H.M. Tomlinson.

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Macandrew interrupted him. "What? And you next on the list for Chief?
You're romantic, young man, and that means you're no engineer. Is there
a lot of money in it?"

"There isn't, but there's some life. I want to know what I'm made of.
Shall I ever learn it under you? Down below in the _Medea_ is like
winding up a clock and going to sleep. Do you know the _Cygnet_ has six
inches of freeboard?" He was talking to me, but kept glancing sideways
to see what effect this had on Macandrew. But Macandrew's broad back was
impassive.

"Six inches of freeboard, barring her false bulwarks of deal boards, and
she's going out to - I forget the name of the place, but I could show you
where it is within a hundred miles on a map that doesn't give its name.
It's up the Pondurucu."

Macandrew made no sign, and Hanson, his humour a little damped, spoke
more seriously. "I don't think she'll ever get there, but it will be
interesting to see where she stops, and why."

Macandrew heaved round on his junior. "There's drivel. It sounds well
from an engineer and a mathematician, doesn't it?" He turned away again.
"Supposing," he said, over his shoulder, "supposing you pull this ship
through all right, then where will you be? Any better off?"

"I think so," said Hanson. He couldn't talk to Macandrew's back, so he
bent over me and pointed a challenging finger at my necktie. "I've never
risked anything yet, not even my job. This is where I do it. It'll be
nice to attempt something when the odds are that you can't finish it, and
there's nothing much in it if you do. Why," he said, grinning at his
Chief's back, "if I were to stay with him I'd become so normal that I'd
slip into marriage and safety as a matter of course, and have to give up
everything."

"Who's in charge of this lunacy?" asked Macandrew. His voice was a
little truculent.

"All right, Chief. I shan't remember his name any the better because
you're annoyed with me. I haven't seen the skipper yet. I think I heard
him called Purdy."

"Purdy? Bill Purdy?" Macandrew was incredulous. "Do you know what
you've let yourself in for? If Purdy's got the job, I know why. Nobody
else would take it, and he's the last man, anyway, who ought to have it."

"What, drink?" asked Hanson.

"Lord, no. Not Purdy. No. It's the man himself. I've known him a long
time, and I like him, but he'll never do. He can't make up his mind to a
course. Don't you remember the _Campeachy_ case? I expect it was before
your time. Purdy had her. He was coming up-Channel, and got nervous
over the weather, and put into Portland for a pilot. There was no pilot.
So he decided to put out again and go on. It never occurred to him that
as he was in shelter he'd better stay there till a pilot arrived, because
getting out of that was exactly when he'd want one. He put her ashore.
That was like Purdy, to play for safety and make a wreck. When he got
over the fuss Lloyd's raised about it he refused to take command again
for some time. He couldn't even make up his mind whether he wanted a
ship at all."

Hanson listened to this with the air of one who was being reassured in a
doubtful enterprise.

"You mistake me, Chief," he said. "You are only improving my reasons for
going. Not only is the ship crank, but so is her skipper. Now tell me
. . ."

Macandrew frowned at his junior, and his curiously pale eyes became
distinctly inhuman. I believe he thought his counsel was being laughed
at. But the door opened, and he touched Hanson's arm. A little man of
middle age stood there, who turned, and actually prevented the doors from
swinging together with their usual announcement of another customer. For
only a moment he raised his downcast eyes to see who was there, and then
nodded sadly to Macandrew. His drooping moustache conformed to the
downward lines of his face, which was that of a man who had been long
observing life with understanding, and had not a lively opinion of it.

Macandrew's demeanour changed. It was now mild and almost affectionate
as he greeted the little man. "Come over here, Purdy, and tell us what
you've been doing. Here's Hanson, this young fellow. I hear he's
sailing with you. He's your Chief. You'd better know him."

Purdy raised his eyes in a grave and momentary survey, made to shake
hands with Hanson, but hesitated, and did so only because Hanson put out
his own great fist with decision. Purdy did not speak, except to say to
Hanson: "We're signing-on tomorrow. I'll meet you at the shipping office
then." He seemed to forget the pair of them, paused, and went to a far
vacant corner of the bar. The barmaid, as he got there, returned, and
stopped to say something to him.

