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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVictory - PART THREE - Chapter THREE
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Victory - PART THREE - Chapter THREE Post by :blackblood33 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Conrad Date :June 2011 Read :3231

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Victory - PART THREE - Chapter THREE

PART THREE: CHAPTER THREE


That morning, as on all the others of the full tale of mornings
since his return with the girl to Samburan, Heyst came out on the
veranda and spread his elbows on the railing, in an easy attitude of
proprietorship. The bulk of the central ridge of the island cut off
the bungalow from sunrises, whether glorious or cloudy, angry or
serene. The dwellers therein were debarred from reading early the
fortune of the new-born day. It sprang upon them in its fulness
with a swift retreat of the great shadow when the sun, clearing the
ridge, looked down, hot and dry, with a devouring glare like the eye
of an enemy. But Heyst, once the Number One of this locality, while
it was comparatively teeming with mankind, appreciated the
prolongation of early coolness, the subdued, lingering half-light,
the faint ghost of the departed night, the fragrance of its dewy,
dark soul captured for a moment longer between the great glow of the
sky and the intense blaze of the uncovered sea.

It was naturally difficult for Heyst to keep his mind from dwelling
on the nature and consequences of this, his latest departure from
the part of an unconcerned spectator. Yet he had retained enough of
his wrecked philosophy to prevent him from asking himself
consciously how it would end. But at the same time he could not
help being temperamentally, from long habit and from set purpose, a
spectator still, perhaps a little less naive but (as he discovered
with some surprise) not much more far sighted than the common run of
men. Like the rest of us who act, all he could say to himself, with
a somewhat affected grimness, was:

"We shall see!"

This mood of grim doubt intruded on him only when he was alone.
There were not many such moments in his day now; and he did not like
them when they came. On this morning he had no time to grow uneasy.
Alma came out to join him long before the sun, rising above the
Samburan ridge, swept the cool shadow of the early morning and the
remnant of the night's coolness clear off the roof under which they
had dwelt for more than three months already. She came out as on
other mornings. He had heard her light footsteps in the big room--
the room where he had unpacked the cases from London; the room now
lined with the backs of books halfway up on its three sides. Above
the cases the fine matting met the ceiling of tightly stretched
white calico. In the dusk and coolness nothing gleamed except the
gilt frame of the portrait of Heyst's father, signed by a famous
painter, lonely in the middle of a wall.

Heyst did not turn round.

"Do you know what I was thinking of?" he asked.

"No," she said. Her tone betrayed always a shade of anxiety, as
though she were never certain how a conversation with him would end.
She leaned on the guard-rail by his side.

"No," she repeated. "What was it?" She waited. Then, rather with
reluctance than shyness, she asked:

"Were you thinking of me?"

"I was wondering when you would come out," said Heyst, still without
looking at the girl--to whom, after several experimental essays in
combining detached letters and loose syllables, he had given the
name of Lena.

She remarked after a pause:

"I was not very far from you."

"Apparently you were not near enough for me."

"You could have called if you wanted me," she said. "And I wasn't
so long doing my hair."

"Apparently it was too long for me."

"Well, you were thinking of me, anyhow. I am glad of it. Do you
know, it seems to me, somehow, that if you were to stop thinking of
me I shouldn't be in the world at all!"

He turned round and looked at her. She often said things which
surprised him. A vague smile faded away on her lips before his
scrutiny.

"What is it?" he asked. "It is a reproach?"

"A reproach! Why, how could it be?" she defended herself.

"Well, what did it mean?" he insisted.

"What I said--just what I said. Why aren't you fair?"

"Ah, this is at least a reproach!"

She coloured to the roots of her hair.

"It looks as if you were trying to make out that I am disagreeable,"
she murmured. "Am I? You will make me afraid to open my mouth
presently. I shall end by believing I am no good."

Her head drooped a little. He looked at her smooth, low brow, the
faintly coloured checks, and the red lips parted slightly, with the
gleam of her teeth within.

"And then I won't be any good," she added with conviction. "That I
won't! I can only be what you think I am."

He made a slight movement. She put her hand on his arm, without
raising her head, and went on, her voice animated in the stillness
of her body:

"It is so. It couldn't be any other way with a girl like me and a
man like you. Here we are, we two alone, and I can't even tell
where we are."

"A very well-known spot of the globe," Heyst uttered gently. "There
must have been at least fifty thousand circulars issued at the time-
-a hundred and fifty thousand, more likely. My friend was looking
after that, and his ideas were large and his belief very strong. Of
us two it was he who had the faith. A hundred and fifty thousand,
certainly."

