Part 4 out of 6
lying on a dead land like a pall of fire. Lingard sat down
again, facing Almayer, his elbow on the table, in a thoughtful
"Nice little schooner," muttered Almayer, wearily. "Did you buy
"No," answered Lingard. "After I lost the Flash we got to
Palembang in our boats. I chartered her there, for six months.
From young Ford, you know. Belongs to him. He wanted a spell
ashore, so I took charge myself. Of course all Ford's people on
board. Strangers to me. I had to go to Singapore about the
insurance; then I went to Macassar, of course. Had long
passages. No wind. It was like a curse on me. I had lots of
trouble with old Hudig. That delayed me much."
"Ah! Hudig! Why with Hudig?" asked Almayer, in a perfunctory
"Oh! about a . . . a woman," mumbled Lingard.
Almayer looked at him with languid surprise. The old seaman had
twisted his white beard into a point, and now was busy giving his
moustaches a fierce curl. His little red eyes--those eyes that
had smarted under the salt sprays of every sea, that had looked
unwinking to windward in the gales of all latitudes--now glared
at Almayer from behind the lowered eyebrows like a pair of
frightened wild beasts crouching in a bush.
"Extraordinary! So like you! What can you have to do with
Hudig's women? The old sinner!" said Almayer, negligently.
"What are you talking about! Wife of a friend of . . . I mean of
a man I know . . ."
"Still, I don't see . . ." interjected Almayer carelessly.
"Of a man you know too. Well. Very well."
"I knew so many men before you made me bury myself in this hole!"
growled Almayer, unamiably. "If she had anything to do with
Hudig--that wife--then she can't be up to much. I would be sorry
for the man," added Almayer, brightening up with the recollection
of the scandalous tittle-tattle of the past, when he was a young
man in the second capital of the Islands--and so well informed,
so well informed. He laughed. Lingard's frown deepened.
"Don't talk foolish! It's Willems' wife."
Almayer grasped the sides of his seat, his eyes and mouth opened
"What? Why!" he exclaimed, bewildered.
"Willems'--wife," repeated Lingard distinctly. "You ain't deaf,
are you? The wife of Willems. Just so. As to why! There was a
promise. And I did not know what had happened here."
"What is it. You've been giving her money, I bet," cried
"Well, no!" said Lingard, deliberately. "Although I suppose I
shall have to . . ."
"The fact is," went on Lingard, speaking slowly and steadily,
"the fact is that I have . . . I have brought her here. Here.
"In heaven's name! why?" shouted Almayer, jumping up. The chair
tilted and fell slowly over. He raised his clasped hands above
his head and brought them down jerkily, separating his fingers
with an effort, as if tearing them apart. Lingard nodded,
quickly, several times.
"I have. Awkward. Hey?" he said, with a puzzled look upwards.
"Upon my word," said Almayer, tearfully. "I can't understand you
at all. What will you do next! cWillems' wife!"
"Wife and child. Small boy, you know. They are on board the
Almayer looked at Lingard with sudden suspicion, then turning
away busied himself in picking up the chair, sat down in it
turning his back upon the old seaman, and tried to whistle, but
gave it up directly. Lingard went on--
"Fact is, the fellow got into trouble with Hudig. Worked upon my
feelings. I promised to arrange matters. I did. With much
trouble. Hudig was angry with her for wishing to join her
husband. Unprincipled old fellow. You know she is his daughter.
Well, I said I would see her through it all right; help Willems
to a fresh start and so on. I spoke to Craig in Palembang. He
is getting on in years, and wanted a manager or partner. I
promised to guarantee Willems' good behaviour. We settled all
that. Craig is an old crony of mine. Been shipmates in the
forties. He's waiting for him now. A pretty mess! What do you
Almayer shrugged his shoulders.
"That woman broke with Hudig on my assurance that all would be
well," went on Lingard, with growing dismay. "She did. Proper
thing, of course. Wife, husband . . . together . . . as it
should be . . . Smart fellow . . . Impossible scoundrel . . .
Jolly old go! Oh! damn!"
Almayer laughed spitefully.
"How delighted he will be," he said, softly. "You will make two
people happy. Two at least!" He laughed again, while Lingard
looked at his shaking shoulders in consternation.
"I am jammed on a lee shore this time, if ever I was," muttered
"Send her back quick," suggested Almayer, stifling another laugh.
"What are you sniggering at?" growled Lingard, angrily. "I'll
work it out all clear yet. Meantime you must receive her into
"My house!" cried Almayer, turning round.
"It's mine too--a little isn't it?" said Lingard. "Don't argue,"
he shouted, as Almayer opened his mouth. "Obey orders and hold
"Oh! If you take it in that tone!" mumbled Almayer, sulkily,
with a gesture of assent.
"You are so aggravating too, my boy," said the old seaman, with
unexpected placidity. "You must give me time to turn round. I
can't keep her on board all the time. I must tell her something.
Say, for instance, that he is gone up the river. Expected back
every day. That's it. D'ye hear? You must put her on that tack
and dodge her along easy, while I take the kinks out of the
situation. By God!" he exclaimed, mournfully, after a short
pause, "life is foul! Foul like a lee forebrace on a dirty
night. And yet. And yet. One must see it clear for running
before going below--for good. Now you attend to what I said," he
added, sharply, "if you don't want to quarrel with me, my boy."
"I don't want to quarrel with you," murmured Almayer with
unwilling deference. "Only I wish I could understand you. I
know you are my best friend, Captain Lingard; only, upon my word,
I can't make you out sometimes! I wish I could . . ."
Lingard burst into a loud laugh which ended shortly in a deep
sigh. He closed his eyes, tilting his head over the back of his
armchair; and on his face, baked by the unclouded suns of many
hard years, there appeared for a moment a weariness and a look of
age which startled Almayer, like an unexpected disclosure of
"I am done up," said Lingard, gently. "Perfectly done up. All
night on deck getting that schooner up the river. Then talking
with you. Seems to me I could go to sleep on a clothes-line. I
should like to eat something though. Just see about that,
Almayer clapped his hands, and receiving no response was going to
call, when in the central passage of the house, behind the red
curtain of the doorway opening upon the verandah, they heard a
child's imperious voice speaking shrilly.
"Take me up at once. I want to be carried into the verandah. I
shall be very angry. Take me up."
A man's voice answered, subdued, in humble remonstrance. The
faces of Almayer and Lingard brightened at once. The old seaman
"Bring the child. Lekas!"
"You will see how she has grown," exclaimed Almayer, in a
Through the curtained doorway Ali appeared with little Nina
Almayer in his arms. The child had one arm round his neck, and
with the other she hugged a ripe pumelo nearly as big as her own
head. Her little pink, sleeveless robe had half slipped off her
shoulders, but the long black hair, that framed her olive face,
in which the big black eyes looked out in childish solemnity,
fell in luxuriant profusion over her shoulders, all round her and
over Ali's arms, like a close-meshed and delicate net of silken
threads. Lingard got up to meet Ali, and as soon as she caught
sight of the old seaman she dropped the fruit and put out both
her hands with a cry of delight. He took her from the Malay, and
she laid hold of his moustaches with an affectionate goodwill
that brought unaccustomed tears into his little red eyes.
"Not so hard, little one, not so hard," he murmured, pressing
with an enormous hand, that covered it entirely, the child's head
to his face.
"Pick up my pumelo, O Rajah of the sea!" she said, speaking in a
high-pitched, clear voice with great volubility. "There, under
the table. I want it quick! Quick! You have been away fighting
with many men. Ali says so. You are a mighty fighter. Ali says
so. On the great sea far away, away, away."
She waved her hand, staring with dreamy vacancy, while Lingard
looked at her, and squatting down groped under the table after
"Where does she get those notions?" said Lingard, getting up
cautiously, to Almayer, who had been giving orders to Ali.
"She is always with the men. Many a time I've found her with her
fingers in their rice dish, of an evening. She does not care for
her mother though--I am glad to say. How pretty she is--and so
sharp. My very image!"
Lingard had put the child on the table, and both men stood
looking at her with radiant faces.
"A perfect little woman," whispered Lingard. "Yes, my dear boy,
we shall make her somebody. You'll see!"
"Very little chance of that now," remarked Almayer, sadly.
"You do not know!" exclaimed Lingard, taking up the child again,
and beginning to walk up and down the verandah. "I have my
plans. I have--listen."
And he began to explain to the interested Almayer his plans for
the future. He would interview Abdulla and Lakamba. There must
be some understanding with those fellows now they had the upper
hand. Here he interrupted himself to swear freely, while the
child, who had been diligently fumbling about his neck, had found
his whistle and blew a loud blast now and then close to his
ear--which made him wince and laugh as he put her hands down,
scolding her lovingly. Yes--that would be easily settled. He
was a man to be reckoned with yet. Nobody knew that better than
Almayer. Very well. Then he must patiently try and keep some
little trade together. It would be all right. But the great
thing--and here Lingard spoke lower, bringing himself to a sudden
standstill before the entranced Almayer--the great thing would be
the gold hunt up the river. He--Lingard--would devote himself to
it. He had been in the interior before. There were immense
deposits of alluvial gold there. Fabulous. He felt sure. Had
seen places. Dangerous work? Of course! But what a reward! He
would explore--and find. Not a shadow of doubt. Hang the
danger! They would first get as much as they could for
themselves. Keep the thing quiet. Then after a time form a
Company. In Batavia or in England. Yes, in England. Much
better. Splendid! Why, of course. And that baby would be the
richest woman in the world. He--Lingard--would not, perhaps, see
it--although he felt good for many years yet--but Almayer would.
Here was something to live for yet! Hey?
But the richest woman in the world had been for the last five
minutes shouting shrilly--"Rajah Laut! Rajah Laut! Hai! Give
ear!" while the old seaman had been speaking louder,
unconsciously, to make his deep bass heard above the impatient
clamour. He stopped now and said tenderly--
"What is it, little woman?"
"I am not a little woman. I am a white child. Anak Putih. A
white child; and the white men are my brothers. Father says so.
And Ali says so too. Ali knows as much as father. Everything."
Almayer almost danced with paternal delight.
"I taught her. I taught her," he repeated, laughing with tears
in his eyes. "Isn't she sharp?"
"I am the slave of the white child," said Lingard, with playful
solemnity. "What is the order?"
"I want a house," she warbled, with great eagerness. "I want a
house, and another house on the roof, and another on the
roof--high. High! Like the places where they dwell--my
brothers--in the land where the sun sleeps."
