The Secret Sharer, by Joseph Conrad
On my right hand there were lines of fishing stakes re-
sembling a mysterious system of half-submerged bamboo
fences, incomprehensible in its division of the domain of
tropical fishes, and crazy of aspect as if abandoned for-
ever by some nomad tribe of fishermen now gone to the
other end of the ocean; for there was no sign of human
habitation as far as the eye could reach. To the left a
group of barren islets, suggesting ruins of stone walls,
towers, and blockhouses, had its foundations set in a
blue sea that itself looked solid, so still and stable did it
lie below my feet; even the track of light from the west-
ering sun shone smoothly, without that animated glitter
which tells of an imperceptible ripple. And when I
turned my head to take a parting glance at the tug which
had just left us anchored outside the bar, I saw the
straight line of the flat shore joined to the stable sea,
edge to edge, with a perfect and unmarked closeness, in
one leveled floor half brown, half blue under the enor-
mous dome of the sky. Corresponding in their insignif-
icance to the islets of the sea, two small clumps of trees,
one on each side of the only fault in the impeccable joint,
marked the mouth of the river Meinam we had just left
on the first preparatory stage of our homeward journey;
and, far back on the inland level, a larger and loftier
mass, the grove surrounding the great Paknam pagoda,
was the only thing on which the eye could rest from the
vain task of exploring the monotonous sweep of the
horizon. Here and there gleams as of a few scattered
pieces of silver marked the windings of the great river;
and on the nearest of them, just within the bar, the tug
steaming right into the land became lost to my sight,
hull and funnel and masts, as though the impassive
earth had swallowed her up without an effort, without a
tremor. My eye followed the light cloud of her smoke,
now here, now there, above the plain, according to the
devious curves of the stream, but always fainter and
farther away, till I lost it at last behind the miter-shaped
hill of the great pagoda. And then I was left alone with
my ship, anchored at the head of the Gulf of Siam.
She floated at the starting point of a long journey,
very still in an immense stillness, the shadows of her
spars flung far to the eastward by the setting sun. At that
moment I was alone on her decks. There was not a
sound in her--and around us nothing moved, nothing
lived, not a canoe on the water, not a bird in the air, not
a cloud in the sky. In this breathless pause at the thresh-
old of a long passage we seemed to be measuring our
fitness for a long and arduous enterprise, the appointed
task of both our existences to be carried out, far from
all human eyes, with only sky and sea for spectators and
There must have been some glare in the air to in-
terfere with one's sight, because it was only just before
the sun left us that my roaming eyes made out beyond
the highest ridges of the principal islet of the group some-
thing which did away with the solemnity of perfect soli-
tude. The tide of darkness flowed on swiftly; and with
tropical suddenness a swarm of stars came out above the
shadowy earth, while I lingered yet, my hand resting
lightly on my ship's rail as if on the shoulder of a
trusted friend. But, with all that multitude of celestial
bodies staring down at one, the comfort of quiet com-
munion with her was gone for good. And there were also
disturbing sounds by this time--voices, footsteps for-
ward; the steward flitted along the main-deck, a busily
ministering spirit; a hand bell tinkled urgently under the
I found my two officers waiting for me near the sup-
per table, in the lighted cuddy. We sat down at once,
and as I helped the chief mate, I said:
"Are you aware that there is a ship anchored inside
the islands? I saw her mastheads above the ridge as
the sun went down."
He raised sharply his simple face, overcharged by a
terrible growth of whisker, and emitted his usual ejac-
ulations: "Bless my soul, sir! You don't say so!"
My second mate was a round-cheeked, silent young
man, grave beyond his years, I thought; but as our eyes
happened to meet I detected a slight quiver on his lips.
I looked down at once. It was not my part to encourage
sneering on board my ship. It must be said, too, that
I knew very little of my officers. In consequence of cer-
tain events of no particular significance, except to my-
self, I had been appointed to the command only a
fortnight before. Neither did I know much of the hands
forward. All these people had been together for eight-
een months or so, and my position was that of the only
stranger on board. I mention this because it has some
bearing on what is to follow. But what I felt most was
my being a stranger to the ship; and if all the truth must
be told, I was somewhat of a stranger to myself. The
youngest man on board (barring the second mate),
and untried as yet by a position of the fullest respon-
sibility, I was willing to take the adequacy of the others
for granted. They had simply to be equal to their tasks;
but I wondered how far I should turn out faithful
to that ideal conception of one's own personality every
man sets up for himself secretly.
Meantime the chief mate, with an almost visible effect
of collaboration on the part of his round eyes and
frightful whiskers, was trying to evolve a theory of the
anchored ship. His dominant trait was to take all things
into earnest consideration. He was of a painstaking turn
of mind. As he used to say, he "liked to account to
himself" for practically everything that came in his way,
down to a miserable scorpion he had found in his cabin
a week before. The why and the wherefore of that
scorpion--how it got on board and came to select his
room rather than the pantry (which was a dark place
and more what a scorpion would be partial to), and
how on earth it managed to drown itself in the inkwell
of his writing desk--had exercised him infinitely. The
ship within the islands was much more easily accounted
for; and just as we were about to rise from table he
made his pronouncement. She was, he doubted not, a
ship from home lately arrived. Probably she drew too
much water to cross the bar except at the top of spring
tides. Therefore she went into that natural harbor to
wait for a few days in preference to remaining in an
"That's so," confirmed the second mate, suddenly, in
his slightly hoarse voice. "She draws over twenty feet.
She's the Liverpool ship Sephora with a cargo of coal.
Hundred and twenty-three days from Cardiff."
We looked at him in surprise.
"The tugboat skipper told me when he came on board
for your letters, sir," explained the young man. "He ex-
pects to take her up the river the day after tomorrow."
After thus overwhelming us with the extent of his
information he slipped out of the cabin. The mate ob-
served regretfully that he "could not account for that
young fellow's whims." What prevented him telling us all
about it at once, he wanted to know.
I detained him as he was making a move. For the
last two days the crew had had plenty of hard work,
and the night before they had very little sleep. I felt
painfully that I--a stranger--was doing something un-
usual when I directed him to let all hands turn in with-
out setting an anchor watch. I proposed to keep on deck
myself till one o'clock or thereabouts. I would get the
second mate to relieve me at that hour.
"He will turn out the cook and the steward at four,"
I concluded, "and then give you a call. Of course at the
slightest sign of any sort of wind we'll have the hands up
and make a start at once."
He concealed his astonishment. "Very well, sir." Out-
side the cuddy he put his head in the second mate's door
to inform him of my unheard-of caprice to take a five
hours' anchor watch on myself. I heard the other raise
his voice incredulously--"What? The Captain himself?"
Then a few more murmurs, a door closed, then an-
other. A few moments later I went on deck.
My strangeness, which had made me sleepless, had
prompted that unconventional arrangement, as if I
had expected in those solitary hours of the night to get
on terms with the ship of which I knew nothing, manned
by men of whom I knew very little more. Fast along-
side a wharf, littered like any ship in port with a
tangle of unrelated things, invaded by unrelated shore
people, I had hardly seen her yet properly. Now, as she
lay cleared for sea, the stretch of her main-deck seemed
to me very find under the stars. Very fine, very roomy for
her size, and very inviting. I descended the poop and
paced the waist, my mind picturing to myself the coming
passage through the Malay Archipelago, down the Indian
Ocean, and up the Atlantic. All its phases were familiar
enough to me, every characteristic, all the alternatives
which were likely to face me on the high seas--every-
thing! . . . except the novel responsibility of command.
But I took heart from the reasonable thought that the
ship was like other ships, the men like other men, and
that the sea was not likely to keep any special sur-
prises expressly for my discomfiture.
Arrived at that comforting conclusion, I bethought my-
self of a cigar and went below to get it. All was still
down there. Everybody at the after end of the ship was
sleeping profoundly. I came out again on the quarter-
deck, agreeably at ease in my sleeping suit on that warm
breathless night, barefooted, a glowing cigar in my teeth,
and, going forward, I was met by the profound silence of
the fore end of the ship. Only as I passed the door of the
forecastle, I heard a deep, quiet, trustful sigh of some
sleeper inside. And suddenly I rejoiced in the great se-
curity of the sea as compared with the unrest of the land,
in my choice of that untempted life presenting no dis-
quieting problems, invested with an elementary moral
beauty by the absolute straightforwardness of its appeal
and by the singleness of its purpose.
The riding light in the forerigging burned with a clear,
untroubled, as if symbolic, flame, confident and bright in
the mysterious shades of the night. Passing on my way aft
along the other side of the ship, I observed that the
rope side ladder, put over, no doubt, for the master of
the tug when he came to fetch away our letters, had not
been hauled in as it should have been. I became an-
noyed at this, for exactitude in some small matters is
the very soul of discipline. Then I reflected that I had
myself peremptorily dismissed my officers from duty,
and by my own act had prevented the anchor watch
being formally set and things properly attended to. I
asked myself whether it was wise ever to interfere with
the established routine of duties even from the kindest of
motives. My action might have made me appear eccentric.
Goodness only knew how that absurdly whiskered mate
would "account" for my conduct, and what the whole
ship thought of that informality of their new captain. I
was vexed with myself.
Not from compunction certainly, but, as it were me-
chanically, I proceeded to get the ladder in myself. Now
a side ladder of that sort is a light affair and comes in
easily, yet my vigorous tug, which should have brought it
flying on board, merely recoiled upon my body in a
totally unexpected jerk. What the devil! . . . I was so
astounded by the immovableness of that ladder that I
remained stockstill, trying to account for it to myself
like that imbecile mate of mine. In the end, of course,
I put my head over the rail.
The side of the ship made an opaque belt of shadow
on the darkling glassy shimmer of the sea. But I saw at
once something elongated and pale floating very close to
the ladder. Before I could form a guess a faint flash of
phosphorescent light, which seemed to issue suddenly
from the naked body of a man, flickered in the sleeping
water with the elusive, silent play of summer lightning
in a night sky. With a gasp I saw revealed to my stare a
pair of feet, the long legs, a broad livid back immersed
right up to the neck in a greenish cadaverous glow. One
hand, awash, clutched the bottom rung of the ladder. He
was complete but for the head. A headless corpse! The
cigar dropped out of my gaping mouth with a tiny plop
and a short hiss quite audible in the absolute stillness of
all things under heaven. At that I suppose he raised up
his face, a dimly pale oval in the shadow of the ship's
side. But even then I could only barely make out down
there the shape of his black-haired head. However, it was
enough for the horrid, frost-bound sensation which
had gripped me about the chest to pass off. The mo-
ment of vain exclamations was past, too. I only climbed
on the spare spar and leaned over the rail as far as I
could, to bring my eyes nearer to that mystery floating
As he hung by the ladder, like a resting swimmer,
the sea lightning played about his limbs at every stir; and
he appeared in it ghastly, silvery, fishlike. He remained
as mute as a fish, too. He made no motion to get out of
the water, either. It was inconceivable that he should not
attempt to come on board, and strangely troubling to
suspect that perhaps he did not want to. And my first
words were prompted by just that troubled incertitude.
"What's the matter?" I asked in my ordinary tone,
speaking down to the face upturned exactly under
"Cramp," it answered, no louder. Then slightly anxious,
"I say, no need to call anyone."
"I was not going to," I said.
"Are you alone on deck?"
I had somehow the impression that he was on the
point of letting go the ladder to swim away beyond my
ken--mysterious as he came. But, for the moment, this
being appearing as if he had risen from the bottom of the
sea (it was certainly the nearest land to the ship)
wanted only to know the time. I told him. And he, down
"I suppose your captain's turned in?"
"I am sure he isn't," I said.
He seemed to struggle with himself, for I heard
something like the low, bitter murmur of doubt. "What's
the good?" His next words came out with a hesitating
"Look here, my man. Could you call him out quietly?"
I thought the time Had come to declare myself.
"I am the captain."
I heard a "By Jove!" whispered at the level of the
water. The phosphorescence flashed in the swirl of the
water all about his limbs, his other hand seized the
"My name's Leggatt."
The voice was calm and resolute. A good voice. The
self-possession of that man had somehow induced a cor-
responding state in myself. It was very quietly that I
"You must be a good swimmer."
"Yes. I've been in the water practically since nine
o'clock. The question for me now is whether I am to let
go this ladder and go on swimming till I sink from ex-
haustion, or--to come on board here."
I felt this was no mere formula of desperate speech,
but a real alternative in the view of a strong soul. I
should have gathered from this that he was young;
indeed, it is only the young who are ever confronted by
such clear issues. But at the time it was pure intuition
on my part. A mysterious communication was established
already between us two--in the face of that silent,
darkened tropical sea. I was young, too; young enough
to make no comment. The man in the water began
suddenly to climb up the ladder, and I hastened away
from the rail to fetch some clothes.
Before entering the cabin I stood still, listening in
the lobby at the foot of the stairs. A faint snore came
through the closed door of the chief mate's room. The
second mate's door was on the hook, but the darkness
in there was absolutely soundless. He, too, was young and
could sleep like a stone. Remained the steward, but he
was not likely to wake up before he was called. I got a
sleeping suit out of my room and, coming back on deck,
saw the naked man from the sea sitting on the main
hatch, glimmering white in the darkness, his elbows on
his knees and his head in his hands. In a moment he had
concealed his damp body in a sleeping suit of the same
gray-stripe pattern as the one I was wearing and followed
me like my double on the poop. Together we moved
right aft, barefooted, silent.
"What is it?" I asked in a deadened voice, taking the
lighted lamp out of the binnacle, and raising it to his
"An ugly business."
He had rather regular features; a good mouth; light
eyes under somewhat heavy, dark eyebrows; a smooth,
square forehead; no growth on his cheeks; a small, brown
mustache, and a well-shaped, round chin. His expres-
sion was concentrated, meditative, under the inspecting
light of the lamp I held up to his face; such as a man
thinking hard in solitude might wear. My sleeping suit
was just right for his size. A well-knit young fellow of
twenty-five at most. He caught his lower lip with the edge
of white, even teeth.
"Yes," I said, replacing the lamp in the binnacle. The
warm, heavy tropical night closed upon his head again.
"There's a ship over there," he murmured.
"Yes, I know. The Sephora. Did you know of us?"
"Hadn't the slightest idea. I am the mate of her--"
He paused and corrected himself. "I should say I WAS."
"Aha! Something wrong?"
"Yes. Very wrong indeed. I've killed a man."
"What do you mean? Just now?"
"No, on the passage. Weeks ago. Thirty-nine south.
When I say a man--"
"Fit of temper," I suggested, confidently.
The shadowy, dark head, like mine, seemed to nod im-
perceptibly above the ghostly gray of my sleeping suit. It
was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own
reflection in the depths of a somber and immense mirror.
"A pretty thing to have to own up to for a Conway
boy," murmured my double, distinctly.
"You're a Conway boy?"
"I am," he said, as if startled. Then, slowly . . . "Per-
haps you too--"
It was so; but being a couple of years older I had left
before he joined. After a quick interchange of dates a
silence fell; and I thought suddenly of my absurd mate
with his terrific whiskers and the "Bless my soul--you
don't say so" type of intellect. My double gave me an
inkling of his thoughts by saying: "My father's a parson
in Norfolk. Do you see me before a judge and jury on
that charge? For myself I can't see the necessity. There
are fellows that an angel from heaven-- And I am
not that. He was one of those creatures that are just
simmering all the time with a silly sort of wickedness.
Miserable devils that have no business to live at all. He
wouldn't do his duty and wouldn't let anybody else do
theirs. But what's the good of talking! You know well
enough the sort of ill-conditioned snarling cur--"
He appealed to me as if our experiences had been as
identical as our clothes. And I knew well enough the
pestiferous danger of such a character where there are no
means of legal repression. And I knew well enough also
that my double there was no homicidal ruffian. I did not
think of asking him for details, and he told me the story
roughly in brusque, disconnected sentences. I needed no
more. I saw it all going on as though I were myself inside
that other sleeping suit.
"It happened while we were setting a reefed foresail, at
dusk. Reefed foresail! You understand the sort of
weather. The only sail we had left to keep the ship run-
ning; so you may guess what it had been like for days.
Anxious sort of job, that. He gave me some of his cursed
insolence at the sheet. I tell you I was overdone with this
terrific weather that seemed to have no end to it. Terrific,
I tell you--and a deep ship. I believe the fellow himself
was half crazed with funk. It was no time for gentlemanly
reproof, so I turned round and felled him like an ox. He
up and at me. We closed just as an awful sea made for
the ship. All hands saw it coming and took to the rigging,
but I had him by the throat, and went on shaking him
like a rat, the men above us yelling, `Look out! look out!'
Then a crash as if the sky had fallen on my head. They
say that for over ten minutes hardly anything was to be
seen of the ship--just the three masts and a bit of the
forecastle head and of the poop all awash driving along
in a smother of foam. It was a miracle that they found us,
jammed together behind the forebitts. It's clear that I
meant business, because I was holding him by the throat
still when they picked us up. He was black in the face. It
was too much for them. It seems they rushed us aft to-
gether, gripped as we were, screaming `Murder!' like a lot
of lunatics, and broke into the cuddy. And the ship run-
ning for her life, touch and go all the time, any minute her
last in a sea fit to turn your hair gray only a-looking at
it. I understand that the skipper, too, started raving like
the rest of them. The man had been deprived of sleep for
more than a week, and to have this sprung on him at
the height of a furious gale nearly drove him out of his
mind. I wonder they didn't fling me overboard after get-
ting the carcass of their precious shipmate out of my
fingers. They had rather a job to separate us, I've been
told. A sufficiently fierce story to make an old judge and
a respectable jury sit up a bit. The first thing I heard
when I came to myself was the maddening howling of that
endless gale, and on that the voice of the old man. He
was hanging on to my bunk, staring into my face out of
"`Mr. Leggatt, you have killed a man. You can act no
longer as chief mate of this ship.'"
His care to subdue his voice made it sound monot-
onous. He rested a hand on the end of the skylight to
steady himself with, and all that time did not stir a
limb, so far as I could see. "Nice little tale for a quiet tea
party," he concluded in the same tone.
One of my hands, too, rested on the end of the skylight;
neither did I stir a limb, so far as I knew. We stood less
than a foot from each other. It occurred to me that if old
"Bless my soul--you don't say so" were to put his head
up the companion and catch sight of us, he would think
he was seeing double, or imagine himself come upon a
scene of weird witchcraft; the strange captain having a
quiet confabulation by the wheel with his own gray ghost.
