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Chapter V

Chapter IChapter IIChapter IIIChapter IVChapter VChapter VI

In respect of the next seven weeks, all that is necessary to say
is, first, that old Nelson (or Nielsen) failed in paying his
politic call. The Neptun gunboat of H.M. the King of the
Netherlands, commanded by an outraged and infuriated lieutenant,
left the cove at an unexpectedly early hour. When Freya’s father
came down to the shore, after seeing his precious crop of tobacco
spread out properly in the sun, she was already steaming round the
point. Old Nelson regretted the circumstance for many days.

“Now, I don’t know in what disposition the man went away,” he
lamented to his hard daughter. He was amazed at her hardness. He
was almost frightened by her indifference.

Next, it must be recorded that the same day the gunboat Neptun,
steering east, passed the brig Bonito becalmed in sight of
Carimata, with her head to the eastward, too. Her captain, Jasper
Allen, giving himself up consciously to a tender, possessive
reverie of his Freya, did not get out of his long chair on the poop
to look at the Neptun which passed so close that the smoke belching
out suddenly from her short black funnel rolled between the masts
of the Bonito, obscuring for a moment the sunlit whiteness of her
sails, consecrated to the service of love. Jasper did not even
turn his head for a glance. But Heemskirk, on the bridge, had
gazed long and earnestly at the brig from the distance, gripping
hard the brass rail in front of him, till, the two ships closing,
he lost all confidence in himself, and retreating to the chartroom,
pulled the door to with a crash. There, his brows knitted, his
mouth drawn on one side in sardonic meditation, he sat through many
still hours–a sort of Prometheus in the bonds of unholy desire,
having his very vitals torn by the beak and claws of humiliated
passion.

That species of fowl is not to be shooed off as easily as a
chicken. Fooled, cheated, deceived, led on, outraged, mocked at–
beak and claws! A sinister bird! The lieutenant had no mind to
become the talk of the Archipelago, as the naval officer who had
had his face slapped by a girl. Was it possible that she really
loved that rascally trader? He tried not to think, but, worse than
thoughts, definite impressions beset him in his retreat. He saw
her–a vision plain, close to, detailed, plastic, coloured, lighted
up–he saw her hanging round the neck of that fellow. And he shut
his eyes, only to discover that this was no remedy. Then a piano
began to play near by, very plainly; and he put his fingers to his
ears with no better effect. It was not to be borne–not in
solitude. He bolted out of the chartroom, and talked of
indifferent things somewhat wildly with the officer of the watch on
the bridge, to the mocking accompaniment of a ghostly piano.

The last thing to be recorded is that Lieutenant Heemskirk instead
of pursuing his course towards Ternate, where he was expected, went
out of his way to call at Makassar, where no one was looking for
his arrival. Once there, he gave certain explanations and laid a
certain proposal before the governor, or some other authority, and
obtained permission to do what he thought fit in these matters.
Thereupon the Neptun, giving up Ternate altogether, steamed north
in view of the mountainous coast of Celebes, and then crossing the
broad straits took up her station on the low coast of virgin
forests, inviolate and mute, in waters phosphorescent at night;
deep blue in daytime with gleaming green patches over the submerged
reefs. For days the Neptun could be seen moving smoothly up and
down the sombre face of the shore, or hanging about with a watchful
air near the silvery breaks of broad estuaries, under the great
luminous sky never softened, never veiled, and flooding the earth
with the everlasting sunshine of the tropics–that sunshine which,
in its unbroken splendour, oppresses the soul with an inexpressible
melancholy more intimate, more penetrating, more profound than the
grey sadness of the northern mists.
The trading brig Bonito appeared gliding round a sombre forest-clad
point of land on the silvery estuary of a great river. The breath
of air that gave her motion would not have fluttered the flame of a
torch. She stole out into the open from behind a veil of
unstirring leaves, mysteriously silent, ghostly white, and solemnly
stealthy in her imperceptible progress; and Jasper, his elbow in
the main rigging, and his head leaning against his hand, thought of
Freya. Everything in the world reminded him of her. The beauty of
the loved woman exists in the beauties of Nature. The swelling
outlines of the hills, the curves of a coast, the free sinuosities
of a river are less suave than the harmonious lines of her body,
and when she moves, gliding lightly, the grace of her progress
suggests the power of occult forces which rule the fascinating
aspects of the visible world.

