About the Author
Joseph Conrad, born of Polish parents in the Russian
Ukraine, began a seafaring life in 1874. He learnt
English at the age of 21, and in 1886 became a British
citizen. His famous works include The Nigger of the
Narcissus (1898), Lord Jim (1900) and Nostromo
(1904). His greatest skill lies in his capacity to evoke
an atmosphere through careful attention to detail.
He uses the method of story within a story to convey
his sense of the inexplicable inner character of life
and the shifting quality of the mind. All Conrad characters suffer from a sense of isolation.
What was known of Captain Hagberd in the little seaport
of Colebrook was not exactly in his favour. He did not belong
to the place . He had come to settle there under
circumstances not at all mysterious he used to be very
communicative about them at the time” but extremely
morbid and unreasonable. He was possessed of some little
money evidently, because he bought a plot of ground, and
had a pair of ugly yellow brick cottages run up very cheaply.
He occupied one of them himself and let the other to Josiah
Carvil, blind Carvil, the retired boat-builder a man of
evil repute as a domestic tyrant.
End of About the Author
The tailor shall be set to work, and the barber, and the
candlestick maker. High old times are coming for Colebrook;
they are coming, to be sure. It used to be next week, now
it has come to next month, and so on soon it will be
next spring, for all I know.
Noticing a stranger listening to him with a vacant grin,
he explained, stretching out his legs cynically, that this
queer old Hagberd, a retired coasting-skipper, was waiting
for the return of a son of his. The boy had been driven
away from home, he shouldnt wonder; had run away to
sea and had never been heard of since. Put to rest in Davy
Joness locker this many a day, as likely as not. That old
man came flying to Colebrook three years ago all in black
broadcloth (had lost his wife lately then), getting out of a
third-class smoker as if the devil had been at his heels;
and the only thing that brought him down was a letter a
hoax probably. Some joker had written to him about a
seafaring man with some such name who was supposed to
be hanging about some girl or other, either in Colebrook or
in the neighbourhood. Funny, aint it? The old chap had
been advertising in the London papers for Harry Hagberd,
and offering rewards for any sort of likely information. And
the barber would go on to describe with sardonic gusto
how that stranger in mourning had been seen exploring
the country, in carts, on foot, taking everybody into his
confidence, visiting all the inns and alehouses for miles
around, stopping people on the road with his questions,
looking into the very ditches almost; first in the greatest
excitement, then with a plodding sort of perseverance,
growing slower and slower; and he could not even tell you
plainly how his son looked. The sailor was supposed to be
one of two that had left a timber ship, and to have been
seen dangling after some girl; but the old man described a
boy of fourteen or so a clever -looking, high-spirited boy.
And when people only smiled at this he would rub his
forehead in a confused sort of way before he slunk off,
looking offended. He found nobody, of course; not a trace
of anybody never heard of anything worth belief, at any
rate; but he had not been able, somehow, to tear himself
away from Colebrook.
It was the shock of this disappointment, perhaps,
coming soon after the loss of his wife, that had driven him
crazy on that point, the barber suggested, with an air of
great psychological insight. After a time the old man
abandoned the active search. His son had evidently gone
away; but he settled himself to wait. His son had been
once at least in Colebrook in preference to his native place.
There must have been some reason for it, he seemed to
think, some very powerful inducement, that would bring
him back to Colebrook again.
Ha, ha, ha! Why, of course, Colebrook. Where else?
Thats the only place in the United Kingdom for your long-
lost sons. So he sold up his old home in Colchester, and
down he comes here. Well, its a craze, like any other.
Wouldnt catch me going crazy over any of my youngsters
clearing out. Ive got eight of them at home. The barber
was showing off his strength of mind in the midst of a
laughter that shook the tap-room.
Strange though, that sort of thing, he would confess
with the frankness of a superior intelligence, seemed to be
catching. His establishment, for instance, was near the
harbour, and whenever a sailorman came in for a hair -cut
or a shave if it was a strange face he couldnt help thinking
directly, Suppose hes the son of old Hagberd! He laughed
at himself for it. It was a strong craze. He could remember
the time when the whole town was full of it. But he had
his hopes of the old chap yet. He would cure him by a
course of judicious chaffing. He was watching the progress
of the treatment. Next week next month next year! When
the old skipper had put off the date of that return till next
year, he would be well on his way to not saying any more
about it. In other matters he was quite rational, so this,
too, was bound to come. Such was the barbers firm opinion.
Nobody had ever contradicted him; his own hair had
gone grey since that time, and Captain Hagberds beard
had turned quite white, and had acquired a majestic flow
over the No.1 canvas suit, which he had made for himself
secretly with tarred twine, and had assumed suddenly,
coming out in it one fine morning, whereas the evening
before he had been seen going home in his mourning of
broadcloth. It caused a sensation in the High Street
shopkeepers coming to their doors, people in the houses
snatching up their hats to run out a stir at which he
seemed strangely surprised at first, and then scared; but
his only answer to the wondering questions was that
startled and evasive For the present.
That sensation had been forgotten long ago; and
Captain Hagberd himself, if not forgotten, had come to be
disregarded the penalty of dailiness as the sun itself is
disregarded unless it makes its power felt heavily. Captain
Hagberds movements showed no infirmity; he walked stiffly
in his suit of canvas, a quaint and remarkable figure; only
his eyes wandered more furtively perhaps than of yore.
His manner abroad had lost its excitable watchfulness; it
had become puzzled and diffident, as though he had
suspected that there was somewhere about him something
slightly compromising, some embarrassing oddity; and yet
had remained unable to discover what on earth this
something wrong could be.
He was unwilling now to talk with the townsfolk. He
had earned for himself the reputation of an awful skinflint,
of a miser in the matter of living. He mumbled regretfully
in the shops, bought inferior scraps of meat after long
hesitations; and discouraged all allusions to his costume.