I became very much concerned to prevent anything of
the sort. I heard the other's soothing undertone.
"My father's a parson in Norfolk," it said. Evidently
he had forgotten he had told me this important fact be-
fore. Truly a nice little tale.
"You had better slip down into my stateroom now," I
said, moving off stealthily. My double followed my move-
ments; our bare feet made no sound; I let him in, closed
the door with care, and, after giving a call to the second
mate, returned on deck for my relief.
"Not much sign of any wind yet," I remarked when he
"No, sir. Not much," he assented, sleepily, in his hoarse
voice, with just enough deference, no more, and barely
suppressing a yawn.
"Well, that's all you have to look out for. You have
got your orders."
I paced a turn or two on the poop and saw him take
up his position face forward with his elbow in the ratlines
of the mizzen rigging before I went below. The mate's
faint snoring was still going on peacefully. The cuddy
lamp was burning over the table on which stood a vase
with flowers, a polite attention from the ship's provision
merchant--the last flowers we should see for the next
three months at the very least. Two bunches of bananas
hung from the beam symmetrically, one on each side of
the rudder casing. Everything was as before in the ship--
except that two of her captain's sleeping suits were si-
multaneously in use, one motionless in the cuddy, the
other keeping very still in the captain's stateroom.
It must be explained here that my cabin had the form
of the capital letter L, the door being within the angle
and opening into the short part of the letter. A couch
was to the left, the bed place to the right; my writing
desk and the chronometers' table faced the door. But
anyone opening it, unless he stepped right inside, had no
view of what I call the long (or vertical) part of the
letter. It contained some lockers surmounted by a book-
case; and a few clothes, a thick jacket or two, caps, oil-
skin coat, and such like, hung on hooks. There was at the
bottom of that part a door opening into my bathroom,
which could be entered also directly from the saloon. But
that way was never used.
The mysterious arrival had discovered the advantage
of this particular shape. Entering my room, lighted
strongly by a big bulkhead lamp swung on gimbals above
my writing desk, I did not see him anywhere till he
stepped out quietly from behind the coats hung in the
"I heard somebody moving about, and went in there at
once," he whispered.
I, too, spoke under my breath.
"Nobody is likely to come in here without knocking
and getting permission."
He nodded. His face was thin and the sunburn faded,
as though he had been ill. And no wonder. He had been,
I heard presently, kept under arrest in his cabin for
nearly seven weeks. But there was nothing sickly in his
eyes or in his expression. He was not a bit like me, really;
yet, as we stood leaning over my bed place, whispering
side by side, with our dark heads together and our backs
to the door, anybody bold enough to open it stealthily
would have been treated to the uncanny sight of a double
captain busy talking in whispers with his other self.
"But all this doesn't tell me how you came to hang on
to our side ladder," I inquired, in the hardly audible
murmurs we used, after he had told me something more
of the proceedings on board the Sephora once the bad
weather was over.
"When we sighted Java Head I had had time to think
all those matters out several times over. I had six weeks
of doing nothing else, and with only an hour or so every
evening for a tramp on the quarter-deck."
He whispered, his arms folded on the side of my bed
place, staring through the open port. And I could imagine
perfectly the manner of this thinking out--a stubborn if
not a steadfast operation; something of which I should
have been perfectly incapable.
"I reckoned it would be dark before we closed with the
land," he continued, so low that I had to strain my hear-
ing near as we were to each other, shoulder touching
shoulder almost. "So I asked to speak to the old man.
He always seemed very sick when he came to see me--
as if he could not look me in the face. You know, that
foresail saved the ship. She was too deep to have run
long under bare poles. And it was I that managed to set
it for him. Anyway, he came. When I had him in my
cabin--he stood by the door looking at me as if I had
the halter round my neck already--I asked him right
away to leave my cabin door unlocked at night while
the ship was going through Sunda Straits. There would
be the Java coast within two or three miles, off Angier
Point. I wanted nothing more. I've had a prize for swim-
ming my second year in the Conway."
"I can believe it," I breathed out.
"God only knows why they locked me in every night.
To see some of their faces you'd have thought they were
afraid I'd go about at night strangling people. Am I a
murdering brute? Do I look it? By Jove! If I had been he
wouldn't have trusted himself like that into my room.
You'll say I might have chucked him aside and bolted out,
there and then--it was dark already. Well, no. And for
the same reason I wouldn't think of trying to smash the
door. There would have been a rush to stop me at the
noise, and I did not mean to get into a confounded
scrimmage. Somebody else might have got killed--for I
would not have broken out only to get chucked back, and
I did not want any more of that work. He refused, look-
ing more sick than ever. He was afraid of the men, and
also of that old second mate of his who had been sailing
with him for years--a gray-headed old humbug; and his
steward, too, had been with him devil knows how long--
seventeen years or more--a dogmatic sort of loafer who
hated me like poison, just because I was the chief mate.
No chief mate ever made more than one voyage in the
Sephora, you know. Those two old chaps ran the ship.
Devil only knows what the skipper wasn't afraid of (all
his nerve went to pieces altogether in that hellish spell of
bad weather we had)--of what the law would do to him
--of his wife, perhaps. Oh, yes! she's on board. Though
I don't think she would have meddled. She would have
been only too glad to have me out of the ship in any
way. The `brand of Cain' business, don't you see. That's
all right. I was ready enough to go off wandering on the
face of the earth--and that was price enough to pay for
an Abel of that sort. Anyhow, he wouldn't listen to me.
'This thing must take its course. I represent the law
here.' He was shaking like a leaf. `So you won't?' `No!'
'Then I hope you will be able to sleep on that,' I said, and
turned my back on him. `I wonder that you can,' cries he,
and locks the door.
"Well after that, I couldn't. Not very well. That was
three weeks ago. We have had a slow passage through the
Java Sea; drifted about Carimata for ten days. When we
anchored here they thought, I suppose, it was all right.
The nearest land (and that's five miles) is the ship's
destination; the consul would soon set about catching
me; and there would have been no object in bolding to
these islets there. I don't suppose there's a drop of water
on them. I don't know how it was, but tonight that
steward, after bringing me my supper, went out to let
me eat it, and left the door unlocked. And I ate it--all
there was, too. After I had finished I strolled out on the
quarter-deck. I don't know that I meant to do anything.
A breath of fresh air was all I wanted, I believe. Then a
sudden temptation came over me. I kicked off my slip-
pers and was in the water before I had made up my
mind fairly. Somebody heard the splash and they raised
an awful hullabaloo. `He's gone! Lower the boats! He's
committed suicide! No, he's swimming.' Certainly I was
swimming. It's not so easy for a swimmer like me to
commit suicide by drowning. I landed on the nearest islet
before the boat left the ship's side. I heard them pulling
about in the dark, hailing, and so on, but after a bit they
gave up. Everything quieted down and the anchorage be-
came still as death. I sat down on a stone and began
to think. I felt certain they would start searching for me
at daylight. There was no place to hide on those stony
things--and if there had been, what would have been
the good? But now I was clear of that ship, I was not
going back. So after a while I took off all my clothes, tied
them up in a bundle with a stone inside, and dropped
them in the deep water on the outer side of that islet.
That was suicide enough for me. Let them think what
they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to
swim till I sank--but that's not the same thing. I struck
out for another of these little islands, and it was from
that one that I first saw your riding light. Something to
swim for. I went on easily, and on the way I came upon
a flat rock a foot or two above water. In the daytime, I
dare say, you might make it out with a glass from your
poop. I scrambled up on it and rested myself for a bit.
Then I made another start. That last spell must have been
over a mile."
His whisper was getting fainter and fainter, and all the
time he stared straight out through the porthole, in which
there was not even a star to be seen. I had not interrupted
him. There was something that made comment impossible
in his narrative, or perhaps in himself; a sort of feeling, a
quality, which I can't find a name for. And when he
ceased, all I found was a futile whisper: "So you swam
for our light?"
"Yes--straight for it. It was something to swim for. I
couldn't see any stars low down because the coast was in
the way, and I couldn't see the land, either. The water
was like glass. One might have been swimming in a con-
founded thousand-feet deep cistern with no place for
scrambling out anywhere; but what I didn't like was the
notion of swimming round and round like a crazed bullock
before I gave out; and as I didn't mean to go back. . . No.
Do you see me being hauled back, stark naked, off one of
these little islands by the scruff of the neck and fighting
like a wild beast? Somebody would have got killed for
certain, and I did not want any of that. So I went on.
Then your ladder--"
"Why didn't you hail the ship?" I asked, a little louder.
He touched my shoulder lightly. Lazy footsteps came
right over our heads and stopped. The second mate had
crossed from the other side of the poop and might have
been hanging over the rail for all we knew.
"He couldn't hear us talking--could he?" My double
breathed into my very ear, anxiously.
His anxiety was in answer, a sufficient answer, to the
question I had put to him. An answer containing all the
difficulty of that situation. I closed the porthole quietly, to
make sure. A louder word might have been overheard.
"Who's that?" he whispered then.
"My second mate. But I don't know much more of the
fellow than you do."
And I told him a little about myself. I had been ap-
pointed to take charge while I least expected anything of
the sort, not quite a fortnight ago. I didn't know either
the ship or the people. Hadn't had the time in port to
look about me or size anybody up. And as to the crew,
all they knew was that I was appointed to take the ship
home. For the rest, I was almost as much of a stranger on
board as himself, I said. And at the moment I felt it
most acutely. I felt that it would take very little to make
me a suspect person in the eyes of the ship's company.
