Far as the mariner on highest mast
Can see all around upon the calmed vast,
So wide was Neptune's hall . . .
THE main characteristic of this volume consists in
this, that all the stories composing it belong not only to the
same period but have been written one after another in the order
in which they appear in the book.
The period is that which follows on my connection with
Blackwood's Magazine. I had just finished writing "The End of
the Tether" and was casting about for some subject which could be
developed in a shorter form than the tales in the volume of
"Youth" when the instance of a steamship full of returning
coolies from Singapore to some port in northern China occurred to
my recollection. Years before I had heard it being talked about
in the East as a recent occurrence. It was for us merely one
subject of conversation amongst many others of the kind. Men
earning their bread in any very specialized occupation will talk
shop, not only because it is the most vital interest of their
lives but also because they have not much knowledge of other
subjects. They have never had the time to get acquainted with
them. Life, for most of us, is not so much a hard as an exacting
I never met anybody personally concerned in this affair, the
interest of which for us was, of course, not the bad weather but
the extraordinary complication brought into the ship's life at a
moment of exceptional stress by the human element below her deck.
Neither was the story itself ever enlarged upon in my hearing. In
that company each of us could imagine easily what the whole thing
was like. The financial difficulty of it, presenting also a
human problem, was solved by a mind much too simple to be
perplexed by anything in the world except men's idle talk for
which it was not adapted.
From the first the mere anecdote, the mere statement I might say,
that such a thing had happened on the high seas, appeared to me a
sufficient subject for meditation. Yet it was but a bit of a sea
yarn after all. I felt that to bring out its deeper significance
which was quite apparent to me, something other, something more
was required; a leading motive that would harmonize all these
violent noises, and a point of view that would put all that
elemental fury into its proper place.
What was needed of course was Captain MacWhirr. Directly I
perceived him I could see that he was the man for the situation.
I don't mean to say that I ever saw Captain MacWhirr in the
flesh, or had ever come in contact with his literal mind and his
dauntless temperament. MacWhirr is not an acquaintance of a few
hours, or a few weeks, or a few months. He is the product of
twenty years of life. My own life. Conscious invention had
little to do with him. If it is true that Captain MacWhirr never
walked and breathed on this earth (which I find for my part
extremely difficult to believe) I can also assure my readers that
he is perfectly authentic. I may venture to assert the same of
every aspect of the story, while I confess that the particular
typhoon of the tale was not a typhoon of my actual experience.
At its first appearance "Typhoon," the story, was classed by some
critics as a deliberately intended storm-piece. Others picked
out MacWhirr, in whom they perceived a definite symbolic
intention. Neither was exclusively my intention. Both the
typhoon and Captain MacWhirr presented themselves to me as the
necessities of the deep conviction with which I approached the
subject of the story. It was their opportunity. It was also my
opportunity; and it would be vain to discourse about what I made
of it in a handful of pages, since the pages themselves are here,
between the covers of this volume, to speak for themselves.
This is a belated reflection. If it had occurred to me before it
would have perhaps done away with the existence of this Author's
Note; for, indeed, the same remark applies to every story in this
volume. None of them are stories of experience in the absolute
sense of the word. Experience in them is but the canvas of the
attempted picture. Each of them has its more than one intention.
With each the question is what the writer has done with his
opportunity; and each answers the question for itself in words
which, if I may say so without undue solemnity, were written with
a conscientious regard for the truth of my own sensations. And
each of those stories, to mean something, must justify itself in
its own way to the conscience of each successive reader.
"Falk" -- the second story in the volume -- offended the delicacy
of one critic at least by certain peculiarities of its subject.
But what is the subject of "Falk"? I personally do not feel so
very certain about it. He who reads must find out for himself.
My intention in writing "Falk" was not to shock anybody. As in
most of my writings I insist not on the events but on their
effect upon the persons in the tale. But in everything I have
written there is always one invariable intention, and that is to
capture the reader's attention, by securing his interest and
enlisting his sympathies for the matter in hand, whatever it may
be, within the limits of the visible world and within the
boundaries of human emotions.
