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Chapter 6


Heyst was astounded. Looking all round, as if to take the whole room
to witness of this outrage, he became aware of Wang materialized in the
doorway. The intrusion was as surprising as anything could be, in view
of the strict regularity with which Wang made himself visible. Heyst
was tempted to laugh at first. This practical comment on his affirmation
that nothing could break in on them relieved the strain of his feelings.
He was a little vexed, too. The Chinaman preserved a profound silence.

"What do you want?" asked Heyst sternly.

"Boat out there," said the Chinaman.

"Where? What do you mean? Boat adrift in the straits?"

Some subtle change in Wang's bearing suggested his being out of breath;
but he did not pant, and his voice was steady.

"No--row."

It was Heyst now who was startled and raised his voice.

"Malay man, eh?"

Wang made a slight negative movement with his head.

"Do you hear, Lena?" Heyst called out. "Wang says there is a boat in
sight--somewhere near apparently. Where's that boat Wang?"

"Round the point," said Wang, leaping into Malay unexpectedly, and in a
loud voice. "White men three."

"So close as that?" exclaimed Heyst, moving out on the veranda followed
by Wang. "White men? Impossible!"

Over the clearing the shadows were already lengthening. The sun
hung low; a ruddy glare lay on the burnt black patch in front of
the bungalow, and slanted on the ground between the straight, tall,
mast-like trees soaring a hundred feet or more without a branch. The
growth of bushes cut off all view of the jetty from the veranda. Far
away to the right Wang's hut, or rather its dark roof of mats, could
be seen above the bamboo fence which insured the privacy of the Alfuro
woman. The Chinaman looked that way swiftly. Heyst paused, and then
stepped back a pace into the room.

"White men, Lena, apparently. What are you doing?"

"I am just bathing my eyes a little," the girl's voice said from the
inner room.

"Oh, yes; all right!"

"Do you want me?"

"No. You had better--I am going down to the jetty. Yes, you had better
stay in. What an extraordinary thing!"

It was so extraordinary that nobody could possibly appreciate
how extraordinary it was but himself. His mind was full of mere
exclamations, while his feet were carrying him in the direction of the
jetty. He followed the line of the rails, escorted by Wang.

"Where were you when you first saw the boat?" he asked over his
shoulder.

Wang explained in Malay that he had gone to the shore end of the wharf,
to get a few lumps of coal from the big heap, when, happening to raise
his eyes from the ground, he saw the boat--a white man boat, not a
canoe. He had good eyes. He had seen the boat, with the men at the oars;
and here Wang made a particular gesture over his eyes, as if his vision
had received a blow. He had turned at once and run to the house to
report.

"No mistake, eh?" said Heyst, moving on. At the very outer edge of the
belt he stopped short. Wang halted behind him on the path, till the
voice of Number One called him sharply forward into the open. He obeyed.

"Where's that boat?" asked Heyst forcibly. "I say--where is it?"

Nothing whatever was to be seen between the point and the jetty. The
stretch of Diamond Bay was like a piece of purple shadow, lustrous and
empty, while beyond the land, the open sea lay blue and opaque under the
sun. Heyst's eyes swept all over the offing till they met, far off, the
dark cone of the volcano, with its faint plume of smoke broadening and
vanishing everlastingly at the top, without altering its shape in the
glowing transparency of the evening.

"The fellow has been dreaming," he muttered to himself.

He looked hard at the Chinaman. Wang seemed turned into stone. Suddenly,
as if he had received a shock, he started, flung his arm out with a
pointing forefinger, and made guttural noises to the effect that there,
there, there, he had seen a boat.

It was very uncanny. Heyst thought of some strange hallucination.
Unlikely enough; but that a boat with three men in it should have sunk
between the point and the jetty, suddenly, like a stone, without leaving
as much on the surface as a floating oar, was still more unlikely. The
theory of a phantom boat would have been more credible than that.

"Confound it!" he muttered to himself.

He was unpleasantly affected by this mystery; but now a simple
explanation occurred to him. He stepped hastily out on the wharf. The
boat, if it had existed and had retreated, could perhaps be seen from
the far end of the long jetty.

