The Rescue - Joseph Conrad - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1920

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About
Author's Note
Part 1 - The Man and the Brig
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

About Conrad:

Joseph Conrad (born Teodor Józef Konrad Korzeniowski, 3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) was a Polish-born novelist. Some of his works have been labelled romantic: Conrad's supposed "romanticism" is heavily imbued with irony and a fine sense of man's capacity for self-deception. Many critics regard Conrad as an important forerunner of Modernist literature. Conrad's narrative style and anti-heroic characters have influenced many writers, including Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Joseph Heller and Jerzy Kosiński, as well as inspiring such films as Apocalypse Now (which was drawn from Conrad's Heart of Darkness). Source: Wikipedia

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Author's Note

Of the three long novels of mine which suffered an interruption, "The Rescue" was the one that had to wait the longest for the good pleasure of the Fates. I am betraying no secret when I state here that it had to wait precisely for twenty years. I laid it aside at the end of the summer of 1898 and it was about the end of the summer of 1918 that I took it up again with the firm determination to see the end of it and helped by the sudden feeling that I might be equal to the task.

This does not mean that I turned to it with elation. I was well aware and perhaps even too much aware of the dangers of such an adventure. The amazingly sympathetic kindness which men of various temperaments, diverse views and different literary tastes have been for years displaying towards my work has done much for me, has done all—except giving me that over-weening self-confidence which may assist an adventurer sometimes but in the long run ends by leading him to the gallows.

As the characteristic I want most to impress upon these short Author's Notes prepared for my first Collected Edition is that of absolute frankness, I hasten to declare that I founded my hopes not on my supposed merits but on the continued goodwill of my readers. I may say at once that my hopes have been justified out of all proportion to my deserts. I met with the most considerate, most delicately expressed criticism free from all antagonism and in its conclusions showing an insight which in itself could not fail to move me deeply, but was associated also with enough commendation to make me feel rich beyond the dreams of avarice—I mean an artist's avarice which seeks its treasure in the hearts of men and women.

No! Whatever the preliminary anxieties might have been this adventure was not to end in sorrow. Once more Fortune favoured audacity; and yet I have never forgotten the jocular translation of Audaces fortuna juvat offered to me by my tutor when I was a small boy: "The Audacious get bitten." However he took care to mention that there were various kinds of audacity. Oh, there are, there are! … There is, for instance, the kind of audacity almost indistinguishable from impudence… . I must believe that in this case I have not been impudent for I am not conscious of having been bitten.

The truth is that when "The Rescue" was laid aside it was not laid aside in despair. Several reasons contributed to this abandonment and, no doubt, the first of them was the growing sense of general difficulty in the handling of the subject. The contents and the course of the story I had clearly in my mind. But as to the way of presenting the facts, and perhaps in a certain measure as to the nature of the facts themselves, I had many doubts. I mean the telling, representative facts, helpful to carry on the idea, and, at the same time, of such a nature as not to demand an elaborate creation of the atmosphere to the detriment of the action. I did not see how I could avoid becoming wearisome in the presentation of detail and in the pursuit of clearness. I saw the action plainly enough. What I had lost for the moment was the sense of the proper formula of expression, the only formula that would suit. This, of course, weakened my confidence in the intrinsic worth and in the possible interest of the story—that is in my invention. But I suspect that all the trouble was, in reality, the doubt of my prose, the doubt of its adequacy, of its power to master both the colours and the shades.

It is difficult to describe, exactly as I remember it, the complex state of my feelings; but those of my readers who take an interest in artistic perplexities will understand me best when I point out that I dropped "The Rescue" not to give myself up to idleness, regrets, or dreaming, but to begin "The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'" and to go on with it without hesitation and without a pause. A comparison of any page of "The Rescue" with any page of "The Nigger" will furnish an ocular demonstration of the nature and the inward meaning of this first crisis of my writing life. For it was a crisis undoubtedly. The laying aside of a work so far advanced was a very awful decision to take. It was wrung from me by a sudden conviction that there only was the road of salvation, the clear way out for an uneasy conscience. The finishing of "The Nigger" brought to my troubled mind the comforting sense of an accomplished task, and the first consciousness of a certain sort of mastery which could accomplish something with the aid of propitious stars. Why I did not return to "The Rescue" at once then, was not for the reason that I had grown afraid of it. Being able now to assume a firm attitude I said to myself deliberately: "That thing can wait." At the same time I was just as certain in my mind that "Youth," a story which I had then, so to speak, on the tip of my pen, could not wait. Neither could "Heart of Darkness" be put off; for the practical reason that Mr. Wm. Blackwood having requested me to write something for the No. M of his magazine I had to stir up at once the subject of that tale which had been long lying quiescent in my mind, because, obviously, the venerable Maga at her patriarchal age of 1000 numbers could not be kept waiting. Then "Lord Jim," with about seventeen pages already written at odd times, put in his claim which was irresistible. Thus every stroke of the pen was taking me further away from the abandoned "Rescue," not without some compunction on my part but with a gradually diminishing resistance; till at last I let myself go as if recognising a superior influence against which it was useless to contend.

The years passed and the pages grew in number, and the long reveries of which they were the outcome stretched wide between me and the deserted "Rescue" like the smooth hazy spaces of a dreamy sea. Yet I never actually lost sight of that dark speck in the misty distance. It had grown very small but it asserted itself with the appeal of old associations. It seemed to me that it would be a base thing for me to slip out of the world leaving it out there all alone, waiting for its fate—that would never come?

Sentiment, pure sentiment as you see, prompted me in the last instance to face the pains and hazards of that return. As I moved slowly towards the abandoned body of the tale it loomed up big amongst the glittering shallows of the coast, lonely but not forbidding. There was nothing about it of a grim derelict. It had an air of expectant life. One after another I made out the familiar faces watching my approach with faint smiles of amused recognition. They had known well enough that I was bound to come back to them. But their eyes met mine seriously as was only to be expected since I, myself, felt very serious as I stood amongst them again after years of absence. At once, without wasting words, we went to work together on our renewed life; and every moment I felt more strongly that They Who had Waited bore no grudge to the man who however widely he may have wandered at times had played truant only once in his life.

1920. J. C.


Part 1
The Man and the Brig


Chapter 1

 

Out of the level blue of a shallow sea Carimata raises a lofty barrenness of grey and yellow tints, the drab eminence of its arid heights. Separated by a narrow strip of water, Suroeton, to the west, shows a curved and ridged outline resembling the backbone of a stooping giant. And to the eastward a troop of insignificant islets stand effaced, indistinct, with vague features that seem to melt into the gathering shadows. The night following from the eastward the retreat of the setting sun advanced slowly, swallowing the land and the sea; the land broken, tormented and abrupt; the sea smooth and inviting with its easy polish of continuous surface to wanderings facile and endless.