It was as the barber had foretold. For all one could tell, he
had recovered already from the disease of hope; and only
Miss Bessie Carvil knew that he said nothing about his
sons return because with him it was no longer next week,
next month, or even next year. It was tomorrow.
In their intimacy of back yard and front garden he
talked with her paternally, reasonably, and dogmatically,
with a touch or arbitrariness. They met on the ground of
unreserved confidence, which was authenticated by an
affectionate wink now and then. Miss Carvil had come to
look forward rather to these winks. At first they had
discomposed her: the poor fellow was mad. Afterwards she
had learned to laugh at them: there was no harm in him.
Now she was aware of an unacknowledged, pleasurable,
incredulous emotion, expressed by a faint blush. He winked
not in the least vulgarly; his thin red face with a well-
modelled curved nose had a sort of distinction the more
so that when he talked to her he looked with a steadier
and more intelligent glance. A handsome, hale, upright,
capable man, with a white beard. You did not think of his
age. His son, he affirmed, had resembled him amazingly
from his earliest babyhood.
Harry would be one-and-thirty next July, he declared.
Proper age to get married with a nice, sensible girl that
could appreciate a good home. He was a very high-spirited
boy. High-spirited husbands were the easiest to manage.
These mean, soft chaps, that you would think butter
wouldnt melt in their mouths, were the ones to make a
woman thoroughly miserable. And there was nothing like
home a fireside a good roof: no turning out of your warm
bed in all sorts of weather. Eh, my dear?
Captain Hagberd had been one of those sailors that
pursue their calling within sight of land. One of the many
children of a bankrupt farmer, he had been apprenticed
hurriedly to a coasting-skipper, and had remained on the
coast all his sea life. It must have been a hard one at first:
he had never taken to it; his affection turned to the land,
with its innumerable houses, with its quiet lives gathered
round its firesides. Many sailors feel and profess a rational
dislike for the sea, but his was a profound and emotional
animosity as if the love of the stabler element had been
bred into him through many generations.
People did not know what they let their boys in for
when they let them go to sea, he expounded to Bessie. As
soon make convicts of them at once. He did not believe
you ever got used to it. The weariness of such a life got
worse as you got older. What sort of trade was it in which
more than half your time you did not put your foot inside
your house? Directly you got out to sea you had no means
of knowing what went on at home. One might have thought
him weary of distant voyages: and the longest he had ever
made had lasted a fortnight, of which the most part had
been spent at anchor, sheltering from the weather. As soon
as his wife had inherited a house and enough to live on
(from a bachelor uncle who had made some money in the
coal business) he threw up his command of an East-coast
collier with a feeling as though he had escaped from the
galleys. After all these years he might have counted on the
fingers of his two hands all the days he had been out of
sight of England. He had never known what it was to be
out of soundings. I have never been further than eighty
fathoms from the land was one of his boasts.
Bessie Carvil heard all these things. In front of their
cottage grew an undersized ash; and on summer afternoons
she would bring out a chair on the grass-plot and sit down
with her sewing. Captain Hagberd, in his canvas suit,
leaned on a spade. He dug every day in his front plot. He
turned it over and over several times every year, but was
not going to plant anything just at present.
To Bessie Carvil he would state more explicitly: Not
till our Harry comes home tomorrow. And she had heard
this formula of hope so often that it only awakened the
vaguest pity in her heart for that hopeful old man.
Everything was put off in that way, and everything
was being prepared likewise for tomorrow. There was a
boxful of packets of various flower -seeds to choose from,
for the front garden. He will doubtless let you have your
say about that, my dear, Captain Hagberd intimated to
her across the railing.
Miss Bessies head remained bowed over her work.
She had heard all this so many times. But now and then
she would rise, lay down her sewing, and come slowly to
the fence. There was a charm in these gentle ravings. He
was determined that his son should not go away again for
the want of a home all ready for him. He had been filling
the other cottage with all sorts of furniture. She imagined
it all new, fresh with varnish, piled up as in a warehouse.
There would be tables wrapped up in sacking: rolls of
carpets thick and vertical, like fragments of columns; the
gleam of white marble tops in the dimness of the drawn
blinds. Captain Hagberd always described his purchases
to her, carefully, as to a person having a legitimate interest
in them. The overgrown yard of his cottage could be laid
over with concrete...after tomorrow.
We may just as well do away with the fence. You could
have your drying-line out, quite clear of your flowers. He
winked, and she would blush faintly.
This madness that had entered her life through the
kind impulses of her heart had reasonable details. What if
some day his son returned? But she could not even be
quite sure that he ever had a son: and if he existed
anywhere he had been too long away. When Captain
Hagberd got excited in his talk she would steady him by a
pretence of belief, laughing a little to salve her conscience.
Only once she had tried pityingly to throw some doubt
on that hope doomed to disappointment, but the effect of
her attempt had scared her very much. All at once over
that mans face there came an expression of horror and
incredulity, as though he had seen a crack open out in the
You you you dont think hes drowned!
For a moment he seemed to her ready to go out of his
mind, for in his ordinary state she thought him more sane
than people gave him credit for. On that occasion the
violence of the emotion was followed by a most paternal
and complacent recovery.
Dont alarm yourself, my dear, he said a little
cunningly, the sea cant keep him. He does not belong to
it. None of us Hagberds ever did belong to it. Look at me; I
didnt get drowned. Moreover, he isnt a sailor at all; and if
he is not a sailor hes bound to come back. Theres nothing
to prevent him coming back...
His eyes began to wander.
She never tried again, for fear the man should go out
of his mind on the spot. He depended on her. She seemed
the only sensible person in the town; and he would
congratulate himself frankly before her face on having
secured such a level-headed wife for his son. The rest of
the town, he confided to her once, in a fit of temper, was
certainly queer. The way they looked at you the way they
talked to you! He had never got on with anyone in the
place. Didnt like the people. He would not have left his
own country if it had not been clear that his son had taken
a fancy to Colebrook.
