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An Outcast of the Islands by Joseph Conrad

Part 3 out of 7

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Malay, in Dutch, and in English.
"Listen," said Lakamba, speaking with unsteady
lips, "he blasphemes his God. His speech is like the
raving of a mad dog. Can we hold him for ever? He
must be killed!"
"Fool!" muttered Babalatchi, looking up at Aissa,
who stood with set teeth, with gleaming eyes and
distended nostrils, yet obedient to the touch of his
restraining hand. "It is the third day, and I have
kept my promise," he said to her, speaking very low.
"Remember," he added warningly--"like the sea to
the thirsty! And now," he said aloud, releasing her
and stepping back, "go, fearless daughter, go!"
Like an arrow, rapid and silent she flew down the
enclosure, and disappeared through the gate of the
courtyard. Lakamba and Babalatchi looked after her.
They heard the renewed tumult, the girl's clear voice
calling out, "Let him go!" Then after a pause in
the din no longer than half the human breath the
name of Aissa rang in a shout loud, discordant, and
piercing, which sent through them an involuntary
shudder. Old Omar collapsed on his carpet and
moaned feebly; Lakamba stared with gloomy con-
tempt in the direction of the inhuman sound; but
Babalatchi, forcing a smile, pushed his distinguished
protector through the narrow gate in the stockade,
followed him, and closed it quickly.
The old woman, who had been most of the time
kneeling by the fire, now rose, glanced round fear-
fully and crouched hiding behind the tree. The
gate of the great courtyard flew open with a great
clatter before a frantic kick, and Willems darted in


carrying Aissa in his arms. He rushed up the enclosure
like a tornado, pressing the girl to his breast, her arms
round his neck, her head hanging back over his arm,
her eyes closed and her long hair nearly touching the
ground. They appeared for a second in the glare of
the fire, then, with immense strides, he dashed up the
planks and disappeared with his burden in the doorway
of the big house.
Inside and outside the enclosure there was silence.
Omar lay supporting himself on his elbow, his terrified
face with its closed eyes giving him the appearance of
a man tormented by a nightmare.
"What is it? Help! Help me to rise!" he called
out faintly.
The old hag, still crouching in the shadow, stared
with bleared eyes at the doorway of the big house, and
took no notice of his call. He listened for a while,
then his arm gave way, and, with a deep sigh of dis-
couragement, he let himself fall on the carpet.
The boughs of the tree nodded and trembled in the
unsteady currents of the light wind. A leaf fluttered
down slowly from some high branch and rested on the
ground, immobile, as if resting for ever, in the glow of
the fire; but soon it stirred, then soared suddenly, and
flew, spinning and turning before the breath of the
perfumed breeze, driven helplessly into the dark night
that had closed over the land.


FOR upwards of forty years Abdulla had walked in
the way of his Lord. Son of the rich Syed Selim bin
Sali, the great Mohammedan trader of the Straits, he
went forth at the age of seventeen on his first com-
mercial expedition, as his father's representative on
board a pilgrim ship chartered by the wealthy Arab
to convey a crowd of pious Malays to the Holy Shrine.
That was in the days when steam was not in those
seas--or, at least, not so much as now. The voyage
was long, and the young man's eyes were opened to
the wonders of many lands. Allah had made it his
fate to become a pilgrim very early in life. This was
a great favour of Heaven, and it could not have been
bestowed upon a man who prized it more, or who made
himself more worthy of it by the unswerving piety of
his heart and by the religious solemnity of his demean-
our. Later on it became clear that the book of his
destiny contained the programme of a wandering life.
He visited Bombay and Calcutta, looked in at the
Persian Gulf, beheld in due course the high and barren
coasts of the Gulf of Suez, and this was the limit of his
wanderings westward. He was then twenty-seven,
and the writing on his forehead decreed that the time
had come for him to return to the Straits and take from
his dying father's hands the many threads of a business
that was spread over all the Archipelago: from Sumatra
to New Guinea, from Batavia to Palawan. Very soon
his ability, his will--strong to obstinacy--his wisdom
beyond his years, caused him to be recognized as the



head of a family whose members and connections were
found in every part of those seas. An uncle here--a
brother there; a father-in-law in Batavia, another in
Palembang; husbands of numerous sisters; cousins in-
numerable scattered north, south, east, and west--in
every place where there was trade: the great family lay
like a network over the islands. They lent money to
princes, influenced the council-rooms, faced--if need
be--with peaceful intrepidity the white rulers who
held the land and the sea under the edge of sharp
swords; and they all paid great deference to Abdulla,
listened to his advice, entered into his plans--because
he was wise, pious, and fortunate.
He bore himself with the humility becoming a Be-
liever, who never forgets, even for one moment of
his waking life, that he is the servant of the Most
High. He was largely charitable because the chari-
table man is the friend of Allah, and when he walked
out of his house--built of stone, just outside the town
of Penang--on his way to his godowns in the port,
he had often to snatch his hand away sharply from
under the lips of men of his race and creed; and often
he had to murmur deprecating words, or even to rebuke
with severity those who attempted to touch his knees
with their finger-tips in gratitude or supplication. He
was very handsome, and carried his small head high
with meek gravity. His lofty brow, straight nose,
narrow, dark face with its chiselled delicacy of feature,
gave him an aristocratic appearance which proclaimed
his pure descent. His beard was trimmed close and to
a rounded point. His large brown eyes looked out
steadily with a sweetness that was belied by the expres-
sion of his thin-lipped mouth. His aspect was serene.
He had a belief in his own prosperity which nothing
could shake.


