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Title: An Outcast of the Islands
Author: Conrad, Joseph
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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AN OUTCAST OF THE ISLANDS

by Joseph Conrad



_Pues el delito mayor Del hombre es haber nacito_ CALDERON



TO EDWARD LANCELOT SANDERSON



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 justified.

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 such as 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 dog.”

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 I

AN OUTCAST OF THE ISLANDS

CHAPTER ONE

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 patent-leather 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 out
enigmatically 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; then he 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 of Willems 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 cashier.

“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 well-established 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 TWO


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 good-natured 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?”

“Seventeen.”

“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 tramped about 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 and packed, and have them put on board the mail-boat for
Ternate. She’s due here this afternoon.”

“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 THREE


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 half-hour, 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, gasping.

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 the
overhanging 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 woman.

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 preoccupation he 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 fright.

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 was only 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
Strait-Settlements 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 now.”

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 time.

“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 quite to 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 FOUR


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 know what, 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 quiet.”

“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 anchor.

“My boat will be here directly,” said Lingard. “Think of what you are
going to do. I sail to-night.”

“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 now!”

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 lamps.

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 FIVE


“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 discontentedly.

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 carry him
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 half-cultivator, 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 fire-raising,
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 had fallen
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 great.

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 was open 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 land.

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 was always 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 any woman’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 seen!”

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 SIX


“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 Willems.

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 to
acquaint 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 grass.

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 a readiness 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 on the 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 SEVEN


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 mid-stream 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 in the 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 promise.

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 II


CHAPTER ONE


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.

“Almayer!”

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?”

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 tell-tale 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 elaborately, “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 high-minded 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 you.”

“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 a moment, 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 once.

“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. Never come 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 TWO

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--

“Babalatchi!”

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 sing-song tones. The thumping of wooden pestles husking
the evening rice stopped for a moment and 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
way?”

“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, with
inconsequential 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 alacrity.

“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 venerable robber 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 THREE


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 his presence
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 lifting their 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 lot!”

“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 fastenings.

“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 abomination!”

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 FOUR


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 with accentuated 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--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 tone.

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 memories.

He stretched his hands over the fire, looked round and called out--

“Aissa!”

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. He tingled 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 FIVE


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 business.”

“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 earshot.

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, apologetically.

“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 SIX


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. She sank 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.”

“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 cheeks.

“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 of secure 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 own death 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 her shoulder, the lower jaw hanging down,
collapsed, passive, meaningless, like the head of a corpse.

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 itself.

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 all
the 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 III


CHAPTER ONE

“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 a month 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 Sambir?”

“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 what he 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 thoughtful.

“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
better kick 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 TWO

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 rifles . . .”

“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 abused Lakamba--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 indignation.

“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 hand.

“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 gasped.

“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 presented to 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 of the 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 THREE


“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 that.”

“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 Jim-Eng 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 Jim-Eng 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 threw it 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 up.

“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 good shaking. 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 here.”

“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! Willems’ 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 clothes-line. 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 faces.

“A perfect little woman,” whispered Lingard. “Yes, my dear boy, we shall
make her somebody. 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. Everything.”

Almayer almost danced with paternal delight.

“I taught her. I taught her,” he repeated, laughing with tears in his
eyes. “Isn’t she sharp?”

“I am the slave of the white child,” said Lingard, with playful
solemnity. “What is the order?”

“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 man could . . .
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 FOUR


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 wind-bound 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 southern-going 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--from
interfering 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 welcome.

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 of behaviour 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, half-amused 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 concern.

“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
to-night? 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 the schooner. 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 IV


CHAPTER ONE

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 his revolt, 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 down-stream, 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 up-stream 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 question.

“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 hesitation.

“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 been painted 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 significantly.

“Tse! Tse! Tse! How can you talk like that, Tuan!” exclaimed Babalatchi,
in a horrified tone.

“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 head.

“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 move.



CHAPTER TWO

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 them.”

“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 below and 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 gums.

“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 another.”

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 other over 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 dark.”

“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
probable actions 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 ill-defined 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 seaman.

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 trader!”

“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!” said Babalatchi, 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’ enclosure.

“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 THREE


“Beware!”

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 yours?”

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 and drifting 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 words.

“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 white-clad
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, the night 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 scoundrel.

“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, beyond.

“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 came near--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 away.”

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--

“Finish.”

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 the flowers, that are at the bottom of
every heart.



CHAPTER FOUR


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 white-haired, 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 anger.

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 a
tenacious 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 as much 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 severe.

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 for their 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 then . . .”

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 FIVE


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 is terrible 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. They
appeared 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 harm.”

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 breathe.

“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 an attentive 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 up-bringing.’ 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 strutted towards 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 Willems.

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-stream with 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 two wandering 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 mourn over a corpse.



PART V


CHAPTER ONE

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 to the 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 at first 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 have been 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 also his.

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 wide-awake 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 deal table 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 sun-scorched 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. Anybody 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. 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 like
father 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 distraction.

“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 door-handle.
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 to-night.”

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 anyway.

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 the floor 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 being.

“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 lips.

“Mrs. Willems! Don’t. What are you . . .” cried the abashed Almayer,
tearing his hand away.

“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 half-light 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 saying
to himself: How frail she is! I could upset her by blowing at her. She
seems to have got some idea of what must be done, but will she have the
strength to carry it through? I must trust to luck now!

Somewhere far in the back courtyard Ali’s voice rang suddenly in angry
remonstrance--

“Why did you shut the gate, O father of all mischief? You a watchman!
You are only a wild man. Did I not tell you I was coming back? You . . .”

“I am off, Mrs. Willems,” exclaimed Almayer. “That man is here--with my
servant. Be calm. Try to . . .”

He heard the footsteps of the two men in the passage, and without
finishing his sentence ran rapidly down the steps towards the riverside.



CHAPTER TWO

For the next half-hour Almayer, who wanted to give Joanna plenty of
time, stumbled amongst the lumber in distant parts of his enclosure,
sneaked along the fences; or held his breath, flattened against grass
walls behind various outhouses: all this to escape Ali’s inconveniently
zealous search for his master. He heard him talk with the head
watchman--sometimes quite close to him in the darkness--then moving off,
coming back, wondering, and, as the time passed, growing uneasy.

“He did not fall into the river?--say, thou blind watcher!” Ali was
growling in a bullying tone, to the other man. “He told me to fetch
Mahmat, and when I came back swiftly I found him not in the house. There
is that Sirani woman there, so that Mahmat cannot steal anything, but it
is in my mind, the night will be half gone before I rest.”

He shouted--

“Master! O master! O mast . . .”

“What are you making that noise for?” said Almayer, with severity,
stepping out close to them.

The two Malays leaped away from each other in their surprise.

“You may go. I don’t want you any more tonight, Ali,” went on Almayer.
“Is Mahmat there?”

“Unless the ill-behaved savage got tired of waiting. Those men know
not politeness. They should not be spoken to by white men,” said Ali,
resentfully.

Almayer went towards the house, leaving his servants to wonder where he
had sprung from so unexpectedly. The watchman hinted obscurely at powers
of invisibility possessed by the master, who often at night . . . Ali
interrupted him with great scorn. Not every white man has the power.
Now, the Rajah Laut could make himself invisible. Also, he could be
in two places at once, as everybody knew; except he--the useless
watchman--who knew no more about white men than a wild pig! Ya-wa!

And Ali strolled towards his hut, yawning loudly.

As Almayer ascended the steps he heard the noise of a door flung to,
and when he entered the verandah he saw only Mahmat there, close to the
doorway of the passage. Mahmat seemed to be caught in the very act of
slinking away, and Almayer noticed that with satisfaction. Seeing the
white man, the Malay gave up his attempt and leaned against the wall. He
was a short, thick, broad-shouldered man with very dark skin and a wide,
stained, bright-red mouth that uncovered, when he spoke, a close row
of black and glistening teeth. His eyes were big, prominent, dreamy and
restless. He said sulkily, looking all over the place from under his
eyebrows--

“White Tuan, you are great and strong--and I a poor man. Tell me what is
your will, and let me go in the name of God. It is late.”

Almayer examined the man thoughtfully. How could he find out whether
. . . He had it! Lately he had employed that man and his two brothers as
extra boatmen to carry stores, provisions, and new axes to a camp of
rattan cutters some distance up the river. A three days’ expedition. He
would test him now in that way. He said negligently--

“I want you to start at once for the camp, with surat for the Kavitan.
One dollar a day.”

The man appeared plunged in dull hesitation, but Almayer, who knew his
Malays, felt pretty sure from his aspect that nothing would induce the
fellow to go. He urged--

“It is important--and if you are swift I shall give two dollars for the
last day.”

“No, Tuan. We do not go,” said the man, in a hoarse whisper.

“Why?”

“We start on another journey.”

“Where?”

“To a place we know of,” said Mahmat, a little louder, in a stubborn
manner, and looking at the floor.

Almayer experienced a feeling of immense joy. He said, with affected
annoyance--

“You men live in my house and it is as if it were your own. I may want
my house soon.”

Mahmat looked up.

“We are men of the sea and care not for a roof when we have a canoe that
will hold three, and a paddle apiece. The sea is our house. Peace be
with you, Tuan.”

He turned and went away rapidly, and Almayer heard him directly
afterwards in the courtyard calling to the watchman to open the gate.
Mahmat passed through the gate in silence, but before the bar had been
put up behind him he had made up his mind that if the white man ever
wanted to eject him from his hut, he would burn it and also as many of
the white man’s other buildings as he could safely get at. And he began
to call his brothers before he was inside the dilapidated dwelling.

“All’s well!” muttered Almayer to himself, taking some loose Java
tobacco from a drawer in the table. “Now if anything comes out I am
clear. I asked the man to go up the river. I urged him. He will say so
himself. Good.”

He began to charge the china bowl of his pipe, a pipe with a long cherry
stem and a curved mouthpiece, pressing the tobacco down with his thumb
and thinking: No. I sha’n’t see her again. Don’t want to. I will give
her a good start, then go in chase--and send an express boat after
father. Yes! that’s it.

He approached the door of the office and said, holding his pipe away
from his lips--

“Good luck to you, Mrs. Willems. Don’t lose any time. You may get along
by the bushes; the fence there is out of repair. Don’t lose time. Don’t
forget that it is a matter of . . . life and death. And don’t forget
that I know nothing. I trust you.”

He heard inside a noise as of a chest-lid falling down. She made a few
steps. Then a sigh, profound and long, and some faint words which he
did not catch. He moved away from the door on tiptoe, kicked off his
slippers in a corner of the verandah, then entered the passage puffing
at his pipe; entered cautiously in a gentle creaking of planks and
turned into a curtained entrance to the left. There was a big room. On
the floor a small binnacle lamp--that had found its way to the house
years ago from the lumber-room of the Flash--did duty for a night-light.
It glimmered very small and dull in the great darkness. Almayer walked
to it, and picking it up revived the flame by pulling the wick with his
fingers, which he shook directly after with a grimace of pain. Sleeping
shapes, covered--head and all--with white sheets, lay about on the mats
on the floor. In the middle of the room a small cot, under a square
white mosquito net, stood--the only piece of furniture between the four
walls--looking like an altar of transparent marble in a gloomy temple. A
woman, half-lying on the floor with her head dropped on her arms, which
were crossed on the foot of the cot, woke up as Almayer strode over
her outstretched legs. She sat up without a word, leaning forward, and,
clasping her knees, stared down with sad eyes, full of sleep.

Almayer, the smoky light in one hand, his pipe in the other, stood
before the curtained cot looking at his daughter--at his little Nina--at
that part of himself, at that small and unconscious particle of humanity
that seemed to him to contain all his soul. And it was as if he had been
bathed in a bright and warm wave of tenderness, in a tenderness greater
than the world, more precious than life; the only thing real, living,
sweet, tangible, beautiful and safe amongst the elusive, the distorted
and menacing shadows of existence. On his face, lit up indistinctly by
the short yellow flame of the lamp, came a look of rapt attention
while he looked into her future. And he could see things there! Things
charming and splendid passing before him in a magic unrolling of
resplendent pictures; pictures of events brilliant, happy, inexpressibly
glorious, that would make up her life. He would do it! He would do it.
He would! He would--for that child! And as he stood in the still night,
lost in his enchanting and gorgeous dreams, while the ascending, thin
thread of tobacco smoke spread into a faint bluish cloud above his head,
he appeared strangely impressive and ecstatic: like a devout and mystic
worshipper, adoring, transported and mute; burning incense before a
shrine, a diaphanous shrine of a child-idol with closed eyes; before a
pure and vaporous shrine of a small god--fragile, powerless, unconscious
and sleeping.

When Ali, roused by loud and repeated shouting of his name, stumbled
outside the door of his hut, he saw a narrow streak of trembling gold
above the forests and a pale sky with faded stars overhead: signs of the
coming day. His master stood before the door waving a piece of paper in
his hand and shouting excitedly--“Quick, Ali! Quick!” When he saw his
servant he rushed forward, and pressing the paper on him objurgated him,
in tones which induced Ali to think that something awful had happened,
to hurry up and get the whale-boat ready to go immediately--at once,
at once--after Captain Lingard. Ali remonstrated, agitated also, having
caught the infection of distracted haste.

“If must go quick, better canoe. Whale-boat no can catch, same as small
canoe.”

“No, no! Whale-boat! whale-boat! You dolt! you wretch!” howled Almayer,
with all the appearance of having gone mad. “Call the men! Get along
with it. Fly!”

And Ali rushed about the courtyard kicking the doors of huts open to put
his head in and yell frightfully inside; and as he dashed from hovel
to hovel, men shivering and sleepy were coming out, looking after him
stupidly, while they scratched their ribs with bewildered apathy. It was
hard work to put them in motion. They wanted time to stretch themselves
and to shiver a little. Some wanted food. One said he was sick. Nobody
knew where the rudder was. Ali darted here and there, ordering, abusing,
pushing one, then another, and stopping in his exertions at times to
wring his hands hastily and groan, because the whale-boat was much
slower than the worst canoe and his master would not listen to his
protestations.

Almayer saw the boat go off at last, pulled anyhow by men that were
cold, hungry, and sulky; and he remained on the jetty watching it down
the reach. It was broad day then, and the sky was perfectly cloudless.
Almayer went up to the house for a moment. His household was all astir
and wondering at the strange disappearance of the Sirani woman, who had
taken her child and had left her luggage. Almayer spoke to no one, got
his revolver, and went down to the river again. He jumped into a
small canoe and paddled himself towards the schooner. He worked very
leisurely, but as soon as he was nearly alongside he began to hail
the silent craft with the tone and appearance of a man in a tremendous
hurry.

“Schooner ahoy! schooner ahoy!” he shouted.

A row of blank faces popped up above the bulwark. After a while a man
with a woolly head of hair said--

“Sir!”

“The mate! the mate! Call him, steward!” said Almayer, excitedly, making
a frantic grab at a rope thrown down to him by somebody.

In less than a minute the mate put his head over. He asked, surprised--

“What can I do for you, Mr. Almayer?”

“Let me have the gig at once, Mr. Swan--at once. I ask in Captain
Lingard’s name. I must have it. Matter of life and death.”

The mate was impressed by Almayer’s agitation

“You shall have it, sir. . . . Man the gig there! Bear a hand, serang!
. . . It’s hanging astern, Mr. Almayer,” he said, looking down again.
“Get into it, sir. The men are coming down by the painter.”

By the time Almayer had clambered over into the stern sheets, four
calashes were in the boat and the oars were being passed over the
taffrail. The mate was looking on. Suddenly he said--

“Is it dangerous work? Do you want any help? I would come . . .”

“Yes, yes!” cried Almayer. “Come along. Don’t lose a moment. Go and get
your revolver. Hurry up! hurry up!”

Yet, notwithstanding his feverish anxiety to be off, he lolled back
very quiet and unconcerned till the mate got in and, passing over the
thwarts, sat down by his side. Then he seemed to wake up, and called
out--

“Let go--let go the painter!”

“Let go the painter--the painter!” yelled the bowman, jerking at it.

People on board also shouted “Let go!” to one another, till it occurred
at last to somebody to cast off the rope; and the boat drifted rapidly
away from the schooner in the sudden silencing of all voices.

Almayer steered. The mate sat by his side, pushing the cartridges into
the chambers of his revolver. When the weapon was loaded he asked--

“What is it? Are you after somebody?”

“Yes,” said Almayer, curtly, with his eyes fixed ahead on the river. “We
must catch a dangerous man.”

“I like a bit of a chase myself,” declared the mate, and then,
discouraged by Almayer’s aspect of severe thoughtfulness, said nothing
more.

Nearly an hour passed. The calashes stretched forward head first and lay
back with their faces to the sky, alternately, in a regular swing
that sent the boat flying through the water; and the two sitters, very
upright in the stern sheets, swayed rhythmically a little at every
stroke of the long oars plied vigorously.

The mate observed: “The tide is with us.”

“The current always runs down in this river,” said Almayer.

“Yes--I know,” retorted the other; “but it runs faster on the ebb. Look
by the land at the way we get over the ground! A five-knot current here,
I should say.”

“H’m!” growled Almayer. Then suddenly: “There is a passage between two
islands that will save us four miles. But at low water the two islands,
in the dry season, are like one with only a mud ditch between them.
Still, it’s worth trying.”

“Ticklish job that, on a falling tide,” said the mate, coolly. “You know
best whether there’s time to get through.”

“I will try,” said Almayer, watching the shore intently. “Look out now!”

He tugged hard at the starboard yoke-line.

“Lay in your oars!” shouted the mate.

The boat swept round and shot through the narrow opening of a creek that
broadened out before the craft had time to lose its way.

“Out oars! . . . Just room enough,” muttered the mate.

It was a sombre creek of black water speckled with the gold of scattered
sunlight falling through the boughs that met overhead in a soaring,
restless arc full of gentle whispers passing, tremulous, aloft amongst
the thick leaves. The creepers climbed up the trunks of serried trees
that leaned over, looking insecure and undermined by floods which had
eaten away the earth from under their roots. And the pungent, acrid
smell of rotting leaves, of flowers, of blossoms and plants dying in
that poisonous and cruel gloom, where they pined for sunshine in vain,
seemed to lay heavy, to press upon the shiny and stagnant water in its
tortuous windings amongst the everlasting and invincible shadows.

Almayer looked anxious. He steered badly. Several times the blades of
the oars got foul of the bushes on one side or the other, checking the
way of the gig. During one of those occurrences, while they were getting
clear, one of the calashes said something to the others in a rapid
whisper. They looked down at the water. So did the mate.

“Hallo!” he exclaimed. “Eh, Mr. Almayer! Look! The water is running out.
See there! We will be caught.”

“Back! back! We must go back!” cried Almayer.

“Perhaps better go on.”

“No; back! back!”

He pulled at the steering line, and ran the nose of the boat into the
bank. Time was lost again in getting clear.

“Give way, men! give way!” urged the mate, anxiously.

The men pulled with set lips and dilated nostrils, breathing hard.

“Too late,” said the mate, suddenly. “The oars touch the bottom already.
We are done.”

The boat stuck. The men laid in the oars, and sat, panting, with crossed
arms.

“Yes, we are caught,” said Almayer, composedly. “That is unlucky!”

The water was falling round the boat. The mate watched the patches of
mud coming to the surface. Then in a moment he laughed, and pointing his
finger at the creek--

“Look!” he said; “the blamed river is running away from us. Here’s the
last drop of water clearing out round that bend.”

Almayer lifted his head. The water was gone, and he looked only at a
curved track of mud--of mud soft and black, hiding fever, rottenness,
and evil under its level and glazed surface.

“We are in for it till the evening,” he said, with cheerful resignation.
“I did my best. Couldn’t help it.”

“We must sleep the day away,” said the mate. “There’s nothing to eat,”
 he added, gloomily.

Almayer stretched himself in the stern sheets. The Malays curled down
between thwarts.

“Well, I’m jiggered!” said the mate, starting up after a long pause.
“I was in a devil of a hurry to go and pass the day stuck in the mud.
Here’s a holiday for you! Well! well!”

They slept or sat unmoving and patient. As the sun mounted higher the
breeze died out, and perfect stillness reigned in the empty creek. A
troop of long-nosed monkeys appeared, and crowding on the outer boughs,
contemplated the boat and the motionless men in it with grave and
sorrowful intensity, disturbed now and then by irrational outbreaks of
mad gesticulation. A little bird with sapphire breast balanced a slender
twig across a slanting beam of light, and flashed in it to and fro like
a gem dropped from the sky. His minute round eye stared at the strange
and tranquil creatures in the boat. After a while he sent out a thin
twitter that sounded impertinent and funny in the solemn silence of the
great wilderness; in the great silence full of struggle and death.



CHAPTER THREE

On Lingard’s departure solitude and silence closed round Willems; the
cruel solitude of one abandoned by men; the reproachful silence which
surrounds an outcast ejected by his kind, the silence unbroken by the
slightest whisper of hope; an immense and impenetrable silence that
swallows up without echo the murmur of regret and the cry of revolt.
The bitter peace of the abandoned clearings entered his heart, in which
nothing could live now but the memory and hate of his past. Not remorse.
In the breast of a man possessed by the masterful consciousness of
his individuality with its desires and its rights; by the immovable
conviction of his own importance, of an importance so indisputable and
final that it clothes all his wishes, endeavours, and mistakes with the
dignity of unavoidable fate, there could be no place for such a feeling
as that of remorse.

The days passed. They passed unnoticed, unseen, in the rapid blaze of
glaring sunrises, in the short glow of tender sunsets, in the crushing
oppression of high noons without a cloud. How many days? Two--three--or
more? He did not know. To him, since Lingard had gone, the time seemed
to roll on in profound darkness. All was night within him. All was gone
from his sight. He walked about blindly in the deserted courtyards,
amongst the empty houses that, perched high on their posts, looked down
inimically on him, a white stranger, a man from other lands; seemed
to look hostile and mute out of all the memories of native life that
lingered between their decaying walls. His wandering feet stumbled
against the blackened brands of extinct fires, kicking up a light black
dust of cold ashes that flew in drifting clouds and settled to leeward
on the fresh grass sprouting from the hard ground, between the shade
trees. He moved on, and on; ceaseless, unresting, in widening circles,
in zigzagging paths that led to no issue; he struggled on wearily with
a set, distressed face behind which, in his tired brain, seethed his
thoughts: restless, sombre, tangled, chilling, horrible and venomous,
like a nestful of snakes.

From afar, the bleared eyes of the old serving woman, the sombre gaze
of Aissa followed the gaunt and tottering figure in its unceasing prowl
along the fences, between the houses, amongst the wild luxuriance of
riverside thickets. Those three human beings abandoned by all were
like shipwrecked people left on an insecure and slippery ledge by the
retiring tide of an angry sea--listening to its distant roar, living
anguished between the menace of its return and the hopeless horror of
their solitude--in the midst of a tempest of passion, of regret, of
disgust, of despair. The breath of the storm had cast two of them there,
robbed of everything--even of resignation. The third, the decrepit
witness of their struggle and their torture, accepted her own dull
conception of facts; of strength and youth gone; of her useless old
age; of her last servitude; of being thrown away by her chief, by her
nearest, to use up the last and worthless remnant of flickering life
between those two incomprehensible and sombre outcasts: a shrivelled, an
unmoved, a passive companion of their disaster.

To the river Willems turned his eyes like a captive that looks fixedly
at the door of his cell. If there was any hope in the world it would
come from the river, by the river. For hours together he would stand in
sunlight while the sea breeze sweeping over the lonely reach fluttered
his ragged garments; the keen salt breeze that made him shiver now
and then under the flood of intense heat. He looked at the brown and
sparkling solitude of the flowing water, of the water flowing ceaseless
and free in a soft, cool murmur of ripples at his feet. The world seemed
to end there. The forests of the other bank appeared unattainable,
enigmatical, for ever beyond reach like the stars of heaven--and as
indifferent. Above and below, the forests on his side of the river came
down to the water in a serried multitude of tall, immense trees towering
in a great spread of twisted boughs above the thick undergrowth; great,
solid trees, looking sombre, severe, and malevolently stolid, like a
giant crowd of pitiless enemies pressing round silently to witness
his slow agony. He was alone, small, crushed. He thought of escape--of
something to be done. What? A raft! He imagined himself working at it,
feverishly, desperately; cutting down trees, fastening the logs together
and then drifting down with the current, down to the sea into the
straits. There were ships there--ships, help, white men. Men like
himself. Good men who would rescue him, take him away, take him far away
where there was trade, and houses, and other men that could understand
him exactly, appreciate his capabilities; where there was proper food,
and money; where there were beds, knives, forks, carriages, brass bands,
cool drinks, churches with well-dressed people praying in them. He would
pray also. The superior land of refined delights where he could sit on
a chair, eat his tiffin off a white tablecloth, nod to fellows--good
fellows; he would be popular; always was--where he could be virtuous,
correct, do business, draw a salary, smoke cigars, buy things in
shops--have boots . . . be happy, free, become rich. O God! What was
wanted? Cut down a few trees. No! One would do. They used to make canoes
by burning out a tree trunk, he had heard. Yes! One would do. One tree
to cut down . . . He rushed forward, and suddenly stood still as if
rooted in the ground. He had a pocket-knife.

And he would throw himself down on the ground by the riverside. He
was tired, exhausted; as if that raft had been made, the voyage
accomplished, the fortune attained. A glaze came over his staring eyes,
over his eyes that gazed hopelessly at the rising river where big logs
and uprooted trees drifted in the shine of mid-stream: a long procession
of black and ragged specks. He could swim out and drift away on one of
these trees. Anything to escape! Anything! Any risk! He could fasten
himself up between the dead branches. He was torn by desire, by fear;
his heart was wrung by the faltering of his courage. He turned over,
face downwards, his head on his arms. He had a terrible vision of
shadowless horizons where the blue sky and the blue sea met; or a
circular and blazing emptiness where a dead tree and a dead man drifted
together, endlessly, up and down, upon the brilliant undulations of the
straits. No ships there. Only death. And the river led to it.

He sat up with a profound groan.

Yes, death. Why should he die? No! Better solitude, better hopeless
waiting, alone. Alone. No! he was not alone, he saw death looking at him
from everywhere; from the bushes, from the clouds--he heard her speaking
to him in the murmur of the river, filling the space, touching his
heart, his brain with a cold hand. He could see and think of nothing
else. He saw it--the sure death--everywhere. He saw it so close that
he was always on the point of throwing out his arms to keep it off. It
poisoned all he saw, all he did; the miserable food he ate, the muddy
water he drank; it gave a frightful aspect to sunrises and sunsets, to
the brightness of hot noon, to the cooling shadows of the evenings. He
saw the horrible form among the big trees, in the network of creepers
in the fantastic outlines of leaves, of the great indented leaves that
seemed to be so many enormous hands with big broad palms, with stiff
fingers outspread to lay hold of him; hands gently stirring, or hands
arrested in a frightful immobility, with a stillness attentive and
watching for the opportunity to take him, to enlace him, to strangle
him, to hold him till he died; hands that would hold him dead, that
would never let go, that would cling to his body for ever till it
perished--disappeared in their frantic and tenacious grasp.

And yet the world was full of life. All the things, all the men he knew,
existed, moved, breathed; and he saw them in a long perspective, far
off, diminished, distinct, desirable, unattainable, precious . . . lost
for ever. Round him, ceaselessly, there went on without a sound the mad
turmoil of tropical life. After he had died all this would remain! He
wanted to clasp, to embrace solid things; he had an immense craving for
sensations; for touching, pressing, seeing, handling, holding on, to
all these things. All this would remain--remain for years, for ages, for
ever. After he had miserably died there, all this would remain, would
live, would exist in joyous sunlight, would breathe in the coolness of
serene nights. What for, then? He would be dead. He would be stretched
upon the warm moisture of the ground, feeling nothing, seeing nothing,
knowing nothing; he would lie stiff, passive, rotting slowly; while over
him, under him, through him--unopposed, busy, hurried--the endless and
minute throngs of insects, little shining monsters of repulsive shapes,
with horns, with claws, with pincers, would swarm in streams, in rushes,
in eager struggle for his body; would swarm countless, persistent,
ferocious and greedy--till there would remain nothing but the white
gleam of bleaching bones in the long grass; in the long grass that would
shoot its feathery heads between the bare and polished ribs. There would
be that only left of him; nobody would miss him; no one would remember
him.

Nonsense! It could not be. There were ways out of this. Somebody would
turn up. Some human beings would come. He would speak, entreat--use
force to extort help from them. He felt strong; he was very strong. He
would . . . The discouragement, the conviction of the futility of his
hopes would return in an acute sensation of pain in his heart. He would
begin again his aimless wanderings. He tramped till he was ready to
drop, without being able to calm by bodily fatigue the trouble of his
soul. There was no rest, no peace within the cleared grounds of his
prison. There was no relief but in the black release of sleep, of sleep
without memory and without dreams; in the sleep coming brutal and heavy,
like the lead that kills. To forget in annihilating sleep; to tumble
headlong, as if stunned, out of daylight into the night of oblivion, was
for him the only, the rare respite from this existence which he lacked
the courage to endure--or to end.