She humoured him in silence, listening patiently by
the fence; crocheting with downcast eyes. Blushes came
with difficulty on her dead-white complexion, under the
negligently twisted opulence of mahogany-coloured hair.
Her father was frankly carroty.
She had a full figure; a tired, unrefreshed face. When
Captain Hagberd vaunted the necessity and propriety of a
home and the delights of ones own fireside, she smiled a
little, with her lips only. Her home delights had been
confined to the nursing of her father during the ten best
years of her life.
A bestial roaring coming out of an upstairs window
would interrupt their talk. She would begin at once to roll
up her crochet-work or fold her sewing, without the slightest
sign of haste. Meanwhile the howls and roars of her name
would go on, making the fishermen strolling upon the sea-
wall on the other side of the road turn their heads towards
the cottages. She would go in slowly at the front door, and
a moment afterwards there would fall a profound silence.
Presently she would reappear, leading by the hand a man,
gross and unwieldy like a hippopotamus, with a bad-
tempered, surly face.
He was a widowed boat-builder, whom blindness had
overtaken years before in the full flush of business. He
behaved to his daughter as if she had been responsible for
its incurable character. He had been heard to bellow at
the top of his voice, as if to defy Heaven, that he did not
care: he had made enough money to have ham and eggs
for his breakfast every morning. He thanked God for it, in
a fiendish tone as though he were cursing.
Captain Hagberd had been so unfavourably impressed
by his tenant that once he told Miss Bessie, He is a very
extravagant fellow, my dear.
She was knitting that day, finishing a pair of socks for
her father, who expected her to keep up the supply dutifully.
She hated knitting, and, as she was just at the heel part,
she had to keep her eyes on her needles.
Of course it isnt as if he had a son to provide for,
Captain Hagberd went on a little vacantly. Girls, of course,
dont require so much hm hm. They dont run away from
home, my dear.
No, said Miss Bessie, quietly.
Captain Hagberd, amongst the mounds of turned-up
earth, chuckled. With his maritime rig, his weather-beaten
face, his beard of Father Neptune, he resembled a deposed
sea-god who had exchanged the trident for the spade.
And he must look upon you as already provided for, in
a manner. That s the best of it with the girls . The
husbands... He winked. Miss Bessie, absorbed in her
knitting, coloured faintly.
Bessie! my hat! old Carvil bellowed out suddenly. He
had been sitting under the tree mute and motionless, like
an idol of some remarkably monstrous superstition. He
never opened his mouth but to howl for her, at her,
sometimes about her; and then he did not moderate the
terms of his abuse. Her system was never to answer him
at all; and he kept up his shouting till he got attended to
till she shook him by the arm, or thrust the mouthpiece of
his pipe between his teeth. He was one of the few blind
people who smoke. When he felt the hat being put on his
head he stopped his noise at once. Then he rose, and they
passed together through the gate.
He weighed heavily on her arm. During their slow,
toilful walks she appeared to be dragging with her for a
penance the burden of that infirm bulk. Usually they
crossed the road at once (the cottages stood in the fields
near the harbour, two hundred yards away from the end of
the street), and for a long, long time they would remain in
view, ascending imperceptibly the flight of wooden steps
that led to the top of the sea-wall. It ran on from east to
west, shutting out the Channel like a neglected railway
embankment, on which no train had ever rolled within
memory of man. Groups of sturdy fishermen would emerge
upon the sky, walk along for a bit, and sink without haste.
Their brown nets, like the cobwebs of gigantic spiders, lay
on the shabby grass of the slope; and looking up from the
end of the street, the people of the town would recognise the
two Carvils, by the creeping slowness of their gait. Captain
Hagberd, pottering aimlessly about his cottages, would raise
his head to see how they got on in their promenade.
He advertised still in the Sunday papers for Harry
Hagberd. These sheets were read in foreign parts to the
end of the world, he informed Bessie. At the same time he
seemed to think that his son was in England so near to
Colebrook that he would of course turn up tomorrow.
Bessie, without committing herself to that opinion in so
many words, argued that in that case the expense of
advertising was unnecessary; Captain Hagberd had better
spend that weekly half-crown on himself. She declared
she did not know what he lived on. Her argumentation
would puzzle him and cast him down for a time. They all
do it, he pointed out. There was a whole column devoted
to appeals after missing relatives. He would bring the
newspaper to show her. He and his wife had advertised for
years; only she was an impatient woman. The news from
Colebrook had arrived the very day after her funeral; if
she had not been so impatient she might have been here
now, with no more than one day more to wait. You are not
an impatient woman, my dear.
Ive no patience with you, sometimes, she would say.
If he still advertised for his son he did not offer rewards
for information any more: for, with the muddled lucidity of
a mental derangement, he had reasoned himself into a
conviction as clear as daylight that he had already attained
all that could be expected in that way. What more could he
want? Colebrook was the place, and there was no need to
ask for more. Miss Carvil praised him for his good sense,
and he was soothed by the part she took in his hope, which
had become his delusion; in that idea which blinded his
mind to truth and probability, just as the other old man in
the other cottage had been made blind, by another disease,
to the light and beauty of the world.
But anything he could interpret as a doubt any
coldness of assent, or even a simple inattention to the
development of his projects of a home with his returned
son and his sons wife would irritiate him into flings and
jerks and wicked side glances. He would dash his spade
into the ground and walk to and fro before it. Miss Bessie
called it his tantrums. She shook her finger at him. Then,
when she came out again, after he had parted with her in
anger, he would watch out of the corner of his eyes for the
least sign of encouragement to approach the iron railings
and resume his fatherly and patronising relations.
