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Chapter 7


The explanation lay in the two simple facts that the light winds and
strong currents of the Java Sea had drifted the boat about until they
partly lost their bearings; and that by some extra-ordinary mistake
one of the two jars put into the boat by Schomberg's man contained salt
water. Ricardo tried to put some pathos into his tones. Pulling for
thirty hours with eighteen-foot oars! And the sun! Ricardo relieved
his feelings by cursing the sun. They had felt their hearts and lungs
shrivel within them. And then, as if all that hadn't been trouble
enough, he complained bitterly, he had had to waste his fainting
strength in beating their servant about the head with a stretcher. The
fool had wanted to drink sea water, and wouldn't listen to reason.
There was no stopping him otherwise. It was better to beat him into
insensibility than to have him go crazy in the boat, and to be obliged
to shoot him. The preventive, administered with enough force to brain
an elephant, boasted Ricardo, had to be applied on two occasions--the
second time all but in sight of the jetty.

"You have seen the beauty," Ricardo went on expansively, hiding his lack
of some sort of probable story under this loquacity. "I had to hammer
him away from the spout. Opened afresh all the old broken spots on his
head. You saw how hard I had to hit. He has no restraint, no restraint
at all. If it wasn't that he can be made useful in one way or another, I
would just as soon have let the governor shoot him."

He smiled up at Heyst in his peculiar lip-retracting manner, and added
by way of afterthought:

"That's what will happen to him in the end, if he doesn't learn to
restrain himself. But I've taught him to mind his manners for a while,
anyhow!"

And again he addressed his quick grin up to the man on the wharf. His
round eyes had never left Heyst's face ever since he began to deliver
his account of the voyage.

"So that's how he looks!" Ricardo was saying to himself.

He had not expected Heyst to be like this. He had formed for himself
a conception containing the helpful suggestion of a vulnerable point.
These solitary men were often tipplers. But no!--this was not a
drinking man's face; nor could he detect the weakness of alarm, or even
the weakness of surprise, on these features, in those steady eyes.

"We were too far gone to climb out," Ricardo went on. "I heard you
walking along though. I thought I shouted; I tried to. You didn't hear
me shout?"

Heyst made an almost imperceptible negative sign, which the greedy eyes
of Ricardo--greedy for all signs--did not miss.

"Throat too parched. We didn't even care to whisper to each other
lately. Thirst chokes one. We might have died there under this wharf
before you found us."

"I couldn't think where you had gone to." Heyst was heard at last,
addressing directly the newcomers from the sea. "You were seen as soon
as you cleared that point."

"We were seen, eh?" grunted Mr. Ricardo. "We pulled like
machines--daren't stop. The governor sat at the tiller, but he couldn't
speak to us. She drove in between the piles till she hit something, and
we all tumbled off the thwarts as if we had been drunk. Drunk--ha, ha!
Too dry, by George! We fetched in here with the very last of our
strength, and no mistake. Another mile would have done for us. When I
heard your footsteps, above, I tried to get up, and I fell down."

"That was the first sound I heard," said Heyst.

Mr Jones, the front of his soiled white tunic soaked and plastered
against his breast-bone, staggered away from the water-pipe. Steadying
himself on Ricardo's shoulder, he drew a long breath, raised his
dripping head, and produced a smile of ghastly amiability, which was
lost upon the thoughtful Heyst. Behind his back the sun, touching the
water, was like a disc of iron cooled to a dull red glow, ready to start
rolling round the circular steel plate of the sea, which, under the
darkening sky, looked more solid than the high ridge of Samburan; more
solid than the point, whose long outlined slope melted into its own
unfathomable shadow blurring the dim sheen on the bay. The forceful
stream from the pipe broke like shattered glass on the boat's gunwale.
Its loud, fitful, and persistent splashing revealed the depths of the
world's silence.

"Great notion, to lead the water out here," pronounced Ricardo
appreciatively.

Water was life. He felt now as if he could run a mile, scale a ten-foot
wall, sing a song. Only a few minutes ago he was next door to a corpse,
done up, unable to stand, to lift a hand; unable to groan. A drop of
water had done that miracle.

"Didn't you feel life itself running and soaking into you, sir?" he
asked his principal, with deferential but forced vivacity.