He had turned about meantime; and we, the two
strangers in the ship, faced each other in identical atti-
"Your ladder--" he murmured, after a silence.
"Who'd have thought of finding a ladder hanging over at
night in a ship anchored out here! I felt just then a very
unpleasant faintness. After the life I've been leading for
nine weeks, anybody would have got out of condition. I
wasn't capable of swimming round as far as your rudder
chains. And, lo and behold! there was a ladder to get
hold of. After I gripped it I said to myself, `What's the
good?' When I saw a man's head looking over I thought
I would swim away presently and leave him shouting--in
whatever language it was. I didn't mind being looked at.
I--I liked it. And then you speaking to me so quietly--
as if you had expected me--made me hold on a little
longer. It had been a confounded lonely time--I don't
mean while swimming. I was glad to talk a little to some-
body that didn't belong to the Sephora. As to asking for
the captain, that was a mere impulse. It could have been
no use, with all the ship knowing about me and the other
people pretty certain to be round here in the morning. I
don't know--I wanted to be seen, to talk with somebody,
before I went on. I don't know what I would have
said. . . . `Fine night, isn't it?' or something of the sort."
"Do you think they will be round here presently?" I
asked with some incredulity.
"Quite likely," he said, faintly.
"He looked extremely haggard all of a sudden. His head
rolled on his shoulders.
"H'm. We shall see then. Meantime get into that
bed," I whispered. "Want help? There."
It was a rather high bed place with a set of drawers
underneath. This amazing swimmer really needed the lift
I gave him by seizing his leg. He tumbled in, rolled over
on his back, and flung one arm across his eyes. And then,
with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly
as I used to look in that bed. I gazed upon my other self
for a while before drawing across carefully the two green
serge curtains which ran on a brass rod. I thought for a
moment of pinning them together for greater safety, but
I sat down on the couch, and once there I felt unwilling to
rise and hunt for a pin. I would do it in a moment. I was
extremely tired, in a peculiarly intimate way, by the strain
of stealthiness, by the effort of whispering and the
general secrecy of this excitement. It was three o'clock by
now and I had been on my feet since nine, but I was not
sleepy; I could not have gone to sleep. I sat there, fagged
out, looking at the curtains, trying to clear my mind of
the confused sensation of being in two places at once,
and greatly bothered by an exasperating knocking in my
head. It was a relief to discover suddenly that it was not
in my head at all, but on the outside of the door. Before
I could collect myself the words "Come in" were out of
my mouth, and the steward entered with a tray, bringing
in my morning coffee. I had slept, after all, and I was so
frightened that I shouted, "This way! I am here, stew-
ard," as though he had been miles away. He put down the
tray on the table next the couch and only then said,
very quietly, "I can see you are here, sir." I felt him give
me a keen look, but I dared not meet his eyes just then.
He must have wondered why I had drawn the curtains of
my bed before going to sleep on the couch. He went out,
hooking the door open as usual.
I heard the crew washing decks above me. I knew I
would have been told at once if there had been any
wind. Calm, I thought, and I was doubly vexed. Indeed,
I felt dual more than ever. The steward reappeared sud-
denly in the doorway. I jumped up from the couch so
quickly that he gave a start.
"What do you want here?"
"Close your port, sir--they are washing decks."
"It is closed," I said, reddening.
"Very well, sir." But he did not move from the door-
way and returned my stare in an extraordinary, equivocal
manner for a time. Then his eyes wavered, all his ex-
pression changed, and in a voice unusually gentle, al-
"May I come in to take the empty cup away, sir?"
"Of course!" I turned my back on him while he popped
in and out. Then I unhooked and closed the door and
even pushed the bolt. This sort of thing could not go on
very long. The cabin was as hot as an oven, too. I took a
peep at my double, and discovered that he had not
moved, his arm was still over his eyes; but his chest
heaved; his hair was wet; his chin glistened with perspira-
tion. I reached over him and opened the port.
"I must show myself on deck," I reflected.
Of course, theoretically, I could do what I liked, with
no one to say nay to me within the whole circle of the
horizon; but to lock my cabin door and take the key
away I did not dare. Directly I put my head out of the
companion I saw the group of my two officers, the
second mate barefooted, the chief mate in long India-
rubber boots, near the break of the poop, and the steward
halfway down the poop ladder talking to them eagerly.
He happened to catch sight of me and dived, the second
ran down on the main-deck shouting some order or other,
and the chief mate came to meet me, touching his cap.
There was a sort of curiosity in his eye that I did not
like. I don't know whether the steward had told them
that I was "queer" only, or downright drunk, but I know
the man meant to have a good look at me. I watched him
coming with a smile which, as he got into point-blank
range, took effect and froze his very whiskers. I did not
give him time to open his lips.
"Square the yards by lifts and braces before the hands
go to breakfast."
It was the first particular order I had given on board
that ship; and I stayed on deck to see it executed, too. I
had felt the need of asserting myself without loss of time.
That sneering young cub got taken down a peg or two
on that occasion, and I also seized the opportunity of
having a good look at the face of every foremast man as
they filed past me to go to the after braces. At breakfast
time, eating nothing myself, I presided with such frigid
dignity that the two mates were only too glad to escape
from the cabin as soon as decency permitted; and all
the time the dual working of my mind distracted me al-
most to the point of insanity. I was constantly watching
myself, my secret self, as dependent on my actions as my
own personality, sleeping in that bed, behind that door
which faced me as I sat at the head of the table. It was
very much like being mad, only it was worse because one
was aware of it.
I had to shake him for a solid minute, but when at last
he opened his eyes it was in the full possession of his
senses, with an inquiring look.
"All's well so far," I whispered. "Now you must vanish
into the bathroom."
He did so, as noiseless as a ghost, and then I rang for
the steward, and facing him boldly, directed him to tidy
up my stateroom while I was having my bath--"and be
quick about it." As my tone admitted of no excuses, he
said, "Yes, sir," and ran off to fetch his dustpan and
brushes. I took a bath and did most of my dressing,
splashing, and whistling softly for the steward's edifica-
tion, while the secret sharer of my life stood drawn up
bolt upright in that little space, his face looking very
sunken in daylight, his eyelids lowered under the stern,
dark line of his eyebrows drawn together by a slight
When I left him there to go back to my room the
steward was finishing dusting. I sent for the mate and en-
gaged him in some insignificant conversation. It was, as it
were, trifling with the terrific character of his whiskers;
but my object was to give him an opportunity for a good
look at my cabin. And then I could at last shut, with a
clear conscience, the door of my stateroom and get my
double back into the recessed part. There was nothing
else for it. He had to sit still on a small folding stool, half
smothered by the heavy coats hanging there. We listened
to the steward going into the bathroom out of the saloon,
filling the water bottles there, scrubbing the bath, setting
things to rights, whisk, bang, clatter--out again into the
saloon--turn the key--click. Such was my scheme for
keeping my second self invisible. Nothing better could be
contrived under the circumstances. And there we sat; I
at my writing desk ready to appear busy with some
papers, he behind me out of sight of the door. It would
not have been prudent to talk in daytime; and I could
not have stood the excitement of that queer sense of
whispering to myself. Now and then, glancing over my
shoulder, I saw him far back there, sitting rigidly on the
low stool, his bare feet close together, his arms folded,
his head hanging on his breast--and perfectly still. Any-
body would have taken him for me.
I was fascinated by it myself. Every moment I had to
glance over my shoulder. I was looking at him when a
voice outside the door said:
"Beg pardon, sir."
"Well! . . . I kept my eyes on him, and so when the
voice outside the door announced, "There's a ship's boat
coming our way, sir," I saw him give a start--the first
movement he had made for hours. But he did not raise
his bowed head.
"All right. Get the ladder over."
I hesitated. Should I whisper something to him? But
what? His immobility seemed to have been never dis-
turbed. What could I tell him he did not know already?
. . . Finally I went on deck.
The skipper of the Sephora had a thin red whisker all
round his face, and the sort of complexion that goes with
hair of that color; also the particular, rather smeary
shade of blue in the eyes. He was not exactly a showy
figure; his shoulders were high, his stature but middling--
one leg slightly more bandy than the other. He shook
hands, looking vaguely around. A spiritless tenacity was
his main characteristic, I judged. I behaved with a polite-
ness which seemed to disconcert him. Perhaps he was
shy. He mumbled to me as if he were ashamed of what
he was saying; gave his name (it was something like
Archbold--but at this distance of years I hardly am
sure), his ship's name, and a few other particulars of
that sort, in the manner of a criminal making a reluctant
and doleful confession. He had had terrible weather on
the passage out--terrible--terrible--wife aboard, too.
By this time we were seated in the cabin and the stew-
ard brought in a tray with a bottle and glasses. "Thanks!
No." Never took liquor. Would have some water, though.
He drank two tumblerfuls. Terrible thirsty work. Ever
since daylight had been exploring the islands round his
"What was that for--fun?" I asked, with an appearance
of polite interest.
"No!" He sighed. "Painful duty."
As he persisted in his mumbling and I wanted my
double to hear every word, I hit upon the notion of in-
forming him that I regretted to say I was hard of hearing.
