The account, titled "Stephen Crane's Own Story", concentrates mainly on the sinking of the Commodore , and the ensuing chaos. Crane dedicates just two paragraphs to the fate of his compatriots and himself on the dinghy, while detailing their inability to save those stranded on the sinking ship: The cook let go of the line.
We rowed around to see if we could not get a line from the chief engineer, and all this time, mind you, there were no shrieks, no groans, but silence, silence and silence, and then the Commodore sank. She lurched to windward, then swung afar back, righted and dove into the sea, and the rafts were suddenly swallowed by this frightful maw of the ocean. And then by the men on the ten-foot dingy were words said that were still not words—something far beyond words.
The report caused a sensation and spurred the author to write a narrative version of the events. The short story first appeared in the June issue of Scribner's Magazine. A second and lesser story, "Flanagan and His Short Filibustering Adventure", based upon the same shipwreck but told from the point of view of the captain, was published in McClure's Magazine in October Montgomery of the Sunk Steamer Commodore".
None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea. The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, and at all times its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust up in points like rocks. The first part introduces the four characters— the correspondent , a condescending observer detached from the rest of the group;  the captain , who is injured and morose at having lost his ship, yet capable of leadership; the cook , fat and comical, but optimistic that they will be rescued; and the oiler , Billie, who is physically the strongest, and the only one in the story referred to by name.
The four are survivors of a shipwreck, which occurred before the beginning of the story, and are drifting at sea in a small dinghy. In the following four sections, the moods of the men fluctuate from anger at their desperate situation, to a growing empathy for one another and the sudden realization that nature is indifferent to their fates. The men become fatigued and bicker with one another; nevertheless, the oiler and the correspondent take turns rowing toward shore, while the cook bails water to keep the boat afloat.
When they see a lighthouse on the horizon, their hope is tempered with the realization of the danger of trying to reach it. Their hopes dwindle further when, after seeing a man waving from shore, and what may or may not be another boat, they fail to make contact. The correspondent and the oiler continue to take turns rowing, while the others sleep fitfully during the night. The correspondent then notices a shark swimming near the boat, but he does not seem to be bothered by it as one would expect. In the penultimate chapter, the correspondent wearily recalls a verse from the poem "Bingen on the Rhine" by Caroline Norton , in which a "soldier of the Legion" dies far from home.
The final chapter begins with the men's resolution to abandon the floundering dinghy they have occupied for thirty hours and to swim ashore. As they begin the long swim to the beach, Billie the oiler, the strongest of the four, swims ahead of the others; the captain advances towards the shore while still holding onto the boat, and the cook uses a surviving oar.
The correspondent is trapped by a local current, but is eventually able to swim on. After three of the men safely reach the shore and are met by a group of rescuers, they find Billie dead, his body washed up on the beach. Although autobiographical in nature, "The Open Boat" is a work of fiction; it is often considered a principal example of Naturalism , an offshoot of the Realist literary movement, in which scientific principles of objectivity and detachment are applied to the study of human characteristics.
While a majority of critics agree that the story acts as a paradigm of the human situation, they disagree as to its precise nature. Like other major works by Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat" contains numerous examples of symbolism, imagery and metaphor. Vibrant descriptions of color, combined with simple, clear writing, are also apparent throughout, and humor in the form of irony serves in stark opposition to the dreary setting and desperate characters. Articles such as "The Wreck of the New Era ", which describes a group of castaways drowning in sight of a helpless crowd, and "Ghosts on the Jersey Coast" contain stark imagery that strongly prefigures that of "The Open Boat".
Similar to other Naturalist works, "The Open Boat" scrutinizes the position of man, who has been isolated not only from society, but also from God and nature. The struggle between man and the natural world is the most apparent theme in the work,  and while the characters at first believe the turbulent sea to be a hostile force set against them, they come to believe that nature is instead ambivalent. Stephen Crane's works should deserve wider readership because he's the first and foremost American writer in Realism literary movement who paid attention to the lives of the ordinary by being the experience of living among the ordinary and writing the existential presentations of the ordinary lives.
