''Off there to the right--somewhere--is a large island,'' said Shade. ''It’s rather a mystery--''
''What island is it?'' Rainhoof asked.
''The old charts call it Lost-Hooves Island,''Shade replied. ''A suggestive name, isn’t it? Sailor ponies have a curious dread of this place. I don’t know why. Some superstition--''
''Can’t see it,'' remarked Rainhoof, trying to peer through the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the boat.
''You’ve good eyes,'' said Shade, with a laugh, ''and I’ve seen you pick off a moose moving in the brown fall bush at four hundred yards, but even you can’t see four miles or so through a moonless Equestrian night.''
''Nor four yards,'' admitted Rainhoof. ''Ugh! It’s like moist black velvet.''
''It will be light in Yanhooyer,'' promised Shade
''We should make it in a few days. I hope the guns have come from a good manufacturer. We should have some good hunting up in the mountains. Great sport, hunting.''
''The best sport in whole Equestria!'' exclaimed Rainhoof.
''For the hunter,’’ amended Shade. ''Not for the game.''
''Don’t talk rot, Shade,'' said Rainhoof. ''You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how the animals feel?''
‘’Perhaps the jaguar does,’’ observed Shade.
‘’Bah! They’ve no understanding.’’
‘’Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.’’
‘’Nonsense,’’ laughed Rainhoof. ‘’This hot weather is making you soft, Shade. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees. Luckily you and I are the hunters. Do you think we’ve passed that island yet?’’
‘’I can’t tell in the dark. I hope so.’’
‘’Damn, Rainhoof, I wish we had some magic or some wings so we can at least take a glance of this.’’Said Shade
‘’Why?’’ asked Rainhoof.
‘’About what, the magic or the island?’’
‘’The island of coarse!”
‘’The place has a reputation—a really bad one.’’
‘’Cannibals?’’ suggested Rainhoof
‘’Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn’t live in such a Celestiaforsaken place. But it’s gotten into sailor lore, somehow. Didn’t you notice that the crew’s nerves seemed a bit jumpy today?’’
‘’They were a bit strange, now that you mention it. Even Captain Ironhoof--‘’
‘’Yes, even that tough – minded old Ironhoof, who’d go up to the devil himself and ask him for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held a look I never saw there before. All I could get out of him was:
‘’This place has an evil name among seafaring ponies, sir’. Then he said to me, very gravely: ‘Don’t you feel anything?’—as if the air about us was actually poisonous. Now, you mustn’t laugh when I tell you this—I did feel something like a sudden chill through my body.
‘’There was no breeze. The sea was as flat as a plat-glass window. We were drawing near the island then. What I felt was a…a mental chill, a sort of sudden dread.’’
‘’Pure imagination,’’ said Rainhoof. ‘’One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship’s company with his fear.’’
‘’Maybe. But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense that tells them that they are in danger. Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing—with wavelengths, just a sound and light have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil.
Anyhoo, I’m glad we’re getting out of this zone. Well, I think I’ll turn in now, Rainhoof.’’
‘’I’m not sleepy,’’ said Rainhoof. ‘’I’m going to smoke another pipe on the afterdeck.’’
‘’Goodnight, then, Rainhoof. See you at breakfast.’’ ‘’Right. Good night, Shade.’’
There was no sound in the night as Rainhoof sat there but the muffled throb of the small electric propeller that drove the boat swiftly through the darkness, and the swish and ripple of the wash of the propeller.
Rainhoof, reclining in a steamer chair, indolently puffed on his favorite brier. The sensuous drowsiness of the night was on him. ''It’s so dark,’’ he thought, ‘’that I could sleep without closing my eyes; the night would be my eyelids--''
An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it, and his ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken. Again he heard the sound, and again. Somewhere, off in the blackness, someone had fired a gun three times.
Rainhoof sprang up and moved quickly to the rail, mystified. He strained his eyes in the direction from which the reports had come, but it was like trying to see through a blanket. He leapt upon the rail and balanced himself there, to get greater elevation; his pipe, striking a rope, was knocked from his mouth. He lunged for it; a short hoarse cry came from his lips as he realized he had reached too far and had lost his balance. The cry was pinched off as the blood-warm ocean waters of Yanhooyer closed over his head.
He struggled up to the surface and tried to cry out, but the wash from the speeding boat slapped him in the face and the salt water in his open mouth mad him gag and strangle. Desperately he struck out with strong strokes after the receding lights of the boat, but he stopped before he had swum fifty feet. A certain coolheadness had come to him; it was not the first time he had been in a tight place. There was a chance that his cries could be heard by somepony aboard the boat, but that chance was slender and grew more slender as the boat raced on. He wrestled himself out of his clothes and shouted with all his power. The lights of the boat became faint and ever – vanishing fireflies; then they were blotted out entirely by the night.
Rainhoof remembered the shots. They had come from the right, and doggedly he swam in that direction, swimming with a slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength. For a seemingly endless time he fought the sea. He began to count his strokes; he could do possible a hundred more and then— Rainhoof heard a sound. It came out of the darkness, a high screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror.