of events and the monotony of a worldly existence.
There were things that from the first he had not been able to understand; for instance, why she should have married Mr. Travers. It must have been from ambition. He could not help feeling that such a successful mistake would explain completely her scorn and also her acquiescence. The meeting in Manila had been utterly unexpected to him, and he accounted for it to his uncle, the Governor-General of the colony, by pointing out that Englishmen, when worsted in the struggle of love or politics, travel extensively, as if by encompassing a large portion of earth’s surface they hoped to gather fresh strength for a renewed contest. As to himself, he judged–but did not say–that his contest with fate was ended, though he also travelled, leaving behind him in the capitals of Europe a story in which there was nothing scandalous but the publicity of an excessive feeling, and nothing more tragic than the early death of a woman whose brilliant perfections were no better known to the great world than the discreet and passionate devotion she had innocently inspired.
The invitation to join the yacht was the culminating point of many exchanged civilities, and was mainly prompted by Mr. Travers’ desire to have somebody to talk to. D’Alcacer had accepted with the reckless indifference of a man to whom one method of flight from a relentless enemy is as good as another. Certainly the prospect of listening to long monologues on commerce, administration, and politics did not promise much alleviation to his sorrow; and he could not expect much else from Mr. Travers, whose life and thought, ignorant of human passion, were devoted to extracting the greatest possible amount of personal advantage from human institutions. D’Alcacer found, however, that he could attain a measure of forgetfulness–the most precious thing for him now–in the society of Edith Travers.
She had awakened his curiosity, which he thought nothing and nobody on earth could do any more.
These two talked of things indifferent and interesting, certainly not connected with human institutions, and only very slightly with human passions; but d’Alcacer could not help being made aware of her latent capacity for sympathy developed in those who are disenchanted with life or death. How far she was disenchanted he did not know, and did not attempt to find out. This restraint was imposed upon him by the chivalrous respect he had for the secrets of women and by a conviction that deep feeling is often impenetrably obscure, even to those it masters for their inspiration or their ruin. He believed that even she herself would never know; but his grave curiosity was satisfied by the observation of her mental state, and he was not sorry that the stranding of the yacht prolonged his opportunity.
Time passed on that mudbank as well as anywhere else, and it was not from a multiplicity of events, but from the lapse of time alone, that he expected relief. Yet in the sameness of days upon the Shallows, time flowing ceaselessly, flowed imperceptibly; and, since every man clings to his own, be it joy, be it grief, he was pleased after the unrest of his wanderings to be able to fancy the whole universe and even time itself apparently come to a standstill; as if unwilling to take him away further from his sorrow, which was fading indeed but undiminished, as things fade, not in the distance but in the mist.
D’Alcacer was a man of nearly forty, lean and sallow, with hollow eyes and a drooping brown moustache. His gaze was penetrating and direct, his smile frequent and fleeting. He observed Lingard with great interest. He was attracted by that elusive something–a line, a fold, perhaps the form of the eye, the droop of an eyelid, the curve of a cheek, that trifling trait which on no two faces on earth is alike, that in each face is the very foundation of expression, as if, all the rest being heredity, mystery, or accident, it alone had been shaped consciously by the soul within.
Now and then he bent slightly over the slow beat of a red fan in the curve of the deck chair to say a few words to Mrs. Travers, who answered him without looking up, without a modulation of tone or a play of feature, as if she had spoken from behind the veil of an immense indifference stretched between her and all men, between her heart and the meaning of events, between her eyes and the shallow sea which, like her gaze, appeared profound, forever stilled, and seemed, far off in the distance of a faint horizon, beyond the reach of eye, beyond the power of hand or voice, to lose itself in the sky.
Mr. Travers stepped aside, and speaking to Carter, overwhelmed him with reproaches.
“You misunderstood your instructions,” murmured Mr. Travers rapidly. “Why did you bring this man here? I am surprised–“
“Not half so much as I was last night,” growled the young seaman, without any reverence in his tone, very provoking to Mr. Travers.
“I perceive now you were totally unfit for the mission I entrusted you with,” went on the owner of the yacht.
“It’s he who got hold of me,” said Carter. “Haven’t you heard him yourself, sir?”
“Nonsense,” whispered Mr. Travers, angrily. “Have you any idea what his intentions may be?”
“I half believe,” answered Carter, “that his intention was to shoot me in his cabin last night if I–“
“That’s not the point,” interrupted Mr. Travers. “Have you any opinion as to his motives in coming here?”
Carter raised his weary, bloodshot eyes in a face scarlet and peeling as though it had been licked by a flame. “I know no more than you do, sir. Last night when he had me in that cabin of his, he said he would just as soon shoot me as let me go to look for any other help. It looks as if he were desperately bent upon getting a lot of salvage money out of a stranded yacht.”
Mr. Travers turned away, and, for a moment, appeared immersed in deep thought. This accident of stranding upon a deserted coast was annoying as a loss of time. He tried to minimize it by putting in order the notes collected during the year’s travel in the East. He had sent off for assistance; his sailing-master, very crestfallen, made bold to say that the yacht would most likely float at the next spring tides; d’Alcacer, a person of undoubted nobility though of inferior principles, was better than no company, in so far at least that he could play picquet.
Mr. Travers had made up his mind to wait. Then suddenly this rough man, looking as if he had stepped out from an engraving in a book about buccaneers, broke in upon his resignation with mysterious allusions to danger, which sounded absurd yet were disturbing; with dark and warning sentences that sounded like disguised menaces.
Mr. Travers had a heavy and rather long chin which he shaved. His eyes were blue, a chill, naive blue. He faced Lingard untouched by travel, without a mark of weariness or exposure, with the air of having been born invulnerable. He had a full, pale face; and his complexion was perfectly colourless, yet amazingly fresh, as if he had been reared in the shade.
“I must put an end to this preposterous hectoring. I won’t be intimidated into paying for services I don’t need.”
Mr. Travers felt a strong disgust for the impudence of the attempt; and all at once, incredibly, strangely, as though the thing, like a contest with a rival or a friend, had been of profound importance to his career, he felt inexplicably elated at the thought of defeating the secret purposes of that man.
Lingard, unconscious of everything and everybody, contemplated the sea. He had grown on it, he had lived with it; it had enticed him away from home; on it his thoughts had expanded and his hand had found work to do. It had suggested endeavour, it had made him owner and commander of the finest brig afloat; it had lulled him into a belief in himself, in his strength, in his luck–and suddenly, by its complicity in a fatal accident, it had brought him face to face with a difficulty that looked like the beginning of disaster.
He had said all he dared to say–and he perceived that he was not believed. This had not happened to him for years. It had never happened. It bewildered him as if he had suddenly discovered that he was no longer himself. He had come to them and had said: “I mean well by you. I am Tom Lingard–” and they did not believe! Before such scepticism he was helpless, because he had never imagined it possible. He had said: “You are in the way of my work. You are in the way of what I can not give up for any one; but I will see you through all safe if you will only trust me– me, Tom Lingard.” And they would not believe him! It was intolerable. He imagined himself sweeping their disbelief out of his way. And why not? He did not know them, he did not care for them, he did not even need to lift his hand against them! All he had to do was to shut his eyes now for a day or two, and afterward he could forget that he had ever seen them. It would be easy. Let their disbelief vanish, their folly disappear, their bodies perish. . . . It was that–or ruin!
Lingard’s gaze, detaching itself from the silent sea, travelled slowly over the silent figures clustering forward, over the faces of the seamen attentive and surprised, over the faces never seen before yet suggesting old days–his youth–other seas–the distant shores of early memories. Mr. Travers gave a start also, and the hand which had been busy with his left whisker went into the pocket of his jacket, as though he had plucked out something worth keeping. He made a quick step toward Lingard.
“I don’t see my way to utilize your services,” he said, with cold finality.
Lingard, grasping his beard, looked down at him thoughtfully for a short time.
“Perhaps it’s just as well,” he said, very slowly, “because I did not offer my services. I’ve offered to take you on board my brig for a few days, as your only chance of safety. And you asked me what were my motives. My motives! If you don’t see them they are not for you to know.”
And these men who, two hours before had never seen each other, stood for a moment close together, antagonistic, as if they had been life-long enemies, one short, dapper and glaring upward, the other towering heavily, and looking down in contempt and anger.
Mr. d’Alcacer, without taking his eyes off them, bent low over the deck chair.
“Have you ever seen a man dashing himself at a stone wall?” he asked, confidentially.
“No,” said Mrs. Travers, gazing straight before her above the slow flutter of the fan. “No, I did not know it was ever done; men burrow under or slip round quietly while they look the other way.”
“Ah! you define diplomacy,” murmured d’Alcacer. “A little of it here would do no harm. But our picturesque visitor has none of it. I’ve a great liking for him.”
“Already!” breathed out Mrs. Travers, with a smile that touched her lips with its bright wing and was flown almost before it could be seen.
“There is liking at first sight,” affirmed d’Alcacer, “as well as love at first sight–the coup de foudre–you know.”
She looked up for a moment, and he went on, gravely: “I think it is the truest, the most profound of sentiments. You do not love because of what is in the other. You love because of something that is in you–something alive–in yourself.” He struck his breast lightly with the tip of one finger. “A capacity in you. And not everyone may have it–not everyone deserves to be touched by fire from heaven.”
