Ship of Fools: An Episode From a Novel in Progress

This is the second of two episodes drawn from KATHERINE ANNE PORTER’S forthcoming novel, No Safe Harbor, which will appear under the Atlantic-Little, Brown imprint. No Safe Harbor, Miss Porter writes us, “began as a diary kept on board ship on my first trip to Europe in 1931. Little by little it began to turn itself into a story, by that mysterious process which I cannot explain, but which I recognize when it begins, and I go along with it out of a kind of curiosity, as if my mind which knows the facts is watching to see what my story-telling mind will finally make of them.”Miss Porter is regarded as one of the masters of the short story, and her collections Flowering Judas and Pale Horse, Pale Rider have become classics in our time.

VERA CRUZ - BREMERHAVEN, August, 1931. — Jenny had coffee early, on deck, in the cool morning light blue-tinctured between sea and sky, and began making sketches with a fountain pen: the canvas wind-funnel like a conventional ghost with outspread arms over the grated pit of the steerage eating place; Bébé, the white bulldog, apparently recovering from his seasickness, spread weightily on his belly; Elsa, her cabin mate, from memory, big arms raised, doing her hair; a passing sailor; furtively, after a quick glance around, a hasty outline of Herr Glocken’s harmonious and interesting deformity. Jenny, sitting at ease in her own neatly pretty small body which gave her very little trouble except for its long starvation for love, rather idly wondered what it might be like to live in such a hideous shape as Herr Glocken’s. The idea frightened her so much she started sharply and dropped her pen, in a flash of blind terror and suffocation, a child again locked in her grandmother’s closet narrow as a coffin. She shut her eyes so tightly that when she opened them she saw Wilhelm Freytag through a rainbow dazzle of light taking a long, rather graceful stride toward her, holding out her pen. He stopped before her then, receiving her thanks, looking very sunny and amiable, waiting to be invited to sit with her. She moved her legs aside and made room for him on the footrest of her chair.

“But if you are doing something — ?” he said.

“This is just idleness,” Jenny told him. “A form of solitaire. I’d much rather gossip a little.” She leaned toward him, feeling again how the habitual resentments of her private mood, the growing bitterness of her thoughts when left alone, were dispersed in the sound of voices and the nearness of others. Women spoil him, she thought; his charm is perhaps slightly overconfident — and then reflected that the society of someone with no troubles of his own would be a rest after her thorny progress with David.

Freytag was cheerfully ready for gossip, and happy to tell her there was a mysterious passenger aboard. A real political prisoner, being deported from Cuba, it was said, in connection with the student riots that led to the closing of the University — to be confined in cabin for the whole voyage.

“In chains, I suppose,” said Jenny. “Just what did he do? ”

“It’s a woman.”

“Would that make any difference?”

“I hope so,” said Freytag. “But then, besides that, she is a Spanish countess, and to the Captain, let me tell you, that alone makes all the difference possible. He has given orders all around that she is to be treated with the utmost consideration, and sends messages to her himself asking her what she would like. No, our prisoner isn’t going to suffer. She has a whole stateroom on Deck A to herself — more than I was able to get!”

“I would be a prisoner myself for that,”said Jenny.

“ Yes, indeed. I like space above everything, but I have that seven-foot Swede Hansen for cabin mate, and he sleeps in the upper bunk with his feet stuck out so that I bump my head on them every morning.”

“My cabin mate is on the ample side, too,”said Jenny, “but a very nice sort and we don’t elbow each other much.”

“Why, I thought you were with your husband,” said Freytag, and there danced in his eyes a curiosity so instant and candid it was almost appealing.

“We are not married,”said Jenny. She scratched a few lines on the drawing of the wind-funnel and stopped herself sternly from adding, “We are just friends who happened to take the same boat.” Could she fall so low? No, there were limits, and she believed she still knew where some of them were. And that was not altogether an innocent question on Herr Freytag’s part, either. She took a good considered look at him. Perhaps not innocent; certainly a blunder and he knew it. Did his face contract for an instant in strain and embarrassment or was she giving him more credit for sensibility than he deserved? He picked up her drawings and turned them about and she saw by his look that he cared very little about them. He lingered over the sketch of Herr Glocken, and said finally, “It’s terribly like. I wonder what he would think of it.”

