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Chapter 6


We said no more about Heyst on that occasion, and it so happened that
I did not meet Davidson again for some three months. When we did come
together, almost the first thing he said to me was:

"I've seen him."

Before I could exclaim, he assured me that he had taken no liberty,
that he had not intruded. He was called in. Otherwise he would not have
dreamed of breaking in upon Heyst's privacy.

"I am certain you wouldn't," I assured him, concealing my amusement at
his wonderful delicacy. He was the most delicate man that ever took a
small steamer to and fro among the islands. But his humanity, which was
not less strong and praiseworthy, had induced him to take his
steamer past Samburan wharf (at an average distance of a mile) every
twenty-three days--exactly. Davidson was delicate, humane, and regular.

"Heyst called you in?" I asked, interested.

Yes, Heyst had called him in as he was going by on his usual date.
Davidson was examining the shore through his glasses with his unwearied
and punctual humanity as he steamed past Samburan.

I saw a man in white. It could only have been Heyst. He had fastened
some sort of enormous flag to a bamboo pole, and was waving it at the
end of the old wharf.

Davidson didn't like to take his steamer alongside--for fear of being
indiscreet, I suppose; but he steered close inshore, stopped his
engines, and lowered a boat. He went himself in that boat, which was
manned, of course, by his Malay seamen.

Heyst, when he saw the boat pulling towards him, dropped his
signalling-pole; and when Davidson arrived, he was kneeling down engaged
busily in unfastening the flag from it.

"Was there anything wrong?" I inquired, Davidson having paused in his
narrative and my curiosity being naturally aroused. You must remember
that Heyst as the Archipelago knew him was not--what shall I say--was
not a signalling sort of man.

"The very words that came out of my mouth," said Davidson, "before I
laid the boat against the piles. I could not help it!"

Heyst got up from his knees and began carefully folding up the flag
thing, which struck Davidson as having the dimensions of a blanket.

"No, nothing wrong," he cried. His white teeth flashed agreeably below
the coppery horizontal bar of his long moustaches.

I don't know whether it was his delicacy or his obesity which prevented
Davidson from clambering upon the wharf. He stood up in the boat,
and, above him, Heyst stooped low with urbane smiles, thanking him and
apologizing for the liberty, exactly in his usual manner. Davidson had
expected some change in the man, but there was none. Nothing in him
betrayed the momentous fact that within that jungle there was a girl, a
performer in a ladies' orchestra, whom he had carried straight off the
concert platform into the wilderness. He was not ashamed or defiant
or abashed about it. He might have been a shade confidential when
addressing Davidson. And his words were enigmatical.

"I took this course of signalling to you," he said to Davidson, "because
to preserve appearances might be of the utmost importance. Not to me, of
course. I don't care what people may say, and of course no one can hurt
me. I suppose I have done a certain amount of harm, since I allowed
myself to be tempted into action. It seemed innocent enough, but all
action is bound to be harmful. It is devilish. That is why this world
is evil upon the whole. But I have done with it! I shall never lift a
little finger again. At one time I thought that intelligent observation
of facts was the best way of cheating the time which is allotted to us
whether we want it or not; but now I, have done with observation, too."

Imagine poor, simple Davidson being addressed in such terms alongside
an abandoned, decaying wharf jutting out of tropical bush. He had
never heard anybody speak like this before; certainly not Heyst, whose
conversation was concise, polite, with a faint ring of playfulness in
the cultivated tones of his voice.

"He's gone mad," Davidson thought to himself.

But, looking at the physiognomy above him on the wharf, he was obliged
to dismiss the notion of common, crude lunacy. It was truly most unusual
talk. Then he remembered--in his surprise he had lost sight of it--that
Heyst now had a girl there. This bizarre discourse was probably the
effect of the girl. Davidson shook off the absurd feeling, and asked,
wishing to make clear his friendliness, and not knowing what else to
say:

"You haven't run short of stores or anything like that?"

Heyst smiled and shook his head:

"No, no. Nothing of the kind. We are fairly well off here. Thanks, all
the same. If I have taken the liberty to detain you, it is I not from
any uneasiness for myself and my--companion. The person I was thinking
of when I made up my mind to invoke your assistance is Mrs. Schomberg."

"I have talked with her," interjected Davidson.

"Oh! You? Yes, I hoped she would find means to--"

"But she didn't tell me much," interrupted Davidson, who was not averse
from hearing something--he hardly knew what.

"H'm--Yes. But that note of mine? Yes? She found an opportunity to give
it to you? That's good, very good. She's more resourceful than one would
give her credit for."

"Women often are--" remarked Davidson. The strangeness from which he had
suffered, merely because his interlocutor had carried off a girl, wore
off as the minutes went by. "There's a lot of unexpectedness about
women," he generalized with a didactic aim which seemed to miss its
mark; for the next thing Heyst said was:

"This is Mrs. Schomberg's shawl." He touched the stuff hanging over
his arm. "An Indian thing, I believe," he added, glancing at his arm
sideways.

"It isn't of particular value," said Davidson truthfully.

"Very likely. The point is that it belongs to Schomberg's wife. That
Schomberg seems to be an unconscionable ruffian--don't you think so?"

Davidson smiled faintly.

"We out here have got used to him," he said, as if excusing a universal
and guilty toleration of a manifest nuisance. "I'd hardly call him that.
I only know him as a hotel-keeper."

"I never knew him even as that--not till this time, when you were so
obliging as to take me to Sourabaya, I went to stay there from economy.
The Netherlands House is very expensive, and they expect you to bring
your own servant with you. It's a nuisance."

"Of course, of course," protested Davidson hastily.

After a short silence Heyst returned to the matter of the shawl. He
wanted to send it back to Mrs. Schomberg. He said that it might be very
awkward for her if she were unable, if asked, to produce it. This had
given him, Heyst, much uneasiness. She was terrified of Schomberg.
Apparently she had reason to be.

Davidson had remarked that, too. Which did not prevent her, he pointed
out, from making a fool of him, in a way, for the sake of a stranger.

"Oh! You know!" said Heyst. "Yes, she helped me--us."

"She told me so. I had quite a talk with her," Davidson informed him.
"Fancy anyone having a talk with Mrs. Schomberg! If I were to tell the
fellows they wouldn't believe me. How did you get round her, Heyst?
How did you think of it? Why, she looks too stupid to understand human
speech and too scared to shoo a chicken away. Oh, the women, the women!
You don't know what there may be in the quietest of them."

"She was engaged in the task of defending her position in life," said
Heyst. "It's a very respectable task."

"Is that it? I had some idea it was that," confessed Davidson.

He then imparted to Heyst the story of the violent proceedings following
on the discovery of his flight. Heyst's polite attention to the tale
took on a sombre cast; but he manifested no surprise, and offered no
comment. When Davidson had finished he handed down the shawl into
the boat, and Davidson promised to do his best to return it to Mrs.
Schomberg in some secret fashion. Heyst expressed his thanks in a few
simple words, set off by his manner of finished courtesy. Davidson
prepared to depart. They were not looking at each other. Suddenly Heyst
spoke:

"You understand that this was a case of odious persecution, don't you? I
became aware of it and--"

It was a view which the sympathetic Davidson was capable of
appreciating.

"I am not surprised to hear it," he said placidly. "Odious enough, I
dare say. And you, of course--not being a married man--were free to step
in. Ah, well!"

He sat down in the stern-sheets, and already had the steering lines in
his hands when Heyst observed abruptly:

"The world is a bad dog. It will bite you if you give it a chance; but I
think that here we can safely defy the fates."

When relating all this to me, Davidson's only comment was:

"Funny notion of defying the fates--to take a woman in tow!"


Joseph Conrad