Restless, like all his people, he very seldom dwelt for
many days together in his splendid house in Penang.
Owner of ships, he was often on board one or another of
them, traversing in all directions the field of his opera-
tions. In every port he had a household--his own or
that of a relation--to hail his advent with demonstra-
tive joy. In every port there were rich and influential
men eager to see him, there was business to talk over,
there were important letters to read: an immense cor-
respondence, enclosed in silk envelopes--a correspon-
dence which had nothing to do with the infidels of
colonial post-offices, but came into his hands by devious,
yet safe, ways. It was left for him by taciturn nak-
hodas of native trading craft, or was delivered with pro-
found salaams by travel-stained and weary men who
would withdraw from his presence calling upon Allah
to bless the generous giver of splendid rewards. And
the news was always good, and all his attempts always
succeeded, and in his ears there rang always a chorus of
admiration, of gratitude, of humble entreaties.
A fortunate man. And his felicity was so complete
that the good genii, who ordered the stars at his birth,
had not neglected--by a refinement of benevolence
strange in such primitive beings--to provide him with
a desire difficult to attain, and with an enemy hard to
overcome. The envy of Lingard's political and com-
mercial successes, and the wish to get the best of him
in every way, became Abdulla's mania, the paramount
interest of his life, the salt of his existence.
For the last few months he had been receiving mys-
terious messages from Sambir urging him to deci-
sive action. He had found the river a couple of years
ago, and had been anchored more than once off that
estuary where the, till then, rapid Pantai, spreading
slowly over the lowlands, seems to hesitate, before it


flows gently through twenty outlets; over a maze of
mudflats, sandbanks and reefs, into the expectant sea.
He had never attempted the entrance, however, be-
cause men of his race, although brave and adventurous
travellers, lack the true seamanlike instincts, and he
was afraid of getting wrecked. He could not bear the
idea of the Rajah Laut being able to boast that Abdulla
bin Selim, like other and lesser men, had also come to
grief when trying to wrest his secret from him. Mean-
time he returned encouraging answers to his unknown
friends in Sambir, and waited for his opportunity in the
calm certitude of ultimate triumph.
Such was the man whom Lakamba and Babalatchi
expected to see for the first time on the night of Wil-
lems' return to Aissa. Babalatchi, who had been tor-
mented for three days by the fear of having over-
reached himself in his little plot, now, feeling sure of
his white man, felt lighthearted and happy as he super-
intended the preparations in the courtyard for Abdulla's
reception. Half-way between Lakamba's house and
the river a pile of dry wood was made ready for the
torch that would set fire to it at the moment of Abdulla's
landing. Between this and the house again there was,
ranged in a semicircle, a set of low bamboo frames,
and on those were piled all the carpets and cushions of
Lakamba's household. It had been decided that the
reception was to take place in the open air, and that it
should be made impressive by the great number of
Lakamba's retainers, who, clad in clean white, with
their red sarongs gathered round their waists, chopper
at side and lance in hand, were moving about the com-
pound or, gathering into small knots, discussed eagerly
the coming ceremony.
Two little fires burned brightly on the water's edge
on each side of the landing place. A small heap of


damar-gum torches lay by each, and between them
Babalatchi strolled backwards and forwards, stopping
often with his face to the river and his head on one side,
listening to the sounds that came from the darkness
over the water. There was no moon and the night was
very clear overhead, but, after the afternoon breeze
had expired in fitful puffs, the vapours hung thickening
over the glancing surface of the Pantai and clung to the
shore, hiding from view the middle of the stream.
A cry in the mist--then another--and, before Baba-
latchi could answer, two little canoes dashed up to the
landing-place, and two of the principal citizens of
Sambir, Daoud Sahamin and Hamet Bahassoen, who
had been confidentially invited to meet Abdulla,
landed quickly and after greeting Babalatchi walked
up the dark courtyard towards the house. The little
stir caused by their arrival soon subsided, and another
silent hour dragged its slow length while Babalatchi
tramped up and down between the fires, his face grow-
ing more anxious with every passing moment.
At last there was heard a loud hail from down the
river. At a call from Babalatchi men ran down to
the riverside and, snatching the torches, thrust them
into the fires, then waved them above their heads till
they burst into a flame. The smoke ascended in
thick, wispy streams, and hung in a ruddy cloud above
the glare that lit up the courtyard and flashed over the
water, showing three long canoes manned by many
paddlers lying a little off; the men in them lifting
their paddles on high and dipping them down together,
in an easy stroke that kept the small flotilla motion-
less in the strong current, exactly abreast of the landing-
place. A man stood up in the largest craft and called
"Syed Abdulla bin Selim is here!"


Babalatchi answered aloud in a formal tone--
"Allah gladdens our hearts! Come to the land!"
Abdulla landed first, steadying himself by the help
of Babalatchi's extended hand. In the short moment
of his passing from the boat to the shore they exchanged
sharp glances and a few rapid words.
"Who are you?"
"Babalatchi. The friend of Omar. The protected
of Lakamba."
"You wrote?"
"My words were written, O Giver of alms!"
And then Abdulla walked with composed face be-
tween the two lines of men holding torches, and met
Lakamba in front of the big fire that was crackling
itself up into a great blaze. For a moment they stood
with clasped hands invoking peace upon each other's
head, then Lakamba, still holding his honoured guest
by the hand, led him round the fire to the prepared
seats. Babalatchi followed close behind his protector.
Abdulla was accompanied by two Arabs. He, like his
companions, was dressed in a white robe of starched
muslin, which fell in stiff folds straight from the neck.
It was buttoned from the throat halfway down with a
close row of very small gold buttons; round the tight
sleeves there was a narrow braid of gold lace. On his
shaven head he wore a small skull-cap of plaited grass.
He was shod in patent leather slippers over his naked
feet. A rosary of heavy wooden beads hung by a round
turn from his right wrist. He sat down slowly in the
place of honour, and, dropping his slippers, tucked up
his legs under him decorously.
The improvised divan was arranged in a wide semi-
circle, of which the point most distant from the fire
--some ten yards--was also the nearest to Lakamba's
dwelling. As soon as the principal personages were


seated, the verandah of the house was filled silently by
the muffled-up forms of Lakamba's female belong-
ings. They crowded close to the rail and looked
down, whispering faintly. Below, the formal ex-
change of compliments went on for some time be-
tween Lakamba and Abdulla, who sat side by side.
Babalatchi squatted humbly at his protector's feet,
with nothing but a thin mat between himself and the
hard ground.
Then there was a pause. Abdulla glanced round in
an expectant manner, and after a while Babalatchi, who
had been sitting very still in a pensive attitude, seemed
to rouse himself with an effort, and began to speak in
gentle and persuasive tones. He described in flowing
sentences the first beginnings of Sambir, the dispute
of the present ruler, Patalolo, with the Sultan of Koti,
the consequent troubles ending with the rising of
Bugis settlers under the leadership of Lakamba. At
different points of the narrative he would turn for
confirmation to Sahamin and Bahassoen, who sat lis-
tening eagerly and assented together with a "Betul!
Betul! Right! Right!" ejaculated in a fervent under-
Warming up with his subject as the narrative pro-
ceeded, Babalatchi went on to relate the facts con-
nected with Lingard's action at the critical period of
those internal dissensions. He spoke in a restrained
voice still, but with a growing energy of indignation.
What was he, that man of fierce aspect, to keep all
the world away from them? Was he a government?
Who made him ruler? He took possession of Pata-
lolo's mind and made his heart hard; he put severe
words into his mouth and caused his hand to strike
right and left. That unbeliever kept the Faithful
panting under the weight of his senseless oppression.


