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I sprang to one side, and turning round saw Jackson, with a look of such savage fury on his face that I retreated a step or two in astonishment at him. He perceived my alarm, and burst out into a fit of laughter, which, instead of reassuring me, had the opposite effect, it was so demoniacal in character. "Ha! ha!" he laughed again, "are you frightened?" and advancing toward me, he put his face close to mine, peering into it with bloodshot eyes, while his breath, reeking of spirits, poured into my nostrils.
Involuntarily I put up my arm to keep him off. He clutched it, and, pointing with his other hand to the sea, whispered hoarsely, "What do you hear of the surf? Will the breakers be heavier before sundown? See how they begin to curve! Listen how they already thunder, thunder, on the beach! I tell you they are impatient--they seek some one," he shouted. "Do you know," he continued, lowering his voice again, and speaking almost confidentially, "sooner or later some one is drowned upon that bar?" And even as he spoke a fresh line of breakers arose from the deep, farther out than any had been before. This much I observed, but I was too greatly unnerved by the strange manner of Jackson to pay further heed to the sea. It had flashed across my mind that he was on the verge of an attack of delirium tremens, from the effects of the liquor he had been consuming for so long, and the problem was to get him back to the house quietly.
Suddenly a thought struck me. Putting my arm within his, I said, as coolly as I could, "Never mind the sea, Jackson; let us have a /matabicho/" (our local expression for a "drink"). He took the bait, and came away quietly enough to the house. Once there, I enticed him into the dining-room, and shutting to the door quickly, I locked it on the outside, resolving to keep him there until Mr. Bransome should return; for, being alone, I was afraid of him.
Then I went back to the end of the Point to look for the return of the two boats. When I reached it I saw that the rollers had increased in size in the short time that I had been absent, and that they were breaking, one after another, as fast as they could come shoreward; not pygmy waves, but great walls of water along their huge length before they fell.
A surf such as I had never yet seen had arisen. I stood and anxiously watched through a glass the boats at the steamer's side, and at length, to my relief, I saw one of them leave her, but as it came near I saw, to my surprise, that Mr. Bransome was not in the boat, and that it was not the one that Sooka steered. Quickly it was overtaken by the breakers, but escaped their power, and came inshore on the back of a majestic roller that did not break until it was close to the beach, where the boat was in safety.
Not without vague apprehension at his imprudence, but still not anticipating any actual harm from it, I thought that Mr. Bransome had chosen to come back in Sooka's boat, and I waited and waited to see /it/ return, although the daylight had now so waned that I could no longer distinguish what was going on alongside the steamer. At last I caught sight of the boat, a white speck upon the waters, and, just as it entered upon the dangerous part of the bar, I discerned to my infinite amazement, that two figures were seated in the stern--a man and a woman--a white woman; I could see her dress fluttering in the wind, and Sooka's black figure standing behind her.
On came the boat, impelled by the swift-flowing seas, for a quarter of an hour it was tossed on the crests of the waves. Again and again it rose and sank with them as they came rolling in, but somehow, after a little further time, it seemed to me that it did not make such way toward the shore as it should have done.
I lifted the glass to my eyes, and I saw that the boys were hardly pulling at all, though the boat was not close to the rocks that were near the cliff. Nor did Sooka seem to be conscious of a huge roller that was swiftly approaching him. In my excitement I was just on the point of shouting to warn those in the boat of their danger, although I knew that they could not understand what I might say, when I saw Jackson standing on the edge of the cliff, a little way off, dressed in his shirt and trousers only. He had escaped from the house! He perceived that I saw him, and came running up on me, and I threw myself on my guard. However, he did not attempt to touch me, but stopped and cried:
"Did I not tell you that somebody would be drowned by those waves? Watch that boat! watch it! it is doomed; and the scoundrel, the villain, who is in it will never reach the shore alive!" and he hissed the last word through his clenched teeth.
"Good God, Jackson!" I said, "don't say that! Look, there is a white woman in the boat!"
At the words his jaw dropped, his form, which a moment before had swayed with excitement, became rigid, and his eyes stared at me as if he knew, but comprehended not, what I had said. Then he slowly turned his face toward the sea, and, as he did so, the mighty breaker that had been coming up astern of the boat curled over it. For a moment or two it rushed forward, a solid body of water, carrying the boat with it; and in those moments I saw, to my horror, Sooka give one sweep with his oar, which threw the boat's side toward the roller. I saw the boat-boys leap clear of the boat into the surf; I saw the agonised faces of the man and the woman upturned to the wave above them, and then the billow broke, and nothing was seen but a sheet of frothy water. The boat and those in it had disappeared. For the crew I had little concern--I knew they would come ashore safely enough; but for Mr. Bransome and the woman, whoever she was, there was little hope. They had not had time to throw themselves into the sea before the boat had capsized, and their clothing would sink them in such a surf, even if they had escaped being crushed by the boat. Besides, I feared there had been some foul play on the part of Sooka. Quickly as he had done it, I had seen him with his oar put the boat beyond the possibility of escaping from the wave, and I remembered how he had been treated by Bransome.
With such thoughts I ran along the cliff to the pathway that led down to the beach; and as I ran, I saw Jackson running before me, not steadily or rightly, but heavily, and swaying from side to side as he went. Quickly I passed him, but he gave no sign that he knew any one was near him; and as I leaped down on to the first ledge of rock below me, I saw that he was not following me, but had disappeared among the brushwood.
When I got down to the beach, I found that the boat's crew had reached the shore in safety, but of the two passengers nothing had been seen. The capsized boat was sometimes visible as it lifted on the rollers, but through my glass I saw that no one was clinging to it. I called for Sooka, but Sooka was missing. Every one had seen him land, but he had disappeared mysteriously. In vain I questioned the other boys as to the cause of the disaster. The only answer I could get out of them was an appeal to look to the sea and judge for myself. The woman was a white woman from the big ship, was all they could say about her; and, negro-like, they evidently considered the loss of a woman or so of very little consequence.
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Stories by English Authors in Africa -by- Various