Jul 07, Adaset rated it liked it. Aug 06, Bill S. This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Crane's most celebrated short stories. It really is not proper to say that this is a tale of man vs. It is neither intentionally hostile nor helpful. I thought Crane was even arguing against the law of nature by having the oilman -- the strongest of the four -- drown, while having the injured captain survive. Or, perhaps I read too much into this since this it was the oilman Crane's most celebrated short stories.
Or, perhaps I read too much into this since this it was the oilman who died in Crane's real-life experience. I credit Crane with being one of the few writers who quotes a poem written by another to make a point effectively. Only in his desperate condition does the correspondent find sympathy with the dying French legionnaire of the poem.
What had been abstract had now become reality and only now could he find true affinity with another human's suffering. The other theme here is that under situations of extreme stress and threat humans bond. The correspondent feels closer to these three men than any other and felt that the comradeship "was the best experience of his life. I did not find his character believable. On the other hand, I found the overall message of the story to be thought provoking. I agree that it is unjust that we oftentimes hold only the final perpetrator responsible when the actions of many often lead to evil.
Scully is so concerned about he reputation of his business that he gets the Swede drunk to get him to stay and then allows the fight to happen to protect the family honor; Johnny cheats at the card game; the easterner knows he cheated but says nothing, the cowboy eggs on Johnny and does not intervene to stop the fight and then the gambler kills the Swede. But lets not forget that the Swede should take responsibility for participating in a fight over a card game that did not even involve money and then assaulting the gambler.
At first read I found it just a clever plot twist at the end. Only upon reflection did it occur to me that the bride represented civilization coming to the town of "Yellow Sky. He refuses to shoot and "placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. Dec 13, Marlee rated it it was amazing Shelves: I deeply admire Stephen Crane, not just for his candid, open writing style, but also for his ability to write across a wide range of genres.
I'll take each story by itself: Set in the streets of a big city, this novella has all the grit and rustic charm of a Dickens book. Whether or not Crane was emulating his style it is hard to know, but it certainly came across that way. The characters are simultaneously lovable and despicable, the result of being broken and desti I deeply admire Stephen Crane, not just for his candid, open writing style, but also for his ability to write across a wide range of genres.
The characters are simultaneously lovable and despicable, the result of being broken and destitute. An autobiographical tale, Crane takes his gaze to the sea. There he discusses brotherhood, the meaning of life, and existentialism, among other things. This is something of a western, featuring a town marshal, his new wife, and a drunk crazy man out to kill. I won't spoil the ending, but comment that I found it rather silly and thought the bride's death would have been more effective.
This story, as well as the next one, reminds me a good deal of Steinbeck, as it was brief, stark, and fulfilling. The last in this anthology of stories, this is by far the strangest. It's not a mystery, but an ominous portrait of several adrenaline-high men. The whole story was unpredictable and laced with suspense.
Although not my favorite, I immensely enjoyed the dialogue. On the whole, this is a lovely anthology, and one that fully expresses Crane's diversity and talent. Jan 21, Jess rated it really liked it Recommended to Jess by: I very much enjoyed these stories, and they were much funnier than I anticipated they would be--I'm unfamiliar with Crane's works besides the book.
While I enjoyed the titular story and the longer novella "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets" This was definitely the most depressing of the stories, but also the wittiest--and we ge I very much enjoyed these stories, and they were much funnier than I anticipated they would be--I'm unfamiliar with Crane's works besides the book.
A Girl of the Streets" This was definitely the most depressing of the stories, but also the wittiest--and we get to see a rather disgusting, hypocritical, drunken family of horrible people that mimes contemporary dysfunctional families in a very eerie way. For a very short piece, it went in so many different directions, and I just sort of lost interest. The ending is quite funny, though.
The best non-horror horror story I've read in a long time. Feb 12, Mimi rated it really liked it. Sep 04, Kathryn rated it liked it Shelves: I only read the title story.
- The Open Boat and Other Stories?
- Fallen Embers?
- The Open Boat and Other Stories by Stephen Crane!
