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Chapter 8


Schomberg felt desperation, that lamentable substitute for courage,
ooze out of him. It was not so much the threat of death as the weirdly
circumstantial manner of its declaration which affected him. A mere
"I'll murder you," however ferocious in tone, and earnest, in purpose,
he could have faced; but before this novel mode of speech and procedure,
his imagination being very sensitive to the unusual, he collapsed as if
indeed his moral neck had been broken--snap!

"Go to the police? Of course not. Never dreamed of it. Too late now.
I've let myself be mixed up in this. You got my consent while I wasn't
myself. I explained it to you at the time."

Ricardo's eye glided gently off Schomberg to stare far away.

"Ay! Some trouble with a girl. But that's nothing to us."

"Naturally. What I say is, what's the good of all that savage talk to
me?" A bright argument occurred to him. "It's out of proportion; for
even if I were fool enough to go to the police now, there's nothing
serious to complain about. It would only mean deportation for you. They
would put you on board the first west-bound steamer to Singapore." He
had become animated. "Out of this to the devil," he added between his
teeth for his own private satisfaction.

Ricardo made no comment, and gave no sign of having heard a single word.
This discouraged Schomberg, who had looked up hopefully.

"Why do you want to stick here?" he cried. "It can't pay you people
to fool around like this. Didn't you worry just now about moving your
governor? Well, the police would move him for you; and from Singapore
you can go on to the east coast of Africa."

"I'll be hanged if the fellow isn't up to that silly trick!" was
Ricardo's comment, spoken in an ominous tone which recalled Schomberg to
the realities of his position.

"No! No!" he protested. "It's a manner of speaking. Of course I
wouldn't."

"I think that trouble about the girl has really muddled your brains,
Mr. Schomberg. Believe me, you had better part friends with us; for,
deportation or no deportation, you'll be seeing one of us turning up
before long to pay you off for any nasty dodge you may be hatching in
that fat head of yours."

"Gott im Himmel!" groaned Schomberg. "Will nothing move him out? Will
he stop here immer--I mean always? Suppose I were to make it worth your
while, couldn't you--"

"No," Ricardo interrupted. "I couldn't, unless I had something to lever
him out with. I've told you that before."

"An inducement?" muttered Schomberg.

"Ay. The east coast of Africa isn't good enough. He told me the other
day that it will have to wait till he is ready for it; and he may not be
ready for a long time, because the east coast can't run away, and no one
is likely to run off with it."

These remarks, whether considered as truisms or as depicting Mr.
Jones's mental state, were distinctly discouraging to the long-suffering
Schomberg; but there is truth in the well-known saying that places
the darkest hour before the dawn. The sound of words, apart from the
context, has its power; and these two words, 'run off,' had a special
affinity to the hotel-keeper's, haunting idea. It was always present
in his brain, and now it came forward evoked by a purely fortuitous
expression. No, nobody could run off with a continent; but Heyst had run
off with the girl!

Ricardo could have had no conception of the cause of Schomberg's changed
expression. Yet it was noticeable enough to interest him so much that
he stopped the careless swinging of his leg and said, looking at the
hotel-keeper:

"There's not much use arguing against that sort of talk--is there?"

Schomberg was not listening.

"I could put you on another track," he said slowly, and stopped, as if
suddenly choked by an unholy emotion of intense eagerness combined with
fear of failure. Ricardo waited, attentive, yet not without a certain
contempt.

"On the track of a man!" Schomberg uttered convulsively, and paused
again, consulting his rage and his conscience.

"The man in the moon, eh?" suggested Ricardo, in a jeering murmur.

Schomberg shook his head.

"It would be nearly as safe to rook him as if he were the Man in the
moon. You go and try. It isn't so very far."

He reflected. These men were thieves and murderers as well as gamblers.
Their fitness for purposes of vengeance was appallingly complete. But he
preferred not to think of it in detail. He put it to himself summarily
that he would be paying Heyst out and would, at the same time, relieve
himself of these men's oppression. He had only to let loose his natural
gift for talking scandalously about his fellow creatures. And in this
case his great practice in it was assisted by hate, which, like love,
has an eloquence of its own. With the utmost ease he portrayed for
Ricardo, now seriously attentive, a Heyst fattened by years of private
and public rapines, the murderer of Morrison, the swindler of many
shareholders, a wonderful mixture of craft and impudence, of deep
purposes and simple wiles, of mystery and futility. In this exercise of
his natural function Schomberg revived, the colour coming back to his
face, loquacious, florid, eager, his manliness set off by the military
bearing.

"That's the exact story. He was seen hanging about this part of the
world for years, spying into everybody's business: but I am the only
one who has seen through him from the first--contemptible, double-faced,
stick-at-nothing, dangerous fellow."

"Dangerous, is he?"

Schomberg came to himself at the sound of Ricardo's voice.

"Well, you know what I mean," he said uneasily. "A lying, circumventing,
soft-spoken, polite, stuck-up rascal. Nothing open about him."

Mr Ricardo had slipped off the table, and was prowling about the room in
an oblique, noiseless manner. He flashed a grin at Schomberg in passing,
and a snarling:

"Ah! H'm!"

"Well, what more dangerous do you want?" argued Schomberg. "He's in no
way a fighting man, I believe," he added negligently.

"And you say he has been living alone there?"

"Like the man in the moon," answered Schomberg readily. "There's no
one that cares a rap what becomes of him. He has been lying low, you
understand, after bagging all that plunder.

"Plunder, eh? Why didn't he go home with it?" inquired Ricardo.

The henchman of plain Mr. Jones was beginning to think that this was
something worth looking into. And he was pursuing truth in the manner
of men of sounder morality and purer intentions than his own; that is he
pursued it in the light of his own experience and prejudices. For facts,
whatever their origin (and God only knows where they come from), can be
only tested by our own particular suspicions. Ricardo was suspicious all
round. Schomberg, such is the tonic of recovered self-esteem, Schomberg
retorted fearlessly:

"Go home? Why don't you go home? To hear your talk, you must have made
a pretty considerable pile going round winning people's money. You ought
to be ready by this time."

Ricardo stopped to look at Schomberg with surprise.

"You think yourself very clever, don't you?" he said.

Schomberg just then was so conscious of being clever that the snarling
irony left him unmoved. There was positively a smile in his noble
Teutonic beard, the first smile for weeks. He was in a felicitous vein.

"How do you know that he wasn't thinking of going home? As a matter of
fact, he was on his way home."

"And how do I know that you are not amusing yourself by spinning out
a blamed fairy tale?" interrupted Ricardo roughly. "I wonder at myself
listening to the silly rot!"

Schomberg received this turn of temper unmoved. He did not require to be
very subtly observant to notice that he had managed to arouse some sort
of feeling, perhaps of greed, in Ricardo's breast.

"You won't believe me? Well! You can ask anybody that comes here if
that--that Swede hadn't got as far as this house on his way home. Why
should he turn up here if not for that? You ask anybody."

"Ask, indeed!" returned the other. "Catch me asking at large about a man
I mean to drop on! Such jobs must be done on the quiet--or not at all."

The peculiar intonation of the last phrase touched the nape of
Schomberg's neck with a chill. He cleared his throat slightly and looked
away as though he had heard something indelicate. Then, with a jump as
it were:

"Of course he didn't tell me. Is it likely? But haven't I got eyes?
Haven't I got my common sense to tell me? I can see through people. By
the same token, he called on the Tesmans. Why did he call on the Tesmans
two days running, eh? You don't know? You can't tell?"

He waited complacently till Ricardo had finished swearing quite openly
at him for a confounded chatterer, and then went on:

"A fellow doesn't go to a counting-house in business hours for a chat
about the weather, two days running. Then why? To close his account with
them one day, and to get his money out the next! Clear, what?"