"Well, I'm damned," muttered Macandrew. "Look here, Jessie," he cried,
"here's all us young men been waiting for nearly twenty minutes, and you
take no notice of us, but as soon as a captain looks across the counter,
there you are. But how did you know he was a captain? That's what I'd
like to know. He's only wearing a bowler hat."


2

The _Medea_ had been ordered unexpectedly to Barry for loading, to take
the place of an unready sister-ship; and Macandrew, of whom I have had
much experience, would be active, critical of what a dog must put up with
in life, and altogether unfit for intimate, amiable, and reminiscent
conversation. Yet I wanted to see him again before he left, and went
past the Board of Trade Office hoping for signs of the _Medea_, for I had
heard she was assembling a crew that morning. But the marine-store
shops, with their tarpaulin suits hanging outside open-armed and
oscillating, looked across to the men lounging against the
shipping-office railings, and the idlers stared across at the tarpaulins.
It did not appear to be a place where anything was destined to happen.
It merely looked like rain.

Macandrew might be inside with his crowd of firemen and greasers. Behind
the brass grille there a clerk, solitary and absorbed in his duties, bent
over a pile of ships' articles, and presented to the seamen in the public
space beyond him only the featureless shine of a bald head. The seamen,
scattered about in groups, shabby and listless, with a few of their
officers among them, were as sombre and subdued as though they had
learned life had nothing more to offer them, and they were present only
because they might as well use up the salvage of their days. The clerk
raised his head and questioned the men before him with a quick, inclusive
glance. "Any men here of the _Cygnet_?" he demanded. His voice, raised
in certainty above the casual murmuring of the repressed, made them all
as self-conscious and furtive as though discovered in guilt. Hanson's
head appeared above the crowd, as he rose from a bench and went to the
official. "I'm the engineer of the _Cygnet_. We're waiting for Captain
Purdy."

The clerk complained. He pulled out his watch. "He said he would be
ready for me at ten this morning. Now you've lost your turn, and there
are three other ships." He turned away in a manner which told every one
that Hanson had now become non-existent, pushed aside the _Cygnet's_
papers, and searched the room once more. "Ah, good morning, Captain
Hudson. You ready for me? Then I'll take you next." The captain went
around to stand beside the official, and his crew clustered on their side
of the bars, with their caps in their hands.

"A good start that," said Hanson to me. "Perhaps, after all, we never
shall start. Must be a rum chap, that Purdy."

He told me the _Medea's_ crowd was there, but perhaps Macandrew had
already signed, and so would not appear. That meant I might not see him
for another year; but as I left the office I found him coming up its
steps outside, and not as though there were the affairs of a month to be
got into two days, but in leisurely abstraction. He might have been
making up his mind that, after all, there was no need to call there, for
he was studying each step as if he were looking for the bottom of a
mystery. His fingers were twirling the little ivory pig he carries as a
charm on his watchguard. The pig is supposed to assist him when he is in
a difficulty. He raised his eyes.

"Anyhow," he despaired to me with irrelevance, "I can't do anything for
him."

I waited for the chance of a clue. "I thought," Macandrew quietly
soliloquized, "he knew better than that. He's been a failure, but all
the same, he's got a better head than most of us. She's sure to bring
him to grief."

"What's all this about?" I ventured.

"I've just been talking to Purdy. You remember what Hanson said of that
voyage he's making? Purdy is taking Jessie with him. You don't know
Purdy, but I do. And I know Jessie; but that's nothing."

"Taking her with him?" I asked; "but how. . . ."

"Oh, cook, of course. That'll be it. She'll be steward, naturally.
That's reasonable. You've seen her. Jessie's the sort of woman would
jump at the chance of such a pleasant trip, as cook."

"I don't understand. . . ."

"Who said you did? Nobody does but the pair of them. I know what
another man might see in Purdy. But a woman! He's middle-aged, quiet,
and looks tired. That woman is young and lively, and she'll be bored to
death with him on such a trip."

"But I thought you said . . ."

"What have I said? I've said nothing. Jessie's away to sea as cook.
Why not? I'm going inside. Are you coming in?"

Crossing the floor of the office, Hanson caught Macandrew's arm. "Your
lot are signing-on now." The master of the _Medea_ was round with the
official tallying the men by the ship's papers. "I see it," Macandrew
answered. "I've signed. I wanted to catch the old man before he began
that job."

"We're hung up for Purdy," Hanson told him. "Nobody seems to know where
he is." Hanson was amused.

"Yes. Well . . . he'll be here all right . . . and now this new job
which you think so funny, young Hanson. See it goes through. Presently
it won't be so funny. Hang on to it then."

Hanson was surprised by this, and a trifle hurt. He was beginning to
speak, making the usual preliminary adjustment of his spectacles, when a
movement near the door checked him. His hands remained at his glasses,
as if aiding his sight to certify the unbelievable.

"What's this?" he murmured. "Here's Purdy. Isn't that the _Negro Boy's_
barmaid with him . . . is she with him?" He continued to watch,
apparently for some sign that this coincidence of his captain and a
barmaid in a public office was designed.

The bent gaze of the master of the _Cygnet_ might have noticed the boots
of his engineer, for he took in the room no higher than that. Then he
came forward with his umbrella, still in contemplation. It might have
been no more than a coincidence. She, too, approached, a little behind
him, but obscuring his dull meagreness, for she was a head taller, and a
bold and challenging figure. Her blond hair distinguished her even more
than the emphasis of her florid hat. Her pallor that morning refined the
indubious coarseness of her face, and changed vulgarity into the
attractive originality of a spirited character. Many there knew her, but
she recognized nobody. She yawned once, in a fair piece of acting, and
in her movements and the poise of her head there was a disdain almost
plain enough to be insolence. Purdy turned to her, and the strange pair
conferred. I heard Hanson say to himself: "What on earth." She left
Purdy, bent her head with a gracious but stressed smile to Macandrew, and
went to the bench by the wall, where she sat, waiting, with her legs
crossed in a way that was a defiance and an attraction in such a place,
where a woman is rarely seen. She read a newspaper, perhaps because that
acted as a screen, though she turned its pages with a nervous abruptness
which betrayed her imitation of indifference.


3

The _Medea_ and the _Cygnet_, and the other ships I knew which carried
those whose fortunes were some concern of mine, might have sailed over
the edge of the world. My only communication was with an occasional
familiar name in the reports of the _Shipping List_. Then Macandrew came
home again. But it was difficult to meet him. Mrs. Macandrew told me he
was working by his ship in drydock. They had had trouble with the
engines that voyage, and she herself had seen little of him, except to
find him, when she came down of a morning, asleep in the drawing-room.
Just flung himself down in the first place, you know. In those greasy
overalls, too. He had told her the engine-room looked like a scrap-heap,
but the ship had to be ready for sea in ten days. Once he had worked
thirty-two hours on end. Think of that, and he had not been home for six
months. She would strongly advise any girl not to marry a man who went
to sea, and if I met Macandrew I was to bring him home at once. Did I
hear?

When I found the _Medea_ it was late in the day, for she was not in the
dry-dock that had been named. Her Chief had just gone ashore. There was
a chance that he would have called at the _Negro Boy_, but he had not
been seen there. Except for the landlord, who was at a table talking to
a stranger, the saloon was empty. A silk hat was on the table before the
stranger, beside a tankard, and the hat was surmounted by a pair of
neatly folded kid gloves. "Come over here," said the landlord. "Sit
here for a bit, Macandrew may come in. This is Dr. Maslin." A monocle
fell its length of black cord from the doctor's eye, and he nodded to me.

"The doctor used to be with me when I was running out East," explained
the landlord. "Where did you say you had come from now, Doctor? Oh,
yes, Tabacol. Funny name. I was never on the South American coast.
After I left you sick at Macassar, the last trip we had together - the old
_Siwalik_ - I left the sea to younger men. But there you are, Doctor.
Still at it. Why don't you give it up?"

The doctor did not answer, except to make a bubbling noise in his
tankard. He placed it on the table again delicately and deliberately,
and wiped his grizzled moustache with a crimson silk handkerchief. He
put up his monocle, and seemed to be intently inspecting a gas globe over
the counter. I thought his grimace in this concentration came from an
effort to reinforce his will against all curiosity on our part. But it
appeared he was really looking at what showed, at an angle, of a portrait
on the wall of an inner room. He could just see it, from where he sat.
Anyhow, the landlord imagined it was the portrait which had caught his
friend's interest. "Looking at that crayon portrait, Doctor? Ah, showy
woman, isn't she? Used to be barmaid here. The Lord knows where she is
now. Went to sea, like a fool. Stewardess, or something worse. Much
more useful here."

