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Chapter 13

This was the reason why Mr. Sterne's confidential communication,
delivered hurriedly on the shore alongside the dark silent ship,
had disturbed his equanimity. It was the most incomprehensible and
unexpected thing that could happen; and the perturbation of his spirit
was so great that, forgetting all about his letters, he ran rapidly up
the bridge ladder.

The portable table was being put together for dinner to the left of the
wheel by two pig-tailed "boys," who as usual snarled at each other
over the job, while another, a doleful, burly, very yellow Chinaman,
resembling Mr. Massy, waited apathetically with the cloth over his arm
and a pile of thick dinner-plates against his chest. A common cabin lamp
with its globe missing, brought up from below, had been hooked to the
wooden framework of the awning; the side-screens had been lowered all
round; Captain Whalley filling the depths of the wicker-chair seemed to
sit benumbed in a canvas tent crudely lighted, and used for the storing
of nautical objects; a shabby steering-wheel, a battered brass binnacle
on a stout mahogany stand, two dingy life-buoys, an old cork fender
lying in a corner, dilapidated deck-lockers with loops of thin rope
instead of door-handles.

He shook off the appearance of numbness to return Mr. Van Wyk's
unusually brisk greeting, but relapsed directly afterwards. To accept
a pressing invitation to dinner "up at the house" cost him another very
visible physical effort. Mr. Van Wyk, perplexed, folded his arms, and
leaning back against the rail, with his little, black, shiny feet well
out, examined him covertly.

"I've noticed of late that you are not quite yourself, old friend."

He put an affectionate gentleness into the last two words. The real
intimacy of their intercourse had never been so vividly expressed
before.

"Tut, tut, tut!"

The wicker-chair creaked heavily.

"Irritable," commented Mr. Van Wyk to himself; and aloud, "I'll expect
to see you in half an hour, then," he said negligently, moving off.

"In half an hour," Captain Whalley's rigid silvery head repeated behind
him as if out of a trance.

Amidships, below, two voices, close against the engineroom, could be
heard answering each other--one angry and slow, the other alert.

"I tell you the beast has locked himself in to get drunk."

"Can't help it now, Mr. Massy. After all, a man has a right to shut
himself up in his cabin in his own time."

"Not to get drunk."

"I heard him swear that the worry with the boilers was enough to drive
any man to drink," Sterne said maliciously.

Massy hissed out something about bursting the door in. Mr. Van Wyk, to
avoid them, crossed in the dark to the other side of the deserted deck.
The planking of the little wharf rattled faintly under his hasty feet.

"Mr. Van Wyk! Mr. Van Wyk!"

He walked on: somebody was running on the path. "You've forgotten to get
your mail."

Sterne, holding a bundle of papers in his hand, caught up with him.

"Oh, thanks."

But, as the other continued at his elbow, Mr. Van Wyk stopped short.
The overhanging eaves, descending low upon the lighted front of the
bungalow, threw their black straight-edged shadow into the great body of
the night on that side. Everything was very still. A tinkle of cutlery
and a slight jingle of glasses were heard. Mr. Van Wyk's servants were
laying the table for two on the veranda.

"I'm afraid you give me no credit whatever for my good intentions in the
matter I've spoken to you about," said Sterne.

"I simply don't understand you."

"Captain Whalley is a very audacious man, but he will understand that
his game is up. That's all that anybody need ever know of it from me.
Believe me, I am very considerate in this, but duty is duty. I don't
want to make a fuss. All I ask you, as his friend, is to tell him from
me that the game's up. That will be sufficient."

Mr. Van Wyk felt a loathsome dismay at this queer privilege of
friendship. He would not demean himself by asking for the slightest
explanation; to drive the other away with contumely he did not think
prudent--as yet, at any rate. So much assurance staggered him. Who
could tell what there could be in it, he thought? His regard for Captain
Whalley had the tenacity of a disinterested sentiment, and his practical
instinct coming to his aid, he concealed his scorn.

"I gather, then, that this is something grave."

"Very grave," Sterne assented solemnly, delighted at having produced
an effect at last. He was ready to add some effusive protestations
of regret at the "unavoidable necessity," but Mr. Van Wyk cut him
short--very civilly, however.

Once on the veranda Mr. Van Wyk put his hands in his pockets, and,
straddling his legs, stared down at a black panther skin lying on the
floor before a rocking-chair. "It looks as if the fellow had not the
pluck to play his own precious game openly," he thought.

