There are three kinds of liars: 1. The man whom others can't believe. He is harmless. Let him alone. 2. The man who can't believe others. He has probably made a careful study of human nature. If you don't put him in jail, he will find out... Read more of LIARS at Free Jokes.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Part of: WILD ENGLAND
From: After London

This little circumstance of the mallards always flying over him and away
behind, when flushed, presently made Felix speculate on the cause, and
he kept a closer watch. He now saw (what had, indeed, been going on for
some time) that there was a ceaseless stream of waterfowl, mallards,
ducks, coots, moorhens, and lesser grebes coming towards him, swimming
to the westward. As they met him they parted and let him through, or
rose and went over. Next he noticed that the small birds on the islands
were also travelling in the same direction, that is against the wind.
They did not seem in any haste, but flitted from islet to islet, bush to
tree, feeding and gossiping as they went; still the movement was
distinct.

Finches, linnets, blackbirds, thrushes, wrens, and whitethroats, and
many others, all passed him, and he could see the same thing going on to
his right and left. Felix became much interested in this migration, all
the more singular as it was the nesting-time, and hundreds of these
birds must have left their nests with eggs or young behind them. Nothing
that he could think of offered an adequate explanation. He imagined he
saw shoals of fishes going the same way, but the surface of the water
being ruffled, and the canoe sailing rapidly, he could not be certain.
About an hour after he first observed the migration the stream of birds
ceased suddenly.

There were no waterfowls in the water, and no finches in the bushes.
They had evidently all passed. Those in the van of the migratory army
were no doubt scattered and thinly distributed, so that he had been
meeting the flocks a long while before he suspected it. The nearer he
approached their centre the thicker they became, and on getting through
that he found a solitude. The weeds were thicker than ever, so that he
had constantly to edge away from where he supposed the mainland to lie.
But there were no waterfowls and no birds on the islets. Suddenly as he
rounded a large island he saw what for the moment he imagined to be a
line of white surf, but the next instant he recognised a solid mass, as
it were, of swallows and martins flying just over the surface of the
water straight towards him. He had no time to notice how far they
extended before they had gone by him with a rushing sound. Turning to
look back, he saw them continue directly west in the teeth of the wind.

Like the water and the islands, the sky was now cleared of birds, and
not a swallow remained. Felix asked himself if he were running into some
unknown danger, but he could not conceive any. The only thing that
occurred to him was the possibility of the wind rising to a hurricane;
that gave him no alarm, because the numerous islands would afford
shelter. So complete was the shelter in some places, that as he passed
along his sail drew above, while the surface of the water, almost
surrounded with bushes and willows, was smooth. No matter to how many
quarters of the compass the wind might veer, he should still be able to
get under the lee of one or other of the banks.

The sky remained without clouds; there was nothing but a slight haze,
which he sometimes fancied looked thicker in front or to the eastward.
There was nothing whatever to cause the least uneasiness; on the
contrary, his curiosity was aroused, and he was desirous of discovering
what it was that had startled the birds. After a while the water became
rather more open, with sandbanks instead of islands, so that he could
see around him for a considerable distance. By a large bank, behind
which the ripple was stilled, he saw a low wave advancing towards him,
and moving against the wind. It was followed by two others at short
intervals, and though he could not see them, he had no doubt shoals of
fishes were passing and had raised the undulations.

The sedges on the sandbanks appeared brown and withered, as if it had
been autumn instead of early summer. The flags were brown at the tip,
and the aquatic grasses had dwindled. They looked as if they could not
grow, and had reached but half their natural height. From the low
willows the leaves were dropping, faded and yellow, and the thorn bushes
were shrivelled and covered with the white cocoons of caterpillars. The
farther he sailed the more desolate the banks seemed, and trees ceased
altogether. Even the willows were fewer and stunted, and the highest
thorn bush was not above his chest. His vessel was now more exposed to
the wind, so that he drove past the banks and scattered islands rapidly,
and he noticed that there was not so much as a crow on them. Upturned
mussel-shells, glittering in the sunshine, showed where crows had been
at work, but there was not one now visible.

Felix thought that the water had lost its clearness and had become
thick, which he put down to the action of the wavelets disturbing the
sand in the shallows. Ahead the haze, or mist, was now much thicker, and
was apparently not over a mile distant. It hid the islands and concealed
everything. He expected to enter it immediately, but it receded as he
approached. Along the strand of an island he passed there was a dark
line like a stain, and in still water under the lee the surface was
covered with a floating scum. Felix, on seeing this, at once concluded
that he had unknowingly entered a gulf, and had left the main Lake, for
the only place he had ever seen scum before was at the extremity of a
creek near home, where the water was partly stagnant on a marshy level.
The water of the Lake was proverbial for its purity and clearness.

He kept, therefore, a sharp look-out, expecting every moment to sight
the end of the gulf or creek in which he supposed himself sailing, so
that he might be ready to lower his sail. By degrees the wind had risen
till it now blew with fury, but the numerous sandflats so broke up the
waves that he found no inconvenience from them. One solitary gull passed
over at a great height, flying steadily westwards against the wind. The
canoe now began to overtake fragments of scum drifting before the wind,
and rising up and down on the ripples. Once he saw a broad piece rise to
the surface together with a quantity of bubbles. None of the sandbanks
now rose more than a foot or so above the surface, and were entirely
bare, mere sand and gravel.

The mist ahead was sensibly nearer, and yet it eluded him; it was of a
faint yellow, and though so thin, obscured everything where it hovered.
From out of the mist there presently appeared a vast stretch of weeds.
They floated on the surface and undulated to the wavelets, a pale
yellowish green expanse. Felix was hesitating whether to lower his sail
or attempt to drive over them, when, as he advanced and the mist
retreated, he saw open water beyond. The weeds extended on either hand
as far as he could see, but they were only a narrow band, and he
hesitated no longer. He felt the canoe graze the bottom once as he
sailed over the weeds. The water was free of sandbanks beyond them, but
he could see large islands looming in several directions.

Glancing behind him he perceived that the faint yellow mist had closed
in and now encircled him. It came with two or three hundred yards, and
was not affected by the wind, rough as it was. Quite suddenly he noticed
that the water on which the canoe floated was black. The wavelets which
rolled alongside were black, and the slight spray that occasionally flew
on board was black, and stained the side of the vessel. This greatly
astonished and almost shocked him; it was so opposite and contrary to
all his ideas about the Lake, the very mirror of purity. He leant over,
and dipped up a little in the palm of his hand; it did not appear black
in such a small quantity, it seemed a rusty brown, but he became aware
of an offensive odour. The odour clung to his hand, and he could not
remove it, to his great disgust. It was like nothing he had ever smelt
before, and not in the least like the vapour of marshes.

By now being some distance from any island, the wavelets increased in
size, and spray flew on board, wetting everything with this black
liquid. Instead of level marshes and the end of the gulf, it appeared as
if the water were deep, and also as if it widened. Exposed to the full
press of the gale, Felix began to fear that he should not be able to
return very easily against it. He did not know what to do. The horrid
blackness of the water disposed him to turn about and tack out; on the
other hand, having set out on a voyage of discovery, and having now
found something different to the other parts of the Lake, he did not
like to retreat. He sailed on, thinking to presently pass these
loathsome waters.

He was now hungry, and indeed thirsty, but was unable to drink because
he had no water-barrel. No vessel sailing on the Lake ever carried a
water-barrel, since such pure water was always under their bows. He was
cramped, too, with long sitting in the canoe, and the sun was
perceptibly sloping in the west. He determined to land and rest, and
with this purpose steered to the right under the lee of a large island,
so large, indeed, that he was not certain it was not part of the
mainland or one side of the gulf. The water was very deep close up to
the shore, but, to his annoyance, the strand appeared black, as if
soaked with the dark water. He skirted along somewhat farther, and found
a ledge of low rocks stretching out into the Lake, so that he was
obliged to run ashore before coming to these.

On landing, the black strand, to his relief, was fairly firm, for he had
dreaded sinking to the knees in it; but its appearance was so unpleasant
that he could not bring himself to sit down. He walked on towards the
ledge of rocks, thinking to find a pleasanter place there. They were
stratified, and he stepped on them to climb up, when his foot went deep
into the apparently hard rock. He kicked it, and his shoe penetrated it
as if it had been soft sand. It was impossible to climb up the reef. The
ground rose inland, and curious to see around him as far as possible, he
ascended the slope.

From the summit, however, he could not see farther than on the shore,
for the pale yellow mist rose up round him, and hid the canoe on the
strand. The extreme desolation of the dark and barren ground repelled
him; there was not a tree, bush, or living creature, not so much as a
buzzing fly. He turned to go down, and then for the first time noticed
that the disk of the sun was surrounded with a faint blue rim,
apparently caused by the yellow vapour. So much were the rays shorn of
their glare, that he could look at the sun without any distress, but its
heat seemed to have increased, though it was now late in the afternoon.

Descending towards the canoe, he fancied the wind had veered
considerably. He sat down in the boat, and took some food; it was
without relish, as he had nothing to drink, and the great heat had tired
him. Wearily, and without thinking, he pushed off the canoe; she slowly
floated out, when, as he was about to hoist up the sail, a tremendous
gust of wind struck him down on the thwarts, and nearly carried him
overboard. He caught the mast as he fell, or over he must have gone into
the black waves. Before he could recover himself, she drifted against
the ledge of rocks, which broke down and sank before the bow, so that
she passed over uninjured.

Felix got out a paddle, and directed the canoe as well as he could; the
fury of the wind was irresistible, and he could only drive before it. In
a few minutes, as he was swept along the shore, he was carried between
it and another immense reef. Here, the waves being broken and less
powerful, he contrived to get the heavy canoe ashore again, and, jumping
out, dragged her up as far as he could on the land. When he had done
this, he found to his surprise that the gale had ceased. The tremendous
burst of wind had been succeeded by a perfect calm, and the waves had
already lost their violent impetus.

This was a relief, for he had feared that the canoe would be utterly
broken to pieces; but soon he began to doubt if it were an unmixed
benefit, as without a wind he could not move from this dismal place that
evening. He was too weary to paddle far. He sat on the canoe to rest
himself, and, whether from fatigue or other causes, fell asleep. His
head heavily dropping on his chest partly woke him several times, but
his lassitude overcame the discomfort, and he slept on. When he got up
he felt dazed and unrefreshed, as if sleeping had been hard work. He was
extremely thirsty, and oppressed with the increasing heat. The sun had
sunk, or rather was so low that the high ground hid it from sight.





Next: Strange Things

Previous: A Voyage



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