CHAPTER 3It was in a semi-conscious state that I struck the water head foremost, and it was by instinct, I suppose, that I immediately started to swim away from the side of the vessel.
Although I was a powerful swimmer it seemed as if I should never reach the surface again. The sudden and unexpected plunge had caused me to go into the sea with my mouth open and thereby swallow a large quantity of salt water. When almost on the verge of strangulation, however, by a supreme effort I finally managed to reach the air again, more dead than alive. It was then some time before I regained my breath and fully understood what had happened. I assure the reader that it was not a very pleasant sensation to find myself out in the middle of the ocean without even the support of a life preserver and the ship sailing away in the distance. During my adventurous career I had faced death a score of times without the slightest emotion or semblance of fright, but as I floated about on that broad expanse of water alone I then realized for the first time in my life what a tiny, helpless microbe I really was.
Oh, you little mortal known as man; you microscopical mixture of protoplasm and egotism; you atomical speck of ignorance and avarice; you who believe that the earth, moon, stars and all creation was manufactured for your special benefit; if you could only be shown your actual size in the universe as I was on that occasion, I think it would result in the eradication of some of your innate vanity and selfishness, thereby proving an incalculable blessing to you.
So now, I was placed in a position whereby I could feel and reflect upon my own littleness. I had absolutely no hope of being saved from a watery grave, feeling that it was only a matter of an hour or two before I should succumb to the inevitable and sink to the bottom of the sea. Still I was unwilling to give up the few bones entrusted to my care until finally overcome by exhaustion and so I kept afloat by lying on my back and exerting myself as little as possible.
At length, however, my strength gave way entirely and I felt that the time had arrived when I must come face to face with the God whom I had been taught to believe in from infancy according to the Christian faith. Then it seemed that a million thoughts crowded themselves into my brain at the same time.
How would He receive me? What dire judgment would He pass upon me? Had I ever done anything to merit His pleasure? I could not recollect one good deed I had ever accomplished of sufficient importance to call to His attention, but on the contrary I recalled a thousand bad acts I should not have committed. I had spent a roving, aimless existence in which I had done practically nothing to increase the production or knowledge of the world, I had lived for myself alonea life of mere pleasure seeking, without ever a thought of others rights or happiness. I remembered that during a hunting expedition in Africa how I had once shot and killed seventeen spring-bok in one day, and how I had swelled up with conceit to know that I had destroyed the lives of that many living things. True, they were not human beings, but were they not creatures of nature as well as myself? What right had I to take the life of any living thing at all, let alone for mere pleasure? What excuse could I now offer if tried for that cowardly offence? Would I ask Gods forgiveness? If so, would it be any better to ask Him to forgive me just before I died or immediately afterward? What difference would it make? Then again I wondered if God would have any more respect for me if after committing the deed I whined and begged for mercy. Would He not consider that cowardly on my part? Would He not think better of me if I went forward bravely and said: Here I am, O God, I know I have done wrong, now punish me as Thou seest fit.
What would I do if I were to occupy the Creators position as supreme judge in a case of that kind? Would I not think far more of the man who would come forward courageously and take the punishment he deserved than the creeping, cringing and whining being who begged for mercy? Would God the Creator be more unreasonable about the matter than I, whom He had created?
I had always thanked God as well as my parents for the extraordinary physical strength and courage with which I was endowed, and during my life of trials and hardships that courage had never been shaken by man or beast, but now I felt that the crucial test was about to be applied. Would the courage the Almighty gave me weaken when about to face Him who had bestowed it upon me?
With these and similar thoughts passing through my mind and my strength exhausted, I took one long breath and sank beneath the water.
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