“And die,” she said.
He made a slight movement.
“Who can tell? That is as it may be. But it is always a privilege, even if one must live a little after being burnt.”
Through the silence between them, Mr. Travers’ voice came plainly, saying with irritation:
“I’ve told you already that I do not want you. I’ve sent a messenger to the governor of the Straits. Don’t be importunate.”
Then Lingard, standing with his back to them, growled out something which must have exasperated Mr. Travers, because his voice was pitched higher:
“You are playing a dangerous game, I warn you. Sir John, as it happens, is a personal friend of mine. He will send a cruiser–” and Lingard interrupted recklessly loud:
“As long as she does not get here for the next ten days, I don’t care. Cruisers are scarce just now in the Straits; and to turn my back on you is no hanging matter anyhow. I would risk that, and more! Do you hear? And more!”
He stamped his foot heavily, Mr. Travers stepped back.
“You will gain nothing by trying to frighten me,” he said. “I don’t know who you are.”
Every eye in the yacht was wide open. The men, crowded upon each other, stared stupidly like a flock of sheep. Mr. Travers pulled out a handkerchief and passed it over his forehead. The face of the sailing-master who leaned against the main mast–as near as he dared to approach the gentry–was shining and crimson between white whiskers, like a glowing coal between two patches of snow.
“It is a quarrel, and the picturesque man is angry. He is hurt.”
Mrs. Travers’ fan rested on her knees, and she sat still as if waiting to hear more.
“Do you think I ought to make an effort for peace?” asked d’Alcacer.
She did not answer, and after waiting a little, he insisted:
“What is your opinion? Shall I try to mediate–as a neutral, as a benevolent neutral? I like that man with the beard.”
The interchange of angry phrases went on aloud, amidst general consternation.
“I would turn my back on you only I am thinking of these poor devils here,” growled Lingard, furiously. “Did you ask them how they feel about it?”
“I ask no one,” spluttered Mr. Travers. “Everybody here depends on my judgment.”
“I am sorry for them then,” pronounced Lingard with sudden deliberation, and leaning forward with his arms crossed on his breast.
At this Mr. Travers positively jumped, and forgot himself so far as to shout:
“You are an impudent fellow. I have nothing more to say to you.”
D’Alcacer, after muttering to himself, “This is getting serious,” made a movement, and could not believe his ears when he heard Mrs. Travers say rapidly with a kind of fervour:
“Don’t go, pray; don’t stop them. Oh! This is truth–this is anger–something real at last.”
D’Alcacer leaned back at once against the rail.
Then Mr. Travers, with one arm extended, repeated very loudly:
“Nothing more to say. Leave my ship at once!”
And directly the black dog, stretched at his wife’s feet, muzzle on paws and blinking yellow eyes, growled discontentedly at the noise. Mrs. Travers laughed a faint, bright laugh, that seemed to escape, to glide, to dart between her white teeth. D’Alcacer, concealing his amazement, was looking down at her gravely: and after a slight gasp, she said with little bursts of merriment between every few words:
“No, but this is–such–such a fresh experience for me to hear–to see something–genuine and human. Ah! ah! one would think they had waited all their lives for this opportunity–ah! ah! ah! All their lives–for this! ah! ah! ah!”
These strange words struck d’Alcacer as perfectly just, as throwing an unexpected light. But after a smile, he said, seriously:
“This reality may go too far. A man who looks so picturesque is capable of anything. Allow me–” And he left her side, moving toward Lingard, loose-limbed and gaunt, yet having in his whole bearing, in his walk, in every leisurely movement, an air of distinction and ceremony.
Lingard spun round with aggressive mien to the light touch on his shoulder, but as soon as he took his eyes off Mr. Travers, his anger fell, seemed to sink without a sound at his feet like a rejected garment.
“Pardon me,” said d’Alcacer, composedly. The slight wave of his hand was hardly more than an indication, the beginning of a conciliating gesture. “Pardon me; but this is a matter requiring perfect confidence on both sides. Don Martin, here, who is a person of importance. . . .”
“I’ve spoken my mind plainly. I have said as much as I dare. On my word I have,” declared Lingard with an air of good temper.
“Ah!” said d’Alcacer, reflectively, “then your reserve is a matter of pledged faith–of–of honour?”
Lingard also appeared thoughtful for a moment.
“You may put it that way. And I owe nothing to a man who couldn’t see my hand when I put it out to him as I came aboard.”
“You have so much the advantage of us here,” replied d’Alcacer, “that you may well be generous and forget that oversight; and then just a little more confidence. . . .”
“My dear d’Alcacer, you are absurd,” broke in Mr. Travers, in a calm voice but with white lips. “I did not come out all this way to shake hands promiscuously and receive confidences from the first adventurer that comes along.”
D’Alcacer stepped back with an almost imperceptible inclination of the head at Lingard, who stood for a moment with twitching face.
“I AM an adventurer,” he burst out, “and if I hadn’t been an adventurer, I would have had to starve or work at home for such people as you. If I weren’t an adventurer, you would be most likely lying dead on this deck with your cut throat gaping at the sky.”
Mr. Travers waved this speech away. But others also had heard. Carter listened watchfully and something, some alarming notion seemed to dawn all at once upon the thick little sailing-master, who rushed on his short legs, and tugging at Carter’s sleeve, stammered desperately:
“What’s he saying? Who’s he? What’s up? Are the natives unfriendly? My book says–‘Natives friendly all along this coast!’ My book says–“
Carter, who had glanced over the side, jerked his arm free.
“You go down into the pantry, where you belong, Skipper, and read that bit about the natives over again,” he said to his superior officer, with savage contempt. “I’ll be hanged if some of them ain’t coming aboard now to eat you–book and all. Get out of the way, and let the gentlemen have the first chance of a row.”
Then addressing Lingard, he drawled in his old way:
“That crazy mate of yours has sent your boat back, with a couple of visitors in her, too.”
Before he apprehended plainly the meaning of these words, Lingard caught sight of two heads rising above the rail, the head of Hassim and the head of Immada. Then their bodies ascended into view as though these two beings had gradually emerged from the Shallows. They stood for a moment on the platform looking down on the deck as if about to step into the unknown, then descended and walking aft entered the half-light under the awning shading the luxurious surroundings, the complicated emotions of the, to them, inconceivable existences.
Lingard without waiting a moment cried:
“What news, O Rajah?”
Hassim’s eyes made the round of the schooner’s decks. He had left his gun in the boat and advanced empty handed, with a tranquil assurance as if bearing a welcome offering in the faint smile of his lips. Immada, half hidden behind his shoulder, followed lightly, her elbows pressed close to her side. The thick fringe of her eyelashes was dropped like a veil; she looked youthful and brooding; she had an aspect of shy resolution.
They stopped within arm’s length of the whites, and for some time nobody said a word. Then Hassim gave Lingard a significant glance, and uttered rapidly with a slight toss of the head that indicated in a manner the whole of the yacht:
“I see no guns!”
“N–no!” said Lingard, looking suddenly confused. It had occurred to him that for the first time in two years or more he had forgotten, utterly forgotten, these people’s existence.
Immada stood slight and rigid with downcast eyes. Hassim, at his ease, scrutinized the faces, as if searching for elusive points of similitude or for subtle shades of difference.
“What is this new intrusion?” asked Mr. Travers, angrily.
“These are the fisher-folk, sir,” broke in the sailing-master, “we’ve observed these three days past flitting about in a canoe; but they never had the sense to answer our hail; and yet a bit of fish for your breakfast–” He smiled obsequiously, and all at once, without provocation, began to bellow:
“Hey! Johnnie! Hab got fish? Fish! One peecee fish! Eh? Savee? Fish! Fish–” He gave it up suddenly to say in a deferential tone–“Can’t make them savages understand anything, sir,” and withdrew as if after a clever feat.
Hassim looked at Lingard.
“Why did the little white man make that outcry?” he asked, anxiously.
“Their desire is to eat fish,” said Lingard in an enraged tone.
Then before the air of extreme surprise which incontinently appeared on the other’s face, he could not restrain a short and hopeless laugh.
“Eat fish,” repeated Hassim, staring. “O you white people! O you white people! Eat fish! Good! But why make that noise? And why did you send them here without guns?” After a significant glance down upon the slope of the deck caused by the vessel being on the ground, he added with a slight nod at Lingard–“And without knowledge?”
“You should not have come here, O Hassim,” said Lingard, testily. “Here no one understands. They take a rajah for a fisherman–“
“Ya-wa! A great mistake, for, truly, the chief of ten fugitives without a country is much less than the headman of a fishing village,” observed Hassim, composedly. Immada sighed. “But you, Tuan, at least know the truth,” he went on with quiet irony; then after a pause –“We came here because you had forgotten to look toward us, who had waited, sleeping little at night, and in the day watching with hot eyes the empty water at the foot of the sky for you.”
Immada murmured, without lifting her head:
“You never looked for us. Never, never once.”
“There was too much trouble in my eyes,” explained Lingard with that patient gentleness of tone and face which, every time he spoke to the young girl, seemed to disengage itself from his whole person, enveloping his fierceness, softening his aspect, such as the dreamy mist that in the early radiance of the morning weaves a veil of tender charm about a rugged rock in mid-ocean. “I must look now to the right and to the left as in a time of sudden danger,” he added after a moment and she whispered an appalled “Why?” so low that its pain floated away in the silence of attentive men, without response, unheard, ignored, like the pain of an impalpable thought.
