The Rescue
by Joseph Conrad
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Arms were outstretched with pointing fingers. Someone shouted out a long sentence of which not a word could be made out; and then the brig, having reached the western limit of the bank, began to move diagonally away, increasing her distance from the yacht but bringing her stern gradually into view. The people aft, Lingard noticed, left their places and walked over to the taffrail so as to keep him longer in sight.

When about a mile off the bank and nearly in line with the stern of the yacht the brig's topsails fluttered and the yards came down slowly on the caps; the fore and aft canvas ran down; and for some time she floated quietly with folded wings upon the transparent sheet of water, under the radiant silence of the sky. Then her anchor went to the bottom with a rumbling noise resembling the roll of distant thunder. In a moment her head tended to the last puffs of the northerly airs and the ensign at the peak stirred, unfurled itself slowly, collapsed, flew out again, and finally hung down straight and still, as if weighted with lead.

"Dead calm, sir," said Shaw to Lingard. "Dead calm again. We got into this funny place in the nick of time, sir."

They stood for a while side by side, looking round upon the coast and the sea. The brig had been brought up in the middle of a broad belt of clear water. To the north rocky ledges showed in black and white lines upon the slight swell setting in from there. A small island stood out from the broken water like the square tower of some submerged building. It was about two miles distant from the brig. To the eastward the coast was low; a coast of green forests fringed with dark mangroves. There was in its sombre dullness a clearly defined opening, as if a small piece had been cut out with a sharp knife. The water in it shone like a patch of polished silver. Lingard pointed it out to Shaw.

"This is the entrance to the place where we are going," he said.

Shaw stared, round-eyed.

"I thought you came here on account of this here yacht," he stammered, surprised.

"Ah. The yacht," said Lingard, musingly, keeping his eyes on the break in the coast. "The yacht—" He stamped his foot suddenly. "I would give all I am worth and throw in a few days of life into the bargain if I could get her off and away before to-night."

He calmed down, and again stood gazing at the land. A little within the entrance from behind the wall of forests an invisible fire belched out steadily the black and heavy convolutions of thick smoke, which stood out high, like a twisted and shivering pillar against the clear blue of the sky.

"We must stop that game, Mr. Shaw," said Lingard, abruptly.

"Yes, sir. What game?" asked Shaw, looking round in wonder.

"This smoke," said Lingard, impatiently. "It's a signal."

"Certainly, sir—though I don't see how we can do it. It seems far inland. A signal for what, sir?"

"It was not meant for us," said Lingard in an unexpectedly savage tone. "Here, Shaw, make them put a blank charge into that forecastle gun. Tell 'em to ram hard the wadding and grease the mouth. We want to make a good noise. If old Jorgenson hears it, that fire will be out before you have time to turn round twice. . . . In a minute, Mr. Carter."

The yacht's boat had come alongside as soon as the brig had been brought up, and Carter had been waiting to take Lingard on board the yacht. They both walked now to the gangway. Shaw, following his commander, stood by to take his last orders.

"Put all the boats in the water, Mr. Shaw," Lingard was saying, with one foot on the rail, ready to leave his ship, "and mount the four-pounder swivel in the longboat's bow. Cast off the sea lashings of the guns, but don't run 'em out yet. Keep the topsails loose and the jib ready for setting, I may want the sails in a hurry. Now, Mr. Carter, I am ready for you."

"Shove off, boys," said Carter as soon as they were seated in the boat. "Shove off, and give way for a last pull before you get a long rest."

The men lay back on their oars, grunting. Their faces were drawn, grey and streaked with the dried salt sprays. They had the worried expression of men who had a long call made upon their endurance. Carter, heavy-eyed and dull, steered for the yacht's gangway. Lingard asked as they were crossing the brig's bows:

"Water enough alongside your craft, I suppose?"

"Yes. Eight to twelve feet," answered Carter, hoarsely. "Say, Captain! Where's your show of cutthroats? Why! This sea is as empty as a church on a week-day."

The booming report, nearly over his head, of the brig's eighteen-pounder interrupted him. A round puff of white vapour, spreading itself lazily, clung in fading shreds about the foreyard. Lingard, turning half round in the stern sheets, looked at the smoke on the shore. Carter remained silent, staring sleepily at the yacht they were approaching. Lingard kept watching the smoke so intensely that he almost forgot where he was, till Carter's voice pronouncing sharply at his ear the words "way enough," recalled him to himself.

They were in the shadow of the yacht and coming alongside her ladder. The master of the brig looked upward into the face of a gentleman, with long whiskers and a shaved chin, staring down at him over the side through a single eyeglass. As he put his foot on the bottom step he could see the shore smoke still ascending, unceasing and thick; but even as he looked the very base of the black pillar rose above the ragged line of tree-tops. The whole thing floated clear away from the earth, and rolling itself into an irregularly shaped mass, drifted out to seaward, travelling slowly over the blue heavens, like a threatening and lonely cloud.



The coast off which the little brig, floating upright above her anchor, seemed to guard the high hull of the yacht has no distinctive features. It is land without form. It stretches away without cape or bluff, long and low—indefinitely; and when the heavy gusts of the northeast monsoon drive the thick rain slanting over the sea, it is seen faintly under the grey sky, black and with a blurred outline like the straight edge of a dissolving shore. In the long season of unclouded days, it presents to view only a narrow band of earth that appears crushed flat upon the vast level of waters by the weight of the sky, whose immense dome rests on it in a line as fine and true as that of the sea horizon itself.

Notwithstanding its nearness to the centres of European power, this coast has been known for ages to the armed wanderers of these seas as "The Shore of Refuge." It has no specific name on the charts, and geography manuals don't mention it at all; but the wreckage of many defeats unerringly drifts into its creeks. Its approaches are extremely difficult for a stranger. Looked at from seaward, the innumerable islets fringing what, on account of its vast size, may be called the mainland, merge into a background that presents not a single landmark to point the way through the intricate channels. It may be said that in a belt of sea twenty miles broad along that low shore there is much more coral, mud, sand, and stones than actual sea water. It was amongst the outlying shoals of this stretch that the yacht had gone ashore and the events consequent upon her stranding took place.

The diffused light of the short daybreak showed the open water to the westward, sleeping, smooth and grey, under a faded heaven. The straight coast threw a heavy belt of gloom along the shoals, which, in the calm of expiring night, were unmarked by the slightest ripple. In the faint dawn the low clumps of bushes on the sandbanks appeared immense.

Two figures, noiseless like two shadows, moved slowly over the beach of a rocky islet, and stopped side by side on the very edge of the water. Behind them, between the mats from which they had arisen, a small heap of black embers smouldered quietly. They stood upright and perfectly still, but for the slight movement of their heads from right to left and back again as they swept their gaze through the grey emptiness of the waters where, about two miles distant, the hull of the yacht loomed up to seaward, black and shapeless, against the wan sky.

The two figures looked beyond without exchanging as much as a murmur. The taller of the two grounded, at arm's length, the stock of a gun with a long barrel; the hair of the other fell down to its waist; and, near by, the leaves of creepers drooping from the summit of the steep rock stirred no more than the festooned stone. The faint light, disclosing here and there a gleam of white sandbanks and the blurred hummocks of islets scattered within the gloom of the coast, the profound silence, the vast stillness all round, accentuated the loneliness of the two human beings who, urged by a sleepless hope, had risen thus, at break of day, to look afar upon the veiled face of the sea.

"Nothing!" said the man with a sigh, and as if awakening from a long period of musing.

