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under the weight of my
He me, and reThis time I should hear
arms. I shouted several times before my sweeper even stopped sweeping. looked up, did not see newed his simple labors. was determined that he and understand; and he did both. Up went his arms in dismay and he too shouted. He did not move, but he shouted and shouted.
On this footing the predicament rested for several important minutes. Little by little my arms sank with the yielding ice. The cold was severe. I rejoiced in my buckskin gloves, which did not slide from ice like clemmed naked fingers. But really, on precise reflection, I began to doubt if it were common sense to prolong a situation which had so little fair promise at the end of it.
As a preliminary to the next stage of the adventure, I endeavored to touch the bottom of the Zuyder Zee. You see, I still regarded this area of fourteen hundred miles of water between Friesland and North Holland as a mere flooded meadow. We are told that in the thirteenth century the German Ocean broke in and drowned a province, men, women, children, and villages innumerable. Some think the Rhine helped the inundation by unsettling the peaty surface of the land and then in full flood joining the huge salted wave from the north. On the whole, there may be something in this theory, for the Zuyder Zee's water is little worse than brackish; at all events, it is not a primeval ocean, or anything like it. The Dutchman's recent determination to get it drained and studded with cows and tulip-beds doubtless encouraged me in my contempt for it.
But of course I touched nothing, even at nearly full stretch, except water. A church-steeple would have been welcome, but there was nothing. And my teeth began to chat
ter, quite as much, I hope, from disgust as craven cold.
The still lower level of my arm-supports checked all further experiments in this direction; and again commonsense put in a plea and whispered, "Give it up, and go down without more fuss." I was conscious of a growing heaviness. My clothes were thick, and had already absorbed water to the very skin. A small knapsack on my back had also done its best in this direction, lying loggily between the shoulderblades. And,-really things could not go on thus much longer: there must be rescue or catastrophe soon. A comfortable indifference to either crept into me as insidiously as a perfume.
All this time I was entirely in the hands of the idiot sweeper. It rested with him; well, and so it might for all I cared. And at this stage I saw myself in fancy serenely at the bottom of the Zuyder Zee, face upwards, and head pillowed on the knapsack which had helped me under like a brick round a puppy's neck. The sight was interesting; the literary temperament is not a pure blessing to its possessor, but its ironic moods have their good side. For all I know to the contrary, I may owe it thanks for being able thus to find a certain diversion in an impersonal estimate of this cool and worsening situation. A gulp or two, and then eternal rest in a weedy bed! It did not seem at all disquieting. Why should not I share in that estate of "herrings, turbot and other marine indigena" which Horace Walpole declared the Dutch people to have usurped?
But to my idiot now came another man, tall and broad, with a capable look about the shoulders; even at a distance, he had a rousingly practical air. The sight of him acted like a tonic on my drowsing energies and again I shouted, for the minutes were passing and my props were drooping
methodically. I knew pretty well that I should have little power or fingergrip left to grapple for fresh buttresses when the crack came right or left. Of the two arms the right was the lower in the water; but I was sodden to both elbows.
They moved toward me with loud talk and gesticulations, at a walk, and not a fast one either. It was easy guessing what was in their minds. They had no proper life-saving material, and their combined intellects were baffled by their responsibility. They had a broom apiece and that was all.
At thirty paces from me they halted and the second man encouraged me with despairing shakes of the head and cries which I made no effort to interpret. The poor idiot's arms were stuck up as if in appeal to the pale blue sky. I was being told that I ought not to have gone from the track, and that they did not know what to do to get me out. This was magnificent! I knew it all myself and made no comment; my jaws were too earnestly chattering about the cold for further attempts at coherent speech.
It seemed odd that I should have to go down in the very moment when hope was almost near enough to shake hands with; but I accepted my fate now less hesitantly than ever. Though my teeth rattled and I breathed a hundred to the minute, I felt far from miserable.
But suddenly my man was visited with an inspiration. Off went his jacket. He had something round his waist and he tore it from him; something round his neck also, and that too was removed. Lastly, something in his pockets and this, being discovered, was with fierce quickness joined to the other things. What it all was I could not at this stage exactly see; matters generally were visible only through a pearly mist, which did not
I gasped and gasped and, glancing to the right, realized that I was in water to the shoulder. Well, so be it.
And now the worst of all was at hand. A wisp of something brown fluttered before my eyes, heralded by hoarse cries from the two men. Should I or should I not bother about it? That was the question which put itself to me. Upon the whole, I was quite as comfortable as in the circumstances I had the right to expect to be. Any further active resistance to doom was hateful to think of. I perfectly understood that I was bound for the bottom of the Zuyder Zee, but I saw no sufficient reason why I should hurry on that journey. When my armrests were bent to the snapping-point, then I would go; but not before.
The brown thing lay under my nose. In a flash I felt prompted to give it a trial. Loosing both supports, I grabbed the thing with leaden hands, first one and then the other. At the same instant I caught myself wondering how any fellow, though ever so impecunious, could think it worth his while to wear such a moth-eaten old scarf as this. Yells of rejoicing or endeavor followed. There was a jerk and a snap and I was in again, to the neck this time. Of their own accord my arms sprang out to their old friendly barriers. Crack went one and it was by mere instinct that both hands clutched the ice in front just as I sank in.
This shock, after such peaceful and resigned waiting in the vestibule of the grand mansion of my Lord Death, was really terrible. My breathing increased about fifty per cent. in speed. I felt as if a world had tumbled about my head. The ruins had not yet settled down to annihilate me, but they were bound to do it in a moment or two. Well, it behooved still to tarry in pa
tience. One way or the other, it could not now be long.
Again that brown thing dropped be fore my eyes, and the shouts from beyond intensified in tone. They seemed rather more remote than before, as if they scarcely concerned me; the cold trickling down my spine of the fresh douche was a much more personal detail. The brown thing wriggled; they were fishing for me as one lures a trout. I took it gingerly this time, eyeing its defects at very close quarters. Inch by inch, I went up it, hand over hand. There was a cord above such as might have been taken from a window-sash. Could I reach that? I did, and with all the strength left in the muscles of my frozen fingers fastened on it. Then came the tug. A cry of furious exhilaration sounded quite near, over my head almost. But Heavens! who was trying to cut me in two at the waist? This was more than even frozen flesh and blood could bear. It ended suddenly. The cord broke this time; and again my gloves saved me, as I slid back, in giving me a grip which no naked fingers such as mine then were could have found.
Very odd to recall at ease is the recrudescence of vitality which seemed to follow this second disaster. I caught myself studying keenly the movements of my red-faced hero a few yards sunwards. Gasping like a half-dead dog, despairing too, I could yet nod approval of the revised system of knots which were to give me another chance. It was not that I felt as if I cared over much to get landed, but it did seem a pity that success should not crown the toils of so primitive a lifesaving apparatus. A third time, however, black failure hit like a thunderbolt. This was too much and keeping out of the water again, I know not how, the haze thickened before my eyes, and, though I felt nothing in particular, I wished all was over.
A long pause followed. My men spoke in tired whispers,-at least they sounded tired. What they were doing I cared little. Conscious of a creeping chill which nothing could resist much longer, and of a heaviness which dragged at my feet like hundredweights, I faintly wondered why the ice in front did not break up like that at the sides.
It was a tedious business; not painful, but tiresome exceedingly. The bottom of the Zuyder Zee seemed a consummation devoutly to be desired. The whispers continued. The whisperers, I believed, stood in the attitude of well-disposed spectators at a deathbed. They were impotent, and standing quietly by to see the end they were doing all that was humanly in their power. But in truth my good stalwart friend was not resigned down to that point. He had in fact been rapidly knotting afresh, and now, when all seemed over save the last slip, the cord by itself swished to my face.
It was the last attempt; they and I both knew that. On their part, even as it was, they accounted it useless, but there was still the chance. And I too believed it useless, but went feebly for that poor pale last chance. My fingers were well nigh dead; they could rest idly on a rim of ice, but they could not clutch, and they could hold nothing. That was soon shown, for the rope was drawn through them like a glove from a hand. But again it was before me, and now I put my teeth to it and with my teeth slowly wound it round the right wrist again, again and again. With the dregs of instinct still in me, I swayed my heels backwards; the psychological moment was seized when the chest was at an easier angle to the barrier in front and I rose from the water. A shout of triumph told me that hope still lived, and then out I came, swiftly along the sur
face of the ice, and so to the hard reached the little town jubilant of so wooden shoes of my rescuer.
I have made a long story of this half-hour or so of struggle, suspense, despair and other emotions to point a fine old moral. There is no need to mention the moral itself.
About the sequel I could say much, if only to testify to the kindness of the Good Samaritans of Volendam who by and by wrapped me in hot blankets and fought my chills with rum and water and congratulations.
The walk of a mile and a half on the arms of my two helpers to Volendam was a hard experience. It seemed to me that I shivered vigorously enough to shake all the north of Europe. Sense was almost gone from me, but I trotted on, with secret groans and others which I fear were not secret. The kindly idiot patted the purple hand that hung limply through his arm. His companion urged me forward with sound arguments-"You must not stop, mynheer"-"We shall soon be there"-and other simple speeches which stood out plain to me against a nebulous background of semi-unconsciousness, colored at intervals crimson, yellow, and green. how I did shiver! What meteoric coruscations were before my eyes! And what an unending labor it seemed, with the water freezing all over me and each footstep more clogged than its predecessor? A sledge was trundled out to meet us when Volendam's masts were near. Down I dropped on it like a carcase; and in this forlorn plight I Macmillan's Magazine.
many memories of distinguished knights and barons of the pencil. I saw nothing of the crowds through which they finally led me, drooping like a broken-headed poppy, to the hotel of Heer Spaander, a man who would resuscitate the dead if that were a talent to be acquired.
It was interesting to be told by and by that the sponge alone in my knapsack weighed more than eight pounds avoirdupois in Volendam; interesting also to scan an Admiralty Chart of the Zuyder Zee and mark its average shallowness (ranging from sixty feet near the Helder to nine or ten feet in my part and one foot only by the island of Urk); most interesting of all to see the joy of my host and his amiable family round me and the stove when they heard the tale told by my good friends and guides across that desert of ice: they clinked glasses, though there was nothing in the glasses but sugar and water.
Ere they got me to bed, a solemn gray mist crept over land and sea. Such a mist would have baffled my poor idiot sweeper had I called to him from it. This also, coming when it did, was a subject for fresh rejoicing. And so I lay under nine heavy new blankets in luxurious weakness and laughed again at things in general. On the wall by my bed there was a German print of a dog saving a child from a stream; and anon some one played The Lost Chord in a room below. I thought of the last fling of our particular cord and went to sleep.
THE LEGION OF STRANGERS.
I am not personally responsible for the above rendering into English of the name of a famous French CorpsLa Légion Etrangère—which is the only really efficient piece of machinery at the disposal of that ubiquitous Administration, whose feverish desire to "govern" makes existence almost impossible to the unofficial population of Indo-China.
The phrase belongs to my friend Gunner Stevenson of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and as I cannot attempt to reproduce the rest of his story in his own words, I think that it is only fair to give it a title in which I can quote him literally. He told me the tale of his experiences as I lay sick on my cot in the hospital in an eastern city, while he clawed my cigarette-papers to tatters in his large, unaccustomed fingers. He was a nicelooking young fellow, smart, alert and upstanding in his khaki uniform, and since he had eyes that could see, and a mind capable of assimilating his impressions, he had much to say that was worth listening to.
In the beginning, he explained, he had been a fool. The life of the British soldier in a garrison town of the tropics is dull to a degree that cannot adequately be expressed in set terms. Reveille at five, parade while the short hours of coolness last, breakfast, orderly-room later for the unfortunate, and then the long, empty, panting day during which men can only lie on their cots, kicking their heels and cursing their luck, or bickering aimlessly; and in which meals and a few uninteresting inspections and fatigues supply the only breaks in the interminable monotony. The white man's enemy, the sun, holds the men close prisoners until the afternoon brings coolness, for
soldiers are expensive, and their officers cannot risk allowing them to take their chance of heat-apoplexy with Europeans of the common run.
But even the two hours before the sun goes out with the suddenness of an extinguished candle bring but poor relief from the appalling boredom of the soldier's life. He may put on his forage-cap and walk down to the bazaar, or he may play cricket or football, but the time for recreation is all too short, and at 9.20 P. M. the bugle sounds "Lights out," and the dreary day ends, to be followed by another which is its exact image. Try in imagination to spend a year or two composed wholly of days such as this, and you will begin to understand why it is that the more intelligent and activeminded of our soldiers in the East are occasionally possessed by a devil of madness, which drives them to perpetrate apparently inexplicable follies.
Gunner Stevenson endured barrack life for some two years: then, as he himself described it, he acted like a fool. He had late leave one night, at a period when his simmering mental irritation had nearly reached the boiling-point, and in a bar in the town he foregathered with three Scotch engineers from steam-tramps then lying in the roads. These men, who spent most of their lives in the stoke-hold of Chinese-owned crafts about as seaworthy as an eight-day clock and as evil-smelling as a sago-factory, sweating at every pore 'twixt grilling climate and blazing furnaces, saw fit to pity and deride the soldier on account of the misery of his lot. In unendurable fashion they contrasted his servitude with their freedom-save the mark! They chaffed him about the "leave" he was forced to ask ere he could even