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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter IV
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The Rescue - PART II. THE SHORE OF REFUGE - Chapter IV Post by :Romero Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :January 2011 Read :1771

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

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

A Traveller visiting Wajo to-day may, if he deserves the
confidence of the common people, hear the traditional account of
the last civil war, together with the legend of a chief and his
sister, whose mother had been a great princess suspected of
sorcery and on her death-bed had communicated to these two the
secrets of the art of magic. The chief's sister especially, "with
the aspect of a child and the fearlessness of a great fighter,"
became skilled in casting spells. They were defeated by the son
of their uncle, because--will explain the narrator simply--"The
courage of us Wajo people is so great that magic can do nothing
against it. I fought in that war. We had them with their backs to
the sea." And then he will go on to relate in an awed tone how on
a certain night "when there was such a thunderstorm as has been
never heard of before or since" a ship, resembling the ships of
white men, appeared off the coast, "as though she had sailed down
from the clouds. She moved," he will affirm, "with her sails
bellying against the wind; in size she was like an island; the
lightning played between her masts which were as high as the
summits of mountains; a star burned low through the clouds above
her. We knew it for a star at once because no flame of man's
kindling could have endured the wind and rain of that night. It
was such a night that we on the watch hardly dared look upon the
sea. The heavy rain was beating down our eyelids. And when day
came, the ship was nowhere to be seen, and in the stockade where
the day before there were a hundred or more at our mercy, there
was no one. The chief, Hassim, was gone, and the lady who was a
princess in the country--and nobody knows what became of them
from that day to this. Sometimes traders from our parts talk of
having heard of them here, and heard of them there, but these are
the lies of men who go afar for gain. We who live in the country
believe that the ship sailed back into the clouds whence the
Lady's magic made her come. Did we not see the ship with our own
eyes? And as to Rajah Hassim and his sister, Mas Immada, some men
say one thing and some another, but God alone knows the truth."

Such is the traditional account of Lingard's visit to the shores
of Boni. And the truth is he came and went the same night; for,
when the dawn broke on a cloudy sky the brig, under reefed canvas
and smothered in sprays, was storming along to the southward on
her way out of the Gulf. Lingard, watching over the rapid course
of his vessel, looked ahead with anxious eyes and more than once
asked himself with wonder, why, after all, was he thus pressing
her under all the sail she could carry. His hair was blown about
by the wind, his mind was full of care and the indistinct shapes
of many new thoughts, and under his feet, the obedient brig
dashed headlong from wave to wave.

Her owner and commander did not know where he was going. That
adventurer had only a confused notion of being on the threshold
of a big adventure. There was something to be done, and he felt
he would have to do it. It was expected of him. The seas expected
it; the land expected it. Men also. The story of war and of
suffering; Jaffir's display of fidelity, the sight of Hassim and
his sister, the night, the tempest, the coast under streams of
fire--all this made one inspiring manifestation of a life calling
to him distinctly for interference. But what appealed to him most
was the silent, the complete, unquestioning, and apparently
uncurious, trust of these people. They came away from death
straight into his arms as it were, and remained in them passive
as though there had been no such thing as doubt or hope or
desire. This amazing unconcern seemed to put him under a heavy
load of obligation.

He argued to himself that had not these defeated men expected
everything from him they could not have been so indifferent to
his action. Their dumb quietude stirred him more than the most
ardent pleading. Not a word, not a whisper, not a questioning
look even! They did not ask! It flattered him. He was also
rather glad of it, because if the unconscious part of him was
perfectly certain of its action, he, himself, did not know what
to do with those bruised and battered beings a playful fate had
delivered suddenly into his hands.

He had received the fugitives personally, had helped some over
the rail; in the darkness, slashed about by lightning, he had
guessed that not one of them was unwounded, and in the midst of
tottering shapes he wondered how on earth they had managed to
reach the long-boat that had brought them off. He caught
unceremoniously in his arms the smallest of these shapes and
carried it into the cabin, then without looking at his light
burden ran up again on deck to get the brig under way. While
shouting out orders he was dimly aware of someone hovering near
his elbow. It was Hassim.

"I am not ready for war," he explained, rapidly, over his
shoulder, "and to-morrow there may be no wind." Afterward for a
time he forgot everybody and everything while he conned the brig
through the few outlying dangers. But in half an hour, and
running off with the wind on the quarter, he was quite clear of
the coast and breathed freely. It was only then that he
approached two others on that poop where he was accustomed in
moments of difficulty to commune alone with his craft. Hassim had
called his sister out of the cabin; now and then Lingard could
see them with fierce distinctness, side by side, and with twined
arms, looking toward the mysterious country that seemed at every
flash to leap away farther from the brig--unscathed and fading.

