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Chapter 9


Sheltered by the squat headland from the first morning sparkle of
the sea the little bay breathed a delicious freshness. The party
from the schooner landed at the bottom of the garden. They
exchanged insignificant words in studiously casual tones. The
professor's sister put up a long-handled eye-glass as if to scan
the novel surroundings, but in reality searching for poor Arthur
anxiously. Having never seen him otherwise than in his town
clothes she had no idea what he would look like. It had been left
to the professor to help his ladies out of the boat because
Renouard, as if intent on giving directions, had stepped forward at
once to meet the half-caste Luiz hurrying down the path. In the
distance, in front of the dazzlingly sunlit bungalow, a row of
dark-faced house-boys unequal in stature and varied in complexion
preserved the immobility of a guard of honour.

Luiz had taken off his soft felt hat before coming within earshot.
Renouard bent his head to his rapid talk of domestic arrangements
he meant to make for the visitors; another bed in the master's room
for the ladies and a cot for the gentleman to be hung in the room
opposite where--where Mr. Walter--here he gave a scared look all
round--Mr. Walter--had died.

"Very good," assented Renouard in an even undertone. "And remember
what you have to say of him."

"Yes, master. Only"--he wriggled slightly and put one bare foot on
the other for a moment in apologetic embarrassment--"only I--I--
don't like to say it."

Renouard looked at him without anger, without any sort of
expression. "Frightened of the dead? Eh? Well--all right. I
will say it myself--I suppose once for all. . . Immediately he
raised his voice very much.

"Send the boys down to bring up the luggage."

"Yes, master."

Renouard turned to his distinguished guests who, like a personally
conducted party of tourists, had stopped and were looking about
them.

"I am sorry," he began with an impassive face. "My man has just
told me that Mr. Walter . . ." he managed to smile, but didn't
correct himself . . . "has gone in a trading schooner on a short
tour of the islands, to the westward."

This communication was received in profound silence.

Renouard forgot himself in the thought: "It's done!" But the
sight of the string of boys marching up to the house with suit-
cases and dressing-bags rescued him from that appalling
abstraction.

"All I can do is to beg you to make yourselves at home . . . with
what patience you may."

This was so obviously the only thing to do that everybody moved on
at once. The professor walked alongside Renouard, behind the two
ladies.

"Rather unexpected--this absence."

"Not exactly," muttered Renouard. "A trip has to be made every
year to engage labour."

"I see . . . And he . . . How vexingly elusive the poor fellow has
become! I'll begin to think that some wicked fairy is favouring
this love tale with unpleasant attentions."

Renouard noticed that the party did not seem weighed down by this
new disappointment. On the contrary they moved with a freer step.
The professor's sister dropped her eye-glass to the end of its
chain. Miss Moorsom took the lead. The professor, his lips
unsealed, lingered in the open: but Renouard did not listen to
that man's talk. He looked after that man's daughter--if indeed
that creature of irresistible seductions were a daughter of
mortals. The very intensity of his desire, as if his soul were
streaming after her through his eyes, defeated his object of
keeping hold of her as long as possible with, at least, one of his
senses. Her moving outlines dissolved into a misty coloured
shimmer of a woman made of flame and shadows, crossing the
threshold of his house.

The days which followed were not exactly such as Renouard had
feared--yet they were not better than his fears. They were
accursed in all the moods they brought him. But the general aspect
of things was quiet. The professor smoked innumerable pipes with
the air of a worker on his holiday, always in movement and looking
at things with that mysteriously sagacious aspect of men who are
admittedly wiser than the rest of the world. His white head of
hair--whiter than anything within the horizon except the broken
water on the reefs--was glimpsed in every part of the plantation
always on the move under the white parasol. And once he climbed
the headland and appeared suddenly to those below, a white speck
elevated in the blue, with a diminutive but statuesque effect.

Felicia Moorsom remained near the house. Sometimes she could be
seen with a despairing expression scribbling rapidly in her lock-up
dairy. But only for a moment. At the sound of Renouard's
footsteps she would turn towards him her beautiful face, adorable
in that calm which was like a wilful, like a cruel ignoring of her
tremendous power. Whenever she sat on the verandah, on a chair
more specially reserved for her use, Renouard would stroll up and
sit on the steps near her, mostly silent, and often not trusting
himself to turn his glance on her. She, very still with her eyes
half-closed, looked down on his head--so that to a beholder (such
as Professor Moorsom, for instance) she would appear to be turning
over in her mind profound thoughts about that man sitting at her
feet, his shoulders bowed a little, his hands listless--as if
vanquished. And, indeed, the moral poison of falsehood has such a
decomposing power that Renouard felt his old personality turn to
dead dust. Often, in the evening, when they sat outside conversing
languidly in the dark, he felt that he must rest his forehead on
her feet and burst into tears.

