Herbert was there face to face with a fierce jaguar, similar to the one which had been killed on Reptile End. Suddenly surprised, he was standing with his back against a tree, while the animal gathering itself together was about to spring.
But the stranger, with no other weapon than a knife, rushed on the formidable animal, who turned to meet this new adversary.
The struggle was short. The stranger possessed immense strength and activity. He seized the jaguar’s throat with one powerful hand, holding it as in a vise, without heeding the beast’s claws which tore his flesh, and with the other he plunged his knife into its heart.
The jaguar fell. The stranger kicked away the body, and was about to fly at the moment when the settlers arrived on the field of battle, but Herbert, clinging to him, cried,—
“No, no! you shall not go!”
Harding advanced towards the stranger, who frowned when he saw him approaching. The blood flowed from his shoulder under his torn shirt, but he took no notice of it.
“My friend,” said Cyrus Harding, “we have just contracted a debt of gratitude to you. To save our boy you have risked your life!”
“My life!” murmured the stranger. “What is that worth? Less than nothing!”
“You are wounded?”
“It is no matter.”
“Will you give me your hand?”
And as Herbert endeavored to. seize the hand which had just saved him, the stranger folded his arms, his chest heaved, his look darkened, and he appeared to wish to escape, but making a violent effort over himself, and in an abrupt tone,—
“Who are you?” he asked, “and what do you claim to be to me?”
It was the colonists’ history which he thus demanded, and for the first time. Perhaps this history recounted, he would tell his own.
In a few words Harding related all that had happened since their departure from Richmond; how they had managed, and what resources they now had at their disposal.
The stranger listened with extreme attention.
Then the engineer told who they all were, Gideon Spilett, Herbert, Pencroft, Neb, himself, and, he added, that the greatest happiness they had felt since their arrival in Lincoln Island was on the return of the vessel from Tabor Island, when they had been able to include among them a new companion.
At these words the stranger’s face flushed, his head sunk on his breast, and confusion was depicted on his countenance.
“And now that you know us,” added Cyrus Harding, “will you give us your hand?”
“No,” replied the, stranger in a hoarse voice; “no! You are honest men! And I—”
These last words justified the colonists’ presentiment. There had been some mournful past, perhaps expiated in the sight of men, but from which his conscience had not yet absolved him. At any rate the guilty man felt remorse, he repented, and his new friends would have cordially pressed the hand which they sought; but he did not feel himself worthy to extend it to honest men! However, after the scene with the jaguar, he did not return to the forest, and from that day did not go beyond the enclosure of Granite House.