The thought uppermost in Lingard's mind was: "What on earth am I
going to do with them?" And no one seemed to care what he would
do. Jaffir with eight others quartered on the main hatch, looked
to each other's wounds and conversed interminably in low tones,
cheerful and quiet, like well-behaved children. Each of them had
saved his kris, but Lingard had to make a distribution of cotton
cloth out of his trade-goods. Whenever he passed by them, they
all looked after him gravely. Hassim and Immada lived in the
cuddy. The chief's sister took the air only in the evening and
those two could be heard every night, invisible and murmuring in
the shadows of the quarter-deck. Every Malay on board kept
respectfully away from them.

Lingard, on the poop, listened to the soft voices, rising and
falling, in a melancholy cadence; sometimes the woman cried out
as if in anger or in pain. He would stop short. The sound of a
deep sigh would float up to him on the stillness of the night.
Attentive stars surrounded the wandering brig and on all sides
their light fell through a vast silence upon a noiseless sea.
Lingard would begin again to pace the deck, muttering to himself.

"Belarab's the man for this job. His is the only place where I
can look for help, but I don't think I know enough to find it. I
wish I had old Jorgenson here--just for ten minutes."

This Jorgenson knew things that had happened a long time ago, and
lived amongst men efficient in meeting the accidents of the day,
but who did not care what would happen to-morrow and who had no
time to remember yesterday. Strictly speaking, he did not live
amongst them. He only appeared there from time to time. He lived
in the native quarter, with a native woman, in a native house
standing in the middle of a plot of fenced ground where grew
plantains, and furnished only with mats, cooking pots, a queer
fishing net on two sticks, and a small mahogany case with a lock
and a silver plate engraved with the words "Captain H. C.
Jorgenson. Barque Wild Rose."

It was like an inscription on a tomb. The Wild Rose was dead, and
so was Captain H. C. Jorgenson, and the sextant case was all that
was left of them. Old Jorgenson, gaunt and mute, would turn up at
meal times on board any trading vessel in the Roads, and the
stewards --Chinamen or mulattos--would sulkily put on an extra
plate without waiting for orders. When the seamen traders
foregathered noisily round a glittering cluster of bottles and
glasses on a lighted verandah, old Jorgenson would emerge up the
stairs as if from a dark sea, and, stepping up with a kind of
tottering jauntiness, would help himself in the first tumbler to
hand.

"I drink to you all. No--no chair."

He would stand silent over the talking group. His taciturnity was
as eloquent as the repeated warning of the slave of the feast.
His flesh had gone the way of all flesh, his spirit had sunk in
the turmoil of his past, but his immense and bony frame survived
as if made of iron. His hands trembled but his eyes were steady.
He was supposed to know details about the end of mysterious men
and of mysterious enterprises. He was an evident failure himself,
but he was believed to know secrets that would make the fortune
of any man; yet there was also a general impression that his
knowledge was not of that nature which would make it profitable
for a moderately prudent person.

This powerful skeleton, dressed in faded blue serge and without
any kind of linen, existed anyhow. Sometimes, if offered the job,
he piloted a home ship through the Straits of Rhio, after,
however, assuring the captain:

"You don't want a pilot; a man could go through with his eyes
shut. But if you want me, I'll come. Ten dollars."

Then, after seeing his charge clear of the last island of the
group he would go back thirty miles in a canoe, with two old
Malays who seemed to be in some way his followers. To travel
thirty miles at sea under the equatorial sun and in a cranky
dug-out where once down you must not move, is an achievement that
requires the endurance of a fakir and the virtue of a salamander.
Ten dollars was cheap and generally he was in demand. When times
were hard he would borrow five dollars from any of the
adventurers with the remark:

"I can't pay you back, very soon, but the girl must eat, and if
you want to know anything, I can tell you."

It was remarkable that nobody ever smiled at that "anything." The
usual thing was to say:

"Thank you, old man; when I am pushed for a bit of information
I'll come to you."

Jorgenson nodded then and would say: "Remember that unless you
young chaps are like we men who ranged about here years ago, what
I could tell you would be worse than poison."

It was from Jorgenson, who had his favourites with whom he was
less silent, that Lingard had heard of Darat-es-Salam, the "Shore
of Refuge." Jorgenson had, as he expressed it, "known the inside
of that country just after the high old times when the white-clad
Padris preached and fought all over Sumatra till the Dutch shook
in their shoes." Only he did not say "shook" and "shoes" but the
above paraphrase conveys well enough his contemptuous meaning.
Lingard tried now to remember and piece together the practical
bits of old Jorgenson's amazing tales; but all that had remained
with him was an approximate idea of the locality and a very
strong but confused notion of the dangerous nature of its
approaches. He hesitated, and the brig, answering in her
movements to the state of the man's mind, lingered on the road,
seemed to hesitate also, swinging this way and that on the days
of calm.

It was just because of that hesitation that a big New York ship,
loaded with oil in cases for Japan, and passing through the
Billiton passage, sighted one morning a very smart brig being
hove-to right in the fair-way and a little to the east of
Carimata. The lank skipper, in a frock-coat, and the big mate
with heavy moustaches, judged her almost too pretty for a
Britisher, and wondered at the man on board laying his topsail to
the mast for no reason that they could see. The big ship's sails
fanned her along, flapping in the light air, and when the brig
was last seen far astern she had still her mainyard aback as if
waiting for someone. But when, next day, a London tea-clipper
passed on the same track, she saw no pretty brig hesitating, all
white and still at the parting of the ways. All that night
Lingard had talked with Hassim while the stars streamed from east
to west like an immense river of sparks above their heads. Immada
listened, sometimes exclaiming low, sometimes holding her breath.
She clapped her hands once. A faint dawn appeared.

"You shall be treated like my father in the country," Hassim was
saying. A heavy dew dripped off the rigging and the darkened
sails were black on the pale azure of the sky. "You shall be the
father who advises for good-- "

"I shall be a steady friend, and as a friend I want to be
treated--no more," said Lingard. "Take back your ring."

"Why do you scorn my gift?" asked Hassim, with a sad and ironic
smile.

"Take it," said Lingard. "It is still mine. How can I forget
that, when facing death, you thought of my safety? There are many
dangers before us. We shall be often separated--to work better
for the same end. If ever you and Immada need help at once and I
am within reach, send me a message with this ring and if I am
alive I will not fail you." He looked around at the pale
daybreak. "I shall talk to Belarab straight--like we whites do. I
have never seen him, but I am a strong man. Belarab must help us
to reconquer your country and when our end is attained I won't
let him eat you up."

Hassim took the ring and inclined his head.

"It's time for us to be moving," said Lingard. He felt a slight
tug at his sleeve. He looked back and caught Immada in the act of
pressing her forehead to the grey flannel. "Don't, child!" he
said, softly.

The sun rose above the faint blue line of the Shore of Refuge.

The hesitation was over. The man and the vessel, working in
accord, had found their way to the faint blue shore. Before the
sun had descended half-way to its rest the brig was anchored
within a gunshot of the slimy mangroves, in a place where for a
hundred years or more no white man's vessel had been entrusted to
the hold of the bottom. The adventurers of two centuries ago had
no doubt known of that anchorage for they were very ignorant and
incomparably audacious. If it is true, as some say, that the
spirits of the dead haunt the places where the living have sinned
and toiled, then they might have seen a white long-boat, pulled
by eight oars and steered by a man sunburnt and bearded, a
cabbage-leaf hat on head, and pistols in his belt, skirting the
black mud, full of twisted roots, in search of a likely opening.

Creek after creek was passed and the boat crept on slowly like a
monstrous water-spider with a big body and eight slender legs. .
. . Did you follow with your ghostly eyes the quest of this
obscure adventurer of yesterday, you shades of forgotten
adventurers who, in leather jerkins and sweating under steel
helmets, attacked with long rapiers the palisades of the strange
heathen, or, musket on shoulder and match in cock, guarded timber
blockhouses built upon the banks of rivers that command good
trade? You, who, wearied with the toil of fighting, slept wrapped
in frieze mantles on the sand of quiet beaches, dreaming of
fabulous diamonds and of a far-off home.

"Here's an opening," said Lingard to Hassim, who sat at his side,
just as the sun was setting away to his left. "Here's an opening
big enough for a ship. It's the entrance we are looking for, I
believe. We shall pull all night up this creek if necessary and
it's the very devil if we don't come upon Belarab's lair before
daylight."

He shoved the tiller hard over and the boat, swerving sharply,
vanished from the coast.

And perhaps the ghosts of old adventurers nodded wisely their
ghostly heads and exchanged the ghost of a wistful smile.

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"My word! I couldn't help liking the chap," would shout Lingardwhen telling the story; and looking around at the eyes thatglittered at him through the smoke of cheroots, this Brixhamtrawler-boy, afterward a youth in colliers, deep-water man,gold-digger, owner and commander of "the finest brig afloat,"knew that by his listeners--seamen, traders, adventurers likehimself--this was accepted not as the expression of a feeling,but as the highest commendation he could give his Malay friend."By heavens! I shall go to Wajo!" he cried, and a semicircle ofheads nodded grave approbation while a slightly ironical voicesaid deliberately--"You are a made man, Tom, if you get on
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