Ricardo, with his trick of looking one way and moving another approached
Schomberg slowly.

"To get his money?" he purred.

"Gewiss," snapped Schomberg with impatient superiority. "What else? That
is, only the money he had with the Tesmans. What he has buried or put
away on the island, devil only knows. When you think of the lot of hard
cash that passed through that man's hands, for wages and stores and all
that--and he's just a cunning thief, I tell you." Ricardo's hard stare
discomposed the hotel-keeper, and he added in an embarrassed tone: "I
mean a common, sneaking thief--no account at all. And he calls himself a
Swedish baron, too! Tfui!"

"He's a baron, is he? That foreign nobility ain't much," commented Mr.
Ricardo seriously. "And then what? He hung about here!"

"Yes, he hung about," said Schomberg, making a wry mouth. "He--hung
about. That's it. Hung--"

His voice died out. Curiosity was depicted in Ricardo's countenance.

"Just like that; for nothing? And then turned about and went back to
that island again?"

"And went back to that island again," Schomberg echoed lifelessly,
fixing his gaze on the floor.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Ricardo with genuine surprise. "What
is it?"

Schomberg, without looking up, made an impatient gesture. His face was
crimson, and he kept it lowered. Ricardo went back to the point.

"Well, but how do you account for it? What was his reason? What did he
go back to the island for?"

"Honeymoon!" spat out Schomberg viciously.

Perfectly still, his eyes downcast, he suddenly, with no preliminary
stir, hit the table with his fist a blow which caused the utterly
unprepared Ricardo to leap aside. And only then did Schomberg look up
with a dull, resentful expression.

Ricardo stared hard for a moment, spun on his heel, walked to the end
of the room, came back smartly, and muttered a profound "Ay! Ay!" above
Schomberg's rigid head. That the hotel-keeper was capable of a
great moral effort was proved by a gradual return of his severe,
Lieutenant-of-the-Reserve manner.

"Ay, ay!" repeated Ricardo more deliberately than before, and as if
after a further survey of the circumstances, "I wish I hadn't asked you,
or that you had told me a lie. It don't suit me to know that there's a
woman mixed up in this affair. What's she like? It's the girl you--"

"Leave off!" muttered Schomberg, utterly pitiful behind his stiff
military front.

"Ay, ay!" Ricardo ejaculated for the third time, more and more
enlightened and perplexed. "Can't bear to talk about it--so bad as that?
And yet I would bet she isn't a miracle to look at."

Schomberg made a gesture as if he didn't know, as if he didn't care.
Then he squared his shoulders and frowned at vacancy.

"Swedish baron--h'm!" Ricardo continued meditatively. "I believe the
governor would think that business worth looking up, quite, if I put it
to him properly. The governor likes a duel, if you will call it so; but
I don't know a man that can stand up to him on the square. Have you ever
seen a cat play with a mouse? It's a pretty sight!"

Ricardo, with his voluptuously gleaming eyes and the coy expression,
looked so much like a cat that Schomberg would have felt all the alarm
of a mouse if other feelings had not had complete possession of his
breast.

"There are no lies between you and me," he said, more steadily than he
thought he could speak.

"What's the good now? He funks women. In that Mexican pueblo where we
lay grounded on our beef-bones, so to speak, I used to go to dances of
an evening. The girls there would ask me if the English caballero in
the posada was a monk in disguise, or if he had taken a vow to the
sancissima madre not to speak to a woman, or whether--You can imagine
what fairly free-spoken girls will ask when they come to the point of
not caring what they say; and it used to vex me. Yes, the governor funks
facing women."

"One woman?" interjected Schomberg in guttural tones.

"One may be more awkward to deal with than two, or two hundred, for that
matter. In a place that's full of women you needn't look at them unless
you like; but if you go into a room where there is only one woman, young
or old, pretty or ugly, you have got to face her. And, unless you are
after her, then--the governor is right enough--she's in the way."

