End of the Tether
The sun had set. And when, after drilling a deep hole with his stick, he moved from that
spot the night had massed its army of shadows under the trees. They filled the eastern
ends of the avenues as if only waiting the signal for a general advance upon the open
spaces of the world; they were gathering low between the deep stone-faced banks of
the canal. The Malay prau, half-concealed under the arch of the bridge, had not altered
its position a quarter of an inch. For a long time Captain Whalley stared down over the
parapet, till at last the floating immobility of that beshrouded thing seemed to grow upon
him into something inexplicable and alarming. The twilight abandoned the zenith; its
reflected gleams left the world below, and the water of the canal seemed to turn into
pitch. Captain Whalley crossed it.
The turning to the right, which was his way to his hotel, was only a very few steps
farther. He stopped again (all the houses of the sea-front were shut up, the quayside
was deserted, but for one or two figures of natives walking in the distance) and began to
reckon the amount of his bill. So many days in the hotel at so many dollars a day. To
count the days he used his fingers: plunging one hand into his pocket, he jingled a few
silver coins. All right for three days more; and then, unless something turned up, he
must break into the five hundred--Ivy's money--invested in her father. It seemed to him
that the first meal coming out of that reserve would choke him--for certain. Reason was
of no use. It was a matter of feeling. His feelings had never played him false.
He did not turn to the right. He walked on, as if there still had been a ship in the
roadstead to which he could get himself pulled off in the evening. Far away, beyond the
houses, on the slope of an indigo promontory closing the view of the quays, the slim
column of a factory-chimney smoked quietly straight up into the clear air. A Chinaman,
curled down in the stern of one of the half-dozen sampans floating off the end of the
jetty, caught sight of a beckoning hand. He jumped up, rolled his pigtail round his head
swiftly, tucked in two rapid movements his wide dark trousers high up his yellow thighs,
and by a single, noiseless, finlike stir of the oars, sheered the sampan alongside the
steps with the ease and precision of a swimming fish.
"Sofala," articulated Captain Whalley from above; and the Chinaman, a new emigrant
probably, stared upwards with a tense attention as if waiting to see the queer word fall
visibly from the white man's lips. "Sofala," Captain Whalley repeated; and suddenly his
heart failed him. He paused. The shores, the islets, the high ground, the low points,
were dark: the horizon had grown somber; and across the eastern sweep of the shore
the white obelisk, marking the landing-place of the telegraph-cable, stood like a pale
ghost on the beach before the dark spread of uneven roofs, intermingled with palms, of
the native town. Captain Whalley began again.
"Sofala. Savee So-fa-la, John?"