He was clad in a jacket of coarse blue cotton, of the kind a poor fisherman might own, and he wore it wide open on a muscular chest the colour and smoothness of bronze. From the twist of threadbare sarong wound tightly on the hips protruded outward to the left the ivory hilt, ringed with six bands of gold, of a weapon that would not have disgraced a ruler. Silver glittered about the flintlock and the hardwood stock of his gun. The red and gold handkerchief folded round his head was of costly stuff, such as is woven by high-born women in the households of chiefs, only the gold threads were tarnished and the silk frayed in the folds. His head was thrown back, the dropped eyelids narrowed the gleam of his eyes. His face was hairless, the nose short with mobile nostrils, and the smile of careless good-humour seemed to have been permanently wrought, as if with a delicate tool, into the slight hollows about the corners of rather full lips. His upright figure had a negligent elegance. But in the careless face, in the easy gestures of the whole man there was something attentive and restrained.

After giving the offing a last searching glance, he turned and, facing the rising sun, walked bare-footed on the elastic sand. The trailed butt of his gun made a deep furrow. The embers had ceased to smoulder. He looked down at them pensively for a while, then called over his shoulder to the girl who had remained behind, still scanning the sea:

"The fire is out, Immada."

At the sound of his voice the girl moved toward the mats. Her black hair hung like a mantle. Her sarong, the kilt-like garment which both sexes wear, had the national check of grey and red, but she had not completed her attire by the belt, scarves, the loose upper wrappings, and the head-covering of a woman. A black silk jacket, like that of a man of rank, was buttoned over her bust and fitted closely to her slender waist. The edge of a stand-up collar, stiff with gold embroidery, rubbed her cheek. She had no bracelets, no anklets, and although dressed practically in man's clothes, had about her person no weapon of any sort. Her arms hung down in exceedingly tight sleeves slit a little way up from the wrist, gold-braided and with a row of small gold buttons. She walked, brown and alert, all of a piece, with short steps, the eyes lively in an impassive little face, the arched mouth closed firmly; and her whole person breathed in its rigid grace the fiery gravity of youth at the beginning of the task of life—at the beginning of beliefs and hopes.

This was the day of Lingard's arrival upon the coast, but, as is known, the brig, delayed by the calm, did not appear in sight of the shallows till the morning was far advanced. Disappointed in their hope to see the expected sail shining in the first rays of the rising sun, the man and the woman, without attempting to relight the fire, lounged on their sleeping mats. At their feet a common canoe, hauled out of the water, was, for more security, moored by a grass rope to the shaft of a long spear planted firmly on the white beach, and the incoming tide lapped monotonously against its stern.

The girl, twisting up her black hair, fastened it with slender wooden pins. The man, reclining at full length, had made room on his mat for the gun—as one would do for a friend—and, supported on his elbow, looked toward the yacht with eyes whose fixed dreaminess like a transparent veil would show the slow passage of every gloomy thought by deepening gradually into a sombre stare.

"We have seen three sunrises on this islet, and no friend came from the sea," he said without changing his attitude, with his back toward the girl who sat on the other side of the cold embers.

"Yes; and the moon is waning," she answered in a low voice. "The moon is waning. Yet he promised to be here when the nights are light and the water covers the sandbanks as far as the bushes."

"The traveller knows the time of his setting out, but not the time of his return," observed the man, calmly.

The girl sighed.

"The nights of waiting are long," she murmured.

"And sometimes they are vain," said the man with the same composure. "Perhaps he will never return."

"Why?" exclaimed the girl.

"The road is long and the heart may grow cold," was the answer in a quiet voice. "If he does not return it is because he has forgotten."

"Oh, Hassim, it is because he is dead," cried the girl, indignantly.

The man, looking fixedly to seaward, smiled at the ardour of her tone.

They were brother and sister, and though very much alike, the family resemblance was lost in the more general traits common to the whole race.

They were natives of Wajo and it is a common saying amongst the Malay race that to be a successful traveller and trader a man must have some Wajo blood in his veins. And with those people trading, which means also travelling afar, is a romantic and an honourable occupation. The trader must possess an adventurous spirit and a keen understanding; he should have the fearlessness of youth and the sagacity of age; he should be diplomatic and courageous, so as to secure the favour of the great and inspire fear in evil-doers.

These qualities naturally are not expected in a shopkeeper or a Chinaman pedlar; they are considered indispensable only for a man who, of noble birth and perhaps related to the ruler of his own country, wanders over the seas in a craft of his own and with many followers; carries from island to island important news as well as merchandise; who may be trusted with secret messages and valuable goods; a man who, in short, is as ready to intrigue and fight as to buy and sell. Such is the ideal trader of Wajo.

Trading, thus understood, was the occupation of ambitious men who played an occult but important part in all those national risings, religious disturbances, and also in the organized piratical movements on a large scale which, during the first half of the last century, affected the fate of more than one native dynasty and, for a few years at least, seriously endangered the Dutch rule in the East. When, at the cost of much blood and gold, a comparative peace had been imposed on the islands the same occupation, though shorn of its glorious possibilities, remained attractive for the most adventurous of a restless race. The younger sons and relations of many a native ruler traversed the seas of the Archipelago, visited the innumerable and little-known islands, and the then practically unknown shores of New Guinea; every spot where European trade had not penetrated—from Aru to Atjeh, from Sumbawa to Palawan.


It was in the most unknown perhaps of such spots, a small bay on the coast of New Guinea, that young Pata Hassim, the nephew of one of the greatest chiefs of Wajo, met Lingard for the first time.

He was a trader after the Wajo manner, and in a stout sea-going prau armed with two guns and manned by young men who were related to his family by blood or dependence, had come in there to buy some birds of paradise skins for the old Sultan of Ternate; a risky expedition undertaken not in the way of business but as a matter of courtesy toward the aged Sultan who had entertained him sumptuously in that dismal brick palace at Ternate for a month or more.

While lying off the village, very much on his guard, waiting for the skins and negotiating with the treacherous coast-savages who are the go-betweens in that trade, Hassim saw one morning Lingard's brig come to an anchor in the bay, and shortly afterward observed a white man of great stature with a beard that shone like gold, land from a boat and stroll on unarmed, though followed by four Malays of the brig's crew, toward the native village.

Hassim was struck with wonder and amazement at the cool recklessness of such a proceeding; and, after; in true Malay fashion, discussing with his people for an hour or so the urgency of the case, he also landed, but well escorted and armed, with the intention of going to see what would happen.

The affair really was very simple, "such as"—Lingard would say—"such as might have happened to anybody." He went ashore with the intention to look for some stream where he could conveniently replenish his water casks, this being really the motive which had induced him to enter the bay.

While, with his men close by and surrounded by a mop-headed, sooty crowd, he was showing a few cotton handkerchiefs, and trying to explain by signs the object of his landing, a spear, lunged from behind, grazed his neck. Probably the Papuan wanted only to ascertain whether such a creature could be killed or hurt, and most likely firmly believed that it could not; but one of Lingard's seamen at once retaliated by striking at the experimenting savage with his parang—three such choppers brought for the purpose of clearing the bush, if necessary, being all the weapons the party from the brig possessed.

A deadly tumult ensued with such suddenness that Lingard, turning round swiftly, saw his defender, already speared in three places, fall forward at his feet. Wasub, who was there, and afterward told the story once a week on an average, used to horrify his hearers by showing how the man blinked his eyes quickly before he fell. Lingard was unarmed. To the end of his life he remained incorrigibly reckless in that respect, explaining that he was "much too quick tempered to carry firearms on the chance of a row. And if put to it," he argued, "I can make shift to kill a man with my fist anyhow; and then—don't ye see—you know what you're doing and are not so apt to start a trouble from sheer temper or funk—see?"

