Part 6 out of 6
The last words came in a despairing cry. Had she been flayed
alive she could not have sent to heaven a more terrible, a more
heartrending and anguished plaint.
"Sh! Sh!" hissed Almayer, jumping up. "You will wake up
everybody with your shouting."
She kept on sobbing then without any noise, and Almayer stared at
her in boundless astonishment. The idea that, maybe, he had done
wrong by confiding in her, upset him so much that for a moment he
could not find a connected thought in his head.
At last he said: "I swear to you that your husband is in such a
position that he would welcome the devil . . . listen well to me
. . . the devil himself if the devil came to him in a canoe.
Unless I am much mistaken,'' he added, under his breath. Then
again, loudly: "If you have any little difference to make up with
him, I assure you--I swear to you--this is your time!"
The ardently persuasive tone of his words--he thought--would have
carried irresistible conviction to a graven image. He noticed
with satisfaction that Joanna seemed to have got some inkling of
his meaning. He continued, speaking slowly--
"Look here, Mrs. Willems. I can't do anything. Daren't. But I
will tell you what I will do. There will come here in about ten
minutes a Bugis man--you know the language; you are from
Macassar. He has a large canoe; he can take you there. To the
new Rajah's clearing, tell him. They are three brothers, ready
for anything if you pay them . . . you have some money. Haven't
She stood--perhaps listening--but giving no sign of intelligence,
and stared at the floor in sudden immobility, as if the horror of
the situation, the overwhelming sense of her own wickedness and
of her husband's great danger, had stunned her brain, her heart,
her will--had left her no faculty but that of breathing and of
keeping on her feet. Almayer swore to himself with much mental
profanity that he had never seen a more useless, a more stupid
"D'ye hear me?" he said, raising his voice. "Do try to
understand. Have you any money? Money. Dollars. Guilders.
Money! What's the matter with you?"
Without raising her eyes she said, in a voice that sounded weak
and undecided as if she had been making a desperate effort of
"The house has been sold. Mr. Hudig was angry."
Almayer gripped the edge of the table with all his strength. He
resisted manfully an almost uncontrollable impulse to fly at her
and box her ears.
"It was sold for money, I suppose," he said with studied and
incisive calmness. "Have you got it? Who has got it?"
She looked up at him, raising her swollen eyelids with a great
effort, in a sorrowful expression of her drooping mouth, of her
whole besmudged and tear-stained face. She whispered
"Leonard had some. He wanted to get married. And uncle Antonio;
he sat at the door and would not go away. And Aghostina--she is
so poor . . . and so many, many children--little children. And
Luiz the engineer. He never said a word against my husband.
Also our cousin Maria. She came and shouted, and my head was so
bad, and my heart was worse. Then cousin Salvator and old Daniel
da Souza, who . . ."
Almayer had listened to her speechless with rage. He thought: I
must give money now to that idiot. Must! Must get her out of
the way now before Lingard is back. He made two attempts to
speak before he managed to burst out--
"I don't want to know their blasted names! Tell me, did all
those infernal people leave you anything? To you! That's what I
want to know!"
"I have two hundred and fifteen dollars," said Joanna, in a
Almayer breathed freely. He spoke with great friendliness--
"That will do. It isn't much, but it will do. Now when the man
comes I will be out of the way. You speak to him. Give him some
money; only a little, mind! And promise more. Then when you get
there you will be guided by your husband, of course. And don't
forget to tell him that Captain Lingard is at the mouth of the
river--the northern entrance. You will remember. Won't you?
The northern branch. Lingard is--death."
Joanna shivered. Almayer went on rapidly--
"I would have given you money if you had wanted it. 'Pon my
word! Tell your husband I've sent you to him. And tell him not
to lose any time. And also say to him from me that we shall
meet--some day. That I could not die happy unless I met him once
more. Only once. I love him, you know. I prove it. Tremendous
risk to me--this business is!"
Joanna snatched his hand and before he knew what she would be at,
pressed it to her lips.
"Mrs. Willems! Don't. What are you . . ." cried the abashed
Almayer, tearing his hand away.
"Oh, you are good!" she cried, with sudden exaltation, "You are
noble . . . I shall pray every day . . . to all the saints . . .
I shall . . ."
"Never mind . . . never mind!" stammered out Almayer, confusedly,
without knowing very well what he was saying. "Only look out for
Lingard. . . . I am happy to be able . . . in your sad situation
. . . believe me. . . . "
They stood with the table between them, Joanna looking down, and
her face, in the half-light above the lamp, appeared like a
soiled carving of old ivory--a carving, with accentuated anxious
hollows, of old, very old ivory. Almayer looked at her,
mistrustful, hopeful. He was saying to himself: How frail she
is! I could upset her by blowing at her. She seems to have got
some idea of what must be done, but will she have the strength to
carry it through? I must trust to luck now!
Somewhere far in the back courtyard Ali's voice rang suddenly in
"Why did you shut the gate, O father of all mischief? You a
watchman! You are only a wild man. Did I not tell you I was
coming back? You . . ."
"I am off, Mrs. Willems," exclaimed Almayer. "That man is
here--with my servant. Be calm. Try to . . ."
He heard the footsteps of the two men in the passage, and without
finishing his sentence ran rapidly down the steps towards the
For the next half-hour Almayer, who wanted to give Joanna plenty
of time, stumbled amongst the lumber in distant parts of his
enclosure, sneaked along the fences; or held his breath,
flattened against grass walls behind various outhouses: all this
to escape Ali's inconveniently zealous search for his master. He
heard him talk with the head watchman--sometimes quite close to
him in the darkness--then moving off, coming back, wondering,
and, as the time passed, growing uneasy.
"He did not fall into the river?--say, thou blind watcher!" Ali
was growling in a bullying tone, to the other man. "He told me
to fetch Mahmat, and when I came back swiftly I found him not in
the house. There is that Sirani woman there, so that Mahmat
cannot steal anything, but it is in my mind, the night will be
half gone before I rest."
"Master! O master! O mast . . ."
"What are you making that noise for?" said Almayer, with
severity, stepping out close to them.
The two Malays leaped away from each other in their surprise.
"You may go. I don't want you any more tonight, Ali," went on
Almayer. "Is Mahmat there?"
"Unless the ill-behaved savage got tired of waiting. Those men
know not politeness. They should not be spoken to by white men,"
said Ali, resentfully.
Almayer went towards the house, leaving his servants to wonder
where he had sprung from so unexpectedly. The watchman hinted
obscurely at powers of invisibility possessed by the master, who
often at night . . . Ali interrupted him with great scorn. Not
every white man has the power. Now, the Rajah Laut could make
himself invisible. Also, he could be in two places at once, as
everybody knew; except he--the useless watchman--who knew no more
about white men than a wild pig! Ya-wa!
And Ali strolled towards his hut, yawning loudly.
As Almayer ascended the steps he heard the noise of a door flung
to, and when he entered the verandah he saw only Mahmat there,
close to the doorway of the passage. Mahmat seemed to be caught
in the very act of slinking away, and Almayer noticed that with
satisfaction. Seeing the white man, the Malay gave up his
attempt and leaned against the wall. He was a short, thick,
broad-shouldered man with very dark skin and a wide, stained,
bright-red mouth that uncovered, when he spoke, a close row of
black and glistening teeth. His eyes were big, prominent, dreamy
and restless. He said sulkily, looking all over the place from
under his eyebrows--
"White Tuan, you are great and strong--and I a poor man. Tell me
what is your will, and let me go in the name of God. It is
Almayer examined the man thoughtfully. How could he find out
whether . . . He had it! Lately he had employed that man and
his two brothers as extra boatmen to carry stores, provisions,
and new axes to a camp of rattan cutters some distance up the
river. A three days' expedition. He would test him now in that
way. He said negligently--
"I want you to start at once for the camp, with surat for the
Kavitan. One dollar a day."
The man appeared plunged in dull hesitation, but Almayer, who
knew his Malays, felt pretty sure from his aspect that nothing
would induce the fellow to go. He urged--
"It is important--and if you are swift I shall give two dollars
for the last day."
"No, Tuan. We do not go," said the man, in a hoarse whisper.
"We start on another journey."
"To a place we know of," said Mahmat, a little louder, in a
stubborn manner, and looking at the floor.
Almayer experienced a feeling of immense joy. He said, with
"You men live in my house and it is as if it were your own. I
may want my house soon."
Mahmat looked up.
"We are men of the sea and care not for a roof when we have a
canoe that will hold three, and a paddle apiece. The sea is our
house. Peace be with you, Tuan."
He turned and went away rapidly, and Almayer heard him directly
afterwards in the courtyard calling to the watchman to open the
gate. Mahmat passed through the gate in silence, but before the
bar had been put up behind him he had made up his mind that if
the white man ever wanted to eject him from his hut, he would
burn it and also as many of the white man's other buildings as he
could safely get at. And he began to call his brothers before he
was inside the dilapidated dwelling.
"All's well!" muttered Almayer to himself, taking some loose Java
tobacco from a drawer in the table. "Now if anything comes out I
am clear. I asked the man to go up the river. I urged him. He
will say so himself. Good."
He began to charge the china bowl of his pipe, a pipe with a long
cherry stem and a curved mouthpiece, pressing the tobacco down
with his thumb and thinking: No. I sha'n't see her again.
Don't want to. I will give her a good start, then go in
chase--and send an express boat after father. Yes! that's it.
He approached the door of the office and said, holding his pipe
away from his lips--
"Good luck to you, Mrs. Willems. Don't lose any time. You may
get along by the bushes; the fence there is out of repair. Don't
lose time. Don't forget that it is a matter of . . . life and
death. And don't forget that I know nothing. I trust you."
