Before the narrative which follows was placed in my hands, I had never seen Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, its author.
When the manuscript revealing his adventures among the pre-historic ruins of the Nan-Matal in the Carolines (The Moon Pool) had been given me by the International Association of Science for editing and revision to meet the requirements of a popular presentation, Dr. Goodwin had left America. He had explained that he was still too shaken, too depressed, to be able to recall experiences that must inevitably carry with them freshened memories of those whom he loved so well and from whom, he felt, he was separated in all probability forever.
I had understood that he had gone to some remote part of Asia to pursue certain botanical studies, and it was therefore with the liveliest surprise and interest that I received a summons from the President of the Association to meet Dr. Goodwin at a designated place and hour.
Through my close study of the Moon Pool papers I had formed a mental image of their writer. I had read, too, those volumes of botanical research which have set him high above all other American scientists in this field, gleaning from their curious mingling of extremely technical observations and minutely accurate but extraordinarily poetic descriptions, hints to amplify my picture of him. It gratified me to find I had drawn a pretty good one.
The man to whom the President of the Association introduced me was sturdy, well-knit, a little under average height. He had a broad but rather low forehead that reminded me somewhat of the late electrical wizard Steinmetz. Under level black brows shone eyes of clear hazel, kindly, shrewd, a little wistful, lightly humorous; the eyes both of a doer and a dreamer.
Not more than forty I judged him to be. A close-trimmed, pointed beard did not hide the firm chin and the clean-cut mouth. His hair was thick and black and oddly sprinkled with white; small streaks and dots of gleaming silver that shone with a curiously metallic luster.
His right arm was closely bound to his breast. His manner as he greeted me was tinged with shyness. He extended his left hand in greeting, and as I clasped the fingers I was struck by their peculiar, pronounced, yet pleasant warmth; a sensation, indeed, curiously electric.
The Association’s President forced him gently back into his chair.
“Dr. Goodwin,” he said, turning to me, “is not entirely recovered as yet from certain consequences of his adventures. He will explain to you later what these are. In the meantime, Mr. Merritt, will you read this?”
I took the sheets he handed me, and as I read them felt the gaze of Dr. Goodwin full upon me, searching, weighing, estimating. When I raised my eyes from the letter I found in his a new expression. The shyness was gone; they were filled with complete friendliness. Evidently I had passed muster.
“You will accept, sir?” It was the president’s gravely courteous tone.
“Accept!” I exclaimed. “Why, of course, I accept. It is not only one of the greatest honors, but to me one of the greatest delights to act as a collaborator with Dr. Goodwin.”
The president smiled.
“In that case, sir, there is no need for me to remain longer,” he said. “Dr. Goodwin has with him his manuscript as far as he has progressed with it. I will leave you two alone for your discussion.”
He bowed to us and, picking up his old-fashioned bell-crowned silk hat and his quaint, heavy cane of ebony, withdrew. Dr. Goodwin turned to me.
“I will start,” he said, after a little pause, “from when I met Richard Drake on the field of blue poppies that are like a great prayer-rug at the gray feet of the nameless mountain.”
The sun sank, the shadows fell, the lights of the city sparkled out, for hours New York roared about me unheeded while I listened to the tale of that utterly weird, stupendous drama of an unknown life, of unknown creatures, unknown forces, and of unconquerable human heroism played among the hidden gorges of unknown Asia.
It was dawn when I left him for my own home. Nor was it for many hours after that I laid his then incomplete manuscript down and sought sleep--and found a troubled sleep.