emotions; I could take refuge in the letters; I could have written to strangers if necessary. Suddenly, as I
was taking up a fresh sheet of notepaper, I heard a low sound, the first sound that, since we had been
shut up together, had come to my ears in the dim stillness of the room. I remained with my head down,
with my hand arrested. Those who have kept vigil by a sick-bed have heard such faint sounds in the
stillness of the night watches, sounds wrung from a racked body, from a weary soul. He pushed the
glass door with such force that all the panes rang: he stepped out, and I held my breath, straining my
ears without knowing what else I expected to hear. He was really taking too much to heart an empty
formality which to Chester's rigorous criticism seemed unworthy the notice of a man who could see things
as they were. An empty formality; a piece of parchment. Well, well. As to the inaccessible guano deposit,
that was another story altogether. One could intelligibly break one's heart over that. A feeble burst of
many voices mingled with the tinkle of silver and glass floated up from the dining-room below; through
the open door the outer edge of the light from my candle fell on his back faintly; beyond all was black; he
stood on the brink of a vast obscurity, like a lonely figure by the shore of a sombre and hopeless ocean.
There was the Walpole Reef in it--to be sure--a speck in the dark void, a straw for the drowning man.
My compassion for him took the shape of the thought that I wouldn't have liked his people to see him at
that moment. I found it trying myself. His back was no longer shaken by his gasps; he stood straight as
an arrow, faintly visible and still; and the meaning of this stillness sank to the bottom of my soul like lead
into the water, and made it so heavy that for a second I wished heartily that the only course left open
for me were to pay for his funeral. Even the law had done with him. To bury him would have been such
an easy kindness! It would have been so much in accordance with the wisdom of life, which consists in
putting out of sight all the reminders of our folly, of our weakness, of our mortality; all that makes against
our efficiency--the memory of our failures, the hints of our undying fears, the bodies of our dead friends.
Perhaps he did take it too much to heart. And if so then--Chester's offer. . . . At this point I took up
a fresh sheet and began to write resolutely. There was nothing but myself between him and the dark
ocean. I had a sense of responsibility. If I spoke, would that motionless and suffering youth leap into the
obscurity--clutch at the straw? I found out how difficult it may be sometimes to make a sound. There is
a weird power in a spoken word. And why the devil not? I was asking myself persistently while I drove
on with my writing. All at once, on the blank page, under the very point of the pen, the two figures of
Chester and his antique partner, very distinct and complete, would dodge into view with stride and gestures,
as if reproduced in the field of some optical toy. I would watch them for a while. No! They were too
phantasmal and extravagant to enter into any one's fate. And a word carries far--very far--deals destruction
through time as the bullets go flying through space. I said nothing; and he, out there with his back to the
light, as if bound and gagged by all the invisible foes of man, made no stir and made no sound.'