Part 3 out of 6
the plankway, into the courtyard. The light within trickled
through the cracks of the badly joined walls of the house, and in
the illuminated doorway appeared the moving form of Aissa. She
also passed into the night outside and disappeared from view.
Babalatchi wondered where she had got to, and for the moment
forgot the approach of Willems. The voice of the white man
speaking roughly above his head made him jump to his feet as if
impelled upwards by a powerful spring.
Babalatchi waved his hand towards the hut and stood listening
intently. The voices within had ceased, then recommenced again.
He shot an oblique glance at Willems, whose indistinct form
towered above the glow of dying embers.
"Make up this fire," said Willems, abruptly. "I want to see your
With obliging alacrity Babalatchi put some dry brushwood on the
coals from a handy pile, keeping all the time a watchful eye on
Willems. When he straightened himself up his hand wandered
almost involuntarily towards his left side to feel the handle of
a kriss amongst the folds of his sarong, but he tried to look
unconcerned under the angry stare.
"You are in good health, please God?" he murmured.
"Yes!" answered Willems, with an unexpected loudness that caused
Babalatchi to start nervously. "Yes! . . . Health! . . . You .
He made a long stride and dropped both his hands on the Malay's
shoulders. In the powerful grip Babalatchi swayed to and fro
limply, but his face was as peaceful as when he sat--a little
while ago--dreaming by the fire. With a final vicious jerk
Willems let go suddenly, and turning away on his heel stretched
his hands over the fire. Babalatchi stumbled backwards,
recovered himself, and wriggled his shoulders laboriously.
"Tse! Tse! Tse!" he clicked, deprecatingly. After a short
silence he went on with accentuated admiration: "What a man it
is! What a strong man! A man like that"--he concluded, in a
tone of meditative wonder--"a man like that could upset
He gazed hopefully for a while at Willems' broad shoulders, and
continued, addressing the inimical back, in a low and persuasive
"But why be angry with me? With me who think only of your good?
Did I not give her refuge, in my own house? Yes, Tuan! This is
my own house. I will let you have it without any recompense
because she must have a shelter. Therefore you and she shall
live here. Who can know a woman's mind? And such a woman! If
she wanted to go away from that other place, who am I--to say no!
I am Omar's servant. I said: 'Gladden my heart by taking my
house.' Did I say right?"
"I'll tell you something," said Willems, without changing his
position; "if she takes a fancy to go away from this place it is
you who shall suffer. I will wring your neck."
"When the heart is full of love there is no room in it for
justice," recommenced Babalatchi, with unmoved and persistent
softness. "Why slay me? You know, Tuan, what she wants. A
splendid destiny is her desire--as of all women. You have been
wronged and cast out by your people. She knows that. But you
are brave, you are strong--you are a man; and, Tuan--I am older
than you--you are in her hand. Such is the fate of strong men.
And she is of noble birth and cannot live like a slave. You know
her--and you are in her hand. You are like a snared bird,
because of your strength. And--remember I am a man that has seen
much--submit, Tuan! Submit! . . . Or else . . ."
He drawled out the last words in a hesitating manner and broke
off his sentence. Still stretching his hands in turns towards
the blaze and without moving his head, Willems gave a short,
lugubrious laugh, and asked--
"Or else what?"
"She may go away again. Who knows?" finished Babalatchi, in a
gentle and insinuating tone.
This time Willems spun round sharply. Babalatchi stepped back.
"If she does it will be the worse for you," said Willems, in a
menacing voice. "It will be your doing, and I . . ."
Babalatchi spoke, from beyond the circle of light, with calm
"Hai--ya! I have heard before. If she goes--then I die. Good!
Will that bring her back do you think--Tuan? If it is my doing
it shall be well done, O white man! and--who knows--you will have
to live without her."
Willems gasped and started back like a confident wayfarer who,
pursuing a path he thinks safe, should see just in time a
bottomless chasm under his feet. Babalatchi came into the light
and approached Willems sideways, with his head thrown back and a
little on one side so as to bring his only eye to bear full on
the countenance of the tall white man.
"You threaten me," said Willems, indistinctly.
"I, Tuan!" exclaimed Babalatchi, with a slight suspicion of irony
in the affected surprise of his tone. "I, Tuan? Who spoke of
death? Was it I? No! I spoke of life only. Only of life. Of a
long life for a lonely man!"
They stood with the fire between them, both silent, both aware,
each in his own way, of the importance of the passing minutes.
Babalatchi's fatalism gave him only an insignificant relief in
his suspense, because no fatalism can kill the thought of the
future, the desire of success, the pain of waiting for the
disclosure of the immutable decrees of Heaven. Fatalism is born
of the fear of failure, for we all believe that we carry success
in our own hands, and we suspect that our hands are weak.
Babalatchi looked at Willems and congratulated himself upon his
ability to manage that white man. There was a pilot for
Abdulla--a victim to appease Lingard's anger in case of any
mishap. He would take good care to put him forward in
everything. In any case let the white men fight it out amongst
themselves. They were fools. He hated them--the strong
fools--and knew that for his righteous wisdom was reserved the
Willems measured dismally the depth of his degradation. He--a
white man, the admired of white men, was held by those miserable
savages whose tool he was about to become. He felt for them all
the hate of his race, of his morality, of his intelligence. He
looked upon himself with dismay and pity. She had him. He had
heard of such things. He had heard of women who . . . He would
never believe such stories. . . . Yet they were true. But his
own captivity seemed more complete, terrible, and final--without
the hope of any redemption. He wondered at the wickedness of
Providence that had made him what he was; that, worse still,
permitted such a creature as Almayer to live. He had done his
duty by going to him. Why did he not understand? All men were
fools. He gave him his chance. The fellow did not see it. It
was hard, very hard on himself--Willems. He wanted to take her
from amongst her own people. That's why he had condescended to
go to Almayer. He examined himself. With a sinking heart he
thought that really he could not--somehow--live without her. It
was terrible and sweet. He remembered the first days. Her
appearance, her face, her smile, her eyes, her words. A savage
woman! Yet he perceived that he could think of nothing else but
of the three days of their separation, of the few hours since
their reunion. Very well. If he could not take her away, then
he would go to her. . . . He had, for a moment, a wicked
pleasure in the thought that what he had done could not be
undone. He had given himself up. He felt proud of it. He was
ready to face anything, do anything. He cared for nothing, for
nobody. He thought himself very fearless, but as a matter of
fact he was only drunk; drunk with the poison of passionate
He stretched his hands over the fire, looked round and called
She must have been near, for she appeared at once within the
light of the fire. The upper part of her body was wrapped up in
the thick folds of a head covering which was pulled down over her
brow, and one end of it thrown across from shoulder to shoulder
hid the lower part of her face. Only her eyes were visible--
sombre and gleaming like a starry night.
Willems, looking at this strange, muffled figure, felt
exasperated, amazed and helpless. The ex-confidential clerk of
the rich Hudig would hug to his breast settled conceptions of
respectable conduct. He sought refuge within his ideas of
propriety from the dismal mangroves, from the darkness of the
forests and of the heathen souls of the savages that were his
masters. She looked like an animated package of cheap cotton
goods! It made him furious. She had disguised herself so
because a man of her race was near! He told her not to do it,
and she did not obey. Would his ideas ever change so as to agree
with her own notions of what was becoming, proper and
respectable? He was really afraid they would, in time. It
seemed to him awful. She would never change! This manifestation
of her sense of proprieties was another sign of their hopeless
diversity; something like another step downwards for him. She
was too different from him. He was so civilized! It struck him
suddenly that they had nothing in common--not a thought, not a
feeling; he could not make clear to her the simplest motive of
any act of his . . . and he could not live without her.
The courageous man who stood facing Babalatchi gasped
unexpectedly with a gasp that was half a groan. This little
matter of her veiling herself against his wish acted upon him
like a disclosure of some great disaster. It increased his
contempt for himself as the slave of a passion he had always
derided, as the man unable to assert his will. This will, all
his sensations, his personality--all this seemed to be lost in
the abominable desire, in the priceless promise of that woman.
He was not, of course, able to discern clearly the causes of his
misery; but there are none so ignorant as not to know suffering,
none so simple as not to feel and suffer from the shock of
warring impulses. The ignorant must feel and suffer from their
complexity as well as the wisest; but to them the pain of
struggle and defeat appears strange, mysterious, remediable and
unjust. He stood watching her, watching himself. He tingled
with rage from head to foot, as if he had been struck in the
face. Suddenly he laughed; but his laugh was like a distorted
echo of some insincere mirth very far away.
From the other side of the fire Babalatchi spoke hurriedly--
"Here is Tuan Abdulla."
Directly on stepping outside Omar's hut Abdulla caught sight of
Willems. He expected, of course, to see a white man, but not
that white man, whom he knew so well. Everybody who traded in
the islands, and who had any dealings with Hudig, knew Willems.
For the last two years of his stay in Macassar the confidential
clerk had been managing all the local trade of the house under a
very slight supervision only on the part of the master. So
everybody knew Willems, Abdulla amongst others--but he was
ignorant of Willems' disgrace. As a matter of fact the thing had
been kept very quiet--so quiet that a good many people in
Macassar were expecting Willems' return there, supposing him to
be absent on some confidential mission. Abdulla, in his
surprise, hesitated on the threshold. He had prepared himself to
see some seaman--some old officer of Lingard's; a common man--
perhaps difficult to deal with, but still no match for him.
Instead, he saw himself confronted by an individual whose
reputation for sagacity in business was well known to him. How
did he get here, and why? Abdulla, recovering from his surprise,
advanced in a dignified manner towards the fire, keeping his eyes
fixed steadily on Willems. When within two paces from Willems he
stopped and lifted his right hand in grave salutation. Willems
nodded slightly and spoke after a while.
"We know each other, Tuan Abdulla," he said, with an assumption
of easy indifference.
"We have traded together," answered Abdulla, solemnly, "but it
was far from here."
"And we may trade here also," said Willems.
"The place does not matter. It is the open mind and the true
heart that are required in business."
"Very true. My heart is as open as my mind. I will tell you why
I am here."
"What need is there? In leaving home one learns life. You
travel. Travelling is victory! You shall return with much
"I shall never return," interrupted Willems. "I have done with
my people. I am a man without brothers. Injustice destroys
Abdulla expressed his surprise by elevating his eyebrows. At the
same time he made a vague gesture with his arm that could be
taken as an equivalent of an approving and conciliating "just
Till then the Arab had not taken any notice of Aissa, who stood
by the fire, but now she spoke in the interval of silence
following Willems' declaration. In a voice that was much
deadened by her wrappings she addressed Abdulla in a few words of
greeting, calling him a kinsman. Abdulla glanced at her swiftly
for a second, and then, with perfect good breeding, fixed his
eyes on the ground. She put out towards him her hand, covered
with a corner of her face-veil, and he took it, pressed it twice,
and dropping it turned towards Willems. She looked at the two
men searchingly, then backed away and seemed to melt suddenly
into the night.