Also - and maybe this was because I started reading this at 2 in the morning - I was confused by the structure of the story at first. I had to reread it again before it made any sense. We have four characters. The fatherly, leader figure Captain; The hard-working Oiler, The lighthearted follower Cook, and the philosophical Correspondent, whose thoughts we read the most in the story.
It's really ironic with view spoiler [the Oiler's death, since he was the most diligent of them all I kept imagining the four of them stranded in the middle of the ocean in an actual bath tub for the first few pages Apr 03, Sonia rated it liked it Shelves: It's the story of four shipwrecked me struggling to survive out at sea. They are tired, hungry, and desperate. They see land and believe they see people on the shore. They have to make the decision of when to start trying to swim to shore - on the one hand the boat they're in is not strong enough to keep them afloat much longer, but the longer they have to swim, the less likely they'll reach their destina Having absolutely adored The Red Badge of Courage, I had higher hopes for this short story.
They have to make the decision of when to start trying to swim to shore - on the one hand the boat they're in is not strong enough to keep them afloat much longer, but the longer they have to swim, the less likely they'll reach their destination. My favorite part of the story is the railing at fate. They remain optimist only by rationalizing that fate would have let them drown days ago if she meant to kill them.
It keeps them focused on rescuing themselves. May 27, Jamie rated it really liked it Shelves: Jul 19, Bob rated it it was amazing. The Open Boat is another of Stephen Crane's terrific short stories. It's interesting to note that Crane had a way way of telling a story with total disregard for the time period.
Many of his stories could be or He was also known for his use of pluralism in many of his stories. For example, so close to shore they can see people waving but not close enough to be saved. Crane died in at the age of Having grown up in Asbury Park, N. Jun 17, Gloria rated it it was amazing Shelves: I cannot fully fathom how a young man can craft such prose.
To take 4 utterly different stories, milieus, characters, and even overall feelings surrounding those tales Crane's descriptions leave you missing nothing, yet aren't bogged down by superfluous words. There were only 4 stories. And the fact that he died at the age of A veritable George Gershwin of the literary world. How much more could he have written But the men in the boat had no time to see it, and if they had had leisure there were other things to occupy their minds.
The sun swung steadily up the sky, and they knew it was broad day because the colour of the sea changed from slate to emerald-green, streaked with amber lights, and the foam was like tumbling snow.
The process of the breaking day was unknown to them. They were aware only of this effect upon the colour of the waves that rolled toward them. In disjointed sentences the cook and the correspondent argued as to the difference between a life-saving station and a house of refuge. The cook had said: They don't carry crews. Perhaps it's a life-saving station. As the boat bounced from the top of each wave, the wind tore through the hair of the hatless men, and as the craft plopped her stern down again the spray slashed past them.
The crest of each of these waves was a hill, from the top of which the men surveyed, for a moment, a broad tumultuous expanse, shining and wind-riven. It was probably splendid. It was probably glorious, this play of the free sea, wild with lights of emerald and white and amber. Wouldn't have a show. Then the captain, in the bow, chuckled in a way that expressed humour, contempt, tragedy, all in one. Whereupon the three were silent, save for a trifle of hemming and hawing. To express any particular optimism at this time they felt to be childish and stupid, but they all doubtless possessed this sense of the situation in their mind.
A young man thinks doggedly at such times. On the other hand, the ethics of their condition was decidedly against any open suggestion of hopelessness. So they were silent. But there was that in his tone which made them think, so the oiler quoth: If this wind holds! Canton flannel gulls flew near and far. Sometimes they sat down on the sea, near patches of brown sea-weed that rolled over the waves with a movement like carpets on a line in a gale.
The birds sat comfortably in groups, and they were envied by some in the dingey, for the wrath of the sea was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a thousand miles inland. Often they came very close and stared at the men with black bead-like eyes.
At these times they were uncanny and sinister in their unblinking scrutiny, and the men hooted angrily at them, telling them to be gone. One came, and evidently decided to alight on the top of the captain's head. The bird flew parallel to the boat and did not circle, but made short sidelong jumps in the air in chicken-fashion. His black eyes were wistfully fixed upon the captain's head. The captain naturally wished to knock it away with the end of the heavy painter; but he did not dare do it, because anything resembling an emphatic gesture would have capsized this freighted boat, and so with his open hand, the captain gently and carefully waved the gull away.
