The Shadow-Line

The Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad Read Free Book Online

Book: The Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joseph Conrad
people in fairy tales. Nothing ever astonishes them. When a fully appointed gala coach is produced out of a pumpkin to take her to a ball, Cinderella does not exclaim. She gets in quietly and drives away to her high fortune.
    Captain Ellis (a fierce sort of fairy) had produced a command out of a drawer almost as unexpectedly as in a fairy tale. But a command is an abstract idea, and it seemed a sort of “lesser marvel” till it flashed upon me that it involved the concrete existence of a ship.
    A ship! My ship! She was mine, more absolutely mine for possession and care than anything in the world; an object of responsibility and devotion. She was there waiting for me, spellbound, unable to move, to live, to get out into the world (till I came), like an enchanted princess. Her call had come to me as if from the clouds. I had never suspected her existence. I didn’t know how she looked, I had barely heard her name, and yet we were indissolubly united for a certain portion of our future, to sink or swim together!
    A sudden passion of anxious impatience rushed through my veins, gave me such a sense of the intensity of existence as I have never felt before or since. I discovered how much of a seaman I was, in heart, in mind, and, as it were, physically—a man exclusively of sea and ships; the sea the only world that counted, and the ships, the test of manliness, of temperament, of courage and fidelity—and of love.
    I had an exquisite moment. It was unique also. Jumping up from my seat, I paced up and down my room for a long time. But when I came downstairs I behaved with sufficient composure. Only I couldn’t eat anything at dinner.
    Having declared my intention not to drive but to walk down to the quay, I must render the wretched steward justice that he bestirred himself to find me some coolies for the luggage. They departed, carrying all my worldly possessions (except a little money I had in my pocket) slung from a long pole. Captain Giles volunteered to walk down with me.
    We followed the sombre, shaded alley across the Esplanade. It was moderately cool there under the trees. Captain Giles remarked, with a sudden laugh: “I know who’s jolly thankful at having seen the last of you.”
    I guessed that he meant the steward. The fellow had borne himself to me in a sulkily frightened manner at the last. I expressed my wonder that he should have tried to do me a bad turn for no reason at all.
    â€œDon’t you see that what he wanted was to get rid of our friend Hamilton by dodging him in front of you for that job? That would have removed him for good. See?”
    â€œHeavens!” I exclaimed, feeling humiliated somehow. “Can it be possible? What a fool he must be! That overbearing, impudent loafer! Why! He couldn’t. . . . And yet he’s nearly done it, I believe; for the harbour office was bound to send somebody.”
    â€œAye. A fool like our steward can be dangerous sometimes,” declared Captain Giles sententiously. “Just because he is a fool,” he added, imparting further instruction in his complacent low tones. “For,” he continued in the manner of a set demonstration, “no sensible person would risk being kicked out of the only berth between himself and starvation just to get rid of a simple annoyance—a small worry. Would he now?”
    â€œWell, no,” I conceded, restraining a desire to laugh at that something mysteriously earnest in delivering the conclusions of his wisdom as though it were the product of prohibited operations. “But that fellow looks as if he were rather crazy. He must be.”
    â€œAs to that, I believe everybody in the world is a little mad,” he announced quietly.
    â€œYou make no exceptions?” I inquired, just to hear his manner.
    â€œWhy! Kent says that even of you.”
    â€œDoes he?” I retorted, extremely embittered all at once against my former captain. “There’s nothing

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