For all their intimacy, which had lasted some years
now, they had never talked without a fence or a railing
between them. He described to her all the splendours
accumulated for the setting-up of their housekeeping, but
had never invited her to an inspection. No human eye was
to behold them till Harry had his first look. In fact, nobody
had ever been inside his cottage: he did his own housework,
and he guarded his sons privilege so jealously that the
small objects of domestic use he bought sometimes in the
town were smuggled rapidly across the front garden under
his canvas coat. Then, coming out, he would remark
apologetically, It was only a small kettle, my dear.
And, if not too tired with her drudgery, or worried
beyond endurance by her father, she would laugh at him
with a blush, and say: Thats all right, Captain Hagberd; I
am not impatient.
Well, my dear, you havent long to wait now, he would
answer with a sudden bashfulness, and looking about
uneasily, as though he had suspected that there was
something wrong somewhere.
Every Monday she paid him his rent over the railings.
He clutched the shillings greedily. He grudged every penny
he had to spend on his maintenance, and when he left her
to make his purchases his bearing changed as soon as he
got into the street. Away from the sanction of her pity, he
felt himself exposed without defence. He brushed the walls
with his shoulder. He mistrusted the queerness of the
people: yet, by then, even the town children had left off
calling after him, and the tradesmen served him without a
word. The slightest allusion to his clothing had the power
to puzzle and frighten especially, as if it were something
utterly unwarranted and incomprehensible.
In the autumn, the driving rain drummed on his
sailcloth suit saturated almost to the stiffness of sheet
iron, with its surface flowing with water. When the weather
was too bad, he retreated under the tiny porch, and,
standing close against the door, looked at his spade left
planted in the middle of the yard. The ground was so much
dug up all over, that as the season advanced it turned to a
quagmire. When it froze hard, he was disconsolate. What
would Harry say? And as he could not have so much of
Bessies company at that time of year, the roars of old
Carvil, that came muffled through the closed windows,
calling her indoors, exasperated him greatly.
Why dont that extravagant fellow get you a servant?
he asked impatiently one mild afternoon. She had thrown
something over her head to run out for a while.
I dont know, said the pale Bessie, wearily, staring away
with her heavy-lidded, grey, and unexpectant glance. There
were always smudgy shadows under her eyes, and she did
not seem able to see any change or any end to her life.
You wait till you get married, my dear, said her only
friend, drawing closer to the fence. Harry will get you one.
His hopeful craze seemed to mock her own want of
hope with so bitter an aptness that in her nervous irritation
she could have screamed at him outright. But she only
said in self-mockery, and speaking to him as though he
had been sane, Why, Captain Hagberd, your son may not
even want to look at me.
He flung his head back and laughed his throaty affected
cackle of anger.
What! That boy? Not want to look at the only sensible
girl for miles around? What do you think I am here for, my
dear my dear my dear? What? You wait. You just wait.
Youll see tomorrow. Ill soon
Bessie! Bessie! Bessie! howled old Carvil inside.
Bessie! my pipe! That fat blind man had given himself
up to a very lust of laziness. He would not lift his hand to
reach for the things she took care to leave at his very
elbow. He would not move a limb; he would not rise from
his chair, he would not put one foot before another in that
parlour (where he knew his way as well as if he had his
sight) without calling her to his side and hanging all his
atrocious weight on her shoulder. He would not eat one
single mouthful of food without her close attendance. He
had made himself helpless beyond his affliction, to enslave
her better. She stood still for a moment, setting her teeth
in the dusk, then turned and walked slowly indoors.
Captain Hagberd went back to his spade. The shouting
in Carvils cottage stopped, and after a while the window
of the parlour downstairs was lit up. A man coming from
the end of the street with a firm leisurely step passed on,
but seemed to have caught sight of Captain Hagberd,
because he turned back a pace or two. A cold white light
lingered in the western sky. The man leaned over the gate
in an interested manner.
You must be Captain Hagberd, he said, with easy
The old man spun round, pulling out his spade, startled
by the strange voice.
Yes, I am, he answered nervously.
The other, smiling straight at him, uttered very slowly:
Youve been advertising for your son, I believe?
My son Harry, mumbled Captain Hagberd, off his
guard for once. Hes coming home tomorrow.
The devil he is! The stranger marvelled greatly, and
then went on, with only a slight change of tone: Youve
grown a beard like Father Christmas himself.
Captain Hagberd drew a little nearer, and leaned
forward over his spade. Go your way, he said, resentfully
and timidly at the same time, because he was always afraid
of being laughed at. Every mental state, even madness,
has its equilibrium based upon self-esteem. Its disturbance
causes unhappiness: and Captain Hagberd lived amongst
a scheme of settled notions which it pained him to feel
disturbed by peoples grins. Yes, peoples grins were awful.
They hinted at something wrong: but what? He could not
tell; and that stranger was obviously grinning had come
on purpose to grin. It was bad enough on the streets, but
he had never before been outraged like this.
The stranger, unaware how near he was of having his
head laid open with a spade, said seriously: I am not
trepassing where I stand, am I? I fancy theres something
wrong about your news. Suppose you let me come in.
You come in ! murmured old Hagberd , with
I could give you some real information about your son
the very latest tip, if you care to hear.
No, shouted Hagberd. He began to pace wildly to and
fro, he shouldered his spade, he gesticulated with his other
arm. Heres a fellow a grinning fellow, who says theres
something wrong. Ive got more information than youre
aware of. Ive all the information I want. Ive had it for
years for years for years enough to last me till to-
morrow. Let you come in, indeed! What would Harry say?
Bessie Carvils figure appeared in black silhouette on
the parlour window: then, with the sound of an opening
door, flitted out before the other cottage, all black, but
with something white over her head. These two voices
beginning to talk suddenly outside (she had heard them
indoors) had given her such an emotion that she could not
utter a sound.
