’Twixt Land & Sea Tales - Joseph Conrad - ebook

’Twixt Land & Sea Tales ebook

Conrad Joseph

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There are collected 3 stories. One of the stories has a distinctly ironic accent. In „Smile of Fortune”, the young captain landed his ship on a tropical island. He is met by a trader named Jacobus, whom he regards as luck. Then he falls in love with the girl Jacobus. By luck, the captain arrives on another island, where there is hunger, and he can sell potatoes.

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Liczba stron: 352

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Contents

A SMILE OF FORTUNE HARBOUR STORY

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

THE SECRET SHARER AN EPISODE FROM THE COAST

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

FREYA OF THE SEVEN ISLES A STORY OF SHALLOW WATERS

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

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.

CHAPTER I

By half-past seven in the morning, the ship being then inside the harbour at last and moored within a long stone’s-throw from the quay, my stock of philosophy was nearly exhausted. I was dressing hurriedly in my cabin when the steward came tripping in with a morning suit over his arm.

Hungry, tired, and depressed, with my head engaged inside a white shirt irritatingly stuck together by too much starch, I desired him peevishly to “heave round with that breakfast.” I wanted to get ashore as soon as possible.

“Yes, sir. Ready at eight, sir. There’s a gentleman from the shore waiting to speak to you, sir.”

This statement was curiously slurred over. I dragged the shirt violently over my head and emerged staring.

“So early!” I cried. “Who’s he? What does he want?”

On coming in from sea one has to pick up the conditions of an utterly unrelated existence. Every little event at first has the peculiar emphasis of novelty. I was greatly surprised by that early caller; but there was no reason for my steward to look so particularly foolish.

“Didn’t you ask for the name?” I inquired in a stern tone.

“His name’s Jacobus, I believe,” he mumbled shamefacedly.

“Mr. Jacobus!” I exclaimed loudly, more surprised than ever, but with a total change of feeling. “Why couldn’t you say so at once?”

But the fellow had scuttled out of my room. Through the momentarily opened door I had a glimpse of a tall, stout man standing in the cuddy by the table on which the cloth was already laid; a “harbour” table-cloth, stainless and dazzlingly white. So far good.

I shouted courteously through the closed door, that I was dressing and would be with him in a moment. In return the assurance that there was no hurry reached me in the visitor’s deep, quiet undertone. His time was my own. He dared say I would give him a cup of coffee presently.

“I am afraid you will have a poor breakfast,” I cried apologetically. “We have been sixty-one days at sea, you know.”

A quiet little laugh, with a “That’ll be all right, Captain,” was his answer. All this, words, intonation, the glimpsed attitude of the man in the cuddy, had an unexpected character, a something friendly in it–propitiatory. And my surprise was not diminished thereby. What did this call mean? Was it the sign of some dark design against my commercial innocence?

Ah! These commercial interests–spoiling the finest life under the sun. Why must the sea be used for trade–and for war as well? Why kill and traffic on it, pursuing selfish aims of no great importance after all? It would have been so much nicer just to sail about with here and there a port and a bit of land to stretch one’s legs on, buy a few books and get a change of cooking for a while. But, living in a world more or less homicidal and desperately mercantile, it was plainly my duty to make the best of its opportunities.

My owners’ letter had left it to me, as I have said before, to do my best for the ship, according to my own judgment. But it contained also a postscript worded somewhat as follows:

“Without meaning to interfere with your liberty of action we are writing by the outgoing mail to some of our business friends there who may be of assistance to you. We desire you particularly to call on Mr. Jacobus, a prominent merchant and charterer. Should you hit it off with him he may be able to put you in the way of profitable employment for the ship.”

Hit it off! Here was the prominent creature absolutely on board asking for the favour of a cup of coffee! And life not being a fairy-tale the improbability of the event almost shocked me. Had I discovered an enchanted nook of the earth where wealthy merchants rush fasting on board ships before they are fairly moored? Was this white magic or merely some black trick of trade? I came in the end (while making the bow of my tie) to suspect that perhaps I did not get the name right. I had been thinking of the prominent Mr. Jacobus pretty frequently during the passage and my hearing might have been deceived by some remote similarity of sound... The steward might have said Antrobus–or maybe Jackson.

But coming out of my stateroom with an interrogative “Mr. Jacobus?” I was met by a quiet “Yes,” uttered with a gentle smile. The “yes” was rather perfunctory. He did not seem to make much of the fact that he was Mr. Jacobus. I took stock of a big, pale face, hair thin on the top, whiskers also thin, of a faded nondescript colour, heavy eyelids. The thick, smooth lips in repose looked as if glued together. The smile was faint. A heavy, tranquil man. I named my two officers, who just then came down to breakfast; but why Mr. Burns’s silent demeanour should suggest suppressed indignation I could not understand.

While we were taking our seats round the table some disconnected words of an altercation going on in the companionway reached my ear. A stranger apparently wanted to come down to interview me, and the steward was opposing him.

“You can’t see him.”

“Why can’t I?”

“The Captain is at breakfast, I tell you. He’ll be going on shore presently, and you can speak to him on deck.”

“That’s not fair. You let–”

“I’ve had nothing to do with that.”

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