The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad Summary
"The Secret Sharer" takes place on a sailing ship in the Gulf of Siam (now the Gulf of Thailand), at the start of a voyage with cargo for Britain. The date is probably in the 1880s, when Conrad was at sea himself. In common with many of Conrad's stories, it is narrated in the first person. The narrator is the ship's young captain, whose name is never given. He is unfamiliar with both his ship and his crew, having joined the ship only a fortnight earlier, and unsure of his ability to exert his authority over the officers and crew who have been together for some time. He makes the point several times that he is the "stranger" on board.After being towed downriver (presumably from Bangkok) by a steam tug, the ship is left at anchor near a group of small barren islands a few miles off shore, waiting for wind to begin its voyage. An incoming ship is anchored similarly a couple of miles away, awaiting a tug to go upriver.That night, the captain, being restless, unusually takes the watch. As the only man on deck in the small hours of the morning, he sees that a man has swum up to the ship's side. The naked swimmer is hesitant to talk or come on board, but seems pleased to discover he is speaking to the captain. Once on board, the man introduces himself as Leggatt and he and the captain find a natural rapport, almost as if Leggatt were the captain's other self, especially as the captain has now fetched some of his own clothes for Leggatt to wear.Still on deck, Leggatt explains that he was the First Mate of the other ship, but was placed under arrest after being accused of murdering a crew member. The victim was a disobedient bully. During a storm which nearly sank their ship on their voyage here, Leggatt was physically wrestling with the man to make him to pull a rope when a freak wave threw them both against a bulwark and the man was killed. Leggatt, a "stranger" on the other ship just as the captain is on his, would certainly face the gallows on landing. However, he escaped his locked cabin and swam between islands to reach the narrator's ship.Though the captain could, and by all the rules should, arrest Leggatt, he instead leads him to concealment in his cabin. The captain has no plan yet, and hiding Leggatt seems impossibly difficult, given that his cabin is regularly serviced by his steward, the problem of food, a captain's movements being conspicuous to all, and the long voyage ahead. In the morning the captain of Leggatt's ship arrives by boat to inquire if the escapee has been sighted. Our captain, not a natural liar, manages to bluff through, but is left terrified as to what his own officers make of his strained behavior....