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Chapter 6 The Evil-Looking Boatmen

  • BUT the islanders, seeing that I was really adrift, took pity on me. I drifte_ery slowly to the eastward, approaching the island slantingly; and presentl_ saw, with hysterical relief, the launch come round and return towards me.
  • She was heavily laden, and I could make out as she drew nearer Montgomery'_hite-haired, broad-shouldered companion sitting cramped up with the dogs an_everal packing-cases in the stern sheets. This individual stared fixedly a_e without moving or speaking. The black-faced cripple was glaring at me a_ixedly in the bows near the puma. There were three other men besides,—thre_trange brutish-looking fellows, at whom the staghounds were snarlin_avagely. Montgomery, who was steering, brought the boat by me, and rising,
  • caught and fastened my painter to the tiller to tow me, for there was no roo_board.
  • I had recovered from my hysterical phase by this time and answered his hail,
  • as he approached, bravely enough. I told him the dingey was nearly swamped,
  • and he reached me a piggin. I was jerked back as the rope tightened betwee_he boats. For some time I was busy baling.
  • It was not until I had got the water under (for the water in the dingey ha_een shipped; the boat was perfectly sound) that I had leisure to look at th_eople in the launch again.
  • The white-haired man I found was still regarding me steadfastly, but with a_xpression, as I now fancied, of some perplexity. When my eyes met his, h_ooked down at the staghound that sat between his knees. He was a powerfully-
  • built man, as I have said, with a fine forehead and rather heavy features; bu_is eyes had that odd drooping of the skin above the lids which often come_ith advancing years, and the fall of his heavy mouth at the corners gave hi_n expression of pugnacious resolution. He talked to Montgomery in a tone to_ow for me to hear.
  • From him my eyes travelled to his three men; and a strange crew they were. _aw only their faces, yet there was something in their faces—I knew no_hat—that gave me a queer spasm of disgust. I looked steadily at them, and th_mpression did not pass, though I failed to see what had occasioned it. The_eemed to me then to be brown men; but their limbs were oddly swathed in som_hin, dirty, white stuff down even to the fingers and feet: I have never see_en so wrapped up before, and women so only in the East. They wore turban_oo, and thereunder peered out their elfin faces at me,—faces with protrudin_ower-jaws and bright eyes. They had lank black hair, almost like horsehair,
  • and seemed as they sat to exceed in stature any race of men I have seen. Th_hite-haired man, who I knew was a good six feet in height, sat a head belo_ny one of the three. I found afterwards that really none were taller tha_yself; but their bodies were abnormally long, and the thigh-part of the le_hort and curiously twisted. At any rate, they were an amazingly ugly gang,
  • and over the heads of them under the forward lug peered the black face of th_an whose eyes were luminous in the dark. As I stared at them, they met m_aze; and then first one and then another turned away from my direct stare,
  • and looked at me in an odd, furtive manner. It occurred to me that I wa_erhaps annoying them, and I turned my attention to the island we wer_pproaching.
  • It was low, and covered with thick vegetation,—chiefly a kind of palm, tha_as new to me. From one point a thin white thread of vapour rose slantingly t_n immense height, and then frayed out like a down feather. We were now withi_he embrace of a broad bay flanked on either hand by a low promontory. Th_each was of dull-grey sand, and sloped steeply up to a ridge, perhaps sixt_r seventy feet above the sea-level, and irregularly set with trees an_ndergrowth. Half way up was a square enclosure of some greyish stone, which _ound subsequently was built partly of coral and partly of pumiceous lava. Tw_hatched roofs peeped from within this enclosure. A man stood awaiting us a_he water's edge. I fancied while we were still far off that I saw some othe_nd very grotesque-looking creatures scuttle into the bushes upon the slope;
  • but I saw nothing of these as we drew nearer. This man was of a moderate size,
  • and with a black negroid face. He had a large, almost lipless, mouth,
  • extraordinary lank arms, long thin feet, and bow-legs, and stood with hi_eavy face thrust forward staring at us. He was dressed like Montgomery an_is white-haired companion, in jacket and trousers of blue serge. As we cam_till nearer, this individual began to run to and fro on the beach, making th_ost grotesque movements.
  • At a word of command from Montgomery, the four men in the launch sprang up,
  • and with singularly awkward gestures struck the lugs. Montgomery steered u_ound and into a narrow little dock excavated in the beach. Then the man o_he beach hastened towards us. This dock, as I call it, was really a mer_itch just long enough at this phase of the tide to take the longboat. I hear_he bows ground in the sand, staved the dingey off the rudder of the big boa_ith my piggin, and freeing the painter, landed. The three muffled men, wit_he clumsiest movements, scrambled out upon the sand, and forthwith set t_anding the cargo, assisted by the man on the beach. I was struck especiall_y the curious movements of the legs of the three swathed and bandage_oatmen,—not stiff they were, but distorted in some odd way, almost as if the_ere jointed in the wrong place. The dogs were still snarling, and strained a_heir chains after these men, as the white-haired man landed with them. Th_hree big fellows spoke to one another in odd guttural tones, and the man wh_ad waited for us on the beach began chattering to them excitedly—a foreig_anguage, as I fancied—as they laid hands on some bales piled near the stern.
  • Somewhere I had heard such a voice before, and I could not think where. Th_hite-haired man stood, holding in a tumult of six dogs, and bawling order_ver their din. Montgomery, having unshipped the rudder, landed likewise, an_ll set to work at unloading. I was too faint, what with my long fast and th_un beating down on my bare head, to offer any assistance.
  • Presently the white-haired man seemed to recollect my presence, and came up t_e.
  • "You look," said he, "as though you had scarcely breakfasted." His little eye_ere a brilliant black under his heavy brows. "I must apologise for that. No_ou are our guest, we must make you comfortable,—though you are uninvited, yo_now." He looked keenly into my face. "Montgomery says you are an educate_an, Mr. Prendick; says you know something of science. May I ask what tha_ignifies?"
  • I told him I had spent some years at the Royal College of Science, and ha_one some researches in biology under Huxley. He raised his eyebrows slightl_t that.
  • "That alters the case a little, Mr. Prendick," he said, with a trifle mor_espect in his manner. "As it happens, we are biologists here. This is _iological station—of a sort." His eye rested on the men in white who wer_usily hauling the puma, on rollers, towards the walled yard. "I an_ontgomery, at least," he added. Then, "When you will be able to get away, _an't say. We're off the track to anywhere. We see a ship once in a twelve-
  • month or so."
  • He left me abruptly, and went up the beach past this group, and I thin_ntered the enclosure. The other two men were with Montgomery, erecting a pil_f smaller packages on a low-wheeled truck. The llama was still on the launc_ith the rabbit hutches; the staghounds were still lashed to the thwarts. Th_ile of things completed, all three men laid hold of the truck and bega_hoving the ton-weight or so upon it after the puma. Presently Montgomery lef_hem, and coming back to me held out his hand.
  • "I'm glad," said he, "for my own part. That captain was a silly ass. He'd hav_ade things lively for you."
  • "It was you," said I, "that saved me again".
  • "That depends. You'll find this island an infernally rum place, I promise you.
  • I'd watch my goings carefully, if I were you. He—" He hesitated, and seemed t_lter his mind about what was on his lips. "I wish you'd help me with thes_abbits," he said.
  • His procedure with the rabbits was singular. I waded in with him, and helpe_im lug one of the hutches ashore. No sooner was that done than he opened th_oor of it, and tilting the thing on one end turned its living contents out o_he ground. They fell in a struggling heap one on the top of the other. H_lapped his hands, and forthwith they went off with that hopping run o_heirs, fifteen or twenty of them I should think, up the beach.
  • "Increase and multiply, my friends," said Montgomery. "Replenish the island.
  • Hitherto we've had a certain lack of meat here."
  • As I watched them disappearing, the white-haired man returned with a brandy-
  • flask and some biscuits. "Something to go on with, Prendick," said he, in _ar more familiar tone than before. I made no ado, but set to work on th_iscuits at once, while the white-haired man helped Montgomery to releas_bout a score more of the rabbits. Three big hutches, however, went up to th_ouse with the puma. The brandy I did not touch, for I have been an abstaine_rom my birth.