By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Tales of Unrest
Author: Conrad, Joseph
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tales of Unrest" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.


By Joseph Conrad

“Be it thy course to being giddy minds With foreign quarrels.”









Of the five stories in this volume, “The Lagoon,” the last in order,
is the earliest in date. It is the first short story I ever wrote and
marks, in a manner of speaking, the end of my first phase, the Malayan
phase with its special subject and its verbal suggestions. Conceived in
the same mood which produced “Almayer’s Folly” and “An Outcast of the
Islands,” it is told in the same breath (with what was left of it, that
is, after the end of “An Outcast”), seen with the same vision, rendered
in the same method--if such a thing as method did exist then in my
conscious relation to this new adventure of writing for print. I
doubt it very much. One does one’s work first and theorises about it
afterwards. It is a very amusing and egotistical occupation of no
use whatever to any one and just as likely as not to lead to false

Anybody can see that between the last paragraph of “An Outcast” and
the first of “The Lagoon” there has been no change of pen, figuratively
speaking. It happened also to be literally true. It was the same pen: a
common steel pen. Having been charged with a certain lack of emotional
faculty I am glad to be able to say that on one occasion at least I did
give way to a sentimental impulse. I thought the pen had been a good pen
and that it had done enough for me, and so, with the idea of keeping it
for a sort of memento on which I could look later with tender eyes, I
put it into my waistcoat pocket. Afterwards it used to turn up in all
sorts of places--at the bottom of small drawers, among my studs in
cardboard boxes--till at last it found permanent rest in a large wooden
bowl containing some loose keys, bits of sealing wax, bits of string,
small broken chains, a few buttons, and similar minute wreckage that
washes out of a man’s life into such receptacles. I would catch sight of
it from time to time with a distinct feeling of satisfaction till, one
day, I perceived with horror that there were two old pens in there. How
the other pen found its way into the bowl instead of the fireplace or
wastepaper basket I can’t imagine, but there the two were, lying side by
side, both encrusted with ink and completely undistinguishable from each
other. It was very distressing, but being determined not to share my
sentiment between two pens or run the risk of sentimentalising over
a mere stranger, I threw them both out of the window into a flower
bed--which strikes me now as a poetical grave for the remnants of one’s

But the tale remained. It was first fixed in print in the “Cornhill
Magazine”, being my first appearance in a serial of any kind; and I have
lived long enough to see it guyed most agreeably by Mr. Max Beerbohm
in a volume of parodies entitled “A Christmas Garland,” where I found
myself in very good company. I was immensely gratified. I began to
believe in my public existence. I have much to thank “The Lagoon” for.

My next effort in short-story writing was a departure--I mean a
departure from the Malay Archipelago. Without premeditation, without
sorrow, without rejoicing, and almost without noticing it, I stepped
into the very different atmosphere of “An Outpost of Progress.” I
found there a different moral attitude. I seemed able to capture new
reactions, new suggestions, and even new rhythms for my paragraphs. For
a moment I fancied myself a new man--a most exciting illusion. It clung
to me for some time, monstrous, half conviction and half hope as to its
body, with an iridescent tail of dreams and with a changeable head like
a plastic mask. It was only later that I perceived that in common with
the rest of men nothing could deliver me from my fatal consistency. We
cannot escape from ourselves.

“An Outpost of Progress” is the lightest part of the loot I carried
off from Central Africa, the main portion being of course “The Heart of
Darkness.” Other men have found a lot of quite different things there
and I have the comfortable conviction that what I took would not have
been of much use to anybody else. And it must be said that it was but
a very small amount of plunder. All of it could go into one’s breast
pocket when folded neatly. As for the story itself it is true enough in
its essentials. The sustained invention of a really telling lie demands
a talent which I do not possess.

“The Idiots” is such an obviously derivative piece of work that it is
impossible for me to say anything about it here. The suggestion of it
was not mental but visual: the actual idiots. It was after an interval
of long groping amongst vague impulses and hesitations which ended in
the production of “The Nigger” that I turned to my third short story in
the order of time, the first in this volume: “Karain: A Memory.”

Reading it after many years “Karain” produced on me the effect of
something seen through a pair of glasses from a rather advantageous
position. In that story I had not gone back to the Archipelago, I had
only turned for another look at it. I admit that I was absorbed by the
distant view, so absorbed that I didn’t notice then that the motif of
the story is almost identical with the motif of “The Lagoon.” However,
the idea at the back is very different; but the story is mainly made
memorable to me by the fact that it was my first contribution to
“Blackwood’s Magazine” and that it led to my personal acquaintance with
Mr. William Blackwood whose guarded appreciation I felt nevertheless
to be genuine, and prized accordingly. “Karain” was begun on a sudden
impulse only three days after I wrote the last line of “The Nigger,” and
the recollection of its difficulties is mixed up with the worries of
the unfinished “Return,” the last pages of which I took up again at the
time; the only instance in my life when I made an attempt to write with
both hands at once as it were.

Indeed my innermost feeling, now, is that “The Return” is a left-handed
production. Looking through that story lately I had the material
impression of sitting under a large and expensive umbrella in the loud
drumming of a heavy rain-shower. It was very distracting. In the general
uproar one could hear every individual drop strike on the stout and
distended silk. Mentally, the reading rendered me dumb for the remainder
of the day, not exactly with astonishment but with a sort of dismal
wonder. I don’t want to talk disrespectfully of any pages of mine.
Psychologically there were no doubt good reasons for my attempt; and it
was worth while, if only to see of what excesses I was capable in that
sort of virtuosity. In this connection I should like to confess my
surprise on finding that notwithstanding all its apparatus of
analysis the story consists for the most part of physical impressions;
impressions of sound and sight, railway station, streets, a trotting
horse, reflections in mirrors and so on, rendered as if for their
own sake and combined with a sublimated description of a desirable
middle-class town-residence which somehow manages to produce a sinister
effect. For the rest any kind word about “The Return” (and there have
been such words said at different times) awakens in me the liveliest
gratitude, for I know how much the writing of that fantasy has cost me
in sheer toil, in temper, and in disillusion.

J. C.




We knew him in those unprotected days when we were content to hold in
our hands our lives and our property. None of us, I believe, has any
property now, and I hear that many, negligently, have lost their lives;
but I am sure that the few who survive are not yet so dim-eyed as to
miss in the befogged respectability of their newspapers the intelligence
of various native risings in the Eastern Archipelago. Sunshine gleams
between the lines of those short paragraphs--sunshine and the glitter of
the sea. A strange name wakes up memories; the printed words scent the
smoky atmosphere of to-day faintly, with the subtle and penetrating
perfume as of land breezes breathing through the starlight of bygone
nights; a signal fire gleams like a jewel on the high brow of a sombre
cliff; great trees, the advanced sentries of immense forests, stand
watchful and still over sleeping stretches of open water; a line of
white surf thunders on an empty beach, the shallow water foams on the
reefs; and green islets scattered through the calm of noonday lie upon
the level of a polished sea, like a handful of emeralds on a buckler of

There are faces too--faces dark, truculent, and smiling; the frank
audacious faces of men barefooted, well armed and noiseless. They
thronged the narrow length of our schooner’s decks with their ornamented
and barbarous crowd, with the variegated colours of checkered sarongs,
red turbans, white jackets, embroideries; with the gleam of scabbards,
gold rings, charms, armlets, lance blades, and jewelled handles of their
weapons. They had an independent bearing, resolute eyes, a restrained
manner; and we seem yet to hear their soft voices speaking of battles,
travels, and escapes; boasting with composure, joking quietly; sometimes
in well-bred murmurs extolling their own valour, our generosity;
or celebrating with loyal enthusiasm the virtues of their ruler. We
remember the faces, the eyes, the voices, we see again the gleam of silk
and metal; the murmuring stir of that crowd, brilliant, festive, and
martial; and we seem to feel the touch of friendly brown hands that,
after one short grasp, return to rest on a chased hilt. They were
Karain’s people--a devoted following. Their movements hung on his lips;
they read their thoughts in his eyes; he murmured to them nonchalantly
of life and death, and they accepted his words humbly, like gifts of
fate. They were all free men, and when speaking to him said, “Your
slave.” On his passage voices died out as though he had walked guarded
by silence; awed whispers followed him. They called him their war-chief.
He was the ruler of three villages on a narrow plain; the master of
an insignificant foothold on the earth--of a conquered foothold that,
shaped like a young moon, lay ignored between the hills and the sea.

From the deck of our schooner, anchored in the middle of the bay, he
indicated by a theatrical sweep of his arm along the jagged outline
of the hills the whole of his domain; and the ample movement seemed to
drive back its limits, augmenting it suddenly into something so immense
and vague that for a moment it appeared to be bounded only by the sky.
And really, looking at that place, landlocked from the sea and shut off
from the land by the precipitous slopes of mountains, it was difficult
to believe in the existence of any neighbourhood. It was still,
complete, unknown, and full of a life that went on stealthily with a
troubling effect of solitude; of a life that seemed unaccountably empty
of anything that would stir the thought, touch the heart, give a hint of
the ominous sequence of days. It appeared to us a land without memories,
regrets, and hopes; a land where nothing could survive the coming of the
night, and where each sunrise, like a dazzling act of special creation,
was disconnected from the eve and the morrow.

Karain swept his hand over it. “All mine!” He struck the deck with his
long staff; the gold head flashed like a falling star; very close behind
him a silent old fellow in a richly embroidered black jacket alone of
all the Malays around did not follow the masterful gesture with a look.
He did not even lift his eyelids. He bowed his head behind his master,
and without stirring held hilt up over his right shoulder a long blade
in a silver scabbard. He was there on duty, but without curiosity, and
seemed weary, not with age, but with the possession of a burdensome
secret of existence. Karain, heavy and proud, had a lofty pose and
breathed calmly. It was our first visit, and we looked about curiously.

The bay was like a bottomless pit of intense light. The circular sheet
of water reflected a luminous sky, and the shores enclosing it made an
opaque ring of earth floating in an emptiness of transparent blue. The
hills, purple and arid, stood out heavily on the sky: their summits
seemed to fade into a coloured tremble as of ascending vapour; their
steep sides were streaked with the green of narrow ravines; at their
foot lay rice-fields, plantain-patches, yellow sands. A torrent wound
about like a dropped thread. Clumps of fruit-trees marked the villages;
slim palms put their nodding heads together above the low houses;
dried palm-leaf roofs shone afar, like roofs of gold, behind the dark
colonnades of tree-trunks; figures passed vivid and vanishing; the smoke
of fires stood upright above the masses of flowering bushes; bamboo
fences glittered, running away in broken lines between the fields. A
sudden cry on the shore sounded plaintive in the distance, and ceased
abruptly, as if stifled in the downpour of sunshine. A puff of breeze
made a flash of darkness on the smooth water, touched our faces, and
became forgotten. Nothing moved. The sun blazed down into a shadowless
hollow of colours and stillness.

It was the stage where, dressed splendidly for his part, he strutted,
incomparably dignified, made important by the power he had to awaken an
absurd expectation of something heroic going to take place--a burst of
action or song--upon the vibrating tone of a wonderful sunshine. He was
ornate and disturbing, for one could not imagine what depth of horrible
void such an elaborate front could be worthy to hide. He was not
masked--there was too much life in him, and a mask is only a lifeless
thing; but he presented himself essentially as an actor, as a human
being aggressively disguised. His smallest acts were prepared and
unexpected, his speeches grave, his sentences ominous like hints and
complicated like arabesques. He was treated with a solemn respect
accorded in the irreverent West only to the monarchs of the stage, and
he accepted the profound homage with a sustained dignity seen nowhere
else but behind the footlights and in the condensed falseness of some
grossly tragic situation. It was almost impossible to remember who he
was--only a petty chief of a conveniently isolated corner of Mindanao,
where we could in comparative safety break the law against the traffic
in firearms and ammunition with the natives. What would happen should
one of the moribund Spanish gun-boats be suddenly galvanized into a
flicker of active life did not trouble us, once we were inside the
bay--so completely did it appear out of the reach of a meddling world;
and besides, in those days we were imaginative enough to look with
a kind of joyous equanimity on any chance there was of being quietly
hanged somewhere out of the way of diplomatic remonstrance. As to
Karain, nothing could happen to him unless what happens to all--failure
and death; but his quality was to appear clothed in the illusion of
unavoidable success. He seemed too effective, too necessary there, too
much of an essential condition for the existence of his land and his
people, to be destroyed by anything short of an earthquake. He summed up
his race, his country, the elemental force of ardent life, of tropical
nature. He had its luxuriant strength, its fascination; and, like it, he
carried the seed of peril within.

In many successive visits we came to know his stage well--the purple
semicircle of hills, the slim trees leaning over houses, the yellow
sands, the streaming green of ravines. All that had the crude and
blended colouring, the appropriateness almost excessive, the suspicious
immobility of a painted scene; and it enclosed so perfectly the
accomplished acting of his amazing pretences that the rest of the world
seemed shut out forever from the gorgeous spectacle. There could be
nothing outside. It was as if the earth had gone on spinning, and had
left that crumb of its surface alone in space. He appeared utterly cut
off from everything but the sunshine, and that even seemed to be made
for him alone. Once when asked what was on the other side of the hills,
he said, with a meaning smile, “Friends and enemies--many enemies;
else why should I buy your rifles and powder?” He was always like
this--word-perfect in his part, playing up faithfully to the mysteries
and certitudes of his surroundings. “Friends and enemies”--nothing else.
It was impalpable and vast. The earth had indeed rolled away from under
his land, and he, with his handful of people, stood surrounded by a
silent tumult as of contending shades. Certainly no sound came from
outside. “Friends and enemies!” He might have added, “and memories,” at
least as far as he himself was concerned; but he neglected to make that
point then. It made itself later on, though; but it was after the
daily performance--in the wings, so to speak, and with the lights out.
Meantime he filled the stage with barbarous dignity. Some ten years ago
he had led his people--a scratch lot of wandering Bugis--to the conquest
of the bay, and now in his august care they had forgotten all the past,
and had lost all concern for the future. He gave them wisdom, advice,
reward, punishment, life or death, with the same serenity of attitude
and voice. He understood irrigation and the art of war--the qualities of
weapons and the craft of boat-building. He could conceal his heart; had
more endurance; he could swim longer, and steer a canoe better than any
of his people; he could shoot straighter, and negotiate more tortuously
than any man of his race I knew. He was an adventurer of the sea, an
outcast, a ruler--and my very good friend. I wish him a quick death in a
stand-up fight, a death in sunshine; for he had known remorse and power,
and no man can demand more from life. Day after day he appeared before
us, incomparably faithful to the illusions of the stage, and at sunset
the night descended upon him quickly, like a falling curtain. The seamed
hills became black shadows towering high upon a clear sky; above them
the glittering confusion of stars resembled a mad turmoil stilled by a
gesture; sounds ceased, men slept, forms vanished--and the reality
of the universe alone remained--a marvellous thing of darkness and


But it was at night that he talked openly, forgetting the exactions of
his stage. In the daytime there were affairs to be discussed in state.
There were at first between him and me his own splendour, my shabby
suspicions, and the scenic landscape that intruded upon the reality of
our lives by its motionless fantasy of outline and colour. His followers
thronged round him; above his head the broad blades of their spears made
a spiked halo of iron points, and they hedged him from humanity by the
shimmer of silks, the gleam of weapons, the excited and respectful hum
of eager voices. Before sunset he would take leave with ceremony, and go
off sitting under a red umbrella, and escorted by a score of boats.
All the paddles flashed and struck together with a mighty splash that
reverberated loudly in the monumental amphitheatre of hills. A broad
stream of dazzling foam trailed behind the flotilla. The canoes appeared
very black on the white hiss of water; turbaned heads swayed back and
forth; a multitude of arms in crimson and yellow rose and fell with
one movement; the spearmen upright in the bows of canoes had variegated
sarongs and gleaming shoulders like bronze statues; the muttered
strophes of the paddlers’ song ended periodically in a plaintive shout.
They diminished in the distance; the song ceased; they swarmed on the
beach in the long shadows of the western hills. The sunlight lingered on
the purple crests, and we could see him leading the way to his stockade,
a burly bareheaded figure walking far in advance of a straggling
cortege, and swinging regularly an ebony staff taller than himself. The
darkness deepened fast; torches gleamed fitfully, passing behind bushes;
a long hail or two trailed in the silence of the evening; and at last
the night stretched its smooth veil over the shore, the lights, and the

Then, just as we were thinking of repose, the watchmen of the schooner
would hail a splash of paddles away in the starlit gloom of the bay; a
voice would respond in cautious tones, and our serang, putting his head
down the open skylight, would inform us without surprise, “That Rajah,
he coming. He here now.” Karain appeared noiselessly in the doorway of
the little cabin. He was simplicity itself then; all in white; muffled
about his head; for arms only a kriss with a plain buffalo-horn handle,
which he would politely conceal within a fold of his sarong before
stepping over the threshold. The old sword-bearer’s face, the worn-out
and mournful face so covered with wrinkles that it seemed to look out
through the meshes of a fine dark net, could be seen close above his
shoulders. Karain never moved without that attendant, who stood or
squatted close at his back. He had a dislike of an open space
behind him. It was more than a dislike--it resembled fear, a nervous
preoccupation of what went on where he could not see. This, in view of
the evident and fierce loyalty that surrounded him, was inexplicable.
He was there alone in the midst of devoted men; he was safe from
neighbourly ambushes, from fraternal ambitions; and yet more than one of
our visitors had assured us that their ruler could not bear to be alone.
They said, “Even when he eats and sleeps there is always one on the
watch near him who has strength and weapons.” There was indeed always
one near him, though our informants had no conception of that watcher’s
strength and weapons, which were both shadowy and terrible. We knew, but
only later on, when we had heard the story. Meantime we noticed that,
even during the most important interviews, Karain would often give a
start, and interrupting his discourse, would sweep his arm back with
a sudden movement, to feel whether the old fellow was there. The old
fellow, impenetrable and weary, was always there. He shared his food,
his repose, and his thoughts; he knew his plans, guarded his secrets;
and, impassive behind his master’s agitation, without stirring the least
bit, murmured above his head in a soothing tone some words difficult to

It was only on board the schooner, when surrounded by white faces, by
unfamiliar sights and sounds, that Karain seemed to forget the strange
obsession that wound like a black thread through the gorgeous pomp of
his public life. At night we treated him in a free and easy manner,
which just stopped short of slapping him on the back, for there are
liberties one must not take with a Malay. He said himself that on such
occasions he was only a private gentleman coming to see other gentlemen
whom he supposed as well born as himself. I fancy that to the last he
believed us to be emissaries of Government, darkly official persons
furthering by our illegal traffic some dark scheme of high statecraft.
Our denials and protestations were unavailing. He only smiled with
discreet politeness and inquired about the Queen. Every visit began with
that inquiry; he was insatiable of details; he was fascinated by the
holder of a sceptre the shadow of which, stretching from the
westward over the earth and over the seas, passed far beyond his own
hand’s-breadth of conquered land. He multiplied questions; he could
never know enough of the Monarch of whom he spoke with wonder and
chivalrous respect--with a kind of affectionate awe! Afterwards, when we
had learned that he was the son of a woman who had many years ago ruled
a small Bugis state, we came to suspect that the memory of his mother
(of whom he spoke with enthusiasm) mingled somehow in his mind with the
image he tried to form for himself of the far-off Queen whom he called
Great, Invincible, Pious, and Fortunate. We had to invent details at
last to satisfy his craving curiosity; and our loyalty must be pardoned,
for we tried to make them fit for his august and resplendent ideal. We
talked. The night slipped over us, over the still schooner, over the
sleeping land, and over the sleepless sea that thundered amongst the
reefs outside the bay. His paddlers, two trustworthy men, slept in the
canoe at the foot of our side-ladder. The old confidant, relieved from
duty, dozed on his heels, with his back against the companion-doorway;
and Karain sat squarely in the ship’s wooden armchair, under the slight
sway of the cabin lamp, a cheroot between his dark fingers, and a glass
of lemonade before him. He was amused by the fizz of the thing, but
after a sip or two would let it get flat, and with a courteous wave of
his hand ask for a fresh bottle. He decimated our slender stock; but we
did not begrudge it to him, for, when he began, he talked well. He must
have been a great Bugis dandy in his time, for even then (and when we
knew him he was no longer young) his splendour was spotlessly neat,
and he dyed his hair a light shade of brown. The quiet dignity of
his bearing transformed the dim-lit cuddy of the schooner into an
audience-hall. He talked of inter-island politics with an ironic and
melancholy shrewdness. He had travelled much, suffered not a little,
intrigued, fought. He knew native Courts, European Settlements, the
forests, the sea, and, as he said himself, had spoken in his time to
many great men. He liked to talk with me because I had known some of
these men: he seemed to think that I could understand him, and, with
a fine confidence, assumed that I, at least, could appreciate how
much greater he was himself. But he preferred to talk of his native
country--a small Bugis state on the island of Celebes. I had visited it
some time before, and he asked eagerly for news. As men’s names came up
in conversation he would say, “We swam against one another when we were
boys”; or, “We hunted the deer together--he could use the noose and
the spear as well as I.” Now and then his big dreamy eyes would roll
restlessly; he frowned or smiled, or he would become pensive, and,
staring in silence, would nod slightly for a time at some regretted
vision of the past.

His mother had been the ruler of a small semi-independent state on the
sea-coast at the head of the Gulf of Boni. He spoke of her with pride.
She had been a woman resolute in affairs of state and of her own heart.
After the death of her first husband, undismayed by the turbulent
opposition of the chiefs, she married a rich trader, a Korinchi man
of no family. Karain was her son by that second marriage, but his
unfortunate descent had apparently nothing to do with his exile. He said
nothing as to its cause, though once he let slip with a sigh, “Ha!
my land will not feel any more the weight of my body.” But he related
willingly the story of his wanderings, and told us all about the
conquest of the bay. Alluding to the people beyond the hills, he would
murmur gently, with a careless wave of the hand, “They came over the
hills once to fight us, but those who got away never came again.” He
thought for a while, smiling to himself. “Very few got away,” he added,
with proud serenity. He cherished the recollections of his successes; he
had an exulting eagerness for endeavour; when he talked, his aspect was
warlike, chivalrous, and uplifting. No wonder his people admired him. We
saw him once walking in daylight amongst the houses of the settlement.
At the doors of huts groups of women turned to look after him, warbling
softly, and with gleaming eyes; armed men stood out of the way,
submissive and erect; others approached from the side, bending their
backs to address him humbly; an old woman stretched out a draped
lean arm--“Blessings on thy head!” she cried from a dark doorway;
a fiery-eyed man showed above the low fence of a plantain-patch a
streaming face, a bare breast scarred in two places, and bellowed out
pantingly after him, “God give victory to our master!” Karain walked
fast, and with firm long strides; he answered greetings right and left
by quick piercing glances. Children ran forward between the houses,
peeped fearfully round corners; young boys kept up with him, gliding
between bushes: their eyes gleamed through the dark leaves. The old
sword-bearer, shouldering the silver scabbard, shuffled hastily at his
heels with bowed head, and his eyes on the ground. And in the midst of a
great stir they passed swift and absorbed, like two men hurrying through
a great solitude.

In his council hall he was surrounded by the gravity of armed chiefs,
while two long rows of old headmen dressed in cotton stuffs squatted on
their heels, with idle arms hanging over their knees. Under the thatch
roof supported by smooth columns, of which each one had cost the life of
a straight-stemmed young palm, the scent of flowering hedges drifted in
warm waves. The sun was sinking. In the open courtyard suppliants walked
through the gate, raising, when yet far off, their joined hands above
bowed heads, and bending low in the bright stream of sunlight. Young
girls, with flowers in their laps, sat under the wide-spreading boughs
of a big tree. The blue smoke of wood fires spread in a thin mist above
the high-pitched roofs of houses that had glistening walls of woven
reeds, and all round them rough wooden pillars under the sloping eaves.
He dispensed justice in the shade; from a high seat he gave orders,
advice, reproof. Now and then the hum of approbation rose louder, and
idle spearmen that lounged listlessly against the posts, looking at
the girls, would turn their heads slowly. To no man had been given the
shelter of so much respect, confidence, and awe. Yet at times he would
lean forward and appear to listen as for a far-off note of discord, as
if expecting to hear some faint voice, the sound of light footsteps;
or he would start half up in his seat, as though he had been familiarly
touched on the shoulder. He glanced back with apprehension; his aged
follower whispered inaudibly at his ear; the chiefs turned their eyes
away in silence, for the old wizard, the man who could command ghosts
and send evil spirits against enemies, was speaking low to their ruler.
Around the short stillness of the open place the trees rustled faintly,
the soft laughter of girls playing with the flowers rose in clear bursts
of joyous sound. At the end of upright spear-shafts the long tufts of
dyed horse-hair waved crimson and filmy in the gust of wind; and beyond
the blaze of hedges the brook of limpid quick water ran invisible
and loud under the drooping grass of the bank, with a great murmur,
passionate and gentle.

After sunset, far across the fields and over the bay, clusters of
torches could be seen burning under the high roofs of the council shed.
Smoky red flames swayed on high poles, and the fiery blaze flickered
over faces, clung to the smooth trunks of palm-trees, kindled bright
sparks on the rims of metal dishes standing on fine floor-mats. That
obscure adventurer feasted like a king. Small groups of men crouched in
tight circles round the wooden platters; brown hands hovered over snowy
heaps of rice. Sitting upon a rough couch apart from the others, he
leaned on his elbow with inclined head; and near him a youth improvised
in a high tone a song that celebrated his valour and wisdom. The singer
rocked himself to and fro, rolling frenzied eyes; old women hobbled
about with dishes, and men, squatting low, lifted their heads to listen
gravely without ceasing to eat. The song of triumph vibrated in the
night, and the stanzas rolled out mournful and fiery like the thoughts
of a hermit. He silenced it with a sign, “Enough!” An owl hooted far
away, exulting in the delight of deep gloom in dense foliage; overhead
lizards ran in the attap thatch, calling softly; the dry leaves of the
roof rustled; the rumour of mingled voices grew louder suddenly. After
a circular and startled glance, as of a man waking up abruptly to the
sense of danger, he would throw himself back, and under the downward
gaze of the old sorcerer take up, wide-eyed, the slender thread of his
dream. They watched his moods; the swelling rumour of animated talk
subsided like a wave on a sloping beach. The chief is pensive. And above
the spreading whisper of lowered voices only a little rattle of weapons
would be heard, a single louder word distinct and alone, or the grave
ring of a big brass tray.


For two years at short intervals we visited him. We came to like him,
to trust him, almost to admire him. He was plotting and preparing a war
with patience, with foresight--with a fidelity to his purpose and with
a steadfastness of which I would have thought him racially incapable.
He seemed fearless of the future, and in his plans displayed a sagacity
that was only limited by his profound ignorance of the rest of the
world. We tried to enlighten him, but our attempts to make clear the
irresistible nature of the forces which he desired to arrest failed to
discourage his eagerness to strike a blow for his own primitive ideas.
He did not understand us, and replied by arguments that almost drove
one to desperation by their childish shrewdness. He was absurd and
unanswerable. Sometimes we caught glimpses of a sombre, glowing fury
within him--a brooding and vague sense of wrong, and a concentrated lust
of violence which is dangerous in a native. He raved like one inspired.
On one occasion, after we had been talking to him late in his campong,
he jumped up. A great, clear fire blazed in the grove; lights and
shadows danced together between the trees; in the still night bats
flitted in and out of the boughs like fluttering flakes of denser
darkness. He snatched the sword from the old man, whizzed it out of the
scabbard, and thrust the point into the earth. Upon the thin, upright
blade the silver hilt, released, swayed before him like something alive.
He stepped back a pace, and in a deadened tone spoke fiercely to the
vibrating steel: “If there is virtue in the fire, in the iron, in the
hand that forged thee, in the words spoken over thee, in the desire of
my heart, and in the wisdom of thy makers,--then we shall be victorious
together!” He drew it out, looked along the edge. “Take,” he said over
his shoulder to the old sword-bearer. The other, unmoved on his hams,
wiped the point with a corner of his sarong, and returning the weapon to
its scabbard, sat nursing it on his knees without a single look upwards.
Karain, suddenly very calm, reseated himself with dignity. We gave
up remonstrating after this, and let him go his way to an honourable
disaster. All we could do for him was to see to it that the powder was
good for the money and the rifles serviceable, if old.

But the game was becoming at last too dangerous; and if we, who had
faced it pretty often, thought little of the danger, it was decided for
us by some very respectable people sitting safely in counting-houses
that the risks were too great, and that only one more trip could be
made. After giving in the usual way many misleading hints as to our
destination, we slipped away quietly, and after a very quick passage
entered the bay. It was early morning, and even before the anchor went
to the bottom the schooner was surrounded by boats.

The first thing we heard was that Karain’s mysterious sword-bearer had
died a few days ago. We did not attach much importance to the news.
It was certainly difficult to imagine Karain without his inseparable
follower; but the fellow was old, he had never spoken to one of us, we
hardly ever had heard the sound of his voice; and we had come to
look upon him as upon something inanimate, as a part of our friend’s
trappings of state--like that sword he had carried, or the fringed red
umbrella displayed during an official progress. Karain did not visit us
in the afternoon as usual. A message of greeting and a present of fruit
and vegetables came off for us before sunset. Our friend paid us like a
banker, but treated us like a prince. We sat up for him till midnight.
Under the stern awning bearded Jackson jingled an old guitar and sang,
with an execrable accent, Spanish love-songs; while young Hollis and
I, sprawling on the deck, had a game of chess by the light of a cargo
lantern. Karain did not appear. Next day we were busy unloading, and
heard that the Rajah was unwell. The expected invitation to visit him
ashore did not come. We sent friendly messages, but, fearing to intrude
upon some secret council, remained on board. Early on the third day we
had landed all the powder and rifles, and also a six-pounder brass gun
with its carriage which we had subscribed together for a present for our
friend. The afternoon was sultry. Ragged edges of black clouds peeped
over the hills, and invisible thunderstorms circled outside, growling
like wild beasts. We got the schooner ready for sea, intending to leave
next morning at daylight. All day a merciless sun blazed down into the
bay, fierce and pale, as if at white heat. Nothing moved on the land.
The beach was empty, the villages seemed deserted; the trees far off
stood in unstirring clumps, as if painted; the white smoke of some
invisible bush-fire spread itself low over the shores of the bay like
a settling fog. Late in the day three of Karain’s chief men, dressed in
their best and armed to the teeth, came off in a canoe, bringing a case
of dollars. They were gloomy and languid, and told us they had not seen
their Rajah for five days. No one had seen him! We settled all accounts,
and after shaking hands in turn and in profound silence, they descended
one after another into their boat, and were paddled to the shore,
sitting close together, clad in vivid colours, with hanging heads: the
gold embroideries of their jackets flashed dazzlingly as they went
away gliding on the smooth water, and not one of them looked back once.
Before sunset the growling clouds carried with a rush the ridge of
hills, and came tumbling down the inner slopes. Everything disappeared;
black whirling vapours filled the bay, and in the midst of them the
schooner swung here and there in the shifting gusts of wind. A single
clap of thunder detonated in the hollow with a violence that seemed
capable of bursting into small pieces the ring of high land, and a warm
deluge descended. The wind died out. We panted in the close cabin; our
faces streamed; the bay outside hissed as if boiling; the water fell in
perpendicular shafts as heavy as lead; it swished about the deck, poured
off the spars, gurgled, sobbed, splashed, murmured in the blind night.
Our lamp burned low. Hollis, stripped to the waist, lay stretched out on
the lockers, with closed eyes and motionless like a despoiled corpse; at
his head Jackson twanged the guitar, and gasped out in sighs a mournful
dirge about hopeless love and eyes like stars. Then we heard startled
voices on deck crying in the rain, hurried footsteps overhead, and
suddenly Karain appeared in the doorway of the cabin. His bare breast
and his face glistened in the light; his sarong, soaked, clung about his
legs; he had his sheathed kriss in his left hand; and wisps of wet hair,
escaping from under his red kerchief, stuck over his eyes and down
his cheeks. He stepped in with a headlong stride and looking over his
shoulder like a man pursued. Hollis turned on his side quickly and
opened his eyes. Jackson clapped his big hand over the strings and the
jingling vibration died suddenly. I stood up.

“We did not hear your boat’s hail!” I exclaimed.

“Boat! The man’s swum off,” drawled out Hollis from the locker. “Look at

He breathed heavily, wild-eyed, while we looked at him in silence. Water
dripped from him, made a dark pool, and ran crookedly across the cabin
floor. We could hear Jackson, who had gone out to drive away our Malay
seamen from the doorway of the companion; he swore menacingly in the
patter of a heavy shower, and there was a great commotion on deck. The
watchmen, scared out of their wits by the glimpse of a shadowy figure
leaping over the rail, straight out of the night as it were, had alarmed
all hands.

Then Jackson, with glittering drops of water on his hair and beard, came
back looking angry, and Hollis, who, being the youngest of us, assumed
an indolent superiority, said without stirring, “Give him a dry
sarong--give him mine; it’s hanging up in the bathroom.” Karain laid
the kriss on the table, hilt inwards, and murmured a few words in a
strangled voice.

“What’s that?” asked Hollis, who had not heard.

“He apologizes for coming in with a weapon in his hand,” I said,

“Ceremonious beggar. Tell him we forgive a friend . . . on such a
night,” drawled out Hollis. “What’s wrong?”

Karain slipped the dry sarong over his head, dropped the wet one at
his feet, and stepped out of it. I pointed to the wooden armchair--his
armchair. He sat down very straight, said “Ha!” in a strong voice;
a short shiver shook his broad frame. He looked over his shoulder
uneasily, turned as if to speak to us, but only stared in a curious
blind manner, and again looked back. Jackson bellowed out, “Watch well
on deck there!” heard a faint answer from above, and reaching out with
his foot slammed-to the cabin door.

“All right now,” he said.

Karain’s lips moved slightly. A vivid flash of lightning made the
two round stern-ports facing him glimmer like a pair of cruel and
phosphorescent eyes. The flame of the lamp seemed to wither into brown
dust for an instant, and the looking-glass over the little sideboard
leaped out behind his back in a smooth sheet of livid light. The roll of
thunder came near, crashed over us; the schooner trembled, and the great
voice went on, threatening terribly, into the distance. For less than a
minute a furious shower rattled on the decks. Karain looked slowly from
face to face, and then the silence became so profound that we all could
hear distinctly the two chronometers in my cabin ticking along with
unflagging speed against one another.

And we three, strangely moved, could not take our eyes from him. He had
become enigmatical and touching, in virtue of that mysterious cause that
had driven him through the night and through the thunderstorm to the
shelter of the schooner’s cuddy. Not one of us doubted that we were
looking at a fugitive, incredible as it appeared to us. He was haggard,
as though he had not slept for weeks; he had become lean, as though
he had not eaten for days. His cheeks were hollow, his eyes sunk,
the muscles of his chest and arms twitched slightly as if after an
exhausting contest. Of course it had been a long swim off to the
schooner; but his face showed another kind of fatigue, the tormented
weariness, the anger and the fear of a struggle against a thought, an
idea--against something that cannot be grappled, that never rests--a
shadow, a nothing, unconquerable and immortal, that preys upon life. We
knew it as though he had shouted it at us. His chest expanded time after
time, as if it could not contain the beating of his heart. For a moment
he had the power of the possessed--the power to awaken in the beholders
wonder, pain, pity, and a fearful near sense of things invisible, of
things dark and mute, that surround the loneliness of mankind. His eyes
roamed about aimlessly for a moment, then became still. He said with

“I came here . . . I leaped out of my stockade as after a defeat. I ran
in the night. The water was black. I left him calling on the edge of
black water. . . . I left him standing alone on the beach. I swam . . .
he called out after me . . . I swam . . .”

He trembled from head to foot, sitting very upright and gazing straight
before him. Left whom? Who called? We did not know. We could not
understand. I said at all hazards--

“Be firm.”

The sound of my voice seemed to steady him into a sudden rigidity, but
otherwise he took no notice. He seemed to listen, to expect something
for a moment, then went on--

“He cannot come here--therefore I sought you. You men with white faces
who despise the invisible voices. He cannot abide your unbelief and your

He was silent for a while, then exclaimed softly--

“Oh! the strength of unbelievers!”

