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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 12. I Have A Fever And See Visions
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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 12. I Have A Fever And See Visions Post by :Bill999 Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :572

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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 12. I Have A Fever And See Visions


Because I had felt hungry and thirsty, and the cold chicken and beer had tasted good, I had eaten and drunk a great deal more heartily than was wholesome for me--being so weakened by loss of blood, and by the strain put upon me by the danger that I had passed through, and by living only on slops and some scraps of biscuit since my rescue, that my insides were in no condition to deal with such a lot of strong food. And then, within an hour after I so unwisely had stuffed myself, came the blow--in itself hard enough to upset a strong digestion in good working order--of discovering that I could do nothing to save myself, and that my hulk was drifting steadily deeper and deeper into that ocean mystery out of which no man ever yet had come alive.

The first sign that I had that something was going wrong with me was a swimming in my head--so sudden and so violent that I lurched forward and was close to pitching over the rail of the bridge into the sea. For a moment I fancied that the ship had taken a quick plunge; and then a sick feeling in my own stomach, and a blurring of my eyes that made everything seem misty and shadowy, settled for me the fact that it was I who was reeling about and that the ship was still--and I had sense enough to lie down at full length on the bridge, between the wheel-house and the rail, where I was safe against rolling off. And then the shadows about me got deeper and blacker, and a horrible sense of oppression came over me, and I seemed to be falling endlessly while myriads of black specks arranged themselves in curious geometrical figures before my eyes--and then the black specks and everything else vanished suddenly, and my consciousness left me with what seemed to me a great crash and bang.

Had I begun matters by being roundly sick I might have pulled through my attack without being much the worse for it. But as that did not happen--my weakness, I suppose, not giving nature a chance to set things right in her own way--I had a good deal more to suffer before I began to mend. After a while I got enough of my senses back to know that my head was aching as though it would split open, and to realize how utterly miserable I was lying there on the bridge with the hot sunshine simmering down on me through the haze; and then to think how delightful it would be if only I were back in the cabin again--where the sun could not stew me, and where my berth would be easy and soft.

How I managed to get to the cabin I scarcely know. I faintly remember working my way along the bridge on my hands and knees, and going backward down the steps in the same fashion for fear of falling; and of trying to walk upright when I got to the deck, so that I should not get wet above my knees in the water there, and of falling souse into it and getting soaked all over; and then of crawling aft very slowly--stopping now and then because of my pain and dizziness--and down the companion-way and through the passage, and so into the cabin at last; and then, all in my wet clothes, of tumbling anyhow into my berth--and after that there is only a long dead blank.

When I caught up with myself again, night had come and I was in pitch darkness. My head still ached horridly, and I was burning hot all over, and yet from time to time shivering with creeping chills. What I wanted most in the world was a drink of water; but when I tried to get up, in the hope of finding some in the jug that no doubt was in the state-room, I went so dizzy that I had to plump back into my berth again. As the night went on, and I lay there thinking how deliciously the water would taste going cool and sweet down my throat, I got quite crazy with longing for it; and, in a way, really crazy--for through most of the night I was light-headed and saw visions that sometimes comforted me and sometimes made me afraid. The comforting ones were of fresh green meadows with streams running through them, and of shady glens in the woods where springs welled up into little basins surrounded by ferns--just such as I remembered in the woods which bordered the creek where I used to go swimming when I was a boy. The horrible ones were not clear at all, and for that were the more dreadful--being of a fire that was getting nearer and nearer to me, and of a blazing sun that fairly withered me, and of huge hot globes or ponderously vague masses of I knew not what which were coming straight on to crush me and from which I could not get away.

At last I got so worn out with it all that I fell off into an uneasy sleep, which yet was better than no sleep and a little rested me. When I woke again there was enough light in the room for me to see the water-jug, and that gave me strength to get to it--and most blessedly it was nearly full. And so I had a long drink, that for a time checked the heat of my fever; and then I lay down in my berth again, with the jug on the floor at my side.

For a while I was almost comfortable. Then the fever came back, and the visions with it--but no longer so painful as those which had been begotten of my thirst. I seemed to be in a region dreamy and unreal. Sometimes I would see far stretches of mountain peaks, and sometimes the crowded streets of cities; but for the most part my visions were of the sea--tall ships sailing, and little boats drifting over calm water in moonlight, and black steamers gliding quickly past me; and still more frequently, but always in a calm sea, the broken hulks of wrecked ships with shattered masts and tangled rigging and with dead men lying about their decks, and sometimes with a dead man hanging across the wheel and moving a little with the hulk's motion so that in a horrible sort of way he seemed to be half alive.

Night came again, bringing me more pain and the burning of a stronger fever; and then another day, in which the fever rose still higher and the visions became almost intolerable--because of their intense reality, and of my conviction all the while that they were unreal and that I must be well on the way toward a raving madness in which I would die.

It was at the end of this day--or it may have been at the end of still another day, for I have no clear reckoning of how the time passed--that my worst vision came to me; hurting me not because it was terrifying in itself, but because it made me feel that even hope had parted company with me at last. And it was more like a dream than a vision, seemingly being brought to my sight by my own bodily movement--not something which floated before my eyes as I lay still.

As the afternoon went on my fever increased a good deal; but in a way that was rather pleasant to me, for the pain in my head lessened and I seemed to be getting back my strength. After a while I began to long to get out of the cabin and up on deck, and so have a look around me over the open sea; and with my longing came the feeling that I was strong enough to realize it.

My getting up seemed entirely real and natural, as did my firm walking--without a touch of dizziness--after I fairly was on my feet; and all the rest of it seemed real too. Even when I came to the companion-way I seemed to go up the stairs easily, and to step out on the deck as steadily as though I had been entirely well.

The sun was near setting, but as I came on the deck my back was toward the sunset and I saw only its red light touching the soft swell of the weed-covered sea extending far before me, and the same red light shimmering in the mist and caught up more strongly on a bank of low-lying clouds. The outlook was much the same as that which I had had from the bridge, only the weed seemed to be packed more closely and there was wreckage about me everywhere. Masts and spars and planks were in sight in all directions, sometimes floating singly and sometimes tangled together in little heaps; half a mile away was what seemed to be a large ship lying bottom upward; near me was a perfectly sound boat, having in its stern-sheets a bit of sail that fell in such folds as to make me think that a human form lay under it; and off toward the horizon was a large raft, with a sort of mast fitted to it, and at the foot of the mast I fancied that I saw a woman in a white robe of some sort stretched out as though asleep. And it seemed to me, though I could not tell why, that all this flotsam, and my own hulk along with it, slowly was drifting closer and closer together; and was packing tighter and tighter in the soft oozy tangle of the weed, which everywhere was matted so thickly that the water did not show at all.

Then I seemed to walk around to the other side of my hulk and to look down into the west--and to feel all hope dying with the sight that I saw there. Far away, under the red mist, across the red gleaming weed and against a sunset sky bloody red, I seemed to see a vast ruinous congregation of wrecks; so far-extending that it was as though all the wrecked ships in the world were lying huddled together there in a miserably desolate company. And with sight of them the certain conviction was borne in upon me that my own wreck presently would take its station in that shattered fleet for which there was no salvation; and that it would lie among them rotting slowly, as they were rotting, through months or years--until finally, in its turn, it would drop down from amidst those lepers of the ocean, and would sink with all its foulness upon it into the black depths beneath the oozy weed.

And I knew, too, that whether I already were dead and went down with it, or saved my life for a while longer by getting aboard of another hulk which still floated, sooner or later my end must come to me in that same way. On one or another of those rotting dead ships my own dead body surely must sink at last.

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