Dead Men Tell No Tales
5. My Reward
The sun declined; my shadow broadened on die waters; and now I felt that if my
cockle-shell could live a little longer, why, so could I.
I had got at the fowls without further hurt. Some of the bars took out, I discovered
how. And now very carefully I got my legs in, and knelt; but the change of posture
was not worth the risk one ran for it; there was too much danger of capsizing,
and failing to free oneself before she filled and sank.
With much caution I began breaking the bars, one by one; it was hard enough,
weak as I was; my thighs were of more service than my hands.
But at last I could sit, the grating only covering me from the knees downwards.
And the relief of that outweighed all the danger, which, as I discovered to my
untold joy, was now much less than it had been before. I was better ballast than
These I had attached to the lashings which had been blown asunder by the
explosion; at one end of the coop the ring-bolt had been torn clean out, but at the
other it was the cordage that had parted. To the frayed ends I tied my fowls by
the legs, with the most foolish pride in my own cunning. Do you not see? It would
keep them fresh for my use, and it was a trick I had read of in no book; it was all
So evening fell and found me hopeful and even puffed up; but yet, no sail.
Now, however, I could lie back, and use had given me a strange sense of safety;
besides, I think I knew, I hope I felt, that the hen-coop was in other Hands than
All is reaction in the heart of man; light follows darkness nowhere more surely
than in that hidden self, and now at sunset it was my heart's high-noon. Deep
peace pervaded me as I lay outstretched in my narrow rocking bed, as it might
be in my coffin; a trust in my Maker's will to save me if that were for the best, a
trust in His final wisdom and loving-kindness, even though this night should be
my last on earth. For myself I was resigned, and for others I must trust Him no
less. Who was I to constitute myself the protector of the helpless, when He was
in His Heaven? Such was my sunset mood; it lasted a few minutes, and then,
without radically changing, it became more objective.
The west was a broadening blaze of yellow and purple and red. I cannot describe
it to you. If you have seen the sun set in the tropics, you would despise my
description; and, if not, I for one could never make you see it. Suffice it that a
petrel wheeled somewhere between deepening carmine and paling blue, and it
took my thoughts off at an earthy tangent. I thanked God there were no big sea-
birds in these latitudes; no molly-hawks, no albatrosses, no Cape-hens. I thought
of an albatross that I had caught going out. Its beak and talons were at the
bottom with the charred remains of the Lady Jermyn. But I could see them still,
could feel them shrewdly in my mind's flesh; and so to the old superstition,
strangely justified by my case; and so to the poem which I, with my special
experience, not unnaturally consider the greatest poem ever penned.