Captain Hagberd seemed to be trying to find his way
out of a cage. His feet squelched in the puddles left by his
industry. He stumbled in the holes of the ruined grass-
plot. He ran blindly against the fence.
Here, steady a bit! said the man at the gate, gravely,
stretching his arm over and catching him by the sleeve.
Somebodys been trying to get at you. Hallo! whats this
rig youve got on? Storm canvas, by George! He had a big
laugh. Well, you are a character!
Captain Hagberd jerked himself free, and began to back
away shrinkingly. For the present, he muttered, in a
Whats the matter with him? The stranger addressed
Bessie with the utmost familiarity , in a deliberate ,
explanatory tone. I didnt want to startle the old man. He
lowered his voice as though he had known her for years. I
dropped into a barbers on my way, to get a two penny
shave, and they told me there he was something of a
character. The old man has been a character all his life.
Captain Hagberd, daunted by the allusion to his
clothing, had retreated inside, taking his spade with him;
and the two at the gate, startled by the unexpected
slamming of the door, heard the bolts being shot, the
snapping of the lock, and the echo of an affected gurgling
I didnt want to upset him, the man said, after a short
silence. Whats the meaning of all this? He isnt quite
He has been worrying a long time about his lost son,
said Bessie, in a low, apologetic tone.
Well, I am his son.
Harry! she cried and was profoundly silent.
Know my name? Friends with the old man, eh?
Hes our landlord, Bessie faltered out, catching hold
of the iron railing.
Owns both them rabbit-hutches, does he? commented
young Hagberd scornfully: just the thing he would be proud
of. Can you tell me whos that chap coming tomorrow? You
must know something of it. I tell you, its a swindle on the
old man nothing else.
She did not answer, helpless before an insurmountable
difficulty, appalled before the necessity, the impossibility
and the dread of an explanation in which she and madness
seemed involved together.
Oh I am so sorry, she murmured.
Whats the matter? he said, with serenity. You neednt
be afraid of upsetting me. Its the other fellow thatll be
upset when he least expects it. I dont care a hang; but
there will be some fun when he shows his mug tomorrow. I
dont care that for the old mans pieces, but right is right.
You shall see me put a head on that coon whoever he is!
He had come nearer, and towered above her on the
other side of the railings. He glanced at her hands. He
fancied she was trembling, and it occurred to him that
she had her part perhaps in that little game that was to be
sprung on his old man tomorrow. He had come just in time
to spoil their sport. He was entertained by the idea
scornful of the baffled plot. But all his life he had been full
of indulgence for all sorts of womens tricks; she really
was trembling very much; her wrap had slipped off her
head. Poor devil! he thought. Never mind about that chap.
I daresay hell change his mind before tomorrow. But what
about me? I cant loaf about the gate till the morning.
She burst out: It is you you yourself that hes waiting
for. It is you who come tomorrow.
He murmured Oh! Its me! blankly, and they seemed
to become breathless together. Apparently he was pondering
over what he had heard; then, without irritation, but
evidently perplexed, he said: I dont understand. I hadnt
written or anything. Its my chum who saw the paper and
told me this very morning... Eh? what?
He bent his ear; she whispered rapidly, and he listened
for a while, muttering the words yes and I see at times.
Then, But why wont today do? he queried at last.
You didnt understand me! she exclaimed impatiently.
The clear streak of light under the clouds died out in the
west. Again he stooped slightly to hear better; and the
deep night buried everything of the whispering woman and
the attentive man, except the familiar contiguity of their
faces, with its air of secrecy and caress.
He squared his shoulders; the broad-brimmed shadow
of a hat sat cavalierly on his head. Awkward, this, eh? he
appealed to her. Tomorrow? Well, well! Never heard tell of
anything like this. Its all tomorrow, then, without any
sort of today, as far as I can see.
She remained still and mute.
And you have been encouraging this funny notion, he
I never contradicted him.
Why didnt you?
What for should I? she defended herself. It would
only have made him miserable. He would have gone out of
His mind! he muttered, and heard a short nervous
laugh from her.
Where was the harm? Was I to quarrel with the poor
old man? It was easier to half believe it myself.
Aye, aye, he meditated intelligently. I suppose the
old chap got around you somehow with his soft talk. You
Her hands moved up in the dark nervously. And it
might have been true. It was true. It has come. Here it is.
This is the tomorrow we have been waiting for.
She drew a breath, and he said good-humouredly: Aye,
with the door shut. I wouldnt care if... And you think he
could be brought round to recognise me... Eh? What?...
You could do it? In a week you say? Hm, I daresay you
could but do you think I could hold out a week in this
dead-alive place? Not me. I want either hard work, or an
all-fired racket, or more space than there is in the whole
of England. I have been in this place, though, once before,
and for more than a week. The old man was advertising for
me then, and a chum I had with me had a notion of getting
a couple of quid out of him by writing a lot of silly nonsense
in a letter. That lark did not come off, though. We had to
clear out and none too soon. But this time Ive a chum
waiting for me in London, and besides...
Bessie Carvel was breathing quickly.
What if 1 tried a knock at the door? he suggested.
Try, she said.
Captain Hagberds gate squeaked, and the shadow of
his son moved on, then stopped with another deep laugh
in the throat, like the fathers, only soft and gentle, thrilling
to the womans heart, awakening to her ears.
He isnt frisky is he? I would be afraid to lay hold of
him. The chaps are always telling me I dont know my own
Hes the most harmless creature that ever lived, she
You wouldnt say so if you had seen him chasing me
upstairs with a hard leather strap, he said; I havent
forgotten it in sixteen years.
She got warm from head to foot under another soft
subdued laugh. At the rat-tat-tat of the knocker her heart
flew into her mouth.
Hey, dad! Let me in. I am Harry, I am. Straight! Come
back home a day too soon.
One of the windows upstairs ran up.