"To the westward," explained Almayer, under his breath. "She
remembers everything. She wants you to build a house of cards.
You did, last time you were here."
Lingard sat down with the child on his knees, and Almayer pulled
out violently one drawer after another, looking for the cards, as
if the fate of the world depended upon his haste. He produced a
dirty double pack which was only used during Lingard's visit to
Sambir, when he would sometimes play--of an evening--with
Almayer, a game which he called Chinese bezique. It bored
Almayer, but the old seaman delighted in it, considering it a
remarkable product of Chinese genius--a race for which he had an
unaccountable liking and admiration.
"Now we will get on, my little pearl," he said, putting together
with extreme precaution two cards that looked absurdly flimsy
between his big fingers. Little Nina watched him with intense
seriousness as he went on erecting the ground floor, while he
continued to speak to Almayer with his head over his shoulder so
as not to endanger the structure with his breath.
"I know what I am talking about. . . . Been in California in
forty-nine. . . . Not that I made much . . . then in Victoria in
the early days. . . . I know all about it. Trust me. Moreover
a blind man could . . . Be quiet, little sister, or you will
knock this affair down. . . . My hand pretty steady yet! Hey,
Kaspar? . . . Now, delight of my heart, we shall put a third
house on the top of these two . . . keep very quiet. . . . As I
was saying, you got only to stoop and gather handfuls of gold . .
. dust . . . there. Now here we are. Three houses on top of one
He leaned back in his chair, one hand on the child's head, which
he smoothed mechanically, and gesticulated with the other,
speaking to Almayer.
"Once on the spot, there would be only the trouble to pick up the
stuff. Then we shall all go to Europe. The child must be
educated. We shall be rich. Rich is no name for it. Down in
Devonshire where I belong, there was a fellow who built a house
near Teignmouth which had as many windows as a three-decker has
ports. Made all his money somewhere out here in the good old
days. People around said he had been a pirate. We boys--I was a
boy in a Brixham trawler then--certainly believed that. He went
about in a bath-chair in his grounds. Had a glass eye . . ."
"Higher, Higher!" called out Nina, pulling the old seaman's
"You do worry me--don't you?" said Lingard, gently, giving her a
tender kiss. "What? One more house on top of all these? Well!
I will try."
The child watched him breathlessly. When the difficult feat was
accomplished she clapped her hands, looked on steadily, and after
a while gave a great sigh of content.
"Oh! Look out!" shouted Almayer.
The structure collapsed suddenly before the child's light breath.
Lingard looked discomposed for a moment. Almayer laughed, but
the little girl began to cry.
"Take her," said the old seaman, abruptly. Then, after Almayer
went away with the crying child, he remained sitting by the
table, looking gloomily at the heap of cards.
"Damn this Willems," he muttered to himself. "But I will do it
He got up, and with an angry push of his hand swept the cards off
the table. Then he fell back in his chair.
"Tired as a dog," he sighed out, closing his eyes.
Consciously or unconsciously, men are proud of their firmness,
steadfastness of purpose, directness of aim. They go straight
towards their desire, to the accomplishment of virtue--sometimes
of crime--in an uplifting persuasion of their firmness. They
walk the road of life, the road fenced in by their tastes,
prejudices, disdains or enthusiasms, generally honest, invariably
stupid, and are proud of never losing their way. If they do
stop, it is to look for a moment over the hedges that make them
safe, to look at the misty valleys, at the distant peaks, at
cliffs and morasses, at the dark forests and the hazy plains
where other human beings grope their days painfully away,
stumbling over the bones of the wise, over the unburied remains
of their predecessors who died alone, in gloom or in sunshine,
halfway from anywhere. The man of purpose does not understand,
and goes on, full of contempt. He never loses his way. He knows
where he is going and what he wants. Travelling on, he achieves
great length without any breadth, and battered, besmirched, and
weary, he touches the goal at last; he grasps the reward of his
perseverance, of his virtue, of his healthy optimism: an
untruthful tombstone over a dark and soon forgotten grave.
Lingard had never hesitated in his life. Why should he? He had
been a most successful trader, and a man lucky in his fights,
skilful in navigation, undeniably first in seamanship in those
seas. He knew it. Had he not heard the voice of common consent?
The voice of the world that respected him so much; the whole
world to him--for to us the limits of the universe are strictly
defined by those we know. There is nothing for us outside the
babble of praise and blame on familiar lips, and beyond our last
acquaintance there lies only a vast chaos; a chaos of laughter
and tears which concerns us not; laughter and tears unpleasant,
wicked, morbid, contemptible--because heard imperfectly by ears
rebellious to strange sounds. To Lingard--simple himself--all
things were simple. He seldom read. Books were not much in his
way, and he had to work hard navigating, trading, and also, in
obedience to his benevolent instincts, shaping stray lives he
found here and there under his busy hand. He remembered the
Sunday-school teachings of his native village and the discourses
of the black-coated gentleman connected with the Mission to
Fishermen and Seamen, whose yawl-rigged boat darting through
rain-squalls amongst the coasters wind-bound in Falmouth Bay, was
part of those precious pictures of his youthful days that
lingered in his memory. "As clever a sky-pilot as you could wish
to see," he would say with conviction, "and the best man to
handle a boat in any weather I ever did meet!" Such were the
agencies that had roughly shaped his young soul before he went
away to see the world in a southern-going ship--before he went,
ignorant and happy, heavy of hand, pure in heart, profane in
speech, to give himself up to the great sea that took his life
and gave him his fortune. When thinking of his rise in the
world--commander of ships, then shipowner, then a man of much
capital, respected wherever he went, Lingard in a word, the Rajah
Laut--he was amazed and awed by his fate, that seemed to his
ill-informed mind the most wondrous known in the annals of men.
His experience appeared to him immense and conclusive, teaching
him the lesson of the simplicity of life. In life--as in
seamanship--there were only two ways of doing a thing: the right
way and the wrong way. Common sense and experience taught a man
the way that was right. The other was for lubbers and fools, and
led, in seamanship, to loss of spars and sails or shipwreck; in
life, to loss of money and consideration, or to an unlucky knock
on the head. He did not consider it his duty to be angry with
rascals. He was only angry with things he could not understand,
but for the weaknesses of humanity he could find a contemptuous
tolerance. It being manifest that he was wise and
lucky--otherwise how could he have been as successful in life as
he had been?--he had an inclination to set right the lives of
other people, just as he could hardly refrain--in defiance of
nautical etiquette--from interfering with his chief officer when
the crew was sending up a new topmast, or generally when busy
about, what he called, "a heavy job." He was meddlesome with
perfect modesty; if he knew a thing or two there was no merit in
it. "Hard knocks taught me wisdom, my boy," he used to say, "and
you had better take the advice of a man who has been a fool in
his time. Have another." And "my boy" as a rule took the cool
drink, the advice, and the consequent help which Lingard felt
himself bound in honour to give, so as to back up his opinion
like an honest man. Captain Tom went sailing from island to
island, appearing unexpectedly in various localities, beaming,
noisy, anecdotal, commendatory or comminatory, but always
It was only since his return to Sambir that the old seaman had
for the first time known doubt and unhappiness, The loss of the
Flash--planted firmly and for ever on a ledge of rock at the
north end of Gaspar Straits in the uncertain light of a cloudy
morning--shook him considerably; and the amazing news which he
heard on his arrival in Sambir were not made to soothe his
feelings. A good many years ago--prompted by his love of
adventure--he, with infinite trouble, had found out and
surveyed--for his own benefit only--the entrances to that river,
where, he had heard through native report, a new settlement of
Malays was forming. No doubt he thought at the time mostly of
personal gain; but, received with hearty friendliness by
Patalolo, he soon came to like the ruler and the people, offered
his counsel and his help, and--knowing nothing of Arcadia--he
dreamed of Arcadian happiness for that little corner of the world
which he loved to think all his own. His deep-seated and
immovable conviction that only he--he, Lingard--knew what was
good for them was characteristic of him. and, after all, not so
very far wrong. He would make them happy whether or no, he said,
and he meant it. His trade brought prosperity to the young state,
and the fear of his heavy hand secured its internal peace for
He looked proudly upon his work. With every passing year he
loved more the land, the people, the muddy river that, if he
could help it, would carry no other craft but the Flash on its
unclean and friendly surface. As he slowly warped his vessel
up-stream he would scan with knowing looks the riverside
clearings, and pronounce solemn judgment upon the prospects of
the season's rice-crop. He knew every settler on the banks
between the sea and Sambir; he knew their wives, their children;
he knew every individual of the multi-coloured groups that,
standing on the flimsy platforms of tiny reed dwellings built
over the water, waved their hands and shouted shrilly: "O! Kapal
layer! Hai!" while the Flash swept slowly through the populated
reach, to enter the lonely stretches of sparkling brown water
bordered by the dense and silent forest, whose big trees nodded
their outspread boughs gently in the faint, warm breeze--as if in
sign of tender but melancholy welcome. He loved it all: the
landscape of brown golds and brilliant emeralds under the dome of
hot sapphire; the whispering big trees; the loquacious nipa-palms
that rattled their leaves volubly in the night breeze, as if in
haste to tell him all the secrets of the great forest behind
them. He loved the heavy scents of blossoms and black earth,
that breath of life and of death which lingered over his brig in
the damp air of tepid and peaceful nights. He loved the narrow
and sombre creeks, strangers to sunshine: black, smooth,
tortuous--like byways of despair. He liked even the troops of
sorrowful-faced monkeys that profaned the quiet spots with
capricious gambols and insane gestures of inhuman madness. He
loved everything there, animated or inanimated; the very mud of
the riverside; the very alligators, enormous and stolid, basking
on it with impertinent unconcern. Their size was a source of
pride to him. "Immense fellows! Make two of them Palembang
reptiles! I tell you, old man!" he would shout, poking some
crony of his playfully in the ribs: "I tell you, big as you are,
they could swallow you in one gulp, hat, boots and all!
Magnificent beggars! Wouldn't you like to see them? Wouldn't
you! Ha! ha! ha!" His thunderous laughter filled the verandah,
rolled over the hotel garden, overflowed into the street,
paralyzing for a short moment the noiseless traffic of bare brown
feet; and its loud reverberations would even startle the
landlord's tame bird--a shameless mynah--into a momentary
propriety of behaviour under the nearest chair. In the big
billiard-room perspiring men in thin cotton singlets would stop
the game, listen, cue in hand, for a while through the open
windows, then nod their moist faces at each other sagaciously and
whisper: "The old fellow is talking about his river."
His river! The whispers of curious men, the mystery of the
thing, were to Lingard a source of never-ending delight. The
common talk of ignorance exaggerated the profits of his queer
monopoly, and, although strictly truthful in general, he liked,
on that matter, to mislead speculation still further by boasts
full of cold raillery. His river! By it he was not only
rich--he was interesting. This secret of his which made him
different to the other traders of those seas gave intimate
satisfaction to that desire for singularity which he shared with
the rest of mankind, without being aware of its presence within
his breast. It was the greater part of his happiness, but he
only knew it after its loss, so unforeseen, so sudden and so
After his conversation with Almayer he went on board the
schooner, sent Joanna on shore, and shut himself up in his cabin,
feeling very unwell. He made the most of his indisposition to
Almayer, who came to visit him twice a day. It was an excuse for
doing nothing just yet. He wanted to think. He was very angry.
Angry with himself, with Willems. Angry at what Willems had
done--and also angry at what he had left undone. The scoundrel
was not complete. The conception was perfect, but the execution,
unaccountably, fell short. Why? He ought to have cut Almayer's
throat and burnt the place to ashes--then cleared out. Got out
of his way; of him, Lingard! Yet he didn't. Was it impudence,
contempt--or what? He felt hurt at the implied disrespect of his
power, and the incomplete rascality of the proceeding disturbed
him exceedingly. There was something short, something wanting,
something that would have given him a free hand in the work of
retribution. The obvious, the right thing to do, was to shoot
Willems. Yet how could he? Had the fellow resisted, showed
fight, or ran away; had he shown any consciousness of harm done,
it would have been more possible, more natural. But no! The
fellow actually had sent him a message. Wanted to see him. What
for? The thing could not be explained. An unexampled,
cold-blooded treachery, awful, incomprehensible. Why did he do
it? Why? Why? The old seaman in the stuffy solitude of his
little cabin on board the schooner groaned out many times that
question, striking with an open palm his perplexed forehead.
During his four days of seclusion he had received two messages
from the outer world; from that world of Sambir which had, so
suddenly and so finally, slipped from his grasp. One, a few
words from Willems written on a torn-out page of a small
notebook; the other, a communication from Abdulla caligraphed
carefully on a large sheet of flimsy paper and delivered to him
in a green silk wrapper. The first he could not understand. It
said: "Come and see me. I am not afraid. Are you? W." He
tore it up angrily, but before the small bits of dirty paper had
the time to flutter down and settle on the floor, the anger was
gone and was replaced by a sentiment that induced him to go on
his knees, pick up the fragments of the torn message, piece it
together on the top of his chronometer box, and contemplate it
long and thoughtfully, as if he had hoped to read the answer of
the horrible riddle in the very form of the letters that went to
make up that fresh insult. Abdulla's letter he read carefully
and rammed it into his pocket, also with anger, but with anger
that ended in a half-resigned, half-amused smile. He would never
give in as long as there was a chance. "It's generally the
safest way to stick to the ship as long as she will swim," was
one of his favourite sayings: "The safest and the right way. To
abandon a craft because it leaks is easy--but poor work. Poor
work!" Yet he was intelligent enough to know when he was beaten,
and to accept the situation like a man, without repining. When
Almayer came on board that afternoon he handed him the letter
Almayer read it, returned it in silence, and leaning over the
taffrail (the two men were on deck) looked down for some time at
the play of the eddies round the schooner's rudder. At last he
said without looking up--
"That's a decent enough letter. Abdulla gives him up to you. I
told you they were getting sick of him. What are you going to
Lingard cleared his throat, shuffled his feet, opened his mouth
with great determination, but said nothing for a while. At last
"I'll be hanged if I know--just yet."
"I wish you would do something soon . . ."
"What's the hurry?" interrupted Lingard. "He can't get away. As
it stands he is at my mercy, as far as I can see."
"Yes," said Almayer, reflectively--"and very little mercy he
deserves too. Abdulla's meaning--as I can make it out amongst
all those compliments--is: 'Get rid for me of that white man--and
we shall live in peace and share the trade."'
"You believe that?" asked Lingard, contemptuously.
"Not altogether," answered Almayer. "No doubt we will share the
trade for a time--till he can grab the lot. Well, what are you
going to do?"
He looked up as he spoke and was surprised to see Lingard's
"You ain't well. Pain anywhere?" he asked, with real solicitude.
"I have been queer--you know--these last few days, but no pain."
He struck his broad chest several times, cleared his throat with
a powerful "Hem!" and repeated: "No. No pain. Good for a few
years yet. But I am bothered with all this, I can tell you!"
"You must take care of yourself," said Almayer. Then after a
pause he added: "You will see Abdulla. Won't you?"
"I don't know. Not yet. There's plenty of time," said Lingard,
"I wish you would do something," urged Almayer, moodily. "You
know, that woman is a perfect nuisance to me. She and her brat!
Yelps all day. And the children don't get on together. Yesterday
the little devil wanted to fight with my Nina. Scratched her
face, too. A perfect savage! Like his honourable papa. Yes,
really. She worries about her husband, and whimpers from morning
to night. When she isn't weeping she is furious with me.
Yesterday she tormented me to tell her when he would be back and
cried because he was engaged in such dangerous work. I said
something about it being all right--no necessity to make a fool
of herself, when she turned upon me like a wild cat. Called me a
brute, selfish, heartless; raved about her beloved Peter risking
his life for my benefit, while I did not care. Said I took
advantage of his generous good-nature to get him to do dangerous
work--my work. That he was worth twenty of the likes of me.
That she would tell you--open your eyes as to the kind of man I
was, and so on. That's what I've got to put up with for your
sake. You really might consider me a little. I haven't robbed
anybody," went on Almayer, with an attempt at bitter irony--"or
sold my best friend, but still you ought to have some pity on me.
It's like living in a hot fever. She is out of her wits. You
make my house a refuge for scoundrels and lunatics. It isn't
fair. 'Pon my word it isn't! When she is in her tantrums she is
ridiculously ugly and screeches so--it sets my teeth on edge.
Thank God! my wife got a fit of the sulks and cleared out of the
house. Lives in a riverside hut since that affair--you know.
But this Willems' wife by herself is almost more than I can bear.
And I ask myself why should I? You are exacting and no mistake.
This morning I thought she was going to claw me. Only think!
She wanted to go prancing about the settlement. She might have
heard something there, so I told her she mustn't. It wasn't safe
outside our fences, I said. Thereupon she rushes at me with her
ten nails up to my eyes. 'You miserable man,' she yells, 'even
this place is not safe, and you've sent him up this awful river
where he may lose his head. If he dies before forgiving me,
Heaven will punish you for your crime . . .' My crime! I ask
myself sometimes whether I am dreaming! It will make me ill, all
this. I've lost my appetite already."
He flung his hat on deck and laid hold of his hair despairingly.
Lingard looked at him with concern.
"What did she mean by it?" he muttered, thoughtfully.
"Mean! She is crazy, I tell you--and I will be, very soon, if
"Just a little patience, Kaspar," pleaded Lingard. "A day or so
Relieved or tired by his violent outburst, Almayer calmed down,
picked up his hat and, leaning against the bulwark, commenced to
fan himself with it.
"Days do pass," he said, resignedly--"but that kind of thing
makes a man old before his time. What is there to think
about?--I can't imagine! Abdulla says plainly that if you
undertake to pilot his ship out and instruct the half-caste, he
will drop Willems like a hot potato and be your friend ever
after. I believe him perfectly, as to Willems. It's so natural.
As to being your friend it's a lie of course, but we need not
bother about that just yet. You just say yes to Abdulla, and
then whatever happens to Willems will be nobody's business."
He interrupted himself and remained silent for a while, glaring
about with set teeth and dilated nostrils.
"You leave it to me. I'll see to it that something happens to
him," he said at last, with calm ferocity. Lingard smiled
"The fellow isn't worth a shot. Not the trouble of it," he
whispered, as if to himself. Almayer fired up suddenly.
"That's what you think," he cried. "You haven't been sewn up in
your hammock to be made a laughing-stock of before a parcel of
savages. Why! I daren't look anybody here in the face while
that scoundrel is alive. I will . . . I will settle him."
"I don't think you will," growled Lingard.
"Do you think I am afraid of him?"
"Bless you! no!" said Lingard with alacrity. "Afraid! Not you.
I know you. I don't doubt your courage. It's your head, my boy,
your head that I . . ."
"That's it," said the aggrieved Almayer. "Go on. Why don't you
call me a fool at once?"
"Because I don't want to," burst out Lingard, with nervous
irritability. "If I wanted to call you a fool, I would do so
without asking your leave." He began to walk athwart the narrow
quarter-deck, kicking ropes' ends out of his way and growling to
himself: "Delicate gentleman . . . what next? . . . I've done
man's work before you could toddle. Understand . . . say what I
"Well! well!" said Almayer, with affected resignation. "There's
no talking to you these last few days." He put on his hat,
strolled to the gangway and stopped, one foot on the little
inside ladder, as if hesitating, came back and planted himself in
Lingard's way, compelling him to stand still and listen.
"Of course you will do what you like. You never take advice--I
know that; but let me tell you that it wouldn't be honest to let
that fellow get away from here. If you do nothing, that
scoundrel will leave in Abdulla's ship for sure. Abdulla will
make use of him to hurt you and others elsewhere. Willems knows
too much about your affairs. He will cause you lots of trouble.
You mark my words. Lots of trouble. To you--and to others
perhaps. Think of that, Captain Lingard. That's all I've got to
say. Now I must go back on shore. There's lots of work. We
will begin loading this schooner to-morrow morning, first thing.
All the bundles are ready. If you should want me for anything,
hoist some kind of flag on the mainmast. At night two shots will
fetch me." Then he added, in a friendly tone, "Won't you come
and dine in the house to-night? It can't be good for you to stew
on board like that, day after day."
Lingard did not answer. The image evoked by Almayer; the picture
of Willems ranging over the islands and disturbing the harmony of
the universe by robbery, treachery, and violence, held him
silent, entranced--painfully spellbound. Almayer, after waiting
for a little while, moved reluctantly towards the gangway,
lingered there, then sighed and got over the side, going down
step by step. His head disappeared slowly below the rail.
Lingard, who had been staring at him absently, started suddenly,
ran to the side, and looking over, called out--
"Hey! Kaspar! Hold on a bit!"
Almayer signed to his boatmen to cease paddling, and turned his
head towards the schooner. The boat drifted back slowly abreast
of Lingard, nearly alongside.
"Look here," said Lingard, looking down--"I want a good canoe
with four men to-day."
"Do you want it now?" asked Almayer.
"No! Catch this rope. Oh, you clumsy devil! . . . No, Kaspar,"
went on Lingard, after the bow-man had got hold of the end of the
brace he had thrown down into the canoe--"No, Kaspar. The sun is
too much for me. And it would be better to keep my affairs
quiet, too. Send the canoe--four good paddlers, mind, and your
canvas chair for me to sit in. Send it about sunset. D'ye
"All right, father," said Almayer, cheerfully--"I will send Ali
for a steersman, and the best men I've got. Anything else?"
"No, my lad. Only don't let them be late."
"I suppose it's no use asking you where you are going," said
Almayer, tentatively. "Because if it is to see Abdulla, I . . ."
"I am not going to see Abdulla. Not to-day. Now be off with
He watched the canoe dart away shorewards, waved his hand in
response to Almayer's nod, and walked to the taffrail smoothing
out Abdulla's letter, which he had pulled out of his pocket. He
read it over carefully, crumpled it up slowly, smiling the while
and closing his fingers firmly over the crackling paper as though
he had hold there of Abdulla's throat. Halfway to his pocket he
changed his mind, and flinging the ball overboard looked at it
thoughtfully as it spun round in the eddies for a moment, before
the current bore it away down-stream, towards the sea.
The night was very dark. For the first time in many months the
East Coast slept unseen by the stars under a veil of motionless
cloud that, driven before the first breath of the rainy monsoon,
had drifted slowly from the eastward all the afternoon; pursuing
the declining sun with its masses of black and grey that seemed
to chase the light with wicked intent, and with an ominous and
gloomy steadiness, as though conscious of the message of violence
and turmoil they carried. At the sun's disappearance below the
western horizon, the immense cloud, in quickened motion, grappled
with the glow of retreating light, and rolling down to the clear
and jagged outline of the distant mountains, hung arrested above
the steaming forests; hanging low, silent and menacing over the
unstirring tree-tops; withholding the blessing of rain, nursing
the wrath of its thunder; undecided--as if brooding over its own
power for good or for evil.
Babalatchi, coming out of the red and smoky light of his little
bamboo house, glanced upwards, drew in a long breath of the warm
and stagnant air, and stood for a moment with his good eye closed
tightly, as if intimidated by the unwonted and deep silence of
Lakamba's courtyard. When he opened his eye he had recovered his
sight so far, that he could distinguish the various degrees of
formless blackness which marked the places of trees, of abandoned
houses, of riverside bushes, on the dark background of the night.
The careworn sage walked cautiously down the deserted courtyard
to the waterside, and stood on the bank listening to the voice of
the invisible river that flowed at his feet; listening to the
soft whispers, to the deep murmurs, to the sudden gurgles and the
short hisses of the swift current racing along the bank through
the hot darkness.
He stood with his face turned to the river, and it seemed to him
that he could breathe easier with the knowledge of the clear vast
space before him; then, after a while he leaned heavily forward
on his staff, his chin fell on his breast, and a deep sigh was
his answer to the selfish discourse of the river that hurried on
unceasing and fast, regardless of joy or sorrow, of suffering and
of strife, of failures and triumphs that lived on its banks. The
brown water was there, ready to carry friends or enemies, to
nurse love or hate on its submissive and heartless bosom, to help
or to hinder, to save life or give death; the great and rapid
river: a deliverance, a prison, a refuge or a grave.
Perchance such thoughts as these caused Babalatchi to send
another mournful sigh into the trailing mists of the unconcerned
Pantai. The barbarous politician had forgotten the recent
success of his plottings in the melancholy contemplation of a
sorrow that made the night blacker, the clammy heat more
oppressive, the still air more heavy, the dumb solitude more
significant of torment than of peace. He had spent the night
before by the side of the dying Omar, and now, after twenty-four
hours, his memory persisted in returning to that low and sombre
reed hut from which the fierce spirit of the incomparably
accomplished pirate took its flight, to learn too late, in a
worse world, the error of its earthly ways. The mind of the
savage statesman, chastened by bereavement, felt for a moment the
weight of his loneliness with keen perception worthy even of a
sensibility exasperated by all the refinements of tender
sentiment that a glorious civilization brings in its train, among
other blessings and virtues, into this excellent world. For the
space of about thirty seconds, a half-naked, betel-chewing
pessimist stood upon the bank of the tropical river, on the edge
of the still and immense forests; a man angry, powerless,
empty-handed, with a cry of bitter discontent ready on his lips;
a cry that, had it come out, would have rung through the virgin
solitudes of the woods, as true, as great, as profound, as any
philosophical shriek that ever came from the depths of an
easy-chair to disturb the impure wilderness of chimneys and
For half a minute and no more did Babalatchi face the gods in the
sublime privilege of his revolt, and then the one-eyed puller of
wires became himself again, full of care and wisdom and
far-reaching plans, and a victim to the tormenting superstitions
of his race. The night, no matter how quiet, is never perfectly
silent to attentive ears, and now Babalatchi fancied he could
detect in it other noises than those caused by the ripples and
eddies of the river. He turned his head sharply to the right and
to the left in succession, and then spun round quickly in a
startled and watchful manner, as if he had expected to see the
blind ghost of his departed leader wandering in the obscurity of
the empty courtyard behind his back. Nothing there. Yet he had
heard a noise; a strange noise! No doubt a ghostly voice of a
complaining and angry spirit. He listened. Not a sound.
Reassured, Babalatchi made a few paces towards his house, when a
very human noise, that of hoarse coughing, reached him from the
river. He stopped, listened attentively, but now without any
sign of emotion, and moving briskly back to the waterside stood
expectant with parted lips, trying to pierce with his eye the
wavering curtain of mist that hung low over the water. He could
see nothing, yet some people in a canoe must have been very near,
for he heard words spoken in an ordinary tone.
"Do you think this is the place, Ali? I can see nothing."
"It must be near here, Tuan," answered another voice. "Shall we
try the bank?"
"No! . . . Let drift a little. If you go poking into the bank
in the dark you might stove the canoe on some log. We must be
careful. . . . Let drift! Let drift! . . . This does seem to be
a clearing of some sort. We may see a light by and by from some
house or other. In Lakamba's campong there are many houses?
"A great number, Tuan . . . I do not see any light."
"Nor I," grumbled the first voice again, this time nearly abreast
of the silent Babalatchi who looked uneasily towards his own
house, the doorway of which glowed with the dim light of a torch
burning within. The house stood end on to the river, and its
doorway faced down-stream, so Babalatchi reasoned rapidly that
the strangers on the river could not see the light from the
position their boat was in at the moment. He could not make up
his mind to call out to them, and while he hesitated he heard the
voices again, but now some way below the landing-place where he
"Nothing. This cannot be it. Let them give way, Ali! Dayong
That order was followed by the splash of paddles, then a sudden
"I see a light. I see it! Now I know where to land, Tuan."
There was more splashing as the canoe was paddled sharply round
and came back up-stream close to the bank.
"Call out," said very near a deep voice, which Babalatchi felt
sure must belong to a white man. "Call out--and somebody may
come with a torch. I can't see anything."
The loud hail that succeeded these words was emitted nearly under
the silent listener's nose. Babalatchi, to preserve appearances,
ran with long but noiseless strides halfway up the courtyard, and
only then shouted in answer and kept on shouting as he walked
slowly back again towards the river bank. He saw there an
indistinct shape of a boat, not quite alongside the
"Who speaks on the river?" asked Babalatchi, throwing a tone of
surprise into his question.
"A white man," answered Lingard from the canoe. "Is there not
one torch in rich Lakamba's campong to light a guest on his
"There are no torches and no men. I am alone here," said
Babalatchi, with some hesitation.
"Alone!" exclaimed Lingard. "Who are you?"
"Only a servant of Lakamba. But land, Tuan Putih, and see my
face. Here is my hand. No! Here! . . . By your mercy. . . .
Ada! . . . Now you are safe."
"And you are alone here?" said Lingard, moving with precaution a
few steps into the courtyard. "How dark it is," he muttered to
himself--"one would think the world had been painted black."
"Yes. Alone. What more did you say, Tuan? I did not understand
"It is nothing. I expected to find here . . . But where are they
"What matters where they are?" said Babalatchi, gloomily. "Have
you come to see my people? The last departed on a long
journey--and I am alone. Tomorrow I go too."
"I came to see a white man," said Lingard, walking on slowly.
"He is not gone, is he?"
"No!" answered Babalatchi, at his elbow. "A man with a red skin
and hard eyes," he went on, musingly, "whose hand is strong, and
whose heart is foolish and weak. A white man indeed . . . But
still a man."
They were now at the foot of the short ladder which led to the
split-bamboo platform surrounding Babalatchi's habitation. The
faint light from the doorway fell down upon the two men's faces
as they stood looking at each other curiously.
"Is he there?" asked Lingard, in a low voice, with a wave of his
Babalatchi, staring hard at his long-expected visitor, did not
answer at once. "No, not there," he said at last, placing his
foot on the lowest rung and looking back. "Not there, Tuan--yet
not very far. Will you sit down in my dwelling? There may be
rice and fish and clear water--not from the river, but from a
spring . . ."
"I am not hungry," interrupted Lingard, curtly, "and I did not
come here to sit in your dwelling. Lead me to the white man who
expects me. I have no time to lose."
"The night is long, Tuan," went on Babalatchi, softly, "and there
are other nights and other days. Long. Very long . . . How much
time it takes for a man to die! O Rajah Laut!"
"You know me!" he exclaimed.
"Ay--wa! I have seen your face and felt your hand before--many
years ago," said Babalatchi, holding on halfway up the ladder,
and bending down from above to peer into Lingard's upturned face.
"You do not remember--but I have not forgotten. There are many
men like me: there is only one Rajah Laut."
He climbed with sudden agility the last few steps, and stood on
the platform waving his hand invitingly to Lingard, who followed
after a short moment of indecision.
The elastic bamboo floor of the hut bent under the heavy weight
of the old seaman, who, standing within the threshold, tried to
look into the smoky gloom of the low dwelling. Under the torch,
thrust into the cleft of a stick, fastened at a right angle to
the middle stay of the ridge pole, lay a red patch of light,
showing a few shabby mats and a corner of a big wooden chest the
rest of which was lost in shadow. In the obscurity of the more
remote parts of the house a lance-head, a brass tray hung on the
wall, the long barrel of a gun leaning against the chest, caught
the stray rays of the smoky illumination in trembling gleams that
wavered, disappeared, reappeared, went out, came back--as if
engaged in a doubtful struggle with the darkness that, lying in
wait in distant corners, seemed to dart out viciously towards its
feeble enemy. The vast space under the high pitch of the roof
was filled with a thick cloud of smoke, whose under-side--level
like a ceiling--reflected the light of the swaying dull flame,
while at the top it oozed out through the imperfect thatch of
dried palm leaves. An indescribable and complicated smell, made
up of the exhalation of damp earth below, of the taint of dried
fish and of the effluvia of rotting vegetable matter, pervaded
the place and caused Lingard to sniff strongly as he strode over,
sat on the chest, and, leaning his elbows on his knees, took his
head between his hands and stared at the doorway thoughtfully.
Babalatchi moved about in the shadows, whispering to an
indistinct form or two that flitted about at the far end of the
hut. Without stirring Lingard glanced sideways, and caught sight
of muffled-up human shapes that hovered for a moment near the
edge of light and retreated suddenly back into the darkness.
Babalatchi approached, and sat at Lingard's feet on a rolled-up
bundle of mats.
"Will you eat rice and drink sagueir?" he said. "I have waked up
"My friend," said Lingard, without looking at him, "when I come
to see Lakamba, or any of Lakamba's servants, I am never hungry
and never thirsty. Tau! Savee! Never! Do you think I am devoid
of reason? That there is nothing there?"
He sat up, and, fixing abruptly his eyes on Babalatchi, tapped
his own forehead significantly.
"Tse! Tse! Tse! How can you talk like that, Tuan!" exclaimed
Babalatchi, in a horrified tone.
"I talk as I think. I have lived many years," said Lingard,
stretching his arm negligently to take up the gun, which he began
to examine knowingly, cocking it, and easing down the hammer
several times. "This is good. Mataram make. Old, too," he went
"Hai!" broke in Babalatchi, eagerly. "I got it when I was young.
He was an Aru trader, a man with a big stomach and a loud voice,
and brave--very brave. When we came up with his prau in the grey
morning, he stood aft shouting to his men and fired this gun at
us once. Only once!" . . . He paused, laughed softly, and went
on in a low, dreamy voice. "In the grey morning we came up:
forty silent men in a swift Sulu prau; and when the sun was so
high"--here he held up his hands about three feet apart--"when
the sun was only so high, Tuan, our work was done--and there was
a feast ready for the fishes of the sea."
"Aye! aye!" muttered Lingard, nodding his head slowly. "I see.
You should not let it get rusty like this," he added.
He let the gun fall between his knees, and moving back on his
seat, leaned his head against the wall of the hut, crossing his
arms on his breast.
"A good gun," went on Babalatchi. "Carry far and true. Better
With the tips of his fingers he touched gently the butt of a
revolver peeping out of the right pocket of Lingard's white
"Take your hand off that," said Lingard sharply, but in a
good-humoured tone and without making the slightest movement.
Babalatchi smiled and hitched his seat a little further off.
For some time they sat in silence. Lingard, with his head tilted
back, looked downwards with lowered eyelids at Babalatchi, who
was tracing invisible lines with his finger on the mat between
his feet. Outside, they could hear Ali and the other boatmen
chattering and laughing round the fire they had lighted in the
big and deserted courtyard.
"Well, what about that white man?" said Lingard, quietly.
It seemed as if Babalatchi had not heard the question. He went
on tracing elaborate patterns on the floor for a good while.
Lingard waited motionless. At last the Malay lifted his head.
"Hai! The white man. I know!" he murmured absently. "This
white man or another. . . . Tuan," he said aloud with unexpected
animation, "you are a man of the sea?"
"You know me. Why ask?" said Lingard, in a low tone.
"Yes. A man of the sea--even as we are. A true Orang Laut,"
went on Babalatchi, thoughtfully, "not like the rest of the white
"I am like other whites, and do not wish to speak many words when
the truth is short. I came here to see the white man that helped
Lakamba against Patalolo, who is my friend. Show me where that
white man lives; I want him to hear my talk."
"Talk only? Tuan! Why hurry? The night is long and death is
swift--as you ought to know; you who have dealt it to so many of
my people. Many years ago I have faced you, arms in hand. Do
you not remember? It was in Carimata--far from here."
"I cannot remember every vagabond that came in my way," protested
"Hai! Hai!" continued Babalatchi, unmoved and dreamy. "Many
years ago. Then all this"--and looking up suddenly at Lingard's
beard, he flourished his fingers below his own beardless
chin--"then all this was like gold in sunlight, now it is like
the foam of an angry sea."
"Maybe, maybe," said Lingard, patiently, paying the involuntary
tribute of a faint sigh to the memories of the past evoked by
He had been living with Malays so long and so close that the
extreme deliberation and deviousness of their mental proceedings
had ceased to irritate him much. To-night, perhaps, he was less
prone to impatience than ever. He was disposed, if not to listen
to Babalatchi, then to let him talk. It was evident to him that
the man had something to say, and he hoped that from the talk a
ray of light would shoot through the thick blackness of
inexplicable treachery, to show him clearly--if only for a
second--the man upon whom he would have to execute the verdict of
justice. Justice only! Nothing was further from his thoughts
than such an useless thing as revenge. Justice only. It was his
duty that justice should be done--and by his own hand. He did
not like to think how. To him, as to Babalatchi, it seemed that
the night would be long enough for the work he had to do. But he
did not define to himself the nature of the work, and he sat very
still, and willingly dilatory, under the fearsome oppression of
his call. What was the good to think about it? It was
inevitable, and its time was near. Yet he could not command his
memories that came crowding round him in that evil-smelling hut,
while Babalatchi talked on in a flowing monotone, nothing of him
moving but the lips, in the artificially inanimated face.
Lingard, like an anchored ship that had broken her sheer, darted
about here and there on the rapid tide of his recollections. The
subdued sound of soft words rang around him, but his thoughts
were lost, now in the contemplation of the past sweetness and
strife of Carimata days, now in the uneasy wonder at the failure
of his judgment; at the fatal blindness of accident that had
caused him, many years ago, to rescue a half-starved runaway from
a Dutch ship in Samarang roads. How he had liked the man: his
assurance, his push, his desire to get on, his conceited
good-humour and his selfish eloquence. He had liked his very
faults--those faults that had so many, to him, sympathetic sides.
And he had always dealt fairly by him from the very beginning;
and he would deal fairly by him now--to the very end. This last
thought darkened Lingard's features with a responsive and
menacing frown. The doer of justice sat with compressed lips and
a heavy heart, while in the calm darkness outside the silent
world seemed to be waiting breathlessly for that justice he held
in his hand--in his strong hand:--ready to strike--reluctant to move.
Babalatchi ceased speaking. Lingard shifted his feet a little,
uncrossed his arms, and shook his head slowly. The narrative of
the events in Sambir, related from the point of view of the
astute statesman, the sense of which had been caught here and
there by his inattentive ears, had been yet like a thread to
guide him out of the sombre labyrinth of his thoughts; and now he
had come to the end of it, out of the tangled past into the
pressing necessities of the present. With the palms of his hands
on his knees, his elbows squared out, he looked down on
Babalatchi who sat in a stiff attitude, inexpressive and mute as
a talking doll the mechanism of which had at length run down.
"You people did all this," said Lingard at last, "and you will be
sorry for it before the dry wind begins to blow again. Abdulla's
voice will bring the Dutch rule here."
Babalatchi waved his hand towards the dark doorway.
"There are forests there. Lakamba rules the land now. Tell me,
Tuan, do you think the big trees know the name of the ruler? No.
They are born, they grow, they live and they die--yet know not,
feel not. It is their land."
"Even a big tree may be killed by a small axe," said Lingard,
drily. "And, remember, my one-eyed friend, that axes are made by
white hands. You will soon find that out, since you have hoisted
the flag of the Dutch."
"Ay--wa!" said Babalatchi, slowly. "It is written that the earth
belongs to those who have fair skins and hard but foolish hearts.
The farther away is the master, the easier it is for the slave,
Tuan! You were too near. Your voice rang in our ears always.
Now it is not going to be so. The great Rajah in Batavia is
strong, but he may be deceived. He must speak very loud to be
heard here. But if we have need to shout, then he must hear the
many voices that call for protection. He is but a white man."
"If I ever spoke to Patalolo, like an elder brother, it was for
your good--for the good of all," said Lingard with great
"This is a white man's talk," exclaimed Babalatchi, with bitter
exultation. "I know you. That is how you all talk while you
load your guns and sharpen your swords; and when you are ready,
then to those who are weak you say: 'Obey me and be happy, or
die! You are strange, you white men. You think it is only your
wisdom and your virtue and your happiness that are true. You are
stronger than the wild beasts, but not so wise. A black tiger
knows when he is not hungry--you do not. He knows the difference
between himself and those that can speak; you do not understand
the difference between yourselves and us--who are men. You are
wise and great--and you shall always be fools."
He threw up both his hands, stirring the sleeping cloud of smoke
that hung above his head, and brought the open palms on the
flimsy floor on each side of his outstretched legs. The whole
hut shook. Lingard looked at the excited statesman curiously.
"Apa! Apa! What's the matter?" he murmured, soothingly. "Whom
did I kill here? Where are my guns? What have I done? What have
I eaten up?"
Babalatchi calmed down, and spoke with studied courtesy.
"You, Tuan, are of the sea, and more like what we are. Therefore
I speak to you all the words that are in my heart. . . . Only
once has the sea been stronger than the Rajah of the sea."
"You know it; do you?" said Lingard, with pained sharpness.
"Hai! We have heard about your ship--and some rejoiced. Not I.
Amongst the whites, who are devils, you are a man."
"Trima kassi! I give you thanks," said Lingard, gravely.
