THE OPEN DOOR
The captain and Herrick meanwhile turned their back upon the
lights in Attwater's verandah, and took a direction towards the
pier and the beach of the lagoon.
The isle, at this hour, with its smooth floor of sand, the
pillared roof overhead, and the prevalent illumination of the
lamps, wore an air of unreality like a deserted theatre or a
public garden at midnight. A man looked about him for the statues
and tables. Not the least air of wind was stirring among the
palms, and the silence was emphasised by the continuous
clamour of the surf from the seashore, as it might be of traffic
in the next street.
Still talking, still soothing him, the captain hurried his
patient on, brought him at last to the lagoon- side, and leading
him down the beach, laved his head and face with the tepid water.
The paroxysm gradually subsided, the sobs became less convulsive
and then ceased; by an odd but not quite unnatural
conjunction, the captain's soothing current of talk died away at
the same time and by proportional steps, and the pair remained
sunk in silence. The lagoon broke at their feet in petty
wavelets, and with a sound as delicate as a whisper; stars of all
degrees looked down on their own images in that vast mirror; and
the more angry colour of the Farallone's riding lamp burned in
the middle distance. For long they continued to gaze on the scene
before them, and hearken anxiously to the rustle and tinkle of
that miniature surf, or the more distant and loud reverberations
from the outer coast. For long speech was denied them; and
when the words came at last, they came to both simultaneously.
'Say, Herrick . . .'the captain was beginning.
But Herrick, turning swiftly towards his companion, bent him
down with the eager cry: 'Let's up anchor, captain, and to sea!'
'Where to, my son?' said the captain. 'Up anchor's easy saying.
But where to?'
'To sea,' responded Herrick. 'The sea's big enough! To sea--away
from this dreadful island and that, oh! that sinister man!'
'Oh, we'll see about that,' said Davis. 'You brace up, and
we'll see about that. You're all run down, that's what's wrong
with you; you're all nerves, like Jemimar; you've got to brace
up good and be yourself again, and then we'll talk.'
'To sea,' reiterated Herrick, 'to sea tonight--now--this
'It can't be, my son,' replied the captain firmly. 'No ship of
mine puts to sea without provisions, you can take that for
'You don't seem to understand,' said Herrick. 'The whole
thing is over, I tell you. There is nothing to do here, when he
knows all. That man there with the cat knows all; can't you
take it in?'
'All what?' asked the captain, visibly discomposed. 'Why, he
received us like a perfect gentleman and treated us real
handsome, until you began with your foolery--and I must say I
seen men shot for less, and nobody sorry! What more do you expect
Herrick rocked to and fro upon the sand, shaking his head.
'Guying us,' he said, 'he was guying us--only guying us; it's
all we're good for.'
'There was one queer thing, to be sure,' admitted the captain,
with a misgiving of the voice; 'that about the sherry. Damned if
I caught on to that. Say, Herrick, you didn't give me away?'
'Oh! give you away!' repeated Herrick with weary, querulous
scorn. 'What was there to give away? We're transparent; we've
got rascal branded on us: detected rascal--detected rascal! Why,
before he came on board, there was the name painted out, and
he saw the whole thing. He made sure we would kill him there
and then, and stood guying you and Huish on the chance. He
calls that being frightened! Next he had me ashore; a fine time I
had! THE TWO WOLVES, he calls you and Huish.--WHAT IS THE
PUPPY DOING WITH THE TWO WOLVES? he asked. He showed me his
pearls; he said they might be dispersed before morning, and ALL
HUNG BY A HAIr--and smiled as he said it, such a smile! O, it's
no use, I tell you! He knows all, he sees through all; we only
make him laugh with our pretences--he looks at us and laughs
There was a silence. Davis stood with contorted brows, gazing
into the night.
'The pearls?' he said suddenly. 'He showed them to you? he
'No, he didn't show them; I forgot: only the safe
they were in,' said Herrick. 'But you'll never get them!'
'I've two words to say to that,' said the captain.
'Do you think he would have been so easy at table, unless he
was prepared?' cried Herrick. 'The servants were both armed.
