Roy Glashan's Library
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Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
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FARNSWORTH WRIGHT

IN THE DEPTHS

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RGL e-Book Cover 2019


Ex Libris

First published in The Overland Monthly, San Fransisco, CA, December 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-04-19
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Cover Image

The Overland Monthly, Jul-Dec 1919, with "In the Depths"



Illustration


AS Carlson looked down at the oily waters of Puget Sound and wondered what strange creatures lived in its slimy depths, and whether they were not really happier, after all, than he. A whirlwind racked his brain, for he faced involuntary separation from his job, and, being young, he was not used to it. For three days he had been a reporter on one of the city dailies—his first job, and he had failed on three assignments, so the city editor told him that he lacked aptitude and could not be used as a reporter. The boy pleaded for one more chance.

"I'll give you another chance," the city editor finally promised him, "if you go down to the waterfront and find a deep- sea diver named Angus McLeod and get his story of his fight with a devilfish three weeks ago. Look up the story in the files. Myers should have been able to interview him, for he has been marine reporter for years and ought to know everybody on the waterfront. But Myers hasn't been able to find him, and I can't tell you where you can locate him except that he ought to be somewhere on the waterfront. McLeod's story would have been a corker three weeks ago, but we can still use It."

Myers, the marine reporter, had learned only by chance of the diver's thrilling struggle with a giant octopus, and his rescue after he had lost consciousness, for McLeod was little known on the waterfront. The newspaper account of the battle under the waves was for the most part drawn by Myers from his imagination, for he had been unable to find and interview the dour Scot who was the hero of it.

Dan set out at once in search of McLeod, and he found that the old Scotch diver had moved from his lodgings several days before he was sent out on the job which so nearly cost him his life. Nobody seemed to know where he was living.

"He's about your height and pretty well tanned," the man in the salvage company's office described him to Dan. "He's got a grayish-reddish beard and he don't wear a mustache. He's an oldish fellow, a little bit deaf from being under the water so much, and he's got red hair and blue eyes."

On this meagre Information Dan made the rounds of the waterfront saloons, but failed to find the man he was seeking. He did not want to go back to his city editor and report failure, so he stood on the wharf and speculated on the things that live under the water, and on his own drowning career.

The mystery of the ocean depths had always fired his imagination, but now it depressed him. He compared himself to the diver. The world was an enormous octopus, twisting its arms about his neck to drag him down. The breaking of the diver's air-tube was the fell stroke of chance, which had caused him to fail on his assignments and now prevented him from finding McLeod. Dan's star of hope, which had lit up his sky for an instant when he had been given this last chance to make good was sinking fast behind vast clouds of gloom. Hardly a ray now lighted the muddy depths of his despondency.

Looking up from his gloomy musings he noticed a roughly- dressed, ragged man, unshaven, dirty and hatless, leaning against a pile. His torn shirt was open at the throat. A queer moaning gurgle came from his half-opened mouth. He reeled as if he were drunk.

Dan feared the old fellow would fall into the bay, so he seized him quickly from behind, by the arms, just below the shoulders. The man shrank from his grasp with a moaning cry. And would have fallen from the dock had Dan not pulled him quickly back from the edge.

The stranger twisted around to face the youth, and he struck Dan's hands away as he did so. He gazed for an instant full into Dan's eyes with the fright of a hunted animal showing on his face. Then his gaze roved, and a puzzled, intent expression came over his face, as if he were vainly trying to recall something to his memory. He ran his fingers through his long, coarse hair and stared into Dan's eyes again. Dan noticed that the man's eyes were blue.

"You almost fell into the water," laughed Dan, reassuringly. "I guess you're sick, but at first I thought you were drunk when I saw you hanging to that post and reeling."

"Drunk," asked the stranger. The intent, puzzled expression came over his face again and he rubbed his fingertips over his stubby, reddish-gray beard.

"Drunk?" he repeated, and his bewildered look became pitiful in its intensity and suffering.

"Oh, no! I mean I thought so at first—the way you staggered! Of course you're not drunk. But you did nearly fall into the water," Dan went on, hastening to change the subject. "You don't want to make fish-food of yourself, and be washed out into the sound where the devilfish can twist his snaky tentacles around your neck and little fishes come and swim through the holes in your skull, where your eyes are now."

"Fishes?" the man asked. "Oh, ay, there are millions of 'em, lad, millions of 'em! I've seen whole armies of 'em come and look at me while I worked, and one big fish came and looked in the little window to see what made the bubbles come up. But he swam away quick when I tried to grab him."

Dan was still deep in his gloom and took in the import of the old man's strange words only vaguely as in a dream. He looked up wonderingly.

"There are strange things down there in the depths," he said slowly.

"In the depths," moaned the old man.

"Oh, ay, in the depths!" His eyes opened big and he stared at Dan as at some dreadful specter.

A flash of comprehension came to the youth as he pondered the stranger's peculiar utterance about the fish armies and the big fish that looked into the little window; and Dan suddenly noticed that the stranger's close-cut beard was reddish and that he did not possess a mustache. But his hair was not red—it was snow-white!

Dan's heart jumped and the star of hope suddenly flooded his firmament with light again. The clouds of gloom were dissipated as if by the fresh wind which was springing up from the sound. Dan's thoughts were no longer vague and wandering.

"Is your name Angus McLeod?" he asked his odd acquaintance.

"Ay," answered the diver, his eyes intently searching Dan's face.

"Carlson's my name—Dan Carlson," Dan introduced himself, his eyes sparkling. "Come over and have a glass of beer with me."

McLeod did not answer, neither did he clasp Dan's outstretched hand.

"Come on," urged Dan, and he took the diver by the arm.

McLeod struck the boy's hand away as if in terror, but he followed him to the saloon. They were soon seated at a table and the bartender brought some beer.

"Now," demanded Dan eagerly, "tell me all about it."

"All about what?" asked McLeod.

"Why, about your fight with the devilfish up near Anacortes, of course."

"Oh, ay, the devilfish!"

The diver's eyes wandered; he looked terrified, and he passed his hands several times through his hair, then rubbed his stubby beard with his fingertips.

"Set 'em up again," called Dan to the bartender, for McLeod had drained his glass at a gulp.

"You were exploring an old wreck, weren't you?" he went on. "How long had the wreck been there?"

"Ay, a wreck it was. Several years old. It wasn't so awful deep, but I stayed too long."

McLeod ran his fingers through his hair again and horror was written in scarehead letters on his face.

"Come, come; you're all right now." Dan tried to calm him. "Drink your beer. Now go on. How deep was it?"

"Not too deep, for the sunlight was shimmering and shivering over the bones o' the ship, according as the waves was rippling and curling on top o' the water. It wasn't too deep, and there was a lot o' little fishes kept looking, and then they'd scamper away all of a sudden when they was frighted, like a lot o' minnows. But down in the ship it was dark and there was strange creatures there."

The diver shuddered and beads of sweat stood out on his furrowed forehead.

"Drink some more beer," Dan urged.

The former intense bewilderment again furrowed McLeod's face as if something he was seeking kept hiding just beyond reach of his memory. He drank the beer and wiped the foam from his lips and chin on his sleeve.

"How did the octopus get hold of you? Tell me all about your fight with it. Nobody knows anything about it except what you told them through your diver's telephone while you were slicing the beast's arms off," Dan explained.

"Got hold on me? Oh, ay, it got hold on me all right," answered McLeod. "It must have got me from behind, because I didn't see it till it was around my neck. Long arms, like snakes, and it gets hold on me with two of 'em at once. First thing I knows about it, it draws me to one side, and I try to get away, but my feet are weighted and I can't move fast enough. But I'm just as cool as a clam. 'Never lose your head now or you'll never see Seattle again,' I says to myself. But it's hard to saw through those slippery, tough arms with my knife, though they look so soft and easy when the thing's captured and lying on shore, dead. But I've lost my knife," he moaned. "I tell you it's gone, and I can't pick it up."

The intent, bewildered look had again given place to horror.

"Come, come," Dan soothed him, "what ails you? Here, let me pour you some more beer. You say you had a knife?"

"I tell you I dropped it," exclaimed the diver with growing excitement. "Pick it up! Quick, I tell you!"

Pressing one knee against the table as if he were still struggling in the tight grip of the eight-armed monster, the diver gave a sudden push, upsetting the beer onto Dan, and sending his own chair backward onto the floor. He struggled to his feet with a frightened oath. As Dan sprang to help him, the diver seized his arms, pinning them to his sides and stared hard into his face, panting and shrieked—

"Where's that knife? I dropped it, I tell you!"

Dan struggled to free himself, but the diver with wild, livid, staring eyeballs, held him fast. The sweat poured from the old man's face. Dan was thoroughly frightened and was about to call loudly for help when McLeod relaxed his hold and sank to the floor, moaning as if in agony.

Dan lifted him up and helped him to a chair. McLeod was as weak as a kitten. He stared helplessly around the room, while the sweat ran down his face in tiny rivulets. Boisterous laughter from the bar-room explained why nobody had heard the struggle.

"Come, now," urged Dan. "You had a knife, you tell me, and you lost it How did the air-hose break?"

"I cut it," McLeod answered, very slowly. "I didn't mean to, but the beast drew me towards him, and kept shooting a black, inky stuff at me, so by and by I couldn't see him for the dark clouds of it in the water. I sawed through three of its ugly hands, and I'll get away all right, only it's got me by the arm, and I've cut into the air-tube over my head, and I've dropped my knife and I can't pick it up.

"Where is that knife, lad?" he whined. "There's no time to lose, for I've got no air, I tell you! They're pulling on the ropes up there, can't you feel 'em? Give me that knife! I've got to cut loose, I tell you! They're trying to pull me up, and the air-tube's cut, and I can't breathe, and I've got to cut away! Don't you hear me?"

He covered hie face with his hands, moaning piteously.

"It's no use! It's no use!" he whimpered. "I've lost the knife."

His unkempt, coarse white hair was wet with perspiration. Understanding began to dawn on Dan.

"Come, now," Dan said at last. "Nobody's going to hurt you. You're all right now. Tell me, how did you get to the surface?"

McLeod took his hands from his face and stared at Dan blankly.

"How did they get you up? How did you get to the top?" Dan repeated.

"Get to the top?" the diver moaned. "I didn't."

He covered his face again with his hands.

Dan felt a strange sinking of the stomach as he looked at the moaning creature before him, who was still fighting hopelessly on in his mind, with blank horror always at the end of his tale. For the diver's mind had given way under the strain of the desperate struggle under the waves and recorded no memories beyond that terrific combat, nor gave any glimmer of hope as to the outcome.

Dan had his story. And that same day tender hands took McLeod into their care and ministered to his overwrought nerves and anguished brain.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.