|Alec Guinness (1914 - 2000)|
It is not widely known that Guinness wrote short stories nor that he was notoriously superstitious. The following is an excerpt from the story which is believed to be autobiographical.
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This was the situation. The enemy, thirty miles up the coast, also held all the opposite shore except the island of K. During the week ending 28th December they had attacked and overrun the three large islands that are grouped round K. It was apparent they would land on K. at any moment. They had complete air superiority in that part of the world, and no Allied craft could sail in those waters except under cover of darkness. The idea was that the ninety-foot schooner, of which I was the captain, should run fifty tons of ammunition to the resistance group on K., and take off as many women and children as possible. K., being the last link on the opposite coast, must be saved at best, or turned into a battlefield at worst. Losing it was out of the question. It meant a trip of two hundred and twenty miles for us, there and back. The plans were hurried, but reasonably good and simple. We were to arrive at midnight and leave not later than 2 A.M. That would give us six hours of darkness at ten knots to get away from enemy reconnaissance planes. Everything had to be done in the dark, and if, by some misfortune, such as breakdown or encountering an enemy vessel off the island, it would be imprudent for us to get away at the prescribed time, we were to find a small creek, run the schooner alongside rooks, disguise her with branches an camouflage netting and try our luck the following night. That is if we weren't spotted during the day. When loaded with the 'ammo' the Peter - for that was her name - sat down squarely in the water.
'You know what to look for, don't you?' said the very little naval officer who brought me my sailing orders. 'There's no moon, but it is a clear night you should see the mountains of B. fine on your port bow by 22:00. Z. island is very low, but as you can see on the chart, there's plenty of water round it. Keep as close inshore as possible in case of mines. When you come into the bay keep the guns closed up and slow down. And for God's sake tell the crew to keep their mouths shut. Silence is vital. When the chaps on K. spot you they will light a bonfire for ten minutes. If they light two bonfires or no bonfires, buzz off - it means we are too late. If it's all O.K. and they are ready for you, they will swing a red lantern at the end of the jetty. There's a Major Backside there, a drunken old so-and-so, but he knows his onions. He'll give you the latest dope which, incidentally, we'd like in the office when you get back. So long! It's money for jam.'
'One moment,' I said. 'What other craft are out tonight?'
'Well, there's the usual patrol, but they won't touch you.Anything you see will be enemy. Except for twelve schooners, including Mother of God, Topaz and Helena, which are leaving here a few hours after you and working their way up the coast. Secret Job. But you won't see the on the outward passage. Possibly coming back, though.
He went as briskly as he came, leaving my first lieutenant muttering 'Money for jam!' Jimmy had an instinctive and often unreasonable, dislike of the people who issued orders from offices. But really it wasn't a bad-looking little job, so long as the weather lasted. Never cared for the Peter when the sea got up. Always considered her top heavy.
So we sailed at noon on this cloudless day, hardly apprehensive, Pleased to think we were on a mission of some small importance, but grumbling that it was going to mean New Year's Eve at sea. This annoyed the Scots lads in particular, but Tuffey said 'Think of the WOMEN we will be bringing back'; and the coxswain said, 'Got a tin of turkey and two of ham. Big eats!' Able Seaman Broadstairs went down to the mess-deck, stripped, and vigorously applied hair-oil to his chest. 'You'll never get it to grow by to-morrow night, son,' grunted Stoker White, the oldest member of the crew. Broadstairs had a fine figure, and was a decent living kid, but he had no hair on his chest, which distressed him deeply. Whenever women were mentioned out came the violently-smelling hair-oil. Now he put it away and took to cleaning his silver signet rings with metal polish. He wore five of them and had a ring tattooed on the little finger of his left hand.
'Money for jam' said Jimmy. 'I could kick the tight little arse of that office boy!'
We sailed up the coast for ten miles, then pushed out to sea. I came off watch at tea-time and Jimmy took over. The crew consisted of the two of us and fourteen ratings, and we worked it watch and watch about, which is easy going on these short trips. Off watch in the daytime I usually sat in the cabin reading. Thinking to myself, I'm bound to be up all night, I turned in to get some early sleep after tea. The sun had grown dim, the bright blue sky was overcast with pale grey, and the sea was oily looking, shot with patches of dark satin-like water. No stars, tonight, I thought, I thought, and turned away from the scuttle and the light. A minute later Broadstairs entered the cabin to 'darken ship.' Very easily and swiftly I fell asleep. No dreams that I can remember. I slept for nearly two hours. When I woke it was with the strangest notion I have ever had in my life.
I am not a deeply religious man, and before the war was avowedly irreligious. I did not have convictions that could be called atheistic, but they were certainly agnostic. The war brought me back to an acceptance of the doctrines of the Church of England. I suppose I believe in ghosts. Certainly in good and evil spirits. But all that speculation always seemed unimportant - chit-chat for a winter's evening at home, by a log fire, in the good old days of indifference. All thoughts of religious subjects, angelology, demons and what not were far from my mind that evening. I had no worries, other than the navigational one of successfully finding the island K.; and there was no obvious difficulty about that; I only call it 'worry,' because i have never sailed anywhere without wondering whether I would find the place. It is difficult to describe what happened to me at six o'clock that evening, yet I must attempt it, for on it hangs the whole significance of this experience from a personal point of view. It was as if ---. It is impossible to state it simply enough and sound credible. It was as if ---. I woke up with a start, the sweat pouring off me. I trembled. The cabin was filled with an evil presence and it was concentrated twelve or eighteen inches from my left ear. Fully awake, I heard with my ear, so it seemed to me, the word 'TOMORROW.' ...
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[And what happened 'TOMORROW' is almost out of this world.]