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On my right hand there were lines of fishing stakes resembling 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 forever 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. 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. There must have been some glare in the air to interfere 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 something which did away with the solemnity of perfect solitude. He raised sharply his simple face, overcharged by a terrible growth of whisker, and emitted his usual ejaculations: “Bless my soul, sir! 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. 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. 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. Arrived at that comforting conclusion, I bethought myself of a cigar and went below to get it. 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.
Not from compunction certainly, but, as it were mechanically, I proceeded to get the ladder in myself. The side of the ship made an opaque belt of shadow on the darkling glassy shimmer of the sea. 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. 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. He seemed to struggle with himself, for I heard something like the low, bitter murmur of doubt.
I felt this was no mere formula of desperate speech, but a real alternative in the view of a strong soul. The shadowy, dark head, like mine, seemed to nod imperceptibly above the ghostly gray of my sleeping suit. One of my hands, too, rested on the end of the skylight; neither did I stir a limb, so far as I knew. 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. 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.
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. He had turned about meantime; and we, the two strangers in the ship, faced each other in identical attitudes. 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. 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 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. 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.
By this time we were seated in the cabin and the steward brought in a tray with a bottle and glasses. As he persisted in his mumbling and I wanted my double to hear every word, I hit upon the notion of informing him that I regretted to say I was hard of hearing. 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. I had become so connected in thoughts and impressions with the secret sharer of my cabin that I felt as if I, personally, 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. He mumbled something which I really did not catch, and I turned my ear to him in a puzzled manner.
My lack of excitement, of curiosity, of surprise, of any sort of pronounced interest, began to arouse his distrust. I had an idea of what he meant to say, and just saved myself by the privilege of defective hearing. The steward being engaged in laying the table for dinner, we could talk only with our eyes when I first went down. But I had no leisure to weigh the merits of the matter—footsteps in the saloon, a heavy knock.
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.
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. 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. My object was attained, as of course my other self in there would have heard everything that passed. We remained side by side talking in our secret way—but sometimes silent or just exchanging a whispered word or two at long intervals. At midnight I went on deck, and to my mate’s great surprise put the ship round on the other tack. At noon I gave 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. The stare of extreme surprise imparted an air of ferocity also to his eyes, and he looked truly terrific for a moment. He looked thoughtfully at the chart as if surveying chances and distances from a lofty height—and following 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. 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.
A little before supper, feeling more restless than ever, I rejoined, for a moment, my second self. 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 westering sun shone smoothly, without that animated glitter which tells of an imperceptible ripple. For the last two days the crew had had plenty of hard work, and the night before they had very little sleep.
Fast alongside 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. 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. 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. 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.
The phosphorescence flashed in the swirl of the water all about his limbs, his other hand seized the ladder.
I should have gathered from this that he was young; indeed, it is only the young who are ever confronted by such clear issues. His expression 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. It was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a somber and immense mirror.
And I knew well enough the pestiferous danger of such a character where there are no means of legal repression.
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. Not much,” he assented, sleepily, in his hoarse voice, with just enough deference, no more, and barely suppressing a yawn. 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 recessed part. 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 had been appointed to take charge while I least expected anything of the sort, not quite a fortnight ago. 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. I took a bath and did most of my dressing, splashing, and whistling softly for the steward’s edification, 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 frown.
He was not exactly a showy figure; his shoulders were high, his stature but middling—one leg slightly more bandy than the other.
There he was on the other side of the bulkhead, four or five feet from us, no more, as we sat in the saloon. 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 similitude to the young fellow he had distrusted and disliked from the first. Necessity, they say, is mother of invention, but fear, too, is not barren of ingenious suggestions. I got up, shut the door of the bathroom, and invited him to have a look round, as if I were very proud of my accommodation. Four fellows came running out from somewhere forward and went over the side, while my own men, appearing on deck too, lined the rail. 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.
I felt I was producing a bad impression, but with my double down there it was most trying to be on deck. 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. I was so identified with my secret double that I did not even mention the fact in those scanty, fearful whispers we exchanged. 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.


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.
He was very slow about it; but I dominated my nervousness sufficiently not to shout after him. But what he was alluding to was his old captain’s reluctant admission of the theory of suicide. 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 sentiment, a sort of cowardice. On 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.
All that afternoon he wore a dreamy, contemplative appearance which in him was a mark of perplexity. I know he popped into the mate’s cabin to impart the fact to him because 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. 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 enormous dome of the sky. 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. But, with all that multitude of celestial bodies staring down at one, the comfort of quiet communion with her was gone for good.
I felt painfully that I—a stranger—was doing something unusual when I directed him to let all hands turn in without setting an anchor watch.
Now, as she lay cleared for sea, the stretch of her main-deck seemed to me very fine under the stars. I became annoyed at this, for exactitude in some small matters is the very soul of discipline. What the devil!… I was so astounded by the immovableness of that ladder that I remained stock-still, trying to account for it to myself like that imbecile mate of mine. 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.
The second mate’s door was on the hook, but the darkness in there was absolutely soundless.
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. But anyone opening it, unless he stepped right inside, had no view of what I call the long (or vertical) part of the letter. 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 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. I watched him coming with a smile which, as he got into point-blank range, took effect and froze his very whiskers.
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. 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.
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 had felt utterly incapable of playing the part of ignorance properly, and therefore was afraid to try.
He had to rise and be shown round, but he went through the business without any raptures whatever. 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.
I pointed to the recessed part where the little campstool awaited him and laid my finger on my lips. 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.
This was the sort of thing that made my terrifically whiskered mate tap his forehead with his forefinger. Suddenly I became aware (it could be heard plainly enough) that the fellow for some reason or other was opening the door of the bathroom.
