End of the Tether HTML version

Chapter 2
His age sat lightly enough on him; and of his ruin he was not ashamed. He had not
been alone to believe in the stability of the Banking Corporation. Men whose judgment
in matters of finance was as expert as his seamanship had commended the prudence of
his investments, and had themselves lost much money in the great failure. The only
difference between him and them was that he had lost his all. And yet not his all. There
had remained to him from his lost fortune a very pretty little bark, Fair Maid, which he
had bought to occupy his leisure of a retired sailor--"to play with," as he expressed it
He had formally declared himself tired of the sea the year preceding his daughter's
marriage. But after the young couple had gone to settle in Melbourne he found out that
he could not make himself happy on shore. He was too much of a merchant sea-captain
for mere yachting to satisfy him. He wanted the illusion of affairs; and his acquisition of
the Fair Maid preserved the continuity of his life. He introduced her to his acquaint-
ances in various ports as "my last command." When he grew too old to be trusted with a
ship, he would lay her up and go ashore to be buried, leaving directions in his will to
have the bark towed out and scuttled decently in deep water on the day of the funeral.
His daughter would not grudge him the satisfaction of knowing that no stranger would
handle his last command after him. With the fortune he was able to leave her, the value
of a 500-ton bark was neither here nor there. All this would be said with a jocular twinkle
in his eye: the vigorous old man had too much vitality for the sentimentalism of regret;
and a little wistfully withal, because he was at home in life, taking a genuine pleasure in
its feelings and its possessions; in the dignity of his reputation and his wealth, in his love
for his daughter, and in his satisfaction with the ship--the plaything of his lonely leisure.
He had the cabin arranged in accordance with his simple ideal of comfort at sea. A big
bookcase (he was a great reader) occupied one side of his stateroom; the portrait of his
late wife, a flat bituminous oil-painting representing the profile and one long black ringlet
of a young woman, faced his bedplace. Three chronometers ticked him to sleep and
greeted him on waking with the tiny competition of their beats. He rose at five every day.
The officer of the morning watch, drinking his early cup of coffee aft by the wheel, would
hear through the wide orifice of the copper ventilators all the splashings, blowings, and
splutterings of his captain's toilet. These noises would be followed by a sustained deep
murmur of the Lord's Prayer recited in a loud earnest voice. Five minutes afterwards the
head and shoulders of Captain Whalley emerged out of the companion- hatchway.
Invariably he paused for a while on the stairs, looking all round at the horizon; upwards
at the trim of the sails; inhaling deep draughts of the fresh air. Only then he would step
out on the poop, acknowledging the hand raised to the peak of the cap with a majestic
and benign "Good morning to you." He walked the deck till eight scrupulously.
Sometimes, not above twice a year, he had to use a thick cudgel-like stick on account of
a stiffness in the hip--a slight touch of rheumatism, he supposed. Otherwise he knew
nothing of the ills of the flesh. At the ringing of the breakfast bell he went below to feed