"Such a young man, too!" he nodded, keeping his
smeary blue, unintelligent eyes fastened upon me. "What
was the cause of it--some disease?" he inquired, without
the least sympathy and as if he thought that, if so, I'd
got no more than I deserved.
"Yes; disease," I admitted in a cheerful tone which
seemed to shock him. But my point was gained, because
he had to raise his voice to give me his tale. It is not
worth while to record his version. It was just over two
months since all this had happened, and he had thought
so much about it that he seemed completely muddled as
to its bearings, but still immensely impressed.
"What would you think of such a thing happening on
board your own ship? I've had the Sephora for these
fifteen years. I am a well-known shipmaster."
He was densely distressed--and perhaps I should have
sympathized with him if I had been able to detach my
mental vision from the unsuspected sharer of my cabin
as though he were my second self. There he was on the
other side of the bulkhead, four or five feet from us, no
more, as we sat in the saloon. I looked politely at Captain
Archbold (if that was his name), but it was the other I
saw, in a gray sleeping suit, seated on a low stool, his
bare feet close together, his arms folded, and every word
said between us falling into the ears of his dark head
bowed on his chest.
"I have been at sea now, man and boy, for seven-and-
thirty years, and I've never heard of such a thing hap-
pening in an English ship. And that it should be my ship.
Wife on board, too."
I was hardly listening to him.
"Don't you think," I said, "that the heavy sea which,
you told me, came aboard just then might have killed
the man? I have seen the sheer weight of a sea kill a
man very neatly, by simply breaking his neck."
"Good God!" he uttered, impressively, fixing his smeary
blue eyes on me. "The sea! No man killed by the sea ever
looked like that." He seemed positively scandalized at my
suggestion. And as I gazed at him certainly not prepared
for anything original on his part, he advanced his head
close to mine and thrust his tongue out at me so suddenly
that I couldn't help starting back.
After scoring over my calmness in this graphic way
he nodded wisely. If I had seen the sight, he assured me, I
would never forget it as long as I lived. The weather was
too bad to give the corpse a proper sea burial. So next
day at dawn they took it up on the poop, covering its
face with a bit of bunting; he read a short prayer, and
then, just as it was, in its oilskins and long boots, they
launched it amongst those mountainous seas that seemed
ready every moment to swallow up the ship herself and
the terrified lives on board of her.
"That reefed foresail saved you," I threw in.
"Under God--it did," he exclaimed fervently. "It was
by a special mercy, I firmly believe, that it stood some of
those hurricane squalls."
"It was the setting of that sail which--" I began.
"God's own hand in it," he interrupted me. "Nothing
less could have done it. I don't mind telling you that I
hardly dared give the order. It seemed impossible that
we could touch anything without losing it, and then our
last hope would have been gone."
The terror of that gale was on him yet. I let him go on
for a bit, then said, casually--as if returning to a minor
"You were very anxious to give up your mate to the
shore people, I believe?"
He was. To the law. His obscure tenacity on that point
had in it something incomprehensible and a little awful;
something, as it were, mystical, quite apart from his
anxiety that he should not be suspected of "counte-
nancing any doings of that sort." Seven-and-thirty virtu-
ous years at sea, of which over twenty of immaculate
command, and the last fifteen in the Sephora, seemed to
have laid him under some pitiless obligation.
"And you know," he went on, groping shame-facedly
amongst his feelings, "I did not engage that young fellow.
His people had some interest with my owners. I was in a
way forced to take him on. He looked very smart, very
gentlemanly, and all that. But do you know--I never
liked him, somehow. I am a plain man. You see, he wasn't
exactly the sort for the chief mate of a ship like the
I had become so connected in thoughts and impressions
with the secret sharer of my cabin that I felt as if I, per-
sonally, were being given to understand that I, too, was
not the sort that would have done for the chief mate of a
ship like the Sephora. I had no doubt of it in my mind.
"Not at all the style of man. You understand," he in-
sisted, superfluously, looking hard at me.
I smiled urbanely. He seemed at a loss for a while.
"I suppose I must report a suicide."
"Sui-cide! That's what I'll have to write to my owners
directly I get in."
"Unless you manage to recover him before tomorrow,"
I assented, dispassionately. . . . "I mean, alive."
He mumbled something which I really did not catch,
and I turned my ear to him in a puzzled manner. He fairly
"The land--I say, the mainland is at least seven miles
off my anchorage."
My lack of excitement, of curiosity, of surprise, of any
sort of pronounced interest, began to arouse his distrust.
But except for the felicitous pretense of deafness I had
not tried to pretend anything. I had felt utterly incapable
of playing the part of ignorance properly, and therefore
was afraid to try. It is also certain that he had brought
some ready-made suspicions with him, and that he viewed
my politeness as a strange and unnatural phenomenon.
And yet how else could I have received him? Not
heartily! That was impossible for psychological reasons,
which I need not state here. My only object was to keep
off his inquiries. Surlily? Yes, but surliness might have
provoked a point-blank question. From its novelty to
him and from its nature, punctilious courtesy was the
manner best calculated to restrain the man. But there
was the danger of his breaking through my defense
bluntly. I could not, I think, have met him by a direct
lie, also for psychological (not moral) reasons. If he
had only known how afraid I was of his putting my feel-
ing of identity with the other to the test! But, strangely
enough--(I thought of it only afterwards)--I believe that
he was not a little disconcerted by the reverse side of that
weird situation, by something in me that reminded him of
the man he was seeking--suggested a mysterious simili-
tude to the young fellow he had distrusted and disliked
from the first.
However that might have been, the silence was not
very prolonged. He took another oblique step.
"I reckon I had no more than a two-mile pull to your
ship. Not a bit more."
"And quite enough, too, in this awful heat," I said.
Another pause full of mistrust followed. Necessity, they
say, is mother of invention, but fear, too, is not barren of
ingenious suggestions. And I was afraid he would ask me
point-blank for news of my other self.
"Nice little saloon, isn't it?" I remarked, as if noticing
for the first time the way his eyes roamed from one
closed door to the other. "And very well fitted out, too.
Here, for instance," I continued, reaching over the back
of my seat negligently and flinging the door open, "is my
He made an eager movement, but hardly gave it a
glance. I got up, shut the door of the bathroom, and in-
vited him to have a look round, as if I were very proud
of my accomodation. He had to rise and be shown
round, but he went through the business without any
"And now we'll have a look at my stateroom," I de-
clared, in a voice as loud as I dared to make it, crossing
the cabin to the starboard side with purposely heavy
He followed me in and gazed around. My intelligent
double had vanished. I played my part.
"Very convenient--isn't it?"
Very nice. Very comf . . ." He didn't finish and went
out brusquely as if to escape from some unrighteous wiles
of mine. But it was not to be. I had been too frightened
not to feel vengeful; I felt I had him on the run, and I
meant to keep him on the run. My polite insistence must
have had something menacing in it, because he gave in
suddenly. And I did not let him off a single item; mate's
room, pantry, storerooms, the very sail locker which
was also under the poop--he had to look into them all.
When at last I showed him out on the quarter-deck he
drew a long, spiritless sigh, and mumbled dismally that
he must really be going back to his ship now. I desired
my mate, who had joined us, to see to the captain's boat.
The man of whiskers gave a blast on the whistle which
he used to wear hanging round his neck, and yelled,
"Sephora's away!" My double down there in my cabin
must have heard, and certainly could not feel more re-
lieved than I. Four fellows came running out from some-
where forward and went over the side, while my own
men, appearing on deck too, lined the rail. I escorted my
visitor to the gangway ceremoniously, and nearly overdid
it. He was a tenacious beast. On the very ladder he
lingered, and in that unique, guiltily conscientious man-
ner of sticking to the point:
"I say . . . you . . . you don't think that--"
I covered his voice loudly:
"Certainly not. . . . I am delighted. Good-by."
I had an idea of what he meant to say, and just saved
myself by the privilege of defective hearing. He was too
shaken generally to insist, but my mate, close witness of
that parting, looked mystified and his face took on a
thoughtful cast. As I did not want to appear as if I
wished to avoid all communication with my officers, he
had the opportunity to address me.
"Seems a very nice man. His boat's crew told our chaps
a very extraordinary story, if what I am told by the
steward is true. I suppose you had it from the captain,
"Yes. I had a story from the captain."
"A very horrible affair--isn't it, sir?"
"Beats all these tales we hear about murders in Yankee
"I don't think it beats them. I don't think it resembles
them in the least."
"Bless my soul--you don't say so! But of course I've no
acquaintance whatever with American ships, not I so I
couldn't go against your knowledge. It's horrible enough
for me. . . . But the queerest part is that those fellows
seemed to have some idea the man was hidden aboard
here. They had really. Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
We were walking to and fro athwart the quarter-deck.
No one of the crew forward could be seen (the day was
Sunday), and the mate pursued:
"There was some little dispute about it. Our chaps
took offense. `As if we would harbor a thing like that,'
they said. `Wouldn't you like to look for him in our coal-
hole?' Quite a tiff. But they made it up in the end. I
suppose he did drown himself. Don't you, sir?"
"I don't suppose anything."
"You have no doubt in the matter, sir?"
I left him suddenly. I felt I was producing a bad im-
pression, but with my double down there it was most try-
ing to be on deck. And it was almost as trying to be
below. Altogether a nerve-trying situation. But on the
whole I felt less torn in two when I was with him. There
was no one in the whole ship whom I dared take into my
confidence. Since the hands had got to know his story,
it would have been impossible to pass him off for anyone
else, and an accidental discovery was to be dreaded now
more than ever. . . .
