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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVictory - PART FOUR - Chapter ONE
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Victory - PART FOUR - Chapter ONE Post by :amy1amy1 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :June 2011 Read :2973

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Victory - PART FOUR - Chapter ONE

PART FOUR: CHAPTER ONE


Ricardo advanced prudently by short darts from one tree-trunk to
another, more in the manner of a squirrel than a cat. The sun had
risen some time before. Already the sparkle of open sea was
encroaching rapidly on the dark, cool, early-morning blue of Diamond
Bay; but the deep dusk lingered yet under the mighty pillars of the
forest, between which the secretary dodged.

He was watching Number One's bungalow with an animal-like patience,
if with a very human complexity of purpose. This was the second
morning of such watching. The first one had not been rewarded by
success. Well, strictly speaking, there was no hurry.

The sun, swinging above the ridge all at once, inundated with light
the space of burnt grass in front of Ricardo and the face of the
bungalow, on which his eyes were fixed, leaving only the one dark
spot of the doorway. To his right, to his left, and behind him,
splashes of gold appeared in the deep shade of the forest, thinning
the gloom under the ragged roof of leaves.

This was not a very favourable circumstance for Ricardo's purpose.
He did not wish to be detected in his patient occupation. For what
he was watching for was a sight of the girl--that girl! just a
glimpse across the burnt patch to see what she was like. He had
excellent eyes, and the distance was not so great. He would be able
to distinguish her face quite easily if she only came out on the
veranda; and she was bound to do that sooner or later. He was
confident that he could form some opinion about her--which, he felt,
was very necessary, before venturing on some steps to get in touch
with her behind that Swedish baron's back. His theoretical view of
the girl was such that he was quite prepared, on the strength of
that distant examination, to show himself discreetly--perhaps even
make a sign. It all depended on his reading of the face. She
couldn't be much. He knew that sort!

By protruding his head a little he commanded, through the foliage of
a festooning creeper, a view of the three bungalows. Irregularly
disposed along a flat curve, over the veranda rail of the
farthermost one hung a dark rug of a tartan pattern, amazingly
conspicuous. Ricardo could see the very checks. A brisk fire of
sticks was burning on the ground in front of the steps, and in the
sunlight the thin, fluttering flame had paled almost to
invisibility--a mere rosy stir under a faint wreath of smoke. He
could see the white bandage on the head of Pedro bending over it,
and the wisps of black hair standing up weirdly. He had wound that
bandage himself, after breaking that shaggy and enormous head. The
creature balanced it like a load, staggering towards the steps.
Ricardo could see a small, long-handled saucepan at the end of a
great hairy paw.

Yes, he could see all that there was to be seen, far and near.
Excellent eyes! The only thing they could not penetrate was the
dark oblong of the doorway on the veranda under the low eaves of the
bungalow's roof. And that was vexing. It was an outrage. Ricardo
was easily outraged. Surely she would come out presently! Why
didn't she? Surely the fellow did not tie her up to the bedpost
before leaving the house!

Nothing appeared. Ricardo was as still as the leafy cables of
creepers depending in a convenient curtain from the mighty limb
sixty feet above his head. His very eyelids were still, and this
unblinking watchfulness gave him the dreamy air of a cat posed on a
hearth-rug contemplating the fire. Was he dreaming? There, in
plain sight, he had before him a white, blouse-like jacket, short
blue trousers, a pair of bare yellow calves, a pigtail, long and
slender -

"The confounded Chink!" he muttered, astounded.

He was not conscious of having looked away; and yet right there, in
the middle of the picture, without having come round the right-hand
corner or the left-hand corner of the house, without falling from
the sky or surging up from the ground, Wang had become visible,
large as life, and engaged in the young-ladyish occupation of
picking flowers. Step by step, stooping repeatedly over the flower-
beds at the foot of the veranda, the startlingly materialized
Chinaman passed off the scene in a very commonplace manner, by going
up the steps and disappearing in the darkness of the doorway.

Only then the yellow eyes of Martin Ricardo lost their intent
fixity. He understood that it was time for him to be moving. That
bunch of flowers going into the house in the hand of a Chinaman was
for the breakfast-table. What else could it be for?

"I'll give you flowers!" he muttered threateningly. "You wait!"

