The Complete Novels of Joseph Conrad


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Joseph Conrad was a Polish author who wrote in English after settling in England.
Conrad is regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. He was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English sensibility into English literature.
Conrad is considered an early modernist, though his works still contain elements of nineteenth-century realism.
Here you will find the complete novels of Joseph Conrad in the chronological order of their original publication.



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Joseph Conrad

Almayer’s Folly
First published : 1895

Chapter 1

“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
easychairs 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
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 anddrank 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
gumdammar, 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
halfway 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 thebush 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 himself.
“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 house.”
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 Rajah.”
“To the Rajah! Why? What do you want with Lakamba?”
“Tuan, to-morrow we talk like friends. I must see Lakamba to-night.”
“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 see.
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 binSelim, 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
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
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 repeated.
“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
He looked up the river and remarked calmly:
“Another thunderstorm. Well! No thunder will keep me awake to-night, I know!
Goodnight, 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 heavyrain, 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.
Chapter 2

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 “Rajah-Laut.”
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 ajust 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 accordingly.
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
handshakings 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. Thetrade 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 hadswallowed 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,
oliveskinned, 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 it.
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. Otherthings 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.
Chapter 3

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 boats.
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.
Wellfounded 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
whiterobed, 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 thesubsequent 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 ofchildhood 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 andgloomy 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
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 thethroat, 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 torch-bearers 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
halfclosed 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.
Chapter 4

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
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 withswift 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 whisper.
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 nothinghe 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
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 gracefulease 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 now.”
“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? Whatwould 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
guttapercha 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.
Chapter 5

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
goldmine, for that place where he had only to stoop to gather up an immense fortune and realisethe 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 Nina.
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 andbenignant 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 hours.
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 thatmeeting 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
allabsorbing 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 silence.
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
“Somebody before us also,” panted out Nina, without ceasing to paddle.
“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 sprang.
“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 amnot 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 heartbounding 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.
Chapter 6

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 consent.”
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 tosit 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 didnot 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
“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
“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 makethings 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 ifthey 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
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
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 boatmen.
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 forthe 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
“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 is.”
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
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.
Chapter 7

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
longmatured plans, now nearing the period of their execution. He was also uneasy at the
nonappearance 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
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 toexamine 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
“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 voice.
Babalatchi, staring straight before him, hardly moved his lips, while Mrs. Almayer’s
persistent lamentations drowned the whisper of his murmured reply intended only forAlmayer’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
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
“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
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 stone.
“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 speaking.
Almayer’s elaborately calm demeanour gave way in a moment to an outburst of violent
“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
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
“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
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 theverandah.
“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 stupidly.
“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.
Chapter 8

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 Almayer.
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 onthe 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
halfclosed 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 gate.
“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
“This slave is very slow,” he remarked to his nephew, looking after the girl with great
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 spokeof 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
neverceasing 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. Thepaddle 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
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 theslimy 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 calmwater 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 come.
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 gonehe 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
“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, surely.”
“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
“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
sawlike 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 whatwill you do with him?” he asked.
The officer’s face flushed. “This is not an answer,” he said, annoyed.
“And what will you do with me?” went on Almayer, not heeding the interruption.
“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
“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
“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 sub.
“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
“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.
Chapter 9

“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 Lakamba.
“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 andfound 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 Dain?”
“You get him away as you can best. This is a great trouble in my heart,” sighed
Babalatchi got up, and, going close to his master, spoke earnestly.
“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 me.”
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 sight?”
“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 him.
“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 misery.
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 busy.”
“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
“Listen,” she said. “He has drunk much.”
“He has,” whispered Babalatchi. “He will sleep heavily to-night.”
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
weakminded 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 again.
“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. Thenyou 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 understand.”
“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
“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 man.
“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 time.
“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 close.
“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 layunder 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 man.”
He dragged at the cover with hasty violence, and the body rolled stiffly off the planks and
fell at his feet in rigid helplessness.
“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 nothing.
“Ten o’clock,” said the lieutenant, looking at his watch and yawning. “I shall hear some ofthe 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 warmly.
“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 all.”
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
“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.
Chapter 10

“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
“I was a slave, and you shall be a queen,” went on Mrs. Almayer, looking straight beforeher; “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, mother.”
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 woman-god!”
“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
evergrowing 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 thoughtfulness.
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 anything?”
“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
“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 violently.
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 woman.”
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 hear?”
“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 togo 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
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 onlysupport. 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
“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 myhouse in the night? And if you had to come, why not go behind the curtain where the women
“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 too.”
“I was asleep. Can you not tell when a man is sleeping and when awake?”
“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?”
“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
“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 head.
“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, and — ”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 believe.”
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.
Chapter 11

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 destruction.
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
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 andblue 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
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
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 watchingthe 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 thatlook for ever. It is the look of woman’s surrender.
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 blindness.
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
dwellingplace 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 wisdomof 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 voice —
“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 withoutstretched 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
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 man?”
She raised her hand to stop him, and turning her head slightly, asked —
“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 wife.”
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 wife?”
“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 live.”
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 landing-place.
“Beware!” exclaimed Dain; “this woman belongs to me!”
Nina wrenched herself free and looked straight at Almayer’s angry face.
“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 violentlyand 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
“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
“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.
“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
burningout 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 me.”
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 — there!”
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!”
Chapter 12

“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 veryfar 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 know.”
Almayer shrugged his shoulders and turned away again towards the sea.
“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 walked.
“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 tome 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
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 arebroken 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 thing.
“Here is the boat coming now,” said Dain, his arm outstretched towards a black speck on
the water between the coast and the islet.
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
“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 theprau 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 death.
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; bothhungry, 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
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 feet.
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, ranto 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, now!”
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 verandah.
“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. Youcannot 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
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. To-morrow 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 fortitude.
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
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
“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
“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 soundof 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 another.”
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
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 died.
Abdulla looked down sadly at this Infidel he had fought so long and had bested so many
times. Such was the reward of the Faithful!
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!
An Outcast of the Islands
First published : 1896

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Author’s Note

“An Outcast of the Islands” is my second novel in the absolute sense of the word;
second in conception, second in execution, second as it were in its essence. There was no
hesitation, half-formed plan, vague idea, or the vaguest reverie of anything else between it
and “Almayer’s Folly.” The only doubt I suffered from, after the publication of “Almayer’s
Folly,” was whether I should write another line for print. Those days, now grown so dim, had
their poignant moments. Neither in my mind nor in my heart had I then given up the sea. In
truth I was clinging to it desperately, all the more desperately because, against my will, I could
not help feeling that there was something changed in my relation to it. “Almayer’s Folly,” had
been finished and done with. The mood itself was gone. But it had left the memory of an
experience that, both in thought and emotion was unconnected with the sea, and I suppose
that part of my moral being which is rooted in consistency was badly shaken. I was a victim of
contrary stresses which produced a state of immobility. I gave myself up to indolence. Since it
was impossible for me to face both ways I had elected to face nothing. The discovery of new
values in life is a very chaotic experience; there is a tremendous amount of jostling and
confusion and a momentary feeling of darkness. I let my spirit float supine over that chaos.
A phrase of Edward Garnett’s is, as a matter of fact, responsible for this book. The first
of the friends I made for myself by my pen it was but natural that he should be the recipient,
at that time, of my confidences. One evening when we had dined together and he had listened
to the account of my perplexities (I fear he must have been growing a little tired of them) he
pointed out that there was no need to determine my future absolutely. Then he added: “You
have the style, you have the temperament; why not write another?” I believe that as far as
one man may wish to influence another man’s life Edward Garnett had a great desire that I
should go on writing. At that time, and I may say, ever afterwards, he was always very patient
and gentle with me. What strikes me most however in the phrase quoted above which was
offered to me in a tone of detachment is not its gentleness but its effective wisdom. Had he
said, “Why not go on writing,” it is very probable he would have scared me away from pen and
ink for ever; but there was nothing either to frighten one or arouse one’s antagonism in the
mere suggestion to “write another.” And thus a dead point in the revolution of my affairs was
insidiously got over. The word “another” did it. At about eleven o’clock of a nice London night,
Edward and I walked along interminable streets talking of many things, and I remember that
on getting home I sat down and wrote about half a page of “An Outcast of the Islands” before
I slept. This was committing myself definitely, I won’t say to another life, but to another book.
There is apparently something in my character which will not allow me to abandon for good
any piece of work I have begun. I have laid aside many beginnings. I have laid them aside
with sorrow, with disgust, with rage, with melancholy and even with self-contempt; but even at
the worst I had an uneasy consciousness that I would have to go back to them.
“An Outcast of the Islands” belongs to those novels of mine that were never laid aside;
and though it brought me the qualification of “exotic writer” I don’t think the charge was at all
For the life of me I don’t see that there is the slightest exotic spirit in the conception or
style of that novel. It is certainly the most TROPICAL of my eastern tales. The mere scenery
got a great hold on me as I went on, perhaps because (I may just as well confess that) the
story itself was never very near my heart.
It engaged my imagination much more than my affection. As to my feeling for Willems it
was but the regard one cannot help having for one’s own creation. Obviously I could not be
indifferent to a man on whose head I had brought so much evil simply by imagining him suchas he appears in the novel — and that, too, on a very slight foundation.
The man who suggested Willems to me was not particularly interesting in himself. My
interest was aroused by his dependent position, his strange, dubious status of a mistrusted,
disliked, worn-out European living on the reluctant toleration of that Settlement hidden in the
heart of the forest-land, up that sombre stream which our ship was the only white men’s ship
to visit. With his hollow, clean-shaved cheeks, a heavy grey moustache and eyes without any
expression whatever, clad always in a spotless sleeping suit much be-frogged in front, which
left his lean neck wholly uncovered, and with his bare feet in a pair of straw slippers, he
wandered silently amongst the houses in daylight, almost as dumb as an animal and
apparently much more homeless. I don’t know what he did with himself at night. He must have
had a place, a hut, a palm-leaf shed, some sort of hovel where he kept his razor and his
change of sleeping suits. An air of futile mystery hung over him, something not exactly dark
but obviously ugly. The only definite statement I could extract from anybody was that it was he
who had “brought the Arabs into the river.” That must have happened many years before. But
how did he bring them into the river? He could hardly have done it in his arms like a lot of
kittens. I knew that Almayer founded the chronology of all his misfortunes on the date of that
fateful advent; and yet the very first time we dined with Almayer there was Willems sitting at
table with us in the manner of the skeleton at the feast, obviously shunned by everybody,
never addressed by any one, and for all recognition of his existence getting now and then
from Almayer a venomous glance which I observed with great surprise. In the course of the
whole evening he ventured one single remark which I didn’t catch because his articulation was
imperfect, as of a man who had forgotten how to speak. I was the only person who seemed
aware of the sound. Willems subsided. Presently he retired, pointedly unnoticed — into the
forest maybe? Its immensity was there, within three hundred yards of the verandah, ready to
swallow up anything. Almayer conversing with my captain did not stop talking while he glared
angrily at the retreating back. Didn’t that fellow bring the Arabs into the river! Nevertheless
Willems turned up next morning on Almayer’s verandah. From the bridge of the steamer I
could see plainly these two, breakfasting together, tete a tete and, I suppose, in dead silence,
one with his air of being no longer interested in this world and the other raising his eyes now
and then with intense dislike. It was clear that in those days Willems lived on Almayer’s
charity. Yet on returning two months later to Sambir I heard that he had gone on an
expedition up the river in charge of a steam-launch belonging to the Arabs, to make some
discovery or other. On account of the strange reluctance that everyone manifested to talk
about Willems it was impossible for me to get at the rights of that transaction. Moreover, I was
a newcomer, the youngest of the company, and, I suspect, not judged quite fit as yet for a full
confidence. I was not much concerned about that exclusion. The faint suggestion of plots and
mysteries pertaining to all matters touching Almayer’s affairs amused me vastly. Almayer was
obviously very much affected. I believe he missed Willems immensely. He wore an air of
sinister preoccupation and talked confidentially with my captain. I could catch only snatches of
mumbled sentences. Then one morning as I came along the deck to take my place at the
breakfast table Almayer checked himself in his low-toned discourse. My captain’s face was
perfectly impenetrable. There was a moment of profound silence and then as if unable to
contain himself Almayer burst out in a loud vicious tone:
“One thing’s certain; if he finds anything worth having up there they will poison him like a
Disconnected though it was, that phrase, as food for thought, was distinctly worth
hearing. We left the river three days afterwards and I never returned to Sambir; but whatever
happened to the protagonist of my Willems nobody can deny that I have recorded for him a
less squalid fate.

J. C. 1919.
Part 1
Chapter 1

When he stepped off the straight and narrow path of his peculiar honesty, it was with an
inward assertion of unflinching resolve to fall back again into the monotonous but safe stride
of virtue as soon as his little excursion into the wayside quagmires had produced the desired
effect. It was going to be a short episode — a sentence in brackets, so to speak — in the
flowing tale of his life: a thing of no moment, to be done unwillingly, yet neatly, and to be
quickly forgotten. He imagined that he could go on afterwards looking at the sunshine,
enjoying the shade, breathing in the perfume of flowers in the small garden before his house.
He fancied that nothing would be changed, that he would be able as heretofore to tyrannize
good-humouredly over his half-caste wife, to notice with tender contempt his pale yellow child,
to patronize loftily his dark-skinned brother-in-law, who loved pink neckties and wore
patentleather boots on his little feet, and was so humble before the white husband of the lucky
sister. Those were the delights of his life, and he was unable to conceive that the moral
significance of any act of his could interfere with the very nature of things, could dim the light
of the sun, could destroy the perfume of the flowers, the submission of his wife, the smile of
his child, the awe-struck respect of Leonard da Souza and of all the Da Souza family. That
family’s admiration was the great luxury of his life. It rounded and completed his existence in a
perpetual assurance of unquestionable superiority. He loved to breathe the coarse incense
they offered before the shrine of the successful white man; the man that had done them the
honour to marry their daughter, sister, cousin; the rising man sure to climb very high; the
confidential clerk of Hudig & Co. They were a numerous and an unclean crowd, living in ruined
bamboo houses, surrounded by neglected compounds, on the outskirts of Macassar. He kept
them at arm’s length and even further off, perhaps, having no illusions as to their worth. They
were a half-caste, lazy lot, and he saw them as they were — ragged, lean, unwashed,
undersized men of various ages, shuffling about aimlessly in slippers; motionless old women
who looked like monstrous bags of pink calico stuffed with shapeless lumps of fat, and
deposited askew upon decaying rattan chairs in shady corners of dusty verandahs; young
women, slim and yellow, big-eyed, long-haired, moving languidly amongst the dirt and rubbish
of their dwellings as if every step they took was going to be their very last. He heard their shrill
quarrellings, the squalling of their children, the grunting of their pigs; he smelt the odours of
the heaps of garbage in their courtyards: and he was greatly disgusted. But he fed and
clothed that shabby multitude; those degenerate descendants of Portuguese conquerors; he
was their providence; he kept them singing his praises in the midst of their laziness, of their
dirt, of their immense and hopeless squalor: and he was greatly delighted. They wanted much,
but he could give them all they wanted without ruining himself. In exchange he had their silent
fear, their loquacious love, their noisy veneration. It is a fine thing to be a providence, and to
be told so on every day of one’s life. It gives one a feeling of enormously remote superiority,
and Willems revelled in it. He did not analyze the state of his mind, but probably his greatest
delight lay in the unexpressed but intimate conviction that, should he close his hand, all those
admiring human beings would starve. His munificence had demoralized them. An easy task.
Since he descended amongst them and married Joanna they had lost the little aptitude and
strength for work they might have had to put forth under the stress of extreme necessity.
They lived now by the grace of his will. This was power. Willems loved it. In another, and
perhaps a lower plane, his days did not want for their less complex but more obvious
pleasures. He liked the simple games of skill — billiards; also games not so simple, and calling
for quite another kind of skill — poker. He had been the aptest pupil of a steady-eyed,
sententious American, who had drifted mysteriously into Macassar from the wastes of the
Pacific, and, after knocking about for a time in the eddies of town life, had drifted outenigmatically into the sunny solitudes of the Indian Ocean. The memory of the Californian
stranger was perpetuated in the game of poker — which became popular in the capital of
Celebes from that time — and in a powerful cocktail, the recipe for which is transmitted — in
the Kwang-tung dialect — from head boy to head boy of the Chinese servants in the Sunda
Hotel even to this day. Willems was a connoisseur in the drink and an adept at the game. Of
those accomplishments he was moderately proud. Of the confidence reposed in him by Hudig
— the master — he was boastfully and obtrusively proud. This arose from his great
benevolence, and from an exalted sense of his duty to himself and the world at large. He
experienced that irresistible impulse to impart information which is inseparable from gross
ignorance. There is always some one thing which the ignorant man knows, and that thing is
the only thing worth knowing; it fills the ignorant man’s universe. Willems knew all about
himself. On the day when, with many misgivings, he ran away from a Dutch East-Indiaman in
Samarang roads, he had commenced that study of himself, of his own ways, of his own
abilities, of those fate-compelling qualities of his which led him toward that lucrative position
which he now filled. Being of a modest and diffident nature, his successes amazed, almost
frightened him, and ended — as he got over the succeeding shocks of surprise — by making
him ferociously conceited. He believed in his genius and in his knowledge of the world. Others
should know of it also; for their own good and for his greater glory. All those friendly men who
slapped him on the back and greeted him noisily should have the benefit of his example. For
that he must talk. He talked to them conscientiously. In the afternoon he expounded his
theory of success over the little tables, dipping now and then his moustache in the crushed ice
of the cocktails; in the evening he would often hold forth, cue in hand, to a young listener
across the billiard table. The billiard balls stood still as if listening also, under the vivid brilliance
of the shaded oil lamps hung low over the cloth; while away in the shadows of the big room
the Chinaman marker would lean wearily against the wall, the blank mask of his face looking
pale under the mahogany marking-board; his eyelids dropped in the drowsy fatigue of late
hours and in the buzzing monotony of the unintelligible stream of words poured out by the
white man. In a sudden pause of the talk the game would recommence with a sharp click and
go on for a time in the flowing soft whirr and the subdued thuds as the balls rolled zig-zagging
towards the inevitably successful cannon. Through the big windows and the open doors the
salt dampness of the sea, the vague smell of mould and flowers from the garden of the hotel
drifted in and mingled with the odour of lamp oil, growing heavier as the night advanced. The
players’ heads dived into the light as they bent down for the stroke, springing back again
smartly into the greenish gloom of broad lamp-shades; the clock ticked methodically; the
unmoved Chinaman continuously repeated the score in a lifeless voice, like a big talking doll
— and Willems would win the game. With a remark that it was getting late, and that he was a
married man, he would say a patronizing good-night and step out into the long, empty street.
At that hour its white dust was like a dazzling streak of moonlight where the eye sought
repose in the dimmer gleam of rare oil lamps. Willems walked homewards, following the line of
walls overtopped by the luxuriant vegetation of the front gardens. The houses right and left
were hidden behind the black masses of flowering shrubs. Willems had the street to himself.
He would walk in the middle, his shadow gliding obsequiously before him. He looked down on
it complacently. The shadow of a successful man! He would be slightly dizzy with the cocktails
and with the intoxication of his own glory. As he often told people, he came east fourteen
years ago — a cabin boy. A small boy. His shadow must have been very small at that time; he
thought with a smile that he was not aware then he had anything — even a shadow — which
he dared call his own. And now he was looking at the shadow of the confidential clerk of Hudig
& Co. going home. How glorious! How good was life for those that were on the winning side!
He had won the game of life; also the game of billiards. He walked faster, jingling his winnings,
and thinking of the white stone days that had marked the path of his existence. He thought of
the trip to Lombok for ponies — that first important transaction confided to him by Hudig; thenhe reviewed the more important affairs: the quiet deal in opium; the illegal traffic in
gunpowder; the great affair of smuggled firearms, the difficult business of the Rajah of Goak.
He carried that last through by sheer pluck; he had bearded the savage old ruler in his council
room; he had bribed him with a gilt glass coach, which, rumour said, was used as a hen-coop
now; he had over-persuaded him; he had bested him in every way. That was the way to get
on. He disapproved of the elementary dishonesty that dips the hand in the cash-box, but one
could evade the laws and push the principles of trade to their furthest consequences. Some
call that cheating. Those are the fools, the weak, the contemptible. The wise, the strong, the
respected, have no scruples. Where there are scruples there can be no power. On that text
he preached often to the young men. It was his doctrine, and he, himself, was a shining
example of its truth. Night after night he went home thus, after a day of toil and pleasure,
drunk with the sound of his own voice celebrating his own prosperity. On his thirtieth birthday
he went home thus. He had spent in good company a nice, noisy evening, and, as he walked
along the empty street, the feeling of his own greatness grew upon him, lifted him above the
white dust of the road, and filled him with exultation and regrets. He had not done himself
justice over there in the hotel, he had not talked enough about himself, he had not impressed
his hearers enough. Never mind. Some other time. Now he would go home and make his wife
get up and listen to him. Why should she not get up? — and mix a cocktail for him — and
listen patiently. Just so. She shall. If he wanted he could make all the Da Souza family get up.
He had only to say a word and they would all come and sit silently in their night vestments on
the hard, cold ground of his compound and listen, as long as he wished to go on explaining to
them from the top of the stairs, how great and good he was. They would. However, his wife
would do — for to-night.
His wife! He winced inwardly. A dismal woman with startled eyes and dolorously drooping
mouth, that would listen to him in pained wonder and mute stillness. She was used to those
night-discourses now. She had rebelled once — at the beginning. Only once. Now, while he
sprawled in the long chair and drank and talked, she would stand at the further end of the
table, her hands resting on the edge, her frightened eyes watching his lips, without a sound,
without a stir, hardly breathing, till he dismissed her with a contemptuous: “Go to bed,
dummy.” She would draw a long breath then and trail out of the room, relieved but unmoved.
Nothing could startle her, make her scold or make her cry. She did not complain, she did not
rebel. That first difference of theirs was decisive. Too decisive, thought Willems,
discontentedly. It had frightened the soul out of her body apparently. A dismal woman! A
damn’d business altogether! What the devil did he want to go and saddle himself... Ah! Well!
he wanted a home, and the match seemed to please Hudig, and Hudig gave him the
bungalow, that flower-bowered house to which he was wending his way in the cool moonlight.
And he had the worship of the Da Souza tribe. A man of his stamp could carry off anything,
do anything, aspire to anything. In another five years those white people who attended the
Sunday card-parties of the Governor would accept him — half-caste wife and all! Hooray! He
saw his shadow dart forward and wave a hat, as big as a rum barrel, at the end of an arm
several yards long... Who shouted hooray?... He smiled shamefacedly to himself, and,
pushing his hands deep into his pockets, walked faster with a suddenly grave face. Behind
him — to the left — a cigar end glowed in the gateway of Mr. Vinck’s front yard. Leaning
against one of the brick pillars, Mr. Vinck, the cashier of Hudig & Co., smoked the last cheroot
of the evening. Amongst the shadows of the trimmed bushes Mrs. Vinck crunched slowly, with
measured steps, the gravel of the circular path before the house.
“There’s Willems going home on foot — and drunk I fancy,” said Mr. Vinck over his
shoulder. “I saw him jump and wave his hat.”
The crunching of the gravel stopped.
“Horrid man,” said Mrs. Vinck, calmly. “I have heard he beats his wife.”
“Oh no, my dear, no,” muttered absently Mr. Vinck, with a vague gesture. The aspect ofWillems as a wife-beater presented to him no interest. How women do misjudge! If Willems
wanted to torture his wife he would have recourse to less primitive methods. Mr. Vinck knew
Willems well, and believed him to be very able, very smart — objectionably so. As he took the
last quick draws at the stump of his cheroot, Mr. Vinck reflected that the confidence accorded
by Hudig to Willems was open, under the circumstances, to loyal criticism from Hudig’s
“He is becoming dangerous; he knows too much. He will have to be got rid of,” said Mr.
Vinck aloud. But Mrs. Vinck had gone in already, and after shaking his head he threw away
his cheroot and followed her slowly.
Willems walked on homeward weaving the splendid web of his future. The road to
greatness lay plainly before his eyes, straight and shining, without any obstacle that he could
see. He had stepped off the path of honesty, as he understood it, but he would soon regain it,
never to leave it any more! It was a very small matter. He would soon put it right again.
Meantime his duty was not to be found out, and he trusted in his skill, in his luck, in his
wellestablished reputation that would disarm suspicion if anybody dared to suspect. But nobody
would dare! True, he was conscious of a slight deterioration. He had appropriated temporarily
some of Hudig’s money. A deplorable necessity. But he judged himself with the indulgence
that should be extended to the weaknesses of genius. He would make reparation and all
would be as before; nobody would be the loser for it, and he would go on unchecked toward
the brilliant goal of his ambition.
Hudig’s partner!
Before going up the steps of his house he stood for awhile, his feet well apart, chin in
hand, contemplating mentally Hudig’s future partner. A glorious occupation. He saw him quite
safe; solid as the hills; deep — deep as an abyss; discreet as the grave.
Chapter 2

The sea, perhaps because of its saltness, roughens the outside but keeps sweet the
kernel of its servants’ soul. The old sea; the sea of many years ago, whose servants were
devoted slaves and went from youth to age or to a sudden grave without needing to open the
book of life, because they could look at eternity reflected on the element that gave the life and
dealt the death. Like a beautiful and unscrupulous woman, the sea of the past was glorious in
its smiles, irresistible in its anger, capricious, enticing, illogical, irresponsible; a thing to love, a
thing to fear. It cast a spell, it gave joy, it lulled gently into boundless faith; then with quick and
causeless anger it killed. But its cruelty was redeemed by the charm of its inscrutable
mystery, by the immensity of its promise, by the supreme witchery of its possible favour.
Strong men with childlike hearts were faithful to it, were content to live by its grace — to die by
its will. That was the sea before the time when the French mind set the Egyptian muscle in
motion and produced a dismal but profitable ditch. Then a great pall of smoke sent out by
countless steam-boats was spread over the restless mirror of the Infinite. The hand of the
engineer tore down the veil of the terrible beauty in order that greedy and faithless landlubbers
might pocket dividends. The mystery was destroyed. Like all mysteries, it lived only in the
hearts of its worshippers. The hearts changed; the men changed. The once loving and
devoted servants went out armed with fire and iron, and conquering the fear of their own
hearts became a calculating crowd of cold and exacting masters. The sea of the past was an
incomparably beautiful mistress, with inscrutable face, with cruel and promising eyes. The sea
of to-day is a used-up drudge, wrinkled and defaced by the churned-up wakes of brutal
propellers, robbed of the enslaving charm of its vastness, stripped of its beauty, of its mystery
and of its promise.
Tom Lingard was a master, a lover, a servant of the sea. The sea took him young,
fashioned him body and soul; gave him his fierce aspect, his loud voice, his fearless eyes, his
stupidly guileless heart. Generously it gave him his absurd faith in himself, his universal love of
creation, his wide indulgence, his contemptuous severity, his straightforward simplicity of
motive and honesty of aim. Having made him what he was, womanlike, the sea served him
humbly and let him bask unharmed in the sunshine of its terribly uncertain favour. Tom
Lingard grew rich on the sea and by the sea. He loved it with the ardent affection of a lover,
he made light of it with the assurance of perfect mastery, he feared it with the wise fear of a
brave man, and he took liberties with it as a spoiled child might do with a paternal and
goodnatured ogre. He was grateful to it, with the gratitude of an honest heart. His greatest pride
lay in his profound conviction of its faithfulness — in the deep sense of his unerring knowledge
of its treachery.
The little brig Flash was the instrument of Lingard’s fortune. They came north together —
both young — out of an Australian port, and after a very few years there was not a white man
in the islands, from Palembang to Ternate, from Ombawa to Palawan, that did not know
Captain Tom and his lucky craft. He was liked for his reckless generosity, for his unswerving
honesty, and at first was a little feared on account of his violent temper. Very soon, however,
they found him out, and the word went round that Captain Tom’s fury was less dangerous
than many a man’s smile. He prospered greatly. After his first — and successful — fight with
the sea robbers, when he rescued, as rumour had it, the yacht of some big wig from home,
somewhere down Carimata way, his great popularity began. As years went on it grew apace.
Always visiting out-of-the-way places of that part of the world, always in search of new
markets for his cargoes — not so much for profit as for the pleasure of finding them — he
soon became known to the Malays, and by his successful recklessness in several encounters
with pirates, established the terror of his name. Those white men with whom he had business,and who naturally were on the look-out for his weaknesses, could easily see that it was
enough to give him his Malay title to flatter him greatly. So when there was anything to be
gained by it, and sometimes out of pure and unprofitable good nature, they would drop the
ceremonious “Captain Lingard” and address him half seriously as Rajah Laut — the King of
the Sea.
He carried the name bravely on his broad shoulders. He had carried it many years
already when the boy Willems ran barefooted on the deck of the ship Kosmopoliet IV. in
Samarang roads, looking with innocent eyes on the strange shore and objurgating his
immediate surroundings with blasphemous lips, while his childish brain worked upon the heroic
idea of running away. From the poop of the Flash Lingard saw in the early morning the Dutch
ship get lumberingly under weigh, bound for the eastern ports. Very late in the evening of the
same day he stood on the quay of the landing canal, ready to go on board of his brig. The
night was starry and clear; the little custom-house building was shut up, and as the gharry that
brought him down disappeared up the long avenue of dusty trees leading to the town, Lingard
thought himself alone on the quay. He roused up his sleeping boat-crew and stood waiting for
them to get ready, when he felt a tug at his coat and a thin voice said, very distinctly —
“English captain.”
Lingard turned round quickly, and what seemed to be a very lean boy jumped back with
commendable activity.
“Who are you? Where do you spring from?” asked Lingard, in startled surprise.
From a safe distance the boy pointed toward a cargo lighter moored to the quay.
“Been hiding there, have you?” said Lingard. “Well, what do you want? Speak out,
confound you. You did not come here to scare me to death, for fun, did you?”
The boy tried to explain in imperfect English, but very soon Lingard interrupted him.
“I see,” he exclaimed, “you ran away from the big ship that sailed this morning. Well, why
don’t you go to your countrymen here?”
“Ship gone only a little way — to Sourabaya. Make me go back to the ship,” explained
the boy.
“Best thing for you,” affirmed Lingard with conviction.
“No,” retorted the boy; “me want stop here; not want go home. Get money here; home
no good.”
“This beats all my going a-fishing,” commented the astonished Lingard. “It’s money you
want? Well! well! And you were not afraid to run away, you bag of bones, you!”
The boy intimated that he was frightened of nothing but of being sent back to the ship.
Lingard looked at him in meditative silence.
“Come closer,” he said at last. He took the boy by the chin, and turning up his face gave
him a searching look. “How old are you?”
“There’s not much of you for seventeen. Are you hungry?”
“A little.”
“Will you come with me, in that brig there?”
The boy moved without a word towards the boat and scrambled into the bows.
“Knows his place,” muttered Lingard to himself as he stepped heavily into the stern
sheets and took up the yoke lines. “Give way there.”
The Malay boat crew lay back together, and the gig sprang away from the quay heading
towards the brig’s riding light.
Such was the beginning of Willems’ career.
Lingard learned in half an hour all that there was of Willems’ commonplace story. Father
outdoor clerk of some ship-broker in Rotterdam; mother dead. The boy quick in learning, but
idle in school. The straitened circumstances in the house filled with small brothers and sisters,
sufficiently clothed and fed but otherwise running wild, while the disconsolate widower trampedabout all day in a shabby overcoat and imperfect boots on the muddy quays, and in the
evening piloted wearily the half-intoxicated foreign skippers amongst the places of cheap
delights, returning home late, sick with too much smoking and drinking — for company’s sake
— with these men, who expected such attentions in the way of business. Then the offer of the
good-natured captain of Kosmopoliet IV., who was pleased to do something for the patient
and obliging fellow; young Willems’ great joy, his still greater disappointment with the sea that
looked so charming from afar, but proved so hard and exacting on closer acquaintance — and
then this running away by a sudden impulse. The boy was hopelessly at variance with the
spirit of the sea. He had an instinctive contempt for the honest simplicity of that work which
led to nothing he cared for. Lingard soon found this out. He offered to send him home in an
English ship, but the boy begged hard to be permitted to remain. He wrote a beautiful hand,
became soon perfect in English, was quick at figures; and Lingard made him useful in that
way. As he grew older his trading instincts developed themselves astonishingly, and Lingard
left him often to trade in one island or another while he, himself, made an intermediate trip to
some out-of-the-way place. On Willems expressing a wish to that effect, Lingard let him enter
Hudig’s service. He felt a little sore at that abandonment because he had attached himself, in
a way, to his protege. Still he was proud of him, and spoke up for him loyally. At first it was,
“Smart boy that — never make a seaman though.” Then when Willems was helping in the
trading he referred to him as “that clever young fellow.” Later when Willems became the
confidential agent of Hudig, employed in many a delicate affair, the simple-hearted old
seaman would point an admiring finger at his back and whisper to whoever stood near at the
moment, “Long-headed chap that; deuced long-headed chap. Look at him. Confidential man
of old Hudig. I picked him up in a ditch, you may say, like a starved cat. Skin and bone. ‘Pon
my word I did. And now he knows more than I do about island trading. Fact. I am not joking.
More than I do,” he would repeat, seriously, with innocent pride in his honest eyes.
From the safe elevation of his commercial successes Willems patronized Lingard. He
had a liking for his benefactor, not unmixed with some disdain for the crude directness of the
old fellow’s methods of conduct. There were, however, certain sides of Lingard’s character for
which Willems felt a qualified respect. The talkative seaman knew how to be silent on certain
matters that to Willems were very interesting. Besides, Lingard was rich, and that in itself was
enough to compel Willems’ unwilling admiration. In his confidential chats with Hudig, Willems
generally alluded to the benevolent Englishman as the “lucky old fool” in a very distinct tone of
vexation; Hudig would grunt an unqualified assent, and then the two would look at each other
in a sudden immobility of pupils fixed by a stare of unexpressed thought.
“You can’t find out where he gets all that india-rubber, hey Willems?” Hudig would ask at
last, turning away and bending over the papers on his desk.
“No, Mr. Hudig. Not yet. But I am trying,” was Willems’ invariable reply, delivered with a
ring of regretful deprecation.
“Try! Always try! You may try! You think yourself clever perhaps,” rumbled on Hudig,
without looking up. “I have been trading with him twenty — thirty years now. The old fox. And I
have tried. Bah!”
He stretched out a short, podgy leg and contemplated the bare instep and the grass
slipper hanging by the toes. “You can’t make him drunk?” he would add, after a pause of
stertorous breathing.
“No, Mr. Hudig, I can’t really,” protested Willems, earnestly.
“Well, don’t try. I know him. Don’t try,” advised the master, and, bending again over his
desk, his staring bloodshot eyes close to the paper, he would go on tracing laboriously with his
thick fingers the slim unsteady letters of his correspondence, while Willems waited respectfully
for his further good pleasure before asking, with great deference —
“Any orders, Mr. Hudig?”
“Hm! yes. Go to Bun-Hin yourself and see the dollars of that payment counted andpacked, and have them put on board the mail-boat for Ternate. She’s due here this
“Yes, Mr. Hudig.”
“And, look here. If the boat is late, leave the case in Bun-Hin’s godown till to-morrow.
Seal it up. Eight seals as usual. Don’t take it away till the boat is here.”
“No, Mr. Hudig.”
“And don’t forget about these opium cases. It’s for to-night. Use my own boatmen.
Transship them from the Caroline to the Arab barque,” went on the master in his hoarse
undertone. “And don’t you come to me with another story of a case dropped overboard like
last time,” he added, with sudden ferocity, looking up at his confidential clerk.
“No, Mr. Hudig. I will take care.”
“That’s all. Tell that pig as you go out that if he doesn’t make the punkah go a little better
I will break every bone in his body,” finished up Hudig, wiping his purple face with a red silk
handkerchief nearly as big as a counterpane.
Noiselessly Willems went out, shutting carefully behind him the little green door through
which he passed to the warehouse. Hudig, pen in hand, listened to him bullying the punkah
boy with profane violence, born of unbounded zeal for the master’s comfort, before he
returned to his writing amid the rustling of papers fluttering in the wind sent down by the
punkah that waved in wide sweeps above his head.
Willems would nod familiarly to Mr. Vinck, who had his desk close to the little door of the
private office, and march down the warehouse with an important air. Mr. Vinck — extreme
dislike lurking in every wrinkle of his gentlemanly countenance — would follow with his eyes
the white figure flitting in the gloom amongst the piles of bales and cases till it passed out
through the big archway into the glare of the street.
Chapter 3

The opportunity and the temptation were too much for Willems, and under the pressure
of sudden necessity he abused that trust which was his pride, the perpetual sign of his
cleverness and a load too heavy for him to carry. A run of bad luck at cards, the failure of a
small speculation undertaken on his own account, an unexpected demand for money from
one or another member of the Da Souza family — and almost before he was well aware of it
he was off the path of his peculiar honesty. It was such a faint and ill-defined track that it took
him some time to find out how far he had strayed amongst the brambles of the dangerous
wilderness he had been skirting for so many years, without any other guide than his own
convenience and that doctrine of success which he had found for himself in the book of life —
in those interesting chapters that the Devil has been permitted to write in it, to test the
sharpness of men’s eyesight and the steadfastness of their hearts. For one short, dark and
solitary moment he was dismayed, but he had that courage that will not scale heights, yet will
wade bravely through the mud — if there be no other road. He applied himself to the task of
restitution, and devoted himself to the duty of not being found out. On his thirtieth birthday he
had almost accomplished the task — and the duty had been faithfully and cleverly performed.
He saw himself safe. Again he could look hopefully towards the goal of his legitimate ambition.
Nobody would dare to suspect him, and in a few days there would be nothing to suspect. He
was elated. He did not know that his prosperity had touched then its high-water mark, and that
the tide was already on the turn.
Two days afterwards he knew. Mr. Vinck, hearing the rattle of the door-handle, jumped
up from his desk — where he had been tremulously listening to the loud voices in the private
office — and buried his face in the big safe with nervous haste. For the last time Willems
passed through the little green door leading to Hudig’s sanctum, which, during the past
halfhour, might have been taken — from the fiendish noise within — for the cavern of some wild
beast. Willems’ troubled eyes took in the quick impression of men and things as he came out
from the place of his humiliation. He saw the scared expression of the punkah boy; the
Chinamen tellers sitting on their heels with unmovable faces turned up blankly towards him
while their arrested hands hovered over the little piles of bright guilders ranged on the floor;
Mr. Vinck’s shoulder-blades with the fleshy rims of two red ears above. He saw the long
avenue of gin cases stretching from where he stood to the arched doorway beyond which he
would be able to breathe perhaps. A thin rope’s end lay across his path and he saw it
distinctly, yet stumbled heavily over it as if it had been a bar of iron. Then he found himself in
the street at last, but could not find air enough to fill his lungs. He walked towards his home,
As the sound of Hudig’s insults that lingered in his ears grew fainter by the lapse of time,
the feeling of shame was replaced slowly by a passion of anger against himself and still more
against the stupid concourse of circumstances that had driven him into his idiotic indiscretion.
Idiotic indiscretion; that is how he defined his guilt to himself. Could there be anything worse
from the point of view of his undeniable cleverness? What a fatal aberration of an acute mind!
He did not recognize himself there. He must have been mad. That’s it. A sudden gust of
madness. And now the work of long years was destroyed utterly. What would become of him?
Before he could answer that question he found himself in the garden before his house,
Hudig’s wedding gift. He looked at it with a vague surprise to find it there. His past was so
utterly gone from him that the dwelling which belonged to it appeared to him incongruous
standing there intact, neat, and cheerful in the sunshine of the hot afternoon. The house was
a pretty little structure all doors and windows, surrounded on all sides by the deep verandah
supported on slender columns clothed in the green foliage of creepers, which also fringed theoverhanging eaves of the high-pitched roof. Slowly, Willems mounted the dozen steps that led
to the verandah. He paused at every step. He must tell his wife. He felt frightened at the
prospect, and his alarm dismayed him. Frightened to face her! Nothing could give him a better
measure of the greatness of the change around him, and in him. Another man — and another
life with the faith in himself gone. He could not be worth much if he was afraid to face that
He dared not enter the house through the open door of the dining-room, but stood
irresolute by the little work-table where trailed a white piece of calico, with a needle stuck in it,
as if the work had been left hurriedly. The pink-crested cockatoo started, on his appearance,
into clumsy activity and began to climb laboriously up and down his perch, calling “Joanna”
with indistinct loudness and a persistent screech that prolonged the last syllable of the name
as if in a peal of insane laughter. The screen in the doorway moved gently once or twice in the
breeze, and each time Willems started slightly, expecting his wife, but he never lifted his eyes,
although straining his ears for the sound of her footsteps. Gradually he lost himself in his
thoughts, in the endless speculation as to the manner in which she would receive his news —
and his orders. In this preoccupationhe almost forgot the fear of her presence. No doubt she
will cry, she will lament, she will be helpless and frightened and passive as ever. And he would
have to drag that limp weight on and on through the darkness of a spoiled life. Horrible! Of
course he could not abandon her and the child to certain misery or possible starvation. The
wife and the child of Willems. Willems the successful, the smart; Willems the conf... Pah! And
what was Willems now? Willems the... He strangled the half-born thought, and cleared his
throat to stifle a groan. Ah! Won’t they talk to-night in the billiard-room — his world, where he
had been first — all those men to whom he had been so superciliously condescending. Won’t
they talk with surprise, and affected regret, and grave faces, and wise nods. Some of them
owed him money, but he never pressed anybody. Not he. Willems, the prince of good fellows,
they called him. And now they will rejoice, no doubt, at his downfall. A crowd of imbeciles. In
his abasement he was yet aware of his superiority over those fellows, who were merely
honest or simply not found out yet. A crowd of imbeciles! He shook his fist at the evoked
image of his friends, and the startled parrot fluttered its wings and shrieked in desperate
In a short glance upwards Willems saw his wife come round the corner of the house. He
lowered his eyelids quickly, and waited silently till she came near and stood on the other side
of the little table. He would not look at her face, but he could see the red dressing-gown he
knew so well. She trailed through life in that red dressing-gown, with its row of dirty blue bows
down the front, stained, and hooked on awry; a torn flounce at the bottom following her like a
snake as she moved languidly about, with her hair negligently caught up, and a tangled wisp
straggling untidily down her back. His gaze travelled upwards from bow to bow, noticing those
that hung only by a thread, but it did not go beyond her chin. He looked at her lean throat, at
the obtrusive collarbone visible in the disarray of the upper part of her attire. He saw the thin
arm and the bony hand clasping the child she carried, and he felt an immense distaste for
those encumbrances of his life. He waited for her to say something, but as he felt her eyes
rest on him in unbroken silence he sighed and began to speak.
It was a hard task. He spoke slowly, lingering amongst the memories of this early life in
his reluctance to confess that this was the end of it and the beginning of a less splendid
existence. In his conviction of having made her happiness in the full satisfaction of all material
wants he never doubted for a moment that she was ready to keep him company on no matter
how hard and stony a road. He was not elated by this certitude. He had married her to please
Hudig, and the greatness of his sacrifice ought to have made her happy without any further
exertion on his part. She had years of glory as Willems’ wife, and years of comfort, of loyal
care, and of such tenderness as she deserved. He had guarded her carefully from any bodily
hurt; and of any other suffering he had no conception. The assertion of his superiority wasonly another benefit conferred on her. All this was a matter of course, but he told her all this
so as to bring vividly before her the greatness of her loss. She was so dull of understanding
that she would not grasp it else. And now it was at an end. They would have to go. Leave this
house, leave this island, go far away where he was unknown. To the English
StraitSettlements perhaps. He would find an opening there for his abilities — and juster men to deal
with than old Hudig. He laughed bitterly.
“You have the money I left at home this morning, Joanna?” he asked. “We will want it all
As he spoke those words he thought he was a fine fellow. Nothing new that. Still, he
surpassed there his own expectations. Hang it all, there are sacred things in life, after all. The
marriage tie was one of them, and he was not the man to break it. The solidity of his principles
caused him great satisfaction, but he did not care to look at his wife, for all that. He waited for
her to speak. Then he would have to console her; tell her not to be a crying fool; to get ready
to go. Go where? How? When? He shook his head. They must leave at once; that was the
principal thing. He felt a sudden need to hurry up his departure.
“Well, Joanna,” he said, a little impatiently — -”don’t stand there in a trance. Do you
hear? We must...”
He looked up at his wife, and whatever he was going to add remained unspoken. She
was staring at him with her big, slanting eyes, that seemed to him twice their natural size. The
child, its dirty little face pressed to its mother’s shoulder, was sleeping peacefully. The deep
silence of the house was not broken, but rather accentuated, by the low mutter of the
cockatoo, now very still on its perch. As Willems was looking at Joanna her upper lip was
drawn up on one side, giving to her melancholy face a vicious expression altogether new to
his experience. He stepped back in his surprise.
“Oh! You great man!” she said distinctly, but in a voice that was hardly above a whisper.
Those words, and still more her tone, stunned him as if somebody had fired a gun close
to his ear. He stared back at her stupidly.
“Oh! you great man!” she repeated slowly, glancing right and left as if meditating a
sudden escape. “And you think that I am going to starve with you. You are nobody now. You
think my mamma and Leonard would let me go away? And with you! With you,” she repeated
scornfully, raising her voice, which woke up the child and caused it to whimper feebly.
“Joanna!” exclaimed Willems.
“Do not speak to me. I have heard what I have waited for all these years. You are less
than dirt, you that have wiped your feet on me. I have waited for this. I am not afraid now. I do
not want you; do not come near me. Ah-h!” she screamed shrilly, as he held out his hand in
an entreating gesture — “Ah! Keep off me! Keep off me! Keep off!”
She backed away, looking at him with eyes both angry and frightened. Willems stared
motionless, in dumb amazement at the mystery of anger and revolt in the head of his wife.
Why? What had he ever done to her? This was the day of injustice indeed. First Hudig — and
now his wife. He felt a terror at this hate that had lived stealthily so near him for years. He
tried to speak, but she shrieked again, and it was like a needle through his heart. Again he
raised his hand.
“Help!” called Mrs. Willems, in a piercing voice. “Help!”
“Be quiet! You fool!” shouted Willems, trying to drown the noise of his wife and child in
his own angry accents and rattling violently the little zinc table in his exasperation.
From under the house, where there were bathrooms and a tool closet, appeared
Leonard, a rusty iron bar in his hand. He called threateningly from the bottom of the stairs.
“Do not hurt her, Mr. Willems. You are a savage. Not at all like we, whites.”
“You too!” said the bewildered Willems. “I haven’t touched her. Is this a madhouse?” He
moved towards the stairs, and Leonard dropped the bar with a clang and made for the gate of
the compound. Willems turned back to his wife.“So you expected this,” he said. “It is a conspiracy. Who’s that sobbing and groaning in
the room? Some more of your precious family. Hey?”
She was more calm now, and putting hastily the crying child in the big chair walked
towards him with sudden fearlessness.
“My mother,” she said, “my mother who came to defend me from you — man from
nowhere; a vagabond!”
“You did not call me a vagabond when you hung round my neck — before we were
married,” said Willems, contemptuously.
“You took good care that I should not hang round your neck after we were,” she
answered, clenching her hands, and putting her face close to his. “You boasted while I
suffered and said nothing. What has become of your greatness; of our greatness — you were
always speaking about? Now I am going to live on the charity of your master. Yes. That is
true. He sent Leonard to tell me so.
And you will go and boast somewhere else, and starve. So! Ah! I can breathe now! This
house is mine.”
“Enough!” said Willems, slowly, with an arresting gesture.
She leaped back, the fright again in her eyes, snatched up the child, pressed it to her
breast, and, falling into a chair, drummed insanely with her heels on the resounding floor of
the verandah.
“I shall go,” said Willems, steadily. “I thank you. For the first time in your life you make
me happy. You were a stone round my neck; you understand. I did not mean to tell you that
as long as you lived, but you made me — now. Before I pass this gate you shall be gone from
my mind. You made it very easy. I thank you.”
He turned and went down the steps without giving her a glance, while she sat upright and
quiet, with wide-open eyes, the child crying querulously in her arms. At the gate he came
suddenly upon Leonard, who had been dodging about there and failed to get out of the way in
“Do not be brutal, Mr. Willems,” said Leonard, hurriedly. “It is unbecoming between white
men with all those natives looking on.” Leonard’s legs trembled very much, and his voice
wavered between high and low tones without any attempt at control on his part. “Restrain your
improper violence,” he went on mumbling rapidly. “I am a respectable man of very good
family, while you... it is regrettable... they all say so...”
“What?” thundered Willems. He felt a sudden impulse of mad anger, and before he knew
what had happened he was looking at Leonard da Souza rolling in the dust at his feet. He
stepped over his prostrate brother-in-law and tore blindly down the street, everybody making
way for the frantic white man.
When he came to himself he was beyond the outskirts of the town, stumbling on the hard
and cracked earth of reaped rice fields. How did he get there? It was dark. He must get back.
As he walked towards the town slowly, his mind reviewed the events of the day and he felt a
sense of bitter loneliness. His wife had turned him out of his own house. He had assaulted
brutally his brother-in-law, a member of the Da Souza family — of that band of his
worshippers. He did. Well, no! It was some other man. Another man was coming back. A man
without a past, without a future, yet full of pain and shame and anger. He stopped and looked
round. A dog or two glided across the empty street and rushed past him with a frightened
snarl. He was now in the midst of the Malay quarter whose bamboo houses, hidden in the
verdure of their little gardens, were dark and silent. Men, women and children slept in there.
Human beings. Would he ever sleep, and where? He felt as if he was the outcast of all
mankind, and as he looked hopelessly round, before resuming his weary march, it seemed to
him that the world was bigger, the night more vast and more black; but he went on doggedly
with his head down as if pushing his way through some thick brambles. Then suddenly he felt
planks under his feet and, looking up, saw the red light at the end of the jetty. He walked quiteto the end and stood leaning against the post, under the lamp, looking at the roadstead where
two vessels at anchor swayed their slender rigging amongst the stars. The end of the jetty;
and here in one step more the end of life; the end of everything. Better so. What else could he
do? Nothing ever comes back. He saw it clearly. The respect and admiration of them all, the
old habits and old affections finished abruptly in the clear perception of the cause of his
disgrace. He saw all this; and for a time he came out of himself, out of his selfishness — out
of the constant preoccupation of his interests and his desires — out of the temple of self and
the concentration of personal thought.
His thoughts now wandered home. Standing in the tepid stillness of a starry tropical night
he felt the breath of the bitter east wind, he saw the high and narrow fronts of tall houses
under the gloom of a clouded sky; and on muddy quays he saw the shabby, high-shouldered
figure — the patient, faded face of the weary man earning bread for the children that waited
for him in a dingy home. It was miserable, miserable. But it would never come back. What
was there in common between those things and Willems the clever, Willems the successful.
He had cut himself adrift from that home many years ago. Better for him then. Better for them
now. All this was gone, never to come back again; and suddenly he shivered, seeing himself
alone in the presence of unknown and terrible dangers.
For the first time in his life he felt afraid of the future, because he had lost his faith, the
faith in his own success. And he had destroyed it foolishly with his own hands!
Chapter 4

His meditation which resembled slow drifting into suicide was interrupted by Lingard,
who, with a loud “I’ve got you at last!” dropped his hand heavily on Willems’ shoulder. This
time it was the old seaman himself going out of his way to pick up the uninteresting waif — all
that there was left of that sudden and sordid shipwreck. To Willems, the rough, friendly voice
was a quick and fleeting relief followed by a sharper pang of anger and unavailing regret. That
voice carried him back to the beginning of his promising career, the end of which was very
visible now from the jetty where they both stood. He shook himself free from the friendly
grasp, saying with ready bitterness —
“It’s all your fault. Give me a push now, do, and send me over. I have been standing
here waiting for help. You are the man — of all men. You helped at the beginning; you ought
to have a hand in the end.”
“I have better use for you than to throw you to the fishes,” said Lingard, seriously, taking
Willems by the arm and forcing him gently to walk up the jetty. “I have been buzzing over this
town like a bluebottle fly, looking for you high and low. I have heard a lot. I will tell you what,
Willems; you are no saint, that’s a fact. And you have not been over-wise either. I am not
throwing stones,” he added, hastily, as Willems made an effort to get away, “but I am not
going to mince matters. Never could! You keep quiet while I talk. Can’t you?”
With a gesture of resignation and a half-stifled groan Willems submitted to the stronger
will, and the two men paced slowly up and down the resounding planks, while Lingard
disclosed to Willems the exact manner of his undoing. After the first shock Willems lost the
faculty of surprise in the over-powering feeling of indignation. So it was Vinck and Leonard
who had served him so. They had watched him, tracked his misdeeds, reported them to
Hudig. They had bribed obscure Chinamen, wormed out confidences from tipsy skippers, got
at various boatmen, and had pieced out in that way the story of his irregularities. The
blackness of this dark intrigue filled him with horror. He could understand Vinck. There was no
love lost between them. But Leonard! Leonard!
“Why, Captain Lingard,” he burst out, “the fellow licked my boots.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Lingard, testily, “we know that, and you did your best to cram your
boot down his throat. No man likes that, my boy.”
“I was always giving money to all that hungry lot,” went on Willems, passionately. “Always
my hand in my pocket. They never had to ask twice.”
“Just so. Your generosity frightened them. They asked themselves where all that came
from, and concluded that it was safer to throw you overboard. After all, Hudig is a much
greater man than you, my friend, and they have a claim on him also.”
“What do you mean, Captain Lingard?”
“What do I mean?” repeated Lingard, slowly. “Why, you are not going to make me
believe you did not know your wife was Hudig’s daughter. Come now!”
Willems stopped suddenly and swayed about.
“Ah! I understand,” he gasped. “I never heard... Lately I thought there was... But no, I
never guessed.”
“Oh, you simpleton!” said Lingard, pityingly. “‘Pon my word,” he muttered to himself, “I
don’t believe the fellow knew. Well! well! Steady now. Pull yourself together. What’s wrong
there. She is a good wife to you.”
“Excellent wife,” said Willems, in a dreary voice, looking far over the black and
scintillating water.
“Very well then,” went on Lingard, with increasing friendliness. “Nothing wrong there. But
did you really think that Hudig was marrying you off and giving you a house and I don’t knowwhat, out of love for you?”
“I had served him well,” answered Willems. “How well, you know yourself — through thick
and thin. No matter what work and what risk, I was always there; always ready.”
How well he saw the greatness of his work and the immensity of that injustice which was
his reward. She was that man’s daughter!
In the light of this disclosure the facts of the last five years of his life stood clearly
revealed in their full meaning. He had spoken first to Joanna at the gate of their dwelling as he
went to his work in the brilliant flush of the early morning, when women and flowers are
charming even to the dullest eyes. A most respectable family — two women and a young man
— were his next-door neighbours. Nobody ever came to their little house but the priest, a
native from the Spanish islands, now and then. The young man Leonard he had met in town,
and was flattered by the little fellow’s immense respect for the great Willems. He let him bring
chairs, call the waiters, chalk his cues when playing billiards, express his admiration in choice
words. He even condescended to listen patiently to Leonard’s allusions to “our beloved
father,” a man of official position, a government agent in Koti, where he died of cholera, alas!
a victim to duty, like a good Catholic, and a good man. It sounded very respectable, and
Willems approved of those feeling references. Moreover, he prided himself upon having no
colour-prejudices and no racial antipathies. He consented to drink curacoa one afternoon on
the verandah of Mrs. da Souza’s house. He remembered Joanna that day, swinging in a
hammock. She was untidy even then, he remembered, and that was the only impression he
carried away from that visit. He had no time for love in those glorious days, no time even for a
passing fancy, but gradually he fell into the habit of calling almost every day at that little house
where he was greeted by Mrs. da Souza’s shrill voice screaming for Joanna to come and
entertain the gentleman from Hudig & Co. And then the sudden and unexpected visit of the
priest. He remembered the man’s flat, yellow face, his thin legs, his propitiatory smile, his
beaming black eyes, his conciliating manner, his veiled hints which he did not understand at
the time. How he wondered what the man wanted, and how unceremoniously he got rid of
him. And then came vividly into his recollection the morning when he met again that fellow
coming out of Hudig’s office, and how he was amused at the incongruous visit. And that
morning with Hudig! Would he ever forget it? Would he ever forget his surprise as the master,
instead of plunging at once into business, looked at him thoughtfully before turning, with a
furtive smile, to the papers on the desk? He could hear him now, his nose in the paper before
him, dropping astonishing words in the intervals of wheezy breathing.
“Heard said... called there often... most respectable ladies... knew the father very well...
estimable... best thing for a young man... settle down... Personally, very glad to hear... thing
arranged... Suitable recognition of valuable services... Best thing — best thing to do.”
And he believed! What credulity! What an ass! Hudig knew the father! Rather. And so did
everybody else probably; all except himself. How proud he had been of Hudig’s benevolent
interest in his fate! How proud he was when invited by Hudig to stay with him at his little house
in the country — where he could meet men, men of official position — as a friend. Vinck had
been green with envy. Oh, yes! He had believed in the best thing, and took the girl like a gift
of fortune. How he boasted to Hudig of being free from prejudices. The old scoundrel must
have been laughing in his sleeve at his fool of a confidential clerk. He took the girl, guessing
nothing. How could he? There had been a father of some kind to the common knowledge.
Men knew him; spoke about him. A lank man of hopelessly mixed descent, but otherwise —
apparently — unobjectionable. The shady relations came out afterward, but — with his
freedom from prejudices — he did not mind them, because, with their humble dependence,
they completed his triumphant life. Taken in! taken in! Hudig had found an easy way to
provide for the begging crowd. He had shifted the burden of his youthful vagaries on to the
shoulders of his confidential clerk; and while he worked for the master, the master had
cheated him; had stolen his very self from him. He was married. He belonged to that woman,no matter what she might do!... Had sworn... for all life!... Thrown himself away... And that
man dared this very morning call him a thief! Damnation!
“Let go, Lingard!” he shouted, trying to get away by a sudden jerk from the watchful old
seaman. “Let me go and kill that...”
“No you don’t!” panted Lingard, hanging on manfully. “You want to kill, do you? You
lunatic. Ah! — I’ve got you now! Be quiet, I say!”
They struggled violently, Lingard forcing Willems slowly towards the guard-rail. Under
their feet the jetty sounded like a drum in the quiet night. On the shore end the native
caretaker of the wharf watched the combat, squatting behind the safe shelter of some big
cases. The next day he informed his friends, with calm satisfaction, that two drunken white
men had fought on the jetty.
It had been a great fight. They fought without arms, like wild beasts, after the manner of
white men. No! nobody was killed, or there would have been trouble and a report to make.
How could he know why they fought? White men have no reason when they are like that.
Just as Lingard was beginning to fear that he would be unable to restrain much longer
the violence of the younger man, he felt Willems’ muscles relaxing, and took advantage of this
opportunity to pin him, by a last effort, to the rail. They both panted heavily, speechless, their
faces very close.
“All right,” muttered Willems at last. “Don’t break my back over this infernal rail. I will be
“Now you are reasonable,” said Lingard, much relieved. “What made you fly into that
passion?” he asked, leading him back to the end of the jetty, and, still holding him prudently
with one hand, he fumbled with the other for his whistle and blew a shrill and prolonged blast.
Over the smooth water of the roadstead came in answer a faint cry from one of the ships at
“My boat will be here directly,” said Lingard. “Think of what you are going to do. I sail
“What is there for me to do, except one thing?” said Willems, gloomily.
“Look here,” said Lingard; “I picked you up as a boy, and consider myself responsible for
you in a way. You took your life into your own hands many years ago — but still...”
He paused, listening, till he heard the regular grind of the oars in the rowlocks of the
approaching boat then went on again.
“I have made it all right with Hudig. You owe him nothing now. Go back to your wife. She
is a good woman. Go back to her.”
“Why, Captain Lingard,” exclaimed Willems, “she...”
“It was most affecting,” went on Lingard, without heeding him. “I went to your house to
look for you and there I saw her despair. It was heart-breaking. She called for you; she
entreated me to find you. She spoke wildly, poor woman, as if all this was her fault.”
Willems listened amazed. The blind old idiot! How queerly he misunderstood! But if it was
true, if it was even true, the very idea of seeing her filled his soul with intense loathing. He did
not break his oath, but he would not go back to her. Let hers be the sin of that separation; of
the sacred bond broken. He revelled in the extreme purity of his heart, and he would not go
back to her. Let her come back to him. He had the comfortable conviction that he would never
see her again, and that through her own fault only. In this conviction he told himself solemnly
that if she would come to him he would receive her with generous forgiveness, because such
was the praiseworthy solidity of his principles. But he hesitated whether he would or would not
disclose to Lingard the revolting completeness of his humiliation. Turned out of his house —
and by his wife; that woman who hardly dared to breathe in his presence, yesterday. He
remained perplexed and silent. No. He lacked the courage to tell the ignoble story.
As the boat of the brig appeared suddenly on the black water close to the jetty, Lingard
broke the painful silence.“I always thought,” he said, sadly, “I always thought you were somewhat heartless,
Willems, and apt to cast adrift those that thought most of you. I appeal to what is best in you;
do not abandon that woman.”
“I have not abandoned her,” answered Willems, quickly, with conscious truthfulness.
“Why should I? As you so justly observed, she has been a good wife to me. A very good,
quiet, obedient, loving wife, and I love her as much as she loves me. Every bit. But as to
going back now, to that place where I... To walk again amongst those men who yesterday
were ready to crawl before me, and then feel on my back the sting of their pitying or satisfied
smiles — no! I can’t. I would rather hide from them at the bottom of the sea,” he went on, with
resolute energy. “I don’t think, Captain Lingard,” he added, more quietly, “I don’t think that you
realize what my position was there.”
In a wide sweep of his hand he took in the sleeping shore from north to south, as if
wishing it a proud and threatening good-bye. For a short moment he forgot his downfall in the
recollection of his brilliant triumphs. Amongst the men of his class and occupation who slept in
those dark houses he had been indeed the first.
“It is hard,” muttered Lingard, pensively. “But whose the fault?
Whose the fault?”
“Captain Lingard!” cried Willems, under the sudden impulse of a felicitous inspiration, “if
you leave me here on this jetty — it’s murder. I shall never return to that place alive, wife or
no wife. You may just as well cut my throat at once.”
The old seaman started.
“Don’t try to frighten me, Willems,” he said, with great severity, and paused.
Above the accents of Willems’ brazen despair he heard, with considerable uneasiness,
the whisper of his own absurd conscience. He meditated for awhile with an irresolute air.
“I could tell you to go and drown yourself, and be damned to you,” he said, with an
unsuccessful assumption of brutality in his manner, “but I won’t. We are responsible for one
another — worse luck. I am almost ashamed of myself, but I can understand your dirty pride.
I can! By...”
He broke off with a loud sigh and walked briskly to the steps, at the bottom of which lay
his boat, rising and falling gently on the slight and invisible swell.
“Below there! Got a lamp in the boat? Well, light it and bring it up, one of you. Hurry
He tore out a page of his pocketbook, moistened his pencil with great energy and waited,
stamping his feet impatiently.
“I will see this thing through,” he muttered to himself. “And I will have it all square and
ship-shape; see if I don’t! Are you going to bring that lamp, you son of a crippled mud-turtle? I
am waiting.”
The gleam of the light on the paper placated his professional anger, and he wrote rapidly,
the final dash of his signature curling the paper up in a triangular tear.
“Take that to this white Tuan’s house. I will send the boat back for you in half an hour.”
The coxswain raised his lamp deliberately to Willem’s face.
“This Tuan? Tau! I know.”
“Quick then!” said Lingard, taking the lamp from him — and the man went off at a run.
“Kassi mem! To the lady herself,” called Lingard after him.
Then, when the man disappeared, he turned to Willems.
“I have written to your wife,” he said. “If you do not return for good, you do not go back
to that house only for another parting. You must come as you stand. I won’t have that poor
woman tormented. I will see to it that you are not separated for long. Trust me!”
Willems shivered, then smiled in the darkness.
“No fear of that,” he muttered, enigmatically. “I trust you implicitly, Captain Lingard,” he
added, in a louder tone.Lingard led the way down the steps, swinging the lamp and speaking over his shoulder.
“It is the second time, Willems, I take you in hand. Mind it is the last. The second time;
and the only difference between then and now is that you were bare-footed then and have
boots now. In fourteen years. With all your smartness! A poor result that. A very poor result.”
He stood for awhile on the lowest platform of the steps, the light of the lamp falling on the
upturned face of the stroke oar, who held the gunwale of the boat close alongside, ready for
the captain to step in.
“You see,” he went on, argumentatively, fumbling about the top of the lamp, “you got
yourself so crooked amongst those ‘longshore quill-drivers that you could not run clear in any
way. That’s what comes of such talk as yours, and of such a life. A man sees so much
falsehood that he begins to lie to himself. Pah!” he said, in disgust, “there’s only one place for
an honest man. The sea, my boy, the sea! But you never would; didn’t think there was enough
money in it; and now — look!”
He blew the light out, and, stepping into the boat, stretched quickly his hand towards
Willems, with friendly care. Willems sat by him in silence, and the boat shoved off, sweeping in
a wide circle towards the brig.
“Your compassion is all for my wife, Captain Lingard,” said Willems, moodily. “Do you
think I am so very happy?”
“No! no!” said Lingard, heartily. “Not a word more shall pass my lips. I had to speak my
mind once, seeing that I knew you from a child, so to speak. And now I shall forget; but you
are young yet. Life is very long,” he went on, with unconscious sadness; “let this be a lesson
to you.”
He laid his hand affectionately on Willems’ shoulder, and they both sat silent till the boat
came alongside the ship’s ladder.
When on board Lingard gave orders to his mate, and leading Willems on the poop, sat
on the breech of one of the brass six-pounders with which his vessel was armed. The boat
went off again to bring back the messenger. As soon as it was seen returning dark forms
appeared on the brig’s spars; then the sails fell in festoons with a swish of their heavy folds,
and hung motionless under the yards in the dead calm of the clear and dewy night. From the
forward end came the clink of the windlass, and soon afterwards the hail of the chief mate
informing Lingard that the cable was hove short.
“Hold on everything,” hailed back Lingard; “we must wait for the land-breeze before we
let go our hold of the ground.”
He approached Willems, who sat on the skylight, his body bent down, his head low, and
his hands hanging listlessly between his knees.
“I am going to take you to Sambir,” he said. “You’ve never heard of the place, have you?
Well, it’s up that river of mine about which people talk so much and know so little. I’ve found
out the entrance for a ship of Flash’s size. It isn’t easy. You’ll see.
I will show you. You have been at sea long enough to take an interest... Pity you didn’t
stick to it. Well, I am going there. I have my own trading post in the place. Almayer is my
partner. You knew him when he was at Hudig’s. Oh, he lives there as happy as a king. D’ye
see, I have them all in my pocket. The rajah is an old friend of mine. My word is law — and I
am the only trader. No other white man but Almayer had ever been in that settlement. You will
live quietly there till I come back from my next cruise to the westward. We shall see then what
can be done for you. Never fear. I have no doubt my secret will be safe with you. Keep mum
about my river when you get amongst the traders again. There’s many would give their ears
for the knowledge of it. I’ll tell you something: that’s where I get all my guttah and rattans.
Simply inexhaustible, my boy.”
While Lingard spoke Willems looked up quickly, but soon his head fell on his breast in the
discouraging certitude that the knowledge he and Hudig had wished for so much had come to
him too late. He sat in a listless attitude.“You will help Almayer in his trading if you have a heart for it,” continued Lingard, “just to
kill time till I come back for you. Only six weeks or so.”
Over their heads the damp sails fluttered noisily in the first faint puff of the breeze; then,
as the airs freshened, the brig tended to the wind, and the silenced canvas lay quietly aback.
The mate spoke with low distinctness from the shadows of the quarter-deck.
“There’s the breeze. Which way do you want to cast her, Captain Lingard?”
Lingard’s eyes, that had been fixed aloft, glanced down at the dejected figure of the man
sitting on the skylight. He seemed to hesitate for a minute.
“To the northward, to the northward,” he answered, testily, as if annoyed at his own
fleeting thought, “and bear a hand there. Every puff of wind is worth money in these seas.”
He remained motionless, listening to the rattle of blocks and the creaking of trusses as
the head-yards were hauled round. Sail was made on the ship and the windlass manned again
while he stood still, lost in thought. He only roused himself when a barefooted seacannie
glided past him silently on his way to the wheel.
“Put the helm aport! Hard over!” he said, in his harsh sea-voice, to the man whose face
appeared suddenly out of the darkness in the circle of light thrown upwards from the binnacle
The anchor was secured, the yards trimmed, and the brig began to move out of the
roadstead. The sea woke up under the push of the sharp cutwater, and whispered softly to
the gliding craft in that tender and rippling murmur in which it speaks sometimes to those it
nurses and loves. Lingard stood by the taff-rail listening, with a pleased smile till the Flash
began to draw close to the only other vessel in the anchorage.
“Here, Willems,” he said, calling him to his side, “d’ye see that barque here? That’s an
Arab vessel. White men have mostly given up the game, but this fellow drops in my wake
often, and lives in hopes of cutting me out in that settlement. Not while I live, I trust. You see,
Willems, I brought prosperity to that place. I composed their quarrels, and saw them grow
under my eyes. There’s peace and happiness there. I am more master there than his Dutch
Excellency down in Batavia ever will be when some day a lazy man-of-war blunders at last
against the river. I mean to keep the Arabs out of it, with their lies and their intrigues. I shall
keep the venomous breed out, if it costs me my fortune.”
The Flash drew quietly abreast of the barque, and was beginning to drop it astern when a
white figure started up on the poop of the Arab vessel, and a voice called out —
“Greeting to the Rajah Laut!”
“To you greeting!” answered Lingard, after a moment of hesitating surprise. Then he
turned to Willems with a grim smile. “That’s Abdulla’s voice,” he said. “Mighty civil all of a
sudden, isn’t he? I wonder what it means. Just like his impudence! No matter! His civility or his
impudence are all one to me. I know that this fellow will be under way and after me like a shot.
I don’t care! I have the heels of anything that floats in these seas,” he added, while his proud
and loving glance ran over and rested fondly amongst the brig’s lofty and graceful spars.
Chapter 5

“It was the writing on his forehead,” said Babalatchi, adding a couple of small sticks to
the little fire by which he was squatting, and without looking at Lakamba who lay down
supported on his elbow on the other side of the embers. “It was written when he was born that
he should end his life in darkness, and now he is like a man walking in a black night — with his
eyes open, yet seeing not. I knew him well when he had slaves, and many wives, and much
merchandise, and trading praus, and praus for fighting. Hai — ya! He was a great fighter in
the days before the breath of the Merciful put out the light in his eyes. He was a pilgrim, and
had many virtues: he was brave, his hand was open, and he was a great robber. For many
years he led the men that drank blood on the sea: first in prayer and first in fight! Have I not
stood behind him when his face was turned to the West? Have I not watched by his side ships
with high masts burning in a straight flame on the calm water? Have I not followed him on
dark nights amongst sleeping men that woke up only to die? His sword was swifter than the
fire from Heaven, and struck before it flashed. Hai! Tuan! Those were the days and that was a
leader, and I myself was younger; and in those days there were not so many fireships with
guns that deal fiery death from afar. Over the hill and over the forest — O! Tuan Lakamba!
they dropped whistling fireballs into the creek where our praus took refuge, and where they
dared not follow men who had arms in their hands.”
He shook his head with mournful regret and threw another handful of fuel on the fire. The
burst of clear flame lit up his broad, dark, and pock-marked face, where the big lips, stained
with betel-juice, looked like a deep and bleeding gash of a fresh wound. The reflection of the
firelight gleamed brightly in his solitary eye, lending it for a moment a fierce animation that
died out together with the short-lived flame. With quick touches of his bare hands he raked the
embers into a heap, then, wiping the warm ash on his waistcloth — his only garment — he
clasped his thin legs with his entwined fingers, and rested his chin on his drawn-up knees.
Lakamba stirred slightly without changing his position or taking his eyes off the glowing coals,
on which they had been fixed in dreamy immobility.
“Yes,” went on Babalatchi, in a low monotone, as if pursuing aloud a train of thought that
had its beginning in the silent contemplation of the unstable nature of earthly greatness —
“yes. He has been rich and strong, and now he lives on alms: old, feeble, blind, and without
companions, but for his daughter. The Rajah Patalolo gives him rice, and the pale woman —
his daughter — cooks it for him, for he has no slave.”
“I saw her from afar,” muttered Lakamba, disparagingly. “A she-dog with white teeth, like
a woman of the Orang-Putih.”
“Right, right,” assented Babalatchi; “but you have not seen her near. Her mother was a
woman from the west; a Baghdadi woman with veiled face. Now she goes uncovered, like our
women do, for she is poor and he is blind, and nobody ever comes near them unless to ask
for a charm or a blessing and depart quickly for fear of his anger and of the Rajah’s hand. You
have not been on that side of the river?”
“Not for a long time. If I go...”
“True! true!” interrupted Babalatchi, soothingly, “but I go often alone — for your good —
and look — and listen. When the time comes; when we both go together towards the Rajah’s
campong, it will be to enter — and to remain.”
Lakamba sat up and looked at Babalatchi gloomily.
“This is good talk, once, twice; when it is heard too often it becomes foolish, like the
prattle of children.”
“Many, many times have I seen the cloudy sky and have heard the wind of the rainy
seasons,” said Babalatchi, impressively.“And where is your wisdom? It must be with the wind and the clouds of seasons past, for
I do not hear it in your talk.”
“Those are the words of the ungrateful!” shouted Babalatchi, with sudden exasperation.
“Verily, our only refuge is with the One, the Mighty, the Redresser of...”
“Peace! Peace!” growled the startled Lakamba. “It is but a friend’s talk.”
Babalatchi subsided into his former attitude, muttering to himself. After awhile he went on
again in a louder voice —
“Since the Rajah Laut left another white man here in Sambir, the daughter of the blind
Omar el Badavi has spoken to other ears than mine.”
“Would a white man listen to a beggar’s daughter?” said Lakamba, doubtingly.
“Hai! I have seen...”
“And what did you see? O one-eyed one!” exclaimed Lakamba, contemptuously.
“I have seen the strange white man walking on the narrow path before the sun could dry
the drops of dew on the bushes, and I have heard the whisper of his voice when he spoke
through the smoke of the morning fire to that woman with big eyes and a pale skin. Woman in
body, but in heart a man! She knows no fear and no shame. I have heard her voice too.”
He nodded twice at Lakamba sagaciously and gave himself up to silent musing, his
solitary eye fixed immovably upon the straight wall of forest on the opposite bank. Lakamba
lay silent, staring vacantly. Under them Lingard’s own river rippled softly amongst the piles
supporting the bamboo platform of the little watch-house before which they were lying. Behind
the house the ground rose in a gentle swell of a low hill cleared of the big timber, but thickly
overgrown with the grass and bushes, now withered and burnt up in the long drought of the
dry season. This old rice clearing, which had been several years lying fallow, was framed on
three sides by the impenetrable and tangled growth of the untouched forest, and on the fourth
came down to the muddy river bank. There was not a breath of wind on the land or river, but
high above, in the transparent sky, little clouds rushed past the moon, now appearing in her
diffused rays with the brilliance of silver, now obscuring her face with the blackness of ebony.
Far away, in the middle of the river, a fish would leap now and then with a short splash, the
very loudness of which measured the profundity of the overpowering silence that swallowed
up the sharp sound suddenly.
Lakamba dozed uneasily off, but the wakeful Babalatchi sat thinking deeply, sighing from
time to time, and slapping himself over his naked torso incessantly in a vain endeavour to
keep off an occasional and wandering mosquito that, rising as high as the platform above the
swarms of the riverside, would settle with a ping of triumph on the unexpected victim. The
moon, pursuing her silent and toilsome path, attained her highest elevation, and chasing the
shadow of the roof-eaves from Lakamba’s face, seemed to hang arrested over their heads.
Babalatchi revived the fire and woke up his companion, who sat up yawning and shivering
Babalatchi spoke again in a voice which was like the murmur of a brook that runs over
the stones: low, monotonous, persistent; irresistible in its power to wear out and to destroy the
hardest obstacles. Lakamba listened, silent but interested. They were Malay adventurers;
ambitious men of that place and time; the Bohemians of their race. In the early days of the
settlement, before the ruler Patalolo had shaken off his allegiance to the Sultan of Koti,
Lakamba appeared in the river with two small trading vessels. He was disappointed to find
already some semblance of organization amongst the settlers of various races who
recognized the unobtrusive sway of old Patalolo, and he was not politic enough to conceal his
disappointment. He declared himself to be a man from the east, from those parts where no
white man ruled, and to be of an oppressed race, but of a princely family. And truly enough he
had all the gifts of an exiled prince. He was discontented, ungrateful, turbulent; a man full of
envy and ready for intrigue, with brave words and empty promises for ever on his lips. He was
obstinate, but his will was made up of short impulses that never lasted long enough to carryhim to the goal of his ambition. Received coldly by the suspicious Patalolo, he persisted —
permission or no permission — in clearing the ground on a good spot some fourteen miles
down the river from Sambir, and built himself a house there, which he fortified by a high
palisade. As he had many followers and seemed very reckless, the old Rajah did not think it
prudent at the time to interfere with him by force. Once settled, he began to intrigue. The
quarrel of Patalolo with the Sultan of Koti was of his fomenting, but failed to produce the result
he expected because the Sultan could not back him up effectively at such a great distance.
Disappointed in that scheme, he promptly organized an outbreak of the Bugis settlers, and
besieged the old Rajah in his stockade with much noisy valour and a fair chance of success;
but Lingard then appeared on the scene with the armed brig, and the old seaman’s hairy
forefinger, shaken menacingly in his face, quelled his martial ardour. No man cared to
encounter the Rajah Laut, and Lakamba, with momentary resignation, subsided into a
halfcultivator, half-trader, and nursed in his fortified house his wrath and his ambition, keeping it
for use on a more propitious occasion. Still faithful to his character of a prince-pretender, he
would not recognize the constituted authorities, answering sulkily the Rajah’s messenger, who
claimed the tribute for the cultivated fields, that the Rajah had better come and take it himself.
By Lingard’s advice he was left alone, notwithstanding his rebellious mood; and for many days
he lived undisturbed amongst his wives and retainers, cherishing that persistent and
causeless hope of better times, the possession of which seems to be the universal privilege of
exiled greatness.
But the passing days brought no change. The hope grew faint and the hot ambition burnt
itself out, leaving only a feeble and expiring spark amongst a heap of dull and tepid ashes of
indolent acquiescence with the decrees of Fate, till Babalatchi fanned it again into a bright
flame. Babalatchi had blundered upon the river while in search of a safe refuge for his
disreputable head.
He was a vagabond of the seas, a true Orang-Laut, living by rapine and plunder of
coasts and ships in his prosperous days; earning his living by honest and irksome toil when
the days of adversity were upon him. So, although at times leading the Sulu rovers, he had
also served as Serang of country ships, and in that wise had visited the distant seas, beheld
the glories of Bombay, the might of the Mascati Sultan; had even struggled in a pious throng
for the privilege of touching with his lips the Sacred Stone of the Holy City. He gathered
experience and wisdom in many lands, and after attaching himself to Omar el Badavi, he
affected great piety (as became a pilgrim), although unable to read the inspired words of the
Prophet. He was brave and bloodthirsty without any affection, and he hated the white men
who interfered with the manly pursuits of throat-cutting, kidnapping, slave-dealing, and
fireraising, that were the only possible occupation for a true man of the sea. He found favour in
the eyes of his chief, the fearless Omar el Badavi, the leader of Brunei rovers, whom he
followed with unquestioning loyalty through the long years of successful depredation. And
when that long career of murder, robbery and violence received its first serious check at the
hands of white men, he stood faithfully by his chief, looked steadily at the bursting shells, was
undismayed by the flames of the burning stronghold, by the death of his companions, by the
shrieks of their women, the wailing of their children; by the sudden ruin and destruction of all
that he deemed indispensable to a happy and glorious existence. The beaten ground between
the houses was slippery with blood, and the dark mangroves of the muddy creeks were full of
sighs of the dying men who were stricken down before they could see their enemy. They died
helplessly, for into the tangled forest there was no escape, and their swift praus, in which they
had so often scoured the coast and the seas, now wedged together in the narrow creek, were
burning fiercely. Babalatchi, with the clear perception of the coming end, devoted all his
energies to saving if it was but only one of them. He succeeded in time. When the end came
in the explosion of the stored powder-barrels, he was ready to look for his chief. He found him
half dead and totally blinded, with nobody near him but his daughter Aissa: — the sons hadfallen earlier in the day, as became men of their courage. Helped by the girl with the steadfast
heart, Babalatchi carried Omar on board the light prau and succeeded in escaping, but with
very few companions only. As they hauled their craft into the network of dark and silent
creeks, they could hear the cheering of the crews of the man-of-war’s boats dashing to the
attack of the rover’s village. Aissa, sitting on the high after-deck, her father’s blackened and
bleeding head in her lap, looked up with fearless eyes at Babalatchi. “They shall find only
smoke, blood and dead men, and women mad with fear there, but nothing else living,” she
said, mournfully. Babalatchi, pressing with his right hand the deep gash on his shoulder,
answered sadly: “They are very strong. When we fight with them we can only die. Yet,” he
added, menacingly — “some of us still live! Some of us still live!”
For a short time he dreamed of vengeance, but his dream was dispelled by the cold
reception of the Sultan of Sulu, with whom they sought refuge at first and who gave them only
a contemptuous and grudging hospitality. While Omar, nursed by Aissa, was recovering from
his wounds, Babalatchi attended industriously before the exalted Presence that had extended
to them the hand of Protection. For all that, when Babalatchi spoke into the Sultan’s ear
certain proposals of a great and profitable raid, that was to sweep the islands from Ternate to
Acheen, the Sultan was very angry. “I know you, you men from the west,” he exclaimed,
angrily. “Your words are poison in a Ruler’s ears. Your talk is of fire and murder and booty —
but on our heads falls the vengeance of the blood you drink. Begone!”
There was nothing to be done. Times were changed. So changed that, when a Spanish
frigate appeared before the island and a demand was sent to the Sultan to deliver Omar and
his companions, Babalatchi was not surprised to hear that they were going to be made the
victims of political expediency. But from that sane appreciation of danger to tame submission
was a very long step. And then began Omar’s second flight. It began arms in hand, for the
little band had to fight in the night on the beach for the possession of the small canoes in
which those that survived got away at last. The story of that escape lives in the hearts of
brave men even to this day. They talk of Babalatchi and of the strong woman who carried her
blind father through the surf under the fire of the warship from the north. The companions of
that piratical and son-less Aeneas are dead now, but their ghosts wander over the waters and
the islands at night — after the manner of ghosts — and haunt the fires by which sit armed
men, as is meet for the spirits of fearless warriors who died in battle. There they may hear the
story of their own deeds, of their own courage, suffering and death, on the lips of living men.
That story is told in many places. On the cool mats in breezy verandahs of Rajahs’ houses it
is alluded to disdainfully by impassive statesmen, but amongst armed men that throng the
courtyards it is a tale which stills the murmur of voices and the tinkle of anklets; arrests the
passage of the siri-vessel, and fixes the eyes in absorbed gaze. They talk of the fight, of the
fearless woman, of the wise man; of long suffering on the thirsty sea in leaky canoes; of those
who died... Many died. A few survived. The chief, the woman, and another one who became
There was no hint of incipient greatness in Babalatchi’s unostentatious arrival in Sambir.
He came with Omar and Aissa in a small prau loaded with green cocoanuts, and claimed the
ownership of both vessel and cargo. How it came to pass that Babalatchi, fleeing for his life in
a small canoe, managed to end his hazardous journey in a vessel full of a valuable
commodity, is one of those secrets of the sea that baffle the most searching inquiry. In truth
nobody inquired much. There were rumours of a missing trading prau belonging to Menado,
but they were vague and remained mysterious. Babalatchi told a story which — it must be
said in justice to Patalolo’s knowledge of the world — was not believed. When the Rajah
ventured to state his doubts, Babalatchi asked him in tones of calm remonstrance whether he
could reasonably suppose that two oldish men — who had only one eye amongst them — and
a young woman were likely to gain possession of anything whatever by violence? Charity was
a virtue recommended by the Prophet. There were charitable people, and their hand wasopen to the deserving. Patalolo wagged his aged head doubtingly, and Babalatchi withdrew
with a shocked mien and put himself forthwith under Lakamba’s protection. The two men who
completed the prau’s crew followed him into that magnate’s campong. The blind Omar, with
Aissa, remained under the care of the Rajah, and the Rajah confiscated the cargo. The prau
hauled up on the mud-bank, at the junction of the two branches of the Pantai, rotted in the
rain, warped in the sun, fell to pieces and gradually vanished into the smoke of household fires
of the settlement. Only a forgotten plank and a rib or two, sticking neglected in the shiny ooze
for a long time, served to remind Babalatchi during many months that he was a stranger in the
Otherwise, he felt perfectly at home in Lakamba’s establishment, where his peculiar
position and influence were quickly recognized and soon submitted to even by the women. He
had all a true vagabond’s pliability to circumstances and adaptiveness to momentary
surroundings. In his readiness to learn from experience that contempt for early principles so
necessary to a true statesman, he equalled the most successful politicians of any age; and he
had enough persuasiveness and firmness of purpose to acquire a complete mastery over
Lakamba’s vacillating mind — where there was nothing stable but an all-pervading discontent.
He kept the discontent alive, he rekindled the expiring ambition, he moderated the poor exile’s
not unnatural impatience to attain a high and lucrative position. He — the man of violence —
deprecated the use of force, for he had a clear comprehension of the difficult situation. From
the same cause, he — the hater of white men — would to some extent admit the eventual
expediency of Dutch protection. But nothing should be done in a hurry. Whatever his master
Lakamba might think, there was no use in poisoning old Patalolo, he maintained. It could be
done, of course; but what then? As long as Lingard’s influence was paramount — as long as
Almayer, Lingard’s representative, was the only great trader of the settlement, it was not
worth Lakamba’s while — even if it had been possible — to grasp the rule of the young state.
Killing Almayer and Lingard was so difficult and so risky that it might be dismissed as
impracticable. What was wanted was an alliance; somebody to set up against the white men’s
influence — and somebody who, while favourable to Lakamba, would at the same time be a
person of a good standing with the Dutch authorities. A rich and considered trader was
wanted. Such a person once firmly established in Sambir would help them to oust the old
Rajah, to remove him from power or from life if there was no other way. Then it would be time
to apply to the Orang Blanda for a flag; for a recognition of their meritorious services; for that
protection which would make them safe for ever! The word of a rich and loyal trader would
mean something with the Ruler down in Batavia. The first thing to do was to find such an ally
and to induce him to settle in Sambir. A white trader would not do. A white man would not fall
in with their ideas — would not be trustworthy. The man they wanted should be rich,
unscrupulous, have many followers, and be a well-known personality in the islands. Such a
man might be found amongst the Arab traders. Lingard’s jealousy, said Babalatchi, kept all the
traders out of the river. Some were afraid, and some did not know how to get there; others
ignored the very existence of Sambir; a good many did not think it worth their while to run the
risk of Lingard’s enmity for the doubtful advantage of trade with a comparatively unknown
settlement. The great majority were undesirable or untrustworthy. And Babalatchi mentioned
regretfully the men he had known in his young days: wealthy, resolute, courageous, reckless,
ready for any enterprise! But why lament the past and speak about the dead? There is one
man — living — great — not far off...
Such was Babalatchi’s line of policy laid before his ambitious protector. Lakamba
assented, his only objection being that it was very slow work. In his extreme desire to grasp
dollars and power, the unintellectual exile was ready to throw himself into the arms of any
wandering cut-throat whose help could be secured, and Babalatchi experienced great difficulty
in restraining him from unconsidered violence. It would not do to let it be seen that they had
any hand in introducing a new element into the social and political life of Sambir. There wasalways a possibility of failure, and in that case Lingard’s vengeance would be swift and certain.
No risk should be run. They must wait.
Meantime he pervaded the settlement, squatting in the course of each day by many
household fires, testing the public temper and public opinion — and always talking about his
impending departure.
At night he would often take Lakamba’s smallest canoe and depart silently to pay
mysterious visits to his old chief on the other side of the river. Omar lived in odour of sanctity
under the wing of Patalolo. Between the bamboo fence, enclosing the houses of the Rajah,
and the wild forest, there was a banana plantation, and on its further edge stood two little
houses built on low piles under a few precious fruit trees that grew on the banks of a clear
brook, which, bubbling up behind the house, ran in its short and rapid course down to the big
river. Along the brook a narrow path led through the dense second growth of a neglected
clearing to the banana plantation and to the houses in it which the Rajah had given for
residence to Omar. The Rajah was greatly impressed by Omar’s ostentatious piety, by his
oracular wisdom, by his many misfortunes, by the solemn fortitude with which he bore his
affliction. Often the old ruler of Sambir would visit informally the blind Arab and listen gravely
to his talk during the hot hours of an afternoon. In the night, Babalatchi would call and
interrupt Omar’s repose, unrebuked. Aissa, standing silently at the door of one of the huts,
could see the two old friends as they sat very still by the fire in the middle of the beaten
ground between the two houses, talking in an indistinct murmur far into the night. She could
not hear their words, but she watched the two formless shadows curiously. Finally Babalatchi
would rise and, taking her father by the wrist, would lead him back to the house, arrange his
mats for him, and go out quietly. Instead of going away, Babalatchi, unconscious of Aissa’s
eyes, often sat again by the fire, in a long and deep meditation. Aissa looked with respect on
that wise and brave man — she was accustomed to see at her father’s side as long as she
could remember — sitting alone and thoughtful in the silent night by the dying fire, his body
motionless and his mind wandering in the land of memories, or — who knows? — perhaps
groping for a road in the waste spaces of the uncertain future.
Babalatchi noted the arrival of Willems with alarm at this new accession to the white
men’s strength. Afterwards he changed his opinion. He met Willems one night on the path
leading to Omar’s house, and noticed later on, with only a moderate surprise, that the blind
Arab did not seem to be aware of the new white man’s visits to the neighbourhood of his
dwelling. Once, coming unexpectedly in the daytime, Babalatchi fancied he could see the
gleam of a white jacket in the bushes on the other side of the brook. That day he watched
Aissa pensively as she moved about preparing the evening rice; but after awhile he went
hurriedly away before sunset, refusing Omar’s hospitable invitation, in the name of Allah, to
share their meal. That same evening he startled Lakamba by announcing that the time had
come at last to make the first move in their long-deferred game. Lakamba asked excitedly for
explanation. Babalatchi shook his head and pointed to the flitting shadows of moving women
and to the vague forms of men sitting by the evening fires in the courtyard. Not a word would
he speak here, he declared. But when the whole household was reposing, Babalatchi and
Lakamba passed silent amongst sleeping groups to the riverside, and, taking a canoe,
paddled off stealthily on their way to the dilapidated guard-hut in the old rice-clearing. There
they were safe from all eyes and ears, and could account, if need be, for their excursion by
the wish to kill a deer, the spot being well known as the drinking-place of all kinds of game. In
the seclusion of its quiet solitude Babalatchi explained his plan to the attentive Lakamba. His
idea was to make use of Willems for the destruction of Lingard’s influence.
“I know the white men, Tuan,” he said, in conclusion. “In many lands have I seen them;
always the slaves of their desires, always ready to give up their strength and their reason into
the hands of some woman. The fate of the Believers is written by the hand of the Mighty One,
but they who worship many gods are thrown into the world with smooth foreheads, for anywoman’s hand to mark their destruction there. Let one white man destroy another.
The will of the Most High is that they should be fools. They know how to keep faith with
their enemies, but towards each other they know only deception. Hai! I have seen! I have
He stretched himself full length before the fire, and closed his eye in real or simulated
sleep. Lakamba, not quite convinced, sat for a long time with his gaze riveted on the dull
embers. As the night advanced, a slight white mist rose from the river, and the declining
moon, bowed over the tops of the forest, seemed to seek the repose of the earth, like a
wayward and wandering lover who returns at last to lay his tired and silent head on his
beloved’s breast.
Chapter 6

“Lend me your gun, Almayer,” said Willems, across the table on which a smoky lamp
shone redly above the disorder of a finished meal. “I have a mind to go and look for a deer
when the moon rises to-night.”
Almayer, sitting sidewise to the table, his elbow pushed amongst the dirty plates, his chin
on his breast and his legs stretched stiffly out, kept his eyes steadily on the toes of his grass
slippers and laughed abruptly.
“You might say yes or no instead of making that unpleasant noise,” remarked Willems,
with calm irritation.
“If I believed one word of what you say, I would,” answered Almayer without changing his
attitude and speaking slowly, with pauses, as if dropping his words on the floor. “As it is —
what’s the use? You know where the gun is; you may take it or leave it.
Gun. Deer. Bosh! Hunt deer! Pah! It’s a... gazelle you are after, my honoured guest. You
want gold anklets and silk sarongs for that game — my mighty hunter. And you won’t get
those for the asking, I promise you. All day amongst the natives. A fine help you are to me.”
“You shouldn’t drink so much, Almayer,” said Willems, disguising his fury under an
affected drawl. “You have no head. Never had, as far as I can remember, in the old days in
Macassar. You drink too much.”
“I drink my own,” retorted Almayer, lifting his head quickly and darting an angry glance at
Those two specimens of the superior race glared at each other savagely for a minute,
then turned away their heads at the same moment as if by previous arrangement, and both
got up. Almayer kicked off his slippers and scrambled into his hammock, which hung between
two wooden columns of the verandah so as to catch every rare breeze of the dry season, and
Willems, after standing irresolutely by the table for a short time, walked without a word down
the steps of the house and over the courtyard towards the little wooden jetty, where several
small canoes and a couple of big white whale-boats were made fast, tugging at their short
painters and bumping together in the swift current of the river. He jumped into the smallest
canoe, balancing himself clumsily, slipped the rattan painter, and gave an unnecessary and
violent shove, which nearly sent him headlong overboard. By the time he regained his balance
the canoe had drifted some fifty yards down the river. He knelt in the bottom of his little craft
and fought the current with long sweeps of the paddle. Almayer sat up in his hammock,
grasping his feet and peering over the river with parted lips till he made out the shadowy form
of man and canoe as they struggled past the jetty again.
“I thought you would go,” he shouted. “Won’t you take the gun? Hey?” he yelled,
straining his voice. Then he fell back in his hammock and laughed to himself feebly till he fell
asleep. On the river, Willems, his eyes fixed intently ahead, swept his paddle right and left,
unheeding the words that reached him faintly.
It was now three months since Lingard had landed Willems in Sambir and had departed
hurriedly, leaving him in Almayer’s care.
The two white men did not get on well together. Almayer, remembering the time when
they both served Hudig, and when the superior Willems treated him with offensive
condescension, felt a great dislike towards his guest. He was also jealous of Lingard’s favour.
Almayer had married a Malay girl whom the old seaman had adopted in one of his accesses
of unreasoning benevolence, and as the marriage was not a happy one from a domestic point
of view, he looked to Lingard’s fortune for compensation in his matrimonial unhappiness. The
appearance of that man, who seemed to have a claim of some sort upon Lingard, filled him
with considerable uneasiness, the more so because the old seaman did not choose toacquaint the husband of his adopted daughter with Willems’ history, or to confide to him his
intentions as to that individual’s future fate. Suspicious from the first, Almayer discouraged
Willems’ attempts to help him in his trading, and then when Willems drew back, he made, with
characteristic perverseness, a grievance of his unconcern. From cold civility in their relations,
the two men drifted into silent hostility, then into outspoken enmity, and both wished ardently
for Lingard’s return and the end of a situation that grew more intolerable from day to day. The
time dragged slowly. Willems watched the succeeding sunrises wondering dismally whether
before the evening some change would occur in the deadly dullness of his life. He missed the
commercial activity of that existence which seemed to him far off, irreparably lost, buried out
of sight under the ruins of his past success — now gone from him beyond the possibility of
redemption. He mooned disconsolately about Almayer’s courtyard, watching from afar, with
uninterested eyes, the up-country canoes discharging guttah or rattans, and loading rice or
European goods on the little wharf of Lingard & Co. Big as was the extent of ground owned by
Almayer, Willems yet felt that there was not enough room for him inside those neat fences.
The man who, during long years, became accustomed to think of himself as indispensable to
others, felt a bitter and savage rage at the cruel consciousness of his superfluity, of his
uselessness; at the cold hostility visible in every look of the only white man in this barbarous
corner of the world. He gnashed his teeth when he thought of the wasted days, of the life
thrown away in the unwilling company of that peevish and suspicious fool. He heard the
reproach of his idleness in the murmurs of the river, in the unceasing whisper of the great
forests. Round him everything stirred, moved, swept by in a rush; the earth under his feet and
the heavens above his head. The very savages around him strove, struggled, fought, worked
— if only to prolong a miserable existence; but they lived, they lived! And it was only himself
that seemed to be left outside the scheme of creation in a hopeless immobility filled with
tormenting anger and with ever-stinging regret.
He took to wandering about the settlement. The afterwards flourishing Sambir was born
in a swamp and passed its youth in malodorous mud. The houses crowded the bank, and, as
if to get away from the unhealthy shore, stepped boldly into the river, shooting over it in a
close row of bamboo platforms elevated on high piles, amongst which the current below spoke
in a soft and unceasing plaint of murmuring eddies. There was only one path in the whole
town and it ran at the back of the houses along the succession of blackened circular patches
that marked the place of the household fires. On the other side the virgin forest bordered the
path, coming close to it, as if to provoke impudently any passer-by to the solution of the
gloomy problem of its depths. Nobody would accept the deceptive challenge. There were only
a few feeble attempts at a clearing here and there, but the ground was low and the river,
retiring after its yearly floods, left on each a gradually diminishing mudhole, where the
imported buffaloes of the Bugis settlers wallowed happily during the heat of the day. When
Willems walked on the path, the indolent men stretched on the shady side of the houses
looked at him with calm curiosity, the women busy round the cooking fires would send after
him wondering and timid glances, while the children would only look once, and then run away
yelling with fright at the horrible appearance of the man with a red and white face. These
manifestations of childish disgust and fear stung Willems with a sense of absurd humiliation;
he sought in his walks the comparative solitude of the rudimentary clearings, but the very
buffaloes snorted with alarm at his sight, scrambled lumberingly out of the cool mud and
stared wildly in a compact herd at him as he tried to slink unperceived along the edge of the
forest. One day, at some unguarded and sudden movement of his, the whole herd stampeded
down the path, scattered the fires, sent the women flying with shrill cries, and left behind a
track of smashed pots, trampled rice, overturned children, and a crowd of angry men
brandishing sticks in loud-voiced pursuit. The innocent cause of that disturbance ran
shamefacedly the gauntlet of black looks and unfriendly remarks, and hastily sought refuge in
Almayer’s campong. After that he left the settlement alone.Later, when the enforced confinement grew irksome, Willems took one of Almayer’s
many canoes and crossed the main branch of the Pantai in search of some solitary spot
where he could hide his discouragement and his weariness. He skirted in his little craft the wall
of tangled verdure, keeping in the dead water close to the bank where the spreading nipa
palms nodded their broad leaves over his head as if in contemptuous pity of the wandering
outcast. Here and there he could see the beginnings of chopped-out pathways, and, with the
fixed idea of getting out of sight of the busy river, he would land and follow the narrow and
winding path, only to find that it led nowhere, ending abruptly in the discouragement of thorny
thickets. He would go back slowly, with a bitter sense of unreasonable disappointment and
sadness; oppressed by the hot smell of earth, dampness, and decay in that forest which
seemed to push him mercilessly back into the glittering sunshine of the river. And he would
recommence paddling with tired arms to seek another opening, to find another deception.
As he paddled up to the point where the Rajah’s stockade came down to the river, the
nipas were left behind rattling their leaves over the brown water, and the big trees would
appear on the bank, tall, strong, indifferent in the immense solidity of their life, which endures
for ages, to that short and fleeting life in the heart of the man who crept painfully amongst
their shadows in search of a refuge from the unceasing reproach of his thoughts. Amongst
their smooth trunks a clear brook meandered for a time in twining lacets before it made up its
mind to take a leap into the hurrying river, over the edge of the steep bank. There was also a
pathway there and it seemed frequented. Willems landed, and following the capricious
promise of the track soon found himself in a comparatively clear space, where the confused
tracery of sunlight fell through the branches and the foliage overhead, and lay on the stream
that shone in an easy curve like a bright sword-blade dropped amongst the long and feathery
Further on, the path continued, narrowed again in the thick undergrowth. At the end of
the first turning Willems saw a flash of white and colour, a gleam of gold like a sun-ray lost in
shadow, and a vision of blackness darker than the deepest shade of the forest. He stopped,
surprised, and fancied he had heard light footsteps — growing lighter — ceasing. He looked
around. The grass on the bank of the stream trembled and a tremulous path of its shivering,
silver-grey tops ran from the water to the beginning of the thicket. And yet there was not a
breath of wind. Somebody kind passed there. He looked pensive while the tremor died out in a
quick tremble under his eyes; and the grass stood high, unstirring, with drooping heads in the
warm and motionless air.
He hurried on, driven by a suddenly awakened curiosity, and entered the narrow way
between the bushes. At the next turn of the path he caught again the glimpse of coloured stuff
and of a woman’s black hair before him. He hastened his pace and came in full view of the
object of his pursuit. The woman, who was carrying two bamboo vessels full of water, heard
his footsteps, stopped, and putting the bamboos down half turned to look back. Willems also
stood still for a minute, then walked steadily on with a firm tread, while the woman moved
aside to let him pass. He kept his eyes fixed straight before him, yet almost unconsciously he
took in every detail of the tall and graceful figure. As he approached her the woman tossed
her head slightly back, and with a free gesture of her strong, round arm, caught up the mass
of loose black hair and brought it over her shoulder and across the lower part of her face. The
next moment he was passing her close, walking rigidly, like a man in a trance. He heard her
rapid breathing and he felt the touch of a look darted at him from half-open eyes. It touched
his brain and his heart together. It seemed to him to be something loud and stirring like a
shout, silent and penetrating like an inspiration. The momentum of his motion carried him past
her, but an invisible force made up of surprise and curiosity and desire spun him round as
soon as he had passed.
She had taken up her burden already, with the intention of pursuing her path. His sudden
movement arrested her at the first step, and again she stood straight, slim, expectant, with areadiness to dart away suggested in the light immobility of her pose. High above, the
branches of the trees met in a transparent shimmer of waving green mist, through which the
rain of yellow rays descended upon her head, streamed in glints down her black tresses,
shone with the changing glow of liquid metal on her face, and lost itself in vanishing sparks in
the sombre depths of her eyes that, wide open now, with enlarged pupils, looked steadily at
the man in her path. And Willems stared at her, charmed with a charm that carries with it a
sense of irreparable loss, tingling with that feeling which begins like a caress and ends in a
blow, in that sudden hurt of a new emotion making its way into a human heart, with the
brusque stirring of sleeping sensations awakening suddenly to the rush of new hopes, new
fears, new desires — and to the flight of one’s old self.
She moved a step forward and again halted. A breath of wind that came through the
trees, but in Willems’ fancy seemed to be driven by her moving figure, rippled in a hot wave
round his body and scorched his face in a burning touch. He drew it in with a long breath, the
last long breath of a soldier before the rush of battle, of a lover before he takes in his arms
the adored woman; the breath that gives courage to confront the menace of death or the
storm of passion.
Who was she? Where did she come from? Wonderingly he took his eyes off her face to
look round at the serried trees of the forest that stood big and still and straight, as if watching
him and her breathlessly. He had been baffled, repelled, almost frightened by the intensity of
that tropical life which wants the sunshine but works in gloom; which seems to be all grace of
colour and form, all brilliance, all smiles, but is only the blossoming of the dead; whose
mystery holds the promise of joy and beauty, yet contains nothing but poison and decay. He
had been frightened by the vague perception of danger before, but now, as he looked at that
life again, his eyes seemed able to pierce the fantastic veil of creepers and leaves, to look
past the solid trunks, to see through the forbidding gloom — and the mystery was disclosed
— enchanting, subduing, beautiful. He looked at the woman. Through the checkered light
between them she appeared to him with the impalpable distinctness of a dream. The very
spirit of that land of mysterious forests, standing before him like an apparition behind a
transparent veil — a veil woven of sunbeams and shadows.
She had approached him still nearer. He felt a strange impatience within him at her
advance. Confused thoughts rushed through his head, disordered, shapeless, stunning. Then
he heard his own voice asking —
“Who are you?”
“I am the daughter of the blind Omar,” she answered, in a low but steady tone. “And
you,” she went on, a little louder, “you are the white trader — the great man of this place.”
“Yes,” said Willems, holding her eyes with his in a sense of extreme effort, “Yes, I am
white.” Then he added, feeling as if he spoke about some other man, “But I am the outcast of
my people.”
She listened to him gravely. Through the mesh of scattered hair her face looked like the
face of a golden statue with living eyes. The heavy eyelids dropped slightly, and from between
the long eyelashes she sent out a sidelong look: hard, keen, and narrow, like the gleam of
sharp steel. Her lips were firm and composed in a graceful curve, but the distended nostrils,
the upward poise of the half-averted head, gave to her whole person the expression of a wild
and resentful defiance.
A shadow passed over Willems’ face. He put his hand over his lips as if to keep back the
words that wanted to come out in a surge of impulsive necessity, the outcome of dominant
thought that rushes from the heart to the brain and must be spoken in the face of doubt, of
danger, of fear, of destruction itself.
“You are beautiful,” he whispered.
She looked at him again with a glance that running in one quick flash of her eyes over his
sunburnt features, his broad shoulders, his straight, tall, motionless figure, rested at last onthe ground at his feet. Then she smiled. In the sombre beauty of her face that smile was like
the first ray of light on a stormy daybreak that darts evanescent and pale through the gloomy
clouds: the forerunner of sunrise and of thunder.
Chapter 7

