"'I was so lost, you know. It was the sort of thing one does not expect to happen to one. It was not like a fight, for instance.'
"'It was not,' I admitted. He appeared changed as if he had suddenly matured.
"'One couldn't be sure,' he muttered.
"'Ah! You were not sure,' I said, and was placated by the sound of a faint sigh that passed between us like the flight of a bird in the night.
"'Well, I wasn't,' he said, courageously. 'It was something like that wretched story they made up. it was not a lie- but it wasn't truth all the same. It was something.... One knows a downright lie. There was not the thickness of a sheet of paper between the right and wrong of this affair.'
"'How much more did you want?' I asked; but I think I spoke so low that he did not catch what I said. He had advanced his argument as though life had been a network of paths separated by chasms. His voice sounded reasonable.
"'Suppose I had not- I mean to say, suppose I had stuck to the ship? Well. How much longer? Say a minute- half a minute. Come. In thirty seconds, as it seemed certain then, I would have been overboard; and do you think I would not have laid hold of the first thing that came in my way- oar, life-buoy, grating- anything? Wouldn't you?'
"'And be saved,' I interjected.
"'I would have meant to be,' he retorted. 'And that's more than I meant when I'... he shivered as if about to swallow some nauseous drug... jumped,' he pronounced with a convulsive effort, whose stress, as if propagated by the waves of the air, made my body stir a little in the chair. He fixed me with lowering eyes. 'Don't you believe me?' he cried. 'I swear!... Confound it! You got me here to talk, and... You must! You said you would believe.' 'Of course I do,' I protested in a matter-of-fact tone which produced a calming effect. 'Forgive me,' he said. 'Of course I wouldn't have talked to you about all this if you had not been a gentleman. I ought to have known... I am- I am- a gentleman, too...' 'Yes, yes,' I said, hastily. He was looking me squarely in the face and withdrew his gaze slowly. 'Now you understand why I didn't after all... didn't go out in that way. I wasn't going to be frightened at what I had done. And, anyhow, if I had stuck to the ship I would have done my best to be saved. Men have been known to float for hours- in the open sea- and be picked up not much the worse for it. I might have lasted it out better than many others. There's nothing the matter with my heart.' He withdrew his right fist from his pocket, and the blow he struck on his chest resounded like a muffled detonation in the night.
"'No,' I said. He meditated, with his legs slightly apart and his chin sunk. 'A hair's-breadth,' he muttered. 'Not the breadth of a hair between this and that. And at the time...'
"'It is difficult to see a hair at midnight,' I put in, a little viciously I fear. Don't you see what I mean by the solidarity of the craft? I was aggrieved against him, as though he had cheated me- me!- of a splendid opportunity to keep up the illusion of my beginnings, as though he had robbed our common life of the last spark of its glamour. 'And so you cleared out- at once.'
"'Jumped,' he corrected me incisively. 'Jumped- mind!' he repeated, and I wondered at the evident but obscure intention. 'Well, yes! Perhaps I could not see then. But I had plenty of time and any amount of light in that boat. And I could think, too. Nobody would know, of course, but this did not make it any easier for me. You've got to believe, that, too. I did not want all this talk.... No... Yes... I won't lie... I wanted it: it is the very thing I wanted- there. Do you think you or anybody could have made me if I... I am- I am not afraid to tell. And I wasn't afraid to think either. I looked it in the face. I wasn't going to run away. At first- at night, if it hadn't been for these fellows I might have... No! by heavens! I was not going to give them that satisfaction. They had done enough. They made up a story, and believed it for all I know. But I knew the truth, and I would live it down- alone, with myself. I wasn't going to give in to such a beastly unfair thing. What did it prove after all? I was confoundedly cut up. Sick of life- to tell you the truth; but what would have been the good to shirk it- in- in- that way? That was not the way. I believe-I believe it would have- it would have ended- nothing.'
"He had been walking up and down, but with the last word he turned short at me.
"'What do you believe?' he asked with violence. A pause ensued, and suddenly I felt myself overcome by a profound and hopeless fatigue, as though his voice had startled me out of a dream of wandering through empty spaces whose immensity had harassed my soul and exhausted my body.
"'...Would have ended nothing,' he muttered over me obstinately, after a little while. 'No! the proper thing was to face it out- alone for myself- wait for another chance- find out...'"
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