"What is it you mean?" she asked in a low tone.

"What should I find fault with you for?" Heyst went on. "For being
amiable, good, gracious--and pretty?"

A silence fell. Then she said:

"It's all right that you should think that of me. There's no one
here to think anything of us, good or bad."

The rare timbre of her voice gave a special value to what she
uttered. The indefinable emotion which certain intonations gave
him, he was aware, was more physical than moral. Every time she
spoke to him she seemed to abandon to him something of herself--
something excessively subtle and inexpressible, to which he was
infinitely sensible, which he would have missed horribly if she were
to go away. While he was looking into her eyes she raised her bare
forearm, out of the short sleeve, and held it in the air till he
noticed it and hastened to pose his great bronze moustaches on the
whiteness of the skin. Then they went in.

Wang immediately appeared in front, and, squatting on his heels,
began to potter mysteriously about some plants at the foot of the
veranda. When Heyst and the girl came out again, the Chinaman had
gone in his peculiar manner, which suggested vanishing out of
existence rather than out of sight, a process of evaporation rather
than of movement. They descended the steps, looking at each other,
and started off smartly across the cleared ground; but they were not
ten yards away when, without perceptible stir or sound, Wang
materialized inside the empty room. The Chinaman stood still with
roaming eyes, examining the walls as if for signs, for inscriptions;
exploring the floor as if for pitfalls, for dropped coins. Then he
cocked his head slightly at the profile of Heyst's father, pen in
hand above a white sheet of paper on a crimson tablecloth; and,
moving forward noiselessly, began to clear away the breakfast
things.

Though he proceeded without haste, the unerring precision of his
movements, the absolute soundlessness of the operation, gave it
something of the quality of a conjuring trick. And, the trick
having been performed, Wang vanished from the scene, to materialize
presently in front of the house. He materialized walking away from
it, with no visible or guessable intention; but at the end of some
ten paces he stopped, made a half turn, and put his hand up to shade
his eyes. The sun had topped the grey ridge of Samburan. The great
morning shadow was gone; and far away in the devouring sunshine Wang
was in time to see Number One and the woman, two remote white specks
against the sombre line of the forest. In a moment they vanished.
With the smallest display of action, Wang also vanished from the
sunlight of the clearing.

Heyst and Lena entered the shade of the forest path which crossed
the island, and which, near its highest point had been blocked by
felled trees. But their intention was not to go so far. After
keeping to the path for some distance, they left it at a point where
the forest was bare of undergrowth, and the trees, festooned with
creepers, stood clear of one another in the gloom of their own
making. Here and there great splashes of light lay on the ground.
They moved, silent in the great stillness, breathing the calmness,
the infinite isolation, the repose of a slumber without dreams.
They emerged at the upper limit of vegetation, among some rocks; and
in a depression of the sharp slope, like a small platform, they
turned about and looked from on high over the sea, lonely, its
colour effaced by sunshine, its horizon a heat mist, a mere
unsubstantial shimmer in the pale and blinding infinity overhung by
the darker blaze of the sky.

"It makes my head swim," the girl murmured, shutting her eyes and
putting her hand on his shoulder.

Heyst, gazing fixedly to the southward, exclaimed:

"Sail ho!"

A moment of silence ensued.

"It must be very far away," he went on. "I don't think you could
see it. Some native craft making for the Moluccas, probably. Come,
we mustn't stay here."

With his arm round her waist, he led her down a little distance, and
they settled themselves in the shade; she, seated on the ground, he
a little lower, reclining at her feet.

"You don't like to look at the sea from up there?" he said after a
time.

She shook her head. That empty space was to her the abomination of
desolation. But she only said again:

"It makes my head swim."

"Too big?" he inquired.

"Too lonely. It makes my heart sink, too," she added in a low
voice, as if confessing a secret.

"I'm am afraid," said Heyst, "that you would be justified in
reproaching me for these sensations. But what would you have?"

His tone was playful, but his eyes, directed at her face, were
serious. She protested.

"I am not feeling lonely with you--not a bit. It is only when we
come up to that place, and I look at all that water and all that
light--"

"We will never come here again, then," he interrupted her.

She remained silent for a while, returning his gaze till he removed
it.

"It seems as if everything that there is had gone under," she said.

"Reminds you of the story of the deluge," muttered the man,
stretched at her feet and looking at them. "Are you frightened at
it?"

"I should be rather frightened to be left behind alone. When I say,
I, of course I mean we."

"Do you?" . . . Heyst remained silent for a while. "The vision of a
world destroyed," he mused aloud. "Would you be sorry for it?"

"I should be sorry for the happy people in it," she said simply.

His gaze travelled up her figure and reached her face, where he
seemed to detect the veiled glow of intelligence, as one gets a
glimpse of the sun through the clouds.

"I should have thought it's they specially who ought to have been
congratulated. Don't you?"

"Oh, yes--I understand what you mean; but there were forty days
before it was all over."

"You seem to be in possession of all the details."

Heyst spoke just to say something rather than to gaze at her in
silence. She was not looking at him.

"Sunday school," she murmured. "I went regularly from the time I
was eight till I was thirteen. We lodged in the north of London,
off Kingsland Road. It wasn't a bad time. Father was earning good
money then. The woman of the house used to pack me off in the
afternoon with her own girls. She was a good woman. Her husband
was in the post office. Sorter or something. Such a quiet man. He
used to go off after supper for night-duty, sometimes. Then one day
they had a row, and broke up the home. I remember I cried when we
had to pack up all of a sudden and go into other lodgings. I never
knew what it was, though--"

"The deluge," muttered Heyst absently.

He felt intensely aware of her personality, as if this were the
first moment of leisure he had found to look at her since they had
come together. The peculiar timbre of her voice, with its
modulations of audacity and sadness, would have given interest to
the most inane chatter. But she was no chatterer. She was rather
silent, with a capacity for immobility, an upright stillness, as
when resting on the concert platform between the musical numbers,
her feet crossed, her hands reposing on her lap. But in the
intimacy of their life her grey, unabashed gaze forced upon him the
sensation of something inexplicable reposing within her; stupidity
or inspiration, weakness or force--or simply an abysmal emptiness,
reserving itself even in the moments of complete surrender.

During a long pause she did not look at him. Then suddenly, as if
the word "deluge" had stuck in her mind, she asked, looking up at
the cloudless sky:

"Does it ever rain here?"

"There is a season when it rains almost every day," said Heyst,
surprised. "There are also thunderstorms. We once had a 'mud-
shower.'"

"Mud-shower?"

"Our neighbour there was shooting up ashes. He sometimes clears his
red-hot gullet like that; and a thunderstorm came along at the same
time. It was very messy; but our neighbour is generally well
behaved--just smokes quietly, as he did that day when I first showed
you the smudge in the sky from the schooner's deck. He's a good-
natured, lazy fellow of a volcano."

"I saw a mountain smoking like that before," she said, staring at
the slender stem of a tree-fern some dozen feet in front of her.
"It wasn't very long after we left England--some few days, though.
I was so ill at first that I lost count of days. A smoking
mountain--I can't think how they called it."

"Vesuvius, perhaps," suggested Heyst.

"That's the name."

"I saw it, too, years, ages ago," said Heyst.

"On your way here?"

"No, long before I ever thought of coming into this part of the
world. I was yet a boy."

She turned and looked at him attentively, as if seeking to discover
some trace of that boyhood in the mature face of the man with the
hair thin at the top and the long, thick moustaches. Heyst stood
the frank examination with a playful smile, hiding the profound
effect these veiled grey eyes produced--whether on his heart or on
his nerves, whether sensuous or spiritual, tender or irritating, he
was unable to say.

"Well, princess of Samburan," he said at last, "have I found favour
in your sight?"

She seemed to wake up, and shook her head.

"I was thinking," she murmured very low.

"Thought, action--so many snares! If you begin to think you will be
unhappy."

"I wasn't thinking of myself!" she declared with a simplicity which
took Heyst aback somewhat.

"On the lips of a moralist this would sound like a rebuke," he said,
half seriously; "but I won't suspect you of being one. Moralists
and I haven't been friends for many years."

She had listened with an air of attention.

"I understood you had no friends," she said. "I am pleased that
there's nobody to find fault with you for what you have done. I
like to think that I am in no one's way."

Heyst would have said something, but she did not give him time.
Unconscious of the movement he made she went on:

"What I was thinking to myself was, why are you here?"

Heyst let himself sink on his elbow again.

"If by 'you' you mean 'we'--well, you know why we are here."

She bent her gaze down at him.

"No, it isn't that. I meant before--all that time before you came
across me and guessed at once that I was in trouble, with no one to
turn to. And you know it was desperate trouble too."

Her voice fell on the last words, as if she would end there; but
there was something so expectant in Heyst's attitude as he sat at
her feet, looking up at her steadily, that she continued, after
drawing a short, quick breath:

"It was, really. I told you I had been worried before by bad
fellows. It made me unhappy, disturbed--angry, too. But oh, how I
hated, hated, HATED that man!"

"That man" was the florid Schomberg with the military bearing,
benefactor of white men ('decent food to eat in decent company')--
mature victim of belated passion. The girl shuddered. The
characteristic harmoniousness of her face became, as it were,
decomposed for an instant. Heyst was startled.

"Why think of it now?" he cried.

"It's because I was cornered that time. It wasn't as before. It
was worse, ever so much. I wished I could die of my fright--and yet
it's only now that I begin to understand what a horror it might have
been. Yes, only now, since we--"

Heyst stirred a little.

"Came here," he finished.

Her tenseness relaxed, her flushed face went gradually back to its
normal tint.

"Yes," she said indifferently, but at the same time she gave him a
stealthy glance of passionate appreciation; and then her face took
on a melancholy cast, her whole figure drooped imperceptibly.

"But you were coming back here anyhow?" she asked.

"Yes. I was only waiting for Davidson. Yes, I was coming back
here, to these ruins--to Wang, who perhaps did not expect to see me
again. It's impossible to guess at the way that Chinaman draws his
conclusions, and how he looks upon one."

"Don't talk about him. He makes me feel uncomfortable. Talk about
yourself!"

"About myself? I see you are still busy with the mystery of my
existence here; but it isn't at all mysterious. Primarily the man
with the quill pen in his hand in that picture you so often look at
is responsible for my existence. He is also responsible for what my
existence is, or rather has been. He was a great man in his way. I
don't know much of his history. I suppose he began like other
people; took fine words for good, ringing coin and noble ideals for
valuable banknotes. He was a great master of both, himself, by the
way. Later he discovered--how am I to explain it to you? Suppose
the world were a factory and all mankind workmen in it. Well, he
discovered that the wages were not good enough. That they were paid
in counterfeit money."

"I see!" the girl said slowly.

"Do you?"

Heyst, who had been speaking as if to himself, looked up curiously.

"It wasn't a new discovery, but he brought his capacity for scorn to
bear on it. It was immense. It ought to have withered this globe.
I don't know how many minds he convinced. But my mind was very
young then, and youth I suppose can be easily seduced--even by a
negation. He was very ruthless, and yet he was not without pity.
He dominated me without difficulty. A heartless man could not have
done so. Even to fools he was not utterly merciless. He could be
indignant, but he was too great for flouts and jeers. What he said
was not meant for the crowd; it could not be; and I was flattered to
find myself among the elect. They read his books, but I have heard
his living word. It was irresistible. It was as if that mind were
taking me into its confidence, giving me a special insight into its
mastery of despair. Mistake, no doubt. There is something of my
father in every man who lives long enough. But they don't say
anything. They can't. They wouldn't know how, or perhaps, they
wouldn't speak if they could. Man on this earth is an unforeseen
accident which does not stand close investigation. However, that
particular man died as quietly as a child goes to sleep. But, after
listening to him, I could not take my soul down into the street to
fight there. I started off to wander about, an independent
spectator--if that is possible."

For a long time the girl's grey eyes had been watching his face.
She discovered that, addressing her, he was really talking to
himself. Heyst looked up, caught sight of her as it were, and
caught himself up, with a low laugh and a change of tone.

"All this does not tell you why I ever came here. Why, indeed?
It's like prying into inscrutable mysteries which are not worth
scrutinizing. A man drifts. The most successful men have drifted
into their successes. I don't want to tell you that this is a
success. You wouldn't believe me if I did. It isn't; neither is it
the ruinous failure it looks. It proves nothing, unless perhaps
some hidden weakness in my character--and even that is not certain."

He looked fixedly at her, and with such grave eyes that she felt
obliged to smile faintly at him, since she did not understand what
he meant. Her smile was reflected, still fainter, on his lips.

"This does not advance you much in your inquiry," he went on. "And
in truth your question is unanswerable; but facts have a certain
positive value, and I will tell you a fact. One day I met a
cornered man. I use the word because it expresses the man's
situation exactly, and because you just used it yourself. You know
what that means?"

"What do you say?" she whispered, astounded. "A man!"

Heyst laughed at her wondering eyes.

"No! No! I mean in his own way."

"I knew very well it couldn't be anything like that," she observed
under her breath.

"I won't bother you with the story. It was a custom-house affair,
strange as it may sound to you. He would have preferred to be
killed outright--that is, to have his soul dispatched to another
world, rather than to be robbed of his substance, his very
insignificant substance, in this. I saw that he believed in another
world because, being cornered, as I have told you, he went down on
his knees and prayed. What do you think of that?"

