I remember that even at the sight of him I had a sense of impending calamity. He sat under the electric light with the shadow of his hair making bars down his face. He looked shrunken, and as though his skin had suddenly got loose and yellow. The decorations of the room seemed to have lost freshness, and outside the blinds were up—there was not so much fog as a dun darkness. One saw the dingy outlines of the chimneys opposite quite distinctly, and then a sky of such brown as only London can display.
“I saw a placard,” I said: “‘More Ponderevity.’”
“That’s Boom,” he said. “Boom and his damned newspapers. He’s trying to fight me down. Ever since I offered to buy the Daily Decorator he’s been at me. And he thinks consolidating Do Ut cut down the ads. He wants everything, damn him! He’s got no sense of dealing. I’d like to bash his face!”
“Well,” I said, “what’s to be done?”
“Keep going,” said my uncle.
“I’ll smash Boom yet,” he said, with sudden savagery.
“Nothing else?” I asked.
“We got to keep going. There’s a scare on. Did you notice the rooms? Half the people out there this morning are reporters. And if I talk they touch it up! . . . They didn’t used to touch things up! Now they put in character touches—insulting you. Don’t know what journalism’s coming to. It’s all Boom’s doing.”
He cursed Lord Boom with considerable imaginative vigour.
“Well,” said I, “what can he do?”
“Shove us up against time, George; make money tight for us. We been handling a lot of money—and he tightens us up.”
“Oh, we’re sound, George. Trust me for that! But all the same—There’s such a lot of imagination in these things. . . . We’re sound enough. That’s not it.”
He blew. “Damn Boom!” he said, and his eyes over his glasses met mine defiantly.
“We can’t, I suppose, run close hauled for a bit—stop expenditure?”
“What!” he shouted. “Me stop Crest Hill for Boom!” He waved a fist as if to hit his inkpot, and controlled himself with difficulty. He spoke at last in a reasonable voice. “If I did,” he said, “he’d kick up a fuss. It’s no good, even if I wanted to. Everybody’s watching the place. If I was to stop building we’d be down in a week.”
He had an idea. “I wish I could do something to start a strike or something. No such luck. Treat those workmen a sight too well. No, sink or swim, Crest Hill goes on until we’re under water.”
I began to ask questions and irritated him instantly.
“Oh, dash these explanations, George!” he cried; “You only make things look rottener than they are. It’s your way. It isn’t a case of figures. We’re all right—there’s only one thing we got to do.”
“Show value, George. That’s where this quap comes in; that’s why I fell in so readily with what you brought to me week before last. Here we are, we got our option on the perfect filament, and all we want’s canadium. Nobody knows there’s more canadium in the world than will go on the edge of a sixpence except me and you. Nobody has an idee the perfect filament’s more than just a bit of theorising. Fifty tons of quap and we’d turn that bit of theorising into something. We’d make the lamp trade sit on its tail and howl. We’d put Ediswan and all of ’em into a parcel with our last year’s trousers and a hat, and swap ’em off for a pot ofgeraniums. See? We’d do it through Business Organisations, and there you are! See? Capern’s Patent Filament! The Ideal and the Real! George, we’ll do it! We’ll bring it off! And then we’ll give such a facer to Boom, he’ll think for fifty years. He’s laying up for our London and African meeting. Let him. He can turn the whole paper on to us. He says the Business Organisations shares aren’t worth fifty-two and we quote ’em at eighty-four. Well, here we are gettin’ ready for him—loading our gun.”
His pose was triumphant.
“Yes,” I said, “that’s all right. But I can’t help thinking where should we be if we hadn’t just by accident got Capern’s Perfect Filament. Because, you know it was an accident—my buying up that.”
He crumpled up his nose into an expression of impatient distaste at my unreasonableness.
“And after all, the meeting’s in June, and you haven’t begun to get the quap! After all, we’ve still got to load our gun.”
“They start on Toosday.”
“Have they got the brig?”
“They’ve got a brig.”
“Gordon-Nasmyth!” I doubted.
“Safe as a bank,” he said. “More I see of that man the more I like him. All I wish is we’d got a steamer instead of a sailing ship”
“And,” I went on, “you seem to overlook what used to weigh with us a bit. This canadium side of the business and the Capern chance has rushed you off your legs. After all—it’s stealing, and in its way an international outrage. They’ve got two gunboats on the coast.”
I jumped up and went and stared out at the fog.
“And, by Jove, it’s about our only chance! I didn’t dream.”
I turned on him. “I’ve been up in the air,” I said.
“Heaven knows where I haven’t been. And here’s our only chance—and you give it to that adventurous lunatic to play in his own way—in a brig!”
“Well, you had a voice—”
“I wish I’d been in this before. We ought to have run out a steamer to Lagos or one of those West Coast places and done it from there. Fancy a brig in the channel at this time of year, if it blows southwest!”
“I dessay you’d have shoved it, George. Still you know, George. . . . I believe in him.”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I believe in him, too. In a way. Still—”
We took up a telegram that was lying on his desk and opened it. His face became a livid yellow. He put the flimsy paper down with a slow, reluctant movement and took off his glasses.
“George,” he said, “the luck’s against us.”
He grimaced with his mouth—in the queerest way at the telegram.
I took it up and read:
“Motor smash compound fracture of the leg gordon nasmyth what price mordet now”
For a moment neither of us spoke.
“That’s all right,” I said at last.
“Eh?” said my uncle.
“I’m going. I’ll get that quap or bust.”
I had a ridiculous persuasion that I was “saving the situation.”
“I’m going,” I said quite consciously and dramatically. I saw the whole affair—how shall I put it?—in American colours.
I sat down beside him. “Give me all the data you’ve got,” I said, “and I’ll pull this thing off.”
“But nobody knows exactly where—”
“Nasmyth does, and he’ll tell me.”
“He’s been very close,” said my uncle, and regarded me.
“He’ll tell me all right, now he’s smashed.”
He thought. “I believe he will.”
“George,” he said, “if you pull this thing off—Once or twice before you’ve stepped in—with that sort of Woosh of yours—”
He left the sentence unfinished.
“Give me that note-book,” I said, “and tell me all you know. Where’s the ship? Where’s Pollack? And where’s that telegram from? If that quap’s to be got, I’ll get it or bust. If you’ll hold on here until I get back with it.” . . .
And so it was I jumped into the wildest adventure of my life.
