the same time, and, as a matter of fact,
in the same august and highly moral newspaper, as the governess in the
luxurious mansion a few doors down on the opposite side of the street.
But they read them with different feelings.  They were thunderstruck.
Fyne had to explain the full purport of the intelligence to Mrs. Fyne
whose first cry was that of relief.  Then that poor child would be safe
from these designing, horrid people.  Mrs. Fyne did not know what it
might mean to be suddenly reduced from riches to absolute penury.  Fyne
with his masculine imagination was less inclined to rejoice extravagantly
at the girl's escape from the moral dangers which had been menacing her
defenceless existence.  It was a confoundedly big price to pay.  What an
unfortunate little thing she was!  "We might be able to do something to
comfort that poor child at any rate for the time she is here," said Mrs.
Fyne.  She felt under a sort of moral obligation not to be indifferent.
But no comfort for anyone could be got by rushing out into the street at
this early hour; and so, following the advice of Fyne not to act hastily,
they both sat down at the window and stared feelingly at the great house,
awful to their eyes in its stolid, prosperous, expensive respectability
with ruin absolutely standing at the door.

By that time, or very soon after, all Brighton had the information and
formed a more or less just appreciation of its gravity.  The butler in
Miss de Barral's big house had seen the news, perhaps earlier than
anybody within a mile of the Parade, in the course of his morning duties
of which one was to dry the freshly delivered paper before the fire--an
occasion to glance at it which no intelligent man could have neglected.
He communicated to the rest of the household his vaguely forcible
impression that something had gone d---bly wrong with the affairs of "her
father in London."

This brought an atmosphere of constraint through the house, which Flora
de Barral coming down somewhat later than usual could not help noticing
in her own way.  Everybody seemed to stare so stupidly somehow; she
feared a dull day.

In the dining-room the governess in her place, a newspaper half-concealed
under the cloth on her lap, after a few words exchanged with lips that
seemed hardly to move, remaining motionless, her eyes fixed before her in
an enduring silence; and presently Charley coming in to whom she did not
even give a glance.  He hardly said good morning, though he had a half-
hearted try to smile at the girl, and sitting opposite her with his eyes
on his plate and slight quivers passing along the line of his
clean-shaven jaw, he too had nothing to say.  It was dull, horribly dull
to begin one's day like this; but she knew what it was.  These
never-ending family affairs!  It was not for the first time that she had
suffered from their depressing after-effects on these two.  It was a
shame that the delightful Charley should be made dull by these stupid
talks, and it was perfectly stupid of him to let himself be upset like
this by his aunt.

When after a period of still, as if calculating, immobility, her
governess got up abruptly and went out with the paper in her hand, almost
immediately afterwards followed by Charley who left his breakfast half
eaten, the girl was positively relieved.  They would have it out that
morning whatever it was, and be themselves again in the afternoon.  At
least Charley would be.  To the moods of her governess she did not attach
so much importance.

For the first time that morning the Fynes saw the front door of the awful
house open and the objectionable young man issue forth, his rascality
visible to their prejudiced eyes in his very bowler hat and in the smart
cut of his short fawn overcoat.  He walked away rapidly like a man
hurrying to catch a train, glancing from side to side as though he were
carrying something off.  Could he be departing for good?  Undoubtedly,
undoubtedly!  But Mrs. Fyne's fervent "thank goodness" turned out to be a
bit, as the Americans--some Americans--say "previous."  In a very short
time the odious fellow appeared again, strolling, absolutely strolling
back, his hat now tilted a little on one side, with an air of leisure and
satisfaction.  Mrs. Fyne groaned not only in the spirit, at this sight,
but in the flesh, audibly; and asked her husband what it might mean.  Fyne
naturally couldn't say.  Mrs. Fyne believed that there was something
horrid in progress and meantime the object of her detestation had gone up
the steps and had knocked at the door which at once opened to admit him.

He had been only as far as the bank.

His reason for leaving his breakfast unfinished to run after Miss de
Barral's governess, was to speak to her in reference to that very errand
possessing the utmost possible importance in his eyes.  He shrugged his
shoulders at the nervousness of her eyes and hands, at the half-strangled
whisper "I had to go out.  I could hardly contain myself."  That was her
affair.  He was, with a young man's squeamishness, rather sick of her
ferocity.  He did not understand it.  Men do not accumulate hate against
each other in tiny amounts, treasuring every pinch carefully till it
grows at last into a monstrous and explosive hoard.  He had run out after
her to remind her of the balance at the bank.  What about lifting that
money without wasting any more time?  She had promised him to leave
nothing behind.

An account opened in her name for the expenses of the establishment in
Brighton, had been fed by de Barral with deferential lavishness.  The
governess crossed the wide hall into a little room at the side where she
sat down to write the cheque, which he hastened out to go and cash as if
it were stolen or a forgery.  As observed by the Fynes, his uneasy
appearance on leaving the house arose from the fact that his first
trouble having been caused by a cheque of doubtful authenticity, the
possession of a document of the sort made him unreasonably uncomfortable
till this one was safely cashed.  And after all, you know it was stealing
of an indirect sort; for the money was de Barral's money if the account
was in the name of the accomplished lady.  At any rate the cheque was
cashed.  On getting hold of the notes and gold he recovered his jaunty
bearing, it being well known that with certain natures the presence of
money (even stolen) in the pocket, acts as a tonic, or at least as a
stimulant.  He cocked his hat a little on one side as though he had had a
drink or two--which indeed he might have had in reality, to celebrate the
occasion.

The governess had been waiting for his return in the hall, disregarding
the side-glances of the butler as he went in and out of the dining-room
clearing away the breakfast things.  It was she, herself, who had opened
the door so promptly.  "It's all right," he said touching his
breast-pocket; and she did not dare, the miserable wretch without
illusions, she did not dare ask him to hand it over.  They looked at each
other in silence.  He nodded significantly: "Where is she now?" and she
whispered "Gone into the drawing-room.  Want to see her again?" with an
archly black look which he acknowledged by a muttered, surly: "I am
damned if I do.  Well, as you want to bolt like this, why don't we go
now?"

She set her lips with cruel obstinacy and shook her head.  She had her
idea, her completed plan.  At that moment the Fynes, still at the window
and watching like a pair of private detectives, saw a man with a long
grey beard and a jovial face go up the steps helping himself with a thick
stick, and knock at the door.  Who could he be?

He was one of Miss de Barral's masters.  She had lately taken up painting
in water-colours, having read in a high-class woman's weekly paper that a
great many princesses of the European royal houses were cultivating that
art.  This was the water-colour morning; and the teacher, a veteran of
many exhibitions, of a venerable and jovial aspect, had turned up with
his usual punctuality.  He was no great reader of morning papers, and
even had he seen the news it is very likely he would not have understood
its real purport.  At any rate he turned up, as the governess expected
him to do, and the Fynes saw him pass through the fateful door.

He bowed cordially to the lady in charge of Miss de Barral's education,
whom he saw in the hall engaged in conversation with a very good-looking
but somewhat raffish young gentleman.  She turned to him graciously:
"Flora is already waiting for you in the drawing-room."

The cultivation of the art said to be patronized by princesses was
pursued in the drawing-room from considerations of the right kind of
light.  The governess preceded the master up the stairs and into the room
where Miss de Barral was found arrayed in a holland pinafore (also of the
right kind for the pursuit of the art) and smilingly expectant.  The
water-colour lesson enlivened by the jocular conversation of the kindly,
humorous, old man was always great fun; and she felt she would be
compensated for the tiresome beginning of the day.

Her governess generally was present at the lesson; but on this occasion
she only sat down till the master and pupil had gone to work in earnest,
and then as though she had suddenly remembered some order to give, rose
quietly and went out of the room.

Once outside, the servants summoned by the passing maid without a bell
being rung, and quick, quick, let all this luggage be taken down into the
hall, and let one of you call a cab.  She stood outside the drawing-room
door on the landing, looking at each piece, trunk, leather cases,
portmanteaus, being carried past her, her brows knitted and her aspect so
sombre and absorbed that it took some little time for the butler to
muster courage enough to speak to her.  But he reflected that he was a
free-born Briton and had his rights.  He spoke straight to the point but
in the usual respectful manner.

"Beg you pardon, ma'am--but are you going away for good?"

He was startled by her tone.  Its unexpected, unlady-like harshness fell
on his trained ear with the disagreeable effect of a false note.  "Yes.  I
am going away.  And the best thing for all of you is to go away too, as
soon as you like.  You can go now, to-day, this moment.  You had your
wages paid you only last week.  The longer you stay the greater your
loss.  But I have nothing to do with it now.  You are the servants of Mr.
de Barral--you know."

The butler was astounded by the manner of this advice, and as his eyes
wandered to the drawing-room door the governess extended her arm as if to
bar the way.  "Nobody goes in there."  And that was said still in another
tone, such a tone that all trace of the trained respectfulness vanished
from the butler's bearing.  He stared at her with a frank wondering gaze.
"Not till I am gone," she added, and there was such an expression on her
face that the man was daunted by the mystery of it.  He shrugged his
shoulders slightly and without another word went down the stairs on his
way to the basement, brushing in the hall past Mr. Charles who hat on
head and both hands rammed deep into his overcoat pockets paced up and
down as though on sentry duty there.

The ladies' maid was the only servant upstairs, hovering in the passage
on the first floor, curious and as if fascinated by the woman who stood
there guarding the door.  Being beckoned closer imperiously and asked by
the governess to bring out of the now empty rooms the hat and veil, the
only objects besides the furniture still to be found there, she did so in
silence but inwardly fluttered.  And while waiting uneasily, with the
veil, before that woman who, without moving a step away from the drawing-
room door was pinning with careless haste her hat on her head, she heard
within a sudden burst of laughter from Miss de Barral enjoying the fun of
the water-colour lesson given her for the last time by the cheery old
man.

Mr. and Mrs. Fyne ambushed at their window--a most incredible occupation
for people of their kind--saw with renewed anxiety a cab come to the
door, and watched some luggage being carried out and put on its roof.  The
butler appeared for a moment, then went in again.  What did it mean?  Was
Flora going to be taken to her father; or were these people, that woman
and her horrible nephew, about to carry her off somewhere?  Fyne couldn't
tell.  He doubted the last, Flora having now, he judged, no value, either
positive or speculative.  Though no great reader of character he did not
credit the governess with humane intentions.  He confessed to me naively
that he was excited as if watching some action on the stage.  Then the
thought struck him that the girl might have had some money settled on
her, be possessed of some means, of some little fortune of her own and
therefore--

He imparted this theory to his wife who shared fully his consternation.
"I can't believe the child will go away without running in to say good-
bye to us," she murmured.  "We must find out!  I shall ask her."  But at
that very moment the cab rolled away, empty inside, and the door of the
house which had been standing slightly ajar till then was pushed to.

They remained silent staring at it till Mrs. Fyne whispered doubtfully "I
really think I must go over."  Fyne didn't answer for a while (his is a
reflective mind, you know), and then as if Mrs. Fyne's whispers had an
occult power over that door it opened wide again and the white-bearded
man issued, astonishingly active in his movements, using his stick almost
like a leaping-pole to get down the steps; and hobbled away briskly along
the pavement.  Naturally the Fynes were too far off to make out the
expression of his face.  But it would not have helped them very much to a
guess at the conditions inside the house.  The expression was humorously
puzzled--nothing more.

For, at the end of his lesson, seizing his trusty stick and coming out
with his habitual vivacity, he very nearly cannoned just outside the
drawing-room door into the back of Miss de Barral's governess.  He
stopped himself in time and she turned round swiftly.  It was
embarrassing; he apologised; but her face was not startled; it was not
aware of him; it wore a singular expression of resolution.  A very
singular expression which, as it were, detained him for a moment.  In
order to cover his embarrassment, he made some inane remark on the
weather, upon which, instead of returning another inane remark according
to the tacit rules of the game, she only gave him a smile of unfathomable
meaning.  Nothing could have been more singular.  The good-looking young
gentleman of questionable appearance took not the slightest notice of him
in the hall.  No servant was to be seen.  He let himself out pulling the
door to behind him with a crash as, in a manner, he was forced to do to
get it shut at all.

When the echo of it had died away the woman on the landing leaned over
the banister and called out bitterly to the man below "Don't you want to
come up and say good-bye."  He had an impatient movement of the shoulders
and went on pacing to and fro as though he had not heard.  But suddenly
he checked himself, stood still for a moment, then with a gloomy face and
without taking his hands out of his pockets ran smartly up the stairs.
Already facing the door she turned her head for a whispered taunt: "Come!
Confess you were dying to see her stupid little face once more,"--to
which he disdained to answer.

Flora de Barral, still seated before the table at which she had been
wording on her sketch, raised her head at the noise of the opening door.
The invading manner of their entrance gave her the sense of something she
had never seen before.  She knew them well.  She knew the woman better
than she knew her father.  There had been between them an intimacy of
relation as great as it can possibly be without the final closeness of
affection.  The delightful Charley walked in, with his eyes fixed on the
back of her governess whose raised veil hid her forehead like a brown
band above the black line of the eyebrows.  The girl was astounded and
alarmed by the altogether unknown expression in the woman's face.  The
stress of passion often discloses an aspect of the personality completely
ignored till then by its closest intimates.  There was something like an
emanation of evil from her eyes and from the face of the other, who,
exactly behind her and overtopping her by half a head, kept his eyelids
lowered in a sinister fashion--which in the poor girl, reached, stirred,
set free that faculty of unreasoning explosive terror lying locked up at
the bottom of all human hearts and of the hearts of animals as well.  With
suddenly enlarged pupils and a movement as instinctive almost as the
bounding of a startled fawn, she jumped up and found herself in the
middle of the big room, exclaiming at those amazing and familiar
strangers.

"What do you want?"

You will note that she cried: What do you want?  Not: What has happened?
She told Mrs. Fyne that she had received suddenly the feeling of being
personally attacked.  And that must have been very terrifying.  The woman
before her had been the wisdom, the authority, the protection of life,
security embodied and visible and undisputed.

You may imagine then the force of the shock in the intuitive perception
not merely of danger, for she did not know what was alarming her, but in
the sense of the security being gone.  And not only security.  I don't
know how to explain it clearly.  Look!  Even a small child lives, plays
and suffers in terms of its conception of its own existence.  Imagine, if
you can, a fact coming in suddenly with a force capable of shattering
that very conception itself.  It was only because of the girl being still
so much of a child that she escaped mental destruction; that, in other
words she got over it.  Could one conceive of her more mature, while
still as ignorant as she was, one must conclude that she would have
become an idiot on the spot--long before the end of that experience.
Luckily, people, whether mature or not mature (and who really is ever
mature?) are for the most part quite incapable of understanding what is
happening to them: a merciful provision of nature to preserve an average
amount of sanity for working purposes in this world . . . "

"But we, my dear Marlow, have the inestimable advantage of understanding
what is happening to others," I struck in.  "Or at least some of us seem
to.  Is that too a provision of nature?  And what is it for?  Is it that
we may amuse ourselves gossiping about each other's affairs?  You for
instance seem--"

"I don't know what I seem," Marlow silenced me, "and surely life must be
amused somehow.  It would be still a very respectable provision if it
were only for that end.  But from that same provision of understanding,
there springs in us compassion, charity, indignation, the sense of
solidarity; and in minds of any largeness an inclination to that
indulgence which is next door to affection.  I don't mean to say that I
am inclined to an indulgent view of the precious couple which broke in
upon an unsuspecting girl.  They came marching in (it's the very
expression she used later on to Mrs. Fyne) but at her cry they stopped.
It must have been startling enough to them.  It was like having the mask
torn off when you don't expect it.  The man stopped for good; he didn't
offer to move a step further.  But, though the governess had come in
there for the very purpose of taking the mask off for the first time in
her life, she seemed to look upon the frightened cry as a fresh
provocation.  "What are you screaming for, you little fool?" she said
advancing alone close to the girl who was affected exactly as if she had
seen Medusa's head with serpentine locks set mysteriously on the
shoulders of that familiar person, in that brown dress, under that hat
she knew so well.  It made her lose all her hold on reality.  She told
Mrs. Fyne: "I didn't know where I was.  I didn't even know that I was
frightened.  If she had told me it was a joke I would have laughed.  If
she had told me to put on my hat and go out with her I would have gone to
put on my hat and gone out with her and never said a single word; I
should have been convinced I had been mad for a minute or so, and I would
have worried myself to death rather than breathe a hint of it to her or
anyone.  But the wretch put her face close to mine and I could not move.
Directly I had looked into her eyes I felt grown on to the carpet."

It was years afterwards that she used to talk like this to Mrs. Fyne--and
to Mrs. Fyne alone.  Nobody else ever heard the story from her lips.  But
it was never forgotten.  It was always felt; it remained like a mark on
her soul, a sort of mystic wound, to be contemplated, to be meditated
over.  And she said further to Mrs. Fyne, in the course of many
confidences provoked by that contemplation, that, as long as that woman
called her names, it was almost soothing, it was in a manner reassuring.
Her imagination had, like her body, gone off in a wild bound to meet the
unknown; and then to hear after all something which more in its tone than
in its substance was mere venomous abuse, had steadied the inward flutter
of all her being.

"She called me a little fool more times than I can remember.  I!  A fool!
Why, Mrs. Fyne!  I do assure you I had never yet thought at all; never of
anything in the world, till then.  I just went on living.  And one can't
be a fool without one has at least tried to think.  But what had I ever
to think about?"

"And no doubt," commented Marlow, "her life had been a mere life of
sensations--the response to which can neither be foolish nor wise.  It
can only be temperamental; and I believe that she was of a generally
happy disposition, a child of the average kind.  Even when she was asked
violently whether she imagined that there was anything in her, apart from
her money, to induce any intelligent person to take any sort of interest
in her existence, she only caught her breath in one dry sob and said
nothing, made no other sound, made no movement.  When she was viciously
assured that she was in heart, mind, manner and appearance, an utterly
common and insipid creature, she remained still, without indignation,
without anger.  She stood, a frail and passive vessel into which the
other went on pouring all the accumulated dislike for all her pupils, her
scorn of all her employers (the ducal one included), the accumulated
resentment, the infinite hatred of all these unrelieved years of--I won't
say hypocrisy.  The practice of perfect hypocrisy is a relief in itself,
a secret triumph of the vilest sort, no doubt, but still a way of getting
even with the common morality from which some of us appear to suffer so
much.  No!  I will say the years, the passionate, bitter years, of
restraint, the iron, admirably mannered restraint at every moment, in a
never-failing perfect correctness of speech, glances, movements, smiles,
gestures, establishing for her a high reputation, an impressive record of
success in her sphere.  It had been like living half strangled for years.

And all this torture for nothing, in the end!  What looked at last like a
possible prize (oh, without illusions! but still a prize) broken in her
hands, fallen in the dust, the bitter dust, of disappointment, she
revelled in the miserable revenge--pretty safe too--only regretting the
unworthiness of the girlish figure which stood for so much she had longed
to be able to spit venom at, if only once, in perfect liberty.  The
presence of the young man at her back increased both her satisfaction and
her rage.  But the very violence of the attack seemed to defeat its end
by rendering the representative victim as it were insensible.  The cause
of this outrage naturally escaping the girl's imagination her attitude
was in effect that of dense, hopeless stupidity.  And it is a fact that
the worst shocks of life are often received without outcries, without
gestures, without a flow of tears and the convulsions of sobbing.  The
insatiable governess missed these signs exceedingly.  This pitiful
stolidity was only a fresh provocation.  Yet the poor girl was deadly
pale.

"I was cold," she used to explain to Mrs. Fyne.  "I had had time to get
terrified.  She had pushed her face so near mine and her teeth looked as
though she wanted to bite me.  Her eyes seemed to have become quite dry,
hard and small in a lot of horrible wrinkles.  I was too afraid of her to
shudder, too afraid of her to put my fingers to my ears.  I didn't know
what I expected her to call me next, but when she told me I was no better
than a beggar--that there would be no more masters, no more servants, no
more horses for me--I said to myself: Is that all?  I should have laughed
if I hadn't been too afraid of her to make the least little sound."

It seemed that poor Flora had to know all the possible phases of that
sort of anguish, beginning with instinctive panic, through the bewildered
stage, the frozen stage and the stage of blanched apprehension, down to
the instinctive prudence of extreme terror--the stillness of the mouse.
But when she heard herself called the child of a cheat and a swindler,
the very monstrous unexpectedness of this caused in her a revulsion
towards letting herself go.  She screamed out all at once "You mustn't
speak like this of Papa!"

The effort of it uprooted her from that spot where her little feet seemed
dug deep into the thick luxurious carpet, and she retreated backwards to
a distant part of the room, hearing herself repeat "You mustn't, you
mustn't" as if it were somebody else screaming.  She came to a chair and
flung herself into it.  Thereupon the somebody else ceased screaming and
she lolled, exhausted, sightless, in a silent room, as if indifferent to
everything and without a single thought in her head.

The next few seconds seemed to last for ever so long; a black abyss of
time separating what was past and gone from the reappearance of the
governess and the reawakening of fear.  And that woman was forcing the
words through her set teeth: "You say I mustn't, I mustn't.  All the
world will be speaking of him like this to-morrow.  They will say it, and
they'll print it.  You shall hear it and you shall read it--and then you
shall know whose daughter you are."

Her face lighted up with an atrocious satisfaction.  "He's nothing but a
thief," she cried, "this father of yours.  As to you I have never been
deceived in you for a moment.  I have been growing more and more sick of
you for years.  You are a vulgar, silly nonentity, and you shall go back
to where you belong, whatever low place you have sprung from, and beg
your bread--that is if anybody's charity will have anything to do with
you, which I doubt--"

She would have gone on regardless of the enormous eyes, of the open mouth
of the girl who sat up suddenly with the wild staring expression of being
choked by invisible fingers on her throat, and yet horribly pale.  The
effect on her constitution was so profound, Mrs. Fyne told me, that she
who as a child had a rather pretty delicate colouring, showed a white
bloodless face for a couple of years afterwards, and remained always
liable at the slightest emotion to an extraordinary ghost-like whiteness.
The end came in the abomination of desolation of the poor child's
miserable cry for help: "Charley!  Charley!" coming from her throat in
hidden gasping efforts.  Her enlarged eyes had discovered him where he
stood motionless and dumb.

He started from his immobility, a hand withdrawn brusquely from the
pocket of his overcoat, strode up to the woman, seized her by the arm
from behind, saying in a rough commanding tone: "Come away, Eliza."  In
an instant the child saw them close together and remote, near the door,
gone through the door, which she neither heard nor saw being opened or
shut.  But it was shut.  Oh yes, it was shut.  Her slow unseeing glance
wandered all over the room.  For some time longer she remained leaning
forward, collecting her strength, doubting if she would be able to stand.
She stood up at last.  Everything about her spun round in an oppressive
silence.  She remembered perfectly--as she told Mrs. Fyne--that clinging
to the arm of the chair she called out twice "Papa!  Papa!"  At the
thought that he was far away in London everything about her became quite
still.  Then, frightened suddenly by the solitude of that empty room, she
rushed out of it blindly.

* * * * *

With that fatal diffidence in well doing, inherent in the present
condition of humanity, the Fynes continued to watch at their window.
"It's always so difficult to know what to do for the best," Fyne assured
me.  It is.  Good intentions stand in their own way so much.  Whereas if
you want to do harm to anyone you needn't hesitate.  You have only to go
on.  No one will reproach you with your mistakes or call you a
confounded, clumsy meddler.  The Fynes watched the door, the closed
street door inimical somehow to their benevolent thoughts, the face of
the house cruelly impenetrable.  It was just as on any other day.  The
unchanged daily aspect of inanimate things is so impressive that Fyne
went back into the room for a moment, picked up the paper again, and ran
his eyes over the item of news.  No doubt of it.  It looked very bad.  He
came back to the window and Mrs. Fyne.  Tired out as she was she sat
there resolute and ready for responsibility.  But she had no suggestion
to offer.  People do fear a rebuff wonderfully, and all her audacity was
in her thoughts.  She shrank from the incomparably insolent manner of the
governess.  Fyne stood by her side, as in those old-fashioned photographs
of married couples where you see a husband with his hand on the back of
his wife's chair.  And they were about as efficient as an old photograph,
and as still, till Mrs. Fyne started slightly.  The street door had swung
open, and, bursting out, appeared the young man, his hat (Mrs. Fyne
observed) tilted forward over his eyes.  After him the governess slipped
through, turning round at once to shut the door behind her with care.
Meantime the man went down the white steps and strode along the pavement,
his hands rammed deep into the pockets of his fawn overcoat.  The woman,
that woman of composed movements, of deliberate superior manner, took a
little run to catch up with him, and directly she had caught up with him
tried to introduce her hand under his arm.  Mrs. Fyne saw the brusque
half turn of the fellow's body as one avoids an importunate contact,
defeating her attempt rudely.  She did not try again but kept pace with
his stride, and Mrs. Fyne watched them, walking independently, turn the
corner of the street side by side, disappear for ever.

The Fynes looked at each other eloquently, doubtfully: What do you think
of this?  Then with common accord turned their eyes back to the street
door, closed, massive, dark; the great, clear-brass knocker shining in a
quiet slant of sunshine cut by a diagonal line of heavy shade filling the
further end of the street.  Could the girl be already gone?  Sent away to
her father?  Had she any relations?  Nobody but de Barral himself ever
came to see her, Mrs. Fyne remembered; and she had the instantaneous,
profound, maternal perception of the child's loneliness--and a girl too!
It was irresistible.  And, besides, the departure of the governess was
not without its encouraging influence.  "I am going over at once to find
out," she declared resolutely but still staring across the street.  Her
intention was arrested by the sight of that awful, sombrely glistening
door, swinging back suddenly on the yawning darkness of the hall, out of
which literally flew out, right out on the pavement, almost without
touching the white steps, a little figure swathed in a holland pinafore
up to the chin, its hair streaming back from its head, darting past a
lamp-post, past the red pillar-box . . . "Here," cried Mrs. Fyne; "she's
coming here!  Run, John!  Run!"

Fyne bounded out of the room.  This is his own word.  Bounded!  He
assured me with intensified solemnity that he bounded; and the sight of
the short and muscular Fyne bounding gravely about the circumscribed
passages and staircases of a small, very high class, private hotel, would
have been worth any amount of money to a man greedy of memorable
impressions.  But as I looked at him, the desire of laughter at my very
lips, I asked myself: how many men could be found ready to compromise
their cherished gravity for the sake of the unimportant child of a ruined
financier with an ugly, black cloud already wreathing his head.  I didn't
laugh at little Fyne.  I encouraged him: "You did!--very good . . .
Well?"

His main thought was to save the child from some unpleasant interference.
There was a porter downstairs, page boys; some people going away with
their trunks in the passage; a railway omnibus at the door,
white-breasted waiters dodging about the entrance.

He was in time.  He was at the door before she reached it in her blind
course.  She did not recognize him; perhaps she did not see him.  He
caught her by the arm as she ran past and, very sensibly, without trying
to check her, simply darted in with her and up the stairs, causing no end
of consternation amongst the people in his way.  They scattered.  What
might have been their thoughts at the spectacle of a shameless middle-
aged man abducting headlong into the upper regions of a respectable hotel
a terrified young girl obviously under age, I don't know.  And Fyne (he
told me so) did not care for what people might think.  All he wanted was
to reach his wife before the girl collapsed.  For a time she ran with him
but at the last flight of stairs he had to seize and half drag, half
carry her to his wife.  Mrs. Fyne waited at the door with her quite
unmoved physiognomy and her readiness to confront any sort of
responsibility, which already characterized her, long before she became a
ruthless theorist.  Relieved, his mission accomplished, Fyne closed
hastily the door of the sitting-room.

But before long both Fynes became frightened.  After a period of
immobility in the arms of Mrs. Fyne, the girl, who had not said a word,
tore herself out from that slightly rigid embrace.  She struggled dumbly
between them, they did not know why, soundless and ghastly, till she sank
exhausted on a couch.  Luckily the children were out with the two nurses.
The hotel housemaid helped Mrs. Fyne to put Flora de Barral to bed.  She
was as if gone speechless and insane.  She lay on her back, her face
white like a piece of paper, her dark eyes staring at the ceiling, her
awful immobility broken by sudden shivering fits with a loud chattering
of teeth in the shadowy silence of the room, the blinds pulled down, Mrs.
Fyne sitting by patiently, her arms folded, yet inwardly moved by the
riddle of that distress of which she could not guess the word, and saying
to herself: "That child is too emotional--much too emotional to be ever
really sound!"  As if anyone not made of stone could be perfectly sound
in this world.  And then how sound?  In what sense--to resist what?  Force
or corruption?  And even in the best armour of steel there are joints a
treacherous stroke can always find if chance gives the opportunity.

General considerations never had the power to trouble Mrs. Fyne much.  The
girl not being in a state to be questioned she waited by the bedside.
Fyne had crossed over to the house, his scruples overcome by his anxiety
to discover what really had happened.  He did not have to lift the
knocker; the door stood open on the inside gloom of the hall; he walked
into it and saw no one about, the servants having assembled for a fatuous
consultation in the basement.  Fyne's uplifted bass voice startled them
down there, the butler coming up, staring and in his shirt sleeves, very
suspicious at first, and then, on Fyne's explanation that he was the
husband of a lady who had called several times at the house--Miss de
Barral's mother's friend--becoming humanely concerned and communicative,
in a man to man tone, but preserving his trained high-class servant's
voice: "Oh bless you, sir, no!  She does not mean to come back.  She told
me so herself"--he assured Fyne with a faint shade of contempt creeping
into his tone.

As regards their young lady nobody downstairs had any idea that she had
run out of the house.  He dared say they all would have been willing to
do their very best for her, for the time being; but since she was now
with her mother's friends . . .

He fidgeted.  He murmured that all this was very unexpected.  He wanted
to know what he had better do with letters or telegrams which might
arrive in the course of the day.

"Letters addressed to Miss de Barral, you had better bring over to my
hotel over there," said Fyne beginning to feel extremely worried about
the future.  The man said "Yes, sir," adding, "and if a letter comes
addressed to Mrs. . . . "

Fyne stopped him by a gesture.  "I don't know . . . Anything you like."

"Very well, sir."

The butler did not shut the street door after Fyne, but remained on the
doorstep for a while, looking up and down the street in the spirit of
independent expectation like a man who is again his own master.  Mrs.
Fyne hearing her husband return came out of the room where the girl was
lying in bed.  "No change," she whispered; and Fyne could only make a
hopeless sign of ignorance as to what all this meant and how it would
end.

He feared future complications--naturally; a man of limited means, in a
public position, his time not his own.  Yes.  He owned to me in the
parlour of my farmhouse that he had been very much concerned then at the
possible consequences.  But as he was making this artless confession I
said to myself that, whatever consequences and complications he might
have imagined, the complication from which he was suffering now could
never, never have presented itself to his mind.  Slow but sure (for I
conceive that the Book of Destiny has been written up from the beginning
to the last page) it had been coming for something like six years--and
now it had come.  The complication was there!  I looked at his unshaken
solemnity with the amused pity we give the victim of a funny if somewhat
ill-natured practical joke.

"Oh hang it," he exclaimed--in no logical connection with what he had
been relating to me.  Nevertheless the exclamation was intelligible
enough.

However at first there were, he admitted, no untoward complications, no
embarrassing consequences.  To a telegram in guarded terms dispatched to
de Barral no answer was received for more than twenty-four hours.  This
certainly caused the Fynes some anxiety.  When the answer arrived late on
the evening of next day it was in the shape of an elderly man.  An
unexpected sort of man.  Fyne explained to me with precision that he
evidently belonged to what is most respectable in the lower middle
classes.  He was calm and slow in his speech.  He was wearing a frock-
coat, had grey whiskers meeting under his chin, and declared on entering
that Mr. de Barral was his cousin.  He hastened to add that he had not
seen his cousin for many years, while he looked upon Fyne (who received
him alone) with so much distrust that Fyne felt hurt (the person actually
refusing at first the chair offered to him) and retorted tartly that he,
for his part, had _never_ seen Mr. de Barral, in his life, and that,
since the visitor did not want to sit down, he, Fyne, begged him to state
his business as shortly as possible.  The man in black sat down then with
a faint superior smile.

He had come for the girl.  His cousin had asked him in a note delivered
by a messenger to go to Brighton at once and take "his girl" over from a
gentleman named Fyne and give her house-room for a time in his family.
And there he was.  His business had not allowed him to come sooner.  His
business was the manufacture on a large scale of cardboard boxes.  He had
two grown-up girls of his own.  He had consulted his wife and so that was
all right.  The girl would get a welcome in his home.  His home most
likely was not what she had been used to but, etc. etc.

All the time Fyne felt subtly in that man's manner a derisive disapproval
of everything that was not lower middle class, a profound respect for
money, a mean sort of contempt for speculators that fail, and a conceited
satisfaction with his own respectable vulgarity.

With Mrs. Fyne the manner of the obscure cousin of de Barral was but
little less offensive.  He looked at her rather slyly but her cold,
decided demeanour impressed him.  Mrs. Fyne on her side was simply
appalled by the personage, but did not show it outwardly.  Not even when
the man remarked with false simplicity that Florrie--her name was Florrie
wasn't it? would probably miss at first all her grand friends.  And when
he was informed that the girl was in bed, not feeling well at all he
showed an unsympathetic alarm.  She wasn't an invalid was she?  No.  What
was the matter with her then?

An extreme distaste for that respectable member of society was depicted
in Fyne's face even as he was telling me of him after all these years.  He
was a specimen of precisely the class of which people like the Fynes have
the least experience; and I imagine he jarred on them painfully.  He
possessed all the civic virtues in their very meanest form, and the
finishing touch was given by a low sort of consciousness he manifested of
possessing them.  His industry was exemplary.  He wished to catch the
earliest possible train next morning.  It seems that for seven and twenty
years he had never missed being seated on his office-stool at the factory
punctually at ten o'clock every day.  He listened to Mrs. Fyne's
objections with undisguised impatience.  Why couldn't Florrie get up and
have her breakfast at eight like other people?  In his house the
breakfast was at eight sharp.  Mrs. Fyne's polite stoicism overcame him
at last.  He had come down at a very great personal inconvenience, he
assured her with displeasure, but he gave up the early train.

The good Fynes didn't dare to look at each other before this unforeseen
but perfectly authorized guardian, the same thought springing up in their
minds: Poor girl!  Poor girl!  If the women of the family were like this
too! . . . And of course they would be.  Poor girl!  But what could they
have done even if they had been prepared to raise objections.  The person
in the frock-coat had the father's note; he had shown it to Fyne.  Just a
request to take care of the girl--as her nearest relative--without any
explanation or a single allusion to the financial catastrophe, its tone
strangely detached and in its very silence on the point giving occasion
to think that the writer was not uneasy as to the child's future.
Probably it was that very idea which had set the cousin so readily in
motion.  Men had come before out of commercial crashes with estates in
the country and a comfortable income, if not for themselves then for
their wives.  And if a wife could be made comfortable by a little
dexterous management then why not a daughter?  Yes.  This possibility
might have been discussed in the person's household and judged worth
acting upon.

The man actually hinted broadly that such was his belief and in face of
Fyne's guarded replies gave him to understand that he was not the dupe of
such reticences.  Obviously he looked upon the Fynes as being
disappointed because the girl was taken away from them.  They, by a
diplomatic sacrifice in the interests of poor Flora, had asked the man to
dinner.  He accepted ungraciously, remarking that he was not used to late
hours.  He had generally a bit of supper about half-past eight or nine.
However . . .

He gazed contemptuously round the prettily decorated dining-room.  He
wrinkled his nose in a puzzled way at the dishes offered to him by the
waiter but refused none, devouring the food with a great appetite and
drinking ("swilling" Fyne called it) gallons of ginger beer, which was
procured for him (in stone bottles) at his request.  The difficulty of
keeping up a conversation with that being exhausted Mrs. Fyne herself,
who had come to the table armed with adamantine resolution.  The only
memorable thing he said was when, in a pause of gorging himself "with
these French dishes" he deliberately let his eyes roam over the little
tables occupied by parties of diners, and remarked that his wife did for
a moment think of coming down with him, but that he was glad she didn't
do so.  "She wouldn't have been at all happy seeing all this alcohol
about.  Not at all happy," he declared weightily.

"You must have had a charming evening," I said to Fyne, "if I may judge
from the way you have kept the memory green."

"Delightful," he growled with, positively, a flash of anger at the
recollection, but lapsed back into his solemnity at once.  After we had
been silent for a while I asked whether the man took away the girl next
day.

Fyne said that he did; in the afternoon, in a fly, with a few clothes the
maid had got together and brought across from the big house.  He only saw
Flora again ten minutes before they left for the railway station, in the
Fynes' sitting-room at the hotel.  It was a most painful ten minutes for
the Fynes.  The respectable citizen addressed Miss de Barral as "Florrie"
and "my dear," remarking to her that she was not very big "there's not
much of you my dear" in a familiarly disparaging tone.  Then turning to
Mrs. Fyne, and quite loud "She's very white in the face.  Why's that?"  To
this Mrs. Fyne made no reply.  She had put the girl's hair up that
morning with her own hands.  It changed her very much, observed Fyne.  He,
naturally, played a subordinate, merely approving part.  All he could do
for Miss de Barral personally was to go downstairs and put her into the
fly himself, while Miss de Barral's nearest relation, having been
shouldered out of the way, stood by, with an umbrella and a little black
bag, watching this proceeding with grim amusement, as it seemed.  It was
difficult to guess what the girl thought or what she felt.  She no longer
looked a child.  She whispered to Fyne a faint "Thank you," from the fly,
and he said to her in very distinct tones and while still holding her
hand: "Pray don't forget to write fully to my wife in a day or two, Miss
de Barral."  Then Fyne stepped back and the cousin climbed into the fly
muttering quite audibly: "I don't think you'll be troubled much with her
in the future;" without however looking at Fyne on whom he did not even
bestow a nod.  The fly drove away.



CHAPTER FIVE--THE TEA-PARTY


"Amiable personality," I observed seeing Fyne on the point of falling
into a brown study.  But I could not help adding with meaning: "He hadn't
the gift of prophecy though."

Fyne got up suddenly with a muttered "No, evidently not."  He was gloomy,
hesitating.  I supposed that he would not wish to play chess that
afternoon.  This would dispense me from leaving my rooms on a day much
too fine to be wasted in walking exercise.  And I was disappointed when
picking up his cap he intimated to me his hope of seeing me at the
cottage about four o'clock--as usual.

"It wouldn't be as usual."  I put a particular stress on that remark.  He
admitted, after a short reflection, that it would not be.  No.  Not as
usual.  In fact it was his wife who hoped, rather, for my presence.  She
had formed a very favourable opinion of my practical sagacity.

This was the first I ever heard of it.  I had never suspected that Mrs.
Fyne had taken the trouble to distinguish in me the signs of sagacity or
folly.  The few words we had exchanged last night in the excitement--or
the bother--of the girl's disappearance, were the first moderately
significant words which had ever passed between us.  I had felt myself
always to be in Mrs. Fyne's view her husband's chess-player and nothing
else--a convenience--almost an implement.

"I am highly flattered," I said.  "I have always heard that there are no
limits to feminine intuition; and now I am half inclined to believe it is
so.  But still I fail to see in what way my sagacity, practical or
otherwise, can be of any service to Mrs. Fyne.  One man's sagacity is
very much like any other man's sagacity.  And with you at hand--"

Fyne, manifestly not attending to what I was saying, directed straight at
me his worried solemn eyes and struck in:

"Yes, yes.  Very likely.  But you will come--won't you?"

I had made up my mind that no Fyne of either sex would make me walk three
miles (there and back to their cottage) on this fine day.  If the Fynes
had been an average sociable couple one knows only because leisure must
be got through somehow, I would have made short work of that special
invitation.  But they were not that.  Their undeniable humanity had to be
acknowledged.  At the same time I wanted to have my own way.  So I
proposed that I should be allowed the pleasure of offering them a cup of
tea at my rooms.

A short reflective pause--and Fyne accepted eagerly in his own and his
wife's name.  A moment after I heard the click of the gate-latch and then
in an ecstasy of barking from his demonstrative dog his serious head went
past my window on the other side of the hedge, its troubled gaze fixed
forward, and the mind inside obviously employed in earnest speculation of
an intricate nature.  One at least of his wife's girl-friends had become
more than a mere shadow for him.  I surmised however that it was not of
the girl-friend but of his wife that Fyne was thinking.  He was an
excellent husband.

I prepared myself for the afternoon's hospitalities, calling in the
farmer's wife and reviewing with her the resources of the house and the
village.  She was a helpful woman.  But the resources of my sagacity I
did not review.  Except in the gross material sense of the afternoon tea
I made no preparations for Mrs. Fyne.

It was impossible for me to make any such preparations.  I could not tell
what sort of sustenance she would look for from my sagacity.  And as to
taking stock of the wares of my mind no one I imagine is anxious to do
that sort of thing if it can be avoided.  A vaguely grandiose state of
mental self-confidence is much too agreeable to be disturbed recklessly
by such a delicate investigation.  Perhaps if I had had a helpful woman
at my elbow, a dear, flattering acute, devoted woman . . . There are in
life moments when one positively regrets not being married.  No!  I don't
exaggerate.  I have said--moments, not years or even days.  Moments.  The
farmer's wife obviously could not be asked to assist.  She could not have
been expected to possess the necessary insight and I doubt whether she
would have known how to be flattering enough.  She was being helpful in
her own way, with an extraordinary black bonnet on her head, a good mile
off by that time, trying to discover in the village shops a piece of
eatable cake.  The pluck of women!  The optimism of the dear creatures!

And she managed to find something which looked eatable.  That's all I
know as I had no opportunity to observe the more intimate effects of that
comestible.  I myself never eat cake, and Mrs. Fyne, when she arrived
punctually, brought with her no appetite for cake.  She had no appetite
for anything.  But she had a thirst--the sign of deep, of tormenting
emotion.  Yes it was emotion, not the brilliant sunshine--more brilliant
than warm as is the way of our discreet self-repressed, distinguished,
insular sun, which would not turn a real lady scarlet--not on any
account.  Mrs. Fyne looked even cool.  She wore a white skirt and coat; a
white hat with a large brim reposed on her smoothly arranged hair.  The
coat was cut something like an army mess-jacket and the style suited her.
I dare say there are many youthful subalterns, and not the worst-looking
too, who resemble Mrs. Fyne in the type of face, in the sunburnt
complexion, down to that something alert in bearing.  But not many would
have had that aspect breathing a readiness to assume any responsibility
under Heaven.  This is the sort of courage which ripens late in life and
of course Mrs. Fyne was of mature years for all her unwrinkled face.

She looked round the room, told me positively that I was very comfortable
there; to which I assented, humbly, acknowledging my undeserved good
fortune.

"Why undeserved?" she wanted to know.

"I engaged these rooms by letter without asking any questions.  It might
have been an abominable hole," I explained to her.  "I always do things
like that.  I don't like to be bothered.  This is no great proof of
sagacity--is it?  Sagacious people I believe like to exercise that
faculty.  I have heard that they can't even help showing it in the
veriest trifles.  It must be very delightful.  But I know nothing of it.
I think that I have no sagacity--no practical sagacity."

Fyne made an inarticulate bass murmur of protest.  I asked after the
children whom I had not seen yet since my return from town.  They had
been very well.  They were always well.  Both Fyne and Mrs. Fyne spoke of
the rude health of their children as if it were a result of moral
excellence; in a peculiar tone which seemed to imply some contempt for
people whose children were liable to be unwell at times.  One almost felt
inclined to apologize for the inquiry.  And this annoyed me;
unreasonably, I admit, because the assumption of superior merit is not a
very exceptional weakness.  Anxious to make myself disagreeable by way of
retaliation I observed in accents of interested civility that the dear
girls must have been wondering at the sudden disappearance of their
mother's young friend.  Had they been putting any awkward questions about
Miss Smith.  Wasn't it as Miss Smith that Miss de Barral had been
introduced to me?

Mrs. Fyne, staring fixedly but also colouring deeper under her tan, told
me that the children had never liked Flora very much.  She hadn't the
high spirits which endear grown-ups to healthy children, Mrs. Fyne
explained unflinchingly.  Flora had been staying at the cottage several
times before.  Mrs. Fyne assured me that she often found it very
difficult to have her in the house.

"But what else could we do?" she exclaimed.

That little cry of distress quite genuine in its inexpressiveness,
altered my feeling towards Mrs. Fyne.  It would have been so easy to have
done nothing and to have thought no more about it.  My liking for her
began while she was trying to tell me of the night she spent by the
girl's bedside, the night before her departure with her unprepossessing
relative.  That Mrs. Fyne found means to comfort the child I doubt very
much.  She had not the genius for the task of undoing that which the hate
of an infuriated woman had planned so well.

You will tell me perhaps that children's impressions are not durable.
That's true enough.  But here, child is only a manner of speaking.  The
girl was within a few days of her sixteenth birthday; she was old enough
to be matured by the shock.  The very effort she had to make in conveying
the impression to Mrs. Fyne, in remembering the details, in finding
adequate words--or any words at all--was in itself a terribly
enlightening, an ageing process.  She had talked a long time,
uninterrupted by Mrs. Fyne, childlike enough in her wonder and pain,
pausing now and then to interject the pitiful query: "It was cruel of
her.  Wasn't it cruel, Mrs. Fyne?"

For Charley she found excuses.  He at any rate had not said anything,
while he had looked very gloomy and miserable.  He couldn't have taken
part against his aunt--could he?  But after all he did, when she called
upon him, take "that cruel woman away."  He had dragged her out by the
arm.  She had seen that plainly.  She remembered it.  That was it!  The
woman was mad.  "Oh!  Mrs. Fyne, don't tell me she wasn't mad.  If you
had only seen her face . . . "

But Mrs. Fyne was unflinching in her idea that as much truth as could be
told was due in the way of kindness to the girl, whose fate she feared
would be to live exposed to the hardest realities of unprivileged
existences.  She explained to her that there were in the world
evil-minded, selfish people.  Unscrupulous people . . . These two persons
had been after her father's money.  The best thing she could do was to
forget all about them.

"After papa's money?  I don't understand," poor Flora de Barral had
murmured, and lay still as if trying to think it out in the silence and
shadows of the room where only a night-light was burning.  Then she had a
long shivering fit while holding tight the hand of Mrs. Fyne whose
patient immobility by the bedside of that brutally murdered childhood did
infinite honour to her humanity.  That vigil must have been the more
trying because I could see very well that at no time did she think the
victim particularly charming or sympathetic.  It was a manifestation of
pure compassion, of compassion in itself, so to speak, not many women
would have been capable of displaying with that unflinching steadiness.
The shivering fit over, the girl's next words in an outburst of sobs
were, "Oh!  Mrs. Fyne, am I really such a horrid thing as she has made me
out to be?"

"No, no!" protested Mrs. Fyne.  "It is your former governess who is
horrid and odious.  She is a vile woman.  I cannot tell you that she was
mad but I think she must have been beside herself with rage and full of
evil thoughts.  You must try not to think of these abominations, my dear
child."

They were not fit for anyone to think of much, Mrs. Fyne commented to me
in a curt positive tone.  All that had been very trying.  The girl was
like a creature struggling under a net.

"But how can I forget? she called my father a cheat and a swindler!  Do
tell me Mrs. Fyne that it isn't true.  It can't be true.  How can it be
true?"

She sat up in bed with a sudden wild motion as if to jump out and flee
away from the sound of the words which had just passed her own lips.  Mrs.
Fyne restrained her, soothed her, induced her at last to lay her head on
her pillow again, assuring her all the time that nothing this woman had
had the cruelty to say deserved to be taken to heart.  The girl,
exhausted, cried quietly for a time.  It may be she had noticed something
evasive in Mrs. Fyne's assurances.  After a while, without stirring, she
whispered brokenly:

"That awful woman told me that all the world would call papa these awful
names.  Is it possible?  Is it possible?"

Mrs. Fyne kept silent.

"Do say something to me, Mrs. Fyne," the daughter of de Barral insisted
in the same feeble whisper.

Again Mrs. Fyne assured me that it had been very trying.  Terribly
trying.  "Yes, thanks, I will."  She leaned back in the chair with folded
arms while I poured another cup of tea for her, and Fyne went out to
pacify the dog which, tied up under the porch, had become suddenly very
indignant at somebody having the audacity to walk along the lane.  Mrs.
Fyne stirred her tea for a long time, drank a little, put the cup down
and said with that air of accepting all the consequences:

"Silence would have been unfair.  I don't think it would have been kind
either.  I told her that she must be prepared for the world passing a
very severe judgment on her father . . . "

* * * * *

"Wasn't it admirable," cried Marlow interrupting his narrative.
"Admirable!"  And as I looked dubiously at this unexpected enthusiasm he
started justifying it after his own manner.

"I say admirable because it was so characteristic.  It was perfect.
Nothing short of genius could have found better.  And this was nature!  As
they say of an artist's work: this was a perfect Fyne.
Compassion--judiciousness--something correctly measured.  None of your
dishevelled sentiment.  And right!  You must confess that nothing could
have been more right.  I had a mind to shout "Brava!  Brava!" but I did
not do that.  I took a piece of cake and went out to bribe the Fyne dog
into some sort of self-control.  His sharp comical yapping was
unbearable, like stabs through one's brain, and Fyne's deeply modulated
remonstrances abashed the vivacious animal no more than the deep, patient
murmur of the sea abashes a nigger minstrel on a popular beach.  Fyne was
beginning to swear at him in low, sepulchral tones when I appeared.  The
dog became at once wildly demonstrative, half strangling himself in his
collar, his eyes and tongue hanging out in the excess of his
incomprehensible affection for me.  This was before he caught sight of
the cake in my hand.  A series of vertical springs high up in the air
followed, and then, when he got the cake, he instantly lost his interest
in everything else.

Fyne was slightly vexed with me.  As kind a master as any dog could wish
to have, he yet did not approve of cake being given to dogs.  The Fyne
dog was supposed to lead a Spartan existence on a diet of repulsive
biscuits with an occasional dry, hygienic, bone thrown in.  Fyne looked
down gloomily at the appeased animal, I too looked at that fool-dog; and
(you know how one's memory gets suddenly stimulated) I was reminded
visually, with an almost painful distinctness, of the ghostly white face
of the girl I saw last accompanied by that dog--deserted by that dog.  I
almost heard her distressed voice as if on the verge of resentful tears
calling to the dog, the unsympathetic dog.  Perhaps she had not the power
of evoking sympathy, that personal gift of direct appeal to the feelings.
I said to Fyne, mistrusting the supine attitude of the dog:

"Why don't you let him come inside?"

