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Chapter 7


They had been feasting a poet from the bush, the latest discovery
of the Editor. Such discoveries were the business, the vocation,
the pride and delight of the only apostle of letters in the
hemisphere, the solitary patron of culture, the Slave of the Lamp--
as he subscribed himself at the bottom of the weekly literary page
of his paper. He had had no difficulty in persuading the virtuous
Willie (who had festive instincts) to help in the good work, and
now they had left the poet lying asleep on the hearthrug of the
editorial room and had rushed to the Dunster mansion wildly. The
Editor had another discovery to announce. Swaying a little where
he stood he opened his mouth very wide to shout the one word
"Found!" Behind him Willie flung both his hands above his head and
let them fall dramatically. Renouard saw the four white-headed
people at the end of the terrace rise all together from their
chairs with an effect of sudden panic.

"I tell you--he--is--found," the patron of letters shouted
emphatically.

"What is this!" exclaimed Renouard in a choked voice. Miss Moorsom
seized his wrist suddenly, and at that contact fire ran through all
his veins, a hot stillness descended upon him in which he heard the
blood--or the fire--beating in his ears. He made a movement as if
to rise, but was restrained by the convulsive pressure on his
wrist.

"No, no." Miss Moorsom's eyes stared black as night, searching the
space before her. Far away the Editor strutted forward, Willie
following with his ostentatious manner of carrying his bulky and
oppressive carcass which, however, did not remain exactly
perpendicular for two seconds together.

"The innocent Arthur . . . Yes. We've got him," the Editor became
very business-like. "Yes, this letter has done it."

He plunged into an inside pocket for it, slapped the scrap of paper
with his open palm. "From that old woman. William had it in his
pocket since this morning when Miss Moorsom gave it to him to show
me. Forgot all about it till an hour ago. Thought it was of no
importance. Well, no! Not till it was properly read."

Renouard and Miss Moorsom emerged from the shadows side by side, a
well-matched couple, animated yet statuesque in their calmness and
in their pallor. She had let go his wrist. On catching sight of
Renouard the Editor exclaimed:

"What--you here!" in a quite shrill voice.

There came a dead pause. All the faces had in them something
dismayed and cruel.

"He's the very man we want," continued the Editor. "Excuse my
excitement. You are the very man, Renouard. Didn't you tell me
that your assistant called himself Walter? Yes? Thought so. But
here's that old woman--the butler's wife--listen to this. She
writes: All I can tell you, Miss, is that my poor husband directed
his letters to the name of H. Walter."

Renouard's violent but repressed exclamation was lost in a general
murmur and shuffle of feet. The Editor made a step forward, bowed
with creditable steadiness.

"Miss Moorsom, allow me to congratulate you from the bottom of my
heart on the happy--er--issue. . . "

"Wait," muttered Renouard irresolutely.

The Editor jumped on him in the manner of their old friendship.
"Ah, you! You are a fine fellow too. With your solitary ways of
life you will end by having no more discrimination than a savage.
Fancy living with a gentleman for months and never guessing. A
man, I am certain, accomplished, remarkable, out of the common,
since he had been distinguished" (he bowed again) "by Miss Moorsom,
whom we all admire."

She turned her back on him.

"I hope to goodness you haven't been leading him a dog's life,
Geoffrey," the Editor addressed his friend in a whispered aside.

Renouard seized a chair violently, sat down, and propping his elbow
on his knee leaned his head on his hand. Behind him the sister of
the professor looked up to heaven and wrung her hands stealthily.
Mrs. Dunster's hands were clasped forcibly under her chin, but she,
dear soul, was looking sorrowfully at Willie. The model nephew!
In this strange state! So very much flushed! The careful
disposition of the thin hairs across Willie's bald spot was
deplorably disarranged, and the spot itself was red and, as it
were, steaming.

"What's the matter, Geoffrey?" The Editor seemed disconcerted by
the silent attitudes round him, as though he had expected all these
people to shout and dance. "You have him on the island--haven't
you?"