They had to trade with him--accept such goods as
he would give--such credit as he would accord. And
he exacted payment every year . . .
"Very true!" exclaimed Sahamin and Bahassoen
Babalatchi glanced at them approvingly and turned
to Abdulla.
"Listen to those men, O Protector of the oppressed!"
he exclaimed. "What could we do? A man must
trade. There was nobody else."
Sahamin got up, staff in hand, and spoke to Abdulla
with ponderous courtesy, emphasizing his words by the
solemn flourishes of his right arm.
"It is so. We are weary of paying our debts to
that white man here, who is the son of the Rajah Laut.
That white man--may the grave of his mother be
defiled!--is not content to hold us all in his hand with a
cruel grasp. He seeks to cause our very death. He
trades with the Dyaks of the forest, who are no better
than monkeys. He buys from them guttah and rat-
tans--while we starve. Only two days ago I went to
him and said, 'Tuan Almayer'--even so; we must speak
politely to that friend of Satan--'Tuan Almayer, I have
such and such goods to sell. Will you buy?' And he
spoke thus--because those white men have no under-
standing of any courtesy--he spoke to me as if I was a
slave: 'Daoud, you are a lucky man'--remark, O First
amongst the Believers! that by those words he could
have brought misfortune on my head--'you are a lucky
man to have anything in these hard times. Bring your
goods quickly, and I shall receive them in payment of
what you owe me from last year.' And he laughed,
and struck me on the shoulder with his open hand.
May Jehannum be his lot!"
"We will fight him," said young Bahassoen, crisply.


"We shall fight if there is help and a leader. Tuan
Abdulla, will you come among us?"
Abdulla did not answer at once. His lips moved in
an inaudible whisper and the beads passed through his
fingers with a dry click. All waited in respectful
silence. "I shall come if my ship can enter this river,"
said Abdulla at last, in a solemn tone.
"It can, Tuan," exclaimed Babalatchi. "There is
a white man here who . . ."
"I want to see Omar el Badavi and that white man
you wrote about," interrupted Abdulla.
Babalatchi got on his feet quickly, and there was a
general move. The women on the verandah hurried
indoors, and from the crowd that had kept discreetly
in distant parts of the courtyard a couple of men ran
with armfuls of dry fuel, which they cast upon the
fire. One of them, at a sign from Babalatchi, ap-
proached and, after getting his orders, went towards
the little gate and entered Omar's enclosure. While
waiting for his return, Lakamba, Abdulla, and Baba-
latchi talked together in low tones. Sahamin sat by
himself chewing betel-nut sleepily with a slight and
indolent motion of his heavy jaw. Bahassoen, his
hand on the hilt of his short sword, strutted back-
wards and forwards in the full light of the fire, looking
very warlike and reckless; the envy and admi-
ration of Lakamba's retainers, who stood in groups
or flitted about noiselessly in the shadows of the
The messenger who had been sent to Omar came
back and stood at a distance, waiting till somebody
noticed him. Babalatchi beckoned him close.
"What are his words?" asked Babalatchi.
"He says that Syed Abdulla is welcome now," an-
swered the man.


Lakamba was speaking low to Abdulla, who listened
to him with deep interest.
". . . We could have eighty men if there was
need," he was saying--"eighty men in fourteen canoes.
The only thing we want is gunpowder . . ."
"Hai! there will be no fighting," broke in Baba-
latchi. "The fear of your name will be enough and the
terror of your coming."
"There may be powder too," muttered Abdulla
with great nonchalance, "if only the ship enters the
river safely."
"If the heart is stout the ship will be safe," said
Babalatchi. "We will go now and see Omar el Badavi
and the white man I have here."
Lakamba's dull eyes became animated suddenly.
"Take care, Tuan Abdulla," he said, "take care.
The behaviour of that unclean white madman is furious
in the extreme. He offered to strike . . ."
"On my head, you are safe, O Giver of alms!" inter-
rupted Babalatchi.
Abdulla looked from one to the other, and the faintest
flicker of a passing smile disturbed for a moment his
grave composure. He turned to Babalatchi, and said
with decision--
"Let us go."
"This way, O Uplifter of our hearts!" rattled on
Babalatchi, with fussy deference. "Only a very few
paces and you shall behold Omar the brave, and a
white man of great strength and cunning. This way."
He made a sign for Lakamba to remain behind,
and with respectful touches on the elbow steered Ab-
dulla towards the gate at the upper end of the court-
yard. As they walked on slowly, followed by the two
Arabs, he kept on talking in a rapid undertone to the
great man, who never looked at him once, although


appearing to listen with flattering attention. When
near the gate Babalatchi moved forward and stopped,
facing Abdulla, with his hand on the fastenings.
"You shall see them both," he said. "All my
words about them are true. When I saw him enslaved
by the one of whom I spoke, I knew he would be soft
in my hand like the mud of the river. At first he an-
swered my talk with bad words of his own language,
after the manner of white men. Afterwards, when
listening to the voice he loved, he hesitated. He hesi-
tated for many days--too many. I, knowing him well,
made Omar withdraw here with his . . . house-
hold. Then this red-faced man raged for three days
like a black panther that is hungry. And this evening,
this very evening, he came. I have him here. He is
in the grasp of one with a merciless heart. I have him
here," ended Babalatchi, exultingly tapping the up-
right of the gate with his hand.
"That is good," murmured Abdulla.
"And he shall guide your ship and lead in the fight--
if fight there be," went on Babalatchi. "If there is any
killing--let him be the slayer. You should give him
arms--a short gun that fires many times."
"Yes, by Allah!" assented Abdulla, with slow
"And you will have to open your hand, O First
amongst the generous!" continued Babalatchi. "You
will have to satisfy the rapacity of a white man, and
also of one who is not a man, and therefore greedy of
"They shall be satisfied," said Abdulla; "but . . ."
He hesitated, looking down on the ground and
stroking his beard, while Babalatchi waited, anxious,
with parted lips. After a short time he spoke again
jerkily in an indistinct whisper, so that Babalatchi had


