Within the Tides
"And that be hanged for a silly yarn. The boatmen here in Westport have been telling this
lie to the summer visitors for years. The sort that gets taken out for a row at a shilling a
head--and asks foolish questions--must be told something to pass the time away. D'ye
know anything more silly than being pulled in a boat along a beach? . . . It's like drinking
weak lemonade when you aren't thirsty. I don't know why they do it! They don't even get
A forgotten glass of beer stood at his elbow; the locality was a small respectable
smoking-room of a small respectable hotel, and a taste for forming chance acquaintances
accounts for my sitting up late with him. His great, flat, furrowed cheeks were shaven; a
thick, square wisp of white hairs hung from his chin; its waggling gave additional point to
his deep utterance; and his general contempt for mankind with its activities and moralities
was expressed in the rakish set of his big soft hat of black felt with a large rim, which he
kept always on his head.
His appearance was that of an old adventurer, retired after many unholy experiences in
the darkest parts of the earth; but I had every reason to believe that he had never been
outside England. From a casual remark somebody dropped I gathered that in his early
days he must have been somehow connected with shipping--with ships in docks. Of
individuality he had plenty. And it was this which attracted my attention at first. But he
was not easy to classify, and before the end of the week I gave him up with the vague
definition, "an imposing old ruffian."
One rainy afternoon, oppressed by infinite boredom, I went into the smoking-room. He
was sitting there in absolute immobility, which was really fakir-like and impressive. I
began to wonder what could be the associations of that sort of man, his "milieu," his
private connections, his views, his morality, his friends, and even his wife--when to my
surprise he opened a conversation in a deep, muttering voice.
I must say that since he had learned from somebody that I was a writer of stories he had
been acknowledging my existence by means of some vague growls in the morning.
He was essentially a taciturn man. There was an effect of rudeness in his fragmentary
sentences. It was some time before I discovered that what he would be at was the process
by which stories--stories for periodicals--were produced.
What could one say to a fellow like that? But I was bored to death; the weather continued
impossible; and I resolved to be amiable.
"And so you make these tales up on your own. How do they ever come into your head?"