Nothing was to be seen. Heyst let his eyes roam idly over the sea. He
was so absorbed in his perplexity that a hollow sound, as of somebody
tumbling about in a boat, with a clatter of oars and spars, failed to
make him move for a moment. When his mind seized its meaning, he had
no difficulty in locating the sound. It had come from below--under the
jetty!

He ran back for a dozen yards or so, and then looked over. His sight
plunged straight into the stern-sheets of a big boat, the greater part
of which was hidden from him by the planking of the jetty. His eyes
fell on the thin back of a man doubled up over the tiller in a queer,
uncomfortable attitude of drooping sorrow. Another man, more directly
below Heyst, sprawled on his back from gunwale to gunwale, half off
the after thwart, his head lower than his feet. This second man glared
wildly upward, and struggled to raise himself, but to all appearance was
much too drunk to succeed. The visible part of the boat contained also
a flat, leather trunk, on which the first man's long legs were tucked
up nervelessly. A large earthenware jug, with its wide mouth uncorked,
rolled out on the bottom-boards from under the sprawling man.

Heyst had never been so much astonished in his life. He stared dumbly at
the strange boat's crew. From the first he was positive that these
men were not sailors. They wore the white drill-suit of tropical
civilization; but their apparition in a boat Heyst could not connect
with anything plausible. The civilization of the tropics could have
had nothing to do with it. It was more like those myths, current in
Polynesia, of amazing strangers, who arrive at an island, gods or
demons, bringing good or evil to the innocence of the inhabitants--gifts
of unknown things, words never heard before.

Heyst noticed a cork helmet floating alongside the boat, evidently
fallen from the head of the man doubled over the tiller, who displayed
a dark, bony poll. An oar, too, had been knocked overboard, probably
by the sprawling man, who was still struggling, between the thwarts.
By this time Heyst regarded the visitation no longer with surprise, but
with the sustained attention demanded by a difficult problem. With one
foot poised on the string-piece, and leaning on his raised knee, he
was taking in everything. The sprawling man rolled off the thwart,
collapsed, and, most unexpectedly, got on his feet. He swayed dizzily,
spreading his arms out and uttered faintly a hoarse, dreamy "Hallo!" His
upturned face was swollen, red, peeling all over the nose and cheeks.
His stare was irrational. Heyst perceived stains of dried blood all over
the front of his dirty white coat, and also on one sleeve.

"What's the matter? Are you wounded?"

The other glanced down, reeled--one of his feet was inside a large pith
hat--and, recovering himself, let out a dismal, grating sound in the
manner of a grim laugh.

"Blood--not mine. Thirst's the matter. Exhausted's the matter. Done up.
Drink, man! Give us water!"

Thirst was in the very tone of his words, alternating a broken croak and
a faint, throaty rustle which just reached Heyst's ears. The man in the
boat raised his hands to be helped up on the jetty, whispering:

"I tried. I am too weak. I tumbled down."

Wang was coming along the jetty slowly, with intent, straining eyes.

"Run back and bring a crowbar here. There's one lying by the coal-heap,"
Heyst shouted to him.

The man standing in the boat sat down on the thwart behind him. A
horrible coughing laugh came through his swollen lips.

"Crowbar? What's that for?" he mumbled, and his head dropped on his
chest mournfully.

Meantime, Heyst, as if he had forgotten the boat, started kicking hard
at a large brass tap projecting above the planks. To accommodate ships
that came for coal and happened to need water as well, a stream had
been tapped in the interior and an iron pipe led along the jetty. It
terminated with a curved end almost exactly where the strangers' boat
had been driven between the piles; but the tap was set fast.

"Hurry up!" Heyst yelled to the Chinaman, who was running with the
crowbar in his hand.

Heyst snatched it from him and, obtaining a leverage against the
string-piece, wrung the stiff tap round with a mighty jerk. "I hope that
pipe hasn't got choked!" he muttered to himself anxiously.

