« PreviousContinue »
"No," she repeated. “What was it?" She waited. Then, rather with reluctance than shyness, she asked: “Were you thinking of me?"
"I was wondering when you would come out," said Heyst still without looking at the girl—to whom, after several experimental essays in combining detached letters and loose syllables, he had given the name of Lena.
She remarked after a pause: “I was not very far from you." “Apparently you were not near enough for me."
“You could have called if you wanted me," she said. “And I wasn't so long doing my hair.”
“Apparently it was too long for me.”
"Well, you were thinking of me, anyhow. I am glad of it. Do you know, it seems to me, somehow, that if you were to stop thinking of me I shouldn't be in the world at all!”
He turned round and looked at her. She often said things which surprised him. A vague smile faded away on her lips before his scrutiny.
“What is it?” he asked. “Is it a reproach?”
"A reproach! Why, how could it be?” she defended herself.
“Well, what did it mean?” he insisted.
"What I said just what I said. Why aren't you fair?”
"Ah, this at least is a reproach!"
"It looks as if you were trying to make out that I am disagreeable,” she murmured. “Am I? You
will make me afraid to open my mouth, presently. I shall end by believing I am no good.”
Her head drooped a little. He looked at her smooth, low brow, the faintly coloured cheeks and the red lips, parted slightly, with the gleam of her teeth within.
"And then I won't be any good," she added with conviction. “That I won't! I can only be what you think I am.”
He made a slight movement. She put her hand on his arm, without raising her head, and went on, her voice animated in the stillness of her body:
"It is so. It couldn't be any other way with a girl like me and a man like you. Here we are we two alone, and I can't even tell where we are."
“A very well-known spot of the globe,” Heyst uttered gently. “There must have been at least fifty thousand circulars issued at the time—a hundred and fifty thousand, more likely. My friend was looking after that, and his ideas were large and his belief very strong. Of us two it was he who had the faith. A hundred and fifty thousand, certainly.”
“What is it you mean?” she asked in a low tone.
“What should I find fault with you for?” Heyst went on. "For being amiable, good, gracious—and pretty?”
A silence fell. Then she said: "It's all right that you should think that of me. There's no one here to think anything of us, good or bad.”
The rare timbre of her voice gave a special value to what she uttered. The indefinable emotion which certain intonations gave him he was aware, was more physical than moral. Every time she spoke to him she seemed to abandon to him something of herself —something excessively subtle and inexpressible, to which he was infinitely sensible, which he would have missed horribly if she were to go away. While he was looking into her eyes she raised her bare forearm, out of the short sleeve, and held it in the air till he noticed it and hastened to pose his great bronze moustaches on the whiteness of the skin. Then they went in.
Wang immediately appeared in front, and, squatting on his heels, began to potter mysteriously about some plants at the foot of the veranda. When Heyst and the girl came out again, the Chinaman had gone in his peculiar manner, which suggested vanishing out of existence rather than out of sight, a process of evaporation rather than of movement. They descended the steps, looking at each other, and started off smartly across the cleared ground; but they were not ten yards away when, without perceptible stir or sound, Wang materialised inside the empty room. The Chinaman stood still with roaming eyes, examining the walls as if for signs, for inscriptions; exploring the floor as if for pitfalls, for dropped coins. Then he cocked his head slightly at the profile of Heyst's father, pen in hand above a white sheet of paper on a crimson tablecloth; and, moving forward noiselessly, began to clear away the breakfast things.
Though he proceeded without haste, the unerring precision of his movements, the absolute soundless
ness of the operation, gave it something of the quality of a conjuring trick. And, the trick having been performed, Wang vanished from the scene, to materialise presently in front of the house. He materialised walking away from it, with no visible or guessable intention, but at the end of some ten paces he stopped, made a half turn, and put his hand up to shade his eyes. The sun had topped the grey ridge of Samburan. The great morning shadow was gone; and far away in the devouring sunshine Wang was in time to see Number One and the woman, two remote white specks against the sombre line of the forest. In a moment they vanished. With the smallest display of action, Wang also vanished from the sunlight of the clearing.
Heyst and Lena entered the shade of the forest path which crossed the island, and which, near its highest point, had been blocked by felled trees. But their intention was not to go so far. After keeping to the path for some distance, they left it at a point where the forest was bare of undergrowth, and the trees, festooned with creepers, stood clear of one another in the gloom of their own making. Here and there great splashes of light lay on the ground. They moved, silent in the great stillness, breathing the calmness, the infinite isolation, the repose of a slumber without dreams. They emerged at the upper limit of vegetation, among some rocks; and in a depression of the sharp slope, like a small platform, they turned about and looked from on high over the sea, lonely, its colour effaced by sunshine, its horizon a heat mist, a mere unsubstantial shimmer in the pale
r hand on red
and blinding infinity overhung by the darker blaze of the sky,
“It makes my head swim,” the girl murmured, shutting her eyes and putting her hand on his shoulder.
Heyst, gazing fixedly to the southward, exclaimed: “Sail ho!” A moment of silence ensued.
"It must be very far away,” he went on. “I don't think you could see it. Some native craft making for the Moluccas, probably. Come, we mustn't stay here."
With his arm round her waist, he led her down a little distance, and they settled themselves in the shade; she seated on the ground, he a little lower, reclining at her feet.
"You don't like to look at the sea from up there?” he said after a time.
She shook her head. That empty space was to her the abomination of desolation. But she only said again:
"It makes my head swim.” “Too big?” he inquired.
"Too lonely. It makes my heart sink, too," she added in a low voice, as if confessing a secret.
“I am afraid,” said Heyst, “that you would be justified in reproaching me for these sensations. But what would you have?”
His tone was playful, but his eyes, directed at her face, were serious. She protested.
“I am not feeling lonely with you—not a bit. It