The next day we passed Possession Island, which is inhabited only in the fishing season. At this period the only dwellers there are flocks of penguins, and the birds which whalers call” white pigeons.”
The approach to land is always interesting at sea. It occurred to me that Captain Len Guy might take this opportunity of speaking to his passenger; but he did not.
We should see land, that is to say the peaks of Marion and Prince Edward Islands, before arriving at Tristan d’Acunha, but it was there the Halbrane was to take in a fresh supply of water. I concluded therefore that the monotony of our voyage would continue unbroken to the end. But, on the morning of the 20th of August, to my extreme surprise, Captain Len Guy came on deck, approached me, and said, speaking very low,—”
Sir, I have something to say to you.”
“I am ready to hear you, captain.”
“I have not spoken until to-day, for I am naturally taciturn.” Here he hesitated again, but after a pause, continued with an effort,—
“Mr. Jeorling, have you tried to discover my reason for changing my mind on the subject of your passage?”
“I have tried, but I have not succeeded, captain. Perhaps, as I am not a compatriot of yours, you—”
“It is precisely because you are an American that I decided in the end to offer you a passage on the Halbrane.”
“Because I am an American ?”
“Also, because you come from Connecticut.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will understand if I add that I thought it possible, since you belong to Connecticut, since you have visited Nantucket Island, that you might have known the family of Arthur Gordon Pym.”
“The hero of Edgar Poe’s romance ?”
“The same. His narrative was founded upon the manuscript in which the details of that extraordinary and disastrous voyage across the Antarctic Sea was related.”
I thought I must be dreaming when I heard Captain Len Guy’s words. Edgar Poe’s romance was nothing but a fiction, a work of imagination by the most brilliant of our American writers. And here was a sane man treating that fiction as a reality.
I could not answer him. I was asking myself what manner of man was this one with whom I had to deal.
“You have heard my question ?” persisted the captain.
“Yes, yes, captain, certainly, but I am not sure that I quite understand.”
“I will put it to you more plainly. I ask you whether in Connecticut you personally knew the Pym family who lived in Nantucket Island? Arthur Pam’s father was one of the principal merchants there, he was a Navy contractor. It was his son who embarked in the adventures which he related with his own lips to Edgar Poe—”
“Captain! Why, that story is due to the powerful imagination of our great poet. It is a pure invention.”
“So, then, you don’t believe it, Mr. Jeorling?” said the captain, shrugging his shoulders three times.
“Neither I nor any other person believes it, Captain Guy, and you are the first I have heard maintain that it was anything but a mere romance.”
“Listen to me, then, Mr. Jeorling, for although this ‘romance’—as you call it—appeared only last year, it is none the less a reality. Although eleven years have elapsed since the facts occurred, they are none the less true, and we still await the ‘ word J of an enigma which will perhaps never be solved.”
Yes, he was mad; but by good fortune West was there to take his place as commander of the schooner. I had only to listen to him, and as I had read Poe’s romance over and over again, I was curious to hear what the captain had to say about it.
“And now,” he resumed in a sharper tone and with a shake in his voice which denoted a certain amount of nervous irritation, “it is possible that you did not know the Pym family;that you have never met them either at Providence or at Nantucket—”
“Just so! But don’t commit yourself by asserting that the Pym family never existed, that Arthur Gordon is only a fictitious personage, and his voyage an imaginary one! Do you think any man, even your Edgar Poe, could have been capable of inventing, of creating—?”
The increasing vehemence of Captain Len Guy warned me of the necessity of treating his monomania with respect, and accepting all he said without discussion.