In this case he did his best to kill a man with a blow from the shoulder and catching up another by the middle flung him at the naked, wild crowd. "He hurled men about as the wind hurls broken boughs. He made a broad way through our enemies!" related Wasub in his jerky voice. It is more probable that Lingard's quick movements and the amazing aspect of such a strange being caused the warriors to fall back before his rush.

Taking instant advantage of their surprise and fear, Lingard, followed by his men, dashed along the kind of ruinous jetty leading to the village which was erected as usual over the water. They darted into one of the miserable huts built of rotten mats and bits of decayed canoes, and in this shelter showing daylight through all its sides, they had time to draw breath and realize that their position was not much improved.

The women and children screaming had cleared out into the bush, while at the shore end of the jetty the warriors capered and yelled, preparing for a general attack. Lingard noticed with mortification that his boat-keeper apparently had lost his head, for, instead of swimming off to the ship to give the alarm, as he was perfectly able to do, the man actually struck out for a small rock a hundred yards away and was frantically trying to climb up its perpendicular side. The tide being out, to jump into the horrible mud under the houses would have been almost certain death. Nothing remained therefore—since the miserable dwelling would not have withstood a vigorous kick, let alone a siege—but to rush back on shore and regain possession of the boat. To this Lingard made up his mind quickly and, arming himself with a crooked stick he found under his hand, sallied forth at the head of his three men. As he bounded along, far in advance, he had just time to perceive clearly the desperate nature of the undertaking, when he heard two shots fired to his right. The solid mass of black bodies and frizzly heads in front of him wavered and broke up. They did not run away, however.

Lingard pursued his course, but now with that thrill of exultation which even a faint prospect of success inspires in a sanguine man. He heard a shout of many voices far off, then there was another report of a shot, and a musket ball fired at long range spurted a tiny jet of sand between him and his wild enemies. His next bound would have carried him into their midst had they awaited his onset, but his uplifted arm found nothing to strike. Black backs were leaping high or gliding horizontally through the grass toward the edge of the bush.

He flung his stick at the nearest pair of black shoulders and stopped short. The tall grasses swayed themselves into a rest, a chorus of yells and piercing shrieks died out in a dismal howl, and all at once the wooded shores and the blue bay seemed to fall under the spell of a luminous stillness. The change was as startling as the awakening from a dream. The sudden silence struck Lingard as amazing.

He broke it by lifting his voice in a stentorian shout, which arrested the pursuit of his men. They retired reluctantly, glaring back angrily at the wall of a jungle where not a single leaf stirred. The strangers, whose opportune appearance had decided the issue of that adventure, did not attempt to join in the pursuit but halted in a compact body on the ground lately occupied by the savages.

Lingard and the young leader of the Wajo traders met in the splendid light of noonday, and amidst the attentive silence of their followers, on the very spot where the Malay seaman had lost his life. Lingard, striding up from one side, thrust out his open palm; Hassim responded at once to the frank gesture and they exchanged their first hand-clasp over the prostrate body, as if fate had already exacted the price of a death for the most ominous of her gifts—the gift of friendship that sometimes contains the whole good or evil of a life.

"I'll never forget this day," cried Lingard in a hearty tone; and the other smiled quietly.

Then after a short pause—"Will you burn the village for vengeance?" asked the Malay with a quick glance down at the dead Lascar who, on his face and with stretched arms, seemed to cling desperately to that earth of which he had known so little.

Lingard hesitated.

"No," he said, at last. "It would do good to no one."

"True," said Hassim, gently, "but was this man your debtor—a slave?"

"Slave?" cried Lingard. "This is an English brig. Slave? No. A free man like myself."

"Hai. He is indeed free now," muttered the Malay with another glance downward. "But who will pay the bereaved for his life?"

"If there is anywhere a woman or child belonging to him, I—my serang would know—I shall seek them out," cried Lingard, remorsefully.

"You speak like a chief," said Hassim, "only our great men do not go to battle with naked hands. O you white men! O the valour of you white men!"

"It was folly, pure folly," protested Lingard, "and this poor fellow has paid for it."

"He could not avoid his destiny," murmured the Malay. "It is in my mind my trading is finished now in this place," he added, cheerfully.

Lingard expressed his regret.

"It is no matter, it is no matter," assured the other courteously, and after Lingard had given a pressing invitation for Hassim and his two companions of high rank to visit the brig, the two parties separated.

The evening was calm when the Malay craft left its berth near the shore and was rowed slowly across the bay to Lingard's anchorage. The end of a stout line was thrown on board, and that night the white man's brig and the brown man's prau swung together to the same anchor.

The sun setting to seaward shot its last rays between the headlands, when the body of the killed Lascar, wrapped up decently in a white sheet, according to Mohammedan usage, was lowered gently below the still waters of the bay upon which his curious glances, only a few hours before, had rested for the first time. At the moment the dead man, released from slip-ropes, disappeared without a ripple before the eyes of his shipmates, the bright flash and the heavy report of the brig's bow gun were succeeded by the muttering echoes of the encircling shores and by the loud cries of sea birds that, wheeling in clouds, seemed to scream after the departing seaman a wild and eternal good-bye. The master of the brig, making his way aft with hanging head, was followed by low murmurs of pleased surprise from his crew as well as from the strangers who crowded the main deck. In such acts performed simply, from conviction, what may be called the romantic side of the man's nature came out; that responsive sensitiveness to the shadowy appeals made by life and death, which is the groundwork of a chivalrous character.

Lingard entertained his three visitors far into the night. A sheep from the brig's sea stock was given to the men of the prau, while in the cabin, Hassim and his two friends, sitting in a row on the stern settee, looked very splendid with costly metals and flawed jewels. The talk conducted with hearty friendship on Lingard's part, and on the part of the Malays with the well-bred air of discreet courtesy, which is natural to the better class of that people, touched upon many subjects and, in the end, drifted to politics.

"It is in my mind that you are a powerful man in your own country," said Hassim, with a circular glance at the cuddy.

"My country is upon a far-away sea where the light breezes are as strong as the winds of the rainy weather here," said Lingard; and there were low exclamations of wonder. "I left it very young, and I don't know about my power there where great men alone are as numerous as the poor people in all your islands, Tuan Hassim. But here," he continued, "here, which is also my country—being an English craft and worthy of it, too—I am powerful enough. In fact, I am Rajah here. This bit of my country is all my own."

The visitors were impressed, exchanged meaning glances, nodded at each other.

"Good, good," said Hassim at last, with a smile. "You carry your country and your power with you over the sea. A Rajah upon the sea. Good!"

Lingard laughed thunderously while the others looked amused.

"Your country is very powerful—we know," began again Hassim after a pause, "but is it stronger than the country of the Dutch who steal our land?"

"Stronger?" cried Lingard. He opened a broad palm. "Stronger? We could take them in our hand like this—" and he closed his fingers triumphantly.

"And do you make them pay tribute for their land?" enquired Hassim with eagerness.

"No," answered Lingard in a sobered tone; "this, Tuan Hassim, you see, is not the custom of white men. We could, of course—but it is not the custom."

"Is it not?" said the other with a sceptical smile. "They are stronger than we are and they want tribute from us. And sometimes they get it—even from Wajo where every man is free and wears a kris."

There was a period of dead silence while Lingard looked thoughtful and the Malays gazed stonily at nothing.

"But we burn our powder amongst ourselves," went on Hassim, gently, "and blunt our weapons upon one another."

He sighed, paused, and then changing to an easy tone began to urge Lingard to visit Wajo "for trade and to see friends," he said, laying his hand on his breast and inclining his body slightly.

"Aye. To trade with friends," cried Lingard with a laugh, "for such a ship"—he waved his arm—"for such a vessel as this is like a household where there are many behind the curtain. It is as costly as a wife and children."

The guests rose and took their leave.

"You fired three shots for me, Panglima Hassim," said Lingard, seriously, "and I have had three barrels of powder put on board your prau; one for each shot. But we are not quits."

The Malay's eyes glittered with pleasure.

"This is indeed a friend's gift. Come to see me in my country!"

"I promise," said Lingard, "to see you—some day."

The calm surface of the bay reflected the glorious night sky, and the brig with the prau riding astern seemed to be suspended amongst the stars in a peace that was almost unearthly in the perfection of its unstirring silence. The last hand-shakes were exchanged on deck, and the Malays went aboard their own craft. Next morning, when a breeze sprang up soon after sunrise, the brig and the prau left the bay together. When clear of the land Lingard made all sail and sheered alongside to say good-bye before parting company—the brig, of course, sailing three feet to the prau's one. Hassim stood on the high deck aft.

"Prosperous road," hailed Lingard.

"Remember the promise!" shouted the other. "And come soon!" he went on, raising his voice as the brig forged past. "Come soon—lest what perhaps is written should come to pass!"

The brig shot ahead.

"What?" yelled Lingard in a puzzled tone, "what's written?"

He listened. And floating over the water came faintly the words:

"No one knows!"


"My word! I couldn't help liking the chap," would shout Lingard when telling the story; and looking around at the eyes that glittered at him through the smoke of cheroots, this Brixham trawler-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 like himself—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 of heads nodded grave approbation while a slightly ironical voice said deliberately—"You are a made man, Tom, if you get on the right side of that Rajah of yours."

"Go in—and look out for yourself," cried another with a laugh.

A little professional jealousy was unavoidable, Wajo, on account of its chronic state of disturbance, being closed to the white traders; but there was no real ill-will in the banter of these men, who, rising with handshakes, dropped off one by one. Lingard went straight aboard his vessel and, till morning, walked the poop of the brig with measured steps. The riding lights of ships twinkled all round him; the lights ashore twinkled in rows, the stars twinkled above his head in a black sky; and reflected in the black water of the roadstead twinkled far below his feet. And all these innumerable and shining points were utterly lost in the immense darkness. Once he heard faintly the rumbling chain of some vessel coming to an anchor far away somewhere outside the official limits of the harbour. A stranger to the port—thought Lingard—one of us would have stood right in. Perhaps a ship from home? And he felt strangely touched at the thought of that ship, weary with months of wandering, and daring not to approach the place of rest. At sunrise, while the big ship from the West, her sides streaked with rust and grey with the salt of the sea, was moving slowly in to take up a berth near the shore, Lingard left the roadstead on his way to the eastward.

A heavy gulf thunderstorm was raging, when after a long passage and at the end of a sultry calm day, wasted in drifting helplessly in sight of his destination, Lingard, taking advantage of fitful gusts of wind, approached the shores of Wajo. With characteristic audacity, he held on his way, closing in with a coast to which he was a stranger, and on a night that would have appalled any other man; while at every dazzling flash, Hassim's native land seemed to leap nearer at the brig—and disappear instantly as though it had crouched low for the next spring out of an impenetrable darkness. During the long day of the calm, he had obtained from the deck and from aloft, such good views of the coast, and had noted the lay of the land and the position of the dangers so carefully that, though at the precise moment when he gave the order to let go the anchor, he had been for some time able to see no further than if his head had been wrapped in a woollen blanket, yet the next flickering bluish flash showed him the brig, anchored almost exactly where he had judged her to be, off a narrow white beach near the mouth of a river.

He could see on the shore a high cluster of bamboo huts perched upon piles, a small grove of tall palms all bowed together before the blast like stalks of grass, something that might have been a palisade of pointed stakes near the water, and far off, a sombre background resembling an immense wall—the forest-clad hills. Next moment, all this vanished utterly from his sight, as if annihilated and, before he had time to turn away, came back to view with a sudden crash, appearing unscathed and motionless under hooked darts of flame, like some legendary country of immortals, withstanding the wrath and fire of Heaven.

Made uneasy by the nature of his holding ground, and fearing that in one of the terrific off-shore gusts the brig would start her anchor, Lingard remained on deck to watch over the safety of his vessel. With one hand upon the lead-line which would give him instant warning of the brig beginning to drag, he stood by the rail, most of the time deafened and blinded, but also fascinated, by the repeated swift visions of an unknown shore, a sight always so inspiring, as much perhaps by its vague suggestion of danger as by the hopes of success it never fails to awaken in the heart of a true adventurer. And its immutable aspect of profound and still repose, seen thus under streams of fire and in the midst of a violent uproar, made it appear inconceivably mysterious and amazing.

Between the squalls there were short moments of calm, while now and then even the thunder would cease as if to draw breath. During one of those intervals. Lingard, tired and sleepy, was beginning to doze where he stood, when suddenly it occurred to him that, somewhere below, the sea had spoken in a human voice. It had said, "Praise be to God—" and the voice sounded small, clear, and confident, like the voice of a child speaking in a cathedral. Lingard gave a start and thought—I've dreamed this—and directly the sea said very close to him, "Give a rope."

The thunder growled wickedly, and Lingard, after shouting to the men on deck, peered down at the water, until at last he made out floating close alongside the upturned face of a man with staring eyes that gleamed at him and then blinked quickly to a flash of lightning. By that time all hands in the brig were wildly active and many ropes-ends had been thrown over. Then together with a gust of wind, and, as if blown on board, a man tumbled over the rail and fell all in a heap upon the deck. Before any one had the time to pick him up, he leaped to his feet, causing the people around him to step back hurriedly. A sinister blue glare showed the bewildered faces and the petrified attitudes of men completely deafened by the accompanying peal of thunder. After a time, as if to beings plunged in the abyss of eternal silence, there came to their ears an unfamiliar thin, far-away voice saying:

"I seek the white man."

"Here," cried Lingard. Then, when he had the stranger, dripping and naked but for a soaked waistcloth, under the lamp of the cabin, he said, "I don't know you."

"My name is Jaffir, and I come from Pata Hassim, who is my chief and your friend. Do you know this?"

He held up a thick gold ring, set with a fairly good emerald.

"I have seen it before on the Rajah's finger," said Lingard, looking very grave.

"It is the witness of the truth I speak—the message from Hassim is—'Depart and forget!'"

"I don't forget," said Lingard, slowly. "I am not that kind of man. What folly is this?"

It is unnecessary to give at full length the story told by Jaffir. It appears that on his return home, after the meeting with Lingard, Hassim found his relative dying and a strong party formed to oppose his rightful successor. The old Rajah Tulla died late at night and—as Jaffir put it—before the sun rose there were already blows exchanged in the courtyard of the ruler's dalam. This was the preliminary fight of a civil war, fostered by foreign intrigues; a war of jungle and river, of assaulted stockades and forest ambushes. In this contest, both parties—according to Jaffir—displayed great courage, and one of them an unswerving devotion to what, almost from the first, was a lost cause. Before a month elapsed Hassim, though still chief of an armed band, was already a fugitive. He kept up the struggle, however, with some vague notion that Lingard's arrival would turn the tide.

"For weeks we lived on wild rice; for days we fought with nothing but water in our bellies," declaimed Jaffir in the tone of a true fire-eater.

And then he went on to relate, how, driven steadily down to the sea, Hassim, with a small band of followers, had been for days holding the stockade by the waterside.

"But every night some men disappeared," confessed Jaffir. "They were weary and hungry and they went to eat with their enemies. We are only ten now—ten men and a woman with the heart of a man, who are tonight starving, and to-morrow shall die swiftly. We saw your ship afar all day; but you have come too late. And for fear of treachery and lest harm should befall you—his friend—the Rajah gave me the ring and I crept on my stomach over the sand, and I swam in the night—and I, Jaffir, the best swimmer in Wajo, and the slave of Hassim, tell you—his message to you is 'Depart and forget'—and this is his gift—take!"

He caught hold suddenly of Lingard's hand, thrust roughly into it the ring, and then for the first time looked round the cabin with wondering but fearless eyes. They lingered over the semicircle of bayonets and rested fondly on musket-racks. He grunted in admiration.

"Ya-wa, this is strength!" he murmured as if to himself. "But it has come too late."

"Perhaps not," cried Lingard.

"Too late," said Jaffir, "we are ten only, and at sunrise we go out to die." He went to the cabin door and hesitated there with a puzzled air, being unused to locks and door handles.

"What are you going to do?" asked Lingard.

"I shall swim back," replied Jaffir. "The message is spoken and the night can not last forever."

"You can stop with me," said Lingard, looking at the man searchingly.

"Hassim waits," was the curt answer.

"Did he tell you to return?" asked Lingard.

"No! What need?" said the other in a surprised tone.

Lingard seized his hand impulsively.

"If I had ten men like you!" he cried.

"We are ten, but they are twenty to one," said Jaffir, simply.

Lingard opened the door.

"Do you want anything that a man can give?" he asked.

The Malay had a moment of hesitation, and Lingard noticed the sunken eyes, the prominent ribs, and the worn-out look of the man.

"Speak out," he urged with a smile; "the bearer of a gift must have a reward."

"A drink of water and a handful of rice for strength to reach the shore," said Jaffir sturdily. "For over there"—he tossed his head—"we had nothing to eat to-day."

"You shall have it—give it to you with my own hands," muttered Lingard.

He did so, and thus lowered himself in Jaffir's estimation for a time. While the messenger, squatting on the floor, ate without haste but with considerable earnestness, Lingard thought out a plan of action. In his ignorance as to the true state of affairs in the country, to save Hassim from the immediate danger of his position was all that he could reasonably attempt. To that end Lingard proposed to swing out his long-boat and send her close inshore to take off Hassim and his men. He knew enough of Malays to feel sure that on such a night the besiegers, now certain of success, and being, Jaffir said, in possession of everything that could float, would not be very vigilant, especially on the sea front of the stockade. The very fact of Jaffir having managed to swim off undetected proved that much. The brig's boat could—when the frequency of lightning abated—approach unseen close to the beach, and the defeated party, either stealing out one by one or making a rush in a body, would embark and be received in the brig.

This plan was explained to Jaffir, who heard it without the slightest mark of interest, being apparently too busy eating. When the last grain of rice was gone, he stood up, took a long pull at the water bottle, muttered: "I hear. Good. I will tell Hassim," and tightening the rag round his loins, prepared to go. "Give me time to swim ashore," he said, "and when the boat starts, put another light beside the one that burns now like a star above your vessel. We shall see and understand. And don't send the boat till there is less lightning: a boat is bigger than a man in the water. Tell the rowers to pull for the palm-grove and cease when an oar, thrust down with a strong arm, touches the bottom. Very soon they will hear our hail; but if no one comes they must go away before daylight. A chief may prefer death to life, and we who are left are all of true heart. Do you understand, O big man?"

"The chap has plenty of sense," muttered Lingard to himself, and when they stood side by side on the deck, he said: "But there may be enemies on the beach, O Jaffir, and they also may shout to deceive my men. So let your hail be Lightning! Will you remember?"

For a time Jaffir seemed to be choking.

"Lit-ing! Is that right? I say—is that right, O strong man?" Next moment he appeared upright and shadowy on the rail.

"Yes. That's right. Go now," said Lingard, and Jaffir leaped off, becoming invisible long before he struck the water. Then there was a splash; after a while a spluttering voice cried faintly, "Lit-ing! Ah, ha!" and suddenly the next thunder-squall burst upon the coast. In the crashing flares of light Lingard had again and again the quick vision of a white beach, the inclined palm-trees of the grove, the stockade by the sea, the forest far away: a vast landscape mysterious and still—Hassim's native country sleeping unmoved under the wrath and fire of Heaven.


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.


"What's the matter with King Tom of late?" would ask someone when, all the cards in a heap on the table, the traders lying back in their chairs took a spell from a hard gamble.

"Tom has learned to hold his tongue, he must be up to some dam' good thing," opined another; while a man with hooked features and of German extraction who was supposed to be agent for a Dutch crockery house—the famous "Sphinx" mark—broke in resentfully:

"Nefer mind him, shentlemens, he's matt, matt as a Marsh Hase. Dree monats ago I call on board his prig to talk pizness. And he says like dis—'Glear oudt.' 'Vat for?' I say. 'Glear oudt before I shuck you oferboard.' Gott-for-dam! Iss dat the vay to talk pizness? I vant sell him ein liddle case first chop grockery for trade and—"

"Ha, ha, ha! I don't blame Tom," interrupted the owner of a pearling schooner, who had come into the Roads for stores. "Why, Mosey, there isn't a mangy cannibal left in the whole of New Guinea that hasn't got a cup and saucer of your providing. You've flooded the market, savee?"

Jorgenson stood by, a skeleton at the gaming table.

"Because you are a Dutch spy," he said, suddenly, in an awful tone.

The agent of the Sphinx mark jumped up in a sudden fury.

"Vat? Vat? Shentlemens, you all know me!" Not a muscle moved in the faces around. "Know me," he stammered with wet lips. "Vat, funf year—berfegtly acquaint—grockery—Verfluchte sponsher. Ich? Spy. Vat for spy? Vordamte English pedlars!"

The door slammed. "Is that so?" asked a New England voice. "Why don't you let daylight into him?"

"Oh, we can't do that here," murmured one of the players. "Your deal, Trench, let us get on."

"Can't you?" drawled the New England voice. "You law-abiding, get-a-summons, act-of—parliament lot of sons of Belial—can't you? Now, look a-here, these Colt pistols I am selling—" He took the pearler aside and could be heard talking earnestly in the corner. "See—you load—and—see?" There were rapid clicks. "Simple, isn't it? And if any trouble—say with your divers"—click, click, click—"Through and through—like a sieve—warranted to cure the worst kind of cussedness in any nigger. Yes, siree! A case of twenty-four or single specimens—as you like. No? Shot-guns—rifles? No! Waal, I guess you're of no use to me, but I could do a deal with that Tom—what d'ye call him? Where d'ye catch him? Everywhere—eh? Waal—that's nowhere. But I shall find him some day—yes, siree."

Jorgenson, utterly disregarded, looked down dreamily at the falling cards. "Spy—I tell you," he muttered to himself. "If you want to know anything, ask me."

When Lingard returned from Wajo—after an uncommonly long absence—everyone remarked a great change. He was less talkative and not so noisy, he was still hospitable but his hospitality was less expansive, and the man who was never so happy as when discussing impossibly wild projects with half a dozen congenial spirits often showed a disinclination to meet his best friends. In a word, he returned much less of a good fellow than he went away. His visits to the Settlements were not less frequent, but much shorter; and when there he was always in a hurry to be gone.

During two years the brig had, in her way, as hard a life of it as the man. Swift and trim she flitted amongst the islands of little known groups. She could be descried afar from lonely headlands, a white speck travelling fast over the blue sea; the apathetic keepers of rare lighthouses dotting the great highway to the east came to know the cut of her topsails. They saw her passing east, passing west. They had faint glimpses of her flying with masts aslant in the mist of a rain-squall, or could observe her at leisure, upright and with shivering sails, forging ahead through a long day of unsteady airs. Men saw her battling with a heavy monsoon in the Bay of Bengal, lying becalmed in the Java Sea, or gliding out suddenly from behind a point of land, graceful and silent in the clear moonlight. Her activity was the subject of excited but low-toned conversations, which would be interrupted when her master appeared.

