End of the Tether
The deep, interminable hoot of the steam-whistle had, in its grave, vibrating note,
something intolerable, which sent a slight shudder down Mr. Van Wyk's back. It was the
early afternoon; the Sofala was leaving Batu Beru for Pangu, the next place of call. She
swung in the stream, scantily attended by a few canoes, and, gliding on the broad river,
became lost to view from the Van Wyk bungalow.
Its owner had not gone this time to see her off. Generally he came down to the wharf,
exchanged a few words with the bridge while she cast off, and waved his hand to
Captain Whalley at the last moment. This day he did not even go as far as the
balustrade of the veranda. "He couldn't see me if I did," he said to himself. "I wonder
whether he can make out the house at all." And this thought somehow made him feel
more alone than he had ever felt for all these years. What was it? six or seven? Seven.
A long time.
He sat on the veranda with a closed book on his knee, and, as it were, looked out upon
his solitude, as if the fact of Captain Whalley's blindness had opened his eyes to his
own. There were many sorts of heartaches and troubles, and there was no place where
they could not find a man out. And he felt ashamed, as though he had for six years
behaved like a peevish boy.
His thought followed the Sofala on her way. On the spur of the moment he had acted
impulsively, turning to the thing most pressing. And what else could he have done?
Later on he should see. It seemed necessary that he should come out into the world, for
a time at least. He had money--something could be arranged; he would grudge no time,
no trouble, no loss of his solitude. It weighed on him now--and Captain Whalley
appeared to him as he had sat shading his eyes, as if, being deceived in the trust of his
faith, he were beyond all the good and evil that can be wrought by the hands of men.
Mr. Van Wyk's thoughts followed the Sofala down the river, winding about through the
belt of the coast forest, between the buttressed shafts of the big trees, through the
mangrove strip, and over the bar. The ship crossed it easily in broad daylight, piloted, as
it happened, by Mr. Sterne, who took the watch from four to six, and then went below to
hug himself with delight at the prospect of being virtually employed by a rich man--like
Mr. Van Wyk. He could not see how any hitch could occur now. He did not seem able to
get over the feeling of being "fixed up at last." From six to eight, in the course of duty,
the Serang looked alone after the ship. She had a clear road before her now till about
three in the morning, when she would close with the Pangu group. At eight Mr. Sterne
came out cheerily to take charge again till midnight. At ten he was still chirruping and
humming to himself on the bridge, and about that time Mr. Van Wyk's thought
abandoned the Sofala. Mr. Van Wyk had fallen asleep at last.