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Chapter 11


Slowly a complete darkness enveloped Geoffrey Renouard. His
resolution had failed him. Instead of following Felicia into the
house, he had stopped under the three palms, and leaning against a
smooth trunk had abandoned himself to a sense of an immense
deception and the feeling of extreme fatigue. This walk up the
hill and down again was like the supreme effort of an explorer
trying to penetrate the interior of an unknown country, the secret
of which is too well defended by its cruel and barren nature.
Decoyed by a mirage, he had gone too far--so far that there was no
going back. His strength was at an end. For the first time in his
life he had to give up, and with a sort of despairing self-
possession he tried to understand the cause of the defeat. He did
not ascribe it to that absurd dead man.

The hesitating shadow of Luiz approached him unnoticed till it
spoke timidly. Renouard started.

"Eh? What? Dinner waiting? You must say I beg to be excused. I
can't come. But I shall see them to-morrow morning, at the landing
place. Take your orders from the professor as to the sailing of
the schooner. Go now."

Luiz, dumbfounded, retreated into the darkness. Renouard did not
move, but hours afterwards, like the bitter fruit of his
immobility, the words: "I had nothing to offer to her vanity,"
came from his lips in the silence of the island. And it was then
only that he stirred, only to wear the night out in restless
tramping up and down the various paths of the plantation. Luiz,
whose sleep was made light by the consciousness of some impending
change, heard footsteps passing by his hut, the firm tread of the
master; and turning on his mats emitted a faint Tse! Tse! Tse! of
deep concern.

Lights had been burning in the bungalow almost all through the
night; and with the first sign of day began the bustle of
departure. House boys walked processionally carrying suit-cases
and dressing-bags down to the schooner's boat, which came to the
landing place at the bottom of the garden. Just as the rising sun
threw its golden nimbus around the purple shape of the headland,
the Planter of Malata was perceived pacing bare-headed the curve of
the little bay. He exchanged a few words with the sailing-master
of the schooner, then remained by the boat, standing very upright,
his eyes on the ground, waiting.

He had not long to wait. Into the cool, overshadowed garden the
professor descended first, and came jauntily down the path in a
lively cracking of small shells. With his closed parasol hooked on
his forearm, and a book in his hand, he resembled a banal tourist
more than was permissible to a man of his unique distinction. He
waved the disengaged arm from a distance, but at close quarters,
arrested before Renouard's immobility, he made no offer to shake
hands. He seemed to appraise the aspect of the man with a sharp
glance, and made up his mind.

"We are going back by Suez," he began almost boisterously. "I have
been looking up the sailing lists. If the zephirs of your Pacific
are only moderately propitious I think we are sure to catch the
mail boat due in Marseilles on the 18th of March. This will suit
me excellently. . . ." He lowered his tone. "My dear young
friend, I'm deeply grateful to you."

Renouard's set lips moved.

"Why are you grateful to me?"

"Ah! Why? In the first place you might have made us miss the next
boat, mightn't you? . . . I don't thank you for your hospitality.
You can't be angry with me for saying that I am truly thankful to
escape from it. But I am grateful to you for what you have done,
and--for being what you are."

It was difficult to define the flavour of that speech, but Renouard
received it with an austerely equivocal smile. The professor
stepping into the boat opened his parasol and sat down in the
stern-sheets waiting for the ladies. No sound of human voice broke
the fresh silence of the morning while they walked the broad path,
Miss Moorsom a little in advance of her aunt.

When she came abreast of him Renouard raised his head.

"Good-bye, Mr. Renouard," she said in a low voice, meaning to pass
on; but there was such a look of entreaty in the blue gleam of his
sunken eyes that after an imperceptible hesitation she laid her
hand, which was ungloved, in his extended palm.

"Will you condescend to remember me?" he asked, while an emotion
with which she was angry made her pale cheeks flush and her black
eyes sparkle.

"This is a strange request for you to make," she said exaggerating
the coldness of her tone.

"Is it? Impudent perhaps. Yet I am not so guilty as you think;
and bear in mind that to me you can never make reparation."

"Reparation? To you! It is you who can offer me no reparation for
the offence against my feelings--and my person; for what reparation
can be adequate for your odious and ridiculous plot so scornful in
its implication, so humiliating to my pride. No! I don't want to
remember you."

Unexpectedly, with a tightening grip, he pulled her nearer to him,
and looking into her eyes with fearless despair -

"You'll have to. I shall haunt you," he said firmly.

Her hand was wrenched out of his grasp before he had time to
release it. Felicia Moorsom stepped into the boat, sat down by the
side of her father, and breathed tenderly on her crushed fingers.

The professor gave her a sidelong look--nothing more. But the
professor's sister, yet on shore, had put up her long-handle double
eye-glass to look at the scene. She dropped it with a faint
rattle.

"I've never in my life heard anything so crude said to a lady," she
murmured, passing before Renouard with a perfectly erect head.
When, a moment afterwards, softening suddenly, she turned to throw
a good-bye to that young man, she saw only his back in the distance
moving towards the bungalow. She watched him go in--amazed--before
she too left the soil of Malata.

Nobody disturbed Renouard in that room where he had shut himself in
to breathe the evanescent perfume of her who for him was no more,
till late in the afternoon when the half-caste was heard on the
other side of the door.

He wanted the master to know that the trader Janet was just
entering the cove.

Renouard's strong voice on his side of the door gave him most
unexpected instructions. He was to pay off the boys with the cash
in the office and arrange with the captain of the Janet to take
every worker away from Malata, returning them to their respective
homes. An order on the Dunster firm would be given to him in
payment.

And again the silence of the bungalow remained unbroken till, next
morning, the half-caste came to report that everything was done.
The plantation boys were embarking now.

Through a crack in the door a hand thrust at him a piece of paper,
and the door slammed to so sharply that Luiz stepped back. Then
approaching cringingly the keyhole, in a propitiatory tone he
asked:

"Do I go too, master?"

"Yes. You too. Everybody."

"Master stop here alone?"

Silence. And the half-caste's eyes grew wide with wonder. But he
also, like those "ignorant savages," the plantation boys, was only
too glad to leave an island haunted by the ghost of a white man.
He backed away noiselessly from the mysterious silence in the
closed room, and only in the very doorway of the bungalow allowed
himself to give vent to his feelings by a deprecatory and pained -

"Tse! Tse! Tse!"

Joseph Conrad

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