« PreviousContinue »
the wharf, were he in league with the devil himself, would pay for all their sufferings, thought Ricardo with an unholy joy.) Meantime, splashing in the water which covered the bottom-boards, Ricardo congratulated himself aloud on the luggage being out of the way of the wet. He had piled it up forward. He had roughly tied up Pedro's head. Pedro had nothing to grumble about. On the contrary, he ought to be mighty thankful to him, Ricardo, for being alive at all. “Well, now, let me give you a leg up, sir,” he said cheerily to his motionless principal in the sternsheets. “All our troubles are over—for a time, anyhow. Ain't it luck to find a white man on this island I would have just as soon expected to meet an angel from heaven—eh, Mr. Jones 2 Now then— ready, sir? One, two, three, up you go!” Helped from below by Ricardo, and from above by the man more unexpected than an angel, Mr. Jones scrambled up and stood on the wharf by the side of Heyst. He swayed like a reed. The night descending on Samburan turned into dense shadow the point of land and the wharf itself, and gave a dark solidity to the unshimmering water extending to the last faint trace of light away to the west. Heyst stared at the guests whom the renounced world had sent him thus at the end of the day. The only other vestige of light left on earth lurked in the hollows of the thin man's eyes. They gleamed, mobile and languidly evasive. The eyelids fluttered. “You are feeling weak,” said Heyst. “For the moment, a little,” confessed the other. With loud panting, Ricardo scrambled on his hands and knees upon the wharf, energetic and unaided. He rose up at Heyst's elbow and stamped his foot on the planks, with a sharp, provocative, double beat, such as is heard sometimes in fencingschools before the adversaries engage their foils. Not that the renegade seaman Ricardo knew anything of fencing. What he called “shooting-irons” were his weapons, or the still less aristocratic knife, such as was even then ingeniously strapped to his leg. He thought of it, at that moment. A swift stooping motion, then, on the recovery, a ripping blow, a shove off the wharf, and no noise except a splash in the water that would scarcely disturb the silence. Heyst would have no time for a cry." It would be quick and neat, and immensely in accord with Ricardo’s humour. But he repressed this gust of savagery. The job was not such a simple one. This piece had to be played to another tune, and in much slower time. He returned to his note of talkative simplicity. / “Ay; and I too don't feel as strong as I thought I was when the first drink set me up. Great wonderworker water is! And to get it right here on the spot! It was heaven—hey, sir?” Mr. Jones, being directly addressed, took up his part in the concerted piece: “Really, when I saw a wharf on what might have been an uninhabited island, I couldn't believe my eyes. I doubted its existence. I thought it was a delusion, till the boat actually drove between the piles, as you see her lying now.” While he was speaking faintly, in a voice which did not seem to belong to the earth, his henchman, in extremely loud accents, was fussing about their belongings in the boat, speaking to Pedro. “Come, now—pass up the dunnage there! Move yourself, hombre, or I'll have to get down again and give you a tap on those bandages of yours, you growling bear, you!” “Ah! You didn't believe in the reality of the wharf 2 " Heyst was saying to Mr. Jones. “You ought to kiss my hands!” Ricardo caught hold of an ancient Gladstone bag and swung it on the wharf with a thump. “Yes! You ought to burn a candle before me as they do before the saints in your country. No saint has ever done so much for you as I have, you ungrateful vagabond. Now then! Up you get.”
Helped by the talkative Ricardo, Pedro scrambled up on the wharf, where he remained for some time on all fours, swinging to and fro his shaggy head tied up in white rags. Then he got up clumsily, like a bulky animal in the dusk, balancing itself on its hind legs. Mr. Jones began to explain languidly to Heyst that they were in a pretty bad state that morning, when they caught sight of the smoke of the volcano. It nerved them to make an effort for their lives. Soon afterward they made out the island. “I had just wits enough left in my baked brain to alter the direction of the boat,” the ghostly voice went on. “As to finding assistance, a wharf, a white man —nobody would have dreamed of it. Simply preposterous!” “That’s what I thought when my Chinaman came and told me he had seen a boat with white men pulling up,” said Heyst. “Most extraordinary luck,” interjected Ricardo, standing by anxiously attentive to every word. “Seems a dream,” he added. “A lovely dream!” A silence fell on that group of three, as if every one had become afraid to speak, in an obscure sense of an impending crisis. Pedro on one side of them and Wang on the other had the air of watchful spectators. A few stars had come out pursuing the
ebbing twilight. A light draught of air, tepid enough in the thickening twilight after the scorching day, struck a chill into Mr. Jones in his soaked clothes. “I may infer, then, that there is a settlement of white people here 2" he murmured, shivering visibly. Heyst roused himself. “Oh, abandoned, abandoned. I am alone here— practically alone; but several empty houses are still standing. No lack of accommodation. We may just as well—here, Wang, go back to the shore and run the trolley out here.” The last words having been spoken in Malay, he explained courteously that he had given directions for the transport of the luggage. Wang had melted into the night in his soundless manner. “My word! Rails laid down and all,” exclaimed Ricardo softly, in a tone of admiration. “Well, I never!” “We were working a coal-mine here,” said the late manager of the Tropical Belt Coal Company. “These are only the ghosts of things that have been.” Mr. Jones's teeth were suddenly started chattering by another faint puff of wind, a mere sigh from the west, where Venus cast her rays on the dark edge of the horizon, like a bright lamp hung above the grave of the sun. “We might be moving on,” proposed Heyst.