He lived, he struggled with the inarticulate delirium of his thoughts
under the eyes of the silent Aissa. She shared his torment in the
poignant wonder, in the acute longing, in the despairing inability to
understand the cause of his anger and of his repulsion; the hate of
his looks; the mystery of his silence; the menace of his rare words--of
those words in the speech of white people that were thrown at her with
rage, with contempt, with the evident desire to hurt her; to hurt her
who had given herself, her life--all she had to give--to that white man;
to hurt her who had wanted to show him the way to true greatness, who
had tried to help him, in her woman’s dream of everlasting, enduring,
unchangeable affection. From the short contact with the whites in the
crashing collapse of her old life, there remained with her the imposing
idea of irresistible power and of ruthless strength. She had found a man
of their race--and with all their qualities. All whites are alike. But
this man’s heart was full of anger against his own people, full of anger
existing there by the side of his desire of her. And to her it had been
an intoxication of hope for great things born in the proud and tender
consciousness of her influence. She had heard the passing whisper of
wonder and fear in the presence of his hesitation, of his resistance,
of his compromises; and yet with a woman’s belief in the durable
steadfastness of hearts, in the irresistible charm of her own
personality, she had pushed him forward, trusting the future, blindly,
hopefully; sure to attain by his side the ardent desire of her life, if
she could only push him far beyond the possibility of retreat. She did
not know, and could not conceive, anything of his--so exalted--ideals.
She thought the man a warrior and a chief, ready for battle, violence,
and treachery to his own people--for her. What more natural? Was he not
a great, strong man? Those two, surrounded each by the impenetrable
wall of their aspirations, were hopelessly alone, out of sight, out
of earshot of each other; each the centre of dissimilar and distant
horizons; standing each on a different earth, under a different sky.
She remembered his words, his eyes, his trembling lips, his outstretched
hands; she remembered the great, the immeasurable sweetness of her
surrender, that beginning of her power which was to last until death. He
remembered the quaysides and the warehouses; the excitement of a life in
a whirl of silver coins; the glorious uncertainty of a money hunt; his
numerous successes, the lost possibilities of wealth and consequent
glory. She, a woman, was the victim of her heart, of her woman’s belief
that there is nothing in the world but love--the everlasting thing.
He was the victim of his strange principles, of his continence, of his
blind belief in himself, of his solemn veneration for the voice of his
boundless ignorance.

In a moment of his idleness, of suspense, of discouragement, she had
come--that creature--and by the touch of her hand had destroyed his
future, his dignity of a clever and civilized man; had awakened in his
breast the infamous thing which had driven him to what he had done, and
to end miserably in the wilderness and be forgotten, or else remembered
with hate or contempt. He dared not look at her, because now whenever
he looked at her his thought seemed to touch crime, like an outstretched
hand. She could only look at him--and at nothing else. What else was
there? She followed him with a timorous gaze, with a gaze for ever
expecting, patient, and entreating. And in her eyes there was the wonder
and desolation of an animal that knows only suffering, of the incomplete
soul that knows pain but knows not hope; that can find no refuge from
the facts of life in the illusory conviction of its dignity, of an
exalted destiny beyond; in the heavenly consolation of a belief in the
momentous origin of its hate.

For the first three days after Lingard went away he would not even
speak to her. She preferred his silence to the sound of hated and
incomprehensible words he had been lately addressing to her with a wild
violence of manner, passing at once into complete apathy. And during
these three days he hardly ever left the river, as if on that muddy bank
he had felt himself nearer to his freedom. He would stay late; he would
stay till sunset; he would look at the glow of gold passing away amongst
sombre clouds in a bright red flush, like a splash of warm blood. It
seemed to him ominous and ghastly with a foreboding of violent death
that beckoned him from everywhere--even from the sky.

One evening he remained by the riverside long after sunset, regardless
of the night mist that had closed round him, had wrapped him up and
clung to him like a wet winding-sheet. A slight shiver recalled him to
his senses, and he walked up the courtyard towards his house. Aissa rose
from before the fire, that glimmered red through its own smoke, which
hung thickening under the boughs of the big tree. She approached him
from the side as he neared the plankway of the house. He saw her stop to
let him begin his ascent. In the darkness her figure was like the shadow
of a woman with clasped hands put out beseechingly. He stopped--could
not help glancing at her. In all the sombre gracefulness of the straight
figure, her limbs, features--all was indistinct and vague but the gleam
of her eyes in the faint starlight. He turned his head away and moved
on. He could feel her footsteps behind him on the bending planks, but he
walked up without turning his head. He knew what she wanted. She wanted
to come in there. He shuddered at the thought of what might happen in
the impenetrable darkness of that house if they were to find themselves
alone--even for a moment. He stopped in the doorway, and heard her say--

“Let me come in. Why this anger? Why this silence? . . . Let me watch
. . . by your side. . . . Have I not watched faithfully? Did harm ever
come to you when you closed your eyes while I was by? . . . I have
waited . .. I have waited for your smile, for your words . . . I can
wait no more.. . . Look at me . . . speak to me. Is there a bad spirit
in you? A bad spirit that has eaten up your courage and your love? Let
me touch you. Forget all . . . All. Forget the wicked hearts, the angry
faces . . . and remember only the day I came to you . . . to you! O my
heart! O my life!”

The pleading sadness of her appeal filled the space with the tremor of
her low tones, that carried tenderness and tears into the great peace
of the sleeping world. All around them the forests, the clearings, the
river, covered by the silent veil of night, seemed to wake up and listen
to her words in attentive stillness. After the sound of her voice had
died out in a stifled sigh they appeared to listen yet; and nothing
stirred among the shapeless shadows but the innumerable fireflies
that twinkled in changing clusters, in gliding pairs, in wandering and
solitary points--like the glimmering drift of scattered star-dust.

Willems turned round slowly, reluctantly, as if compelled by main force.
Her face was hidden in her hands, and he looked above her bent head,
into the sombre brilliance of the night. It was one of those nights that
give the impression of extreme vastness, when the sky seems higher, when
the passing puffs of tepid breeze seem to bring with them faint whispers
from beyond the stars. The air was full of sweet scent, of the scent
charming, penetrating and violent like the impulse of love. He looked
into that great dark place odorous with the breath of life, with the
mystery of existence, renewed, fecund, indestructible; and he felt
afraid of his solitude, of the solitude of his body, of the loneliness
of his soul in the presence of this unconscious and ardent struggle,
of this lofty indifference, of this merciless and mysterious purpose,
perpetuating strife and death through the march of ages. For the second
time in his life he felt, in a sudden sense of his significance, the
need to send a cry for help into the wilderness, and for the second time
he realized the hopelessness of its unconcern. He could shout for help
on every side--and nobody would answer. He could stretch out his hands,
he could call for aid, for support, for sympathy, for relief--and nobody
would come. Nobody. There was no one there--but that woman.

His heart was moved, softened with pity at his own abandonment. His
anger against her, against her who was the cause of all his misfortunes,
vanished before his extreme need for some kind of consolation.
Perhaps--if he must resign himself to his fate--she might help him to
forget. To forget! For a moment, in an access of despair so profound
that it seemed like the beginning of peace, he planned the deliberate
descent from his pedestal, the throwing away of his superiority, of
all his hopes, of old ambitions, of the ungrateful civilization. For
a moment, forgetfulness in her arms seemed possible; and lured by that
possibility the semblance of renewed desire possessed his breast in a
burst of reckless contempt for everything outside himself--in a savage
disdain of Earth and of Heaven. He said to himself that he would not
repent. The punishment for his only sin was too heavy. There was no
mercy under Heaven. He did not want any. He thought, desperately, that
if he could find with her again the madness of the past, the strange
delirium that had changed him, that had worked his undoing, he would be
ready to pay for it with an eternity of perdition. He was intoxicated by
the subtle perfumes of the night; he was carried away by the suggestive
stir of the warm breeze; he was possessed by the exaltation of the
solitude, of the silence, of his memories, in the presence of that
figure offering herself in a submissive and patient devotion; coming to
him in the name of the past, in the name of those days when he could see
nothing, think of nothing, desire nothing--but her embrace.

He took her suddenly in his arms, and she clasped her hands round his
neck with a low cry of joy and surprise. He took her in his arms and
waited for the transport, for the madness, for the sensations remembered
and lost; and while she sobbed gently on his breast he held her and felt
cold, sick, tired, exasperated with his failure--and ended by cursing
himself. She clung to him trembling with the intensity of her
happiness and her love. He heard her whispering--her face hidden on his
shoulder--of past sorrow, of coming joy that would last for ever; of her
unshaken belief in his love. She had always believed. Always! Even while
his face was turned away from her in the dark days while his mind was
wandering in his own land, amongst his own people. But it would never
wander away from her any more, now it had come back. He would forget the
cold faces and the hard hearts of the cruel people. What was there to
remember? Nothing? Was it not so? . . .

He listened hopelessly to the faint murmur. He stood still and rigid,
pressing her mechanically to his breast while he thought that there was
nothing for him in the world. He was robbed of everything; robbed of
his passion, of his liberty, of forgetfulness, of consolation. She, wild
with delight, whispered on rapidly, of love, of light, of peace, of
long years. . . . He looked drearily above her head down into the deeper
gloom of the courtyard. And, all at once, it seemed to him that he was
peering into a sombre hollow, into a deep black hole full of decay
and of whitened bones; into an immense and inevitable grave full of
corruption where sooner or later he must, unavoidably, fall.

In the morning he came out early, and stood for a time in the doorway,
listening to the light breathing behind him--in the house. She slept. He
had not closed his eyes through all that night. He stood swaying--then
leaned against the lintel of the door. He was exhausted, done up;
fancied himself hardly alive. He had a disgusted horror of himself that,
as he looked at the level sea of mist at his feet, faded quickly into
dull indifference. It was like a sudden and final decrepitude of his
senses, of his body, of his thoughts. Standing on the high platform, he
looked over the expanse of low night fog above which, here and there,
stood out the feathery heads of tall bamboo clumps and the round tops
of single trees, resembling small islets emerging black and solid from a
ghostly and impalpable sea. Upon the faintly luminous background of the
eastern sky, the sombre line of the great forests bounded that smooth
sea of white vapours with an appearance of a fantastic and unattainable
shore.