Oh dear no!  He couldn't think of it!  I might indeed have saved my
breath, I knew it was one of the Fynes' rules of life, part of their
solemnity and responsibility, one of those things that were part of their
unassertive but ever present superiority, that their dog must not be
allowed in.  It was most improper to intrude the dog into the houses of
the people they were calling on--if it were only a careless bachelor in
farmhouse lodgings and a personal friend of the dog.  It was out of the
question.  But they would let him bark one's sanity away outside one's
window.  They were strangely consistent in their lack of imaginative
sympathy.  I didn't insist but simply led the way back to the parlour,
hoping that no wayfarer would happen along the lane for the next hour or
so to disturb the dog's composure.

Mrs. Fyne seated immovable before the table charged with plates, cups,
jugs, a cold teapot, crumbs, and the general litter of the entertainment
turned her head towards us.

"You see, Mr. Marlow," she said in an unexpectedly confidential tone:
"they are so utterly unsuited for each other."

At the moment I did not know how to apply this remark.  I thought at
first of Fyne and the dog.  Then I adjusted it to the matter in hand
which was neither more nor less than an elopement.  Yes, by Jove!  It was
something very much like an elopement--with certain unusual
characteristics of its own which made it in a sense equivocal.  With
amused wonder I remembered that my sagacity was requisitioned in such a
connection.  How unexpected!  But we never know what tests our gifts may
be put to.  Sagacity dictated caution first of all.  I believe caution to
be the first duty of sagacity.  Fyne sat down as if preparing himself to
witness a joust, I thought.

"Do you think so, Mrs. Fyne?" I said sagaciously.  "Of course you are in
a position . . . "  I was continuing with caution when she struck out
vivaciously for immediate assent.

"Obviously!  Clearly!  You yourself must admit . . . "

"But, Mrs. Fyne," I remonstrated, "you forget that I don't know your
brother."

This argument which was not only sagacious but true, overwhelmingly true,
unanswerably true, seemed to surprise her.

I wondered why.  I did not know enough of her brother for the remotest
guess at what he might be like.  I had never set eyes on the man.  I
didn't know him so completely that by contrast I seemed to have known
Miss de Barral--whom I had seen twice (altogether about sixty minutes)
and with whom I had exchanged about sixty words--from the cradle so to
speak.  And perhaps, I thought, looking down at Mrs. Fyne (I had remained
standing) perhaps she thinks that this ought to be enough for a sagacious
assent.

She kept silent; and I looking at her with polite expectation, went on
addressing her mentally in a mood of familiar approval which would have
astonished her had it been audible: You my dear at any rate are a sincere
woman . . . "

"I call a woman sincere," Marlow began again after giving me a cigar and
lighting one himself, "I call a woman sincere when she volunteers a
statement resembling remotely in form what she really would like to say,
what she really thinks ought to be said if it were not for the necessity
to spare the stupid sensitiveness of men.  The women's rougher, simpler,
more upright judgment, embraces the whole truth, which their tact, their
mistrust of masculine idealism, ever prevents them from speaking in its
entirety.  And their tact is unerring.  We could not stand women speaking
the truth.  We could not bear it.  It would cause infinite misery and
bring about most awful disturbances in this rather mediocre, but still
idealistic fool's paradise in which each of us lives his own little
life--the unit in the great sum of existence.  And they know it.  They
are merciful.  This generalization does not apply exactly to Mrs. Fyne's
outburst of sincerity in a matter in which neither my affections nor my
vanity were engaged.  That's why, may be, she ventured so far.  For a
woman she chose to be as open as the day with me.  There was not only the
form but almost the whole substance of her thought in what she said.  She
believed she could risk it.  She had reasoned somewhat in this way;
there's a man, possessing a certain amount of sagacity . . . "

Marlow paused with a whimsical look at me.  The last few words he had
spoken with the cigar in his teeth.  He took it out now by an ample
movement of his arm and blew a thin cloud.

"You smile?  It would have been more kind to spare my blushes.  But as a
matter of fact I need not blush.  This is not vanity; it is analysis.
We'll let sagacity stand.  But we must also note what sagacity in this
connection stands for.  When you see this you shall see also that there
was nothing in it to alarm my modesty.  I don't think Mrs. Fyne credited
me with the possession of wisdom tempered by common sense.  And had I had
the wisdom of the Seven Sages of Antiquity, she would not have been moved
to confidence or admiration.  The secret scorn of women for the capacity
to consider judiciously and to express profoundly a meditated conclusion
is unbounded.  They have no use for these lofty exercises which they look
upon as a sort of purely masculine game--game meaning a respectable
occupation devised to kill time in this man-arranged life which must be
got through somehow.  What women's acuteness really respects are the
inept "ideas" and the sheeplike impulses by which our actions and
opinions are determined in matters of real importance.  For if women are
not rational they are indeed acute.  Even Mrs. Fyne was acute.  The good
woman was making up to her husband's chess-player simply because she had
scented in him that small portion of 'femininity,' that drop of superior
essence of which I am myself aware; which, I gratefully acknowledge, has
saved me from one or two misadventures in my life either ridiculous or
lamentable, I am not very certain which.  It matters very little.  Anyhow
misadventures.  Observe that I say 'femininity,' a privilege--not
'feminism,' an attitude.  I am not a feminist.  It was Fyne who on
certain solemn grounds had adopted that mental attitude; but it was
enough to glance at him sitting on one side, to see that he was purely
masculine to his finger-tips, masculine solidly, densely,
amusingly,--hopelessly.

I did glance at him.  You don't get your sagacity recognized by a man's
wife without feeling the propriety and even the need to glance at the man
now and again.  So I glanced at him.  Very masculine.  So much so that
"hopelessly" was not the last word of it.  He was helpless.  He was bound
and delivered by it.  And if by the obscure promptings of my composite
temperament I beheld him with malicious amusement, yet being in fact, by
definition and especially from profound conviction, a man, I could not
help sympathizing with him largely.  Seeing him thus disarmed, so
completely captive by the very nature of things I was moved to speak to
him kindly.

"Well.  And what do you think of it?"

"I don't know.  How's one to tell?  But I say that the thing is done now
and there's an end of it," said the masculine creature as bluntly as his
innate solemnity permitted.

Mrs. Fyne moved a little in her chair.  I turned to her and remarked
gently that this was a charge, a criticism, which was often made.  Some
people always ask: What could he see in her?  Others wonder what she
could have seen in him?  Expressions of unsuitability.

She said with all the emphasis of her quietly folded arms:

"I know perfectly well what Flora has seen in my brother."

I bowed my head to the gust but pursued my point.

"And then the marriage in most cases turns out no worse than the average,
to say the least of it."

Mrs. Fyne was disappointed by the optimistic turn of my sagacity.  She
rested her eyes on my face as though in doubt whether I had enough
femininity in my composition to understand the case.

I waited for her to speak.  She seemed to be asking herself; Is it after
all, worth while to talk to that man?  You understand how provoking this
was.  I looked in my mind for something appallingly stupid to say, with
the object of distressing and teasing Mrs. Fyne.  It is humiliating to
confess a failure.  One would think that a man of average intelligence
could command stupidity at will.  But it isn't so.  I suppose it's a
special gift or else the difficulty consists in being relevant.
Discovering that I could find no really telling stupidity, I turned to
the next best thing; a platitude.  I advanced, in a common-sense tone,
that, surely, in the matter of marriage a man had only himself to please.

Mrs. Fyne received this without the flutter of an eyelid.  Fyne's
masculine breast, as might have been expected, was pierced by that old,
regulation shaft.  He grunted most feelingly.  I turned to him with false
simplicity.  "Don't you agree with me?"

"The very thing I've been telling my wife," he exclaimed in his extra-
manly bass.  "We have been discussing--"

A discussion in the Fyne menage!  How portentous!  Perhaps the very first
difference they had ever had: Mrs. Fyne unflinching and ready for any
responsibility, Fyne solemn and shrinking--the children in bed upstairs;
and outside the dark fields, the shadowy contours of the land on the
starry background of the universe, with the crude light of the open
window like a beacon for the truant who would never come back now; a
truant no longer but a downright fugitive.  Yet a fugitive carrying off
spoils.  It was the flight of a raider--or a traitor?  This affair of the
purloined brother, as I had named it to myself, had a very puzzling
physiognomy.  The girl must have been desperate, I thought, hearing the
grave voice of Fyne well enough but catching the sense of his words not
at all, except the very last words which were:

"Of course, it's extremely distressing."

I looked at him inquisitively.  What was distressing him?  The purloining
of the son of the poet-tyrant by the daughter of the financier-convict.
Or only, if I may say so, the wind of their flight disturbing the solemn
placidity of the Fynes' domestic atmosphere.  My incertitude did not last
long, for he added:

"Mrs. Fyne urges me to go to London at once."

One could guess at, almost see, his profound distaste for the journey,
his distress at a difference of feeling with his wife.  With his serious
view of the sublunary comedy Fyne suffered from not being able to agree
solemnly with her sentiment as he was accustomed to do, in recognition of
having had his way in one supreme instance; when he made her elope with
him--the most momentous step imaginable in a young lady's life.  He had
been really trying to acknowledge it by taking the rightness of her
feeling for granted on every other occasion.  It had become a sort of
habit at last.  And it is never pleasant to break a habit.  The man was
deeply troubled.  I said: "Really!  To go to London!"

He looked dumbly into my eyes.  It was pathetic and funny.  "And you of
course feel it would be useless," I pursued.

He evidently felt that, though he said nothing.  He only went on blinking
at me with a solemn and comical slowness.  "Unless it be to carry there
the family's blessing," I went on, indulging my chaffing humour steadily,
in a rather sneaking fashion, for I dared not look at Mrs. Fyne, to my
right.  No sound or movement came from that direction.  "You think very
naturally that to match mere good, sound reasons, against the passionate
conclusions of love is a waste of intellect bordering on the absurd."

He looked surprised as if I had discovered something very clever.  He,
dear man, had thought of nothing at all.

He simply knew that he did not want to go to London on that mission.  Mere
masculine delicacy.  In a moment he became enthusiastic.

"Yes!  Yes!  Exactly.  A man in love . . . You hear, my dear?  Here you
have an independent opinion--"

"Can anything be more hopeless," I insisted to the fascinated little
Fyne, "than to pit reason against love.  I must confess however that in
this case when I think of that poor girl's sharp chin I wonder if . . . "

My levity was too much for Mrs. Fyne.  Still leaning back in her chair
she exclaimed:

"Mr. Marlow!"

* * * * *

As if mysteriously affected by her indignation the absurd Fyne dog began
to bark in the porch.  It might have been at a trespassing bumble-bee
however.  That animal was capable of any eccentricity.  Fyne got up
quickly and went out to him.  I think he was glad to leave us alone to
discuss that matter of his journey to London.  A sort of anti-sentimental
journey.  He, too, apparently, had confidence in my sagacity.  It was
touching, this confidence.  It was at any rate more genuine than the
confidence his wife pretended to have in her husband's chess-player, of
three successive holidays.  Confidence be hanged!  Sagacity--indeed!  She
had simply marched in without a shadow of misgiving to make me back her
up.  But she had delivered herself into my hands . . . "

Interrupting his narrative Marlow addressed me in his tone between grim
jest and grim earnest:

"Perhaps you didn't know that my character is upon the whole rather
vindictive."

"No, I didn't know," I said with a grin.  "That's rather unusual for a
sailor.  They always seemed to me the least vindictive body of men in the
world."

"H'm!  Simple souls," Marlow muttered moodily.  "Want of opportunity.  The
world leaves them alone for the most part.  For myself it's towards women
that I feel vindictive mostly, in my small way.  I admit that it is
small.  But then the occasions in themselves are not great.  Mainly I
resent that pretence of winding us round their dear little fingers, as of
right.  Not that the result ever amounts to much generally.  There are so
very few momentous opportunities.  It is the assumption that each of us
is a combination of a kid and an imbecile which I find provoking--in a
small way; in a very small way.  You needn't stare as though I were
breathing fire and smoke out of my nostrils.  I am not a women-devouring
monster.  I am not even what is technically called "a brute."  I hope
there's enough of a kid and an imbecile in me to answer the requirements
of some really good woman eventually--some day . . . Some day.  Why do
you gasp?  You don't suppose I should be afraid of getting married?  That
supposition would be offensive . . . "

"I wouldn't dream of offending you," I said.

"Very well.  But meantime please remember that I was not married to Mrs.
Fyne.  That lady's little finger was none of my legal property.  I had
not run off with it.  It was Fyne who had done that thing.  Let him be
wound round as much as his backbone could stand--or even more, for all I
cared.  His rushing away from the discussion on the transparent pretence
of quieting the dog confirmed my notion of there being a considerable
strain on his elasticity.  I confronted Mrs. Fyne resolved not to assist
her in her eminently feminine occupation of thrusting a stick in the
spokes of another woman's wheel.

She tried to preserve her calm-eyed superiority.  She was familiar and
olympian, fenced in by the tea-table, that excellent symbol of domestic
life in its lighter hour and its perfect security.  In a few severely
unadorned words she gave me to understand that she had ventured to hope
for some really helpful suggestion from me.  To this almost chiding
declaration--because my vindictiveness seldom goes further than a bit of
teasing--I said that I was really doing my best.  And being a
physiognomist . . . "

"Being what?" she interrupted me.

"A physiognomist," I repeated raising my voice a little.  "A
physiognomist, Mrs. Fyne.  And on the principles of that science a
pointed little chin is a sufficient ground for interference.  You want to
interfere--do you not?"

Her eyes grew distinctly bigger.  She had never been bantered before in
her life.  The late subtle poet's method of making himself unpleasant was
merely savage and abusive.  Fyne had been always solemnly subservient.
What other men she knew I cannot tell but I assume they must have been
gentlemanly creatures.  The girl-friends sat at her feet.  How could she
recognize my intention.  She didn't know what to make of my tone.

"Are you serious in what you say?" she asked slowly.  And it was
touching.  It was as if a very young, confiding girl had spoken.  I felt
myself relenting.

"No.  I am not, Mrs. Fyne," I said.  "I didn't know I was expected to be
serious as well as sagacious.  No.  That science is farcical and
therefore I am not serious.  It's true that most sciences are farcical
except those which teach us how to put things together."

"The question is how to keep these two people apart," she struck in.  She
had recovered.  I admired the quickness of women's wit.  Mental agility
is a rare perfection.  And aren't they agile!  Aren't they--just!  And
tenacious!  When they once get hold you may uproot the tree but you won't
shake them off the branch.  In fact the more you shake . . . But only
look at the charm of contradictory perfections!  No wonder men give
in--generally.  I won't say I was actually charmed by Mrs. Fyne.  I was
not delighted with her.  What affected me was not what she displayed but
something which she could not conceal.  And that was emotion--nothing
less.  The form of her declaration was dry, almost peremptory--but not
its tone.  Her voice faltered just the least bit, she smiled faintly; and
as we were looking straight at each other I observed that her eyes were
glistening in a peculiar manner.  She was distressed.  And indeed that
Mrs. Fyne should have appealed to me at all was in itself the evidence of
her profound distress.  "By Jove she's desperate too," I thought.  This
discovery was followed by a movement of instinctive shrinking from this
unreasonable and unmasculine affair.  They were all alike, with their
supreme interest aroused only by fighting with each other about some man:
a lover, a son, a brother.

"But do you think there's time yet to do anything?" I asked.

She had an impatient movement of her shoulders without detaching herself
from the back of the chair.  Time!  Of course?  It was less than forty-
eight hours since she had followed him to London . . . I am no great
clerk at those matters but I murmured vaguely an allusion to special
licences.  We couldn't tell what might have happened to-day already.  But
she knew better, scornfully.  Nothing had happened.

"Nothing's likely to happen before next Friday week,--if then."

This was wonderfully precise.  Then after a pause she added that she
should never forgive herself if some effort were not made, an appeal.

"To your brother?" I asked.

"Yes.  John ought to go to-morrow.  Nine o'clock train."

"So early as that!" I said.  But I could not find it in my heart to
pursue this discussion in a jocular tone.  I submitted to her several
obvious arguments, dictated apparently by common sense but in reality by
my secret compassion.  Mrs. Fyne brushed them aside, with the
semi-conscious egoism of all safe, established, existences.  They had
known each other so little.  Just three weeks.  And of that time, too
short for the birth of any serious sentiment, the first week had to be
deducted.  They would hardly look at each other to begin with.  Flora
barely consented to acknowledge Captain Anthony's presence.  Good
morning--good night--that was all--absolutely the whole extent of their
intercourse.  Captain Anthony was a silent man, completely unused to the
society of girls of any sort and so shy in fact that he avoided raising
his eyes to her face at the table.  It was perfectly absurd.  It was even
inconvenient, embarrassing to her--Mrs. Fyne.  After breakfast Flora
would go off by herself for a long walk and Captain Anthony (Mrs. Fyne
referred to him at times also as Roderick) joined the children.  But he
was actually too shy to get on terms with his own nieces.

This would have sounded pathetic if I hadn't known the Fyne children who
were at the same time solemn and malicious, and nursed a secret contempt
for all the world.  No one could get on terms with those fresh and comely
young monsters!  They just tolerated their parents and seemed to have a
sort of mocking understanding among themselves against all outsiders, yet
with no visible affection for each other.  They had the habit of
exchanging derisive glances which to a shy man must have been very
trying.  They thought their uncle no doubt a bore and perhaps an ass.

I was not surprised to hear that very soon Anthony formed the habit of
crossing the two neighbouring fields to seek the shade of a clump of elms
at a good distance from the cottage.  He lay on the grass and smoked his
pipe all the morning.  Mrs. Fyne wondered at her brother's indolent
habits.  He had asked for books it is true but there were but few in the
cottage.  He read them through in three days and then continued to lie
contentedly on his back with no other companion but his pipe.  Amazing
indolence!  The live-long morning, Mrs. Fyne, busy writing upstairs in
the cottage, could see him out of the window.  She had a very long sight,
and these elms were grouped on a rise of the ground.  His indolence was
plainly exposed to her criticism on a gentle green slope.  Mrs. Fyne
wondered at it; she was disgusted too.  But having just then 'commenced
author,' as you know, she could not tear herself away from the
fascinating novelty.  She let him wallow in his vice.  I imagine Captain
Anthony must have had a rather pleasant time in a quiet way.  It was, I
remember, a hot dry summer, favourable to contemplative life out of
doors.  And Mrs. Fyne was scandalized.  Women don't understand the force
of a contemplative temperament.  It simply shocks them.  They feel
instinctively that it is the one which escapes best the domination of
feminine influences.  The dear girls were exchanging jeering remarks
about "lazy uncle Roderick" openly, in her indulgent hearing.  And it was
so strange, she told me, because as a boy he was anything but indolent.
On the contrary.  Always active.

I remarked that a man of thirty-five was no longer a boy.  It was an
obvious remark but she received it without favour.  She told me
positively that the best, the nicest men remained boys all their lives.
She was disappointed not to be able to detect anything boyish in her
brother.  Very, very sorry.  She had not seen him for fifteen years or
thereabouts, except on three or four occasions for a few hours at a time.
No.  Not a trace of the boy, he used to be, left in him.

She fell silent for a moment and I mused idly on the boyhood of little
Fyne.  I could not imagine what it might have been like.  His dominant
trait was clearly the remnant of still earlier days, because I've never
seen such staring solemnity as Fyne's except in a very young baby.  But
where was he all that time?  Didn't he suffer contamination from the
indolence of Captain Anthony, I inquired.  I was told that Mr. Fyne was
very little at the cottage at the time.  Some colleague of his was
convalescing after a severe illness in a little seaside village in the
neighbourhood and Fyne went off every morning by train to spend the day
with the elderly invalid who had no one to look after him.  It was a very
praiseworthy excuse for neglecting his brother-in-law "the son of the
poet, you know," with whom he had nothing in common even in the remotest
degree.  If Captain Anthony (Roderick) had been a pedestrian it would
have been sufficient; but he was not.  Still, in the afternoon, he went
sometimes for a slow casual stroll, by himself of course, the children
having definitely cold-shouldered him, and his only sister being busy
with that inflammatory book which was to blaze upon the world a year or
more afterwards.  It seems however that she was capable of detaching her
eyes from her task now and then, if only for a moment, because it was
from that garret fitted out for a study that one afternoon she observed
her brother and Flora de Barral coming down the road side by side.  They
had met somewhere accidentally (which of them crossed the other's path,
as the saying is, I don't know), and were returning to tea together.  She
noticed that they appeared to be conversing without constraint.

"I had the simplicity to be pleased," Mrs. Fyne commented with a dry
little laugh.  "Pleased for both their sakes."  Captain Anthony shook off
his indolence from that day forth, and accompanied Miss Flora frequently
on her morning walks.  Mrs. Fyne remained pleased.  She could now forget
them comfortably and give herself up to the delights of audacious thought
and literary composition.  Only a week before the blow fell she,
happening to raise her eyes from the paper, saw two figures seated on the
grass under the shade of the elms.  She could make out the white blouse.
There could be no mistake.

"I suppose they imagined themselves concealed by the hedge.  They forgot
no doubt I was working in the garret," she said bitterly.  "Or perhaps
they didn't care.  They were right.  I am rather a simple person . . . "
She laughed again . . . "I was incapable of suspecting such duplicity."

"Duplicity is a strong word, Mrs. Fyne--isn't it?" I expostulated.  "And
considering that Captain Anthony himself . . . "

"Oh well--perhaps," she interrupted me.  Her eyes which never strayed
away from mine, her set features, her whole immovable figure, how well I
knew those appearances of a person who has "made up her mind."  A very
hopeless condition that, specially in women.  I mistrusted her concession
so easily, so stonily made.  She reflected a moment.  "Yes.  I ought to
have said--ingratitude, perhaps."

After having thus disengaged her brother and pushed the poor girl a
little further off as it were--isn't women's cleverness perfectly
diabolic when they are really put on their mettle?--after having done
these things and also made me feel that I was no match for her, she went
on scrupulously: "One doesn't like to use that word either.  The claim is
very small.  It's so little one could do for her.  Still . . . "

"I dare say," I exclaimed, throwing diplomacy to the winds.  "But really,
Mrs. Fyne, it's impossible to dismiss your brother like this out of the
business . . . "

"She threw herself at his head," Mrs. Fyne uttered firmly.

"He had no business to put his head in the way, then," I retorted with an
angry laugh.  I didn't restrain myself because her fixed stare seemed to
express the purpose to daunt me.  I was not afraid of her, but it
occurred to me that I was within an ace of drifting into a downright
quarrel with a lady and, besides, my guest.  There was the cold teapot,
the emptied cups, emblems of hospitality.  It could not be.  I cut short
my angry laugh while Mrs. Fyne murmured with a slight movement of her
shoulders, "He!  Poor man!  Oh come . . . "

By a great effort of will I found myself able to smile amiably, to speak
with proper softness.

"My dear Mrs. Fyne, you forget that I don't know him--not even by sight.
It's difficult to imagine a victim as passive as all that; but granting
you the (I very nearly said: imbecility, but checked myself in time)
innocence of Captain Anthony, don't you think now, frankly, that there is
a little of your own fault in what has happened.  You bring them
together, you leave your brother to himself!"

She sat up and leaning her elbow on the table sustained her head in her
open palm casting down her eyes.  Compunction?  It was indeed a very off-
hand way of treating a brother come to stay for the first time in fifteen
years.  I suppose she discovered very soon that she had nothing in common
with that sailor, that stranger, fashioned and marked by the sea of long
voyages.  In her strong-minded way she had scorned pretences, had gone to
her writing which interested her immensely.  A very praiseworthy thing
your sincere conduct,--if it didn't at times resemble brutality so much.
But I don't think it was compunction.  That sentiment is rare in women
. . . "

"Is it?" I interrupted indignantly.

"You know more women than I do," retorted the unabashed Marlow.  "You
make it your business to know them--don't you?  You go about a lot
amongst all sorts of people.  You are a tolerably honest observer.  Well,
just try to remember how many instances of compunction you have seen.  I
am ready to take your bare word for it.  Compunction!  Have you ever seen
as much as its shadow?  Have you ever?  Just a shadow--a passing shadow!
I tell you it is so rare that you may call it non-existent.  They are too
passionate.  Too pedantic.  Too courageous with themselves--perhaps.  No
I don't think for a moment that Mrs. Fyne felt the slightest compunction
at her treatment of her sea-going brother.  What _he_ thought of it who
can tell?  It is possible that he wondered why he had been so insistently
urged to come.  It is possible that he wondered bitterly--or
contemptuously--or humbly.  And it may be that he was only surprised and
bored.  Had he been as sincere in his conduct as his only sister he would
have probably taken himself off at the end of the second day.  But
perhaps he was afraid of appearing brutal.  I am not far removed from the
conviction that between the sincerities of his sister and of his dear
nieces, Captain Anthony of the _Ferndale_ must have had his loneliness
brought home to his bosom for the first time of his life, at an age,
thirty-five or thereabouts, when one is mature enough to feel the pang of
such a discovery.  Angry or simply sad but certainly disillusioned he
wanders about and meets the girl one afternoon and under the sway of a
strong feeling forgets his shyness.  This is no supposition.  It is a
fact.  There was such a meeting in which the shyness must have perished
before we don't know what encouragement, or in the community of mood made
apparent by some casual word.  You remember that Mrs. Fyne saw them one
afternoon coming back to the cottage together.  Don't you think that I
have hit on the psychology of the situation? . . . "

"Doubtless . . . "  I began to ponder.

"I was very certain of my conclusions at the time," Marlow went on
impatiently.  "But don't think for a moment that Mrs. Fyne in her new
attitude and toying thoughtfully with a teaspoon was about to surrender.
She murmured:

"It's the last thing I should have thought could happen."

"You didn't suppose they were romantic enough," I suggested dryly.

She let it pass and with great decision but as if speaking to herself,

"Roderick really must be warned."

She didn't give me the time to ask of what precisely.  She raised her
head and addressed me.

"I am surprised and grieved more than I can tell you at Mr. Fyne's
resistance.  We have been always completely at one on every question.  And
that we should differ now on a point touching my brother so closely is a
most painful surprise to me."  Her hand rattled the teaspoon brusquely by
an involuntary movement.  "It is intolerable," she added
tempestuously--for Mrs. Fyne that is.  I suppose she had nerves of her
own like any other woman.

Under the porch where Fyne had sought refuge with the dog there was
silence.  I took it for a proof of deep sagacity.  I don't mean on the
part of the dog.  He was a confirmed fool.

I said:

"You want absolutely to interfere . . . ?"  Mrs. Fyne nodded just
perceptibly . . . "Well--for my part . . . but I don't really know how
matters stand at the present time.  You have had a letter from Miss de
Barral.  What does that letter say?"

"She asks for her valise to be sent to her town address," Mrs. Fyne
uttered reluctantly and stopped.  I waited a bit--then exploded.

"Well!  What's the matter?  Where's the difficulty?  Does your husband
object to that?  You don't mean to say that he wants you to appropriate
the girl's clothes?"

"Mr. Marlow!"

"Well, but you talk of a painful difference of opinion with your husband,
and then, when I ask for information on the point, you bring out a
valise.  And only a few moments ago you reproached me for not being
serious.  I wonder who is the serious person of us two now."

She smiled faintly and in a friendly tone, from which I concluded at once
that she did not mean to show me the girl's letter, she said that
undoubtedly the letter disclosed an understanding between Captain Anthony
and Flora de Barral.

"What understanding?" I pressed her.  "An engagement is an
understanding."

"There is no engagement--not yet," she said decisively.  "That letter,
Mr. Marlow, is couched in very vague terms.  That is why--"

I interrupted her without ceremony.

"You still hope to interfere to some purpose.  Isn't it so?  Yes?  But
how should you have liked it if anybody had tried to interfere between
you and Mr. Fyne at the time when your understanding with each other
could still have been described in vague terms?"

She had a genuine movement of astonished indignation.  It is with the
accent of perfect sincerity that she cried out at me:

"But it isn't at all the same thing!  How can you!"

Indeed how could I!  The daughter of a poet and the daughter of a convict
are not comparable in the consequences of their conduct if their
necessity may wear at times a similar aspect.  Amongst these consequences
I could perceive undesirable cousins for these dear healthy girls, and
such like, possible causes of embarrassment in the future.

"No!  You can't be serious," Mrs. Fyne's smouldering resentment broke out
again.  "You haven't thought--"

"Oh yes, Mrs. Fyne!  I have thought.  I am still thinking.  I am even
trying to think like you."

"Mr. Marlow," she said earnestly.  "Believe me that I really am thinking
of my brother in all this . . . "  I assured her that I quite believed
she was.  For there is no law of nature making it impossible to think of
more than one person at a time.  Then I said:

"She has told him all about herself of course."

"All about her life," assented Mrs. Fyne with an air, however, of making
some mental reservation which I did not pause to investigate.  "Her
life!" I repeated.  "That girl must have had a mighty bad time of it."

"Horrible," Mrs. Fyne admitted with a ready frankness very creditable
under the circumstances, and a warmth of tone which made me look at her
with a friendly eye.  "Horrible!  No!  You can't imagine the sort of
vulgar people she became dependent on . . . You know her father never
attempted to see her while he was still at large.  After his arrest he
instructed that relative of his--the odious person who took her away from
Brighton--not to let his daughter come to the court during the trial.  He
refused to hold any communication with her whatever."

I remembered what Mrs. Fyne had told me before of the view she had years
ago of de Barral clinging to the child at the side of his wife's grave
and later on of these two walking hand in hand the observed of all eyes
by the sea.  Pictures from Dickens--pregnant with pathos.



CHAPTER SIX--FLORA


"A very singular prohibition," remarked Mrs. Fyne after a short silence.
"He seemed to love the child."

She was puzzled.  But I surmised that it might have been the sullenness
of a man unconscious of guilt and standing at bay to fight his
"persecutors," as he called them; or else the fear of a softer emotion
weakening his defiant attitude; perhaps, even, it was a self-denying
ordinance, in order to spare the girl the sight of her father in the
dock, accused of cheating, sentenced as a swindler--proving the
possession of a certain moral delicacy.

Mrs. Fyne didn't know what to think.  She supposed it might have been
mere callousness.  But the people amongst whom the girl had fallen had
positively not a grain of moral delicacy.  Of that she was certain.  Mrs.
Fyne could not undertake to give me an idea of their abominable
vulgarity.  Flora used to tell her something of her life in that
household, over there, down Limehouse way.  It was incredible.  It passed
Mrs. Fyne's comprehension.  It was a sort of moral savagery which she
could not have thought possible.

I, on the contrary, thought it very possible.  I could imagine easily how
the poor girl must have been bewildered and hurt at her reception in that
household--envied for her past while delivered defenceless to the tender
mercies of people without any fineness either of feeling or mind, unable
to understand her misery, grossly curious, mistaking her manner for
disdain, her silent shrinking for pride.  The wife of the "odious person"
was witless and fatuously conceited.  Of the two girls of the house one
was pious and the other a romp; both were coarse-minded--if they may be
credited with any mind at all.  The rather numerous men of the family
were dense and grumpy, or dense and jocose.  None in that grubbing lot
had enough humanity to leave her alone.  At first she was made much of,
in an offensively patronising manner.  The connection with the great de
Barral gratified their vanity even in the moment of the smash.  They
dragged her to their place of worship, whatever it might have been, where
the congregation stared at her, and they gave parties to other beings
like themselves at which they exhibited her with ignoble
self-satisfaction.  She did not know how to defend herself from their
importunities, insolence and exigencies.  She lived amongst them, a
passive victim, quivering in every nerve, as if she were flayed.  After
the trial her position became still worse.  On the least occasion and
even on no occasions at all she was scolded, or else taunted with her
dependence.  The pious girl lectured her on her defects, the romping girl
teased her with contemptuous references to her accomplishments, and was
always trying to pick insensate quarrels with her about some "fellow" or
other.  The mother backed up her girls invariably, adding her own silly,
wounding remarks.  I must say they were probably not aware of the
ugliness of their conduct.  They were nasty amongst themselves as a
matter of course; their disputes were nauseating in origin, in manner, in
the spirit of mean selfishness.  These women, too, seemed to enjoy
greatly any sort of row and were always ready to combine together to make
awful scenes to the luckless girl on incredibly flimsy pretences.  Thus
Flora on one occasion had been reduced to rage and despair, had her most
secret feelings lacerated, had obtained a view of the utmost baseness to
which common human nature can descend--I won't say _a propos de bottes_
as the French would excellently put it, but literally _a propos_ of some
mislaid cheap lace trimmings for a nightgown the romping one was making
for herself.  Yes, that was the origin of one of the grossest scenes
which, in their repetition, must have had a deplorable effect on the
unformed character of the most pitiful of de Barral's victims.  I have it
from Mrs. Fyne.  The girl turned up at the Fynes' house at half-past nine
on a cold, drizzly evening.  She had walked bareheaded, I believe, just
as she ran out of the house, from somewhere in Poplar to the
neighbourhood of Sloane Square--without stopping, without drawing breath,
if only for a sob.

"We were having some people to dinner," said the anxious sister of
Captain Anthony.

She had heard the front door bell and wondered what it might mean.  The
parlourmaid managed to whisper to her without attracting attention.  The
servants had been frightened by the invasion of that wild girl in a muddy
skirt and with wisps of damp hair sticking to her pale cheeks.  But they
had seen her before.  This was not the first occasion, nor yet the last.

Directly she could slip away from her guests Mrs. Fyne ran upstairs.

"I found her in the night nursery crouching on the floor, her head
resting on the cot of the youngest of my girls.  The eldest was sitting
up in bed looking at her across the room."

Only a nightlight was burning there.  Mrs. Fyne raised her up, took her
over to Mr. Fyne's little dressing-room on the other side of the landing,
to a fire by which she could dry herself, and left her there.  She had to
go back to her guests.

A most disagreeable surprise it must have been to the Fynes.  Afterwards
they both went up and interviewed the girl.  She jumped up at their
entrance.  She had shaken her damp hair loose; her eyes were dry--with
the heat of rage.

I can imagine little Fyne solemnly sympathetic, solemnly listening,
solemnly retreating to the marital bedroom.  Mrs. Fyne pacified the girl,
and, fortunately, there was a bed which could be made up for her in the
dressing-room.

"But--what could one do after all!" concluded Mrs. Fyne.

And this stereotyped exclamation, expressing the difficulty of the
problem and the readiness (at any rate) of good intentions, made me, as
usual, feel more kindly towards her.

Next morning, very early, long before Fyne had to start for his office,
the "odious personage" turned up, not exactly unexpected perhaps, but
startling all the same, if only by the promptness of his action.  From
what Flora herself related to Mrs. Fyne, it seems that without being very
perceptibly less "odious" than his family he had in a rather mysterious
fashion interposed his authority for the protection of the girl.  "Not
that he cares," explained Flora.  "I am sure he does not.  I could not
stand being liked by any of these people.  If I thought he liked me I
would drown myself rather than go back with him."

For of course he had come to take "Florrie" home.  The scene was the
dining-room--breakfast interrupted, dishes growing cold, little Fyne's
toast growing leathery, Fyne out of his chair with his back to the fire,
the newspaper on the carpet, servants shut out, Mrs. Fyne rigid in her
place with the girl sitting beside her--the "odious person," who had
bustled in with hardly a greeting, looking from Fyne to Mrs. Fyne as
though he were inwardly amused at something he knew of them; and then
beginning ironically his discourse.  He did not apologize for disturbing
Fyne and his "good lady" at breakfast, because he knew they did not want
(with a nod at the girl) to have more of her than could be helped.  He
came the first possible moment because he had his business to attend to.
He wasn't drawing a tip-top salary (this staring at Fyne) in a
luxuriously furnished office.  Not he.  He had risen to be an employer of
labour and was bound to give a good example.

I believe the fellow was aware of, and enjoyed quietly, the consternation
his presence brought to the bosom of Mr. and Mrs. Fyne.  He turned
briskly to the girl.  Mrs. Fyne confessed to me that they had remained
all three silent and inanimate.  He turned to the girl: "What's this
game, Florrie?  You had better give it up.  If you expect me to run all
over London looking for you every time you happen to have a tiff with
your auntie and cousins you are mistaken.  I can't afford it."

Tiff--was the sort of definition to take one's breath away, having regard
to the fact that both the word convict and the word pauper had been used
a moment before Flora de Barral ran away from the quarrel about the lace
trimmings.  Yes, these very words!  So at least the girl had told Mrs.
Fyne the evening before.  The word tiff in connection with her tale had a
peculiar savour, a paralysing effect.  Nobody made a sound.  The relative
of de Barral proceeded uninterrupted to a display of magnanimity.  "Auntie
told me to tell you she's sorry--there!  And Amelia (the romping sister)
shan't worry you again.  I'll see to that.  You ought to be satisfied.
Remember your position."

Emboldened by the utter stillness pervading the room he addressed himself
to Mrs. Fyne with stolid effrontery:

"What I say is that people should be good-natured.  She can't stand being
chaffed.  She puts on her grand airs.  She won't take a bit of a joke
from people as good as herself anyway.  We are a plain lot.  We don't
like it.  And that's how trouble begins."

Insensible to the stony stare of three pairs of eyes, which, if the
stories of our childhood as to the power of the human eye are true, ought
to have been enough to daunt a tiger, that unabashed manufacturer from
the East End fastened his fangs, figuratively speaking, into the poor
girl and prepared to drag her away for a prey to his cubs of both sexes.
"Auntie has thought of sending you your hat and coat.  I've got them
outside in the cab."

Mrs. Fyne looked mechanically out of the window.  A four-wheeler stood
before the gate under the weeping sky.  The driver in his conical cape
and tarpaulin hat, streamed with water.  The drooping horse looked as
though it had been fished out, half unconscious, from a pond.  Mrs. Fyne
found some relief in looking at that miserable sight, away from the room
in which the voice of the amiable visitor resounded with a vulgar
intonation exhorting the strayed sheep to return to the delightful fold.
"Come, Florrie, make a move.  I can't wait on you all day here."

Mrs. Fyne heard all this without turning her head away from the window.
Fyne on the hearthrug had to listen and to look on too.  I shall not try
to form a surmise as to the real nature of the suspense.  Their very
goodness must have made it very anxious.  The girl's hands were lying in
her lap; her head was lowered as if in deep thought; and the other went
on delivering a sort of homily.  Ingratitude was condemned in it, the
sinfulness of pride was pointed out--together with the proverbial fact
that it "goes before a fall."  There were also some sound remarks as to
the danger of nonsensical notions and the disadvantages of a quick
temper.  It sets one's best friends against one.  "And if anybody ever
wanted friends in the world it's you, my girl."  Even respect for
parental authority was invoked.  "In the first hour of his trouble your
father wrote to me to take care of you--don't forget it.  Yes, to me,
just a plain man, rather than to any of his fine West-End friends.  You
can't get over that.  And a father's a father no matter what a mess he's
got himself into.  You ain't going to throw over your own father--are
you?"

It was difficult to say whether he was more absurd than cruel or more
cruel than absurd.  Mrs. Fyne, with the fine ear of a woman, seemed to
detect a jeering intention in his meanly unctuous tone, something more
vile than mere cruelty.  She glanced quickly over her shoulder and saw
the girl raise her two hands to her head, then let them fall again on her
lap.  Fyne in front of the fire was like the victim of an unholy
spell--bereft of motion and speech but obviously in pain.  It was a short
pause of perfect silence, and then that "odious creature" (he must have
been really a remarkable individual in his way) struck out into sarcasm.

"Well? . . . "  Again a silence.  "If you have fixed it up with the lady
and gentleman present here for your board and lodging you had better say
so.  I don't want to interfere in a bargain I know nothing of.  But I
wonder how your father will take it when he comes out . . . or don't you
expect him ever to come out?"

At that moment, Mrs. Fyne told me she met the girl's eyes.  There was
that in them which made her shut her own.  She also felt as though she
would have liked to put her fingers in her ears.  She restrained herself,
however; and the "plain man" passed in his appalling versatility from
sarcasm to veiled menace.

"You have--eh?  Well and good.  But before I go home let me ask you, my
girl, to think if by any chance you throwing us over like this won't be
rather bad for your father later on?  Just think it over."

He looked at his victim with an air of cunning mystery.  She jumped up so
suddenly that he started back.  Mrs. Fyne rose too, and even the spell
was removed from her husband.  But the girl dropped again into the chair
and turned her head to look at Mrs. Fyne.  This time it was no accidental
meeting of fugitive glances.  It was a deliberate communication.  To my
question as to its nature Mrs. Fyne said she did not know.  "Was it
appealing?" I suggested.  "No," she said.  "Was it frightened, angry,
crushed, resigned?"  "No!  No!  Nothing of these."  But it had frightened
her.  She remembered it to this day.  She had been ever since fancying
she could detect the lingering reflection of that look in all the girl's
glances.  In the attentive, in the casual--even in the grateful
glances--in the expression of the softest moods.

"Has she her soft moods, then?" I asked with interest.

Mrs Fyne, much moved by her recollections, heeded not my inquiry.  All
her mental energy was concentrated on the nature of that memorable
glance.  The general tradition of mankind teaches us that glances occupy
a considerable place in the self-expression of women.  Mrs. Fyne was
trying honestly to give me some idea, as much perhaps to satisfy her own
uneasiness as my curiosity.  She was frowning in the effort as you see
sometimes a child do (what is delightful in women is that they so often
resemble intelligent children--I mean the crustiest, the sourest, the
most battered of them do--at times).  She was frowning, I say, and I was
beginning to smile faintly at her when all at once she came out with
something totally unexpected.

"It was horribly merry," she said.

I suppose she must have been satisfied by my sudden gravity because she
looked at me in a friendly manner.

"Yes, Mrs. Fyne," I said, smiling no longer.  "I see.  It would have been
horrible even on the stage."

"Ah!" she interrupted me--and I really believe her change of attitude
back to folded arms was meant to check a shudder.  "But it wasn't on the
stage, and it was not with her lips that she laughed."

"Yes.  It must have been horrible," I assented.  "And then she had to go
away ultimately--I suppose.  You didn't say anything?"

"No," said Mrs. Fyne.  "I rang the bell and told one of the maids to go
and bring the hat and coat out of the cab.  And then we waited."

I don't think that there ever was such waiting unless possibly in a jail
at some moment or other on the morning of an execution.  The servant
appeared with the hat and coat, and then, still as on the morning of an
execution, when the condemned, I believe, is offered a breakfast, Mrs.
Fyne, anxious that the white-faced girl should swallow something warm (if
she could) before leaving her house for an interminable drive through raw
cold air in a damp four-wheeler--Mrs. Fyne broke the awful silence: "You
really must try to eat something," in her best resolute manner.  She
turned to the "odious person" with the same determination.  "Perhaps you
will sit down and have a cup of coffee, too."

The worthy "employer of labour" sat down.  He might have been awed by
Mrs. Fyne's peremptory manner--for she did not think of conciliating him
then.  He sat down, provisionally, like a man who finds himself much
against his will in doubtful company.  He accepted ungraciously the cup
handed to him by Mrs. Fyne, took an unwilling sip or two and put it down
as if there were some moral contamination in the coffee of these
"swells."  Between whiles he directed mysteriously inexpressive glances
at little Fyne, who, I gather, had no breakfast that morning at all.
Neither had the girl.  She never moved her hands from her lap till her
appointed guardian got up, leaving his cup half full.

"Well.  If you don't mean to take advantage of this lady's kind offer I
may just as well take you home at once.  I want to begin my day--I do."

After a few more dumb, leaden-footed minutes while Flora was putting on
her hat and jacket, the Fynes without moving, without saying anything,
saw these two leave the room.

"She never looked back at us," said Mrs. Fyne.  "She just followed him
out.  I've never had such a crushing impression of the miserable
dependence of girls--of women.  This was an extreme case.  But a young
man--any man--could have gone to break stones on the roads or something
of that kind--or enlisted--or--"

It was very true.  Women can't go forth on the high roads and by-ways to
pick up a living even when dignity, independence, or existence itself are
at stake.  But what made me interrupt Mrs. Fyne's tirade was my profound
surprise at the fact of that respectable citizen being so willing to keep
in his home the poor girl for whom it seemed there was no place in the
world.  And not only willing but anxious.  I couldn't credit him with
generous impulses.  For it seemed obvious to me from what I had learned
that, to put it mildly, he was not an impulsive person.

"I confess that I can't understand his motive," I exclaimed.

"This is exactly what John wondered at, at first," said Mrs. Fyne.  By
that time an intimacy--if not exactly confidence--had sprung up between
us which permitted her in this discussion to refer to her husband as
John.  "You know he had not opened his lips all that time," she pursued.
"I don't blame his restraint.  On the contrary.  What could he have said?
I could see he was observing the man very thoughtfully."

"And so, Mr. Fyne listened, observed and meditated," I said.  "That's an
excellent way of coming to a conclusion.  And may I ask at what
conclusion he had managed to arrive?  On what ground did he cease to
wonder at the inexplicable?  For I can't admit humanity to be the
explanation.  It would be too monstrous."

It was nothing of the sort, Mrs. Fyne assured me with some resentment, as
though I had aspersed little Fyne's sanity.  Fyne very sensibly had set
himself the mental task of discovering the self-interest.  I should not
have thought him capable of so much cynicism.  He said to himself that
for people of that sort (religious fears or the vanity of righteousness
put aside) money--not great wealth, but money, just a little money--is
the measure of virtue, of expediency, of wisdom--of pretty well
everything.  But the girl was absolutely destitute.  The father was in
prison after the most terribly complete and disgraceful smash of modern
times.  And then it dawned upon Fyne that this was just it.  The great
smash, in the great dust of vanishing millions!  Was it possible that
they all had vanished to the last penny?  Wasn't there, somewhere,
something palpable; some fragment of the fabric left?

"That's it," had exclaimed Fyne, startling his wife by this explosive
unseating of his lips less than half an hour after the departure of de
Barral's cousin with de Barral's daughter.  It was still in the dining-
room, very near the time for him to go forth affronting the elements in
order to put in another day's work in his country's service.  All he
could say at the moment in elucidation of this breakdown from his usual
placid solemnity was:

"The fellow imagines that de Barral has got some plunder put away
somewhere."

This being the theory arrived at by Fyne, his comment on it was that a
good many bankrupts had been known to have taken such a precaution.  It
was possible in de Barral's case.  Fyne went so far in his display of
cynical pessimism as to say that it was extremely probable.

He explained at length to Mrs. Fyne that de Barral certainly did not take
anyone into his confidence.  But the beastly relative had made up his low
mind that it was so.  He was selfish and pitiless in his stupidity, but
he had clearly conceived the notion of making a claim on de Barral when
de Barral came out of prison on the strength of having "looked after" (as
he would have himself expressed it) his daughter.  He nursed his hopes,
such as they were, in secret, and it is to be supposed kept them even
from his wife.

I could see it very well.  That belief accounted for his mysterious air
while he interfered in favour of the girl.  He was the only protector she
had.  It was as though Flora had been fated to be always surrounded by
treachery and lies stifling every better impulse, every instinctive
aspiration of her soul to trust and to love.  It would have been enough
to drive a fine nature into the madness of universal suspicion--into any
sort of madness.  I don't know how far a sense of humour will stand by
one.  To the foot of the gallows, perhaps.  But from my recollection of
Flora de Barral I feared that she hadn't much sense of humour.  She had
cried at the desertion of the absurd Fyne dog.  That animal was certainly
free from duplicity.  He was frank and simple and ridiculous.  The
indignation of the girl at his unhypocritical behaviour had been funny
but not humorous.

As you may imagine I was not very anxious to resume the discussion on the
justice, expediency, effectiveness or what not, of Fyne's journey to
London.  It isn't that I was unfaithful to little Fyne out in the porch
with the dog.  (They kept amazingly quiet there.  Could they have gone to
sleep?)  What I felt was that either my sagacity or my conscience would
come out damaged from that campaign.  And no man will willingly put
himself in the way of moral damage.  I did not want a war with Mrs. Fyne.
I much preferred to hear something more of the girl.  I said:

"And so she went away with that respectable ruffian."

Mrs. Fyne moved her shoulders slightly--"What else could she have done?"
I agreed with her by another hopeless gesture.  It isn't so easy for a
girl like Flora de Barral to become a factory hand, a pathetic seamstress
or even a barmaid.  She wouldn't have known how to begin.  She was the
captive of the meanest conceivable fate.  And she wasn't mean enough for
it.  It is to be remarked that a good many people are born curiously
unfitted for the fate awaiting them on this earth.  As I don't want you
to think that I am unduly partial to the girl we shall say that she
failed decidedly to endear herself to that simple, virtuous and, I
believe, teetotal household.  It's my conviction that an angel would have
failed likewise.  It's no use going into details; suffice it to state
that before the year was out she was again at the Fynes' door.

This time she was escorted by a stout youth.  His large pale face wore a
smile of inane cunning soured by annoyance.  His clothes were new and the
indescribable smartness of their cut, a _genre_ which had never been
obtruded on her notice before, astonished Mrs. Fyne, who came out into
the hall with her hat on; for she was about to go out to hear a new
pianist (a girl) in a friend's house.  The youth addressing Mrs. Fyne
easily begged her not to let "that silly thing go back to us any more."
There had been, he said, nothing but "ructions" at home about her for the
last three weeks.  Everybody in the family was heartily sick of
quarrelling.  His governor had charged him to bring her to this address
and say that the lady and gentleman were quite welcome to all there was
in it.  She hadn't enough sense to appreciate a plain, honest English
home and she was better out of it.

The young, pimply-faced fellow was vexed by this job his governor had
sprung on him.  It was the cause of his missing an appointment for that
afternoon with a certain young lady.  The lady he was engaged to.  But he
meant to dash back and try for a sight of her that evening yet "if he
were to burst over it."  "Good-bye, Florrie.  Good luck to you--and I
hope I'll never see your face again."

With that he ran out in lover-like haste leaving the hall-door wide open.
Mrs. Fyne had not found a word to say.  She had been too much taken aback
even to gasp freely.  But she had the presence of mind to grab the girl's
arm just as she, too, was running out into the street--with the haste, I
suppose, of despair and to keep I don't know what tragic tryst.