He heard inside a noise as of a chest-lid falling down. She made
a few steps. Then a sigh, profound and long, and some faint
words which he did not catch. He moved away from the door on
tiptoe, kicked off his slippers in a corner of the verandah, then
entered the passage puffing at his pipe; entered cautiously in a
gentle creaking of planks and turned into a curtained entrance to
the left. There was a big room. On the floor a small binnacle
lamp--that had found its way to the house years ago from the
lumber-room of the Flash--did duty for a night-light. It
glimmered very small and dull in the great darkness. Almayer
walked to it, and picking it up revived the flame by pulling the
wick with his fingers, which he shook directly after with a
grimace of pain. Sleeping shapes, covered--head and all--with
white sheets, lay about on the mats on the floor. In the middle
of the room a small cot, under a square white mosquito net,
stood--the only piece of furniture between the four
walls--looking like an altar of transparent marble in a gloomy
temple. A woman, half-lying on the floor with her head dropped
on her arms, which were crossed on the foot of the cot, woke up
as Almayer strode over her outstretched legs. She sat up without
a word, leaning forward, and, clasping her knees, stared down
with sad eyes, full of sleep.
Almayer, the smoky light in one hand, his pipe in the other,
stood before the curtained cot looking at his daughter--at his
little Nina--at that part of himself, at that small and
unconscious particle of humanity that seemed to him to contain
all his soul. And it was as if he had been bathed in a bright
and warm wave of tenderness, in a tenderness greater than the
world, more precious than life; the only thing real, living,
sweet, tangible, beautiful and safe amongst the elusive, the
distorted and menacing shadows of existence. On his face, lit up
indistinctly by the short yellow flame of the lamp, came a look
of rapt attention while he looked into her future. And he could
see things there! Things charming and splendid passing before
him in a magic unrolling of resplendent pictures; pictures of
events brilliant, happy, inexpressibly glorious, that would make
up her life. He would do it! He would do it. He would! He
would--for that child! And as he stood in the still night, lost
in his enchanting and gorgeous dreams, while the ascending, thin
thread of tobacco smoke spread into a faint bluish cloud above
his head, he appeared strangely impressive and ecstatic: like a
devout and mystic worshipper, adoring, transported and mute;
burning incense before a shrine, a diaphanous shrine of a
child-idol with closed eyes; before a pure and vaporous shrine of
a small god--fragile, powerless, unconscious and sleeping.
When Ali, roused by loud and repeated shouting of his name,
stumbled outside the door of his hut, he saw a narrow streak of
trembling gold above the forests and a pale sky with faded stars
overhead: signs of the coming day. His master stood before the
door waving a piece of paper in his hand and shouting
excitedly--"Quick, Ali! Quick!" When he saw his servant he
rushed forward, and pressing the paper on him objurgated him, in
tones which induced Ali to think that something awful had
happened, to hurry up and get the whale-boat ready to go
immediately--at once, at once--after Captain Lingard. Ali
remonstrated, agitated also, having caught the infection of
"If must go quick, better canoe. Whale-boat no can catch, same
as small canoe."
"No, no! Whale-boat! whale-boat! You dolt! you wretch!" howled
Almayer, with all the appearance of having gone mad. "Call the
men! Get along with it. Fly!"
And Ali rushed about the courtyard kicking the doors of huts open
to put his head in and yell frightfully inside; and as he dashed
from hovel to hovel, men shivering and sleepy were coming out,
looking after him stupidly, while they scratched their ribs with
bewildered apathy. It was hard work to put them in motion. They
wanted time to stretch themselves and to shiver a little. Some
wanted food. One said he was sick. Nobody knew where the rudder
was. Ali darted here and there, ordering, abusing, pushing one,
then another, and stopping in his exertions at times to wring his
hands hastily and groan, because the whale-boat was much slower
than the worst canoe and his master would not listen to his
Almayer saw the boat go off at last, pulled anyhow by men that
were cold, hungry, and sulky; and he remained on the jetty
watching it down the reach. It was broad day then, and the sky
was perfectly cloudless. Almayer went up to the house for a
moment. His household was all astir and wondering at the strange
disappearance of the Sirani woman, who had taken her child and
had left her luggage. Almayer spoke to no one, got his revolver,
and went down to the river again. He jumped into a small canoe
and paddled himself towards the schooner. He worked very
leisurely, but as soon as he was nearly alongside he began to
hail the silent craft with the tone and appearance of a man in a
"Schooner ahoy! schooner ahoy!" he shouted.
A row of blank faces popped up above the bulwark. After a while a
man with a woolly head of hair said--
"The mate! the mate! Call him, steward!" said Almayer,
excitedly, making a frantic grab at a rope thrown down to him by
In less than a minute the mate put his head over. He asked,
"What can I do for you, Mr. Almayer?"
"Let me have the gig at once, Mr. Swan--at once. I ask in
Captain Lingard's name. I must have it. Matter of life and
The mate was impressed by Almayer's agitation
"You shall have it, sir. . . . Man the gig there! Bear a hand,
serang! . . . It's hanging astern, Mr. Almayer," he said,
looking down again. "Get into it, sir. The men are coming down
by the painter."
By the time Almayer had clambered over into the stern sheets,
four calashes were in the boat and the oars were being passed
over the taffrail. The mate was looking on. Suddenly he said--
"Is it dangerous work? Do you want any help? I would come . . ."
"Yes, yes!" cried Almayer. "Come along. Don't lose a moment.
Go and get your revolver. Hurry up! hurry up!"
Yet, notwithstanding his feverish anxiety to be off, he lolled
back very quiet and unconcerned till the mate got in and, passing
over the thwarts, sat down by his side. Then he seemed to wake
up, and called out--
"Let go--let go the painter!"
"Let go the painter--the painter!" yelled the bowman, jerking at
People on board also shouted "Let go!" to one another, till it
occurred at last to somebody to cast off the rope; and the boat
drifted rapidly away from the schooner in the sudden silencing of
Almayer steered. The mate sat by his side, pushing the
cartridges into the chambers of his revolver. When the weapon was
loaded he asked--
"What is it? Are you after somebody?"
"Yes," said Almayer, curtly, with his eyes fixed ahead on the
river. "We must catch a dangerous man."
"I like a bit of a chase myself," declared the mate, and then,
discouraged by Almayer's aspect of severe thoughtfulness, said
Nearly an hour passed. The calashes stretched forward head first
and lay back with their faces to the sky, alternately, in a
regular swing that sent the boat flying through the water; and
the two sitters, very upright in the stern sheets, swayed
rhythmically a little at every stroke of the long oars plied
The mate observed: "The tide is with us."
"The current always runs down in this river," said Almayer.
"Yes--I know," retorted the other; "but it runs faster on the
ebb. Look by the land at the way we get over the ground! A
five-knot current here, I should say."
"H'm!" growled Almayer. Then suddenly: "There is a passage
between two islands that will save us four miles. But at low
water the two islands, in the dry season, are like one with only
a mud ditch between them. Still, it's worth trying."
"Ticklish job that, on a falling tide," said the mate, coolly.
"You know best whether there's time to get through."
"I will try," said Almayer, watching the shore intently. "Look
He tugged hard at the starboard yoke-line.
"Lay in your oars!" shouted the mate.
The boat swept round and shot through the narrow opening of a
creek that broadened out before the craft had time to lose its
"Out oars! . . . Just room enough," muttered the mate.
It was a sombre creek of black water speckled with the gold of
scattered sunlight falling through the boughs that met overhead
in a soaring, restless arc full of gentle whispers passing,
tremulous, aloft amongst the thick leaves. The creepers climbed
up the trunks of serried trees that leaned over, looking insecure
and undermined by floods which had eaten away the earth from
under their roots. And the pungent, acrid smell of rotting
leaves, of flowers, of blossoms and plants dying in that
poisonous and cruel gloom, where they pined for sunshine in vain,
seemed to lay heavy, to press upon the shiny and stagnant water
in its tortuous windings amongst the everlasting and invincible
Almayer looked anxious. He steered badly. Several times the
blades of the oars got foul of the bushes on one side or the
other, checking the way of the gig. During one of those
occurrences, while they were getting clear, one of the calashes
said something to the others in a rapid whisper. They looked
down at the water. So did the mate.
"Hallo!" he exclaimed. "Eh, Mr. Almayer! Look! The water is
running out. See there! We will be caught."
"Back! back! We must go back!" cried Almayer.
"Perhaps better go on."
"No; back! back!"
He pulled at the steering line, and ran the nose of the boat into
the bank. Time was lost again in getting clear.
"Give way, men! give way!" urged the mate, anxiously.
The men pulled with set lips and dilated nostrils, breathing
"Too late," said the mate, suddenly. "The oars touch the bottom
already. We are done."
The boat stuck. The men laid in the oars, and sat, panting, with
"Yes, we are caught," said Almayer, composedly. "That is
The water was falling round the boat. The mate watched the
patches of mud coming to the surface. Then in a moment he
laughed, and pointing his finger at the creek--
"Look!" he said; "the blamed river is running away from us.
Here's the last drop of water clearing out round that bend."
Almayer lifted his head. The water was gone, and he looked only
at a curved track of mud--of mud soft and black, hiding fever,
rottenness, and evil under its level and glazed surface.
"We are in for it till the evening," he said, with cheerful
resignation. "I did my best. Couldn't help it."
"We must sleep the day away," said the mate. "There's nothing to
eat," he added, gloomily.
Almayer stretched himself in the stern sheets. The Malays curled
down between thwarts.
"Well, I'm jiggered!" said the mate, starting up after a long
pause. "I was in a devil of a hurry to go and pass the day stuck
in the mud. Here's a holiday for you! Well! well!"