"Here he is. Came in last night," whispered the gossiping group.

Lingard did not see the covert glances of respect tempered by irony; he nodded and passed on.

"Hey, Tom! No time for a drink?" would shout someone.

He would shake his head without looking back—far away already.

Florid and burly he could be seen, for a day or two, getting out of dusty gharries, striding in sunshine from the Occidental Bank to the Harbour Office, crossing the Esplanade, disappearing down a street of Chinese shops, while at his elbow and as tall as himself, old Jorgenson paced along, lean and faded, obstinate and disregarded, like a haunting spirit from the past eager to step back into the life of men.

Lingard ignored this wreck of an adventurer, sticking to him closer than his shadow, and the other did not try to attract attention. He waited patiently at the doors of offices, would vanish at tiffin time, would invariably turn up again in the evening and then he kept his place till Lingard went aboard for the night. The police peons on duty looked disdainfully at the phantom of Captain H. C. Jorgenson, Barque Wild Rose, wandering on the silent quay or standing still for hours at the edge of the sombre roadstead speckled by the anchor lights of ships—an adventurous soul longing to recross the waters of oblivion.

The sampan-men, sculling lazily homeward past the black hull of the brig at anchor, could hear far into the night the drawl of the New England voice escaping through the lifted panes of the cabin skylight. Snatches of nasal sentences floated in the stillness around the still craft.

"Yes, siree! Mexican war rifles—good as new—six in a case—my people in Baltimore—that's so. Hundred and twenty rounds thrown in for each specimen—marked to suit your requirements. Suppose—musical instruments, this side up with care—how's that for your taste? No, no! Cash down—my people in Balt—Shooting sea-gulls you say? Waal! It's a risky business—see here—ten per cent. discount—it's out of my own pocket—"

As time wore on, and nothing happened, at least nothing that one could hear of, the excitement died out. Lingard's new attitude was accepted as only "his way." There was nothing in it, maintained some. Others dissented. A good deal of curiosity, however, remained and the faint rumour of something big being in preparation followed him into every harbour he went to, from Rangoon to Hongkong.

He felt nowhere so much at home as when his brig was anchored on the inner side of the great stretch of shoals. The centre of his life had shifted about four hundred miles—from the Straits of Malacca to the Shore of Refuge—and when there he felt himself within the circle of another existence, governed by his impulse, nearer his desire. Hassim and Immada would come down to the coast and wait for him on the islet. He always left them with regret.

At the end of the first stage in each trip, Jorgenson waited for him at the top of the boat-stairs and without a word fell into step at his elbow. They seldom exchanged three words in a day; but one evening about six months before Lingard's last trip, as they were crossing the short bridge over the canal where native craft lie moored in clusters, Jorgenson lengthened his stride and came abreast. It was a moonlight night and nothing stirred on earth but the shadows of high clouds. Lingard took off his hat and drew in a long sigh in the tepid breeze. Jorgenson spoke suddenly in a cautious tone: "The new Rajah Tulla smokes opium and is sometimes dangerous to speak to. There is a lot of discontent in Wajo amongst the big people."

"Good! Good!" whispered Lingard, excitedly, off his guard for once. Then—"How the devil do you know anything about it?" he asked.

Jorgenson pointed at the mass of praus, coasting boats, and sampans that, jammed up together in the canal, lay covered with mats and flooded by the cold moonlight with here and there a dim lantern burning amongst the confusion of high sterns, spars, masts and lowered sails.

"There!" he said, as they moved on, and their hatted and clothed shadows fell heavily on the queer-shaped vessels that carry the fortunes of brown men upon a shallow sea. "There! I can sit with them, I can talk to them, I can come and go as I like. They know me now—it's time-thirty-five years. Some of them give a plate of rice and a bit of fish to the white man. That's all I get—after thirty-five years—given up to them."

He was silent for a time.

"I was like you once," he added, and then laying his hand on Lingard's sleeve, murmured—"Are you very deep in this thing?"

"To the very last cent," said Lingard, quietly, and looking straight before him.

The glitter of the roadstead went out, and the masts of anchored ships vanished in the invading shadow of a cloud.

"Drop it," whispered Jorgenson.

"I am in debt," said Lingard, slowly, and stood still.

"Drop it!"

"Never dropped anything in my life."

"Drop it!"

"By God, I won't!" cried Lingard, stamping his foot.

There was a pause.

"I was like you—once," repeated Jorgenson. "Five and thirty years—never dropped anything. And what you can do is only child's play to some jobs I have had on my hands—understand that—great man as you are, Captain Lingard of the Lightning. . . . You should have seen the Wild Rose," he added with a sudden break in his voice.

Lingard leaned over the guard-rail of the pier. Jorgenson came closer.

"I set fire to her with my own hands!" he said in a vibrating tone and very low, as if making a monstrous confession.

"Poor devil," muttered Lingard, profoundly moved by the tragic enormity of the act. "I suppose there was no way out?"

"I wasn't going to let her rot to pieces in some Dutch port," said Jorgenson, gloomily. "Did you ever hear of Dawson?"

"Something—I don't remember now—" muttered Lingard, who felt a chill down his back at the idea of his own vessel decaying slowly in some Dutch port. "He died—didn't he?" he asked, absently, while he wondered whether he would have the pluck to set fire to the brig—on an emergency.

"Cut his throat on the beach below Fort Rotterdam," said Jorgenson. His gaunt figure wavered in the unsteady moonshine as though made of mist. "Yes. He broke some trade regulation or other and talked big about law-courts and legal trials to the lieutenant of the Komet. 'Certainly,' says the hound. 'Jurisdiction of Macassar, I will take your schooner there.' Then coming into the roads he tows her full tilt on a ledge of rocks on the north side—smash! When she was half full of water he takes his hat off to Dawson. 'There's the shore,' says he—'go and get your legal trial, you—Englishman—'" He lifted a long arm and shook his fist at the moon which dodged suddenly behind a cloud. "All was lost. Poor Dawson walked the streets for months barefooted and in rags. Then one day he begged a knife from some charitable soul, went down to take a last look at the wreck, and—"

"I don't interfere with the Dutch," interrupted Lingard, impatiently. "I want Hassim to get back his own—"

"And suppose the Dutch want the things just so," returned Jorgenson. "Anyway there is a devil in such work—drop it!"

"Look here," said Lingard, "I took these people off when they were in their last ditch. That means something. I ought not to have meddled and it would have been all over in a few hours. I must have meant something when I interfered, whether I knew it or not. I meant it then—and did not know it. Very well. I mean it now—and do know it. When you save people from death you take a share in their life. That's how I look at it."

Jorgenson shook his head.

"Foolishness!" he cried, then asked softly in a voice that trembled with curiosity—"Where did you leave them?"

"With Belarab," breathed out Lingard. "You knew him in the old days."

"I knew him, I knew his father," burst out the other in an excited whisper. "Whom did I not know? I knew Sentot when he was King of the South Shore of Java and the Dutch offered a price for his head—enough to make any man's fortune. He slept twice on board the Wild Rose when things had begun to go wrong with him. I knew him, I knew all his chiefs, the priests, the fighting men, the old regent who lost heart and went over to the Dutch, I knew—" he stammered as if the words could not come out, gave it up and sighed—"Belarab's father escaped with me," he began again, quietly, "and joined the Padris in Sumatra. He rose to be a great leader. Belarab was a youth then. Those were the times. I ranged the coast—and laughed at the cruisers; I saw every battle fought in the Battak country—and I saw the Dutch run; I was at the taking of Singal and escaped. I was the white man who advised the chiefs of Manangkabo. There was a lot about me in the Dutch papers at the time. They said I was a Frenchman turned Mohammedan—" he swore a great oath, and, reeling against the guard-rail, panted, muttering curses on newspapers.