He looked without seeing anything--thinking of himself. Before his eyes
the light of the rising sun burst above the forest with the suddenness
of an explosion. He saw nothing. Then, after a time, he murmured
with conviction--speaking half aloud to himself in the shock of the
penetrating thought:

“I am a lost man.”

He shook his hand above his head in a gesture careless and tragic, then
walked down into the mist that closed above him in shining undulations
under the first breath of the morning breeze.



CHAPTER FOUR

Willems moved languidly towards the river, then retraced his steps to
the tree and let himself fall on the seat under its shade. On the other
side of the immense trunk he could hear the old woman moving about,
sighing loudly, muttering to herself, snapping dry sticks, blowing up
the fire. After a while a whiff of smoke drifted round to where he sat.
It made him feel hungry, and that feeling was like a new indignity added
to an intolerable load of humiliations. He felt inclined to cry. He felt
very weak. He held up his arm before his eyes and watched for a little
while the trembling of the lean limb. Skin and bone, by God! How thin
he was! . . . He had suffered from fever a good deal, and now he thought
with tearful dismay that Lingard, although he had sent him food--and
what food, great Lord: a little rice and dried fish; quite unfit for a
white man--had not sent him any medicine. Did the old savage think that
he was like the wild beasts that are never ill? He wanted quinine.

He leaned the back of his head against the tree and closed his eyes.
He thought feebly that if he could get hold of Lingard he would like
to flay him alive; but it was only a blurred, a short and a passing
thought. His imagination, exhausted by the repeated delineations of his
own fate, had not enough strength left to grip the idea of revenge.
He was not indignant and rebellious. He was cowed. He was cowed by
the immense cataclysm of his disaster. Like most men, he had carried
solemnly within his breast the whole universe, and the approaching end
of all things in the destruction of his own personality filled him
with paralyzing awe. Everything was toppling over. He blinked his eyes
quickly, and it seemed to him that the very sunshine of the morning
disclosed in its brightness a suggestion of some hidden and sinister
meaning. In his unreasoning fear he tried to hide within himself. He
drew his feet up, his head sank between his shoulders, his arms hugged
his sides. Under the high and enormous tree soaring superbly out of the
mist in a vigorous spread of lofty boughs, with a restless and eager
flutter of its innumerable leaves in the clear sunshine, he remained
motionless, huddled up on his seat: terrified and still.

Willems’ gaze roamed over the ground, and then he watched with idiotic
fixity half a dozen black ants entering courageously a tuft of long
grass which, to them, must have appeared a dark and a dangerous jungle.
Suddenly he thought: There must be something dead in there. Some dead
insect. Death everywhere! He closed his eyes again in an access of
trembling pain. Death everywhere--wherever one looks. He did not want to
see the ants. He did not want to see anybody or anything. He sat in the
darkness of his own making, reflecting bitterly that there was no peace
for him. He heard voices now. . . . Illusion! Misery! Torment! Who would
come? Who would speak to him? What business had he to hear voices? . . .
yet he heard them faintly, from the river. Faintly, as if shouted far
off over there, came the words “We come back soon.” . . . Delirium and
mockery! Who would come back? Nobody ever comes back! Fever comes back.
He had it on him this morning. That was it. . . . He heard unexpectedly
the old woman muttering something near by. She had come round to his
side of the tree. He opened his eyes and saw her bent back before
him. She stood, with her hand shading her eyes, looking towards the
landing-place. Then she glided away. She had seen--and now she was going
back to her cooking; a woman incurious; expecting nothing; without fear
and without hope.

She had gone back behind the tree, and now Willems could see a human
figure on the path to the landing-place. It appeared to him to be a
woman, in a red gown, holding some heavy bundle in her arms; it was an
apparition unexpected, familiar and odd. He cursed through his teeth
. . . It had wanted only this! See things like that in broad daylight!
He was very bad--very bad. . . . He was horribly scared at this awful
symptom of the desperate state of his health.

This scare lasted for the space of a flash of lightning, and in the
next moment it was revealed to him that the woman was real; that she was
coming towards him; that she was his wife! He put his feet down to the
ground quickly, but made no other movement. His eyes opened wide. He was
so amazed that for a time he absolutely forgot his own existence. The
only idea in his head was: Why on earth did she come here?

Joanna was coming up the courtyard with eager, hurried steps. She
carried in her arms the child, wrapped up in one of Almayer’s white
blankets that she had snatched off the bed at the last moment, before
leaving the house. She seemed to be dazed by the sun in her eyes;
bewildered by her strange surroundings. She moved on, looking quickly
right and left in impatient expectation of seeing her husband at any
moment. Then, approaching the tree, she perceived suddenly a kind of a
dried-up, yellow corpse, sitting very stiff on a bench in the shade and
looking at her with big eyes that were alive. That was her husband.

She stopped dead short. They stared at one another in profound
stillness, with astounded eyes, with eyes maddened by the memories
of things far off that seemed lost in the lapse of time. Their looks
crossed, passed each other, and appeared to dart at them through
fantastic distances, to come straight from the incredible.

Looking at him steadily she came nearer, and deposited the blanket with
the child in it on the bench. Little Louis, after howling with terror in
the darkness of the river most of the night, now slept soundly and did
not wake. Willems’ eyes followed his wife, his head turning slowly after
her. He accepted her presence there with a tired acquiescence in its
fabulous improbability. Anything might happen. What did she come for?
She was part of the general scheme of his misfortune. He half expected
that she would rush at him, pull his hair, and scratch his face. Why
not? Anything might happen! In an exaggerated sense of his great bodily
weakness he felt somewhat apprehensive of possible assault. At any rate,
she would scream at him. He knew her of old. She could screech. He had
thought that he was rid of her for ever. She came now probably to see
the end. . . .

Suddenly she turned, and embracing him slid gently to the ground.

This startled him. With her forehead on his knees she sobbed
noiselessly. He looked down dismally at the top of her head. What was
she up to? He had not the strength to move--to get away. He heard
her whispering something, and bent over to listen. He caught the word
“Forgive.”

That was what she came for! All that way. Women are queer. Forgive. Not
he! . . . All at once this thought darted through his brain: How did she
come? In a boat. Boat! boat!

He shouted “Boat!” and jumped up, knocking her over. Before she had time
to pick herself up he pounced upon her and was dragging her up by the
shoulders. No sooner had she regained her feet than she clasped him
tightly round the neck, covering his face, his eyes, his mouth, his
nose with desperate kisses. He dodged his head about, shaking her arms,
trying to keep her off, to speak, to ask her. . . . She came in a
boat, boat, boat! . . . They struggled and swung round, tramping in a
semicircle. He blurted out, “Leave off. Listen,” while he tore at her
hands. This meeting of lawful love and sincere joy resembled fight.
Louis Willems slept peacefully under his blanket.

At last Willems managed to free himself, and held her off, pressing
her arms down. He looked at her. He had half a suspicion that he was
dreaming. Her lips trembled; her eyes wandered unsteadily, always coming
back to his face. He saw her the same as ever, in his presence. She
appeared startled, tremulous, ready to cry. She did not inspire him with
confidence. He shouted--

“How did you come?”

She answered in hurried words, looking at him intently--

“In a big canoe with three men. I know everything. Lingard’s away. I
come to save you. I know. . . . Almayer told me.”

“Canoe!--Almayer--Lies. Told you--You!” stammered Willems in a
distracted manner. “Why you?--Told what?”

Words failed him. He stared at his wife, thinking with fear that
she--stupid woman--had been made a tool in some plan of treachery . . .
in some deadly plot.

She began to cry--

“Don’t look at me like that, Peter. What have I done? I come to beg--to
beg--forgiveness. . . . Save--Lingard--danger.”

He trembled with impatience, with hope, with fear. She looked at him and
sobbed out in a fresh outburst of grief--

“Oh! Peter. What’s the matter?--Are you ill? . . . Oh! you look so
ill . . .”

He shook her violently into a terrified and wondering silence.

“How dare you!--I am well--perfectly well. . . . Where’s that boat? Will
you tell me where that boat is--at last? The boat, I say . . .
You! . . .”

“You hurt me,” she moaned.

He let her go, and, mastering her terror, she stood quivering and
looking at him with strange intensity. Then she made a movement forward,
but he lifted his finger, and she restrained herself with a long sigh.
He calmed down suddenly and surveyed her with cold criticism, with the
same appearance as when, in the old days, he used to find fault with the
household expenses. She found a kind of fearful delight in this abrupt
return into the past, into her old subjection.

He stood outwardly collected now, and listened to her disconnected
story. Her words seemed to fall round him with the distracting clatter
of stunning hail. He caught the meaning here and there, and straightway
would lose himself in a tremendous effort to shape out some intelligible
theory of events. There was a boat. A boat. A big boat that could take
him to sea if necessary. That much was clear. She brought it. Why did
Almayer lie to her so? Was it a plan to decoy him into some ambush?
Better that than hopeless solitude. She had money. The men were ready to
go anywhere . . . she said.

He interrupted her--

“Where are they now?”

“They are coming directly,” she answered, tearfully. “Directly. There
are some fishing stakes near here--they said. They are coming directly.”

Again she was talking and sobbing together. She wanted to be forgiven.
Forgiven? What for? Ah! the scene in Macassar. As if he had time to
think of that! What did he care what she had done months ago? He seemed
to struggle in the toils of complicated dreams where everything was
impossible, yet a matter of course, where the past took the aspects of
the future and the present lay heavy on his heart--seemed to take him by
the throat like the hand of an enemy. And while she begged, entreated,
kissed his hands, wept on his shoulder, adjured him in the name of God,
to forgive, to forget, to speak the word for which she longed, to look
at his boy, to believe in her sorrow and in her devotion--his eyes, in
the fascinated immobility of shining pupils, looked far away, far beyond
her, beyond the river, beyond this land, through days, weeks, months;
looked into liberty, into the future, into his triumph . . . into the
great possibility of a startling revenge.

He felt a sudden desire to dance and shout. He shouted--

“After all, we shall meet again, Captain Lingard.”

“Oh, no! No!” she cried, joining her hands.

He looked at her with surprise. He had forgotten she was there till the
break of her cry in the monotonous tones of her prayer recalled him
into that courtyard from the glorious turmoil of his dreams. It was very
strange to see her there--near him. He felt almost affectionate towards
her. After all, she came just in time. Then he thought: That other one.
I must get away without a scene. Who knows; she may be dangerous! . . .
And all at once he felt he hated Aissa with an immense hatred that
seemed to choke him. He said to his wife--

“Wait a moment.”

She, obedient, seemed to gulp down some words which wanted to come out.
He muttered: “Stay here,” and disappeared round the tree.

The water in the iron pan on the cooking fire boiled furiously, belching
out volumes of white steam that mixed with the thin black thread of
smoke. The old woman appeared to him through this as if in a fog,
squatting on her heels, impassive and weird.

Willems came up near and asked, “Where is she?”

The woman did not even lift her head, but answered at once, readily, as
though she had expected the question for a long time.

“While you were asleep under the tree, before the strange canoe came,
she went out of the house. I saw her look at you and pass on with a
great light in her eyes. A great light. And she went towards the place
where our master Lakamba had his fruit trees. When we were many here.
Many, many. Men with arms by their side. Many . . . men. And talk . . .
and songs . . .”

She went on like that, raving gently to herself for a long time after
Willems had left her.

Willems went back to his wife. He came up close to her and found he had
nothing to say. Now all his faculties were concentrated upon his wish to
avoid Aissa. She might stay all the morning in that grove. Why did those
rascally boatmen go? He had a physical repugnance to set eyes on her.
And somewhere, at the very bottom of his heart, there was a fear of her.
Why? What could she do? Nothing on earth could stop him now. He felt
strong, reckless, pitiless, and superior to everything. He wanted to
preserve before his wife the lofty purity of his character. He thought:
She does not know. Almayer held his tongue about Aissa. But if she finds
out, I am lost. If it hadn’t been for the boy I would . . . free of both
of them. . . . The idea darted through his head. Not he! Married. . . .
Swore solemnly. No . . . sacred tie. . . . Looking on his wife, he felt
for the first time in his life something approaching remorse. Remorse,
arising from his conception of the awful nature of an oath before the
altar. . . . She mustn’t find out. . . . Oh, for that boat! He must run
in and get his revolver. Couldn’t think of trusting himself unarmed with
those Bajow fellows. Get it now while she is away. Oh, for that boat!
. . . He dared not go to the river and hail. He thought: She might hear
me. . . . I’ll go and get . . . cartridges . . . then will be all ready
. . . nothing else. No.

And while he stood meditating profoundly before he could make up his
mind to run to the house, Joanna pleaded, holding to his arm--pleaded
despairingly, broken-hearted, hopeless whenever she glanced up at his
face, which to her seemed to wear the aspect of unforgiving
rectitude, of virtuous severity, of merciless justice. And she pleaded
humbly--abashed before him, before the unmoved appearance of the man she
had wronged in defiance of human and divine laws. He heard not a word of
what she said till she raised her voice in a final appeal--

“. . . Don’t you see I loved you always? They told me horrible things
about you. . . . My own mother! They told me--you have been--you have
been unfaithful to me, and I . . .”

“It’s a damned lie!” shouted Willems, waking up for a moment into
righteous indignation.

“I know! I know--Be generous.--Think of my misery since you went
away--Oh! I could have torn my tongue out. . . . I will never believe
anybody--Look at the boy--Be merciful--I could never rest till I found
you. . . . Say--a word--one word. . .”

“What the devil do you want?” exclaimed Willems, looking towards the
river. “Where’s that damned boat? Why did you let them go away? You
stupid!”

“Oh, Peter!--I know that in your heart you have forgiven me--You are so
generous--I want to hear you say so. . . . Tell me--do you?”

“Yes! yes!” said Willems, impatiently. “I forgive you. Don’t be a fool.”

“Don’t go away. Don’t leave me alone here. Where is the danger? I am so
frightened. . . . Are you alone here? Sure? . . . Let us go away!”

“That’s sense,” said Willems, still looking anxiously towards the river.

She sobbed gently, leaning on his arm.

“Let me go,” he said.

He had seen above the steep bank the heads of three men glide along
smoothly. Then, where the shore shelved down to the landing-place,
appeared a big canoe which came slowly to land.

“Here they are,” he went on, briskly. “I must get my revolver.”

He made a few hurried paces towards the house, but seemed to catch sight
of something, turned short round and came back to his wife. She stared
at him, alarmed by the sudden change in his face. He appeared much
discomposed. He stammered a little as he began to speak.

“Take the child. Walk down to the boat and tell them to drop it out of
sight, quick, behind the bushes. Do you hear? Quick! I will come to you
there directly. Hurry up!”

“Peter! What is it? I won’t leave you. There is some danger in this
horrible place.”

“Will you do what I tell you?” said Willems, in an irritable whisper.

“No! no! no! I won’t leave you. I will not lose you again. Tell me, what
is it?”

From beyond the house came a faint voice singing. Willems shook his wife
by the shoulder.

“Do what I tell you! Run at once!”

She gripped his arm and clung to him desperately. He looked up to heaven
as if taking it to witness of that woman’s infernal folly.

The song grew louder, then ceased suddenly, and Aissa appeared in sight,
walking slowly, her hands full of flowers.

She had turned the corner of the house, coming out into the full
sunshine, and the light seemed to leap upon her in a stream brilliant,
tender, and caressing, as if attracted by the radiant happiness of her
face. She had dressed herself for a festive day, for the memorable day
of his return to her, of his return to an affection that would last for
ever. The rays of the morning sun were caught by the oval clasp of the
embroidered belt that held the silk sarong round her waist. The dazzling
white stuff of her body jacket was crossed by a bar of yellow and silver
of her scarf, and in the black hair twisted high on her small head
shone the round balls of gold pins amongst crimson blossoms and white
star-shaped flowers, with which she had crowned herself to charm his
eyes; those eyes that were henceforth to see nothing in the world but
her own resplendent image. And she moved slowly, bending her face over
the mass of pure white champakas and jasmine pressed to her breast, in a
dreamy intoxication of sweet scents and of sweeter hopes.

She did not seem to see anything, stopped for a moment at the foot of
the plankway leading to the house, then, leaving her high-heeled wooden
sandals there, ascended the planks in a light run; straight, graceful,
flexible, and noiseless, as if she had soared up to the door on
invisible wings. Willems pushed his wife roughly behind the tree, and
made up his mind quickly for a rush to the house, to grab his revolver
and . . . Thoughts, doubts, expedients seemed to boil in his brain. He
had a flashing vision of delivering a stunning blow, of tying up that
flower bedecked woman in the dark house--a vision of things done swiftly
with enraged haste--to save his prestige, his superiority--something of
immense importance. . . . He had not made two steps when Joanna bounded
after him, caught the back of his ragged jacket, tore out a big piece,
and instantly hooked herself with both hands to the collar, nearly
dragging him down on his back. Although taken by surprise, he managed to
keep his feet. From behind she panted into his ear--

“That woman! Who’s that woman? Ah! that’s what those boatmen were
talking about. I heard them . . . heard them . . . heard . . . in the
night. They spoke about some woman. I dared not understand. I would not
ask . . . listen . . . believe! How could I? Then it’s true. No. Say no.
. . . Who’s that woman?”

He swayed, tugging forward. She jerked at him till the button gave way,
and then he slipped half out of his jacket and, turning round, remained
strangely motionless. His heart seemed to beat in his throat. He
choked--tried to speak--could not find any words. He thought with fury:
I will kill both of them.

For a second nothing moved about the courtyard in the great vivid
clearness of the day. Only down by the landing-place a waringan-tree,
all in a blaze of clustering red berries, seemed alive with the stir of
little birds that filled with the feverish flutter of their feathers
the tangle of overloaded branches. Suddenly the variegated flock rose
spinning in a soft whirr and dispersed, slashing the sunlit haze with
the sharp outlines of stiffened wings. Mahmat and one of his brothers
appeared coming up from the landing-place, their lances in their hands,
to look for their passengers.

Aissa coming now empty-handed out of the house, caught sight of the two
armed men. In her surprise she emitted a faint cry, vanished back and in
a flash reappeared in the doorway with Willems’ revolver in her hand.
To her the presence of any man there could only have an ominous meaning.
There was nothing in the outer world but enemies. She and the man she
loved were alone, with nothing round them but menacing dangers. She did
not mind that, for if death came, no matter from what hand, they would
die together.

Her resolute eyes took in the courtyard in a circular glance. She
noticed that the two strangers had ceased to advance and now were
standing close together leaning on the polished shafts of their weapons.
The next moment she saw Willems, with his back towards her, apparently
struggling under the tree with some one. She saw nothing distinctly,
and, unhesitating, flew down the plankway calling out: “I come!”

He heard her cry, and with an unexpected rush drove his wife backwards
to the seat. She fell on it; he jerked himself altogether out of his
jacket, and she covered her face with the soiled rags. He put his lips
close to her, asking--

“For the last time, will you take the child and go?”

She groaned behind the unclean ruins of his upper garment. She mumbled
something. He bent lower to hear. She was saying--

“I won’t. Order that woman away. I can’t look at her!”

“You fool!”

He seemed to spit the words at her, then, making up his mind, spun round
to face Aissa. She was coming towards them slowly now, with a look of
unbounded amazement on her face. Then she stopped and stared at him--who
stood there, stripped to the waist, bare-headed and sombre.

Some way off, Mahmat and his brother exchanged rapid words in calm
undertones. . . . This was the strong daughter of the holy man who had
died. The white man is very tall. There would be three women and the
child to take in the boat, besides that white man who had the money
. . . . The brother went away back to the boat, and Mahmat remained
looking on. He stood like a sentinel, the leaf-shaped blade of his
lance glinting above his head.

Willems spoke suddenly.

“Give me this,” he said, stretching his hand towards the revolver.

Aissa stepped back. Her lips trembled. She said very low: “Your people?”

He nodded slightly. She shook her head thoughtfully, and a few delicate
petals of the flowers dying in her hair fell like big drops of crimson
and white at her feet.

“Did you know?” she whispered.

“No!” said Willems. “They sent for me.”

“Tell them to depart. They are accursed. What is there between them and
you--and you who carry my life in your heart!”

Willems said nothing. He stood before her looking down on the ground and
repeating to himself: I must get that revolver away from her, at
once, at once. I can’t think of trusting myself with those men without
firearms. I must have it.

She asked, after gazing in silence at Joanna, who was sobbing gently--

“Who is she?”

“My wife,” answered Willems, without looking up. “My wife according to
our white law, which comes from God!”

“Your law! Your God!” murmured Aissa, contemptuously.

“Give me this revolver,” said Willems, in a peremptory tone. He felt an
unwillingness to close with her, to get it by force.

She took no notice and went on--

“Your law . . . or your lies? What am I to believe? I came--I ran to
defend you when I saw the strange men. You lied to me with your lips,
with your eyes. You crooked heart! . . . Ah!” she added, after an abrupt
pause. “She is the first! Am I then to be a slave?”

“You may be what you like,” said Willems, brutally. “I am going.”

Her gaze was fastened on the blanket under which she had detected a
slight movement. She made a long stride towards it. Willems turned half
round. His legs seemed to him to be made of lead. He felt faint and so
weak that, for a moment, the fear of dying there where he stood, before
he could escape from sin and disaster, passed through his mind in a wave
of despair.

She lifted up one corner of the blanket, and when she saw the sleeping
child a sudden quick shudder shook her as though she had seen something
inexpressibly horrible. She looked at Louis Willems with eyes fixed in
an unbelieving and terrified stare. Then her fingers opened slowly, and
a shadow seemed to settle on her face as if something obscure and fatal
had come between her and the sunshine. She stood looking down, absorbed,
as though she had watched at the bottom of a gloomy abyss the mournful
procession of her thoughts.

Willems did not move. All his faculties were concentrated upon the idea
of his release. And it was only then that the assurance of it came to
him with such force that he seemed to hear a loud voice shouting in the
heavens that all was over, that in another five, ten minutes, he would
step into another existence; that all this, the woman, the madness, the
sin, the regrets, all would go, rush into the past, disappear, become as
dust, as smoke, as drifting clouds--as nothing! Yes! All would vanish in
the unappeasable past which would swallow up all--even the very memory
of his temptation and of his downfall. Nothing mattered. He cared for
nothing. He had forgotten Aissa, his wife, Lingard, Hudig--everybody, in
the rapid vision of his hopeful future.

After a while he heard Aissa saying--

“A child! A child! What have I done to be made to devour this sorrow and
this grief? And while your man-child and the mother lived you told me
there was nothing for you to remember in the land from which you came!
And I thought you could be mine. I thought that I would . . .”

Her voice ceased in a broken murmur, and with it, in her heart, seemed
to die the greater and most precious hope of her new life.

She had hoped that in the future the frail arms of a child would bind
their two lives together in a bond which nothing on earth could break,
a bond of affection, of gratitude, of tender respect. She the first--the
only one! But in the instant she saw the son of that other woman she
felt herself removed into the cold, the darkness, the silence of
a solitude impenetrable and immense--very far from him, beyond the
possibility of any hope, into an infinity of wrongs without any redress.

She strode nearer to Joanna. She felt towards that woman anger, envy,
jealousy. Before her she felt humiliated and enraged. She seized the
hanging sleeve of the jacket in which Joanna was hiding her face and
tore it out of her hands, exclaiming loudly--

“Let me see the face of her before whom I am only a servant and a slave.
Ya-wa! I see you!”

Her unexpected shout seemed to fill the sunlit space of cleared grounds,
rise high and run on far into the land over the unstirring tree-tops
of the forests. She stood in sudden stillness, looking at Joanna with
surprised contempt.

“A Sirani woman!” she said, slowly, in a tone of wonder.

Joanna rushed at Willems--clung to him, shrieking: “Defend me, Peter!
Defend me from that woman!”

“Be quiet. There is no danger,” muttered Willems, thickly.

Aissa looked at them with scorn. “God is great! I sit in the dust at
your feet,” she exclaimed jeeringly, joining her hands above her head in
a gesture of mock humility. “Before you I am as nothing.” She turned to
Willems fiercely, opening her arms wide. “What have you made of me?” she
cried, “you lying child of an accursed mother! What have you made of me?
The slave of a slave. Don’t speak! Your words are worse than the poison
of snakes. A Sirani woman. A woman of a people despised by all.”

She pointed her finger at Joanna, stepped back, and began to laugh.

“Make her stop, Peter!” screamed Joanna. “That heathen woman. Heathen!
Heathen! Beat her, Peter.”

Willems caught sight of the revolver which Aissa had laid on the seat
near the child. He spoke in Dutch to his wife, without moving his head.

“Snatch the boy--and my revolver there. See. Run to the boat. I will
keep her back. Now’s the time.”

Aissa came nearer. She stared at Joanna, while between the short gusts
of broken laughter she raved, fumbling distractedly at the buckle of her
belt.

“To her! To her--the mother of him who will speak of your wisdom, of
your courage. All to her. I have nothing. Nothing. Take, take.”

She tore the belt off and threw it at Joanna’s feet. She flung down
with haste the armlets, the gold pins, the flowers; and the long hair,
released, fell scattered over her shoulders, framing in its blackness
the wild exaltation of her face.

“Drive her off, Peter. Drive off the heathen savage,” persisted Joanna.
She seemed to have lost her head altogether. She stamped, clinging to
Willems’ arm with both her hands.

“Look,” cried Aissa. “Look at the mother of your son! She is afraid. Why
does she not go from before my face? Look at her. She is ugly.”

Joanna seemed to understand the scornful tone of the words. As Aissa
stepped back again nearer to the tree she let go her husband’s arm,
rushed at her madly, slapped her face, then, swerving round, darted at
the child who, unnoticed, had been wailing for some time, and, snatching
him up, flew down to the waterside, sending shriek after shriek in an
access of insane terror.

Willems made for the revolver. Aissa passed swiftly, giving him an
unexpected push that sent him staggering away from the tree. She caught
up the weapon, put it behind her back, and cried--

“You shall not have it. Go after her. Go to meet danger. . . . Go to
meet death. . . . Go unarmed. . . . Go with empty hands and sweet words
. . . as you came to me. . . . Go helpless and lie to the forests, to
the sea . . . to the death that waits for you. . . .”

She ceased as if strangled. She saw in the horror of the passing
seconds the half-naked, wild-looking man before her; she heard the faint
shrillness of Joanna’s insane shrieks for help somewhere down by the
riverside. The sunlight streamed on her, on him, on the mute land, on
the murmuring river--the gentle brilliance of a serene morning that,
to her, seemed traversed by ghastly flashes of uncertain darkness. Hate
filled the world, filled the space between them--the hate of race, the
hate of hopeless diversity, the hate of blood; the hate against the man
born in the land of lies and of evil from which nothing but misfortune
comes to those who are not white. And as she stood, maddened, she heard
a whisper near her, the whisper of the dead Omar’s voice saying in her
ear: “Kill! Kill!”

She cried, seeing him move--

“Do not come near me . . . or you die now! Go while I remember yet . . .
remember. . . .”

Willems pulled himself together for a struggle. He dared not go unarmed.
He made a long stride, and saw her raise the revolver. He noticed that
she had not cocked it, and said to himself that, even if she did fire,
she would surely miss. Go too high; it was a stiff trigger. He made a
step nearer--saw the long barrel moving unsteadily at the end of her
extended arm. He thought: This is my time . . . He bent his knees
slightly, throwing his body forward, and took off with a long bound for
a tearing rush.

He saw a burst of red flame before his eyes, and was deafened by a
report that seemed to him louder than a clap of thunder. Something
stopped him short, and he stood aspiring in his nostrils the acrid smell
of the blue smoke that drifted from before his eyes like an immense
cloud. . . . Missed, by Heaven! . . . Thought so! . . . And he saw her
very far off, throwing her arms up, while the revolver, very small, lay
on the ground between them. . . . Missed! . . . He would go and pick it
up now. Never before did he understand, as in that second, the joy,
the triumphant delight of sunshine and of life. His mouth was full of
something salt and warm. He tried to cough; spat out. . . . Who
shrieks: In the name of God, he dies!--he dies!--Who dies?--Must pick
up--Night!--What? . . . Night already. . . .

* * * * * *


Many years afterwards Almayer was telling the story of the great
revolution in Sambir to a chance visitor from Europe. He was a
Roumanian, half naturalist, half orchid-hunter for commercial purposes,
who used to declare to everybody, in the first five minutes of
acquaintance, his intention of writing a scientific book about tropical
countries. On his way to the interior he had quartered himself upon
Almayer. He was a man of some education, but he drank his gin neat, or
only, at most, would squeeze the juice of half a small lime into the
raw spirit. He said it was good for his health, and, with that medicine
before him, he would describe to the surprised Almayer the wonders of
European capitals; while Almayer, in exchange, bored him by expounding,
with gusto, his unfavourable opinions of Sambir’s social and political
life. They talked far into the night, across the deal table on the
verandah, while, between them, clear-winged, small, and flabby insects,
dissatisfied with moonlight, streamed in and perished in thousands round
the smoky light of the evil-smelling lamp.