Dependent on things as all men are, Jasper loved his vessel–the
house of his dreams. He lent to her something of Freya’s soul.
Her deck was the foothold of their love. The possession of his
brig appeased his passion in a soothing certitude of happiness
already conquered.

The full moon was some way up, perfect and serene, floating in air
as calm and limpid as the glance of Freya’s eyes. There was not a
sound in the brig.

“Here she shall stand, by my side, on evenings like this,” he
thought, with rapture.

And it was at that moment, in this peace, in this serenity, under
the full, benign gaze of the moon propitious to lovers, on a sea
without a wrinkle, under a sky without a cloud, as if all Nature
had assumed its most clement mood in a spirit of mockery, that the
gunboat Neptun, detaching herself from the dark coast under which
she had been lying invisible, steamed out to intercept the trading
brig Bonito standing out to sea.

Directly the gunboat had been made out emerging from her ambush,
Schultz, of the fascinating voice, had given signs of strange
agitation. All that day, ever since leaving the Malay town up the
river, he had shown a haggard face, going about his duties like a
man with something weighing on his mind. Jasper had noticed it,
but the mate, turning away, as though he had not liked being looked
at, had muttered shamefacedly of a headache and a touch of fever.
He must have had it very badly when, dodging behind his captain he
wondered aloud: “What can that fellow want with us?” . . . A naked
man standing in a freezing blast and trying not to shiver could not
have spoken with a more harshly uncertain intonation. But it might
have been fever–a cold fit.

“He wants to make himself disagreeable, simply,” said Jasper, with
perfect good humour. “He has tried it on me before. However, we
shall soon see.”

And, indeed, before long the two vessels lay abreast within easy
hail. The brig, with her fine lines and her white sails, looked
vaporous and sylph-like in the moonlight. The gunboat, short,
squat, with her stumpy dark spars naked like dead trees, raised
against the luminous sky of that resplendent night, threw a heavy
shadow on the lane of water between the two ships.

Freya haunted them both like an ubiquitous spirit, and as if she
were the only woman in the world. Jasper remembered her earnest
recommendation to be guarded and cautious in all his acts and words
while he was away from her. In this quite unforeseen encounter he
felt on his ear the very breath of these hurried admonitions
customary to the last moment of their partings, heard the half-
jesting final whisper of the “Mind, kid, I’d never forgive you!”
with a quick pressure on his arm, which he answered by a quiet,
confident smile. Heemskirk was haunted in another fashion. There
were no whispers in it; it was more like visions. He saw that girl
hanging round the neck of a low vagabond–that vagabond, the
vagabond who had just answered his hail. He saw her stealing bare-
footed across a verandah with great, clear, wide-open, eager eyes
to look at a brig–that brig. If she had shrieked, scolded, called
names! . . . But she had simply triumphed over him. That was all.
Led on (he firmly believed it), fooled, deceived, outraged, struck,
mocked at. . . . Beak and claws! The two men, so differently
haunted by Freya of the Seven Isles, were not equally matched.

In the intense stillness, as of sleep, which had fallen upon the
two vessels, in a world that itself seemed but a delicate dream, a
boat pulled by Javanese sailors crossing the dark lane of water
came alongside the brig. The white warrant officer in her, perhaps
the gunner, climbed aboard. He was a short man, with a rotund
stomach and a wheezy voice. His immovable fat face looked lifeless
in the moonlight, and he walked with his thick arms hanging away
from his body as though he had been stuffed. His cunning little
eyes glittered like bits of mica. He conveyed to Jasper, in broken
English, a request to come on board the Neptun.

Jasper had not expected anything so unusual. But after a short
reflection he decided to show neither annoyance, nor even surprise.
The river from which he had come had been politically disturbed for
a couple of years, and he was aware that his visits there were
looked upon with some suspicion. But he did not mind much the
displeasure of the authorities, so terrifying to old Nelson. He
prepared to leave the brig, and Schultz followed him to the rail as
if to say something, but in the end stood by in silence. Jasper
getting over the side, noticed his ghastly face. The eyes of the
man who had found salvation in the brig from the effects of his
peculiar psychology looked at him with a dumb, beseeching
expression.

“What’s the matter?” Jasper asked.

“I wonder how this will end?” said he of the beautiful voice, which
had even fascinated the steady Freya herself. But where was its
charming timbre now? These words had sounded like a raven’s croak.