I requisitioned my uncle’s best car forthwith. I went down that night to the place of despatch named on Nasmyth’s telegram, Bampton S.O. Oxon, routed him out with a little trouble from that centre, made things right with him and got his explicit directions; and I was inspecting the Maud Mary with young Pollack, his cousin and aide, the following afternoon. She was rather a shock to me and not at all in my style, a beast of a brig inured to the potato trade, and she reeked from end to end with the faint, subtle smell of raw potatoes so that it prevailed even over the temporary smell of new paint. She was a beast of a brig, all hold and dirty framework, and they had ballasted her with old iron and old rails and iron sleepers, and got a miscellaneous lot of spades and iron wheelbarrows against the loading of the quap. I thought her over with Pollack, one of those tall blond young men who smoke pipes and don’t help much, and then by myself, and as a result I did my best to sweep Gravesend clean of wheeling planks, and got in as much cord and small rope as I could for lashing. I had an idea we might need to run up a jetty. In addition to much ballast she held, remotely hidden in a sort of inadvertent way a certain number of ambiguous cases which I didn’t examine, but which I gathered were a provision against the need of a trade.
The captain was a most extraordinary creature, under the impression we were after copper ore; he was a Roumanian Jew, with twitching, excitable features, who had made his way to a certificate after some preliminary naval experiences in the Black Sea. The mate was an Essex man of impenetrable reserve. The crew were astoundingly ill-clad and destitute and dirty; most of them youths, unwashed, out of colliers. One, the cook was a mulatto; and one, the best-built fellow of them all, was a Breton. There was some subterfuge about our position on board—I forget the particulars now—I was called the supercargo and Pollack was the steward. This added to the piratical flavour that insufficient funds and Gordon-Nasmyth’s original genius had already given the enterprise.
Those two days of bustle at Gravesend, under dingy skies, in narrow, dirty streets, were a new experience for me. It is like nothing else in my life. I realised that I was a modern and a civilised man. I found the food filthy and the coffee horrible; the whole town stank in my nostrils, the landlord of the Good Intent on the quay had a stand-up quarrel with us before I could get even a hot bath, and the bedroom I slept in was infested by a quantity of exotic but voracious flat parasites called locally “bugs,” in the walls, in the woodwork, everywhere. I fought them with insect powder, and found them comatose in the morning. I was dipping down into the dingy underworld of the contemporary state, and I liked it no better than I did my first dip into it when I stayed with my Uncle Nicodemus Frapp at the bakery at Chatham—where, by-the-by, we had to deal with cockroaches of a smaller, darker variety, and also with bugs of sorts.
Let me confess that through all this time before we started I was immensely self-conscious, and that Beatrice played the part of audience in my imagination throughout. I was, as I say, “saving the situation,” and I was acutely aware of that. The evening before we sailed, instead of revising our medicine-chest as I had intended, I took the car and ran across country to Lady Grove to tell my aunt of the journey I was making, dress, and astonish Lady Osprey by an after dinner call.
The two ladies were at home and alone beside a big fire that seemed wonderfully cheerful after the winter night. I remember the effect of the little parlour in which they sat as very bright and domestic. Lady Osprey, in a costume of mauve and lace, sat on a chintz sofa and played an elaborately spread-out patience by the light of a tall shaded lamp; Beatrice, in a whiteness that showed her throat, smoked a cigarette in an armchair and read with a lamp at her elbow. The room was white-panelled and chintz-curtained. About those two bright centres of light were warm dark shadow, in which a circular mirror shone like a pool of brown water. I carried off my raid by behaving like a slave of etiquette. There were moments when I think I really made Lady Osprey believe that my call was an unavoidable necessity, that it would have been negligent of me not to call just how and when I did. But at the best those were transitory moments.
They received me with disciplined amazement. Lady Osprey was interested in my face and scrutinised the scar. Beatrice stood behind her solicitude. Our eyes met, and in hers I could see startled interrogations.
“I’m going,” I said, “to the west coast of Africa.”
They asked questions, but it suited my mood to be vague.
“We’ve interests there. It is urgent I should go. I don’t know when I may return.”
After that I perceived Beatrice surveyed me steadily.
The conversation was rather difficult. I embarked upon lengthy thanks for their kindness to me after my accident. I tried to understand Lady Osprey’s game of patience, but it didn’t appear that Lady Osprey was anxious for me to understand her patience. I came to the verge of taking my leave
“You needn’t go yet,” said Beatrice, abruptly.
She walked across to the piano, took a pile of music from the cabinet near, surveyed Lady Osprey’s back, and with a gesture to me dropped it all deliberately on to the floor.
“Must talk,” she said, kneeling close to me as I helped her to pick it up. “Turn my pages. At the piano.”
“I can’t read music.”
“Turn my pages.”
Presently we were at the piano, and Beatrice was playing with noisy inaccuracy. She glanced over her shoulder and Lady Osprey had resumed her patience. The old lady was very pink, and appeared to be absorbed in some attempt to cheat herself without our observing it.
“Isn’t West Africa a vile climate?” “Are you going to live there?” “Why are you going?”
Beatrice asked these questions in a low voice and gave me no chance to answer. Then taking a rhythm from the music before her, she said—
“At the back of the house is a garden—a door in the wall—on the lane. Understand?”
I turned over the pages without any effect on her playing.
“When?” I asked.
She dealt in chords. “I wish I could play this!” she said. “Midnight.”
She gave her attention to the music for a time.
“You may have to wait.”
She brought her playing to an end by—as school boys say—“stashing it up.”
“I can’t play to-night,” she said, standing up and meeting my eyes. “I wanted to give you a parting voluntary.”
“Was that Wagner, Beatrice?” asked Lady Osprey looking up from her cards. “It sounded very confused.”
I took my leave. I had a curious twinge of conscience as I parted from Lady Osprey. Either a first intimation of middle-age or my inexperience in romantic affairs was to blame, but I felt a very distinct objection to the prospect of invading this good lady’s premises from the garden door. I motored up to the pavilion, found Cothope reading in bed, told him for the first time of West Africa, spent an hour with him in settling all the outstanding details of Lord Roberts B, and left that in his hands to finish against my return. I sent the motor back to Lady Grove, and still wearing my fur coat—for the January night was damp and bitterly cold—walked to Bedley Corner. I found the lane to the back of the Dower House without any difficulty, and was at the door in the wall with ten minutes to spare. I lit a cigar and fell to walking up and down. This queer flavour of intrigue, this nocturnal garden-door business, had taken me by surprise and changed my mental altitudes. I was startled out of my egotistical pose and thinking intently of Beatrice, of that elfin quality in her that always pleased me, that always took me by surprise, that had made her for example so instantly conceive this meeting.