"Why notice them?" muttered Schomberg. "What can they do?"

"Make a noise, if nothing else," opined Mr. Ricardo curtly, with the
distaste of a man whose path is a path of silence; for indeed, nothing
is more odious than a noise when one is engaged in a weighty and
absorbing card game. "Noise, noise, my friend," he went on forcibly;
"confounded screeching about something or other, and I like it no more
than the governor does. But with the governor there's something else
besides. He can't stand them at all."

He paused to reflect on this psychological phenomenon, and as no
philosopher was at hand to tell him that there is no strong sentiment
without some terror, as there is no real religion without a little
fetishism, he emitted his own conclusion, which surely could not go to
the root of the matter.

"I'm hanged if I don't think they are to him what liquor is to me.
Brandy--pah!"

He made a disgusted face, and produced a genuine shudder. Schomberg
listened to him in wonder. It looked as if the very scoundrelism, of
that--that Swede would protect him; the spoil of his iniquity standing
between the thief and the retribution.

"That's so, old buck." Ricardo broke the silence after contemplating
Schomberg's mute dejection with a sort of sympathy. "I don't think this
trick will work."

"But that's silly," whispered the man deprived of the vengeance which he
had seemed already to hold in his hand, by a mysterious and exasperating
idiosyncrasy.

"Don't you set yourself to judge a gentleman." Ricardo without anger
administered a moody rebuke. "Even I can't understand the governor
thoroughly. And I am an Englishman and his follower. No, I don't think I
care to put it before him, sick as I am of staying here."

Ricardo could not be more sick of staying than Schomberg was of seeing
him stay. Schomberg believed so firmly in the reality of Heyst as
created by his own power of false inferences, of his hate, of his love
of scandal, that he could not contain a stifled cry of conviction
as sincere as most of our convictions, the disguised servants of our
passions, can appear at a supreme moment.

"It would have been like going to pick up a nugget of a thousand pounds,
or two or three times as much, for all I know. No trouble, no--"

"The petticoat's the trouble," Ricardo struck in.

He had resumed his noiseless, feline, oblique prowling, in which an
observer would have detected a new character of excitement, such as a
wild animal of the cat species, anxious to make a spring, might betray.
Schomberg saw nothing. It would probably have cheered his drooping
spirits; but in a general way he preferred not to look at Ricardo.
Ricardo, however, with one of his slanting, gliding, restless glances,
observed the bitter smile on Schomberg's bearded lips--the unmistakable
smile of ruined hopes.

"You are a pretty unforgiving sort of chap," he said, stopping for a
moment with an air of interest. "Hang me if I ever saw anybody look so
disappointed! I bet you would send black plague to that island if you
only knew how--eh, what? Plague too good for them? Ha, ha, ha!"

He bent down to stare at Schomberg who sat unstirring with stony eyes
and set features, and apparently deaf to the rasping derision of that
laughter so close to his red fleshy ear.

"Black plague too good for them, ha, ha!" Ricardo pressed the point on
the tormented hotel-keeper. Schomberg kept his eyes down obstinately.

"I don't wish any harm to the girl--" he muttered.

"But did she bolt from you? A fair bilk? Come!"

"Devil only knows what that villainous Swede had done to her--what he
promised her, how he frightened her. She couldn't have cared for him,
I know." Schomberg's vanity clung to the belief in some atrocious,
extraordinary means of seduction employed by Heyst. "Look how he
bewitched that poor Morrison," he murmured.

"Ah, Morrison--got all his money, what?"

"Yes--and his life."

"Terrible fellow, that Swedish baron! How is one to get at him?"

Schomberg exploded.

"Three against one! Are you shy? Do you want me to give you a letter of
introduction?"

"You ought to look at yourself in a glass," Ricardo said quietly. "Dash
me if you don't get a stroke of some kind presently. And this is the
fellow who says women can do nothing! That one will do for you, unless
you manage to forget her."

"I wish I could," Schomberg admitted earnestly. "And it's all the doing
of that Swede. I don't get enough sleep, Mr. Ricardo. And then, to
finish me off, you gentlemen turn up . . . as if I hadn't enough worry."

"That's done you good," suggested the secretary with ironic seriousness.
"Takes your mind off that silly trouble. At your age too."

He checked himself, as if in pity, and changing his tone:

"I would really like to oblige you while doing a stroke of business at
the same time."

"A good stroke," insisted Schomberg, as if it were mechanically. In his
simplicity he was not able to give up the idea which had entered his
head. An idea must be driven out by another idea, and with Schomberg
ideas were rare and therefore tenacious. "Minted gold," he murmured with
a sort of anguish.

Such an expressive combination of words was not without effect upon
Ricardo. Both these men were amenable to the influence of verbal
suggestions. The secretary of "plain Mr. Jones" sighed and murmured.

"Yes. But how is one to get at it?"

"Being three to one," said Schomberg, "I suppose you could get it for
the asking."

"One would think the fellow lived next door," Ricardo growled
impatiently. "Hang it all, can't you understand a plain question? I have
asked you the way."

Schomberg seemed to revive.

"The way?"

The torpor of deceived hopes underlying his superficial changes of mood
had been pricked by these words which seemed pointed with purpose.

"The way is over the water, of course," said the hotel-keeper. "For
people like you, three days in a good, big boat is nothing. It's no more
than a little outing, a bit of a change. At this season the Java Sea
is a pond. I have an excellent, safe boat--a ship's life-boat--carry
thirty, let alone three, and a child could handle her. You wouldn't get
a wet face at this time of the year. You might call it a pleasure-trip."

"And yet, having this boat, you didn't go after her yourself--or after
him? Well, you are a fine fellow for a disappointed lover."

Schomberg gave a start at the suggestion.

"I am not three men," he said sulkily, as the shortest answer of the
several he could have given.

"Oh, I know your sort," Ricardo let fall negligently. "You are like most
people--or perhaps just a little more peaceable than the rest of the
buying and selling gang that bosses this rotten show. Well, well,
you respectable citizen," he went on, "let us go thoroughly into the
matter."

When Schomberg had been made to understand that Mr. Jones's henchman was
ready to discuss, in his own words, "this boat of yours, with courses
and distances," and such concrete matters of no good augury to that
villainous Swede, he recovered his soldierly bearing, squared his
shoulders, and asked in his military manner:

"You wish, then, to proceed with the business?"

Ricardo nodded. He had a great mind to, he said. A gentleman had to be
humoured as much as possible; but he must be managed, too, on occasions,
for his own good. And it was the business of the right sort of
"follower" to know the proper time and the proper methods of that
delicate part of his duty. Having exposed this theory Ricardo proceeded
to the application.

"I've never actually lied to him," he said, "and I ain't going to now.
I shall just say nothing about the girl. He will have to get over the
shock the best he can. Hang it all! Too much humouring won't do here."

"Funny thing," Schomberg observed crisply.

"Is it? Ay, you wouldn't mind taking a woman by the throat in some dark
corner and nobody by, I bet!"

Ricardo's dreadful, vicious, cat-like readiness to get his claws out at
any moment startled Schomberg as usual. But it was provoking too.

"And you?" he defended himself. "Don't you want me to believe you are up
to anything?"

"I, my boy? Oh, yes. I am not that gentleman; neither are you. Take 'em
by the throat or chuck 'em under the chin is all one to me--almost,"
affirmed Ricardo, with something obscurely ironical in his complacency.
"Now, as to this business. A three days' jaunt in a good boat isn't a
thing to frighten people like us. You are right, so far; but there are
other details."

Schomberg was ready enough to enter into details. He explained that he
had a small plantation, with a fairly habitable hut on it, on Madura. He
proposed that his guest should start from town in his boat, as if going
for an excursion to that rural spot. The custom-house people on the quay
were used to see his boat go off on such trips.

From Madura, after some repose and on a convenient day, Mr. Jones
and party would make the real start. It would all be plain sailing.
Schomberg undertook to provision the boat. The greatest hardship the
voyagers need apprehend would be a mild shower of rain. At that season
of the year there were no serious thunderstorms.

Schomberg's heart began to thump as he saw himself nearing his
vengeance. His speech was thick but persuasive.

"No risk at all--none whatever."

Ricardo dismissed these assurances of safety with an impatient gesture.
He was thinking of other risks.

"The getting away from here is all right; but we may be sighted at sea,
and that may bring awkwardness later on. A ship's boat with three white
men in her, knocking about out of sight of land, is bound to make talk.
Are we likely to be seen on our way?"

"No, unless by native craft," said Schomberg.

Ricardo nodded, satisfied. Both these white men looked on native life as
a mere play of shadows. A play of shadows the dominant race could
walk through unaffected and disregarded in the pursuit of its
incomprehensible aims and needs. No. Native craft did not count, of
course. It was an empty, solitary part of the sea, Schomberg expounded
further. Only the Ternate mail-boat crossed that region about the eighth
of every month, regularly--nowhere near the island though. Rigid, his
voice hoarse, his heart thumping, his mind concentrated on the success
of his plan, the hotel-keeper multiplied words, as if to keep as many
of them as possible between himself and the murderous aspect of his
purpose.

"So, if you gentlemen depart from my plantation quietly at sunset on the
eighth--always best to make a start at night, with a land breeze--it's a
hundred to one--What am I saying?--it's a thousand to one that no
human eye will see you on the passage. All you've got to do is keep her
heading north-east for, say, fifty hours; perhaps not quite so long.
There will always be draft enough to keep a boat moving; you may reckon
on that; and then--"

The muscles about his waist quivered under his clothes with eagerness,
with impatience, and with something like apprehension, the true nature
of which was not clear to him. And he did not want to investigate it.
Ricardo regarded him steadily, with those dry eyes of his shining more
like polished stones than living tissue.

"And then what?" he asked.

"And then--why, you will astonish der herr baron--ha, ha!"

Schomberg seemed to force the words and the laugh out of himself in a
hoarse bass.

"And you believe he has all that plunder by him?" asked Ricardo, rather
perfunctorily, because the fact seemed to him extremely probable when
looked at all round by his acute mind.

Schomberg raised his hands and lowered them slowly.

"How can it be otherwise? He was going home, he was on his way, in this
hotel. Ask people. Was it likely he would leave it behind him?"

Ricardo was thoughtful. Then, suddenly raising his head, he remarked:

"Steer north-east for fifty hours, eh? That's not much of a sailing
direction. I've heard of a port being missed before on better
information. Can't you say what sort of landfall a fellow may expect?
But I suppose you have never seen that island yourself?"

Schomberg admitted that he had not seen it, in a tone in which a
man congratulates himself on having escaped the contamination of an
unsavoury experience. No, certainly not. He had never had any business
to call there. But what of that? He could give Mr. Ricardo as good a
sea-mark as anybody need wish for. He laughed nervously. Miss it! He
defied anyone that came within forty miles of it to miss the retreat of
that villainous Swede.

"What do you think of a pillar of smoke by day and a loom of fire at
night? There's a volcano in full blast near that island--enough to guide
almost a blind man. What more do you want? An active volcano to steer
by?"

These last words he roared out exultingly, then jumped up and glared.
The door to the left of the bar had swung open, and Mrs. Schomberg,
dressed for duty, stood facing him down the whole length of the room.
She clung to the handle for a moment, then came in and glided to her
place, where she sat down to stare straight before her, as usual.


Joseph Conrad