"I know what you came for, Tuan Abdulla," said Willems; "I have
been told by that man there." He nodded towards Babalatchi, then
went on slowly, "It will be a difficult thing."
"Allah makes everything easy," interjected Babalatchi, piously,
from a distance.
The two men turned quickly and stood looking at him thoughtfully,
as if in deep consideration of the truth of that proposition.
Under their sustained gaze Babalatchi experienced an unwonted
feeling of shyness, and dared not approach nearer. At last
Willems moved slightly, Abdulla followed readily, and they both
walked down the courtyard, their voices dying away in the
darkness. Soon they were heard returning, and the voices grew
distinct as their forms came out of the gloom. By the fire they
wheeled again, and Babalatchi caught a few words. Willems was
"I have been at sea with him many years when young. I have used
my knowledge to observe the way into the river when coming in,
Abdulla assented in general terms.
"In the variety of knowledge there is safety," he said; and then
they passed out of earshot.
Babalatchi ran to the tree and took up his position in the solid
blackness under its branches, leaning against the trunk. There
he was about midway between the fire and the other limit of the
two men's walk. They passed him close. Abdulla slim, very
straight, his head high, and his hands hanging before him and
twisting mechanically the string of beads; Willems tall, broad,
looking bigger and stronger in contrast to the slight white
figure by the side of which he strolled carelessly, taking one
step to the other's two; his big arms in constant motion as he
gesticulated vehemently, bending forward to look Abdulla in the
They passed and repassed close to Babalatchi some half a dozen
times, and, whenever they were between him and the fire, he could
see them plain enough. Sometimes they would stop short, Willems
speaking emphatically, Abdulla listening with rigid attention,
then, when the other had ceased, bending his head slightly as if
consenting to some demand, or admitting some statement. Now and
then Babalatchi caught a word here and there, a fragment of a
sentence, a loud exclamation. Impelled by curiosity he crept to
the very edge of the black shadow under the tree. They were
nearing him, and he heard Willems say--
"You will pay that money as soon as I come on board. That I must
He could not catch Abdulla's reply. When they went past again,
Willems was saying--
"My life is in your hand anyway. The boat that brings me on
board your ship shall take the money to Omar. You must have it
ready in a sealed bag."
Again they were out of hearing, but instead of coming back they
stopped by the fire facing each other. Willems moved his arm,
shook his hand on high talking all the time, then brought it down
jerkily--stamped his foot. A short period of immobility ensued.
Babalatchi, gazing intently, saw Abdulla's lips move almost
imperceptibly. Suddenly Willems seized the Arab's passive hand
and shook it. Babalatchi drew the long breath of relieved
suspense. The conference was over. All well, apparently.
He ventured now to approach the two men, who saw him and waited
in silence. Willems had retired within himself already, and wore
a look of grim indifference. Abdulla moved away a step or two.
Babalatchi looked at him inquisitively.
"I go now," said Abdulla, "and shall wait for you outside the
river, Tuan Willems, till the second sunset. You have only one
word, I know."
"Only one word," repeated Willems.
Abdulla and Babalatchi walked together down the enclosure,
leaving the white man alone by the fire. The two Arabs who had
come with Abdulla preceded them and passed at once through the
little gate into the light and the murmur of voices of the
principal courtyard, but Babalatchi and Abdulla stopped on this
side of it. Abdulla said--
"It is well. We have spoken of many things. He consents."
"When?" asked Babalatchi, eagerly.
"On the second day from this. I have promised every thing. I
mean to keep much."
"Your hand is always open, O Most Generous amongst Believers!
You will not forget your servant who called you here. Have I not
spoken the truth? She has made roast meat of his heart."
With a horizontal sweep of his arm Abdulla seemed to push away
that last statement, and said slowly, with much meaning--
"He must be perfectly safe; do you understand? Perfectly safe--as
if he was amongst his own people--till . . ."
"Till when?" whispered Babalatchi.
"Till I speak," said Abdulla. "As to Omar." He hesitated for a
moment, then went on very low: "He is very old."
"Hai-ya! Old and sick," murmured Babalatchi, with sudden
"He wanted me to kill that white man. He begged me to have him
killed at once," said Abdulla, contemptuously, moving again
towards the gate.
"He is impatient, like those who feel death near them," exclaimed
"Omar shall dwell with me," went on Abdulla, "when . . . But no
matter. Remember! The white man must be safe."
"He lives in your shadow," answered Babalatchi, solemnly. "It is
enough!" He touched his forehead and fell back to let Abdulla go
And now they are back in the courtyard wherefrom, at their
appearance, listlessness vanishes, and all the faces become alert
and interested once more. Lakamba approaches his guest, but
looks at Babalatchi, who reassures him by a confident nod.
Lakamba clumsily attempts a smile, and looking, with natural and
ineradicable sulkiness, from under his eyebrows at the man whom
he wants to honour, asks whether he would condescend to visit the
place of sitting down and take food. Or perhaps he would prefer
to give himself up to repose? The house is his, and what is in
it, and those many men that stand afar watching the interview are
his. Syed Abdulla presses his host's hand to his breast, and
informs him in a confidential murmur that his habits are ascetic
and his temperament inclines to melancholy. No rest; no food; no
use whatever for those many men who are his. Syed Abdulla is
impatient to be gone. Lakamba is sorrowful but polite, in his
hesitating, gloomy way. Tuan Abdulla must have fresh boatmen,
and many, to shorten the dark and fatiguing road. Hai-ya!
By the riverside indistinct forms leap into a noisy and
disorderly activity. There are cries, orders, banter, abuse.
Torches blaze sending out much more smoke than light, and in
their red glare Babalatchi comes up to say that the boats are
Through that lurid glare Syed Abdulla, in his long white gown,
seems to glide fantastically, like a dignified apparition
attended by two inferior shades, and stands for a moment at the
landing-place to take leave of his host and ally--whom he loves.
Syed Abdulla says so distinctly before embarking, and takes his
seat in the middle of the canoe under a small canopy of blue
calico stretched on four sticks. Before and behind Syed Abdulla,
the men squatting by the gunwales hold high the blades of their
paddles in readiness for a dip, all together. Ready? Not yet.
Hold on all! Syed Abdulla speaks again, while Lakamba and
Babalatchi stand close on the bank to hear his words. His words
are encouraging. Before the sun rises for the second time they
shall meet, and Syed Abdulla's ship shall float on the waters of
this river--at last! Lakamba and Babalatchi have no doubt--if
Allah wills. They are in the hands of the Compassionate. No
doubt. And so is Syed Abdulla, the great trader who does not
know what the word failure means; and so is the white man--the
smartest business man in the islands--who is lying now by Omar's
fire with his head on Aissa's lap, while Syed Abdulla flies down
the muddy river with current and paddles between the sombre walls
of the sleeping forest; on his way to the clear and open sea
where the Lord of the Isles (formerly of Greenock, but condemned,
sold, and registered now as of Penang) waits for its owner, and
swings erratically at anchor in the currents of the capricious
tide, under the crumbling red cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah.
For some time Lakamba, Sahamin, and Bahassoen looked silently
into the humid darkness which had swallowed the big canoe that
carried Abdulla and his unvarying good fortune. Then the two
guests broke into a talk expressive of their joyful
anticipations. The venerable Sahamin, as became his advanced
age, found his delight in speculation as to the activities of a
rather remote future. He would buy praus, he would send
expeditions up the river, he would enlarge his trade, and, backed
by Abdulla's capital, he would grow rich in a very few years.
Very few. Meantime it would be a good thing to interview Almayer
to-morrow and, profiting by the last day of the hated man's
prosperity, obtain some goods from him on credit. Sahamin
thought it could be done by skilful wheedling. After all, that
son of Satan was a fool, and the thing was worth doing, because
the coming revolution would wipe all debts out. Sahamin did not
mind imparting that idea to his companions, with much senile
chuckling, while they strolled together from the riverside
towards the residence. The bull-necked Lakamba, listening with
pouted lips without the sign of a smile, without a gleam in his
dull, bloodshot eyes, shuffled slowly across the courtyard
between his two guests. But suddenly Bahassoen broke in upon the
old man's prattle with the generous enthusiasm of his youth. . .
. Trading was very good. But was the change that would make
them happy effected yet? The white man should be despoiled with
a strong hand! . . . He grew excited, spoke very loud, and his
further discourse, delivered with his hand on the hilt of his
sword, dealt incoherently with the honourable topics of
throat-cutting, fire-raising, and with the far-famed valour of
Babalatchi remained behind, alone with the greatness of his
conceptions. The sagacious statesman of Sambir sent a scornful
glance after his noble protector and his noble protector's
friends, and then stood meditating about that future which to the
others seemed so assured. Not so to Babalatchi, who paid the
penalty of his wisdom by a vague sense of insecurity that kept
sleep at arm's length from his tired body. When he thought at
last of leaving the waterside, it was only to strike a path for
himself and to creep along the fences, avoiding the middle of the
courtyard where small fires glimmered and winked as though the
sinister darkness there had reflected the stars of the serene
heaven. He slunk past the wicket-gate of Omar's enclosure, and
crept on patiently along the light bamboo palisade till he was
stopped by the angle where it joined the heavy stockade of
Lakamba's private ground. Standing there, he could look over the
fence and see Omar's hut and the fire before its door. He could
also see the shadow of two human beings sitting between him and
the red glow. A man and a woman. The sight seemed to inspire
the careworn sage with a frivolous desire to sing. It could
hardly be called a song; it was more in the nature of a
recitative without any rhythm, delivered rapidly but distinctly
in a croaking and unsteady voice; and if Babalatchi considered it
a song, then it was a song with a purpose and, perhaps for that
reason, artistically defective. It had all the imperfections of
unskilful improvisation and its subject was gruesome. It told a
tale of shipwreck and of thirst, and of one brother killing
another for the sake of a gourd of water. A repulsive story
which might have had a purpose but possessed no moral whatever.
Yet it must have pleased Babalatchi for he repeated it twice, the
second time even in louder tones than at first, causing a
disturbance amongst the white rice-birds and the wild
fruit-pigeons which roosted on the boughs of the big tree growing
in Omar's compound. There was in the thick foliage above the
singer's head a confused beating of wings, sleepy remarks in
bird-language, a sharp stir of leaves. The forms by the fire
moved; the shadow of the woman altered its shape, and
Babalatchi's song was cut short abruptly by a fit of soft and
persistent coughing. He did not try to resume his efforts after
that interruption, but went away stealthily to seek--if not
sleep--then, at least, repose.
As soon as Abdulla and his companions had left the enclosure,
Aissa approached Willems and stood by his side. He took no
notice of her expectant attitude till she touched him gently,
when he turned furiously upon her and, tearing off her face-veil,
trampled upon it as though it had been a mortal enemy. She
looked at him with the faint smile of patient curiosity, with the
puzzled interest of ignorance watching the running of a
complicated piece of machinery. After he had exhausted his rage,
he stood again severe and unbending looking down at the fire, but
the touch of her fingers at the nape of his neck effaced
instantly the hard lines round his mouth; his eyes wavered
uneasily; his lips trembled slightly. Starting with the
unresisting rapidity of a particle of iron--which, quiescent one
moment, leaps in the next to a powerful magnet--he moved forward,
caught her in his arms and pressed her violently to his breast.
He released her as suddenly, and she stumbled a little, stepped
back, breathed quickly through her parted lips, and said in a
tone of pleased reproof--
"O Fool-man! And if you had killed me in your strong arms what
would you have done?"
"You want to live . . . and to run away from me again," he said
gently. "Tell me--do you?"
She moved towards him with very short steps, her head a little on
one side, hands on hips, with a slight balancing of her body: an
approach more tantalizing than an escape. He looked on,
eager--charmed. She spoke jestingly.
"What am I to say to a man who has been away three days from me?
Three!" she repeated, holding up playfully three fingers before
Willems' eyes. He snatched at the hand, but she was on her guard
and whisked it behind her back.
"No!" she said. "I cannot be caught. But I will come. I am
coming myself because I like. Do not move. Do not touch me with
your mighty hands, O child!"
As she spoke she made a step nearer, then another. Willems did
not stir. Pressing against him she stood on tiptoe to look into
his eyes, and her own seemed to grow bigger, glistening and
tender, appealing and promising. With that look she drew the
man's soul away from him through his immobile pupils, and from
Willems' features the spark of reason vanished under her gaze and
was replaced by an appearance of physical well-being, an ecstasy
of the senses which had taken possession of his rigid body; an
ecstasy that drove out regrets, hesitation and doubt, and
proclaimed its terrible work by an appalling aspect of idiotic
beatitude. He never stirred a limb, hardly breathed, but stood
in stiff immobility, absorbing the delight of her close contact
by every pore.
"Closer! Closer!" he murmured.
Slowly she raised her arms, put them over his shoulders, and
clasping her hands at the back of his neck, swung off the full
length of her arms. Her head fell back, the eyelids dropped
slightly, and her thick hair hung straight down: a mass of ebony
touched by the red gleams of the fire. He stood unyielding under
the strain, as solid and motionless as one of the big trees of
the surrounding forests; and his eyes looked at the modelling of
her chin, at the outline of her neck, at the swelling lines of
her bosom, with the famished and concentrated expression of a
starving man looking at food. She drew herself up to him and
rubbed her head against his cheek slowly and gently. He sighed.
She, with her hands still on his shoulders, glanced up at the
placid stars and said--
"The night is half gone. We shall finish it by this fire. By
this fire you shall tell me all: your words and Syed Abdulla's
words; and listening to you I shall forget the three
days--because I am good. Tell me--am I good?"
He said "Yes" dreamily, and she ran off towards the big house.
When she came back, balancing a roll of fine mats on her head, he
had replenished the fire and was ready to help her in arranging a
couch on the side of it nearest to the hut. She sank down with a
quick but gracefully controlled movement, and he threw himself
full length with impatient haste, as if he wished to forestall
somebody. She took his head on her knees, and when he felt her
hands touching his face, her fingers playing with his hair, he
had an expression of being taken possession of; he experienced a
sense of peace, of rest, of happiness, and of soothing delight.
His hands strayed upwards about her neck, and he drew her down so
as to have her face above his. Then he whispered--"I wish I
could die like this--now!" She looked at him with her big sombre
eyes, in which there was no responsive light. His thought was so
remote from her understanding that she let the words pass by
unnoticed, like the breath of the wind, like the flight of a
cloud. Woman though she was, she could not comprehend, in her
simplicity, the tremendous compliment of that speech, that
whisper of deadly happiness, so sincere, so spontaneous, coming
so straight from the heart--like every corruption. It was the
voice of madness, of a delirious peace, of happiness that is
infamous, cowardly, and so exquisite that the debased mind
refuses to contemplate its termination: for to the victims of
such happiness the moment of its ceasing is the beginning afresh
of that torture which is its price.
With her brows slightly knitted in the determined preoccupation
of her own desires, she said--
"Now tell me all. All the words spoken between you and Syed
Tell what? What words? Her voice recalled back the
consciousness that had departed under her touch, and he became
aware of the passing minutes every one of which was like a
reproach; of those minutes that falling, slow, reluctant,
irresistible into the past, marked his footsteps on the way to
perdition. Not that he had any conviction about it, any notion
of the possible ending on that painful road. It was an
indistinct feeling, a threat of suffering like the confused
warning of coming disease, an inarticulate monition of evil made
up of fear and pleasure, of resignation and of revolt. He was
ashamed of his state of mind. After all, what was he afraid of?
Were those scruples? Why that hesitation to think, to speak of
what he intended doing? Scruples were for imbeciles. His clear
duty was to make himself happy. Did he ever take an oath of
fidelity to Lingard? No. Well then--he would not let any
interest of that old fool stand between Willems and Willems'
happiness. Happiness? Was he not, perchance, on a false track?
Happiness meant money. Much money. At least he had always
thought so till he had experienced those new sensations which . .
Aissa's question, repeated impatiently, interrupted his musings,
and looking up at her face shining above him in the dim light of
the fire he stretched his limbs luxuriously and obedient to her
desire, he spoke slowly and hardly above his breath. She, with
her head close to his lips, listened absorbed, interested, in
attentive immobility. The many noises of the great courtyard
were hushed up gradually by the sleep that stilled all voices and
closed all eyes. Then somebody droned out a song with a nasal
drawl at the end of every verse. He stirred. She put her hand
suddenly on his lips and sat upright. There was a feeble
coughing, a rustle of leaves, and then a complete silence took
possession of the land; a silence cold, mournful, profound; more
like death than peace; more hard to bear than the fiercest
tumult. As soon as she removed her hand he hastened to speak, so
insupportable to him was that stillness perfect and absolute in
which his thoughts seemed to ring with the loudness of shouts.
"Who was there making that noise?" he asked.
"I do not know. He is gone now," she answered, hastily. "Tell
me, you will not return to your people; not without me. Not with
me. Do you promise?"
"I have promised already. I have no people of my own. Have I
not told you, that you are everybody to me?"
"Ah, yes," she said, slowly, "but I like to hear you say that
again--every day, and every night, whenever I ask; and never to
be angry because I ask. I am afraid of white women who are
shameless and have fierce eyes." She scanned his features close
for a moment and added:
"Are they very beautiful? They must be."
"I do not know," he whispered, thoughtfully. "And if I ever did
know, looking at you I have forgotten."
"Forgotten! And for three days and two nights you have forgotten
me also! Why? Why were you angry with me when I spoke at first
of Tuan Abdulla, in the days when we lived beside the brook? You
remembered somebody then. Somebody in the land whence you come.
Your tongue is false. You are white indeed, and your heart is
full of deception. I know it. And yet I cannot help believing
you when you talk of your love for me. But I am afraid!"
He felt flattered and annoyed by her vehemence, and said--
"Well, I am with you now. I did come back. And it was you that
"When you have helped Abdulla against the Rajah Laut, who is the
first of white men, I shall not be afraid any more," she
"You must believe what I say when I tell you that there never was
another woman; that there is nothing for me to regret, and
nothing but my enemies to remember."
"Where do you come from?" she said, impulsive and inconsequent,
in a passionate whisper. "What is that land beyond the great sea
from which you come? A land of lies and of evil from which
nothing but misfortune ever comes to us--who are not white. Did
you not at first ask me to go there with you? That is why I went
"I shall never ask you again."
"And there is no woman waiting for you there?"
"No!" said Willems, firmly.
She bent over him. Her lips hovered above his face and her long
hair brushed his cheeks.
"You taught me the love of your people which is of the Devil,"
she murmured, and bending still lower, she said faintly, "Like
"Yes, like this!" he answered very low, in a voice that trembled
slightly with eagerness; and she pressed suddenly her lips to his
while he closed his eyes in an ecstasy of delight.
There was a long interval of silence. She stroked his head with
gentle touches, and he lay dreamily, perfectly happy but for the
annoyance of an indistinct vision of a well-known figure; a man
going away from him and diminishing in a long perspective of
fantastic trees, whose every leaf was an eye looking after that
man, who walked away growing smaller, but never getting out of
sight for all his steady progress. He felt a desire to see him
vanish, a hurried impatience of his disappearance, and he watched
for it with a careful and irksome effort. There was something
familiar about that figure. Why! Himself! He gave a sudden
start and opened his eyes, quivering with the emotion of that
quick return from so far, of finding himself back by the fire
with the rapidity of a flash of lightning. It had been half a
dream; he had slumbered in her arms for a few seconds. Only the
beginning of a dream--nothing more. But it was some time before
he recovered from the shock of seeing himself go away so
deliberately, so definitely, so unguardedly; and going
away--where? Now, if he had not woke up in time he would never
have come back again from there; from whatever place he was going
to. He felt indignant. It was like an evasion, like a prisoner
breaking his parole--that thing slinking off stealthily while he
slept. He was very indignant, and was also astonished at the
absurdity of his own emotions.
She felt him tremble, and murmuring tender words, pressed his
head to her breast. Again he felt very peaceful with a peace
that was as complete as the silence round them. He muttered--
"You are tired, Aissa."
She answered so low that it was like a sigh shaped into faint
"I shall watch your sleep, O child!"
He lay very quiet, and listened to the beating of her heart.
That sound, light, rapid, persistent, and steady; her very life
beating against his cheek, gave him a clear perception of secure
ownership, strengthened his belief in his possession of that
human being, was like an assurance of the vague felicity of the
future. There were no regrets, no doubts, no hesitation now.
Had there ever been? All that seemed far away, ages ago--as
unreal and pale as the fading memory of some delirium. All the
anguish, suffering, strife of the past days; the humiliation and
anger of his downfall; all that was an infamous nightmare, a
thing born in sleep to be forgotten and leave no trace--and true
life was this: this dreamy immobility with his head against her
heart that beat so steadily.
He was broad awake now, with that tingling wakefulness of the
tired body which succeeds to the few refreshing seconds of
irresistible sleep, and his wide-open eyes looked absently at the
doorway of Omar's hut. The reed walls glistened in the light of
the fire, the smoke of which, thin and blue, drifted slanting in
a succession of rings and spirals across the doorway, whose empty
blackness seemed to him impenetrable and enigmatical like a
curtain hiding vast spaces full of unexpected surprises. This
was only his fancy, but it was absorbing enough to make him
accept the sudden appearance of a head, coming out of the gloom,
as part of his idle fantasy or as the beginning of another short
dream, of another vagary of his overtired brain. A face with
drooping eyelids, old, thin, and yellow, above the scattered
white of a long beard that touched the earth. A head without a
body, only a foot above the ground, turning slightly from side to
side on the edge of the circle of light as if to catch the
radiating heat of the fire on either cheek in succession. He
watched it in passive amazement, growing distinct, as if coming
nearer to him, and the confused outlines of a body crawling on
all fours came out, creeping inch by inch towards the fire, with
a silent and all but imperceptible movement. He was astounded at
the appearance of that blind head dragging that crippled body
behind, without a sound, without a change in the composure of the
sightless face, which was plain one second, blurred the next in
the play of the light that drew it to itself steadily. A mute
face with a kriss between its lips. This was no dream. Omar's
face. But why? What was he after?
He was too indolent in the happy languor of the moment to answer
the question. It darted through his brain and passed out,
leaving him free to listen again to the beating of her heart; to
that precious and delicate sound which filled the quiet immensity
of the night. Glancing upwards he saw the motionless head of the
woman looking down at him in a tender gleam of liquid white
between the long eyelashes, whose shadow rested on the soft curve
of her cheek; and under the caress of that look, the uneasy
wonder and the obscure fear of that apparition, crouching and
creeping in turns towards the fire that was its guide, were
lost--were drowned in the quietude of all his senses, as pain is
drowned in the flood of drowsy serenity that follows upon a dose
He altered the position of his head by ever so little, and now
could see easily that apparition which he had seen a minute
before and had nearly forgotten already. It had moved closer,
gliding and noiseless like the shadow of some nightmare, and now
it was there, very near, motionless and still as if listening;
one hand and one knee advanced; the neck stretched out and the
head turned full towards the fire. He could see the emaciated
face, the skin shiny over the prominent bones, the black shadows
of the hollow temples and sunken cheeks, and the two patches of
blackness over the eyes, over those eyes that were dead and could
not see. What was the impulse which drove out this blind cripple
into the night to creep and crawl towards that fire? He looked
at him, fascinated, but the face, with its shifting lights and
shadows, let out nothing, closed and impenetrable like a walled
Omar raised himself to a kneeling posture and sank on his heels,
with his hands hanging down before him. Willems, looking out of
his dreamy numbness, could see plainly the kriss between the thin
lips, a bar across the face; the handle on one side where the
polished wood caught a red gleam from the fire and the thin line
of the blade running to a dull black point on the other. He felt
an inward shock, which left his body passive in Aissa's embrace,
but filled his breast with a tumult of powerless fear; and he
perceived suddenly that it was his own death that was groping
towards him; that it was the hate of himself and the hate of her
love for him which drove this helpless wreck of a once brilliant
and resolute pirate, to attempt a desperate deed that would be
the glorious and supreme consolation of an unhappy old age. And
while he looked, paralyzed with dread, at the father who had
resumed his cautious advance--blind like fate, persistent like
destiny--he listened with greedy eagerness to the heart of the
daughter beating light, rapid, and steady against his head.
He was in the grip of horrible fear; of a fear whose cold hand
robs its victim of all will and of all power; of all wish to
escape, to resist, or to move; which destroys hope and despair
alike, and holds the empty and useless carcass as if in a vise
under the coming stroke. It was not the fear of death--he had
faced danger before--it was not even the fear of that particular
form of death. It was not the fear of the end, for he knew that
the end would not come then. A movement, a leap, a shout would
save him from the feeble hand of the blind old man, from that
hand that even now was, with cautious sweeps along the ground,
feeling for his body in the darkness. It was the unreasoning
fear of this glimpse into the unknown things, into those motives,
impulses, desires he had ignored, but that had lived in the
breasts of despised men, close by his side, and were revealed to
him for a second, to be hidden again behind the black mists of
doubt and deception. It was not death that frightened him: it
was the horror of bewildered life where he could understand
nothing and nobody round him; where he could guide, control,
comprehend nothing and no one--not even himself.
He felt a touch on his side. That contact, lighter than the
caress of a mother's hand on the cheek of a sleeping child, had
for him the force of a crushing blow. Omar had crept close, and
now, kneeling above him, held the kriss in one hand while the
other skimmed over his jacket up towards his breast in gentle
touches; but the blind face, still turned to the heat of the
fire, was set and immovable in its aspect of stony indifference
to things it could not hope to see. With an effort Willems took
his eyes off the deathlike mask and turned them up to Aissa's
head. She sat motionless as if she had been part of the sleeping
earth, then suddenly he saw her big sombre eyes open out wide in
a piercing stare and felt the convulsive pressure of her hands
pinning his arms along his body. A second dragged itself out,
slow and bitter, like a day of mourning; a second full of regret
and grief for that faith in her which took its flight from the
shattered ruins of his trust. She was holding him! She too! He
felt her heart give a great leap, his head slipped down on her
knees, he closed his eyes and there was nothing. Nothing! It
was as if she had died; as though her heart had leaped out into
the night, abandoning him, defenceless and alone, in an empty
His head struck the ground heavily as she flung him aside in her
sudden rush. He lay as if stunned, face up and, daring not move,
did not see the struggle, but heard the piercing shriek of mad
fear, her low angry words; another shriek dying out in a moan.
When he got up at last he looked at Aissa kneeling over her
father, he saw her bent back in the effort of holding him down,
Omar's contorted limbs, a hand thrown up above her head and her
quick movement grasping the wrist. He made an impulsive step
forward, but she turned a wild face to him and called out over
"Keep back! Do not come near! Do not. . . ."
And he stopped short, his arms hanging lifelessly by his side, as
if those words had changed him into stone. She was afraid of his
possible violence, but in the unsettling of all his convictions
he was struck with the frightful thought that she preferred to
kill her father all by herself; and the last stage of their
struggle, at which he looked as though a red fog had filled his
eyes, loomed up with an unnatural ferocity, with a sinister
meaning; like something monstrous and depraved, forcing its
complicity upon him under the cover of that awful night. He was
horrified and grateful; drawn irresistibly to her--and ready to
run away. He could not move at first--then he did not want to
stir. He wanted to see what would happen. He saw her lift, with
a tremendous effort, the apparently lifeless body into the hut,
and remained standing, after they disappeared, with the vivid
image in his eyes of that head swaying on her shoulder, the lower
jaw hanging down, collapsed, passive, meaningless, like the head
of a corpse.
Then after a while he heard her voice speaking inside, harshly,
with an agitated abruptness of tone; and in answer there were
groans and broken murmurs of exhaustion. She spoke louder. He
heard her saying violently--"No! No! Never!"
And again a plaintive murmur of entreaty as of some one begging
for a supreme favour, with a last breath. Then she said--
"Never! I would sooner strike it into my own heart."
She came out, stood panting for a short moment in the doorway,
and then stepped into the firelight. Behind her, through the
darkness came the sound of words calling the vengeance of heaven
on her head, rising higher, shrill, strained, repeating the curse
over and over again--till the voice cracked in a passionate
shriek that died out into hoarse muttering ending with a deep and
prolonged sigh. She stood facing Willems, one hand behind her
back, the other raised in a gesture compelling attention, and she
listened in that attitude till all was still inside the hut.
Then she made another step forward and her hand dropped slowly.
"Nothing but misfortune," she whispered, absently, to herself.
"Nothing but misfortune to us who are not white." The anger and
excitement died out of her face, and she looked straight at
Willems with an intense and mournful gaze.
He recovered his senses and his power of speech with a sudden
"Aissa," he exclaimed, and the words broke out through his lips
with hurried nervousness. "Aissa! How can I live here? Trust
me. Believe in me. Let us go away from here. Go very far away!
Very far; you and I!"
He did not stop to ask himself whether he could escape, and how,
and where. He was carried away by the flood of hate, disgust,
and contempt of a white man for that blood which is not his
blood, for that race which is not his race; for the brown skins;
for the hearts false like the sea, blacker than night. This
feeling of repulsion overmastered his reason in a clear
conviction of the impossibility for him to live with her people.
He urged her passionately to fly with him because out of all that
abhorred crowd he wanted this one woman, but wanted her away from
them, away from that race of slaves and cut-throats from which
she sprang. He wanted her for himself--far from everybody, in
some safe and dumb solitude. And as he spoke his anger and
contempt rose, his hate became almost fear; and his desire of her
grew immense, burning, illogical and merciless; crying to him
through all his senses; louder than his hate, stronger than his
fear, deeper than his contempt--irresistible and certain like
Standing at a little distance, just within the light--but on the
threshold of that darkness from which she had come--she listened,
one hand still behind her back, the other arm stretched out with
the hand half open as if to catch the fleeting words that rang
around her, passionate, menacing, imploring, but all tinged with
the anguish of his suffering, all hurried by the impatience that
gnawed his breast. And while she listened she felt a slowing
down of her heart-beats as the meaning of his appeal grew clearer
before her indignant eyes, as she saw with rage and pain the
edifice of her love, her own work, crumble slowly to pieces,
destroyed by that man's fears, by that man's falseness. Her
memory recalled the days by the brook when she had listened to
other words--to other thoughts--to promises and to pleadings for
other things, which came from that man's lips at the bidding of
her look or her smile, at the nod of her head, at the whisper of
her lips. Was there then in his heart something else than her
image, other desires than the desires of her love, other fears
than the fear of losing her? How could that be? Had she grown
ugly or old in a moment? She was appalled, surprised and angry
with the anger of unexpected humiliation; and her eyes looked
fixedly, sombre and steady, at that man born in the land of
violence and of evil wherefrom nothing but misfortune comes to
those who are not white. Instead of thinking of her caresses,
instead of forgetting all the world in her embrace, he was
thinking yet of his people; of that people that steals every
land, masters every sea, that knows no mercy and no truth--knows
nothing but its own strength. O man of strong arm and of false
heart! Go with him to a far country, be lost in the throng of
cold eyes and false hearts--lose him there! Never! He was
mad--mad with fear; but he should not escape her! She would keep
him here a slave and a master; here where he was alone with her;
where he must live for her--or die. She had a right to his love
which was of her making, to the love that was in him now, while
he spoke those words without sense. She must put between him and
other white men a barrier of hate. He must not only stay, but he
must also keep his promise to Abdulla, the fulfilment of which
would make her safe.
"Aissa, let us go! With you by my side I would attack them with
my naked hands. Or no! Tomorrow we shall be outside, on board
Abdulla's ship. You shall come with me and then I could . . .
If the ship went ashore by some chance, then we could steal a
canoe and escape in the confusion. . . . You are not afraid of
the sea . . . of the sea that would give me freedom . . ."
