“Complete extinguishing of every light on the ship.”
“My God!” the mutter protested. “Do you know what that means? No lights at night, under way, in main-travelled waters! Why, by nightfall we ought to be off Block Island, in traffic as heavy as on Fifth Avenue! No: that’s too much.”
“Too bad,” Lanyard uttered, philosophic. “And the thing could have been done.”
“Isn’t there some other way?”
“Not with lights to hamper my operations. But if some temporary accident were to put the dynamoes out of commission—figure to yourself what would happen.”
“There’d be hell to pay.”
“Ah! but what else?”
“The engines would have to be slowed down so as to give no more than steerage-way until oil lamps could be substituted for the binnacle, masthead, and side-lights, also for the engine room.”
“And there would be excitement and confusion, eh? Everybody would make for the deck, even the captain would leave his cabin unguarded long enough...”
“I get you”—with a sigh. “It’s wrong, all wrong, but—well, I suppose it’s got to be done.”
Lanyard treated himself to a smile of triumph, there in the darkness.
It would have been ungrateful (Lanyard reflected over his breakfast) to complain of a life so replete with experiences of piquant contrast.
It happened to one to lie for hours in a cubicle of blinding night, hearkening to a voice like that of some nightmare weirdly become articulate, a ghostly mutter that rose and fell and droned, broken by sighs, grunts, stifled oaths, mean chuckles, with intervals of husky whispering and lapses filled with a noise of wheezing respiration, all wheedling and cajoling, lying, intimating and evading, complaining, snarling, rambling, threatening, protesting, promising, and in the end proposing an unholy compact for treachery and evil-doing—a voice that might have issued out of some damned soul escaped for a little space of time from the Pits of Torment, so utterly inhuman it sounded, so completely discarnate and divorced from all relationship to any mortal personality that even that reek of whiskey in the air, even that one contact with a hard, hot hand, could not make it seem real.
And then it ceased and was no more but as a thing of dream that had passed. And one came awake to a light and wholesome world furnished with such solidly comforting facts as soaps and razors and hot and cold saltwater taps; and subsequently one left one’s stateroom to see, at the breakfast table, leaden-eyed and flushed of countenance, an amorphous lump of humid flesh in shapeless garments of soiled white duck, the author of that mutter in the dark; who, lounging over a plate of broken food and lifting a coffee cup in the tremulous hand of an alcoholic, looked up with lacklustre gaze, gave a surly nod, and mumbled the customary matutinal greeting: