Wednesday, October 24, 2007



by Joseph Conrad
"Kaspar! Makan!"
The well-known shrill voice startled Almayer from his dream of
splendid future into the unpleasant realities of the present
hour. An unpleasant voice too. He had heard it for many years,
and with every year he liked it less. No matter; there would be
an end to all this soon.
He shuffled uneasily, but took no further notice of the call.
Leaning with both his elbows on the balustrade of the verandah,
he went on looking fixedly at the great river that flowed--
indifferent and hurried--before his eyes. He liked to look at it
about the time of sunset; perhaps because at that time the
sinking sun would spread a glowing gold tinge on the waters of
the Pantai, and Almayer's thoughts were often busy with gold;
gold he had failed to secure; gold the others had secured--
dishonestly, of course--or gold he meant to secure yet, through
his own honest exertions, for himself and Nina. He absorbed
himself in his dream of wealth and power away from this coast
where he had dwelt for so many years, forgetting the bitterness
of toil and strife in the vision of a great and splendid reward.
They would live in Europe, he and his daughter. They would be
rich and respected. Nobody would think of her mixed blood in the
presence of her great beauty and of his immense wealth.
Witnessing her triumphs he would grow young again, he would
forget the twenty-five years of heart-breaking struggle on this
coast where he felt like a prisoner. All this was nearly within
his reach. Let only Dain return! And return soon he must--in
his own interest, for his own share. He was now more than a
week late! Perhaps he would return to-night. Such were Almayer's
thoughts as, standing on the verandah of his new but already
decaying house--that last failure of his life-- he looked on the
broad river. There was no tinge of gold on it this evening, for
it had been swollen by the rains, and rolled an angry and muddy
flood under his inattentive eyes, carrying small drift-wood and
big dead logs, and whole uprooted trees with branches and
foliage, amongst which the water swirled and roared angrily.
One of those drifting trees grounded on the shelving shore, just
by the house, and Almayer, neglecting his dream, watched it with
languid interest. The tree swung slowly round, amid the hiss and
foam of the water, and soon getting free of the obstruction began
to move down stream again, rolling slowly over, raising upwards a
long, denuded branch, like a hand lifted in mute appeal to heaven
against the river's brutal and unnecessary violence. Almayer's
interest in the fate of that tree increased rapidly. He leaned
over to see if it would clear the low point below. It did; then
he drew back, thinking that now its course was free down to the
sea, and he envied the lot of that inanimate thing now growing
small and indistinct in the deepening darkness. As he lost sight
of it altogether he began to wonder how far out to sea it would
drift. Would the current carry it north or south? South,
probably, till it drifted in sight of Celebes, as far as
Macassar, perhaps!
Macassar! Almayer's quickened fancy distanced the tree on its
imaginary voyage, but his memory lagging behind some twenty years
or more in point of time saw a young and slim Almayer, clad all
in white and modest-looking, landing from the Dutch mail-boat on
the dusty jetty of Macassar, coming to woo fortune in the godowns
of old Hudig. It was an important epoch in his life, the
beginning of a new existence for him. His father, a subordinate
official employed in the Botanical Gardens of Buitenzorg, was no
doubt delighted to place his son in such a firm. The young man
himself too was nothing loth to leave the poisonous shores of
Java, and the meagre comforts of the parental bungalow, where the
father grumbled all day at the stupidity of native gardeners, and
the mother from the depths of her long easy-chair bewailed the
lost glories of Amsterdam, where she had been brought up, and of
her position as the daughter of a cigar dealer there.
Almayer had left his home with a light heart and a lighter
pocket, speaking English well, and strong in arithmetic; ready to
conquer the world, never doubting that he would.
After those twenty years, standing in the close and stifling heat
of a Bornean evening, he recalled with pleasurable regret the
image of Hudig's lofty and cool warehouses with their long and
straight avenues of gin cases and bales of Manchester goods; the
big door swinging noiselessly; the dim light of the place, so
delightful after the glare of the streets; the little railed-off
spaces amongst piles of merchandise where the Chinese clerks,
neat, cool, and sad-eyed, wrote rapidly and in silence amidst the
din of the working gangs rolling casks or shifting cases to a
muttered song, ending with a desperate yell. At the upper end,
facing the great door, there was a larger space railed off, well
lighted; there the noise was subdued by distance, and above it
rose the soft and continuous clink of silver guilders which other
discreet Chinamen were counting and piling up under the
supervision of Mr. Vinck, the cashier, the genius presiding in
the place--the right hand of the Master.
In that clear space Almayer worked at his table not far from a
little green painted door, by which always stood a Malay in a red
sash and turban, and whose hand, holding a small string dangling
from above, moved up and down with the regularity of a machine.
The string worked a punkah on the other side of the green door,
where the so-called private office was, and where old Hudig--the
Master--sat enthroned, holding noisy receptions. Sometimes the
little door would fly open disclosing to the outer world, through
the bluish haze of tobacco smoke, a long table loaded with
bottles of various shapes and tall water-pitchers, rattan
easy-chairs occupied by noisy men in sprawling attitudes, while
the Master would put his head through and, holding by the handle,
would grunt confidentially to Vinck; perhaps send an order
thundering down the warehouse, or spy a hesitating stranger and
greet him with a friendly roar, "Welgome, Gapitan! ver' you gome
vrom? Bali, eh? Got bonies? I vant bonies! Vant all you got;
ha! ha! ha! Gome in!" Then the stranger was dragged in, in a
tempest of yells, the door was shut, and the usual noises
refilled the place; the song of the workmen, the rumble of
barrels, the scratch of rapid pens; while above all rose the
musical chink of broad silver pieces streaming ceaselessly
through the yellow fingers of the attentive Chinamen.
At that time Macassar was teeming with life and commerce. It was
the point in the islands where tended all those bold spirits who,
fitting out schooners on the Australian coast, invaded the Malay
Archipelago in search of money and adventure. Bold, reckless,
keen in business, not disinclined for a brush with the pirates
that were to be found on many a coast as yet, making money fast,
they used to have a general "rendezvous" in the bay for purposes
of trade and dissipation. The Dutch merchants called those men
English pedlars; some of them were undoubtedly gentlemen for whom
that kind of life had a charm; most were seamen; the acknowledged
king of them all was Tom Lingard, he whom the Malays, honest or
dishonest, quiet fishermen or desperate cut-throats, recognised
as "the Rajah-Laut"--the King of the Sea.
Almayer had heard of him before he had been three days in
Macassar, had heard the stories of his smart business
transactions, his loves, and also of his desperate fights with
the Sulu pirates, together with the romantic tale of some child--
a girl--found in a piratical prau by the victorious Lingard,
when, after a long contest, he boarded the craft, driving the
crew overboard. This girl, it was generally known, Lingard had
adopted, was having her educated in some convent in Java, and
spoke of her as "my daughter." He had sworn a mighty oath to
marry her to a white man before he went home and to leave her all
his money. "And Captain Lingard has lots of money," would say
Mr. Vinck solemnly, with his head on one side, "lots of money;
more than Hudig!" And after a pause--just to let his hearers
recover from their astonishment at such an incredible assertion--
he would add in an explanatory whisper, "You know, he has
discovered a river."
That was it! He had discovered a river! That was the fact
placing old Lingard so much above the common crowd of sea-going
adventurers who traded with Hudig in the daytime and drank
champagne, gambled, sang noisy songs, and made love to half-caste
girls under the broad verandah of the Sunda Hotel at night. Into
that river, whose entrances himself only knew, Lingard used to
take his assorted cargo of Manchester goods, brass gongs, rifles
and gunpowder. His brig Flash, which he commanded himself, would
on those occasions disappear quietly during the night from the
roadstead while his companions were sleeping off the effects of
the midnight carouse, Lingard seeing them drunk under the table
before going on board, himself unaffected by any amount of
liquor. Many tried to follow him and find that land of plenty
for gutta-percha and rattans, pearl shells and birds' nests, wax
and gum-dammar, but the little Flash could outsail every craft in
those seas. A few of them came to grief on hidden sandbanks and
coral reefs, losing their all and barely escaping with life from
the cruel grip of this sunny and smiling sea; others got
discouraged; and for many years the green and peaceful-looking
islands guarding the entrances to the promised land kept their
secret with all the merciless serenity of tropical nature. And
so Lingard came and went on his secret or open expeditions,
becoming a hero in Almayer's eyes by the boldness and enormous
profits of his ventures, seeming to Almayer a very great man
indeed as he saw him marching up the warehouse, grunting a "how
are you?" to Vinck, or greeting Hudig, the Master, with a
boisterous "Hallo, old pirate! Alive yet?" as a preliminary to
transacting business behind the little green door. Often of an
evening, in the silence of the then deserted warehouse, Almayer
putting away his papers before driving home with Mr. Vinck, in
whose household he lived, would pause listening to the noise of a
hot discussion in the private office, would hear the deep and
monotonous growl of the Master, and the roared-out interruptions
of Lingard--two mastiffs fighting over a marrowy bone. But to
Almayer's ears it sounded like a quarrel of Titans--a battle of
the gods.
After a year or so Lingard, having been brought often in contact
with Almayer in the course of business, took a sudden and, to the
onlookers, a rather inexplicable fancy to the young man. He sang
his praises, late at night, over a convivial glass to his cronies
in the Sunda Hotel, and one fine morning electrified Vinck by
declaring that he must have "that young fellow for a supercargo.
Kind of captain's clerk. Do all my quill-driving for me." Hudig
consented. Almayer, with youth's natural craving for change, was
nothing loth, and packing his few belongings, started in the
Flash on one of those long cruises when the old seaman was wont
to visit almost every island in the archipelago. Months slipped
by, and Lingard's friendship seemed to increase. Often pacing
the deck with Almayer, when the faint night breeze, heavy with
aromatic exhalations of the islands, shoved the brig gently along
under the peaceful and sparkling sky, did the old seaman open his
heart to his entranced listener. He spoke of his past life, of
escaped dangers, of big profits in his trade, of new combinations
that were in the future to bring profits bigger still. Often he
had mentioned his daughter, the girl found in the pirate prau,
speaking of her with a strange assumption of fatherly tenderness.
"She must be a big girl now," he used to say. "It's nigh unto
four years since I have seen her! Damme, Almayer, if I don't
think we will run into Sourabaya this trip." And after such a
declaration he always dived into his cabin muttering to himself,
"Something must be done--must be done." More than once he would
astonish Almayer by walking up to him rapidly, clearing his
throat with a powerful "Hem!" as if he was going to say
something, and then turning abruptly away to lean over the
bulwarks in silence, and watch, motionless, for hours, the gleam
and sparkle of the phosphorescent sea along the ship's side. It
was the night before arriving in Sourabaya when one of those
attempts at confidential communication succeeded. After clearing
his throat he spoke. He spoke to some purpose. He wanted
Almayer to marry his adopted daughter. "And don't you kick
because you're white!" he shouted, suddenly, not giving the
surprised young man the time to say a word. "None of that with
me! Nobody will see the colour of your wife's skin. The dollars
are too thick for that, I tell you! And mind you, they will be
thicker yet before I die. There will be millions, Kaspar!
Millions I say! And all for her--and for you, if you do what you
are told."
Startled by the unexpected proposal, Almayer hesitated, and
remained silent for a minute. He was gifted with a strong and
active imagination, and in that short space of time he saw, as in
a flash of dazzling light, great piles of shining guilders, and
realised all the possibilities of an opulent existence. The
consideration, the indolent ease of life--for which he felt
himself so well fitted--his ships, his warehouses, his
merchandise (old Lingard would not live for ever), and, crowning
all, in the far future gleamed like a fairy palace the big
mansion in Amsterdam, that earthly paradise of his dreams, where,
made king amongst men by old Lingard's money, he would pass the
evening of his days in inexpressible splendour. As to the other
side of the picture--the companionship for life of a Malay girl,
that legacy of a boatful of pirates--there was only within him a
confused consciousness of shame that he a white man-- Still, a
convent education of four years!--and then she may mercifully
die. He was always lucky, and money is powerful! Go through it.
Why not? He had a vague idea of shutting her up somewhere,
anywhere, out of his gorgeous future. Easy enough to dispose of
a Malay woman, a slave, after all, to his Eastern mind, convent
or no convent, ceremony or no ceremony.
He lifted his head and confronted the anxious yet irate seaman.
"I--of course--anything you wish, Captain Lingard."
"Call me father, my boy. She does," said the mollified old
adventurer. "Damme, though, if I didn't think you were going to
refuse. Mind you, Kaspar, I always get my way, so it would have
been no use. But you are no fool."
He remembered well that time--the look, the accent, the words,
the effect they produced on him, his very surroundings. He
remembered the narrow slanting deck of the brig, the silent
sleeping coast, the smooth black surface of the sea with a great
bar of gold laid on it by the rising moon. He remembered it all,
and he remembered his feelings of mad exultation at the thought
of that fortune thrown into his hands. He was no fool then, and
he was no fool now. Circumstances had been against him; the
fortune was gone, but hope remained.
He shivered in the night air, and suddenly became aware of the
intense darkness which, on the sun's departure, had closed in
upon the river, blotting out the outlines of the opposite shore.
Only the fire of dry branches lit outside the stockade of the
Rajah's compound called fitfully into view the ragged trunks of
the surrounding trees, putting a stain of glowing red half-way
across the river where the drifting logs were hurrying towards
the sea through the impenetrable gloom. He had a hazy
recollection of having been called some time during the evening
by his wife. To his dinner probably. But a man busy
contemplating the wreckage of his past in the dawn of new hopes
cannot be hungry whenever his rice is ready. Time he went home,
though; it was getting late.
He stepped cautiously on the loose planks towards the ladder. A
lizard, disturbed by the noise, emitted a plaintive note and
scurried through the long grass growing on the bank. Almayer
descended the ladder carefully, now thoroughly recalled to the
realities of life by the care necessary to prevent a fall on the
uneven ground where the stones, decaying planks, and half-sawn
beams were piled up in inextricable confusion. As he turned
towards the house where he lived--"my old house" he called it--
his ear detected the splash of paddles away in the darkness of
the river. He stood still in the path, attentive and surprised
at anybody being on the river at this late hour during such a
heavy freshet. Now he could hear the paddles distinctly, and
even a rapidly exchanged word in low tones, the heavy breathing
of men fighting with the current, and hugging the bank on which
he stood. Quite close, too, but it was too dark to distinguish
anything under the overhanging bushes.
"Arabs, no doubt," muttered Almayer to himself, peering into the
solid blackness. "What are they up to now? Some of Abdulla's
business; curse him!"
The boat was very close now.
"Oh, ya! Man!" hailed Almayer.
The sound of voices ceased, but the paddles worked as furiously
as before. Then the bush in front of Almayer shook, and the
sharp sound of the paddles falling into the canoe rang in the
quiet night. They were holding on to the bush now; but Almayer
could hardly make out an indistinct dark shape of a man's head
and shoulders above the bank.
"You Abdulla?" said Almayer, doubtfully.
A grave voice answered--
"Tuan Almayer is speaking to a friend. There is no Arab here."
Almayer's heart gave a great leap.
"Dain!" he exclaimed. "At last! at last! I have been waiting
for you every day and every night. I had nearly given you up."
"Nothing could have stopped me from coming back here," said the
other, almost violently. "Not even death," he whispered to
"This is a friend's talk, and is very good," said Almayer,
heartily. "But you are too far here. Drop down to the jetty and
let your men cook their rice in my campong while we talk in the
There was no answer to that invitation.
"What is it?" asked Almayer, uneasily. "There is nothing wrong
with the brig, I hope?"
"The brig is where no Orang Blanda can lay his hands on her,"
said Dain, with a gloomy tone in his voice, which Almayer, in his
elation, failed to notice.
"Right," he said. "But where are all your men? There are only
two with you."
"Listen, Tuan Almayer," said Dain. "To-morrow's sun shall see me
in your house, and then we will talk. Now I must go to the
"To the Rajah! Why? What do you want with Lakamba?"
"Tuan, to-morrow we talk like friends. I must see Lakamba
"Dain, you are not going to abandon me now, when all is ready?"
asked Almayer, in a pleading voice.
"Have I not returned? But I must see Lakamba first for your good
and mine."
The shadowy head disappeared abruptly. The bush, released from
the grasp of the bowman, sprung back with a swish, scattering a
shower of muddy water over Almayer, as he bent forward, trying to
In a little while the canoe shot into the streak of light that
streamed on the river from the big fire on the opposite shore,
disclosing the outline of two men bending to their work, and a
third figure in the stern flourishing the steering paddle, his
head covered with an enormous round hat, like a fantastically
exaggerated mushroom.
Almayer watched the canoe till it passed out of the line of
light. Shortly after the murmur of many voices reached him
across the water. He could see the torches being snatched out of
the burning pile, and rendering visible for a moment the gate in
the stockade round which they crowded. Then they went in
apparently. The torches disappeared, and the scattered fire sent
out only a dim and fitful glare.
Almayer stepped homewards with long strides and mind uneasy.
Surely Dain was not thinking of playing him false. It was
absurd. Dain and Lakamba were both too much interested in the
success of his scheme. Trusting to Malays was poor work; but
then even Malays have some sense and understand their own
interest. All would be well--must be well. At this point in his
meditation he found himself at the foot of the steps leading to
the verandah of his home. From the low point of land where he
stood he could see both branches of the river. The main branch
of the Pantai was lost in complete darkness, for the fire at the
Rajah's had gone out altogether; but up the Sambir reach his eye
could follow the long line of Malay houses crowding the bank,
with here and there a dim light twinkling through bamboo walls,
or a smoky torch burning on the platforms built out over the
river. Further away, where the island ended in a low cliff, rose
a dark mass of buildings towering above the Malay structures.
Founded solidly on a firm ground with plenty of space, starred by
many lights burning strong and white, with a suggestion of
paraffin and lamp-glasses, stood the house and the godowns of
Abdulla bin Selim, the great trader of Sambir. To Almayer the
sight was very distasteful, and he shook his fist towards the
buildings that in their evident prosperity looked to him cold and
insolent, and contemptuous of his own fallen fortunes.
He mounted the steps of his house slowly.
In the middle of the verandah there was a round table. On it a
paraffin lamp without a globe shed a hard glare on the three
inner sides. The fourth side was open, and faced the river.
Between the rough supports of the high-pitched roof hung torn
rattan screens. There was no ceiling, and the harsh brilliance
of the lamp was toned above into a soft half-light that lost
itself in the obscurity amongst the rafters. The front wall was
cut in two by the doorway of a central passage closed by a red
curtain. The women's room opened into that passage, which led to
the back courtyard and to the cooking shed. In one of the side
walls there was a doorway. Half obliterated words--"Office:
Lingard and Co."--were still legible on the dusty door, which
looked as if it had not been opened for a very long time. Close
to the other side wall stood a bent-wood rocking-chair, and by
the table and about the verandah four wooden armchairs straggled
forlornly, as if ashamed of their shabby surroundings. A heap of
common mats lay in one corner, with an old hammock slung
diagonally above. In the other corner, his head wrapped in a
piece of red calico, huddled into a shapeless heap, slept a
Malay, one of Almayer's domestic slaves--"my own people," he used
to call them. A numerous and representative assembly of moths
were holding high revels round the lamp to the spirited music of
swarming mosquitoes. Under the palm-leaf thatch lizards raced on
the beams calling softly. A monkey, chained to one of the
verandah supports--retired for the night under the eaves-- peered
and grinned at Almayer, as it swung to one of the bamboo roof
sticks and caused a shower of dust and bits of dried leaves to
settle on the shabby table. The floor was uneven, with many
withered plants and dried earth scattered about. A general air
of squalid neglect pervaded the place. Great red stains on the
floor and walls testified to frequent and indiscriminate
betel-nut chewing. The light breeze from the river swayed gently
the tattered blinds, sending from the woods opposite a faint and
sickly perfume as of decaying flowers.
Under Almayer's heavy tread the boards of the verandah creaked
loudly. The sleeper in the corner moved uneasily, muttering
indistinct words. There was a slight rustle behind the curtained
doorway, and a soft voice asked in Malay, "Is it you, father?"
"Yes, Nina. I am hungry. Is everybody asleep in this house?"
Almayer spoke jovially and dropped with a contented sigh into the
armchair nearest to the table. Nina Almayer came through the
curtained doorway followed by an old Malay woman, who busied
herself in setting upon the table a plateful of rice and fish, a
jar of water, and a bottle half full of genever. After carefully
placing before her master a cracked glass tumbler and a tin spoon
she went away noiselessly. Nina stood by the table, one hand
lightly resting on its edge, the other hanging listlessly by her
side. Her face turned towards the outer darkness, through which
her dreamy eyes seemed to see some entrancing picture, wore a
look of impatient expectancy. She was tall for a half-caste,
with the correct profile of the father, modified and strengthened
by the squareness of the lower part of the face inherited from
her maternal ancestors--the Sulu pirates. Her firm mouth, with
the lips slightly parted and disclosing a gleam of white teeth,
put a vague suggestion of ferocity into the impatient expression
of her features. And yet her dark and perfect eyes had all the
tender softness of expression common to Malay women, but with a
gleam of superior intelligence; they looked gravely, wide open
and steady, as if facing something invisible to all other eyes,
while she stood there all in white, straight, flexible, graceful,
unconscious of herself, her low but broad forehead crowned with a
shining mass of long black hair that fell in heavy tresses over
her shoulders, and made her pale olive complexion look paler
still by the contrast of its coal-black hue.
Almayer attacked his rice greedily, but after a few mouthfuls he
paused, spoon in hand, and looked at his daughter curiously.
"Did you hear a boat pass about half an hour ago Nina?" he asked.
The girl gave him a quick glance, and moving away from the light
stood with her back to the table.
"No," she said, slowly.
"There was a boat. At last! Dain himself; and he went on to
Lakamba. I know it, for he told me so. I spoke to him, but he
would not come here to-night. Will come to-morrow, he said."
He swallowed another spoonful, then said--
"I am almost happy to-night, Nina. I can see the end of a long
road, and it leads us away from this miserable swamp. We shall
soon get away from here, I and you, my dear little girl, and then
He rose from the table and stood looking fixedly before him as if
contemplating some enchanting vision.
"And then," he went on, "we shall be happy, you and I. Live rich
and respected far from here, and forget this life, and all this
struggle, and all this misery!"
He approached his daughter and passed his hand caressingly over
her hair.
"It is bad to have to trust a Malay," he said, "but I must own
that this Dain is a perfect gentleman--a perfect gentleman," he
"Did you ask him to come here, father?" inquired Nina, not
looking at him.
"Well, of course. We shall start on the day after to-morrow,"
said Almayer, joyously. "We must not lose any time. Are you
glad, little girl?"
She was nearly as tall as himself, but he liked to recall the
time when she was little and they were all in all to each other.
"I am glad," she said, very low.
"Of course," said Almayer, vivaciously, "you cannot imagine what
is before you. I myself have not been to Europe, but I have
heard my mother talk so often that I seem to know all about it.
We shall live a--a glorious life. You shall see."
Again he stood silent by his daughter's side looking at that
enchanting vision. After a while he shook his clenched hand
towards the sleeping settlement.
"Ah! my friend Abdulla," he cried, "we shall see who will have
the best of it after all these years!"
He looked up the river and remarked calmly:
"Another thunderstorm. Well! No thunder will keep me awake
to-night, I know! Good-night, little girl," he whispered,
tenderly kissing her cheek. "You do not seem to be very happy
to-night, but to-morrow you will show a brighter face. Eh?"
Nina had listened to her father with her face unmoved, with her
half-closed eyes still gazing into the night now made more
intense by a heavy thunder-cloud that had crept down from the
hills blotting out the stars, merging sky, forest, and river into
one mass of almost palpable blackness. The faint breeze had died
out, but the distant rumble of thunder and pale flashes of
lightning gave warning of the approaching storm. With a sigh the
girl turned towards the table.
Almayer was in his hammock now, already half asleep.
"Take the lamp, Nina," he muttered, drowsily. "This place is
full of mosquitoes. Go to sleep, daughter."
But Nina put the lamp out and turned back again towards the
balustrade of the verandah, standing with her arm round the
wooden support and looking eagerly towards the Pantai reach. And
motionless there in the oppressive calm of the tropical night she
could see at each flash of lightning the forest lining both banks
up the river, bending before the furious blast of the coming
tempest, the upper reach of the river whipped into white foam by
the wind, and the black clouds torn into fantastic shapes
trailing low over the swaying trees. Round her all was as yet
stillness and peace, but she could hear afar off the roar of the
wind, the hiss of heavy rain, the wash of the waves on the
tormented river. It came nearer and nearer, with loud
thunder-claps and long flashes of vivid lightning, followed by
short periods of appalling blackness. When the storm reached the
low point dividing the river, the house shook in the wind, and
the rain pattered loudly on the palm-leaf roof, the thunder spoke
in one prolonged roll, and the incessant lightning disclosed a
turmoil of leaping waters, driving logs, and the big trees
bending before a brutal and merciless force.
Undisturbed by the nightly event of the rainy monsoon, the father
slept quietly, oblivious alike of his hopes, his misfortunes, his
friends, and his enemies; and the daughter stood motionless, at
each flash of lightning eagerly scanning the broad river with a
steady and anxious gaze.
When, in compliance with Lingard's abrupt demand, Almayer
consented to wed the Malay girl, no one knew that on the day when
the interesting young convert had lost all her natural relations
and found a white father, she had been fighting desperately like
the rest of them on board the prau, and was only prevented from
leaping overboard, like the few other survivors, by a severe
wound in the leg. There, on the fore-deck of the prau, old
Lingard found her under a heap of dead and dying pirates, and had
her carried on the poop of the Flash before the Malay craft was
set on fire and sent adrift. She was conscious, and in the great
peace and stillness of the tropical evening succeeding the
turmoil of the battle, she watched all she held dear on earth
after her own savage manner, drift away into the gloom in a great
roar of flame and smoke. She lay there unheeding the careful
hands attending to her wound, silent and absorbed in gazing at
the funeral pile of those brave men she had so much admired and
so well helped in their contest with the redoubtable
The light night breeze fanned the brig gently to the southward,
and the great blaze of light got smaller and smaller till it
twinkled only on the horizon like a setting star. It set: the
heavy canopy of smoke reflected the glare of hidden flames for a
short time and then disappeared also.
She realised that with this vanishing gleam her old life departed
too. Thenceforth there was slavery in the far countries, amongst
strangers, in unknown and perhaps terrible surroundings. Being
fourteen years old, she realised her position and came to that
conclusion, the only one possible to a Malay girl, soon ripened
under a tropical sun, and not unaware of her personal charms, of
which she heard many a young brave warrior of her father's crew
express an appreciative admiration. There was in her the dread
of the unknown; otherwise she accepted her position calmly, after
the manner of her people, and even considered it quite natural;
for was she not a daughter of warriors, conquered in battle, and
did she not belong rightfully to the victorious Rajah? Even the
evident kindness of the terrible old man must spring, she
thought, from admiration for his captive, and the flattered
vanity eased for her the pangs of sorrow after such an awful
calamity. Perhaps had she known of the high walls, the quiet
gardens, and the silent nuns of the Samarang convent, where her
destiny was leading her, she would have sought death in her dread
and hate of such a restraint. But in imagination she pictured to
herself the usual life of a Malay girl--the usual succession of
heavy work and fierce love, of intrigues, gold ornaments, of
domestic drudgery, and of that great but occult influence which
is one of the few rights of half-savage womankind. But her
destiny in the rough hands of the old sea-dog, acting under
unreasoning impulses of the heart, took a strange and to her a
terrible shape. She bore it all--the restraint and the teaching
and the new faith--with calm submission, concealing her hate and
contempt for all that new life. She learned the language very
easily, yet understood but little of the new faith the good
sisters taught her, assimilating quickly only the superstitious
elements of the religion. She called Lingard father, gently and
caressingly, at each of his short and noisy visits, under the
clear impression that he was a great and dangerous power it was
good to propitiate. Was he not now her master? And during those
long four years she nourished a hope of finding favour in his
eyes and ultimately becoming his wife, counsellor, and guide.
Those dreams of the future were dispelled by the Rajah Laut's
"fiat," which made Almayer's fortune, as that young man fondly
hoped. And dressed in the hateful finery of Europe, the centre
of an interested circle of Batavian society, the young convert
stood before the altar with an unknown and sulky-looking white
man. For Almayer was uneasy, a little disgusted, and greatly
inclined to run away. A judicious fear of the adopted
father-in-law and a just regard for his own material welfare
prevented him from making a scandal; yet, while swearing
fidelity, he was concocting plans for getting rid of the pretty
Malay girl in a more or less distant future. She, however, had
retained enough of conventual teaching to understand well that
according to white men's laws she was going to be Almayer's
companion and not his slave, and promised to herself to act
So when the Flash freighted with materials for building a new
house left the harbour of Batavia, taking away the young couple
into the unknown Borneo, she did not carry on her deck so much
love and happiness as old Lingard was wont to boast of before his
casual friends in the verandahs of various hotels. The old
seaman himself was perfectly happy. Now he had done his duty by
the girl. "You know I made her an orphan," he often concluded
solemnly, when talking about his own affairs to a scratch
audience of shore loafers--as it was his habit to do. And the
approbative shouts of his half-intoxicated auditors filled his
simple soul with delight and pride. "I carry everything right
through," was another of his sayings, and in pursuance of that
principle he pushed the building of house and godowns on the
Pantai River with feverish haste. The house for the young
couple; the godowns for the big trade Almayer was going to
develop while he (Lingard) would be able to give himself up to
some mysterious work which was only spoken of in hints, but was
understood to relate to gold and diamonds in the interior of the
island. Almayer was impatient too. Had he known what was before
him he might not have been so eager and full of hope as he stood
watching the last canoe of the Lingard expedition disappear in
the bend up the river. When, turning round, he beheld the pretty
little house, the big godowns built neatly by an army of Chinese
carpenters, the new jetty round which were clustered the trading
canoes, he felt a sudden elation in the thought that the world
was his.
But the world had to be conquered first, and its conquest was not
so easy as he thought. He was very soon made to understand that
he was not wanted in that corner of it where old Lingard and his
own weak will placed him, in the midst of unscrupulous intrigues
and of a fierce trade competition. The Arabs had found out the
river, had established a trading post in Sambir, and where they
traded they would be masters and suffer no rival. Lingard
returned unsuccessful from his first expedition, and departed
again spending all the profits of the legitimate trade on his
mysterious journeys. Almayer struggled with the difficulties of
his position, friendless and unaided, save for the protection
given to him for Lingard's sake by the old Rajah, the predecessor
of Lakamba. Lakamba himself, then living as a private individual
on a rice clearing, seven miles down the river, exercised all his
influence towards the help of the white man's enemies, plotting
against the old Rajah and Almayer with a certainty of
combination, pointing clearly to a profound knowledge of their
most secret affairs. Outwardly friendly, his portly form was
often to be seen on Almayer's verandah; his green turban and
gold-embroidered jacket shone in the front rank of the decorous
throng of Malays coming to greet Lingard on his returns from the
interior; his salaams were of the lowest, and his hand-shakings
of the heartiest, when welcoming the old trader. But his small
eyes took in the signs of the times, and he departed from those
interviews with a satisfied and furtive smile to hold long
consultations with his friend and ally, Syed Abdulla, the chief
of the Arab trading post, a man of great wealth and of great
influence in the islands.
It was currently believed at that time in the settlement that
Lakamba's visits to Almayer's house were not limited to those
official interviews. Often on moonlight nights the belated
fishermen of Sambira saw a small canoe shooting out from the
narrow creek at the back of the white man's house, and the
solitary occupant paddle cautiously down the river in the deep
shadows of the bank; and those events, duly reported, were
discussed round the evening fires far into the night with the
cynicism of expression common to aristocratic Malays, and with a
malicious pleasure in the domestic misfortunes of the Orang
Blando--the hated Dutchman. Almayer went on struggling
desperately, but with a feebleness of purpose depriving him of
all chance of success against men so unscrupulous and resolute as
his rivals the Arabs. The trade fell away from the large
godowns, and the godowns themselves rotted piecemeal. The old
man's banker, Hudig of Macassar, failed, and with this went the
whole available capital. The profits of past years had been
swallowed up in Lingard's exploring craze. Lingard was in the
interior--perhaps dead--at all events giving no sign of life.
Almayer stood alone in the midst of those adverse circumstances,
deriving only a little comfort from the companionship of his
little daughter, born two years after the marriage, and at the
time some six years old. His wife had soon commenced to treat
him with a savage contempt expressed by sulky silence, only
occasionally varied by a flood of savage invective. He felt she
hated him, and saw her jealous eyes watching himself and the
child with almost an expression of hate. She was jealous of the
little girl's evident preference for the father, and Almayer felt
he was not safe with that woman in the house. While she was
burning the furniture, and tearing down the pretty curtains in
her unreasoning hate of those signs of civilisation, Almayer,
cowed by these outbursts of savage nature, meditated in silence
on the best way of getting rid of her. He thought of everything;
even planned murder in an undecided and feeble sort of way, but
dared do nothing--expecting every day the return of Lingard with
news of some immense good fortune. He returned indeed, but aged,
ill, a ghost of his former self, with the fire of fever burning
in his sunken eyes, almost the only survivor of the numerous
expedition. But he was successful at last! Untold riches were
in his grasp; he wanted more money--only a little more torealise
a dream of fabulous fortune. And Hudig had failed! Almayer
scraped all he could together, but the old man wanted more. If
Almayer could not get it he would go to Singapore--to Europe
even, but before all to Singapore; and he would take the little
Nina with him. The child must be brought up decently. He had
good friends in Singapore who would take care of her and have her
taught properly. All would be well, and that girl, upon whom the
old seaman seemed to have transferred all his former affection
for the mother, would be the richest woman in the East--in the
world even. So old Lingard shouted, pacing the verandah with his
heavy quarter-deck step, gesticulating with a smouldering
cheroot; ragged, dishevelled, enthusiastic; and Almayer, sitting
huddled up on a pile of mats, thought with dread of the
separation with the only human being he loved--with greater dread
still, perhaps, of the scene with his wife, the savage tigress
deprived of her young. She will poison me, thought the poor
wretch, well aware of that easy and final manner of solving the
social, political, or family problems in Malay life.
To his great surprise she took the news very quietly, giving only
him and Lingard a furtive glance, and saying not a word. This,
however, did not prevent her the next day from jumping into the
river and swimming after the boat in which Lingard was carrying
away the nurse with the screaming child. Almayer had to give
chase with his whale-boat and drag her in by the hair in the
midst of cries and curses enough to make heaven fall. Yet after
two days spent in wailing, she returned to her former mode of
life, chewing betel-nut, and sitting all day amongst her women in
stupefied idleness. She aged very rapidly after that, and only
roused herself from her apathy to acknowledge by a scathing
remark or an insulting exclamation the accidental presence of her
husband. He had built for her a riverside hut in the compound
where she dwelt in perfect seclusion. Lakamba's visits had
ceased when, by a convenient decree of Providence and the help of
a little scientific manipulation, the old ruler of Sambir
departed this life. Lakamba reigned in his stead now, having
been well served by his Arab friends with the Dutch authorities.
Syed Abdulla was the great man and trader of the Pantai. Almayer
lay ruined and helpless under the close-meshed net of their
intrigues, owing his life only to his supposed knowledge of
Lingard's valuable secret. Lingard had disappeared. He wrote
once from Singapore saying the child was well, and under the care
of a Mrs. Vinck, and that he himself was going to Europe to raise
money for the great enterprise. "He was coming back soon. There
would be no difficulties," he wrote; "people would rush in with
their money." Evidently they did not, for there was only one
letter more from him saying he was ill, had found no relation
living, but little else besides. Then came a complete silence.
Europe had swallowed up the Rajah Laut apparently, and Almayer
looked vainly westward for a ray of light out of the gloom of
his shattered hopes. Years passed, and the rare letters from
Mrs. Vinck, later on from the girl herself, were the only thing
to be looked to to make life bearable amongst the triumphant
savagery of the river. Almayer lived now alone, having even
ceased to visit his debtors who would not pay, sure of Lakamba's
protection. The faithful Sumatrese Ali cooked his rice and made
his coffee, for he dared not trust any one else, and least of all
his wife. He killed time wandering sadly in the overgrown paths
round the house, visiting the ruined godowns where a few brass
guns covered with verdigris and only a few broken cases of
mouldering Manchester goods reminded him of the good early times
when all this was full of life and merchandise, and he overlooked
a busy scene on the river bank, his little daughter by his side.
Now the up-country canoes glided past the little rotten wharf of
Lingard and Co., to paddle up the Pantai branch, and cluster
round the new jetty belonging to Abdulla. Not that they loved
Abdulla, but they dared not trade with the man whose star had
set. Had they done so they knew there was no mercy to be
expected from Arab or Rajah; no rice to be got on credit in the
times of scarcity from either; and Almayer could not help them,
having at times hardly enough for himself. Almayer, in his
isolation and despair, often envied his near neighbour the
Chinaman, Jim-Eng, whom he could see stretched on a pile of cool
mats, a wooden pillow under his head, an opium pipe in his
nerveless fingers. He did not seek, however, consolation in
opium--perhaps it was too expensive--perhaps his white man's
pride saved him from that degradation; but most likely it was the
thought of his little daughter in the far-off Straits
Settlements. He heard from her oftener since Abdulla bought a
steamer, which ran now between Singapore and the Pantai
settlement every three months or so. Almayer felt himself nearer
his daughter. He longed to see her, and planned a voyage to
Singapore, but put off his departure from year to year, always
expecting some favourable turn of fortune. He did not want to
meet her with empty hands and with no words of hope on his lips.
He could not take her back into that savage life to which he was
condemned himself. He was also a little afraid of her. What
would she think of him? He reckoned the years. A grown woman.
A civilised woman, young and hopeful; while he felt old and
hopeless, and very much like those savages round him. He asked
himself what was going to be her future. He could not answer
that question yet, and he dared not face her. And yet he longed
after her. He hesitated for years.
His hesitation was put an end to by Nina's unexpected appearance
in Sambir. She arrived in the steamer under the captain's care.
Almayer beheld her with surprise not unmixed with wonder. During
those ten years the child had changed into a woman, black-haired,
olive-skinned, tall, and beautiful, with great sad eyes, where
the startled expression common to Malay womankind was modified by
a thoughtful tinge inherited from her European ancestry. Almayer
thought with dismay of the meeting of his wife and daughter, of
what this grave girl in European clothes would think of her
betel-nut chewing mother, squatting in a dark hut, disorderly,
half naked, and sulky. He also feared an outbreak of temper on
the part of that pest of a woman he had hitherto managed to keep
tolerably quiet, thereby saving the remnants of his dilapidated
furniture. And he stood there before the closed door of the hut
in the blazing sunshine listening to the murmur of voices,
wondering what went on inside, wherefrom all the servant-maids
had been expelled at the beginning of the interview, and now
stood clustered by the palings with half-covered faces in a
chatter of curious speculation. He forgot himself there trying
to catch a stray word through the bamboo walls, till the captain
of the steamer, who had walked up with the girl, fearing a
sunstroke, took him under the arm and led him into the shade of
his own verandah: where Nina's trunk stood already, having been
landed by the steamer's men. As soon as Captain Ford had his
glass before him and his cheroot lighted, Almayer asked for the
explanation of his daughter's unexpected arrival. Ford said
little beyond generalising in vague but violent terms upon the
foolishness of women in general, and of Mrs. Vinck in particular.
"You know, Kaspar," said he, in conclusion, to the excited
Almayer, "it is deucedly awkward to have a half-caste girl in the
house. There's such a lot of fools about. There was that young
fellow from the bank who used to ride to the Vinck bungalow early
and late. That old woman thought it was for that Emma of hers.
When she found out what he wanted exactly, there was a row, I can
tell you. She would not have Nina--not an hour longer--in the
house. Fact is, I heard of this affair and took the girl to my
wife. My wife is a pretty good woman--as women go--and upon my
word we would have kept the girl for you, only she would not
stay. Now, then! Don't flare up, Kaspar. Sit still. What can
you do? It is better so. Let her stay with you. She was never
happy over there. Those two Vinck girls are no better than
dressed-up monkeys. They slighted her. You can't make her
white. It's no use you swearing at me. You can't. She is a
good girl for all that, but she would not tell my wife anything.
If you want to know, ask her yourself; but if I was you I would
leave her alone. You are welcome to her passage money, old
fellow, if you are short now." And the skipper, throwing away
his cigar, walked off to "wake them up on board," as he expressed
Almayer vainly expected to hear of the cause of his daughter's
return from his daughter's lips. Not that day, not on any other
day did she ever allude to her Singapore life. He did not care
to ask, awed by the calm impassiveness of her face, by those
solemn eyes looking past him on the great, still forests sleeping
in majestic repose to the murmur of the broad river. He accepted
the situation, happy in the gentle and protecting affection the
girl showed him, fitfully enough, for she had, as she called it,
her bad days when she used to visit her mother and remain long
hours in the riverside hut, coming out as inscrutable as ever,
but with a contemptuous look and a short word ready to answer any
of his speeches. He got used even to that, and on those days
kept quiet, although greatly alarmed by his wife's influence upon
the girl. Otherwise Nina adapted herself wonderfully to the
circumstances of a half-savage and miserable life. She accepted
without question or apparent disgust the neglect, the decay, the
poverty of the household, the absence of furniture, and the
preponderance of rice diet on the family table. She lived with
Almayer in the little house (now sadly decaying) built originally
by Lingard for the young couple. The Malays eagerly discussed
her arrival. There were at the beginning crowded levees of Malay
women with their children, seeking eagerly after "Ubat" for all
the ills of the flesh from the young Mem Putih. In the cool of
the evening grave Arabs in long white shirts and yellow
sleeveless jackets walked slowly on the dusty path by the
riverside towards Almayer's gate, and made solemn calls upon that
Unbeliever under shallow pretences of business, only to get a
glimpse of the young girl in a highly decorous manner. Even
Lakamba came out of his stockade in a great pomp of war canoes
and red umbrellas, and landed on the rotten little jetty of
Lingard and Co. He came, he said, to buy a couple of brass guns
as a present to his friend the chief of Sambir Dyaks; and while
Almayer, suspicious but polite, busied himself in unearthing the
old popguns in the godowns, the Rajah sat on an armchair in the
verandah, surrounded by his respectful retinue waiting in vain
for Nina's appearance. She was in one of her bad days, and
remained in her mother's hut watching with her the ceremonious
proceedings on the verandah. The Rajah departed, baffled but
courteous, and soon Almayer began to reap the benefit of
improved relations with the ruler in the shape of the recovery of
some debts, paid to him with many apologies and many a low salaam
by debtors till then considered hopelessly insolvent. Under
these improving circumstances Almayer brightened up a little.
All was not lost perhaps. Those Arabs and Malays saw at last
that he was a man of some ability, he thought. And he began,
after his manner, to plan great things, to dream of great
fortunes for himself and Nina. Especially for Nina! Under these
vivifying impulses he asked Captain Ford to write to his friends
in England making inquiries after Lingard. Was he alive or dead?
If dead, had he left any papers, documents; any indications or
hints as to his great enterprise? Meantime he had found amongst
the rubbish in one of the empty rooms a note-book belonging to
the old adventurer. He studied the crabbed handwriting of its
pages and often grew meditative over it. Other things also woke
him up from his apathy. The stir made in the whole of the island
by the establishment of the British Borneo Company affected even
the sluggish flow of the Pantai life. Great changes were
expected; annexation was talked of; the Arabs grew civil.
Almayer began building his new house for the use of the future
engineers, agents, or settlers of the new Company. He spent
every available guilder on it with a confiding heart. One thing
only disturbed his happiness: his wife came out of her
seclusion, importing her green jacket, scant sarongs, shrill
voice, and witch-like appearance, into his quiet life in the
small bungalow. And his daughter seemed to accept that savage
intrusion into their daily existence with wonderful equanimity.
He did not like it, but dared say nothing.
The deliberations conducted in London have a far-reaching
importance, and so the decision issued from the fog-veiled
offices of the Borneo Company darkened for Almayer the brilliant
sunshine of the Tropics, and added another drop of bitterness to
the cup of his disenchantments. The claim to that part of the
East Coast was abandoned, leaving the Pantai river under the
nominal power of Holland. In Sambir there was joy and
excitement. The slaves were hurried out of sight into the forest
and jungle, and the flags were run up to tall poles in the
Rajah's compound in expectation of a visit from Dutch man-of-war
The frigate remained anchored outside the mouth of the river, and
the boats came up in tow of the steam launch, threading their way
cautiously amongst a crowd of canoes filled with gaily dressed
Malays. The officer in command listened gravely to the loyal
speeches of Lakamba, returned the salaams of Abdulla, and assured
those gentlemen in choice Malay of the great Rajah's--down in
Batavia--friendship and goodwill towards the ruler and
inhabitants of this model state of Sambir.
Almayer from his verandah watched across the river the festive
proceedings, heard the report of brass guns saluting the new flag
presented to Lakamba, and the deep murmur of the crowd of
spectators surging round the stockade. The smoke of the firing
rose in white clouds on the green background of the forests, and
he could not help comparing his own fleeting hopes to the rapidly
disappearing vapour. He was by no means patriotically elated by
the event, yet he had to force himself into a gracious behaviour
when, the official reception being over, the naval officers of
the Commission crossed the river to pay a visit to the solitary
white man of whom they had heard, no doubt wishing also to catch
a glimpse of his daughter. In that they were disappointed, Nina
refusing to show herself; but they seemed easily consoled by the
gin and cheroots set before them by the hospitable Almayer; and
sprawling comfortably on the lame armchairs under the shade of
the verandah, while the blazing sunshine outside seemed to set
the great river simmering in the heat, they filled the little
bungalow with the unusual sounds of European languages, with
noise and laughter produced by naval witticisms at the expense of
the fat Lakamba whom they had been complimenting so much that
very morning. The younger men in an access of good fellowship
made their host talk, and Almayer, excited by the sight of
European faces, by the sound of European voices, opened his heart
before the sympathising strangers, unaware of the amusement the
recital of his many misfortunes caused to those future admirals.
They drank his health, wished him many big diamonds and a
mountain of gold, expressed even an envy of the high destinies
awaiting him yet. Encouraged by so much friendliness, the
grey-headed and foolish dreamer invited his guests to visit his
new house. They went there through the long grass in a
straggling procession while their boats were got ready for the
return down the river in the cool of the evening. And in the
great empty rooms where the tepid wind entering through the
sashless windows whirled gently the dried leaves and the dust of
many days of neglect, Almayer in his white jacket and flowered
sarong, surrounded by a circle of glittering uniforms, stamped
his foot to show the solidity of the neatly-fitting floors and
expatiated upon the beauties and convenience of the building.
They listened and assented, amazed by the wonderful simplicity
and the foolish hopefulness of the man, till Almayer, carried
away by his excitement, disclosed his regret at the non-arrival
of the English, "who knew how to develop a rich country," as he
expressed it. There was a general laugh amongst the Dutch
officers at that unsophisticated statement, and a move was made
towards the boats; but when Almayer, stepping cautiously on the
rotten boards of the Lingard jetty, tried to approach the chief
of the Commission with some timid hints anent the protection
required by the Dutch subject against the wily Arabs, that salt
water diplomat told him significantly that the Arabs were better
subjects than Hollanders who dealt illegally in gunpowder with
the Malays. The innocent Almayer recognised there at once the
oily tongue of Abdulla and the solemn persuasiveness of Lakamba,
but ere he had time to frame an indignant protest the steam
launch and the string of boats moved rapidly down the river
leaving him on the jetty, standing open-mouthed in his surprise
and anger. There are thirty miles of river from Sambir to the
gem-like islands of the estuary where the frigate was awaiting
the return of the boats. The moon rose long before the boats had
traversed half that distance, and the black forest sleeping
peacefully under her cold rays woke up that night to the ringing
laughter in the small flotilla provoked by some reminiscence of
Almayer's lamentable narrative. Salt-water jests at the poor
man's expense were passed from boat to boat, the non-appearance
of his daughter was commented upon with severe displeasure, and
the half-finished house built for the reception of Englishmen
received on that joyous night the name of "Almayer's Folly" by
the unanimous vote of the lighthearted seamen.
For many weeks after this visit life in Sambir resumed its even
and uneventful flow. Each day's sun shooting its morning rays
above the tree-tops lit up the usual scene of daily activity.
Nina walking on the path that formed the only street in the
settlement saw the accustomed sight of men lolling on the shady
side of the houses, on the high platforms; of women busily
engaged in husking the daily rice; of naked brown children racing
along the shady and narrow paths leading to the clearings.
Jim-Eng, strolling before his house, greeted her with a friendly
nod before climbing up indoors to seek his beloved opium pipe.
The elder children clustered round her, daring from long
acquaintance, pulling the skirts of her white robe with their
dark fingers, and showing their brilliant teeth in expectation
of a shower of glass beads. She greeted them with a quiet smile,
but always had a few friendly words for a Siamese girl, a slave
owned by Bulangi, whose numerous wives were said to be of a
violent temper. Well-founded rumour said also that the domestic
squabbles of that industrious cultivator ended generally in a
combined assault of all his wives upon the Siamese slave. The
girl herself never complained--perhaps from dictates of prudence,
but more likely through the strange, resigned apathy of
half-savage womankind. From early morning she was to be seen on
the paths amongst the houses--by the riverside or on the jetties,
the tray of pastry, it was her mission to sell, skilfully
balanced on her head. During the great heat of the day she
usually sought refuge in Almayer's campong, often finding shelter
in a shady corner of the verandah, where she squatted with her
tray before her, when invited by Nina. For "Mem Putih" she had
always a smile, but the presence of Mrs. Almayer, the very sound
of her shrill voice, was the signal for a hurried departure.
To this girl Nina often spoke; the other inhabitants of Sambir
seldom or never heard the sound of her voice. They got used to
the silent figure moving in their midst calm and white-robed, a
being from another world and incomprehensible to them. Yet
Nina's life for all her outward composure, for all the seeming
detachment from the things and people surrounding her, was far
from quiet, in consequence of Mrs. Almayer being much too active
for the happiness and even safety of the household. She had
resumed some intercourse with Lakamba, not personally, it is true
(for the dignity of that potentate kept him inside his stockade),
but through the agency of that potentate's prime minister,
harbour master, financial adviser, and general factotum. That
gentleman--of Sulu origin--was certainly endowed with
statesmanlike qualities, although he was totally devoid of
personal charms. In truth he was perfectly repulsive, possessing
only one eye and a pockmarked face, with nose and lips horribly
disfigured by the small-pox. This unengaging individual often
strolled into Almayer's garden in unofficial costume, composed of
a piece of pink calico round his waist. There at the back of the
house, squatting on his heels on scattered embers, in close
proximity to the great iron boiler, where the family daily rice
was being cooked by the women under Mrs. Almayer's
superintendence, did that astute negotiator carry on long
conversations in Sulu language with Almayer's wife. What the
subject of their discourses was might have been guessed from the
subsequent domestic scenes by Almayer's hearthstone.
Of late Almayer had taken to excursions up the river. In a small
canoe with two paddlers and the faithful Ali for a steersman he
would disappear for a few days at a time. All his movements were
no doubt closely watched by Lakamba and Abdulla, for the man once
in the confidence of Rajah Laut was supposed to be in possession
of valuable secrets. The coast population of Borneo believes
implicitly in diamonds of fabulous value, in gold mines of
enormous richness in the interior. And all those imaginings are
heightened by the difficulty of penetrating far inland,
especially on the north-east coast, where the Malays and the
river tribes of Dyaks or Head-hunters are eternally quarrelling.
It is true enough that some gold reaches the coast in the hands
of those Dyaks when, during short periods of truce in the
desultory warfare, they visit the coast settlements of Malays.
And so the wildest exaggerations are built up and added to on the
slight basis of that fact.
Almayer in his quality of white man--as Lingard before him--had
somewhat better relations with the up-river tribes. Yet even his
excursions were not without danger, and his returns were eagerly
looked for by the impatient Lakamba. But every time the Rajah
was disappointed. Vain were the conferences by the rice-pot of
his factotum Babalatchi with the white man's wife. The white man
himself was impenetrable--impenetrable to persuasion, coaxing,
abuse; to soft words and shrill revilings; to desperate
beseechings or murderous threats; for Mrs. Almayer, in her
extreme desire to persuade her husband into an alliance with
Lakamba, played upon the whole gamut of passion. With her soiled
robe wound tightly under the armpits across her lean bosom, her
scant grayish hair tumbled in disorder over her projecting
cheek-bones, in suppliant attitude, she depicted with shrill
volubility the advantages of close union with a man so good and
so fair dealing.
"Why don't you go to the Rajah?" she screamed. "Why do you go
back to those Dyaks in the great forest? They should be killed.
You cannot kill them, you cannot; but our Rajah's men are brave!
You tell the Rajah where the old white man's treasure is. Our
Rajah is good! He is our very grandfather, Datu Besar! He will
kill those wretched Dyaks, and you shall have half the treasure.
Oh, Kaspar, tell where the treasure is! Tell me! Tell me out of
the old man's surat where you read so often at night"
On those occasions Almayer sat with rounded shoulders bending to
the blast of this domestic tempest, accentuating only each pause
in the torrent of his wife's eloquence by an angry growl, "There
is no treasure! Go away, woman!" Exasperated by the sight of
his patiently bent back, she would at last walk round so as to
face him across the table, and clasping her robe with one hand
she stretched the other lean arm and claw-like hand to emphasise,
in a passion of anger and contempt, the rapid rush of scathing
remarks and bitter cursings heaped on the head of the man
unworthy to associate with brave Malay chiefs. It ended
generally by Almayer rising slowly, his long pipe in hand, his
face set into a look of inward pain, and walking away in silence.
He descended the steps and plunged into the long grass on his way
to the solitude of his new house, dragging his feet in a state of
physical collapse from disgust and fear before that fury. She
followed to the head of the steps, and sent the shafts of
indiscriminate abuse after the retreating form. And each of
those scenes was concluded by a piercing shriek, reaching him far
away. "You know, Kaspar, I am your wife! your own Christian wife
after your own Blanda law!" For she knew that this was the
bitterest thing of all; the greatest regret of that man's life.
All these scenes Nina witnessed unmoved. She might have been
deaf, dumb, without any feeling as far as any expression of
opinion went. Yet oft when her father had sought the refuge of
the great dusty rooms of "Almayer's Folly," and her mother,
exhausted by rhetorical efforts, squatted wearily on her heels
with her back against the leg of the table, Nina would approach
her curiously, guarding her skirts from betel juice besprinkling
the floor, and gaze down upon her as one might look into the
quiescent crater of a volcano after a destructive eruption. Mrs.
Almayer's thoughts, after these scenes, were usually turned into
a channel of childhood reminiscences, and she gave them
utterance in a kind of monotonous recitative--slightly
disconnected, but generally describing the glories of the Sultan
of Sulu, his great splendour, his power, his great prowess; the
fear which benumbed the hearts of white men at the sight of his
swift piratical praus. And these muttered statements of her
grandfather's might were mixed up with bits of later
recollections, where the great fight with the "White Devil's"
brig and the convent life in Samarang occupied the principal
place. At that point she usually dropped the thread of her
narrative, and pulling out the little brass cross, always
suspended round her neck, she contemplated it with superstitious
awe. That superstitious feeling connected with some vague
talismanic properties of the little bit of metal, and the still
more hazy but terrible notion of some bad Djinns and horrible
torments invented, as she thought, for her especial punishment by
the good Mother Superior in case of the loss of the above charm,
were Mrs. Almayer's only theological luggage for the stormy road
of life. Mrs. Almayer had at least something tangible to cling
to, but Nina, brought up under the Protestant wing of the proper
Mrs. Vinck, had not even a little piece of brass to remind her of
past teaching. And listening to the recital of those savage
glories, those barbarous fights and savage feasting, to the story
of deeds valorous, albeit somewhat bloodthirsty, where men of her
mother's race shone far above the Orang Blanda, she felt herself
irresistibly fascinated, and saw with vague surprise the narrow
mantle of civilised morality, in which good-meaning people had
wrapped her young soul, fall away and leave her shivering and
helpless as if on the edge of some deep and unknown abyss.
Strangest of all, this abyss did not frighten her when she was
under the influence of the witch-like being she called her
mother. She seemed to have forgotten in civilised surroundings
her life before the time when Lingard had, so to speak, kidnapped
her from Brow. Since then she had had Christian teaching, social
education, and a good glimpse of civilised life. Unfortunately
her teachers did not understand her nature, and the education
ended in a scene of humiliation, in an outburst of contempt from
white people for her mixed blood. She had tasted the whole
bitterness of it and remembered distinctly that the virtuous Mrs.
Vinck's indignation was not so much directed against the young
man from the bank as against the innocent cause of that young
man's infatuation. And there was also no doubt in her mind that
the principal cause of Mrs. Vinck's indignation was the thought
that such a thing should happen in a white nest, where her
snow-white doves, the two Misses Vinck, had just returned from
Europe, to find shelter under the maternal wing, and there await
the coming of irreproachable men of their destiny. Not even the
thought of the money so painfully scraped together by Almayer,
and so punctually sent for Nina's expenses, could dissuade Mrs.
Vinck from her virtuous resolve. Nina was sent away, and in
truth the girl herself wanted to go, although a little frightened
by the impending change. And now she had lived on the river for
three years with a savage mother and a father walking about
amongst pitfalls, with his head in the clouds, weak, irresolute,
and unhappy. She had lived a life devoid of all the decencies of
civilisation, in miserable domestic conditions; she had breathed
in the atmosphere of sordid plottings for gain, of the no less
disgusting intrigues and crimes for lust or money; and those
things, together with the domestic quarrels, were the only events
of her three years' existence. She did not die from despair and
disgust the first month, as she expected and almost hoped for.
On the contrary, at the end of half a year it had seemed to her
that she had known no other life. Her young mind having been
unskilfully permitted to glance at better things, and then thrown
back again into the hopeless quagmire of barbarism, full of
strong and uncontrolled passions, had lost the power to
discriminate. It seemed to Nina that there was no change and no
difference. Whether they traded in brick godowns or on the muddy
river bank; whether they reached after much or little; whether
they made love under the shadows of the great trees or in the
shadow of the cathedral on the Singapore promenade; whether they
plotted for their own ends under the protection of laws and
according to the rules of Christian conduct, or whether they
sought the gratification of their desires with the savage cunning
and the unrestrained fierceness of natures as innocent of culture
as their own immense and gloomy forests, Nina saw only the same
manifestations of love and hate and of sordid greed chasing the
uncertain dollar in all its multifarious and vanishing shapes.
To her resolute nature, however, after all these years, the
savage and uncompromising sincerity of purpose shown by her
Malay kinsmen seemed at last preferable to the sleek hypocrisy,
to the polite disguises, to the virtuous pretences of such white
people as she had had the misfortune to come in contact with.
After all it was her life; it was going to be her life, and so
thinking she fell more and more under the influence of her
mother. Seeking, in her ignorance, a better side to that life,
she listened with avidity to the old woman's tales of the
departed glories of the Rajahs, from whose race she had sprung,
and she became gradually more indifferent, more contemptuous of
the white side of her descent represented by a feeble and
traditionless father.
Almayer's difficulties were by no means diminished by the girl's
presence in Sambir. The stir caused by her arrival had died out,
it is true, and Lakamba had not renewed his visits; but about a
year after the departure of the man-of-war boats the nephew of
Abdulla, Syed Reshid, returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca,
rejoicing in a green jacket and the proud title of Hadji. There
was a great letting off of rockets on board the steamer which
brought him in, and a great beating of drums all night in
Abdulla's compound, while the feast of welcome was prolonged far
into the small hours of the morning. Reshid was the favourite
nephew and heir of Abdulla, and that loving uncle, meeting
Almayer one day by the riverside, stopped politely to exchange
civilities and to ask solemnly for an interview. Almayer
suspected some attempt at a swindle, or at any rate something
unpleasant, but of course consented with a great show of
rejoicing. Accordingly the next evening, after sunset, Abdulla
came, accompanied by several other grey-beards and by his nephew.
That young man--of a very rakish and dissipated appearance--
affected the greatest indifference as to the whole of the
proceedings. When the torch-bearers had grouped themselves below
the steps, and the visitors had seated themselves on various lame
chairs, Reshid stood apart in the shadow, examining his
aristocratically small hands with great attention. Almayer,
surprised by the great solemnity of his visitors, perched himself
on the corner of the table with a characteristic want of dignity
quickly noted by the Arabs with grave disapproval. But Abdulla
spoke now, looking straight past Almayer at the red curtain
hanging in the doorway, where a slight tremor disclosed the
presence of women on the other side. He began by neatly
complimenting Almayer upon the long years they had dwelt together
in cordial neighbourhood, and called upon Allah to give him many
more years to gladden the eyes of his friends by his welcome
presence. He made a polite allusion to the great consideration
shown him (Almayer) by the Dutch "Commissie," and drew thence the
flattering inference of Almayer's great importance amongst his
own people. He--Abdulla--was also important amongst all the
Arabs, and his nephew Reshid would be heir of that social
position and of great riches. Now Reshid was a Hadji. He was
possessor of several Malay women, went on Abdulla, but it was
time he had a favourite wife, the first of the four allowed by
the Prophet. And, speaking with well-bred politeness, he
explained further to the dumbfounded Almayer that, if he would
consent to the alliance of his offspring with that true believer
and virtuous man Reshid, she would be the mistress of all the
splendours of Reshid's house, and first wife of the first Arab in
the Islands, when he--Abdulla--was called to the joys of Paradise
by Allah the All-merciful. "You know, Tuan," he said, in
conclusion, "the other women would be her slaves, and Reshid's
house is great. From Bombay he has brought great divans, and
costly carpets, and European furniture. There is also a great
looking-glass in a frame shining like gold. What could a girl
want more?" And while Almayer looked upon him in silent dismay
Abdulla spoke in a more confidential tone, waving his attendants
away, and finished his speech by pointing out the material
advantages of such an alliance, and offering to settle upon
Almayer three thousand dollars as a sign of his sincere
friendship and the price of the girl.
Poor Almayer was nearly having a fit. Burning with the desire of
taking Abdulla by the throat, he had but to think of his helpless
position in the midst of lawless men to comprehend the necessity
of diplomatic conciliation. He mastered his impulses, and spoke
politely and coldly, saying the girl was young and as the apple
of his eye. Tuan Reshid, a Faithful and a Hadji, would not want
an infidel woman in his harem; and, seeing Abdulla smile
sceptically at that last objection, he remained silent, not
trusting himself to speak more, not daring to refuse point-blank,
nor yet to say anything compromising. Abdulla understood the
meaning of that silence, and rose to take leave with a grave
salaam. He wished his friend Almayer "a thousand years," and
moved down the steps, helped dutifully by Reshid. The torchbearers
shook their torches, scattering a shower of sparks into
the river, and the cortege moved off, leaving Almayer agitated
but greatly relieved by their departure. He dropped into a chair
and watched the glimmer of the lights amongst the tree trunks
till they disappeared and complete silence succeeded the tramp of
feet and the murmur of voices. He did not move till the curtain
rustled and Nina came out on the verandah and sat in the
rocking-chair, where she used to spend many hours every day. She
gave a slight rocking motion to her seat, leaning back with
half-closed eyes, her long hair shading her face from the smoky
light of the lamp on the table. Almayer looked at her furtively,
but the face was as impassible as ever. She turned her head
slightly towards her father, and, speaking, to his great
surprise, in English, asked--
"Was that Abdulla here?"
"Yes," said Almayer--"just gone."
"And what did he want, father?"
"He wanted to buy you for Reshid," answered Almayer, brutally,
his anger getting the better of him, and looking at the girl as
if in expectation of some outbreak of feeling. But Nina remained
apparently unmoved, gazing dreamily into the black night outside.
"Be careful, Nina," said Almayer, after a short silence and
rising from his chair, "when you go paddling alone into the
creeks in your canoe. That Reshid is a violent scoundrel, and
there is no saying what he may do. Do you hear me?"
She was standing now, ready to go in, one hand grasping the
curtain in the doorway. She turned round, throwing her heavy
tresses back by a sudden gesture.
"Do you think he would dare?" she asked, quickly, and then turned
again to go in, adding in a lower tone, "He would not dare.
Arabs are all cowards."
Almayer looked after her, astonished. He did not seek the repose
of his hammock. He walked the floor absently, sometimes stopping
by the balustrade to think. The lamp went out. The first streak
of dawn broke over the forest; Almayer shivered in the damp air.
"I give it up," he muttered to himself, lying down wearily.
"Damn those women! Well! If the girl did not look as if she
wanted to be kidnapped!"
And he felt a nameless fear creep into his heart, making him
shiver again.
That year, towards the breaking up of the south-west monsoon,
disquieting rumours reached Sambir. Captain Ford, coming up to
Almayer's house for an evening's chat, brought late numbers of
the Straits Times giving the news of Acheen war and of the
unsuccessful Dutch expedition. The Nakhodas of the rare trading
praus ascending the river paid visits to Lakamba, discussing with
that potentate the unsettled state of affairs, and wagged their
heads gravely over the recital of Orang Blanda exaction,
severity, and general tyranny, as exemplified in the total
stoppage of gunpowder trade and the rigorous visiting of all
suspicious craft trading in the straits of Macassar. Even the
loyal soul of Lakamba was stirred into a state of inward
discontent by the withdrawal of his license for powder and by the
abrupt confiscation of one hundred and fifty barrels of that
commodity by the gunboat Princess Amelia, when, after a hazardous
voyage, it had almost reached the mouth of the river. The
unpleasant news was given him by Reshid, who, after the
unsuccessful issue of his matrimonial projects, had made a long
voyage amongst the islands for trading purposes; had bought the
powder for his friend, and was overhauled and deprived of it on
his return when actually congratulating himself on his acuteness
in avoiding detection. Reshid's wrath was principally directed
against Almayer, whom he suspected of having notified the Dutch
authorities of the desultory warfare carried on by the Arabs and
the Rajah with the up-river Dyak tribes.
To Reshid's great surprise the Rajah received his complaints very
coldly, and showed no signs of vengeful disposition towards the
white man. In truth, Lakamba knew very well that Almayer was
perfectly innocent of any meddling in state affairs; and besides,
his attitude towards that much persecuted individual was wholly
changed in consequence of a reconciliation effected between him
and his old enemy by Almayer's newly-found friend, Dain Maroola.
Almayer had now a friend. Shortly after Reshid's departure on
his commercial journey, Nina, drifting slowly with the tide in
the canoe on her return home after one of her solitary
excursions, heard in one of the small creeks a splashing, as if
of heavy ropes dropping in the water, and the prolonged song of
Malay seamen when some heavy pulling is to be done. Through the
thick fringe of bushes hiding the mouth of the creek she saw the
tall spars of some European-rigged sailing vessel overtopping the
summits of the Nipa palms. A brig was being hauled out of the
small creek into the main stream. The sun had set, and during
the short moments of twilight Nina saw the brig, aided by the
evening breeze and the flowing tide, head towards Sambir under
her set foresail. The girl turned her canoe out of the main
river into one of the many narrow channels amongst the wooded
islets, and paddled vigorously over the black and sleepy
backwaters towards Sambir. Her canoe brushed the water-palms,
skirted the short spaces of muddy bank where sedate alligators
looked at her with lazy unconcern, and, just as darkness was
setting in, shot out into the broad junction of the two main
branches of the river, where the brig was already at anchor with
sails furled, yards squared, and decks seemingly untenanted by
any human being. Nina had to cross the river and pass pretty
close to the brig in order to reach home on the low promontory
between the two branches of the Pantai. Up both branches, in the
houses built on the banks and over the water, the lights twinkled
already, reflected in the still waters below. The hum of voices,
the occasional cry of a child, the rapid and abruptly interrupted
roll of a wooden drum, together with some distant hailing in the
darkness by the returning fishermen, reached her over the broad
expanse of the river. She hesitated a little before crossing,
the sight of such an unusual object as an European-rigged vessel
causing her some uneasiness, but the river in its wide expansion
was dark enough to render a small canoe invisible. She urged her
small craft with swift strokes of her paddle, kneeling in the
bottom and bending forward to catch any suspicious sound while
she steered towards the little jetty of Lingard and Co., to which
the strong light of the paraffin lamp shining on the whitewashed
verandah of Almayer's bungalow served as a convenient guide. The
jetty itself, under the shadow of the bank overgrown by drooping
bushes, was hidden in darkness. Before even she could see it she
heard the hollow bumping of a large boat against its rotten
posts, and heard also the murmur of whispered conversation in
that boat whose white paint and great dimensions, faintly visible
on nearer approach, made her rightly guess that it belonged to
the brig just anchored. Stopping her course by a rapid motion of
her paddle, with another swift stroke she sent it whirling away
from the wharf and steered for a little rivulet which gave access
to the back courtyard of the house. She landed at the muddy head
of the creek and made her way towards the house over the trodden
grass of the courtyard. To the left, from the cooking shed,
shone a red glare through the banana plantation she skirted, and
the noise of feminine laughter reached her from there in the
silent evening. She rightly judged her mother was not near,
laughter and Mrs. Almayer not being close neighbours. She must
be in the house, thought Nina, as she ran lightly up the inclined
plane of shaky planks leading to the back door of the narrow
passage dividing the house in two. Outside the doorway, in the
black shadow, stood the faithful Ali.
"Who is there?" asked Nina.
"A great Malay man has come," answered Ali, in a tone of
suppressed excitement. "He is a rich man. There are six men
with lances. Real Soldat, you understand. And his dress is very
brave. I have seen his dress. It shines! What jewels! Don't
go there, Mem Nina. Tuan said not; but the old Mem is gone.
Tuan will be angry. Merciful Allah! what jewels that man has
Nina slipped past the outstretched hand of the slave into the
dark passage where, in the crimson glow of the hanging curtain,
close by its other end, she could see a small dark form crouching
near the wall. Her mother was feasting her eyes and ears with
what was taking place on the front verandah, and Nina approached
to take her share in the rare pleasure of some novelty. She was
met by her mother's extended arm and by a low murmured warning
not to make a noise.
"Have you seen them, mother?" asked Nina, in a breathless
Mrs. Almayer turned her face towards the girl, and her sunken
eyes shone strangely in the red half-light of the passage.
"I saw him," she said, in an almost inaudible tone, pressing her
daughter's hand with her bony fingers. "A great Rajah has come
to Sambir--a Son of Heaven," muttered the old woman to herself.
"Go away, girl!"
The two women stood close to the curtain, Nina wishing to
approach the rent in the stuff, and her mother defending the
position with angry obstinacy. On the other side there was a
lull in the conversation, but the breathing of several men, the
occasional light tinkling of some ornaments, the clink of metal
scabbards, or of brass siri-vessels passed from hand to hand, was
audible during the short pause. The women struggled silently,
when there was a shuffling noise and the shadow of Almayer's
burly form fell on the curtain.
The women ceased struggling and remained motionless. Almayer had
stood up to answer his guest, turning his back to the doorway,
unaware of what was going on on the other side. He spoke in a
tone of regretful irritation.
"You have come to the wrong house, Tuan Maroola, if you want to
trade as you say. I was a trader once, not now, whatever you may
have heard about me in Macassar. And if you want anything, you
will not find it here; I have nothing to give, and want nothing
myself. You should go to the Rajah here; you can see in the
daytime his houses across the river, there, where those fires are
burning on the shore. He will help you and trade with you. Or,
better still, go to the Arabs over there," he went on bitterly,
pointing with his hand towards the houses of Sambir. "Abdulla is
the man you want. There is nothing he would not buy, and there
is nothing he would not sell; believe me, I know him well."
He waited for an answer a short time, then added--
"All that I have said is true, and there is nothing more."
Nina, held back by her mother, heard a soft voice reply with a
calm evenness of intonation peculiar to the better class Malays--
"Who would doubt a white Tuan's words? A man seeks his friends
where his heart tells him. Is this not true also? I have come,
although so late, for I have something to say which you may be
glad to hear. To-morrow I will go to the Sultan; a trader wants
the friendship of great men. Then I shall return here to speak
serious words, if Tuan permits. I shall not go to the Arabs;
their lies are very great! What are they? Chelakka!"
Almayer's voice sounded a little more pleasantly in reply.
"Well, as you like. I can hear you to-morrow at any time if you
have anything to say. Bah! After you have seen the Sultan
Lakamba you will not want to return here, Inchi Dain. You will
see. Only mind, I will have nothing to do with Lakamba. You may
tell him so. What is your business with me, after all?"
"To-morrow we talk, Tuan, now I know you," answered the Malay.
"I speak English a little, so we can talk and nobody will
understand, and then--"
He interrupted himself suddenly, asking surprised, "What's that
noise, Tuan?"
Almayer had also heard the increasing noise of the scuffle
recommenced on the women's side of the curtain. Evidently Nina's
strong curiosity was on the point of overcoming Mrs. Almayer's
exalted sense of social proprieties. Hard breathing was
distinctly audible, and the curtain shook during the contest,
which was mainly physical, although Mrs. Almayer's voice was
heard in angry remonstrance with its usual want of strictly
logical reasoning, but with the well-known richness of invective.
"You shameless woman! Are you a slave?" shouted shrilly the
irate matron. "Veil your face, abandoned wretch! You white
snake, I will not let you!"
Almayer's face expressed annoyance and also doubt as to the
advisability of interfering between mother and daughter. He
glanced at his Malay visitor, who was waiting silently for the
end of the uproar in an attitude of amused expectation, and
waving his hand contemptuously he murmured--
"It is nothing. Some women."
The Malay nodded his head gravely, and his face assumed an
expression of serene indifference, as etiquette demanded after
such an explanation. The contest was ended behind the curtain,
and evidently the younger will had its way, for the rapid shuffle
and click of Mrs. Almayer's high-heeled sandals died away in the
distance. The tranquillised master of the house was going to
resume the conversation when, struck by an unexpected change in
the expression of his guest's countenance, he turned his head and
saw Nina standing in the doorway.
After Mrs. Almayer's retreat from the field of battle, Nina, with
a contemptuous exclamation, "It's only a trader," had lifted the
conquered curtain and now stood in full light, framed in the dark
background on the passage, her lips slightly parted, her hair in
disorder after the exertion, the angry gleam not yet faded out of
her glorious and sparkling eyes. She took in at a glance the
group of white-clad lancemen standing motionless in the shadow of
the far-off end of the verandah, and her gaze rested curiously on
the chief of that imposing cortege. He stood, almost facing her,
a little on one side, and struck by the beauty of the unexpected
apparition had bent low, elevating his joint hands above his head
in a sign of respect accorded by Malays only to the great of this
earth. The crude light of the lamp shone on the gold embroidery
of his black silk jacket, broke in a thousand sparkling rays on
the jewelled hilt of his kriss protruding from under the many
folds of the red sarong gathered into a sash round his waist, and
played on the precious stones of the many rings on his dark
fingers. He straightened himself up quickly after the low bow,
putting his hand with a graceful ease on the hilt of his heavy
short sword ornamented with brilliantly dyed fringes of
horsehair. Nina, hesitating on the threshold, saw an erect lithe
figure of medium height with a breadth of shoulder suggesting
great power. Under the folds of a blue turban, whose fringed
ends hung gracefully over the left shoulder, was a face full of
determination and expressing a reckless good-humour, not devoid,
however, of some dignity. The squareness of lower jaw, the full
red lips, the mobile nostrils, and the proud carriage of the head
gave the impression of a being half-savage, untamed, perhaps
cruel, and corrected the liquid softness of the almost feminine
eye, that general characteristic of the race. Now, the first
surprise over, Nina saw those eyes fixed upon her with such an
uncontrolled expression of admiration and desire that she felt a
hitherto unknown feeling of shyness, mixed with alarm and some
delight, enter and penetrate her whole being.
Confused by those unusual sensations she stopped in the doorway
and instinctively drew the lower part of the curtain across her
face, leaving only half a rounded cheek, a stray tress, and one
eye exposed, wherewith to contemplate the gorgeous and bold being
so unlike in appearance to the rare specimens of traders she had
seen before on that same verandah.
Dain Maroola, dazzled by the unexpected vision, forgot the
confused Almayer, forgot his brig, his escort staring in
open-mouthed admiration, the object of his visit and all things
else, in his overpowering desire to prolong the contemplation of
so much loveliness met so suddenly in such an unlikely place--as
he thought.
"It is my daughter," said Almayer, in an embarrassed manner. "It
is of no consequence. White women have their customs, as you
know Tuan, having travelled much, as you say. However, it is
late; we will finish our talk to-morrow."
Dain bent low trying to convey in a last glance towards the girl
the bold expression of his overwhelming admiration. The next
minute he was shaking Almayer's hand with grave courtesy, his
face wearing a look of stolid unconcern as to any feminine
presence. His men filed off, and he followed them quickly,
closely attended by a thick-set, savage-looking Sumatrese he had
introduced before as the commander of his brig. Nina walked to
the balustrade of the verandah and saw the sheen of moonlight on
the steel spear-heads and heard the rhythmic jingle of brass
anklets as the men moved in single file towards the jetty. The
boat shoved off after a little while, looming large in the full
light of the moon, a black shapeless mass in the slight haze
hanging over the water. Nina fancied she could distinguish the
graceful figure of the trader standing erect in the stern sheets,
but in a little while all the outlines got blurred, confused, and
soon disappeared in the folds of white vapour shrouding the
middle of the river.
Almayer had approached his daughter, and leaning with both arms
over the rail, was looking moodily down on the heap of rubbish
and broken bottles at the foot of the verandah.
"What was all that noise just now?" he growled peevishly, without
looking up. "Confound you and your mother! What did she want?
What did you come out for?"
"She did not want to let me come out," said Nina. "She is angry.
She says the man just gone is some Rajah. I think she is right
"I believe all you women are crazy," snarled Almayer. "What's
that to you, to her, to anybody? The man wants to collect
trepang and birds' nests on the islands. He told me so, that
Rajah of yours. He will come to-morrow. I want you both to keep
away from the house, and let me attend to my business in peace."
Dain Maroola came the next day and had a long conversation with
Almayer. This was the beginning of a close and friendly
intercourse which, at first, was much remarked in Sambir, till
the population got used to the frequent sight of many fires
burning in Almayer's campong, where Maroola's men were warming
themselves during the cold nights of the north-east monsoon,
while their master had long conferences with the Tuan Putih--as
they styled Almayer amongst themselves. Great was the curiosity
in Sambir on the subject of the new trader. Had he seen the
Sultan? What did the Sultan say? Had he given any presents?
What would he sell? What would he buy? Those were the questions
broached eagerly by the inhabitants of bamboo houses built over
the river. Even in more substantial buildings, in Abdulla's
house, in the residences of principal traders, Arab, Chinese, and
Bugis, the excitement ran high, and lasted many days. With
inborn suspicion they would not believe the simple account of
himself the young trader was always ready to give. Yet it had
all the appearance of truth. He said he was a trader, and sold
rice. He did not want to buy gutta-percha or beeswax, because he
intended to employ his numerous crew in collecting trepang on the
coral reefs outside the river, and also in seeking for bird's
nests on the mainland. Those two articles he professed himself
ready to buy if there were any to be obtained in that way. He
said he was from Bali, and a Brahmin, which last statement he
made good by refusing all food during his often repeated visits
to Lakamba's and Almayer's houses. To Lakamba he went generally
at night and had long audiences. Babalatchi, who was always a
third party at those meetings of potentate and trader, knew how
to resist all attempts on the part of the curious to ascertain
the subject of so many long talks. When questioned with languid
courtesy by the grave Abdulla he sought refuge in a vacant stare
of his one eye, and in the affectation of extreme simplicity.
"I am only my master's slave," murmured Babalatchi, in a
hesitating manner. Then as if making up his mind suddenly for a
reckless confidence he would inform Abdulla of some transaction
in rice, repeating the words, "A hundred big bags the Sultan
bought; a hundred, Tuan!" in a tone of mysterious solemnity.
Abdulla, firmly persuaded of the existence of some more important
dealings, received, however, the information with all the signs
of respectful astonishment. And the two would separate, the Arab
cursing inwardly the wily dog, while Babalatchi went on his way
walking on the dusty path, his body swaying, his chin with its
few grey hairs pushed forward, resembling an inquisitive goat
bent on some unlawful expedition. Attentive eyes watched his
movements. Jim-Eng, descrying Babalatchi far away, would shake
off the stupor of an habitual opium smoker and, tottering on to
the middle of the road, would await the approach of that
important person, ready with hospitable invitation. But
Babalatchi's discretion was proof even against the combined
assaults of good fellowship and of strong gin generously
administered by the open-hearted Chinaman. Jim-Eng, owning
himself beaten, was left uninformed with the empty bottle, and
gazed sadly after the departing form of the statesman of Sambir
pursuing his devious and unsteady way, which, as usual, led him
to Almayer's compound. Ever since a reconciliation had been
effected by Dain Maroola between his white friend and the Rajah,
the one-eyed diplomatist had again become a frequent guest in the
Dutchman's house. To Almayer's great disgust he was to be seen
there at all times, strolling about in an abstracted kind of way
on the verandah, skulking in the passages, or else popping round
unexpected corners, always willing to engage Mrs. Almayer in
confidential conversation. He was very shy of the master
himself, as if suspicious that the pent-up feelings of the white
man towards his person might find vent in a sudden kick. But the
cooking shed was his favourite place, and he became an habitual
guest there, squatting for hours amongst the busy women, with his
chin resting on his knees, his lean arms clasped round his legs,
and his one eye roving uneasily--the very picture of watchful
ugliness. Almayer wanted more than once to complain to Lakamba
of his Prime Minister's intrusion, but Dain dissuaded him. "We
cannot say a word here that he does not hear," growled Almayer.
"Then come and talk on board the brig," retorted Dain, with a
quiet smile. "It is good to let the man come here. Lakamba
thinks he knows much. Perhaps the Sultan thinks I want to run
away. Better let the one-eyed crocodile sun himself in your
campong, Tuan."
And Almayer assented unwillingly muttering vague threats of
personal violence, while he eyed malevolently the aged statesman
sitting with quiet obstinacy by his domestic rice-pot.
At last the excitement had died out in Sambir. The inhabitants
got used to the sight of comings and goings between Almayer's
house and the vessel, now moored to the opposite bank, and
speculation as to the feverish activity displayed by Almayer's
boatmen in repairing old canoes ceased to interfere with the due
discharge of domestic duties by the women of the Settlement.
Even the baffled Jim-Eng left off troubling his muddled brain
with secrets of trade, and relapsed by the aid of his opium pipe
into a state of stupefied bliss, letting Babalatchi pursue his
way past his house uninvited and seemingly unnoticed.
So on that warm afternoon, when the deserted river sparkled under
the vertical sun, the statesman of Sambir could, without any
hindrance from friendly inquirers, shove off his little canoe
from under the bushes, where it was usually hidden during his
visits to Almayer's compound. Slowly and languidly Babalatchi
paddled, crouching low in the boat, making himself small under
his as enormous sun hat to escape the scorching heat reflected
from the water. He was not in a hurry; his master, Lakamba, was
surely reposing at this time of the day. He would have ample
time to cross over and greet him on his waking with important
news. Will he be displeased? Will he strike his ebony wood
staff angrily on the floor, frightening him by the incoherent
violence of his exclamations; or will he squat down with a
good-humoured smile, and, rubbing his hands gently over his
stomach with a familiar gesture, expectorate copiously into the
brass siri-vessel, giving vent to a low, approbative murmur?
Such were Babalatchi's thoughts as he skilfully handled his
paddle, crossing the river on his way to the Rajah's campong,
whose stockades showed from behind the dense foliage of the bank
just opposite to Almayer's bungalow.
Indeed, he had a report to make. Something certain at last to
confirm the daily tale of suspicions, the daily hints of
familiarity, of stolen glances he had seen, of short and burning
words he had overheard exchanged between Dain Maroola and
Almayer's daughter.
Lakamba had, till then, listened to it all, calmly and with
evident distrust; now he was going to be convinced, for
Babalatchi had the proof; had it this very morning, when fishing
at break of day in the creek over which stood Bulangi's house.
There from his skiff he saw Nina's long canoe drift past, the
girl sitting in the stern bending over Dain, who was stretched in
the bottom with his head resting on the girl's knees. He saw it.
He followed them, but in a short time they took to the paddles
and got away from under his observant eye. A few minutes
afterwards he saw Bulangi's slave-girl paddling in a small
dug-out to the town with her cakes for sale. She also had seen
them in the grey dawn. And Babalatchi grinned confidentially to
himself at the recollection of the slave-girl's discomposed face,
of the hard look in her eyes, of the tremble in her voice, when
answering his questions. That little Taminah evidently admired
Dain Maroola. That was good! And Babalatchi laughed aloud at
the notion; then becoming suddenly serious, he began by some
strange association of ideas to speculate upon the price for
which Bulangi would, possibly, sell the girl. He shook his head
sadly at the thought that Bulangi was a hard man, and had refused
one hundred dollars for that same Taminah only a few weeks ago;
then he became suddenly aware that the canoe had drifted too far
down during his meditation. He shook off the despondency caused
by the certitude of Bulangi's mercenary disposition, and, taking
up his paddle, in a few strokes sheered alongside the water-gate
of the Rajah's house.
That afternoon Almayer, as was his wont lately, moved about on
the water-side, overlooking the repairs to his boats. He had
decided at last. Guided by the scraps of information contained
in old Lingard's pocket-book, he was going to seek for the rich
gold-mine, for that place where he had only to stoop to gather up
an immense fortune and realise the dream of his young days. To
obtain the necessary help he had shared his knowledge with Dain
Maroola, he had consented to be reconciled with Lakamba, who gave
his support to the enterprise on condition of sharing the
profits; he had sacrificed his pride, his honour, and his loyalty
in the face of the enormous risk of his undertaking, dazzled by
the greatness of the results to be achieved by this alliance so
distasteful yet so necessary. The dangers were great, but
Maroola was brave; his men seemed as reckless as their chief, and
with Lakamba's aid success seemed assured.
For the last fortnight Almayer was absorbed in the preparations,
walking amongst his workmen and slaves in a kind of waking
trance, where practical details as to the fitting out of the
boats were mixed up with vivid dreams of untold wealth, where the
present misery of burning sun, of the muddy and malodorous river
bank disappeared in a gorgeous vision of a splendid future
existence for himself and Nina. He hardly saw Nina during these
last days, although the beloved daughter was ever present in his
thoughts. He hardly took notice of Dain, whose constant presence
in his house had become a matter of course to him now they were
connected by a community of interests. When meeting the young
chief he gave him an absent greeting and passed on, seemingly
wishing to avoid him, bent upon forgetting the hated reality of
the present by absorbing himself in his work, or else by letting
his imagination soar far above the tree-tops into the great white
clouds away to the westward, where the paradise of Europe was
awaiting the future Eastern millionaire. And Maroola, now the
bargain was struck and there was no more business to be talked
over, evidently did not care for the white man's company. Yet
Dain was always about the house, but he seldom stayed long by the
riverside. On his daily visits to the white man the Malay chief
preferred to make his way quietly through the central passage of
the house, and would come out into the garden at the back, where
the fire was burning in the cooking shed, with the rice kettle
swinging over it, under the watchful supervision of Mrs. Almayer.
Avoiding that shed, with its black smoke and the warbling of
soft, feminine voices, Dain would turn to the left. There, on
the edge of a banana plantation, a clump of palms and mango trees
formed a shady spot, a few scattered bushes giving it a certain
seclusion into which only the serving women's chatter or an
occasional burst of laughter could penetrate. Once in, he was
invisible; and hidden there, leaning against the smooth trunk of
a tall palm, he waited with gleaming eyes and an assured smile to
hear the faint rustle of dried grass under the light footsteps of
From the very first moment when his eyes beheld this--to him--
perfection of loveliness he felt in his inmost heart the
conviction that she would be his; he felt the subtle breath of
mutual understanding passing between their two savage natures,
and he did not want Mrs. Almayer's encouraging smiles to take
every opportunity of approaching the girl; and every time he
spoke to her, every time he looked into her eyes, Nina, although
averting her face, felt as if this bold-looking being who spoke
burning words into her willing ear was the embodiment of her
fate, the creature of her dreams--reckless, ferocious, ready with
flashing kriss for his enemies, and with passionate embrace for
his beloved--the ideal Malay chief of her mother's tradition.
She recognised with a thrill of delicious fear the mysterious
consciousness of her identity with that being. Listening to his
words, it seemed to her she was born only then to a knowledge of
a new existence, that her life was complete only when near him,
and she abandoned herself to a feeling of dreamy happiness, while
with half- veiled face and in silence--as became a Malay
girl--she listened to Dain's words giving up to her the whole
treasure of love and passion his nature was capable of with all
the unrestrained enthusiasm of a man totally untrammelled by any
influence of civilised self-discipline.
And they used to pass many a delicious and fast fleeting hour
under the mango trees behind the friendly curtain of bushes till
Mrs. Almayer's shrill voice gave the signal of unwilling
separation. Mrs. Almayer had undertaken the easy task of
watching her husband lest he should interrupt the smooth course
of her daughter's love affair, in which she took a great and
benignant interest. She was happy and proud to see Dain's
infatuation, believing him to be a great and powerful chief, and
she found also a gratification of her mercenary instincts in
Dain's open-handed generosity.
On the eve of the day when Babalatchi's suspicions were confirmed
by ocular demonstration, Dain and Nina had remained longer than
usual in their shady retreat. Only Almayer's heavy step on the
verandah and his querulous clamour for food decided Mrs. Almayer
to lift a warning cry. Maroola leaped lightly over the low
bamboo fence, and made his way stealthily through the banana
plantation down to the muddy shore of the back creek, while Nina
walked slowly towards the house to minister to her father's
wants, as was her wont every evening. Almayer felt happy enough
that evening; the preparations were nearly completed; to-morrow
he would launch his boats. In his mind's eye he saw the rich
prize in his grasp; and, with tin spoon in his hand, he was
forgetting the plateful of rice before him in the fanciful
arrangement of some splendid banquet to take place on his arrival
in Amsterdam. Nina, reclining in the long chair, listened
absently to the few disconnected words escaping from her father's
lips. Expedition! Gold! What did she care for all that? But at
the name of Maroola mentioned by her father she was all
attention. Dain was going down the river with his brig to-morrow
to remain away for a few days, said Almayer. It was very
annoying, this delay. As soon as Dain returned they would have
to start without loss of time, for the river was rising. He
would not be surprised if a great flood was coming. And he
pushed away his plate with an impatient gesture on rising from
the table. But now Nina heard him not. Dain going away! That's
why he had ordered her, with that quiet masterfulness it was her
delight to obey, to meet him at break of day in Bulangi's creek.
Was there a paddle in her canoe? she thought. Was it ready? She
would have to start early--at four in the morning, in a very few
She rose from her chair, thinking she would require rest before
the long pull in the early morning. The lamp was burning dimly,
and her father, tired with the day's labour, was already in his
hammock. Nina put the lamp out and passed into a large room she
shared with her mother on the left of the central passage.
Entering, she saw that Mrs. Almayer had deserted the pile of mats
serving her as bed in one corner of the room, and was now bending
over the opened lid of her large wooden chest. Half a shell of
cocoanut filled with oil, where a cotton rag floated for a wick,
stood on the floor, surrounding her with a ruddy halo of light
shining through the black and odorous smoke. Mrs. Almayer's back
was bent, and her head and shoulders hidden in the deep box. Her
hands rummaged in the interior, where a soft clink as of silver
money could be heard. She did not notice at first her daughter's
approach, and Nina, standing silently by her, looked down on many
little canvas bags ranged in the bottom of the chest, wherefrom
her mother extracted handfuls of shining guilders and Mexican
dollars, letting them stream slowly back again through her
claw-like fingers. The music of tinkling silver seemed to
delight her, and her eyes sparkled with the reflected gleam of
freshly-minted coins. She was muttering to herself: "And this,
and this, and yet this! Soon he will give more--as much more as
I ask. He is a great Rajah--a Son of Heaven! And she will be a
Ranee--he gave all this for her! Who ever gave anything for me?
I am a slave! Am I? I am the mother of a great Ranee!" She
became aware suddenly of her daughter's presence, and ceased her
droning, shutting the lid down violently; then, without rising
from her crouching position, she looked up at the girl standing
by with a vague smile on her dreamy face.
"You have seen. Have you?" she shouted, shrilly. "That is all
mine, and for you. It is not enough! He will have to give more
before he takes you away to the southern island where his father
is king. You hear me? You are worth more, granddaughter of
Rajahs! More! More!"
The sleepy voice of Almayer was heard on the verandah
recommending silence. Mrs. Almayer extinguished the light and
crept into her corner of the room. Nina laid down on her back on
a pile of soft mats, her hands entwined under her head, gazing
through the shutterless hole, serving as a window at the stars
twinkling on the black sky; she was awaiting the time of start
for her appointed meeting-place. With quiet happiness she
thought of that meeting in the great forest, far from all human
eyes and sounds. Her soul, lapsing again into the savage mood,
which the genius of civilisation working by the hand of Mrs.
Vinck could never destroy, experienced a feeling of pride and of
some slight trouble at the high value her worldly-wise mother had
put upon her person; but she remembered the expressive glances
and words of Dain, and, tranquillised, she closed her eyes in a
shiver of pleasant anticipation.
There are some situations where the barbarian and the, so-called,
civilised man meet upon the same ground. It may be supposed that
Dain Maroola was not exceptionally delighted with his prospective
mother-in-law, nor that he actually approved of that worthy
woman's appetite for shining dollars. Yet on that foggy morning
when Babalatchi, laying aside the cares of state, went to visit
his fish-baskets in the Bulangi creek, Maroola had no misgivings,
experienced no feelings but those of impatience and longing, when
paddling to the east side of the island forming the back-water in
question. He hid his canoe in the bushes and strode rapidly
across the islet, pushing with impatience through the twigs of
heavy undergrowth intercrossed over his path. From motives of
prudence he would not take his canoe to the meeting-place, as
Nina had done. He had left it in the main stream till his return
from the other side of the island. The heavy warm fog was
closing rapidly round him, but he managed to catch a fleeting
glimpse of a light away to the left, proceeding from Bulangi's
house. Then he could see nothing in the thickening vapour, and
kept to the path only by a sort of instinct, which also led him
to the very point on the opposite shore he wished to reach. A
great log had stranded there, at right angles to the bank,
forming a kind of jetty against which the swiftly flowing stream
broke with a loud ripple. He stepped on it with a quick but
steady motion, and in two strides found himself at the outer end,
with the rush and swirl of the foaming water at his feet.
Standing there alone, as if separated from the world; the
heavens, earth; the very water roaring under him swallowed up in
the thick veil of the morning fog, he breathed out the name of
Nina before him into the apparently limitless space, sure of
being heard, instinctively sure of the nearness of the delightful
creature; certain of her being aware of his near presence as he
was aware of hers.
The bow of Nina's canoe loomed up close to the log, canted high
out of the water by the weight of the sitter in the stern.
Maroola laid his hand on the stem and leaped lightly in, giving
it a vigorous shove off. The light craft, obeying the new
impulse, cleared the log by a hair's breadth, and the river, with
obedient complicity, swung it broadside to the current, and bore
it off silently and rapidly between the invisible banks. And
once more Dain, at the feet of Nina, forgot the world, felt
himself carried away helpless by a great wave of supreme emotion,
by a rush of joy, pride, and desire; understood once more with
overpowering certitude that there was no life possible without
that being he held clasped in his arms with passionate strength
in a prolonged embrace.
Nina disengaged herself gently with a low laugh.
"You will overturn the boat, Dain," she whispered.
He looked into her eyes eagerly for a minute and let her go with
a sigh, then lying down in the canoe he put his head on her
knees, gazing upwards and stretching his arms backwards till his
hands met round the girl's waist. She bent over him, and,
shaking her head, framed both their faces in the falling locks of
her long black hair.
And so they drifted on, he speaking with all the rude eloquence
of a savage nature giving itself up without restraint to an
overmastering passion, she bending low to catch the murmur of
words sweeter to her than life itself. To those two nothing
existed then outside the gunwales of the narrow and fragile
craft. It was their world, filled with their intense and
all-absorbing love. They took no heed of thickening mist, or of
the breeze dying away before sunrise; they forgot the existence
of the great forests surrounding them, of all the tropical nature
awaiting the advent of the sun in a solemn and impressive
Over the low river-mist hiding the boat with its freight of young
passionate life and all-forgetful happiness, the stars paled, and
a silvery-grey tint crept over the sky from the eastward. There
was not a breath of wind, not a rustle of stirring leaf, not a
splash of leaping fish to disturb the serene repose of all living
things on the banks of the great river. Earth, river, and sky
were wrapped up in a deep sleep, from which it seemed there would
be no waking. All the seething life and movement of tropical
nature seemed concentrated in the ardent eyes, in the
tumultuously beating hearts of the two beings drifting in the
canoe, under the white canopy of mist, over the smooth surface of
the river.
Suddenly a great sheaf of yellow rays shot upwards from behind
the black curtain of trees lining the banks of the Pantai. The
stars went out; the little black clouds at the zenith glowed for
a moment with crimson tints, and the thick mist, stirred by the
gentle breeze, the sigh of waking nature, whirled round and broke
into fantastically torn pieces, disclosing the wrinkled surface
of the river sparkling in the broad light of day. Great flocks
of white birds wheeled screaming above the swaying tree-tops.
The sun had risen on the east coast.
Dain was the first to return to the cares of everyday life. He
rose and glanced rapidly up and down the river. His eye detected
Babalatchi's boat astern, and another small black speck on the
glittering water, which was Taminah's canoe. He moved cautiously
forward, and, kneeling, took up a paddle; Nina at the stern took
hers. They bent their bodies to the work, throwing up the water
at every stroke, and the small craft went swiftly ahead, leaving
a narrow wake fringed with a lace-like border of white and
gleaming foam. Without turning his head, Dain spoke.
"Somebody behind us, Nina. We must not let him gain. I think he
is too far to recognise us."
"Somebody before us also," panted out Nina, without ceasing to
"I think I know," rejoined Dain. "The sun shines over there, but
I fancy it is the girl Taminah. She comes down every morning to
my brig to sell cakes--stays often all day. It does not matter;
steer more into the bank; we must get under the bushes. My canoe
is hidden not far from here."
As he spoke his eyes watched the broad-leaved nipas which they
were brushing in their swift and silent course.
"Look out, Nina," he said at last; "there, where the water palms
end and the twigs hang down under the leaning tree. Steer for
the big green branch."
He stood up attentive, and the boat drifted slowly in shore, Nina
guiding it by a gentle and skilful movement of her paddle. When
near enough Dain laid hold of the big branch, and leaning back
shot the canoe under a low green archway of thickly matted
creepers giving access to a miniature bay formed by the caving in
of the bank during the last great flood. His own boat was there
anchored by a stone, and he stepped into it, keeping his hand on
the gunwale of Nina's canoe. In a moment the two little
nutshells with their occupants floated quietly side by side,
reflected by the black water in the dim light struggling through
a high canopy of dense foliage; while above, away up in the broad
day, flamed immense red blossoms sending down on their heads a
shower of great dew-sparkling petals that descended rotating
slowly in a continuous and perfumed stream; and over them, under
them, in the sleeping water; all around them in a ring of
luxuriant vegetation bathed in the warm air charged with strong
and harsh perfumes, the intense work of tropical nature went on:
plants shooting upward, entwined, interlaced in inextricable
confusion, climbing madly and brutally over each other in the
terrible silence of a desperate struggle towards the life-giving
sunshine above--as if struck with sudden horror at the seething
mass of corruption below, at the death and decay from which they
"We must part now," said Dain, after a long silence. "You must
return at once, Nina. I will wait till the brig drifts down
here, and shall get on board then."
"And will you be long away, Dain?" asked Nina, in a low voice.
"Long!" exclaimed Dain. "Would a man willingly remain long in a
dark place? When I am not near you, Nina, I am like a man that
is blind. What is life to me without light?"
Nina leaned over, and with a proud and happy smile took Dain's
face between her hands, looking into his eyes with a fond yet
questioning gaze. Apparently she found there the confirmation of
the words just said, for a feeling of grateful security lightened
for her the weight of sorrow at the hour of parting. She
believed that he, the descendant of many great Rajahs, the son of
a great chief, the master of life and death, knew the sunshine of
life only in her presence. An immense wave of gratitude and love
welled forth out of her heart towards him. How could she make an
outward and visible sign of all she felt for the man who had
filled her heart with so much joy and so much pride? And in the
great tumult of passion, like a flash of lightning came to her
the reminiscence of that despised and almost forgotten
civilisation she had only glanced at in her days of restraint, of
sorrow, and of anger. In the cold ashes of that hateful and
miserable past she would find the sign of love, the fitting
expression of the boundless felicity of the present, the pledge
of a bright and splendid future. She threw her arms around
Dain's neck and pressed her lips to his in a long and burning
kiss. He closed his eyes, surprised and frightened at the storm
raised in his breast by the strange and to him hitherto unknown
contact, and long after Nina had pushed her canoe into the river
he remained motionless, without daring to open his eyes, afraid
to lose the sensation of intoxicating delight he had tasted for
the first time.
Now he wanted but immortality, he thought, to be the equal of
gods, and the creature that could open so the gates of paradise
must be his--soon would be his for ever!
He opened his eyes in time to see through the archway of creepers
the bows of his brig come slowly into view, as the vessel drifted
past on its way down the river. He must go on board now, he
thought; yet he was loth to leave the place where he had learned
to know what happiness meant. "Time yet. Let them go," he
muttered to himself; and he closed his eyes again under the red
shower of scented petals, trying to recall the scene with all its
delight and all its fear.
He must have been able to join his brig in time, after all, and
found much occupation outside, for it was in vain that Almayer
looked for his friend's speedy return. The lower reach of the
river where he so often and so impatiently directed his eyes
remained deserted, save for the rapid flitting of some fishing
canoe; but down the upper reaches came black clouds and heavy
showers heralding the final setting in of the rainy season with
its thunderstorms and great floods making the river almost
impossible of ascent for native canoes.
Almayer, strolling along the muddy beach between his houses,
watched uneasily the river rising inch by inch, creeping slowly
nearer to the boats, now ready and hauled up in a row under the
cover of dripping Kajang-mats. Fortune seemed to elude his
grasp, and in his weary tramp backwards and forwards under the
steady rain falling from the lowering sky, a sort of despairing
indifference took possession of him. What did it matter? It was
just his luck! Those two infernal savages, Lakamba and Dain,
induced him, with their promises of help, to spend his last
dollar in the fitting out of boats, and now one of them was gone
somewhere, and the other shut up in his stockade would give no
sign of life. No, not even the scoundrelly Babalatchi, thought
Almayer, would show his face near him, now they had sold him all
the rice, brass gongs, and cloth necessary for his expedition.
They had his very last coin, and did not care whether he went or
stayed. And with a gesture of abandoned discouragement Almayer
would climb up slowly to the verandah of his new house to get out
of the rain, and leaning on the front rail with his head sunk
between his shoulders he would abandon himself to the current of
bitter thoughts, oblivious of the flight of time and the pangs of
hunger, deaf to the shrill cries of his wife calling him to the
evening meal. When, roused from his sad meditations by the first
roll of the evening thunderstorm, he stumbled slowly towards the
glimmering light of his old house, his half-dead hope made his
ears preternaturally acute to any sound on the river. Several
nights in succession he had heard the splash of paddles and had
seen the indistinct form of a boat, but when hailing the shadowy
apparition, his heart bounding with sudden hope of hearing Dain's
voice, he was disappointed each time by the sulky answer
conveying to him the intelligence that the Arabs were on the
river, bound on a visit to the home-staying Lakamba. This caused
him many sleepless nights, spent in speculating upon the kind of
villainy those estimable personages were hatching now. At last,
when all hope seemed dead, he was overjoyed on hearing Dain's
voice; but Dain also appeared very anxious to see Lakamba, and
Almayer felt uneasy owing to a deep and ineradicable distrust as
to that ruler's disposition towards himself. Still, Dain had
returned at last. Evidently he meant to keep to his bargain.
Hope revived, and that night Almayer slept soundly, while Nina
watched the angry river under the lash of the thunderstorm
sweeping onward towards the sea.
Dain was not long in crossing the river after leaving Almayer.
He landed at the water-gate of the stockade enclosing the group
of houses which composed the residence of the Rajah of Sambir.
Evidently somebody was expected there, for the gate was open, and
men with torches were ready to precede the visitor up the
inclined plane of planks leading to the largest house where
Lakamba actually resided, and where all the business of state was
invariably transacted. The other buildings within the enclosure
served only to accommodate the numerous household and the wives
of the ruler.
Lakamba's own house was a strong structure of solid planks,
raised on high piles, with a verandah of split bamboos
surrounding it on all sides; the whole was covered in by an
immensely high-pitched roof of palm-leaves, resting on beams
blackened by the smoke of many torches.
The building stood parallel to the river, one of its long sides
facing the water-gate of the stockade. There was a door in the
short side looking up the river, and the inclined plank-way led
straight from the gate to that door. By the uncertain light of
smoky torches, Dain noticed the vague outlines of a group of
armed men in the dark shadows to his right. From that group
Babalatchi stepped forward to open the door, and Dain entered the
audience chamber of the Rajah's residence. About one-third of
the house was curtained off, by heavy stuff of European
manufacture, for that purpose; close to the curtain there was a
big arm-chair of some black wood, much carved, and before it a
rough deal table. Otherwise the room was only furnished with
mats in great profusion. To the left of the entrance stood a
rude arm-rack, with three rifles with fixed bayonets in it. By
the wall, in the shadow, the body-guard of Lakamba--all friends
or relations--slept in a confused heap of brown arms, legs, and
multi-coloured garments, from whence issued an occasional snore
or a subdued groan of some uneasy sleeper. An European lamp with
a green shade standing on the table made all this indistinctly
visible to Dain.
"You are welcome to your rest here," said Babalatchi, looking at
Dain interrogatively.
"I must speak to the Rajah at once," answered Dain.
Babalatchi made a gesture of assent, and, turning to the brass
gong suspended under the arm-rack, struck two sharp blows.
The ear-splitting din woke up the guard. The snores ceased;
outstretched legs were drawn in; the whole heap moved, and slowly
resolved itself into individual forms, with much yawning and
rubbing of sleepy eyes; behind the curtains there was a burst of
feminine chatter; then the bass voice of Lakamba was heard.
"Is that the Arab trader?"
"No, Tuan," answered Babalatchi; "Dain has returned at last. He
is here for an important talk, bitcharra--if you mercifully
Evidently Lakamba's mercy went so far--for in a short while he
came out from behind the curtain--but it did not go to the length
of inducing him to make an extensive toilet. A short red sarong
tightened hastily round his hips was his only garment. The
merciful ruler of Sambir looked sleepy and rather sulky. He sat
in the arm-chair, his knees well apart, his elbows on the
arm-rests, his chin on his breast, breathing heavily and waiting
malevolently for Dain to open the important talk.
But Dain did not seem anxious to begin. He directed his gaze
towards Babalatchi, squatting comfortably at the feet of his
master, and remained silent with a slightly bent head as if in
attentive expectation of coming words of wisdom.
Babalatchi coughed discreetly, and, leaning forward, pushed over
a few mats for Dain to sit upon, then lifting up his squeaky
voice he assured him with eager volubility of everybody's delight
at this long-looked-for return. His heart had hungered for the
sight of Dain's face, and his ears were withering for the want of
the refreshing sound of his voice. Everybody's hearts and ears
were in the same sad predicament, according to Babalatchi, as he
indicated with a sweeping gesture the other bank of the river
where the settlement slumbered peacefully, unconscious of the
great joy awaiting it on the morrow when Dain's presence amongst
them would be disclosed. "For"--went on Babalatchi--"what is the
joy of a poor man if not the open hand of a generous trader or of
a great--"
Here he checked himself abruptly with a calculated embarrassment
of manner, and his roving eye sought the floor, while an
apologetic smile dwelt for a moment on his misshapen lips. Once
or twice during this opening speech an amused expression flitted
across Dain's face, soon to give way, however, to an appearance
of grave concern. On Lakamba's brow a heavy frown had settled,
and his lips moved angrily as he listened to his Prime Minister's
oratory. In the silence that fell upon the room when Babalatchi
ceased speaking arose a chorus of varied snores from the corner
where the body-guard had resumed their interrupted slumbers, but
the distant rumble of thunder filling then Nina's heart with
apprehension for the safety of her lover passed unheeded by those
three men intent each on their own purposes, for life or death.
After a short silence, Babalatchi, discarding now the flowers of
polite eloquence, spoke again, but in short and hurried sentences
and in a low voice. They had been very uneasy. Why did Dain
remain so long absent? The men dwelling on the lower reaches of
the river heard the reports of big guns and saw a fire-ship of
the Dutch amongst the islands of the estuary. So they were
anxious. Rumours of a disaster had reached Abdulla a few days
ago, and since then they had been waiting for Dain's return under
the apprehension of some misfortune. For days they had closed
their eyes in fear, and woke up alarmed, and walked abroad
trembling, like men before an enemy. And all on account of Dain.
Would he not allay their fears for his safety, not for
themselves? They were quiet and faithful, and devoted to the
great Rajah in Batavia--may his fate lead him ever to victory for
the joy and profit of his servants! "And here," went on
Babalatchi, "Lakamba my master was getting thin in his anxiety
for the trader he had taken under his protection; and so was
Abdulla, for what would wicked men not say if perchance - "
"Be silent, fool!" growled Lakamba, angrily.
Babalatchi subsided into silence with a satisfied smile, while
Dain, who had been watching him as if fascinated, turned with a
sigh of relief towards the ruler of Sambir. Lakamba did not
move, and, without raising his head, looked at Dain from under
his eyebrows, breathing audibly, with pouted lips, in an air of
general discontent.
"Speak! O Dain!" he said at last. "We have heard many rumours.
Many nights in succession has my friend Reshid come here with bad
tidings. News travels fast along the coast. But they may be
untrue; there are more lies in men's mouths in these days than
when I was young, but I am not easier to deceive now."
"All my words are true," said Dain, carelessly. "If you want to
know what befell my brig, then learn that it is in the hands of
the Dutch. Believe me, Rajah," he went on, with sudden energy,
"the Orang Blanda have good friends in Sambir, or else how did
they know I was coming thence?"
Lakamba gave Dain a short and hostile glance. Babalatchi rose
quietly, and, going to the arm-rack, struck the gong violently.
Outside the door there was a shuffle of bare feet; inside, the
guard woke up and sat staring in sleepy surprise.
"Yes, you faithful friend of the white Rajah," went on Dain,
scornfully, turning to Babalatchi, who had returned to his place,
"I have escaped, and I am here to gladden your heart. When I saw
the Dutch ship I ran the brig inside the reefs and put her
ashore. They did not dare to follow with the ship, so they sent
the boats. We took to ours and tried to get away, but the ship
dropped fireballs at us, and killed many of my men. But I am
left, O Babalatchi! The Dutch are coming here. They are seeking
for me. They are coming to ask their faithful friend Lakamba and
his slave Babalatchi. Rejoice!"
But neither of his hearers appeared to be in a joyful mood.
Lakamba had put one leg over his knee, and went on gently
scratching it with a meditative air, while Babalatchi, sitting
cross-legged, seemed suddenly to become smaller and very limp,
staring straight before him vacantly. The guard evinced some
interest in the proceedings, stretching themselves full length on
the mats to be nearer the speaker. One of them got up and now
stood leaning against the arm-rack, playing absently with the
fringes of his sword-hilt.
Dain waited till the crash of thunder had died away in distant
mutterings before he spoke again.
"Are you dumb, O ruler of Sambir, or is the son of a great Rajah
unworthy of your notice? I am come here to seek refuge and to
warn you, and want to know what you intend doing."
"You came here because of the white man's daughter," retorted
Lakamba, quickly. "Your refuge was with your father, the Rajah
of Bali, the Son of Heaven, the 'Anak Agong' himself. What am I
to protect great princes? Only yesterday I planted rice in a
burnt clearing; to-day you say I hold your life in my hand."
Babalatchi glanced at his master. "No man can escape his fate,"
he murmured piously. "When love enters a man's heart he is like
a child--without any understanding. Be merciful, Lakamba," he
added, twitching the corner of the Rajah's sarong warningly.
Lakamba snatched away the skirt of the sarong angrily. Under the
dawning comprehension of intolerable embarrassments caused by
Dain's return to Sambir he began to lose such composure as he had
been, till then, able to maintain; and now he raised his voice
loudly above the whistling of the wind and the patter of rain on
the roof in the hard squall passing over the house.
"You came here first as a trader with sweet words and great
promises, asking me to look the other way while you worked your
will on the white man there. And I did. What do you want now?
When I was young I fought. Now I am old, and want peace. It is
easier for me to have you killed than to fight the Dutch. It is
better for me."
The squall had now passed, and, in the short stillness of the
lull in the storm, Lakamba repeated softly, as if to himself,
"Much easier. Much better."
Dain did not seem greatly discomposed by the Rajah's threatening
words. While Lakamba was speaking he had glanced once rapidly
over his shoulder, just to make sure that there was nobody behind
him, and, tranquillised in that respect, he had extracted a
siri-box out of the folds of his waist-cloth, and was wrapping
carefully the little bit of betel-nut and a small pinch of lime
in the green leaf tendered him politely by the watchful
Babalatchi. He accepted this as a peace- offering from the
silent statesman--a kind of mute protest against his master's
undiplomatic violence, and as an omen of a possible understanding
to be arrived at yet. Otherwise Dain was not uneasy. Although
recognising the justice of Lakamba's surmise that he had come
back to Sambir only for the sake of the white man's daughter, yet
he was not conscious of any childish lack of understanding, as
suggested by Babalatchi. In fact, Dain knew very well that
Lakamba was too deeply implicated in the gunpowder smuggling to
care for an investigation the Dutch authorities into that matter.
When sent off by his father, the independent Rajah of Bali, at
the time when the hostilities between Dutch and Malays threatened
to spread from Sumatra over the whole archipelago, Dain had found
all the big traders deaf to his guarded proposals, and above the
temptation of the great prices he was ready to give for
gunpowder. He went to Sambir as a last and almost hopeless
resort, having heard in Macassar of the white man there, and of
the regular steamer trading from Singapore--allured also by the
fact that there was no Dutch resident on the river, which would
make things easier, no doubt. His hopes got nearly wrecked
against the stubborn loyalty of Lakamba arising from
well-understood self-interest; but at last the young man's
generosity, his persuasive enthusiasm, the prestige of his
father's great name, overpowered the prudent hesitation of the
ruler of Sambir. Lakamba would have nothing to do himself with
any illegal traffic. He also objected to the Arabs being made
use of in that matter; but he suggested Almayer, saying that he
was a weak man easily persuaded, and that his friend, the English
captain of the steamer, could be made very useful--very likely
even would join in the business, smuggling the powder in the
steamer without Abdulla's knowledge. There again Dain met in
Almayer with unexpected resistance; Lakamba had to send
Babalatchi over with the solemn promise that his eyes would be
shut in friendship for the white man, Dain paying for the promise
and the friendship in good silver guilders of the hated Orang
Blanda. Almayer, at last consenting, said the powder would be
obtained, but Dain must trust him with dollars to send to
Singapore in payment for it. He would induce Ford to buy and
smuggle it in the steamer on board the brig. He did not want any
money for himself out of the transaction, but Dain must help him
in his great enterprise after sending off the brig. Almayer had
explained to Dain that he could not trust Lakamba alone in that
matter; he would be afraid of losing his treasure and his life
through the cupidity of the Rajah; yet the Rajah had to be told,
and insisted on taking a share in that operation, or else his
eyes would remain shut no longer. To this Almayer had to submit.
Had Dain not seen Nina he would have probably refused to engage
himself and his men in the projected expedition to Gunong
Mas--the mountain of gold. As it was he intended to return with
half of his men as soon as the brig was clear of the reefs, but
the persistent chase given him by the Dutch frigate had forced
him to run south and ultimately to wreck and destroy his vessel
in order to preserve his liberty or perhaps even his life. Yes,
he had come back to Sambir for Nina, although aware that the
Dutch would look for him there, but he had also calculated his
chances of safety in Lakamba's hands. For all his ferocious
talk, the merciful ruler would not kill him, for he had long ago
been impressed with the notion that Dain possessed the secret of
the white man's treasure; neither would he give him up to the
Dutch, for fear of some fatal disclosure of complicity in the
treasonable trade. So Dain felt tolerably secure as he sat
meditating quietly his answer to the Rajah's bloodthirsty speech.
Yes, he would point out to him the aspect of his position should
he--Dain--fall into the hands of the Dutch and should he speak
the truth. He would have nothing more to lose then, and he would
speak the truth. And if he did return to Sambir, disturbing
thereby Lakamba's peace of mind, what then? He came to look
after his property. Did he not pour a stream of silver into Mrs.
Almayer's greedy lap? He had paid, for the girl, a price worthy
of a great prince, although unworthy of that delightfully
maddening creature for whom his untamed soul longed in an
intensity of desire far more tormenting than the sharpest pain.
He wanted his happiness. He had the right to be in Sambir.
He rose, and, approaching the table, leaned both his elbows on
it; Lakamba responsively edged his seat a little closer, while
Babalatchi scrambled to his feet and thrust his inquisitive head
between his master's and Dain's. They interchanged their ideas
rapidly, speaking in whispers into each other's faces, very close
now, Dain suggesting, Lakamba contradicting, Babalatchi
conciliating and anxious in his vivid apprehension of coming
difficulties. He spoke most, whispering earnestly, turning his
head slowly from side to side so as to bring his solitary eye to
bear upon each of his interlocutors in turn. Why should there be
strife? said he. Let Tuan Dain, whom he loved only less than his
master, go trustfully into hiding. There were many places for
that. Bulangi's house away in the clearing was best.
Bulangi was a safe man. In the network of crooked channels no
white man could find his way. White men were strong, but very
foolish. It was undesirable to fight them, but deception was
easy. They were like silly women--they did not know the use of
reason, and he was a match for any of them--went on Babalatchi,
with all the confidence of deficient experience. Probably the
Dutch would seek Almayer. Maybe they would take away their
countryman if they were suspicious of him. That would be good.
After the Dutch went away Lakamba and Dain would get the treasure
without any trouble, and there would be one person less to share
it. Did he not speak wisdom? Will Tuan Dain go to Bulangi's
house till the danger is over, go at once?
Dain accepted this suggestion of going into hiding with a certain
sense of conferring a favour upon Lakamba and the anxious
statesman, but he met the proposal of going at once with a
decided no, looking Babalatchi meaningly in the eye. The
statesman sighed as a man accepting the inevitable would do, and
pointed silently towards the other bank of the river. Dain bent
his head slowly.
"Yes, I am going there," he said.
"Before the day comes?" asked Babalatchi.
"I am going there now," answered Dain, decisively. "The Orang
Blanda will not be here before to-morrow night, perhaps, and I
must tell Almayer of our arrangements."
"No, Tuan. No; say nothing," protested Babalatchi. "I will go
over myself at sunrise and let him know."
"I will see," said Dain, preparing to go.
The thunderstorm was recommencing outside, the heavy clouds
hanging low overhead now.
There was a constant rumble of distant thunder punctuated by the
nearer sharp crashes, and in the continuous play of blue
lightning the woods and the river showed fitfully, with all the
elusive distinctness of detail characteristic of such a scene.
Outside the door of the Rajah's house Dain and Babalatchi stood
on the shaking verandah as if dazed and stunned by the violence
of the storm. They stood there amongst the cowering forms of the
Rajah's slaves and retainers seeking shelter from the rain, and
Dain called aloud to his boatmen, who responded with an unanimous
"Ada! Tuan!" while they looked uneasily at the river.
"This is a great flood!" shouted Babalatchi into Dain's ear.
"The river is very angry. Look! Look at the drifting logs! Can
you go?"
Dain glanced doubtfully on the livid expanse of seething water
bounded far away on the other side by the narrow black line of
the forests. Suddenly, in a vivid white flash, the low point of
land with the bending trees on it and Almayer's house, leaped
into view, flickered and disappeared. Dain pushed Babalatchi
aside and ran down to the water-gate followed by his shivering
Babalatchi backed slowly in and closed the door, then turned
round and looked silently upon Lakamba. The Rajah sat still,
glaring stonily upon the table, and Babalatchi gazed curiously at
the perplexed mood of the man he had served so many years through
good and evil fortune. No doubt the one-eyed statesman felt
within his savage and much sophisticated breast the unwonted
feelings of sympathy with, and perhaps even pity for, the man he
called his master. From the safe position of a confidential
adviser, he could, in the dim vista of past years, see himself--a
casual cut-throat--finding shelter under that man's roof in the
modest rice-clearing of early beginnings. Then came a long
period of unbroken success, of wise counsels, and deep plottings
resolutely carried out by the fearless Lakamba, till the whole
east coast from Poulo Laut to Tanjong Batu listened to
Babalatchi's wisdom speaking through the mouth of the ruler of
Sambir. In those long years how many dangers escaped, how many
enemies bravely faced, how many white men successfully
circumvented! And now he looked upon the result of so many years
of patient toil: the fearless Lakamba cowed by the shadow of an
impending trouble. The ruler was growing old, and Babalatchi,
aware of an uneasy feeling at the pit of his stomach, put both
his hands there with a suddenly vivid and sad perception of the
fact that he himself was growing old too; that the time of
reckless daring was past for both of them, and that they had to
seek refuge in prudent cunning. They wanted peace; they were
disposed to reform; they were ready even to retrench, so as to
have the wherewithal to bribe the evil days away, if bribed away
they could be. Babalatchi sighed for the second time that night
as he squatted again at his master's feet and tendered him his
betel-nut box in mute sympathy. And they sat there in close yet
silent communion of betel-nut chewers, moving their jaws slowly,
expectorating decorously into the wide-mouthed brass vessel they
passed to one another, and listening to the awful din of the
battling elements outside.
"There is a very great flood," remarked Babalatchi, sadly.
"Yes," said Lakamba. "Did Dain go?"
"He went, Tuan. He ran down to the river like a man possessed of
the Sheitan himself."
There was another long pause.
"He may get drowned," suggested Lakamba at last, with some show
of interest.
"The floating logs are many," answered Babalatchi, "but he is a
good swimmer," he added languidly.
"He ought to live," said Lakamba; "he knows where the treasure
Babalatchi assented with an ill-humoured grunt. His want of
success in penetrating the white man's secret as to the locality
where the gold was to be found was a sore point with the
statesman of Sambir, as the only conspicuous failure in an
otherwise brilliant career.
A great peace had now succeeded the turmoil of the storm. Only
the little belated clouds, which hurried past overhead to catch
up the main body flashing silently in the distance, sent down
short showers that pattered softly with a soothing hiss over the
palm-leaf roof.
Lakamba roused himself from his apathy with an appearance of
having grasped the situation at last.
"Babalatchi," he called briskly, giving him a slight kick.
"Ada Tuan! I am listening."
"If the Orang Blanda come here, Babalatchi, and take Almayer to
Batavia to punish him for smuggling gunpowder, what will he do,
you think?"
"I do not know, Tuan."
"You are a fool," commented Lakamba, exultingly. "He will tell
them where the treasure is, so as to find mercy. He will."
Babalatchi looked up at his master and nodded his head with by no
means a joyful surprise. He had not thought of this; there was a
new complication.
"Almayer must die," said Lakamba, decisively, "to make our secret
safe. He must die quietly, Babalatchi. You must do it."
Babalatchi assented, and rose wearily to his feet. "To-morrow?"
he asked.
"Yes; before the Dutch come. He drinks much coffee," answered
Lakamba, with seeming irrelevancy.
Babalatchi stretched himself yawning, but Lakamba, in the
flattering consciousness of a knotty problem solved by his own
unaided intellectual efforts, grew suddenly very wakeful.
"Babalatchi," he said to the exhausted statesman, "fetch the box
of music the white captain gave me. I cannot sleep."
At this order a deep shade of melancholy settled upon
Babalatchi's features. He went reluctantly behind the curtain
and soon reappeared carrying in his arms a small hand-organ,
which he put down on the table with an air of deep dejection.
Lakamba settled himself comfortably in his arm-chair.
"Turn, Babalatchi, turn," he murmured, with closed eyes.
Babalatchi's hand grasped the handle with the energy of despair,
and as he turned, the deep gloom on his countenance changed into
an expression of hopeless resignation. Through the open shutter
the notes of Verdi's music floated out on the great silence over
the river and forest. Lakamba listened with closed eyes and a
delighted smile; Babalatchi turned, at times dozing off and
swaying over, then catching himself up in a great fright with a
few quick turns of the handle. Nature slept in an exhausted
repose after the fierce turmoil, while under the unsteady hand of
the statesman of Sambir the Trovatore fitfully wept, wailed, and
bade good-bye to his Leonore again and again in a mournful round
of tearful and endless iteration.
The bright sunshine of the clear mistless morning, after the
stormy night, flooded the main path of the settlement leading
from the low shore of the Pantai branch of the river to the gate
of Abdulla's compound. The path was deserted this morning; it
stretched its dark yellow surface, hard beaten by the tramp of
many bare feet, between the clusters of palm trees, whose tall
trunks barred it with strong black lines at irregular intervals,
while the newly risen sun threw the shadows of their leafy heads
far away over the roofs of the buildings lining the river, even
over the river itself as it flowed swiftly and silently past the
deserted houses. For the houses were deserted too. On the
narrow strip of trodden grass intervening between their open
doors and the road, the morning fires smouldered untended,
sending thin fluted columns of smoke into the cool air, and
spreading the thinnest veil of mysterious blue haze over the
sunlit solitude of the settlement. Almayer, just out of his
hammock, gazed sleepily at the unwonted appearance of Sambir,
wondering vaguely at the absence of life. His own house was very
quiet; he could not hear his wife's voice, nor the sound of
Nina's footsteps in the big room, opening on the verandah, which
he called his sitting-room, whenever, in the company of white
men, he wished to assert his claims to the commonplace decencies
of civilisation. Nobody ever sat there; there was nothing there
to sit upon, for Mrs. Almayer in her savage moods, when excited
by the reminiscences of the piratical period of her life, had
torn off the curtains to make sarongs for the slave-girls, and
had burnt the showy furniture piecemeal to cook the family rice.
But Almayer was not thinking of his furniture now. He was
thinking of Dain's return, of Dain's nocturnal interview with
Lakamba, of its possible influence on his long-matured plans, now
nearing the period of their execution. He was also uneasy at the
non-appearance of Dain who had promised him an early visit. "The
fellow had plenty of time to cross the river," he mused, "and
there was so much to be done to-day. The settling of details for
the early start on the morrow; the launching of the boats; the
thousand and one finishing touches. For the expedition must
start complete, nothing should be forgotten, nothing should--"
The sense of the unwonted solitude grew upon him suddenly, and in
the unusual silence he caught himself longing even for the
usually unwelcome sound of his wife's voice to break the
oppressive stillness which seemed, to his frightened fancy, to
portend the advent of some new misfortune. "What has happened?"
he muttered half aloud, as he shuffled in his imperfectly
adjusted slippers towards the balustrade of the verandah. "Is
everybody asleep or dead?"
The settlement was alive and very much awake. It was awake ever
since the early break of day, when Mahmat Banjer, in a fit of
unheard-of energy, arose and, taking up his hatchet, stepped over
the sleeping forms of his two wives and walked shivering to the
water's edge to make sure that the new house he was building had
not floated away during the night.
The house was being built by the enterprising Mahmat on a large
raft, and he had securely moored it just inside the muddy point
of land at the junction of the two branches of the Pantai so as
to be out of the way of drifting logs that would no doubt strand
on the point during the freshet. Mahmat walked through the wet
grass saying bourrouh, and cursing softly to himself the hard
necessities of active life that drove him from his warm couch
into the cold of the morning. A glance showed him that his house
was still there, and he congratulated himself on his foresight in
hauling it out of harm's way, for the increasing light showed him
a confused wrack of drift-logs, half-stranded on the muddy flat,
interlocked into a shapeless raft by their branches, tossing to
and fro and grinding together in the eddy caused by the meeting
currents of the two branches of the river. Mahmat walked down to
the water's edge to examine the rattan moorings of his house just
as the sun cleared the trees of the forest on the opposite shore.
As he bent over the fastenings he glanced again carelessly at the
unquiet jumble of logs and saw there something that caused him to
drop his hatchet and stand up, shading his eyes with his hand
from the rays of the rising sun. It was something red, and the
logs rolled over it, at times closing round it, sometimes hiding
it. It looked to him at first like a strip of red cloth. The
next moment Mahmat had made it out and raised a great shout.
"Ah ya! There!" yelled Mahmat. "There's a man amongst the logs."
He put the palms of his hand to his lips and shouted, enunciating
distinctly, his face turned towards the settlement: "There's a
body of a man in the river! Come and see! A dead--stranger!"
The women of the nearest house were already outside kindling the
fires and husking the morning rice. They took up the cry
shrilly, and it travelled so from house to house, dying away in
the distance. The men rushed out excited but silent, and ran
towards the muddy point where the unconscious logs tossed and
ground and bumped and rolled over the dead stranger with the
stupid persistency of inanimate things. The women followed,
neglecting their domestic duties and disregarding the
possibilities of domestic discontent, while groups of children
brought up the rear, warbling joyously, in the delight of
unexpected excitement.
Almayer called aloud for his wife and daughter, but receiving no
response, stood listening intently. The murmur of the crowd
reached him faintly, bringing with it the assurance of some
unusual event. He glanced at the river just as he was going to
leave the verandah and checked himself at the sight of a small
canoe crossing over from the Rajah's landing-place. The solitary
occupant (in whom Almayer soon recognised Babalatchi) effected
the crossing a little below the house and paddled up to the
Lingard jetty in the dead water under the bank. Babalatchi
clambered out slowly and went on fastening his canoe with
fastidious care, as if not in a hurry to meet Almayer, whom he
saw looking at him from the verandah. This delay gave Almayer
time to notice and greatly wonder at Babalatchi's official
get-up. The statesman of Sambir was clad in a costume befitting
his high rank. A loudly checkered sarong encircled his waist,
and from its many folds peeped out the silver hilt of the kriss
that saw the light only on great festivals or during official
receptions. Over the left shoulder and across the otherwise
unclad breast of the aged diplomatist glistened a patent leather
belt bearing a brass plate with the arms of Netherlands under the
inscription, "Sultan of Sambir." Babalatchi's head was covered
by a red turban, whose fringed ends falling over the left cheek
and shoulder gave to his aged face a ludicrous expression of
joyous recklessness. When the canoe was at last fastened to his
satisfaction he straightened himself up, shaking down the folds
of his sarong, and moved with long strides towards Almayer's
house, swinging regularly his long ebony staff, whose gold head
ornamented with precious stones flashed in the morning sun.
Almayer waved his hand to the right towards the point of land, to
him invisible, but in full view from the jetty.
"Oh, Babalatchi! oh!" he called out; "what is the matter there?
can you see?"
Babalatchi stopped and gazed intently at the crowd on the river
bank, and after a little while the astonished Almayer saw him
leave the path, gather up his sarong in one hand, and break into
a trot through the grass towards the muddy point. Almayer, now
greatly interested, ran down the steps of the verandah. The
murmur of men's voices and the shrill cries of women reached him
quite distinctly now, and as soon as he turned the corner of his
house he could see the crowd on the low promontory swaying and
pushing round some object of interest. He could indistinctly
hear Babalatchi's voice, then the crowd opened before the aged
statesman and closed after him with an excited hum, ending in a
loud shout.
As Almayer approached the throng a man ran out and rushed past
him towards the settlement, unheeding his call to stop and
explain the cause of this excitement. On the very outskirts of
the crowd Almayer found himself arrested by an unyielding mass of
humanity, regardless of his entreaties for a passage, insensible
to his gentle pushes as he tried to work his way through it
towards the riverside.
In the midst of his gentle and slow progress he fancied suddenly
he had heard his wife's voice in the thickest of the throng. He
could not mistake very well Mrs. Almayer's high-pitched tones,
yet the words were too indistinct for him to understand their
purport. He paused in his endeavours to make a passage for
himself, intending to get some intelligence from those around
him, when a long and piercing shriek rent the air, silencing the
murmurs of the crowd and the voices of his informants. For a
moment Almayer remained as if turned into stone with astonishment
and horror, for he was certain now that he had heard his wife
wailing for the dead. He remembered Nina's unusual absence, and
maddened by his apprehensions as to her safety, he pushed blindly
and violently forward, the crowd falling back with cries of
surprise and pain before his frantic advance.
On the point of land in a little clear space lay the body of the
stranger just hauled out from amongst the logs. On one side
stood Babalatchi, his chin resting on the head of his staff and
his one eye gazing steadily at the shapeless mass of broken
limbs, torn flesh, and bloodstained rags. As Almayer burst
through the ring of horrified spectators, Mrs. Almayer threw her
own head-veil over the upturned face of the drowned man, and,
squatting by it, with another mournful howl, sent a shiver
through the now silent crowd. Mahmat, dripping wet, turned to
Almayer, eager to tell his tale.
In the first moment of reaction from the anguish of his fear the
sunshine seemed to waver before Almayer's eyes, and he listened
to words spoken around him without comprehending their meaning.
When, by a strong effort of will, he regained the possession of
his senses, Mahmat was saying--
"That is the way, Tuan. His sarong was caught in the broken
branch, and he hung with his head under water. When I saw what
it was I did not want it here. I wanted it to get clear and
drift away. Why should we bury a stranger in the midst of our
houses for his ghost to frighten our women and children? Have we
not enough ghosts about this place?"
A murmur of approval interrupted him here. Mahmat looked
reproachfully at Babalatchi.
"But the Tuan Babalatchi ordered me to drag the body ashore"--he
went on looking round at his audience, but addressing himself
only to Almayer--"and I dragged him by the feet; in through the
mud I have dragged him, although my heart longed to see him float
down the river to strand perchance on Bulangi's clearing--may his
father's grave be defiled!"
There was subdued laughter at this, for the enmity of Mahmat and
Bulangi was a matter of common notoriety and of undying interest
to the inhabitants of Sambir. In the midst of that mirth Mrs.
Almayer wailed suddenly again.
"Allah! What ails the woman!" exclaimed Mahmat, angrily. "Here,
I have touched this carcass which came from nobody knows where,
and have most likely defiled myself before eating rice. By
orders of Tuan Babalatchi I did this thing to please the white
man. Are you pleased, O Tuan Almayer? And what will be my
recompense? Tuan Babalatchi said a recompense there will be, and
from you. Now consider. I have been defiled, and if not defiled
I may be under the spell. Look at his anklets! Who ever heard
of a corpse appearing during the night amongst the logs with gold
anklets on its legs? There is witchcraft there. However," added
Mahmat, after a reflective pause, "I will have the anklet if
there is permission, for I have a charm against the ghosts and am
not afraid. God is great!"
A fresh outburst of noisy grief from Mrs. Almayer checked the
flow of Mahmat's eloquence. Almayer, bewildered, looked in turn
at his wife, at Mahmat, at Babalatchi, and at last arrested his
fascinated gaze on the body lying on the mud with covered face in
a grotesquely unnatural contortion of mangled and broken limbs,
one twisted and lacerated arm, with white bones protruding in
many places through the torn flesh, stretched out; the hand with
outspread fingers nearly touching his foot.
"Do you know who this is?" he asked of Babalatchi, in a low
Babalatchi, staring straight before him, hardly moved his lips,
while Mrs. Almayer's persistent lamentations drowned the whisper
of his murmured reply intended only for Almayer's ear.
"It was fate. Look at your feet, white man. I can see a ring on
those torn fingers which I know well."
Saying this, Babalatchi stepped carelessly forward, putting his
foot as if accidentally on the hand of the corpse and pressing it
into the soft mud. He swung his staff menacingly towards the
crowd, which fell back a little.
"Go away," he said sternly, "and send your women to their cooking
fires, which they ought not to have left to run after a dead
stranger. This is men's work here. I take him now in the name
of the Rajah. Let no man remain here but Tuan Almayer's slaves.
Now go!"
The crowd reluctantly began to disperse. The women went first,
dragging away the children that hung back with all their weight
on the maternal hand. The men strolled slowly after them in ever
forming and changing groups that gradually dissolved as they
neared the settlement and every man regained his own house with
steps quickened by the hungry anticipation of the morning rice.
Only on the slight elevation where the land sloped down towards
the muddy point a few men, either friends or enemies of Mahmat,
remained gazing curiously for some time longer at the small group
standing around the body on the river bank.
"I do not understand what you mean, Babalatchi," said Almayer.
"What is the ring you are talking about? Whoever he is, you have
trodden the poor fellow's hand right into the mud. Uncover his
face," he went on, addressing Mrs. Almayer, who, squatting by the
head of the corpse, rocked herself to and fro, shaking from time
to time her dishevelled grey locks, and muttering mournfully.
"Hai!' exclaimed Mahmat, who had lingered close by. "Look, Tuan;
the logs came together so," and here he pressed the palms of his
hands together, "and his head must have been between them, and
now there is no face for you to look at. There are his flesh and
his bones, the nose, and the lips, and maybe his eyes, but nobody
could tell the one from the other. It was written the day he was
born that no man could look at him in death and be able to say,
'This is my friend's face.'"
"Silence, Mahmat; enough!" said Babalatchi, "and take thy eyes
off his anklet, thou eater of pigs flesh. Tuan Almayer," he went
on, lowering his voice, "have you seen Dain this morning?"
Almayer opened his eyes wide and looked alarmed. "No," he said
quickly; "haven't you seen him? Is he not with the Rajah? I am
waiting; why does he not come?"
Babalatchi nodded his head sadly.
"He is come, Tuan. He left last night when the storm was great
and the river spoke angrily. The night was very black, but he
had within him a light that showed the way to your house as
smooth as a narrow backwater, and the many logs no bigger than
wisps of dried grass. Therefore he went; and now he lies here."
And Babalatchi nodded his head towards the body.
"How can you tell?" said Almayer, excitedly, pushing his wife
aside. He snatched the cover off and looked at the formless mass
of flesh, hair, and drying mud, where the face of the drowned man
should have been. "Nobody can tell," he added, turning away with
a shudder.
Babalatchi was on his knees wiping the mud from the stiffened
fingers of the outstretched hand. He rose to his feet and
flashed before Almayer's eyes a gold ring set with a large green
"You know this well," he said. "This never left Dain's hand. I
had to tear the flesh now to get it off. Do you believe now?"
Almayer raised his hands to his head and let them fall listlessly
by his side in the utter abandonment of despair. Babalatchi,
looking at him curiously, was astonished to see him smile. A
strange fancy had taken possession of Almayer's brain, distracted
by this new misfortune. It seemed to him that for many years he
had been falling into a deep precipice. Day after day, month
after month, year after year, he had been falling, falling,
falling; it was a smooth, round, black thing, and the black walls
had been rushing upwards with wearisome rapidity. A great rush,
the noise of which he fancied he could hear yet; and now, with an
awful shock, he had reached the bottom, and behold! he was alive
and whole, and Dain was dead with all his bones broken. It
struck him as funny. A dead Malay; he had seen many dead Malays
without any emotion; and now he felt inclined to weep, but it was
over the fate of a white man he knew; a man that fell over a deep
precipice and did not die. He seemed somehow to himself to be
standing on one side, a little way off, looking at a certain
Almayer who was in great trouble. Poor, poor fellow! Why doesn't
he cut his throat? He wished to encourage him; he was very
anxious to see him lying dead over that other corpse. Why does
he not die and end this suffering? He groaned aloud unconsciously
and started with affright at the sound of his own voice. Was he
going mad? Terrified by the thought he turned away and ran
towards his house repeating to himself, I am not going mad; of
course not, no, no, no! He tried to keep a firm hold of the idea.
Not mad, not mad. He stumbled as he ran blindly up the steps
repeating fast and ever faster those words wherein seemed to lie
his salvation. He saw Nina standing there, and wished to say
something to her, but could not remember what, in his extreme
anxiety not to forget that he was not going mad, which he still
kept repeating mentally as he ran round the table, till he
stumbled against one of the arm-chairs and dropped into it
exhausted. He sat staring wildly at Nina, still assuring himself
mentally of his own sanity and wondering why the girl shrank from
him in open-eyed alarm. What was the matter with her? This was
foolish. He struck the table violently with his clenched fist
and shouted hoarsely, "Give me some gin! Run!" Then, while Nina
ran off, he remained in the chair, very still and quiet,
astonished at the noise he had made.
Nina returned with a tumbler half filled with gin, and found her
father staring absently before him. Almayer felt very tired now,
as if he had come from a long journey. He felt as if he had
walked miles and miles that morning and now wanted to rest very
much. He took the tumbler with a shaking hand, and as he drank
his teeth chattered against the glass which he drained and set
down heavily on the table. He turned his eyes slowly towards
Nina standing beside him, and said steadily--
"Now all is over, Nina. He is dead, and I may as well burn all
my boats."
He felt very proud of being able to speak so calmly. Decidedly
he was not going mad. This certitude was very comforting, and he
went on talking about the finding of the body, listening to his
own voice complacently. Nina stood quietly, her hand resting
lightly on her father's shoulder, her face unmoved, but every
line of her features, the attitude of her whole body expressing
the most keen and anxious attention.
"And so Dain is dead," she said coldly, when her father ceased
Almayer's elaborately calm demeanour gave way in a moment to an
outburst of violent indignation.
"You stand there as if you were only half alive, and talk to me,"
he exclaimed angrily, "as if it was a matter of no importance.
Yes, he is dead! Do you understand? Dead! What do you care?
You never cared; you saw me struggle, and work, and strive,
unmoved; and my suffering you could never see. No, never. You
have no heart, and you have no mind, or you would have understood
that it was for you, for your happiness I was working. I wanted
to be rich; I wanted to get away from here. I wanted to see
white men bowing low before the power of your beauty and your
wealth. Old as I am I wished to seek a strange land, a
civilisation to which I am a stranger, so as to find a new life
in the contemplation of your high fortunes, of your triumphs, of
your happiness. For that I bore patiently the burden of work, of
disappointment, of humiliation amongst these savages here, and I
had it all nearly in my grasp."
He looked at his daughter's attentive face and jumped to his feet
upsetting the chair.
"Do you hear? I had it all there; so; within reach of my hand."
He paused, trying to keep down his rising anger, and failed.
"Have you no feeling?" he went on. "Have you lived without
hope?" Nina's silence exasperated him; his voice rose, although
he tried to master his feelings.
"Are you content to live in this misery and die in this wretched
hole? Say something, Nina; have you no sympathy? Have you no
word of comfort for me? I that loved you so."
He waited for a while for an answer, and receiving none shook his
fist in his daughter's face.
"I believe you are an idiot!" he yelled.
He looked round for the chair, picked it up and sat down stiffly.
His anger was dead within him, and he felt ashamed of his
outburst, yet relieved to think that now he had laid clear before
his daughter the inner meaning of his life. He thought so in
perfect good faith, deceived by the emotional estimate of his
motives, unable to see the crookedness of his ways, the unreality
of his aims, the futility of his regrets. And now his heart was
filled only with a great tenderness and love for his daughter.
He wanted to see her miserable, and to share with her his
despair; but he wanted it only as all weak natures long for a
companionship in misfortune with beings innocent of its cause.
If she suffered herself she would understand and pity him; but
now she would not, or could not, find one word of comfort or love
for him in his dire extremity. The sense of his absolute
loneliness came home to his heart with a force that made him
shudder. He swayed and fell forward with his face on the table,
his arms stretched straight out, extended and rigid. Nina made a
quick movement towards her father and stood looking at the grey
head, on the broad shoulders shaken convulsively by the violence
of feelings that found relief at last in sobs and tears.
Nina sighed deeply and moved away from the table. Her features
lost the appearance of stony indifference that had exasperated
her father into his outburst of anger and sorrow. The expression
of her face, now unseen by her father, underwent a rapid change.
She had listened to Almayer's appeal for sympathy, for one word
of comfort, apparently indifferent, yet with her breast torn by
conflicting impulses raised unexpectedly by events she had not
foreseen, or at least did not expect to happen so soon. With her
heart deeply moved by the sight of Almayer's misery, knowing it
in her power to end it with a word, longing to bring peace to
that troubled heart, she heard with terror the voice of her
overpowering love commanding her to be silent. And she submitted
after a short and fierce struggle of her old self against the new
principle of her life. She wrapped herself up in absolute
silence, the only safeguard against some fatal admission. She
could not trust herself to make a sign, to murmur a word for fear
of saying too much; and the very violence of the feelings that
stirred the innermost recesses of her soul seemed to turn her
person into a stone. The dilated nostrils and the flashing eyes
were the only signs of the storm raging within, and those signs
of his daughter's emotion Almayer did not see, for his sight was
dimmed by self-pity, by anger, and by despair.
Had Almayer looked at his daughter as she leant over the front
rail of the verandah he could have seen the expression of
indifference give way to a look of pain, and that again pass
away, leaving the glorious beauty of her face marred by
deep-drawn lines of watchful anxiety. The long grass in the
neglected courtyard stood very straight before her eyes in the
noonday heat. From the river-bank there were voices and a
shuffle of bare feet approaching the house; Babalatchi could be
heard giving directions to Almayer's men, and Mrs. Almayer's
subdued wailing became audible as the small procession bearing
the body of the drowned man and headed by that sorrowful matron
turned the corner of the house. Babalatchi had taken the broken
anklet off the man's leg, and now held it in his hand as he moved
by the side of the bearers, while Mahmat lingered behind timidly,
in the hopes of the promised reward.
"Lay him there," said Babalatchi to Almayer's men, pointing to a
pile of drying planks in front of the verandah. "Lay him there.
He was a Kaffir and the son of a dog, and he was the white man's
friend. He drank the white man's strong water," he added, with
affected horror. "That I have seen myself."
The men stretched out the broken limbs on two planks they had
laid level, while Mrs. Almayer covered the body with a piece of
white cotton cloth, and after whispering for some time with
Babalatchi departed to her domestic duties. Almayer's men, after
laying down their burden, dispersed themselves in quest of shady
spots wherein to idle the day away. Babalatchi was left alone by
the corpse that laid rigid under the white cloth in the bright
Nina came down the steps and joined Babalatchi, who put his hand
to his forehead, and squatted down with great deference.
"You have a bangle there," said Nina, looking down on
Babalatchi's upturned face and into his solitary eye.
"I have, Mem Putih," returned the polite statesman. Then turning
towards Mahmat he beckoned him closer, calling out, "Come here!"
Mahmat approached with some hesitation. He avoided looking at
Nina, but fixed his eyes on Babalatchi.
"Now, listen," said Babalatchi, sharply. "The ring and the
anklet you have seen, and you know they belonged to Dain the
trader, and to no other. Dain returned last night in a canoe.
He spoke with the Rajah, and in the middle of the night left to
cross over to the white man's house. There was a great flood,
and this morning you found him in the river."
"By his feet I dragged him out," muttered Mahmat under his
breath. "Tuan Babalatchi, there will be a recompense!" he
exclaimed aloud.
Babalatchi held up the gold bangle before Mahmat's eyes. "What I
have told you, Mahmat, is for all ears. What I give you now is
for your eyes only. Take."
Mahmat took the bangle eagerly and hid it in the folds of his
waist-cloth. "Am I a fool to show this thing in a house with
three women in it?" he growled. "But I shall tell them about
Dain the trader, and there will be talk enough."
He turned and went away, increasing his pace as soon as he was
outside Almayer's compound.
Babalatchi looked after him till he disappeared behind the
bushes. "Have I done well, Mem Putih?" he asked, humbly
addressing Nina.
"You have," answered Nina. "The ring you may keep yourself."
Babalatchi touched his lips and forehead, and scrambled to his
feet. He looked at Nina, as if expecting her to say something
more, but Nina turned towards the house and went up the steps,
motioning him away with her hand.
Babalatchi picked up his staff and prepared to go. It was very
warm, and he did not care for the long pull to the Rajah's house.
Yet he must go and tell the Rajah--tell of the event; of the
change in his plans; of all his suspicions. He walked to the
jetty and began casting off the rattan painter of his canoe.
The broad expanse of the lower reach, with its shimmering surface
dotted by the black specks of the fishing canoes, lay before his
eyes. The fishermen seemed to be racing. Babalatchi paused in
his work, and looked on with sudden interest. The man in the
foremost canoe, now within hail of the first houses of Sambir,
laid in his paddle and stood up shouting--
"The boats! the boats! The man-of-war's boats are coming! They
are here!"
In a moment the settlement was again alive with people rushing to
the riverside. The men began to unfasten their boats, the women
stood in groups looking towards the bend down the river. Above
the trees lining the reach a slight puff of smoke appeared like a
black stain on the brilliant blue of the cloudless sky.
Babalatchi stood perplexed, the painter in his hand. He looked
down the reach, then up towards Almayer's house, and back again
at the river as if undecided what to do. At last he made the
canoe fast again hastily, and ran towards the house and up the
steps of the verandah.
"Tuan! Tuan!" he called, eagerly. "The boats are coming. The
man-of-war's boats. You had better get ready. The officers will
come here, I know."
Almayer lifted his head slowly from the table, and looked at him
"Mem Putih!" exclaimed Babalatchi to Nina, "look at him. He does
not hear. You must take care," he added meaningly.
Nina nodded to him with an uncertain smile, and was going to
speak, when a sharp report from the gun mounted in the bow of the
steam launch that was just then coming into view arrested the
words on her parted lips. The smile died out, and was replaced
by the old look of anxious attention. From the hills far away
the echo came back like a long-drawn and mournful sigh, as if the
land had sent it in answer to the voice of its masters.
The news as to the identity of the body lying now in Almayer's
compound spread rapidly over the settlement. During the forenoon
most of the inhabitants remained in the long street discussing
the mysterious return and the unexpected death of the man who had
become known to them as the trader. His arrival during the
north-east monsoon, his long sojourn in their midst, his sudden
departure with his brig, and, above all, the mysterious
appearance of the body, said to be his, amongst the logs, were
subjects to wonder at and to talk over and over again with
undiminished interest. Mahmat moved from house to house and from
group to group, always ready to repeat his tale: how he saw the
body caught by the sarong in a forked log; how Mrs. Almayer
coming, one of the first, at his cries, recognised it, even
before he had it hauled on shore; how Babalatchi ordered him to
bring it out of the water. "By the feet I dragged him in, and
there was no head," exclaimed Mahmat, "and how could the white
man's wife know who it was? She was a witch, it was well known.
And did you see how the white man himself ran away at the sight
of the body? Like a deer he ran!" And here Mahmat imitated
Almayer's long strides, to the great joy of the beholders. And
for all his trouble he had nothing. The ring with the green
stone Tuan Babalatchi kept. "Nothing! Nothing!" He spat down
at his feet in sign of disgust, and left that group to seek
further on a fresh audience.
The news spreading to the furthermost parts of the settlement
found out Abdulla in the cool recess of his godown, where he sat
overlooking his Arab clerks and the men loading and unloading the
up-country canoes. Reshid, who was busy on the jetty, was
summoned into his uncle's presence and found him, as usual, very
calm and even cheerful, but very much surprised. The rumour of
the capture or destruction of Dain's brig had reached the Arab's
ears three days before from the sea-fishermen and through the
dwellers on the lower reaches of the river. It had been passed
up-stream from neighbour to neighbour till Bulangi, whose
clearing was nearest to the settlement, had brought that news
himself to Abdulla whose favour he courted. But rumour also
spoke of a fight and of Dain's death on board his own vessel.
And now all the settlement talked of Dain's visit to the Rajah
and of his death when crossing the river in the dark to see
They could not understand this. Reshid thought that it was very
strange. He felt uneasy and doubtful. But Abdulla, after the
first shock of surprise, with the old age's dislike for solving
riddles, showed a becoming resignation. He remarked that the man
was dead now at all events, and consequently no more dangerous.
Where was the use to wonder at the decrees of Fate, especially if
they were propitious to the True Believers? And with a pious
ejaculation to Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate, Abdulla
seemed to regard the incident as closed for the present.
Not so Reshid. He lingered by his uncle, pulling thoughtfully
his neatly trimmed beard.
"There are many lies," he murmured. "He has been dead once
before, and came to life to die again now. The Dutch will be
here before many days and clamour for the man. Shall I not
believe my eyes sooner than the tongues of women and idle men?"
"They say that the body is being taken to Almayer's compound,"
said Abdulla. "If you want to go there you must go before the
Dutch arrive here. Go late. It should not be said that we have
been seen inside that man's enclosure lately."
Reshid assented to the truth of this last remark and left his
uncle's side. He leaned against the lintel of the big doorway
and looked idly across the courtyard through the open gate on to
the main road of the settlement. It lay empty, straight, and
yellow under the flood of light. In the hot noontide the smooth
trunks of palm trees, the outlines of the houses, and away there
at the other end of the road the roof of Almayer's house visible
over the bushes on the dark background of forest, seemed to
quiver in the heat radiating from the steaming earth. Swarms of
yellow butterflies rose, and settled to rise again in short
flights before Reshid's half-closed eyes. From under his feet
arose the dull hum of insects in the long grass of the courtyard.
He looked on sleepily.
From one of the side paths amongst the houses a woman stepped out
on the road, a slight girlish figure walking under the shade of a
large tray balanced on its head. The consciousness of something
moving stirred Reshid's half-sleeping senses into a comparative
wakefulness. He recognised Taminah, Bulangi's slave-girl, with
her tray of cakes for sale--an apparition of daily recurrence and
of no importance whatever. She was going towards Almayer's
house. She could be made useful. He roused himself up and ran
towards the gate calling out, "Taminah O!" The girl stopped,
hesitated, and came back slowly.
Reshid waited, signing to her impatiently to come nearer.
When near Reshid Taminah stood with downcast eyes. Reshid looked
at her a while before he asked--
"Are you going to Almayer's house? They say in the settlement
that Dain the trader, he that was found drowned this morning, is
lying in the white man's campong."
"I have heard this talk," whispered Taminah; "and this morning by
the riverside I saw the body. Where it is now I do not know."
"So you have seen it?" asked Reshid, eagerly. "Is it Dain? You
have seen him many times. You would know him."
The girl's lips quivered and she remained silent for a while,
breathing quickly.
"I have seen him, not a long time ago," she said at last. "The
talk is true; he is dead. What do you want from me, Tuan? I
must go."
Just then the report of the gun fired on board the steam launch
was heard, interrupting Reshid's reply. Leaving the girl he ran
to the house, and met in the courtyard Abdulla coming towards the
"The Orang Blanda are come," said Reshid, "and now we shall have
our reward."
Abdulla shook his head doubtfully. "The white men's rewards are
long in coming," he said. "White men are quick in anger and slow
in gratitude. We shall see."
He stood at the gate stroking his grey beard and listening to the
distant cries of greeting at the other end of the settlement. As
Taminah was turning to go he called her back
"Listen, girl," he said: "there will be many white men in
Almayer's house. You shall be there selling your cakes to the
men of the sea. What you see and what you hear you may tell me.
Come here before the sun sets and I will give you a blue
handkerchief with red spots. Now go, and forget not to return."
He gave her a push with the end of his long staff as she was
going away and made her stumble.
"This slave is very slow," he remarked to his nephew, looking
after the girl with great disfavour.
Taminah walked on, her tray on the head, her eyes fixed on the
ground. From the open doors of the houses were heard, as she
passed, friendly calls inviting her within for business purposes,
but she never heeded them, neglecting her sales in the
preoccupation of intense thinking. Since the very early morning
she had heard much, she had also seen much that filled her heart
with a joy mingled with great suffering and fear. Before the
dawn, before she left Bulangi's house to paddle up to Sambir she
had heard voices outside the house when all in it but herself
were asleep. And now, with her knowledge of the words spoken in
the darkness, she held in her hand a life and carried in her
breast a great sorrow. Yet from her springy step, erect figure,
and face veiled over by the everyday look of apathetic
indifference, nobody could have guessed of the double load she
carried under the visible burden of the tray piled up high with
cakes manufactured by the thrifty hands of Bulangi's wives. In
that supple figure straight as an arrow, so graceful and free in
its walk, behind those soft eyes that spoke of nothing but of
unconscious resignation, there slept all feelings and all
passions, all hopes and all fears, the curse of life and the
consolation of death. And she knew nothing of it all. She lived
like the tall palms amongst whom she was passing now, seeking the
light, desiring the sunshine, fearing the storm, unconscious of
either. The slave had no hope, and knew of no change. She knew
of no other sky, no other water, no other forest, no other world,
no other life. She had no wish, no hope, no love, no fear except
of a blow, and no vivid feeling but that of occasional hunger,
which was seldom, for Bulangi was rich and rice was plentiful in
the solitary house in his clearing. The absence of pain and
hunger was her happiness, and when she felt unhappy she was
simply tired, more than usual, after the day's labour. Then in
the hot nights of the south-west monsoon she slept dreamlessly
under the bright stars on the platform built outside the house
and over the river. Inside they slept too: Bulangi by the door;
his wives further in; the children with their mothers. She could
hear their breathing; Bulangi's sleepy voice; the sharp cry of a
child soon hushed with tender words. And she closed her eyes to
the murmur of the water below her, to the whisper of the warm
wind above, ignorant of the never-ceasing life of that tropical
nature that spoke to her in vain with the thousand faint voices
of the near forest, with the breath of tepid wind; in the heavy
scents that lingered around her head; in the white wraiths of
morning mist that hung over her in the solemn hush of all
creation before the dawn.
Such had been her existence before the coming of the brig with
the strangers. She remembered well that time; the uproar in the
settlement, the never-ending wonder, the days and nights of talk
and excitement. She remembered her own timidity with the strange
men, till the brig moored to the bank became in a manner part of
the settlement, and the fear wore off in the familiarity of
constant intercourse. The call on board then became part of her
daily round. She walked hesitatingly up the slanting planks of
the gangway amidst the encouraging shouts and more or less decent
jokes of the men idling over the bulwarks. There she sold her
wares to those men that spoke so loud and carried themselves so
free. There was a throng, a constant coming and going; calls
interchanged, orders given and executed with shouts; the rattle
of blocks, the flinging about of coils of rope. She sat out of
the way under the shade of the awning, with her tray before her,
the veil drawn well over her face, feeling shy amongst so many
men. She smiled at all buyers, but spoke to none, letting their
jests pass with stolid unconcern. She heard many tales told
around her of far-off countries, of strange customs, of events
stranger still. Those men were brave; but the most fearless of
them spoke of their chief with fear. Often the man they called
their master passed before her, walking erect and indifferent, in
the pride of youth, in the flash of rich dress, with a tinkle of
gold ornaments, while everybody stood aside watching anxiously
for a movement of his lips, ready to do his bidding. Then all
her life seemed to rush into her eyes, and from under her veil
she gazed at him, charmed, yet fearful to attract attention. One
day he noticed her and asked, "Who is that girl?" "A slave,
Tuan! A girl that sells cakes," a dozen voices replied together.
She rose in terror to run on shore, when he called her back; and
as she stood trembling with head hung down before him, he spoke
kind words, lifting her chin with his hand and looking into her
eyes with a smile. "Do not be afraid," he said. He never spoke
to her any more. Somebody called out from the river bank; he
turned away and forgot her existence. Taminah saw Almayer
standing on the shore with Nina on his arm. She heard Nina's
voice calling out gaily, and saw Dain's face brighten with joy as
he leaped on shore. She hated the sound of that voice ever
After that day she left off visiting Almayer's compound, and
passed the noon hours under the shade of the brig awning. She
watched for his coming with heart beating quicker and quicker, as
he approached, into a wild tumult of newly-aroused feelings of
joy and hope and fear that died away with Dain's retreating
figure, leaving her tired out, as if after a struggle, sitting
still for a long time in dreamy languor. Then she paddled home
slowly in the afternoon, often letting her canoe float with the
lazy stream in the quiet backwater of the river. The paddle hung
idle in the water as she sat in the stern, one hand supporting
her chin, her eyes wide open, listening intently to the
whispering of her heart that seemed to swell at last into a song
of extreme sweetness. Listening to that song she husked the rice
at home; it dulled her ears to the shrill bickerings of Bulangi's
wives, to the sound of angry reproaches addressed to herself.
And when the sun was near its setting she walked to the
bathing-place and heard it as she stood on the tender grass of
the low bank, her robe at her feet, and looked at the reflection
of her figure on the glass-like surface of the creek. Listening
to it she walked slowly back, her wet hair hanging over her
shoulders; laying down to rest under the bright stars, she closed
her eyes to the murmur of the water below, of the warm wind
above; to the voice of nature speaking through the faint noises
of the great forest, and to the song of her own heart.
She heard, but did not understand, and drank in the dreamy joy of
her new existence without troubling about its meaning or its end,
till the full consciousness of life came to her through pain and
anger. And she suffered horribly the first time she saw Nina's
long canoe drift silently past the sleeping house of Bulangi,
bearing the two lovers into the white mist of the great river.
Her jealousy and rage culminated into a paroxysm of physical pain
that left her lying panting on the river bank, in the dumb agony
of a wounded animal. But she went on moving patiently in the
enchanted circle of slavery, going through her task day after day
with all the pathos of the grief she could not express, even to
herself, locked within her breast. She shrank from Nina as she
would have shrunk from the sharp blade of a knife cutting into
her flesh, but she kept on visiting the brig to feed her dumb,
ignorant soul on her own despair. She saw Dain many times. He
never spoke, he never looked. Could his eyes see only one
woman's image? Could his ears hear only one woman's voice? He
never noticed her; not once.
And then he went away. She saw him and Nina for the last time on
that morning when Babalatchi, while visiting his fish baskets,
had his suspicions of the white man's daughter's love affair with
Dain confirmed beyond the shadow of doubt. Dain disappeared, and
Taminah's heart, where lay useless and barren the seeds of all
love and of all hate, the possibilities of all passions and of
all sacrifices, forgot its joys and its sufferings when deprived
of the help of the senses. Her half-formed, savage mind, the
slave of her body--as her body was the slave of another's
will--forgot the faint and vague image of the ideal that had
found its beginning in the physical promptings of her savage
nature. She dropped back into the torpor of her former life and
found consolation--even a certain kind of happiness--in the
thought that now Nina and Dain were separated, probably for ever.
He would forget. This thought soothed the last pangs of dying
jealousy that had nothing now to feed upon, and Taminah found
peace. It was like the dreary tranquillity of a desert, where
there is peace only because there is no life.
And now he had returned. She had recognised his voice calling
aloud in the night for Bulangi. She had crept out after her
master to listen closer to the intoxicating sound. Dain was
there, in a boat, talking to Bulangi. Taminah, listening with
arrested breath, heard another voice. The maddening joy, that
only a second before she thought herself incapable of containing
within her fast-beating heart, died out, and left her shivering
in the old anguish of physical pain that she had suffered once
before at the sight of Dain and Nina. Nina spoke now, ordering
and entreating in turns, and Bulangi was refusing, expostulating,
at last consenting. He went in to take a paddle from the heap
lying behind the door. Outside the murmur of two voices went on,
and she caught a word here and there. She understood that he was
fleeing from white men, that he was seeking a hiding-place, that
he was in some danger. But she heard also words which woke the
rage of jealousy that had been asleep for so many days in her
bosom. Crouching low on the mud in the black darkness amongst
the piles, she heard the whisper in the boat that made light of
toil, of privation, of danger, of life itself, if in exchange
there could be but a short moment of close embrace, a look from
the eyes, the feel of light breath, the touch of soft lips. So
spoke Dain as he sat in the canoe holding Nina's hands while
waiting for Bulangi's return; and Taminah, supporting herself by
the slimy pile, felt as if a heavy weight was crushing her down,
down into the black oily water at her feet. She wanted to cry
out; to rush at them and tear their vague shadows apart; to throw
Nina into the smooth water, cling to her close, hold her to the
bottom where that man could not find her. She could not cry, she
could not move. Then footsteps were heard on the bamboo platform
above her head; she saw Bulangi get into his smallest canoe and
take the lead, the other boat following, paddled by Dain and
Nina. With a slight splash of the paddles dipped stealthily into
the water, their indistinct forms passed before her aching eyes
and vanished in the darkness of the creek.
She remained there in the cold and wet, powerless to move,
breathing painfully under the crushing weight that the mysterious
hand of Fate had laid so suddenly upon her slender shoulders, and
shivering, she felt within a burning fire, that seemed to feed
upon her very life. When the breaking day had spread a pale
golden ribbon over the black outline of the forests, she took up
her tray and departed towards the settlement, going about her
task purely from the force of habit. As she approached Sambir
she could see the excitement and she heard with momentary
surprise of the finding of Dain's body. It was not true, of
course. She knew it well. She regretted that he was not dead.
She should have liked Dain to be dead, so as to be parted from
that woman--from all women. She felt a strong desire to see
Nina, but without any clear object. She hated her, and feared
her and she felt an irresistible impulse pushing her towards
Almayer's house to see the white woman's face, to look close at
those eyes, to hear again that voice, for the sound of which Dain
was ready to risk his liberty, his life even. She had seen her
many times; she had heard her voice daily for many months past.
What was there in her? What was there in that being to make a
man speak as Dain had spoken, to make him blind to all other
faces, deaf to all other voices?
She left the crowd by the riverside, and wandered aimlessly among
the empty houses, resisting the impulse that pushed her towards
Almayer's campong to seek there in Nina's eyes the secret of her
own misery. The sun mounting higher, shortened the shadows and
poured down upon her a flood of light and of stifling heat as she
passed on from shadow to light, from light to shadow, amongst the
houses, the bushes, the tall trees, in her unconscious flight
from the pain in her own heart. In the extremity of her distress
she could find no words to pray for relief, she knew of no heaven
to send her prayer to, and she wandered on with tired feet in the
dumb surprise and terror at the injustice of the suffering
inflicted upon her without cause and without redress.
The short talk with Reshid, the proposal of Abdulla steadied her
a little and turned her thoughts into another channel. Dain was
in some danger. He was hiding from white men. So much she had
overheard last night. They all thought him dead. She knew he
was alive, and she knew of his hiding-place. What did the Arabs
want to know about the white men? The white men want with Dain?
Did they wish to kill him? She could tell them all--no, she
would say nothing, and in the night she would go to him and sell
him his life for a word, for a smile, for a gesture even, and be
his slave in far-off countries, away from Nina. But there were
dangers. The one-eyed Babalatchi who knew everything; the white
man's wife--she was a witch. Perhaps they would tell. And then
there was Nina. She must hurry on and see.
In her impatience she left the path and ran towards Almayer's
dwelling through the undergrowth between the palm trees. She
came out at the back of the house, where a narrow ditch, full of
stagnant water that overflowed from the river, separated
Almayer's campong from the rest of the settlement. The thick
bushes growing on the bank were hiding from her sight the large
courtyard with its cooking shed. Above them rose several thin
columns of smoke, and from behind the sound of strange voices
informed Taminah that the Men of the Sea belonging to the warship
had already landed and were camped between the ditch and the
house. To the left one of Almayer's slave-girls came down to the
ditch and bent over the shiny water, washing a kettle. To the
right the tops of the banana plantation, visible above the
bushes, swayed and shook under the touch of invisible hands
gathering the fruit. On the calm water several canoes moored to
a heavy stake were crowded together, nearly bridging the ditch
just at the place where Taminah stood. The voices in the
courtyard rose at times into an outburst of calls, replies, and
laughter, and then died away into a silence that soon was broken
again by a fresh clamour. Now and again the thin blue smoke
rushed out thicker and blacker, and drove in odorous masses over
the creek, wrapping her for a moment in a suffocating veil; then,
as the fresh wood caught well alight, the smoke vanished in the
bright sunlight, and only the scent of aromatic wood drifted
afar, to leeward of the crackling fires.
Taminah rested her tray on a stump of a tree, and remained
standing with her eyes turned towards Almayer's house, whose roof
and part of a whitewashed wall were visible over the bushes. The
slave-girl finished her work, and after looking for a while
curiously at Taminah, pushed her way through the dense thicket
back to the courtyard. Round Taminah there was now a complete
solitude. She threw herself down on the ground, and hid her face
in her hands. Now when so close she had no courage to see Nina.
At every burst of louder voices from the courtyard she shivered
in the fear of hearing Nina's voice. She came to the resolution
of waiting where she was till dark, and then going straight to
Dain's hiding-place. From where she was she could watch the
movements of white men, of Nina, of all Dain's friends, and of
all his enemies. Both were hateful alike to her, for both would
take him away beyond her reach. She hid herself in the long
grass to wait anxiously for the sunset that seemed so slow to
On the other side of the ditch, behind the bush, by the clear
fires, the seamen of the frigate had encamped on the hospitable
invitation of Almayer. Almayer, roused out of his apathy by the
prayers and importunity of Nina, had managed to get down in time
to the jetty so as to receive the officers at their landing. The
lieutenant in command accepted his invitation to his house with
the remark that in any case their business was with Almayer--and
perhaps not very pleasant, he added. Almayer hardly heard him.
He shook hands with them absently and led the way towards the
house. He was scarcely conscious of the polite words of welcome
he greeted the strangers with, and afterwards repeated several
times over again in his efforts to appear at ease. The agitation
of their host did not escape the officer's eyes, and the chief
confided to his subordinate, in a low voice, his doubts as to
Almayer's sobriety. The young sub-lieutenant laughed and
expressed in a whisper the hope that the white man was not
intoxicated enough to neglect the offer of some refreshments.
"He does not seem very dangerous," he added, as they followed
Almayer up the steps of the verandah.
"No, he seems more of a fool than a knave; I have heard of him,"
returned the senior.
They sat around the table. Almayer with shaking hands made gin
cocktails, offered them all round, and drank himself, with every
gulp feeling stronger, steadier, and better able to face all the
difficulties of his position. Ignorant of the fate of the brig
he did not suspect the real object of the officer's visit. He
had a general notion that something must have leaked out about
the gunpowder trade, but apprehended nothing beyond some
temporary inconveniences. After emptying his glass he began to
chat easily, lying back in his chair with one of his legs thrown
negligently over the arm. The lieutenant astride on his chair, a
glowing cheroot in the corner of his mouth, listened with a sly
smile from behind the thick volumes of smoke that escaped from
his compressed lips. The young sub-lieutenant, leaning with both
elbows on the table, his head between his hands, looked on
sleepily in the torpor induced by fatigue and the gin. Almayer
talked on--
"It is a great pleasure to see white faces here. I have lived
here many years in great solitude. The Malays, you understand,
are not company for a white man; moreover they are not friendly;
they do not understand our ways. Great rascals they are. I
believe I am the only white man on the east coast that is a
settled resident. We get visitors from Macassar or Singapore
sometimes--traders, agents, or explorers, but they are rare.
There was a scientific explorer here a year or more ago. He
lived in my house: drank from morning to night. He lived
joyously for a few months, and when the liquor he brought with
him was gone he returned to Batavia with a report on the mineral
wealth of the interior. Ha, ha, ha! Good, is it not?"
He ceased abruptly and looked at his guests with a meaningless
stare. While they laughed he was reciting to himself the old
story: "Dain dead, all my plans destroyed. This is the end of
all hope and of all things." His heart sank within him. He felt
a kind of deadly sickness.
"Very good. Capital!" exclaimed both officers. Almayer came out
of his despondency with another burst of talk.
"Eh! what about the dinner? You have got a cook with you.
That's all right. There is a cooking shed in the other
courtyard. I can give you a goose. Look at my geese--the only
geese on the east coast--perhaps on the whole island. Is that
your cook? Very good. Here, Ali, show this Chinaman the cooking
place and tell Mem Almayer to let him have room there. My wife,
gentlemen, does not come out; my daughter may. Meantime have
some more drink. It is a hot day."
The lieutenant took the cigar out of his mouth, looked at the ash
critically, shook it off and turned towards Almayer.
"We have a rather unpleasant business with you," he said.
"I am sorry," returned Almayer. "It can be nothing very serious,
"If you think an attempt to blow up forty men at least, not a
serious matter you will not find many people of your opinion,"
retorted the officer sharply.
"Blow up! What? I know nothing about it" exclaimed Almayer.
"Who did that, or tried to do it?"
"A man with whom you had some dealings," answered the lieutenant.
"He passed here under the name of Dain Maroola. You sold him the
gunpowder he had in that brig we captured."
"How did you hear about the brig?" asked Almayer. "I know
nothing about the powder he may have had."
"An Arab trader of this place has sent the information about your
goings on here to Batavia, a couple of months ago," said the
officer. "We were waiting for the brig outside, but he slipped
past us at the mouth of the river, and we had to chase the fellow
to the southward. When he sighted us he ran inside the reefs and
put the brig ashore. The crew escaped in boats before we could
take possession. As our boats neared the craft it blew up with a
tremendous explosion; one of the boats being too near got
swamped. Two men drowned--that is the result of your
speculation, Mr. Almayer. Now we want this Dain. We have good
grounds to suppose he is hiding in Sambir. Do you know
where he is? You had better put yourself right with the
authorities as much as possible by being perfectly frank with me.
Where is this Dain?"
Almayer got up and walked towards the balustrade of the verandah.
He seemed not to be thinking of the officer's question. He
looked at the body laying straight and rigid under its white
cover on which the sun, declining amongst the clouds to the
westward, threw a pale tinge of red. The lieutenant waited for
the answer, taking quick pulls at his half-extinguished cigar.
Behind them Ali moved noiselessly laying the table, ranging
solemnly the ill-assorted and shabby crockery, the tin spoons,
the forks with broken prongs, and the knives with saw-like blades
and loose handles. He had almost forgotten how to prepare the
table for white men. He felt aggrieved; Mem Nina would not help
him. He stepped back to look at his work admiringly, feeling
very proud. This must be right; and if the master afterwards is
angry and swears, then so much the worse for Mem Nina. Why did
she not help? He left the verandah to fetch the dinner.
"Well, Mr. Almayer, will you answer my question as frankly as it
is put to you?" asked the lieutenant, after a long silence.
Almayer turned round and looked at his interlocutor steadily.
"If you catch this Dain what will you do with him?" he asked.
The officer's face flushed. "This is not an answer," he said,
"And what will you do with me?" went on Almayer, not heeding the
"Are you inclined to bargain?" growled the other. "It would be
bad policy, I assure you. At present I have no orders about your
person, but we expected your assistance in catching this Malay."
"Ah!" interrupted Almayer, "just so: you can do nothing without
me, and I, knowing the man well, am to help you in finding him."
"This is exactly what we expect," assented the officer. "You
have broken the law, Mr. Almayer, and you ought to make amends."
"And save myself?"
"Well, in a sense yes. Your head is not in any danger," said the
lieutenant, with a short laugh.
"Very well," said Almayer, with decision, "I shall deliver the
man up to you."
Both officers rose to their feet quickly, and looked for their
side-arms which they had unbuckled. Almayer laughed harshly.
"Steady, gentlemen!" he exclaimed. "In my own time and in my own
way. After dinner, gentlemen, you shall have him."
"This is preposterous," urged the lieutenant. "Mr. Almayer, this
is no joking matter. The man is a criminal. He deserves to
hang. While we dine he may escape; the rumour of our arrival--"
Almayer walked towards the table. "I give you my word of honour,
gentlemen, that he shall not escape; I have him safe enough."
"The arrest should be effected before dark," remarked the young
"I shall hold you responsible for any failure. We are ready, but
can do nothing just now without you," added the senior, with
evident annoyance.
Almayer made a gesture of assent. "On my word of honour," he
repeated vaguely. "And now let us dine," he added briskly.
Nina came through the doorway and stood for a moment holding the
curtain aside for Ali and the old Malay woman bearing the dishes;
then she moved towards the three men by the table.
"Allow me," said Almayer, pompously. "This is my daughter.
Nina, these gentlemen, officers of the frigate outside, have done
me the honour to accept my hospitality."
Nina answered the low bows of the two officers by a slow
inclination of the head and took her place at the table opposite
her father. All sat down. The coxswain of the steam launch came
up carrying some bottles of wine.
"You will allow me to have this put upon the table?" said the
lieutenant to Almayer.
"What! Wine! You are very kind. Certainly, I have none myself.
Times are very hard."
The last words of his reply were spoken by Almayer in a faltering
voice. The thought that Dain was dead recurred to him vividly
again, and he felt as if an invisible hand was gripping his
throat. He reached for the gin bottle while they were uncorking
the wine and swallowed a big gulp. The lieutenant, who was
speaking to Nina, gave him a quick glance. The young sub began
to recover from the astonishment and confusion caused by Nina's
unexpected appearance and great beauty. "She was very beautiful
and imposing," he reflected, "but after all a half-caste girl."
This thought caused him to pluck up heart and look at Nina
sideways. Nina, with composed face, was answering in a low, even
voice the elder officer's polite questions as to the country and
her mode of life. Almayer pushed his plate away and drank his
guest's wine in gloomy silence.
"Can I believe what you tell me? It is like a tale for men that
listen only half awake by the camp fire, and it seems to have run
off a woman's tongue."
"Who is there here for me to deceive, O Rajah?" answered
Babalatchi. "Without you I am nothing. All I have told you I
believe to be true. I have been safe for many years in the
hollow of your hand. This is no time to harbour suspicions. The
danger is very great. We should advise and act at once, before
the sun sets."
"Right. Right," muttered Lakamba, pensively.
They had been sitting for the last hour together in the audience
chamber of the Rajah's house, for Babalatchi, as soon as he had
witnessed the landing of the Dutch officers, had crossed the
river to report to his master the events of the morning, and to
confer with him upon the line of conduct to pursue in the face of
altered circumstances. They were both puzzled and frightened by
the unexpected turn the events had taken. The Rajah, sitting
crosslegged on his chair, looked fixedly at the floor; Babalatchi
was squatting close by in an attitude of deep dejection.
"And where did you say he is hiding now?" asked Lakamba, breaking
at last the silence full of gloomy forebodings in which they both
had been lost for a long while.
"In Bulangi's clearing--the furthest one, away from the house.
They went there that very night. The white man's daughter took
him there. She told me so herself, speaking to me openly, for
she is half white and has no decency. She said she was waiting
for him while he was here; then, after a long time, he came out
of the darkness and fell at her feet exhausted. He lay like one
dead, but she brought him back to life in her arms, and made him
breathe again with her own breath. That is what she said,
speaking to my face, as I am speaking now to you, Rajah. She is
like a white woman and knows no shame."
He paused, deeply shocked. Lakamba nodded his head. "Well, and
then?" he asked.
"They called the old woman," went on Babalatchi, "and he told
them all--about the brig, and how he tried to kill many men. He
knew the Orang Blanda were very near, although he had said
nothing to us about that; he knew his great danger. He thought
he had killed many, but there were only two dead, as I have heard
from the men of the sea that came in the warship's boats."
"And the other man, he that was found in the river?" interrupted
"That was one of his boatmen. When his canoe was overturned by
the logs those two swam together, but the other man must have
been hurt. Dain swam, holding him up. He left him in the bushes
when he went up to the house. When they all came down his heart
had ceased to beat; then the old woman spoke; Dain thought it was
good. He took off his anklet and broke it, twisting it round the
man's foot. His ring he put on that slave's hand. He took off
his sarong and clothed that thing that wanted no clothes, the two
women holding it up meanwhile, their intent being to deceive all
eyes and to mislead the minds in the settlement, so that they
could swear to the thing that was not, and that there could be no
treachery when the white-men came. Then Dain and the white woman
departed to call up Bulangi and find a hiding-place. The old
woman remained by the body."
"Hai!" exclaimed Lakamba. "She has wisdom."
"Yes, she has a Devil of her own to whisper counsel in her ear,"
assented Babalatchi. "She dragged the body with great toil to
the point where many logs were stranded. All these things were
done in the darkness after the storm had passed away. Then she
waited. At the first sign of daylight she battered the face of
the dead with a heavy stone, and she pushed him amongst the logs.
She remained near, watching. At sunrise Mahmat Banjer came and
found him. They all believed; I myself was deceived, but not for
long. The white man believed, and, grieving, fled to his house.
When we were alone I, having doubts, spoke to the woman, and she,
fearing my anger and your might, told me all, asking for help in
saving Dain."
"He must not fall into the hands of the Orang Blanda," said
Lakamba; "but let him die, if the thing can be done quietly."
"It cannot, Tuan! Remember there is that woman who, being half
white, is ungovernable, and would raise a great outcry. Also the
officers are here. They are angry enough already. Dain must
escape; he must go. We must help him now for our own safety."
"Are the officers very angry?" inquired Lakamba, with interest.
"They are. The principal chief used strong words when speaking
to me--to me when I salaamed in your name. I do not think,"
added Babalatchi, after a short pause and looking very
worried--"I do not think I saw a white chief so angry before. He
said we were careless or even worse. He told me he would speak
to the Rajah, and that I was of no account."
"Speak to the Rajah!" repeated Lakamba, thoughtfully. "Listen,
Babalatchi: I am sick, and shall withdraw; you cross over and
tell the white men."
"Yes," said Babalatchi, "I am going over at once; and as to
"You get him away as you can best. This is a great trouble in my
heart," sighed Lakamba.
Babalatchi got up, and, going close to his master, spoke
"There is one of our praus at the southern mouth of the river.
The Dutch warship is to the northward watching the main entrance.
I shall send Dain off to-night in a canoe, by the hidden
channels, on board the prau. His father is a great prince, and
shall hear of our generosity. Let the prau take him to Ampanam.
Your glory shall be great, and your reward in powerful
friendship. Almayer will no doubt deliver the dead body as
Dain's to the officers, and the foolish white men shall say,
'This is very good; let there be peace.' And the trouble shall be
removed from your heart, Rajah."
"True! true!" said Lakamba.
"And, this being accomplished by me who am your slave, you shall
reward with a generous hand. That I know! The white man is
grieving for the lost treasure, in the manner of white men who
thirst after dollars. Now, when all other things are in order,
we shall perhaps obtain the treasure from the white man. Dain
must escape, and Almayer must live."
"Now go, Babalatchi, go!" said Lakamba, getting off his chair.
"I am very sick, and want medicine. Tell the white chief so."