The doctor's seamed face, sour and ironic, made it impossible to know
whether his expression was one of undisguised boredom, or only his show
of conventional politeness. I began to feel I had broken into the
intimacy of two men whose minds were dissimilar, but friendly through old
associations, and that the doctor's finer wit was reproving me for an
intrusion. So I rose, and asked indifferently what sort of a place was
Tabacol. Had he been there before?

"Never," said the doctor, "nor is it the kind of place one wishes to see
twice. We were kept at Tabacol because so many of our men were down with
fever. It is a little distance up the Pondurucu River . . . maybe two
hundred miles. Did you say. . . ? No. It is not really out of the way.
An ocean steamer calls at Tabacol once a month or six weeks. It is only
on the edge of what romantic people call the unknown."

It was evident he thought I could be one of the romantic. He looked at
me for the first time, twisting the cord of his eyeglass with his finger
and thumb in a fastidious way, and I thought his glance was to dissipate
some doubt he had that he ought to be speaking to me at all. He dropped
the cord suddenly as if letting go his reserve, and said slyly, with a
grave smile: "Perhaps the romantic think the unknown is worth looking
into because it may be better than what they know. At Tabacol I used to
think the unknown country beyond it looked even duller than usual. There
was a forest, a river, a silence, and it was either day or night. That
was all. If the voice of Nature is the voice of God. . . ."

The landlord was observing in surprise this conversational excursion by
his old friend, as if it were altogether new to him. He laughed aloud,
and, putting a consoling hand on his friend's shoulder as he rose, he
told us he must leave us for a few minutes, for he had business. "Look
more cheerful before I get back, Doctor."

The doctor chuckled, and stretched across to give his gloves a more
satisfactory position on his hat. "I don't understand what it can be
that attracts people to such a place. Young men, maybe yourself even,
wish to go there. Isn't that so? Yes. I've met such men in such
places. Then they did not give me the impression that they were
satisfied with their romance. Impossible, of course. Romance is never
in the place unless we put it there, and who would put even a sentimental
dream into such a hole as Tabacol? Tropical squalor. Broken people!
I've never seen romance in such a place, and don't expect to. . . ."

Several cabs, on their way to a ship outward bound, made an increasing
noise in the night, rattled by on the cobbles outside, their occupants
roaring a sentimental chorus, and drowned what the doctor was saying.

". . . folly. Worse than folly." He was holding his gloves now, and was
lightly flicking the edge of the table with them in place of verbal
emphasis. He suddenly regarded me again as if he strongly suspected me
of being his antipathy. "Who but a fool would take a woman to such a
country as that? Any romantic sentimentalist, I suppose. I forget the
name of the ship. There was, you might say, hardly sufficient room to
paint a name on her. She was no more than a tug. It was a miracle she
survived to get there at all, for she had crossed from England. Crossed
the Western ocean in such a craft, and brought a woman with him. Did
ever you hear of such folly?"

Now I was certain of our whereabouts, and felt a weak inclination to show
an elder that I, too, knew something about it; but when I leaned forward
eagerly and was about to speak, the doctor screwed in that devastating
monocle, and I felt I was only a curious example of the sort of thing he
especially disliked. For a minute, in which I wondered if I had quite
stopped his guarded flow, he said no more. Then he addressed his
eyeglass to a panel of the partition, and flicked his gloves at that.

"I had noticed for some days that little craft lying near us, but gave
her no attention. I had sixteen men to attend to with complexions like
lemons, and one died. There was no time to bother with other folk's
troubles. Our skipper, one breakfast-time, told me there was a woman
aboard that little thing, and he'd been asked whether I'd go over. She
was ill.

"I've seen some queer packets of misery at sea, but never one that
touched that ship. Her skipper seemed a regular fool. I had to ask him
to speak up, for he mumbled like a boy who has been caught out, and knows
it is useless to pretend. I learned from him that he was only just
beginning his voyage. You understand? He was just beginning it, there.
He was going up-river, to a point not on the chart. I cannot make out
now whether he wanted to put that woman ashore to get home in comfort at
the first opportunity, or whether . . . it's impossible to say. One
would sooner believe the best of another man, with half a chance. After
all," said the doctor bitterly, "as long as the woman survived I suppose
she was some consolation in misery.

