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Mansfield's Short Stories

The Stranger
It seemed to the little crowd on the wharf that she was never going to move again. There
she lay, immense, motionless on the grey crinkled water, a loop of smoke above her, an
immense flock of gulls screaming and diving after the galley droppings at the stern. You
could just see little couples parading--little flies walking up and down the dish on the
grey crinkled tablecloth. Other flies clustered and swarmed at the edge. Now there was a
gleam of white on the lower deck--the cook's apron or the stewardess perhaps. Now a
tiny black spider raced up the ladder on to the bridge.
In the front of the crowd a strong-looking, middle-aged man, dressed very well, very
snugly in a grey overcoat, grey silk scarf, thick gloves and dark felt hat, marched up and
down, twirling his folded umbrella. He seemed to be the leader of the little crowd on the
wharf and at the same time to keep them together. He was something between the sheep-
dog and the shepherd.
But what a fool--what a fool he had been not to bring any glasses! There wasn't a pair of
glasses between the whole lot of them.
"Curious thing, Mr. Scott, that none of us thought of glasses. We might have been able to
stir 'em up a bit. We might have managed a little signalling. 'Don't hesitate to land.
Natives harmless.' Or: 'A welcome awaits you. All is forgiven.' What? Eh?"
Mr. Hammond's quick, eager glance, so nervous and yet so friendly and confiding, took
in everybody on the wharf, roped in even those old chaps lounging against the gangways.
They knew, every man-jack of them, that Mrs. Hammond was on that boat, and that he
was so tremendously excited it never entered his head not to believe that this marvellous
fact meant something to them too. It warmed his heart towards them. They were, he
decided, as decent a crowd of people--Those old chaps over by the gangways, too--fine,
solid old chaps. What chests--by Jove! And he squared his own, plunged his thick-gloved
hands into his pockets, rocked from heel to toe.
"Yes, my wife's been in Europe for the last ten months. On a visit to our eldest girl, who
was married last year. I brought her up here, as far as Salisbury, myself. So I thought I'd
better come and fetch her back. Yes, yes, yes." The shrewd grey eyes narrowed again and
searched anxiously, quickly, the motionless liner. Again his overcoat was unbuttoned.
Out came the thin, butter-yellow watch again, and for the twentieth--fiftieth-- hundredth
time he made the calculation.
"Let me see now. It was two fifteen when the doctor's launch went off. Two fifteen. It is
now exactly twenty-eight minutes past four. That is to say, the doctor's been gone two
hours and thirteen minutes. Two hours and thirteen minutes! Whee-ooh!" He gave a
queer little half-whistle and snapped his watch to again. "But I think we should have been
told if there was anything up--don't you, Mr. Gaven?"
 
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