"Well, Belarab has the job in hand," said Lingard, composedly. "He is the chief man on the Shore of Refuge. There are others, of course. He has sent messages north and south. We must have men."

"All the devils unchained," said Jorgenson. "You have done it and now—look out—look out. . . ."

"Nothing can go wrong as far as I can see," argued Lingard. "They all know what's to be done. I've got them in hand. You don't think Belarab unsafe? Do you?"

"Haven't seen him for fifteen years—but the whole thing's unsafe," growled Jorgenson.

"I tell you I've fixed it so that nothing can go wrong. It would be better if I had a white man over there to look after things generally. There is a good lot of stores and arms—and Belarab would bear watching—no doubt. Are you in any want?" he added, putting his hand in his pocket.

"No, there's plenty to eat in the house," answered Jorgenson, curtly. "Drop it," he burst out. "It would be better for you to jump overboard at once. Look at me. I came out a boy of eighteen. I can speak English, I can speak Dutch, I can speak every cursed lingo of these islands—I remember things that would make your hair stand on end—but I have forgotten the language of my own country. I've traded, I've fought, I never broke my word to white or native. And, look at me. If it hadn't been for the girl I would have died in a ditch ten years ago. Everything left me—youth, money, strength, hope—the very sleep. But she stuck by the wreck."

"That says a lot for her and something for you," said Lingard, cheerily.

Jorgenson shook his head.

"That's the worst of all," he said with slow emphasis. "That's the end. I came to them from the other side of the earth and they took me and—see what they made of me."

"What place do you belong to?" asked Lingard.

"Tromso," groaned out Jorgenson; "I will never see snow again," he sobbed out, his face in his hands.

Lingard looked at him in silence.

"Would you come with me?" he said. "As I told you, I am in want of a—"

"I would see you damned first!" broke out the other, savagely. "I am an old white loafer, but you don't get me to meddle in their infernal affairs. They have a devil of their own—"

"The thing simply can't fail. I've calculated every move. I've guarded against everything. I am no fool."

"Yes—you are. Good-night."

"Well, good-bye," said Lingard, calmly.

He stepped into his boat, and Jorgenson walked up the jetty. Lingard, clearing the yoke lines, heard him call out from a distance:

"Drop it!"

"I sail before sunrise," he shouted in answer, and went on board.

When he came up from his cabin after an uneasy night, it was dark yet. A lank figure strolled across the deck.

"Here I am," said Jorgenson, huskily. "Die there or here—all one. But, if I die there, remember the girl must eat."

Lingard was one of the few who had seen Jorgenson's girl. She had a wrinkled brown face, a lot of tangled grey hair, a few black stumps of teeth, and had been married to him lately by an enterprising young missionary from Bukit Timah. What her appearance might have been once when Jorgenson gave for her three hundred dollars and several brass guns, it was impossible to say. All that was left of her youth was a pair of eyes, undimmed and mournful, which, when she was alone, seemed to look stonily into the past of two lives. When Jorgenson was near they followed his movements with anxious pertinacity. And now within the sarong thrown over the grey head they were dropping unseen tears while Jorgenson's girl rocked herself to and fro, squatting alone in a corner of the dark hut.

"Don't you worry about that," said Lingard, grasping Jorgenson's hand. "She shall want for nothing. All I expect you to do is to look a little after Belarab's morals when I am away. One more trip I must make, and then we shall be ready to go ahead. I've foreseen every single thing. Trust me!"

In this way did the restless shade of Captain H. C. Jorgenson recross the water of oblivion to step back into the life of men.


For two years, Lingard, who had thrown himself body and soul into the great enterprise, had lived in the long intoxication of slowly preparing success. No thought of failure had crossed his mind, and no price appeared too heavy to pay for such a magnificent achievement. It was nothing less than bringing Hassim triumphantly back to that country seen once at night under the low clouds and in the incessant tumult of thunder. When at the conclusion of some long talk with Hassim, who for the twentieth time perhaps had related the story of his wrongs and his struggle, he lifted his big arm and shaking his fist above his head, shouted: "We will stir them up. We will wake up the country!" he was, without knowing it in the least, making a complete confession of the idealism hidden under the simplicity of his strength. He would wake up the country! That was the fundamental and unconscious emotion on which were engrafted his need of action, the primitive sense of what was due to justice, to gratitude, to friendship, the sentimental pity for the hard lot of Immada—poor child—the proud conviction that of all the men in the world, in his world, he alone had the means and the pluck "to lift up the big end" of such an adventure.

Money was wanted and men were wanted, and he had obtained enough of both in two years from that day when, pistols in his belt and a cabbage-leaf hat on head, he had unexpectedly, and at early dawn, confronted in perfect silence that mysterious Belarab, who himself was for a moment too astounded for speech at the sight of a white face.

The sun had not yet cleared the forests of the interior, but a sky already full of light arched over a dark oval lagoon, over wide fields as yet full of shadows, that seemed slowly changing into the whiteness of the morning mist. There were huts, fences, palisades, big houses that, erected on lofty piles, were seen above the tops of clustered fruit trees, as if suspended in the air.

Such was the aspect of Belarab's settlement when Lingard set his eyes on it for the first time. There were all these things, a great number of faces at the back of the spare and muffled-up figure confronting him, and in the swiftly increasing light a complete stillness that made the murmur of the word "Marhaba" (welcome), pronounced at last by the chief, perfectly audible to every one of his followers. The bodyguards who stood about him in black skull-caps and with long-shafted lances, preserved an impassive aspect. Across open spaces men could be seen running to the waterside. A group of women standing on a low knoll gazed intently, and nothing of them but the heads showed above the unstirring stalks of a maize field. Suddenly within a cluster of empty huts near by the voice of an invisible hag was heard scolding with shrill fury an invisible young girl:

"Strangers! You want to see the strangers? O devoid of all decency! Must I so lame and old husk the rice alone? May evil befall thee and the strangers! May they never find favour! May they be pursued with swords! I am old. I am old. There is no good in strangers! O girl! May they burn."

"Welcome," repeated Belarab, gravely, and looking straight into Lingard's eyes.

Lingard spent six days that time in Belarab's settlement. Of these, three were passed in observing each other without a question being asked or a hint given as to the object in view. Lingard lounged on the fine mats with which the chief had furnished a small bamboo house outside a fortified enclosure, where a white flag with a green border fluttered on a high and slender pole but still below the walls of long, high-roofed buildings, raised forty feet or more on hard-wood posts.

Far away the inland forests were tinted a shimmering blue, like the forests of a dream. On the seaward side the belt of great trunks and matted undergrowth came to the western shore of the oval lagoon; and in the pure freshness of the air the groups of brown houses reflected in the water or seen above the waving green of the fields, the clumps of palm trees, the fenced-in plantations, the groves of fruit trees, made up a picture of sumptuous prosperity.

Above the buildings, the men, the women, the still sheet of water and the great plain of crops glistening with dew, stretched the exalted, the miraculous peace of a cloudless sky. And no road seemed to lead into this country of splendour and stillness. One could not believe the unquiet sea was so near, with its gifts and its unending menace. Even during the months of storms, the great clamour rising from the whitened expanse of the Shallows dwelt high in the air in a vast murmur, now feeble now stronger, that seemed to swing back and forth on the wind above the earth without any one being able to tell whence it came. It was like the solemn chant of a waterfall swelling and dying away above the woods, the fields, above the roofs of houses and the heads of men, above the secret peace of that hidden and flourishing settlement of vanquished fanatics, fugitives, and outcasts.