But Babalatchi was not to be got rid of in this summary manner.
He knew that his master, after the manner of the great, liked to
shift the burden of toil and danger on to his servants'
shoulders, but in the difficult straits in which they were now
the Rajah must play his part. He may be very sick for the white
men, for all the world if he liked, as long as he would take upon
himself the execution of part at least of Babalatchi's carefully
thought-of plan. Babalatchi wanted a big canoe manned by twelve
men to be sent out after dark towards Bulangi's clearing. Dain
may have to be overpowered. A man in love cannot be expected to
see clearly the path of safety if it leads him away from the
object of his affections, argued Babalatchi, and in that case
they would have to use force in order to make him go. Would the
Rajah see that trusty men manned the canoe? The thing must be
done secretly. Perhaps the Rajah would come himself, so as to
bring all the weight of his authority to bear upon Dain if he
should prove obstinate and refuse to leave his hiding-place. The
Rajah would not commit himself to a definite promise, and
anxiously pressed Babalatchi to go, being afraid of the white men
paying him an unexpected visit. The aged statesman reluctantly
took his leave and went into the courtyard.
Before going down to his boat Babalatchi stopped for a while in
the big open space where the thick-leaved trees put black patches
of shadow which seemed to float on a flood of smooth, intense
light that rolled up to the houses and down to the stockade and
over the river, where it broke and sparkled in thousands of
glittering wavelets, like a band woven of azure and gold edged
with the brilliant green of the forests guarding both banks of
the Pantai. In the perfect calm before the coming of the
afternoon breeze the irregularly jagged line of tree-tops stood
unchanging, as if traced by an unsteady hand on the clear blue of
the hot sky. In the space sheltered by the high palisades there
lingered the smell of decaying blossoms from the surrounding
forest, a taint of drying fish; with now and then a whiff of
acrid smoke from the cooking fires when it eddied down from under
the leafy boughs and clung lazily about the burnt-up grass.
As Babalatchi looked up at the flagstaff over-topping a group of
low trees in the middle of the courtyard, the tricolour flag of
the Netherlands stirred slightly for the first time since it had
been hoisted that morning on the arrival of the man-of-war boats.
With a faint rustle of trees the breeze came down in light puffs,
playing capriciously for a time with this emblem of Lakamba's
power, that was also the mark of his servitude; then the breeze
freshened in a sharp gust of wind, and the flag flew out straight
and steady above the trees. A dark shadow ran along the river,
rolling over and covering up the sparkle of declining sunlight.
A big white cloud sailed slowly across the darkening sky, and
hung to the westward as if waiting for the sun to join it there.
Men and things shook off the torpor of the hot afternoon and
stirred into life under the first breath of the sea breeze.
Babalatchi hurried down to the water-gate; yet before he passed
through it he paused to look round the courtyard, with its light
and shade, with its cheery fires, with the groups of Lakamba's
soldiers and retainers scattered about. His own house stood
amongst the other buildings in that enclosure, and the statesman
of Sambir asked himself with a sinking heart when and how would
it be given him to return to that house. He had to deal with a
man more dangerous than any wild beast of his experience: a proud
man, a man wilful after the manner of princes, a man in love.
And he was going forth to speak to that man words of cold and
worldly wisdom. Could anything be more appalling? What if that
man should take umbrage at some fancied slight to his honour or
disregard of his affections and suddenly "amok"? The wise
adviser would be the first victim, no doubt, and death would be
his reward. And underlying the horror of this situation there
was the danger of those meddlesome fools, the white men. A
vision of comfortless exile in far-off Madura rose up before
Babalatchi. Wouldn't that be worse than death itself? And there
was that half-white woman with threatening eyes. How could he
tell what an incomprehensible creature of that sort would or
would not do? She knew so much that she made the killing of Dain
an impossibility. That much was certain. And yet the sharp,
rough-edged kriss is a good and discreet friend, thought
Babalatchi, as he examined his own lovingly, and put it back in
the sheath, with a sigh of regret, before unfastening his canoe.
As he cast off the painter, pushed out into the stream, and took
up his paddle, he realised vividly how unsatisfactory it was to
have women mixed up in state affairs. Young women, of course.
For Mrs. Almayer's mature wisdom, and for the easy aptitude in
intrigue that comes with years to the feminine mind, he felt the
most sincere respect.
He paddled leisurely, letting the canoe drift down as he crossed
towards the point. The sun was high yet, and nothing pressed.
His work would commence only with the coming of darkness.
Avoiding the Lingard jetty, he rounded the point, and paddled up
the creek at the back of Almayer's house. There were many canoes
lying there, their noses all drawn together, fastened all to the
same stake. Babalatchi pushed his little craft in amongst them
and stepped on shore. On the other side of the ditch something
moved in the grass.
"Who's that hiding?" hailed Babalatchi. "Come out and speak to
Nobody answered. Babalatchi crossed over, passing from boat to
boat, and poked his staff viciously in the suspicious place.
Taminah jumped up with a cry.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, surprised. "I have nearly
stepped on your tray. Am I a Dyak that you should hide at my
"I was weary, and--I slept," whispered Taminah, confusedly.
"You slept! You have not sold anything to-day, and you will be
beaten when you return home," said Babalatchi.
Taminah stood before him abashed and silent. Babalatchi looked
her over carefully with great satisfaction. Decidedly he would
offer fifty dollars more to that thief Bulangi. The girl pleased
"Now you go home. It is late," he said sharply. "Tell Bulangi
that I shall be near his house before the night is half over, and
that I want him to make all things ready for a long journey. You
understand? A long journey to the southward. Tell him that
before sunset, and do not forget my words."
Taminah made a gesture of assent, and watched Babalatchi recross
the ditch and disappear through the bushes bordering Almayer's
compound. She moved a little further off the creek and sank in
the grass again, lying down on her face, shivering in dry-eyed
Babalatchi walked straight towards the cooking-shed looking for
Mrs. Almayer. The courtyard was in a great uproar. A strange
Chinaman had possession of the kitchen fire and was noisily
demanding another saucepan. He hurled objurgations, in the
Canton dialect and bad Malay, against the group of slave-girls
standing a little way off, half frightened, half amused, at his
violence. From the camping fires round which the seamen of the
frigate were sitting came words of encouragement, mingled with
laughter and jeering. In the midst of this noise and confusion
Babalatchi met Ali, an empty dish in his hand.
"Where are the white men?" asked Babalatchi.
"They are eating in the front verandah," answered Ali. "Do not
stop me, Tuan. I am giving the white men their food and am
"Where's Mem Almayer?"
"Inside in the passage. She is listening to the talk."
Ali grinned and passed on; Babalatchi ascended the plankway to
the rear verandah, and beckoning out Mrs. Almayer, engaged her in
earnest conversation. Through the long passage, closed at the
further end by the red curtain, they could hear from time to time
Almayer's voice mingling in conversation with an abrupt loudness
that made Mrs. Almayer look significantly at Babalatchi.
"Listen," she said. "He has drunk much."
"He has," whispered Babalatchi. "He will sleep heavily
Mrs. Almayer looked doubtful.
"Sometimes the devil of strong gin makes him keep awake, and he
walks up and down the verandah all night, cursing; then we stand
afar off," explained Mrs. Almayer, with the fuller knowledge born
of twenty odd years of married life.
"But then he does not hear, nor understand, and his hand, of
course, has no strength. We do not want him to hear to-night."
"No," assented Mrs. Almayer, energetically, but in a cautiously
subdued voice. "If he hears he will kill."
Babalatchi looked incredulous.
"Hai Tuan, you may believe me. Have I not lived many years with
that man? Have I not seen death in that man's eyes more than
once when I was younger and he guessed at many things. Had he
been a man of my own people I would not have seen such a look
twice; but he--"
With a contemptuous gesture she seemed to fling unutterable scorn
on Almayer's weak-minded aversion to sudden bloodshed.
"If he has the wish but not the strength, then what do we fear?"
asked Babalatchi, after a short silence during which they both
listened to Almayer's loud talk till it subsided into the murmur
of general conversation. "What do we fear?" repeated Babalatchi
"To keep the daughter whom he loves he would strike into your
heart and mine without hesitation," said Mrs. Almayer. "When the
girl is gone he will be like the devil unchained. Then you and I
had better beware."
"I am an old man and fear not death," answered Babalatchi, with a
mendacious assumption of indifference. "But what will you do?"
"I am an old woman, and wish to live," retorted Mrs. Almayer.
"She is my daughter also. I shall seek safety at the feet of our
Rajah, speaking in the name of the past when we both were young,
and he--"
Babalatchi raised his hand.
"Enough. You shall be protected," he said soothingly.
Again the sound of Almayer's voice was heard, and again
interrupting their talk, they listened to the confused but loud
utterance coming in bursts of unequal strength, with unexpected
pauses and noisy repetitions that made some words and sentences
fall clear and distinct on their ears out of the meaningless
jumble of excited shoutings emphasised by the thumping of
Almayer's fist upon the table. On the short intervals of
silence, the high complaining note of tumblers, standing close
together and vibrating to the shock, lingered, growing fainter,
till it leapt up again into tumultuous ringing, when a new idea
started a new rush of words and brought down the heavy hand
again. At last the quarrelsome shouting ceased, and the thin
plaint of disturbed glass died away into reluctant quietude.
Babalatchi and Mrs. Almayer had listened curiously, their bodies
bent and their ears turned towards the passage. At every louder
shout they nodded at each other with a ridiculous affectation of
scandalised propriety, and they remained in the same attitude for
some time after the noise had ceased.
"This is the devil of gin," whispered Mrs. Almayer. "Yes; he
talks like that sometimes when there is nobody to hear him."
"What does he say?" inquired Babalatchi, eagerly. "You ought to
"I have forgotten their talk. A little I understood. He spoke
without any respect of the white ruler in Batavia, and of
protection, and said he had been wronged; he said that several
times. More I did not understand. Listen! Again he speaks!"
"Tse! tse! tse!" clicked Babalatchi, trying to appear shocked,
but with a joyous twinkle of his solitary eye. "There will be
great trouble between those white men. I will go round now and
see. You tell your daughter that there is a sudden and a long
journey before her, with much glory and splendour at the end.
And tell her that Dain must go, or he must die, and that he will
not go alone."
"No, he will not go alone," slowly repeated Mrs. Almayer, with a
thoughtful air, as she crept into the passage after seeing
Babalatchi disappear round the corner of the house.
The statesman of Sambir, under the impulse of vivid curiosity,
made his way quickly to the front of the house, but once there he
moved slowly and cautiously as he crept step by step up the
stairs of the verandah. On the highest step he sat down quietly,
his feet on the steps below, ready for flight should his presence
prove unwelcome. He felt pretty safe so. The table stood nearly
endways to him, and he saw Almayer's back; at Nina he looked full
face, and had a side view of both officers; but of the four
persons sitting at the table only Nina and the younger officer
noticed his noiseless arrival. The momentary dropping of Nina's
eyelids acknowledged Babalatchi's presence; she then spoke at
once to the young sub, who turned towards her with attentive
alacrity, but her gaze was fastened steadily on her father's face
while Almayer was speaking uproariously.
" . . . disloyalty and unscrupulousness! What have you ever done
to make me loyal? You have no grip on this country. I had to
take care of myself, and when I asked for protection I was met
with threats and contempt, and had Arab slander thrown in my
face. I! a white man!"
"Don't be violent, Almayer," remonstrated the lieutenant; "I have
heard all this already."
"Then why do you talk to me about scruples? I wanted money, and
I gave powder in exchange. How could I know that some of your
wretched men were going to be blown up? Scruples! Pah!"
He groped unsteadily amongst the bottles, trying one after
another, grumbling to himself the while.
"No more wine," he muttered discontentedly.
"You have had enough, Almayer," said the lieutenant, as he
lighted a cigar. "Is it not time to deliver to us your prisoner?
I take it you have that Dain Maroola stowed away safely
somewhere. Still we had better get that business over, and then
we shall have more drink. Come! don't look at me like this."
Almayer was staring with stony eyes, his trembling fingers
fumbling about his throat.
"Gold," he said with difficulty. "Hem! A hand on the windpipe,
you know. Sure you will excuse. I wanted to say--a little gold
for a little powder. What's that?"
"I know, I know," said the lieutenant soothingly.
"No! You don't know. Not one of you knows!" shouted Almayer.
"The government is a fool, I tell you. Heaps of gold. I am the
man that knows; I and another one. But he won't speak. He is--"
He checked himself with a feeble smile, and, making an
unsuccessful attempt to pat the officer on the shoulder, knocked
over a couple of empty bottles.
"Personally you are a fine fellow," he said very distinctly, in a
patronising manner. His head nodded drowsily as he sat muttering
to himself.
The two officers looked at each other helplessly.
"This won't do," said the lieutenant, addressing his junior.
"Have the men mustered in the compound here. I must get some
sense out of him. Hi! Almayer! Wake up, man. Redeem your word.
You gave your word. You gave your word of honour, you know."
Almayer shook off the officer's hand with impatience, but his
ill-humour vanished at once, and he looked up, putting his
forefinger to the side of his nose.
"You are very young; there is time for all things," he said, with
an air of great sagacity.
The lieutenant turned towards Nina, who, leaning back in her
chair, watched her father steadily.
"Really I am very much distressed by all this for your sake," he
exclaimed. "I do not know;" he went on, speaking with some
embarrassment, "whether I have any right to ask you anything,
unless, perhaps, to withdraw from this painful scene, but I feel
that I must--for your father's good--suggest that you should--I
mean if you have any influence over him you ought to exert it now
to make him keep the promise he gave me before he--before he got
into this state."
He observed with discouragement that she seemed not to take any
notice of what he said sitting still with half-closed eyes.
"I trust--" he began again.
"What is the promise you speak of?" abruptly asked Nina, leaving
her seat and moving towards her father.
"Nothing that is not just and proper. He promised to deliver to
us a man who in time of profound peace took the lives of innocent
men to escape the punishment he deserved for breaking the law.
He planned his mischief on a large scale. It is not his fault if
it failed, partially. Of course you have heard of Dain Maroola.
Your father secured him, I understand. We know he escaped up
this river. Perhaps you--"
"And he killed white men!" interrupted Nina.
"I regret to say they were white. Yes, two white men lost their
lives through that scoundrel's freak."
"Two only!" exclaimed Nina.
The officer looked at her in amazement.
"Why! why! You- " he stammered, confused.
"There might have been more," interrupted Nina. "And when you
get this--this scoundrel will you go?"
The lieutenant, still speechless, bowed his assent.
"Then I would get him for you if I had to seek him in a burning
fire," she burst out with intense energy. "I hate the sight of
your white faces. I hate the sound of your gentle voices. That
is the way you speak to women, dropping sweet words before any
pretty face. I have heard your voices before. I hoped to live
here without seeing any other white face but this," she added in
a gentler tone, touching lightly her father's cheek.
Almayer ceased his mumbling and opened his eyes. He caught hold
of his daughter's hand and pressed it to his face, while Nina
with the other hand smoothed his rumpled grey hair, looking
defiantly over her father's head at the officer, who had now
regained his composure and returned her look with a cool, steady
stare. Below, in front of the verandah, they could hear the
tramp of seamen mustering there according to orders. The
sub-lieutenant came up the steps, while Babalatchi stood up
uneasily and, with finger on lip, tried to catch Nina's eye.
"You are a good girl," whispered Almayer, absently, dropping his
daughter's hand.
"Father! father!" she cried, bending over him with passionate
entreaty. "See those two men looking at us. Send them away. I
cannot bear it any more. Send them away. Do what they want and
let them go."
She caught sight of Babalatchi and ceased speaking suddenly, but
her foot tapped the floor with rapid beats in a paroxysm of
nervous restlessness. The two officers stood close together
looking on curiously.
"What has happened? What is the matter?" whispered the younger
"Don't know," answered the other, under his breath. "One is
furious, and the other is drunk. Not so drunk, either. Queer,
this. Look!"
Almayer had risen, holding on to his daughter's arm. He
hesitated a moment, then he let go his hold and lurched half-way
across the verandah. There he pulled himself together, and stood
very straight, breathing hard and glaring round angrily.
"Are the men ready?" asked the lieutenant.
"All ready, sir."
"Now, Mr. Almayer, lead the way," said the lieutenant
Almayer rested his eyes on him as if he saw him for the first
"Two men," he said thickly. The effort of speaking seemed to
interfere with his equilibrium. He took a quick step to save
himself from a fall, and remained swaying backwards and forwards.
"Two men," he began again, speaking with difficulty. "Two white
men--men in uniform--honourable men. I want to say--men of
honour. Are you?"
"Come! None of that," said the officer impatiently. "Let us have
that friend of yours."
"What do you think I am?" asked Almayer, fiercely.
"You are drunk, but not so drunk as not to know what you are
doing. Enough of this tomfoolery," said the officer sternly, "or
I will have you put under arrest in your own house."
"Arrest!" laughed Almayer, discordantly. "Ha! ha! ha! Arrest!
Why, I have been trying to get out of this infernal place for
twenty years, and I can't. You hear, man! I can't, and never
shall! Never!"
He ended his words with a sob, and walked unsteadily down the
stairs. When in the courtyard the lieutenant approached him, and
took him by the arm. The sub-lieutenant and Babalatchi followed
"That's better, Almayer," said the officer encouragingly. "Where
are you going to? There are only planks there. Here," he went
on, shaking him slightly, "do we want the boats?"
"No," answered Almayer, viciously. "You want a grave."
"What? Wild again! Try to talk sense."
"Grave!" roared Almayer, struggling to get himself free. "A hole
in the ground. Don't you understand? You must be drunk. Let me
go! Let go, I tell you!"
He tore away from the officer's grasp, and reeled towards the
planks where the body lay under its white cover; then he turned
round quickly, and faced the semicircle of interested faces. The
sun was sinking rapidly, throwing long shadows of house and trees
over the courtyard, but the light lingered yet on the river,
where the logs went drifting past in midstream, looking very
distinct and black in the pale red glow. The trunks of the trees
in the forest on the east bank were lost in gloom while their
highest branches swayed gently in the departing sunlight. The
air felt heavy and cold in the breeze, expiring in slight puffs
that came over the water.
Almayer shivered as he made an effort to speak, and again with an
uncertain gesture he seemed to free his throat from the grip of
an invisible hand. His bloodshot eyes wandered aimlessly from
face to face.
"There!" he said at last. "Are you all there? He is a dangerous
He dragged at the cover with hasty violence, and the body rolled
stiffly off the planks and fell at his feet in rigid
"Cold, perfectly cold," said Almayer, looking round with a
mirthless smile. "Sorry can do no better. And you can't hang
him, either. As you observe, gentlemen," he added gravely,
"there is no head, and hardly any neck."
The last ray of light was snatched away from the tree-tops, the
river grew suddenly dark, and in the great stillness the murmur
of the flowing water seemed to fill the vast expanse of grey
shadow that descended upon the land.
"This is Dain," went on Almayer to the silent group that
surrounded him. "And I have kept my word. First one hope, then
another, and this is my last. Nothing is left now. You think
there is one dead man here? Mistake, I 'sure you. I am much
more dead. Why don't you hang me?" he suggested suddenly, in a
friendly tone, addressing the lieutenant. "I assure, assure you
it would be a mat--matter of form altog--altogether."
These last words he muttered to himself, and walked zigzaging
towards his house. "Get out!" he thundered at Ali, who was
approaching timidly with offers of assistance. From afar, scared
groups of men and women watched his devious progress. He dragged
himself up the stairs by the banister, and managed to reach a
chair into which he fell heavily. He sat for awhile panting with
exertion and anger, and looking round vaguely for Nina; then
making a threatening gesture towards the compound, where he had
heard Babalatchi's voice, he overturned the table with his foot
in a great crash of smashed crockery. He muttered yet menacingly
to himself, then his head fell on his breast, his eyes closed,
and with a deep sigh he fell asleep.
That night--for the first time in its history--the peaceful and
flourishing settlement of Sambir saw the lights shining about
"Almayer's Folly." These were the lanterns of the boats hung up
by the seamen under the verandah where the two officers were
holding a court of inquiry into the truth of the story related to
them by Babalatchi. Babalatchi had regained all his importance.
He was eloquent and persuasive, calling Heaven and Earth to
witness the truth of his statements. There were also other
witnesses. Mahmat Banjer and a good many others underwent a
close examination that dragged its weary length far into the
evening. A messenger was sent for Abdulla, who excused himself
from coming on the score of his venerable age, but sent Reshid.
Mahmat had to produce the bangle, and saw with rage and
mortification the lieutenant put it in his pocket, as one of the
proofs of Dain's death, to be sent in with the official report of
the mission. Babalatchi's ring was also impounded for the same
purpose, but the experienced statesman was resigned to that loss
from the very beginning. He did not mind as long as he was sure,
that the white men believed. He put that question to himself
earnestly as he left, one of the last, when the proceedings came
to a close. He was not certain. Still, if they believed only
for a night, he would put Dain beyond their reach and feel safe
himself. He walked away fast, looking from time to time over his
shoulder in the fear of being followed, but he saw and heard
"Ten o'clock," said the lieutenant, looking at his watch and
yawning. "I shall hear some of the captain's complimentary
remarks when we get back. Miserable business, this."
"Do you think all this is true?" asked the younger man.
"True! It is just possible. But if it isn't true what can we do?
If we had a dozen boats we could patrol the creeks; and that
wouldn't be much good. That drunken madman was right; we haven't
enough hold on this coast. They do what they like. Are our
hammocks slung?"
"Yes, I told the coxswain. Strange couple over there," said the
sub, with a wave of his hand towards Almayer's house.
"Hem! Queer, certainly. What have you been telling her? I was
attending to the father most of the time."
"I assure you I have been perfectly civil," protested the other
"All right. Don't get excited. She objects to civility, then,
from what I understand. I thought you might have been tender.
You know we are on service."
"Well, of course. Never forget that. Coldly civil. That's
They both laughed a little, and not feeling sleepy began to pace
the verandah side by side. The moon rose stealthily above the
trees, and suddenly changed the river into a stream of
scintillating silver. The forest came out of the black void and
stood sombre and pensive over the sparkling water. The breeze
died away into a breathless calm.
Seamanlike, the two officers tramped measuredly up and down
without exchanging a word. The loose planks rattled rhythmically
under their steps with obstrusive dry sound in the perfect
silence of the night. As they were wheeling round again the
younger man stood attentive.
"Did you hear that?" he asked.
"No!" said the other. "Hear what?"
"I thought I heard a cry. Ever so faint. Seemed a woman's
voice. In that other house. Ah! Again! Hear it?"
"No," said the lieutenant, after listening awhile. "You young
fellows always hear women's voices. If you are going to dream
you had better get into your hammock. Good-night."
The moon mounted higher, and the warm shadows grew smaller and
crept away as if hiding before the cold and cruel light.
"It has set at last," said Nina to her mother pointing towards
the hills behind which the sun had sunk. "Listen, mother, I am
going now to Bulangi's creek, and if I should never return--"
She interrupted herself, and something like doubt dimmed for a
moment the fire of suppressed exaltation that had glowed in her
eyes and had illuminated the serene impassiveness of her features
with a ray of eager life during all that long day of excitement--
the day of joy and anxiety, of hope and terror, of vague grief
and indistinct delight. While the sun shone with that dazzling
light in which her love was born and grew till it possessed her
whole being, she was kept firm in her unwavering resolve by the
mysterious whisperings of desire which filled her heart with
impatient longing for the darkness that would mean the end of
danger and strife, the beginning of happiness, the fulfilling of
love, the completeness of life. It had set at last! The short
tropical twilight went out before she could draw the long breath
of relief; and now the sudden darkness seemed to be full of
menacing voices calling upon her to rush headlong into the
unknown; to be true to her own impulses, to give herself up to
the passion she had evoked and shared. He was waiting! In the
solitude of the secluded clearing, in the vast silence of the
forest he was waiting alone, a fugitive in fear of his life.
Indifferent to his danger he was waiting for her. It was for her
only that he had come; and now as the time approached when he
should have his reward, she asked herself with dismay what meant
that chilling doubt of her own will and of her own desire? With
an effort she shook off the fear of the passing weakness. He
should have his reward. Her woman's love and her woman's honour
overcame the faltering distrust of that unknown future waiting
for her in the darkness of the river.
"No, you will not return," muttered Mrs. Almayer, prophetically.
"Without you he will not go, and if he remains here--" She waved
her hand towards the lights of "Almayer's Folly," and the
unfinished sentence died out in a threatening murmur.
The two women had met behind the house, and now were walking
slowly together towards the creek where all the canoes were
moored. Arrived at the fringe of bushes they stopped by a common
impulse, and Mrs. Almayer, laying her hand on her daughter's arm,
tried in vain to look close into the girl's averted face. When
she attempted to speak her first words were lost in a stifled sob
that sounded strangely coming from that woman who, of all human
passions, seemed to know only those of anger and hate.
"You are going away to be a great Ranee," she said at last, in a
voice that was steady enough now, "and if you be wise you shall
have much power that will endure many days, and even last into
your old age. What have I been? A slave all my life, and I have
cooked rice for a man who had no courage and no wisdom. Hai! I!
even I, was given in gift by a chief and a warrior to a man that
was neither. Hai! Hai!"
She wailed to herself softly, lamenting the lost possibilities of
murder and mischief that could have fallen to her lot had she
been mated with a congenial spirit. Nina bent down over Mrs.
Almayer's slight form and scanned attentively, under the stars
that had rushed out on the black sky and now hung breathless over
that strange parting, her mother's shrivelled features, and
looked close into the sunken eyes that could see into her own
dark future by the light of a long and a painful experience.
Again she felt herself fascinated, as of old, by her mother's
exalted mood and by the oracular certainty of expression which,
together with her fits of violence, had contributed not a little
to the reputation for witchcraft she enjoyed in the settlement.
"I was a slave, and you shall be a queen," went on Mrs. Almayer,
looking straight before her; "but remember men's strength and
their weakness. Tremble before his anger, so that he may see
your fear in the light of day; but in your heart you may laugh,
for after sunset he is your slave."
"A slave! He! The master of life! You do not know him,
Mrs. Almayer condescended to laugh contemptuously.
"You speak like a fool of a white woman," she exclaimed. "What
do you know of men's anger and of men's love? Have you watched
the sleep of men weary of dealing death? Have you felt about you
the strong arm that could drive a kriss deep into a beating
heart? Yah! you are a white woman, and ought to pray to a
"Why do you say this? I have listened to your words so long that
I have forgotten my old life. If I was white would I stand here,
ready to go? Mother, I shall return to the house and look once
more at my father's face."
"No!" said Mrs. Almayer, violently. "No, he sleeps now the sleep
of gin; and if you went back he might awake and see you. No, he
shall never see you. When the terrible old man took you away
from me when you were little, you remember--"
"It was such a long time ago," murmured Nina.
"I remember," went on Mrs. Almayer, fiercely. "I wanted to look
at your face again. He said no! I heard you cry and jumped into
the river. You were his daughter then; you are my daughter now.
Never shall you go back to that house; you shall never cross this
courtyard again. No! no!"
Her voice rose almost to a shout. On the other side of the creek
there was a rustle in the long grass. The two women heard it,
and listened for a while in startled silence. "I shall go," said
Nina, in a cautious but intense whisper. "What is your hate or
your revenge to me?"
She moved towards the house, Mrs. Almayer clinging to her and
trying to pull her back.
"Stop, you shall not go!" she gasped.
Nina pushed away her mother impatiently and gathered up her
skirts for a quick run, but Mrs. Almayer ran forward and turned
round, facing her daughter with outstretched arms.
"If you move another step," she exclaimed, breathing quickly, "I
shall cry out. Do you see those lights in the big house? There
sit two white men, angry because they cannot have the blood of
the man you love. And in those dark houses," she continued, more
calmly as she pointed towards the settlement, "my voice could
wake up men that would lead the Orang Blanda soldiers to him who
is waiting--for you."
She could not see her daughter's face, but the white figure
before her stood silent and irresolute in the darkness. Mrs.
Almayer pursued her advantage.
"Give up your old life! Forget!" she said in entreating tones.
"Forget that you ever looked at a white face; forget their words;
forget their thoughts. They speak lies. And they think lies
because they despise us that are better than they are, but not so
strong. Forget their friendship and their contempt; forget their
many gods. Girl, why do you want to remember the past when there
is a warrior and a chief ready to give many lives--his own life--
for one of your smiles?"
While she spoke she pushed gently her daughter towards the
canoes, hiding her own fear, anxiety, and doubt under the flood
of passionate words that left Nina no time to think and no
opportunity to protest, even if she had wished it. But she did
not wish it now. At the bottom of that passing desire to look
again at her father's face there was no strong affection. She
felt no scruples and no remorse at leaving suddenly that man
whose sentiment towards herself she could not understand, she
could not even see. There was only an instinctive clinging to
old life, to old habits, to old faces; that fear of finality
which lurks in every human breast and prevents so many heroisms
and so many crimes. For years she had stood between her mother
and her father, the one so strong in her weakness, the other so
weak where he could have been strong. Between those two beings
so dissimilar, so antagonistic, she stood with mute heart
wondering and angry at the fact of her own existence. It seemed
so unreasonable, so humiliating to be flung there in that
settlement and to see the days rush by into the past, without a
hope, a desire, or an aim that would justify the life she had to
endure in ever-growing weariness. She had little belief and no
sympathy for her father's dreams; but the savage ravings of her
mother chanced to strike a responsive chord, deep down somewhere
in her despairing heart; and she dreamed dreams of her own with
the persistent absorption of a captive thinking of liberty within
the walls of his prison cell. With the coming of Dain she found
the road to freedom by obeying the voice of the new-born
impulses, and with surprised joy she thought she could read in
his eyes the answer to all the questionings of her heart. She
understood now the reason and the aim of life; and in the
triumphant unveiling of that mystery she threw away disdainfully
her past with its sad thoughts, its bitter feelings, and its
faint affections, now withered and dead in contact with her
fierce passion.
Mrs. Almayer unmoored Nina's own canoe and, straightening herself
painfully, stood, painter in hand, looking at her daughter.
"Quick," she said; "get away before the moon rises, while the
river is dark. I am afraid of Abdulla's slaves. The wretches
prowl in the night often, and might see and follow you. There
are two paddles in the canoe."
Nina approached her mother and hesitatingly touched lightly with
her lips the wrinkled forehead. Mrs. Almayer snorted
contemptuously in protest against that tenderness which she,
nevertheless, feared could be contagious.
"Shall I ever see you again, mother?" murmured Nina.
"No," said Mrs. Almayer, after a short silence. "Why should you
return here where it is my fate to die? You will live far away
in splendour and might. When I hear of white men driven from the
islands, then I shall know that you are alive, and that you
remember my words."
"I shall always remember," returned Nina, earnestly; "but where
is my power, and what can I do?"
"Do not let him look too long in your eyes, nor lay his head on
your knees without reminding him that men should fight before
they rest. And if he lingers, give him his kriss yourself and
bid him go, as the wife of a mighty prince should do when the
enemies are near. Let him slay the white men that come to us to
trade, with prayers on their lips and loaded guns in their hands.
Ah!"--she ended with a sigh--"they are on every sea, and on every
shore; and they are very many!"
She swung the bow of the canoe towards the river, but did not let
go the gunwale, keeping her hand on it in irresolute
Nina put the point of the paddle against the bank, ready to shove
off into the stream.
"What is it, mother?" she asked, in a low voice. "Do you hear
"No," said Mrs. Almayer, absently. "Listen, Nina," she
continued, abruptly, after a slight pause, "in after years there
will be other women--"
A stifled cry in the boat interrupted her, and the paddle rattled
in the canoe as it slipped from Nina's hands, which she put out
in a protesting gesture. Mrs. Almayer fell on her knees on the
bank and leaned over the gunwale so as to bring her own face
close to her daughter's.
"There will be other women," she repeated firmly; "I tell you
that, because you are half white, and may forget that he is a
great chief, and that such things must be. Hide your anger, and
do not let him see on your face the pain that will eat your
heart. Meet him with joy in your eyes and wisdom on your lips,
for to you he will turn in sadness or in doubt. As long as he
looks upon many women your power will last, but should there be
one, one only with whom he seems to forget you, then--"
"I could not live," exclaimed Nina, covering her face with both
her hands. "Do not speak so, mother; it could not be."
"Then," went on Mrs. Almayer, steadily, "to that woman, Nina,
show no mercy."
She moved the canoe down towards the stream by the gunwale, and
gripped it with both her hands, the bow pointing into the river.
"Are you crying?" she asked sternly of her daughter, who sat
still with covered face. "Arise, and take your paddle, for he
has waited long enough. And remember, Nina, no mercy; and if you
must strike, strike with a steady hand."
She put out all her strength, and swinging her body over the
water, shot the light craft far into the stream. When she
recovered herself from the effort she tried vainly to catch a
glimpse of the canoe that seemed to have dissolved suddenly into
the white mist trailing over the heated waters of the Pantai.
After listening for a while intently on her knees, Mrs. Almayer
rose with a deep sigh, while two tears wandered slowly down her
withered cheeks. She wiped them off quickly with a wisp of her
grey hair as if ashamed of herself, but could not stifle another
loud sigh, for her heart was heavy and she suffered much, being
unused to tender emotions. This time she fancied she had heard a
faint noise, like the echo of her own sigh, and she stopped,
straining her ears to catch the slightest sound, and peering
apprehensively towards the bushes near her.
"Who is there?" she asked, in an unsteady voice, while her
imagination peopled the solitude of the riverside with ghost-like
forms. "Who is there?" she repeated faintly.
There was no answer: only the voice of the river murmuring in
sad monotone behind the white veil seemed to swell louder for a
moment, to die away again in a soft whisper of eddies washing
against the bank.
Mrs. Almayer shook her head as if in answer to her own thoughts,
and walked quickly away from the bushes, looking to the right and
left watchfully. She went straight towards the cooking-shed,
observing that the embers of the fire there glowed more brightly
than usual, as if somebody had been adding fresh fuel to the
fires during the evening. As she approached, Babalatchi, who had
been squatting in the warm glow, rose and met her in the shadow
"Is she gone?" asked the anxious statesman, hastily.
"Yes," answered Mrs. Almayer. "What are the white men doing?
When did you leave them?"
"They are sleeping now, I think. May they never wake!" exclaimed
Babalatchi, fervently. "Oh! but they are devils, and made much
talk and trouble over that carcase. The chief threatened me
twice with his hand, and said he would have me tied up to a tree.
Tie me up to a tree! Me!" he repeated, striking his breast
Mrs. Almayer laughed tauntingly.
"And you salaamed and asked for mercy. Men with arms by their
side acted otherwise when I was young."
"And where are they, the men of your youth? You mad woman!"
retorted Babalatchi, angrily. "Killed by the Dutch. Aha! But I
shall live to deceive them. A man knows when to fight and when
to tell peaceful lies. You would know that if you were not a
But Mrs. Almayer did not seem to hear him. With bent body and
outstretched arm she appeared to be listening to some noise
behind the shed.
"There are strange sounds," she whispered, with evident alarm.
"I have heard in the air the sounds of grief, as of a sigh and
weeping. That was by the riverside. And now again I heard--"
"Where?" asked Babalatchi, in an altered voice. "What did you
"Close here. It was like a breath long drawn. I wish I had
burnt the paper over the body before it was buried."
"Yes," assented Babalatchi. "But the white men had him thrown
into a hole at once. You know he found his death on the river,"
he added cheerfully, "and his ghost may hail the canoes, but
would leave the land alone."
Mrs. Almayer, who had been craning her neck to look round the
corner of the shed, drew back her head.
"There is nobody there," she said, reassured. "Is it not time
for the Rajah war-canoe to go to the clearing?"
"I have been waiting for it here, for I myself must go,"
explained Babalatchi. "I think I will go over and see what makes
them late. When will you come? The Rajah gives you refuge."
"I shall paddle over before the break of day. I cannot leave my
dollars behind," muttered Mrs. Almayer.
They separated. Babalatchi crossed the courtyard towards the
creek to get his canoe, and Mrs. Almayer walked slowly to the
house, ascended the plankway, and passing through the back
verandah entered the passage leading to the front of the house;
but before going in she turned in the doorway and looked back at
the empty and silent courtyard, now lit up by the rays of the
rising moon. No sooner she had disappeared, however, than a
vague shape flitted out from amongst the stalks of the banana
plantation, darted over the moonlit space, and fell in the
darkness at the foot of the verandah. It might have been the
shadow of a driving cloud, so noiseless and rapid was its
passage, but for the trail of disturbed grass, whose feathery
heads trembled and swayed for a long time in the moonlight before
they rested motionless and gleaming, like a design of silver
sprays embroidered on a sombre background.