He was approaching her gradually with extended arms, while he
pleaded ardently in incoherent words that ran over and tripped
each other in the extreme eagerness of his speech. She stepped
back, keeping her distance, her eyes on his face, watching on it
the play of his doubts and of his hopes with a piercing gaze,
that seemed to search out the innermost recesses of his thought;
and it was as if she had drawn slowly the darkness round her,
wrapping herself in its undulating folds that made her indistinct
and vague. He followed her step by step till at last they both
stopped, facing each other under the big tree of the enclosure.
The solitary exile of the forests, great, motionless and solemn
in his abandonment, left alone by the life of ages that had been
pushed away from him by those pigmies that crept at his foot,
towered high and straight above their heads. He seemed to look
on, dispassionate and imposing, in his lonely greatness,
spreading his branches wide in a gesture of lofty protection, as
if to hide them in the sombre shelter of innumerable leaves; as
if moved by the disdainful compassion of the strong, by the
scornful pity of an aged giant, to screen this struggle of two
human hearts from the cold scrutiny of glittering stars.
The last cry of his appeal to her mercy rose loud, vibrated under
the sombre canopy, darted among the boughs startling the white
birds that slept wing to wing--and died without an echo,
strangled in the dense mass of unstirring leaves. He could not
see her face, but he heard her sighs and the distracted murmur of
indistinct words. Then, as he listened holding his breath, she
"Have you heard him? He has cursed me because I love you. You
brought me suffering and strife--and his curse. And now you want
to take me far away where I would lose you, lose my life; because
your love is my life now. What else is there? Do not move," she
cried violently, as he stirred a little--"do not speak! Take
this! Sleep in peace!"
He saw a shadowy movement of her arm. Something whizzed past and
struck the ground behind him, close to the fire. Instinctively
he turned round to look at it. A kriss without its sheath lay by
the embers; a sinuous dark object, looking like something that
had been alive and was now crushed, dead and very inoffensive; a
black wavy outline very distinct and still in the dull red glow.
Without thinking he moved to pick it up, stooping with the sad
and humble movement of a beggar gathering the alms flung into the
dust of the roadside. Was this the answer to his pleading, to
the hot and living words that came from his heart? Was this the
answer thrown at him like an insult, that thing made of wood and
iron, insignificant and venomous, fragile and deadly? He held it
by the blade and looked at the handle stupidly for a moment
before he let it fall again at his feet; and when he turned round
he faced only the night:--the night immense, profound and quiet;
a sea of darkness in which she had disappeared without leaving a
He moved forward with uncertain steps, putting out both his hands
before him with the anguish of a man blinded suddenly.
"Aissa!" he cried--"come to me at once."
He peered and listened, but saw nothing, heard nothing. After a
while the solid blackness seemed to wave before his eyes like a
curtain disclosing movements but hiding forms, and he heard light
and hurried footsteps, then the short clatter of the gate leading
to Lakamba's private enclosure. He sprang forward and brought up
against the rough timber in time to hear the words, "Quick!
Quick!" and the sound of the wooden bar dropped on the other
side, securing the gate. With his arms thrown up, the palms
against the paling, he slid down in a heap on the ground.
"Aissa," he said, pleadingly, pressing his lips to a chink
between the stakes. "Aissa, do you hear me? Come back! I will
do what you want, give you all you desire--if I have to set the
whole Sambir on fire and put that fire out with blood. Only come
back. Now! At once! Are you there? Do you hear me? Aissa!"
On the other side there were startled whispers of feminine
voices; a frightened little laugh suddenly interrupted; some
woman's admiring murmur--"This is brave talk!" Then after a
short silence Aissa cried--
"Sleep in peace--for the time of your going is near. Now I am
afraid of you. Afraid of your fear. When you return with Tuan
Abdulla you shall be great. You will find me here. And there
will be nothing but love. Nothing else!--Always!--Till we die!"
He listened to the shuffle of footsteps going away, and staggered
to his feet, mute with the excess of his passionate anger against
that being so savage and so charming; loathing her, himself,
everybody he had ever known; the earth, the sky, the very air he
drew into his oppressed chest; loathing it because it made him
live, loathing her because she made him suffer. But he could not
leave that gate through which she had passed. He wandered a
little way off, then swerved round, came back and fell down again
by the stockade only to rise suddenly in another attempt to break
away from the spell that held him, that brought him back there,
dumb, obedient and furious. And under the immobilized gesture of
lofty protection in the branches outspread wide above his head,
under the high branches where white birds slept wing to wing in
the shelter of countless leaves, he tossed like a grain of dust
in a whirlwind--sinking and rising--round and round--always near
that gate. All through the languid stillness of that night he
fought with the impalpable; he fought with the shadows, with the
darkness, with the silence. He fought without a sound, striking
futile blows, dashing from side to side; obstinate, hopeless, and
always beaten back; like a man bewitched within the invisible
sweep of a magic circle.
"Yes! Cat, dog, anything that can scratch or bite; as long as it
is harmful enough and mangy enough. A sick tiger would make you
happy--of all things. A half-dead tiger that you could weep over
and palm upon some poor devil in your power, to tend and nurse
for you. Never mind the consequences--to the poor devil. Let
him be mangled or eaten up, of course! You haven't any pity to
spare for the victims of your infernal charity. Not you! Your
tender heart bleeds only for what is poisonous and deadly. I
curse the day when you set your benevolent eyes on him. I curse
it . . ."
"Now then! Now then!" growled Lingard in his moustache.
Almayer, who had talked himself up to the choking point, drew a
long breath and went on--
"Yes! It has been always so. Always. As far back as I can
remember. Don't you recollect? What about that half-starved dog
you brought on board in Bankok in your arms. In your arms by . .
. ! It went mad next day and bit the serang. You don't mean to
say you have forgotten? The best serang you ever had! You said
so yourself while you were helping us to lash him down to the
chain-cable, just before he died in his fits. Now, didn't you?
Two wives and ever so many children the man left. That was your
doing. . . . And when you went out of your way and risked your
ship to rescue some Chinamen from a water-logged junk in Formosa
Straits, that was also a clever piece of business. Wasn't it?
Those damned Chinamen rose on you before forty-eight hours. They
were cut-throats, those poor fishermen. You knew they were
cut-throats before you made up your mind to run down on a lee
shore in a gale of wind to save them. A mad trick! If they
hadn't been scoundrels--hopeless scoundrels--you would not have
put your ship in jeopardy for them, I know. You would not have
risked the lives of your crew--that crew you loved so--and your
own life. Wasn't that foolish! And, besides, you were not
honest. Suppose you had been drowned? I would have been in a
pretty mess then, left alone here with that adopted daughter of
yours. Your duty was to myself first. I married that girl
because you promised to make my fortune. You know you did! And
then three months afterwards you go and do that mad trick--for a
lot of Chinamen too. Chinamen! You have no morality. I might
have been ruined for the sake of those murderous scoundrels that,
after all, had to be driven overboard after killing ever so many
of your crew--of your beloved crew! Do you call that honest?"
"Well, well!" muttered Lingard, chewing nervously the stump of
his cheroot that had gone out and looking at Almayer--who stamped
wildly about the verandah--much as a shepherd might look at a pet
sheep in his obedient flock turning unexpectedly upon him in
enraged revolt. He seemed disconcerted, contemptuously angry yet
somewhat amused; and also a little hurt as if at some bitter jest
at his own expense. Almayer stopped suddenly, and crossing his
arms on his breast, bent his body forward and went on speaking.
"I might have been left then in an awkward hole--all on account
of your absurd disregard for your safety--yet I bore no grudge.
I knew your weaknesses. But now--when I think of it! Now we are
ruined. Ruined! Ruined! My poor little Nina. Ruined!"
He slapped his thighs smartly, walked with small steps this way
and that, seized a chair, planted it with a bang before Lingard,
and sat down staring at the old seaman with haggard eyes.
Lingard, returning his stare steadily, dived slowly into various
pockets, fished out at last a box of matches and proceeded to
light his cheroot carefully, rolling it round and round between
his lips, without taking his gaze for a moment off the distressed
Almayer. Then from behind a cloud of tobacco smoke he said
"If you had been in trouble as often as I have, my boy, you
wouldn't carry on so. I have been ruined more than once. Well,
here I am."
"Yes, here you are," interrupted Almayer. "Much good it is to
me. Had you been here a month ago it would have been of some
use. But now! . . You might as well be a thousand miles off."
"You scold like a drunken fish-wife," said Lingard, serenely. He
got up and moved slowly to the front rail of the verandah. The
floor shook and the whole house vibrated under his heavy step.
For a moment he stood with his back to Almayer, looking out on
the river and forest of the east bank, then turned round and
gazed mildly down upon him.
"It's very lonely this morning here. Hey?" he said.
Almayer lifted up his head.
"Ah! you notice it--don't you? I should think it is lonely!
Yes, Captain Lingard, your day is over in Sambir. Only a month
ago this verandah would have been full of people coming to greet
you. Fellows would be coming up those steps grinning and
salaaming--to you and to me. But our day is over. And not by my
fault either. You can't say that. It's all the doing of that
pet rascal of yours. Ah! He is a beauty! You should have seen
him leading that hellish crowd. You would have been proud of
your old favourite."
"Smart fellow that," muttered Lingard, thoughtfully. Almayer
jumped up with a shriek.
"And that's all you have to say! Smart fellow! O Lord!"
"Don't make a show of yourself. Sit down. Let's talk quietly.
I want to know all about it. So he led?"
"He was the soul of the whole thing. He piloted Abdulla's ship
in. He ordered everything and everybody," said Almayer, who sat
down again, with a resigned air.
"When did it happen--exactly?"
"On the sixteenth I heard the first rumours of Abdulla's ship
being in the river; a thing I refused to believe at first. Next
day I could not doubt any more. There was a great council held
openly in Lakamba's place where almost everybody in Sambir
attended. On the eighteenth the Lord of the Isles was anchored
in Sambir reach, abreast of my house. Let's see. Six weeks
"And all that happened like this? All of a sudden. You never
heard anything--no warning. Nothing. Never had an idea that
something was up? Come, Almayer!"
"Heard! Yes, I used to hear something every day. Mostly lies.
Is there anything else in Sambir?"
"You might not have believed them," observed Lingard. "In fact
you ought not to have believed everything that was told to you,
as if you had been a green hand on his first voyage."
Almayer moved in his chair uneasily.
"That scoundrel came here one day," he said. "He had been away
from the house for a couple of months living with that woman. I
only heard about him now and then from Patalolo's people when
they came over. Well one day, about noon, he appeared in this
courtyard, as if he had been jerked up from hell-where he
Lingard took his cheroot out, and, with his mouth full of white
smoke that oozed out through his parted lips, listened,
attentive. After a short pause Almayer went on, looking at the
"I must say he looked awful. Had a bad bout of the ague
probably. The left shore is very unhealthy. Strange that only
the breadth of the river . . ."