“There’s no one here but you--and we three,” said Hollis, quietly. He
reclined with his head supported on elbow and did not budge.

“I know,” said Karain. “He has never followed me here. Was not the wise
man ever by my side? But since the old wise man, who knew of my trouble,
has died, I have heard the voice every night. I shut myself up--for
many days--in the dark. I can hear the sorrowful murmurs of women, the
whisper of the wind, of the running waters; the clash of weapons in the
hands of faithful men, their footsteps--and his voice! . . . Near . . .
So! In my ear! I felt him near . . . His breath passed over my neck. I
leaped out without a cry. All about me men slept quietly. I ran to the
sea. He ran by my side without footsteps, whispering, whispering old
words--whispering into my ear in his old voice. I ran into the sea; I
swam off to you, with my kriss between my teeth. I, armed, I fled before
a breath--to you. Take me away to your land. The wise old man has died,
and with him is gone the power of his words and charms. And I can tell
no one. No one. There is no one here faithful enough and wise enough
to know. It is only near you, unbelievers, that my trouble fades like a
mist under the eye of day.”

He turned to me.

“With you I go!” he cried in a contained voice. “With you, who know so
many of us. I want to leave this land--my people . . . and him--there!”

He pointed a shaking finger at random over his shoulder. It was hard for
us to bear the intensity of that undisclosed distress. Hollis stared at
him hard. I asked gently--

“Where is the danger?”

“Everywhere outside this place,” he answered, mournfully. “In every
place where I am. He waits for me on the paths, under the trees, in the
place where I sleep--everywhere but here.”

He looked round the little cabin, at the painted beams, at the tarnished
varnish of bulkheads; he looked round as if appealing to all its shabby
strangeness, to the disorderly jumble of unfamiliar things that
belong to an inconceivable life of stress, of power, of endeavour, of
unbelief--to the strong life of white men, which rolls on irresistible
and hard on the edge of outer darkness. He stretched out his arms as if
to embrace it and us. We waited. The wind and rain had ceased, and the
stillness of the night round the schooner was as dumb and complete as if
a dead world had been laid to rest in a grave of clouds. We expected him
to speak. The necessity within him tore at his lips. There are those
who say that a native will not speak to a white man. Error. No man will
speak to his master; but to a wanderer and a friend, to him who does not
come to teach or to rule, to him who asks for nothing and accepts all
things, words are spoken by the camp-fires, in the shared solitude
of the sea, in riverside villages, in resting-places surrounded by
forests--words are spoken that take no account of race or colour. One
heart speaks--another one listens; and the earth, the sea, the sky, the
passing wind and the stirring leaf, hear also the futile tale of the
burden of life.

He spoke at last. It is impossible to convey the effect of his story. It
is undying, it is but a memory, and its vividness cannot be made clear
to another mind, any more than the vivid emotions of a dream. One must
have seen his innate splendour, one must have known him before--looked
at him then. The wavering gloom of the little cabin; the breathless
stillness outside, through which only the lapping of water against the
schooner’s sides could be heard; Hollis’s pale face, with steady dark
eyes; the energetic head of Jackson held up between two big palms, and
with the long yellow hair of his beard flowing over the strings of the
guitar lying on the table; Karain’s upright and motionless pose, his
tone--all this made an impression that cannot be forgotten. He faced
us across the table. His dark head and bronze torso appeared above the
tarnished slab of wood, gleaming and still as if cast in metal. Only
his lips moved, and his eyes glowed, went out, blazed again, or stared
mournfully. His expressions came straight from his tormented heart. His
words sounded low, in a sad murmur as of running water; at times they
rang loud like the clash of a war-gong--or trailed slowly like weary
travellers--or rushed forward with the speed of fear.


This is, imperfectly, what he said--

“It was after the great trouble that broke the alliance of the four
states of Wajo. We fought amongst ourselves, and the Dutch watched from
afar till we were weary. Then the smoke of their fire-ships was seen
at the mouth of our rivers, and their great men came in boats full of
soldiers to talk to us of protection and peace. We answered with caution
and wisdom, for our villages were burnt, our stockades weak, the people
weary, and the weapons blunt. They came and went; there had been much
talk, but after they went away everything seemed to be as before,
only their ships remained in sight from our coast, and very soon their
traders came amongst us under a promise of safety. My brother was a
Ruler, and one of those who had given the promise. I was young then,
and had fought in the war, and Pata Matara had fought by my side. We
had shared hunger, danger, fatigue, and victory. His eyes saw my danger
quickly, and twice my arm had preserved his life. It was his destiny. He
was my friend. And he was great amongst us--one of those who were near
my brother, the Ruler. He spoke in council, his courage was great,
he was the chief of many villages round the great lake that is in the
middle of our country as the heart is in the middle of a man’s body.
When his sword was carried into a campong in advance of his coming,
the maidens whispered wonderingly under the fruit-trees, the rich
men consulted together in the shade, and a feast was made ready with
rejoicing and songs. He had the favour of the Ruler and the affection of
the poor. He loved war, deer hunts, and the charms of women. He was the
possessor of jewels, of lucky weapons, and of men’s devotion. He was a
fierce man; and I had no other friend.

“I was the chief of a stockade at the mouth of the river, and collected
tolls for my brother from the passing boats. One day I saw a Dutch
trader go up the river. He went up with three boats, and no toll was
demanded from him, because the smoke of Dutch war-ships stood out from
the open sea, and we were too weak to forget treaties. He went up under
the promise of safety, and my brother gave him protection. He said
he came to trade. He listened to our voices, for we are men who speak
openly and without fear; he counted the number of our spears, he
examined the trees, the running waters, the grasses of the bank,
the slopes of our hills. He went up to Matara’s country and obtained
permission to build a house. He traded and planted. He despised our
joys, our thoughts, and our sorrows. His face was red, his hair like
flame, and his eyes pale, like a river mist; he moved heavily, and spoke
with a deep voice; he laughed aloud like a fool, and knew no courtesy
in his speech. He was a big, scornful man, who looked into women’s faces
and put his hand on the shoulders of free men as though he had been a
noble-born chief. We bore with him. Time passed.

“Then Pata Matara’s sister fled from the campong and went to live in the
Dutchman’s house. She was a great and wilful lady: I had seen her once
carried high on slaves’ shoulders amongst the people, with uncovered
face, and I had heard all men say that her beauty was extreme, silencing
the reason and ravishing the heart of the beholders. The people were
dismayed; Matara’s face was blackened with that disgrace, for she knew
she had been promised to another man. Matara went to the Dutchman’s
house, and said, ‘Give her up to die--she is the daughter of chiefs.’
The white man refused and shut himself up, while his servants kept
guard night and day with loaded guns. Matara raged. My brother called a
council. But the Dutch ships were near, and watched our coast greedily.
My brother said, ‘If he dies now our land will pay for his blood. Leave
him alone till we grow stronger and the ships are gone.’ Matara was
wise; he waited and watched. But the white man feared for her life and
went away.

“He left his house, his plantations, and his goods! He departed, armed
and menacing, and left all--for her! She had ravished his heart! From
my stockade I saw him put out to sea in a big boat. Matara and I
watched him from the fighting platform behind the pointed stakes. He sat
cross-legged, with his gun in his hands, on the roof at the stern of his
prau. The barrel of his rifle glinted aslant before his big red face.
The broad river was stretched under him--level, smooth, shining, like
a plain of silver; and his prau, looking very short and black from the
shore, glided along the silver plain and over into the blue of the sea.

“Thrice Matara, standing by my side, called aloud her name with grief
and imprecations. He stirred my heart. It leaped three times; and three
times with the eyes of my mind I saw in the gloom within the enclosed
space of the prau a woman with streaming hair going away from her land
and her people. I was angry--and sorry. Why? And then I also cried out
insults and threats. Matara said, ‘Now they have left our land their
lives are mind. I shall follow and strike--and, alone, pay the price of
blood.’ A great wind was sweeping towards the setting sun over the empty
river. I cried, ‘By your side I will go!’ He lowered his head in sign of
assent. It was his destiny. The sun had set, and the trees swayed their
boughs with a great noise above our heads.

“On the third night we two left our land together in a trading prau.

“The sea met us--the sea, wide, pathless, and without voice. A sailing
prau leaves no track. We went south. The moon was full; and, looking up,
we said to one another, ‘When the next moon shines as this one, we shall
return and they will be dead.’ It was fifteen years ago. Many moons have
grown full and withered and I have not seen my land since. We sailed
south; we overtook many praus; we examined the creeks and the bays; we
saw the end of our coast, of our island--a steep cape over a disturbed
strait, where drift the shadows of shipwrecked praus and drowned men
clamour in the night. The wide sea was all round us now. We saw a great
mountain burning in the midst of water; we saw thousands of islets
scattered like bits of iron fired from a big gun; we saw a long coast of
mountain and lowlands stretching away in sunshine from west to east.
It was Java. We said, ‘They are there; their time is near, and we shall
return or die cleansed from dishonour.’

“We landed. Is there anything good in that country? The paths run
straight and hard and dusty. Stone campongs, full of white faces, are
surrounded by fertile fields, but every man you meet is a slave. The
rulers live under the edge of a foreign sword. We ascended mountains,
we traversed valleys; at sunset we entered villages. We asked everyone,
‘Have you seen such a white man?’ Some stared; others laughed; women
gave us food, sometimes, with fear and respect, as though we had been
distracted by the visitation of God; but some did not understand our
language, and some cursed us, or, yawning, asked with contempt the
reason of our quest. Once, as we were going away, an old man called
after us, ‘Desist!’

“We went on. Concealing our weapons, we stood humbly aside before the
horsemen on the road; we bowed low in the courtyards of chiefs who were
no better than slaves. We lost ourselves in the fields, in the jungle;
and one night, in a tangled forest, we came upon a place where crumbling
old walls had fallen amongst the trees, and where strange stone
idols--carved images of devils with many arms and legs, with snakes
twined round their bodies, with twenty heads and holding a hundred
swords--seemed to live and threaten in the light of our camp fire.
Nothing dismayed us. And on the road, by every fire, in resting-places,
we always talked of her and of him. Their time was near. We spoke
of nothing else. No! not of hunger, thirst, weariness, and faltering
hearts. No! we spoke of him and her! Of her! And we thought of them--of
her! Matara brooded by the fire. I sat and thought and thought, till
suddenly I could see again the image of a woman, beautiful, and young,
and great and proud, and tender, going away from her land and her
people. Matara said, ‘When we find them we shall kill her first to
cleanse the dishonour--then the man must die.’ I would say, ‘It shall
be so; it is your vengeance.’ He stared long at me with his big sunken

“We came back to the coast. Our feet were bleeding, our bodies thin. We
slept in rags under the shadow of stone enclosures; we prowled, soiled
and lean, about the gateways of white men’s courtyards. Their hairy dogs
barked at us, and their servants shouted from afar, ‘Begone!’ Low-born
wretches, that keep watch over the streets of stone campongs, asked us
who we were. We lied, we cringed, we smiled with hate in our hearts,
and we kept looking here, looking there for them--for the white man with
hair like flame, and for her, for the woman who had broken faith, and
therefore must die. We looked. At last in every woman’s face I thought
I could see hers. We ran swiftly. No! Sometimes Matara would whisper,
‘Here is the man,’ and we waited, crouching. He came near. It was
not the man--those Dutchmen are all alike. We suffered the anguish of
deception. In my sleep I saw her face, and was both joyful and sorry
. . . . Why? . . . I seemed to hear a whisper near me. I turned swiftly.
She was not there! And as we trudged wearily from stone city to stone
city I seemed to hear a light footstep near me. A time came when I heard
it always, and I was glad. I thought, walking dizzy and weary in
sunshine on the hard paths of white men I thought, She is there--with
us! . . . Matara was sombre. We were often hungry.

“We sold the carved sheaths of our krisses--the ivory sheaths with
golden ferules. We sold the jewelled hilts. But we kept the blades--for
them. The blades that never touch but kill--we kept the blades for her.
. . . Why? She was always by our side. . . . We starved. We begged. We
left Java at last.

“We went West, we went East. We saw many lands, crowds of strange faces,
men that live in trees and men who eat their old people. We cut rattans
in the forest for a handful of rice, and for a living swept the decks of
big ships and heard curses heaped upon our heads. We toiled in villages;
we wandered upon the seas with the Bajow people, who have no country.
We fought for pay; we hired ourselves to work for Goram men, and were
cheated; and under the orders of rough white faces we dived for pearls
in barren bays, dotted with black rocks, upon a coast of sand and
desolation. And everywhere we watched, we listened, we asked. We asked
traders, robbers, white men. We heard jeers, mockery, threats--words of
wonder and words of contempt. We never knew rest; we never thought of
home, for our work was not done. A year passed, then another. I ceased
to count the number of nights, of moons, of years. I watched over
Matara. He had my last handful of rice; if there was water enough for
one he drank it; I covered him up when he shivered with cold; and when
the hot sickness came upon him I sat sleepless through many nights and
fanned his face. He was a fierce man, and my friend. He spoke of her
with fury in the daytime, with sorrow in the dark; he remembered her in
health, in sickness. I said nothing; but I saw her every day--always!
At first I saw only her head, as of a woman walking in the low mist on
a river bank. Then she sat by our fire. I saw her! I looked at her! She
had tender eyes and a ravishing face. I murmured to her in the night.
Matara said sleepily sometimes, ‘To whom are you talking? Who is there?’
I answered quickly, ‘No one’ . . . It was a lie! She never left me. She
shared the warmth of our fire, she sat on my couch of leaves, she swam
on the sea to follow me. . . . I saw her! . . . I tell you I saw her
long black hair spread behind her upon the moonlit water as she struck
out with bare arms by the side of a swift prau. She was beautiful, she
was faithful, and in the silence of foreign countries she spoke to me
very low in the language of my people. No one saw her; no one heard her;
she was mine only! In daylight she moved with a swaying walk before me
upon the weary paths; her figure was straight and flexible like the stem
of a slender tree; the heels of her feet were round and polished like
shells of eggs; with her round arm she made signs. At night she looked
into my face. And she was sad! Her eyes were tender and frightened; her
voice soft and pleading. Once I murmured to her, ‘You shall not die,’
and she smiled . . . ever after she smiled! . . . She gave me courage to
bear weariness and hardships. Those were times of pain, and she soothed
me. We wandered patient in our search. We knew deception, false hopes;
we knew captivity, sickness, thirst, misery, despair . . . . Enough! We
found them! . . .”

He cried out the last words and paused. His face was impassive, and he
kept still like a man in a trance. Hollis sat up quickly, and spread his
elbows on the table. Jackson made a brusque movement, and accidentally
touched the guitar. A plaintive resonance filled the cabin with confused
vibrations and died out slowly. Then Karain began to speak again. The
restrained fierceness of his tone seemed to rise like a voice from
outside, like a thing unspoken but heard; it filled the cabin and
enveloped in its intense and deadened murmur the motionless figure in
the chair.

“We were on our way to Atjeh, where there was war; but the vessel ran on
a sandbank, and we had to land in Delli. We had earned a little money,
and had bought a gun from some Selangore traders; only one gun, which
was fired by the spark of a stone; Matara carried it. We landed. Many
white men lived there, planting tobacco on conquered plains, and Matara
. . . But no matter. He saw him! . . . The Dutchman! . . . At last!
. . . We crept and watched. Two nights and a day we watched. He had a
house--a big house in a clearing in the midst of his fields; flowers and
bushes grew around; there were narrow paths of yellow earth between the
cut grass, and thick hedges to keep people out. The third night we came
armed, and lay behind a hedge.

“A heavy dew seemed to soak through our flesh and made our very entrails
cold. The grass, the twigs, the leaves, covered with drops of water,
were gray in the moonlight. Matara, curled up in the grass, shivered
in his sleep. My teeth rattled in my head so loud that I was afraid
the noise would wake up all the land. Afar, the watchmen of white men’s
houses struck wooden clappers and hooted in the darkness. And, as every
night, I saw her by my side. She smiled no more! . . . The fire of
anguish burned in my breast, and she whispered to me with compassion,
with pity, softly--as women will; she soothed the pain of my mind; she
bent her face over me--the face of a woman who ravishes the hearts
and silences the reason of men. She was all mine, and no one could see
her--no one of living mankind! Stars shone through her bosom, through
her floating hair. I was overcome with regret, with tenderness, with
sorrow. Matara slept . . . Had I slept? Matara was shaking me by the
shoulder, and the fire of the sun was drying the grass, the bushes, the
leaves. It was day. Shreds of white mist hung between the branches of

“Was it night or day? I saw nothing again till I heard Matara breathe
quickly where he lay, and then outside the house I saw her. I saw them
both. They had come out. She sat on a bench under the wall, and twigs
laden with flowers crept high above her head, hung over her hair. She
had a box on her lap, and gazed into it, counting the increase of her
pearls. The Dutchman stood by looking on; he smiled down at her; his
white teeth flashed; the hair on his lip was like two twisted flames.
He was big and fat, and joyous, and without fear. Matara tipped
fresh priming from the hollow of his palm, scraped the flint with his
thumb-nail, and gave the gun to me. To me! I took it . . . O fate!

“He whispered into my ear, lying on his stomach, ‘I shall creep close
and then amok . . . let her die by my hand. You take aim at the
fat swine there. Let him see me strike my shame off the face of the
earth--and then . . . you are my friend--kill with a sure shot.’ I said
nothing; there was no air in my chest--there was no air in the world.
Matara had gone suddenly from my side. The grass nodded. Then a bush
rustled. She lifted her head.

“I saw her! The consoler of sleepless nights, of weary days; the
companion of troubled years! I saw her! She looked straight at the place
where I crouched. She was there as I had seen her for years--a faithful
wanderer by my side. She looked with sad eyes and had smiling lips; she
looked at me . . . Smiling lips! Had I not promised that she should not

“She was far off and I felt her near. Her touch caressed me, and
her voice murmured, whispered above me, around me. ‘Who shall be thy
companion, who shall console thee if I die?’ I saw a flowering thicket
to the left of her stir a little . . . Matara was ready . . . I cried

“She leaped up; the box fell; the pearls streamed at her feet. The big
Dutchman by her side rolled menacing eyes through the still sunshine.
The gun went up to my shoulder. I was kneeling and I was firm--firmer
than the trees, the rocks, the mountains. But in front of the steady
long barrel the fields, the house, the earth, the sky swayed to and
fro like shadows in a forest on a windy day. Matara burst out of the
thicket; before him the petals of torn flowers whirled high as if driven
by a tempest. I heard her cry; I saw her spring with open arms in front
of the white man. She was a woman of my country and of noble blood. They
are so! I heard her shriek of anguish and fear--and all stood still! The
fields, the house, the earth, the sky stood still--while Matara leaped
at her with uplifted arm. I pulled the trigger, saw a spark, heard
nothing; the smoke drove back into my face, and then I could see Matara
roll over head first and lie with stretched arms at her feet. Ha! A sure
shot! The sunshine fell on my back colder than the running water. A sure
shot! I flung the gun after the shot. Those two stood over the dead man
as though they had been bewitched by a charm. I shouted at her, ‘Live
and remember!’ Then for a time I stumbled about in a cold darkness.

“Behind me there were great shouts, the running of many feet; strange
men surrounded me, cried meaningless words into my face, pushed me,
dragged me, supported me . . . I stood before the big Dutchman: he
stared as if bereft of his reason. He wanted to know, he talked fast,
he spoke of gratitude, he offered me food, shelter, gold--he asked many
questions. I laughed in his face. I said, ‘I am a Korinchi traveller
from Perak over there, and know nothing of that dead man. I was passing
along the path when I heard a shot, and your senseless people rushed
out and dragged me here.’ He lifted his arms, he wondered, he could not
believe, he could not understand, he clamoured in his own tongue! She
had her arms clasped round his neck, and over her shoulder stared back
at me with wide eyes. I smiled and looked at her; I smiled and waited to
hear the sound of her voice. The white man asked her suddenly. ‘Do you
know him?’ I listened--my life was in my ears! She looked at me long,
she looked at me with unflinching eyes, and said aloud, ‘No! I never saw
him before.’ . . . What! Never before? Had she forgotten already? Was
it possible? Forgotten already--after so many years--so many years
of wandering, of companionship, of trouble, of tender words! Forgotten
already! . . . I tore myself out from the hands that held me and went
away without a word . . . They let me go.

“I was weary. Did I sleep? I do not know. I remember walking upon a
broad path under a clear starlight; and that strange country seemed so
big, the rice-fields so vast, that, as I looked around, my head swam
with the fear of space. Then I saw a forest. The joyous starlight was
heavy upon me. I turned off the path and entered the forest, which was
very sombre and very sad.”


Karain’s tone had been getting lower and lower, as though he had been
going away from us, till the last words sounded faint but clear, as
if shouted on a calm day from a very great distance. He moved not. He
stared fixedly past the motionless head of Hollis, who faced him, as
still as himself. Jackson had turned sideways, and with elbow on the
table shaded his eyes with the palm of his hand. And I looked on,
surprised and moved; I looked at that man, loyal to a vision, betrayed
by his dream, spurned by his illusion, and coming to us unbelievers for
help--against a thought. The silence was profound; but it seemed full
of noiseless phantoms, of things sorrowful, shadowy, and mute, in
whose invisible presence the firm, pulsating beat of the two ship’s
chronometers ticking off steadily the seconds of Greenwich Time seemed
to me a protection and a relief. Karain stared stonily; and looking at
his rigid figure, I thought of his wanderings, of that obscure Odyssey
of revenge, of all the men that wander amongst illusions faithful,
faithless; of the illusions that give joy, that give sorrow, that give
pain, that give peace; of the invincible illusions that can make life
and death appear serene, inspiring, tormented, or ignoble.

A murmur was heard; that voice from outside seemed to flow out of a
dreaming world into the lamp-light of the cabin. Karain was speaking.

“I lived in the forest.

“She came no more. Never! Never once! I lived alone. She had forgotten.
It was well. I did not want her; I wanted no one. I found an abandoned
house in an old clearing. Nobody came near. Sometimes I heard in the
distance the voices of people going along a path. I slept; I rested;
there was wild rice, water from a running stream--and peace! Every night
I sat alone by my small fire before the hut. Many nights passed over my

“Then, one evening, as I sat by my fire after having eaten, I looked
down on the ground and began to remember my wanderings. I lifted my
head. I had heard no sound, no rustle, no footsteps--but I lifted my
head. A man was coming towards me across the small clearing. I waited.
He came up without a greeting and squatted down into the firelight. Then
he turned his face to me. It was Matara. He stared at me fiercely with
his big sunken eyes. The night was cold; the heat died suddenly out of
the fire, and he stared at me. I rose and went away from there, leaving
him by the fire that had no heat.

“I walked all that night, all next day, and in the evening made up a big
blaze and sat down--to wait for him. He had not come into the light.
I heard him in the bushes here and there, whispering, whispering.
I understood at last--I had heard the words before, ‘You are my
friend--kill with a sure shot.’

“I bore it as long as I could--then leaped away, as on this very night
I leaped from my stockade and swam to you. I ran--I ran crying like a
child left alone and far from the houses. He ran by my side, without
footsteps, whispering, whispering--invisible and heard. I sought
people--I wanted men around me! Men who had not died! And again we two
wandered. I sought danger, violence, and death. I fought in the Atjeh
war, and a brave people wondered at the valiance of a stranger. But we
were two; he warded off the blows . . . Why? I wanted peace, not life.
And no one could see him; no one knew--I dared tell no one. At times he
would leave me, but not for long; then he would return and whisper or
stare. My heart was torn with a strange fear, but could not die. Then I
met an old man.

“You all knew him. People here called him my sorcerer, my servant and
sword-bearer; but to me he was father, mother, protection, refuge and
peace. When I met him he was returning from a pilgrimage, and I heard
him intoning the prayer of sunset. He had gone to the holy place with
his son, his son’s wife, and a little child; and on their return, by
the favour of the Most High, they all died: the strong man, the young
mother, the little child--they died; and the old man reached his country
alone. He was a pilgrim serene and pious, very wise and very lonely.
I told him all. For a time we lived together. He said over me words of
compassion, of wisdom, of prayer. He warded from me the shade of the
dead. I begged him for a charm that would make me safe. For a long
time he refused; but at last, with a sigh and a smile, he gave me one.
Doubtless he could command a spirit stronger than the unrest of my dead
friend, and again I had peace; but I had become restless, and a lover of
turmoil and danger. The old man never left me. We travelled together.
We were welcomed by the great; his wisdom and my courage are remembered
where your strength, O white men, is forgotten! We served the Sultan
of Sula. We fought the Spaniards. There were victories, hopes, defeats,
sorrow, blood, women’s tears . . . What for? . . . We fled. We collected
wanderers of a warlike race and came here to fight again. The rest you
know. I am the ruler of a conquered land, a lover of war and danger,
a fighter and a plotter. But the old man has died, and I am again the
slave of the dead. He is not here now to drive away the reproachful
shade--to silence the lifeless voice! The power of his charm has died
with him. And I know fear; and I hear the whisper, ‘Kill! kill! kill!’
. . . Have I not killed enough? . . .”

For the first time that night a sudden convulsion of madness and rage
passed over his face. His wavering glances darted here and there like
scared birds in a thunderstorm. He jumped up, shouting--

“By the spirits that drink blood: by the spirits that cry in the night:
by all the spirits of fury, misfortune, and death, I swear--some day I
will strike into every heart I meet--I . . .”

He looked so dangerous that we all three leaped to our feet, and Hollis,
with the back of his hand, sent the kriss flying off the table. I
believe we shouted together. It was a short scare, and the next moment
he was again composed in his chair, with three white men standing over
him in rather foolish attitudes. We felt a little ashamed of ourselves.
Jackson picked up the kriss, and, after an inquiring glance at me, gave
it to him. He received it with a stately inclination of the head and
stuck it in the twist of his sarong, with punctilious care to give
his weapon a pacific position. Then he looked up at us with an austere
smile. We were abashed and reproved. Hollis sat sideways on the table
and, holding his chin in his hand, scrutinized him in pensive silence. I

“You must abide with your people. They need you. And there is
forgetfulness in life. Even the dead cease to speak in time.”

“Am I a woman, to forget long years before an eyelid has had the time
to beat twice?” he exclaimed, with bitter resentment. He startled me.
It was amazing. To him his life--that cruel mirage of love and
peace--seemed as real, as undeniable, as theirs would be to any saint,
philosopher, or fool of us all. Hollis muttered--

“You won’t soothe him with your platitudes.”

Karain spoke to me.

“You know us. You have lived with us. Why?--we cannot know; but you
understand our sorrows and our thoughts. You have lived with my people,
and you understand our desires and our fears. With you I will go. To
your land--to your people. To your people, who live in unbelief; to whom
day is day, and night is night--nothing more, because you understand all
things seen, and despise all else! To your land of unbelief, where the
dead do not speak, where every man is wise, and alone--and at peace!”

“Capital description,” murmured Hollis, with the flicker of a smile.

Karain hung his head.

“I can toil, and fight--and be faithful,” he whispered, in a weary tone,
“but I cannot go back to him who waits for me on the shore. No! Take me
with you . . . Or else give me some of your strength--of your unbelief.
. . . A charm! . . .”

He seemed utterly exhausted.

“Yes, take him home,” said Hollis, very low, as if debating with
himself. “That would be one way. The ghosts there are in society, and
talk affably to ladies and gentlemen, but would scorn a naked human
being--like our princely friend. . . . Naked . . . Flayed! I should say.
I am sorry for him. Impossible--of course. The end of all this shall
be,” he went on, looking up at us--“the end of this shall be, that some
day he will run amuck amongst his faithful subjects and send ‘ad patres’
ever so many of them before they make up their minds to the disloyalty
of knocking him on the head.”

I nodded. I thought it more than probable that such would be the end of
Karain. It was evident that he had been hunted by his thought along the
very limit of human endurance, and very little more pressing was needed
to make him swerve over into the form of madness peculiar to his race.
The respite he had during the old man’s life made the return of the
torment unbearable. That much was clear.

He lifted his head suddenly; we had imagined for a moment that he had
been dozing.

“Give me your protection--or your strength!” he cried. “A charm . . . a

Again his chin fell on his breast. We looked at him, then looked at one
another with suspicious awe in our eyes, like men who come unexpectedly
upon the scene of some mysterious disaster. He had given himself up to
us; he had thrust into our hands his errors and his torment, his life
and his peace; and we did not know what to do with that problem from the
outer darkness. We three white men, looking at the Malay, could not find
one word to the purpose amongst us--if indeed there existed a word that
could solve that problem. We pondered, and our hearts sank. We felt as
though we three had been called to the very gate of Infernal Regions to
judge, to decide the fate of a wanderer coming suddenly from a world of
sunshine and illusions.

“By Jove, he seems to have a great idea of our power,” whispered Hollis,
hopelessly. And then again there was a silence, the feeble plash of
water, the steady tick of chronometers. Jackson, with bare arms crossed,
leaned his shoulders against the bulkhead of the cabin. He was bending
his head under the deck beam; his fair beard spread out magnificently
over his chest; he looked colossal, ineffectual, and mild. There was
something lugubrious in the aspect of the cabin; the air in it seemed
to become slowly charged with the cruel chill of helplessness, with
the pitiless anger of egoism against the incomprehensible form of an
intruding pain. We had no idea what to do; we began to resent bitterly
the hard necessity to get rid of him.

Hollis mused, muttered suddenly with a short laugh, “Strength . . .
Protection . . . Charm.” He slipped off the table and left the cuddy
without a look at us. It seemed a base desertion. Jackson and I
exchanged indignant glances. We could hear him rummaging in his
pigeon-hole of a cabin. Was the fellow actually going to bed? Karain
sighed. It was intolerable!

Then Hollis reappeared, holding in both hands a small leather box. He
put it down gently on the table and looked at us with a queer gasp,
we thought, as though he had from some cause become speechless for a
moment, or were ethically uncertain about producing that box. But in
an instant the insolent and unerring wisdom of his youth gave him the
needed courage. He said, as he unlocked the box with a very small key,
“Look as solemn as you can, you fellows.”

Probably we looked only surprised and stupid, for he glanced over his
shoulder, and said angrily--

“This is no play; I am going to do something for him. Look serious.
Confound it! . . . Can’t you lie a little . . . for a friend!”

Karain seemed to take no notice of us, but when Hollis threw open the
lid of the box his eyes flew to it--and so did ours. The quilted crimson
satin of the inside put a violent patch of colour into the sombre
atmosphere; it was something positive to look at--it was fascinating.


Hollis looked smiling into the box. He had lately made a dash home
through the Canal. He had been away six months, and only joined us again
just in time for this last trip. We had never seen the box before. His
hands hovered above it; and he talked to us ironically, but his face
became as grave as though he were pronouncing a powerful incantation
over the things inside.

“Every one of us,” he said, with pauses that somehow were more offensive
than his words--“every one of us, you’ll admit, has been haunted by some
woman . . . And . . . as to friends . . . dropped by the way . . . Well!
. . . ask yourselves . . .”

He paused. Karain stared. A deep rumble was heard high up under the
deck. Jackson spoke seriously--

“Don’t be so beastly cynical.”

“Ah! You are without guile,” said Hollis, sadly. “You will learn . . .
Meantime this Malay has been our friend . . .”

He repeated several times thoughtfully, “Friend . . . Malay. Friend,
Malay,” as though weighing the words against one another, then went on
more briskly--

“A good fellow--a gentleman in his way. We can’t, so to speak, turn
our backs on his confidence and belief in us. Those Malays are easily
impressed--all nerves, you know--therefore . . .”

He turned to me sharply.

“You know him best,” he said, in a practical tone. “Do you think he is
fanatical--I mean very strict in his faith?”

I stammered in profound amazement that “I did not think so.”

“It’s on account of its being a likeness--an engraved image,” muttered
Hollis, enigmatically, turning to the box. He plunged his fingers into
it. Karain’s lips were parted and his eyes shone. We looked into the

There were there a couple of reels of cotton, a packet of needles, a bit
of silk ribbon, dark blue; a cabinet photograph, at which Hollis stole a
glance before laying it on the table face downwards. A girl’s portrait,
I could see. There were, amongst a lot of various small objects, a bunch
of flowers, a narrow white glove with many buttons, a slim packet of
letters carefully tied up. Amulets of white men! Charms and talismans!
Charms that keep them straight, that drive them crooked, that have the
power to make a young man sigh, an old man smile. Potent things that
procure dreams of joy, thoughts of regret; that soften hard hearts, and
can temper a soft one to the hardness of steel. Gifts of heaven--things
of earth . . .

Hollis rummaged in the box.

And it seemed to me, during that moment of waiting, that the cabin of
the schooner was becoming filled with a stir invisible and living as of
subtle breaths. All the ghosts driven out of the unbelieving West by men
who pretend to be wise and alone and at peace--all the homeless ghosts
of an unbelieving world--appeared suddenly round the figure of Hollis
bending over the box; all the exiled and charming shades of loved women;
all the beautiful and tender ghosts of ideals, remembered, forgotten,
cherished, execrated; all the cast-out and reproachful ghosts of friends
admired, trusted, traduced, betrayed, left dead by the way--they all
seemed to come from the inhospitable regions of the earth to crowd
into the gloomy cabin, as though it had been a refuge and, in all the
unbelieving world, the only place of avenging belief. . . . It lasted a
second--all disappeared. Hollis was facing us alone with something small
that glittered between his fingers. It looked like a coin.

“Ah! here it is,” he said.

He held it up. It was a sixpence--a Jubilee sixpence. It was gilt; it
had a hole punched near the rim. Hollis looked towards Karain.

“A charm for our friend,” he said to us. “The thing itself is of great
power--money, you know--and his imagination is struck. A loyal vagabond;
if only his puritanism doesn’t shy at a likeness . . .”

We said nothing. We did not know whether to be scandalized, amused, or
relieved. Hollis advanced towards Karain, who stood up as if startled,
and then, holding the coin up, spoke in Malay.

“This is the image of the Great Queen, and the most powerful thing the
white men know,” he said, solemnly.

Karain covered the handle of his kriss in sign of respect, and stared at
the crowned head.

“The Invincible, the Pious,” he muttered.

“She is more powerful than Suleiman the Wise, who commanded the genii,
as you know,” said Hollis, gravely. “I shall give this to you.”

He held the sixpence in the palm of his hand, and looking at it
thoughtfully, spoke to us in English.

“She commands a spirit, too--the spirit of her nation; a masterful,
conscientious, unscrupulous, unconquerable devil . . . that does a lot
of good--incidentally . . . a lot of good . . . at times--and wouldn’t
stand any fuss from the best ghost out for such a little thing as our
friend’s shot. Don’t look thunderstruck, you fellows. Help me to make
him believe--everything’s in that.”

“His people will be shocked,” I murmured.

Hollis looked fixedly at Karain, who was the incarnation of the very
essence of still excitement. He stood rigid, with head thrown back; his
eyes rolled wildly, flashing; the dilated nostrils quivered.

“Hang it all!” said Hollis at last, “he is a good fellow. I’ll give him
something that I shall really miss.”

He took the ribbon out of the box, smiled at it scornfully, then with a
pair of scissors cut out a piece from the palm of the glove.

“I shall make him a thing like those Italian peasants wear, you know.”

He sewed the coin in the delicate leather, sewed the leather to the
ribbon, tied the ends together. He worked with haste. Karain watched his
fingers all the time.

“Now then,” he said--then stepped up to Karain. They looked close
into one another’s eyes. Those of Karain stared in a lost glance, but
Hollis’s seemed to grow darker and looked out masterful and compelling.
They were in violent contrast together--one motionless and the colour
of bronze, the other dazzling white and lifting his arms, where the
powerful muscles rolled slightly under a skin that gleamed like satin.
Jackson moved near with the air of a man closing up to a chum in a tight
place. I said impressively, pointing to Hollis--

“He is young, but he is wise. Believe him!”

Karain bent his head: Hollis threw lightly over it the dark-blue ribbon
and stepped back.

“Forget, and be at peace!” I cried.

Karain seemed to wake up from a dream. He said, “Ha!” shook himself as
if throwing off a burden. He looked round with assurance. Someone on
deck dragged off the skylight cover, and a flood of light fell into the
cabin. It was morning already.

