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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 39. Why My Cat Called Out To Me
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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 39. Why My Cat Called Out To Me Post by :Bill999 Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :3597

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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 39. Why My Cat Called Out To Me

CHAPTER XXXIX. WHY MY CAT CALLED OUT TO ME

I had thought that I had struck the bed-rock of misery when I was wandering in the dead depths of the wreck-pack, with the conviction strong upon me that in a little while I would be dead there too. But as I look back upon that long suffering of lonely sorrow I think now that the worst of it came to me after I had left the wreck-pack behind. In that last round that I fought with misfortune the strength of my body was exhausted so completely that it could give no support to my spirit; and as the days went on and on--always with the same weed-covered sea around me and the same soft golden mist over me, and I always working wearily but with the stolid steadiness of a machine--so deadening a numbness took hold of me that I seemed to myself like some far-away strange person--yet one with whom I had a direct connection, and must needs sorrow for and sympathize with--struggling interminably through the dull jading mazes of a night-mare dream.

Once only was I aroused from this stupor of spirit that went with my vigorous yet apathetic bodily action. Just at sunset one evening I sighted a vessel of some sort far ahead of me--a black mass looming uncertainly against the rich glow of crimson that filled the west--and for some reason or another I took into my head the fancy that I was nearing open water and that this was not a wreck but a living ship on board of which I would find living men: and at the thought of meeting with live men again I fairly cried with joy. Then darkness fell and shut her out from me; leaving me so eager that I could not sleep for thinking of her, and almost tempting me to press on through the night that I might be close up to her by dawn. But when in the first faint grey light of early morning I made her out again, and saw that she was in just the same position and at just the same distance ahead of me, I was almost as sorry as I would have been had she vanished; for I knew that had she been a living ship in that long night-time she would have sailed away. And by noon, being then close upon her, I could see that she was floating bottom upwards: and so knew certainly that she was only a dead wreck drifting in slowly to take her place among the dead wrecks which I had left behind me; and beyond her, instead of open water, I saw only the weed--covered ocean stretching onward unbroken until it was lost in the golden haze.

Even then, though, I had a foolish hope that there might be living men clinging to her, and I edged my boat off its course a little so that I might run close under her stern. But no one showed on her hull as I neared her, and only my own voice broke the heavy silence as I crazily hailed her again and again. And then I fell into a dull rage with her, so weary was I of my loneliness and so bitter was my disappointment at finding her deserted--until suddenly a very different train of emotions was aroused in me as I made out slowly the weathered inverted lettering on her up-tilting stern, and so read her name there: _Golden Hind_!

Like a flash I had before me clearly all the details of my last moments aboard of her: my quick sharp words with Captain Luke, my step backward with my arms up as he and the mate pressed upon me, the smasher that I got in on the mate's jaw, the crack on my own head that stunned me--and then my revival of consciousness as I found myself adrift in the ocean and saw the brig sailing away. And while these thoughts crowded upon me my boat went onward through the weed slowly--and presently I had again parted company with the _Golden Hind_, and this time for good and all.

After that break in it my dull despairing weariness settled down upon me again--as the heavy days drifted past me and I pressed steadily on, and on, and on. How time went I do not know. I could keep no track of days which always were the same. But I must have been on my voyage for nearly a month when I fell in with the _Golden Hind_: as I know because a little while after passing her I used the last of the coal that was on the raft and cast it off--and my calculation at starting had been that the coal aboard the raft would last me for about thirty days.

Getting rid of the raft was a good thing for me in one way, for when the boat was relieved from that heavy mass dragging through the weed after her she went almost twice as fast. But in another way it was a bad thing for me, for it left me with only what coal I had on the boat herself and, so far as I could judge from my surroundings, I was no nearer to being over the wall of my prison than I was on that first morning when I put off from the _Ville de Saint Remy_. Still the weed stretched away endlessly on all sides of me, and still the golden mist ceaselessly hung over me--only it did seem to me, though I did not trust myself to play much with this hopeful fancy, that the mist was a good deal thinner than it had been during the earlier part of my voyage.

