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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 38. How I Fought My Way Through The Sargasso Weed
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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 38. How I Fought My Way Through The Sargasso Weed Post by :Bill999 Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :2313

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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 38. How I Fought My Way Through The Sargasso Weed

CHAPTER XXXVIII. HOW I FOUGHT MY WAY THROUGH THE SARGASSO WEED

What I did on that first day of my voyage was what I did on every succeeding day during so long a time that it seemed to me the end of it never would come.

When my craft fairly was started, with the fire well fed and a light enough weight on the safety-valve to guard against any sudden chance rise in the steam pressure, I went forward to the bows with the compass and set myself to my sawing. The wheel being lashed with the rudder amidships, all the steering was managed from the bows--any deviation from the straight line westward being corrected by my taking the saw out from the guide-bars and cutting to the right or to the left with it until I had the boat's nose pointing again the right way. But there was not often need for cutting of this sort. Held by the guide-bars, the saw cut a straight path for the boat to follow; while, conversely, the boat held the saw true. And so, for the most part, I had only to stand like a machine there--endlessly hauling the saw up and endlessly thrusting it down. Behind me my little engine puffed and snorted; over the bows, below me, was the soft crunching sound of the weed opening as the boat thrust her nose into it; and on each side of me was the soft hissing rustling of the weed against the boat's sides. From time to time I would stop for sheer weariness--for anything more back-breaking than the steady working of that saw I never came across; and from time to time I had to stop my engine--which I managed, and also the starting of it, by means of a pair of lines brought forward into the bows from the lever-bar--while I attended to feeding the fire.

The only breaks in this deadly monotonous round were when I ate my meals--and at first these were as pleasant as they were restful, with the cat sitting beside me and eating very contentedly too--and when I fell in with a bit of wreckage that I had to steer clear of or to move out of my way. Interruptions of this latter sort--even though they gave me a change from my wearying sawing--were hard to put up with; for they not only held me back woefully, but they kept me in continual alarm lest I should break my saw. When the obstacle was a derelict, or anything so large that I could see it well ahead of me and so could have plenty of time in which to swing the boat to one side of it by slicing a diagonal way for her, I could get along without much difficulty; but when it was only a spar or a mast, so bedded in the weed that my first knowledge of it was finding it close under my bows, there was no chance to make a detour and I had to thrust it aside with a boat-hook or go to hacking at it with an axe until I had cut it through. And often it happened that I knew nothing at all of the obstacle, the weed covering it completely, until my saw struck against it; and that would send a cold shiver through me, as I whipped my saw out of the water--for I had only two saws with me, and I knew that to break one of them cut down my chances of escape by a half. Indeed, my first saw did get broken while I still was in the thick of the tangle; and after that I was in a constant tremor, which became almost agony when I felt the least jar in my cutting, for fear that the other would go too.

But with it all I managed to make pretty fair progress, and better than I had counted upon; for I succeeded in covering, as nearly as I could reckon it, close upon three miles a day. After I fairly got out upon my course I had no means whatever of judging distances; but my estimate of my advance was made at the end of my first day's run, when the wreck-pack still was in sight behind me and enabled me to make a close guess at how far I had come. As the sun went down that night over my bows--making a long path of crimson along the weed ahead of me, and filling the mist with a crimson glow--I still could make out, though very faintly, the continent of wrecks from which I had started; and with my glass I could distinguish the _Ville de Saint Remy by the three flags which I had left flying on her masts. And the sight of her, and the thought of how comfortable and how safe I had been aboard of her, and of how I was done with her forever and was tying to as slim a chance of life as ever a man tied to, for a while put a great heaviness upon my heart. Not until darkness came and shut her out from me, and I was resting in my brightly lighted comfortable little cabin--with my supper to cheer me, and with my cat to cheer me too--did my spirits rise again; and I was glad, when I got under way once more in the morning, that the heavy mist cut her off from me--and that by the time the sun had thinned the mist a little I had made such progress as to put her out of sight of me for good and all.

Through my second day I still could make out the loom of the wreck-pack behind me--a dark line low down in the mist that I should have taken for a rain-cloud had I not known what it was; but that also was pretty well gone by evening, and from my third day onward I was encompassed wholly by the soft veil of golden mist hanging low around me over the weed-covered sea. Only about noon time, when this veil grew thinner and had in it a brighter golden tone--or at sunset, when it was shot through with streams of crimson light which filled it with a ruddy glow--was it possible for me to see for more than a mile or so in any direction; and even when my horizon thus was enlarged a little my view still was the same: always the weed spread out over the water so thickly that nowhere was there the slightest break in it, and so dense and solid that it would have seemed like land around me but for its very gentle undulating motion--which made me giddy if I looked at it for long at a time. The only relief to this dull flat surface was when I came upon a wrecked ship, or upon a hummock of wreckage, rising a little up from it--also swaying very gently with a wearying motion that seemed as slow as time. And the silent despairing desolateness of it all sunk down into my very soul.

Even my cat seemed to feel the misery of that great loneliness and lost so much of his cheerfulness that he got to be but a dull companion for me; though likely enough what ailed him was the reflex of my own poor spirits, made low by my constant bodily weariness, and had I shown any liveliness he would have been lively too. But I was too tired to think much about him--or about anything else--as day after day I stood in the bow of the boat working my saw up and down with a deadly dull monotony: that had no break save when I stopped to rest a little my aching body, or to have a tussle with a bit of wreckage that barred my passage, or to stoke myself with food, or to put coal beneath my boiler, or to lie down at night with every one of my bones and muscles heavy with a dull pain.

And all the sound that there was in that still misty solitude was the puffing of my engine, and the wheel churning in the water, and the sharp hiss of the saw as it severed the matted fibres, and the crunching and rustling that the boat made as it went onward with a leaden slowness through the weed.

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