“Time to go on deck,” said Jackson.

Hollis put on a coat, and we went up, Karain leading.

The sun had risen beyond the hills, and their long shadows stretched
far over the bay in the pearly light. The air was clear, stainless, and
cool. I pointed at the curved line of yellow sands.

“He is not there,” I said, emphatically, to Karain. “He waits no more.
He has departed forever.”

A shaft of bright hot rays darted into the bay between the summits
of two hills, and the water all round broke out as if by magic into a
dazzling sparkle.

“No! He is not there waiting,” said Karain, after a long look over the
beach. “I do not hear him,” he went on, slowly. “No!”

He turned to us.

“He has departed again--forever!” he cried.

We assented vigorously, repeatedly, and without compunction. The great
thing was to impress him powerfully; to suggest absolute safety--the end
of all trouble. We did our best; and I hope we affirmed our faith in the
power of Hollis’s charm efficiently enough to put the matter beyond the
shadow of a doubt. Our voices rang around him joyously in the still air,
and above his head the sky, pellucid, pure, stainless, arched its tender
blue from shore to shore and over the bay, as if to envelop the water,
the earth, and the man in the caress of its light.

The anchor was up, the sails hung still, and half-a-dozen big boats were
seen sweeping over the bay to give us a tow out. The paddlers in the
first one that came alongside lifted their heads and saw their ruler
standing amongst us. A low murmur of surprise arose--then a shout of

He left us, and seemed straightway to step into the glorious splendour
of his stage, to wrap himself in the illusion of unavoidable success.
For a moment he stood erect, one foot over the gangway, one hand on the
hilt of his kriss, in a martial pose; and, relieved from the fear of
outer darkness, he held his head high, he swept a serene look over his
conquered foothold on the earth. The boats far off took up the cry of
greeting; a great clamour rolled on the water; the hills echoed it, and
seemed to toss back at him the words invoking long life and victories.

He descended into a canoe, and as soon as he was clear of the side we
gave him three cheers. They sounded faint and orderly after the wild
tumult of his loyal subjects, but it was the best we could do. He stood
up in the boat, lifted up both his arms, then pointed to the infallible
charm. We cheered again; and the Malays in the boats stared--very much
puzzled and impressed. I wondered what they thought; what he thought;
. . . what the reader thinks?

We towed out slowly. We saw him land and watch us from the beach. A
figure approached him humbly but openly--not at all like a ghost with
a grievance. We could see other men running towards him. Perhaps he had
been missed? At any rate there was a great stir. A group formed itself
rapidly near him, and he walked along the sands, followed by a growing
cortege and kept nearly abreast of the schooner. With our glasses we
could see the blue ribbon on his neck and a patch of white on his brown
chest. The bay was waking up. The smokes of morning fires stood in faint
spirals higher than the heads of palms; people moved between the houses;
a herd of buffaloes galloped clumsily across a green slope; the slender
figures of boys brandishing sticks appeared black and leaping in the
long grass; a coloured line of women, with water bamboos on their heads,
moved swaying through a thin grove of fruit-trees. Karain stopped in the
midst of his men and waved his hand; then, detaching himself from the
splendid group, walked alone to the water’s edge and waved his hand
again. The schooner passed out to sea between the steep headlands that
shut in the bay, and at the same instant Karain passed out of our life

But the memory remains. Some years afterwards I met Jackson, in the
Strand. He was magnificent as ever. His head was high above the crowd.
His beard was gold, his face red, his eyes blue; he had a wide-brimmed
gray hat and no collar or waistcoat; he was inspiring; he had just
come home--had landed that very day! Our meeting caused an eddy in the
current of humanity. Hurried people would run against us, then walk
round us, and turn back to look at that giant. We tried to compress
seven years of life into seven exclamations; then, suddenly appeased,
walked sedately along, giving one another the news of yesterday. Jackson
gazed about him, like a man who looks for landmarks, then stopped before
Bland’s window. He always had a passion for firearms; so he stopped
short and contemplated the row of weapons, perfect and severe, drawn up
in a line behind the black-framed panes. I stood by his side. Suddenly
he said--

“Do you remember Karain?”

I nodded.

“The sight of all this made me think of him,” he went on, with his face
near the glass . . . and I could see another man, powerful and bearded,
peering at him intently from amongst the dark and polished tubes
that can cure so many illusions. “Yes; it made me think of him,” he
continued, slowly. “I saw a paper this morning; they are fighting
over there again. He’s sure to be in it. He will make it hot for
the caballeros. Well, good luck to him, poor devil! He was perfectly

We walked on.

“I wonder whether the charm worked--you remember Hollis’s charm, of
course. If it did . . . Never was a sixpence wasted to better advantage!
Poor devil! I wonder whether he got rid of that friend of his. Hope so.
. . . Do you know, I sometimes think that--”

I stood still and looked at him.

“Yes . . . I mean, whether the thing was so, you know . . . whether it
really happened to him. . . . What do you think?”

“My dear chap,” I cried, “you have been too long away from home. What a
question to ask! Only look at all this.”

A watery gleam of sunshine flashed from the west and went out between
two long lines of walls; and then the broken confusion of roofs, the
chimney-stacks, the gold letters sprawling over the fronts of houses,
the sombre polish of windows, stood resigned and sullen under the
falling gloom. The whole length of the street, deep as a well and narrow
like a corridor, was full of a sombre and ceaseless stir. Our ears
were filled by a headlong shuffle and beat of rapid footsteps and by
an underlying rumour--a rumour vast, faint, pulsating, as of panting
breaths, of beating hearts, of gasping voices. Innumerable eyes stared
straight in front, feet moved hurriedly, blank faces flowed, arms swung.
Over all, a narrow ragged strip of smoky sky wound about between the
high roofs, extended and motionless, like a soiled streamer flying above
the rout of a mob.

“Ye-e-e-s,” said Jackson, meditatively.

The big wheels of hansoms turned slowly along the edge of side-walks;
a pale-faced youth strolled, overcome by weariness, by the side of his
stick and with the tails of his overcoat flapping gently near his heels;
horses stepped gingerly on the greasy pavement, tossing their heads; two
young girls passed by, talking vivaciously and with shining eyes; a fine
old fellow strutted, red-faced, stroking a white moustache; and a line
of yellow boards with blue letters on them approached us slowly, tossing
on high behind one another like some queer wreckage adrift upon a river
of hats.

“Ye-e-es,” repeated Jackson. His clear blue eyes looked about,
contemptuous, amused and hard, like the eyes of a boy. A clumsy string
of red, yellow, and green omnibuses rolled swaying, monstrous and gaudy;
two shabby children ran across the road; a knot of dirty men with
red neckerchiefs round their bare throats lurched along, discussing
filthily; a ragged old man with a face of despair yelled horribly in
the mud the name of a paper; while far off, amongst the tossing heads of
horses, the dull flash of harnesses, the jumble of lustrous panels
and roofs of carriages, we could see a policeman, helmeted and dark,
stretching out a rigid arm at the crossing of the streets.

“Yes; I see it,” said Jackson, slowly. “It is there; it pants, it runs,
it rolls; it is strong and alive; it would smash you if you didn’t look
out; but I’ll be hanged if it is yet as real to me as . . . as the other
thing . . . say, Karain’s story.”

I think that, decidedly, he had been too long away from home.


We were driving along the road from Treguier to Kervanda. We passed at a
smart trot between the hedges topping an earth wall on each side of
the road; then at the foot of the steep ascent before Ploumar the horse
dropped into a walk, and the driver jumped down heavily from the box.
He flicked his whip and climbed the incline, stepping clumsily uphill
by the side of the carriage, one hand on the footboard, his eyes on the
ground. After a while he lifted his head, pointed up the road with the
end of the whip, and said--

“The idiot!”

The sun was shining violently upon the undulating surface of the land.
The rises were topped by clumps of meagre trees, with their branches
showing high on the sky as if they had been perched upon stilts. The
small fields, cut up by hedges and stone walls that zig-zagged over
the slopes, lay in rectangular patches of vivid greens and yellows,
resembling the unskilful daubs of a naive picture. And the landscape was
divided in two by the white streak of a road stretching in long loops
far away, like a river of dust crawling out of the hills on its way to
the sea.

“Here he is,” said the driver, again.

In the long grass bordering the road a face glided past the carriage
at the level of the wheels as we drove slowly by. The imbecile face was
red, and the bullet head with close-cropped hair seemed to lie alone,
its chin in the dust. The body was lost in the bushes growing thick
along the bottom of the deep ditch.

It was a boy’s face. He might have been sixteen, judging from the
size--perhaps less, perhaps more. Such creatures are forgotten by
time, and live untouched by years till death gathers them up into its
compassionate bosom; the faithful death that never forgets in the press
of work the most insignificant of its children.

“Ah! there’s another,” said the man, with a certain satisfaction in his
tone, as if he had caught sight of something expected.

There was another. That one stood nearly in the middle of the road in
the blaze of sunshine at the end of his own short shadow. And he stood
with hands pushed into the opposite sleeves of his long coat, his head
sunk between the shoulders, all hunched up in the flood of heat. From a
distance he had the aspect of one suffering from intense cold.

“Those are twins,” explained the driver.

The idiot shuffled two paces out of the way and looked at us over his
shoulder when we brushed past him. The glance was unseeing and staring,
a fascinated glance; but he did not turn to look after us. Probably the
image passed before the eyes without leaving any trace on the misshapen
brain of the creature. When we had topped the ascent I looked over the
hood. He stood in the road just where we had left him.

The driver clambered into his seat, clicked his tongue, and we went
downhill. The brake squeaked horribly from time to time. At the foot he
eased off the noisy mechanism and said, turning half round on his box--

“We shall see some more of them by-and-by.”

“More idiots? How many of them are there, then?” I asked.

“There’s four of them--children of a farmer near Ploumar here. . . . The
parents are dead now,” he added, after a while. “The grandmother lives
on the farm. In the daytime they knock about on this road, and they come
home at dusk along with the cattle. . . . It’s a good farm.”

We saw the other two: a boy and a girl, as the driver said. They were
dressed exactly alike, in shapeless garments with petticoat-like skirts.
The imperfect thing that lived within them moved those beings to howl
at us from the top of the bank, where they sprawled amongst the tough
stalks of furze. Their cropped black heads stuck out from the bright
yellow wall of countless small blossoms. The faces were purple with
the strain of yelling; the voices sounded blank and cracked like a
mechanical imitation of old people’s voices; and suddenly ceased when we
turned into a lane.

I saw them many times in my wandering about the country. They lived on
that road, drifting along its length here and there, according to the
inexplicable impulses of their monstrous darkness. They were an
offence to the sunshine, a reproach to empty heaven, a blight on the
concentrated and purposeful vigour of the wild landscape. In time the
story of their parents shaped itself before me out of the listless
answers to my questions, out of the indifferent words heard in wayside
inns or on the very road those idiots haunted. Some of it was told by
an emaciated and sceptical old fellow with a tremendous whip, while we
trudged together over the sands by the side of a two-wheeled cart loaded
with dripping seaweed. Then at other times other people confirmed and
completed the story: till it stood at last before me, a tale formidable
and simple, as they always are, those disclosures of obscure trials
endured by ignorant hearts.

When he returned from his military service Jean-Pierre Bacadou found the
old people very much aged. He remarked with pain that the work of the
farm was not satisfactorily done. The father had not the energy of
old days. The hands did not feel over them the eye of the master.
Jean-Pierre noted with sorrow that the heap of manure in the courtyard
before the only entrance to the house was not so large as it should
have been. The fences were out of repair, and the cattle suffered from
neglect. At home the mother was practically bedridden, and the girls
chattered loudly in the big kitchen, unrebuked, from morning to night.
He said to himself: “We must change all this.” He talked the matter over
with his father one evening when the rays of the setting sun entering
the yard between the outhouses ruled the heavy shadows with luminous
streaks. Over the manure heap floated a mist, opal-tinted and odorous,
and the marauding hens would stop in their scratching to examine with
a sudden glance of their round eye the two men, both lean and tall,
talking in hoarse tones. The old man, all twisted with rheumatism and
bowed with years of work, the younger bony and straight, spoke without
gestures in the indifferent manner of peasants, grave and slow.
But before the sun had set the father had submitted to the sensible
arguments of the son. “It is not for me that I am speaking,” insisted
Jean-Pierre. “It is for the land. It’s a pity to see it badly used. I am
not impatient for myself.” The old fellow nodded over his stick. “I dare
say; I dare say,” he muttered. “You may be right. Do what you like. It’s
the mother that will be pleased.”

The mother was pleased with her daughter-in-law. Jean-Pierre brought
the two-wheeled spring-cart with a rush into the yard. The gray horse
galloped clumsily, and the bride and bridegroom, sitting side by side,
were jerked backwards and forwards by the up and down motion of the
shafts, in a manner regular and brusque. On the road the distanced
wedding guests straggled in pairs and groups. The men advanced with
heavy steps, swinging their idle arms. They were clad in town clothes;
jackets cut with clumsy smartness, hard black hats, immense boots,
polished highly. Their women all in simple black, with white caps and
shawls of faded tints folded triangularly on the back, strolled lightly
by their side. In front the violin sang a strident tune, and the biniou
snored and hummed, while the player capered solemnly, lifting high his
heavy clogs. The sombre procession drifted in and out of the narrow
lanes, through sunshine and through shade, between fields and hedgerows,
scaring the little birds that darted away in troops right and left. In
the yard of Bacadou’s farm the dark ribbon wound itself up into a mass
of men and women pushing at the door with cries and greetings. The
wedding dinner was remembered for months. It was a splendid feast in the
orchard. Farmers of considerable means and excellent repute were to be
found sleeping in ditches, all along the road to Treguier, even as late
as the afternoon of the next day. All the countryside participated in
the happiness of Jean-Pierre. He remained sober, and, together with his
quiet wife, kept out of the way, letting father and mother reap their
due of honour and thanks. But the next day he took hold strongly, and
the old folks felt a shadow--precursor of the grave--fall upon them
finally. The world is to the young.

When the twins were born there was plenty of room in the house, for the
mother of Jean-Pierre had gone away to dwell under a heavy stone in the
cemetery of Ploumar. On that day, for the first time since his son’s
marriage, the elder Bacadou, neglected by the cackling lot of strange
women who thronged the kitchen, left in the morning his seat under the
mantel of the fireplace, and went into the empty cow-house, shaking his
white locks dismally. Grandsons were all very well, but he wanted his
soup at midday. When shown the babies, he stared at them with a fixed
gaze, and muttered something like: “It’s too much.” Whether he meant too
much happiness, or simply commented upon the number of his descendants,
it is impossible to say. He looked offended--as far as his old wooden
face could express anything; and for days afterwards could be seen,
almost any time of the day, sitting at the gate, with his nose over his
knees, a pipe between his gums, and gathered up into a kind of raging
concentrated sulkiness. Once he spoke to his son, alluding to the
newcomers with a groan: “They will quarrel over the land.” “Don’t bother
about that, father,” answered Jean-Pierre, stolidly, and passed, bent
double, towing a recalcitrant cow over his shoulder.

He was happy, and so was Susan, his wife. It was not an ethereal joy
welcoming new souls to struggle, perchance to victory. In fourteen years
both boys would be a help; and, later on, Jean-Pierre pictured two big
sons striding over the land from patch to patch, wringing tribute from
the earth beloved and fruitful. Susan was happy too, for she did not
want to be spoken of as the unfortunate woman, and now she had children
no one could call her that. Both herself and her husband had seen
something of the larger world--he during the time of his service; while
she had spent a year or so in Paris with a Breton family; but had been
too home-sick to remain longer away from the hilly and green country,
set in a barren circle of rocks and sands, where she had been born.
She thought that one of the boys ought perhaps to be a priest, but said
nothing to her husband, who was a republican, and hated the “crows,”
 as he called the ministers of religion. The christening was a splendid
affair. All the commune came to it, for the Bacadous were rich
and influential, and, now and then, did not mind the expense. The
grandfather had a new coat.

Some months afterwards, one evening when the kitchen had been swept,
and the door locked, Jean-Pierre, looking at the cot, asked his wife:
“What’s the matter with those children?” And, as if these words, spoken
calmly, had been the portent of misfortune, she answered with a loud
wail that must have been heard across the yard in the pig-sty; for
the pigs (the Bacadous had the finest pigs in the country) stirred and
grunted complainingly in the night. The husband went on grinding his
bread and butter slowly, gazing at the wall, the soup-plate smoking
under his chin. He had returned late from the market, where he had
overheard (not for the first time) whispers behind his back. He revolved
the words in his mind as he drove back. “Simple! Both of them. . . .
Never any use! . . . Well! May be, may be. One must see. Would ask his
wife.” This was her answer. He felt like a blow on his chest, but said
only: “Go, draw me some cider. I am thirsty!”

She went out moaning, an empty jug in her hand. Then he arose, took up
the light, and moved slowly towards the cradle. They slept. He looked at
them sideways, finished his mouthful there, went back heavily, and sat
down before his plate. When his wife returned he never looked up,
but swallowed a couple of spoonfuls noisily, and remarked, in a dull

“When they sleep they are like other people’s children.”

She sat down suddenly on a stool near by, and shook with a silent
tempest of sobs, unable to speak. He finished his meal, and remained
idly thrown back in his chair, his eyes lost amongst the black rafters
of the ceiling. Before him the tallow candle flared red and straight,
sending up a slender thread of smoke. The light lay on the rough,
sunburnt skin of his throat; the sunk cheeks were like patches of
darkness, and his aspect was mournfully stolid, as if he had ruminated
with difficulty endless ideas. Then he said, deliberately--

“We must see . . . consult people. Don’t cry. . . . They won’t all be
like that . . . surely! We must sleep now.”

After the third child, also a boy, was born, Jean-Pierre went about his
work with tense hopefulness. His lips seemed more narrow, more tightly
compressed than before; as if for fear of letting the earth he tilled
hear the voice of hope that murmured within his breast. He watched the
child, stepping up to the cot with a heavy clang of sabots on the stone
floor, and glanced in, along his shoulder, with that indifference which
is like a deformity of peasant humanity. Like the earth they master and
serve, those men, slow of eye and speech, do not show the inner fire; so
that, at last, it becomes a question with them as with the earth,
what there is in the core: heat, violence, a force mysterious and
terrible--or nothing but a clod, a mass fertile and inert, cold and
unfeeling, ready to bear a crop of plants that sustain life or give

The mother watched with other eyes; listened with otherwise expectant
ears. Under the high hanging shelves supporting great sides of bacon
overhead, her body was busy by the great fireplace, attentive to the pot
swinging on iron gallows, scrubbing the long table where the field hands
would sit down directly to their evening meal. Her mind remained by the
cradle, night and day on the watch, to hope and suffer. That child, like
the other two, never smiled, never stretched its hands to her, never
spoke; never had a glance of recognition for her in its big black eyes,
which could only stare fixedly at any glitter, but failed hopelessly to
follow the brilliance of a sun-ray slipping slowly along the floor.
When the men were at work she spent long days between her three idiot
children and the childish grandfather, who sat grim, angular, and
immovable, with his feet near the warm ashes of the fire. The feeble
old fellow seemed to suspect that there was something wrong with his
grandsons. Only once, moved either by affection or by the sense of
proprieties, he attempted to nurse the youngest. He took the boy up from
the floor, clicked his tongue at him, and essayed a shaky gallop of his
bony knees. Then he looked closely with his misty eyes at the child’s
face and deposited him down gently on the floor again. And he sat, his
lean shanks crossed, nodding at the steam escaping from the cooking-pot
with a gaze senile and worried.

Then mute affliction dwelt in Bacadou’s farmhouse, sharing the breath
and the bread of its inhabitants; and the priest of the Ploumar parish
had great cause for congratulation. He called upon the rich landowner,
the Marquis de Chavanes, on purpose to deliver himself with joyful
unction of solemn platitudes about the inscrutable ways of Providence.
In the vast dimness of the curtained drawing-room, the little man,
resembling a black bolster, leaned towards a couch, his hat on
his knees, and gesticulated with a fat hand at the elongated,
gracefully-flowing lines of the clear Parisian toilette from which the
half-amused, half-bored marquise listened with gracious languor. He was
exulting and humble, proud and awed. The impossible had come to pass.
Jean-Pierre Bacadou, the enraged republican farmer, had been to mass
last Sunday--had proposed to entertain the visiting priests at the next
festival of Ploumar! It was a triumph for the Church and for the good
cause. “I thought I would come at once to tell Monsieur le Marquis. I
know how anxious he is for the welfare of our country,” declared the
priest, wiping his face. He was asked to stay to dinner.

The Chavanes returning that evening, after seeing their guest to the
main gate of the park, discussed the matter while they strolled in
the moonlight, trailing their long shadows up the straight avenue of
chestnuts. The marquise, a royalist of course, had been mayor of the
commune which includes Ploumar, the scattered hamlets of the coast, and
the stony islands that fringe the yellow flatness of the sands. He had
felt his position insecure, for there was a strong republican element in
that part of the country; but now the conversion of Jean-Pierre made
him safe. He was very pleased. “You have no idea how influential
those people are,” he explained to his wife. “Now, I am sure, the next
communal election will go all right. I shall be re-elected.” “Your
ambition is perfectly insatiable, Charles,” exclaimed the marquise,
gaily. “But, ma chere amie,” argued the husband, seriously, “it’s most
important that the right man should be mayor this year, because of the
elections to the Chamber. If you think it amuses me . . .”

Jean-Pierre had surrendered to his wife’s mother. Madame Levaille was
a woman of business, known and respected within a radius of at least
fifteen miles. Thick-set and stout, she was seen about the country, on
foot or in an acquaintance’s cart, perpetually moving, in spite of her
fifty-eight years, in steady pursuit of business. She had houses in all
the hamlets, she worked quarries of granite, she freighted coasters
with stone--even traded with the Channel Islands. She was broad-cheeked,
wide-eyed, persuasive in speech: carrying her point with the placid and
invincible obstinacy of an old woman who knows her own mind. She very
seldom slept for two nights together in the same house; and the wayside
inns were the best places to inquire in as to her whereabouts. She had
either passed, or was expected to pass there at six; or somebody, coming
in, had seen her in the morning, or expected to meet her that evening.
After the inns that command the roads, the churches were the buildings
she frequented most. Men of liberal opinions would induce small children
to run into sacred edifices to see whether Madame Levaille was there,
and to tell her that so-and-so was in the road waiting to speak to her
about potatoes, or flour, or stones, or houses; and she would curtail
her devotions, come out blinking and crossing herself into the sunshine;
ready to discuss business matters in a calm, sensible way across a table
in the kitchen of the inn opposite. Latterly she had stayed for a few
days several times with her son-in-law, arguing against sorrow and
misfortune with composed face and gentle tones. Jean-Pierre felt the
convictions imbibed in the regiment torn out of his breast--not by
arguments but by facts. Striding over his fields he thought it over.
There were three of them. Three! All alike! Why? Such things did not
happen to everybody--to nobody he ever heard of. One--might pass. But
three! All three. Forever useless, to be fed while he lived and . . .
What would become of the land when he died? This must be seen to. He
would sacrifice his convictions. One day he told his wife--

“See what your God will do for us. Pay for some masses.”

Susan embraced her man. He stood unbending, then turned on his heels and
went out. But afterwards, when a black soutane darkened his doorway,
he did not object; even offered some cider himself to the priest.
He listened to the talk meekly; went to mass between the two women;
accomplished what the priest called “his religious duties” at Easter.
That morning he felt like a man who had sold his soul. In the afternoon
he fought ferociously with an old friend and neighbour who had remarked
that the priests had the best of it and were now going to eat the
priest-eater. He came home dishevelled and bleeding, and happening to
catch sight of his children (they were kept generally out of the way),
cursed and swore incoherently, banging the table. Susan wept. Madame
Levaille sat serenely unmoved. She assured her daughter that “It will
pass;” and taking up her thick umbrella, departed in haste to see after
a schooner she was going to load with granite from her quarry.

A year or so afterwards the girl was born. A girl. Jean-Pierre heard of
it in the fields, and was so upset by the news that he sat down on the
boundary wall and remained there till the evening, instead of going home
as he was urged to do. A girl! He felt half cheated. However, when he
got home he was partly reconciled to his fate. One could marry her to
a good fellow--not to a good for nothing, but to a fellow with some
understanding and a good pair of arms. Besides, the next may be a boy,
he thought. Of course they would be all right. His new credulity knew
of no doubt. The ill luck was broken. He spoke cheerily to his wife.
She was also hopeful. Three priests came to that christening, and Madame
Levaille was godmother. The child turned out an idiot too.

Then on market days Jean-Pierre was seen bargaining bitterly,
quarrelsome and greedy; then getting drunk with taciturn earnestness;
then driving home in the dusk at a rate fit for a wedding, but with a
face gloomy enough for a funeral. Sometimes he would insist on his wife
coming with him; and they would drive in the early morning, shaking side
by side on the narrow seat above the helpless pig, that, with tied legs,
grunted a melancholy sigh at every rut. The morning drives were silent;
but in the evening, coming home, Jean-Pierre, tipsy, was viciously
muttering, and growled at the confounded woman who could not rear
children that were like anybody else’s. Susan, holding on against the
erratic swayings of the cart, pretended not to hear. Once, as they were
driving through Ploumar, some obscure and drunken impulse caused him to
pull up sharply opposite the church. The moon swam amongst light white
clouds. The tombstones gleamed pale under the fretted shadows of
the trees in the churchyard. Even the village dogs slept. Only the
nightingales, awake, spun out the thrill of their song above the silence
of graves. Jean-Pierre said thickly to his wife--

“What do you think is there?”

He pointed his whip at the tower--in which the big dial of the clock
appeared high in the moonlight like a pallid face without eyes--and
getting out carefully, fell down at once by the wheel. He picked
himself up and climbed one by one the few steps to the iron gate of the
churchyard. He put his face to the bars and called out indistinctly--

“Hey there! Come out!”

“Jean! Return! Return!” entreated his wife in low tones.

He took no notice, and seemed to wait there. The song of nightingales
beat on all sides against the high walls of the church, and flowed back
between stone crosses and flat gray slabs, engraved with words of hope
and sorrow.

“Hey! Come out!” shouted Jean-Pierre, loudly.

The nightingales ceased to sing.

“Nobody?” went on Jean-Pierre. “Nobody there. A swindle of the crows.
That’s what this is. Nobody anywhere. I despise it. _Allez! Houp!_”

He shook the gate with all his strength, and the iron bars rattled with
a frightful clanging, like a chain dragged over stone steps. A dog
near by barked hurriedly. Jean-Pierre staggered back, and after three
successive dashes got into his cart. Susan sat very quiet and still. He
said to her with drunken severity--

“See? Nobody. I’ve been made a fool! _Malheur!_ Somebody will pay for it.
The next one I see near the house I will lay my whip on . . . on the
black spine . . . I will. I don’t want him in there . . . he only helps
the carrion crows to rob poor folk. I am a man. . . . We will see if
I can’t have children like anybody else . . . now you mind. . . . They
won’t be all . . . all . . . we see. . . .”

She burst out through the fingers that hid her face--

“Don’t say that, Jean; don’t say that, my man!”

He struck her a swinging blow on the head with the back of his hand
and knocked her into the bottom of the cart, where she crouched,
thrown about lamentably by every jolt. He drove furiously, standing
up, brandishing his whip, shaking the reins over the gray horse that
galloped ponderously, making the heavy harness leap upon his broad
quarters. The country rang clamorous in the night with the irritated
barking of farm dogs, that followed the rattle of wheels all along the
road. A couple of belated wayfarers had only just time to step into the
ditch. At his own gate he caught the post and was shot out of the cart
head first. The horse went on slowly to the door. At Susan’s piercing
cries the farm hands rushed out. She thought him dead, but he was only
sleeping where he fell, and cursed his men, who hastened to him, for
disturbing his slumbers.

Autumn came. The clouded sky descended low upon the black contours
of the hills; and the dead leaves danced in spiral whirls under naked
trees, till the wind, sighing profoundly, laid them to rest in the
hollows of bare valleys. And from morning till night one could see all
over the land black denuded boughs, the boughs gnarled and twisted, as
if contorted with pain, swaying sadly between the wet clouds and
the soaked earth. The clear and gentle streams of summer days rushed
discoloured and raging at the stones that barred the way to the sea,
with the fury of madness bent upon suicide. From horizon to horizon the
great road to the sands lay between the hills in a dull glitter of empty
curves, resembling an unnavigable river of mud.

Jean-Pierre went from field to field, moving blurred and tall in the
drizzle, or striding on the crests of rises, lonely and high upon the
gray curtain of drifting clouds, as if he had been pacing along the very
edge of the universe. He looked at the black earth, at the earth
mute and promising, at the mysterious earth doing its work of life in
death-like stillness under the veiled sorrow of the sky. And it seemed
to him that to a man worse than childless there was no promise in
the fertility of fields, that from him the earth escaped, defied him,
frowned at him like the clouds, sombre and hurried above his head.
Having to face alone his own fields, he felt the inferiority of man who
passes away before the clod that remains. Must he give up the hope of
having by his side a son who would look at the turned-up sods with a
master’s eye? A man that would think as he thought, that would feel as
he felt; a man who would be part of himself, and yet remain to trample
masterfully on that earth when he was gone? He thought of some distant
relations, and felt savage enough to curse them aloud. They! Never! He
turned homewards, going straight at the roof of his dwelling, visible
between the enlaced skeletons of trees. As he swung his legs over the
stile a cawing flock of birds settled slowly on the field; dropped down
behind his back, noiseless and fluttering, like flakes of soot.

That day Madame Levaille had gone early in the afternoon to the house
she had near Kervanion. She had to pay some of the men who worked in her
granite quarry there, and she went in good time because her little house
contained a shop where the workmen could spend their wages without the
trouble of going to town. The house stood alone amongst rocks. A lane
of mud and stones ended at the door. The sea-winds coming ashore on
Stonecutter’s point, fresh from the fierce turmoil of the waves, howled
violently at the unmoved heaps of black boulders holding up steadily
short-armed, high crosses against the tremendous rush of the invisible.
In the sweep of gales the sheltered dwelling stood in a calm resonant
and disquieting, like the calm in the centre of a hurricane. On stormy
nights, when the tide was out, the bay of Fougere, fifty feet below the
house, resembled an immense black pit, from which ascended mutterings
and sighs as if the sands down there had been alive and complaining.
At high tide the returning water assaulted the ledges of rock in short
rushes, ending in bursts of livid light and columns of spray, that flew
inland, stinging to death the grass of pastures.

The darkness came from the hills, flowed over the coast, put out the red
fires of sunset, and went on to seaward pursuing the retiring tide. The
wind dropped with the sun, leaving a maddened sea and a devastated sky.
The heavens above the house seemed to be draped in black rags, held up
here and there by pins of fire. Madame Levaille, for this evening the
servant of her own workmen, tried to induce them to depart. “An old
woman like me ought to be in bed at this late hour,” she good-humouredly
repeated. The quarrymen drank, asked for more. They shouted over the
table as if they had been talking across a field. At one end four
of them played cards, banging the wood with their hard knuckles, and
swearing at every lead. One sat with a lost gaze, humming a bar of
some song, which he repeated endlessly. Two others, in a corner, were
quarrelling confidentially and fiercely over some woman, looking close
into one another’s eyes as if they had wanted to tear them out, but
speaking in whispers that promised violence and murder discreetly, in a
venomous sibillation of subdued words. The atmosphere in there was thick
enough to slice with a knife. Three candles burning about the long room
glowed red and dull like sparks expiring in ashes.

The slight click of the iron latch was at that late hour as unexpected
and startling as a thunder-clap. Madame Levaille put down a bottle
she held above a liqueur glass; the players turned their heads; the
whispered quarrel ceased; only the singer, after darting a glance at the
door, went on humming with a stolid face. Susan appeared in the doorway,
stepped in, flung the door to, and put her back against it, saying, half


Madame Levaille, taking up the bottle again, said calmly: “Here you are,
my girl. What a state you are in!” The neck of the bottle rang on the
rim of the glass, for the old woman was startled, and the idea that the
farm had caught fire had entered her head. She could think of no other
cause for her daughter’s appearance.

Susan, soaked and muddy, stared the whole length of the room towards the
men at the far end. Her mother asked--

“What has happened? God guard us from misfortune!”

Susan moved her lips. No sound came. Madame Levaille stepped up to her
daughter, took her by the arm, looked into her face.

“In God’s name,” she said, shakily, “what’s the matter? You have been
rolling in mud. . . . Why did you come? . . . Where’s Jean?”

The men had all got up and approached slowly, staring with dull
surprise. Madame Levaille jerked her daughter away from the door, swung
her round upon a seat close to the wall. Then she turned fiercely to the

“Enough of this! Out you go--you others! I close.”

One of them observed, looking down at Susan collapsed on the seat: “She
is--one may say--half dead.”

Madame Levaille flung the door open.

“Get out! March!” she cried, shaking nervously.

They dropped out into the night, laughing stupidly. Outside, the two
Lotharios broke out into loud shouts. The others tried to soothe them,
all talking at once. The noise went away up the lane with the men,
who staggered together in a tight knot, remonstrating with one another

“Speak, Susan. What is it? Speak!” entreated Madame Levaille, as soon as
the door was shut.

Susan pronounced some incomprehensible words, glaring at the table. The
old woman clapped her hands above her head, let them drop, and stood
looking at her daughter with disconsolate eyes. Her husband had been
“deranged in his head” for a few years before he died, and now she began
to suspect her daughter was going mad. She asked, pressingly--

“Does Jean know where you are? Where is Jean?”

“He knows . . . he is dead.”

“What!” cried the old woman. She came up near, and peering at her
daughter, repeated three times: “What do you say? What do you say? What
do you say?”

Susan sat dry-eyed and stony before Madame Levaille, who contemplated
her, feeling a strange sense of inexplicable horror creep into the
silence of the house. She had hardly realised the news, further than to
understand that she had been brought in one short moment face to face
with something unexpected and final. It did not even occur to her to ask
for any explanation. She thought: accident--terrible accident--blood to
the head--fell down a trap door in the loft. . . . She remained there,
distracted and mute, blinking her old eyes.

Suddenly, Susan said--

“I have killed him.”

For a moment the mother stood still, almost unbreathing, but with
composed face. The next second she burst out into a shout--

“You miserable madwoman . . . they will cut your neck. . . .”

She fancied the gendarmes entering the house, saying to her: “We want
your daughter; give her up:” the gendarmes with the severe, hard faces
of men on duty. She knew the brigadier well--an old friend, familiar
and respectful, saying heartily, “To your good health, Madame!” before
lifting to his lips the small glass of cognac--out of the special bottle
she kept for friends. And now! . . . She was losing her head. She rushed
here and there, as if looking for something urgently needed--gave that
up, stood stock still in the middle of the room, and screamed at her

“Why? Say! Say! Why?”

The other seemed to leap out of her strange apathy.

“Do you think I am made of stone?” she shouted back, striding towards
her mother.

“No! It’s impossible . . .” said Madame Levaille, in a convinced tone.

“You go and see, mother,” retorted Susan, looking at her with blazing
eyes. “There’s no money in heaven--no justice. No! . . . I did not know.
. . . Do you think I have no heart? Do you think I have never heard
people jeering at me, pitying me, wondering at me? Do you know how some
of them were calling me? The mother of idiots--that was my nickname!
And my children never would know me, never speak to me. They would know
nothing; neither men--nor God. Haven’t I prayed! But the Mother of God
herself would not hear me. A mother! . . . Who is accursed--I, or the
man who is dead? Eh? Tell me. I took care of myself. Do you think I
would defy the anger of God and have my house full of those things--that
are worse than animals who know the hand that feeds them? Who blasphemed
in the night at the very church door? Was it I? . . . I only wept and
prayed for mercy . . . and I feel the curse at every moment of the
day--I see it round me from morning to night . . . I’ve got to keep them
alive--to take care of my misfortune and shame. And he would come. I
begged him and Heaven for mercy. . . . No! . . . Then we shall see. . . .
He came this evening. I thought to myself: ‘Ah! again!’ . . . I had
my long scissors. I heard him shouting . . . I saw him near. . . . I
must--must I? . . . Then take! . . . And I struck him in the throat
above the breastbone. . . . I never heard him even sigh. . . . I left
him standing. . . . It was a minute ago. How did I come here?”