He was armed himself; he always is; he told me. You will never
deceive his vigilance. Davis, I know it! It's all up; all up.
There's nothing for it, there's nothing to be done: all gone:
life, honour, love. Oh, my God, my God, why was I born?'
Another pause followed upon this outburst.
The captain put his hands to his brow,
'Another thing!' he broke out. 'Why did he tell you all this?
Seems like madness to me!'
Herrick shook his head with gloomy iteration. 'You wouldn't
understand if I were to tell you,' said he.
'I guess I can understand any blame' thing that you can tell
me,' said the captain.
'Well, then, he's a fatalist,' said Herrick.
'What's that, a fatalist?' said Davis.
'Oh, it's a fellow that believes a lot of things,' said Herrick,
'believes that his bullets go true; believes that all falls out
as God chooses, do as you like to prevent it; and all that.'
'Why, I guess I believe right so myself,' said Davis.
'You do?' said Herrick.
'You bet I do!' says Davis.
Herrick shrugged his shoulders. 'Well, you must be a fool,'
said he, and he leaned his head upon his knees.
The captain stood biting his hands.
'There's one thing sure,' he said at last. 'I must get Huish out
of that. HE'S not fit to hold his end up with a man like you
And he turned to go away. The words had been quite simple;
not so the tone; and the other was quick to catch it.
'Davis!' he cried, 'no! Don't do it. Spare ME, and don't do it--
spare yourself, and leave it alone--for God's sake, for your
His voice rose to a passionate shrillness; another moment,
and he might be overheard by their not distant victim. But Davis
turned on him with a savage oath and gesture; and the miserable
young man rolled over on his face on the sand, and lay
speechless and helpless.
The captain meanwhile set out rapidly for Attwater's house.
As he went, he considered with himself eagerly, his thoughts
racing. The man had understood, he had mocked them from the
beginning; he would teach him to make a mockery of John
Davis! Herrick thought him a god; give him a second to aim in,
and the god was overthrown. He chuckled as he felt the butt of
his revolver. It should be done now, as he went in. From behind?
It was difficult to get there. From across the table? No, the
captain preferred to shoot standing, so as you could be sure to
get your hand upon your gun. The best would be to summon
Huish, and when Attwater stood up and turned--ah, then
would be the moment. Wrapped in his ardent prefiguration of
events, the captain posted towards the house with his head
'Hands up! Halt!' cried the voice of Attwater.
And the captain, before he knew what he was doing, had
obeyed. The surprise was complete and irremediable. Coming
on the top crest of his murderous intentions, he had walked
straight into an ambuscade, and now stood, with his hands
impotently lifted, staring at the verandah.
The party was now broken up. Attwater leaned on a post,
and kept Davis covered with a Winchester. One of the servants
was hard by with a second at the port arms, leaning a little
forward, round-eyed with eager expectancy. In the open space
at the head of the stair, Huish was partly supported by the other
native; his face wreathed in meaningless smiles, his mind
seemingly sunk in the contemplation of an unlighted cigar.
'Well,' said Attwater, 'you seem to me to be a very twopenny
The captain uttered a sound in his throat for which we have
no name; rage choked him.
'I am going to give you Mr Whish--or the wine-sop that remains of
him,' continued Attwater. 'He talks a great deal when he drinks,
Captain Davis of the Sea Ranger. But I have quite done with
him--and return the article with thanks. Now,' he cried sharply.
'Another false movement like that, and your family will have to
deplore the loss of an invaluable parent; keep strictly still,
Attwater said a word in the native, his eye still undeviatingly
fixed on the captain; and the servant thrust Huish smartly
forward from the brink of the stair. With an extraordinary
simultaneous dispersion of his members, that gentleman
bounded forth into space, struck the earth, ricocheted, and
brought up with his arms about a palm. His mind was quite a
stranger to these events; the expression of anguish that deformed
his countenance at the moment of the leap was probably
mechanical; and he suffered these convulsions in silence; clung
to the tree like an infant; and seemed, by his dips, to suppose
himself engaged in the pastime of bobbing for apples. A more
finely sympathetic mind or a more observant eye might havc
remarked, a little in front of him on the sand, and still quite
beyond reach, the unlighted cigar.
'There is your Whitechapel carrion!' said Attwater. 'And now
you might very well ask me why I do not put a period to you
at once, as you deserve. I will tell you why, Davis. It is
because I have nothing to do with the Sea Ranger and the people
you drowned, or the Farallone and the champagne that you stole.
That is your account with God, He keeps it, and He will settle
it when the clock strikes. In my own case, I have nothing to go
on but suspicion, and I do not kill on suspicion, not even vermin
like you. But understand! if ever I see any of you again, it is
another matter, and you shall eat a bullet. And now take
yourself off. March! and as you value what you call your life,
keep your hands up as you go!'
The captain remained as he was, his hands up, his mouth open:
mesmerised with fury.
'March!' said Attwater. 'One--two--three!'
And Davis turned and passed slowly away. But even as he
went, he was meditating a prompt, offensive return. In the
twinkling of an eye, he had leaped behind a tree; and was
crouching there, pistol in hand, peering from either side of his
place of ambush with bared teeth; a serpent already poised to
strike. And already he was too late. Attwater and his servants
had disappeared; and only the lamps shone on the deserted table
and the bright sand about the house, and threw into the night in
all directions the strong and tall shadows of the palms.
Davis ground his teeth. Where were they gone, the cowards?
to what hole had they retreated beyond reach? It was in vain he
should try anything, he, single and with a second-hand revolver,
against three persons, armed with Winchesters, and who did not
show an ear out of any of the apertures of that lighted and
silent house? Some of them might have already ducked below it
from the rear, and be drawing a bead upon him at that moment from
the low-browed crypt, the receptacle of empty bottles and
broken crockery. No, there was nothing to be done but to bring
away (if it were still possible) his shattered and demorallsed
'Huish,' he said, 'come along.'
''S lose my ciga',' said Huish, reaching vaguely forward.
The captain let out a rasping oath. 'Come right along here,'
''S all righ'. Sleep here 'th Atty-Attwa. Go boar' t'morr','
replied the festive one.
'If you don't come, and come now, by the living God, I'll
shoot you!' cried the captain.
It is not to be supposed that the sense of these words in any
way penetrated to the mind of Hulsh; rather that, in a fresh
attempt upon the cigar, he overbalanced himself and came flying
erratically forward: a course which brought him within reach of
'Now you walk straight,' said the captain, clutching him, 'or
I'll know why not!'
''S lose my ciga',' replied Huish.
The captain's contained fury blazed up for a moment. He
twisted Huish round, grasped him by the neck of the coat, ran
him in front of him to the pier end, and flung him savagely
forward on his face.
'Look for your cigar then, you swine!' said he, and blew his
boat call till the pea in it ceased to rattle.
An immediate activity responded on board the Farallone; far
away voices, and soon the sound of oars, floated along the
surface of the lagoon; and at the same time, from nearer hand,
Herrick aroused himself and strolled languidly up. He bent over
the insignificant figure of Huish, where it grovelled, apparently
insensible, at the base of the figure-head.
'Dead?' he asked.
'No, he's not dead,' said Davis.
'And Attwater?' asked Herrick.
'Now you just shut your head!' replied Davis. 'You can do that, I
fancy, and by God, I'll show you how! I'll stand no more of your
They waited accordingly in silence till the boat bumped on
the furthest piers; then raised Huish, head and heels, carried
him down the gangway, and flung him summarily in the bottom.
On the way out he was heard murmuring of the loss of his cigar;
and after he had been handed up the side like baggage, and cast
down in the alleyway to slumber, his last audible expression
was: 'Splen'l fl' Attwa'!' This the expert construed into
'Splendid fellow, Attwater'; with so much innocence had this
great spirit issued from the adventures of the evening.
