Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1

The Partner

"And that be hanged for a silly yarn. The boatmen here in Westport
have been telling this lie to the summer visitors for years. The
sort that gets taken out for a row at a shilling a head--and asks
foolish questions--must be told something to pass the time away.
D'ye know anything more silly than being pulled in a boat along a
beach? . . . It's like drinking weak lemonade when you aren't
thirsty. I don't know why they do it! They don't even get sick."

A forgotten glass of beer stood at his elbow; the locality was a
small respectable smoking-room of a small respectable hotel, and a
taste for forming chance acquaintances accounts for my sitting up
late with him. His great, flat, furrowed cheeks were shaven; a
thick, square wisp of white hairs hung from his chin; its waggling
gave additional point to his deep utterance; and his general
contempt for mankind with its activities and moralities was
expressed in the rakish set of his big soft hat of black felt with
a large rim, which he kept always on his head.

His appearance was that of an old adventurer, retired after many
unholy experiences in the darkest parts of the earth; but I had
every reason to believe that he had never been outside England.
From a casual remark somebody dropped I gathered that in his early
days he must have been somehow connected with shipping--with ships
in docks. Of individuality he had plenty. And it was this which
attracted my attention at first. But he was not easy to classify,
and before the end of the week I gave him up with the vague
definition, "an imposing old ruffian."

One rainy afternoon, oppressed by infinite boredom, I went into the
smoking-room. He was sitting there in absolute immobility, which
was really fakir-like and impressive. I began to wonder what could
be the associations of that sort of man, his "milieu," his private
connections, his views, his morality, his friends, and even his
wife--when to my surprise he opened a conversation in a deep,
muttering voice.

I must say that since he had learned from somebody that I was a
writer of stories he had been acknowledging my existence by means
of some vague growls in the morning.

He was essentially a taciturn man. There was an effect of rudeness
in his fragmentary sentences. It was some time before I discovered
that what he would be at was the process by which stories--stories
for periodicals--were produced.

What could one say to a fellow like that? But I was bored to
death; the weather continued impossible; and I resolved to be
amiable.

"And so you make these tales up on your own. How do they ever come
into your head?" he rumbled.

I explained that one generally got a hint for a tale.

"What sort of hint?"

"Well, for instance," I said, "I got myself rowed out to the rocks
the other day. My boatman told me of the wreck on these rocks
nearly twenty years ago. That could be used as a hint for a mainly
descriptive bit of story with some such title as 'In the Channel,'
for instance."

It was then that he flew out at the boatmen and the summer visitors
who listen to their tales. Without moving a muscle of his face he
emitted a powerful "Rot," from somewhere out of the depths of his
chest, and went on in his hoarse, fragmentary mumble. "Stare at
the silly rocks--nod their silly heads [the visitors, I presume].
What do they think a man is--blown-out paper bag or what?--go off
pop like that when he's hit--Damn silly yarn--Hint indeed! . . . A
lie?"

You must imagine this statuesque ruffian enhaloed in the black rim
of his hat, letting all this out as an old dog growls sometimes,
with his head up and staring-away eyes.

"Indeed!" I exclaimed. "Well, but even if untrue it IS a hint,
enabling me to see these rocks, this gale they speak of, the heavy
seas, etc., etc., in relation to mankind. The struggle against
natural forces and the effect of the issue on at least one, say,
exalted--"

He interrupted me by an aggressive -

"Would truth be any good to you?"

"I shouldn't like to say," I answered, cautiously. "It's said that
truth is stranger than fiction."

"Who says that?" he mouthed.

"Oh! Nobody in particular."

I turned to the window; for the contemptuous beggar was oppressive
to look at, with his immovable arm on the table. I suppose my
unceremonious manner provoked him to a comparatively long speech.

"Did you ever see such a silly lot of rocks? Like plums in a slice
of cold pudding."

I was looking at them--an acre or more of black dots scattered on
the steel-grey shades of the level sea, under the uniform gossamer
grey mist with a formless brighter patch in one place--the veiled
whiteness of the cliff coming through, like a diffused, mysterious
radiance. It was a delicate and wonderful picture, something
expressive, suggestive, and desolate, a symphony in grey and black-
-a Whistler. But the next thing said by the voice behind me made
me turn round. It growled out contempt for all associated notions
of roaring seas with concise energy, then went on -

"I--no such foolishness--looking at the rocks out there--more
likely call to mind an office--I used to look in sometimes at one
time--office in London--one of them small streets behind Cannon
Street Station. . . "

He was very deliberate; not jerky, only fragmentary; at times
profane.

"That's a rather remote connection," I observed, approaching him.

"Connection? To Hades with your connections. It was an accident."

"Still," I said, "an accident has its backward and forward
connections, which, if they could be set forth--"

Without moving he seemed to lend an attentive ear.

"Aye! Set forth. That's perhaps what you could do. Couldn't you
now? There's no sea life in this connection. But you can put it
in out of your head--if you like."

"Yes. I could, if necessary," I said. "Sometimes it pays to put
in a lot out of one's head, and sometimes it doesn't. I mean that
the story isn't worth it. Everything's in that."

It amused me to talk to him like this. He reflected audibly that
he guessed story-writers were out after money like the rest of the
world which had to live by its wits: and that it was extraordinary
how far people who were out after money would go. . . Some of them.

Then he made a sally against sea life. Silly sort of life, he
called it. No opportunities, no experience, no variety, nothing.
Some fine men came out of it--he admitted--but no more chance in
the world if put to it than fly. Kids. So Captain Harry Dunbar.
Good sailor. Great name as a skipper. Big man; short side-
whiskers going grey, fine face, loud voice. A good fellow, but no
more up to people's tricks than a baby.

"That's the captain of the Sagamore you're talking about," I said,
confidently.

After a low, scornful "Of course" he seemed now to hold on the wall
with his fixed stare the vision of that city office, "at the back
of Cannon Street Station," while he growled and mouthed a
fragmentary description, jerking his chin up now and then, as if
angry.

It was, according to his account, a modest place of business, not
shady in any sense, but out of the way, in a small street now
rebuilt from end to end. "Seven doors from the Cheshire Cat public
house under the railway bridge. I used to take my lunch there when
my business called me to the city. Cloete would come in to have
his chop and make the girl laugh. No need to talk much, either,
for that. Nothing but the way he would twinkle his spectacles on
you and give a twitch of his thick mouth was enough to start you
off before he began one of his little tales. Funny fellow, Cloete.
C-l-o-e-t-e--Cloete."

"What was he--a Dutchman?" I asked, not seeing in the least what
all this had to do with the Westport boatmen and the Westport
summer visitors and this extraordinary old fellow's irritable view
of them as liars and fools. "Devil knows," he grunted, his eyes on
the wall as if not to miss a single movement of a cinematograph
picture. "Spoke nothing but English, anyway. First I saw him--
comes off a ship in dock from the States--passenger. Asks me for a
small hotel near by. Wanted to be quiet and have a look round for
a few days. I took him to a place--friend of mine. . . Next time--
in the City--Hallo! You're very obliging--have a drink. Talks
plenty about himself. Been years in the States. All sorts of
business all over the place. With some patent medicine people,
too. Travels. Writes advertisements and all that. Tells me funny
stories. Tall, loose-limbed fellow. Black hair up on end, like a
brush; long face, long legs, long arms, twinkle in his specs,
jocular way of speaking--in a low voice. . . See that?"

I nodded, but he was not looking at me.

"Never laughed so much in my life. The beggar--would make you
laugh telling you how he skinned his own father. He was up to
that, too. A man who's been in the patent-medicine trade will be
up to anything from pitch-and-toss to wilful murder. And that's a
bit of hard truth for you. Don't mind what they do--think they can
carry off anything and talk themselves out of anything--all the
world's a fool to them. Business man, too, Cloete. Came over with
a few hundred pounds. Looking for something to do--in a quiet way.
Nothing like the old country, after all, says he. . . And so we
part--I with more drinks in me than I was used to. After a time,
perhaps six months or so, I run up against him again in Mr. George
Dunbar's office. Yes, THAT office. It wasn't often that I . . .
However, there was a bit of his cargo in a ship in dock that I
wanted to ask Mr. George about. In comes Cloete out of the room at
the back with some papers in his hand. Partner. You understand?"

"Aha!" I said. "The few hundred pounds."

"And that tongue of his," he growled. "Don't forget that tongue.
Some of his tales must have opened George Dunbar's eyes a bit as to
what business means."

"A plausible fellow," I suggested.

"H'm! You must have it in your own way--of course. Well.
Partner. George Dunbar puts his top-hat on and tells me to wait a
moment. . . George always looked as though he were making a few
thousands a year--a city swell. . . Come along, old man! And he
and Captain Harry go out together--some business with a solicitor
round the corner. Captain Harry, when he was in England, used to
turn up in his brother's office regularly about twelve. Sat in a
corner like a good boy, reading the paper and smoking his pipe. So
they go out. . . Model brothers, says Cloete--two love-birds--I am
looking after the tinned-fruit side of this cozy little show. . .
Gives me that sort of talk. Then by-and-by: What sort of old
thing is that Sagamore? Finest ship out--eh? I dare say all ships
are fine to you. You live by them. I tell you what; I would just
as soon put my money into an old stocking. Sooner!"


He drew a breath, and I noticed his hand, lying loosely on the
table, close slowly into a fist. In that immovable man it was
startling, ominous, like the famed nod of the Commander.

"So, already at that time--note--already," he growled.

"But hold on," I interrupted. "The Sagamore belonged to Mundy and
Rogers, I've been told."

He snorted contemptuously. "Damn boatmen--know no better. Flew
the firm's HOUSE-FLAG. That's another thing. Favour. It was like
this: When old man Dunbar died, Captain Harry was already in
command with the firm. George chucked the bank he was clerking in-
-to go on his own with what there was to share after the old chap.
George was a smart man. Started warehousing; then two or three
things at a time: wood-pulp, preserved-fruit trade, and so on.
And Captain Harry let him have his share to work with. . . I am
provided for in my ship, he says. . . But by-and-by Mundy and
Rogers begin to sell out to foreigners all their ships--go into
steam right away. Captain Harry gets very upset--lose command,
part with the ship he was fond of--very wretched. Just then, so it
happened, the brothers came in for some money--an old woman died or
something. Quite a tidy bit. Then young George says: There's
enough between us two to buy the Sagamore with. . . But you'll need
more money for your business, cries Captain Harry--and the other
laughs at him: My business is going on all right. Why, I can go
out and make a handful of sovereigns while you are trying to get
your pipe to draw, old man. . . Mundy and Rogers very friendly
about it: Certainly, Captain. And we will manage her for you, if
you like, as if she were still our own. . . Why, with a connection
like that it was good investment to buy that ship. Good! Aye, at
the time."

The turning of his head slightly toward me at this point was like a
sign of strong feeling in any other man.

"You'll mind that this was long before Cloete came into it at all,"
he muttered, warningly.

"Yes. I will mind," I said. "We generally say: some years
passed. That's soon done."

He eyed me for a while silently in an unseeing way, as if engrossed
in the thought of the years so easily dealt with; his own years,
too, they were, the years before and the years (not so many) after
Cloete came upon the scene. When he began to speak again, I
discerned his intention to point out to me, in his obscure and
graphic manner, the influence on George Dunbar of long association
with Cloete's easy moral standards, unscrupulously persuasive gift
of humour (funny fellow), and adventurously reckless disposition.
He desired me anxiously to elaborate this view, and I assured him
it was quite within my powers. He wished me also to understand
that George's business had its ups and downs (the other brother was
meantime sailing to and fro serenely); that he got into low water
at times, which worried him rather, because he had married a young
wife with expensive tastes. He was having a pretty anxious time of
it generally; and just then Cloete ran up in the city somewhere
against a man working a patent medicine (the fellow's old trade)
with some success, but which, with capital, capital to the tune of
thousands to be spent with both hands on advertising, could be
turned into a great thing--infinitely better--paying than a gold-
mine. Cloete became excited at the possibilities of that sort of
business, in which he was an expert. I understood that George's
partner was all on fire from the contact with this unique
opportunity.

"So he goes in every day into George's room about eleven, and sings
that tune till George gnashes his teeth with rage. Do shut up.
What's the good? No money. Hardly any to go on with, let alone
pouring thousands into advertising. Never dare propose to his
brother Harry to sell the ship. Couldn't think of it. Worry him
to death. It would be like the end of the world coming. And
certainly not for a business of that kind! . . . Do you think it
would be a swindle? asks Cloete, twitching his mouth. . . George
owns up: No-would be no better than a squeamish ass if he thought
that, after all these years in business.

"Cloete looks at him hard--Never thought of SELLING the ship.
Expected the blamed old thing wouldn't fetch half her insured value
by this time. Then George flies out at him. What's the meaning,
then, of these silly jeers at ship-owning for the last three weeks?
Had enough of them, anyhow.

"Angry at having his mouth made to water, see. Cloete don't get
excited. . . I am no squeamish ass, either, says he, very slowly.
'Tisn't selling your old Sagamore wants. The blamed thing wants
tomahawking (seems the name Sagamore means an Indian chief or
something. The figure-head was a half-naked savage with a feather
over one ear and a hatchet in his belt). Tomahawking, says he.

"What do you mean? asks George. . . Wrecking--it could be managed
with perfect safety, goes on Cloete--your brother would then put in
his share of insurance money. Needn't tell him exactly what for.
He thinks you're the smartest business man that ever lived. Make
his fortune, too. . . George grips the desk with both hands in his
rage. . . You think my brother's a man to cast away his ship on
purpose. I wouldn't even dare think of such a thing in the same
room with him--the finest fellow that ever lived. . . Don't make
such noise; they'll hear you outside, says Cloete; and he tells him
that his brother is the salted pattern of all virtues, but all
that's necessary is to induce him to stay ashore for a voyage--for
a holiday--take a rest--why not? . . . In fact, I have in view
somebody up to that sort of game--Cloete whispers.

"George nearly chokes. . . So you think I am of that sort--you
think ME capable--What do you take me for? . . . He almost loses
his head, while Cloete keeps cool, only gets white about the gills.
. . I take you for a man who will be most cursedly hard up before
long. . . He goes to the door and sends away the clerks--there were
only two--to take their lunch hour. Comes back . . . What are you
indignant about? Do I want you to rob the widow and orphan? Why,
man! Lloyd's a corporation, it hasn't got a body to starve.
There's forty or more of them perhaps who underwrote the lines on
that silly ship of yours. Not one human being would go hungry or
cold for it. They take every risk into consideration. Everything
I tell you. . . That sort of talk. H'm! George too upset to
speak--only gurgles and waves his arms; so sudden, you see. The
other, warming his back at the fire, goes on. Wood-pulp business
next door to a failure. Tinned-fruit trade nearly played out. . .
You're frightened, he says; but the law is only meant to frighten
fools away. . . And he shows how safe casting away that ship would
be. Premiums paid for so many, many years. No shadow of suspicion
could arise. And, dash it all! a ship must meet her end some day.
. .