Almayer, his face flushed, was saying--

“Of course, I did not see that. I told you I was stuck in the creek on
account of father’s--Captain Lingard’s--susceptible temper. I am sure I
did it all for the best in trying to facilitate the fellow’s escape; but
Captain Lingard was that kind of man--you know--one couldn’t argue with.
Just before sunset the water was high enough, and we got out of the
creek. We got to Lakamba’s clearing about dark. All very quiet; I
thought they were gone, of course, and felt very glad. We walked up the
courtyard--saw a big heap of something lying in the middle. Out of
that she rose and rushed at us. By God. . . . You know those stories of
faithful dogs watching their masters’ corpses . . . don’t let anybody
approach . . . got to beat them off--and all that. . . . Well, ‘pon my
word we had to beat her off. Had to! She was like a fury. Wouldn’t let
us touch him. Dead--of course. Should think so. Shot through the lung,
on the left side, rather high up, and at pretty close quarters too, for
the two holes were small. Bullet came out through the shoulder-blade.
After we had overpowered her--you can’t imagine how strong that woman
was; it took three of us--we got the body into the boat and shoved off.
We thought she had fainted then, but she got up and rushed into the
water after us. Well, I let her clamber in. What could I do? The river’s
full of alligators. I will never forget that pull up-stream in the night
as long as I live. She sat in the bottom of the boat, holding his head
in her lap, and now and again wiping his face with her hair. There was
a lot of blood dried about his mouth and chin. And for all the six hours
of that journey she kept on whispering tenderly to that corpse! . . .
I had the mate of the schooner with me. The man said afterwards that
he wouldn’t go through it again--not for a handful of diamonds. And I
believed him--I did. It makes me shiver. Do you think he heard? No! I
mean somebody--something--heard? . . .”

“I am a materialist,” declared the man of science, tilting the bottle
shakily over the emptied glass.

Almayer shook his head and went on--

“Nobody saw how it really happened but that man Mahmat. He always said
that he was no further off from them than two lengths of his lance. It
appears the two women rowed each other while that Willems stood between
them. Then Mahmat says that when Joanna struck her and ran off, the
other two seemed to become suddenly mad together. They rushed here
and there. Mahmat says--those were his very words: ‘I saw her standing
holding the pistol that fires many times and pointing it all over the
campong. I was afraid--lest she might shoot me, and jumped on one side.
Then I saw the white man coming at her swiftly. He came like our master
the tiger when he rushes out of the jungle at the spears held by men.
She did not take aim. The barrel of her weapon went like this--from side
to side, but in her eyes I could see suddenly a great fear. There was
only one shot. She shrieked while the white man stood blinking his eyes
and very straight, till you could count slowly one, two, three; then
he coughed and fell on his face. The daughter of Omar shrieked without
drawing breath, till he fell. I went away then and left silence behind
me. These things did not concern me, and in my boat there was that other
woman who had promised me money. We left directly, paying no attention
to her cries. We are only poor men--and had but a small reward for our
trouble!’ That’s what Mahmat said. Never varied. You ask him yourself.
He’s the man you hired the boats from, for your journey up the river.”

“The most rapacious thief I ever met!” exclaimed the traveller, thickly.

“Ah! He is a respectable man. His two brothers got themselves
speared--served them right. They went in for robbing Dyak graves. Gold
ornaments in them you know. Serve them right. But he kept respectable
and got on. Aye! Everybody got on--but I. And all through that scoundrel
who brought the Arabs here.”

“De mortuis nil ni . . . num,” muttered Almayer’s guest.

“I wish you would speak English instead of jabbering in your own
language, which no one can understand,” said Almayer, sulkily.

“Don’t be angry,” hiccoughed the other. “It’s Latin, and it’s wisdom. It
means: Don’t waste your breath in abusing shadows. No offence there. I
like you. You have a quarrel with Providence--so have I. I was meant to
be a professor, while--look.”

His head nodded. He sat grasping the glass. Almayer walked up and down,
then stopped suddenly.

“Yes, they all got on but I. Why? I am better than any of them. Lakamba
calls himself a Sultan, and when I go to see him on business sends that
one-eyed fiend of his--Babalatchi--to tell me that the ruler is
asleep; and shall sleep for a long time. And that Babalatchi! He is the
Shahbandar of the State--if you please. Oh Lord! Shahbandar! The pig! A
vagabond I wouldn’t let come up these steps when he first came here.
. . . Look at Abdulla now. He lives here because--he says--here he is
away from white men. But he has hundreds of thousands. Has a house in
Penang. Ships. What did he not have when he stole my trade from me!
He knocked everything here into a cocked hat, drove father to
gold-hunting--then to Europe, where he disappeared. Fancy a man like
Captain Lingard disappearing as though he had been a common coolie.
Friends of mine wrote to London asking about him. Nobody ever heard of
him there! Fancy! Never heard of Captain Lingard!”

The learned gatherer of orchids lifted his head.

“He was a sen--sentimen--tal old buc--buccaneer,” he stammered out, “I
like him. I’m sent--tal myself.”

He winked slowly at Almayer, who laughed.

“Yes! I told you about that gravestone. Yes! Another hundred and twenty
dollars thrown away. Wish I had them now. He would do it. And the
inscription. Ha! ha! ha! ‘Peter Willems, Delivered by the Mercy of God
from his Enemy.’ What enemy--unless Captain Lingard himself? And then it
has no sense. He was a great man--father was--but strange in many ways.
. . . You haven’t seen the grave? On the top of that hill, there, on the
other side of the river. I must show you. We will go there.”

“Not I!” said the other. “No interest--in the sun--too tiring. . . .
Unless you carry me there.”

As a matter of fact he was carried there a few months afterwards, and
his was the second white man’s grave in Sambir; but at present he was
alive if rather drunk. He asked abruptly--

“And the woman?”

“Oh! Lingard, of course, kept her and her ugly brat in Macassar. Sinful
waste of money--that! Devil only knows what became of them since father
went home. I had my daughter to look after. I shall give you a word to
Mrs. Vinck in Singapore when you go back. You shall see my Nina there.
Lucky man. She is beautiful, and I hear so accomplished, so . . .”

“I have heard already twenty . . . a hundred times about your daughter.
What ab--about--that--that other one, Ai--ssa?”

“She! Oh! we kept her here. She was mad for a long time in a quiet sort
of way. Father thought a lot of her. He gave her a house to live in,
in my campong. She wandered about, speaking to nobody unless she caught
sight of Abdulla, when she would have a fit of fury, and shriek and
curse like anything. Very often she would disappear--and then we all had
to turn out and hunt for her, because father would worry till she was
brought back. Found her in all kinds of places. Once in the abandoned
campong of Lakamba. Sometimes simply wandering in the bush. She had one
favourite spot we always made for at first. It was ten to one on finding
her there--a kind of a grassy glade on the banks of a small brook. Why
she preferred that place, I can’t imagine! And such a job to get her
away from there. Had to drag her away by main force. Then, as the time
passed, she became quieter and more settled, like. Still, all my people
feared her greatly. It was my Nina that tamed her. You see the child was
naturally fearless and used to have her own way, so she would go to
her and pull at her sarong, and order her about, as she did everybody.
Finally she, I verily believe, came to love the child. Nothing could
resist that little one--you know. She made a capital nurse. Once when
the little devil ran away from me and fell into the river off the end
of the jetty, she jumped in and pulled her out in no time. I very nearly
died of fright. Now of course she lives with my serving girls, but does
what she likes. As long as I have a handful of rice or a piece of cotton
in the store she sha’n’t want for anything. You have seen her. She
brought in the dinner with Ali.”

“What! That doubled-up crone?”

“Ah!” said Almayer. “They age quickly here. And long foggy nights spent
in the bush will soon break the strongest backs--as you will find out
yourself soon.”

“Dis . . . disgusting,” growled the traveller.

He dozed off. Almayer stood by the balustrade looking out at the bluish
sheen of the moonlit night. The forests, unchanged and sombre, seemed
to hang over the water, listening to the unceasing whisper of the great
river; and above their dark wall the hill on which Lingard had buried
the body of his late prisoner rose in a black, rounded mass, upon
the silver paleness of the sky. Almayer looked for a long time at
the clean-cut outline of the summit, as if trying to make out through
darkness and distance the shape of that expensive tombstone. When he
turned round at last he saw his guest sleeping, his arms on the table,
his head on his arms.

“Now, look here!” he shouted, slapping the table with the palm of his
hand.

The naturalist woke up, and sat all in a heap, staring owlishly.

“Here!” went on Almayer, speaking very loud and thumping the table, “I
want to know. You, who say you have read all the books, just tell me
. . . why such infernal things are ever allowed. Here I am! Done harm to
nobody, lived an honest life . . . and a scoundrel like that is born in
Rotterdam or some such place at the other end of the world somewhere,
travels out here, robs his employer, runs away from his wife, and ruins
me and my Nina--he ruined me, I tell you--and gets himself shot at last
by a poor miserable savage, that knows nothing at all about him really.
Where’s the sense of all this? Where’s your Providence? Where’s the good
for anybody in all this? The world’s a swindle! A swindle! Why should I
suffer? What have I done to be treated so?”

He howled out his string of questions, and suddenly became silent.
The man who ought to have been a professor made a tremendous effort to
articulate distinctly--

“My dear fellow, don’t--don’t you see that the ba-bare fac--the fact of
your existence is off--offensive. . . . I--I like you--like . . .”

He fell forward on the table, and ended his remarks by an unexpected and
prolonged snore.

Almayer shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the balustrade.

He drank his own trade gin very seldom, but when he did, a ridiculously
small quantity of the stuff could induce him to assume a rebellious
attitude towards the scheme of the universe. And now, throwing his body
over the rail, he shouted impudently into the night, turning his face
towards that far-off and invisible slab of imported granite upon which
Lingard had thought fit to record God’s mercy and Willems’ escape.

“Father was wrong--wrong!” he yelled. “I want you to smart for it. You
must smart for it! Where are you, Willems? Hey? . . . Hey? . . . Where
there is no mercy for you--I hope!”

“Hope,” repeated in a whispering echo the startled forests, the river
and the hills; and Almayer, who stood waiting, with a smile of tipsy
attention on his lips, heard no other answer.





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