The captain went and walked in the waist with brief, irate
turns; Herrick leaned his arms on the taffrail; the crew had all
turned in. The ship had a gentle, cradling motion; at times a
block piped like a bird. On shore, through the colonnade of
palm stems, Attwater's house was to be seen shining steadily
with many lamps. And there was nothing else visible, whether
in the heaven above or in the lagoon below, but the stars and
their reflections. It might have been minutes or it might have
been hours, that Herrick leaned there, looking in the glorified
water and drinking peace. 'A bath of stars,' he was thinking;
when a hand was laid at last on his shoulder.
'Herrick,' said the captain, 'I've been walking off my trouble.'
A sharp jar passed through the young man, but he neither
answered nor so much as turned his head.
'I guess I spoke a little rough to you on shore,' pursued the
captain; 'the fact is, I was real mad; but now it's over, and you
and me have to turn to and think.'
'I will NOT think,' said Herrick.
'Here, old man!' said Davis, kindly; 'this won't fight, you
know! You've got to brace up and help me get things straight.
You're not going back on a friend? That's not like you, Herrick!'
'O yes, it is,' said Herrick.
'Come, come!' said the captain, and paused as if quite at a
loss. 'Look here,' he cried, 'you have a glass of champagne. I
won't touch it, so that'll show you if I'm in earnest. But it's
just the pick-me-up for you; it'll put an edge on you at once.'
'O, you leave me alone!' said Herrick, and turned away.
The captain caught him by the sleeve; and he shook him off
and turned on him, for the moment, like a demoniac.
'Go to hell in your own way!' he cried.
And he turned away again, this time unchecked, and stepped
forward to where the boat rocked alongside and ground
occasionally against the schooner. He looked about him. A
corner of the house was interposed between the captain and
himself; all was well; no eye must see him in that last act. He
slid silently into the boat; thence, silently, into the starry
Instinctively he swam a little; it would be time enough to stop
by and by.
The shock of the immersion brightened his mind immediately.
The events of the ignoble day passed before him in a frieze of
pictures, and he thanked 'whatever Gods there be' for that open
door of suicide. In such a little while he would be done with it,
the random business at an end, the prodigal son come home. A
very bright planet shone before him and drew a trenchant wake
along the water. He took that for his line and followed it. That
was the last earthly thing that he should look upon; that radiant
speck, which he had soon magnified into a City of Laputa,
along whose terraces there walked men and women of awful
and benignant features, who viewed him with distant
commiseration. These imaginary spectators consoled him; he told
himself their talk, one to another; it was of himself and his sad
From such flights of fancy, he was aroused by the growing
coldness of the water. Why should he delay? Here, where he
was now, let him drop the curtain, let him seek the ineffable
refuge, let him lie down with all races and generations of men in
the house of sleep. It was easy to say, easy to do. To stop
swimming: there was no mystery in that, if he could do it. Could
he? And he could not. He knew it instantly. He was aware
instantly of an opposition in his members, unanimous and
invincible, clinging to life with a single and fixed resolve,
finger by finger, sinew by sinew; something that was at once he
and not he--at once within and without him;--the shutting of some
miniature valve in his brain, which a single manly thought
should suffice to open--and the grasp of an external fate
ineluctable as gravity. To any man there may come at times a
consciousness that there blows, through all the articulations of
his body, the wind of a spirit not wholly his; that his mind
rebels; that another girds him and carries him whither he would
not. It came now to Herrick, with the authority of a revelation.
