« PreviousContinue »
his usual time to go home to his Alfuro wife; but to be seen running is a sort of degradation for Wang, who has mastered the art of vanishing. Do you think he was startled out of his perfection by something?” “Why should he be startled?” Her voice remained dreamy, a little uncertain. “I have been startled,” Heyst said. She was not listening. The lantern at their feet threw the shadows of her face upward. Her eyes glistened, as if frightened and attentive, above a lighted chin and a very white throat. * “Upon my word,” mused Heyst, “now that I don't see them, I can hardly believe that those fellows exist!” “And what about me?” she asked, so swiftly that he made a movement like somebody pounced upon from an ambush. “When you don't see me, do you believe that I exist?” * “Exist? Most charmingly ! My dear Lena, you don't know your own advantages. Why, your voice alone would be enough to make you unforgettable!” “Oh, I didn’t mean forgetting in that way. I dare say if I were to die you would remember me right enough. And what good would that be to anybody? It's while I am alive that I want 5 * Heyst stood by her chair, a stalwart figure imperfectly lighted. The broad shoulders, the martial face that was like a disguise of his disarmed soul, were lost in the gloom above the plane of light in which his feet were planted. He suffered from a trouble with which she had nothing to do. She had no general conception of the conditions of the existence he had offered to her. Drawn into its peculiar stagnation she remained unrelated to it because of her ignorance. For instance, she could never perceive the prodigious improbability of the arrival of that boat. She did not seem to be thinking of it. Perhaps she had already forgotten the fact herself. And Heyst resolved suddenly to say nothing more of it. It was not that he shrank from alarming her. Not feeling anything definite himself he could not imagine a precise effect being produced on her by any amount of explanation. There is a quality in events which is apprehended differently by different minds or even by the same mind at different times. Any man living at all consciously knows that embarrassing truth. Heyst was aware that this visit could bode nothing pleasant. In his present soured temper towards all mankind he looked upon it as a visitation of a particularly offensive kind. He glanced along the verandah in the direction of the other bungalow. The fire of sticks in front of it had gone out. No faint glow of embers, not the slightest thread of light in that direction, hinted at the presence of strangers. The darker shapes in the obscurity, the dead silence, betrayed nothing of that strange intrusion. The peace of Samburan asserted itself as on any other night. Everything was as before, except—Heyst became aware of it suddenly—that for a whole minute, perhaps, with his hand on the back of the girl's chair and within a foot of her person, he had lost the sense of her existence, for the first time since he had brought her over to share this invincible, this undefiled peace. He picked up the lantern, and the act made a silent stir all along the verandah. A spoke of shadow swung swiftly across her face, and the strong light rested on the immobility of her features, as of a woman looking at a vision. Her eyes were still, her lips serious. Her dress, open at the neck, stirred slightly to her even breathing. “We had better go in, Lena,” suggested Heyst, very low, as if breaking a spell cautiously. She rose without a word. Heyst followed her indoors. As they passed through the living-room, he left the lantern burning on the centre table.
THAT night the girl woke up, for the first time in her new experience, with the sensation of having been abandoned to her own devices. She woke up from a painful dream of separation brought about in a way which she could not understand, and missed the relief of the waking instant. The desolate feeling of being alone persisted. She was really alone. A night-light made it plain enough in the dim, mysterious manner of a dream; but this was reality. It startled her exceedingly.
In a moment she was at the curtain that hung in the doorway, and raised it with a steady hand. The conditions of their life in Samburan would have made peeping absurd; nor was such a thing in her character. This was not a movement of curiosity, but of downright alarm—the continued distress and fear of the dream. The night could not have been very far advanced. The light in the lantern was burning strongly, striping the floor and walls of the room with thick black bands. She hardly knew whether she expected to see Heyst or not; but she saw him at once, standing by the table in his sleeping-suit, his back to the doorway. She stepped in noiselessly with her bare feet, and let the curtain fall behind her. Something characteristic in Heyst's attitude made ber say, almost in a whisper:
“You are looking for something.”
He could not have heard her before; but he didn't start at the unexpected whisper. He only pushed the drawer of the table in and, without even looking over his shoulder, asked quietly, accepting her presence as if he had been aware of all her movements:
“I say, are you certain that Wang didn't go through this room this evening?” “Wang? When?” | “After leaving the lantern, I mean.” “Oh, no. He ran on. I watched him.” “Or before, perhaps—while I was with these boat people? Do you know? Can you tell?” “I hardly think so. I came out as the sun went down, and sat outside till you came back to me.” “He could have popped in for an instant through the back verandah.” “I heard nothing in here,” she said. “What is the matter?” “Naturally you wouldn't hear. He can be as quiet as a shadow, when he likes. I believe he could steal the pillows from under our heads. He might have been here ten minutes ago.” “What woke you up? Was it a noise?” . “Can't say that. Generally one can’t tell; but is it likely, Lena? You are, I believe, the lighter sleeper of us two. A noise loud enough to wake me up would have awakened you, too. I tried to be as quiet as I could. What roused you?” “I don’t know—a dream, perhaps. I woke up crying.” “What was the dream?” Heyst, with one hand resting on the table, had turned in her direction, his round, uncovered head set on a fighter's muscular neck. She left his question unanswered, as if she had not heard it. “What is it you have missed?” she asked in her turn, very grave. Her dark hair, drawn smoothly back, was done in two thick tresses for the night. Heyst noticed the good form of her brow, the dignity of its width, its unshining whiteness. It was a sculptural forehead. He had a moment of acute appreciation intruding upon another order of thoughts. It was as if there could be no end of his discov. eries about that girl, at the most incongruous moments. She had on nothing but a hand-woven cotton sarong— one of Heyst's few purchases, years ago, in Celebes, where they are made. He had forgotten all about it till she came, and then had found it at the bottom of an old sandalwood trunk dating back to pre-Morrison days. She had quickly learned to wind it up under her armpits with a safe twist, as Malay village girls do when going down to bathe in a river. Her shoulders and arms were bare; one of her tresses, hanging forward, looked almost black against the white skin. As she was taller than the average Malay woman, the sarong ended a good way above her ankles. She stood poised firmly, halfway between the table and the curtained doorway, the insteps of her bare feet gleaming like marble on the over-shadowed matting of the floor. The fall of her lighted shoulders, the strong and fine modelling of her arms hanging down her sides, her immobility, too, had something statuesque, the charm of art tense with life. She was not very big—Heyst used to think of her, at first, as “that poor little girl”—but revealed free from the shabby banality of a white platform dress, in the simple drapery of the sarong, there was that in her form and in the proportions of her body which suggested a reduction from an heroic size. . She moved forward a step. “What is it you have missed?” she asked again. Heyst turned his back altogether on the table. The black spokes of darkness over the floor and the walls, joining up on the ceiling in a patch of shadow, were like the bars of a cage, about them. It was his turn to ignore