“He’ll never see it,” said Jenny, taking the drawings back and putting them in the folder. He said, “ I didn’t know you were an artist,”and Jenny gave her usual answer to that: “I am not, but maybe I shall be someday.”

2

THE evil little moment blew over, but there would be an endless series of them from now on out, no matter where. She was beginning to see too clearly what she had let herself in for when she took up with David. At this point she was losing confidence in her whole life, as if every step had been one error leading to another, back to the day she was born, no doubt — no, that would be too much! That poor Elsa thinks there is something wrong with her — she would feel better if she could know about me. Yet I wanted to live in a clean house and say yes, and no, and mean what I said and have it understood and no nonsense. I hate half-things, halfheartedness, invented feelings, stupid false situations, pumped-up loves and hand-decorated hates. I hate people who stare at themselves in mirrors and smile. I want things straight and clear, or at least I want to be able to see when they’re crooked and confused. Anything else is just nasty and so my life is nasty and I am ashamed of it. And I have an albatross around my neck that I didn’t even shoot. I simply don’t know how he got there.

Freytag offered her a cigarette. “Would you like to walk a little?”

“Yes, I suppose it’s time to start tramping around the deck saying Grüss Gott to everybody.”

“I like the way the country Indians say Adios,” said Freytag, “but I’m afraid it won’t do for the Spanish company on this boat.”

“They’re really tough, aren’t they? An Adios would bounce off them like a rubber ball on a sidewalk.”

“They’re attractive-looking, though,”said Freytag, “and perhaps a little dangerous.”

“They are only as dangerous as we allow them to be,” said Jenny; “why flatter them? Really all wo need to do is to watch our pocketbooks. Otherwise they are bores, I think. Such weather,” she said; “isn’t it merry?” and stared upward with a melancholy face.

They strolled along, nodding occasionally to passing figures, exchanging glances when they saw that Arne Hansen was walking with big Elsa, her small parents following half-a-dozen steps behind with tactful feet and discreet faces. Elsa wore an absurd white beret much too small, and she was stiff with shyness. Hansen was silent.

Jenny and Freytag fell into a kind of half-confidential talk about themselves with the ease of travelers who hardly expected to know each other better. German as he was, he told her, he had a great deal of English and Scottish in him, also Hungarian on his Austrian grandmother’s side. After that, God knows what — it seemed wiser not to inquire. Jenny recited her mixed ancestry of which she was rather proud — “typically American" she called it: Dutch, Scotch-Irish-EnglishWelsh, French, and a dash of Spanish. No Hungarian, she told him, and no German. No German at all. He wanted to know how, among so many nations, she could be so certain — did she dislike Germans? Perhaps because of that beastly war? No, not even that. She had no prejudices of any kind. She had been partly brought up by her grandfather and grandmother, her father’s parents, who were old-fashioned eighteenth-century rationalists — just simple descendants of d’Alembert and Diderot, her grandfather loved to say — and to them nothing could have been more vulgar and unenlightened than even the faintest shade of disapproval of anything or anybody on grounds of nationality or religion. All this seemed to have something to do with manners as related to morals. “Negroes came to the back door, of course,” said Jenny, “and I never saw a Red Indian at our dinner table, but that was mere observance of local custom, they told me — an important part of good breeding. Lord, what a museum of an upbringing it was! I’ve never caught up with my generation. I can’t do a thing with it among my radical friends.”

“Don’t have radical friends, then,” he advised. “I never do. I am bitterly prejudiced against radicals.”

“But I am a radical,” said Jenny, “Encyclopedist radical! ”

Freytag laughed a little, said nothing. After a moment, he spoke of his wife, as he always did at some moment in almost any conversation. He described her beauty: wheat blonde, a real Rhine Maiden sort of girl. It also came out that she selected his clothes, and did rather better at it than he could, he believed; and his smile invited Jenny to be as pleased with him as he was with himself. In another sort of man, Jenny decided, this could give an effect of revolting complacency; and with the thought, she smiled at him with approval. She told him she thought a woman must have a special kind of self-confidence to dare to choose a man’s neckties for him. She had never dared! He thought it depended entirely on the man. “I have a fantastic respect for my wife’s taste and judgment in everything,”he said. There was another short silence while Jenny brooded on David’s dull black knitted strings.