Madame Levaille shivered. A wave of cold ran down her back, down her
fat arms under her tight sleeves, made her stamp gently where she stood.
Quivers ran over the broad cheeks, across the thin lips, ran amongst the
wrinkles at the corners of her steady old eyes. She stammered--

“You wicked woman--you disgrace me. But there! You always resembled your
father. What do you think will become of you . . . in the other world?
In this . . . Oh misery!”

She was very hot now. She felt burning inside. She wrung her perspiring
hands--and suddenly, starting in great haste, began to look for her big
shawl and umbrella, feverishly, never once glancing at her daughter, who
stood in the middle of the room following her with a gaze distracted and

“Nothing worse than in this,” said Susan.

Her mother, umbrella in hand and trailing the shawl over the floor,
groaned profoundly.

“I must go to the priest,” she burst out passionately. “I do not know
whether you even speak the truth! You are a horrible woman. They will
find you anywhere. You may stay here--or go. There is no room for you in
this world.”

Ready now to depart, she yet wandered aimlessly about the room, putting
the bottles on the shelf, trying to fit with trembling hands the covers
on cardboard boxes. Whenever the real sense of what she had heard
emerged for a second from the haze of her thoughts she would fancy that
something had exploded in her brain without, unfortunately, bursting her
head to pieces--which would have been a relief. She blew the candles
out one by one without knowing it, and was horribly startled by the
darkness. She fell on a bench and began to whimper. After a while she
ceased, and sat listening to the breathing of her daughter, whom she
could hardly see, still and upright, giving no other sign of life. She
was becoming old rapidly at last, during those minutes. She spoke in
tones unsteady, cut about by the rattle of teeth, like one shaken by a
deadly cold fit of ague.

“I wish you had died little. I will never dare to show my old head in
the sunshine again. There are worse misfortunes than idiot children. I
wish you had been born to me simple--like your own. . . .”

She saw the figure of her daughter pass before the faint and livid
clearness of a window. Then it appeared in the doorway for a second, and
the door swung to with a clang. Madame Levaille, as if awakened by the
noise from a long nightmare, rushed out.

“Susan!” she shouted from the doorstep.

She heard a stone roll a long time down the declivity of the rocky beach
above the sands. She stepped forward cautiously, one hand on the wall
of the house, and peered down into the smooth darkness of the empty bay.
Once again she cried--

“Susan! You will kill yourself there.”

The stone had taken its last leap in the dark, and she heard nothing
now. A sudden thought seemed to strangle her, and she called no more.
She turned her back upon the black silence of the pit and went up the
lane towards Ploumar, stumbling along with sombre determination, as if
she had started on a desperate journey that would last, perhaps, to the
end of her life. A sullen and periodic clamour of waves rolling over
reefs followed her far inland between the high hedges sheltering the
gloomy solitude of the fields.

Susan had run out, swerving sharp to the left at the door, and on the
edge of the slope crouched down behind a boulder. A dislodged stone went
on downwards, rattling as it leaped. When Madame Levaille called out,
Susan could have, by stretching her hand, touched her mother’s skirt,
had she had the courage to move a limb. She saw the old woman go away,
and she remained still, closing her eyes and pressing her side to the
hard and rugged surface of the rock. After a while a familiar face with
fixed eyes and an open mouth became visible in the intense obscurity
amongst the boulders. She uttered a low cry and stood up. The face
vanished, leaving her to gasp and shiver alone in the wilderness of
stone heaps. But as soon as she had crouched down again to rest, with
her head against the rock, the face returned, came very near, appeared
eager to finish the speech that had been cut short by death, only a
moment ago. She scrambled quickly to her feet and said: “Go away, or I
will do it again.” The thing wavered, swung to the right, to the left.
She moved this way and that, stepped back, fancied herself screaming
at it, and was appalled by the unbroken stillness of the night. She
tottered on the brink, felt the steep declivity under her feet, and
rushed down blindly to save herself from a headlong fall. The shingle
seemed to wake up; the pebbles began to roll before her, pursued her
from above, raced down with her on both sides, rolling past with an
increasing clatter. In the peace of the night the noise grew, deepening
to a rumour, continuous and violent, as if the whole semicircle of the
stony beach had started to tumble down into the bay. Susan’s feet hardly
touched the slope that seemed to run down with her. At the bottom she
stumbled, shot forward, throwing her arms out, and fell heavily. She
jumped up at once and turned swiftly to look back, her clenched hands
full of sand she had clutched in her fall. The face was there, keeping
its distance, visible in its own sheen that made a pale stain in the
night. She shouted, “Go away!”--she shouted at it with pain, with fear,
with all the rage of that useless stab that could not keep him quiet,
keep him out of her sight. What did he want now? He was dead. Dead
men have no children. Would he never leave her alone? She shrieked
at it--waved her outstretched hands. She seemed to feel the breath of
parted lips, and, with a long cry of discouragement, fled across the
level bottom of the bay.

She ran lightly, unaware of any effort of her body. High sharp rocks
that, when the bay is full, show above the glittering plain of blue
water like pointed towers of submerged churches, glided past her,
rushing to the land at a tremendous pace. To the left, in the distance,
she could see something shining: a broad disc of light in which narrow
shadows pivoted round the centre like the spokes of a wheel. She heard
a voice calling, “Hey! There!” and answered with a wild scream. So, he
could call yet! He was calling after her to stop. Never! . . . She tore
through the night, past the startled group of seaweed-gatherers who
stood round their lantern paralysed with fear at the unearthly screech
coming from that fleeing shadow. The men leaned on their pitchforks
staring fearfully. A woman fell on her knees, and, crossing herself,
began to pray aloud. A little girl with her ragged skirt full of slimy
seaweed began to sob despairingly, lugging her soaked burden close to
the man who carried the light. Somebody said: “The thing ran out towards
the sea.” Another voice exclaimed: “And the sea is coming back! Look at
the spreading puddles. Do you hear--you woman--there! Get up!” Several
voices cried together. “Yes, let us be off! Let the accursed thing go to
the sea!” They moved on, keeping close round the light. Suddenly a man
swore loudly. He would go and see what was the matter. It had been a
woman’s voice. He would go. There were shrill protests from women--but
his high form detached itself from the group and went off running. They
sent an unanimous call of scared voices after him. A word, insulting and
mocking, came back, thrown at them through the darkness. A woman moaned.
An old man said gravely: “Such things ought to be left alone.” They went
on slower, shuffling in the yielding sand and whispering to one another
that Millot feared nothing, having no religion, but that it would end
badly some day.

Susan met the incoming tide by the Raven islet and stopped, panting,
with her feet in the water. She heard the murmur and felt the cold
caress of the sea, and, calmer now, could see the sombre and confused
mass of the Raven on one side and on the other the long white streak of
Molene sands that are left high above the dry bottom of Fougere Bay
at every ebb. She turned round and saw far away, along the starred
background of the sky, the ragged outline of the coast. Above it, nearly
facing her, appeared the tower of Ploumar Church; a slender and tall
pyramid shooting up dark and pointed into the clustered glitter of the
stars. She felt strangely calm. She knew where she was, and began
to remember how she came there--and why. She peered into the smooth
obscurity near her. She was alone. There was nothing there; nothing near
her, either living or dead.

The tide was creeping in quietly, putting out long impatient arms of
strange rivulets that ran towards the land between ridges of sand. Under
the night the pools grew bigger with mysterious rapidity, while
the great sea, yet far off, thundered in a regular rhythm along the
indistinct line of the horizon. Susan splashed her way back for a
few yards without being able to get clear of the water that murmured
tenderly all around and, suddenly, with a spiteful gurgle, nearly took
her off her feet. Her heart thumped with fear. This place was too big
and too empty to die in. To-morrow they would do with her what they
liked. But before she died she must tell them--tell the gentlemen in
black clothes that there are things no woman can bear. She must explain
how it happened. . . . She splashed through a pool, getting wet to the
waist, too preoccupied to care. . . . She must explain. “He came in the
same way as ever and said, just so: ‘Do you think I am going to leave
the land to those people from Morbihan that I do not know? Do you? We
shall see! Come along, you creature of mischance!’ And he put his arms
out. Then, Messieurs, I said: ‘Before God--never!’ And he said, striding
at me with open palms: ‘There is no God to hold me! Do you understand,
you useless carcase. I will do what I like.’ And he took me by the
shoulders. Then I, Messieurs, called to God for help, and next minute,
while he was shaking me, I felt my long scissors in my hand. His shirt
was unbuttoned, and, by the candle-light, I saw the hollow of his
throat. I cried: ‘Let go!’ He was crushing my shoulders. He was strong,
my man was! Then I thought: No! . . . Must I? . . . Then take!--and I
struck in the hollow place. I never saw him fall. . . . The old father
never turned his head. He is deaf and childish, gentlemen. . . . Nobody
saw him fall. I ran out . . . Nobody saw. . . .”

She had been scrambling amongst the boulders of the Raven and now found
herself, all out of breath, standing amongst the heavy shadows of the
rocky islet. The Raven is connected with the main land by a natural pier
of immense and slippery stones. She intended to return home that way.
Was he still standing there? At home. Home! Four idiots and a corpse.
She must go back and explain. Anybody would understand. . . .

Below her the night or the sea seemed to pronounce distinctly--

“Aha! I see you at last!”

She started, slipped, fell; and without attempting to rise, listened,
terrified. She heard heavy breathing, a clatter of wooden clogs. It

“Where the devil did you pass?” said an invisible man, hoarsely.

She held her breath. She recognized the voice. She had not seen him
fall. Was he pursuing her there dead, or perhaps . . . alive?

She lost her head. She cried from the crevice where she lay huddled,
“Never, never!”

“Ah! You are still there. You led me a fine dance. Wait, my beauty, I
must see how you look after all this. You wait. . . .”

Millot was stumbling, laughing, swearing meaninglessly out of
pure satisfaction, pleased with himself for having run down that
fly-by-night. “As if there were such things as ghosts! Bah! It took an
old African soldier to show those clodhoppers. . . . But it was curious.
Who the devil was she?”

Susan listened, crouching. He was coming for her, this dead man. There
was no escape. What a noise he made amongst the stones. . . . She saw
his head rise up, then the shoulders. He was tall--her own man! His long
arms waved about, and it was his own voice sounding a little strange
. . . because of the scissors. She scrambled out quickly, rushed to the
edge of the causeway, and turned round. The man stood still on a high
stone, detaching himself in dead black on the glitter of the sky.

“Where are you going to?” he called, roughly.

She answered, “Home!” and watched him intensely. He made a striding,
clumsy leap on to another boulder, and stopped again, balancing himself,
then said--

“Ha! ha! Well, I am going with you. It’s the least I can do. Ha! ha!

She stared at him till her eyes seemed to become glowing coals that
burned deep into her brain, and yet she was in mortal fear of making
out the well-known features. Below her the sea lapped softly against the
rock with a splash continuous and gentle.

The man said, advancing another step--

“I am coming for you. What do you think?”

She trembled. Coming for her! There was no escape, no peace, no hope.
She looked round despairingly. Suddenly the whole shadowy coast, the
blurred islets, the heaven itself, swayed about twice, then came to a
rest. She closed her eyes and shouted--

“Can’t you wait till I am dead!”

She was shaken by a furious hate for that shade that pursued her in this
world, unappeased even by death in its longing for an heir that would be
like other people’s children.

“Hey! What?” said Millot, keeping his distance prudently. He was saying
to himself: “Look out! Some lunatic. An accident happens soon.”

She went on, wildly--

“I want to live. To live alone--for a week--for a day. I must explain
to them. . . . I would tear you to pieces, I would kill you twenty times
over rather than let you touch me while I live. How many times must I
kill you--you blasphemer! Satan sends you here. I am damned too!”

“Come,” said Millot, alarmed and conciliating. “I am perfectly alive!
. . . Oh, my God!”

She had screamed, “Alive!” and at once vanished before his eyes, as if
the islet itself had swerved aside from under her feet. Millot rushed
forward, and fell flat with his chin over the edge. Far below he saw the
water whitened by her struggles, and heard one shrill cry for help that
seemed to dart upwards along the perpendicular face of the rock, and
soar past, straight into the high and impassive heaven.

Madame Levaille sat, dry-eyed, on the short grass of the hill side, with
her thick legs stretched out, and her old feet turned up in their black
cloth shoes. Her clogs stood near by, and further off the umbrella
lay on the withered sward like a weapon dropped from the grasp of a
vanquished warrior. The Marquis of Chavanes, on horseback, one gloved
hand on thigh, looked down at her as she got up laboriously, with
groans. On the narrow track of the seaweed-carts four men were carrying
inland Susan’s body on a hand-barrow, while several others straggled
listlessly behind. Madame Levaille looked after the procession. “Yes,
Monsieur le Marquis,” she said dispassionately, in her usual calm tone
of a reasonable old woman. “There are unfortunate people on this earth.
I had only one child. Only one! And they won’t bury her in consecrated

Her eyes filled suddenly, and a short shower of tears rolled down the
broad cheeks. She pulled the shawl close about her. The Marquis leaned
slightly over in his saddle, and said--

“It is very sad. You have all my sympathy. I shall speak to the Cure.
She was unquestionably insane, and the fall was accidental. Millot says
so distinctly. Good-day, Madame.”

And he trotted off, thinking to himself: “I must get this old woman
appointed guardian of those idiots, and administrator of the farm.
It would be much better than having here one of those other Bacadous,
probably a red republican, corrupting my commune.”



There were two white men in charge of the trading station. Kayerts, the
chief, was short and fat; Carlier, the assistant, was tall, with a large
head and a very broad trunk perched upon a long pair of thin legs. The
third man on the staff was a Sierra Leone nigger, who maintained that
his name was Henry Price. However, for some reason or other, the natives
down the river had given him the name of Makola, and it stuck to him
through all his wanderings about the country. He spoke English and
French with a warbling accent, wrote a beautiful hand, understood
bookkeeping, and cherished in his innermost heart the worship of evil
spirits. His wife was a negress from Loanda, very large and very noisy.
Three children rolled about in sunshine before the door of his low,
shed-like dwelling. Makola, taciturn and impenetrable, despised the two
white men. He had charge of a small clay storehouse with a dried-grass
roof, and pretended to keep a correct account of beads, cotton cloth,
red kerchiefs, brass wire, and other trade goods it contained. Besides
the storehouse and Makola’s hut, there was only one large building in
the cleared ground of the station. It was built neatly of reeds, with a
verandah on all the four sides. There were three rooms in it. The one
in the middle was the living-room, and had two rough tables and a few
stools in it. The other two were the bedrooms for the white men. Each
had a bedstead and a mosquito net for all furniture. The plank floor was
littered with the belongings of the white men; open half-empty boxes,
torn wearing apparel, old boots; all the things dirty, and all the
things broken, that accumulate mysteriously round untidy men. There was
also another dwelling-place some distance away from the buildings. In
it, under a tall cross much out of the perpendicular, slept the man who
had seen the beginning of all this; who had planned and had watched
the construction of this outpost of progress. He had been, at home, an
unsuccessful painter who, weary of pursuing fame on an empty stomach,
had gone out there through high protections. He had been the first chief
of that station. Makola had watched the energetic artist die of fever
in the just finished house with his usual kind of “I told you so”
 indifference. Then, for a time, he dwelt alone with his family, his
account books, and the Evil Spirit that rules the lands under the
equator. He got on very well with his god. Perhaps he had propitiated
him by a promise of more white men to play with, by and by. At any rate
the director of the Great Trading Company, coming up in a steamer that
resembled an enormous sardine box with a flat-roofed shed erected on it,
found the station in good order, and Makola as usual quietly diligent.
The director had the cross put up over the first agent’s grave, and
appointed Kayerts to the post. Carlier was told off as second in charge.
The director was a man ruthless and efficient, who at times, but very
imperceptibly, indulged in grim humour. He made a speech to Kayerts and
Carlier, pointing out to them the promising aspect of their station.
The nearest trading-post was about three hundred miles away. It was an
exceptional opportunity for them to distinguish themselves and to
earn percentages on the trade. This appointment was a favour done to
beginners. Kayerts was moved almost to tears by his director’s kindness.
He would, he said, by doing his best, try to justify the flattering
confidence, &c., &c. Kayerts had been in the Administration of the
Telegraphs, and knew how to express himself correctly. Carlier, an
ex-non-commissioned officer of cavalry in an army guaranteed from
harm by several European Powers, was less impressed. If there were
commissions to get, so much the better; and, trailing a sulky glance
over the river, the forests, the impenetrable bush that seemed to cut
off the station from the rest of the world, he muttered between his
teeth, “We shall see, very soon.”

Next day, some bales of cotton goods and a few cases of provisions
having been thrown on shore, the sardine-box steamer went off, not to
return for another six months. On the deck the director touched his cap
to the two agents, who stood on the bank waving their hats, and turning
to an old servant of the Company on his passage to headquarters, said,
“Look at those two imbeciles. They must be mad at home to send me such
specimens. I told those fellows to plant a vegetable garden, build new
storehouses and fences, and construct a landing-stage. I bet nothing
will be done! They won’t know how to begin. I always thought the station
on this river useless, and they just fit the station!”

“They will form themselves there,” said the old stager with a quiet

“At any rate, I am rid of them for six months,” retorted the director.

The two men watched the steamer round the bend, then, ascending arm in
arm the slope of the bank, returned to the station. They had been in
this vast and dark country only a very short time, and as yet always
in the midst of other white men, under the eye and guidance of their
superiors. And now, dull as they were to the subtle influences of
surroundings, they felt themselves very much alone, when suddenly left
unassisted to face the wilderness; a wilderness rendered more strange,
more incomprehensible by the mysterious glimpses of the vigorous life
it contained. They were two perfectly insignificant and incapable
individuals, whose existence is only rendered possible through the high
organization of civilized crowds. Few men realize that their life,
the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their
audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of
their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the
emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought
belongs not to the individual but to the crowd: to the crowd that
believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and
of its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion. But
the contact with pure unmitigated savagery, with primitive nature and
primitive man, brings sudden and profound trouble into the heart. To the
sentiment of being alone of one’s kind, to the clear perception of the
loneliness of one’s thoughts, of one’s sensations--to the negation
of the habitual, which is safe, there is added the affirmation of
the unusual, which is dangerous; a suggestion of things vague,
uncontrollable, and repulsive, whose discomposing intrusion excites the
imagination and tries the civilized nerves of the foolish and the wise

Kayerts and Carlier walked arm in arm, drawing close to one another
as children do in the dark; and they had the same, not altogether
unpleasant, sense of danger which one half suspects to be imaginary.
They chatted persistently in familiar tones. “Our station is prettily
situated,” said one. The other assented with enthusiasm, enlarging
volubly on the beauties of the situation. Then they passed near the
grave. “Poor devil!” said Kayerts. “He died of fever, didn’t he?”
 muttered Carlier, stopping short. “Why,” retorted Kayerts, with
indignation, “I’ve been told that the fellow exposed himself recklessly
to the sun. The climate here, everybody says, is not at all worse than
at home, as long as you keep out of the sun. Do you hear that, Carlier?
I am chief here, and my orders are that you should not expose yourself
to the sun!” He assumed his superiority jocularly, but his meaning
was serious. The idea that he would, perhaps, have to bury Carlier and
remain alone, gave him an inward shiver. He felt suddenly that this
Carlier was more precious to him here, in the centre of Africa, than a
brother could be anywhere else. Carlier, entering into the spirit of the
thing, made a military salute and answered in a brisk tone, “Your
orders shall be attended to, chief!” Then he burst out laughing, slapped
Kayerts on the back and shouted, “We shall let life run easily here!
Just sit still and gather in the ivory those savages will bring. This
country has its good points, after all!” They both laughed loudly while
Carlier thought: “That poor Kayerts; he is so fat and unhealthy. It
would be awful if I had to bury him here. He is a man I respect.” . . .
Before they reached the verandah of their house they called one another
“my dear fellow.”

The first day they were very active, pottering about with hammers and
nails and red calico, to put up curtains, make their house habitable and
pretty; resolved to settle down comfortably to their new life. For them
an impossible task. To grapple effectually with even purely material
problems requires more serenity of mind and more lofty courage than
people generally imagine. No two beings could have been more unfitted
for such a struggle. Society, not from any tenderness, but because of
its strange needs, had taken care of those two men, forbidding them all
independent thought, all initiative, all departure from routine; and
forbidding it under pain of death. They could only live on condition of
being machines. And now, released from the fostering care of men with
pens behind the ears, or of men with gold lace on the sleeves, they were
like those lifelong prisoners who, liberated after many years, do not
know what use to make of their freedom. They did not know what use to
make of their faculties, being both, through want of practice, incapable
of independent thought.

At the end of two months Kayerts often would say, “If it was not for
my Melie, you wouldn’t catch me here.” Melie was his daughter. He had
thrown up his post in the Administration of the Telegraphs, though he
had been for seventeen years perfectly happy there, to earn a dowry for
his girl. His wife was dead, and the child was being brought up by his
sisters. He regretted the streets, the pavements, the cafes, his friends
of many years; all the things he used to see, day after day; all
the thoughts suggested by familiar things--the thoughts effortless,
monotonous, and soothing of a Government clerk; he regretted all the
gossip, the small enmities, the mild venom, and the little jokes of
Government offices. “If I had had a decent brother-in-law,” Carlier
would remark, “a fellow with a heart, I would not be here.” He had left
the army and had made himself so obnoxious to his family by his laziness
and impudence, that an exasperated brother-in-law had made superhuman
efforts to procure him an appointment in the Company as a second-class
agent. Having not a penny in the world he was compelled to accept this
means of livelihood as soon as it became quite clear to him that there
was nothing more to squeeze out of his relations. He, like Kayerts,
regretted his old life. He regretted the clink of sabre and spurs on
a fine afternoon, the barrack-room witticisms, the girls of garrison
towns; but, besides, he had also a sense of grievance. He was evidently
a much ill-used man. This made him moody, at times. But the two men
got on well together in the fellowship of their stupidity and laziness.
Together they did nothing, absolutely nothing, and enjoyed the sense
of the idleness for which they were paid. And in time they came to feel
something resembling affection for one another.

They lived like blind men in a large room, aware only of what came in
contact with them (and of that only imperfectly), but unable to see
the general aspect of things. The river, the forest, all the great land
throbbing with life, were like a great emptiness. Even the brilliant
sunshine disclosed nothing intelligible. Things appeared and disappeared
before their eyes in an unconnected and aimless kind of way. The river
seemed to come from nowhere and flow nowhither. It flowed through a
void. Out of that void, at times, came canoes, and men with spears in
their hands would suddenly crowd the yard of the station. They were
naked, glossy black, ornamented with snowy shells and glistening brass
wire, perfect of limb. They made an uncouth babbling noise when they
spoke, moved in a stately manner, and sent quick, wild glances out of
their startled, never-resting eyes. Those warriors would squat in
long rows, four or more deep, before the verandah, while their chiefs
bargained for hours with Makola over an elephant tusk. Kayerts sat on
his chair and looked down on the proceedings, understanding nothing. He
stared at them with his round blue eyes, called out to Carlier, “Here,
look! look at that fellow there--and that other one, to the left. Did
you ever such a face? Oh, the funny brute!”

Carlier, smoking native tobacco in a short wooden pipe, would swagger
up twirling his moustaches, and surveying the warriors with haughty
indulgence, would say--

“Fine animals. Brought any bone? Yes? It’s not any too soon. Look at
the muscles of that fellow third from the end. I wouldn’t care to get a
punch on the nose from him. Fine arms, but legs no good below the knee.
Couldn’t make cavalry men of them.” And after glancing down complacently
at his own shanks, he always concluded: “Pah! Don’t they stink! You,
Makola! Take that herd over to the fetish” (the storehouse was in every
station called the fetish, perhaps because of the spirit of civilization
it contained) “and give them up some of the rubbish you keep there. I’d
rather see it full of bone than full of rags.”

Kayerts approved.

“Yes, yes! Go and finish that palaver over there, Mr. Makola. I will
come round when you are ready, to weigh the tusk. We must be careful.”
 Then turning to his companion: “This is the tribe that lives down the
river; they are rather aromatic. I remember, they had been once before
here. D’ye hear that row? What a fellow has got to put up with in this
dog of a country! My head is split.”

Such profitable visits were rare. For days the two pioneers of trade and
progress would look on their empty courtyard in the vibrating brilliance
of vertical sunshine. Below the high bank, the silent river flowed on
glittering and steady. On the sands in the middle of the stream, hippos
and alligators sunned themselves side by side. And stretching away
in all directions, surrounding the insignificant cleared spot of the
trading post, immense forests, hiding fateful complications of fantastic
life, lay in the eloquent silence of mute greatness. The two men
understood nothing, cared for nothing but for the passage of days that
separated them from the steamer’s return. Their predecessor had left
some torn books. They took up these wrecks of novels, and, as they had
never read anything of the kind before, they were surprised and amused.
Then during long days there were interminable and silly discussions
about plots and personages. In the centre of Africa they made
acquaintance of Richelieu and of d’Artagnan, of Hawk’s Eye and of Father
Goriot, and of many other people. All these imaginary personages became
subjects for gossip as if they had been living friends. They discounted
their virtues, suspected their motives, decried their successes; were
scandalized at their duplicity or were doubtful about their courage.
The accounts of crimes filled them with indignation, while tender or
pathetic passages moved them deeply. Carlier cleared his throat and said
in a soldierly voice, “What nonsense!” Kayerts, his round eyes suffused
with tears, his fat cheeks quivering, rubbed his bald head, and
declared. “This is a splendid book. I had no idea there were such clever
fellows in the world.” They also found some old copies of a home
paper. That print discussed what it was pleased to call “Our Colonial
Expansion” in high-flown language. It spoke much of the rights and
duties of civilization, of the sacredness of the civilizing work, and
extolled the merits of those who went about bringing light, and faith
and commerce to the dark places of the earth. Carlier and Kayerts read,
wondered, and began to think better of themselves. Carlier said one
evening, waving his hand about, “In a hundred years, there will
be perhaps a town here. Quays, and warehouses, and barracks,
and--and--billiard-rooms. Civilization, my boy, and virtue--and all. And
then, chaps will read that two good fellows, Kayerts and Carlier, were
the first civilized men to live in this very spot!” Kayerts nodded,
“Yes, it is a consolation to think of that.” They seemed to forget their
dead predecessor; but, early one day, Carlier went out and replanted the
cross firmly. “It used to make me squint whenever I walked that way,”
 he explained to Kayerts over the morning coffee. “It made me squint,
leaning over so much. So I just planted it upright. And solid, I promise
you! I suspended myself with both hands to the cross-piece. Not a move.
Oh, I did that properly.”

At times Gobila came to see them. Gobila was the chief of the
neighbouring villages. He was a gray-headed savage, thin and black, with
a white cloth round his loins and a mangy panther skin hanging over
his back. He came up with long strides of his skeleton legs, swinging a
staff as tall as himself, and, entering the common room of the station,
would squat on his heels to the left of the door. There he sat, watching
Kayerts, and now and then making a speech which the other did not
understand. Kayerts, without interrupting his occupation, would from
time to time say in a friendly manner: “How goes it, you old image?” and
they would smile at one another. The two whites had a liking for
that old and incomprehensible creature, and called him Father Gobila.
Gobila’s manner was paternal, and he seemed really to love all white
men. They all appeared to him very young, indistinguishably alike
(except for stature), and he knew that they were all brothers, and also
immortal. The death of the artist, who was the first white man whom
he knew intimately, did not disturb this belief, because he was firmly
convinced that the white stranger had pretended to die and got himself
buried for some mysterious purpose of his own, into which it was useless
to inquire. Perhaps it was his way of going home to his own country?
At any rate, these were his brothers, and he transferred his absurd
affection to them. They returned it in a way. Carlier slapped him on the
back, and recklessly struck off matches for his amusement. Kayerts was
always ready to let him have a sniff at the ammonia bottle. In short,
they behaved just like that other white creature that had hidden itself
in a hole in the ground. Gobila considered them attentively. Perhaps
they were the same being with the other--or one of them was. He couldn’t
decide--clear up that mystery; but he remained always very friendly. In
consequence of that friendship the women of Gobila’s village walked
in single file through the reedy grass, bringing every morning to the
station, fowls, and sweet potatoes, and palm wine, and sometimes a goat.
The Company never provisions the stations fully, and the agents required
those local supplies to live. They had them through the good-will of
Gobila, and lived well. Now and then one of them had a bout of fever,
and the other nursed him with gentle devotion. They did not think much
of it. It left them weaker, and their appearance changed for the worse.
Carlier was hollow-eyed and irritable. Kayerts showed a drawn, flabby
face above the rotundity of his stomach, which gave him a weird aspect.
But being constantly together, they did not notice the change that took
place gradually in their appearance, and also in their dispositions.

Five months passed in that way.

Then, one morning, as Kayerts and Carlier, lounging in their chairs
under the verandah, talked about the approaching visit of the steamer,
a knot of armed men came out of the forest and advanced towards the
station. They were strangers to that part of the country. They were
tall, slight, draped classically from neck to heel in blue fringed
cloths, and carried percussion muskets over their bare right shoulders.
Makola showed signs of excitement, and ran out of the storehouse (where
he spent all his days) to meet these visitors. They came into the
courtyard and looked about them with steady, scornful glances. Their
leader, a powerful and determined-looking negro with bloodshot eyes,
stood in front of the verandah and made a long speech. He gesticulated
much, and ceased very suddenly.

There was something in his intonation, in the sounds of the long
sentences he used, that startled the two whites. It was like a
reminiscence of something not exactly familiar, and yet resembling
the speech of civilized men. It sounded like one of those impossible
languages which sometimes we hear in our dreams.

“What lingo is that?” said the amazed Carlier. “In the first moment I
fancied the fellow was going to speak French. Anyway, it is a different
kind of gibberish to what we ever heard.”

“Yes,” replied Kayerts. “Hey, Makola, what does he say? Where do they
come from? Who are they?”

But Makola, who seemed to be standing on hot bricks, answered hurriedly,
“I don’t know. They come from very far. Perhaps Mrs. Price will
understand. They are perhaps bad men.”

The leader, after waiting for a while, said something sharply to Makola,
who shook his head. Then the man, after looking round, noticed Makola’s
hut and walked over there. The next moment Mrs. Makola was heard
speaking with great volubility. The other strangers--they were six in
all--strolled about with an air of ease, put their heads through
the door of the storeroom, congregated round the grave, pointed
understandingly at the cross, and generally made themselves at home.

“I don’t like those chaps--and, I say, Kayerts, they must be from the
coast; they’ve got firearms,” observed the sagacious Carlier.

Kayerts also did not like those chaps. They both, for the first time,
became aware that they lived in conditions where the unusual may be
dangerous, and that there was no power on earth outside of themselves
to stand between them and the unusual. They became uneasy, went in and
loaded their revolvers. Kayerts said, “We must order Makola to tell them
to go away before dark.”

The strangers left in the afternoon, after eating a meal prepared for
them by Mrs. Makola. The immense woman was excited, and talked much with
the visitors. She rattled away shrilly, pointing here and there at the
forests and at the river. Makola sat apart and watched. At times he got
up and whispered to his wife. He accompanied the strangers across the
ravine at the back of the station-ground, and returned slowly looking
very thoughtful. When questioned by the white men he was very strange,
seemed not to understand, seemed to have forgotten French--seemed to
have forgotten how to speak altogether. Kayerts and Carlier agreed that
the nigger had had too much palm wine.

There was some talk about keeping a watch in turn, but in the evening
everything seemed so quiet and peaceful that they retired as usual. All
night they were disturbed by a lot of drumming in the villages. A
deep, rapid roll near by would be followed by another far off--then all
ceased. Soon short appeals would rattle out here and there, then all
mingle together, increase, become vigorous and sustained, would spread
out over the forest, roll through the night, unbroken and ceaseless,
near and far, as if the whole land had been one immense drum booming out
steadily an appeal to heaven. And through the deep and tremendous noise
sudden yells that resembled snatches of songs from a madhouse darted
shrill and high in discordant jets of sound which seemed to rush far
above the earth and drive all peace from under the stars.

Carlier and Kayerts slept badly. They both thought they had heard shots
fired during the night--but they could not agree as to the direction. In
the morning Makola was gone somewhere. He returned about noon with one
of yesterday’s strangers, and eluded all Kayerts’ attempts to close with
him: had become deaf apparently. Kayerts wondered. Carlier, who had been
fishing off the bank, came back and remarked while he showed his catch,
“The niggers seem to be in a deuce of a stir; I wonder what’s up. I saw
about fifteen canoes cross the river during the two hours I was there
fishing.” Kayerts, worried, said, “Isn’t this Makola very queer to-day?”
 Carlier advised, “Keep all our men together in case of some trouble.”


There were ten station men who had been left by the Director. Those
fellows, having engaged themselves to the Company for six months
(without having any idea of a month in particular and only a very faint
notion of time in general), had been serving the cause of progress for
upwards of two years. Belonging to a tribe from a very distant part
of the land of darkness and sorrow, they did not run away, naturally
supposing that as wandering strangers they would be killed by the
inhabitants of the country; in which they were right. They lived in
straw huts on the slope of a ravine overgrown with reedy grass, just
behind the station buildings. They were not happy, regretting the
festive incantations, the sorceries, the human sacrifices of their own
land; where they also had parents, brothers, sisters, admired chiefs,
respected magicians, loved friends, and other ties supposed generally
to be human. Besides, the rice rations served out by the Company did not
agree with them, being a food unknown to their land, and to which they
could not get used. Consequently they were unhealthy and miserable.
Had they been of any other tribe they would have made up their minds to
die--for nothing is easier to certain savages than suicide--and so have
escaped from the puzzling difficulties of existence. But belonging, as
they did, to a warlike tribe with filed teeth, they had more grit, and
went on stupidly living through disease and sorrow. They did very little
work, and had lost their splendid physique. Carlier and Kayerts doctored
them assiduously without being able to bring them back into condition
again. They were mustered every morning and told off to different
tasks--grass-cutting, fence-building, tree-felling, &c., &c., which no
power on earth could induce them to execute efficiently. The two whites
had practically very little control over them.

In the afternoon Makola came over to the big house and found Kayerts
watching three heavy columns of smoke rising above the forests. “What is
that?” asked Kayerts. “Some villages burn,” answered Makola, who seemed
to have regained his wits. Then he said abruptly: “We have got very
little ivory; bad six months’ trading. Do you like get a little more

“Yes,” said Kayerts, eagerly. He thought of percentages which were low.

“Those men who came yesterday are traders from Loanda who have got more
ivory than they can carry home. Shall I buy? I know their camp.”

“Certainly,” said Kayerts. “What are those traders?”

“Bad fellows,” said Makola, indifferently. “They fight with people, and
catch women and children. They are bad men, and got guns. There is a
great disturbance in the country. Do you want ivory?”

“Yes,” said Kayerts. Makola said nothing for a while. Then: “Those
workmen of ours are no good at all,” he muttered, looking round.
“Station in very bad order, sir. Director will growl. Better get a fine
lot of ivory, then he say nothing.”

“I can’t help it; the men won’t work,” said Kayerts. “When will you get
that ivory?”

“Very soon,” said Makola. “Perhaps to-night. You leave it to me, and
keep indoors, sir. I think you had better give some palm wine to our men
to make a dance this evening. Enjoy themselves. Work better to-morrow.
There’s plenty palm wine--gone a little sour.”

