THE cabin in which I found myself was small and rather untidy. A youngish ma_ith flaxen hair, a bristly straw-coloured moustache, and a dropping nethe_ip, was sitting and holding my wrist. For a minute we stared at each othe_ithout speaking. He had watery grey eyes, oddly void of expression. Then jus_verhead came a sound like an iron bedstead being knocked about, and the lo_ngry growling of some large animal. At the same time the man spoke. H_epeated his question,—"How do you feel now?"
I think I said I felt all right. I could not recollect how I had got there. H_ust have seen the question in my face, for my voice was inaccessible to me.
"You were picked up in a boat, starving. The name on the boat was the 'Lad_ain,' and there were spots of blood on the gunwale."
At the same time my eye caught my hand, so thin that it looked like a dirt_kin-purse full of loose bones, and all the business of the boat came back t_e.
"Have some of this," said he, and gave me a dose of some scarlet stuff, iced.
It tasted like blood, and made me feel stronger.
"You were in luck," said he, "to get picked up by a ship with a medical ma_board." He spoke with a slobbering articulation, with the ghost of a lisp.
"What ship is this?" I said slowly, hoarse from my long silence.
"It's a little trader from Arica and Callao. I never asked where she came fro_n the beginning,—out of the land of born fools, I guess. I'm a passenge_yself, from Arica. The silly ass who owns her,—he's captain too, name_avies,—he's lost his certificate, or something. You know the kind o_an,—calls the thing the 'Ipecacuanha,' of all silly, infernal names; thoug_hen there's much of a sea without any wind, she certainly acts according."
(Then the noise overhead began again, a snarling growl and the voice of _uman being together. Then another voice, telling some "Heaven-forsaken idiot"
"You were nearly dead," said my interlocutor. "It was a very near thing,
indeed. But I've put some stuff into you now. Notice your arm's sore?
Injections. You've been insensible for nearly thirty hours."
I thought slowly. (I was distracted now by the yelping of a number of dogs.)
"Am I eligible for solid food?" I asked.
"Thanks to me," he said. "Even now the mutton is boiling."
"Yes," I said with assurance; "I could eat some mutton."
"But," said he with a momentary hesitation, "you know I'm dying to hear of ho_ou came to be alone in that boat. Damn that howling!" I thought I detected _ertain suspicion in his eyes.
He suddenly left the cabin, and I heard him in violent controversy with som_ne, who seemed to me to talk gibberish in response to him. The matter sounde_s though it ended in blows, but in that I thought my ears were mistaken. The_e shouted at the dogs, and returned to the cabin.
"Well?" said he in the doorway. "You were just beginning to tell me."
I told him my name, Edward Prendick, and how I had taken to Natural History a_ relief from the dullness of my comfortable independence.
He seemed interested in this. "I've done some science myself. I did my Biolog_t University College,—getting out the ovary of the earthworm and the radul_f the snail, and all that. Lord! It's ten years ago. But go on! go on! tel_e about the boat."
He was evidently satisfied with the frankness of my story, which I told i_oncise sentences enough, for I felt horribly weak; and when it was finishe_e reverted at once to the topic of Natural History and his own biologica_tudies. He began to question me closely about Tottenham Court Road and Gowe_treet. "Is Caplatzi still flourishing? What a shop that was!" He ha_vidently been a very ordinary medical student, and drifted incontinently t_he topic of the music halls. He told me some anecdotes.
"Left it all," he said, "ten years ago. How jolly it all used to be! But _ade a young ass of myself,—played myself out before I was twenty-one. _aresay it's all different now. But I must look up that ass of a cook, and se_hat he's done to your mutton."
The growling overhead was renewed, so suddenly and with so much savage ange_hat it startled me. "What's that?" I called after him, but the door ha_losed. He came back again with the boiled mutton, and I was so excited by th_ppetising smell of it that I forgot the noise of the beast that had trouble_e.
After a day of alternate sleep and feeding I was so far recovered as to b_ble to get from my bunk to the scuttle, and see the green seas trying to kee_ace with us. I judged the schooner was running before the wind.
Montgomery—that was the name of the flaxen-haired man—came in again as I stoo_here, and I asked him for some clothes. He lent me some duck things of hi_wn, for those I had worn in the boat had been thrown overboard. They wer_ather loose for me, for he was large and long in his limbs. He told m_asually that the captain was three-parts drunk in his own cabin. As I assume_he clothes, I began asking him some questions about the destination of th_hip. He said the ship was bound to Hawaii, but that it had to land him first.
"Where?" said I.
"It's an island, where I live. So far as I know, it hasn't got a name."
He stared at me with his nether lip dropping, and looked so wilfully stupid o_ sudden that it came into my head that he desired to avoid my questions. _ad the discretion to ask no more.