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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVictory - PART THREE - Chapter SEVEN
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Victory - PART THREE - Chapter SEVEN Post by :unknown Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :June 2011 Read :689

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Victory - PART THREE - Chapter SEVEN

PART THREE: CHAPTER SEVEN


The explanation lay in the two simple facts that the light winds and
strong currents of the Java Sea had drifted the boat about until
they partly lost their bearings; and that by some extra-ordinary
mistake one of the two jars put into the boat by Schomberg's man
contained salt water. Ricardo tried to put some pathos into his
tones. Pulling for thirty hours with eighteen-foot oars! And the
sun! Ricardo relieved his feelings by cursing the sun. They had
felt their hearts and lungs shrivel within them. And then, as if
all that hadn't been trouble enough, he complained bitterly, he had
had to waste his fainting strength in beating their servant about
the head with a stretcher. The fool had wanted to drink sea water,
and wouldn't listen to reason. There was no stopping him otherwise.
It was better to beat him into insensibility than to have him go
crazy in the boat, and to be obliged to shoot him. The preventive,
administered with enough force to brain an elephant, boasted
Ricardo, had to be applied on two occasions--the second time all but
in sight of the jetty.

"You have seen the beauty," Ricardo went on expansively, hiding his
lack of some sort of probable story under this loquacity. "I had to
hammer him away from the spout. Opened afresh all the old broken
spots on his head. You saw how hard I had to hit. He has no
restraint, no restraint at all. If it wasn't that he can be made
useful in one way or another, I would just as soon have let the
governor shoot him."

He smiled up at Heyst in his peculiar lip-retracting manner, and
added by way of afterthought:

"That's what will happen to him in the end, if he doesn't learn to
restrain himself. But I've taught him to mind his manners for a
while, anyhow!"

And again he addressed his quick grin up to the man on the wharf.
His round eyes had never left Heyst's face ever since he began to
deliver his account of the voyage.

"So that's how he looks!" Ricardo was saying to himself.

He had not expected Heyst to be like this. He had formed for
himself a conception containing the helpful suggestion of a
vulnerable point. These solitary men were often tipplers. But no!-
-this was not a drinking man's face; nor could he detect the
weakness of alarm, or even the weakness of surprise, on these
features, in those steady eyes.

"We were too far gone to climb out," Ricardo went on. "I heard you
walking along though. I thought I shouted; I tried to. You didn't
hear me shout?"

Heyst made an almost imperceptible negative sign, which the greedy
eyes of Ricardo--greedy for all signs--did not miss.

"Throat too parched. We didn't even care to whisper to each other
lately. Thirst chokes one. We might have died there under this
wharf before you found us."

"I couldn't think where you had gone to." Heyst was heard at last,
addressing directly the newcomers from the sea. "You were seen as
soon as you cleared that point."

"We were seen, eh?" grunted Mr. Ricardo. "We pulled like machines -
-daren't stop. The governor sat at the tiller, but he couldn't
speak to us. She drove in between the piles till she hit something,
and we all tumbled off the thwarts as if we had been drunk. Drunk--
ha, ha! Too dry, by George! We fetched in here with the very last
of our strength, and no mistake. Another mile would have done for
us. When I heard your footsteps, above, I tried to get up, and I
fell down."

"That was the first sound I heard," said Heyst.

Mr Jones, the front of his soiled white tunic soaked and plastered
against his breast-bone, staggered away from the water-pipe.
Steadying himself on Ricardo's shoulder, he drew a long breath,
raised his dripping head, and produced a smile of ghastly
amiability, which was lost upon the thoughtful Heyst. Behind his
back the sun, touching the water, was like a disc of iron cooled to
a dull red glow, ready to start rolling round the circular steel
plate of the sea, which, under the darkening sky, looked more solid
than the high ridge of Samburan; more solid than the point, whose
long outlined slope melted into its own unfathomable shadow blurring
the dim sheen on the bay. The forceful stream from the pipe broke
like shattered glass on the boat's gunwale. Its loud, fitful, and
persistent splashing revealed the depths of the world's silence.

"Great notion, to lead the water out here," pronounced Ricardo
appreciatively.

Water was life. He felt now as if he could run a mile, scale a ten-
foot wall, sing a song. Only a few minutes ago he was next door to
a corpse, done up, unable to stand, to lift a hand; unable to groan.
A drop of water had done that miracle.

