It was quite true. By the time we had reached Tonking, I felt sure there was someone else in the room. In my agitation I stole a cautious glance from the taff-rail of my eye and saw a white figure standing hesitantly by the door, in an appalled and embarrassed silence. The Director saw it, too, for he was leaning as far away from the fire as he could without jibing his chair, and through the delicate haze of roasting tweed that surrounded him I could see something wistfully appealing in his glance. The Lawyer, too, had a mysterious shimmer in his loyal eyes, but his old training in the P. and O. service had been too strong for him. He would never speak, I felt sure, while his commanding officer had the floor.
I began to realize that, in a sense, the responsibility was mine. The life of the sea—a curious contradiction. Trained from boyhood to assume responsibility, but responsibility graded and duly ascending through the ranks of command. Marlow, an old shipmaster, and more than that, our host—a trying problem. If it had not been for the presence of Mrs. Marlow, I could not have dared. But the woman complicates the situation with all sorts of delicate reactions of tact, conduct, and necessity. It is always so. Well. Humph!
But the apparition at the other end of the room was plainly in trouble. A distressing sight, and I divined that the others were relying on me. Mrs. Marlow, poor soul, her face had a piteous and luminous appeal. It was, once more, the old and shocking question of conflicting loyalties. There was nothing else to do. I shoved out one foot, and the stand of fire-irons fell over with an appalling clatter. Marlow broke off—somewhere near Manila, I think it was.
“Charlie, my dear,” said Mrs. Marlow, “Don’t you think we could finish the story after dinner? The roast will be quite spoiled. The maid has been waiting for nearly two hours....”
THE LITTLE HOUSE
After many days of damp, dull, and dolorous weather, we found ourself unexpectedly moving in a fresh, cool, pure air; an air which, although there was no sunlight, had the spirit and feeling of sunlight in it; an air which was purged and lively. And, so strangely do things happen, after days of various complexion and stratagem, we found ourself looking across that green field, still unchanged, at the little house.