The First Officer's Confession

Wilkie Collins

The First Officer's Confession Page 02

Let me be permitted to thank my stars for having provided me with two powerful friends, whose generous assistance was rendered to me in my hour of need.

One of them was the captain; and the other was the dog.

'He is so kind, he is so attentive, and he offers us the great advantage of being a steady married man.' Hundreds of times I have heard these words spoken of my commanding officer by fathers, husbands and brothers when circumstances compelled them to let their female relatives cross the Atlantic alone. As a guardian of the fair sex, afloat, our captain was, I firmly believe, without an equal in the honourable profession to which he belonged. He made kind inquiries, through their cabin doors, when the ladies were ill below; his gallant arm was ready for them when they got well enough to promenade the deck: and he exercised a fascinating influence over their timid appetites, when they ventured to appear at the dinner table for the first time. His experience of the sex, obtained in this way, (and in other ways not so well known to me) was ready for any emergency that might call on it. I was myself indebted to his instructions for precious private interviews with Miss Ringmore; and, let me add, it was not the captain's fault that consequences followed which the most cautious man in existence must have failed to foresee.

Never neglecting his own duties, our commander never permitted neglect on the part of his subordinates. After waiting a day, and satisfying himself that his chief officer attended to the service of the ship as devotedly as ever, he favoured me, in private, with invaluable advice.

'If I was in love with that young lady,' he said, 'do you know how I should recommend myself to her favourable notice?'

'I can't say I do, sir.'

'In your place, Evan, I should begin by making a friend of the dog.'

From the lips of Solomon himself wiser words than those never dropped. I at once relieved the butcher of the trouble of feeding the dog. He was a clever little smooth haired terrier of the English breed. Miss Mira found her favourite pleased and flattered, when she saw us together, and was naturally pleased and flattered herself. A common ground of sympathy was, in this way, established between us. I stole time from my sleep and stole time from my meals, and made the most of my opportunities. To crown all, the captain favoured me with another offering from his stores of good advice:

'The art of making love, my friend, has one great merit -- it succeeds by simple means. Are you acquainted with the means?'

'I am afraid not, sir.'

'Then listen to me. Bear in mind, Evan, that the sex (excepting the blackguard members, of course) hates violence. In making your advances, gain ground by fine degrees; never let a loud word or sudden action escape you. The serpentine way succeeded with the first woman, in the Garden of Eden; and it has succeeded with her posterity from that time to this.'

I followed the serpentine way as cleverly as I could. But the truth is, I was too fond of her to prove myself worthy of my instructions. If I try to put on record the various steps by which I advanced to my end, I may possibly produce a sort of guide book to the art of making love at sea. How useful it may be to passengers crossing the Atlantic!

First Day : The dog is the subject of conversation. Miss Mira tells anecdotes of his affectionate disposition and his rare intelligence. I listen with interest. A message arrives which informs me that the first officer is wanted. The little terrier whines when I get up to go. His mistress caresses him, and looks at me with approving smiles. 'He is almost as fond of you as he is of me,' she says. -- First step forward in Miss Mira's affections.

Second Day : The story of my life forms the new subject of conversation. I tell it as shortly as possible. Miss Mira is interested when she hears that I am the son of a ruined father, who was once a country gentleman. She puts an intelligent question: 'Why do I follow an arduous profession, which exposes me to be drowned, when my father's surviving friends must be persons with influence who might do something better for me?' I can only reply that a man, like myself, who is alone in the world, feels no interest in improving his position. We look at each other. Miss Mira's attention devotes itself, with some appearance of confusion, to the dog on her lap. -- Second step forward.

Third Day : The story of my young lady's life came, next. She begins, however, by noticing (with a woman's nicety of observation) that there is a change in my dress. I have just been relieved from my watch on deck; and I happen to be wearing a warmer waistcoat than usual, knitted in bright-coloured wool. 'You made your waistcoat, Mr Fencote?' 'Mrs Jennet made it.' 'And who is Mrs Jennet?' 'A grateful woman, Miss Ringmore.' 'A young woman?' 'No: an old woman.' 'And why was she grateful to you?' There is but one way in which I can answer this last question. I am obliged to mention a common place event in the life of every good swimmer employed on board ship.

Wilkie Collins

All Pages of This Book
William Shakespeare