"You stopped her with your own hand, Mrs. Fyne," I said.  "I presume she
meant to get away.  That girl is no comedian--if I am any judge."

"Yes!  I had to use some force to drag her in."

Mrs. Fyne had no difficulty in stating the truth.  "You see I was in the
very act of letting myself out when these two appeared.  So that, when
that unpleasant young man ran off, I found myself alone with Flora.  It
was all I could do to hold her in the hall while I called to the servants
to come and shut the door."

As is my habit, or my weakness, or my gift, I don't know which, I
visualized the story for myself.  I really can't help it.  And the vision
of Mrs. Fyne dressed for a rather special afternoon function, engaged in
wrestling with a wild-eyed, white-faced girl had a certain dramatic
fascination.

"Really!" I murmured.

"Oh!  There's no doubt that she struggled," said Mrs. Fyne.  She
compressed her lips for a moment and then added: "As to her being a
comedian that's another question."

Mrs. Fyne had returned to her attitude of folded arms.  I saw before me
the daughter of the refined poet accepting life whole with its
unavoidable conditions of which one of the first is the instinct of self-
preservation and the egoism of every living creature.  "The fact remains
nevertheless that you--yourself--have, in your own words, pulled her in,"
I insisted in a jocular tone, with a serious intention.

"What was one to do," exclaimed Mrs. Fyne with almost comic exasperation.
"Are you reproaching me with being too impulsive?"

And she went on telling me that she was not that in the least.  One of
the recommendations she always insisted on (to the girl-friends, I
imagine) was to be on guard against impulse.  Always!  But I had not been
there to see the face of Flora at the time.  If I had it would be
haunting me to this day.  Nobody unless made of iron would have allowed a
human being with a face like that to rush out alone into the streets.

"And doesn't it haunt you, Mrs. Fyne?" I asked.

"No, not now," she said implacably.  "Perhaps if I had let her go it
might have done . . . Don't conclude, though, that I think she was
playing a comedy then, because after struggling at first she ended by
remaining.  She gave up very suddenly.  She collapsed in our arms, mine
and the maid's who came running up in response to my calls, and . . . "

"And the door was then shut," I completed the phrase in my own way.

"Yes, the door was shut," Mrs. Fyne lowered and raised her head slowly.

I did not ask her for details.  Of one thing I am certain, and that is
that Mrs. Fyne did not go out to the musical function that afternoon.  She
was no doubt considerably annoyed at missing the privilege of hearing
privately an interesting young pianist (a girl) who, since, had become
one of the recognized performers.  Mrs. Fyne did not dare leave her
house.  As to the feelings of little Fyne when he came home from the
office, via his club, just half an hour before dinner, I have no
information.  But I venture to affirm that in the main they were kindly,
though it is quite possible that in the first moment of surprise he had
to keep down a swear-word or two.

* * * * *

The long and the short of it all is that next day the Fynes made up their
minds to take into their confidence a certain wealthy old lady.  With
certain old ladies the passing years bring back a sort of mellowed
youthfulness of feeling, an optimistic outlook, liking for novelty,
readiness for experiment.  The old lady was very much interested: "Do let
me see the poor thing!"  She was accordingly allowed to see Flora de
Barral in Mrs. Fyne's drawing-room on a day when there was no one else
there, and she preached to her with charming, sympathetic authority: "The
only way to deal with our troubles, my dear child, is to forget them.  You
must forget yours.  It's very simple.  Look at me.  I always forget mine.
At your age one ought to be cheerful."

Later on when left alone with Mrs. Fyne she said to that lady: "I do hope
the child will manage to be cheerful.  I can't have sad faces near me.  At
my age one needs cheerful companions."

And in this hope she carried off Flora de Barral to Bournemouth for the
winter months in the quality of reader and companion.  She had said to
her with kindly jocularity: "We shall have a good time together.  I am
not a grumpy old woman."  But on their return to London she sought Mrs.
Fyne at once.  She had discovered that Flora was not naturally cheerful.
When she made efforts to be it was still worse.  The old lady couldn't
stand the strain of that.  And then, to have the whole thing out, she
could not bear to have for a companion anyone who did not love her.  She
was certain that Flora did not love her.  Why?  She couldn't say.
Moreover, she had caught the girl looking at her in a peculiar way at
times.  Oh no!--it was not an evil look--it was an unusual expression
which one could not understand.  And when one remembered that her father
was in prison shut up together with a lot of criminals and so on--it made
one uncomfortable.  If the child had only tried to forget her troubles!
But she obviously was incapable or unwilling to do so.  And that was
somewhat perverse--wasn't it?  Upon the whole, she thought it would be
better perhaps--

Mrs. Fyne assented hurriedly to the unspoken conclusion: "Oh certainly!
Certainly," wondering to herself what was to be done with Flora next; but
she was not very much surprised at the change in the old lady's view of
Flora de Barral.  She almost understood it.

What came next was a German family, the continental acquaintances of the
wife of one of Fyne's colleagues in the Home Office.  Flora of the
enigmatical glances was dispatched to them without much reflection.  As
it was not considered absolutely necessary to take them into full
confidence, they neither expected the girl to be specially cheerful nor
were they discomposed unduly by the indescribable quality of her glances.
The German woman was quite ordinary; there were two boys to look after;
they were ordinary, too, I presume; and Flora, I understand, was very
attentive to them.  If she taught them anything it must have been by
inspiration alone, for she certainly knew nothing of teaching.  But it
was mostly "conversation" which was demanded from her.  Flora de Barral
conversing with two small German boys, regularly, industriously,
conscientiously, in order to keep herself alive in the world which held
for her the past we know and the future of an even more undesirable
quality--seems to me a very fantastic combination.  But I believe it was
not so bad.  She was being, she wrote, mercifully drugged by her task.
She had learned to "converse" all day long, mechanically, absently, as if
in a trance.  An uneasy trance it must have been!  Her worst moments were
when off duty--alone in the evening, shut up in her own little room, her
dulled thoughts waking up slowly till she started into the full
consciousness of her position, like a person waking up in contact with
something venomous--a snake, for instance--experiencing a mad impulse to
fling the thing away and run off screaming to hide somewhere.

At this period of her existence Flora de Barral used to write to Mrs.
Fyne not regularly but fairly often.  I don't know how long she would
have gone on "conversing" and, incidentally, helping to supervise the
beautifully stocked linen closets of that well-to-do German household, if
the man of it had not developed in the intervals of his avocations (he
was a merchant and a thoroughly domesticated character) a psychological
resemblance to the Bournemouth old lady.  It appeared that he, too,
wanted to be loved.

He was not, however, of a conquering temperament--a kiss-snatching, door-
bursting type of libertine.  In the very act of straying from the path of
virtue he remained a respectable merchant.  It would have been perhaps
better for Flora if he had been a mere brute.  But he set about his
sinister enterprise in a sentimental, cautious, almost paternal manner;
and thought he would be safe with a pretty orphan.  The girl for all her
experience was still too innocent, and indeed not yet sufficiently aware
of herself as a woman, to mistrust these masked approaches.  She did not
see them, in fact.  She thought him sympathetic--the first expressively
sympathetic person she had ever met.  She was so innocent that she could
not understand the fury of the German woman.  For, as you may imagine,
the wifely penetration was not to be deceived for any great length of
time--the more so that the wife was older than the husband.  The man with
the peculiar cowardice of respectability never said a word in Flora's
defence.  He stood by and heard her reviled in the most abusive terms,
only nodding and frowning vaguely from time to time.  It will give you
the idea of the girl's innocence when I say that at first she actually
thought this storm of indignant reproaches was caused by the discovery of
her real name and her relation to a convict.  She had been sent out under
an assumed name--a highly recommended orphan of honourable parentage.  Her
distress, her burning cheeks, her endeavours to express her regret for
this deception were taken for a confession of guilt.  "You attempted to
bring dishonour to my home," the German woman screamed at her.

Here's a misunderstanding for you!  Flora de Barral, who felt the shame
but did not believe in the guilt of her father, retorted fiercely,
"Nevertheless I am as honourable as you are."  And then the German woman
nearly went into a fit from rage.  "I shall have you thrown out into the
street."

Flora was not exactly thrown out into the street, I believe, but she was
bundled bag and baggage on board a steamer for London.  Did I tell you
these people lived in Hamburg?  Well yes--sent to the docks late on a
rainy winter evening in charge of some sneering lackey or other who
behaved to her insolently and left her on deck burning with indignation,
her hair half down, shaking with excitement and, truth to say, scared as
near as possible into hysterics.  If it had not been for the stewardess
who, without asking questions, good soul, took charge of her quietly in
the ladies' saloon (luckily it was empty) it is by no means certain she
would ever have reached England.  I can't tell if a straw ever saved a
drowning man, but I know that a mere glance is enough to make despair
pause.  For in truth we who are creatures of impulse are not creatures of
despair.  Suicide, I suspect, is very often the outcome of mere mental
weariness--not an act of savage energy but the final symptom of complete
collapse.  The quiet, matter-of-fact attentions of a ship's stewardess,
who did not seem aware of other human agonies than sea-sickness, who
talked of the probable weather of the passage--it would be a rough night,
she thought--and who insisted in a professionally busy manner, "Let me
make you comfortable down below at once, miss," as though she were
thinking of nothing else but her tip--was enough to dissipate the shades
of death gathering round the mortal weariness of bewildered thinking
which makes the idea of non-existence welcome so often to the young.
Flora de Barral did lie down, and it may be presumed she slept.  At any
rate she survived the voyage across the North Sea and told Mrs. Fyne all
about it, concealing nothing and receiving no rebuke--for Mrs. Fyne's
opinions had a large freedom in their pedantry.  She held, I suppose,
that a woman holds an absolute right--or possesses a perfect excuse--to
escape in her own way from a man-mismanaged world.

* * * * *

What is to be noted is that even in London, having had time to take a
reflective view, poor Flora was far from being certain as to the true
inwardness of her violent dismissal.  She felt the humiliation of it with
an almost maddened resentment.

"And did you enlighten her on the point?" I ventured to ask.

Mrs. Fyne moved her shoulders with a philosophical acceptance of all the
necessities which ought not to be.  Something had to be said, she
murmured.  She had told the girl enough to make her come to the right
conclusion by herself.

"And she did?"

"Yes.  Of course.  She isn't a goose," retorted Mrs. Fyne tartly.

"Then her education is completed," I remarked with some bitterness.
"Don't you think she ought to be given a chance?"

Mrs. Fyne understood my meaning.

"Not this one," she snapped in a quite feminine way.  "It's all very well
for you to plead, but I--"

"I do not plead.  I simply asked.  It seemed natural to ask what you
thought."

"It's what I feel that matters.  And I can't help my feelings.  You may
guess," she added in a softer tone, "that my feelings are mostly
concerned with my brother.  We were very fond of each other.  The
difference of our ages was not very great.  I suppose you know he is a
little younger than I am.  He was a sensitive boy.  He had the habit of
brooding.  It is no use concealing from you that neither of us was happy
at home.  You have heard, no doubt . . . Yes?  Well, I was made still
more unhappy and hurt--I don't mind telling you that.  He made his way to
some distant relations of our mother's people who I believe were not
known to my father at all.  I don't wish to judge their action."

I interrupted Mrs. Fyne here.  I had heard.  Fyne was not very
communicative in general, but he was proud of his father-in-law--"Carleon
Anthony, the poet, you know."  Proud of his celebrity without approving
of his character.  It was on that account, I strongly suspect, that he
seized with avidity upon the theory of poetical genius being allied to
madness, which he got hold of in some idiotic book everybody was reading
a few years ago.  It struck him as being truth itself--illuminating like
the sun.  He adopted it devoutly.  He bored me with it sometimes.  Once,
just to shut him up, I asked quietly if this theory which he regarded as
so incontrovertible did not cause him some uneasiness about his wife and
the dear girls?  He transfixed me with a pitying stare and requested me
in his deep solemn voice to remember the "well-established fact" that
genius was not transmissible.

I said only "Oh!  Isn't it?" and he thought he had silenced me by an
unanswerable argument.  But he continued to talk of his glorious father-
in-law, and it was in the course of that conversation that he told me
how, when the Liverpool relations of the poet's late wife naturally
addressed themselves to him in considerable concern, suggesting a
friendly consultation as to the boy's future, the incensed (but always
refined) poet wrote in answer a letter of mere polished _badinage_ which
offended mortally the Liverpool people.  This witty outbreak of what was
in fact mortification and rage appeared to them so heartless that they
simply kept the boy.  They let him go to sea not because he was in their
way but because he begged hard to be allowed to go.

"Oh!  You do know," said Mrs. Fyne after a pause.  "Well--I felt myself
very much abandoned.  Then his choice of life--so extraordinary, so
unfortunate, I may say.  I was very much grieved.  I should have liked
him to have been distinguished--or at any rate to remain in the social
sphere where we could have had common interests, acquaintances, thoughts.
Don't think that I am estranged from him.  But the precise truth is that
I do not know him.  I was most painfully affected when he was here by the
difficulty of finding a single topic we could discuss together."

While Mrs. Fyne was talking of her brother I let my thoughts wander out
of the room to little Fyne who by leaving me alone with his wife had, so
to speak, entrusted his domestic peace to my honour.

"Well, then, Mrs. Fyne, does it not strike you that it would be
reasonable under the circumstances to let your brother take care of
himself?"

"And suppose I have grounds to think that he can't take care of himself
in a given instance."  She hesitated in a funny, bashful manner which
roused my interest.  Then:

"Sailors I believe are very susceptible," she added with forced
assurance.

I burst into a laugh which only increased the coldness of her observing
stare.

"They are.  Immensely!  Hopelessly!  My dear Mrs. Fyne, you had better
give it up!  It only makes your husband miserable."

"And I am quite miserable too.  It is really our first difference . . . "

"Regarding Miss de Barral?" I asked.

"Regarding everything.  It's really intolerable that this girl should be
the occasion.  I think he really ought to give way."

She turned her chair round a little and picking up the book I had been
reading in the morning began to turn the leaves absently.

Her eyes being off me, I felt I could allow myself to leave the room.  Its
atmosphere had become hopeless for little Fyne's domestic peace.  You may
smile.  But to the solemn all things are solemn.  I had enough sagacity
to understand that.

I slipped out into the porch.  The dog was slumbering at Fyne's feet.  The
muscular little man leaning on his elbow and gazing over the fields
presented a forlorn figure.  He turned his head quickly, but seeing I was
alone, relapsed into his moody contemplation of the green landscape.

I said loudly and distinctly: "I've come out to smoke a cigarette," and
sat down near him on the little bench.  Then lowering my voice:
"Tolerance is an extremely difficult virtue," I said.  "More difficult
for some than heroism.  More difficult than compassion."

I avoided looking at him.  I knew well enough that he would not like this
opening.  General ideas were not to his taste.  He mistrusted them.  I
lighted a cigarette, not that I wanted to smoke, but to give another
moment to the consideration of the advice--the diplomatic advice I had
made up my mind to bowl him over with.  And I continued in subdued tones.

"I have been led to make these remarks by what I have discovered since
you left us.  I suspected from the first.  And now I am certain.  What
your wife cannot tolerate in this affair is Miss de Barral being what she
is."

He made a movement, but I kept my eyes away from him and went on
steadily.  "That is--her being a woman.  I have some idea of Mrs. Fyne's
mental attitude towards society with its injustices, with its atrocious
or ridiculous conventions.  As against them there is no audacity of
action your wife's mind refuses to sanction.  The doctrine which I
imagine she stuffs into the pretty heads of your girl-guests is almost
vengeful.  A sort of moral fire-and-sword doctrine.  How far the lesson
is wise is not for me to say.  I don't permit myself to judge.  I seem to
see her very delightful disciples singeing themselves with the torches,
and cutting their fingers with the swords of Mrs. Fyne's furnishing."

"My wife holds her opinions very seriously," murmured Fyne suddenly.

"Yes.  No doubt," I assented in a low voice as before.  "But it is a mere
intellectual exercise.  What I see is that in dealing with reality Mrs.
Fyne ceases to be tolerant.  In other words, that she can't forgive Miss
de Barral for being a woman and behaving like a woman.  And yet this is
not only reasonable and natural, but it is her only chance.  A woman
against the world has no resources but in herself.  Her only means of
action is to be what _she is_.  You understand what I mean."

Fyne mumbled between his teeth that he understood.  But he did not seem
interested.  What he expected of me was to extricate him from a difficult
situation.  I don't know how far credible this may sound, to less solemn
married couples, but to remain at variance with his wife seemed to him a
considerable incident.  Almost a disaster.

"It looks as though I didn't care what happened to her brother," he said.
"And after all if anything . . . "

I became a little impatient but without raising my tone:

"What thing?" I asked.  "The liability to get penal servitude is so far
like genius that it isn't hereditary.  And what else can be objected to
the girl?  All the energy of her deeper feelings, which she would use up
vainly in the danger and fatigue of a struggle with society may be turned
into devoted attachment to the man who offers her a way of escape from
what can be only a life of moral anguish.  I don't mention the physical
difficulties."

Glancing at Fyne out of the corner of one eye I discovered that he was
attentive.  He made the remark that I should have said all this to his
wife.  It was a sensible enough remark.  But I had given Mrs. Fyne up.  I
asked him if his impression was that his wife meant to entrust him with a
letter for her brother?

No.  He didn't think so.  There were certain reasons which made Mrs. Fyne
unwilling to commit her arguments to paper.  Fyne was to be primed with
them.  But he had no doubt that if he persisted in his refusal she would
make up her mind to write.

"She does not wish me to go unless with a full conviction that she is
right," said Fyne solemnly.

"She's very exacting," I commented.  And then I reflected that she was
used to it.  "Would nothing less do for once?"

"You don't mean that I should give way--do you?" asked Fyne in a whisper
of alarmed suspicion.

As this was exactly what I meant, I let his fright sink into him.  He
fidgeted.  If the word may be used of so solemn a personage, he wriggled.
And when the horrid suspicion had descended into his very heels, so to
speak, he became very still.  He sat gazing stonily into space bounded by
the yellow, burnt-up slopes of the rising ground a couple of miles away.
The face of the down showed the white scar of the quarry where not more
than sixteen hours before Fyne and I had been groping in the dark with
horrible apprehension of finding under our hands the shattered body of a
girl.  For myself I had in addition the memory of my meeting with her.
She was certainly walking very near the edge--courting a sinister
solution.  But, now, having by the most unexpected chance come upon a
man, she had found another way to escape from the world.  Such world as
was open to her--without shelter, without bread, without honour.  The
best she could have found in it would have been a precarious dole of pity
diminishing as her years increased.  The appeal of the abandoned child
Flora to the sympathies of the Fynes had been irresistible.  But now she
had become a woman, and Mrs. Fyne was presenting an implacable front to a
particularly feminine transaction.  I may say triumphantly feminine.  It
is true that Mrs. Fyne did not want women to be women.  Her theory was
that they should turn themselves into unscrupulous sexless nuisances.  An
offended theorist dwelt in her bosom somewhere.  In what way she expected
Flora de Barral to set about saving herself from a most miserable
existence I can't conceive; but I verify believe that she would have
found it easier to forgive the girl an actual crime; say the rifling of
the Bournemouth old lady's desk, for instance.  And then--for Mrs. Fyne
was very much of a woman herself--her sense of proprietorship was very
strong within her; and though she had not much use for her brother, yet
she did not like to see him annexed by another woman.  By a chit of a
girl.  And such a girl, too.  Nothing is truer than that, in this world,
the luckless have no right to their opportunities--as if misfortune were
a legal disqualification.  Fyne's sentiments (as they naturally would be
in a man) had more stability.  A good deal of his sympathy survived.
Indeed I heard him murmur "Ghastly nuisance," but I knew it was of the
integrity of his domestic accord that he was thinking.  With my eyes on
the dog lying curled up in sleep in the middle of the porch I suggested
in a subdued impersonal tone: "Yes.  Why not let yourself be persuaded?"

I never saw little Fyne less solemn.  He hissed through his teeth in
unexpectedly figurative style that it would take a lot to persuade him to
"push under the head of a poor devil of a girl quite sufficiently
plucky"--and snorted.  He was still gazing at the distant quarry, and I
think he was affected by that sight.  I assured him that I was far from
advising him to do anything so cruel.  I am convinced he had always
doubted the soundness of my principles, because he turned on me swiftly
as though he had been on the watch for a lapse from the straight path.

"Then what do you mean?  That I should pretend!"

"No!  What nonsense!  It would be immoral.  I may however tell you that
if I had to make a choice I would rather do something immoral than
something cruel.  What I meant was that, not believing in the efficacy of
the interference, the whole question is reduced to your consenting to do
what your wife wishes you to do.  That would be acting like a gentleman,
surely.  And acting unselfishly too, because I can very well understand
how distasteful it may be to you.  Generally speaking, an unselfish
action is a moral action.  I'll tell you what.  I'll go with you."

He turned round and stared at me with surprise and suspicion.  "You would
go with me?" he repeated.

"You don't understand," I said, amused at the incredulous disgust of his
tone.  "I must run up to town, to-morrow morning.  Let us go together.
You have a set of travelling chessmen."

His physiognomy, contracted by a variety of emotions, relaxed to a
certain extent at the idea of a game.  I told him that as I had business
at the Docks he should have my company to the very ship.

"We shall beguile the way to the wilds of the East by improving
conversation," I encouraged him.

"My brother-in-law is staying at an hotel--the Eastern Hotel," he said,
becoming sombre again.  "I haven't the slightest idea where it is."

"I know the place.  I shall leave you at the door with the comfortable
conviction that you are doing what's right since it pleases a lady and
cannot do any harm to anybody whatever."

"You think so?  No harm to anybody?" he repeated doubtfully.

"I assure you it's not the slightest use," I said with all possible
emphasis which seemed only to increase the solemn discontent of his
expression.

"But in order that my going should be a perfectly candid proceeding I
must first convince my wife that it isn't the slightest use," he objected
portentously.

"Oh, you casuist!" I said.  And I said nothing more because at that
moment Mrs. Fyne stepped out into the porch.  We rose together at her
appearance.  Her clear, colourless, unflinching glance enveloped us both
critically.  I sustained the chill smilingly, but Fyne stooped at once to
release the dog.  He was some time about it; then simultaneously with his
recovery of upright position the animal passed at one bound from
profoundest slumber into most tumultuous activity.  Enveloped in the
tornado of his inane scurryings and barkings I took Mrs. Fyne's hand
extended to me woodenly and bowed over it with deference.  She walked
down the path without a word; Fyne had preceded her and was waiting by
the open gate.  They passed out and walked up the road surrounded by a
low cloud of dust raised by the dog gyrating madly about their two
figures progressing side by side with rectitude and propriety, and (I
don't know why) looking to me as if they had annexed the whole country-
side.  Perhaps it was that they had impressed me somehow with the sense
of their superiority.  What superiority?  Perhaps it consisted just in
their limitations.  It was obvious that neither of them had carried away
a high opinion of me.  But what affected me most was the indifference of
the Fyne dog.  He used to precipitate himself at full speed and with a
frightful final upward spring upon my waistcoat, at least once at each of
our meetings.  He had neglected that ceremony this time notwithstanding
my correct and even conventional conduct in offering him a cake; it
seemed to me symbolic of my final separation from the Fyne household.  And
I remembered against him how on a certain day he had abandoned poor Flora
de Barral--who was morbidly sensitive.

I sat down in the porch and, maybe inspired by secret antagonism to the
Fynes, I said to myself deliberately that Captain Anthony must be a fine
fellow.  Yet on the facts as I knew them he might have been a dangerous
trifler or a downright scoundrel.  He had made a miserable, hopeless girl
follow him clandestinely to London.  It is true that the girl had written
since, only Mrs. Fyne had been remarkably vague as to the contents.  They
were unsatisfactory.  They did not positively announce imminent nuptials
as far as I could make it out from her rather mysterious hints.  But then
her inexperience might have led her astray.  There was no fathoming the
innocence of a woman like Mrs. Fyne who, venturing as far as possible in
theory, would know nothing of the real aspect of things.  It would have
been comic if she were making all this fuss for nothing.  But I rejected
this suspicion for the honour of human nature.

I imagined to myself Captain Anthony as simple and romantic.  It was much
more pleasant.  Genius is not hereditary but temperament may be.  And he
was the son of a poet with an admirable gift of individualising, of
etherealizing the common-place; of making touching, delicate, fascinating
the most hopeless conventions of the, so-called, refined existence.

What I could not understand was Mrs. Fyne's dog-in-the-manger attitude.
Sentimentally she needed that brother of hers so little!  What could it
matter to her one way or another--setting aside common humanity which
would suggest at least a neutral attitude.  Unless indeed it was the
blind working of the law that in our world of chances the luckless _must_
be put in the wrong somehow.

And musing thus on the general inclination of our instincts towards
injustice I met unexpectedly, at the turn of the road, as it were, a
shape of duplicity.  It might have been unconscious on Mrs. Fyne's part,
but her leading idea appeared to me to be not to keep, not to preserve
her brother, but to get rid of him definitely.  She did not hope to stop
anything.  She had too much sense for that.  Almost anyone out of an
idiot asylum would have had enough sense for that.  She wanted the
protest to be made, emphatically, with Fyne's fullest concurrence in
order to make all intercourse for the future impossible.  Such an action
would estrange the pair for ever from the Fynes.  She understood her
brother and the girl too.  Happy together, they would never forgive that
outspoken hostility--and should the marriage turn out badly . . . Well,
it would be just the same.  Neither of them would be likely to bring
their troubles to such a good prophet of evil.

Yes.  That must have been her motive.  The inspiration of a possibly
unconscious Machiavellism!  Either she was afraid of having a sister-in-
law to look after during the husband's long absences; or dreaded the more
or less distant eventuality of her brother being persuaded to leave the
sea, the friendly refuge of his unhappy youth, and to settle on shore,
bringing to her very door this undesirable, this embarrassing connection.
She wanted to be done with it--maybe simply from the fatigue of
continuous effort in good or evil, which, in the bulk of common mortals,
accounts for so many surprising inconsistencies of conduct.

I don't know that I had classed Mrs. Fyne, in my thoughts, amongst common
mortals.  She was too quietly sure of herself for that.  But little Fyne,
as I spied him next morning (out of the carriage window) speeding along
the platform, looked very much like a common, flustered mortal who has
made a very near thing of catching his train: the starting wild eyes, the
tense and excited face, the distracted gait, all the common symptoms were
there, rendered more impressive by his native solemnity which flapped
about him like a disordered garment.  Had he--I asked myself with
interest--resisted his wife to the very last minute and then bolted up
the road from the last conclusive argument, as though it had been a
loaded gun suddenly produced?  I opened the carriage door, and a vigorous
porter shoved him in from behind just as the end of the rustic platform
went gliding swiftly from under his feet.  He was very much out of
breath, and I waited with some curiosity for the moment he would recover
his power of speech.  That moment came.  He said "Good morning" with a
slight gasp, remained very still for another minute and then pulled out
of his pocket the travelling chessboard, and holding it in his hand,
directed at me a glance of inquiry.

"Yes.  Certainly," I said, very much disappointed.



CHAPTER SEVEN--ON THE PAVEMENT


Fyne was not willing to talk; but as I had been already let into the
secret, the fair-minded little man recognized that I had some right to
information if I insisted on it.  And I did insist, after the third game.
We were yet some way from the end of our journey.

"Oh, if you want to know," was his somewhat impatient opening.  And then
he talked rather volubly.  First of all his wife had not given him to
read the letter received from Flora (I had suspected him of having it in
his pocket), but had told him all about the contents.  It was not at all
what it should have been even if the girl had wished to affirm her right
to disregard the feelings of all the world.  Her own had been trampled in
the dirt out of all shape.  Extraordinary thing to say--I would admit,
for a young girl of her age.  The whole tone of that letter was wrong,
quite wrong.  It was certainly not the product of a--say, of a
well-balanced mind.

"If she were given some sort of footing in this world," I said, "if only
no bigger than the palm of my hand, she would probably learn to keep a
better balance."

Fyne ignored this little remark.  His wife, he said, was not the sort of
person to be addressed mockingly on a serious subject.  There was an
unpleasant strain of levity in that letter, extending even to the
references to Captain Anthony himself.  Such a disposition was enough,
his wife had pointed out to him, to alarm one for the future, had all the
circumstances of that preposterous project been as satisfactory as in
fact they were not.  Other parts of the letter seemed to have a
challenging tone--as if daring them (the Fynes) to approve her conduct.
And at the same time implying that she did not care, that it was for
their own sakes that she hoped they would "go against the world--the
horrid world which had crushed poor papa."

Fyne called upon me to admit that this was pretty cool--considering.  And
there was another thing, too.  It seems that for the last six months (she
had been assisting two ladies who kept a kindergarten school in
Bayswater--a mere pittance), Flora had insisted on devoting all her spare
time to the study of the trial.  She had been looking up files of old
newspapers, and working herself up into a state of indignation with what
she called the injustice and the hypocrisy of the prosecution.  Her
father, Fyne reminded me, had made some palpable hits in his answers in
Court, and she had fastened on them triumphantly.  She had reached the
conclusion of her father's innocence, and had been brooding over it.  Mrs.
Fyne had pointed out to him the danger of this.

The train ran into the station and Fyne, jumping out directly it came to
a standstill, seemed glad to cut short the conversation.  We walked in
silence a little way, boarded a bus, then walked again.  I don't suppose
that since the days of his childhood, when surely he was taken to see the
Tower, he had been once east of Temple Bar.  He looked about him
sullenly; and when I pointed out in the distance the rounded front of the
Eastern Hotel at the bifurcation of two very broad, mean, shabby
thoroughfares, rising like a grey stucco tower above the lowly roofs of
the dirty-yellow, two-storey houses, he only grunted disapprovingly.

"I wouldn't lay too much stress on what you have been telling me," I
observed quietly as we approached that unattractive building.  "No man
will believe a girl who has just accepted his suit to be not well
balanced,--you know."

"Oh!  Accepted his suit," muttered Fyne, who seemed to have been very
thoroughly convinced indeed.  "It may have been the other way about."  And
then he added: "I am going through with it."

I said that this was very praiseworthy but that a certain moderation of
statement . . . He waved his hand at me and mended his pace.  I guessed
that he was anxious to get his mission over as quickly as possible.  He
barely gave himself time to shake hands with me and made a rush at the
narrow glass door with the words Hotel Entrance on it.  It swung to
behind his back with no more noise than the snap of a toothless jaw.

The absurd temptation to remain and see what would come of it got over my
better judgment.  I hung about irresolute, wondering how long an embassy
of that sort would take, and whether Fyne on coming out would consent to
be communicative.  I feared he would be shocked at finding me there,
would consider my conduct incorrect, conceivably treat me with contempt.
I walked off a few paces.  Perhaps it would be possible to read something
on Fyne's face as he came out; and, if necessary, I could always eclipse
myself discreetly through the door of one of the bars.  The ground floor
of the Eastern Hotel was an unabashed pub, with plate-glass fronts, a
display of brass rails, and divided into many compartments each having
its own entrance.

But of course all this was silly.  The marriage, the love, the affairs of
Captain Anthony were none of my business.  I was on the point of moving
down the street for good when my attention was attracted by a girl
approaching the hotel entrance from the west.  She was dressed very
modestly in black.  It was the white straw hat of a good form and trimmed
with a bunch of pale roses which had caught my eye.  The whole figure
seemed familiar.  Of course!  Flora de Barral.  She was making for the
hotel, she was going in.  And Fyne was with Captain Anthony!  To meet him
could not be pleasant for her.  I wished to save her from the
awkwardness, and as I hesitated what to do she looked up and our eyes
happened to meet just as she was turning off the pavement into the hotel
doorway.  Instinctively I extended my arm.  It was enough to make her
stop.  I suppose she had some faint notion that she had seen me before
somewhere.  She walked slowly forward, prudent and attentive, watching my
faint smile.

"Excuse me," I said directly she had approached me near enough.  "Perhaps
you would like to know that Mr. Fyne is upstairs with Captain Anthony at
this moment."

She uttered a faint "Ah!  Mr. Fyne!"  I could read in her eyes that she
had recognized me now.  Her serious expression extinguished the imbecile
grin of which I was conscious.  I raised my hat.  She responded with a
slow inclination of the head while her luminous, mistrustful, maiden's
glance seemed to whisper, "What is this one doing here?"

"I came up to town with Fyne this morning," I said in a businesslike
tone.  "I have to see a friend in East India Dock.  Fyne and I parted
this moment at the door here . . . "   The girl regarded me with
darkening eyes . . . "Mrs. Fyne did not come with her husband," I went
on, then hesitated before that white face so still in the pearly shadow
thrown down by the hat-brim.  "But she sent him," I murmured by way of
warning.

Her eyelids fluttered slowly over the fixed stare.  I imagine she was not
much disconcerted by this development.  "I live a long way from here,"
she whispered.

I said perfunctorily, "Do you?"  And we remained gazing at each other.
The uniform paleness of her complexion was not that of an anaemic girl.
It had a transparent vitality and at that particular moment the faintest
possible rosy tinge, the merest suspicion of colour; an equivalent, I
suppose, in any other girl to blushing like a peony while she told me
that Captain Anthony had arranged to show her the ship that morning.

It was easy to understand that she did not want to meet Fyne.  And when I
mentioned in a discreet murmur that he had come because of her letter she
glanced at the hotel door quickly, and moved off a few steps to a
position where she could watch the entrance without being seen.  I
followed her.  At the junction of the two thoroughfares she stopped in
the thin traffic of the broad pavement and turned to me with an air of
challenge.  "And so you know."

I told her that I had not seen the letter.  I had only heard of it.  She
was a little impatient.  "I mean all about me."

Yes.  I knew all about her.  The distress of Mr. and Mrs. Fyne--especially
of Mrs. Fyne--was so great that they would have shared it with anybody
almost--not belonging to their circle of friends.  I happened to be at
hand--that was all.

"You understand that I am not their friend.  I am only a holiday
acquaintance."

"She was not very much upset?" queried Flora de Barral, meaning, of
course, Mrs. Fyne.  And I admitted that she was less so than her
husband--and even less than myself.  Mrs. Fyne was a very self-possessed
person which nothing could startle out of her extreme theoretical
position.  She did not seem startled when Fyne and I proposed going to
the quarry.

"You put that notion into their heads," the girl said.

I advanced that the notion was in their heads already.  But it was much
more vividly in my head since I had seen her up there with my own eyes,
tempting Providence.

She was looking at me with extreme attention, and murmured:

"Is that what you called it to them?  Tempting . . . "

"No.  I told them that you were making up your mind and I came along just
then.  I told them that you were saved by me.  My shout checked you . . .
"  She moved her head gently from right to left in negation . . . "No?
Well, have it your own way."

I thought to myself: She has found another issue.  She wants to forget
now.  And no wonder.  She wants to persuade herself that she had never
known such an ugly and poignant minute in her life.  "After all," I
conceded aloud, "things are not always what they seem."

Her little head with its deep blue eyes, eyes of tenderness and anger
under the black arch of fine eyebrows was very still.  The mouth looked
very red in the white face peeping from under the veil, the little
pointed chin had in its form something aggressive.  Slight and even
angular in her modest black dress she was an appealing and--yes--she was
a desirable little figure.

Her lips moved very fast asking me:

"And they believed you at once?"

"Yes, they believed me at once.  Mrs. Fyne's word to us was "Go!"

A white gleam between the red lips was so short that I remained uncertain
whether it was a smile or a ferocious baring of little even teeth.  The
rest of the face preserved its innocent, tense and enigmatical
expression.  She spoke rapidly.

"No, it wasn't your shout.  I had been there some time before you saw me.
And I was not there to tempt Providence, as you call it.  I went up there
for--for what you thought I was going to do.  Yes.  I climbed two fences.
I did not mean to leave anything to Providence.  There seem to be people
for whom Providence can do nothing.  I suppose you are shocked to hear me
talk like that?"

I shook my head.  I was not shocked.  What had kept her back all that
time, till I appeared on the scene below, she went on, was neither fear
nor any other kind of hesitation.  One reaches a point, she said with
appalling youthful simplicity, where nothing that concerns one matters
any longer.  But something did keep her back.  I should have never
guessed what it was.  She herself confessed that it seemed absurd to say.
It was the Fyne dog.

Flora de Barral paused, looking at me, with a peculiar expression and
then went on.  You see, she imagined the dog had become extremely
attached to her.  She took it into her head that he might fall over or
jump down after her.  She tried to drive him away.  She spoke sternly to
him.  It only made him more frisky.  He barked and jumped about her skirt
in his usual, idiotic, high spirits.  He scampered away in circles
between the pines charging upon her and leaping as high as her waist.  She
commanded, "Go away.  Go home."  She even picked up from the ground a bit
of a broken branch and threw it at him.  At this his delight knew no
bounds; his rushes became faster, his yapping louder; he seemed to be
having the time of his life.  She was convinced that the moment she threw
herself down he would spring over after her as if it were part of the
game.  She was vexed almost to tears.  She was touched too.  And when he
stood still at some distance as if suddenly rooted to the ground wagging
his tail slowly and watching her intensely with his shining eyes another
fear came to her.  She imagined herself gone and the creature sitting on
the brink, its head thrown up to the sky and howling for hours.  This
thought was not to be borne.  Then my shout reached her ears.

She told me all this with simplicity.  My voice had destroyed her
poise--the suicide poise of her mind.  Every act of ours, the most
criminal, the most mad presupposes a balance of thought, feeling and
will, like a correct attitude for an effective stroke in a game.  And I
had destroyed it.  She was no longer in proper form for the act.  She was
not very much annoyed.  Next day would do.  She would have to slip away
without attracting the notice of the dog.  She thought of the necessity
almost tenderly.  She came down the path carrying her despair with lucid
calmness.  But when she saw herself deserted by the dog, she had an
impulse to turn round, go up again and be done with it.  Not even that
animal cared for her--in the end.

"I really did think that he was attached to me.  What did he want to
pretend for, like this?  I thought nothing could hurt me any more.  Oh
yes.  I would have gone up, but I felt suddenly so tired.  So tired.  And
then you were there.  I didn't know what you would do.  You might have
tried to follow me and I didn't think I could run--not up hill--not
then."

She had raised her white face a little, and it was queer to hear her say
these things.  At that time of the morning there are comparatively few
people out in that part of the town.  The broad interminable perspective
of the East India Dock Road, the great perspective of drab brick walls,
of grey pavement, of muddy roadway rumbling dismally with loaded carts
and vans lost itself in the distance, imposing and shabby in its spacious
meanness of aspect, in its immeasurable poverty of forms, of colouring,
of life--under a harsh, unconcerned sky dried by the wind to a clear
blue.  It had been raining during the night.  The sunshine itself seemed
poor.  From time to time a few bits of paper, a little dust and straw
whirled past us on the broad flat promontory of the pavement before the
rounded front of the hotel.

Flora de Barral was silent for a while.  I said:

"And next day you thought better of it."

Again she raised her eyes to mine with that peculiar expression of
informed innocence; and again her white cheeks took on the faintest tinge
of pink--the merest shadow of a blush.

"Next day," she uttered distinctly, "I didn't think.  I remembered.  That
was enough.  I remembered what I should never have forgotten.  Never.  And
Captain Anthony arrived at the cottage in the evening."

"Ah yes.  Captain Anthony," I murmured.  And she repeated also in a
murmur, "Yes!  Captain Anthony."  The faint flush of warm life left her
face.  I subdued my voice still more and not looking at her: "You found
him sympathetic?" I ventured.

Her long dark lashes went down a little with an air of calculated
discretion.  At least so it seemed to me.  And yet no one could say that
I was inimical to that girl.  But there you are!  Explain it as you may,
in this world the friendless, like the poor, are always a little suspect,
as if honesty and delicacy were only possible to the privileged few.

"Why do you ask?" she said after a time, raising her eyes suddenly to
mine in an effect of candour which on the same principle (of the
disinherited not being to be trusted) might have been judged equivocal.

"If you mean what right I have . . . "  She move slightly a hand in a
worn brown glove as much as to say she could not question anyone's right
against such an outcast as herself.

I ought to have been moved perhaps; but I only noted the total absence of
humility . . . "No right at all," I continued, "but just interest.  Mrs.
Fyne--it's too difficult to explain how it came about--has talked to me
of you--well--extensively."

No doubt Mrs. Fyne had told me the truth, Flora said brusquely with an
unexpected hoarseness of tone.  This very dress she was wearing had been
given her by Mrs. Fyne.  Of course I looked at it.  It could not have
been a recent gift.  Close-fitting and black, with heliotrope silk
facings under a figured net, it looked far from new, just on this side of
shabbiness; in fact, it accentuated the slightness of her figure, it went
well in its suggestion of half mourning with the white face in which the
unsmiling red lips alone seemed warm with the rich blood of life and
passion.

Little Fyne was staying up there an unconscionable time.  Was he arguing,
preaching, remonstrating?  Had he discovered in himself a capacity and a
taste for that sort of thing?  Or was he perhaps, in an intense dislike
for the job, beating about the bush and only puzzling Captain Anthony,
the providential man, who, if he expected the girl to appear at any
moment, must have been on tenterhooks all the time, and beside himself
with impatience to see the back of his brother-in-law.  How was it that
he had not got rid of Fyne long before in any case?  I don't mean by
actually throwing him out of the window, but in some other resolute
manner.

Surely Fyne had not impressed him.  That he was an impressionable man I
could not doubt.  The presence of the girl there on the pavement before
me proved this up to the hilt--and, well, yes, touchingly enough.

It so happened that in their wanderings to and fro our glances met.  They
met and remained in contact more familiar than a hand-clasp, more
communicative, more expressive.  There was something comic too in the
whole situation, in the poor girl and myself waiting together on the
broad pavement at a corner public-house for the issue of Fyne's
ridiculous mission.  But the comic when it is human becomes quickly
painful.  Yes, she was infinitely anxious.  And I was asking myself
whether this poignant tension of her suspense depended--to put it
plainly--on hunger or love.

The answer would have been of some interest to Captain Anthony.  For my
part, in the presence of a young girl I always become convinced that the
dreams of sentiment--like the consoling mysteries of Faith--are
invincible; that it is never never reason which governs men and women.

Yet what sentiment could there have been on her part?  I remembered her
tone only a moment since when she said: "That evening Captain Anthony
arrived at the cottage."  And considering, too, what the arrival of
Captain Anthony meant in this connection, I wondered at the calmness with
which she could mention that fact.  He arrived at the cottage.  In the
evening.  I knew that late train.  He probably walked from the station.
The evening would be well advanced.  I could almost see a dark indistinct
figure opening the wicket gate of the garden.  Where was she?  Did she
see him enter?  Was she somewhere near by and did she hear without the
slightest premonition his chance and fateful footsteps on the flagged
path leading to the cottage door?  In the shadow of the night made more
cruelly sombre for her by the very shadow of death he must have appeared
too strange, too remote, too unknown to impress himself on her thought as
a living force--such a force as a man can bring to bear on a woman's
destiny.

She glanced towards the hotel door again; I followed suit and then our
eyes met once more, this time intentionally.  A tentative, uncertain
intimacy was springing up between us two.  She said simply: "You are
waiting for Mr. Fyne to come out; are you?"

I admitted to her that I was waiting to see Mr. Fyne come out.  That was
all.  I had nothing to say to him.

"I have said yesterday all I had to say to him," I added meaningly.  "I
have said it to them both, in fact.  I have also heard all they had to
say."

"About me?" she murmured.

"Yes.  The conversation was about you."

"I wonder if they told you everything."

If she wondered I could do nothing else but wonder too.  But I did not
tell her that.  I only smiled.  The material point was that Captain
Anthony should be told everything.  But as to that I was very certain
that the good sister would see to it.  Was there anything more to
disclose--some other misery, some other deception of which that girl had
been a victim?  It seemed hardly probable.  It was not even easy to
imagine.  What struck me most was her--I suppose I must call
it--composure.  One could not tell whether she understood what she had
done.  One wondered.  She was not so much unreadable as blank; and I did
not know whether to admire her for it or dismiss her from my thoughts as
a passive butt of ferocious misfortune.

Looking back at the occasion when we first got on speaking terms on the
road by the quarry, I had to admit that she presented some points of a
problematic appearance.  I don't know why I imagined Captain Anthony as
the sort of man who would not be likely to take the initiative; not
perhaps from indifference but from that peculiar timidity before women
which often enough is found in conjunction with chivalrous instincts,
with a great need for affection and great stability of feelings.  Such
men are easily moved.  At the least encouragement they go forward with
the eagerness, with the recklessness of starvation.  This accounted for
the suddenness of the affair.  No!  With all her inexperience this girl
could not have found any great difficulty in her conquering enterprise.
She must have begun it.  And yet there she was, patient, almost unmoved,
almost pitiful, waiting outside like a beggar, without a right to
anything but compassion, for a promised dole.

Every moment people were passing close by us, singly, in two and threes;
the inhabitants of that end of the town where life goes on unadorned by
grace or splendour; they passed us in their shabby garments, with sallow
faces, haggard, anxious or weary, or simply without expression, in an
unsmiling sombre stream not made up of lives but of mere unconsidered
existences whose joys, struggles, thoughts, sorrows and their very hopes
were miserable, glamourless, and of no account in the world.  And when
one thought of their reality to themselves one's heart became oppressed.
But of all the individuals who passed by none appeared to me for the
moment so pathetic in unconscious patience as the girl standing before
me; none more difficult to understand.  It is perhaps because I was
thinking of things which I could not ask her about.

In fact we had nothing to say to each other; but we two, strangers as we
really were to each other, had dealt with the most intimate and final of
subjects, the subject of death.  It had created a sort of bond between
us.  It made our silence weighty and uneasy.  I ought to have left her
there and then; but, as I think I've told you before, the fact of having
shouted her away from the edge of a precipice seemed somehow to have
engaged my responsibility as to this other leap.  And so we had still an
intimate subject between us to lend more weight and more uneasiness to
our silence.  The subject of marriage.  I use the word not so much in
reference to the ceremony itself (I had no doubt of this, Captain Anthony
being a decent fellow) or in view of the social institution in general,
as to which I have no opinion, but in regard to the human relation.  The
first two views are not particularly interesting.  The ceremony, I
suppose, is adequate; the institution, I dare say, is useful or it would
not have endured.  But the human relation thus recognized is a mysterious
thing in its origins, character and consequences.  Unfortunately you
can't buttonhole familiarly a young girl as you would a young fellow.  I
don't think that even another woman could really do it.  She would not be
trusted.  There is not between women that fund of at least conditional
loyalty which men may depend on in their dealings with each other.  I
believe that any woman would rather trust a man.  The difficulty in such
a delicate case was how to get on terms.

So we held our peace in the odious uproar of that wide roadway thronged
with heavy carts.  Great vans carrying enormous piled-up loads advanced
swaying like mountains.  It was as if the whole world existed only for
selling and buying and those who had nothing to do with the movement of
merchandise were of no account.

"You must be tired," I said.  One had to say something if only to assert
oneself against that wearisome, passionless and crushing uproar.  She
raised her eyes for a moment.  No, she was not.  Not very.  She had not
walked all the way.  She came by train as far as Whitechapel Station and
had only walked from there.

She had had an ugly pilgrimage; but whether of love or of necessity who
could tell?  And that precisely was what I should have liked to get at.
This was not however a question to be asked point-blank, and I could not
think of any effective circumlocution.  It occurred to me too that she
might conceivably know nothing of it herself--I mean by reflection.  That
young woman had been obviously considering death.  She had gone the
length of forming some conception of it.  But as to its companion
fatality--love, she, I was certain, had never reflected upon its meaning.

With that man in the hotel, whom I did not know, and this girl standing
before me in the street I felt that it was an exceptional case.  He had
broken away from his surroundings; she stood outside the pale.  One
aspect of conventions which people who declaim against them lose sight of
is that conventions make both joy and suffering easier to bear in a
becoming manner.  But those two were outside all conventions.  They would
be as untrammelled in a sense as the first man and the first woman.  The
trouble was that I could not imagine anything about Flora de Barral and
the brother of Mrs. Fyne.  Or, if you like, I could imagine _anything_
which comes practically to the same thing.  Darkness and chaos are first
cousins.  I should have liked to ask the girl for a word which would give
my imagination its line.  But how was one to venture so far?  I can be
rough sometimes but I am not naturally impertinent.  I would have liked
to ask her for instance: "Do you know what you have done with yourself?"
A question like that.  Anyhow it was time for one of us to say something.
A question it must be.  And the question I asked was: "So he's going to
show you the ship?"

She seemed glad I had spoken at last and glad of the opportunity to speak
herself.

"Yes.  He said he would--this morning.  Did you say you did not know
Captain Anthony?"

"No.  I don't know him.  Is he anything like his sister?"

She looked startled and murmured "Sister!" in a puzzled tone which
astonished me.  "Oh!  Mrs. Fyne," she exclaimed, recollecting herself,
and avoiding my eyes while I looked at her curiously.

What an extraordinary detachment!  And all the time the stream of shabby
people was hastening by us, with the continuous dreary shuffling of weary
footsteps on the flagstones.  The sunshine falling on the grime of
surfaces, on the poverty of tones and forms seemed of an inferior
quality, its joy faded, its brilliance tarnished and dusty.  I had to
raise my voice in the dull vibrating noise of the roadway.

"You don't mean to say you have forgotten the connection?"

She cried readily enough: "I wasn't thinking."  And then, while I
wondered what could have been the images occupying her brain at this
time, she asked me: "You didn't see my letter to Mrs. Fyne--did you?"

"No.  I didn't," I shouted.  Just then the racket was distracting, a pair-
horse trolly lightly loaded with loose rods of iron passing slowly very
near us.  "I wasn't trusted so far."  And remembering Mrs. Fyne's hints
that the girl was unbalanced, I added: "Was it an unreserved confession
you wrote?"