Babalatchi looked down with a bashful smile, but his face became
saddened directly, and when he spoke again it was in a mournful
"Had you come a day sooner, Tuan, you would have seen an enemy
die. You would have seen him die poor, blind, unhappy--with no
son to dig his grave and speak of his wisdom and courage. Yes;
you would have seen the man that fought you in Carimata many
years ago, die alone--but for one friend. A great sight to you."
"Not to me," answered Lingard. "I did not even remember him till
you spoke his name just now. You do not understand us. We
fight, we vanquish--and we forget."
"True, true," said Babalatchi, with polite irony; "you whites are
so great that you disdain to remember your enemies. No! No!" he
went on, in the same tone, "you have so much mercy for us, that
there is no room for any remembrance. Oh, you are great and
good! But it is in my mind that amongst yourselves you know how
to remember. Is it not so, Tuan?"
Lingard said nothing. His shoulders moved imperceptibly. He
laid his gun across his knees and stared at the flint lock
"Yes," went on Babalatchi, falling again into a mournful mood,
"yes, he died in darkness. I sat by his side and held his hand,
but he could not see the face of him who watched the faint breath
on his lips. She, whom he had cursed because of the white man,
was there too, and wept with covered face. The white man walked
about the courtyard making many noises. Now and then he would
come to the doorway and glare at us who mourned. He stared with
wicked eyes, and then I was glad that he who was dying was blind.
This is true talk. I was glad; for a white man's eyes are not
good to see when the devil that lives within is looking out
"Devil! Hey?" said Lingard, half aloud to himself, as if struck
with the obviousness of some novel idea. Babalatchi went on:
"At the first hour of the morning he sat up--he so weak--and said
plainly some words that were not meant for human ears. I held
his hand tightly, but it was time for the leader of brave men to
go amongst the Faithful who are happy. They of my household
brought a white sheet, and I began to dig a grave in the hut in
which he died. She mourned aloud. The white man came to the
doorway and shouted. He was angry. Angry with her because she
beat her breast, and tore her hair, and mourned with shrill cries
as a woman should. Do you understand what I say, Tuan? That
white man came inside the hut with great fury, and took her by
the shoulder, and dragged her out. Yes, Tuan. I saw Omar dead,
and I saw her at the feet of that white dog who has deceived me.
I saw his face grey, like the cold mist of the morning; I saw his
pale eyes looking down at Omar's daughter beating her head on the
ground at his feet. At the feet of him who is Abdulla's slave.
Yes, he lives by Abdulla's will. That is why I held my hand
while I saw all this. I held my hand because we are now under
the flag of the Orang Blanda, and Abdulla can speak into the ears
of the great. We must not have any trouble with white men.
Abdulla has spoken--and I must obey."
"That's it, is it?" growled Lingard in his moustache. Then in
Malay, "It seems that you are angry, O Babalatchi!"
"No; I am not angry, Tuan," answered Babalatchi, descending from
the insecure heights of his indignation into the insincere depths
of safe humility. "I am not angry. What am I to be angry? I am
only an Orang Laut, and I have fled before your people many
times. Servant of this one--protected of another; I have given
my counsel here and there for a handful of rice. What am I, to
be angry with a white man? What is anger without the power to
strike? But you whites have taken all: the land, the sea, and the
power to strike! And there is nothing left for us in the islands
but your white men's justice; your great justice that knows not
He got up and stood for a moment in the doorway, sniffing the hot
air of the courtyard, then turned back and leaned against the
stay of the ridge pole, facing Lingard who kept his seat on the
chest. The torch, consumed nearly to the end, burned noisily.
Small explosions took place in the heart of the flame, driving
through its smoky blaze strings of hard, round puffs of white
smoke, no bigger than peas, which rolled out of doors in the
faint draught that came from invisible cracks of the bamboo
walls. The pungent taint of unclean things below and about the
hut grew heavier, weighing down Lingard's resolution and his
thoughts in an irresistible numbness of the brain. He thought
drowsily of himself and of that man who wanted to see him--who
waited to see him. Who waited! Night and day. Waited. . . . A
spiteful but vaporous idea floated through his brain that such
waiting could not be very pleasant to the fellow. Well, let him
wait. He would see him soon enough. And for how long? Five
seconds--five minutes--say nothing--say something. What? No!
Just give him time to take one good look, and then . . .
Suddenly Babalatchi began to speak in a soft voice. Lingard
blinked, cleared his throat--sat up straight.
"You know all now, Tuan. Lakamba dwells in the stockaded house
of Patalolo; Abdulla has begun to build godowns of plank and
stone; and now that Omar is dead, I myself shall depart from this
place and live with Lakamba and speak in his ear. I have served
many. The best of them all sleeps in the ground in a white
sheet, with nothing to mark his grave but the ashes of the hut in
which he died. Yes, Tuan! the white man destroyed it himself.
With a blazing brand in his hand he strode around, shouting to me
to come out--shouting to me, who was throwing earth on the body
of a great leader. Yes; swearing to me by the name of your God
and ours that he would burn me and her in there if we did not
make haste. . . . Hai! The white men are very masterful and
wise. I dragged her out quickly!"
"Oh, damn it!" exclaimed Lingard--then went on in Malay, speaking
earnestly. "Listen. That man is not like other white men. You
know he is not. He is not a man at all. He is . . . I don't
Babalatchi lifted his hand deprecatingly. His eye twinkled, and
his red-stained big lips, parted by an expressionless grin,
uncovered a stumpy row of black teeth filed evenly to the gums.
"Hai! Hai! Not like you. Not like you," he said, increasing
the softness of his tones as he neared the object uppermost in
his mind during that much-desired interview. "Not like you,
Tuan, who are like ourselves, only wiser and stronger. Yet he,
also, is full of great cunning, and speaks of you without any
respect, after the manner of white men when they talk of one
Lingard leaped in his seat as if he had been prodded.
"He speaks! What does he say?" he shouted.
"Nay, Tuan," protested the composed Babalatchi; "what matters his
talk if he is not a man? I am nothing before you--why should I
repeat words of one white man about another? He did boast to
Abdulla of having learned much from your wisdom in years past.
Other words I have forgotten. Indeed, Tuan, I have . . ."
Lingard cut short Babalatchi's protestations by a contemptuous
wave of the hand and reseated himself with dignity.
"I shall go," said Babalatchi, "and the white man will remain
here, alone with the spirit of the dead and with her who has been
the delight of his heart. He, being white, cannot hear the voice
of those that died. . . . Tell me, Tuan," he went on, looking at
Lingard with curiosity--"tell me, Tuan, do you white people ever
hear the voices of the invisible ones?"
"We do not," answered Lingard, "because those that we cannot see
do not speak."
"Never speak! And never complain with sounds that are not
words?" exclaimed Babalatchi, doubtingly. "It may be so--or your
ears are dull. We Malays hear many sounds near the places where
men are buried. To-night I heard . . . Yes, even I have heard.
. . . I do not want to hear any more," he added, nervously.
"Perhaps I was wrong when I . . . There are things I regret.
The trouble was heavy in his heart when he died. Sometimes I
think I was wrong . . . but I do not want to hear the complaint
of invisible lips. Therefore I go, Tuan. Let the unquiet spirit
speak to his enemy the white man who knows not fear, or love, or
mercy--knows nothing but contempt and violence. I have been
wrong! I have! Hai! Hai!"
He stood for awhile with his elbow in the palm of his left hand,
the fingers of the other over his lips as if to stifle the
expression of inconvenient remorse; then, after glancing at the
torch, burnt out nearly to its end, he moved towards the wall by
the chest, fumbled about there and suddenly flung open a large
shutter of attaps woven in a light framework of sticks. Lingard
swung his legs quickly round the corner of his seat.
"Hallo!" he said, surprised.
The cloud of smoke stirred, and a slow wisp curled out through
the new opening. The torch flickered, hissed, and went out, the
glowing end falling on the mat, whence Babalatchi snatched it up
and tossed it outside through the open square. It described a
vanishing curve of red light, and lay below, shining feebly in
the vast darkness. Babalatchi remained with his arm stretched
out into the empty night.
"There," he said, "you can see the white man's courtyard, Tuan,
and his house."
"I can see nothing," answered Lingard, putting his head through
the shutter-hole. "It's too dark."
"Wait, Tuan," urged Babalatchi. "You have been looking long at
the burning torch. You will soon see. Mind the gun, Tuan. It
"There is no flint in it. You could not find a fire-stone for a
hundred miles round this spot," said Lingard, testily. "Foolish
thing to load that gun."
"I have a stone. I had it from a man wise and pious that lives
in Menang Kabau. A very pious man--very good fire. He spoke
words over that stone that make its sparks good. And the gun is
good--carries straight and far. Would carry from here to the
door of the white man's house, I believe, Tuan."
"Tida apa. Never mind your gun," muttered Lingard, peering into
the formless darkness. "Is that the house--that black thing over
there?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Babalatchi; "that is his house. He lives there
by the will of Abdulla, and shall live there till . . . From
where you stand, Tuan, you can look over the fence and across the
courtyard straight at the door--at the door from which he comes
out every morning, looking like a man that had seen Jehannum in
Lingard drew his head in. Babalatchi touched his shoulder with a
"Wait a little, Tuan. Sit still. The morning is not far off
now--a morning without sun after a night without stars. But
there will be light enough to see the man who said not many days
ago that he alone has made you less than a child in Sambir."
He felt a slight tremor under his hand, but took it off directly
and began feeling all over the lid of the chest, behind Lingard's
back, for the gun.
"What are you at?" said Lingard, impatiently. "You do worry about
that rotten gun. You had better get a light."
"A light! I tell you, Tuan, that the light of heaven is very
near," said Babalatchi, who had now obtained possession of the
object of his solicitude, and grasping it strongly by its long
barrel, grounded the stock at his feet.
"Perhaps it is near," said Lingard, leaning both his elbows on
the lower cross-piece of the primitive window and looking out.
"It is very black outside yet," he remarked carelessly.
Babalatchi fidgeted about.
"It is not good for you to sit where you may be seen," he
"Why not?" asked Lingard.
"The white man sleeps, it is true," explained Babalatchi, softly;
"yet he may come out early, and he has arms."
"Ah! he has arms?" said Lingard.
"Yes; a short gun that fires many times--like yours here.
Abdulla had to give it to him."