She came within a minute of midnight; the door opened softly and she appeared, a short, grey figure in a motor-coat of sheepskin, bareheaded to the cold drizzle. She flitted up to me, and her eyes were shadows in her dusky face.
“Why are you going to West Africa?” she asked at once.
“Business crisis. I have to go.”
“You’re not going—? You’re coming back?”
“Three or four months,” I said, “at most.”
“Then, it’s nothing to do with me?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Why should it have?”
“Oh, that’s all right. One never knows what people think or what people fancy.” She took me by the arm, “Let’s go for a walk,” she said.
I looked about me at darkness and rain.
“That’s all right,” she laughed. “We can go along the lane and into the Old Woking Road. Do you mind? Of course you don’t. My head. It doesn’t matter. One never meets anybody.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve wandered like this before. . . . Of course. Did you think”—she nodded her head back at her home—“that’s all?”
“No, by Jove!” I cried; “it’s manifest it isn’t.”
She took my arm and turned me down the lane. “Night’s my time,” she said by my side. “There’s a touch of the werewolf in my blood. One never knows in these old families. . . . I’ve wondered often. . . . Here we are, anyhow, alone in the world. Just darkness and cold and a sky of clouds and wet. And we—together. I like the wet on my face and hair, don’t you? When do you sail?”
I told her to-morrow.
“Oh, well, there’s no to-morrow now. You and I!” She stopped and confronted me.
“You don’t say a word except to answer!”
“No,” I said.
“Last time you did all the talking.”
“Like a fool. Now—”
We looked at each other’s two dim faces. “You’re glad to be here?”
“I’m glad—I’m beginning to be—it’s more than glad.”
She put her hands on my shoulders and drew me down to kiss her.
“Ah!” she said, and for a moment or so we just clung to one another.
“That’s all,” she said, releasing herself. “What bundles of clothes we are to-night. I felt we should kiss some day again. Always. The last time was ages ago.”
“Among the fern stalks.”
“Among the bracken. You remember. And your lips were cold. Were mine? The same lips—after so long—after so much! . . . And now let’s trudge through this blotted-out world together for a time. Yes, let me take your arm. Just trudge. See? Hold tight to me because I know the way—and don’t talk—don’t talk. Unless you want to talk. . . . Let me tell you things! You see, dear, the whole world is blotted out—it’s dead and gone, and we’re in this place. This dark wild place. . . . We’re dead. Or all the world is dead. No! We’re dead. No one can see us. We’re shadows. We’ve got out of our positions, out of our bodies—and together. That’s the good thing of it—together. But that’s why the world can’t see us and why we hardly see the world. Sssh! Is it all right?”
“It’s all right,” I said.
We stumbled along for a time in a close silence. We passed a dim-lit, rain-veiled window.
“The silly world,” she said, “the silly world! It eats and sleeps. If the wet didn’t patter so from the trees we’d hear it snoring. It’s dreaming such stupid things—stupid judgments. It doesn’t know we are passing, we two—free of it—clear of it. You and I!”
We pressed against each other reassuringly.
“I’m glad we’re dead,” she whispered. “I’m glad we’re dead. I was tired of it, dear. I was so tired of it, dear, and so entangled.”
She stopped abruptly.
We splashed through a string of puddles. I began to remember things I had meant to say.
“Look here!” I cried. “I want to help you beyond measure. You are entangled. What is the trouble? I asked you to marry me. You said you would. But there’s something.”
My thoughts sounded clumsy as I said them.
“Is it something about my position? . . . Or is it something—perhaps—about some other man?”
There was an immense assenting silence.
“You’ve puzzled me so. At first—I mean quite early—I thought you meant to make me marry you.”
“To-night,” she said after a long pause, “I can’t explain. No! I can’t explain. I love you! But—explanations! To-night my dear, here we are in the world alone—and the world doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Here I am in the cold with you and my bed away there deserted. I’d tell you—I will tell you when things enable me to tell you, and soon enough they will. But to-night—I won’t—I won’t.”
She left my side and went in front of me.
She turned upon me. “Look here,” she said, “I insist upon your being dead. Do you understand? I’m not joking. To-night you and I are out of life. It’s our time together. There may be other times, but this we won’t spoil. We’re—in Hades if you like. Where there’s nothing to hide and nothing to tell. No bodies even. No bothers. We loved each other—down there—and were kept apart, but now it doesn’t matter. It’s over. . . . If you won’t agree to that—I will go home.”
“I wanted,” I began.
“I know. Oh! my dear, if you’d only understand I understand. If you’d only not care—and love me to-night.”
“I do love you,” I said.
“Then love me,” she answered, “and leave all the things that bother you. Love me! Here I am!”
“No!” she said.
“Well, have your way.”
So she carried her point, and we wandered into the night together and Beatrice talked to me of love. . . .
I’d never heard a woman before in all my life who could talk of love, who could lay bare and develop and touch with imagination all that mass of fine emotion every woman, it may be, hides. She had read of love, she had thought of love, a thousand sweet lyrics had sounded through her brain and left fine fragments in her memory; she poured it out, all of it, shamelessly, skilfully, for me. I cannot give any sense of that talk, I cannot even tell how much of the delight of it was the magic of her voice, the glow of her near presence. And always we walked swathed warmly through a chilly air, along dim, interminable greasy roads—with never a soul abroad it seemed to us, never a beast in the fields.
“Why do people love each other?” I said.
“But why do I love you? Why is your voice better than any voice, your face sweeter than any face?”
“And why do I love you?” she asked; “not only what is fine in you, but what isn’t? Why do I love your dullness, your arrogance? For I do. To-night I love the very raindrops on the fur of your coat!” . . .
So we talked; and at last very wet, still glowing but a little tired, we parted at the garden door. We had been wandering for two hours in our strange irrational community of happiness, and all the world about us, and particularly Lady Osprey and her household, had been asleep—and dreaming of anything rather than Beatrice in the night and rain.
She stood in the doorway, a muffled figure with eyes that glowed.
“Come back,” she whispered. “I shall wait for you.”
She touched the lapel of my coat. “I love you now,” she said, and lifted her face to mine.
I held her to me and was atremble from top to toe. “O God!” I cried. “And I must go!”
She slipped from my arms and paused, regarding me. For an instant the world seemed full of fantastic possibilities.
“Yes, go!” she said, and vanished and slammed the door upon me, leaving me alone like a man new fallen from fairyland in the black darkness of the night.
That expedition to Mordet Island stands apart from all the rest of my life, detached, a piece by itself with an atmosphere of its own. It would, I suppose, make a book by itself—it has made a fairly voluminous official report—but so far as this novel of mine goes it is merely an episode, a contributory experience, and I mean to keep it at that.
Vile weather, an impatient fretting against unbearable slowness and delay, sea-sickness, general discomfort and humiliating self-revelation are the master values of these memories.
I was sick all through the journey out. I don’t know why. It was the only time I was ever sea-sick, and I have seen some pretty bad weather since I became a boat-builder. But that phantom smell of potatoes was peculiarly vile to me. Coming back on the brig we were all ill, every one of us, so soon as we got to sea, poisoned, I firmly believe, by quap. On the way out most of the others recovered in a few days, but the stuffiness below, the coarse food, the cramped dirty accommodation kept me, if not actually sea-sick, in a state of acute physical wretchedness the whole time. The ship abounded in cockroaches and more intimate vermin. I was cold all the time until after we passed Cape Verde, then I became steamily hot; I had been too preoccupied with Beatrice and my keen desire to get the Maud Mary under way at once, to consider a proper wardrobe for myself, and in particular I lacked a coat. Heavens! how I lacked that coat! And, moreover, I was cooped up with two of the worst bores in Christendom, Pollack and the captain. Pollack, after conducting his illness in a style better adapted to the capacity of an opera house than a small compartment, suddenly got insupportably well and breezy, and produced a manly pipe in which he smoked a tobacco as blond as himself, and divided his time almost equally between smoking it and trying to clean it. “There’s only three things you can clean a pipe with,” he used to remark with a twist of paper in hand. “The best’s a feather, the second’s a straw, and the third’s a girl’s hairpin. I never see such a ship. You can’t find any of ’em. Last time I came this way I did find hairpins anyway, and found ’em on the floor of the captain’s cabin. Regular deposit. Eh? . . . Feelin’ better?”
At which I usually swore.
“Oh, you’ll be all right soon. Don’t mind my puffin’ a bit? Eh?”
He never tired of asking me to “have a hand at Nap. Good game. Makes you forget it, and that’s half the battle.”
He would sit swaying with the rolling of the ship and suck at his pipe of blond tobacco and look with an inexpressibly sage but somnolent blue eye at the captain by the hour together. “Captain’s a Card,” he would say over and over again as the outcome of these meditations. “He’d like to know what we’re up to. He’d like to know—no end.”
That did seem to be the captain’s ruling idea. But he also wanted to impress me with the notion that he was a gentleman of good family and to air a number of views adverse to the English, to English literature, to the English constitution, and the like.
He had learnt the sea in the Roumanian navy, and English out of a book; he would still at times pronounce the e’s at the end of “there” and “here”; he was a naturalised Englishman, and he drove me into a reluctant and uncongenial patriotism by his everlasting carping at things English. Pollack would set himself to “draw him out.” Heaven alone can tell how near I came to murder.
Fifty-three days I had outward, cooped up with these two and a shy and profoundly depressed mate who read the Bible on Sundays and spent the rest of his leisure in lethargy, three and fifty days of life cooped up in a perpetual smell, in a persistent sick hunger that turned from the sight of food, in darkness, cold and wet, in a lightly ballasted ship that rolled and pitched and swayed. And all the time the sands in the hour-glass of my uncle’s fortunes were streaming out. Misery! Amidst it all I remember only one thing brightly, one morning of sunshine in the Bay of Biscay and a vision of frothing waves, sapphire green, a bird following our wake and our masts rolling about the sky. Then wind and rain close in on us again.
You must not imagine they were ordinary days, days, I mean, of an average length; they were not so much days as long damp slabs of time that stretched each one to the horizon, and much of that length was night. One paraded the staggering deck in a borrowed sou’-wester hour after hour in the chilly, windy, splashing and spitting darkness, or sat in the cabin, bored and ill, and looked at the faces of those inseparable companions by the help of a lamp that gave smell rather than light. Then one would see going up, up, up, and then sinking down, down, down, Pollack, extinct pipe in mouth, humorously observant, bringing his mind slowly to the seventy-seventh decision that the captain was a Card, while the words flowed from the latter in a nimble incessant good. “Dis England eet is not a country aristocratic, no! Eet is a glorified bourgeoisie! Eet is plutocratic. In England dere is no aristocracy since de Wars of Roses. In the rest of Europe east of the Latins, yes; in England, no.
“Eet is all middle-class, youra England. Everything you look at, middle-class. Respectable! Everything good—eet is, you say, shocking. Madame Grundy! Eet is all limited and computing and self-seeking. Dat is why your art is so limited, youra fiction, your philosophin, why you are all so inartistic. You want nothing but profit! What will pay! What would you?” . . .
He had all those violent adjuncts to speech we Western Europeans have abandoned, shruggings of the shoulders, waving of the arms, thrusting out of the face, wonderful grimaces and twiddlings of the hands under your nose until you wanted to hit them away. Day after day it went on, and I had to keep any anger to myself, to reserve myself for the time ahead when it would be necessary to see the quap was got aboard and stowed—knee deep in this man’s astonishment. I knew he would make a thousand objections to all we had before us. He talked like a drugged man. It ran glibly over his tongue. And all the time one could see his seamanship fretting him, he was gnawed by responsibility, perpetually uneasy about the ship’s position, perpetually imagining dangers. If a sea hit us exceptionally hard he’d be out of the cabin in an instant making an outcry of inquiries, and he was pursued by a dread of the hold, of ballast shifting, of insidious wicked leaks. As we drew near the African coast his fear of rocks and shoals became infectious.
“I do not know dis coast,” he used to say. “I cama hera because Gordon-Nasmyth was coming too. Den he does not come!”
“Fortunes of war,” I said, and tried to think in vain if any motive but sheer haphazard could have guided Gordon-Nasmyth in the choice of these two men. I think perhaps Gordon-Nasmyth had the artistic temperament and wanted contrasts, and also that the captain helped him to express his own malignant Anti-Britishism.
He was indeed an exceptionally inefficient captain. On the whole I was glad I had come even at the eleventh hour to see to things.
(The captain, by-the-by, did at last, out of sheer nervousness, get aground at the end of Mordet’s Island, but we got off in an hour or so with a swell and a little hard work in the boat.)
I suspected the mate of his opinion of the captain long before he expressed it. He was, I say, a taciturn man, but one day speech broke through him. He had been sitting at the table with his arms folded on it, musing drearily, pipe in mouth, and the voice of the captain drifted down from above.
The mate lifted his heavy eyes to me and regarded me for a moment. Then he began to heave with the beginnings of speech. He disembarrassed himself of his pipe. I cowered with expectation. Speech was coming at last. Before he spoke he nodded reassuringly once or twice.
He moved his head strangely and mysteriously, but a child might have known he spoke of the captain.
“E’s a foreigner.”
He regarded me doubtfully for a time, and at last decided for the sake of lucidity to clench the matter.
“That’s what E is—a dago!”
He nodded like a man who gives a last tap to a nail, and I could see he considered his remark well and truly laid. His face, though still resolute, became as tranquil and uneventful as a huge hall after a public meeting has dispersed out of it, and finally he closed and locked it with his pipe.
“Roumanian Jew, isn’t he?” I said.
He nodded darkly and almost forbiddingly.
More would have been too much. The thing was said. But from that time forth I knew I could depend upon him and that he and I were friends. It happens I never did have to depend upon him, but that does not affect our relationship.
Forward the crew lived lives very much after the fashion of ours, more crowded, more cramped and dirty, wetter, steamier, more verminous. The coarse food they had was still not so coarse but that they did not think they were living “like fighting cocks.” So far as I could make out they were all nearly destitute men; hardly any of them had a proper sea outfit, and what small possessions they had were a source of mutual distrust. And as we pitched and floundered southward they gambled and fought, were brutal to one another, argued and wrangled loudly, until we protested at the uproar.
There’s no romance about the sea in a small sailing ship as I saw it. The romance is in the mind of the landsman dreamer. These brigs and schooners and brigantines that still stand out from every little port are relics from an age of petty trade, as rotten and obsolescent as a Georgian house that has sunken into a slum. They are indeed just floating fragments of slum, much as icebergs are floating fragments of glacier. The civilised man who has learnt to wash, who has developed a sense of physical honour, of cleanly temperate feeding, of time, can endure them no more. They pass, and the clanking coal-wasting steamers will follow them, giving place to cleaner, finer things. . . .
But so it was I made my voyage to Africa, and came at last into a world of steamy fogs and a hot smell of vegetable decay, and into sound and sight of surf and distant intermittent glimpses of the coast. I lived a strange concentrated life through all that time, such a life as a creature must do that has fallen in a well. All my former ways ceased, all my old vistas became memories.
The situation I was saving was very small and distant now; I felt its urgency no more. Beatrice and Lady Grove, my uncle and the Hardingham, my soaring in the air and my habitual wide vision of swift effectual things, became as remote as if they were in some world I had left for ever. . . .
All these African memories stand by themselves. It was for me an expedition into the realms of undisciplined nature out of the world that is ruled by men, my first bout with that hot side of our mother that gives you the jungle—that cold side that gives you the air-eddy I was beginning to know passing well. They are memories woven upon a fabric of sunshine and heat and a constant warm smell of decay. They end in rain—such rain as I had never seen before, a vehement, a frantic downpouring of water, but our first slow passage through the channels behind Mordet’s Island was in incandescent sunshine.
There we go in my memory still, a blistered dirty ship with patched sails and a battered mermaid to present Maud Mary, sounding and taking thought between high ranks of forest whose trees come out knee-deep at last in the water. There we go with a little breeze on our quarter, Mordet Island rounded and the quap, it might be within a day of us.
Here and there strange blossoms woke the dank intensities of green with a trumpet call of colour. Things crept among the jungle and peeped and dashed back rustling into stillness. Always in the sluggishly drifting, opaque water were eddyings and stirrings; little rushes of bubbles came chuckling up light-heartedly from this or that submerged conflict and tragedy; now and again were crocodiles like a stranded fleet of logs basking in the sun. Still it was by day, a dreary stillness broken only by insect sounds and the creaking and flapping of our progress, by the calling of the soundings and the captain’s confused shouts; but in the night as we lay moored to a clump of trees the darkness brought a thousand swampy things to life and out of the forest came screaming and howlings, screaming and yells that made us glad to be afloat. And once we saw between the tree stems long blazing fires. We passed two or three villages landward, and brown-black women and children came and stared at us and gesticulated, and once a man came out in a boat from a creek and hailed us in an unknown tongue; and so at last we came to a great open place, a broad lake rimmed with a desolation of mud and bleached refuse and dead trees, free from crocodiles or water birds or sight or sound of any living thing, and saw far off, even as Nasmyth had described, the ruins of the deserted station, and hard by two little heaps of buff-hued rubbish under a great rib of rock, the quap! The forest receded. The land to the right of us fell away and became barren, and far on across notch in its backbone was surf and the sea.
We took the ship in towards those heaps and the ruined jetty slowly and carefully. The captain came and talked.
“This is eet?” he said.
“Yes,” said I.
“Is eet for trade we have come?”
This was ironical.
“No,” said I.
“Gordon-Nasmyth would haf told me long ago what it ees for we haf come.”
“I’ll tell you now,” I said. “We are going to lay in as close as we can to those two heaps of stuff—you see them?—under the rock. Then we are going to chuck all our ballast overboard and take those in. Then we’re going home.”
“May I presume to ask—is eet gold?”
“No,” I said incivilly, “it isn’t.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s stuff—of some commercial value.”
“We can’t do eet,” he said.
“We can,” I answered reassuringly.
“We can’t,” he said as confidently. “I don’t mean what you mean. You know so liddle—But—dis is forbidden country.”
I turned on him suddenly angry and met bright excited eyes. For a minute we scrutinised one another. Then I said, “That’s our risk. Trade is forbidden. But this isn’t trade. . . . This thing’s got to be done.”
His eyes glittered and he shook his head. . . .
The brig stood in slowly through the twilight toward this strange scorched and blistered stretch of beach, and the man at the wheel strained his ears to listening the low-voiced angry argument that began between myself and the captain, that was presently joined by Pollack. We moored at last within a hundred yards of our goal, and all through our dinner and far into the night we argued intermittently and fiercely with the captain about our right to load just what we pleased. “I will haf nothing to do with eet,” he persisted. “I wash my hands.” It seemed that night as though we argued in vain. “If it is not trade,” he said, “it is prospecting and mining. That is worse. Any one who knows anything—outside England—knows that is worse.”
We argued and I lost my temper and swore at him. Pollack kept cooler and chewed his pipe watchfully with that blue eye of his upon the captain’s gestures. Finally I went on deck to cool. The sky was overcast I discovered all the men were in a knot forward, staring at the faint quivering luminosity that had spread over the heaps of quap, a phosphorescence such as one sees at times on rotting wood. And about the beach east and west there were patches and streaks of something like diluted moonshine. . . .