“My wife is visiting her mother in Mannheim,” said Freytag. “I am going to take them both back with me to Mexico. We have decided to live there.”

His air of satisfaction and repose in happiness deepened until it was a positive radiation, like the rays of fine health or the mysterious enchantment of beauty. Jenny felt that his pleasure in himself was not vanity, after all, but came of something in his state of being: something he possessed, something he had found or that had been given to him. He is lucky in some way, she thought; lucky and he knows it. As they rounded the bow, she leaned toward him slightly, gaunt and empty and famished, to breathe the air of good fortune.

3

THE bride and groom were sitting stretched at ease in their chairs. She was a beautiful creature, with the grace and silence and naturalness of a fine shy wild animal. The other passengers glanced at them quickly whenever they appeared, glanced away again. Dazed and smiling, the bride would sit or walk all day with her husband, her narrow curved hand lying loosely in his. He was, Jenny thought, a quietly merry person; she liked his witty, irregular features, thin and quick: he would be the intelligent one of the two, and with the undisputed moral upper hand from the beginning.

“Aren’t they lovely together, really?" said Jenny, and hoped there was no forlorn edge of envy in her voice. “Something to look at, aren’t they?”

“All brides should look like that,” said Freytag. “She has just the right look, somehow. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it. Eden just after the fall. That little interval between the fall and the driving out,” he said. “Anyone who doesn’t know that, once in a lifetime, once anyway — and maybe it doesn’t happen oftener — is unlucky, no matter what else may happen to him.”

“I suppose so,” said Jenny, dryly.

“You will just call that German sentimentality,” he said, and smiled as if he were smiling to himself about something he knew that pleased him, something he need not tell anyone.

“I haven’t the faintest notion what it is,” said Jenny, “but it sounds very attractive.” But her tone did not match her words, and her answer struck him unpleasantly as having a flinty little edge on it. He felt again that odd twinge of dislike for her he had felt when he first saw her, before they had even spoken to each other. He put the width of a step more between them, and said nothing.

Jenny thought in a curiously chilled way, You are perhaps purposely making yourself very attractive with this light conversation about the fall, as if you knew something you could teach me that I need badly to learn. Maybe I shall fall in love with you; maybe I am in love with you already, the way I fall in love; always with utter strangers and as if I were going under water — and I’ll fall out again as if I were falling off a cliff. I like not knowing anything about you. Except that you have the kind of looks I like — one kind, anyway — and that you are married and anxious for me to be sure that you love your wife. And if I knew you better I might not like you at all. I certainly don’t like you now. And I can tell you now that you would hate me. There would be something about the whole thing I shouldn’t be able to put up with at all —it doesn’t matter what it might be — and I’m glad I can’t even imagine what it is. . . . If we could sleep together and lose ourselves for a little while, I’d be easy again, I’d be able to see better. It’s only — how did it happen? I’m just starved and frozen out; my man won’t share with me, he wants everything to himself. What is that Spanish saying — “Is this bread good or is it my hunger?" And what’s the other—“What dog will refuse meat that is thrown to him?" But that one, of course, will be for you.

They had come round to her chair again. “I’ll stop here,” she told him, and no longer troubled herself to pretend any interest in his company. He could not consent to be dismissed so offhandedly.

“Maybe you would like your morning beer,”he offered. “I’m quite ready for mine.” She shook her head with a little grimace of distaste, without looking at him. He turned away at once, and joined up within three steps with the Huttens and Bébé, who seemed all three delighted to see him. Jenny knew they would sit comfortably over their steins together like old friends, with nothing to explain or to conceal; each well-nourished and self-sufficing on his own peculiar food. Cool and at ease they would loll, with no starved animal feeding on the wind of a daydream, sitting by silent with a sorry monologue gnawing away in the brain, or talking nonsense aloud at a tangent —a stranger, a real death’s-head, peering out at them through natural enough looking flesh.