Mrs. Almayer lighted the cocoanut lamp, and lifting cautiously
the red curtain, gazed upon her husband, shading the light with
her hand.
Almayer, huddled up in the chair, one of his arms hanging down,
the other thrown across the lower part of his face as if to ward
off an invisible enemy, his legs stretched straight out, slept
heavily, unconscious of the unfriendly eyes that looked upon him
in disparaging criticism. At his feet lay the overturned table,
amongst a wreck of crockery and broken bottles. The appearance
as of traces left by a desperate struggle was accentuated by the
chairs, which seemed to have been scattered violently all over
the place, and now lay about the verandah with a lamentable
aspect of inebriety in their helpless attitudes. Only Nina's big
rocking-chair, standing black and motionless on its high runners,
towered above the chaos of demoralised furniture, unflinchingly
dignified and patient, waiting for its burden.
With a last scornful look towards the sleeper, Mrs. Almayer
passed behind the curtain into her own room. A couple of bats,
encouraged by the darkness and the peaceful state of affairs,
resumed their silent and oblique gambols above Almayer's head,
and for a long time the profound quiet of the house was unbroken,
save for the deep breathing of the sleeping man and the faint
tinkle of silver in the hands of the woman preparing for flight.
In the increasing light of the moon that had risen now above the
night mist, the objects on the verandah came out strongly
outlined in black splashes of shadow with all the uncompromising
ugliness of their disorder, and a caricature of the sleeping
Almayer appeared on the dirty whitewash of the wall behind him in
a grotesquely exaggerated detail of attitude and feature enlarged
to a heroic size. The discontented bats departed in quest of
darker places, and a lizard came out in short, nervous rushes,
and, pleased with the white table-cloth, stopped on it in
breathless immobility that would have suggested sudden death had
it not been for the melodious call he exchanged with a less
adventurous friend hiding amongst the lumber in the courtyard.
Then the boards in the passage creaked, the lizard vanished, and
Almayer stirred uneasily with a sigh: slowly, out of the
senseless annihilation of drunken sleep, he was returning,
through the land of dreams, to waking consciousness. Almayer's
head rolled from shoulder to shoulder in the oppression of his
dream; the heavens had descended upon him like a heavy mantle,
and trailed in starred folds far under him. Stars above, stars
all round him; and from the stars under his feet rose a whisper
full of entreaties and tears, and sorrowful faces flitted amongst
the clusters of light filling the infinite space below. How
escape from the importunity of lamentable cries and from the look
of staring, sad eyes in the faces which pressed round him till he
gasped for breath under the crushing weight of worlds that hung
over his aching shoulders? Get away! But how? If he attempted
to move he would step off into nothing, and perish in the
crashing fall of that universe of which he was the only support.
And what were the voices saying? Urging him to move! Why? Move
to destruction! Not likely! The absurdity of the thing filled
him with indignation. He got a firmer foothold and stiffened his
muscles in heroic resolve to carry his burden to all eternity.
And ages passed in the superhuman labour, amidst the rush of
circling worlds; in the plaintive murmur of sorrowful voices
urging him to desist before it was too late--till the mysterious
power that had laid upon him the giant task seemed at last to
seek his destruction. With terror he felt an irresistible hand
shaking him by the shoulder, while the chorus of voices swelled
louder into an agonised prayer to go, go before it is too late.
He felt himself slipping, losing his balance, as something
dragged at his legs, and he fell. With a faint cry he glided out
of the anguish of perishing creation into an imperfect waking
that seemed to be still under the spell of his dream.
"What? What?" he murmured sleepily, without moving or opening
his eyes. His head still felt heavy, and he had not the courage
to raise his eyelids. In his ears there still lingered the sound
of entreating whisper.--"Am I awake?--Why do I hear the voices?"
he argued to himself, hazily.--"I cannot get rid of the horrible
nightmare yet.--I have been very drunk.--What is that shaking me?
I am dreaming yet--I must open my eyes and be done with it. I am
only half awake, it is evident."
He made an effort to shake off his stupor and saw a face close to
his, glaring at him with staring eyeballs. He closed his eyes
again in amazed horror and sat up straight in the chair,
trembling in every limb. What was this apparition?--His own
fancy, no doubt.--His nerves had been much tried the day
before--and then the drink! He would not see it again if he had
the courage to look.--He would look directly.--Get a little
steadier first.-- So.--Now.
He looked. The figure of a woman standing in the steely light,
her hands stretched forth in a suppliant gesture, confronted him
from the far-off end of the verandah; and in the space between
him and the obstinate phantom floated the murmur of words that
fell on his ears in a jumble of torturing sentences, the meaning
of which escaped the utmost efforts of his brain. Who spoke the
Malay words? Who ran away? Why too late--and too late for what?
What meant those words of hate and love mixed so strangely
together, the ever-recurring names falling on his ears again and
again--Nina, Dain; Dain, Nina? Dain was dead, and Nina was
sleeping, unaware of the terrible experience through which he was
now passing. Was he going to be tormented for ever, sleeping or
waking, and have no peace either night or day? What was the
meaning of this?
He shouted the last words aloud. The shadowy woman seemed to
shrink and recede a little from him towards the doorway, and
there was a shriek. Exasperated by the incomprehensible nature
of his torment, Almayer made a rush upon the apparition, which
eluded his grasp, and he brought up heavily against the wall.
Quick as lightning he turned round and pursued fiercely the
mysterious figure fleeing from him with piercing shrieks that
were like fuel to the flames of his anger. Over the furniture,
round the overturned table, and now he had it cornered behind
Nina's chair. To the left, to the right they dodged, the chair
rocking madly between them, she sending out shriek after shriek
at every feint, and he growling meaningless curses through his
hard set teeth. "Oh! the fiendish noise that split his head and
seemed to choke his breath.--It would kill him.--It must be
stopped!" An insane desire to crush that yelling thing induced
him to cast himself recklessly over the chair with a desperate
grab, and they came down together in a cloud of dust amongst the
splintered wood. The last shriek died out under him in a faint
gurgle, and he had secured the relief of absolute silence.
He looked at the woman's face under him. A real woman! He knew
her. By all that is wonderful! Taminah! He jumped up ashamed
of his fury and stood perplexed, wiping his forehead. The girl
struggled to a kneeling posture and embraced his legs in a
frenzied prayer for mercy.
"Don't be afraid," he said, raising her. "I shall not hurt you.
Why do you come to my house in the night? And if you had to
come, why not go behind the curtain where the women sleep?"
"The place behind the curtain is empty," gasped Taminah, catching
her breath between the words. "There are no women in your house
any more, Tuan. I saw the old Mem go away before I tried to wake
you. I did not want your women, I wanted you."
"Old Mem!" repeated Almayer. "Do you mean my wife?"
She nodded her head.
"But of my daughter you are not afraid?" said Almayer.
"Have you not heard me?" she exclaimed. "Have I not spoken for a
long time when you lay there with eyes half open? She is gone
"I was asleep. Can you not tell when a man is sleeping and when
"Sometimes," answered Taminah in a low voice; "sometimes the
spirit lingers close to a sleeping body and may hear. I spoke a
long time before I touched you, and I spoke softly for fear it
would depart at a sudden noise and leave you sleeping for ever.
I took you by the shoulder only when you began to mutter words I
could not understand. Have you not heard, then, and do you know
"Nothing of what you said. What is it? Tell again if you want
me to know."
He took her by the shoulder and led her unresisting to the front
of the verandah into a stronger light. She wrung her hands with
such an appearance of grief that he began to be alarmed.
"Speak," he said. "You made noise enough to wake even dead men.
And yet nobody living came," he added to himself in an uneasy
whisper. "Are you mute? Speak!" he repeated.
In a rush of words which broke out after a short struggle from
her trembling lips she told him the tale of Nina's love and her
own jealousy. Several times he looked angrily into her face and
told her to be silent; but he could not stop the sounds that
seemed to him to run out in a hot stream, swirl about his feet,
and rise in scalding waves about him, higher, higher, drowning
his heart, touching his lips with a feel of molten lead, blotting
out his sight in scorching vapour, closing over his head,
merciless and deadly. When she spoke of the deception as to
Dain's death of which he had been the victim only that day, he
glanced again at her with terrible eyes, and made her falter for
a second, but he turned away directly, and his face suddenly lost
all expression in a stony stare far away over the river. Ah! the
river! His old friend and his old enemy, speaking always with
the same voice as he runs from year to year bringing fortune or
disappointment happiness or pain, upon the same varying but
unchanged surface of glancing currents and swirling eddies. For
many years he had listened to the passionless and soothing murmur
that sometimes was the song of hope, at times the song of
triumph, of encouragement; more often the whisper of consolation
that spoke of better days to come. For so many years! So many
years! And now to the accompaniment of that murmur he listened
to the slow and painful beating of his heart. He listened
attentively, wondering at the regularity of its beats. He began
to count mechanically. One, two. Why count? At the next beat
it must stop. No heart could suffer so and beat so steadily for
long. Those regular strokes as of a muffled hammer that rang in
his ears must stop soon. Still beating unceasing and cruel. No
man can bear this; and is this the last, or will the next one be
the last?--How much longer? O God! how much longer? His hand
weighed heavier unconsciously on the girl's shoulder, and she
spoke the last words of her story crouching at his feet with
tears of pain and shame and anger. Was her revenge to fail her?
This white man was like a senseless stone. Too late! Too late!
"And you saw her go?" Almayer's voice sounded harshly above her
"Did I not tell you?" she sobbed, trying to wriggle gently out
from under his grip. "Did I not tell you that I saw the
witchwoman push the canoe? I lay hidden in the grass and heard
all the words. She that we used to call the white Mem wanted to
return to look at your face, but the witchwoman forbade her,
She sank lower yet on her elbow, turning half round under the
downward push of the heavy hand, her face lifted up to him with
spiteful eyes.
"And she obeyed," she shouted out in a half-laugh, half-cry of
pain. "Let me go, Tuan. Why are you angry with me? Hasten, or
you shall be too late to show your anger to the deceitful woman."
Almayer dragged her up to her feet and looked close into her face
while she struggled, turning her head away from his wild stare.
"Who sent you here to torment me?" he asked, violently. "I do
not believe you. You lie."
He straightened his arm suddenly and flung her across the
verandah towards the doorway, where she lay immobile and silent,
as if she had left her life in his grasp, a dark heap, without a
sound or a stir.
"Oh! Nina!" whispered Almayer, in a voice in which reproach and
love spoke together in pained tenderness. "Oh! Nina! I do not
A light draught from the river ran over the courtyard in a wave
of bowing grass and, entering the verandah, touched Almayer's
forehead with its cool breath, in a caress of infinite pity. The
curtain in the women's doorway blew out and instantly collapsed
with startling helplessness. He stared at the fluttering stuff.
"Nina!" cried Almayer. "Where are you, Nina?"
The wind passed out of the empty house in a tremulous sigh, and
all was still.
Almayer hid his face in his hands as if to shut out a loathsome
sight. When, hearing a slight rustle, he uncovered his eyes, the
dark heap by the door was gone.
In the middle of a shadowless square of moonlight, shining on a
smooth and level expanse of young rice-shoots, a little
shelter-hut perched on high posts, the pile of brushwood near by
and the glowing embers of a fire with a man stretched before it,
seemed very small and as if lost in the pale green iridescence
reflected from the ground. On three sides of the clearing,
appearing very far away in the deceptive light, the big trees of
the forest, lashed together with manifold bonds by a mass of
tangled creepers, looked down at the growing young life at their
feet with the sombre resignation of giants that had lost faith in
their strength. And in the midst of them the merciless creepers
clung to the big trunks in cable-like coils, leaped from tree to
tree, hung in thorny festoons from the lower boughs, and, sending
slender tendrils on high to seek out the smallest branches,
carried death to their victims in an exulting riot of silent
On the fourth side, following the curve of the bank of that
branch of the Pantai that formed the only access to the clearing,
ran a black line of young trees, bushes, and thick second growth,
unbroken save for a small gap chopped out in one place. At that
gap began the narrow footpath leading from the water's edge to
the grass-built shelter used by the night watchers when the
ripening crop had to be protected from the wild pigs. The
pathway ended at the foot of the piles on which the hut was
built, in a circular space covered with ashes and bits of burnt
wood. In the middle of that space, by the dim fire, lay Dain.
He turned over on his side with an impatient sigh, and, pillowing
his head on his bent arm, lay quietly with his face to the dying
fire. The glowing embers shone redly in a small circle, throwing
a gleam into his wide-open eyes, and at every deep breath the
fine white ash of bygone fires rose in a light cloud before his
parted lips, and danced away from the warm glow into the
moonbeams pouring down upon Bulangi's clearing. His body was
weary with the exertion of the past few days, his mind more weary
still with the strain of solitary waiting for his fate. Never
before had he felt so helpless. He had heard the report of the
gun fired on board the launch, and he knew that his life was in
untrustworthy hands, and that his enemies were very near. During
the slow hours of the afternoon he roamed about on the edge of
the forest, or, hiding in the bushes, watched the creek with
unquiet eyes for some sign of danger. He feared not death, yet
he desired ardently to live, for life to him was Nina. She had
promised to come, to follow him, to share his danger and his
splendour. But with her by his side he cared not for danger, and
without her there could be no splendour and no joy in existence.
Crouching in his shady hiding-place, he closed his eyes, trying
to evoke the gracious and charming image of the white figure that
for him was the beginning and the end of life. With eyes shut
tight, his teeth hard set, he tried in a great effort of
passionate will to keep his hold on that vision of supreme
delight. In vain! His heart grew heavy as the figure of Nina
faded away to be replaced by another vision this time--a vision
of armed men, of angry faces, of glittering arms--and he seemed
to hear the hum of excited and triumphant voices as they
discovered him in his hiding-place. Startled by the vividness of
his fancy, he would open his eyes, and, leaping out into the
sunlight, resume his aimless wanderings around the clearing. As
he skirted in his weary march the edge of the forest he glanced
now and then into its dark shade, so enticing in its deceptive
appearance of coolness, so repellent with its unrelieved gloom,
where lay, entombed and rotting, countless generations of trees,
and where their successors stood as if mourning, in dark green
foliage, immense and helpless, awaiting their turn. Only the
parasites seemed to live there in a sinuous rush upwards into the
air and sunshine, feeding on the dead and the dying alike, and
crowning their victims with pink and blue flowers that gleamed
amongst the boughs, incongruous and cruel, like a strident and
mocking note in the solemn harmony of the doomed trees.
A man could hide there, thought Dain, as he approached a place
where the creepers had been torn and hacked into an archway that
might have been the beginning of a path. As he bent down to look
through he heard angry grunting, and a sounder of wild pig
crashed away in the undergrowth. An acrid smell of damp earth
and of decaying leaves took him by the throat, and he drew back
with a scared face, as if he had been touched by the breath of
Death itself. The very air seemed dead in there--heavy and
stagnating, poisoned with the corruption of countless ages. He
went on, staggering on his way, urged by the nervous restlessness
that made him feel tired yet caused him to loathe the very idea
of immobility and repose. Was he a wild man to hide in the woods
and perhaps be killed there--in the darkness--where there was no
room to breathe? He would wait for his enemies in the sunlight,
where he could see the sky and feel the breeze. He knew how a
Malay chief should die. The sombre and desperate fury, that
peculiar inheritance of his race, took possession of him, and he
glared savagely across the clearing towards the gap in the bushes
by the riverside. They would come from there. In imagination he
saw them now. He saw the bearded faces and the white jackets of
the officers, the light on the levelled barrels of the rifles.
What is the bravery of the greatest warrior before the firearms
in the hand of a slave? He would walk toward them with a smiling
face, with his hands held out in a sign of submission till he was
very near them. He would speak friendly words--come nearer
yet--yet nearer--so near that they could touch him with their
hands and stretch them out to make him a captive. That would be
the time: with a shout and a leap he would be in the midst of
them, kriss in hand, killing, killing, killing, and would die
with the shouts of his enemies in his ears, their warm blood
spurting before his eyes.
Carried away by his excitement, he snatched the kriss hidden in
his sarong, and, drawing a long breath, rushed forward, struck at
the empty air, and fell on his face. He lay as if stunned in the
sudden reaction from his exaltation, thinking that, even if he
died thus gloriously, it would have to be before he saw Nina.
Better so. If he saw her again he felt that death would be too
terrible. With horror he, the descendant of Rajahs and of
conquerors, had to face the doubt of his own bravery. His desire
of life tormented him in a paroxysm of agonising remorse. He had
not the courage to stir a limb. He had lost faith in himself,
and there was nothing else in him of what makes a man. The
suffering remained, for it is ordered that it should abide in the
human body even to the last breath, and fear remained. Dimly he
could look into the depths of his passionate love, see its
strength and its weakness, and felt afraid.
The sun went down slowly. The shadow of the western forest
marched over the clearing, covered the man's scorched shoulders
with its cool mantle, and went on hurriedly to mingle with the
shadows of other forests on the eastern side. The sun lingered
for a while amongst the light tracery of the higher branches, as
if in friendly reluctance to abandon the body stretched in the
green paddy-field. Then Dain, revived by the cool of the evening
breeze, sat up and stared round him. As he did so the sun dipped
sharply, as if ashamed of being detected in a sympathising
attitude, and the clearing, which during the day was all light,
became suddenly all darkness, where the fire gleamed like an eye.
Dain walked slowly towards the creek, and, divesting himself of
his torn sarong, his only garment, entered the water cautiously.
He had had nothing to eat that day, and had not dared show
himself in daylight by the water-side to drink. Now, as he swam
silently, he swallowed a few mouthfuls of water that lapped about
his lips. This did him good, and he walked with greater
confidence in himself and others as he returned towards the fire.
Had he been betrayed by Lakamba all would have been over by this.
He made up a big blaze, and while it lasted dried himself, and
then lay down by the embers. He could not sleep, but he felt a
great numbness in all his limbs. His restlessness was gone, and
he was content to lay still, measuring the time by watching the
stars that rose in endless succession above the forests, while
the slight puffs of wind under the cloudless sky seemed to fan
their twinkle into a greater brightness. Dreamily he assured
himself over and over again that she would come, till the
certitude crept into his heart and filled him with a great peace.
Yes, when the next day broke, they would be together on the great
blue sea that was like life--away from the forests that were like
death. He murmured the name of Nina into the silent space with a
tender smile: this seemed to break the spell of stillness, and
far away by the creek a frog croaked loudly as if in answer. A
chorus of loud roars and plaintive calls rose from the mud along
the line of bushes. He laughed heartily; doubtless it was their
love-song. He felt affectionate towards the frogs and listened,
pleased with the noisy life near him.
When the moon peeped above the trees he felt the old impatience
and the old restlessness steal over him. Why was she so late?
True, it was a long way to come with a single paddle. With what
skill and what endurance could those small hands manage a heavy
paddle! It was very wonderful--such small hands, such soft
little palms that knew how to touch his cheek with a feel lighter
than the fanning of a butterfly's wing. Wonderful! He lost
himself lovingly in the contemplation of this tremendous mystery,
and when he looked at the moon again it had risen a hand's
breadth above the trees. Would she come? He forced himself to
lay still, overcoming the impulse to rise and rush round the
clearing again. He turned this way and that; at last, quivering
with the effort, he lay on his back, and saw her face among the
stars looking down on him.
The croaking of frogs suddenly ceased. With the watchfulness of
a hunted man Dain sat up, listening anxiously, and heard several
splashes in the water as the frogs took rapid headers into the
creek. He knew that they had been alarmed by something, and
stood up suspicious and attentive. A slight grating noise, then
the dry sound as of two pieces of wood struck against each other.
Somebody was about to land! He took up an armful of brushwood,
and, without taking his eyes from the path, held it over the
embers of his fire. He waited, undecided, and saw something
gleam amongst the bushes; then a white figure came out of the
shadows and seemed to float towards him in the pale light. His
heart gave a great leap and stood still, then went on shaking his
frame in furious beats. He dropped the brushwood upon the
glowing coals, and had an impression of shouting her name--of
rushing to meet her; yet he emitted no sound, he stirred not an
inch, but he stood silent and motionless like chiselled bronze
under the moonlight that streamed over his naked shoulders. As
he stood still, fighting with his breath, as if bereft of his
senses by the intensity of his delight, she walked up to him with
quick, resolute steps, and, with the appearance of one about to
leap from a dangerous height, threw both her arms round his neck
with a sudden gesture. A small blue gleam crept amongst the dry
branches, and the crackling of reviving fire was the only sound
as they faced each other in the speechless emotion of that
meeting; then the dry fuel caught at once, and a bright hot flame
shot upwards in a blaze as high as their heads, and in its light
they saw each other's eyes.
Neither of them spoke. He was regaining his senses in a slight
tremor that ran upwards along his rigid body and hung about his
trembling lips. She drew back her head and fastened her eyes on
his in one of those long looks that are a woman's most terrible
weapon; a look that is more stirring than the closest touch, and
more dangerous than the thrust of a dagger, because it also whips
the soul out of the body, but leaves the body alive and helpless,
to be swayed here and there by the capricious tempests of passion
and desire; a look that enwraps the whole body, and that
penetrates into the innermost recesses of the being, bringing
terrible defeat in the delirious uplifting of accomplished
conquest. It has the same meaning for the man of the forests and
the sea as for the man threading the paths of the more dangerous
wilderness of houses and streets. Men that had felt in their
breasts the awful exultation such a look awakens become mere
things of to-day--which is paradise; forget yesterday--which was
suffering; care not for to-morrow--which may be perdition. They
wish to live under that look for ever. It is the look of woman's
He understood, and, as if suddenly released from his invisible
bonds, fell at her feet with a shout of joy, and, embracing her
knees, hid his head in the folds of her dress, murmuring
disjointed words of gratitude and love. Never before had he felt
so proud as now, when at the feet of that woman that half
belonged to his enemies. Her fingers played with his hair in an
absent-minded caress as she stood absorbed in thought. The thing
was done. Her mother was right. The man was her slave. As she
glanced down at his kneeling form she felt a great pitying
tenderness for that man she was used to call--even in her
thoughts--the master of life. She lifted her eyes and looked
sadly at the southern heavens under which lay the path of their
lives--her own, and that man's at her feet. Did he not say
himself is that she was the light of his life? She would be his
light and his wisdom; she would be his greatness and his
strength; yet hidden from the eyes of all men she would be, above
all, his only and lasting weakness. A very woman! In the
sublime vanity of her kind she was thinking already of moulding a
god from the clay at her feet. A god for others to worship. She
was content to see him as he was now, and to feel him quiver at
the slightest touch of her light fingers. And while her eyes
looked sadly at the southern stars a faint smile seemed to be
playing about her firm lips. Who can tell in the fitful light of
a camp fire? It might have been a smile of triumph, or of
conscious power, or of tender pity, or, perhaps, of love.
She spoke softly to him, and he rose to his feet, putting his arm
round her in quiet consciousness of his ownership; she laid her
head on his shoulder with a sense of defiance to all the world in
the encircling protection of that arm. He was hers with all his
qualities and all his faults. His strength and his courage, his
recklessness and his daring, his simple wisdom and his savage
cunning--all were hers. As they passed together out of the red
light of the fire into the silver shower of rays that fell upon
the clearing he bent his head over her face, and she saw in his
eyes the dreamy intoxication of boundless felicity from the close
touch of her slight figure clasped to his side. With a
rhythmical swing of their bodies they walked through the light
towards the outlying shadows of the forests that seemed to guard
their happiness in solemn immobility. Their forms melted in the
play of light and shadow at the foot of the big trees, but the
murmur of tender words lingered over the empty clearing, grew
faint, and died out. A sigh as of immense sorrow passed over the
land in the last effort of the dying breeze, and in the deep
silence which succeeded, the earth and the heavens were suddenly
hushed up in the mournful contemplation of human love and human
They walked slowly back to the fire. He made for her a seat out
of the dry branches, and, throwing himself down at her feet, lay
his head in her lap and gave himself up to the dreamy delight of
the passing hour. Their voices rose and fell, tender or animated
as they spoke of their love and of their future. She, with a few
skilful words spoken from time to time, guided his thoughts, and
he let his happiness flow in a stream of talk passionate and
tender, grave or menacing, according to the mood which she
evoked. He spoke to her of his own island, where the gloomy
forests and the muddy rivers were unknown. He spoke of its
terraced fields, of the murmuring clear rills of sparkling water
that flowed down the sides of great mountains, bringing life to
the land and joy to its tillers. And he spoke also of the
mountain peak that rising lonely above the belt of trees knew the
secrets of the passing clouds, and was the dwelling-place of the
mysterious spirit of his race, of the guardian genius of his
house. He spoke of vast horizons swept by fierce winds that
whistled high above the summits of burning mountains. He spoke
of his forefathers that conquered ages ago the island of which he
was to be the future ruler. And then as, in her interest, she
brought her face nearer to his, he, touching lightly the thick
tresses of her long hair, felt a sudden impulse to speak to her
of the sea he loved so well; and he told her of its never-ceasing
voice, to which he had listened as a child, wondering at its
hidden meaning that no living man has penetrated yet; of its
enchanting glitter; of its senseless and capricious fury; how its
surface was for ever changing, and yet always enticing, while its
depths were for ever the same, cold and cruel, and full of the
wisdom of destroyed life. He told her how it held men slaves of
its charm for a lifetime, and then, regardless of their devotion,
swallowed them up, angry at their fear of its mystery, which it
would never disclose, not even to those that loved it most.
While he talked, Nina's head had been gradually sinking lower,
and her face almost touched his now. Her hair was over his eyes,
her breath was on his forehead, her arms were about his body. No
two beings could be closer to each other, yet she guessed rather
than understood the meaning of his last words that came out after
a slight hesitation in a faint murmur, dying out imperceptibly
into a profound and significant silence: "The sea, O Nina, is
like a woman's heart."
She closed his lips with a sudden kiss, and answered in a steady
"But to the men that have no fear, O master of my life, the sea
is ever true."
Over their heads a film of dark, thread-like clouds, looking like
immense cobwebs drifting under the stars, darkened the sky with
the presage of the coming thunderstorm. From the invisible hills
the first distant rumble of thunder came in a prolonged roll
which, after tossing about from hill to hill, lost itself in the
forests of the Pantai. Dain and Nina stood up, and the former
looked at the sky uneasily.
"It is time for Babalatchi to be here," he said. "The night is
more than half gone. Our road is long, and a bullet travels
quicker than the best canoe."
"He will be here before the moon is hidden behind the clouds,"
said Nina. "I heard a splash in the water," she added. "Did you
hear it too?"
"Alligator," answered Dain shortly, with a careless glance
towards the creek. "The darker the night," he continued, "the
shorter will be our road, for then we could keep in the current
of the main stream, but if it is light--even no more than now--we
must follow the small channels of sleeping water, with nothing to
help our paddles."
"Dain," interposed Nina, earnestly, "it was no alligator. I
heard the bushes rustling near the landing-place."
"Yes," said Dain, after listening awhile. "It cannot be
Babalatchi, who would come in a big war canoe, and openly. Those
that are coming, whoever they are, do not wish to make much
noise. But you have heard, and now I can see," he went on
quickly. "It is but one man. Stand behind me, Nina. If he is a
friend he is welcome; if he is an enemy you shall see him die."
He laid his hand on his kriss, and awaited the approach of his
unexpected visitor. The fire was burning very low, and small
clouds--precursors of the storm--crossed the face of the moon in
rapid succession, and their flying shadows darkened the clearing.
He could not make out who the man might be, but he felt uneasy at
the steady advance of the tall figure walking on the path with a
heavy tread, and hailed it with a command to stop. The man
stopped at some little distance, and Dain expected him to speak,
but all he could hear was his deep breathing. Through a break in
the flying clouds a sudden and fleeting brightness descended upon
the clearing. Before the darkness closed in again, Dain saw a
hand holding some glittering object extended towards him, heard
Nina's cry of "Father!" and in an instant the girl was between
him and Almayer's revolver. Nina's loud cry woke up the echoes
of the sleeping woods, and the three stood still as if waiting
for the return of silence before they would give expression to
their various feelings. At the appearance of Nina, Almayer's arm
fell by his side, and he made a step forward. Dain pushed the
girl gently aside.
"Am I a wild beast that you should try to kill me suddenly and in
the dark, Tuan Almayer?" said Dain, breaking the strained
silence. "Throw some brushwood on the fire," he went on,
speaking to Nina, "while I watch my white friend, lest harm
should come to you or to me, O delight of my heart!"
Almayer ground his teeth and raised his arm again. With a quick
bound Dain was at his side: there was a short scuffle, during
which one chamber of the revolver went off harmlessly, then the
weapon, wrenched out of Almayer's hand, whirled through the air
and fell in the bushes. The two men stood close together,
breathing hard. The replenished fire threw out an unsteady
circle of light and shone on the terrified face of Nina, who
looked at them with outstretched hands.
"Dain!" she cried out warningly, "Dain!"
He waved his hand towards her in a reassuring gesture, and,
turning to Almayer, said with great courtesy--
"Now we may talk, Tuan. It is easy to send out death, but can
your wisdom recall the life? She might have been harmed," he
continued, indicating Nina. "Your hand shook much; for myself I
was not afraid."
"Nina!" exclaimed Almayer, "come to me at once. What is this
sudden madness? What bewitched you? Come to your father, and
together we shall try to forget this horrible nightmare!"
He opened his arms with the certitude of clasping her to his
breast in another second. She did not move. As it dawned upon
him that she did not mean to obey he felt a deadly cold creep
into his heart, and, pressing the palms of his hands to his
temples, he looked down on the ground in mute despair. Dain took
Nina by the arm and led her towards her father.
"Speak to him in the language of his people," he said. "He is
grieving--as who would not grieve at losing thee, my pearl!
Speak to him the last words he shall hear spoken by that voice,
which must be very sweet to him, but is all my life to me."
He released her, and, stepping back a few paces out of the circle
of light, stood in the darkness looking at them with calm
interest. The reflection of a distant flash of lightning lit up
the clouds over their heads, and was followed after a short
interval by the faint rumble of thunder, which mingled with
Almayer's voice as he began to speak.
"Do you know what you are doing? Do you know what is waiting for
you if you follow that man? Have you no pity for yourself? Do
you know that you shall be at first his plaything and then a
scorned slave, a drudge, and a servant of some new fancy of that
She raised her hand to stop him, and turning her head slightly,
"You hear this Dain! Is it true?"
"By all the gods!" came the impassioned answer from the
darkness-- "by heaven and earth, by my head and thine I swear:
this is a white man's lie. I have delivered my soul into your
hands for ever; I breathe with your breath, I see with your eyes,
I think with your mind, and I take you into my heart for ever."
"You thief!" shouted the exasperated Almayer.
A deep silence succeeded this outburst, then the voice of Dain
was heard again.
"Nay, Tuan," he said in a gentle tone, "that is not true also.
The girl came of her own will. I have done no more but to show
her my love like a man; she heard the cry of my heart, and she
came, and the dowry I have given to the woman you call your
Almayer groaned in his extremity of rage and shame. Nina laid
her hand lightly on his shoulder, and the contact, light as the
touch of a falling leaf, seemed to calm him. He spoke quickly,
and in English this time.
"Tell me," he said--"tell me, what have they done to you, your
mother and that man? What made you give yourself up to that
savage? For he is a savage. Between him and you there is a
barrier that nothing can remove. I can see in your eyes the look
of those who commit suicide when they are mad. You are mad.
Don't smile. It breaks my heart. If I were to see you drowning
before my eyes, and I without the power to help you, I could not
suffer a greater torment. Have you forgotten the teaching of so
many years?"
"No," she interrupted, "I remember it well. I remember how it
ended also. Scorn for scorn, contempt for contempt, hate for
hate. I am not of your race. Between your people and me there
is also a barrier that nothing can remove. You ask why I want to
go, and I ask you why I should stay."
He staggered as if struck in the face, but with a quick,
unhesitating grasp she caught him by the arm and steadied him.
"Why you should stay!" he repeated slowly, in a dazed manner, and
stopped short, astounded at the completeness of his misfortune.
"You told me yesterday," she went on again, "that I could not
understand or see your love for me: it is so. How can I? No
two human beings understand each other. They can understand but
their own voices. You wanted me to dream your dreams, to see
your own visions--the visions of life amongst the white faces of
those who cast me out from their midst in angry contempt. But
while you spoke I listened to the voice of my own self; then this
man came, and all was still; there was only the murmur of his
love. You call him a savage! What do you call my mother, your
"Nina!" cried Almayer, "take your eyes off my face."
She looked down directly, but continued speaking only a little
above a whisper.
"In time," she went on, "both our voices, that man's and mine,
spoke together in a sweetness that was intelligible to our ears
only. You were speaking of gold then, but our ears were filled
with the song of our love, and we did not hear you. Then I found
that we could see through each other's eyes: that he saw things
that nobody but myself and he could see. We entered a land where
no one could follow us, and least of all you. Then I began to
She paused. Almayer sighed deeply. With her eyes still fixed on
the ground she began speaking again.
"And I mean to live. I mean to follow him. I have been rejected
with scorn by the white people, and now I am a Malay! He took me
in his arms, he laid his life at my feet. He is brave; he will
be powerful, and I hold his bravery and his strength in my hand,
and I shall make him great. His name shall be remembered long
after both our bodies are laid in the dust. I love you no less
than I did before, but I shall never leave him, for without him I
cannot live."
"If he understood what you have said," answered Almayer,
scornfully, "he must be highly flattered. You want him as a tool
for some incomprehensible ambition of yours. Enough, Nina. If
you do not go down at once to the creek, where Ali is waiting
with my canoe, I shall tell him to return to the settlement and
bring the Dutch officers here. You cannot escape from this
clearing, for I have cast adrift your canoe. If the Dutch catch
this hero of yours they will hang him as sure as I stand here.
Now go."
He made a step towards his daughter and laid hold of her by the
shoulder, his other hand pointing down the path to the
"Beware!" exclaimed Dain; "this woman belongs to me!"
Nina wrenched herself free and looked straight at Almayer's angry
"No, I will not go," she said with desperate energy. "If he dies
I shall die too!"
"You die!" said Almayer, contemptuously. "Oh, no! You shall
live a life of lies and deception till some other vagabond comes
along to sing; how did you say that? The song of love to you!
Make up your mind quickly."
He waited for a while, and then added meaningly--
"Shall I call out to Ali?"
"Call out," she answered in Malay, "you that cannot be true to
your own countrymen. Only a few days ago you were selling the
powder for their destruction; now you want to give up to them the
man that yesterday you called your friend. Oh, Dain," she said,
turning towards the motionless but attentive figure in the
darkness, "instead of bringing you life I bring you death, for he
will betray unless I leave you for ever!"
Dain came into the circle of light, and, throwing his arm around
Nina's neck, whispered in her ear--"I can kill him where he
stands, before a sound can pass his lips. For you it is to say
yes or no. Babalatchi cannot be far now."
He straightened himself up, taking his arm off her shoulder, and
confronted Almayer, who looked at them both with an expression of
concentrated fury,
"No!" she cried, clinging to Dain in wild alarm. "No! Kill me!
Then perhaps he will let you go. You do not know the mind of a
white man. He would rather see me dead than standing where I am.
Forgive me, your slave, but you must not." She fell at his feet
sobbing violently and repeating, "Kill me! Kill me!"
"I want you alive," said Almayer, speaking also in Malay, with
sombre calmness. "You go, or he hangs. Will you obey?"
Dain shook Nina off, and, making a sudden lunge, struck Almayer
full in the chest with the handle of his kriss, keeping the point
towards himself.
"Hai, look! It was easy for me to turn the point the other way,"
he said in his even voice. "Go, Tuan Putih," he added with
dignity. "I give you your life, my life, and her life. I am the
slave of this woman's desire, and she wills it so."
There was not a glimmer of light in the sky now, and the tops of
the trees were as invisible as their trunks, being lost in the
mass of clouds that hung low over the woods, the clearing, and
the river.
Every outline had disappeared in the intense blackness that
seemed to have destroyed everything but space. Only the fire
glimmered like a star forgotten in this annihilation of all
visible things, and nothing was heard after Dain ceased speaking
but the sobs of Nina, whom he held in his arms, kneeling beside
the fire. Almayer stood looking down at them in gloomy
thoughtfulness. As he was opening his lips to speak they were
startled by a cry of warning by the riverside, followed by the
splash of many paddles and the sound of voices.
"Babalatchi!" shouted Dain, lifting up Nina as he got upon his
feet quickly.