to turn his head to catch the words. "Yes. But
Omar is the son of my father's uncle . . . and all
belonging to him are of the Faith . . . while that
man is an unbeliever. It is most unseemly . . .
very unseemly. He cannot live under my shadow.
Not that dog. Penitence! I take refuge with my
God," he mumbled rapidly. "How can he live under
my eyes with that woman, who is of the Faith? Scan-
dal! O abomination!"
He finished with a rush and drew a long breath,
then added dubiously--
"And when that man has done all we want, what
is to be done with him?"
They stood close together, meditative and silent,
their eyes roaming idly over the courtyard. The big
bonfire burned brightly, and a wavering splash of
light lay on the dark earth at their feet, while the lazy
smoke wreathed itself slowly in gleaming coils amongst
the black boughs of the trees. They could see La-
kamba, who had returned to his place, sitting hunched
up spiritlessly on the cushions, and Sahamin, who had
got on his feet again and appeared to be talking to him
with dignified animation. Men in twos or threes came
out of the shadows into the light, strolling slowly, and
passed again into the shadows, their faces turned to each
other, their arms moving in restrained gestures. Bahas-
soen, his head proudly thrown back, his ornaments,
embroideries, and sword-hilt flashing in the light, circled
steadily round the fire like a planet round the sun. A
cool whiff of damp air came from the darkness of the
riverside; it made Abdulla and Babalatchi shiver, and
woke them up from their abstraction.
"Open the gate and go first," said Abdulla; "there
is no danger?"
"On my life, no!" answered Babalatchi, lifting the


rattan ring. "He is all peace and content, like a thirsty
man who has drunk water after many days."
He swung the gate wide, made a few paces into the
gloom of the enclosure, and retraced his steps suddenly.
"He may be made useful in many ways," he whis-
pered to Abdulla, who had stopped short, seeing him
come back.
"O Sin! O Temptation!" sighed out Abdulla,
faintly. "Our refuge is with the Most High. Can
I feed this infidel for ever and for ever?" he added,
"No," breathed out Babalatchi. "No! Not for
ever. Only while he serves your designs, O Dispenser
of Allah's gifts! When the time comes--and your
order . . ."
He sidled close to Abdulla, and brushed with a
delicate touch the hand that hung down listlessly,
holding the prayer-beads.
"I am your slave and your offering," he murmured,
in a distinct and polite tone, into Abdulla's ear. "When
your wisdom speaks, there may be found a little poison
that will not lie. Who knows?"


BABALATCHI saw Abdulla pass through the low and
narrow entrance into the darkness of Omar's hut;
heard them exchange the usual greetings and the
distinguished visitor's grave voice asking: "There is
no misfortune--please God--but the sight?" and then,
becoming aware of the disapproving looks of the two
Arabs who had accompanied Abdulla, he followed their
example and fell back out of earshot. He did it unwill-
ingly, although he did not ignore that what was going
to happen in there was now absolutely beyond his con-
trol. He roamed irresolutely about for awhile, and at
last wandered with careless steps towards the fire,
which had been moved, from under the tree, close to the
hut and a little to windward of its entrance. He
squatted on his heels and began playing pensively with
live embers, as was his habit when engrossed in thought,
withdrawing his hand sharply and shaking it above his
head when he burnt his fingers in a fit of deeper abstrac-
tion. Sitting there he could hear the murmur of the
talk inside the hut, and he could distinguish the voices
but not the words. Abdulla spoke in deep tones, and
now and then this flowing monotone was interrupted
by a querulous exclamation, a weak moan or a plaintive
quaver of the old man. Yes. It was annoying not
to be able to make out what they were saying, thought
Babalatchi, as he sat gazing fixedly at the unsteady
glow of the fire. But it will be right. All will be right.
Abdulla inspired him with confidence. He came up
fully to his expectation. From the very first moment



when he set his eye on him he felt sure that this man--
whom he had known by reputation only--was very reso-
lute. Perhaps too resolute. Perhaps he would want to
grasp too much later on. A shadow flitted over Baba-
latchi's face. On the eve of the accomplishment of
his desires he felt the bitter taste of that drop of doubt
which is mixed with the sweetness of every success.
When, hearing footsteps on the verandah of the big
house, he lifted his head, the shadow had passed away
and on his face there was an expression of watchful
alertness. Willems was coming down the plankway,
into the courtyard. The light within trickled through
the cracks of the badly joined walls of the house, and
in the illuminated doorway appeared the moving form
of Aissa. She also passed into the night outside and
disappeared from view. Babalatchi wondered where
she had got to, and for the moment forgot the approach
of Willems. The voice of the white man speaking
roughly above his head made him jump to his feet as
if impelled upwards by a powerful spring.
"Where's Abdulla?"
Babalatchi waved his hand towards the hut and stood
listening intently. The voices within had ceased, then
recommenced again. He shot an oblique glance at
Willems, whose indistinct form towered above the glow
of dying embers.
"Make up this fire," said Willems, abruptly. "I
want to see your face."
With obliging alacrity Babalatchi put some dry
brushwood on the coals from a handy pile, keeping
all the time a watchful eye on Willems. When he
straightened himself up his hand wandered almost
involuntarily towards his left side to feel the handle of
a kriss amongst the folds of his sarong, but he tried to
look unconcerned under the angry stare.


"You are in good health, please God?" he mur-
"Yes!" answered Willems, with an unexpected loud-
ness that caused Babalatchi to start nervously. "Yes!
. . . Health! . . . You . . ."
He made a long stride and dropped both his hands on
the Malay's shoulders. In the powerful grip Babalat-
chi swayed to and fro limply, but his face was as peaceful
as when he sat--a little while ago--dreaming by the
fire. With a final vicious jerk Willems let go suddenly,
and turning away on his heel stretched his hands over
the fire. Babalatchi stumbled backwards, recovered
himself, and wriggled his shoulders laboriously.
"Tse! Tse! Tse!" he clicked, deprecatingly. After
a short silence he went on with accentuated admiration:
"What a man it is! What a strong man! A man like
that"--he concluded, in a tone of meditative wonder--
"a man like that could upset mountains--mountains!"
He gazed hopefully for a while at Willems' broad
shoulders, and continued, addressing the inimical back,
in a low and persuasive voice--
"But why be angry with me? With me who think
only of your good? Did I not give her refuge, in my
own house? Yes, Tuan! This is my own house. I
will let you have it without any recompense because
she must have a shelter. Therefore you and she shall
live here. Who can know a woman's mind? And
such a woman! If she wanted to go away from that
other place, who am I--to say no! I am Omar's
servant. I said: 'Gladden my heart by taking my
house.' Did I say right?"
"I'll tell you something," said Willems, without
changing his position; "if she takes a fancy to go away
from this place it is you who shall suffer. I will wring
your neck."


