The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the
sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and
being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait
for the turn of the tide.
The Nellie, a small sailboat, was anchored in the river.
There was no wind and the only thing to do was sit and wait for the tide to
change before heading down the river and out to sea.
The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an
interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded
together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the
barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of
canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the
low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above
Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom,
brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on
The mouth of the River Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an
endless waterway. Far off in the distance, the sea and the sky blended
seamlessly together. Nearby, barges sailing up the river seemed to stand
still. A haze rested on the low shores as far as we could see. The air was
dark above the port town of Gravesend. Behind us, up the river, the gloomy
air hung motionless over the biggest and greatest town on earth,
The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four
affectionately watched his back as he stood in the bows looking to seaward.
On the whole river there was nothing that looked half so nautical. He
resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was
difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but
behind him, within the brooding gloom.
The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. Four of us watched
him affectionately as he stared out at the sea. On the whole river there was
nothing that looked half as appropriate as he did. He looked the part, which
to a sailor is the most important sign of trustworthiness. It was hard to
remember that he worked behind us, in the gloomy city, rather than out on
the glowing water.
Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the
sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation,
it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other’s yarns—and even
convictions. The Lawyer—the best of old fellows—had, because of his many
years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only
rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was
toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft,
leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion,
a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of
hands outwards, resembled an idol. The director, satisfied the anchor had
good hold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us. We exchanged a few
words lazily. Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht. For some
reason or other we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt meditative,
and fit for nothing but placid staring. The day was ending in a serenity of
still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky,
without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on
the Essex marsh was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded
rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom
to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every
minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.
The sea bonded us sailors. The long periods at sea, separated from
everyone else, brought us closer together and made us tolerant of each
other’s stories and beliefs. The Lawyer, a great guy, got to use the only
cushion on the deck because he’d served on board for so long. The Accountant
had brought out a box of dominos and was building shapes out of the boney
pieces. Marlow sat cross-legged in the back, leaning against a mast. He had
sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, and a sour demeanor.
With his arms dropped and the palms of his hands facing up, he looked like a
statue of a god. The Director, satisfied that the anchor was secure, made
his way back and sat with us. We chatted lazily but soon fell into silence.
For some reason or other we never played that game of dominos. We were all
lost in our own thoughts, up for nothing but sitting and staring. The day
was ending with incredible calm. The water was shining peacefully. The
spotless sky was a giant blanket of pure light. The mist over the Essex
Marsh was like a gauzy and bright fabric hung from the trees and draped over
the shore. Only the gloom to the west became more gloomy by the minute, as
if growing angry at the ending day.
And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and
from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as
if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom
brooding over a crowd of men.
At last, almost without us noticing, the sun sank. It changed from glowing
white to a dull red without rays or heat, like it was about to die or be
snuffed out by the gloom hanging over the crowded city.