I desire to express my profound indebtedness, for the central mythological idea embodied in this tale, to Mr. J.G. Frazer’s admirable and epoch-making work, “The Golden Bough,” whose main contention I have endeavored incidentally to popularize in my present story. I wish also to express my obligations in other ways to Mr. Andrew Lang’s “Myth, Ritual, and Religion,” Mr. H.O. Forbes’s “Naturalist’s Wanderings,” and Mr. Julian Thomas’s “Cannibals and Convicts.” If I have omitted to mention any other author to whom I may have owed incidental hints, it will be some consolation to me to reflect that I shall at least have afforded an opportunity for legitimate sport to the amateurs of the new and popular British pastime of badger-baiting or plagiary-hunting. It may also save critics some moments’ search if I say at once that, after careful consideration, I have been unable to discover any moral whatsoever in this humble narrative. I venture to believe that in so enlightened an age the majority of my readers will never miss it.
The Nook, Dorking, October, 1890.
In mid Pacific.
It rang in Felix Thurstan’s ears like the sound of a bell. He gazed about him in dismay, wondering what had happened.
The first intimation he received of the accident was that sudden sharp cry from the bo’sun’s mate. Almost before he had fully taken it in, in all its meaning, another voice, farther aft, took up the cry once more in an altered form: “A lady! a lady! Somebody overboard! Great heavens, it is her! It’s Miss Ellis! Miss Ellis!”
Next instant Felix found himself, he knew not how, struggling in a wild grapple with the dark, black water. A woman was clinging to him—clinging for dear life. But he couldn’t have told you himself that minute how it all took place. He was too stunned and dazzled.
He looked around him on the seething sea in a sudden awakening, as it were, to life and consciousness. All about, the great water stretched dark and tumultuous. White breakers surged over him. Far ahead the steamer’s lights gleamed red and green in long lines upon the ocean. At first they ran fast; then they slackened somewhat. She was surely slowing now; they must be reversing engines and trying to stop her. They would put out a boat. But what hope, what chance of rescue by night, in such a wild waste of waves as that? And Muriel Ellis was clinging to him for dear life all the while, with the despairing clutch of a half-drowned woman!