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The Secret Sharer

Part I
On my right hand there were lines of fishing stakes resembling a mysterious system of
half-submerged bamboo fences, incomprehensible in its division of the domain of
tropical fishes, and crazy of aspect as if abandoned forever by some nomad tribe of
fishermen now gone to the other end of the ocean; for there was no sign of human
habitation as far as the eye could reach. To the left a group of barren islets, suggesting
ruins of stone walls, towers, and blockhouses, had its foundations set in a blue sea that
itself looked solid, so still and stable did it lie below my feet; even the track of light from
the westering sun shone smoothly, without that animated glitter which tells of an
imperceptible ripple. And when I turned my head to take a parting glance at the tug
which had just left us anchored outside the bar, I saw the straight line of the flat shore
joined to the stable sea, edge to edge, with a perfect and unmarked closeness, in one
leveled floor half brown, half blue under the enormous dome of the sky. Corresponding
in their insignificance to the islets of the sea, two small clumps of trees, one on each side
of the only fault in the impeccable joint, marked the mouth of the river Meinam we had
just left on the first preparatory stage of our homeward journey; and, far back on the
inland level, a larger and loftier mass, the grove surrounding the great Paknam pagoda,
was the only thing on which the eye could rest from the vain task of exploring the
monotonous sweep of the horizon. Here and there gleams as of a few scattered pieces of
silver marked the windings of the great river; and on the nearest of them, just within the
bar, the tug steaming right into the land became lost to my sight, hull and funnel and
masts, as though the impassive earth had swallowed her up without an effort, without a
tremor. My eye followed the light cloud of her smoke, now here, now there, above the
plain, according to the devious curves of the stream, but always fainter and farther away,
till I lost it at last behind the miter-shaped hill of the great pagoda. And then I was left
alone with my ship, anchored at the head of the Gulf of Siam.
She floated at the starting point of a long journey, very still in an immense stillness, the
shadows of her spars flung far to the eastward by the setting sun. At that moment I was
alone on her decks. There was not a sound in her--and around us nothing moved, nothing
lived, not a canoe on the water, not a bird in the air, not a cloud in the sky. In this
breathless pause at the threshold of a long passage we seemed to be measuring our fitness
for a long and arduous enterprise, the appointed task of both our existences to be carried
out, far from all human eyes, with only sky and sea for spectators and for judges.
There must have been some glare in the air to interfere with one's sight, because it was
only just before the sun left us that my roaming eyes made out beyond the highest ridges
of the principal islet of the group something which did away with the solemnity of perfect
solitude. The tide of darkness flowed on swiftly; and with tropical suddenness a swarm of
stars came out above the shadowy earth, while I lingered yet, my hand resting lightly on
my ship's rail as if on the shoulder of a trusted friend. But, with all that multitude of
celestial bodies staring down at one, the comfort of quiet communion with her was gone
for good. And there were also disturbing sounds by this time--voices, footsteps forward;