The Thing To Do
Mystery at sea—a woman who wouldn’t talk and a man who talked too much
THE WILDSTONE, outward bound from Georgetown, dropped Demerara Lightship astern well after dark. It was about this time that Shevran first saw the girl. She did
not take his breath away—he was not the breathless type—but he was aware of a subtle inner warmth curling up pleasurably in his breast. He did not remember having seen her at sailing time, nor had he seen her on deck or in the public rooms since the Wildstone passed Fort William Frederick. The Wildstone was a small vessel, neat, and while her appointments were simple they were comfortable and adequate. She had loaded sugar, and was on her way to Barbados to complete her cargo. Her passenger list w'as small ; ten in all. Shevran had not travelled on her before, but he had heard that the food was good, the rooms airy, and that she was pretty steady in rough weather. He had not been at all displeased when his connections with Equatorial General Insurance made it necessary for him to book passage at almost the last instant.
He saw the girl for a brief moment only. The lee door of the smoke room was open, there was a deck light just outside, and he saw her move casually past on her way forward. He was struck by the fluid grace of her passing; the young, patrician profile; she had about her, he thought, an air of tranquil preoccupation. A moment later he could not have described her in detail but he felt that if a year, two years, even three years hence he should see her walking down a street or standing on a crowded comer, he would instantly recognize her and be able to recall this evening, this moment. He was sure no one else at the table had observed her.
The doorway which had framed her for a fleeting instant now encompassed the dark sea, the black line of the horizon, the starlit sky. He was half-tempted to rise and stroll after her; he would find her leaning against the rail, probably in the forward part of the ship, and she would be easy, he imagined, to talk with. But he was more audacious in fancy than in fact. He even smiled, mentally, at the impulse, then raised his highball to his lips, conscious once more of the hard, driving voice of Hector Bordeman.
The glitter of the rings on Bordeman’s large hand burst into greater brilliance as he gesticulated. The hand became a fist and the fist landed hard on the table, set the glasses to tinkling. And Bordeman thundered, “I took them—the three of ’em—singlehanded!” His wet lips gleamed, and his eyes, fat and shiny and protuberant, glared defiantly round the table as if challenging anyone to deny the veracity of his statement.
Mowry, the ship’s doctor, made a polite movement of his eyebrows. He wras a pallid, young-old man, prematurely bald, who remained for the most
part unobtrusively behind hom-rimmed glasses. Norwood and Davidson, two middle-aged planters bound for the Island of St. Vincent, were comfortably tight; they nodded absentmindedly, made cluttered, unintelligible little sounds intended to be reassuring. But Farrel, the youth who wras going to Bridgetown on a holiday, seemed impressed, brightly interested.
“You say the three of them came at you with knives?” he asked, leaning far forward, his eyes glowing.
"D ORDEMAN dropped his heavy round chin to his chest and looked up from beneath bushy yellow brows gravely, impressively. “With machetes, young man,” he said sombrely. “A machete is a cross between a knife and an axe, and more deadly than either.” He had fixed on Farrel as any speaker fixes on the most receptive person in an audience, but the flickering comers of his eyes, the overtones of his voice, indicated that what he said was meant for the others as well.
There was something almost prelatic in his manner when he continued:
“When I was your age—what are you now, about twenty-one?—when I was your age, young man, I was a pork-knocker on the Essequibo. I was hard as a rock then—young and maybe a little wild; but you had to be, it was wild country and the way of living was wild. The weak-kneed chums didn’t last long. Nature took its course with them; weeded them out. I spent three years in the Guianas and took out enough gold to set up my first store. I went up into banana land—Honduras—up back of La Ceiba. It was a tough spot. I held out all night once against a gang of blind drunk mozos that had an idea they could help themselves to my mm barrel. There must have been two dozen of them, but they didn’t rattle me. If I’d let them rattle me I’d have been done for, I’d have lost face; and when you lose face, young man, you’re done for; you might just as well pack up and move on to where you're not known.”
Farrel’s hushed voice said: “Did you kill any of them?”
Bordeman brushed the table with the flat of his hand. “I had to wound two. I guess they thought I was just a run-of-the-mine storekeeper that they could scare out. Inside of three months I had their complete respect. And three months later I put in a manager and went down around Limon and opened up my second store. I was always a trader at heart. In six years time I owned a dozen stores from Porto Barrios to Barranquilla, and then I began to spread out among the Islands. I dabbled in asphalt in Trinidad, greenheart for the English trade, and I was dead against the use of East Indian labor when the
S. S. Ganges brought the last load to Port of Spain in 1917. But my heart was always in trading. A lot of people tried to stop me, here and there, but”—he hoisted one shoulder and flashed a look of challenge round the table—“I wasn’t stopped. It took plenty of insides sometimes—but I wasn’t stopped.”
Norwood said through a yawn: “Tell him about the time you carried in that fellow’s body.”
Bordeman sat back, bringing to his face a sober, magisterial expression. He said quietly: “Conklin, you mean?”
“You know; that fellow, the one that—”
“Conklin,” nodded Bordeman soberly. He brought a look of distances to his eyes, then said to Farrel: “He was about your age. Oh, this was a dozen years ago. In the Panamanian jungle. Yes, just about your age—twenty-one or -two. Poor Conklin. We were going back country to sew up a deal in some banana land I’d looked over six months before. There were these two adjoining plantations; one was owned by a fellow named Grosvenor and the other by a crazy Swede named Nansen. The Grosvenor plantation was the one I wanted. It was farther up the river than Nansen’s but it was better growth, the land was better and so was the natural drainage. Well, Nansen’d been trying to buy it for quite a time, but there was a feud on between them, and Grosvenor wouldn’t sell to him for love or money. When Grosvenor would take his bananas down river, Nansen would come out and stand on his jetty as Grosvenor went by and call him all kinds of foul names. He was mad because Grosvenor shipped out better bananas, got better prices and fewer turn-downs.
“So Conklin and I were about a day from the Grosvenor place, we were camped on the river bank that night, when one of our native boys was shot and killed from ambush. I grabbed a gun and started out, but the jungle was so thick and dark you couldn’t sec your hand before your face. Conklin came with me, though I’d told him to stay in camp and try to calm the other three natives we had along. We didn’t see anybody, and when we got back to camp the three boys had skipped, took the boat with them.
“Well, that put us in a fine pickle. We took turns standing guard the rest of the night, and in the morning we chucked the barest essentials into a pack and started off on foot. I carried the pack. We were on our way about an hour when a gun cracked and Conklin fell down. I looked him over and saw he was wounded pretty bad. I knew there was no doctor at or near Grosvenor’s place, so I threw away everything in the pack but water and a small amount of food, and started back with Conklin over my shoulders. I knew where I could find a doctor and I kept to the course of the river as best I could, hoping I might run into some natives. But I never did. It took me two days to reach the doctor. Billings was his name. I threw away everything but the little water I had, and Conklin was a heavy man to carry. If Billings was here he could tell you how I crawled into his place on hands and knees, dragging Conklin with me. I didn’t even know he was dead, I was so done in myself. I was a wreck. I was in bed for two weeks afterward.
“Well, the authorities nailed this crazy Swede. He admitted shooting at us to keep us from getting to
Grosvenor’s. And then out of pure meanness he swore up and down that I left Conklin after he was wounded. Imagine! He even said that I’d greased the inspectors to condemn a lot of his bananas so that he’d be forced out and I could buy his land cheap. It was all talk, of course. You can read it in old copies of the Panamanian papers. I was pretty sore about the nonsense about the inspectors, but nothing like as sore as I was over the fable about me leaving Conklin. The man was crazy ! If I’d left Conklin, how in the name of common sense could I have arrived at Billings’s with him?” He swelled up in his chair, spread out his arm. “Does that make sense? Does it?”
Farrel shook his head. “No, of course it doesn’t.”
"D ORDEMAN wiped small beads of sweat from his forehead, patted sweat that had sprung out inside his collar band. His face was red, it was as indignant as if the charge against his honor had just been made and he were still refuting it.
Shevran said: “Let me see, you were in the sinking of the Vandervoort off Cape San Roque last month, weren’t you? Someone at the Sea View —”
“Oh, that, that,” cut in Bordeman with a contemptuous toss of his big fingers. “The old tub blew up and went down and I found myself in the water and swam around for seven hours before the Mercury picked me up. There was only one thing to do—and I did it. I’m still a strong man physically and I was able to swim it out. Float and swim, float and swim.”
Shevran set down his empty glass. “I remember reading a piece about it. Kind of ironic, wasn’t it, that the Mercury spotted one of the Vandervoort’s lifebelts only an eighth of a mile from the point where she picked you up?”
Bordeman made a sound that was something between a cough and a short laugh. “That lifebelt,” he said, “it was nearer than that several times before the Mercury showed up. I’d had my eye on it but the drift was strong, the currents diverse, and I never got hands on it. Excuse me, sir, I don’t think I caught your name before.”
Shevran told him.
“Ah, yes,” nodded Bordeman. “I suppose you’re in business in the Islands?”
“Ah, I see. Just a little pleasure trip. Of course.” He added, with a gesture of patting Farrel avuncularly on the shoulder: “Like our young friend Mr. Farrel here.” He laughed goodnaturedly. •
Shevran laughed, too, quietly, and made no comment.
Bordeman, fanning himself with his handkerchief, remarked that it was warm and then rose, saying: “I hope you gentlemen will excuse me while I take a turn on deck. When I talk I get warm.”
He strode to the door on thick, heavy legs, a majestic' figure of a man that somehow lacked complete majesty. For a moment he bulked against the pale glow of the sky, then disappeared on deck.
“Gosh,” exclaimed Farrel, “he’s been around a lot, he’s done things!”
Norwood was jocular: “You’ll hear a lot more before the
voyage is over. One thing Hector Bordeman likes to do, he likes to talk. He puts a lot of color in what he says, but at heart he’s the shrewdest bargainer that ever walked in two shoes. I’d be almost willing to bet that he’s never lost money on a deal in his life. He’ll pinch a penny till it yelps. And yet did you notice the way he goes in for jewellery? D’you see those rings on his fingers? They say he lost a diamond ring worth a hundred thousand dollars when the Vandervoort went down.”
“Good lord!” Farrel cried. “A hundred thousand!”
“Ha!” grunted Davidson morosely. “Don’t expect it’s worrying him much. Catch a cagy chap like him not having his things insured. I’m tired. Think I’ll turn in.”
“Me too,” said Norwood. He slapped his thigh and stood up and winked at Mowry, nodded toward Davidson. “Tom’s done in a bit, Doc. He tried to wrestle a Chinaman in the Werk-en-Rust district last night. The Chinaman was pretty good.”
They left the smokeroom arm in arm. Mowry said he thought he would go along, too, and Farrel, saying “Do you mind if I borrow that book now?” rose, and when Mowry said, “Not at all; come along,” joined him.
Shevran heard their voices—Mowry’s placid, Farrel’s animated—go away down the corridor, then vanish completely. The steward was closing up the small cubbyhole that served as bar. The throb of the engines was remote; their pulsations trickled minutely across the walls and ceiling of the saloon. The breeze that moved through the open doorway was pleasantly moist, like the air after a summer rainfall in the North. Shevran sniffed it. He was not in the least tired.
He stood up after a few minutes and wandered into the lounge. Two elderly women were just leaving. They were sisters, he had been told by the purser, who ran a boarding house in Bridgetown and had a brother doing w7ell with limes on St. Lucia. Jamieson, a member of the faculty of Codrington College, was putting away his spectacles and getting ready to leave also. Fie left with a pleasant “Good night” to Shevran, and for several minutes Shevran remained alone, turning the pages of a magazine. He went on deck presently and leaned with one elbow on the rail.
