An Antarctic Mystery
Chapter 3: Captain Len Guy
Copyright© 2012 by Jules Verne
I slept ill. Again and again I "dreamed that I was dreaming." Now--this is an observation made by Edgar Poe--when one suspects that one is dreaming, the waking comes almost instantly. I woke then, and every time in a very bad humour with Captain Len Guy. The idea of leaving the Kerguelens on the Halbrane had full possession of me, and I grew more and more angry with her disobliging captain. In fact, I passed the night in a fever of indignation, and only recovered my temper with daylight. Nevertheless I was determined to have an explanation with Captain Len Guy about his detestable conduct. Perhaps I should fail to get anything out of that human hedgehog, but at least I should have given him a piece of my mind.
I went out at eight o'clock in the morning. The weather was abominable. Rain, mixed with snow, a storm coming over the mountains at the back of the bay from the west, clouds scurrying down from the lower zones, an avalanche of wind and water. It was not likely that Captain Len Guy had come ashore merely to enjoy such a wetting and blowing.
No one on the quay; of course not. As for my getting on' board the Halbrane, that could not be done without hailing one of her boats, and the boatswain would not venture to send it for me.
"Besides," I reflected, "on his quarter-deck the captain is at home, and neutral ground is better for what I want to say to him, if he persists in his unjustifiable refusal. I will watch him this time, and if his boat touches the quay, he shall not succeed in avoiding me."
I returned to the Green Cormorant, and took up my post behind the window panes, which were dimmed by the hissing rain. There I waited, nervous, impatient, and in a state of growing irritation. Two hours wore away thus. Then, with the instability of the winds in the Kerguelens, the weather became calm before I did. I opened my window, and at the same moment a sailor stepped into one of the boats of the Halbrane and laid hold of a pair of oars, while a second man seated himself in the back, but without taking the tiller ropes. 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. (1) I spoke of the South Pole as I might have spoken of the North."
Captain Len Guy did not answer, and I thought I saw tears glisten in his eyes. Then, as though he would escape from some harrowing recollection which my words had evoked, he said, --
"Who would venture to seek the South Pole?"
"It would be difficult to reach, and the experiments would be of no practical use," I replied. "Nevertheless there are men sufficiently adventurous to embark in such an enterprise."
"Yes--adventurous is the word!" muttered the captain.
"And now," I resumed, "the United States is again making an attempt with Wilkes's fleet, the Vancouver, the Peacock, the Flying Fish, and others."
"The United States, Mr. Jeorling? Do you mean to say that an expedition has been sent by the Federal Government to the Antarctic seas?"
"The fact is certain, and last year, before I left America, I learned that the vessels had sailed. That was a year ago, and it is very possible that Wilkes has gone farther than any of the preceding explorers."
Captain Len Guy had relapsed into silence, and came out of his inexplicable musing only to say abruptly--
"You come from Connecticut, sir?"
"And more specially?"
"Do you know Nantucket Island?"
"I have visited it several times."
"Yes. I remember that Poe's romance starts from Nantucket."
"Romance, you say? That was the word you used?"