He dropped off into deep thoughtfulness as if he had forgotten
his grievances in a bitter meditation upon the unsanitary
condition of the virgin forests on the left bank. Lingard took
this opportunity to expel the smoke in a mighty expiration and
threw the stump of his cheroot over his shoulder.
"Go on," he said, after a while. "He came to see you . . ."
"But it wasn't unhealthy enough to finish him, worse luck!" went
on Almayer, rousing himself, "and, as I said, he turned up here
with his brazen impudence. He bullied me, he threatened vaguely.
He wanted to scare me, to blackmail me. Me! And, by heaven--he
said you would approve. You! Can you conceive such impudence?
I couldn't exactly make out what he was driving at. Had I known,
I would have approved him. Yes! With a bang on the head. But
how could I guess that he knew enough to pilot a ship through the
entrance you always said was so difficult. And, after all, that
was the only danger. I could deal with anybody here--but when
Abdulla came. . . . That barque of his is armed. He carries
twelve brass six-pounders, and about thirty men. Desperate
beggars. Sumatra men, from Deli and Acheen. Fight all day and
ask for more in the evening. That kind."
"I know, I know," said Lingard, impatiently.
"Of course, then, they were cheeky as much as you please after he
anchored abreast of our jetty. Willems brought her up himself in
the best berth. I could see him from this verandah standing
forward, together with the half-caste master. And that woman was
there too. Close to him. I heard they took her on board off
Lakamba's place. Willems said he would not go higher without
her. Stormed and raged. Frightened them, I believe. Abdulla
had to interfere. She came off alone in a canoe, and no sooner
on deck than she fell at his feet before all hands, embraced his
knees, wept, raved, begged his pardon. Why? I wonder.
Everybody in Sambir is talking of it. They never heard tell or
saw anything like it. I have all this from Ali, who goes about
in the settlement and brings me the news. I had better know what
is going on--hadn't I? From what I can make out, they--he and
that woman--are looked upon as something mysterious--beyond
comprehension. Some think them mad. They live alone with an old
woman in a house outside Lakamba's campong and are greatly
respected--or feared, I should say rather. At least, he is. He
is very violent. She knows nobody, sees nobody, will speak to
nobody but him. Never leaves him for a moment. It's the talk of
the place. There are other rumours. From what I hear I suspect
that Lakamba and Abdulla are tired of him. There's also talk of
him going away in the Lord of the Isles--when she leaves here for
the southward--as a kind of Abdulla's agent. At any rate, he
must take the ship out. The half-caste is not equal to it as
Lingard, who had listened absorbed till then, began now to walk
with measured steps. Almayer ceased talking and followed him
with his eyes as he paced up and down with a quarter-deck swing,
tormenting and twisting his long white beard, his face perplexed
"So he came to you first of all, did he?" asked Lingard, without
"Yes. I told you so. He did come. Came to extort money,
goods--I don't know what else. Wanted to set up as a trader--the
swine! I kicked his hat into the courtyard, and he went after
it, and that was the last of him till he showed up with Abdulla.
How could I know that he could do harm in that way? Or in any
way at that! Any local rising I could put down easy with my own
men and with Patalolo's help."
"Oh! yes. Patalolo. No good. Eh? Did you try him at all?"
"Didn't I!" exclaimed Almayer. "I went to see him myself on the
twelfth. That was four days before Abdulla entered the river.
In fact, same day Willems tried to get at me. I did feel a
little uneasy then. Patalolo assured me that there was no
human being that did not love me in Sambir. Looked as wise as an
owl. Told me not to listen to the lies of wicked people from
down the river. He was alluding to that man Bulangi, who lives
up the sea reach, and who had sent me word that a strange ship
was anchored outside--which, of course, I repeated to Patalolo.
He would not believe. Kept on mumbling 'No! No! No!' like an old
parrot, his head all of a tremble, all beslobbered with betel-nut
juice. I thought there was something queer about him. Seemed so
restless, and as if in a hurry to get rid of me. Well. Next day
that one-eyed malefactor who lives with Lakamba--what's his
name--Babalatchi, put in an appearance here! Came about mid-day,
casually like, and stood there on this verandah chatting about
one thing and another. Asking when I expected you, and so on.
Then, incidentally, he mentioned that they--his master and
himself--were very much bothered by a ferocious white man--my
friend--who was hanging about that woman--Omar's daughter. Asked
my advice. Very deferential and proper. I told him the white
man was not my friend, and that they had better kick him out.
Whereupon he went away salaaming, and protesting his friendship
and his master's goodwill. Of course I know now the infernal
nigger came to spy and to talk over some of my men. Anyway,
eight were missing at the evening muster. Then I took alarm.
Did not dare to leave my house unguarded. You know what my wife
is, don't you? And I did not care to take the child with me--it
being late--so I sent a message to Patalolo to say that we ought
to consult; that there were rumours and uneasiness in the
settlement. Do you know what answer I got?"
Lingard stopped short in his walk before Almayer, who went on,
after an impressive pause, with growing animation.
"All brought it: 'The Rajah sends a friend's greeting, and does
not understand the message.' That was all. Not a word more
could Ali get out of him. I could see that Ali was pretty well
scared. He hung about, arranging my hammock--one thing and
another. Then just before going away he mentioned that the
water-gate of the Rajah's place was heavily barred, but that he
could see only very few men about the courtyard. Finally he said,
'There is darkness in our Rajah's house, but no sleep. Only
darkness and fear and the wailing of women.' Cheerful, wasn't
it? It made me feel cold down my back somehow. After Ali
slipped away I stood here--by this table, and listened to the
shouting and drumming in the settlement. Racket enough for
twenty weddings. It was a little past midnight then."
Again Almayer stopped in his narrative with an abrupt shutting of
lips, as if he had said all that there was to tell, and Lingard
stood staring at him, pensive and silent. A big bluebottle fly
flew in recklessly into the cool verandah, and darted with loud
buzzing between the two men. Lingard struck at it with his hat.
The fly swerved, and Almayer dodged his head out of the way.
Then Lingard aimed another ineffectual blow; Almayer jumped up
and waved his arms about. The fly buzzed desperately, and the
vibration of minute wings sounded in the peace of the early
morning like a far-off string orchestra accompanying the hollow,
determined stamping of the two men, who, with heads thrown back
and arms gyrating on high, or again bending low with infuriated
lunges, were intent upon killing the intruder. But suddenly the
buzz died out in a thin thrill away in the open space of the
courtyard, leaving Lingard and Almayer standing face to face in
the fresh silence of the young day, looking very puzzled and
idle, their arms hanging uselessly by their sides--like men
disheartened by some portentous failure.
"Look at that!" muttered Lingard. "Got away after all."
"Nuisance," said Almayer in the same tone. "Riverside is overrun
with them. This house is badly placed . . . mosquitos . . . and
these big flies . . . . last week stung Nina . . . been ill four
days . . . poor child. . . . I wonder what such damned things
are made for!"
After a long silence, during which Almayer had moved towards the
table and sat down, his head between his hands, staring straight
before him, Lingard, who had recommenced walking, cleared his
throat and said--
"What was it you were saying?"
"Ah! Yes! You should have seen this settlement that night. I
don't think anybody went to bed. I walked down to the point, and
could see them. They had a big bonfire in the palm grove, and
the talk went on there till the morning. When I came back here
and sat in the dark verandah in this quiet house I felt so
frightfully lonely that I stole in and took the child out of her
cot and brought her here into my hammock. If it hadn't been for
her I am sure I would have gone mad; I felt so utterly alone and
helpless. Remember, I hadn't heard from you for four months.
Didn't know whether you were alive or dead. Patalolo would have
nothing to do with me. My own men were deserting me like rats do
a sinking hulk. That was a black night for me, Captain Lingard.
A black night as I sat here not knowing what would happen next.
They were so excited and rowdy that I really feared they would
come and burn the house over my head. I went and brought my
revolver. Laid it loaded on the table. There were such awful
yells now and then. Luckily the child slept through it, and
seeing her so pretty and peaceful steadied me somehow. Couldn't
believe there was any violence in this world, looking at her
lying so quiet and so unconscious of what went on. But it was
very hard. Everything was at an end. You must understand that
on that night there was no government in Sambir. Nothing to
restrain those fellows. Patalolo had collapsed. I was abandoned
by my own people, and all that lot could vent their spite on me
if they wanted. They know no gratitude. How many times haven't I
saved this settlement from starvation? Absolute starvation.
Only three months ago I distributed again a lot of rice on
credit. There was nothing to eat in this infernal place. They
came begging on their knees. There isn't a man in Sambir, big or
little, who is not in debt to Lingard & Co. Not one. You ought
to be satisfied. You always said that was the right policy for
us. Well, I carried it out. Ah! Captain Lingard, a policy like
that should be backed by loaded rifles . . ."
"You had them!" exclaimed Lingard in the midst of his promenade,
that went on more rapid as Almayer talked: the headlong tramp of
a man hurrying on to do something violent. The verandah was full
of dust, oppressive and choking, which rose under the old
seaman's feet, and made Almayer cough again and again.
"Yes, I had! Twenty. And not a finger to pull a trigger. It's
easy to talk," he spluttered, his face very red.
Lingard dropped into a chair, and leaned back with one hand
stretched out at length upon the table, the other thrown over the
back of his seat. The dust settled, and the sun surging above
the forest flooded the verandah with a clear light. Almayer got
up and busied himself in lowering the split rattan screens that
hung between the columns of the verandah.
"Phew!" said Lingard, "it will be a hot day. That's right, my
boy. Keep the sun out. We don't want to be roasted alive here."
Almayer came back, sat down, and spoke very calmly--
"In the morning I went across to see Patalolo. I took the child
with me, of course. I found the water-gate barred, and had to
walk round through the bushes. Patalolo received me lying on the
floor, in the dark, all the shutters closed. I could get nothing
out of him but lamentations and groans. He said you must be
dead. That Lakamba was coming now with Abdulla's guns to kill
everybody. Said he did not mind being killed, as he was an old
man, but that the wish of his heart was to make a pilgrimage. He
was tired of men's ingratitude--he had no heirs--he wanted to go
to Mecca and die there. He would ask Abdulla to let him go.
Then he abused Lakamba--between sobs--and you, a little. You
prevented him from asking for a flag that would have been
respected--he was right there--and now when his enemies were
strong he was weak, and you were not there to help him. When I
tried to put some heart into him, telling him he had four big
guns--you know the brass six-pounders you left here last
year--and that I would get powder, and that, perhaps, together we
could make head against Lakamba, he simply howled at me. No
matter which way he turned--he shrieked--the white men would be
the death of him, while he wanted only to be a pilgrim and be at
peace. My belief is," added Almayer, after a short pause, and
fixing a dull stare upon Lingard, "that the old fool saw this
thing coming for a long time, and was not only too frightened to
do anything himself, but actually too scared to let you or me
know of his suspicions. Another of your particular pets! Well!