In the small hours I was still awake and turning over scheme after scheme in my mind whereby I might circumvent the captain’s opposition. I meant to get that quap aboard if I had to kill some one to do it. Never in my life had I been so thwarted! After this intolerable voyage! There came a rap at my cabin door and then it opened and I made out a bearded face. “Come in,” I said, and a black voluble figure I could just see obscurely came in to talk in my private ear and fill my cabin with its whisperings and gestures. It was the captain. He, too, had been awake and thinking things over. He had come to explain—enormously. I lay there hating him and wondering if I and Pollack could lock him in his cabin and run the ship without him. “I do not want to spoil dis expedition,” emerged from a cloud of protestations, and then I was able to disentangle “a commission—shush a small commission—for special risks!” “Special risks” became frequent. I let him explain himself out. It appeared he was also demanding an apology for something I had said. No doubt I had insulted him generously. At last came definite offers. I broke my silence and bargained.
“Pollack!” I cried and hammered the partition.
“What’s up?” asked Pollack.
I stated the case concisely.
There came a silence.
“He’s a Card,” said Pollack. “Let’s give him his commission. I don’t mind.”
“Eh?” I cried.
“I said he was a Card, that’s all,” said Pollack. “I’m coming.”
He appeared in my doorway a faint white figure joined our vehement whisperings.
We had to buy the captain off; we had to promise him ten per cent. of our problematical profits. We were to give him ten per cent. on what we sold the cargo for over and above his legitimate pay, and I found in my out-bargained and disordered state small consolation in the thought that I, as the Gordon-Nasmyth expedition, was to sell the stuff to myself as Business Organisations. And he further exasperated me by insisting on having our bargain in writing. “In the form of a letter,” he insisted.
“All right,” I acquiesced, “in the form of a letter. Here goes! Get a light!”
“And the apology,” he said, folding up the letter.
“All right,” I said; “Apology.”
My hand shook with anger as I wrote, and afterwards I could not sleep for hate of him. At last I got up. I suffered, I found, from an unusual clumsiness. I struck my toe against my cabin door, and cut myself as I shaved. I found myself at last pacing the deck under the dawn in a mood of extreme exasperation. The sun rose abruptly and splashed light blindingly into my eyes and I swore at the sun. I found myself imagining fresh obstacles with the men and talking aloud in anticipatory rehearsal of the consequent row.
The malaria of the quap was already in my blood.
Sooner or later the ridiculous embargo that now lies upon all the coast eastward of Mordet Island will be lifted and the reality of the deposits of quap ascertained. I am sure that we were merely taking the outcrop of a stratum of nodulated deposits that dip steeply seaward. Those heaps were merely the crumbled out contents of two irregular cavities in the rock; they are as natural as any talus or heap of that kind, and the mud along the edge of the water for miles is mixed with quap, and is radio-active and lifeless and faintly phosphorescent at night. But the reader will find the full particulars of my impression of all this in the Geological Magazine for October, l905, and to that I must refer him. There, too, he will find my unconfirmed theories of its nature. If I am right it is something far more significant from the scientific point of view than those incidental constituents of various rare metals, pitchblende, rutile, and the like, upon which the revolutionary discoveries of the last decade are based. Those are just little molecular centres of disintegration, of that mysterious decay and rotting of those elements, elements once regarded as the most stable things in nature. But there is something—the only word that comes near it is cancerous—and that is not very near, about the whole of quap, something that creeps and lives as a disease lives by destroying; an elemental stirring and disarrangement, incalculably maleficent and strange.
This is no imaginative comparison of mine. To my mind radio-activity is a real disease of matter. Moreover, it is a contagious disease. It spreads. You bring those debased and crumbling atoms near others and those too presently catch the trick of swinging themselves out of coherent existence. It is in matter exactly what the decay of our old culture is in society, a loss of traditions and distinctions and assured reactions. When I think of these inexplicable dissolvent centres that have come into being in our globe—these quap heaps are surely by far the largest that have yet been found in the world; the rest as yet mere specks in grains and crystals—I am haunted by a grotesque fancy of the ultimate eating away and dry-rotting and dispersal of all our world. So that while man still struggles and dreams his very substance will change and crumble from beneath him. I mention this here as a queer persistent fancy. Suppose, indeed, that is to be the end of our planet; no splendid climax and finale, no towering accumulation of achievements, but just—atomic decay! I add that to the ideas of the suffocating comet, the dark body out of space, the burning out of the sun, the distorted orbit, as a new and far more possible end—as Science can see ends—to this strange by-play of matter that we call human life. I do not believe this can be the end; no human soul can believe in such an end and go on living, but to it science points as a possible thing, science and reason alike. If single human beings—if one single ricketty infant—can be born as it were by accident and die futile, why not the whole race? These are questions I have never answered, that now I never attempt to answer, but the thought of quap and its mysteries brings them back to me.
I can witness that the beach and mud for two miles or more either way was a lifeless beach—lifeless as I could have imagined no tropical mud could ever be, and all the dead branches and leaves and rotting dead fish and so forth that drifted ashore became presently shrivelled and white. Sometimes crocodiles would come up out of the water and bask, and now and then water birds would explore the mud and rocky ribs that rose out of it, in a mood of transitory speculation. That was its utmost admiration. And the air felt at once hot and austere, dry and blistering, and altogether different the warm moist embrace that had met us at our first African landfall and to which we had grown accustomed.
I believe that the primary influence of the quap upon us was to increase the conductivity of our nerves, but that is a mere unjustifiable speculation on my part. At any rate it gave a sort of east wind effect to life. We all became irritable, clumsy, languid and disposed to be impatient with our languor. We moored the brig to the rocks with difficulty, and got aground on mud and decided to stick there and tow off when we had done—the bottom was as greasy as butter. Our efforts to fix up planks and sleepers in order to wheel the quap aboard were as ill-conceived as that sort of work can be—and that sort of work can at times be very ill-conceived. The captain had a superstitious fear of his hold: he became wildly gesticulatory and expository and incompetent at the bare thought of it. His shouts still echo in my memory, becoming as each crisis approached less and less like any known tongue.
