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Jacob's Room

CHAPTER FOUR
What's the use of trying to read Shakespeare, especially in one of those little thin paper
editions whose pages get ruffled, or stuck together with sea-water? Although the plays
of Shakespeare had frequently been praised, even quoted, and placed higher than the
Greek, never since they started had Jacob managed to read one through. Yet what an
opportunity!
For the Scilly Isles had been sighted by Timmy Durrant lying like mountain-tops almost
a-wash in precisely the right place. His calculations had worked perfectly, and really the
sight of him sitting there, with his hand on the tiller, rosy gilled, with a sprout of beard,
looking sternly at the stars, then at a compass, spelling out quite correctly his page of
the eternal lesson-book, would have moved a woman. Jacob, of course, was not a
woman. The sight of Timmy Durrant was no sight for him, nothing to set against the sky
and worship; far from it. They had quarrelled. Why the right way to open a tin of beef,
with Shakespeare on board, under conditions of such splendour, should have turned
them to sulky schoolboys, none can tell. Tinned beef is cold eating, though; and salt
water spoils biscuits; and the waves tumble and lollop much the same hour after hour--
tumble and lollop all across the horizon. Now a spray of seaweed floats past-now a log
of wood. Ships have been wrecked here. One or two go past, keeping their own side of
the road. Timmy knew where they were bound, what their cargoes were, and, by looking
through his glass, could tell the name of the line, and even guess what dividends it paid
its shareholders. Yet that was no reason for Jacob to turn sulky.
The Scilly Isles had the look of mountain-tops almost a-wash.... Unfortunately, Jacob
broke the pin of the Primus stove.
The Scilly Isles might well be obliterated by a roller sweeping straight across.
But one must give young men the credit of admitting that, though breakfast eaten under
these circumstances is grim, it is sincere enough. No need to make conversation. They
got out their pipes.
Timmy wrote up some scientific observations; and--what was the question that broke
the silence--the exact time or the day of the month? anyhow, it was spoken without the
least awkwardness; in the most matter-of-fact way in the world; and then Jacob began
to unbutton his clothes and sat naked, save for his shirt, intending, apparently, to bathe.
The Scilly Isles were turning bluish; and suddenly blue, purple, and green flushed the
sea; left it grey; struck a stripe which vanished; but when Jacob had got his shirt over
his head the whole floor of the waves was blue and white, rippling and crisp, though
now and again a broad purple mark appeared, like a bruise; or there floated an entire
emerald tinged with yellow. He plunged. He gulped in water, spat it out, struck with his
 
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