You have a lucky hand, I must say!"
Lingard struck a sudden blow on the table with his clenched hand.
There was a sharp crack of splitting wood. Almayer started up
violently, then fell back in his chair and looked at the table.
"There!" he said, moodily, "you don't know your own strength.
This table is completely ruined. The only table I had been able
to save from my wife. By and by I will have to eat squatting on
the floor like a native."
Lingard laughed heartily. "Well then, don't nag at me like a
woman at a drunken husband!" He became very serious after
awhile, and added, "If it hadn't been for the loss of the Flash I
would have been here three months ago, and all would have been
well. No use crying over that. Don't you be uneasy, Kaspar. We
will have everything ship-shape here in a very short time."
"What? You don't mean to expel Abdulla out of here by force! I
tell you, you can't."
"Not I!" exclaimed Lingard. "That's all over, I am afraid.
Great pity. They will suffer for it. He will squeeze them.
Great pity. Damn it! I feel so sorry for them if I had the
Flash here I would try force. Eh! Why not? However, the poor
Flash is gone, and there is an end of it. Poor old hooker. Hey,
Almayer? You made a voyage or two with me. Wasn't she a sweet
craft? Could make her do anything but talk. She was better than
a wife to me. Never scolded. Hey? . . . And to think that it
should come to this. That I should leave her poor old bones
sticking on a reef as though I had been a damned fool of a
southern-going man who must have half a mile of water under his
keel to be safe! Well! well! It's only those who do nothing
that make no mistakes, I suppose. But it's hard. Hard."
He nodded sadly, with his eyes on the ground. Almayer looked at
him with growing indignation.
"Upon my word, you are heartless," he burst out; "perfectly
heartless--and selfish. It does not seem to strike you--in all
that--that in losing your ship--by your recklessness, I am
sure--you ruin me--us, and my little Nina. What's going to
become of me and of her? That's what I want to know. You
brought me here, made me your partner, and now, when everything
is gone to the devil--through your fault, mind you--you talk
about your ship . . . ship! You can get another. But here.
This trade. That's gone now, thanks to Willems. . . . Your dear
"Never you mind about Willems. I will look after him," said
Lingard, severely. "And as to the trade . . . I will make your
fortune yet, my boy. Never fear. Have you got any cargo for the
schooner that brought me here?"
"The shed is full of rattans," answered Almayer, "and I have
about eighty tons of guttah in the well. The last lot I ever will
have, no doubt," he added, bitterly.
"So, after all, there was no robbery. You've lost nothing
actually. Well, then, you must . . . Hallo! What's the matter!
. . . Here! . . ."
"Robbery! No!" screamed Almayer, throwing up his hands.
He fell back in the chair and his face became purple. A little
white foam appeared on his lips and trickled down his chin, while
he lay back, showing the whites of his upturned eyes. When he
came to himself he saw Lingard standing over him, with an empty
water-chatty in his hand.
"You had a fit of some kind," said the old seaman with much
concern. "What is it? You did give me a fright. So very
Almayer, his hair all wet and stuck to his head, as if he had
been diving, sat up and gasped.
"Outrage! A fiendish outrage. I . . ."
Lingard put the chatty on the table and looked at him in
attentive silence. Almayer passed his hand over his forehead and
went on in an unsteady tone:
"When I remember that, I lose all control," he said. "I told you
he anchored Abdulla's ship abreast our jetty, but over to the
other shore, near the Rajah's place. The ship was surrounded
with boats. From here it looked as if she had been landed on a
raft. Every dugout in Sambir was there. Through my glass I
could distinguish the faces of people on the poop--Abdulla,
Willems, Lakamba--everybody. That old cringing scoundrel Sahamin
was there. I could see quite plain. There seemed to be much
talk and discussion. Finally I saw a ship's boat lowered. Some
Arab got into her, and the boat went towards Patalolo's
landing-place. It seems they had been refused admittance--so
they say. I think myself that the water-gate was not unbarred
quick enough to please the exalted messenger. At any rate I saw
the boat come back almost directly. I was looking on, rather
interested, when I saw Willems and some more go forward--very
busy about something there. That woman was also amongst them.
Ah, that woman . . ."
Almayer choked, and seemed on the point of having a relapse, but
by a violent effort regained a comparative composure.
"All of a sudden," he continued--"bang! They fired a shot into
Patalolo's gate, and before I had time to catch my breath--I was
startled, you may believe--they sent another and burst the gate
open. Whereupon, I suppose, they thought they had done enough
for a while, and probably felt hungry, for a feast began aft.
Abdulla sat amongst them like an idol, cross-legged, his hands on
his lap. He's too great altogether to eat when others do, but he
presided, you see. Willems kept on dodging about forward, aloof
from the crowd, and looking at my house through the ship's long
glass. I could not resist it. I shook my fist at him."
"Just so," said Lingard, gravely. "That was the thing to do, of
course. If you can't fight a man the best thing is to exasperate
Almayer waved his hand in a superior manner, and continued,
unmoved: "You may say what you like. You can't realize my
feelings. He saw me, and, with his eye still at the small end of
the glass, lifted his arm as if answering a hail. I thought my
turn to be shot at would come next after Patalolo, so I ran up
the Union Jack to the flagstaff in the yard. I had no other
protection. There were only three men besides Ali that stuck to
me--three cripples, for that matter, too sick to get away. I
would have fought singlehanded, I think, I was that angry, but
there was the child. What to do with her? Couldn't send her up
the river with the mother. You know I can't trust my wife. I
decided to keep very quiet, but to let nobody land on our shore.
Private property, that; under a deed from Patalolo. I was within
my right--wasn't I? The morning was very quiet. After they had
a feed on board the barque with Abdulla most of them went home;
only the big people remained. Towards three o'clock Sahamin
crossed alone in a small canoe. I went down on our wharf with my
gun to speak to him, but didn't let him land. The old hypocrite
said Abdulla sent greetings and wished to talk with me on
business; would I come on board? I said no; I would not. Told
him that Abdulla may write and I would answer, but no interview,
neither on board his ship nor on shore. I also said that if
anybody attempted to land within my fences I would shoot--no
matter whom. On that he lifted his hands to heaven, scandalized,
and then paddled away pretty smartly--to report, I suppose. An
hour or so afterwards I saw Willems land a boat party at the
Rajah's. It was very quiet. Not a shot was fired, and there was
hardly any shouting. They tumbled those brass guns you presented
to Patalolo last year down the bank into the river. It's deep
there close to. The channel runs that way, you know. About
five, Willems went back on board, and I saw him join Abdulla by
the wheel aft. He talked a lot, swinging his arms about--seemed
to explain things--pointed at my house, then down the reach.
Finally, just before sunset, they hove upon the cable and dredged
the ship down nearly half a mile to the junction of the two
branches of the river--where she is now, as you might have seen."
"That evening, after dark--I was informed--Abdulla landed for the
first time in Sambir. He was entertained in Sahamin's house. I
sent Ali to the settlement for news. He returned about nine, and
reported that Patalolo was sitting on Abdulla's left hand before
Sahamin's fire. There was a great council. Ali seemed to think
that Patalolo was a prisoner, but he was wrong there. They did
the trick very neatly. Before midnight everything was arranged
as I can make out. Patalolo went back to his demolished
stockade, escorted by a dozen boats with torches. It appears he
begged Abdulla to let him have a passage in the Lord of the Isles
to Penang. From there he would go to Mecca. The firing
business was alluded to as a mistake. No doubt it was in a
sense. Patalolo never meant resisting. So he is going as soon
as the ship is ready for sea. He went on board next day with
three women and half a dozen fellows as old as himself. By
Abdulla's orders he was received with a salute of seven guns, and
he has been living on board ever since--five weeks. I doubt
whether he will leave the river alive. At any rate he won't live
to reach Penang. Lakamba took over all his goods, and gave him a
draft on Abdulla's house payable in Penang. He is bound to die
before he gets there. Don't you see?"
He sat silent for a while in dejected meditation, then went on:
"Of course there were several rows during the night. Various
fellows took the opportunity of the unsettled state of affairs to
pay off old scores and settle old grudges. I passed the night in
that chair there, dozing uneasily. Now and then there would be a
great tumult and yelling which would make me sit up, revolver in
hand. However, nobody was killed. A few broken heads--that's
all. Early in the morning Willems caused them to make a fresh
move which I must say surprised me not a little. As soon as
there was daylight they busied themselves in setting up a
flag-pole on the space at the other end of the settlement, where
Abdulla is having his houses built now. Shortly after sunrise
there was a great gathering at the flag-pole. All went there.
Willems was standing leaning against the mast, one arm over that
woman's shoulders. They had brought an armchair for Patalolo,
and Lakamba stood on the right hand of the old man, who made a
speech. Everybody in Sambir was there: women, slaves,
children--everybody! Then Patalolo spoke. He said that by the
mercy of the Most High he was going on a pilgrimage. The dearest
wish of his heart was to be accomplished. Then, turning to
Lakamba, he begged him to rule justly during his--Patalolo's--
absence. There was a bit of play-acting there. Lakamba said he
was unworthy of the honourable burden, and Patalolo insisted.
Poor old fool! It must have been bitter to him. They made him
actually entreat that scoundrel. Fancy a man compelled to beg of
a robber to despoil him! But the old Rajah was so frightened.
Anyway, he did it, and Lakamba accepted at last. Then Willems
made a speech to the crowd. Said that on his way to the west the
Rajah--he meant Patalolo--would see the Great White Ruler in
Batavia and obtain his protection for Sambir. Meantime, he went
on, I, an Orang Blanda and your friend, hoist the flag under the
shadow of which there is safety. With that he ran up a Dutch
flag to the mast-head. It was made hurriedly, during the night,
of cotton stuffs, and, being heavy, hung down the mast, while the
crowd stared. Ali told me there was a great sigh of surprise,
but not a word was spoken till Lakamba advanced and proclaimed in
a loud voice that during all that day every one passing by the
flagstaff must uncover his head and salaam before the emblem."
"But, hang it all!" exclaimed Lingard--"Abdulla is British!"
"Abdulla wasn't there at all--did not go on shore that day. Yet
Ali, who has his wits about him, noticed that the space where the
crowd stood was under the guns of the Lord of the Isles. They
had put a coir warp ashore, and gave the barque a cant in the
current, so as to bring the broadside to bear on the flagstaff.
Clever! Eh? But nobody dreamt of resistance. When they
recovered from the surprise there was a little quiet jeering; and
Bahassoen abused Lakamba violently till one of Lakamba's men hit
him on the head with a staff. Frightful crack, I am told. Then
they left off jeering. Meantime Patalolo went away, and Lakamba
sat in the chair at the foot of the flagstaff, while the crowd
surged around, as if they could not make up their minds to go.