"I am not frightened. I am indignant," says George Dunbar.

"Cloete boiling with rage inside. Chance of a lifetime--his
chance! And he says kindly: Your wife'll be much more indignant
when you ask her to get out of that pretty house of yours and pile
in into a two-pair back--with kids perhaps, too. . .

"George had no children. Married a couple of years; looked forward
to a kid or two very much. Feels more upset than ever. Talks
about an honest man for father, and so on. Cloete grins: You be
quick before they come, and they'll have a rich man for father, and
no one the worse for it. That's the beauty of the thing.

"George nearly cries. I believe he did cry at odd times. This
went on for weeks. He couldn't quarrel with Cloete. Couldn't pay
off his few hundreds; and besides, he was used to have him about.
Weak fellow, George. Cloete generous, too. . . Don't think of my
little pile, says he. Of course it's gone when we have to shut up.
But I don't care, he says. . . And then there was George's new
wife. When Cloete dines there, the beggar puts on a dress suit;
little woman liked it; . . . Mr. Cloete, my husband's partner; such
a clever man, man of the world, so amusing! . . . When he dines
there and they are alone: Oh, Mr. Cloete, I wish George would do
something to improve our prospects. Our position is really so
mediocre. . . And Cloete smiles, but isn't surprised, because he
had put all these notions himself into her empty head. . . What
your husband wants is enterprise, a little audacity. You can
encourage him best, Mrs. Dunbar. . . She was a silly, extravagant
little fool. Had made George take a house in Norwood. Live up to
a lot of people better off than themselves. I saw her once; silk
dress, pretty boots, all feathers and scent, pink face. More like
the Promenade at the Alhambra than a decent home, it looked to me.
But some women do get a devil of a hold on a man."

"Yes, some do," I assented. "Even when the man is the husband."

"My missis," he addressed me unexpectedly, in a solemn,
surprisingly hollow tone, "could wind me round her little finger.
I didn't find it out till she was gone. Aye. But she was a woman
of sense, while that piece of goods ought to have been walking the
streets, and that's all I can say. . . You must make her up out of
your head. You will know the sort."

"Leave all that to me," I said.

"H'm!" he grunted, doubtfully, then going back to his scornful
tone: "A month or so afterwards the Sagamore arrives home. All
very jolly at first. . . Hallo, George boy! Hallo, Harry, old man!
. . . But by and by Captain Harry thinks his clever brother is not
looking very well. And George begins to look worse. He can't get
rid of Cloete's notion. It has stuck in his head. . . There's
nothing wrong--quite well. . . Captain Harry still anxious.
Business going all right, eh? Quite right. Lots of business.
Good business. . . Of course Captain Harry believes that easily.
Starts chaffing his brother in his jolly way about rolling in
money. George's shirt sticks to his back with perspiration, and he
feels quite angry with the captain. . . The fool, he says to
himself. Rolling in money, indeed! And then he thinks suddenly:
Why not? . . . Because Cloete's notion has got hold of his mind.

"But next day he weakens and says to Cloete . . . Perhaps it would
be best to sell. Couldn't you talk to my brother? and Cloete
explains to him over again for the twentieth time why selling
wouldn't do, anyhow. No! The Sagamore must be tomahawked--as he
would call it; to spare George's feelings, maybe. But every time
he says the word, George shudders. . . I've got a man at hand
competent for the job who will do the trick for five hundred, and
only too pleased at the chance, says Cloete. . . George shuts his
eyes tight at that sort of talk--but at the same time he thinks:
Humbug! There can be no such man. And yet if there was such a man
it would be safe enough--perhaps.

"And Cloete always funny about it. He couldn't talk about anything
without it seeming there was a great joke in it somewhere. . . Now,
says he, I know you are a moral citizen, George. Morality is
mostly funk, and I think you're the funkiest man I ever came across
in my travels. Why, you are afraid to speak to your brother.
Afraid to open your mouth to him with a fortune for us all in
sight. . . George flares up at this: no, he ain't afraid; he will
speak; bangs fist on the desk. And Cloete pats him on the back. .
. We'll be made men presently, he says.

"But the first time George attempts to speak to Captain Harry his
heart slides down into his boots. Captain Harry only laughs at the
notion of staying ashore. He wants no holiday, not he. But Jane
thinks of remaining in England this trip. Go about a bit and see
some of her people. Jane was the Captain's wife; round-faced,
pleasant lady. George gives up that time; but Cloete won't let him
rest. So he tries again; and the Captain frowns. He frowns
because he's puzzled. He can't make it out. He has no notion of
living away from his Sagamore. . .

"Ah!" I cried. "Now I understand."

"No, you don't," he growled, his black, contemptuous stare turning
on me crushingly.

"I beg your pardon," I murmured.

"H'm! Very well, then. Captain Harry looks very stern, and George
crumples all up inside. . . He sees through me, he thinks. . . Of
course it could not be; but George, by that time, was scared at his
own shadow. He is shirking it with Cloete, too. Gives his partner
to understand that his brother has half a mind to try a spell on
shore, and so on. Cloete waits, gnawing his fingers; so anxious.
Cloete really had found a man for the job. Believe it or not, he
had found him inside the very boarding-house he lodged in--
somewhere about Tottenham Court Road. He had noticed down-stairs a
fellow--a boarder and not a boarder--hanging about the dark--part
of the passage mostly; sort of 'man of the house,' a slinking chap.
Black eyes. White face. The woman of the house--a widow lady, she
called herself--very full of Mr. Stafford; Mr. Stafford this and
Mr. Stafford that. . . Anyhow, Cloete one evening takes him out to
have a drink. Cloete mostly passed away his evenings in saloon
bars. No drunkard, though, Cloete; for company; liked to talk to
all sorts there; just habit; American fashion.

"So Cloete takes that chap out more than once. Not very good
company, though. Little to say for himself. Sits quiet and drinks
what's given to him, eyes always half closed, speaks sort of
demure. . . I've had misfortunes, he says. The truth was they had
kicked him out of a big steam-ship company for disgraceful conduct;
nothing to affect his certificate, you understand; and he had gone
down quite easily. Liked it, I expect. Anything's better than
work. Lived on the widow lady who kept that boarding-house."

"That's almost incredible," I ventured to interrupt. "A man with a
master's certificate, do you mean?"

"I do; I've known them 'bus cads," he growled, contemptuously.
"Yes. Swing on the tail-board by the strap and yell, 'tuppence all
the way.' Through drink. But this Stafford was of another kind.
Hell's full of such Staffords; Cloete would make fun of him, and
then there would be a nasty gleam in the fellow's half-shut eye.
But Cloete was generally kind to him. Cloete was a fellow that
would be kind to a mangy dog. Anyhow, he used to stand drinks to
that object, and now and then gave him half a crown--because the
widow lady kept Mr. Stafford short of pocket-money. They had rows
almost every day down in the basement. . .

It was the fellow being a sailor that put into Cloete's mind the
first notion of doing away with the Sagamore. He studies him a
bit, thinks there's enough devil in him yet to be tempted, and one
evening he says to him . . . I suppose you wouldn't mind going to
sea again, for a spell? . . . The other never raises his eyes; says
it's scarcely worth one's while for the miserable salary one gets.
. . Well, but what do you say to captain's wages for a time, and a
couple of hundred extra if you are compelled to come home without
the ship. Accidents will happen, says Cloete. . . Oh! sure to,
says that Stafford; and goes on taking sips of his drink as if he
had no interest in the matter.

