“I remember!” I exclaimed; “Arthur Pym speaks of a piece of wood with traces of carving on it which appeared to have belonged to the bow of a ship.”
“Among the carving my brother fancied he could trace the design of a tortoise,” added Captain Len Guy.
“Just so,” I replied, “but Arthur Pym pronounced that resemblance doubtful. No matter; the piece of wood is still in the same place that is indicated in the narrative, so we may conclude that since the Jane cast anchor here no other crew has ever set foot upon Bennet Islet. It follows that we should only lose time in looking out for any tokens of another landing. We shall know nothing until we reach Tsalal Island.”
“Yes, Tsalal Island,” replied the captain.
We then retraced our steps in the direction of the bay. In various places we observed fragments of coral reef, and bêche-de-mer was so abundant that our schooner might have taken a full cargo of it. Hunt walked on in silence with downcast eyes, until as we were close upon the beach to the east, he, being about ten paces ahead, stopped abruptly, and summoned us to him by a hurried gesture.
In an instant we were by his side. Hunt had evinced no surprise on the subject of the piece of wood first found, but his attitude changed when he knelt down in front of a worm-eaten plank lying on the sand. He felt it all over with his huge hands, as though he were seeking sotne tracery on its rough surface whose signification might be intelligible to him. The black paint was hidden under the thick dirt that had accumulated upon it. The plank had probably formed part of a ship’s stern, as the boatswain requested us to observe.
“Yes, yes,” repeated Captain Len Guy, “it made part of a stern.”
Hunt, who still remained kneeling, nodded his big head in assent.
“But,” I remarked, “this plank must have been cast upon Bennet Islet from a wreck! The cross-currents must have found it in the open sea, and—”
“If that were so—” cried the captain.
The same thought had occurred to both of us. What was our surprise, indeed our amazement, our unspeakable emotion, when Hunt showed us eight letters cut in the plank, not painted, but hollow and distinctly traceable with the finger.
It was only too easy to recognize the letters of two names, arranged in two lines, thus:
AN LI.E.PO.L. The Jane of Liverpool! The schooner commanded by Captain William Guy! What did it matter that time had blurred the other letters ? Did not those suffice to tell the name of the ship and the port she belonged to? The Jane of Liverpool! Captain Len Guy had taken the plank in his hands, and now he pressed his lips to it, while tears fell from his eyes. It was a fragment of the Jane! I did not utter a word until the captain’s emotion had subsided. As for Hunt, I had never seen such a lightning glance from his brilliant hawk-like eyes as he now cast towards the southern horizon.
Captain Len Guy rose.
Hunt, without a word, placed the plank upon his shoulder, and we continued our route.
When we had made the tour of the island, we halted at the place where the boat had been left under the charge of two sailors, and about half-past two in the afternoon we were again on board.
Early on the morning of the 23rd of December the Halbrane put off from Bennet Islet, and we carried away with us new and convincing testimony to the catastrophe which Tsalal Island had witnessed.
During that day, I observed the sea water very attentively, and it seemed to me less deeply blue than Arthur Pym describes it. Nor had we met a single specimen of his monster of the austral fauna, an animal three feet long, six inches high, with fourshort legs, long coral claws, a silky body, a rat’s tail, a cat’s head, the hanging ears, blood.red lips and white teeth of a dog. The truth is that I regarded several of these details as “suspect,” and entirely due toan over-imaginative temperament. Seated far aft in the ship, I read Edgar Poe’s book with sedulous attention, but I was not unaware of the fact that Hunt, whenever his duties furnished him with an opportunity, observed me pertinaciously, and with looks of singular meaning.