"When the heart is full of love there is no room in it
for justice," recommenced Babalatchi, with unmoved
and persistent softness. "Why slay me? You know,
Tuan, what she wants. A splendid destiny is her desire
--as of all women. You have been wronged and cast
out by your people. She knows that. But you are
brave, you are strong--you are a man; and, Tuan--
I am older than you--you are in her hand. Such
is the fate of strong men. And she is of noble birth
and cannot live like a slave. You know her--and you
are in her hand. You are like a snared bird, because
of your strength. And--remember I am a man that
has seen much--submit, Tuan! Submit! . . . Or
else . . ."
He drawled out the last words in a hesitating manner
and broke off his sentence. Still stretching his hands
in turns towards the blaze and without moving his
head, Willems gave a short, lugubrious laugh, and
"Or else what?"
"She may go away again. Who knows?" finished
Babalatchi, in a gentle and insinuating tone.
This time Willems spun round sharply. Babalatchi
stepped back.
"If she does it will be the worse for you," said Wil-
lems, in a menacing voice. "It will be your doing,
and I . . ."
Babalatchi spoke, from beyond the circle of light,
with calm disdain.
"Hai--ya! I have heard before. If she goes--
then I die. Good! Will that bring her back do you
think--Tuan? If it is my doing it shall be well done,
O white man! and--who knows--you will have to
live without her."
Willems gasped and started back like a confident


wayfarer who, pursuing a path he thinks safe, should
see just in time a bottomless chasm under his feet.
Babalatchi came into the light and approached Willems
sideways, with his head thrown back and a little on
one side so as to bring his only eye to bear full on the
countenance of the tall white man.
"You threaten me," said Willems, indistinctly.
"I, Tuan!" exclaimed Babalatchi, with a slight
suspicion of irony in the affected surprise of his tone.
"I, Tuan? Who spoke of death? Was it I? No!
I spoke of life only. Only of life. Of a long life for a
lonely man!"
They stood with the fire between them, both silent,
both aware, each in his own way, of the importance of
the passing minutes. Babalatchi's fatalism gave him
only an insignificant relief in his suspense, because no
fatalism can kill the thought of the future, the desire
of success, the pain of waiting for the disclosure of the
immutable decrees of Heaven. Fatalism is born of the
fear of failure, for we all believe that we carry success
in our own hands, and we suspect that our hands are
weak. Babalatchi looked at Willems and congratu-
lated himself upon his ability to manage that white man.
There was a pilot for Abdulla--a victim to appease
Lingard's anger in case of any mishap. He would take
good care to put him forward in everything. In any
case let the white men fight it out amongst themselves.
They were fools. He hated them--the strong fools--
and knew that for his righteous wisdom was reserved the
safe triumph.
Willems measured dismally the depth of his degrada-
tion. He--a white man, the admired of white men,
was held by those miserable savages whose tool he was
about to become. He felt for them all the hate of his
race, of his morality, of his intelligence. He looked


upon himself with dismay and pity. She had him. He
had heard of such things. He had heard of women
who . . . He would never believe such stories.
. . . Yet they were true. But his own captivity
seemed more complete, terrible, and final--without the
hope of any redemption. He wondered at the wicked-
ness of Providence that had made him what he was;
that, worse still, permitted such a creature as Almayer
to live. He had done his duty by going to him. Why
did he not understand? All men were fools. He gave
him his chance. The fellow did not see it. It was
hard, very hard on himself--Willems. He wanted to
take her from amongst her own people. That's why
he had condescended to go to Almayer. He examined
himself. With a sinking heart he thought that really
he could not--somehow--live without her. It was
terrible and sweet. He remembered the first days.
Her appearance, her face, her smile, her eyes, her
words. A savage woman! Yet he perceived that he
could think of nothing else but of the three days of their
separation, of the few hours since their reunion. Very
well. If he could not take her away, then he would go
to her. . . . He had, for a moment, a wicked
pleasure in the thought that what he had done could
not be undone. He had given himself up. He felt
proud of it. He was ready to face anything, do any-
thing. He cared for nothing, for nobody. He thought
himself very fearless, but as a matter of fact he was
only drunk; drunk with the poison of passionate mem-
He stretched his hands over the fire, looked round
and called out--
She must have been near, for she appeared at once
within the light of the fire. The upper part of her


body was wrapped up in the thick folds of a head
covering which was pulled down over her brow, and
one end of it thrown across from shoulder to shoulder
hid the lower part of her face. Only her eyes were
visible--sombre and gleaming like a starry night.
Willems, looking at this strange, muffled figure, felt
exasperated, amazed and helpless. The ex-confiden-
tial clerk of the rich Hudig would hug to his breast
settled conceptions of respectable conduct. He sought
refuge within his ideas of propriety from the dismal
mangroves, from the darkness of the forests and of the
heathen souls of the savages that were his masters.
She looked like an animated package of cheap cotton
goods! It made him furious. She had disguised
herself so because a man of her race was near! He
told her not to do it, and she did not obey. Would
his ideas ever change so as to agree with her own no-
tions of what was becoming, proper and respectable?
He was really afraid they would, in time. It seemed to
him awful. She would never change! This manifesta-
tion of her sense of proprieties was another sign of their
hopeless diversity; something like another step down-
wards for him. She was too different from him. He
was so civilized! It struck him suddenly that they
had nothing in common--not a thought, not a feeling;
he could not make clear to her the simplest motive of
any act of his . . . and he could not live without
The courageous man who stood facing Babalatchi
gasped unexpectedly with a gasp that was half a groan.
This little matter of her veiling herself against his wish
acted upon him like a disclosure of some great disaster.
It increased his contempt for himself as the slave of a
passion he had always derided, as the man unable to
assert his will. This will, all his sensations, his per-


sonality--all this seemed to be lost in the abominable
desire, in the priceless promise of that woman. He was
not, of course, able to discern clearly the causes of his
misery; but there are none so ignorant as not to know
suffering, none so simple as not to feel and suffer from
the shock of warring impulses. The ignorant must feel
and suffer from their complexity as well as the wisest;
but to them the pain of struggle and defeat appears
strange, mysterious, remediable and unjust. He stood
watching her, watching himself. He tingled with rage
from head to foot, as if he had been struck in the face.
Suddenly he laughed; but his laugh was like a distorted
echo of some insincere mirth very far away.
From the other side of the fire Babalatchi spoke
"Here is Tuan Abdulla."


