Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
AN ADVENTURE IN THE NIGHT
Ten seconds after entering the arroyo I was stumbling along in an absolute blackness. It almost seemed to me that I could reach out my hands and touch it, as one would touch a wall. Or perhaps not exactly that, for a wall is hard, and this darkness was soft and yielding, in the manner of enveloping hangings. Directly above me was a narrow, jagged, and irregular strip of sky with stars. I splashed in the brook, finding its waters strangely warm, rustled through the grasses, my head back, chin out, hands extended as one makes his way through a house at night. There were no sounds except the tinkle of the sulphurous stream: successive bends in the caņon wall had shut off even the faintest echoes of the bacchanalia on the beach.
The way seemed much longer than by daylight. Already in my calculation I had traversed many times the distance, when, with a jump at the heart, I made out a glow ahead, and in front of it the upright logs of the stockade.
To my surprise the gate was open. I ascended the gentle slope to the valley's level--and stumbled over a man lying prostrate, shivering violently, and moaning.
I bent over to discover whom it might be. As I did so a brilliant light seemed to fill the valley, throwing an illumination on the man at my feet. I saw it was the Nigger, and perceived at the same instant that he was almost beside himself with terror. His eyes rolled, his teeth chattered, his frame contracted in a strong convulsion, and the black of his complexion had faded to a washed-out dirty grey, revolting to contemplate. He felt my touch and sprang to his feet, clutching me by the shoulder as a man clutching rescue.
"My Gawd!" he shivered. "Look! Dar it is again!"
He fell to pattering in a tongue unknown to me--charms, spells, undoubtedly, to exorcise the devils that had hold of him. I followed the direction of his gaze, and myself cried out.
The doctor's laboratory stood in plain sight between the two columns of steam blown straight upward through the stillness of the evening. It seemed bursting with light. Every little crack leaked it in generous streams, while the main illumination appeared fairly to bulge the walls outward. This was in itself nothing extraordinary, and indicated only the activity of those within, but while I looked an irregular patch of incandescence suddenly splashed the cliff opposite. For a single instant the very substance of the rock glowed white hot; then from the spot a shower of spiteful flakes shot as from a pyrotechnic, and the light was blotted out as suddenly as it came. At the same moment it appeared at another point, exhibited the same phenomena, died, flashed out at still a third place, and so was repeated here and there with bewildering rapidity until the walls of the valley crackled and spat sparks. Abruptly the darkness fell.
As abruptly it was broken again by a similar exhibition; only this time the fire was blue. Blue was followed by purple, purple by red. Then ensued the briefest possible pause, in which a figure moved across the bars of light escaping through the chinks of the laboratory, and then the whole valley blazed with patches of vari-coloured fire. It was not a reflection: it was actual physical conflagration of the solid rock, in irregular areas. Some of the fire shapes were most fantastic. And with the unexpectedness of a bursting shell the surface of the ground before our feet crackled into a ghastly blue flame.
The Nigger uttered a cry in his throat and disappeared. I felt a sharp breath on my neck, an ejaculation of surprise at my very ear. It was startling enough to scare the soul out of a man, but I held fast and was just about to step forward, when my collar was twisted tight from behind. I raised both hands, felt steel, and knew that I was in the grasp of Handy Solomon's claw.
The sailor had me foul. I did my best to twist around, to unbutton the collar, but in vain. I felt my wind leaving me, the ghastly blue light was shot with red. Distinctly I heard the man's sharp intaken breath as some new phenomenon met his eye, and his great oath as he swore. "By the mother of God!" he cried, "it's the devil."
Then I was jerked off my feet, and the next I knew I was lying on my back, very wet, on the beach; the day was breaking, and the men, quite sober, were talking vehemently.
It was impossible to make out what they said, but as Handy Solomon and the Nigger were the centre of discussion, I could imagine the subject. I felt very stiff and sore and hazy in my mind. My neck was lame from the dragging and my tongue dry from the choking. For some time I lay in a half-torpor watching the lilac of dawn change to the rose of sunrise, utterly indifferent to everything. They had thrown me down across the first rise of the little sand dunes back of the tide sands, and from it I could at once look out over the sea full of the restless shadows of dawn, and the land narrowing to the mouth of the arroyo. I remember wondering whether Captain Selover were up yet. Then with a sharp stab at the heart I remembered.
The thought was like a dash of cold water in clearing my faculties. I raised my head. Seaward a white gull had caught the first rays of the sun beyond the cliffs. Landward--I saw with a choke in my throat--a figure emerging from the arroyo.
At the sight I made a desperate attempt to move, but with the effort discovered that I was again bound. My stirring thus called Pulz's attention. Before I could look away he had followed the direction of my gaze. The discussion instantly ceased. They waited in grim silence.
I did not know what to do. Percy Darrow, carrying some sort of large book, was walking rapidly toward us. Perdosa had disappeared. Thrackles after an instant came and sat beside me and clapped his big hand over my mouth. It was horrible.
When within a hundred paces or so, I could see that Darrow laboured under some great excitement. His usual indifferent saunter had, as I have indicated, given way to a firm and decided step; his ironical eye glistened; his sallow cheek glowed.
"Boys," he shouted cheerfully. "The time's up. We've succeeded. We'll sail just as soon as the Lord'll let us get ready. Rustle the stuff aboard. The doctor'll be down in a short time, and we ought to be loaded by night."
Handy Solomon and Pulz laid hand on two of the rifles near by and began surreptitiously to fill their magazines. The Nigger shook his knife free of the scabbard and sat with it in his left hand, concealed by his body. I could feel Thrackles's muscles stiffen. Another fifty paces and it would be no longer necessary to stop my mouth.
The thought made me desperate. I had failed as a leader of these men, and I had been forced to stand by at debauching, cruel, and murderous affairs, but now it is over I thank Heaven the reproach cannot be made against me that at any time I counted the consequences to myself. Thrackles's hand lay heavy across my mouth. I bit it to the bone, and as he involuntarily snatched it away, I rolled over toward the sea.
Thus for an instant I had my mouth free. "Run! Run!" I shouted. "For God's sake----"
Thrackles leaped upon me and struck me heavily upon the mouth, then sprang for a rifle. I managed to struggle back to the dune, whence I could see.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.