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Chapter 10


She passed by Heyst as if she had indeed been blinded by some secret,
lurid, and consuming glare into which she was about to enter. The
curtain of the bedroom door fell behind her into rigid folds. Ricardo's
vacant gaze seemed to be watching the dancing flight of a fly in mid
air.

"Extra dark outside, ain't it?" he muttered.

"Not so dark but that I could see that man of yours prowling about
there," said Heyst in measured tones.

"What--Pedro? He's scarcely a man you know; or else I wouldn't be so
fond of him as I am."

"Very well. Let's call him your worthy associate."

"Ay! Worthy enough for what we want of him. A great standby is Peter in
a scrimmage. A growl and a bite--oh, my! And you don't want him about?"

"I don't."

"You want him out of the way?" insisted Ricardo with an affectation
of incredulity which Heyst accepted calmly, though the air in the room
seemed to grow more oppressive with every word spoken.

"That's it. I do want him out of the way." He forced himself to speak
equably.

"Lor'! That's no great matter. Pedro's not much use here. The business
my governor's after can be settled by ten minutes' rational talk
with--with another gentleman. Quiet talk!"

He looked up suddenly with hard, phosphorescent eyes. Heyst didn't move
a muscle. Ricardo congratulated himself on having left his revolver
behind. He was so exasperated that he didn't know what he might have
done. He said at last:

"You want poor, harmless Peter out of the way before you let me take you
to see the governor--is that it?"

"Yes, that is it."

"H'm! One can see," Ricardo said with hidden venom, "that you are a
gentleman; but all that gentlemanly fancifulness is apt to turn sour on
a plain man's stomach. However--you'll have to pardon me."

He put his fingers into his mouth and let out a whistle which seemed to
drive a thin, sharp shaft of air solidly against one's nearest ear-drum.
Though he greatly enjoyed Heyst's involuntary grimace, he sat perfectly
stolid waiting for the effect of the call.

It brought Pedro in with an extraordinary, uncouth, primeval
impetuosity. The door flew open with a clatter, and the wild figure it
disclosed seemed anxious to devastate the room in leaps and bounds;
but Ricardo raised his open palm, and the creature came in quietly.
His enormous half-closed paws swung to and fro a little in front of his
bowed trunk as he walked. Ricardo looked on truculently.

"You go to the boat--understand? Go now!"

The little red eyes of the tame monster blinked with painful attention
in the mass of hair.

"Well? Why don't you get? Forgot human speech, eh? Don't you know any
longer what a boat is?"

"Si--boat," the creature stammered out doubtfully.

"Well, go there--the boat at the jetty. March off to it and sit there,
lie down there, do anything but go to sleep there--till you hear my
call, and then fly here. Them's your orders. March! Get, vamos! No, not
that way--out through the front door. No sulks!"

Pedro obeyed with uncouth alacrity. When he had gone, the gleam of
pitiless savagery went out of Ricardo's yellow eyes, and his physiognomy
took on, for the first time that evening, the expression of a domestic
cat which is being noticed.

"You can watch him right into the bushes, if you like. Too dark, eh? Why
not go with him to the very spot, then?"

Heyst made a gesture of vague protest.

"There's nothing to assure me that he will stay there. I have no doubt
of his going, but it's an act without guarantee."

"There you are!" Ricardo shrugged his shoulders philosophically. "Can't
be helped. Short of shooting our Pedro, nobody can make absolutely sure
of his staying in the same place longer than he has a mind to; but I
tell you, he lives in holy terror of my temper. That's why I put on my
sudden-death air when I talk to him. And yet I wouldn't shoot him--not
I, unless in such a fit of rage as would make a man shoot his favourite
dog. Look here, sir! This deal is on the square. I didn't tip him a wink
to do anything else. He won't budge from the jetty. Are you coming along
now, sir?"

A short-silence ensued. Ricardo's jaws were working ominously under his
skin. His eyes glided: voluptuously here and there, cruel and dreamy,
Heyst checked a sudden movement, reflected for a while, then said:

"You must wait a little."

"Wait a little! Wait a little! What does he think a fellow is--a graven
image?" grumbled Ricardo half audibly.

Heyst went into the bedroom, and shut the door after him with a bang.
Coming from the light, he could not see a thing in there at first; yet
he received the impression of the girl getting up from the floor. On
the less opaque darkness of the shutter-hole, her head detached itself
suddenly, very faint, a mere hint of a round, dark shape without a face.

"I am going, Lena. I am going to confront these scoundrels." He was
surprised to feel two arms falling on his shoulders. "I thought that
you--" he began.

"Yes, yes!" the girl whispered hastily.

She neither clung to him, nor yet did she try to draw him to her. Her
hands grasped his shoulders, and she seemed to him to be staring into
his face in the dark. And now he could see something of her face,
too--an oval without features--and faintly distinguish her person, in
the blackness, a form without definite lines.

"You have a black dress here, haven't you, Lena?" he asked, speaking
rapidly, and so low that she could just hear him.

"Yes--an old thing."

"Very good. Put it on at once."

"But why?"

"Not for mourning!" Them was something peremptory in the slightly ironic
murmur. "Can you find it and get into it in the dark?"

She could. She would try. He waited, very still. He could imagine
her movements over there at the far end of the room; but his eyes,
accustomed now to the darkness, had lost her completely. When she spoke,
her voice surprised him by its nearness. She had done what he had told
her to do, and had approached him, invisible.

"Good! Where's that piece of purple veil I've seen lying about?" he
asked.

There was no answer, only a slight rustle.

"Where is it?" he repeated impatiently.

Her unexpected breath was on his cheek.

"In my hands."

"Capital! Listen, Lena. As soon as I leave the bungalow with that
horrible scoundrel, you slip out at the back--instantly, lose no
time!--and run round into the forest. That will be your time, while we
are walking away, and I am sure he won't give me the slip. Run into the
forest behind the fringe of bushes between the big trees. You will know,
surely, how to find a place in full view of the front door. I fear for
you; but in this black dress, with most of your face muffled up in that
dark veil, I defy anybody to find you there before daylight. Wait in the
forest till the table is pushed into full view of the doorway, and you
see three candles out of four blown out and one relighted--or, should
the lights be put out here while you watch them, wait till three candles
are lighted and then two put out. At either of these signals run back as
hard as you can, for it will mean that I am waiting for you here."

While he was speaking, the girl had sought and seized one of his
hands. She did not press it; she held it loosely, as it were timidly,
caressingly. It was no grasp; it was a mere contact, as if only to make
sure that he was there, that he was real and no mere darker shadow in
the obscurity. The warmth of her hand gave Heyst a strange, intimate
sensation of all her person. He had to fight down a new sort of emotion,
which almost unmanned him. He went on, whispering sternly:

"But if you see no such signals, don't let anything--fear, curiosity,
despair, or hope--entice you back to this house; and with the first sign
of dawn steal away along the edge of the clearing till you strike the
path. Wait no longer, because I shall probably be dead."

The murmur of the word "Never!" floated into his ear as if it formed
itself in the air.

"You know the path," he continued. "Make your way to the barricade. Go
to Wang--yes, to Wang. Let nothing stop you!" It seemed to him that the
girl's hand trembled a little. "The worst he can do to you is to shoot
you, but he won't. I really think he won't, if I am not there. Stay with
the villagers, with the wild people, and fear nothing. They will be more
awed by you than you can be frightened of them. Davidson's bound to turn
up before very long. Keep a look-out for a passing steamer. Think of
some sort of signal to call him."

She made no answer. The sense of the heavy, brooding silence in the
outside world seemed to enter and fill the room--the oppressive infinity
of it, without breath, without light. It was as if the heart of hearts
had ceased to beat and the end of all things had come.

"Have you understood? You are to run out of the house at once," Heyst
whispered urgently.

She lifted his hand to her lips and let it go. He was startled.

"Lena!" he cried out under his breath.

She was gone from his side. He dared not trust himself--no, not even to
the extent of a tender word.

Turning to go out he heard a thud somewhere in the house. To open the
door, he had first to lift the curtain; he did so with his face over his
shoulder. The merest trickle of light, earning through the keyhole
and one or two cracks, was enough for his eyes to see her plainly, all
black, down on her knees, with her head and arms flung on the foot of
the bed--all black in the desolation of a mourning sinner. What was
this? A suspicion that there were everywhere more things than he
could understand crossed Heyst's mind. Her arm, detached from the bed,
motioned him away. He obeyed, and went out, full of disquiet.

The curtain behind him had not ceased to tremble when she was up on her
feet, close against it, listening for sounds, for words, in a stooping,
tragic attitude of stealthy attention, one hand clutching at her breast
as if to compress, to make less loud the beating of her heart. Heyst
had caught Mr. Jones's secretary in the contemplation of his closed
writing-desk. Ricardo might have been meditating how to break into it;
but when he turned about suddenly, he showed so distorted a face that
it made Heyst pause in wonder at the upturned whites of the eyes, which
were blinking horribly, as if the man were inwardly convulsed.

"I thought you were never coming," Ricardo mumbled.

"I didn't know you were pressed for time. Even if your going away
depends on this conversation, as you say, I doubt if you are the men to
put to sea on such a night as this," said Heyst, motioning Ricardo to
precede him out of the house.

With feline undulations of hip and shoulder, the secretary left the
room at once. There was something cruel in the absolute dumbness of the
night. The great cloud covering half the sky hung right against one,
like an enormous curtain hiding menacing preparations of violence. As
the feet of the two men touched the ground, a rumble came from behind
it, preceded by a swift, mysterious gleam of light on the waters of the
bay.

"Ha!" said Ricardo. "It begins."

"It may be nothing in the end," observed Heyst, stepping along steadily.

"No! Let it come!" Ricardo said viciously. "I am in the humour for it!"

By the time the two men had reached the other bungalow, the far-off
modulated rumble growled incessantly, while pale lightning in waves of
cold fire flooded and ran off the island in rapid succession. Ricardo,
unexpectedly, dashed ahead up the steps and put his head through the
doorway.

"Here he is, governor! Keep him with you as long as you can--till you
hear me whistle. I am on the track."

He flung these words into the room with inconceivable speed, and stood
aside to let the visitor pass through the doorway; but he had to wait
an appreciable moment, because Heyst, seeing his purpose, had scornfully
slowed his pace. When Heyst entered the room it was with a smile, the
Heyst smile, lurking under his martial moustache.

Joseph Conrad