I may safely say that Falk is absolutely true to my experience of
certain straightforward characters combining a perfectly natural
ruthlessness with a certain amount of moral delicacy. Falk obeys
the law of self-preservation without the slightest misgivings as
to his right, but at a crucial turn of that ruthlessly preserved
life he will not condescend to dodge the truth. As he is
presented as sensitive enough to be affected permanently by a
certain unusual experience, that experience had to be set by me
before the reader vividly; but it is not the subject of the tale.
If we go by mere facts then the subject is Falk's attempt to get
married; in which the narrator of the tale finds himself
unexpectedly involved both on its ruthless and its delicate side.
"Falk" shares with one other of my stories ("The Return" in the
"Tales of Unrest" volume) the distinction of never having been
serialized. I think the copy was shown to the editor of some
magazine who rejected it indignantly on the sole ground that "the
girl never says anything." This is perfectly true. From first
to last Hermann's niece utters no word in the tale -- and it is
not because she is dumb, but for the simple reason that whenever
she happens to come under the observation of the narrator she has
either no occasion or is too profoundly moved to speak. The
editor, who obviously had read the story, might have perceived
that for himself. Apparently he did not, and I refrained from
pointing out the impossibility to him because, since he did not
venture to say that "the girl" did not live, I felt no concern at
All the other stories were serialized. The "Typhoon" appeared in
the early numbers of the Pall Mall Magazine, then under the
direction of the late Mr. Halkett. It was on that occasion, too,
that I saw for the first time my conceptions rendered by an
artist in another medium. Mr. Maurice Grieffenhagen knew how to
combine in his illustrations the effect of his own most
distinguished personal vision with an absolute fidelity to the
inspiration of the writer. "Amy Foster" was published in The
Illustrated London News with a fine drawing of Amy on her day out
giving tea to the children at her home, in a hat with a big
feather. "To-morrow" appeared first in the Pall Mall Magazine.
Of that story I will only say that it struck many people by its
adaptability to the stage and that I was induced to dramatize it
under the title of "One Day More"; up to the present my only
effort in that direction. I may also add that each of the four
stories on their appearance in book form was picked out on
various grounds as the "best of the lot" by different critics,
who reviewed the volume with a warmth of appreciation and
understanding, a sympathetic insight and a friendliness of
expression for which I cannot be sufficiently grateful.
1919. J. C.
CAPTAIN MACWHIRR, of the steamer Nan-Shan, had a physiognomy
that, in the order of material appearances, was the exact
counterpart of his mind: it presented no marked characteristics
of firmness or stupidity; it had no pronounced characteristics
whatever; it was simply ordinary, irresponsive, and unruffled.
The only thing his aspect might have been said to suggest, at
times, was bashfulness; because he would sit, in business offices
ashore, sunburnt and smiling faintly, with downcast eyes. When
he raised them, they were perceived to be direct in their glance
and of blue colour. His hair was fair and extremely fine,
clasping from temple to temple the bald dome of his skull in a
clamp as of fluffy silk. The hair of his face, on the contrary,
carroty and flaming, resembled a growth of copper wire clipped
short to the line of the lip; while, no matter how close he
shaved, fiery metallic gleams passed, when he moved his head,
over the surface of his cheeks. He was rather below the medium
height, a bit round-shouldered, and so sturdy of limb that his
clothes always looked a shade too tight for his arms and legs.
As if unable to grasp what is due to the difference of latitudes,
he wore a brown bowler hat, a complete suit of a brownish hue,
and clumsy black boots. These harbour togs gave to his thick
figure an air of stiff and uncouth smartness. A thin silver
watch chain looped his waistcoat, and he never left his ship for
the shore without clutching in his powerful, hairy fist an
elegant umbrella of the very best quality, but generally
unrolled. Young Jukes, the chief mate, attending his commander
to the gangway, would sometimes venture to say, with the greatest
gentleness, "Allow me, sir" -- and possessing himself of the
umbrella deferentially, would elevate the ferule, shake the
folds, twirl a neat furl in a jiffy, and hand it back; going
through the performance with a face of such portentous gravity,
that Mr. Solomon Rout, the chief engineer, smoking his morning
cigar over the skylight, would turn away his head in order to
hide a smile. "Oh! aye! The blessed gamp. . . . Thank 'ee,
Jukes, thank 'ee," would mutter Captain MacWhirr, heartily,
without looking up.
Having just enough imagination to carry him through each
successive day, and no more, he was tranquilly sure of himself;
and from the very same cause he was not in the least conceited.
It is your imaginative superior who is touchy, overbearing, and
difficult to please; but every ship Captain MacWhirr commanded
was the floating abode of harmony and peace. It was, in truth,
as impossible for him to take a flight of fancy as it would be
for a watchmaker to put together a chronometer with nothing
except a two-pound hammer and a whip-saw in the way of tools.
Yet the uninteresting lives of men so entirely given to the
actuality of the bare existence have their mysterious side. It
was impossible in Captain MacWhirr's case, for instance, to
understand what under heaven could have induced that perfectly
satisfactory son of a petty grocer in Belfast to run away to sea.
And yet he had done that very thing at the age of fifteen. It
was enough, when you thought it over, to give you the idea of an
immense, potent, and invisible hand thrust into the ant-heap of
the earth, laying hold of shoulders, knocking heads together, and
setting the unconscious faces of the multitude towards
inconceivable goals and in undreamt-of directions.
His father never really forgave him for this undutiful stupidity.
"We could have got on without him," he used to say later on, "but
there's the business. And he an only son, too!" His mother wept
very much after his disappearance. As it had never occurred to
him to leave word behind, he was mourned over for dead till,
after eight months, his first letter arrived from Talcahuano. It
was short, and contained the statement: "We had very fine weather
on our passage out." But evidently, in the writer's mind, the
only important intelligence was to the effect that his captain
had, on the very day of writing, entered him regularly on the
ship's articles as Ordinary Seaman. "Because I can do the work,"
he explained. The mother again wept copiously, while the remark,
"Tom's an ass," expressed the emotions of the father. He was a
corpulent man, with a gift for sly chaffing, which to the end of
his life he exercised in his intercourse with his son, a little
pityingly, as if upon a half-witted person.
MacWhirr's visits to his home were necessarily rare, and in the
course of years he despatched other letters to his parents,
informing them of his successive promotions and of his movements
upon the vast earth. In these missives could be found sentences
like this: "The heat here is very great." Or: "On Christmas day
at 4 P. M. we fell in with some icebergs." The old people
ultimately became acquainted with a good many names of ships, and
with the names of the skippers who commanded them -- with the
names of Scots and English shipowners -- with the names of seas,
oceans, straits, promontories -- with outlandish names of
lumber-ports, of rice-ports, of cotton-ports -- with the names of
islands -- with the name of their son's young woman. She was
called Lucy. It did not suggest itself to him to mention whether
he thought the name pretty. And then they died.
The great day of MacWhirr's marriage came in due course,
following shortly upon the great day when he got his first
All these events had taken place many years before the morning
when, in the chart-room of the steamer Nan-Shan, he stood
confronted by the fall of a barometer he had no reason to
distrust. The fall -- taking into account the excellence of the
instrument, the time of the year, and the ship's position on the
terrestrial globe -- was of a nature ominously prophetic; but the
red face of the man betrayed no sort of inward disturbance.
Omens were as nothing to him, and he was unable to discover the
message of a prophecy till the fulfilment had brought it home to
his very door. "That's a fall, and no mistake," he thought.
"There must be some uncommonly dirty weather knocking about."
