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Percy Greg
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 490 pages of information about Across the Zodiac.
aware the chances of death were at least as five to one.  I caught and contrived to smoke a quantity of fish sufficient to last me for a fortnight, and filled a small cask with brackish but still drinkable water.  In this vessel, thus stored, I embarked about a fortnight after the day of the mysterious shock.  On the second evening of my voyage I was caught by a gale which compelled me to lower the sail, and before which I was driven for three days and nights, in what direction I can hardly guess.  On the fourth morning the wind had fallen, and by noon it was a perfect calm.  I need not describe what has been described by so many shipwrecked sailors,—­the sufferings of a solitary voyager in an open boat under a tropical sun.  The storm had supplied me with water more than enough; so that I was spared that arch-torture of thirst which seems, in the memory of such sufferers, to absorb all others.  Towards evening a slight breeze sprang up, and by morning I came in sight of a vessel, which I contrived to board.  Her crew, however, and even her captain, utterly discredited such part of my strange story as I told them.  On that point, however, I will say no more than this:  I will place this manuscript in your hands.  I will give you the key to such of its ciphers as I have been able to make out.  The language, I believe, for I am no scholar, is Latin of a mediaeval type; but there are words which, if I rightly decipher them, are not Latin, and hardly seem to belong to any known language; most of them, I fancy, quasi-scientific terms, invented to describe various technical devices unknown to the world when the manuscript was written.  I only make it a condition that you shall not publish the story during my life; that if you show the manuscript or mention the tale in confidence to any one, you will strictly keep my secret; and that if after my death, of which you shall be advised, you do publish it, you will afford no clue by which the donor could be confidently identified.”

“I promise,” said I.  “But I should like to ask you one question.  What do you conceive to have been the cause of the extraordinary shock you felt and of the havoc you witnessed?  What, in short, the nature of the occurrence and the origin of the manuscript you entrust to my care?”

“Why need you ask me?” he returned.  “You are as capable as myself of drawing a deduction from what I have told you, and I have told you everything, I believe, that could assist you.  The manuscript will tell the rest.”

“But,” said I, “an actual eye-witness often receives from a number of little facts which he cannot remember, which are perhaps too minute to have been actually and individually noted by him, an impression which is more likely to be correct than any that could be formed by a stranger on the fullest cross-questioning, on the closest examination of what remains in the witness’s memory.  I should like to hear, before opening the manuscript, what you believe to have been its origin.

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