End of the Tether HTML version

Chapter 7
Sterne went down smirking and apparently not at all disconcerted, but the engineer
Massy remained on the bridge, moving about with uneasy self-assertion. Everybody on
board was his inferior--everyone without exception. He paid their wages and found them
in their food. They ate more of his bread and pocketed more of his money than they
were worth; and they had no care in the world, while he alone had to meet all the
difficulties of shipowning. When he contemplated his position in all its menacing entirety,
it seemed to him that he had been for years the prey of a band of parasites: and for
years he had scowled at everybody con- nected with the Sofala except, perhaps, at the
Chinese firemen who served to get her along. Their use was manifest: they were an
indispensable part of the machinery of which he was the master.
When he passed along his decks he shouldered those he came across brutally; but the
Malay deck hands had learned to dodge out of his way. He had to bring himself to
tolerate them because of the necessary manual labor of the ship which must be done.
He had to struggle and plan and scheme to keep the Sofala afloat --and what did he get
for it? Not even enough respect. They could not have given him enough of that if all
their thoughts and all their actions had been directed to that end. The vanity of
possession, the vainglory of power, had passed away by this time, and there remained
only the material embarrassments, the fear of losing that position which had turned out
not worth having, and an anxiety of thought which no abject subservience of men could
He walked up and down. The bridge was his own after all. He had paid for it; and with
the stem of the pipe in his hand he would stop short at times as if to listen with a
profound and concentrated attention to the deadened beat of the engines (his own
engines) and the slight grinding of the steering chains upon the continuous low wash of
water alongside. But for these sounds, the ship might have been lying as still as if
moored to a bank, and as silent as if abandoned by every living soul; only the coast, the
low coast of mud and mangroves with the three palms in a bunch at the back, grew
slowly more distinct in its long straight line, without a single feature to arrest attention.
The native passengers of the Sofala lay about on mats under the awnings; the smoke of
her funnel seemed the only sign of her life and connected with her gliding motion in a
mysterious manner.
Captain Whalley on his feet, with a pair of binoculars in his hand and the little Malay
Serang at his elbow, like an old giant attended by a wizened pigmy, was taking her over
the shallow water of the bar.
This submarine ridge of mud, scoured by the stream out of the soft bottom of the river
and heaped up far out on the hard bottom of the sea, was difficult to get over. The
alluvial coast having no distinguishing marks, the bearings of the crossing-place had to
be taken from the shape of the mountains inland. The guidance of a form flattened and