There are in our lives short periods which hold no place in memory but only as the
recollection of a feeling. There is no remembrance of gesture, of action, of any outward
manifestation of life; those are lost in the unearthly brilliance or in the unearthly gloom of such
moments. We are absorbed in the contemplation of that something, within our bodies, which
rejoices or suffers while the body goes on breathing, instinctively runs away or, not less
instinctively, fights — perhaps dies. But death in such a moment is the privilege of the
fortunate, it is a high and rare favour, a supreme grace.
Willems never remembered how and when he parted from Aissa. He caught himself
drinking the muddy water out of the hollow of his hand, while his canoe was drifting in
midstream past the last houses of Sambir. With his returning wits came the fear of something
unknown that had taken possession of his heart, of something inarticulate and masterful which
could not speak and would be obeyed. His first impulse was that of revolt. He would never go
back there. Never! He looked round slowly at the brilliance of things in the deadly sunshine
and took up his paddle! How changed everything seemed! The river was broader, the sky was
higher. How fast the canoe flew under the strokes of his paddle! Since when had he acquired
the strength of two men or more? He looked up and down the reach at the forests of the bank
with a confused notion that with one sweep of his hand he could tumble all these trees into the
stream. His face felt burning. He drank again, and shuddered with a depraved sense of
pleasure at the after-taste of slime in the water.
It was late when he reached Almayer’s house, but he crossed the dark and uneven
courtyard, walking lightly in the radiance of some light of his own, invisible to other eyes. His
host’s sulky greeting jarred him like a sudden fall down a great height. He took his place at the
table opposite Almayer and tried to speak cheerfully to his gloomy companion, but when the
meal was ended and they sat smoking in silence he felt an abrupt discouragement, a lassitude
in all his limbs, a sense of immense sadness as after some great and irreparable loss. The
darkness of the night entered his heart, bringing with it doubt and hesitation and dull anger
with himself and all the world. He had an impulse to shout horrible curses, to quarrel with
Almayer, to do something violent. Quite without any immediate provocation he thought he
would like to assault the wretched, sulky beast. He glanced at him ferociously from under his
eyebrows. The unconscious Almayer smoked thoughtfully, planning to-morrow’s work
probably. The man’s composure seemed to Willems an unpardonable insult. Why didn’t that
idiot talk to-night when he wanted him to?... on other nights he was ready enough to chatter.
And such dull nonsense too! And Willems, trying hard to repress his own senseless rage,
looked fixedly through the thick tobacco-smoke at the stained tablecloth.
They retired early, as usual, but in the middle of the night Willems leaped out of his
hammock with a stifled execration and ran down the steps into the courtyard. The two night
watchmen, who sat by a little fire talking together in a monotonous undertone, lifted their
heads to look wonderingly at the discomposed features of the white man as he crossed the
circle of light thrown out by their fire. He disappeared in the darkness and then came back
again, passing them close, but with no sign of consciousness of their presence on his face.
Backwards and forwards he paced, muttering to himself, and the two Malays, after a short
consultation in whispers left the fire quietly, not thinking it safe to remain in the vicinity of a
white man who behaved in such a strange manner. They retired round the corner of the
godown and watched Willems curiously through the night, till the short daybreak was followed
by the sudden blaze of the rising sun, and Almayer’s establishment woke up to life and work.
As soon as he could get away unnoticed in the bustle of the busy riverside, Willems
crossed the river on his way to the place where he had met Aissa. He threw himself down inthe grass by the side of the brook and listened for the sound of her footsteps. The brilliant
light of day fell through the irregular opening in the high branches of the trees and streamed
down, softened, amongst the shadows of big trunks. Here and there a narrow sunbeam
touched the rugged bark of a tree with a golden splash, sparkled on the leaping water of the
brook, or rested on a leaf that stood out, shimmering and distinct, on the monotonous
background of sombre green tints. The clear gap of blue above his head was crossed by the
quick flight of white rice-birds whose wings flashed in the sunlight, while through it the heat
poured down from the sky, clung about the steaming earth, rolled among the trees, and
wrapped up Willems in the soft and odorous folds of air heavy with the faint scent of blossoms
and with the acrid smell of decaying life. And in that atmosphere of Nature’s workshop Willems
felt soothed and lulled into forgetfulness of his past, into indifference as to his future. The
recollections of his triumphs, of his wrongs and of his ambition vanished in that warmth, which
seemed to melt all regrets, all hope, all anger, all strength out of his heart. And he lay there,
dreamily contented, in the tepid and perfumed shelter, thinking of Aissa’s eyes; recalling the
sound of her voice, the quiver of her lips — her frowns and her smile.
She came, of course. To her he was something new, unknown and strange. He was
bigger, stronger than any man she had seen before, and altogether different from all those
she knew. He was of the victorious race. With a vivid remembrance of the great catastrophe
of her life he appeared to her with all the fascination of a great and dangerous thing; of a
terror vanquished, surmounted, made a plaything of. They spoke with just such a deep voice
— those victorious men; they looked with just such hard blue eyes at their enemies. And she
made that voice speak softly to her, those eyes look tenderly at her face! He was indeed a
man. She could not understand all he told her of his life, but the fragments she understood
she made up for herself into a story of a man great amongst his own people, valorous and
unfortunate; an undaunted fugitive dreaming of vengeance against his enemies. He had all the
attractiveness of the vague and the unknown — of the unforeseen and of the sudden; of a
being strong, dangerous, alive, and human, ready to be enslaved.
She felt that he was ready. She felt it with the unerring intuition of a primitive woman
confronted by a simple impulse. Day after day, when they met and she stood a little way off,
listening to his words, holding him with her look, the undefined terror of the new conquest
became faint and blurred like the memory of a dream, and the certitude grew distinct, and
convincing, and visible to the eyes like some material thing in full sunlight. It was a deep joy, a
great pride, a tangible sweetness that seemed to leave the taste of honey on her lips. He lay
stretched at her feet without moving, for he knew from experience how a slight movement of
his could frighten her away in those first days of their intercourse. He lay very quiet, with all
the ardour of his desire ringing in his voice and shining in his eyes, whilst his body was still,
like death itself. And he looked at her, standing above him, her head lost in the shadow of
broad and graceful leaves that touched her cheek; while the slender spikes of pale green
orchids streamed down from amongst the boughs and mingled with the black hair that framed
her face, as if all those plants claimed her for their own — the animated and brilliant flower of
all that exuberant life which, born in gloom, struggles for ever towards the sunshine.
Every day she came a little nearer. He watched her slow progress — the gradual taming
of that woman by the words of his love. It was the monotonous song of praise and desire that,
commencing at creation, wraps up the world like an atmosphere and shall end only in the end
of all things — when there are no lips to sing and no ears to hear. He told her that she was
beautiful and desirable, and he repeated it again and again; for when he told her that, he had
said all there was within him — he had expressed his only thought, his only feeling. And he
watched the startled look of wonder and mistrust vanish from her face with the passing days,
her eyes soften, the smile dwell longer and longer on her lips; a smile as of one charmed by a
delightful dream; with the slight exaltation of intoxicating triumph lurking in its dawning
tenderness.And while she was near there was nothing in the whole world — for that idle man — but
her look and her smile. Nothing in the past, nothing in the future; and in the present only the
luminous fact of her existence. But in the sudden darkness of her going he would be left weak
and helpless, as though despoiled violently of all that was himself. He who had lived all his life
with no preoccupation but that of his own career, contemptuously indifferent to all feminine
influence, full of scorn for men that would submit to it, if ever so little; he, so strong, so
superior even in his errors, realized at last that his very individuality was snatched from within
himself by the hand of a woman. Where was the assurance and pride of his cleverness; the
belief in success, the anger of failure, the wish to retrieve his fortune, the certitude of his
ability to accomplish it yet? Gone. All gone. All that had been a man within him was gone, and
there remained only the trouble of his heart — that heart which had become a contemptible
thing; which could be fluttered by a look or a smile, tormented by a word, soothed by a
When the longed-for day came at last, when she sank on the grass by his side and with
a quick gesture took his hand in hers, he sat up suddenly with the movement and look of a
man awakened by the crash of his own falling house. All his blood, all his sensation, all his life
seemed to rush into that hand leaving him without strength, in a cold shiver, in the sudden
clamminess and collapse as of a deadly gun-shot wound. He flung her hand away brutally, like
something burning, and sat motionless, his head fallen forward, staring on the ground and
catching his breath in painful gasps. His impulse of fear and apparent horror did not dismay
her in the least. Her face was grave and her eyes looked seriously at him. Her fingers touched
the hair of his temple, ran in a light caress down his cheek, twisted gently the end of his long
moustache: and while he sat in the tremor of that contact she ran off with startling fleetness
and disappeared in a peal of clear laughter, in the stir of grass, in the nod of young twigs
growing over the path; leaving behind only a vanishing trail of motion and sound.
He scrambled to his feet slowly and painfully, like a man with a burden on his shoulders,
and walked towards the riverside. He hugged to his breast the recollection of his fear and of
his delight, but told himself seriously over and over again that this must be the end of that
adventure. After shoving off his canoe into the stream he lifted his eyes to the bank and
gazed at it long and steadily, as if taking his last look at a place of charming memories. He
marched up to Almayer’s house with the concentrated expression and the determined step of
a man who had just taken a momentous resolution. His face was set and rigid, his gestures
and movements were guarded and slow. He was keeping a tight hand on himself. A very tight
hand. He had a vivid illusion — as vivid as reality almost — of being in charge of a slippery
prisoner. He sat opposite Almayer during that dinner — which was their last meal together —
with a perfectly calm face and within him a growing terror of escape from his own self.
Now and then he would grasp the edge of the table and set his teeth hard in a sudden
wave of acute despair, like one who, falling down a smooth and rapid declivity that ends in a
precipice, digs his finger nails into the yielding surface and feels himself slipping helplessly to
inevitable destruction.
Then, abruptly, came a relaxation of his muscles, the giving way of his will. Something
seemed to snap in his head, and that wish, that idea kept back during all those hours, darted
into his brain with the heat and noise of a conflagration. He must see her! See her at once!
Go now! To-night! He had the raging regret of the lost hour, of every passing moment. There
was no thought of resistance now. Yet with the instinctive fear of the irrevocable, with the
innate falseness of the human heart, he wanted to keep open the way of retreat. He had
never absented himself during the night. What did Almayer know? What would Almayer think?
Better ask him for the gun. A moonlight night... Look for deer... A colourable pretext. He would
lie to Almayer. What did it matter! He lied to himself every minute of his life. And for what? For
a woman. And such...
Almayer’s answer showed him that deception was useless. Everything gets to be known,even in this place. Well, he did not care. Cared for nothing but for the lost seconds. What if he
should suddenly die. Die before he saw her. Before he could...
As, with the sound of Almayer’s laughter in his ears, he urged his canoe in a slanting
course across the rapid current, he tried to tell himself that he could return at any moment. He
would just go and look at the place where they used to meet, at the tree under which he lay
when she took his hand, at the spot where she sat by his side. Just go there and then return
— nothing more; but when his little skiff touched the bank he leaped out, forgetting the
painter, and the canoe hung for a moment amongst the bushes and then swung out of sight
before he had time to dash into the water and secure it. He was thunderstruck at first. Now he
could not go back unless he called up the Rajah’s people to get a boat and rowers — and the
way to Patalolo’s campong led past Aissa’s house!
He went up the path with the eager eyes and reluctant steps of a man pursuing a
phantom, and when he found himself at a place where a narrow track branched off to the left
towards Omar’s clearing he stood still, with a look of strained attention on his face as if
listening to a far-off voice — the voice of his fate. It was a sound inarticulate but full of
meaning; and following it there came a rending and tearing within his breast. He twisted his
fingers together, and the joints of his hands and arms cracked. On his forehead the
perspiration stood out in small pearly drops. He looked round wildly. Above the shapeless
darkness of the forest undergrowth rose the treetops with their high boughs and leaves
standing out black on the pale sky — like fragments of night floating on moonbeams. Under
his feet warm steam rose from the heated earth. Round him there was a great silence.
He was looking round for help. This silence, this immobility of his surroundings seemed to
him a cold rebuke, a stern refusal, a cruel unconcern. There was no safety outside of himself
— and in himself there was no refuge; there was only the image of that woman. He had a
sudden moment of lucidity — of that cruel lucidity that comes once in life to the most
benighted. He seemed to see what went on within him, and was horrified at the strange sight.
He, a white man whose worst fault till then had been a little want of judgment and too much
confidence in the rectitude of his kind! That woman was a complete savage, and... He tried to
tell himself that the thing was of no consequence. It was a vain effort. The novelty of the
sensations he had never experienced before in the slightest degree, yet had despised on
hearsay from his safe position of a civilized man, destroyed his courage. He was disappointed
with himself. He seemed to be surrendering to a wild creature the unstained purity of his life,
of his race, of his civilization. He had a notion of being lost amongst shapeless things that
were dangerous and ghastly. He struggled with the sense of certain defeat — lost his footing
— fell back into the darkness. With a faint cry and an upward throw of his arms he gave up as
a tired swimmer gives up: because the swamped craft is gone from under his feet; because
the night is dark and the shore is far — because death is better than strife.
Part 2
Chapter 1

The light and heat fell upon the settlement, the clearings, and the river as if flung down
by an angry hand. The land lay silent, still, and brilliant under the avalanche of burning rays
that had destroyed all sound and all motion, had buried all shadows, had choked every breath.
No living thing dared to affront the serenity of this cloudless sky, dared to revolt against the
oppression of this glorious and cruel sunshine. Strength and resolution, body and mind alike
were helpless, and tried to hide before the rush of the fire from heaven. Only the frail
butterflies, the fearless children of the sun, the capricious tyrants of the flowers, fluttered
audaciously in the open, and their minute shadows hovered in swarms over the drooping
blossoms, ran lightly on the withering grass, or glided on the dry and cracked earth. No voice
was heard in this hot noontide but the faint murmur of the river that hurried on in swirls and
eddies, its sparkling wavelets chasing each other in their joyous course to the sheltering
depths, to the cool refuge of the sea.
Almayer had dismissed his workmen for the midday rest, and, his little daughter on his
shoulder, ran quickly across the courtyard, making for the shade of the verandah of his
house. He laid the sleepy child on the seat of the big rocking-chair, on a pillow which he took
out of his own hammock, and stood for a while looking down at her with tender and pensive
eyes. The child, tired and hot, moved uneasily, sighed, and looked up at him with the veiled
look of sleepy fatigue. He picked up from the floor a broken palm-leaf fan, and began fanning
gently the flushed little face. Her eyelids fluttered and Almayer smiled. A responsive smile
brightened for a second her heavy eyes, broke with a dimple the soft outline of her cheek;
then the eyelids dropped suddenly, she drew a long breath through the parted lips — and was
in a deep sleep before the fleeting smile could vanish from her face.
Almayer moved lightly off, took one of the wooden armchairs, and placing it close to the
balustrade of the verandah sat down with a sigh of relief. He spread his elbows on the top rail
and resting his chin on his clasped hands looked absently at the river, at the dance of sunlight
on the flowing water. Gradually the forest of the further bank became smaller, as if sinking
below the level of the river. The outlines wavered, grew thin, dissolved in the air. Before his
eyes there was now only a space of undulating blue — one big, empty sky growing dark at
times... Where was the sunshine?... He felt soothed and happy, as if some gentle and
invisible hand had removed from his soul the burden of his body. In another second he
seemed to float out into a cool brightness where there was no such thing as memory or pain.
Delicious. His eyes closed — opened — closed again.
With a sudden jerk of his whole body he sat up, grasping the front rail with both his
hands, and blinked stupidly.
“What? What’s that?” he muttered, looking round vaguely.
“Here! Down here, Almayer.”
Half rising in his chair, Almayer looked over the rail at the foot of the verandah, and fell
back with a low whistle of astonishment.
“A ghost, by heavens!” he exclaimed softly to himself.
“Will you listen to me?” went on the husky voice from the courtyard. “May I come up,
Almayer stood up and leaned over the rail. “Don’t you dare,” he said, in a voice subdued
but distinct. “Don’t you dare! The child sleeps here. And I don’t want to hear you — or speak
to you either.”
“You must listen to me! It’s something important.”
“Not to me, surely.”“Yes! To you. Very important.”
“You were always a humbug,” said Almayer, after a short silence, in an indulgent tone.
“Always! I remember the old days. Some fellows used to say there was no one like you for
smartness — but you never took me in. Not quite. I never quite believed in you, Mr. Willems.”
“I admit your superior intelligence,” retorted Willems, with scornful impatience, from
below. “Listening to me would be a further proof of it. You will be sorry if you don’t.”
“Oh, you funny fellow!” said Almayer, banteringly. “Well, come up. Don’t make a noise,
but come up. You’ll catch a sunstroke down there and die on my doorstep perhaps. I don’t
want any tragedy here. Come on!”
Before he finished speaking Willems’ head appeared above the level of the floor, then his
shoulders rose gradually and he stood at last before Almayer — a masquerading spectre of
the once so very confidential clerk of the richest merchant in the islands. His jacket was soiled
and torn; below the waist he was clothed in a worn-out and faded sarong. He flung off his hat,
uncovering his long, tangled hair that stuck in wisps on his perspiring forehead and straggled
over his eyes, which glittered deep down in the sockets like the last sparks amongst the black
embers of a burnt-out fire. An unclean beard grew out of the caverns of his sunburnt cheeks.
The hand he put out towards Almayer was very unsteady. The once firm mouth had the
telltale droop of mental suffering and physical exhaustion. He was barefooted. Almayer surveyed
him with leisurely composure.
“Well!” he said at last, without taking the extended hand which dropped slowly along
Willems’ body.
“I am come,” began Willems.
“So I see,” interrupted Almayer. “You might have spared me this treat without making me
unhappy. You have been away five weeks, if I am not mistaken. I got on very well without you
— and now you are here you are not pretty to look at.”
“Let me speak, will you!” exclaimed Willems.
“Don’t shout like this. Do you think yourself in the forest with your... your friends? This is
a civilized man’s house. A white man’s. Understand?”
“I am come,” began Willems again; “I am come for your good and mine.”
“You look as if you had come for a good feed,” chimed in the irrepressible Almayer, while
Willems waved his hand in a discouraged gesture. “Don’t they give you enough to eat,” went
on Almayer, in a tone of easy banter, “those — what am I to call them — those new relations
of yours? That old blind scoundrel must be delighted with your company. You know, he was
the greatest thief and murderer of those seas. Say! do you exchange confidences? Tell me,
Willems, did you kill somebody in Macassar or did you only steal something?”
“It is not true!” exclaimed Willems, hotly. “I only borrowed... They all lied! I...”
“Sh-sh!” hissed Almayer, warningly, with a look at the sleeping child. “So you did steal,”
he went on, with repressed exultation. “I thought there was something of the kind. And now,
here, you steal again.”
For the first time Willems raised his eyes to Almayer’s face.
“Oh, I don’t mean from me. I haven’t missed anything,” said Almayer, with mocking
haste. “But that girl. Hey! You stole her. You did not pay the old fellow. She is no good to him
now, is she?”
“Stop that. Almayer!”
Something in Willems’ tone caused Almayer to pause. He looked narrowly at the man
before him, and could not help being shocked at his appearance.
“Almayer,” went on Willems, “listen to me. If you are a human being you will. I suffer
horribly — and for your sake.”
Almayer lifted his eyebrows. “Indeed! How? But you are raving,” he added, negligently.
“Ah! You don’t know,” whispered Willems. “She is gone. Gone,” he repeated, with tears
in his voice, “gone two days ago.”“No!” exclaimed the surprised Almayer. “Gone! I haven’t heard that news yet.” He burst
into a subdued laugh. “How funny! Had enough of you already? You know it’s not flattering for
you, my superior countryman.”
Willems — as if not hearing him — leaned against one of the columns of the roof and
looked over the river. “At first,” he whispered, dreamily, “my life was like a vision of heaven —
or hell; I didn’t know which. Since she went I know what perdition means; what darkness is. I
know what it is to be torn to pieces alive. That’s how I feel.”
“You may come and live with me again,” said Almayer, coldly. “After all, Lingard — whom
I call my father and respect as such — left you under my care. You pleased yourself by going
away. Very good. Now you want to come back. Be it so. I am no friend of yours. I act for
Captain Lingard.”
“Come back?” repeated Willems, passionately. “Come back to you and abandon her? Do
you think I am mad? Without her! Man! what are you made of? To think that she moves, lives,
breathes out of my sight. I am jealous of the wind that fans her, of the air she breathes, of the
earth that receives the caress of her foot, of the sun that looks at her now while I... I haven’t
seen her for two days — two days.”
The intensity of Willems’ feeling moved Almayer somewhat, but he affected to yawn
“You do bore me,” he muttered. “Why don’t you go after her instead of coming here?”
“Why indeed?”
“Don’t you know where she is? She can’t be very far. No native craft has left this river for
the last fortnight.”
“No! not very far — and I will tell you where she is. She is in Lakamba’s campong.” And
Willems fixed his eyes steadily on Almayer’s face.
“Phew! Patalolo never sent to let me know. Strange,” said Almayer, thoughtfully. “Are
you afraid of that lot?” he added, after a short pause.
“I — afraid!”
“Then is it the care of your dignity which prevents you from following her there, my
highminded friend?” asked Almayer, with mock solicitude. “How noble of you!”
There was a short silence; then Willems said, quietly, “You are a fool. I should like to kick
“No fear,” answered Almayer, carelessly; “you are too weak for that. You look starved.”
“I don’t think I have eaten anything for the last two days; perhaps more — I don’t
remember. It does not matter. I am full of live embers,” said Willems, gloomily. “Look!” and he
bared an arm covered with fresh scars. “I have been biting myself to forget in that pain the fire
that hurts me there!” He struck his breast violently with his fist, reeled under his own blow, fell
into a chair that stood near and closed his eyes slowly.
“Disgusting exhibition,” said Almayer, loftily. “What could father ever see in you? You are
as estimable as a heap of garbage.”
“You talk like that! You, who sold your soul for a few guilders,” muttered Willems, wearily,
without opening his eyes.
“Not so few,” said Almayer, with instinctive readiness, and stopped confused for a
moment. He recovered himself quickly, however, and went on: “But you — you have thrown
yours away for nothing; flung it under the feet of a damned savage woman who has made you
already the thing you are, and will kill you very soon, one way or another, with her love or with
her hate. You spoke just now about guilders. You meant Lingard’s money, I suppose. Well,
whatever I have sold, and for whatever price, I never meant you — you of all people — to
spoil my bargain. I feel pretty safe though. Even father, even Captain Lingard, would not touch
you now with a pair of tongs; not with a ten-foot pole...”
He spoke excitedly, all in one breath, and, ceasing suddenly, glared at Willems and
breathed hard through his nose in sulky resentment. Willems looked at him steadily for amoment, then got up.
“Almayer,” he said resolutely, “I want to become a trader in this place.”
Almayer shrugged his shoulders.
“Yes. And you shall set me up. I want a house and trade goods — perhaps a little
money. I ask you for it.”
“Anything else you want? Perhaps this coat?” and here Almayer unbuttoned his jacket —
“or my house — or my boots?”
“After all it’s natural,” went on Willems, without paying any attention to Almayer — “it’s
natural that she should expect the advantages which... and then I could shut up that old
wretch and then...”
He paused, his face brightened with the soft light of dreamy enthusiasm, and he turned
his eyes upwards. With his gaunt figure and dilapidated appearance he looked like some
ascetic dweller in a wilderness, finding the reward of a self-denying life in a vision of dazzling
glory. He went on in an impassioned murmur —
“And then I would have her all to myself away from her people — all to myself — under
my own influence — to fashion — to mould — to adore — to soften — to... Oh! Delight! And
then — then go away to some distant place where, far from all she knew, I would be all the
world to her! All the world to her!”
His face changed suddenly. His eyes wandered for awhile and then became steady all at
“I would repay every cent, of course,” he said, in a business-like tone, with something of
his old assurance, of his old belief in himself, in it. “Every cent. I need not interfere with your
business. I shall cut out the small native traders. I have ideas — but never mind that now. And
Captain Lingard would approve, I feel sure. After all it’s a loan, and I shall be at hand. Safe
thing for you.”
“Ah! Captain Lingard would approve! He would app...” Almayer choked. The notion of
Lingard doing something for Willems enraged him. His face was purple. He spluttered insulting
words. Willems looked at him coolly.
“I assure you, Almayer,” he said, gently, “that I have good grounds for my demand.”
“Your cursed impudence!”
“Believe me, Almayer, your position here is not so safe as you may think. An
unscrupulous rival here would destroy your trade in a year. It would be ruin. Now Lingard’s
long absence gives courage to certain individuals. You know? — I have heard much lately.
They made proposals to me... You are very much alone here. Even Patalolo...”
“Damn Patalolo! I am master in this place.”
“But, Almayer, don’t you see...”
“Yes, I see. I see a mysterious ass,” interrupted Almayer, violently. “What is the meaning
of your veiled threats? Don’t you think I know something also? They have been intriguing for
years — and nothing has happened. The Arabs have been hanging about outside this river for
years — and I am still the only trader here; the master here. Do you bring me a declaration of
war? Then it’s from yourself only. I know all my other enemies.
I ought to knock you on the head. You are not worth powder and shot though. You ought
to be destroyed with a stick — like a snake.”
Almayer’s voice woke up the little girl, who sat up on the pillow with a sharp cry. He
rushed over to the chair, caught up the child in his arms, walked back blindly, stumbled
against Willems’ hat which lay on the floor, and kicked it furiously down the steps.
“Clear out of this! Clear out!” he shouted.
Willems made an attempt to speak, but Almayer howled him down.
“Take yourself off! Don’t you see you frighten the child — you scarecrow! No, no! dear,”
he went on to his little daughter, soothingly, while Willems walked down the steps slowly. “No.
Don’t cry. See! Bad man going away. Look! He is afraid of your papa. Nasty, bad man. Nevercome back again. He shall live in the woods and never come near my little girl. If he comes
papa will kill him — so!” He struck his fist on the rail of the balustrade to show how he would
kill Willems, and, perching the consoled child on his shoulder held her with one hand, while he
pointed toward the retreating figure of his visitor.
“Look how he runs away, dearest,” he said, coaxingly. “Isn’t he funny. Call ‘pig’ after him,
dearest. Call after him.”
The seriousness of her face vanished into dimples. Under the long eyelashes, glistening
with recent tears, her big eyes sparkled and danced with fun. She took firm hold of Almayer’s
hair with one hand, while she waved the other joyously and called out with all her might, in a
clear note, soft and distinct like the pipe of a bird: —
“Pig! Pig! Pig!”
Chapter 2

A sigh under the flaming blue, a shiver of the sleeping sea, a cool breath as if a door had
been swung upon the frozen spaces of the universe, and with a stir of leaves, with the nod of
boughs, with the tremble of slender branches the sea breeze struck the coast, rushed up the
river, swept round the broad reaches, and travelled on in a soft ripple of darkening water, in
the whisper of branches, in the rustle of leaves of the awakened forests. It fanned in
Lakamba’s campong the dull red of expiring embers into a pale brilliance; and, under its touch,
the slender, upright spirals of smoke that rose from every glowing heap swayed, wavered, and
eddying down filled the twilight of clustered shade trees with the aromatic scent of the burning
wood. The men who had been dozing in the shade during the hot hours of the afternoon woke
up, and the silence of the big courtyard was broken by the hesitating murmur of yet sleepy
voices, by coughs and yawns, with now and then a burst of laughter, a loud hail, a name or a
joke sent out in a soft drawl. Small groups squatted round the little fires, and the monotonous
undertone of talk filled the enclosure; the talk of barbarians, persistent, steady, repeating itself
in the soft syllables, in musical tones of the never-ending discourses of those men of the
forests and the sea, who can talk most of the day and all the night; who never exhaust a
subject, never seem able to thresh a matter out; to whom that talk is poetry and painting and
music, all art, all history; their only accomplishment, their only superiority, their only
amusement. The talk of camp fires, which speaks of bravery and cunning, of strange events
and of far countries, of the news of yesterday and the news of to-morrow. The talk about the
dead and the living — about those who fought and those who loved.
Lakamba came out on the platform before his own house and sat down — perspiring,
half asleep, and sulky — in a wooden armchair under the shade of the overhanging eaves.
Through the darkness of the doorway he could hear the soft warbling of his womenkind, busy
round the looms where they were weaving the checkered pattern of his gala sarongs. Right
and left of him on the flexible bamboo floor those of his followers to whom their distinguished
birth, long devotion, or faithful service had given the privilege of using the chief’s house, were
sleeping on mats or just sat up rubbing their eyes: while the more wakeful had mustered
enough energy to draw a chessboard with red clay on a fine mat and were now meditating
silently over their moves. Above the prostrate forms of the players, who lay face downward
supported on elbow, the soles of their feet waving irresolutely about, in the absorbed
meditation of the game, there towered here and there the straight figure of an attentive
spectator looking down with dispassionate but profound interest. On the edge of the platform
a row of high-heeled leather sandals stood ranged carefully in a level line, and against the
rough wooden rail leaned the slender shafts of the spears belonging to these gentlemen, the
broad blades of dulled steel looking very black in the reddening light of approaching sunset.
A boy of about twelve — the personal attendant of Lakamba — squatted at his master’s
feet and held up towards him a silver siri box. Slowly Lakamba took the box, opened it, and
tearing off a piece of green leaf deposited in it a pinch of lime, a morsel of gambier, a small bit
of areca nut, and wrapped up the whole with a dexterous twist. He paused, morsel in hand,
seemed to miss something, turned his head from side to side, slowly, like a man with a stiff
neck, and ejaculated in an ill-humoured bass —
The players glanced up quickly, and looked down again directly. Those men who were
standing stirred uneasily as if prodded by the sound of the chief’s voice. The one nearest to
Lakamba repeated the call, after a while, over the rail into the courtyard. There was a
movement of upturned faces below by the fires, and the cry trailed over the enclosure in
singsong tones. The thumping of wooden pestles husking the evening rice stopped for a momentand Babalatchi’s name rang afresh shrilly on women’s lips in various keys. A voice far off
shouted something — another, nearer, repeated it; there was a short hubbub which died out
with extreme suddenness. The first crier turned to Lakamba, saying indolently —
“He is with the blind Omar.”
Lakamba’s lips moved inaudibly. The man who had just spoken was again deeply
absorbed in the game going on at his feet; and the chief — as if he had forgotten all about it
already — sat with a stolid face amongst his silent followers, leaning back squarely in his
chair, his hands on the arms of his seat, his knees apart, his big blood-shot eyes blinking
solemnly, as if dazzled by the noble vacuity of his thoughts.
Babalatchi had gone to see old Omar late in the afternoon. The delicate manipulation of
the ancient pirate’s susceptibilities, the skilful management of Aissa’s violent impulses
engrossed him to the exclusion of every other business — interfered with his regular
attendance upon his chief and protector — even disturbed his sleep for the last three nights.
That day when he left his own bamboo hut — which stood amongst others in Lakamba’s
campong — his heart was heavy with anxiety and with doubt as to the success of his intrigue.
He walked slowly, with his usual air of detachment from his surroundings, as if unaware that
many sleepy eyes watched from all parts of the courtyard his progress towards a small gate
at its upper end. That gate gave access to a separate enclosure in which a rather large
house, built of planks, had been prepared by Lakamba’s orders for the reception of Omar and
Aissa. It was a superior kind of habitation which Lakamba intended for the dwelling of his chief
adviser — whose abilities were worth that honour, he thought. But after the consultation in the
deserted clearing — when Babalatchi had disclosed his plan — they both had agreed that the
new house should be used at first to shelter Omar and Aissa after they had been persuaded
to leave the Rajah’s place, or had been kidnapped from there — as the case might be.
Babalatchi did not mind in the least the putting off of his own occupation of the house of
honour, because it had many advantages for the quiet working out of his plans. It had a
certain seclusion, having an enclosure of its own, and that enclosure communicated also with
Lakamba’s private courtyard at the back of his residence — a place set apart for the female
household of the chief. The only communication with the river was through the great front
courtyard always full of armed men and watchful eyes. Behind the whole group of buildings
there stretched the level ground of rice-clearings, which in their turn were closed in by the wall
of untouched forests with undergrowth so thick and tangled that nothing but a bullet — and
that fired at pretty close range — could penetrate any distance there.
Babalatchi slipped quietly through the little gate and, closing it, tied up carefully the rattan
fastenings. Before the house there was a square space of ground, beaten hard into the level
smoothness of asphalte. A big buttressed tree, a giant left there on purpose during the
process of clearing the land, roofed in the clear space with a high canopy of gnarled boughs
and thick, sombre leaves. To the right — and some small distance away from the large house
— a little hut of reeds, covered with mats, had been put up for the special convenience of
Omar, who, being blind and infirm, had some difficulty in ascending the steep plankway that
led to the more substantial dwelling, which was built on low posts and had an uncovered
verandah. Close by the trunk of the tree, and facing the doorway of the hut, the household fire
glowed in a small handful of embers in the midst of a large circle of white ashes. An old
woman — some humble relation of one of Lakamba’s wives, who had been ordered to attend
on Aissa — was squatting over the fire and lifted up her bleared eyes to gaze at Babalatchi in
an uninterested manner, as he advanced rapidly across the courtyard.
Babalatchi took in the courtyard with a keen glance of his solitary eye, and without
looking down at the old woman muttered a question. Silently, the woman stretched a
tremulous and emaciated arm towards the hut. Babalatchi made a few steps towards the
doorway, but stopped outside in the sunlight.
“O! Tuan Omar, Omar besar! It is I — Babalatchi!”Within the hut there was a feeble groan, a fit of coughing and an indistinct murmur in the
broken tones of a vague plaint. Encouraged evidently by those signs of dismal life within,
Babalatchi entered the hut, and after some time came out leading with rigid carefulness the
blind Omar, who followed with both his hands on his guide’s shoulders. There was a rude seat
under the tree, and there Babalatchi led his old chief, who sat down with a sigh of relief and
leaned wearily against the rugged trunk. The rays of the setting sun, darting under the
spreading branches, rested on the white-robed figure sitting with head thrown back in stiff
dignity, on the thin hands moving uneasily, and on the stolid face with its eyelids dropped over
the destroyed eyeballs; a face set into the immobility of a plaster cast yellowed by age.
“Is the sun near its setting?” asked Omar, in a dull voice.
“Very near,” answered Babalatchi.
“Where am I? Why have I been taken away from the place which I knew — where I,
blind, could move without fear? It is like black night to those who see. And the sun is near its
setting — and I have not heard the sound of her footsteps since the morning! Twice a strange
hand has given me my food to-day. Why? Why? Where is she?”
“She is near,” said Babalatchi.
“And he?” went on Omar, with sudden eagerness, and a drop in his voice. “Where is he?
Not here. Not here!” he repeated, turning his head from side to side as if in deliberate attempt
to see.
“No! He is not here now,” said Babalatchi, soothingly. Then, after a pause, he added very
low, “But he shall soon return.”
“Return! O crafty one! Will he return? I have cursed him three times,” exclaimed Omar,
with weak violence.
“He is — no doubt — accursed,” assented Babalatchi, in a conciliating manner — “and
yet he will be here before very long — I know!”
“You are crafty and faithless. I have made you great. You were dirt under my feet — less
than dirt,” said Omar, with tremulous energy.
“I have fought by your side many times,” said Babalatchi, calmly.
“Why did he come?” went on Omar. “Did you send him? Why did he come to defile the
air I breathe — to mock at my fate — to poison her mind and steal her body? She has grown
hard of heart to me. Hard and merciless and stealthy like rocks that tear a ship’s life out under
the smooth sea.” He drew a long breath, struggled with his anger, then broke down suddenly.
“I have been hungry,” he continued, in a whimpering tone — “often I have been very hungry
— and cold — and neglected — and nobody near me. She has often forgotten me — and my
sons are dead, and that man is an infidel and a dog. Why did he come? Did you show him the
“He found the way himself, O Leader of the brave,” said Babalatchi, sadly. “I only saw a
way for their destruction and our own greatness. And if I saw aright, then you shall never
suffer from hunger any more. There shall be peace for us, and glory and riches.”
“And I shall die to-morrow,” murmured Omar, bitterly.
“Who knows? Those things have been written since the beginning of the world,”
whispered Babalatchi, thoughtfully.
“Do not let him come back,” exclaimed Omar.
“Neither can he escape his fate,” went on Babalatchi. “He shall come back, and the
power of men we always hated, you and I, shall crumble into dust in our hand.” Then he
added with enthusiasm, “They shall fight amongst themselves and perish both.”
“And you shall see all this, while, I...”
“True!” murmured Babalatchi, regretfully. “To you life is darkness.”
“No! Flame!” exclaimed the old Arab, half rising, then falling back in his seat. “The flame
of that last day! I see it yet — the last thing I saw! And I hear the noise of the rent earth —
when they all died. And I live to be the plaything of a crafty one,” he added, withinconsequential peevishness.
“You are my master still,” said Babalatchi, humbly. “You are very wise — and in your
wisdom you shall speak to Syed Abdulla when he comes here — you shall speak to him as I
advised, I, your servant, the man who fought at your right hand for many years. I have heard
by a messenger that the Syed Abdulla is coming to-night, perhaps late; for those things must
be done secretly, lest the white man, the trader up the river, should know of them. But he will
be here. There has been a surat delivered to Lakamba. In it, Syed Abdulla says he will leave
his ship, which is anchored outside the river, at the hour of noon to-day. He will be here before
daylight if Allah wills.”
He spoke with his eye fixed on the ground, and did not become aware of Aissa’s
presence till he lifted his head when he ceased speaking. She had approached so quietly that
even Omar did not hear her footsteps, and she stood now looking at them with troubled eyes
and parted lips, as if she was going to speak; but at Babalatchi’s entreating gesture she
remained silent. Omar sat absorbed in thought.
“Ay wa! Even so!” he said at last, in a weak voice. “I am to speak your wisdom, O
Babalatchi! Tell him to trust the white man! I do not understand. I am old and blind and weak.
I do not understand. I am very cold,” he continued, in a lower tone, moving his shoulders
uneasily. He ceased, then went on rambling in a faint whisper. “They are the sons of witches,
and their father is Satan the stoned. Sons of witches. Sons of witches.” After a short silence
he asked suddenly, in a firmer voice — “How many white men are there here, O crafty one?”
“There are two here. Two white men to fight one another,” answered Babalatchi, with
“And how many will be left then? How many? Tell me, you who are wise.”
“The downfall of an enemy is the consolation of the unfortunate,” said Babalatchi,
sententiously. “They are on every sea; only the wisdom of the Most High knows their number
— but you shall know that some of them suffer.”
“Tell me, Babalatchi, will they die? Will they both die?” asked Omar, in sudden agitation.
Aissa made a movement. Babalatchi held up a warning hand.
“They shall, surely, die,” he said steadily, looking at the girl with unflinching eye.
“Ay wa! But die soon! So that I can pass my hand over their faces when Allah has made
them stiff.”
“If such is their fate and yours,” answered Babalatchi, without hesitation. “God is great!”
A violent fit of coughing doubled Omar up, and he rocked himself to and fro, wheezing
and moaning in turns, while Babalatchi and the girl looked at him in silence. Then he leaned
back against the tree, exhausted.
“I am alone, I am alone,” he wailed feebly, groping vaguely about with his trembling
hands. “Is there anybody near me? Is there anybody? I am afraid of this strange place.”
“I am by your side, O Leader of the brave,” said Babalatchi, touching his shoulder lightly.
“Always by your side as in the days when we both were young: as in the time when we both
went with arms in our hands.”
“Has there been such a time, Babalatchi?” said Omar, wildly; “I have forgotten. And now
when I die there will be no man, no fearless man to speak of his father’s bravery. There was a
woman! A woman! And she has forsaken me for an infidel dog. The hand of the
Compassionate is heavy on my head! Oh, my calamity! Oh, my shame!”
He calmed down after a while, and asked quietly — “Is the sun set, Babalatchi?”
“It is now as low as the highest tree I can see from here,” answered Babalatchi.
“It is the time of prayer,” said Omar, attempting to get up.
Dutifully Babalatchi helped his old chief to rise, and they walked slowly towards the hut.
Omar waited outside, while Babalatchi went in and came out directly, dragging after him the
old Arab’s praying carpet. Out of a brass vessel he poured the water of ablution on Omar’s
outstretched hands, and eased him carefully down into a kneeling posture, for the venerablerobber was far too infirm to be able to stand. Then as Omar droned out the first words and
made his first bow towards the Holy City, Babalatchi stepped noiselessly towards Aissa, who
did not move all the time.
Aissa looked steadily at the one-eyed sage, who was approaching her slowly and with a
great show of deference. For a moment they stood facing each other in silence. Babalatchi
appeared embarrassed. With a sudden and quick gesture she caught hold of his arm, and
with the other hand pointed towards the sinking red disc that glowed, rayless, through the
floating mists of the evening.
“The third sunset! The last! And he is not here,” she whispered; “what have you done,
man without faith? What have you done?”
“Indeed I have kept my word,” murmured Babalatchi, earnestly. “This morning Bulangi
went with a canoe to look for him. He is a strange man, but our friend, and shall keep close to
him and watch him without ostentation. And at the third hour of the day I have sent another
canoe with four rowers. Indeed, the man you long for, O daughter of Omar! may come when
he likes.”
“But he is not here! I waited for him yesterday. To-day! To-morrow I shall go.”
“Not alive!” muttered Babalatchi to himself. “And do you doubt your power,” he went on in
a louder tone — “you that to him are more beautiful than an houri of the seventh Heaven? He
is your slave.”
“A slave does run away sometimes,” she said, gloomily, “and then the master must go
and seek him out.”
“And do you want to live and die a beggar?” asked Babalatchi, impatiently.
“I care not,” she exclaimed, wringing her hands; and the black pupils of her wide-open
eyes darted wildly here and there like petrels before the storm.
“Sh! Sh!” hissed Babalatchi, with a glance towards Omar. “Do you think, O girl! that he
himself would live like a beggar, even with you?”
“He is great,” she said, ardently. “He despises you all! He despises you all! He is indeed
a man!”
“You know that best,” muttered Babalatchi, with a fugitive smile — “but remember,
woman with the strong heart, that to hold him now you must be to him like the great sea to
thirsty men — a never-ceasing torment, and a madness.”
He ceased and they stood in silence, both looking on the ground, and for a time nothing
was heard above the crackling of the fire but the intoning of Omar glorifying the God — his
God, and the Faith — his faith. Then Babalatchi cocked his head on one side and appeared to
listen intently to the hum of voices in the big courtyard. The dull noise swelled into distinct
shouts, then into a great tumult of voices, dying away, recommencing, growing louder, to
cease again abruptly; and in those short pauses the shrill vociferations of women rushed up,
as if released, towards the quiet heaven. Aissa and Babalatchi started, but the latter gripped
in his turn the girl’s arm and restrained her with a strong grasp.
“Wait,” he whispered.
The little door in the heavy stockade which separated Lakamba’s private ground from
Omar’s enclosure swung back quickly, and the noble exile appeared with disturbed mien and a
naked short sword in his hand. His turban was half unrolled, and the end trailed on the ground
behind him. His jacket was open. He breathed thickly for a moment before he spoke.
“He came in Bulangi’s boat,” he said, “and walked quietly till he was in my presence,
when the senseless fury of white men caused him to rush upon me. I have been in great
danger,” went on the ambitious nobleman in an aggrieved tone. “Do you hear that,
Babalatchi? That eater of swine aimed a blow at my face with his unclean fist. He tried to rush
amongst my household. Six men are holding him now.”
A fresh outburst of yells stopped Lakamba’s discourse. Angry voices shouted: “Hold him.
Beat him down. Strike at his head.”Then the clamour ceased with sudden completeness, as if strangled by a mighty hand,
and after a second of surprising silence the voice of Willems was heard alone, howling
maledictions in Malay, in Dutch, and in English.
“Listen,” said Lakamba, speaking with unsteady lips, “he blasphemes his God. His
speech is like the raving of a mad dog. Can we hold him for ever? He must be killed!”
“Fool!” muttered Babalatchi, looking up at Aissa, who stood with set teeth, with gleaming
eyes and distended nostrils, yet obedient to the touch of his restraining hand. “It is the third
day, and I have kept my promise,” he said to her, speaking very low. “Remember,” he added
warningly — “like the sea to the thirsty! And now,” he said aloud, releasing her and stepping
back, “go, fearless daughter, go!”
Like an arrow, rapid and silent she flew down the enclosure, and disappeared through
the gate of the courtyard. Lakamba and Babalatchi looked after her. They heard the renewed
tumult, the girl’s clear voice calling out, “Let him go!” Then after a pause in the din no longer
than half the human breath the name of Aissa rang in a shout loud, discordant, and piercing,
which sent through them an involuntary shudder. Old Omar collapsed on his carpet and
moaned feebly; Lakamba stared with gloomy contempt in the direction of the inhuman sound;
but Babalatchi, forcing a smile, pushed his distinguished protector through the narrow gate in
the stockade, followed him, and closed it quickly.
The old woman, who had been most of the time kneeling by the fire, now rose, glanced
round fearfully and crouched hiding behind the tree. The gate of the great courtyard flew open
with a great clatter before a frantic kick, and Willems darted in carrying Aissa in his arms. He
rushed up the enclosure like a tornado, pressing the girl to his breast, her arms round his
neck, her head hanging back over his arm, her eyes closed and her long hair nearly touching
the ground. They appeared for a second in the glare of the fire, then, with immense strides,
he dashed up the planks and disappeared with his burden in the doorway of the big house.
Inside and outside the enclosure there was silence. Omar lay supporting himself on his
elbow, his terrified face with its closed eyes giving him the appearance of a man tormented by
a nightmare.
“What is it? Help! Help me to rise!” he called out faintly.
The old hag, still crouching in the shadow, stared with bleared eyes at the doorway of the
big house, and took no notice of his call. He listened for a while, then his arm gave way, and,
with a deep sigh of discouragement, he let himself fall on the carpet.
The boughs of the tree nodded and trembled in the unsteady currents of the light wind. A
leaf fluttered down slowly from some high branch and rested on the ground, immobile, as if
resting for ever, in the glow of the fire; but soon it stirred, then soared suddenly, and flew,
spinning and turning before the breath of the perfumed breeze, driven helplessly into the dark
night that had closed over the land.
Chapter 3

For upwards of forty years Abdulla had walked in the way of his Lord. Son of the rich
Syed Selim bin Sali, the great Mohammedan trader of the Straits, he went forth at the age of
seventeen on his first commercial expedition, as his father’s representative on board a pilgrim
ship chartered by the wealthy Arab to convey a crowd of pious Malays to the Holy Shrine.
That was in the days when steam was not in those seas — or, at least, not so much as now.
The voyage was long, and the young man’s eyes were opened to the wonders of many lands.
Allah had made it his fate to become a pilgrim very early in life. This was a great favour of
Heaven, and it could not have been bestowed upon a man who prized it more, or who made
himself more worthy of it by the unswerving piety of his heart and by the religious solemnity of
his demeanour. Later on it became clear that the book of his destiny contained the
programme of a wandering life. He visited Bombay and Calcutta, looked in at the Persian Gulf,
beheld in due course the high and barren coasts of the Gulf of Suez, and this was the limit of
his wanderings westward. He was then twenty-seven, and the writing on his forehead decreed
that the time had come for him to return to the Straits and take from his dying father’s hands
the many threads of a business that was spread over all the Archipelago: from Sumatra to
New Guinea, from Batavia to Palawan.
Very soon his ability, his will — strong to obstinacy — his wisdom beyond his years,
caused him to be recognized as the head of a family whose members and connections were
found in every part of those seas. An uncle here — a brother there; a father-in-law in Batavia,
another in Palembang; husbands of numerous sisters; cousins innumerable scattered north,
south, east, and west — in every place where there was trade: the great family lay like a
network over the islands. They lent money to princes, influenced the council-rooms, faced —
if need be — with peaceful intrepidity the white rulers who held the land and the sea under the
edge of sharp swords; and they all paid great deference to Abdulla, listened to his advice,
entered into his plans — because he was wise, pious, and fortunate.
He bore himself with the humility becoming a Believer, who never forgets, even for one
moment of his waking life, that he is the servant of the Most High. He was largely charitable
because the charitable man is the friend of Allah, and when he walked out of his house — built
of stone, just outside the town of Penang — on his way to his godowns in the port, he had
often to snatch his hand away sharply from under the lips of men of his race and creed; and
often he had to murmur deprecating words, or even to rebuke with severity those who
attempted to touch his knees with their finger-tips in gratitude or supplication. He was very
handsome, and carried his small head high with meek gravity. His lofty brow, straight nose,
narrow, dark face with its chiselled delicacy of feature, gave him an aristocratic appearance
which proclaimed his pure descent. His beard was trimmed close and to a rounded point. His
large brown eyes looked out steadily with a sweetness that was belied by the expression of his
thin-lipped mouth. His aspect was serene. He had a belief in his own prosperity which nothing
could shake.
Restless, like all his people, he very seldom dwelt for many days together in his splendid
house in Penang. Owner of ships, he was often on board one or another of them, traversing
in all directions the field of his operations. In every port he had a household — his own or that
of a relation — to hail his advent with demonstrative joy. In every port there were rich and
influential men eager to see him, there was business to talk over, there were important letters
to read: an immense correspondence, enclosed in silk envelopes — a correspondence which
had nothing to do with the infidels of colonial post-offices, but came into his hands by devious,
yet safe, ways. It was left for him by taciturn nakhodas of native trading craft, or was delivered
with profound salaams by travel-stained and weary men who would withdraw from hispresence calling upon Allah to bless the generous giver of splendid rewards. And the news
was always good, and all his attempts always succeeded, and in his ears there rang always a
chorus of admiration, of gratitude, of humble entreaties.
A fortunate man. And his felicity was so complete that the good genii, who ordered the
stars at his birth, had not neglected — by a refinement of benevolence strange in such
primitive beings — to provide him with a desire difficult to attain, and with an enemy hard to
overcome. The envy of Lingard’s political and commercial successes, and the wish to get the
best of him in every way, became Abdulla’s mania, the paramount interest of his life, the salt
of his existence.
For the last few months he had been receiving mysterious messages from Sambir urging
him to decisive action. He had found the river a couple of years ago, and had been anchored
more than once off that estuary where the, till then, rapid Pantai, spreading slowly over the
lowlands, seems to hesitate, before it flows gently through twenty outlets; over a maze of
mudflats, sandbanks and reefs, into the expectant sea. He had never attempted the entrance,
however, because men of his race, although brave and adventurous travellers, lack the true
seamanlike instincts, and he was afraid of getting wrecked. He could not bear the idea of the
Rajah Laut being able to boast that Abdulla bin Selim, like other and lesser men, had also
come to grief when trying to wrest his secret from him. Meantime he returned encouraging
answers to his unknown friends in Sambir, and waited for his opportunity in the calm certitude
of ultimate triumph.
Such was the man whom Lakamba and Babalatchi expected to see for the first time on
the night of Willems’ return to Aissa. Babalatchi, who had been tormented for three days by
the fear of having over-reached himself in his little plot, now, feeling sure of his white man, felt
lighthearted and happy as he superintended the preparations in the courtyard for Abdulla’s
reception. Half-way between Lakamba’s house and the river a pile of dry wood was made
ready for the torch that would set fire to it at the moment of Abdulla’s landing. Between this
and the house again there was, ranged in a semicircle, a set of low bamboo frames, and on
those were piled all the carpets and cushions of Lakamba’s household. It had been decided
that the reception was to take place in the open air, and that it should be made impressive by
the great number of Lakamba’s retainers, who, clad in clean white, with their red sarongs
gathered round their waists, chopper at side and lance in hand, were moving about the
compound or, gathering into small knots, discussed eagerly the coming ceremony.
Two little fires burned brightly on the water’s edge on each side of the landing place. A
small heap of damar-gum torches lay by each, and between them Babalatchi strolled
backwards and forwards, stopping often with his face to the river and his head on one side,
listening to the sounds that came from the darkness over the water. There was no moon and
the night was very clear overhead, but, after the afternoon breeze had expired in fitful puffs,
the vapours hung thickening over the glancing surface of the Pantai and clung to the shore,
hiding from view the middle of the stream.
A cry in the mist — then another — and, before Babalatchi could answer, two little
canoes dashed up to the landing-place, and two of the principal citizens of Sambir, Daoud
Sahamin and Hamet Bahassoen, who had been confidentially invited to meet Abdulla, landed
quickly and after greeting Babalatchi walked up the dark courtyard towards the house. The
little stir caused by their arrival soon subsided, and another silent hour dragged its slow length
while Babalatchi tramped up and down between the fires, his face growing more anxious with
every passing moment.
At last there was heard a loud hail from down the river. At a call from Babalatchi men ran
down to the riverside and, snatching the torches, thrust them into the fires, then waved them
above their heads till they burst into a flame. The smoke ascended in thick, wispy streams,
and hung in a ruddy cloud above the glare that lit up the courtyard and flashed over the water,
showing three long canoes manned by many paddlers lying a little off; the men in them liftingtheir paddles on high and dipping them down together, in an easy stroke that kept the small
flotilla motionless in the strong current, exactly abreast of the landing-place. A man stood up
in the largest craft and called out —
“Syed Abdulla bin Selim is here!”
Babalatchi answered aloud in a formal tone —
“Allah gladdens our hearts! Come to the land!”
Abdulla landed first, steadying himself by the help of Babalatchi’s extended hand. In the
short moment of his passing from the boat to the shore they exchanged sharp glances and a
few rapid words.
“Who are you?”
“Babalatchi. The friend of Omar. The protected of Lakamba.”
“You wrote?”
“My words were written, O Giver of alms!”
And then Abdulla walked with composed face between the two lines of men holding
torches, and met Lakamba in front of the big fire that was crackling itself up into a great blaze.
For a moment they stood with clasped hands invoking peace upon each other’s head, then
Lakamba, still holding his honoured guest by the hand, led him round the fire to the prepared
seats. Babalatchi followed close behind his protector. Abdulla was accompanied by two Arabs.
He, like his companions, was dressed in a white robe of starched muslin, which fell in stiff
folds straight from the neck. It was buttoned from the throat halfway down with a close row of
very small gold buttons; round the tight sleeves there was a narrow braid of gold lace. On his
shaven head he wore a small skull-cap of plaited grass. He was shod in patent leather slippers
over his naked feet. A rosary of heavy wooden beads hung by a round turn from his right
wrist. He sat down slowly in the place of honour, and, dropping his slippers, tucked up his legs
under him decorously.
The improvised divan was arranged in a wide semi-circle, of which the point most distant
from the fire — some ten yards — was also the nearest to Lakamba’s dwelling. As soon as
the principal personages were seated, the verandah of the house was filled silently by the
muffled-up forms of Lakamba’s female belongings. They crowded close to the rail and looked
down, whispering faintly. Below, the formal exchange of compliments went on for some time
between Lakamba and Abdulla, who sat side by side. Babalatchi squatted humbly at his
protector’s feet, with nothing but a thin mat between himself and the hard ground.
Then there was a pause. Abdulla glanced round in an expectant manner, and after a
while Babalatchi, who had been sitting very still in a pensive attitude, seemed to rouse himself
with an effort, and began to speak in gentle and persuasive tones. He described in flowing
sentences the first beginnings of Sambir, the dispute of the present ruler, Patalolo, with the
Sultan of Koti, the consequent troubles ending with the rising of Bugis settlers under the
leadership of Lakamba. At different points of the narrative he would turn for confirmation to
Sahamin and Bahassoen, who sat listening eagerly and assented together with a “Betul! Betul!
Right! Right!” ejaculated in a fervent undertone.
Warming up with his subject as the narrative proceeded, Babalatchi went on to relate the
facts connected with Lingard’s action at the critical period of those internal dissensions. He
spoke in a restrained voice still, but with a growing energy of indignation. What was he, that
man of fierce aspect, to keep all the world away from them? Was he a government? Who
made him ruler? He took possession of Patalolo’s mind and made his heart hard; he put
severe words into his mouth and caused his hand to strike right and left. That unbeliever kept
the Faithful panting under the weight of his senseless oppression. They had to trade with him
— accept such goods as he would give — such credit as he would accord. And he exacted
payment every year...
“Very true!” exclaimed Sahamin and Bahassoen together.
Babalatchi glanced at them approvingly and turned to Abdulla.“Listen to those men, O Protector of the oppressed!” he exclaimed. “What could we do?
A man must trade. There was nobody else.”
Sahamin got up, staff in hand, and spoke to Abdulla with ponderous courtesy,
emphasizing his words by the solemn flourishes of his right arm.
“It is so. We are weary of paying our debts to that white man here, who is the son of the
Rajah Laut. That white man — may the grave of his mother be defiled! — is not content to
hold us all in his hand with a cruel grasp. He seeks to cause our very death. He trades with
the Dyaks of the forest, who are no better than monkeys. He buys from them guttah and
rattans — while we starve. Only two days ago I went to him and said, ‘Tuan Almayer’ — even
so; we must speak politely to that friend of Satan — ’Tuan Almayer, I have such and such
goods to sell. Will you buy?’ And he spoke thus — because those white men have no
understanding of any courtesy — he spoke to me as if I was a slave: ‘Daoud, you are a lucky
man’ — remark, O First amongst the Believers! that by those words he could have brought
misfortune on my head — ’you are a lucky man to have anything in these hard times. Bring
your goods quickly, and I shall receive them in payment of what you owe me from last year.’
And he laughed, and struck me on the shoulder with his open hand. May Jehannum be his
“We will fight him,” said young Bahassoen, crisply. “We shall fight if there is help and a
leader. Tuan Abdulla, will you come among us?”
Abdulla did not answer at once. His lips moved in an inaudible whisper and the beads
passed through his fingers with a dry click. All waited in respectful silence. “I shall come if my
ship can enter this river,” said Abdulla at last, in a solemn tone.
“It can, Tuan,” exclaimed Babalatchi. “There is a white man here who...”
“I want to see Omar el Badavi and that white man you wrote about,” interrupted Abdulla.
Babalatchi got on his feet quickly, and there was a general move.
The women on the verandah hurried indoors, and from the crowd that had kept discreetly
in distant parts of the courtyard a couple of men ran with armfuls of dry fuel, which they cast
upon the fire. One of them, at a sign from Babalatchi, approached and, after getting his
orders, went towards the little gate and entered Omar’s enclosure. While waiting for his return,
Lakamba, Abdulla, and Babalatchi talked together in low tones. Sahamin sat by himself
chewing betel-nut sleepily with a slight and indolent motion of his heavy jaw. Bahassoen, his
hand on the hilt of his short sword, strutted backwards and forwards in the full light of the fire,
looking very warlike and reckless; the envy and admiration of Lakamba’s retainers, who stood
in groups or flitted about noiselessly in the shadows of the courtyard.
The messenger who had been sent to Omar came back and stood at a distance, waiting
till somebody noticed him. Babalatchi beckoned him close.
“What are his words?” asked Babalatchi.
“He says that Syed Abdulla is welcome now,” answered the man.
Lakamba was speaking low to Abdulla, who listened to him with deep interest.
“... We could have eighty men if there was need,” he was saying — “eighty men in
fourteen canoes. The only thing we want is gunpowder...”
“Hai! there will be no fighting,” broke in Babalatchi. “The fear of your name will be enough
and the terror of your coming.”
“There may be powder too,” muttered Abdulla with great nonchalance, “if only the ship
enters the river safely.”
“If the heart is stout the ship will be safe,” said Babalatchi. “We will go now and see
Omar el Badavi and the white man I have here.”
Lakamba’s dull eyes became animated suddenly.
“Take care, Tuan Abdulla,” he said, “take care. The behaviour of that unclean white
madman is furious in the extreme. He offered to strike...”
“On my head, you are safe, O Giver of alms!” interrupted Babalatchi.Abdulla looked from one to the other, and the faintest flicker of a passing smile disturbed
for a moment his grave composure. He turned to Babalatchi, and said with decision —
“Let us go.”
“This way, O Uplifter of our hearts!” rattled on Babalatchi, with fussy deference. “Only a
very few paces and you shall behold Omar the brave, and a white man of great strength and
cunning. This way.”
He made a sign for Lakamba to remain behind, and with respectful touches on the elbow
steered Abdulla towards the gate at the upper end of the court-yard. As they walked on
slowly, followed by the two Arabs, he kept on talking in a rapid undertone to the great man,
who never looked at him once, although appearing to listen with flattering attention. When
near the gate Babalatchi moved forward and stopped, facing Abdulla, with his hand on the
“You shall see them both,” he said. “All my words about them are true. When I saw him
enslaved by the one of whom I spoke, I knew he would be soft in my hand like the mud of the
river. At first he answered my talk with bad words of his own language, after the manner of
white men. Afterwards, when listening to the voice he loved, he hesitated. He hesitated for
many days — too many. I, knowing him well, made Omar withdraw here with his... household.
Then this red-faced man raged for three days like a black panther that is hungry. And this
evening, this very evening, he came. I have him here. He is in the grasp of one with a
merciless heart. I have him here,” ended Babalatchi, exultingly tapping the upright of the gate
with his hand.
“That is good,” murmured Abdulla.
“And he shall guide your ship and lead in the fight — if fight there be,” went on
Babalatchi. “If there is any killing — let him be the slayer. You should give him arms — a short
gun that fires many times.”
“Yes, by Allah!” assented Abdulla, with slow thoughtfulness.
“And you will have to open your hand, O First amongst the generous!” continued
Babalatchi. “You will have to satisfy the rapacity of a white man, and also of one who is not a
man, and therefore greedy of ornaments.”
“They shall be satisfied,” said Abdulla; “but...” He hesitated, looking down on the ground
and stroking his beard, while Babalatchi waited, anxious, with parted lips. After a short time he
spoke again jerkily in an indistinct whisper, so that Babalatchi had to turn his head to catch the
words. “Yes. But Omar is the son of my father’s uncle... and all belonging to him are of the
Faith... while that man is an unbeliever. It is most unseemly... very unseemly. He cannot live
under my shadow. Not that dog. Penitence! I take refuge with my God,” he mumbled rapidly.
“How can he live under my eyes with that woman, who is of the Faith? Scandal! O
He finished with a rush and drew a long breath, then added dubiously —
“And when that man has done all we want, what is to be done with him?”
They stood close together, meditative and silent, their eyes roaming idly over the
courtyard. The big bonfire burned brightly, and a wavering splash of light lay on the dark earth
at their feet, while the lazy smoke wreathed itself slowly in gleaming coils amongst the black
boughs of the trees. They could see Lakamba, who had returned to his place, sitting hunched
up spiritlessly on the cushions, and Sahamin, who had got on his feet again and appeared to
be talking to him with dignified animation. Men in twos or threes came out of the shadows into
the light, strolling slowly, and passed again into the shadows, their faces turned to each other,
their arms moving in restrained gestures. Bahassoen, his head proudly thrown back, his
ornaments, embroideries, and sword-hilt flashing in the light, circled steadily round the fire like
a planet round the sun. A cool whiff of damp air came from the darkness of the riverside; it
made Abdulla and Babalatchi shiver, and woke them up from their abstraction.
“Open the gate and go first,” said Abdulla; “there is no danger?”“On my life, no!” answered Babalatchi, lifting the rattan ring. “He is all peace and content,
like a thirsty man who has drunk water after many days.”
He swung the gate wide, made a few paces into the gloom of the enclosure, and
retraced his steps suddenly.
“He may be made useful in many ways,” he whispered to Abdulla, who had stopped
short, seeing him come back.
“O Sin! O Temptation!” sighed out Abdulla, faintly. “Our refuge is with the Most High. Can
I feed this infidel for ever and for ever?” he added, impatiently.
“No,” breathed out Babalatchi. “No! Not for ever. Only while he serves your designs, O
Dispenser of Allah’s gifts! When the time comes — and your order...”
He sidled close to Abdulla, and brushed with a delicate touch the hand that hung down
listlessly, holding the prayer-beads.
“I am your slave and your offering,” he murmured, in a distinct and polite tone, into
Abdulla’s ear. “When your wisdom speaks, there may be found a little poison that will not lie.
Who knows?”
Chapter 4

Babalatchi saw Abdulla pass through the low and narrow entrance into the darkness of
Omar’s hut; heard them exchange the usual greetings and the distinguished visitor’s grave
voice asking: “There is no misfortune — please God — but the sight?” and then, becoming
aware of the disapproving looks of the two Arabs who had accompanied Abdulla, he followed
their example and fell back out of earshot. He did it unwillingly, although he did not ignore that
what was going to happen in there was now absolutely beyond his control. He roamed
irresolutely about for awhile, and at last wandered with careless steps towards the fire, which
had been moved, from under the tree, close to the hut and a little to windward of its entrance.
He squatted on his heels and began playing pensively with live embers, as was his habit when
engrossed in thought, withdrawing his hand sharply and shaking it above his head when he
burnt his fingers in a fit of deeper abstraction. Sitting there he could hear the murmur of the
talk inside the hut, and he could distinguish the voices but not the words. Abdulla spoke in
deep tones, and now and then this flowing monotone was interrupted by a querulous
exclamation, a weak moan or a plaintive quaver of the old man. Yes. It was annoying not to
be able to make out what they were saying, thought Babalatchi, as he sat gazing fixedly at the
unsteady glow of the fire. But it will be right. All will be right. Abdulla inspired him with
confidence. He came up fully to his expectation. From the very first moment when he set his
eye on him he felt sure that this man — whom he had known by reputation only — was very
resolute. Perhaps too resolute. Perhaps he would want to grasp too much later on. A shadow
flitted over Babalatchi’s face. On the eve of the accomplishment of his desires he felt the bitter
taste of that drop of doubt which is mixed with the sweetness of every success.
When, hearing footsteps on the verandah of the big house, he lifted his head, the
shadow had passed away and on his face there was an expression of watchful alertness.
Willems was coming down the plankway, into the courtyard. The light within trickled through
the cracks of the badly joined walls of the house, and in the illuminated doorway appeared the
moving form of Aissa. She also passed into the night outside and disappeared from view.
Babalatchi wondered where she had got to, and for the moment forgot the approach of
Willems. The voice of the white man speaking roughly above his head made him jump to his
feet as if impelled upwards by a powerful spring.
“Where’s Abdulla?”
Babalatchi waved his hand towards the hut and stood listening intently. The voices within
had ceased, then recommenced again. He shot an oblique glance at Willems, whose indistinct
form towered above the glow of dying embers.
“Make up this fire,” said Willems, abruptly. “I want to see your face.”
With obliging alacrity Babalatchi put some dry brushwood on the coals from a handy pile,
keeping all the time a watchful eye on Willems. When he straightened himself up his hand
wandered almost involuntarily towards his left side to feel the handle of a kriss amongst the
folds of his sarong, but he tried to look unconcerned under the angry stare.
“You are in good health, please God?” he murmured.
“Yes!” answered Willems, with an unexpected loudness that caused Babalatchi to start
nervously. “Yes!... Health!... You...”
He made a long stride and dropped both his hands on the Malay’s shoulders. In the
powerful grip Babalatchi swayed to and fro limply, but his face was as peaceful as when he
sat — a little while ago — dreaming by the fire. With a final vicious jerk Willems let go
suddenly, and turning away on his heel stretched his hands over the fire. Babalatchi stumbled
backwards, recovered himself, and wriggled his shoulders laboriously.
“Tse! Tse! Tse!” he clicked, deprecatingly. After a short silence he went on withaccentuated admiration: “What a man it is! What a strong man! A man like that” — he
concluded, in a tone of meditative wonder — “a man like that could upset mountains —
He gazed hopefully for a while at Willems’ broad shoulders, and continued, addressing
the inimical back, in a low and persuasive voice —
“But why be angry with me? With me who think only of your good? Did I not give her
refuge, in my own house? Yes, Tuan! This is my own house. I will let you have it without any
recompense because she must have a shelter. Therefore you and she shall live here. Who
can know a woman’s mind? And such a woman! If she wanted to go away from that other
place, who am I — to say no!
I am Omar’s servant. I said: ‘Gladden my heart by taking my house.’ Did I say right?”
“I’ll tell you something,” said Willems, without changing his position; “if she takes a fancy
to go away from this place it is you who shall suffer. I will wring your neck.”
“When the heart is full of love there is no room in it for justice,” recommenced Babalatchi,
with unmoved and persistent softness. “Why slay me? You know, Tuan, what she wants. A
splendid destiny is her desire — as of all women. You have been wronged and cast out by
your people. She knows that. But you are brave, you are strong — you are a man; and, Tuan
— I am older than you — you are in her hand. Such is the fate of strong men. And she is of
noble birth and cannot live like a slave. You know her — and you are in her hand. You are like
a snared bird, because of your strength. And — remember I am a man that has seen much
— submit, Tuan! Submit!... Or else...”
He drawled out the last words in a hesitating manner and broke off his sentence. Still
stretching his hands in turns towards the blaze and without moving his head, Willems gave a
short, lugubrious laugh, and asked —
“Or else what?”
“She may go away again. Who knows?” finished Babalatchi, in a gentle and insinuating
This time Willems spun round sharply. Babalatchi stepped back.
“If she does it will be the worse for you,” said Willems, in a menacing voice. “It will be
your doing, and I...”
Babalatchi spoke, from beyond the circle of light, with calm disdain.
“Hai — ya! I have heard before. If she goes — then I die. Good! Will that bring her back
do you think — Tuan? If it is my doing it shall be well done, O white man! and — who knows
— you will have to live without her.”
Willems gasped and started back like a confident wayfarer who, pursuing a path he
thinks safe, should see just in time a bottomless chasm under his feet. Babalatchi came into
the light and approached Willems sideways, with his head thrown back and a little on one side
so as to bring his only eye to bear full on the countenance of the tall white man.
“You threaten me,” said Willems, indistinctly.
“I, Tuan!” exclaimed Babalatchi, with a slight suspicion of irony in the affected surprise of
his tone. “I, Tuan? Who spoke of death? Was it I? No! I spoke of life only. Only of life. Of a
long life for a lonely man!”
They stood with the fire between them, both silent, both aware, each in his own way, of
the importance of the passing minutes. Babalatchi’s fatalism gave him only an insignificant
relief in his suspense, because no fatalism can kill the thought of the future, the desire of
success, the pain of waiting for the disclosure of the immutable decrees of Heaven. Fatalism
is born of the fear of failure, for we all believe that we carry success in our own hands, and we
suspect that our hands are weak. Babalatchi looked at Willems and congratulated himself
upon his ability to manage that white man. There was a pilot for Abdulla — a victim to
appease Lingard’s anger in case of any mishap. He would take good care to put him forward
in everything. In any case let the white men fight it out amongst themselves. They were fools.He hated them — the strong fools — and knew that for his righteous wisdom was reserved
the safe triumph.
Willems measured dismally the depth of his degradation. He — a white man, the admired
of white men, was held by those miserable savages whose tool he was about to become. He
felt for them all the hate of his race, of his morality, of his intelligence. He looked upon himself
with dismay and pity. She had him. He had heard of such things. He had heard of women
who... He would never believe such stories... Yet they were true. But his own captivity seemed
more complete, terrible, and final — without the hope of any redemption. He wondered at the
wickedness of Providence that had made him what he was; that, worse still, permitted such a
creature as Almayer to live. He had done his duty by going to him. Why did he not
understand? All men were fools. He gave him his chance. The fellow did not see it. It was
hard, very hard on himself — Willems. He wanted to take her from amongst her own people.
That’s why he had condescended to go to Almayer. He examined himself. With a sinking heart
he thought that really he could not — somehow — live without her. It was terrible and sweet.
He remembered the first days. Her appearance, her face, her smile, her eyes, her words. A
savage woman! Yet he perceived that he could think of nothing else but of the three days of
their separation, of the few hours since their reunion. Very well. If he could not take her away,
then he would go to her... He had, for a moment, a wicked pleasure in the thought that what
he had done could not be undone. He had given himself up. He felt proud of it. He was ready
to face anything, do anything. He cared for nothing, for nobody. He thought himself very
fearless, but as a matter of fact he was only drunk; drunk with the poison of passionate
He stretched his hands over the fire, looked round and called out —
She must have been near, for she appeared at once within the light of the fire. The upper
part of her body was wrapped up in the thick folds of a head covering which was pulled down
over her brow, and one end of it thrown across from shoulder to shoulder hid the lower part of
her face. Only her eyes were visible — sombre and gleaming like a starry night.
Willems, looking at this strange, muffled figure, felt exasperated, amazed and helpless.
The ex-confidential clerk of the rich Hudig would hug to his breast settled conceptions of
respectable conduct. He sought refuge within his ideas of propriety from the dismal
mangroves, from the darkness of the forests and of the heathen souls of the savages that
were his masters. She looked like an animated package of cheap cotton goods! It made him
furious. She had disguised herself so because a man of her race was near! He told her not to
do it, and she did not obey. Would his ideas ever change so as to agree with her own notions
of what was becoming, proper and respectable? He was really afraid they would, in time. It
seemed to him awful. She would never change! This manifestation of her sense of proprieties
was another sign of their hopeless diversity; something like another step downwards for him.
She was too different from him. He was so civilized! It struck him suddenly that they had
nothing in common — not a thought, not a feeling; he could not make clear to her the simplest
motive of any act of his... and he could not live without her.
The courageous man who stood facing Babalatchi gasped unexpectedly with a gasp that
was half a groan. This little matter of her veiling herself against his wish acted upon him like a
disclosure of some great disaster. It increased his contempt for himself as the slave of a
passion he had always derided, as the man unable to assert his will. This will, all his
sensations, his personality — all this seemed to be lost in the abominable desire, in the
priceless promise of that woman. He was not, of course, able to discern clearly the causes of
his misery; but there are none so ignorant as not to know suffering, none so simple as not to
feel and suffer from the shock of warring impulses. The ignorant must feel and suffer from
their complexity as well as the wisest; but to them the pain of struggle and defeat appears
strange, mysterious, remediable and unjust. He stood watching her, watching himself. Hetingled with rage from head to foot, as if he had been struck in the face. Suddenly he laughed;
but his laugh was like a distorted echo of some insincere mirth very far away.
From the other side of the fire Babalatchi spoke hurriedly —
“Here is Tuan Abdulla.”
Chapter 5

Directly on stepping outside Omar’s hut Abdulla caught sight of Willems. He expected, of
course, to see a white man, but not that white man, whom he knew so well. Everybody who
traded in the islands, and who had any dealings with Hudig, knew Willems. For the last two
years of his stay in Macassar the confidential clerk had been managing all the local trade of
the house under a very slight supervision only on the part of the master. So everybody knew
Willems, Abdulla amongst others — but he was ignorant of Willems’ disgrace. As a matter of
fact the thing had been kept very quiet — so quiet that a good many people in Macassar were
expecting Willems’ return there, supposing him to be absent on some confidential mission.
Abdulla, in his surprise, hesitated on the threshold. He had prepared himself to see some
seaman — some old officer of Lingard’s; a common man — perhaps difficult to deal with, but
still no match for him. Instead, he saw himself confronted by an individual whose reputation
for sagacity in business was well known to him. How did he get here, and why? Abdulla,
recovering from his surprise, advanced in a dignified manner towards the fire, keeping his
eyes fixed steadily on Willems. When within two paces from Willems he stopped and lifted his
right hand in grave salutation. Willems nodded slightly and spoke after a while.
“We know each other, Tuan Abdulla,” he said, with an assumption of easy indifference.
“We have traded together,” answered Abdulla, solemnly, “but it was far from here.”
“And we may trade here also,” said Willems.
“The place does not matter. It is the open mind and the true heart that are required in
“Very true. My heart is as open as my mind. I will tell you why I am here.”
“What need is there? In leaving home one learns life. You travel. Travelling is victory!
You shall return with much wisdom.”
“I shall never return,” interrupted Willems. “I have done with my people. I am a man
without brothers. Injustice destroys fidelity.”
Abdulla expressed his surprise by elevating his eyebrows. At the same time he made a
vague gesture with his arm that could be taken as an equivalent of an approving and
conciliating “just so!”
Till then the Arab had not taken any notice of Aissa, who stood by the fire, but now she
spoke in the interval of silence following Willems’ declaration. In a voice that was much
deadened by her wrappings she addressed Abdulla in a few words of greeting, calling him a
kinsman. Abdulla glanced at her swiftly for a second, and then, with perfect good breeding,
fixed his eyes on the ground. She put out towards him her hand, covered with a corner of her
face-veil, and he took it, pressed it twice, and dropping it turned towards Willems. She looked
at the two men searchingly, then backed away and seemed to melt suddenly into the night.
“I know what you came for, Tuan Abdulla,” said Willems; “I have been told by that man
there.” He nodded towards Babalatchi, then went on slowly, “It will be a difficult thing.”
“Allah makes everything easy,” interjected Babalatchi, piously, from a distance.
The two men turned quickly and stood looking at him thoughtfully, as if in deep
consideration of the truth of that proposition. Under their sustained gaze Babalatchi
experienced an unwonted feeling of shyness, and dared not approach nearer. At last Willems
moved slightly, Abdulla followed readily, and they both walked down the courtyard, their voices
dying away in the darkness. Soon they were heard returning, and the voices grew distinct as
their forms came out of the gloom. By the fire they wheeled again, and Babalatchi caught a
few words. Willems was saying —
“I have been at sea with him many years when young. I have used my knowledge to
observe the way into the river when coming in, this time.”Abdulla assented in general terms.
“In the variety of knowledge there is safety,” he said; and then they passed out of
Babalatchi ran to the tree and took up his position in the solid blackness under its
branches, leaning against the trunk. There he was about midway between the fire and the
other limit of the two men’s walk. They passed him close. Abdulla slim, very straight, his head
high, and his hands hanging before him and twisting mechanically the string of beads; Willems
tall, broad, looking bigger and stronger in contrast to the slight white figure by the side of
which he strolled carelessly, taking one step to the other’s two; his big arms in constant
motion as he gesticulated vehemently, bending forward to look Abdulla in the face.
They passed and repassed close to Babalatchi some half a dozen times, and, whenever
they were between him and the fire, he could see them plain enough. Sometimes they would
stop short, Willems speaking emphatically, Abdulla listening with rigid attention, then, when the
other had ceased, bending his head slightly as if consenting to some demand, or admitting
some statement. Now and then Babalatchi caught a word here and there, a fragment of a
sentence, a loud exclamation. Impelled by curiosity he crept to the very edge of the black
shadow under the tree. They were nearing him, and he heard Willems say —
“You will pay that money as soon as I come on board. That I must have.”
He could not catch Abdulla’s reply. When they went past again, Willems was saying —
“My life is in your hand anyway. The boat that brings me on board your ship shall take
the money to Omar. You must have it ready in a sealed bag.”
Again they were out of hearing, but instead of coming back they stopped by the fire
facing each other. Willems moved his arm, shook his hand on high talking all the time, then
brought it down jerkily — stamped his foot. A short period of immobility ensued. Babalatchi,
gazing intently, saw Abdulla’s lips move almost imperceptibly. Suddenly Willems seized the
Arab’s passive hand and shook it. Babalatchi drew the long breath of relieved suspense. The
conference was over. All well, apparently.
He ventured now to approach the two men, who saw him and waited in silence. Willems
had retired within himself already, and wore a look of grim indifference. Abdulla moved away a
step or two. Babalatchi looked at him inquisitively.
“I go now,” said Abdulla, “and shall wait for you outside the river, Tuan Willems, till the
second sunset. You have only one word, I know.”
“Only one word,” repeated Willems.
Abdulla and Babalatchi walked together down the enclosure, leaving the white man alone
by the fire. The two Arabs who had come with Abdulla preceded them and passed at once
through the little gate into the light and the murmur of voices of the principal courtyard, but
Babalatchi and Abdulla stopped on this side of it. Abdulla said —
“It is well. We have spoken of many things. He consents.”
“When?” asked Babalatchi, eagerly.
“On the second day from this. I have promised every thing. I mean to keep much.”
“Your hand is always open, O Most Generous amongst Believers! You will not forget
your servant who called you here. Have I not spoken the truth? She has made roast meat of
his heart.”
With a horizontal sweep of his arm Abdulla seemed to push away that last statement,
and said slowly, with much meaning —
“He must be perfectly safe; do you understand? Perfectly safe — as if he was amongst
his own people — till...”
“Till when?” whispered Babalatchi.
“Till I speak,” said Abdulla. “As to Omar.” He hesitated for a moment, then went on very
low: “He is very old.”
“Hai-ya! Old and sick,” murmured Babalatchi, with sudden melancholy.“He wanted me to kill that white man. He begged me to have him killed at once,” said
Abdulla, contemptuously, moving again towards the gate.
“He is impatient, like those who feel death near them,” exclaimed Babalatchi,
“Omar shall dwell with me,” went on Abdulla, “when... But no matter. Remember! The
white man must be safe.”
“He lives in your shadow,” answered Babalatchi, solemnly. “It is enough!” He touched his
forehead and fell back to let Abdulla go first.
And now they are back in the courtyard wherefrom, at their appearance, listlessness
vanishes, and all the faces become alert and interested once more. Lakamba approaches his
guest, but looks at Babalatchi, who reassures him by a confident nod. Lakamba clumsily
attempts a smile, and looking, with natural and ineradicable sulkiness, from under his
eyebrows at the man whom he wants to honour, asks whether he would condescend to visit
the place of sitting down and take food. Or perhaps he would prefer to give himself up to
repose? The house is his, and what is in it, and those many men that stand afar watching the
interview are his. Syed Abdulla presses his host’s hand to his breast, and informs him in a
confidential murmur that his habits are ascetic and his temperament inclines to melancholy.
No rest; no food; no use whatever for those many men who are his. Syed Abdulla is impatient
to be gone. Lakamba is sorrowful but polite, in his hesitating, gloomy way. Tuan Abdulla must
have fresh boatmen, and many, to shorten the dark and fatiguing road. Hai-ya! There! Boats!
By the riverside indistinct forms leap into a noisy and disorderly activity. There are cries,
orders, banter, abuse. Torches blaze sending out much more smoke than light, and in their
red glare Babalatchi comes up to say that the boats are ready.
Through that lurid glare Syed Abdulla, in his long white gown, seems to glide fantastically,
like a dignified apparition attended by two inferior shades, and stands for a moment at the
landing-place to take leave of his host and ally — whom he loves. Syed Abdulla says so
distinctly before embarking, and takes his seat in the middle of the canoe under a small
canopy of blue calico stretched on four sticks. Before and behind Syed Abdulla, the men
squatting by the gunwales hold high the blades of their paddles in readiness for a dip, all
together. Ready? Not yet. Hold on all! Syed Abdulla speaks again, while Lakamba and
Babalatchi stand close on the bank to hear his words. His words are encouraging. Before the
sun rises for the second time they shall meet, and Syed Abdulla’s ship shall float on the
waters of this river — at last! Lakamba and Babalatchi have no doubt — if Allah wills. They
are in the hands of the Compassionate. No doubt. And so is Syed Abdulla, the great trader
who does not know what the word failure means; and so is the white man — the smartest
business man in the islands — who is lying now by Omar’s fire with his head on Aissa’s lap,
while Syed Abdulla flies down the muddy river with current and paddles between the sombre
walls of the sleeping forest; on his way to the clear and open sea where the Lord of the Isles
(formerly of Greenock, but condemned, sold, and registered now as of Penang) waits for its
owner, and swings erratically at anchor in the currents of the capricious tide, under the
crumbling red cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah.
For some time Lakamba, Sahamin, and Bahassoen looked silently into the humid
darkness which had swallowed the big canoe that carried Abdulla and his unvarying good
fortune. Then the two guests broke into a talk expressive of their joyful anticipations. The
venerable Sahamin, as became his advanced age, found his delight in speculation as to the
activities of a rather remote future. He would buy praus, he would send expeditions up the
river, he would enlarge his trade, and, backed by Abdulla’s capital, he would grow rich in a
very few years. Very few. Meantime it would be a good thing to interview Almayer to-morrow
and, profiting by the last day of the hated man’s prosperity, obtain some goods from him on
credit. Sahamin thought it could be done by skilful wheedling. After all, that son of Satan was
a fool, and the thing was worth doing, because the coming revolution would wipe all debts out.Sahamin did not mind imparting that idea to his companions, with much senile chuckling, while
they strolled together from the riverside towards the residence. The bull-necked Lakamba,
listening with pouted lips without the sign of a smile, without a gleam in his dull, bloodshot
eyes, shuffled slowly across the courtyard between his two guests. But suddenly Bahassoen
broke in upon the old man’s prattle with the generous enthusiasm of his youth... Trading was
very good. But was the change that would make them happy effected yet? The white man
should be despoiled with a strong hand!... He grew excited, spoke very loud, and his further
discourse, delivered with his hand on the hilt of his sword, dealt incoherently with the
honourable topics of throat-cutting, fire-raising, and with the far-famed valour of his ancestors.
Babalatchi remained behind, alone with the greatness of his conceptions. The sagacious
statesman of Sambir sent a scornful glance after his noble protector and his noble protector’s
friends, and then stood meditating about that future which to the others seemed so assured.
Not so to Babalatchi, who paid the penalty of his wisdom by a vague sense of insecurity that
kept sleep at arm’s length from his tired body. When he thought at last of leaving the
waterside, it was only to strike a path for himself and to creep along the fences, avoiding the
middle of the courtyard where small fires glimmered and winked as though the sinister
darkness there had reflected the stars of the serene heaven. He slunk past the wicket-gate of
Omar’s enclosure, and crept on patiently along the light bamboo palisade till he was stopped
by the angle where it joined the heavy stockade of Lakamba’s private ground. Standing there,
he could look over the fence and see Omar’s hut and the fire before its door. He could also
see the shadow of two human beings sitting between him and the red glow. A man and a
woman. The sight seemed to inspire the careworn sage with a frivolous desire to sing. It could
hardly be called a song; it was more in the nature of a recitative without any rhythm, delivered
rapidly but distinctly in a croaking and unsteady voice; and if Babalatchi considered it a song,
then it was a song with a purpose and, perhaps for that reason, artistically defective. It had all
the imperfections of unskilful improvisation and its subject was gruesome. It told a tale of
shipwreck and of thirst, and of one brother killing another for the sake of a gourd of water. A
repulsive story which might have had a purpose but possessed no moral whatever. Yet it must
have pleased Babalatchi for he repeated it twice, the second time even in louder tones than at
first, causing a disturbance amongst the white rice-birds and the wild fruit-pigeons which
roosted on the boughs of the big tree growing in Omar’s compound. There was in the thick
foliage above the singer’s head a confused beating of wings, sleepy remarks in bird-language,
a sharp stir of leaves. The forms by the fire moved; the shadow of the woman altered its
shape, and Babalatchi’s song was cut short abruptly by a fit of soft and persistent coughing.
He did not try to resume his efforts after that interruption, but went away stealthily to seek —
if not sleep — then, at least, repose.
Chapter 6

As soon as Abdulla and his companions had left the enclosure, Aissa approached
Willems and stood by his side. He took no notice of her expectant attitude till she touched him
gently, when he turned furiously upon her and, tearing off her face-veil, trampled upon it as
though it had been a mortal enemy. She looked at him with the faint smile of patient curiosity,
with the puzzled interest of ignorance watching the running of a complicated piece of
machinery. After he had exhausted his rage, he stood again severe and unbending looking
down at the fire, but the touch of her fingers at the nape of his neck effaced instantly the hard
lines round his mouth; his eyes wavered uneasily; his lips trembled slightly. Starting with the
unresisting rapidity of a particle of iron — which, quiescent one moment, leaps in the next to a
powerful magnet — he moved forward, caught her in his arms and pressed her violently to his
breast. He released her as suddenly, and she stumbled a little, stepped back, breathed
quickly through her parted lips, and said in a tone of pleased reproof —
“O Fool-man! And if you had killed me in your strong arms what would you have done?”
“You want to live... and to run away from me again,” he said gently. “Tell me — do you?”
She moved towards him with very short steps, her head a little on one side, hands on
hips, with a slight balancing of her body: an approach more tantalizing than an escape. He
looked on, eager — charmed. She spoke jestingly.
“What am I to say to a man who has been away three days from me? Three!” she
repeated, holding up playfully three fingers before Willems’ eyes. He snatched at the hand,
but she was on her guard and whisked it behind her back.
“No!” she said. “I cannot be caught. But I will come. I am coming myself because I like.
Do not move. Do not touch me with your mighty hands, O child!”
As she spoke she made a step nearer, then another. Willems did not stir. Pressing
against him she stood on tiptoe to look into his eyes, and her own seemed to grow bigger,
glistening and tender, appealing and promising. With that look she drew the man’s soul away
from him through his immobile pupils, and from Willems’ features the spark of reason
vanished under her gaze and was replaced by an appearance of physical well-being, an
ecstasy of the senses which had taken possession of his rigid body; an ecstasy that drove out
regrets, hesitation and doubt, and proclaimed its terrible work by an appalling aspect of idiotic
beatitude. He never stirred a limb, hardly breathed, but stood in stiff immobility, absorbing the
delight of her close contact by every pore.
“Closer! Closer!” he murmured.
Slowly she raised her arms, put them over his shoulders, and clasping her hands at the
back of his neck, swung off the full length of her arms. Her head fell back, the eyelids dropped
slightly, and her thick hair hung straight down: a mass of ebony touched by the red gleams of
the fire. He stood unyielding under the strain, as solid and motionless as one of the big trees
of the surrounding forests; and his eyes looked at the modelling of her chin, at the outline of
her neck, at the swelling lines of her bosom, with the famished and concentrated expression
of a starving man looking at food. She drew herself up to him and rubbed her head against his
cheek slowly and gently. He sighed. She, with her hands still on his shoulders, glanced up at
the placid stars and said —
“The night is half gone. We shall finish it by this fire. By this fire you shall tell me all: your
words and Syed Abdulla’s words; and listening to you I shall forget the three days — because
I am good. Tell me — am I good?”
He said “Yes” dreamily, and she ran off towards the big house.
When she came back, balancing a roll of fine mats on her head, he had replenished the
fire and was ready to help her in arranging a couch on the side of it nearest to the hut. Shesank down with a quick but gracefully controlled movement, and he threw himself full length
with impatient haste, as if he wished to forestall somebody. She took his head on her knees,
and when he felt her hands touching his face, her fingers playing with his hair, he had an
expression of being taken possession of; he experienced a sense of peace, of rest, of
happiness, and of soothing delight. His hands strayed upwards about her neck, and he drew
her down so as to have her face above his. Then he whispered — “I wish I could die like this
— now!” She looked at him with her big sombre eyes, in which there was no responsive light.
His thought was so remote from her understanding that she let the words pass by unnoticed,
like the breath of the wind, like the flight of a cloud. Woman though she was, she could not
comprehend, in her simplicity, the tremendous compliment of that speech, that whisper of
deadly happiness, so sincere, so spontaneous, coming so straight from the heart — like every
corruption. It was the voice of madness, of a delirious peace, of happiness that is infamous,
cowardly, and so exquisite that the debased mind refuses to contemplate its termination: for
to the victims of such happiness the moment of its ceasing is the beginning afresh of that
torture which is its price.
With her brows slightly knitted in the determined preoccupation of her own desires, she
said —
“Now tell me all. All the words spoken between you and Syed Abdulla.”
Tell what? What words? Her voice recalled back the consciousness that had departed
under her touch, and he became aware of the passing minutes every one of which was like a
reproach; of those minutes that falling, slow, reluctant, irresistible into the past, marked his
footsteps on the way to perdition. Not that he had any conviction about it, any notion of the
possible ending on that painful road. It was an indistinct feeling, a threat of suffering like the
confused warning of coming disease, an inarticulate monition of evil made up of fear and
pleasure, of resignation and of revolt. He was ashamed of his state of mind. After all, what
was he afraid of? Were those scruples? Why that hesitation to think, to speak of what he
intended doing? Scruples were for imbeciles. His clear duty was to make himself happy. Did
he ever take an oath of fidelity to Lingard? No. Well then — he would not let any interest of
that old fool stand between Willems and Willems’ happiness. Happiness? Was he not,
perchance, on a false track? Happiness meant money. Much money. At least he had always
thought so till he had experienced those new sensations which. .
Aissa’s question, repeated impatiently, interrupted his musings, and looking up at her
face shining above him in the dim light of the fire he stretched his limbs luxuriously and
obedient to her desire, he spoke slowly and hardly above his breath. She, with her head close
to his lips, listened absorbed, interested, in attentive immobility. The many noises of the great
courtyard were hushed up gradually by the sleep that stilled all voices and closed all eyes.
Then somebody droned out a song with a nasal drawl at the end of every verse. He stirred.
She put her hand suddenly on his lips and sat upright. There was a feeble coughing, a rustle
of leaves, and then a complete silence took possession of the land; a silence cold, mournful,
profound; more like death than peace; more hard to bear than the fiercest tumult. As soon as
she removed her hand he hastened to speak, so insupportable to him was that stillness
perfect and absolute in which his thoughts seemed to ring with the loudness of shouts.
“Who was there making that noise?” he asked.
“I do not know. He is gone now,” she answered, hastily. “Tell me, you will not return to
your people; not without me. Not with me. Do you promise?”
“I have promised already. I have no people of my own. Have I not told you, that you are
everybody to me?”
“Ah, yes,” she said, slowly, “but I like to hear you say that again — every day, and every
night, whenever I ask; and never to be angry because I ask. I am afraid of white women who
are shameless and have fierce eyes.” She scanned his features close for a moment and
added:“Are they very beautiful? They must be.”
“I do not know,” he whispered, thoughtfully. “And if I ever did know, looking at you I have
“Forgotten! And for three days and two nights you have forgotten me also! Why? Why
were you angry with me when I spoke at first of Tuan Abdulla, in the days when we lived
beside the brook? You remembered somebody then. Somebody in the land whence you
come. Your tongue is false. You are white indeed, and your heart is full of deception. I know it.
And yet I cannot help believing you when you talk of your love for me. But I am afraid!”
He felt flattered and annoyed by her vehemence, and said —
“Well, I am with you now. I did come back. And it was you that went away.”
“When you have helped Abdulla against the Rajah Laut, who is the first of white men, I
shall not be afraid any more,” she whispered.
“You must believe what I say when I tell you that there never was another woman; that
there is nothing for me to regret, and nothing but my enemies to remember.”
“Where do you come from?” she said, impulsive and inconsequent, in a passionate
whisper. “What is that land beyond the great sea from which you come? A land of lies and of
evil from which nothing but misfortune ever comes to us — who are not white. Did you not at
first ask me to go there with you? That is why I went away.”
“I shall never ask you again.”
“And there is no woman waiting for you there?”
“No!” said Willems, firmly.
She bent over him. Her lips hovered above his face and her long hair brushed his
“You taught me the love of your people which is of the Devil,” she murmured, and
bending still lower, she said faintly, “Like this?”
“Yes, like this!” he answered very low, in a voice that trembled slightly with eagerness;
and she pressed suddenly her lips to his while he closed his eyes in an ecstasy of delight.
There was a long interval of silence. She stroked his head with gentle touches, and he
lay dreamily, perfectly happy but for the annoyance of an indistinct vision of a well-known
figure; a man going away from him and diminishing in a long perspective of fantastic trees,
whose every leaf was an eye looking after that man, who walked away growing smaller, but
never getting out of sight for all his steady progress. He felt a desire to see him vanish, a
hurried impatience of his disappearance, and he watched for it with a careful and irksome
effort. There was something familiar about that figure. Why! Himself! He gave a sudden start
and opened his eyes, quivering with the emotion of that quick return from so far, of finding
himself back by the fire with the rapidity of a flash of lightning. It had been half a dream; he
had slumbered in her arms for a few seconds. Only the beginning of a dream — nothing
more. But it was some time before he recovered from the shock of seeing himself go away so
deliberately, so definitely, so unguardedly; and going away — where? Now, if he had not woke
up in time he would never have come back again from there; from whatever place he was
going to. He felt indignant. It was like an evasion, like a prisoner breaking his parole — that
thing slinking off stealthily while he slept. He was very indignant, and was also astonished at
the absurdity of his own emotions.
She felt him tremble, and murmuring tender words, pressed his head to her breast.
Again he felt very peaceful with a peace that was as complete as the silence round them. He
muttered —
“You are tired, Aissa.”
She answered so low that it was like a sigh shaped into faint words.
“I shall watch your sleep, O child!”
He lay very quiet, and listened to the beating of her heart. That sound, light, rapid,
persistent, and steady; her very life beating against his cheek, gave him a clear perception ofsecure ownership, strengthened his belief in his possession of that human being, was like an
assurance of the vague felicity of the future. There were no regrets, no doubts, no hesitation
now. Had there ever been? All that seemed far away, ages ago — as unreal and pale as the
fading memory of some delirium. All the anguish, suffering, strife of the past days; the
humiliation and anger of his downfall; all that was an infamous nightmare, a thing born in sleep
to be forgotten and leave no trace — and true life was this: this dreamy immobility with his
head against her heart that beat so steadily.
He was broad awake now, with that tingling wakefulness of the tired body which
succeeds to the few refreshing seconds of irresistible sleep, and his wide-open eyes looked
absently at the doorway of Omar’s hut. The reed walls glistened in the light of the fire, the
smoke of which, thin and blue, drifted slanting in a succession of rings and spirals across the
doorway, whose empty blackness seemed to him impenetrable and enigmatical like a curtain
hiding vast spaces full of unexpected surprises. This was only his fancy, but it was absorbing
enough to make him accept the sudden appearance of a head, coming out of the gloom, as
part of his idle fantasy or as the beginning of another short dream, of another vagary of his
overtired brain. A face with drooping eyelids, old, thin, and yellow, above the scattered white
of a long beard that touched the earth. A head without a body, only a foot above the ground,
turning slightly from side to side on the edge of the circle of light as if to catch the radiating
heat of the fire on either cheek in succession. He watched it in passive amazement, growing
distinct, as if coming nearer to him, and the confused outlines of a body crawling on all fours
came out, creeping inch by inch towards the fire, with a silent and all but imperceptible
movement. He was astounded at the appearance of that blind head dragging that crippled
body behind, without a sound, without a change in the composure of the sightless face, which
was plain one second, blurred the next in the play of the light that drew it to itself steadily. A
mute face with a kriss between its lips. This was no dream. Omar’s face. But why? What was
he after?
He was too indolent in the happy languor of the moment to answer the question. It
darted through his brain and passed out, leaving him free to listen again to the beating of her
heart; to that precious and delicate sound which filled the quiet immensity of the night.
Glancing upwards he saw the motionless head of the woman looking down at him in a tender
gleam of liquid white between the long eyelashes, whose shadow rested on the soft curve of
her cheek; and under the caress of that look, the uneasy wonder and the obscure fear of that
apparition, crouching and creeping in turns towards the fire that was its guide, were lost —
were drowned in the quietude of all his senses, as pain is drowned in the flood of drowsy
serenity that follows upon a dose of opium.
He altered the position of his head by ever so little, and now could see easily that
apparition which he had seen a minute before and had nearly forgotten already. It had moved
closer, gliding and noiseless like the shadow of some nightmare, and now it was there, very
near, motionless and still as if listening; one hand and one knee advanced; the neck stretched
out and the head turned full towards the fire. He could see the emaciated face, the skin shiny
over the prominent bones, the black shadows of the hollow temples and sunken cheeks, and
the two patches of blackness over the eyes, over those eyes that were dead and could not
see. What was the impulse which drove out this blind cripple into the night to creep and crawl
towards that fire? He looked at him, fascinated, but the face, with its shifting lights and
shadows, let out nothing, closed and impenetrable like a walled door.
Omar raised himself to a kneeling posture and sank on his heels, with his hands hanging
down before him. Willems, looking out of his dreamy numbness, could see plainly the kriss
between the thin lips, a bar across the face; the handle on one side where the polished wood
caught a red gleam from the fire and the thin line of the blade running to a dull black point on
the other. He felt an inward shock, which left his body passive in Aissa’s embrace, but filled
his breast with a tumult of powerless fear; and he perceived suddenly that it was his owndeath that was groping towards him; that it was the hate of himself and the hate of her love
for him which drove this helpless wreck of a once brilliant and resolute pirate, to attempt a
desperate deed that would be the glorious and supreme consolation of an unhappy old age.
And while he looked, paralyzed with dread, at the father who had resumed his cautious
advance — blind like fate, persistent like destiny — he listened with greedy eagerness to the
heart of the daughter beating light, rapid, and steady against his head.
He was in the grip of horrible fear; of a fear whose cold hand robs its victim of all will and
of all power; of all wish to escape, to resist, or to move; which destroys hope and despair
alike, and holds the empty and useless carcass as if in a vise under the coming stroke. It was
not the fear of death — he had faced danger before — it was not even the fear of that
particular form of death. It was not the fear of the end, for he knew that the end would not
come then. A movement, a leap, a shout would save him from the feeble hand of the blind old
man, from that hand that even now was, with cautious sweeps along the ground, feeling for
his body in the darkness. It was the unreasoning fear of this glimpse into the unknown things,
into those motives, impulses, desires he had ignored, but that had lived in the breasts of
despised men, close by his side, and were revealed to him for a second, to be hidden again
behind the black mists of doubt and deception. It was not death that frightened him: it was the
horror of bewildered life where he could understand nothing and nobody round him; where he
could guide, control, comprehend nothing and no one — not even himself.
He felt a touch on his side. That contact, lighter than the caress of a mother’s hand on
the cheek of a sleeping child, had for him the force of a crushing blow. Omar had crept close,
and now, kneeling above him, held the kriss in one hand while the other skimmed over his
jacket up towards his breast in gentle touches; but the blind face, still turned to the heat of the
fire, was set and immovable in its aspect of stony indifference to things it could not hope to
see. With an effort Willems took his eyes off the deathlike mask and turned them up to Aissa’s
head. She sat motionless as if she had been part of the sleeping earth, then suddenly he saw
her big sombre eyes open out wide in a piercing stare and felt the convulsive pressure of her
hands pinning his arms along his body. A second dragged itself out, slow and bitter, like a day
of mourning; a second full of regret and grief for that faith in her which took its flight from the
shattered ruins of his trust. She was holding him! She too! He felt her heart give a great leap,
his head slipped down on her knees, he closed his eyes and there was nothing. Nothing! It
was as if she had died; as though her heart had leaped out into the night, abandoning him,
defenceless and alone, in an empty world.
His head struck the ground heavily as she flung him aside in her sudden rush. He lay as
if stunned, face up and, daring not move, did not see the struggle, but heard the piercing
shriek of mad fear, her low angry words; another shriek dying out in a moan. When he got up
at last he looked at Aissa kneeling over her father, he saw her bent back in the effort of
holding him down, Omar’s contorted limbs, a hand thrown up above her head and her quick
movement grasping the wrist. He made an impulsive step forward, but she turned a wild face
to him and called out over her shoulder —
“Keep back! Do not come near! Do not...”
And he stopped short, his arms hanging lifelessly by his side, as if those words had
changed him into stone. She was afraid of his possible violence, but in the unsettling of all his
convictions he was struck with the frightful thought that she preferred to kill her father all by
herself; and the last stage of their struggle, at which he looked as though a red fog had filled
his eyes, loomed up with an unnatural ferocity, with a sinister meaning; like something
monstrous and depraved, forcing its complicity upon him under the cover of that awful night.
He was horrified and grateful; drawn irresistibly to her — and ready to run away. He could not
move at first — then he did not want to stir. He wanted to see what would happen. He saw
her lift, with a tremendous effort, the apparently lifeless body into the hut, and remained
standing, after they disappeared, with the vivid image in his eyes of that head swaying on hershoulder, the lower jaw hanging down, collapsed, passive, meaningless, like the head of a
Then after a while he heard her voice speaking inside, harshly, with an agitated
abruptness of tone; and in answer there were groans and broken murmurs of exhaustion. She
spoke louder. He heard her saying violently — “No! No! Never!”
And again a plaintive murmur of entreaty as of some one begging for a supreme favour,
with a last breath. Then she said —
“Never! I would sooner strike it into my own heart.”
She came out, stood panting for a short moment in the doorway, and then stepped into
the firelight. Behind her, through the darkness came the sound of words calling the vengeance
of heaven on her head, rising higher, shrill, strained, repeating the curse over and over again
— till the voice cracked in a passionate shriek that died out into hoarse muttering ending with
a deep and prolonged sigh. She stood facing Willems, one hand behind her back, the other
raised in a gesture compelling attention, and she listened in that attitude till all was still inside
the hut. Then she made another step forward and her hand dropped slowly.
“Nothing but misfortune,” she whispered, absently, to herself. “Nothing but misfortune to
us who are not white.” The anger and excitement died out of her face, and she looked straight
at Willems with an intense and mournful gaze.
He recovered his senses and his power of speech with a sudden start.
“Aissa,” he exclaimed, and the words broke out through his lips with hurried
nervousness. “Aissa! How can I live here? Trust me. Believe in me. Let us go away from here.
Go very far away!
Very far; you and I!”
He did not stop to ask himself whether he could escape, and how, and where. He was
carried away by the flood of hate, disgust, and contempt of a white man for that blood which is
not his blood, for that race which is not his race; for the brown skins; for the hearts false like
the sea, blacker than night. This feeling of repulsion overmastered his reason in a clear
conviction of the impossibility for him to live with her people. He urged her passionately to fly
with him because out of all that abhorred crowd he wanted this one woman, but wanted her
away from them, away from that race of slaves and cut-throats from which she sprang. He
wanted her for himself — far from everybody, in some safe and dumb solitude. And as he
spoke his anger and contempt rose, his hate became almost fear; and his desire of her grew
immense, burning, illogical and merciless; crying to him through all his senses; louder than his
hate, stronger than his fear, deeper than his contempt — irresistible and certain like death
Standing at a little distance, just within the light — but on the threshold of that darkness
from which she had come — she listened, one hand still behind her back, the other arm
stretched out with the hand half open as if to catch the fleeting words that rang around her,
passionate, menacing, imploring, but all tinged with the anguish of his suffering, all hurried by
the impatience that gnawed his breast. And while she listened she felt a slowing down of her
heart-beats as the meaning of his appeal grew clearer before her indignant eyes, as she saw
with rage and pain the edifice of her love, her own work, crumble slowly to pieces, destroyed
by that man’s fears, by that man’s falseness. Her memory recalled the days by the brook
when she had listened to other words — to other thoughts — to promises and to pleadings for
other things, which came from that man’s lips at the bidding of her look or her smile, at the
nod of her head, at the whisper of her lips. Was there then in his heart something else than
her image, other desires than the desires of her love, other fears than the fear of losing her?
How could that be? Had she grown ugly or old in a moment? She was appalled, surprised and
angry with the anger of unexpected humiliation; and her eyes looked fixedly, sombre and
steady, at that man born in the land of violence and of evil wherefrom nothing but misfortune
comes to those who are not white. Instead of thinking of her caresses, instead of forgetting allthe world in her embrace, he was thinking yet of his people; of that people that steals every
land, masters every sea, that knows no mercy and no truth — knows nothing but its own
strength. O man of strong arm and of false heart! Go with him to a far country, be lost in the
throng of cold eyes and false hearts — lose him there! Never! He was mad — mad with fear;
but he should not escape her! She would keep him here a slave and a master; here where he
was alone with her; where he must live for her — or die. She had a right to his love which was
of her making, to the love that was in him now, while he spoke those words without sense.
She must put between him and other white men a barrier of hate. He must not only stay, but
he must also keep his promise to Abdulla, the fulfilment of which would make her safe.
“Aissa, let us go! With you by my side I would attack them with my naked hands. Or no!
Tomorrow we shall be outside, on board Abdulla’s ship. You shall come with me and then I
could... If the ship went ashore by some chance, then we could steal a canoe and escape in
the confusion... You are not afraid of the sea... of the sea that would give me freedom...”
He was approaching her gradually with extended arms, while he pleaded ardently in
incoherent words that ran over and tripped each other in the extreme eagerness of his
speech. She stepped back, keeping her distance, her eyes on his face, watching on it the play
of his doubts and of his hopes with a piercing gaze, that seemed to search out the innermost
recesses of his thought; and it was as if she had drawn slowly the darkness round her,
wrapping herself in its undulating folds that made her indistinct and vague. He followed her
step by step till at last they both stopped, facing each other under the big tree of the
enclosure. The solitary exile of the forests, great, motionless and solemn in his abandonment,
left alone by the life of ages that had been pushed away from him by those pigmies that crept
at his foot, towered high and straight above their heads. He seemed to look on, dispassionate
and imposing, in his lonely greatness, spreading his branches wide in a gesture of lofty
protection, as if to hide them in the sombre shelter of innumerable leaves; as if moved by the
disdainful compassion of the strong, by the scornful pity of an aged giant, to screen this
struggle of two human hearts from the cold scrutiny of glittering stars.
The last cry of his appeal to her mercy rose loud, vibrated under the sombre canopy,
darted among the boughs startling the white birds that slept wing to wing — and died without
an echo, strangled in the dense mass of unstirring leaves. He could not see her face, but he
heard her sighs and the distracted murmur of indistinct words. Then, as he listened holding his
breath, she exclaimed suddenly —
“Have you heard him? He has cursed me because I love you. You brought me suffering
and strife — and his curse. And now you want to take me far away where I would lose you,
lose my life; because your love is my life now. What else is there? Do not move,” she cried
violently, as he stirred a little — “do not speak! Take this! Sleep in peace!”
He saw a shadowy movement of her arm. Something whizzed past and struck the
ground behind him, close to the fire. Instinctively he turned round to look at it. A kriss without
its sheath lay by the embers; a sinuous dark object, looking like something that had been alive
and was now crushed, dead and very inoffensive; a black wavy outline very distinct and still in
the dull red glow. Without thinking he moved to pick it up, stooping with the sad and humble
movement of a beggar gathering the alms flung into the dust of the roadside. Was this the
answer to his pleading, to the hot and living words that came from his heart? Was this the
answer thrown at him like an insult, that thing made of wood and iron, insignificant and
venomous, fragile and deadly? He held it by the blade and looked at the handle stupidly for a
moment before he let it fall again at his feet; and when he turned round he faced only the
night: — the night immense, profound and quiet; a sea of darkness in which she had
disappeared without leaving a trace.
He moved forward with uncertain steps, putting out both his hands before him with the
anguish of a man blinded suddenly.
“Aissa!” he cried — “come to me at once.”He peered and listened, but saw nothing, heard nothing. After a while the solid blackness
seemed to wave before his eyes like a curtain disclosing movements but hiding forms, and he
heard light and hurried footsteps, then the short clatter of the gate leading to Lakamba’s
private enclosure. He sprang forward and brought up against the rough timber in time to hear
the words, “Quick! Quick!” and the sound of the wooden bar dropped on the other side,
securing the gate. With his arms thrown up, the palms against the paling, he slid down in a
heap on the ground.
“Aissa,” he said, pleadingly, pressing his lips to a chink between the stakes. “Aissa, do
you hear me? Come back! I will do what you want, give you all you desire — if I have to set
the whole Sambir on fire and put that fire out with blood. Only come back. Now! At once! Are
you there? Do you hear me? Aissa!”
On the other side there were startled whispers of feminine voices; a frightened little laugh
suddenly interrupted; some woman’s admiring murmur — “This is brave talk!” Then after a
short silence Aissa cried —
“Sleep in peace — for the time of your going is near. Now I am afraid of you. Afraid of
your fear. When you return with Tuan Abdulla you shall be great. You will find me here. And
there will be nothing but love. Nothing else! — Always! — Till we die!”
He listened to the shuffle of footsteps going away, and staggered to his feet, mute with
the excess of his passionate anger against that being so savage and so charming; loathing
her, himself, everybody he had ever known; the earth, the sky, the very air he drew into his
oppressed chest; loathing it because it made him live, loathing her because she made him
suffer. But he could not leave that gate through which she had passed. He wandered a little
way off, then swerved round, came back and fell down again by the stockade only to rise
suddenly in another attempt to break away from the spell that held him, that brought him back
there, dumb, obedient and furious. And under the immobilized gesture of lofty protection in the
branches outspread wide above his head, under the high branches where white birds slept
wing to wing in the shelter of countless leaves, he tossed like a grain of dust in a whirlwind —
sinking and rising — round and round — always near that gate. All through the languid
stillness of that night he fought with the impalpable; he fought with the shadows, with the
darkness, with the silence. He fought without a sound, striking futile blows, dashing from side
to side; obstinate, hopeless, and always beaten back; like a man bewitched within the invisible
sweep of a magic circle.
Part 3
Chapter 1

“Yes! Cat, dog, anything that can scratch or bite; as long as it is harmful enough and
mangy enough. A sick tiger would make you happy — of all things. A half-dead tiger that you
could weep over and palm upon some poor devil in your power, to tend and nurse for you.
Never mind the consequences — to the poor devil. Let him be mangled or eaten up, of
course! You haven’t any pity to spare for the victims of your infernal charity. Not you! Your
tender heart bleeds only for what is poisonous and deadly. I curse the day when you set your
benevolent eyes on him. I curse it...”
“Now then! Now then!” growled Lingard in his moustache. Almayer, who had talked
himself up to the choking point, drew a long breath and went on —
“Yes! It has been always so. Always. As far back as I can remember. Don’t you
recollect? What about that half-starved dog you brought on board in Bankok in your arms. In
your arms by...! It went mad next day and bit the serang. You don’t mean to say you have
forgotten? The best serang you ever had! You said so yourself while you were helping us to
lash him down to the chain-cable, just before he died in his fits. Now, didn’t you? Two wives
and ever so many children the man left. That was your doing... And when you went out of
your way and risked your ship to rescue some Chinamen from a water-logged junk in
Formosa Straits, that was also a clever piece of business. Wasn’t it? Those damned
Chinamen rose on you before forty-eight hours. They were cut-throats, those poor fishermen.
You knew they were cut-throats before you made up your mind to run down on a lee shore in
a gale of wind to save them. A mad trick! If they hadn’t been scoundrels — hopeless
scoundrels — you would not have put your ship in jeopardy for them, I know. You would not
have risked the lives of your crew — that crew you loved so — and your own life. Wasn’t that
foolish! And, besides, you were not honest. Suppose you had been drowned? I would have
been in a pretty mess then, left alone here with that adopted daughter of yours. Your duty
was to myself first. I married that girl because you promised to make my fortune. You know
you did! And then three months afterwards you go and do that mad trick — for a lot of
Chinamen too. Chinamen! You have no morality. I might have been ruined for the sake of
those murderous scoundrels that, after all, had to be driven overboard after killing ever so
many of your crew — of your beloved crew! Do you call that honest?”
“Well, well!” muttered Lingard, chewing nervously the stump of his cheroot that had gone
out and looking at Almayer — who stamped wildly about the verandah — much as a shepherd
might look at a pet sheep in his obedient flock turning unexpectedly upon him in enraged
revolt. He seemed disconcerted, contemptuously angry yet somewhat amused; and also a
little hurt as if at some bitter jest at his own expense. Almayer stopped suddenly, and crossing
his arms on his breast, bent his body forward and went on speaking.
“I might have been left then in an awkward hole — all on account of your absurd
disregard for your safety — yet I bore no grudge. I knew your weaknesses. But now — when I
think of it! Now we are ruined. Ruined! Ruined! My poor little Nina. Ruined!”
He slapped his thighs smartly, walked with small steps this way and that, seized a chair,
planted it with a bang before Lingard, and sat down staring at the old seaman with haggard
eyes. Lingard, returning his stare steadily, dived slowly into various pockets, fished out at last
a box of matches and proceeded to light his cheroot carefully, rolling it round and round
between his lips, without taking his gaze for a moment off the distressed Almayer. Then from
behind a cloud of tobacco smoke he said calmly —
“If you had been in trouble as often as I have, my boy, you wouldn’t carry on so. I have
been ruined more than once. Well, here I am.”
“Yes, here you are,” interrupted Almayer. “Much good it is to me. Had you been here amonth ago it would have been of some use. But now! . . You might as well be a thousand
miles off.”
“You scold like a drunken fish-wife,” said Lingard, serenely. He got up and moved slowly
to the front rail of the verandah. The floor shook and the whole house vibrated under his
heavy step. For a moment he stood with his back to Almayer, looking out on the river and
forest of the east bank, then turned round and gazed mildly down upon him.
“It’s very lonely this morning here. Hey?” he said.
Almayer lifted up his head.
“Ah! you notice it — don’t you? I should think it is lonely! Yes, Captain Lingard, your day
is over in Sambir. Only a month ago this verandah would have been full of people coming to
greet you. Fellows would be coming up those steps grinning and salaaming — to you and to
me. But our day is over. And not by my fault either. You can’t say that. It’s all the doing of that
pet rascal of yours. Ah! He is a beauty! You should have seen him leading that hellish crowd.
You would have been proud of your old favourite.”
“Smart fellow that,” muttered Lingard, thoughtfully. Almayer jumped up with a shriek.
“And that’s all you have to say! Smart fellow! O Lord!”
“Don’t make a show of yourself. Sit down. Let’s talk quietly. I want to know all about it. So
he led?”
“He was the soul of the whole thing. He piloted Abdulla’s ship in. He ordered everything
and everybody,” said Almayer, who sat down again, with a resigned air. “When did it happen
— exactly?”
“On the sixteenth I heard the first rumours of Abdulla’s ship being in the river; a thing I
refused to believe at first. Next day I could not doubt any more. There was a great council
held openly in Lakamba’s place where almost everybody in Sambir attended. On the
eighteenth the Lord of the Isles was anchored in Sambir reach, abreast of my house. Let’s
see. Six weeks to-day, exactly.”
“And all that happened like this? All of a sudden. You never heard anything — no
warning. Nothing. Never had an idea that something was up? Come, Almayer!”
“Heard! Yes, I used to hear something every day. Mostly lies. Is there anything else in
“You might not have believed them,” observed Lingard. “In fact you ought not to have
believed everything that was told to you, as if you had been a green hand on his first voyage.”
Almayer moved in his chair uneasily.
“That scoundrel came here one day,” he said. “He had been away from the house for a
couple of months living with that woman. I only heard about him now and then from Patalolo’s
people when they came over. Well one day, about noon, he appeared in this courtyard, as if
he had been jerked up from hell-where he belongs.”
Lingard took his cheroot out, and, with his mouth full of white smoke that oozed out
through his parted lips, listened, attentive. After a short pause Almayer went on, looking at the
floor moodily —
“I must say he looked awful. Had a bad bout of the ague probably. The left shore is very
unhealthy. Strange that only the breadth of the river...”
He dropped off into deep thoughtfulness as if he had forgotten his grievances in a bitter
meditation upon the unsanitary condition of the virgin forests on the left bank. Lingard took
this opportunity to expel the smoke in a mighty expiration and threw the stump of his cheroot
over his shoulder.
“Go on,” he said, after a while. “He came to see you...”
“But it wasn’t unhealthy enough to finish him, worse luck!” went on Almayer, rousing
himself, “and, as I said, he turned up here with his brazen impudence. He bullied me, he
threatened vaguely. He wanted to scare me, to blackmail me. Me! And, by heaven — he said
you would approve. You! Can you conceive such impudence? I couldn’t exactly make out whathe was driving at. Had I known, I would have approved him. Yes! With a bang on the head.
But how could I guess that he knew enough to pilot a ship through the entrance you always
said was so difficult. And, after all, that was the only danger. I could deal with anybody here —
but when Abdulla came... That barque of his is armed. He carries twelve brass six-pounders,
and about thirty men. Desperate beggars. Sumatra men, from Deli and Acheen. Fight all day
and ask for more in the evening. That kind.”
“I know, I know,” said Lingard, impatiently.
“Of course, then, they were cheeky as much as you please after he anchored abreast of
our jetty. Willems brought her up himself in the best berth. I could see him from this verandah
standing forward, together with the half-caste master. And that woman was there too. Close
to him. I heard they took her on board off Lakamba’s place. Willems said he would not go
higher without her. Stormed and raged. Frightened them, I believe. Abdulla had to interfere.
She came off alone in a canoe, and no sooner on deck than she fell at his feet before all
hands, embraced his knees, wept, raved, begged his pardon. Why? I wonder. Everybody in
Sambir is talking of it. They never heard tell or saw anything like it. I have all this from Ali, who
goes about in the settlement and brings me the news. I had better know what is going on —
hadn’t I? From what I can make out, they — he and that woman — are looked upon as
something mysterious — beyond comprehension. Some think them mad. They live alone with
an old woman in a house outside Lakamba’s campong and are greatly respected — or feared,
I should say rather. At least, he is. He is very violent. She knows nobody, sees nobody, will
speak to nobody but him. Never leaves him for a moment. It’s the talk of the place. There are
other rumours. From what I hear I suspect that Lakamba and Abdulla are tired of him. There’s
also talk of him going away in the Lord of the Isles — when she leaves here for the southward
— as a kind of Abdulla’s agent. At any rate, he must take the ship out. The half-caste is not
equal to it as yet.”
Lingard, who had listened absorbed till then, began now to walk with measured steps.
Almayer ceased talking and followed him with his eyes as he paced up and down with a
quarter-deck swing, tormenting and twisting his long white beard, his face perplexed and
“So he came to you first of all, did he?” asked Lingard, without stopping.
“Yes. I told you so. He did come. Came to extort money, goods — I don’t know what
else. Wanted to set up as a trader — the swine! I kicked his hat into the courtyard, and he
went after it, and that was the last of him till he showed up with Abdulla. How could I know that
he could do harm in that way? Or in any way at that! Any local rising I could put down easy
with my own men and with Patalolo’s help.”
“Oh! yes. Patalolo. No good. Eh? Did you try him at all?”
“Didn’t I!” exclaimed Almayer. “I went to see him myself on the twelfth. That was four
days before Abdulla entered the river. In fact, same day Willems tried to get at me. I did feel a
little uneasy then. Patalolo assured me that there was no human being that did not love me in
Sambir. Looked as wise as an owl. Told me not to listen to the lies of wicked people from
down the river. He was alluding to that man Bulangi, who lives up the sea reach, and who had
sent me word that a strange ship was anchored outside — which, of course, I repeated to
Patalolo. He would not believe. Kept on mumbling ‘No! No! No!’ like an old parrot, his head all
of a tremble, all beslobbered with betel-nut juice. I thought there was something queer about
him. Seemed so restless, and as if in a hurry to get rid of me. Well. Next day that one-eyed
malefactor who lives with Lakamba — what’s his name — Babalatchi, put in an appearance
here! Came about mid-day, casually like, and stood there on this verandah chatting about one
thing and another. Asking when I expected you, and so on. Then, incidentally, he mentioned
that they — his master and himself — were very much bothered by a ferocious white man —
my friend — who was hanging about that woman — Omar’s daughter. Asked my advice. Very
deferential and proper. I told him the white man was not my friend, and that they had betterkick him out. Whereupon he went away salaaming, and protesting his friendship and his
master’s goodwill. Of course I know now the infernal nigger came to spy and to talk over
some of my men. Anyway, eight were missing at the evening muster. Then I took alarm. Did
not dare to leave my house unguarded. You know what my wife is, don’t you? And I did not
care to take the child with me — it being late — so I sent a message to Patalolo to say that
we ought to consult; that there were rumours and uneasiness in the settlement. Do you know
what answer I got?”
Lingard stopped short in his walk before Almayer, who went on, after an impressive
pause, with growing animation.
“All brought it: ‘The Rajah sends a friend’s greeting, and does not understand the
message.’ That was all. Not a word more could Ali get out of him. I could see that Ali was
pretty well scared. He hung about, arranging my hammock — one thing and another. Then
just before going away he mentioned that the water-gate of the Rajah’s place was heavily
barred, but that he could see only very few men about the courtyard. Finally he said, ‘There is
darkness in our Rajah’s house, but no sleep. Only darkness and fear and the wailing of
women.’ Cheerful, wasn’t it? It made me feel cold down my back somehow. After Ali slipped
away I stood here — by this table, and listened to the shouting and drumming in the
settlement. Racket enough for twenty weddings. It was a little past midnight then.”
Again Almayer stopped in his narrative with an abrupt shutting of lips, as if he had said all
that there was to tell, and Lingard stood staring at him, pensive and silent. A big bluebottle fly
flew in recklessly into the cool verandah, and darted with loud buzzing between the two men.
Lingard struck at it with his hat. The fly swerved, and Almayer dodged his head out of the
way. Then Lingard aimed another ineffectual blow; Almayer jumped up and waved his arms
about. The fly buzzed desperately, and the vibration of minute wings sounded in the peace of
the early morning like a far-off string orchestra accompanying the hollow, determined
stamping of the two men, who, with heads thrown back and arms gyrating on high, or again
bending low with infuriated lunges, were intent upon killing the intruder. But suddenly the buzz
died out in a thin thrill away in the open space of the courtyard, leaving Lingard and Almayer
standing face to face in the fresh silence of the young day, looking very puzzled and idle, their
arms hanging uselessly by their sides — like men disheartened by some portentous failure.
“Look at that!” muttered Lingard. “Got away after all.”
“Nuisance,” said Almayer in the same tone. “Riverside is overrun with them. This house
is badly placed... mosquitos... and these big flies... last week stung Nina... been ill four days...
poor child... I wonder what such damned things are made for!”
Chapter 2

After a long silence, during which Almayer had moved towards the table and sat down,
his head between his hands, staring straight before him, Lingard, who had recommenced
walking, cleared his throat and said —
“What was it you were saying?”
“Ah! Yes! You should have seen this settlement that night. I don’t think anybody went to
bed. I walked down to the point, and could see them. They had a big bonfire in the palm
grove, and the talk went on there till the morning. When I came back here and sat in the dark
verandah in this quiet house I felt so frightfully lonely that I stole in and took the child out of
her cot and brought her here into my hammock. If it hadn’t been for her I am sure I would
have gone mad; I felt so utterly alone and helpless. Remember, I hadn’t heard from you for
four months. Didn’t know whether you were alive or dead. Patalolo would have nothing to do
with me. My own men were deserting me like rats do a sinking hulk. That was a black night for
me, Captain Lingard. A black night as I sat here not knowing what would happen next. They
were so excited and rowdy that I really feared they would come and burn the house over my
head. I went and brought my revolver. Laid it loaded on the table. There were such awful yells
now and then. Luckily the child slept through it, and seeing her so pretty and peaceful
steadied me somehow. Couldn’t believe there was any violence in this world, looking at her
lying so quiet and so unconscious of what went on. But it was very hard. Everything was at an
end. You must understand that on that night there was no government in Sambir. Nothing to
restrain those fellows. Patalolo had collapsed. I was abandoned by my own people, and all
that lot could vent their spite on me if they wanted. They know no gratitude. How many times
haven’t I saved this settlement from starvation? Absolute starvation. Only three months ago I
distributed again a lot of rice on credit. There was nothing to eat in this infernal place. They
came begging on their knees. There isn’t a man in Sambir, big or little, who is not in debt to
Lingard & Co. Not one. You ought to be satisfied. You always said that was the right policy for
us. Well, I carried it out. Ah! Captain Lingard, a policy like that should be backed by loaded
“You had them!” exclaimed Lingard in the midst of his promenade, that went on more
rapid as Almayer talked: the headlong tramp of a man hurrying on to do something violent.
The verandah was full of dust, oppressive and choking, which rose under the old seaman’s
feet, and made Almayer cough again and again.
“Yes, I had! Twenty. And not a finger to pull a trigger. It’s easy to talk,” he spluttered, his
face very red.
Lingard dropped into a chair, and leaned back with one hand stretched out at length
upon the table, the other thrown over the back of his seat. The dust settled, and the sun
surging above the forest flooded the verandah with a clear light. Almayer got up and busied
himself in lowering the split rattan screens that hung between the columns of the verandah.
“Phew!” said Lingard, “it will be a hot day. That’s right, my boy. Keep the sun out. We
don’t want to be roasted alive here.”
Almayer came back, sat down, and spoke very calmly —
“In the morning I went across to see Patalolo. I took the child with me, of course. I found
the water-gate barred, and had to walk round through the bushes. Patalolo received me lying
on the floor, in the dark, all the shutters closed. I could get nothing out of him but lamentations
and groans. He said you must be dead. That Lakamba was coming now with Abdulla’s guns to
kill everybody. Said he did not mind being killed, as he was an old man, but that the wish of
his heart was to make a pilgrimage. He was tired of men’s ingratitude — he had no heirs —
he wanted to go to Mecca and die there. He would ask Abdulla to let him go. Then he abusedLakamba — between sobs — and you, a little. You prevented him from asking for a flag that
would have been respected — he was right there — and now when his enemies were strong
he was weak, and you were not there to help him. When I tried to put some heart into him,
telling him he had four big guns — you know the brass six-pounders you left here last year —
and that I would get powder, and that, perhaps, together we could make head against
Lakamba, he simply howled at me. No matter which way he turned — he shrieked — the
white men would be the death of him, while he wanted only to be a pilgrim and be at peace.
My belief is,” added Almayer, after a short pause, and fixing a dull stare upon Lingard, “that
the old fool saw this thing coming for a long time, and was not only too frightened to do
anything himself, but actually too scared to let you or me know of his suspicions. Another of
your particular pets! Well! You have a lucky hand, I must say!”
Lingard struck a sudden blow on the table with his clenched hand. There was a sharp
crack of splitting wood. Almayer started up violently, then fell back in his chair and looked at
the table.
“There!” he said, moodily, “you don’t know your own strength. This table is completely
ruined. The only table I had been able to save from my wife. By and by I will have to eat
squatting on the floor like a native.”
Lingard laughed heartily. “Well then, don’t nag at me like a woman at a drunken
husband!” He became very serious after awhile, and added, “If it hadn’t been for the loss of
the Flash I would have been here three months ago, and all would have been well. No use
crying over that. Don’t you be uneasy, Kaspar. We will have everything ship-shape here in a
very short time.”
“What? You don’t mean to expel Abdulla out of here by force! I tell you, you can’t.”
“Not I!” exclaimed Lingard. “That’s all over, I am afraid. Great pity. They will suffer for it.
He will squeeze them. Great pity. Damn it! I feel so sorry for them if I had the Flash here I
would try force. Eh! Why not? However, the poor Flash is gone, and there is an end of it. Poor
old hooker. Hey, Almayer? You made a voyage or two with me. Wasn’t she a sweet craft?
Could make her do anything but talk. She was better than a wife to me. Never scolded.
Hey?... And to think that it should come to this. That I should leave her poor old bones sticking
on a reef as though I had been a damned fool of a southern-going man who must have half a
mile of water under his keel to be safe! Well! well! It’s only those who do nothing that make no
mistakes, I suppose. But it’s hard. Hard.”
He nodded sadly, with his eyes on the ground. Almayer looked at him with growing
“Upon my word, you are heartless,” he burst out; “perfectly heartless — and selfish. It
does not seem to strike you — in all that — that in losing your ship — by your recklessness, I
am sure — you ruin me — us, and my little Nina. What’s going to become of me and of her?
That’s what I want to know. You brought me here, made me your partner, and now, when
everything is gone to the devil — through your fault, mind you — you talk about your ship...
ship! You can get another. But here. This trade. That’s gone now, thanks to Willems... Your
dear Willems!”
“Never you mind about Willems. I will look after him,” said Lingard, severely. “And as to
the trade... I will make your fortune yet, my boy. Never fear. Have you got any cargo for the
schooner that brought me here?”
“The shed is full of rattans,” answered Almayer, “and I have about eighty tons of guttah
in the well. The last lot I ever will have, no doubt,” he added, bitterly.
“So, after all, there was no robbery. You’ve lost nothing actually. Well, then, you must...
Hallo! What’s the matter!... Here!...”
“Robbery! No!” screamed Almayer, throwing up his hands.
He fell back in the chair and his face became purple. A little white foam appeared on his
lips and trickled down his chin, while he lay back, showing the whites of his upturned eyes.When he came to himself he saw Lingard standing over him, with an empty water-chatty in his
“You had a fit of some kind,” said the old seaman with much concern. “What is it? You
did give me a fright. So very sudden.”
Almayer, his hair all wet and stuck to his head, as if he had been diving, sat up and
“Outrage! A fiendish outrage. I...”
Lingard put the chatty on the table and looked at him in attentive silence. Almayer
passed his hand over his forehead and went on in an unsteady tone:
“When I remember that, I lose all control,” he said. “I told you he anchored Abdulla’s ship
abreast our jetty, but over to the other shore, near the Rajah’s place. The ship was
surrounded with boats. From here it looked as if she had been landed on a raft. Every dugout
in Sambir was there. Through my glass I could distinguish the faces of people on the poop —
Abdulla, Willems, Lakamba — everybody. That old cringing scoundrel Sahamin was there. I
could see quite plain. There seemed to be much talk and discussion. Finally I saw a ship’s
boat lowered. Some Arab got into her, and the boat went towards Patalolo’s landing-place. It
seems they had been refused admittance — so they say. I think myself that the water-gate
was not unbarred quick enough to please the exalted messenger. At any rate I saw the boat
come back almost directly. I was looking on, rather interested, when I saw Willems and some
more go forward — very busy about something there. That woman was also amongst them.
Ah, that woman...”
Almayer choked, and seemed on the point of having a relapse, but by a violent effort
regained a comparative composure.
“All of a sudden,” he continued — “bang! They fired a shot into Patalolo’s gate, and
before I had time to catch my breath — I was startled, you may believe — they sent another
and burst the gate open. Whereupon, I suppose, they thought they had done enough for a
while, and probably felt hungry, for a feast began aft. Abdulla sat amongst them like an idol,
cross-legged, his hands on his lap. He’s too great altogether to eat when others do, but he
presided, you see. Willems kept on dodging about forward, aloof from the crowd, and looking
at my house through the ship’s long glass. I could not resist it. I shook my fist at him.”
“Just so,” said Lingard, gravely. “That was the thing to do, of course. If you can’t fight a
man the best thing is to exasperate him.”
Almayer waved his hand in a superior manner, and continued, unmoved: “You may say
what you like. You can’t realize my feelings. He saw me, and, with his eye still at the small end
of the glass, lifted his arm as if answering a hail. I thought my turn to be shot at would come
next after Patalolo, so I ran up the Union Jack to the flagstaff in the yard. I had no other
protection. There were only three men besides Ali that stuck to me — three cripples, for that
matter, too sick to get away. I would have fought singlehanded, I think, I was that angry, but
there was the child. What to do with her? Couldn’t send her up the river with the mother. You
know I can’t trust my wife. I decided to keep very quiet, but to let nobody land on our shore.
Private property, that; under a deed from Patalolo. I was within my right — wasn’t I? The
morning was very quiet. After they had a feed on board the barque with Abdulla most of them
went home; only the big people remained. Towards three o’clock Sahamin crossed alone in a
small canoe. I went down on our wharf with my gun to speak to him, but didn’t let him land.
The old hypocrite said Abdulla sent greetings and wished to talk with me on business; would I
come on board? I said no; I would not. Told him that Abdulla may write and I would answer,
but no interview, neither on board his ship nor on shore. I also said that if anybody attempted
to land within my fences I would shoot — no matter whom. On that he lifted his hands to
heaven, scandalized, and then paddled away pretty smartly — to report, I suppose. An hour
or so afterwards I saw Willems land a boat party at the Rajah’s. It was very quiet. Not a shot
was fired, and there was hardly any shouting. They tumbled those brass guns you presentedto Patalolo last year down the bank into the river. It’s deep there close to. The channel runs
that way, you know. About five, Willems went back on board, and I saw him join Abdulla by
the wheel aft. He talked a lot, swinging his arms about — seemed to explain things — pointed
at my house, then down the reach. Finally, just before sunset, they hove upon the cable and
dredged the ship down nearly half a mile to the junction of the two branches of the river —
where she is now, as you might have seen.”
Lingard nodded.
“That evening, after dark — I was informed — Abdulla landed for the first time in Sambir.
He was entertained in Sahamin’s house. I sent Ali to the settlement for news. He returned
about nine, and reported that Patalolo was sitting on Abdulla’s left hand before Sahamin’s fire.
There was a great council. Ali seemed to think that Patalolo was a prisoner, but he was wrong
there. They did the trick very neatly. Before midnight everything was arranged as I can make
out. Patalolo went back to his demolished stockade, escorted by a dozen boats with torches.
It appears he begged Abdulla to let him have a passage in the Lord of the Isles to Penang.
From there he would go to Mecca. The firing business was alluded to as a mistake. No doubt
it was in a sense. Patalolo never meant resisting. So he is going as soon as the ship is ready
for sea. He went on board next day with three women and half a dozen fellows as old as
himself. By Abdulla’s orders he was received with a salute of seven guns, and he has been
living on board ever since — five weeks. I doubt whether he will leave the river alive. At any
rate he won’t live to reach Penang. Lakamba took over all his goods, and gave him a draft on
Abdulla’s house payable in Penang. He is bound to die before he gets there. Don’t you see?”
He sat silent for a while in dejected meditation, then went on:
“Of course there were several rows during the night. Various fellows took the opportunity
of the unsettled state of affairs to pay off old scores and settle old grudges. I passed the night
in that chair there, dozing uneasily. Now and then there would be a great tumult and yelling
which would make me sit up, revolver in hand. However, nobody was killed. A few broken
heads — that’s all. Early in the morning Willems caused them to make a fresh move which I
must say surprised me not a little. As soon as there was daylight they busied themselves in
setting up a flag-pole on the space at the other end of the settlement, where Abdulla is having
his houses built now. Shortly after sunrise there was a great gathering at the flag-pole. All
went there. Willems was standing leaning against the mast, one arm over that woman’s
shoulders. They had brought an armchair for Patalolo, and Lakamba stood on the right hand
of the old man, who made a speech. Everybody in Sambir was there: women, slaves, children
— everybody! Then Patalolo spoke. He said that by the mercy of the Most High he was going
on a pilgrimage. The dearest wish of his heart was to be accomplished. Then, turning to
Lakamba, he begged him to rule justly during his — Patalolo’s — absence. There was a bit of
play-acting there. Lakamba said he was unworthy of the honourable burden, and Patalolo
insisted. Poor old fool! It must have been bitter to him. They made him actually entreat that
scoundrel. Fancy a man compelled to beg of a robber to despoil him! But the old Rajah was
so frightened. Anyway, he did it, and Lakamba accepted at last. Then Willems made a speech
to the crowd. Said that on his way to the west the Rajah — he meant Patalolo — would see
the Great White Ruler in Batavia and obtain his protection for Sambir. Meantime, he went on,
I, an Orang Blanda and your friend, hoist the flag under the shadow of which there is safety.
With that he ran up a Dutch flag to the mast-head. It was made hurriedly, during the night, of
cotton stuffs, and, being heavy, hung down the mast, while the crowd stared. Ali told me there
was a great sigh of surprise, but not a word was spoken till Lakamba advanced and
proclaimed in a loud voice that during all that day every one passing by the flagstaff must
uncover his head and salaam before the emblem.”
“But, hang it all!” exclaimed Lingard — “Abdulla is British!”
“Abdulla wasn’t there at all — did not go on shore that day. Yet Ali, who has his wits
about him, noticed that the space where the crowd stood was under the guns of the Lord ofthe Isles. They had put a coir warp ashore, and gave the barque a cant in the current, so as
to bring the broadside to bear on the flagstaff. Clever! Eh? But nobody dreamt of resistance.
When they recovered from the surprise there was a little quiet jeering; and Bahassoen abused
Lakamba violently till one of Lakamba’s men hit him on the head with a staff. Frightful crack, I
am told. Then they left off jeering. Meantime Patalolo went away, and Lakamba sat in the
chair at the foot of the flagstaff, while the crowd surged around, as if they could not make up
their minds to go. Suddenly there was a great noise behind Lakamba’s chair. It was that
woman, who went for Willems. Ali says she was like a wild beast, but he twisted her wrist and
made her grovel in the dust. Nobody knows exactly what it was about. Some say it was about
that flag. He carried her off, flung her into a canoe, and went on board Abdulla’s ship. After
that Sahamin was the first to salaam to the flag. Others followed suit. Before noon everything
was quiet in the settlement, and Ali came back and told me all this.”
Almayer drew a long breath. Lingard stretched out his legs.
“Go on!” he said.
Almayer seemed to struggle with himself. At last he spluttered out:
“The hardest is to tell yet. The most unheard-of thing! An outrage! A fiendish outrage!”
Chapter 3

“Well! Let’s know all about it. I can’t imagine...” began Lingard, after waiting for some
time in silence.
“Can’t imagine! I should think you couldn’t,” interrupted Almayer. “Why!... You just listen.
When Ali came back I felt a little easier in my mind. There was then some semblance of order
in Sambir. I had the Jack up since the morning and began to feel safer. Some of my men
turned up in the afternoon. I did not ask any questions; set them to work as if nothing had
happened. Towards the evening — it might have been five or half-past — I was on our jetty
with the child when I heard shouts at the far-off end of the settlement. At first I didn’t take
much notice. By and by Ali came to me and says, ‘Master, give me the child, there is much
trouble in the settlement.’ So I gave him Nina and went in, took my revolver, and passed
through the house into the back courtyard. As I came down the steps I saw all the serving
girls clear out from the cooking shed, and I heard a big crowd howling on the other side of the
dry ditch which is the limit of our ground. Could not see them on account of the fringe of
bushes along the ditch, but I knew that crowd was angry and after somebody. As I stood
wondering, that Jim-Eng — you know the Chinaman who settled here a couple of years ago?”
“He was my passenger; I brought him here,” exclaimed Lingard. “A first-class Chinaman
“Did you? I had forgotten. Well, that Jim-Eng, he burst through the bush and fell into my
arms, so to speak. He told me, panting, that they were after him because he wouldn’t take off
his hat to the flag. He was not so much scared, but he was very angry and indignant. Of
course he had to run for it; there were some fifty men after him — Lakamba’s friends — but
he was full of fight. Said he was an Englishman, and would not take off his hat to any flag but
English. I tried to soothe him while the crowd was shouting on the other side of the ditch. I told
him he must take one of my canoes and cross the river. Stop on the other side for a couple of
days. He wouldn’t. Not he. He was English, and he would fight the whole lot. Says he: ‘They
are only black fellows. We white men,’ meaning me and himself, ‘can fight everybody in
Sambir.’ He was mad with passion. The crowd quieted a little, and I thought I could shelter
Jim-Eng without much risk, when all of a sudden I heard Willems’ voice. He shouted to me in
English: ‘Let four men enter your compound to get that Chinaman!’ I said nothing. Told
JimEng to keep quiet too. Then after a while Willems shouts again: ‘Don’t resist, Almayer. I give
you good advice. I am keeping this crowd back. Don’t resist them!’ That beggar’s voice
enraged me; I could not help it. I cried to him: ‘You are a liar!’ and just then Jim-Eng, who had
flung off his jacket and had tucked up his trousers ready for a fight; just then that fellow he
snatches the revolver out of my hand and lets fly at them through the bush. There was a
sharp cry — he must have hit somebody — and a great yell, and before I could wink twice
they were over the ditch and through the bush and on top of us! Simply rolled over us! There
wasn’t the slightest chance to resist. I was trampled under foot, Jim-Eng got a dozen gashes
about his body, and we were carried halfway up the yard in the first rush. My eyes and mouth
were full of dust; I was on my back with three or four fellows sitting on me. I could hear
JimEng trying to shout not very far from me. Now and then they would throttle him and he would
gurgle. I could hardly breathe myself with two heavy fellows on my chest. Willems came up
running and ordered them to raise me up, but to keep good hold. They led me into the
verandah. I looked round, but did not see either Ali or the child. Felt easier. Struggled a little...
Oh, my God!”
Almayer’s face was distorted with a passing spasm of rage. Lingard moved in his chair
slightly. Almayer went on after a short pause:
“They held me, shouting threats in my face. Willems took down my hammock and threwit to them. He pulled out the drawer of this table, and found there a palm and needle and
some sail-twine. We were making awnings for your brig, as you had asked me last voyage
before you left. He knew, of course, where to look for what he wanted. By his orders they laid
me out on the floor, wrapped me in my hammock, and he started to stitch me in, as if I had
been a corpse, beginning at the feet. While he worked he laughed wickedly. I called him all the
names I could think of. He told them to put their dirty paws over my mouth and nose. I was
nearly choked. Whenever I moved they punched me in the ribs.
He went on taking fresh needlefuls as he wanted them, and working steadily. Sewed me
up to my throat. Then he rose, saying, ‘That will do; let go.’ That woman had been standing
by; they must have been reconciled. She clapped her hands. I lay on the floor like a bale of
goods while he stared at me, and the woman shrieked with delight. Like a bale of goods!
There was a grin on every face, and the verandah was full of them. I wished myself dead —
’pon my word, Captain Lingard, I did! I do now whenever I think of it!”
Lingard’s face expressed sympathetic indignation. Almayer dropped his head upon his
arms on the table, and spoke in that position in an indistinct and muffled voice, without looking
“Finally, by his directions, they flung me into the big rocking-chair. I was sewed in so tight
that I was stiff like a piece of wood. He was giving orders in a very loud voice, and that man
Babalatchi saw that they were executed. They obeyed him implicitly. Meantime I lay there in
the chair like a log, and that woman capered before me and made faces; snapped her fingers
before my nose. Women are bad! — ain’t they? I never saw her before, as far as I know.
Never done anything to her. Yet she was perfectly fiendish. Can you understand it? Now and
then she would leave me alone to hang round his neck for awhile, and then she would return
before my chair and begin her exercises again. He looked on, indulgent. The perspiration ran
down my face, got into my eyes — my arms were sewn in. I was blinded half the time; at
times I could see better. She drags him before my chair. ‘I am like white women,’ she says,
her arms round his neck. You should have seen the faces of the fellows in the verandah! They
were scandalized and ashamed of themselves to see her behaviour. Suddenly she asks him,
alluding to me: ‘When are you going to kill him?’ Imagine how I felt. I must have swooned; I
don’t remember exactly. I fancy there was a row; he was angry. When I got my wits again he
was sitting close to me, and she was gone. I understood he sent her to my wife, who was
hiding in the back room and never came out during this affair. Willems says to me — I fancy I
can hear his voice, hoarse and dull — he says to me: ‘Not a hair of your head shall be
touched.’ I made no sound. Then he goes on: ‘Please remark that the flag you have hoisted
— which, by the by, is not yours — has been respected. Tell Captain Lingard so when you do
see him. But,’ he says, ‘you first fired at the crowd.’ ‘You are a liar, you blackguard!’ I shouted.
He winced, I am sure. It hurt him to see I was not frightened. ‘Anyways,’ he says, ‘a shot had
been fired out of your compound and a man was hit. Still, all your property shall be respected
on account of the Union Jack. Moreover, I have no quarrel with Captain Lingard, who is the
senior partner in this business. As to you,’ he continued, ‘you will not forget this day — not if
you live to be a hundred years old — or I don’t know your nature. You will keep the bitter taste
of this humiliation to the last day of your life, and so your kindness to me shall be repaid. I
shall remove all the powder you have. This coast is under the protection of the Netherlands,
and you have no right to have any powder. There are the Governor’s Orders in Council to that
effect, and you know it. Tell me where the key of the small storehouse is?’ I said not a word,
and he waited a little, then rose, saying: ‘It’s your own fault if there is any damage done.’ He
ordered Babalatchi to have the lock of the office-room forced, and went in — rummaged
amongst my drawers — could not find the key. Then that woman Aissa asked my wife, and
she gave them the key. After awhile they tumbled every barrel into the river. Eighty-three
hundredweight! He superintended himself, and saw every barrel roll into the water. There
were mutterings. Babalatchi was angry and tried to expostulate, but he gave him a goodshaking. I must say he was perfectly fearless with those fellows. Then he came back to the
verandah, sat down by me again, and says: ‘We found your man Ali with your little daughter
hiding in the bushes up the river. We brought them in. They are perfectly safe, of course. Let
me congratulate you, Almayer, upon the cleverness of your child. She recognized me at once,
and cried “pig” as naturally as you would yourself. Circumstances alter feelings. You should
have seen how frightened your man Ali was. Clapped his hands over her mouth. I think you
spoil her, Almayer. But I am not angry. Really, you look so ridiculous in this chair that I can’t
feel angry.’ I made a frantic effort to burst out of my hammock to get at that scoundrel’s
throat, but I only fell off and upset the chair over myself. He laughed and said only: ‘I leave
you half of your revolver cartridges and take half myself; they will fit mine. We are both white
men, and should back each other up. I may want them.’ I shouted at him from under the
chair: ‘You are a thief,’ but he never looked, and went away, one hand round that woman’s
waist, the other on Babalatchi’s shoulder, to whom he was talking — laying down the law
about something or other. In less than five minutes there was nobody inside our fences. After
awhile Ali came to look for me and cut me free. I haven’t seen Willems since — nor anybody
else for that matter. I have been left alone. I offered sixty dollars to the man who had been
wounded, which were accepted. They released Jim-Eng the next day, when the flag had been
hauled down. He sent six cases of opium to me for safe keeping but has not left his house. I
think he is safe enough now. Everything is very quiet.”
Towards the end of his narrative Almayer lifted his head off the table, and now sat back
in his chair and stared at the bamboo rafters of the roof above him. Lingard lolled in his seat
with his legs stretched out. In the peaceful gloom of the verandah, with its lowered screens,
they heard faint noises from the world outside in the blazing sunshine: a hail on the river, the
answer from the shore, the creak of a pulley; sounds short, interrupted, as if lost suddenly in
the brilliance of noonday. Lingard got up slowly, walked to the front rail, and holding one of the
screens aside, looked out in silence. Over the water and the empty courtyard came a distinct
voice from a small schooner anchored abreast of the Lingard jetty.
“Serang! Take a pull at the main peak halyards. This gaff is down on the boom.’’
There was a shrill pipe dying in long-drawn cadence, the song of the men swinging on
the rope. The voice said sharply: “That will do!” Another voice — the serang’s probably —
shouted: “Ikat!” and as Lingard dropped the blind and turned away all was silent again, as if
there had been nothing on the other side of the swaying screen; nothing but the light, brilliant,
crude, heavy, lying on a dead land like a pall of fire. Lingard sat down again, facing Almayer,
his elbow on the table, in a thoughtful attitude.
“Nice little schooner,” muttered Almayer, wearily. “Did you buy her?”
“No,” answered Lingard. “After I lost the Flash we got to Palembang in our boats. I
chartered her there, for six months. From young Ford, you know. Belongs to him. He wanted
a spell ashore, so I took charge myself. Of course all Ford’s people on board. Strangers to
me. I had to go to Singapore about the insurance; then I went to Macassar, of course. Had
long passages. No wind. It was like a curse on me. I had lots of trouble with old Hudig. That
delayed me much.”
“Ah! Hudig! Why with Hudig?” asked Almayer, in a perfunctory manner.
“Oh! about a... a woman,” mumbled Lingard.
Almayer looked at him with languid surprise. The old seaman had twisted his white beard
into a point, and now was busy giving his moustaches a fierce curl. His little red eyes — those
eyes that had smarted under the salt sprays of every sea, that had looked unwinking to
windward in the gales of all latitudes — now glared at Almayer from behind the lowered
eyebrows like a pair of frightened wild beasts crouching in a bush.
“Extraordinary! So like you! What can you have to do with Hudig’s women? The old
sinner!” said Almayer, negligently.
“What are you talking about! Wife of a friend of... I mean of a man I know...”“Still, I don’t see...” interjected Almayer carelessly.
“Of a man you know too. Well. Very well.”
“I knew so many men before you made me bury myself in this hole!” growled Almayer,
unamiably. “If she had anything to do with Hudig — that wife — then she can’t be up to much.
I would be sorry for the man,” added Almayer, brightening up with the recollection of the
scandalous tittle-tattle of the past, when he was a young man in the second capital of the
Islands — and so well informed, so well informed. He laughed. Lingard’s frown deepened.
“Don’t talk foolish! It’s Willems’ wife.”
Almayer grasped the sides of his seat, his eyes and mouth opened wide.
“What? Why!” he exclaimed, bewildered.
“Willems’ — wife,” repeated Lingard distinctly. “You ain’t deaf, are you? The wife of
Willems. Just so. As to why! There was a promise. And I did not know what had happened
“What is it. You’ve been giving her money, I bet,” cried Almayer.
“Well, no!” said Lingard, deliberately. “Although I suppose I shall have to...”
Almayer groaned.
“The fact is,” went on Lingard, speaking slowly and steadily, “the fact is that I have... I
have brought her here. Here. To Sambir.”
“In heaven’s name! why?” shouted Almayer, jumping up. The chair tilted and fell slowly
over. He raised his clasped hands above his head and brought them down jerkily, separating
his fingers with an effort, as if tearing them apart. Lingard nodded, quickly, several times.
“I have. Awkward. Hey?” he said, with a puzzled look upwards.
“Upon my word,” said Almayer, tearfully. “I can’t understand you at all. What will you do
next! cWillems’ wife!”
“Wife and child. Small boy, you know. They are on board the schooner.”
Almayer looked at Lingard with sudden suspicion, then turning away busied himself in
picking up the chair, sat down in it turning his back upon the old seaman, and tried to whistle,
but gave it up directly. Lingard went on —
“Fact is, the fellow got into trouble with Hudig. Worked upon my feelings. I promised to
arrange matters. I did. With much trouble. Hudig was angry with her for wishing to join her
husband. Unprincipled old fellow. You know she is his daughter. Well, I said I would see her
through it all right; help Willems to a fresh start and so on. I spoke to Craig in Palembang. He
is getting on in years, and wanted a manager or partner. I promised to guarantee Willems’
good behaviour. We settled all that. Craig is an old crony of mine. Been shipmates in the
forties. He’s waiting for him now. A pretty mess! What do you think?”
Almayer shrugged his shoulders.
“That woman broke with Hudig on my assurance that all would be well,” went on Lingard,
with growing dismay. “She did. Proper thing, of course. Wife, husband... together... as it
should be... Smart fellow... Impossible scoundrel... Jolly old go! Oh! damn!”
Almayer laughed spitefully.
“How delighted he will be,” he said, softly. “You will make two people happy. Two at
least!” He laughed again, while Lingard looked at his shaking shoulders in consternation.
“I am jammed on a lee shore this time, if ever I was,” muttered Lingard.
“Send her back quick,” suggested Almayer, stifling another laugh.
“What are you sniggering at?” growled Lingard, angrily. “I’ll work it out all clear yet.
Meantime you must receive her into this house.”
“My house!” cried Almayer, turning round.
“It’s mine too — a little isn’t it?” said Lingard. “Don’t argue,” he shouted, as Almayer
opened his mouth. “Obey orders and hold your tongue!”
“Oh! If you take it in that tone!” mumbled Almayer, sulkily, with a gesture of assent.
“You are so aggravating too, my boy,” said the old seaman, with unexpected placidity.“You must give me time to turn round. I can’t keep her on board all the time. I must tell her
something. Say, for instance, that he is gone up the river. Expected back every day. That’s it.
D’ye hear? You must put her on that tack and dodge her along easy, while I take the kinks out
of the situation. By God!” he exclaimed, mournfully, after a short pause, “life is foul! Foul like a
lee forebrace on a dirty night. And yet. And yet. One must see it clear for running before going
below — for good. Now you attend to what I said,” he added, sharply, “if you don’t want to
quarrel with me, my boy.”
“I don’t want to quarrel with you,” murmured Almayer with unwilling deference. “Only I
wish I could understand you. I know you are my best friend, Captain Lingard; only, upon my
word, I can’t make you out sometimes! I wish I could...”
Lingard burst into a loud laugh which ended shortly in a deep sigh. He closed his eyes,
tilting his head over the back of his armchair; and on his face, baked by the unclouded suns of
many hard years, there appeared for a moment a weariness and a look of age which startled
Almayer, like an unexpected disclosure of evil.
“I am done up,” said Lingard, gently. “Perfectly done up. All night on deck getting that
schooner up the river. Then talking with you. Seems to me I could go to sleep on a
clothesline. I should like to eat something though. Just see about that, Kaspar.”
Almayer clapped his hands, and receiving no response was going to call, when in the
central passage of the house, behind the red curtain of the doorway opening upon the
verandah, they heard a child’s imperious voice speaking shrilly.
“Take me up at once. I want to be carried into the verandah. I shall be very angry. Take
me up.”
A man’s voice answered, subdued, in humble remonstrance. The faces of Almayer and
Lingard brightened at once. The old seaman called out —
“Bring the child. Lekas!”
“You will see how she has grown,” exclaimed Almayer, in a jubilant tone.
Through the curtained doorway Ali appeared with little Nina Almayer in his arms. The
child had one arm round his neck, and with the other she hugged a ripe pumelo nearly as big
as her own head. Her little pink, sleeveless robe had half slipped off her shoulders, but the
long black hair, that framed her olive face, in which the big black eyes looked out in childish
solemnity, fell in luxuriant profusion over her shoulders, all round her and over Ali’s arms, like
a close-meshed and delicate net of silken threads. Lingard got up to meet Ali, and as soon as
she caught sight of the old seaman she dropped the fruit and put out both her hands with a
cry of delight. He took her from the Malay, and she laid hold of his moustaches with an
affectionate goodwill that brought unaccustomed tears into his little red eyes.
“Not so hard, little one, not so hard,” he murmured, pressing with an enormous hand,
that covered it entirely, the child’s head to his face.
“Pick up my pumelo, O Rajah of the sea!” she said, speaking in a high-pitched, clear
voice with great volubility. “There, under the table. I want it quick! Quick! You have been away
fighting with many men. Ali says so. You are a mighty fighter. Ali says so. On the great sea
far away, away, away.”
She waved her hand, staring with dreamy vacancy, while Lingard looked at her, and
squatting down groped under the table after the pumelo.
“Where does she get those notions?” said Lingard, getting up cautiously, to Almayer,
who had been giving orders to Ali.
“She is always with the men. Many a time I’ve found her with her fingers in their rice dish,
of an evening. She does not care for her mother though — I am glad to say. How pretty she is
— and so sharp. My very image!”
Lingard had put the child on the table, and both men stood looking at her with radiant
“A perfect little woman,” whispered Lingard. “Yes, my dear boy, we shall make hersomebody. You’ll see!”
“Very little chance of that now,” remarked Almayer, sadly.
“You do not know!” exclaimed Lingard, taking up the child again, and beginning to walk
up and down the verandah. “I have my plans. I have — listen.”
And he began to explain to the interested Almayer his plans for the future. He would
interview Abdulla and Lakamba. There must be some understanding with those fellows now
they had the upper hand. Here he interrupted himself to swear freely, while the child, who had
been diligently fumbling about his neck, had found his whistle and blew a loud blast now and
then close to his ear — which made him wince and laugh as he put her hands down, scolding
her lovingly. Yes — that would be easily settled. He was a man to be reckoned with yet.
Nobody knew that better than Almayer. Very well. Then he must patiently try and keep some
little trade together. It would be all right. But the great thing — and here Lingard spoke lower,
bringing himself to a sudden standstill before the entranced Almayer — the great thing would
be the gold hunt up the river. He — Lingard — would devote himself to it. He had been in the
interior before. There were immense deposits of alluvial gold there. Fabulous. He felt sure.
Had seen places. Dangerous work? Of course! But what a reward! He would explore — and
find. Not a shadow of doubt. Hang the danger! They would first get as much as they could for
themselves. Keep the thing quiet. Then after a time form a Company. In Batavia or in
England. Yes, in England. Much better. Splendid! Why, of course. And that baby would be the
richest woman in the world. He — Lingard — would not, perhaps, see it — although he felt
good for many years yet — but Almayer would. Here was something to live for yet! Hey?
But the richest woman in the world had been for the last five minutes shouting shrilly —
“Rajah Laut! Rajah Laut! Hai! Give ear!” while the old seaman had been speaking louder,
unconsciously, to make his deep bass heard above the impatient clamour. He stopped now
and said tenderly —
“What is it, little woman?”
“I am not a little woman. I am a white child. Anak Putih. A white child; and the white men
are my brothers. Father says so. And Ali says so too. Ali knows as much as father.
Almayer almost danced with paternal delight.
“I taught her. I taught her,” he repeated, laughing with tears in his eyes. “Isn’t she
“I am the slave of the white child,” said Lingard, with playful solemnity. “What is the
“I want a house,” she warbled, with great eagerness. “I want a house, and another house
on the roof, and another on the roof — high. High! Like the places where they dwell — my
brothers — in the land where the sun sleeps.”
“To the westward,” explained Almayer, under his breath. “She remembers everything.
She wants you to build a house of cards. You did, last time you were here.”
Lingard sat down with the child on his knees, and Almayer pulled out violently one drawer
after another, looking for the cards, as if the fate of the world depended upon his haste. He
produced a dirty double pack which was only used during Lingard’s visit to Sambir, when he
would sometimes play — of an evening — with Almayer, a game which he called Chinese
bezique. It bored Almayer, but the old seaman delighted in it, considering it a remarkable
product of Chinese genius — a race for which he had an unaccountable liking and admiration.
“Now we will get on, my little pearl,” he said, putting together with extreme precaution two
cards that looked absurdly flimsy between his big fingers. Little Nina watched him with intense
seriousness as he went on erecting the ground floor, while he continued to speak to Almayer
with his head over his shoulder so as not to endanger the structure with his breath.
“I know what I am talking about... Been in California in forty-nine... Not that I made
much... then in Victoria in the early days... I know all about it. Trust me. Moreover a blind mancould... Be quiet, little sister, or you will knock this affair down... My hand pretty steady yet!
Hey, Kaspar?... Now, delight of my heart, we shall put a third house on the top of these two...
keep very quiet... As I was saying, you got only to stoop and gather handfuls of gold... dust...
there. Now here we are. Three houses on top of one another. Grand!”
He leaned back in his chair, one hand on the child’s head, which he smoothed
mechanically, and gesticulated with the other, speaking to Almayer.
“Once on the spot, there would be only the trouble to pick up the stuff. Then we shall all
go to Europe. The child must be educated. We shall be rich. Rich is no name for it. Down in
Devonshire where I belong, there was a fellow who built a house near Teignmouth which had
as many windows as a three-decker has ports. Made all his money somewhere out here in the
good old days. People around said he had been a pirate. We boys — I was a boy in a
Brixham trawler then — certainly believed that. He went about in a bath-chair in his grounds.
Had a glass eye...”
“Higher, Higher!” called out Nina, pulling the old seaman’s beard.
“You do worry me — don’t you?” said Lingard, gently, giving her a tender kiss. “What?
One more house on top of all these? Well! I will try.”
The child watched him breathlessly. When the difficult feat was accomplished she
clapped her hands, looked on steadily, and after a while gave a great sigh of content.
“Oh! Look out!” shouted Almayer.
The structure collapsed suddenly before the child’s light breath. Lingard looked
discomposed for a moment. Almayer laughed, but the little girl began to cry.
“Take her,” said the old seaman, abruptly. Then, after Almayer went away with the crying
child, he remained sitting by the table, looking gloomily at the heap of cards.
“Damn this Willems,” he muttered to himself. “But I will do it yet!”
He got up, and with an angry push of his hand swept the cards off the table. Then he fell
back in his chair.
“Tired as a dog,” he sighed out, closing his eyes.
Chapter 4

