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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-06-14 03:44:53
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tr chi ua nga

"It fair gives me the creeps!" he finished. Now Carstairs was a plain honest-to-God Englishman from the New Forest, the very incarnation of the soldier from the English shires whose sheer lack of imagination and consequent inability to accept defeat in any circumstances clear broke the German spirit in the war. There was no associating that good-humoured face, that big mouth and button nose, with the idle fears of an overheated imagination. There are some people—I am one—who, even though they see nothing, have the faculty of detecting the presence of human beings in their vicinity. I recalled the eerie sensation I myself had had on landing but, of course, above all I thought of that bowed figure which the lightning had shown me standing by the grave in the clearing. I was filled with the deepest foreboding. If there were people on the island, surely they must have remarked the arrival of the Naomi. Would they not have announced themselves to us? What object could they have, supposing Carstairs was not mistaken, in slinking round the camp? Well, it was no part of my plans as yet to communicate my fears to Carstairs. So I rallied him gently. But Carstairs stuck to his guns. "It come over me so strong w'en you and the guv'nor was away this evening," Carstairs said, "that no less than four times I left my cook-pots to have a look round...." "Well, and did you see anybody?" "Not a blessed soul!" "Did you hear anything?" "No, sir!" Yet the man was not to be shaken. "W'en I was servin' dinner jes' now," he persisted, "I was as sure as sure there was a chap watchin' me from just about there,"—he turned and indicated the black shape of a palm on the fringe of the shore,—"not doin' anything but jes' settin' there, spyin'!" The man knocked out his pipe. "I'm to call you gentlemen at four, sir. If you didn't mind, I think I'll get down to it!" This little bit of trench slang (which, being interpreted means to retire for the night), uttered in our romantic surroundings, amused me not a little. "Good night, Carstairs!" "Good night, sir!" He plodded up the beach, his feet making no sound on the soft sand, a white, ghostly figure against the dark foliage. Then he was swallowed up in the mystery and silence of the night. There was no moon, but in compensation such a prodigious display of stars as only the tropics can show, blazing and twinkling in their myriads till one could almost believe the heavens were in motion. On the open shore there was yet a kind of half-light but beyond, where the woods began, the blackness of the night was Stygian. Carstairs was right. This island was an eerie place. The absolute stillness of the night, marred only by the mournful rhythm of the waves, seemed to accentuate that air of expectancy about it which I had already remarked. I found myself thinking of the island as of a stage set for the performance of some play. Here, perhaps, I reflected, the Unknown, destined for that nameless grave I had come to seek, had landed, carried ashore, maybe, by his native crew. I tried to picture him, with death in his face, painfully scrawling the message which had so strangely come into my hands. What manner of man was this Unknown? A German officer, a naval officer probably (as the reference to Kiel seemed to indicate). And for whom did he write? For Germans, for a German. Yet there were no Germans, as far as I knew, in the gang that had taken two men's lives to get the message now reposing in my pocket. Black Pablo, Neque, El Cojo.... these were Spanish names. El Cojo? "He who goes with a limp." Der Stelze, Clubfoot, had been the nickname of that other cripple, the man of might in that Imperial Germany which sank to destruction in the fire and smoke of the Hindenburg Line, whose ways lay in dark places, whom everybody feared but whom so few had ever seen.... If he could rise from his grave and seek me out on the island, then, indeed, might my imagination, like poor old Carstairs', people these darkling woods with hidden spies! Sunk in my thoughts I had wandered on heedlessly, going ever deeper into the tangle of the forest. But now the undergrowth, growing thicker, barred my further progress and I came to an abrupt halt with the thick tendril of some creeping plant wound about my body. On it blossomed a gaudy flower with a heavy, musky scent. The touch of the creeper on my bare arm made me shrink. It was as dark as pitch in that jungle-like forest. A phrase I had read somewhere about "opaque blackness" flashed into my mind. I realised I stood an extremely good chance of being lost, and cursed myself for a dreamy fool. Fortunately, I had the orientation of our camp—I had taken it that afternoon on the beach—and I knew that, by striking west, I should roughly hit Horseshoe Harbour where we had put ashore. I took out my compass and opening the lid, bent over the luminous needle. I stood absolutely still to allow the pointer to swing to rest. Then, from the black depths of the forest all about me, a gentle droning fell upon my ear. I listened. No mistake was possible. It was undoubtedly a human voice. And it was softly humming, as a man might hum quietly to himself, to pass away the time. I listened again. The voice rose and fell, with now and then a break, but always on a muted note. Suddenly, I caught the melody, a melancholy, haunting refrain with a phrase, as in a folksong, that came again and again. And I felt the perspiration break out on my brow, my heart grow cold within me, as I recognised the air....


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