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down one of those incredibly ignoble streets, the rain, driven by the cruel wind, whipping against sidewalk and window, the front garden a mere puddle of mud, and indoors a harassed, dogged woman fighting her way to the day's end, while a horde of robust children romped and gorged and blubbered around her.
'Seven,' I murmured, and the bells of a herd of goats made a musical commotion in the street below.
'Seven,' said Emma, refilling my cup. 'And he's not going home yet, even though he has got out of the navy,' I observed with tactful abstraction.
"That's just it,' said Emma, ‘not going home. He's gone into this salvage business, you see. I believe it's a very good thing.'
Emma. 'He is n't that sort of man. I tell you, she's all right.'
'Who? The somebody who's here?' 'No, his wife's all right as far as money goes. But there's no sympathy between them. A man can't go on all his life without sympathy.'
'What is she like?' I asked, not so sure of this.
'Oh, I'm not defending him,' said Emma with her eyes fixed on the sugarbowl. 'Goodness knows I 've no reason to think well of men, and you're all alike. Only, he's throwing himself away on a Well, never mind. You'll see her. Here's your room. You can have this connecting door open if you like.'
'Of course his wife gets her half-pay,' comfortable crypt. The walls, five feet I mused.
'She gets all his pay,' accented Emma. He sends it all. He has other
ways - you understand. Resources. But he won't go home. You know, there's somebody here.'
'Fine,' I said, looking round, and then walking into a sort of vast and
So here we were coming to it. It had been dawning on me, as I stared down at the blue of the Marsamuscetto, that possibly Heatly's interest for Emma had been heightened by the fact that he was a widower. Nothing so crude as that, however. Something much more interesting to the high gods. Between maturity and second childhood, if events are propitious, men come to a period of augmented curiosity fortified by a vague sense of duties accomplished. They acquire a conviction that, beyond the comfortable and humdrum vales of domestic felicity, where they have lived so long, there lie peaks of ecstasy and mountainranges of perilous dalliance. I roused suddenly.
thick, were pierced on opposite sides as for cannon, and one looked instinctively for the inscriptions by prisoners and ribald witticisms by sentries. There was the Strada Lucia again, beyond a delicious green railing; and behind was another recess, from whose shuttered aperture one beheld the hotel courtyard, with a giant tree swelling up and almost touching the yellow walls. I looked at the groined roof, the distant white-curtained bed, the cupboards of black wood, the tiled floor with its old, worn mats. I looked out of the window into the street, and was startled by an unexpectedly near view of a saint in a blue niche by the window, a saint with a long sneering nose and a supercilious expression as she looked down with her stony eyes on the Strada Lucia. I looked across the Strada Lucia, and saw dark eyes and disdainful features at magic casements. And I told Emma that I would take the apartment.
'You'll find Mr. Heatly in the Café
'But now he's out of the navy,' I de la Reine,' she remarked gently; remarked.
'You must n't think that,' said
'he's there with Captain Gosnell.'
nor Captain Gosnell just yet. I said I would be back to dinner, and took my cap and cane.
After wandering about the town, gazing upon the cosmopolitan crowd that thronged the streets, and musing upon many things, upon deserted wives and deserting husbands, and their respective fates,I approached the Libreria, and saw Heatly seated at a table with two other men, in the shadow of one of the great columns. Just behind him a young Maltese kneeled by a great long-haired goat, which he was milking swiftly into a glass for a near-by customer. Heatly, however, was not drinking milk. He was talking. There were three of them and their heads were together over the drinks on the little marble table, so absorbed that they took no notice at all of the lively scene about them.
There was about these men an aura of supreme happiness. In the light of a match-flare, as they lit fresh cigarettes, their features showed up harsh and masculine, the faces of men who dealt neither in ideas nor in emotions, but in prejudices and instincts and desires. Then Heatly turned and saw me, and further contemplation was out of the question.
Of that evening and the tale they told me, there is no record by the alert psychologist. There is a roseate glamour over a confusion of memories. There are recollections of exalted emotions and unparalleled eloquence. We traversed vast distances and returned safely, arm in arm. We were the generals of famous campaigns, the heroes of colossal achievements, and the conquerors of proud and beautiful women.
From the swaying platforms of the Fourth Dimension we caught glimpses of starry destinies. We stood on the shoulders of the lesser gods, to see our enemies confounded. And out of the mist and fume of the evening emerges a shadowy legend of the sea.
