The Secret Sharer
'The Secret Sharer' Summary
As dusk begins to fall, the unnamed narrator of the story, the new Captain of a British vessel currently anchored at the mouth of the Meinam River in the Gulf of Siam, stands on the deck of his ship before joining his crew for supper. The time is approximately eight o'clock.
At supper, the Captain remarks that he saw the masts of a ship anchored amongst some nearby islands. The Chief Mate explains that the ship to which the Captain is referring is probably another English one, waiting for a favorable tide to sail home. The Second Mate elaborates: the ship is the Sephora, from Liverpool, and is bound home from Cardiff with a cargo of coal, which he had learned from the skipper of a tugboat who had previously come aboard to fetch the Captain's letters.
The Captain makes a magnanimous gesture by offering to take the anchor watch himself until one o'clock, after which time he will get the Second Mate to relieve him. Again alone on deck, the Captain meditatively smokes a cigar and again considers his own "strangeness" to the ship and its command, and his unfamiliarity with the crew. The rest of the crew sleeps soundly.
The Captain notices that the rope side ladder, hung over the side of the ship to accommodate the skipper of the tugboat, has not been brought in. As he begins to pull it, he feels a jerk at the other end and curiously looks over the rail into the sea. He sees a naked man floating in the water and holding the end of the ladder. The man introduces himself as Leggatt. He has been in the water since nine o'clock, which makes the Captain consider his strength and youth. Leggatt climbs up the ladder and the Captain rushes to his cabin to fetch him some clothes. The Captain learns that Leggatt was until recently the chief mate of the Sephora, having been stripped of the title after he accidentally killed a fellow crewman while trying to repair the ship's foresail during a storm. The Captain tells Leggatt that they should retire to his cabin so as not to be discovered by his own Chief Mate. The Captain hides Leggatt in his cabin, returns to the deck, summons the Chief Mate to take over the anchor watch, and then returns to his cabin.
Leggatt continues his story: although the murder was unintentional, he was placed under arrest and kept in his cabin for almost seven weeks. Approximately six weeks into his confinement, Leggatt asked the Skipper to leave his door unlocked that night, while the Sephora sailed through the Sunda Straits, so that he could jump off and swim to the Java coast, but the Skipper refused.
Three weeks later, the Sephora came to its present location, and Leggatt discovered that the ship's steward, wholly by accident, had left the door to his cabin unlocked. Leggatt wandered onto the deck and jumped off into the sea. He swam to a nearby islet while the Sephora's crew lowered a boat to search for him. Leggatt removed his clothes and sank them, determined never to return. He swam to another small island, saw the riding light of the Captain's ship, and swam to it. Eventually, he reached the rope ladder, completely exhausted after swimming over a mile.
The Captain helps Leggatt into his bed, where he falls asleep immediately. The Captain eventually falls asleep himself. The next morning, the steward enters the Captain's cabin to bring him his morning coffee, but does not notice Leggatt because the Captain has drawn the curtains that separate the bed from the rest of the cabin. The Captain becomes paranoid that someone will discover Leggatt and decides that he must show himself on deck. He learns that a ship's boat is coming toward the ship and orders the ladder to be dropped over the side, leaving Leggatt in hiding.
The ship's boat is carrying the Skipper of the Sephora, who boards the Captain's ship looking for any sign of Leggatt. The Skipper is distressed over Leggatt's actions and disappearance, explaining that he has been at sea for thirty-seven years and has never seen anything like what happened with Leggatt. The Captain offers the explanation that perhaps the heavy sea — rather than Leggatt — had caused the death of the crewman, but the Skipper tells him that this could not have been the case. He then tells the Captain that he will have to report Leggatt as a suicide.
The picturesque landscape of Harmony, where the year is 1876, and the nation is celebrating its centennial anniversary. Louisa May Alcott weaves a mes...
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