The Malefactor HTML version
I.13. A Cockney Conspirator
"The bar closes in ten minutes, sir!" the smoking room steward announced.
The young man who had been the subject of Wingrave's remarks hastily ordered another
drink, although he had an only half-emptied tumbler in front of him. Presently he
stumbled out on to the deck. It was a dark night, and a strong head wind was blowing. He
groped his way to the railing and leaned over, with his head half buried in his hands.
Below, the black tossing sea was churned into phosphorescent spray, as the steamer
drove onwards into the night.
Was it he indeed--George Richardson? He doubted it. The world of tape measures and
calico counters seemed so far away; the interior of his quondam lodgings in a by-street of
Islington, so unfamiliar and impossible. He felt himself swallowed up in this new and
bewildering existence, of which he was so insignificant an atom, the existence where
tragedy reared her gloomy head, and the shadows of great things loomed around him.
Down there in the cold restless waste of black waters--what was it that he saw? The sweat
broke out upon his forehead, the blood seemed turned to ice in his veins. He knew very
well that his fancy mocked him, that it was not indeed a man's white face gleaming on the
crest of the waves. But none the less he was terrified.
Mr. Richardson was certainly nervous. Not all the brandy he had drunk--and he had never
drunk half as much before in his life--afforded him the least protection from these ghastly
fancies. The step of a sailor on the deck made him shiver; the thought of his empty state
room was a horror. He tried to think of the woman at whose bidding he had left behind
him Islington and the things that belonged to Islington! He tried to recall her soft
suggestive whispers, the glances which promised more even than her spoken words, all
the perfume and mystery of her wonderful presence. Her very name was an allurement.
Mademoiselle Violet! How softly it fell from the lips! . . . God in heaven, what was that
He started round, trembling in every limb. It was nothing more than the closing of the
smoking room door behind him. Sailors with buckets and mops were already beginning
their nightly tasks. He must go to his stateroom! Somehow or other, he must get through
the night . . .
He did it, but he was not a very prepossessing looking object when he staggered out on
deck twelve hours later, into the noon sunshine. The chair towards which he looked so
eagerly was occupied. He scarcely knew himself whether that little gulp of acute feeling,
which shot through his veins, was of relief or disappointment. While he hesitated,
Wingrave raised his head.
Wingrave did not, as a rule, speak to his fellow passengers. Of Richardson, he had not
hitherto taken the slightest notice. Yet this morning, of all others, he addressed him.