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Chapter 8

At last, one morning, in a clear spot of a glassy horizon charged
with heraldic masses of black vapours, the island grew out from the
sea, showing here and there its naked members of basaltic rock
through the rents of heavy foliage. Later, in the great spilling
of all the riches of sunset, Malata stood out green and rosy before
turning into a violet shadow in the autumnal light of the expiring
day. Then came the night. In the faint airs the schooner crept on
past a sturdy squat headland, and it was pitch dark when her
headsails ran down, she turned short on her heel, and her anchor
bit into the sandy bottom on the edge of the outer reef; for it was
too dangerous then to attempt entering the little bay full of
shoals. After the last solemn flutter of the mainsail the
murmuring voices of the Moorsom party lingered, very frail, in the
black stillness.

They were sitting aft, on chairs, and nobody made a move. Early in
the day, when it had become evident that the wind was failing,
Renouard, basing his advice on the shortcomings of his bachelor
establishment, had urged on the ladies the advisability of not
going ashore in the middle of the night. Now he approached them in
a constrained manner (it was astonishing the constraint that had
reigned between him and his guests all through the passage) and
renewed his arguments. No one ashore would dream of his bringing
any visitors with him. Nobody would even think of coming off.
There was only one old canoe on the plantation. And landing in the
schooner's boats would be awkward in the dark. There was the risk
of getting aground on some shallow patches. It would be best to
spend the rest of the night on board.

There was really no opposition. The professor smoking a pipe, and
very comfortable in an ulster buttoned over his tropical clothes,
was the first to speak from his long chair.

"Most excellent advice."

Next to him Miss Moorsom assented by a long silence. Then in a
voice as of one coming out of a dream -

"And so this is Malata," she said. "I have often wondered . . ."

A shiver passed through Renouard. She had wondered! What about?
Malata was himself. He and Malata were one. And she had wondered!
She had . . .

The professor's sister leaned over towards Renouard. Through all
these days at sea the man's--the found man's--existence had not
been alluded to on board the schooner. That reticence was part of
the general constraint lying upon them all. She, herself,
certainly had not been exactly elated by this finding--poor Arthur,
without money, without prospects. But she felt moved by the
sentiment and romance of the situation.

"Isn't it wonderful," she whispered out of her white wrap, "to
think of poor Arthur sleeping there, so near to our dear lovely
Felicia, and not knowing the immense joy in store for him to-
morrow."

There was such artificiality in the wax-flower lady that nothing in
this speech touched Renouard. It was but the simple anxiety of his
heart that he was voicing when he muttered gloomily -

"No one in the world knows what to-morrow may hold in store."

The mature lady had a recoil as though he had said something
impolite. What a harsh thing to say--instead of finding something
nice and appropriate. On board, where she never saw him in evening
clothes, Renouard's resemblance to a duke's son was not so apparent
to her. Nothing but his--ah--bohemianism remained. She rose with
a sort of ostentation.

"It's late--and since we are going to sleep on board to-night . .
." she said. "But it does seem so cruel."

The professor started up eagerly, knocking the ashes out of his
pipe. "Infinitely more sensible, my dear Emma."

Renouard waited behind Miss Moorsom's chair.

She got up slowly, moved one step forward, and paused looking at
the shore. The blackness of the island blotted out the stars with
its vague mass like a low thundercloud brooding over the waters and
ready to burst into flame and crashes.

"And so--this is Malata," she repeated dreamily, moving towards the
cabin door. The clear cloak hanging from her shoulders, the ivory
face--for the night had put out nothing of her but the gleams of
her hair--made her resemble a shining dream-woman uttering words of
wistful inquiry. She disappeared without a sign, leaving Renouard
penetrated to the very marrow by the sounds that came from her body
like a mysterious resonance of an exquisite instrument.

He stood stock still. What was this accidental touch which had
evoked the strange accent of her voice? He dared not answer that
question. But he had to answer the question of what was to be done
now. Had the moment of confession come? The thought was enough to
make one's blood run cold.