She took up her drawing and went on with it. Her attention flickered away and back from what her fingers attempted on the page, but her mind worried along monotonously in its confusion, its indecision, about Europe, about David — what a rotten sense of proportion! A man and a continent simply can’t have the same importance, or not the same kind, or they shouldn’t have, she reminded herself, enslaved as she was to her notions of what life should be, her wish to shape, to direct, to make it into what she wished it to be; and if she let David spoil Europe for her, she must be even a greater fool than she had feared. Leaning back in her chair and dropping her papers in her lap, dry-eyed and staring up into the pure blue light of a day fit for the joy of angels, she gave way and despaired, quietly and awfully. It was very hard to admit to herself that she was a fool, but everything in reason pointed to that fact. Time to put on the hair shirt, her guardian demon prompted her. Time to say your prayers. Don’t be a lost soul, it’s so stupid! Such a dull occupation. Jenny’s mind answered itself: I’m not lost, I never have been, I never will be, unless this is being lost, here and now. No, I’m not lost. It’s only I don’t know just how I came here or how I’m going to get out again, but I know where I am, all right! It’s the wrong place altogether, and I never meant to be here, and I believed I was on my way somewhere else altogether different —there never was any such place, I know it now; never mind, my girl, I don’t mean to stay here! Pull yourself together.

She examined the drawings she had made — bad, unfinished, half-made, half-seen, not felt at all. Dull hard line, enclosing perfect emptiness. What nonsense! Her dishonest remark to Freytag about her drawing being a form of solitaire rounded on her and became true with crushing suddenness.

In self-defense she abandoned herself to fury and hatred against David. She crumpled her drawings in both fists cruelly as if they were live things and she could hear them scream, went swiftly to the rail and tossed them overboard and turned away without another glance at them. Black and white. No more of that for her. She would draw directly on the canvas with brush and colors as she had done before, and damn David’s advice. I sold out, she thought, for a mess of pottage and I didn’t even get that. Well, good God, can you imagine? I was letting that fellow tell me how to paint. But not for long, remember. She stretched out in her chair and pulled her silk scarf over her eyes to shut out the hateful day, but for a good while a part of her uneasy, guilty mind went on in its perpetual colloquy with another part; she explained and justified her mistakes, her hopeless errors, as well as she could to her indwelling enemy, who answered her always with the same cold unbelief, the same finality, saying still, No, that won’t quite do, either. You know what is really going on, come out with it—why did you choose this particular kind of sordid mess? Speak up — let’s have the truth for once, if you think you can find out what it is. And the nagging voice went on, oafish and devilish at once, until at last, wearied out with her self-torture, Jenny turned her face aside and fell asleep, heavily, with sick eyelids twitching under the scarf when it moved lightly in the wind; her terror followed her in her sleep and gave her bad dreams and would not let her rest.

4

ON THE second evening out from Havana, with twenty-four days to go, the ship’s commissary began doling out the modest pastimes and amusements of the voyage in the attempt to make life on shipboard resemble a perpetual children’s party on land. Dinner was “gala” — so the dinner card read — and fresh flowers appeared on every table. Beside every plate were small gilded paper snappers, with noisemaking machines inside, and comic paper hats for everybody. Several of the women wore dinner gowns; beer foamed in great steins; waiters twirled bottles of wine in ice pails with a flourish.

Herr Glocken and William Denny, sitting together, put on their hats first, and grinned around vaguely and received vague grins in return. Hats then bloomed on many heads; small colored balloons floated about between tables, tossed from hand to hand, now and again exploding to the noise of rattles and tin whistles. The band struck up “Tales from the Vienna Woods” and continued with Strauss waltzes to the end. It was going to be a social event, so the passengers seemed to agree, even if on the most provisional terms. There was a great deal of laughter and calling out of toasts between tables, and the Spanish company leaned over and lifted their glasses to the Captain, who responded with a stony face but an elegant bow, raising his own in acknowledgment.

Herr Baumgartner had got a false beard with his hat, and he almost sent two small children at the next table into fits of joy with his trick of making it waggle up and down. The children, a boy of five and a girl of three, were peaceably waiting for food with their parents, Cubans who had embarked at Havana. Hans, the Baumgartners’ timid little boy, was enchanted with these children, such a change from Ric and Rac, the Spanish company twins, who terrorized him with just a glance. He had been hanging shyly around these new passengers without daring to speak, but now, by means of his amusing father, he saw his chance to make friends with them. Herr Baumgartner quite outdid himself with fascinating devices, and the children squealed and giggled and peeped through their fingers most encouragingly.

Hans made himself laugh louder and more than he wanted, to bring himself to their attention. “Eat your dinner, though, Hans,” said his mother after a while, “and we shall play some more afterwards.”

Her husband disregarded the hint. He pushed the beard up to the middle of his forehead, parted it like a curtain, and said, “Boo!” The children screeched with joy and the parents smiled indulgently. Herr Baumgartner pulled the beard down under his chin and pushed his paper hat far back on his head. The children still laughed. Frau Baumgartner took a morsel of food and set about cutting up the roast duck on Hans’s plate. She did not altogether trust his table manners in public for such things. Nearly eight years old and yet so awkward with his knife and fork. It made her feel that she was not a good mother. “Eat while it’s hot,” she told him.

Herr Baumgartner pushed the beard up under his eyes, dragged his hat forward, agitated his face, and glared fiercely, making a growling sound. Hans, his mouth half-open to receive food, stopped and smiled uneasily; the other little boy laughed in an uncertain, artificial tone; but the baby girl gazed in growing terror, then burst into tears. Lamentably she wept, “Ay, ay, ay,” her flooded eyes fixed unbelievingly on the sight that had been so merry so suddenly turned dreadful without warning. The young mother, with a quick, sharp glance at Herr Baumgartner, took the child on her lap and pressed the crumpled face against her breast; the young father leaned forward to lay a tender hand upon his frightened baby.

Frau Baumgartner said, “Oh, I am so sorry,” and her tone, her manner, shut out her husband. Her eyes signaled to the other woman, You see how it is, please do not blame me ... as woman to woman, as a mother who knows all that can happen, I beg of you. . . . The young mother gave her back the guarded look of an indifferent stranger, refused confidences, rejected implied kinship of feeling, and managed a deprecating small smile and nod as if to say courteously, This is nothing except perhaps a little stupid; saying all too clearly, What trouble you are making for us!

Herr Baumgartner swept the hat and beard from him, cast it utterly away to the floor like a man in a play, his face tormented with remorse. “Oh, he addressed the father in German, “I meant only to amuse the dear little ones.” The young father nodded, made a light gesture of waving away all misunderstandings, then exchanged a troubled glance with his wife, for they knew no German. Herr Baumgartner would have persisted, in Spanish, but his wife halted him. “Don’t, she said, don’t. You have said and done enough. They understand perfectly.”

“Ah, good God,” said her husband in despair, “has it come to this with me, that I cannot even play with a little child without frightening it? Hans, you were not frightened, were you? Your poor father hoped only to hear you laugh!”

“I laughed,” said Hans, with a manly air, comforting his father. His mother said, “Of course you laughed, because it was very funny. Little babies always cry for everything. You cried when you were a little baby.”

His father ate in silence as if his food were bitter medicine, and the three of them fell silent. His mother was particularly gentle and smiled at him too tenderly, too often. It worried Hans to have to smile back every time, for he felt he was taking her side against his father, that she meant him to, and he did not want to take sides. Then his father looked at him so kindly, with his familiar sad look, that Hans looked away, feeling unhappy and lost. The children at the next table had forgotten the whole thing and were playing with their balloons and rattles and hats while their father and mother fed them from spoons and forks and buttered their bread for them, and none of them gave him another look or thought. The little crybaby of a girl was having the best time of all.

5

THE festival spirit seemed to go on thriving more or less. The diners followed the band on deck, where the Strauss waltzes sang to the stars above the sound of the waves. The ship rolled gently, the heavy cooling winds whipped skirts and scarfs about, hair became ruffled but faces were smoother, and the slow great waves rolling back from the ship’s side were alive with lazy green fox-fire. A gauzy new moon sailed downward swiftly.

“It’s so heavenly, David,” said Jenny. “How I wish you would dance.”

But David did not dance, and he had a notheavenly name for dancing, a byword of contempt which offended Jenny, who had perhaps danced her way twice around the globe. “And my mind was never purer than then,” she told him; “I wish I had worn one of those measuring things on my ankle — then I could tell you exactly how many miles I have traveled when I was happiest!”

They looked at the sky and the seaweed-colored deck, and enjoyed the fine weather, but Jenny was restless, wanting to dance; so David, with a tight, obstinate face, left her and went in the bar. A few minutes later, he looked out and it was as he had expected: she was dancing with Freytag.

The whole scene was filled with spinning figures, whirling like cheerful dervishes in the Viennese style. Mrs. Treadwell, dressed in some kind of gauzy yellow stuff, was dancing with a young officer; Arne Hansen with the Spanish dancer they called Amparo. The absurd Herr Rieber clung as usual to the tall, awkward, ugly Lizzi. The little fat man was light as a rubber ball on his feet; he whirled and spun with the equilibrium of a top, dancing rings around the others — married pairs many of them, though the Lutzes and the Baumgartners sat. Two Cuban students danced with Pastora and Lola, of the Spanish company. Their young men sat in the bar and kept out of their way.

David, watching, saw also those who were not dancing, the born outsiders, the perpetual intruders, the unwanted, those who refused to join in. He ranged himself with them; they were his sort, he knew them by heart at sight. That big Elsa for one, sitting with her parents, drooping, unable to conceal her yearning, her disappointment, her fear of being left. “I would dance with you,” he told her, but she would never hear him say it. Herr Glocken, huddled on the foot of a deck chair near the band, his face in his hands, his paper hat over one eyebrow, was motionless, listening but not seeing. The dying man in his chair was drawn near the rail, wrapped to the throat, asleep perhaps. The boy Johann, his nephew who attended him, leaned his arms on the chair handle, with the look of an outcast dog for longing and hopelessness. David felt he was well acquainted with all of them. For himself, he refused to join in, to take part, because he knew well there was no place for him and nothing he wanted anywhere— not at that price, he said, loathing the milling herd whirling past the window.

The Mexican bride and groom, he noticed, were not dancing. They were strolling together, came upon the scene and paused there, amiable, distant, like charmed visitors from another planet. They did not dance, or put on paper hats, or drink, or play cards, or grin at other people. They did not even talk much to each other; but they were paired, that was plain. This silence, this isolation, this ceremonial exclusion from their attention of all but their love and their first lessons in each other, seemed natural, right, and superb to David. He surmised in them gravity and severity of character; under their beauty there lay the promise of dryness and formality in time; but the marriage would last, they were joined together for good. As he imagined their characters and the nature of their marriage, which was of the kind he believed he would want for himself, Jenny went by with Freytag. They were spinning gaily as one body, but their faces meant nothing— they were only two smiling wax-colored masks.

David returned to the bar and took a whiskey neat, then another, Denny was there, and David had seen him hanging around uneasily on the edge of things too, but he could not take Denny into his sympathies. No, Denny was outside for the wrong reasons. He would follow and leer at the Spanish dancing girls — or, rather, one of them — but none of them would have him. They had found him out. He would not buy them drinks, he would not come to any kind of conventional terms with any of them; he wanted his pleasures for nothing. He honed and hankered, that was plain, but not to the extent of a five-dollar bar bill, which might lead to nothing or to more expense in the long run and still nothing might have been gained for it. The girls had got in the way of snapping their eyes at him with contempt as they passed; they seemed ready to flip their petticoats at him, they had so low an opinion of him. But they intended that one of them, no matter which one, should certainly pick his pockets before the voyage ended.

Denny was drinking steadily with a plain purpose. “I aim to be stinkin’ before this here night is done,” he promised solemnly. “Come on and get in the game.”

“It’s as good as any,” said David; and for a fact, Denny was just the one to get drunk with. No pretensions, no fooling around, no chatter; just a slow, deliberate, steady wallow to the finish. Fine, that would be just fine. David downed his third whiskey, and the small constant dig of uneasiness, almost pain, in that blank hungry spot just between his forward ribs began to ease up a little. He intended to drink until, no matter what happened, he wouldn’t be able to remember one thing tomorrow morning.