Another moment, just for a glance towards the Jones bungalow, whence
he expected Heyst to issue on his way to that breakfast so
offensively decorated, and Ricardo began his retreat. His impulse,
his desire, was for a rush into the open, face to face with the
appointed victim, for what he called a "ripping up," visualized
greedily, and always with the swift preliminary stooping movement on
his part--the forerunner of certain death to his adversary. This
was his impulse; and as it was, so to speak, constitutional, it was
extremely difficult to resist when his blood was up. What could be
more trying than to have to skulk and dodge and restrain oneself,
mentally and physically, when one's blood was up? Mr. Secretary
Ricardo began his retreat from his post of observation behind a tree
opposite Heyst's bungalow, using great care to remain unseen. His
proceedings were made easier by the declivity of the ground, which
sloped sharply down to the water's edge. There, his feet feeling
the warmth of the island's rocky foundation already heated by the
sun, through the thin soles of his straw slippers he was, as it
were, sunk out of sight of the houses. A short scramble of some
twenty feet brought him up again to the upper level, at the place
where the jetty had its root in the shore. He leaned his back
against one of the lofty uprights which still held up the company's
signboard above the mound of derelict coal. Nobody could have
guessed how much his blood was up. To contain himself he folded his
arms tightly on his breast.

Ricardo was not used to a prolonged effort of self-control. His
craft, his artfulness, felt themselves always at the mercy of his
nature, which was truly feral and only held in subjection by the
influence of the "governor," the prestige of a gentleman. It had
its cunning too, but it was being almost too severely tried since
the feral solution of a growl and a spring was forbidden by the
problem. Ricardo dared not venture out on the cleared ground. He
dared not.

"If I meet the beggar," he thought, "I don't know what I mayn't do.
I daren't trust myself."

What exasperated him just now was his inability to understand Heyst.
Ricardo was human enough to suffer from the discovery of his
limitations. No, he couldn't size Heyst up. He could kill him with
extreme ease--a growl and a spring--but that was forbidden!
However, he could not remain indefinitely under the funereal
blackboard.

"I must make a move," he thought.

He moved on, his head swimming a little with the repressed desire of
violence, and came out openly in front of the bungalows, as if he
had just been down to the jetty to look at the boat. The sunshine
enveloped him, very brilliant, very still, very hot. The three
buildings faced him. The one with the rug on the balustrade was the
most distant; next to it was the empty bungalow; the nearest, with
the flower-beds at the foot of its veranda, contained that
bothersome girl, who had managed so provokingly to keep herself
invisible. That was why Ricardo's eyes lingered on that building.
The girl would surely be easier to "size up" than Heyst. A sight of
her, a mere glimpse, would have been something to go by, a step
nearer to the goal--the first real move, in fact. Ricardo saw no
other move. And any time she might appear on that veranda!

She did not appear; but, like a concealed magnet, she exercised her
attraction. As he went on, he deviated towards the bungalow.
Though his movements were deliberate, his feral instincts had such
sway that if he had met Heyst walking towards him, he would have had
to satisfy his need of violence. But he saw nobody. Wang was at
the back of the house, keeping the coffee hot against Number One's
return for breakfast. Even the simian Pedro was out of sight, no
doubt crouching on the door-step, his red little eyes fastened with
animal-like devotion on Mr. Jones, who was in discourse with Heyst
in the other bungalow--the conversation of an evil spectre with a
disarmed man, watched by an ape.

His will having very little to do with it, Ricardo, darting swift
glances in all directions, found himself at the steps of the Heyst
bungalow. Once there, falling under an uncontrollable force of
attraction, he mounted them with a savage and stealthy action of his
limbs, and paused for a moment under the eaves to listen to the
silence. Presently he advanced over the threshold one leg--it
seemed to stretch itself, like a limb of india-rubber--planted his
foot within, brought up the other swiftly, and stood inside the
room, turning his head from side to side. To his eyes, brought in
there from the dazzling sunshine, all was gloom for a moment. His
pupils, like a cat's, dilating swiftly, he distinguished an enormous
quantity of books. He was amazed; and he was put off too. He was
vexed in his astonishment. He had meant to note the aspect and
nature of things, and hoped to draw some useful inference, some hint
as to the man. But what guess could one make out of a multitude of
books? He didn't know what to think; and he formulated his
bewilderment in the mental exclamation:

"What the devil has this fellow been trying to set up here--a
school?"

He gave a prolonged stare to the portrait of Heyst's father, that
severe profile ignoring the vanities of this earth. His eyes
gleamed sideways at the heavy silver candlesticks--signs of
opulence. He prowled as a stray cat entering a strange place might
have done, for if Ricardo had not Wang's miraculous gift of
materializing and vanishing, rather than coming and going, he could
be nearly as noiseless in his less elusive movements. He noted the
back door standing just ajar; and an the time his slightly pointed
ears, at the utmost stretch of watchfulness, kept in touch with the
profound silence outside enveloping the absolute stillness of the
house.

He had not been in the room two minutes when it occurred to him that
he must be alone in the bungalow. The woman, most likely, had
sneaked out and was walking about somewhere in the grounds at the
back. She had been probably ordered to keep out of sight. Why?
Because the fellow mistrusted his guests; or was it because he
mistrusted HER?

Ricardo reflected that from a certain point of view it amounted
nearly to the same thing. He remembered Schomberg's story. He felt
that running away with somebody only to get clear of that beastly,
tame, hotel-keeper's attention was no proof of hopeless infatuation.
She could be got in touch with.

His moustaches stirred. For some time he had been looking at a
closed door. He would peep into that other room, and perhaps see
something more informing than a confounded lot of books. As he
crossed over, he thought recklessly:

"If the beggar comes in suddenly, and starts to prance, I'll rip him
up and be done with it!"

He laid his hand on the handle, and felt the door come unlatched.
Before he pulled it open, he listened again to the silence. He felt
it all about him, complete, without a flaw.

The necessity of prudence had exasperated his self-restraint. A
mood of ferocity woke up in him, and, as always at such times, he
became physically aware of the sheeted knife strapped to his leg.
He pulled at the door with fierce curiosity. It came open without a
squeak of hinge, without a rustle, with no sound at all; and he
found himself glaring at the opaque surface of some rough blue
stuff, like serge. A curtain was fitted inside, heavy enough and
long enough not to stir.

A curtain! This unforeseen veil, baffling his curiosity checked his
brusqueness. He did not fling it aside with an impatient movement;
he only looked at it closely, as if its texture had to be examined
before his hand could touch such stuff. In this interval of
hesitation, he seemed to detect a flaw in the perfection of the
silence, the faintest possible rustle, which his ears caught and
instantly, in the effort of conscious listening, lost again. No!
Everything was still inside and outside the house, only he had no
longer the sense of being alone there.

When he put out his hand towards the motionless folds it was with
extreme caution, and merely to push the stuff aside a little,
advancing his head at the same time to peep within. A moment of
complete immobility ensued. Then, without anything else of him
stirring, Ricardo's head shrank back on his shoulders, his arm
descended slowly to his side. There was a woman in there. The very
woman! Lighted dimly by the reflection of the outer glare, she
loomed up strangely big and shadowy at the other end of the long,
narrow room. With her back to the door, she was doing her hair with
bare arms uplifted. One of them gleamed pearly white; the other
detached its perfect form in black against the unshuttered,
uncurtained square window-hole. She was there, her fingers busy
with her dark hair, utterly unconscious, exposed and defenceless--
and tempting.

Ricardo drew back one foot and pressed his elbows close to his
sides; his chest started heaving convulsively as if he were
wrestling or running a race; his body began to sway gently back and
forth. The self-restraint was at an end: his psychology must have
its way. The instinct for the feral spring could no longer be
denied. Ravish or kill--it was all one to him, as long as by the
act he liberated the suffering soul of savagery repressed for so
long. After a quick glance over his shoulder, which hunters of big
game tell us no lion or tiger omits to give before charging home,
Ricardo charged, head down, straight at the curtain. The stuff,
tossed up violently by his rush, settled itself with a slow,
floating descent Into vertical folds, motionless, without a shudder
even, in the still, warm air.

Content of PART FOUR CHAPTER ONE (Joseph Conrad's novel: Victory)

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PART THREE: CHAPTER TENThe observer was Martin Ricardo. To him life was not a matter ofpassive renunciation, but of a particularly active warfare. He wasnot mistrustful of it, he was not disgusted with it, still less washe inclined to be suspicious of its disenchantments; but he wasvividly aware that it held many possibilities of failure. Thoughvery far from being a pessimist, he was not a man of foolishillusions. He did not like failure, not only because of itsunpleasant and dangerous consequences, but also because of itsdamaging effect upon his own appreciation of Martin Ricardo. Andthis was
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