It was as if those people had a premonition of something. In the
taciturn days of the passage he had noticed their reserve even
amongst themselves. The professor smoked his pipe moodily in
retired spots. Renouard had caught Miss Moorsom's eyes resting on
himself more than once, with a peculiar and grave expression. He
fancied that she avoided all opportunities of conversation. The
maiden lady seemed to nurse a grievance. And now what had he to
do?

The lights on the deck had gone out one after the other. The
schooner slept.

About an hour after Miss Moorsom had gone below without a sign or a
word for him, Renouard got out of his hammock slung in the waist
under the midship awning--for he had given up all the accommodation
below to his guests. He got out with a sudden swift movement,
flung off his sleeping jacket, rolled his pyjamas up his thighs,
and stole forward, unseen by the one Kanaka of the anchor-watch.
His white torso, naked like a stripped athlete's, glimmered,
ghostly, in the deep shadows of the deck. Unnoticed he got out of
the ship over the knight-heads, ran along the back rope, and
seizing the dolphin-striker firmly with both hands, lowered himself
into the sea without a splash.

He swam away, noiseless like a fish, and then struck boldly for the
land, sustained, embraced, by the tepid water. The gentle,
voluptuous heave of its breast swung him up and down slightly;
sometimes a wavelet murmured in his ears; from time to time,
lowering his feet, he felt for the bottom on a shallow patch to
rest and correct his direction. He landed at the lower end of the
bungalow garden, into the dead stillness of the island. There were
no lights. The plantation seemed to sleep, as profoundly as the
schooner. On the path a small shell cracked under his naked heel.

The faithful half-caste foreman going his rounds cocked his ears at
the sharp sound. He gave one enormous start of fear at the sight
of the swift white figure flying at him out of the night. He
crouched in terror, and then sprang up and clicked his tongue in
amazed recognition.

"Tse! Tse! The master!"

"Be quiet, Luiz, and listen to what I say."

Yes, it was the master, the strong master who was never known to
raise his voice, the man blindly obeyed and never questioned. He
talked low and rapidly in the quiet night, as if every minute were
precious. On learning that three guests were coming to stay Luiz
clicked his tongue rapidly. These clicks were the uniform,
stenographic symbols of his emotions, and he could give them an
infinite variety of meaning. He listened to the rest in a deep
silence hardly affected by the low, "Yes, master," whenever
Renouard paused.

"You understand?" the latter insisted. "No preparations are to be
made till we land in the morning. And you are to say that Mr.
Walter has gone off in a trading schooner on a round of the
islands."

"Yes, master."

"No mistakes--mind!"

"No, master."

Renouard walked back towards the sea. Luiz, following him,
proposed to call out half a dozen boys and man the canoe.

"Imbecile!"

"Tse! Tse! Tse!"

"Don't you understand that you haven't seen me?"

"Yes, master. But what a long swim. Suppose you drown."

"Then you can say of me and of Mr. Walter what you like. The dead
don't mind."

Renouard entered the sea and heard a faint "Tse! Tse! Tse!" of
concern from the half-caste, who had already lost sight of the
master's dark head on the overshadowed water.

Renouard set his direction by a big star that, dipping on the
horizon, seemed to look curiously into his face. On this swim back
he felt the mournful fatigue of all that length of the traversed
road, which brought him no nearer to his desire. It was as if his
love had sapped the invisible supports of his strength. There came
a moment when it seemed to him that he must have swum beyond the
confines of life. He had a sensation of eternity close at hand,
demanding no effort--offering its peace. It was easy to swim like
this beyond the confines of life looking at a star. But the
thought: "They will think I dared not face them and committed
suicide," caused a revolt of his mind which carried him on. He
returned on board, as he had left, unheard and unseen. He lay in
his hammock utterly exhausted and with a confused feeling that he
had been beyond the confines of life, somewhere near a star, and
that it was very quiet there.

Joseph Conrad

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