After it had been discouraged from the pursuit the captain breathed easier on account of his hair, and others breathed easier because the bird struck their minds at this time as being somehow grewsome and ominous. They sat together in the same seat, and each rowed an oar. Then the oiler took both oars; then the correspondent took both oars; then the oiler; then the correspondent.
They rowed and they rowed. The very ticklish part of the business was when the time came for the reclining one in the stern to take his turn at the oars.
By the very last star of truth, it is easier to steal eggs from under a hen than it was to change seats in the dingey. Then the man in the rowing seat slid his hand along the other thwart. It was all done with the most extraordinary care. As the two sidled past each other, the whole party kept watchful eyes on the coming wave, and the captain cried: The brown mats of sea-weed that appeared from time to time were like islands, bits of earth. They were travelling, apparently, neither one way nor the other.
They were, to all intents, stationary. They informed the men in the boat that it was making progress slowly toward the land. The captain, rearing cautiously in the bow, after the dingey soared on a great swell, said that he had seen the lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet. Presently the cook remarked that he had seen it. The correspondent was at the oars then, and for some reason he too wished to look at the lighthouse, but his back was toward the far shore and the waves were important, and for some time he could not seize an opportunity to turn his head.
But at last there came a wave more gentle than the others, and when at the crest of it he swiftly scoured the western horizon. At the top of another wave, the correspondent did as he was bid, and this time his eyes chanced on a small still thing on the edge of the swaying horizon. It was precisely like the point of a pin. It took an anxious eye to find a lighthouse so tiny. The little boat, lifted by each towering sea, and splashed viciously by the crests, made progress that in the absence of sea-weed was not apparent to those in her. She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, miraculously top-up, at the mercy of five oceans.
Occasionally, a great spread of water, like white flames, swarmed into her. It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas. No one said that it was so. No one mentioned it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him. They were a captain, an oiler, a cook, and a correspondent, and they were friends, friends in a more curiously iron-bound degree than may be common. The hurt captain, lying against the water-jar in the bow, spoke always in a low voice and calmly, but he could never command a more ready and swiftly obedient crew than the motley three of the dingey.
It was more than a mere recognition of what was best for the common safety. There was surely in it a quality that was personal and heartfelt. And after this devotion to the commander of the boat there was this comradeship that the correspondent, for instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew even at the time was the best experience of his life. But no one said that it was so. The oiler steered, and the little boat made good way with her new rig. Sometimes the oiler had to scull sharply to keep a sea from breaking into the boat, but otherwise sailing was a success.
Meanwhile the lighthouse had been growing slowly larger. It had now almost assumed colour, and appeared like a little grey shadow on the sky. The man at the oars could not be prevented from turning his head rather often to try for a glimpse of this little grey shadow. At last, from the top of each wave the men in the tossing boat could see land. Even as the lighthouse was an upright shadow on the sky, this land seemed but a long black shadow on the sea.
It certainly was thinner than paper. The wind slowly died away. The cook and the correspondent were not now obliged to slave in order to hold high the oar. But the waves continued their old impetuous swooping at the dingey, and the little craft, no longer under way, struggled woundily over them. The oiler or the correspondent took the oars again. If men could only train for them and have them occur when the men had reached pink condition, there would be less drowning at sea.
Of the four in the dingey none had slept any time worth mentioning for two days and two nights previous to embarking in the dingey, and in the excitement of clambering about the deck of a foundering ship they had also forgotten to eat heartily. For these reasons, and for others, neither the oiler nor the correspondent was fond of rowing at this time. The correspondent wondered ingenuously how in the name of all that was sane could there be people who thought it amusing to row a boat.
It was not an amusement; it was a diabolical punishment, and even a genius of mental aberrations could never conclude that it was anything but a horror to the muscles and a crime against the back. He mentioned to the boat in general how the amusement of rowing struck him, and the weary-faced oiler smiled in full sympathy. Previously to the foundering, by the way, the oiler had worked double-watch in the engine-room of the ship.
