The Secret Sharer and Other Stories

The Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Joseph Conrad Read Free Book Online

Book: The Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Joseph Conrad Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joseph Conrad
Tags: General Fiction
and steered for it, guessing it must mark some small coasting port. We passed two vessels, outlandish and high-sterned, sleeping at anchor, and, approaching the light, now very dim, ran the boat’s nose against the end of a jutting wharf. We were blind with fatigue. My men dropped the oars and fell off the thwarts as if dead. I made fast to a pile. A current rippled softly. The scented obscurity of the shore was grouped into vast masses, a density of colossal clumps of vegetation, probably—mute and fantastic shapes. And at their foot the semicircle of a beach gleamed faintly, like an illusion. There was not a light, not a stir, not a sound. The mysterious East faced me, perfumed like a flower, silent like death, dark like a grave.
    â€œAnd I sat weary beyond expression, exulting like a conqueror, sleepless and entranced as if before a profound, a fateful enigma.
    â€œA splashing of oars, a measured dip reverberating on the level of water, intensified by the silence of the shore into loud claps, made me jump up. A boat, a European boat, was coming in. I invoked the name of the dead; I hailed: ‘Judea ahoy !’ A thin shout answered.
    â€œIt was the captain. I had beaten the flagship by three hours, and I was glad to hear the old man’s voice again, tremulous and tired. ‘Is it you, Marlow?’ ‘Mind the end of that jetty, sir,’ I cried.
    â€œHe approached cautiously, and brought up with the deep-sea lead line which we had saved—for the underwriters. I eased my painter and fell alongside. He sat, a broken figure at the stern, wet with dew, his hands clasped in his lap. His men were asleep already. ‘I had a terrible time of it,’ he murmured. ‘Mahon is behind—not very far.’ We conversed in whispers, in low whispers, as if afraid to wake up the land. Guns, thunder, earthquakes would not have awakened the men just then.
    â€œLooking round as we talked, I saw away at sea a bright light traveling in the night. ‘There’s a steamer passing the bay,’ I said. She was not passing, she was entering, and she even came close and anchored. ‘I wish,’ said the old man, ‘you would find out whether she is English. Perhaps they could give us a passage somewhere.’ He seemed nervously anxious. So by dint of punching and kicking I started one of my men into a state of somnambulism, and giving him an oar, took another and pulled towards the lights of the steamer.
    â€œThere was a murmur of voices in her, metallic hollow clangs of the engine room, footsteps on the deck. Her ports shone, round like dilated eyes. Shapes moved about, and there was a shadowy man high up on the bridge. He heard my oars.
    â€œAnd then, before I could open my lips, the East spoke to me, but it was in a Western voice. A torrent of words was poured into the enigmatical, the fateful silence; outlandish, angry words, mixed with words and even whole sentences of good English, less strange but even more surprising. The voice swore and cursed violently; it riddled the solemn peace of the bay by a volley of abuse. It began by calling me Pig, and from that went crescendo into unmentionable adjectives—in English. The man up there raged aloud in two languages, and with a sincerity in his fury that almost convinced me I had, in some way, sinned against the harmony of the universe. I could hardly see him, but began to think he would work himself into a fit.
    â€œSuddenly he ceased, and I could hear him snorting and blowing like a porpoise. I said:
    â€œ ‘What steamer is this, pray?’
    â€œ ‘Eh? What’s this? And who are you?’
    â€œ ‘Castaway crew of an English bark burnt at sea. We came here tonight. I am the second mate. The captain is in the longboat, and wishes to know if you would give us a passage somewhere.’
    â€œ ‘Oh, my goodness! I say. . . . This is the Celestial from Singapore on her return trip. I’ll arrange

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