“You are ill,” said Jasper positively.

“I wish I were dead!” was the startling statement uttered by
Schultz talking to himself in the extremity of some mysterious
trouble. Jasper gave him a keen glance, but this was not the time
to investigate the morbid outbreak of a feverish man. He did not
look as though he were actually delirious, and that for the moment
must suffice. Schultz made a dart forward.

“That fellow means harm!” he said desperately. “He means harm to
you, Captain Allen. I feel it, and I–”

He choked with inexplicable emotion.

“All right, Schultz. I won’t give him an opening.” Jasper cut him
short and swung himself into the boat.

On board the Neptun Heemskirk, standing straddle-legs in the flood
of moonlight, his inky shadow falling right across the quarter-
deck, made no sign at his approach, but secretly he felt something
like the heave of the sea in his chest at the sight of that man.
Jasper waited before him in silence.

Brought face to face in direct personal contact, they fell at once
into the manner of their casual meetings in old Nelson’s bungalow.
They ignored each other’s existence–Heemskirk moodily; Jasper,
with a perfectly colourless quietness.

“What’s going on in that river you’ve just come out of?” asked the
lieutenant straight away.

“I know nothing of the troubles, if you mean that,” Jasper
answered. “I’ve landed there half a cargo of rice, for which I got
nothing in exchange, and went away. There’s no trade there now,
but they would have been starving in another week–if I hadn’t
turned up.”

“Meddling! English meddling! And suppose the rascals don’t
deserve anything better than to starve, eh?”

“There are women and children there, you know,” observed Jasper, in
his even tone.

“Oh, yes! When an Englishman talks of women and children, you may
be sure there’s something fishy about the business. Your doings
will have to be investigated.”

They spoke in turn, as though they had been disembodied spirits–
mere voices in empty air; for they looked at each other as if there
had been nothing there, or, at most, with as much recognition as
one gives to an inanimate object, and no more. But now a silence
fell. Heemskirk had thought, all at once: “She will tell him all
about it. She will tell him while she hangs round his neck
laughing.” And the sudden desire to annihilate Jasper on the spot
almost deprived him of his senses by its vehemence. He lost the
power of speech, of vision. For a moment he absolutely couldn’t
see Jasper. But he heard him inquiring, as of the world at large:

“Am I, then, to conclude that the brig is detained?”

Heemskirk made a recovery in a flush of malignant satisfaction.

“She is. I am going to take her to Makassar in tow.”

“The courts will have to decide on the legality of this,” said
Jasper, aware that the matter was becoming serious, but with
assumed indifference.

“Oh, yes, the courts! Certainly. And as to you, I shall keep you
on board here.”

Jasper’s dismay at being parted from his ship was betrayed by a
stony immobility. It lasted but an instant. Then he turned away
and hailed the brig. Mr. Schultz answered:

“Yes, sir.”

“Get ready to receive a tow-rope from the gunboat! We are going to
be taken to Makassar.”

“Good God! What’s that for, sir?” came an anxious cry faintly.

“Kindness, I suppose,” Jasper, ironical, shouted with great
deliberation. “We might have been–becalmed in here–for days.
And hospitality. I am invited to stay–on board here.”

The answer to this information was a loud ejaculation of distress.
Jasper thought anxiously: “Why, the fellow’s nerve’s gone to
pieces;” and with an awkward uneasiness of a new sort, looked
intently at the brig. The thought that he was parted from her–for
the first time since they came together–shook the apparently
careless fortitude of his character to its very foundations, which
were deep. All that time neither Heemskirk nor even his inky
shadow had stirred in the least.

“I am going to send a boat’s crew and an officer on board your
vessel,” he announced to no one in particular. Jasper, tearing
himself away from the absorbed contemplation of the brig, turned
round, and, without passion, almost without expression in his
voice, entered his protest against the whole of the proceedings.
What he was thinking of was the delay. He counted the days.
Makassar was actually on his way; and to be towed there really
saved time. On the other hand, there would be some vexing
formalities to go through. But the thing was too absurd. “The
beetle’s gone mad,” he thought. “I’ll be released at once. And if
not, Mesman must enter into a bond for me.” Mesman was a Dutch
merchant with whom Jasper had had many dealings, a considerable
person in Makassar.

