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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter II
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The Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter II Post by :Bruce_Springste Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :January 2011 Read :3145

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

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

It was in the most unknown perhaps of such spots, a small bay on
the coast of New Guinea, that young Pata Hassim, the nephew of
one of the greatest chiefs of Wajo, met Lingard for the first
time.

He was a trader after the Wajo manner, and in a stout sea-going
prau armed with two guns and manned by young men who were related
to his family by blood or dependence, had come in there to buy
some birds of paradise skins for the old Sultan of Ternate; a
risky expedition undertaken not in the way of business but as a
matter of courtesy toward the aged Sultan who had entertained him
sumptuously in that dismal brick palace at Ternate for a month or
more.

While lying off the village, very much on his guard, waiting for
the skins and negotiating with the treacherous coast-savages who
are the go-betweens in that trade, Hassim saw one morning
Lingard's brig come to an anchor in the bay, and shortly
afterward observed a white man of great stature with a beard that
shone like gold, land from a boat and stroll on unarmed, though
followed by four Malays of the brig's crew, toward the native
village.

Hassim was struck with wonder and amazement at the cool
recklessness of such a proceeding; and, after; in true Malay
fashion, discussing with his people for an hour or so the urgency
of the case, he also landed, but well escorted and armed, with
the intention of going to see what would happen.

The affair really was very simple, "such as"--Lingard would
say--"such as might have happened to anybody." He went ashore
with the intention to look for some stream where he could
conveniently replenish his water casks, this being really the
motive which had induced him to enter the bay.

While, with his men close by and surrounded by a mop-headed,
sooty crowd, he was showing a few cotton handkerchiefs, and
trying to explain by signs the object of his landing, a spear,
lunged from behind, grazed his neck. Probably the Papuan wanted
only to ascertain whether such a creature could be killed or
hurt, and most likely firmly believed that it could not; but one
of Lingard's seamen at once retaliated by striking at the
experimenting savage with his parang--three such choppers brought
for the purpose of clearing the bush, if necessary, being all the
weapons the party from the brig possessed.

A deadly tumult ensued with such suddenness that Lingard, turning
round swiftly, saw his defender, already speared in three places,
fall forward at his feet. Wasub, who was there, and afterward
told the story once a week on an average, used to horrify his
hearers by showing how the man blinked his eyes quickly before he
fell. Lingard was unarmed. To the end of his life he remained
incorrigibly reckless in that respect, explaining that he was
"much too quick tempered to carry firearms on the chance of a
row. And if put to it," he argued, "I can make shift to kill a
man with my fist anyhow; and then--don't ye see--you know what
you're doing and are not so apt to start a trouble from sheer
temper or funk--see?"

In this case he did his best to kill a man with a blow from the
shoulder and catching up another by the middle flung him at the
naked, wild crowd. "He hurled men about as the wind hurls broken
boughs.

He made a broad way through our enemies!" related Wasub in his
jerky voice. It is more probable that Lingard's quick movements
and the amazing aspect of such a strange being caused the
warriors to fall back before his rush.

Taking instant advantage of their surprise and fear, Lingard,
followed by his men, dashed along the kind of ruinous jetty
leading to the village which was erected as usual over the water.
They darted into one of the miserable huts built of rotten mats
and bits of decayed canoes, and in this shelter showing daylight
through all its sides, they had time to draw breath and realize
that their position was not much improved.

The women and children screaming had cleared out into the bush,
while at the shore end of the jetty the warriors capered and
yelled, preparing for a general attack. Lingard noticed with
mortification that his boat-keeper apparently had lost his head,
for, instead of swimming off to the ship to give the alarm, as he
was perfectly able to do, the man actually struck out for a small
rock a hundred yards away and was frantically trying to climb up
its perpendicular side. The tide being out, to jump into the
horrible mud under the houses would have been almost certain
death. Nothing remained therefore--since the miserable dwelling
would not have withstood a vigorous kick, let alone a siege --but
to rush back on shore and regain possession of the boat. To this
Lingard made up his mind quickly and, arming himself with a
crooked stick he found under his hand, sallied forth at the head
of his three men. As he bounded along, far in advance, he had
just time to perceive clearly the desperate nature of the
undertaking, when he heard two shots fired to his right. The
solid mass of black bodies and frizzly heads in front of him
wavered and broke up. They did not run away, however.

Lingard pursued his course, but now with that thrill of
exultation which even a faint prospect of success inspires in a
sanguine man. He heard a shout of many voices far off, then there
was another report of a shot, and a musket ball fired at long
range spurted a tiny jet of sand between him and his wild
enemies. His next bound would have carried him into their midst
had they awaited his onset, but his uplifted arm found nothing to
strike. Black backs were leaping high or gliding horizontally
through the grass toward the edge of the bush.

He flung his stick at the nearest pair of black shoulders and
stopped short. The tall grasses swayed themselves into a rest, a
chorus of yells and piercing shrieks died out in a dismal howl,
and all at once the wooded shores and the blue bay seemed to fall
under the spell of a luminous stillness. The change was as
startling as the awakening from a dream. The sudden silence
struck Lingard as amazing.

He broke it by lifting his voice in a stentorian shout, which
arrested the pursuit of his men. They retired reluctantly,
glaring back angrily at the wall of a jungle where not a single
leaf stirred. The strangers, whose opportune appearance had
decided the issue of that adventure, did not attempt to join in
the pursuit but halted in a compact body on the ground lately
occupied by the savages.

Lingard and the young leader of the Wajo traders met in the
splendid light of noonday, and amidst the attentive silence of
their followers, on the very spot where the Malay seaman had lost
his life. Lingard, striding up from one side, thrust out his open
palm; Hassim responded at once to the frank gesture and they
exchanged their first hand-clasp over the prostrate body, as if
fate had already exacted the price of a death for the most
ominous of her gifts--the gift of friendship that sometimes
contains the whole good or evil of a life.

"I'll never forget this day," cried Lingard in a hearty tone; and
the other smiled quietly.

Then after a short pause--"Will you burn the village for
vengeance?" asked the Malay with a quick glance down at the dead
Lascar who, on his face and with stretched arms, seemed to cling
desperately to that earth of which he had known so little.

Lingard hesitated.

"No," he said, at last. "It would do good to no one."

"True," said Hassim, gently, "but was this man your debtor--a
slave?"

"Slave?" cried Lingard. "This is an English brig. Slave? No. A
free man like myself."

"Hai. He is indeed free now," muttered the Malay with another
glance downward. "But who will pay the bereaved for his life?"

"If there is anywhere a woman or child belonging to him, I--my
serang would know--I shall seek them out," cried Lingard,
remorsefully.

"You speak like a chief," said Hassim, "only our great men do not
go to battle with naked hands. O you white men! O the valour of
you white men!"

"It was folly, pure folly," protested Lingard, "and this poor
fellow has paid for it."

"He could not avoid his destiny," murmured the Malay. "It is in
my mind my trading is finished now in this place," he added,
cheerfully.

Lingard expressed his regret.

"It is no matter, it is no matter," assured the other
courteously, and after Lingard had given a pressing invitation
for Hassim and his two companions of high rank to visit the brig,
the two parties separated.

The evening was calm when the Malay craft left its berth near the
shore and was rowed slowly across the bay to Lingard's anchorage.
The end of a stout line was thrown on board, and that night the
white man's brig and the brown man's prau swung together to the
same anchor.

The sun setting to seaward shot its last rays between the
headlands, when the body of the killed Lascar, wrapped up
decently in a white sheet, according to Mohammedan usage, was
lowered gently below the still waters of the bay upon which his
curious glances, only a few hours before, had rested for the
first time. At the moment the dead man, released from slip-ropes,
disappeared without a ripple before the eyes of his shipmates,
the bright flash and the heavy report of the brig's bow gun were
succeeded by the muttering echoes of the encircling shores and by
the loud cries of sea birds that, wheeling in clouds, seemed to
scream after the departing seaman a wild and eternal good-bye.
The master of the brig, making his way aft with hanging head, was
followed by low murmurs of pleased surprise from his crew as well
as from the strangers who crowded the main deck. In such acts
performed simply, from conviction, what may be called the
romantic side of the man's nature came out; that responsive
sensitiveness to the shadowy appeals made by life and death,
which is the groundwork of a chivalrous character.

Lingard entertained his three visitors far into the night. A
sheep from the brig's sea stock was given to the men of the prau,
while in the cabin, Hassim and his two friends, sitting in a row
on the stern settee, looked very splendid with costly metals and
flawed jewels. The talk conducted with hearty friendship on
Lingard's part, and on the part of the Malays with the well-bred
air of discreet courtesy, which is natural to the better class of
that people, touched upon many subjects and, in the end, drifted
to politics.

"It is in my mind that you are a powerful man in your own
country," said Hassim, with a circular glance at the cuddy.

"My country is upon a far-away sea where the light breezes are as
strong as the winds of the rainy weather here," said Lingard; and
there were low exclamations of wonder. "I left it very young, and
I don't know about my power there where great men alone are as
numerous as the poor people in all your islands, Tuan Hassim. But
here," he continued, "here, which is also my country--being an
English craft and worthy of it, too--I am powerful enough. In
fact, I am Rajah here. This bit of my country is all my own."

The visitors were impressed, exchanged meaning glances, nodded at
each other.

"Good, good," said Hassim at last, with a smile. "You carry your
country and your power with you over the sea. A Rajah upon the
sea. Good!"

Lingard laughed thunderously while the others looked amused.

"Your country is very powerful--we know," began again Hassim
after a pause, "but is it stronger than the country of the Dutch
who steal our land?"

"Stronger?" cried Lingard. He opened a broad palm. "Stronger? We
could take them in our hand like this--" and he closed his
fingers triumphantly.

"And do you make them pay tribute for their land?" enquired
Hassim with eagerness.

"No," answered Lingard in a sobered tone; "this, Tuan Hassim, you
see, is not the custom of white men. We could, of course--but it
is not the custom."

"Is it not?" said the other with a sceptical smile. "They are
stronger than we are and they want tribute from us. And sometimes
they get it--even from Wajo where every man is free and wears a
kris."

There was a period of dead silence while Lingard looked
thoughtful and the Malays gazed stonily at nothing.

"But we burn our powder amongst ourselves," went on Hassim,
gently, "and blunt our weapons upon one another."

He sighed, paused, and then changing to an easy tone began to
urge Lingard to visit Wajo "for trade and to see friends," he
said, laying his hand on his breast and inclining his body
slightly.

"Aye. To trade with friends," cried Lingard with a laugh, "for
such a ship"--he waved his arm--"for such a vessel as this is
like a household where there are many behind the curtain. It is
as costly as a wife and children."

The guests rose and took their leave.

"You fired three shots for me, Panglima Hassim," said Lingard,
seriously, "and I have had three barrels of powder put on board
your prau; one for each shot. But we are not quits."

The Malay's eyes glittered with pleasure.

"This is indeed a friend's gift. Come to see me in my country!"

"I promise," said Lingard, "to see you--some day."

The calm surface of the bay reflected the glorious night sky, and
the brig with the prau riding astern seemed to be suspended
amongst the stars in a peace that was almost unearthly in the
perfection of its unstirring silence. The last hand-shakes were
exchanged on deck, and the Malays went aboard their own craft.
Next morning, when a breeze sprang up soon after sunrise, the
brig and the prau left the bay together. When clear of the land
Lingard made all sail and sheered alongside to say good-bye
before parting company--the brig, of course, sailing three feet
to the prau's one. Hassim stood on the high deck aft.

"Prosperous road," hailed Lingard.

"Remember the promise!" shouted the other. "And come soon!" he
went on, raising his voice as the brig forged past. "Come
soon--lest what perhaps is written should come to pass!"

The brig shot ahead.

"What?" yelled Lingard in a puzzled tone, "what's written?"

He listened. And floating over the water came faintly the words:

"No one knows!"

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