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Chapter 4


Heyst, seated at the table with his chin on his breast, raised his head
at the faint rustle of Lena's dress. He was startled by the dead pallor
of her cheeks, by something lifeless in her eyes, which looked at
him strangely, without recognition. But to his anxious inquiries she
answered reassuringly that there was nothing the matter with her,
really. She had felt giddy on rising. She had even had a moment of
faintness, after her bath. She had to sit down to wait for it to pass.
This had made her late dressing.

"I didn't try to do my hair. I didn't want to keep you waiting any
longer," she said.

He was unwilling to press her with questions about her health, since she
seemed to make light of this indisposition. She had not done her hair,
but she had brushed it, and had tied it with a ribbon behind. With her
forehead uncovered, she looked very young, almost a child, a careworn
child; a child with something on its mind.

What surprised Heyst was the non-appearance of Wang. The Chinaman had
always materialized at the precise moment of his service, neither too
soon nor too late. This time the usual miracle failed. What was the
meaning of this?

Heyst raised his voice--a thing he disliked doing. It was promptly
answered from the compound:

"Ada tuan!"

Lena, leaning on her elbow, with her eyes on her plate, did not seem to
hear anything. When Wang entered with a tray, his narrow eyes, tilted
inward by the prominence of salient cheek-bones, kept her under stealthy
observation all the time. Neither the one nor the other of that white
couple paid the slightest attention to him and he withdrew without
having heard them exchange a single word. He squatted on his heels on
the back veranda. His Chinaman's mind, very clear but not far-reaching,
was made up according to the plain reason of things, such as it appeared
to him in the light of his simple feeling for self-preservation,
untrammelled by any notions of romantic honour or tender conscience. His
yellow hands, lightly clasped, hung idly between his knees. The graves
of Wang's ancestors were far away, his parents were dead, his elder
brother was a soldier in the yamen of some Mandarin away in Formosa. No
one near by had a claim on his veneration or his obedience. He had been
for years a labouring restless vagabond. His only tie in the world
was the Alfuro woman, in exchange for whom he had given away some
considerable part of his hard-earned substance; and his duty, in reason,
could be to no one but himself.

The scuffle behind the curtain was a thing of bad augury for that Number
One for whom the Chinaman had neither love nor dislike. He had been awed
enough by that development to hang back with the coffee-pot till at last
the white man was induced to call him in. Wang went in with curiosity.
Certainly, the white woman looked as if she had been wrestling with
a spirit which had managed to tear half her blood out of her before
letting her go. As to the man, Wang had long looked upon him as being in
some sort bewitched; and now he was doomed. He heard their voices in
the room. Heyst was urging the girl to go and lie down again. He was
extremely concerned. She had eaten nothing.

"The best thing for you. You really must!"

She sat listless, shaking her head from time to time negatively, as if
nothing could be any good. But he insisted; she saw the beginning of
wonder in his eyes, and suddenly gave way.

"Perhaps I had better."

She did not want to arouse his wonder, which would lead him straight to
suspicion. He must not suspect!

Already, with the consciousness of her love for this man, of that
something rapturous and profound going beyond the mere embrace, there
was born in her a woman's innate mistrust of masculinity, of that
seductive strength allied to an absurd, delicate shrinking from the
recognition of the naked necessity of facts, which never yet frightened
a woman worthy of the name. She had no plan; but her mind, quieted down
somewhat by the very effort to preserve outward composure for his sake,
perceived that her behaviour had secured, at any rate, a short period of
safety. Perhaps because of the similarity of their miserable origin in
the dregs of mankind, she had understood Ricardo perfectly. He would
keep quiet for a time now. In this momentarily soothing certitude her
bodily fatigue asserted itself, the more overpoweringly since its cause
was not so much the demand on her strength as the awful suddenness of
the stress she had had to meet. She would have tried to overcome it
from the mere instinct of resistance, if it had not been for Heyst's
alternate pleadings and commands. Before this eminently masculine
fussing she felt the woman's need to give way, the sweetness of
surrender.

"I will do anything you like," she said.

Getting up, she was surprised by a wave of languid weakness that came
over her, embracing and enveloping her like warm water, with a noise in
her ears as of a breaking sea.

"You must help me along," she added quickly.

While he put his arm round her waist--not by any means an uncommon thing
for him to do--she found a special satisfaction in the feeling of being
thus sustained. She abandoned all her weight to that encircling and
protecting pressure, while a thrill went through her at the sudden
thought that it was she who would have to protect him, to be the
defender of a man who was strong enough to lift her bodily, as he was
doing even then in his two arms. For Heyst had done this as soon as they
had crept through the doorway of the room. He thought it was quicker
and simpler to carry her the last step or two. He had grown really too
anxious to be aware of the effort. He lifted her high and deposited her
on the bed, as one lays a child on its side in a cot. Then he sat down
on the edge, masking his concern with a smile which obtained no response
from the dreamy immobility of her eyes. But she sought his hand, seized
it eagerly; and while she was pressing it with all the force of
which she was capable, the sleep she needed overtook her suddenly,
overwhelmingly, as it overtakes a child in a cot, with her lips parted
for a safe, endearing word which she had thought of but had no time to
utter.

The usual flaming silence brooded over Samburan.

"What in the world is this new mystery?" murmured Heyst to himself,
contemplating her deep slumber.

It was so deep, this enchanted sleep, that when some time afterwards he
gently tried to open her fingers and free his hand, he succeeded without
provoking the slightest stir.

"There is some very simple explanation, no doubt," he thought, as he
stole out into the living-room.

