Page images
[blocks in formation]





“How long he stood stock- my face. I nodded my approval still by the hatch expecting of the sound principle, averting every moment to feel the ship my eyes before the subtle undip under his feet and the rush soundness of the man. of water take him at the back "He started unsteadily to and toss him like a chip, I can- He had to step over legs, not say. Not very long-two avoid stumbling against the minutes perhaps. A couple of heads. Suddenly some men he could not make out caught hold of his coat from began to converse drowsily, and below, and a distressed voice also, he could not tell where, spoke under his elbow. The he detected a curious noise of light of the lamp he carried in shuffling feet. Above these his right hand fell upon an faint sounds there was that upturned dark face whose eyes awful stillness preceding entreated him together with catastrophe, that trying silence the voice.

He had picked up of the moment before the crash; enough of the language to then it came into his head that understand the word water, perhaps he would have time to repeated several times in rush along and cut all the lan- tone of insistence, of prayer, yards of the gripes, so that the almost of despair. He gave a boats would float off as the ship jerk to get away, and felt an went down.

arm embrace his leg. “ The Patna had a long “The beggar clung to me bridge, and all the boats were like a drowning man,' he said up there, four on one side and impressively. Water, water! three on the other—the smallest What water did he mean? of them on the port-side and What did he know? As calmly

? nearly abreast of the steering as I could I ordered him to let gear. He assured me, with go. He was stopping me, time evident anxiety to be believed, was pressing, other men began that he had been most careful to stir; I wanted time-time to keep them ready for instant to cut the boats adrift. He service. He knew his duty. got hold of my hand now, and I daresay he was a good enough I felt that he would begin to mate as far as that went. I shout. It flashed upon me it always believed in being pre- was enough to start a panic, pared for the worst,' he com- and I hauled off with


free mented, staring anxiously in arm and slung the lamp in his

Copyright, 1899, by S. S. M'Clure Co., in the United States of America.


face. The glass jingled, the head. It didn't stop me, and light went out, but the blow the chief engineer — they had made him let go, and I ran off got him out of his bunk by -I wanted to get at the boats; then-raised the boat-stretcher I wanted to get at the boats. again. Somehow I had no mind He leaped after me from be- to be surprised at anything. hind. I turned on him. He All this seemed natural and would not keep quiet; he tried awful — and awful. I dodged

to shout; I had half throttled that miserable maniac, lifted him before I made out what him off the deck as though he he wanted. He wanted some had been a little child, and he water—water to drink; they started screeching in my arms: were on strict allowance, you “Don't! don't! I thought you know, and he had with him a one of them niggers.” young boy I had noticed several I flung him away, he skidded times. His child was sick - along the bridge and knocked and thirsty. He had caught the legs from under the little sight of me as I passed by, and chap — the second. The skipwas begging for a little water. per, busy about the boat, looked That's all. We were under the round and came at me head bridge, in the dark. He kept down, growling like a wild on snatching at my wrists; beast. I flinched no more than there was

no getting rid of a stone. I was as solid standhim. I dashed into my berth, ing there as this,' he tapped snatched out my water-bottle, lightly with his knuckles the and thrust it into his hands. wall beside his chair.

• It was He vanished. I didn't find out as though I had heard it all, till then how much I was in seen it all, gone through it all want of a drink myself.' He twenty times already. I wasn't leaned on one elbow with afraid of them. I drew back hand over his eyes.

my fist and he stopped short, “I felt a creepy sensation mutteringall down my backbone; there

Lend a was something peculiar in all hand quick.” this; it savoured of the im- “ That's what he said. possible and at the same time Quick! As if anybody could carried conviction, extorted a be quick enough. Aren't you wondering assent. The fingers

The fingers going to do something,'I asked. of the hand that shaded his (“Yes. Clear out,” he snarled brow trembled slightly.

He over his shoulder. broke the short silence.

I don't think I understood « « These things happen only then what he meant. The other once to a man and ... Ah! two had picked themselves well! When I got on the bridge up by that time, and they at last the beggars were getting rushed together to the boat. one of the boats off the chocks. They tramped, they wheezed, A boat! I was running up the they shoved, they cursed the ladder when a heavy blow fell boat, the ship, each other-cursed on my shoulder, just missing my me. All in mutters. I didn't

[ocr errors]


66666 Ah !

it's you.

[ocr errors]

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]




move, I didn't speak. I watched single - handed — that nothing the slant of the ship. She was could save? Look here! As as still as if landed on the blocks true as I sit on this chair before in a dry dock—only she was you .. like this. He held

He held up his hand, “He drew quick breaths at palm under, the tips of the every few words and shot quick fingers inclined downwards. glances at my face, as though * Like this,' he repeated. “I in his anguish he were watchful could see the line of the horizon of the effect.

He was

not before me, as clear as a bell, speaking to me, he was only above her stem-head; I could speaking before me, in a dispute see the water far off there black with an invisible personality, and sparkling, and still-still an antagonistic and insepar

a pond, deadly still, more able partner of his existence still than ever sea was before another possessor of his soul.