The sea was a dark floor, the horizon a dark level bar from which the sky, starlit, rose brightly without casting any light. The sound of the water rolling and curling away from the ship’s side was infinitely peaceful. Shevran was aware of a lush mood that was timeless yet irretrievable in its precioüs, fugitive moments.
The sudden sound of heavy footsteps on the deck jarred him and he turned his lean body against the rail without moving away from it. There was no mistaking Bordeman’s large, broad shape. It seemed to come headlong down the deck, bent forward from the ankles rather than the waist. Haste was in his footfalls, the swing of his arms. And as he passed he showed no sign of seeing Shevran. His large face was dead white, his heavy lower lip thrust outward in what, in that uncertain light, looked like a bitter pout. In his eyes was a glazed, stricken stare. His passing seemed to leave a curious, troubled wake, and Shevran, turning his
head but not his body, watched him disappear into a cross alleyway aft.
HE FOUND the girl leaning on the rail at the break of the forward well-deck, the white deck-house wall at her back, a dim deck light above her head. He stopped quietly a few feet from her and gazed in the direction she was gazing—across the black pool of the well-deck toward the bow and the wide dark stretch of the sea.
“Nice night,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied with an ease of manner he had known he would find, “it is.”
He had an easy, unhurried manner himself. He put his elbows on the rail, his body so twisted that he could stare straight ahead and yet with the slightest movement of his eyes see her face. She was quite tall, only an inch or two shorter than himself. The breeze moved her frock against her slender body, stirred her hair. Her hair was brown enough so that it could not be mistaken for black, it was straight and clipped on a line with her jawbone, which ran clean-cut to her chin. She had high cheekbones, a straight nose, and there was a long curve to her upper lip.
He ventured: “Restful, these small boats.”
“I like them, yes.”
“The food’s good, don’t you think?”
“Very. Very good.”
“I was wondering—I thought perhaps you were ill— I didn’t see you at dinner.”
“I’ve been very tired. I ate in my cabin.”
He did not think she looked ill, tired. Her voice was low but it sounded, he imagined, like her natural voice. Nor was there anything fragile about her tawny slenderness. Her body had not the droop of one who is tired; even in its relaxed posture it had, he mused, a certain suggestion of
reed-like resilience. The low cadence of her voice mingled fascinatingly with the wash of the sea and the quieter wash of the breeze.
He said: “If you feel up to it tomorrow, I’d like very much to sit at table with you.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied with a rueful half-smile. “It’s awfully kind of you but—”
“It would be terribly kind of you.”
“But you see, I don’t think I’ll feel up to it. Besides, I arranged to take all my meals in my cabin.”
He sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to listen, then, to the self-adulatory reminiscing of the most garrulous passenger on board.”
She smiled, chided: “You sound very bitter.”
He was mock-serious: “I am. Very much so. Perhaps you don’t know Hector Bordeman.”
She turned her profile to him and gazed at the foc’s’le head. “I’m afraid,” she said, “I’m not acquainted with any of the passengers.” She pushed aside a strand of hair which the breeze had blown across one eyebrow.
“Oh, he’s quite a man,” Shevran went on, his voice now mildly facetious and in the best of humor. “He’s done a lot of things in a big way. The adventurer type, but with a greater sense of values. He was one of the survivors of the sinking of the Vandervoort last month. Recall that?”
“I did,” she said slowly, “read something about it.” Shevran nodded. “Swam around for seven hours before he was picked up. Oh, he’s in his own way a commendable sort. A hard bargainer, so the legend goes, and a man of simple tastes—except a penchant for expensive jewellery.” “Really. I don’t suppose that’s very uncommon, though. Men of simple tastes usually have at least one incongruous extravagance.”
“Of course. Men of no minor vices usually have at least
one major one. Though I don’t mean to imply that an inordinate taste for jewellery is a vice—unless it occurs in men who cannot afford it. Mr. Bordeman from all accounts can well afford it. You really ought to come on deck tomorrow and hear some of his tales. You might find them interesting.” “Why, when you find them tedious?”
He shrugged. “Perhaps I was a little unkind. We’re most of us heroes in our own minds, only we haven’t the naivete to express ourselves in such tenus.”
She looked round at the sea, the sky, drew her shoulders significantly together. “It’s getting a little cool. I think I’d better go to my cabin.” “May I walk that far with you?”
Her smile was warm, friendly; she shrugged and nodded at the same time and he strolled along at her side, his hands sunk in his jacket pockets. He was conscious of the pliancy of her body as she moved along beside him. So many women, he had noticed, walked so definitely on their heels. He had the feeling she walked with the muscles of her calves and thighs; quietly, yet not on her toes.
“You’re going through to Bridgetown, I suppose?” he said.
“Perhaps I’ll see you there. It would be nice.” A breath of well-bred enthusiasm touched her voice: “Yes, that would be very nice. Will you be there long?”
“I don’t know quite how long. Events will determine that. But”— they were at her cabin door and he smiled crisply, the left side of his lean brown face a fan of wrinkles—“long enough.
My name is Philip Shevran.”
“Karen Langard is mine.” . She held out her hand, dropped her voice gently. “Good night.”
HE WALKED slowly to his cabin, his lower lip pinched thoughtfully between thumb and forefinger. There were several pipes in his kit and he chose a straightstemmed, stocky-bowled brier; carried it and his pouch to the open port and stood there loading up. He used his smallest finger to tamp the tobacco well down into the bowl; lit up with his palms shielding it. The draught pulled the smoke out through the port in undulant pennants, and he stood with his arms folded and watched the flowing smoke with grey, preoccupied eyes. Though he was puzzled, there was not in his face that harried look which so often is a frank confession of a person’s bewilderment. But there was a hint that if he was puzzled he was also intrigued, even mildly exhilarated.
When a knock sounded on his door he said through his pipe stem, “Come in,” and turning without any show of curiosity, saw Millard, the chief steward, enter. He was a dumpy man with a pouchy red face, rusty coarse hair that grew like a well-kept suburban hedge, and a pair of brown, baggy eyes. His white tunic appeared to permit not the simplest muscular exertion; the buttonholes were drawn tight horizontally.
“I don’t mean to intrude, Mr. Shevran,” he said, his voice and manner making it plain that he felt his mission was very intrusive indeed.
Shevran was laconic: “Well, what’s worrying you? Millard had an uncommonly loud, hoarse voice. It was an effort for him to soft-pedal it, but he succeeded measur-
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The Thins To Do
Continued from page 9—Starts on page 7
ably. “What did you do to Mr. Bordeman?” he demanded; then shouted recklessly : ‘‘Do—or say ! ”
“Aren’t you a little confused?” Shevran asked.
Millard was grim, uncomfortable, hot. “No, sir!” he croaked.
“I think you are,” said Shevran, lightly corrective.
“I am not, sir. I was going through the cross alleyway aft before when Mr. Bordeman passed me. He was staggering like a sick man. I was so surprised that for a minute I stopped, not knowing what to do. I happened to look around the comer of the deck house and saw you strolling forward. Then I rushed to Mr. Bordeman’s cabin and found him lying on his berth, half on, half off, and gasping for breath. I gave him water. I asked him what the matter was, but he kept waving me away, away, and saying nothing, like a man wall when he’s out of breath bad. I then got Dr. Mowry. He gave him something and we put him to bed.”
Shevran’s expression was divided between curiosity and concern and he said: “Well, that’s too bad.”
But Millard kept looking as if he himself were the injured man. “I didn’t tell the doctor,” he continued, his voice laboring, “and I didn’t tell the Old Man. Things you think only to yourself, feelings you have about a thing—well, they sound foolish sometimes when you tell them out loud. But I seen no one along the deck there but you, and I’ve more than half a mind that you did something or said something to Mr. Bordeman.”
“Don’t you think you’re stepping just a little beyond a chief steward’s province?” w'as Shevran’s quiet rebuke.
Millard drew himself up, straining the buttonholes. He fought through his embarrassment with a hoarse voice: “I’ve been three years on the Wildstone, sir. Mr. Bordeman has made as much as ten trips with us and I got to know him and like him a great deal. It’s like, you might say, one of his homes, and as chief steward I try to take care of him, like I take care of anyone else, in a manner that does justice to the Line. It may be that I take too much of a personal interest in Mr. Bordeman, but that’s the way I’m built, sir, and a man can’t help the w'ay he’s built. I may say— yes, sir, I may say—that my record is an open book, and if I seem to be stepping out of the bounds of my duties, it’s only because when an uncanny thing like this happens—when a man like Mr. Bordeman, strong and healthy—”
“Of course, of course, I understand,” Shevran said reasonably. “A man in your state’s apt to be a little injudicious.”
This was not at all what Millard meant. He shook his reddish head and there w'as on his face the congested anguish of a man who feels he cannot properly express himself. He might have got it out eventually but Shevran, turned to the mirror and said reassuringly:
“A little walk on deck, a little fresh air, will do you a world of good. Good night.”
Millard, his face looking red and bloated, dipped his head: it was automatic, part of his training, his calling, and not the result of any graciousness. He reached back of him for the door, got it open; and still rebellious, still aching to have his full say, he none the less backed out. He remembered his training so much as to close the door quietly.
Shevran continued leisurely to disrobe and, stripped, finished his pipe meditatively before putting on his pyjamas. He took a book to bed with him but had barely started reading when he suddenly laid it aside, got out of his berth and wrote a brief message on a wireless form. He rang for his steward and had him deliver it to the operator. Then he took up his book again.
WHEN he came in to breakfast next morning, a little late—he w'as a late reader, a late riser—Mowry was finishing a cup of black coffee.
“How'’s Mr. Bordeman?” he asked.
“Oh, you heard?” Mow'ry replied. “Millard said something about it last night.”
Mow'ry w'as dispassionate: “Pretty
done in. As if he’d had a severe shock— though he says his heart’s been acting up a bit of late.”
“You’d never think it, to look at him.” “Well, you know'—these large men. He’s got a lot of body to carry around, and he does a lot of talking and that uses up a great deal of energy.”
“I took him for quite a strong man, heart included.”
“Well, you never can tell.”
“No, you never can,” nodded Shevran. “I w'as judging by his sw'imming stunt after the sinking of the Vandervoort.”
Mow'ry had a small, apologetic cough. “That may have left its ill effects, too. He refers to it as inconsequential, but you can imagine the mental as well as the physical strain of being in the water for seven hours. I think, yes, I think he lives too much in his youth—-or in his younger days, anyhow', when he doubtless was a very strong man indeed. Age is sometimes least apparent to the one experiencing it.” He had a way of making convincing statements in a toneless, unconvincing voice. “When I first saw him last night, when I went into his room, he looked a complete wreck. Naturally I’ve seen the feai of death in a lot of men’s eyes before. I saw' it in his. Utter fear.”
“What else? Men who have knocked about a lot and laughed death off on the w'ing, so to speak, don’t, no, don’t realize its stark significance until it has them cornered. Still, no great shame in that,” he sighed bleakly.
“No shame at all,” Shevran agreed. “I suppose a man of will, of determination, and of what is commonly called character, can pretty much know how he wall act in any given crisis except the ultimate one.” He ate well and leisurely, and aftenvard set off w’ith an unhurried but limber tread on a walk about the ship. The day was bright as a crystal bowl, the smoke streamed flat away from the funnel under the drive of a rowdy quarter wind. The sea w'as short, choppy, lively, transmitting a certain exhilarating liveliness to the deck underfoot. The sun was hot, it struck with a white smash when you stepped into it; danced on the chopped waves with a fragile, impermanent brilliance. The w'ind blustered in the alleyways and along the deck and on the tarpaulins that covered the hatches. After fifteen minutes of it, Shevran went into the smokeroom, refreshed and tingling and a little windblown. Millard, who had just finished talking with the smokeroom steward, w'as on his way toward the lounge. His jaw tightened when he saw' Shevran, but his eyes fell also, not without a glow'er of resentment, and he strode lumpily on his way.