A grinning information fellow, said the voice of old
Hagberd, up in the darkness. Dont you have anything to
do with him. It will spoil everything.
She heard Harry Hagberd say, Hallo, dad, then a
clanging clatter. The window rumbled down, and he stood
before her again.
Its just like old times. Nearly walloped the life out of
me to stop me going away, and now I come back he throws
a confounded shovel at my head to keep me out. It grazed
I wouldnt care, he began, only I spent my last shillings
on the railway fare and my last twopence on a shave out
of respect for the old man.
Are you really Harry Hagberd? she asked swiftly. Can
you prove it?
Can I prove it? Can any one else prove it? he said
jovially. Prove with what? What do I want to prove? There
isnt a single corner in the world, barring England, perhaps,
where you could not find some man, or more likely a
woman, that would remember me for Harry Hagberd. I am
more like Harry Hagberd than any man alive: and I can
prove it to you in a minute, if you will let me step inside
Come in, she said.
He entered then the front garden of the Carvils. His
tall shadow strode with a swagger; she turned her back on
the window and waited, watching the shape, of which the
footfalls seemed the most material part. The light fell on a
tilted hat; a powerful shoulder, that seemed to cleave the
darkness; on a leg stepping out. He swung about and stood
still, facing the illuminated parlour window at her back,
turning his head from side to side, laughing softly to
Just fancy, for a minute, the old mans beard stuck
on to my chin. Hey? Now say. I was the very spit of him
from a boy.
Its true, she murmured to herself.
And thats about as far as it goes. He was always one
of your domestic characters. Why, I remember how he used
to go about looking very sick for three days before he had
to leave home on one of his trips to South Shields for coal.
He had a standing charter from the gas-works. You would
think he was off on a whaling cruise three years and a
tail. Ha, ha! Not a bit of it. Ten days on the outside. The
Skimmer of the Seas was a smart craft. Fine name, wasnt
it? Mothers uncle owned her...
He interrupted himself, and in a lowered voice, Did
he ever tell you what mother died of? he asked.
Yes, said Miss Bessie, bitterly. From impatience.
He made no sound for a while; then brusquely: They
were so afraid I would turn out badly that they fairly drove
me away. Mother nagged at me for being idle, and the old
man said he would cut my soul out of my body rather than
let me go to sea. Well, it looked as if he would do it too so
I went. It looks to me sometimes as if I had been born to
them by a mistake in that other hutch of a house.
Where ought you to have been born by rights? Bessie
Carvil interrupted him defiantly.
In the open, upon a beach, on a windy night, he said,
quick as lightning. Then he mused slowly. They were
characters, both of them, by George; and the old man keeps
it up well dont he? A damned shovel on the Hark! whos
that making that row? â€œBessie, Bessie.â€? Its in your house.
Its for me, she said with indifference.
He stepped aside, out of the streak of light. Your
husband? he inquired, with the tone of a man accustomed
to unlawful trysts. Fine voice for a ships deck in a
No; my father. I am not married.
You seem a fine girl, Miss Bessie dear, he said at
She turned her face away.
Oh, I say, whats up? Whos murdering him?
He wants his tea. She faced him, still and tall, with
averted head, with her hands hanging clasped before her.
Hadnt you better go in? he suggested, after watching
for a while the nape of her neck, a patch of dazzling white
skin and soft shadow above the sombre line of her
shoulders. Her wrap had slipped down to her elbows. Youll
have all the town coming out presently. Ill wait here a bit.
Her wrap fell to the ground, and he stooped to pick it
up: she had vanished. He threw it over his arm, and
approaching the window squarely he saw a monstrous form
of a fat man in an armchair, an unshaded lamp, the yawning
of an enormous mouth in a big feat face encircled by a
ragged halo of hair, Miss Bessies head and bust. The
shouting stopped; the blind ran down. He lost himself in
thinking how awkward it was. Father mad; no getting into
the house. No money to get back; a hungry chum in London
who would begin to think he had been given the go-by.
Damn! he muttered. He could break the door in, certainly;
but they would perhaps bundle him into chokey for that
without asking questions no great matter, only he was
confoundedly afraid of being locked up, even in mistake.
He turned cold at the thought. He stamped his feet on the
What are you? a sailor? said an agitated voice.
She had flitted out, a shadow herself, attracted by the
reckless shadow waiting under the wall of her home.
Anything. Enough of a sailor to be worth my salt before
the mast. Came home that way this time.
Where do you come from? she asked.
Right away from a jolly good spree, he said, by the
London train see? Ough! I hate being shut up in a train. I
dont mind a house so much.
Ah, she said; thats lucky.
Because in a house you can at any time open the
blamed door and walk away straight before you.
And never come back?
Not for sixteen years at least, he laughed. To a rabbit
hutch, and get a confounded old shovel...
A ship is not so very big, she taunted.
No, but the sea is great.
She dropped her head, and as if her ears had been
opened to the voices of the world, she heard beyond the
rampart of sea-wall the swell of yesterdays gale breaking
on the beach with monotonous and solemn vibrations, as
if all the earth had been a tolling bell.
And then, why, a ships a ship. You love her and leave
her; and a voyage isnt a marriage. He quoted the sailors
It is not a marriage, she whispered.
I never took a false name, and Ive never yet told a lie
to a woman. What lie? Why, the lie . Take me or leave me,
I say: and if you take me, then it is... He hummed a snatch
very low, leaning against the wall.
Oh, oh, ho! Rio!...
And fare thee well,
My bonnie young girl,
Were bound to Rio... Grande.
Capstan song, he explained. Her teeth chattered.
You are cold, he said. Heres that affair of yours I
picked up. She felt his hands about her, wrapping her
closely. Hold the ends together in front, he commanded.
What did you come here for? she asked, repressing a
Five quid, he answered promptly. We let our spree go
on a little too long and got hard up.
Youve been drinking? she said.
Blind three days; on purpose. I am not given that way
dont you think. Theres nothing and nobody that can get
over me unless I like. I can be as steady as a rock. My
chum sees the paper this morning and says he to me: â€œGo
on, Harry: loving parent. Thats five quid sure.â€? So we
scraped all our pockets for the fare. Devil of a lark!
You have a hard heart, I am afraid, she sighed.
What for? For running away? Why! he wanted to make
a lawyers clerk of me just to please himself. Master in
his own house; and my poor mother egged him on for my
good, I suppose. Well, then so long; and I went. No, I tell
you: the day I cleared out, I was all black and blue from
his great fondness for me. Ah! he was always a bit of a
character. Look at that shovel, now. Off his chump? Not
much. Thats just exactly like my dad. He wants me here
just to have somebody to order about. However, we two
were hard up; and whats five quid to him once in sixteen
Oh, but I am sorry for you. Did you never wait to come
Be a lawyers clerk and rot here in some such place
as this? he cried in contempt. What! if the old man set me
up in a home today, I would kick it down about my ears
or else die there before the third day was out.
And where else is it that you hope to die?
In the bush somewhere; in the sea; on a blamed
mountain-top for choice. At home? Yes! the worlds my
home; but I expect Ill die in a hospital some day. What of
that? Any place is good enough, as long as Ive lived; and
Ive been everything you can think of almost but a tailor or
soldier. Ive been a boundary rider; Ive sheared sheep; and
humped my swag; and harpooned a whale. Ive rigged ships,
and prospected for gold, and skinned dead bullocks, and
turned my back on more money than the old man would
have scraped in his whole life. Ha, ha!
He overwhelmed her. She pulled herself together and
managed to utter, Time to rest now.
He straightened himself up, away from the wall, and
in a severe voice said, Time to go.
But he did not move. He leaned back again, and
hummed thoughtfully a bar or two of an outlandish tune.
She felt as if she were about to cry. Thats another of
your cruel songs, she said.
Learned it in Mexico in Sonora. He talked easily. It
is the song of the Gambusinos. You dont know? The song
of restless men. Nothing could hold them in one place
not even a woman. You used to meet one of them now and
again, in the old days, on the edge of the gold country,
away north there beyond the Rio Gila. Ive seen it. A
prospecting engineer in Mazatlan took me along with him
to help look after the waggons. A sailors a handy chap to
have about you anyhow. Its all a desert: cracks in the
earth that you cant see the bottom of; and mountains
sheer rocks standing up high like walls and church spires,
only a hundred times bigger. The valleys are full of boulders
and black stones. Theres not a blade of grass to see; and
the sun sets more red over that country than I have seen
it anywhere blood-red and angry. It is fine.
You do not want to go back there again ? she
He laughed a little. No. Thats the blamed gold country.
It gave me the shivers sometimes to look at it and we
were a big lot of men together, mind; but these Gambusinos
wandered alone. They knew that country before anybody
had ever heard of it. They had a sort of gift for prospecting,
and the fever of it was on them too; and they did not seem
to want the gold very much. They would find some rich
spot, and then turn their backs on it; pick up perhaps a
little enough for a spree and then be off again, looking
for more. They never stopped long where there were houses:
they had no wife, no chick, no home, never a chum. You
couldnt be friends with a Gambusino; they were too
restless here today, and gone, God knows where, to-
morrow. They told no one of their finds, and there has
never been a Gambusino well off. It was not for the gold
they cared; it was the wandering about looking for it in the
stony country that got into them and wouldnt let them
rest: so that no woman yet born could hold a Gambusino
for more than a week. Thats what the song says. Its all
about a pretty girl that tried hard to keep hold of a
Gambusino lover, so that he should bring her lots of gold.
No fear! Off he went, and she never saw him again.
What became of her? she breathed out.
The song dont tell. Cried a bit, I daresay. They were
the fellows: kiss and go. But its the looking for a thing a
something... Sometimes I think I am a sort of Gambusino
No woman can hold you, then, she began in a brazen
voice, which quavered suddenly before the end.
No longer than a week, he joked, playing upon her
very heartstrings with the gay, tender note of his laugh;
and yet I am fond of them all. Anything for a woman of the
right sort. The scrapes they got me into, and the scrapes
they got me out of! I love them at first sight. Ive fallen in
love with you already, Miss Bessies your name eh?
She backed away a little, and with a trembling laugh:
You havent seen my face yet.
His tone changed. I am getting middling hungry,
though. Had no breakfast today. Couldnt you scare up
some bread from that tea for me, or
She was gone already. He had been on the point of
asking her to let him come inside. No matter. Anywhere
would do. Devil of a fix! What would his chum think?
I didnt ask you as a beggar, he said jestingly, taking
a piece of bread-and-butter from the plate she held before
him. I asked as a friend. My dad is rich, you know.
He starves himself for your sake.
And I have starved for his whim, he said, taking up
All he has in the world is for you, she pleaded.
Yes, if I come here to sit on it like a dam toad in a
hole. Thank you; and what about the shovel, eh? He always
had a queer way of showing his love.
I could bring him round in a week, she suggested
He was too hungry to answer her; and, holding the
plate submissively to his hand, she began to whisper up to
him in a quick, panting voice. He listened, amazed, eating
slower and slower, till at last his jaws stopped altogether.
Thats his game, is it? he said, in a rising tone of scathing
contempt. An ungovernable movement of his arm sent the
plate flying out of her fingers. He shot out a violent curse.
She shrank from him, putting her hand against the
No! he raged. He expects! Expects me for his rotten
money!... Who wants his home? Mad not he! Dont you
think. He wants his own way. He wanted to turn me into a
miserable lawyers clerk, and now he wants to make of me
a blamed tame rabbit in a cage. Of me! Of me! His subdued
angry laugh frightened her now.
The whole world aint a bit too big for me to spread my
elbows in, I can tell you whats your name Bessie let
alone a dam parlour in a hutch. Marry! He wants me to
marry and settle! And as likely as not he has looked out
the girl too dash my soul! And do you know the Judy,
may I ask?
She shook all over with noiseless dry sobs; but he was
fuming and fretting too much to notice her distress. He bit
his thumb with rage at the mere idea. A window rattled
A grinning, information fellow, pronounced old
Hagberd dogmatically, in measured tones. And the sound
of his voice seemed to Bessie to make the night itself mad
to pour insanity and disaster on the earth. Now I know
whats wrong with the people here, my dear. Why, of course!
With this mad chap going about. Dont you have anything
to do with him, Bessie. Bessie, I say!
They stood as if dumb. The old man fidgeted and
mumbled to himself at the window. Suddenly he cried
piercingly: Bessie I see you. Ill tell Harry.
She made a movement as if to run away, but stopped
and raised her hands to her temples. Young Hagberd,
shadowy and big, stirred no more than a man of bronze.
Over their heads the crazy night whimpered and scolded
in an old mans voice.
Send him away, my dear. Hes only a vagabond. What
you want is a good home of your own. That chap has no
home hes not like Harry. He cant be Harry. Harry is
coming tomorrow. Do you hear? One day more, he babbled
more excitedly; never you fear Harry shall marry you.
His voice rose very shrill and mad against the regular
deep soughing of the swell coiling heavily about the outer
face of the sea-wall.
He will have to. I shall make him, or if not he swore
a great oath Ill cut him off with a shilling tomorrow, and
leave everything to you. I shall. To you. Let him starve.
The window rattled down.
Harry drew a deep breath, and took one step towards
Bessie. So its you the girl, he said, in a lowered voice.
She had not moved, and she remained half turned away
from him, pressing her head in the palms of her hands.
My word! he continued, with an invisible half-smile on
his lips. I have a great mind to stop...
Her elbows were trembling violently.
For a week, he finished without a pause.
She clapped her hands to her face.
He came up quite close, and took hold of her wrists
gently. She felt his breath on her ear.
Its a scrape I am in this, and it is you that must see
me through. He was trying to uncover her face. She
resisted. He let her go then, and stepping back a little,
Have you got any money? he asked. I must be off now.
She nodded quickly her shamefaced head, and he
waited, looking away from her, where, trembling all over
and bowing her neck, she tried to find the pocket of her
Here it is! she whispered. Oh, go away! go away for
Gods sake! If I had more more I would give it all to
forget to make you forget.
He extended his hand. No fear! I havent forgotten a
single one of you in the world. Some gave me more than
money but I am a beggar now and you women always
had to get me out of my scrapes.
He swaggered up to the parlour window, and in the
dim light filtering through the blind, looked at the coin
lying in his palm. It was a half-sovereign. He slipped it
into his pocket. She stood a little on one side, with her
head drooping, as if wounded; with her arms hanging
passive by her side, as if dead.
You cant buy me in, he said, and you cant buy yourself
He set his hat firmly with a little tap, and next moment
she felt herself lifted up in the powerful embrace of his
arms. Her feet lost the ground; her head hung back; he
showered kisses on her face with a silent and overmastering
ardour, as if in haste to get at her very soul. He kissed her
pale cheeks, her hard forehead, her heavy eyelids, her faded
lips; and the measured blows and sighs of the rising tide
accompanied the enfolding power of his arms , the
overwhelming might of his caresses. It was as if the sea,
breaking down the wall protecting all the homes of the
town, had sent a wave over her head. It passed on; she
staggered backwards, with her shoulders against the wall,
exhausted, as if she had been stranded there after a storm
and a shipwreck.
She opened her eyes after a while; and, listening to
the firm, leisurely footsteps going away with their conquest,
began to gather her skirts, staring all the time before her.
Suddenly she darted through the open gate into the dark
and deserted street.
Stop! she shouted. Dont go!
And listening with an attentive poise of the head, she
could not tell whether it was the beat of the swell or his
fateful tread that seemed to fall cruelly upon her heart.
Presently every sound grew fainter, as though she were
slowly turning into stone. A fear of this awful silence came
to her worse than the fear of death. She called upon her
ebbing strength for the final appeal:
Not even the dying echo of a footstep. Nothing. The
thundering of the surf, the voice of the restless sea itself,
seemed stopped. There was not a sound no whisper of
life, as though she were alone, and lost in that stony country
of which she had heard, where madmen go looking for gold
and spurn the find.
Captain Hagberd, inside his dark house, had kept on
the alert. A window ran up; and in the silence of the stony
country a voice spoke above her head, high up in the black
air the voice of madness, lies and despair the voice of
inextinguishable hope. Is he gone yet that information
fellow? Do you hear him about, my dear?
She burst into tears. No! no! no! I dont hear him any
more, she sobbed.
He began to chuckle up there triumphantly. You
frightened him away. Good girl. Now we shall be all right.
Dont you be impatient, my dear. One day more.
In the other house old Carvil, wallowing regally in his
arm-chair, with a globe lamp burning by his side on the
table, yelled for her in a fiendish voice: Bessie! Bessie!
She heard him at last, and, as if overcome by fate,
began to totter silently back towards her stuffy little inferno
of a cottage. It had no lofty portal, no terrific inscription of
forfeited hopes she did not understand wherein she had
Captain Hagberd had gradually worked himself into a
state of noisy happiness up there.
Go in! Keep quiet! she turned upon him tearfully,
from the doorstep below.
He rebelled against her authority in his great joy at
having got rid at last of that something wrong. It was as if
all the hopeful madness of the world had broken out to
bring terror upon her heart, with the voice of that old man
shouting of his trust in an everlasting tomorrow.