There was no wind, and a small brig that had lain all the afternoon a few miles to the northward and westward of Carimata had hardly altered its position half a mile during all these hours. The calm was absolute, a dead, flat calm, the stillness of a dead sea and of a dead atmosphere. As far as the eye could reach there was nothing but an impressive immobility. Nothing moved on earth, on the waters, and above them in the unbroken lustre of the sky. On the unruffled surface of the straits the brig floated tranquil and upright as if bolted solidly, keel to keel, with its own image reflected in the unframed and immense mirror of the sea. To the south and east the double islands watched silently the double ship that seemed fixed amongst them forever, a hopeless captive of the calm, a helpless prisoner of the shallow sea.

Since midday, when the light and capricious airs of these seas had abandoned the little brig to its lingering fate, her head had swung slowly to the westward and the end of her slender and polished jib-boom, projecting boldly beyond the graceful curve of the bow, pointed at the setting sun, like a spear poised high in the hand of an enemy. Right aft by the wheel the Malay quartermaster stood with his bare, brown feet firmly planted on the wheel-grating, and holding the spokes at right angles, in a solid grasp, as though the ship had been running before a gale. He stood there perfectly motionless, as if petrified but ready to tend the helm as soon as fate would permit the brig to gather way through the oily sea.

The only other human being then visible on the brig's deck was the person in charge: a white man of low stature, thick-set, with shaven cheeks, a grizzled moustache, and a face tinted a scarlet hue by the burning suns and by the sharp salt breezes of the seas. He had thrown off his light jacket, and clad only in white trousers and a thin cotton singlet, with his stout arms crossed on his breast—upon which they showed like two thick lumps of raw flesh—he prowled about from side to side of the half-poop. On his bare feet he wore a pair of straw sandals, and his head was protected by an enormous pith hat—once white but now very dirty—which gave to the whole man the aspect of a phenomenal and animated mushroom. At times he would interrupt his uneasy shuffle athwart the break of the poop, and stand motionless with a vague gaze fixed on the image of the brig in the calm water. He could also see down there his own head and shoulders leaning out over the rail and he would stand long, as if interested by his own features, and mutter vague curses on the calm which lay upon the ship like an immovable burden, immense and burning.

At last, he sighed profoundly, nerved himself for a great effort, and making a start away from the rail managed to drag his slippers as far as the binnacle. There he stopped again, exhausted and bored. From under the lifted glass panes of the cabin skylight near by came the feeble chirp of a canary, which appeared to give him some satisfaction. He listened, smiled faintly muttered "Dicky, poor Dick—" and fell back into the immense silence of the world. His eyes closed, his head hung low over the hot brass of the binnacle top. Suddenly he stood up with a jerk and said sharply in a hoarse voice:

"You've been sleeping—you. Shift the helm. She has got stern way on her."

The Malay, without the least flinch of feature or pose, as if he had been an inanimate object called suddenly into life by some hidden magic of the words, spun the wheel rapidly, letting the spokes pass through his hands; and when the motion had stopped with a grinding noise, caught hold again and held on grimly. After a while, however, he turned his head slowly over his shoulder, glanced at the sea, and said in an obstinate tone:

"No catch wind—no get way."

"No catch—no catch—that's all you know about it," growled the red-faced seaman. "By and by catch Ali—" he went on with sudden condescension. "By and by catch, and then the helm will be the right way. See?"

The stolid seacannie appeared to see, and for that matter to hear, nothing. The white man looked at the impassive Malay with disgust, then glanced around the horizon—then again at the helmsman and ordered curtly:

"Shift the helm back again. Don't you feel the air from aft? You are like a dummy standing there."

The Malay revolved the spokes again with disdainful obedience, and the red-faced man was moving forward grunting to himself, when through the open skylight the hail "On deck there!" arrested him short, attentive, and with a sudden change to amiability in the expression of his face.

"Yes, sir," he said, bending his ear toward the opening. "What's the matter up there?" asked a deep voice from below.

The red-faced man in a tone of surprise said:

"Sir?"

"I hear that rudder grinding hard up and hard down. What are you up to, Shaw? Any wind?"

"Ye-es," drawled Shaw, putting his head down the skylight and speaking into the gloom of the cabin. "I thought there was a light air, and—but it's gone now. Not a breath anywhere under the heavens."

He withdrew his head and waited a while by the skylight, but heard only the chirping of the indefatigable canary, a feeble twittering that seemed to ooze through the drooping red blossoms of geraniums growing in flower-pots under the glass panes. He strolled away a step or two before the voice from down below called hurriedly:

"Hey, Shaw? Are you there?"

"Yes, Captain Lingard," he answered, stepping back. "Have we drifted anything this afternoon?"

"Not an inch, sir, not an inch. We might as well have been at anchor."

"It's always so," said the invisible Lingard. His voice changed its tone as he moved in the cabin, and directly afterward burst out with a clear intonation while his head appeared above the slide of the cabin entrance:

"Always so! The currents don't begin till it's dark, when a man can't see against what confounded thing he is being drifted, and then the breeze will come. Dead on end, too, I don't doubt."

Shaw moved his shoulders slightly. The Malay at the wheel, after making a dive to see the time by the cabin clock through the skylight, rang a double stroke on the small bell aft. Directly forward, on the main deck, a shrill whistle arose long drawn, modulated, dying away softly. The master of the brig stepped out of the companion upon the deck of his vessel, glanced aloft at the yards laid dead square; then, from the door-step, took a long, lingering look round the horizon.

He was about thirty-five, erect and supple. He moved freely, more like a man accustomed to stride over plains and hills, than like one who from his earliest youth had been used to counteract by sudden swayings of his body the rise and roll of cramped decks of small craft, tossed by the caprice of angry or playful seas.

He wore a grey flannel shirt, and his white trousers were held by a blue silk scarf wound tightly round his narrow waist. He had come up only for a moment, but finding the poop shaded by the main-topsail he remained on deck bareheaded. The light chestnut hair curled close about his well-shaped head, and the clipped beard glinted vividly when he passed across a narrow strip of sunlight, as if every hair in it had been a wavy and attenuated gold wire. His mouth was lost in the heavy moustache; his nose was straight, short, slightly blunted at the end; a broad band of deeper red stretched under the eyes, clung to the cheek bones. The eyes gave the face its remarkable expression. The eyebrows, darker than the hair, pencilled a straight line below the wide and unwrinkled brow much whiter than the sunburnt face. The eyes, as if glowing with the light of a hidden fire, had a red glint in their greyness that gave a scrutinizing ardour to the steadiness of their gaze.

That man, once so well known, and now so completely forgotten amongst the charming and heartless shores of the shallow sea, had amongst his fellows the nickname of "Red-Eyed Tom." He was proud of his luck but not of his good sense. He was proud of his brig, of the speed of his craft, which was reckoned the swiftest country vessel in those seas, and proud of what she represented.

She represented a run of luck on the Victorian goldfields; his sagacious moderation; long days of planning, of loving care in building; the great joy of his youth, the incomparable freedom of the seas; a perfect because a wandering home; his independence, his love—and his anxiety. He had often heard men say that Tom Lingard cared for nothing on earth but for his brig—and in his thoughts he would smilingly correct the statement by adding that he cared for nothing living but the brig.

To him she was as full of life as the great world. He felt her live in every motion, in every roll, in every sway of her tapering masts, of those masts whose painted trucks move forever, to a seaman's eye, against the clouds or against the stars. To him she was always precious—like old love; always desirable—like a strange woman; always tender—like a mother; always faithful—like the favourite daughter of a man's heart.

For hours he would stand elbow on rail, his head in his hand and listen—and listen in dreamy stillness to the cajoling and promising whisper of the sea, that slipped past in vanishing bubbles along the smooth black-painted sides of his craft. What passed in such moments of thoughtful solitude through the mind of that child of generations of fishermen from the coast of Devon, who like most of his class was dead to the subtle voices, and blind to the mysterious aspects of the world—the man ready for the obvious, no matter how startling, how terrible or menacing, yet defenceless as a child before the shadowy impulses of his own heart; what could have been the thoughts of such a man, when once surrendered to a dreamy mood, it is difficult to say.

No doubt he, like most of us, would be uplifted at times by the awakened lyrism of his heart into regions charming, empty, and dangerous. But also, like most of us, he was unaware of his barren journeys above the interesting cares of this earth. Yet from these, no doubt absurd and wasted moments, there remained on the man's daily life a tinge as that of a glowing and serene half-light. It softened the outlines of his rugged nature; and these moments kept close the bond between him and his brig.

He was aware that his little vessel could give him something not to be had from anybody or anything in the world; something specially his own. The dependence of that solid man of bone and muscle on that obedient thing of wood and iron, acquired from that feeling the mysterious dignity of love. She—the craft—had all the qualities of a living thing: speed, obedience, trustworthiness, endurance, beauty, capacity to do and to suffer—all but life. He—the man—was the inspirer of that thing that to him seemed the most perfect of its kind. His will was its will, his thought was its impulse, his breath was the breath of its existence. He felt all this confusedly, without ever shaping this feeling into the soundless formulas of thought. To him she was unique and dear, this brig of three hundred and fourteen tons register—a kingdom!

And now, bareheaded and burly, he walked the deck of his kingdom with a regular stride. He stepped out from the hip, swinging his arms with the free motion of a man starting out for a fifteen-mile walk into open country; yet at every twelfth stride he had to turn about sharply and pace back the distance to the taffrail.

Shaw, with his hands stuck in his waistband, had hooked himself with both elbows to the rail, and gazed apparently at the deck between his feet. In reality he was contemplating a little house with a tiny front garden, lost in a maze of riverside streets in the east end of London. The circumstance that he had not, as yet, been able to make the acquaintance of his son—now aged eighteen months—worried him slightly, and was the cause of that flight of his fancy into the murky atmosphere of his home. But it was a placid flight followed by a quick return. In less than two minutes he was back in the brig. "All there," as his saying was. He was proud of being always "all there."

He was abrupt in manner and grumpy in speech with the seamen. To his successive captains, he was outwardly as deferential as he knew how, and as a rule inwardly hostile—so very few seemed to him of the "all there" kind. Of Lingard, with whom he had only been a short time—having been picked up in Madras Roads out of a home ship, which he had to leave after a thumping row with the master—he generally approved, although he recognized with regret that this man, like most others, had some absurd fads; he defined them as "bottom-upwards notions."

He was a man—as there were many—of no particular value to anybody but himself, and of no account but as the chief mate of the brig, and the only white man on board of her besides the captain. He felt himself immeasurably superior to the Malay seamen whom he had to handle, and treated them with lofty toleration, notwithstanding his opinion that at a pinch those chaps would be found emphatically "not there."

As soon as his mind came back from his home leave, he detached himself from the rail and, walking forward, stood by the break of the poop, looking along the port side of the main deck. Lingard on his own side stopped in his walk and also gazed absentmindedly before him. In the waist of the brig, in the narrow spars that were lashed on each side of the hatchway, he could see a group of men squatting in a circle around a wooden tray piled up with rice, which stood on the just swept deck. The dark-faced, soft-eyed silent men, squatting on their hams, fed decorously with an earnestness that did not exclude reserve.

Of the lot, only one or two wore sarongs, the others having submitted—at least at sea—to the indignity of European trousers. Only two sat on the spars. One, a man with a childlike, light yellow face, smiling with fatuous imbecility under the wisps of straight coarse hair dyed a mahogany tint, was the tindal of the crew—a kind of boatswain's or serang's mate. The other, sitting beside him on the booms, was a man nearly black, not much bigger than a large ape, and wearing on his wrinkled face that look of comical truculence which is often characteristic of men from the southwestern coast of Sumatra.

This was the kassab or store-keeper, the holder of a position of dignity and ease. The kassab was the only one of the crew taking their evening meal who noticed the presence on deck of their commander. He muttered something to the tindal who directly cocked his old hat on one side, which senseless action invested him with an altogether foolish appearance. The others heard, but went on somnolently feeding with spidery movements of their lean arms.

The sun was no more than a degree or so above the horizon, and from the heated surface of the waters a slight low mist began to rise; a mist thin, invisible to the human eye; yet strong enough to change the sun into a mere glowing red disc, a disc vertical and hot, rolling down to the edge of the horizontal and cold-looking disc of the shining sea. Then the edges touched and the circular expanse of water took on suddenly a tint, sombre, like a frown; deep, like the brooding meditation of evil.

The falling sun seemed to be arrested for a moment in his descent by the sleeping waters, while from it, to the motionless brig, shot out on the polished and dark surface of the sea a track of light, straight and shining, resplendent and direct; a path of gold and crimson and purple, a path that seemed to lead dazzling and terrible from the earth straight into heaven through the portals of a glorious death. It faded slowly. The sea vanquished the light. At last only a vestige of the sun remained, far off, like a red spark floating on the water. It lingered, and all at once—without warning—went out as if extinguished by a treacherous hand.

"Gone," cried Lingard, who had watched intently yet missed the last moment. "Gone! Look at the cabin clock, Shaw!"

"Nearly right, I think, sir. Three minutes past six."

The helmsman struck four bells sharply. Another barefooted seacannie glided on the far side of the poop to relieve the wheel, and the serang of the brig came up the ladder to take charge of the deck from Shaw. He came up to the compass, and stood waiting silently.

"The course is south by east when you get the wind, serang," said Shaw, distinctly.

"Sou' by eas'," repeated the elderly Malay with grave earnestness.

"Let me know when she begins to steer," added Lingard.

"Ya, Tuan," answered the man, glancing rapidly at the sky. "Wind coming," he muttered.

"I think so, too," whispered Lingard as if to himself.

The shadows were gathering rapidly round the brig. A mulatto put his head out of the companion and called out:

"Ready, sir."

"Let's get a mouthful of something to eat, Shaw," said Lingard. "I say, just take a look around before coming below. It will be dark when we come up again."

"Certainly, sir," said Shaw, taking up a long glass and putting it to his eyes. "Blessed thing," he went on in snatches while he worked the tubes in and out, "I can't—never somehow—Ah! I've got it right at last!"

He revolved slowly on his heels, keeping the end of the tube on the sky-line. Then he shut the instrument with a click, and said decisively:

"Nothing in sight, sir."

He followed his captain down below rubbing his hands cheerfully.

For a good while there was no sound on the poop of the brig. Then the seacannie at the wheel spoke dreamily:

"Did the malim say there was no one on the sea?"

"Yes," grunted the serang without looking at the man behind him.

"Between the islands there was a boat," pronounced the man very softly.

The serang, his hands behind his back, his feet slightly apart, stood very straight and stiff by the side of the compass stand. His face, now hardly visible, was as inexpressive as the door of a safe.

"Now, listen to me," insisted the helmsman in a gentle tone.

The man in authority did not budge a hair's breadth. The seacannie bent down a little from the height of the wheel grating.

"I saw a boat," he murmured with something of the tender obstinacy of a lover begging for a favour. "I saw a boat, O Haji Wasub! Ya! Haji Wasub!"

The serang had been twice a pilgrim, and was not insensible to the sound of his rightful title. There was a grim smile on his face.

"You saw a floating tree, O Sali," he said, ironically.

"I am Sali, and my eyes are better than the bewitched brass thing that pulls out to a great length," said the pertinacious helmsman. "There was a boat, just clear of the easternmost island. There was a boat, and they in her could see the ship on the light of the west—unless they are blind men lost on the sea. I have seen her. Have you seen her, too, O Haji Wasub?"

"Am I a fat white man?" snapped the serang. "I was a man of the sea before you were born, O Sali! The order is to keep silence and mind the rudder, lest evil befall the ship."

After these words he resumed his rigid aloofness. He stood, his legs slightly apart, very stiff and straight, a little on one side of the compass stand. His eyes travelled incessantly from the illuminated card to the shadowy sails of the brig and back again, while his body was motionless as if made of wood and built into the ship's frame. Thus, with a forced and tense watchfulness, Haji Wasub, serang of the brig Lightning, kept the captain's watch unwearied and wakeful, a slave to duty.

In half an hour after sunset the darkness had taken complete possession of earth and heavens. The islands had melted into the night. And on the smooth water of the Straits, the little brig lying so still, seemed to sleep profoundly, wrapped up in a scented mantle of star light and silence.


Chapter 2

 

It was half-past eight o'clock before Lingard came on deck again. Shaw—now with a coat on—trotted up and down the poop leaving behind him a smell of tobacco smoke. An irregularly glowing spark seemed to run by itself in the darkness before the rounded form of his head. Above the masts of the brig the dome of the clear heaven was full of lights that flickered, as if some mighty breathings high up there had been swaying about the flame of the stars. There was no sound along the brig's decks, and the heavy shadows that lay on it had the aspect, in that silence, of secret places concealing crouching forms that waited in perfect stillness for some decisive event. Lingard struck a match to light his cheroot, and his powerful face with narrowed eyes stood out for a moment in the night and vanished suddenly. Then two shadowy forms and two red sparks moved backward and forward on the poop. A larger, but a paler and oval patch of light from the compass lamps lay on the brasses of the wheel and on the breast of the Malay standing by the helm. Lingard's voice, as if unable altogether to master the enormous silence of the sea, sounded muffled, very calm—without the usual deep ring in it.

"Not much change, Shaw," he said.

"No, sir, not much. I can just see the island—the big one—still in the same place. It strikes me, sir, that, for calms, this here sea is a devil of locality."

He cut "locality" in two with an emphatic pause. It was a good word. He was pleased with himself for thinking of it. He went on again:

"Now—since noon, this big island—"

"Carimata, Shaw," interrupted Lingard.

"Aye, sir; Carimata—I mean. I must say—being a stranger hereabouts—I haven't got the run of those—"

He was going to say "names" but checked himself and said, "appellations," instead, sounding every syllable lovingly.

"Having for these last fifteen years," he continued, "sailed regularly from London in East-Indiamen, I am more at home over there—in the Bay."

He pointed into the night toward the northwest and stared as if he could see from where he stood that Bay of Bengal where—as he affirmed—he would be so much more at home.

"You'll soon get used—" muttered Lingard, swinging in his rapid walk past his mate. Then he turned round, came back, and asked sharply.

"You said there was nothing afloat in sight before dark? Hey?"

"Not that I could see, sir. When I took the deck again at eight, I asked that serang whether there was anything about; and I understood him to say there was no more as when I went below at six. This is a lonely sea at times—ain't it, sir? Now, one would think at this time of the year the homeward-bounders from China would be pretty thick here."

"Yes," said Lingard, "we have met very few ships since we left Pedra Branca over the stern. Yes; it has been a lonely sea. But for all that, Shaw, this sea, if lonely, is not blind. Every island in it is an eye. And now, since our squadron has left for the China waters—"

He did not finish his sentence. Shaw put his hands in his pockets, and propped his back against the sky-light, comfortably.

"They say there is going to be a war with China," he said in a gossiping tone, "and the French are going along with us as they did in the Crimea five years ago. It seems to me we're getting mighty good friends with the French. I've not much of an opinion about that. What do you think, Captain Lingard?"

"I have met their men-of-war in the Pacific," said Lingard, slowly. "The ships were fine and the fellows in them were civil enough to me—and very curious about my business," he added with a laugh. "However, I wasn't there to make war on them. I had a rotten old cutter then, for trade, Shaw," he went on with animation.

"Had you, sir?" said Shaw without any enthusiasm. "Now give me a big ship—a ship, I say, that one may—"

"And later on, some years ago," interrupted Lingard, "I chummed with a French skipper in Ampanam—being the only two white men in the whole place. He was a good fellow, and free with his red wine. His English was difficult to understand, but he could sing songs in his own language about ah-moor—Ah-moor means love, in French—Shaw."

"So it does, sir—so it does. When I was second mate of a Sunderland barque, in forty-one, in the Mediterranean, I could pay out their lingo as easy as you would a five-inch warp over a ship's side—"

"Yes, he was a proper man," pursued Lingard, meditatively, as if for himself only. "You could not find a better fellow for company ashore. He had an affair with a Bali girl, who one evening threw a red blossom at him from within a doorway, as we were going together to pay our respects to the Rajah's nephew. He was a good-looking Frenchman, he was—but the girl belonged to the Rajah's nephew, and it was a serious matter. The old Rajah got angry and said the girl must die. I don't think the nephew cared particularly to have her krissed; but the old fellow made a great fuss and sent one of his own chief men to see the thing done—and the girl had enemies—her own relations approved! We could do nothing. Mind, Shaw, there was absolutely nothing else between them but that unlucky flower which the Frenchman pinned to his coat—and afterward, when the girl was dead, wore under his shirt, hung round his neck in a small box. I suppose he had nothing else to put it into."

"Would those savages kill a woman for that?" asked Shaw, incredulously.

"Aye! They are pretty moral there. That was the first time in my life I nearly went to war on my own account, Shaw. We couldn't talk those fellows over. We couldn't bribe them, though the Frenchman offered the best he had, and I was ready to back him to the last dollar, to the last rag of cotton, Shaw! No use—they were that blamed respectable. So, says the Frenchman to me: 'My friend, if they won't take our gunpowder for a gift let us burn it to give them lead.' I was armed as you see now; six eight-pounders on the main deck and a long eighteen on the forecastle—and I wanted to try 'em. You may believe me! However, the Frenchman had nothing but a few old muskets; and the beggars got to windward of us by fair words, till one morning a boat's crew from the Frenchman's ship found the girl lying dead on the beach. That put an end to our plans. She was out of her trouble anyhow, and no reasonable man will fight for a dead woman. I was never vengeful, Shaw, and—after all—she didn't throw that flower at me. But it broke the Frenchman up altogether. He began to mope, did no business, and shortly afterward sailed away. I cleared a good many pence out of that trip, I remember."

With these words he seemed to come to the end of his memories of that trip. Shaw stifled a yawn.

"Women are the cause of a lot of trouble," he said, dispassionately. "In the Morayshire, I remember, we had once a passenger—an old gentleman—who was telling us a yarn about them old-time Greeks fighting for ten years about some woman. The Turks kidnapped her, or something. Anyway, they fought in Turkey; which I may well believe. Them Greeks and Turks were always fighting. My father was master's mate on board one of the three-deckers at the battle of Navarino—and that was when we went to help those Greeks. But this affair about a woman was long before that time."

"I should think so," muttered Lingard, hanging over the rail, and watching the fleeting gleams that passed deep down in the water, along the ship's bottom.

"Yes. Times are changed. They were unenlightened in those old days. My grandfather was a preacher and, though my father served in the navy, I don't hold with war. Sinful the old gentleman called it—and I think so, too. Unless with Chinamen, or niggers, or such people as must be kept in order and won't listen to reason; having not sense enough to know what's good for them, when it's explained to them by their betters—missionaries, and such like au-tho-ri-ties. But to fight ten years. And for a woman!"

"I have read the tale in a book," said Lingard, speaking down over the side as if setting his words gently afloat upon the sea. "I have read the tale. She was very beautiful."

"That only makes it worse, sir—if anything. You may depend on it she was no good. Those pagan times will never come back, thank God. Ten years of murder and unrighteousness! And for a woman! Would anybody do it now? Would you do it, sir? Would you—"

The sound of a bell struck sharply interrupted Shaw's discourse. High aloft, some dry block sent out a screech, short and lamentable, like a cry of pain. It pierced the quietness of the night to the very core, and seemed to destroy the reserve which it had imposed upon the tones of the two men, who spoke now loudly.

"Throw the cover over the binnacle," said Lingard in his duty voice. "The thing shines like a full moon. We mustn't show more lights than we can help, when becalmed at night so near the land. No use in being seen if you can't see yourself—is there? Bear that in mind, Mr. Shaw. There may be some vagabonds prying about—"

"I thought all this was over and done for," said Shaw, busying himself with the cover, "since Sir Thomas Cochrane swept along the Borneo coast with his squadron some years ago. He did a rare lot of fighting—didn't he? We heard about it from the chaps of the sloop Diana that was refitting in Calcutta when I was there in the Warwick Castle. They took some king's town up a river hereabouts. The chaps were full of it."

"Sir Thomas did good work," answered Lingard, "but it will be a long time before these seas are as safe as the English Channel is in peace time. I spoke about that light more to get you in the way of things to be attended to in these seas than for anything else. Did you notice how few native craft we've sighted for all these days we have been drifting about—one may say—in this sea?"

"I can't say I have attached any significance to the fact, sir."

"It's a sign that something is up. Once set a rumour afloat in these waters, and it will make its way from island to island, without any breeze to drive it along."

"Being myself a deep-water man sailing steadily out of home ports nearly all my life," said Shaw with great deliberation, "I cannot pretend to see through the peculiarities of them out-of-the-way parts. But I can keep a lookout in an ordinary way, and I have noticed that craft of any kind seemed scarce, for the last few days: considering that we had land aboard of us—one side or another—nearly every day."

"You will get to know the peculiarities, as you call them, if you remain any time with me," remarked Lingard, negligently.

"I hope I shall give satisfaction, whether the time be long or short!" said Shaw, accentuating the meaning of his words by the distinctness of his utterance. "A man who has spent thirty-two years of his life on saltwater can say no more. If being an officer of home ships for the last fifteen years I don't understand the heathen ways of them there savages, in matters of seamanship and duty, you will find me all there, Captain Lingard."

"Except, judging from what you said a little while ago—except in the matter of fighting," said Lingard, with a short laugh.

"Fighting! I am not aware that anybody wants to fight me. I am a peaceable man, Captain Lingard, but when put to it, I could fight as well as any of them flat-nosed chaps we have to make shift with, instead of a proper crew of decent Christians. Fighting!" he went on with unexpected pugnacity of tone, "Fighting! If anybody comes to fight me, he will find me all there, I swear!"

"That's all right. That's all right," said Lingard, stretching his arms above his head and wriggling his shoulders. "My word! I do wish a breeze would come to let us get away from here. I am rather in a hurry, Shaw."

"Indeed, sir! Well, I never yet met a thorough seafaring man who was not in a hurry when a con-demned spell of calm had him by the heels. When a breeze comes … just listen to this, sir!"

"I hear it," said Lingard. "Tide-rip, Shaw."

"So I presume, sir. But what a fuss it makes. Seldom heard such a—"

On the sea, upon the furthest limits of vision, appeared an advancing streak of seething foam, resembling a narrow white ribbon, drawn rapidly along the level surface of the water by its two ends, which were lost in the darkness. It reached the brig, passed under, stretching out on each side; and on each side the water became noisy, breaking into numerous and tiny wavelets, a mimicry of an immense agitation. Yet the vessel in the midst of this sudden and loud disturbance remained as motionless and steady as if she had been securely moored between the stone walls of a safe dock. In a few moments the line of foam and ripple running swiftly north passed at once beyond sight and earshot, leaving no trace on the unconquerable calm.

"Now this is very curious—" began Shaw.

Lingard made a gesture to command silence. He seemed to listen yet, as if the wash of the ripple could have had an echo which he expected to hear. And a man's voice that was heard forward had something of the impersonal ring of voices thrown back from hard and lofty cliffs upon the empty distances of the sea. It spoke in Malay—faintly.

"What?" hailed Shaw. "What is it?"

Lingard put a restraining hand for a moment on his chief officer's shoulder, and moved forward smartly. Shaw followed, puzzled. The rapid exchange of incomprehensible words thrown backward and forward through the shadows of the brig's main deck from his captain to the lookout man and back again, made him feel sadly out of it, somehow.

Lingard had called out sharply—"What do you see?" The answer direct and quick was—"I hear, Tuan. I hear oars."

"Whereabouts?"

"The night is all around us. I hear them near."

"Port or starboard?"

There was a short delay in answer this time. On the quarter-deck, under the poop, bare feet shuffled. Somebody coughed. At last the voice forward said doubtfully:

"Kanan."

"Call the serang, Mr. Shaw," said Lingard, calmly, "and have the hands turned up. They are all lying about the decks. Look sharp now. There's something near us. It's annoying to be caught like this," he added in a vexed tone.

He crossed over to the starboard side, and stood listening, one hand grasping the royal back-stay, his ear turned to the sea, but he could hear nothing from there. The quarter-deck was filled with subdued sounds. Suddenly, a long, shrill whistle soared, reverberated loudly amongst the flat surfaces of motionless sails, and gradually grew faint as if the sound had escaped and gone away, running upon the water. Haji Wasub was on deck and ready to carry out the white man's commands. Then silence fell again on the brig, until Shaw spoke quietly.

"I am going forward now, sir, with the tindal. We're all at stations."

"Aye, Mr. Shaw. Very good. Mind they don't board you—but I can hear nothing. Not a sound. It can't be much."

"The fellow has been dreaming, no doubt. I have good ears, too, and—"

He went forward and the end of his sentence was lost in an indistinct growl. Lingard stood attentive. One by one the three seacannies off duty appeared on the poop and busied themselves around a big chest that stood by the side of the cabin companion. A rattle and clink of steel weapons turned out on the deck was heard, but the men did not even whisper. Lingard peered steadily into the night, then shook his head.

"Serang!" he called, half aloud.

The spare old man ran up the ladder so smartly that his bony feet did not seem to touch the steps. He stood by his commander, his hands behind his back; a figure indistinct but straight as an arrow.

"Who was looking out?" asked Lingard.

"Badroon, the Bugis," said Wasub, in his crisp, jerky manner.

"I can hear nothing. Badroon heard the noise in his mind."

"The night hides the boat."

"Have you seen it?"

"Yes, Tuan. Small boat. Before sunset. By the land. Now coming here—near. Badroon heard him."

"Why didn't you report it, then?" asked Lingard, sharply.

"Malim spoke. He said: 'Nothing there,' while I could see. How could I know what was in his mind or yours, Tuan?"

"Do you hear anything now?"

"No. They stopped now. Perhaps lost the ship—who knows? Perhaps afraid—"

"Well!" muttered Lingard, moving his feet uneasily. "I believe you lie. What kind of boat?"

"White men's boat. A four-men boat, I think. Small. Tuan, I hear him now! There!"

He stretched his arm straight out, pointing abeam for a time, then his arm fell slowly.

"Coming this way," he added with decision.

From forward Shaw called out in a startled tone:

"Something on the water, sir! Broad on this bow!"

"All right!" called back Lingard.

A lump of blacker darkness floated into his view. From it came over the water English words—deliberate, reaching him one by one; as if each had made its own difficult way through the profound stillness of the night.

"What—ship—is—that—pray?"

"English brig," answered Lingard, after a short moment of hesitation.

"A brig! I thought you were something bigger," went on the voice from the sea with a tinge of disappointment in its deliberate tone. "I am coming alongside—if—you—please."

"No! you don't!" called Lingard back, sharply. The leisurely drawl of the invisible speaker seemed to him offensive, and woke up a hostile feeling. "No! you don't if you care for your boat. Where do you spring from? Who are you—anyhow? How many of you are there in that boat?"

After these emphatic questions there was an interval of silence. During that time the shape of the boat became a little more distinct. She must have carried some way on her yet, for she loomed up bigger and nearly abreast of where Lingard stood, before the self-possessed voice was heard again:

"I will show you."

Then, after another short pause, the voice said, less loud but very plain:

"Strike on the gunwale. Strike hard, John!" and suddenly a blue light blazed out, illuminating with a livid flame a round patch in the night. In the smoke and splutter of that ghastly halo appeared a white, four-oared gig with five men sitting in her in a row. Their heads were turned toward the brig with a strong expression of curiosity on their faces, which, in this glare, brilliant and sinister, took on a deathlike aspect and resembled the faces of interested corpses. Then the bowman dropped into the water the light he held above his head and the darkness, rushing back at the boat, swallowed it with a loud and angry hiss.

"Five of us," said the composed voice out of the night that seemed now darker than before. "Four hands and myself. We belong to a yacht—a British yacht—"

"Come on board!" shouted Lingard. "Why didn't you speak at once? I thought you might have been some masquerading Dutchmen from a dodging gunboat."

"Do I speak like a blamed Dutchman? Pull a stroke, boys—oars! Tend bow, John."

The boat came alongside with a gentle knock, and a man's shape began to climb at once up the brig's side with a kind of ponderous agility. It poised itself for a moment on the rail to say down into the boat—"Sheer off a little, boys," then jumped on deck with a thud, and said to Shaw who was coming aft: "Good evening … Captain, sir?"

"No. On the poop!" growled Shaw.

"Come up here. Come up," called Lingard, impatiently.

The Malays had left their stations and stood clustered by the mainmast in a silent group. Not a word was spoken on the brig's decks, while the stranger made his way to the waiting captain. Lingard saw approaching him a short, dapper man, who touched his cap and repeated his greeting in a cool drawl:

"Good evening… Captain, sir?"

"Yes, I am the master—what's the matter? Adrift from your ship? Or what?"

"Adrift? No! We left her four days ago, and have been pulling that gig in a calm, nearly ever since. My men are done. So is the water. Lucky thing I sighted you."

"You sighted me!" exclaimed Lingard. "When? What time?"

"Not in the dark, you may be sure. We've been knocking about amongst some islands to the southward, breaking our hearts tugging at the oars in one channel, then in another—trying to get clear. We got round an islet—a barren thing, in shape like a loaf of sugar—and I caught sight of a vessel a long way off. I took her bearing in a hurry and we buckled to; but another of them currents must have had hold of us, for it was a long time before we managed to clear that islet. I steered by the stars, and, by the Lord Harry, I began to think I had missed you somehow—because it must have been you I saw."

"Yes, it must have been. We had nothing in sight all day," assented Lingard. "Where's your vessel?" he asked, eagerly.

"Hard and fast on middling soft mud—I should think about sixty miles from here. We are the second boat sent off for assistance. We parted company with the other on Tuesday. She must have passed to the northward of you to-day. The chief officer is in her with orders to make for Singapore. I am second, and was sent off toward the Straits here on the chance of falling in with some ship. I have a letter from the owner. Our gentry are tired of being stuck in the mud and wish for assistance."

"What assistance did you expect to find down here?"

"The letter will tell you that. May I ask, Captain, for a little water for the chaps in my boat? And I myself would thank you for a drink. We haven't had a mouthful since this afternoon. Our breaker leaked out somehow."

"See to it, Mr. Shaw," said Lingard. "Come down the cabin, Mr.—"

"Carter is my name."

"Ah! Mr. Carter. Come down, come down," went on Lingard, leading the way down the cabin stairs.

The steward had lighted the swinging lamp, and had put a decanter and bottles on the table. The cuddy looked cheerful, painted white, with gold mouldings round the panels. Opposite the curtained recess of the stern windows there was a sideboard with a marble top, and, above it, a looking-glass in a gilt frame. The semicircular couch round the stern had cushions of crimson plush. The table was covered with a black Indian tablecloth embroidered in vivid colours. Between the beams of the poop-deck were fitted racks for muskets, the barrels of which glinted in the light. There were twenty-four of them between the four beams. As many sword-bayonets of an old pattern encircled the polished teakwood of the rudder-casing with a double belt of brass and steel. All the doors of the state-rooms had been taken off the hinges and only curtains closed the doorways. They seemed to be made of yellow Chinese silk, and fluttered all together, the four of them, as the two men entered the cuddy.

Carter took in all at a glance, but his eyes were arrested by a circular shield hung slanting above the brass hilts of the bayonets. On its red field, in relief and brightly gilt, was represented a sheaf of conventional thunderbolts darting down the middle between the two capitals T. L. Lingard examined his guest curiously. He saw a young man, but looking still more youthful, with a boyish smooth face much sunburnt, twinkling blue eyes, fair hair and a slight moustache. He noticed his arrested gaze.

"Ah, you're looking at that thing. It's a present from the builder of this brig. The best man that ever launched a craft. It's supposed to be the ship's name between my initials—flash of lightning—d'you see? The brig's name is Lightning and mine is Lingard."

"Very pretty thing that: shows the cabin off well," murmured Carter, politely.

They drank, nodding at each other, and sat down.

"Now for the letter," said Lingard.

Carter passed it over the table and looked about, while Lingard took the letter out of an open envelope, addressed to the commander of any British ship in the Java Sea. The paper was thick, had an embossed heading: "Schooner-yacht Hermit" and was dated four days before. The message said that on a hazy night the yacht had gone ashore upon some outlying shoals off the coast of Borneo. The land was low. The opinion of the sailing-master was that the vessel had gone ashore at the top of high water, spring tides. The coast was completely deserted to all appearance. During the four days they had been stranded there they had sighted in the distance two small native vessels, which did not approach. The owner concluded by asking any commander of a homeward-bound ship to report the yacht's position in Anjer on his way through Sunda Straits—or to any British or Dutch man-of-war he might meet. The letter ended by anticipatory thanks, the offer to pay any expenses in connection with the sending of messages from Anjer, and the usual polite expressions.

Folding the paper slowly in the old creases, Lingard said—"I am not going to Anjer—nor anywhere near."

"Any place will do, I fancy," said Carter.

"Not the place where I am bound to," answered Lingard, opening the letter again and glancing at it uneasily. "He does not describe very well the coast, and his latitude is very uncertain," he went on. "I am not clear in my mind where exactly you are stranded. And yet I know every inch of that land—over there."

Carter cleared his throat and began to talk in his slow drawl. He seemed to dole out facts, to disclose with sparing words the features of the coast, but every word showed the minuteness of his observation, the clear vision of a seaman able to master quickly the aspect of a strange land and of a strange sea. He presented, with concise lucidity, the picture of the tangle of reefs and sandbanks, through which the yacht had miraculously blundered in the dark before she took the ground.

"The weather seems clear enough at sea," he observed, finally, and stopped to drink a long draught. Lingard, bending over the table, had been listening with eager attention. Carter went on in his curt and deliberate manner:

"I noticed some high trees on what I take to be the mainland to the south—and whoever has business in that bight was smart enough to whitewash two of them: one on the point, and another farther in. Landmarks, I guess… . What's the matter, Captain?"

Lingard had jumped to his feet, but Carter's exclamation caused him to sit down again.

"Nothing, nothing … Tell me, how many men have you in that yacht?"

"Twenty-three, besides the gentry, the owner, his wife and a Spanish gentleman—a friend they picked up in Manila."

"So you were coming from Manila?"

"Aye. Bound for Batavia. The owner wishes to study the Dutch colonial system. Wants to expose it, he says. One can't help hearing a lot when keeping watch aft—you know how it is. Then we are going to Ceylon to meet the mail-boat there. The owner is going home as he came out, overland through Egypt. The yacht would return round the Cape, of course."

"A lady?" said Lingard. "You say there is a lady on board. Are you armed?"

"Not much," replied Carter, negligently. "There are a few muskets and two sporting guns aft; that's about all—I fancy it's too much, or not enough," he added with a faint smile.

Lingard looked at him narrowly.

"Did you come out from home in that craft?" he asked.

"Not I! I am not one of them regular yacht hands. I came out of the hospital in Hongkong. I've been two years on the China coast."

He stopped, then added in an explanatory murmur:

"Opium clippers—you know. Nothing of brass buttons about me. My ship left me behind, and I was in want of work. I took this job but I didn't want to go home particularly. It's slow work after sailing with old Robinson in the Ly-e-moon. That was my ship. Heard of her, Captain?"

"Yes, yes," said Lingard, hastily. "Look here, Mr. Carter, which way was your chief officer trying for Singapore? Through the Straits of Rhio?"

"I suppose so," answered Carter in a slightly surprised tone; "why do you ask?"

"Just to know … What is it, Mr. Shaw?"

"There's a black cloud rising to the northward, sir, and we shall get a breeze directly," said Shaw from the doorway.

He lingered there with his eyes fixed on the decanters.

"Will you have a glass?" said Lingard, leaving his seat. "I will go up and have a look."

He went on deck. Shaw approached the table and began to help himself, handling the bottles in profound silence and with exaggerated caution, as if he had been measuring out of fragile vessels a dose of some deadly poison. Carter, his hands in his pockets, and leaning back, examined him from head to foot with a cool stare. The mate of the brig raised the glass to his lips, and glaring above the rim at the stranger, drained the contents slowly.

"You have a fine nose for finding ships in the dark, Mister," he said, distinctly, putting the glass on the table with extreme gentleness.

"Eh? What's that? I sighted you just after sunset."

"And you knew where to look, too," said Shaw, staring hard.

"I looked to the westward where there was still some light, as any sensible man would do," retorted the other a little impatiently. "What are you trying to get at?"

"And you have a ready tongue to blow about yourself—haven't you?"

"Never saw such a man in my life," declared Carter, with a return of his nonchalant manner. "You seem to be troubled about something."

"I don't like boats to come sneaking up from nowhere in particular, alongside a ship when I am in charge of the deck. I can keep a lookout as well as any man out of home ports, but I hate to be circumvented by muffled oars and such ungentlemanlike tricks. Yacht officer—indeed. These seas must be full of such yachtsmen. I consider you played a mean trick on me. I told my old man there was nothing in sight at sunset—and no more there was. I believe you blundered upon us by chance—for all your boasting about sunsets and bearings. Gammon! I know you came on blindly on top of us, and with muffled oars, too. D'ye call that decent?"

"If I did muffle the oars it was for a good reason. I wanted to slip past a cove where some native craft were moored. That was common prudence in such a small boat, and not armed—as I am. I saw you right enough, but I had no intention to startle anybody. Take my word for it."

"I wish you had gone somewhere else," growled Shaw. "I hate to be put in the wrong through accident and untruthfulness—there! Here's my old man calling me—"

He left the cabin hurriedly and soon afterward Lingard came down, and sat again facing Carter across the table. His face was grave but resolute.

"We shall get the breeze directly," he said.

"Then, sir," said Carter, getting up, "if you will give me back that letter I shall go on cruising about here to speak some other ship. I trust you will report us wherever you are going."

"I am going to the yacht and I shall keep the letter," answered Lingard with decision. "I know exactly where she is, and I must go to the rescue of those people. It's most fortunate you've fallen in with me, Mr. Carter. Fortunate for them and fortunate for me," he added in a lower tone.

"Yes," drawled Carter, reflectively. "There may be a tidy bit of salvage money if you should get the vessel off, but I don't think you can do much. I had better stay out here and try to speak some gunboat—"

"You must come back to your ship with me," said Lingard, authoritatively. "Never mind the gunboats."

"That wouldn't be carrying out my orders," argued Carter. "I've got to speak a homeward-bound ship or a man-of-war—that's plain enough. I am not anxious to knock about for days in an open boat, but—let me fill my fresh-water breaker, Captain, and I will be off."

"Nonsense," said Lingard, sharply. "You've got to come with me to show the place and—and help. I'll take your boat in tow."

Carter did not seem convinced. Lingard laid a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"Look here, young fellow. I am Tom Lingard and there's not a white man among these islands, and very few natives, that have not heard of me. My luck brought you into my ship—and now I've got you, you must stay. You must!"

The last "must" burst out loud and sharp like a pistol-shot. Carter stepped back.

"Do you mean you would keep me by force?" he asked, startled.

"Force," repeated Lingard. "It rests with you. I cannot let you speak any vessel. Your yacht has gone ashore in a most inconvenient place—for me; and with your boats sent off here and there, you would bring every infernal gunboat buzzing to a spot that was as quiet and retired as the heart of man could wish. You stranding just on that spot of the whole coast was my bad luck. And that I could not help. You coming upon me like this is my good luck. And that I hold!"

He dropped his clenched fist, big and muscular, in the light of the lamp on the black cloth, amongst the glitter of glasses, with the strong fingers closed tight upon the firm flesh of the palm. He left it there for a moment as if showing Carter that luck he was going to hold. And he went on:

"Do you know into what hornet's nest your stupid people have blundered? How much d'ye think their lives are worth, just now? Not a brass farthing if the breeze fails me for another twenty-four hours. You may well open your eyes. It is so! And it may be too late now, while I am arguing with you here."

He tapped the table with his knuckles, and the glasses, waking up, jingled a thin, plaintive finale to his speech. Carter stood leaning against the sideboard. He was amazed by the unexpected turn of the conversation; his jaw dropped slightly and his eyes never swerved for a moment from Lingard's face. The silence in the cabin lasted only a few seconds, but to Carter, who waited breathlessly, it seemed very long. And all at once he heard in it, for the first time, the cabin clock tick distinctly, in pulsating beats, as though a little heart of metal behind the dial had been started into sudden palpitation.

"A gunboat!" shouted Lingard, suddenly, as if he had seen only in that moment, by the light of some vivid flash of thought, all the difficulties of the situation. "If you don't go back with me there will be nothing left for you to go back to—very soon. Your gunboat won't find a single ship's rib or a single corpse left for a landmark. That she won't. It isn't a gunboat skipper you want. I am the man you want. You don't know your luck when you see it, but I know mine, I do—and—look here—"

He touched Carter's chest with his forefinger, and said with a sudden gentleness of tone:

"I am a white man inside and out; I won't let inoffensive people—and a woman, too—come to harm if I can help it. And if I can't help, nobody can. You understand—nobody! There's no time for it. But I am like any other man that is worth his salt: I won't let the end of an undertaking go by the board while there is a chance to hold on—and it's like this—"

His voice was persuasive—almost caressing; he had hold now of a coat button and tugged at it slightly as he went on in a confidential manner:

"As it turns out, Mr. Carter, I would—in a manner of speaking—I would as soon shoot you where you stand as let you go to raise an alarm all over this sea about your confounded yacht. I have other lives to consider—and friends—and promises—and—and myself, too. I shall keep you," he concluded, sharply.

Carter drew a long breath. On the deck above, the two men could hear soft footfalls, short murmurs, indistinct words spoken near the skylight. Shaw's voice rang out loudly in growling tones:

"Furl the royals, you tindal!"

"It's the queerest old go," muttered Carter, looking down on to the floor. "You are a strange man. I suppose I must believe what you say—unless you and that fat mate of yours are a couple of escaped lunatics that got hold of a brig by some means. Why, that chap up there wanted to pick a quarrel with me for coming aboard, and now you threaten to shoot me rather than let me go. Not that I care much about that; for some time or other you would get hanged for it; and you don't look like a man that will end that way. If what you say is only half true, I ought to get back to the yacht as quick as ever I can. It strikes me that your coming to them will be only a small mercy, anyhow—and I may be of some use—But this is the queerest… . May I go in my boat?"

"As you like," said Lingard. "There's a rain squall coming."

"I am in charge and will get wet along of my chaps. Give us a good long line, Captain."

"It's done already," said Lingard. "You seem a sensible sailorman and can see that it would be useless to try and give me the slip."

"For a man so ready to shoot, you seem very trustful," drawled Carter. "If I cut adrift in a squall, I stand a pretty fair chance not to see you again."

"You just try," said Lingard, drily. "I have eyes in this brig, young man, that will see your boat when you couldn't see the ship. You are of the kind I like, but if you monkey with me I will find you—and when I find you I will run you down as surely as I stand here."

Carter slapped his thigh and his eyes twinkled.

"By the Lord Harry!" he cried. "If it wasn't for the men with me, I would try for sport. You are so cocksure about the lot you can do, Captain. You would aggravate a saint into open mutiny."

His easy good humour had returned; but after a short burst of laughter, he became serious.

"Never fear," he said, "I won't slip away. If there is to be any throat-cutting—as you seem to hint—mine will be there, too, I promise you, and… ."

He stretched his arms out, glanced at them, shook them a little.

"And this pair of arms to take care of it," he added, in his old, careless drawl.

But the master of the brig sitting with both his elbows on the table, his face in his hands, had fallen unexpectedly into a meditation so concentrated and so profound that he seemed neither to hear, see, nor breathe. The sight of that man's complete absorption in thought was to Carter almost more surprising than any other occurrence of that night. Had his strange host vanished suddenly from before his eyes, it could not have made him feel more uncomfortably alone in that cabin where the pertinacious clock kept ticking off the useless minutes of the calm before it would, with the same steady beat, begin to measure the aimless disturbance of the storm.