They slept or sat unmoving and patient. As the sun mounted
higher the breeze died out, and perfect stillness reigned in the
empty creek. A troop of long-nosed monkeys appeared, and
crowding on the outer boughs, contemplated the boat and the
motionless men in it with grave and sorrowful intensity,
disturbed now and then by irrational outbreaks of mad
gesticulation. A little bird with sapphire breast balanced a
slender twig across a slanting beam of light, and flashed in it
to and fro like a gem dropped from the sky. His minute round eye
stared at the strange and tranquil creatures in the boat. After
a while he sent out a thin twitter that sounded impertinent and
funny in the solemn silence of the great wilderness; in the great
silence full of struggle and death.
On Lingard's departure solitude and silence closed round Willems;
the cruel solitude of one abandoned by men; the reproachful
silence which surrounds an outcast ejected by his kind, the
silence unbroken by the slightest whisper of hope; an immense and
impenetrable silence that swallows up without echo the murmur of
regret and the cry of revolt. The bitter peace of the abandoned
clearings entered his heart, in which nothing could live now but
the memory and hate of his past. Not remorse. In the breast of
a man possessed by the masterful consciousness of his
individuality with its desires and its rights; by the immovable
conviction of his own importance, of an importance so
indisputable and final that it clothes all his wishes,
endeavours, and mistakes with the dignity of unavoidable fate,
there could be no place for such a feeling as that of remorse.
The days passed. They passed unnoticed, unseen, in the rapid
blaze of glaring sunrises, in the short glow of tender sunsets,
in the crushing oppression of high noons without a cloud. How
many days? Two--three--or more? He did not know. To him, since
Lingard had gone, the time seemed to roll on in profound
darkness. All was night within him. All was gone from his
sight. He walked about blindly in the deserted courtyards,
amongst the empty houses that, perched high on their posts,
looked down inimically on him, a white stranger, a man from other
lands; seemed to look hostile and mute out of all the memories of
native life that lingered between their decaying walls. His
wandering feet stumbled against the blackened brands of extinct
fires, kicking up a light black dust of cold ashes that flew in
drifting clouds and settled to leeward on the fresh grass
sprouting from the hard ground, between the shade trees. He
moved on, and on; ceaseless, unresting, in widening circles, in
zigzagging paths that led to no issue; he struggled on wearily
with a set, distressed face behind which, in his tired brain,
seethed his thoughts: restless, sombre, tangled, chilling,
horrible and venomous, like a nestful of snakes.
From afar, the bleared eyes of the old serving woman, the sombre
gaze of Aissa followed the gaunt and tottering figure in its
unceasing prowl along the fences, between the houses, amongst the
wild luxuriance of riverside thickets. Those three human beings
abandoned by all were like shipwrecked people left on an insecure
and slippery ledge by the retiring tide of an angry
sea--listening to its distant roar, living anguished between the
menace of its return and the hopeless horror of their
solitude--in the midst of a tempest of passion, of regret, of
disgust, of despair. The breath of the storm had cast two of
them there, robbed of everything--even of resignation. The
third, the decrepit witness of their struggle and their torture,
accepted her own dull conception of facts; of strength and youth
gone; of her useless old age; of her last servitude; of being
thrown away by her chief, by her nearest, to use up the last and
worthless remnant of flickering life between those two
incomprehensible and sombre outcasts: a shrivelled, an unmoved, a
passive companion of their disaster.
To the river Willems turned his eyes like a captive that looks
fixedly at the door of his cell. If there was any hope in the
world it would come from the river, by the river. For hours
together he would stand in sunlight while the sea breeze sweeping
over the lonely reach fluttered his ragged garments; the keen
salt breeze that made him shiver now and then under the flood of
intense heat. He looked at the brown and sparkling solitude of
the flowing water, of the water flowing ceaseless and free in a
soft, cool murmur of ripples at his feet. The world seemed to
end there. The forests of the other bank appeared unattainable,
enigmatical, for ever beyond reach like the stars of heaven--and
as indifferent. Above and below, the forests on his side of the
river came down to the water in a serried multitude of tall,
immense trees towering in a great spread of twisted boughs above
the thick undergrowth; great, solid trees, looking sombre,
severe, and malevolently stolid, like a giant crowd of pitiless
enemies pressing round silently to witness his slow agony. He
was alone, small, crushed. He thought of escape--of something to
be done. What? A raft! He imagined himself working at it,
feverishly, desperately; cutting down trees, fastening the logs
together and then drifting down with the current, down to the sea
into the straits. There were ships there--ships, help, white
men. Men like himself. Good men who would rescue him, take him
away, take him far away where there was trade, and houses, and
other men that could understand him exactly, appreciate his
capabilities; where there was proper food, and money; where there
were beds, knives, forks, carriages, brass bands, cool drinks,
churches with well-dressed people praying in them. He would pray
also. The superior land of refined delights where he could sit
on a chair, eat his tiffin off a white tablecloth, nod to
fellows--good fellows; he would be popular; always was--where he
could be virtuous, correct, do business, draw a salary, smoke
cigars, buy things in shops--have boots . . . be happy, free,
become rich. O God! What was wanted? Cut down a few trees.
No! One would do. They used to make canoes by burning out a
tree trunk, he had heard. Yes! One would do. One tree to cut
down . . . He rushed forward, and suddenly stood still as if
rooted in the ground. He had a pocket-knife.
And he would throw himself down on the ground by the riverside.
He was tired, exhausted; as if that raft had been made, the
voyage accomplished, the fortune attained. A glaze came over his
staring eyes, over his eyes that gazed hopelessly at the rising
river where big logs and uprooted trees drifted in the shine of
mid-stream: a long procession of black and ragged specks. He
could swim out and drift away on one of these trees. Anything to
escape! Anything! Any risk! He could fasten himself up between
the dead branches. He was torn by desire, by fear; his heart was
wrung by the faltering of his courage. He turned over, face
downwards, his head on his arms. He had a terrible vision of
shadowless horizons where the blue sky and the blue sea met; or a
circular and blazing emptiness where a dead tree and a dead man
drifted together, endlessly, up and down, upon the brilliant
undulations of the straits. No ships there. Only death. And
the river led to it.
He sat up with a profound groan.
Yes, death. Why should he die? No! Better solitude, better
hopeless waiting, alone. Alone. No! he was not alone, he saw
death looking at him from everywhere; from the bushes, from the
clouds--he heard her speaking to him in the murmur of the river,
filling the space, touching his heart, his brain with a cold
hand. He could see and think of nothing else. He saw it--the
sure death--everywhere. He saw it so close that he was always on
the point of throwing out his arms to keep it off. It poisoned
all he saw, all he did; the miserable food he ate, the muddy
water he drank; it gave a frightful aspect to sunrises and
sunsets, to the brightness of hot noon, to the cooling shadows of
the evenings. He saw the horrible form among the big trees, in
the network of creepers in the fantastic outlines of leaves, of
the great indented leaves that seemed to be so many enormous
hands with big broad palms, with stiff fingers outspread to lay
hold of him; hands gently stirring, or hands arrested in a
frightful immobility, with a stillness attentive and watching for
the opportunity to take him, to enlace him, to strangle him, to
hold him till he died; hands that would hold him dead, that would
never let go, that would cling to his body for ever till it
perished--disappeared in their frantic and tenacious grasp.
And yet the world was full of life. All the things, all the men
he knew, existed, moved, breathed; and he saw them in a long
perspective, far off, diminished, distinct, desirable,
unattainable, precious . . . lost for ever. Round him,
ceaselessly, there went on without a sound the mad turmoil of
tropical life. After he had died all this would remain! He
wanted to clasp, to embrace solid things; he had an immense
craving for sensations; for touching, pressing, seeing, handling,
holding on, to all these things. All this would remain--remain
for years, for ages, for ever. After he had miserably died
there, all this would remain, would live, would exist in joyous
sunlight, would breathe in the coolness of serene nights. What
for, then? He would be dead. He would be stretched upon the
warm moisture of the ground, feeling nothing, seeing nothing,
knowing nothing; he would lie stiff, passive, rotting slowly;
while over him, under him, through him--unopposed, busy,
hurried--the endless and minute throngs of insects, little
shining monsters of repulsive shapes, with horns, with claws,
with pincers, would swarm in streams, in rushes, in eager
struggle for his body; would swarm countless, persistent,
ferocious and greedy--till there would remain nothing but the
white gleam of bleaching bones in the long grass; in the long
grass that would shoot its feathery heads between the bare and
polished ribs. There would be that only left of him; nobody
would miss him; no one would remember him.
Nonsense! It could not be. There were ways out of this.
Somebody would turn up. Some human beings would come. He would
speak, entreat--use force to extort help from them. He felt
strong; he was very strong. He would . . . The discouragement,
the conviction of the futility of his hopes would return in an
acute sensation of pain in his heart. He would begin again his
aimless wanderings. He tramped till he was ready to drop,
without being able to calm by bodily fatigue the trouble of his
soul. There was no rest, no peace within the cleared grounds of
his prison. There was no relief but in the black release of
sleep, of sleep without memory and without dreams; in the sleep
coming brutal and heavy, like the lead that kills. To forget in
annihilating sleep; to tumble headlong, as if stunned, out of
daylight into the night of oblivion, was for him the only, the
rare respite from this existence which he lacked the courage to
endure--or to end.
