His face was as livid as that of the corpse that had drifted down from the far latitudes of the austral zone. What could be done was done to recover the body of the unfortunate man, and who can tell whether a faint breath of life did not animate it even then? In any case his pockets might perhaps contain some document that would enable his identity to be established. Then, accompanied by a last prayer, those human remains should be committed to the depths of the ocean, the cemetery of sailors who die at sea.
A boat Was let down. I followed it with my eyes as it neared the side of the ice fragment eaten by the waves.
Hurliguerly set foot upon a spot which still offered some resistance. Gratian got out after him, while Francis kept the boat fast by the chain. The two crept along the ice until they reached the corpse, then drew it to them by the arms and legs and so got it into the boat. A few strokes of the oars and the boatswain had rejoined the schooner. The corpse, completely frozen, having been laid at the foot of the mizen mast, Captain Len Guy approached and examined it long and closely, as though he sought to recognize it.
It was the corpse of a sailor, dressed in coarse stuff, woollen trousers and a patched jersey; a belt encircled his waist twice. His death had evidently occurred some months previously, probably very soon after the unfortunate man had been carried away by the drift. He was about forty, with slightly grizzled hair, a mere skeleton covered with skin. He must have suffered agonies of hunger.
Captain Len Guy lifted up the hair, which had been preserved by the cold, raised the head, gazed upon the scaled eyelids, and finally said with a sort of sob,—
“Patterson?” I exclaimed.
The name, common as it was, touched some chord in my memory. When had I heard it uttered? Had I read it anywhere ?
At this moment, James West, on a hint from the boatswain, searched the pockets of the dead man, and took out of them a knife, some string, an empty tobacco box, and lastly a leather pocket-book furnished with a metallic pencil.
“Give me that,” said the captain. Some of the leaves were covered with writing, almost entirely effaced by the damp. He found, however, some words on the last page which were still legible, and my emotion may be imagined when I heard him read aloud in a trembling voice: “The Jane . . . Tsalal island . . . by eighty-three . . . There . . . eleven years . . . Captain . . . five sailors surviving . . . Hasten to bring them aid.”
And under these lines was a name, a signature, the name of Patterson!
Then I remembered! Patterson was the second officer of the Jane, the mate of that schooner which had picked up Arthur Pym and Dirk Peters on the wreck of the Grampus, the Jane having reached Tsalal Island; the Jane which was attacked by natives and blown up in the midst of those waters.
So then it was all true? Edgar Poe’s work was that of an historian, not a writer of romance? Arthur Gordon Pym’s journal had actually been confided to him! Direct relations had been established between them! Arthur Pym existed, or rather he had existed, he was a real being! And he had died, by a sudden and deplorable death under circumstances not revealed before he had completed the narrative of his extraordinary voyage. And what parallel had he reached on leaving Tsalal Island with his companion, Dirk Peters, and how had both of them been restored to their native land, America?
I thought my head was turning, that I was going mad—I who accused Captain Guy of being insane! No! I had not heard aright! I had misunderstood ! This was a mere phantom of my fancy!
And yet, how was I to reject the evidence found on the body of the mate of the Jane, that Patterson whose words were supported by ascertained dates? And above all, how could I retain a doubt, after James West, who was the most self-possessed among us, had succeeded in deciphering the following fragments of sentences:—
“Drifting since the 3rd of June north of Tsalal Island...Still there...Captain William Guy and five of the men of the Jane—the piece of ice I am on is drifting across the iceberg...food will soon fail me...Since the 13th of June...my last resources exhausted...to-day...16th of June .