This was true enough. In the face of Massy's last rebuff Sterne dared
not declare his knowledge. His object was simply to get charge of the
steamer and keep it for some time. Massy would never forgive him for
forcing himself on; but if Captain Whalley left the ship of his own
accord, the command would devolve upon him for the rest of the trip;
so he hit upon the brilliant idea of scaring the old man away. A vague
menace, a mere hint, would be enough in such a brazen case; and, with
a strange admixture of compassion, he thought that Batu Beru was a
very good place for throwing up the sponge. The skipper could go ashore
quietly, and stay with that Dutchman of his. Weren't these two as thick
as thieves together? And on reflection he seemed to see that there was a
way to work the whole thing through that great friend of the old
man's. This was another brilliant idea. He had an inborn preference for
circuitous methods. In this particular case he desired to remain in the
background as much as possible, to avoid exasperating Massy needlessly.
No fuss! Let it all happen naturally.

Mr. Van Wyk all through the dinner was conscious of a sense of isolation
that invades sometimes the closeness of human intercourse. Captain
Whalley failed lamentably and obviously in his attempts to eat
something. He seemed overcome by a strange absentmindedness. His hand
would hover irresolutely, as if left without guidance by a preoccupied
mind. Mr. Van Wyk had heard him coming up from a long way off in the
profound stillness of the river-side, and had noticed the irresolute
character of the footfalls. The toe of his boot had struck the bottom
stair as though he had come along mooning with his head in the air
right up to the steps of the veranda. Had the captain of the Sofala been
another sort of man he would have suspected the work of age there. But
one glance at him was enough. Time--after, indeed, marking him for its
own--had given him up to his usefulness, in which his simple faith would
see a proof of Divine mercy. "How could I contrive to warn him?" Mr. Van
Wyk wondered, as if Captain Whalley had been miles and miles away, out
of sight and earshot of all evil. He was sickened by an immense disgust
of Sterne. To even mention his threat to a man like Whalley would be
positively indecent. There was something more vile and insulting in
its hint than in a definite charge of crime--the debasing taint of
blackmailing. "What could anyone bring against him?" he asked himself.
This was a limpid personality. "And for what object?" The Power that man
trusted had thought fit to leave him nothing on earth that envy could
lay hold of, except a bare crust of bread.

"Won't you try some of this?" he asked, pushing a dish slightly.
Suddenly it seemed to Mr. Van Wyk that Sterne might possibly be coveting
the command of the Sofala. His cynicism was quite startled by what
looked like a proof that no man may count himself safe from his kind
unless in the very abyss of misery. An intrigue of that sort was hardly
worth troubling about, he judged; but still, with such a fool as Massy
to deal with, Whalley ought to and must be warned.

At this moment Captain Whalley, bolt upright, the deep cavities of the
eyes overhung by a bushy frown, and one large brown hand resting on each
side of his empty plate, spoke across the tablecloth abruptly--"Mr. Van
Wyk, you've always treated me with the most humane consideration."

"My dear captain, you make too much of a simple fact that I am not
a savage." Mr. Van Wyk, utterly revolted by the thought of Sterne's
obscure attempt, raised his voice incisively, as if the mate had been
hiding somewhere within earshot. "Any consideration I have been able to
show was no more than the rightful due of a character I've learned to
regard by this time with an esteem that nothing can shake."

A slight ring of glass made him lift his eyes from the slice of
pine-apple he was cutting into small pieces on his plate. In changing
his position Captain Whalley had contrived to upset an empty tumbler.

Without looking that way, leaning sideways on his elbow, his other
hand shading his brow, he groped shakily for it, then desisted. Van Wyk
stared blankly, as if something momentous had happened all at once.
He did not know why he should feel so startled; but he forgot Sterne
utterly for the moment.

"Why, what's the matter?"

And Captain Whalley, half-averted, in a deadened, agitated voice,
muttered--

"Esteem!"

"And I may add something more," Mr. Van Wyk, very steady-eyed,
pronounced slowly.

"Hold! Enough!" Captain Whalley did not change his attitude or raise his
voice. "Say no more! I can make you no return. I am too poor even for
that now. Your esteem is worth having. You are not a man that would
stoop to deceive the poorest sort of devil on earth, or make a ship
unseaworthy every time he takes her to sea."