"Didn't you feel life itself running and soaking into you, sir?" he
asked his principal, with deferential but forced vivacity.

Without a word, Mr. Jones stepped off the thwart and sat down in the
stern-sheets.

"Isn't that man of yours bleeding to death in the bows under there?"
inquired Heyst.

Ricardo ceased his ecstasies over the life-giving water and answered
in a tone of innocence:

"He? You may call him a man, but his hide is a jolly sight tougher
than the toughest alligator he ever skinned in the good old days.
You don't know how much he can stand: I do. We have tried him a
long time ago. Ola, there! Pedro! Pedro!" he yelled, with a force
of lung testifying to the regenerative virtues of water.

A weak "Senor?" came from under the wharf.

"What did I tell you?" said Ricardo triumphantly. "Nothing can hurt
him. He's all right. But, I say, the boat's getting swamped.
Can't you turn this water off before you sink her under us? She's
half full already."

At a sign from Heyst, Wang hammered at the brass tap on the wharf,
then stood behind Number One, crowbar in hand, motionless as before.
Ricardo was perhaps not so certain of Pedro's toughness as he
affirmed; for he stooped, peering under the wharf, then moved
forward out of sight. The gush of water ceasing suddenly, made a
silence which became complete when the after-trickle stopped. Afar,
the sun was reduced to a red spark, glowing very low in the
breathless immensity of twilight. Purple gleams lingered on the
water all round the boat. The spectral figure in the stern-sheets
spoke in a languid tone:

"That--er--companion--er--secretary of mine is a queer chap. I am
afraid we aren't presenting ourselves in a very favourable light."

Heyst listened. It was the conventional voice of an educated man,
only strangely lifeless. But more strange yet was this concern for
appearances, expressed, he did not know, whether in jest or in
earnest. Earnestness was hardly to be supposed under the
circumstances, and no one had ever jested in such dead tones. It
was something which could not be answered, and Heyst said nothing.
The other went on:

"Travelling as I do, I find a man of his sort extremely useful. He
has his little weaknesses, no doubt."

"Indeed!" Heyst was provoked into speaking. "Weakness of the arm is
not one of them; neither is an exaggerated humanity, as far as I can
judge."

"Defects of temper," explained Mr. Jones from the stern-sheets.

The subject of this dialogue, coming out just then from under the
wharf into the visible part of the boat, made himself heard in his
own defence, in a voice full of life, and with nothing languid in
his manner on the contrary, it was brisk, almost jocose. He begged
pardon for contradicting. He was never out of temper with "our
Pedro." The fellow was a Dago of immense strength and of no sense
whatever. This combination made him dangerous, and he had to be
treated accordingly, in a manner which he could understand.
Reasoning was beyond him.

"And so"--Ricardo addressed Heyst with animation--"you mustn't be
surprised if--"

"I assure you," Heyst interrupted, "that my wonder at your arrival
in your boat here is so great that it leaves no room for minor
astonishments. But hadn't you better land?"

"That's the talk, sir!" Ricardo began to bustle about the boat,
talking all the time. Finding himself unable to "size up" this man,
he was inclined to credit him with extraordinary powers of
penetration, which, it seemed to him, would be favoured by silence.
Also, he feared some pointblank question. He had no ready-made
story to tell. He and his patron had put off considering that
rather important detail too long. For the last two days, the
horrors of thirst, coming on them unexpectedly, had prevented
consultation. They had had to pull for dear life. But the man on
the wharf, were he in league with the devil himself, would pay for
all their sufferings, thought Ricardo with an unholy joy.

Meantime, splashing in the water which covered the bottom-boards,
Ricardo congratulated himself aloud on the luggage being out of the
way of the wet. He had piled it up forward. He had roughly tied up
Pedro's head. Pedro had nothing to grumble about. On the contrary,
he ought to be mighty thankful to him, Ricardo, for being alive at
all.

"Well, now, let me give you a leg up, sir," he said cheerily to his
motionless principal in the stern-sheets. "All our troubles are
over--for a time, anyhow. Ain't it luck to find a white man on this
island? I would have just as soon expected to meet an angel from
heaven--eh, Mr. Jones? Now then--ready, sir? one, two, three, up
you go!"

