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William Faulkner, :"Old Man" from If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, Vintage International, Vintage Books. P. 133

 

Sometime about midnight, accompanied by a rolling cannonade of thunder and lightning like a battery going into action, as though some forty hours’ constipation of the elements, the firmament itself, were discharging in clapping and glaring salute to the ultimate acquiescence to desperate and furious motion, and still leading its charging welter of dead cows and mules and outhouse and cabins and hencoops, the skiff passed Vicksburg. The convict didn’t know it. He wasn’t looking high enough above the water, who still squatted, clutching the gunwales and glaring at the yellow turmoil about him out of which entire trees, the sharp gable of house, the long mournful heads of mules which he fended off with a splintered length of plank snatched from he knew not where in passing (and which seemed to glare reproachfully back at him with sightless eyes, in limber-lipped and incredulous amazement) rolled up and then down again, the skiff now travelling forward now sideways now sternward, sometimes in the water, sometimes riding for yards upon the roof of houses and trees and even upon the back of the mules as though even in death they were not to escape that burden-bearing doom with which their eunuch race was cursed. But he didn’t see Vicksburg; the skiff, travelling at express speed, was in a seething gut between soaring and dizzy banks with a glare of light above them but he did not see it, he saw the flotsam ahead of him divide violently and begin to climb upon itself, mounting, and he was sucked through the resulting gap too fast to recognise it as the trestling of a railroad bridge; for a horrible moment the skiff seemed to hang in static indecision before the looming flank of a steamboat as though undecided whether to climb over it or dive under it, then a hard icy wind filled with the smell and taste and sense of wet and boundless desolation blew upon him; the skiff made one long bounding lunge as the convicts' native state, in a final paroxysm, regurgitated him onto the wild bosom of the Father of Waters.


 


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