Mr. Van Wyk, leaning forward, his face gone pink all over, with the
starched table-napkin over his knees, was inclined to mistrust his
senses, his power of comprehension, the sanity of his guest.

"Where? Why? In the name of God!--what's this? What ship? I don't
understand who . . ."

"Then, in the name of God, it is I! A ship's unseaworthy when her
captain can't see. I am going blind."

Mr. Van Wyk made a slight movement, and sat very still afterwards for
a few seconds; then, with the thought of Sterne's "The game's up," he
ducked under the table to pick up the napkin which had slipped off his
knees. This was the game that was up. And at the same time the muffled
voice of Captain Whalley passed over him--

"I've deceived them all. Nobody knows."

He emerged flushed to the eyes. Captain Whalley, motionless under the
full blaze of the lamp, shaded his face with his hand.

"And you had that courage?"

"Call it by what name you like. But you are a humane
man--a--a--gentleman, Mr. Van Wyk. You may have asked me what I had done
with my conscience."

He seemed to muse, profoundly silent, very still in his mournful pose.

"I began to tamper with it in my pride. You begin to see a lot of things
when you are going blind. I could not be frank with an old chum even.
I was not frank with Massy--no, not altogether. I knew he took me for
a wealthy sailor fool, and I let him. I wanted to keep up my
importance--because there was poor Ivy away there--my daughter. What did
I want to trade on his misery for? I did trade on it--for her. And now,
what mercy could I expect from him? He would trade on mine if he knew
it. He would hunt the old fraud out, and stick to the money for a year.
Ivy's money. And I haven't kept a penny for myself. How am I going to
live for a year. A year! In a year there will be no sun in the sky for
her father."

His deep voice came out, awfully veiled, as though he had been
overwhelmed by the earth of a landslide, and talking to you of the
thoughts that haunt the dead in their graves. A cold shudder ran down
Mr. Van Wyk's back.

"And how long is it since you have . . .?" he began.

"It was a long time before I could bring myself to believe in this--this
visitation." Captain Whalley spoke with gloomy patience from under his
hand.

He had not thought he had deserved it. He had begun by deceiving himself
from day to day, from week to week. He had the Serang at hand there--an
old servant. It came on gradually, and when he could no longer deceive
himself . . .

His voice died out almost.

"Rather than give her up I set myself to deceive you all."

"It's incredible," whispered Mr. Van Wyk. Captain Whalley's appalling
murmur flowed on.

"Not even the sign of God's anger could make me forget her. How could I
forsake my child, feeling my vigor all the time--the blood warm within
me? Warm as yours. It seems to me that, like the blinded Samson, I
would find the strength to shake down a temple upon my head. She's a
struggling woman--my own child that we used to pray over together, my
poor wife and I. Do you remember that day I as well as told you that I
believed God would let me live to a hundred for her sake? What sin is
there in loving your child? Do you see it? I was ready for her sake
to live for ever. I half believed I would. I've been praying for death
since. Ha! Presumptuous man--you wanted to live . . ."

A tremendous, shuddering upheaval of that big frame, shaken by a gasping
sob, set the glasses jingling all over the table, seemed to make the
whole house tremble to the roof-tree. And Mr. Van Wyk, whose feeling of
outraged love had been translated into a form of struggle with nature,
understood very well that, for that man whose whole life had been
conditioned by action, there could exist no other expression for all the
emotions; that, to voluntarily cease venturing, doing, enduring, for his
child's sake, would have been exactly like plucking his warm love for
her out of his living heart. Something too monstrous, too impossible,
even to conceive.

Captain Whalley had not changed his attitude, that seemed to express
something of shame, sorrow, and defiance.

"I have even deceived you. If it had not been for that word 'esteem.'
These are not the words for me. I would have lied to you. Haven't I
lied to you? Weren't you going to trust your property on board this very
trip?"

"I have a floating yearly policy," Mr. Van Wyk said almost unwittingly,
and was amazed at the sudden cropping up of a commercial detail.

"The ship is unseaworthy, I tell you. The policy would be invalid if it
were known . . ."

"We shall share the guilt, then."

"Nothing could make mine less," said Captain Whalley.

He had not dared to consult a doctor; the man would have perhaps asked
who he was, what he was doing; Massy might have heard something. He had
lived on without any help, human or divine. The very prayers stuck in
his throat. What was there to pray for? and death seemed as far as ever.
Once he got into his cabin he dared not come out again; when he sat down
he dared not get up; he dared not raise his eyes to anybody's face;
he felt reluctant to look upon the sea or up to the sky. The world was
fading before his great fear of giving himself away. The old ship was
his last friend; he was not afraid of her; he knew every inch of her
deck; but at her too he hardly dared to look, for fear of finding he
could see less than the day before. A great incertitude enveloped him.
The horizon was gone; the sky mingled darkly with the sea. Who was this
figure standing over yonder? what was this thing lying down there? And
a frightful doubt of the reality of what he could see made even the
remnant of sight that remained to him an added torment, a pitfall always
open for his miserable pretense. He was afraid to stumble inexcusably
over something--to say a fatal Yes or No to a question. The hand of God
was upon him, but it could not tear him away from his child. And, as if
in a nightmare of humiliation, every featureless man seemed an enemy.

He let his hand fall heavily on the table. Mr. Van Wyk, arms down,
chin on breast, with a gleam of white teeth pressing on the lower lip,
meditated on Sterne's "The game's up."

"The Serang of course does not know."

"Nobody," said Captain Whalley, with assurance.

"Ah yes. Nobody. Very well. Can you keep it up to the end of the trip?
That is the last under the agreement with Massy."

Captain Whalley got up and stood erect, very stately, with the great
white beard lying like a silver breastplate over the awful secret of his
heart. Yes; that was the only hope there was for him of ever seeing her
again, of securing the money, the last he could do for her, before he
crept away somewhere--useless, a burden, a reproach to himself. His
voice faltered.

"Think of it! Never see her any more: the only human being besides
myself now on earth that can remember my wife. She's just like her
mother. Lucky the poor woman is where there are no tears shed over
those they loved on earth and that remain to pray not to be led into
temptation--because, I suppose, the blessed know the secret of grace in
God's dealings with His created children."

He swayed a little, said with austere dignity--

"I don't. I know only the child He has given me."

And he began to walk. Mr. Van Wyk, jumping up, saw the full meaning
of the rigid head, the hesitating feet, the vaguely extended hand.
His heart was beating fast; he moved a chair aside, and instinctively
advanced as if to offer his arm. But Captain Whalley passed him by,
making for the stairs quite straight.

"He could not see me at all out of his line," Van Wyk thought, with a
sort of awe. Then going to the head of the stairs, he asked a little
tremulously--

"What is it like--like a mist--like . . ."

Captain Whalley, half-way down, stopped, and turned round undismayed to
answer.

"It is as if the light were ebbing out of the world. Have you ever
watched the ebbing sea on an open stretch of sands withdrawing farther
and farther away from you? It is like this--only there will be no flood
to follow. Never. It is as if the sun were growing smaller, the stars
going out one by one. There can't be many left that I can see by this.
But I haven't had the courage to look of late . . ." He must have been
able to make out Mr. Van Wyk, because he checked him by an authoritative
gesture and a stoical--

"I can get about alone yet."

It was as if he had taken his line, and would accept no help from men,
after having been cast out, like a presumptuous Titan, from his heaven.
Mr. Van Wyk, arrested, seemed to count the footsteps right out of
earshot. He walked between the tables, tapping smartly with his heels,
took up a paper-knife, dropped it after a vague glance along the blade;
then happening upon the piano, struck a few chords again and again,
vigorously, standing up before the keyboard with an attentive poise
of the head like a piano-tuner; closing it, he pivoted on his heels
brusquely, avoided the little terrier sleeping trustfully on crossed
forepaws, came upon the stairs next, and, as though he had lost his
balance on the top step, ran down headlong out of the house. His
servants, beginning to clear the table, heard him mutter to himself
(evil words no doubt) down there, and then after a pause go away with a
strolling gait in the direction of the wharf.

The bulwarks of the Sofala lying alongside the bank made a low, black
wall on the undulating contour of the shore. Two masts and a funnel
uprose from behind it with a great rake, as if about to fall: a solid,
square elevation in the middle bore the ghostly shapes of white boats,
the curves of davits, lines of rail and stanchions, all confused and
mingling darkly everywhere; but low down, amidships, a single lighted
port stared out on the night, perfectly round, like a small, full moon,
whose yellow beam caught a patch of wet mud, the edge of trodden grass,
two turns of heavy cable wound round the foot of a thick wooden post in
the ground.