If we have to run a surf you'll need all your strength, because we'll sure have to swim for it. Slowly the land arose from the sea. From a black line it became a line of black and a line of white, trees and sand. Finally, the captain said that he could make out a house on the shore. The distant lighthouse reared high. Slowly and beautifully the land loomed out of the sea. The wind came again.
Catalog Record: The open boat and other stories | Hathi Trust Digital Library
It had veered from the north-east to the south-east. Finally, a new sound struck the ears of the men in the boat. It was the low thunder of the surf on the shore. Whereupon the little boat turned her nose once more down the wind, and all but the oarsman watched the shore grow. Under the influence of this expansion doubt and direful apprehension was leaving the minds of the men. The management of the boat was still most absorbing, but it could not prevent a quiet cheerfulness.
In an hour, perhaps, they would be ashore. Their backbones had become thoroughly used to balancing in the boat, and they now rode this wild colt of a dingey like circus men. The correspondent thought that he had been drenched to the skin, but happening to feel in the top pocket of his coat, he found therein eight cigars.
Four of them were soaked with sea-water; four were perfectly scatheless. After a search, somebody produced three dry matches, and thereupon the four waifs rode impudently in their little boat, and with an assurance of an impending rescue shining in their eyes, puffed at the big cigars and judged well and ill of all men.
Everybody took a drink of water. A broad stretch of lowly coast lay before the eyes of the men. It was of dunes topped with dark vegetation. The roar of the surf was plain, and sometimes they could see the white lip of a wave as it spun up the beach. A tiny house was blocked out black upon the sky. Southward, the slim lighthouse lifted its little grey length. Tide, wind, and waves were swinging the dingey northward.
The surf's roar was here dulled, but its tone was, nevertheless, thunderous and mighty. As the boat swam over the great rollers, the men sat listening to this roar. It is fair to say here that there was not a life-saving station within twenty miles in either direction, but the men did not know this fact, and in consequence they made dark and opprobrious remarks concerning the eyesight of the nation's life-savers.
Four scowling men sat in the dingey and surpassed records in the invention of epithets. The light-heartedness of a former time had completely faded. To their sharpened minds it was easy to conjure pictures of all kinds of incompetency and blindness and, indeed, cowardice. There was the shore of the populous land, and it was bitter and bitter to them that from it came no sign.
The Open Boat
If we stay out here too long, we'll none of us have strength left to swim after the boat swamps. And so the oiler, who was at the oars, turned the boat straight for the shore. There was a sudden tightening of muscles. There was some thinking. They then briefly exchanged some addresses and admonitions. As for the reflections of the men, there was a great deal of rage in them. Perchance they might be formulated thus: Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men's fortunes.
She is an old hen who knows not her intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it in the beginning and save me all this trouble? The whole affair is absurd But no, she cannot mean to drown me. She dare not drown me. She cannot drown me. Not after all this work. The billows that came at this time were more formidable.
They seemed always just about to break and roll over the little boat in a turmoil of foam. There was a preparatory and long growl in the speech of them. No mind unused to the sea would have concluded that the dingey could ascend these sheer heights in time. The shore was still afar. The oiler was a wily surfman. Shall I take her to sea again, captain? This oiler, by a series of quick miracles, and fast and steady oarsmanship, turned the boat in the middle of the surf and took her safely to sea again.
There was a considerable silence as the boat bumped over the furrowed sea to deeper water. Then somebody in gloom spoke. The gulls went in slanting flight up the wind toward the grey desolate east. A squall, marked by dingy clouds, and clouds brick-red, like smoke from a burning building, appeared from the south-east. Maybe they think we're fishin'. Maybe they think we're damned fools.
It was a long afternoon. A changed tide tried to force them southward, but wind and wave said northward. Far ahead, where coast-line, sea, and sky formed their mighty angle, there were little dots which seemed to indicate a city on the shore. And the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed. Then the oiler rowed.
It was a weary business. The human back can become the seat of more aches and pains than are registered in books for the composite anatomy of a regiment. It is a limited area, but it can become the theatre of innumerable muscular conflicts, tangles, wrenches, knots, and other comforts. When one exchanged the rowing-seat for a place in the bottom of the boat, he suffered a bodily depression that caused him to be careless of everything save an obligation to wiggle one finger. There was cold sea-water swashing to and fro in the boat, and he lay in it. His head, pillowed on a thwart, was within an inch of the swirl of a wave crest, and sometimes a particularly obstreperous sea came in-board and drenched him once more.
But these matters did not annoy him. It is almost certain that if the boat had capsized he would have tumbled comfortably out upon the ocean as if he felt sure that it was a great soft mattress. Now we're all right! There'll be a boat out here for us in half-an-hour. The remote beach seemed lower than the sea, and it required a searching glance to discern the little black figure. The captain saw a floating stick and they rowed to it.
A bath-towel was by some weird chance in the boat, and, tying this on the stick, the captain waved it. The oarsman did not dare turn his head, so he was obliged to ask questions. He's looking, I think There he goes again. Now he's stopped again. It's an omnibus, sure as fate. What do you suppose they are doing with an omnibus?
Maybe they are going around collecting the life-crew, hey? There's a fellow waving a little black flag. He's standing on the steps of the omnibus. There come those other two fellows. Now they're all talking together. Look at the fellow with the flag. Maybe he ain't waving it. He's taken it off and is waving it around his head. But would you look at him swing it. That's just a winter resort hotel omnibus that has brought over some of the boarders to see us drown. There must be a life-saving station up there.
But look at him. He just stands there and keeps his coat revolving like a wheel. I think he is trying to make us go north. It must be that there's a life-saving station there somewhere. He's been revolving his coat ever since he caught sight of us. Why aren't they getting men to bring a boat out? A fishing boat—one of those big yawls—could come out here all right. Why don't he do something? A faint yellow tone came into the sky over the low land. The shadows on the sea slowly deepened.
The wind bore coldness with it, and the men began to shiver. If we've got to flounder out here all night! They've seen us now, and it won't be long before they'll come chasing out after us. The shore grew dusky. The man waving a coat blended gradually into this gloom, and it swallowed in the same manner the omnibus and the group of people. The spray, when it dashed uproariously over the side, made the voyagers shrink and swear like men who were being branded. In the meantime the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed, and then the oiler rowed.
Grey-faced and bowed forward, they mechanically, turn by turn, plied the leaden oars. The form of the lighthouse had vanished from the southern horizon, but finally a pale star appeared, just lifting from the sea. The streaked saffron in the west passed before the all-merging darkness, and the sea to the east was black. The land had vanished, and was expressed only by the low and drear thunder of the surf.
This was surely a quiet evening. All save the oarsman lay heavily and listlessly in the boat's bottom. As for him, his eyes were just capable of noting the tall black waves that swept forward in a most sinister silence, save for an occasional subdued growl of a crest. The cook's head was on a thwart, and he looked without interest at the water under his nose. He was deep in other scenes. A night on the sea in an open boat is a long night. As darkness settled finally, the shine of the light, lifting from the sea in the south, changed to full gold.
On the northern horizon a new light appeared, a small bluish gleam on the edge of the waters. These two lights were the furniture of the world. Otherwise there was nothing but waves. Two men huddled in the stern, and distances were so magnificent in the dingey that the rower was enabled to keep his feet partly warmed by thrusting them under his companions. Their legs indeed extended far under the rowing-seat until they touched the feet of the captain forward.
Sometimes, despite the efforts of the tired oarsman, a wave came piling into the boat, an icy wave of the night, and the chilling water soaked them anew. They would twist their bodies for a moment and groan, and sleep the dead sleep once more, while the water in the boat gurgled about them as the craft rocked. The plan of the oiler and the correspondent was for one to row until he lost the ability, and then arouse the other from his sea-water couch in the bottom of the boat.
The oiler plied the oars until his head drooped forward, and the overpowering sleep blinded him. And he rowed yet afterward. Then he touched a man in the bottom of the boat, and called his name. They exchanged places carefully, and the oiler, cuddling down in the sea-water at the cook's side, seemed to go to sleep instantly.