D’Alcacer, standing back, surveyed them all with a profound and alert attention. Lingard seemed unable to tear himself away from the yacht, and remained, checked, as it were in the act of going, like a man who has stopped to think out the last thing to say; and that stillness of a body, forgotten by the labouring mind, reminded Carter of that moment in the cabin, when alone he had seen this man thus wrestling with his thought, motionless and locked in the grip of his conscience.
Mr. Travers muttered audibly through his teeth:
“How long is this performance going to last? I have desired you to go.”
“Think of these poor devils,” whispered Lingard, with a quick glance at the crew huddled up near by.
“You are the kind of man I would be least disposed to trust–in any case,” said Mr. Travers, incisively, very low, and with an inexplicable but very apparent satisfaction. “You are only wasting your time here.”
“You–You–” He stammered and stared. He chewed with growls some insulting word and at last swallowed it with an effort. “My time pays for your life,” he said.
He became aware of a sudden stir, and saw that Mrs. Travers had risen from her chair.
She walked impulsively toward the group on the quarter-deck, making straight for Immada. Hassim had stepped aside and his detached gaze of a Malay gentleman passed by her as if she had been invisible.
She was tall, supple, moving freely. Her complexion was so dazzling in the shade that it seemed to throw out a halo round her head. Upon a smooth and wide brow an abundance of pale fair hair, fine as silk, undulating like the sea, heavy like a helmet, descended low without a trace of gloss, without a gleam in its coils, as though it had never been touched by a ray of light; and a throat white, smooth, palpitating with life, a round neck modelled with strength and delicacy, supported gloriously that radiant face and that pale mass of hair unkissed by sunshine.
She said with animation:
“Why, it’s a girl!”
Mrs. Travers extorted from d’Alcacer a fresh tribute of curiosity. A strong puff of wind fluttered the awnings and one of the screens blowing out wide let in upon the quarter-deck the rippling glitter of the Shallows, showing to d’Alcacer the luminous vastness of the sea, with the line of the distant horizon, dark like the edge of the encompassing night, drawn at the height of Mrs. Travers’ shoulder. . . . Where was it he had seen her last–a long time before, on the other side of the world? There was also the glitter of splendour around her then, and an impression of luminous vastness. The encompassing night, too, was there, the night that waits for its time to move forward upon the glitter, the splendour, the men, the women.
He could not remember for the moment, but he became convinced that of all the women he knew, she alone seemed to be made for action. Every one of her movements had firmness, ease, the meaning of a vital fact, the moral beauty of a fearless expression. Her supple figure was not dishonoured by any faltering of outlines under the plain dress of dark blue stuff moulding her form with bold simplicity.
She had only very few steps to make, but before she had stopped, confronting Immada, d’Alcacer remembered her suddenly as he had seen her last, out West, far away, impossibly different, as if in another universe, as if presented by the fantasy of a fevered memory. He saw her in a luminous perspective of palatial drawing rooms, in the restless eddy and flow of a human sea, at the foot of walls high as cliffs, under lofty ceilings that like a tropical sky flung light and heat upon the shallow glitter of uniforms, of stars, of diamonds, of eyes sparkling in the weary or impassive faces of the throng at an official reception. Outside he had found the unavoidable darkness with its aspect of patient waiting, a cloudy sky holding back the dawn of a London morning. It was difficult to believe.
Lingard, who had been looking dangerously fierce, slapped his thigh and showed signs of agitation.
“By heavens, I had forgotten all about you!” he pronounced in dismay.
Mrs. Travers fixed her eyes on Immada. Fairhaired and white she asserted herself before the girl of olive face and raven locks with the maturity of perfection, with the superiority of the flower over the leaf, of the phrase that contains a thought over the cry that can only express an emotion. Immense spaces and countless centuries stretched between them: and she looked at her as when one looks into one’s own heart with absorbed curiosity, with still wonder, with an immense compassion. Lingard murmured, warningly:
“Don’t touch her.”
Mrs. Travers looked at him.
“Do you think I could hurt her?” she asked, softly, and was so startled to hear him mutter a gloomy “Perhaps,” that she hesitated before she smiled.
“Almost a child! And so pretty! What a delicate face,” she said, while another deep sigh of the sea breeze lifted and let fall the screens, so that the sound, the wind, and the glitter seemed to rush in together and bear her words away into space. “I had no idea of anything so charmingly gentle,” she went on in a voice that without effort glowed, caressed, and had a magic power of delight to the soul. “So young! And she lives here–does she? On the sea–or where? Lives–” Then faintly, as if she had been in the act of speaking, removed instantly to a great distance, she was heard again: “How does she live?”
Lingard had hardly seen Edith Travers till then. He had seen no one really but Mr. Travers. .He looked and listened with something of the stupor of a new sensation.
Then he made a distinct effort to collect his thoughts and said with a remnant of anger:
“What have you got to do with her? She knows war. Do you know anything about it? And hunger, too, and thirst, and unhappiness; things you have only heard about. She has been as near death as I am to you–and what is all that to any of you here?”
“That child!” she said in slow wonder.
Immada turned upon Mrs. Travers her eyes black as coal, sparkling and soft like a tropical night; and the glances of the two women, their dissimilar and inquiring glances met, seemed to touch, clasp, hold each other with the grip of an intimate contact. They separated.
“What are they come for? Why did you show them the way to this place?” asked Immada, faintly.
Lingard shook his head in denial.
“Poor girl,” said Mrs. Travers. “Are they all so pretty?”
“Who-all?” mumbled Lingard. “There isn’t an other one like her if you were to ransack the islands all round the compass.”
“Edith!” ejaculated Mr. Travers in a remonstrating, acrimonious voice, and everyone gave him a look of vague surprise.
Then Mrs. Travers asked:
“Who is she?”
Lingard very red and grave declared curtly:
Immediately he looked round with suspicion. No one smiled. D’Alcacer, courteous and nonchalant, lounged up close to Mrs. Travers’ elbow.
“If she is a princess, then this man is a knight,” he murmured with conviction. “A knight as I live! A descendant of the immortal hidalgo errant upon the sea. It would be good for us to have him for a friend. Seriously I think that you ought–“
The two stepped aside and spoke low and hurriedly.
“Yes, you ought–“
“How can I?” she interrupted, catching the meaning like a ball.
“By saying something.”
“Is it really necessary?” she asked, doubtfully.
“It would do no harm,” said d’Alcacer with sudden carelessness; “a friend is always better than an enemy.”
“Always?” she repeated, meaningly. “But what could I say?”
“Some words,” he answered; “I should think any words in your voice–“
“Or you could perhaps look at him once or twice as though he were not exactly a robber,” he continued.
“Mr. d’Alcacer, are you afraid?”
“Extremely,” he said, stooping to pick up the fan at her feet. “That is the reason I am so anxious to conciliate. And you must not forget that one of your queens once stepped on the cloak of perhaps such a man.”
Her eyes sparkled and she dropped them suddenly.
“I am not a queen,” she said, coldly.
“Unfortunately not,” he admitted; “but then the other was a woman with no charm but her crown.”
At that moment Lingard, to whom Hassim had been talking earnestly, protested aloud:
“I never saw these people before.”
Immada caught hold of her brother’s arm. Mr. Travers said harshly:
“Oblige me by taking these natives away.”
“Never before,” murmured Immada as if lost in ecstasy. D’Alcacer glanced at Mrs. Travers and made a step forward.
“Could not the difficulty, whatever it is, be arranged, Captain?” he said with careful politeness. “Observe that we are not only men here–“
“Let them die!” cried Immada, triumphantly.
Though Lingard alone understood the meaning of these words, all on board felt oppressed by the uneasy silence which followed her cry.
“Ah! He is going. Now, Mrs. Travers,” whispered d’Alcacer.
“I hope!” said Mrs. Travers, impulsively, and stopped as if alarmed at the sound.
Lingard stood still.
“I hope,” she began again, “that this poor girl will know happier days–” She hesitated.
Lingard waited, attentive and serious.
“Under your care,” she finished. “And I believe you meant to be friendly to us.”
“Thank you,” said Lingard with dignity.
“You and d’Alcacer,” observed Mr. Travers, austerely, “are unnecessarily detaining this–ah–person, and–ah–friends–ah!”
“I had forgotten you–and now–what? One must–it is hard–hard–” went on Lingard, disconnectedly, while he looked into Mrs. Travers’ violet eyes, and felt his mind overpowered and troubled as if by the contemplation of vast distances. “I–you don’t know–I–you–cannot . . . Ha! It’s all that man’s doing,” he burst out.
For a time, as if beside himself, he glared at Mrs. Travers, then flung up one arm and strode off toward the gangway, where Hassim and Immada waited for him, interested and patient. With a single word “Come,” he preceded them down into the boat. Not a sound was heard on the yacht’s deck, while these three disappeared one after another below the rail as if they had descended into the sea.
The afternoon dragged itself out in silence. Mrs. Travers sat pensive and idle with her fan on her knees. D’Alcacer, who thought the incident should have been treated in a conciliatory spirit, attempted to communicate his view to his host, but that gentleman, purposely misunderstanding his motive, overwhelmed him with so many apologies and expressions of regret at the irksome and perhaps inconvenient delay “which you suffer from through your good-natured acceptance of our invitation” that the other was obliged to refrain from pursuing the subject further.