"Cloete presses him a bit; but the other observes, impudent and
languid like: You see, there's no future in a thing like that--is
there? . . Oh! no, says Cloete. Certainly not. I don't mean this
to have any future--as far as you are concerned. It's a 'once for
all' transaction. Well, what do you estimate your future at? he
asks. . . The fellow more listless than ever--nearly asleep.--I
believe the skunk was really too lazy to care. Small cheating at
cards, wheedling or bullying his living out of some woman or other,
was more his style. Cloete swears at him in whispers something
awful. All this in the saloon bar of the Horse Shoe, Tottenham
Court Road. Finally they agree, over the second sixpennyworth of
Scotch hot, on five hundred pounds as the price of tomahawking the
Sagamore. And Cloete waits to see what George can do.

"A week or two goes by. The other fellow loafs about the house as
if there had been nothing, and Cloete begins to doubt whether he
really means ever to tackle that job. But one day he stops Cloete
at the door, with his downcast eyes: What about that employment
you wished to give me? he asks. . . You see, he had played some
more than usual dirty trick on the woman and expected awful
ructions presently; and to be fired out for sure. Cloete very
pleased. George had been prevaricating to him such a lot that he
really thought the thing was as well as settled. And he says:
Yes. It's time I introduced you to my friend. Just get your hat
and we will go now. . .

"The two come into the office, and George at his desk sits up in a
sudden panic--staring. Sees a tallish fellow, sort of nasty-
handsome face, heavy eyes, half shut; short drab overcoat, shabby
bowler hat, very careful--like in his movements. And he thinks to
himself, Is that how such a man looks! No, the thing's impossible.
. . Cloete does the introduction, and the fellow turns round to
look behind him at the chair before he sits down. . . A thoroughly
competent man, Cloete goes on . . . The man says nothing, sits
perfectly quiet. And George can't speak, throat too dry. Then he
makes an effort: H'm! H'm! Oh yes--unfortunately--sorry to
disappoint--my brother--made other arrangements--going himself.

"The fellow gets up, never raising his eyes off the ground, like a
modest girl, and goes out softly, right out of the office without a
sound. Cloete sticks his chin in his hand and bites all his
fingers at once. George's heart slows down and he speaks to
Cloete. . . This can't be done. How can it be? Directly the ship
is lost Harry would see through it. You know he is a man to go to
the underwriters himself with his suspicions. And he would break
his heart over me. How can I play that on him? There's only two
of us in the world belonging to each other. . .

"Cloete lets out a horrid cuss-word, jumps up, bolts away into his
room, and George hears him there banging things around. After a
while he goes to the door and says in a trembling voice: You ask
me for an impossibility. . . Cloete inside ready to fly out like a
tiger and rend him; but he opens the door a little way and says
softly: Talking of hearts, yours is no bigger than a mouse's, let
me tell you. . . But George doesn't care--load off the heart,
anyhow. And just then Captain Harry comes in. . . Hallo, George
boy. I am little late. What about a chop at the Cheshire, now? .
. . Right you are, old man. . . And off they go to lunch together.
Cloete has nothing to eat that day.

"George feels a new man for a time; but all of a sudden that fellow
Stafford begins to hang about the street, in sight of the house
door. The first time George sees him he thinks he made a mistake.
But no; next time he has to go out, there is the very fellow
skulking on the other side of the road. It makes George nervous;
but he must go out on business, and when the fellow cuts across the
road-way he dodges him. He dodges him once, twice, three times;
but at last he gets nabbed in his very doorway. . . What do you
want? he says, trying to look fierce.

"It seems that ructions had come in the basement of that boarding-
house, and the widow lady had turned on him (being jealous mad), to
the extent of talking of the police. THAT Mr. Stafford couldn't
stand; so he cleared out like a scared stag, and there he was,
chucked into the streets, so to speak. Cloete looked so savage as
he went to and fro that he hadn't the spunk to tackle him; but
George seemed a softer kind to his eye. He would have been glad of
half a quid, anything. . . I've had misfortunes, he says softly, in
his demure way, which frightens George more than a row would have
done. . . Consider the severity of my disappointment, he says. . .

"George, instead of telling him to go to the devil, loses his head.
. . I don't know you. What do you want? he cries, and bolts up-
stairs to Cloete. . . . Look what's come of it, he gasps; now we
are at the mercy of that horrid fellow. . . Cloete tries to show
him that the fellow can do nothing; but George thinks that some
sort of scandal may be forced on, anyhow. Says that he can't live
with that horror haunting him. Cloete would laugh if he weren't
too weary of it all. Then a thought strikes him and he changes his
tune. . . Well, perhaps! I will go down-stairs and send him away
to begin with. . . He comes back. . . He's gone. But perhaps you
are right. The fellow's hard up, and that's what makes people
desperate. The best thing would be to get him out of the country
for a time. Look here, the poor devil is really in want of
employment. I won't ask you much this time: only to hold your
tongue; and I shall try to get your brother to take him as chief
officer. At this George lays his arms and his head on his desk, so
that Cloete feels sorry for him. But altogether Cloete feels more
cheerful because he has shaken the ghost a bit into that Stafford.
That very afternoon he buys him a suit of blue clothes, and tells
him that he will have to turn to and work for his living now. Go
to sea as mate of the Sagamore. The skunk wasn't very willing, but
what with having nothing to eat and no place to sleep in, and the
woman having frightened him with the talk of some prosecution or
other, he had no choice, properly speaking. Cloete takes care of
him for a couple of days. . . Our arrangement still stands, says
he. Here's the ship bound for Port Elizabeth; not a safe anchorage
at all. Should she by chance part from her anchors in a north-east
gale and get lost on the beach, as many of them do, why, it's five
hundred in your pocket--and a quick return home. You are up to the
job, ain't you?

"Our Mr. Stafford takes it all in with downcast eyes. . . I am a
competent seaman, he says, with his sly, modest air. A ship's
chief mate has no doubt many opportunities to manipulate the chains
and anchors to some purpose. . . At this Cloete thumps him on the
back: You'll do, my noble sailor. Go in and win. . .

"Next thing George knows, his brother tells him that he had
occasion to oblige his partner. And glad of it, too. Likes the
partner no end. Took a friend of his as mate. Man had his
troubles, been ashore a year nursing a dying wife, it seems. Down
on his luck. . . George protests earnestly that he knows nothing of
the person. Saw him once. Not very attractive to look at. . . And
Captain Harry says in his hearty way, That's so, but must give the
poor devil a chance. . .

"So Mr. Stafford joins in dock. And it seems that he did manage to
monkey with one of the cables--keeping his mind on Port Elizabeth.
The riggers had all the cable ranged on deck to clean lockers. The
new mate watches them go ashore--dinner hour--and sends the ship-
keeper out of the ship to fetch him a bottle of beer. Then he goes
to work whittling away the forelock of the forty-five-fathom
shackle-pin, gives it a tap or two with a hammer just to make it
loose, and of course that cable wasn't safe any more. Riggers come
back--you know what riggers are: come day, go day, and God send
Sunday. Down goes the chain into the locker without their foreman
looking at the shackles at all. What does he care? He ain't going
in the ship. And two days later the ship goes to sea. . . "


At this point I was incautious enough to breathe out another "I
see," which gave offence again, and brought on me a rude "No, you
don't"--as before. But in the pause he remembered the glass of
beer at his elbow. He drank half of it, wiped his mustaches, and
remarked grimly -

"Don't you think that there will be any sea life in this, because
there ain't. If you're going to put in any out of your own head,
now's your chance. I suppose you know what ten days of bad weather
in the Channel are like? I don't. Anyway, ten whole days go by.
One Monday Cloete comes to the office a little late--hears a
woman's voice in George's room and looks in. Newspapers on the
desk, on the floor; Captain Harry's wife sitting with red eyes and
a bag on the chair near her. . . Look at this, says George, in
great excitement, showing him a paper. Cloete's heart gives a
jump. Ha! Wreck in Westport Bay. The Sagamore gone ashore early
hours of Sunday, and so the newspaper men had time to put in some
of their work. Columns of it. Lifeboat out twice. Captain and
crew remain by the ship. Tugs summoned to assist. If the weather
improves, this well-known fine ship may yet be saved. . . You know
the way these chaps put it. . . Mrs. Harry there on her way to
catch a train from Cannon Street. Got an hour to wait.