“You protest? H’m!” Heemskirk muttered, and for a little longer
remained motionless, his legs planted well apart, and his head
lowered as though he were studying his own comical, deeply-split
shadow. Then he made a sign to the rotund gunner, who had kept at
hand, motionless, like a vilely-stuffed specimen of a fat man, with
a lifeless face and glittering little eyes. The fellow approached,
and stood at attention.

“You will board the brig with a boat’s crew!”

“Ya, mynherr!”

“You will have one of your men to steer her all the time,” went on
Heemskirk, giving his orders in English, apparently for Jasper’s
edification. “You hear?”

“Ya, mynherr.”

“You will remain on deck and in charge all the time.”

“Ya, mynherr.”

Jasper felt as if, together with the command of the brig, his very
heart were being taken out of his breast. Heemskirk asked, with a
change of tone:

“What weapons have you on board?”

At one time all the ships trading in the China Seas had a licence
to carry a certain quantity of firearms for purposes of defence.
Jasper answered:

“Eighteen rifles with their bayonets, which were on board when I
bought her, four years ago. They have been declared.”

“Where are they kept?”

“Fore-cabin. Mate has the key.”

“You will take possession of them,” said Heemskirk to the gunner.

“Ya, mynherr.”

“What is this for? What do you mean to imply?” cried out Jasper;
then bit his lip. “It’s monstrous!” he muttered.

Heemskirk raised for a moment a heavy, as if suffering, glance.

“You may go,” he said to his gunner. The fat man saluted, and
departed.

During the next thirty hours the steady towing was interrupted
once. At a signal from the brig, made by waving a flag on the
forecastle, the gunboat was stopped. The badly-stuffed specimen of
a warrant-officer, getting into his boat, arrived on board the
Neptun and hurried straight into his commander’s cabin, his
excitement at something he had to communicate being betrayed by the
blinking of his small eyes. These two were closeted together for
some time, while Jasper at the taffrail tried to make out if
anything out of the common had occurred on board the brig.

But nothing seemed to be amiss on board. However, he kept a look-
out for the gunner; and, though he had avoided speaking to anybody
since he had finished with Heemskirk, he stopped that man when he
came out on deck again to ask how his mate was.

“He was feeling not very well when I left,” he explained.

The fat warrant-officer, holding himself as though the effort of
carrying his big stomach in front of him demanded a rigid carriage,
understood with difficulty. Not a single one of his features
showed the slightest animation, but his little eyes blinked rapidly
at last.

“Oh, ya! The mate. Ya, ya! He is very well. But, mein Gott, he
is one very funny man!”

Jasper could get no explanation of that remark, because the
Dutchman got into the boat hurriedly, and went back on board the
brig. But he consoled himself with the thought that very soon all
this unpleasant and rather absurd experience would be over. The
roadstead of Makassar was in sight already. Heemskirk passed by
him going on the bridge. For the first time the lieutenant looked
at Jasper with marked intention; and the strange roll of his eyes
was so funny–it had been long agreed by Jasper and Freya that the
lieutenant was funny–so ecstatically gratified, as though he were
rolling a tasty morsel on his tongue, that Jasper could not help a
broad smile. And then he turned to his brig again.

To see her, his cherished possession, animated by something of his
Freya’s soul, the only foothold of two lives on the wide earth, the
security of his passion, the companion of adventure, the power to
snatch the calm, adorable Freya to his breast, and carry her off to
the end of the world; to see this beautiful thing embodying
worthily his pride and his love, to see her captive at the end of a
tow-rope was not indeed a pleasant experience. It had something
nightmarish in it, as, for instance, the dream of a wild sea-bird
loaded with chains.

Yet what else could he want to look at? Her beauty would sometimes
come to his heart with the force of a spell, so that he would
forget where he was. And, besides, that sense of superiority which
the certitude of being loved gives to a young man, that illusion of
being set above the Fates by a tender look in a woman’s eyes,
helped him, the first shock over, to go through these experiences
with an amused self-confidence. For what evil could touch the
elect of Freya?

