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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter I
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The Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter I Post by :wldcreek Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :January 2011 Read :1314

Click below to download : The Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter I (Format : PDF)

The Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter I

The coast off which the little brig, floating upright above her
anchor, seemed to guard the high hull of the yacht has no
distinctive features. It is land without form. It stretches away
without cape or bluff, long and low--indefinitely; and when the
heavy gusts of the northeast monsoon drive the thick rain
slanting over the sea, it is seen faintly under the grey sky,
black and with a blurred outline like the straight edge of a
dissolving shore. In the long season of unclouded days, it
presents to view only a narrow band of earth that appears crushed
flat upon the vast level of waters by the weight of the sky,
whose immense dome rests on it in a line as fine and true as that
of the sea horizon itself.

Notwithstanding its nearness to the centres of European power,
this coast has been known for ages to the armed wanderers of
these seas as "The Shore of Refuge." It has no specific name on
the charts, and geography manuals don't mention it at all; but
the wreckage of many defeats unerringly drifts into its creeks.
Its approaches are extremely difficult for a stranger. Looked at
from seaward, the innumerable islets fringing what, on account of
its vast size, may be called the mainland, merge into a
background that presents not a single landmark to point the way
through the intricate channels. It may be said that in a belt of
sea twenty miles broad along that low shore there is much more
coral, mud, sand, and stones than actual sea water. It was
amongst the outlying shoals of this stretch that the yacht had
gone ashore and the events consequent upon her stranding took
place.

The diffused light of the short daybreak showed the open water to
the westward, sleeping, smooth and grey, under a faded heaven.
The straight coast threw a heavy belt of gloom along the shoals,
which, in the calm of expiring night, were unmarked by the
slightest ripple. In the faint dawn the low clumps of bushes on
the sandbanks appeared immense.

Two figures, noiseless like two shadows, moved slowly over the
beach of a rocky islet, and stopped side by side on the very edge
of the water. Behind them, between the mats from which they had
arisen, a small heap of black embers smouldered quietly. They
stood upright and perfectly still, but for the slight movement of
their heads from right to left and back again as they swept their
gaze through the grey emptiness of the waters where, about two
miles distant, the hull of the yacht loomed up to seaward, black
and shapeless, against the wan sky.

The two figures looked beyond without exchanging as much as a
murmur. The taller of the two grounded, at arm's length, the
stock of a gun with a long barrel; the hair of the other fell
down to its waist; and, near by, the leaves of creepers drooping
from the summit of the steep rock stirred no more than the
festooned stone. The faint light, disclosing here and there a
gleam of white sandbanks and the blurred hummocks of islets
scattered within the gloom of the coast, the profound silence,
the vast stillness all round, accentuated the loneliness of the
two human beings who, urged by a sleepless hope, had risen thus,
at break of day, to look afar upon the veiled face of the sea.

"Nothing!" said the man with a sigh, and as if awakening from a
long period of musing.

He was clad in a jacket of coarse blue cotton, of the kind a poor
fisherman might own, and he wore it wide open on a muscular chest
the colour and smoothness of bronze. From the twist of threadbare
sarong wound tightly on the hips protruded outward to the left
the ivory hilt, ringed with six bands of gold, of a weapon that
would not have disgraced a ruler. Silver glittered about the
flintlock and the hardwood stock of his gun. The red and gold
handkerchief folded round his head was of costly stuff, such as
is woven by high-born women in the households of chiefs, only the
gold threads were tarnished and the silk frayed in the folds. His
head was thrown back, the dropped eyelids narrowed the gleam of
his eyes. His face was hairless, the nose short with mobile
nostrils, and the smile of careless good-humour seemed to have
been permanently wrought, as if with a delicate tool, into the
slight hollows about the corners of rather full lips. His upright
figure had a negligent elegance. But in the careless face, in the
easy gestures of the whole man there was something attentive and
restrained.

After giving the offing a last searching glance, he turned and,
facing the rising sun, walked bare-footed on the elastic sand.
The trailed butt of his gun made a deep furrow. The embers had
ceased to smoulder. He looked down at them pensively for a while,
then called over his shoulder to the girl who had remained
behind, still scanning the sea:

"The fire is out, Immada."

At the sound of his voice the girl moved toward the mats. Her
black hair hung like a mantle. Her sarong, the kilt-like garment
which both sexes wear, had the national check of grey and red,
but she had not completed her attire by the belt, scarves, the
loose upper wrappings, and the head-covering of a woman. A black
silk jacket, like that of a man of rank, was buttoned over her
bust and fitted closely to her slender waist. The edge of a
stand-up collar, stiff with gold embroidery, rubbed her cheek.
She had no bracelets, no anklets, and although dressed
practically in man's clothes, had about her person no weapon of
any sort. Her arms hung down in exceedingly tight sleeves slit a
little way up from the wrist, gold-braided and with a row of
small gold buttons. She walked, brown and alert, all of a piece,
with short steps, the eyes lively in an impassive little face,
the arched mouth closed firmly; and her whole person breathed in
its rigid grace the fiery gravity of youth at the beginning of
the task of life--at the beginning of beliefs and hopes.

This was the day of Lingard's arrival upon the coast, but, as is
known, the brig, delayed by the calm, did not appear in sight of
the shallows till the morning was far advanced. Disappointed in
their hope to see the expected sail shining in the first rays of
the rising sun, the man and the woman, without attempting to
relight the fire, lounged on their sleeping mats. At their feet a
common canoe, hauled out of the water, was, for more security,
moored by a grass rope to the shaft of a long spear planted
firmly on the white beach, and the incoming tide lapped
monotonously against its stern.

The girl, twisting up her black hair, fastened it with slender
wooden pins. The man, reclining at full length, had made room on
his mat for the gun--as one would do for a friend--and, supported
on his elbow, looked toward the yacht with eyes whose fixed
dreaminess like a transparent veil would show the slow passage of
every gloomy thought by deepening gradually into a sombre stare.

"We have seen three sunrises on this islet, and no friend came
from the sea," he said without changing his attitude, with his
back toward the girl who sat on the other side of the cold
embers.

"Yes; and the moon is waning," she answered in a low voice. "The
moon is waning. Yet he promised to be here when the nights are
light and the water covers the sandbanks as far as the bushes."

"The traveller knows the time of his setting out, but not the
time of his return," observed the man, calmly.

The girl sighed.

"The nights of waiting are long," she murmured.

"And sometimes they are vain," said the man with the same
composure. "Perhaps he will never return."

"Why?" exclaimed the girl.

"The road is long and the heart may grow cold," was the answer in
a quiet voice. "If he does not return it is because he has
forgotten."

"Oh, Hassim, it is because he is dead," cried the girl,
indignantly.

The man, looking fixedly to seaward, smiled at the ardour of her
tone.

They were brother and sister, and though very much alike, the
family resemblance was lost in the more general traits common to
the whole race.

They were natives of Wajo and it is a common saying amongst the
Malay race that to be a successful traveller and trader a man
must have some Wajo blood in his veins. And with those people
trading, which means also travelling afar, is a romantic and an
honourable occupation. The trader must possess an adventurous
spirit and a keen understanding; he should have the fearlessness
of youth and the sagacity of age; he should be diplomatic and
courageous, so as to secure the favour of the great and inspire
fear in evil-doers.

These qualities naturally are not expected in a shopkeeper or a
Chinaman pedlar; they are considered indispensable only for a man
who, of noble birth and perhaps related to the ruler of his own
country, wanders over the seas in a craft of his own and with
many followers; carries from island to island important news as
well as merchandise; who may be trusted with secret messages and
valuable goods; a man who, in short, is as ready to intrigue and
fight as to buy and sell. Such is the ideal trader of Wajo.

Trading, thus understood, was the occupation of ambitious men who
played an occult but important part in all those national
risings, religious disturbances, and also in the organized
piratical movements on a large scale which, during the first half
of the last century, affected the fate of more than one native
dynasty and, for a few years at least, seriously endangered the
Dutch rule in the East. When, at the cost of much blood and gold,
a comparative peace had been imposed on the islands the same
occupation, though shorn of its glorious possibilities, remained
attractive for the most adventurous of a restless race. The
younger sons and relations of many a native ruler traversed the
seas of the Archipelago, visited the innumerable and little-known
islands, and the then practically unknown shores of New Guinea;
every spot where European trade had not penetrated--from Aru to
Atjeh, from Sumbawa to Palawan.

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It was in the most unknown perhaps of such spots, a small bay onthe coast of New Guinea, that young Pata Hassim, the nephew ofone of the greatest chiefs of Wajo, met Lingard for the firsttime.He was a trader after the Wajo manner, and in a stout sea-goingprau armed with two guns and manned by young men who were relatedto his family by blood or dependence, had come in there to buysome birds of paradise skins for the old Sultan of Ternate; arisky expedition undertaken not in the way of business but as amatter of courtesy toward the aged Sultan who
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It was noon before the brig, piloted by Lingard through the deepchannels between the outer coral reefs, rounded withinpistol-shot a low hummock of sand which marked the end of a longstretch of stony ledges that, being mostly awash, showed a blackhead only, here and there amongst the hissing brown froth of theyellow sea. As the brig drew clear of the sandy patch thereappeared, dead to windward and beyond a maze of broken water,sandspits, and clusters of rocks, the black hull of the yachtheeling over, high and motionless upon the great expanse ofglittering shallows. Her long, naked spars were inclined slightlyas if
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