He lived, he struggled with the inarticulate delirium of his
thoughts under the eyes of the silent Aissa. She shared his
torment in the poignant wonder, in the acute longing, in the
despairing inability to understand the cause of his anger and of
his repulsion; the hate of his looks; the mystery of his silence;
the menace of his rare words--of those words in the speech of
white people that were thrown at her with rage, with contempt,
with the evident desire to hurt her; to hurt her who had given
herself, her life--all she had to give--to that white man; to
hurt her who had wanted to show him the way to true greatness,
who had tried to help him, in her woman's dream of everlasting,
enduring, unchangeable affection. From the short contact with
the whites in the crashing collapse of her old life, there
remained with her the imposing idea of irresistible power and of
ruthless strength. She had found a man of their race--and with
all their qualities. All whites are alike. But this man's heart
was full of anger against his own people, full of anger existing
there by the side of his desire of her. And to her it had been
an intoxication of hope for great things born in the proud and
tender consciousness of her influence. She had heard the passing
whisper of wonder and fear in the presence of his hesitation, of
his resistance, of his compromises; and yet with a woman's belief
in the durable steadfastness of hearts, in the irresistible charm
of her own personality, she had pushed him forward, trusting the
future, blindly, hopefully; sure to attain by his side the ardent
desire of her life, if she could only push him far beyond the
possibility of retreat. She did not know, and could not
conceive, anything of his--so exalted--ideals. She thought the
man a warrior and a chief, ready for battle, violence, and
treachery to his own people--for her. What more natural? Was he
not a great, strong man? Those two, surrounded each by the
impenetrable wall of their aspirations, were hopelessly alone,
out of sight, out of earshot of each other; each the centre of
dissimilar and distant horizons; standing each on a different
earth, under a different sky. She remembered his words, his
eyes, his trembling lips, his outstretched hands; she remembered
the great, the immeasurable sweetness of her surrender, that
beginning of her power which was to last until death. He
remembered the quaysides and the warehouses; the excitement of a
life in a whirl of silver coins; the glorious uncertainty of a
money hunt; his numerous successes, the lost possibilities of
wealth and consequent glory. She, a woman, was the victim of her
heart, of her woman's belief that there is nothing in the world
but love--the everlasting thing. He was the victim of his
strange principles, of his continence, of his blind belief in
himself, of his solemn veneration for the voice of his boundless
In a moment of his idleness, of suspense, of discouragement, she
had come--that creature--and by the touch of her hand had
destroyed his future, his dignity of a clever and civilized man;
had awakened in his breast the infamous thing which had driven
him to what he had done, and to end miserably in the wilderness
and be forgotten, or else remembered with hate or contempt. He
dared not look at her, because now whenever he looked at her his
thought seemed to touch crime, like an outstretched hand. She
could only look at him--and at nothing else. What else was
there? She followed him with a timorous gaze, with a gaze for
ever expecting, patient, and entreating. And in her eyes there
was the wonder and desolation of an animal that knows only
suffering, of the incomplete soul that knows pain but knows not
hope; that can find no refuge from the facts of life in the
illusory conviction of its dignity, of an exalted destiny beyond;
in the heavenly consolation of a belief in the momentous origin
of its hate.
For the first three days after Lingard went away he would not
even speak to her. She preferred his silence to the sound of
hated and incomprehensible words he had been lately addressing to
her with a wild violence of manner, passing at once into complete
apathy. And during these three days he hardly ever left the
river, as if on that muddy bank he had felt himself nearer to his
freedom. He would stay late; he would stay till sunset; he would
look at the glow of gold passing away amongst sombre clouds in a
bright red flush, like a splash of warm blood. It seemed to him
ominous and ghastly with a foreboding of violent death that
beckoned him from everywhere--even from the sky.
One evening he remained by the riverside long after sunset,
regardless of the night mist that had closed round him, had
wrapped him up and clung to him like a wet winding-sheet. A
slight shiver recalled him to his senses, and he walked up the
courtyard towards his house. Aissa rose from before the fire,
that glimmered red through its own smoke, which hung thickening
under the boughs of the big tree. She approached him from the
side as he neared the plankway of the house. He saw her stop to
let him begin his ascent. In the darkness her figure was like
the shadow of a woman with clasped hands put out beseechingly. He
stopped--could not help glancing at her. In all the sombre
gracefulness of the straight figure, her limbs, features--all was
indistinct and vague but the gleam of her eyes in the faint
starlight. He turned his head away and moved on. He could feel
her footsteps behind him on the bending planks, but he walked up
without turning his head. He knew what she wanted. She wanted
to come in there. He shuddered at the thought of what might
happen in the impenetrable darkness of that house if they were to
find themselves alone--even for a moment. He stopped in the
doorway, and heard her say--
"Let me come in. Why this anger? Why this silence? . . . Let
me watch . . by your side. . . . Have I not watched faithfully?
Did harm ever come to you when you closed your eyes while I was
by? . . . I have waited . . . I have waited for your smile, for
your words . . . I can wait no more. . . . Look at me . . .
speak to me. Is there a bad spirit in you? A bad spirit that
has eaten up your courage and your love? Let me touch you.
Forget all . . . All. Forget the wicked hearts, the angry faces
. . . and remember only the day I came to you . . . to you! O my
heart! O my life!"
The pleading sadness of her appeal filled the space with the
tremor of her low tones, that carried tenderness and tears into
the great peace of the sleeping world. All around them the
forests, the clearings, the river, covered by the silent veil of
night, seemed to wake up and listen to her words in attentive
stillness. After the sound of her voice had died out in a
stifled sigh they appeared to listen yet; and nothing stirred
among the shapeless shadows but the innumerable fireflies that
twinkled in changing clusters, in gliding pairs, in wandering and
solitary points--like the glimmering drift of scattered
Willems turned round slowly, reluctantly, as if compelled by main
force. Her face was hidden in her hands, and he looked above her
bent head, into the sombre brilliance of the night. It was one
of those nights that give the impression of extreme vastness,
when the sky seems higher, when the passing puffs of tepid breeze
seem to bring with them faint whispers from beyond the stars.
The air was full of sweet scent, of the scent charming,
penetrating. and violent like the impulse of love. He looked
into that great dark place odorous with the breath of life, with
the mystery of existence, renewed, fecund, indestructible; and he
felt afraid of his solitude, of the solitude of his body, of the
loneliness of his soul in the presence of this unconscious and
ardent struggle, of this lofty indifference, of this merciless
and mysterious purpose, perpetuating strife and death through the
march of ages. For the second time in his life he felt, in a
sudden sense of his significance, the need to send a cry for help
into the wilderness, and for the second time he realized the
hopelessness of its unconcern. He could shout for help on every
side--and nobody would answer. He could stretch out his hands,
he could call for aid, for support, for sympathy, for relief--and
nobody would come. Nobody. There was no one there--but that
His heart was moved, softened with pity at his own abandonment.
His anger against her, against her who was the cause of all his
misfortunes, vanished before his extreme need for some kind of
consolation. Perhaps--if he must resign himself to his fate--she
might help him to forget. To forget! For a moment, in an access
of despair so profound that it seemed like the beginning of
peace, he planned the deliberate descent from his pedestal, the
throwing away of his superiority, of all his hopes, of old
ambitions, of the ungrateful civilization. For a moment,
forgetfulness in her arms seemed possible; and lured by that
possibility the semblance of renewed desire possessed his breast
in a burst of reckless contempt for everything outside
himself--in a savage disdain of Earth and of Heaven. He said to
himself that he would not repent. The punishment for his only
sin was too heavy. There was no mercy under Heaven. He did not
want any. He thought, desperately, that if he could find with
her again the madness of the past, the strange delirium that had
changed him, that had worked his undoing, he would be ready to
pay for it with an eternity of perdition. He was intoxicated by
the subtle perfumes of the night; he was carried away by the
suggestive stir of the warm breeze; he was possessed by the
exaltation of the solitude, of the silence, of his memories, in
the presence of that figure offering herself in a submissive and
patient devotion; coming to him in the name of the past, in the
name of those days when he could see nothing, think of nothing,
desire nothing--but her embrace.
He took her suddenly in his arms, and she clasped her hands round
his neck with a low cry of joy and surprise. He took her in his
arms and waited for the transport, for the madness, for the
sensations remembered and lost; and while she sobbed gently on
his breast he held her and felt cold, sick, tired, exasperated
with his failure--and ended by cursing himself. She clung to him
trembling with the intensity of her happiness and her love. He
heard her whispering--her face hidden on his shoulder--of past
sorrow, of coming joy that would last for ever; of her unshaken
belief in his love. She had always believed. Always! Even
while his face was turned away from her in the dark days while
his mind was wandering in his own land, amongst his own people.
But it would never wander away from her any more, now it had come
back. He would forget the cold faces and the hard hearts of the
cruel people. What was there to remember? Nothing? Was it not
so? . . .
He listened hopelessly to the faint murmur. He stood still and
rigid, pressing her mechanically to his breast while he thought
that there was nothing for him in the world. He was robbed of
everything; robbed of his passion, of his liberty, of
forgetfulness, of consolation. She, wild with delight, whispered
on rapidly, of love, of light, of peace, of long years. . . . He
looked drearily above her head down into the deeper gloom of the
courtyard. And, all at once, it seemed to him that he was
peering into a sombre hollow, into a deep black hole full of
decay and of whitened bones; into an immense and inevitable grave
full of corruption where sooner or later he must, unavoidably,
In the morning he came out early, and stood for a time in the
doorway, listening to the light breathing behind him--in the
house. She slept. He had not closed his eyes through all that
night. He stood swaying--then leaned against the lintel of the
door. He was exhausted, done up; fancied himself hardly alive.
He had a disgusted horror of himself that, as he looked at the
level sea of mist at his feet, faded quickly into dull
indifference. It was like a sudden and final decrepitude of his
senses, of his body, of his thoughts. Standing on the high
platform, he looked over the expanse of low night fog above
which, here and there, stood out the feathery heads of tall
bamboo clumps and the round tops of single trees, resembling
small islets emerging black and solid from a ghostly and
impalpable sea. Upon the faintly luminous background of the
eastern sky, the sombre line of the great forests bounded that
smooth sea of white vapours with an appearance of a fantastic and
He looked without seeing anything--thinking of himself. Before
his eyes the light of the rising sun burst above the forest with
the suddenness of an explosion. He saw nothing. Then, after a
time, he murmured with conviction--speaking half aloud to himself
in the shock of the penetrating thought:
"I am a lost man."