It hadn't; but it did not yield a strong gush. The sound of a thin
stream, partly breaking on the gunwale of the boat and partly
splashing alongside, became at once audible. It was greeted by a cry of
inarticulate and savage joy. Heyst knelt on the string-piece and peered
down. The man who had spoken was already holding his open mouth under
the bright trickle. Water ran over his eyelids and over his nose,
gurgled down his throat, flowed over his chin. Then some obstruction in
the pipe gave way, and a sudden thick jet broke on his face. In a moment
his shoulders were soaked, the front of his coat inundated; he streamed
and dripped; water ran into his pockets, down his legs, into his shoes;
but he had clutched the end of the pipe, and, hanging on with both
hands, swallowed, spluttered, choked, snorted with the noises of a
swimmer. Suddenly a curious dull roar reached Heyst's ears. Something
hairy and black flew from under the jetty. A dishevelled head, coming on
like a cannonball, took the man at the pipe in flank, with enough force
to tear his grip loose and fling him headlong into the stern-sheets. He
fell upon the folded legs of the man at the tiller, who, roused by the
commotion in the boat, was sitting up, silent, rigid, and very much like
a corpse. His eyes were but two black patches, and his teeth glistened
with a death's head grin between his retracted lips, no thicker than
blackish parchment glued over the gums.

From him Heyst's eyes wandered to the creature who had replaced the
first man at the end of the water-pipe. Enormous brown paws clutched it
savagely; the wild, big head hung back, and in a face covered with a wet
mass of hair there gaped crookedly a wide mouth full of fangs. The water
filled it, welled up in hoarse coughs, ran down on each side of the jaws
and down the hairy throat, soaked the black pelt of the enormous chest,
naked under a torn check shirt, heaving convulsively with a play of
massive muscles carved in red mahogany.

As soon as the first man had recovered the breath knocked out of him
by the irresistible charge, a scream of mad cursing issued from the
stern-sheets. With a rigid, angular crooking of the elbow, the man at
the tiller put his hand back to his hip.

"Don't shoot him, sir!" yelled the first man. "Wait! Let me have that
tiller. I will teach him to shove himself in front of a caballero!"

Martin Ricardo flourished the heavy piece of wood, leaped forward with
astonishing vigour, and brought it down on Pedro's head with a crash
that resounded all over the quiet sweep of Black Diamond Bay. A crimson
patch appeared on the matted hair, red veins appeared in the water
flowing all over his face, and it dripped in rosy drops off his head.
But the man hung on. Not till a second furious blow descended did the
hairy paws let go their grip and the squirming body sink limply. Before
it could touch the bottom-boards, a tremendous kick in the ribs from
Ricardo's foot shifted it forward out of sight, whence came the noise of
a heavy thud, a clatter of spars, and a pitiful grunt. Ricardo stooped
to look under the jetty.

"Aha, dog! This will teach you to keep back where you belong, you
murdering brute, you slaughtering savage, you! You infidel, you robber
of churches! Next time I will rip you open from neck to heel, you
carrion-cater! Esclavo!"

He backed a little and straightened himself up.

"I don't mean it really," he remarked to Heyst, whose steady eyes met
his from above. He ran aft briskly.

"Come along, sir. It's your turn. I oughtn't to have drunk first. 'S
truth, I forgot myself! A gentleman like you will overlook that, I
know." As he made these apologies, Ricardo extended his hand. "Let me
steady you, sir."

Slowly Mr. Jones unfolded himself in all his slenderness, rocked,
staggered, and caught Ricardo's shoulder. His henchman assisted him
to the pipe, which went on gushing a clear stream of water, sparkling
exceedingly against the black piles and the gloom under the jetty.

"Catch hold, sir," Ricardo advised solicitously. "All right?"

He stepped back, and, while Mr. Jones revelled in the abundance of
water, he addressed himself to Heyst with a sort of justificatory
speech, the tone of which, reflecting his feelings, partook of purring
and spitting. They had been thirty hours tugging at the oars, he
explained, and they had been more than forty hours without water, except
that the night before they had licked the dew off the gunwales.

Ricardo did not explain to Heyst how it happened. At that precise moment
he had no explanation ready for the man on the wharf, who, he guessed,
must be wondering much more at the presence of his visitors than at
their plight.

Joseph Conrad