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.
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.