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Chapter 5


Davidson happened to be two days late on his return trip; no great
matter, certainly, but he made a point of going ashore at once, during
the hottest hour of the afternoon, to look for Heyst. Schomberg's hotel
stood back in an extensive enclosure containing a garden, some large
trees, and, under their spreading boughs, a detached "hall available
for concerts and other performances," as Schomberg worded it in his
advertisements. Torn, and fluttering bills, intimating in heavy red
capitals CONCERTS EVERY NIGHT, were stuck on the brick pillars on each
side of the gateway.

The walk had been long and confoundedly sunny. Davidson stood wiping his
wet neck and face on what Schomberg called "the piazza." Several doors
opened on to it, but all the screens were down. Not a soul was in sight,
not even a China boy--nothing but a lot of painted iron chairs and
tables. Solitude, shade, and gloomy silence--and a faint, treacherous
breeze which came from under the trees and quite unexpectedly caused the
melting Davidson to shiver slightly--the little shiver of the tropics
which in Sourabaya, especially, often means fever and the hospital to
the incautious white man.

The prudent Davidson sought shelter in the nearest darkened room. In the
artificial dusk, beyond the levels of shrouded billiard-tables, a white
form heaved up from two chairs on which it had been extended. The middle
of the day, table d'hote tiffin once over, was Schomberg's easy time. He
lounged out, portly, deliberate, on the defensive, the great fair beard
like a cuirass over his manly chest. He did not like Davidson, never a
very faithful client of his. He hit a bell on one of the tables as he
went by, and asked in a distant, Officer-in-Reserve manner:

"You desire?"

The good Davidson, still sponging his wet neck, declared with simplicity
that he had come to fetch away Heyst, as agreed.

"Not here!"

A Chinaman appeared in response to the bell. Schomberg turned to him
very severely:

"Take the gentleman's order."

Davidson had to be going. Couldn't wait--only begged that Heyst should
be informed that the Sissie would leave at midnight.

"Not--here, I am telling you!"

Davidson slapped his thigh in concern.

"Dear me! Hospital, I suppose." A natural enough surmise in a very
feverish locality.

The Lieutenant of the Reserve only pursed up his mouth and raised his
eyebrows without looking at him. It might have meant anything, but
Davidson dismissed the hospital idea with confidence. However, he had to
get hold of Heyst between this and midnight:

"He has been staying here?" he asked.

"Yes, he was staying here."

"Can you tell me where he is now?" Davidson went on placidly. Within
himself he was beginning to grow anxious, having developed the affection
of a self-appointed protector towards Heyst. The answer he got was:

"Can't tell. It's none of my business," accompanied by majestic
oscillations of the hotel-keeper's head, hinting at some awful mystery.

Davidson was placidity itself. It was his nature. He did not betray his
sentiments, which were not favourable to Schomberg.

"I am sure to find out at the Tesmans' office," he thought. But it was
a very hot hour, and if Heyst was down at the port he would have learned
already that the Sissie was in. It was even possible that Heyst had
already gone on board, where he could enjoy a coolness denied to the
town. Davidson, being stout, was much preoccupied with coolness and
inclined to immobility. He lingered awhile, as if irresolute. Schomberg,
at the door, looking out, affected perfect indifference. He could not
keep it up, though. Suddenly he turned inward and asked with brusque
rage:

"You wanted to see him?"

"Why, yes," said Davidson. "We agreed to meet--"

"Don't you bother. He doesn't care about that now."

"Doesn't he?"

"Well, you can judge for yourself. He isn't here, is he? You take my
word for it. Don't you bother about him. I am advising you as a friend."

"Thank you," said, Davidson, inwardly startled at the savage tone. "I
think I will sit down for a moment and have a drink, after all."

This was not what Schomberg had expected to hear. He called brutally:

"Boy!"

The Chinaman approached, and after referring him to the white man by a
nod the hotel-keeper departed, muttering to himself. Davidson heard him
gnash his teeth as he went.