still than I could These were issues beyond the bear to look at. Have you competency of a court of inwatched a ship floating head quiry: it was subtle and down, checked in sinking by a momentous quarrel as to the sheet of old iron too rotten to true essence of life, and did not stand being shored up. Have want a judge. He wanted an you? Oh yes, shored up? I ally, a helper, an accomplice. thought of that—I thought of I felt the risk I ran of being every mortal thing; but can circumvented, blinded, decoyed, you shore up a bulkhead in five bullied, perhaps, into taking a minutes—or in fifty for that definite part in a dispute immatter? Where was I going possible of decision if one had to get men that would go down to be fair to all the phantoms below? Would you have had in possession to the reputable the courage to swing the maul that had its claims and to the for the first blow if you had disreputable that had its exigseen that bulkhead? Don't say encies. I can't explain to you you would: you had not seen who haven't seen him and who it; nobody would. Hang it, hear his words only at second to do a thing like that you hand the mixed nature of my must believe there is a chance, feelings. It seemed to me I one in

a thousand, at least, was being made to comprehend some ghost of a chance; and the Inconceivable—and I know you would not have believed. of nothing to compare with the Nobody would have believed. discomfort of such a sensation. You think me a cur for stand- I was made to look at the coning there, but what would you vention that lurks in all truth have done? What! You can't and on the essential sincerity of tell — nobody can tell. One falsehood. He appealed to all must have time to turn round. sides at once, to the side What would you have me do? turned perpetually to the light Where was the kindness in of day, and to that side of us making crazy with fright all which, like the other hemithose people I could not save sphere of the moon, exists



stealthily in perpetual dark- It's a failing; it's a failing; and ness, with only a fearful ashy then comes a soft evening; a light falling at times on the lot of men too indolent for edge. He swayed me. I ov whist --and a story. .. to it, I own up.

The occasion He paused again to wait for obscure, insignificant- an encouraging remark, perwhat you will: a lost young- haps, but nobody spoke; only ster, one in a million-but then the host, as if reluctantly perhe was one of us; an incident forming a duty, murmuredas completely devoid of import- “You are so subtle, Marlow.” ance as the flooding of an ant- “Who? 1?” said Marlow in heap, and yet the mystery of a low voice. “Oh no!” But he his attitude got hold of me as was; and try as I may for the though he had been an individ- success of this yarn I am missual in the forefront of his kind, ing innumerable shades--they as if the obscure truth involved were so fine, so difficult to were momentous enough to render in colourless words. Beaffect mankind's conception of cause he complicated matters itself. ..."

by being so simple, too - the Marlow paused to put new life simplest poor devil ! By into his expiring cheroot, seemed Jove! he was amazing. There to forget all about the story, and he sat telling me that just as I abruptly began again.

saw him before

my eyes he “My fault of course. One wouldn't be afraid to face anyhas no business really to get thing--and believing in it too. interested. It's a weakness of I tell you it was fabulously inmine. His was of another kind. nocent and it was enormous, My weakness consists in not enormous ! I watched him having a discriminating eye for covertly, just as though I had the incidental — for the exter- suspected him of an intention nals,—no eye for the hod of the to take a jolly good rise out of rag-picker or the fine linen of He was confident that, on the next man. Next man the square, ‘on the square, that's it. I have met so many mind !' there was nothing he men,” he pursued, with mo- couldn't meet. Ever since he mentary sadness — “met them had been “so high '—'quite a too with a certain-certain-im- little chap,' he had been prepact, let us say; like this fel- paring himself for all the diffilow, for instance—and in each culties that can beset one on case all I could see was merely land and water. He confessed the human being. A confound- proudly to this kind of foreed democratic quality of vision sight. He had been elaboratwhich may be better than total ing dangers and defences, exblindness, but has been of no pecting the worst, rehearsing advantage to me—I can assure his best. He must have led a you. Men expect one to take into most exalted existence. Can account their fine linen. But I you fancy it? A succession of never could get up any enthus- adventures, much glory, iasm about these things. Oh! such a victorious progress! and



[ocr errors]

Oh yes!

the deep sense of his sagacity motionless ship that floated crowning every day of his inner quietly in the silence of a life. He forgot himself; his world asleep, fighting against eyes shone; and with every time for the freeing of that word my heart, searched by the boat, grovelling on all fours, light of his absurdity, was grow- standing up in despair, tugging, ing heavier in my breast. I pushing, snarling at each other had no mind to laugh, and lest venomously, ready to kill, ready I should smile I made for my- to weep, and only kept from self a stolid face. He gave flying at each other's throats by signs of irritation.

the fear of death that stood " It is always the unex- silent behind them like an inpected that happens,' I said in flexible and cold - eyed taska propitiatory tone. My ob- master.

It must tuseness provoked him into have been a pretty sight. He a contemptuous ‘Pshaw!' I saw it all, he could talk about it suppose

he meant that the un- with scorn and bitterness; he expected couldn't touch him; had a minute knowledge of it nothing less than the uncon- by means of some sixth sense,

I ceivable itself could get over his conclude, because he swore to perfect state of preparation, me he had remained apart He had been taken unawares- without a glance at them and and he whispered to himself a at the boat—without one single malediction upon the waters glance. And I believe him. and the firmament, upon the I should think he was too busy ship, upon the men. Every- watching the threatening slant thing had betrayed him! He of the ship, the suspended menhad been tricked into that sort ace discovered in the midst of of high - minded resignation the most perfect security - which prevented him lifting as fascinated by the sword hangmuch as his little finger, while ing by a hair over his imaginathese others who had a very tive head. clear perception of the actual “Nothing in the world moved necessity were tumbling against before his eyes, and he could each other and sweating des- depict to himself without hindperately over that boat busi- rance the sudden swing upwards

Something had gone of the dark sky-line, the sudden wrong there at the last moment. tilt up of the vast plain of the It appears that in their flurry sea, the swift still rise, the brutal they had contrived in some fling, the grasp of the abyss, mysterious way to get the slid- the struggle without hope, the ing bolt of the foremost boat- starlight closing over his head chock jammed tight, and forth- for ever like the vault of a tomb with had gone out of the -the revolt of his young liferemnants of their minds over the black end. He could ! Ву the deadly nature of that acci- Jove! who couldn't? And you dent. It must have been must remember he was a finpretty sight, the fierce industry ished artist in that peculiar of these beggars toiling on way, he was a gifted poor devil



« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »