[SCENE--A steamer's life raft rising and falling slowly on the long ground swell of a glassy tropic sea. The sky above is pitilessly clear, of a steel-blue color merging into black shadow on the horizon's rim. The sun glares down from straight overhead like a great angry eye of God. The heat is terrific. Writhing, fantastic heat waves rise from the white deck of the raft. Here and there on the still surface of the sea the fins of sharks may be seen slowly cutting the surface of the water in lazy circles.
Two men and a woman are on the raft. Seated on one end is a West Indian mulatto dressed in the blue uniform of a sailor. Across his jersey may be seen the words "Union Mail Line" in red letters. He has on rough sailor shoes. His head is bare. When he speaks it is in drawling sing-song tones as if he were troubled by some strange impediment of speech. He croons a monotonous Negro song to himself as his round eyes follow the shark fins in their everlasting circles.
At the other end of the raft sits a middle-aged white man in what was once evening dress; but sun and salt water have reduced it to the mere caricature of such a garment. His white shirt is stained and rumpled; his collar a formless pupl about his neck; his black tie a withered ribbon. Evidently he had been a first-class passenger. Just now he cuts a sorry and pitiful figure as he sits staring stupidly at the water with unseeing eyes. His scanty black hair is disheveled, revealing a bald spot burnt crimson by the sun. A moustache droops over his lips, and some of the dye has run off it making a black line down the side of his lean face, blistered with sunburn, haggard with hunger and thirst. From time to time he licks his swollen lips with his blackened tongue.
Between the two men a young woman lies with arms outstretched, face downward on the raft. She is an even more bizarre figure than the man in the evening clothes, for she is dressed in a complete short-skirted dancer's costume of black velvet covered with spangles. Her long blond hair streams down over her bare, unprotected shoulders. Her silk stockings are baggy and wrinkled and her dancing shoes swollen and misshapen. When she lifts her head a diamond necklace can be seen glittering coldly on the protruding collarbones of her emaciated shoulders. Continuous weeping has made a blurred smudge of her rouge and the black make-up of her eyes but one can still see that she must have been very beautiful before hunger and thirst had transformed her into a mocking specter of a dancer. She is sobbing endlessly, hopelessly.
In the eyes of all three the light of a dawning madness is shining.]
DANCER: [Raising herself to a sitting posture and turning piteously to the GENTLEMAN] My God! My God! This silence is driving me mad! Why do you not speak to me? Is there no ship in sight yet?
GENTLEMAN: [Dully] No. I do not think so. At least I cannot see any. [He tries to rise to his feet but finds himself too weak and sits down again with a groan] If I could only stand up I could tell better. I cannot see far from this position. I am so near the water. And then my eyes are like two balls of fire. They burn and burn until they feel as if they were boring into my brain.
DANCER: I know! I know! Everywhere I look I see great crimson spots. It is as if the sky were raining drops of blood. Do you see them too?
GENTLEMAN: Yesterday I did -- or some day -- I no longer remember days. But today everything is red. The very sea itself seems changed to blood. [He licks his swollen, cracked lips -- then laughs -- the shrill cackle of madness] Perhaps it is the blood of all those who were drowned that night rising to the surface.
DANCER: Do not say such things. You are horrible. I do not care to listen to you. [She turns away from him with a shudder.]
GENTLEMAN: [Sulkily] Very well. I will not speak. [He covers his face with his hands.] God! God! How my eyes ache! How my throat burns! [He sobs heavily -- there is a pause -- suddenly he turns to the DANCER angrily.] Why did you ask me to speak if you do not care to listen to me?
DANCER: I did not ask you to speak of blood. I did not ask you to mention that night.
GENTLEMAN: Well, I will say no more then. You may talk to him if you wish.
[He points to the SAILOR with a sneer. The Negro does not hear. He is crooning to himself and watching the sharks. There is a long pause. The raft slowly rises and falls on the long swells. The sun blazes down.]
DANCER: [Almost shrieking] Oh, this silence! I cannot bear this silence. Talk to me about anything you please, but, for God's sake, talk to me! I must not think! I must not think!
GENTLEMAN: [Remorsefully] Your pardon, dear lady! I am afraid I spoke harshly. I am not myself. I think I am a little out of my head. There is so much sun and so much sea. Everything gets vague at times. I am very weak. We have not eaten in so long -- we have not even had a drink of water in so long. [Then in tones of great anguish.] Oh, if we only had some water!
DANCER: [Flinging herself on the raft and beating it with clenched fists.] Please do not speak of water!
SAILOR: [Stopping his song abruptly and turning quickly around] Water? Who's got water?
[His swollen tongue shows between his dry lips.]
GENTLEMAN: [Turning to the SAILOR] You know no one here has any water. You stole the last drop we had yourself. [Irritably.] Why do you ask such questions?
[The SAILOR turns his back again and watches the shark fins. He does not answer nor does he sing any longer. There is a silence, profound and breathless.]
DANCER: [Creeping over to the GENTLEMAN and seizing his arm] Do you notice how deep the silence is? The world seems emptier than ever. I am afraid. Tell me why it is.
GENTLEMAN: I, too, notice it. But I do not know why it is.
DANCER: Ah! I know now. He is silent. Do you not remember he was singing? A queer monotonous song it was -- more of a dirge than a song. I have heard many songs in many languages in the places I have played, but never a song like that before. Why did he stop, do you think? Maybe something frightened him.
GENTLEMAN: I do not know. But I will ask him. [To the SAILOR.] Why have you stopped singing?
[The SAILOR looks at him with a strange expression in his eyes. He does not answer but turns to the circling fins again and takes up his song, dully, droningly, as if from some place he had left off. The DANCER and the GENTLEMAN listen in attitudes of strained attention for a long time.]
DANCER: [Laughing hysterically] What a song! There is no tune to it and I can understand no words. I wonder what it means.
GENTLEMAN: Who knows? It is doubtless some folk song of his people which he is singing.
DANCER: But I wish to find out. Sailor! Will you tell me what it means--that song you are singing?
[The Negro stares at her uneasily for a moment.]
SAILOR: [Drawlingly] It is a song of my people.
DANCER: Yes. But what do the words mean?
SAILOR: [Pointing to the shark fins] I am singing to them. It is a charm. I have been told it is very strong. If I sing long enough they will not eat us.
DANCER: [Terrified] Eat us? What will eat us?
GENTLEMAN: [Pointing to the moving fins in the still water] He means the sharks. Those pointed black things you see moving through the water are their fins. Have you noticed them before?
DANCER: Yes, yes. I have seen them. But I did not know they were sharks. [Sobbing.] Oh, it is horrible, all this!