Victory By Joseph Conrad Part 4: Chapter 5


Waking up suddenly, Lena looked, without raising her head from the pillow, at the room in which she was alone. She got up quickly, as if to counteract the awful sinking of her heart by the vigorous use of her limbs. But this sinking was only momentary. Mistress of herself from pride, from love, from necessity, and also because of a woman's vanity in self-sacrifice, she met Heyst, returning from the strangers' bungalow, with a dear glance and a smile.

The smile he managed to answer, but, noticing that he avoided her eyes, she composed her lips and lowered her gaze. For the same reason she hastened to speak to him in a tone of indifference, which she put on without effort, as if she had grown adept in duplicity since sunrise.

"You have been over there again?"

"I have. I thought — but you had better know first that we have lost Wang for good."

She repeated "For good?" as if she had not understood.

"For good or evil — I shouldn't know which if you were to ask me. He has dismissed himself. He's gone."

"You expected him to go, though, didn't you?"

Heyst sat down on the other side of the table.

"Yes. I expected it as soon as I discovered that he had annexed my revolver. He says he hasn't taken it. That's untrue of course. A Chinaman would not see the sense of confessing under any circumstances. To deny any charge is a principle of right conduct; but he hardly expected to be believed. He was a little enigmatic at the last, Lena. He startled me."

Heyst paused. The girl seemed absorbed in her own thoughts.

"He startled me," I repeated Heyst. She noted the anxiety in his tone, and turned her head slightly to look at him across the table.

"It must have been something — to startle you," she said. In the depth of her parted lips, like a ripe pomegranate, there was a gleam of white teeth.

"It was only a single word — and some of his gestures. He had been making a good deal of noise. I wonder we didn't wake you up. How soundly you can sleep! I say, do you feel all right now?"

"As fresh as can be," she said, treating him to another deep gleam of a smile. "I heard no noise, and I'm glad of it. The way he talks in his harsh voice frightens me. I don't like all these foreign people."

"It was just before he went away — bolted out, I should say. He nodded and pointed at the curtain to our room. He knew you were there, of course. He seemed to think — he seemed to try to give me to understand that you were in special — well, danger. You know how he talks."

She said nothing; she made no sound, only the faint tinge of colour ebbed out of her cheek.

"Yes," Heyst went on. "He seemed to try to warn me. That must have been it Did he imagine I had forgotten your existence? The only word he said was 'two'. It sounded so, at least. Yes, 'two' — and that he didn't like it."

"What does that mean?" she whispered.

"We know what the word two means, don't we, Lena? We are two. Never were such a lonely two out of the world, my dear! He might have tried to remind me that he himself has a woman to look after. Why are you so pale, Lena?"

"Am I pale?" she asked negligently.

"You are." Heyst was really anxious.

"Well, it isn't from fright," she protested truthfully.

Indeed, what she felt was a sort of horror which left her absolutely in the full possession of all her faculties; more difficult to bear, perhaps, for that reason, but not paralysing to her fortitude.

Heyst in his turn smiled at her.

"I really don't know that there is any reason to be frightened."

"I mean I am not frightened for myself."

"I believe you are very plucky," he said. The colour had returned to her face. "I" continued Heyst, "am so rebellious to outward impressions that I can't say that much about myself. I don't react with sufficient distinctness." He changed his tone. "You know I went to see those men first thing this morning."

"I know. Be careful!" she murmured.

"I wonder how one can be careful! I had a long talk with — but I don't believe you have seen them. One of them is a fantastically thin, long person, apparently ailing; I shouldn't wonder if he were really so. He makes rather a point of it in a mysterious manner. I imagine he must have suffered from tropical fevers, but not so much as he tries to make out. He's what people would call a gentleman. He seemed on the point of volunteering a tale of his adventures — for which I didn't ask him — but remarked that it was a long story; some other time, perhaps.

"'I suppose you would like to know who I am?' he asked me.

"I told him I would leave it to him, in a tone which, between gentlemen, could have left no doubt in his mind. He raised himself on his elbow — he was lying down on the camp-bed — and said:

"'I am he who is — '"

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