Original Text

Modern Text

“I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It wasn’t a quarry or a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do. I don’t know. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside. I discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for the settlement had been tumbled in there. There wasn’t one that was not broken. It was a wanton smash-up. At last I got under the trees. My purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner within than it seemed to me I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno. The rapids were near, and an uninterrupted, uniform, headlong, rushing noise filled the mournful stillness of the grove, where not a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with a mysterious sound—as though the tearing pace of the launched earth had suddenly become audible. “I stepped around a large hole someone had dug in the hillside for no apparent reason. It wasn’t a quarry or anything like that. It was just a hole. It was probably dug to give the so-called criminals something to do. I don’t know. Then I almost fell into a deep trench alongside the hill. It was full of broken water pipes. At last I got under the trees. I wanted to stroll in the shade for a moment, but stepping under the leaves made me feel like I was stepping into a dark hell. Nothing moved, but the sound of the rushing rapids was all around me. It sounded as though the earth was tearing apart.
“Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. Another mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet. The work was going on. The work! And this was the place where some of the helpers had withdrawn to die. “Black shapes sprawled around me, all clearly suffering. The ground shook from another explosion on the hill. The work was going on. The work! And this was where some of the workers had come to die.
“They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. These moribund shapes were free as air—and nearly as thin. I began to distinguish the gleam of the eyes under the trees. Then, glancing down, I saw a face near my hand. The black bones reclined at full length with one shoulder against the tree, and slowly the eyelids rose and the sunken eyes looked up at me, enormous and vacant, a kind of blind, white flicker in the depths of the orbs, which died out slowly. The man seemed young—almost a boy—but you know with them it’s hard to tell. I found nothing else to do but to offer him one of my good Swede’s ship’s biscuits I had in my pocket. The fingers closed slowly on it and held—there was no other movement and no other glance. He had tied a bit of white worsted round his neck—Why? Where did he get it? Was it a badge—an ornament—a charm—a propitiatory act? Was there any idea at all connected with it? It looked startling round his black neck, this bit of white thread from beyond the seas. “They were dying slowly. They were not enemies or criminals. They weren’t even human anymore. They were shadows of disease and starvation lying in the gloomy green shade. They had been brought from across the coast through legal contract and against their will. They were put in unfamiliar surroundings and given strange food, and they got sick and died. They were as free as the air and just as thin. I saw someone’s eyes staring at me from the shadows, and I saw a face looking up at me from the ground. The eyes glowed for a second and started to go out. He seemed young, but it was hard to tell for sure. I gave him one of the biscuits from the Swede that I had in my pocket. He gripped it with his fingers and then stopped moving. He had a bit of white cloth tied around his neck. Why? Where did he get it? Was it a badge of some kind? A decoration? A charm? Did it have any purpose at all? It looked so strange around his black neck.