Without a word, Mr. Jones stepped off the thwart and sat down in the
stern-sheets.

"Isn't that man of yours bleeding to death in the bows under there?"
inquired Heyst.

Ricardo ceased his ecstasies over the life-giving water and answered in
a tone of innocence:

"He? You may call him a man, but his hide is a jolly sight tougher than
the toughest alligator he ever skinned in the good old days. You don't
know how much he can stand: I do. We have tried him a long time ago.
Ola, there! Pedro! Pedro!" he yelled, with a force of lung testifying to
the regenerative virtues of water.

A weak "Senor?" came from under the wharf.

"What did I tell you?" said Ricardo triumphantly. "Nothing can hurt him.
He's all right. But, I say, the boat's getting swamped. Can't you turn
this water off before you sink her under us? She's half full already."

At a sign from Heyst, Wang hammered at the brass tap on the wharf, then
stood behind Number One, crowbar in hand, motionless as before. Ricardo
was perhaps not so certain of Pedro's toughness as he affirmed; for he
stooped, peering under the wharf, then moved forward out of sight. The
gush of water ceasing suddenly, made a silence which became complete
when the after-trickle stopped. Afar, the sun was reduced to a red
spark, glowing very low in the breathless immensity of twilight. Purple
gleams lingered on the water all round the boat. The spectral figure in
the stern-sheets spoke in a languid tone:

"That--er--companion--er--secretary of mine is a queer chap. I am afraid
we aren't presenting ourselves in a very favourable light."

Heyst listened. It was the conventional voice of an educated man,
only strangely lifeless. But more strange yet was this concern for
appearances, expressed, he did not know, whether in jest or in earnest.
Earnestness was hardly to be supposed under the circumstances, and no
one had ever jested in such dead tones. It was something which could not
be answered, and Heyst said nothing. The other went on:

"Travelling as I do, I find a man of his sort extremely useful. He has
his little weaknesses, no doubt."

"Indeed!" Heyst was provoked into speaking. "Weakness of the arm is not
one of them; neither is an exaggerated humanity, as far as I can judge."

"Defects of temper," explained Mr. Jones from the stern-sheets.

The subject of this dialogue, coming out just then from under the
wharf into the visible part of the boat, made himself heard in his own
defence, in a voice full of life, and with nothing languid in his manner
on the contrary, it was brisk, almost jocose. He begged pardon for
contradicting. He was never out of temper with "our Pedro." The
fellow was a Dago of immense strength and of no sense whatever. This
combination made him dangerous, and he had to be treated accordingly, in
a manner which he could understand. Reasoning was beyond him.

"And so"--Ricardo addressed Heyst with animation--"you mustn't be
surprised if--"

"I assure you," Heyst interrupted, "that my wonder at your arrival
in your boat here is so great that it leaves no room for minor
astonishments. But hadn't you better land?"

"That's the talk, sir!" Ricardo began to bustle about the boat, talking
all the time. Finding himself unable to "size up" this man, he was
inclined to credit him with extraordinary powers of penetration, which,
it seemed to him, would be favoured by silence. Also, he feared some
pointblank question. He had no ready-made story to tell. He and his
patron had put off considering that rather important detail too
long. For the last two days, the horrors of thirst, coming on them
unexpectedly, had prevented consultation. They had had to pull for
dear life. But the man on the wharf, were he in league with the devil
himself, would pay for all their sufferings, thought Ricardo with an
unholy joy.

Meantime, splashing in the water which covered the bottom-boards,
Ricardo congratulated himself aloud on the luggage being out of the way
of the wet. He had piled it up forward. He had roughly tied up Pedro's
head. Pedro had nothing to grumble about. On the contrary, he ought to
be mighty thankful to him, Ricardo, for being alive at all.

"Well, now, let me give you a leg up, sir," he said cheerily to
his motionless principal in the stern-sheets. "All our troubles are
over--for a time, anyhow. Ain't it luck to find a white man on this
island? I would have just as soon expected to meet an angel from
heaven--eh, Mr. Jones? Now then--ready, sir? one, two, three, up you
go!"

Helped from below by Ricardo, and from above by the man more unexpected
than an angel, Mr. Jones scrambled up and stood on the wharf by the side
of Heyst. He swayed like a reed. The night descending on Samburan turned
into dense shadow the point of land and the wharf itself, and gave a
dark solidity to the unshimmering water extending to the last faint
trace of light away to the west. Heyst stared at the guests whom the
renounced world had sent him thus at the end of the day. The only other
vestige of light left on earth lurked in the hollows of the thin man's
eyes. They gleamed, mobile and languidly evasive. The eyelids fluttered.

"You are feeling weak," said Heyst.

"For the moment, a little," confessed the other.

With loud panting, Ricardo scrambled on his hands and knees upon the
wharf, energetic and unaided. He rose up at Heyst's elbow and stamped
his foot on the planks, with a sharp, provocative, double beat, such
as is heard sometimes in fencing-schools before the adversaries engage
their foils. Not that the renegade seaman Ricardo knew anything of
fencing. What he called "shooting-irons," were his weapons, or the still
less aristocratic knife, such as was even then ingeniously strapped
to his leg. He thought of it, at that moment. A swift stooping motion,
then, on the recovery, a ripping blow, a shove off the wharf, and no
noise except a splash in the water that would scarcely disturb the
silence. Heyst would have no time for a cry. It would be quick and neat,
and immensely in accord with Ricardo's humour. But he repressed this
gust of savagery. The job was not such a simple one. This piece had to
be played to another tune, and in much slower time. He returned to his
note of talkative simplicity.

"Ay; and I too don't feel as strong as I thought I was when the first
drink set me up. Great wonder-worker water is! And to get it right here
on the spot! It was heaven--hey, sir?"

Mr Jones, being directly addressed, took up his part in the concerted
piece:

"Really, when I saw a wharf on what might have been an uninhabited
island, I couldn't believe my eyes. I doubted its existence. I thought
it was a delusion till the boat actually drove between the piles, as you
see her lying now."

While he was speaking faintly, in a voice which did not seem to belong
to the earth, his henchman, in extremely loud and terrestrial accents,
was fussing about their belongings in the boat, addressing himself to
Pedro:

"Come, now--pass up the dunnage there! Move, yourself, hombre, or I'll
have to get down again and give you a tap on those bandages of yours,
you growling bear, you!"

"Ah! You didn't believe in the reality of the wharf?" Heyst was saying
to Mr. Jones.

"You ought to kiss my hands!"

Ricardo caught hold of an ancient Gladstone bag and swung it on the
wharf with a thump.

"Yes! You ought to burn a candle before me as they do before the saints
in your country. No saint has ever done so much for you as I have, you
ungrateful vagabond. Now then! Up you get!"

Helped by the talkative Ricardo, Pedro scrambled up on the wharf, where
he remained for some time on all fours, swinging to and fro his shaggy
head tied up in white rags. Then he got up clumsily, like a bulky animal
in the dusk, balancing itself on its hind legs.

Mr Jones began to explain languidly to Heyst that they were in a pretty
bad state that morning, when they caught sight of the smoke of the
volcano. It nerved them to make an effort for their lives. Soon
afterwards they made out the island.

"I had just wits enough left in my baked brain to alter the direction
of the boat," the ghostly voice went on. "As to finding assistance,
a wharf, a white man--nobody would have dreamed of it. Simply
preposterous!"

"That's what I thought when my Chinaman came and told me he had seen a
boat with white men pulling up," said Heyst.

"Most extraordinary luck," interjected Ricardo, standing by anxiously
attentive to every word. "Seems a dream," he added. "A lovely dream!"

A silence fell on that group of three, as if everyone had become afraid
to speak, in an obscure sense of an impending crisis. Pedro on one side
of them and Wang on the other had the air of watchful spectators. A few
stars had come out pursuing the ebbing twilight. A light draught of air
tepid enough in the thickening twilight after the scorching day, struck
a chill into Mr. Jones in his soaked clothes.

"I may infer, then, that there is a settlement of white people here?" he
murmured, shivering visibly.

Heyst roused himself.

"Oh, abandoned, abandoned. I am alone here--practically alone; but
several empty houses are still standing. No lack of accommodation. We
may just as well--here, Wang, go back to the shore and run the trolley
out here."

The last words having been spoken in Malay, he explained courteously
that he had given directions for the transport of the luggage. Wang had
melted into the night--in his soundless manner.