“Even my regard for you, my dear d’Alcacer, could not induce me to submit to such a bare-faced attempt at extortion,” affirmed Mr. Travers with uncompromising virtue. “The man wanted to force his services upon me, and then put in a heavy claim for salvage. That is the whole secret–you may depend on it. I detected him at once, of course.” The eye-glass glittered perspicuously. “He underrated my intelligence; and what a violent scoundrel! The existence of such a man in the time we live in is a scandal.”
D’Alcacer retired, and, full of vague forebodings, tried in vain for hours to interest himself in a book. Mr. Travers walked up and down restlessly, trying to persuade himself that his indignation was based on purely moral grounds. The glaring day, like a mass of white-hot iron withdrawn from the fire, was losing gradually its heat and its glare in a richer deepening of tone. At the usual time two seamen, walking noiselessly aft in their yachting shoes, rolled up in silence the quarter-deck screens; and the coast, the shallows, the dark islets and the snowy sandbanks uncovered thus day after day were seen once more in their aspect of dumb watchfulness. The brig, swung end on in the foreground, her squared yards crossing heavily the soaring symmetry of the rigging, resembled a creature instinct with life, with the power of springing into action lurking in the light grace of its repose.
A pair of stewards in white jackets with brass buttons appeared on deck and began to flit about without a sound, laying the table for dinner on the flat top of the cabin skylight. The sun, drifting away toward other lands, toward other seas, toward other men; the sun, all red in a cloudless sky raked the yacht with a parting salvo of crimson rays that shattered themselves into sparks of fire upon the crystal and silver of the dinner-service, put a short flame into the blades of knives, and spread a rosy tint over the white of plates. A trail of purple, like a smear of blood on a blue shield, lay over the sea.
On sitting down Mr. Travers alluded in a vexed tone to the necessity of living on preserves, all the stock of fresh provisions for the passage to Batavia having been already consumed. It was distinctly unpleasant.
“I don’t travel for my pleasure, however,” he added; “and the belief that the sacrifice of my time and comfort will be productive of some good to the world at large would make up for any amount of privations.”
Mrs. Travers and d’Alcacer seemed unable to shake off a strong aversion to talk, and the conversation, like an expiring breeze, kept on dying out repeatedly after each languid gust. The large silence of the horizon, the profound repose of all things visible, enveloping the bodies and penetrating the souls with their quieting influence, stilled thought as well as voice. For a long time no one spoke. Behind the taciturnity of the masters the servants hovered without noise.
Suddenly, Mr. Travers, as if concluding a train of thought, muttered aloud:
“I own with regret I did in a measure lose my temper; but then you will admit that the existence of such a man is a disgrace to civilization.”
This remark was not taken up and he returned for a time to the nursing of his indignation, at the bottom of which, like a monster in a fog, crept a bizarre feeling of rancour. He waved away an offered dish.
“This coast,” he began again, “has been placed under the sole protection of Holland by the Treaty of 1820. The Treaty of 1820 creates special rights and obligations. . . .”
Both his hearers felt vividly the urgent necessity to hear no more. D’Alcacer, uncomfortable on a campstool, sat stiff and stared at the glass stopper of a carafe. Mrs. Travers turned a little sideways and leaning on her elbow rested her head on the palm of her hand like one thinking about matters of profound import. Mr. Travers talked; he talked inflexibly, in a harsh blank voice, as if reading a proclamation. The other two, as if in a state of incomplete trance, had their ears assailed by fragments of official verbiage.
“An international understanding–the duty to civilize–failed to carry out–compact–Canning–” D’Alcacer became attentive for a moment. “–not that this attempt, almost amusing in its impudence, influences my opinion. I won’t admit the possibility of any violence being offered to people of our position. It is the social aspect of such an incident I am desirous of criticising.”
Here d’Alcacer lost himself again in the recollection of Mrs. Travers and Immada looking at each other–the beginning and the end, the flower and the leaf, the phrase and the cry. Mr. Travers’ voice went on dogmatic and obstinate for a long time. The end came with a certain vehemence.
“And if the inferior race must perish, it is a gain, a step toward the perfecting of society which is the aim of progress.”
He ceased. The sparks of sunset in crystal and silver had gone out, and around the yacht the expanse of coast and Shallows seemed to await, unmoved, the coming of utter darkness. The dinner was over a long time ago and the patient stewards had been waiting, stoical in the downpour of words like sentries under a shower.
Mrs. Travers rose nervously and going aft began to gaze at the coast. Behind her the sun, sunk already, seemed to force through the mass of waters the glow of an unextinguishable fire, and below her feet, on each side of the yacht, the lustrous sea, as if reflecting the colour of her eyes, was tinged a sombre violet hue.
D’Alcacer came up to her with quiet footsteps and for some time they leaned side by side over the rail in silence. Then he said–“How quiet it is!” and she seemed to perceive that the quietness of that evening was more profound and more significant than ever before. Almost without knowing it she murmured–“It’s like a dream.” Another long silence ensued; the tranquillity of the universe had such an August ampleness that the sounds remained on the lips as if checked by the fear of profanation. The sky was limpid like a diamond, and under the last gleams of sunset the night was spreading its veil over the earth. There was something precious and soothing in the beautifully serene end of that expiring day, of the day vibrating, glittering and ardent, and dying now in infinite peace, without a stir, without a tremor, without a sigh–in the certitude of resurrection.
Then all at once the shadow deepened swiftly, the stars came out in a crowd, scattering a rain of pale sparks upon the blackness of the water, while the coast stretched low down, a dark belt without a gleam. Above it the top-hamper of the brig loomed indistinct and high.
Mrs. Travers spoke first.
“How unnaturally quiet! It is like a desert of land and water without a living soul.”
“One man at least dwells in it,” said d’Alcacer, lightly, “and if he is to be believed there are other men, full of evil intentions.”
“Do you think it is true?” Mrs. Travers asked.
Before answering d’Alcacer tried to see the expression of her face but the obscurity was too profound already.
“How can one see a dark truth on such a dark night?” he said, evasively. “But it is easy to believe in evil, here or anywhere else.”
She seemed to be lost in thought for a while.
“And that man himself?” she asked.
After some time d’Alcacer began to speak slowly. “Rough, uncommon, decidedly uncommon of his kind. Not at all what Don Martin thinks him to be. For the rest–mysterious to me. He is YOUR countryman after all– “
She seemed quite surprised by that view.
“Yes,” she said, slowly. “But you know, I can not –what shall I say?–imagine him at all. He has nothing in common with the mankind I know. There is nothing to begin upon. How does such a man live? What are his thoughts? His actions? His affections? His–“
“His conventions,” suggested d’Alcacer. “That would include everything.”
Mr. Travers appeared suddenly behind them with a glowing cigar in his teeth. He took it between his fingers to declare with persistent acrimony that no amount of “scoundrelly intimidation” would prevent him from having his usual walk. There was about three hundred yards to the southward of the yacht a sandbank nearly a mile long, gleaming a silvery white in the darkness, plumetted in the centre with a thicket of dry bushes that rustled very loud in the slightest stir of the heavy night air. The day after the stranding they had landed on it “to stretch their legs a bit,” as the sailing-master defined it, and every evening since, as if exercising a privilege or performing a duty, the three paced there for an hour backward and forward lost in dusky immensity, threading at the edge of water the belt of damp sand, smooth, level, elastic to the touch like living flesh and sweating a little under the pressure of their feet.
This time d’Alcacer alone followed Mr. Travers. Mrs. Travers heard them get into the yacht’s smallest boat, and the night-watchman, tugging at a pair of sculls, pulled them off to the nearest point. Then the man returned. He came up the ladder and she heard him say to someone on deck:
“Orders to go back in an hour.”
His footsteps died out forward, and a somnolent, unbreathing repose took possession of the stranded yacht.
After a time this absolute silence which she almost could feel pressing upon her on all sides induced in Mrs. Travers a state of hallucination. She saw herself standing alone, at the end of time, on the brink of days. All was unmoving as if the dawn would never come, the stars would never fade, the sun would never rise any more; all was mute, still, dead–as if the shadow of the outer darkness, the shadow of the uninterrupted, of the everlasting night that fills the universe, the shadow of the night so profound and so vast that the blazing suns lost in it are only like sparks, like pin-points of fire, the restless shadow that like a suspicion of an evil truth darkens everything upon the earth on its passage, had enveloped her, had stood arrested as if to remain with her forever.
And there was such a finality in that illusion, such an accord with the trend of her thought that when she murmured into the darkness a faint “so be it” she seemed to have spoken one of those sentences that resume and close a life.
As a young girl, often reproved for her romantic ideas, she had dreams where the sincerity of a great passion appeared like the ideal fulfilment and the only truth of life. Entering the world she discovered that ideal to be unattainable because the world is too prudent to be sincere. Then she hoped that she could find the truth of life an ambition which she understood as a lifelong devotion to some unselfish ideal. Mr. Travers’ name was on men’s lips; he seemed capable of enthusiasm and of devotion; he impressed her imagination by his impenetrability. She married him, found him enthusiastically devoted to the nursing of his own career, and had nothing to hope for now.