There was no escape possible. The open door was closed in his
recreant face. He must go back into the world and amongst men
without illusion. He must stagger on to the end with the pack of
his responsibility and his disgrace, until a cold, a blow, a
merciful chance ball, or the more merciful hangman, should
dismiss him from his infamy. There were men who could commit
suicide; there were men who could not; and he was one who
For perhaps a minute, there raged in his mind the coil of this
discovery; then cheerless certitude followed; and, with an
incredible simplicity of submission to ascertained fact, he
turned round and struck out for shore. There was a courage in
this which he could not appreciate; the ignobility of his
cowardice wholly occupying him. A strong current set against him
like a wind in his face; he contended with it heavily, wearily,
without enthusiasm, but with substantial advantage; marking his
progress the while, without pleasure, by the outline of the
trees. Once he had a moment of hope. He heard to the southward of
him, towards the centre of the lagoon, the wallowing of some
great fish, doubtless a shark, and paused for a little, treading
water. Might not this be the hangman? he thought. But the
wallowing died away; mere silence succeeded; and Herrick
pushed on again for the shore, raging as he went at his own
nature. Ay, he would wait for the shark; but if he had heard
him coming! . . . His smile was tragic. He could have spat upon
About three in the morning, chance, and the set of the current,
and the bias of his own right-handed body, so decided it between
them that he came to shore upon the beach in front of
Attwater's. There he sat down, and looked forth into a world
without any of the lights of hope. The poor diving dress of
self-conceit was sadly tattered! With the fairy tale of suicide,
of a refuge always open to him, he had hitherto beguiled and
supported himself in the trials of life; and behold! that also
was only a fairy tale, that also was folk-lore. With the
consequences of his acts he saw himself implacably confronted for
the duration of life: stretched upon a cross, and nailed there
with the iron bolts of his own cowardice. He had no tears; he
told himself no stories. His disgust with himself was so complete
that even the process of apologetic mythology had ceased. He was
like a man cast down from a pillar, and every bone broken. He lay
there, and admitted the facts, and did not attempt to rise.
Dawn began to break over the far side of the atoll, the sky
brightened, the clouds became dyed with gorgeous colours, the
shadows of the night lifted. And, suddenly, Herrick was aware
that the lagoon and the trees wore again their daylight livery;
and he saw, on board the Farallone, Davis extinguishing the
lantern, and smoke rising from the galley.
Davis, without doubt, remarked and recognised the figure on
the beach; or perhaps hesitated to recognise it; for after he had
gazed a long while from under his hand, he went into the house
and fetched a glass. It was very powerful; Herrick had often
used it. With an instinct of shame, he hid his face in his hands.
'And what brings you here, Mr Herrick-Hay, or Mr Hay-Herrick?'
asked the voice of Attwater. 'Your back view from my present
position is remarkably fine, and I would continue to
present it. We can get on very nicely as we are, and if you were
to turn round, do you know? I think it would be awkward.'
Herrick slowly rose to his feet; his heart throbbed hard, a
hideous excitement shook him, but he was master of himself.
Slowly he turned, and faced Attwater and the muzzle of a
pointed rifle. 'Why could I not do that last night?' he thought.
'Well, why don't you fire?' he said aloud, with a voice that
Attwater slowly put his gun under his arm, then his hands in
'What brings you here?' he repeated.
'I don't know' ' said Herrick; and then, with a cry: 'Can you
do anything with me?'
'Are you armed?' said Attwater. 'I ask for the form's sake.'
'Armed? No!' said Herrick. 'O yes, I am, too!' And he flung
upon the beach a dripping pistol.
'You are wet,' said Attwater.
'Yes, I am wet,' said Herrick. 'Can you do anything with me?'
Attwater read his face attentively.
'It would depend a good deal upon what you are,' said he.
'What I am? A coward!' said Herrick.
'There is very little to be done with that,' said Attwater. 'And
yet the description hardly strikes one as exhaustive.'
'Oh, what does it matter?' cried Herrick. 'Here I am. I am
broken crockery; I am a burst drum; the whole of my life is
gone to water; I have nothing left that I believe in, except my
living horror of myself. Why do I come to you? I don't know;
you are cold, cruel, hateful; and I hate you, or I think I hate
you. But you are an honest man, an honest gentleman. I put
myself, helpless, in your hands. What must I do? If I can't do
anything, be merciful and put a bullet through me; it's only a
puppy with a broken leg!'
'If I were you, I would pick up that pistol, come up to the
house, and put on some dry clothes,' said Attwater.
'If you really mean it?' said Herrick. 'You know they--we--they .
. . But you know all.'
'I know quite enough,' said Attwater. 'Come up to the house.'
And the captain, from the deck of the Farallone, saw the two
men pass together under the shadow of the grove.