The Best Mystery and Detective Stories HTML version
We went up on deck after dinner. Before us the Mediterranean lay without a ripple and
shimmering in the moonlight. The great ship glided on, casting upward to the star-
studded sky a long serpent of black smoke. Behind us the dazzling white water, stirred by
the rapid progress of the heavy bark and beaten by the propeller, foamed, seemed to
writhe, gave off so much brilliancy that one could have called it boiling moonlight.
There were six or eight of us silent with admiration and gazing toward far-away Africa
whither we were going. The commandant, who was smoking a cigar with us, brusquely
resumed the conversation begun at dinner.
"Yes, I was afraid then. My ship remained for six hours on that rock, beaten by the wind
and with a great hole in the side. Luckily we were picked up toward evening by an
English coaler which sighted us."
Then a tall man of sunburned face and grave demeanor, one of those men who have
evidently traveled unknown and far-away lands, whose calm eye seems to preserve in its
depths something of the foreign scenes it has observed, a man that you are sure is
impregnated with courage, spoke for the first time.
"You say, commandant, that you were afraid. I beg to disagree with you. You are in error
as to the meaning of the word and the nature of the sensation that you experienced. An
energetic man is never afraid in the presence of urgent danger. He is excited, aroused, full
of anxiety, but fear is something quite different."
The commandant laughed and answered: "Bah! I assure you that I was afraid."
Then the man of the tanned countenance addressed us deliberately as follows:
"Permit me to explain. Fear—and the boldest men may feel fear—is something horrible,
an atrocious sensation, a sort of decomposition of the soul, a terrible spasm of brain and
heart, the very memory of which brings a shudder of anguish, but when one is brave he
feels it neither under fire nor in the presence of sure death nor in the face of any well-
known danger. It springs up under certain abnormal conditions, under certain mysterious
influences in the presence of vague peril. Real fear is a sort of reminiscence of fantastic
terror of the past. A man who believes in ghosts and imagines he sees a specter in the
darkness must feel fear in all its horror.
"As for me I was overwhelmed with fear in broad daylight about ten years ago and again
one December night last winter.
"Nevertheless, I have gone through many dangers, many adventures which seemed to
promise death. I have often been in battle. I have been left for dead by thieves. In
America I was condemned as an insurgent to be hanged, and off the coast of China have