Mr. Van Wyk, peering alongside, heard a muzzy boastful voice apparently
jeering at a person called Prendergast. It mouthed abuse thickly,
choked; then pronounced very distinctly the word "Murphy," and chuckled.
Glass tinkled tremulously. All these sounds came from the lighted port.
Mr. Van Wyk hesitated, stooped; it was impossible to look through unless
he went down into the mud.

"Sterne," he said, half aloud.

The drunken voice within said gladly--

"Sterne--of course. Look at him blink. Look at him! Sterne, Whalley,
Massy. Massy, Whalley, Sterne. But Massy's the best. You can't come over
him. He would just love to see you starve."

Mr. Van Wyk moved away, made out farther forward a shadowy head stuck
out from under the awnings as if on the watch, and spoke quietly in
Malay, "Is the mate asleep?"

"No. Here, at your service."

In a moment Sterne appeared, walking as noiselessly as a cat on the
wharf.

"It's so jolly dark, and I had no idea you would be down to-night."

"What's this horrible raving?" asked Mr. Van Wyk, as if to explain the
cause of a shudder than ran over him audibly.

"Jack's broken out on a drunk. That's our second. It's his way. He will
be right enough by to-morrow afternoon, only Mr. Massy will keep on
worrying up and down the deck. We had better get away."

He muttered suggestively of a talk "up at the house." He had long
desired to effect an entrance there, but Mr. Van Wyk nonchalantly
demurred: it would not, he feared, be quite prudent, perhaps; and
the opaque black shadow under one of the two big trees left at the
landing-place swallowed them up, impenetrably dense, by the side of the
wide river, that seemed to spin into threads of glitter the light of
a few big stars dropped here and there upon its outspread and flowing
stillness.

"The situation is grave beyond doubt," Mr. Van Wyk said. Ghost-like in
their white clothes they could not distinguish each others' features,
and their feet made no sound on the soft earth. A sort of purring was
heard. Mr. Sterne felt gratified by such a beginning.

"I thought, Mr. Van Wyk, a gentleman of your sort would see at once how
awkwardly I was situated."

"Yes, very. Obviously his health is bad. Perhaps he's breaking up. I
see, and he himself is well aware--I assume I am speaking to a man of
sense--he is well aware that his legs are giving out."

"His legs--ah!" Mr. Sterne was disconcerted, and then turned sulky.
"You may call it his legs if you like; what I want to know is whether he
intends to clear out quietly. That's a good one, too! His legs! Pooh!"

"Why, yes. Only look at the way he walks." Mr. Van Wyk took him up in a
perfectly cool and undoubting tone. "The question, however, is whether
your sense of duty does not carry you too far from your true interest.
After all, I too could do something to serve you. You know who I am."

"Everybody along the Straits has heard of you, sir."

Mr. Van Wyk presumed that this meant something favorable. Sterne had
a soft laugh at this pleasantry. He should think so! To the opening
statement, that the partnership agreement was to expire at the end of
this very trip, he gave an attentive assent. He was aware. One heard of
nothing else on board all the blessed day long. As to Massy, it was no
secret that he was in a jolly deep hole with these worn-out boilers. He
would have to borrow somewhere a couple of hundred first of all to pay
off the captain; and then he would have to raise money on mortgage upon
the ship for the new boilers--that is, if he could find a lender at all.
At best it meant loss of time, a break in the trade, short earnings
for the year--and there was always the danger of having his connection
filched away from him by the Germans. It was whispered about that he
had already tried two firms. Neither would have anything to do with
him. Ship too old, and the man too well known in the place. . . .
Mr. Sterne's final rapid winking remained buried in the deep darkness
sibilating with his whispers.

"Supposing, then, he got the loan," Mr. Van Wyk resumed in a deliberate
undertone, "on your own showing he's more than likely to get a
mortgagee's man thrust upon him as captain. For my part, I know that I
would make that very stipulation myself if I had to find the money.
And as a matter of fact I am thinking of doing so. It would be worth
my while in many ways. Do you see how this would bear on the case under
discussion?"

"Thank you, sir. I am sure you couldn't get anybody that would care more
for your interests."

"Well, it suits my interest that Captain Whalley should finish his time.
I shall probably take a passage with you down the Straits. If that can
be done, I'll be on the spot when all these changes take place, and in a
position to look after _your_ interests."