"Cloete takes George aside and whispers: Ship saved yet! Oh,
damn! That must never be; you hear? But George looks at him
dazed, and Mrs. Harry keeps on sobbing quietly: . . . I ought to
have been with him. But I am going to him. . . We are all going
together, cries Cloete, all of a sudden. He rushes out, sends the
woman a cup of hot bovril from the shop across the road, buys a rug
for her, thinks of everything; and in the train tucks her in and
keeps on talking, thirteen to the dozen, all the way, to keep her
spirits up, as it were; but really because he can't hold his peace
for very joy. Here's the thing done all at once, and nothing to
pay. Done. Actually done. His head swims now and again when he
thinks of it. What enormous luck! It almost frightens him. He
would like to yell and sing. Meantime George Dunbar sits in his
corner, looking so deadly miserable that at last poor Mrs. Harry
tries to comfort him, and so cheers herself up at the same time by
talking about how her Harry is a prudent man; not likely to risk
his crew's life or his own unnecessarily--and so on.

"First thing they hear at Westport station is that the life-boat
has been out to the ship again, and has brought off the second
officer, who had hurt himself, and a few sailors. Captain and the
rest of the crew, about fifteen in all, are still on board. Tugs
expected to arrive every moment.

"They take Mrs. Harry to the inn, nearly opposite the rocks; she
bolts straight up-stairs to look out of the window, and she lets
out a great cry when she sees the wreck. She won't rest till she
gets on board to her Harry. Cloete soothes her all he can. . . All
right; you try to eat a mouthful, and we will go to make inquiries.

"He draws George out of the room: Look here, she can't go on
board, but I shall. I'll see to it that he doesn't stop in the
ship too long. Let's go and find the coxswain of the life-boat. .
. George follows him, shivering from time to time. The waves are
washing over the old pier; not much wind, a wild, gloomy sky over
the bay. In the whole world only one tug away off, heading to the
seas, tossed in and out of sight every minute as regular as
clockwork.

"They meet the coxswain and he tells them: Yes! He's going out
again. No, they ain't in danger on board--not yet. But the ship's
chance is very poor. Still, if the wind doesn't pipe up again and
the sea goes down something might be tried. After some talk he
agrees to take Cloete on board; supposed to be with an urgent
message from the owners to the captain.

"Whenever Cloete looks at the sky he feels comforted; it looks so
threatening. George Dunbar follows him about with a white face and
saying nothing. Cloete takes him to have a drink or two, and by
and by he begins to pick up. . . That's better, says Cloete; dash
me if it wasn't like walking about with a dead man before. You
ought to be throwing up your cap, man. I feel as if I wanted to
stand in the street and cheer. Your brother is safe, the ship is
lost, and we are made men.

"Are you certain she's lost? asks George. It would be an awful
blow after all the agonies I have gone through in my mind, since
you first spoke to me, if she were to be got off--and--and--all
this temptation to begin over again. . . For we had nothing to do
with this; had we?

"Of course not, says Cloete. Wasn't your brother himself in
charge? It's providential. . . Oh! cries George, shocked. . .
Well, say it's the devil, says Cloete, cheerfully. I don't mind!
You had nothing to do with it any more than a baby unborn, you
great softy, you. . . Cloete has got so that he almost loved George
Dunbar. Well. Yes. That was so. I don't mean he respected him.
He was just fond of his partner.

"They go back, you may say fairly skipping, to the hotel, and find
the wife of the captain at the open window, with her eyes on the
ship as if she wanted to fly across the bay over there. . . Now
then, Mrs. Dunbar, cries Cloete, you can't go, but I am going. Any
messages? Don't be shy. I'll deliver every word faithfully. And
if you would like to give me a kiss for him, I'll deliver that too,
dash me if I don't.

"He makes Mrs. Harry laugh with his patter. . . Oh, dear Mr.
Cloete, you are a calm, reasonable man. Make him behave sensibly.
He's a bit obstinate, you know, and he's so fond of the ship, too.
Tell him I am here--looking on. . . Trust me, Mrs. Dunbar. Only
shut that window, that's a good girl. You will be sure to catch
cold if you don't, and the Captain won't be pleased coming off the
wreck to find you coughing and sneezing so that you can't tell him
how happy you are. And now if you can get me a bit of tape to
fasten my glasses on good to my ears, I will be going. . .

"How he gets on board I don't know. All wet and shaken and excited
and out of breath, he does get on board. Ship lying over,
smothered in sprays, but not moving very much; just enough to jag
one's nerve a bit. He finds them all crowded on the deck-house
forward, in their shiny oilskins, with faces like sick men.
Captain Harry can't believe his eyes. What! Mr. Cloete! What are
you doing here, in God's name? . . . Your wife's ashore there,
looking on, gasps out Cloete; and after they had talked a bit,
Captain Harry thinks it's uncommonly plucky and kind of his
brother's partner to come off to him like this. Man glad to have
somebody to talk to. . . It's a bad business, Mr. Cloete, he says.
And Cloete rejoices to hear that. Captain Harry thinks he had done
his best, but the cable had parted when he tried to anchor her. It
was a great trial to lose the ship. Well, he would have to face
it. He fetches a deep sigh now and then. Cloete almost sorry he
had come on board, because to be on that wreck keeps his chest in a
tight band all the time. They crouch out of the wind under the
port boat, a little apart from the men. The life-boat had gone
away after putting Cloete on board, but was coming back next high
water to take off the crew if no attempt at getting the ship afloat
could be made. Dusk was falling; winter's day; black sky; wind
rising. Captain Harry felt melancholy. God's will be done. If
she must be left on the rocks--why, she must. A man should take
what God sends him standing up. . . Suddenly his voice breaks, and
he squeezes Cloete's arm: It seems as if I couldn't leave her, he
whispers. Cloete looks round at the men like a lot of huddled
sheep and thinks to himself: They won't stay. . . Suddenly the
ship lifts a little and sets down with a thump. Tide rising.
Everybody beginning to look out for the life-boat. Some of the men
made her out far away and also two more tugs. But the gale has
come on again, and everybody knows that no tug will ever dare come
near the ship.

"That's the end, Captain Harry says, very low. . . . Cloete thinks
he never felt so cold in all his life. . . And I feel as if I
didn't care to live on just now, mutters Captain Harry . . . Your
wife's ashore, looking on, says Cloete . . . Yes. Yes. It must be
awful for her to look at the poor old ship lying here done for.
Why, that's our home.

"Cloete thinks that as long as the Sagamore's done for he doesn't
care, and only wishes himself somewhere else. The slightest
movement of the ship cuts his breath like a blow. And he feels
excited by the danger, too. The captain takes him aside. . . The
life-boat can't come near us for more than an hour. Look here,
Cloete, since you are here, and such a plucky one--do something for
me. . . He tells him then that down in his cabin aft in a certain
drawer there is a bundle of important papers and some sixty
sovereigns in a small canvas bag. Asks Cloete to go and get these
things out. He hasn't been below since the ship struck, and it
seems to him that if he were to take his eyes off her she would
fall to pieces. And then the men--a scared lot by this time--if he
were to leave them by themselves they would attempt to launch one
of the ship's boats in a panic at some heavier thump--and then some
of them bound to get drowned. . . There are two or three boxes of
matches about my shelves in my cabin if you want a light, says
Captain Harry. Only wipe your wet hands before you begin to feel
for them. . .

