"Ay; and I too don't feel as strong as I thought I was when the first drink set me up. Great wonder-worker water is! And to get it right here on the spot! It was heaven — hey, sir?"
Mr Jones, being directly addressed, took up his part in the concerted piece:
"Really, when I saw a wharf on what might have been an uninhabited island, I couldn't believe my eyes. I doubted its existence. I thought it was a delusion till the boat actually drove between the piles, as you see her lying now."
While he was speaking faintly, in a voice which did not seem to belong to the earth, his henchman, in extremely loud and terrestrial accents, was fussing about their belongings in the boat, addressing himself to Pedro:
"Come, now — pass up the dunnage there! Move, yourself, hombre, or I'll have to get down again and give you a tap on those bandages of yours, you growling bear, you!"
"Ah! You didn't believe in the reality of the wharf?" Heyst was saying to Mr. Jones.
"You ought to kiss my hands!"
Ricardo caught hold of an ancient Gladstone bag and swung it on the wharf with a thump.
"Yes! You ought to burn a candle before me as they do before the saints in your country. No saint has ever done so much for you as I have, you ungrateful vagabond. Now then! Up you get!"
Helped by the talkative Ricardo, Pedro scrambled up on the wharf, where he remained for some time on all fours, swinging to and fro his shaggy head tied up in white rags. Then he got up clumsily, like a bulky animal in the dusk, balancing itself on its hind legs.
Mr Jones began to explain languidly to Heyst that they were in a pretty bad state that morning, when they caught sight of the smoke of the volcano. It nerved them to make an effort for their lives. Soon afterwards they made out the island.
"I had just wits enough left in my baked brain to alter the direction of the boat," the ghostly voice went on. "As to finding assistance, a wharf, a white man — nobody would have dreamed of it. Simply preposterous!"
"That's what I thought when my Chinaman came and told me he had seen a boat with white men pulling up," said Heyst.
"Most extraordinary luck," interjected Ricardo, standing by anxiously attentive to every word. "Seems a dream," he added. "A lovely dream!"
A silence fell on that group of three, as if everyone had become afraid to speak, in an obscure sense of an impending crisis. Pedro on one side of them and Wang on the other had the air of watchful spectators. A few stars had come out pursuing the ebbing twilight. A light draught of air tepid enough in the thickening twilight after the scorching day, struck a chill into Mr. Jones in his soaked clothes.
"I may infer, then, that there is a settlement of white people here?" he murmured, shivering visibly.
Heyst roused himself.
"Oh, abandoned, abandoned. I am alone here — practically alone; but several empty houses are still standing. No lack of accommodation. We may just as well — here, Wang, go back to the shore and run the trolley out here."
The last words having been spoken in Malay, he explained courteously that he had given directions for the transport of the luggage. Wang had melted into the night — in his soundless manner.
"My word! Rails laid down and all," exclaimed Ricardo softly, in a tone of admiration. "Well, I never!"
"We were working a coal-mine here," said the late manager of the Tropical Belt Coal Company. "These are only the ghosts of things that have been."
Mr Jones's teeth were suddenly started chattering by another faint puff of wind, a mere sigh from the west, where Venus cast her rays on the dark edge of the horizon, like a bright lamp hung above the grave of the sun.
"We might be moving on," proposed Heyst. "My Chinaman and that — ah — ungrateful servant of yours, with the broken head, can load the things and come along after us."
The suggestion was accepted without words. Moving towards the shore, the three men met the trolley, a mere metallic rustle which whisked past them, the shadowy Wang running noiselessly behind. Only the sound of their footsteps accompanied them. It was a long time since so many footsteps had rung together on that jetty. Before they stepped on to the path trodden through the grass, Heyst said:
"I am prevented from offering you a share of my own quarters." The distant courtliness of this beginning arrested the other two suddenly, as if amazed by some manifest incongruity. "I should regret it more," he went on, "if I were not in a position to give you the choice of those empty bungalows for a temporary home."
He turned round and plunged into the narrow track, the two others following in single file.
"Queer start!" Ricardo took the opportunity for whispering, as he fell behind Mr. Jones, who swayed in the gloom, enclosed by the stalks of tropical grass, almost as slender as a stalk of grass himself.