She did not answer me for a time, and as I waited I thought that there's
nothing like a confession to make one look mad; and that of all
confessions a written one is the most detrimental all round.  Never
confess!  Never, never!  An untimely joke is a source of bitter regret
always.  Sometimes it may ruin a man; not because it is a joke, but
because it is untimely.  And a confession of whatever sort is always
untimely.  The only thing which makes it supportable for a while is
curiosity.  You smile?  Ah, but it is so, or else people would be sent to
the rightabout at the second sentence.  How many sympathetic souls can
you reckon on in the world?  One in ten, one in a hundred--in a
thousand--in ten thousand?  Ah!  What a sell these confessions are!  What
a horrible sell!  You seek sympathy, and all you get is the most
evanescent sense of relief--if you get that much.  For a confession,
whatever it may be, stirs the secret depths of the hearer's character.
Often depths that he himself is but dimly aware of.  And so the righteous
triumph secretly, the lucky are amused, the strong are disgusted, the
weak either upset or irritated with you according to the measure of their
sincerity with themselves.  And all of them in their hearts brand you for
either mad or impudent . . . "

I had seldom seen Marlow so vehement, so pessimistic, so earnestly
cynical before.  I cut his declamation short by asking what answer Flora
de Barral had given to his question.  "Did the poor girl admit firing off
her confidences at Mrs. Fyne--eight pages of close writing--that sort of
thing?"

Marlow shook his head.

"She did not tell me.  I accepted her silence, as a kind of answer and
remarked that it would have been better if she had simply announced the
fact to Mrs. Fyne at the cottage.  "Why didn't you do it?" I asked point-
blank.

She said: "I am not a very plucky girl."  She looked up at me and added
meaningly: "And _you_ know it.  And you know why."

I must remark that she seemed to have become very subdued since our first
meeting at the quarry.  Almost a different person from the defiant, angry
and despairing girl with quivering lips and resentful glances.

"I thought it was very sensible of you to get away from that sheer drop,"
I said.

She looked up with something of that old expression.

"That's not what I mean.  I see you will have it that you saved my life.
Nothing of the kind.  I was concerned for that vile little beast of a
dog.  No!  It was the idea of--of doing away with myself which was
cowardly.  That's what I meant by saying I am not a very plucky girl."

"Oh!" I retorted airily.  "That little dog.  He isn't really a bad little
dog."  But she lowered her eyelids and went on:

"I was so miserable that I could think only of myself.  This was mean.  It
was cruel too.  And besides I had _not_ given it up--not then."

* * * * *

Marlow changed his tone.

"I don't know much of the psychology of self-destruction.  It's a sort of
subject one has few opportunities to study closely.  I knew a man once
who came to my rooms one evening, and while smoking a cigar confessed to
me moodily that he was trying to discover some graceful way of retiring
out of existence.  I didn't study his case, but I had a glimpse of him
the other day at a cricket match, with some women, having a good time.
That seems a fairly reasonable attitude.  Considered as a sin, it is a
case for repentance before the throne of a merciful God.  But I imagine
that Flora de Barral's religion under the care of the distinguished
governess could have been nothing but outward formality.  Remorse in the
sense of gnawing shame and unavailing regret is only understandable to me
when some wrong had been done to a fellow-creature.  But why she, that
girl who existed on sufferance, so to speak--why she should writhe
inwardly with remorse because she had once thought of getting rid of a
life which was nothing in every respect but a curse--that I could not
understand.  I thought it was very likely some obscure influence of
common forms of speech, some traditional or inherited feeling--a vague
notion that suicide is a legal crime; words of old moralists and
preachers which remain in the air and help to form all the authorized
moral conventions.  Yes, I was surprised at her remorse.  But lowering
her glance unexpectedly till her dark eye-lashes seemed to rest against
her white cheeks she presented a perfectly demure aspect.  It was so
attractive that I could not help a faint smile.  That Flora de Barral
should ever, in any aspect, have the power to evoke a smile was the very
last thing I should have believed.  She went on after a slight
hesitation:

"One day I started for there, for that place."

Look at the influence of a mere play of physiognomy!  If you remember
what we were talking about you will hardly believe that I caught myself
grinning down at that demure little girl.  I must say too that I felt
more friendly to her at the moment than ever before.

"Oh, you did?  To take that jump?  You are a determined young person.
Well, what happened that time?"

An almost imperceptible alteration in her bearing; a slight droop of her
head perhaps--a mere nothing--made her look more demure than ever.

"I had left the cottage," she began a little hurriedly.  "I was walking
along the road--you know, _the_ road.  I had made up my mind I was not
coming back this time."

I won't deny that these words spoken from under the brim of her hat (oh
yes, certainly, her head was down--she had put it down) gave me a thrill;
for indeed I had never doubted her sincerity.  It could never have been a
make-believe despair.

"Yes," I whispered.  "You were going along the road."

"When . . . "  Again she hesitated with an effect of innocent shyness
worlds asunder from tragic issues; then glided on . . . "When suddenly
Captain Anthony came through a gate out of a field."

I coughed down the beginning of a most improper fit of laughter, and felt
ashamed of myself.  Her eyes raised for a moment seemed full of innocent
suffering and unexpressed menace in the depths of the dilated pupils
within the rings of sombre blue.  It was--how shall I say it?--a night
effect when you seem to see vague shapes and don't know what reality you
may come upon at any time.  Then she lowered her eyelids again, shutting
all mysteriousness out of the situation except for the sobering memory of
that glance, nightlike in the sunshine, expressively still in the brutal
unrest of the street.

"So Captain Anthony joined you--did he?"

"He opened a field-gate and walked out on the road.  He crossed to my
side and went on with me.  He had his pipe in his hand.  He said: 'Are
you going far this morning?'"

These words (I was watching her white face as she spoke) gave me a slight
shudder.  She remained demure, almost prim.  And I remarked:

"You have been talking together before, of course."

"Not more than twenty words altogether since he arrived," she declared
without emphasis.  "That day he had said 'Good morning' to me when we met
at breakfast two hours before.  And I said good morning to him.  I did
not see him afterwards till he came out on the road."

I thought to myself that this was not accidental.  He had been observing
her.  I felt certain also that he had not been asking any questions of
Mrs. Fyne.

"I wouldn't look at him," said Flora de Barral.  "I had done with looking
at people.  He said to me: 'My sister does not put herself out much for
us.  We had better keep each other company.  I have read every book there
is in that cottage.'  I walked on.  He did not leave me.  I thought he
ought to.  But he didn't.  He didn't seem to notice that I would not talk
to him."

She was now perfectly still.  The wretched little parasol hung down
against her dress from her joined hands.  I was rigid with attention.  It
isn't every day that one culls such a volunteered tale on a girl's lips.
The ugly street-noises swelling up for a moment covered the next few
words she said.  It was vexing.  The next word I heard was "worried."

"It worried you to have him there, walking by your side."

"Yes.  Just that," she went on with downcast eyes.  There was something
prettily comical in her attitude and her tone, while I pictured to myself
a poor white-faced girl walking to her death with an unconscious man
striding by her side.  Unconscious?  I don't know.  First of all, I felt
certain that this was no chance meeting.  Something had happened before.
Was he a man for a _coup-de-foudre_, the lightning stroke of love?  I
don't think so.  That sort of susceptibility is luckily rare.  A world of
inflammable lovers of the Romeo and Juliet type would very soon end in
barbarism and misery.  But it is a fact that in every man (not in every
woman) there lives a lover; a lover who is called out in all his
potentialities often by the most insignificant little things--as long as
they come at the psychological moment: the glimpse of a face at an
unusual angle, an evanescent attitude, the curve of a cheek often looked
at before, perhaps, but then, at the moment, charged with astonishing
significance.  These are great mysteries, of course.  Magic signs.

I don't know in what the sign consisted in this case.  It might have been
her pallor (it wasn't pasty nor yet papery) that white face with eyes
like blue gleams of fire and lips like red coals.  In certain lights, in
certain poises of head it suggested tragic sorrow.  Or it might have been
her wavy hair.  Or even just that pointed chin stuck out a little,
resentful and not particularly distinguished, doing away with the
mysterious aloofness of her fragile presence.  But any way at a given
moment Anthony must have suddenly _seen_ the girl.  And then, that
something had happened to him.  Perhaps nothing more than the thought
coming into his head that this was "a possible woman."

Followed this waylaying!  Its resolute character makes me think it was
the chin's doing; that "common mortal" touch which stands in such good
stead to some women.  Because men, I mean really masculine men, those
whose generations have evolved an ideal woman, are often very timid.  Who
wouldn't be before the ideal?  It's your sentimental trifler, who has
just missed being nothing at all, who is enterprising, simply because it
is easy to appear enterprising when one does not mean to put one's belief
to the test.

Well, whatever it was that encouraged him, Captain Anthony stuck to Flora
de Barral in a manner which in a timid man might have been called heroic
if it had not been so simple.  Whether policy, diplomacy, simplicity, or
just inspiration, he kept up his talk, rather deliberate, with very few
pauses.  Then suddenly as if recollecting himself:

"It's funny.  I don't think you are annoyed with me for giving you my
company unasked.  But why don't you say something?"

I asked Miss de Barral what answer she made to this query.

"I made no answer," she said in that even, unemotional low voice which
seemed to be her voice for delicate confidences.  "I walked on.  He did
not seem to mind.  We came to the foot of the quarry where the road winds
up hill, past the place where you were sitting by the roadside that day.
I began to wonder what I should do.  After we reached the top Captain
Anthony said that he had not been for a walk with a lady for years and
years--almost since he was a boy.  We had then come to where I ought to
have turned off and struck across a field.  I thought of making a run of
it.  But he would have caught me up.  I knew he would; and, of course, he
would not have allowed me.  I couldn't give him the slip."

"Why didn't you ask him to leave you?" I inquired curiously.

"He would not have taken any notice," she went on steadily.  "And what
could I have done then?  I could not have started quarrelling with
him--could I?  I hadn't enough energy to get angry.  I felt very tired
suddenly.  I just stumbled on straight along the road.  Captain Anthony
told me that the family--some relations of his mother--he used to know in
Liverpool was broken up now, and he had never made any friends since.  All
gone their different ways.  All the girls married.  Nice girls they were
and very friendly to him when he was but little more than a boy.  He
repeated: 'Very nice, cheery, clever girls.'  I sat down on a bank
against a hedge and began to cry."

"You must have astonished him not a little," I observed.

Anthony, it seems, remained on the road looking down at her.  He did not
offer to approach her, neither did he make any other movement or gesture.
Flora de Barral told me all this.  She could see him through her tears,
blurred to a mere shadow on the white road, and then again becoming more
distinct, but always absolutely still and as if lost in thought before a
strange phenomenon which demanded the closest possible attention.

Flora learned later that he had never seen a woman cry; not in that way,
at least.  He was impressed and interested by the mysteriousness of the
effect.  She was very conscious of being looked at, but was not able to
stop herself crying.  In fact, she was not capable of any effort.
Suddenly he advanced two steps, stooped, caught hold of her hands lying
on her lap and pulled her up to her feet; she found herself standing
close to him almost before she realized what he had done.  Some people
were coming briskly along the road and Captain Anthony muttered: "You
don't want to be stared at.  What about that stile over there?  Can we go
back across the fields?"

She snatched her hands out of his grasp (it seems he had omitted to let
them go), marched away from him and got over the stile.  It was a big
field sprinkled profusely with white sheep.  A trodden path crossed it
diagonally.  After she had gone more than half way she turned her head
for the first time.  Keeping five feet or so behind, Captain Anthony was
following her with an air of extreme interest.  Interest or eagerness.  At
any rate she caught an expression on his face which frightened her.  But
not enough to make her run.  And indeed it would have had to be something
incredibly awful to scare into a run a girl who had come to the end of
her courage to live.

As if encouraged by this glance over the shoulder Captain Anthony came up
boldly, and now that he was by her side, she felt his nearness
intimately, like a touch.  She tried to disregard this sensation.  But
she was not angry with him now.  It wasn't worth while.  She was thankful
that he had the sense not to ask questions as to this crying.  Of course
he didn't ask because he didn't care.  No one in the world cared for her,
neither those who pretended nor yet those who did not pretend.  She
preferred the latter.

Captain Anthony opened for her a gate into another field; when they got
through he kept walking abreast, elbow to elbow almost.  His voice
growled pleasantly in her very ear.  Staying in this dull place was
enough to give anyone the blues.  His sister scribbled all day.  It was
positively unkind.  He alluded to his nieces as rude, selfish monkeys,
without either feelings or manners.  And he went on to talk about his
ship being laid up for a month and dismantled for repairs.  The worst was
that on arriving in London he found he couldn't get the rooms he was used
to, where they made him as comfortable as such a confirmed sea-dog as
himself could be anywhere on shore.

In the effort to subdue by dint of talking and to keep in check the
mysterious, the profound attraction he felt already for that delicate
being of flesh and blood, with pale cheeks, with darkened eyelids and
eyes scalded with hot tears, he went on speaking of himself as a
confirmed enemy of life on shore--a perfect terror to a simple man, what
with the fads and proprieties and the ceremonies and affectations.  He
hated all that.  He wasn't fit for it.  There was no rest and peace and
security but on the sea.

This gave one a view of Captain Anthony as a hermit withdrawn from a
wicked world.  It was amusingly unexpected to me and nothing more.  But
it must have appealed straight to that bruised and battered young soul.
Still shrinking from his nearness she had ended by listening to him with
avidity.  His deep murmuring voice soothed her.  And she thought suddenly
that there was peace and rest in the grave too.

She heard him say: "Look at my sister.  She isn't a bad woman by any
means.  She asks me here because it's right and proper, I suppose, but
she has no use for me.  There you have your shore people.  I quite
understand anybody crying.  I would have been gone already, only, truth
to say, I haven't any friends to go to."  He added brusquely: "And you?"

She made a slight negative sign.  He must have been observing her,
putting two and two together.  After a pause he said simply: "When I
first came here I thought you were governess to these girls.  My sister
didn't say a word about you to me."

Then Flora spoke for the first time.

"Mrs. Fyne is my best friend."

"So she is mine," he said without the slightest irony or bitterness, but
added with conviction: "That shows you what life ashore is.  Much better
be out of it."

As they were approaching the cottage he was heard again as though a long
silent walk had not intervened: "But anyhow I shan't ask her anything
about you."

He stopped short and she went on alone.  His last words had impressed
her.  Everything he had said seemed somehow to have a special meaning
under its obvious conversational sense.  Till she went in at the door of
the cottage she felt his eyes resting on her.

That is it.  He had made himself felt.  That girl was, one may say,
washing about with slack limbs in the ugly surf of life with no
opportunity to strike out for herself, when suddenly she had been made to
feel that there was somebody beside her in the bitter water.  A most
considerable moral event for her; whether she was aware of it or not.
They met again at the one o'clock dinner.  I am inclined to think that,
being a healthy girl under her frail appearance, and fast walking and
what I may call relief-crying (there are many kinds of crying) making one
hungry, she made a good meal.  It was Captain Anthony who had no
appetite.  His sister commented on it in a curt, businesslike manner, and
the eldest of his delightful nieces said mockingly: "You have been taking
too much exercise this morning, Uncle Roderick."  The mild Uncle Roderick
turned upon her with a "What do you know about it, young lady?" so
charged with suppressed savagery that the whole round table gave one gasp
and went dumb for the rest of the meal.  He took no notice whatever of
Flora de Barral.  I don't think it was from prudence or any calculated
motive.  I believe he was so full of her aspects that he did not want to
look in her direction when there were other people to hamper his
imagination.

You understand I am piecing here bits of disconnected statements.  Next
day Flora saw him leaning over the field-gate.  When she told me this, I
didn't of course ask her how it was she was there.  Probably she could
not have told me how it was she was there.  The difficulty here is to
keep steadily in view the then conditions of her existence, a combination
of dreariness and horror.

That hermit-like but not exactly misanthropic sailor was leaning over the
gate moodily.  When he saw the white-faced restless Flora drifting like a
lost thing along the road he put his pipe in his pocket and called out
"Good morning, Miss Smith" in a tone of amazing happiness.  She, with one
foot in life and the other in a nightmare, was at the same time inert and
unstable, and very much at the mercy of sudden impulses.  She swerved,
came distractedly right up to the gate and looking straight into his
eyes: "I am not Miss Smith.  That's not my name.  Don't call me by it."

She was shaking as if in a passion.  His eyes expressed nothing; he only
unlatched the gate in silence, grasped her arm and drew her in.  Then
closing it with a kick--

"Not your name?  That's all one to me.  Your name's the least thing about
you I care for."  He was leading her firmly away from the gate though she
resisted slightly.  There was a sort of joy in his eyes which frightened
her.  "You are not a princess in disguise," he said with an unexpected
laugh she found blood-curdling.  "And that's all I care for.  You had
better understand that I am not blind and not a fool.  And then it's
plain for even a fool to see that things have been going hard with you.
You are on a lee shore and eating your heart out with worry."

What seemed most awful to her was the elated light in his eyes, the
rapacious smile that would come and go on his lips as if he were gloating
over her misery.  But her misery was his opportunity and he rejoiced
while the tenderest pity seemed to flood his whole being.  He pointed out
to her that she knew who he was.  He was Mrs. Fyne's brother.  And, well,
if his sister was the best friend she had in the world, then, by Jove, it
was about time somebody came along to look after her a little.

Flora had tried more than once to free herself, but he tightened his
grasp of her arm each time and even shook it a little without ceasing to
speak.  The nearness of his face intimidated her.  He seemed striving to
look her through.  It was obvious the world had been using her ill.  And
even as he spoke with indignation the very marks and stamp of this ill-
usage of which he was so certain seemed to add to the inexplicable
attraction he felt for her person.  It was not pity alone, I take it.  It
was something more spontaneous, perverse and exciting.  It gave him the
feeling that if only he could get hold of her, no woman would belong to
him so completely as this woman.

"Whatever your troubles," he said, "I am the man to take you away from
them; that is, if you are not afraid.  You told me you had no friends.
Neither have I.  Nobody ever cared for me as far as I can remember.
Perhaps you could.  Yes, I live on the sea.  But who would you be parting
from?  No one.  You have no one belonging to you."

At this point she broke away from him and ran.  He did not pursue her.
The tall hedges tossing in the wind, the wide fields, the clouds driving
over the sky and the sky itself wheeled about her in masses of green and
white and blue as if the world were breaking up silently in a whirl, and
her foot at the next step were bound to find the void.  She reached the
gate all right, got out, and, once on the road, discovered that she had
not the courage to look back.  The rest of that day she spent with the
Fyne girls who gave her to understand that she was a slow and
unprofitable person.  Long after tea, nearly at dusk, Captain Anthony
(the son of the poet) appeared suddenly before her in the little garden
in front of the cottage.  They were alone for the moment.  The wind had
dropped.  In the calm evening air the voices of Mrs. Fyne and the girls
strolling aimlessly on the road could be heard.  He said to her severely:

"You have understood?"

She looked at him in silence.

"That I love you," he finished.

She shook her head the least bit.

"Don't you believe me?" he asked in a low, infuriated voice.

"Nobody would love me," she answered in a very quiet tone.  "Nobody
could."

He was dumb for a time, astonished beyond measure, as he well might have
been.  He doubted his ears.  He was outraged.

"Eh?  What?  Can't love you?  What do you know about it?  It's my affair,
isn't it?  You dare say _that_ to a man who has just told you!  You must
be mad!"

"Very nearly," she said with the accent of pent-up sincerity, and even
relieved because she was able to say something which she felt was true.
For the last few days she had felt herself several times near that
madness which is but an intolerable lucidity of apprehension.

The clear voices of Mrs. Fyne and the girls were coming nearer, sounding
affected in the peace of the passion-laden earth.  He began storming at
her hastily.

"Nonsense!  Nobody can . . . Indeed!  Pah!  You'll have to be shown that
somebody can.  I can.  Nobody . . . "  He made a contemptuous hissing
noise.  "More likely _you_ can't.  They have done something to you.
Something's crushed your pluck.  You can't face a man--that's what it is.
What made you like this?  Where do you come from?  You have been put
upon.  The scoundrels--whoever they are, men or women, seem to have
robbed you of your very name.  You say you are not Miss Smith.  Who are
you, then?"

She did not answer.  He muttered, "Not that I care," and fell silent,
because the fatuous self-confident chatter of the Fyne girls could be
heard at the very gate.  But they were not going to bed yet.  They passed
on.  He waited a little in silence and immobility, then stamped his foot
and lost control of himself.  He growled at her in a savage passion.  She
felt certain that he was threatening her and calling her names.  She was
no stranger to abuse, as we know, but there seemed to be a particular
kind of ferocity in this which was new to her.  She began to tremble.  The
especially terrifying thing was that she could not make out the nature of
these awful menaces and names.  Not a word.  Yet it was not the shrinking
anguish of her other experiences of angry scenes.  She made a mighty
effort, though her knees were knocking together, and in an expiring voice
demanded that he should let her go indoors.  "Don't stop me.  It's no
use.  It's no use," she repeated faintly, feeling an invincible obstinacy
rising within her, yet without anger against that raging man.

He became articulate suddenly, and, without raising his voice, perfectly
audible.

"No use!  No use!  You dare stand here and tell me that--you white-faced
wisp, you wreath of mist, you little ghost of all the sorrow in the
world.  You dare!  Haven't I been looking at you?  You are all eyes.  What
makes your cheeks always so white as if you had seen something . . .
Don't speak.  I love it . . . No use!  And you really think that I can
now go to sea for a year or more, to the other side of the world
somewhere, leaving you behind.  Why!  You would vanish . . . what little
there is of you.  Some rough wind will blow you away altogether.  You
have no holding ground on earth.  Well, then trust yourself to me--to the
sea--which is deep like your eyes."

She said: "Impossible."  He kept quiet for a while, then asked in a
totally changed tone, a tone of gloomy curiosity:

"You can't stand me then?  Is that it?"

"No," she said, more steady herself.  "I am not thinking of you at all."

The inane voices of the Fyne girls were heard over the sombre fields
calling to each other, thin and clear.  He muttered: "You could try to.
Unless you are thinking of somebody else."

"Yes.  I am thinking of somebody else, of someone who has nobody to think
of him but me."

His shadowy form stepped out of her way, and suddenly leaned sideways
against the wooden support of the porch.  And as she stood still,
surprised by this staggering movement, his voice spoke up in a tone quite
strange to her.

"Go in then.  Go out of my sight--I thought you said nobody could love
you."

She was passing him when suddenly he struck her as so forlorn that she
was inspired to say: "No one has ever loved me--not in that way--if
that's what you mean.  Nobody would."

He detached himself brusquely from the post, and she did not shrink; but
Mrs. Fyne and the girls were already at the gate.

All he understood was that everything was not over yet.  There was no
time to lose; Mrs. Fyne and the girls had come in at the gate.  He
whispered "Wait" with such authority (he was the son of Carleon Anthony,
the domestic autocrat) that it did arrest her for a moment, long enough
to hear him say that he could not be left like this to puzzle over her
nonsense all night.  She was to slip down again into the garden later on,
as soon as she could do so without being heard.  He would be there
waiting for her till--till daylight.  She didn't think he could go to
sleep, did she?  And she had better come, or--he broke off on an
unfinished threat.

She vanished into the unlighted cottage just as Mrs. Fyne came up to the
porch.  Nervous, holding her breath in the darkness of the living-room,
she heard her best friend say: "You ought to have joined us, Roderick."
And then: "Have you seen Miss Smith anywhere?"

Flora shuddered, expecting Anthony to break out into betraying
imprecations on Miss Smith's head, and cause a painful and humiliating
explanation.  She imagined him full of his mysterious ferocity.  To her
great surprise, Anthony's voice sounded very much as usual, with perhaps
a slight tinge of grimness.  "Miss Smith!  No.  I've seen no Miss Smith."

Mrs. Fyne seemed satisfied--and not much concerned really.

Flora, relieved, got clear away to her room upstairs, and shutting her
door quietly, dropped into a chair.  She was used to reproaches, abuse,
to all sorts of wicked ill usage--short of actual beating on her body.
Otherwise inexplicable angers had cut and slashed and trampled down her
youth without mercy--and mainly, it appeared, because she was the
financier de Barral's daughter and also condemned to a degrading sort of
poverty through the action of treacherous men who had turned upon her
father in his hour of need.  And she thought with the tenderest possible
affection of that upright figure buttoned up in a long frock-coat, soft-
voiced and having but little to say to his girl.  She seemed to feel his
hand closed round hers.  On his flying visits to Brighton he would always
walk hand in hand with her.  People stared covertly at them; the band was
playing; and there was the sea--the blue gaiety of the sea.  They were
quietly happy together . . . It was all over!

An immense anguish of the present wrung her heart, and she nearly cried
aloud.  That dread of what was before her which had been eating up her
courage slowly in the course of odious years, flamed up into an access of
panic, that sort of headlong panic which had already driven her out twice
to the top of the cliff-like quarry.  She jumped up saying to herself:
"Why not now?  At once!  Yes.  I'll do it now--in the dark!"  The very
horror of it seemed to give her additional resolution.

She came down the staircase quietly, and only on the point of opening the
door and because of the discovery that it was unfastened, she remembered
Captain Anthony's threat to stay in the garden all night.  She hesitated.
She did not understand the mood of that man clearly.  He was violent.  But
she had gone beyond the point where things matter.  What would he think
of her coming down to him--as he would naturally suppose.  And even that
didn't matter.  He could not despise her more than she despised herself.
She must have been light-headed because the thought came into her mind
that should he get into ungovernable fury from disappointment, and
perchance strangle her, it would be as good a way to be done with it as
any.

"You had that thought," I exclaimed in wonder.

With downcast eyes and speaking with an almost painstaking precision (her
very lips, her red lips, seemed to move just enough to be heard and no
more), she said that, yes, the thought came into her head.  This makes
one shudder at the mysterious ways girls acquire knowledge.  For this was
a thought, wild enough, I admit, but which could only have come from the
depths of that sort of experience which she had not had, and went far
beyond a young girl's possible conception of the strongest and most
veiled of human emotions.

"He was there, of course?" I said.

"Yes, he was there."  She saw him on the path directly she stepped
outside the porch.  He was very still.  It was as though he had been
standing there with his face to the door for hours.

Shaken up by the changing moods of passion and tenderness, he must have
been ready for any extravagance of conduct.  Knowing the profound silence
each night brought to that nook of the country, I could imagine them
having the feeling of being the only two people on the wide earth.  A row
of six or seven lofty elms just across the road opposite the cottage made
the night more obscure in that little garden.  If these two could just
make out each other that was all.

"Well!  And were you very much terrified?" I asked.

She made me wait a little before she said, raising her eyes: "He was
gentleness itself."

I noticed three abominable, drink-sodden loafers, sallow and dirty, who
had come to range themselves in a row within ten feet of us against the
front of the public-house.  They stared at Flora de Barral's back with
unseeing, mournful fixity.

"Let's move this way a little," I proposed.

She turned at once and we made a few paces; not too far to take us out of
sight of the hotel door, but very nearly.  I could just keep my eyes on
it.  After all, I had not been so very long with the girl.  If you were
to disentangle the words we actually exchanged from my comments you would
see that they were not so very many, including everything she had so
unexpectedly told me of her story.  No, not so very many.  And now it
seemed as though there would be no more.  No!  I could expect no more.
The confidence was wonderful enough in its nature as far as it went, and
perhaps not to have been expected from any other girl under the sun.  And
I felt a little ashamed.  The origin of our intimacy was too gruesome.  It
was as if listening to her I had taken advantage of having seen her poor
bewildered, scared soul without its veils.  But I was curious, too; or,
to render myself justice without false modesty--I was anxious; anxious to
know a little more.

I felt like a blackmailer all the same when I made my attempt with a
light-hearted remark.

"And so you gave up that walk you proposed to take?"

"Yes, I gave up the walk," she said slowly before raising her downcast
eyes.  When she did so it was with an extraordinary effect.  It was like
catching sight of a piece of blue sky, of a stretch of open water.  And
for a moment I understood the desire of that man to whom the sea and sky
of his solitary life had appeared suddenly incomplete without that glance
which seemed to belong to them both.  He was not for nothing the son of a
poet.  I looked into those unabashed eyes while the girl went on, her
demure appearance and precise tone changed to a very earnest expression.
Woman is various indeed.

"But I want you to understand, Mr. . . . " she had actually to think of
my name . . . "Mr. Marlow, that I have written to Mrs. Fyne that I
haven't been--that I have done nothing to make Captain Anthony behave to
me as he had behaved.  I haven't.  I haven't.  It isn't my doing.  It
isn't my fault--if she likes to put it in that way.  But she, with her
ideas, ought to understand that I couldn't, that I couldn't . . . I know
she hates me now.  I think she never liked me.  I think nobody ever cared
for me.  I was told once nobody could care for me; and I think it is
true.  At any rate I can't forget it."

Her abominable experience with the governess had implanted in her unlucky
breast a lasting doubt, an ineradicable suspicion of herself and of
others.  I said:

"Remember, Miss de Barral, that to be fair you must trust a man
altogether--or not at all."

She dropped her eyes suddenly.  I thought I heard a faint sigh.  I tried
to take a light tone again, and yet it seemed impossible to get off the
ground which gave me my standing with her.

"Mrs. Fyne is absurd.  She's an excellent woman, but really you could not
be expected to throw away your chance of life simply that she might
cherish a good opinion of your memory.  That would be excessive."

"It was not of my life that I was thinking while Captain Anthony was--was
speaking to me," said Flora de Barral with an effort.

I told her that she was wrong then.  She ought to have been thinking of
her life, and not only of her life but of the life of the man who was
speaking to her too.  She let me finish, then shook her head impatiently.

"I mean--death."

"Well," I said, "when he stood before you there, outside the cottage, he
really stood between you and that.  I have it out of your own mouth.  You
can't deny it."

"If you will have it that he saved my life, then he has got it.  It was
not for me.  Oh no!  It was not for me that I--It was not fear!  There!"
She finished petulantly: "And you may just as well know it."

She hung her head and swung the parasol slightly to and fro.  I thought a
little.

"Do you know French, Miss de Barral?" I asked.

She made a sign with her head that she did, but without showing any
surprise at the question and without ceasing to swing her parasol.

"Well then, somehow or other I have the notion that Captain Anthony is
what the French call _un galant homme_.  I should like to think he is
being treated as he deserves."

The form of her lips (I could see them under the brim of her hat) was
suddenly altered into a line of seriousness.  The parasol stopped
swinging.

"I have given him what he wanted--that's myself," she said without a
tremor and with a striking dignity of tone.

Impressed by the manner and the directness of the words, I hesitated for
a moment what to say.  Then made up my mind to clear up the point.

"And you have got what you wanted?  Is that it?"

The daughter of the egregious financier de Barral did not answer at once
this question going to the heart of things.  Then raising her head and
gazing wistfully across the street noisy with the endless transit of
innumerable bargains, she said with intense gravity:

"He has been most generous."

I was pleased to hear these words.  Not that I doubted the infatuation of
Roderick Anthony, but I was pleased to hear something which proved that
she was sensible and open to the sentiment of gratitude which in this
case was significant.  In the face of man's desire a girl is excusable if
she thinks herself priceless.  I mean a girl of our civilization which
has established a dithyrambic phraseology for the expression of love.  A
man in love will accept any convention exalting the object of his passion
and in this indirect way his passion itself.  In what way the captain of
the ship _Ferndale_ gave proofs of lover-like lavishness I could not
guess very well.  But I was glad she was appreciative.  It is lucky that
small things please women.  And it is not silly of them to be thus
pleased.  It is in small things that the deepest loyalty, that which they
need most, the loyalty of the passing moment, is best expressed.

She had remained thoughtful, letting her deep motionless eyes rest on the
streaming jumble of traffic.  Suddenly she said:

"And I wanted to ask you . . . I was really glad when I saw you actually
here.  Who would have expected you here, at this spot, before this hotel!
I certainly never . . . You see it meant a lot to me.  You are the only
person who knows . . . who knows for certain . . . "

"Knows what?" I said, not discovering at first what she had in her mind.
Then I saw it.  "Why can't you leave that alone?" I remonstrated, rather
annoyed at the invidious position she was forcing on me in a sense.  "It's
true that I was the only person to see," I added.  "But, as it happens,
after your mysterious disappearance I told the Fynes the story of our
meeting."

Her eyes raised to mine had an expression of dreamy, unfathomable
candour, if I dare say so.  And if you wonder what I mean I can only say
that I have seen the sea wear such an expression on one or two occasions
shortly before sunrise on a calm, fresh day.  She said as if meditating
aloud that she supposed the Fynes were not likely to talk about that.  She
couldn't imagine any connection in which . . . Why should they?

As her tone had become interrogatory I assented.  "To be sure.  There's
no reason whatever--" thinking to myself that they would be more likely
indeed to keep quiet about it.  They had other things to talk of.  And
then remembering little Fyne stuck upstairs for an unconscionable time,
enough to blurt out everything he ever knew in his life, I reflected that
he would assume naturally that Captain Anthony had nothing to learn from
him about Flora de Barral.  It had been up to now my assumption too.  I
saw my mistake.  The sincerest of women will make no unnecessary
confidences to a man.  And this is as it should be.

"No--no!" I said reassuringly.  "It's most unlikely.  Are you much
concerned?"

"Well, you see, when I came down," she said again in that precise demure
tone, "when I came down--into the garden Captain Anthony misunderstood--"

"Of course he would.  Men are so conceited," I said.

I saw it well enough that he must have thought she had come down to him.
What else could he have thought?  And then he had been "gentleness
itself."  A new experience for that poor, delicate, and yet so resisting
creature.  Gentleness in passion!  What could have been more seductive to
the scared, starved heart of that girl?  Perhaps had he been violent, she
might have told him that what she came down to keep was the tryst of
death--not of love.  It occurred to me as I looked at her, young, fragile
in aspect, and intensely alive in her quietness, that perhaps she did not
know herself then what sort of tryst she was coming down to keep.

She smiled faintly, almost awkwardly as if she were totally unused to
smiling, at my cheap jocularity.  Then she said with that forced
precision, a sort of conscious primness:

"I didn't want him to know."

I approved heartily.  Quite right.  Much better.  Let him ever remain
under his misapprehension which was so much more flattering for him.

I tried to keep it in the tone of comedy; but she was, I believe, too
simple to understand my intention.  She went on, looking down.

"Oh!  You think so?  When I saw you I didn't know why you were here.  I
was glad when you spoke to me because this is exactly what I wanted to
ask you for.  I wanted to ask you if you ever meet Captain Anthony--by
any chance--anywhere--you are a sailor too, are you not?--that you would
never mention--never--that--that you had seen me over there."

"My dear young lady," I cried, horror-struck at the supposition.  "Why
should I?  What makes you think I should dream of . . . "

She had raised her head at my vehemence.  She did not understand it.  The
world had treated her so dishonourably that she had no notion even of
what mere decency of feeling is like.  It was not her fault.  Indeed, I
don't know why she should have put her trust in anybody's promises.

But I thought it would be better to promise.  So I assured her that she
could depend on my absolute silence.

"I am not likely to ever set eyes on Captain Anthony," I added with
conviction--as a further guarantee.

She accepted my assurance in silence, without a sign.  Her gravity had in
it something acute, perhaps because of that chin.  While we were still
looking at each other she declared:

"There's no deception in it really.  I want you to believe that if I am
here, like this, to-day, it is not from fear.  It is not!"

"I quite understand," I said.  But her firm yet self-conscious gaze
became doubtful.  "I do," I insisted.  "I understand perfectly that it
was not of death that you were afraid."

She lowered her eyes slowly, and I went on:

"As to life, that's another thing.  And I don't know that one ought to
blame you very much--though it seemed rather an excessive step.  I wonder
now if it isn't the ugliness rather than the pain of the struggle which
. . . "

She shuddered visibly: "But I do blame myself," she exclaimed with
feeling.  "I am ashamed."  And, dropping her head, she looked in a moment
the very picture of remorse and shame.

"Well, you will be going away from all its horrors," I said.  "And surely
you are not afraid of the sea.  You are a sailor's granddaughter, I
understand."

She sighed deeply.  She remembered her grandfather only a little.  He was
a clean-shaven man with a ruddy complexion and long, perfectly white
hair.  He used to take her on his knee, and putting his face near hers,
talk to her in loving whispers.  If only he were alive now . . . !

She remained silent for a while.

"Aren't you anxious to see the ship?" I asked.

She lowered her head still more so that I could not see anything of her
face.

"I don't know," she murmured.

I had already the suspicion that she did not know her own feelings.  All
this work of the merest chance had been so unexpected, so sudden.  And
she had nothing to fall back upon, no experience but such as to shake her
belief in every human being.  She was dreadfully and pitifully forlorn.
It was almost in order to comfort my own depression that I remarked
cheerfully:

"Well, I know of somebody who must be growing extremely anxious to see
you."

"I am before my time," she confessed simply, rousing herself.  "I had
nothing to do.  So I came out."

I had the sudden vision of a shabby, lonely little room at the other end
of the town.  It had grown intolerable to her restlessness.  The mere
thought of it oppressed her.  Flora de Barral was looking frankly at her
chance confidant,

"And I came this way," she went on.  "I appointed the time myself
yesterday, but Captain Anthony would not have minded.  He told me he was
going to look over some business papers till I came."

The idea of the son of the poet, the rescuer of the most forlorn damsel
of modern times, the man of violence, gentleness and generosity, sitting
up to his neck in ship's accounts amused me.  "I am sure he would not
have minded," I said, smiling.  But the girl's stare was sombre, her thin
white face seemed pathetically careworn.

"I can hardly believe yet," she murmured anxiously.

"It's quite real.  Never fear," I said encouragingly, but had to change
my tone at once.  "You had better go down that way a little," I directed
her abruptly.

* * * * *

I had seen Fyne come striding out of the hotel door.  The intelligent
girl, without staying to ask questions, walked away from me quietly down
one street while I hurried on to meet Fyne coming up the other at his
efficient pedestrian gait.  My object was to stop him getting as far as
the corner.  He must have been thinking too hard to be aware of his
surroundings.  I put myself in his way, and he nearly walked into me.

"Hallo!" I said.

His surprise was extreme.  "You here!  You don't mean to say you have
been waiting for me?"

I said negligently that I had been detained by unexpected business in the
neighbourhood, and thus happened to catch sight of him coming out.

He stared at me with solemn distraction, obviously thinking of something
else.  I suggested that he had better take the next city-ward tramcar.  He
was inattentive, and I perceived that he was profoundly perturbed.  As
Miss de Barral (she had moved out of sight) could not possibly approach
the hotel door as long as we remained where we were I proposed that we
should wait for the car on the other side of the street.  He obeyed
rather the slight touch on his arm than my words, and while we were
crossing the wide roadway in the midst of the lumbering wheeled traffic,
he exclaimed in his deep tone, "I don't know which of these two is more
mad than the other!"

"Really!" I said, pulling him forward from under the noses of two
enormous sleepy-headed cart-horses.  He skipped wildly out of the way and
up on the curbstone with a purely instinctive precision; his mind had
nothing to do with his movements.  In the middle of his leap, and while
in the act of sailing gravely through the air, he continued to relieve
his outraged feelings.

"You would never believe!  They _are_ mad!"

I took care to place myself in such a position that to face me he had to
turn his back on the hotel across the road.  I believe he was glad I was
there to talk to.  But I thought there was some misapprehension in the
first statement he shot out at me without loss of time, that Captain
Anthony had been glad to see him.  It was indeed difficult to believe
that, directly he opened the door, his wife's "sailor-brother" had
positively shouted: "Oh, it's you!  The very man I wanted to see."

"I found him sitting there," went on Fyne impressively in his effortless,
grave chest voice, "drafting his will."

This was unexpected, but I preserved a noncommittal attitude, knowing
full well that our actions in themselves are neither mad nor sane.  But I
did not see what there was to be excited about.  And Fyne was distinctly
excited.  I understood it better when I learned that the captain of the
_Ferndale_ wanted little Fyne to be one of the trustees.  He was leaving
everything to his wife.  Naturally, a request which involved him into
sanctioning in a way a proceeding which he had been sent by his wife to
oppose, must have appeared sufficiently mad to Fyne.

"Me!  Me, of all people in the world!" he repeated portentously.  But I
could see that he was frightened.  Such want of tact!

"He knew I came from his sister.  You don't put a man into such an
awkward position," complained Fyne.  "It made me speak much more strongly
against all this very painful business than I would have had the heart to
do otherwise."

I pointed out to him concisely, and keeping my eyes on the door of the
hotel, that he and his wife were the only bond with the land Captain
Anthony had.  Who else could he have asked?

"I explained to him that he was breaking this bond," declared Fyne
solemnly.  "Breaking it once for all.  And for what--for what?"

He glared at me.  I could perhaps have given him an inkling for what, but
I said nothing.  He started again:

"My wife assures me that the girl does not love him a bit.  She goes by
that letter she received from her.  There is a passage in it where she
practically admits that she was quite unscrupulous in accepting this
offer of marriage, but says to my wife that she supposes she, my wife,
will not blame her--as it was in self-defence.  My wife has her own
ideas, but this is an outrageous misapprehension of her views.
Outrageous."

The good little man paused and then added weightily:

"I didn't tell that to my brother-in-law--I mean, my wife's views."

"No," I said.  "What would have been the good?"

"It's positive infatuation," agreed little Fyne, in the tone as though he
had made an awful discovery.  "I have never seen anything so hopeless and
inexplicable in my life.  I--I felt quite frightened and sorry," he
added, while I looked at him curiously asking myself whether this
excellent civil servant and notable pedestrian had felt the breath of a
great and fatal love-spell passing him by in the room of that East-end
hotel.  He did look for a moment as though he had seen a ghost, an other-
world thing.  But that look vanished instantaneously, and he nodded at me
with mere exasperation at something quite of this world--whatever it was.
"It's a bad business.  My brother-in-law knows nothing of women," he
cried with an air of profound, experienced wisdom.

What he imagined he knew of women himself I can't tell.  I did not know
anything of the opportunities he might have had.  But this is a subject
which, if approached with undue solemnity, is apt to elude one's grasp
entirely.  No doubt Fyne knew something of a woman who was Captain
Anthony's sister.  But that, admittedly, had been a very solemn study.  I
smiled at him gently, and as if encouraged or provoked, he completed his
thought rather explosively.

"And that girl understands nothing . . . It's sheer lunacy."

"I don't know," I said, "whether the circumstances of isolation at sea
would be any alleviation to the danger.  But it's certain that they shall
have the opportunity to learn everything about each other in a lonely
_tete-a-tete_."

"But dash it all," he cried in hollow accents which at the same time had
the tone of bitter irony--I had never before heard a sound so quaintly
ugly and almost horrible--"You forget Mr. Smith."

"What Mr. Smith?" I asked innocently.

Fyne made an extraordinary simiesque grimace.  I believe it was quite
involuntary, but you know that a grave, much-lined, shaven countenance
when distorted in an unusual way is extremely apelike.  It was a
surprising sight, and rendered me not only speechless but stopped the
progress of my thought completely.  I must have presented a remarkably
imbecile appearance.

"My brother-in-law considered it amusing to chaff me about us introducing
the girl as Miss Smith," said Fyne, going surly in a moment.  "He said
that perhaps if he had heard her real name from the first it might have
restrained him.  As it was, he made the discovery too late.  Asked me to
tell Zoe this together with a lot more nonsense."

Fyne gave me the impression of having escaped from a man inspired by a
grimly playful ebullition of high spirits.  It must have been most
distasteful to him; and his solemnity got damaged somehow in the process,
I perceived.  There were holes in it through which I could see a new, an
unknown Fyne.

"You wouldn't believe it," he went on, "but she looks upon her father
exclusively as a victim.  I don't know," he burst out suddenly through an
enormous rent in his solemnity, "if she thinks him absolutely a saint,
but she certainly imagines him to be a martyr."

It is one of the advantages of that magnificent invention, the prison,
that you may forget people which are put there as though they were dead.
One needn't worry about them.  Nothing can happen to them that you can
help.  They can do nothing which might possibly matter to anybody.  They
come out of it, though, but that seems hardly an advantage to themselves
or anyone else.  I had completely forgotten the financier de Barral.  The
girl for me was an orphan, but now I perceived suddenly the force of
Fyne's qualifying statement, "to a certain extent."  It would have been
infinitely more kind all round for the law to have shot, beheaded,
strangled, or otherwise destroyed this absurd de Barral, who was a danger
to a moral world inhabited by a credulous multitude not fit to take care
of itself.  But I observed to Fyne that, however insane was the view she
held, one could not declare the girl mad on that account.

"So she thinks of her father--does she?  I suppose she would appear to us
saner if she thought only of herself."

"I am positive," Fyne said earnestly, "that she went and made desperate
eyes at Anthony . . . "

"Oh come!" I interrupted.  "You haven't seen her make eyes.  You don't
know the colour of her eyes."

"Very well!  It don't matter.  But it could hardly have come to that if
she hadn't . . . It's all one, though.  I tell you she has led him on, or
accepted him, if you like, simply because she was thinking of her father.
She doesn't care a bit about Anthony, I believe.  She cares for no one.
Never cared for anyone.  Ask Zoe.  For myself I don't blame her," added
Fyne, giving me another view of unsuspected things through the rags and
tatters of his damaged solemnity.  "No! by heavens, I don't blame her--the
poor devil."

I agreed with him silently.  I suppose affections are, in a sense, to be
learned.  If there exists a native spark of love in all of us, it must be
fanned while we are young.  Hers, if she ever had it, had been drenched
in as ugly a lot of corrosive liquid as could be imagined.  But I was
surprised at Fyne obscurely feeling this.

"She loves no one except that preposterous advertising shark," he pursued
venomously, but in a more deliberate manner.  "And Anthony knows it."

"Does he?" I said doubtfully.

"She's quite capable of having told him herself," affirmed Fyne, with
amazing insight.  "But whether or no, _I've_ told him."

"You did?  From Mrs. Fyne, of course."

Fyne only blinked owlishly at this piece of my insight.

"And how did Captain Anthony receive this interesting information?" I
asked further.

"Most improperly," said Fyne, who really was in a state in which he
didn't mind what he blurted out.  "He isn't himself.  He begged me to
tell his sister that he offered no remarks on her conduct.  Very improper
and inconsequent.  He said . . . I was tired of this wrangling.  I told
him I made allowances for the state of excitement he was in."

"You know, Fyne," I said, "a man in jail seems to me such an incredible,
cruel, nightmarish sort of thing that I can hardly believe in his
existence.  Certainly not in relation to any other existences."

"But dash it all," cried Fyne, "he isn't shut up for life.  They are
going to let him out.  He's coming out!  That's the whole trouble.  What
is he coming out to, I want to know?  It seems a more cruel business than
the shutting him up was.  This has been the worry for weeks.  Do you see
now?"

I saw, all sorts of things!  Immediately before me I saw the excitement
of little Fyne--mere food for wonder.  Further off, in a sort of gloom
and beyond the light of day and the movement of the street, I saw the
figure of a man, stiff like a ramrod, moving with small steps, a slight
girlish figure by his side.  And the gloom was like the gloom of
villainous slums, of misery, of wretchedness, of a starved and degraded
existence.  It was a relief that I could see only their shabby hopeless
backs.  He was an awful ghost.  But indeed to call him a ghost was only a
refinement of polite speech, and a manner of concealing one's terror of
such things.  Prisons are wonderful contrivances.  Shut--open.  Very
neat.  Shut--open.  And out comes some sort of corpse, to wander awfully
in a world in which it has no possible connections and carrying with it
the appalling tainted atmosphere of its silent abode.  Marvellous
arrangement.  It works automatically, and, when you look at it, the
perfection makes you sick; which for a mere mechanism is no mean triumph.
Sick and scared.  It had nearly scared that poor girl to her death.  Fancy
having to take such a thing by the hand!  Now I understood the remorseful
strain I had detected in her speeches.

"By Jove!" I said.  "They are about to let him out!  I never thought of
that."

Fyne was contemptuous either of me or of things at large.

"You didn't suppose he was to be kept in jail for life?"

At that moment I caught sight of Flora de Barral at the junction of the
two streets.  Then some vehicles following each other in quick succession
hid from my sight the black slight figure with just a touch of colour in
her hat.  She was walking slowly; and it might have been caution or
reluctance.  While listening to Fyne I stared hard past his shoulder
trying to catch sight of her again.  He was going on with positive heat,
the rags of his solemnity dropping off him at every second sentence.

That was just it.  His wife and he had been perfectly aware of it.  Of
course the girl never talked of her father with Mrs. Fyne.  I suppose
with her theory of innocence she found it difficult.  But she must have
been thinking of it day and night.  What to do with him?  Where to go?
How to keep body and soul together?  He had never made any friends.  The
only relations were the atrocious East-end cousins.  We know what they
were.  Nothing but wretchedness, whichever way she turned in an unjust
and prejudiced world.  And to look at him helplessly she felt would be
too much for her.

I won't say I was thinking these thoughts.  It was not necessary.  This
complete knowledge was in my head while I stared hard across the wide
road, so hard that I failed to hear little Fyne till he raised his deep
voice indignantly.

"I don't blame the girl," he was saying.  "He is infatuated with her.
Anybody can see that.  Why she should have got such a hold on him I can't
understand.  She said "Yes" to him only for the sake of that fatuous,
swindling father of hers.  It's perfectly plain if one thinks it over a
moment.  One needn't even think of it.  We have it under her own hand.  In
that letter to my wife she says she has acted unscrupulously.  She has
owned up, then, for what else can it mean, I should like to know.  And so
they are to be married before that old idiot comes out . . . He will be
surprised," commented Fyne suddenly in a strangely malignant tone.  "He
shall be met at the jail door by a Mrs. Anthony, a Mrs. Captain Anthony.
Very pleasant for Zoe.  And for all I know, my brother-in-law means to
turn up dutifully too.  A little family event.  It's extremely pleasant
to think of.  Delightful.  A charming family party.  We three against the
world--and all that sort of thing.  And what for.  For a girl that
doesn't care twopence for him."

The demon of bitterness had entered into little Fyne.  He amazed me as
though he had changed his skin from white to black.  It was quite as
wonderful.  And he kept it up, too.

"Luckily there are some advantages in the--the profession of a sailor.  As
long as they defy the world away at sea somewhere eighteen thousand miles
from here, I don't mind so much.  I wonder what that interesting old
party will say.  He will have another surprise.  They mean to drag him
along with them on board the ship straight away.  Rescue work.  Just
think of Roderick Anthony, the son of a gentleman, after all . . . "

He gave me a little shock.  I thought he was going to say the "son of the
poet" as usual; but his mind was not running on such vanities now.  His
unspoken thought must have gone on "and uncle of my girls."  I suspect
that he had been roughly handled by Captain Anthony up there, and the
resentment gave a tremendous fillip to the slow play of his wits.  Those
men of sober fancy, when anything rouses their imaginative faculty, are
very thorough.  "Just think!" he cried.  "The three of them crowded into
a four-wheeler, and Anthony sitting deferentially opposite that
astonished old jail-bird!"

