This is not the place to enlarge upon the sensations of a man who feels
for the first time a ship move under his feet to his own independent
word. In my case they were not unalloyed. I was not wholly alone with my
command; for there was that stranger in my cabin. Or rather, I was
not completely and wholly with her. Part of me was absent. That mental
feeling of being in two places at once affected me physically as if the
mood of secrecy had penetrated my very soul. Before an hour had elapsed
since the ship had begun to move, having occasion to ask the mate (he
stood by my side) to take a compass bearing of the pagoda, I caught
myself reaching up to his ear in whispers. I say I caught myself, but
enough had escaped to startle the man. I can't describe it otherwise
than by saying that he shied. A grave, preoccupied manner, as though he
were in possession of some perplexing intelligence, did not leave him
henceforth. A little later I moved away from the rail to look at the
compass with such a stealthy gait that the helmsman noticed it--and
I could not help noticing the unusual roundness of his eyes. These
are trifling instances, though it's to no commander's advantage to be
suspected of ludicrous eccentricities. But I was also more seriously
affected. There are to a seaman certain words, gestures, that should in
given conditions come as naturally, as instinctively as the winking of
a menaced eye. A certain order should spring on to his lips without
thinking; a certain sign should get itself made, so to speak, without
reflection. But all unconscious alertness had abandoned me. I had to
make an effort of will to recall myself back (from the cabin) to the
conditions of the moment. I felt that I was appearing an irresolute
commander to those people who were watching me more or less critically.
And, besides, there were the scares. On the second day out, for
instance, coming off the deck in the afternoon (I had straw slippers
on my bare feet) I stopped at the open pantry door and spoke to the
steward. He was doing something there with his back to me. At the sound
of my voice he nearly jumped out of his skin, as the saying is, and
incidentally broke a cup.
"What on earth's the matter with you?" I asked, astonished.
He was extremely confused. "Beg your pardon, sir. I made sure you were
in your cabin."
"You see I wasn't."