Heyst paused. She looked at him earnestly.

"You didn't make fun of him for that?" she said.

Heyst made a brusque movement of protest

"My dear girl, I am not a ruffian," he cried. Then, returning to
his usual tone: "I didn't even have to conceal a smile. Somehow it
didn't look a smiling matter. No, it was not funny; it was rather
pathetic; he was so representative of an the past victims of the
Great Joke. But it is by folly alone that the world moves, and so
it is a respectable thing upon the whole. And besides, he was what
one would call a good man. I don't mean especially because he had
offered up a prayer. No! He was really a decent fellow, he was
quite unfitted for this world, he was a failure, a good man
cornered--a sight for the gods; for no decent mortal cares to look
at that sort." A thought seemed to occur to him. He turned his
face to the girl. "And you, who have been cornered too--did you
think of offering a prayer?"

Neither her eyes nor a single one of her features moved the least
bit. She only let fall the words:

"I am not what they call a good girl."

"That sounds evasive," said Heyst after a short silence. "Well, the
good fellow did pray and after he had confessed to it I was struck
by the comicality of the situation. No, don't misunderstand me--I
am not alluding to his act, of course. And even the idea of
Eternity, Infinity, Omnipotence, being called upon to defeat the
conspiracy of two miserable Portuguese half-castes did not move my
mirth. From the point of view of the supplicant, the danger to be
conjured was something like the end of the world, or worse. No!
What captivated my fancy was that I, Axel Heyst, the most detached
of creatures in this earthly captivity, the veriest tramp on this
earth, an indifferent stroller going through the world's bustle--
that I should have been there to step into the situation of an agent
of Providence. _I_, a man of universal scorn and unbelief . . . "

"You are putting it on," she interrupted in her seductive voice,
with a coaxing intonation.

"No. I am not like that, born or fashioned, or both. I am not for
nothing the son of my father, of that man in the painting. I am he,
all but the genius. And there is even less in me than I make out,
because the very scorn is falling away from me year after year. I
have never been so amused as by that episode in which I was suddenly
called to act such an incredible part. For a moment I enjoyed it
greatly. It got him out of his corner, you know."

"You saved a man for fun--is that what you mean? Just for fun?"

"Why this tone of suspicion?" remonstrated Heyst. "I suppose the
sight of this particular distress was disagreeable to me. What you
call fun came afterwards, when it dawned on me that I was for him a
walking, breathing, incarnate proof of the efficacy of prayer. I
was a little fascinated by it--and then, could I have argued with
him? You don't argue against such evidence, and besides it would
have looked as if I had wanted to claim all the merit. Already his
gratitude was simply frightful. Funny position, wasn't it? The
boredom came later, when we lived together on board his ship. I
had, in a moment of inadvertence, created for myself a tie. How to
define it precisely I don't know. One gets attached in a way to
people one has done something for. But is that friendship? I am
not sure what it was. I only know that he who forms a tie is lost.
The germ of corruption has entered into his soul."

Heyst's tone was light, with the flavour of playfulness which
seasoned all his speeches and seemed to be of the very essence of
his thoughts. The girl he had come across, of whom he had possessed
himself, to whose presence he was not yet accustomed, with whom he
did not yet know how to live; that human being so near and still so
strange, gave him a greater sense of his own reality than he had
ever known in all his life.

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

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Victory - PART THREE - Chapter FOUR
PART THREE: CHAPTER FOURWith her knees drawn up, Lena rested her elbows on them and held herhead in both her hands."Are you tired of sitting here?" Heyst asked.An almost imperceptible negative movement of the head was all theanswer she made."Why are you looking so serious?" he pursued, and immediatelythought that habitual seriousness, in the long run, was much morebearable than constant gaiety. "However, this expression suits youexceedingly," he added, not diplomatically, but because, by thetendency of his taste, it was a true statement. "And as long as Ican be certain that it is not boredom which gives you this
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Victory - PART THREE - Chapter TWO
PART THREE: CHAPTER TWODuring his master's absence at Sourabaya, Wang had busied himselfwith the ground immediately in front of the principal bungalow.Emerging from the fringe of grass growing across the shore end ofthe coal-jetty, Heyst beheld a broad, clear space, black and level,with only one or two clumps of charred twigs the flame hadswept from the front of his house to the nearest trees of theforest."You took the risk of firing the grass?" Heyst asked.Wang nodded. Hanging on the arm of the white man before whom hestood was the girl called Alma; but neither from the Chinaman's eyesnor from
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