Lingard heard Babalatchi's words, but made no movement. To the
old adventurer the idea that fire arms could be dangerous in
other hands than his own did not occur readily, and certainly not
in connection with Willems. He was so busy with the thoughts
about what he considered his own sacred duty, that he could not
give any consideration to the probable actions of the man of whom
he thought--as one may think of an executed criminal--with
wondering indignation tempered by scornful pity. While he sat
staring into the darkness, that every minute grew thinner before
his pensive eyes, like a dispersing mist, Willems appeared to him
as a figure belonging already wholly to the past--a figure that
could come in no way into his life again. He had made up his
mind, and the thing was as well as done. In his weary thoughts
he had closed this fatal, inexplicable, and horrible episode in
his life. The worst had happened. The coming days would see the
He had removed an enemy once or twice before, out of his path; he
had paid off some very heavy scores a good many times. Captain
Tom had been a good friend to many: but it was generally
understood, from Honolulu round about to Diego Suarez, that
Captain Tom's enmity was rather more than any man single-handed
could easily manage. He would not, as he said often, hurt a fly
as long as the fly left him alone; yet a man does not live for
years beyond the pale of civilized laws without evolving for
himself some queer notions of justice. Nobody of those he knew
had ever cared to point out to him the errors of his conceptions.
It was not worth anybody's while to run counter to Lingard's
ideas of the fitness of things--that fact was acquired to the
floating wisdom of the South Seas, of the Eastern Archipelago,
and was nowhere better understood than in out-of-the-way nooks of
the world; in those nooks which he filled, unresisted and
masterful, with the echoes of his noisy presence. There is not
much use in arguing with a man who boasts of never having
regretted a single action of his life, whose answer to a mild
criticism is a good-natured shout--"You know nothing about it. I
would do it again. Yes, sir!" His associates and his
acquaintances accepted him, his opinions, his actions like things
preordained and unchangeable; looked upon his many-sided
manifestations with passive wonder not unmixed with that
admiration which is only the rightful due of a successful man.
But nobody had ever seen him in the mood he was in now. Nobody
had seen Lingard doubtful and giving way to doubt, unable to make
up his mind and unwilling to act; Lingard timid and hesitating
one minute, angry yet inactive the next; Lingard puzzled in a
word, because confronted with a situation that discomposed him by
its unprovoked malevolence, by its ghastly injustice, that to his
rough but unsophisticated palate tasted distinctly of sulphurous
fumes from the deepest hell.
The smooth darkness filling the shutter-hole grew paler and
became blotchy with ill-defined shapes, as if a new universe was
being evolved out of sombre chaos. Then outlines came out,
defining forms without any details, indicating here a tree, there
a bush; a black belt of forest far off; the straight lines of a
house, the ridge of a high roof near by. Inside the hut,
Babalatchi, who lately had been only a persuasive voice, became a
human shape leaning its chin imprudently on the muzzle of a gun
and rolling an uneasy eye over the reappearing world. The day
came rapidly, dismal and oppressed by the fog of the river and by
the heavy vapours of the sky--a day without colour and without
sunshine: incomplete, disappointing, and sad.
Babalatchi twitched gently Lingard's sleeve, and when the old
seaman had lifted up his head interrogatively, he stretched out
an arm and a pointing forefinger towards Willems' house, now
plainly visible to the right and beyond the big tree of the
"Look, Tuan!" he said. "He lives there. That is the door--his
door. Through it he will appear soon, with his hair in disorder
and his mouth full of curses. That is so. He is a white man,
and never satisfied. It is in my mind he is angry even in his
sleep. A dangerous man. As Tuan may observe," he went on,
obsequiously, "his door faces this opening, where you condescend
to sit, which is concealed from all eyes. Faces it--straight--and
not far. Observe, Tuan, not at all far."
"Yes, yes; I can see. I shall see him when he wakes."
"No doubt, Tuan. When he wakes. . . . If you remain here he can
not see you. I shall withdraw quickly and prepare my canoe
myself. I am only a poor man, and must go to Sambir to greet
Lakamba when he opens his eyes. I must bow before Abdulla who
has strength--even more strength than you. Now if you remain
here, you shall easily behold the man who boasted to Abdulla that
he had been your friend, even while he prepared to fight those
who called you protector. Yes, he plotted with Abdulla for that
cursed flag. Lakamba was blind then, and I was deceived. But
you, Tuan! Remember, he deceived you more. Of that he boasted
before all men."
He leaned the gun quietly against the wall close to the window,
and said softly: "Shall I go now, Tuan? Be careful of the gun.
I have put the fire-stone in. The fire-stone of the wise man,
which never fails."
Lingard's eyes were fastened on the distant doorway. Across his
line of sight, in the grey emptiness of the courtyard, a big
fruit-pigeon flapped languidly towards the forests with a loud
booming cry, like the note of a deep gong: a brilliant bird
looking in the gloom of threatening day as black as a crow. A
serried flock of white rice birds rose above the trees with a
faint scream, and hovered, swaying in a disordered mass that
suddenly scattered in all directions, as if burst asunder by a
silent explosion. Behind his back Lingard heard a shuffle of
feet--women leaving the hut. In the other courtyard a voice was
heard complaining of cold, and coming very feeble, but
exceedingly distinct, out of the vast silence of the abandoned
houses and clearings. Babalatchi coughed discreetly. From under
the house the thumping of wooden pestles husking the rice started
with unexpected abruptness. The weak but clear voice in the yard
again urged, "Blow up the embers, O brother!" Another voice
answered, drawling in modulated, thin sing-song, "Do it yourself,
O shivering pig!" and the drawl of the last words stopped short,
as if the man had fallen into a deep hole. Babalatchi coughed
again a little impatiently, and said in a confidential tone--
"Do you think it is time for me to go, Tuan? Will you take care
of my gun, Tuan? I am a man that knows how to obey; even obey
Abdulla, who has deceived me. Nevertheless this gun carries far
and true--if you would want to know, Tuan. And I have put in a
double measure of powder, and three slugs. Yes, Tuan.
When Babalatchi commenced speaking, Lingard turned slowly round
and gazed upon him with the dull and unwilling look of a sick man
waking to another day of suffering. As the astute statesman
proceeded, Lingard's eyebrows came close, his eyes became
animated, and a big vein stood out on his forehead, accentuating
a lowering frown. When speaking his last words Babalatchi
faltered, then stopped, confused, before the steady gaze of the
Lingard rose. His face cleared, and he looked down at the
anxious Babalatchi with sudden benevolence.
"So! That's what you were after," he said, laying a heavy hand
on Babalatchi's yielding shoulder. "You thought I came here to
murder him. Hey? Speak! You faithful dog of an Arab trader!"
"And what else, Tuan?" shrieked Babalatchi, exasperated into
sincerity. "What else, Tuan! Remember what he has done; he
poisoned our ears with his talk about you. You are a man. If
you did not come to kill, Tuan, then either I am a fool or . . ."
He paused, struck his naked breast with his open palm, and
finished in a discouraged whisper--"or, Tuan, you are."
Lingard looked down at him with scornful serenity. After his
long and painful gropings amongst the obscure abominations of
Willems' conduct, the logical if tortuous evolutions of
Babalatchi's diplomatic mind were to him welcome as daylight.
There was something at last he could understand--the clear effect
of a simple cause. He felt indulgent towards the disappointed
"So you are angry with your friend, O one-eyed one!" he said
slowly, nodding his fierce countenance close to Babalatchi's
discomfited face. "It seems to me that you must have had much to
do with what happened in Sambir lately. Hey? You son of a burnt
"May I perish under your hand, O Rajah of the sea, if my words
are not true!" said Babalatchi, with reckless excitement. "You
are here in the midst of your enemies. He the greatest. Abdulla
would do nothing without him, and I could do nothing without
Abdulla. Strike me--so that you strike all!"
"Who are you," exclaimed Lingard contemptuously--"who are you to
dare call yourself my enemy! Dirt! Nothing! Go out first," he
went on severely. "Lakas! quick. March out!"
He pushed Babalatchi through the doorway and followed him down
the short ladder into the courtyard. The boatmen squatting over
the fire turned their slow eyes with apparent difficulty towards
the two men; then, unconcerned, huddled close together again,
stretching forlornly their hands over the embers. The women
stopped in their work and with uplifted pestles flashed quick and
curious glances from the gloom under the house.
"Is that the way?" asked Lingard with a nod towards the little
wicket-gate of Willems' enclosure.
"If you seek death, that is surely the way," answered Babalatchi
in a dispassionate voice, as if he had exhausted all the
emotions. "He lives there: he who destroyed your friends; who
hastened Omar's death; who plotted with Abdulla first against
you, then against me. I have been like a child. O shame! . . .
But go, Tuan. Go there."
"I go where I like," said Lingard, emphatically, "and you may go
to the devil; I do not want you any more. The islands of these
seas shall sink before I, Rajah Laut, serve the will of any of
your people. Tau? But I tell you this: I do not care what you
do with him after to-day. And I say that because I am merciful."
"Tida! I do nothing," said Babalatchi, shaking his head with
bitter apathy. "I am in Abdulla's hand and care not, even as you
do. No! no!" he added, turning away, "I have learned much wisdom
this morning. There are no men anywhere. You whites are cruel
to your friends and merciful to your enemies--which is the work
He went away towards the riverside, and, without once looking
back, disappeared in the low bank of mist that lay over the water
and the shore. Lingard followed him with his eyes thoughtfully.
After awhile he roused himself and called out to his boatmen--
"Hai--ya there! After you have eaten rice, wait for me with your
paddles in your hands. You hear?"
"Ada, Tuan!" answered Ali through the smoke of the morning fire
that was spreading itself, low and gentle, over the
Lingard opened slowly the little wicket-gate, made a few steps
into the empty enclosure, and stopped. He had felt about his
head the short breath of a puff of wind that passed him, made
every leaf of the big tree shiver--and died out in a hardly
perceptible tremor of branches and twigs. Instinctively he
glanced upwards with a seaman's impulse. Above him, under the
grey motionless waste of a stormy sky, drifted low black vapours,
in stretching bars, in shapeless patches, in sinuous wisps and
tormented spirals. Over the courtyard and the house floated a
round, sombre, and lingering cloud, dragging behind a tail of
tangled and filmy streamers--like the dishevelled hair of a
The tremulous effort and the broken, inadequate tone of the faint
cry, surprised Lingard more than the unexpected suddenness of the
warning conveyed, he did not know by whom and to whom. Besides
himself there was no one in the courtyard as far as he could see.
The cry was not renewed, and his watchful eyes, scanning warily
the misty solitude of Willems' enclosure, were met everywhere
only by the stolid impassiveness of inanimate things: the big
sombre-looking tree, the shut-up, sightless house, the glistening
bamboo fences, the damp and drooping bushes further off--all
these things, that condemned to look for ever at the
incomprehensible afflictions or joys of mankind, assert in their
aspect of cold unconcern the high dignity of lifeless matter that
surrounds, incurious and unmoved, the restless mysteries of the
ever-changing, of the never-ending life.
Lingard, stepping aside, put the trunk of the tree between
himself and the house, then, moving cautiously round one of the
projecting buttresses, had to tread short in order to avoid
scattering a small heap of black embers upon which he came
unexpectedly on the other side. A thin, wizened, little old
woman, who, standing behind the tree, had been looking at the
house, turned towards him with a start, gazed with faded,
expressionless eyes at the intruder, then made a limping attempt
to get away. She seemed, however, to realize directly the
hopelessness or the difficulty of the undertaking, stopped,
hesitated, tottered back slowly; then, after blinking dully, fell
suddenly on her knees amongst the white ashes, and, bending over
the heap of smouldering coals, distended her sunken cheeks in a
steady effort to blow up the hidden sparks into a useful blaze.
Lingard looked down on her, but she seemed to have made up her
mind that there was not enough life left in her lean body for
anything else than the discharge of the simple domestic duty,
and, apparently, she begrudged him the least moment of attention.
After waiting for awhile, Lingard asked--
"Why did you call, O daughter?"
"I saw you enter," she croaked feebly, still grovelling with her
face near the ashes and without looking up, "and I called--the
cry of warning. It was her order. Her order," she repeated,
with a moaning sigh.
"And did she hear?" pursued Lingard, with gentle composure.
Her projecting shoulder-blades moved uneasily under the thin
stuff of the tight body jacket. She scrambled up with difficulty
to her feet, and hobbled away, muttering peevishly to herself,
towards a pile of dry brushwood heaped up against the fence.
Lingard, looking idly after her, heard the rattle of loose planks
that led from the ground to the door of the house. He moved his
head beyond the shelter of the tree and saw Aissa coming down the
inclined way into the courtyard. After making a few hurried
paces towards the tree, she stopped with one foot advanced in an
appearance of sudden terror, and her eyes glanced wildly right
and left. Her head was uncovered. A blue cloth wrapped her from
her head to foot in close slanting folds, with one end thrown
over her shoulder. A tress of her black hair strayed across her
bosom. Her bare arms pressed down close to her body, with hands
open and outstretched fingers; her slightly elevated shoulders
and the backward inclination of her torso gave her the aspect of
one defiant yet shrinking from a coming blow. She had closed the
door of the house behind her; and as she stood solitary in the
unnatural and threatening twilight of the murky day, with
everything unchanged around her, she appeared to Lingard as if
she had been made there, on the spot, out of the black vapours of
the sky and of the sinister gleams of feeble sunshine that
struggled, through the thickening clouds, into the colourless
desolation of the world.
After a short but attentive glance towards the shut-up house,
Lingard stepped out from behind the tree and advanced slowly
towards her. The sudden fixity of her--till then--restless eyes
and a slight twitch of her hands were the only signs she gave at
first of having seen him. She made a long stride forward, and
putting herself right in his path, stretched her arms across; her
black eyes opened wide, her lips parted as if in an uncertain
attempt to speak--but no sound came out to break the significant
silence of their meeting. Lingard stopped and looked at her with
stern curiosity. After a while he said composedly--
"Let me pass. I came here to talk to a man. Does he hide? Has
he sent you?"
She made a step nearer, her arms fell by her side, then she put
them straight out nearly touching Lingard's breast.
"He knows not fear," she said, speaking low, with a forward throw
of her head, in a voice trembling but distinct. "It is my own
fear that has sent me here. He sleeps."
"He has slept long enough," said Lingard, in measured tones. "I
am come--and now is the time of his waking. Go and tell him
this--or else my own voice will call him up. A voice he knows
He put her hands down firmly and again made as if to pass by her.
"Do not!" she exclaimed, and fell at his feet as if she had been
cut down by a scythe. The unexpected suddenness of her movement
startled Lingard, who stepped back.
"What's this?" he exclaimed in a wondering whisper--then added in
a tone of sharp command: "Stand up!"
She rose at once and stood looking at him, timorous and fearless;
yet with a fire of recklessness burning in her eyes that made
clear her resolve to pursue her purpose even to the death.
Lingard went on in a severe voice--
"Go out of my path. You are Omar's daughter, and you ought to
know that when men meet in daylight women must be silent and
abide their fate."
"Women!" she retorted, with subdued vehemence. "Yes, I am a
woman! Your eyes see that, O Rajah Laut, but can you see my
life? I also have heard--O man of many fights--I also have heard
the voice of fire-arms; I also have felt the rain of young twigs
and of leaves cut up by bullets fall down about my head; I also
know how to look in silence at angry faces and at strong hands
raised high grasping sharp steel. I also saw men fall dead
around me without a cry of fear and of mourning; and I have
watched the sleep of weary fugitives, and looked at night shadows
full of menace and death with eyes that knew nothing but
watchfulness. And," she went on, with a mournful drop in her
voice, "I have faced the heartless sea, held on my lap the heads
of those who died raving from thirst, and from their cold hands
took the paddle and worked so that those with me did not know
that one man more was dead. I did all this. What more have you
done? That was my life. What has been yours?"
The matter and the manner of her speech held Lingard motionless,
attentive and approving against his will. She ceased speaking,
and from her staring black eyes with a narrow border of white
above and below, a double ray of her very soul streamed out in a
fierce desire to light up the most obscure designs of his heart.
After a long silence, which served to emphasize the meaning of
her words, she added in the whisper of bitter regret--
"And I have knelt at your feet! And I am afraid!"
"You," said Lingard deliberately, and returning her look with an
interested gaze, "you are a woman whose heart, I believe, is
great enough to fill a man's breast: but still you are a woman,
and to you, I, Rajah Laut, have nothing to say."
She listened bending her head in a movement of forced attention;
and his voice sounded to her unexpected, far off, with the
distant and unearthly ring of voices that we hear in dreams,
saying faintly things startling, cruel or absurd, to which there
is no possible reply. To her he had nothing to say! She wrung
her hands, glanced over the courtyard with that eager and
distracted look that sees nothing, then looked up at the hopeless
sky of livid grey and drifting black; at the unquiet mourning of
the hot and brilliant heaven that had seen the beginning of her
love, that had heard his entreaties and her answers, that had
seen his desire and her fear; that had seen her joy, her
surrender--and his defeat. Lingard moved a little, and this
slight stir near her precipitated her disordered and shapeless
thoughts into hurried words.
"Wait!" she exclaimed in a stifled voice, and went on
disconnectedly and rapidly--"Stay. I have heard. Men often
spoke by the fires . . . men of my people. And they said of
you--the first on the sea--they said that to men's cries you were
deaf in battle, but after . . . No! even while you fought, your
ears were open to the voice of children and women. They said . .
. that. Now I, a woman, I . . ."
She broke off suddenly and stood before him with dropped eyelids
and parted lips, so still now that she seemed to have been
changed into a breathless, an unhearing, an unseeing figure,
without knowledge of fear or hope, of anger or despair. In the
astounding repose that came on her face, nothing moved but the
delicate nostrils that expanded and collapsed quickly,
flutteringly, in interrupted beats, like the wings of a snared
"I am white," said Lingard, proudly, looking at her with a steady
gaze where simple curiosity was giving way to a pitying
annoyance, "and men you have heard, spoke only what is true over
the evening fires. My ears are open to your prayer. But listen
to me before you speak. For yourself you need not be afraid. You
can come even now with me and you shall find refuge in the
household of Syed Abdulla--who is of your own faith. And this
also you must know: nothing that you may say will change my
purpose towards the man who is sleeping--or hiding--in that
Again she gave him the look that was like a stab, not of anger
but of desire; of the intense, over-powering desire to see in, to
see through, to understand everything: every thought, emotion,
purpose; every impulse, every hesitation inside that man; inside
that white-clad foreign being who looked at her, who spoke to
her, who breathed before her like any other man, but bigger,
red-faced, white-haired and mysterious. It was the future
clothed in flesh; the to-morrow; the day after; all the days, all
the years of her life standing there before her alive and secret,
with all their good or evil shut up within the breast of that
man; of that man who could be persuaded, cajoled, entreated,
perhaps touched, worried; frightened--who knows?--if only first
he could be understood! She had seen a long time ago whither
events were tending. She had noted the contemptuous yet menacing
coldness of Abdulla; she had heard--alarmed yet
unbelieving--Babalatchi's gloomy hints, covert allusions and
veiled suggestions to abandon the useless white man whose fate
would be the price of the peace secured by the wise and good who
had no need of him any more. And he--himself! She clung to him.
There was nobody else. Nothing else. She would try to cling to
him always--all the life! And yet he was far from her. Further
every day. Every day he seemed more distant, and she followed
him patiently, hopefully, blindly, but steadily, through all the
devious wanderings of his mind. She followed as well as she
could. Yet at times--very often lately--she had felt lost like
one strayed in the thickets of tangled undergrowth of a great
forest. To her the ex-clerk of old Hudig appeared as remote, as
brilliant, as terrible, as necessary, as the sun that gives life
to these lands: the sun of unclouded skies that dazzles and
withers; the sun beneficent and wicked--the giver of light,
perfume, and pestilence. She had watched him--watched him close;
fascinated by love, fascinated by danger. He was alone now--but
for her; and she saw--she thought she saw--that he was like a man
afraid of something. Was it possible? He afraid? Of what? Was
it of that old white man who was coming--who had come? Possibly.
She had heard of that man ever since she could remember. The
bravest were afraid of him! And now what was in the mind of this
old, old man who looked so strong? What was he going to do with
the light of her life? Put it out? Take it away? Take it away
for ever!--for ever!--and leave her in darkness:--not in the
stirring, whispering, expectant night in which the hushed world
awaits the return of sunshine; but in the night without end, the
night of the grave, where nothing breathes, nothing moves,
nothing thinks--the last darkness of cold and silence without
hope of another sunrise.
She cried--"Your purpose! You know nothing. I must . . ."
He interrupted--unreasonably excited, as if she had, by her look,
inoculated him with some of her own distress.