The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales
John Barrington Cowles
It might seem rash of me to say that I ascribe the death of my poor friend, John
Barrington Cowles, to any preternatural agency. I am aware that in the present state of
public feeling a chain of evidence would require to be strong indeed before the possibility
of such a conclusion could be admitted.
I shall therefore merely state the circumstances which led up to this sad event as
concisely and as plainly as I can, and leave every reader to draw his own deductions.
Perhaps there may be some one who can throw light upon what is dark to me.
I first met Barrington Cowles when I went up to Edinburgh University to take out
medical classes there. My landlady in Northumberland Street had a large house, and,
being a widow without children, she gained a livelihood by providing accommodation for
Barrington Cowles happened to have taken a bedroom upon the same floor as mine, and
when we came to know each other better we shared a small sitting-room, in which we
took our meals. In this manner we originated a friendship which was unmarred by the
slightest disagreement up to the day of his death.
Cowles' father was the colonel of a Sikh regiment and had remained in India for many
years. He allowed his son a handsome income, but seldom gave any other sign of parental
affection--writing irregularly and briefly.
My friend, who had himself been born in India, and whose whole disposition was an
ardent tropical one, was much hurt by this neglect. His mother was dead, and he had no
other relation in the world to supply the blank.
Thus he came in time to concentrate all his affection upon me, and to confide in me in a
manner which is rare among men. Even when a stronger and deeper passion came upon
him, it never infringed upon the old tenderness between us.
Cowles was a tall, slim young fellow, with an olive, Velasquez-like face, and dark, tender
eyes. I have seldom seen a man who was more likely to excite a woman's interest, or to
captivate her imagination. His expression was, as a rule, dreamy, and even languid; but if
in conversation a subject arose which interested him he would be all animation in a
moment. On such occasions his colour would heighten, his eyes gleam, and he could
speak with an eloquence which would carry his audience with him.
In spite of these natural advantages he led a solitary life, avoiding female society, and
reading with great diligence. He was one of the foremost men of his year, taking the
senior medal for anatomy, and the Neil Arnott prize for physics.