Arne Hansen and Amparo ended their dance within arm’s reach of Elsa, and Elsa gazed from under puzzled brows at Amparo, trying to find the secret. There was none that. Elsa could see or admit. Amparo made no slightest attempt to be agreeable; she had a sulky unsmiling face, she hardly spoke, she seemed even a little bored and out of temper. Yet Hansen kept his attention fixed upon her as if she might disappear if he looked away for a moment. Amparo carried a black lace fan with a red cotton rose pinned over a torn place. Anybody with eyes in his head could see why the rose was there. Anybody could see — Amparo, her hips rocking, walked over and said something to Pastora. Then she walked away slowly without looking back, and Hansen took off after her with long steps. Frau Rittersdorf, who had just danced with the purser, a hugely fat, fatherly-looking man with a dumpling face and walrus mustaches, found herself standing near Mrs. Treadwell. She nodded, her mouth prim, toward the retreating figures. Hansen had overtaken Amparo, had seized her arm; they were hurrying away together. “I don’t think that is a very pretty sight,” she observed. Mrs. Treadwell turned a too-innocent face upon her, asking, “Why not ? I think they look rather well together!”

Pepe sat late alone, over a half bottle of wine. Ric and Rac, Tito, Pancho, and Manolo, Pastora, Concha, and Lola, had left him finally. The band stopped playing, the dancers dispersed, lights were dimmed in the salon and on deck; sailors came out with their buckets and brushes; the man at the bar was obviously closing up for the night. Cigarette ends were stacked high in the tray before him though the waiter had emptied it twice. Swallowing his last drop of wine, Pepe lighted another cigarette and strolled outside once around, and, cautiously as a cat, descended into the depths of the ship. Lingering there, he saw Arne Hansen enter the passage almost at a run and disappear around the corner at the farther end as if the police were after him. Pepe advanced then softly, opened the door without a sound, and found Amparo as he expected, in her black lace nightgown, counting her money, in substantial-looking American notes. He put out his right hand palm up, rubbing thumb and forefinger together. Instead of giving them to him as she usually did, she tossed them into the washstand across the cabin, where he had to pick them up himself.

6

WILHELM FREYTAG woke feeling a cooler, fresher wind blowing upon his face. The round bit of horizon shone through the porthole, not clear but a thick, cloudy blue. He reflected that they were six days out, yes; the ship had settled to her speed, such as it was, in a beeline across the waters already, he observed, putting out his head, a little troubled. It was real sea air — thick, yet sweet and mild — and long sooty streamers of cloud trailed from deep blue thunderbanks to the east. It seemed late — perhaps he had missed breakfast; by his watch he saw it was eight o’clock. Time enough if he speeded up a little. Hansen would miss it though; the breathing of deepest slumber stirred behind the curtain, and Hansen’s huge feet, with smooth glossy soles and assertive great toes standing apart from the others, stuck out of the bunk as usual. Freytag wondered how he managed in cold weather, and remembered being half-wakened by the noise of Hansen scrambling into the upper bed at what must have been a very late hour. Probably up to something with that Spanish girl he had been dogging from the first.

While he shaved he looked at his ties and selected one, thinking that people on voyage went on behaving as if they were on dry land, and there is simply not room for it on a ship. Every smallest act shows up more clearly and mostly looks worse, because it has lost its background. The train of events leading up to and explaining it is not there; you can’t refer back and set it in its proper size and place. You might learn something about one or two persons, if you took time and trouble, but there was not enough time and it was not worth the trouble; an amiable indifference, a superficial pleasantness, was quite enough for the situation, but it is just these things that too many persons know nothing about, he thought, or don’t want to practice for their own private reasons.

There seemed, for most people met on a casual journey, no middle ground between stiffness and distrust and a kind of gnawing curiosity, whether aimless but insatiable, or malicious and sly, that made you feel as if you were being eaten alive by little fishes. He felt his own life within him, something intact with a round smooth surface very hard for the fishes to get their teeth in. There was nothing he wished to confide or explain; he was quite simply transporting himself, like something inanimate sent by freight, stored in the hold, until, from the house he had taken and begun to prepare for his wife Mary in Mexico City, he should set himself down in the house where Mary was waiting for him in Hamburg. . . . In that interval nothing concerned him, he had no business with strangers. When they returned together, the ship and the passengers would still not matter, for it would be the voyage of their lives. They would never see Germany again. Mary must be his native land and he must be hers, and they would have to carry their own climate with them wherever they went; they must call that climate home and try not to remember its real name.

