Chapter 23 Summary

The Coast Guard cutter tows Freddy’s boat, the Queen Conch, through the reef and Keys. The Conch is carrying the wounded Harry Morgan and the four dead Cubans. The captain notes how easily the boat tows, despite the rolling of the waves in the light breeze. He asks his mate if he could make out anything that Morgan was saying, but the mate says that Morgan must be crazy because he is not making any sense. The captain assumes that Morgan will die because the stomach wound Morgan received is usually fatal. He wonders if it was Morgan who killed the four Cubans. The mate had asked Morgan that question but could not get an intelligible answer. The captain and mate decide to go have another talk with Morgan, who is lying in the captain’s cabin on the bunk. His eyes are closed, but they open as soon as the Coast Guard captain touches him on the shoulder.

Harry does not respond to the captain’s inquiry as to how he is feeling, nor to an offer to get him something to make him feel better. The captain moistens Morgan’s lips with a wet towel. Finally, Morgan speaks, saying, “A man.” The captain encourages him to continue talking. Morgan rambles something about a man not having any way out. The mate asks him who killed the Cubans, but Morgan has no reply. Soon he begins mumbling that life is like trying to pass cars at the top of a hill. He speaks of a man alone not having anything or any chance. Not much of what he says is understandable by the captain and the mate. Morgan lies there silently with his eyes wide open, completely spent by the effort to get even so unintelligible an answer out.

The captain and the mate leave, and Morgan watches them go. In the wheelhouse, watching the darkness of night come, the mate says that it gives you the “willies” listening to someone out of his mind like that. The captain expresses pity, stating that they will be docking soon after midnight, provided they do not have to slow down as they tow the boat through the channel. The mate asks the captain if he thinks that Morgan will live. The captain does not believe he will, but one never can tell.