'In the establishment where we sat one could get a variety of foreign drinks which were kept for the visiting naval officers, and he took a sip of the dark medical-looking stuff, which probably was nothing more nasty than cassis a l'eau, and glancing with one eye into the tumbler, shook his head slightly. "Impossible de comprendre — vous concevez," he said, with a curious mixture of unconcern and thoughtfulness. I could very easily conceive how impossible it had been for them to understand. Nobody in the gunboat knew enough English to get hold of the story as told by the serang. There was a good deal of noise, too, round the two officers. "They crowded upon us. There was a circle round that dead man (autour de ce mort)," he described. "One had to attend to the most pressing. These people were beginning to agitate themselves — Parbleu! A mob like that — don't you see?" he interjected with philosophic indulgence. As to the bulkhead, he had advised his commander that the safest thing was to leave it alone, it was so villainous to look at. They got two hawsers on board promptly (en toute hale) and took the Patna in tow — stern foremost at that — which, under the circumstances, was not so foolish, since the rudder was too much out of the water to be of any great use for steering, and this manoeuvre eased the strain on the bulkhead, whose state, he expounded with stolid glibness, demanded the greatest care (exigeait les plus grands menagements). I could not help thinking that my new acquaintance must have had a voice in most of these arrangements: he looked a reliable officer, no longer very active, and he was seamanlike too, in a way, though as he sat there, with his thick fingers clasped lightly on his stomach, he reminded you of one of those snuffy, quiet village priests, into whose ears are poured the sins, the sufferings, the remorse of peasant generations, on whose faces the placid and simple expression is like a veil thrown over the mystery of pain and distress. He ought to have had a threadbare black soutane buttoned smoothly up to his ample chin, instead of a frock-coat with shoulder-straps and brass buttons. His broad bosom heaved regularly while he went on telling me that it had been the very devil of a job, as doubtless (sans doute) I could figure to myself in my quality of a seaman (en votre qualite de marin). At the end of the period he inclined his body slightly towards me, and, pursing his shaved lips, allowed the air to escape with a gentle hiss. "Luckily," he continued, "the sea was level like this table, and there was no more wind than there is here." . . . The place struck me as indeed intolerably stuffy, and very hot; my face burned as though I had been young enough to be embarrassed and blushing. They had directed their course, he pursued, to the nearest English port "naturellement," where their responsibility ceased, "Dieu merci." . . . He blew out his flat cheeks a little. . . . "Because, mind you (notez bien), all the time of towing we had two quartermasters stationed with axes by the hawsers, to cut us clear of our tow in case she . . ." He fluttered downwards his heavy eyelids, making his meaning as plain as possible. . . . "What would you! One does what one can (on fait ce qu'on peut)," and for a moment he managed to invest his ponderous immobility with an air of resignation. "Two quartermasters — thirty hours — always there. Two!" he repeated, lifting up his right hand a little, and exhibiting two fingers. This was absolutely the first gesture I saw him make. It gave me the opportunity to "note" a starred scar on the back of his hand — effect of a gunshot clearly; and, as if my sight had been made more acute by this discovery, I perceived also the seam of an old wound, beginning a little below the temple and going out of sight under the short grey hair at the side of his head — the graze of a spear or the cut of a sabre. He clasped his hands on his stomach again. "I remained on board that — that — my memory is going (s'en va). Ah! Patt-na. C'est bien ca. Patt-na. Merci. It is droll how one forgets. I stayed on that ship thirty hours. . . ."
'"You did!" I exclaimed. Still gazing at his hands, he pursed his lips a little, but this time made no hissing sound. "It was judged proper," he said, lifting his eyebrows dispassionately, "that one of the officers should remain to keep an eye open (pour ouvrir l'oeil)" . . . he sighed idly . . . "and for communicating by signals with the towing ship — do you see? — and so on. For the rest, it was my opinion too. We made our boats ready to drop over — and I also on that ship took measures. . . . Enfin! One has done one's possible. It was a delicate position. Thirty hours! They prepared me some food. As for the wine — go and whistle for it — not a drop." In some extraordinary way, without any marked change in his inert attitude and in the placid expression of his face, he managed to convey the idea of profound disgust. "I — you know — when it comes to eating without my glass of wine — I am nowhere."
'I was afraid he would enlarge upon the grievance, for though he didn't stir a limb or twitch a feature, he made one aware how much he was irritated by the recollection. But he seemed to forget all about it. They delivered their charge to the "port authorities," as he expressed it. He was struck by the calmness with which it had been received. "One might have thought they had such a droll find (drole de trouvaille) brought them every day. You are extraordinary — you others," he commented, with his back propped against the wall, and looking himself as incapable of an emotional display as a sack of meal. There happened to be a man-of-war and an Indian Marine steamer in the harbour at the time, and he did not conceal his admiration of the efficient manner in which the boats of these two ships cleared the Patna of her passengers. Indeed his torpid demeanour concealed nothing: it had that mysterious, almost miraculous, power of producing striking effects by means impossible of detection which is the last word of the highest art. "Twenty-five minutes — watch in hand — twenty-five, no more." . . . He unclasped and clasped again his fingers without removing his hands from his stomach, and made it infinitely more effective than if he had thrown up his arms to heaven in amazement. . . . "All that lot (tout ce monde) on shore — with their little affairs — nobody left but a guard of seamen (marins de l'Etat) and that interesting corpse (cet interessant cadavre). Twenty-five minutes." . . . With downcast eyes and his head tilted slightly on one side he seemed to roll knowingly on his tongue the savour of a smart bit of work. He persuaded one without any further demonstration that his approval was eminently worth having, and resuming his hardly interrupted immobility, he went on to inform me that, being under orders to make the best of their way to Toulon, they left in two hours' time, "so that (de sorte que) there are many things in this incident of my life (dans cet episode de ma vie) which have remained obscure."'