In that thanksgiving prayer his passion passed away. After unnaturally distending every sense and faculty, it suddenly ebbed, leaving the consciousness of an irritating vacuum. Something must be done to fill it. One drawback to crime seems to be its insufficiency to itself. It creates a craving which needs must be fed. The demon returns, demanding a fresh task; and he returns again forever!
Helwyse, therefore, plunged into the midst of the uproar consequent on the collision, and tried to absorb the common excitement,—to identify himself with other men; no longer to be apart from them and above them. But he did not succeed. It seemed as though he would never feel excitement or warmth in the blood again! His deed was a dead weight that steadied him spite of his best efforts. His aim has hitherto been, not to forget himself;—let him forget himself now if he can!
The uproar was over all too soon, and the steamer once more under way.
“No serious harm done, sir!—no harm done!” observed a spruce steward.
“No; no harm.”
“By the way, sir,—thought I heard some one sing out aft just afore we struck. You heard it, sir? Thought some fellow’d gone overboard, may be!”
“I saw no one,” answered Helwyse; nor had he. But he turned away, fearing that the brisk steward might read prevarication in his face. No, he had seen no one; but he had heard a plunge! He revolted from the memory of it, but it would not be banished. Had there been a soul in the body before it made that dive? even for a few minutes afterwards? He would have given much to know! In theorizing about crime, he had always maintained the motive to be all in all. But now, though unable to controvert the logic of his assertion, he felt it told less than the whole truth. He recognised a divine conservative virtue in straws, and grasped at the smallest! Through the long torture of self-questioning and indecision, let us not follow him. Uncertainty is a ghastly element in such a matter.
He groped his way back to the taffrail. Why, he knew not; but there he was at last. He might safely soliloquize now; there was no listener. He might light a cigar and smoke; no one would see him. Yet, no; for, on second thoughts, his cigars had gone with the haversack!
He bent over the slender iron railing. Where was—it now? Miles away by this time, swinging, swaying down—down—down to the bottom of the Sound! Slowly turning over as it sinks, its arms now thrown out, now doubled underneath; the legs sprawling helplessly; the head wagging loosely on the dead neck. Down—down, pitching slowly head forwards; righting, and going down standing, the hair floating straight on end. Down! O, would it never be done sinking—sinking—sinking? Was the sea deep as Hell?