But I was too broken to take much notice of my surroundings. Still I worked on and on, with the steadfastness and the hopelessness of a machine: up and down over the bows with my saw interminably, with only little breaks for rest and eating and to keep my fires up or for a struggle with a bit of wreckage that barred my way; and at night to weary sleep that did not rest me; and then up before sunrise to begin it all again with a fresh day that had no freshness in it--and was like all the many days of desperate toil which had gone before it, and like the others which still were to come.

Even when I saw ahead of me one morning a long lane of open water, a wide break in the weed, I was too dull to think much about it beyond steering my way into it thankfully--and then feeling a slow wonder as the boat slid along with no rustling noise on each side of her at what seemed to me an almost breathless speed. But as that day went on and the mist grew lighter and lighter about me and I came to more and more of these open spaces, and at the same time found that the weed between them was so much thinner that the boat almost could push through it without having a path cut for her, I began faintly to realize that perhaps I had got to the beginning of the end. And then, for the first time since I had lapsed into my stolid insensibility, a little weak thrill of hope went through me and I seemed to be waking from my despairing dream.

With the next day, however, hope full and strong fairly got hold of me: for I was out of the mist completely, and the weed was so thin that I brought my saw inboard and finally had done with it, and the stretches of open water were so many and so large that I knew that the blessed free ocean must be very near at hand. And I think that my cat knew as well as I did that our troubles were close to a good ending; for all of a sudden he gave over his moping and fell to frisking about me and to going through all the tricks which I had taught him of his own accord; and thence onward he spent most of his time on the roof of the cabin--looking about him with a curious intentness, for all the world as though I had stationed him there to watch out for a ship bearing down on us, or for land. Even when I found that day that only a dozen bags of coal were left to me--for I had fed my furnace while my heaviness was upon me without paying any attention to how things were going with my stock of fuel--my spirits were none the worse for my discovery; for with every mile that I went onward the weed was growing thinner and I felt safe enough about continuing my voyage under sail.

Because my rousing out of my lethargy had been so slow, this change in my chances seemed to come upon me with a startling suddenness--when in reality, I suppose, I might have seen signs of it a good while sooner than I did see them had my mind been clear. But the actual end of my adventure, the resolving of my hopes into a glad certainty of rescue, really did come upon me with a rush at last.

We fairly were in open water, and the cat and I were dining in the cabin together very cheerfully--with the helm lashed and the boat going on her course at half speed. I was disposed to linger over my meal a little, for I was beginning to enjoy once more the luxury of getting rest when I rested, and when my cat suddenly left me and went on deck by himself--a thing that he never before had done--I took his desertion of me in ill part. A moment later I heard the padding of his feet on the roof of the cabin over me, and smiled to myself as I thought of him going on watch there; and then, presently, I heard him calling me--for I had come to understand a good many of his turns of language--with a lively "Miau!" But it was not until he called me again, and more urgently, that the oddness of his conduct came home to me and made me hurry on deck after him; and my first glance at him made me look in the direction in which he was looking eagerly: and there I saw the smoke of a steamer trailing black to the horizon, and beneath it her long black hull--and she was heading straight for me, and coming along at such a ripping rate that within twenty minutes she would be across my bows.

Half an hour more brought matters to a finish. I had only to wait where I was until the steamer was close down upon me, and then to run in under her counter so that her people might throw me a line. Her whole side was crowded with faces as she stopped her way and I came up with her, and on her rail a tall officer was standing--holding fast with one hand to the rigging and having in the other a coil of rope all ready to cast.

One face among the many clustered there, and a mighty friendly one, was familiar to me; but I could not place it until a jolly voice hailed me that I recognized with a warm thrill--and the sound of it filled me with joy as I thought of my bag of jewels in the cabin locker, and of how at last my doctor's bill would be paid.

"And so it's yourself, my fine big young man, and at your old tricks again. But it's this time that you have the good luck of a black cat for company in your cruising all alone by yourself over the open sea!"

And then the tall officer with the coil of rope sung out "Catch!"--and sent the line whizzing down to me, and I caught the end of it in my hand.


(THE END)
Thomas A. Janvier's Book: In the Sargasso Sea: A Novel

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