That was the way it would be. And what would it be like to know always, to carry the knowledge like a guilty secret, that they had not come to any given place of their own will, their own free happy choice, but were driven there; that they were in flight, harried over one frontier and then another, without power to choose their place or to refuse what shelter might be offered? His pride sickened. What a shameful existence for any man, what a doubly shameful existence for a German! No matter what he might say in casual talk about his mixture of bloods, he knew he was altogether German, and the whole world except that one country had been for him merely a hunting ground, a foraging space, a place of profitable sojourn until the day came when he should go home again for good. . . . Wherever he had been, he had felt German ground under his feet and German sky over his head, there was no other country for him — and how was this taken away from us, Mary? That solid earth was slipping, the house would be shaken about their heads, their long flight was beginning, and he could not even imagine the end. . . . The future was a vast hollow sphere, strangely noiseless, unpeopled, without incident or detail. Yet he knew that, visibly, nothing might be changed for a great while; perhaps things would change so slowly he would hardly be aware of change. No doubt he would continue as a minor executive in the German oil company in Mexico until the time came to look about for something else. By then, he would pretty certainly find something similar, as good, or better, somewhere else. . . . He might even go in business for himself.

He could not feel fated, destined for catastrophe; actually he could not imagine himself literally driven out, in danger of his life; surely he and Mary would never be put on a boat, penniless, prisoners, to be thrust into another country still that did not want them either — like that unbalanced Spanish prisoner with her wild tale of terror. Poor woman, he thought with a kind of impersonal pity, and leaning over the rail he looked again into the steerage deck. Dr. Schumann was nearby, observing the steerage passengers also, with a very thoughtful face. He greeted Freytag mildly and shook his head.

“They seem to be more comfortable this morning,”said Freytag. The people were moving sluggishly, but they were moving, busy with their hands, putting things to rights. Some of the men were smoking, and the huge fat man in the cherry-pink shirt, who had sung as the ship left Vera Cruz, stood among them, legs apart, roaring another song, a few scattered words rising on the wind. The other men, rolling up their bundles or opening canvas chairs, stopped now and then to listen, smiling broadly, joining in for a phrase or two. The women had managed to wash a few garments, faded shirts and baby rags; a long line of them flapped from a cord hung so low everyone had to stoop under it as he crossed the deck. There seemed to be more space, and nobody was actively sick.

“They will do very well if we don’t run into weather,” said Dr. Schumann. “Broken arms, legs, heads, maybe nocks,” he said, looking down at them. “They have no place to make themselves secure — there are too many of them; I am hoping the weather holds until at least the Bay of Biscay, when all these shall be left safely at Tenerife.”

“It is always rough in the Bay of Biscay,” said Freytag. “Well, at least these people are going home,” he said.

“So they are,” said Dr. Schumann. “I hope only we get them there without further suffering for them.” He seemed rather gloomy and a little under the weather himself, and barely nodded when Freytag moved away.

In the areaway leading into the dining room, Freytag stopped before the bulletin board. The little flags on pins, stuck every day in the map to mark the progress of the voyage, were marching in a curve across the blue field of the Atlantic. Land could no longer be sighted anywhere even through strong glasses; from the Caribbean to the Canaries, fourteen days more; from the Canaries to Vigo, to Gijón, to Southampton, to Bremerhaven, eight days more or ten at most. News dispatches were rather nautical in character: the movements of ships unknown to landlubbers were thought worth mentioning, and the outbreak of dockworkers’ strikes in San Francisco, New York, Lisbon, Gijón. Passengers advertised on little slips of paper that they had lost or found jeweled combs, down pillows, tobacco pouches, cameras. The program for the day was there, and the ship’s pool.

As Freytag idly glanced at these things and looked away, David Scott and Jenny Brown drifted past together, both a little pale and stiff-looking in the morning light; they exchanged sketchy nods. Freytag moved away in the opposite direction, with a certain lightly malicious satisfaction in his belief, his instinctive knowledge, that no matter — no matter at all — what kind of appearances they chose to keep up, the match was no good; they were not in the least happy together and would never be; it couldn’t go on. He turned as if for a last look at the retreating figures to fix an image in his memory even then changing and disappearing; and before he could stop it, suppress it, before he even realized he had thought the thought, it formed in actual words shockingly in his daylight mind: ”If that were Mary walking yonder, even at this distance, at first glimpse, anybody would know that she is a Jew. . . . What have I done to us both, Mary, Mary . . . what shall I do now?”