The Nan-Shan was on her way from the southward to the treaty port
of Fu-chau, with some cargo in her lower holds, and two hundred
Chinese coolies returning to their village homes in the province
of Fo-kien, after a few years of work in various tropical
colonies. The morning was fine, the oily sea heaved without a
sparkle, and there was a queer white misty patch in the sky like
a halo of the sun. The fore-deck, packed with Chinamen, was full
of sombre clothing, yellow faces, and pigtails, sprinkled over
with a good many naked shoulders, for there was no wind, and the
heat was close. The coolies lounged, talked, smoked, or stared
over the rail; some, drawing water over the side, sluiced each
other; a few slept on hatches, while several small parties of six
sat on their heels surrounding iron trays with plates of rice and
tiny teacups; and every single Celestial of them was carrying
with him all he had in the world -- a wooden chest with a ringing
lock and brass on the corners, containing the savings of his
labours: some clothes of ceremony, sticks of incense, a little
opium maybe, bits of nameless rubbish of conventional value, and
a small hoard of silver dollars, toiled for in coal lighters, won
in gambling-houses or in petty trading, grubbed out of earth,
sweated out in mines, on railway lines, in deadly jungle, under
heavy burdens -- amassed patiently, guarded with care, cherished
A cross swell had set in from the direction of Formosa Channel
about ten o'clock, without disturbing these passengers much,
because the Nan-Shan, with her flat bottom, rolling chocks on
bilges, and great breadth of beam, had the reputation of an
exceptionally steady ship in a sea-way. Mr. Jukes, in moments of
expansion on shore, would proclaim loudly that the "old girl was
as good as she was pretty." It would never have occurred to
Captain MacWhirr to express his favourable opinion so loud or in
terms so fanciful.
She was a good ship, undoubtedly, and not old either. She had
been built in Dumbarton less than three years before, to the
order of a firm of merchants in Siam -Messrs. Sigg and Son. When
she lay afloat, finished in every detail and ready to take up the
work of her life, the builders contemplated her with pride.
"Sigg has asked us for a reliable skipper to take her out,"
remarked one of the partners; and the other, after reflecting for
a while, said: "I think MacWhirr is ashore just at present." "Is
he? Then wire him at once. He's the very man," declared the
senior, without a moment's hesitation.
Next morning MacWhirr stood before them unperturbed, having
travelled from London by the midnight express after a sudden but
undemonstrative parting with his wife. She was the daughter of a
superior couple who had seen better days.
"We had better be going together over the ship, Captain," said
the senior partner; and the three men started to view the
perfections of the Nan-Shan from stem to stern, and from her
keelson to the trucks of her two stumpy pole-masts.
Captain MacWhirr had begun by taking off his coat, which he hung
on the end of a steam windless embodying all the latest
"My uncle wrote of you favourably by yesterday's mail to our good
friends -- Messrs. Sigg, you know -and doubtless they'll continue
you out there in command," said the junior partner. "You'll be
able to boast of being in charge of the handiest boat of her size
on the coast of China, Captain," he added.
"Have you? Thank 'ee," mumbled vaguely MacWhirr, to whom the
view of a distant eventuality could appeal no more than the
beauty of a wide landscape to a purblind tourist; and his eyes
happening at the moment to be at rest upon the lock of the cabin
door, he walked up to it, full of purpose, and began to rattle
the handle vigorously, while he observed, in his low, earnest
voice, "You can't trust the workmen nowadays. A brand-new lock,
and it won't act at all. Stuck fast. See? See?"
As soon as they found themselves alone in their office across the
yard: "You praised that fellow up to Sigg. What is it you see in
him?" asked the nephew, with faint contempt.
"I admit he has nothing of your fancy skipper about him, if
that's what you mean," said the elder man, curtly. "Is the
foreman of the joiners on the Nan-Shan outside? . . . Come in,
Bates. How is it that you let Tait's people put us off with a
defective lock on the cabin door? The Captain could see directly
he set eye on it. Have it replaced at once. The little straws,
Bates . . . the little straws. . . ."
The lock was replaced accordingly, and a few days afterwards the
Nan-Shan steamed out to the East, without MacWhirr having offered
any further remark as to her fittings, or having been heard to
utter a single word hinting at pride in his ship, gratitude for
his appointment, or satisfaction at his prospects.
