Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 4 At the Schooner's Rail

  • THAT night land was sighted after sundown, and the schooner hove to.
  • Montgomery intimated that was his destination. It was too far to see an_etails; it seemed to me then simply a low-lying patch of dim blue in th_ncertain blue-grey sea. An almost vertical streak of smoke went up from i_nto the sky. The captain was not on deck when it was sighted. After he ha_ented his wrath on me he had staggered below, and I understand he went t_leep on the floor of his own cabin. The mate practically assumed the command.
  • He was the gaunt, taciturn individual we had seen at the wheel. Apparently h_as in an evil temper with Montgomery. He took not the slightest notice o_ither of us. We dined with him in a sulky silence, after a few ineffectua_fforts on my part to talk. It struck me too that the men regarded m_ompanion and his animals in a singularly unfriendly manner. I foun_ontgomery very reticent about his purpose with these creatures, and about hi_estination; and though I was sensible of a growing curiosity as to both, _id not press him.
  • We remained talking on the quarter deck until the sky was thick with stars.
  • Except for an occasional sound in the yellow-lit forecastle and a movement o_he animals now and then, the night was very still. The puma lay crouche_ogether, watching us with shining eyes, a black heap in the corner of it_age. Montgomery produced some cigars. He talked to me of London in a tone o_alf-painful reminiscence, asking all kinds of questions about changes tha_ad taken place. He spoke like a man who had loved his life there, and ha_een suddenly and irrevocably cut off from it. I gossiped as well as I coul_f this and that. All the time the strangeness of him was shaping itself in m_ind; and as I talked I peered at his odd, pallid face in the dim light of th_innacle lantern behind me. Then I looked out at the darkling sea, where i_he dimness his little island was hidden.
  • This man, it seemed to me, had come out of Immensity merely to save my life.
  • To-morrow he would drop over the side, and vanish again out of my existence.
  • Even had it been under commonplace circumstances, it would have made me _rifle thoughtful; but in the first place was the singularity of an educate_an living on this unknown little island, and coupled with that th_xtraordinary nature of his luggage. I found myself repeating the captain'_uestion, What did he want with the beasts? Why, too, had he pretended the_ere not his when I had remarked about them at first? Then, again, in hi_ersonal attendant there was a bizarre quality which had impressed m_rofoundly. These circumstances threw a haze of mystery round the man. The_aid hold of my imagination, and hampered my tongue.
  • Towards midnight our talk of London died away, and we stood side by sid_eaning over the bulwarks and staring dreamily over the silent, starlit sea,
  • each pursuing his own thoughts. It was the atmosphere for sentiment, and _egan upon my gratitude.
  • "If I may say it," said I, after a time, "you have saved my life."
  • "Chance," he answered. "Just chance."
  • "I prefer to make my thanks to the accessible agent."
  • "Thank no one. You had the need, and I had the knowledge; and I injected an_ed you much as I might have collected a specimen. I was bored and wante_omething to do. If I'd been jaded that day, or hadn't liked your face,
  • well—it's a curious question where you would have been now!"
  • This damped my mood a little. "At any rate," I began.
  • "It's a chance, I tell you," he interrupted, "as everything is in a man'_ife. Only the asses won't see it! Why am I here now, an outcast fro_ivilisation, instead of being a happy man enjoying all the pleasures o_ondon? Simply because eleven years ago—I lost my head for ten minutes on _oggy night."
  • He stopped. "Yes?" said I.
  • "That's all."
  • We relapsed into silence. Presently he laughed. "There's something in thi_tarlight that loosens one's tongue. I'm an ass, and yet somehow I would lik_o tell you."
  • "Whatever you tell me, you may rely upon my keeping to myself—if that's it."
  • He was on the point of beginning, and then shook his head, doubtfully.
  • "Don't," said I. "It is all the same to me. After all, it is better to kee_our secret. There's nothing gained but a little relief if I respect you_onfidence. If I don't—well?"
  • He grunted undecidedly. I felt I had him at a disadvantage, had caught him i_he mood of indiscretion; and to tell the truth I was not curious to lear_hat might have driven a young medical student out of London. I have a_magination. I shrugged my shoulders and turned away. Over the taffrail lean_ silent black figure, watching the stars. It was Montgomery's strang_ttendant. It looked over its shoulder quickly with my movement, then looke_way again.
  • It may seem a little thing to you, perhaps, but it came like a sudden blow t_e. The only light near us was a lantern at the wheel. The creature's face wa_urned for one brief instant out of the dimness of the stern towards thi_llumination, and I saw that the eyes that glanced at me shone with a pale-
  • green light. I did not know then that a reddish luminosity, at least, is no_ncommon in human eyes. The thing came to me as stark inhumanity. That blac_igure with its eyes of fire struck down through all my adult thoughts an_eelings, and for a moment the forgotten horrors of childhood came back to m_ind. Then the effect passed as it had come. An uncouth black figure of a man,
  • a figure of no particular import, hung over the taffrail against th_tarlight, and I found Montgomery was speaking to me.
  • "I'm thinking of turning in, then," said he, "if you've had enough of this."
  • I answered him incongruously. We went below, and he wished me good-night a_he door of my cabin.
  • That night I had some very unpleasant dreams. The waning moon rose late. It_ight struck a ghostly white beam across my cabin, and made an ominous shap_n the planking by my bunk. Then the staghounds woke, and began howling an_aying; so that I dreamt fitfully, and scarcely slept until the approach o_awn.