Suddenly there was a great noise behind Lakamba's chair. It was
that woman, who went for Willems. Ali says she was like a wild
beast, but he twisted her wrist and made her grovel in the dust.
Nobody knows exactly what it was about. Some say it was about
that flag. He carried her off, flung her into a canoe, and went
on board Abdulla's ship. After that Sahamin was the first to
salaam to the flag. Others followed suit. Before noon
everything was quiet in the settlement, and Ali came back and
told me all this."
Almayer drew a long breath. Lingard stretched out his legs.
"Go on!" he said.
Almayer seemed to struggle with himself. At last he spluttered
"The hardest is to tell yet. The most unheard-of thing! An
outrage! A fiendish outrage!"
"Well! Let's know all about it. I can't imagine . . ." began
Lingard, after waiting for some time in silence.
"Can't imagine! I should think you couldn't," interrupted
Almayer. "Why! . . . You just listen. When Ali came back I
felt a little easier in my mind. There was then some semblance
of order in Sambir. I had the Jack up since the morning and
began to feel safer. Some of my men turned up in the afternoon.
I did not ask any questions; set them to work as if nothing had
happened. Towards the evening--it might have been five or
half-past--I was on our jetty with the child when I heard shouts
at the far-off end of the settlement. At first I didn't take
much notice. By and by Ali came to me and says, 'Master, give me
the child, there is much trouble in the settlement.' So I gave
him Nina and went in, took my revolver, and passed through the
house into the back courtyard. As I came down the steps I saw
all the serving girls clear out from the cooking shed, and I
heard a big crowd howling on the other side of the dry ditch
which is the limit of our ground. Could not see them on account
of the fringe of bushes along the ditch, but I knew that crowd
was angry and after somebody. As I stood wondering, that
Jim-Eng--you know the Chinaman who settled here a couple of years
"He was my passenger; I brought him here," exclaimed Lingard. "A
first-class Chinaman that."
"Did you? I had forgotten. Well, that Jim-Eng, he burst through
the bush and fell into my arms, so to speak. He told me,
panting, that they were after him because he wouldn't take off
his hat to the flag. He was not so much scared, but he was very
angry and indignant. Of course he had to run for it; there were
some fifty men after him--Lakamba's friends--but he was full of
fight. Said he was an Englishman, and would not take off his hat
to any flag but English. I tried to soothe him while the crowd
was shouting on the other side of the ditch. I told him he must
take one of my canoes and cross the river. Stop on the other
side for a couple of days. He wouldn't. Not he. He was
English, and he would fight the whole lot. Says he: 'They are
only black fellows. We white men,' meaning me and himself, 'can
fight everybody in Sambir.' He was mad with passion. The crowd
quieted a little, and I thought I could shelter Jim-Eng without
much risk, when all of a sudden I heard Willems' voice. He
shouted to me in English: 'Let four men enter your compound to
get that Chinaman!' I said nothing. Told Jim-Eng to keep quiet
too. Then after a while Willems shouts again: 'Don't resist,
Almayer. I give you good advice. I am keeping this crowd back.
Don't resist them!' That beggar's voice enraged me; I could not
help it. I cried to him: 'You are a liar!' and just then
Jim-Eng, who had flung off his jacket and had tucked up his
trousers ready for a fight; just then that fellow he snatches the
revolver out of my hand and lets fly at them through the bush.
There was a sharp cry--he must have hit somebody--and a great
yell, and before I could wink twice they were over the ditch and
through the bush and on top of us! Simply rolled over us! There
wasn't the slightest chance to resist. I was trampled under
foot, Jim-Eng got a dozen gashes about his body, and we were
carried halfway up the yard in the first rush. My eyes and mouth
were full of dust; I was on my back with three or four fellows
sitting on me. I could hear Jim-Eng trying to shout not very far
from me. Now and then they would throttle him and he would
gurgle. I could hardly breathe myself with two heavy fellows on
my chest. Willems came up running and ordered them to raise me
up, but to keep good hold. They led me into the verandah. I
looked round, but did not see either Ali or the child. Felt
easier. Struggled a little. . . . Oh, my God!"
Almayer's face was distorted with a passing spasm of rage.
Lingard moved in his chair slightly. Almayer went on after a
"They held me, shouting threats in my face. Willems took down my
hammock and threw it to them. He pulled out the drawer of this
table, and found there a palm and needle and some sail-twine. We
were making awnings for your brig, as you had asked me last
voyage before you left. He knew, of course, where to look for
what he wanted. By his orders they laid me out on the floor,
wrapped me in my hammock, and he started to stitch me in, as if I
had been a corpse, beginning at the feet. While he worked he
laughed wickedly. I called him all the names I could think of.
He told them to put their dirty paws over my mouth and nose. I
was nearly choked. Whenever I moved they punched me in the ribs.
He went on taking fresh needlefuls as he wanted them, and working
steadily. Sewed me up to my throat. Then he rose, saying, 'That
will do; let go.' That woman had been standing by; they must
have been reconciled. She clapped her hands. I lay on the floor
like a bale of goods while he stared at me, and the woman
shrieked with delight. Like a bale of goods! There was a grin
on every face, and the verandah was full of them. I wished
myself dead--'pon my word, Captain Lingard, I did! I do now
whenever I think of it!"
Lingard's face expressed sympathetic indignation. Almayer
dropped his head upon his arms on the table, and spoke in that
position in an indistinct and muffled voice, without looking up.
"Finally, by his directions, they flung me into the big
rocking-chair. I was sewed in so tight that I was stiff like a
piece of wood. He was giving orders in a very loud voice, and
that man Babalatchi saw that they were executed. They obeyed him
implicitly. Meantime I lay there in the chair like a log, and
that woman capered before me and made faces; snapped her fingers
before my nose. Women are bad!--ain't they? I never saw her
before, as far as I know. Never done anything to her. Yet she
was perfectly fiendish. Can you understand it? Now and then she
would leave me alone to hang round his neck for awhile, and then
she would return before my chair and begin her exercises again.
He looked on, indulgent. The perspiration ran down my face, got
into my eyes--my arms were sewn in. I was blinded half the time;
at times I could see better. She drags him before my chair. 'I
am like white women,' she says, her arms round his neck. You
should have seen the faces of the fellows in the verandah! They
were scandalized and ashamed of themselves to see her behaviour.
Suddenly she asks him, alluding to me: 'When are you going to
kill him?' Imagine how I felt. I must have swooned; I don't
remember exactly. I fancy there was a row; he was angry. When I
got my wits again he was sitting close to me, and she was gone.
I understood he sent her to my wife, who was hiding in the back
room and never came out during this affair. Willems says to
me--I fancy I can hear his voice, hoarse and dull--he says to me:
'Not a hair of your head shall be touched.' I made no sound.
Then he goes on: 'Please remark that the flag you have
hoisted--which, by the by, is not yours--has been respected.
Tell Captain Lingard so when you do see him. But,' he says, 'you
first fired at the crowd.' 'You are a liar, you blackguard!' I
shouted. He winced, I am sure. It hurt him to see I was not
frightened. 'Anyways,' he says, 'a shot had been fired out of
your compound and a man was hit. Still, all your property shall
be respected on account of the Union Jack. Moreover, I have no
quarrel with Captain Lingard, who is the senior partner in this
business. As to you,' he continued, 'you will not forget this
day--not if you live to be a hundred years old--or I don't know
your nature. You will keep the bitter taste of this humiliation
to the last day of your life, and so your kindness to me shall be
repaid. I shall remove all the powder you have. This coast is
under the protection of the Netherlands, and you have no right to
have any powder. There are the Governor's Orders in Council to
that effect, and you know it. Tell me where the key of the small
storehouse is?' I said not a word, and he waited a little, then
rose, saying: 'It's your own fault if there is any damage done.'
He ordered Babalatchi to have the lock of the office-room forced,
and went in--rummaged amongst my drawers--could not find the key.
Then that woman Aissa asked my wife, and she gave them the key.
After awhile they tumbled every barrel into the river.
Eighty-three hundredweight! He superintended himself, and saw
every barrel roll into the water. There were mutterings.
Babalatchi was angry and tried to expostulate, but he gave him a
good shaking. I must say he was perfectly fearless with those
fellows. Then he came back to the verandah, sat down by me
again, and says: 'We found your man Ali with your little daughter
hiding in the bushes up the river. We brought them in. They are
perfectly safe, of course. Let me congratulate you, Almayer,
upon the cleverness of your child. She recognized me at once,
and cried "pig" as naturally as you would yourself.
Circumstances alter feelings. You should have seen how
frightened your man Ali was. Clapped his hands over her mouth.
I think you spoil her, Almayer. But I am not angry. Really, you
look so ridiculous in this chair that I can't feel angry.' I
made a frantic effort to burst out of my hammock to get at that
scoundrel's throat, but I only fell off and upset the chair over
myself. He laughed and said only: 'I leave you half of your
revolver cartridges and take half myself; they will fit mine. We
are both white men, and should back each other up. I may want
them.' I shouted at him from under the chair: 'You are a thief,'
but he never looked, and went away, one hand round that woman's
waist, the other on Babalatchi's shoulder, to whom he was
talking--laying down the law about something or other. In less
than five minutes there was nobody inside our fences. After
awhile Ali came to look for me and cut me free. I haven't seen
Willems since--nor anybody else for that matter. I have been
left alone. I offered sixty dollars to the man who had been
wounded, which were accepted. They released Jim-Eng the next
day, when the flag had been hauled down. He sent six cases of
opium to me for safe keeping but has not left his house. I think
he is safe enough now. Everything is very quiet."
Towards the end of his narrative Almayer lifted his head off the
table, and now sat back in his chair and stared at the bamboo
rafters of the roof above him. Lingard lolled in his seat with
his legs stretched out. In the peaceful gloom of the verandah,
with its lowered screens, they heard faint noises from the world
outside in the blazing sunshine: a hail on the river, the answer
from the shore, the creak of a pulley; sounds short, interrupted,
as if lost suddenly in the brilliance of noonday. Lingard got up
slowly, walked to the front rail, and holding one of the screens
aside, looked out in silence. Over the water and the empty
courtyard came a distinct voice from a small schooner anchored
abreast of the Lingard jetty.
"Serang! Take a pull at the main peak halyards. This gaff is
down on the boom.''
There was a shrill pipe dying in long-drawn cadence, the song of
the men swinging on the rope. The voice said sharply: "That will
do!" Another voice--the serang's probably--shouted: "Ikat!" and
as Lingard dropped the blind and turned away all was silent
again, as if there had been nothing on the other side of the
swaying screen; nothing but the light, brilliant, crude, heavy,