Dead Men Tell No Tales HTML version

4. The Silent Sea
Remember (if indeed there be any need to remind you) that it is a flagrant
landsman who is telling you this tale. Nothing know I of seamanship, save what
one could not avoid picking up on the round voyage of the Lady Jermyn, never to
be completed on this globe. I may be told that I have burned that devoted vessel
as nothing ever burned on land or sea. I answer that I write of what I saw, and
that is not altered by a miscalled spar or a misunderstood manouvre. But now I
am aboard a craft I handle for myself, and must make shift to handle a second
time with this frail pen.
The hen-coop was some six feet long, by eighteen or twenty inches in breadth
and depth. It was simply a long box with bars in lieu of a lid; but it was very
strongly built.
I recognized it as one of two which had stood lashed against either rail of the
Lady Jermyn's poop; there the bars had risen at right angles to the deck; now
they lay horizontal, a gridiron six feet long-and my bed. And as each particular
bar left its own stripe across my wearied body, and yet its own comfort in my
quivering heart, another day broke over the face of the waters, and over me.
Discipline, what there was of it originally, had been the very first thing to perish
aboard our ill-starred ship; the officers, I am afraid, were not much better than
poor Ready made them out (thanks to Bendigo and Ballarat), and little had been
done in true ship-shape style all night. All hands had taken their spell at
everything as the fancy seized them; not a bell had been struck from first to last;
and I can only conjecture that the fire raged four or five hours, from the fact that it
was midnight by my watch when I left it on my cabin drawers, and that the final
extinction of the smouldering keel was so soon followed by the first deep hint of
dawn. The rest took place with the trite rapidity of the equatorial latitudes. It had
been my foolish way to pooh-pooh the old saying that there is no twilight in the
tropics. I saw more truth in it as I lay lonely on this heaving waste.
The stars were out; the sea was silver; the sun was up.
And oh! the awful glory of that sunrise! It was terrific; it was sickening; my senses
swam. Sunlit billows smooth and sinister, without a crest, without a sound; miles
and miles of them as I rose; an oily grave among them as I fell. Hill after hill of
horror, valley after valley of despair! The face of the waters in petty but eternal
unrest; and now the sun must shine to set it smiling, to show me its cruel
ceaseless mouthings, to reveal all but the ghastlier horrors underneath.
How deep was it? I fell to wondering! Not that it makes any difference whether
you drown in one fathom or in ten thousand, whether you fall from a balloon or
from the attic window. But the greater depth or distance is the worse to
contemplate; and I was as a man hanging by his hands so high above the world,
that his dangling feet cover countries, continents; a man who must fall very soon,
and wonders how long he will be falling, falling; and how far his soul will bear his
body company.
In time I became more accustomed to the sun upon this heaving void; less
frightened, as a child is frightened, by the mere picture. And I have still the