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Twixt Land and Sea by Conrad, Joseph - Chapter 1

'Twixt Land & Sea Tales




Contents


A Smile of Fortune
The Secret Sharer
Freya of the Seven Isles




A SMILE OF FORTUNE--HARBOUR STORY




Ever since the sun rose I had been looking ahead. The ship glided
gently in smooth water. After a sixty days' passage I was anxious
to make my landfall, a fertile and beautiful island of the tropics.
The more enthusiastic of its inhabitants delight in describing it
as the "Pearl of the Ocean." Well, let us call it the "Pearl."
It's a good name. A pearl distilling much sweetness upon the
world.

This is only a way of telling you that first-rate sugar-cane is
grown there. All the population of the Pearl lives for it and by
it. Sugar is their daily bread, as it were. And I was coming to
them for a cargo of sugar in the hope of the crop having been good
and of the freights being high.

Mr. Burns, my chief mate, made out the land first; and very soon I
became entranced by this blue, pinnacled apparition, almost
transparent against the light of the sky, a mere emanation, the
astral body of an island risen to greet me from afar. It is a rare
phenomenon, such a sight of the Pearl at sixty miles off. And I
wondered half seriously whether it was a good omen, whether what
would meet me in that island would be as luckily exceptional as
this beautiful, dreamlike vision so very few seamen have been
privileged to behold.

But horrid thoughts of business interfered with my enjoyment of an
accomplished passage. I was anxious for success and I wished, too,
to do justice to the flattering latitude of my owners' instructions
contained in one noble phrase: "We leave it to you to do the best
you can with the ship." . . . All the world being thus given me for
a stage, my abilities appeared to me no bigger than a pinhead.

Meantime the wind dropped, and Mr. Burns began to make disagreeable
remarks about my usual bad luck. I believe it was his devotion for
me which made him critically outspoken on every occasion. All the
same, I would not have put up with his humours if it had not been
my lot at one time to nurse him through a desperate illness at sea.
After snatching him out of the jaws of death, so to speak, it would
have been absurd to throw away such an efficient officer. But
sometimes I wished he would dismiss himself.

We were late in closing in with the land, and had to anchor outside
the harbour till next day. An unpleasant and unrestful night
followed. In this roadstead, strange to us both, Burns and I
remained on deck almost all the time. Clouds swirled down the
porphyry crags under which we lay. The rising wind made a great
bullying noise amongst the naked spars, with interludes of sad
moaning. I remarked that we had been in luck to fetch the
anchorage before dark. It would have been a nasty, anxious night
to hang off a harbour under canvas. But my chief mate was
uncompromising in his attitude.

"Luck, you call it, sir! Ay--our usual luck. The sort of luck to
thank God it's no worse!"

And so he fretted through the dark hours, while I drew on my fund
of philosophy. Ah, but it was an exasperating, weary, endless
night, to be lying at anchor close under that black coast! The
agitated water made snarling sounds all round the ship. At times a
wild gust of wind out of a gully high up on the cliffs struck on
our rigging a harsh and plaintive note like the wail of a forsaken
soul.