The east was growing brighter: already the silhouettes of the mountains were visible in the distance. Only the glowing embers of the bonfire remained now, but the castaways could see one another clearly in the pre-dawn light. The fringed outlines of the palms stirred gently against the magenta sky.
The Professor pointed above to the west, where the sky was still dark. "It's truly amazing how clear the night sky is out here. We're free of smog and light pollution, and that gives us the greatest show on earth."
"I don't know how you remember all those names," said Ginger. "How many stars have you pointed out tonight? It must be more than all the ones in Hollywood combined!"
The Professor laughed. "Well, knowing the constellations helps. And up there we can still see the last traces of the largest constellation of all: Ptolemy's Argo Navis, the great ship."
The Skipper looked up. "I learned to navigate by the southern stars, Professor, but I never heard of a constellation of a ship."
"Well, technically it's a northern constellation, Skipper, since even here we're still north of the equator. But you've never heard of it because it was so big that astronomers now divide it into many smaller constellations. Now it's Carina, the keel, Puppis, the poop deck, and Vela, the sails. There, you see?"
The castaways looked up and tried to envision the immense diamond studded sailing ship skimming across the sky.
"And there, Pyxis, the mariner's compass. It was once considered part of the ship's mast, but now it's also a constellation on its own. And over there, Volens the flying fish and Columba the dove."
"They're such lovely names," said Mrs. Howell. "And they seem so close, like you could reach out your hand and touch them!"
"And that, of course, is Polaris, the North Star. The star that never moves, and guides the sailor safe home to port."
"It reminds me of the song," said Mary Ann. "O Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding—"
"Guide us to thy perfect light," Gilligan sang softly.
Everyone stopped and stared at him. They were the first words he had uttered since the beginning of the long night.
Gilligan's face was calm and thoughtful. "You know, Skipper, now that I think about it, I wasn't really alone that night. Oh, I was scared all right. I'd never been so scared in my life…not even on the Minnow in the storm. But I wasn't alone. I remember the animals now: the monkeys, the lizards, the birds. They showed me how to hide and how to know someone was coming. That's why he couldn't catch me. I had eyes and ears everywhere in the jungle."
Everyone listened, rapt, as Gilligan carried on. "And I remember that even though there wasn't any moon that night, it just made the stars all the brighter. They made me think that all of you were looking up at those same stars. And I knew all of you were pulling for me, and the last thing I could do was give up." He looked at the Skipper with great gravity. "And I'm sure glad I didn't, 'cause there's something very important I've got to say to you, Skipper."
The Skipper looked equally serious. "What's that, little buddy?"
"That the next time I spill something on you, you better yell at me. Otherwise you're likely to make yourself sick!"
The castaways burst into laughter. "By George!" chuckled Mr. Howell.
The Skipper shook Gilligan's shoulder gently. "Little buddy, you are too much!"
Gilligan looked around him. "But at least I know what the cure is now. And you know, I almost feel sorry for Jonathan Kinkaid."
The Skipper stared. "But why?"
"Because he's the one that's alone, and he always will be. He'll never have friends like you. Nobody will ever do anything like this for him."
The castaways sat silently as the sky above them glowed a soft pink. At last a ray of pure gold burst over the fiery tops of the clouds, turning the sky to brilliant blue. A clear, bubbling melody floated on the air as the first of the birds of paradise greeted the dawn.
Gilligan looked up at the lightening sky and yawned. He pointed to the last star still visible. "What's that star called, Professor?"
"Hmmm?" The Professor turned and looked at the brilliant pinpoint of light, like a winking jewel just above the wafting fronds of the palm trees. "That's not a star, Gilligan, that's a planet. Our nearest neighbour, Venus. The ancient peoples called it the morning star. It attains its maximum brightness—"
"Professor!" Mary Ann whispered. "Look!"
Cradled in the Skipper's arm, Gilligan had fallen asleep on big man's shoulder. The dark shadow of stubble framing his mouth betrayed a gentle smile.
The Skipper's blue eyes were wet. "Little buddy…finally! Oh, thanks, Professor. Thank you, everybody!"
The Professor shook his head in wonder. "'Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.'"
"All Through the Night" lyrics by Sir Harold Boulton
"Will Ye No Come Back Again" lyrics by Carolina, Lady Nairne