"It's a villainous plot. Unluckily, one is helpless. That scoundrel Cousinho — Andreas, you know — has been coveting the brig for years. Naturally, I would never sell. She is not only my livelihood; she's my life. So he has hatched this pretty little plot with the chief of the customs. The sale, of course, will be a farce. There's no one here to bid. He will get the brig for a song — no, not even that — a line of a song. You have been some years now in the islands, Heyst. You know us all; you have seen how we live. Now you shall have the opportunity to see how some of us end; for it is the end, for me. I can't deceive myself any longer. You see it — don't your?"
Morrison had pulled himself together, but one felt the snapping strain on his recovered self-possession. Heyst was beginning to say that he "could very well see all the bearings of this unfortunate — " when Morrison interrupted him jerkily.
"Upon my word, I don't know why I have been telling you all this. I suppose seeing a thoroughly white man made it impossible to keep my trouble to myself. Words can't do it justice; but since I've told you so much I may as well tell you more. Listen. This morning on board, in my cabin I went down on my knees and prayed for help. I went down on my knees!"
"You are a believer, Morrison?" asked Heyst with a distinct note of respect.
"Surely I am not an infidel."
Morrison was swiftly reproachful in his answer, and there came a pause, Morrison perhaps interrogating his conscience, and Heyst preserving a mien of unperturbed, polite interest.
"I prayed like a child, of course. I believe in children praying — well, women, too, but I rather think God expects men to be more self-reliant. I don't hold with a man everlastingly bothering the Almighty with his silly troubles. It seems such cheek. Anyhow, this morning I — I have never done any harm to any God's creature knowingly — I prayed. A sudden impulse — I went flop on my knees; so you may judge — "
They were gazing earnestly into each other's eyes. Poor Morrison added, as a discouraging afterthought:
"Only this is such a God-forsaken spot."
Heyst inquired with a delicate intonation whether he might know the amount for which the brig was seized.
Morrison suppressed an oath, and named curtly a sum which was in itself so insignificant that any other person than Heyst would have exclaimed at it. And even Heyst could hardly keep incredulity out of his politely modulated voice as he asked if it was a fact that Morrison had not that amount in hand.
Morrison hadn't. He had only a little English gold, a few sovereigns, on board. He had left all his spare cash with the Tesmans, in Samarang, to meet certain bills which would fall due while he was away on his cruise. Anyhow, that money would not have been any more good to him than if it had been in the innermost depths of the infernal regions. He said all this brusquely. He looked with sudden disfavour at that noble forehead, at those great martial moustaches, at the tired eyes of the man sitting opposite him. Who the devil was he? What was he, Morrison, doing there, talking like this? Morrison knew no more of Heyst than the rest of us trading in the Archipelago did. Had the Swede suddenly risen and hit him on the nose, he could not have been taken more aback than when this stranger, this nondescript wanderer, said with a little bow across the table:
"Oh! If that's the case I would be very happy if you'd allow me to be of use!"
Morrison didn't understand. This was one of those things that don't happen — unheard of things. He had no real inkling of what it meant, till Heyst said definitely:
"I can lend you the amount."
"You have the money?" whispered Morrison. "Do you mean here, in your pocket?"
"Yes, on me. Glad to be of use."
Morrison, staring open-mouthed, groped over his shoulder for the cord of the eyeglass hanging down his back. When he found it, he stuck it in his eye hastily. It was as if he expected Heyst's usual white suit of the tropics to change into a shining garment, flowing down to his toes, and a pair of great dazzling wings to sprout out on the Swede's shoulders — and didn't want to miss a single detail of the transformation. But if Heyst was an angle from on high, sent in answer to prayer, he did not betray his heavenly origin by outward signs. So, instead of going on his knees, as he felt inclined to do, Morrison stretched out his hand, which Heyst grasped with formal alacrity and a polite murmur in which "Trifle — delighted — of service," could just be distinguished.
"Miracles do happen," thought the awestruck Morrison. To him, as to all of us in the Islands, this wandering Heyst, who didn't toil or spin visibly, seemed the very last person to be the agent of Providence in an affair concerned with money. The fact of his turning up in Timor or anywhere else was no more wonderful than the settling of a sparrow on one's window-sill at any given moment. But that he should carry a sum of money in his pocket seemed somehow inconceivable.
So inconceivable that as they were trudging together through the sand of the roadway to the custom-house — another mud hovel — to pay the fine, Morrison broke into a cold sweat, stopped short, and exclaimed in faltering accents:
"I say! You aren't joking, Heyst?"