That her husband should be bewildered by the curious misunderstanding which had taken place and also permanently grieved by her disloyalty to his respectable ideals was only natural. He was, however, perfectly satisfied with her beauty, her brilliance, and her useful connections. She was admired, she was envied; she was surrounded by splendour and adulation; the days went on rapid, brilliant, uniform, without a glimpse of sincerity or true passion, without a single true emotion –not even that of a great sorrow. And swiftly and stealthily they had led her on and on, to this evening, to this coast, to this sea, to this moment of time and to this spot on the earth’s surface where she felt unerringly that the moving shadow of the unbroken night had stood still to remain with her forever.
“So be it!” she murmured, resigned and defiant, at the mute and smooth obscurity that hung before her eyes in a black curtain without a fold; and as if in answer to that whisper a lantern was run up to the foreyard-arm of the brig. She saw it ascend swinging for a. short space, and suddenly remain motionless in the air, piercing the dense night between the two vessels by its glance of flame that strong and steady seemed, from afar, to fall upon her alone.
Her thoughts, like a fascinated moth, went fluttering toward that light–that man–that girl, who had known war, danger, seen death near, had obtained evidently the devotion of that man. The occurrences of the afternoon had been strange in themselves, but what struck her artistic sense was the vigour of their presentation. They outlined themselves before her memory with the clear simplicity of some immortal legend. They were mysterious, but she felt certain they were absolutely true. They embodied artless and masterful feelings; such, no doubt, as had swayed mankind in the simplicity of its youth. She envied, for a moment, the lot of that humble and obscure sister. Nothing stood between that girl and the truth of her sensations. She could be sincerely courageous, and tender and passionate and–well–ferocious. Why not ferocious? She could know the truth of terror–and of affection, absolutely, without artificial trammels, without the pain of restraint.
Thinking of what such life could be Mrs. Travers felt invaded by that inexplicable exaltation which the consciousness of their physical capacities so often gives to intellectual beings. She glowed with a sudden persuasion that she also could be equal to such an existence; and her heart was dilated with a momentary longing to know the naked truth of things; the naked truth of life and passion buried under the growth of centuries.
She glowed and, suddenly, she quivered with the shock of coming to herself as if she had fallen down from a star. There was a sound of rippling water and a shapeless mass glided out of the dark void she confronted. A voice below her feet said:
“I made out your shape–on the sky.” A cry of surprise expired on her lips and she could only peer downward. Lingard, alone in the brig’s dinghy, with another stroke sent the light boat nearly under the yacht’s counter, laid his sculls in, and rose from the thwart. His head and shoulders loomed up alongside and he had the appearance of standing upon the sea. Involuntarily Mrs. Travers made a movement of retreat.
“Stop,” he said, anxiously, “don’t speak loud. No one must know. Where do your people think themselves, I wonder? In a dock at home? And you–“
“My husband is not on board,” she interrupted, hurriedly.
She bent a little more over the rail.
“Then you are having us watched. Why?”
“Somebody must watch. Your people keep such a good look-out–don’t they? Yes. Ever since dark one of my boats has been dodging astern here, in the deep water. I swore to myself I would never see one of you, never speak to one of you here, that I would be dumb, blind, deaf. And–here I am!”
Mrs. Travers’ alarm and mistrust were replaced by an immense curiosity, burning, yet quiet, too, as if before the inevitable work of destiny. She looked downward at Lingard. His head was bared, and, with one hand upon the ship’s side, he seemed to be thinking deeply.
“Because you had something more to tell us,” Mrs. Travers suggested, gently.
“Yes,” he said in a low tone and without moving in the least.
“Will you come on board and wait?” she asked.
“Who? I!” He lifted his head so quickly as to startle her. “I have nothing to say to him; and I’ll never put my foot on board this craft. I’ve been told to go. That’s enough.”
“He is accustomed to be addressed deferentially,” she said after a pause, “and you–“
“Who is he?” asked Lingard, simply.
These three words seemed to her to scatter her past in the air–like smoke. They robbed all the multitude of mankind of every vestige of importance. She was amazed to find that on this night, in this place, there could be no adequate answer to the searching naiveness of that question.
“I didn’t ask for much,” Lingard began again. “Did I? Only that you all should come on board my brig for five days. That’s all. . . . Do I look like a liar? There are things I could not tell him. I couldn’t explain–I couldn’t–not to him–to no man–to no man in the world–“
His voice dropped.
“Not to myself,” he ended as if in a dream.
“We have remained unmolested so long here,” began Mrs. Travers a little unsteadily, “that it makes it very difficult to believe in danger, now. We saw no one all these days except those two people who came for you. If you may not explain–“
“Of course, you can’t be expected to see through a wall,” broke in Lingard. “This coast’s like a wall, but I know what’s on the other side. . . . A yacht here, of all things that float! When I set eyes on her I could fancy she hadn’t been more than an hour from home. Nothing but the look of her spars made me think of old times. And then the faces of the chaps on board. I seemed to know them all. It was like home coming to me when I wasn’t thinking of it. And I hated the sight of you all.”
“If we are exposed to any peril,” she said after a pause during which she tried to penetrate the secret of passion hidden behind that man’s words, “it need not affect you. Our other boat is gone to the Straits and effective help is sure to come very soon.”
“Affect me! Is that precious watchman of yours coming aft? I don’t want anybody to know I came here again begging, even of you. Is he coming aft? . . . Listen! I’ve stopped your other boat.”
His head and shoulders disappeared as though he had dived into a denser layer of obscurity floating on the water. The watchman, who had the intention to stretch himself in one of the deck chairs, catching sight of the owner’s wife, walked straight to the lamp that hung under the ridge pole of the awning, and after fumbling with it for a time went away forward with an indolent gait.
“You dared!” Mrs. Travers whispered down in an intense tone; and directly, Lingard’s head emerged again below her with an upturned face.
“It was dare–or give up. The help from the Straits would have been too late anyhow if I hadn’t the power to keep you safe; and if I had the power I could see you through it–alone. I expected to find a reasonable man to talk to. I ought to have known better. You come from too far to understand these things. Well, I dared; I’ve sent after your other boat a fellow who, with me at his back, would try to stop the governor of the Straits himself. He will do it. Perhaps it’s done already. You have nothing to hope for. But I am here. You said you believed I meant well–“
“Yes,” she murmured.
“That’s why I thought I would tell you everything. I had to begin with this business about the boat. And what do you think of me now? I’ve cut you off from the rest of the earth. You people would disappear like a stone in the water. You left one foreign port for another. Who’s there to trouble about what became of you? Who would know? Who could guess? It would be months before they began to stir.”
“I understand,” she said, steadily, “we are helpless.”
“And alone,” he added.
After a pause she said in a deliberate, restrained voice:
“What does this mean? Plunder, captivity?”
“It would have meant death if I hadn’t been here,” he answered.
“But you have the power to–“
“”Why, do you think, you are alive yet?” he cried. “Jorgenson has been arguing with them on shore,” he went on, more calmly, with a swing of his arm toward where the night seemed darkest. “Do you think he would have kept them back if they hadn’t expected me every day? His words would have been nothing without my fist.”
She heard a dull blow struck on the side of the yacht and concealed in the same darkness that wrapped the unconcern of the earth and sea, the fury and the pain of hearts; she smiled above his head, fascinated by the simplicity of images and expressions.
Lingard made a brusque movement, the lively little boat being unsteady under his feet, and she spoke slowly, absently, as if her thought had been lost in the vagueness of her sensations.
“And this–this–Jorgenson, you said? Who is he?”
“A man,” he answered, “a man like myself.”
“Just like myself,” he said with strange reluctance, as if admitting a painful truth. “More sense, perhaps, but less luck. Though, since your yacht has turned up here, I begin to think that my luck is nothing much to boast of either.”
“Is our presence here so fatal?”
“It may be death to some. It may be worse than death to me. And it rests with you in a way. Think of that! I can never find such another chance again. But that’s nothing! A man who has saved my life once and that I passed my word to would think I had thrown him over. But that’s nothing! Listen! As true as I stand here in my boat talking to you, I believe the girl would die of grief.”
“You love her,” she said, softly.
“Like my own daughter,” he cried, low.
Mrs. Travers said, “Oh!” faintly, and for a moment there was a silence, then he began again:
“Look here. When I was a boy in a trawler, and looked at you yacht people, in the Channel ports, you were as strange to me as the Malays here are strange to you. I left home sixteen years ago and fought my way all round the earth. I had the time to forget where I began. What are you to me against these two? If I was to die here on the spot would you care? No one would care at home. No one in the whole world–but these two.”
“What can I do?” she asked, and waited, leaning over.
He seemed to reflect, then lifting his head, spoke gently:
“Do you understand the danger you are in? Are you afraid?”
“I understand the expression you used, of course. Understand the danger?” she went on. “No–decidedly no. And– honestly–I am not afraid.”
“Aren’t you?” he said in a disappointed voice. “Perhaps you don’t believe me? I believed you, though, when you said you were sure I meant well. I trusted you enough to come here asking for your help –telling you what no one knows.”
“You mistake me,” she said with impulsive earnestness. “This is so extraordinarily unusual–sudden–outside my experience.”