By a legerdemain which seemed timely and agreeably inexplicable, the marble table under the arcade of the Libreria became a linen-covered table in an immense and lofty chamber. We were at dinner. The ceiling was a gilded framework of paneled paintings. Looking down upon us from afar were well-fed anchorites and buxom saints. Their faces gleamed from out a dark and polished obscurity, and their ivory arms emerged from the convolutions of ruby and turquoise-velvet draperies. Tall candelabra supported colored globes, which shed a mellow radiance upon the glitter of silver and crystal. There was a sound of music, which rose and fell as some distant door swung to and fro; the air still trembled with the pulsing reverberations of a great gong, and a thin whine, which was the food-elevator ascending in dry grooves from the kitchen, seemed to spur the fleet-footed waiters to a frenzy of service. High cabinets of dark wood stood between tall narrow windows housing collections of sumptuous plates and gilded wares. On side tables heaps of bread and fruit made great masses of solid color, of gamboge, saffron, and tawny orange. Long-necked bottles appeared reclining luxuriously in wicker cradles, like philosophic pagans about to bleed to death.
At a table by the distant door sits the little boy with the freckled nose and beautiful gray eyes. He writes in' a large book as the waiters pause on tip-toe, dishes held as if in votive offering to a red Chinese dragon on the mantel above the boy's head. He writes, and looking out down the en
trance, suddenly laughs in gice. From the corridor come whoops and a staccato cackle of laughter, followed by a portentous roll of thunder from the great gong. The boy puts his hand over his mouth in his ecstasy, the waiters grin as they hasten, the head waiter moves over from the windows, thinking seriously, and one has a vision of Emma, mildly distraught, at the door. Captain Gosnell, holding up the corner of his serviette, remarks that they are coming, and studies the wine list.
They rush in, and a monocled major at a near-by table pauses, fork in air over his fried sea-trout, and glares. In the forefront of the bizarre procession comes Heatly, with a Russian guardsman on his back. The other two guardsmen follow, dancing a stately measure, revolving with rhythmic gravity. Behind, waltzing alone, is Mr. Marks, the mate. Instantly, how ever, the play is over. They break away, the guardsman slips to the floor, and they all assume a demeanor of impenetrable reserve as they walk decorously toward us. They sit, and become merged in the collective mood of the chamber. Yet one has a distinct impression of a sudden glimpse into another world—as if the thin yet durable membrane of existence had split open a little, and one saw, for a single moment, men as they really are.
And while I am preoccupied with this fancy, which is mysteriously collated in the mind with a salmi of quails, Captain Gosnell becomes articulate. He is explaining something to me.
It is time Captain Gosnell should be described. He sits on my left, a portly, powerful man, with a large red nose and great baggy pouches under his stern eyes. It is he who tells the story. I watch him as he dissects his quail. Of his own volition he tells me he has twice swallowed the anchor. And here
he is, still on the job. Did he say twice? Three times, counting well, it was this way.
First of all, an aunt left him a little money and he quit a second mate's job to start a small provision store. Failed. Had to go to sea again. Then he married. Wife had a little money, so they started again. Prospered. Two stores, both doing well. Two counters, I am to understand. Canned goods, wines and spirits on one side; meats and so forth on the other. High-class clientèle. Wonderful head for business, Mrs. Gosnell's. He himself, understand, not so dusty. Had a way with customers. Could sell pork in a synagogue, as the saying is.
And then Mrs. Gosnell died. Great shock to him, of course, and took all the heart out of him. Buried her and went back to sea. She was insured, and later, with what little money he had, he started an agency for carpet-sweeping machinery. Found it difficult to get on with his captain, you see, being a senior man in a junior billet. As I very likely am aware, standing rigging makes poor running gear. Was doing a very decent little. business too, when -the war. So he went into the Naval Reserve. That's how it all came about. Now, his idea is to go back, with the experience he has gained, and start a store again-merchandising in his opinion, is the thing of the future. With a little money, the thing can be done. Well!
But it was necessary to have a little capital. Say five thousand. So here
A bad attack of pneumonia with gastritis finished him at Dover. Doctor said if he got away to a warmer climate, it would make a new man of him. So a chat with a surgeon-commander in London resulted in his being appointed to a mine-layer bound for the Eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps I
had heard of her. The Ouzel. Sidewheeler built for the excursionists. Started away from Devonport and took her to Port Said. Imagine it! Think of her bouncing from one mountainous wave to another, off Finisterre. Think of her turning over and over, almost, going round St. Vincent. Fine little craft for all that. Heatly here was Chief. Marks here was Mate. It was a serious responsibility.
And when they reached Port Said, they were immediately loaded with mines and sent straight out again to join the others, who were laying a complicated barrage about fifty miles north. Four days out, one day in. It was n't so bad at first, being one of a company, with constant signaling and visits in fine weather. But later, when the Ouzel floated alone in an immense blue circle of sea and sky, they began to get acquainted. This took the common English method of discovering, one by one, each other's weaknesses, and brooding over them in secret. What held them together most firmly appears to have been a sort of sophisticated avoidance of women. Not in so many words, Captain Gosnell assures me, but taking it for granted, they found a common ground in 'Keeping in the fairway.' Marks was a bachelor, it is true, but Marks had no intention of being anything else. Marks had other fish to fry, I am to understand.
