End of the Tether
For a while after his second's answering hoot Massy hung over the engine-room
gloomily. Captain Whalley, who, by the power of five hundred pounds, had kept his
command for three years, might have been suspected of never having seen that coast
before. He seemed unable to put down his glasses, as though they had been glued
under his contracted eyebrows. This settled frown gave to his face an air of invincible
and just severity; but his raised elbow trembled slightly, and the perspiration poured
from under his hat as if a second sun had suddenly blazed up at the zenith by the side
of the ardent still globe already there, in whose blinding white heat the earth whirled and
shone like a mote of dust.
From time to time, still holding up his glasses, he raised his other hand to wipe his
streaming face. The drops rolled down his cheeks, fell like rain upon the white hairs of
his beard, and brusquely, as if guided by an uncontrollable and anxious impulse, his
arm reached out to the stand of the engine-room telegraph.
The gong clanged down below. The balanced vibration of the dead-slow speed ceased
together with every sound and tremor in the ship, as if the great stillness that reigned
upon the coast had stolen in through her sides of iron and taken possession of her
innermost recesses. The illusion of perfect immobility seemed to fall upon her from the
luminous blue dome without a stain arching over a flat sea without a stir. The faint
breeze she had made for herself expired, as if all at once the air had become too thick
to budge; even the slight hiss of the water on her stem died out. The narrow, long hull,
carrying its way without a ripple, seemed to approach the shoal water of the bar by
stealth. The plunge of the lead with the mournful, mechanical cry of the lascar came at
longer and longer intervals; and the men on her bridge seemed to hold their breath. The
Malay at the helm looked fixedly at the compass card, the Captain and the Serang
stared at the coast.
Massy had left the skylight, and, walking flat-footed, had returned softly to the very spot
on the bridge he had occupied before. A slow, lingering grin exposed his set of big white
teeth: they gleamed evenly in the shade of the awning like the keyboard of a piano in a
At last, pretending to talk to himself in excessive astonishment, he said not very loud--
"Stop the engines now. What next, I wonder?"
He waited, stooping from the shoulders, his head bowed, his glance oblique. Then
raising his voice a shade--
"If I dared make an absurd remark I would say that you haven't the stomach to . . ."