“Aye!” he murmured, “what would you know of danger and trouble? You! But perhaps by thinking it over–“
“You want me to think myself into a fright!” Mrs. Travers laughed lightly, and in the gloom of his thought this flash of joyous sound was incongruous and almost terrible. Next moment the night appeared brilliant as day, warm as sunshine; but when she ceased the returning darkness gave him pain as if it had struck heavily against his breast. “I don’t think I could do that,” she finished in a serious tone.
“Couldn’t you?” He hesitated, perplexed. “Things are bad enough to make it no shame. I tell you,” he said, rapidly, “and I am not a timid man, I may not be able to do much if you people don’t help me.”
“You want me to pretend I am alarmed?” she asked, quickly.
“Aye, to pretend–as well you may. It’s a lot to ask of you–who perhaps never had to make-believe a thing in your life–isn’t it?”
“It is,” she said after a time.
The unexpected bitterness of her tone struck Lingard with dismay.
“Don’t be offended,” he entreated. “I’ve got to plan a way out of this mess. It’s no play either. Could you pretend?”
“Perhaps, if I tried very hard. But to what end?”
“You must all shift aboard the brig,” he began, speaking quickly, “and then we may get over this trouble without coming to blows. Now, if you were to say that you wish it; that you feel unsafe in the yacht–don’t you see?”
“I see,” she pronounced, thoughtfully.
“The brig is small but the cuddy is fit for a lady,” went on Lingard with animation.
“Has it not already sheltered a princess?” she commented, coolly.
“And I shall not intrude.”
“This is an inducement.”
“Nobody will dare to intrude. You needn’t even see me.”
“This is almost decisive, only–“
“I know my place.”
“Only, I might not have the influence,” she finished.
“That I can not believe,” he said, roughly. “The long and the short of it is you don’t trust me because you think that only people of your own condition speak the truth always.”
“Evidently,” she murmured.
“You say to yourself–here’s a fellow deep in with pirates, thieves, niggers–“
“To be sure–“
“A man I never saw the like before,” went on Lingard, headlong, “a–ruffian.”
He checked himself, full of confusion. After a time he heard her saying, calmly:
“You are like other men in this, that you get angry when you can not have your way at once.”
“I angry!” he exclaimed in deadened voice. “You do not understand. I am thinking of you also–it is hard on me–“
“I mistrust not you, but my own power. You have produced an unfortunate impression on Mr. Travers.”
“Unfortunate impression! He treated me as if I had been a long-shore loafer. Never mind that. He is your husband. Fear in those you care for is hard to bear for any man. And so, he–“
“Eh, what did you say?”
“I only wondered where you had observed that. On the sea?”
“Observed what?” he said, absently. Then pursuing his idea–“One word from you ought to be enough.”
“You think so?”
“I am sure of it. Why, even I, myself–“
“Of course,” she interrupted. “But don’t you think that after parting with you on such–such–inimical terms, there would be a difficulty in resuming relations?”
“A man like me would do anything for money–don’t you see?”
After a pause she asked:
“And would you care for that argument to be used?”
“As long as you know better!”
His voice vibrated–she drew back disturbed, as if unexpectedly he had touched her.
“What can there be at stake?” she began, wonderingly.
“A kingdom,” said Lingard.
Mrs. Travers leaned far over the rail, staring, and their faces, one above the other, came very close together.
“Not for yourself?” she whispered.
He felt the touch of her breath on his forehead and remained still for a moment, perfectly still as if he did not intend to move or speak any more.
“Those things,” he began, suddenly, “come in your way, when you don’t think, and they get all round you before you know what you mean to do. When I went into that bay in New Guinea I never guessed where that course would take me to. I could tell you a story. You would understand! You! You!”
He stammered, hesitated, and suddenly spoke, liberating the visions of two years into the night where Mrs. Travers could follow them as if outlined in words of fire.
His tale was as startling as the discovery of a new world. She was being taken along the boundary of an exciting existence, and she looked into it through the guileless enthusiasm of the narrator. The heroic quality of the feelings concealed what was disproportionate and absurd in that gratitude, in that friendship, in that inexplicable devotion. The headlong fierceness of purpose invested his obscure design of conquest with the proportions of a great enterprise. It was clear that no vision of a subjugated world could have been more inspiring to the most famous adventurer of history.
From time to time he interrupted himself to ask, confidently, as if he had been speaking to an old friend, “What would you have done?” and hurried on without pausing for approval.
It struck her that there was a great passion in all this, the beauty of an implanted faculty of affection that had found itself, its immediate need of an object and the way of expansion; a tenderness expressed violently; a tenderness that could only be satisfied by backing human beings against their own destiny. Perhaps her hatred of convention, trammelling the frankness of her own impulses, had rendered her more alert to perceive what is intrinsically great and profound within the forms of human folly, so simple and so infinitely varied according to the region of the earth and to the moment of time.
What of it that the narrator was only a roving seaman; the kingdom of the jungle, the men of the forest, the lives obscure! That simple soul was possessed by the greatness of the idea; there was nothing sordid in its flaming impulses. When she once understood that, the story appealed to the audacity of her thoughts, and she became so charmed with what she heard that she forgot where she was. She forgot that she was personally close to that tale which she saw detached, far away from her, truth or fiction, presented in picturesque speech, real only by the response of her emotion.
Lingard paused. In the cessation of the impassioned murmur she began to reflect. And at first it was only an oppressive notion of there being some significance that really mattered in this man’s story. That mattered to her. For the first time the shadow of danger and death crossed her mind. Was that the significance? Suddenly, in a flash of acute discernment, she saw herself involved helplessly in that story, as one is involved in a natural cataclysm.
He was speaking again. He had not been silent more than a minute. It seemed to Mrs. Travers that years had elapsed, so different now was the effect of his words. Her mind was agitated as if his coming to speak and confide in her had been a tremendous occurrence. It was a fact of her own existence; it was part of the story also. This was the disturbing thought. She heard him pronounce several names: Belarab, Daman, Tengga, Ningrat. These belonged now to her life and she was appalled to find she was unable to connect these names with any human appearance. They stood out alone, as if written on the night; they took on a symbolic shape; they imposed themselves upon her senses. She whispered as if pondering: “Belarab, Daman, Ningrat,” and these barbarous sounds seemed to possess an exceptional energy, a fatal aspect, the savour of madness.
“Not one of them but has a heavy score to settle with the whites. What’s that to me! I had somehow to get men who would fight. I risked my life to get that lot. I made them promises which I shall keep–or–! Can you see now why I dared to stop your boat? I am in so deep that I care for no Sir John in the world. When I look at the work ahead I care for nothing. I gave you one chance–one good chance. That I had to do. No! I suppose I didn’t look enough of a gentleman. Yes! Yes! That’s it. Yet I know what a gentleman is. I lived with them for years. I chummed with them- -yes–on gold-fields and in other places where a man has got to show the stuff that’s in him. Some of them write from home to me here–such as you see me, because I–never mind! And I know what a gentleman would do. Come! Wouldn’t he treat a stranger fairly? Wouldn’t he remember that no man is a liar till you prove him so? Wouldn’t he keep his word wherever given? Well, I am going to do that. Not a hair of your head shall be touched as long as I live!”
She had regained much of her composure but at these words she felt that staggering sense of utter insecurity which is given one by the first tremor of an earthquake. It was followed by an expectant stillness of sensations. She remained silent. He thought she did not believe him.
“Come! What on earth do you think brought me here–to–to–talk like this to you? There was Hassim–Rajah Tulla, I should say–who was asking me this afternoon: ‘What will you do now with these, your people?’ I believe he thinks yet I fetched you here for some reason. You can’t tell what crooked notion they will get into their thick heads. It’s enough to make one swear.” He swore. “My people! Are you? How much? Say–how much? You’re no more mine than I am yours. Would any of you fine folks at home face black ruin to save a fishing smack’s crew from getting drowned?”
Notwithstanding that sense of insecurity which lingered faintly in her mind she had no image of death before her. She felt intensely alive. She felt alive in a flush of strength, with an impression of novelty as though life had been the gift of this very moment. The danger hidden in the night gave no sign to awaken her terror, but the workings of a human soul, simple and violent, were laid bare before her and had the disturbing charm of an unheard-of experience. She was listening to a man who concealed nothing. She said, interrogatively:
“And yet you have come?”
“Yes,” he answered, “to you–and for you only.”
The flood tide running strong over the banks made a placid trickling sound about the yacht’s rudder.
“I would not be saved alone.”
“Then you must bring them over yourself,” he said in a sombre tone. “There’s the brig. You have me–my men–my guns. You know what to do.
“I will try,” she said.
“Very well. I am sorry for the poor devils forward there if you fail. But of course you won’t. Watch that light on the brig. I had it hoisted on purpose. The trouble may be nearer than we think. Two of my boats are gone scouting and if the news they bring me is bad the light will be lowered. Think what that means. And I’ve told you what I have told nobody. Think of my feelings also. I told you because I–because I had to.”
He gave a shove against the yacht’s side and glided away from under her eyes. A rippling sound died out.
She walked away from the rail. The lamp and the skylights shone faintly along the dark stretch of the decks. This evening was like the last–like all the evenings before.
“Is all this I have heard possible?” she asked herself. “No–but it is true.”
She sat down in a deck chair to think and found she could only remember. She jumped up. She was sure somebody was hailing the yacht faintly. Was that man hailing? She listened, and hearing nothing was annoyed with herself for being haunted by a voice.