With a temperament neither loquacious nor taciturn he found very
little occasion to talk. There were matters of duty, of course
-- directions, orders, and so on; but the past being to his mind
done with, and the future not there yet, the more general
actualities of the day required no comment -- because facts can
speak for themselves with overwhelming precision.
Old Mr. Sigg liked a man of few words, and one that "you could be
sure would not try to improve upon his instructions." MacWhirr
satisfying these requirements, was continued in command of the
Nan-Shan, and applied himself to the careful navigation of his
ship in the China seas. She had come out on a British register,
but after some time Messrs. Sigg judged it expedient to transfer
her to the Siamese flag.
At the news of the contemplated transfer Jukes grew restless, as
if under a sense of personal affront. He went about grumbling to
himself, and uttering short scornful laughs. "Fancy having a
ridiculous Noah's Ark elephant in the ensign of one's ship," he
said once at the engine-room door. "Dash me if I can stand it:
I'll throw up the billet. Don't it make you sick, Mr. Rout?"
The chief engineer only cleared his throat with the air of a man
who knows the value of a good billet.
The first morning the new flag floated over the stern of the
Nan-Shan Jukes stood looking at it bitterly from the bridge. He
struggled with his feelings for a while, and then remarked,
"Queer flag for a man to sail under, sir."
"What's the matter with the flag?" inquired Captain MacWhirr.
"Seems all right to me." And he walked across to the end of the
bridge to have a good look.
"Well, it looks queer to me," burst out Jukes, greatly
exasperated, and flung off the bridge.
Captain MacWhirr was amazed at these manners. After a while he
stepped quietly into the chart-room, and opened his International
Signal Code-book at the plate where the flags of all the nations
are correctly figured in gaudy rows. He ran his finger over
them, and when he came to Siam he contemplated with great
attention the red field and the white elephant. Nothing could be
more simple; but to make sure he brought the book out on the
bridge for the purpose of comparing the coloured drawing with the
real thing at the flagstaff astern. When next Jukes, who was
carrying on the duty that day with a sort of suppressed
fierceness, happened on the bridge, his commander observed:
"There's nothing amiss with that flag."
"Isn't there?" mumbled Jukes, falling on his knees before a
deck-locker and jerking therefrom viciously a spare lead-line.
"No. I looked up the book. Length twice the breadth and the
elephant exactly in the middle. I thought the people ashore
would know how to make the local flag. Stands to reason. You
were wrong, Jukes. . . ."
"Well, sir," began Jukes, getting up excitedly, "all I can say
--" He fumbled for the end of the coil of line with trembling
"That's all right." Captain MacWhirr soothed him, sitting
heavily on a little canvas folding-stool he greatly affected.
"All you have to do is to take care they don't hoist the elephant
upside-down before they get quite used to it."
Jukes flung the new lead-line over on the fore-deck with a loud
"Here you are, bo'ss'en -- don't forget to wet it thoroughly,"
and turned with immense resolution towards his commander; but
Captain MacWhirr spread his elbows on the bridge-rail
"Because it would be, I suppose, understood as a signal of
distress," he went on. "What do you think? That elephant there,
I take it, stands for something in the nature of the Union Jack
in the flag. . . ."
"Does it!" yelled Jukes, so that every head on the Nan-Shan's
decks looked towards the bridge. Then he sighed, and with sudden
resignation: "It would certainly be a dam' distressful sight," he
Later in the day he accosted the chief engineer with a
confidential, "Here, let me tell you the old man's latest."
Mr. Solomon Rout (frequently alluded to as Long Sol, Old Sol, or
Father Rout), from finding himself almost invariably the tallest
man on board every ship he joined, had acquired the habit of a
stooping, leisurely condescension. His hair was scant and sandy,
his flat cheeks were pale, his bony wrists and long scholarly
hands were pale, too, as though he had lived all his life in the
He smiled from on high at Jukes, and went on smoking and glancing
about quietly, in the manner of a kind uncle lending an ear to
the tale of an excited schoolboy. Then, greatly amused but
impassive, he asked:
"And did you throw up the billet?"