Helped from below by Ricardo, and from above by the man more
unexpected than an angel, Mr. Jones scrambled up and stood on the
wharf by the side of Heyst. He swayed like a reed. The night
descending on Samburan turned into dense shadow the point of land
and the wharf itself, and gave a dark solidity to the unshimmering
water extending to the last faint trace of light away to the west.
Heyst stared at the guests whom the renounced world had sent him
thus at the end of the day. The only other vestige of light left on
earth lurked in the hollows of the thin man's eyes. They gleamed,
mobile and languidly evasive. The eyelids fluttered.

"You are feeling weak," said Heyst.

"For the moment, a little," confessed the other.

With loud panting, Ricardo scrambled on his hands and knees upon the
wharf, energetic and unaided. He rose up at Heyst's elbow and
stamped his foot on the planks, with a sharp, provocative, double
beat, such as is heard sometimes in fencing-schools before the
adversaries engage their foils. Not that the renegade seaman
Ricardo knew anything of fencing. What he called "shooting-irons,"
were his weapons, or the still less aristocratic knife, such as was
even then ingeniously strapped to his leg. He thought of it, at
that moment. A swift stooping motion, then, on the recovery, a
ripping blow, a shove off the wharf, and no noise except a splash in
the water that would scarcely disturb the silence. Heyst would have
no time for a cry. It would be quick and neat, and immensely in
accord with Ricardo's humour. But he repressed this gust of
savagery. The job was not such a simple one. This piece had to be
played to another tune, and in much slower time. He returned to his
note of talkative simplicity.

"Ay; and I too don't feel as strong as I thought I was when the
first drink set me up. Great wonder-worker water is! And to get it
right here on the spot! It was heaven--hey, sir?"

Mr Jones, being directly addressed, took up his part in the
concerted piece:

"Really, when I saw a wharf on what might have been an uninhabited
island, I couldn't believe my eyes. I doubted its existence. I
thought it was a delusion till the boat actually drove between the
piles, as you see her lying now."

While he was speaking faintly, in a voice which did not seem to
belong to the earth, his henchman, in extremely loud and terrestrial
accents, was fussing about their belongings in the boat, addressing
himself to Pedro:

"Come, now--pass up the dunnage there! Move, yourself, hombre, or
I'll have to get down again and give you a tap on those bandages of
yours, you growling bear, you!"

"Ah! You didn't believe in the reality of the wharf?" Heyst was
saying to Mr. Jones.

"You ought to kiss my hands!"

Ricardo caught hold of an ancient Gladstone bag and swung it on the
wharf with a thump.

"Yes! You ought to burn a candle before me as they do before the
saints in your country. No saint has ever done so much for you as I
have, you ungrateful vagabond. Now then! Up you get!"

Helped by the talkative Ricardo, Pedro scrambled up on the wharf,
where he remained for some time on all fours, swinging to and fro
his shaggy head tied up in white rags. Then he got up clumsily,
like a bulky animal in the dusk, balancing itself on its hind legs.

Mr Jones began to explain languidly to Heyst that they were in a
pretty bad state that morning, when they caught sight of the smoke
of the volcano. It nerved them to make an effort for their lives.
Soon afterwards they made out the island.

"I had just wits enough left in my baked brain to alter the
direction of the boat," the ghostly voice went on. "As to finding
assistance, a wharf, a white man--nobody would have dreamed of it.
Simply preposterous!"

"That's what I thought when my Chinaman came and told me he had seen
a boat with white men pulling up," said Heyst.

"Most extraordinary luck," interjected Ricardo, standing by
anxiously attentive to every word. "Seems a dream," he added. "A
lovely dream!"

A silence fell on that group of three, as if everyone had become
afraid to speak, in an obscure sense of an impending crisis. Pedro
on one side of them and Wang on the other had the air of watchful
spectators. A few stars had come out pursuing the ebbing twilight.
A light draught of air tepid enough in the thickening twilight after
the scorching day, struck a chill into Mr. Jones in his soaked
clothes.

"I may infer, then, that there is a settlement of white people
here?" he murmured, shivering visibly.

Heyst roused himself.

"Oh, abandoned, abandoned. I am alone here--practically alone; but
several empty houses are still standing. No lack of accommodation.
We may just as well--here, Wang, go back to the shore and run the
trolley out here."

The last words having been spoken in Malay, he explained courteously
that he had given directions for the transport of the luggage. Wang
had melted into the night--in his soundless manner.

