The story is about an old, widowed, merchant-service captain, Henry Whalley, famous in his younger days as dare-devil Harry Whalley, captain of the clipper Condor. Although saving all his life, he had lost almost all to a banking collapse, having just enough to buy a barque, the Fair Maid, ‘to play with’ in his retirement. A letter from his daughter requesting financial help is the catalyst that changes Whalley’s course. He sells his ship, sends his daughter the requested money and to support himself and preserve his remaining capital, enters into partnership with Massy, about whom he has serious doubts. The bargain with Massy makes him shareholder and Captain of the steamer Sofala. Massy had paid for the Sofala with a lottery win; now in debt, he hopes for another lucky number. As an engineer, he knows but does not reveal the true state of the vessel. He hopes for more money from Whalley, but Whalley does not reveal he has none. Whalley begins to lose his sight; should he back out of the agreement, Massey could delay repayment for a year. If Whalley can just hide his failing eyesight a bit longer the agreement will end and he can leave with his money.