The professor's sister suffered from some little strain caused by
the unstability of her own feelings toward Renouard. She could not
tell whether she really did dislike him or not. At times he
appeared to her most fascinating; and, though he generally ended by
saying something shockingly crude, she could not resist her
inclination to talk with him--at least not always. One day when
her niece had left them alone on the verandah she leaned forward in
her chair--speckless, resplendent, and, in her way, almost as
striking a personality as her niece, who did not resemble her in
the least. "Dear Felicia has inherited her hair and the greatest
part of her appearance from her mother," the maiden lady used to
tell people.

She leaned forward then, confidentially.

"Oh! Mr. Renouard! Haven't you something comforting to say?"

He looked up, as surprised as if a voice from heaven had spoken
with this perfect society intonation, and by the puzzled profundity
of his blue eyes fluttered the wax-flower of refined womanhood.
She continued. "For--I can speak to you openly on this tiresome
subject--only think what a terrible strain this hope deferred must
be for Felicia's heart--for her nerves."

"Why speak to me about it," he muttered feeling half choked
suddenly.

"Why! As a friend--a well-wisher--the kindest of hosts. I am
afraid we are really eating you out of house and home." She
laughed a little. "Ah! When, when will this suspense be relieved!
That poor lost Arthur! I confess that I am almost afraid of the
great moment. It will be like seeing a ghost."

"Have you ever seen a ghost?" asked Renouard, in a dull voice.

She shifted her hands a little. Her pose was perfect in its ease
and middle-aged grace.

"Not actually. Only in a photograph. But we have many friends who
had the experience of apparitions."

"Ah! They see ghosts in London," mumbled Renouard, not looking at
her.

"Frequently--in a certain very interesting set. But all sorts of
people do. We have a friend, a very famous author--his ghost is a
girl. One of my brother's intimates is a very great man of
science. He is friendly with a ghost . . . Of a girl too," she
added in a voice as if struck for the first time by the
coincidence. "It is the photograph of that apparition which I have
seen. Very sweet. Most interesting. A little cloudy naturally. .
. . Mr. Renouard! I hope you are not a sceptic. It's so consoling
to think. . ."

"Those plantation boys of mine see ghosts too," said Renouard
grimly.

The sister of the philosopher sat up stiffly. What crudeness! It
was always so with this strange young man.

"Mr. Renouard! How can you compare the superstitious fancies of
your horrible savages with the manifestations . . . "

Words failed her. She broke off with a very faint primly angry
smile. She was perhaps the more offended with him because of that
flutter at the beginning of the conversation. And in a moment with
perfect tact and dignity she got up from her chair and left him
alone.

Renouard didn't even look up. It was not the displeasure of the
lady which deprived him of his sleep that night. He was beginning
to forget what simple, honest sleep was like. His hammock from the
ship had been hung for him on a side verandah, and he spent his
nights in it on his back, his hands folded on his chest, in a sort
of half conscious, oppressed stupor. In the morning he watched
with unseeing eyes the headland come out a shapeless inkblot
against the thin light of the false dawn, pass through all the
stages of daybreak to the deep purple of its outlined mass nimbed
gloriously with the gold of the rising sun. He listened to the
vague sounds of waking within the house: and suddenly he became
aware of Luiz standing by the hammock--obviously troubled.

"What's the matter?"

"Tse! Tse! Tse!"

"Well, what now? Trouble with the boys?"

"No, master. The gentleman when I take him his bath water he speak
to me. He ask me--he ask--when, when, I think Mr. Walter, he come
back."

The half-caste's teeth chattered slightly. Renouard got out of the
hammock.

"And he is here all the time--eh?"

Luiz nodded a scared affirmative, but at once protested, "I no see
him. I never. Not I! The ignorant wild boys say they see . . .
Something! Ough!"

He clapped his teeth on another short rattle, and stood there,
shrunk, blighted, like a man in a freezing blast.

"And what did you say to the gentleman?"

"I say I don't know--and I clear out. I--I don't like to speak of
him."

"All right. We shall try to lay that poor ghost," said Renouard
gloomily, going off to a small hut near by to dress. He was saying
to himself: "This fellow will end by giving me away. The last
thing that I . . . No! That mustn't be." And feeling his hand
being forced he discovered the whole extent of his cowardice.


Joseph Conrad

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