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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVictory - PART FOUR - Chapter TEN
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Victory - PART FOUR - Chapter TEN Post by :now2k Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :June 2011 Read :3568

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Victory - PART FOUR - Chapter TEN

PART FOUR: CHAPTER TEN


She passed by Heyst as if she had indeed been blinded by some
secret, lurid, and consuming glare into which she was about to
enter. The curtain of the bedroom door fell behind her into rigid
folds. Ricardo's vacant gaze seemed to be watching the dancing
flight of a fly in mid air.

"Extra dark outside, ain't it?" he muttered.

"Not so dark but that I could see that man of yours prowling about
there," said Heyst in measured tones.

"What--Pedro? He's scarcely a man you know; or else I wouldn't be
so fond of him as I am."

"Very well. Let's call him your worthy associate."

"Ay! Worthy enough for what we want of him. A great standby is
Peter in a scrimmage. A growl and a bite--oh, my! And you don't
want him about?"

"I don't."

"You want him out of the way?" insisted Ricardo with an affectation
of incredulity which Heyst accepted calmly, though the air in the
room seemed to grow more oppressive with every word spoken.

"That's it. I do want him out of the way." He forced himself to
speak equably.

"Lor'! That's no great matter. Pedro's not much use here. The
business my governor's after can be settled by ten minutes' rational
talk with--with another gentleman. Quiet talk!"

He looked up suddenly with hard, phosphorescent eyes. Heyst didn't
move a muscle. Ricardo congratulated himself on having left his
revolver behind. He was so exasperated that he didn't know what he
might have done. He said at last:

"You want poor, harmless Peter out of the way before you let me take
you to see the governor--is that it?"

"Yes, that is it."

"H'm! One can see," Ricardo said with hidden venom, "that you are a
gentleman; but all that gentlemanly fancifulness is apt to turn sour
on a plain man's stomach. However--you'll have to pardon me."

He put his fingers into his mouth and let out a whistle which seemed
to drive a thin, sharp shaft of air solidly against one's nearest
ear-drum. Though he greatly enjoyed Heyst's involuntary grimace, he
sat perfectly stolid waiting for the effect of the call.

It brought Pedro in with an extraordinary, uncouth, primeval
impetuosity. The door flew open with a clatter, and the wild figure
it disclosed seemed anxious to devastate the room in leaps and
bounds; but Ricardo raised his open palm, and the creature came in
quietly. His enormous half-closed paws swung to and fro a little in
front of his bowed trunk as he walked. Ricardo looked on
truculently.

"You go to the boat--understand? Go now!"

The little red eyes of the tame monster blinked with painful
attention in the mass of hair.

"Well? Why don't you get? Forgot human speech, eh? Don't you know
any longer what a boat is?"

"Si--boat," the creature stammered out doubtfully.

"Well, go there--the boat at the jetty. March off to it and sit
there, lie down there, do anything but go to sleep there--till you
hear my call, and then fly here. Them's your orders. March! Get,
vamos! No, not that way--out through the front door. No sulks!"

Pedro obeyed with uncouth alacrity. When he had gone, the gleam of
pitiless savagery went out of Ricardo's yellow eyes, and his
physiognomy took on, for the first time that evening, the expression
of a domestic cat which is being noticed.

"You can watch him right into the bushes, if you like. Too dark,
eh? Why not go with him to the very spot, then?"

Heyst made a gesture of vague protest.

"There's nothing to assure me that he will stay there. I have no
doubt of his going, but it's an act without guarantee."

"There you are!" Ricardo shrugged his shoulders philosophically.
"Can't be helped. Short of shooting our Pedro, nobody can make
absolutely sure of his staying in the same place longer than he has
a mind to; but I tell you, he lives in holy terror of my temper.
That's why I put on my sudden-death air when I talk to him. And yet
I wouldn't shoot him--not I, unless in such a fit of rage as would
make a man shoot his favourite dog. Look here, sir! This deal is
on the square. I didn't tip him a wink to do anything else. He
won't budge from the jetty. Are you coming along now, sir?"

A short-silence ensued. Ricardo's jaws were working ominously under
his skin. His eyes glided: voluptuously here and there, cruel and
dreamy, Heyst checked a sudden movement, reflected for a while, then
said:

"You must wait a little."

"Wait a little! Wait a little! What does he think a fellow is--a
graven image?" grumbled Ricardo half audibly.

Heyst went into the bedroom, and shut the door after him with a
bang. Coming from the light, he could not see a thing in there at
first; yet he received the impression of the girl getting up from
the floor. On the less opaque darkness of the shutter-hole, her
head detached itself suddenly, very faint, a mere hint of a round,
dark shape without a face.

"I am going, Lena. I am going to confront these scoundrels." He
was surprised to feel two arms falling on his shoulders. "I thought
that you--" he began.

"Yes, yes!" the girl whispered hastily.

She neither clung to him, nor yet did she try to draw him to her.
Her hands grasped his shoulders, and she seemed to him to be staring
into his face in the dark. And now he could see something of her
face, too--an oval without features--and faintly distinguish her
person, in the blackness, a form without definite lines.

"You have a black dress here, haven't you, Lena?" he asked, speaking
rapidly, and so low that she could just hear him.

"Yes--an old thing."

"Very good. Put it on at once."

"But why?"

"Not for mourning!" Them was something peremptory in the slightly
ironic murmur. "Can you find it and get into it in the dark?"

She could. She would try. He waited, very still. He could imagine
her movements over there at the far end of the room; but his eyes,
accustomed now to the darkness, had lost her completely. When she
spoke, her voice surprised him by its nearness. She had done what
he had told her to do, and had approached him, invisible.

"Good! Where's that piece of purple veil I've seen lying about?" he
asked.

There was no answer, only a slight rustle.

"Where is it?" he repeated impatiently.

Her unexpected breath was on his cheek.

"In my hands."

"Capital! Listen, Lena. As soon as I leave the bungalow with that
horrible scoundrel, you slip out at the back--instantly, lose no
time!--and run round into the forest. That will be your time, while
we are walking away, and I am sure he won't give me the slip. Run
into the forest behind the fringe of bushes between the big trees.
You will know, surely, how to find a place in full view of the front
door. I fear for you; but in this black dress, with most of your
face muffled up in that dark veil, I defy anybody to find you there
before daylight. Wait in the forest till the table is pushed into
full view of the doorway, and you see three candles out of four
blown out and one relighted--or, should the lights be put out here
while you watch them, wait till three candles are lighted and then
two put out. At either of these signals run back as hard as you
can, for it will mean that I am waiting for you here."

While he was speaking, the girl had sought and seized one of his
hands. She did not press it; she held it loosely, as it were
timidly, caressingly. It was no grasp; it was a mere contact, as if
only to make sure that he was there, that he was real and no mere
darker shadow in the obscurity. The warmth of her hand gave Heyst a
strange, intimate sensation of all her person. He had to fight down
a new sort of emotion, which almost unmanned him. He went on,
whispering sternly:

"But if you see no such signals, don't let anything--fear,
curiosity, despair, or hope--entice you back to this house; and with
the first sign of dawn steal away along the edge of the clearing
till you strike the path. Wait no longer, because I shall probably
be dead."

The murmur of the word "Never!" floated into his ear as if it formed
itself in the air.

"You know the path," he continued. "Make your way to the barricade.
Go to Wang--yes, to Wang. Let nothing stop you!" It seemed to him
that the girl's hand trembled a little. "The worst he can do to you
is to shoot you, but he won't. I really think he won't, if I am not
there. Stay with the villagers, with the wild people, and fear
nothing. They will be more awed by you than you can be frightened
of them. Davidson's bound to turn up before very long. Keep a
look-out for a passing steamer. Think of some sort of signal to
call him."

She made no answer. The sense of the heavy, brooding silence in the
outside world seemed to enter and fill the room--the oppressive
infinity of it, without breath, without light. It was as if the
heart of hearts had ceased to beat and the end of all things had
come.

"Have you understood? You are to run out of the house at once,"
Heyst whispered urgently.

She lifted his hand to her lips and let it go. He was startled.

"Lena!" he cried out under his breath.

She was gone from his side. He dared not trust himself--no, not
even to the extent of a tender word.

Turning to go out he heard a thud somewhere in the house. To open
the door, he had first to lift the curtain; he did so with his face
over his shoulder. The merest trickle of light, earning through the
keyhole and one or two cracks, was enough for his eyes to see her
plainly, all black, down on her knees, with her head and arms flung
on the foot of the bed--all black in the desolation of a mourning
sinner. What was this? A suspicion that there were everywhere more
things than he could understand crossed Heyst's mind. Her arm,
detached from the bed, motioned him away. He obeyed, and went out,
full of disquiet.

The curtain behind him had not ceased to tremble when she was up on
her feet, close against it, listening for sounds, for words, in a
stooping, tragic attitude of stealthy attention, one hand clutching
at her breast as if to compress, to make less loud the beating of
her heart. Heyst had caught Mr. Jones's secretary in the
contemplation of his closed writing-desk. Ricardo might have been
meditating how to break into it; but when he turned about suddenly,
he showed so distorted a face that it made Heyst pause in wonder at
the upturned whites of the eyes, which were blinking horribly, as if
the man were inwardly convulsed.

"I thought you were never coming," Ricardo mumbled.

"I didn't know you were pressed for time. Even if your going away
depends on this conversation, as you say, I doubt if you are the men
to put to sea on such a night as this," said Heyst, motioning
Ricardo to precede him out of the house.

With feline undulations of hip and shoulder, the secretary left the
room at once. There was something cruel in the absolute dumbness of
the night. The great cloud covering half the sky hung right against
one, like an enormous curtain hiding menacing preparations of
violence. As the feet of the two men touched the ground, a rumble
came from behind it, preceded by a swift, mysterious gleam of light
on the waters of the bay.

"Ha!" said Ricardo. "It begins."

"It may be nothing in the end," observed Heyst, stepping along
steadily.

"No! Let it come!" Ricardo said viciously. "I am in the humour for
it!"

By the time the two men had reached the other bungalow, the far-off
modulated rumble growled incessantly, while pale lightning in waves
of cold fire flooded and ran off the island in rapid succession.
Ricardo, unexpectedly, dashed ahead up the steps and put his head
through the doorway.

"Here he is, governor! Keep him with you as long as you can--till
you hear me whistle. I am on the track."

He flung these words into the room with inconceivable speed, and
stood aside to let the visitor pass through the doorway; but he had
to wait an appreciable moment, because Heyst, seeing his purpose,
had scornfully slowed his pace. When Heyst entered the room it was
with a smile, the Heyst smile, lurking under his martial moustache.

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

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