Bordeman did not appear during the morning. Nor did Karen Langard. Shevran was certain of this, for in his casual w'ay he managed to keep moving about the ship. Occasionally he would see Millard, and once they almost bumped into each other. Millard’s expression varied little; it was one of truculence mixed with chagrin; obviously he was flabbergasted, uncertain still of his own doubts and irked by the strictures of his position.
AT LUNCHEON Nonvood said: “I
hear Bordeman’s to stay abed for the rest, of the voyage. Well, then I won’t have to hear those twice-told tales. Still, I don’t know as I mind so much. I don’t
half listen and it saves my own breath. I remember one voyage we made with him” —his glance included Davidson, whose horsey, morose face was bent over his plate—“when Tom outdid him. You’d never think it to look at Tom, but he stole the show right from under Bordeman’s nose. Tom was in the Soufrière eruption, you know—”
“May 7, 1902,” intoned Davidson glumly. “On Wednesday, the seventh, at about seven in the morning—Well, go ahead, Jack.”
Norwood grinned. “Tom was only a young kid then, and, as you know, a couple of thousand people were wiped out and it happened the day before Pelée let go. Well, there was Bordeman in the best of form. Oh, ten times better than he was last night. There was quite a crowd on board, most of them women, young ones, and he had them spellbound. Tom’d been drinking along pretty steadily and saying nothing until finally he put down his glass and said, ‘Did any of you people ever hear about the Soufrière?’ And, bless me, if he didn’t talk for an hour straight and steal the show.”
Davidson wiped an embarrassed grin from his lips with the back of his hand.
“Yes,” said Norwood with an admiring look at his partner, “Tom was through it all. He was one of the Reverend Darrel’s party that tried to get up to Chateaubelair, and he swears that he’ll live to see it blow off again. He keeps a motion Dicture camera handy, and a thousand feet of film tinned up. Every time he goes away he can’t wait till he gets back, for fear the Soufrière will pull a fast one on him. He reasons that if he gets a motion picture record of it he can sell the film and retire for the rest of his life. He offered me a share in it if I’d pay for part of the film, but I don’t believe in tempting the devil. I’ll go on raising Sea Island cotton.”
“One thing you lack, Jack,” said Davidson dourly; “you lack a sense of enterprise.”
Later, Shevran went round to pay a call on Bordeman. The large man lay mountainously in his berth.
“I was sorry,” said Shevran, “to learn of your attack of—”
“It got me suddenly,” Bordeman interrupted in a loose, phlegmatic voice. His big eyes were drained of that almost offensive glare of well-being that had so characterized them in the smoke room the night before. He lay quite motionless, fagged out, his face bleak and unhappy. “I remember I was feeling unnaturally warm . . .You remember when I got up to go out for a breath of air? It was then—then.”
“It was a bit stuffy,” Shevran nodded.
“Yes,” said Bordeman gloomily, “it was.”
Shevran asked, “Would you like to read? I have some books and magazines along and I’d be only too glad to—”
“No, thanks. I don’t read much. I never had time to read much.” A low fire grew in his unhappy eyes. “I’ve been a man of action all my life. I’ve been in danger more times than any man I ever met, and there was never any time for books. It was danger I could see, take hold of with my hands. But this”—his big hand closed over his heart—“this is something you can’t take hold of.”
“You’ll probably find it restful here. I hope you won’t find it too hot.”
“I’m used to heat,” Bordeman said, his voice growing loud. “I’ve poured gallons of sweat out of me in my time. I’m used to any kind of physical hardship. You can tell that by looking at me. Just as I can tell by looking at you that you never strayed far beyond the towns, never worked much with your shoulders and your hands.”
“No, I guess I never have,” Shevran replied thoughtfully.
“Ever face a man with a gun in his hand?”
“No. I was in a war once but it was very impersonal. I was with the big guns.”
“You’ve missed one of the big thrills of life. It makes you feel like—like a god !”
“It must be nice to feel god-like,” Shevran admitted.
Bordeman turned on his side. “What was your greatest thrill?”
“It’s hard to say. One, I suppose, was the time I suddenly found myself with enough money to spare to buy a painting by Sorolla. Another, the time I sailed a sloop ’from Nassau to Caibarien. And my first plàne flight. Then recently—just very recently—a woman’s face that I saw for a moment in a doorway.”
“That’s just sentimental,” Bordeman scoffed.
“Not exactly. There was a lot of poetry in it. The profile was classic. The woman happens to be on board. You may have seen her, or you will when you disembark. Karen Langard is her name. See if you don’t agree with me.”
Bordeman stared while a harassed look surged in his eyes. Shevran, who was aware of the look without meeting it, busied himself with a loose shoelace. Bordeman turned on his back, moistened his lips. A shudder seemed to ripple the bedclothes.
Shevran got up, saying, “I hope you’ll be in good shape by the time we reach Bridgetown. If you feel the need of a little companionship meanwhile, let me know.” Bordeman’s voice was miles away: “Thanks . . . thanks.”
THE WIND held strong through the afternoon. The Wildstone logged her allotted twelve knots competently, and though spray flew on the windward side the going was not too rough.
Farrel showed a great deal of perturbation over the welfare of Bordeman. He made several trips to Bordeman’s cabin, and each time returned with an oral bulletin of the man’s condition and related new deeds of daring and adventure which Bordeman had told him.
He added: “And Mr. Bordeman said he would see if he could make a place for me in one of his stations.”
“You ‘yes’ him enough,” chuckled Norwood, “and he will. He loves an appreciative audience. Take the chief steward. When he retires, why, Bordeman’s promised him a job in Trinidad, so he can be near his family.”
Shevran smiled inwardly, the measure of Millard’s concern over Bordeman being now explicable. It was time for cocktails and he stood a round of Daiquiris. Both Norwood and Davidson had taken quite a bit on board since noon, but it was Shevran’s first and he relished it and drank two more. A steward brought him a wireless message, and Norwood, raising his empty glass, said: “Have another.”
“I’ll take a rain check,” Shevran replied. He did not read the message at the table but took it to his cabin. It was lengthy and contained a list of names, twenty in all. He read it, mused over it, then folded it and locked it away in his kit bag. His expression was introspective, it was a little moody also. He frowned, shook his head, as if some unpleasant thought ruffled for a moment his bland equanimity. He sighed, pushing the palm of his hand slowly upward on his cheek, then absentmindedly scratching his temple. He sent a note round to Karen Langard’s cabin, and when the steward fetched a reply he went there.
She said: “That was thoughtful of
you. Can you find a chair? Try that one. It’s fairly comfortable.”
“I pictured you alone all day,” he explained, “and I thought cocktails for two—”
She;’chided: “You pity me.”
“Not entirely. I suggested it because I really wanted to.”
He' rang for the steward and ordered cocktails, and though he much preferred a pipe he took one of the cigarettes she offered. She reclined in a wing-backed wicker chair, her muled feet on a small rattan footstool. She had been reading and he saw that the book was Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica. He mentioned it and said how much he liked it, the child psychology in it, the terrifying implica-
tions it contained. The steward brought the cocktails and when he had gone and they had sipped, Shevran asked:
“Do you live in Barbados?”
“No. Porto Rico. I’m going to spend a couple of weeks in Bridgetown and then catch a boat to San Juan. My father’s a minor Government official and I have a swimming school there.”
For a split instant there was a puzzled look in his eyes, but his head was bent, he was watching the play of light in his cocktail, and she could not have noticed. He was again impressed by the tranquillity, the imperturbability, of her face. It was not that it was cold or insensible; it was anything but that. The angles of her face were not sharp, crude; they were finely chiselled, strong without being masculine. Her lips were gentle but they had about them a quality of firmness that was not evident in any definite line. Her eyes were warm, perceptive, with an air of quiet good temper.
He said: “Mr. Bordeman, the man I mentioned last night, is confined to his cabin also.”
“I didn’t notice that it was particularly rough,” she replied, glancing casually at the port.
“Bad heart, I think. The doctor seems to think that his experience after the Vandervoort went down—you know, swimming for seven hours—might have left some ill effects.”
“That is quite a swim, isn’t it?” “Remarkable.” Shevran took another sip of his cocktail, broke out in an amused smile. “A ridiculous thing happened last night. Millard. Do you know Millard?” “Isn’t he one of the stewards?”
‘The chief steward, yes. It seems Mr. Bordeman’s travelled a number of times on this boat, he’s rather one of the family, and Millard apparently is a very conscientious chief steward. Mr. Bordeman had his attack on deck late last night. Did I tell you? Well, Millard happened to be near by at the time, he saw Mr. Bordeman making for his cabin with a stricken look, and he also saw me at a point on deck where he assumed Mr. Bordeman had come from. He takes a great interest in the state of health of Mr. Bordeman; so much so, in fact, that he came to mg later and accused me of doing something that brought on Mr. Bordeman’s attack.”
Her brows knit. “That seems rather presumptuous.”
Shevran shrugged. “He was upset, of course. I merely told him to go about his business. He wrongly assumed that I was the only passenger still on deck, and his sense of the dramatic led him to the obvious conclusion that I’d had something to do with it. It was ridiculous, of course. As ridiculous as if I were to assume that, knowing I was not the only passenger on deck, you were there also, that you must have had something to do with it. Will you have another cocktail?”
A pink glow, hardly perceptible, stained the points of her cheekbones. There was a brief measuring look in her eyes, but in a moment she smiled and said frankly: “No, thanks. One whets my appetite and two dull it.”
“I’ve had four and I think possibly you’re right.” He stood up to go, saying: “Please don’t get up.”
THE WIND died as the sun went down.
The sea sloshed about awhile, then grew calm and flattened and the clouds lay in long greyish bars on the horizon. A steward opened a few more leeside doors. The vessel was steady now, she glided through the calmed sea. The noise of the wind had gone, leaving for a short time that sense of uncertain, insecure quiet that follows any turbulent action or emotion.
Shevran left the dinner table with Farrel at his elbow, and they went on deck together. Farrel’s young, too sensitive face had shown signs of perplexed anxiety during dinner; he’d seemed out of the things, only every now and then making any attempt to join in the conversation. As they reached the break of the after well-
deck and turned about to head forward, Shevran asked :
“Mr. Bordeman getting along all right?”
“Well, frankly, I don’t know.”
Farrel’s eyes were worried, beset by indecision. “It’s probably just my imagination, but just before dinner, when I went in to see him, he said some of the strangest things. He was sitting up, sitting in a corner, wedged in the comer, and. he looked pretty haggard, all droopy. His lower lip was hanging way down, and there was a dejected look in his eyes. Then he seemed to remember that I’d come in, that someone was there, and he braced up a bit. But then lie began asking me these odd questions. Do you mind?”
“Not at all?”
“It made me feel very embarrassed. He asked me if I’d heard anyone talking about him. I said, yes, I had. He asked me what I’d heard. Well, I felt very embarrassed, and I said we’d discussed his attack and hoped he’d get better. ‘No, not that,’ he said. He wanted to know if I’d heard anything said against him. Well, you know how Mr. Norwood talks. You can’t tell whether he approves of Mr. Bordeman or not; you don’t know, really, when he’s joking and when he isn’t—or if he is joking, ever. But naturally I said, ‘Why, no, I haven’t heard a thing.’ Then he said, ‘If you do, don’t believe it, don’t believe it.’ I felt very uneasy. ‘Don’t believe it, my lad,’ he .said again, like that, in a trembling voice. ‘There are a great many people, ’ he said, ‘who don’t like me. Why? Because I’m a success. Because I’ve done things in a big way. They hate me because I’m a success. They say things behind my back. They lie—lie !’ he shouted. I tried to quiet him. ‘Of course they lie, but I haven’t heard a thing against you. I’ve only heard good things.’
“This seemed to startle him and his voice burst out eagerly, he said, ‘What— what did you hear?’ I told him I’d heard he was a good business man and had led a very adventurous life. And he panted, ‘What else? What else?’ Well, I was pretty hard put, but I said, ‘Oh, that you’ve given work to a lot of men who needed it.’ ‘What else? What else?’ he cried. I felt I really had to make things up and I said, ‘And that you’d persevered where a weaker man would have given up.’ He actually said ‘Ah!’ and his eyes lighted up and he begged, ‘What else now? Tell me.’ I felt I’d got into something I was going to have a hard time getting out of, but I managed to mention a few more odds and ends.
“It was strange. He gradually became much the same as he was in the smokeroom last night. He actually expanded. He lit a cigar. I was tempted to suggest that it mightn’t be good for his heart, but he was already talking, he was telling me another episode out of his life. It had something to do with the time he singlehanded subdued a crazed horse on a coffee finca in Costa Rica and saved a number of women and children from being trampled to death. But before he could finish his eyes clouded, he seemed gradually to become deflated, his words slowed up and finally he stopped and looked dejected again. He laid aside the cigar and grimaced.
I was sure he shouldn’t have smoked that cigar. I asked him if I should call in the doctor. He said, no, I needn’t. ‘It’ll be no trouble,’ I assured him, but he growled, ‘No! No!’ in a panicky voice and got into his berth. Do you think I ought to tell the doctor?”
THEY STOPPED at the fonvard end of the deck and Shevran said: “I
don’t think so.”
“But don’t you think he acted very strangely?”
"It’s probably nerves. A man of action such as he is must find enforced inactivity irksome.”
Farrel shuddered. “It gave me, I don’t know, an unpleasant sensation seeing a big man like that in such a state.”
“It’s not very pleasant,” Shevran agreed. “Have a brandy with me.”
Farrel took one with him and then remembered that he had a date with one of the officers to play chess, and left. Shevran ordered another and mulled over it a long time, sucking on his pipe. Then he went into the lounge, took a novel from the library and moved to an armchair in an obscure comer. The two sisters were knitting and conversing in low tones. Jamieson was talking with a man who Shevran had heard was connected with Dodd’s Reformatory. It was half-past eleven when Shevran turned the last page of his book, and when he looked up it was to discover that everyone had departed. The smokeroom, he found, was deserted also. The bar was closed. Most of the lights had been turned off and the only sound was the dull monotone of the ship’s engines.
He went on deck, clearing his throat; the sound was intimate, very personal, and seemed to make more provocative the solitude and impersonality of the darkness that shrouded the deck and the sea. He made a leisurely circuit of the deck, saw no one, and entered the corridor leading to his cabin. It was deserted. The pulse of the engines was more vibratory here, more persistent. He paused before Bordeman’s door, could tell that a light still burned behind it. He deliberated for a moment, then knocked. There was no answer. Pie knocked again and put his ear to the door and after a moment he tried the door and it opened. Bordeman was not inside.
Shevran stepped back into the corridor and closed the door and went on slowly toward his own. But he did not open it. His eyes browsed and after a moment he flexed his lips and moved leisurely onward, pausing a few yards from Karen Langard’s door and again deliberating. His grey eyes lay quietly, speculatively on her door. Pie did not look particularly pleased. He pursed his lips, flicked his eyes round the walls, up and down the corridor. Three quiet strides brought him flush with Karen Langard’s door.
Pie heard, indistinctly but definitely, sounds of disturbance beyond the door. A thumping, a scraping, as if things were indiscriminately being moved, tossed about. A tinkle of glass. The flat clatter of something light and wooden striking and rolling on the floor. The scuff of heavy feet in jerky, inconclusive movement. The muffled thump of a knee or an elbow against the door. And breathing—the hoarse intake of hard, uneasy breathing.
Shevran knocked. The sounds stopped abruptly, like the clatter of a mechanical toy at the touch of a finger. There was no vestige of sound left, nothing but the feeling of sound suspended, poised, and lacking in finality. His hand closed on the knob, turned it. It was merely a gesture, he did not expect to find the door unlatched. But it was, and before he realized it he found that he had pushed the door open a matter of six inches. He remained rigid, his feet still in the corridor, his arm extended outward and downward, straight, with his hand fastened on the knob. He could see nothing but a semicircular portion of a closed porthole. The hair on his nape prickled and his lips felt strangely dry. He wished he had not got the door open as far as he did, or open at all, yet he could not bring himself to withdraw. He had meant merely to rattle the knob, ask what the trouble was, and if no one answered or opened the door, then to have summoned a steward. His authority did not extend beyond that.
But he was this far, he had the door open six inches, and he was in the grip of a strong compulsion ; he knew he would have to go all the way. He opened the door, pushed it back slowly until it was at arm’s length, and then stepped into the cabin.
THE FLOOR was littered with dresses, underclothes, toilet articles. Plandbags lay open, one with its lining slashed. The drawers of a small wardrobe trunk were tumbled every way. A chair was overturned. Face powder had been spilled. Bordeman stood back of it all—huge,
lumpy in a linen suit, sweat-streaked. His heavy, tortured breathing made the only sound in the cabin. Chaos was in his eyes and his face was an eloquent record of anguish. His big arms stood out from his sides, his hands pressed flat against the wall. He seemed to be trying to melt himself into the fabric of the wall.
Shevran closed the door quietly and glanced at Karen Langard. She lay on the floer in front of her berth, braced on one elbow, her hair all over to one side. There was no color in her face: she was groggy, as if die had been unconscious and had just come to. She was staring at the floor, her eyes glazed with an uncomprehending look.
Shevran’s voice was matter-of-fact when he addressed Bordeman: “I suppose you know what this means.”
Bordeman’s fingernails scraped against the wall. “I didn’t do anything.” he choked. “I was just looking for . . . ” His breath gagged him and he moved his big head slowly from side to side.
“For your diamond ring?” asked Shevran. “The one that was supposed to have gone down with the Vandervoort?”
Bordeman grimaced and then his eyes sprang wide with shock.
Shevran sighed. “Yes, I’m looking for it, too. The insurance company sent me to make as sure as it’s humanly possible that it was lost. There seemed to be some doubt—principally because none of the other rings slipped off your fingers and because you waited ten days after landing to file your claim.”
Shevran poured some water into a glass and gave it to Karen Langard. She took à; and drank slowly, between breaths.
“Naturally,” Shevran said, turning to Bordeman, “if the ring is lost, the company will pay. Is it?”
Bordeman’s lips shook and he turned slow, congested eyes on Karen Langard. She was sitting on the floor now, with her head back against the wall. She was spent, exhausted, and her calm, tranquil eyes were fixed on Bordeman. When he made no reply, seemed unable to make a reply, she said:
Shevran observed: “Your throat’s
“Mr. Bordeman,” she said ruefully, “quite competently choked the breath out of me, then”—she cast her eyes over the dishevelled room—“searched for the ring.”
“You were of course a passenger on the Vandervoort”
“You might have saved me the trouble of wirelessing for a list of women passengers.”
She nodded. “I might have.” Then she sighed and gazed at the ceiling and said: “I thought I was being kind. I’ve never got any pleasure out of tearing down gods, even plaster gods.”
Bordeman cringed and turned his face away and looked hungrily at the door. He staggered toward it, reaching out, groping, as if the room were in darkness. He seemed amazed that no one should stop him. No one stopped him. He blundered out, and the sound of his clubbing footsteps rang in the corridor and was then abruptly climaxed by the slam of a door.
KAREN LANGARD looked up at Shevran. “Why didn’t you stop him?” she asked curiously.
“Do you think it would be pleasant dragging answers from a shattered god?” He dropped to one knee. “Be sensible. What happened on the Vandervoort?”
“I didn’t mean to tell. I don’t want to tell. I’d never have told—”
“I know. I know quite a bit already, from inference. I know that whatever happened, it had something to do with his honor, or his dishonor. I’m not so interested, really, in what he did as what you did. I’m interested in your type, the kind of woman you are—to shield, as you’ve evidently done, a charlatan.”
She stared at the palms of her hands. “I
traded,” she said, in a voice hardly above a whisper, “a lifebelt for a diamond ring.” “One of Mr. Bordeman’s hard bargains?” “You know about the Vandervoort blowing up. Everything happened so suddenly. I was thrown from my berth and I think I was stunned for several minutes. The lights were out, but I had a fair idea of how to get on deck, I knew where my lifebelt was and I found it in the dark and tarted out. There was smoke in the passageway and flames were breaking through. I found the stairway and started up, and when I was halfway up I met a man with a flashlight. It was Bordeman. I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t even know his name, but there he was and the look on his face was the same look as when he just went out of here. He was blocking the stairway. He reached his hand out. ‘Can you swim?’ he choked. I said I could and he said he couldn’t swim a stroke.
“He lied, of course. He can; how well, I don’t know.
“He asked me for my lifebelt. He said if I could swim, the boats would pick me up. I guess I was too excited to be shocked by a man asking me for my lifebelt and I actually gave it to him, reasoning that I could get another on deck, or jump and swim if I had to. He grabbed it and then he took a ring off his finger and thrust it into my hand. ‘Take this,’ he cried. ‘It’s worth a hundred thousand dollars.’ I took it—y°u don’t think much about things at a time like that—and told him to hurry up or we’d never reach deck. Well, he turned and ran up the stairs, he had the flashlight. I think I called, ‘Wait with the light,’ but he kept on and I had to stumble up in the darkness. I could tell that the ship was heeled way over. The walls were crackling, and there was water pouring in when I reached the top of the stairway. I fell down, or was struck by a piece of falling timber, and the next thing I knew I was swimming in the darkness and the ship was nowhere in sight, it must have gone down. I’d lost the ring, of course. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I found a piece of wreckage and climbed on it, and in the morning a lumber schooner picked me up and took me all the way to Rio. I know I must have been reported among the missing for two weeks.”
“Bordeman must have thought that you’d gone down with the Vandervoort and saw no reason why he shouldn’t collect. Did you know he was talcing passage on this ship?”
She shook her head. “No. I saw him come on board, and stayed in my cabin. The meeting on deck last night was accidental. I had a vivid memory of him on the stairway that night on the Vandervoorl—fear and terror and horror all working in his face at one time. I had no desire to witness it again, to be involved in anything that would bring it up. But he thought I had the ring. He told me, confessed about the insurance people. He said he wanted it so that he could throw it overboard. He offered to pay me its value in cash. I told him to forget it, to forget everything connected with it. But he didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t have the ring. He couldn’t understand that I wanted to forget everything connected with it. He finally came in here tonight. I told him to get out. He choked me.” Shevran nodded, saying: “He’s too
fascinated by the grand gesture. When he saw the Mercury coming to pick him up he must have cast loose the lifebelt. Having swum seven hours without a lifebelt makes a better story than having swum seven hours with one. But it was his pinchpenny nature that upset him. He couldn’t resist trying to collect on the ring.”
“What do you suppose he will do?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea.”
She started. “Hadn’t you better make sure that he doesn’t jump overboard?” “Oh, he won’t do that.”
It was two months later, while Shevran was passing through Colon, that he learned that Bordeman had sold out his holdings and gone to France, ostensibly to retire.