Part 1 out of 6
An Outcast of the Islands
by Joseph Conrad
Pues el delito mayor
Del hombre es haber nacito
EDWARD LANCELOT SANDERSON
"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
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.
AN OUTCAST OF THE ISLANDS
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
"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
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
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
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--
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
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
"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
"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
"There's not much of you for seventeen. Are you hungry?"
"Will you come with me, in that brig there?"
The boy moved without a word towards the boat and scrambled into
"Knows his place," muttered Lingard to himself as he stepped
heavily into the stern sheets and took up the yoke lines. "Give
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
"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
"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.
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
He dared not enter the house through the open door of the
dining-room, but stood irresolute by the little work-table where
trailed a white piece of calico, with a needle stuck in it, as if
the work had been left hurriedly. The pink-crested cockatoo
started, on his appearance, into clumsy activity and began to
climb laboriously up and down his perch, calling "Joanna" with
indistinct loudness and a persistent screech that prolonged the
last syllable of the name as if in a peal of insane laughter.
The screen in the doorway moved gently once or twice in the
breeze, and each time Willems started slightly, expecting his
wife, but he never lifted his eyes, although straining his ears
for the sound of her footsteps. Gradually he lost himself in his
thoughts, in the endless speculation as to the manner in which
she would receive his news--and his orders. In this
preoccupationhe almost forgot the fear of her presence. No doubt
she will cry, she will lament, she will be helpless and
frightened and passive as ever. And he would have to drag that
limp weight on and on through the darkness of a spoiled life.
Horrible! Of course he could not abandon her and the child to
certain misery or possible starvation. The wife and the child of
Willems. Willems the successful, the smart; Willems the conf . .
. . Pah! And what was Willems now? Willems the. . . . He
strangled the half-born thought, and cleared his throat to stifle
a groan. Ah! Won't they talk to-night in the billiard-room--his
world, where he had been first--all those men to whom he had been
so superciliously condescending. Won't they talk with surprise,
and affected regret, and grave faces, and wise nods. Some of
them owed him money, but he never pressed anybody. Not he.
Willems, the prince of good fellows, they called him. And now
they will rejoice, no doubt, at his downfall. A crowd of
imbeciles. In his abasement he was yet aware of his superiority
over those fellows, who were merely honest or simply not found
out yet. A crowd of imbeciles! He shook his fist at the evoked
image of his friends, and the startled parrot fluttered its wings
and shrieked in desperate 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
"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
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
"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
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!
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!
"Why, Captain Lingard," he burst out, "the fellow licked my
"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
"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
"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,
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
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,
"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
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
"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
"There's the breeze. Which way do you want to cast her, Captain
Lingard's eyes, that had been fixed aloft, glanced down at the
dejected figure of the man sitting on the skylight. He seemed to
hesitate for a minute.
"To the northward, to the northward," he answered, testily, as if
annoyed at his own fleeting thought, "and bear a hand there.
Every puff of wind is worth money in these seas."
He remained motionless, listening to the rattle of blocks and the
creaking of trusses as the head-yards were hauled round. Sail
was made on the ship and the windlass manned again while he stood
still, lost in thought. He only roused himself when a barefooted
seacannie glided past him silently on his way to the wheel.
"Put the helm aport! Hard over!" he said, in his harsh
sea-voice, to the man whose face appeared suddenly out of the
darkness in the circle of light thrown upwards from the binnacle
The anchor was secured, the yards trimmed, and the brig began to
move out of the roadstead. The sea woke up under the push of the
sharp cutwater, and whispered softly to the gliding craft in that
tender and rippling murmur in which it speaks sometimes to those
it nurses and loves. Lingard stood by the taff-rail listening,
with a pleased smile till the Flash began to draw close to the
only other vessel in the anchorage.
"Here, Willems," he said, calling him to his side, "d'ye see that
barque here? That's an Arab vessel. White men have mostly given
up the game, but this fellow drops in my wake often, and lives in
hopes of cutting me out in that settlement. Not while I live, I
trust. You see, Willems, I brought prosperity to that place. I
composed their quarrels, and saw them grow under my eyes.
There's peace and happiness there. I am more master there than
his Dutch Excellency down in Batavia ever will be when some day a
lazy man-of-war blunders at last against the river. I mean to
keep the Arabs out of it, with their lies and their intrigues. I
shall keep the venomous breed out, if it costs me my fortune."
The Flash drew quietly abreast of the barque, and was beginning
to drop it astern when a white figure started up on the poop of
the Arab vessel, and a voice called out--
"Greeting to the Rajah Laut!"
"To you greeting!" answered Lingard, after a moment of hesitating
surprise. Then he turned to Willems with a grim smile. "That's
Abdulla's voice," he said. "Mighty civil all of a sudden, isn't
he? I wonder what it means. Just like his impudence! No
matter! His civility or his impudence are all one to me. I know
that this fellow will be under way and after me like a shot. I
don't care! I have the heels of anything that floats in these
seas," he added, while his proud and loving glance ran over and
rested fondly amongst the brig's lofty and graceful spars.
"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
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
"Would a white man listen to a beggar's daughter?" said Lakamba,
"Hai! I have seen . . ."
"And what did you see? O one-eyed one!" exclaimed Lakamba,
"I have seen the strange white man walking on the narrow path
before the sun could dry the drops of dew on the bushes, and I
have heard the whisper of his voice when he spoke through the
smoke of the morning fire to that woman with big eyes and a pale
skin. Woman in body, but in heart a man! She knows no fear and
no shame. I have heard her voice too."
He nodded twice at Lakamba sagaciously and gave himself up to
silent musing, his solitary eye fixed immovably upon the straight
wall of forest on the opposite bank. Lakamba lay silent, staring
vacantly. Under them Lingard's own river rippled softly amongst
the piles supporting the bamboo platform of the little
watch-house before which they were lying. Behind the house the
ground rose in a gentle swell of a low hill cleared of the big
timber, but thickly overgrown with the grass and bushes, now
withered and burnt up in the long drought of the dry season.
This old rice clearing, which had been several years lying
fallow, was framed on three sides by the impenetrable and tangled
growth of the untouched forest, and on the fourth came down to
the muddy river bank. There was not a breath of wind on the land
or river, but high above, in the transparent sky, little clouds
rushed past the moon, now appearing in her diffused rays with the
brilliance of silver, now obscuring her face with the blackness
of ebony. Far away, in the middle of the river, a fish would
leap now and then with a short splash, the very loudness of which
measured the profundity of the overpowering silence that
swallowed up the sharp sound suddenly.
Lakamba dozed uneasily off, but the wakeful Babalatchi sat
thinking deeply, sighing from time to time, and slapping himself
over his naked torso incessantly in a vain endeavour to keep off
an occasional and wandering mosquito that, rising as high as the
platform above the swarms of the riverside, would settle with a
ping of triumph on the unexpected victim. The moon, pursuing her
silent and toilsome path, attained her highest elevation, and
chasing the shadow of the roof-eaves from Lakamba's face, seemed
to hang arrested over their heads. Babalatchi revived the fire
and woke up his companion, who sat up yawning and shivering
Babalatchi spoke again in a voice which was like the murmur of a
brook that runs over the stones: low, monotonous, persistent;
irresistible in its power to wear out and to destroy the hardest
obstacles. Lakamba listened, silent but interested. They were
Malay adventurers; ambitious men of that place and time; the
Bohemians of their race. In the early days of the settlement,
before the ruler Patalolo had shaken off his allegiance to the
Sultan of Koti, Lakamba appeared in the river with two small
trading vessels. He was disappointed to find already some
semblance of organization amongst the settlers of various races
who recognized the unobtrusive sway of old Patalolo, and he was
not politic enough to conceal his disappointment. He declared
himself to be a man from the east, from those parts where no
white man ruled, and to be of an oppressed race, but of a
princely family. And truly enough he had all the gifts of an
exiled prince. He was discontented, ungrateful, turbulent; a man
full of envy and ready for intrigue, with brave words and empty
promises for ever on his lips. He was obstinate, but his will
was made up of short impulses that never lasted long enough to
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
For a short time he dreamed of vengeance, but his dream was
dispelled by the cold reception of the Sultan of Sulu, with whom
they sought refuge at first and who gave them only a contemptuous
and grudging hospitality. While Omar, nursed by Aissa, was
recovering from his wounds, Babalatchi attended industriously
before the exalted Presence that had extended to them the hand of
Protection. For all that, when Babalatchi spoke into the
Sultan's ear certain proposals of a great and profitable raid,
that was to sweep the islands from Ternate to Acheen, the Sultan
was very angry. "I know you, you men from the west," he
exclaimed, angrily. "Your words are poison in a Ruler's ears.
Your talk is of fire and murder and booty--but on our heads falls
the vengeance of the blood you drink. Begone!"
There was nothing to be done. Times were changed. So changed
that, when a Spanish frigate appeared before the island and a
demand was sent to the Sultan to deliver Omar and his companions,
Babalatchi was not surprised to hear that they were going to be
made the victims of political expediency. But from that sane
appreciation of danger to tame submission was a very long step.
And then began Omar's second flight. It began arms in hand, for
the little band had to fight in the night on the beach for the
possession of the small canoes in which those that survived got
away at last. The story of that escape lives in the hearts of
brave men even to this day. They talk of Babalatchi and of the
strong woman who carried her blind father through the surf under
the fire of the warship from the north. The companions of that
piratical and son-less Aeneas are dead now, but their ghosts
wander over the waters and the islands at night--after the manner
of ghosts--and haunt the fires by which sit armed men, as is meet
for the spirits of fearless warriors who died in battle. There
they may hear the story of their own deeds, of their own courage,
suffering and death, on the lips of living men. That story is
told in many places. On the cool mats in breezy verandahs of
Rajahs' houses it is alluded to disdainfully by impassive
statesmen, but amongst armed men that throng the courtyards it is
a tale which stills the murmur of voices and the tinkle of
anklets; arrests the passage of the siri-vessel, and fixes the
eyes in absorbed gaze. They talk of the fight, of the fearless
woman, of the wise man; of long suffering on the thirsty sea in
leaky canoes; of those who died. . . . Many died. A few
survived. The chief, the woman, and another one who became
There was no hint of incipient greatness in Babalatchi's
unostentatious arrival in Sambir. He came with Omar and Aissa in
a small prau loaded with green cocoanuts, and claimed the
ownership of both vessel and cargo. How it came to pass that
Babalatchi, fleeing for his life in a small canoe, managed to end
his hazardous journey in a vessel full of a valuable commodity,
is one of those secrets of the sea that baffle the most searching
inquiry. In truth nobody inquired much. There were rumours of a
missing trading prau belonging to Menado, but they were vague and
remained mysterious. Babalatchi told a story which--it must be
said in justice to Patalolo's knowledge of the world--was not
believed. When the Rajah ventured to state his doubts,
Babalatchi asked him in tones of calm remonstrance whether he
could reasonably suppose that two oldish men--who had only one
eye amongst them--and a young woman were likely to gain
possession of anything whatever by violence? Charity was a
virtue recommended by the Prophet. There were charitable people,
and their hand 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
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
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