The steward being engaged in laying the table for din-
ner, we could talk only with our eyes when I first went
down. Later in the afternoon we had a cautious try at
whispering. The Sunday quietness of the ship was against
us; the stillness of air and water around her was against
us; the elements, the men were against us--everything
was against us in our secret partnership; time itself--for
this could not go on forever. The very trust in Providence
was, I suppose, denied to his guilt. Shall I confess that
this thought cast me down very much? And as to the
chapter of accidents which counts for so much in the
book of success, I could only hope that it was closed. For
what favorable accident could be expected?
"Did you hear everything?" were my first words as
soon as we took up our position side by side, leaning
over my bed place.
He had. And the proof of it was his earnest whisper,
"The man told you he hardly dared to give the order."
I understood the reference to be to that saving foresail.
"Yes. He was afraid of it being lost in the setting."
"I assure you he never gave the order. He may think he
did, but he never gave it. He stood there with me on the
break of the poop after the main topsail blew away, and
whimpered about our last hope--positively whimpered
about it and nothing else--and the night coming on! To
hear one's skipper go on like that in such weather was
enough to drive any fellow out of his mind. It worked me
up into a sort of desperation. I just took it into my own
hands and went away from him, boiling, and-- But
what's the use telling you? YOU know! . . . Do you think
that if I had not been pretty fierce with them I should
have got the men to do anything? Not It! The bo's'n per-
haps? Perhaps! It wasn't a heavy sea--it was a sea gone
mad! I suppose the end of the world will be something
like that; and a man may have the heart to see it coming
once and be done with it--but to have to face it day
after day-- I don't blame anybody. I was precious little
better than the rest. Only--I was an officer of that old
coal wagon, anyhow--"
"I quite understand," I conveyed that sincere assurance
into his ear. He was out of breath with whispering; I
could hear him pant slightly. It was all very simple. The
same strung-up force which had given twenty-four men a
chance, at least, for their lives, had, in a sort of recoil,
crushed an unworthy mutinous existence.
But I had no leisure to weigh the merits of the matter--
footsteps in the saloon, a heavy knock. "There's enough
wind to get under way with, sir." Here was the call of a
new claim upon my thoughts and even upon my feelings.
"Turn the hands up," I cried through the door. "I'll be
on deck directly."
I was going out to make the acquaintance of my ship.
Before I left the cabin our eyes met--the eyes of the only
two strangers on board. I pointed to the recessed part
where the little campstool awaited him and laid my finger
on my lips. He made a gesture--somewhat vague--a little
mysterious, accompanied by a faint smile, as if of regret.
This is not the place to enlarge upon the sensations of a
man who feels for the first time a ship move under his
feet to his own independent word. In my case they were
not unalloyed. I was not wholly alone with my command;
for there was that stranger in my cabin. Or rather, I was
not completely and wholly with her. Part of me was
absent. That mental feeling of being in two places at
once affected me physically as if the mood of secrecy had
penetrated my very soul. Before an hour had elapsed
since the ship had begun to move, having occasion to
ask the mate (he stood by my side) to take a compass
bearing of the pagoda, I caught myself reaching up to
his ear in whispers. I say I caught myself, but enough had
escaped to startle the man. I can't describe it otherwise
than by saying that he shied. A grave, preoccupied man-
ner, as though he were in possession of some perplexing
intelligence, did not leave him henceforth. A little later I
moved away from the rail to look at the compass with
such a stealthy gait that the helmsman noticed it--
and I could not help noticing the unusual roundness of
his eyes. These are trifling instances, though it's to no
commander's advantage to be suspected of ludicrous ec-
centricities. But I was also more seriously affected. There
are to a seaman certain words, gestures, that should in
given conditions come as naturally, as instinctively as the
winking of a menaced eye. A certain order should spring
on to his lips without thinking; a certain sign should get
itself made, so to speak, without reflection. But all uncon-
scious alertness had abandoned me. I had to make an
effort of will to recall myself back (from the cabin) to the
conditions of the moment. I felt that I was appearing an
irresolute commander to those people who were watching
me more or less critically.
And, besides, there were the scares. On the second
day out, for instance, coming off the deck in the afternoon
(I had straw slippers on my bare feet) I stopped at the
open pantry door and spoke to the steward. He was doing
something there with his back to me. At the sound of my
voice he nearly jumped out of his skin, as the saying is,
and incidentally broke a cup.
"What on earth's the matter with you?" I asked, as-
He was extremely confused. "Beg your pardon, sir. I
made sure you were in your cabin."
"You see I wasn't."
"No, sir. I could have sworn I had heard you moving
in there not a moment ago. It's most extraordinary . . .
very sorry, sir."
I passed on with an inward shudder. I was so identified
with my secret double that I did not even mention the
fact in those scanty, fearful whispers we exchanged. I
suppose he had made some slight noise of some kind or
other. It would have been miraculous if he hadn't at one
time or another. And yet, haggard as he appeared, he
looked always perfectly self-controlled, more than calm--
almost invulnerable. On my suggestion he remained al-
most entirely in the bathroom, which, upon the whole,
was the safest place. There could be really no shadow of
an excuse for anyone ever wanting to go in there, once
the steward had done with it. It was a very tiny place.
Sometimes he reclined on the floor, his legs bent, his head
sustained on one elbow. At others I would find him on
the campstool, sitting in his gray sleeping suit and with
his cropped dark hair like a patient, unmoved convict. At
night I would smuggle him into my bed place, and we
would whisper together, with the regular footfalls of the
officer of the watch passing and repassing over our heads.
It was an infinitely miserable time. It was lucky that
some tins of fine preserves were stowed in a locker in my
stateroom; hard bread I could always get hold of; and so
he lived on stewed chicken, PATE DE FOIE GRAS, aspara-
gus, cooked oysters, sardines--on all sorts of abominable
sham delicacies out of tins. My early-morning coffee he
always drank; and it was all I dared do for him in that
Every day there was the horrible maneuvering to go
through so that my room and then the bathroom should
be done in the usual way. I came to hate the sight of the
steward, to abhor the voice of that harmless man. I felt
that it was he who would bring on the disaster of dis-
covery. It hung like a sword over our heads.
The fourth day out, I think (we were then working
down the east side of the Gulf of Siam, tack for tack, in
light winds and smooth water)--the fourth day, I say, of
this miserable juggling with the unavoidable, as we sat at
our evening meal, that man, whose slightest movement I
dreaded, after putting down the dishes ran up on deck
busily. This could not be dangerous. Presently he came
down again; and then it appeared that he had remembered
a coat of mine which I had thrown over a rail to dry
after having been wetted in a shower which had passed
over the ship in the afternoon. Sitting stolidly at the head
of the table I became terrified at the sight of the garment
on his arm. Of course he made for my door. There was
no time to lose.
"Steward," I thundered. My nerves were so shaken
that I could not govern my voice and conceal my agita-
tion. This was the sort of thing that made my terrifically
whiskered mate tap his forehead with his forefinger. I
had detected him using that gesture while talking on deck
with a confidential air to the carpenter. It was too far to
hear a word, but I had no doubt that this pantomime
could only refer to the strange new captain.
"Yes, sir," the pale-faced steward turned resignedly to
me. It was this maddening course of being shouted at,
checked without rhyme or reason, arbitrarily chased out
of my cabin, suddenly called into it, sent flying out of his
pantry on incomprehensible errands, that accounted for
the growing wretchedness of his expression.
"Where are you going with that coat?"
"To your room, sir."
"Is there another shower coming?"
"I'm sure I don't know, sir. Shall I go up again and
"No! never mind."
My object was attained, as of course my other self in
there would have heard everything that passed. During
this interlude my two officers never raised their eyes off
their respective plates; but the lip of that confounded
cub, the second mate, quivered visibly.
I expected the steward to hook my coat on and come
out at once. He was very slow about it; but I dominated
my nervousness sufficiently not to shout after him. Sud-
denly I became aware (it could be heard plainly enough)
that the fellow for some reason or other was opening the
door of the bathroom. It was the end. The place was
literally not big enough to swing a cat in. My voice died
in my throat and I went stony all over. I expected to
hear a yell of surprise and terror, and made a movement,
but had not the strength to get on my legs. Everything
remained still. Had my second self taken the poor wretch
by the throat? I don't know what I could have done next
moment if I had not seen the steward come out of my
room, close the door, and then stand quietly by the side-
"Saved," I thought. "But, no! Lost! Gone! He was
I laid my knife and fork down and leaned back in my
chair. My head swam. After a while, when sufficiently re-
covered to speak in a steady voice, I instructed my mate
to put the ship round at eight o'clock himself.
"I won't come on deck," I went on. "I think I'll turn in,
and unless the wind shifts I don't want to be disturbed
before midnight. I feel a bit seedy."
"You did look middling bad a little while ago," the
chief mate remarked without showing any great concern.
They both went out, and I stared at the steward clear-
ing the table. There was nothing to be read on that
wretched man's face. But why did he avoid my eyes, I
asked myself. Then I thought I should like to hear the
sound of his voice.
"Sir!" Startled as usual.
"Where did you hang up that coat?"
"In the bathroom, sir." The usual anxious tone. "It's
not quite dry yet, sir."
For some time longer I sat in the cuddy. Had my
double vanished as he had come? But of his coming there
was an explanation, whereas his disappearance would be
inexplicable. . . . I went slowly into my dark room, shut
the door, lighted the lamp, and for a time dared not turn
round. When at last I did I saw him standing bolt-upright
in the narrow recessed part. It would not be true to say
I had a shock, but an irresistible doubt of his bodily
existence flitted through my mind. Can it be, I asked my-
self, that he is not visible to other eyes than mine? It was
like being haunted. Motionless, with a grave face, he
raised his hands slightly at me in a gesture which meant
clearly, "Heavens! what a narrow escape!" Narrow in-
deed. I think I had come creeping quietly as near in-
sanity as any man who has not actually gone over the
border. That gesture restrained me, so to speak.
The mate with the terrific whiskers was now putting the
ship on the other tack. In the moment of profound silence
which follows upon the hands going to their stations I
heard on the poop his raised voice: "Hard alee!" and
the distant shout of the order repeated on the main-deck.
The sails, in that light breeze, made but a faint fluttering
noise. It ceased. The ship was coming round slowly: I
held my breath in the renewed stillness of expectation;
one wouldn't have thought that there was a single living
soul on her decks. A sudden brisk shout, "Mainsail
haul!" broke the spell, and in the noisy cries and rush
overhead of the men running away with the main brace
we two, down in my cabin, came together in our usual
position by the bed place.
He did not wait for my question. "I heard him fumbling
here and just managed to squat myself down in the bath,"
he whispered to me. "The fellow only opened the door
and put his arm in to hang the coat up. All the same--"
"I never thought of that," I whispered back, even more
appalled than before at the closeness of the shave, and
marveling at that something unyielding in his character
which was carrying him through so finely. There was no
agitation in his whisper. Whoever was being driven dis-
tracted, it was not he. He was sane. And the proof of his
sanity was continued when he took up the whispering
"It would never do for me to come to life again."
It was something that a ghost might have said. But
what he was alluding to was his old captain's reluctant
admission of the theory of suicide. It would obviously
serve his turn--if I had understood at all the view which
seemed to govern the unalterable purpose of his action.
"You must maroon me as soon as ever you can get
amongst these islands off the Cambodge shore," he went
"Maroon you! We are not living in a boy's adventure
tale," I protested. His scornful whispering took me up.
"We aren't indeed! There's nothing of a boy's tale in
this. But there's nothing else for it. I want no more. You
don't suppose I am afraid of what can be done to me?
Prison or gallows or whatever they may please. But you
don't see me coming back to explain such things to an
old fellow in a wig and twelve respectable tradesmen, do
you? What can they know whether I am guilty or not--or
of WHAT I am guilty, either? That's my affair. What does
the Bible say? `Driven off the face of the earth.' Very
well, I am off the face of the earth now. As I came at
night so I shall go."
"Impossible!" I murmured. "You can't."
"Can't? . . . Not naked like a soul on the Day of Judg-
ment. I shall freeze on to this sleeping suit. The Last Day
is not yet--and . . . you have understood thoroughly.
I felt suddenly ashamed of myself. I may say truly that
I understood--and my hesitation in letting that man swim
away from my ship's side had been a mere sham senti-
ment, a sort of cowardice.
"It can't be done now till next night," I breathed out.
"The ship is on the off-shore tack and the wind may fail
"As long as I know that you understand," he whispered.
"But of course you do. It's a great satisfaction to have
got somebody to understand. You seem to have been
there on purpose." And in the same whisper, as if we two
whenever we talked had to say things to each other which
were not fit for the world to hear, he added, "It's very
We remained side by side talking in our secret way--
but sometimes silent or just exchanging a whispered word
or two at long intervals. And as usual he stared through
the port. A breath of wind came now and again into
our faces. The ship might have been moored in dock, so
gently and on an even keel she slipped through the
water, that did not murmur even at our passage, shadowy
and silent like a phantom sea.
At midnight I went on deck, and to my mate's great
surprise put the ship round on the other tack. His terrible
whiskers flitted round me in silent criticism. I certainly
should not have done it if it had been only a question of
getting out of that sleepy gulf as quickly as possible. I
believe he told the second mate, who relieved him, that it
was a great want of judgment. The other only yawned.
That intolerable cub shuffled about so sleepily and lolled
against the rails in such a slack, improper fashion that
I came down on him sharply.
"Aren't you properly awake yet?"
"Yes, sir! I am awake."
"Well, then, be good enough to hold yourself as if you
were. And keep a lookout. If there's any current we'll
be closing with some islands before daylight."
The east side of the gulf is fringed with islands, some
solitary, others in groups. One the blue background of the
high coast they seem to float on silvery patches of calm
water, arid and gray, or dark green and rounded like
clumps of evergreen bushes, with the larger ones, a mile
or two long, showing the outlines of ridges, ribs of gray
rock under the dark mantle of matted leafage. Un-
known to trade, to travel, almost to geography, the
manner of life they harbor is an unsolved secret. There
must be villages--settlements of fishermen at least--on
the largest of them, and some communication with the
world is probably kept up by native craft. But all that
forenoon, as we headed for them, fanned along by the
faintest of breezes, I saw no sign of man or canoe in the
field of the telescope I kept on pointing at the scattered
At noon I have no orders for a change of course, and
the mate's whiskers became much concerned and seemed
to be offering themselves unduly to my notice. At last I
"I am going to stand right in. Quite in--as far as I
can take her."
The stare of extreme surprise imparted an air of fe-
rocity also to his eyes, and he looked truly terrific for a
"We're not doing well in the middle of the gulf," I con-
tinued, casually. "I am going to look for the land breezes
"Bless my soul! Do you mean, sir, in the dark amongst
the lot of all them islands and reefs and shoals?"
"Well--if there are any regular land breezes at all on
this coast one must get close inshore to find them,
"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed again under his breath.
All that afternoon he wore a dreamy, contemplative ap-
pearance which in him was a mark of perplexity. After
dinner I went into my stateroom as if I meant to take
some rest. There we two bent our dark heads over a
half-unrolled chart lying on my bed.
"There," I said. "It's got to be Koh-ring. I've been look-
ing at it ever since sunrise. It has got two hills and a
low point. It must be inhabited. And on the coast op-
posite there is what looks like the mouth of a biggish
river--with some towns, no doubt, not far up. It's the
best chance for you that I can see."
"Anything. Koh-ring let it be."
He looked thoughtfully at the chart as if surveying
chances and distances from a lofty height--and follow-
ing with his eyes his own figure wandering on the
blank land of Cochin-China, and then passing off that
piece of paper clean out of sight into uncharted regions.
And it was as if the ship had two captains to plan her
course for her. I had been so worried and restless run-
ning up and down that I had not had the patience to
dress that day. I had remained in my sleeping suit, with
straw slippers and a soft floppy hat. The closeness of
the heat in the gulf had been most oppressive, and the
crew were used to seeing me wandering in that airy attire.
"She will clear the south point as she heads now," I
whispered into his ear. "Goodness only knows when,
though, but certainly after dark. I'll edge her in to half a
mile, as far as I may be able to judge in the dark--"
"Be careful," he murmured, warningly--and I realized
suddenly that all my future, the only future for which I
was fit, would perhaps go irretrievably to pieces in any
mishap to my first command.
I could not stop a moment longer in the room. I mo-
tioned him to get out of sight and made my way on the
poop. That unplayful cub had the watch. I walked up
and down for a while thinking things out, then beckoned
"Send a couple of hands to open the two quarter-
deck ports," I said, mildly.
He actually had the impudence, or else so forgot him-
self in his wonder at such an incomprehensible order, as
"Open the quarter-deck ports! What for, sir?"
"The only reason you need concern yourself about is
because I tell you to do so. Have them open wide and
He reddened and went off, but I believe made some
jeering remark to the carpenter as to the sensible practice
of ventilating a ship's quarter-deck. I know he popped
into the mate's cabin to impart the fact to him be-
cause the whiskers came on deck, as it were by chance,
and stole glances at me from below--for signs of lunacy
or drunkenness, I suppose.
A little before supper, feeling more restless than ever,
I rejoined, for a moment, my second self. And to find him
sitting so quietly was surprising, like something against
I developed my plan in a hurried whisper.
"I shall stand in as close as I dare and then put her
round. I will presently find means to smuggle you out of
here into the sail locker, which communicates with the
lobby. But there is an opening, a sort of square for
hauling the sails out, which gives straight on the quarter-
deck and which is never closed in fine weather, so as to
give air to the sails. When the ship's way is deadened in
stays and all the hands are aft at the main braces you
will have a clear road to slip out and get overboard
through the open quarter-deck port. I've had them
both fastened up. Use a rope's end to lower yourself into
the water so as to avoid a splash--you know. It could
be heard and cause some beastly complication."
He kept silent for a while, then whispered, "I under-
"I won't be there to see you go," I began with an effort.
"The rest . . . I only hope I have understood, too."
"You have. From first to last"--and for the first time
there seemed to be a faltering, something strained in his
whisper. He caught hold of my arm, but the ringing of the
supper bell made me start. He didn't though; he only
released his grip.
After supper I didn't come below again till well past
eight o'clock. The faint, steady breeze was loaded with
dew; and the wet, darkened sails held all there was of
propelling power in it. The night, clear and starry,
sparkled darkly, and the opaque, lightless patches shift-
ing slowly against the low stars were the drifting islets.
On the port bow there was a big one more distant and
shadowily imposing by the great space of sky it eclipsed.
On opening the door I had a back view of my very
own self looking at a chart. He had come out of the
recess and was standing near the table.
"Quite dark enough," I whispered.
He stepped back and leaned against my bed with a
level, quiet glance. I sat on the couch. We had nothing
to say to each other. Over our heads the officer of the
watch moved here and there. Then I heard him move
quickly. I knew what that meant. He was making for
the companion; and presently his voice was outside my
"We are drawing in pretty fast, sir. Land looks rather
"Very well," I answered. "I am coming on deck di-
I waited till he was gone out of the cuddy, then rose.
My double moved too. The time had come to ex-
change our last whispers, for neither of us was ever to
hear each other's natural voice.
"Look here!" I opened a drawer and took out three
sovereigns. "Take this anyhow. I've got six and I'd
give you the lot, only I must keep a little money to buy
some fruit and vegetables for the crew from native boats
as we go through Sunda Straits."
He shook his head.
"Take it," I urged him, whispering desperately. "No
one can tell what--"
He smiled and slapped meaningly the only pocket of
the sleeping jacket. It was not safe, certainly. But I
produced a large old silk handkerchief of mine, and
tying the three pieces of gold in a corner, pressed it on
him. He was touched, I supposed, because he took it
at last and tied it quickly round his waist under the jacket,
on his bare skin.
Our eyes met; several seconds elapsed, till, our glances
still mingled, I extended my hand and turned the lamp
out. Then I passed through the cuddy, leaving the door
of my room wide open. . . . "Steward!"
He was still lingering in the pantry in the greatness
of his zeal, giving a rub-up to a plated cruet stand the
last thing before going to bed. Being careful not to wake
up the mate, whose room was opposite, I spoke in an
He looked round anxiously. "Sir!"
"Can you get me a little hot water from the galley?"
"I am afraid, sir, the galley fire's been out for some
"Go and see."
He flew up the stairs.
"Now," I whispered, loudly, into the saloon--too
loudly, perhaps, but I was afraid I couldn't make a sound.
He was by my side in an instant--the double captain
slipped past the stairs--through a tiny dark passage . . .
a sliding door. We were in the sail locker, scrambling
on our knees over the sails. A sudden thought struck
me. I saw myself wandering barefooted, bareheaded,
the sun beating on my dark poll. I snatched off my
floppy hat and tried hurriedly in the dark to ram it on
my other self. He dodged and fended off silently. I won-
der what he thought had come to me before he under-
stood and suddenly desisted. Our hands met gropingly,
lingered united in a steady, motionless clasp for a second.
. . . No word was breathed by either of us when they
I was standing quietly by the pantry door when the
"Sorry, sir. Kettle barely warm. Shall I light the spirit
I came out on deck slowly. It was now a matter of
conscience to shave the land as close as possible--for
now he must go overboard whenever the ship was put
in stays. Must! There could be no going back for him.
After a moment I walked over to leeward and my heart
flew into my mouth at the nearness of the land on the
bow. Under any other circumstances I would not have
held on a minute longer. The second mate had followed
I looked on till I felt I could command my voice.
"She will weather," I said then in a quiet tone.
"Are you going to try that, sir?" he stammered out
I took no notice of him and raised my tone just
enough to be heard by the helmsman.
"Keep her good full."
"Good full, sir."
The wind fanned my cheek, the sails slept, the world
was silent. The strain of watching the dark loom of
the land grow bigger and denser was too much for me.
I had shut my eyes--because the ship must go closer.
She must! The stillness was intolerable. Were we standing
When I opened my eyes the second view started my
heart with a thump. The black southern hill of Koh-ring
seemed to hang right over the ship like a towering frag-
ment of ever-lasting night. On that enormous mass of
blackness there was not a gleam to be seen, not a sound
to be heard. It was gliding irresistibly towards us and
yet seemed already within reach of the hand. I saw the
vague figures of the watch grouped in the waist, gazing in
"Are you going on, sir?" inquired an unsteady voice at
I ignored it. I had to go on.
"Keep her full. Don't check her way. That won't do
now," I said warningly.
"I can't see the sails very well," the helmsman an-
swered me, in strange, quavering tones.
Was she close enough? Already she was, I won't say in
the shadow of the land, but in the very blackness of it,
already swallowed up as it were, gone too close to be re-
called, gone from me altogether.
"Give the mate a call," I said to the young man who
stood at my elbow as still as death. "And turn all hands
My tone had a borrowed loudness reverberated from
the height of the land. Several voices cried out together:
"We are all on deck, sir."
Then stillness again, with the great shadow gliding
closer, towering higher, without a light, without a sound.
Such a hush had fallen on the ship that she might have
been a bark of the dead floating in slowly under the very
gate of Erebus.
"My God! Where are we?"
It was the mate moaning at my elbow. He was thunder-
struck, and as it were deprived of the moral support of
his whiskers. He clapped his hands and absolutely cried
"Be quiet," I said, sternly.
He lowered his tone, but I saw the shadowy gesture
of his despair. "What are we doing here?"
"Looking for the land wind."
He made as if to tear his hair, and addressed me
"She will never get out. You have done it, sir. I knew
it'd end in something like this. She will never weather,
and you are too close now to stay. She'll drift ashore be-
fore she's round. O my God!"
I caught his arm as he was raising it to batter his
poor devoted head, and shook it violently.
"She's ashore already," he wailed, trying to tear him-
"Is she? . . . Keep good full there!"
"Good full, sir," cried the helmsman in a frightened,
thin, childlike voice.
I hadn't let go the mate's arm and went on shaking it.
"Ready about, do you hear? You go forward"--shake--
"and stop there"--shake--"and hold your noise"--shake
--"and see these head-sheets properly overhauled"--
And all the time I dared not look towards the land lest
my heart should fail me. I released my grip at last and
he ran forward as if fleeing for dear life.
I wondered what my double there in the sail locker
thought of this commotion. He was able to hear every-
thing--and perhaps he was able to understand why, on
my conscience, it had to be thus close--no less. My first
order "Hard alee!" re-echoed ominously under the tower-
ing shadow of Koh-ring as if I had shouted in a moun-
tain gorge. And then I watched the land intently. In that
smooth water and light wind it was impossible to feel
the ship coming-to. No! I could not feel her. And my
second self was making now ready to ship out and lower
himself overboard. Perhaps he was gone already . . . ?
The great black mass brooding over our very mast-
heads began to pivot away from the ship's side silently.
And now I forgot the secret stranger ready to depart, and
remembered only that I was a total stranger to the ship.
I did not know her. Would she do it? How was she to
I swung the mainyard and waited helplessly. She was
perhaps stopped, and her very fate hung in the balance,
with the black mass of Koh-ring like the gate of the
everlasting night towering over her taffrail. What would
she do now? Had she way on her yet? I stepped to the
side swiftly, and on the shadowy water I could see noth-
ing except a faint phosphorescent flash revealing the
glassy smoothness of the sleeping surface. It was im-
possible to tell--and I had not learned yet the feel of
my ship. Was she moving? What I needed was something
easily seen, a piece of paper, which I could throw over-
board and watch. I had nothing on me. To run down for
it I didn't dare. There was no time. All at once my
strained, yearning stare distinguished a white object float-
ing within a yard of the ship's side. White on the black
water. A phosphorescent flash passed under it. What was
that thing? . . . I recognized my own floppy hat. It must
have fallen off his head . . . and he didn't bother. Now I
had what I wanted--the saving mark for my eyes. But I
hardly thought of my other self, now gone from the ship,
to be hidden forever from all friendly faces, to be a fugi-
tive and a vagabond on the earth, with no brand of the
curse on his sane forehead to stay a slaying hand . . . too
proud to explain.
And I watched the hat--the expression of my sudden
pity for his mere flesh. It had been meant to save his home-
less head from the dangers of the sun. And now--be-
hold--it was saving the ship, by serving me for a mark
to help out the ignorance of my strangeness. Ha! It was
drifting forward, warning me just in time that the ship had
"Shift the helm," I said in a low voice to the seaman
standing still like a statue.
The man's eyes glistened wildly in the binnacle light as
he jumped round to the other side and spun round the
I walked to the break of the poop. On the over-
shadowed deck all hands stood by the forebraces wait-
ing for my order. The stars ahead seemed to be gliding
from right to left. And all was so still in the world that I
heard the quiet remark, "She's round," passed in a tone
of intense relief between two seamen.
"Let go and haul."
The foreyards ran round with a great noise, amidst
cheery cries. And now the frightful whiskers made them-
selves heard giving various orders. Already the ship was
drawing ahead. And I was alone with her. Nothing! no
one in the world should stand now between us, throwing
a shadow on the way of silent knowledge and mute af-
fection, the perfect communion of a seaman with his first
Walking to the taffrail, I was in time to make out, on
the very edge of a darkness thrown by a towering black
mass like the very gateway of Erebus--yes, I was in time
to catch an evanescent glimpse of my white hat left be-
hind to mark the spot where the secret sharer of my
cabin and of my thoughts, as though he were my second
self, had lowered himself into the water to take his
punishment: a free man, a proud swimmer striking out for
a new destiny.
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