"Mr. Van Wyk, I want nothing better. I am sure I am infinitely . . ."

"I take it, then, that this may be done without any trouble."

"Well, sir, what risk there is can't be helped; but (speaking to you as
my employer now) the thing is more safe than it looks. If anybody had
told me of it I wouldn't have believed it, but I have been looking on
myself. That old Serang has been trained up to the game. There's nothing
the matter with his--his--limbs, sir. He's got used to doing things
himself in a remarkable way. And let me tell you, sir, that Captain
Whalley, poor man, is by no means useless. Fact. Let me explain to you,
sir. He stiffens up that old monkey of a Malay, who knows well enough
what to do. Why, he must have kept captain's watches in all sorts of
country ships off and on for the last five-and-twenty years. These
natives, sir, as long as they have a white man close at the back, will
go on doing the right thing most surprisingly well--even if left quite
to themselves. Only the white man must be of the sort to put starch into
them, and the captain is just the one for that. Why, sir, he has drilled
him so well that now he needs hardly speak at all. I have seen that
little wrinkled ape made to take the ship out of Pangu Bay on a blowy
morning and on all through the islands; take her out first-rate, sir,
dodging under the old man's elbow, and in such quiet style that you
could not have told for the life of you which of the two was doing the
work up there. That's where our poor friend would be still of use to
the ship even if--if--he could no longer lift a foot, sir. Provided the
Serang does not know that there's anything wrong."

"He doesn't."

"Naturally not. Quite beyond his apprehension. They aren't capable of
finding out anything about us, sir."

"You seem to be a shrewd man," said Mr. Van Wyk in a choked mutter, as
though he were feeling sick.

"You'll find me a good enough servant, sir."

Mr. Sterne hoped now for a handshake at least, but unexpectedly, with a
"What's this? Better not to be seen together," Mr. Van Wyk's white shape
wavered, and instantly seemed to melt away in the black air under
the roof of boughs. The mate was startled. Yes. There was that faint
thumping clatter.

He stole out silently from under the shade. The lighted port-hole shone
from afar. His head swam with the intoxication of sudden success. What
a thing it was to have a gentleman to deal with! He crept aboard, and
there was something weird in the shadowy stretch of empty decks, echoing
with shouts and blows proceeding from a darker part amidships. Mr. Massy
was raging before the door of the berth: the drunken voice within flowed
on undisturbed in the violent racket of kicks.

"Shut up! Put your light out and turn in, you confounded swilling
pig--you! D'you hear me, you beast?"

The kicking stopped, and in the pause the muzzy oracular voice announced
from within--

"Ah! Massy, now--that's another thing. Massy's deep."

"Who's that aft there? You, Sterne? He'll drink himself into a fit of
horrors." The chief engineer appeared vague and big at the corner of the
engineroom.

"He will be good enough for duty to-morrow. I would let him be, Mr.
Massy."

Sterne slipped away into his berth, and at once had to sit down. His
head swam with exultation. He got into his bunk as if in a dream. A
feeling of profound peace, of pacific joy, came over him. On deck all
was quiet.

Mr. Massy, with his ear against the door of Jack's cabin, listened
critically to a deep stertorous breathing within. This was a dead-drunk
sleep. The bout was over: tranquilized on that score, he too went in,
and with slow wriggles got out of his old tweed jacket. It was a garment
with many pockets, which he used to put on at odd times of the day,
being subject to sudden chilly fits, and when he felt warmed he would
take it off and hang it about anywhere all over the ship. It would
be seen swinging on belaying-pins, thrown over the heads of winches,
suspended on people's very door-handles for that matter. Was he not the
owner? But his favorite place was a hook on a wooden awning stanchion on
the bridge, almost against the binnacle. He had even in the early days
more than one tussle on that point with Captain Whalley, who desired the
bridge to be kept tidy. He had been overawed then. Of late, though, he
had been able to defy his partner with impunity. Captain Whalley never
seemed to notice anything now. As to the Malays, in their awe of that
scowling man not one of the crew would dream of laying a hand on the
thing, no matter where or what it swung from.

With an unexpectedness which made Mr. Massy jump and drop the coat
at his feet, there came from the next berth the crash and thud of a
headlong, jingling, clattering fall. The faithful Jack must have dropped
to sleep suddenly as he sat at his revels, and now had gone over chair
and all, breaking, as it seemed by the sound, every single glass and
bottle in the place. After the terrific smash all was still for a time
in there, as though he had killed himself outright on the spot. Mr.
Massy held his breath. At last a sleepy uneasy groaning sigh was exhaled
slowly on the other side of the bulkhead.

"I hope to goodness he's too drunk to wake up now," muttered Mr. Massy.

The sound of a softly knowing laugh nearly drove him to despair. He
swore violently under his breath. The fool would keep him awake all
night now for certain. He cursed his luck. He wanted to forget his
maddening troubles in sleep sometimes. He could detect no movements.
Without apparently making the slightest attempt to get up, Jack went on
sniggering to himself where he lay; then began to speak, where he had
left off as it were--

"Massy! I love the dirty rascal. He would like to see his poor old Jack
starve--but just you look where he has climbed to." . . . He hiccoughed
in a superior, leisurely manner. . . . "Ship-owning it with the best.
A lottery ticket you want. Ha! ha! I will give you lottery tickets, my
boy. Let the old ship sink and the old chum starve--that's right. He
don't go wrong--Massy don't. Not he. He's a genius--that man is. That's
the way to win your money. Ship and chum must go."

"The silly fool has taken it to heart," muttered Massy to himself. And,
listening with a softened expression of face for any slight sign of
returning drowsiness, he was discouraged profoundly by a burst of
laughter full of joyful irony.

"Would like to see her at the bottom of the sea! Oh, you clever, clever
devil! Wish her sunk, eh? I should think you would, my boy; the damned
old thing and all your troubles with her. Rake in the insurance money
--turn your back on your old chum--all's well--gentleman again."

A grim stillness had come over Massy's face. Only his big black eyes
rolled uneasily. The raving fool. And yet it was all true. Yes. Lottery
tickets, too. All true. What? Beginning again? He wished he
wouldn't. . . .

But it was even so. The imaginative drunkard on the other side of the
bulkhead shook off the deathlike stillness that after his last words had
fallen on the dark ship moored to a silent shore.

"Don't you dare to say anything against George Massy, Esquire. When he's
tired of waiting he will do away with her. Look out! Down she goes--chum
and all. He'll know how to . . ."

The voice hesitated, weary, dreamy, lost, as if dying away in a vast
open space.

". . . Find a trick that will work. He's up to it--never fear . . ."

He must have been very drunk, for at last the heavy sleep gripped him
with the suddenness of a magic spell, and the last word lengthened
itself into an interminable, noisy, in-drawn snore. And then even the
snoring stopped, and all was still.

But it seemed as though Mr. Massy had suddenly come to doubt the
efficacy of sleep as against a man's troubles; or perhaps he had found
the relief he needed in the stillness of a calm contemplation that
may contain the vivid thoughts of wealth, of a stroke of luck, of long
idleness, and may bring before you the imagined form of every desire;
for, turning about and throwing his arms over the edge of his bunk, he
stood there with his feet on his favorite old coat, looking out through
the round port into the night over the river. Sometimes a breath of wind
would enter and touch his face, a cool breath charged with the damp,
fresh feel from a vast body of water. A glimmer here and there was all
he could see of it; and once he might after all suppose he had dozed
off, since there appeared before his vision, unexpectedly and connected
with no dream, a row of flaming and gigantic figures--three naught seven
one two--making up a number such as you may see on a lottery ticket.
And then all at once the port was no longer black: it was pearly gray,
framing a shore crowded with houses, thatched roof beyond thatched
roof, walls of mats and bamboo, gables of carved teak timber. Rows
of dwellings raised on a forest of piles lined the steely band of the
river, brimful and still, with the tide at the turn. This was Batu
Beru--and the day had come.

Mr. Massy shook himself, put on the tweed coat, and, shivering nervously
as if from some great shock, made a note of the number. A fortunate,
rare hint that. Yes; but to pursue fortune one wanted money--ready cash.

Then he went out and prepared to descend into the engine-room. Several
small jobs had to be seen to, and Jack was lying dead drunk on the
floor of his cabin, with the door locked at that. His gorge rose at
the thought of work. Ay! But if you wanted to do nothing you had to get
first a good bit of money. A ship won't save you. He cursed the Sofala.
True, all true. He was tired of waiting for some chance that would rid
him at last of that ship that had turned out a curse on his life.

Joseph Conrad

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