Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive
Extract (Initiation)

Broken By The Sea

in Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (Manchester, UK) (Feb 13, 1906): (Page imagery not yet available)

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p.2. Information kindly provided by Mary Burgoyne. Text reads:


Twenty-five years is a long time--a quarter of Century is a dim and distant past; but to this day, says Mr. Joseph Conrad, in a sketch in this new "Blackwood's," I remember the dark brown feet, hands, and faces of two of these men whose hearts had been broken by the sea. They were lying very still their sides on the bottom-boards between the thwarts, curled up like dogs. My boat's crew, leaning over the looms of their oars, stared and listened as if at the play. The master of the brig looked up suddenly to ask "What day it was?"

They had lost the date. When I told him it was Sunday the 22nd, he frowned, making some mental calculation, then nodded twice sadly to himself, staring at nothing.

His aspect was miserably unkempt and wildly sorrowful. Had it not been for the unquenchable candour of his blue eyes, whose unhappy tired glance every moment sought his abandoned sinking brig as if it could find rest nowhere else, would have appeared mad. But he was too simple to go mad--too simple with that manly simplicity which alone can bear men unscathed in mind and body through an encounter with the deadly playfulness of the sea or with its less abominable fury.

Neither angry, nor playful, nor smiling, it enveloped our distant ship, growing bigger as she neared us, our boats with the rescued men, and the dismantled hull of the brig we were leaving behind, in the large and placid embrace of its quietness, half lost in the fair haze as if a dream of infinite and faithful clemency. There was no frown, no wrinkle on its face. Not a ripple. And the run of the slight swell was so smooth that it resembled the graceful undulation of a piece of shimmering grey silk shot with tender green. We pulled an easy stroke, but when the master of the brig after glance over his shoulder stood up with low exclamation my men feathered their oars instinctively, without order, and the boat lost her way.

He was steadying himself on my shoulder with a strong grip, while his other arm, flung up rigidly, and pointed a denunciatory finger at the immense tranquility of the ocean. After his first exclamation, which stopped the swing of our oars, he made no sound, but his whole attitude seemed to cry out an indignant "Behold!" . . . I could not imagine what vision of evil had come to him. I was startled, and the amazing energy of his immobilised gesture made my heart beat faster with the anticipation of something monstrous and unsuspected. The stillness around us became crushing.

For a moment the succession of silky undulations ran on innocently. I saw each of them swell up the misty line of the horizon, far, far away beyond the derelict brig, and the next moment with a slight friendly toss of our boat it had passed under us and was gone. The lulling cadence of the rise and fall, the irresistible force, the great charm the deep waters, warmed my breast deliciously, like the subtle poison of a love-potion. But all this lasted only few soothing seconds before I jumped up too, making the boat roll like the veriest land-lubber.

Something startling, mysterious, hastily confused, was taking place. I watched it with incredulous and fascinated awe, as one watches the confused swift movements some deed of violence done in the dark. As if at a given signal the run of the smooth undulations seemed checked suddenly around the brig. By a strange optical delusion the whole sea appeared to rise in one great, steely-grey heave of its silky surface, on which in one spot a smoother of foam broke ferociously. And then the effort subsided. It was all over, and the smooth swell ran on as before from the horizon in uninterrupted cadence of motion, passing under us with a slight, friendly toss of our boat. Far away, where the brig had been, an angry white stain undulating on the surface of steely grey waters shot with gleams of green diminished swiftly, without a hiss, like a patch of pure snow melting in the sun. And the great stillness after this initiation into the sea's implacable hate seemed full of dread thoughts and shadows of disaster.

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