"Cloete doesn't like the job, but doesn't like to show funk,
either--and he goes. Lots of water on the main-deck, and he
splashes along; it was getting dark, too. All at once, by the
mainmast, somebody catches him by the arm. Stafford. He wasn't
thinking of Stafford at all. Captain Harry had said something as
to the mate not being quite satisfactory, but it wasn't much.
Cloete doesn't recognise him in his oilskins at first. He sees a
white face with big eyes peering at him. . . Are you pleased, Mr.
Cloete . . . ?

"Cloete is moved to laugh at the whine, and shakes him off. But
the fellow scrambles on after him on the poop and follows him down
into the cabin of that wrecked ship. And there they are, the two
of them; can hardly see each other. . . You don't mean to make me
believe you have had anything to do with this, says Cloete. . .

"They both shiver, nearly out of their wits with the excitement of
being on board that ship. She thumps and lurches, and they stagger
together, feeling sick. Cloete again bursts out laughing at that
wretched creature Stafford pretending to have been up to something
so desperate. . . Is that how you think you can treat me now? yells
the other man all of a sudden. . .

"A sea strikes the stern, the ship trembles and groans all round
them, there's the noise of the seas about and overhead, confusing
Cloete, and he hears the other screaming as if crazy. . . Ah, you
don't believe me! Go and look at the port chain. Parted? Eh? Go
and see if it's parted. Go and find the broken link. You can't.
There's no broken link. That means a thousand pounds for me. No
less. A thousand the day after we get ashore--prompt. I won't
wait till she breaks up, Mr. Cloete. To the underwriters I go if
I've to walk to London on my bare feet. Port cable! Look at her
port cable, I will say to them. I doctored it--for the owners--
tempted by a low rascal called Cloete.

"Cloete does not understand what it means exactly. All he sees is
that the fellow means to make mischief. He sees trouble ahead. . .
Do you think you can scare me? he asks,--you poor miserable skunk.
. . And Stafford faces him out--both holding on to the cabin table:
No, damn you, you are only a dirty vagabond; but I can scare the
other, the chap in the black coat. . .

"Meaning George Dunbar. Cloete's brain reels at the thought. He
doesn't imagine the fellow can do any real harm, but he knows what
George is; give the show away; upset the whole business he had set
his heart on. He says nothing; he hears the other, what with the
funk and strain and excitement, panting like a dog--and then a
snarl. . . A thousand down, twenty-four hours after we get ashore;
day after to-morrow. That's my last word, Mr. Cloete. . . A
thousand pounds, day after to-morrow, says Cloete. Oh yes. And
to-day take this, you dirty cur. . . He hits straight from the
shoulder in sheer rage, nothing else. Stafford goes away spinning
along the bulk-head. Seeing this, Cloete steps out and lands him
another one somewhere about the jaw. The fellow staggers backward
right into the captain's cabin through the open door. Cloete,
following him up, hears him fall down heavily and roll to leeward,
then slams the door to and turns the key. . . There! says he to
himself, that will stop you from making trouble."

"By Jove!" I murmured.

The old fellow departed from his impressive immobility to turn his
rakishly hatted head and look at me with his old, black, lack-
lustre eyes.

"He did leave him there," he uttered, weightily, returning to the
contemplation of the wall. "Cloete didn't mean to allow anybody,
let alone a thing like Stafford, to stand in the way of his great
notion of making George and himself, and Captain Harry, too, for
that matter, rich men. And he didn't think much of consequences.
These patent-medicine chaps don't care what they say or what they
do. They think the world's bound to swallow any story they like to
tell. . . He stands listening for a bit. And it gives him quite a
turn to hear a thump at the door and a sort of muffled raving
screech inside the captain's room. He thinks he hears his own
name, too, through the awful crash as the old Sagamore rises and
falls to a sea. That noise and that awful shock make him clear out
of the cabin. He collects his senses on the poop. But his heart
sinks a little at the black wildness of the night. Chances that he
will get drowned himself before long. Puts his head down the
companion. Through the wind and breaking seas he can hear the
noise of Stafford's beating against the door and cursing. He
listens and says to himself: No. Can't trust him now. . .

"When he gets back to the top of the deck-house he says to Captain
Harry, who asks him if he got the things, that he is very sorry.
There was something wrong with the door. Couldn't open it. And to
tell you the truth, says he, I didn't like to stop any longer in
that cabin. There are noises there as if the ship were going to
pieces. . . Captain Harry thinks: Nervous; can't be anything wrong
with the door. But he says: Thanks--never mind, never mind. . .
All hands looking out now for the life-boat. Everybody thinking of
himself rather. Cloete asks himself, will they miss him? But the
fact is that Mr. Stafford had made such poor show at sea that after
the ship struck nobody ever paid any attention to him. Nobody
cared what he did or where he was. Pitch dark, too--no counting of
heads. The light of the tug with the lifeboat in tow is seen
making for the ship, and Captain Harry asks: Are we all there? . .
. Somebody answers: All here, sir. . . Stand by to leave the ship,
then, says Captain Harry; and two of you help the gentleman over
first. . . Aye, aye, sir. . . Cloete was moved to ask Captain Harry
to let him stay till last, but the life-boat drops on a grapnel
abreast the fore-rigging, two chaps lay hold of him, watch their
chance, and drop him into her, all safe.

"He's nearly exhausted; not used to that sort of thing, you see.
He sits in the stern-sheets with his eyes shut. Don't want to look
at the white water boiling all around. The men drop into the boat
one after another. Then he hears Captain Harry's voice shouting in
the wind to the coxswain, to hold on a moment, and some other words
he can't catch, and the coxswain yelling back: Don't be long, sir.
. . What is it? Cloete asks feeling faint. . . Something about the
ship's papers, says the coxswain, very anxious. It's no time to be
fooling about alongside, you understand. They haul the boat off a
little and wait. The water flies over her in sheets. Cloete's
senses almost leave him. He thinks of nothing. He's numb all
over, till there's a shout: Here he is! . . . They see a figure in
the fore-rigging waiting--they slack away on the grapnel-line and
get him in the boat quite easy. There is a little shouting--it's
all mixed up with the noise of the sea. Cloete fancies that
Stafford's voice is talking away quite close to his ear. There's a
lull in the wind, and Stafford's voice seems to be speaking very
fast to the coxswain; he tells him that of course he was near his
skipper, was all the time near him, till the old man said at the
last moment that he must go and get the ship's papers from aft;
would insist on going himself; told him, Stafford, to get into the
life-boat. . . He had meant to wait for his skipper, only there
came this smooth of the seas, and he thought he would take his
chance at once.

"Cloete opens his eyes. Yes. There's Stafford sitting close by
him in that crowded life-boat. The coxswain stoops over Cloete and
cries: Did you hear what the mate said, sir? . . . Cloete's face
feels as if it were set in plaster, lips and all. Yes, I did, he
forces himself to answer. The coxswain waits a moment, then says:
I don't like it. . . And he turns to the mate, telling him it was a
pity he did not try to run along the deck and hurry up the captain
when the lull came. Stafford answers at once that he did think of
it, only he was afraid of missing him on the deck in the dark.
For, says he, the captain might have got over at once, thinking I
was already in the life-boat, and you would have hauled off
perhaps, leaving me behind. . . True enough, says the coxswain. A
minute or so passes. This won't do, mutters the coxswain.
Suddenly Stafford speaks up in a sort of hollow voice: I was by
when he told Mr. Cloete here that he didn't know how he would ever
have the courage to leave the old ship; didn't he, now? . . . And
Cloete feels his arm being gripped quietly in the dark. . . Didn't
he now? We were standing together just before you went over, Mr.
Cloete? . . .