"Ada! Ada!" came the answer from the panting statesman who ran
up the path and stood amongst them. "Run to my canoe," he said
to Dain excitedly, without taking any notice of Almayer. "Run!
we must go. That woman has told them all!"
"What woman?" asked Dain, looking at Nina. Just then there was
only one woman in the whole world for him.
"The she-dog with white teeth; the seven times accursed slave of
Bulangi. She yelled at Abdulla's gate till she woke up all
Sambir. Now the white officers are coming, guided by her and
Reshid. If you want to live, do not look at me, but go!"
"How do you know this?" asked Almayer.
"Oh, Tuan! what matters how I know! I have only one eye, but I
saw lights in Abdulla's house and in his campong as we were
paddling past. I have ears, and while we lay under the bank I
have heard the messengers sent out to the white men's house."
"Will you depart without that woman who is my daughter?" said
Almayer, addressing Dain, while Babalatchi stamped with
impatience, muttering, "Run! Run at once!"
"No," answered Dain, steadily, "I will not go; to no man will I
abandon this woman."
"Then kill me and escape yourself," sobbed out Nina.
He clasped her close, looking at her tenderly, and whispered, "We
will never part, O Nina!"
"I shall not stay here any longer," broke in Babalatchi, angrily.
"This is great foolishness. No woman is worth a man's life. I
am an old man, and I know."
He picked up his staff, and, turning to go, looked at Dain as if
offering him his last chance of escape. But Dain's face was
hidden amongst Nina's black tresses, and he did not see this last
appealing glance.
Babalatchi vanished in the darkness. Shortly after his
disappearance they heard the war canoe leave the landing-place in
the swish of the numerous paddles dipped in the water together.
Almost at the same time Ali came up from the riverside, two
paddles on his shoulder.
"Our canoe is hidden up the creek, Tuan Almayer," he said, "in
the dense bush where the forest comes down to the water. I took
it there because I heard from Babalatchi's paddlers that the
white men are coming here."
"Wait for me there," said Almayer, "but keep the canoe hidden."
He remained silent, listening to Ali's footsteps, then turned to
"Nina," he said sadly, "will you have no pity for me?"
There was no answer. She did not even turn her head, which was
pressed close to Dain's breast.
He made a movement as if to leave them and stopped. By the dim
glow of the burning-out fire he saw their two motionless figures.
The woman's back turned to him with the long black hair streaming
down over the white dress, and Dain's calm face looking at him
above her head.
"I cannot," he muttered to himself. After a long pause he spoke
again a little lower, but in an unsteady voice, "It would be too
great a disgrace. I am a white man." He broke down completely
there, and went on tearfully, "I am a white man, and of good
family. Very good family," he repeated, weeping bitterly. "It
would be a disgrace . . . all over the islands, . . . the only
white man on the east coast. No, it cannot be . . . white men
finding my daughter with this Malay. My daughter!" he cried
aloud, with a ring of despair in his voice.
He recovered his composure after a while and said distinctly--
"I will never forgive you, Nina--never! If you were to come back
to me now, the memory of this night would poison all my life. I
shall try to forget. I have no daughter. There used to be a
half-caste woman in my house, but she is going even now. You,
Dain, or whatever your name may be, I shall take you and that
woman to the island at the mouth of the river myself. Come with
He led the way, following the bank as far as the forest. Ali
answered to his call, and, pushing their way through the dense
bush, they stepped into the canoe hidden under the overhanging
branches. Dain laid Nina in the bottom, and sat holding her head
on his knees. Almayer and Ali each took up a paddle. As they
were going to push out Ali hissed warningly. All listened.
In the great stillness before the bursting out of the
thunderstorm they could hear the sound of oars working regularly
in their row-locks. The sound approached steadily, and Dain,
looking through the branches, could see the faint shape of a big
white boat. A woman's voice said in a cautious tone--
"There is the place where you may land white men; a little higher
The boat was passing them so close in the narrow creek that the
blades of the long oars nearly touched the canoe.
"Way enough! Stand by to jump on shore! He is alone and
unarmed," was the quiet order in a man's voice, and in Dutch.
Somebody else whispered: "I think I can see a glimmer of a fire
through the bush." And then the boat floated past them,
disappearing instantly in the darkness.
"Now," whispered Ali, eagerly, "let us push out and paddle away."
The little canoe swung into the stream, and as it sprung forward
in response to the vigorous dig of the paddles they could hear an
angry shout.
"He is not by the fire. Spread out, men, and search for him!"
Blue lights blazed out in different parts of the clearing, and
the shrill voice of a woman cried in accents of rage and pain--
"Too late! O senseless white men! He has escaped!"
"That is the place," said Dain, indicating with the blade of his
paddle a small islet about a mile ahead of the canoe--"that is
the place where Babalatchi promised that a boat from the prau
would come for me when the sun is overhead. We will wait for
that boat there."
Almayer, who was steering, nodded without speaking, and by a
slight sweep of his paddle laid the head of the canoe in the
required direction.
They were just leaving the southern outlet of the Pantai, which
lay behind them in a straight and long vista of water shining
between two walls of thick verdure that ran downwards and towards
each other, till at last they joined and sank together in the
far-away distance. The sun, rising above the calm waters of the
Straits, marked its own path by a streak of light that glided
upon the sea and darted up the wide reach of the river, a hurried
messenger of light and life to the gloomy forests of the coast;
and in this radiance of the sun's pathway floated the black canoe
heading for the islet which lay bathed in sunshine, the yellow
sands of its encircling beach shining like an inlaid golden disc
on the polished steel of the unwrinkled sea. To the north and
south of it rose other islets, joyous in their brilliant
colouring of green and yellow, and on the main coast the sombre
line of mangrove bushes ended to the southward in the reddish
cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah, advancing into the sea, steep and
shadowless under the clear, light of the early morning.
The bottom of the canoe grated upon the sand as the little craft
ran upon the beach. Ali leaped on shore and held on while Dain
stepped out carrying Nina in his arms, exhausted by the events
and the long travelling during the night. Almayer was the last
to leave the boat, and together with Ali ran it higher up on the
beach. Then Ali, tired out by the long paddling, laid down in
the shade of the canoe, and incontinently fell asleep. Almayer
sat sideways on the gunwale, and with his arms crossed on his
breast, looked to the southward upon the sea.
After carefully laying Nina down in the shade of the bushes
growing in the middle of the islet, Dain threw himself beside her
and watched in silent concern the tears that ran down from under
her closed eyelids, and lost themselves in that fine sand upon
which they both were lying face to face. These tears and this
sorrow were for him a profound and disquieting mystery. Now,
when the danger was past, why should she grieve? He doubted her
love no more than he would have doubted the fact of his own
existence, but as he lay looking ardently in her face, watching
her tears, her parted lips, her very breath, he was uneasily
conscious of something in her he could not understand. Doubtless
she had the wisdom of perfect beings. He sighed. He felt
something invisible that stood between them, something that would
let him approach her so far, but no farther. No desire, no
longing, no effort of will or length of life could destroy this
vague feeling of their difference. With awe but also with great
pride he concluded that it was her own incomparable perfection.
She was his, and yet she was like a woman from another world.
His! His! He exulted in the glorious thought; nevertheless her
tears pained him.
With a wisp of her own hair which he took in his hand with timid
reverence he tried in an access of clumsy tenderness to dry the
tears that trembled on her eyelashes. He had his reward in a
fleeting smile that brightened her face for the short fraction of
a second, but soon the tears fell faster than ever, and he could
bear it no more. He rose and walked towards Almayer, who still
sat absorbed in his contemplation of the sea. It was a very,
very long time since he had seen the sea--that sea that leads
everywhere, brings everything, and takes away so much. He had
almost forgotten why he was there, and dreamily he could see all
his past life on the smooth and boundless surface that glittered
before his eyes.
Dain's hand laid on Almayer's shoulder recalled him with a start
from some country very far away indeed. He turned round, but his
eyes seemed to look rather at the place where Dain stood than at
the man himself. Dain felt uneasy under the unconscious gaze.
"What?" said Almayer.
"She is crying," murmured Dain, softly.
"She is crying! Why?" asked Almayer, indifferently.
"I came to ask you. My Ranee smiles when looking at the man she
loves. It is the white woman that is crying now. You would
Almayer shrugged his shoulders and turned away again towards the
"Go, Tuan Putih," urged Dain. "Go to her; her tears are more
terrible to me than the anger of gods."
"Are they? You will see them more than once. She told me she
could not live without you," answered Almayer, speaking without
the faintest spark of expression in his face, "so it behoves you
to go to her quick, for fear you may find her dead."
He burst into a loud and unpleasant laugh which made Dain stare
at him with some apprehension, but got off the gunwale of the
boat and moved slowly towards Nina, glancing up at the sun as he
"And you go when the sun is overhead?" he said.
"Yes, Tuan. Then we go," answered Dain.
"I have not long to wait," muttered Almayer. "It is most
important for me to see you go. Both of you. Most important,"
he repeated, stopping short and looking at Dain fixedly.
He went on again towards Nina, and Dain remained behind. Almayer
approached his daughter and stood for a time looking down on her.
She did not open her eyes, but hearing footsteps near her,
murmured in a low sob, "Dain."
Almayer hesitated for a minute and then sank on the sand by her
side. She, not hearing a responsive word, not feeling a touch,
opened her eyes--saw her father, and sat up suddenly with a
movement of terror.
"Oh, father!" she murmured faintly, and in that word there was
expressed regret and fear and dawning hope.
"I shall never forgive you, Nina," said Almayer, in a
dispassionate voice. "You have torn my heart from me while I
dreamt of your happiness. You have deceived me. Your eyes that
for me were like truth itself lied to me in every glance--for how
long? You know that best. When you were caressing my cheek you
were counting the minutes to the sunset that was the signal for
your meeting with that man--there!"
He ceased, and they both sat silent side by side, not looking at
each other, but gazing at the vast expanse of the sea. Almayer's
words had dried Nina's tears, and her look grew hard as she
stared before her into the limitless sheet of blue that shone
limpid, unwaving, and steady like heaven itself. He looked at it
also, but his features had lost all expression, and life in his
eyes seemed to have gone out. The face was a blank, without a
sign of emotion, feeling, reason, or even knowledge of itself.
All passion, regret, grief, hope, or anger--all were gone, erased
by the hand of fate, as if after this last stroke everything was
over and there was no need for any record.
Those few who saw Almayer during the short period of his
remaining days were always impressed by the sight of that face
that seemed to know nothing of what went on within: like the
blank wall of a prison enclosing sin, regrets, and pain, and
wasted life, in the cold indifference of mortar and stones.
"What is there to forgive?" asked Nina, not addressing Almayer
directly, but more as if arguing with herself. "Can I not live
my own life as you have lived yours? The path you would have
wished me to follow has been closed to me by no fault of mine."
"You never told me," muttered Almayer.
"You never asked me," she answered, "and I thought you were like
the others and did not care. I bore the memory of my humiliation
alone, and why should I tell you that it came to me because I am
your daughter? I knew you could not avenge me."
"And yet I was thinking of that only," interrupted Almayer, "and
I wanted to give you years of happiness for the short day of your
suffering. I only knew of one way."
"Ah! but it was not my way!" she replied. "Could you give me
happiness without life? Life!" she repeated with sudden energy
that sent the word ringing over the sea. "Life that means power
and love," she added in a low voice.
"That!" said Almayer, pointing his finger at Dain standing close
by and looking at them in curious wonder.
"Yes, that!" she replied, looking her father full in the face and
noticing for the first time with a slight gasp of fear the
unnatural rigidity of his features.
"I would have rather strangled you with my own hands," said
Almayer, in an expressionless voice which was such a contrast to
the desperate bitterness of his feelings that it surprised even
himself. He asked himself who spoke, and, after looking slowly
round as if expecting to see somebody, turned again his eyes
towards the sea.
"You say that because you do not understand the meaning of my
words," she said sadly. "Between you and my mother there never
was any love. When I returned to Sambir I found the place which
I thought would be a peaceful refuge for my heart, filled with
weariness and hatred--and mutual contempt. I have listened to
your voice and to her voice. Then I saw that you could not
understand me; for was I not part of that woman? Of her who was
the regret and shame of your life? I had to choose--I hesitated.
Why were you so blind? Did you not see me struggling before your
eyes? But, when he came, all doubt disappeared, and I saw only
the light of the blue and cloudless heaven--"
"I will tell you the rest," interrupted Almayer: "when that man
came I also saw the blue and the sunshine of the sky. A
thunderbolt has fallen from that sky, and suddenly all is still
and dark around me for ever. I will never forgive you, Nina; and
to-morrow I shall forget you! I shall never forgive you," he
repeated with mechanical obstinacy while she sat, her head bowed
down as if afraid to look at her father.
To him it seemed of the utmost importance that he should assure
her of his intention of never forgiving. He was convinced that
his faith in her had been the foundation of his hopes, the motive
of his courage, of his determination to live and struggle, and to
be victorious for her sake. And now his faith was gone,
destroyed by her own hands; destroyed cruelly, treacherously, in
the dark; in the very moment of success. In the utter wreck of
his affections and of all his feelings, in the chaotic disorder
of his thoughts, above the confused sensation of physical pain
that wrapped him up in a sting as of a whiplash curling round him
from his shoulders down to his feet, only one idea remained clear
and definite--not to forgive her; only one vivid desire--to
forget her. And this must be made clear to her--and to
himself--by frequent repetition. That was his idea of his duty
to himself--to his race--to his respectable connections; to the
whole universe unsettled and shaken by this frightful catastrophe
of his life. He saw it clearly and believed he was a strong man.
He had always prided himself upon his unflinching firmness. And
yet he was afraid. She had been all in all to him. What if he
should let the memory of his love for her weaken the sense of his
dignity? She was a remarkable woman; he could see that; all the
latent greatness of his nature--in which he honestly
believed--had been transfused into that slight, girlish figure.
Great things could be done! What if he should suddenly take her
to his heart, forget his shame, and pain, and anger, and--follow
her! What if he changed his heart if not his skin and made her
life easier between the two loves that would guard her from any
mischance! His heart yearned for her. What if he should say
that his love for her was greater than . . .
"I will never forgive you, Nina!" he shouted, leaping up madly in
the sudden fear of his dream.
This was the last time in his life that he was heard to raise his
voice. Henceforth he spoke always in a monotonous whisper like
an instrument of which all the strings but one are broken in a
last ringing clamour under a heavy blow.
She rose to her feet and looked at him. The very violence of his
cry soothed her in an intuitive conviction of his love, and she
hugged to her breast the lamentable remnants of that affection
with the unscrupulous greediness of women who cling desperately
to the very scraps and rags of love, any kind of love, as a thing
that of right belongs to them and is the very breath of their
life. She put both her hands on Almayer's shoulders, and looking
at him half tenderly, half playfully, she said--
"You speak so because you love me."
Almayer shook his head.
"Yes, you do," she insisted softly; then after a short pause she
added, "and you will never forget me."
Almayer shivered slightly. She could not have said a more cruel
"Here is the boat coming now," said Dain, his arm outstretched
towards a black speck on the water between the coast and the
They all looked at it and remained standing in silence till the
little canoe came gently on the beach and a man landed and walked
towards them. He stopped some distance off and hesitated.
"What news?" asked Dain.
"We have had orders secretly and in the night to take off from
this islet a man and a woman. I see the woman. Which of you is
the man?"
"Come, delight of my eyes," said Dain to Nina. "Now we go, and
your voice shall be for my ears only. You have spoken your last
words to the Tuan Putih, your father. Come."
She hesitated for a while, looking at Almayer, who kept his eyes
steadily on the sea, then she touched his forehead in a lingering
kiss, and a tear--one of her tears--fell on his cheek and ran
down his immovable face.
"Goodbye," she whispered, and remained irresolute till he pushed
her suddenly into Dain's arms.
"If you have any pity for me," murmured Almayer, as if repeating
some sentence learned by heart, "take that woman away."
He stood very straight, his shoulders thrown back, his head held
high, and looked at them as they went down the beach to the
canoe, walking enlaced in each other's arms. He looked at the
line of their footsteps marked in the sand. He followed their
figures moving in the crude blaze of the vertical sun, in that
light violent and vibrating, like a triumphal flourish of brazen
trumpets. He looked at the man's brown shoulders, at the red
sarong round his waist; at the tall, slender, dazzling white
figure he supported. He looked at the white dress, at the
falling masses of the long black hair. He looked at them
embarking, and at the canoe growing smaller in the distance, with
rage, despair, and regret in his heart, and on his face a peace
as that of a carved image of oblivion. Inwardly he felt himself
torn to pieces, but Ali--who now aroused--stood close to his
master, saw on his features the blank expression of those who
live in that hopeless calm which sightless eyes only can give.
The canoe disappeared, and Almayer stood motionless with his eyes
fixed on its wake. Ali from under the shade of his hand examined
the coast curiously. As the sun declined, the sea-breeze sprang
up from the northward and shivered with its breath the glassy
surface of the water.
"Dapat!" exclaimed Ali, joyously. "Got him, master! Got prau!
Not there! Look more Tanah Mirrah side. Aha! That way!
Master, see? Now plain. See?"
Almayer followed Ali's forefinger with his eyes for a long time
in vain. At last he sighted a triangular patch of yellow light
on the red background of the cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah. It was
the sail of the prau that had caught the sunlight and stood out,
distinct with its gay tint, on the dark red of the cape. The
yellow triangle crept slowly from cliff to cliff, till it cleared
the last point of land and shone brilliantly for a fleeting
minute on the blue of the open sea. Then the prau bore up to the
southward: the light went out of the sail, and all at once the
vessel itself disappeared, vanishing in the shadow of the steep
headland that looked on, patient and lonely, watching over the
empty sea.
Almayer never moved. Round the little islet the air was full of
the talk of the rippling water. The crested wavelets ran up the
beach audaciously, joyously, with the lightness of young life,
and died quickly, unresistingly, and graciously, in the wide
curves of transparent foam on the yellow sand. Above, the white
clouds sailed rapidly southwards as if intent upon overtaking
something. Ali seemed anxious.
"Master," he said timidly, "time to get house now. Long way off
to pull. All ready, sir."
"Wait," whispered Almayer.
Now she was gone his business was to forget, and he had a strange
notion that it should be done systematically and in order. To
Ali's great dismay he fell on his hands and knees, and, creeping
along the sand, erased carefully with his hand all traces of
Nina's footsteps. He piled up small heaps of sand, leaving
behind him a line of miniature graves right down to the water.
After burying the last slight imprint of Nina's slipper he stood
up, and, turning his face towards the headland where he had last
seen the prau, he made an effort to shout out loud again his firm
resolve to never forgive. Ali watching him uneasily saw only his
lips move, but heard no sound. He brought his foot down with a
stamp. He was a firm man--firm as a rock. Let her go. He never
had a daughter. He would forget. He was forgetting already.
Ali approached him again, insisting on immediate departure, and
this time he consented, and they went together towards their
canoe, Almayer leading. For all his firmness he looked very
dejected and feeble as he dragged his feet slowly through the
sand on the beach; and by his side--invisible to Ali--stalked
that particular fiend whose mission it is to jog the memories of
men, lest they should forget the meaning of life. He whispered
into Almayer's ear a childish prattle of many years ago.
Almayer, his head bent on one side, seemed to listen to his
invisible companion, but his face was like the face of a man that
has died struck from behind--a face from which all feelings and
all expression are suddenly wiped off by the hand of unexpected
They slept on the river that night, mooring their canoe under the
bushes and lying down in the bottom side by side, in the absolute
exhaustion that kills hunger, thirst, all feeling and all thought
in the overpowering desire for that deep sleep which is like the
temporary annihilation of the tired body. Next day they started
again and fought doggedly with the current all the morning, till
about midday they reached the settlement and made fast their
little craft to the jetty of Lingard and Co. Almayer walked
straight to the house, and Ali followed, paddles on shoulder,
thinking that he would like to eat something. As they crossed
the front courtyard they noticed the abandoned look of the place.
Ali looked in at the different servants' houses: all were empty.
In the back courtyard there was the same absence of sound and
life. In the cooking-shed the fire was out and the black embers
were cold. A tall, lean man came stealthily out of the banana
plantation, and went away rapidly across the open space looking
at them with big, frightened eyes over his shoulder. Some
vagabond without a master; there were many such in the
settlement, and they looked upon Almayer as their patron. They
prowled about his premises and picked their living there, sure
that nothing worse could befall them than a shower of curses when
they got in the way of the white man, whom they trusted and
liked, and called a fool amongst themselves. In the house, which
Almayer entered through the back verandah, the only living thing
that met his eyes was his small monkey which, hungry and
unnoticed for the last two days, began to cry and complain in
monkey language as soon as it caught sight of the familiar face.
Almayer soothed it with a few words and ordered Ali to bring in
some bananas, then while Ali was gone to get them he stood in the
doorway of the front verandah looking at the chaos of overturned
furniture. Finally he picked up the table and sat on it while
the monkey let itself down from the roof-stick by its chain and
perched on his shoulder. When the bananas came they had their
breakfast together; both hungry, both eating greedily and
showering the skins round them recklessly, in the trusting
silence of perfect friendship. Ali went away, grumbling, to cook
some rice himself, for all the women about the house had
disappeared; he did not know where. Almayer did not seem to
care, and, after he finished eating, he sat on the table swinging
his legs and staring at the river as if lost in thought.
After some time he got up and went to the door of a room on the
right of the verandah. That was the office. The office of
Lingard and Co. He very seldom went in there. There was no
business now, and he did not want an office. The door was
locked, and he stood biting his lower lip, trying to think of the
place where the key could be. Suddenly he remembered: in the
women's room hung upon a nail. He went over to the doorway where
the red curtain hung down in motionless folds, and hesitated for
a moment before pushing it aside with his shoulder as if breaking
down some solid obstacle. A great square of sunshine entering
through the window lay on the floor. On the left he saw Mrs.
Almayer's big wooden chest, the lid thrown back, empty; near it
the brass nails of Nina's European trunk shone in the large
initials N. A. on the cover. A few of Nina's dresses hung on
wooden pegs, stiffened in a look of offended dignity at their
abandonment. He remembered making the pegs himself and noticed
that they were very good pegs. Where was the key? He looked
round and saw it near the door where he stood. It was red with
rust. He felt very much annoyed at that, and directly afterwards
wondered at his own feeling. What did it matter? There soon
would be no key--no door--nothing! He paused, key in hand, and
asked himself whether he knew well what he was about. He went
out again on the verandah and stood by the table thinking. The
monkey jumped down, and, snatching a banana skin, absorbed itself
in picking it to shreds industriously.
"Forget!" muttered Almayer, and that word started before him a
sequence of events, a detailed programme of things to do. He
knew perfectly well what was to be done now. First this, then
that, and then forgetfulness would come easy. Very easy. He had
a fixed idea that if he should not forget before he died he would
have to remember to all eternity. Certain things had to be taken
out of his life, stamped out of sight, destroyed, forgotten. For
a long time he stood in deep thought, lost in the alarming
possibilities of unconquerable memory, with the fear of death and
eternity before him. "Eternity!" he said aloud, and the sound of
that word recalled him out of his reverie. The monkey started,
dropped the skin, and grinned up at him amicably.
He went towards the office door and with some difficulty managed
to open it. He entered in a cloud of dust that rose under his
Books open with torn pages bestrewed the floor; other books lay
about grimy and black, looking as if they had never been opened.
Account books. In those books he had intended to keep day by day
a record of his rising fortunes. Long time ago. A very long
time. For many years there has been no record to keep on the
blue and red ruled pages! In the middle of the room the big
office desk, with one of its legs broken, careened over like the
hull of a stranded ship; most of the drawers had fallen out,
disclosing heaps of paper yellow with age and dirt. The
revolving office chair stood in its place, but he found the pivot
set fast when he tried to turn it. No matter. He desisted, and
his eyes wandered slowly from object to object. All those things
had cost a lot of money at the time. The desk, the paper, the
torn books, and the broken shelves, all under a thick coat of
dust. The very dust and bones of a dead and gone business. He
looked at all these things, all that was left after so many years
of work, of strife, of weariness, of discouragement, conquered so
many times. And all for what? He stood thinking mournfully of
his past life till he heard distinctly the clear voice of a child
speaking amongst all this wreck, ruin, and waste. He started
with a great fear in his heart, and feverishly began to rake in
the papers scattered on the floor, broke the chair into bits,
splintered the drawers by banging them against the desk, and made
a big heap of all that rubbish in one corner of the room.
He came out quickly, slammed the door after him, turned the key,
and, taking it out, ran to the front rail of the verandah, and,
with a great swing of his arm, sent the key whizzing into the
river. This done he went back slowly to the table, called the
monkey down, unhooked its chain, and induced it to remain quiet
in the breast of his jacket. Then he sat again on the table and
looked fixedly at the door of the room he had just left. He
listened also intently. He heard a dry sound of rustling; sharp
cracks as of dry wood snapping; a whirr like of a bird's wings
when it rises suddenly, and then he saw a thin stream of smoke
come through the keyhole. The monkey struggled under his coat.
Ali appeared with his eyes starting out of his head.
"Master! House burn!" he shouted.
Almayer stood up holding by the table. He could hear the yells
of alarm and surprise in the settlement. Ali wrung his hands,
lamenting aloud.
"Stop this noise, fool!" said Almayer, quietly. "Pick up my
hammock and blankets and take them to the other house. Quick,
The smoke burst through the crevices of the door, and Ali, with
the hammock in his arms, cleared in one bound the steps of the
"It has caught well," muttered Almayer to himself. "Be quiet,
Jack," he added, as the monkey made a frantic effort to escape
from its confinement.
The door split from top to bottom, and a rush of flame and smoke
drove Almayer away from the table to the front rail of the
verandah. He held on there till a great roar overhead assured
him that the roof was ablaze. Then he ran down the steps of the
verandah, coughing, half choked with the smoke that pursued him
in bluish wreaths curling about his head.
On the other side of the ditch, separating Almayer's courtyard
from the settlement, a crowd of the inhabitants of Sambir looked
at the burning house of the white man. In the calm air the
flames rushed up on high, coloured pale brick-red, with violet
gleams in the strong sunshine. The thin column of smoke ascended
straight and unwavering till it lost itself in the clear blue of
the sky, and, in the great empty space between the two houses the
interested spectators could see the tall figure of the Tuan
Putih, with bowed head and dragging feet, walking slowly away
from the fire towards the shelter of "Almayer's Folly."
In that manner did Almayer move into his new house. He took
possession of the new ruin, and in the undying folly of his heart
set himself to wait in anxiety and pain for that forgetfulness
which was so slow to come. He had done all he could. Every
vestige of Nina's existence had been destroyed; and now with
every sunrise he asked himself whether the longed-for oblivion
would come before sunset, whether it would come before he died?
He wanted to live only long enough to be able to forget, and the
tenacity of his memory filled him with dread and horror of death;
for should it come before he could accomplish the purpose of his
life he would have to remember for ever! He also longed for
loneliness. He wanted to be alone. But he was not. In the dim
light of the rooms with their closed shutters, in the bright
sunshine of the verandah, wherever he went, whichever way he
turned, he saw the small figure of a little maiden with pretty
olive face, with long black hair, her little pink robe slipping
off her shoulders, her big eyes looking up at him in the tender
trustfulness of a petted child. Ali did not see anything, but he
also was aware of the presence of a child in the house. In his
long talks by the evening fires of the settlement he used to tell
his intimate friends of Almayer's strange doings. His master had
turned sorcerer in his old age. Ali said that often when Tuan
Putih had retired for the night he could hear him talking to
something in his room. Ali thought that it was a spirit in the
shape of a child. He knew his master spoke to a child from
certain expressions and words his master used. His master spoke
in Malay a little, but mostly in English, which he, Ali, could
understand. Master spoke to the child at times tenderly, then he
would weep over it, laugh at it, scold it, beg of it to go away;
curse it. It was a bad and stubborn spirit. Ali thought his
master had imprudently called it up, and now could not get rid of
it. His master was very brave; he was not afraid to curse this
spirit in the very Presence; and once he fought with it. Ali had
heard a great noise as of running about inside the room and
groans. His master groaned. Spirits do not groan. His master
was brave, but foolish. You cannot hurt a spirit. Ali expected
to find his master dead next morning, but he came out very early,
looking much older than the day before, and had no food all day.
So far Ali to the settlement. To Captain Ford he was much more
communicative, for the good reason that Captain Ford had the
purse and gave orders. On each of Ford's monthly visits to
Sambir Ali had to go on board with a report about the inhabitant
of "Almayer's Folly." On his first visit to Sambir, after Nina's
departure, Ford had taken charge of Almayer's affairs. They were
not cumbersome. The shed for the storage of goods was empty, the
boats had disappeared, appropriated--generally in night-time--by
various citizens of Sambir in need of means of transport. During
a great flood the jetty of Lingard and Co. left the bank and
floated down the river, probably in search of more cheerful
surroundings; even the flock of geese--"the only geese on the
east coast"--departed somewhere, preferring the unknown dangers
of the bush to the desolation of their old home. As time went on
the grass grew over the black patch of ground where the old house
used to stand, and nothing remained to mark the place of the
dwelling that had sheltered Almayer's young hopes, his foolish
dream of splendid future, his awakening, and his despair.
Ford did not often visit Almayer, for visiting Almayer was not a
pleasant task. At first he used to respond listlessly to the old
seaman's boisterous inquiries about his health; he even made
efforts to talk, asking for news in a voice that made it
perfectly clear that no news from this world had any interest for
him. Then gradually he became more silent--not sulkily--but as
if he was forgetting how to speak. He used also to hide in the
darkest rooms of the house, where Ford had to seek him out guided
by the patter of the monkey galloping before him. The monkey was
always there to receive and introduce Ford. The little animal
seemed to have taken complete charge of its master, and whenever
it wished for his presence on the verandah it would tug
perseveringly at his jacket, till Almayer obediently came out
into the sunshine, which he seemed to dislike so much.
One morning Ford found him sitting on the floor of the verandah,
his back against the wall, his legs stretched stiffly out, his
arms hanging by his side. His expressionless face, his eyes open
wide with immobile pupils, and the rigidity of his pose, made him
look like an immense man-doll broken and flung there out of the
way. As Ford came up the steps he turned his head slowly.
"Ford," he murmured from the floor, "I cannot forget."
"Can't you?" said Ford, innocently, with an attempt at joviality:
"I wish I was like you. I am losing my memory--age, I suppose;
only the other day my mate--"
He stopped, for Almayer had got up, stumbled, and steadied
himself on his friend's arm.
"Hallo! You are better to-day. Soon be all right," said Ford,
cheerfully, but feeling rather scared.
Almayer let go his arm and stood very straight with his head up
and shoulders thrown back, looking stonily at the multitude of
suns shining in ripples of the river. His jacket and his loose
trousers flapped in the breeze on his thin limbs.
"Let her go!" he whispered in a grating voice. "Let her go. Tomorrow
I shall forget. I am a firm man, . . . firm as a . . .
rock, . . . firm . . ."
Ford looked at his face--and fled. The skipper was a tolerably
firm man himself--as those who had sailed with him could testify-
-but Almayer's firmness was altogether too much for his
Next time the steamer called in Sambir Ali came on board early
with a grievance. He complained to Ford that Jim-Eng the
Chinaman had invaded Almayer's house, and actually had lived
there for the last month.
"And they both smoke," added Ali.
"Phew! Opium, you mean?"
Ali nodded, and Ford remained thoughtful; then he muttered to
himself, "Poor devil! The sooner the better now." In the
afternoon he walked up to the house.
"What are you doing here?" he asked of Jim-Eng, whom he found
strolling about on the verandah.
Jim-Eng explained in bad Malay, and speaking in that monotonous,
uninterested voice of an opium smoker pretty far gone, that his
house was old, the roof leaked, and the floor was rotten. So,
being an old friend for many, many years, he took his money, his
opium, and two pipes, and came to live in this big house.
"There is plenty of room. He smokes, and I live here. He will
not smoke long," he concluded.
"Where is he now?" asked Ford.
"Inside. He sleeps," answered Jim-Eng, wearily. Ford glanced in
through the doorway. In the dim light of the room he could see
Almayer lying on his back on the floor, his head on a wooden
pillow, the long white beard scattered over his breast, the
yellow skin of the face, the half-closed eyelids showing the
whites of the eye only. . . .
He shuddered and turned away. As he was leaving he noticed a
long strip of faded red silk, with some Chinese letters on it,
which Jim-Eng had just fastened to one of the pillars.
"What's that?" he asked.
"That," said Jim-Eng, in his colourless voice, "that is the name
of the house. All the same like my house. Very good name."
Ford looked at him for awhile and went away. He did not know
what the crazy-looking maze of the Chinese inscription on the red
silk meant. Had he asked Jim-Eng, that patient Chinaman would
have informed him with proper pride that its meaning was: "House
of heavenly delight."
In the evening of the same day Babalatchi called on Captain Ford.
The captain's cabin opened on deck, and Babalatchi sat astride on
the high step, while Ford smoked his pipe on the settee inside.
The steamer was leaving next morning, and the old statesman came
as usual for a last chat.
"We had news from Bali last moon," remarked Babalatchi. "A
grandson is born to the old Rajah, and there is great rejoicing."
Ford sat up interested.
"Yes," went on Babalatchi, in answer to Ford's look. "I told
him. That was before he began to smoke."
"Well, and what?" asked Ford.
"I escaped with my life," said Babalatchi, with perfect gravity,
"because the white man is very weak and fell as he rushed upon
me." Then, after a pause, he added, "She is mad with joy."
"Mrs. Almayer, you mean?"
"Yes, she lives in our Rajah's house. She will not die soon.
Such women live a long time," said Babalatchi, with a slight
tinge of regret in his voice. "She has dollars, and she has
buried them, but we know where. We had much trouble with those
people. We had to pay a fine and listen to threats from the
white men, and now we have to be careful." He sighed and
remained silent for a long while. Then with energy:
"There will be fighting. There is a breath of war on the
islands. Shall I live long enough to see? . . . Ah, Tuan!" he
went on, more quietly, "the old times were best. Even I have
sailed with Lanun men, and boarded in the night silent ships with
white sails. That was before an English Rajah ruled in Kuching.
Then we fought amongst ourselves and were happy. Now when we
fight with you we can only die!"
He rose to go. "Tuan," he said, "you remember the girl that man
Bulangi had? Her that caused all the trouble?"
"Yes," said Ford. "What of her?"
"She grew thin and could not work. Then Bulangi, who is a thief
and a pig-eater, gave her to me for fifty dollars. I sent her
amongst my women to grow fat. I wanted to hear the sound of her
laughter, but she must have been bewitched, and . . . she died
two days ago. Nay, Tuan. Why do you speak bad words? I am
old--that is true--but why should I not like the sight of a young
face and the sound of a young voice in my house?" He paused, and
then added with a little mournful laugh, "I am like a white man
talking too much of what is not men's talk when they speak to one
And he went off looking very sad.
The crowd massed in a semicircle before the steps of "Almayer's
Folly," swayed silently backwards and forwards, and opened out
before the group of white-robed and turbaned men advancing
through the grass towards the house. Abdulla walked first,
supported by Reshid and followed by all the Arabs in Sambir. As
they entered the lane made by the respectful throng there was a
subdued murmur of voices, where the word "Mati" was the only one
distinctly audible. Abdulla stopped and looked round slowly.
"Is he dead?" he asked.
"May you live!" answered the crowd in one shout, and then there
succeeded a breathless silence.
Abdulla made a few paces forward and found himself for the last
time face to face with his old enemy. Whatever he might have
been once he was not dangerous now, lying stiff and lifeless in
the tender light of the early day. The only white man on the
east coast was dead, and his soul, delivered from the trammels of
his earthly folly, stood now in the presence of Infinite Wisdom.
On the upturned face there was that serene look which follows the
sudden relief from anguish and pain, and it testified silently
before the cloudless heaven that the man lying there under the
gaze of indifferent eyes had been permitted to forget before he
Abdulla looked down sadly at this Infidel he had fought so long
and had bested so many times. Such was the reward of the
Yet in the Arab's old heart there was a feeling of regret for
that thing gone out of his life. He was leaving fast behind him
friendships, and enmities, successes, and disappointments--all
that makes up a life; and before him was only the end. Prayer
would fill up the remainder of the days allotted to the True
Believer! He took in his hand the beads that hung at his waist.
"I found him here, like this, in the morning," said Ali, in a low
and awed voice.
Abdulla glanced coldly once more at the serene face.
"Let us go," he said, addressing Reshid.
And as they passed through the crowd that fell back before them,
the beads in Abdulla's hand clicked, while in a solemn whisper he
breathed out piously the name of Allah! The Merciful! The Compassionate!

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