03 - 08

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 27

03 - 08

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  • زمان مطالعه 13 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

این فصل را می‌توانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل

8

IDID NOT LIKE TO feel myself ill-used. And yet the Saturday following, under an overcast sky, I found myself travelling down to the harbour. At the end of the jetty a small seafaring vessel named the Blue Betty lay moored and slowly rotting. It was there, in the shadow of that boat long abandoned by its crew, that Goff and Tanna awaited me. Goff had hired it from a local friend who made his living reconstituting old vessels. The man had also told them of a recent wreckage in the shallows where Goff might find the specimens he desired.

When I reached the Goffs down on the beach, their mule-drawn cart holding their apparatus in crates beside them, Goff stared fiercely at me, as though he did not recognize me. Then he gave me a long, slow grin.

“Been keeping well?” said he.

“Still breathing, in any case, sir,” I said. I did not look at Tanna. “And you?”

“Ah, very well, son, very well. Eager to complete my work here.” He exhaled. “I am ever so relieved that you agreed to help us out with this. Tanna is our diver, but her wrist, you see. If we were back home, we could ask one of my sisters—Judith, or even Henrietta would come over, from France. But such is life, such are the circumstances. Well, now, are you ready for me to throw you overboard?”

“As ready as one can ever be, sir.”

“Good, good. You have done this before?”

“Never.”

“Well, the main thing is to try not to die. I shall give you some advice on how to best bring that about.”

Talking all the while, he led me onto the boat to prepare. I passed Tanna, and was aware of her anxiously avoiding my eye. I did not understand her, these strange twists of mood. I had agonized over the possibilities of her note for days, suffered for my lack of education. And now I had arrived to ostensibly help her father out—though anyone could see, even Goff himself, I suspect, that I had come only because she’d asked it of me. But now I was here, she was behaving so elusively. I felt exhausted, done with it. I could not tolerate any more.

And yet the curve of her neck, the soft, dark hairs matted there—I saw them and felt longing and desire wash through me.

Goff himself was in the best of spirits. There was none of the tension of these last weeks and he smiled all about at nothing much. It was already after ten o’clock when we had finished unpacking and carrying the pump, bellows and coils of breathing hose onto the deck. The morning sky looked hollowed, featureless, without a line of cloud.

Goff dismissed Tanna, sending her below deck so that she would not glimpse me undressing. His old hands trembling softly, he helped me into the diving suit, arranged its copper helmet and awkward leather air hose. He had ordered it some two years before, he explained, a patched and partial sample that had been used for salvage off Whitstable some years earlier.

“Careful with the helmet, son,” said he. “You don’t want water getting through.”

As we were affixing it into place on my head, he said, “She is so young, my Tanna.”

I paused, peering down at him, the glister of his dark black eyes. “I am the younger, sir.”

“In years, yes,” he said, smiling pleasantly.

I understood. He meant that I had been a slave, and that the savagery of that past left me a ruined being, like some wretched thing pulled smoking from a fire. It did not matter that he accepted me as a thinking man, that he respected my mind, or even that he was in the midst of taking a favour from me. I was black-skinned and burnt, as disfigured inside as without, and though he took me seriously enough as an illustrator and a scientist, he did not want me for his daughter.

I clutched at the rim where it met my neck, the metal hot from the sun.

— WITH A COLD PUNCH the air left my lungs, and the freezing black waters sucked at my body. The first few seconds were utterly shocking, and in the wavering shadows I felt both strangely weightless and like a pile of iron, my legs in their canvas suit stirring the waters, my head solid and leaden in its helmet. There was a surge of noise in my ears, a kind of constant sucking, and I blinked against the smatter of bubbles flooding the glass window of my helmet, bubbles generated by my breathing tube. I was dropped lower and lower, feeling with each descent a tug in my stomach. The intense scent of wet leather filled my head. Craning my neck gently back, I saw above me the rocking bottom of the boat. It floated there like a coffin in the pale, sun-cut waters.

How luminous the world was, in the shallows. I could see all the golden light of the dying morning, I could see the debris in it stirring, coming alive. Blue, purple, gold cilia turned in the watery yellow shafts of light slicing down. In the gilded blur I caught the flashing eyes of shrimp, alien and sinewy.

The quality of light shifted above me, and I glanced up to watch something like a momentary dusk come over the surface. I turned my head; a rivet dug painfully into my collarbone, so that I paused to adjust the helmet. The minutes were slowing now, drawing out in the cold. I glanced down and saw a flash of white, and I thought it must be another creature, only to realize it was my own eyes, their reflection in the viewing glass of my helmet. And it was then that some deep tolling went through me, an enormous throb, as though someone had struck a large bell beside me. And all at once I felt my body dropping away, all of the clenching and the anger and the terror, the scorch of Goff’s black, disapproving eyes, and the touch of Big Kit’s skin; the image of Titch walking backwards over the ice, the smell of Arctic timber, the shudder of the Cloud-cutter, it all fell away; the blood on the blackened grass in the clearing, the pain on Philip’s face, I let it all fall away; Willard’s small, constant shadow—all this I let drop away, so that I hung with my arms suspended at my sides, the soft current tugging at me. The cold sucked at me and the light weakened, and I was finally, mercifully, nothing.