But I cannot now write the history of those days of blundering and toil: of how Milton, one of the boys, fell from a plank to the beach, thirty feet perhaps, with his barrow and broke his arm and I believe a rib, of how I and Pollack set the limb and nursed him through the fever that followed, of how one man after another succumbed to a feverish malaria, and how I—by virtue of my scientific reputation—was obliged to play the part of doctor and dose them with quinine, and then finding that worse than nothing, with rum and small doses of Easton’s Syrup, of which there chanced to be a case of bottles aboard—Heaven and Gordon-Nasmyth know why. For three long days we lay in misery and never shipped a barrow-load. Then, when they resumed, the men’s hands broke out into sores. There were no gloves available; and I tried to get them, while they shovelled and wheeled, to cover their hands with stockings or greased rags. They would not do this on account of the heat and discomfort. This attempt of mine did, however, direct their attention to the quap as the source of their illness and precipitated what in the end finished our lading, an informal strike. “We’ve had enough of this,” they said, and they meant it. They came aft to say as much. They cowed the captain.
Through all these days the weather was variously vile, first a furnace heat under a sky of a scowling intensity of blue, then a hot fog that stuck in one’s throat like wool and turned the men on the planks into colourless figures of giants, then a wild burst of thunderstorms, mad elemental uproar and rain. Through it all, against illness, heat, confusion of mind, one master impetus prevailed with me, to keep the shipping going, to maintain one motif at least, whatever else arose or ceased, the chuff of the spades, the squeaking and shriek of the barrows, the pluppa, pluppa, pluppa, as the men came trotting along the swinging high planks, and then at last, the dollop, dollop, as the stuff shot into the hold. “Another barrow-load, thank God! Another fifteen hundred, or it may be two thousand pounds, for the saving of Ponderevo! . . . !”
I found out many things about myself and humanity in those weeks of effort behind Mordet Island. I understand now the heart of the sweater, of the harsh employer, of the nigger-driver. I had brought these men into a danger they didn’t understand, I was fiercely resolved to overcome their opposition and bend and use them for my purpose, and I hated the men. But I hated all humanity during the time that the quap was near me.
And my mind was pervaded, too, by a sense of urgency and by the fear that we should be discovered and our proceedings stopped. I wanted to get out to sea again—to be beating up northward with our plunder. I was afraid our masts showed to seaward and might betray us to some curious passer on the high sea. And one evening near the end I saw a canoe with three natives far off down the lake; I got field-glasses from the captain and scrutinised them, and I could see them staring at us. One man might have been a half-breed and was dressed in white. They watched us for some time very quietly and then paddled off into some channel in the forest shadows.
And for three nights running, so that it took a painful grip upon my inflamed imagination, I dreamt of my uncle’s face, only that it was ghastly white like a clown’s, and the throat was cut from ear to ear—a long ochreous cut. “Too late,” he said; “Too late! . . . ”
A day or so after we had got to work upon the quap I found myself so sleepless and miserable that the ship became unendurable. Just before the rush of sunrise I borrowed Pollack’s gun, walked down the planks, clambered over the quap heaps and prowled along the beach. I went perhaps a mile and a half that day and some distance beyond the ruins of the old station. I became interested in the desolation about me, and found when I returned that I was able to sleep for nearly an hour. It was delightful to have been alone for so long,—no captain, no Pollack, no one. Accordingly I repeated this expedition the next morning and the next until it became a custom with me. There was little for me to do once the digging and wheeling was organised, and so these prowlings of mine grew longer and longer, and presently I began to take food with me.
I pushed these walks far beyond the area desolated by the quap. On the edges of that was first a zone of stunted vegetation, then a sort of swampy jungle that was difficult to penetrate, and then the beginnings of the forest, a scene of huge tree stems and tangled creeper ropes and roots mingled with oozy mud. Here I used to loaf in a state between botanising and reverie—always very anxious to know what was up above in the sunlight—and here it was I murdered a man.
It was the most unmeaning and purposeless murder imaginable. Even as I write down its well-remembered particulars there comes again the sense of its strangeness, its pointlessness, its incompatibility with any of the neat and definite theories people hold about life and the meaning of the world. I did this thing and I want to tell of my doing it, but why I did it and particularly why I should be held responsible for it I cannot explain.
That morning I had come upon a track in the forest, and it had occurred to me as a disagreeable idea that this was a human pathway. I didn’t want to come upon any human beings. The less our expedition saw of the African population the better for its prospects. Thus far we had been singularly free from native pestering. So I turned back and was making my way over mud and roots and dead fronds and petals scattered from the green world above when abruptly I saw my victim.
I became aware of him perhaps forty feet off standing quite still and regarding me.
He wasn’t by any means a pretty figure. He was very black and naked except for a dirty loin-cloth, his legs were ill-shaped and his toes spread wide and the upper edge of his cloth and a girdle of string cut his clumsy abdomen into folds. His forehead was low, his nose very flat and his lower lip swollen and purplish-red. His hair was short and fuzzy, and about his neck was a string and a little purse of skin. He carried a musket, and a powder-flask was stuck in his girdle. It was a curious confrontation. There opposed to him stood I, a little soiled, perhaps, but still a rather elaborately civilised human being, born, bred and trained in a vague tradition. In my hand was an unaccustomed gun. And each of us was essentially a teeming, vivid brain, tensely excited by the encounter, quite unaware of the other’s mental content or what to do with him.
He stepped back a pace or so, stumbled and turned to run.
“Stop,” I cried; “stop, you fool!” and started to run after him, shouting such things in English. But I was no match for him over the roots and mud.
I had a preposterous idea. “He mustn’t get away and tell them!”
And with that instantly I brought both feet together, raised my gun, aimed quite coolly, drew the trigger carefully and shot him neatly in the back.
I saw, and saw with a leap of pure exaltation, the smash of my bullet between his shoulder blades. “Got him,” said I, dropping my gun and down he flopped and died without a groan. “By Jove!” I cried with note of surprise, “I’ve killed him!” I looked about me and then went forward cautiously, in a mood between curiosity and astonishment, to look at this man whose soul I had flung so unceremoniously out of our common world. I went to him, not as one goes to something one has made or done, but as one approaches something found.
He was frightfully smashed out in front; he must have died in the instant. I stooped and raised him by his shoulder and realised that. I dropped him, and stood about and peered about me through the trees. “My word!” I said. He was the second dead human being—apart, I mean, from surgical properties and mummies and common shows of that sort—that I have ever seen. I stood over him wondering, wondering beyond measure.
A practical idea came into that confusion. Had any one heard the gun?
After a time I felt securer, and gave my mind again to the dead I had killed. What must I do?
It occurred to me that perhaps I ought to bury him. At any rate, I ought to hide him. I reflected coolly, and then put my gun within easy reach and dragged him by the arm towards a place where the mud seemed soft, and thrust him in. His powder-flask slipped from his loin-cloth, and I went back to get it. Then I pressed him down with the butt of my rifle.
Afterwards this all seemed to me most horrible, but at the time it was entirely a matter-of-fact transaction. I looked round for any other visible evidence of his fate, looked round as one does when one packs one’s portmanteau in an hotel bedroom.
When I got my bearings, and carefully returned towards the ship. I had the mood of grave concentration of a boy who has lapsed into poaching. And the business only began to assume proper proportions for me as I got near the ship, to seem any other kind of thing than the killing of a bird or rabbit.
In the night, however, it took on enormous and portentous forms. “By God!” I cried suddenly, starting wide awake; “but it was murder!”
I lay after that wide awake, staring at my memories. In some odd way these visions mixed up with my dream of in my uncle in his despair. The black body which saw now damaged and partly buried, but which, nevertheless, I no longer felt was dead but acutely alive and perceiving, I mixed up with the ochreous slash under my uncle’s face. I tried to dismiss this horrible obsession from my mind, but it prevailed over all my efforts.
The next day was utterly black with my sense of that ugly creature’s body. I am the least superstitious of men, but it drew me. It drew me back into those thickets to the very place where I had hidden him.
Some evil and detestable beast had been at him, and he lay disinterred.
Methodically I buried his swollen and mangled carcass again, and returned to the ship for another night of dreams. Next day for all the morning I resisted the impulse to go to him, and played nap with Pollack with my secret gnawing at me, and in the evening started to go and was near benighted. I never told a soul of them of this thing I had done.
Next day I went early, and he had gone, and there were human footmarks and ugly stains round the muddy hole from which he had been dragged.
I returned to the ship, disconcerted and perplexed. That day it was the men came aft, with blistered hands and faces, and sullen eyes. When they proclaimed, through Edwards, their spokesman, “We’ve had enough of this, and we mean it,” I answered very readily, “So have I. Let’s go.”
We were none too soon. People had been reconnoitring us, the telegraph had been at work, and we were not four hours at sea before we ran against the gunboat that had been sent down the coast to look for us and that would have caught us behind the island like a beast in a trap. It was a night of driving cloud that gave intermittent gleams of moonlight; the wind and sea were strong and we were rolling along through a drift of rails and mist. Suddenly the world was white with moonshine. The gunboat came out as a long dark shape wallowing on the water to the east.
She sighted the Maud Mary at once, and fired some sort of popgun to arrest us.
The mate turned to me.
“Shall I tell the captain?”
“The captain be damned” said I, and we let him sleep through two hours of chase till a rainstorm swallowed us up. Then we changed our course and sailed right across them, and by morning only her smoke was showing.
We were clear of Africa—and with the booty aboard I did not see what stood between us and home.
For the first time since I had fallen sick in the Thames my spirits rose. I was sea-sick and physically disgusted, of course, but I felt kindly in spite of my qualms. So far as I could calculate then the situation was saved. I saw myself returning triumphantly into the Thames, and nothing on earth to prevent old Capern’s Perfect Filament going on the market in fortnight. I had the monopoly of electric lamps beneath my feet.
I was released from the spell of that bloodstained black body all mixed up with grey-black mud. I was going back to baths and decent food and aeronautics and Beatrice. I was going back to Beatrice and my real life again—out of this well into which I had fallen. It would have needed something more than sea-sickness and quap fever to prevent my spirits rising.
I told the captain that I agreed with him that the British were the scum of Europe, the westward drift of all the people, a disgusting rabble, and I lost three pounds by attenuated retail to Pollack at ha’penny nap and euchre.
And then you know, as we got out into the Atlantic this side of Cape Verde, the ship began to go to pieces. I don’t pretend for one moment to understand what happened. But I think Greiffenhagen’s recent work on the effects of radium upon ligneous tissue does rather carry out my idea that emanations from quap have rapid rotting effect upon woody fibre.
From the first there had been a different feel about the ship, and as the big winds and waves began to strain her she commenced leaking. Soon she was leaking—not at any particular point, but everywhere. She did not spring a leak, I mean, but water came in first of all near the decaying edges of her planks, and then through them.
I firmly believe the water came through the wood. First it began to ooze, then to trickle. It was like trying to carry moist sugar in a thin paper bag. Soon we were taking in water as though we had opened a door in her bottom.
Once it began, the thing went ahead beyond all fighting. For a day or so we did our best, and I can still remember in my limbs and back the pumping—the fatigue in my arms and the memory of a clear little dribble of water that jerked as one pumped, and of knocking off and the being awakened to go on again, and of fatigue piling up upon fatigue. At last we ceased to think of anything but pumping; one became a thing of torment enchanted, doomed to pump for ever. I still remember it as pure relief when at last Pollack came to me pipe in mouth.
“The captain says the damned thing’s going down right now;’ he remarked, chewing his mouthpiece. “Eh?”
“Good idea!” I said. “One can’t go on pumping for ever.”
And without hurry or alacrity, sullenly and wearily we got into the boats and pulled away from the Maud Mary until we were clear of her, and then we stayed resting on our oars, motionless upon a glassy sea, waiting for her to sink. We were all silent, even the captain was silent until she went down. And then he spoke quite mildly in an undertone.
“Dat is the first ship I haf ever lost. . . . And it was not a fair game! It wass not a cargo any man should take. No!”
I stared at the slow eddies that circled above the departed Maud Mary, and the last chance of Business Organisations. I felt weary beyond emotion. I thought of my heroics to Beatrice and my uncle, of my prompt “I’ll go,” and of all the ineffectual months I had spent after this headlong decision. I was moved to laughter at myself and fate.
But the captain and the men did not laugh. The men scowled at me and rubbed their sore and blistered hands, and set themselves to row. . . .
As all the world knows we were picked up by the Union Castle liner, Portland Castle.
The hairdresser aboard was a wonderful man, and he even improvised me a dress suit, and produced a clean shirt and warm underclothing. I had a hot bath, and dressed and dined and drank a bottle of Burgundy.
“Now,” I said, “are there any newspapers? I want to know what’s been happening in the world.”
My steward gave me what he had, but I landed at Plymouth still largely ignorant of the course of events. I shook off Pollack, and left the captain and mate in an hotel, and the men in a Sailor’s Home until I could send to pay them off, and I made my way to the station.
The newspapers I bought, the placards I saw, all England indeed resounded to my uncle’s bankruptcy.