He shook his hand above his head in a gesture careless and
tragic, then walked down into the mist that closed above him in
shining undulations under the first breath of the morning breeze.
Willems moved languidly towards the river, then retraced his
steps to the tree and let himself fall on the seat under its
shade. On the other side of the immense trunk he could hear the
old woman moving about, sighing loudly, muttering to herself,
snapping dry sticks, blowing up the fire. After a while a whiff
of smoke drifted round to where he sat. It made him feel hungry,
and that feeling was like a new indignity added to an intolerable
load of humiliations. He felt inclined to cry. He felt very
weak. He held up his arm before his eyes and watched for a
little while the trembling of the lean limb. Skin and bone, by
God! How thin he was! . . . He had suffered from fever a good
deal, and now he thought with tearful dismay that Lingard,
although he had sent him food--and what food, great Lord: a
little rice and dried fish; quite unfit for a white man--had not
sent him any medicine. Did the old savage think that he was like
the wild beasts that are never ill? He wanted quinine.
He leaned the back of his head against the tree and closed his
eyes. He thought feebly that if he could get hold of Lingard he
would like to flay him alive; but it was only a blurred, a short
and a passing thought. His imagination, exhausted by the repeated
delineations of his own fate, had not enough strength left to
grip the idea of revenge. He was not indignant and rebellious.
He was cowed. He was cowed by the immense cataclysm of his
disaster. Like most men, he had carried solemnly within his
breast the whole universe, and the approaching end of all things
in the destruction of his own personality filled him with
paralyzing awe. Everything was toppling over. He blinked his
eyes quickly, and it seemed to him that the very sunshine of the
morning disclosed in its brightness a suggestion of some hidden
and sinister meaning. In his unreasoning fear he tried to hide
within himself. He drew his feet up, his head sank between his
shoulders, his arms hugged his sides. Under the high and
enormous tree soaring superbly out of the mist in a vigorous
spread of lofty boughs, with a restless and eager flutter of its
innumerable leaves in the clear sunshine, he remained motionless,
huddled up on his seat: terrified and still.
Willems' gaze roamed over the ground, and then he watched with
idiotic fixity half a dozen black ants entering courageously a
tuft of long grass which, to them, must have appeared a dark and
a dangerous jungle. Suddenly he thought: There must be something
dead in there. Some dead insect. Death everywhere! He closed
his eyes again in an access of trembling pain. Death
everywhere--wherever one looks. He did not want to see the ants.
He did not want to see anybody or anything. He sat in the
darkness of his own making, reflecting bitterly that there was no
peace for him. He heard voices now. . . . Illusion! Misery!
Torment! Who would come? Who would speak to him? What business
had he to hear voices? . . . yet he heard them faintly, from the
river. Faintly, as if shouted far off over there, came the words
"We come back soon." . . . Delirium and mockery! Who would come
back? Nobody ever comes back! Fever comes back. He had it on
him this morning. That was it. . . . He heard unexpectedly the
old woman muttering something near by. She had come round to his
side of the tree. He opened his eyes and saw her bent back
before him. She stood, with her hand shading her eyes, looking
towards the landing-place. Then she glided away. She had
seen--and now she was going back to her cooking; a woman
incurious; expecting nothing; without fear and without hope.
She had gone back behind the tree, and now Willems could see a
human figure on the path to the landing-place. It appeared to
him to be a woman, in a red gown, holding some heavy bundle in
her arms; it was an apparition unexpected, familiar and odd. He
cursed through his teeth . . . It had wanted only this! See
things like that in broad daylight! He was very bad--very bad. .
. . He was horribly scared at this awful symptom of the
desperate state of his health.
This scare lasted for the space of a flash of lightning, and in
the next moment it was revealed to him that the woman was real;
that she was coming towards him; that she was his wife! He put
his feet down to the ground quickly, but made no other movement.
His eyes opened wide. He was so amazed that for a time he
absolutely forgot his own existence. The only idea in his head
was: Why on earth did she come here?
Joanna was coming up the courtyard with eager, hurried steps.
She carried in her arms the child, wrapped up in one of Almayer's
white blankets that she had snatched off the bed at the last
moment, before leaving the house. She seemed to be dazed by the
sun in her eyes; bewildered by her strange surroundings. She
moved on, looking quickly right and left in impatient expectation
of seeing her husband at any moment. Then, approaching the tree,
she perceived suddenly a kind of a dried-up, yellow corpse,
sitting very stiff on a bench in the shade and looking at her
with big eyes that were alive. That was her husband.
She stopped dead short. They stared at one another in profound
stillness, with astounded eyes, with eyes maddened by the
memories of things far off that seemed lost in the lapse of time.
Their looks crossed, passed each other, and appeared to dart at
them through fantastic distances, to come straight from the
Looking at him steadily she came nearer, and deposited the
blanket with the child in it on the bench. Little Louis, after
howling with terror in the darkness of the river most of the
night, now slept soundly and did not wake. Willems' eyes
followed his wife, his head turning slowly after her. He
accepted her presence there with a tired acquiescence in its
fabulous improbability. Anything might happen. What did she
come for? She was part of the general scheme of his misfortune.
He half expected that she would rush at him, pull his hair, and
scratch his face. Why not? Anything might happen! In an
exaggerated sense of his great bodily weakness he felt somewhat
apprehensive of possible assault. At any rate, she would scream
at him. He knew her of old. She could screech. He had thought
that he was rid of her for ever. She came now probably to see
the end. . . .
Suddenly she turned, and embracing him slid gently to the ground.
This startled him. With her forehead on his knees she sobbed
noiselessly. He looked down dismally at the top of her head.
What was she up to? He had not the strength to move--to get
away. He heard her whispering something, and bent over to
listen. He caught the word "Forgive."
That was what she came for! All that way. Women are queer.
Forgive. Not he! . . . All at once this thought darted through
his brain: How did she come? In a boat. Boat! boat!
He shouted "Boat!" and jumped up, knocking her over. Before she
had time to pick herself up he pounced upon her and was dragging
her up by the shoulders. No sooner had she regained her feet
than she clasped him tightly round the neck, covering his face,
his eyes, his mouth, his nose with desperate kisses. He dodged
his head about, shaking her arms, trying to keep her off, to
speak, to ask her. . . . She came in a boat, boat, boat! . . .
They struggled and swung round, tramping in a semicircle. He
blurted out, "Leave off. Listen," while he tore at her hands.
This meeting of lawful love and sincere joy resembled fight.
Louis Willems slept peacefully under his blanket.
At last Willems managed to free himself, and held her off,
pressing her arms down. He looked at her. He had half a
suspicion that he was dreaming. Her lips trembled; her eyes
wandered unsteadily, always coming back to his face. He saw her
the same as ever, in his presence. She appeared startled,
tremulous, ready to cry. She did not inspire him with
confidence. He shouted--
"How did you come?"
She answered in hurried words, looking at him intently--
"In a big canoe with three men. I know everything. Lingard's
away. I come to save you. I know. . . . Almayer told me."
"Canoe!--Almayer--Lies. Told you--You!" stammered Willems in a
distracted manner. "Why you?--Told what?"
Words failed him. He stared at his wife, thinking with fear that
she--stupid woman--had been made a tool in some plan of treachery
. . . in some deadly plot.
She began to cry--
"Don't look at me like that, Peter. What have I done? I come to
beg--to beg--forgiveness. . . . Save--Lingard--danger."
He trembled with impatience, with hope, with fear. She looked at
him and sobbed out in a fresh outburst of grief--
"Oh! Peter. What's the matter?--Are you ill? . . . Oh! you look
so ill . . ."
He shook her violently into a terrified and wondering silence.
"How dare you!--I am well--perfectly well. . . . Where's that
boat? Will you tell me where that boat is--at last? The boat, I
say . . . You! . . ."
"You hurt me," she moaned.
He let her go, and, mastering her terror, she stood quivering and
looking at him with strange intensity. Then she made a movement
forward, but he lifted his finger, and she restrained herself
with a long sigh. He calmed down suddenly and surveyed her with
cold criticism, with the same appearance as when, in the old
days, he used to find fault with the household expenses. She
found a kind of fearful delight in this abrupt return into the
past, into her old subjection.
He stood outwardly collected now, and listened to her
disconnected story. Her words seemed to fall round him with the
distracting clatter of stunning hail. He caught the meaning here
and there, and straightway would lose himself in a tremendous
effort to shape out some intelligible theory of events. There
was a boat. A boat. A big boat that could take him to sea if
necessary. That much was clear. She brought it. Why did
Almayer lie to her so? Was it a plan to decoy him into some
ambush? Better that than hopeless solitude. She had money. The
men were ready to go anywhere . . . she said.
He interrupted her--
"Where are they now?"
"They are coming directly," she answered, tearfully. "Directly.
There are some fishing stakes near here--they said. They are
Again she was talking and sobbing together. She wanted to be
forgiven. Forgiven? What for? Ah! the scene in Macassar. As
if he had time to think of that! What did he care what she had
done months ago? He seemed to struggle in the toils of
complicated dreams where everything was impossible, yet a matter
of course, where the past took the aspects of the future and the
present lay heavy on his heart--seemed to take him by the throat
like the hand of an enemy. And while she begged, entreated,
kissed his hands, wept on his shoulder, adjured him in the name
of God, to forgive, to forget, to speak the word for which she
longed, to look at his boy, to believe in her sorrow and in her
devotion--his eyes, in the fascinated immobility of shining
pupils, looked far away, far beyond her, beyond the river, beyond
this land, through days, weeks, months; looked into liberty, into
the future, into his triumph . . . into the great possibility of
a startling revenge.
He felt a sudden desire to dance and shout. He shouted--
"After all, we shall meet again, Captain Lingard."