“He said he could trust me. Now, what is this danger? What is danger?” she meditated.
Footsteps were coming from forward. The figure of the watchman flitted vaguely over the gangway. He was whistling softly and vanished. Hollow sounds in the boat were succeeded by a splash of oars. The night swallowed these slight noises. Mrs. Travers sat down again and found herself much calmer.
She had the faculty of being able to think her own thoughts–and the courage. She could take no action of any kind till her husband’s return. Lingard’s warnings were not what had impressed her most. This man had presented his innermost self unclothed by any subterfuge. There were in plain sight his desires, his perplexities, affections, doubts, his violence, his folly; and the existence they made up was lawless but not vile. She had too much elevation of mind to look upon him from any other but a strictly human standpoint. If he trusted her (how strange; why should he? Was he wrong?) she accepted the trust with scrupulous fairness. And when it dawned upon her that of all the men in the world this unquestionably was the one she knew best, she had a moment of wonder followed by an impression of profound sadness. It seemed an unfortunate matter that concerned her alone.
Her thought was suspended while she listened attentively for the return of the yacht’s boat. She was dismayed at the task before her. Not a sound broke the stillness and she felt as if she were lost in empty space. Then suddenly someone amidships yawned immensely and said: “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” A voice asked: “Ain’t they back yet?” A negative grunt answered.
Mrs. Travers found that Lingard was touching, because he could be understood. How simple was life, she reflected. She was frank with herself. She considered him apart from social organization. She discovered he had no place in it. How delightful! Here was a human being and the naked truth of things was not so very far from her notwithstanding the growth of centuries. Then it occurred to her that this man by his action stripped her at once of her position, of her wealth, of her rank, of her past. “I am helpless. What remains?” she asked herself. Nothing! Anybody there might have suggested: “Your presence.” She was too artificial yet to think of her beauty; and yet the power of personality is part of the naked truth of things.
She looked over her shoulder, and saw the light at the brig’s foreyard-arm burning with a strong, calm flame in the dust of starlight suspended above the coast. She heard the heavy bump as of a boat run headlong against the ladder. They were back! She rose in sudden and extreme agitation. What should she say? How much? How to begin? Why say anything? It would be absurd, like talking seriously about a dream. She would not dare! In a moment she was driven into a state of mind bordering on distraction. She heard somebody run up the gangway steps. With the idea of gaining time she walked rapidly aft to the taffrail. The light of the brig faced her without a flicker, enormous amongst the suns scattered in the immensity of the night.
She fixed her eyes on it. She thought: “I shan’t tell him anything. Impossible. No! I shall tell everything.” She expected every moment to hear her husband’s voice and the suspense was intolerable because she felt that then she must decide. Somebody on deck was babbling excitedly. She devoutly hoped d’Alcacer would speak first and thus put off the fatal moment. A voice said roughly: “What’s that?” And in the midst of her distress she recognized Carter’s voice, having noticed that young man who was of a different stamp from the rest of the crew. She came to the conclusion that the matter could be related jocularly, or–why not pretend fear? At that moment the brig’s yard-arm light she was looking at trembled distinctly, and she was dumfounded as if she had seen a commotion in the firmament. With her lips open for a cry she saw it fall straight down several feet, flicker, and go out. All perplexity passed from her mind. This first fact of the danger gave her a thrill of quite a new emotion. Something had to be done at once. For some remote reason she felt ashamed of her hesitations.
She moved swiftly forward and under the lamp came face to face with Carter who was coming aft. Both stopped, staring, the light fell on their faces, and both were struck by each other’s expression. The four eyes shone wide.
“You have seen?” she asked, beginning to tremble.
“How do you know?” he said, at the same time, evidently surprised.
Suddenly she saw that everybody was on deck.
“The light is down,” she stammered.
“The gentlemen are lost,” said Carter. Then he perceived she did not seem to understand. “Kidnapped off the sandbank,” he continued, looking at her fixedly to see how she would take it. She seemed calm. “Kidnapped like a pair of lambs! Not a squeak,” he burst out with indignation. “But the sandbank is long and they might have been at the other end. You were on deck, ma’am?” he asked.
“Yes,” she murmured. “In the chair here.”
“We were all down below. I had to rest a little. When I came up the watchman was asleep. He swears he wasn’t, but I know better. Nobody heard any noise, unless you did. But perhaps you were asleep?” he asked, deferentially.
“Yes–no–I must have been,” she said, faintly.
Lingard’s soul was exalted by his talk with Mrs. Travers, by the strain of incertitude and by extreme fatigue. On returning on board he asked after Hassim and was told that the Rajah and his sister had gone off in their canoe promising to return before midnight. The boats sent to scout between the islets north and south of the anchorage had not come back yet. He went into his cabin and throwing himself on the couch closed his eyes thinking: “I must sleep or I shall go mad.”
At times he felt an unshaken confidence in Mrs. Travers–then he remembered her face. Next moment the face would fade, he would make an effort to hold on to the image, fail–and then become convinced without the shadow of a doubt that he was utterly lost, unless he let all these people be wiped off the face of the earth.
“They all heard that man order me out of his ship,” he thought, and thereupon for a second or so he contemplated without flinching the lurid image of a massacre. “And yet I had to tell her that not a hair of her head shall be touched. Not a hair.”
And irrationally at the recollection of these words there seemed to be no trouble of any kind left in the world. Now and then, however, there were black instants when from sheer weariness he thought of nothing at all; and during one of these he fell asleep, losing the consciousness of external things as suddenly as if he had been felled by a blow on the head.
When he sat up, almost before he was properly awake, his first alarmed conviction was that he had slept the night through. There was a light in the cuddy and through the open door of his cabin he saw distinctly Mrs. Travers pass out of view across the lighted space.
“They did come on board after all,” he thought–“how is it I haven’t been called!”
He darted into the cuddy. Nobody! Looking up at the clock in the skylight he was vexed to see it had stopped till his ear caught the faint beat of the mechanism. It was going then! He could not have been asleep more than ten minutes. He had not been on board more than twenty!
So it was only a deception; he had seen no one. And yet he remembered the turn of the head, the line of the neck, the colour of the hair, the movement of the passing figure. He returned spiritlessly to his state-room muttering, “No more sleep for me to-night,” and came out directly, holding a few sheets of paper covered with a high, angular handwriting.
This was Jorgenson’s letter written three days before and entrusted to Hassim. Lingard had read it already twice, but he turned up the lamp a little higher and sat down to read it again. On the red shield above his head the gilt sheaf of thunderbolts darting between the initials of his name seemed to be aimed straight at the nape of his neck as he sat with bared elbows spread on the table, poring over the crumpled sheets. The letter began:
Hassim and Immada are going out to-night to look for you. You are behind your time and every passing day makes things worse.
Ten days ago three of Belarab’s men, who had been collecting turtles’ eggs on the islets, came flying back with a story of a ship stranded on the outer mudflats. Belarab at once forbade any boat from leaving the lagoon. So far good. There was a great excitement in the village. I judge it must be a schooner– probably some fool of a trader. However, you will know all about her when you read this. You may say I might have pulled out to sea to have a look for myself. But besides Belarab’s orders to the contrary, which I would attend to for the sake of example, all you are worth in this world, Tom, is here in the Emma, under my feet, and I would not leave my charge even for half a day. Hassim attended the council held every evening in the shed outside Belarab’s stockade. That holy man Ningrat was for looting that vessel. Hassim reproved him saying that the vessel probably was sent by you because no white men were known to come inside the shoals. Belarab backed up Hassim. Ningrat was very angry and reproached Belarab for keeping him, Ningrat, short of opium to smoke. He began by calling him “O! son,” and ended by shouting, “O! you worse than an unbeliever!” There was a hullabaloo. The followers of Tengga were ready to interfere and you know how it is between Tengga and Belarab. Tengga always wanted to oust Belarab, and his chances were getting pretty good before you turned up and armed Belarab’s bodyguard with muskets. However, Hassim stopped that row, and no one was hurt that time. Next day, which was Friday, Ningrat after reading the prayers in the mosque talked to the people outside. He bleated and capered like an old goat, prophesying misfortune, ruin, and extermination if these whites were allowed to get away. He is mad but then they think him a saint, and he had been fighting the Dutch for years in his young days. Six of Belarab’s guard marched down the village street carrying muskets at full cock and the crowd cleared out. Ningrat was spirited away by Tengga’s men into their master’s stockade. If it was not for the fear of you turning up any moment there would have been a party-fight that evening. I think it is a pity Tengga is not chief of the land instead of Belarab. A brave and foresighted man, however treacherous at heart, can always be trusted to a certain extent. One can never get anything clear from Belarab. Peace! Peace! You know his fad. And this fad makes him act silly. The peace racket will get him into a row. It may cost him his life in the end. However, Tengga does not feel himself strong enough yet to act with his own followers only and Belarab has, on my advice, disarmed all villagers. His men went into the houses and took away by force all the firearms and as many spears as they could lay hands on. The women screamed abuse of course, but there was no resistance. A few men were seen clearing out into the forest with their arms. Note this, for it means there is another power beside Belarab’s in the village: the growing power of Tengga.