The particular violence of the sea had ceased. The waves came without snarling. The obligation of the man at the oars was to keep the boat headed so that the tilt of the rollers would not capsize her, and to preserve her from filling when the crests rushed past. The black waves were silent and hard to be seen in the darkness. Often one was almost upon the boat before the oarsman was aware. In a low voice the correspondent addressed the captain.
He was not sure that the captain was awake, although this iron man seemed to be always awake. The cook had tied a life-belt around himself in order to get even the warmth which this clumsy cork contrivance could donate, and he seemed almost stove-like when a rower, whose teeth invariably chattered wildly as soon as he ceased his labour, dropped down to sleep.
The correspondent, as he rowed, looked down at the two men sleeping under-foot. The cook's arm was around the oiler's shoulders, and, with their fragmentary clothing and haggard faces, they were the babes of the sea, a grotesque rendering of the old babes in the wood. Later he must have grown stupid at his work, for suddenly there was a growling of water, and a crest came with a roar and a swash into the boat, and it was a wonder that it did not set the cook afloat in his life-belt.
The cook continued to sleep, but the oiler sat up, blinking his eyes and shaking with the new cold. Presently it seemed that even the captain dozed, and the correspondent thought that he was the one man afloat on all the oceans. The wind had a voice as it came over the waves, and it was sadder than the end. There was a long, loud swishing astern of the boat, and a gleaming trail of phosphorescence, like blue flame, was furrowed on the black waters.
It might have been made by a monstrous knife. Then there came a stillness, while the correspondent breathed with the open mouth and looked at the sea. Suddenly there was another swish and another long flash of bluish light, and this time it was alongside the boat, and might almost have been reached with an oar.
The correspondent saw an enormous fin speed like a shadow through the water, hurling the crystalline spray and leaving the long glowing trail. The correspondent looked over his shoulder at the captain. His face was hidden, and he seemed to be asleep. He looked at the babes of the sea. They certainly were asleep. So, being bereft of sympathy, he leaned a little way to one side and swore softly into the sea. But the thing did not then leave the vicinity of the boat.
Ahead or astern, on one side or the other, at intervals long or short, fled the long sparkling streak, and there was to be heard the whiroo of the dark fin. The speed and power of the thing was greatly to be admired. It cut the water like a gigantic and keen projectile. The presence of this biding thing did not affect the man with the same horror that it would if he had been a picnicker.
He simply looked at the sea dully and swore in an undertone. Nevertheless, it is true that he did not wish to be alone. He wished one of his companions to awaken by chance and keep him company with it. But the captain hung motionless over the water-jar, and the oiler and the cook in the bottom of the boat were plunged in slumber.
During this dismal night, it may be remarked that a man would conclude that it was really the intention of the seven mad gods to drown him, despite the abominable injustice of it. For it was certainly an abominable injustice to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard. The man felt it would be a crime most unnatural.
Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed with painted sails, but still—. When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers. Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and with hands supplicant, saying: A high cold star on a winter's night is the word he feels that she says to him.
Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation. The men in the dingey had not discussed these matters, but each had, no doubt, reflected upon them in silence and according to his mind. There was seldom any expression upon their faces save the general one of complete weariness.
Speech was devoted to the business of the boat. To chime the notes of his emotion, a verse mysteriously entered the correspondent's head. He had even forgotten that he had forgotten this verse, but it suddenly was in his mind. In his childhood, the correspondent had been made acquainted with the fact that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, but he had never regarded the fact as important.
Myriads of his school-fellows had informed him of the soldier's plight, but the dinning had naturally ended by making him perfectly indifferent. He had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow.
Catalog Record: The open boat and other stories | Hathi Trust Digital Library
It was less to him than the breaking of a pencil's point. Now, however, it quaintly came to him as a human, living thing. It was no longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality—stern, mournful, and fine.
The correspondent plainly saw the soldier. He lay on the sand with his feet out straight and still. While his pale left hand was upon his chest in an attempt to thwart the going of his life, the blood came between his fingers. In the far Algerian distance, a city of low square forms was set against a sky that was faint with the last sunset hues. The correspondent, plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and slower movements of the lips of the soldier, was moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension.
