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End of the Tether

Chapter 13
This was the reason why Mr. Sterne's confidential communication, delivered hurriedly
on the shore alongside the dark silent ship, had disturbed his equanimity. It was the
most incomprehensible and unexpected thing that could happen; and the perturbation of
his spirit was so great that, forgetting all about his letters, he ran rapidly up the bridge
ladder.
The portable table was being put together for dinner to the left of the wheel by two pig-
tailed "boys," who as usual snarled at each other over the job, while another, a doleful,
burly, very yellow Chinaman, resembling Mr. Massy, waited apathetically with the cloth
over his arm and a pile of thick dinner-plates against his chest. A common cabin lamp
with its globe missing, brought up from below, had been hooked to the wooden
framework of the awning; the side-screens had been lowered all round; Captain Whalley
filling the depths of the wicker-chair seemed to sit benumbed in a canvas tent crudely
lighted, and used for the storing of nautical objects; a shabby steering-wheel, a battered
brass binnacle on a stout mahogany stand, two dingy life-buoys, an old cork fender
lying in a corner, dilapidated deck-lockers with loops of thin rope instead of door-
handles.
He shook off the appearance of numbness to return Mr. Van Wyk's unusually brisk
greeting, but relapsed directly afterwards. To accept a pressing invitation to dinner "up
at the house" cost him another very visible physical effort. Mr. Van Wyk, perplexed,
folded his arms, and leaning back against the rail, with his little, black, shiny feet well
out, examined him covertly.
"I've noticed of late that you are not quite yourself, old friend."
He put an affectionate gentleness into the last two words. The real intimacy of their
intercourse had never been so vividly expressed before.
"Tut, tut, tut!"
The wicker-chair creaked heavily.
"Irritable," commented Mr. Van Wyk to himself; and aloud, "I'll expect to see you in half
an hour, then," he said negligently, moving off.
"In half an hour," Captain Whalley's rigid silvery head repeated behind him as if out of a
trance.
Amidships, below, two voices, close against the engine-room, could be heard answering
each other--one angry and slow, the other alert.
 
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