Consciously or unconsciously, men are proud of their firmness, steadfastness of
purpose, directness of aim. They go straight towards their desire, to the accomplishment of
virtue — sometimes of crime — in an uplifting persuasion of their firmness. They walk the
road of life, the road fenced in by their tastes, prejudices, disdains or enthusiasms, generally
honest, invariably stupid, and are proud of never losing their way. If they do stop, it is to look
for a moment over the hedges that make them safe, to look at the misty valleys, at the distant
peaks, at cliffs and morasses, at the dark forests and the hazy plains where other human
beings grope their days painfully away, stumbling over the bones of the wise, over the
unburied remains of their predecessors who died alone, in gloom or in sunshine, halfway from
anywhere. The man of purpose does not understand, and goes on, full of contempt. He never
loses his way. He knows where he is going and what he wants. Travelling on, he achieves
great length without any breadth, and battered, besmirched, and weary, he touches the goal
at last; he grasps the reward of his perseverance, of his virtue, of his healthy optimism: an
untruthful tombstone over a dark and soon forgotten grave.
Lingard had never hesitated in his life. Why should he? He had been a most successful
trader, and a man lucky in his fights, skilful in navigation, undeniably first in seamanship in
those seas. He knew it. Had he not heard the voice of common consent?
The voice of the world that respected him so much; the whole world to him — for to us
the limits of the universe are strictly defined by those we know. There is nothing for us outside
the babble of praise and blame on familiar lips, and beyond our last acquaintance there lies
only a vast chaos; a chaos of laughter and tears which concerns us not; laughter and tears
unpleasant, wicked, morbid, contemptible — because heard imperfectly by ears rebellious to
strange sounds. To Lingard — simple himself — all things were simple. He seldom read.
Books were not much in his way, and he had to work hard navigating, trading, and also, in
obedience to his benevolent instincts, shaping stray lives he found here and there under his
busy hand. He remembered the Sunday-school teachings of his native village and the
discourses of the black-coated gentleman connected with the Mission to Fishermen and
Seamen, whose yawl-rigged boat darting through rain-squalls amongst the coasters
windbound in Falmouth Bay, was part of those precious pictures of his youthful days that lingered
in his memory. “As clever a sky-pilot as you could wish to see,” he would say with conviction,
“and the best man to handle a boat in any weather I ever did meet!” Such were the agencies
that had roughly shaped his young soul before he went away to see the world in a
southerngoing ship — before he went, ignorant and happy, heavy of hand, pure in heart, profane in
speech, to give himself up to the great sea that took his life and gave him his fortune. When
thinking of his rise in the world — commander of ships, then shipowner, then a man of much
capital, respected wherever he went, Lingard in a word, the Rajah Laut — he was amazed
and awed by his fate, that seemed to his ill-informed mind the most wondrous known in the
annals of men. His experience appeared to him immense and conclusive, teaching him the
lesson of the simplicity of life. In life — as in seamanship — there were only two ways of doing
a thing: the right way and the wrong way. Common sense and experience taught a man the
way that was right. The other was for lubbers and fools, and led, in seamanship, to loss of
spars and sails or shipwreck; in life, to loss of money and consideration, or to an unlucky
knock on the head. He did not consider it his duty to be angry with rascals. He was only angry
with things he could not understand, but for the weaknesses of humanity he could find a
contemptuous tolerance. It being manifest that he was wise and lucky — otherwise how could
he have been as successful in life as he had been? — he had an inclination to set right the
lives of other people, just as he could hardly refrain — in defiance of nautical etiquette — frominterfering with his chief officer when the crew was sending up a new topmast, or generally
when busy about, what he called, “a heavy job.” He was meddlesome with perfect modesty; if
he knew a thing or two there was no merit in it. “Hard knocks taught me wisdom, my boy,” he
used to say, “and you had better take the advice of a man who has been a fool in his time.
Have another.” And “my boy” as a rule took the cool drink, the advice, and the consequent
help which Lingard felt himself bound in honour to give, so as to back up his opinion like an
honest man. Captain Tom went sailing from island to island, appearing unexpectedly in
various localities, beaming, noisy, anecdotal, commendatory or comminatory, but always
It was only since his return to Sambir that the old seaman had for the first time known
doubt and unhappiness, The loss of the Flash — planted firmly and for ever on a ledge of rock
at the north end of Gaspar Straits in the uncertain light of a cloudy morning — shook him
considerably; and the amazing news which he heard on his arrival in Sambir were not made to
soothe his feelings. A good many years ago — prompted by his love of adventure — he, with
infinite trouble, had found out and surveyed — for his own benefit only — the entrances to
that river, where, he had heard through native report, a new settlement of Malays was
forming. No doubt he thought at the time mostly of personal gain; but, received with hearty
friendliness by Patalolo, he soon came to like the ruler and the people, offered his counsel and
his help, and — knowing nothing of Arcadia — he dreamed of Arcadian happiness for that little
corner of the world which he loved to think all his own. His deep-seated and immovable
conviction that only he — he, Lingard — knew what was good for them was characteristic of
him. and, after all, not so very far wrong. He would make them happy whether or no, he said,
and he meant it. His trade brought prosperity to the young state, and the fear of his heavy
hand secured its internal peace for many years.
He looked proudly upon his work. With every passing year he loved more the land, the
people, the muddy river that, if he could help it, would carry no other craft but the Flash on its
unclean and friendly surface. As he slowly warped his vessel up-stream he would scan with
knowing looks the riverside clearings, and pronounce solemn judgment upon the prospects of
the season’s rice-crop. He knew every settler on the banks between the sea and Sambir; he
knew their wives, their children; he knew every individual of the multi-coloured groups that,
standing on the flimsy platforms of tiny reed dwellings built over the water, waved their hands
and shouted shrilly: “O! Kapal layer! Hai!” while the Flash swept slowly through the populated
reach, to enter the lonely stretches of sparkling brown water bordered by the dense and silent
forest, whose big trees nodded their outspread boughs gently in the faint, warm breeze — as
if in sign of tender but melancholy welcome. He loved it all: the landscape of brown golds and
brilliant emeralds under the dome of hot sapphire; the whispering big trees; the loquacious
nipa-palms that rattled their leaves volubly in the night breeze, as if in haste to tell him all the
secrets of the great forest behind them. He loved the heavy scents of blossoms and black
earth, that breath of life and of death which lingered over his brig in the damp air of tepid and
peaceful nights. He loved the narrow and sombre creeks, strangers to sunshine: black,
smooth, tortuous — like byways of despair. He liked even the troops of sorrowful-faced
monkeys that profaned the quiet spots with capricious gambols and insane gestures of
inhuman madness. He loved everything there, animated or inanimated; the very mud of the
riverside; the very alligators, enormous and stolid, basking on it with impertinent unconcern.
Their size was a source of pride to him. “Immense fellows! Make two of them Palembang
reptiles! I tell you, old man!” he would shout, poking some crony of his playfully in the ribs: “I
tell you, big as you are, they could swallow you in one gulp, hat, boots and all! Magnificent
beggars! Wouldn’t you like to see them? Wouldn’t you! Ha! ha! ha!” His thunderous laughter
filled the verandah, rolled over the hotel garden, overflowed into the street, paralyzing for a
short moment the noiseless traffic of bare brown feet; and its loud reverberations would even
startle the landlord’s tame bird — a shameless mynah — into a momentary propriety ofbehaviour under the nearest chair. In the big billiard-room perspiring men in thin cotton
singlets would stop the game, listen, cue in hand, for a while through the open windows, then
nod their moist faces at each other sagaciously and whisper: “The old fellow is talking about
his river.”
His river! The whispers of curious men, the mystery of the thing, were to Lingard a
source of never-ending delight. The common talk of ignorance exaggerated the profits of his
queer monopoly, and, although strictly truthful in general, he liked, on that matter, to mislead
speculation still further by boasts full of cold raillery. His river! By it he was not only rich — he
was interesting. This secret of his which made him different to the other traders of those seas
gave intimate satisfaction to that desire for singularity which he shared with the rest of
mankind, without being aware of its presence within his breast. It was the greater part of his
happiness, but he only knew it after its loss, so unforeseen, so sudden and so cruel.
After his conversation with Almayer he went on board the schooner, sent Joanna on
shore, and shut himself up in his cabin, feeling very unwell. He made the most of his
indisposition to Almayer, who came to visit him twice a day. It was an excuse for doing nothing
just yet. He wanted to think. He was very angry. Angry with himself, with Willems. Angry at
what Willems had done — and also angry at what he had left undone. The scoundrel was not
complete. The conception was perfect, but the execution, unaccountably, fell short. Why? He
ought to have cut Almayer’s throat and burnt the place to ashes — then cleared out. Got out
of his way; of him, Lingard! Yet he didn’t. Was it impudence, contempt — or what? He felt hurt
at the implied disrespect of his power, and the incomplete rascality of the proceeding
disturbed him exceedingly. There was something short, something wanting, something that
would have given him a free hand in the work of retribution. The obvious, the right thing to do,
was to shoot Willems. Yet how could he? Had the fellow resisted, showed fight, or ran away;
had he shown any consciousness of harm done, it would have been more possible, more
natural. But no! The fellow actually had sent him a message. Wanted to see him. What for?
The thing could not be explained. An unexampled, cold-blooded treachery, awful,
incomprehensible. Why did he do it? Why? Why? The old seaman in the stuffy solitude of his
little cabin on board the schooner groaned out many times that question, striking with an open
palm his perplexed forehead.
During his four days of seclusion he had received two messages from the outer world;
from that world of Sambir which had, so suddenly and so finally, slipped from his grasp. One,
a few words from Willems written on a torn-out page of a small notebook; the other, a
communication from Abdulla caligraphed carefully on a large sheet of flimsy paper and
delivered to him in a green silk wrapper. The first he could not understand. It said: “Come and
see me. I am not afraid. Are you? W.” He tore it up angrily, but before the small bits of dirty
paper had the time to flutter down and settle on the floor, the anger was gone and was
replaced by a sentiment that induced him to go on his knees, pick up the fragments of the
torn message, piece it together on the top of his chronometer box, and contemplate it long
and thoughtfully, as if he had hoped to read the answer of the horrible riddle in the very form
of the letters that went to make up that fresh insult. Abdulla’s letter he read carefully and
rammed it into his pocket, also with anger, but with anger that ended in a half-resigned,
halfamused smile. He would never give in as long as there was a chance. “It’s generally the
safest way to stick to the ship as long as she will swim,” was one of his favourite sayings: “The
safest and the right way. To abandon a craft because it leaks is easy — but poor work. Poor
work!” Yet he was intelligent enough to know when he was beaten, and to accept the situation
like a man, without repining. When Almayer came on board that afternoon he handed him the
letter without comment.
Almayer read it, returned it in silence, and leaning over the taffrail (the two men were on
deck) looked down for some time at the play of the eddies round the schooner’s rudder. At
last he said without looking up —“That’s a decent enough letter. Abdulla gives him up to you. I told you they were getting
sick of him. What are you going to do?”
Lingard cleared his throat, shuffled his feet, opened his mouth with great determination,
but said nothing for a while. At last he murmured —
“I’ll be hanged if I know — just yet.”
“I wish you would do something soon...”
“What’s the hurry?” interrupted Lingard. “He can’t get away. As it stands he is at my
mercy, as far as I can see.”
“Yes,” said Almayer, reflectively — “and very little mercy he deserves too. Abdulla’s
meaning — as I can make it out amongst all those compliments — is: ‘Get rid for me of that
white man — and we shall live in peace and share the trade.”‘
“You believe that?” asked Lingard, contemptuously.
“Not altogether,” answered Almayer. “No doubt we will share the trade for a time — till he
can grab the lot. Well, what are you going to do?”
He looked up as he spoke and was surprised to see Lingard’s discomposed face.
“You ain’t well. Pain anywhere?” he asked, with real solicitude.
“I have been queer — you know — these last few days, but no pain.” He struck his broad
chest several times, cleared his throat with a powerful “Hem!” and repeated: “No. No pain.
Good for a few years yet. But I am bothered with all this, I can tell you!”
“You must take care of yourself,” said Almayer. Then after a pause he added: “You will
see Abdulla. Won’t you?”
“I don’t know. Not yet. There’s plenty of time,” said Lingard, impatiently.
“I wish you would do something,” urged Almayer, moodily. “You know, that woman is a
perfect nuisance to me. She and her brat! Yelps all day. And the children don’t get on
together. Yesterday the little devil wanted to fight with my Nina. Scratched her face, too. A
perfect savage! Like his honourable papa. Yes, really. She worries about her husband, and
whimpers from morning to night. When she isn’t weeping she is furious with me. Yesterday
she tormented me to tell her when he would be back and cried because he was engaged in
such dangerous work. I said something about it being all right — no necessity to make a fool
of herself, when she turned upon me like a wild cat. Called me a brute, selfish, heartless;
raved about her beloved Peter risking his life for my benefit, while I did not care. Said I took
advantage of his generous good-nature to get him to do dangerous work — my work. That he
was worth twenty of the likes of me. That she would tell you — open your eyes as to the kind
of man I was, and so on. That’s what I’ve got to put up with for your sake. You really might
consider me a little. I haven’t robbed anybody,” went on Almayer, with an attempt at bitter
irony — “or sold my best friend, but still you ought to have some pity on me. It’s like living in a
hot fever. She is out of her wits. You make my house a refuge for scoundrels and lunatics. It
isn’t fair. ‘Pon my word it isn’t! When she is in her tantrums she is ridiculously ugly and
screeches so — it sets my teeth on edge. Thank God! my wife got a fit of the sulks and
cleared out of the house. Lives in a riverside hut since that affair — you know. But this
Willems’ wife by herself is almost more than I can bear. And I ask myself why should I? You
are exacting and no mistake. This morning I thought she was going to claw me. Only think!
She wanted to go prancing about the settlement. She might have heard something there, so I
told her she mustn’t. It wasn’t safe outside our fences, I said. Thereupon she rushes at me
with her ten nails up to my eyes. ‘You miserable man,’ she yells, ‘even this place is not safe,
and you’ve sent him up this awful river where he may lose his head. If he dies before forgiving
me, Heaven will punish you for your crime... ‘ My crime! I ask myself sometimes whether I am
dreaming! It will make me ill, all this. I’ve lost my appetite already.”
He flung his hat on deck and laid hold of his hair despairingly. Lingard looked at him with
“What did she mean by it?” he muttered, thoughtfully.“Mean! She is crazy, I tell you — and I will be, very soon, if this lasts!”
“Just a little patience, Kaspar,” pleaded Lingard. “A day or so more.”
Relieved or tired by his violent outburst, Almayer calmed down, picked up his hat and,
leaning against the bulwark, commenced to fan himself with it.
“Days do pass,” he said, resignedly — “but that kind of thing makes a man old before his
time. What is there to think about? — I can’t imagine! Abdulla says plainly that if you
undertake to pilot his ship out and instruct the half-caste, he will drop Willems like a hot potato
and be your friend ever after. I believe him perfectly, as to Willems. It’s so natural. As to being
your friend it’s a lie of course, but we need not bother about that just yet. You just say yes to
Abdulla, and then whatever happens to Willems will be nobody’s business.”
He interrupted himself and remained silent for a while, glaring about with set teeth and
dilated nostrils.
“You leave it to me. I’ll see to it that something happens to him,” he said at last, with
calm ferocity. Lingard smiled faintly.
“The fellow isn’t worth a shot. Not the trouble of it,” he whispered, as if to himself.
Almayer fired up suddenly.
“That’s what you think,” he cried. “You haven’t been sewn up in your hammock to be
made a laughing-stock of before a parcel of savages. Why! I daren’t look anybody here in the
face while that scoundrel is alive. I will... I will settle him.”
“I don’t think you will,” growled Lingard.
“Do you think I am afraid of him?”
“Bless you! no!” said Lingard with alacrity. “Afraid! Not you. I know you. I don’t doubt your
courage. It’s your head, my boy, your head that I...”
“That’s it,” said the aggrieved Almayer. “Go on. Why don’t you call me a fool at once?”
“Because I don’t want to,” burst out Lingard, with nervous irritability. “If I wanted to call
you a fool, I would do so without asking your leave.” He began to walk athwart the narrow
quarter-deck, kicking ropes’ ends out of his way and growling to himself: “Delicate
gentleman... what next?... I’ve done man’s work before you could toddle. Understand... say
what I like.”
“Well! well!” said Almayer, with affected resignation. “There’s no talking to you these last
few days.” He put on his hat, strolled to the gangway and stopped, one foot on the little inside
ladder, as if hesitating, came back and planted himself in Lingard’s way, compelling him to
stand still and listen.
“Of course you will do what you like. You never take advice — I know that; but let me tell
you that it wouldn’t be honest to let that fellow get away from here. If you do nothing, that
scoundrel will leave in Abdulla’s ship for sure. Abdulla will make use of him to hurt you and
others elsewhere. Willems knows too much about your affairs. He will cause you lots of
trouble. You mark my words. Lots of trouble. To you — and to others perhaps. Think of that,
Captain Lingard. That’s all I’ve got to say. Now I must go back on shore. There’s lots of work.
We will begin loading this schooner to-morrow morning, first thing. All the bundles are ready. If
you should want me for anything, hoist some kind of flag on the mainmast. At night two shots
will fetch me.” Then he added, in a friendly tone, “Won’t you come and dine in the house
tonight? It can’t be good for you to stew on board like that, day after day.”
Lingard did not answer. The image evoked by Almayer; the picture of Willems ranging
over the islands and disturbing the harmony of the universe by robbery, treachery, and
violence, held him silent, entranced — painfully spellbound. Almayer, after waiting for a little
while, moved reluctantly towards the gangway, lingered there, then sighed and got over the
side, going down step by step. His head disappeared slowly below the rail. Lingard, who had
been staring at him absently, started suddenly, ran to the side, and looking over, called out —
“Hey! Kaspar! Hold on a bit!”
Almayer signed to his boatmen to cease paddling, and turned his head towards theschooner. The boat drifted back slowly abreast of Lingard, nearly alongside.
“Look here,” said Lingard, looking down — “I want a good canoe with four men to-day.”
“Do you want it now?” asked Almayer.
“No! Catch this rope. Oh, you clumsy devil!... No, Kaspar,” went on Lingard, after the
bow-man had got hold of the end of the brace he had thrown down into the canoe — “No,
Kaspar. The sun is too much for me. And it would be better to keep my affairs quiet, too.
Send the canoe — four good paddlers, mind, and your canvas chair for me to sit in. Send it
about sunset. D’ye hear?”
“All right, father,” said Almayer, cheerfully — “I will send Ali for a steersman, and the best
men I’ve got. Anything else?”
“No, my lad. Only don’t let them be late.”
“I suppose it’s no use asking you where you are going,” said Almayer, tentatively.
“Because if it is to see Abdulla, I...”
“I am not going to see Abdulla. Not to-day. Now be off with you.”
He watched the canoe dart away shorewards, waved his hand in response to Almayer’s
nod, and walked to the taffrail smoothing out Abdulla’s letter, which he had pulled out of his
pocket. He read it over carefully, crumpled it up slowly, smiling the while and closing his
fingers firmly over the crackling paper as though he had hold there of Abdulla’s throat.
Halfway to his pocket he changed his mind, and flinging the ball overboard looked at it
thoughtfully as it spun round in the eddies for a moment, before the current bore it away
down-stream, towards the sea.
Part 4
Chapter 1

The night was very dark. For the first time in many months the East Coast slept unseen
by the stars under a veil of motionless cloud that, driven before the first breath of the rainy
monsoon, had drifted slowly from the eastward all the afternoon; pursuing the declining sun
with its masses of black and grey that seemed to chase the light with wicked intent, and with
an ominous and gloomy steadiness, as though conscious of the message of violence and
turmoil they carried. At the sun’s disappearance below the western horizon, the immense
cloud, in quickened motion, grappled with the glow of retreating light, and rolling down to the
clear and jagged outline of the distant mountains, hung arrested above the steaming forests;
hanging low, silent and menacing over the unstirring tree-tops; withholding the blessing of rain,
nursing the wrath of its thunder; undecided — as if brooding over its own power for good or
for evil.
Babalatchi, coming out of the red and smoky light of his little bamboo house, glanced
upwards, drew in a long breath of the warm and stagnant air, and stood for a moment with his
good eye closed tightly, as if intimidated by the unwonted and deep silence of Lakamba’s
courtyard. When he opened his eye he had recovered his sight so far, that he could
distinguish the various degrees of formless blackness which marked the places of trees, of
abandoned houses, of riverside bushes, on the dark background of the night.
The careworn sage walked cautiously down the deserted courtyard to the waterside, and
stood on the bank listening to the voice of the invisible river that flowed at his feet; listening to
the soft whispers, to the deep murmurs, to the sudden gurgles and the short hisses of the
swift current racing along the bank through the hot darkness.
He stood with his face turned to the river, and it seemed to him that he could breathe
easier with the knowledge of the clear vast space before him; then, after a while he leaned
heavily forward on his staff, his chin fell on his breast, and a deep sigh was his answer to the
selfish discourse of the river that hurried on unceasing and fast, regardless of joy or sorrow, of
suffering and of strife, of failures and triumphs that lived on its banks. The brown water was
there, ready to carry friends or enemies, to nurse love or hate on its submissive and heartless
bosom, to help or to hinder, to save life or give death; the great and rapid river: a deliverance,
a prison, a refuge or a grave.
Perchance such thoughts as these caused Babalatchi to send another mournful sigh into
the trailing mists of the unconcerned Pantai. The barbarous politician had forgotten the recent
success of his plottings in the melancholy contemplation of a sorrow that made the night
blacker, the clammy heat more oppressive, the still air more heavy, the dumb solitude more
significant of torment than of peace. He had spent the night before by the side of the dying
Omar, and now, after twenty-four hours, his memory persisted in returning to that low and
sombre reed hut from which the fierce spirit of the incomparably accomplished pirate took its
flight, to learn too late, in a worse world, the error of its earthly ways. The mind of the savage
statesman, chastened by bereavement, felt for a moment the weight of his loneliness with
keen perception worthy even of a sensibility exasperated by all the refinements of tender
sentiment that a glorious civilization brings in its train, among other blessings and virtues, into
this excellent world. For the space of about thirty seconds, a half-naked, betel-chewing
pessimist stood upon the bank of the tropical river, on the edge of the still and immense
forests; a man angry, powerless, empty-handed, with a cry of bitter discontent ready on his
lips; a cry that, had it come out, would have rung through the virgin solitudes of the woods, as
true, as great, as profound, as any philosophical shriek that ever came from the depths of an
easy-chair to disturb the impure wilderness of chimneys and roofs.
For half a minute and no more did Babalatchi face the gods in the sublime privilege of hisrevolt, and then the one-eyed puller of wires became himself again, full of care and wisdom
and far-reaching plans, and a victim to the tormenting superstitions of his race. The night, no
matter how quiet, is never perfectly silent to attentive ears, and now Babalatchi fancied he
could detect in it other noises than those caused by the ripples and eddies of the river. He
turned his head sharply to the right and to the left in succession, and then spun round quickly
in a startled and watchful manner, as if he had expected to see the blind ghost of his departed
leader wandering in the obscurity of the empty courtyard behind his back. Nothing there. Yet
he had heard a noise; a strange noise! No doubt a ghostly voice of a complaining and angry
spirit. He listened. Not a sound. Reassured, Babalatchi made a few paces towards his house,
when a very human noise, that of hoarse coughing, reached him from the river. He stopped,
listened attentively, but now without any sign of emotion, and moving briskly back to the
waterside stood expectant with parted lips, trying to pierce with his eye the wavering curtain of
mist that hung low over the water. He could see nothing, yet some people in a canoe must
have been very near, for he heard words spoken in an ordinary tone.
“Do you think this is the place, Ali? I can see nothing.”
“It must be near here, Tuan,” answered another voice. “Shall we try the bank?”
“No!... Let drift a little. If you go poking into the bank in the dark you might stove the
canoe on some log. We must be careful... Let drift! Let drift!... This does seem to be a
clearing of some sort. We may see a light by and by from some house or other. In Lakamba’s
campong there are many houses? Hey?”
“A great number, Tuan... I do not see any light.”
“Nor I,” grumbled the first voice again, this time nearly abreast of the silent Babalatchi
who looked uneasily towards his own house, the doorway of which glowed with the dim light of
a torch burning within. The house stood end on to the river, and its doorway faced
downstream, so Babalatchi reasoned rapidly that the strangers on the river could not see the light
from the position their boat was in at the moment. He could not make up his mind to call out
to them, and while he hesitated he heard the voices again, but now some way below the
landing-place where he stood.
“Nothing. This cannot be it. Let them give way, Ali! Dayong there!”
That order was followed by the splash of paddles, then a sudden cry —
“I see a light. I see it! Now I know where to land, Tuan.”
There was more splashing as the canoe was paddled sharply round and came back
upstream close to the bank.
“Call out,” said very near a deep voice, which Babalatchi felt sure must belong to a white
man. “Call out — and somebody may come with a torch. I can’t see anything.”
The loud hail that succeeded these words was emitted nearly under the silent listener’s
nose. Babalatchi, to preserve appearances, ran with long but noiseless strides halfway up the
courtyard, and only then shouted in answer and kept on shouting as he walked slowly back
again towards the river bank. He saw there an indistinct shape of a boat, not quite alongside
the landing-place.
“Who speaks on the river?” asked Babalatchi, throwing a tone of surprise into his
“A white man,” answered Lingard from the canoe. “Is there not one torch in rich
Lakamba’s campong to light a guest on his landing?”
“There are no torches and no men. I am alone here,” said Babalatchi, with some
“Alone!” exclaimed Lingard. “Who are you?”
“Only a servant of Lakamba. But land, Tuan Putih, and see my face. Here is my hand.
No! Here!... By your mercy... Ada!... Now you are safe.”
“And you are alone here?” said Lingard, moving with precaution a few steps into the
courtyard. “How dark it is,” he muttered to himself — “one would think the world had beenpainted black.”
“Yes. Alone. What more did you say, Tuan? I did not understand your talk.”
“It is nothing. I expected to find here... But where are they all?”
“What matters where they are?” said Babalatchi, gloomily. “Have you come to see my
people? The last departed on a long journey — and I am alone. Tomorrow I go too.”
“I came to see a white man,” said Lingard, walking on slowly. “He is not gone, is he?”
“No!” answered Babalatchi, at his elbow. “A man with a red skin and hard eyes,” he went
on, musingly, “whose hand is strong, and whose heart is foolish and weak. A white man
indeed... But still a man.”
They were now at the foot of the short ladder which led to the split-bamboo platform
surrounding Babalatchi’s habitation. The faint light from the doorway fell down upon the two
men’s faces as they stood looking at each other curiously.
“Is he there?” asked Lingard, in a low voice, with a wave of his hand upwards.
Babalatchi, staring hard at his long-expected visitor, did not answer at once. “No, not
there,” he said at last, placing his foot on the lowest rung and looking back. “Not there, Tuan
— yet not very far. Will you sit down in my dwelling? There may be rice and fish and clear
water — not from the river, but from a spring...”
“I am not hungry,” interrupted Lingard, curtly, “and I did not come here to sit in your
dwelling. Lead me to the white man who expects me. I have no time to lose.”
“The night is long, Tuan,” went on Babalatchi, softly, “and there are other nights and
other days. Long. Very long... How much time it takes for a man to die! O Rajah Laut!”
Lingard started.
“You know me!” he exclaimed.
“Ay — wa! I have seen your face and felt your hand before — many years ago,” said
Babalatchi, holding on halfway up the ladder, and bending down from above to peer into
Lingard’s upturned face. “You do not remember — but I have not forgotten. There are many
men like me: there is only one Rajah Laut.”
He climbed with sudden agility the last few steps, and stood on the platform waving his
hand invitingly to Lingard, who followed after a short moment of indecision.
The elastic bamboo floor of the hut bent under the heavy weight of the old seaman, who,
standing within the threshold, tried to look into the smoky gloom of the low dwelling. Under the
torch, thrust into the cleft of a stick, fastened at a right angle to the middle stay of the ridge
pole, lay a red patch of light, showing a few shabby mats and a corner of a big wooden chest
the rest of which was lost in shadow. In the obscurity of the more remote parts of the house a
lance-head, a brass tray hung on the wall, the long barrel of a gun leaning against the chest,
caught the stray rays of the smoky illumination in trembling gleams that wavered,
disappeared, reappeared, went out, came back — as if engaged in a doubtful struggle with
the darkness that, lying in wait in distant corners, seemed to dart out viciously towards its
feeble enemy. The vast space under the high pitch of the roof was filled with a thick cloud of
smoke, whose under-side — level like a ceiling — reflected the light of the swaying dull flame,
while at the top it oozed out through the imperfect thatch of dried palm leaves. An
indescribable and complicated smell, made up of the exhalation of damp earth below, of the
taint of dried fish and of the effluvia of rotting vegetable matter, pervaded the place and
caused Lingard to sniff strongly as he strode over, sat on the chest, and, leaning his elbows
on his knees, took his head between his hands and stared at the doorway thoughtfully.
Babalatchi moved about in the shadows, whispering to an indistinct form or two that
flitted about at the far end of the hut. Without stirring Lingard glanced sideways, and caught
sight of muffled-up human shapes that hovered for a moment near the edge of light and
retreated suddenly back into the darkness. Babalatchi approached, and sat at Lingard’s feet
on a rolled-up bundle of mats.
“Will you eat rice and drink sagueir?” he said. “I have waked up my household.”“My friend,” said Lingard, without looking at him, “when I come to see Lakamba, or any
of Lakamba’s servants, I am never hungry and never thirsty. Tau! Savee! Never! Do you think
I am devoid of reason? That there is nothing there?”
He sat up, and, fixing abruptly his eyes on Babalatchi, tapped his own forehead
“Tse! Tse! Tse! How can you talk like that, Tuan!” exclaimed Babalatchi, in a horrified
“I talk as I think. I have lived many years,” said Lingard, stretching his arm negligently to
take up the gun, which he began to examine knowingly, cocking it, and easing down the
hammer several times. “This is good. Mataram make. Old, too,” he went on. “Hai!” broke in
Babalatchi, eagerly. “I got it when I was young. He was an Aru trader, a man with a big
stomach and a loud voice, and brave — very brave. When we came up with his prau in the
grey morning, he stood aft shouting to his men and fired this gun at us once. Only once!”...
He paused, laughed softly, and went on in a low, dreamy voice. “In the grey morning we came
up: forty silent men in a swift Sulu prau; and when the sun was so high” — here he held up his
hands about three feet apart — “when the sun was only so high, Tuan, our work was done —
and there was a feast ready for the fishes of the sea.”
“Aye! aye!” muttered Lingard, nodding his head slowly. “I see. You should not let it get
rusty like this,” he added.
He let the gun fall between his knees, and moving back on his seat, leaned his head
against the wall of the hut, crossing his arms on his breast.
“A good gun,” went on Babalatchi. “Carry far and true. Better than this — there.”
With the tips of his fingers he touched gently the butt of a revolver peeping out of the
right pocket of Lingard’s white jacket.
“Take your hand off that,” said Lingard sharply, but in a good-humoured tone and without
making the slightest movement.
Babalatchi smiled and hitched his seat a little further off.
For some time they sat in silence. Lingard, with his head tilted back, looked downwards
with lowered eyelids at Babalatchi, who was tracing invisible lines with his finger on the mat
between his feet. Outside, they could hear Ali and the other boatmen chattering and laughing
round the fire they had lighted in the big and deserted courtyard.
“Well, what about that white man?” said Lingard, quietly.
It seemed as if Babalatchi had not heard the question. He went on tracing elaborate
patterns on the floor for a good while. Lingard waited motionless. At last the Malay lifted his
“Hai! The white man. I know!” he murmured absently. “This white man or another...
Tuan,” he said aloud with unexpected animation, “you are a man of the sea?”
“You know me. Why ask?” said Lingard, in a low tone.
“Yes. A man of the sea — even as we are. A true Orang Laut,” went on Babalatchi,
thoughtfully, “not like the rest of the white men.”
“I am like other whites, and do not wish to speak many words when the truth is short. I
came here to see the white man that helped Lakamba against Patalolo, who is my friend.
Show me where that white man lives; I want him to hear my talk.”
“Talk only? Tuan! Why hurry? The night is long and death is swift — as you ought to
know; you who have dealt it to so many of my people. Many years ago I have faced you,
arms in hand. Do you not remember? It was in Carimata — far from here.”
“I cannot remember every vagabond that came in my way,” protested Lingard, seriously.
“Hai! Hai!” continued Babalatchi, unmoved and dreamy. “Many years ago. Then all this”
— and looking up suddenly at Lingard’s beard, he flourished his fingers below his own
beardless chin — “then all this was like gold in sunlight, now it is like the foam of an angry
sea.”“Maybe, maybe,” said Lingard, patiently, paying the involuntary tribute of a faint sigh to
the memories of the past evoked by Babalatchi’s words.
He had been living with Malays so long and so close that the extreme deliberation and
deviousness of their mental proceedings had ceased to irritate him much. To-night, perhaps,
he was less prone to impatience than ever. He was disposed, if not to listen to Babalatchi,
then to let him talk. It was evident to him that the man had something to say, and he hoped
that from the talk a ray of light would shoot through the thick blackness of inexplicable
treachery, to show him clearly — if only for a second — the man upon whom he would have
to execute the verdict of justice. Justice only! Nothing was further from his thoughts than such
an useless thing as revenge. Justice only. It was his duty that justice should be done — and
by his own hand. He did not like to think how. To him, as to Babalatchi, it seemed that the
night would be long enough for the work he had to do. But he did not define to himself the
nature of the work, and he sat very still, and willingly dilatory, under the fearsome oppression
of his call. What was the good to think about it? It was inevitable, and its time was near. Yet
he could not command his memories that came crowding round him in that evil-smelling hut,
while Babalatchi talked on in a flowing monotone, nothing of him moving but the lips, in the
artificially inanimated face. Lingard, like an anchored ship that had broken her sheer, darted
about here and there on the rapid tide of his recollections. The subdued sound of soft words
rang around him, but his thoughts were lost, now in the contemplation of the past sweetness
and strife of Carimata days, now in the uneasy wonder at the failure of his judgment; at the
fatal blindness of accident that had caused him, many years ago, to rescue a half-starved
runaway from a Dutch ship in Samarang roads. How he had liked the man: his assurance, his
push, his desire to get on, his conceited good-humour and his selfish eloquence. He had liked
his very faults — those faults that had so many, to him, sympathetic sides.
And he had always dealt fairly by him from the very beginning; and he would deal fairly
by him now — to the very end. This last thought darkened Lingard’s features with a
responsive and menacing frown. The doer of justice sat with compressed lips and a heavy
heart, while in the calm darkness outside the silent world seemed to be waiting breathlessly
for that justice he held in his hand — in his strong hand: — ready to strike — reluctant to
Chapter 2

Babalatchi ceased speaking. Lingard shifted his feet a little, uncrossed his arms, and
shook his head slowly. The narrative of the events in Sambir, related from the point of view of
the astute statesman, the sense of which had been caught here and there by his inattentive
ears, had been yet like a thread to guide him out of the sombre labyrinth of his thoughts; and
now he had come to the end of it, out of the tangled past into the pressing necessities of the
present. With the palms of his hands on his knees, his elbows squared out, he looked down
on Babalatchi who sat in a stiff attitude, inexpressive and mute as a talking doll the
mechanism of which had at length run down.
“You people did all this,” said Lingard at last, “and you will be sorry for it before the dry
wind begins to blow again. Abdulla’s voice will bring the Dutch rule here.”
Babalatchi waved his hand towards the dark doorway.
“There are forests there. Lakamba rules the land now. Tell me, Tuan, do you think the
big trees know the name of the ruler? No. They are born, they grow, they live and they die —
yet know not, feel not. It is their land.”
“Even a big tree may be killed by a small axe,” said Lingard, drily. “And, remember, my
one-eyed friend, that axes are made by white hands. You will soon find that out, since you
have hoisted the flag of the Dutch.”
“Ay — wa!” said Babalatchi, slowly. “It is written that the earth belongs to those who have
fair skins and hard but foolish hearts. The farther away is the master, the easier it is for the
slave, Tuan! You were too near. Your voice rang in our ears always. Now it is not going to be
so. The great Rajah in Batavia is strong, but he may be deceived. He must speak very loud to
be heard here. But if we have need to shout, then he must hear the many voices that call for
protection. He is but a white man.”
“If I ever spoke to Patalolo, like an elder brother, it was for your good — for the good of
all,” said Lingard with great earnestness.
“This is a white man’s talk,” exclaimed Babalatchi, with bitter exultation. “I know you. That
is how you all talk while you load your guns and sharpen your swords; and when you are
ready, then to those who are weak you say: ‘Obey me and be happy, or die! You are strange,
you white men. You think it is only your wisdom and your virtue and your happiness that are
true. You are stronger than the wild beasts, but not so wise. A black tiger knows when he is
not hungry — you do not. He knows the difference between himself and those that can speak;
you do not understand the difference between yourselves and us — who are men. You are
wise and great — and you shall always be fools.”
He threw up both his hands, stirring the sleeping cloud of smoke that hung above his
head, and brought the open palms on the flimsy floor on each side of his outstretched legs.
The whole hut shook. Lingard looked at the excited statesman curiously.
“Apa! Apa! What’s the matter?” he murmured, soothingly. “Whom did I kill here? Where
are my guns? What have I done? What have I eaten up?”
Babalatchi calmed down, and spoke with studied courtesy.
“You, Tuan, are of the sea, and more like what we are. Therefore I speak to you all the
words that are in my heart... Only once has the sea been stronger than the Rajah of the sea.”
“You know it; do you?” said Lingard, with pained sharpness.
“Hai! We have heard about your ship — and some rejoiced. Not I. Amongst the whites,
who are devils, you are a man.”
“Trima kassi! I give you thanks,” said Lingard, gravely.
Babalatchi looked down with a bashful smile, but his face became saddened directly, and
when he spoke again it was in a mournful tone.“Had you come a day sooner, Tuan, you would have seen an enemy die. You would
have seen him die poor, blind, unhappy — with no son to dig his grave and speak of his
wisdom and courage. Yes; you would have seen the man that fought you in Carimata many
years ago, die alone — but for one friend. A great sight to you.”
“Not to me,” answered Lingard. “I did not even remember him till you spoke his name
just now. You do not understand us. We fight, we vanquish — and we forget.”
“True, true,” said Babalatchi, with polite irony; “you whites are so great that you disdain
to remember your enemies. No! No!” he went on, in the same tone, “you have so much mercy
for us, that there is no room for any remembrance. Oh, you are great and good! But it is in
my mind that amongst yourselves you know how to remember. Is it not so, Tuan?”
Lingard said nothing. His shoulders moved imperceptibly. He laid his gun across his
knees and stared at the flint lock absently.
“Yes,” went on Babalatchi, falling again into a mournful mood, “yes, he died in darkness.
I sat by his side and held his hand, but he could not see the face of him who watched the faint
breath on his lips. She, whom he had cursed because of the white man, was there too, and
wept with covered face. The white man walked about the courtyard making many noises. Now
and then he would come to the doorway and glare at us who mourned. He stared with wicked
eyes, and then I was glad that he who was dying was blind. This is true talk. I was glad; for a
white man’s eyes are not good to see when the devil that lives within is looking out through
“Devil! Hey?” said Lingard, half aloud to himself, as if struck with the obviousness of
some novel idea. Babalatchi went on:
“At the first hour of the morning he sat up — he so weak — and said plainly some words
that were not meant for human ears. I held his hand tightly, but it was time for the leader of
brave men to go amongst the Faithful who are happy. They of my household brought a white
sheet, and I began to dig a grave in the hut in which he died. She mourned aloud. The white
man came to the doorway and shouted. He was angry. Angry with her because she beat her
breast, and tore her hair, and mourned with shrill cries as a woman should. Do you
understand what I say, Tuan? That white man came inside the hut with great fury, and took
her by the shoulder, and dragged her out. Yes, Tuan. I saw Omar dead, and I saw her at the
feet of that white dog who has deceived me. I saw his face grey, like the cold mist of the
morning; I saw his pale eyes looking down at Omar’s daughter beating her head on the
ground at his feet. At the feet of him who is Abdulla’s slave. Yes, he lives by Abdulla’s will.
That is why I held my hand while I saw all this. I held my hand because we are now under the
flag of the Orang Blanda, and Abdulla can speak into the ears of the great. We must not have
any trouble with white men. Abdulla has spoken — and I must obey.”
“That’s it, is it?” growled Lingard in his moustache. Then in Malay, “It seems that you are
angry, O Babalatchi!”
“No; I am not angry, Tuan,” answered Babalatchi, descending from the insecure heights
of his indignation into the insincere depths of safe humility. “I am not angry. What am I to be
angry? I am only an Orang Laut, and I have fled before your people many times. Servant of
this one — protected of another; I have given my counsel here and there for a handful of rice.
What am I, to be angry with a white man? What is anger without the power to strike? But you
whites have taken all: the land, the sea, and the power to strike! And there is nothing left for
us in the islands but your white men’s justice; your great justice that knows not anger.”
He got up and stood for a moment in the doorway, sniffing the hot air of the courtyard,
then turned back and leaned against the stay of the ridge pole, facing Lingard who kept his
seat on the chest. The torch, consumed nearly to the end, burned noisily. Small explosions
took place in the heart of the flame, driving through its smoky blaze strings of hard, round
puffs of white smoke, no bigger than peas, which rolled out of doors in the faint draught that
came from invisible cracks of the bamboo walls. The pungent taint of unclean things belowand about the hut grew heavier, weighing down Lingard’s resolution and his thoughts in an
irresistible numbness of the brain. He thought drowsily of himself and of that man who wanted
to see him — who waited to see him. Who waited! Night and day. Waited... A spiteful but
vaporous idea floated through his brain that such waiting could not be very pleasant to the
fellow. Well, let him wait. He would see him soon enough. And for how long? Five seconds —
five minutes — say nothing — say something. What? No! Just give him time to take one good
look, and then...
Suddenly Babalatchi began to speak in a soft voice. Lingard blinked, cleared his throat —
sat up straight.
“You know all now, Tuan. Lakamba dwells in the stockaded house of Patalolo; Abdulla
has begun to build godowns of plank and stone; and now that Omar is dead, I myself shall
depart from this place and live with Lakamba and speak in his ear. I have served many. The
best of them all sleeps in the ground in a white sheet, with nothing to mark his grave but the
ashes of the hut in which he died. Yes, Tuan! the white man destroyed it himself. With a
blazing brand in his hand he strode around, shouting to me to come out — shouting to me,
who was throwing earth on the body of a great leader. Yes; swearing to me by the name of
your God and ours that he would burn me and her in there if we did not make haste... Hai!
The white men are very masterful and wise. I dragged her out quickly!”
“Oh, damn it!” exclaimed Lingard — then went on in Malay, speaking earnestly. “Listen.
That man is not like other white men. You know he is not. He is not a man at all. He is... I
don’t know.”
Babalatchi lifted his hand deprecatingly. His eye twinkled, and his red-stained big lips,
parted by an expressionless grin, uncovered a stumpy row of black teeth filed evenly to the
“Hai! Hai! Not like you. Not like you,” he said, increasing the softness of his tones as he
neared the object uppermost in his mind during that much-desired interview. “Not like you,
Tuan, who are like ourselves, only wiser and stronger. Yet he, also, is full of great cunning,
and speaks of you without any respect, after the manner of white men when they talk of one
Lingard leaped in his seat as if he had been prodded.
“He speaks! What does he say?” he shouted.
“Nay, Tuan,” protested the composed Babalatchi; “what matters his talk if he is not a
man? I am nothing before you — why should I repeat words of one white man about another?
He did boast to Abdulla of having learned much from your wisdom in years past. Other words
I have forgotten. Indeed, Tuan, I have...”
Lingard cut short Babalatchi’s protestations by a contemptuous wave of the hand and
reseated himself with dignity.
“I shall go,” said Babalatchi, “and the white man will remain here, alone with the spirit of
the dead and with her who has been the delight of his heart. He, being white, cannot hear the
voice of those that died... Tell me, Tuan,” he went on, looking at Lingard with curiosity — “tell
me, Tuan, do you white people ever hear the voices of the invisible ones?”
“We do not,” answered Lingard, “because those that we cannot see do not speak.”
“Never speak! And never complain with sounds that are not words?” exclaimed
Babalatchi, doubtingly. “It may be so — or your ears are dull. We Malays hear many sounds
near the places where men are buried. To-night I heard... Yes, even I have heard... I do not
want to hear any more,” he added, nervously. “Perhaps I was wrong when I... There are
things I regret. The trouble was heavy in his heart when he died. Sometimes I think I was
wrong... but I do not want to hear the complaint of invisible lips. Therefore I go, Tuan. Let the
unquiet spirit speak to his enemy the white man who knows not fear, or love, or mercy —
knows nothing but contempt and violence. I have been wrong! I have! Hai! Hai!”
He stood for awhile with his elbow in the palm of his left hand, the fingers of the otherover his lips as if to stifle the expression of inconvenient remorse; then, after glancing at the
torch, burnt out nearly to its end, he moved towards the wall by the chest, fumbled about
there and suddenly flung open a large shutter of attaps woven in a light framework of sticks.
Lingard swung his legs quickly round the corner of his seat.
“Hallo!” he said, surprised.
The cloud of smoke stirred, and a slow wisp curled out through the new opening. The
torch flickered, hissed, and went out, the glowing end falling on the mat, whence Babalatchi
snatched it up and tossed it outside through the open square. It described a vanishing curve
of red light, and lay below, shining feebly in the vast darkness. Babalatchi remained with his
arm stretched out into the empty night.
“There,” he said, “you can see the white man’s courtyard, Tuan, and his house.”
“I can see nothing,” answered Lingard, putting his head through the shutter-hole. “It’s too
“Wait, Tuan,” urged Babalatchi. “You have been looking long at the burning torch. You
will soon see. Mind the gun, Tuan. It is loaded.”
“There is no flint in it. You could not find a fire-stone for a hundred miles round this spot,”
said Lingard, testily. “Foolish thing to load that gun.”
“I have a stone. I had it from a man wise and pious that lives in Menang Kabau. A very
pious man — very good fire. He spoke words over that stone that make its sparks good. And
the gun is good — carries straight and far. Would carry from here to the door of the white
man’s house, I believe, Tuan.”
“Tida apa. Never mind your gun,” muttered Lingard, peering into the formless darkness.
“Is that the house — that black thing over there?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered Babalatchi; “that is his house. He lives there by the will of Abdulla, and
shall live there till... From where you stand, Tuan, you can look over the fence and across the
courtyard straight at the door — at the door from which he comes out every morning, looking
like a man that had seen Jehannum in his sleep.”
Lingard drew his head in. Babalatchi touched his shoulder with a groping hand.
“Wait a little, Tuan. Sit still. The morning is not far off now — a morning without sun after
a night without stars. But there will be light enough to see the man who said not many days
ago that he alone has made you less than a child in Sambir.”
He felt a slight tremor under his hand, but took it off directly and began feeling all over
the lid of the chest, behind Lingard’s back, for the gun.
“What are you at?” said Lingard, impatiently. “You do worry about that rotten gun. You
had better get a light.”
“A light! I tell you, Tuan, that the light of heaven is very near,” said Babalatchi, who had
now obtained possession of the object of his solicitude, and grasping it strongly by its long
barrel, grounded the stock at his feet.
“Perhaps it is near,” said Lingard, leaning both his elbows on the lower cross-piece of the
primitive window and looking out. “It is very black outside yet,” he remarked carelessly.
Babalatchi fidgeted about.
“It is not good for you to sit where you may be seen,” he muttered.
“Why not?” asked Lingard.
“The white man sleeps, it is true,” explained Babalatchi, softly; “yet he may come out
early, and he has arms.”
“Ah! he has arms?” said Lingard.
“Yes; a short gun that fires many times — like yours here. Abdulla had to give it to him.”
Lingard heard Babalatchi’s words, but made no movement. To the old adventurer the
idea that fire arms could be dangerous in other hands than his own did not occur readily, and
certainly not in connection with Willems. He was so busy with the thoughts about what he
considered his own sacred duty, that he could not give any consideration to the probableactions of the man of whom he thought — as one may think of an executed criminal — with
wondering indignation tempered by scornful pity. While he sat staring into the darkness, that
every minute grew thinner before his pensive eyes, like a dispersing mist, Willems appeared
to him as a figure belonging already wholly to the past — a figure that could come in no way
into his life again. He had made up his mind, and the thing was as well as done. In his weary
thoughts he had closed this fatal, inexplicable, and horrible episode in his life. The worst had
happened. The coming days would see the retribution.
He had removed an enemy once or twice before, out of his path; he had paid off some
very heavy scores a good many times. Captain Tom had been a good friend to many: but it
was generally understood, from Honolulu round about to Diego Suarez, that Captain Tom’s
enmity was rather more than any man single-handed could easily manage. He would not, as
he said often, hurt a fly as long as the fly left him alone; yet a man does not live for years
beyond the pale of civilized laws without evolving for himself some queer notions of justice.
Nobody of those he knew had ever cared to point out to him the errors of his conceptions.
It was not worth anybody’s while to run counter to Lingard’s ideas of the fitness of things
— that fact was acquired to the floating wisdom of the South Seas, of the Eastern
Archipelago, and was nowhere better understood than in out-of-the-way nooks of the world; in
those nooks which he filled, unresisted and masterful, with the echoes of his noisy presence.
There is not much use in arguing with a man who boasts of never having regretted a single
action of his life, whose answer to a mild criticism is a good-natured shout — “You know
nothing about it. I would do it again. Yes, sir!” His associates and his acquaintances accepted
him, his opinions, his actions like things preordained and unchangeable; looked upon his
many-sided manifestations with passive wonder not unmixed with that admiration which is only
the rightful due of a successful man. But nobody had ever seen him in the mood he was in
now. Nobody had seen Lingard doubtful and giving way to doubt, unable to make up his mind
and unwilling to act; Lingard timid and hesitating one minute, angry yet inactive the next;
Lingard puzzled in a word, because confronted with a situation that discomposed him by its
unprovoked malevolence, by its ghastly injustice, that to his rough but unsophisticated palate
tasted distinctly of sulphurous fumes from the deepest hell.
The smooth darkness filling the shutter-hole grew paler and became blotchy with
illdefined shapes, as if a new universe was being evolved out of sombre chaos. Then outlines
came out, defining forms without any details, indicating here a tree, there a bush; a black belt
of forest far off; the straight lines of a house, the ridge of a high roof near by. Inside the hut,
Babalatchi, who lately had been only a persuasive voice, became a human shape leaning its
chin imprudently on the muzzle of a gun and rolling an uneasy eye over the reappearing
world. The day came rapidly, dismal and oppressed by the fog of the river and by the heavy
vapours of the sky — a day without colour and without sunshine: incomplete, disappointing,
and sad.
Babalatchi twitched gently Lingard’s sleeve, and when the old seaman had lifted up his
head interrogatively, he stretched out an arm and a pointing forefinger towards Willems’
house, now plainly visible to the right and beyond the big tree of the courtyard.
“Look, Tuan!” he said. “He lives there. That is the door — his door. Through it he will
appear soon, with his hair in disorder and his mouth full of curses. That is so. He is a white
man, and never satisfied. It is in my mind he is angry even in his sleep. A dangerous man. As
Tuan may observe,” he went on, obsequiously, “his door faces this opening, where you
condescend to sit, which is concealed from all eyes. Faces it — straight — and not far.
Observe, Tuan, not at all far.”
“Yes, yes; I can see. I shall see him when he wakes.”
“No doubt, Tuan. When he wakes... If you remain here he can not see you. I shall
withdraw quickly and prepare my canoe myself. I am only a poor man, and must go to Sambir
to greet Lakamba when he opens his eyes. I must bow before Abdulla who has strength —even more strength than you. Now if you remain here, you shall easily behold the man who
boasted to Abdulla that he had been your friend, even while he prepared to fight those who
called you protector. Yes, he plotted with Abdulla for that cursed flag. Lakamba was blind
then, and I was deceived. But you, Tuan! Remember, he deceived you more. Of that he
boasted before all men.”
He leaned the gun quietly against the wall close to the window, and said softly: “Shall I go
now, Tuan? Be careful of the gun. I have put the fire-stone in. The fire-stone of the wise man,
which never fails.”
Lingard’s eyes were fastened on the distant doorway. Across his line of sight, in the grey
emptiness of the courtyard, a big fruit-pigeon flapped languidly towards the forests with a loud
booming cry, like the note of a deep gong: a brilliant bird looking in the gloom of threatening
day as black as a crow. A serried flock of white rice birds rose above the trees with a faint
scream, and hovered, swaying in a disordered mass that suddenly scattered in all directions,
as if burst asunder by a silent explosion. Behind his back Lingard heard a shuffle of feet —
women leaving the hut. In the other courtyard a voice was heard complaining of cold, and
coming very feeble, but exceedingly distinct, out of the vast silence of the abandoned houses
and clearings. Babalatchi coughed discreetly. From under the house the thumping of wooden
pestles husking the rice started with unexpected abruptness. The weak but clear voice in the
yard again urged, “Blow up the embers, O brother!” Another voice answered, drawling in
modulated, thin sing-song, “Do it yourself, O shivering pig!” and the drawl of the last words
stopped short, as if the man had fallen into a deep hole. Babalatchi coughed again a little
impatiently, and said in a confidential tone —
“Do you think it is time for me to go, Tuan? Will you take care of my gun, Tuan? I am a
man that knows how to obey; even obey Abdulla, who has deceived me. Nevertheless this
gun carries far and true — if you would want to know, Tuan. And I have put in a double
measure of powder, and three slugs. Yes, Tuan. Now — perhaps — I go.”
When Babalatchi commenced speaking, Lingard turned slowly round and gazed upon
him with the dull and unwilling look of a sick man waking to another day of suffering. As the
astute statesman proceeded, Lingard’s eyebrows came close, his eyes became animated,
and a big vein stood out on his forehead, accentuating a lowering frown. When speaking his
last words Babalatchi faltered, then stopped, confused, before the steady gaze of the old
Lingard rose. His face cleared, and he looked down at the anxious Babalatchi with
sudden benevolence.
“So! That’s what you were after,” he said, laying a heavy hand on Babalatchi’s yielding
shoulder. “You thought I came here to murder him. Hey? Speak! You faithful dog of an Arab
“And what else, Tuan?” shrieked Babalatchi, exasperated into sincerity. “What else,
Tuan! Remember what he has done; he poisoned our ears with his talk about you. You are a
man. If you did not come to kill, Tuan, then either I am a fool or...”
He paused, struck his naked breast with his open palm, and finished in a discouraged
whisper — “or, Tuan, you are.”
Lingard looked down at him with scornful serenity. After his long and painful gropings
amongst the obscure abominations of Willems’ conduct, the logical if tortuous evolutions of
Babalatchi’s diplomatic mind were to him welcome as daylight. There was something at last he
could understand — the clear effect of a simple cause. He felt indulgent towards the
disappointed sage.
“So you are angry with your friend, O one-eyed one!” he said slowly, nodding his fierce
countenance close to Babalatchi’s discomfited face. “It seems to me that you must have had
much to do with what happened in Sambir lately. Hey? You son of a burnt father.”
“May I perish under your hand, O Rajah of the sea, if my words are not true!” saidBabalatchi, with reckless excitement. “You are here in the midst of your enemies. He the
greatest. Abdulla would do nothing without him, and I could do nothing without Abdulla. Strike
me — so that you strike all!”
“Who are you,” exclaimed Lingard contemptuously — “who are you to dare call yourself
my enemy! Dirt! Nothing! Go out first,” he went on severely. “Lakas! quick. March out!”
He pushed Babalatchi through the doorway and followed him down the short ladder into
the courtyard. The boatmen squatting over the fire turned their slow eyes with apparent
difficulty towards the two men; then, unconcerned, huddled close together again, stretching
forlornly their hands over the embers. The women stopped in their work and with uplifted
pestles flashed quick and curious glances from the gloom under the house.
“Is that the way?” asked Lingard with a nod towards the little wicket-gate of Willems’
“If you seek death, that is surely the way,” answered Babalatchi in a dispassionate voice,
as if he had exhausted all the emotions. “He lives there: he who destroyed your friends; who
hastened Omar’s death; who plotted with Abdulla first against you, then against me. I have
been like a child. O shame!... But go, Tuan. Go there.”
“I go where I like,” said Lingard, emphatically, “and you may go to the devil; I do not want
you any more. The islands of these seas shall sink before I, Rajah Laut, serve the will of any
of your people. Tau? But I tell you this: I do not care what you do with him after to-day. And I
say that because I am merciful.”
“Tida! I do nothing,” said Babalatchi, shaking his head with bitter apathy. “I am in
Abdulla’s hand and care not, even as you do. No! no!” he added, turning away, “I have
learned much wisdom this morning. There are no men anywhere. You whites are cruel to your
friends and merciful to your enemies — which is the work of fools.”
He went away towards the riverside, and, without once looking back, disappeared in the
low bank of mist that lay over the water and the shore. Lingard followed him with his eyes
thoughtfully. After awhile he roused himself and called out to his boatmen —
“Hai — ya there! After you have eaten rice, wait for me with your paddles in your hands.
You hear?”
“Ada, Tuan!” answered Ali through the smoke of the morning fire that was spreading
itself, low and gentle, over the courtyard — “we hear!”
Lingard opened slowly the little wicket-gate, made a few steps into the empty enclosure,
and stopped. He had felt about his head the short breath of a puff of wind that passed him,
made every leaf of the big tree shiver — and died out in a hardly perceptible tremor of
branches and twigs. Instinctively he glanced upwards with a seaman’s impulse. Above him,
under the grey motionless waste of a stormy sky, drifted low black vapours, in stretching bars,
in shapeless patches, in sinuous wisps and tormented spirals. Over the courtyard and the
house floated a round, sombre, and lingering cloud, dragging behind a tail of tangled and filmy
streamers — like the dishevelled hair of a mourning woman.
Chapter 3

The tremulous effort and the broken, inadequate tone of the faint cry, surprised Lingard
more than the unexpected suddenness of the warning conveyed, he did not know by whom
and to whom. Besides himself there was no one in the courtyard as far as he could see.
The cry was not renewed, and his watchful eyes, scanning warily the misty solitude of
Willems’ enclosure, were met everywhere only by the stolid impassiveness of inanimate
things: the big sombre-looking tree, the shut-up, sightless house, the glistening bamboo
fences, the damp and drooping bushes further off — all these things, that condemned to look
for ever at the incomprehensible afflictions or joys of mankind, assert in their aspect of cold
unconcern the high dignity of lifeless matter that surrounds, incurious and unmoved, the
restless mysteries of the ever-changing, of the never-ending life.
Lingard, stepping aside, put the trunk of the tree between himself and the house, then,
moving cautiously round one of the projecting buttresses, had to tread short in order to avoid
scattering a small heap of black embers upon which he came unexpectedly on the other side.
A thin, wizened, little old woman, who, standing behind the tree, had been looking at the
house, turned towards him with a start, gazed with faded, expressionless eyes at the intruder,
then made a limping attempt to get away. She seemed, however, to realize directly the
hopelessness or the difficulty of the undertaking, stopped, hesitated, tottered back slowly;
then, after blinking dully, fell suddenly on her knees amongst the white ashes, and, bending
over the heap of smouldering coals, distended her sunken cheeks in a steady effort to blow up
the hidden sparks into a useful blaze. Lingard looked down on her, but she seemed to have
made up her mind that there was not enough life left in her lean body for anything else than
the discharge of the simple domestic duty, and, apparently, she begrudged him the least
moment of attention.
After waiting for awhile, Lingard asked —
“Why did you call, O daughter?”
“I saw you enter,” she croaked feebly, still grovelling with her face near the ashes and
without looking up, “and I called — the cry of warning. It was her order. Her order,” she
repeated, with a moaning sigh.
“And did she hear?” pursued Lingard, with gentle composure.
Her projecting shoulder-blades moved uneasily under the thin stuff of the tight body
jacket. She scrambled up with difficulty to her feet, and hobbled away, muttering peevishly to
herself, towards a pile of dry brushwood heaped up against the fence.
Lingard, looking idly after her, heard the rattle of loose planks that led from the ground to
the door of the house. He moved his head beyond the shelter of the tree and saw Aissa
coming down the inclined way into the courtyard. After making a few hurried paces towards
the tree, she stopped with one foot advanced in an appearance of sudden terror, and her
eyes glanced wildly right and left. Her head was uncovered. A blue cloth wrapped her from her
head to foot in close slanting folds, with one end thrown over her shoulder. A tress of her
black hair strayed across her bosom. Her bare arms pressed down close to her body, with
hands open and outstretched fingers; her slightly elevated shoulders and the backward
inclination of her torso gave her the aspect of one defiant yet shrinking from a coming blow.
She had closed the door of the house behind her; and as she stood solitary in the unnatural
and threatening twilight of the murky day, with everything unchanged around her, she
appeared to Lingard as if she had been made there, on the spot, out of the black vapours of
the sky and of the sinister gleams of feeble sunshine that struggled, through the thickening
clouds, into the colourless desolation of the world.After a short but attentive glance towards the shut-up house, Lingard stepped out from
behind the tree and advanced slowly towards her. The sudden fixity of her — till then —
restless eyes and a slight twitch of her hands were the only signs she gave at first of having
seen him. She made a long stride forward, and putting herself right in his path, stretched her
arms across; her black eyes opened wide, her lips parted as if in an uncertain attempt to
speak — but no sound came out to break the significant silence of their meeting. Lingard
stopped and looked at her with stern curiosity. After a while he said composedly —
“Let me pass. I came here to talk to a man. Does he hide? Has he sent you?”
She made a step nearer, her arms fell by her side, then she put them straight out nearly
touching Lingard’s breast.
“He knows not fear,” she said, speaking low, with a forward throw of her head, in a voice
trembling but distinct. “It is my own fear that has sent me here. He sleeps.”
“He has slept long enough,” said Lingard, in measured tones. “I am come — and now is
the time of his waking. Go and tell him this — or else my own voice will call him up. A voice he
knows well.”
He put her hands down firmly and again made as if to pass by her.
“Do not!” she exclaimed, and fell at his feet as if she had been cut down by a scythe. The
unexpected suddenness of her movement startled Lingard, who stepped back.
“What’s this?” he exclaimed in a wondering whisper — then added in a tone of sharp
command: “Stand up!”
She rose at once and stood looking at him, timorous and fearless; yet with a fire of
recklessness burning in her eyes that made clear her resolve to pursue her purpose even to
the death. Lingard went on in a severe voice —
“Go out of my path. You are Omar’s daughter, and you ought to know that when men
meet in daylight women must be silent and abide their fate.”
“Women!” she retorted, with subdued vehemence. “Yes, I am a woman! Your eyes see
that, O Rajah Laut, but can you see my life? I also have heard — O man of many fights — I
also have heard the voice of fire-arms; I also have felt the rain of young twigs and of leaves
cut up by bullets fall down about my head; I also know how to look in silence at angry faces
and at strong hands raised high grasping sharp steel. I also saw men fall dead around me
without a cry of fear and of mourning; and I have watched the sleep of weary fugitives, and
looked at night shadows full of menace and death with eyes that knew nothing but
watchfulness. And,” she went on, with a mournful drop in her voice, “I have faced the
heartless sea, held on my lap the heads of those who died raving from thirst, and from their
cold hands took the paddle and worked so that those with me did not know that one man
more was dead. I did all this. What more have you done? That was my life. What has been
The matter and the manner of her speech held Lingard motionless, attentive and
approving against his will. She ceased speaking, and from her staring black eyes with a
narrow border of white above and below, a double ray of her very soul streamed out in a
fierce desire to light up the most obscure designs of his heart. After a long silence, which
served to emphasize the meaning of her words, she added in the whisper of bitter regret —
“And I have knelt at your feet! And I am afraid!”
“You,” said Lingard deliberately, and returning her look with an interested gaze, “you are
a woman whose heart, I believe, is great enough to fill a man’s breast: but still you are a
woman, and to you, I, Rajah Laut, have nothing to say.”
She listened bending her head in a movement of forced attention; and his voice sounded
to her unexpected, far off, with the distant and unearthly ring of voices that we hear in
dreams, saying faintly things startling, cruel or absurd, to which there is no possible reply. To
her he had nothing to say! She wrung her hands, glanced over the courtyard with that eager
and distracted look that sees nothing, then looked up at the hopeless sky of livid grey anddrifting black; at the unquiet mourning of the hot and brilliant heaven that had seen the
beginning of her love, that had heard his entreaties and her answers, that had seen his desire
and her fear; that had seen her joy, her surrender — and his defeat. Lingard moved a little,
and this slight stir near her precipitated her disordered and shapeless thoughts into hurried
“Wait!” she exclaimed in a stifled voice, and went on disconnectedly and rapidly — “Stay.
I have heard. Men often spoke by the fires... men of my people. And they said of you — the
first on the sea — they said that to men’s cries you were deaf in battle, but after... No! even
while you fought, your ears were open to the voice of children and women. They said... that.
Now I, a woman, I...”
She broke off suddenly and stood before him with dropped eyelids and parted lips, so still
now that she seemed to have been changed into a breathless, an unhearing, an unseeing
figure, without knowledge of fear or hope, of anger or despair. In the astounding repose that
came on her face, nothing moved but the delicate nostrils that expanded and collapsed
quickly, flutteringly, in interrupted beats, like the wings of a snared bird.
“I am white,” said Lingard, proudly, looking at her with a steady gaze where simple
curiosity was giving way to a pitying annoyance, “and men you have heard, spoke only what is
true over the evening fires. My ears are open to your prayer. But listen to me before you
speak. For yourself you need not be afraid. You can come even now with me and you shall
find refuge in the household of Syed Abdulla — who is of your own faith. And this also you
must know: nothing that you may say will change my purpose towards the man who is
sleeping — or hiding — in that house.”
Again she gave him the look that was like a stab, not of anger but of desire; of the
intense, over-powering desire to see in, to see through, to understand everything: every
thought, emotion, purpose; every impulse, every hesitation inside that man; inside that
whiteclad foreign being who looked at her, who spoke to her, who breathed before her like any
other man, but bigger, red-faced, white-haired and mysterious. It was the future clothed in
flesh; the to-morrow; the day after; all the days, all the years of her life standing there before
her alive and secret, with all their good or evil shut up within the breast of that man; of that
man who could be persuaded, cajoled, entreated, perhaps touched, worried; frightened —
who knows? — if only first he could be understood! She had seen a long time ago whither
events were tending. She had noted the contemptuous yet menacing coldness of Abdulla; she
had heard — alarmed yet unbelieving — Babalatchi’s gloomy hints, covert allusions and veiled
suggestions to abandon the useless white man whose fate would be the price of the peace
secured by the wise and good who had no need of him any more. And he — himself! She
clung to him. There was nobody else. Nothing else. She would try to cling to him always — all
the life! And yet he was far from her. Further every day. Every day he seemed more distant,
and she followed him patiently, hopefully, blindly, but steadily, through all the devious
wanderings of his mind. She followed as well as she could. Yet at times — very often lately —
she had felt lost like one strayed in the thickets of tangled undergrowth of a great forest. To
her the ex-clerk of old Hudig appeared as remote, as brilliant, as terrible, as necessary, as the
sun that gives life to these lands: the sun of unclouded skies that dazzles and withers; the sun
beneficent and wicked — the giver of light, perfume, and pestilence. She had watched him —
watched him close; fascinated by love, fascinated by danger. He was alone now — but for
her; and she saw — she thought she saw — that he was like a man afraid of something. Was
it possible? He afraid? Of what? Was it of that old white man who was coming — who had
come? Possibly. She had heard of that man ever since she could remember. The bravest
were afraid of him! And now what was in the mind of this old, old man who looked so strong?
What was he going to do with the light of her life? Put it out? Take it away? Take it away for
ever! — for ever! — and leave her in darkness: — not in the stirring, whispering, expectant
night in which the hushed world awaits the return of sunshine; but in the night without end, thenight of the grave, where nothing breathes, nothing moves, nothing thinks — the last
darkness of cold and silence without hope of another sunrise.
She cried — “Your purpose! You know nothing. I must...”
He interrupted — unreasonably excited, as if she had, by her look, inoculated him with
some of her own distress.
“I know enough.”
She approached, and stood facing him at arm’s length, with both her hands on his
shoulders; and he, surprised by that audacity, closed and opened his eyes two or three times,
aware of some emotion arising within him, from her words, her tone, her contact; an emotion
unknown, singular, penetrating and sad — at the close sight of that strange woman, of that
being savage and tender, strong and delicate, fearful and resolute, that had got entangled so
fatally between their two lives — his own and that other white man’s, the abominable
“How can you know?” she went on, in a persuasive tone that seemed to flow out of her
very heart — “how can you know? I live with him all the days. All the nights. I look at him; I
see his every breath, every glance of his eye, every movement of his lips. I see nothing else!
What else is there? And even I do not understand. I do not understand him! — Him! — My
life! Him who to me is so great that his presence hides the earth and the water from my sight!”
Lingard stood straight, with his hands deep in the pockets of his jacket. His eyes winked
quickly, because she spoke very close to his face. She disturbed him and he had a sense of
the efforts he was making to get hold of her meaning, while all the time he could not help
telling himself that all this was of no use.
She added after a pause — “There has been a time when I could understand him. When
I knew what was in his mind better than he knew it himself. When I felt him. When I held
him... And now he has escaped.”
“Escaped? What? Gone away!” shouted Lingard.
“Escaped from me,” she said; “left me alone. Alone. And I am ever near him. Yet alone.”
Her hands slipped slowly off Lingard’s shoulders and her arms fell by her side, listless,
discouraged, as if to her — to her, the savage, violent, and ignorant creature — had been
revealed clearly in that moment the tremendous fact of our isolation, of the loneliness
impenetrable and transparent, elusive and everlasting; of the indestructible loneliness that
surrounds, envelopes, clothes every human soul from the cradle to the grave, and, perhaps,
“Aye! Very well! I understand. His face is turned away from you,” said Lingard. “Now,
what do you want?”
“I want... I have looked — for help... everywhere... against men... All men... I do not
know. First they came, the invisible whites, and dealt death from afar... then he came. He
came to me who was alone and sad. He came; angry with his brothers; great amongst his
own people; angry with those I have not seen: with the people where men have no mercy and
women have no shame. He was of them, and great amongst them. For he was great?”
Lingard shook his head slightly. She frowned at him, and went on in disordered haste —
“Listen. I saw him. I have lived by the side of brave men... of chiefs. When he came I
was the daughter of a beggar — of a blind man without strength and hope. He spoke to me as
if I had been brighter than the sunshine — more delightful than the cool water of the brook by
which we met — more...” Her anxious eyes saw some shade of expression pass on her
listener’s face that made her hold her breath for a second, and then explode into pained fury
so violent that it drove Lingard back a pace, like an unexpected blast of wind. He lifted both
his hands, incongruously paternal in his venerable aspect, bewildered and soothing, while she
stretched her neck forward and shouted at him.
“I tell you I was all that to him. I know it! I saw it!... There are times when even you white
men speak the truth. I saw his eyes. I felt his eyes, I tell you! I saw him tremble when I camenear — when I spoke — when I touched him. Look at me! You have been young. Look at me.
Look, Rajah Laut!”
She stared at Lingard with provoking fixity, then, turning her head quickly, she sent over
her shoulder a glance, full of humble fear, at the house that stood high behind her back —
dark, closed, rickety and silent on its crooked posts.
Lingard’s eyes followed her look, and remained gazing expectantly at the house. After a
minute or so he muttered, glancing at her suspiciously —
“If he has not heard your voice now, then he must be far away — or dead.”
“He is there,” she whispered, a little calmed but still anxious — “he is there. For three
days he waited. Waited for you night and day. And I waited with him. I waited, watching his
face, his eyes, his lips; listening to his words. — To the words I could not understand. — To
the words he spoke in daylight; to the words he spoke at night in his short sleep. I listened. He
spoke to himself walking up and down here — by the river; by the bushes. And I followed. I
wanted to know — and I could not! He was tormented by things that made him speak in the
words of his own people. Speak to himself — not to me. Not to me! What was he saying?
What was he going to do? Was he afraid of you? — Of death? What was in his heart?...
Fear?... Or anger?... what desire?... what sadness? He spoke; spoke; many words. All the
time! And I could not know! I wanted to speak to him. He was deaf to me. I followed him
everywhere, watching for some word I could understand; but his mind was in the land of his
people — away from me. When I touched him he was angry — so!”
She imitated the movement of some one shaking off roughly an importunate hand, and
looked at Lingard with tearful and unsteady eyes.
After a short interval of laboured panting, as if she had been out of breath with running or
fighting, she looked down and went on —
“Day after day, night after night, I lived watching him — seeing nothing. And my heart
was heavy — heavy with the presence of death that dwelt amongst us. I could not believe. I
thought he was afraid. Afraid of you! Then I, myself, knew fear... Tell me, Rajah Laut, do you
know the fear without voice — the fear of silence — the fear that comes when there is no one
near — when there is no battle, no cries, no angry faces or armed hands anywhere?... The
fear from which there is no escape!”
She paused, fastened her eyes again on the puzzled Lingard, and hurried on in a tone of
despair —
“And I knew then he would not fight you! Before — many days ago — I went away twice
to make him obey my desire; to make him strike at his own people so that he could be mine
— mine! O calamity! His hand was false as your white hearts. It struck forward, pushed by my
desire — by his desire of me... It struck that strong hand, and — O shame! — it killed nobody!
Its fierce and lying blow woke up hate without any fear. Round me all was lies. His strength
was a lie. My own people lied to me and to him. And to meet you — you, the great! — he had
no one but me? But me with my rage, my pain, my weakness. Only me! And to me he would
not even speak. The fool!”
She came up close to Lingard, with the wild and stealthy aspect of a lunatic longing to
whisper out an insane secret — one of those misshapen, heart-rending, and ludicrous
secrets; one of those thoughts that, like monsters — cruel, fantastic, and mournful, wander
about terrible and unceasing in the night of madness. Lingard looked at her, astounded but
unflinching. She spoke in his face, very low.
“He is all! Everything. He is my breath, my light, my heart... Go away... Forget him... He
has no courage and no wisdom any more... and I have lost my power... Go away and forget.
There are other enemies... Leave him to me. He had been a man once... You are too great.
Nobody can withstand you... I tried... I know now... I cry for mercy. Leave him to me and go
The fragments of her supplicating sentences were as if tossed on the crest of her sobs.Lingard, outwardly impassive, with his eyes fixed on the house, experienced that feeling of
condemnation, deep-seated, persuasive, and masterful; that illogical impulse of disapproval
which is half disgust, half vague fear, and that wakes up in our hearts in the presence of
anything new or unusual, of anything that is not run into the mould of our own conscience; the
accursed feeling made up of disdain, of anger, and of the sense of superior virtue that leaves
us deaf, blind, contemptuous and stupid before anything which is not like ourselves.
He answered, not looking at her at first, but speaking towards the house that fascinated
him — “I go away! He wanted me to come — he himself did!... YOU must go away. You do
not know what you are asking for. Listen. Go to your own people. Leave him. He is...”
He paused, looked down at her with his steady eyes; hesitated, as if seeking an
adequate expression; then snapped his fingers, and said —
She stepped back, her eyes on the ground, and pressed her temples with both her
hands, which she raised to her head in a slow and ample movement full of unconscious
tragedy. The tone of her words was gentle and vibrating, like a loud meditation. She said —
“Tell the brook not to run to the river; tell the river not to run to the sea. Speak loud.
Speak angrily. Maybe they will obey you. But it is in my mind that the brook will not care. The
brook that springs out of the hillside and runs to the great river. He would not care for your
words: he that cares not for the very mountain that gave him life; he that tears the earth from
which he springs. Tears it, eats it, destroys it — to hurry faster to the river — to the river in
which he is lost for ever... O Rajah Laut! I do not care.”
She drew close again to Lingard, approaching slowly, reluctantly, as if pushed by an
invisible hand, and added in words that seemed to be torn out of her —
“I cared not for my own father. For him that died. I would have rather... You do not know
what I have done... I...”
“You shall have his life,” said Lingard, hastily.
They stood together, crossing their glances; she suddenly appeased, and Lingard
thoughtful and uneasy under a vague sense of defeat. And yet there was no defeat. He never
intended to kill the fellow — not after the first moment of anger, a long time ago. The days of
bitter wonder had killed anger; had left only a bitter indignation and a bitter wish for complete
justice. He felt discontented and surprised. Unexpectedly he had come upon a human being
— a woman at that — who had made him disclose his will before its time. She should have his
life. But she must be told, she must know, that for such men as Willems there was no favour
and no grace.
“Understand,” he said slowly, “that I leave him his life not in mercy but in punishment.”
She started, watched every word on his lips, and after he finished speaking she
remained still and mute in astonished immobility. A single big drop of rain, a drop enormous,
pellucid and heavy — like a super-human tear coming straight and rapid from above, tearing
its way through the sombre sky — struck loudly the dry ground between them in a starred
splash. She wrung her hands in the bewilderment of the new and incomprehensible fear. The
anguish of her whisper was more piercing than the shrillest cry.
“What punishment! Will you take him away then? Away from me? Listen to what I have
done... It is I who...”
“Ah!” exclaimed Lingard, who had been looking at the house.
“Don’t you believe her, Captain Lingard,” shouted Willems from the doorway, where he
appeared with swollen eyelids and bared breast. He stood for a while, his hands grasping the
lintels on each side of the door, and writhed about, glaring wildly, as if he had been crucified
there. Then he made a sudden rush head foremost down the plankway that responded with
hollow, short noises to every footstep.
She heard him. A slight thrill passed on her face and the words that were on her lips fell
back unspoken into her benighted heart; fell back amongst the mud, the stones — and theflowers, that are at the bottom of every heart.
Chapter 4

When he felt the solid ground of the courtyard under his feet, Willems pulled himself up
in his headlong rush and moved forward with a moderate gait. He paced stiffly, looking with
extreme exactitude at Lingard’s face; looking neither to the right nor to the left but at the face
only, as if there was nothing in the world but those features familiar and dreaded; that
whitehaired, rough and severe head upon which he gazed in a fixed effort of his eyes, like a man
trying to read small print at the full range of human vision. As soon as Willems’ feet had left
the planks, the silence which had been lifted up by the jerky rattle of his footsteps fell down
again upon the courtyard; the silence of the cloudy sky and of the windless air, the sullen
silence of the earth oppressed by the aspect of coming turmoil, the silence of the world
collecting its faculties to withstand the storm. Through this silence Willems pushed his way,
and stopped about six feet from Lingard. He stopped simply because he could go no further.
He had started from the door with the reckless purpose of clapping the old fellow on the
shoulder. He had no idea that the man would turn out to be so tall, so big and so
unapproachable. It seemed to him that he had never, never in his life, seen Lingard.
He tried to say —
“Do not believe...”
A fit of coughing checked his sentence in a faint splutter. Directly afterwards he
swallowed — as it were — a couple of pebbles, throwing his chin up in the act; and Lingard,
who looked at him narrowly, saw a bone, sharp and triangular like the head of a snake, dart
up and down twice under the skin of his throat. Then that, too, did not move. Nothing moved.
“Well,” said Lingard, and with that word he came unexpectedly to the end of his speech. His
hand in his pocket closed firmly round the butt of his revolver bulging his jacket on the hip, and
he thought how soon and how quickly he could terminate his quarrel with that man who had
been so anxious to deliver himself into his hands — and how inadequate would be that ending!
He could not bear the idea of that man escaping from him by going out of life; escaping from
fear, from doubt, from remorse into the peaceful certitude of death. He held him now. And he
was not going to let him go — to let him disappear for ever in the faint blue smoke of a pistol
shot. His anger grew within him. He felt a touch as of a burning hand on his heart. Not on the
flesh of his breast, but a touch on his heart itself, on the palpitating and untiring particle of
matter that responds to every emotion of the soul; that leaps with joy, with terror, or with
He drew a long breath. He could see before him the bare chest of the man expanding
and collapsing under the wide-open jacket. He glanced aside, and saw the bosom of the
woman near him rise and fall in quick respirations that moved slightly up and down her hand,
which was pressed to her breast with all the fingers spread out and a little curved, as if
grasping something too big for its span. And nearly a minute passed. One of those minutes
when the voice is silenced, while the thoughts flutter in the head, like captive birds inside a
cage, in rushes desperate, exhausting and vain.
During that minute of silence Lingard’s anger kept rising, immense and towering, such as
a crested wave running over the troubled shallows of the sands. Its roar filled his cars; a roar
so powerful and distracting that, it seemed to him, his head must burst directly with the
expanding volume of that sound. He looked at that man. That infamous figure upright on its
feet, still, rigid, with stony eyes, as if its rotten soul had departed that moment and the
carcass hadn’t had the time yet to topple over. For the fraction of a second he had the illusion
and the fear of the scoundrel having died there before the enraged glance of his eyes.
Willems’ eyelids fluttered, and the unconscious and passing tremor in that stiffly erect body
exasperated Lingard like a fresh outrage. The fellow dared to stir! Dared to wink, to breathe,to exist; here, right before his eyes! His grip on the revolver relaxed gradually. As the
transport of his rage increased, so also his contempt for the instruments that pierce or stab,
that interpose themselves between the hand and the object of hate. He wanted another kind
of satisfaction. Naked hands, by heaven! No firearms. Hands that could take him by the
throat, beat down his defence, batter his face into shapeless flesh; hands that could feel all
the desperation of his resistance and overpower it in the violent delight of a contact lingering
and furious, intimate and brutal.
He let go the revolver altogether, stood hesitating, then throwing his hands out, strode
forward — and everything passed from his sight. He could not see the man, the woman, the
earth, the sky — saw nothing, as if in that one stride he had left the visible world behind to
step into a black and deserted space. He heard screams round him in that obscurity, screams
like the melancholy and pitiful cries of sea-birds that dwell on the lonely reefs of great oceans.
Then suddenly a face appeared within a few inches of his own. His face. He felt something in
his left hand. His throat... Ah! the thing like a snake’s head that darts up and down... He
squeezed hard. He was back in the world. He could see the quick beating of eyelids over a
pair of eyes that were all whites, the grin of a drawn-up lip, a row of teeth gleaming through
the drooping hair of a moustache... Strong white teeth. Knock them down his lying throat... He
drew back his right hand, the fist up to the shoulder, knuckles out. From under his feet rose
the screams of sea-birds. Thousands of them. Something held his legs... What the devil... He
delivered his blow straight from the shoulder, felt the jar right up his arm, and realized
suddenly that he was striking something passive and unresisting. His heart sank within him
with disappointment, with rage, with mortification. He pushed with his left arm, opening the
hand with haste, as if he had just perceived that he got hold by accident of something
repulsive — and he watched with stupefied eyes Willems tottering backwards in groping
strides, the white sleeve of his jacket across his face. He watched his distance from that man
increase, while he remained motionless, without being able to account to himself for the fact
that so much empty space had come in between them. It should have been the other way.
They ought to have been very close, and... Ah! He wouldn’t fight, he wouldn’t resist, he
wouldn’t defend himself! A cur! Evidently a cur!... He was amazed and aggrieved —
profoundly — bitterly — with the immense and blank desolation of a small child robbed of a
toy. He shouted — unbelieving:
“Will you be a cheat to the end?”
He waited for some answer. He waited anxiously with an impatience that seemed to lift
him off his feet. He waited for some word, some sign; for some threatening stir. Nothing! Only
two unwinking eyes glittered intently at him above the white sleeve. He saw the raised arm
detach itself from the face and sink along the body. A white clad arm, with a big stain on the
white sleeve. A red stain. There was a cut on the cheek. It bled. The nose bled too. The blood
ran down, made one moustache look like a dark rag stuck over the lip, and went on in a wet
streak down the clipped beard on one side of the chin. A drop of blood hung on the end of
some hairs that were glued together; it hung for a while and took a leap down on the ground.
Many more followed, leaping one after another in close file. One alighted on the breast and
glided down instantly with devious vivacity, like a small insect running away; it left a narrow
dark track on the white skin. He looked at it, looked at the tiny and active drops, looked at
what he had done, with obscure satisfaction, with anger, with regret. This wasn’t much like an
act of justice. He had a desire to go up nearer to the man, to hear him speak, to hear him say
something atrocious and wicked that would justify the violence of the blow. He made an
attempt to move, and became aware of a close embrace round both his legs, just above the
ankles. Instinctively, he kicked out with his foot, broke through the close bond and felt at once
the clasp transferred to his other leg; the clasp warm, desperate and soft, of human arms. He
looked down bewildered. He saw the body of the woman stretched at length, flattened on the
ground like a dark blue rag. She trailed face downwards, clinging to his leg with both arms in atenacious hug. He saw the top of her head, the long black hair streaming over his foot, all
over the beaten earth, around his boot. He couldn’t see his foot for it. He heard the short and
repeated moaning of her breath. He imagined the invisible face close to his heel. With one
kick into that face he could free himself. He dared not stir, and shouted down —
“Let go! Let go! Let go!”
The only result of his shouting was a tightening of the pressure of her arms. With a
tremendous effort he tried to bring his right foot up to his left, and succeeded partly. He heard
distinctly the rub of her body on the ground as he jerked her along. He tried to disengage
himself by drawing up his foot. He stamped. He heard a voice saying sharply —
“Steady, Captain Lingard, steady!”
His eyes flew back to Willems at the sound of that voice, and, in the quick awakening of
sleeping memories, Lingard stood suddenly still, appeased by the clear ring of familiar words.
Appeased as in days of old, when they were trading together, when Willems was his trusted
and helpful companion in out-of-the-way and dangerous places; when that fellow, who could
keep his temper so much better than he could himself, had spared him many a difficulty, had
saved him from many an act of hasty violence by the timely and good-humoured warning,
whispered or shouted, “Steady, Captain Lingard, steady.” A smart fellow. He had brought him
up. The smartest fellow in the islands. If he had only stayed with him, then all this... He called
out to Willems —
“Tell her to let me go or...”
He heard Willems shouting something, waited for awhile, then glanced vaguely down and
saw the woman still stretched out perfectly mute and unstirring, with her head at his feet. He
felt a nervous impatience that, somehow, resembled fear.
“Tell her to let go, to go away, Willems, I tell you. I’ve had enough of this,” he cried.
“All right, Captain Lingard,” answered the calm voice of Willems, “she has let go. Take
your foot off her hair; she can’t get up.”
Lingard leaped aside, clean away, and spun round quickly. He saw her sit up and cover
her face with both hands, then he turned slowly on his heel and looked at the man. Willems
held himself very straight, but was unsteady on his feet, and moved about nearly on the same
spot, like a tipsy man attempting to preserve his balance. After gazing at him for a while,
Lingard called, rancorous and irritable —
“What have you got to say for yourself?”
Willems began to walk towards him. He walked slowly, reeling a little before he took each
step, and Lingard saw him put his hand to his face, then look at it holding it up to his eyes, as
if he had there, concealed in the hollow of the palm, some small object which he wanted to
examine secretly. Suddenly he drew it, with a brusque movement, down the front of his jacket
and left a long smudge.
“That’s a fine thing to do,” said Willems.
He stood in front of Lingard, one of his eyes sunk deep in the increasing swelling of his
cheek, still repeating mechanically the movement of feeling his damaged face; and every time
he did this he pressed the palm to some clean spot on his jacket, covering the white cotton
with bloody imprints as of some deformed and monstrous hand. Lingard said nothing, looking
on. At last Willems left off staunching the blood and stood, his arms hanging by his side, with
his face stiff and distorted under the patches of coagulated blood; and he seemed as though
he had been set up there for a warning: an incomprehensible figure marked all over with some
awful and symbolic signs of deadly import. Speaking with difficulty, he repeated in a
reproachful tone —
“That was a fine thing to do.”
“After all,” answered Lingard, bitterly, “I had too good an opinion of you.”
“And I of you. Don’t you see that I could have had that fool over there killed and the
whole thing burnt to the ground, swept off the face of the earth. You wouldn’t have found asmuch as a heap of ashes had I liked. I could have done all that. And I wouldn’t.”
“You — could — not. You dared not. You scoundrel!” cried Lingard.
“What’s the use of calling me names?”
“True,” retorted Lingard — “there’s no name bad enough for you.”
There was a short interval of silence. At the sound of their rapidly exchanged words,
Aissa had got up from the ground where she had been sitting, in a sorrowful and dejected
pose, and approached the two men. She stood on one side and looked on eagerly, in a
desperate effort of her brain, with the quick and distracted eyes of a person trying for her life
to penetrate the meaning of sentences uttered in a foreign tongue: the meaning portentous
and fateful that lurks in the sounds of mysterious words; in the sounds surprising, unknown
and strange.
Willems let the last speech of Lingard pass by; seemed by a slight movement of his hand
to help it on its way to join the other shadows of the past. Then he said —
“You have struck me; you have insulted me...”
“Insulted you!” interrupted Lingard, passionately. “Who — what can insult you... you...”
He choked, advanced a step.
“Steady! steady!” said Willems calmly. “I tell you I sha’n’t fight. Is it clear enough to you
that I sha’n’t? I — shall — not — lift — a — finger.”
As he spoke, slowly punctuating each word with a slight jerk of his head, he stared at
Lingard, his right eye open and big, the left small and nearly closed by the swelling of one half
of his face, that appeared all drawn out on one side like faces seen in a concave glass. And
they stood exactly opposite each other: one tall, slight and disfigured; the other tall, heavy and
Willems went on —
“If I had wanted to hurt you — if I had wanted to destroy you, it was easy. I stood in the
doorway long enough to pull a trigger — and you know I shoot straight.”
“You would have missed,” said Lingard, with assurance. “There is, under heaven, such a
thing as justice.”
The sound of that word on his own lips made him pause, confused, like an unexpected
and unanswerable rebuke. The anger of his outraged pride, the anger of his outraged heart,
had gone out in the blow; and there remained nothing but the sense of some immense infamy
— of something vague, disgusting and terrible, which seemed to surround him on all sides,
hover about him with shadowy and stealthy movements, like a band of assassins in the
darkness of vast and unsafe places. Was there, under heaven, such a thing as justice? He
looked at the man before him with such an intensity of prolonged glance that he seemed to
see right through him, that at last he saw but a floating and unsteady mist in human shape.
Would it blow away before the first breath of the breeze and leave nothing behind?
The sound of Willems’ voice made him start violently. Willems was saying —
“I have always led a virtuous life; you know I have. You always praised me for my
steadiness; you know you have. You know also I never stole — if that’s what you’re thinking
of. I borrowed. You know how much I repaid. It was an error of judgment. But then consider
my position there. I had been a little unlucky in my private affairs, and had debts. Could I let
myself go under before the eyes of all those men who envied me? But that’s all over. It was
an error of judgment. I’ve paid for it. An error of judgment.”
Lingard, astounded into perfect stillness, looked down. He looked down at Willems’ bare
feet. Then, as the other had paused, he repeated in a blank tone —
“An error of judgment...”
“Yes,” drawled out Willems, thoughtfully, and went on with increasing animation: “As I
said, I have always led a virtuous life. More so than Hudig — than you. Yes, than you. I drank
a little, I played cards a little. Who doesn’t? But I had principles from a boy. Yes, principles.
Business is business, and I never was an ass. I never respected fools. They had to suffer fortheir folly when they dealt with me. The evil was in them, not in me. But as to principles, it’s
another matter. I kept clear of women. It’s forbidden — I had no time — and I despised them.
Now I hate them!”
He put his tongue out a little; a tongue whose pink and moist end ran here and there, like
something independently alive, under his swollen and blackened lip; he touched with the tips
of his fingers the cut on his cheek, felt all round it with precaution: and the unharmed side of
his face appeared for a moment to be preoccupied and uneasy about the state of that other
side which was so very sore and stiff.
He recommenced speaking, and his voice vibrated as though with repressed emotion of
some kind.
“You ask my wife, when you see her in Macassar, whether I have no reason to hate her.
She was nobody, and I made her Mrs. Willems. A half-caste girl! You ask her how she
showed her gratitude to me. You ask... Never mind that. Well, you came and dumped me
here like a load of rubbish; dumped me here and left me with nothing to do — nothing good to
remember — and damn little to hope for. You left me here at the mercy of that fool, Almayer,
who suspected me of something. Of what? Devil only knows. But he suspected and hated me
from the first; I suppose because you befriended me. Oh! I could read him like a book. He
isn’t very deep, your Sambir partner, Captain Lingard, but he knows how to be disagreeable.
Months passed. I thought I would die of sheer weariness, of my thoughts, of my regrets And
He made a quick step nearer to Lingard, and as if moved by the same thought, by the
same instinct, by the impulse of his will, Aissa also stepped nearer to them. They stood in a
close group, and the two men could feel the calm air between their faces stirred by the light
breath of the anxious woman who enveloped them both in the uncomprehending, in the
despairing and wondering glances of her wild and mournful eyes.
Chapter 5