"Oh, yes: I have him there," said Renouard, without looking up.

"Well, then!" The Editor looked helplessly around as if begging
for response of some sort. But the only response that came was
very unexpected. Annoyed at being left in the background, and also
because very little drink made him nasty, the emotional Willie
turned malignant all at once, and in a bibulous tone surprising in
a man able to keep his balance so well -

"Aha! But you haven't got him here--not yet!" he sneered. "No!
You haven't got him yet."

This outrageous exhibition was to the Editor like the lash to a
jaded horse. He positively jumped.

"What of that? What do you mean? We--haven't--got--him--here. Of
course he isn't here! But Geoffrey's schooner is here. She can be
sent at once to fetch him here. No! Stay! There's a better plan.
Why shouldn't you all sail over to Malata, professor? Save time!
I am sure Miss Moorsom would prefer. . ."

With a gallant flourish of his arm he looked for Miss Moorsom. She
had disappeared. He was taken aback somewhat.

"Ah! H'm. Yes. . . . Why not. A pleasure cruise, delightful
ship, delightful season, delightful errand, del . . . No! There
are no objections. Geoffrey, I understand, has indulged in a
bungalow three sizes too large for him. He can put you all up. It
will be a pleasure for him. It will be the greatest privilege.
Any man would be proud of being an agent of this happy reunion. I
am proud of the little part I've played. He will consider it the
greatest honour. Geoff, my boy, you had better be stirring to-
morrow bright and early about the preparations for the trip. It
would be criminal to lose a single day."

He was as flushed as Willie, the excitement keeping up the effect
of the festive dinner. For a time Renouard, silent, as if he had
not heard a word of all that babble, did not stir. But when he got
up it was to advance towards the Editor and give him such a hearty
slap on the back that the plump little man reeled in his tracks and
looked quite frightened for a moment.

"You are a heaven-born discoverer and a first-rate manager. . .
He's right. It's the only way. You can't resist the claim of
sentiment, and you must even risk the voyage to Malata. . . "
Renouard's voice sank. "A lonely spot," he added, and fell into
thought under all these eyes converging on him in the sudden
silence. His slow glance passed over all the faces in succession,
remaining arrested on Professor Moorsom, stony eyed, a smouldering
cigar in his fingers, and with his sister standing by his side.

"I shall be infinitely gratified if you consent to come. But, of
course, you will. We shall sail to-morrow evening then. And now
let me leave you to your happiness."

He bowed, very grave, pointed suddenly his finger at Willie who was
swaying about with a sleepy frown. . . . "Look at him. He's
overcome with happiness. You had better put him to bed . . . " and
disappeared while every head on the terrace was turned to Willie
with varied expressions.

Renouard ran through the house. Avoiding the carriage road he fled
down the steep short cut to the shore, where his gig was waiting.
At his loud shout the sleeping Kanakas jumped up. He leaped in.
"Shove off. Give way!" and the gig darted through the water.
"Give way! Give way!" She flew past the wool-clippers sleeping at
their anchors each with the open unwinking eye of the lamp in the
rigging; she flew past the flagship of the Pacific squadron, a
great mass all dark and silent, heavy with the slumbers of five
hundred men, and where the invisible sentries heard his urgent
"Give way! Give way!" in the night. The Kanakas, panting, rose
off the thwarts at every stroke. Nothing could be fast enough for
him! And he ran up the side of his schooner shaking the ladder
noisily with his rush.

On deck he stumbled and stood still.

Wherefore this haste? To what end, since he knew well before he
started that he had a pursuer from whom there was no escape.

As his foot touched the deck his will, his purpose he had been
hurrying to save, died out within. It had been nothing less than
getting the schooner under-way, letting her vanish silently in the
night from amongst these sleeping ships. And now he was certain he
could not do it. It was impossible! And he reflected that whether
he lived or died such an act would lay him under a dark suspicion
from which he shrank. No, there was nothing to be done.

