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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Susan Proudleigh » CHAPTER X “THE SWORD OF THE LORD”
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On the afternoon of the following day a wharf at the eastern section of the city was thronged with people, chiefly black and brown. Scores of cabs were drawn up at both sides of the entrance to the wharf, and any number of porters were conveying trunks on their heads to the ship which lay anchored alongside of the pier. Steam was up; a donkey engine rattled and clattered as the sailors lowered some packages into the vessel’s hold; the captain stood on the bridge shouting out his commands with a fine sense of ultimate authority; the passengers streamed up the gangway, while their friends and relatives who had come to see them off stood on the pier and looked with envy and admiration at those who were about to brave the perils of the deep.

It was a scene characteristically West Indian. The long wooden pier crowded with a jabbering, multi-coloured throng, the mountains of coal from which fine particles of coal-dust came flying as the sea breeze swept over the wharf; the noise, the confusion, the total lack of all appearance of order—though order of a kind was certainly maintained—the dark faces, eager or tearful; the ragged porters who balanced on their heads packages weighing over a hundred pounds each as though they were feather pillows; the few white men moving perfectly at ease amongst the excited people; the brilliant sunlight, the great arch of dazzling sky, the gently-heaving green-tinted water, the crowds of boys, who, simply clad in a short pair of breeches, swam and dived like fishes in the sea, shaking their heads as they rose to the surface, and showing their strong white teeth as they laughed and shouted to the people on the ship—all this was typical of a British West Indian island on a day when a vessel leaves the port.

To Susan and Jones it was not strange, and the noise could not possibly confuse them. They pushed their way through the crowd, followed by Mr. Proudleigh, his wife, Miss Proudleigh, and Susan’s sisters; but at the gangway they were stopped by one of the Steamship Company’s officials, who firmly told them that only passengers were allowed to go on board. Here they separated. Susan kissed all her folk, Jones shook hands with them, and then the two climbed up the gangway, and Susan found herself at last on the deck of the steamer which was to take her to a strange and distant land.

For the first time doubts assailed her. For the first time she realized fully that she was leaving her home, perhaps for good; and as she looked from the deck down upon her people a lump gathered to her throat and she began to wonder if she were altogether wise. Yet she would not have given up her purpose for a moment. She was too deeply bitten by the prevailing desire to go somewhere.

She leaned against the vessel’s rail, now and then exchanging a word at the top of her voice with Catherine or her father. Jones was as gay as ever, and was loudly explaining to some of his friends on the pier that he would have travelled first-class had he not been taking a female with him. He was in the condition locally known as “merry” (this term indicating generally a half-way stage between soberness and intoxication), and seemed to entertain a cheerful expectation of being shot immediately after arrival in Colon; but Susan saw nothing exhilarating in such a prospect, and more than once suggested to him that he should stop talking nonsense.

She was to travel second-class; but for the present she remained standing amongst the deck-passengers. There were over a hundred of these, and the deck on which they were gathered was littered with boxes and trunks containing their clothes, and with the deck-chairs on which they would sit during the day and sleep at night. It seemed a strange scene to Susan’s wondering eyes. The beat of the engines stunned her, the smells nauseated her, she was conscious of a throbbing in her head. Suddenly it seemed to her as though the pier and the people on it were moving backwards. She heard a great shout of “Good-bye!” She saw a great waving of hands. They were going, going, and now she broke down and began to cry outright.

“Look after the shop good, Kate!” she called out to her sister; and “Good-bye, mammee—good-bye, papee! good-bye!”

Her mother waved in reply, two big tears stealing down her withered cheeks. Her father, though much comforted by the reflection that the shop had been left to the family as a source of revenue, yet felt sad. But he waved his hat and shouted, “Take care of you’self, Susan, an’ write to me!” and continued waving his hat long after there was any possibility of its being seen by her. Then, when the crowd on the pier had become an indistinct mass, Susan went to the second-class passengers’ deck and began to wonder once more what sort of life awaited her in Colon. . . .

Steadily Kingston dwindled into a collection of white houses nestling amidst a forest of trees and backed by a noble range of smoke-blue mountains. And as the ship steamed through the narrow channel that forms the entrance to the city’s harbour, the shrill voice of a woman rose in a quavering chant, and soon all the deckers were singing the words of some plaintive hymn.

It was their way of bidding farewell to Jamaica.

Thus singing, they left the land behind.

“Susan! get up! This is not a time to sleep.”

Susan, who had been sleeping but fitfully, awoke at once with a start. Jones was rapping loudly at her cabin door. Something in his voice startled her.

“What is it?” she asked, frightened.

“The comet! It’s the first time I see it.”

Susan dressed in a minute; she hurried out of the cabin and went to the well-deck with Jones.

It was about four o’clock in the morning, but there was as yet no sign of the coming day. A crescent moon was glowing above, but the light of it paled into insignificance before the radiant splendour of the morning star. There in the East hung Venus, like a great lamp illumining all heaven and earth, a diamond set against a magnificent background of millions and millions of stars. These indeed were strewn almost as thickly in the sky as sand in a desert; look where you would, you saw them, some faint, some bright, and some like silver dust scattered profusely about the lofty silent dome that overarched and covered the wide circle of the sea. The gleaming planet and scintillating sky were alone sufficient to impress those who beheld them that morning with a sense of wonder and of awe. Their serene and lofty beauty, immeasurable grandeur, and vast incalculable distance must have appealed even to the most indifferent care-blunted mind. But it was not upon these that hundreds of eyes were turned when Susan and her lover reached the starboard of the vessel, where a crowd of persons were already standing. All looked at but one object—a great band of light that streamed up from below the eastern horizon and swept across the sky to the south-west, where it dipped into the sea. Clear and distinct it shone, in spite of the radiance around it: a flaming portent, as it seemed, emerging suddenly out of the mysterious depths of space. Most of the travellers on the ship saw it for the first time that morning. They looked at it startled, and with palpitating hearts.

“The comet,” whispered Jones again, and—

“The sword of the Lord,” said calmly but distinctly an old man who stood amongst the deckers.

Almost every one talked in whispers. Something oppressed them—a vague, uncanny feeling. The women pressed their hands against their hearts.

They were alone on the sea. On land they would not have feared so much, for nearly all calamities, or imagined indications of calamity, the West Indian peasant can face with a calmness which springs from his deep-rooted fatalism. But here they were amidst surroundings strange to them; they were alone in a world which they regarded with apprehension—alone upon the sea with the sword of the Lord flaming in the heavens above them.

The sea ran swiftly, wave racing after wave, black and foam-crested. They dashed against the sides of the vessel, flinging high into the air a glistening shower of spray which fell back upon the bosom of the waters in sparks of liquid fire. The prow of the ship seemed to plunge into argent flame; in its wake writhed and twisted a long serpent of light. The phosphorescent gleams of the tropic sea flashed an answer to the brilliance of the tropic sky above, and fire seemed glancing and blazing everywhere.

The wind blew steadily from east to west, and the throbbing of the engines added to the roar of the leaping, hurrying waves. Now and again a murmuring sound was heard amongst the people on the deck—a sound as if they prayed.

Long and earnestly they gazed upon the comet; and then into Jones’s mind came the words of his friend Septimus, spoken so short a time before.

He bent down and whispered in Susan’s ear:

“You think it mean anything, Sue?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, almost inaudibly; “but it’s awful; an’ if it was to come close an’ we should all dead, where would we go to, Sam?”

As if in reply to her question, the old man amongst the deck passengers, who had called the comet “The Sword of the Lord,” again lifted up his voice, this time repeating some words from the Scriptures:

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy that He cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.”

Susan heard and trembled; a woman in the crowd of watchers groaned out, “Yes, Lord!”

“Have mercy!” sobbed another.

Some one began repeating the hymn, “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”

“Christ, have mercy,” prayed the shivering people.

“Sue,” whispered Jones, “I heard on Friday night that the comet won’t touch the world until Wednesday; so when we get to Colon to-morrow morning we better married. This sort of life is not one to face death in. I am not a coward, Sue, but, after all, it will be better to die right.”

An immense weight seemed lifted off Susan’s heart as she heard these words. Her present mode of life was called “living in sin” by the ministers and religious folk of her country; and so persistently had this view of it been inculcated that, in common with thousands of others, she had come to regard unsanctified connexions as the one offence really worth considering. True, she had never gone further than giving her intellectual assent to this proposition; but then she had never seen a great comet blazing in the sky before. She now agreed with it with all her soul.

“You right, Sam,” she whispered; “let us make our peace wid God, in case anything happen.” And as she spoke the thought flashed through her mind that, if nothing did happen, she would be Mrs. Jones, a prospect of social advancement which, even at that tremendous moment, gave her a thrill of delight.

Some of the deckers were audibly praying now. The old man, who in Kingston had been a well-known street-preacher, kept on repeating tags of Scripture and words of warning; but gradually, in spite of his efforts to terrify the passengers into hysterics and thus establish his spiritual supremacy, they grew more calm, and soon began to talk at their ordinary pitch of voice.

For the sky was lightening. Slowly the morning star dimmed her brightness, the other stars paled and flickered out, the comet shone but indistinctly, and the moon grew white. Before it was five o’clock “The Sword of the Lord” had disappeared. And as the sky changed from black to grey, and from grey to pink and pearl and loveliest azure, as the phosphorescent brilliance of the water died away and the sun came surging up out of the sea, a great palpitating globe of golden fire, the passengers busied themselves with their toilet, and laughed and chatted as though they had not, but an hour before, been thinking of imminent death.

The transformation was complete. The sun had restored their courage, and had banished for the moment all fear from their minds. As for Susan, she fell sick during the day, her stomach no longer being able to endure the rocking and vibration of the ship. So she did not talk much about anything, and did not even trouble to mention the marriage which she and Jones were to celebrate the next day in Colon, as a sort of spiritual insurance against the eternal fire with which the greater part of mankind might be threatened on the 18th and after.


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