"I scrambled over the deck lumber. There was hardly room to move. I
found her in a cabin where she could get little seclusion from the crew.
Hardly any privacy at all, I should say. As soon as I saw her I could
make a guess . . . however, I told the fellow afterwards what I thought,
and he gave me no answer. He even turned his back on me. He must have
known well enough that that river was no place for any sort of white
woman. He was condemning her perhaps to death just to make an ugly job
more attractive.

"I admit," said the doctor, with a sly glance, "that she could make it
attractive, for a sort of man. She was wrapped in a rosy dressing-gown.
She held it together with her hands. I noticed them . . . anybody might
. . . they were covered with rings. She had character, too. She made me
feel, the way she looked at me, that I was indiscreet in asking personal
questions. I could see what was wrong with her. It was debility, but
all the same the beginning of an end not far off, in that country.

"'You'll have to get out of this,' I told her.

"'Can't be done, Doctor,' she said coolly.

"'It can. A liner for England will be here in another week, and you must
take it.'

"'I don't,' she said. She was quiet enough, but she seemed a very wilful
woman. 'I've got my job here.'

"I told her that the skipper of her ship would never carry out his
orders, because they could not be carried out. I told her, what was
perfectly true, that their craft would rot on a sandbar, or find
cataracts, or that they'd all get eaten by cannibals, or die of something
nasty. I admit I tried to frighten her.

"'It's no good, Doctor,' she said. 'You can't worry me. I've got my
work to do in this ship, like the others.'

"'Pooh!' I said to her. 'Cooking and that. Anybody could do it. Let
the men do it. It's not a woman's job.'

"'You're wrong,' she said. 'It's mine. You don't know.'

"I began to get annoyed with this stubborn creature. I told her she
would die, if she didn't leave the working of that ship to those who
ought to do it.

"'Who ought?' she asked me, in a bit of a temper. 'I know what I have to
do. I'm going through with it. It's no good talking. I'll take my
chance, like the rest.'

"So I had to tell her that I was there because the master of her ship had
sent for me to give my advice. My business was to say what she ought to
do.

"'I don't want to be told. I know,' she said. 'The captain sent for
you. Talk to him.'

"My temper was going, and I told her that it was something to know the
captain himself had enough sense to send for me.

"'Look here,' she told me. 'I've had enough of this. I want to be
alone. Thank you for troubling to come over.'"

The doctor lifted his shoulders, and made a wry face, that might have
been disdain or pity.

"I was leaving her, but she called to me, and I went back. She held out
her hand. 'I do thank you for troubling about me. Of course I do. But
I want to stay on here - I must.'

"'Well, you know the penalty,' I said. 'I was bound to tell you that.'

"'What of it?' she said, and laughed at me. 'We musn't bother about
penalties. Good-bye!'

"I must say she made me feel that if the skipper of that ship had been of
different metal, she might almost have pulled him through. But what a
man. What a man! I saw his miserable little figure standing not far
from where my boat was when I was going. He made as if he were coming to
me, and then stopped. I was going to take no notice of him, but went up
and explained a thing or two. I'll bet he'll remember them. All he said
was: 'I was afraid you'd never change her mind,' and turned away. What a
man! There was a pair for you. I could understand him, but what could
have been in her mind? Whatever made her talk like that? That's the way
of it. There's your romance of the tropics, and your squalid Garden of
Eden, when you know it. A monotonous and dreary job, and a woman."

The landlord returned. The monocle fixedly and significantly regarded
me. "Have another, Doctor," said the landlord, pointing to the empty
tankard. "How long were you in Macassar?" The doctor turned briskly to
his old friend, and began some chaff.


4

Ferguson, who had just come into port with a damaged propeller shaft, was
telling us how it was. This was his first expansive experience, and
there could be no doubt the engine-room staff of the _Torrington_ had
behaved very well. The underwriters had recognized that, and handsomely,
at a special meeting at Cornhill. Though Ferguson was young for a chief
engineer, his professional elders, who were listening to him, showed some
critical appreciation of the way he solved his problem. He was sitting


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