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(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XIV, published 1892)

Passage 227

“All very well,” said I. “That's your Hoyt, and a fine, tall copy. But what I want to know is, where is Trent's Hoyt?”

“Took it with him,” chuckled Nares. “He had left everything else, bills and money and all the rest; he was bound to take something, or it would have aroused attention on the Tempest. 'Happy thought,' says he, 'let's take Hoyt.'”

“And has it not occurred to you,” I went on, “that all the Hoyts in creation couldn't have misled Trent, since he had in his hand that red Admiralty book, an official publication, later in date, and particularly full on Midway Island?”

“That's a fact!” cried Nares; “and I bet the first Hoyt he ever saw was out of the mercantile library of San Francisco. Looks as if he had brought her here on purpose, don't it (annotation: her is the brig Flying Scud that run aground on Midway Island) ? But then that's inconsistent with the steam-crusher of the sale. That's the trouble with this brig racket; any one can make half a dozen theories for sixty or seventy per cent. of it; but when they're made, there's always a fathom or two of slack hanging out of the other end.”

I don't really understand what the speaker wants to express by ". . . there's always a fathom or two of slack hanging out of the other end". I understand it to mean there is much scope or latitude open to interpretation. What do you take this tangible and concrete but obviously figuratively meant wording to mean?

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    – tchrist
    Oct 29, 2023 at 20:56
  • I thought Stuart F had the right of it but still, in that context 'a fathom or two of slack' in that context means quite a bit of extra length trailing free at the end of a rope which could thrash about in all directions, clouding whatever the issue… so yes, much scope, etc. Oct 30, 2023 at 16:53

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Enjoyed the excerpt. The slack is the 30 to 40 % not accounted for by any theory. The more usual converse metaphor: the theory will not be a taut argument.

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