It was now afternoon, the sun being behind the two vessels as they
headed for the harbour. “The beetle’s little joke shall soon be
over,” thought Jasper, without any great animosity. As a seaman
well acquainted with that part of the world, a casual glance was
enough to tell him what was being done. “Hallo,” he thought, “he
is going through Spermonde Passage. We shall be rounding Tamissa
reef presently.” And again he returned to the contemplation of his
brig, that main-stay of his material and emotional existence which
would be soon in his hands again. On a sea, calm like a millpond,
a heavy smooth ripple undulated and streamed away from her bows,
for the powerful Neptun was towing at great speed, as if for a
wager. The Dutch gunner appeared on the forecastle of the Bonito,
and with him a couple of men. They stood looking at the coast, and
Jasper lost himself in a loverlike trance.

The deep-toned blast of the gunboat’s steam-whistle made him
shudder by its unexpectedness. Slowly he looked about. Swift as
lightning he leaped from where he stood, bounding forward along the
deck.

“You will be on Tamissa reef!” he yelled.

High up on the bridge Heemskirk looked back over his shoulder
heavily; two seamen were spinning the wheel round, and the Neptun
was already swinging rapidly away from the edge of the pale water
over the danger. Ha! just in time. Jasper turned about instantly
to watch his brig; and, even before he realised that–in obedience,
it appears, to Heemskirk’s orders given beforehand to the gunner–
the tow-rope had been let go at the blast of the whistle, before he
had time to cry out or to move a limb, he saw her cast adrift and
shooting across the gunboat’s stern with the impetus of her speed.
He followed her fine, gliding form with eyes growing big with
incredulity, wild with horror. The cries on board of her came to
him only as a dreadful and confused murmur through the loud
thumping of blood in his ears, while she held on. She ran upright
in a terrible display of her gift of speed, with an incomparable
air of life and grace. She ran on till the smooth level of water
in front of her bows seemed to sink down suddenly as if sucked
away; and, with a strange, violent tremor of her mast-heads she
stopped, inclined her lofty spars a little, and lay still. She lay
still on the reef, while the Neptun, fetching a wide circle,
continued at full speed up Spermonde Passage, heading for the town.
She lay still, perfectly still, with something ill-omened and
unnatural in her attitude. In an instant the subtle melancholy of
things touched by decay had fallen on her in the sunshine; she was
but a speck in the brilliant emptiness of space, already lonely,
already desolate.

“Hold him!” yelled a voice from the bridge.

Jasper had started to run to his brig with a headlong impulse, as a
man dashes forward to pull away with his hands a living, breathing,
loved creature from the brink of destruction. “Hold him! Stick to
him!” vociferated the lieutenant at the top of the bridge-ladder,
while Jasper struggled madly without a word, only his head emerging
from the heaving crowd of the Neptun’s seamen, who had flung
themselves upon him obediently. “Hold–I would not have that
fellow drown himself for anything now!”

Jasper ceased struggling.

One by one they let go of him; they fell back gradually farther and
farther, in attentive silence, leaving him standing unsupported in
a widened, clear space, as if to give him plenty of room to fall
after the struggle. He did not even sway perceptibly. Half an
hour later, when the Neptun anchored in front of the town, he had
not stirred yet, had moved neither head nor limb as much as a
hair’s breadth. Directly the rumble of the gunboat’s cable had
ceased, Heemskirk came down heavily from the bridge.

“Call a sampan” he said, in a gloomy tone, as he passed the sentry
at the gangway, and then moved on slowly towards the spot where
Jasper, the object of many awed glances, stood looking at the deck,
as if lost in a brown study. Heemskirk came up close, and stared
at him thoughtfully, with his fingers over his lips. Here he was,
the favoured vagabond, the only man to whom that infernal girl was
likely to tell the story. But he would not find it funny. The
story how Lieutenant Heemskirk–No, he would not laugh at it. He
looked as though he would never laugh at anything in his life.

Suddenly Jasper looked up. His eyes, without any other expression
but bewilderment, met those of Heemskirk, observant and sombre.

“Gone on the reef!” he said, in a low, astounded tone. “On-the-
reef!” he repeated still lower, and as if attending inwardly to the
birth of some awful and amazing sensation.

“On the very top of high-water, spring tides,” Heemskirk struck in,
with a vindictive, exulting violence which flashed and expired. He
paused, as if weary, fixing upon Jasper his arrogant eyes, over
which secret disenchantment, the unavoidable shadow of all passion,
seemed to pass like a saddening cloud. “On the very top,” he
repeated, rousing himself in fierce reaction to snatch his laced
cap off his head with a horizontal, derisive flourish towards the
gangway. “And now you may go ashore to the courts, you damned
Englishman!” he said.

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