Willems turned a little from her and spoke lower.
“Look at that,” he said, with an almost imperceptible movement of his head towards the
woman to whom he was presenting his shoulder. “Look at that! Don’t believe her! What has
she been saying to you? What? I have been asleep. Had to sleep at last. I’ve been waiting for
you three days and nights. I had to sleep some time. Hadn’t I? I told her to remain awake and
watch for you, and call me at once. She did watch. You can’t believe her. You can’t believe
any woman. Who can tell what’s inside their heads? No one. You can know nothing. The only
thing you can know is that it isn’t anything like what comes through their lips. They live by the
side of you. They seem to hate you, or they seem to love you; they caress or torment you;
they throw you over or stick to you closer than your skin for some inscrutable and awful
reason of their own — which you can never know! Look at her — and look at me. At me! —
her infernal work. What has she been saying?”
His voice had sunk to a whisper. Lingard listened with great attention, holding his chin in
his hand, which grasped a great handful of his white beard. His elbow was in the palm of his
other hand, and his eyes were still fixed on the ground. He murmured, without looking up —
“She begged me for your life — if you want to know — as if the thing were worth giving
or taking!”
“And for three days she begged me to take yours,” said Willems quickly. “For three days
she wouldn’t give me any peace. She was never still. She planned ambushes. She has been
looking for places all over here where I could hide and drop you with a safe shot as you
walked up. It’s true. I give you my word.”
“Your word,” muttered Lingard, contemptuously.
Willems took no notice.
“Ah! She is a ferocious creature,” he went on. “You don’t know... I wanted to pass the
time — to do something — to have something to think about — to forget my troubles till you
came back. And... look at her... she took me as if I did not belong to myself. She did. I did not
know there was something in me she could get hold of. She, a savage. I, a civilized European,
and clever! She that knew no more than a wild animal! Well, she found out something in me.
She found it out, and I was lost. I knew it. She tormented me. I was ready to do anything. I
resisted — but I was ready. I knew that too. That frightened me more than anything; more
than my own sufferings; and that was frightful enough, I assure you.”
Lingard listened, fascinated and amazed like a child listening to a fairy tale, and, when
Willems stopped for breath, he shuffled his feet a little.
“What does he say?” cried out Aissa, suddenly.
The two men looked at her quickly, and then looked at one another.
Willems began again, speaking hurriedly —
“I tried to do something. Take her away from those people. I went to Almayer; the
biggest blind fool that you ever... Then Abdulla came — and she went away. She took away
with her something of me which I had to get back. I had to do it. As far as you are concerned,
the change here had to happen sooner or later; you couldn’t be master here for ever. It isn’t
what I have done that torments me. It is the why. It’s the madness that drove me to it. It’s that
thing that came over me. That may come again, some day.”
“It will do no harm to anybody then, I promise you,” said Lingard, significantly.
Willems looked at him for a second with a blank stare, then went on —
“I fought against her. She goaded me to violence and to murder. Nobody knows why.
She pushed me to it persistently, desperately, all the time. Fortunately Abdulla had sense. I
don’t know what I wouldn’t have done. She held me then. Held me like a nightmare that isterrible and sweet. By and by it was another life. I woke up. I found myself beside an animal
as full of harm as a wild cat. You don’t know through what I have passed. Her father tried to
kill me — and she very nearly killed him. I believe she would have stuck at nothing. I don’t
know which was more terrible! She would have stuck at nothing to defend her own. And when
I think that it was me — me — Willems... I hate her. To-morrow she may want my life. How
can I know what’s in her? She may want to kill me next!”
He paused in great trepidation, then added in a scared tone —
“I don’t want to die here.”
“Don’t you?” said Lingard, thoughtfully.
Willems turned towards Aissa and pointed at her with a bony forefinger.
“Look at her! Always there. Always near. Always watching, watching... for something.
Look at her eyes. Ain’t they big? Don’t they stare? You wouldn’t think she can shut them like
human beings do. I don’t believe she ever does. I go to sleep, if I can, under their stare, and
when I wake up I see them fixed on me and moving no more than the eyes of a corpse. While
I am still they are still. By God — she can’t move them till I stir, and then they follow me like a
pair of jailers. They watch me; when I stop they seem to wait patient and glistening till I am off
my guard — for to do something. To do something horrible. Look at them! You can see
nothing in them. They are big, menacing — and empty. The eyes of a savage; of a damned
mongrel, half-Arab, half-Malay. They hurt me! I am white! I swear to you I can’t stand this!
Take me away. I am white! All white!”
He shouted towards the sombre heaven, proclaiming desperately under the frown of
thickening clouds the fact of his pure and superior descent. He shouted, his head thrown up,
his arms swinging about wildly; lean, ragged, disfigured; a tall madman making a great
disturbance about something invisible; a being absurd, repulsive, pathetic, and droll. Lingard,
who was looking down as if absorbed in deep thought, gave him a quick glance from under his
eyebrows: Aissa stood with clasped hands. At the other end of the courtyard the old woman,
like a vague and decrepit apparition, rose noiselessly to look, then sank down again with a
stealthy movement and crouched low over the small glow of the fire. Willems’ voice filled the
enclosure, rising louder with every word, and then, suddenly, at its very loudest, stopped short
— like water stops running from an over-turned vessel. As soon as it had ceased the thunder
seemed to take up the burden in a low growl coming from the inland hills. The noise
approached in confused mutterings which kept on increasing, swelling into a roar that came
nearer, rushed down the river, passed close in a tearing crash — and instantly sounded faint,
dying away in monotonous and dull repetitions amongst the endless sinuosities of the lower
reaches. Over the great forests, over all the innumerable people of unstirring trees — over all
that living people immense, motionless, and mute — the silence, that had rushed in on the
track of the passing tumult, remained suspended as deep and complete as if it had never
been disturbed from the beginning of remote ages. Then, through it, after a time, came to
Lingard’s ears the voice of the running river: a voice low, discreet, and sad, like the persistent
and gentle voices that speak of the past in the silence of dreams.
He felt a great emptiness in his heart. It seemed to him that there was within his breast a
great space without any light, where his thoughts wandered forlornly, unable to escape,
unable to rest, unable to die, to vanish — and to relieve him from the fearful oppression of
their existence. Speech, action, anger, forgiveness, all appeared to him alike useless and
vain, appeared to him unsatisfactory, not worth the effort of hand or brain that was needed to
give them effect. He could not see why he should not remain standing there, without ever
doing anything, to the end of time. He felt something, something like a heavy chain, that held
him there. This wouldn’t do. He backed away a little from Willems and Aissa, leaving them
close together, then stopped and looked at both. The man and the woman appeared to him
much further than they really were. He had made only about three steps backward, but he
believed for a moment that another step would take him out of earshot for ever. Theyappeared to him slightly under life size, and with a great cleanness of outlines, like figures
carved with great precision of detail and highly finished by a skilful hand. He pulled himself
together. The strong consciousness of his own personality came back to him. He had a notion
of surveying them from a great and inaccessible height.
He said slowly: “You have been possessed of a devil.”
“Yes,” answered Willems gloomily, and looking at Aissa. “Isn’t it pretty?”
“I’ve heard this kind of talk before,” said Lingard, in a scornful tone; then paused, and
went on steadily after a while: “I regret nothing. I picked you up by the waterside, like a
starving cat — by God. I regret nothing; nothing that I have done. Abdulla — twenty others —
no doubt Hudig himself, were after me. That’s business — for them. But that you should...
Money belongs to him who picks it up and is strong enough to keep it — but this thing was
different. It was part of my life... I am an old fool.”
He was. The breath of his words, of the very words he spoke, fanned the spark of divine
folly in his breast, the spark that made him — the hard-headed, heavy-handed adventurer —
stand out from the crowd, from the sordid, from the joyous, unscrupulous, and noisy crowd of
men that were so much like himself.
Willems said hurriedly: “It wasn’t me. The evil was not in me, Captain Lingard.”
“And where else confound you! Where else?” interrupted Lingard, raising his voice. “Did
you ever see me cheat and lie and steal? Tell me that. Did you? Hey? I wonder where in
perdition you came from when I found you under my feet... No matter. You will do no more
Willems moved nearer, gazing upon him anxiously. Lingard went on with distinct
deliberation —
“What did you expect when you asked me to see you? What? You know me. I am
Lingard. You lived with me. You’ve heard men speak. You knew what you had done. Well!
What did you expect?”
“How can I know?” groaned Willems, wringing his hands; “I was alone in that infernal
savage crowd. I was delivered into their hands. After the thing was done, I felt so lost and
weak that I would have called the devil himself to my aid if it had been any good — if he hadn’t
put in all his work already. In the whole world there was only one man that had ever cared for
me. Only one white man. You! Hate is better than being alone! Death is better! I expected...
anything. Something to expect. Something to take me out of this. Out of her sight!”
He laughed. His laugh seemed to be torn out from him against his will, seemed to be
brought violently on the surface from under his bitterness, his self-contempt, from under his
despairing wonder at his own nature.
“When I think that when I first knew her it seemed to me that my whole life wouldn’t be
enough to... And now when I look at her! She did it all. I must have been mad. I was mad.
Every time I look at her I remember my madness. It frightens me... And when I think that of
all my life, of all my past, of all my future, of my intelligence, of my work, there is nothing left
but she, the cause of my ruin, and you whom I have mortally offended...”
He hid his face for a moment in his hands, and when he took them away he had lost the
appearance of comparative calm and gave way to a wild distress.
“Captain Lingard... anything... a deserted island... anywhere... I promise...”
“Shut up!” shouted Lingard, roughly.
He became dumb, suddenly, completely.
The wan light of the clouded morning retired slowly from the courtyard, from the
clearings, from the river, as if it had gone unwillingly to hide in the enigmatical solitudes of the
gloomy and silent forests. The clouds over their heads thickened into a low vault of uniform
blackness. The air was still and inexpressibly oppressive. Lingard unbuttoned his jacket, flung
it wide open and, inclining his body sideways a little, wiped his forehead with his hand, which
he jerked sharply afterwards. Then he looked at Willems and said —“No promise of yours is any good to me. I am going to take your conduct into my own
hands. Pay attention to what I am going to say. You are my prisoner.”
Willems’ head moved imperceptibly; then he became rigid and still. He seemed not to
“You shall stay here,” continued Lingard, with sombre deliberation. “You are not fit to go
amongst people. Who could suspect, who could guess, who could imagine what’s in you? I
couldn’t! You are my mistake. I shall hide you here. If I let you out you would go amongst
unsuspecting men, and lie, and steal, and cheat for a little money or for some woman. I don’t
care about shooting you. It would be the safest way though. But I won’t. Do not expect me to
forgive you. To forgive one must have been angry and become contemptuous, and there is
nothing in me now — no anger, no contempt, no disappointment. To me you are not Willems,
the man I befriended and helped through thick and thin, and thought much of... You are not a
human being that may be destroyed or forgiven. You are a bitter thought, a something without
a body and that must be hidden... You are my shame.”
He ceased and looked slowly round. How dark it was! It seemed to him that the light was
dying prematurely out of the world and that the air was already dead.
“Of course,” he went on, “I shall see to it that you don’t starve.”
“You don’t mean to say that I must live here, Captain Lingard?” said Willems, in a kind of
mechanical voice without any inflections.
“Did you ever hear me say something I did not mean?” asked Lingard. “You said you
didn’t want to die here — well, you must live... Unless you change your mind,” he added, as if
in involuntary afterthought.
He looked at Willems narrowly, then shook his head.
“You are alone,” he went on. “Nothing can help you. Nobody will. You are neither white
nor brown. You have no colour as you have no heart. Your accomplices have abandoned you
to me because I am still somebody to be reckoned with. You are alone but for that woman
there. You say you did this for her. Well, you have her.”
Willems mumbled something, and then suddenly caught his hair with both his hands and
remained standing so. Aissa, who had been looking at him, turned to Lingard.
“What did you say, Rajah Laut?” she cried.
There was a slight stir amongst the filmy threads of her disordered hair, the bushes by
the river sides trembled, the big tree nodded precipitately over them with an abrupt rustle, as
if waking with a start from a troubled sleep — and the breath of hot breeze passed, light,
rapid, and scorching, under the clouds that whirled round, unbroken but undulating, like a
restless phantom of a sombre sea.
Lingard looked at her pityingly before he said —
“I have told him that he must live here all his life... and with you.”
The sun seemed to have gone out at last like a flickering light away up beyond the
clouds, and in the stifling gloom of the courtyard the three figures stood colourless and
shadowy, as if surrounded by a black and superheated mist. Aissa looked at Willems, who
remained still, as though he had been changed into stone in the very act of tearing his hair.
Then she turned her head towards Lingard and shouted —
“You lie! You lie!... White man. Like you all do. You... whom Abdulla made small. You lie!”
Her words rang out shrill and venomous with her secret scorn, with her overpowering
desire to wound regardless of consequences; in her woman’s reckless desire to cause
suffering at any cost, to cause it by the sound of her own voice — by her own voice, that
would carry the poison of her thought into the hated heart.
Willems let his hands fall, and began to mumble again. Lingard turned his ear towards
him instinctively, caught something that sounded like “Very well” — then some more mumbling
— then a sigh.
“As far as the rest of the world is concerned,” said Lingard, after waiting for awhile in anattentive attitude, “your life is finished. Nobody will be able to throw any of your villainies in my
teeth; nobody will be able to point at you and say, ‘Here goes a scoundrel of Lingard’s
upbringing.’ You are buried here.”
“And you think that I will stay... that I will submit?” exclaimed Willems, as if he had
suddenly recovered the power of speech.
“You needn’t stay here — on this spot,” said Lingard, drily. “There are the forests — and
here is the river. You may swim. Fifteen miles up, or forty down. At one end you will meet
Almayer, at the other the sea. Take your choice.”
He burst into a short, joyless laugh, then added with severe gravity —
“There is also another way.”
“If you want to drive my soul into damnation by trying to drive me to suicide you will not
succeed,” said Willems in wild excitement. “I will live. I shall repent. I may escape... Take that
woman away — she is sin.”
A hooked dart of fire tore in two the darkness of the distant horizon and lit up the gloom
of the earth with a dazzling and ghastly flame. Then the thunder was heard far away, like an
incredibly enormous voice muttering menaces.
Lingard said —
“I don’t care what happens, but I may tell you that without that woman your life is not
worth much — not twopence. There is a fellow here who... and Abdulla himself wouldn’t stand
on any ceremony. Think of that! And then she won’t go.”
He began, even while he spoke, to walk slowly down towards the little gate. He didn’t
look, but he felt as sure that Willems was following him as if he had been leading him by a
string. Directly he had passed through the wicket-gate into the big courtyard he heard a voice,
behind his back, saying —
“I think she was right. I ought to have shot you. I couldn’t have been worse off.”
“Time yet,” answered Lingard, without stopping or looking back. “But, you see, you can’t.
There is not even that in you.”
“Don’t provoke me, Captain Lingard,” cried Willems.
Lingard turned round sharply. Willems and Aissa stopped. Another forked flash of
lightning split up the clouds overhead, and threw upon their faces a sudden burst of light — a
blaze violent, sinister and fleeting; and in the same instant they were deafened by a near,
single crash of thunder, which was followed by a rushing noise, like a frightened sigh of the
startled earth.
“Provoke you!” said the old adventurer, as soon as he could make himself heard.
“Provoke you! Hey! What’s there in you to provoke? What do I care?”
“It is easy to speak like that when you know that in the whole world — in the whole world
— I have no friend,” said Willems.
“Whose fault?” said Lingard, sharply.
Their voices, after the deep and tremendous noise, sounded to them very unsatisfactory
— thin and frail, like the voices of pigmies — and they became suddenly silent, as if on that
account. From up the courtyard Lingard’s boatmen came down and passed them, keeping
step in a single file, their paddles on shoulder, and holding their heads straight with their eyes
fixed on the river. Ali, who was walking last, stopped before Lingard, very stiff and upright. He
said —
“That one-eyed Babalatchi is gone, with all his women. He took everything. All the pots
and boxes. Big. Heavy. Three boxes.”
He grinned as if the thing had been amusing, then added with an appearance of anxious
concern, “Rain coming.”
“We return,” said Lingard. “Make ready.”
“Aye, aye, sir!” ejaculated Ali with precision, and moved on. He had been quartermaster
with Lingard before making up his mind to stay in Sambir as Almayer’s head man. He struttedtowards the landing-place thinking proudly that he was not like those other ignorant boatmen,
and knew how to answer properly the very greatest of white captains.
“You have misunderstood me from the first, Captain Lingard,” said Willems.
“Have I? It’s all right, as long as there is no mistake about my meaning,” answered
Lingard, strolling slowly to the landing-place. Willems followed him, and Aissa followed
Two hands were extended to help Lingard in embarking. He stepped cautiously and
heavily into the long and narrow canoe, and sat in the canvas folding-chair that had been
placed in the middle. He leaned back and turned his head to the two figures that stood on the
bank a little above him. Aissa’s eyes were fastened on his face in a visible impatience to see
him gone. Willems’ look went straight above the canoe, straight at the forest on the other side
of the river.
“All right, Ali,” said Lingard, in a low voice.
A slight stir animated the faces, and a faint murmur ran along the line of paddlers. The
foremost man pushed with the point of his paddle, canted the fore end out of the dead water
into the current; and the canoe fell rapidly off before the rush of brown water, the stern
rubbing gently against the low bank.
“We shall meet again, Captain Lingard!” cried Willems, in an unsteady voice.
“Never!” said Lingard, turning half round in his chair to look at Willems. His fierce red
eyes glittered remorselessly over the high back of his seat.
“Must cross the river. Water less quick over there,” said Ali.
He pushed in his turn now with all his strength, throwing his body recklessly right out over
the stern. Then he recovered himself just in time into the squatting attitude of a monkey
perched on a high shelf, and shouted: “Dayong!”
The paddles struck the water together. The canoe darted forward and went on steadily
crossing the river with a sideways motion made up of its own speed and the downward drift of
the current.
Lingard watched the shore astern. The woman shook her hand at him, and then squatted
at the feet of the man who stood motionless. After a while she got up and stood beside him,
reaching up to his head — and Lingard saw then that she had wetted some part of her
covering and was trying to wash the dried blood off the man’s immovable face, which did not
seem to know anything about it. Lingard turned away and threw himself back in his chair,
stretching his legs out with a sigh of fatigue. His head fell forward; and under his red face the
white beard lay fan-like on his breast, the ends of fine long hairs all astir in the faint draught
made by the rapid motion of the craft that carried him away from his prisoner — from the only
thing in his life he wished to hide.
In its course across the river the canoe came into the line of Willems’ sight and his eyes
caught the image, followed it eagerly as it glided, small but distinct, on the dark background of
the forest. He could see plainly the figure of the man sitting in the middle. All his life he had
felt that man behind his back, a reassuring presence ready with help, with commendation, with
advice; friendly in reproof, enthusiastic in approbation; a man inspiring confidence by his
strength, by his fearlessness, by the very weakness of his simple heart. And now that man
was going away. He must call him back.
He shouted, and his words, which he wanted to throw across the river, seemed to fall
helplessly at his feet. Aissa put her hand on his arm in a restraining attempt, but he shook it
off. He wanted to call back his very life that was going away from him. He shouted again —
and this time he did not even hear himself. No use. He would never return. And he stood in
sullen silence looking at the white figure over there, lying back in the chair in the middle of the
boat; a figure that struck him suddenly as very terrible, heartless and astonishing, with its
unnatural appearance of running over the water in an attitude of languid repose.
For a time nothing on earth stirred, seemingly, but the canoe, which glided up-streamwith a motion so even and smooth that it did not convey any sense of movement. Overhead,
the massed clouds appeared solid and steady as if held there in a powerful grip, but on their
uneven surface there was a continuous and trembling glimmer, a faint reflection of the distant
lightning from the thunderstorm that had broken already on the coast and was working its way
up the river with low and angry growls. Willems looked on, as motionless as everything round
him and above him. Only his eyes seemed to live, as they followed the canoe on its course
that carried it away from him, steadily, unhesitatingly, finally, as if it were going, not up the
great river into the momentous excitement of Sambir, but straight into the past, into the past
crowded yet empty, like an old cemetery full of neglected graves, where lie dead hopes that
never return.
From time to time he felt on his face the passing, warm touch of an immense breath
coming from beyond the forest, like the short panting of an oppressed world. Then the heavy
air round him was pierced by a sharp gust of wind, bringing with it the fresh, damp feel of the
falling rain; and all the innumerable tree-tops of the forests swayed to the left and sprang back
again in a tumultuous balancing of nodding branches and shuddering leaves. A light frown ran
over the river, the clouds stirred slowly, changing their aspect but not their place, as if they
had turned ponderously over; and when the sudden movement had died out in a quickened
tremor of the slenderest twigs, there was a short period of formidable immobility above and
below, during which the voice of the thunder was heard, speaking in a sustained, emphatic
and vibrating roll, with violent louder bursts of crashing sound, like a wrathful and threatening
discourse of an angry god. For a moment it died out, and then another gust of wind passed,
driving before it a white mist which filled the space with a cloud of waterdust that hid suddenly
from Willems the canoe, the forests, the river itself; that woke him up from his numbness in a
forlorn shiver, that made him look round despairingly to see nothing but the whirling drift of
rain spray before the freshening breeze, while through it the heavy big drops fell about him
with sonorous and rapid beats upon the dry earth. He made a few hurried steps up the
courtyard and was arrested by an immense sheet of water that fell all at once on him, fell
sudden and overwhelming from the clouds, cutting his respiration, streaming over his head,
clinging to him, running down his body, off his arms, off his legs. He stood gasping while the
water beat him in a vertical downpour, drove on him slanting in squalls, and he felt the drops
striking him from above, from everywhere; drops thick, pressed and dashing at him as if flung
from all sides by a mob of infuriated hands. From under his feet a great vapour of broken
water floated up, he felt the ground become soft — melt under him — and saw the water
spring out from the dry earth to meet the water that fell from the sombre heaven. An insane
dread took possession of him, the dread of all that water around him, of the water that ran
down the courtyard towards him, of the water that pressed him on every side, of the slanting
water that drove across his face in wavering sheets which gleamed pale red with the flicker of
lightning streaming through them, as if fire and water were falling together, monstrously
mixed, upon the stunned earth.
He wanted to run away, but when he moved it was to slide about painfully and slowly
upon that earth which had become mud so suddenly under his feet. He fought his way up the
courtyard like a man pushing through a crowd, his head down, one shoulder forward, stopping
often, and sometimes carried back a pace or two in the rush of water which his heart was not
stout enough to face. Aissa followed him step by step, stopping when he stopped, recoiling
with him, moving forward with him in his toilsome way up the slippery declivity of the
courtyard, of that courtyard, from which everything seemed to have been swept away by the
first rush of the mighty downpour. They could see nothing. The tree, the bushes, the house,
and the fences — all had disappeared in the thickness of the falling rain. Their hair stuck,
streaming, to their heads; their clothing clung to them, beaten close to their bodies; water ran
off them, off their heads over their shoulders. They moved, patient, upright, slow and dark, in
the gleam clear or fiery of the falling drops, under the roll of unceasing thunder, like twowandering ghosts of the drowned that, condemned to haunt the water for ever, had come up
from the river to look at the world under a deluge.
On the left the tree seemed to step out to meet them, appearing vaguely, high,
motionless and patient; with a rustling plaint of its innumerable leaves through which every
drop of water tore its separate way with cruel haste. And then, to the right, the house surged
up in the mist, very black, and clamorous with the quick patter of rain on its high-pitched roof
above the steady splash of the water running off the eaves. Down the plankway leading to the
door flowed a thin and pellucid stream, and when Willems began his ascent it broke over his
foot as if he were going up a steep ravine in the bed of a rapid and shallow torrent. Behind his
heels two streaming smudges of mud stained for an instant the purity of the rushing water,
and then he splashed his way up with a spurt and stood on the bamboo platform before the
open door under the shelter of the overhanging eaves — under shelter at last!
A low moan ending in a broken and plaintive mutter arrested Willems on the threshold.
He peered round in the half-light under the roof and saw the old woman crouching close to the
wall in a shapeless heap, and while he looked he felt a touch of two arms on his shoulders.
Aissa! He had forgotten her. He turned, and she clasped him round the neck instantly,
pressing close to him as if afraid of violence or escape. He stiffened himself in repulsion, in
horror, in the mysterious revolt of his heart; while she clung to him — clung to him as if he
were a refuge from misery, from storm, from weariness, from fear, from despair; and it was
on the part of that being an embrace terrible, enraged and mournful, in which all her strength
went out to make him captive, to hold him for ever.
He said nothing. He looked into her eyes while he struggled with her fingers about the
nape of his neck, and suddenly he tore her hands apart, holding her arms up in a strong grip
of her wrists, and bending his swollen face close over hers, he said —
“It is all your doing. You...”
She did not understand him — not a word. He spoke in the language of his people — of
his people that know no mercy and no shame. And he was angry. Alas! he was always angry
now, and always speaking words that she could not understand. She stood in silence, looking
at him through her patient eyes, while he shook her arms a little and then flung them down.
“Don’t follow me!” he shouted. “I want to be alone — I mean to be left alone!”
He went in, leaving the door open.
She did not move. What need to understand the words when they are spoken in such a
voice? In that voice which did not seem to be his voice — his voice when he spoke by the
brook, when he was never angry and always smiling! Her eyes were fixed upon the dark
doorway, but her hands strayed mechanically upwards; she took up all her hair, and, inclining
her head slightly over her shoulder, wrung out the long black tresses, twisting them
persistently, while she stood, sad and absorbed, like one listening to an inward voice — the
voice of bitter, of unavailing regret. The thunder had ceased, the wind had died out, and the
rain fell perpendicular and steady through a great pale clearness — the light of remote sun
coming victorious from amongst the dissolving blackness of the clouds. She stood near the
doorway. He was there — alone in the gloom of the dwelling. He was there. He spoke not.
What was in his mind now? What fear? What desire? Not the desire of her as in the days
when he used to smile... How could she know?...
A sigh coming from the bottom of her heart, flew out into the world through her parted
lips. A sigh faint, profound, and broken; a sigh full of pain and fear, like the sigh of those who
are about to face the unknown: to face it in loneliness, in doubt, and without hope. She let go
her hair, that fell scattered over her shoulders like a funeral veil, and she sank down suddenly
by the door. Her hands clasped her ankles; she rested her head on her drawn-up knees, and
remained still, very still, under the streaming mourning of her hair. She was thinking of him; of
the days by the brook; she was thinking of all that had been their love — and she sat in the
abandoned posture of those who sit weeping by the dead, of those who watch and mournover a corpse.
Part 5
Chapter 1

Almayer propped, alone on the verandah of his house, with both his elbows on the table,
and holding his head between his hands, stared before him, away over the stretch of
sprouting young grass in his courtyard, and over the short jetty with its cluster of small
canoes, amongst which his big whale-boat floated high, like a white mother of all that dark and
aquatic brood. He stared on the river, past the schooner anchored in mid-stream, past the
forests of the left bank; he stared through and past the illusion of the material world.
The sun was sinking. Under the sky was stretched a network of white threads, a network
fine and close-meshed, where here and there were caught thicker white vapours of globular
shape; and to the eastward, above the ragged barrier of the forests, surged the summits of a
chain of great clouds, growing bigger slowly, in imperceptible motion, as if careful not to
disturb the glowing stillness of the earth and of the sky. Abreast of the house the river was
empty but for the motionless schooner. Higher up, a solitary log came out from the bend
above and went on drifting slowly down the straight reach: a dead and wandering tree going
out to its grave in the sea, between two ranks of trees motionless and living.
And Almayer sat, his face in his hands, looking on and hating all this: the muddy river;
the faded blue of the sky; the black log passing by on its first and last voyage; the green sea
of leaves — the sea that glowed shimmered, and stirred above the uniform and impenetrable
gloom of the forests — the joyous sea of living green powdered with the brilliant dust of
oblique sunrays.
He hated all this; he begrudged every day — every minute — of his life spent amongst all
these things; he begrudged it bitterly, angrily, with enraged and immense regret, like a miser
compelled to give up some of his treasure to a near relation. And yet all this was very precious
to him. It was the present sign of a splendid future.
He pushed the table away impatiently, got up, made a few steps aimlessly, then stood by
the balustrade and again looked at the river — at that river which would have been the
instrument for the making of his fortune if... if...
“What an abominable brute!” he said.
He was alone, but he spoke aloud, as one is apt to do under the impulse of a strong, of
an overmastering thought.
“What a brute!” he muttered again.
The river was dark now, and the schooner lay on it, a black, a lonely, and a graceful
form, with the slender masts darting upwards from it in two frail and raking lines. The shadows
of the evening crept up the trees, crept up from bough to bough, till at last the long sunbeams
coursing from the western horizon skimmed lightly over the topmost branches, then flew
upwards amongst the piled-up clouds, giving them a sombre and fiery aspect in the last flush
of light. And suddenly the light disappeared as if lost in the immensity of the great, blue, and
empty hollow overhead. The sun had set: and the forests became a straight wall of formless
blackness. Above them, on the edge of lingering clouds, a single star glimmered fitfully,
obscured now and then by the rapid flight of high and invisible vapours.
Almayer fought with the uneasiness within his breast. He heard Ali, who moved behind
him preparing his evening meal, and he listened with strange attention to the sounds the man
made — to the short, dry bang of the plate put upon the table, to the clink of glass and the
metallic rattle of knife and fork. The man went away. Now he was coming back. He would
speak directly; and Almayer, notwithstanding the absorbing gravity of his thoughts, listened for
the sound of expected words. He heard them, spoken in English with painstaking distinctness.
“Ready, sir!”
“All right,” said Almayer, curtly. He did not move. He remained pensive, with his back tothe table upon which stood the lighted lamp brought by Ali. He was thinking: Where was
Lingard now? Halfway down the river probably, in Abdulla’s ship. He would be back in about
three days — perhaps less. And then? Then the schooner would have to be got out of the
river, and when that craft was gone they — he and Lingard — would remain here; alone with
the constant thought of that other man, that other man living near them! What an
extraordinary idea to keep him there for ever. For ever! What did that mean — for ever?
Perhaps a year, perhaps ten years. Preposterous! Keep him there ten years — or may be
twenty! The fellow was capable of living more than twenty years. And for all that time he would
have to be watched, fed, looked after. There was nobody but Lingard to have such notions.
Twenty years! Why, no! In less than ten years their fortune would be made and they would
leave this place, first for Batavia — yes, Batavia — and then for Europe. England, no doubt.
Lingard would want to go to England. And would they leave that man here? How would that
fellow look in ten years? Very old probably. Well, devil take him. Nina would be fifteen. She
would be rich and very pretty and he himself would not be so old then...”
Almayer smiled into the night.
... Yes, rich! Why! Of course! Captain Lingard was a resourceful man, and he had plenty
of money even now. They were rich already; but not enough. Decidedly not enough. Money
brings money. That gold business was good. Famous! Captain Lingard was a remarkable
man. He said the gold was there — and it was there. Lingard knew what he was talking about.
But he had queer ideas. For instance, about Willems. Now what did he want to keep him alive
for? Why?
“That scoundrel,” muttered Almayer again.
“Makan Tuan!” ejaculated Ali suddenly, very loud in a pressing tone.
Almayer walked to the table, sat down, and his anxious visage dropped from above into
the light thrown down by the lamp-shade. He helped himself absently, and began to eat in
great mouthfuls.
... Undoubtedly, Lingard was the man to stick to! The man undismayed, masterful and
ready. How quickly he had planned a new future when Willems’ treachery destroyed their
established position in Sambir! And the position even now was not so bad. What an immense
prestige that Lingard had with all those people — Arabs, Malays and all. Ah, it was good to be
able to call a man like that father. Fine! Wonder how much money really the old fellow had.
People talked — they exaggerated surely, but if he had only half of what they said...
He drank, throwing his head up, and fell to again.
... Now, if that Willems had known how to play his cards well, had he stuck to the old
fellow he would have been in his position, he would be now married to Lingard’s adopted
daughter with his future assured — splendid...
“The beast!” growled Almayer, between two mouthfuls.
Ali stood rigidly straight with an uninterested face, his gaze lost in the night which
pressed round the small circle of light that shone on the table, on the glass, on the bottle, and
on Almayer’s head as he leaned over his plate moving his jaws.
... A famous man Lingard — yet you never knew what he would do next. It was notorious
that he had shot a white man once for less than Willems had done. For less?... Why, for
nothing, so to speak! It was not even his own quarrel. It was about some Malay returning from
pilgrimage with wife and children. Kidnapped, or robbed, or something. A stupid story — an
old story. And now he goes to see that Willems and — nothing. Comes back talking big about
his prisoner; but after all he said very little. What did that Willems tell him? What passed
between them? The old fellow must have had something in his mind when he let that
scoundrel off. And Joanna! She would get round the old fellow. Sure. Then he would forgive
perhaps. Impossible. But at any rate he would waste a lot of money on them. The old man
was tenacious in his hates, but also in his affections. He had known that beast Willems from a
boy. They would make it up in a year or so. Everything is possible: why did he not rush off atfirst and kill the brute? That would have been more like Lingard...
Almayer laid down his spoon suddenly, and pushing his plate away, threw himself back in
the chair.
... Unsafe. Decidedly unsafe. He had no mind to share Lingard’s money with anybody.
Lingard’s money was Nina’s money in a sense. And if Willems managed to become friendly
with the old man it would be dangerous for him — Almayer. Such an unscrupulous scoundrel!
He would oust him from his position. He would lie and slander. Everything would be lost. Lost.
Poor Nina. What would become of her? Poor child. For her sake he must remove that
Willems. Must. But how? Lingard wanted to be obeyed. Impossible to kill Willems. Lingard
might be angry. Incredible, but so it was. He might...
A wave of heat passed through Almayer’s body, flushed his face, and broke out of him in
copious perspiration. He wriggled in his chair, and pressed his hands together under the table.
What an awful prospect! He fancied he could see Lingard and Willems reconciled and going
away arm-in-arm, leaving him alone in this God-forsaken hole — in Sambir — in this deadly
swamp! And all his sacrifices, the sacrifice of his independence, of his best years, his
surrender to Lingard’s fancies and caprices, would go for nothing! Horrible! Then he thought of
his little daughter — his daughter! — and the ghastliness of his supposition overpowered him.
He had a deep emotion, a sudden emotion that made him feel quite faint at the idea of that
young life spoiled before it had fairly begun. His dear child’s life! Lying back in his chair he
covered his face with both his hands.
Ali glanced down at him and said, unconcernedly — “Master finish?”
Almayer was lost in the immensity of his commiseration for himself, for his daughter, who
was — perhaps — not going to be the richest woman in the world — notwithstanding Lingard’s
promises. He did not understand the other’s question, and muttered through his fingers in a
doleful tone —
“What did you say? What? Finish what?”
“Clear up meza,” explained Ali.
“Clear up!” burst out Almayer, with incomprehensible exasperation. “Devil take you and
the table. Stupid! Chatterer! Chelakka! Get out!”
He leaned forward, glaring at his head man, then sank back in his seat with his arms
hanging straight down on each side of the chair. And he sat motionless in a meditation so
concentrated and so absorbing, with all his power of thought so deep within himself, that all
expression disappeared from his face in an aspect of staring vacancy.
Ali was clearing the table. He dropped negligently the tumbler into the greasy dish, flung
there the spoon and fork, then slipped in the plate with a push amongst the remnants of food.
He took up the dish, tucked up the bottle under his armpit, and went off.
“My hammock!” shouted Almayer after him.
“Ada! I come soon,” answered Ali from the doorway in an offended tone, looking back
over his shoulder... How could he clear the table and hang the hammock at the same time.
Ya-wa! Those white men were all alike. Wanted everything done at once. Like children...
The indistinct murmur of his criticism went away, faded and died out together with the
soft footfall of his bare feet in the dark passage.
For some time Almayer did not move. His thoughts were busy at work shaping a
momentous resolution, and in the perfect silence of the house he believed that he could hear
the noise of the operation as if the work had been done with a hammer. He certainly felt a
thumping of strokes, faint, profound, and startling, somewhere low down in his breast; and he
was aware of a sound of dull knocking, abrupt and rapid, in his ears. Now and then he held his
breath, unconsciously, too long, and had to relieve himself by a deep expiration that whistled
dully through his pursed lips. The lamp standing on the far side of the table threw a section of
a lighted circle on the floor, where his out-stretched legs stuck out from under the table with
feet rigid and turned up like the feet of a corpse; and his set face with fixed eyes would havebeen also like the face of the dead, but for its vacant yet conscious aspect; the hard, the
stupid, the stony aspect of one not dead, but only buried under the dust, ashes, and
corruption of personal thoughts, of base fears, of selfish desires.
“I will do it!”
Not till he heard his own voice did he know that he had spoken. It startled him. He stood
up. The knuckles of his hand, somewhat behind him, were resting on the edge of the table as
he remained still with one foot advanced, his lips a little open, and thought: It would not do to
fool about with Lingard. But I must risk it. It’s the only way I can see. I must tell her. She has
some little sense. I wish they were a thousand miles off already. A hundred thousand miles. I
do. And if it fails. And she blabs out then to Lingard? She seemed a fool. No; probably they
will get away. And if they did, would Lingard believe me? Yes. I never lied to him. He would
believe. I don’t know... Perhaps he won’t... “I must do it. Must!” he argued aloud to himself.
For a long time he stood still, looking before him with an intense gaze, a gaze rapt and
immobile, that seemed to watch the minute quivering of a delicate balance, coming to a rest.
To the left of him, in the whitewashed wall of the house that formed the back of the
verandah, there was a closed door. Black letters were painted on it proclaiming the fact that
behind that door there was the office of Lingard & Co. The interior had been furnished by
Lingard when he had built the house for his adopted daughter and her husband, and it had
been furnished with reckless prodigality. There was an office desk, a revolving chair,
bookshelves, a safe: all to humour the weakness of Almayer, who thought all those
paraphernalia necessary to successful trading. Lingard had laughed, but had taken immense
trouble to get the things. It pleased him to make his protege, his adopted son-in-law, happy. It
had been the sensation of Sambir some five years ago. While the things were being landed,
the whole settlement literally lived on the river bank in front of the Rajah Laut’s house, to look,
to wonder, to admire... What a big meza, with many boxes fitted all over it and under it! What
did the white man do with such a table? And look, look, O Brothers! There is a green square
box, with a gold plate on it, a box so heavy that those twenty men cannot drag it up the bank.
Let us go, brothers, and help pull at the ropes, and perchance we may see what’s inside.
Treasure, no doubt. Gold is heavy and hard to hold, O Brothers! Let us go and earn a
recompense from the fierce Rajah of the Sea who shouts over there, with a red face. See!
There is a man carrying a pile of books from the boat! What a number of books. What were
they for?... And an old invalided jurumudi, who had travelled over many seas and had heard
holy men speak in far-off countries, explained to a small knot of unsophisticated citizens of
Sambir that those books were books of magic — of magic that guides the white men’s ships
over the seas, that gives them their wicked wisdom and their strength; of magic that makes
them great, powerful, and irresistible while they live, and — praise be to Allah! — the victims
of Satan, the slaves of Jehannum when they die.
And when he saw the room furnished, Almayer had felt proud. In his exultation of an
empty-headed quill-driver, he thought himself, by the virtue of that furniture, at the head of a
serious business. He had sold himself to Lingard for these things — married the Malay girl of
his adoption for the reward of these things and of the great wealth that must necessarily follow
upon conscientious book-keeping. He found out very soon that trade in Sambir meant
something entirely different. He could not guide Patalolo, control the irrepressible old
Sahamin, or restrain the youthful vagaries of the fierce Bahassoen with pen, ink, and paper.
He found no successful magic in the blank pages of his ledgers; and gradually he lost his old
point of view in the saner appreciation of his situation. The room known as the office became
neglected then like a temple of an exploded superstition. At first, when his wife reverted to her
original savagery, Almayer, now and again, had sought refuge from her there; but after their
child began to speak, to know him, he became braver, for he found courage and consolation
in his unreasoning and fierce affection for his daughter — in the impenetrable mantle of
selfishness he wrapped round both their lives: round himself, and that young life that was alsohis.
When Lingard ordered him to receive Joanna into his house, he had a truckle bed put
into the office — the only room he could spare. The big office desk was pushed on one side,
and Joanna came with her little shabby trunk and with her child and took possession in her
dreamy, slack, half-asleep way; took possession of the dust, dirt, and squalor, where she
appeared naturally at home, where she dragged a melancholy and dull existence; an
existence made up of sad remorse and frightened hope, amongst the hopeless disorder —
the senseless and vain decay of all these emblems of civilized commerce. Bits of white stuff;
rags yellow, pink, blue: rags limp, brilliant and soiled, trailed on the floor, lay on the desk
amongst the sombre covers of books soiled, grimy, but stiff-backed, in virtue, perhaps, of
their European origin. The biggest set of bookshelves was partly hidden by a petticoat, the
waistband of which was caught upon the back of a slender book pulled a little out of the row
so as to make an improvised clothespeg. The folding canvas bedstead stood nearly in the
middle of the room, stood anyhow, parallel to no wall, as if it had been, in the process of
transportation to some remote place, dropped casually there by tired bearers. And on the
tumbled blankets that lay in a disordered heap on its edge, Joanna sat almost all day with her
stockingless feet upon one of the bed pillows that were somehow always kicking about the
floor. She sat there, vaguely tormented at times by the thought of her absent husband, but
most of the time thinking tearfully of nothing at all, looking with swimming eyes at her little son
— at the big-headed, pasty-faced, and sickly Louis Willems — who rolled a glass inkstand,
solid with dried ink, about the floor, and tottered after it with the portentous gravity of
demeanour and absolute absorption by the business in hand that characterize the pursuits of
early childhood. Through the half-open shutter a ray of sunlight, a ray merciless and crude,
came into the room, beat in the early morning upon the safe in the far-off corner, then,
travelling against the sun, cut at midday the big desk in two with its solid and clean-edged
brilliance; with its hot brilliance in which a swarm of flies hovered in dancing flight over some
dirty plate forgotten there amongst yellow papers for many a day. And towards the evening
the cynical ray seemed to cling to the ragged petticoat, lingered on it with wicked enjoyment of
that misery it had exposed all day; lingered on the corner of the dusty bookshelf, in a red glow
intense and mocking, till it was suddenly snatched by the setting sun out of the way of the
coming night. And the night entered the room. The night abrupt, impenetrable and all-filling
with its flood of darkness; the night cool and merciful; the blind night that saw nothing, but
could hear the fretful whimpering of the child, the creak of the bedstead, Joanna’s deep sighs
as she turned over, sleepless, in the confused conviction of her wickedness, thinking of that
man masterful, fair-headed, and strong — a man hard perhaps, but her husband; her clever
and handsome husband to whom she had acted so cruelly on the advice of bad people, if her
own people; and of her poor, dear, deceived mother.
To Almayer, Joanna’s presence was a constant worry, a worry unobtrusive yet
intolerable; a constant, but mostly mute, warning of possible danger. In view of the absurd
softness of Lingard’s heart, every one in whom Lingard manifested the slightest interest was
to Almayer a natural enemy. He was quite alive to that feeling, and in the intimacy of the
secret intercourse with his inner self had often congratulated himself upon his own
wideawake comprehension of his position. In that way, and impelled by that motive, Almayer had
hated many and various persons at various times. But he never had hated and feared
anybody so much as he did hate and fear Willems. Even after Willems’ treachery, which
seemed to remove him beyond the pale of all human sympathy, Almayer mistrusted the
situation and groaned in spirit every time he caught sight of Joanna.
He saw her very seldom in the daytime. But in the short and opal-tinted twilights, or in
the azure dusk of starry evenings, he often saw, before he slept, the slender and tall figure
trailing to and fro the ragged tail of its white gown over the dried mud of the riverside in front
of the house. Once or twice when he sat late on the verandah, with his feet upon the dealtable on a level with the lamp, reading the seven months’ old copy of the North China Herald,
brought by Lingard, he heard the stairs creak, and, looking round the paper, he saw her frail
and meagre form rise step by step and toil across the verandah, carrying with difficulty the
big, fat child, whose head, lying on the mother’s bony shoulder, seemed of the same size as
Joanna’s own. Several times she had assailed him with tearful clamour or mad entreaties:
asking about her husband, wanting to know where he was, when he would be back; and
ending every such outburst with despairing and incoherent self-reproaches that were
absolutely incomprehensible to Almayer. On one or two occasions she had overwhelmed her
host with vituperative abuse, making him responsible for her husband’s absence. Those
scenes, begun without any warning, ended abruptly in a sobbing flight and a bang of the door;
stirred the house with a sudden, a fierce, and an evanescent disturbance; like those
inexplicable whirlwinds that rise, run, and vanish without apparent cause upon the
sunscorched dead level of arid and lamentable plains.
But to-night the house was quiet, deadly quiet, while Almayer stood still, watching that
delicate balance where he was weighing all his chances: Joanna’s intelligence, Lingard’s
credulity, Willems’ reckless audacity, desire to escape, readiness to seize an unexpected
opportunity. He weighed, anxious and attentive, his fears and his desires against the
tremendous risk of a quarrel with Lingard... Yes. Lingard would be angry. Lingard might
suspect him of some connivance in his prisoner’s escape — but surely he would not quarrel
with him — Almayer — about those people once they were gone — gone to the devil in their
own way. And then he had hold of Lingard through the little girl. Good. What an annoyance! A
prisoner! As if one could keep him in there. He was bound to get away some time or other. Of
course. A situation like that can’t last. vAnybody could see that. Lingard’s eccentricity passed
all bounds. You may kill a man, but you mustn’t torture him. It was almost criminal. It caused
worry, trouble, and unpleasantness... Almayer for a moment felt very angry with Lingard. He
made him responsible for the anguish he suffered from, for the anguish of doubt and fear; for
compelling him — the practical and innocent Almayer — to such painful efforts of mind in
order to find out some issue for absurd situations created by the unreasonable sentimentality
of Lingard’s unpractical impulses.
“Now if the fellow were dead it would be all right,” said Almayer to the verandah.
He stirred a little, and scratching his nose thoughtfully, revelled in a short flight of fancy,
showing him his own image crouching in a big boat, that floated arrested — say fifty yards off
— abreast of Willems’ landing-place. In the bottom of the boat there was a gun. A loaded gun.
One of the boatmen would shout, and Willems would answer — from the bushes.c The rascal
would be suspicious. Of course. Then the man would wave a piece of paper urging Willems to
come to the landing-place and receive an important message. “From the Rajah Laut” the man
would yell as the boat edged in-shore, and that would fetch Willems out. Wouldn’t it? Rather!
And Almayer saw himself jumping up at the right moment, taking aim, pulling the trigger —
and Willems tumbling over, his head in the water — the swine!
He seemed to hear the report of the shot. It made him thrill from head to foot where he
stood... How simple!... Unfortunate... Lingard... He sighed, shook his head. Pity. Couldn’t be
done. And couldn’t leave him there either! Suppose the Arabs were to get hold of him again —
for instance to lead an expedition up the river! Goodness only knows what harm would come
of it...
The balance was at rest now and inclining to the side of immediate action. Almayer
walked to the door, walked up very close to it, knocked loudly, and turned his head away,
looking frightened for a moment at what he had done. After waiting for a while he put his ear
against the panel and listened. Nothing. He composed his features into an agreeable
expression while he stood listening and thinking to himself: I hear her. Crying. Eh? I believe
she has lost the little wits she had and is crying night and day since I began to prepare her for
the news of her husband’s death — as Lingard told me. I wonder what she thinks. It’s just likefather to make me invent all these stories for nothing at all. Out of kindness. Kindness!
Damn!... She isn’t deaf, surely.
He knocked again, then said in a friendly tone, grinning benevolently at the closed door

“It’s me, Mrs. Willems. I want to speak to you. I have... have... important news...”
“What is it?”
“News,” repeated Almayer, distinctly. “News about your husband. Your husband!... Damn
him!” he added, under his breath.
He heard a stumbling rush inside. Things were overturned. Joanna’s agitated voice cried

“News! What? What? I am coming out.”
“No,” shouted Almayer. “Put on some clothes, Mrs. Willems, and let me in. It’s... very
confidential. You have a candle, haven’t you?”
She was knocking herself about blindly amongst the furniture in that room. The
candlestick was upset. Matches were struck ineffectually. The matchbox fell. He heard her
drop on her knees and grope over the floor while she kept on moaning in maddened
“Oh, my God! News! Yes... yes... Ah! where... where... candle. Oh, my God!... I can’t
find... Don’t go away, for the love of Heaven...”
“I don’t want to go away,” said Almayer, impatiently, through the keyhole; “but look
sharp. It’s coni... it’s pressing.”
He stamped his foot lightly, waiting with his hand on the door-handle. He thought
anxiously: The woman’s a perfect idiot. Why should I go away? She will be off her head. She
will never catch my meaning. She’s too stupid.
She was moving now inside the room hurriedly and in silence. He waited. There was a
moment of perfect stillness in there, and then she spoke in an exhausted voice, in words that
were shaped out of an expiring sigh — out of a sigh light and profound, like words breathed
out by a woman before going off into a dead faint —
“Come in.”
He pushed the door. Ali, coming through the passage with an armful of pillows and
blankets pressed to his breast high up under his chin, caught sight of his master before the
door closed behind him. He was so astonished that he dropped his bundle and stood staring
at the door for a long time. He heard the voice of his master talking. Talking to that Sirani
woman! Who was she? He had never thought about that really. He speculated for a while
hazily upon things in general. She was a Sirani woman — and ugly. He made a disdainful
grimace, picked up the bedding, and went about his work, slinging the hammock between two
uprights of the verandah... Those things did not concern him. She was ugly, and brought here
by the Rajah Laut, and his master spoke to her in the night. Very well. He, Ali, had his work to
do. Sling the hammock — go round and see that the watchmen were awake — take a look at
the moorings of the boats, at the padlock of the big storehouse — then go to sleep. To sleep!
He shivered pleasantly. He leaned with both arms over his master’s hammock and fell into a
light doze.
A scream, unexpected, piercing — a scream beginning at once in the highest pitch of a
woman’s voice and then cut short, so short that it suggested the swift work of death —
caused Ali to jump on one side away from the hammock, and the silence that succeeded
seemed to him as startling as the awful shriek. He was thunderstruck with surprise. Almayer
came out of the office, leaving the door ajar, passed close to his servant without taking any
notice, and made straight for the water-chatty hung on a nail in a draughty place. He took it
down and came back, missing the petrified Ali by an inch. He moved with long strides, yet,
notwithstanding his haste, stopped short before the door, and, throwing his head back, poured
a thin stream of water down his throat. While he came and went, while he stopped to drink,while he did all this, there came steadily from the dark room the sound of feeble and
persistent crying, the crying of a sleepy and frightened child. After he had drunk, Almayer
went in, closing the door carefully.
Ali did not budge. That Sirani woman shrieked! He felt an immense curiosity very unusual
to his stolid disposition. He could not take his eyes off the door. Was she dead in there? How
interesting and funny! He stood with open mouth till he heard again the rattle of the
doorhandle. Master coming out. He pivoted on his heels with great rapidity and made believe to be
absorbed in the contemplation of the night outside. He heard Almayer moving about behind
his back. Chairs were displaced. His master sat down.
“Ali,” said Almayer.
His face was gloomy and thoughtful. He looked at his head man, who had approached
the table, then he pulled out his watch. It was going. Whenever Lingard was in Sambir
Almayer’s watch was going. He would set it by the cabin clock, telling himself every time that
he must really keep that watch going for the future. And every time, when Lingard went away,
he would let it run down and would measure his weariness by sunrises and sunsets in an
apathetic indifference to mere hours; to hours only; to hours that had no importance in Sambir
life, in the tired stagnation of empty days; when nothing mattered to him but the quality of
guttah and the size of rattans; where there were no small hopes to be watched for; where to
him there was nothing interesting, nothing supportable, nothing desirable to expect; nothing
bitter but the slowness of the passing days; nothing sweet but the hope, the distant and
glorious hope — the hope wearying, aching and precious, of getting away.
He looked at the watch. Half-past eight. Ali waited stolidly.
“Go to the settlement,” said Almayer, “and tell Mahmat Banjer to come and speak to me
Ali went off muttering. He did not like his errand. Banjer and his two brothers were Bajow
vagabonds who had appeared lately in Sambir and had been allowed to take possession of a
tumbledown abandoned hut, on three posts, belonging to Lingard & Co., and standing just
outside their fence. Ali disapproved of the favour shown to those strangers. Any kind of
dwelling was valuable in Sambir at that time, and if master did not want that old rotten house
he might have given it to him, Ali, who was his servant, instead of bestowing it upon those bad
men. Everybody knew they were bad. It was well known that they had stolen a boat from
Hinopari, who was very aged and feeble and had no sons; and that afterwards, by the
truculent recklessness of their demeanour, they had frightened the poor old man into holding
his tongue about it. Yet everybody knew of it. It was one of the tolerated scandals of Sambir,
disapproved and accepted, a manifestation of that base acquiescence in success, of that
inexpressed and cowardly toleration of strength, that exists, infamous and irremediable, at the
bottom of all hearts, in all societies; whenever men congregate; in bigger and more virtuous
places than Sambir, and in Sambir also, where, as in other places, one man could steal a boat
with impunity while another would have no right to look at a paddle.
Almayer, leaning back in his chair, meditated. The more he thought, the more he felt
convinced that Banjer and his brothers were exactly the men he wanted. Those fellows were
sea gipsies, and could disappear without attracting notice; and if they returned, nobody — and
Lingard least of all — would dream of seeking information from them. Moreover, they had no
personal interest of any kind in Sambir affairs — had taken no sides — would know nothing
He called in a strong voice: “Mrs. Willems!”
She came out quickly, almost startling him, so much did she appear as though she had
surged up through the floor, on the other side of the table. The lamp was between them, and
Almayer moved it aside, looking up at her from his chair. She was crying. She was crying
gently, silently, in a ceaseless welling up of tears that did not fall in drops, but seemed to
overflow in a clear sheet from under her eyelids — seemed to flow at once all over her face,her cheeks, and over her chin that glistened with moisture in the light. Her breast and her
shoulders were shaken repeatedly by a convulsive and noiseless catching in her breath, and
after every spasmodic sob her sorrowful little head, tied up in a red kerchief, trembled on her
long neck, round which her bony hand gathered and clasped the disarranged dress.
“Compose yourself, Mrs. Willems,” said Almayer.
She emitted an inarticulate sound that seemed to be a faint, a very far off, a hardly
audible cry of mortal distress. Then the tears went on flowing in profound stillness.
“You must understand that I have told you all this because I am your friend — real
friend,” said Almayer, after looking at her for some time with visible dissatisfaction. “You, his
wife, ought to know the danger he is in. Captain Lingard is a terrible man, you know.”
She blubbered out, sniffing and sobbing together.
“Do you... you... speak... the... the truth now?”
“Upon my word of honour. On the head of my child,” protested Almayer. “I had to
deceive you till now because of Captain Lingard. But I couldn’t bear it. Think only what a risk I
run in telling you — if ever Lingard was to know! Why should I do it? Pure friendship. Dear
Peter was my colleague in Macassar for years, you know.”
“What shall I do... what shall I do!” she exclaimed, faintly, looking around on every side
as if she could not make up her mind which way to rush off.
“You must help him to clear out, now Lingard is away. He offended Lingard, and that’s no
joke. Lingard said he would kill him. He will do it, too,” said Almayer, earnestly.
She wrung her hands. “Oh! the wicked man. The wicked, wicked man!” she moaned,
swaying her body from side to side.
“Yes. Yes! He is terrible,” assented Almayer. “You must not lose any time. I say! Do you
understand me, Mrs. Willems? Think of your husband. Of your poor husband. How happy he
will be. You will bring him his life — actually his life. Think of him.”
She ceased her swaying movement, and now, with her head sunk between her
shoulders, she hugged herself with both her arms; and she stared at Almayer with wild eyes,
while her teeth chattered, rattling violently and uninterruptedly, with a very loud sound, in the
deep peace of the house.
“Oh! Mother of God!” she wailed. “I am a miserable woman. Will he forgive me? The
poor, innocent man. Will he forgive me? Oh, Mr. Almayer, he is so severe. Oh! help me... I
dare not... You don’t know what I’ve done to him... I daren’t!... I can’t!... God help me!”
The last words came in a despairing cry. Had she been flayed alive she could not have
sent to heaven a more terrible, a more heartrending and anguished plaint.
“Sh! Sh!” hissed Almayer, jumping up. “You will wake up everybody with your shouting.”
She kept on sobbing then without any noise, and Almayer stared at her in boundless
astonishment. The idea that, maybe, he had done wrong by confiding in her, upset him so
much that for a moment he could not find a connected thought in his head.
At last he said: “I swear to you that your husband is in such a position that he would
welcome the devil... listen well to me... the devil himself if the devil came to him in a canoe.
Unless I am much mistaken,’’ he added, under his breath. Then again, loudly: “If you have any
little difference to make up with him, I assure you — I swear to you — this is your time!”
The ardently persuasive tone of his words — he thought — would have carried irresistible
conviction to a graven image. He noticed with satisfaction that Joanna seemed to have got
some inkling of his meaning. He continued, speaking slowly —
“Look here, Mrs. Willems. I can’t do anything. Daren’t. But I will tell you what I will do.
There will come here in about ten minutes a Bugis man — you know the language; you are
from Macassar. He has a large canoe; he can take you there. To the new Rajah’s clearing, tell
him. They are three brothers, ready for anything if you pay them... you have some money.
Haven’t you?”
She stood — perhaps listening — but giving no sign of intelligence, and stared at thefloor in sudden immobility, as if the horror of the situation, the overwhelming sense of her own
wickedness and of her husband’s great danger, had stunned her brain, her heart, her will —
had left her no faculty but that of breathing and of keeping on her feet. Almayer swore to
himself with much mental profanity that he had never seen a more useless, a more stupid
“D’ye hear me?” he said, raising his voice. “Do try to understand. Have you any money?
Money. Dollars. Guilders. Money! What’s the matter with you?”
Without raising her eyes she said, in a voice that sounded weak and undecided as if she
had been making a desperate effort of memory —
“The house has been sold. Mr. Hudig was angry.”
Almayer gripped the edge of the table with all his strength. He resisted manfully an
almost uncontrollable impulse to fly at her and box her ears.
“It was sold for money, I suppose,” he said with studied and incisive calmness. “Have
you got it? Who has got it?”
She looked up at him, raising her swollen eyelids with a great effort, in a sorrowful
expression of her drooping mouth, of her whole besmudged and tear-stained face. She
whispered resignedly —
“Leonard had some. He wanted to get married. And uncle Antonio; he sat at the door
and would not go away. And Aghostina — she is so poor... and so many, many children —
little children. And Luiz the engineer. He never said a word against my husband. Also our
cousin Maria. She came and shouted, and my head was so bad, and my heart was worse.
Then cousin Salvator and old Daniel da Souza, who...”
Almayer had listened to her speechless with rage. He thought: I must give money now to
that idiot. Must! Must get her out of the way now before Lingard is back. He made two
attempts to speak before he managed to burst out —
“I don’t want to know their blasted names! Tell me, did all those infernal people leave you
anything? To you! That’s what I want to know!”
“I have two hundred and fifteen dollars,” said Joanna, in a frightened tone.
Almayer breathed freely. He spoke with great friendliness —
“That will do. It isn’t much, but it will do. Now when the man comes I will be out of the
way. You speak to him. Give him some money; only a little, mind! And promise more. Then
when you get there you will be guided by your husband, of course. And don’t forget to tell him
that Captain Lingard is at the mouth of the river — the northern entrance. You will remember.
Won’t you? The northern branch. Lingard is — death.”
Joanna shivered. Almayer went on rapidly —
“I would have given you money if you had wanted it. ‘Pon my word! Tell your husband
I’ve sent you to him. And tell him not to lose any time. And also say to him from me that we
shall meet — some day. That I could not die happy unless I met him once more. Only once. I
love him, you know. I prove it. Tremendous risk to me — this business is!”
Joanna snatched his hand and before he knew what she would be at, pressed it to her
“Mrs. Willems! Don’t. What are you...” cried the abashed Almayer, tearing his hand
“Oh, you are good!” she cried, with sudden exaltation, “You are noble... I shall pray every
day... to all the saints... I shall...”
“Never mind... never mind!” stammered out Almayer, confusedly, without knowing very
well what he was saying. “Only look out for Lingard... I am happy to be able... in your sad
situation... believe me...”
They stood with the table between them, Joanna looking down, and her face, in the
halflight above the lamp, appeared like a soiled carving of old ivory — a carving, with accentuated
anxious hollows, of old, very old ivory. Almayer looked at her, mistrustful, hopeful. He was