Absent-mindedly he pulled a book out of the top shelf, and sat down with
it; but even after he had opened it on his knee, and had been staring
at the pages for a time, he had not the slightest idea of what it was
about. He stared and stared at the crowded, parallel lines. It was only
when, raising his eyes for no particular reason, he saw Wang standing
motionless on the other side of the table, that he regained complete
control of his faculties.

"Oh, yes," he said, as if suddenly reminded of a forgotten appointment
of a not particularly welcome sort.

He waited a little, and then, with reluctant curiosity, forced himself
to ask the silent Wang what he had to say. He had some idea that the
matter of the vanished revolver would come up at last; but the guttural
sounds which proceeded from the Chinaman did not refer to that delicate
subject. His speech was concerned with cups, saucers, plates, forks, and
knives. All these things had been put away in the cupboards on the
back veranda, where they belonged, perfectly clean, "all plopel." Heyst
wondered at the scrupulosity of a man who was about to abandon him;
for he was not surprised to hear Wang conclude the account of his
stewardship with the words:

"I go now."

"Oh! You go now?" said Heyst, leaning back, his book on his knees.

"Yes. Me no likee. One man, two man, three man--no can do! Me go now."

"What's frightening you away like this?" asked Heyst, while through his
mind flashed the hope that something enlightening might come from that
being so unlike himself, taking contact with the world with a simplicity
and directness of which his own mind was not capable. "Why?" he went on.
"You are used to white men. You know them well."

"Yes. Me savee them," assented Wang inscrutably. "Me savee plenty."

All that he really knew was his own mind. He had made it up to withdraw
himself and the Alfuro woman from the uncertainties of the relations
which were going to establish themselves between those white men. It
was Pedro who had been the first cause of Wang's suspicion and fear. The
Chinaman had seen wild men. He had penetrated, in the train of a Chinese
pedlar, up one or two of the Bornean rivers into the country of the
Dyaks. He had also been in the interior of Mindanao, where there are
people who live in trees--savages, no better than animals; but a
hairy brute like Pedro, with his great fangs and ferocious growls, was
altogether beyond his conception of anything that could be looked upon
as human. The strong impression made on him by Pedro was the prime
inducement which had led Wang to purloin the revolver. Reflection on
the general situation, and on the insecurity of Number One, came later,
after he had obtained possession of the revolver and of the box of
cartridges out of the table drawer in the living-room.

"Oh, you savee plenty about white men," Heyst went on in a slightly
bantering tone, after a moment of silent reflection in which he had
confessed to himself that the recovery of the revolver was not to be
thought of, either by persuasion or by some more forcible means. "You
speak in that fashion, but you are frightened of those white men over
there."

"Me no flightened," protested Wang raucously, throwing up his
head--which gave to his throat a more strained, anxious appearance than
ever. "Me no likee," he added in a quieter tone. "Me velly sick."

He put his hand over the region under the breast-bone.

"That," said Heyst, serenely positive, "belong one piecee lie. That
isn't proper man-talk at all. And after stealing my revolver, too!"

He had suddenly decided to speak about it, because this frankness could
not make the situation much worse than it was. He did not suppose for a
moment that Wang had the revolver anywhere about his person; and after
having thought the matter over, he had arrived at the conclusion that
the Chinaman never meant to use the weapon against him. After a slight
start, because the direct charge had taken him unawares, Wang tore open
the front of his jacket with a convulsive show of indignation.

"No hab got. Look see!" he mouthed in pretended anger.

He slapped his bare chest violently; he uncovered his very ribs, all
astir with the panting of outraged virtue; his smooth stomach heaved
with indignation. He started his wide blue breeches flapping about his
yellow calves. Heyst watched him quietly.

"I never said you had it on you," he observed, without raising his
voice; "but the revolver is gone from where I kept it."

"Me no savee levolvel," Wang said obstinately.

The book lying open on Heyst's knee slipped suddenly and he made a
sharp movement to catch it up. Wang was unable to see the reason of
this because of the table, and leaped away from what seemed to him a
threatening symptom. When Heyst looked up, the Chinaman was already at
the door facing the room, not frightened, but alert.

"What's the matter?" asked Heyst.

Wang nodded his shaven head significantly at the curtain closing the
doorway of the bedroom.

"Me no likee," he repeated.

"What the devil do you mean?" Heyst was genuinely amazed. "Don't like
what?"

Wang pointed a long lemon-coloured finger at the motionless folds.

"Two," he said.

"Two what? I don't understand."

"Suppose you savee, you no like that fashion. Me savee plenty. Me go
now."

Heyst had risen from his chair, but Wang kept his ground in the doorway
for a little longer. His almond-shaped eyes imparted to his face an
expression of soft and sentimental melancholy. The muscles of his throat
moved visibly while he uttered a distinct and guttural "Goodbye" and
vanished from Number One's sight.

The Chinaman's departure altered the situation. Heyst reflected on what
would be best to do in view of that fact. For a long time he hesitated;
then, shrugging his shoulders wearily, he walked out on the veranda,
down the steps, and continued at a steady gait, with a thoughtful mien,
in the direction of his guests' bungalow. He wanted to make an important
communication to them, and he had no other object--least of all to give
them the shock of a surprise call. Nevertheless, their brutish henchman
not being on watch, it was Heyst's fate to startle Mr. Jones and his
secretary by his sudden appearance in the doorway. Their conversation
must have been very interesting to prevent them from hearing the
visitor's approach. In the dim room--the shutters were kept constantly
closed against the heat--Heyst saw them start apart. It was Mr. Jones
who spoke:

"Ah, here you are again! Come in, come in!"

Heyst, taking his hat off in the doorway, entered the room.


Joseph Conrad