"No," cried Jukes, raising a weary, discouraged voice above the
harsh buzz of the Nan-Shan's friction winches. All of them were
hard at work, snatching slings of cargo, high up, to the end of
long derricks, only, as it seemed, to let them rip down
recklessly by the run. The cargo chains groaned in the gins,
clinked on coamings, rattled over the side; and the whole ship
quivered, with her long gray flanks smoking in wreaths of steam.
"No," cried Jukes, "I didn't. What's the good? I might just as
well fling my resignation at this bulkhead. I don't believe you
can make a man like that understand anything. He simply knocks
At that moment Captain MacWhirr, back from the shore, crossed the
deck, umbrella in hand, escorted by a mournful, self-possessed
Chinaman, walking behind in paper-soled silk shoes, and who also
carried an umbrella.
The master of the Nan-Shan, speaking just audibly and gazing at
his boots as his manner was, remarked that it would be necessary
to call at Fu-chau this trip, and desired Mr. Rout to have steam
up to-morrow afternoon at one o'clock sharp. He pushed back his
hat to wipe his forehead, observing at the same time that he
hated going ashore anyhow; while overtopping him Mr. Rout,
without deigning a word, smoked austerely, nursing his right
elbow in the palm of his left hand. Then Jukes was directed in
the same subdued voice to keep the forward 'tween-deck clear of
cargo. Two hundred coolies were going to be put down there. The
Bun Hin Company were sending that lot home. Twenty-five bags of
rice would be coming off in a sampan directly, for stores. All
seven-years'-men they were, said Captain MacWhirr, with a
camphor-wood chest to every man. The carpenter should be set to
work nailing three-inch battens along the deck below, fore and
aft, to keep these boxes from shifting in a sea-way. Jukes had
better look to it at once. "D'ye hear, Jukes?" This chinaman
here was coming with the ship as far as Fu-chau -- a sort of
interpreter he would be. Bun Hin's clerk he was, and wanted to
have a look at the space. Jukes had better take him forward.
"D'ye hear, Jukes?"
Jukes took care to punctuate these instructions in proper places
with the obligatory "Yes, sir," ejaculated without enthusiasm.
His brusque "Come along, John; make look see" set the Chinaman in
motion at his heels.
"Wanchee look see, all same look see can do," said Jukes, who
having no talent for foreign languages mangled the very
pidgin-English cruelly. He pointed at the open hatch. "Catchee
number one piecie place to sleep in. Eh?"
He was gruff, as became his racial superiority, but not
unfriendly. The Chinaman, gazing sad and speechless into the
darkness of the hatchway, seemed to stand at the head of a
"No catchee rain down there -- savee?" pointed out Jukes.
"Suppose all'ee same fine weather, one piecie coolie-man come
topside," he pursued, warming up imaginatively. "Make so --
Phooooo!" He expanded his chest and blew out his cheeks.
"Savee, John? Breathe -- fresh air. Good. Eh? Washee him
piecie pants, chow-chow top-side -- see, John?"
With his mouth and hands he made exuberant motions of eating rice
and washing clothes; and the Chinaman, who concealed his distrust
of this pantomime under a collected demeanour tinged by a gentle
and refined melancholy, glanced out of his almond eyes from Jukes
to the hatch and back again. "Velly good," he murmured, in a
disconsolate undertone, and hastened smoothly along the decks,
dodging obstacles in his course. He disappeared, ducking low
under a sling of ten dirty gunny-bags full of some costly
merchandise and exhaling a repulsive smell.
Captain MacWhirr meantime had gone on the bridge, and into the
chart-room, where a letter, commenced two days before, awaited
termination. These long letters began with the words, "My
darling wife," and the steward, between the scrubbing of the
floors and the dusting of chronometer-boxes, snatched at every
opportunity to read them. They interested him much more than
they possibly could the woman for whose eye they were intended;
and this for the reason that they related in minute detail each
successive trip of the Nan-Shan.
Her master, faithful to facts, which alone his consciousness
reflected, would set them down with painstaking care upon many
pages. The house in a northern suburb to which these pages were
addressed had a bit of garden before the bow-windows, a deep
porch of good appearance, coloured glass with imitation lead
frame in the front door. He paid five-and-forty pounds a year
for it, and did not think the rent too high, because Mrs.
MacWhirr (a pretentious person with a scraggy neck and a
disdainful manner) was admittedly ladylike, and in the
neighbourhood considered as "quite superior." The only secret of
her life was her abject terror of the time when her husband would
come home to stay for good. Under the same roof there dwelt also
a daughter called Lydia and a son, Tom. These two were but
slightly acquainted with their father. Mainly, they knew him as a
rare but privileged visitor, who of an evening smoked his pipe in
the dining-room and slept in the house. The lanky girl, upon the
whole, was rather ashamed of him; the boy was frankly and utterly
indifferent in a straightforward, delightful, unaffected way
manly boys have.
And Captain MacWhirr wrote home from the coast of China twelve
times every year, desiring quaintly to be "remembered to the
children," and subscribing himself "your loving husband," as
calmly as if the words so long used by so many men were, apart
from their shape, worn-out things, and of a faded meaning.
The China seas north and south are narrow seas. They are seas
full of every-day, eloquent facts, such as islands, sand-banks,
reefs, swift and changeable currents -- tangled facts that
nevertheless speak to a seaman in clear and definite language.
Their speech appealed to Captain MacWhirr's sense of realities so
forcibly that he had given up his state-room below and
practically lived all his days on the bridge of his ship, often
having his meals sent up, and sleeping at night in the
chart-room. And he indited there his home letters. Each of
them, without exception, contained the phrase, "The weather has
been very fine this trip," or some other form of a statement to
that effect. And this statement, too, in its wonderful
persistence, was of the same perfect accuracy as all the others
Mr. Rout likewise wrote letters; only no one on board knew how
chatty he could be pen in hand, because the chief engineer had
enough imagination to keep his desk locked. His wife relished
his style greatly. They were a childless couple, and Mrs. Rout,
a big, high-bosomed, jolly woman of forty, shared with Mr. Rout's
toothless and venerable mother a little cottage near Teddington.
She would run over her correspondence, at breakfast, with lively
eyes, and scream out interesting passages in a joyous voice at
the deaf old lady, prefacing each extract by the warning shout,
"Solomon says!" She had the trick of firing off Solomon's
utterances also upon strangers, astonishing them easily by the
unfamiliar text and the unexpectedly jocular vein of these
quotations. On the day the new curate called for the first time
at the cottage, she found occasion to remark, "As Solomon says:
'the engineers that go down to the sea in ships behold the
wonders of sailor nature';" when a change in the visitor's
countenance made her stop and stare.
"Solomon. . . . Oh! . . . Mrs. Rout," stuttered the young man,
very red in the face, "I must say . . . I don't. . . ."
"He's my husband," she announced in a great shout, throwing
herself back in the chair. Perceiving the joke, she laughed
immoderately with a handkerchief to her eyes, while he sat
wearing a forced smile, and, from his inexperience of jolly
women, fully persuaded that she must be deplorably insane. They
were excellent friends afterwards; for, absolving her from
irreverent intention, he came to think she was a very worthy
person indeed; and he learned in time to receive without
flinching other scraps of Solomon's wisdom.
"For my part," Solomon was reported by his wife to have said
once, "give me the dullest ass for a skipper before a rogue.
There is a way to take a fool; but a rogue is smart and
slippery." This was an airy generalization drawn from the
particular case of Captain MacWhirr's honesty, which, in itself,
had the heavy obviousness of a lump of clay. On the other hand,
Mr. Jukes, unable to generalize, unmarried, and unengaged, was in
the habit of opening his heart after another fashion to an old
chum and former shipmate, actually serving as second officer on
board an Atlantic liner.
First of all he would insist upon the advantages of the Eastern
trade, hinting at its superiority to the Western ocean service.
He extolled the sky, the seas, the ships, and the easy life of
the Far East. The NanShan, he affirmed, was second to none as a
"We have no brass-bound uniforms, but then we are like brothers
here," he wrote. "We all mess together and live like
fighting-cocks. . . . All the chaps of the black-squad are as
decent as they make that kind, and old Sol, the Chief, is a dry
stick. We are good friends. As to our old man, you could not
find a quieter skipper. Sometimes you would think he hadn't
sense enough to see anything wrong. And yet it isn't that. Can't
be. He has been in command for a good few years now. He doesn't
do anything actually foolish, and gets his ship along all right
without worrying anybody. I believe he hasn't brains enough to
enjoy kicking up a row. I don't take advantage of him. I would
scorn it. Outside the routine of duty he doesn't seem to
understand more than half of what you tell him. We get a laugh
out of this at times; but it is dull, too, to be with a man like
this -- in the long-run. Old Sol says he hasn't much
conversation. Conversation! O Lord! He never talks. The other
day I had been yarning under the bridge with one of the
engineers, and he must have heard us. When I came up to take my
watch, he steps out of the chart-room and has a good look all
round, peeps over at the sidelights, glances at the compass,
squints upward at the stars. That's his regular performance.
By-and-by he says: 'Was that you talking just now in the port
alleyway?' 'Yes, sir.' 'With the third engineer?' 'Yes, sir.'
He walks off to starboard, and sits under the dodger on a little
campstool of his, and for half an hour perhaps he makes no sound,
except that I heard him sneeze once. Then after a while I hear
him getting up over there, and he strolls across to port, where I
was. 'I can't understand what you can find to talk about,' says
he. 'Two solid hours. I am not blaming you. I see people ashore
at it all day long, and then in the evening they sit down and
keep at it over the drinks. Must be saying the same things over
and over again. I can't understand.'
"Did you ever hear anything like that? And he was so patient
about it. It made me quite sorry for him. But he is
exasperating, too, sometimes. Of course one would not do
anything to vex him even if it were worth while. But it isn't.
He's so jolly innocent that if you were to put your thumb to your
nose and wave your fingers at him he would only wonder gravely to
himself what got into you. He told me once quite simply that he
found it very difficult to make out what made people always act
so queerly. He's too dense to trouble about, and that's the
Thus wrote Mr. Jukes to his chum in the Western ocean trade, out
of the fulness of his heart and the liveliness of his fancy.
He had expressed his honest opinion. It was not worthwhile
trying to impress a man of that sort. If the world had been full
of such men, life would have probably appeared to Jukes an
unentertaining and unprofitable business. He was not alone in
his opinion. The sea itself, as if sharing Mr. Jukes'
good-natured forbearance, had never put itself out to startle the
silent man, who seldom looked up, and wandered innocently over
the waters with the only visible purpose of getting food,
raiment, and house-room for three people ashore. Dirty weather he
had known, of course. He had been made wet, uncomfortable, tired
in the usual way, felt at the time and presently forgotten. So
that upon the whole he had been justified in reporting fine
weather at home. But he had never been given a glimpse of
immeasurable strength and of immoderate wrath, the wrath that
passes exhausted but never appeased -- the wrath and fury of the
passionate sea. He knew it existed, as we know that crime and
abominations exist; he had heard of it as a peaceable citizen in
a town hears of battles, famines, and floods, and yet knows
nothing of what these things mean -- though, indeed, he may have
been mixed up in a street row, have gone without his dinner once,
or been soaked to the skin in a shower. Captain MacWhirr had
sailed over the surface of the oceans as some men go skimming
over the years of existence to sink gently into a placid grave,
ignorant of life to the last, without ever having been made to
see all it may contain of perfidy, of violence, and of terror.
There are on sea and land such men thus fortunate -- or thus
disdained by destiny or by the sea.