Every afternoon Belarab, followed by an escort that stopped outside the door, entered alone the house of his guest. He gave the salutation, inquired after his health, conversed about insignificant things with an inscrutable mien. But all the time the steadfast gaze of his thoughtful eyes seemed to seek the truth within that white face. In the cool of the evening, before the sun had set, they talked together, passing and repassing between the rugged pillars of the grove near the gate of the stockade. The escort away in the oblique sunlight, followed with their eyes the strolling figures appearing and vanishing behind the trees. Many words were pronounced, but nothing was said that would disclose the thoughts of the two men. They clasped hands demonstratively before separating, and the heavy slam of the gate was followed by the triple thud of the wooden bars dropped into iron clamps.

On the third night, Lingard was awakened from a light sleep by the sound of whispering outside. A black shadow obscured the stars in the doorway, and a man entering suddenly, stood above his couch while another could be seen squatting—a dark lump on the threshold of the hut.

"Fear not. I am Belarab," said a cautious voice.

"I was not afraid," whispered Lingard. "It is the man coming in the dark and without warning who is in danger."

"And did you not come to me without warning? I said 'welcome'—it was as easy for me to say 'kill him.'"

"You were within reach of my arm. We would have died together," retorted Lingard, quietly.

The other clicked his tongue twice, and his indistinct shape seemed to sink half-way through the floor.

"It was not written thus before we were born," he said, sitting cross-legged near the mats, and in a deadened voice. "Therefore you are my guest. Let the talk between us be straight like the shaft of a spear and shorter than the remainder of this night. What do you want?"

"First, your long life," answered Lingard, leaning forward toward the gleam of a pair of eyes, "and then—your help."


The faint murmur of the words spoken on that night lingered for a long time in Lingard's ears, more persistent than the memory of an uproar; he looked with a fixed gaze at the stars burning peacefully in the square of the doorway, while after listening in silence to all he had to say, Belarab, as if seduced by the strength and audacity of the white man, opened his heart without reserve. He talked of his youth surrounded by the fury of fanaticism and war, of battles on the hills, of advances through the forests, of men's unswerving piety, of their unextinguishable hate. Not a single wandering cloud obscured the gentle splendour of the rectangular patch of starlight framed in the opaque blackness of the hut. Belarab murmured on of a succession of reverses, of the ring of disasters narrowing round men's fading hopes and undiminished courage. He whispered of defeat and flight, of the days of despair, of the nights without sleep, of unending pursuit, of the bewildered horror and sombre fury, of their women and children killed in the stockade before the besieged sallied forth to die.

"I have seen all this before I was in years a man," he cried, low.

His voice vibrated. In the pause that succeeded they heard a light sigh of the sleeping follower who, clasping his legs above his ankles, rested his forehead on his knees.

"And there was amongst us," began Belarab again, "one white man who remained to the end, who was faithful with his strength, with his courage, with his wisdom. A great man. He had great riches but a greater heart."

The memory of Jorgenson, emaciated and grey-haired, and trying to borrow five dollars to get something to eat for the girl, passed before Lingard suddenly upon the pacific glitter of the stars.

"He resembled you," pursued Belarab, abruptly. "We escaped with him, and in his ship came here. It was a solitude. The forest came near to the sheet of water, the rank grass waved upon the heads of tall men. Telal, my father, died of weariness; we were only a few, and we all nearly died of trouble and sadness—here. On this spot! And no enemies could tell where we had gone. It was the Shore of Refuge—and starvation."

He droned on in the night, with rising and falling inflections. He told how his desperate companions wanted to go out and die fighting on the sea against the ships from the west, the ships with high sides and white sails; and how, unflinching and alone, he kept them battling with the thorny bush, with the rank grass, with the soaring and enormous trees. Lingard, leaning on his elbow and staring through the door, recalled the image of the wide fields outside, sleeping now, in an immensity of serenity and starlight. This quiet and almost invisible talker had done it all; in him was the origin, the creation, the fate; and in the wonder of that thought the shadowy murmuring figure acquired a gigantic greatness of significance, as if it had been the embodiment of some natural force, of a force forever masterful and undying.

"And even now my life is unsafe as if I were their enemy," said Belarab, mournfully. "Eyes do not kill, nor angry words; and curses have no power, else the Dutch would not grow fat living on our land, and I would not be alive to-night. Do you understand? Have you seen the men who fought in the old days? They have not forgotten the times of war. I have given them homes and quiet hearts and full bellies. I alone. And they curse my name in the dark, in each other's ears—because they can never forget."

This man, whose talk had been of war and violence, discovered unexpectedly a passionate craving for security and peace. No one would understand him. Some of those who would not understand had died. His white teeth gleamed cruelly in the dark. But there were others he could not kill. The fools. He wanted the land and the people in it to be forgotten as if they had been swallowed by the sea. But they had neither wisdom nor patience. Could they not wait? They chanted prayers five times every day, but they had not the faith.

"Death comes to all—and to the believers the end of trouble. But you white men who are too strong for us, you also die. You die. And there is a Paradise as great as all earth and all Heaven together, but not for you—not for you!"

Lingard, amazed, listened without a sound. The sleeper snored faintly. Belarab continued very calm after this almost involuntary outburst of a consoling belief. He explained that he wanted somebody at his back, somebody strong and whom he could trust, some outside force that would awe the unruly, that would inspire their ignorance with fear, and make his rule secure. He groped in the dark and seizing Lingard's arm above the elbow pressed it with force—then let go. And Lingard understood why his temerity had been so successful.

Then and there, in return for Lingard's open support, a few guns and a little money, Belarab promised his help for the conquest of Wajo. There was no doubt he could find men who would fight. He could send messages to friends at a distance and there were also many unquiet spirits in his own district ready for any adventure. He spoke of these men with fierce contempt and an angry tenderness, in mingled accents of envy and disdain. He was wearied by their folly, by their recklessness, by their impatience—and he seemed to resent these as if they had been gifts of which he himself had been deprived by the fatality of his wisdom. They would fight. When the time came Lingard had only to speak, and a sign from him would send them to a vain death—those men who could not wait for an opportunity on this earth or for the eternal revenge of Heaven.

He ceased, and towered upright in the gloom.

"Awake!" he exclaimed, low, bending over the sleeping man.

Their black shapes, passing in turn, eclipsed for two successive moments the glitter of the stars, and Lingard, who had not stirred, remained alone. He lay back full length with an arm thrown across his eyes.

When three days afterward he left Belarab's settlement, it was on a calm morning of unclouded peace. All the boats of the brig came up into the lagoon armed and manned to make more impressive the solemn fact of a concluded alliance. A staring crowd watched his imposing departure in profound silence and with an increased sense of wonder at the mystery of his apparition. The progress of the boats was smooth and slow while they crossed the wide lagoon. Lingard looked back once. A great stillness had laid its hand over the earth, the sky, and the men; upon the immobility of landscape and people. Hassim and Immada, standing out clearly by the side of the chief, raised their arms in a last salutation; and the distant gesture appeared sad, futile, lost in space, like a sign of distress made by castaways in the vain hope of an impossible help.

He departed, he returned, he went away again, and each time those two figures, lonely on some sandbank of the Shallows, made at him the same futile sign of greeting or good-bye. Their arms at each movement seemed to draw closer around his heart the bonds of a protecting affection. He worked prosaically, earning money to pay the cost of the romantic necessity that had invaded his life. And the money ran like water out of his hands. The owner of the New England voice remitted not a little of it to his people in Baltimore. But import houses in the ports of the Far East had their share. It paid for a fast prau which, commanded by Jaffir, sailed into unfrequented bays and up unexplored rivers, carrying secret messages, important news, generous bribes. A good part of it went to the purchase of the Emma.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse