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NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM - CHAPTER 10

by Edgar Allan Poe

SHORTLY afterward an incident occurred which I am induced to look

upon as more intensely productive of emotion, as far more replete
with the extremes first of delight and then of horror, than even any
of the thousand chances which afterward befell me in nine long years,
crowded with events of the most startling and, in many cases, of the
most unconceived and unconceivable character. We were lying on the
deck near the companion-way, and debating the possibility of yet
making our way into the storeroom, when, looking toward Augustus, who
lay fronting myself, I perceived that he had become all at once
deadly pale, and that his lips were quivering in the most singular
and unaccountable manner. Greatly alarmed, I spoke to him, but he
made me no reply, and I was beginning to think that he was suddenly
taken ill, when I took notice of his eyes, which were glaring
apparently at some object behind me. I turned my head, and shall
never forget the ecstatic joy which thrilled through every particle
of my frame, when I perceived a large brig bearing down upon us, and
not more than a couple of miles off. I sprung to my feet as if a
musket bullet had suddenly struck me to the heart; and, stretching
out my arms in the direction of the vessel, stood in this manner,
motionless, and unable to articulate a syllable. Peters and Parker
were equally affected, although in different ways. The former danced
about the deck like a madman, uttering the most extravagant
rhodomontades, intermingled with howls and imprecations, while the
latter burst into tears, and continued for many minutes weeping like
a child.

The vessel in sight was a large hermaphrodite brig, of a Dutch

build, and painted black, with a tawdry gilt figure-head. She had
evidently seen a good deal of rough weather, and, we supposed, had
suffered much in the gale which had proved so disastrous to
ourselves; for her foretopmast was gone, and some of her starboard
bulwarks. When we first saw her, she was, as I have already said,
about two miles off and to windward, bearing down upon us. The breeze
was very gentle, and what astonished us chiefly was, that she had no
other sails set than her foremast and mainsail, with a flying jib --
of course she came down but slowly, and our impatience amounted
nearly to phrensy. The awkward manner in which she steered, too, was
remarked by all of us, even excited as we were. She yawed about so
considerably, that once or twice we thought it impossible she could
see us, or imagined that, having seen us, and discovered no person on
board, she was about to tack and make off in another direction. Upon
each of these occasions we screamed and shouted at the top of our
voices, when the stranger would appear to change for a moment her
intention, and again hold on toward us -- this singular conduct being
repeated two or three times, so that at last we could think of no
other manner of accounting for it than by supposing the helmsman to
be in liquor.

No person was seen upon her decks until she arrived within about

a quarter of a mile of us. We then saw three seamen, whom by their
dress we took to be Hollanders. Two of these were lying on some old
sails near the forecastle, and the third, who appeared to be looking
at us with great curiosity, was leaning over the starboard bow near
the bowsprit. This last was a stout and tall man, with a very dark
skin. He seemed by his manner to be encouraging us to have patience,
nodding to us in a cheerful although rather odd way, and smiling
constantly, so as to display a set of the most brilliantly white
teeth. As his vessel drew nearer, we saw a red flannel cap which he
had on fall from his head into the water; but of this he took little
or no notice, continuing his odd smiles and gesticulations. I relate
these things and circumstances minutely, and I relate them, it must
be understood, precisely as they _appeared _to us.

The brig came on slowly, and now more steadily than before, and

-- I cannot speak calmly of this event -- our hearts leaped up wildly
within us, and we poured out our whole souls in shouts and
thanksgiving to God for the complete, unexpected, and glorious
deliverance that was so palpably at hand. Of a sudden, and all at
once, there came wafted over the ocean from the strange vessel (which

was now close upon us) a smell, a stench, such as the whole world has
no name for -- no conception of -- hellish -- utterly suffocating --
insufferable, inconceivable. I gasped for breath, and turning to my
companions, perceived that they were paler than marble. But we had
now no time left for question or surmise- the brig was within fifty

feet of us, and it seemed to be her intention to run under our
counter, that we might board her without putting out a boat. We
rushed aft, when, suddenly, a wide yaw threw her off full five or six
points from the course she had been running, and, as she passed under
our stern at the distance of about twenty feet, we had a full view of
her decks. Shall I ever forget the triple horror of that spectacle?
Twenty-five or thirty human bodies, among whom were several females,
lay scattered about between the counter and the galley in the last
and most loathsome state of putrefaction. We plainly saw that not a
soul lived in that fated vessel! Yet we could not help shouting to
the dead for help! Yes, long and loudly did we beg, in the agony of
the moment, that those silent and disgusting images would stay for
us, would not abandon us to become like them, would receive us among
their goodly company! We were raving with horror and despair-
thoroughly mad through the anguish of our grievous disappointment.

As our first loud yell of terror broke forth, it was replied to

by something, from near the bowsprit of the stranger, so closely
resembling the scream of a human voice that the nicest ear might have
been startled and deceived. At this instant another sudden yaw
brought the region of the forecastle for a moment into view, and we
beheld at once the origin of the sound. We saw the tall stout figure
still leaning on the bulwark, and still nodding his head to and fro,
but his face was now turned from us so that we could not behold it.
His arms were extended over the rail, and the palms of his hands fell
outward. His knees were lodged upon a stout rope, tightly stretched,
and reaching from the heel of the bowsprit to a cathead. On his back,
from which a portion of the shirt had been torn, leaving it bare,
there sat a huge sea-gull, busily gorging itself with the horrible
flesh, its bill and talons deep buried, and its white plumage
spattered all over with blood. As the brig moved farther round so as
to bring us close in view, the bird, with much apparent difficulty,
drew out its crimsoned head, and, after eyeing us for a moment as if
stupefied, arose lazily from the body upon which it had been
feasting, and, flying directly above our deck, hovered there a while
with a portion of clotted and liver-like substance in its beak. The
horrid morsel dropped at length with a sullen splash immediately at
the feet of Parker. May God forgive me, but now, for the first time,
there flashed through my mind a thought, a thought which I will not
mention, and I felt myself making a step toward the ensanguined spot.
I looked upward, and the eyes of Augustus met my own with a degree of
intense and eager meaning which immediately brought me to my senses.
I sprang forward quickly, and, with a deep shudder, threw the
frightful thing into the sea.

The body from which it had been taken, resting as it did upon the

rope, had been easily swayed to and fro by the exertions of the
carnivorous bird, and it was this motion which had at first impressed
us with the belief of its being alive. As the gull relieved it of its
weight, it swung round and fell partially over, so that the face was
fully discovered. Never, surely, was any object so terribly full of
awe! The eyes were gone, and the whole flesh around the mouth,
leaving the teeth utterly naked. This, then, was the smile which had
cheered us on to hope! this the -- but I forbear. The brig, as I have
already told, passed under our stern, and made its way slowly but
steadily to leeward. With her and with her terrible crew went all our
gay visions of deliverance and joy. Deliberately as she went by, we
might possibly have found means of boarding her, had not our sudden
disappointment and the appalling nature of the discovery which
accompanied it laid entirely prostrate every active faculty of mind
and body. We had seen and felt, but we could neither think nor act,
until, alas! too late. How much our intellects had been weakened by
this incident may be estimated by the fact, that when the vessel had
proceeded so far that we could perceive no more than the half of her
hull, the proposition was seriously entertained of attempting to
overtake her by swimming!

I have, since this period, vainly endeavoured to obtain some clew

to the hideous uncertainty which enveloped the fate of the stranger.
Her build and general appearance, as I have before stated, led us to
the belief that she was a Dutch trader, and the dresses of the crew
also sustained this opinion. We might have easily seen the name upon
her stern, and, indeed, taken other observations, which would have
guided us in making out her character; but the intense excitement of
the moment blinded us to every thing of that nature. From the
saffron-like hue of such of the corpses as were not entirely decayed,
we concluded that the whole of her company had perished by the yellow
fever, or some other virulent disease of the same fearful kind. If
such were the case (and I know not what else to imagine), death, to
judge from the positions of the bodies, must have come upon them in a
manner awfully sudden and overwhelming, in a way totally distinct
from that which generally characterizes even the most deadly
pestilences with which mankind are acquainted. It is possible,
indeed, that poison, accidentally introduced into some of their
sea-stores, may have brought about the disaster, or that the eating
of some unknown venomous species of fish, or other marine animal, or
oceanic bird, might have induced it -- but it is utterly useless to
form conjectures where all is involved, and will, no doubt, remain
for ever involved, in the most appalling and unfathomable mystery.



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