The First Officer's Confession Page 01
The First Officer's Confession
First appeared in The Spirit of the Times in December 1887. Like the heroine of the story, Wilkie Collins was devoted to dogs. Never reprinted.
She is at the present time, as I have every reason to believe, the most distinguished woman in England -- she has never written a novel.
I first saw her on board of our steamship, bound from New York to Liverpool. She was accompanied by her dog; and there occurred a little difference of opinion between the commander of the vessel and herself.
The captain began it with his customary politeness:
'Excuse me, Miss: I must beg you to submit to a little disappointment. You can't have your dog with you in the saloon. Dogs are not allowed, on board our ships, among the passengers.'
To this the young lady answered: 'And pray, sir, -- if these tyrannical regulations are to be carried out -- where is my dog to go?'
'Your dog is to go Miss, to the butcher.'
I declare it on my word of honour, she did actually express her opinion in those terms to the only absolute despot now to be found on the face of the earth -- the commander of a ship, afloat on his own vessel. What an ill-natured man might have done under these circumstances I hardly like to guess. Our captain's sweet temper saw the humorous side of the insult offered to him; he burst out laughing. I stepped up, before the lady's answer could express itself in stronger language still, and tried the effect of polite explanation.
'The butcher at sea.' I said, 'is like the butcher on shore. In spite of his calling, Miss, he is not, generally speaking, of a bloodthirsty disposition. Our man here is accustomed to take care of passenger's dogs. He will let you see your dog whenever you please; and the one risk you pet will be likely to run is the risk of being too well fed. May I be allowed to lead you to the forward part of the vessel, so that you can judge for yourself?'
We were rolling, at the time, as usual in all well-regulated Atlantic steam ships. I took the greatest care of our charming passenger; and she took the greatest care of her dog.The captain gave me a look as we passed him. I was sacrificing some of the precious time included in my turn of rest below. He attributed this act of folly (as he afterwards told me) to the influence of love at first sight. Having suffered, as will be presently seen, from concealment of the truth by other persons, I am all the readier to speak frankly of myself. The captain's interpretation of my conduct was undeniably correct. While the young lady, the butcher, and the dog were all three in course of arriving at a friendly understanding, I reached a conclusion in my own private mind. 'Whether she is above me, or whether she is below me,' I said to myself, 'is something which remains to be discovered. But this I know already. Either I have found my wife, or I shall live and die an unmarried man.'
Who am I? And who is she?
I am Evan Fencote, first officer of the ship, and third son of a country gentleman; left a widower at my birth. He spent all his money in a great lawsuit, and died leaving barely enough to pay his debts and to bury him. I had to get my own living, and I got it at sea. My stature is five feet ten inches; my age is thirty-two; my temper is considered impetuous -- and that is all I have to say for myself on the present occasion.
My young lady is Miss Mira Ringmore, daughter of an Englishman established in business in the United States. Her father had recently married for the second time. The new wife hated Miss Ringmore and Miss Ringmore hated the new wife. Being of age, and having her own little income (inherited from her mother), she had nothing to do but to please herself. Happening to notice our ship in the harbour -- dressed in flags in honour of the captain's birthday -- she took a fancy to our pretty colours; felt an impulse to go back to the old country with us; and followed the lead of her own feelings at a day's notice. Having friends on the other side -- I mean in England -- she purposed to visit them, beginning with her maternal aunt, a single lady whose kindness she remembered with gratitude in the time when she was a child.
As for her personal appearance. I can call it delicious. Her colour is dark; her stature is (I say it thankfully) not remarkable in the matter of height, and not encumbered by what I particularly dislike in a young woman, excess of flesh. Her manner I may describe as modestly irresistible. And I sum up the list of her perfections when I declare that she is not sick at sea.
II How other men pay their addresses to women, and pave the way for favourable consideration of a proposal of marriage, I have not contrived to discover. Never yet has a friend come in my way who could tell me how he made himself acceptable, in the days of his courtship, to his wife. The obstacles to success, in the case of my own love-affair, raised perpetually by my professional duties on board, would, I am inclined to believe, have disheartened and defeated me if I had been left to contend against them single-handed.