"My word! Rails laid down and all," exclaimed Ricardo softly, in a
tone of admiration. "Well, I never!"

"We were working a coal-mine here," said the late manager of the
Tropical Belt Coal Company. "These are only the ghosts of things
that have been."

Mr Jones's teeth were suddenly started chattering by another faint
puff of wind, a mere sigh from the west, where Venus cast her rays
on the dark edge of the horizon, like a bright lamp hung above the
grave of the sun.

"We might be moving on," proposed Heyst. "My Chinaman and that--ah-
-ungrateful servant of yours, with the broken head, can load the
things and come along after us."

The suggestion was accepted without words. Moving towards the
shore, the three men met the trolley, a mere metallic rustle which
whisked past them, the shadowy Wang running noiselessly behind.
Only the sound of their footsteps accompanied them. It was a long
time since so many footsteps had rung together on that jetty.
Before they stepped on to the path trodden through the grass, Heyst
said:

"I am prevented from offering you a share of my own quarters." The
distant courtliness of this beginning arrested the other two
suddenly, as if amazed by some manifest incongruity. "I should
regret it more," he went on, "if I were not in a position to give
you the choice of those empty bungalows for a temporary home."

He turned round and plunged into the narrow track, the two others
following in single file.

"Queer start!" Ricardo took the opportunity for whispering, as he
fell behind Mr. Jones, who swayed in the gloom, enclosed by the
stalks of tropical grass, almost as slender as a stalk of grass
himself.

In this order they emerged into the open space kept clear of
vegetation by Wang's judicious system of periodic firing. The
shapes of buildings, unlighted, high-roofed, looked mysteriously
extensive and featureless against the increasing glitter of the
stars. Heyst was pleased at the absence of light in his bungalow.
It looked as uninhabited as the others. He continued to lead the
way, inclining to the right. His equable voice was heard:

"This one would be the best. It was our counting-house. There is
some furniture in it yet. I am pretty certain that you'll find a
couple of camp bedsteads in one of the rooms."

The high-pitched roof of the bungalow towered up very close,
eclipsing the sky.

"Here we are. Three steps. As you see, there's a wide veranda.
Sorry to keep you waiting for a moment; the door is locked, I
think."

He was heard trying it. Then he leaned against the rail, saying:

"Wang will get the keys."

The others waited, two vague shapes nearly mingled together in the
darkness of the veranda, from which issued a sudden chattering of
Mr. Jones's teeth, directly suppressed, and a slight shuffle of
Ricardo's feet. Their guide and host, his back against the rail,
seemed to have forgotten their existence. Suddenly he moved, and
murmured:

"Ah, here's the trolley."

Then he raised his voice in Malay, and was answered, "Ya tuan," from
an indistinct group that could be made out in the direction of the
track.

"I have sent Wang for the key and a light," he said, in a voice that
came out without any particular direction--a peculiarity which
disconcerted Ricardo.

Wang did not tarry long on his mission. Very soon from the distant
recesses of obscurity appeared the swinging lantern he carried. It
cast a fugitive ray on the arrested trolley with the uncouth figure
of the wild Pedro drooping over the load; then it moved towards the
bungalow and ascended the stairs. After working at the stiff lock,
Wang applied his shoulder to the door. It came open with explosive
suddenness, as if in a passion at being thus disturbed after two
years' repose. From the dark slope of a tall stand-up writing-desk
a forgotten, solitary sheet of paper flew up and settled gracefully
on the floor.

Wang and Pedro came and went through the offended door, bringing the
things off the trolley, one flitting swiftly in and out, the other
staggering heavily. Later, directed by a few quiet words from
Number One, Wang made several journeys with the lantern to the
store-rooms, bringing in blankets, provisions in tins, coffee,
sugar, and a packet of candles. He lighted one, and stuck it on the
ledge of the stand-up desk. Meantime Pedro, being introduced to
some kindling-wood and a bundle of dry sticks, had busied himself
outside in lighting a fire, on which he placed a ready-filled kettle
handed to him by Wang impassively, at arm's length, as if across a
chasm. Having received the thanks of his guests, Heyst wished them
goodnight and withdrew, leaving them to their repose.

Content of PART THREE CHAPTER SEVEN (Joseph Conrad's novel: Victory)

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