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Chapter 12

The Moorsoms did manage to catch the homeward mail boat all right,
but had only twenty-four hours in town. Thus the sentimental
Willie could not see very much of them. This did not prevent him
afterwards from relating at great length, with manly tears in his
eyes, how poor Miss Moorsom--the fashionable and clever beauty--
found her betrothed in Malata only to see him die in her arms.
Most people were deeply touched by the sad story. It was the talk
of a good many days.

But the all-knowing Editor, Renouard's only friend and crony,
wanted to know more than the rest of the world. From professional
incontinence, perhaps, he thirsted for a full cup of harrowing
detail. And when he noticed Renouard's schooner lying in port day
after day he sought the sailing master to learn the reason. The
man told him that such were his instructions. He had been ordered
to lie there a month before returning to Malata. And the month was
nearly up. "I will ask you to give me a passage," said the Editor.

He landed in the morning at the bottom of the garden and found
peace, stillness, sunshine reigning everywhere, the doors and
windows of the bungalow standing wide open, no sight of a human
being anywhere, the plants growing rank and tall on the deserted
fields. For hours the Editor and the schooner's crew, excited by
the mystery, roamed over the island shouting Renouard's name; and
at last set themselves in grim silence to explore systematically
the uncleared bush and the deeper ravines in search of his corpse.
What had happened? Had he been murdered by the boys? Or had he
simply, capricious and secretive, abandoned his plantation taking
the people with him. It was impossible to tell what had happened.
At last, towards the decline of the day, the Editor and the sailing
master discovered a track of sandals crossing a strip of sandy
beach on the north shore of the bay. Following this track
fearfully, they passed round the spur of the headland, and there on
a large stone found the sandals, Renouard's white jacket, and the
Malay sarong of chequered pattern which the planter of Malata was
well known to wear when going to bathe. These things made a little
heap, and the sailor remarked, after gazing at it in silence -

"Birds have been hovering over this for many a day."

"He's gone bathing and got drowned," cried the Editor in dismay.

"I doubt it, sir. If he had been drowned anywhere within a mile
from the shore the body would have been washed out on the reefs.
And our boats have found nothing so far."

Nothing was ever found--and Renouard's disappearance remained in
the main inexplicable. For to whom could it have occurred that a
man would set out calmly to swim beyond the confines of life--with
a steady stroke--his eyes fixed on a star!

Next evening, from the receding schooner, the Editor looked back
for the last time at the deserted island. A black cloud hung
listlessly over the high rock on the middle hill; and under the
mysterious silence of that shadow Malata lay mournful, with an air
of anguish in the wild sunset, as if remembering the heart that was
broken there.

Dec. 1913.

Joseph Conrad

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