The good little man laughed.  An improper sound it was to come from his
manly chest; and what made it worse was the thought that for the least
thing, by a mere hair's breadth, he might have taken this affair
sentimentally.  But clearly Anthony was no diplomatist.  His brother-in-
law must have appeared to him, to use the language of shore people, a
perfect philistine with a heart like a flint.  What Fyne precisely meant
by "wrangling" I don't know, but I had no doubt that these two had
"wrangled" to a profoundly disturbing extent.  How much the other was
affected I could not even imagine; but the man before me was quite
amazingly upset.

"In a four-wheeler!  Take him on board!" I muttered, startled by the
change in Fyne.

"That's the plan--nothing less.  If I am to believe what I have been
told, his feet will scarcely touch the ground between the prison-gates
and the deck of that ship."

The transformed Fyne spoke in a forcibly lowered tone which I heard
without difficulty.  The rumbling, composite noises of the street were
hushed for a moment, during one of these sudden breaks in the traffic as
if the stream of commerce had dried up at its source.  Having an
unobstructed view past Fyne's shoulder, I was astonished to see that the
girl was still there.  I thought she had gone up long before.  But there
was her black slender figure, her white face under the roses of her hat.
She stood on the edge of the pavement as people stand on the bank of a
stream, very still, as if waiting--or as if unconscious of where she was.
The three dismal, sodden loafers (I could see them too; they hadn't
budged an inch) seemed to me to be watching her.  Which was horrible.

Meantime Fyne was telling me rather remarkable things--for him.  He
declared first it was a mercy in a sense.  Then he asked me if it were
not real madness, to saddle one's existence with such a perpetual
reminder.  The daily existence.  The isolated sea-bound existence.  To
bring such an additional strain into the solitude already trying enough
for two people was the craziest thing.  Undesirable relations were bad
enough on shore.  One could cut them or at least forget their existence
now and then.  He himself was preparing to forget his brother-in-law's
existence as much as possible.

That was the general sense of his remarks, not his exact words.  I
thought that his wife's brother's existence had never been very
embarrassing to him but that now of course he would have to abstain from
his allusions to the "son of the poet--you know."  I said "yes, yes" in
the pauses because I did not want him to turn round; and all the time I
was watching the girl intently.  I thought I knew now what she meant with
her--"He was most generous."  Yes.  Generosity of character may carry a
man through any situation.  But why didn't she go then to her generous
man?  Why stand there as if clinging to this solid earth which she surely
hated as one must hate the place where one has been tormented, hopeless,
unhappy?  Suddenly she stirred.  Was she going to cross over?  No.  She
turned and began to walk slowly close to the curbstone, reminding me of
the time when I discovered her walking near the edge of a ninety-foot
sheer drop.  It was the same impression, the same carriage, straight,
slim, with rigid head and the two hands hanging lightly clasped in
front--only now a small sunshade was dangling from them.  I saw something
fateful in that deliberate pacing towards the inconspicuous door with the
words _Hotel Entrance_ on the glass panels.

She was abreast of it now and I thought that she would stop again; but
no!  She swerved rigidly--at the moment there was no one near her; she
had that bit of pavement to herself--with inanimate slowness as if moved
by something outside herself.

"A confounded convict," Fyne burst out.

With the sound of that word offending my ears I saw the girl extend her
arm, push the door open a little way and glide in.  I saw plainly that
movement, the hand put out in advance with the gesture of a sleep-walker.

She had vanished, her black figure had melted in the darkness of the open
door.  For some time Fyne said nothing; and I thought of the girl going
upstairs, appearing before the man.  Were they looking at each other in
silence and feeling they were alone in the world as lovers should at the
moment of meeting?  But that fine forgetfulness was surely impossible to
Anthony the seaman directly after the wrangling interview with Fyne the
emissary of an order of things which stops at the edge of the sea.  How
much he was disturbed I couldn't tell because I did not know what that
impetuous lover had had to listen to.

"Going to take the old fellow to sea with them," I said.  "Well I really
don't see what else they could have done with him.  You told your brother-
in-law what you thought of it?  I wonder how he took it."

"Very improperly," repeated Fyne.  "His manner was offensive, derisive,
from the first.  I don't mean he was actually rude in words.  Hang it
all, I am not a contemptible ass.  But he was exulting at having got hold
of a miserable girl."

"It is pretty certain that she will be much less poor and miserable," I
murmured.

It looked as if the exultation of Captain Anthony had got on Fyne's
nerves.  "I told the fellow very plainly that he was abominably selfish
in this," he affirmed unexpectedly.

"You did!  Selfish!" I said rather taken aback.  "But what if the girl
thought that, on the contrary, he was most generous."

"What do you know about it," growled Fyne.  The rents and slashes of his
solemnity were closing up gradually but it was going to be a surly
solemnity.  "Generosity!  I am disposed to give it another name.  No.  Not
folly," he shot out at me as though I had meant to interrupt him.  "Still
another.  Something worse.  I need not tell you what it is," he added
with grim meaning.

"Certainly.  You needn't--unless you like," I said blankly.  Little Fyne
had never interested me so much since the beginning of the de
Barral-Anthony affair when I first perceived possibilities in him.  The
possibilities of dull men are exciting because when they happen they
suggest legendary cases of "possession," not exactly by the devil but,
anyhow, by a strange spirit.

"I told him it was a shame," said Fyne.  "Even if the girl did make eyes
at him--but I think with you that she did not.  Yes!  A shame to take
advantage of a girl's--a distresses girl that does not love him in the
least."

"You think it's so bad as that?" I said.  "Because you know I don't."

"What can you think about it," he retorted on me with a solemn stare.  "I
go by her letter to my wife."

"Ah! that famous letter.  But you haven't actually read it," I said.

"No, but my wife told me.  Of course it was a most improper sort of
letter to write considering the circumstances.  It pained Mrs. Fyne to
discover how thoroughly she had been misunderstood.  But what is written
is not all.  It's what my wife could read between the lines.  She says
that the girl is really terrified at heart."

"She had not much in life to give her any very special courage for it, or
any great confidence in mankind.  That's very true.  But this seems an
exaggeration."

"I should like to know what reasons you have to say that," asked Fyne
with offended solemnity.  "I really don't see any.  But I had sufficient
authority to tell my brother-in-law that if he thought he was going to do
something chivalrous and fine he was mistaken.  I can see very well that
he will do everything she asks him to do--but, all the same, it is rather
a pitiless transaction."

For a moment I felt it might be so.  Fyne caught sight of an approaching
tram-car and stepped out on the road to meet it.  "Have you a more
compassionate scheme ready?" I called after him.  He made no answer,
clambered on to the rear platform, and only then looked back.  We
exchanged a perfunctory wave of the hand.  We also looked at each other,
he rather angrily, I fancy, and I with wonder.  I may also mention that
it was for the last time.  From that day I never set eyes on the Fynes.
As usual the unexpected happened to me.  It had nothing to do with Flora
de Barral.  The fact is that I went away.  My call was not like her call.
Mine was not urged on me with passionate vehemence or tender gentleness
made all the finer and more compelling by the allurements of generosity
which is a virtue as mysterious as any other but having a glamour of its
own.  No, it was just a prosaic offer of employment on rather good terms
which, with a sudden sense of having wasted my time on shore long enough,
I accepted without misgivings.  And once started out of my indolence I
went, as my habit was, very, very far away and for a long, long time.
Which is another proof of my indolence.  How far Flora went I can't say.
But I will tell you my idea: my idea is that she went as far as she was
able--as far as she could bear it--as far as she had to . . . "




PART II--THE KNIGHT


CHAPTER ONE--THE FERNDALE


I have said that the story of Flora de Barral was imparted to me in
stages.  At this stage I did not see Marlow for some time.  At last, one
evening rather early, very soon after dinner, he turned up in my rooms.

I had been waiting for his call primed with a remark which had not
occurred to me till after he had gone away.

"I say," I tackled him at once, "how can you be certain that Flora de
Barral ever went to sea?  After all, the wife of the captain of the
_Ferndale_--" the lady that mustn't be disturbed "of the old
ship-keeper--may not have been Flora."

"Well, I do know," he said, "if only because I have been keeping in touch
with Mr. Powell."

"You have!" I cried.  "This is the first I hear of it.  And since when?"

"Why, since the first day.  You went up to town leaving me in the inn.  I
slept ashore.  In the morning Mr. Powell came in for breakfast; and after
the first awkwardness of meeting a man you have been yarning with over-
night had worn off, we discovered a liking for each other."

As I had discovered the fact of their mutual liking before either of
them, I was not surprised.

"And so you kept in touch," I said.

"It was not so very difficult.  As he was always knocking about the river
I hired Dingle's sloop-rigged three-tonner to be more on an equality.
Powell was friendly but elusive.  I don't think he ever wanted to avoid
me.  But it is a fact that he used to disappear out of the river in a
very mysterious manner sometimes.  A man may land anywhere and bolt
inland--but what about his five-ton cutter?  You can't carry that in your
hand like a suit-case.

"Then as suddenly he would reappear in the river, after one had given him
up.  I did not like to be beaten.  That's why I hired Dingle's decked
boat.  There was just the accommodation in her to sleep a man and a dog.
But I had no dog-friend to invite.  Fyne's dog who saved Flora de
Barral's life is the last dog-friend I had.  I was rather lonely cruising
about; but that, too, on the river has its charm, sometimes.  I chased
the mystery of the vanishing Powell dreamily, looking about me at the
ships, thinking of the girl Flora, of life's chances--and, do you know,
it was very simple."

"What was very simple?" I asked innocently.

"The mystery."

"They generally are that," I said.

Marlow eyed me for a moment in a peculiar manner.

"Well, I have discovered the mystery of Powell's disappearances.  The
fellow used to run into one of these narrow tidal creeks on the Essex
shore.  These creeks are so inconspicuous that till I had studied the
chart pretty carefully I did not know of their existence.  One afternoon,
I made Powell's boat out, heading into the shore.  By the time I got
close to the mud-flat his craft had disappeared inland.  But I could see
the mouth of the creek by then.  The tide being on the turn I took the
risk of getting stuck in the mud suddenly and headed in.  All I had to
guide me was the top of the roof of some sort of small building.  I got
in more by good luck than by good management.  The sun had set some time
before; my boat glided in a sort of winding ditch between two low grassy
banks; on both sides of me was the flatness of the Essex marsh, perfectly
still.  All I saw moving was a heron; he was flying low, and disappeared
in the murk.  Before I had gone half a mile, I was up with the building
the roof of which I had seen from the river.  It looked like a small
barn.  A row of piles driven into the soft bank in front of it and
supporting a few planks made a sort of wharf.  All this was black in the
falling dusk, and I could just distinguish the whitish ruts of a cart-
track stretching over the marsh towards the higher land, far away.  Not a
sound was to be heard.  Against the low streak of light in the sky I
could see the mast of Powell's cutter moored to the bank some twenty
yards, no more, beyond that black barn or whatever it was.  I hailed him
with a loud shout.  Got no answer.  After making fast my boat just
astern, I walked along the bank to have a look at Powell's.  Being so
much bigger than mine she was aground already.  Her sails were furled;
the slide of her scuttle hatch was closed and padlocked.  Powell was
gone.  He had walked off into that dark, still marsh somewhere.  I had
not seen a single house anywhere near; there did not seem to be any human
habitation for miles; and now as darkness fell denser over the land I
couldn't see the glimmer of a single light.  However, I supposed that
there must be some village or hamlet not very far away; or only one of
these mysterious little inns one comes upon sometimes in most unexpected
and lonely places.

"The stillness was oppressive.  I went back to my boat, made some coffee
over a spirit-lamp, devoured a few biscuits, and stretched myself aft, to
smoke and gaze at the stars.  The earth was a mere shadow, formless and
silent, and empty, till a bullock turned up from somewhere, quite shadowy
too.  He came smartly to the very edge of the bank as though he meant to
step on board, stretched his muzzle right over my boat, blew heavily
once, and walked off contemptuously into the darkness from which he had
come.  I had not expected a call from a bullock, though a moment's
thought would have shown me that there must be lots of cattle and sheep
on that marsh.  Then everything became still as before.  I might have
imagined myself arrived on a desert island.  In fact, as I reclined
smoking a sense of absolute loneliness grew on me.  And just as it had
become intense, very abruptly and without any preliminary sound I heard
firm, quick footsteps on the little wharf.  Somebody coming along the
cart-track had just stepped at a swinging gait on to the planks.  That
somebody could only have been Mr. Powell.  Suddenly he stopped short,
having made out that there were two masts alongside the bank where he had
left only one.  Then he came on silent on the grass.  When I spoke to him
he was astonished.

"Who would have thought of seeing you here!" he exclaimed, after
returning my good evening.

"I told him I had run in for company.  It was rigorously true."

"You knew I was here?" he exclaimed.

"Of course," I said.  "I tell you I came in for company."

"He is a really good fellow," went on Marlow.  "And his capacity for
astonishment is quickly exhausted, it seems.  It was in the most matter-
of-fact manner that he said, 'Come on board of me, then; I have here
enough supper for two.'  He was holding a bulky parcel in the crook of
his arm.  I did not wait to be asked twice, as you may guess.  His cutter
has a very neat little cabin, quite big enough for two men not only to
sleep but to sit and smoke in.  We left the scuttle wide open, of course.
As to his provisions for supper, they were not of a luxurious kind.  He
complained that the shops in the village were miserable.  There was a big
village within a mile and a half.  It struck me he had been very long
doing his shopping; but naturally I made no remark.  I didn't want to
talk at all except for the purpose of setting him going."

"And did you set him going?" I asked.

"I did," said Marlow, composing his features into an impenetrable
expression which somehow assured me of his success better than an air of
triumph could have done.

* * * * *

"You made him talk?" I said after a silence.

"Yes, I made him . . . about himself."

"And to the point?"

"If you mean by this," said Marlow, "that it was about the voyage of the
_Ferndale_, then again, yes.  I brought him to talk about that voyage,
which, by the by, was not the first voyage of Flora de Barral.  The man
himself, as I told you, is simple, and his faculty of wonder not very
great.  He's one of those people who form no theories about facts.
Straightforward people seldom do.  Neither have they much penetration.
But in this case it did not matter.  I--we--have already the inner
knowledge.  We know the history of Flora de Barral.  We know something of
Captain Anthony.  We have the secret of the situation.  The man was
intoxicated with the pity and tenderness of his part.  Oh yes!
Intoxicated is not too strong a word; for you know that love and desire
take many disguises.  I believe that the girl had been frank with him,
with the frankness of women to whom perfect frankness is impossible,
because so much of their safety depends on judicious reticences.  I am
not indulging in cheap sneers.  There is necessity in these things.  And
moreover she could not have spoken with a certain voice in the face of
his impetuosity, because she did not have time to understand either the
state of her feelings, or the precise nature of what she was doing.

Had she spoken ever so clearly he was, I take it, too elated to hear her
distinctly.  I don't mean to imply that he was a fool.  Oh dear no!  But
he had no training in the usual conventions, and we must remember that he
had no experience whatever of women.  He could only have an ideal
conception of his position.  An ideal is often but a flaming vision of
reality.

To him enters Fyne, wound up, if I may express myself so irreverently,
wound up to a high pitch by his wife's interpretation of the girl's
letter.  He enters with his talk of meanness and cruelty, like a bucket
of water on the flame.  Clearly a shock.  But the effects of a bucket of
water are diverse.  They depend on the kind of flame.  A mere blaze of
dry straw, of course . . . but there can be no question of straw there.
Anthony of the _Ferndale_ was not, could not have been, a straw-stuffed
specimen of a man.  There are flames a bucket of water sends leaping sky-
high.

We may well wonder what happened when, after Fyne had left him, the
hesitating girl went up at last and opened the door of that room where
our man, I am certain, was not extinguished.  Oh no!  Nor cold; whatever
else he might have been.

It is conceivable he might have cried at her in the first moment of
humiliation, of exasperation, "Oh, it's you!  Why are you here?  If I am
so odious to you that you must write to my sister to say so, I give you
back your word."  But then, don't you see, it could not have been that.  I
have the practical certitude that soon afterwards they went together in a
hansom to see the ship--as agreed.  That was my reason for saying that
Flora de Barral did go to sea . . . "

"Yes.  It seems conclusive," I agreed.  "But even without that--if, as
you seem to think, the very desolation of that girlish figure had a sort
of perversely seductive charm, making its way through his compassion to
his senses (and everything is possible)--then such words could not have
been spoken."

"They might have escaped him involuntarily," observed Marlow.  "However,
a plain fact settles it.  They went off together to see the ship."

"Do you conclude from this that nothing whatever was said?" I inquired.

"I should have liked to see the first meeting of their glances upstairs
there," mused Marlow.  "And perhaps nothing was said.  But no man comes
out of such a 'wrangle' (as Fyne called it) without showing some traces
of it.  And you may be sure that a girl so bruised all over would feel
the slightest touch of anything resembling coldness.  She was
mistrustful; she could not be otherwise; for the energy of evil is so
much more forcible than the energy of good that she could not help
looking still upon her abominable governess as an authority.  How could
one have expected her to throw off the unholy prestige of that long
domination?  She could not help believing what she had been told; that
she was in some mysterious way odious and unlovable.  It was cruelly
true--_to her_.  The oracle of so many years had spoken finally.  Only
other people did not find her out at once . . . I would not go so far as
to say she believed it altogether.  That would be hardly possible.  But
then haven't the most flattered, the most conceited of us their moments
of doubt?  Haven't they?  Well, I don't know.  There may be lucky beings
in this world unable to believe any evil of themselves.  For my own part
I'll tell you that once, many years ago now, it came to my knowledge that
a fellow I had been mixed up with in a certain transaction--a clever
fellow whom I really despised--was going around telling people that I was
a consummate hypocrite.  He could know nothing of it.  It suited his
humour to say so.  I had given him no ground for that particular calumny.
Yet to this day there are moments when it comes into my mind, and
involuntarily I ask myself, 'What if it were true?'  It's absurd, but it
has on one or two occasions nearly affected my conduct.  And yet I was
not an impressionable ignorant young girl.  I had taken the exact measure
of the fellow's utter worthlessness long before.  He had never been for
me a person of prestige and power, like that awful governess to Flora de
Barral.  See the might of suggestion?  We live at the mercy of a
malevolent word.  A sound, a mere disturbance of the air, sinks into our
very soul sometimes.  Flora de Barral had been more astounded than
convinced by the first impetuosity of Roderick Anthony.  She let herself
be carried along by a mysterious force which her person had called into
being, as her father had been carried away out of his depth by the
unexpected power of successful advertising.

They went on board that morning.  The _Ferndale_ had just come to her
loading berth.  The only living creature on board was the
ship-keeper--whether the same who had been described to us by Mr. Powell,
or another, I don't know.  Possibly some other man.  He, looking over the
side, saw, in his own words, 'the captain come sailing round the corner
of the nearest cargo-shed, in company with a girl.'  He lowered the
accommodation ladder down on to the jetty . . . "

"How do you know all this?" I interrupted.

Marlow interjected an impatient:

"You shall see by and by . . . Flora went up first, got down on deck and
stood stock-still till the captain took her by the arm and led her aft.
The ship-keeper let them into the saloon.  He had the keys of all the
cabins, and stumped in after them.  The captain ordered him to open all
the doors, every blessed door; state-rooms, passages, pantry,
fore-cabin--and then sent him away.

"The _Ferndale_ had magnificent accommodation.  At the end of a passage
leading from the quarter-deck there was a long saloon, its sumptuosity
slightly tarnished perhaps, but having a grand air of roominess and
comfort.  The harbour carpets were down, the swinging lamps hung, and
everything in its place, even to the silver on the sideboard.  Two large
stern cabins opened out of it, one on each side of the rudder casing.
These two cabins communicated through a small bathroom between them, and
one was fitted up as the captain's state-room.  The other was vacant, and
furnished with arm-chairs and a round table, more like a room on shore,
except for the long curved settee following the shape of the ship's
stern.  In a dim inclined mirror, Flora caught sight down to the waist of
a pale-faced girl in a white straw hat trimmed with roses, distant,
shadowy, as if immersed in water, and was surprised to recognize herself
in those surroundings.  They seemed to her arbitrary, bizarre, strange.
Captain Anthony moved on, and she followed him.  He showed her the other
cabins.  He talked all the time loudly in a voice she seemed to have
known extremely well for a long time; and yet, she reflected, she had not
heard it often in her life.  What he was saying she did not quite follow.
He was speaking of comparatively indifferent things in a rather moody
tone, but she felt it round her like a caress.  And when he stopped she
could hear, alarming in the sudden silence, the precipitated beating of
her heart.

The ship-keeper dodged about the quarter-deck, out of hearing, and trying
to keep out of sight.  At the same time, taking advantage of the open
doors with skill and prudence, he could see the captain and "that girl"
the captain had brought aboard.  The captain was showing her round very
thoroughly.  Through the whole length of the passage, far away aft in the
perspective of the saloon the ship-keeper had interesting glimpses of
them as they went in and out of the various cabins, crossing from side to
side, remaining invisible for a time in one or another of the
state-rooms, and then reappearing again in the distance.  The girl,
always following the captain, had her sunshade in her hands.  Mostly she
would hang her head, but now and then she would look up.  They had a lot
to say to each other, and seemed to forget they weren't alone in the
ship.  He saw the captain put his hand on her shoulder, and was preparing
himself with a certain zest for what might follow, when the "old man"
seemed to recollect himself, and came striding down all the length of the
saloon.  At this move the ship-keeper promptly dodged out of sight, as
you may believe, and heard the captain slam the inner door of the
passage.  After that disappointment the ship-keeper waited resentfully
for them to clear out of the ship.  It happened much sooner than he had
expected.  The girl walked out on deck first.  As before she did not look
round.  She didn't look at anything; and she seemed to be in such a hurry
to get ashore that she made for the gangway and started down the ladder
without waiting for the captain.

What struck the ship-keeper most was the absent, unseeing expression of
the captain, striding after the girl.  He passed him, the ship-keeper,
without notice, without an order, without so much as a look.  The captain
had never done so before.  Always had a nod and a pleasant word for a
man.  From this slight the ship-keeper drew a conclusion unfavourable to
the strange girl.  He gave them time to get down on the wharf before
crossing the deck to steal one more look at the pair over the rail.  The
captain took hold of the girl's arm just before a couple of railway
trucks drawn by a horse came rolling along and hid them from the ship-
keeper's sight for good.

Next day, when the chief mate joined the ship, he told him the tale of
the visit, and expressed himself about the girl "who had got hold of the
captain" disparagingly.  She didn't look healthy, he explained.  "Shabby
clothes, too," he added spitefully.

The mate was very much interested.  He had been with Anthony for several
years, and had won for himself in the course of many long voyages, a
footing of familiarity, which was to be expected with a man of Anthony's
character.  But in that slowly-grown intimacy of the sea, which in its
duration and solitude had its unguarded moments, no words had passed,
even of the most casual, to prepare him for the vision of his captain
associated with any kind of girl.  His impression had been that women did
not exist for Captain Anthony.  Exhibiting himself with a girl!  A girl!
What did he want with a girl?  Bringing her on board and showing her
round the cabin!  That was really a little bit too much.  Captain Anthony
ought to have known better.

Franklin (the chief mate's name was Franklin) felt disappointed; almost
disillusioned.  Silly thing to do!  Here was a confounded old ship-keeper
set talking.  He snubbed the ship-keeper, and tried to think of that
insignificant bit of foolishness no more; for it diminished Captain
Anthony in his eyes of a jealously devoted subordinate.

Franklin was over forty; his mother was still alive.  She stood in the
forefront of all women for him, just as Captain Anthony stood in the
forefront of all men.  We may suppose that these groups were not very
large.  He had gone to sea at a very early age.  The feeling which caused
these two people to partly eclipse the rest of mankind were of course not
similar; though in time he had acquired the conviction that he was
"taking care" of them both.  The "old lady" of course had to be looked
after as long as she lived.  In regard to Captain Anthony, he used to say
that: why should he leave him?  It wasn't likely that he would come
across a better sailor or a better man or a more comfortable ship.  As to
trying to better himself in the way of promotion, commands were not the
sort of thing one picked up in the streets, and when it came to that,
Captain Anthony was as likely to give him a lift on occasion as anyone in
the world.

From Mr. Powell's description Franklin was a short, thick black-haired
man, bald on the top.  His head sunk between the shoulders, his staring
prominent eyes and a florid colour, gave him a rather apoplectic
appearance.  In repose, his congested face had a humorously melancholy
expression.

The ship-keeper having given him up all the keys and having been chased
forward with the admonition to mind his own business and not to chatter
about what did not concern him, Mr. Franklin went under the poop.  He
opened one door after another; and, in the saloon, in the captain's state-
room and everywhere, he stared anxiously as if expecting to see on the
bulkheads, on the deck, in the air, something unusual--sign, mark,
emanation, shadow--he hardly knew what--some subtle change wrought by the
passage of a girl.  But there was nothing.  He entered the unoccupied
stern cabin and spent some time there unscrewing the two stern ports.  In
the absence of all material evidences his uneasiness was passing away.
With a last glance round he came out and found himself in the presence of
his captain advancing from the other end of the saloon.

Franklin, at once, looked for the girl.  She wasn't to be seen.  The
captain came up quickly.  'Oh! you are here, Mr. Franklin.'  And the mate
said, 'I was giving a little air to the place, sir.'  Then the captain,
his hat pulled down over his eyes, laid his stick on the table and asked
in his kind way: 'How did you find your mother, Franklin?'--'The old
lady's first-rate, sir, thank you.'  And then they had nothing to say to
each other.  It was a strange and disturbing feeling for Franklin.  He,
just back from leave, the ship just come to her loading berth, the
captain just come on board, and apparently nothing to say!  The several
questions he had been anxious to ask as to various things which had to be
done had slipped out of his mind.  He, too, felt as though he had nothing
to say.

The captain, picking up his stick off the table, marched into his state-
room and shut the door after him.  Franklin remained still for a moment
and then started slowly to go on deck.  But before he had time to reach
the other end of the saloon he heard himself called by name.  He turned
round.  The captain was staring from the doorway of his state-room.
Franklin said, "Yes, sir."  But the captain, silent, leaned a little
forward grasping the door handle.  So he, Franklin, walked aft keeping
his eyes on him.  When he had come up quite close he said again, "Yes,
sir?" interrogatively.  Still silence.  The mate didn't like to be stared
at in that manner, a manner quite new in his captain, with a defiant and
self-conscious stare, like a man who feels ill and dares you to notice
it.  Franklin gazed at his captain, felt that there was something wrong,
and in his simplicity voiced his feelings by asking point-blank:

"What's wrong, sir?"

The captain gave a slight start, and the character of his stare changed
to a sort of sinister surprise.  Franklin grew very uncomfortable, but
the captain asked negligently:

"What makes you think that there's something wrong?"

"I can't say exactly.  You don't look quite yourself, sir," Franklin
owned up.

"You seem to have a confoundedly piercing eye," said the captain in such
an aggressive tone that Franklin was moved to defend himself.

"We have been together now over six years, sir, so I suppose I know you a
bit by this time.  I could see there was something wrong directly you
came on board."

"Mr. Franklin," said the captain, "we have been more than six years
together, it is true, but I didn't know you for a reader of faces.  You
are not a correct reader though.  It's very far from being wrong.  You
understand?  As far from being wrong as it can very well be.  It ought to
teach you not to make rash surmises.  You should leave that to the shore
people.  They are great hands at spying out something wrong.  I dare say
they know what they have made of the world.  A dam' poor job of it and
that's plain.  It's a confoundedly ugly place, Mr. Franklin.  You don't
know anything of it?  Well--no, we sailors don't.  Only now and then one
of us runs against something cruel or underhand, enough to make your hair
stand on end.  And when you do see a piece of their wickedness you find
that to set it right is not so easy as it looks . . . Oh!  I called you
back to tell you that there will be a lot of workmen, joiners and all
that sent down on board first thing to-morrow morning to start making
alterations in the cabin.  You will see to it that they don't loaf.  There
isn't much time."

Franklin was impressed by this unexpected lecture upon the wickedness of
the solid world surrounded by the salt, uncorruptible waters on which he
and his captain had dwelt all their lives in happy innocence.  What he
could not understand was why it should have been delivered, and what
connection it could have with such a matter as the alterations to be
carried out in the cabin.  The work did not seem to him to be called for
in such a hurry.  What was the use of altering anything?  It was a very
good accommodation, spacious, well-distributed, on a rather old-fashioned
plan, and with its decorations somewhat tarnished.  But a dab of varnish,
a touch of gilding here and there, was all that was necessary.  As to
comfort, it could not be improved by any alterations.  He resented the
notion of change; but he said dutifully that he would keep his eye on the
workmen if the captain would only let him know what was the nature of the
work he had ordered to be done.

"You'll find a note of it on this table.  I'll leave it for you as I go
ashore," said Captain Anthony hastily.  Franklin thought there was no
more to hear, and made a movement to leave the saloon.  But the captain
continued after a slight pause, "You will be surprised, no doubt, when
you look at it.  There'll be a good many alterations.  It's on account of
a lady coming with us.  I am going to get married, Mr. Franklin!"



CHAPTER TWO--YOUNG POWELL SEES AND HEARS


"You remember," went on Marlow, "how I feared that Mr. Powell's want of
experience would stand in his way of appreciating the unusual.  The
unusual I had in my mind was something of a very subtle sort: the unusual
in marital relations.  I may well have doubted the capacity of a young
man too much concerned with the creditable performance of his
professional duties to observe what in the nature of things is not easily
observable in itself, and still less so under the special circumstances.
In the majority of ships a second officer has not many points of contact
with the captain's wife.  He sits at the same table with her at meals,
generally speaking; he may now and then be addressed more or less kindly
on insignificant matters, and have the opportunity to show her some small
attentions on deck.  And that is all.  Under such conditions, signs can
be seen only by a sharp and practised eye.  I am alluding now to troubles
which are subtle often to the extent of not being understood by the very
hearts they devastate or uplift.

Yes, Mr. Powell, whom the chance of his name had thrown upon the floating
stage of that tragicomedy would have been perfectly useless for my
purpose if the unusual of an obvious kind had not aroused his attention
from the first.

We know how he joined that ship so suddenly offered to his anxious desire
to make a real start in his profession.  He had come on board breathless
with the hurried winding up of his shore affairs, accompanied by two
horrible night-birds, escorted by a dock policeman on the make, received
by an asthmatic shadow of a ship-keeper, warned not to make a noise in
the darkness of the passage because the captain and his wife were already
on board.  That in itself was already somewhat unusual.  Captains and
their wives do not, as a rule, join a moment sooner than is necessary.
They prefer to spend the last moments with their friends and relations.  A
ship in one of London's older docks with their restrictions as to lights
and so on is not the place for a happy evening.  Still, as the tide
served at six in the morning, one could understand them coming on board
the evening before.

Just then young Powell felt as if anybody ought to be glad enough to be
quit of the shore.  We know he was an orphan from a very early age,
without brothers or sisters--no near relations of any kind, I believe,
except that aunt who had quarrelled with his father.  No affection stood
in the way of the quiet satisfaction with which he thought that now all
the worries were over, that there was nothing before him but duties, that
he knew what he would have to do as soon as the dawn broke and for a long
succession of days.  A most soothing certitude.  He enjoyed it in the
dark, stretched out in his bunk with his new blankets pulled over him.
Some clock ashore beyond the dock-gates struck two.  And then he heard
nothing more, because he went off into a light sleep from which he woke
up with a start.  He had not taken his clothes off, it was hardly worth
while.  He jumped up and went on deck.

The morning was clear, colourless, grey overhead; the dock like a sheet
of darkling glass crowded with upside-down reflections of warehouses, of
hulls and masts of silent ships.  Rare figures moved here and there on
the distant quays.  A knot of men stood alongside with clothes-bags and
wooden chests at their feet.  Others were coming down the lane between
tall, blind walls, surrounding a hand-cart loaded with more bags and
boxes.  It was the crew of the _Ferndale_.  They began to come on board.
He scanned their faces as they passed forward filling the roomy deck with
the shuffle of their footsteps and the murmur of voices, like the
awakening to life of a world about to be launched into space.

Far away down the clear glassy stretch in the middle of the long dock Mr.
Powell watched the tugs coming in quietly through the open gates.  A
subdued firm voice behind him interrupted this contemplation.  It was
Franklin, the thick chief mate, who was addressing him with a watchful
appraising stare of his prominent black eyes: "You'd better take a couple
of these chaps with you and look out for her aft.  We are going to cast
off."

"Yes, sir," Powell said with proper alacrity; but for a moment they
remained looking at each other fixedly.  Something like a faint smile
altered the set of the chief mate's lips just before he moved off forward
with his brisk step.

Mr. Powell, getting up on the poop, touched his cap to Captain Anthony,
who was there alone.  He tells me that it was only then that he saw his
captain for the first time.  The day before, in the shipping office, what
with the bad light and his excitement at this berth obtained as if by a
brusque and unscrupulous miracle, did not count.  He had then seemed to
him much older and heavier.  He was surprised at the lithe figure, broad
of shoulder, narrow at the hips, the fire of the deep-set eyes, the
springiness of the walk.  The captain gave him a steady stare, nodded
slightly, and went on pacing the poop with an air of not being aware of
what was going on, his head rigid, his movements rapid.

Powell stole several glances at him with a curiosity very natural under
the circumstances.  He wore a short grey jacket and a grey cap.  In the
light of the dawn, growing more limpid rather than brighter, Powell
noticed the slightly sunken cheeks under the trimmed beard, the
perpendicular fold on the forehead, something hard and set about the
mouth.

It was too early yet for the work to have begun in the dock.  The water
gleamed placidly, no movement anywhere on the long straight lines of the
quays, no one about to be seen except the few dock hands busy alongside
the _Ferndale_, knowing their work, mostly silent or exchanging a few
words in low tones as if they, too, had been aware of that lady 'who
mustn't be disturbed.'  The _Ferndale_ was the only ship to leave that
tide.  The others seemed still asleep, without a sound, and only here and
there a figure, coming up on the forecastle, leaned on the rail to watch
the proceedings idly.  Without trouble and fuss and almost without a
sound was the _Ferndale_ leaving the land, as if stealing away.  Even the
tugs, now with their engines stopped, were approaching her without a
ripple, the burly-looking paddle-boat sheering forward, while the other,
a screw, smaller and of slender shape, made for her quarter so gently
that she did not divide the smooth water, but seemed to glide on its
surface as if on a sheet of plate-glass, a man in her bow, the master at
the wheel visible only from the waist upwards above the white screen of
the bridge, both of them so still-eyed as to fascinate young Powell into
curious self-forgetfulness and immobility.  He was steeped, sunk in the
general quietness, remembering the statement 'she's a lady that mustn't
be disturbed,' and repeating to himself idly: 'No.  She won't be
disturbed.  She won't be disturbed.'  Then the first loud words of that
morning breaking that strange hush of departure with a sharp hail: 'Look
out for that line there,' made him start.  The line whizzed past his
head, one of the sailors aft caught it, and there was an end to the
fascination, to the quietness of spirit which had stolen on him at the
very moment of departure.  From that moment till two hours afterwards,
when the ship was brought up in one of the lower reaches of the Thames
off an apparently uninhabited shore, near some sort of inlet where
nothing but two anchored barges flying a red flag could be seen, Powell
was too busy to think of the lady 'that mustn't be disturbed,' or of his
captain--or of anything else unconnected with his immediate duties.  In
fact, he had no occasion to go on the poop, or even look that way much;
but while the ship was about to anchor, casting his eyes in that
direction, he received an absurd impression that his captain (he was up
there, of course) was sitting on both sides of the aftermost skylight at
once.  He was too occupied to reflect on this curious delusion, this
phenomenon of seeing double as though he had had a drop too much.  He
only smiled at himself.

As often happens after a grey daybreak the sun had risen in a warm and
glorious splendour above the smooth immense gleam of the enlarged
estuary.  Wisps of mist floated like trails of luminous dust, and in the
dazzling reflections of water and vapour, the shores had the murky semi-
transparent darkness of shadows cast mysteriously from below.  Powell,
who had sailed out of London all his young seaman's life, told me that it
was then, in a moment of entranced vision an hour or so after sunrise,
that the river was revealed to him for all time, like a fair face often
seen before, which is suddenly perceived to be the expression of an inner
and unsuspected beauty, of that something unique and only its own which
rouses a passion of wonder and fidelity and an unappeasable memory of its
charm.  The hull of the _Ferndale_, swung head to the eastward, caught
the light, her tall spars and rigging steeped in a bath of red-gold, from
the water-line full of glitter to the trucks slight and gleaming against
the delicate expanse of the blue.

"Time we had a mouthful to eat," said a voice at his side.  It was Mr.
Franklin, the chief mate, with his head sunk between his shoulders, and
melancholy eyes.  "Let the men have their breakfast, bo'sun," he went on,
"and have the fire out in the galley in half an hour at the latest, so
that we can call these barges of explosives alongside.  Come along, young
man.  I don't know your name.  Haven't seen the captain, to speak to,
since yesterday afternoon when he rushed off to pick up a second mate
somewhere.  How did he get you?"

Young Powell, a little shy notwithstanding the friendly disposition of
the other, answered him smilingly, aware somehow that there was something
marked in this inquisitiveness, natural, after all--something anxious.
His name was Powell, and he was put in the way of this berth by Mr.
Powell, the shipping master.  He blushed.

"Ah, I see.  Well, you have been smart in getting ready.  The
ship-keeper, before he went away, told me you joined at one o'clock.  I
didn't sleep on board last night.  Not I.  There was a time when I never
cared to leave this ship for more than a couple of hours in the evening,
even while in London, but now, since--"

He checked himself with a roll of his prominent eyes towards that
youngster, that stranger.  Meantime, he was leading the way across the
quarter-deck under the poop into the long passage with the door of the
saloon at the far end.  It was shut.  But Mr. Franklin did not go so far.
After passing the pantry he opened suddenly a door on the left of the
passage, to Powell's great surprise.

"Our mess-room," he said, entering a small cabin painted white, bare,
lighted from part of the foremost skylight, and furnished only with a
table and two settees with movable backs.  "That surprises you?  Well, it
isn't usual.  And it wasn't so in this ship either, before.  It's only
since--"

He checked himself again.  "Yes.  Here we shall feed, you and I, facing
each other for the next twelve months or more--God knows how much more!
The bo'sun keeps the deck at meal-times in fine weather."

He talked not exactly wheezing, but like a man whose breath is somewhat
short, and the spirit (young Powell could not help thinking) embittered
by some mysterious grievance.

There was enough of the unusual there to be recognized even by Powell's
inexperience.  The officers kept out of the cabin against the custom of
the service, and then this sort of accent in the mate's talk.  Franklin
did not seem to expect conversational ease from the new second mate.  He
made several remarks about the old, deploring the accident.  Awkward.
Very awkward this thing to happen on the very eve of sailing.

"Collar-bone and arm broken," he sighed.  "Sad, very sad.  Did you notice
if the captain was at all affected?  Eh?  Must have been."

Before this congested face, these globular eyes turned yearningly upon
him, young Powell (one must keep in mind he was but a youngster then) who
could not remember any signs of visible grief, confessed with an
embarrassed laugh that, owing to the suddenness of this lucky chance
coming to him, he was not in a condition to notice the state of other
people.

"I was so pleased to get a ship at last," he murmured, further
disconcerted by the sort of pent-up gravity in Mr. Franklin's aspect.

"One man's food another man's poison," the mate remarked.  "That holds
true beyond mere victuals.  I suppose it didn't occur to you that it was
a dam' poor way for a good man to be knocked out."

Mr. Powell admitted openly that he had not thought of that.  He was ready
to admit that it was very reprehensible of him.  But Franklin had no
intention apparently to moralize.  He did not fall silent either.  His
further remarks were to the effect that there had been a time when
Captain Anthony would have showed more than enough concern for the least
thing happening to one of his officers.  Yes, there had been a time!

"And mind," he went on, laying down suddenly a half-consumed piece of
bread and butter and raising his voice, "poor Mathews was the second man
the longest on board.  I was the first.  He joined a month later--about
the same time as the steward by a few days.  The bo'sun and the carpenter
came the voyage after.  Steady men.  Still here.  No good man need ever
have thought of leaving the _Ferndale_ unless he were a fool.  Some good
men are fools.  Don't know when they are well off.  I mean the best of
good men; men that you would do anything for.  They go on for years, then
all of a sudden--"

Our young friend listened to the mate with a queer sense of discomfort
growing on him.  For it was as though Mr. Franklin were thinking aloud,
and putting him into the delicate position of an unwilling eavesdropper.
But there was in the mess-room another listener.  It was the steward, who
had come in carrying a tin coffee-pot with a long handle, and stood
quietly by: a man with a middle-aged, sallow face, long features, heavy
eyelids, a soldierly grey moustache.  His body encased in a short black
jacket with narrow sleeves, his long legs in very tight trousers, made up
an agile, youthful, slender figure.  He moved forward suddenly, and
interrupted the mate's monologue.

"More coffee, Mr. Franklin?  Nice fresh lot.  Piping hot.  I am going to
give breakfast to the saloon directly, and the cook is raking his fire
out.  Now's your chance."

The mate who, on account of his peculiar build, could not turn his head
freely, twisted his thick trunk slightly, and ran his black eyes in the
corners towards the steward.

"And is the precious pair of them out?" he growled.

The steward, pouring out the coffee into the mate's cup, muttered moodily
but distinctly: "The lady wasn't when I was laying the table."

Powell's ears were fine enough to detect something hostile in this
reference to the captain's wife.  For of what other person could they be
speaking?  The steward added with a gloomy sort of fairness: "But she
will be before I bring the dishes in.  She never gives that sort of
trouble.  That she doesn't."

"No.  Not in that way," Mr. Franklin agreed, and then both he and the
steward, after glancing at Powell--the stranger to the ship--said nothing
more.

But this had been enough to rouse his curiosity.  Curiosity is natural to
man.  Of course it was not a malevolent curiosity which, if not exactly
natural, is to be met fairly frequently in men and perhaps more
frequently in women--especially if a woman be in question; and that woman
under a cloud, in a manner of speaking.  For under a cloud Flora de
Barral was fated to be even at sea.  Yes.  Even that sort of darkness
which attends a woman for whom there is no clear place in the world hung
over her.  Yes.  Even at sea!

* * * * *

And this is the pathos of being a woman.  A man can struggle to get a
place for himself or perish.  But a woman's part is passive, say what you
like, and shuffle the facts of the world as you may, hinting at lack of
energy, of wisdom, of courage.  As a matter of fact, almost all women
have all that--of their own kind.  But they are not made for attack.  Wait
they must.  I am speaking here of women who are really women.  And it's
no use talking of opportunities, either.  I know that some of them do
talk of it.  But not the genuine women.  Those know better.  Nothing can
beat a true woman for a clear vision of reality; I would say a cynical
vision if I were not afraid of wounding your chivalrous feelings--for
which, by the by, women are not so grateful as you may think, to fellows
of your kind . . .

"Upon my word, Marlow," I cried, "what are you flying out at me for like
this?  I wouldn't use an ill-sounding word about women, but what right
have you to imagine that I am looking for gratitude?"

Marlow raised a soothing hand.

"There!  There!  I take back the ill-sounding word, with the remark,
though, that cynicism seems to me a word invented by hypocrites.  But let
that pass.  As to women, they know that the clamour for opportunities for
them to become something which they cannot be is as reasonable as if
mankind at large started asking for opportunities of winning immortality
in this world, in which death is the very condition of life.  You must
understand that I am not talking here of material existence.  That
naturally is implied; but you won't maintain that a woman who, say,
enlisted, for instance (there have been cases) has conquered her place in
the world.  She has only got her living in it--which is quite
meritorious, but not quite the same thing.

All these reflections which arise from my picking up the thread of Flora
de Barral's existence did not, I am certain, present themselves to Mr.
Powell--not the Mr. Powell we know taking solitary week-end cruises in
the estuary of the Thames (with mysterious dashes into lonely creeks) but
to the young Mr. Powell, the chance second officer of the ship
_Ferndale_, commanded (and for the most part owned) by Roderick Anthony,
the son of the poet--you know.  A Mr. Powell, much slenderer than our
robust friend is now, with the bloom of innocence not quite rubbed off
his smooth cheeks, and apt not only to be interested but also to be
surprised by the experience life was holding in store for him.  This
would account for his remembering so much of it with considerable
vividness.  For instance, the impressions attending his first breakfast
on board the _Ferndale_, both visual and mental, were as fresh to him as
if received yesterday.

The surprise, it is easy to understand, would arise from the inability to
interpret aright the signs which experience (a thing mysterious in
itself) makes to our understanding and emotions.  For it is never more
than that.  Our experience never gets into our blood and bones.  It
always remains outside of us.  That's why we look with wonder at the
past.  And this persists even when from practice and through growing
callousness of fibre we come to the point when nothing that we meet in
that rapid blinking stumble across a flick of sunshine--which our life
is--nothing, I say, which we run against surprises us any more.  Not at
the time, I mean.  If, later on, we recover the faculty with some such
exclamation: 'Well!  Well!  I'll be hanged if I ever, . . . ' it is
probably because this very thing that there should be a past to look back
upon, other people's, is very astounding in itself when one has the time,
a fleeting and immense instant to think of it . . . "

I was on the point of interrupting Marlow when he stopped of himself, his
eyes fixed on vacancy, or--perhaps--(I wouldn't be too hard on him) on a
vision.  He has the habit, or, say, the fault, of defective mantelpiece
clocks, of suddenly stopping in the very fulness of the tick.  If you
have ever lived with a clock afflicted with that perversity, you know how
vexing it is--such a stoppage.  I was vexed with Marlow.  He was smiling
faintly while I waited.  He even laughed a little.  And then I said
acidly:

"Am I to understand that you have ferreted out something comic in the
history of Flora de Barral?"

"Comic!" he exclaimed.  "No!  What makes you say?  . . . Oh, I
laughed--did I?  But don't you know that people laugh at absurdities that
are very far from being comic?  Didn't you read the latest books about
laughter written by philosophers, psychologists?  There is a lot of them
. . . "

"I dare say there has been a lot of nonsense written about laughter--and
tears, too, for that matter," I said impatiently.

"They say," pursued the unabashed Marlow, "that we laugh from a sense of
superiority.  Therefore, observe, simplicity, honesty, warmth of feeling,
delicacy of heart and of conduct, self-confidence, magnanimity are
laughed at, because the presence of these traits in a man's character
often puts him into difficult, cruel or absurd situations, and makes us,
the majority who are fairly free as a rule from these peculiarities, feel
pleasantly superior."

"Speak for yourself," I said.  "But have you discovered all these fine
things in the story; or has Mr. Powell discovered them to you in his
artless talk?  Have you two been having good healthy laughs together?
Come!  Are your sides aching yet, Marlow?"

Marlow took no offence at my banter.  He was quite serious.

"I should not like to say off-hand how much of that there was," he
pursued with amusing caution.  "But there was a situation, tense enough
for the signs of it to give many surprises to Mr. Powell--neither of them
shocking in itself, but with a cumulative effect which made the whole
unforgettable in the detail of its progress.  And the first surprise came
very soon, when the explosives (to which he owed his sudden chance of
engagement)--dynamite in cases and blasting powder in barrels--taken on
board, main hatch battened for sea, cook restored to his functions in the
galley, anchor fished and the tug ahead, rounding the South Foreland, and
with the sun sinking clear and red down the purple vista of the channel,
he went on the poop, on duty, it is true, but with time to take the first
freer breath in the busy day of departure.  The pilot was still on board,
who gave him first a silent glance, and then passed an insignificant
remark before resuming his lounging to and fro between the steering wheel
and the binnacle.  Powell took his station modestly at the break of the
poop.  He had noticed across the skylight a head in a grey cap.  But
when, after a time, he crossed over to the other side of the deck he
discovered that it was not the captain's head at all.  He became aware of
grey hairs curling over the nape of the neck.  How could he have made
that mistake?  But on board ship away from the land one does not expect
to come upon a stranger.

Powell walked past the man.  A thin, somewhat sunken face, with a tightly
closed mouth, stared at the distant French coast, vague like a suggestion
of solid darkness, lying abeam beyond the evening light reflected from
the level waters, themselves growing more sombre than the sky; a stare,
across which Powell had to pass and did pass with a quick side glance,
noting its immovable stillness.  His passage disturbed those eyes no more
than if he had been as immaterial as a ghost.  And this failure of his
person in producing an impression affected him strangely.  Who could that
old man be?

He was so curious that he even ventured to ask the pilot in a low voice.
The pilot turned out to be a good-natured specimen of his kind,
condescending, sententious.  He had been down to his meals in the main
cabin, and had something to impart.

"That?  Queer fish--eh?  Mrs. Anthony's father.  I've been introduced to
him in the cabin at breakfast time.  Name of Smith.  Wonder if he has all
his wits about him.  They take him about with them, it seems.  Don't look
very happy--eh?"

Then, changing his tone abruptly, he desired Powell to get all hands on
deck and make sail on the ship.  "I shall be leaving you in half an hour.
You'll have plenty of time to find out all about the old gent," he added
with a thick laugh.

* * * * *

In the secret emotion of giving his first order as a fully responsible
officer, young Powell forgot the very existence of that old man in a
moment.  The following days, in the interest of getting in touch with the
ship, with the men in her, with his duties, in the rather anxious period
of settling down, his curiosity slumbered; for of course the pilot's few
words had not extinguished it.

This settling down was made easy for him by the friendly character of his
immediate superior--the chief.  Powell could not defend himself from some
sympathy for that thick, bald man, comically shaped, with his crimson
complexion and something pathetic in the rolling of his very movable
black eyes in an apparently immovable head, who was so tactfully ready to
take his competency for granted.

There can be nothing more reassuring to a young man tackling his life's
work for the first time.  Mr. Powell, his mind at ease about himself, had
time to observe the people around with friendly interest.  Very early in
the beginning of the passage, he had discovered with some amusement that
the marriage of Captain Anthony was resented by those to whom Powell
(conscious of being looked upon as something of an outsider) referred in
his mind as 'the old lot.'

They had the funny, regretful glances, intonations, nods of men who had
seen other, better times.  What difference it could have made to the
bo'sun and the carpenter Powell could not very well understand.  Yet
these two pulled long faces and even gave hostile glances to the poop.
The cook and the steward might have been more directly concerned.  But
the steward used to remark on occasion, 'Oh, she gives no extra trouble,'
with scrupulous fairness of the most gloomy kind.  He was rather a silent
man with a great sense of his personal worth which made his speeches
guarded.  The cook, a neat man with fair side whiskers, who had been only
three years in the ship, seemed the least concerned.  He was even known
to have inquired once or twice as to the success of some of his dishes
with the captain's wife.  This was considered a sort of disloyal falling
away from the ruling feeling.

The mate's annoyance was yet the easiest to understand.  As he let it out
to Powell before the first week of the passage was over: 'You can't
expect me to be pleased at being chucked out of the saloon as if I
weren't good enough to sit down to meat with that woman.'  But he
hastened to add: 'Don't you think I'm blaming the captain.  He isn't a
man to be found fault with.  You, Mr. Powell, are too young yet to
understand such matters.'

Some considerable time afterwards, at the end of a conversation of that
aggrieved sort, he enlarged a little more by repeating: 'Yes!  You are
too young to understand these things.  I don't say you haven't plenty of
sense.  You are doing very well here.  Jolly sight better than I
expected, though I liked your looks from the first.'

It was in the trade-winds, at night, under a velvety, bespangled sky; a
great multitude of stars watching the shadows of the sea gleaming
mysteriously in the wake of the ship; while the leisurely swishing of the
water to leeward was like a drowsy comment on her progress.  Mr. Powell
expressed his satisfaction by a half-bashful laugh.  The mate mused on:
'And of course you haven't known the ship as she used to be.  She was
more than a home to a man.  She was not like any other ship; and Captain
Anthony was not like any other master to sail with.  Neither is she now.
But before one never had a care in the world as to her--and as to him,
too.  No, indeed, there was never anything to worry about.'

Young Powell couldn't see what there was to worry about even then.  The
serenity of the peaceful night seemed as vast as all space, and as
enduring as eternity itself.  It's true the sea is an uncertain element,
but no sailor remembers this in the presence of its bewitching power any
more than a lover ever thinks of the proverbial inconstancy of women.  And
Mr. Powell, being young, thought naively that the captain being married,
there could be no occasion for anxiety as to his condition.  I suppose
that to him life, perhaps not so much his own as that of others, was
something still in the nature of a fairy-tale with a 'they lived happy
ever after' termination.  We are the creatures of our light literature
much more than is generally suspected in a world which prides itself on
being scientific and practical, and in possession of incontrovertible
theories.  Powell felt in that way the more because the captain of a ship
at sea is a remote, inaccessible creature, something like a prince of a
fairy-tale, alone of his kind, depending on nobody, not to be called to
account except by powers practically invisible and so distant, that they
might well be looked upon as supernatural for all that the rest of the
crew knows of them, as a rule.

So he did not understand the aggrieved attitude of the mate--or rather he
understood it obscurely as a result of simple causes which did not seem
to him adequate.  He would have dismissed all this out of his mind with a
contemptuous: 'What the devil do I care?' if the captain's wife herself
had not been so young.  To see her the first time had been something of a
shock to him.  He had some preconceived ideas as to captain's wives
which, while he did not believe the testimony of his eyes, made him open
them very wide.  He had stared till the captain's wife noticed it plainly
and turned her face away.  Captain's wife!  That girl covered with rugs
in a long chair.  Captain's . . . !  He gasped mentally.  It had never
occurred to him that a captain's wife could be anything but a woman to be
described as stout or thin, as jolly or crabbed, but always mature, and
even, in comparison with his own years, frankly old.  But this!  It was a
sort of moral upset as though he had discovered a case of abduction or
something as surprising as that.  You understand that nothing is more
disturbing than the upsetting of a preconceived idea.  Each of us
arranges the world according to his own notion of the fitness of things.
To behold a girl where your average mediocre imagination had placed a
comparatively old woman may easily become one of the strongest shocks
. . . "

Marlow paused, smiling to himself.

"Powell remained impressed after all these years by the very
recollection," he continued in a voice, amused perhaps but not mocking.
"He said to me only the other day with something like the first awe of
that discovery lingering in his tone--he said to me: "Why, she seemed so
young, so girlish, that I looked round for some woman which would be the
captain's wife, though of course I knew there was no other woman on board
that voyage."  The voyage before, it seems, there had been the steward's
wife to act as maid to Mrs. Anthony; but she was not taken that time for
some reason he didn't know.  Mrs. Anthony . . . !  If it hadn't been the
captain's wife he would have referred to her mentally as a kid, he said.
I suppose there must be a sort of divinity hedging in a captain's wife
(however incredible) which prevented him applying to her that
contemptuous definition in the secret of his thoughts.

I asked him when this had happened; and he told me that it was three days
after parting from the tug, just outside the channel--to be precise.  A
head wind had set in with unpleasant damp weather.  He had come up to
leeward of the poop, still feeling very much of a stranger, and an
untried officer, at six in the evening to take his watch.  To see her was
quite as unexpected as seeing a vision.  When she turned away her head he
recollected himself and dropped his eyes.  What he could see then was
only, close to the long chair on which she reclined, a pair of long, thin
legs ending in black cloth boots tucked in close to the skylight seat.
Whence he concluded that the 'old gentleman,' who wore a grey cap like
the captain's, was sitting by her--his daughter.  In his first
astonishment he had stopped dead short, with the consequence that now he
felt very much abashed at having betrayed his surprise.  But he couldn't
very well turn tail and bolt off the poop.  He had come there on duty.
So, still with downcast eyes, he made his way past them.  Only when he
got as far as the wheel-grating did he look up.  She was hidden from him
by the back of her deck-chair; but he had the view of the owner of the
thin, aged legs seated on the skylight, his clean-shaved cheek, his thin
compressed mouth with a hollow in each corner, the sparse grey locks
escaping from under the tweed cap, and curling slightly on the collar of
the coat.  He leaned forward a little over Mrs. Anthony, but they were
not talking.  Captain Anthony, walking with a springy hurried gait on the
other side of the poop from end to end, gazed straight before him.  Young
Powell might have thought that his captain was not aware of his presence
either.  However, he knew better, and for that reason spent a most
uncomfortable hour motionless by the compass before his captain stopped
in his swift pacing and with an almost visible effort made some remark to
him about the weather in a low voice.  Before Powell, who was startled,
could find a word of answer, the captain swung off again on his endless
tramp with a fixed gaze.  And till the supper bell rang silence dwelt
over that poop like an evil spell.  The captain walked up and down
looking straight before him, the helmsman steered, looking upwards at the
sails, the old gent on the skylight looked down on his daughter--and Mr.
Powell confessed to me that he didn't know where to look, feeling as
though he had blundered in where he had no business--which was absurd.  At
last he fastened his eyes on the compass card, took refuge, in spirit,
inside the binnacle.  He felt chilled more than he should have been by
the chilly dusk falling on the muddy green sea of the soundings from a
smoothly clouded sky.  A fitful wind swept the cheerless waste, and the
ship, hauled up so close as to check her way, seemed to progress by
languid fits and starts against the short seas which swept along her
sides with a snarling sound.

Young Powell thought that this was the dreariest evening aspect of the
sea he had ever seen.  He was glad when the other occupants of the poop
left it at the sound of the bell.  The captain first, with a sudden
swerve in his walk towards the companion, and not even looking once
towards his wife and his wife's father.  Those two got up and moved
towards the companion, the old gent very erect, his thin locks stirring
gently about the nape of his neck, and carrying the rugs over his arm.
The girl who was Mrs. Anthony went down first.  The murky twilight had
settled in deep shadow on her face.  She looked at Mr. Powell in passing.
He thought that she was very pale.  Cold perhaps.  The old gent stopped a
moment, thin and stiff, before the young man, and in a voice which was
low but distinct enough, and without any particular accent--not even of
inquiry--he said:

"You are the new second officer, I believe."

Mr. Powell answered in the affirmative, wondering if this were a friendly
overture.  He had noticed that Mr. Smith's eyes had a sort of inward look
as though he had disliked or disdained his surroundings.  The captain's
wife had disappeared then down the companion stairs.  Mr. Smith said
'Ah!' and waited a little longer to put another question in his incurious
voice.

"And did you know the man who was here before you?"

"No," said young Powell, "I didn't know anybody belonging to this ship
before I joined."

"He was much older than you.  Twice your age.  Perhaps more.  His hair
was iron grey.  Yes.  Certainly more."

The low, repressed voice paused, but the old man did not move away.  He
added: "Isn't it unusual?"

Mr. Powell was surprised not only by being engaged in conversation, but
also by its character.  It might have been the suggestion of the word
uttered by this old man, but it was distinctly at that moment that he
became aware of something unusual not only in this encounter but
generally around him, about everybody, in the atmosphere.  The very sea,
with short flashes of foam bursting out here and there in the gloomy
distances, the unchangeable, safe sea sheltering a man from all passions,
except its own anger, seemed queer to the quick glance he threw to
windward where the already effaced horizon traced no reassuring limit to
the eye.  In the expiring, diffused twilight, and before the clouded
night dropped its mysterious veil, it was the immensity of space made
visible--almost palpable.  Young Powell felt it.  He felt it in the
sudden sense of his isolation; the trustworthy, powerful ship of his
first acquaintance reduced to a speck, to something almost
undistinguishable, the mere support for the soles of his two feet before
that unexpected old man becoming so suddenly articulate in a darkening
universe.

It took him a moment or so to seize the drift of the question.  He
repeated slowly: 'Unusual . . . Oh, you mean for an elderly man to be the
second of a ship.  I don't know.  There are a good many of us who don't
get on.  He didn't get on, I suppose.'

The other, his head bowed a little, had the air of listening with acute
attention.

"And now he has been taken to the hospital," he said.

"I believe so.  Yes.  I remember Captain Anthony saying so in the
shipping office."

"Possibly about to die," went on the old man, in his careful deliberate
tone.  "And perhaps glad enough to die."

Mr. Powell was young enough to be startled at the suggestion, which
sounded confidential and blood-curdling in the dusk.  He said sharply
that it was not very likely, as if defending the absent victim of the
accident from an unkind aspersion.  He felt, in fact, indignant.  The
other emitted a short stifled laugh of a conciliatory nature.  The second
bell rang under the poop.  He made a movement at the sound, but lingered.

"What I said was not meant seriously," he murmured, with that strange air
of fearing to be overheard.  "Not in this case.  I know the man."

The occasion, or rather the want of occasion, for this conversation, had
sharpened the perceptions of the unsophisticated second officer of the
_Ferndale_.  He was alive to the slightest shade of tone, and felt as if
this "I know the man" should have been followed by a "he was no friend of
mine."  But after the shortest possible break the old gentleman continued
to murmur distinctly and evenly:

"Whereas you have never seen him.  Nevertheless, when you have gone
through as many years as I have, you will understand how an event putting
an end to one's existence may not be altogether unwelcome.  Of course
there are stupid accidents.  And even then one needn't be very angry.
What is it to be deprived of life?  It's soon done.  But what would you
think of the feelings of a man who should have had his life stolen from
him?  Cheated out of it, I say!"

He ceased abruptly, and remained still long enough for the astonished
Powell to stammer out an indistinct: "What do you mean?  I don't
understand."  Then, with a low 'Good-night' glided a few steps, and sank
through the shadow of the companion into the lamplight below which did
not reach higher than the turn of the staircase.

The strange words, the cautious tone, the whole person left a strong
uneasiness in the mind of Mr. Powell.  He started walking the poop in
great mental confusion.  He felt all adrift.  This was funny talk and no
mistake.  And this cautious low tone as though he were watched by someone
was more than funny.  The young second officer hesitated to break the
established rule of every ship's discipline; but at last could not resist
the temptation of getting hold of some other human being, and spoke to
the man at the wheel.

"Did you hear what this gentleman was saying to me?"

"No, sir," answered the sailor quietly.  Then, encouraged by this
evidence of laxity in his officer, made bold to add, "A queer fish, sir."
This was tentative, and Mr. Powell, busy with his own view, not saying
anything, he ventured further.  "They are more like passengers.  One sees
some queer passengers."

"Who are like passengers?" asked Powell gruffly.

"Why, these two, sir."



CHAPTER THREE--DEVOTED SERVANTS--AND THE LIGHT OF A FLARE


Young Powell thought to himself: "The men, too, are noticing it."  Indeed,
the captain's behaviour to his wife and to his wife's father was
noticeable enough.  It was as if they had been a pair of not very
congenial passengers.  But perhaps it was not always like that.  The
captain might have been put out by something.

When the aggrieved Franklin came on deck Mr. Powell made a remark to that
effect.  For his curiosity was aroused.

The mate grumbled "Seems to you? . . . Putout?  . . . eh?"  He buttoned
his thick jacket up to the throat, and only then added a gloomy "Aye,
likely enough," which discouraged further conversation.  But no
encouragement would have induced the newly-joined second mate to enter
the way of confidences.  His was an instinctive prudence.  Powell did not
know why it was he had resolved to keep his own counsel as to his
colloquy with Mr. Smith.  But his curiosity did not slumber.  Some time
afterwards, again at the relief of watches, in the course of a little
talk, he mentioned Mrs. Anthony's father quite casually, and tried to
find out from the mate who he was.

"It would take a clever man to find that out, as things are on board
now," Mr. Franklin said, unexpectedly communicative.  "The first I saw of
him was when she brought him alongside in a four-wheeler one morning
about half-past eleven.  The captain had come on board early, and was
down in the cabin that had been fitted out for him.  Did I tell you that
if you want the captain for anything you must stamp on the port side of
the deck?  That's so.  This ship is not only unlike what she used to be,
but she is like no other ship, anyhow.  Did you ever hear of the
captain's room being on the port side?  Both of them stern cabins have
been fitted up afresh like a blessed palace.  A gang of people from some
tip-top West-End house were fussing here on board with hangings and
furniture for a fortnight, as if the Queen were coming with us.  Of
course the starboard cabin is the bedroom one, but the poor captain hangs
out to port on a couch, so that in case we want him on deck at night,
Mrs. Anthony should not be startled.  Nervous!  Phoo!  A woman who
marries a sailor and makes up her mind to come to sea should have no
blamed jumpiness about her, I say.  But never mind.  Directly the old cab
pointed round the corner of the warehouse I called out to the captain
that his lady was coming aboard.  He answered me, but as I didn't see him
coming, I went down the gangway myself to help her alight.  She jumps out
excitedly without touching my arm, or as much as saying "thank you" or
"good morning" or anything, turns back to the cab, and then that old
joker comes out slowly.  I hadn't noticed him inside.  I hadn't expected
to see anybody.  It gave me a start.  She says: "My father--Mr.
Franklin."  He was staring at me like an owl.  "How do you do, sir?" says
I.  Both of them looked funny.  It was as if something had happened to
them on the way.  Neither of them moved, and I stood by waiting.  The
captain showed himself on the poop; and I saw him at the side looking
over, and then he disappeared; on the way to meet them on shore, I
expected.  But he just went down below again.  So, not seeing him, I
said: "Let me help you on board, sir."  "On board!" says he in a silly
fashion.  "On board!"  "It's not a very good ladder, but it's quite
firm," says I, as he seemed to be afraid of it.  And he didn't look a
broken-down old man, either.  You can see yourself what he is.  Straight
as a poker, and life enough in him yet.  But he made no move, and I began
to feel foolish.  Then she comes forward.  "Oh!  Thank you, Mr. Franklin.
I'll help my father up."  Flabbergasted me--to be choked off like this.
Pushed in between him and me without as much as a look my way.  So of
course I dropped it.  What do you think?  I fell back.  I would have gone
up on board at once and left them on the quay to come up or stay there
till next week, only they were blocking the way.  I couldn't very well
shove them on one side.  Devil only knows what was up between them.  There
she was, pale as death, talking to him very fast.  He got as red as a
turkey-cock--dash me if he didn't.  A bad-tempered old bloke, I can tell
you.  And a bad lot, too.  Never mind.  I couldn't hear what she was
saying to him, but she put force enough into it to shake her.  It
seemed--it seemed, mind!--that he didn't want to go on board.  Of course
it couldn't have been that.  I know better.  Well, she took him by the
arm, above the elbow, as if to lead him, or push him rather.  I was
standing not quite ten feet off.  Why should I have gone away?  I was
anxious to get back on board as soon as they would let me.  I didn't want
to overhear her blamed whispering either.  But I couldn't stay there for
ever, so I made a move to get past them if I could.  And that's how I
heard a few words.  It was the old chap--something nasty about being
"under the heel" of somebody or other.  Then he says, "I don't want this
sacrifice."  What it meant I can't tell.  It was a quarrel--of that I am
certain.  She looks over her shoulder, and sees me pretty close to them.
I don't know what she found to say into his ear, but he gave way
suddenly.  He looked round at me too, and they went up together so
quickly then that when I got on the quarter-deck I was only in time to
see the inner door of the passage close after them.  Queer--eh?  But if
it were only queerness one wouldn't mind.  Some luggage in new trunks
came on board in the afternoon.  We undocked at midnight.  And may I be
hanged if I know who or what he was or is.  I haven't been able to find
out.  No, I don't know.  He may have been anything.  All I know is that
once, years ago when I went to see the Derby with a friend, I saw a pea-
and-thimble chap who looked just like that old mystery father out of a
cab."

All this the goggle-eyed mate had said in a resentful and melancholy
voice, with pauses, to the gentle murmur of the sea.  It was for him a
bitter sort of pleasure to have a fresh pair of ears, a newcomer, to whom
he could repeat all these matters of grief and suspicion talked over
endlessly by the band of Captain Anthony's faithful subordinates.  It was
evidently so refreshing to his worried spirit that it made him forget the
advisability of a little caution with a complete stranger.  But really
with Mr. Powell there was no danger.  Amused, at first, at these plaints,
he provoked them for fun.  Afterwards, turning them over in his mind, he
became impressed, and as the impression grew stronger with the days his
resolution to keep it to himself grew stronger too.

* * * * *

What made it all the easier to keep--I mean the resolution--was that
Powell's sentiment of amused surprise at what struck him at first as mere
absurdity was not unmingled with indignation.  And his years were too
few, his position too novel, his reliance on his own opinion not yet firm
enough to allow him to express it with any effect.  And then--what would
have been the use, anyhow--and where was the necessity?

But this thing, familiar and mysterious at the same time, occupied his
imagination.  The solitude of the sea intensifies the thoughts and the
facts of one's experience which seems to lie at the very centre of the
world, as the ship which carries one always remains the centre figure of
the round horizon.  He viewed the apoplectic, goggle-eyed mate and the
saturnine, heavy-eyed steward as the victims of a peculiar and secret
form of lunacy which poisoned their lives.  But he did not give them his
sympathy on that account.  No.  That strange affliction awakened in him a
sort of suspicious wonder.

Once--and it was at night again; for the officers of the _Ferndale_
keeping watch and watch as was customary in those days, had but few
occasions for intercourse--once, I say, the thick Mr. Franklin, a
quaintly bulky figure under the stars, the usual witnesses of his
outpourings, asked him with an abruptness which was not callous, but in
his simple way:

"I believe you have no parents living?"

Mr. Powell said that he had lost his father and mother at a very early
age.

"My mother is still alive," declared Mr. Franklin in a tone which
suggested that he was gratified by the fact.  "The old lady is lasting
well.  Of course she's got to be made comfortable.  A woman must be
looked after, and, if it comes to that, I say, give me a mother.  I dare
say if she had not lasted it out so well I might have gone and got
married.  I don't know, though.  We sailors haven't got much time to look
about us to any purpose.  Anyhow, as the old lady was there I haven't, I
may say, looked at a girl in all my life.  Not that I wasn't partial to
female society in my time," he added with a pathetic intonation, while
the whites of his goggle eyes gleamed amorously under the clear night
sky.  "Very partial, I may say."

Mr. Powell was amused; and as these communications took place only when
the mate was relieved off duty he had no serious objection to them.  The
mate's presence made the first half-hour and sometimes even more of his
watch on deck pass away.  If his senior did not mind losing some of his
rest it was not Mr. Powell's affair.  Franklin was a decent fellow.  His
intention was not to boast of his filial piety.

"Of course I mean respectable female society," he explained.  "The other
sort is neither here nor there.  I blame no man's conduct, but a well-
brought-up young fellow like you knows that there's precious little fun
to be got out of it."  He fetched a deep sigh.  "I wish Captain Anthony's
mother had been a lasting sort like my old lady.  He would have had to
look after her and he would have done it well.  Captain Anthony is a
proper man.  And it would have saved him from the most foolish--"

He did not finish the phrase which certainly was turning bitter in his
mouth.  Mr. Powell thought to himself: "There he goes again."  He laughed
a little.

"I don't understand why you are so hard on the captain, Mr. Franklin.  I
thought you were a great friend of his."

Mr. Franklin exclaimed at this.  He was not hard on the captain.  Nothing
was further from his thoughts.  Friend!  Of course he was a good friend
and a faithful servant.  He begged Powell to understand that if Captain
Anthony chose to strike a bargain with Old Nick to-morrow, and Old Nick
were good to the captain, he (Franklin) would find it in his heart to
love Old Nick for the captain's sake.  That was so.  On the other hand,
if a saint, an angel with white wings came along and--"

He broke off short again as if his own vehemence had frightened him.  Then
in his strained pathetic voice (which he had never raised) he observed
that it was no use talking.  Anybody could see that the man was changed.

"As to that," said young Powell, "it is impossible for me to judge."

"Good Lord!" whispered the mate.  "An educated, clever young fellow like
you with a pair of eyes on him and some sense too!  Is that how a happy
man looks?  Eh?  Young you may be, but you aren't a kid; and I dare you
to say 'Yes!'"

Mr. Powell did not take up the challenge.  He did not know what to think
of the mate's view.  Still, it seemed as if it had opened his
understanding in a measure.  He conceded that the captain did not look
very well.

"Not very well," repeated the mate mournfully.  "Do you think a man with
a face like that can hope to live his life out?  You haven't knocked
about long in this world yet, but you are a sailor, you have been in
three or four ships, you say.  Well, have you ever seen a shipmaster
walking his own deck as if he did not know what he had underfoot?  Have
you?  Dam'me if I don't think that he forgets where he is.  Of course he
can be no other than a prime seaman; but it's lucky, all the same, he has
me on board.  I know by this time what he wants done without being told.
Do you know that I have had no order given me since we left port?  Do you
know that he has never once opened his lips to me unless I spoke to him
first?  I?  His chief officer; his shipmate for full six years, with whom
he had no cross word--not once in all that time.  Aye.  Not a cross look
even.  True that when I do make him speak to me, there is his dear old
self, the quick eye, the kind voice.  Could hardly be other to his old
Franklin.  But what's the good?  Eyes, voice, everything's miles away.
And for all that I take good care never to address him when the poop
isn't clear.  Yes!  Only we two and nothing but the sea with us.  You
think it would be all right; the only chief mate he ever had--Mr.
Franklin here and Mr. Franklin there--when anything went wrong the first
word you would hear about the decks was 'Franklin!'--I am thirteen years
older than he is--you would think it would be all right, wouldn't you?
Only we two on this poop on which we saw each other first--he a young
master--told me that he thought I would suit him very well--we two, and
thirty-one days out at sea, and it's no good!  It's like talking to a man
standing on shore.  I can't get him back.  I can't get at him.  I feel
sometimes as if I must shake him by the arm: "Wake up!  Wake up!  You are
wanted, sir . . . !"

Young Powell recognized the expression of a true sentiment, a thing so
rare in this world where there are so many mutes and so many excellent
reasons even at sea for an articulate man not to give himself away, that
he felt something like respect for this outburst.  It was not loud.  The
grotesque squat shape, with the knob of the head as if rammed down
between the square shoulders by a blow from a club, moved vaguely in a
circumscribed space limited by the two harness-casks lashed to the front
rail of the poop, without gestures, hands in the pockets of the jacket,
elbows pressed closely to its side; and the voice without resonance,
passed from anger to dismay and back again without a single louder word
in the hurried delivery, interrupted only by slight gasps for air as if
the speaker were being choked by the suppressed passion of his grief.

Mr. Powell, though moved to a certain extent, was by no means carried
away.  And just as he thought that it was all over, the other, fidgeting
in the darkness, was heard again explosive, bewildered but not very loud
in the silence of the ship and the great empty peace of the sea.

"They have done something to him!  What is it?  What can it be?  Can't
you guess?  Don't you know?"

"Good heavens!" Young Powell was astounded on discovering that this was
an appeal addressed to him.  "How on earth can I know?"

"You do talk to that white-faced, black-eyed . . . I've seen you talking
to her more than a dozen times."

Young Powell, his sympathy suddenly chilled, remarked in a disdainful
tone that Mrs. Anthony's eyes were not black.

"I wish to God she had never set them on the captain, whatever colour
they are," retorted Franklin.  "She and that old chap with the scraped
jaws who sits over her and stares down at her dead-white face with his
yellow eyes--confound them!  Perhaps you will tell us that his eyes are
not yellow?"

Powell, not interested in the colour of Mr. Smith's eyes, made a vague
gesture.  Yellow or not yellow, it was all one to him.

The mate murmured to himself.  "No.  He can't know.  No!  No more than a
baby.  It would take an older head."

"I don't even understand what you mean," observed Mr. Powell coldly.

"And even the best head would be puzzled by such devil-work," the mate
continued, muttering.  "Well, I have heard tell of women doing for a man
in one way or another when they got him fairly ashore.  But to bring
their devilry to sea and fasten on such a man! . . . It's something I
can't understand.  But I can watch.  Let them look out--I say!"

His short figure, unable to stoop, without flexibility, could not express
dejection.  He was very tired suddenly; he dragged his feet going off the
poop.  Before he left it with nearly an hour of his watch below
sacrificed, he addressed himself once more to our young man who stood
abreast of the mizzen rigging in an unreceptive mood expressed by silence
and immobility.  He did not regret, he said, having spoken openly on this
very serious matter.

"I don't know about its seriousness, sir," was Mr. Powell's frank answer.
"But if you think you have been telling me something very new you are
mistaken.  You can't keep that matter out of your speeches.  It's the
sort of thing I've been hearing more or less ever since I came on board."

Mr. Powell, speaking truthfully, did not mean to speak offensively.  He
had instincts of wisdom; he felt that this was a serious affair, for it
had nothing to do with reason.  He did not want to raise an enemy for
himself in the mate.  And Mr. Franklin did not take offence.  To Mr.
Powell's truthful statement he answered with equal truth and simplicity
that it was very likely, very likely.  With a thing like that (next door
to witchcraft almost) weighing on his mind, the wonder was that he could
think of anything else.  The poor man must have found in the restlessness
of his thoughts the illusion of being engaged in an active contest with
some power of evil; for his last words as he went lingeringly down the
poop ladder expressed the quaint hope that he would get him, Powell, "on
our side yet."

Mr. Powell--just imagine a straightforward youngster assailed in this
fashion on the high seas--answered merely by an embarrassed and uneasy
laugh which reflected exactly the state of his innocent soul.  The
apoplectic mate, already half-way down, went up again three steps of the
poop ladder.  Why, yes.  A proper young fellow, the mate expected,
wouldn't stand by and see a man, a good sailor and his own skipper, in
trouble without taking his part against a couple of shore people who--Mr.
Powell interrupted him impatiently, asking what was the trouble?

"What is it you are hinting at?" he cried with an inexplicable
irritation.

"I don't like to think of him all alone down there with these two,"
Franklin whispered impressively.  "Upon my word I don't.  God only knows
what may be going on there . . . Don't laugh . . . It was bad enough last
voyage when Mrs. Brown had a cabin aft; but now it's worse.  It frightens
me.  I can't sleep sometimes for thinking of him all alone there, shut
off from us all."

Mrs. Brown was the steward's wife.  You must understand that shortly
after his visit to the Fyne cottage (with all its consequences), Anthony
had got an offer to go to the Western Islands, and bring home the cargo
of some ship which, damaged in a collision or a stranding, took refuge in
St. Michael, and was condemned there.  Roderick Anthony had connections
which would put such paying jobs in his way.  So Flora de Barral had but
a five months' voyage, a mere excursion, for her first trial of sea-life.
And Anthony, dearly trying to be most attentive, had induced this Mrs.
Brown, the wife of his faithful steward, to come along as maid to his
bride.  But for some reason or other this arrangement was not continued.
And the mate, tormented by indefinite alarms and forebodings, regretted
it.  He regretted that Jane Brown was no longer on board--as a sort of
representative of Captain Anthony's faithful servants, to watch quietly
what went on in that part of the ship this fatal marriage had closed to
their vigilance.  That had been excellent.  For she was a dependable
woman.

Powell did not detect any particular excellence in what seemed a spying
employment.  But in his simplicity he said that he should have thought
Mrs. Anthony would have been glad anyhow to have another woman on board.
He was thinking of the white-faced girlish personality which it seemed to
him ought to have been cared for.  The innocent young man always looked
upon the girl as immature; something of a child yet.

"She! glad!  Why it was she who had her fired out.  She didn't want
anybody around the cabin.  Mrs. Brown is certain of it.  She told her
husband so.  You ask the steward and hear what he has to say about it.
That's why I don't like it.  A capable woman who knew her place.  But no.
Out she must go.  For no fault, mind you.  The captain was ashamed to
send her away.  But that wife of his--aye the precious pair of them have
got hold of him.  I can't speak to him for a minute on the poop without
that thimble-rigging coon coming gliding up.  I'll tell you what.  I
overheard once--God knows I didn't try to--only he forgot I was on the
other side of the skylight with my sextant--I overheard him--you know how
he sits hanging over her chair and talking away without properly opening
his mouth--yes I caught the word right enough.  He was alluding to the
captain as "the jailer."  The jail . . . !"

Franklin broke off with a profane execration.  A silence reigned for a
long time and the slight, very gentle rolling of the ship slipping before
the N.E. trade-wind seemed to be a soothing device for lulling to sleep
the suspicions of men who trust themselves to the sea.

A deep sigh was heard followed by the mate's voice asking dismally if
that was the way one would speak of a man to whom one wished well?  No
better proof of something wrong was needed.  Therefore he hoped, as he
vanished at last, that Mr. Powell would be on their side.  And this time
Mr. Powell did not answer this hope with an embarrassed laugh.

That young officer was more and more surprised at the nature of the
incongruous revelations coming to him in the surroundings and in the
atmosphere of the open sea.  It is difficult for us to understand the
extent, the completeness, the comprehensiveness of his inexperience, for
us who didn't go to sea out of a small private school at the age of
fourteen years and nine months.  Leaning on his elbow in the mizzen
rigging and so still that the helmsman over there at the other end of the
poop might have (and he probably did) suspect him of being criminally
asleep on duty, he tried to "get hold of that thing" by some side which
would fit in with his simple notions of psychology.  "What the deuce are
they worrying about?" he asked himself in a dazed and contemptuous
impatience.  But all the same "jailer" was a funny name to give a man;
unkind, unfriendly, nasty.  He was sorry that Mr. Smith was guilty in
that matter because, the truth must be told, he had been to a certain
extent sensible of having been noticed in a quiet manner by the father of
Mrs. Anthony.  Youth appreciates that sort of recognition which is the
subtlest form of flattery age can offer.  Mr. Smith seized opportunities
to approach him on deck.  His remarks were sometimes weird and
enigmatical.

He was doubtless an eccentric old gent.  But from that to calling his son-
in-law (whom he never approached on deck) nasty names behind his back was
a long step.

And Mr. Powell marvelled . . . "

"While he was telling me all this,"--Marlow changed his tone--"I
marvelled even more.  It was as if misfortune marked its victims on the
forehead for the dislike of the crowd.  I am not thinking here of
numbers.  Two men may behave like a crowd, three certainly will when
their emotions are engaged.  It was as if the forehead of Flora de Barral
were marked.  Was the girl born to be a victim; to be always disliked and
crushed as if she were too fine for this world?  Or too luckless--since
that also is often counted as sin.

Yes, I marvelled more since I knew more of the girl than Mr. Powell--if
only her true name; and more of Captain Anthony--if only the fact that he
was the son of a delicate erotic poet of a markedly refined and
autocratic temperament.  Yes, I knew their joint stories which Mr. Powell
did not know.  The chapter in it he was opening to me, the sea-chapter,
with such new personages as the sentimental and apoplectic chief-mate and
the morose steward, however astounding to him in its detached condition
was much more so to me as a member of a series, following the chapter
outside the Eastern Hotel in which I myself had played my part.  In view
of her declarations and my sage remarks it was very unexpected.  She had
meant well, and I had certainly meant well too.  Captain Anthony--as far
as I could gather from little Fyne--had meant well.  As far as such lofty
words may be applied to the obscure personages of this story we were all
filled with the noblest sentiments and intentions.  The sea was there to
give them the shelter of its solitude free from the earth's petty
suggestions.  I could well marvel in myself, as to what had happened.

I hope that if he saw it, Mr. Powell forgave me the smile of which I was
guilty at that moment.  The light in the cabin of his little cutter was
dim.  And the smile was dim too.  Dim and fleeting.  The girl's life had
presented itself to me as a tragi-comical adventure, the saddest thing on
earth, slipping between frank laughter and unabashed tears.  Yes, the
saddest facts and the most common, and, being common perhaps the most
worthy of our unreserved pity.

The purely human reality is capable of lyrism but not of abstraction.
Nothing will serve for its understanding but the evidence of rational
linking up of characters and facts.  And beginning with Flora de Barral,
in the light of my memories I was certain that she at least must have
been passive; for that is of necessity the part of women, this waiting on
fate which some of them, and not the most intelligent, cover up by the
vain appearances of agitation.  Flora de Barral was not exceptionally
intelligent but she was thoroughly feminine.  She would be passive (and
that does not mean inanimate) in the circumstances, where the mere fact
of being a woman was enough to give her an occult and supreme
significance.  And she would be enduring which is the essence of woman's
visible, tangible power.  Of that I was certain.  Had she not endured
already?  Yet it is so true that the germ of destruction lies in wait for
us mortals, even at the very source of our strength, that one may die of
too much endurance as well as of too little of it.

Such was my train of thought.  And I was mindful also of my first view of
her--toying or perhaps communing in earnest with the possibilities of a
precipice.  But I did not ask Mr. Powell anxiously what had happened to
Mrs. Anthony in the end.  I let him go on in his own way feeling that no
matter what strange facts he would have to disclose, I was certain to
know much more of them than he ever did know or could possibly guess
. . . "

Marlow paused for quite a long time.  He seemed uncertain as though he
had advanced something beyond my grasp.  Purposely I made no sign.  "You
understand?" he asked.

"Perfectly," I said.  "You are the expert in the psychological
wilderness.  This is like one of those Red-skin stories where the noble
savages carry off a girl and the honest backwoodsman with his
incomparable knowledge follows the track and reads the signs of her fate
in a footprint here, a broken twig there, a trinket dropped by the way.  I
have always liked such stories.  Go on."

Marlow smiled indulgently at my jesting.  "It is not exactly a story for
boys," he said.  "I go on then.  The sign, as you call it, was not very
plentiful but very much to the purpose, and when Mr. Powell heard (at a
certain moment I felt bound to tell him) when he heard that I had known
Mrs. Anthony before her marriage, that, to a certain extent, I was her
confidant . . . For you can't deny that to a certain extent . . . Well
let us say that I had a look in . . . A young girl, you know, is
something like a temple.  You pass by and wonder what mysterious rites
are going on in there, what prayers, what visions?  The privileged men,
the lover, the husband, who are given the key of the sanctuary do not
always know how to use it.  For myself, without claim, without merit,
simply by chance I had been allowed to look through the half-opened door
and I had seen the saddest possible desecration, the withered brightness
of youth, a spirit neither made cringing nor yet dulled but as if
bewildered in quivering hopelessness by gratuitous cruelty;
self-confidence destroyed and, instead, a resigned recklessness, a
mournful callousness (and all this simple, almost naive)--before the
material and moral difficulties of the situation.  The passive anguish of
the luckless!

I asked myself: wasn't that ill-luck exhausted yet?  Ill-luck which is
like the hate of invisible powers interpreted, made sensible and
injurious by the actions of men?

Mr. Powell as you may well imagine had opened his eyes at my statement.
But he was full of his recalled experiences on board the _Ferndale_, and
the strangeness of being mixed up in what went on aboard, simply because
his name was also the name of a shipping-master, kept him in a state of
wonder which made other coincidences, however unlikely, not so very
surprising after all.

This astonishing occurrence was so present to his mind that he always
felt as though he were there under false pretences.  And this feeling was
so uncomfortable that it nerved him to break through the awe-inspiring
aloofness of his captain.  He wanted to make a clean breast of it.  I
imagine that his youth stood in good stead to Mr. Powell.  Oh, yes.  Youth
is a power.  Even Captain Anthony had to take some notice of it, as if it
refreshed him to see something untouched, unscarred, unhardened by
suffering.  Or perhaps the very novelty of that face, on board a ship
where he had seen the same faces for years, attracted his attention.

Whether one day he dropped a word to his new second officer or only
looked at him I don't know; but Mr. Powell seized the opportunity
whatever it was.  The captain who had started and stopped in his
everlasting rapid walk smoothed his brow very soon, heard him to the end
and then laughed a little.

"Ah!  That's the story.  And you felt you must put me right as to this."

"Yes, sir."

"It doesn't matter how you came on board," said Anthony.  And then
showing that perhaps he was not so utterly absent from his ship as
Franklin supposed: "That's all right.  You seem to be getting on very
well with everybody," he said in his curt hurried tone, as if talking
hurt him, and his eyes already straying over the sea as usual.

"Yes, sir."

Powell tells me that looking then at the strong face to which that
haggard expression was returning, he had the impulse, from some confused
friendly feeling, to add: "I am very happy on board here, sir."

The quickly returning glance, its steadiness, abashed Mr. Powell and made
him even step back a little.  The captain looked as though he had
forgotten the meaning of the word.

"You--what?  Oh yes . . . You . . . of course . . . Happy.  Why not?"

This was merely muttered; and next moment Anthony was off on his headlong
tramp his eyes turned to the sea away from his ship.

A sailor indeed looks generally into the great distances, but in Captain
Anthony's case there was--as Powell expressed it--something particular,
something purposeful like the avoidance of pain or temptation.  It was
very marked once one had become aware of it.  Before, one felt only a
pronounced strangeness.  Not that the captain--Powell was careful to
explain--didn't see things as a ship-master should.  The proof of it was
that on that very occasion he desired him suddenly after a period of
silent pacing, to have all the staysails sheets eased off, and he was
going on with some other remarks on the subject of these staysails when
Mrs. Anthony followed by her father emerged from the companion.  She
established herself in her chair to leeward of the skylight as usual.
Thereupon the captain cut short whatever he was going to say, and in a
little while went down below.

I asked Mr. Powell whether the captain and his wife never conversed on
deck.  He said no--or at any rate they never exchanged more than a couple
of words.  There was some constraint between them.  For instance, on that
very occasion, when Mrs. Anthony came out they did look at each other;
the captain's eyes indeed followed her till she sat down; but he did not
speak to her; he did not approach her; and afterwards left the deck
without turning his head her way after this first silent exchange of
glances.

I asked Mr. Powell what did he do then, the captain being out of the way.
"I went over and talked to Mrs. Anthony.  I was thinking that it must be
very dull for her.  She seemed to be such a stranger to the ship."

"The father was there of course?"

"Always," said Powell.  "He was always there sitting on the skylight, as
if he were keeping watch over her.  And I think," he added, "that he was
worrying her.  Not that she showed it in any way.  Mrs. Anthony was
always very quiet and always ready to look one straight in the face."

"You talked together a lot?" I pursued my inquiries.  "She mostly let me
talk to her," confessed Mr. Powell.  "I don't know that she was very much
interested--but still she let me.  She never cut me short."

All the sympathies of Mr. Powell were for Flora Anthony nee de Barral.
She was the only human being younger than himself on board that ship
since the _Ferndale_ carried no boys and was manned by a full crew of
able seamen.  Yes! their youth had created a sort of bond between them.
Mr. Powell's open countenance must have appeared to her distinctly
pleasing amongst the mature, rough, crabbed or even inimical faces she
saw around her.  With the warm generosity of his age young Powell was on
her side, as it were, even before he knew that there were sides to be
taken on board that ship, and what this taking sides was about.  There
was a girl.  A nice girl.  He asked himself no questions.  Flora de
Barral was not so much younger in years than himself; but for some
reason, perhaps by contrast with the accepted idea of a captain's wife,
he could not regard her otherwise but as an extremely youthful creature.
At the same time, apart from her exalted position, she exercised over him
the supremacy a woman's earlier maturity gives her over a young man of
her own age.  As a matter of fact we can see that, without ever having
more than a half an hour's consecutive conversation together, and the
distances duly preserved, these two were becoming friends--under the eye
of the old man, I suppose.

How he first got in touch with his captain's wife Powell relates in this
way.  It was long before his memorable conversation with the mate and
shortly after getting clear of the channel.  It was gloomy weather; dead
head wind, blowing quite half a gale; the _Ferndale_ under reduced sail
was stretching close-hauled across the track of the homeward bound ships,
just moving through the water and no more, since there was no object in
pressing her and the weather looked threatening.  About ten o'clock at
night he was alone on the poop, in charge, keeping well aft by the
weather rail and staring to windward, when amongst the white, breaking
seas, under the black sky, he made out the lights of a ship.  He watched
them for some time.  She was running dead before the wind of course.  She
will pass jolly close--he said to himself; and then suddenly he felt a
great mistrust of that approaching ship.  She's heading straight for
us--he thought.  It was not his business to get out of the way.  On the
contrary.  And his uneasiness grew by the recollection of the forty tons
of dynamite in the body of the _Ferndale_; not the sort of cargo one
thinks of with equanimity in connection with a threatened collision.  He
gazed at the two small lights in the dark immensity filled with the angry
noise of the seas.  They fascinated him till their plainness to his sight
gave him a conviction that there was danger there.  He knew in his mind
what to do in the emergency, but very properly he felt that he must call
the captain out at once.

He crossed the deck in one bound.  By the immemorial custom and usage of
the sea the captain's room is on the starboard side.  You would just as
soon expect your captain to have his nose at the back of his head as to
have his state-room on the port side of the ship.  Powell forgot all
about the direction on that point given him by the chief.  He flew over
as I said, stamped with his foot and then putting his face to the cowl of
the big ventilator shouted down there: "Please come on deck, sir," in a
voice which was not trembling or scared but which we may call fairly
expressive.  There could not be a mistake as to the urgence of the call.
But instead of the expected alert "All right!" and the sound of a rush
down there, he heard only a faint exclamation--then silence.

Think of his astonishment!  He remained there, his ear in the cowl of the
ventilator, his eyes fastened on those menacing sidelights dancing on the
gusts of wind which swept the angry darkness of the sea.  It was as
though he had waited an hour but it was something much less than a minute
before he fairly bellowed into the wide tube "Captain Anthony!"  An
agitated "What is it?" was what he heard down there in Mrs. Anthony's
voice, light rapid footsteps . . . Why didn't she try to wake him up!  "I
want the captain," he shouted, then gave it up, making a dash at the
companion where a blue light was kept, resolved to act for himself.

On the way he glanced at the helmsman whose face lighted up by the
binnacle lamps was calm.  He said rapidly to him: "Stand by to spin that
helm up at the first word."  The answer "Aye, aye, sir," was delivered in
a steady voice.  Then Mr. Powell after a shout for the watch on deck to
"lay aft," ran to the ship's side and struck the blue light on the rail.

A sort of nasty little spitting of sparks was all that came.  The light
(perhaps affected by damp) had failed to ignite.  The time of all these
various acts must be counted in seconds.  Powell confessed to me that at
this failure he experienced a paralysis of thought, of voice, of limbs.
The unexpectedness of this misfire positively overcame his faculties.  It
was the only thing for which his imagination was not prepared.  It was
knocked clean over.  When it got up it was with the suggestion that he
must do something at once or there would be a broadside smash accompanied
by the explosion of dynamite, in which both ships would be blown up and
every soul on board of them would vanish off the earth in an enormous
flame and uproar.

He saw the catastrophe happening and at the same moment, before he could
open his mouth or stir a limb to ward off the vision, a voice very near
his ear, the measured voice of Captain Anthony said: "Wouldn't light--eh?
Throw it down!  Jump for the flare-up."

The spring of activity in Mr. Powell was released with great force.  He
jumped.  The flare-up was kept inside the companion with a box of matches
ready to hand.  Almost before he knew he had moved he was diving under
the companion slide.  He got hold of the can in the dark and tried to
strike a light.  But he had to press the flare-holder to his breast with
one arm, his fingers were damp and stiff, his hands trembled a little.
One match broke.  Another went out.  In its flame he saw the colourless
face of Mrs. Anthony a little below him, standing on the cabin stairs.
Her eyes which were very close to his (he was in a crouching posture on
the top step) seemed to burn darkly in the vanishing light.  On deck the
captain's voice was heard sudden and unexpectedly sardonic: "You had
better look sharp, if you want to be in time."

"Let me have the box," said Mrs. Anthony in a hurried and familiar
whisper which sounded amused as if they had been a couple of children up
to some lark behind a wall.  He was glad of the offer which seemed to him
very natural, and without ceremony--

"Here you are.  Catch hold."

Their hands touched in the dark and she took the box while he held the
paraffin soaked torch in its iron holder.  He thought of warning her:
"Look out for yourself."  But before he had the time to finish the
sentence the flare blazed up violently between them and he saw her throw
herself back with an arm across her face.  "Hallo," he exclaimed; only he
could not stop a moment to ask if she was hurt.  He bolted out of the
companion straight into his captain who took the flare from him and held
it high above his head.

The fierce flame fluttered like a silk flag, throwing an angry swaying
glare mingled with moving shadows over the poop, lighting up the concave
surfaces of the sails, gleaming on the wet paint of the white rails.  And
young Powell turned his eyes to windward with a catch in his breath.

The strange ship, a darker shape in the night, did not seem to be moving
onwards but only to grow more distinct right abeam, staring at the
_Ferndale_ with one green and one red eye which swayed and tossed as if
they belonged to the restless head of some invisible monster ambushed in
the night amongst the waves.  A moment, long like eternity, elapsed, and,
suddenly, the monster which seemed to take to itself the shape of a
mountain shut its green eye without as much as a preparatory wink.

Mr. Powell drew a free breath.  "All right now," said Captain Anthony in
a quiet undertone.  He gave the blazing flare to Powell and walked aft to
watch the passing of that menace of destruction coming blindly with its
parti-coloured stare out of a blind night on the wings of a sweeping
wind.  Her very form could be distinguished now black and elongated
amongst the hissing patches of foam bursting along her path.

As is always the case with a ship running before wind and sea she did not
seem to an onlooker to move very fast; but to be progressing indolently
in long leisurely bounds and pauses in the midst of the overtaking waves.
It was only when actually passing the stern within easy hail of the
_Ferndale_, that her headlong speed became apparent to the eye.  With the
red light shut off and soaring like an immense shadow on the crest of a
wave she was lost to view in one great, forward swing, melting into the
lightless space.

"Close shave," said Captain Anthony in an indifferent voice just raised
enough to be heard in the wind.  "A blind lot on board that ship.  Put
out the flare now."

Silently Mr. Powell inverted the holder, smothering the flame in the can,
bringing about by the mere turn of his wrist the fall of darkness upon
the poop.  And at the same time vanished out of his mind's eye the vision
of another flame enormous and fierce shooting violently from a white
churned patch of the sea, lighting up the very clouds and carrying
upwards in its volcanic rush flying spars, corpses, the fragments of two
destroyed ships.  It vanished and there was an immense relief.  He told
me he did not know how scared he had been, not generally but of that very
thing his imagination had conjured, till it was all over.  He measured it
(for fear is a great tension) by the feeling of slack weariness which
came over him all at once.

He walked to the companion and stooping low to put the flare in its usual
place saw in the darkness the motionless pale oval of Mrs. Anthony's
face.  She whispered quietly:

"Is anything going to happen?  What is it?"

"It's all over now," he whispered back.

He remained bent low, his head inside the cover staring at that white
ghostly oval.  He wondered she had not rushed out on deck.  She had
remained quietly there.  This was pluck.  Wonderful self-restraint.  And
it was not stupidity on her part.  She knew there was imminent danger and
probably had some notion of its nature.

"You stayed here waiting for what would come," he murmured admiringly.

"Wasn't that the best thing to do?" she asked.

He didn't know.  Perhaps.  He confessed he could not have done it.  Not
he.  His flesh and blood could not have stood it.  He would have felt he
must see what was coming.  Then he remembered that the flare might have
scorched her face, and expressed his concern.

"A bit.  Nothing to hurt.  Smell the singed hair?"

There was a sort of gaiety in her tone.  She might have been frightened
but she certainly was not overcome and suffered from no reaction.  This
confirmed and augmented if possible Mr. Powell's good opinion of her as a
"jolly girl," though it seemed to him positively monstrous to refer in
such terms to one's captain's wife.  "But she doesn't look it," he
thought in extenuation and was going to say something more to her about
the lighting of that flare when another voice was heard in the companion,
saying some indistinct words.  Its tone was contemptuous; it came from
below, from the bottom of the stairs.  It was a voice in the cabin.  And
the only other voice which could be heard in the main cabin at this time
of the evening was the voice of Mrs. Anthony's father.  The indistinct
white oval sank from Mr. Powell's sight so swiftly as to take him by
surprise.  For a moment he hung at the opening of the companion and now
that her slight form was no longer obstructing the narrow and winding
staircase the voices came up louder but the words were still indistinct.
The old gentleman was excited about something and Mrs. Anthony was
"managing him" as Powell expressed it.  They moved away from the bottom
of the stairs and Powell went away from the companion.  Yet he fancied he
had heard the words "Lost to me" before he withdrew his head.  They had
been uttered by Mr. Smith.

Captain Anthony had not moved away from the taffrail.  He remained in the
very position he took up to watch the other ship go by rolling and
swinging all shadowy in the uproar of the following seas.  He stirred
not; and Powell keeping near by did not dare speak to him, so enigmatical
in its contemplation of the night did his figure appear to his young
eyes: indistinct--and in its immobility staring into gloom, the prey of
some incomprehensible grief, longing or regret.

Why is it that the stillness of a human being is often so impressive, so
suggestive of evil--as if our proper fate were a ceaseless agitation?  The
stillness of Captain Anthony became almost intolerable to his second
officer.  Mr. Powell loitering about the skylight wanted his captain off
the deck now.  "Why doesn't he go below?" he asked himself impatiently.
He ventured a cough.

Whether the effect of the cough or not Captain Anthony spoke.  He did not
move the least bit.  With his back remaining turned to the whole length
of the ship he asked Mr. Powell with some brusqueness if the chief mate
had neglected to instruct him that the captain was to be found on the
port side.

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Powell approaching his back.  "The mate told me to
stamp on the port side when I wanted you; but I didn't remember at the
moment."

"You should remember," the captain uttered with an effort.  Then added
mumbling "I don't want Mrs. Anthony frightened.  Don't you see? . . ."

"She wasn't this time," Powell said innocently: "She lighted the flare-up
for me, sir."

"This time," Captain Anthony exclaimed and turned round.  "Mrs. Anthony
lighted the flare?  Mrs. Anthony! . . . "  Powell explained that she was
in the companion all the time.

"All the time," repeated the captain.  It seemed queer to Powell that
instead of going himself to see the captain should ask him:

"Is she there now?"

Powell said that she had gone below after the ship had passed clear of
the _Ferndale_.  Captain Anthony made a movement towards the companion
himself, when Powell added the information.  "Mr. Smith called to Mrs.
Anthony from the saloon, sir.  I believe they are talking there now."

He was surprised to see the captain give up the idea of going below after
all.

He began to walk the poop instead regardless of the cold, of the damp
wind and of the sprays.  And yet he had nothing on but his sleeping suit
and slippers.  Powell placing himself on the break of the poop kept a
look-out.  When after some time he turned his head to steal a glance at
his eccentric captain he could not see his active and shadowy figure
swinging to and fro.  The second mate of the _Ferndale_ walked aft
peering about and addressed the seaman who steered.

"Captain gone below?"

"Yes, sir," said the fellow who with a quid of tobacco bulging out his
left cheek kept his eyes on the compass card.  "This minute.  He
laughed."

"Laughed," repeated Powell incredulously.  "Do you mean the captain did?
You must be mistaken.  What would he want to laugh for?"

"Don't know, sir."

The elderly sailor displayed a profound indifference towards human
emotions.  However, after a longish pause he conceded a few words more to
the second officer's weakness.  "Yes.  He was walking the deck as usual
when suddenly he laughed a little and made for the companion.  Thought of
something funny all at once."

Something funny!  That Mr. Powell could not believe.  He did not ask
himself why, at the time.  Funny thoughts come to men, though, in all
sorts of situations; they come to all sorts of men.  Nevertheless Mr.
Powell was shocked to learn that Captain Anthony had laughed without
visible cause on a certain night.  The impression for some reason was
disagreeable.  And it was then, while finishing his watch, with the
chilly gusts of wind sweeping at him out of the darkness where the short
sea of the soundings growled spitefully all round the ship, that it
occurred to his unsophisticated mind that perhaps things are not what
they are confidently expected to be; that it was possible that Captain
Anthony was not a happy man . . . In so far you will perceive he was to a
certain extent prepared for the apoplectic and sensitive Franklin's
lamentations about his captain.  And though he treated them with a
contempt which was in a great measure sincere, yet he admitted to me that
deep down within him an inexplicable and uneasy suspicion that all was
not well in that cabin, so unusually cut off from the rest of the ship,
came into being and grew against his will.



CHAPTER FOUR--ANTHONY AND FLORA


Marlow emerged out of the shadow of the book-case to get himself a cigar
from a box which stood on a little table by my side.  In the full light
of the room I saw in his eyes that slightly mocking expression with which
he habitually covers up his sympathetic impulses of mirth and pity before
the unreasonable complications the idealism of mankind puts into the
simple but poignant problem of conduct on this earth.

He selected and lit the cigar with affected care, then turned upon me, I
had been looking at him silently.

"I suppose," he said, the mockery of his eyes giving a pellucid quality
to his tone, "that you think it's high time I told you something
definite.  I mean something about that psychological cabin mystery of
discomfort (for it's obvious that it must be psychological) which
affected so profoundly Mr. Franklin the chief mate, and had even
disturbed the serene innocence of Mr. Powell, the second of the ship
_Ferndale_, commanded by Roderick Anthony--the son of the poet, you
know."

"You are going to confess now that you have failed to find it out," I
said in pretended indignation.

"It would serve you right if I told you that I have.  But I won't.  I
haven't failed.  I own though that for a time, I was puzzled.  However, I
have now seen our Powell many times under the most favourable
conditions--and besides I came upon a most unexpected source of
information . . . But never mind that.  The means don't concern you
except in so far as they belong to the story.  I'll admit that for some
time the old-maiden-lady-like occupation of putting two and two together
failed to procure a coherent theory.  I am speaking now as an
investigator--a man of deductions.  With what we know of Roderick Anthony
and Flora de Barral I could not deduct an ordinary marital quarrel
beautifully matured in less than a year--could I?  If you ask me what is
an ordinary marital quarrel I will tell you, that it is a difference
about nothing; I mean, these nothings which, as Mr. Powell told us when
we first met him, shore people are so prone to start a row about, and
nurse into hatred from an idle sense of wrong, from perverted ambition,
for spectacular reasons too.  There are on earth no actors too humble and
obscure not to have a gallery; that gallery which envenoms the play by
stealthy jeers, counsels of anger, amused comments or words of perfidious
compassion.  However, the Anthonys were free from all demoralizing
influences.  At sea, you know, there is no gallery.  You hear no
tormenting echoes of your own littleness there, where either a great
elemental voice roars defiantly under the sky or else an elemental
silence seems to be part of the infinite stillness of the universe.

Remembering Flora de Barral in the depths of moral misery, and Roderick
Anthony carried away by a gust of tempestuous tenderness, I asked myself,
Is it all forgotten already?  What could they have found to estrange them
from each other with this rapidity and this thoroughness so far from all
temptations, in the peace of the sea and in an isolation so complete that
if it had not been the jealous devotion of the sentimental Franklin
stimulating the attention of Powell, there would have been no record, no
evidence of it at all.

I must confess at once that it was Flora de Barral whom I suspected.  In
this world as at present organized women are the suspected half of the
population.  There are good reasons for that.  These reasons are so
discoverable with a little reflection that it is not worth my while to
set them out for you.  I will only mention this: that the part falling to
women's share being all "influence" has an air of occult and mysterious
action, something not altogether trustworthy like all natural forces
which, for us, work in the dark because of our imperfect comprehension.

If women were not a force of nature, blind in its strength and capricious
in its power, they would not be mistrusted.  As it is one can't help it.
You will say that this force having been in the person of Flora de Barral
captured by Anthony . . . Why yes.  He had dealt with her masterfully.
But man has captured electricity too.  It lights him on his way, it warms
his home, it will even cook his dinner for him--very much like a woman.
But what sort of conquest would you call it?  He knows nothing of it.  He
has got to be mighty careful what he is about with his captive.  And the
greater the demand he makes on it in the exultation of his pride the more
likely it is to turn on him and burn him to a cinder . . . "

"A far-fetched enough parallel," I observed coldly to Marlow.  He had
returned to the arm-chair in the shadow of the bookcase.  "But accepting
the meaning you have in your mind it reduces itself to the knowledge of
how to use it.  And if you mean that this ravenous Anthony--"

"Ravenous is good," interrupted Marlow.  "He was a-hungering and
a-thirsting for femininity to enter his life in a way no mere feminist
could have the slightest conception of.  I reckon that this accounts for
much of Fyne's disgust with him.  Good little Fyne.  You have no idea
what infernal mischief he had worked during his call at the hotel.  But
then who could have suspected Anthony of being a heroic creature.  There
are several kinds of heroism and one of them at least is idiotic.  It is
the one which wears the aspect of sublime delicacy.  It is apparently the
one of which the son of the delicate poet was capable.

He certainly resembled his father, who, by the way, wore out two women
without any satisfaction to himself, because they did not come up to his
supra-refined standard of the delicacy which is so perceptible in his
verses.  That's your poet.  He demands too much from others.  The
inarticulate son had set up a standard for himself with that need for
embodying in his conduct the dreams, the passion, the impulses the poet
puts into arrangements of verses, which are dearer to him than his own
self--and may make his own self appear sublime in the eyes of other
people, and even in his own eyes.

Did Anthony wish to appear sublime in his own eyes?  I should not like to
make that charge; though indeed there are other, less noble, ambitions at
which the world does not dare to smile.  But I don't think so; I do not
even think that there was in what he did a conscious and lofty confidence
in himself, a particularly pronounced sense of power which leads men so
often into impossible or equivocal situations.  Looked at abstractedly
(the way in which truth is often seen in its real shape) his life had
been a life of solitude and silence--and desire.

Chance had thrown that girl in his way; and if we may smile at his
violent conquest of Flora de Barral we must admit also that this eager
appropriation was truly the act of a man of solitude and desire; a man
also, who, unless a complete imbecile, must have been a man of long and
ardent reveries wherein the faculty of sincere passion matures slowly in
the unexplored recesses of the heart.  And I know also that a passion,
dominating or tyrannical, invading the whole man and subjugating all his
faculties to its own unique end, may conduct him whom it spurs and
drives, into all sorts of adventures, to the brink of unfathomable
dangers, to the limits of folly, and madness, and death.

To the man then of a silence made only more impressive by the
inarticulate thunders and mutters of the great seas, an utter stranger to
the clatter of tongues, there comes the muscular little Fyne, the most
marked representative of that mankind whose voice is so strange to him,
the husband of his sister, a personality standing out from the misty and
remote multitude.  He comes and throws at him more talk than he had ever
heard boomed out in an hour, and certainly touching the deepest things
Anthony had ever discovered in himself, and flings words like "unfair"
whose very sound is abhorrent to him.  Unfair!  Undue advantage!  He!
Unfair to that girl?  Cruel to her!

No scorn could stand against the impression of such charges advanced with
heat and conviction.  They shook him.  They were yet vibrating in the air
of that stuffy hotel-room, terrific, disturbing, impossible to get rid
of, when the door opened and Flora de Barral entered.

He did not even notice that she was late.  He was sitting on a sofa
plunged in gloom.  Was it true?  Having himself always said exactly what
he meant he imagined that people (unless they were liars, which of course
his brother-in-law could not be) never said more than they meant.  The
deep chest voice of little Fyne was still in his ear.  "He knows,"
Anthony said to himself.  He thought he had better go away and never see
her again.  But she stood there before him accusing and appealing.  How
could he abandon her?  That was out of the question.  She had no one.  Or
rather she had someone.  That father.  Anthony was willing to take him at
her valuation.  This father may have been the victim of the most
atrocious injustice.  But what could a man coming out of jail do?  An old
man too.  And then--what sort of man?  What would become of them both?
Anthony shuddered slightly and the faint smile with which Flora had
entered the room faded on her lips.  She was used to his impetuous
tenderness.  She was no longer afraid of it.  But she had never seen him
look like this before, and she suspected at once some new cruelty of
life.  He got up with his usual ardour but as if sobered by a momentous
resolve and said:

"No.  I can't let you out of my sight.  I have seen you.  You have told
me your story.  You are honest.  You have never told me you loved me."

She waited, saying to herself that he had never given her time, that he
had never asked her!  And that, in truth, she did not know!

I am inclined to believe that she did not.  As abundance of experience is
not precisely her lot in life, a woman is seldom an expert in matters of
sentiment.  It is the man who can and generally does "see himself" pretty
well inside and out.  Women's self-possession is an outward thing;
inwardly they flutter, perhaps because they are, or they feel themselves
to be, engaged.  All this speaking generally.  In Flora de Barral's
particular case ever since Anthony had suddenly broken his way into her
hopeless and cruel existence she lived like a person liberated from a
condemned cell by a natural cataclysm, a tempest, an earthquake; not
absolutely terrified, because nothing can be worse than the eve of
execution, but stunned, bewildered--abandoning herself passively.  She
did not want to make a sound, to move a limb.  She hadn't the strength.
What was the good?  And deep down, almost unconsciously she was seduced
by the feeling of being supported by this violence.  A sensation she had
never experienced before in her life.

She felt as if this whirlwind were calming down somehow!  As if this
feeling of support, which was tempting her to close her eyes deliciously
and let herself be carried on and on into the unknown undefiled by vile
experiences, were less certain, had wavered threateningly.  She tried to
read something in his face, in that energetic kindly face to which she
had become accustomed so soon.  But she was not yet capable of
understanding its expression.  Scared, discouraged on the threshold of
adolescence, plunged in moral misery of the bitterest kind, she had not
learned to read--not that sort of language.

If Anthony's love had been as egoistic as love generally is, it would
have been greater than the egoism of his vanity--or of his generosity, if
you like--and all this could not have happened.  He would not have hit
upon that renunciation at which one does not know whether to grin or
shudder.  It is true too that then his love would not have fastened
itself upon the unhappy daughter of de Barral.  But it was a love born of
that rare pity which is not akin to contempt because rooted in an
overwhelmingly strong capacity for tenderness--the tenderness of the
fiery kind--the tenderness of silent solitary men, the voluntary,
passionate outcasts of their kind.  At the time I am forced to think that
his vanity must have been enormous.

"What big eyes she has," he said to himself amazed.  No wonder.  She was
staring at him with all the might of her soul awakening slowly from a
poisoned sleep, in which it could only quiver with pain but could neither
expand nor move.  He plunged into them breathless and tense, deep, deep,
like a mad sailor taking a desperate dive from the masthead into the blue
unfathomable sea so many men have execrated and loved at the same time.
And his vanity was immense.  It had been touched to the quick by that
muscular little feminist, Fyne.  "I!  I!  Take advantage of her
helplessness.  I!  Unfair to that creature--that wisp of mist, that white
shadow homeless in an ugly dirty world.  I could blow her away with a
breath," he was saying to himself with horror.  "Never!"  All the
supremely refined delicacy of tenderness, expressed in so many fine lines
of verse by Carleon Anthony, grew to the size of a passion filling with
inward sobs the big frame of the man who had never in his life read a
single one of those famous sonnets singing of the most highly civilized,
chivalrous love, of those sonnets which . . . You know there's a volume
of them.  My edition has the portrait of the author at thirty, and when I
showed it to Mr. Powell the other day he exclaimed: "Wonderful!  One
would think this the portrait of Captain Anthony himself if . . ."  I
wanted to know what that if was.  But Powell could not say.  There was
something--a difference.  No doubt there was--in fineness perhaps.  The
father, fastidious, cerebral, morbidly shrinking from all contacts, could
only sing in harmonious numbers of what the son felt with a dumb and
reckless sincerity.

* * * * *

Possessed by most strong men's touching illusion as to the frailness of
women and their spiritual fragility, it seemed to Anthony that he would
be destroying, breaking something very precious inside that being.  In
fact nothing less than partly murdering her.  This seems a very extreme
effect to flow from Fyne's words.  But Anthony, unaccustomed to the
chatter of the firm earth, never stayed to ask himself what value these
words could have in Fyne's mouth.  And indeed the mere dark sound of them
was utterly abhorrent to his native rectitude, sea-salted, hardened in
the winds of wide horizons, open as the day.

He wished to blurt out his indignation but she regarded him with an
expectant air which checked him.  His visible discomfort made her uneasy.
He could only repeat "Oh yes.  You are perfectly honest.  You might have,
but I dare say you are right.  At any rate you have never said anything
to me which you didn't mean."

"Never," she whispered after a pause.

He seemed distracted, choking with an emotion she could not understand
because it resembled embarrassment, a state of mind inconceivable in that
man.

She wondered what it was she had said; remembering that in very truth she
had hardly spoken to him except when giving him the bare outline of her
story which he seemed to have hardly had the patience to hear, waving it
perpetually aside with exclamations of horror and anger, with fiercely
sombre mutters "Enough!  Enough!" and with alarming starts from a forced
stillness, as though he meant to rush out at once and take vengeance on
somebody.  She was saying to herself that he caught her words in the air,
never letting her finish her thought.  Honest.  Honest.  Yes certainly
she had been that.  Her letter to Mrs. Fyne had been prompted by honesty.
But she reflected sadly that she had never known what to say to him.  That
perhaps she had nothing to say.

"But you'll find out that I can be honest too," he burst out in a
menacing tone, she had learned to appreciate with an amused thrill.

She waited for what was coming.  But he hung in the wind.  He looked
round the room with disgust as if he could see traces on the walls of all
the casual tenants that had ever passed through it.  People had
quarrelled in that room; they had been ill in it, there had been misery
in that room, wickedness, crime perhaps--death most likely.  This was not
a fit place.  He snatched up his hat.  He had made up his mind.  The
ship--the ship he had known ever since she came off the stocks, his
home--her shelter--the uncontaminated, honest ship, was the place.

"Let us go on board.  We'll talk there," he said.  "And you will have to
listen to me.  For whatever happens, no matter what they say, I cannot
let you go."

You can't say that (misgivings or no misgivings) she could have done
anything else but go on board.  It was the appointed business of that
morning.  During the drive he was silent.  Anthony was the last man to
condemn conventionally any human being, to scorn and despise even
deserved misfortune.  He was ready to take old de Barral--the convict--on
his daughter's valuation without the slightest reserve.  But love like
his, though it may drive one into risky folly by the proud consciousness
of its own strength, has a sagacity of its own.  And now, as if lifted up
into a higher and serene region by its purpose of renunciation, it gave
him leisure to reflect for the first time in these last few days.  He
said to himself: "I don't know that man.  She does not know him either.
She was barely sixteen when they locked him up.  She was a child.  What
will he say?  What will he do?  No, he concluded, I cannot leave her
behind with that man who would come into the world as if out of a grave.

They went on board in silence, and it was after showing her round and
when they had returned to the saloon that he assailed her in his fiery,
masterful fashion.  At first she did not understand.  Then when she
understood that he was giving her her liberty she went stiff all over,
her hand resting on the edge of the table, her face set like a carving of
white marble.  It was all over.  It was as that abominable governess had
said.  She was insignificant, contemptible.  Nobody could love her.
Humiliation clung to her like a cold shroud--never to be shaken off,
unwarmed by this madness of generosity.

"Yes.  Here.  Your home.  I can't give it to you and go away, but it is
big enough for us two.  You need not be afraid.  If you say so I shall
not even look at you.  Remember that grey head of which you have been
thinking night and day.  Where is it going to rest?  Where else if not
here, where nothing evil can touch it.  Don't you understand that I won't
let you buy shelter from me at the cost of your very soul.  I won't.  You
are too much part of me.  I have found myself since I came upon you and I
would rather sell my own soul to the devil than let you go out of my
keeping.  But I must have the right."

He went away brusquely to shut the door leading on deck and came back the
whole length of the cabin repeating:

"I must have the legal right.  Are you ashamed of letting people think
you are my wife?"

He opened his arms as if to clasp her to his breast but mastered the
impulse and shook his clenched hands at her, repeating: "I must have the
right if only for your father's sake.  I must have the right.  Where
would you take him?  To that infernal cardboard box-maker.  I don't know
what keeps me from hunting him up in his virtuous home and bashing his
head in.  I can't bear the thought.  Listen to me, Flora!  Do you hear
what I am saying to you?  You are not so proud that you can't understand
that I as a man have my pride too?"

He saw a tear glide down her white cheek from under each lowered eyelid.
Then, abruptly, she walked out of the cabin.  He stood for a moment,
concentrated, reckoning his own strength, interrogating his heart, before
he followed her hastily.  Already she had reached the wharf.

At the sound of his pursuing footsteps her strength failed her.  Where
could she escape from this?  From this new perfidy of life taking upon
itself the form of magnanimity.  His very voice was changed.  The
sustaining whirlwind had let her down, to stumble on again, weakened by
the fresh stab, bereft of moral support which is wanted in life more than
all the charities of material help.  She had never had it.  Never.  Not
from the Fynes.  But where to go?  Oh yes, this dock--a placid sheet of
water close at hand.  But there was that old man with whom she had walked
hand in hand on the parade by the sea.  She seemed to see him coming to
meet her, pitiful, a little greyer, with an appealing look and an
extended, tremulous arm.  It was for her now to take the hand of that
wronged man more helpless than a child.  But where could she lead him?
Where?  And what was she to say to him?  What words of cheer, of courage
and of hope?  There were none.  Heaven and earth were mute, unconcerned
at their meeting.  But this other man was coming up behind her.  He was
very close now.  His fiery person seemed to radiate heat, a tingling
vibration into the atmosphere.  She was exhausted, careless, afraid to
stumble, ready to fall.  She fancied she could hear his breathing.  A
wave of languid warmth overtook her, she seemed to lose touch with the
ground under her feet; and when she felt him slip his hand under her arm
she made no attempt to disengage herself from that grasp which closed
upon her limb, insinuating and firm.

He conducted her through the dangers of the quayside.  Her sight was dim.
A moving truck was like a mountain gliding by.  Men passed by as if in a
mist; and the buildings, the sheds, the unexpected open spaces, the
ships, had strange, distorted, dangerous shapes.  She said to herself
that it was good not to be bothered with what all these things meant in
the scheme of creation (if indeed anything had a meaning), or were just
piled-up matter without any sense.  She felt how she had always been
unrelated to this world.  She was hanging on to it merely by that one arm
grasped firmly just above the elbow.  It was a captivity.  So be it.  Till
they got out into the street and saw the hansom waiting outside the gates
Anthony spoke only once, beginning brusquely but in a much gentler tone
than she had ever heard from his lips.

"Of course I ought to have known that you could not care for a man like
me, a stranger.  Silence gives consent.  Yes?  Eh?  I don't want any of
that sort of consent.  And unless some day you find you can speak . . .
No!  No!  I shall never ask you.  For all the sign I will give you you
may go to your grave with sealed lips.  But what I have said you must
do!"

He bent his head over her with tender care.  At the same time she felt
her arm pressed and shaken inconspicuously, but in an undeniable manner.
"You must do it."  A little shake that no passer-by could notice; and
this was going on in a deserted part of the dock.  "It must be done.  You
are listening to me--eh? or would you go again to my sister?"

His ironic tone, perhaps from want of use, had an awful grating ferocity.

"Would you go to her?" he pursued in the same strange voice.  "Your best
friend!  And say nicely--I am sorry.  Would you?  No!  You couldn't.
There are things that even you, poor dear lost girl, couldn't stand.  Eh?
Die rather.  That's it.  Of course.  Or can you be thinking of taking
your father to that infernal cousin's house.  No!  Don't speak.  I can't
bear to think of it.  I would follow you there and smash the door!"

The catch in his voice astonished her by its resemblance to a sob.  It
frightened her too.  The thought that came to her head was: "He mustn't."
He was putting her into the hansom.  "Oh!  He mustn't, he mustn't."  She
was still more frightened by the discovery that he was shaking all over.
Bewildered, shrinking into the far off corner, avoiding his eyes, she yet
saw the quivering of his mouth and made a wild attempt at a smile, which
broke the rigidity of her lips and set her teeth chattering suddenly.

"I am not coming with you," he was saying.  "I'll tell the man . . . I
can't.  Better not.  What is it?  Are you cold?  Come!  What is it?  Only
to go to a confounded stuffy room, a hole of an office.  Not a quarter of
an hour.  I'll come for you--in ten days.  Don't think of it too much.
Think of no man, woman or child of all that silly crowd cumbering the
ground.  Don't think of me either.  Think of yourself.  Ha!  Nothing will
be able to touch you then--at last.  Say nothing.  Don't move.  I'll have
everything arranged; and as long as you don't hate the sight of me--and
you don't--there's nothing to be frightened about.  One of their silly
offices with a couple of ink-slingers of no consequence; poor, scribbling
devils."

The hansom drove away with Flora de Barral inside, without movement,
without thought, only too glad to rest, to be alone and still moving away
without effort, in solitude and silence.

Anthony roamed the streets for hours without being able to remember in
the evening where he had been--in the manner of a happy and exulting
lover.  But nobody could have thought so from his face, which bore no
signs of blissful anticipation.  Exulting indeed he was but it was a
special sort of exultation which seemed to take him by the throat like an
enemy.

Anthony's last words to Flora referred to the registry office where they
were married ten days later.  During that time Anthony saw no one or
anything, though he went about restlessly, here and there, amongst men
and things.  This special state is peculiar to common lovers, who are
known to have no eyes for anything except for the contemplation, actual
or inward, of one human form which for them contains the soul of the
whole world in all its beauty, perfection, variety and infinity.  It must
be extremely pleasant.  But felicity was denied to Roderick Anthony's
contemplation.  He was not a common sort of lover; and he was punished
for it as if Nature (which it is said abhors a vacuum) were so very
conventional as to abhor every sort of exceptional conduct.  Roderick
Anthony had begun already to suffer.  That is why perhaps he was so
industrious in going about amongst his fellowmen who would have been
surprised and humiliated, had they known how little solidity and even
existence they had in his eyes.  But they could not suspect anything so
queer.  They saw nothing extraordinary in him during that fortnight.  The
proof of this is that they were willing to transact business with him.
Obviously they were; since it is then that the offer of chartering his
ship for the special purpose of proceeding to the Western Islands was put
in his way by a firm of shipbrokers who had no doubt of his sanity.

He probably looked sane enough for all the practical purposes of
commercial life.  But I am not so certain that he really was quite sane
at that time.

However, he jumped at the offer.  Providence itself was offering him this
opportunity to accustom the girl to sea-life by a comparatively short
trip.  This was the time when everything that happened, everything he
heard, casual words, unrelated phrases, seemed a provocation or an
encouragement, confirmed him in his resolution.  And indeed to be busy
with material affairs is the best preservative against reflection, fears,
doubts--all these things which stand in the way of achievement.  I
suppose a fellow proposing to cut his throat would experience a sort of
relief while occupied in stropping his razor carefully.

And Anthony was extremely careful in preparing for himself and for the
luckless Flora, an impossible existence.  He went about it with no more
tremors than if he had been stuffed with rags or made of iron instead of
flesh and blood.  An existence, mind you, which, on shore, in the thick
of mankind, of varied interests, of distractions, of infinite
opportunities to preserve your distance from each other, is hardly
conceivable; but on board ship, at sea, _en tete-a-tete_ for days and
weeks and months together, could mean nothing but mental torture, an
exquisite absurdity of torment.  He was a simple soul.  His hopelessly
masculine ingenuousness is displayed in a touching way by his care to
procure some woman to attend on Flora.  The condition of guaranteed
perfect respectability gave him moments of anxious thought.  When he
remembered suddenly his steward's wife he must have exclaimed _eureka_
with particular exultation.  One does not like to call Anthony an ass.
But really to put any woman within scenting distance of such a secret and
suppose that she would not track it out!

No woman, however simple, could be as ingenuous as that.  I don't know
how Flora de Barral qualified him in her thoughts when he told her of
having done this amongst other things intended to make her comfortable.  I
should think that, for all _her_ simplicity, she must have been appalled.
He stood before her on the appointed day outwardly calmer than she had
ever seen him before.  And this very calmness, that scrupulous attitude
which he felt bound in honour to assume then and for ever, unless she
would condescend to make a sign at some future time, added to the
heaviness of her heart innocent of the most pardonable guile.

The night before she had slept better than she had done for the past ten
nights.  Both youth and weariness will assert themselves in the end
against the tyranny of nerve-racking stress.  She had slept but she woke
up with her eyes full of tears.  There were no traces of them when she
met him in the shabby little parlour downstairs.  She had swallowed them
up.  She was not going to let him see.  She felt bound in honour to
accept the situation for ever and ever unless . . . Ah, unless . . . She
dissembled all her sentiments but it was not duplicity on her part.  All
she wanted was to get at the truth; to see what would come of it.

She beat him at his own honourable game and the thoroughness of her
serenity disconcerted Anthony a bit.  It was he who stammered when it
came to talking.  The suppressed fierceness of his character carried him
on after the first word or two masterfully enough.  But it was as if they
both had taken a bite of the same bitter fruit.  He was thinking with
mournful regret not unmixed with surprise: "That fellow Fyne has been
telling me the truth.  She does not care for me a bit."  It humiliated
him and also increased his compassion for the girl who in this darkness
of life, buffeted and despairing, had fallen into the grip of his
stronger will, abandoning herself to his arms as on a night of shipwreck.
Flora on her side with partial insight (for women are never blind with
the complete masculine blindness) looked on him with some pity; and she
felt pity for herself too.  It was a rejection, a casting out; nothing
new to her.  But she who supposed all her sensibility dead by this time,
discovered in herself a resentment of this ultimate betrayal.  She had no
resignation for this one.  With a sort of mental sullenness she said to
herself: "Well, I am here.  I am here without any nonsense.  It is not my
fault that I am a mere worthless object of pity."

And these things which she could tell herself with a clear conscience
served her better than the passionate obstinacy of purpose could serve
Roderick Anthony.  She was much more sure of herself than he was.  Such
are the advantages of mere rectitude over the most exalted generosity.

And so they went out to get married, the people of the house where she
lodged having no suspicion of anything of the sort.  They were only
excited at a "gentleman friend" (a very fine man too) calling on Miss
Smith for the first time since she had come to live in the house.  When
she returned, for she did come back alone, there were allusions made to
that outing.  She had to take her meals with these rather vulgar people.
The woman of the house, a scraggy, genteel person, tried even to provoke
confidences.  Flora's white face with the deep blue eyes did not strike
their hearts as it did the heart of Captain Anthony, as the very face of
the suffering world.  Her pained reserve had no power to awe them into
decency.

Well, she returned alone--as in fact might have been expected.  After
leaving the Registry Office Flora de Barral and Roderick Anthony had gone
for a walk in a park.  It must have been an East-End park but I am not
sure.  Anyway that's what they did.  It was a sunny day.  He said to her:
"Everything I have in the world belongs to you.  I have seen to that
without troubling my brother-in-law.  They have no call to interfere."

She walked with her hand resting lightly on his arm.  He had offered it
to her on coming out of the Registry Office, and she had accepted it
silently.  Her head drooped, she seemed to be turning matters over in her
mind.  She said, alluding to the Fynes: "They have been very good to me."
At that he exclaimed:

"They have never understood you.  Well, not properly.  My sister is not a
bad woman, but . . . "

Flora didn't protest; asking herself whether he imagined that he himself
understood her so much better.  Anthony dismissing his family out of his
thoughts went on: "Yes.  Everything is yours.  I have kept nothing back.
As to the piece of paper we have just got from that miserable
quill-driver if it wasn't for the law, I wouldn't mind if you tore it up
here, now, on this spot.  But don't you do it.  Unless you should some
day feel that--"

He choked, unexpectedly.  She, reflective, hesitated a moment then making
up her mind bravely.

"Neither am I keeping anything back from you."

She had said it!  But he in his blind generosity assumed that she was
alluding to her deplorable history and hastened to mutter:

"Of course!  Of course!  Say no more.  I have been lying awake thinking
of it all no end of times."

He made a movement with his other arm as if restraining himself from
shaking an indignant fist at the universe; and she never even attempted
to look at him.  His voice sounded strangely, incredibly lifeless in
comparison with these tempestuous accents that in the broad fields, in
the dark garden had seemed to shake the very earth under her weary and
hopeless feet.

She regretted them.  Hearing the sigh which escaped her Anthony instead
of shaking his fist at the universe began to pat her hand resting on his
arm and then desisted, suddenly, as though he had burnt himself.  Then
after a silence:

"You will have to go by yourself to-morrow.  I . . . No, I think I
mustn't come.  Better not.  What you two will have to say to each other--"

She interrupted him quickly:

"Father is an innocent man.  He was cruelly wronged."

"Yes.  That's why," Anthony insisted earnestly.  "And you are the only
human being that can make it up to him.  You alone must reconcile him
with the world if anything can.  But of course you shall.  You'll have to
find words.  Oh you'll know.  And then the sight of you, alone, would
soothe--"

"He's the gentlest of men," she interrupted again.

Anthony shook his head.  "It would take no end of generosity, no end of
gentleness to forgive such a dead set.  For my part I would have liked
better to have been killed and done with at once.  It could not have been
worse for you--and I suppose it was of you that he was thinking most
while those infernal lawyers were badgering him in court.  Of you.  And
now I think of it perhaps the sight of you may bring it all back to him.
All these years, all these years--and you his child left alone in the
world.  I would have gone crazy.  For even if he had done wrong--"

"But he hasn't," insisted Flora de Barral with a quite unexpected
fierceness.  "You mustn't even suppose it.  Haven't you read the accounts
of the trial?"

"I am not supposing anything," Anthony defended himself.  He just
remembered hearing of the trial.  He assured her that he was away from
England, the second voyage of the _Ferndale_.  He was crossing the
Pacific from Australia at the time and didn't see any papers for weeks
and weeks.  He interrupted himself to suggest:

"You had better tell him at once that you are happy."

He had stammered a little, and Flora de Barral uttered a deliberate and
concise "Yes."

A short silence ensued.  She withdrew her hand from his arm.  They
stopped.  Anthony looked as if a totally unexpected catastrophe had
happened.

"Ah," he said.  "You mind . . . "

"No!  I think I had better," she murmured.

"I dare say.  I dare say.  Bring him along straight on board to-morrow.
Stop nowhere."

She had a movement of vague gratitude, a momentary feeling of peace which
she referred to the man before her.  She looked up at Anthony.  His face
was sombre.  He was miles away and muttered as if to himself:

"Where could he want to stop though?"

"There's not a single being on earth that I would want to look at his
dear face now, to whom I would willingly take him," she said extending
her hand frankly and with a slight break in her voice, "but
you--Roderick."

He took that hand, felt it very small and delicate in his broad palm.

"That's right.  That's right," he said with a conscious and hasty
heartiness and, as if suddenly ashamed of the sound of his voice, turned
half round and absolutely walked away from the motionless girl.  He even
resisted the temptation to look back till it was too late.  The gravel
path lay empty to the very gate of the park.  She was gone--vanished.  He
had an impression that he had missed some sort of chance.  He felt sad.
That excited sense of his own conduct which had kept him up for the last
ten days buoyed him no more.  He had succeeded!

He strolled on aimlessly a prey to gentle melancholy.  He walked and
walked.  There were but few people about in this breathing space of a
poor neighbourhood.  Under certain conditions of life there is precious
little time left for mere breathing.  But still a few here and there were
indulging in that luxury; yet few as they were Captain Anthony, though
the least exclusive of men, resented their presence.  Solitude had been
his best friend.  He wanted some place where he could sit down and be
alone.  And in his need his thoughts turned to the sea which had given
him so much of that congenial solitude.  There, if always with his ship
(but that was an integral part of him) he could always be as solitary as
he chose.  Yes.  Get out to sea!

The night of the town with its strings of lights, rigid, and crossed like
a net of flames, thrown over the sombre immensity of walls, closed round
him, with its artificial brilliance overhung by an emphatic blackness,
its unnatural animation of a restless, overdriven humanity.  His thoughts
which somehow were inclined to pity every passing figure, every single
person glimpsed under a street lamp, fixed themselves at last upon a
figure which certainly could not have been seen under the lamps on that
particular night.  A figure unknown to him.  A figure shut up within high
unscaleable walls of stone or bricks till next morning . . . The figure
of Flora de Barral's father.  De Barral the financier--the convict.

There is something in that word with its suggestions of guilt and
retribution which arrests the thought.  We feel ourselves in the presence
of the power of organized society--a thing mysterious in itself and still
more mysterious in its effect.  Whether guilty or innocent, it was as if
old de Barral had been down to the Nether Regions.  Impossible to imagine
what he would bring out from there to the light of this world of
uncondemned men.  What would he think?  What would he have to say?  And
what was one to say to him?

Anthony, a little awed, as one is by a range of feelings stretching
beyond one's grasp, comforted himself by the thought that probably the
old fellow would have little to say.  He wouldn't want to talk about it.
No man would.  It must have been a real hell to him.

And then Anthony, at the end of the day in which he had gone through a
marriage ceremony with Flora de Barral, ceased to think of Flora's father
except, as in some sort, the captive of his triumph.  He turned to the
mental contemplation of the white, delicate and appealing face with great
blue eyes which he had seen weep and wonder and look profoundly at him,
sometimes with incredulity, sometimes with doubt and pain, but always
irresistible in the power to find their way right into his breast, to
stir there a deep response which was something more than love--he said to
himself,--as men understand it.  More?  Or was it only something other?
Yes.  It was something other.  More or less.  Something as incredible as
the fulfilment of an amazing and startling dream in which he could take
the world in his arms--all the suffering world--not to possess its
pathetic fairness but to console and cherish its sorrow.

Anthony walked slowly to the ship and that night slept without dreams.



CHAPTER FIVE--THE GREAT DE BARRAL


Renovated certainly the saloon of the _Ferndale_ was to receive the
"strange woman."  The mellowness of its old-fashioned, tarnished
decoration was gone.  And Anthony looking round saw the glitter, the
gleams, the colour of new things, untried, unused, very bright--too
bright.  The workmen had gone only last night; and the last piece of work
they did was the hanging of the heavy curtains which looped midway the
length of the saloon--divided it in two if released, cutting off the
after end with its companion-way leading direct on the poop, from the
forepart with its outlet on the deck; making a privacy within a privacy,
as though Captain Anthony could not place obstacles enough between his
new happiness and the men who shared his life at sea.  He inspected that
arrangement with an approving eye then made a particular visitation of
the whole, ending by opening a door which led into a large state-room
made of two knocked into one.  It was very well furnished and had,
instead of the usual bedplace of such cabins, an elaborate swinging cot
of the latest pattern.  Anthony tilted it a little by way of trial.  "The
old man will be very comfortable in here," he said to himself, and
stepped back into the saloon closing the door gently.  Then another
thought occurred to him obvious under the circumstances but strangely
enough presenting itself for the first time.  "Jove!  Won't he get a
shock," thought Roderick Anthony.

He went hastily on deck.  "Mr. Franklin, Mr. Franklin."  The mate was not
very far.  "Oh!  Here you are.  Miss . . . Mrs. Anthony'll be coming on
board presently.  Just give me a call when you see the cab."

Then, without noticing the gloominess of the mate's countenance he went
in again.  Not a friendly word, not a professional remark, or a small
joke, not as much as a simple and inane "fine day."  Nothing.  Just
turned about and went in.

We know that, when the moment came, he thought better of it and decided
to meet Flora's father in that privacy of the main cabin which he had
been so careful to arrange.  Why Anthony appeared to shrink from the
contact, he who was sufficiently self-confident not only to face but to
absolutely create a situation almost insane in its audacious generosity,
is difficult to explain.  Perhaps when he came on the poop for a glance
he found that man so different outwardly from what he expected that he
decided to meet him for the first time out of everybody's sight.  Possibly
the general secrecy of his relation to the girl might have influenced
him.  Truly he may well have been dismayed.  That man's coming brought
him face to face with the necessity to speak and act a lie; to appear
what he was not and what he could never be, unless, unless--

In short, we'll say if you like that for various reasons, all having to
do with the delicate rectitude of his nature, Roderick Anthony (a man of
whom his chief mate used to say: he doesn't know what fear is) was
frightened.  There is a Nemesis which overtakes generosity too, like all
the other imprudences of men who dare to be lawless and proud . . . "

"Why do you say this?" I inquired, for Marlow had stopped abruptly and
kept silent in the shadow of the bookcase.

"I say this because that man whom chance had thrown in Flora's way was
both: lawless and proud.  Whether he knew anything about it or not it
does not matter.  Very likely not.  One may fling a glove in the face of
nature and in the face of one's own moral endurance quite innocently,
with a simplicity which wears the aspect of perfectly Satanic conceit.
However, as I have said it does not matter.  It's a transgression all the
same and has got to be paid for in the usual way.  But never mind that.  I
paused because, like Anthony, I find a difficulty, a sort of dread in
coming to grips with old de Barral.

You remember I had a glimpse of him once.  He was not an imposing
personality: tall, thin, straight, stiff, faded, moving with short steps
and with a gliding motion, speaking in an even low voice.  When the sea
was rough he wasn't much seen on deck--at least not walking.  He caught
hold of things then and dragged himself along as far as the after
skylight where he would sit for hours.  Our, then young, friend offered
once to assist him and this service was the first beginning of a sort of
friendship.  He clung hard to one--Powell says, with no figurative
intention.  Powell was always on the lookout to assist, and to assist
mainly Mrs. Anthony, because he clung so jolly hard to her that Powell
was afraid of her being dragged down notwithstanding that she very soon
became very sure-footed in all sorts of weather.  And Powell was the only
one ready to assist at hand because Anthony (by that time) seemed to be
afraid to come near them; the unforgiving Franklin always looked
wrathfully the other way; the boatswain, if up there, acted likewise but
sheepishly; and any hands that happened to be on the poop (a feeling
spreads mysteriously all over a ship) shunned him as though he had been
the devil.

We know how he arrived on board.  For my part I know so little of prisons
that I haven't the faintest notion how one leaves them.  It seems as
abominable an operation as the other, the shutting up with its mental
suggestions of bang, snap, crash and the empty silence outside--where an
instant before you were--you _were_--and now no longer are.  Perfectly
devilish.  And the release!  I don't know which is worse.  How do they do
it?  Pull the string, door flies open, man flies through: Out you go!
_Adios_!  And in the space where a second before you were not, in the
silent space there is a figure going away, limping.  Why limping?  I
don't know.  That's how I see it.  One has a notion of a maiming,
crippling process; of the individual coming back damaged in some subtle
way.  I admit it is a fantastic hallucination, but I can't help it.  Of
course I know that the proceedings of the best machine-made humanity are
employed with judicious care and so on.  I am absurd, no doubt, but still
. . . Oh yes it's idiotic.  When I pass one of these places . . . did you
notice that there is something infernal about the aspect of every
individual stone or brick of them, something malicious as if matter were
enjoying its revenge of the contemptuous spirit of man.  Did you notice?
You didn't?  Eh?  Well I am perhaps a little mad on that point.  When I
pass one of these places I must avert my eyes.  I couldn't have gone to
meet de Barral.  I should have shrunk from the ordeal.  You'll notice
that it looks as if Anthony (a brave man indubitably) had shirked it too.
Little Fyne's flight of fancy picturing three people in the fatal four
wheeler--you remember?--went wide of the truth.  There were only two
people in the four wheeler.  Flora did not shrink.  Women can stand
anything.  The dear creatures have no imagination when it comes to solid
facts of life.  In sentimental regions--I won't say.  It's another thing
altogether.  There they shrink from or rush to embrace ghosts of their
own creation just the same as any fool-man would.

No.  I suppose the girl Flora went on that errand reasonably.  And then,
why!  This was the moment for which she had lived.  It was her only point
of contact with existence.  Oh yes.  She had been assisted by the Fynes.
And kindly.  Certainly.  Kindly.  But that's not enough.  There is a kind
way of assisting our fellow-creatures which is enough to break their
hearts while it saves their outer envelope.  How cold, how infernally
cold she must have felt--unless when she was made to burn with
indignation or shame.  Man, we know, cannot live by bread alone but hang
me if I don't believe that some women could live by love alone.  If there
be a flame in human beings fed by varied ingredients earthly and
spiritual which tinge it in different hues, then I seem to see the colour
of theirs.  It is azure . . . What the devil are you laughing at . . . "

Marlow jumped up and strode out of the shadow as if lifted by indignation
but there was the flicker of a smile on his lips.  "You say I don't know
women.  Maybe.  It's just as well not to come too close to the shrine.
But I have a clear notion of _woman_.  In all of them, termagant, flirt,
crank, washerwoman, blue-stocking, outcast and even in the ordinary fool
of the ordinary commerce there is something left, if only a spark.  And
when there is a spark there can always be a flame . . . "

He went back into the shadow and sat down again.

"I don't mean to say that Flora de Barral was one of the sort that could
live by love alone.  In fact she had managed to live without.  But still,
in the distrust of herself and of others she looked for love, any kind of
love, as women will.  And that confounded jail was the only spot where
she could see it--for she had no reason to distrust her father.

She was there in good time.  I see her gazing across the road at these
walls which are, properly speaking, awful.  You do indeed seem to feel
along the very lines and angles of the unholy bulk, the fall of time,
drop by drop, hour by hour, leaf by leaf, with a gentle and implacable
slowness.  And a voiceless melancholy comes over one, invading,
overpowering like a dream, penetrating and mortal like poison.

When de Barral came out she experienced a sort of shock to see that he
was exactly as she remembered him.  Perhaps a little smaller.  Otherwise
unchanged.  You come out in the same clothes, you know.  I can't tell
whether he was looking for her.  No doubt he was.  Whether he recognized
her?  Very likely.  She crossed the road and at once there was reproduced
at a distance of years, as if by some mocking witchcraft, the sight so
familiar on the Parade at Brighton of the financier de Barral walking
with his only daughter.  One comes out of prison in the same clothes one
wore on the day of condemnation, no matter how long one has been put away
there.  Oh, they last!  They last!  But there is something which is
preserved by prison life even better than one's discarded clothing.  It
is the force, the vividness of one's sentiments.  A monastery will do
that too; but in the unholy claustration of a jail you are thrown back
wholly upon yourself--for God and Faith are not there.  The people
outside disperse their affections, you hoard yours, you nurse them into
intensity.  What they let slip, what they forget in the movement and
changes of free life, you hold on to, amplify, exaggerate into a rank
growth of memories.  They can look with a smile at the troubles and pains
of the past; but you can't.  Old pains keep on gnawing at your heart, old
desires, old deceptions, old dreams, assailing you in the dead stillness
of your present where nothing moves except the irrecoverable minutes of
your life.

De Barral was out and, for a time speechless, being led away almost
before he had taken possession of the free world, by his daughter.  Flora
controlled herself well.  They walked along quickly for some distance.
The cab had been left round the corner--round several corners for all I
know.  He was flustered, out of breath, when she helped him in and
followed herself.  Inside that rolling box, turning towards that
recovered presence with her heart too full for words she felt the desire
of tears she had managed to keep down abandon her suddenly, her
half-mournful, half-triumphant exultation subside, every fibre of her
body, relaxed in tenderness, go stiff in the close look she took at his
face.  He _was_ different.  There was something.  Yes, there was
something between them, something hard and impalpable, the ghost of these
high walls.

How old he was, how unlike!

She shook off this impression, amazed and frightened by it of course.  And
remorseful too.  Naturally.  She threw her arms round his neck.  He
returned that hug awkwardly, as if not in perfect control of his arms,
with a fumbling and uncertain pressure.  She hid her face on his breast.
It was as though she were pressing it against a stone.  They released
each other and presently the cab was rolling along at a jog-trot to the
docks with those two people as far apart as they could get from each
other, in opposite corners.

After a silence given up to mutual examination he uttered his first
coherent sentence outside the walls of the prison.

"What has done for me was envy.  Envy.  There was a lot of them just
bursting with it every time they looked my way.  I was doing too well.  So
they went to the Public Prosecutor--"

She said hastily "Yes!  Yes!  I know," and he glared as if resentful that
the child had turned into a young woman without waiting for him to come
out.  "What do you know about it?" he asked.  "You were too young."  His
speech was soft.  The old voice, the old voice!  It gave her a thrill.
She recognized its pointless gentleness always the same no matter what he
had to say.  And she remembered that he never had much to say when he
came down to see her.  It was she who chattered, chattered, on their
walks, while stiff and with a rigidly-carried head, he dropped a gentle
word now and then.

Moved by these recollections waking up within her, she explained to him
that within the last year she had read and studied the report of the
trial.

"I went through the files of several papers, papa."

He looked at her suspiciously.  The reports were probably very
incomplete.  No doubt the reporters had garbled his evidence.  They were
determined to give him no chance either in court or before the public
opinion.  It was a conspiracy . . . "My counsel was a fool too," he
added.  "Did you notice?  A perfect fool."

She laid her hand on his arm soothingly.  "Is it worth while talking
about that awful time?  It is so far away now."  She shuddered slightly
at the thought of all the horrible years which had passed over her young
head; never guessing that for him the time was but yesterday.  He folded
his arms on his breast, leaned back in his corner and bowed his head.  But
in a little while he made her jump by asking suddenly:

"Who has got hold of the Lone Valley Railway?  That's what they were
after mainly.  Somebody has got it.  Parfitts and Co. grabbed it--eh?  Or
was it that fellow Warner . . . "

"I--I don't know," she said quite scared by the twitching of his lips.

"Don't know!" he exclaimed softly.  Hadn't her cousin told her?  Oh yes.
She had left them--of course.  Why did she?  It was his first question
about herself but she did not answer it.  She did not want to talk of
these horrors.  They were impossible to describe.  She perceived though
that he had not expected an answer, because she heard him muttering to
himself that: "There was half a million's worth of work done and material
accumulated there."

"You mustn't think of these things, papa," she said firmly.  And he asked
her with that invariable gentleness, in which she seemed now to detect
some rather ugly shades, what else had he to think about?  Another year
or two, if they had only left him alone, he and everybody else would have
been all right, rolling in money; and she, his daughter, could have
married anybody--anybody.  A lord.

All this was to him like yesterday, a long yesterday, a yesterday gone
over innumerable times, analysed, meditated upon for years.  It had a
vividness and force for that old man of which his daughter who had not
been shut out of the world could have no idea.  She was to him the only
living figure out of that past, and it was perhaps in perfect good faith
that he added, coldly, inexpressive and thin-lipped: "I lived only for
you, I may say.  I suppose you understand that.  There were only you and
me."

Moved by this declaration, wondering that it did not warm her heart more,
she murmured a few endearing words while the uppermost thought in her
mind was that she must tell him now of the situation.  She had expected
to be questioned anxiously about herself--and while she desired it she
shrank from the answers she would have to make.  But her father seemed
strangely, unnaturally incurious.  It looked as if there would be no
questions.  Still this was an opening.  This seemed to be the time for
her to begin.  And she began.  She began by saying that she had always
felt like that.  There were two of them, to live for each other.  And if
he only knew what she had gone through!

Ensconced in his corner, with his arms folded, he stared out of the cab
window at the street.  How little he was changed after all.  It was the
unmovable expression, the faded stare she used to see on the esplanade
whenever walking by his side hand in hand she raised her eyes to his
face--while she chattered, chattered.  It was the same stiff, silent
figure which at a word from her would turn rigidly into a shop and buy
her anything it occurred to her that she would like to have.  Flora de
Barral's voice faltered.  He bent on her that well-remembered glance in
which she had never read anything as a child, except the consciousness of
her existence.  And that was enough for a child who had never known
demonstrative affection.  But she had lived a life so starved of all
feeling that this was no longer enough for her.  What was the good of
telling him the story of all these miseries now past and gone, of all
those bewildering difficulties and humiliations?  What she must tell him
was difficult enough to say.  She approached it by remarking cheerfully:

"You haven't even asked me where I am taking you."  He started like a
somnambulist awakened suddenly, and there was now some meaning in his
stare; a sort of alarmed speculation.  He opened his mouth slowly.  Flora
struck in with forced gaiety.  "You would never, guess."

He waited, still more startled and suspicious.  "Guess!  Why don't you
tell me?"

He uncrossed his arms and leaned forward towards her.  She got hold of
one of his hands.  "You must know first . . . "  She paused, made an
effort: "I am married, papa."

For a moment they kept perfectly still in that cab rolling on at a steady
jog-trot through a narrow city street full of bustle.  Whatever she
expected she did not expect to feel his hand snatched away from her grasp
as if from a burn or a contamination.  De Barral fresh from the stagnant
torment of the prison (where nothing happens) had not expected that sort
of news.  It seemed to stick in his throat.  In strangled low tones he
cried out, "You--married?  You, Flora!  When?  Married!  What for?  Who
to?  Married!"

His eyes which were blue like hers, only faded, without depth, seemed to
start out of their orbits.  He did really look as if he were choking.  He
even put his hand to his collar . . . "

* * * * *

"You know," continued Marlow out of the shadow of the bookcase and nearly
invisible in the depths of the arm-chair, "the only time I saw him he had
given me the impression of absolute rigidity, as though he had swallowed
a poker.  But it seems that he could collapse.  I can hardly picture this
to myself.  I understand that he did collapse to a certain extent in his
corner of the cab.  The unexpected had crumpled him up.  She regarded him
perplexed, pitying, a little disillusioned, and nodded at him gravely:
Yes.  Married.  What she did not like was to see him smile in a manner
far from encouraging to the devotion of a daughter.  There was something
unintentionally savage in it.  Old de Barral could not quite command his
muscles, as yet.  But he had recovered command of his gentle voice.

"You were just saying that in this wide world there we were, only you and
I, to stick to each other."

She was dimly aware of the scathing intention lurking in these soft low
tones, in these words which appealed to her poignantly.  She defended
herself.  Never, never for a single moment had she ceased to think of
him.  Neither did he cease to think of her, he said, with as much
sinister emphasis as he was capable of.

"But, papa," she cried, "I haven't been shut up like you."  She didn't
mind speaking of it because he was innocent.  He hadn't been understood.
It was a misfortune of the most cruel kind but no more disgraceful than
an illness, a maiming accident or some other visitation of blind fate.  "I
wish I had been too.  But I was alone out in the world, the horrid world,
that very world which had used you so badly."

"And you couldn't go about in it without finding somebody to fall in love
with?" he said.  A jealous rage affected his brain like the fumes of
wine, rising from some secret depths of his being so long deprived of all
emotions.  The hollows at the corners of his lips became more pronounced
in the puffy roundness of his cheeks.  Images, visions, obsess with
particular force, men withdrawn from the sights and sounds of active
life.  "And I did nothing but think of you!" he exclaimed under his
breath, contemptuously.  "Think of you!  You haunted me, I tell you."

Flora said to herself that there was a being who loved her.  "Then we
have been haunting each other," she declared with a pang of remorse.  For
indeed he had haunted her nearly out of the world, into a final and
irremediable desertion.  "Some day I shall tell you . . . No.  I don't
think I can ever tell you.  There was a time when I was mad.  But what's
the good?  It's all over now.  We shall forget all this.  There shall be
nothing to remind us."

De Barral moved his shoulders.

"I should think you were mad to tie yourself to . . . How long is it
since you are married?"

She answered "Not long" that being the only answer she dared to make.
Everything was so different from what she imagined it would be.  He
wanted to know why she had said nothing of it in any of her letters; in
her last letter.  She said:

"It was after."

"So recently!" he wondered.  "Couldn't you wait at least till I came out?
You could have told me; asked me; consulted me!  Let me see--"

She shook her head negatively.  And he was appalled.  He thought to
himself: Who can he be?  Some miserable, silly youth without a penny.  Or
perhaps some scoundrel?  Without making any expressive movement he wrung
his loosely-clasped hands till the joints cracked.  He looked at her.  She
was pretty.  Some low scoundrel who will cast her off.  Some plausible
vagabond . . . "You couldn't wait--eh?"

Again she made a slight negative sign.

"Why not?  What was the hurry?"  She cast down her eyes.  "It had to be.
Yes.  It was sudden, but it had to be."

He leaned towards her, his mouth open, his eyes wild with virtuous anger,
but meeting the absolute candour of her raised glance threw himself back
into his corner again.

"So tremendously in love with each other--was that it?  Couldn't let a
father have his daughter all to himself even for a day after--after such
a separation.  And you know I never had anyone, I had no friends.  What
did I want with those people one meets in the City.  The best of them are
ready to cut your throat.  Yes!  Business men, gentlemen, any sort of men
and women--out of spite, or to get something.  Oh yes, they can talk fair
enough if they think there's something to be got out of you . . . "  His
voice was a mere breath yet every word came to Flora as distinctly as if
charged with all the moving power of passion . . . "My girl, I looked at
them making up to me and I would say to myself: What do I care for all
that!  I am a business man.  I am the great Mr. de Barral (yes, yes, some
of them twisted their mouths at it, but I _was_ the great Mr. de Barral)
and I have my little girl.  I wanted nobody and I have never had
anybody."

A true emotion had unsealed his lips but the words that came out of them
were no louder than the murmur of a light wind.  It died away.

"That's just it," said Flora de Barral under her breath.  Without
removing his eyes from her he took off his hat.  It was a tall hat.  The
hat of the trial.  The hat of the thumb-nail sketches in the illustrated
papers.  One comes out in the same clothes, but seclusion counts!  It is
well known that lurid visions haunt secluded men, monks, hermits--then
why not prisoners?  De Barral the convict took off the silk hat of the
financier de Barral and deposited it on the front seat of the cab.  Then
he blew out his cheeks.  He was red in the face.

"And then what happens?" he began again in his contained voice.  "Here I
am, overthrown, broken by envy, malice and all uncharitableness.  I come
out--and what do I find?  I find that my girl Flora has gone and married
some man or other, perhaps a fool, how do I know; or perhaps--anyway not
good enough."

"Stop, papa."

"A silly love affair as likely as not," he continued monotonously, his
thin lips writhing between the ill-omened sunk corners.  "And a very
suspicious thing it is too, on the part of a loving daughter."

She tried to interrupt him but he went on till she actually clapped her
hand on his mouth.  He rolled his eyes a bit but when she took her hand
away he remained silent.

"Wait.  I must tell you . . .  And first of all, papa, understand this,
for everything's in that: he is the most generous man in the world.  He
is . . . "

De Barral very still in his corner uttered with an effort "You are in
love with him."

"Papa!  He came to me.  I was thinking of you.  I had no eyes for
anybody.  I could no longer bear to think of you.  It was then that he
came.  Only then.  At that time when--when I was going to give up."

She gazed into his faded blue eyes as if yearning to be understood, to be
given encouragement, peace--a word of sympathy.  He declared without
animation "I would like to break his neck."

She had the mental exclamation of the overburdened.

"Oh my God!" and watched him with frightened eyes.  But he did not appear
insane or in any other way formidable.  This comforted her.  The silence
lasted for some little time.  Then suddenly he asked:

"What's your name then?"

For a moment in the profound trouble of the task before her she did not
understand what the question meant.  Then, her face faintly flushing, she
whispered: "Anthony."

Her father, a red spot on each cheek, leaned his head back wearily in the
corner of the cab.

"Anthony.  What is he?  Where did he spring from?"

"Papa, it was in the country, on a road--"

He groaned, "On a road," and closed his eyes.

"It's too long to explain to you now.  We shall have lots of time.  There
are things I could not tell you now.  But some day.  Some day.  For now
nothing can part us.  Nothing.  We are safe as long as we live--nothing
can ever come between us."

"You are infatuated with the fellow," he remarked, without opening his
eyes.  And she said: "I believe in him," in a low voice.  "You and I must
believe in him."

"Who the devil is he?"

"He's the brother of the lady--you know Mrs. Fyne, she knew mother--who
was so kind to me.  I was staying in the country, in a cottage, with Mr.
and Mrs. Fyne.  It was there that we met.  He came on a visit.  He
noticed me.  I--well--we are married now."

She was thankful that his eyes were shut.  It made it easier to talk of
the future she had arranged, which now was an unalterable thing.  She did
not enter on the path of confidences.  That was impossible.  She felt he
would not understand her.  She felt also that he suffered.  Now and then
a great anxiety gripped her heart with a mysterious sense of guilt--as
though she had betrayed him into the hands of an enemy.  With his eyes
shut he had an air of weary and pious meditation.  She was a little
afraid of it.  Next moment a great pity for him filled her heart.  And in
the background there was remorse.  His face twitched now and then just
perceptibly.  He managed to keep his eyelids down till he heard that the
'husband' was a sailor and that he, the father, was being taken straight
on board ship ready to sail away from this abominable world of
treacheries, and scorns and envies and lies, away, away over the blue
sea, the sure, the inaccessible, the uncontaminated and spacious refuge
for wounded souls.

Something like that.  Not the very words perhaps but such was the general
sense of her overwhelming argument--the argument of refuge.

I don't think she gave a thought to material conditions.  But as part of
that argument set forth breathlessly, as if she were afraid that if she
stopped for a moment she could never go on again, she mentioned that
generosity of a stormy type, which had come to her from the sea, had
caught her up on the brink of unmentionable failure, had whirled her away
in its first ardent gust and could be trusted now, implicitly trusted, to
carry them both, side by side, into absolute safety.

She believed it, she affirmed it.  He understood thoroughly at last, and
at once the interior of that cab, of an aspect so pacific in the eyes of
the people on the pavements, became the scene of a great agitation.  The
generosity of Roderick Anthony--the son of the poet--affected the
ex-financier de Barral in a manner which must have brought home to Flora
de Barral the extreme arduousness of the business of being a woman.  Being
a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of
dealings with men.  This man--the man inside the cab--cast oft his stiff
placidity and behaved like an animal.  I don't mean it in an offensive
sense.  What he did was to give way to an instinctive panic.  Like some
wild creature scared by the first touch of a net falling on its back, old
de Barral began to struggle, lank and angular, against the empty air--as
much of it as there was in the cab--with staring eyes and gasping mouth
from which his daughter shrank as far as she could in the confined space.

"Stop the cab.  Stop him I tell you.  Let me get out!" were the strangled
exclamations she heard.  Why?  What for?  To do what?  He would hear
nothing.  She cried to him "Papa!  Papa!  What do you want to do?"  And
all she got from him was: "Stop.  I must get out.  I want to think.  I
must get out to think."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"There is your Flora."

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony himself threw open the door and Flora took care to shut it
carefully behind herself and her father.  "See," she began but desisted
because it was clear that he would look at none of the contrivances for
his comfort.  She herself had hardly seen them before.  He was looking
only at the new carpet and she waited till he should raise his eyes.

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

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

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

"How strange you are!" she said thoughtfully.

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

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

He gnashed his teeth at her and she went out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am trying to be."

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

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

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

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

"Yes, sir."

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

It is almost impossible to say if he ever had considered the event
rationally.  The avatar of de Barral into Mr. Smith had not been effected
without a shock--that much one must recognize.  It may be that it drove
all practical considerations out of his mind, making room for awful and
precise visions which nothing could dislodge afterwards.

And it might have been the tenacity, the unintelligent tenacity, of the
man who had persisted in throwing millions of other people's thrift into
the Lone Valley Railway, the Labrador Docks, the Spotted Leopard Copper
Mine, and other grotesque speculations exposed during the famous de
Barral trial, amongst murmurs of astonishment mingled with bursts of
laughter.  For it is in the Courts of Law that Comedy finds its last
refuge in our deadly serious world.  As to tears and lamentations, these
were not heard in the august precincts of comedy, because they were
indulged in privately in several thousand homes, where, with a fine
dramatic effect, hunger had taken the place of Thrift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked at him steadily for a time then said "Good-night, papa."

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

"That man is getting tired of you."

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

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

"Let's get away."

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

"I tell you that man's getting--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He began to exhale more speeches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"One tells lies about it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She laughed, but she felt angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mr. Powell--here."

"Yes, sir."

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

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

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

"Where was the captain?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Smith interrupted him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER SIX--. . . A MOONLESS NIGHT, THICK WITH STARS ABOVE, VERY DARK ON
THE WATER


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Powell was disgusted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"East-south-east, sir."

"Everything's set, Mr. Powell."

"All right, sir."

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

"I like the life," observed Mr. Powell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked him why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Doctored."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Like that," he repeated growing excited.  "From behind this."  He
grasped the curtain and glaring at the silent Anthony flung it back
disclosing the forepart of the saloon.  There was on one to be seen.

Powell had not expected to see anybody.  "But," he said to me, "I knew
very well there was an ear listening and an eye glued to the crack of a
cabin door.  Awful thought.  And that door was in that part of the saloon
remaining in the shadow of the other half of the curtain.  I pointed at
it and I suppose that old man inside saw me pointing.  The captain had a
wonderful self-command.  You couldn't have guessed anything from his
face.  Well, it was perhaps more thoughtful than usual.  And indeed this
was something to think about.  But I couldn't think steadily.  My brain
would give a sort of jerk and then go dead again.  I had lost all notion
of time, and I might have been looking at the captain for days and months
for all I knew before I heard him whisper to me fiercely: "Not a word!"
This jerked me out of that trance I was in and I said "No!  No!  I didn't
mean even you."

"I wanted to explain my conduct, my intentions, but I read in his eyes
that he understood me and I was only too glad to leave off.  And there we
were looking at each other, dumb, brought up short by the question "What
next?"

"I thought Captain Anthony was a man of iron till I saw him suddenly
fling his head to the right and to the left fiercely, like a wild animal
at bay not knowing which way to break out . . . "

* * * * *

"Truly," commented Marlow, "brought to bay was not a bad comparison; a
better one than Mr. Powell was aware of.  At that moment the appearance
of Flora could not but bring the tension to the breaking point.  She came
out in all innocence but not without vague dread.  Anthony's exclamation
on first seeing Powell had reached her in her cabin, where, it seems, she
was brushing her hair.  She had heard the very words.  "What are you
doing here?"  And the unwonted loudness of the voice--his voice--breaking
the habitual stillness of that hour would have startled a person having
much less reason to be constantly apprehensive, than the captive of
Anthony's masterful generosity.  She had no means to guess to whom the
question was addressed and it echoed in her heart, as Anthony's voice
always did.  Followed complete silence.  She waited, anxious, expectant,
till she could stand the strain no longer, and with the weary mental
appeal of the overburdened.  "My God!  What is it now?" she opened the
door of her room and looked into the saloon.  Her first glance fell on
Powell.  For a moment, seeing only the second officer with Anthony, she
felt relieved and made as if to draw back; but her sharpened perception
detected something suspicious in their attitudes, and she came forward
slowly.

"I was the first to see Mrs. Anthony," related Powell, "because I was
facing aft.  The captain, noticing my eyes, looked quickly over his
shoulder and at once put his finger to his lips to caution me.  As if I
were likely to let out anything before her!  Mrs. Anthony had on a
dressing-gown of some grey stuff with red facings and a thick red cord
round her waist.  Her hair was down.  She looked a child; a pale-faced
child with big blue eyes and a red mouth a little open showing a glimmer
of white teeth.  The light fell strongly on her as she came up to the end
of the table.  A strange child though; she hardly affected one like a
child, I remember.  Do you know," exclaimed Mr. Powell, who clearly must
have been, like many seamen, an industrious reader, "do you know what she
looked like to me with those big eyes and something appealing in her
whole expression.  She looked like a forsaken elf.  Captain Anthony had
moved towards her to keep her away from my end of the table, where the
tray was.  I had never seen them so near to each other before, and it
made a great contrast.  It was wonderful, for, with his beard cut to a
point, his swarthy, sunburnt complexion, thin nose and his lean head
there was something African, something Moorish in Captain Anthony.  His
neck was bare; he had taken off his coat and collar and had drawn on his
sleeping jacket in the time that he had been absent from the saloon.  I
seem to see him now.  Mrs. Anthony too.  She looked from him to me--I
suppose I looked guilty or frightened--and from me to him, trying to
guess what there was between us two.  Then she burst out with a "What has
happened?" which seemed addressed to me.  I mumbled "Nothing!  Nothing,
ma'am," which she very likely did not hear.

"You must not think that all this had lasted a long time.  She had taken
fright at our behaviour and turned to the captain pitifully.  "What is it
you are concealing from me?"  A straight question--eh?  I don't know what
answer the captain would have made.  Before he could even raise his eyes
to her she cried out "Ah!  Here's papa" in a sharp tone of relief, but
directly afterwards she looked to me as if she were holding her breath
with apprehension.  I was so interested in her that, how shall I say it,
her exclamation made no connection in my brain at first.  I also noticed
that she had sidled up a little nearer to Captain Anthony, before it
occurred to me to turn my head.  I can tell you my neck stiffened in the
twisted position from the shock of actually seeing that old man!  He had
dared!  I suppose you think I ought to have looked upon him as mad.  But
I couldn't.  It would have been certainly easier.  But I could _not_.  You
should have seen him.  First of all he was completely dressed with his
very cap still on his head just as when he left me on deck two hours
before, saying in his soft voice: "The moment has come to go to
bed"--while he meant to go and do that thing and hide in his dark cabin,
and watch the stuff do its work.  A cold shudder ran down my back.  He
had his hands in the pockets of his jacket, his arms were pressed close
to his thin, upright body, and he shuffled across the cabin with his
short steps.  There was a red patch on each of his old soft cheeks as if
somebody had been pinching them.  He drooped his head a little, and
looked with a sort of underhand expectation at the captain and Mrs.
Anthony standing close together at the other end of the saloon.  The
calculating horrible impudence of it!  His daughter was there; and I am
certain he had seen the captain putting his finger on his lips to warn
me.  And then he had coolly come out!  He passed my imagination, I assure
you.  After that one shiver his presence killed every faculty in
me--wonder, horror, indignation.  I felt nothing in particular just as if
he were still the old gentleman who used to talk to me familiarly every
day on deck.  Would you believe it?"

"Mr. Powell challenged my powers of wonder at this internal phenomenon,"
went on Marlow after a slight pause.  "But even if they had not been
fully engaged, together with all my powers of attention in following the
facts of the case, I would not have been astonished by his statements
about himself.  Taking into consideration his youth they were by no means
incredible; or, at any rate, they were the least incredible part of the
whole.  They were also the least interesting part.  The interest was
elsewhere, and there of course all he could do was to look at the
surface.  The inwardness of what was passing before his eyes was hidden
from him, who had looked on, more impenetrably than from me who at a
distance of years was listening to his words.  What presently happened at
this crisis in Flora de Barral's fate was beyond his power of comment,
seemed in a sense natural.  And his own presence on the scene was so
strangely motived that it was left for me to marvel alone at this young
man, a completely chance-comer, having brought it about on that night.

Each situation created either by folly or wisdom has its psychological
moment.  The behaviour of young Powell with its mixture of boyish
impulses combined with instinctive prudence, had not created it--I can't
say that--but had discovered it to the very people involved.  What would
have happened if he had made a noise about his discovery?  But he didn't.
His head was full of Mrs. Anthony and he behaved with a discretion beyond
his years.  Some nice children often do; and surely it is not from
reflection.  They have their own inspirations.  Young Powell's
inspiration consisted in being "enthusiastic" about Mrs. Anthony.
'Enthusiastic' is really good.  And he was amongst them like a child,
sensitive, impressionable, plastic--but unable to find for himself any
sort of comment.

I don't know how much mine may be worth; but I believe that just then the
tension of the false situation was at its highest.  Of all the forms
offered to us by life it is the one demanding a couple to realize it
fully, which is the most imperative.  Pairing off is the fate of mankind.
And if two beings thrown together, mutually attracted, resist the
necessity, fail in understanding and voluntarily stop short of the--the
embrace, in the noblest meaning of the word, then they are committing a
sin against life, the call of which is simple.  Perhaps sacred.  And the
punishment of it is an invasion of complexity, a tormenting, forcibly
tortuous involution of feelings, the deepest form of suffering from which
indeed something significant may come at last, which may be criminal or
heroic, may be madness or wisdom--or even a straight if despairing
decision.

Powell on taking his eyes off the old gentleman noticed Captain Anthony,
swarthy as an African, by the side of Flora whiter than the lilies, take
his handkerchief out and wipe off his forehead the sweat of anguish--like
a man who is overcome.  "And no wonder," commented Mr. Powell here.  Then
the captain said, "Hadn't you better go back to your room."  This was to
Mrs. Anthony.  He tried to smile at her.  "Why do you look startled?  This
night is like any other night."

"Which," Powell again commented to me earnestly, "was a lie . . . No
wonder he sweated."  You see from this the value of Powell's comments.
Mrs. Anthony then said: "Why are you sending me away?"

"Why!  That you should go to sleep.  That you should rest."  And Captain
Anthony frowned.  Then sharply, "You stay here, Mr. Powell.  I shall want
you presently."

As a matter of fact Powell had not moved.  Flora did not mind his
presence.  He himself had the feeling of being of no account to those
three people.  He was looking at Mrs. Anthony as unabashed as the
proverbial cat looking at a king.  Mrs. Anthony glanced at him.  She did
not move, gripped by an inexplicable premonition.  She had arrived at the
very limit of her endurance as the object of Anthony's magnanimity; she
was the prey of an intuitive dread of she did not know what mysterious
influence; she felt herself being pushed back into that solitude, that
moral loneliness, which had made all her life intolerable.  And then, in
that close communion established again with Anthony, she felt--as on that
night in the garden--the force of his personal fascination.  The passive
quietness with which she looked at him gave her the appearance of a
person bewitched--or, say, mesmerically put to sleep--beyond any notion
of her surroundings.

After telling Mr. Powell not to go away the captain remained silent.
Suddenly Mrs. Anthony pushed back her loose hair with a decisive gesture
of her arms and moved still nearer to him.  "Here's papa up yet," she
said, but she did not look towards Mr. Smith.  "Why is it?  And you?  I
can't go on like this, Roderick--between you two.  Don't."

Anthony interrupted her as if something had untied his tongue.

"Oh yes.  Here's your father.  And . . . Why not.  Perhaps it is just as
well you came out.  Between us two?  Is that it?  I won't pretend I don't
understand.  I am not blind.  But I can't fight any longer for what I
haven't got.  I don't know what you imagine has happened.  Something has
though.  Only you needn't be afraid.  No shadow can touch you--because I
give up.  I can't say we had much talk about it, your father and I, but,
the long and the short of it is, that I must learn to live without
you--which I have told you was impossible.  I was speaking the truth.  But
I have done fighting, or waiting, or hoping.  Yes.  You shall go."

At this point Mr. Powell who (he confessed to me) was listening with
uncomprehending awe, heard behind his back a triumphant chuckling sound.
It gave him the shudders, he said, to mention it now; but at the time,
except for another chill down the spine, it had not the power to destroy
his absorption in the scene before his eyes, and before his ears too,
because just then Captain Anthony raised his voice grimly.  Perhaps he
too had heard the chuckle of the old man.

"Your father has found an argument which makes me pause, if it does not
convince me.  No!  I can't answer it.  I--I don't want to answer it.  I
simply surrender.  He shall have his way with you--and with me.  Only,"
he added in a gloomy lowered tone which struck Mr. Powell as if a pedal
had been put down, "only it shall take a little time.  I have never lied
to you.  Never.  I renounce not only my chance but my life.  In a few
days, directly we get into port, the very moment we do, I, who have said
I could never let you go, I shall let you go."

To the innocent beholder Anthony seemed at this point to become
physically exhausted.  My view is that the utter falseness of his, I may
say, aspirations, the vanity of grasping the empty air, had come to him
with an overwhelming force, leaving him disarmed before the other's mad
and sinister sincerity.  As he had said himself he could not fight for
what he did not possess; he could not face such a thing as this for the
sake of his mere magnanimity.  The normal alone can overcome the
abnormal.  He could not even reproach that man over there.  "I own myself
beaten," he said in a firmer tone.  "You are free.  I let you off since I
must."

Powell, the onlooker, affirms that at these incomprehensible words Mrs.
Anthony stiffened into the very image of astonishment, with a frightened
stare and frozen lips.  But next minute a cry came out from her heart,
not very loud but of a quality which made not only Captain Anthony (he
was not looking at her), not only him but also the more distant (and
equally unprepared) young man, catch their breath: "But I don't want to
be let off," she cried.

She was so still that one asked oneself whether the cry had come from
her.  The restless shuffle behind Powell's back stopped short, the
intermittent shadowy chuckling ceased too.  Young Powell, glancing round,
saw Mr. Smith raise his head with his faded eyes very still, puckered at
the corners, like a man perceiving something coming at him from a great
distance.  And Mrs. Anthony's voice reached Powell's ears, entreating and
indignant.

"You can't cast me off like this, Roderick.  I won't go away from you.  I
won't--"

Powell turned about and discovered then that what Mr. Smith was puckering
his eyes at, was the sight of his daughter clinging round Captain
Anthony's neck--a sight not in itself improper, but which had the power
to move young Powell with a bashfully profound emotion.  It was different
from his emotion while spying at the revelations of the skylight, but in
this case too he felt the discomfort, if not the guilt, of an unseen
beholder.  Experience was being piled up on his young shoulders.  Mrs.
Anthony's hair hung back in a dark mass like the hair of a drowned woman.
She looked as if she would let go and sink to the floor if the captain
were to withhold his sustaining arm.  But the captain obviously had no
such intention.  Standing firm and still he gazed with sombre eyes at Mr.
Smith.  For a time the low convulsive sobbing of Mr. Smith's daughter was
the only sound to trouble the silence.  The strength of Anthony's clasp
pressing Flora to his breast could not be doubted even at that distance,
and suddenly, awakening to his opportunity, he began to partly support
her, partly carry her in the direction of her cabin.  His head was bent
over her solicitously, then recollecting himself, with a glance full of
unwonted fire, his voice ringing in a note unknown to Mr. Powell, he
cried to him, "Don't you go on deck yet.  I want you to stay down here
till I come back.  There are some instructions I want to give you."

And before the young man could answer, Anthony had disappeared in the
stern-cabin, burdened and exulting.

"Instructions," commented Mr. Powell.  "That was all right.  Very likely;
but they would be such instructions as, I thought to myself, no ship's
officer perhaps had ever been given before.  It made me feel a little
sick to think what they would be dealing with, probably.  But there!
Everything that happens on board ship on the high seas has got to be
dealt with somehow.  There are no special people to fly to for
assistance.  And there I was with that old man left in my charge.  When
he noticed me looking at him he started to shuffle again athwart the
saloon.  He kept his hands rammed in his pockets, he was as stiff-backed
as ever, only his head hung down.  After a bit he says in his gentle soft
tone: "Did you see it?"

There were in Powell's head no special words to fit the horror of his
feelings.  So he said--he had to say something, "Good God!  What were you
thinking of, Mr. Smith, to try to . . . "   And then he left off.  He
dared not utter the awful word poison.  Mr. Smith stopped his prowl.

"Think!  What do you know of thinking.  I don't think.  There is
something in my head that thinks.  The thoughts in men, it's like being
drunk with liquor or--You can't stop them.  A man who thinks will think
anything.  No!  But have you seen it.  Have you?"

"I tell you I have!  I am certain!" said Powell forcibly.  "I was looking
at you all the time.  You've done something to the drink in that glass."

Then Powell lost his breath somehow.  Mr. Smith looked at him curiously,
with mistrust.

"My good young man, I don't know what you are talking about.  I ask
you--have you seen?  Who would have believed it? with her arms round his
neck.  When!  Oh!  Ha!  Ha!  You did see!  Didn't you?  It wasn't a
delusion--was it?  Her arms round . . . But I have never wholly trusted
her."

"Then I flew out at him, said Mr. Powell.  I told him he was jolly lucky
to have fallen upon Captain Anthony.  A man in a million.  He started
again shuffling to and fro.  "You too," he said mournfully, keeping his
eyes down.  "Eh?  Wonderful man?  But have you a notion who I am?  Listen!
I have been the Great Mr. de Barral.  So they printed it in the papers
while they were getting up a conspiracy.  And I have been doing time.  And
now I am brought low."  His voice died down to a mere breath.  "Brought
low."

He took his hands out of his pocket, dragged the cap down on his head and
stuck them back into his pockets, exactly as if preparing himself to go
out into a great wind.  "But not so low as to put up with this disgrace,
to see her, fast in this fellow's clutches, without doing something.  She
wouldn't listen to me.  Frightened?  Silly?  I had to think of some way
to get her out of this.  Did you think she cared for him?  No!  Would
anybody have thought so?  No!  She pretended it was for my sake.  She
couldn't understand that if I hadn't been an old man I would have flown
at his throat months ago.  As it was I was tempted every time he looked
at her.  My girl.  Ough!  Any man but this.  And all the time the wicked
little fool was lying to me.  It was their plot, their conspiracy!  These
conspiracies are the devil.  She has been leading me on, till she has
fairly put my head under the heel of that jailer, of that scoundrel, of
her husband . . .  Treachery!  Bringing me low.  Lower than herself.  In
the dirt.  That's what it means.  Doesn't it?  Under his heel!"

He paused in his restless shuffle and again, seizing his cap with both
hands, dragged it furiously right down on his ears.  Powell had lost
himself in listening to these broken ravings, in looking at that old
feverish face when, suddenly, quick as lightning, Mr. Smith spun round,
snatched up the captain's glass and with a stifled, hurried exclamation,
"Here's luck," tossed the liquor down his throat.

"I know now the meaning of the word 'Consternation,'" went on Mr. Powell.
"That was exactly my state of mind.  I thought to myself directly:
There's nothing in that drink.  I have been dreaming, I have made the
awfulest mistake! . . ."

Mr. Smith put the glass down.  He stood before Powell unharmed, quieted
down, in a listening attitude, his head inclined on one side, chewing his
thin lips.  Suddenly he blinked queerly, grabbed Powell's shoulder and
collapsed, subsiding all at once as though he had gone soft all over, as
a piece of silk stuff collapses.  Powell seized his arm instinctively and
checked his fall; but as soon as Mr. Smith was fairly on the floor he
jerked himself free and backed away.  Almost as quick he rushed forward
again and tried to lift up the body.  But directly he raised his
shoulders he knew that the man was dead!  Dead!

He lowered him down gently.  He stood over him without fear or any other
feeling, almost indifferent, far away, as it were.  And then he made
another start and, if he had not kept Mrs. Anthony always in his mind, he
would have let out a yell for help.  He staggered to her cabin-door, and,
as it was, his call for "Captain Anthony" burst out of him much too loud;
but he made a great effort of self-control.  "I am waiting for my orders,
sir," he said outside that door distinctly, in a steady tone.

It was very still in there; still as death.  Then he heard a shuffle of
feet and the captain's voice "All right.  Coming."  He leaned his back
against the bulkhead as you see a drunken man sometimes propped up
against a wall, half doubled up.  In that attitude the captain found him,
when he came out, pulling the door to after him quickly.  At once Anthony
let his eyes run all over the cabin.  Powell, without a word, clutched
his forearm, led him round the end of the table and began to justify
himself.  "I couldn't stop him," he whispered shakily.  "He was too quick
for me.  He drank it up and fell down."  But the captain was not
listening.  He was looking down at Mr. Smith, thinking perhaps that it
was a mere chance his own body was not lying there.  They did not want to
speak.  They made signs to each other with their eyes.  The captain
grasped Powell's shoulder as if in a vice and glanced at Mrs. Anthony's
cabin door, and it was enough.  He knew that the young man understood
him.  Rather!  Silence!  Silence for ever about this.  Their very glances
became stealthy.  Powell looked from the body to the door of the dead
man's state-room.  The captain nodded and let him go; and then Powell
crept over, hooked the door open and crept back with fearful glances
towards Mrs. Anthony's cabin.  They stooped over the corpse.  Captain
Anthony lifted up the shoulders.

Mr. Powell shuddered.  "I'll never forget that interminable journey
across the saloon, step by step, holding our breath.  For part of the way
the drawn half of the curtain concealed us from view had Mrs. Anthony
opened her door; but I didn't draw a free breath till after we laid the
body down on the swinging cot.  The reflection of the saloon light left
most of the cabin in the shadow.  Mr. Smith's rigid, extended body looked
shadowy too, shadowy and alive.  You know he always carried himself as
stiff as a poker.  We stood by the cot as though waiting for him to make
us a sign that he wanted to be left alone.  The captain threw his arm
over my shoulder and said in my very ear: "The steward'll find him in the
morning."

"I made no answer.  It was for him to say.  It was perhaps the best way.
It's no use talking about my thoughts.  They were not concerned with
myself, nor yet with that old man who terrified me more now than when he
was alive.  Him whom I pitied was the captain.  He whispered.  "I am
certain of you, Mr. Powell.  You had better go on deck now.  As to me
. . . " and I saw him raise his hands to his head as if distracted.  But his
last words before we stole out that cabin stick to my mind with the very
tone of his mutter--to himself, not to me:

"No!  No!  I am not going to stumble now over that corpse."

* * *

"This is what our Mr. Powell had to tell me," said Marlow, changing his
tone.  I was glad to learn that Flora de Barral had been saved from
_that_ sinister shadow at least falling upon her path.

We sat silent then, my mind running on the end of de Barral, on the
irresistible pressure of imaginary griefs, crushing conscience, scruples,
prudence, under their ever-expanding volume; on the sombre and venomous
irony in the obsession which had mastered that old man.

"Well," I said.

"The steward found him," Mr. Powell roused himself.  "He went in there
with a cup of tea at five and of course dropped it.  I was on watch
again.  He reeled up to me on deck pale as death.  I had been expecting
it; and yet I could hardly speak.  "Go and tell the captain quietly," I
managed to say.  He ran off muttering "My God!  My God!" and I'm hanged
if he didn't get hysterical while trying to tell the captain, and start
screaming in the saloon, "Fully dressed!  Dead!  Fully dressed!"  Mrs.
Anthony ran out of course but she didn't get hysterical.  Franklin, who
was there too, told me that she hid her face on the captain's breast and
then he went out and left them there.  It was days before Mrs. Anthony
was seen on deck.  The first time I spoke to her she gave me her hand and
said, "My poor father was quite fond of you, Mr. Powell."  She started
wiping her eyes and I fled to the other side of the deck.  One would like
to forget all this had ever come near her."

But clearly he could not, because after lighting his pipe he began musing
aloud: "Very strong stuff it must have been.  I wonder where he got it.
It could hardly be at a common chemist.  Well, he had it from somewhere--a
mere pinch it must have been, no more."

"I have my theory," observed Marlow, "which to a certain extent does away
with the added horror of a coldly premeditated crime.  Chance had stepped
in there too.  It was not Mr. Smith who obtained the poison.  It was the
Great de Barral.  And it was not meant for the obscure, magnanimous
conqueror of Flora de Barral; it was meant for the notorious financier
whose enterprises had nothing to do with magnanimity.  He had his
physician in his days of greatness.  I even seem to remember that the man
was called at the trial on some small point or other.  I can imagine that
de Barral went to him when he saw, as he could hardly help seeing, the
possibility of a "triumph of envious rivals"--a heavy sentence.

I doubt if for love or even for money, but I think possibly, from pity
that man provided him with what Mr. Powell called "strong stuff."  From
what Powell saw of the very act I am fairly certain it must have been
contained in a capsule and that he had it about him on the last day of
his trial, perhaps secured by a stitch in his waistcoat pocket.  He
didn't use it.  Why?  Did he think of his child at the last moment?  Was
it want of courage?  We can't tell.  But he found it in his clothes when
he came out of jail.  It had escaped investigation if there was any.
Chance had armed him.  And chance alone, the chance of Mr. Powell's life,
forced him to turn the abominable weapon against himself.

I imparted my theory to Mr. Powell who accepted it at once as, in a
sense, favourable to the father of Mrs. Anthony.  Then he waved his hand.
"Don't let us think of it."

I acquiesced and very soon he observed dreamily:

"I was with Captain and Mrs. Anthony sailing all over the world for near
on six years.  Almost as long as Franklin."

"Oh yes!  What about Franklin?" I asked.

Powell smiled.  "He left the _Ferndale_ a year or so afterwards, and I
took his place.  Captain Anthony recommended him for a command.  You
don't think Captain Anthony would chuck a man aside like an old glove.
But of course Mrs. Anthony did not like him very much.  I don't think she
ever let out a whisper against him but Captain Anthony could read her
thoughts.

And again Powell seemed to lose himself in the past.  I asked, for
suddenly the vision of the Fynes passed through my mind.

"Any children?"

Powell gave a start.  "No!  No!  Never had any children," and again
subsided, puffing at his short briar pipe.

"Where are they now?" I inquired next as if anxious to ascertain that all
Fyne's fears had been misplaced and vain as our fears often are; that
there were no undesirable cousins for his dear girls, no danger of
intrusion on their spotless home.  Powell looked round at me slowly, his
pipe smouldering in his hand.

"Don't you know?" he uttered in a deep voice.

"Know what?"

"That the _Ferndale_ was lost this four years or more.  Sunk.  Collision.
And Captain Anthony went down with her."

"You don't say so!" I cried quite affected as if I had known Captain
Anthony personally.  "Was--was Mrs. Anthony lost too?"

"You might as well ask if I was lost," Mr. Powell rejoined so testily as
to surprise me.  "You see me here,--don't you."

He was quite huffy, but noticing my wondering stare he smoothed his
ruffled plumes.  And in a musing tone.

"Yes.  Good men go out as if there was no use for them in the world.  It
seems as if there were things that, as the Turks say, are written.  Or
else fate has a try and sometimes misses its mark.  You remember that
close shave we had of being run down at night, I told you of, my first
voyage with them.  This go it was just at dawn.  A flat calm and a fog
thick enough to slice with a knife.  Only there were no explosives on
board.  I was on deck and I remember the cursed, murderous thing looming
up alongside and Captain Anthony (we were both on deck) calling out,
"Good God!  What's this!  Shout for all hands, Powell, to save
themselves.  There's no dynamite on board now.  I am going to get the
wife! . . "  I yelled, all the watch on deck yelled.  Crash!"

Mr. Powell gasped at the recollection.  "It was a Belgian Green Star
liner, the _Westland_," he went on, "commanded by one of those stop-for-
nothing skippers.  Flaherty was his name and I hope he will die without
absolution.  She cut half through the old _Ferndale_ and after the blow
there was a silence like death.  Next I heard the captain back on deck
shouting, "Set your engines slow ahead," and a howl of "Yes, yes,"
answering him from her forecastle; and then a whole crowd of people up
there began making a row in the fog.  They were throwing ropes down to us
in dozens, I must say.  I and the captain fastened one of them under Mrs.
Anthony's arms: I remember she had a sort of dim smile on her face."

"Haul up carefully," I shouted to the people on the steamer's deck.
"You've got a woman on that line."

The captain saw her landed up there safe.  And then we made a rush round
our decks to see no one was left behind.  As we got back the captain
says: "Here she's gone at last, Powell; the dear old thing!  Run down at
sea."

"Indeed she is gone," I said.  "But it might have been worse.  Shin up
this rope, sir, for God's sake.  I will steady it for you."

"What are you thinking about," he says angrily.  "It isn't my turn.  Up
with you."

These were the last words he ever spoke on earth I suppose.  I knew he
meant to be the last to leave his ship, so I swarmed up as quick as I
could, and those damned lunatics up there grab at me from above, lug me
in, drag me along aft through the row and the riot of the silliest
excitement I ever did see.  Somebody hails from the bridge, "Have you got
them all on board?" and a dozen silly asses start yelling all together,
"All saved!  All saved," and then that accursed Irishman on the bridge,
with me roaring No!  No! till I thought my head would burst, rings his
engines astern.  He rings the engines astern--I fighting like mad to make
myself heard!  And of course . . . "

I saw tears, a shower of them fall down Mr. Powell's face.  His voice
broke.

"The _Ferndale_ went down like a stone and Captain Anthony went down with
her, the finest man's soul that ever left a sailor's body.  I raved like
a maniac, like a devil, with a lot of fools crowding round me and asking,
"Aren't you the captain?"

"I wasn't fit to tie the shoe-strings of the man you have drowned," I
screamed at them . . .  Well!  Well!  I could see for myself that it was
no good lowering a boat.  You couldn't have seen her alongside.  No use.
And only think, Marlow, it was I who had to go and tell Mrs. Anthony.
They had taken her down below somewhere, first-class saloon.  I had to go
and tell her!  That Flaherty, God forgive him, comes to me as white as a
sheet, "I think you are the proper person."  God forgive him.  I wished
to die a hundred times.  A lot of kind ladies, passengers, were
chattering excitedly around Mrs. Anthony--a real parrot house.  The
ship's doctor went before me.  He whispers right and left and then there
falls a sudden hush.  Yes, I wished myself dead.  But Mrs. Anthony was a
brick.

Here Mr. Powell fairly burst into tears.  "No one could help loving
Captain Anthony.  I leave you to imagine what he was to her.  Yet before
the week was out it was she who was helping me to pull myself together."

"Is Mrs. Anthony in England now?" I asked after a while.

He wiped his eyes without any false shame.  "Oh yes."  He began to look
for matches, and while diving for the box under the table added: "And not
very far from here either.  That little village up there--you know."

"No!  Really!  Oh I see!"

Mr. Powell smoked austerely, very detached.  But I could not let him off
like this.  The sly beggar.  So this was the secret of his passion for
sailing about the river, the reason of his fondness for that creek.

"And I suppose," I said, "that you are still as 'enthusiastic' as ever.
Eh?  If I were you I would just mention my enthusiasm to Mrs. Anthony.
Why not?"

He caught his falling pipe neatly.  But if what the French call
_effarement_ was ever expressed on a human countenance it was on this
occasion, testifying to his modesty, his sensibility and his innocence.
He looked afraid of somebody overhearing my audacious--almost
sacrilegious hint--as if there had not been a mile and a half of lonely
marshland and dykes between us and the nearest human habitation.  And
then perhaps he remembered the soothing fact for he allowed a gleam to
light up his eyes, like the reflection of some inward fire tended in the
sanctuary of his heart by a devotion as pure as that of any vestal.

It flashed and went out.  He smiled a bashful smile, sighed:

"Pah!  Foolishness.  You ought to know better," he said, more sad than
annoyed.  "But I forgot that you never knew Captain Anthony," he added
indulgently.

I reminded him that I knew Mrs. Anthony; even before he--an old friend
now--had ever set eyes on her.  And as he told me that Mrs. Anthony had
heard of our meetings I wondered whether she would care to see me.  Mr.
Powell volunteered no opinion then; but next time we lay in the creek he
said, "She will be very pleased.  You had better go to-day."

The afternoon was well advanced before I approached the cottage.  The
amenity of a fine day in its decline surrounded me with a beneficent, a
calming influence; I felt it in the silence of the shady lane, in the
pure air, in the blue sky.  It is difficult to retain the memory of the
conflicts, miseries, temptations and crimes of men's self-seeking
existence when one is alone with the charming serenity of the unconscious
nature.  Breathing the dreamless peace around the picturesque cottage I
was approaching, it seemed to me that it must reign everywhere, over all
the globe of water and land and in the hearts of all the dwellers on this
earth.

Flora came down to the garden gate to meet me, no longer the perversely
tempting, sorrowful, wisp of white mist drifting in the complicated bad
dream of existence.  Neither did she look like a forsaken elf.  I
stammered out stupidly, "Again in the country, Miss . . . Mrs . . . "  She
was very good, returned the pressure of my hand, but we were slightly
embarrassed.  Then we laughed a little.  Then we became grave.

I am no lover of day-breaks.  You know how thin, equivocal, is the light
of the dawn.  But she was now her true self, she was like a fine tranquil
afternoon--and not so very far advanced either.  A woman not much over
thirty, with a dazzling complexion and a little colour, a lot of hair, a
smooth brow, a fine chin, and only the eyes of the Flora of the old days,
absolutely unchanged.

In the room into which she led me we found a Miss Somebody--I didn't
catch the name,--an unobtrusive, even an indistinct, middle-aged person
in black.  A companion.  All very proper.  She came and went and even sat
down at times in the room, but a little apart, with some sewing.  By the
time she had brought in a lighted lamp I had heard all the details which
really matter in this story.  Between me and her who was once Flora de
Barral the conversation was not likely to keep strictly to the weather.

The lamp had a rosy shade; and its glow wreathed her in perpetual
blushes, made her appear wonderfully young as she sat before me in a
deep, high-backed arm-chair.  I asked:

"Tell me what is it you said in that famous letter which so upset Mrs.
Fyne, and caused little Fyne to interfere in this offensive manner?"

"It was simply crude," she said earnestly.  "I was feeling reckless and I
wrote recklessly.  I knew she would disapprove and I wrote foolishly.  It
was the echo of her own stupid talk.  I said that I did not love her
brother but that I had no scruples whatever in marrying him."

She paused, hesitating, then with a shy half-laugh:

"I really believed I was selling myself, Mr. Marlow.  And I was proud of
it.  What I suffered afterwards I couldn't tell you; because I only
discovered my love for my poor Roderick through agonies of rage and
humiliation.  I came to suspect him of despising me; but I could not put
it to the test because of my father.  Oh!  I would not have been too
proud.  But I had to spare poor papa's feelings.  Roderick was perfect,
but I felt as though I were on the rack and not allowed even to cry out.
Papa's prejudice against Roderick was my greatest grief.  It was
distracting.  It frightened me.  Oh!  I have been miserable!  That night
when my poor father died suddenly I am certain they had some sort of
discussion, about me.  But I did not want to hold out any longer against
my own heart!  I could not."

She stopped short, then impulsively:

"Truth will out, Mr. Marlow."

"Yes," I said.

She went on musingly.

"Sorrow and happiness were mingled at first like darkness and light.  For
months I lived in a dusk of feelings.  But it was quiet.  It was warm
. . . "

Again she paused, then going back in her thoughts.  "No!  There was no
harm in that letter.  It was simply foolish.  What did I know of life
then?  Nothing.  But Mrs. Fyne ought to have known better.  She wrote a
letter to her brother, a little later.  Years afterwards Roderick allowed
me to glance at it.  I found in it this sentence: 'For years I tried to
make a friend of that girl; but I warn you once more that she has the
nature of a heartless adventuress . . . '  Adventuress!" repeated Flora
slowly.  "So be it.  I have had a fine adventure."

"It was fine, then," I said interested.

"The finest in the world!  Only think!  I loved and I was loved,
untroubled, at peace, without remorse, without fear.  All the world, all
life were transformed for me.  And how much I have seen!  How good people
were to me!  Roderick was so much liked everywhere.  Yes, I have known
kindness and safety.  The most familiar things appeared lighted up with a
new light, clothed with a loveliness I had never suspected.  The sea
itself! . . . You are a sailor.  You have lived your life on it.  But do
you know how beautiful it is, how strong, how charming, how friendly, how
mighty . . . "

I listened amazed and touched.  She was silent only a little while.

"It was too good to last.  But nothing can rob me of it now . . .  Don't
think that I repine.  I am not even sad now.  Yes, I have been happy.  But
I remember also the time when I was unhappy beyond endurance, beyond
desperation.  Yes.  You remember that.  And later on, too.  There was a
time on board the _Ferndale_ when the only moments of relief I knew were
when I made Mr. Powell talk to me a little on the poop.  You like
him?--Don't you?"

"Excellent fellow," I said warmly.  "You see him often?"

"Of course.  I hardly know another soul in the world.  I am alone.  And
he has plenty of time on his hands.  His aunt died a few years ago.  He's
doing nothing, I believe."

"He is fond of the sea," I remarked.  "He loves it."

"He seems to have given it up," she murmured.

"I wonder why?"

She remained silent.  "Perhaps it is because he loves something else
better," I went on.  "Come, Mrs. Anthony, don't let me carry away from
here the idea that you are a selfish person, hugging the memory of your
past happiness, like a rich man his treasure, forgetting the poor at the
gate."

I rose to go, for it was getting late.  She got up in some agitation and
went out with me into the fragrant darkness of the garden.  She detained
my hand for a moment and then in the very voice of the Flora of old days,
with the exact intonation, showing the old mistrust, the old doubt of
herself, the old scar of the blow received in childhood, pathetic and
funny, she murmured, "Do you think it possible that he should care for
me?"

"Just ask him yourself.  You are brave."

"Oh, I am brave enough," she said with a sigh.

"Then do.  For if you don't you will be wronging that patient man
cruelly."

I departed leaving her dumb.  Next day, seeing Powell making preparations
to go ashore, I asked him to give my regards to Mrs. Anthony.  He
promised he would.

"Listen, Powell," I said.  "We got to know each other by chance?"

"Oh, quite!" he admitted, adjusting his hat.

"And the science of life consists in seizing every chance that presents
itself," I pursued.  "Do you believe that?"

"Gospel truth," he declared innocently.

"Well, don't forget it."

"Oh, I!  I don't expect now anything to present itself," he said, jumping
ashore.

He didn't turn up at high water.  I set my sail and just as I had cast
off from the bank, round the black barn, in the dusk, two figures
appeared and stood silent, indistinct.

"Is that you, Powell?" I hailed.

"And Mrs. Anthony," his voice came impressively through the silence of
the great marsh.  "I am not sailing to-night.  I have to see Mrs. Anthony
home."

"Then I must even go alone," I cried.

Flora's voice wished me "_bon voyage_" in a most friendly but tremulous
tone.

"You shall hear from me before long," shouted Powell, suddenly, just as
my boat had cleared the mouth of the creek.

"This was yesterday," added Marlow, lolling in the arm-chair lazily.  "I
haven't heard yet; but I expect to hear any moment . . .  What on earth
are you grinning at in this sarcastic manner?  I am not afraid of going
to church with a friend.  Hang it all, for all my belief in Chance I am
not exactly a pagan . . . "



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Colophon

This file was acquired from Project Gutenberg, and it is in the public domain. It is re-distributed here as a part of the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts (http://infomotions.com/alex/) by Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.) for the purpose of freely sharing, distributing, and making available works of great literature. Its Infomotions unique identifier is etext1476, and it should be available from the following URL:

http://infomotions.com/etexts/id/etext1476



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