Kayerts said “yes,” and Makola, with his own hands carried big
calabashes to the door of his hut. They stood there till the evening,
and Mrs. Makola looked into every one. The men got them at sunset. When
Kayerts and Carlier retired, a big bonfire was flaring before the men’s
huts. They could hear their shouts and drumming. Some men from Gobila’s
village had joined the station hands, and the entertainment was a great

In the middle of the night, Carlier waking suddenly, heard a man shout
loudly; then a shot was fired. Only one. Carlier ran out and met Kayerts
on the verandah. They were both startled. As they went across the yard
to call Makola, they saw shadows moving in the night. One of them cried,
“Don’t shoot! It’s me, Price.” Then Makola appeared close to them. “Go
back, go back, please,” he urged, “you spoil all.” “There are strange
men about,” said Carlier. “Never mind; I know,” said Makola. Then he
whispered, “All right. Bring ivory. Say nothing! I know my business.”
 The two white men reluctantly went back to the house, but did not sleep.
They heard footsteps, whispers, some groans. It seemed as if a lot of
men came in, dumped heavy things on the ground, squabbled a long time,
then went away. They lay on their hard beds and thought: “This Makola is
invaluable.” In the morning Carlier came out, very sleepy, and pulled
at the cord of the big bell. The station hands mustered every morning
to the sound of the bell. That morning nobody came. Kayerts turned out
also, yawning. Across the yard they saw Makola come out of his hut, a
tin basin of soapy water in his hand. Makola, a civilized nigger, was
very neat in his person. He threw the soapsuds skilfully over a wretched
little yellow cur he had, then turning his face to the agent’s house, he
shouted from the distance, “All the men gone last night!”

They heard him plainly, but in their surprise they both yelled out
together: “What!” Then they stared at one another. “We are in a proper
fix now,” growled Carlier. “It’s incredible!” muttered Kayerts. “I will
go to the huts and see,” said Carlier, striding off. Makola coming up
found Kayerts standing alone.

“I can hardly believe it,” said Kayerts, tearfully. “We took care of
them as if they had been our children.”

“They went with the coast people,” said Makola after a moment of

“What do I care with whom they went--the ungrateful brutes!” exclaimed
the other. Then with sudden suspicion, and looking hard at Makola, he
added: “What do you know about it?”

Makola moved his shoulders, looking down on the ground. “What do I know?
I think only. Will you come and look at the ivory I’ve got there? It is
a fine lot. You never saw such.”

He moved towards the store. Kayerts followed him mechanically, thinking
about the incredible desertion of the men. On the ground before the door
of the fetish lay six splendid tusks.

“What did you give for it?” asked Kayerts, after surveying the lot with

“No regular trade,” said Makola. “They brought the ivory and gave it to
me. I told them to take what they most wanted in the station. It is
a beautiful lot. No station can show such tusks. Those traders wanted
carriers badly, and our men were no good here. No trade, no entry in
books: all correct.”

Kayerts nearly burst with indignation. “Why!” he shouted, “I believe you
have sold our men for these tusks!” Makola stood impassive and silent.
“I--I--will--I,” stuttered Kayerts. “You fiend!” he yelled out.

“I did the best for you and the Company,” said Makola, imperturbably.
“Why you shout so much? Look at this tusk.”

“I dismiss you! I will report you--I won’t look at the tusk. I forbid
you to touch them. I order you to throw them into the river. You--you!”

“You very red, Mr. Kayerts. If you are so irritable in the sun, you
will get fever and die--like the first chief!” pronounced Makola

They stood still, contemplating one another with intense eyes, as if
they had been looking with effort across immense distances. Kayerts
shivered. Makola had meant no more than he said, but his words seemed to
Kayerts full of ominous menace! He turned sharply and went away to the
house. Makola retired into the bosom of his family; and the tusks, left
lying before the store, looked very large and valuable in the sunshine.

Carlier came back on the verandah. “They’re all gone, hey?” asked
Kayerts from the far end of the common room in a muffled voice. “You did
not find anybody?”

“Oh, yes,” said Carlier, “I found one of Gobila’s people lying dead
before the huts--shot through the body. We heard that shot last night.”

Kayerts came out quickly. He found his companion staring grimly over
the yard at the tusks, away by the store. They both sat in silence for
a while. Then Kayerts related his conversation with Makola. Carlier said
nothing. At the midday meal they ate very little. They hardly exchanged
a word that day. A great silence seemed to lie heavily over the station
and press on their lips. Makola did not open the store; he spent the day
playing with his children. He lay full-length on a mat outside his door,
and the youngsters sat on his chest and clambered all over him. It was
a touching picture. Mrs. Makola was busy cooking all day, as usual.
The white men made a somewhat better meal in the evening. Afterwards,
Carlier smoking his pipe strolled over to the store; he stood for a long
time over the tusks, touched one or two with his foot, even tried to
lift the largest one by its small end. He came back to his chief, who
had not stirred from the verandah, threw himself in the chair and said--

“I can see it! They were pounced upon while they slept heavily after
drinking all that palm wine you’ve allowed Makola to give them. A put-up
job! See? The worst is, some of Gobila’s people were there, and got
carried off too, no doubt. The least drunk woke up, and got shot for his
sobriety. This is a funny country. What will you do now?”

“We can’t touch it, of course,” said Kayerts.

“Of course not,” assented Carlier.

“Slavery is an awful thing,” stammered out Kayerts in an unsteady voice.

“Frightful--the sufferings,” grunted Carlier with conviction.

They believed their words. Everybody shows a respectful deference to
certain sounds that he and his fellows can make. But about feelings
people really know nothing. We talk with indignation or enthusiasm; we
talk about oppression, cruelty, crime, devotion, self-sacrifice, virtue,
and we know nothing real beyond the words. Nobody knows what suffering
or sacrifice mean--except, perhaps the victims of the mysterious purpose
of these illusions.

Next morning they saw Makola very busy setting up in the yard the big
scales used for weighing ivory. By and by Carlier said: “What’s
that filthy scoundrel up to?” and lounged out into the yard. Kayerts
followed. They stood watching. Makola took no notice. When the balance
was swung true, he tried to lift a tusk into the scale. It was too
heavy. He looked up helplessly without a word, and for a minute they
stood round that balance as mute and still as three statues. Suddenly
Carlier said: “Catch hold of the other end, Makola--you beast!” and
together they swung the tusk up. Kayerts trembled in every limb. He
muttered, “I say! O! I say!” and putting his hand in his pocket found
there a dirty bit of paper and the stump of a pencil. He turned his back
on the others, as if about to do something tricky, and noted stealthily
the weights which Carlier shouted out to him with unnecessary loudness.
When all was over Makola whispered to himself: “The sun’s very strong
here for the tusks.” Carlier said to Kayerts in a careless tone: “I
say, chief, I might just as well give him a lift with this lot into the

As they were going back to the house Kayerts observed with a sigh: “It
had to be done.” And Carlier said: “It’s deplorable, but, the men being
Company’s men the ivory is Company’s ivory. We must look after it.” “I
will report to the Director, of course,” said Kayerts. “Of course; let
him decide,” approved Carlier.

At midday they made a hearty meal. Kayerts sighed from time to time.
Whenever they mentioned Makola’s name they always added to it an
opprobrious epithet. It eased their conscience. Makola gave himself a
half-holiday, and bathed his children in the river. No one from Gobila’s
villages came near the station that day. No one came the next day, and
the next, nor for a whole week. Gobila’s people might have been dead and
buried for any sign of life they gave. But they were only mourning for
those they had lost by the witchcraft of white men, who had brought
wicked people into their country. The wicked people were gone, but
fear remained. Fear always remains. A man may destroy everything within
himself, love and hate and belief, and even doubt; but as long as he
clings to life he cannot destroy fear: the fear, subtle, indestructible,
and terrible, that pervades his being; that tinges his thoughts; that
lurks in his heart; that watches on his lips the struggle of his last
breath. In his fear, the mild old Gobila offered extra human sacrifices
to all the Evil Spirits that had taken possession of his white friends.
His heart was heavy. Some warriors spoke about burning and killing, but
the cautious old savage dissuaded them. Who could foresee the woe those
mysterious creatures, if irritated, might bring? They should be left
alone. Perhaps in time they would disappear into the earth as the first
one had disappeared. His people must keep away from them, and hope for
the best.

Kayerts and Carlier did not disappear, but remained above on this earth,
that, somehow, they fancied had become bigger and very empty. It was not
the absolute and dumb solitude of the post that impressed them so much
as an inarticulate feeling that something from within them was gone,
something that worked for their safety, and had kept the wilderness from
interfering with their hearts. The images of home; the memory of people
like them, of men that thought and felt as they used to think and
feel, receded into distances made indistinct by the glare of unclouded
sunshine. And out of the great silence of the surrounding wilderness,
its very hopelessness and savagery seemed to approach them nearer, to
draw them gently, to look upon them, to envelop them with a solicitude
irresistible, familiar, and disgusting.

Days lengthened into weeks, then into months. Gobila’s people drummed
and yelled to every new moon, as of yore, but kept away from
the station. Makola and Carlier tried once in a canoe to open
communications, but were received with a shower of arrows, and had to
fly back to the station for dear life. That attempt set the country up
and down the river into an uproar that could be very distinctly heard
for days. The steamer was late. At first they spoke of delay jauntily,
then anxiously, then gloomily. The matter was becoming serious. Stores
were running short. Carlier cast his lines off the bank, but the river
was low, and the fish kept out in the stream. They dared not stroll
far away from the station to shoot. Moreover, there was no game in the
impenetrable forest. Once Carlier shot a hippo in the river. They had no
boat to secure it, and it sank. When it floated up it drifted away, and
Gobila’s people secured the carcase. It was the occasion for a national
holiday, but Carlier had a fit of rage over it and talked about the
necessity of exterminating all the niggers before the country could be
made habitable. Kayerts mooned about silently; spent hours looking
at the portrait of his Melie. It represented a little girl with long
bleached tresses and a rather sour face. His legs were much swollen, and
he could hardly walk. Carlier, undermined by fever, could not swagger
any more, but kept tottering about, still with a devil-may-care air, as
became a man who remembered his crack regiment. He had become hoarse,
sarcastic, and inclined to say unpleasant things. He called it “being
frank with you.” They had long ago reckoned their percentages on trade,
including in them that last deal of “this infamous Makola.” They had
also concluded not to say anything about it. Kayerts hesitated at
first--was afraid of the Director.

“He has seen worse things done on the quiet,” maintained Carlier, with
a hoarse laugh. “Trust him! He won’t thank you if you blab. He is no
better than you or me. Who will talk if we hold our tongues? There is
nobody here.”

That was the root of the trouble! There was nobody there; and being left
there alone with their weakness, they became daily more like a pair
of accomplices than like a couple of devoted friends. They had heard
nothing from home for eight months. Every evening they said, “To-morrow
we shall see the steamer.” But one of the Company’s steamers had been
wrecked, and the Director was busy with the other, relieving very
distant and important stations on the main river. He thought that the
useless station, and the useless men, could wait. Meantime Kayerts and
Carlier lived on rice boiled without salt, and cursed the Company, all
Africa, and the day they were born. One must have lived on such diet to
discover what ghastly trouble the necessity of swallowing one’s food
may become. There was literally nothing else in the station but rice
and coffee; they drank the coffee without sugar. The last fifteen lumps
Kayerts had solemnly locked away in his box, together with a half-bottle
of Cognac, “in case of sickness,” he explained. Carlier approved. “When
one is sick,” he said, “any little extra like that is cheering.”

They waited. Rank grass began to sprout over the courtyard. The bell
never rang now. Days passed, silent, exasperating, and slow. When the
two men spoke, they snarled; and their silences were bitter, as if
tinged by the bitterness of their thoughts.

One day after a lunch of boiled rice, Carlier put down his cup untasted,
and said: “Hang it all! Let’s have a decent cup of coffee for once.
Bring out that sugar, Kayerts!”

“For the sick,” muttered Kayerts, without looking up.

“For the sick,” mocked Carlier. “Bosh! . . . Well! I am sick.”

“You are no more sick than I am, and I go without,” said Kayerts in a
peaceful tone.

“Come! out with that sugar, you stingy old slave-dealer.”

Kayerts looked up quickly. Carlier was smiling with marked insolence.
And suddenly it seemed to Kayerts that he had never seen that man
before. Who was he? He knew nothing about him. What was he capable of?
There was a surprising flash of violent emotion within him, as if in the
presence of something undreamt-of, dangerous, and final. But he managed
to pronounce with composure--

“That joke is in very bad taste. Don’t repeat it.”

“Joke!” said Carlier, hitching himself forward on his seat. “I am
hungry--I am sick--I don’t joke! I hate hypocrites. You are a hypocrite.
You are a slave-dealer. I am a slave-dealer. There’s nothing but
slave-dealers in this cursed country. I mean to have sugar in my coffee
to-day, anyhow!”

“I forbid you to speak to me in that way,” said Kayerts with a fair show
of resolution.

“You!--What?” shouted Carlier, jumping up.

Kayerts stood up also. “I am your chief,” he began, trying to master the
shakiness of his voice.

“What?” yelled the other. “Who’s chief? There’s no chief here. There’s
nothing here: there’s nothing but you and I. Fetch the sugar--you
pot-bellied ass.”

“Hold your tongue. Go out of this room,” screamed Kayerts. “I dismiss
you--you scoundrel!”

Carlier swung a stool. All at once he looked dangerously in earnest.
“You flabby, good-for-nothing civilian--take that!” he howled.

Kayerts dropped under the table, and the stool struck the grass inner
wall of the room. Then, as Carlier was trying to upset the table,
Kayerts in desperation made a blind rush, head low, like a cornered pig
would do, and over-turning his friend, bolted along the verandah, and
into his room. He locked the door, snatched his revolver, and stood
panting. In less than a minute Carlier was kicking at the door
furiously, howling, “If you don’t bring out that sugar, I will shoot you
at sight, like a dog. Now then--one--two--three. You won’t? I will show
you who’s the master.”

Kayerts thought the door would fall in, and scrambled through the square
hole that served for a window in his room. There was then the whole
breadth of the house between them. But the other was apparently not
strong enough to break in the door, and Kayerts heard him running round.
Then he also began to run laboriously on his swollen legs. He ran as
quickly as he could, grasping the revolver, and unable yet to understand
what was happening to him. He saw in succession Makola’s house, the
store, the river, the ravine, and the low bushes; and he saw all those
things again as he ran for the second time round the house. Then again
they flashed past him. That morning he could not have walked a yard
without a groan.

And now he ran. He ran fast enough to keep out of sight of the other

Then as, weak and desperate, he thought, “Before I finish the next round
I shall die,” he heard the other man stumble heavily, then stop. He
stopped also. He had the back and Carlier the front of the house, as
before. He heard him drop into a chair cursing, and suddenly his own
legs gave way, and he slid down into a sitting posture with his back to
the wall. His mouth was as dry as a cinder, and his face was wet with
perspiration--and tears. What was it all about? He thought it must be a
horrible illusion; he thought he was dreaming; he thought he was going
mad! After a while he collected his senses. What did they quarrel about?
That sugar! How absurd! He would give it to him--didn’t want it himself.
And he began scrambling to his feet with a sudden feeling of security.
But before he had fairly stood upright, a commonsense reflection
occurred to him and drove him back into despair. He thought: “If I give
way now to that brute of a soldier, he will begin this horror again
to-morrow--and the day after--every day--raise other pretensions,
trample on me, torture me, make me his slave--and I will be lost! Lost!
The steamer may not come for days--may never come.” He shook so that he
had to sit down on the floor again. He shivered forlornly. He felt he
could not, would not move any more. He was completely distracted by the
sudden perception that the position was without issue--that death and
life had in a moment become equally difficult and terrible.

All at once he heard the other push his chair back; and he leaped to
his feet with extreme facility. He listened and got confused. Must
run again! Right or left? He heard footsteps. He darted to the left,
grasping his revolver, and at the very same instant, as it seemed to
him, they came into violent collision. Both shouted with surprise. A
loud explosion took place between them; a roar of red fire, thick smoke;
and Kayerts, deafened and blinded, rushed back thinking: “I am hit--it’s
all over.” He expected the other to come round--to gloat over his agony.
He caught hold of an upright of the roof--“All over!” Then he heard a
crashing fall on the other side of the house, as if somebody had tumbled
headlong over a chair--then silence. Nothing more happened. He did not
die. Only his shoulder felt as if it had been badly wrenched, and he had
lost his revolver. He was disarmed and helpless! He waited for his fate.
The other man made no sound. It was a stratagem. He was stalking him
now! Along what side? Perhaps he was taking aim this very minute!

After a few moments of an agony frightful and absurd, he decided to go
and meet his doom. He was prepared for every surrender. He turned the
corner, steadying himself with one hand on the wall; made a few paces,
and nearly swooned. He had seen on the floor, protruding past the other
corner, a pair of turned-up feet. A pair of white naked feet in
red slippers. He felt deadly sick, and stood for a time in profound
darkness. Then Makola appeared before him, saying quietly: “Come along,
Mr. Kayerts. He is dead.” He burst into tears of gratitude; a loud,
sobbing fit of crying. After a time he found himself sitting in a
chair and looking at Carlier, who lay stretched on his back. Makola was
kneeling over the body.

“Is this your revolver?” asked Makola, getting up.

“Yes,” said Kayerts; then he added very quickly, “He ran after me to
shoot me--you saw!”

“Yes, I saw,” said Makola. “There is only one revolver; where’s his?”

“Don’t know,” whispered Kayerts in a voice that had become suddenly very

“I will go and look for it,” said the other, gently. He made the round
along the verandah, while Kayerts sat still and looked at the corpse.
Makola came back empty-handed, stood in deep thought, then stepped
quietly into the dead man’s room, and came out directly with a revolver,
which he held up before Kayerts. Kayerts shut his eyes. Everything was
going round. He found life more terrible and difficult than death. He
had shot an unarmed man.

After meditating for a while, Makola said softly, pointing at the dead
man who lay there with his right eye blown out--

“He died of fever.” Kayerts looked at him with a stony stare. “Yes,”
 repeated Makola, thoughtfully, stepping over the corpse, “I think he
died of fever. Bury him to-morrow.”

And he went away slowly to his expectant wife, leaving the two white men
alone on the verandah.

Night came, and Kayerts sat unmoving on his chair. He sat quiet as if
he had taken a dose of opium. The violence of the emotions he had passed
through produced a feeling of exhausted serenity. He had plumbed in one
short afternoon the depths of horror and despair, and now found repose
in the conviction that life had no more secrets for him: neither had
death! He sat by the corpse thinking; thinking very actively, thinking
very new thoughts. He seemed to have broken loose from himself
altogether. His old thoughts, convictions, likes and dislikes, things he
respected and things he abhorred, appeared in their true light at last!
Appeared contemptible and childish, false and ridiculous. He revelled
in his new wisdom while he sat by the man he had killed. He argued with
himself about all things under heaven with that kind of wrong-headed
lucidity which may be observed in some lunatics. Incidentally he
reflected that the fellow dead there had been a noxious beast
anyway; that men died every day in thousands; perhaps in hundreds of
thousands--who could tell?--and that in the number, that one death could
not possibly make any difference; couldn’t have any importance, at least
to a thinking creature. He, Kayerts, was a thinking creature. He had
been all his life, till that moment, a believer in a lot of nonsense
like the rest of mankind--who are fools; but now he thought! He knew! He
was at peace; he was familiar with the highest wisdom! Then he tried to
imagine himself dead, and Carlier sitting in his chair watching him; and
his attempt met with such unexpected success, that in a very few
moments he became not at all sure who was dead and who was alive. This
extraordinary achievement of his fancy startled him, however, and by
a clever and timely effort of mind he saved himself just in time from
becoming Carlier. His heart thumped, and he felt hot all over at the
thought of that danger. Carlier! What a beastly thing! To compose his
now disturbed nerves--and no wonder!--he tried to whistle a little.
Then, suddenly, he fell asleep, or thought he had slept; but at any rate
there was a fog, and somebody had whistled in the fog.

He stood up. The day had come, and a heavy mist had descended upon the
land: the mist penetrating, enveloping, and silent; the morning mist
of tropical lands; the mist that clings and kills; the mist white and
deadly, immaculate and poisonous. He stood up, saw the body, and threw
his arms above his head with a cry like that of a man who, waking from a
trance, finds himself immured forever in a tomb. “Help! . . . . My God!”

A shriek inhuman, vibrating and sudden, pierced like a sharp dart the
white shroud of that land of sorrow. Three short, impatient screeches
followed, and then, for a time, the fog-wreaths rolled on, undisturbed,
through a formidable silence. Then many more shrieks, rapid and
piercing, like the yells of some exasperated and ruthless creature, rent
the air. Progress was calling to Kayerts from the river. Progress
and civilization and all the virtues. Society was calling to its
accomplished child to come, to be taken care of, to be instructed, to
be judged, to be condemned; it called him to return to that rubbish heap
from which he had wandered away, so that justice could be done.

Kayerts heard and understood. He stumbled out of the verandah, leaving
the other man quite alone for the first time since they had been thrown
there together. He groped his way through the fog, calling in his
ignorance upon the invisible heaven to undo its work. Makola flitted by
in the mist, shouting as he ran--

“Steamer! Steamer! They can’t see. They whistle for the station. I go
ring the bell. Go down to the landing, sir. I ring.”

He disappeared. Kayerts stood still. He looked upwards; the fog rolled
low over his head. He looked round like a man who has lost his way; and
he saw a dark smudge, a cross-shaped stain, upon the shifting purity of
the mist. As he began to stumble towards it, the station bell rang in a
tumultuous peal its answer to the impatient clamour of the steamer.

The Managing Director of the Great Civilizing Company (since we know
that civilization follows trade) landed first, and incontinently lost
sight of the steamer. The fog down by the river was exceedingly dense;
above, at the station, the bell rang unceasing and brazen.

The Director shouted loudly to the steamer:

“There is nobody down to meet us; there may be something wrong, though
they are ringing. You had better come, too!”

And he began to toil up the steep bank. The captain and the
engine-driver of the boat followed behind. As they scrambled up the fog
thinned, and they could see their Director a good way ahead. Suddenly
they saw him start forward, calling to them over his shoulder:--“Run!
Run to the house! I’ve found one of them. Run, look for the other!”

He had found one of them! And even he, the man of varied and startling
experience, was somewhat discomposed by the manner of this finding. He
stood and fumbled in his pockets (for a knife) while he faced Kayerts,
who was hanging by a leather strap from the cross. He had evidently
climbed the grave, which was high and narrow, and after tying the end of
the strap to the arm, had swung himself off. His toes were only a couple
of inches above the ground; his arms hung stiffly down; he seemed to be
standing rigidly at attention, but with one purple cheek playfully posed
on the shoulder. And, irreverently, he was putting out a swollen tongue
at his Managing Director.


The inner circle train from the City rushed impetuously out of a black
hole and pulled up with a discordant, grinding racket in the smirched
twilight of a West-End station. A line of doors flew open and a lot of
men stepped out headlong. They had high hats, healthy pale faces,
dark overcoats and shiny boots; they held in their gloved hands thin
umbrellas and hastily folded evening papers that resembled stiff, dirty
rags of greenish, pinkish, or whitish colour. Alvan Hervey stepped out
with the rest, a smouldering cigar between his teeth. A disregarded
little woman in rusty black, with both arms full of parcels, ran along
in distress, bolted suddenly into a third-class compartment and the
train went on. The slamming of carriage doors burst out sharp and
spiteful like a fusillade; an icy draught mingled with acrid fumes swept
the whole length of the platform and made a tottering old man, wrapped
up to his ears in a woollen comforter, stop short in the moving throng
to cough violently over his stick. No one spared him a glance.

Alvan Hervey passed through the ticket gate. Between the bare walls of
a sordid staircase men clambered rapidly; their backs appeared
alike--almost as if they had been wearing a uniform; their indifferent
faces were varied but somehow suggested kinship, like the faces of a
band of brothers who through prudence, dignity, disgust, or foresight
would resolutely ignore each other; and their eyes, quick or slow; their
eyes gazing up the dusty steps; their eyes brown, black, gray, blue, had
all the same stare, concentrated and empty, satisfied and unthinking.

Outside the big doorway of the street they scattered in all directions,
walking away fast from one another with the hurried air of men fleeing
from something compromising; from familiarity or confidences; from
something suspected and concealed--like truth or pestilence. Alvan
Hervey hesitated, standing alone in the doorway for a moment; then
decided to walk home.

He strode firmly. A misty rain settled like silvery dust on clothes,
on moustaches; wetted the faces, varnished the flagstones, darkened the
walls, dripped from umbrellas. And he moved on in the rain with careless
serenity, with the tranquil ease of someone successful and disdainful,
very sure of himself--a man with lots of money and friends. He was tall,
well set-up, good-looking and healthy; and his clear pale face had under
its commonplace refinement that slight tinge of overbearing
brutality which is given by the possession of only partly difficult
accomplishments; by excelling in games, or in the art of making money;
by the easy mastery over animals and over needy men.

He was going home much earlier than usual, straight from the City and
without calling at his club. He considered himself well connected, well
educated and intelligent. Who doesn’t? But his connections, education
and intelligence were strictly on a par with those of the men with whom
he did business or amused himself. He had married five years ago. At the
time all his acquaintances had said he was very much in love; and he had
said so himself, frankly, because it is very well understood that every
man falls in love once in his life--unless his wife dies, when it may
be quite praiseworthy to fall in love again. The girl was healthy,
tall, fair, and in his opinion was well connected, well educated and
intelligent. She was also intensely bored with her home where, as
if packed in a tight box, her individuality--of which she was very
conscious--had no play. She strode like a grenadier, was strong and
upright like an obelisk, had a beautiful face, a candid brow, pure eyes,
and not a thought of her own in her head. He surrendered quickly to all
those charms, and she appeared to him so unquestionably of the right
sort that he did not hesitate for a moment to declare himself in love.
Under the cover of that sacred and poetical fiction he desired her
masterfully, for various reasons; but principally for the satisfaction
of having his own way. He was very dull and solemn about it--for no
earthly reason, unless to conceal his feelings--which is an eminently
proper thing to do. Nobody, however, would have been shocked had
he neglected that duty, for the feeling he experienced really was a
longing--a longing stronger and a little more complex no doubt, but no
more reprehensible in its nature than a hungry man’s appetite for his

After their marriage they busied themselves, with marked success, in
enlarging the circle of their acquaintance. Thirty people knew them
by sight; twenty more with smiling demonstrations tolerated their
occasional presence within hospitable thresholds; at least fifty others
became aware of their existence. They moved in their enlarged world
amongst perfectly delightful men and women who feared emotion,
enthusiasm, or failure, more than fire, war, or mortal disease; who
tolerated only the commonest formulas of commonest thoughts, and
recognized only profitable facts. It was an extremely charming sphere,
the abode of all the virtues, where nothing is realized and where
all joys and sorrows are cautiously toned down into pleasures and
annoyances. In that serene region, then, where noble sentiments are
cultivated in sufficient profusion to conceal the pitiless materialism
of thoughts and aspirations Alvan Hervey and his wife spent five years
of prudent bliss unclouded by any doubt as to the moral propriety of
their existence. She, to give her individuality fair play, took up all
manner of philanthropic work and became a member of various rescuing and
reforming societies patronized or presided over by ladies of title. He
took an active interest in politics; and having met quite by chance a
literary man--who nevertheless was related to an earl--he was induced
to finance a moribund society paper. It was a semi-political, and wholly
scandalous publication, redeemed by excessive dulness; and as it was
utterly faithless, as it contained no new thought, as it never by any
chance had a flash of wit, satire, or indignation in its pages, he
judged it respectable enough, at first sight. Afterwards, when it paid,
he promptly perceived that upon the whole it was a virtuous undertaking.
It paved the way of his ambition; and he enjoyed also the special kind
of importance he derived from this connection with what he imagined to
be literature.

This connection still further enlarged their world. Men who wrote or
drew prettily for the public came at times to their house, and his
editor came very often. He thought him rather an ass because he had such
big front teeth (the proper thing is to have small, even teeth) and
wore his hair a trifle longer than most men do. However, some dukes wear
their hair long, and the fellow indubitably knew his business. The worst
was that his gravity, though perfectly portentous, could not be trusted.
He sat, elegant and bulky, in the drawing-room, the head of his
stick hovering in front of his big teeth, and talked for hours with
a thick-lipped smile (he said nothing that could be considered
objectionable and not quite the thing) talked in an unusual manner--not
obviously irritatingly. His forehead was too lofty--unusually so--and
under it there was a straight nose, lost between the hairless cheeks,
that in a smooth curve ran into a chin shaped like the end of a
snow-shoe. And in this face that resembled the face of a fat and
fiendishly knowing baby there glittered a pair of clever, peering,
unbelieving black eyes. He wrote verses too. Rather an ass. But the band
of men who trailed at the skirts of his monumental frock-coat seemed to
perceive wonderful things in what he said. Alvan Hervey put it down
to affectation. Those artist chaps, upon the whole, were so affected.
Still, all this was highly proper--very useful to him--and his wife
seemed to like it--as if she also had derived some distinct and secret
advantage from this intellectual connection. She received her mixed and
decorous guests with a kind of tall, ponderous grace, peculiarly her own
and which awakened in the mind of intimidated strangers incongruous and
improper reminiscences of an elephant, a giraffe, a gazelle; of a gothic
tower--of an overgrown angel. Her Thursdays were becoming famous in
their world; and their world grew steadily, annexing street after
street. It included also Somebody’s Gardens, a Crescent--a couple of

Thus Alvan Hervey and his wife for five prosperous years lived by the
side of one another. In time they came to know each other sufficiently
well for all the practical purposes of such an existence, but they were
no more capable of real intimacy than two animals feeding at the same
manger, under the same roof, in a luxurious stable. His longing was
appeased and became a habit; and she had her desire--the desire to get
away from under the paternal roof, to assert her individuality, to move
in her own set (so much smarter than the parental one); to have a
home of her own, and her own share of the world’s respect, envy, and
applause. They understood each other warily, tacitly, like a pair of
cautious conspirators in a profitable plot; because they were both
unable to look at a fact, a sentiment, a principle, or a belief
otherwise than in the light of their own dignity, of their own
glorification, of their own advantage. They skimmed over the surface
of life hand in hand, in a pure and frosty atmosphere--like two
skilful skaters cutting figures on thick ice for the admiration of
the beholders, and disdainfully ignoring the hidden stream, the stream
restless and dark; the stream of life, profound and unfrozen.

Alvan Hervey turned twice to the left, once to the right, walked along
two sides of a square, in the middle of which groups of tame-looking
trees stood in respectable captivity behind iron railings, and rang at
his door. A parlour-maid opened. A fad of his wife’s, this, to have only
women servants. That girl, while she took his hat and overcoat, said
something which made him look at his watch. It was five o’clock, and his
wife not at home. There was nothing unusual in that. He said, “No; no
tea,” and went upstairs.

He ascended without footfalls. Brass rods glimmered all up the red
carpet. On the first-floor landing a marble woman, decently covered from
neck to instep with stone draperies, advanced a row of lifeless toes
to the edge of the pedestal, and thrust out blindly a rigid white arm
holding a cluster of lights. He had artistic tastes--at home. Heavy
curtains caught back, half concealed dark corners. On the rich, stamped
paper of the walls hung sketches, water-colours, engravings. His tastes
were distinctly artistic. Old church towers peeped above green masses
of foliage; the hills were purple, the sands yellow, the seas sunny, the
skies blue. A young lady sprawled with dreamy eyes in a moored boat, in
company of a lunch basket, a champagne bottle, and an enamoured man in
a blazer. Bare-legged boys flirted sweetly with ragged maidens, slept
on stone steps, gambolled with dogs. A pathetically lean girl flattened
against a blank wall, turned up expiring eyes and tendered a flower for
sale; while, near by, the large photographs of some famous and mutilated
bas-reliefs seemed to represent a massacre turned into stone.

He looked, of course, at nothing, ascended another flight of stairs and
went straight into the dressing room. A bronze dragon nailed by the tail
to a bracket writhed away from the wall in calm convolutions, and
held, between the conventional fury of its jaws, a crude gas flame that
resembled a butterfly. The room was empty, of course; but, as he stepped
in, it became filled all at once with a stir of many people; because
the strips of glass on the doors of wardrobes and his wife’s large
pier-glass reflected him from head to foot, and multiplied his image
into a crowd of gentlemanly and slavish imitators, who were dressed
exactly like himself; had the same restrained and rare gestures; who
moved when he moved, stood still with him in an obsequious immobility,
and had just such appearances of life and feeling as he thought it
dignified and safe for any man to manifest. And like real people who are
slaves of common thoughts, that are not even their own, they affected a
shadowy independence by the superficial variety of their movements. They
moved together with him; but they either advanced to meet him, or walked
away from him; they appeared, disappeared; they seemed to dodge behind
walnut furniture, to be seen again, far within the polished panes,
stepping about distinct and unreal in the convincing illusion of a
room. And like the men he respected they could be trusted to do nothing
individual, original, or startling--nothing unforeseen and nothing

He moved for a time aimlessly in that good company, humming a popular
but refined tune, and thinking vaguely of a business letter from abroad,
which had to be answered on the morrow with cautious prevarication.
Then, as he walked towards a wardrobe, he saw appearing at his back, in
the high mirror, the corner of his wife’s dressing-table, and amongst
the glitter of silver-mounted objects on it, the square white patch of
an envelope. It was such an unusual thing to be seen there that he spun
round almost before he realized his surprise; and all the sham men
about him pivoted on their heels; all appeared surprised; and all moved
rapidly towards envelopes on dressing-tables.

He recognized his wife’s handwriting and saw that the envelope was
addressed to himself. He muttered, “How very odd,” and felt annoyed.
Apart from any odd action being essentially an indecent thing in itself,
the fact of his wife indulging in it made it doubly offensive. That she
should write to him at all, when she knew he would be home for dinner,
was perfectly ridiculous; but that she should leave it like this--in
evidence for chance discovery--struck him as so outrageous that,
thinking of it, he experienced suddenly a staggering sense of
insecurity, an absurd and bizarre flash of a notion that the house had
moved a little under his feet. He tore the envelope open, glanced at the
letter, and sat down in a chair near by.

He held the paper before his eyes and looked at half a dozen lines
scrawled on the page, while he was stunned by a noise meaningless
and violent, like the clash of gongs or the beating of drums; a great
aimless uproar that, in a manner, prevented him from hearing himself
think and made his mind an absolute blank. This absurd and distracting
tumult seemed to ooze out of the written words, to issue from between
his very fingers that trembled, holding the paper. And suddenly he
dropped the letter as though it had been something hot, or venomous, or
filthy; and rushing to the window with the unreflecting precipitation
of a man anxious to raise an alarm of fire or murder, he threw it up and
put his head out.

A chill gust of wind, wandering through the damp and sooty obscurity
over the waste of roofs and chimney-pots, touched his face with a clammy
flick. He saw an illimitable darkness, in which stood a black jumble of
walls, and, between them, the many rows of gaslights stretched far away
in long lines, like strung-up beads of fire. A sinister loom as of a
hidden conflagration lit up faintly from below the mist, falling upon
a billowy and motionless sea of tiles and bricks. At the rattle of the
opened window the world seemed to leap out of the night and confront
him, while floating up to his ears there came a sound vast and faint;
the deep mutter of something immense and alive. It penetrated him with
a feeling of dismay and he gasped silently. From the cab-stand in the
square came distinct hoarse voices and a jeering laugh which sounded
ominously harsh and cruel. It sounded threatening. He drew his head in,
as if before an aimed blow, and flung the window down quickly. He made
a few steps, stumbled against a chair, and with a great effort, pulled
himself together to lay hold of a certain thought that was whizzing
about loose in his head.

He got it at last, after more exertion than he expected; he was flushed
and puffed a little as though he had been catching it with his hands,
but his mental hold on it was weak, so weak that he judged it necessary
to repeat it aloud--to hear it spoken firmly--in order to insure a
perfect measure of possession. But he was unwilling to hear his own
voice--to hear any sound whatever--owing to a vague belief, shaping
itself slowly within him, that solitude and silence are the greatest
felicities of mankind. The next moment it dawned upon him that they are
perfectly unattainable--that faces must be seen, words spoken, thoughts
heard. All the words--all the thoughts!

He said very distinctly, and looking at the carpet, “She’s gone.”

It was terrible--not the fact but the words; the words charged with the
shadowy might of a meaning, that seemed to possess the tremendous power
to call Fate down upon the earth, like those strange and appalling words
that sometimes are heard in sleep. They vibrated round him in a metallic
atmosphere, in a space that had the hardness of iron and the resonance
of a bell of bronze. Looking down between the toes of his boots he
seemed to listen thoughtfully to the receding wave of sound; to the
wave spreading out in a widening circle, embracing streets, roofs,
church-steeples, fields--and travelling away, widening endlessly,
far, very far, where he could not hear--where he could not imagine
anything--where . . .