"Oh, no! No!" she cried, joining her hands.
He looked at her with surprise. He had forgotten she was there
till the break of her cry in the monotonous tones of her prayer
recalled him into that courtyard from the glorious turmoil of his
dreams. It was very strange to see her there--near him. He felt
almost affectionate towards her. After all, she came just in
time. Then he thought: That other one. I must get away without
a scene. Who knows; she may be dangerous! . . . And all at once
he felt he hated Aissa with an immense hatred that seemed to
choke him. He said to his wife--
"Wait a moment."
She, obedient, seemed to gulp down some words which wanted to
come out. He muttered: "Stay here," and disappeared round the
The water in the iron pan on the cooking fire boiled furiously,
belching out volumes of white steam that mixed with the thin
black thread of smoke. The old woman appeared to him through
this as if in a fog, squatting on her heels, impassive and weird.
Willems came up near and asked, "Where is she?"
The woman did not even lift her head, but answered at once,
readily, as though she had expected the question for a long time.
"While you were asleep under the tree, before the strange canoe
came, she went out of the house. I saw her look at you and pass
on with a great light in her eyes. A great light. And she went
towards the place where our master Lakamba had his fruit trees.
When we were many here. Many, many. Men with arms by their
side. Many . . . men. And talk . . . and songs . . . "
She went on like that, raving gently to herself for a long time
after Willems had left her.
Willems went back to his wife. He came up close to her and found
he had nothing to say. Now all his faculties were concentrated
upon his wish to avoid Aissa. She might stay all the morning in
that grove. Why did those rascally boatmen go? He had a
physical repugnance to set eyes on her. And somewhere, at the
very bottom of his heart, there was a fear of her. Why? What
could she do? Nothing on earth could stop him now. He felt
strong, reckless, pitiless, and superior to everything. He
wanted to preserve before his wife the lofty purity of his
character. He thought: She does not know. Almayer held his
tongue about Aissa. But if she finds out, I am lost. If it
hadn't been for the boy I would . . . free of both of them. . . .
The idea darted through his head. Not he! Married. . . . Swore
solemnly. No . . . sacred tie. . . . Looking on his wife, he
felt for the first time in his life something approaching
remorse. Remorse, arising from his conception of the awful
nature of an oath before the altar. . . . She mustn't find out.
. . . Oh, for that boat! He must run in and get his revolver.
Couldn't think of trusting himself unarmed with those Bajow
fellows. Get it now while she is away. Oh, for that boat! . . .
He dared not go to the river and hail. He thought: She might
hear me. . . . I'll go and get . . . cartridges . . . then will
be all ready . . . nothing else. No.
And while he stood meditating profoundly before he could make up
his mind to run to the house, Joanna pleaded, holding to his
arm--pleaded despairingly, broken-hearted, hopeless whenever she
glanced up at his face, which to her seemed to wear the aspect of
unforgiving rectitude, of virtuous severity, of merciless
justice. And she pleaded humbly--abashed before him, before the
unmoved appearance of the man she had wronged in defiance of
human and divine laws. He heard not a word of what she said till
she raised her voice in a final appeal--
". . . Don't you see I loved you always? They told me horrible
things about you. . . . My own mother! They told me--you have
been--you have been unfaithful to me, and I . . ."
"It's a damned lie!" shouted Willems, waking up for a moment into
"I know! I know--Be generous.--Think of my misery since you went
away--Oh! I could have torn my tongue out. . . . I will never
believe anybody--Look at the boy--Be merciful--I could never rest
till I found you. . . . Say--a word--one word. . ."
"What the devil do you want?" exclaimed Willems, looking towards
the river. "Where's that damned boat? Why did you let them go
away? You stupid!"
"Oh, Peter!--I know that in your heart you have forgiven me--You
are so generous--I want to hear you say so. . . . Tell me--do
"Yes! yes!" said Willems, impatiently. "I forgive you. Don't be
"Don't go away. Don't leave me alone here. Where is the danger?
I am so frightened. . . . Are you alone here? Sure? . . . Let
us go away!"
"That's sense," said Willems, still looking anxiously towards the
She sobbed gently, leaning on his arm.
"Let me go," he said.
He had seen above the steep bank the heads of three men glide
along smoothly. Then, where the shore shelved down to the
landing-place, appeared a big canoe which came slowly to land.
"Here they are," he went on, briskly. "I must get my revolver."
He made a few hurried paces towards the house, but seemed to
catch sight of something, turned short round and came back to his
wife. She stared at him, alarmed by the sudden change in his
face. He appeared much discomposed. He stammered a little as he
began to speak.
"Take the child. Walk down to the boat and tell them to drop it
out of sight, quick, behind the bushes. Do you hear? Quick! I
will come to you there directly. Hurry up!"
"Peter! What is it? I won't leave you. There is some danger in
this horrible place."
"Will you do what I tell you?" said Willems, in an irritable
"No! no! no! I won't leave you. I will not lose you again.
Tell me, what is it?"
From beyond the house came a faint voice singing. Willems shook
his wife by the shoulder.
"Do what I tell you! Run at once!"
She gripped his arm and clung to him desperately. He looked up to
heaven as if taking it to witness of that woman's infernal folly.
The song grew louder, then ceased suddenly, and Aissa appeared in
sight, walking slowly, her hands full of flowers.
She had turned the corner of the house, coming out into the full
sunshine, and the light seemed to leap upon her in a stream
brilliant, tender, and caressing, as if attracted by the radiant
happiness of her face. She had dressed herself for a festive
day, for the memorable day of his return to her, of his return to
an affection that would last for ever. The rays of the morning
sun were caught by the oval clasp of the embroidered belt that
held the silk sarong round her waist. The dazzling white stuff
of her body jacket was crossed by a bar of yellow and silver of
her scarf, and in the black hair twisted high on her small head
shone the round balls of gold pins amongst crimson blossoms and
white star-shaped flowers, with which she had crowned herself to
charm his eyes; those eyes that were henceforth to see nothing in
the world but her own resplendent image. And she moved slowly,
bending her face over the mass of pure white champakas and
jasmine pressed to her breast, in a dreamy intoxication of sweet
scents and of sweeter hopes.
She did not seem to see anything, stopped for a moment at the
foot of the plankway leading to the house, then, leaving her
high-heeled wooden sandals there, ascended the planks in a light
run; straight, graceful, flexible, and noiseless, as if she had
soared up to the door on invisible wings. Willems pushed his
wife roughly behind the tree, and made up his mind quickly for a
rush to the house, to grab his revolver and . . . Thoughts,
doubts, expedients seemed to boil in his brain. He had a
flashing vision of delivering a stunning blow, of tying up that
flower bedecked woman in the dark house--a vision of things done
swiftly with enraged haste--to save his prestige, his
superiority--something of immense importance. . . . He had not
made two steps when Joanna bounded after him, caught the back of
his ragged jacket, tore out a big piece, and instantly hooked
herself with both hands to the collar, nearly dragging him down
on his back. Although taken by surprise, he managed to keep his
feet. From behind she panted into his ear--
"That woman! Who's that woman? Ah! that's what those boatmen
were talking about. I heard them . . . heard them . . . heard .
. . in the night. They spoke about some woman. I dared not
understand. I would not ask . . . listen . . . believe! How
could I? Then it's true. No. Say no. . . . Who's that woman?"
He swayed, tugging forward. She jerked at him till the button
gave way, and then he slipped half out of his jacket and, turning
round, remained strangely motionless. His heart seemed to beat
in his throat. He choked--tried to speak--could not find any
words. He thought with fury: I will kill both of them.
For a second nothing moved about the courtyard in the great vivid
clearness of the day. Only down by the landing-place a
waringan-tree, all in a blaze of clustering red berries, seemed
alive with the stir of little birds that filled with the feverish
flutter of their feathers the tangle of overloaded branches.
Suddenly the variegated flock rose spinning in a soft whirr and
dispersed, slashing the sunlit haze with the sharp outlines of
stiffened wings. Mahmat and one of his brothers appeared coming
up from the landing-place, their lances in their hands, to look
for their passengers.
Aissa coming now empty-handed out of the house, caught sight of
the two armed men. In her surprise she emitted a faint cry,
vanished back and in a flash reappeared in the doorway with
Willems' revolver in her hand. To her the presence of any man
there could only have an ominous meaning. There was nothing in
the outer world but enemies. She and the man she loved were
alone, with nothing round them but menacing dangers. She did not
mind that, for if death came, no matter from what hand, they
would die together.
Her resolute eyes took in the courtyard in a circular glance.
She noticed that the two strangers had ceased to advance and now
were standing close together leaning on the polished shafts of
their weapons. The next moment she saw Willems, with his back
towards her, apparently struggling under the tree with some one.
She saw nothing distinctly, and, unhesitating, flew down the
plankway calling out: "I come!"
He heard her cry, and with an unexpected rush drove his wife
backwards to the seat. She fell on it; he jerked himself
altogether out of his jacket, and she covered her face with the
soiled rags. He put his lips close to her, asking--
"For the last time, will you take the child and go?"
She groaned behind the unclean ruins of his upper garment. She
mumbled something. He bent lower to hear. She was saying--
"I won't. Order that woman away. I can't look at her!"
He seemed to spit the words at her, then, making up his mind,
spun round to face Aissa. She was coming towards them slowly
now, with a look of unbounded amazement on her face. Then she
stopped and stared at him--who stood there, stripped to the
waist, bare-headed and sombre.
Some way off, Mahmat and his brother exchanged rapid words in
calm undertones. . . . This was the strong daughter of the holy
man who had died. The white man is very tall. There would be
three women and the child to take in the boat, besides that white
man who had the money. . . . The brother went away back to the
boat, and Mahmat remained looking on. He stood like a sentinel,
the leaf-shaped blade of his lance glinting above his head.
Willems spoke suddenly.
"Give me this," he said, stretching his hand towards the
Aissa stepped back. Her lips trembled. She said very low:
He nodded slightly. She shook her head thoughtfully, and a few
delicate petals of the flowers dying in her hair fell like big
drops of crimson and white at her feet.
"Did you know?" she whispered.
"No!" said Willems. "They sent for me."
"Tell them to depart. They are accursed. What is there between
them and you--and you who carry my life in your heart!"
Willems said nothing. He stood before her looking down on the
ground and repeating to himself: I must get that revolver away
from her, at once, at once. I can't think of trusting myself with
those men without firearms. I must have it.
She asked, after gazing in silence at Joanna, who was sobbing
"Who is she?"
"My wife," answered Willems, without looking up. "My wife
according to our white law, which comes from God!"
"Your law! Your God!" murmured Aissa, contemptuously.
"Give me this revolver," said Willems, in a peremptory tone. He
felt an unwillingness to close with her, to get it by force.
She took no notice and went on--
"Your law . . . or your lies? What am I to believe? I came--I
ran to defend you when I saw the strange men. You lied to me
with your lips, with your eyes. You crooked heart! . . . Ah!"
she added, after an abrupt pause. "She is the first! Am I then
to be a slave?"
"You may be what you like," said Willems, brutally. "I am
Her gaze was fastened on the blanket under which she had detected
a slight movement. She made a long stride towards it. Willems
turned half round. His legs seemed to him to be made of lead.
He felt faint and so weak that, for a moment, the fear of dying
there where he stood, before he could escape from sin and
disaster, passed through his mind in a wave of despair.
She lifted up one corner of the blanket, and when she saw the
sleeping child a sudden quick shudder shook her as though she had
seen something inexpressibly horrible. She looked at Louis
Willems with eyes fixed in an unbelieving and terrified stare.
Then her fingers opened slowly, and a shadow seemed to settle on
her face as if something obscure and fatal had come between her
and the sunshine. She stood looking down, absorbed, as though
she had watched at the bottom of a gloomy abyss the mournful
procession of her thoughts.
Willems did not move. All his faculties were concentrated upon
the idea of his release. And it was only then that the assurance
of it came to him with such force that he seemed to hear a loud
voice shouting in the heavens that all was over, that in another
five, ten minutes, he would step into another existence; that all
this, the woman, the madness, the sin, the regrets, all would go,
rush into the past, disappear, become as dust, as smoke, as
drifting clouds--as nothing! Yes! All would vanish in the
unappeasable past which would swallow up all--even the very
memory of his temptation and of his downfall. Nothing mattered.
He cared for nothing. He had forgotten Aissa, his wife, Lingard,
Hudig--everybody, in the rapid vision of his hopeful future.
After a while he heard Aissa saying--
"A child! A child! What have I done to be made to devour this
sorrow and this grief? And while your man-child and the mother
lived you told me there was nothing for you to remember in the
land from which you came! And I thought you could be mine. I
thought that I would . . ."
Her voice ceased in a broken murmur, and with it, in her heart,
seemed to die the greater and most precious hope of her new life.
She had hoped that in the future the frail arms of a child would
bind their two lives together in a bond which nothing on earth
could break, a bond of affection, of gratitude, of tender
respect. She the first--the only one! But in the instant she
saw the son of that other woman she felt herself removed into the
cold, the darkness, the silence of a solitude impenetrable and
immense--very far from him, beyond the possibility of any hope,
into an infinity of wrongs without any redress.
She strode nearer to Joanna. She felt towards that woman anger,
envy, jealousy. Before her she felt humiliated and enraged. She
seized the hanging sleeve of the jacket in which Joanna was
hiding her face and tore it out of her hands, exclaiming loudly--
"Let me see the face of her before whom I am only a servant and a
slave. Ya-wa! I see you!"
Her unexpected shout seemed to fill the sunlit space of cleared
grounds, rise high and run on far into the land over the
unstirring tree-tops of the forests. She stood in sudden
stillness, looking at Joanna with surprised contempt.
"A Sirani woman!" she said, slowly, in a tone of wonder.
Joanna rushed at Willems--clung to him, shrieking: "Defend me,
Peter! Defend me from that woman!"
"Be quiet. There is no danger," muttered Willems, thickly.
Aissa looked at them with scorn. "God is great! I sit in the
dust at your feet," she exclaimed jeeringly, joining her hands
above her head in a gesture of mock humility. "Before you I am
as nothing." She turned to Willems fiercely, opening her arms
wide. "What have you made of me?" she cried, "you lying child of
an accursed mother! What have you made of me? The slave of a
slave. Don't speak! Your words are worse than the poison of
snakes. A Sirani woman. A woman of a people despised by all."
She pointed her finger at Joanna, stepped back, and began to
"Make her stop, Peter!" screamed Joanna. "That heathen woman.
Heathen! Heathen! Beat her, Peter."
Willems caught sight of the revolver which Aissa had laid on the
seat near the child. He spoke in Dutch to his wife, without
moving his head.
"Snatch the boy--and my revolver there. See. Run to the boat.
I will keep her back. Now's the time."
Aissa came nearer. She stared at Joanna, while between the short
gusts of broken laughter she raved, fumbling distractedly at the
buckle of her belt.
"To her! To her--the mother of him who will speak of your
wisdom, of your courage. All to her. I have nothing. Nothing.
She tore the belt off and threw it at Joanna's feet. She flung
down with haste the armlets, the gold pins, the flowers; and the
long hair, released, fell scattered over her shoulders, framing
in its blackness the wild exaltation of her face.
"Drive her off, Peter. Drive off the heathen savage," persisted
Joanna. She seemed to have lost her head altogether. She
stamped, clinging to Willems' arm with both her hands.
"Look," cried Aissa. "Look at the mother of your son! She is
afraid. Why does she not go from before my face? Look at her.
She is ugly."
Joanna seemed to understand the scornful tone of the words. As
Aissa stepped back again nearer to the tree she let go her
husband's arm, rushed at her madly, slapped her face, then,
swerving round, darted at the child who, unnoticed, had been
wailing for some time, and, snatching him up, flew down to the
waterside, sending shriek after shriek in an access of insane
Willems made for the revolver. Aissa passed swiftly, giving him
an unexpected push that sent him staggering away from the tree.
She caught up the weapon, put it behind her back, and cried--
"You shall not have it. Go after her. Go to meet danger. . . .
Go to meet death. . . . Go unarmed. . . . Go with empty hands
and sweet words . . . as you came to me. . . . Go helpless and
lie to the forests, to the sea . . . to the death that waits for
you. . . ."
She ceased as if strangled. She saw in the horror of the passing
seconds the half-naked, wild-looking man before her; she heard
the faint shrillness of Joanna's insane shrieks for help
somewhere down by the riverside. The sunlight streamed on her,
on him, on the mute land, on the murmuring river--the gentle
brilliance of a serene morning that, to her, seemed traversed by
ghastly flashes of uncertain darkness. Hate filled the world,
filled the space between them--the hate of race, the hate of
hopeless diversity, the hate of blood; the hate against the man
born in the land of lies and of evil from which nothing but
misfortune comes to those who are not white. And as she stood,
maddened, she heard a whisper near her, the whisper of the dead
Omar's voice saying in her ear: "Kill! Kill!"
She cried, seeing him move--
"Do not come near me . . . or you die now! Go while I remember
yet . . . remember. . . ."
Willems pulled himself together for a struggle. He dared not go
unarmed. He made a long stride, and saw her raise the revolver.
He noticed that she had not cocked it, and said to himself that,
even if she did fire, she would surely miss. Go too high; it was
a stiff trigger. He made a step nearer--saw the long barrel
moving unsteadily at the end of her extended arm. He thought:
This is my time . . . He bent his knees slightly, throwing his
body forward, and took off with a long bound for a tearing rush.
He saw a burst of red flame before his eyes, and was deafened by
a report that seemed to him louder than a clap of thunder.
Something stopped him short, and he stood aspiring in his
nostrils the acrid smell of the blue smoke that drifted from
before his eyes like an immense cloud. . . . Missed, by Heaven!
. . . Thought so! . . . And he saw her very far off, throwing
her arms up, while the revolver, very small, lay on the ground
between them. . . . Missed! . . . He would go and pick it up
now. Never before did he understand, as in that second, the joy,
the triumphant delight of sunshine and of life. His mouth was
full of something salt and warm. He tried to cough; spat out. . .
. Who shrieks: In the name of God, he dies!--he dies!--Who
dies?--Must pick up--Night!--What? . . . Night already. . . .
* * * * * *
Many years afterwards Almayer was telling the story of the great
revolution in Sambir to a chance visitor from Europe. He was a
Roumanian, half naturalist, half orchid-hunter for commercial
purposes, who used to declare to everybody, in the first five
minutes of acquaintance, his intention of writing a scientific
book about tropical countries. On his way to the interior he had
quartered himself upon Almayer. He was a man of some education,
but he drank his gin neat, or only, at most, would squeeze the
juice of half a small lime into the raw spirit. He said it was
good for his health, and, with that medicine before him, he would
describe to the surprised Almayer the wonders of European
capitals; while Almayer, in exchange, bored him by expounding,
with gusto, his unfavourable opinions of Sambir's social and
political life. They talked far into the night, across the deal
table on the verandah, while, between them, clear-winged, small,
and flabby insects, dissatisfied with moonlight, streamed in and
perished in thousands round the smoky light of the evil-smelling
Almayer, his face flushed, was saying--
"Of course, I did not see that. I told you I was stuck in the
creek on account of father's--Captain Lingard's--susceptible
temper. I am sure I did it all for the best in trying to
facilitate the fellow's escape; but Captain Lingard was that kind
of man--you know--one couldn't argue with. Just before sunset
the water was high enough, and we got out of the creek. We got
to Lakamba's clearing about dark. All very quiet; I thought they
were gone, of course, and felt very glad. We walked up the
courtyard--saw a big heap of something lying in the middle. Out
of that she rose and rushed at us. By God. . . . You know those
stories of faithful dogs watching their masters' corpses . . .
don't let anybody approach . . . got to beat them off--and all
that. . . . Well, 'pon my word we had to beat her off. Had to!
She was like a fury. Wouldn't let us touch him. Dead--of
course. Should think so. Shot through the lung, on the left
side, rather high up, and at pretty close quarters too, for the
two holes were small. Bullet came out through the
shoulder-blade. After we had overpowered her--you can't imagine
how strong that woman was; it took three of us--we got the body
into the boat and shoved off. We thought she had fainted then,
but she got up and rushed into the water after us. Well, I let
her clamber in. What could I do? The river's full of
alligators. I will never forget that pull up-stream in the night
as long as I live. She sat in the bottom of the boat, holding
his head in her lap, and now and again wiping his face with her
hair. There was a lot of blood dried about his mouth and chin.
And for all the six hours of that journey she kept on whispering
tenderly to that corpse! . . . I had the mate of the schooner
with me. The man said afterwards that he wouldn't go through it
again--not for a handful of diamonds. And I believed him--I did.
It makes me shiver. Do you think he heard? No! I mean
somebody--something--heard? . . ."
"I am a materialist," declared the man of science, tilting the
bottle shakily over the emptied glass.
Almayer shook his head and went on--
"Nobody saw how it really happened but that man Mahmat. He
always said that he was no further off from them than two lengths
of his lance. It appears the two women rowed each other while
that Willems stood between them. Then Mahmat says that when
Joanna struck her and ran off, the other two seemed to become
suddenly mad together. They rushed here and there. Mahmat
says--those were his very words: 'I saw her standing holding the
pistol that fires many times and pointing it all over the
campong. I was afraid--lest she might shoot me, and jumped on
one side. Then I saw the white man coming at her swiftly. He
came like our master the tiger when he rushes out of the jungle
at the spears held by men. She did not take aim. The barrel of
her weapon went like this--from side to side, but in her eyes I
could see suddenly a great fear. There was only one shot. She
shrieked while the white man stood blinking his eyes and very
straight, till you could count slowly one, two, three; then he
coughed and fell on his face. The daughter of Omar shrieked
without drawing breath, till he fell. I went away then and left
silence behind me. These things did not concern me, and in my
boat there was that other woman who had promised me money. We
left directly, paying no attention to her cries. We are only
poor men--and had but a small reward for our trouble!' That's
what Mahmat said. Never varied. You ask him yourself. He's the
man you hired the boats from, for your journey up the river."
"The most rapacious thief I ever met!" exclaimed the traveller,
"Ah! He is a respectable man. His two brothers got themselves
speared--served them right. They went in for robbing Dyak
graves. Gold ornaments in them you know. Serve them right. But
he kept respectable and got on. Aye! Everybody got on--but I.
And all through that scoundrel who brought the Arabs here."
"De mortuis nil ni . . . num," muttered Almayer's guest.
"I wish you would speak English instead of jabbering in your own
language, which no one can understand," said Almayer, sulkily.
"Don't be angry," hiccoughed the other. "It's Latin, and it's
wisdom. It means: Don't waste your breath in abusing shadows.
No offence there. I like you. You have a quarrel with
Providence--so have I. I was meant to be a professor,
His head nodded. He sat grasping the glass. Almayer walked up
and down, then stopped suddenly.
"Yes, they all got on but I. Why? I am better than any of them.
Lakamba calls himself a Sultan, and when I go to see him on
business sends that one-eyed fiend of his--Babalatchi--to tell me
that the ruler is asleep; and shall sleep for a long time. And
that Babalatchi! He is the Shahbandar of the State--if you
please. Oh Lord! Shahbandar! The pig! A vagabond I wouldn't
let come up these steps when he first came here. . . . Look at
Abdulla now. He lives here because--he says--here he is away
from white men. But he has hundreds of thousands. Has a house
in Penang. Ships. What did he not have when he stole my trade
from me! He knocked everything here into a cocked hat, drove
father to gold-hunting--then to Europe, where he disappeared.
Fancy a man like Captain Lingard disappearing as though he had
been a common coolie. Friends of mine wrote to London asking
about him. Nobody ever heard of him there! Fancy! Never heard
of Captain Lingard!"
The learned gatherer of orchids lifted his head.
"He was a sen--sentimen--tal old buc--buccaneer," he stammered
out, "I like him. I'm sent--tal myself."
He winked slowly at Almayer, who laughed.
"Yes! I told you about that gravestone. Yes! Another hundred
and twenty dollars thrown away. Wish I had them now. He would
do it. And the inscription. Ha! ha! ha! 'Peter Willems,
Delivered by the Mercy of God from his Enemy.' What
enemy--unless Captain Lingard himself? And then it has no sense.
He was a great man--father was--but strange in many ways. . . .
You haven't seen the grave? On the top of that hill, there, on
the other side of the river. I must show you. We will go
"Not I!" said the other. "No interest--in the sun--too tiring. .
. . Unless you carry me there."
As a matter of fact he was carried there a few months afterwards,
and his was the second white man's grave in Sambir; but at
present he was alive if rather drunk. He asked abruptly--
"And the woman?"
"Oh! Lingard, of course, kept her and her ugly brat in Macassar.
Sinful waste of money--that! Devil only knows what became of them
since father went home. I had my daughter to look after. I
shall give you a word to Mrs. Vinck in Singapore when you go
back. You shall see my Nina there. Lucky man. She is beautiful,
and I hear so accomplished, so . . ."
"I have heard already twenty . . . a hundred times about your
daughter. What ab--about--that--that other one, Ai--ssa?"
"She! Oh! we kept her here. She was mad for a long time in a
quiet sort of way. Father thought a lot of her. He gave her a
house to live in, in my campong. She wandered about, speaking to
nobody unless she caught sight of Abdulla, when she would have a
fit of fury, and shriek and curse like anything. Very often she
would disappear--and then we all had to turn out and hunt for
her, because father would worry till she was brought back. Found
her in all kinds of places. Once in the abandoned campong of
Lakamba. Sometimes simply wandering in the bush. She had one
favourite spot we always made for at first. It was ten to one on
finding her there--a kind of a grassy glade on the banks of a
small brook. Why she preferred that place, I can't imagine! And
such a job to get her away from there. Had to drag her away by
main force. Then, as the time passed, she became quieter and
more settled, like. Still, all my people feared her greatly. It
was my Nina that tamed her. You see the child was naturally
fearless and used to have her own way, so she would go to her and
pull at her sarong, and order her about, as she did everybody.
Finally she, I verily believe, came to love the child. Nothing
could resist that little one--you know. She made a capital
nurse. Once when the little devil ran away from me and fell into
the river off the end of the jetty, she jumped in and pulled her
out in no time. I very nearly died of fright. Now of course she
lives with my serving girls, but does what she likes. As long as
I have a handful of rice or a piece of cotton in the store she
sha'n't want for anything. You have seen her. She brought in
the dinner with Ali."
"What! That doubled-up crone?"
"Ah!" said Almayer. "They age quickly here. And long foggy
nights spent in the bush will soon break the strongest backs--as
you will find out yourself soon."
"Dis . . . disgusting," growled the traveller.
He dozed off. Almayer stood by the balustrade looking out at the
bluish sheen of the moonlit night. The forests, unchanged and
sombre, seemed to hang over the water, listening to the unceasing
whisper of the great river; and above their dark wall the hill on
which Lingard had buried the body of his late prisoner rose in a
black, rounded mass, upon the silver paleness of the sky.
Almayer looked for a long time at the clean-cut outline of the
summit, as if trying to make out through darkness and distance
the shape of that expensive tombstone. When he turned round at
last he saw his guest sleeping, his arms on the table, his head
on his arms.
"Now, look here!" he shouted, slapping the table with the palm of
The naturalist woke up, and sat all in a heap, staring owlishly.
"Here!" went on Almayer, speaking very loud and thumping the
table, "I want to know. You, who say you have read all the
books, just tell me . . . why such infernal things are ever
allowed. Here I am! Done harm to nobody, lived an honest life .
. . and a scoundrel like that is born in Rotterdam or some such
place at the other end of the world somewhere, travels out here,
robs his employer, runs away from his wife, and ruins me and my
Nina--he ruined me, I tell you--and gets himself shot at last by
a poor miserable savage, that knows nothing at all about him
really. Where's the sense of all this? Where's your Providence?
Where's the good for anybody in all this? The world's a swindle!
A swindle! Why should I suffer? What have I done to be treated
He howled out his string of questions, and suddenly became
silent. The man who ought to have been a professor made a
tremendous effort to articulate distinctly--
"My dear fellow, don't--don't you see that the ba-bare fac--the
fact of your existence is off--offensive. . . . I--I like
you--like . . ."
He fell forward on the table, and ended his remarks by an
unexpected and prolonged snore.
Almayer shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the balustrade.
He drank his own trade gin very seldom, but when he did, a
ridiculously small quantity of the stuff could induce him to
assume a rebellious attitude towards the scheme of the universe.
And now, throwing his body over the rail, he shouted impudently
into the night, turning his face towards that far-off and
invisible slab of imported granite upon which Lingard had thought
fit to record God's mercy and Willems' escape.
"Father was wrong--wrong!" he yelled. "I want you to smart for
it. You must smart for it! Where are you, Willems? Hey? . . .
Hey? . . . Where there is no mercy for you--I hope!"
"Hope," repeated in a whispering echo the startled forests, the
river and the hills; and Almayer, who stood waiting, with a smile
of tipsy attention on his lips, heard no other answer.