After a while, when sufficiently recovered to speak in a steady voice, I instructed my mate to put the ship round at eight o’clock himself. But of his coming there was an explanation, whereas his disappearance would be inexplicable….
It would obviously serve his turn—if I had understood at all the view which seemed to govern the unalterable purpose of his action. 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. Unknown to trade, to travel, almost to geography, the manner of life they harbor is an unsolved secret. I had been so worried and restless running up and down that I had not had the patience to dress that day.
Not knowing his crew ahead of time except for the previous night, he struggles to see if he can life up to the authorty role that is a must among captains. Corresponding in their insignificance 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. In this breathless pause at the threshold 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 for judges. 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.
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.
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. It was inconceivable that he should not attempt to come on board, and strangely troubling to suspect that perhaps he did not want to.
A mysterious communication was established already between us two—in the face of that silent, darkened tropical sea.
I did not think of asking him for details, and he told me the story roughly in brusque, disconnected sentences. The only sail we had left to keep the ship running; so you may guess what it had been like for days.
Two bunches of bananas hung from the beam symmetrically, one on each side of the rudder casing.
It contained some lockers surmounted by a bookcase; and a few clothes, a thick jacket or two, caps, oilskin coat, and such like, hung on hooks.
And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly as I used to look in that bed. 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 almost to the point of insanity. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. He made a gesture—somewhat vague—a little mysterious, accompanied by a faint smile, as if of regret.
At the sound of my voice he nearly jumped out of his skin, as the saying is, and incidentally broke a cup. Sitting stolidly at the head of the table I became terrified at the sight of the garment on his arm.
I had detected him using that gesture while talking on deck with a confidential air to the carpenter. I went slowly into my dark room, shut the door, lighted the lamp, and for a time dared not turn round.
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.
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.
The Secret Sharer is a an excellent book for those who are interested in novels dealing with the sea and also those who are fans of the writings of Joseph Conrad. 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. In consequence of certain events of no particular significance, except to myself, I had been appointed to the command only a fortnight 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. 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. Only as I passed the door of the forecastle, I heard a deep, quiet, trustful sigh of some sleeper inside.
I asked myself whether it was wise ever to interfere with the established routine of duties even from the kindest of motives. There was at the bottom of that part a door opening into my bathroom, which could be entered also directly from the saloon. 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 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.
And yet, haggard as he appeared, he looked always perfectly self-controlled, more than calm—almost invulnerable.
It was too far to hear a word, but I had no doubt that this pantomime could only refer to the strange new captain. 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 group. 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. 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. 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. All its phases were familiar enough to me, every characteristic, all the alternatives which were likely to face me on the high seas—everything!… except the novel responsibility of command. And suddenly I rejoiced in the great security of the sea as compared with the unrest of the land, in my choice of that untempted life presenting no disquieting problems, invested with an elementary moral beauty by the absolute straightforwardness of its appeal and by the singleness of its purpose. The man in the water began suddenly to climb up the ladder, and I hastened away from the rail to fetch some clothes.
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. 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. 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. He had to sit still on a small folding stool, half smothered by the heavy coats hanging there.
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. That mental feeling of being in two places at once affected me physically as if the mood of secrecy had penetrated my very soul. On my suggestion he remained almost entirely in the bathroom, which, upon the whole, was the safest place. It would not be true to say I had a shock, but an irresistible doubt of his bodily existence flitted through my mind. 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. All these people had been together for eighteen months or so, and my position was that of the only stranger on board. 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 surprises expressly for my discomfiture. 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. He was one of those creatures that are just simmering all the time with a silly sort of wickedness. You’ll say I might have chucked him aside and bolted out, there and then—it was dark already.
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.
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. 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….
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. There could be really no shadow of an excuse for anyone ever wanting to go in there, once the steward had done with it. I expected to hear a yell of surprise and terror, and made a movement, but had not the strength to get on my legs.
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. I felt that it would take very little to make me a suspect person in the eyes of the ship’s company.
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. 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.
Therefore she went into that natural harbor to wait for a few days in preference to remaining in an open roadstead. At that I suppose he raised up his face, a dimly pale oval in the shadow of the ship’s side.
Motionless, with a grave face, he raised his hands slightly at me in a gesture which meant clearly, “Heavens! The youngest man on board (barring the second mate), and untried as yet by a position of the fullest responsibility, I was willing to take the adequacy of the others for granted.
There would have been a rush to stop me at the noise, and I did not mean to get into a confounded scrimmage. 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. 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. A grave, preoccupied manner, as though he were in possession of some perplexing intelligence, did not leave him henceforth.
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.
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 sideboard. However, it was enough for the horrid, frost-bound sensation which had gripped me about the chest to pass off. 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. It was a relief to discover suddenly that it was not in my head at all, but on the outside 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. From its novelty to him and from its nature, punctilious courtesy was the manner best calculated to restrain the man. 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. 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.
I think I had come creeping quietly as near insanity as any man who has not actually gone over the border. 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. 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 alongside. 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!
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. I could not, I think, have met him by a direct lie, also for psychological (not moral) reasons. 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.
My early-morning coffee he always drank; and it was all I dared do for him in that respect.
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. A certain order should spring on to his lips without thinking; a certain sign should get itself made, so to speak, without reflection. 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.
He must have wondered why I had drawn the curtains of my bed before going to sleep on the couch.
It’s clear that I meant business, because I was holding him by the throat still when they picked us up. 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 the ship running 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. 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 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.
I wonder they didn’t fling me overboard after getting the carcass of their precious shipmate out of my fingers.
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.



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