“And--with that . . . ass,” he said again without stirring in the least.
And there was nothing but humiliation. Nothing else. He could derive no
moral solace from any aspect of the situation, which radiated pain only
on every side. Pain. What kind of pain? It occurred to him that he ought
to be heart-broken; but in an exceedingly short moment he perceived that
his suffering was nothing of so trifling and dignified a kind. It was
altogether a more serious matter, and partook rather of the nature
of those subtle and cruel feelings which are awakened by a kick or a

He felt very sick--physically sick--as though he had bitten through
something nauseous. Life, that to a well-ordered mind should be a
matter of congratulation, appeared to him, for a second or so, perfectly
intolerable. He picked up the paper at his feet, and sat down with the
wish to think it out, to understand why his wife--his wife!--should
leave him, should throw away respect, comfort, peace, decency, position
throw away everything for nothing! He set himself to think out the
hidden logic of her action--a mental undertaking fit for the leisure
hours of a madhouse, though he couldn’t see it. And he thought of his
wife in every relation except the only fundamental one. He thought
of her as a well-bred girl, as a wife, as a cultured person, as the
mistress of a house, as a lady; but he never for a moment thought of her
simply as a woman.

Then a fresh wave, a raging wave of humiliation, swept through his mind,
and left nothing there but a personal sense of undeserved abasement. Why
should he be mixed up with such a horrid exposure! It annihilated all
the advantages of his well-ordered past, by a truth effective and unjust
like a calumny--and the past was wasted. Its failure was disclosed--a
distinct failure, on his part, to see, to guard, to understand. It could
not be denied; it could not be explained away, hustled out of sight. He
could not sit on it and look solemn. Now--if she had only died!

If she had only died! He was driven to envy such a respectable
bereavement, and one so perfectly free from any taint of misfortune that
even his best friend or his best enemy would not have felt the slightest
thrill of exultation. No one would have cared. He sought comfort in
clinging to the contemplation of the only fact of life that the resolute
efforts of mankind had never failed to disguise in the clatter and
glamour of phrases. And nothing lends itself more to lies than death.
If she had only died! Certain words would have been said to him in a
sad tone, and he, with proper fortitude, would have made appropriate
answers. There were precedents for such an occasion. And no one would
have cared. If she had only died! The promises, the terrors, the hopes
of eternity, are the concern of the corrupt dead; but the obvious
sweetness of life belongs to living, healthy men. And life was his
concern: that sane and gratifying existence untroubled by too much love
or by too much regret. She had interfered with it; she had defaced it.
And suddenly it occurred to him he must have been mad to marry. It was
too much in the nature of giving yourself away, of wearing--if for
a moment--your heart on your sleeve. But every one married. Was all
mankind mad!

In the shock of that startling thought he looked up, and saw to the
left, to the right, in front, men sitting far off in chairs and looking
at him with wild eyes--emissaries of a distracted mankind intruding to
spy upon his pain and his humiliation. It was not to be borne. He rose
quickly, and the others jumped up, too, on all sides. He stood still in
the middle of the room as if discouraged by their vigilance. No escape!
He felt something akin to despair. Everybody must know. The servants
must know to-night. He ground his teeth . . . And he had never noticed,
never guessed anything. Every one will know. He thought: “The woman’s a
monster, but everybody will think me a fool”; and standing still in the
midst of severe walnut-wood furniture, he felt such a tempest of anguish
within him that he seemed to see himself rolling on the carpet, beating
his head against the wall. He was disgusted with himself, with the
loathsome rush of emotion breaking through all the reserves that guarded
his manhood. Something unknown, withering and poisonous, had entered
his life, passed near him, touched him, and he was deteriorating. He was
appalled. What was it? She was gone. Why? His head was ready to burst
with the endeavour to understand her act and his subtle horror of it.
Everything was changed. Why? Only a woman gone, after all; and yet he
had a vision, a vision quick and distinct as a dream: the vision of
everything he had thought indestructible and safe in the world crashing
down about him, like solid walls do before the fierce breath of
a hurricane. He stared, shaking in every limb, while he felt the
destructive breath, the mysterious breath, the breath of passion, stir
the profound peace of the house. He looked round in fear. Yes. Crime may
be forgiven; uncalculating sacrifice, blind trust, burning faith, other
follies, may be turned to account; suffering, death itself, may with a
grin or a frown be explained away; but passion is the unpardonable and
secret infamy of our hearts, a thing to curse, to hide and to deny; a
shameless and forlorn thing that tramples upon the smiling promises,
that tears off the placid mask, that strips the body of life. And it had
come to him! It had laid its unclean hand upon the spotless draperies
of his existence, and he had to face it alone with all the world looking
on. All the world! And he thought that even the bare suspicion of
such an adversary within his house carried with it a taint and a
condemnation. He put both his hands out as if to ward off the reproach
of a defiling truth; and, instantly, the appalled conclave of unreal
men, standing about mutely beyond the clear lustre of mirrors, made at
him the same gesture of rejection and horror.

He glanced vainly here and there, like a man looking in desperation
for a weapon or for a hiding place, and understood at last that he was
disarmed and cornered by the enemy that, without any squeamishness,
would strike so as to lay open his heart. He could get help nowhere,
or even take counsel with himself, because in the sudden shock of her
desertion the sentiments which he knew that in fidelity to his bringing
up, to his prejudices and his surroundings, he ought to experience, were
so mixed up with the novelty of real feelings, of fundamental feelings
that know nothing of creed, class, or education, that he was unable to
distinguish clearly between what is and what ought to be; between the
inexcusable truth and the valid pretences. And he knew instinctively
that truth would be of no use to him. Some kind of concealment seemed a
necessity because one cannot explain. Of course not! Who would listen?
One had simply to be without stain and without reproach to keep one’s
place in the forefront of life.

He said to himself, “I must get over it the best I can,” and began to
walk up and down the room. What next? What ought to be done? He thought:
“I will travel--no I won’t. I shall face it out.” And after that resolve
he was greatly cheered by the reflection that it would be a mute and an
easy part to play, for no one would be likely to converse with him about
the abominable conduct of--that woman. He argued to himself that
decent people--and he knew no others--did not care to talk about such
indelicate affairs. She had gone off--with that unhealthy, fat ass of a
journalist. Why? He had been all a husband ought to be. He had given her
a good position--she shared his prospects--he had treated her invariably
with great consideration. He reviewed his conduct with a kind of dismal
pride. It had been irreproachable. Then, why? For love? Profanation!
There could be no love there. A shameful impulse of passion. Yes,
passion. His own wife! Good God! . . . And the indelicate aspect of his
domestic misfortune struck him with such shame that, next moment, he
caught himself in the act of pondering absurdly over the notion whether
it would not be more dignified for him to induce a general belief that
he had been in the habit of beating his wife. Some fellows do . . . and
anything would be better than the filthy fact; for it was clear he
had lived with the root of it for five years--and it was too shameful.
Anything! Anything! Brutality . . . But he gave it up directly, and
began to think of the Divorce Court. It did not present itself to him,
notwithstanding his respect for law and usage, as a proper refuge for
dignified grief. It appeared rather as an unclean and sinister cavern
where men and women are haled by adverse fate to writhe ridiculously
in the presence of uncompromising truth. It should not be allowed. That
woman! Five . . . years . . . married five years . . . and never to see
anything. Not to the very last day . . . not till she coolly went off.
And he pictured to himself all the people he knew engaged in speculating
as to whether all that time he had been blind, foolish, or infatuated.
What a woman! Blind! . . . Not at all. Could a clean-minded man imagine
such depravity? Evidently not. He drew a free breath. That was the
attitude to take; it was dignified enough; it gave him the advantage,
and he could not help perceiving that it was moral. He yearned
unaffectedly to see morality (in his person) triumphant before the
world. As to her she would be forgotten. Let her be forgotten--buried in
oblivion--lost! No one would allude . . . Refined people--and every man
and woman he knew could be so described--had, of course, a horror of
such topics. Had they? Oh, yes. No one would allude to her . . . in his
hearing. He stamped his foot, tore the letter across, then again and
again. The thought of sympathizing friends excited in him a fury
of mistrust. He flung down the small bits of paper. They settled,
fluttering at his feet, and looked very white on the dark carpet, like a
scattered handful of snow-flakes.

This fit of hot anger was succeeded by a sudden sadness, by the
darkening passage of a thought that ran over the scorched surface of his
heart, like upon a barren plain, and after a fiercer assault of sunrays,
the melancholy and cooling shadow of a cloud. He realized that he had
had a shock--not a violent or rending blow, that can be seen, resisted,
returned, forgotten, but a thrust, insidious and penetrating, that had
stirred all those feelings, concealed and cruel, which the arts of the
devil, the fears of mankind--God’s infinite compassion, perhaps--keep
chained deep down in the inscrutable twilight of our breasts. A dark
curtain seemed to rise before him, and for less than a second he looked
upon the mysterious universe of moral suffering. As a landscape is seen
complete, and vast, and vivid, under a flash of lightning, so he
could see disclosed in a moment all the immensity of pain that can be
contained in one short moment of human thought. Then the curtain fell
again, but his rapid vision left in Alvan Hervey’s mind a trail of
invincible sadness, a sense of loss and bitter solitude, as though he
had been robbed and exiled. For a moment he ceased to be a member of
society with a position, a career, and a name attached to all this, like
a descriptive label of some complicated compound. He was a simple human
being removed from the delightful world of crescents and squares. He
stood alone, naked and afraid, like the first man on the first day of
evil. There are in life events, contacts, glimpses, that seem brutally
to bring all the past to a close. There is a shock and a crash, as of
a gate flung to behind one by the perfidious hand of fate. Go and seek
another paradise, fool or sage. There is a moment of dumb dismay, and
the wanderings must begin again; the painful explaining away of facts,
the feverish raking up of illusions, the cultivation of a fresh crop
of lies in the sweat of one’s brow, to sustain life, to make it
supportable, to make it fair, so as to hand intact to another generation
of blind wanderers the charming legend of a heartless country, of a
promised land, all flowers and blessings . . .

He came to himself with a slight start, and became aware of an
oppressive, crushing desolation. It was only a feeling, it is true,
but it produced on him a physical effect, as though his chest had
been squeezed in a vice. He perceived himself so extremely forlorn
and lamentable, and was moved so deeply by the oppressive sorrow, that
another turn of the screw, he felt, would bring tears out of his eyes.
He was deteriorating. Five years of life in common had appeased his
longing. Yes, long-time ago. The first five months did that--but . . .
There was the habit--the habit of her person, of her smile, of her
gestures, of her voice, of her silence. She had a pure brow and
good hair. How utterly wretched all this was. Good hair and fine
eyes--remarkably fine. He was surprised by the number of details that
intruded upon his unwilling memory. He could not help remembering her
footsteps, the rustle of her dress, her way of holding her head, her
decisive manner of saying “Alvan,” the quiver of her nostrils when she
was annoyed. All that had been so much his property, so intimately and
specially his! He raged in a mournful, silent way, as he took stock
of his losses. He was like a man counting the cost of an unlucky
speculation--irritated, depressed--exasperated with himself and with
others, with the fortunate, with the indifferent, with the callous; yet
the wrong done him appeared so cruel that he would perhaps have dropped
a tear over that spoliation if it had not been for his conviction
that men do not weep. Foreigners do; they also kill sometimes in such
circumstances. And to his horror he felt himself driven to regret almost
that the usages of a society ready to forgive the shooting of a burglar
forbade him, under the circumstances, even as much as a thought of
murder. Nevertheless, he clenched his fists and set his teeth hard.
And he was afraid at the same time. He was afraid with that penetrating
faltering fear that seems, in the very middle of a beat, to turn one’s
heart into a handful of dust. The contamination of her crime spread out,
tainted the universe, tainted himself; woke up all the dormant infamies
of the world; caused a ghastly kind of clairvoyance in which he could
see the towns and fields of the earth, its sacred places, its temples
and its houses, peopled by monsters--by monsters of duplicity, lust, and
murder. She was a monster--he himself was thinking monstrous thoughts
. . . and yet he was like other people. How many men and women at this
very moment were plunged in abominations--meditated crimes. It was
frightful to think of. He remembered all the streets--the well-to-do
streets he had passed on his way home; all the innumerable houses with
closed doors and curtained windows. Each seemed now an abode of anguish
and folly. And his thought, as if appalled, stood still, recalling with
dismay the decorous and frightful silence that was like a conspiracy;
the grim, impenetrable silence of miles of walls concealing passions,
misery, thoughts of crime. Surely he was not the only man; his was not
the only house . . . and yet no one knew--no one guessed. But he knew.
He knew with unerring certitude that could not be deceived by the
correct silence of walls, of closed doors, of curtained windows. He was
beside himself with a despairing agitation, like a man informed of
a deadly secret--the secret of a calamity threatening the safety of
mankind--the sacredness, the peace of life.

He caught sight of himself in one of the looking-glasses. It was a
relief. The anguish of his feeling had been so powerful that he more
than half expected to see some distorted wild face there, and he was
pleasantly surprised to see nothing of the kind. His aspect, at any
rate, would let no one into the secret of his pain. He examined himself
with attention. His trousers were turned up, and his boots a little
muddy, but he looked very much as usual. Only his hair was slightly
ruffled, and that disorder, somehow, was so suggestive of trouble
that he went quickly to the table, and began to use the brushes, in an
anxious desire to obliterate the compromising trace, that only vestige
of his emotion. He brushed with care, watching the effect of his
smoothing; and another face, slightly pale and more tense than was
perhaps desirable, peered back at him from the toilet glass. He laid the
brushes down, and was not satisfied. He took them up again and brushed,
brushed mechanically--forgot himself in that occupation. The tumult of
his thoughts ended in a sluggish flow of reflection, such as, after the
outburst of a volcano, the almost imperceptible progress of a stream
of lava, creeping languidly over a convulsed land and pitilessly
obliterating any landmark left by the shock of the earthquake. It is
a destructive but, by comparison, it is a peaceful phenomenon. Alvan
Hervey was almost soothed by the deliberate pace of his thoughts. His
moral landmarks were going one by one, consumed in the fire of his
experience, buried in hot mud, in ashes. He was cooling--on the surface;
but there was enough heat left somewhere to make him slap the brushes on
the table, and turning away, say in a fierce whisper: “I wish him joy
. . . Damn the woman.”

He felt himself utterly corrupted by her wickedness, and the most
significant symptom of his moral downfall was the bitter, acrid
satisfaction with which he recognized it. He, deliberately, swore in his
thoughts; he meditated sneers; he shaped in profound silence words of
cynical unbelief, and his most cherished convictions stood revealed
finally as the narrow prejudices of fools. A crowd of shapeless, unclean
thoughts crossed his mind in a stealthy rush, like a band of veiled
malefactors hastening to a crime. He put his hands deep into his
pockets. He heard a faint ringing somewhere, and muttered to himself:
“I am not the only one . . . not the only one.” There was another ring.
Front door!

His heart leaped up into his throat, and forthwith descended as low as
his boots. A call! Who? Why? He wanted to rush out on the landing and
shout to the servant: “Not at home! Gone away abroad!” . . . Any excuse.
He could not face a visitor. Not this evening. No. To-morrow. . . .
Before he could break out of the numbness that enveloped him like a
sheet of lead, he heard far below, as if in the entrails of the earth,
a door close heavily. The house vibrated to it more than to a clap of
thunder. He stood still, wishing himself invisible. The room was very
chilly. He did not think he would ever feel like that. But people must
be met--they must be faced--talked to--smiled at. He heard another door,
much nearer--the door of the drawing-room--being opened and flung to
again. He imagined for a moment he would faint. How absurd! That kind
of thing had to be gone through. A voice spoke. He could not catch the
words. Then the voice spoke again, and footsteps were heard on the
first floor landing. Hang it all! Was he to hear that voice and those
footsteps whenever any one spoke or moved? He thought: “This is like
being haunted--I suppose it will last for a week or so, at least. Till
I forget. Forget! Forget!” Someone was coming up the second flight of
stairs. Servant? He listened, then, suddenly, as though an incredible,
frightful revelation had been shouted to him from a distance, he
bellowed out in the empty room: “What! What!” in such a fiendish tone
as to astonish himself. The footsteps stopped outside the door. He stood
openmouthed, maddened and still, as if in the midst of a catastrophe.
The door-handle rattled lightly. It seemed to him that the walls were
coming apart, that the furniture swayed at him; the ceiling slanted
queerly for a moment, a tall wardrobe tried to topple over. He caught
hold of something and it was the back of a chair. So he had reeled
against a chair! Oh! Confound it! He gripped hard.

The flaming butterfly poised between the jaws of the bronze dragon
radiated a glare, a glare that seemed to leap up all at once into a
crude, blinding fierceness, and made it difficult for him to distinguish
plainly the figure of his wife standing upright with her back to the
closed door. He looked at her and could not detect her breathing. The
harsh and violent light was beating on her, and he was amazed to see her
preserve so well the composure of her upright attitude in that scorching
brilliance which, to his eyes, enveloped her like a hot and consuming
mist. He would not have been surprised if she had vanished in it as
suddenly as she had appeared. He stared and listened; listened for some
sound, but the silence round him was absolute--as though he had in
a moment grown completely deaf as well as dim-eyed. Then his hearing
returned, preternaturally sharp. He heard the patter of a rain-shower on
the window panes behind the lowered blinds, and below, far below, in
the artificial abyss of the square, the deadened roll of wheels and the
splashy trotting of a horse. He heard a groan also--very distinct--in
the room--close to his ear.

He thought with alarm: “I must have made that noise myself;” and at the
same instant the woman left the door, stepped firmly across the floor
before him, and sat down in a chair. He knew that step. There was no
doubt about it. She had come back! And he very nearly said aloud
“Of course!”--such was his sudden and masterful perception of the
indestructible character of her being. Nothing could destroy her--and
nothing but his own destruction could keep her away. She was the
incarnation of all the short moments which every man spares out of his
life for dreams, for precious dreams that concrete the most cherished,
the most profitable of his illusions. He peered at her with inward
trepidation. She was mysterious, significant, full of obscure meaning
--like a symbol. He peered, bending forward, as though he had been
discovering about her things he had never seen before. Unconsciously
he made a step towards her--then another. He saw her arm make an ample,
decided movement and he stopped. She had lifted her veil. It was like
the lifting of a vizor.

The spell was broken. He experienced a shock as though he had been
called out of a trance by the sudden noise of an explosion. It was even
more startling and more distinct; it was an infinitely more intimate
change, for he had the sensation of having come into this room only that
very moment; of having returned from very far; he was made aware that
some essential part of himself had in a flash returned into his
body, returned finally from a fierce and lamentable region, from the
dwelling-place of unveiled hearts. He woke up to an amazing infinity of
contempt, to a droll bitterness of wonder, to a disenchanted conviction
of safety. He had a glimpse of the irresistible force, and he saw also
the barrenness of his convictions--of her convictions. It seemed to him
that he could never make a mistake as long as he lived. It was morally
impossible to go wrong. He was not elated by that certitude; he was
dimly uneasy about its price; there was a chill as of death in this
triumph of sound principles, in this victory snatched under the very
shadow of disaster.

The last trace of his previous state of mind vanished, as the
instantaneous and elusive trail of a bursting meteor vanishes on the
profound blackness of the sky; it was the faint flicker of a painful
thought, gone as soon as perceived, that nothing but her presence--after
all--had the power to recall him to himself. He stared at her. She sat
with her hands on her lap, looking down; and he noticed that her boots
were dirty, her skirts wet and splashed, as though she had been driven
back there by a blind fear through a waste of mud. He was indignant,
amazed and shocked, but in a natural, healthy way now; so that he
could control those unprofitable sentiments by the dictates of cautious
self-restraint. The light in the room had no unusual brilliance now; it
was a good light in which he could easily observe the expression of her
face. It was that of dull fatigue. And the silence that surrounded them
was the normal silence of any quiet house, hardly disturbed by the faint
noises of a respectable quarter of the town. He was very cool--and it
was quite coolly that he thought how much better it would be if neither
of them ever spoke again. She sat with closed lips, with an air of
lassitude in the stony forgetfulness of her pose, but after a moment she
lifted her drooping eyelids and met his tense and inquisitive stare by
a look that had all the formless eloquence of a cry. It penetrated, it
stirred without informing; it was the very essence of anguish stripped
of words that can be smiled at, argued away, shouted down, disdained.
It was anguish naked and unashamed, the bare pain of existence let loose
upon the world in the fleeting unreserve of a look that had in it an
immensity of fatigue, the scornful sincerity, the black impudence of an
extorted confession. Alvan Hervey was seized with wonder, as though he
had seen something inconceivable; and some obscure part of his being
was ready to exclaim with him: “I would never have believed it!” but
an instantaneous revulsion of wounded susceptibilities checked the
unfinished thought.

He felt full of rancorous indignation against the woman who could look
like this at one. This look probed him; it tampered with him. It was
dangerous to one as would be a hint of unbelief whispered by a priest in
the august decorum of a temple; and at the same time it was impure,
it was disturbing, like a cynical consolation muttered in the dark,
tainting the sorrow, corroding the thought, poisoning the heart. He
wanted to ask her furiously: “Who do you take me for? How dare you look
at me like this?” He felt himself helpless before the hidden meaning of
that look; he resented it with pained and futile violence as an injury
so secret that it could never, never be redressed. His wish was to crush
her by a single sentence. He was stainless. Opinion was on his side;
morality, men and gods were on his side; law, conscience--all the world!
She had nothing but that look. And he could only say:

“How long do you intend to stay here?”

Her eyes did not waver, her lips remained closed; and for any effect
of his words he might have spoken to a dead woman, only that this one
breathed quickly. He was profoundly disappointed by what he had said.
It was a great deception, something in the nature of treason. He had
deceived himself. It should have been altogether different--other
words--another sensation. And before his eyes, so fixed that at times
they saw nothing, she sat apparently as unconscious as though she had
been alone, sending that look of brazen confession straight at him--with
an air of staring into empty space. He said significantly:

“Must I go then?” And he knew he meant nothing of what he implied.

One of her hands on her lap moved slightly as though his words had
fallen there and she had thrown them off on the floor. But her silence
encouraged him. Possibly it meant remorse--perhaps fear. Was she
thunderstruck by his attitude? . . . Her eyelids dropped. He seemed to
understand ever so much--everything! Very well--but she must be made to
suffer. It was due to him. He understood everything, yet he judged it
indispensable to say with an obvious affectation of civility:

“I don’t understand--be so good as to . . .”

She stood up. For a second he believed she intended to go away, and
it was as though someone had jerked a string attached to his heart. It
hurt. He remained open-mouthed and silent. But she made an irresolute
step towards him, and instinctively he moved aside. They stood before
one another, and the fragments of the torn letter lay between them--at
their feet--like an insurmountable obstacle, like a sign of eternal
separation! Around them three other couples stood still and face to
face, as if waiting for a signal to begin some action--a struggle, a
dispute, or a dance.

She said: “Don’t--Alvan!” and there was something that resembled a
warning in the pain of her tone. He narrowed his eyes as if trying to
pierce her with his gaze. Her voice touched him. He had aspirations
after magnanimity, generosity, superiority--interrupted, however, by
flashes of indignation and anxiety--frightful anxiety to know how far
she had gone. She looked down at the torn paper. Then she looked up, and
their eyes met again, remained fastened together, like an unbreakable
bond, like a clasp of eternal complicity; and the decorous silence, the
pervading quietude of the house which enveloped this meeting of their
glances became for a moment inexpressibly vile, for he was afraid she
would say too much and make magnanimity impossible, while behind the
profound mournfulness of her face there was a regret--a regret of things
done--the regret of delay--the thought that if she had only turned back
a week sooner--a day sooner--only an hour sooner. . . . They were afraid
to hear again the sound of their voices; they did not know what they
might say--perhaps something that could not be recalled; and words are
more terrible than facts. But the tricky fatality that lurks in obscure
impulses spoke through Alvan Hervey’s lips suddenly; and he heard
his own voice with the excited and sceptical curiosity with which one
listens to actors’ voices speaking on the stage in the strain of a
poignant situation.

“If you have forgotten anything . . . of course . . . I . . .”

Her eyes blazed at him for an instant; her lips trembled--and then she
also became the mouth-piece of the mysterious force forever hovering
near us; of that perverse inspiration, wandering capricious and
uncontrollable, like a gust of wind.

“What is the good of this, Alvan? . . . You know why I came back. . . .
You know that I could not . . .”

He interrupted her with irritation.

“Then! what’s this?” he asked, pointing downwards at the torn letter.

“That’s a mistake,” she said hurriedly, in a muffled voice.

This answer amazed him. He remained speechless, staring at her. He had
half a mind to burst into a laugh. It ended in a smile as involuntary as
a grimace of pain.

“A mistake . . .” he began, slowly, and then found himself unable to say
another word.

“Yes . . . it was honest,” she said very low, as if speaking to the
memory of a feeling in a remote past.

He exploded.

“Curse your honesty! . . . Is there any honesty in all this! . . . When
did you begin to be honest? Why are you here? What are you now? . . .
Still honest? . . .”

He walked at her, raging, as if blind; during these three quick strides
he lost touch of the material world and was whirled interminably through
a kind of empty universe made up of nothing but fury and anguish, till
he came suddenly upon her face--very close to his. He stopped short, and
all at once seemed to remember something heard ages ago.

“You don’t know the meaning of the word,” he shouted.

She did not flinch. He perceived with fear that everything around him
was still. She did not move a hair’s breadth; his own body did not stir.
An imperturbable calm enveloped their two motionless figures, the house,
the town, all the world--and the trifling tempest of his feelings. The
violence of the short tumult within him had been such as could well have
shattered all creation; and yet nothing was changed. He faced his wife
in the familiar room in his own house. It had not fallen. And right and
left all the innumerable dwellings, standing shoulder to shoulder,
had resisted the shock of his passion, had presented, unmoved, to the
loneliness of his trouble, the grim silence of walls, the impenetrable
and polished discretion of closed doors and curtained windows.
Immobility and silence pressed on him, assailed him, like two
accomplices of the immovable and mute woman before his eyes. He was
suddenly vanquished. He was shown his impotence. He was soothed by the
breath of a corrupt resignation coming to him through the subtle irony
of the surrounding peace.

He said with villainous composure:

“At any rate it isn’t enough for me. I want to know more--if you’re
going to stay.”

“There is nothing more to tell,” she answered, sadly.

It struck him as so very true that he did not say anything. She went on:

“You wouldn’t understand. . . .”

“No?” he said, quietly. He held himself tight not to burst into howls
and imprecations.

“I tried to be faithful . . .” she began again.

“And this?” he exclaimed, pointing at the fragments of her letter.

“This--this is a failure,” she said.

“I should think so,” he muttered, bitterly.

“I tried to be faithful to myself--Alvan--and . . . and honest to
you. . . .”

“If you had tried to be faithful to me it would have been more to the
purpose,” he interrupted, angrily. “I’ve been faithful to you and you
have spoiled my life--both our lives . . .” Then after a pause the
unconquerable preoccupation of self came out, and he raised his voice to
ask resentfully, “And, pray, for how long have you been making a fool of

She seemed horribly shocked by that question. He did not wait for an
answer, but went on moving about all the time; now and then coming up to
her, then wandering off restlessly to the other end of the room.

“I want to know. Everybody knows, I suppose, but myself--and that’s your

“I have told you there is nothing to know,” she said, speaking
unsteadily as if in pain. “Nothing of what you suppose. You don’t
understand me. This letter is the beginning--and the end.”

“The end--this thing has no end,” he clamoured, unexpectedly. “Can’t you
understand that? I can . . . The beginning . . .”

He stopped and looked into her eyes with concentrated intensity, with
a desire to see, to penetrate, to understand, that made him positively
hold his breath till he gasped.

“By Heavens!” he said, standing perfectly still in a peering attitude
and within less than a foot from her.

“By Heavens!” he repeated, slowly, and in a tone whose involuntary
strangeness was a complete mystery to himself. “By Heavens--I could
believe you--I could believe anything--now!”

He turned short on his heel and began to walk up and down the room with
an air of having disburdened himself of the final pronouncement of his
life--of having said something on which he would not go back, even if
he could. She remained as if rooted to the carpet. Her eyes followed
the restless movements of the man, who avoided looking at her. Her wide
stare clung to him, inquiring, wondering and doubtful.

“But the fellow was forever sticking in here,” he burst out,
distractedly. “He made love to you, I suppose--and, and . . .” He
lowered his voice. “And--you let him.”

“And I let him,” she murmured, catching his intonation, so that her
voice sounded unconscious, sounded far off and slavish, like an echo.

He said twice, “You! You!” violently, then calmed down. “What could you
see in the fellow?” he asked, with unaffected wonder. “An effeminate,
fat ass. What could you . . . Weren’t you happy? Didn’t you have all you
wanted? Now--frankly; did I deceive your expectations in any way? Were
you disappointed with our position--or with our prospects--perhaps? You
know you couldn’t be--they are much better than you could hope for when
you married me. . . .”

He forgot himself so far as to gesticulate a little while he went on
with animation:

“What could you expect from such a fellow? He’s an outsider--a rank
outsider. . . . If it hadn’t been for my money . . . do you hear? . . .
for my money, he wouldn’t know where to turn. His people won’t have
anything to do with him. The fellow’s no class--no class at all.
He’s useful, certainly, that’s why I . . . I thought you had enough
intelligence to see it. . . . And you . . . No! It’s incredible!
What did he tell you? Do you care for no one’s opinion--is there no
restraining influence in the world for you--women? Did you ever give me
a thought? I tried to be a good husband. Did I fail? Tell me--what have
I done?”

Carried away by his feelings he took his head in both his hands and
repeated wildly:

“What have I done? . . . Tell me! What? . . .”

“Nothing,” she said.

“Ah! You see . . . you can’t . . .” he began, triumphantly, walking
away; then suddenly, as though he had been flung back at her by
something invisible he had met, he spun round and shouted with

“What on earth did you expect me to do?”

Without a word she moved slowly towards the table, and, sitting down,
leaned on her elbow, shading her eyes with her hand. All that time he
glared at her watchfully as if expecting every moment to find in her
deliberate movements an answer to his question. But he could not read
anything, he could gather no hint of her thought. He tried to suppress
his desire to shout, and after waiting awhile, said with incisive scorn:

“Did you want me to write absurd verses; to sit and look at you for
hours--to talk to you about your soul? You ought to have known I wasn’t
that sort. . . . I had something better to do. But if you think I was
totally blind . . .”

He perceived in a flash that he could remember an infinity of
enlightening occurrences. He could recall ever so many distinct
occasions when he came upon them; he remembered the absurdly interrupted
gesture of his fat, white hand, the rapt expression of her face, the
glitter of unbelieving eyes; snatches of incomprehensible conversations
not worth listening to, silences that had meant nothing at the time
and seemed now illuminating like a burst of sunshine. He remembered all
that. He had not been blind. Oh! No! And to know this was an exquisite
relief: it brought back all his composure.

“I thought it beneath me to suspect you,” he said, loftily.

The sound of that sentence evidently possessed some magical power,
because, as soon as he had spoken, he felt wonderfully at ease; and
directly afterwards he experienced a flash of joyful amazement at
the discovery that he could be inspired to such noble and truthful
utterance. He watched the effect of his words. They caused her to glance
to him quickly over her shoulder. He caught a glimpse of wet eyelashes,
of a red cheek with a tear running down swiftly; and then she turned
away again and sat as before, covering her face with her hands.

“You ought to be perfectly frank with me,” he said, slowly.

“You know everything,” she answered, indistinctly, through her fingers.

“This letter. . . . Yes . . . but . . .”

“And I came back,” she exclaimed in a stifled voice; “you know

“I am glad of it--for your sake,” he said with impressive gravity. He
listened to himself with solemn emotion. It seemed to him that something
inexpressibly momentous was in progress within the room, that every
word and every gesture had the importance of events preordained from
the beginning of all things, and summing up in their finality the whole
purpose of creation.

“For your sake,” he repeated.

Her shoulders shook as though she had been sobbing, and he forgot
himself in the contemplation of her hair. Suddenly he gave a start, as
if waking up, and asked very gently and not much above a whisper--

“Have you been meeting him often?”

“Never!” she cried into the palms of her hands.

This answer seemed for a moment to take from him the power of speech.
His lips moved for some time before any sound came.

“You preferred to make love here--under my very nose,” he said,
furiously. He calmed down instantly, and felt regretfully uneasy, as
though he had let himself down in her estimation by that outburst. She
rose, and with her hand on the back of the chair confronted him with
eyes that were perfectly dry now. There was a red spot on each of her

“When I made up my mind to go to him--I wrote,” she said.

“But you didn’t go to him,” he took up in the same tone. “How far did
you go? What made you come back?”

“I didn’t know myself,” she murmured. Nothing of her moved but her lips.
He fixed her sternly.

“Did he expect this? Was he waiting for you?” he asked.

She answered him by an almost imperceptible nod, and he continued to
look at her for a good while without making a sound. Then, at last--

“And I suppose he is waiting yet?” he asked, quickly.

Again she seemed to nod at him. For some reason he felt he must know the
time. He consulted his watch gloomily. Half-past seven.

“Is he?” he muttered, putting the watch in his pocket. He looked up at
her, and, as if suddenly overcome by a sense of sinister fun, gave a
short, harsh laugh, directly repressed.

“No! It’s the most unheard! . . .” he mumbled while she stood before him
biting her lower lip, as if plunged in deep thought. He laughed again
in one low burst that was as spiteful as an imprecation. He did not know
why he felt such an overpowering and sudden distaste for the facts of
existence--for facts in general--such an immense disgust at the thought
of all the many days already lived through. He was wearied. Thinking
seemed a labour beyond his strength. He said--

“You deceived me--now you make a fool of him . . . It’s awful! Why?”

“I deceived myself!” she exclaimed.

“Oh! Nonsense!” he said, impatiently.

“I am ready to go if you wish it,” she went on, quickly. “It was due to
you--to be told--to know. No! I could not!” she cried, and stood still
wringing her hands stealthily.

“I am glad you repented before it was too late,” he said in a dull
tone and looking at his boots. “I am glad . . . some spark of better
feeling,” he muttered, as if to himself. He lifted up his head after a
moment of brooding silence. “I am glad to see that there is some sense
of decency left in you,” he added a little louder. Looking at her he
appeared to hesitate, as if estimating the possible consequences of what
he wished to say, and at last blurted out--

“After all, I loved you. . . .”

“I did not know,” she whispered.

“Good God!” he cried. “Why do you imagine I married you?”

The indelicacy of his obtuseness angered her.

“Ah--why?” she said through her teeth.

He appeared overcome with horror, and watched her lips intently as
though in fear.

“I imagined many things,” she said, slowly, and paused. He watched,
holding his breath. At last she went on musingly, as if thinking aloud,
“I tried to understand. I tried honestly. . . . Why? . . . To do the
usual thing--I suppose. . . . To please yourself.”

He walked away smartly, and when he came back, close to her, he had a
flushed face.

“You seemed pretty well pleased, too--at the time,” he hissed, with
scathing fury. “I needn’t ask whether you loved me.”

“I know now I was perfectly incapable of such a thing,” she said,
calmly, “If I had, perhaps you would not have married me.”

“It’s very clear I would not have done it if I had known you--as I know
you now.”

He seemed to see himself proposing to her--ages ago. They were strolling
up the slope of a lawn. Groups of people were scattered in sunshine.
The shadows of leafy boughs lay still on the short grass. The coloured
sunshades far off, passing between trees, resembled deliberate and
brilliant butterflies moving without a flutter. Men smiling amiably,
or else very grave, within the impeccable shelter of their black coats,
stood by the side of women who, clustered in clear summer toilettes,
recalled all the fabulous tales of enchanted gardens where animated
flowers smile at bewitched knights. There was a sumptuous serenity in
it all, a thin, vibrating excitement, the perfect security, as of an
invincible ignorance, that evoked within him a transcendent belief in
felicity as the lot of all mankind, a recklessly picturesque desire to
get promptly something for himself only, out of that splendour unmarred
by any shadow of a thought. The girl walked by his side across an open
space; no one was near, and suddenly he stood still, as if inspired, and
spoke. He remembered looking at her pure eyes, at her candid brow; he
remembered glancing about quickly to see if they were being observed,
and thinking that nothing could go wrong in a world of so much charm,
purity, and distinction. He was proud of it. He was one of its makers,
of its possessors, of its guardians, of its extollers. He wanted to
grasp it solidly, to get as much gratification as he could out of it;
and in view of its incomparable quality, of its unstained atmosphere,
of its nearness to the heaven of its choice, this gust of brutal desire
seemed the most noble of aspirations. In a second he lived again through
all these moments, and then all the pathos of his failure presented
itself to him with such vividness that there was a suspicion of tears in
his tone when he said almost unthinkingly, “My God! I did love you!”

She seemed touched by the emotion of his voice. Her lips quivered a
little, and she made one faltering step towards him, putting out her
hands in a beseeching gesture, when she perceived, just in time, that
being absorbed by the tragedy of his life he had absolutely forgotten
her very existence. She stopped, and her outstretched arms fell slowly.
He, with his features distorted by the bitterness of his thought, saw
neither her movement nor her gesture. He stamped his foot in vexation,
rubbed his head--then exploded.

“What the devil am I to do now?”

He was still again. She seemed to understand, and moved to the door

“It’s very simple--I’m going,” she said aloud.

At the sound of her voice he gave a start of surprise, looked at her
wildly, and asked in a piercing tone--

“You. . . . Where? To him?”


The door-handle rattled under her groping hand as though she had been
trying to get out of some dark place.

“No--stay!” he cried.

She heard him faintly. He saw her shoulder touch the lintel of the door.
She swayed as if dazed. There was less than a second of suspense while
they both felt as if poised on the very edge of moral annihilation,
ready to fall into some devouring nowhere. Then, almost simultaneously,
he shouted, “Come back!” and she let go the handle of the door. She
turned round in peaceful desperation like one who deliberately has
thrown away the last chance of life; and, for a moment, the room she
faced appeared terrible, and dark, and safe--like a grave.

He said, very hoarse and abrupt: “It can’t end like this. . . . Sit
down;” and while she crossed the room again to the low-backed chair
before the dressing-table, he opened the door and put his head out to
look and listen. The house was quiet. He came back pacified, and asked--

“Do you speak the truth?”

She nodded.

“You have lived a lie, though,” he said, suspiciously.

“Ah! You made it so easy,” she answered.

“You reproach me--me!”

“How could I?” she said; “I would have you no other--now.”

“What do you mean by . . .” he began, then checked himself, and without
waiting for an answer went on, “I won’t ask any questions. Is this
letter the worst of it?”

She had a nervous movement of her hands.

“I must have a plain answer,” he said, hotly.

“Then, no! The worst is my coming back.”

There followed a period of dead silence, during which they exchanged
searching glances.

He said authoritatively--

“You don’t know what you are saying. Your mind is unhinged. You are
beside yourself, or you would not say such things. You can’t control
yourself. Even in your remorse . . .” He paused a moment, then said with
a doctoral air: “Self-restraint is everything in life, you know. It’s
happiness, it’s dignity . . . it’s everything.”

She was pulling nervously at her handkerchief while he went on watching
anxiously to see the effect of his words. Nothing satisfactory happened.
Only, as he began to speak again, she covered her face with both her

“You see where the want of self-restraint leads to.
Pain--humiliation--loss of respect--of friends, of everything that
ennobles life, that . . . All kinds of horrors,” he concluded, abruptly.

She made no stir. He looked at her pensively for some time as though he
had been concentrating the melancholy thoughts evoked by the sight of
that abased woman. His eyes became fixed and dull. He was profoundly
penetrated by the solemnity of the moment; he felt deeply the greatness
of the occasion. And more than ever the walls of his house seemed
to enclose the sacredness of ideals to which he was about to offer a
magnificent sacrifice. He was the high priest of that temple, the severe
guardian of formulas, of rites, of the pure ceremonial concealing the
black doubts of life. And he was not alone. Other men, too--the best of
them--kept watch and ward by the hearthstones that were the altars of
that profitable persuasion. He understood confusedly that he was part
of an immense and beneficent power, which had a reward ready for every
discretion. He dwelt within the invincible wisdom of silence; he was
protected by an indestructible faith that would last forever, that would
withstand unshaken all the assaults--the loud execrations of apostates,
and the secret weariness of its confessors! He was in league with a
universe of untold advantages. He represented the moral strength of a
beautiful reticence that could vanquish all the deplorable crudities of
life--fear, disaster, sin--even death itself. It seemed to him he was
on the point of sweeping triumphantly away all the illusory mysteries of
existence. It was simplicity itself.

“I hope you see now the folly--the utter folly of wickedness,” he began
in a dull, solemn manner. “You must respect the conditions of your life
or lose all it can give you. All! Everything!”

He waved his arm once, and three exact replicas of his face, of his
clothes, of his dull severity, of his solemn grief, repeated the wide
gesture that in its comprehensive sweep indicated an infinity of moral
sweetness, embraced the walls, the hangings, the whole house, all the
crowd of houses outside, all the flimsy and inscrutable graves of the
living, with their doors numbered like the doors of prison-cells, and as
impenetrable as the granite of tombstones.

“Yes! Restraint, duty, fidelity--unswerving fidelity to what is expected
of you. This--only this--secures the reward, the peace. Everything else
we should labour to subdue--to destroy. It’s misfortune; it’s disease.
It is terrible--terrible. We must not know anything about it--we
needn’t. It is our duty to ourselves--to others. You do not live all
alone in the world--and if you have no respect for the dignity of life,
others have. Life is a serious matter. If you don’t conform to the
highest standards you are no one--it’s a kind of death. Didn’t this
occur to you? You’ve only to look round you to see the truth of what I
am saying. Did you live without noticing anything, without understanding
anything? From a child you had examples before your eyes--you could see
daily the beauty, the blessings of morality, of principles. . . .”

His voice rose and fell pompously in a strange chant. His eyes were
still, his stare exalted and sullen; his face was set, was hard, was
woodenly exulting over the grim inspiration that secretly possessed him,
seethed within him, lifted him up into a stealthy frenzy of belief. Now
and then he would stretch out his right arm over her head, as it were,
and he spoke down at that sinner from a height, and with a sense of
avenging virtue, with a profound and pure joy as though he could
from his steep pinnacle see every weighty word strike and hurt like a
punishing stone.

“Rigid principles--adherence to what is right,” he finished after a

“What is right?” she said, distinctly, without uncovering her face.

“Your mind is diseased!” he cried, upright and austere. “Such a question
is rot--utter rot. Look round you--there’s your answer, if you only care
to see. Nothing that outrages the received beliefs can be right. Your
conscience tells you that. They are the received beliefs because they
are the best, the noblest, the only possible. They survive. . . .”

He could not help noticing with pleasure the philosophic breadth of his
view, but he could not pause to enjoy it, for his inspiration, the call
of august truth, carried him on.

“You must respect the moral foundations of a society that has made
you what you are. Be true to it. That’s duty--that’s honour--that’s

He felt a great glow within him, as though he had swallowed something
hot. He made a step nearer. She sat up and looked at him with an ardour
of expectation that stimulated his sense of the supreme importance of
that moment. And as if forgetting himself he raised his voice very much.

“‘What’s right?’ you ask me. Think only. What would you have been if
you had gone off with that infernal vagabond? . . . What would you have
been? . . . You! My wife! . . .”

He caught sight of himself in the pier glass, drawn up to his full
height, and with a face so white that his eyes, at the distance,
resembled the black cavities in a skull. He saw himself as if about to
launch imprecations, with arms uplifted above her bowed head. He was
ashamed of that unseemly posture, and put his hands in his pockets
hurriedly. She murmured faintly, as if to herself--

“Ah! What am I now?”

“As it happens you are still Mrs. Alvan Hervey--uncommonly lucky for
you, let me tell you,” he said in a conversational tone. He walked up to
the furthest corner of the room, and, turning back, saw her sitting very
upright, her hands clasped on her lap, and with a lost, unswerving gaze
of her eyes which stared unwinking like the eyes of the blind, at the
crude gas flame, blazing and still, between the jaws of the bronze

He came up quite close to her, and straddling his legs a little, stood
looking down at her face for some time without taking his hands out of
his pockets. He seemed to be turning over in his mind a heap of words,
piecing his next speech out of an overpowering abundance of thoughts.

“You’ve tried me to the utmost,” he said at last; and as soon as he said
these words he lost his moral footing, and felt himself swept away from
his pinnacle by a flood of passionate resentment against the bungling
creature that had come so near to spoiling his life. “Yes; I’ve
been tried more than any man ought to be,” he went on with righteous
bitterness. “It was unfair. What possessed you to? . . . What possessed
you? . . . Write such a . . . After five years of perfect happiness!
‘Pon my word, no one would believe. . . . Didn’t you feel you couldn’t?
Because you couldn’t . . . it was impossible--you know. Wasn’t it?
Think. Wasn’t it?”

“It was impossible,” she whispered, obediently.

This submissive assent given with such readiness did not soothe him,
did not elate him; it gave him, inexplicably, that sense of terror
we experience when in the midst of conditions we had learned to think
absolutely safe we discover all at once the presence of a near and
unsuspected danger. It was impossible, of course! He knew it. She knew
it. She confessed it. It was impossible! That man knew it, too--as well
as any one; couldn’t help knowing it. And yet those two had been engaged
in a conspiracy against his peace--in a criminal enterprise for which
there could be no sanction of belief within themselves. There could not
be! There could not be! And yet how near to . . . With a short thrill
he saw himself an exiled forlorn figure in a realm of ungovernable,
of unrestrained folly. Nothing could be foreseen, foretold--guarded
against. And the sensation was intolerable, had something of the
withering horror that may be conceived as following upon the utter
extinction of all hope. In the flash of thought the dishonouring
episode seemed to disengage itself from everything actual, from
earthly conditions, and even from earthly suffering; it became purely a
terrifying knowledge, an annihilating knowledge of a blind and infernal
force. Something desperate and vague, a flicker of an insane desire to
abase himself before the mysterious impulses of evil, to ask for mercy
in some way, passed through his mind; and then came the idea, the
persuasion, the certitude, that the evil must be forgotten--must be
resolutely ignored to make life possible; that the knowledge must be
kept out of mind, out of sight, like the knowledge of certain death is
kept out of the daily existence of men. He stiffened himself inwardly
for the effort, and next moment it appeared very easy, amazingly
feasible, if one only kept strictly to facts, gave one’s mind to their
perplexities and not to their meaning. Becoming conscious of a long
silence, he cleared his throat warningly, and said in a steady voice--

“I am glad you feel this . . . uncommonly glad . . . you felt this in
time. For, don’t you see . . .” Unexpectedly he hesitated.

“Yes . . . I see,” she murmured.

“Of course you would,” he said, looking at the carpet and speaking
like one who thinks of something else. He lifted his head. “I
cannot believe--even after this--even after this--that you are
altogether--altogether . . . other than what I thought you. It seems
impossible--to me.”

“And to me,” she breathed out.

“Now--yes,” he said, “but this morning? And to-morrow? . . . This is
what . . .”

He started at the drift of his words and broke off abruptly. Every train
of thought seemed to lead into the hopeless realm of ungovernable folly,
to recall the knowledge and the terror of forces that must be ignored.
He said rapidly--

“My position is very painful--difficult . . . I feel . . .”

He looked at her fixedly with a pained air, as though frightfully
oppressed by a sudden inability to express his pent-up ideas.

“I am ready to go,” she said very low. “I have forfeited everything
. . . to learn . . . to learn . . .”

Her chin fell on her breast; her voice died out in a sigh. He made a
slight gesture of impatient assent.

“Yes! Yes! It’s all very well . . . of course. Forfeited--ah! Morally
forfeited--only morally forfeited . . . if I am to believe you . . .”

She startled him by jumping up.

“Oh! I believe, I believe,” he said, hastily, and she sat down as
suddenly as she had got up. He went on gloomily--

“I’ve suffered--I suffer now. You can’t understand how much. So much
that when you propose a parting I almost think. . . . But no. There is
duty. You’ve forgotten it; I never did. Before heaven, I never did. But
in a horrid exposure like this the judgment of mankind goes astray--at
least for a time. You see, you and I--at least I feel that--you and I
are one before the world. It is as it should be. The world is right--in
the main--or else it couldn’t be--couldn’t be--what it is. And we are
part of it. We have our duty to--to our fellow beings who don’t want to
. . . to . . . er.”

He stammered. She looked up at him with wide eyes, and her lips were
slightly parted. He went on mumbling--

“. . . Pain. . . . Indignation. . . . Sure to misunderstand. I’ve
suffered enough. And if there has been nothing irreparable--as you
assure me . . . then . . .”

“Alvan!” she cried.

“What?” he said, morosely. He gazed down at her for a moment with a
sombre stare, as one looks at ruins, at the devastation of some natural

“Then,” he continued after a short pause, “the best thing is . . .
the best for us . . . for every one. . . . Yes . . . least pain--most
unselfish. . . .” His voice faltered, and she heard only detached words.
“. . . Duty. . . . Burden. . . . Ourselves. . . . Silence.”

A moment of perfect stillness ensued.

“This is an appeal I am making to your conscience,” he said, suddenly,
in an explanatory tone, “not to add to the wretchedness of all this:
to try loyally and help me to live it down somehow. Without any
reservations--you know. Loyally! You can’t deny I’ve been cruelly
wronged and--after all--my affection deserves . . .” He paused with
evident anxiety to hear her speak.

“I make no reservations,” she said, mournfully. “How could I? I found
myself out and came back to . . .” her eyes flashed scornfully for an
instant “. . . to what--to what you propose. You see . . . I . . . I can
be trusted . . . now.”

He listened to every word with profound attention, and when she ceased
seemed to wait for more.

“Is that all you’ve got to say?” he asked.

She was startled by his tone, and said faintly--

“I spoke the truth. What more can I say?”

“Confound it! You might say something human,” he burst out. “It isn’t
being truthful; it’s being brazen--if you want to know. Not a word
to show you feel your position, and--and mine. Not a single word of
acknowledgment, or regret--or remorse . . . or . . . something.”

“Words!” she whispered in a tone that irritated him. He stamped his

“This is awful!” he exclaimed. “Words? Yes, words. Words mean
something--yes--they do--for all this infernal affectation. They mean
something to me--to everybody--to you. What the devil did you use to
express those sentiments--sentiments--pah!--which made you forget me,
duty, shame!” . . . He foamed at the mouth while she stared at him,
appalled by this sudden fury. “Did you two talk only with your eyes?” he
spluttered savagely. She rose.

“I can’t bear this,” she said, trembling from head to foot. “I am

They stood facing one another for a moment.

“Not you,” he said, with conscious roughness, and began to walk up
and down the room. She remained very still with an air of listening
anxiously to her own heart-beats, then sank down on the chair slowly,
and sighed, as if giving up a task beyond her strength.

“You misunderstand everything I say,” he began quietly, “but I prefer
to think that--just now--you are not accountable for your actions.”
 He stopped again before her. “Your mind is unhinged,” he said, with
unction. “To go now would be adding crime--yes, crime--to folly. I’ll
have no scandal in my life, no matter what’s the cost. And why? You are
sure to misunderstand me--but I’ll tell you. As a matter of duty. Yes.
But you’re sure to misunderstand me--recklessly. Women always do--they
are too--too narrow-minded.”

He waited for a while, but she made no sound, didn’t even look at
him; he felt uneasy, painfully uneasy, like a man who suspects he
is unreasonably mistrusted. To combat that exasperating sensation
he recommenced talking very fast. The sound of his words excited his
thoughts, and in the play of darting thoughts he had glimpses now and
then of the inexpugnable rock of his convictions, towering in solitary
grandeur above the unprofitable waste of errors and passions.

“For it is self-evident,” he went on with anxious vivacity, “it is
self-evident that, on the highest ground we haven’t the right--no, we
haven’t the right to intrude our miseries upon those who--who naturally
expect better things from us. Every one wishes his own life and the life
around him to be beautiful and pure. Now, a scandal amongst people of
our position is disastrous for the morality--a fatal influence--don’t
you see--upon the general tone of the class--very important--the
most important, I verily believe, in--in the community. I feel
this--profoundly. This is the broad view. In time you’ll give me . . .
when you become again the woman I loved--and trusted. . . .”

He stopped short, as though unexpectedly suffocated, then in a
completely changed voice said, “For I did love and trust you”--and again
was silent for a moment. She put her handkerchief to her eyes.

“You’ll give me credit for--for--my motives. It’s mainly loyalty to--to
the larger conditions of our life--where you--you! of all women--failed.
One doesn’t usually talk like this--of course--but in this case you’ll
admit . . . And consider--the innocent suffer with the guilty. The world
is pitiless in its judgments. Unfortunately there are always those in
it who are only too eager to misunderstand. Before you and before my
conscience I am guiltless, but any--any disclosure would impair my
usefulness in the sphere--in the larger sphere in which I hope soon to
. . . I believe you fully shared my views in that matter--I don’t want
to say any more . . . on--on that point--but, believe me, true
unselfishness is to bear one’s burdens in--in silence. The ideal
must--must be preserved--for others, at least. It’s clear as daylight.
If I’ve a--a loathsome sore, to gratuitously display it would be
abominable--abominable! And often in life--in the highest conception
of life--outspokenness in certain circumstances is nothing less than
criminal. Temptation, you know, excuses no one. There is no such thing
really if one looks steadily to one’s welfare--which is grounded in
duty. But there are the weak.” . . . His tone became ferocious for an
instant . . . “And there are the fools and the envious--especially for
people in our position. I am guiltless of this terrible--terrible . . .
estrangement; but if there has been nothing irreparable.” . . .
Something gloomy, like a deep shadow passed over his face. . . .
“Nothing irreparable--you see even now I am ready to trust you
implicitly--then our duty is clear.”

He looked down. A change came over his expression and straightway
from the outward impetus of his loquacity he passed into the dull
contemplation of all the appeasing truths that, not without some wonder,
he had so recently been able to discover within himself. During this
profound and soothing communion with his innermost beliefs he remained
staring at the carpet, with a portentously solemn face and with a dull
vacuity of eyes that seemed to gaze into the blankness of an empty hole.
Then, without stirring in the least, he continued:

“Yes. Perfectly clear. I’ve been tried to the utmost, and I can’t
pretend that, for a time, the old feelings--the old feelings are not.
. . .” He sighed. . . . “But I forgive you. . . .”

She made a slight movement without uncovering her eyes. In his profound
scrutiny of the carpet he noticed nothing. And there was silence,
silence within and silence without, as though his words had stilled the
beat and tremor of all the surrounding life, and the house had stood
alone--the only dwelling upon a deserted earth.

He lifted his head and repeated solemnly:

“I forgive you . . . from a sense of duty--and in the hope . . .”

He heard a laugh, and it not only interrupted his words but also
destroyed the peace of his self-absorption with the vile pain of a
reality intruding upon the beauty of a dream. He couldn’t understand
whence the sound came. He could see, foreshortened, the tear-stained,
dolorous face of the woman stretched out, and with her head thrown over
the back of the seat. He thought the piercing noise was a delusion.
But another shrill peal followed by a deep sob and succeeded by another
shriek of mirth positively seemed to tear him out from where he stood.
He bounded to the door. It was closed. He turned the key and thought:
that’s no good. . . . “Stop this!” he cried, and perceived with alarm
that he could hardly hear his own voice in the midst of her screaming.
He darted back with the idea of stifling that unbearable noise with his
hands, but stood still distracted, finding himself as unable to touch
her as though she had been on fire. He shouted, “Enough of this!” like
men shout in the tumult of a riot, with a red face and starting eyes;
then, as if swept away before another burst of laughter, he disappeared
in a flash out of three looking-glasses, vanished suddenly from before
her. For a time the woman gasped and laughed at no one in the luminous
stillness of the empty room.

He reappeared, striding at her, and with a tumbler of water in his hand.
He stammered: “Hysterics--Stop--They will hear--Drink this.” She laughed
at the ceiling. “Stop this!” he cried. “Ah!”

He flung the water in her face, putting into the action all the secret
brutality of his spite, yet still felt that it would have been
perfectly excusable--in any one--to send the tumbler after the water. He
restrained himself, but at the same time was so convinced nothing could
stop the horror of those mad shrieks that, when the first sensation of
relief came, it did not even occur to him to doubt the impression of
having become suddenly deaf. When, next moment, he became sure that she
was sitting up, and really very quiet, it was as though everything--men,
things, sensations, had come to a rest. He was prepared to be grateful.
He could not take his eyes off her, fearing, yet unwilling to admit,
the possibility of her beginning again; for, the experience, however
contemptuously he tried to think of it, had left the bewilderment of a
mysterious terror. Her face was streaming with water and tears; there
was a wisp of hair on her forehead, another stuck to her cheek; her hat
was on one side, undecorously tilted; her soaked veil resembled a sordid
rag festooning her forehead. There was an utter unreserve in her aspect,
an abandonment of safeguards, that ugliness of truth which can only be
kept out of daily life by unremitting care for appearances. He did not
know why, looking at her, he thought suddenly of to-morrow, and why
the thought called out a deep feeling of unutterable, discouraged
weariness--a fear of facing the succession of days. To-morrow! It was as
far as yesterday. Ages elapsed between sunrises--sometimes. He scanned
her features like one looks at a forgotten country. They were not
distorted--he recognized landmarks, so to speak; but it was only a
resemblance that he could see, not the woman of yesterday--or was
it, perhaps, more than the woman of yesterday? Who could tell? Was
it something new? A new expression--or a new shade of expression?
or something deep--an old truth unveiled, a fundamental and hidden
truth--some unnecessary, accursed certitude? He became aware that he was
trembling very much, that he had an empty tumbler in his hand--that time
was passing. Still looking at her with lingering mistrust he reached
towards the table to put the glass down and was startled to feel it
apparently go through the wood. He had missed the edge. The surprise,
the slight jingling noise of the accident annoyed him beyond expression.
He turned to her irritated.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he asked, grimly.

She passed her hand over her face and made an attempt to get up.

“You’re not going to be absurd again,” he said. “‘Pon my soul, I did not
know you could forget yourself to that extent.” He didn’t try to conceal
his physical disgust, because he believed it to be a purely moral
reprobation of every unreserve, of anything in the nature of a scene.
“I assure you--it was revolting,” he went on. He stared for a moment at
her. “Positively degrading,” he added with insistence.

She stood up quickly as if moved by a spring and tottered. He started
forward instinctively. She caught hold of the back of the chair
and steadied herself. This arrested him, and they faced each other
wide-eyed, uncertain, and yet coming back slowly to the reality of
things with relief and wonder, as though just awakened after tossing
through a long night of fevered dreams.

“Pray, don’t begin again,” he said, hurriedly, seeing her open her lips.
“I deserve some little consideration--and such unaccountable behaviour
is painful to me. I expect better things. . . . I have the right. . . .”

She pressed both her hands to her temples.

“Oh, nonsense!” he said, sharply. “You are perfectly capable of coming
down to dinner. No one should even suspect; not even the servants. No
one! No one! . . . I am sure you can.”

She dropped her arms; her face twitched. She looked straight into his
eyes and seemed incapable of pronouncing a word. He frowned at her.

“I--wish--it,” he said, tyrannically. “For your own sake also. . . .”
 He meant to carry that point without any pity. Why didn’t she speak?
He feared passive resistance. She must. . . . Make her come. His frown
deepened, and he began to think of some effectual violence, when most
unexpectedly she said in a firm voice, “Yes, I can,” and clutched the
chair-back again. He was relieved, and all at once her attitude ceased
to interest him. The important thing was that their life would
begin again with an every-day act--with something that could not be
misunderstood, that, thank God, had no moral meaning, no perplexity--and
yet was symbolic of their uninterrupted communion in the past--in all
the future. That morning, at that table, they had breakfast together;
and now they would dine. It was all over! What had happened between
could be forgotten--must be forgotten, like things that can only happen
once--death for instance.

“I will wait for you,” he said, going to the door. He had some
difficulty with it, for he did not remember he had turned the key. He
hated that delay, and his checked impatience to be gone out of the
room made him feel quite ill as, with the consciousness of her presence
behind his back, he fumbled at the lock. He managed it at last; then in
the doorway he glanced over his shoulder to say, “It’s rather late--you
know--” and saw her standing where he had left her, with a face white as
alabaster and perfectly still, like a woman in a trance.

He was afraid she would keep him waiting, but without any breathing
time, he hardly knew how, he found himself sitting at table with her.
He had made up his mind to eat, to talk, to be natural. It seemed to
him necessary that deception should begin at home. The servants must not
know--must not suspect. This intense desire of secrecy; of secrecy dark,
destroying, profound, discreet like a grave, possessed him with the
strength of a hallucination--seemed to spread itself to inanimate
objects that had been the daily companions of his life, affected with a
taint of enmity every single thing within the faithful walls that would
stand forever between the shamelessness of facts and the indignation of
mankind. Even when--as it happened once or twice--both the servants left
the room together he remained carefully natural, industriously hungry,
laboriously at his ease, as though he had wanted to cheat the black oak
sideboard, the heavy curtains, the stiff-backed chairs, into the
belief of an unstained happiness. He was mistrustful of his wife’s
self-control, unwilling to look at her and reluctant to speak, for it
seemed to him inconceivable that she should not betray herself by the
slightest movement, by the very first word spoken. Then he thought
the silence in the room was becoming dangerous, and so excessive as to
produce the effect of an intolerable uproar. He wanted to end it, as one
is anxious to interrupt an indiscreet confession; but with the memory of
that laugh upstairs he dared not give her an occasion to open her lips.
Presently he heard her voice pronouncing in a calm tone some unimportant
remark. He detached his eyes from the centre of his plate and felt
excited as if on the point of looking at a wonder. And nothing could be
more wonderful than her composure. He was looking at the candid eyes,
at the pure brow, at what he had seen every evening for years in that
place; he listened to the voice that for five years he had heard every
day. Perhaps she was a little pale--but a healthy pallor had always
been for him one of her chief attractions. Perhaps her face was rigidly
set--but that marmoreal impassiveness, that magnificent stolidity, as of
a wonderful statue by some great sculptor working under the curse of the
gods; that imposing, unthinking stillness of her features, had till then
mirrored for him the tranquil dignity of a soul of which he had thought
himself--as a matter of course--the inexpugnable possessor. Those were
the outward signs of her difference from the ignoble herd that feels,
suffers, fails, errs--but has no distinct value in the world except as a
moral contrast to the prosperity of the elect. He had been proud of her
appearance. It had the perfectly proper frankness of perfection--and
now he was shocked to see it unchanged. She looked like this, spoke like
this, exactly like this, a year ago, a month ago--only yesterday when
she. . . . What went on within made no difference. What did she think?
What meant the pallor, the placid face, the candid brow, the pure
eyes? What did she think during all these years? What did she think
yesterday--to-day; what would she think to-morrow? He must find out.
. . . And yet how could he get to know? She had been false to him, to that
man, to herself; she was ready to be false--for him. Always false. She
looked lies, breathed lies, lived lies--would tell lies--always--to the
end of life! And he would never know what she meant. Never! Never! No
one could. Impossible to know.

He dropped his knife and fork, brusquely, as though by the virtue of a
sudden illumination he had been made aware of poison in his plate, and
became positive in his mind that he could never swallow another morsel
of food as long as he lived. The dinner went on in a room that had been
steadily growing, from some cause, hotter than a furnace. He had to
drink. He drank time after time, and, at last, recollecting himself,
was frightened at the quantity, till he perceived that what he had
been drinking was water--out of two different wine glasses; and the
discovered unconsciousness of his actions affected him painfully. He was
disturbed to find himself in such an unhealthy state of mind. Excess of
feeling--excess of feeling; and it was part of his creed that any excess
of feeling was unhealthy--morally unprofitable; a taint on practical
manhood. Her fault. Entirely her fault. Her sinful self-forgetfulness
was contagious. It made him think thoughts he had never had before;
thoughts disintegrating, tormenting, sapping to the very core of
life--like mortal disease; thoughts that bred the fear of air, of
sunshine, of men--like the whispered news of a pestilence.

The maids served without noise; and to avoid looking at his wife and
looking within himself, he followed with his eyes first one and then
the other without being able to distinguish between them. They moved
silently about, without one being able to see by what means, for
their skirts touched the carpet all round; they glided here and there,
receded, approached, rigid in black and white, with precise gestures,
and no life in their faces, like a pair of marionettes in mourning;
and their air of wooden unconcern struck him as unnatural, suspicious,
irremediably hostile. That such people’s feelings or judgment could
affect one in any way, had never occurred to him before. He understood
they had no prospects, no principles--no refinement and no power. But
now he had become so debased that he could not even attempt to disguise
from himself his yearning to know the secret thoughts of his servants.
Several times he looked up covertly at the faces of those girls.
Impossible to know. They changed his plates and utterly ignored his
existence. What impenetrable duplicity. Women--nothing but women round
him. Impossible to know. He experienced that heart-probing, fiery
sense of dangerous loneliness, which sometimes assails the courage of
a solitary adventurer in an unexplored country. The sight of a man’s
face--he felt--of any man’s face, would have been a profound relief. One
would know then--something--could understand. . . . He would engage a
butler as soon as possible. And then the end of that dinner--which
had seemed to have been going on for hours--the end came, taking him
violently by surprise, as though he had expected in the natural course
of events to sit at that table for ever and ever.

But upstairs in the drawing-room he became the victim of a restless
fate, that would, on no account, permit him to sit down. She had sunk
on a low easy-chair, and taking up from a small table at her elbow a
fan with ivory leaves, shaded her face from the fire. The coals glowed
without a flame; and upon the red glow the vertical bars of the grate
stood out at her feet, black and curved, like the charred ribs of a
consumed sacrifice. Far off, a lamp perched on a slim brass rod, burned
under a wide shade of crimson silk: the centre, within the shadows of
the large room, of a fiery twilight that had in the warm quality of its
tint something delicate, refined and infernal. His soft footfalls and
the subdued beat of the clock on the high mantel-piece answered each
other regularly--as if time and himself, engaged in a measured contest,
had been pacing together through the infernal delicacy of twilight
towards a mysterious goal.

He walked from one end of the room to the other without a pause, like a
traveller who, at night, hastens doggedly upon an interminable journey.
Now and then he glanced at her. Impossible to know. The gross precision
of that thought expressed to his practical mind something illimitable
and infinitely profound, the all-embracing subtlety of a feeling, the
eternal origin of his pain. This woman had accepted him, had abandoned
him--had returned to him. And of all this he would never know the truth.
Never. Not till death--not after--not on judgment day when all shall be
disclosed, thoughts and deeds, rewards and punishments, but the secret
of hearts alone shall return, forever unknown, to the Inscrutable
Creator of good and evil, to the Master of doubts and impulses.

He stood still to look at her. Thrown back and with her face turned away
from him, she did not stir--as if asleep. What did she think? What
did she feel? And in the presence of her perfect stillness, in the
breathless silence, he felt himself insignificant and powerless before
her, like a prisoner in chains. The fury of his impotence called out
sinister images, that faculty of tormenting vision, which in a moment
of anguishing sense of wrong induces a man to mutter threats or make
a menacing gesture in the solitude of an empty room. But the gust of
passion passed at once, left him trembling a little, with the wondering,
reflective fear of a man who has paused on the very verge of suicide.
The serenity of truth and the peace of death can be only secured through
a largeness of contempt embracing all the profitable servitudes of life.
He found he did not want to know. Better not. It was all over. It was
as if it hadn’t been. And it was very necessary for both of them, it was
morally right, that nobody should know.

He spoke suddenly, as if concluding a discussion.

“The best thing for us is to forget all this.”

She started a little and shut the fan with a click.

“Yes, forgive--and forget,” he repeated, as if to himself.

“I’ll never forget,” she said in a vibrating voice. “And I’ll never
forgive myself. . . .”

“But I, who have nothing to reproach myself . . .” He began, making a
step towards her. She jumped up.

“I did not come back for your forgiveness,” she exclaimed, passionately,
as if clamouring against an unjust aspersion.

He only said “oh!” and became silent. He could not understand this
unprovoked aggressiveness of her attitude, and certainly was very
far from thinking that an unpremeditated hint of something resembling
emotion in the tone of his last words had caused that uncontrollable
burst of sincerity. It completed his bewilderment, but he was not at
all angry now. He was as if benumbed by the fascination of the
incomprehensible. She stood before him, tall and indistinct, like a
black phantom in the red twilight. At last poignantly uncertain as to
what would happen if he opened his lips, he muttered:

“But if my love is strong enough . . .” and hesitated.

He heard something snap loudly in the fiery stillness. She had broken
her fan. Two thin pieces of ivory fell, one after another, without a
sound, on the thick carpet, and instinctively he stooped to pick them
up. While he groped at her feet it occurred to him that the woman there
had in her hands an indispensable gift which nothing else on earth could
give; and when he stood up he was penetrated by an irresistible belief
in an enigma, by the conviction that within his reach and passing away
from him was the very secret of existence--its certitude, immaterial and
precious! She moved to the door, and he followed at her elbow, casting
about for a magic word that would make the enigma clear, that would
compel the surrender of the gift. And there is no such word! The enigma
is only made clear by sacrifice, and the gift of heaven is in the hands
of every man. But they had lived in a world that abhors enigmas, and
cares for no gifts but such as can be obtained in the street. She was
nearing the door. He said hurriedly:

“‘Pon my word, I loved you--I love you now.”

She stopped for an almost imperceptible moment to give him an indignant
glance, and then moved on. That feminine penetration--so clever and
so tainted by the eternal instinct of self-defence, so ready to see an
obvious evil in everything it cannot understand--filled her with bitter
resentment against both the men who could offer to the spiritual and
tragic strife of her feelings nothing but the coarseness of their
abominable materialism. In her anger against her own ineffectual
self-deception she found hate enough for them both. What did they want?
What more did this one want? And as her husband faced her again,
with his hand on the door-handle, she asked herself whether he was
unpardonably stupid, or simply ignoble.

She said nervously, and very fast:

“You are deceiving yourself. You never loved me. You wanted a wife--some
woman--any woman that would think, speak, and behave in a certain
way--in a way you approved. You loved yourself.”

“You won’t believe me?” he asked, slowly.

“If I had believed you loved me,” she began, passionately, then drew in
a long breath; and during that pause he heard the steady beat of blood
in his ears. “If I had believed it . . . I would never have come back,”
 she finished, recklessly.

He stood looking down as though he had not heard. She waited. After a
moment he opened the door, and, on the landing, the sightless woman of
marble appeared, draped to the chin, thrusting blindly at them a cluster
of lights.

He seemed to have forgotten himself in a meditation so deep that on the
point of going out she stopped to look at him in surprise. While she
had been speaking he had wandered on the track of the enigma, out of the
world of senses into the region of feeling. What did it matter what she
had done, what she had said, if through the pain of her acts and words
he had obtained the word of the enigma! There can be no life without
faith and love--faith in a human heart, love of a human being! That
touch of grace, whose help once in life is the privilege of the
most undeserving, flung open for him the portals of beyond, and in
contemplating there the certitude immaterial and precious he forgot
all the meaningless accidents of existence: the bliss of getting, the
delight of enjoying; all the protean and enticing forms of the cupidity
that rules a material world of foolish joys, of contemptible sorrows.
Faith!--Love!--the undoubting, clear faith in the truth of a soul--the
great tenderness, deep as the ocean, serene and eternal, like the
infinite peace of space above the short tempests of the earth. It was
what he had wanted all his life--but he understood it only then for the
first time. It was through the pain of losing her that the knowledge had
come. She had the gift! She had the gift! And in all the world she was
the only human being that could surrender it to his immense desire.
He made a step forward, putting his arms out, as if to take her to
his breast, and, lifting his head, was met by such a look of blank
consternation that his arms fell as though they had been struck down by
a blow. She started away from him, stumbled over the threshold, and
once on the landing turned, swift and crouching. The train of her gown
swished as it flew round her feet. It was an undisguised panic. She
panted, showing her teeth, and the hate of strength, the disdain of
weakness, the eternal preoccupation of sex came out like a toy demon out
of a box.

“This is odious,” she screamed.

He did not stir; but her look, her agitated movements, the sound of her
voice were like a mist of facts thickening between him and the vision
of love and faith. It vanished; and looking at that face triumphant and
scornful, at that white face, stealthy and unexpected, as if discovered
staring from an ambush, he was coming back slowly to the world of
senses. His first clear thought was: I am married to that woman; and the
next: she will give nothing but what I see. He felt the need not to see.
But the memory of the vision, the memory that abides forever within the
seer made him say to her with the naive austerity of a convert awed by
the touch of a new creed, “You haven’t the gift.” He turned his back
on her, leaving her completely mystified. And she went upstairs slowly,
struggling with a distasteful suspicion of having been confronted by
something more subtle than herself--more profound than the misunderstood
and tragic contest of her feelings.

He shut the door of the drawing-room and moved at hazard, alone amongst
the heavy shadows and in the fiery twilight as of an elegant place of
perdition. She hadn’t the gift--no one had. . . . He stepped on a book
that had fallen off one of the crowded little tables. He picked up the
slender volume, and holding it, approached the crimson-shaded lamp. The
fiery tint deepened on the cover, and contorted gold letters sprawling
all over it in an intricate maze, came out, gleaming redly. “Thorns
and Arabesques.” He read it twice, “Thorns and Ar . . . . . . . .” The
other’s book of verses. He dropped it at his feet, but did not feel the
slightest pang of jealousy or indignation. What did he know? . . . What?
. . . The mass of hot coals tumbled down in the grate, and he turned to
look at them . . . Ah! That one was ready to give up everything he had
for that woman--who did not come--who had not the faith, the love, the
courage to come. What did that man expect, what did he hope, what did
he want? The woman--or the certitude immaterial and precious! The first
unselfish thought he had ever given to any human being was for that
man who had tried to do him a terrible wrong. He was not angry. He was
saddened by an impersonal sorrow, by a vast melancholy as of all mankind
longing for what cannot be attained. He felt his fellowship with every
man--even with that man--especially with that man. What did he think
now? Had he ceased to wait--and hope? Would he ever cease to wait and
hope? Would he understand that the woman, who had no courage, had not
the gift--had not the gift!

The clock began to strike, and the deep-toned vibration filled the
room as though with the sound of an enormous bell tolling far away. He
counted the strokes. Twelve. Another day had begun. To-morrow had come;
the mysterious and lying to-morrow that lures men, disdainful of love
and faith, on and on through the poignant futilities of life to the
fitting reward of a grave. He counted the strokes, and gazing at the
grate seemed to wait for more. Then, as if called out, left the room,
walking firmly.

When outside he heard footsteps in the hall and stood still. A bolt was
shot--then another. They were locking up--shutting out his desire and
his deception from the indignant criticism of a world full of noble
gifts for those who proclaim themselves without stain and without
reproach. He was safe; and on all sides of his dwelling servile
fears and servile hopes slept, dreaming of success, behind the severe
discretion of doors as impenetrable to the truth within as the granite
of tombstones. A lock snapped--a short chain rattled. Nobody shall know!

Why was this assurance of safety heavier than a burden of fear, and why
the day that began presented itself obstinately like the last day of
all--like a to-day without a to-morrow? Yet nothing was changed, for
nobody would know; and all would go on as before--the getting, the
enjoying, the blessing of hunger that is appeased every day; the noble
incentives of unappeasable ambitions. All--all the blessings of life.
All--but the certitude immaterial and precious--the certitude of love
and faith. He believed the shadow of it had been with him as long as he
could remember; that invisible presence had ruled his life. And now the
shadow had appeared and faded he could not extinguish his longing for
the truth of its substance. His desire of it was naive; it was masterful
like the material aspirations that are the groundwork of existence, but,
unlike these, it was unconquerable. It was the subtle despotism of
an idea that suffers no rivals, that is lonely, inconsolable, and
dangerous. He went slowly up the stairs. Nobody shall know. The days
would go on and he would go far--very far. If the idea could not be
mastered, fortune could be, man could be--the whole world. He was
dazzled by the greatness of the prospect; the brutality of a practical
instinct shouted to him that only that which could be had was worth
having. He lingered on the steps. The lights were out in the hall, and
a small yellow flame flitted about down there. He felt a sudden contempt
for himself which braced him up. He went on, but at the door of their
room and with his arm advanced to open it, he faltered. On the flight of
stairs below the head of the girl who had been locking up appeared. His
arm fell. He thought, “I’ll wait till she is gone”--and stepped back
within the perpendicular folds of a portiere.

He saw her come up gradually, as if ascending from a well. At every step
the feeble flame of the candle swayed before her tired, young face, and
the darkness of the hall seemed to cling to her black skirt, followed
her, rising like a silent flood, as though the great night of the world
had broken through the discreet reserve of walls, of closed doors, of
curtained windows. It rose over the steps, it leaped up the walls like
an angry wave, it flowed over the blue skies, over the yellow sands,
over the sunshine of landscapes, and over the pretty pathos of ragged
innocence and of meek starvation. It swallowed up the delicious idyll
in a boat and the mutilated immortality of famous bas-reliefs. It flowed
from outside--it rose higher, in a destructive silence. And, above it,
the woman of marble, composed and blind on the high pedestal, seemed to
ward off the devouring night with a cluster of lights.

He watched the rising tide of impenetrable gloom with impatience, as if
anxious for the coming of a darkness black enough to conceal a shameful
surrender. It came nearer. The cluster of lights went out. The girl
ascended facing him. Behind her the shadow of a colossal woman danced
lightly on the wall. He held his breath while she passed by, noiseless
and with heavy eyelids. And on her track the flowing tide of a tenebrous
sea filled the house, seemed to swirl about his feet, and rising
unchecked, closed silently above his head.

The time had come but he did not open the door. All was still; and
instead of surrendering to the reasonable exigencies of life he stepped
out, with a rebelling heart, into the darkness of the house. It was the
abode of an impenetrable night; as though indeed the last day had come
and gone, leaving him alone in a darkness that has no to-morrow. And
looming vaguely below the woman of marble, livid and still like a
patient phantom, held out in the night a cluster of extinguished lights.

His obedient thought traced for him the image of an uninterrupted life,
the dignity and the advantages of an uninterrupted success; while his
rebellious heart beat violently within his breast, as if maddened by the
desire of a certitude immaterial and precious--the certitude of love and
faith. What of the night within his dwelling if outside he could find
the sunshine in which men sow, in which men reap! Nobody would know. The
days, the years would pass, and . . . He remembered that he had loved
her. The years would pass . . . And then he thought of her as we think
of the dead--in a tender immensity of regret, in a passionate longing
for the return of idealized perfections. He had loved her--he had loved
her--and he never knew the truth . . . The years would pass in the
anguish of doubt . . . He remembered her smile, her eyes, her voice, her
silence, as though he had lost her forever. The years would pass and
he would always mistrust her smile, suspect her eyes; he would always
misbelieve her voice, he would never have faith in her silence. She had
no gift--she had no gift! What was she? Who was she? . . . The years
would pass; the memory of this hour would grow faint--and she would
share the material serenity of an unblemished life. She had no love and
no faith for any one. To give her your thought, your belief, was like
whispering your confession over the edge of the world. Nothing came
back--not even an echo.

In the pain of that thought was born his conscience; not that fear of
remorse which grows slowly, and slowly decays amongst the complicated
facts of life, but a Divine wisdom springing full-grown, armed and
severe out of a tried heart, to combat the secret baseness of motives.
It came to him in a flash that morality is not a method of happiness.
The revelation was terrible. He saw at once that nothing of what he knew
mattered in the least. The acts of men and women, success, humiliation,
dignity, failure--nothing mattered. It was not a question of more or
less pain, of this joy, of that sorrow. It was a question of truth or
falsehood--it was a question of life or death.

He stood in the revealing night--in the darkness that tries the hearts,
in the night useless for the work of men, but in which their gaze,
undazzled by the sunshine of covetous days, wanders sometimes as far as
the stars. The perfect stillness around him had something solemn in it,
but he felt it was the lying solemnity of a temple devoted to the rites
of a debasing persuasion. The silence within the discreet walls was
eloquent of safety but it appeared to him exciting and sinister, like
the discretion of a profitable infamy; it was the prudent peace of a
den of coiners--of a house of ill-fame! The years would pass--and nobody
would know. Never! Not till death--not after . . .

“Never!” he said aloud to the revealing night.

And he hesitated. The secret of hearts, too terrible for the timid eyes
of men, shall return, veiled forever, to the Inscrutable Creator of
good and evil, to the Master of doubts and impulses. His conscience
was born--he heard its voice, and he hesitated, ignoring the strength
within, the fateful power, the secret of his heart! It was an awful
sacrifice to cast all one’s life into the flame of a new belief. He
wanted help against himself, against the cruel decree of salvation. The
need of tacit complicity, where it had never failed him, the habit of
years affirmed itself. Perhaps she would help . . . He flung the door
open and rushed in like a fugitive.

He was in the middle of the room before he could see anything but the
dazzling brilliance of the light; and then, as if detached and floating
in it on the level of his eyes, appeared the head of a woman. She had
jumped up when he burst into the room.

For a moment they contemplated each other as if struck dumb with
amazement. Her hair streaming on her shoulders glinted like burnished
gold. He looked into the unfathomable candour of her eyes. Nothing

He stammered distractedly.

“I want . . . I want . . . to . . . to . . . know . . .”

On the candid light of the eyes flitted shadows; shadows of doubt,
of suspicion, the ready suspicion of an unquenchable antagonism, the
pitiless mistrust of an eternal instinct of defence; the hate, the
profound, frightened hate of an incomprehensible--of an abominable
emotion intruding its coarse materialism upon the spiritual and tragic
contest of her feelings.

“Alvan . . . I won’t bear this . . .” She began to pant suddenly, “I’ve
a right--a right to--to--myself . . .”

He lifted one arm, and appeared so menacing that she stopped in a fright
and shrank back a little.

He stood with uplifted hand . . . The years would pass--and he would
have to live with that unfathomable candour where flit shadows of
suspicions and hate . . . The years would pass--and he would never
know--never trust . . . The years would pass without faith and
love. . . .

“Can you stand it?” he shouted, as though she could have heard all his

He looked menacing. She thought of violence, of danger--and, just for
an instant, she doubted whether there were splendours enough on earth to
pay the price of such a brutal experience. He cried again:

“Can you stand it?” and glared as if insane. Her eyes blazed, too. She
could not hear the appalling clamour of his thoughts. She suspected
in him a sudden regret, a fresh fit of jealousy, a dishonest desire of
evasion. She shouted back angrily--


He was shaken where he stood as if by a struggle to break out of
invisible bonds. She trembled from head to foot.

“Well, I can’t!” He flung both his arms out, as if to push her away,
and strode from the room. The door swung to with a click. She made three
quick steps towards it and stood still, looking at the white and gold
panels. No sound came from beyond, not a whisper, not a sigh; not even
a footstep was heard outside on the thick carpet. It was as though no
sooner gone he had suddenly expired--as though he had died there and his
body had vanished on the instant together with his soul. She listened,
with parted lips and irresolute eyes. Then below, far below her, as
if in the entrails of the earth, a door slammed heavily; and the quiet
house vibrated to it from roof to foundations, more than to a clap of

He never returned.


The white man, leaning with both arms over the roof of the little house
in the stern of the boat, said to the steersman--

“We will pass the night in Arsat’s clearing. It is late.”

The Malay only grunted, and went on looking fixedly at the river. The
white man rested his chin on his crossed arms and gazed at the wake
of the boat. At the end of the straight avenue of forests cut by the
intense glitter of the river, the sun appeared unclouded and dazzling,
poised low over the water that shone smoothly like a band of metal. The
forests, sombre and dull, stood motionless and silent on each side of
the broad stream. At the foot of big, towering trees, trunkless nipa
palms rose from the mud of the bank, in bunches of leaves enormous
and heavy, that hung unstirring over the brown swirl of eddies. In the
stillness of the air every tree, every leaf, every bough, every tendril
of creeper and every petal of minute blossoms seemed to have been
bewitched into an immobility perfect and final. Nothing moved on
the river but the eight paddles that rose flashing regularly, dipped
together with a single splash; while the steersman swept right and left
with a periodic and sudden flourish of his blade describing a glinting
semicircle above his head. The churned-up water frothed alongside with
a confused murmur. And the white man’s canoe, advancing upstream in the
short-lived disturbance of its own making, seemed to enter the portals
of a land from which the very memory of motion had forever departed.

The white man, turning his back upon the setting sun, looked along the
empty and broad expanse of the sea-reach. For the last three miles of
its course the wandering, hesitating river, as if enticed irresistibly
by the freedom of an open horizon, flows straight into the sea, flows
straight to the east--to the east that harbours both light and darkness.
Astern of the boat the repeated call of some bird, a cry discordant and
feeble, skipped along over the smooth water and lost itself, before it
could reach the other shore, in the breathless silence of the world.

The steersman dug his paddle into the stream, and held hard with
stiffened arms, his body thrown forward. The water gurgled aloud; and
suddenly the long straight reach seemed to pivot on its centre, the
forests swung in a semicircle, and the slanting beams of sunset touched
the broadside of the canoe with a fiery glow, throwing the slender and
distorted shadows of its crew upon the streaked glitter of the river.
The white man turned to look ahead. The course of the boat had been
altered at right-angles to the stream, and the carved dragon-head of its
prow was pointing now at a gap in the fringing bushes of the bank. It
glided through, brushing the overhanging twigs, and disappeared from the
river like some slim and amphibious creature leaving the water for its
lair in the forests.

The narrow creek was like a ditch: tortuous, fabulously deep; filled
with gloom under the thin strip of pure and shining blue of the heaven.
Immense trees soared up, invisible behind the festooned draperies of
creepers. Here and there, near the glistening blackness of the water,
a twisted root of some tall tree showed amongst the tracery of small
ferns, black and dull, writhing and motionless, like an arrested snake.
The short words of the paddlers reverberated loudly between the thick
and sombre walls of vegetation. Darkness oozed out from between the
trees, through the tangled maze of the creepers, from behind the
great fantastic and unstirring leaves; the darkness, mysterious and
invincible; the darkness scented and poisonous of impenetrable forests.

The men poled in the shoaling water. The creek broadened, opening out
into a wide sweep of a stagnant lagoon. The forests receded from the
marshy bank, leaving a level strip of bright green, reedy grass to frame
the reflected blueness of the sky. A fleecy pink cloud drifted high
above, trailing the delicate colouring of its image under the floating
leaves and the silvery blossoms of the lotus. A little house, perched
on high piles, appeared black in the distance. Near it, two tall nibong
palms, that seemed to have come out of the forests in the background,
leaned slightly over the ragged roof, with a suggestion of sad
tenderness and care in the droop of their leafy and soaring heads.

The steersman, pointing with his paddle, said, “Arsat is there. I see
his canoe fast between the piles.”

The polers ran along the sides of the boat glancing over their shoulders
at the end of the day’s journey. They would have preferred to spend the
night somewhere else than on this lagoon of weird aspect and ghostly
reputation. Moreover, they disliked Arsat, first as a stranger, and also
because he who repairs a ruined house, and dwells in it, proclaims
that he is not afraid to live amongst the spirits that haunt the places
abandoned by mankind. Such a man can disturb the course of fate by
glances or words; while his familiar ghosts are not easy to propitiate
by casual wayfarers upon whom they long to wreak the malice of their
human master. White men care not for such things, being unbelievers and
in league with the Father of Evil, who leads them unharmed through the
invisible dangers of this world. To the warnings of the righteous they
oppose an offensive pretence of disbelief. What is there to be done?

So they thought, throwing their weight on the end of their long poles.
The big canoe glided on swiftly, noiselessly, and smoothly, towards
Arsat’s clearing, till, in a great rattling of poles thrown down, and
the loud murmurs of “Allah be praised!” it came with a gentle knock
against the crooked piles below the house.

The boatmen with uplifted faces shouted discordantly, “Arsat! O Arsat!”
 Nobody came. The white man began to climb the rude ladder giving access
to the bamboo platform before the house. The juragan of the boat said
sulkily, “We will cook in the sampan, and sleep on the water.”

“Pass my blankets and the basket,” said the white man, curtly.

He knelt on the edge of the platform to receive the bundle. Then the
boat shoved off, and the white man, standing up, confronted Arsat,
who had come out through the low door of his hut. He was a man young,
powerful, with broad chest and muscular arms. He had nothing on but
his sarong. His head was bare. His big, soft eyes stared eagerly at
the white man, but his voice and demeanour were composed as he asked,
without any words of greeting--

“Have you medicine, Tuan?”

“No,” said the visitor in a startled tone. “No. Why? Is there sickness
in the house?”

“Enter and see,” replied Arsat, in the same calm manner, and turning
short round, passed again through the small doorway. The white man,
dropping his bundles, followed.

In the dim light of the dwelling he made out on a couch of bamboos a
woman stretched on her back under a broad sheet of red cotton cloth.
She lay still, as if dead; but her big eyes, wide open, glittered in the
gloom, staring upwards at the slender rafters, motionless and unseeing.
She was in a high fever, and evidently unconscious. Her cheeks were sunk
slightly, her lips were partly open, and on the young face there was the
ominous and fixed expression--the absorbed, contemplating expression of
the unconscious who are going to die. The two men stood looking down at
her in silence.

“Has she been long ill?” asked the traveller.

“I have not slept for five nights,” answered the Malay, in a deliberate
tone. “At first she heard voices calling her from the water and
struggled against me who held her. But since the sun of to-day rose she
hears nothing--she hears not me. She sees nothing. She sees not me--me!”

He remained silent for a minute, then asked softly--

“Tuan, will she die?”

“I fear so,” said the white man, sorrowfully. He had known Arsat years
ago, in a far country in times of trouble and danger, when no friendship
is to be despised. And since his Malay friend had come unexpectedly to
dwell in the hut on the lagoon with a strange woman, he had slept many
times there, in his journeys up and down the river. He liked the man who
knew how to keep faith in council and how to fight without fear by the
side of his white friend. He liked him--not so much perhaps as a man
likes his favourite dog--but still he liked him well enough to help and
ask no questions, to think sometimes vaguely and hazily in the midst of
his own pursuits, about the lonely man and the long-haired woman with
audacious face and triumphant eyes, who lived together hidden by the
forests--alone and feared.

The white man came out of the hut in time to see the enormous
conflagration of sunset put out by the swift and stealthy shadows that,
rising like a black and impalpable vapour above the tree-tops, spread
over the heaven, extinguishing the crimson glow of floating clouds and
the red brilliance of departing daylight. In a few moments all the stars
came out above the intense blackness of the earth and the great lagoon
gleaming suddenly with reflected lights resembled an oval patch of night
sky flung down into the hopeless and abysmal night of the wilderness.
The white man had some supper out of the basket, then collecting a
few sticks that lay about the platform, made up a small fire, not
for warmth, but for the sake of the smoke, which would keep off the
mosquitos. He wrapped himself in the blankets and sat with his back
against the reed wall of the house, smoking thoughtfully.

Arsat came through the doorway with noiseless steps and squatted down by
the fire. The white man moved his outstretched legs a little.

“She breathes,” said Arsat in a low voice, anticipating the expected
question. “She breathes and burns as if with a great fire. She speaks
not; she hears not--and burns!”

He paused for a moment, then asked in a quiet, incurious tone--

“Tuan . . . will she die?”

The white man moved his shoulders uneasily and muttered in a hesitating

“If such is her fate.”

“No, Tuan,” said Arsat, calmly. “If such is my fate. I hear, I see,
I wait. I remember . . . Tuan, do you remember the old days? Do you
remember my brother?”

“Yes,” said the white man. The Malay rose suddenly and went in. The
other, sitting still outside, could hear the voice in the hut. Arsat
said: “Hear me! Speak!” His words were succeeded by a complete silence.
“O Diamelen!” he cried, suddenly. After that cry there was a deep sigh.
Arsat came out and sank down again in his old place.

They sat in silence before the fire. There was no sound within the
house, there was no sound near them; but far away on the lagoon they
could hear the voices of the boatmen ringing fitful and distinct on
the calm water. The fire in the bows of the sampan shone faintly in the
distance with a hazy red glow. Then it died out. The voices ceased.
The land and the water slept invisible, unstirring and mute. It was as
though there had been nothing left in the world but the glitter of stars
streaming, ceaseless and vain, through the black stillness of the night.

The white man gazed straight before him into the darkness with wide-open
eyes. The fear and fascination, the inspiration and the wonder of
death--of death near, unavoidable, and unseen, soothed the unrest of his
race and stirred the most indistinct, the most intimate of his thoughts.
The ever-ready suspicion of evil, the gnawing suspicion that lurks in
our hearts, flowed out into the stillness round him--into the stillness
profound and dumb, and made it appear untrustworthy and infamous, like
the placid and impenetrable mask of an unjustifiable violence. In that
fleeting and powerful disturbance of his being the earth enfolded in
the starlight peace became a shadowy country of inhuman strife, a
battle-field of phantoms terrible and charming, august or ignoble,
struggling ardently for the possession of our helpless hearts. An
unquiet and mysterious country of inextinguishable desires and fears.

A plaintive murmur rose in the night; a murmur saddening and startling,
as if the great solitudes of surrounding woods had tried to whisper
into his ear the wisdom of their immense and lofty indifference. Sounds
hesitating and vague floated in the air round him, shaped themselves
slowly into words; and at last flowed on gently in a murmuring stream
of soft and monotonous sentences. He stirred like a man waking up and
changed his position slightly. Arsat, motionless and shadowy, sitting
with bowed head under the stars, was speaking in a low and dreamy tone--

“. . . for where can we lay down the heaviness of our trouble but in
a friend’s heart? A man must speak of war and of love. You, Tuan, know
what war is, and you have seen me in time of danger seek death as other
men seek life! A writing may be lost; a lie may be written; but what the
eye has seen is truth and remains in the mind!”

“I remember,” said the white man, quietly. Arsat went on with mournful

“Therefore I shall speak to you of love. Speak in the night. Speak
before both night and love are gone--and the eye of day looks upon my
sorrow and my shame; upon my blackened face; upon my burnt-up heart.”

A sigh, short and faint, marked an almost imperceptible pause, and then
his words flowed on, without a stir, without a gesture.

“After the time of trouble and war was over and you went away from my
country in the pursuit of your desires, which we, men of the islands,
cannot understand, I and my brother became again, as we had been
before, the sword-bearers of the Ruler. You know we were men of family,
belonging to a ruling race, and more fit than any to carry on our right
shoulder the emblem of power. And in the time of prosperity Si Dendring
showed us favour, as we, in time of sorrow, had showed to him the
faithfulness of our courage. It was a time of peace. A time of
deer-hunts and cock-fights; of idle talks and foolish squabbles between
men whose bellies are full and weapons are rusty. But the sower watched
the young rice-shoots grow up without fear, and the traders came and
went, departed lean and returned fat into the river of peace. They
brought news, too. Brought lies and truth mixed together, so that no man
knew when to rejoice and when to be sorry. We heard from them about you
also. They had seen you here and had seen you there. And I was glad to
hear, for I remembered the stirring times, and I always remembered you,
Tuan, till the time came when my eyes could see nothing in the past,
because they had looked upon the one who is dying there--in the house.”

He stopped to exclaim in an intense whisper, “O Mara bahia! O Calamity!”
 then went on speaking a little louder:

“There’s no worse enemy and no better friend than a brother, Tuan, for
one brother knows another, and in perfect knowledge is strength for good
or evil. I loved my brother. I went to him and told him that I could see
nothing but one face, hear nothing but one voice. He told me: ‘Open your
heart so that she can see what is in it--and wait. Patience is wisdom.
Inchi Midah may die or our Ruler may throw off his fear of a woman!’
. . . I waited! . . . You remember the lady with the veiled face, Tuan, and
the fear of our Ruler before her cunning and temper. And if she wanted
her servant, what could I do? But I fed the hunger of my heart on short
glances and stealthy words. I loitered on the path to the bath-houses in
the daytime, and when the sun had fallen behind the forest I crept along
the jasmine hedges of the women’s courtyard. Unseeing, we spoke to
one another through the scent of flowers, through the veil of leaves,
through the blades of long grass that stood still before our lips; so
great was our prudence, so faint was the murmur of our great longing.
The time passed swiftly . . . and there were whispers amongst women--and
our enemies watched--my brother was gloomy, and I began to think of
killing and of a fierce death. . . . We are of a people who take what
they want--like you whites. There is a time when a man should forget
loyalty and respect. Might and authority are given to rulers, but to all
men is given love and strength and courage. My brother said, ‘You shall
take her from their midst. We are two who are like one.’ And I answered,
‘Let it be soon, for I find no warmth in sunlight that does not shine
upon her.’ Our time came when the Ruler and all the great people went
to the mouth of the river to fish by torchlight. There were hundreds
of boats, and on the white sand, between the water and the forests,
dwellings of leaves were built for the households of the Rajahs. The
smoke of cooking-fires was like a blue mist of the evening, and many
voices rang in it joyfully. While they were making the boats ready to
beat up the fish, my brother came to me and said, ‘To-night!’ I looked
to my weapons, and when the time came our canoe took its place in the
circle of boats carrying the torches. The lights blazed on the water,
but behind the boats there was darkness. When the shouting began and the
excitement made them like mad we dropped out. The water swallowed our
fire, and we floated back to the shore that was dark with only here
and there the glimmer of embers. We could hear the talk of slave-girls
amongst the sheds. Then we found a place deserted and silent. We waited
there. She came. She came running along the shore, rapid and leaving
no trace, like a leaf driven by the wind into the sea. My brother said
gloomily, ‘Go and take her; carry her into our boat.’ I lifted her in
my arms. She panted. Her heart was beating against my breast. I said, ‘I
take you from those people. You came to the cry of my heart, but my arms
take you into my boat against the will of the great!’ ‘It is right,’
said my brother. ‘We are men who take what we want and can hold it
against many. We should have taken her in daylight.’ I said, ‘Let us be
off’; for since she was in my boat I began to think of our Ruler’s many
men. ‘Yes. Let us be off,’ said my brother. ‘We are cast out and this
boat is our country now--and the sea is our refuge.’ He lingered with
his foot on the shore, and I entreated him to hasten, for I remembered
the strokes of her heart against my breast and thought that two men
cannot withstand a hundred. We left, paddling downstream close to the
bank; and as we passed by the creek where they were fishing, the great
shouting had ceased, but the murmur of voices was loud like the humming
of insects flying at noonday. The boats floated, clustered together, in
the red light of torches, under a black roof of smoke; and men talked of
their sport. Men that boasted, and praised, and jeered--men that would
have been our friends in the morning, but on that night were already our
enemies. We paddled swiftly past. We had no more friends in the country
of our birth. She sat in the middle of the canoe with covered face;
silent as she is now; unseeing as she is now--and I had no regret at
what I was leaving because I could hear her breathing close to me--as I
can hear her now.”

He paused, listened with his ear turned to the doorway, then shook his
head and went on:

“My brother wanted to shout the cry of challenge--one cry only--to let
the people know we were freeborn robbers who trusted our arms and the
great sea. And again I begged him in the name of our love to be silent.
Could I not hear her breathing close to me? I knew the pursuit would
come quick enough. My brother loved me. He dipped his paddle without a
splash. He only said, ‘There is half a man in you now--the other half is
in that woman. I can wait. When you are a whole man again, you will come
back with me here to shout defiance. We are sons of the same mother.’ I
made no answer. All my strength and all my spirit were in my hands that
held the paddle--for I longed to be with her in a safe place beyond the
reach of men’s anger and of women’s spite. My love was so great, that
I thought it could guide me to a country where death was unknown, if I
could only escape from Inchi Midah’s fury and from our Ruler’s sword.
We paddled with haste, breathing through our teeth. The blades bit deep
into the smooth water. We passed out of the river; we flew in clear
channels amongst the shallows. We skirted the black coast; we skirted
the sand beaches where the sea speaks in whispers to the land; and the
gleam of white sand flashed back past our boat, so swiftly she ran upon
the water. We spoke not. Only once I said, ‘Sleep, Diamelen, for soon
you may want all your strength.’ I heard the sweetness of her voice, but
I never turned my head. The sun rose and still we went on. Water fell
from my face like rain from a cloud. We flew in the light and heat. I
never looked back, but I knew that my brother’s eyes, behind me, were
looking steadily ahead, for the boat went as straight as a bushman’s
dart, when it leaves the end of the sumpitan. There was no better
paddler, no better steersman than my brother. Many times, together, we
had won races in that canoe. But we never had put out our strength as we
did then--then, when for the last time we paddled together! There was no
braver or stronger man in our country than my brother. I could not spare
the strength to turn my head and look at him, but every moment I heard
the hiss of his breath getting louder behind me. Still he did not speak.
The sun was high. The heat clung to my back like a flame of fire. My
ribs were ready to burst, but I could no longer get enough air into
my chest. And then I felt I must cry out with my last breath, ‘Let us
rest!’ . . . ‘Good!’ he answered; and his voice was firm. He was strong.
He was brave. He knew not fear and no fatigue . . . My brother!”

A murmur powerful and gentle, a murmur vast and faint; the murmur of
trembling leaves, of stirring boughs, ran through the tangled depths of
the forests, ran over the starry smoothness of the lagoon, and the water
between the piles lapped the slimy timber once with a sudden splash.
A breath of warm air touched the two men’s faces and passed on with
a mournful sound--a breath loud and short like an uneasy sigh of the
dreaming earth.

Arsat went on in an even, low voice.

“We ran our canoe on the white beach of a little bay close to a long
tongue of land that seemed to bar our road; a long wooded cape going far
into the sea. My brother knew that place. Beyond the cape a river has
its entrance, and through the jungle of that land there is a narrow
path. We made a fire and cooked rice. Then we lay down to sleep on the
soft sand in the shade of our canoe, while she watched. No sooner had I
closed my eyes than I heard her cry of alarm. We leaped up. The sun was
halfway down the sky already, and coming in sight in the opening of the
bay we saw a prau manned by many paddlers. We knew it at once; it was
one of our Rajah’s praus. They were watching the shore, and saw us. They
beat the gong, and turned the head of the prau into the bay. I felt my
heart become weak within my breast. Diamelen sat on the sand and covered
her face. There was no escape by sea. My brother laughed. He had the
gun you had given him, Tuan, before you went away, but there was only a
handful of powder. He spoke to me quickly: ‘Run with her along the path.
I shall keep them back, for they have no firearms, and landing in the
face of a man with a gun is certain death for some. Run with her. On the
other side of that wood there is a fisherman’s house--and a canoe.
When I have fired all the shots I will follow. I am a great runner, and
before they can come up we shall be gone. I will hold out as long as I
can, for she is but a woman--that can neither run nor fight, but she has
your heart in her weak hands.’ He dropped behind the canoe. The prau was
coming. She and I ran, and as we rushed along the path I heard shots.
My brother fired--once--twice--and the booming of the gong ceased. There
was silence behind us. That neck of land is narrow. Before I heard my
brother fire the third shot I saw the shelving shore, and I saw the
water again; the mouth of a broad river. We crossed a grassy glade. We
ran down to the water. I saw a low hut above the black mud, and a small
canoe hauled up. I heard another shot behind me. I thought, ‘That is his
last charge.’ We rushed down to the canoe; a man came running from the
hut, but I leaped on him, and we rolled together in the mud. Then I got
up, and he lay still at my feet. I don’t know whether I had killed him
or not. I and Diamelen pushed the canoe afloat. I heard yells behind me,
and I saw my brother run across the glade. Many men were bounding after
him, I took her in my arms and threw her into the boat, then leaped in
myself. When I looked back I saw that my brother had fallen. He fell
and was up again, but the men were closing round him. He shouted, ‘I am
coming!’ The men were close to him. I looked. Many men. Then I looked
at her. Tuan, I pushed the canoe! I pushed it into deep water. She was
kneeling forward looking at me, and I said, ‘Take your paddle,’ while
I struck the water with mine. Tuan, I heard him cry. I heard him cry my
name twice; and I heard voices shouting, ‘Kill! Strike!’ I never turned
back. I heard him calling my name again with a great shriek, as when
life is going out together with the voice--and I never turned my head.
My own name! . . . My brother! Three times he called--but I was not
afraid of life. Was she not there in that canoe? And could I not with
her find a country where death is forgotten--where death is unknown!”

The white man sat up. Arsat rose and stood, an indistinct and silent
figure above the dying embers of the fire. Over the lagoon a mist
drifting and low had crept, erasing slowly the glittering images of
the stars. And now a great expanse of white vapour covered the land: it
flowed cold and gray in the darkness, eddied in noiseless whirls round
the tree-trunks and about the platform of the house, which seemed to
float upon a restless and impalpable illusion of a sea. Only far away
the tops of the trees stood outlined on the twinkle of heaven, like a
sombre and forbidding shore--a coast deceptive, pitiless and black.

Arsat’s voice vibrated loudly in the profound peace.

“I had her there! I had her! To get her I would have faced all mankind.
But I had her--and--”

His words went out ringing into the empty distances. He paused, and
seemed to listen to them dying away very far--beyond help and beyond
recall. Then he said quietly--

“Tuan, I loved my brother.”

A breath of wind made him shiver. High above his head, high above the
silent sea of mist the drooping leaves of the palms rattled together
with a mournful and expiring sound. The white man stretched his legs.
His chin rested on his chest, and he murmured sadly without lifting his

“We all love our brothers.”

Arsat burst out with an intense whispering violence--

“What did I care who died? I wanted peace in my own heart.”

He seemed to hear a stir in the house--listened--then stepped in
noiselessly. The white man stood up. A breeze was coming in fitful
puffs. The stars shone paler as if they had retreated into the frozen
depths of immense space. After a chill gust of wind there were a few
seconds of perfect calm and absolute silence. Then from behind the black
and wavy line of the forests a column of golden light shot up into the
heavens and spread over the semicircle of the eastern horizon. The sun
had risen. The mist lifted, broke into drifting patches, vanished into
thin flying wreaths; and the unveiled lagoon lay, polished and black, in
the heavy shadows at the foot of the wall of trees. A white eagle rose
over it with a slanting and ponderous flight, reached the clear sunshine
and appeared dazzlingly brilliant for a moment, then soaring higher,
became a dark and motionless speck before it vanished into the blue as
if it had left the earth forever. The white man, standing gazing upwards
before the doorway, heard in the hut a confused and broken murmur of
distracted words ending with a loud groan. Suddenly Arsat stumbled out
with outstretched hands, shivered, and stood still for some time with
fixed eyes. Then he said--

“She burns no more.”

Before his face the sun showed its edge above the tree-tops rising
steadily. The breeze freshened; a great brilliance burst upon the
lagoon, sparkled on the rippling water. The forests came out of the
clear shadows of the morning, became distinct, as if they had rushed
nearer--to stop short in a great stir of leaves, of nodding boughs, of
swaying branches. In the merciless sunshine the whisper of unconscious
life grew louder, speaking in an incomprehensible voice round the dumb
darkness of that human sorrow. Arsat’s eyes wandered slowly, then stared
at the rising sun.

“I can see nothing,” he said half aloud to himself.

“There is nothing,” said the white man, moving to the edge of the
platform and waving his hand to his boat. A shout came faintly over the
lagoon and the sampan began to glide towards the abode of the friend of

“If you want to come with me, I will wait all the morning,” said the
white man, looking away upon the water.

“No, Tuan,” said Arsat, softly. “I shall not eat or sleep in this house,
but I must first see my road. Now I can see nothing--see nothing! There
is no light and no peace in the world; but there is death--death for
many. We are sons of the same mother--and I left him in the midst of
enemies; but I am going back now.”

He drew a long breath and went on in a dreamy tone:

“In a little while I shall see clear enough to strike--to strike. But
she has died, and . . . now . . . darkness.”

He flung his arms wide open, let them fall along his body, then stood
still with unmoved face and stony eyes, staring at the sun. The white
man got down into his canoe. The polers ran smartly along the sides
of the boat, looking over their shoulders at the beginning of a weary
journey. High in the stern, his head muffled up in white rags, the
juragan sat moody, letting his paddle trail in the water. The white man,
leaning with both arms over the grass roof of the little cabin, looked
back at the shining ripple of the boat’s wake. Before the sampan passed
out of the lagoon into the creek he lifted his eyes. Arsat had not
moved. He stood lonely in the searching sunshine; and he looked beyond
the great light of a cloudless day into the darkness of a world of

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tales of Unrest" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.