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CHAPTER 38

An Enquiry into the

Nature and Place of Hell

roberto told himself how Ferrante, wandering from island to island and seeking more his pleasure than the correct course, refused to be instructed by the warnings evident in the signals the eunuch sent to Biscarat’s wound, and finally he lost all notion of where he was.

The ship meanwhile sailed on, the inadequate provisions spoiled, the water began to stink. To keep the crew in igno­rance, Ferrante decreed that each man go below only once a day to the hold and in the darkness take the minimum sup­plies required for survival, and no one was to look around there.

Lilia realized nothing, for she bore every torment with se­renity and seemed to thrive on a drop of water and a crumb of biscuit, anxious for her beloved to succeed in his enterprise. As for Ferrante, insensitive to that love except for the pleasure he drew from it, he went on inciting his mariners, flashing images of wealth before the eyes of their greed. And so a blind man blinded by rancor led other blind men blinded by avidity, holding prisoner in his fetters a blind beauty.

Still, many of the crew, in their great thirst, felt their gums begin to swell and cover their teeth; their legs became spotted with abscesses, and their pestilential secretion rose even to their vital parts.

So it was that, sailing below the twenty-fifth degree of latitude south, Ferrante had to face a mutiny. He quelled it, relying on a group of five corsairs, the most faithful (Andra-pod, Boride, Ordogne, Safar, and Asprando), and the mutineers were set adrift in the sloop with a few victuals. But in so doing, the Tweede Daphne had deprived itself of a means of rescue. What does that matter, Ferrante said, soon we will be in the place to which we are lured by our cursed hunger for gold. But the men remaining were too few to sail the ship.

Nor did they wish to; having lent a hand to their chief, they now considered themselves his equals. One of the five had spied on that mysterious young gentleman who came up on deck so rarely, and discovered he was a woman. Then those cut-throats confronted Ferrante, demanding the passenger. Ferrante, Adonis of aspect but Vulcan at heart, set more store by Pluto than by Venus, and it was fortunate Lilia did not hear him when in a murmur he assured the mutinous five that he would reach an agreement with them.

Roberto could not permit Ferrante to carry out this final villainy. He then chose to have Neptune become enraged that mortals had traversed his domain without fear of his wrath. Or else, rather than put the story in such pagan as well as fanciful terms, he imagined it was impossible (if a Romance must also convey a moral lesson) that Heaven would not pun­ish that vessel of perfidies. And he rejoiced imagining that the Austral Winds, with Boreas and Eurus, staunch enemies of the calm of the sea—even if till now they had left to the placid Zephyrs the responsibility of following the path along which the Tweede Daphne continued her voyage—were beginning to show signs of impatience in the confinement of their subter­ranean chambers.

He made them burst forth all at once. The groan of the timbers covered the ground bass of the sailors’ lamentations, the sea vomited upon them and they vomited into the sea, and sometimes a wave so enfolded them that from the shore one might have mistaken that deck for a coffin of ice, around which the thunderbolts flared like wax tapers.

At first the storm set clouds against clouds, waters against waters, winds against winds. But soon the sea abandoned its prescribed limits and grew, swelling, towards the sky, and rain came pouring down, the water mixed with the air, the birds learning to swim and the fish to fly. It was no longer a struggle of Nature against the seamen but a battle of the elements among themselves. Not one atom of air swirled but that it was not transformed into a pellet of hail, and Neptune rose to extinguish the fire in Jove’s hands, to rob him of the pleasure of burning those humans whom Neptune wanted instead to drown. The sea dug a grave in its own bosom to rob the earth of them and Neptune, seeing the vessel heading uncontrolled towards a rock, with a sudden slap sent it off in another direction.

The ship was immersed, stern and prow, and every time it dipped, it seemed to fly from the top of a tower; the poop sank until the gallery was swamped, and at the prow the waves were bent on engulfing the bowsprit.

Andrapod, who was trying to secure a sail, was torn from the yardarm and, plunging into the sea, struck Boride as he was pulling a hawser, and broke his neck.

The hull refused to obey Ordogne the helmsman, while another gust abruptly tore away the mizzen topsail. Safar tried hard to furl the sails, urged on by Ferrante’s curses, but he could not finish lashing the crow’s nest before the ship swung around and its flank received three waves of such dimensions that Safar was washed overboard. The mainmast shattered and plunged into the sea, not without having first devastated the deck and crushed Asprando’s skull. And finally the tiller broke to pieces as with a wild blow it took the life of Ordogne. Now this wooden relic was without a crew, and the last rats poured overboard, falling into the water they wanted to escape.

It seems impossible that Ferrante, in such a witches’ Sab­bath, should think of Lilia, for we would expect him to be concerned only with his own safety. I cannot say whether Roberto considered he was violating the laws of verisimilitude, but to make sure that she to whom he had given his heart did not perish, he had to grant a heart also to Ferrante—if only for an instant.

So Ferrante drags Lilia up on deck, and what does he do? Experience has taught Roberto to have Ferrante bind her fast to a plank, allowing her to slip into the sea, trusting that not even the wild beasts of the Deep will deny mercy to such beauty.

After which, Ferrante seizes another piece of wood, pre­paring to tie it to himself. But at that moment, onto the deck, freed in some unknown fashion from his torment by the up­heaval of the hold, his hands still chained together, more like a corpse than a living man but with eyes alive with hate— steps Biscarat.

Biscarat, who throughout the voyage has remained, like the dog on the Amaryllis, suffering in bonds as every day they reopen that wound which is then briefly treated—Biscarat, who has passed these months with a single thought: to avenge himself upon Ferrante.






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