He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers. The thing which had followed the boat and waited, had evidently grown bored at the delay. There was no longer to be heard the slash of the cut-water, and there was no longer the flame of the long trail. The light in the north still glimmered, but it was apparently no nearer to the boat.
Sometimes the boom of the surf rang in the correspondent's ears, and he turned the craft seaward then and rowed harder. Southward, some one had evidently built a watch-fire on the beach. It was too low and too far to be seen, but it made a shimmering, roseate reflection upon the bluff back of it, and this could be discerned from the boat.
The wind came stronger, and sometimes a wave suddenly raged out like a mountain-cat, and there was to be seen the sheen and sparkle of a broken crest. The captain, in the bow, moved on his water-jar and sat erect. He looked at the shore. As soon as the correspondent touched the cold comfortable sea-water in the bottom of the boat, and had huddled close to the cook's life-belt he was deep in sleep, despite the fact that his teeth played all the popular airs. This sleep was so good to him that it was but a moment before he heard a voice call his name in a tone that demonstrated the last stages of exhaustion.
The light in the north had mysteriously vanished, but the correspondent took his course from the wide-awake captain. Later in the night they took the boat farther out to sea, and the captain directed the cook to take one oar at the stern and keep the boat facing the seas. He was to call out if he should hear the thunder of the surf. This plan enabled the oiler and the correspondent to get respite together. They curled down and, after a few preliminary chatterings and trembles, slept once more the dead sleep.
Neither knew they had bequeathed to the cook the company of another shark, or perhaps the same shark. As the boat caroused on the waves, spray occasionally bumped over the side and gave them a fresh soaking, but this had no power to break their repose. The ominous slash of the wind and the water affected them as it would have affected mummies. I guess one of you had better take her to sea again. As he was rowing, the captain gave him some whisky-and-water, and this steadied the chills out of him.
When the correspondent again opened his eyes, the sea and the sky were each of the grey hue of the dawning. Later, carmine and gold was painted upon the waters. The morning appeared finally, in its splendour, with a sky of pure blue, and the sunlight flamed on the tips of the waves. On the distant dunes were set many little black cottages, and a tall white windmill reared above them. No man, nor dog, nor bicycle appeared on the beach. The cottages might have formed a deserted village. The voyagers scanned the shore. A conference was held in the boat. If we stay out here much longer we will be too weak to do anything for ourselves at all.
The boat was headed for the beach. The correspondent wondered if none ever ascended the tall wind-tower, and if then they never looked seaward. This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual—nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him then, nor beneficent, nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent. It is, perhaps, plausible that a man in this situation, impressed with the unconcern of the universe, should see the innumerable flaws of his life, and have them taste wickedly in his mind and wish for another chance.
A distinction between right and wrong seems absurdly clear to him, then, in this new ignorance of the grave-edge, and he understands that if he were given another opportunity he would mend his conduct and his words, and be better and brighter during an introduction or at a tea.
See a Problem?
All we can do is to work her in as far as possible, and then when she swamps, pile out and scramble for the beach. Keep cool now, and don't jump until she swamps sure. The oiler took the oars. Over his shoulders he scanned the surf. The monstrous in-shore rollers heaved the boat high until the men were again enabled to see the white sheets of water scudding up the slanted beach. Each time a man could wrest his attention from the rollers, he turned his glance toward the shore, and in the expression of the eyes during this contemplation there was a singular quality.
The correspondent, observing the others, knew that they were not afraid, but the full meaning of their glances was shrouded. As for himself, he was too tired to grapple fundamentally with the fact. He tried to coerce his mind into thinking of it, but the mind was dominated at this time by the muscles, and the muscles said they did not care. It merely occurred to him that if he should drown it would be a shame. There were no hurried words, no pallor, no plain agitation. The men simply looked at the shore.
Seaward the crest of a roller suddenly fell with a thunderous crash, and the long white comber came roaring down upon the boat. The men were silent. They turned their eyes from the shore to the comber and waited. The boat slid up the incline, leaped at the furious top, bounced over it, and swung down the long back of the wave. Some water had been shipped and the cook bailed it out.