Through the coarse grass I crept thus, to the very entrance of the arroyo, then rose to my feet. In the middle distance the fire leaped red. Its glow fell intermittently on the surges rolling in. The men staggered or lay prone, either as gigantic silhouettes or as tatterdemalions painted by the light. The keg stood solid and substantial, the hub about which reeled the orgy. At the edge of the wash I could make out something prone, dim, limp, thrown constantly in new positions of weariness as the water ebbed and flowed beneath it, now an arm thrown out, now cast back, as though Old Scrubs slept feverishly. The drunkards were getting noisy. Handy Solomon still reeled off the verses of, his song. The others joined in, frightfully off the key; or punctuated the performance by wild staccato yells.
“Their coffin was their ship and
their grave it was the sea,
Blow high, blow low! What care we?
And the quarter that we gave them was to sink them in the sea,
Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e,”
bellowed Handy Solomon.
I turned and plunged into the cool darkness of the canon.
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 canon 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.