One morning–four days ago–I went to see Tengga. I found him by the shore trimming a plank with a small hatchet while a slave held an umbrella over his head. He is amusing himself in building a boat just now. He threw his hatchet down to meet me and led me by the hand to a shady spot. He told me frankly he had sent out two good swimmers to observe the stranded vessel. These men stole down the creek in a canoe and when on the sea coast swam from sandbank to sandbank until they approached unobserved–I think–to about fifty yards from that schooner What can that craft be? I can’t make it out. The men reported there were three chiefs on board. One with a glittering eye, one a lean man in white, and another without any hair on the face and dressed in a different style. Could it be a woman? I don’t know what to think. I wish you were here. After a lot of chatter Tengga said: “Six years ago I was ruler of a country and the Dutch drove me out. The country was small but nothing is too small for them to take. They pretended to give it back to my nephew–may he burn! I ran away or they would have killed me. I am nothing here–but I remember. These white people out there can not run away and they are very few. There is perhaps a little to loot. I would give it to my men who followed me in my calamity because I am their chief and my father was the chief of their fathers.” I pointed out the imprudence of this. He said: “The dead do not show the way.” To this I remarked that the ignorant do not give information. Tengga kept quiet for a while, then said: “We must not touch them because their skin is like yours and to kill them would be wrong, but at the bidding of you whites we may go and fight with people of our own skin and our own faith–and that is good. I have promised to Tuan Lingard twenty men and a prau to make war in Wajo. The men are good and look at the prau; it is swift and strong.” I must say, Tom, the prau is the best craft of the kind I have ever seen. I said you paid him well for the help. “And I also would pay,” says he, “if you let me have a few guns and a little powder for my men. You and I shall share the loot of that ship outside, and Tuan Lingard will not know. It is only a little game. You have plenty of guns and powder under your care.” He meant in the Emma. On that I spoke out pretty straight and we got rather warm until at last he gave me to understand that as he had about forty followers of his own and I had only nine of Hassim’s chaps to defend the Emma with, he could very well go for me and get the lot. “And then,” says he, “I would be so strong that everybody would be on my side.” I discovered in the course of further talk that there is a notion amongst many people that you have come to grief in some way and won’t show up here any more. After this I saw the position was serious and I was in a hurry to get back to the Emma, but pretending I did not care I smiled and thanked Tengga for giving me warning of his intentions about me and the Emma. At this he nearly choked himself with his betel quid and fixing me with his little eyes, muttered: “Even a lizard will give a fly the time to say its prayers.” I turned my back on him and was very thankful to get beyond the throw of a spear. I haven’t been out of the Emma since.
The letter went on to enlarge on the intrigues of Tengga, the wavering conduct of Belarab, and the state of the public mind. It noted every gust of opinion and every event, with an earnestness of belief in their importance befitting the chronicle of a crisis in the history of an empire. The shade of Jorgenson had, indeed, stepped back into the life of men. The old adventurer looked on with a perfect understanding of the value of trifles, using his eyes for that other man whose conscience would have the task to unravel the tangle. Lingard lived through those days in the Settlement and was thankful to Jorgenson; only as he lived not from day to day but from sentence to sentence of the writing, there was an effect of bewildering rapidity in the succession of events that made him grunt with surprise sometimes or growl–“What?” to himself angrily and turn back several lines or a whole page more than once. Toward the end he had a heavy frown of perplexity and fidgeted as he read:
–and I began to think I could keep things quiet till you came or those wretched white people got their schooner off, when Sherif Daman arrived from the north on the very day he was expected, with two Illanun praus. He looks like an Arab. It was very evident to me he can wind the two Illanun pangerans round his little finger. The two praus are large and armed. They came up the creek, flags and streamers flying, beating drums and gongs, and entered the lagoon with their decks full of armed men brandishing two-handed swords and sounding the war cry. It is a fine force for you, only Belarab who is a perverse devil would not receive Sherif Daman at once. So Daman went to see Tengga who detained him a very long time. Leaving Tengga he came on board the Emma, and I could see directly there was something up.
He began by asking me for the ammunition and weapons they are to get from you, saying he was anxious to sail at once toward Wajo, since it was agreed he was to precede you by a few days. I replied that that was true enough but that I could not think of giving him the powder and muskets till you came. He began to talk about you and hinted that perhaps you will never come. “And no matter,” says he, “here is Rajah Hassim and the Lady Immada and we would fight for them if no white man was left in the world. Only we must have something to fight with.” He pretended then to forget me altogether and talked with Hassim while I sat listening. He began to boast how well he got along the Bruni coast. No Illanun prau had passed down that coast for years.
Immada wanted me to give the arms he was asking for. The girl is beside herself with fear of something happening that would put a stopper on the Wajo expedition. She has set her mind on getting her country back. Hassim is very reserved but he is very anxious, too. Daman got nothing from me, and that very evening the praus were ordered by Belarab to leave the lagoon. He does not trust the Illanuns–and small blame to him. Sherif Daman went like a lamb. He has no powder for his guns. As the praus passed by the Emma he shouted to me he was going to wait for you outside the creek. Tengga has given him a man who would show him the place. All this looks very queer to me.
Look out outside then. The praus are dodging amongst the islets. Daman visits Tengga. Tengga called on me as a good friend to try and persuade me to give Daman the arms and gunpowder he is so anxious to get. Somehow or other they tried to get around Belarab, who came to see me last night and hinted I had better do so. He is anxious for these Illanuns to leave the neighbourhood. He thinks that if they loot the schooner they will be off at once. That’s all he wants now. Immada has been to see Belarab’s women and stopped two nights in the stockade. Belarab’s youngest wife–he got married six weeks ago–is on the side of Tengga’s party because she thinks Belarab would get a share of the loot and she got into her silly head there are jewels and silks in that schooner. What between Tengga worrying him outside and the women worrying him at home, Belarab had such a lively time of it that he concluded he would go to pray at his father’s tomb. So for the last two days he has been away camping in that unhealthy place. When he comes back he will be down with fever as sure as fate and then he will be no good for anything. Tengga lights up smoky fires often. Some signal to Daman. I go ashore with Hassim’s men and put them out. This is risking a fight every time–for Tengga’s men look very black at us. I don’t know what the next move may be. Hassim’s as true as steel. Immada is very unhappy. They will tell you many details I have no time to write.
The last page fluttered on the table out of Lingard’s fingers. He sat very still for a moment looking straight before him, then went on deck.
“Our boats back yet?” he asked Shaw, whom he saw prowling on the quarter-deck.
“No, sir, I wish they were. I am waiting for them to go and turn in,” answered the mate in an aggrieved manner.
“Lower that lantern forward there,” cried Lingard, suddenly, in Malay.
“This trade isn’t fit for a decent man,” muttered Shaw to himself, and he moved away to lean on the rail, looking moodily to seaward. After a while: “There seems to be commotion on board that yacht,” he said. “I see a lot of lights moving about her decks. Anything wrong, do you think, sir?”
“No, I know what it is,” said Lingard in a tone of elation. She has done it! he thought.
He returned to the cabin, put away Jorgenson’s letter and pulled out the drawer of the table. It was full of cartridges. He took a musket down, loaded it, then took another and another. He hammered at the waddings with fierce joyousness. The ramrods rang and jumped. It seemed to him he was doing his share of some work in which that woman was playing her part faithfully. “She has done it,” he repeated, mentally. “She will sit in the cuddy. She will sleep in my berth. Well, I’m not ashamed of the brig. By heavens–no! I shall keep away: never come near them as I’ve promised. Now there’s nothing more to say. I’ve told her everything at once. There’s nothing more.”
He felt a heaviness in his burning breast, in all his limbs as if the blood in his veins had become molten lead.
“I shall get the yacht off. Three, four days–no, a week.”
He found he couldn’t do it under a week. It occurred to him he would see her every day till the yacht was afloat. No, he wouldn’t intrude, but he was master and owner of the brig after all. He didn’t mean to skulk like a whipped cur about his own decks.
“It’ll be ten days before the schooner is ready. I’ll take every scrap of ballast out of her. I’ll strip her–I’ll take her lower masts out of her, by heavens! I’ll make sure. Then another week to fit out–and–goodbye. Wish I had never seen them. Good-bye–forever. Home’s the place for them. Not for me. On another coast she would not have listened. Ah, but she is a woman–every inch of her. I shall shake hands. Yes. I shall take her hand–just before she goes. Why the devil not? I am master here after all–in this brig–as good as any one–by heavens, better than any one–better than any one on earth.”
He heard Shaw walk smartly forward above his head hailing:
“What’s that–a boat?”
A voice answered indistinctly.
“One of my boats is back,” thought Lingard. “News about Daman perhaps. I don’t care if he kicks. I wish he would. I would soon show her I can fight as well as I can handle the brig. Two praus. Only two praus. I wouldn’t mind if there were twenty. I would sweep ’em off the sea–I would blow ’em out of the water–I would make the brig walk over them. ‘Now,’ I’d say to her, ‘you who are not afraid, look how it’s done!'”
He felt light. He had the sensation of being whirled high in the midst of an uproar and as powerless as a feather in a hurricane. He shuddered profoundly. His arms hung down, and he stood before the table staring like a man overcome by some fatal intelligence.
Shaw, going into the waist to receive what he thought was one of the brig’s boats, came against Carter making his way aft hurriedly.
“Hullo! Is it you again?” he said, swiftly, barring the way.