Davidson sat alone with the billiard-tables as if there had been not a
soul staying in the hotel. His placidity was so genuine that he was not
unduly, fretting himself over the absence of Heyst, or the mysterious
manners Schomberg had treated him to. He was considering these things in
his own fairly shrewd way. Something had happened; and he was loath to
go away to investigate, being restrained by a presentiment that somehow
enlightenment would come to him there. A poster of CONCERTS EVERY
EVENING, like those on the gate, but in a good state of preservation,
hung on the wall fronting him. He looked at it idly and was struck by
the fact--then not so very common--that it was a ladies' orchestra;
"Zangiacomo's eastern tour--eighteen performers." The poster stated
that they had had the honour of playing their select repertoire before
various colonial excellencies, also before pashas, sheiks, chiefs, H. H.
the Sultan of Mascate, etc., etc.

Davidson felt sorry for the eighteen lady-performers. He knew what that
sort of life was like, the sordid conditions and brutal incidents of
such tours led by such Zangiacomos who often were anything but musicians
by profession. While he was staring at the poster, a door somewhere at
his back opened, and a woman came in who was looked upon as Schomberg's
wife, no doubt with truth. As somebody remarked cynically once, she was
too unattractive to be anything else. The opinion that he treated her
abominably was based on her frightened expression. Davidson lifted his
hat to her. Mrs. Schomberg gave him an inclination of her sallow head
and incontinently sat down behind a sort of raised counter, facing the
door, with a mirror and rows of bottles at her back. Her hair was very
elaborately done with two ringlets on the left side of her scraggy neck;
her dress was of silk, and she had come on duty for the afternoon. For
some reason or other Schomberg exacted this from her, though she added
nothing to the fascinations of the place. She sat there in the smoke and
noise, like an enthroned idol, smiling stupidly over the billiards from
time to time, speaking to no one, and no one speaking to her. Schomberg
himself took no more interest in her than may be implied in a sudden
and totally unmotived scowl. Otherwise the very Chinamen ignored her
existence.

She had interrupted Davidson in his reflections. Being alone with her,
her silence and open-mouthed immobility made him uncomfortable. He was
easily sorry for people. It seemed rude not to take any notice of her.
He said, in allusion to the poster:

"Are you having these people in the house?"

She was so unused to being addressed by customers that at the sound of
his voice she jumped in her seat. Davidson was telling us afterwards
that she jumped exactly like a figure made of wood, without losing her
rigid immobility. She did not even move her eyes; but she answered him
freely, though her very lips seemed made of wood.

"They stayed here over a month. They are gone now. They played every
evening."

"Pretty good, were they?"

To this she said nothing; and as she kept on staring fixedly in front
of her, her silence disconcerted Davidson. It looked as if she had not
heard him--which was impossible. Perhaps she drew the line of speech
at the expression of opinions. Schomberg might have trained her, for
domestic reasons, to keep them to herself. But Davidson felt in honour
obliged to converse; so he said, putting his own interpretation on this
surprising silence:

"I see--not much account. Such bands hardly ever are. An Italian lot,
Mrs. Schomberg, to judge by the name of the boss?"

She shook her head negatively.

"No. He is a German really; only he dyes his hair and beard black for
business. Zangiacomo is his business name."

"That's a curious fact," said Davidson. His head being full of Heyst, it
occurred to him that she might be aware of other facts. This was a very
amazing discovery to anyone who looked at Mrs. Schomberg. Nobody had
ever suspected her of having a mind. I mean even a little of it, I mean
any at all. One was inclined to think of her as an It--an automaton, a
very plain dummy, with an arrangement for bowing the head at times
and smiling stupidly now and then. Davidson viewed her profile with a
flattened nose, a hollow cheek, and one staring, unwinking, goggle eye.
He asked himself: Did that speak just now? Will it speak again? It was
as exciting, for the mere wonder of it, as trying to converse with a
mechanism. A smile played about the fat features of Davidson; the smile
of a man making an amusing experiment. He spoke again to her:

"But the other members of that orchestra were real Italians, were they
not?"

Of course, he didn't care. He wanted to see whether the mechanism would
work again. It did. It said they were not. They were of all sorts,
apparently. It paused, with the one goggle eye immovably gazing down
the whole length of the room and through the door opening on to the
"piazza." It paused, then went on in the same low pitch:

"There was even one English girl."

"Poor devil!"--said Davidson, "I suppose these women are not much better
than slaves really. Was that fellow with the dyed beard decent in his
way?"

The mechanism remained silent. The sympathetic soul of Davidson drew its
own conclusions.

"Beastly life for these women!" he said. "When you say an English girl,
Mrs. Schomberg, do you really mean a young girl? Some of these orchestra
girls are no chicks."

"Young enough," came the low voice out of Mrs. Schomberg's unmoved
physiognomy.

Davidson, encouraged, remarked that he was sorry for her. He was easily
sorry for people.

"Where did they go to from here?" he asked.

"She did not go with them. She ran away."

This was the pronouncement Davidson obtained next. It introduced a new
sort of interest.

"Well! Well!" he exclaimed placidly; and then, with the air of a man who
knows life: "Who with?" he inquired with assurance.

Mrs. Schomberg's immobility gave her an appearance of listening
intently. Perhaps she was really listening; but Schomberg must have been
finishing his sleep in some distant part of the house. The silence was
profound, and lasted long enough to become startling. Then, enthroned
above Davidson, she whispered at last:

"That friend of yours."

"Oh, you know I am here looking for a friend," said Davidson hopefully.
"Won't you tell me--"

"I've told you"

"Eh?"

A mist seemed to roll away from before Davidson's eyes, disclosing
something he could not believe.

"You can't mean it!" he cried. "He's not the man for it." But the last
words came out in a faint voice. Mrs. Schomberg never moved her head the
least bit. Davidson, after the shock which made him sit up, went slack
all over.

"Heyst! Such a perfect gentleman!" he exclaimed weakly.

Mrs. Schomberg did not seem to have heard him. This startling fact did
not tally somehow with the idea Davidson had of Heyst. He never talked
of women, he never seemed to think of them, or to remember that they
existed; and then all at once--like this! Running off with a casual
orchestra girl!

"You might have knocked me down with a feather," Davidson told us some
time afterwards.

By then he was taking an indulgent view of both the parties to that
amazing transaction. First of all, on reflection, he was by no means
certain that it prevented Heyst from being a perfect gentleman, as
before. He confronted our open grins or quiet smiles with a serious
round face. Heyst had taken the girl away to Samburan; and that was
no joking matter. The loneliness, the ruins of the spot, had impressed
Davidson's simple soul. They were incompatible with the frivolous
comments of people who had not seen it. That black jetty, sticking out
of the jungle into the empty sea; these roof-ridges of deserted houses
peeping dismally above the long grass! Ough! The gigantic and funeral
blackboard sign of the Tropical Belt Coal Company, still emerging from a
wild growth of bushes like an inscription stuck above a grave figured by
the tall heap of unsold coal at the shore end of the wharf, added to the
general desolation.

Thus the sensitive Davidson. The girl must have been miserable indeed to
follow such a strange man to such a spot. Heyst had, no doubt, told
her the truth. He was a gentleman. But no words could do justice to
the conditions of life on Samburan. A desert island was nothing to it.
Moreover, when you were cast away on a desert island--why, you could not
help yourself; but to expect a fiddle-playing girl out of an ambulant
ladies' orchestra to remain content there for a day, for one single day,
was inconceivable. She would be frightened at the first sight of it. She
would scream.

The capacity for sympathy in these stout, placid men! Davidson was
stirred to the depths; and it was easy to see that it was about Heyst
that he was concerned. We asked him if he had passed that way lately.

"Oh, yes. I always do--about half a mile off."

"Seen anybody about?"

"No, not a soul. Not a shadow."

"Did you blow your whistle?"

"Blow the whistle? You think I would do such a thing?"

He rejected the mere possibility of such an unwarrantable intrusion.
Wonderfully delicate fellow, Davidson!

"Well, but how do you know that they are there?" he was naturally asked.

Heyst had entrusted Mrs. Schomberg with a message for Davidson--a few
lines in pencil on a scrap of crumpled paper. It was to the effect: that
an unforeseen necessity was driving him away before the appointed time.
He begged Davidson's indulgence for the apparent discourtesy. The woman
of the house--meaning Mrs. Schomberg--would give him the facts, though
unable to explain them, of course.

"What was there to explain?" wondered Davidson dubiously.

"He took a fancy to that fiddle-playing girl, and--"

"And she to him, apparently," I suggested.

"Wonderfully quick work," reflected Davidson. "What do you think will
come of it?"

"Repentance, I should say. But how is it that Mrs. Schomberg has been
selected for a confidante?"

For indeed a waxwork figure would have seemed more useful than that
woman whom we all were accustomed to see sitting elevated above the two
billiard-tables--without expression, without movement, without voice,
without sight.

"Why, she helped the girl to bolt," said Davidson turning at me his
innocent eyes, rounded by the state of constant amazement in which
this affair had left him, like those shocks of terror or sorrow which
sometimes leave their victim afflicted by nervous trembling. It looked
as though he would never get over it.

"Mrs. Schomberg jerked Heyst's note, twisted like a pipe-light, into my
lap while I sat there unsuspecting," Davidson went on. "Directly I had
recovered my senses, I asked her what on earth she had to do with it
that Heyst should leave it with her. And then, behaving like a painted
image rather than a live woman, she whispered, just loud enough for me
to hear:

"I helped them. I got her things together, tied them up in my own shawl,
and threw them into the compound out of a back window. I did it."

"That woman that you would say hadn't the pluck to lift her little
finger!" marvelled Davidson in his quiet, slightly panting voice. "What
do you think of that?"

I thought she must have had some interest of her own to serve. She was
too lifeless to be suspected of impulsive compassion. It was impossible
to think that Heyst had bribed her. Whatever means he had, he had
not the means to do that. Or could it be that she was moved by
that disinterested passion for delivering a woman to a man which in
respectable spheres is called matchmaking?--a highly irregular example
of it!

"It must have been a very small bundle," remarked Davidson further.

"I imagine the girl must have been specially attractive," I said.

"I don't know. She was miserable. I don't suppose it was more than
a little linen and a couple of those white frocks they wear on the
platform."

Davidson pursued his own train of thought. He supposed that such a thing
had never been heard of in the history of the tropics. For where could
you find anyone to steal a girl out of an orchestra? No doubt fellows
here and there took a fancy to some pretty one--but it was not for
running away with her. Oh dear no! It needed a lunatic like Heyst.

"Only think what it means," wheezed Davidson, imaginative under his
invincible placidity. "Just only try to think! Brooding alone on
Samburan has upset his brain. He never stopped to consider, or he
couldn't have done it. No sane man . . . How is a thing like that to go
on? What's he going to do with her in the end? It's madness."

"You say that he's mad. Schomberg tells us that he must be starving on
his island; so he may end yet by eating her," I suggested.

Mrs. Schomberg had had no time to enter into details, Davidson told us.
Indeed, the wonder was that they had been left alone so long. The
drowsy afternoon was slipping by. Footsteps and voices resounded on the
veranda--I beg pardon, the piazza; the scraping of chairs, the ping of
a smitten bell. Customers were turning up. Mrs. Schomberg was begging
Davidson hurriedly, but without looking at him, to say nothing to
anyone, when on a half-uttered word her nervous whisper was cut short.
Through a small inner door Schomberg came in, his hair brushed, his
beard combed neatly, but his eyelids still heavy from his nap. He looked
with suspicion at Davidson, and even glanced at his wife; but he was
baffled by the natural placidity of the one and the acquired habit of
immobility in the other.

"Have you sent out the drinks?" he asked surlily.

She did not open her lips, because just then the head boy appeared with
a loaded tray, on his way out. Schomberg went to the door and greeted
the customers outside, but did not join them. He remained blocking
half the doorway, with his back to the room, and was still there when
Davidson, after sitting still for a while, rose to go. At the noise
he made Schomberg turned his head, watched him lift his hat to Mrs.
Schomberg and receive her wooden bow accompanied by a stupid grin, and
then looked away. He was loftily dignified. Davidson stopped at the
door, deep in his simplicity.

"I am sorry you won't tell me anything about my friend's absence," he
said. "My friend Heyst, you know. I suppose the only course for me now
is to make inquiries down at the port. I shall hear something there, I
don't doubt."

"Make inquiries of the devil!" replied Schomberg in a hoarse mutter.

Davidson's purpose in addressing the hotel-keeper had been mainly to
make Mrs. Schomberg safe from suspicion; but he would fain have heard
something more of Heyst's exploit from another point of view. It was
a shrewd try. It was successful in a rather startling way, because the
hotel-keeper's point of view was horribly abusive. All of a sudden, in
the same hoarse sinister tone, he proceeded to call Heyst many names, of
which "pig-dog" was not the worst, with such vehemence that he actually
choked himself. Profiting from the pause, Davidson, whose temperament
could withstand worse shocks, remonstrated in an undertone:

"It's unreasonable to get so angry as that. Even if he had run off with
your cash-box--"

The big hotel-keeper bent down and put his infuriated face close to
Davidson's.

"My cash-box! My--he--look here, Captain Davidson! He ran off with a
girl. What do I care for the girl? The girl is nothing to me."

He shot out an infamous word which made Davidson start. That's what the
girl was; and he reiterated the assertion that she was nothing to him.
What he was concerned for was the good name of his house. Wherever he
had been established, he had always had "artist parties" staying in his
house. One recommended him to the others; but what would happen now,
when it got about that leaders ran the risk in his house--his house--of
losing members of their troupe? And just now, when he had spent seven
hundred and thirty-four guilders in building a concert-hall in his
compound. Was that a thing to do in a respectable hotel? The cheek, the
indecency, the impudence, the atrocity! Vagabond, impostor, swindler,
ruffian, schwein-hund!

He had seized Davidson by a button of his coat, detaining him in
the doorway, and exactly in the line of Mrs. Schomberg's stony gaze.
Davidson stole a glance in that direction and thought of making some
sort of reassuring sign to her, but she looked so bereft of senses, and
almost of life, perched up there, that it seemed not worth while.
He disengaged his button with firm placidity. Thereupon, with a last
stifled curse, Schomberg vanished somewhere within, to try and compose
his spirits in solitude. Davidson stepped out on the veranda. The party
of customers there had become aware of the explosive interlude in the
doorway. Davidson knew one of these men, and nodded to him in passing;
but his acquaintance called out:

"Isn't he in a filthy temper? He's been like that ever since."

The speaker laughed aloud, while all the others sat smiling. Davidson
stopped.

"Yes, rather." His feelings were, he told us, those of bewildered
resignation; but of course that was no more visible to the others than
the emotions of a turtle when it withdraws into its shell.

"It seems unreasonable," he murmured thoughtfully.

"Oh, but they had a scrap!" the other said.

"What do you mean? Was there a fight!--a fight with Heyst?" asked
Davidson, much perturbed, if somewhat incredulous.

"Heyst? No, these two--the bandmaster, the fellow who's taking these
women about and our Schomberg. Signor Zangiacomo ran amuck in the
morning, and went for our worthy friend. I tell you, they were rolling
on the floor together on this very veranda, after chasing each other all
over the house, doors slamming, women screaming, seventeen of them, in
the dining-room; Chinamen up the trees. Hey, John? You climb tree to see
the fight, eh?"

The boy, almond-eyed and impassive, emitted a scornful grunt, finished
wiping the table, and withdrew.

"That's what it was--a real, go-as-you-please scrap. And Zangiacomo
began it. Oh, here's Schomberg. Say, Schomberg, didn't he fly at you,
when the girl was missed, because it was you who insisted that the
artists should go about the audience during the interval?"

Schomberg had reappeared in the doorway. He advanced. His bearing
was stately, but his nostrils were extraordinarily expanded, and he
controlled his voice with apparent effort.

"Certainly. That was only business. I quoted him special terms and
all for your sake, gentlemen. I was thinking of my regular customers.
There's nothing to do in the evenings in this town. I think, gentlemen,
you were all pleased at the opportunity of hearing a little good music;
and where's the harm of offering a grenadine, or what not, to a lady
artist? But that fellow--that Swede--he got round the girl. He got round
all the people out here. I've been watching him for years. You remember
how he got round Morrison."

He changed front abruptly, as if on parade, and marched off. The
customers at the table exchanged glances silently. Davidson's attitude
was that of a spectator. Schomberg's moody pacing of the billiard-room
could be heard on the veranda.

"And the funniest part is," resumed the man who had been speaking
before--an English clerk in a Dutch house--"the funniest part is that
before nine o'clock that same morning those two were driving together
in a gharry down to the port, to look for Heyst and the girl. I saw them
rushing around making inquiries. I don't know what they would have
done to the girl, but they seemed quite ready to fall upon your Heyst,
Davidson, and kill him on the quay."

He had never, he said, seen anything so queer. Those two investigators
working feverishly to the same end were glaring at each other with
surprising ferocity. In hatred and mistrust they entered a steam-launch,
and went flying from ship to ship all over the harbour, causing no end
of sensation. The captains of vessels, coming on shore later in the day,
brought tales of a strange invasion, and wanted to know who were the two
offensive lunatics in a steam-launch, apparently after a man and a girl,
and telling a story of which one could make neither head nor tail. Their
reception by the roadstead was generally unsympathetic, even to the
point of the mate of an American ship bundling them out over the rail
with unseemly precipitation.

Meantime Heyst and the girl were a good few miles away, having gone in
the night on board one of the Tesman schooners bound to the eastward.
This was known afterwards from the Javanese boatmen whom Heyst hired
for the purpose at three o'clock in the morning. The Tesman schooner had
sailed at daylight with the usual land breeze, and was probably still in
sight in the offing at the time. However, the two pursuers after their
experience with the American mate, made for the shore. On landing, they
had another violent row in the German language. But there was no second
fight; and finally, with looks of fierce animosity, they got together
into a gharry--obviously with the frugal view of sharing expenses--and
drove away, leaving an astonished little crowd of Europeans and natives
on the quay.

After hearing this wondrous tale, Davidson went away from the hotel
veranda, which was filling with Schomberg's regular customers. Heyst's
escapade was the general topic of conversation. Never before had that
unaccountable individual been the cause of so much gossip, he judged.
No! Not even in the beginnings of the Tropical Belt Coal Company when
becoming for a moment a public character was he the object of a silly
criticism and unintelligent envy for every vagabond and adventurer in
the islands. Davidson concluded that people liked to discuss that sort
of scandal better than any other.

I asked him if he believed that this was such a great scandal after all.

"Heavens, no!" said that excellent man who, himself, was incapable of
any impropriety of conduct. "But it isn't a thing I would have done
myself; I mean even if I had not been married."

There was no implied condemnation in the statement; rather something
like regret. Davidson shared my suspicion that this was in its essence
the rescue of a distressed human being. Not that we were two romantics,
tingeing the world to the hue of our temperament, but that both of us
had been acute enough to discover a long time ago that Heyst was.

"I shouldn't have had the pluck," he continued. "I see a thing all
round, as it were; but Heyst doesn't, or else he would have been scared.
You don't take a woman into a desert jungle without being made sorry for
it sooner or later, in one way or another; and Heyst being a gentleman
only makes it worse."

Joseph Conrad