"Just then the coxswain cries out: I'm going on board to see. . .
Cloete tears his arm away: I am going with you. . .

"When they get aboard, the coxswain tells Cloete to go aft along
one side of the ship and he would go along the other so as not to
miss the captain. . . And feel about with your hands, too, says he;
he might have fallen and be lying insensible somewhere on the deck.
. . When Cloete gets at last to the cabin companion on the poop the
coxswain is already there, peering down and sniffing. I detect a
smell of smoke down there, says he. And he yells: Are you there,
sir? . . . This is not a case for shouting, says Cloete, feeling
his heart go stony, as it were. . . Down they go. Pitch dark; the
inclination so sharp that the coxswain, groping his way into the
captain's room, slips and goes tumbling down. Cloete hears him cry
out as though he had hurt himself, and asks what's the matter. And
the coxswain answers quietly that he had fallen on the captain,
lying there insensible. Cloete without a word begins to grope all
over the shelves for a box of matches, finds one, and strikes a
light. He sees the coxswain in his cork jacket kneeling over
Captain Harry. . . Blood, says the coxswain, looking up, and the
match goes out. . .

"Wait a bit, says Cloete; I'll make paper spills. . . He had felt
the back of books on the shelves. And so he stands lighting one
spill from another while the coxswain turns poor Captain Harry
over. Dead, he says. Shot through the heart. Here's the
revolver. . . He hands it up to Cloete, who looks at it before
putting it in his pocket, and sees a plate on the butt with H.
Dunbar on it. . . His own, he mutters. . . Whose else revolver did
you expect to find? snaps the coxswain. And look, he took off his
long oilskin in the cabin before he went in. But what's this lot
of burnt paper? What could he want to burn the ship's papers for?
. . .

Cloete sees all, the little drawers drawn out, and asks the
coxswain to look well into them. . . There's nothing, says the man.
Cleaned out. Seems to have pulled out all he could lay his hands
on and set fire to the lot. Mad--that's what it is--went mad. And
now he's dead. You'll have to break it to his wife. . .

"I feel as if I were going mad myself, says Cloete, suddenly, and
the coxswain begs him for God's sake to pull himself together, and
drags him away from the cabin. They had to leave the body, and as
it was they were just in time before a furious squall came on.
Cloete is dragged into the life-boat and the coxswain tumbles in.
Haul away on the grapnel, he shouts; the captain has shot himself.
. .

"Cloete was like a dead man--didn't care for anything. He let that
Stafford pinch his arm twice without making a sign. Most of
Westport was on the old pier to see the men out of the life-boat,
and at first there was a sort of confused cheery uproar when she
came alongside; but after the coxswain has shouted something the
voices die out, and everybody is very quiet. As soon as Cloete has
set foot on something firm he becomes himself again. The coxswain
shakes hands with him: Poor woman, poor woman, I'd rather you had
the job than I. . .

"Where's the mate?" asks Cloete. He's the last man who spoke to
the master. . . Somebody ran along--the crew were being taken to
the Mission Hall, where there was a fire and shake-downs ready for
them--somebody ran along the pier and caught up with Stafford. . .
Here! The owner's agent wants you. . . Cloete tucks the fellow's
arm under his own and walks away with him to the left, where the
fishing-harbour is. . . I suppose I haven't misunderstood you. You
wish me to look after you a bit, says he. The other hangs on him
rather limp, but gives a nasty little laugh: You had better, he
mumbles; but mind, no tricks; no tricks, Mr. Cloete; we are on land
now.

"There's a police office within fifty yards from here, says Cloete.
He turns into a little public house, pushes Stafford along the
passage. The landlord runs out of the bar. . . This is the mate of
the ship on the rocks, Cloete explains; I wish you would take care
of him a bit to-night. . . What's the matter with him? asks the
man. Stafford leans against the wall in the passage, looking
ghastly. And Cloete says it's nothing--done up, of course. . . I
will be responsible for the expense; I am the owner's agent. I'll
be round in an hour or two to see him.

And Cloete gets back to the hotel. The news had travelled there
already, and the first thing he sees is George outside the door as
white as a sheet waiting for him. Cloete just gives him a nod and
they go in. Mrs. Harry stands at the head of the stairs, and, when
she sees only these two coming up, flings her arms above her head
and runs into her room. Nobody had dared tell her, but not seeing
her husband was enough. Cloete hears an awful shriek. . . Go to
her, he says to George.

"While he's alone in the private parlour Cloete drinks a glass of
brandy and thinks it all out. Then George comes in. . . The
landlady's with her, he says. And he begins to walk up and down
the room, flinging his arms about and talking, disconnected like,
his face set hard as Cloete has never seen it before. . . What must
be, must be. Dead--only brother. Well, dead--his troubles over.
But we are living, he says to Cloete; and I suppose, says he,
glaring at him with hot, dry eyes, that you won't forget to wire in
the morning to your friend that we are coming in for certain. . .

"Meaning the patent-medicine fellow. . . Death is death and
business is business, George goes on; and look--my hands are clean,
he says, showing them to Cloete. Cloete thinks: He's going crazy.
He catches hold of him by the shoulders and begins to shake him:
Damn you--if you had had the sense to know what to say to your
brother, if you had had the spunk to speak to him at all, you moral
creature you, he would be alive now, he shouts.

"At this George stares, then bursts out weeping with a great
bellow. He throws himself on the couch, buries his face in a
cushion, and howls like a kid. . . That's better, thinks Cloete,
and he leaves him, telling the landlord that he must go out, as he
has some little business to attend to that night. The landlord's
wife, weeping herself, catches him on the stairs: Oh, sir, that
poor lady will go out of her mind. . .

"Cloete shakes her off, thinking to himself: Oh no! She won't.
She will get over it. Nobody will go mad about this affair unless
I do. It isn't sorrow that makes people go mad, but worry.

"There Cloete was wrong. What affected Mrs. Harry was that her
husband should take his own life, with her, as it were, looking on.
She brooded over it so that in less than a year they had to put her
into a Home. She was very, very quiet; just gentle melancholy.
She lived for quite a long time.

"Well, Cloete splashes along in the wind and rain. Nobody in the
streets--all the excitement over. The publican runs out to meet
him in the passage and says to him: Not this way. He isn't in his
room. We couldn't get him to go to bed nohow. He's in the little
parlour there. We've lighted him a fire. . . You have been giving
him drinks too, says Cloete; I never said I would be responsible
for drinks. How many? . . . Two, says the other. It's all right.
I don't mind doing that much for a shipwrecked sailor. . . Cloete
smiles his funny smile: Eh? Come. He paid for them. . . The
publican just blinks. . . Gave you gold, didn't he? Speak up! . .
. What of that! cries the man. What are you after, anyway? He had
the right change for his sovereign.

"Just so, says Cloete. He walks into the parlour, and there he
sees our Stafford; hair all up on end, landlord's shirt and pants
on, bare feet in slippers, sitting by the fire. When he sees
Cloete he casts his eyes down.

"You didn't mean us ever to meet again, Mr. Cloete, Stafford says,
demurely. . . That fellow, when he had the drink he wanted--he
wasn't a drunkard--would put on this sort of sly, modest air. . .
But since the captain committed suicide, he says, I have been
sitting here thinking it out. All sorts of things happen.
Conspiracy to lose the ship--attempted murder--and this suicide.
For if it was not suicide, Mr. Cloete, then I know of a victim of
the most cruel, cold-blooded attempt at murder; somebody who has
suffered a thousand deaths. And that makes the thousand pounds of
which we spoke once a quite insignificant sum. Look how very
convenient this suicide is. . .

"He looks up at Cloete then, who smiles at him and comes quite
close to the table.

"You killed Harry Dunbar, he whispers. . . The fellow glares at him
and shows his teeth: Of course I did! I had been in that cabin
for an hour and a half like a rat in a trap. . . Shut up and left
to drown in that wreck. Let flesh and blood judge. Of course I
shot him! I thought it was you, you murdering scoundrel, come back
to settle me. He opens the door flying and tumbles right down upon
me; I had a revolver in my hand, and I shot him. I was crazy. Men
have gone crazy for less.

"Cloete looks at him without flinching. Aha! That's your story,
is it? . . . And he shakes the table a little in his passion as he
speaks. . . Now listen to mine. What's this conspiracy? Who's
going to prove it? You were there to rob. You were rifling his
cabin; he came upon you unawares with your hands in the drawer; and
you shot him with his own revolver. You killed to steal--to steal!
His brother and the clerks in the office know that he took sixty
pounds with him to sea. Sixty pounds in gold in a canvas bag. He
told me where they were. The coxswain of the life-boat can swear
to it that the drawers were all empty. And you are such a fool
that before you're half an hour ashore you change a sovereign to
pay for a drink. Listen to me. If you don't turn up day after to-
morrow at George Dunbar's solicitors, to make the proper deposition
as to the loss of the ship, I shall set the police on your track.
Day after to-morrow. . .

"And then what do you think? That Stafford begins to tear his
hair. Just so. Tugs at it with both hands without saying
anything. Cloete gives a push to the table which nearly sends the
fellow off his chair, tumbling inside the fender; so that he has
got to catch hold of it to save himself. . .

"You know the sort of man I am, Cloete says, fiercely. I've got to
a point that I don't care what happens to me. I would shoot you
now for tuppence.

"At this the cur dodges under the table. Then Cloete goes out, and
as he turns in the street--you know, little fishermen's cottages,
all dark; raining in torrents, too--the other opens the window of
the parlour and speaks in a sort of crying voice -

"You low Yankee fiend--I'll pay you off some day.

"Cloete passes by with a damn bitter laugh, because he thinks that
the fellow in a way has paid him off already, if he only knew it."


My impressive ruffian drank what remained of his beer, while his
black, sunken eyes looked at me over the rim.

"I don't quite understand this," I said. "In what way?"

He unbent a little and explained without too much scorn that
Captain Harry being dead, his half of the insurance money went to
his wife, and her trustees of course bought consols with it.
Enough to keep her comfortable. George Dunbar's half, as Cloete
feared from the first, did not prove sufficient to launch the
medicine well; other moneyed men stepped in, and these two had to
go out of that business, pretty nearly shorn of everything.

"I am curious," I said, "to learn what the motive force of this
tragic affair was--I mean the patent medicine. Do you know?"

He named it, and I whistled respectfully. Nothing less than
Parker's Lively Lumbago Pills. Enormous property! You know it;
all the world knows it. Every second man, at least, on this globe
of ours has tried it.

"Why!" I cried, "they missed an immense fortune."

"Yes," he mumbled, "by the price of a revolver-shot."

He told me also that eventually Cloete returned to the States,
passenger in a cargo-boat from Albert Dock. The night before he
sailed he met him wandering about the quays, and took him home for
a drink. "Funny chap, Cloete. We sat all night drinking grogs,
till it was time for him to go on board."

It was then that Cloete, unembittered but weary, told him this
story, with that utterly unconscious frankness of a patent-medicine
man stranger to all moral standards. Cloete concluded by remarking
that he, had "had enough of the old country." George Dunbar had
turned on him, too, in the end. Cloete was clearly somewhat
disillusioned.

As to Stafford, he died, professed loafer, in some East End
hospital or other, and on his last day clamoured "for a parson,"
because his conscience worried him for killing an innocent man.
"Wanted somebody to tell him it was all right," growled my old
ruffian, contemptuously. "He told the parson that I knew this
Cloete who had tried to murder him, and so the parson (he worked
among the dock labourers) once spoke to me about it. That skunk of
a fellow finding himself trapped yelled for mercy. . . Promised to
be good and so on. . . Then he went crazy . . . screamed and threw
himself about, beat his head against the bulkheads . . . you can
guess all that--eh? . . . till he was exhausted. Gave up. Threw
himself down, shut his eyes, and wanted to pray. So he says.
Tried to think of some prayer for a quick death--he was that
terrified. Thought that if he had a knife or something he would
cut his throat, and be done with it. Then he thinks: No! Would
try to cut away the wood about the lock. . . He had no knife in his
pocket. . . he was weeping and calling on God to send him a tool of
some kind when suddenly he thinks: Axe! In most ships there is a
spare emergency axe kept in the master's room in some locker or
other. . . Up he jumps. . . Pitch dark. "Pulls at the drawers to
find matches and, groping for them, the first thing he comes upon--
Captain Harry's revolver. Loaded too. He goes perfectly quiet all
over. Can shoot the lock to pieces. See? Saved! God's
providence! There are boxes of matches too. Thinks he: I may
just as well see what I am about.

"Strikes a light and sees the little canvas bag tucked away at the
back of the drawer. Knew at once what that was. Rams it into his
pocket quick. Aha! says he to himself: this requires more light.
So he pitches a lot of paper on the floor, set fire to it, and
starts in a hurry rummaging for more valuables. Did you ever? He
told that East-End parson that the devil tempted him. First God's
mercy--then devil's work. Turn and turn about. . .

"Any squirming skunk can talk like that. He was so busy with the
drawers that the first thing he heard was a shout, Great Heavens.
He looks up and there was the door open (Cloete had left the key in
the lock) and Captain Harry holding on, well above him, very fierce
in the light of the burning papers. His eyes were starting out of
his head. Thieving, he thunders at him. A sailor! An officer!
No! A wretch like you deserves no better than to be left here to
drown.

"This Stafford--on his death-bed--told the parson that when he
heard these words he went crazy again. He snatched his hand with
the revolver in it out of the drawer, and fired without aiming.
Captain Harry fell right in with a crash like a stone on top of the
burning papers, putting the blaze out. All dark. Not a sound. He
listened for a bit then dropped the revolver and scrambled out on
deck like mad."

The old fellow struck the table with his ponderous fist.

"What makes me sick is to hear these silly boat-men telling people
the captain committed suicide. Pah! Captain Harry was a man that
could face his Maker any time up there, and here below, too. He
wasn't the sort to slink out of life. Not he! He was a good man
down to the ground. He gave me my first job as stevedore only
three days after I got married."

As the vindication of Captain Harry from the charge of suicide
seemed to be his only object, I did not thank him very effusively
for his material. And then it was not worth many thanks in any
case.

For it is too startling even to think of such things happening in
our respectable Channel in full view, so to speak, of the luxurious
continental traffic to Switzerland and Monte Carlo. This story to
be acceptable should have been transposed to somewhere in the South
Seas. But it would have been too much trouble to cook it for the
consumption of magazine readers. So here it is raw, so to speak--
just as it was told to me--but unfortunately robbed of the striking
effect of the narrator; the most imposing old ruffian that ever
followed the unromantic trade of master stevedore in the port of
London.

THE END.

Oct. 1910.

Joseph Conrad

Sorry, no summary available yet.