The boat touched the landing, place and Captain Len Guy stepped on shore.
In a few seconds I was out of the inn, and confronted him.
“Sir,” said I in a cold hard tone.
Captain Len Guy looked at me steadily, and I was struck by the sadness of his eyes, which were as black as ink. Then in a very low voice he asked:
“You are a stranger?”
“A stranger at the Kerguelens ? Yes.”
“Of English nationality ?”
He saluted me, and I returned the curt gesture.
“Sir,” I resumed, “I believe Mr. Atkins of the Green Cormorant has spoken to you respecting a proposal of mine. That proposal, it seems to me, deserved a favourable reception on the part of a—”
“The proposal to take passage on my ship ?” interposed Captain Len Guy.
“I regret, sir, I regret that I could not agree to your request.”
“Will you tell me why ?”
“Because I am not in the habit of taking passengers. That is the first reason.”
“And the second, captain ?”
“Because the route of the Halbrane is never settled beforehand. She starts for one port and goes to another, just as I find it to my advantage. You must know that I am not in the service of a shipowner. My share in the schooner is considerable, and I have no one but myself to consult in respect to her.”
“Then it entirely depends on you to give me a passage?”
“That is so, but I can only answer you by a refusal—to my extreme regret.”
“Perhaps you will change your mind, captain, when you know that I care very little what the destination of your schooner may be. It is not unreasonable to suppose that she will go somewhere—”
“Somewhere indeed.” I fancied that Captain Len Guy threw a long look towards the southern horizon.
“To go here or to go there is almost a matter of indifference to me. What I desired above all was to get away from Kerguelen at the first opportunity that should offer.”
Captain Len Guy made me no answer; he remained in silent thought, but did not endeavour to slip away from me.
“You are doing me the honour to listen to me?” I asked him sharply.
“I will then add that, if I am not mistaken, and if the route of your ship has not been altered, it was your intention to leave Christmas Harbour for Tristan d’ Acunha.”
“Perhaps for Tristan d’Acunha, perhaps for the Cape, perhaps for the Falklands, perhaps for elsewhere.”
“Well, then, Captain Guy, it is precisely elsewhere that I want to go,” I replied ironically, and trying hard to control my irritation.
Then a singular change took place in the demeanour of Captain Len Guy. His voice became more sharp and harsh. In very plain words he made me understand that it was quite useless to insist, that Our interview had already lasted too long, that time pressed, and he had business at the port; in short that we had said all that we could have to say to each other.
I had put out my arm to detain him—to seize him would be a more correct term—and the conversation, ill begun, seemed likely to end still more ill, when this odd person turned towards me and said in a milder tone,—
“Pray understand, sir, that I am very sorry to be unable to do what you ask, and to appear disobliging to an American. But I could not act otherwise. In the course of the voyage of the Halbrane some unforeseen incident might occur to make the presence of a passenger inconvenient—even one so accommodating as yourself. Thus I might expose myself to the risk of being unable to profit by the chances which I seek.”
“I have told you, captain, and I repeat it, that although my intention is to return to America and to Connecticut, I don’t care whether I get there in three months or in six, or by what route; it’s all the same to me, and even were your schooner to take me to the Antarctic seas—”
“The Antarctic seas!” exclaimed Captain Len Guy with a question in his tone. And his look searched my thoughts with the keenness of a dagger.
“Why do you speak of the Antarctic seas ?” he asked, taking my hand.
“Well, just as I might have spoken of the ‘Hyperborean seas’ from whence an Irish poet has made Sebastian Cabot address some lovely verses to his Lady.