He went down into the cabin and, before even unbuttoning his
overcoat, took out of the drawer the letter addressed to his
assistant; that letter which he had found in the pigeon-hole
labelled "Malata" in young Dunster's outer office, where it had
been waiting for three months some occasion for being forwarded.
From the moment of dropping it in the drawer he had utterly
forgotten its existence--till now, when the man's name had come out
so clamorously. He glanced at the common envelope, noted the shaky
and laborious handwriting: H. Walter, Esqre. Undoubtedly the very
last letter the old butler had posted before his illness, and in
answer clearly to one from "Master Arthur" instructing him to
address in the future: "Care of Messrs. W. Dunster and Co."
Renouard made as if to open the envelope, but paused, and, instead,
tore the letter deliberately in two, in four, in eight. With his
hand full of pieces of paper he returned on deck and scattered them
overboard on the dark water, in which they vanished instantly.

He did it slowly, without hesitation or remorse. H. Walter, Esqre,
in Malata. The innocent Arthur--What was his name? The man sought
for by that woman who as she went by seemed to draw all the passion
of the earth to her, without effort, not deigning to notice,
naturally, as other women breathed the air. But Renouard was no
longer jealous of her very existence. Whatever its meaning it was
not for that man he had picked up casually on obscure impulse, to
get rid of the tiresome expostulations of a so-called friend; a man
of whom he really knew nothing--and now a dead man. In Malata.
Oh, yes! He was there secure enough, untroubled in his grave. In
Malata. To bury him was the last service Renouard had rendered to
his assistant before leaving the island on this trip to town.

Like many men ready enough for arduous enterprises Renouard was
inclined to evade the small complications of existence. This trait
of his character was composed of a little indolence, some disdain,
and a shrinking from contests with certain forms of vulgarity--like
a man who would face a lion and go out of his way to avoid a toad.
His intercourse with the meddlesome journalist was that merely
outward intimacy without sympathy some young men get drawn into
easily. It had amused him rather to keep that "friend" in the dark
about the fate of his assistant. Renouard had never needed other
company than his own, for there was in him something of the
sensitiveness of a dreamer who is easily jarred. He had said to
himself that the all-knowing one would only preach again about the
evils of solitude and worry his head off in favour of some
forlornly useless protege of his. Also the inquisitiveness of the
Editor had irritated him and had closed his lips in sheer disgust.

And now he contemplated the noose of consequences drawing tight
around him.

It was the memory of that diplomatic reticence which on the terrace
had stiffled his first cry which would have told them all that the
man sought for was not to be met on earth any more. He shrank from
the absurdity of hearing the all-knowing one, and not very sober at
that, turning on him with righteous reproaches -

"You never told me. You gave me to understand that your assistant
was alive, and now you say he's dead. Which is it? Were you lying
then or are you lying now?" No! the thought of such a scene was
not to be borne. He had sat down appalled, thinking: "What shall
I do now?"

His courage had oozed out of him. Speaking the truth meant the
Moorsoms going away at once--while it seemed to him that he would
give the last shred of his rectitude to secure a day more of her
company. He sat on--silent. Slowly, from confused sensations,
from his talk with the professor, the manner of the girl herself,
the intoxicating familiarity of her sudden hand-clasp, there had
come to him a half glimmer of hope. The other man was dead. Then!
. . . Madness, of course--but he could not give it up. He had
listened to that confounded busybody arranging everything--while
all these people stood around assenting, under the spell of that
dead romance. He had listened scornful and silent. The glimmers
of hope, of opportunity, passed before his eyes. He had only to
sit still and say nothing. That and no more. And what was truth
to him in the face of that great passion which had flung him
prostrate in spirit at her adored feet!

And now it was done! Fatality had willed it! With the eyes of a
mortal struck by the maddening thunderbolt of the gods, Renouard
looked up to the sky, an immense black pall dusted over with gold,
on which great shudders seemed to pass from the breath of life
affirming its sway.

Joseph Conrad

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