But when it reached the bottom, would it rest there? No, not even there. It would drift uneasily about for a while on the dark sand, the green gloom of the water above it. Every hour it would grow less and less heavy; by and by it would begin slowly to rise—rise! Horrible it looked now; not like itself, that had been horrible enough before. Rising,—rising. O fearful thing! why come to tell dead men’s tales here? You are done with the world. What wants mankind with you? Begone! sink, and rise no more! It will not sink; still it rises, and the green gloom lightens as it slowly buoys upwards. The light rests shrinkingly on it, revealing the dreadful features. The limbs are no longer pliant, but stiff,—terribly stiff and unyielding. Still it rises, nearer and nearer to the surface. See where the throat was gripped! Up it comes at last in the morning sun, among the sparkling, laughing, pure blue waves,—the swollen, dead thing!—dead in the midst of the world’s life, hideous amidst the world’s beauty. It bobs and floats, and will sink no more; would rise to heaven if it could! No need for that. The tide takes it and creeps stealthily with it towards the shore, and casts it, with shudder and recoil, upon the beach. There it lies.
Such visions haunted Helwyse as he leaned over the taffrail. He had not suspected, at starting, upon how long a voyage he was bound. How many hours might it be since he and the cook had so merrily dined together? Was such a contrast possible? Surely no more monstrous delusion than this of Time ever imposed upon mankind! For months and years he jogs on with us, a dull and sober-paced pedestrian. Then comes a sudden eternity! But Time thrusts a clock in our faces, and shows us that the hands have marked a minute only. Shall we put faith in him?
Helwyse suffered from a vivid imagination. He went not to his room that night. He kept the deck, and tried to talk with the men, following them about and asking aimless questions, until they began to give him short answers. Where were his pride and his serene superiority to the friendship or enmity of his race? where his philosophic self-criticism and fanciful badinage? his resolute, conquering eyes? his bearing of graceful, careless authority? Had all these attributes been packed in his haversack, and cast with that upon the waters? and would they, no more than he to whose care they had been intrusted, ever return?
With each new hour, morning seemed farther off. In his objectless wanderings, Helwyse came to the well of the engine-room and hung over it, gazing at the bright, swift-sliding machinery, studying the parts, tracing the subtle transmission of force from piece to piece. Here at last was companionship for him! The engine was a beautiful combination,—so polished, effective, and logical; like the minds of some philosophers, moving with superhuman regularity and power, but lifeless!