I look at Marks, who sits opposite to me. He has a full round face, cleanshaved, and flexible as an actor's. His rich brown hair, a thick, solid-looking auburn thatch, suddenly impresses me with its extreme incongruity. As I look at him, he puts up his hand, pushes his hair slowly up over his forehead, like a cap, revealing a pink scalp, rolls the whole contrivance from side to side, and brings it back to its normal position.
Captain Gosnell assures me, for nobody is deceived by a wig like that. What is a man to do when he has pretty near the whole top of his head blown off by a gasometer exploding on the Western Front? There's Marks, minus his hair and everything else, pretty well buried in a pit of loose cinders. Lamppost blown over, lying across him. Marks lay quiet enough, thinking. He was n't dead, he could breathe, and one hand moved easily in the cinders. Began to paddle with that hand. Went on thinking and paddling. Soon he could move the other hand. Head knocking against the lamp-post, he paddled downward. Found he was moving slowly forward. Head clear of the lamppost. Gritty work, swimming, as it were, in loose ashes. Hands in shocking condition. Scalp painful. Lost his hair, but kept his head. Suddenly his industriously paddling hands swirled into the air, jerking legs drove him upward, and he spewed the abrasive element from his lips. He had come back. And had brought an idea with him. Before he went into the army, Marks was second officer in the Marchioness Line, afflicted with dreams of inventing unsinkable ships and collapsible life-boats. Now he came back to life with a brand-new notion. What was it? Well, we'd be having a run over to the ship bye-and-bye and I would see it. It could do everything except sing a comic song.
'We had been relieved one evening,' Captain Gosnell observes, 'and were about hull down and under, when I ordered dead slow for a few hours. The reason for this was that, at full speed, we would reach Port Said about three in the afternoon, and it was generally advised to arrive after sunset, or even after dark. Besides this, I set a course to pass round to the east'ard of a field we had laid a week or so before,
More for comfort than anything else, instead of to the west'ard. This is a
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simple enough matter of running off the correct distances, for the current, if anything, increased the margin of safety. We were making about four knots, with the mine-field on the starboard bow, as I calculated, and we were enjoying a very pleasant supper in my cabin, which had been the passenger saloon in the Ouzel's excursion days a fine large room on the upper deck, with big windows, like a house ashore. The old bus was chugging along, and from my table you could see the horizon all round, except just astern, which was hid by the funnel. Nothing there, however, but good salt. water, and the Holy Land a long way behind. It was like sitting in a conservatory. The sea was as smooth as glass, with a fine haze to the south'ard. This haze, as far as I could judge, was moving north at about the same speed as we were going south, which would make it eight knots, and in an hour we would be in it. I mention this because it explains why the three of us, sitting in a cabin on an upper deck, saw the battleship all together, all at once, and quite near. We all went on the bridge.
'Now you must understand,' went on Captain Gosnell, that the subject of conversation between us while we were at supper was money. We were discussing the best way of getting hold of money, and the absolute necessity of capital after the war, if we were to get anywhere. This war, you know, has been a three-ringed circus for the young fellows. But to men like us it has n't been anything of the sort. We have a very strong conviction that some of us are going to feel the draft. We are n't so young as we used to be, and a little money would be a blessing. Well, we were talking about our chances of salvage, prize-money, bonuses, and so forth. Our principal notion, if I remember, that evening,
was to go into business and pool our resources. For one thing, we wanted to keep up the association. And then, out of the Lord knows where, came this great gray warship heading straight –
Captain Gosnell paused and regarded me with an austere glance. Mr. Marks and Heatly were listening and looking at us watchfully. And over Mr. Marks's shoulder I could see the three officers with their polychromatic uniforms gleaming in the soft orange radiance of shaded lamps.
'You understand what I mean?' said Captain Gosnell. 'We stood on the bridge watching that ship come up on us, watching her through our glasses, and we did not attach any particular importance to her appearance. When we saw the Russian ensign astern, it did not mean a great deal to us. She was as much an anomaly in those terrible waters as a line-of-battle ship of Nelson's day. That was what staggered us. An enormous valuable ship like that coming out into such a sea. Suddenly the value of her, the money she cost, the money she was worth, so near and yet so far, came home to us. I had an imaginary view of her, you understand, for a moment, as something I could sell; a sort of fanciful picture of her possibilities in the junk line. Think of the brass and rubber alone, in a ship like that! And then we all simultaneously realized just what was happening. I had I had my hand stretched out to the whistle-lanyard, when there was a heavy, bubbling grunt, and she rolled over toward us as if some invisible hand had given her a push. She rolled back to an even keel and began pitching a very little. This was due, I believe, to the sudden going astern of her engines, coupled with the mine throwing her over. Pitched a little, and, for some extraordinary reason, her forward twelve-inch guns were rapidly elevated as if some insane gun