A white veil grazed my helmet. I gave a start, and propelled myself backwards. It was a jellyfish, perilously close. I recognized it as poisonous, and I kicked away, watching its tentacles retreat in a flash of tattered lace. I began to propel myself along, careful to keep myself upright lest the helmet begin to leak. I trudged towards a low rock formation, through the hazy water, among the crags. This had to be the barque.

The wreck lay upright, furred with weed, its iron railings rusted and gnarled. There were fish drifting through its opened portholes. I began to search. The water was cold. I was staring at a brown-and-red outcropping, hearing the bubbling of my breath in my ears, when a shape flashed bright orange, before transforming again into brown rust.

I paused. Very slowly I began to wade closer, passing through a last bright spot of sun cutting through the waters. I squinted; nothing moved, nothing stirred. Then, in a series of hallucinations, the rock became a slick blue smudge, then a bumpy red crag of meat, then a mottled brown rag, then a vile red slash.

Again I went very slowly towards it, extending my arms in their thick hide. The creature shot up from its rock, its orange arms boiling all around it, the suckers very white. Its gaze seemed to churn up out of its soft mantle and burn through me, seeing, I suppose, the sad rigidity of a boy, the uselessness of his hard, inflexible bones. I stared at the bulb of its pendulous head, the crags that made it look ancient, and a hot, glorious feeling rushed through me, a bright, radiating hope.

I could see by the tentacles on the third arm that she was a female. She was wondrous and brilliantly vivid, and when I thought of Goff killing her to crate up as a specimen for his exhibition, a twist of nausea went through me. How wrong it all felt. Could she not, I thought, be brought to England alive, to be seen as the breathing miracle she was? Was that so impossible? In fact, could not they all—the anemones and the comatulids and the nudibranchs and the octopus—be taken in their living state to be viewed by a public who would never have the chance to see such creatures up close?

I knew it was impossible. The science was wanting. What would you house them in? Which ones could be housed together, and how? Could plants also be transported without their rotting? How, indeed, would you keep the marine life itself alive? It was hopeless, futile. And yet the certainty of its failure convinced me fully that it should be attempted.

The octopus arranged itself in a smatter of algae, its body hanging blackly before me. When I came forward to touch it, it sent out a surge of dark ink. We paused, watching each other, the grey rag of ink hanging between us. Then it shot off through the water, stopping short to radiate like a cloth set afire, its arms unfurling and vibrating. There was something playful in the pause, as if it expected me to ink it back. I held my hands out towards it, gently; the creature hovered in the dark waters, almost totally still. Then, shyly, it began to pulse towards me, stopping just inches away, its small, gelatinous eyes taking me in. Then it swam directly into my hands.

— THE SUN WAS LOW and without fire when I surfaced.

I could not get warm. The Goffs had lit the lanterns, and by the flickering light I could see Tanna getting the boat under way. I fell exhausted onto the deck, letting Goff drag me clear, my breathing tube slapping wetly behind me. Goff heaved off my helmet; I gasped at the raw air, my body shuddering, a sensation of sparks popping under my skin. It was excruciating. In the fading afternoon light Goff’s face loomed greenish and pocked above me.

“How was the bath?” he said with his crooked grin. “Clean enough yet?”

I gasped for him to unhook the trap from my back, in which I had gathered the unknown octopus and several Glaucus atlanticus and comatulids and sipunculid worms. Goff helped me from the suit with a look of some sympathy. He handed me a brown wool blanket from a box of personal effects. It stunk of wood char and naphthalene, but I was grateful all the same. I sat in shivering silence, then went below deck to dress myself before going up to study the catch in the dripping cages.

“What is it? What did you get?” said Goff, peering over my shoulder.

When finally Tanna joined us, she appeared anxious, nervous.

I studied her face; I could not tell if she had been crying. “You are unwell?”

“I am fine, Mister Black, thank you.”

“What did you manage, eh?” said Goff impatiently. “Open them already.”

Turning from Tanna, I opened a cage with great care and took out the flaring orange creature, the octopus.

“It rather resembles the Bathypolypus arcticus,” he observed with soft fascination, “but it is far too large for that.”

“It inked me, sir,” said I. “I do not believe the Bathypolypus has ink.” As I hefted its glutinous body in my hands, it slowly wrapped itself around my arm, the touch of its suckers shocking, like cold little mouths. It felt so intimate. I would unwind one arm only to find it glued back in place by the time I had liberated a second.

“It likes you,” said Goff.

Crouched there on the deck, with the octopus braided over my arms, I could see the late afternoon lanterns of the cove approaching in the distance, and I felt very calm, very far from the rough, scoured-out life I had made for myself. And I began to laugh.

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