"My word! Rails laid down and all," exclaimed Ricardo softly, in a tone
of admiration. "Well, I never!"

"We were working a coal-mine here," said the late manager of the
Tropical Belt Coal Company. "These are only the ghosts of things that
have been."

Mr Jones's teeth were suddenly started chattering by another faint puff
of wind, a mere sigh from the west, where Venus cast her rays on the
dark edge of the horizon, like a bright lamp hung above the grave of the
sun.

"We might be moving on," proposed Heyst. "My Chinaman and
that--ah--ungrateful servant of yours, with the broken head, can load
the things and come along after us."

The suggestion was accepted without words. Moving towards the shore,
the three men met the trolley, a mere metallic rustle which whisked past
them, the shadowy Wang running noiselessly behind. Only the sound of
their footsteps accompanied them. It was a long time since so many
footsteps had rung together on that jetty. Before they stepped on to the
path trodden through the grass, Heyst said:

"I am prevented from offering you a share of my own quarters." The
distant courtliness of this beginning arrested the other two suddenly,
as if amazed by some manifest incongruity. "I should regret it more,"
he went on, "if I were not in a position to give you the choice of those
empty bungalows for a temporary home."

He turned round and plunged into the narrow track, the two others
following in single file.

"Queer start!" Ricardo took the opportunity for whispering, as he fell
behind Mr. Jones, who swayed in the gloom, enclosed by the stalks of
tropical grass, almost as slender as a stalk of grass himself.

In this order they emerged into the open space kept clear of vegetation
by Wang's judicious system of periodic firing. The shapes of buildings,
unlighted, high-roofed, looked mysteriously extensive and featureless
against the increasing glitter of the stars. Heyst was pleased at
the absence of light in his bungalow. It looked as uninhabited as
the others. He continued to lead the way, inclining to the right. His
equable voice was heard:

"This one would be the best. It was our counting-house. There is some
furniture in it yet. I am pretty certain that you'll find a couple of
camp bedsteads in one of the rooms."

The high-pitched roof of the bungalow towered up very close, eclipsing
the sky.

"Here we are. Three steps. As you see, there's a wide veranda. Sorry to
keep you waiting for a moment; the door is locked, I think."

He was heard trying it. Then he leaned against the rail, saying:

"Wang will get the keys."

The others waited, two vague shapes nearly mingled together in the
darkness of the veranda, from which issued a sudden chattering of Mr.
Jones's teeth, directly suppressed, and a slight shuffle of Ricardo's
feet. Their guide and host, his back against the rail, seemed to have
forgotten their existence. Suddenly he moved, and murmured:

"Ah, here's the trolley."

Then he raised his voice in Malay, and was answered, "Ya tuan," from an
indistinct group that could be made out in the direction of the track.

"I have sent Wang for the key and a light," he said, in a voice
that came out without any particular direction--a peculiarity which
disconcerted Ricardo.

Wang did not tarry long on his mission. Very soon from the distant
recesses of obscurity appeared the swinging lantern he carried. It cast
a fugitive ray on the arrested trolley with the uncouth figure of the
wild Pedro drooping over the load; then it moved towards the bungalow
and ascended the stairs. After working at the stiff lock, Wang applied
his shoulder to the door. It came open with explosive suddenness, as if
in a passion at being thus disturbed after two years' repose. From the
dark slope of a tall stand-up writing-desk a forgotten, solitary sheet
of paper flew up and settled gracefully on the floor.

Wang and Pedro came and went through the offended door, bringing the
things off the trolley, one flitting swiftly in and out, the other
staggering heavily. Later, directed by a few quiet words from Number
One, Wang made several journeys with the lantern to the store-rooms,
bringing in blankets, provisions in tins, coffee, sugar, and a packet of
candles. He lighted one, and stuck it on the ledge of the stand-up desk.
Meantime Pedro, being introduced to some kindling-wood and a bundle of
dry sticks, had busied himself outside in lighting a fire, on which he
placed a ready-filled kettle handed to him by Wang impassively, at arm's
length, as if across a chasm. Having received the thanks of his guests,
Heyst wished them goodnight and withdrew, leaving them to their repose.


Joseph Conrad