DIRECTLY on stepping outside Omar's hut Abdulla
caught sight of Willems. He expected, of course, to
see a white man, but not that white man, whom he
knew so well. Everybody who traded in the islands,
and who had any dealings with Hudig, knew Willems.
For the last two years of his stay in Macassar the con-
fidential clerk had been managing all the local trade of
the house under a very slight supervision only on the
part of the master. So everybody knew Willems,
Abdulla amongst others--but he was ignorant of Wil-
lems' disgrace. As a matter of fact the thing had been
kept very quiet--so quiet that a good many people in
Macassar were expecting Willems' return there, sup-
posing him to be absent on some confidential mission.
Abdulla, in his surprise, hesitated on the threshold.
He had prepared himself to see some seaman--some
old officer of Lingard's; a common man--perhaps diffi-
cult to deal with, but still no match for him. Instead, he
saw himself confronted by an individual whose reputa-
tion for sagacity in business was well known to
him. How did he get here, and why? Abdulla, re-
covering from his surprise, advanced in a digni-
fied manner towards the fire, keeping his eyes fixed
steadily on Willems. When within two paces from
Willems he stopped and lifted his right hand in grave
salutation. Willems nodded slightly and spoke after
a while.
"We know each other, Tuan Abdulla," he said, with
an assumption of easy indifference.



"We have traded together," answered Abdulla,
solemnly, "but it was far from here."
"And we may trade here also," said Willems.
"The place does not matter. It is the open mind
and the true heart that are required in business."
"Very true. My heart is as open as my mind. I
will tell you why I am here."
"What need is there? In leaving home one learns
life. You travel. Travelling is victory! You shall
return with much wisdom."
"I shall never return," interrupted Willems. "I
have done with my people. I am a man without
brothers. Injustice destroys fidelity."
Abdulla expressed his surprise by elevating his
eyebrows. At the same time he made a vague gesture
with his arm that could be taken as an equivalent of
an approving and conciliating "just so!"
Till then the Arab had not taken any notice of
Aissa, who stood by the fire, but now she spoke in
the interval of silence following Willems' declaration.
In a voice that was much deadened by her wrappings
she addressed Abdulla in a few words of greeting, calling
him a kinsman. Abdulla glanced at her swiftly for a
second, and then, with perfect good breeding, fixed his
eyes on the ground. She put out towards him her hand,
covered with a corner of her face-veil, and he took it,
pressed it twice, and dropping it turned towards Willems.
She looked at the two men searchingly, then backed
away and seemed to melt suddenly into the night.
"I know what you came for, Tuan Abdulla," said
Willems; "I have been told by that man there." He
nodded towards Babalatchi, then went on slowly, "It
will be a difficult thing."
"Allah makes everything easy," interjected Baba-
latchi, piously, from a distance.


The two men turned quickly and stood looking at
him thoughtfully, as if in deep consideration of the
truth of that proposition. Under their sustained gaze
Babalatchi experienced an unwonted feeling of shy-
ness, and dared not approach nearer. At last Willems
moved slightly, Abdulla followed readily, and they
both walked down the courtyard, their voices dying
away in the darkness. Soon they were heard return-
ing, and the voices grew distinct as their forms came
out of the gloom. By the fire they wheeled again, and
Babalatchi caught a few words. Willems was saying--
"I have been at sea with him many years when
young. I have used my knowledge to observe the way
into the river when coming in, this time."
Abdulla assented in general terms
"In the variety of knowledge there is safety," he
said; and then they passed out of earshot.
Babalatchi ran to the tree and took up his position
in the solid blackness under its branches, leaning
against the trunk. There he was about midway be-
tween the fire and the other limit of the two men's
walk. They passed him close. Abdulla slim, very
straight, his head high, and his hands hanging before
him and twisting mechanically the string of beads;
Willems tall, broad, looking bigger and stronger in
contrast to the slight white figure by the side of which
he strolled carelessly, taking one step to the other's
two; his big arms in constant motion as he gesticulated
vehemently, bending forward to look Abdulla in the
They passed and repassed close to Babalatchi some
half a dozen times, and, whenever they were between
him and the fire, he could see them plain enough.
Sometimes they would stop short, Willems speaking
emphatically, Abdulla listening with rigid attention.


then, when the other had ceased, bending his head
slightly as if consenting to some demand, or admitting
some statement. Now and then Babalatchi caught a
word here and there, a fragment of a sentence, a loud
exclamation. Impelled by curiosity he crept to the
very edge of the black shadow under the tree. They
were nearing him, and he heard Willems say--
"You will pay that money as soon as I come on
board. That I must have."
He could not catch Abdulla's reply. When they
went past again, Willems was saying--
"My life is in your hand anyway. The boat that
brings me on board your ship shall take the money to
Omar. You must have it ready in a sealed bag."
Again they were out of hearing, but instead of
coming back they stopped by the fire facing each other.
Willems moved his arm, shook his hand on high talking
all the time, then brought it down jerkily--stamped his
foot. A short period of immobility ensued. Babalat-
chi, gazing intently, saw Abdulla's lips move almost
imperceptibly. Suddenly Willems seized the Arab's
passive hand and shook it. Babalatchi drew the long
breath of relieved suspense. The conference was over.
All well, apparently.
He ventured now to approach the two men, who
saw him and waited in silence. Willems had retired
within himself already, and wore a look of grim in-
difference. Abdulla moved away a step or two. Baba-
latchi looked at him inquisitively.
"I go now," said Abdulla, "and shall wait for you
outside the river, Tuan Willems, till the second sun-
set. You have only one word, I know."
"Only one word," repeated Willems.
Abdulla and Babalatchi walked together down the
enclosure, leaving the white man alone by the fire.


The two Arabs who had come with Abdulla preceded
them and passed at once through the little gate into
the light and the murmur of voices of the principal
courtyard, but Babalatchi and Abdulla stopped on this
side of it. Abdulla said--
"It is well. We have spoken of many things. He
"When?" asked Babalatchi, eagerly.
"On the second day from this. I have promised
every thing. I mean to keep much."
"Your hand is always open, O Most Generous
amongst Believers! You will not forget your servant
who called you here. Have I not spoken the truth?
She has made roast meat of his heart."
With a horizontal sweep of his arm Abdulla seemed
to push away that last statement, and said slowly,
with much meaning--
"He must be perfectly safe; do you understand?
Perfectly safe--as if he was amongst his own people--
till . . ."
"Till when?" whispered Babalatchi.
"Till I speak," said Abdulla. "As to Omar." He
hesitated for a moment, then went on very low: "He
is very old."
"Hai-ya! Old and sick," murmured Babalatchi,
with sudden melancholy.
"He wanted me to kill that white man. He begged
me to have him killed at once," said Abdulla, con-
temptuously, moving again towards the gate.
"He is impatient, like those who feel death near
them," exclaimed Babalatchi, apologetically.
"Omar shall dwell with me," went on Abdulla,
"when . . . But no matter. Remember! The
white man must be safe."
He lives in your shadow," answered Babalatchi,


solemnly. "It is enough!" He touched his fore-
head and fell back to let Abdulla go first.
And now they are back in the courtyard where-
from, at their appearance, listlessness vanishes, and all
the faces become alert and interested once more. La-
kamba approaches his guest, but looks at Babalatchi,
who reassures him by a confident nod. Lakamba
clumsily attempts a smile, and looking, with natural
and ineradicable sulkiness, from under his eyebrows
at the man whom he wants to honour, asks whether
he would condescend to visit the place of sitting down
and take food. Or perhaps he would prefer to give
himself up to repose? The house is his, and what is in
it, and those many men that stand afar watching the
interview are his. Syed Abdulla presses his host's hand
to his breast, and informs him in a confidential murmur
that his habits are ascetic and his temperament inclines
to melancholy. No rest; no food; no use whatever for
those many men who are his. Syed Abdulla is im-
patient to be gone. Lakamba is sorrowful but polite,
in his hesitating, gloomy way. Tuan Abdulla must
have fresh boatmen, and many, to shorten the dark and
fatiguing road. Hai-ya! There! Boats!
By the riverside indistinct forms leap into a noisy
and disorderly activity. There are cries, orders, banter,
abuse. Torches blaze sending out much more smoke
than light, and in their red glare Babalatchi comes up
to say that the boats are ready.
Through that lurid glare Syed Abdulla, in his long
white gown, seems to glide fantastically, like a dignified
apparition attended by two inferior shades, and stands
for a moment at the landing-place to take leave of his
host and ally--whom he loves. Syed Abdulla says so
distinctly before embarking, and takes his seat in the
middle of the canoe under a small canopy of blue calico


stretched on four sticks. Before and behind Syed
Abdulla, the men squatting by the gunwales hold high
the blades of their paddles in readiness for a dip, all
together. Ready? Not yet. Hold on all! Syed
Abdulla speaks again, while Lakamba and Babalatchi
stand close on the bank to hear his words. His words
are encouraging. Before the sun rises for the second
time they shall meet, and Syed Abdulla's ship shall
float on the waters of this river--at last! Lakamba and
Babalatchi have no doubt--if Allah wills. They are
in the hands of the Compassionate. No doubt. And so
is Syed Abdulla, the great trader who does not know
what the word failure means; and so is the white man
--the smartest business man in the islands--who is lying
now by Omar's fire with his head on Aissa's lap, while
Syed Abdulla flies down the muddy river with current
and paddles between the sombre walls of the sleeping
forest; on his way to the clear and open sea where the
Lord of the Isles (formerly of Greenock, but con-
demned, sold, and registered now as of Penang) waits
for its owner, and swings erratically at anchor in the
currents of the capricious tide, under the crumbling
red cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah.

For some time Lakamba, Sahamin, and Bahassoen
looked silently into the humid darkness which had
swallowed the big canoe that carried Abdulla and his
unvarying good fortune. Then the two guests broke
into a talk expressive of their joyful anticipations.
The venerable Sahamin, as became his advanced age,
found his delight in speculation as to the activities of a
rather remote future. He would buy praus, he would
send expeditions up the river, he would enlarge his
trade, and, backed by Abdulla's capital, he would grow
rich in a very few years. Very few. Meantime it


would be a good thing to interview Almayer to-morrow
and, profiting by the last day of the hated man's pros-
perity, obtain some goods from him on credit. Saha-
min thought it could be done by skilful wheedling.
After all, that son of Satan was a fool, and the thing
was worth doing, because the coming revolution would
wipe all debts out. Sahamin did not mind imparting
that idea to his companions, with much senile chuckling,
while they strolled together from the riverside towards
the residence. The bull-necked Lakamba, listening
with pouted lips without the sign of a smile, without a
gleam in his dull, bloodshot eyes, shuffled slowly across
the courtyard between his two guests. But suddenly
Bahassoen broke in upon the old man's prattle with
the generous enthusiasm of his youth. . . . Trad-
ing was very good. But was the change that would
make them happy effected yet? The white man should
be despoiled with a strong hand! . . . He grew
excited, spoke very loud, and his further discourse,
delivered with his hand on the hilt of his sword, dealt
incoherently with the honourable topics of throat-
cutting, fire-raising, and with the far-famed valour of
his ancestors.
Babalatchi remained behind, alone with the great-
ness of his conceptions. The sagacious statesman of
Sambir sent a scornful glance after his noble pro-
tector and his noble protector's friends, and then stood
meditating about that future which to the others seemed
so assured. Not so to Babalatchi, who paid the penalty
of his wisdom by a vague sense of insecurity that kept
sleep at arm's length from his tired body. When he
thought at last of leaving the waterside, it was only to
strike a path for himself and to creep along the fences,
avoiding the middle of the courtyard where small
fires glimmered and winked as though the sinister


darkness there had reflected the stars of the serene
heaven. He slunk past the wicket-gate of Omar's
enclosure, and crept on patiently along the light bamboo
palisade till he was stopped by the angle where it
joined the heavy stockade of Lakamba's private
ground. Standing there, he could look over the fence
and see Omar's hut and the fire before its door. He
could also see the shadow of two human beings sitting
between him and the red glow. A man and a woman.
The sight seemed to inspire the careworn sage with a
frivolous desire to sing. It could hardly be called a
song; it was more in the nature of a recitative without
any rhythm, delivered rapidly but distinctly in a croak-
ing and unsteady voice; and if Babalatchi considered it
a song, then it was a song with a purpose and, perhaps
for that reason, artistically defective. It had all the
imperfections of unskilful improvisation and its subject
was gruesome. It told a tale of shipwreck and of thirst,
and of one brother killing another for the sake of a
gourd of water. A repulsive story which might have
had a purpose but possessed no moral whatever. Yet
it must have pleased Babalatchi for he repeated it
twice, the second time even in louder tones than at
first, causing a disturbance amongst the white rice-
birds and the wild fruit-pigeons which roosted on the
boughs of the big tree growing in Omar's compound.
There was in the thick foliage above the singer's head
a confused beating of wings, sleepy remarks in bird-
language, a sharp stir of leaves. The forms by the fire
moved; the shadow of the woman altered its shape,
and Babalatchi's song was cut short abruptly by a fit
of soft and persistent coughing. He did not try to
resume his efforts after that interruption, but went away
stealthily to seek--if not sleep--then, at least, repose.


AS SOON as Abdulla and his companions had left the
enclosure, Aissa approached Willems and stood by his
side. He took no notice of her expectant attitude till
she touched him gently, when he turned furiously
upon her and, tearing off her face-veil, trampled upon
it as though it had been a mortal enemy. She looked
at him with the faint smile of patient curiosity, with
the puzzled interest of ignorance watching the running
of a complicated piece of machinery. After he had
exhausted his rage, he stood again severe and unbend-
ing looking down at the fire, but the touch of her fingers
at the nape of his neck effaced instantly the hard lines
round his mouth; his eyes wavered uneasily; his lips
trembled slightly. Starting with the unresisting rapid-
ity of a particle of iron--which, quiescent one moment,
leaps in the next to a powerful magnet--he moved for-
ward, caught her in his arms and pressed her violently to
his breast. He released her as suddenly, and she stum-
bled a little, stepped back, breathed quickly through her
parted lips, and said in a tone of pleased reproof--
"O Fool-man! And if you had killed me in your
strong arms what would you have done?"
"You want to live . . . and to run away from
me again," he said gently. "Tell me--do you?"
She moved towards him with very short steps, her
head a little on one side, hands on hips, with a slight
balancing of her body: an approach more tantalizing
than an escape. He looked on, eager--charmed. She
spoke jestingly.



"What am I to say to a man who has been away
three days from me? Three!" she repeated, holding
up playfully three fingers before Willems' eyes. He
snatched at the hand, but she was on her guard and
whisked it behind her back.
"No!" she said. "I cannot be caught. But I
will come. I am coming myself because I like. Do
not move. Do not touch me with your mighty hands,
O child!"
As she spoke she made a step nearer, then another.
Willems did not stir. Pressing against him she stood
on tiptoe to look into his eyes, and her own seemed to
grow bigger, glistening and tender, appealing and
promising. With that look she drew the man's soul
away from him through his immobile pupils, and from
Willems' features the spark of reason vanished under
her gaze and was replaced by an appearance of physical
well-being, an ecstasy of the senses which had taken
possession of his rigid body; an ecstasy that drove out
regrets, hesitation and doubt, and proclaimed its ter-
rible work by an appalling aspect of idiotic beatitude.
He never stirred a limb, hardly breathed, but stood in
stiff immobility, absorbing the delight of her close con-
tact by every pore.
"Closer! Closer!" he murmured.
Slowly she raised her arms, put them over his shoul-
ders, and clasping her hands at the back of his neck,
swung off the full length of her arms. Her head fell
back, the eyelids dropped slightly, and her thick hair
hung straight down: a mass of ebony touched by the
red gleams of the fire. He stood unyielding under the
strain, as solid and motionless as one of the big trees
of the surrounding forests; and his eyes looked at the
modelling of her chin, at the outline of her neck, at the
swelling lines of her bosom, with the famished and con-


centrated expression of a starving man looking at food.
She drew herself up to him and rubbed her head against
his cheek slowly and gently. He sighed. She, with
her hands still on his shoulders, glanced up at the placid
stars and said--
"The night is half gone. We shall finish it by this
fire. By this fire you shall tell me all: your words and
Syed Abdulla's words; and listening to you I shall for-
get the three days--because I am good. Tell me--am
I good?"
He said "Yes" dreamily, and she ran off towards
the big house.
When she came back, balancing a roll of fine mats
on her head, he had replenished the fire and was ready
to help her in arranging a couch on the side of it nearest
to the hut. She sank down with a quick but gracefully
controlled movement, and he threw himself full length
with impatient haste, as if he wished to forestall some-
body. She took his head on her knees, and when he
felt her hands touching his face, her fingers playing with
his hair, he had an expression of being taken possession
of; he experienced a sense of peace, of rest, of happiness,
and of soothing delight. His hands strayed upwards
about her neck, and he drew her down so as to have her
face above his. Then he whispered--"I wish I could
die like this--now!" She looked at him with her big
sombre eyes, in which there was no responsive light.
His thought was so remote from her understanding that
she let the words pass by unnoticed, like the breath of
the wind, like the flight of a cloud. Woman though she
was, she could not comprehend, in her simplicity, the
tremendous compliment of that speech, that whisper
of deadly happiness, so sincere, so spontaneous, coming
so straight from the heart--like every corruption. It
was the voice of madness, of a delirious peace, of happi-


ness that is infamous, cowardly, and so exquisite that
the debased mind refuses to contemplate its termina-
tion: for to the victims of such happiness the moment
of its ceasing is the beginning afresh of that torture
which is its price.
With her brows slightly knitted in the determined
preoccupation of her own desires, she said--
"Now tell me all. All the words spoken between
you and Syed Abdulla."
Tell what? What words? Her voice recalled back
the consciousness that had departed under her touch,
and he became aware of the passing minutes every one
of which was like a reproach; of those minutes that fall-
ing, slow, reluctant, irresistible into the past, marked
his footsteps on the way to perdition. Not that he had
any conviction about it, any notion of the possible end-
ing on that painful road. It was an indistinct feeling,
a threat of suffering like the confused warning of coming
disease, an inarticulate monition of evil made up of fear
and pleasure, of resignation and of revolt. He was
ashamed of his state of mind. After all, what was he
afraid of? Were those scruples? Why that hesitation
to think, to speak of what he intended doing? Scruples
were for imbeciles. His clear duty was to make himself
happy. Did he ever take an oath of fidelity to Lin-
gard? No. Well then--he would not let any interest
of that old fool stand between Willems and Willems'
happiness. Happiness? Was he not, perchance, on a
false track? Happiness meant money. Much money.
At least he had always thought so till he had experienced
those new sensations which . . .
Aissa's question, repeated impatiently, interrupted
his musings, and looking up at her face shining above
him in the dim light of the fire he stretched his limbs
luxuriously and obedient to her desire, he spoke slowly


and hardly above his breath. She, with her head close
to his lips, listened absorbed, interested, in attentive
immobility. The many noises of the great courtyard
were hushed up gradually by the sleep that stilled all
voices and closed all eyes. Then somebody droned
out a song with a nasal drawl at the end of every verse.
He stirred. She put her hand suddenly on his lips and
sat upright. There was a feeble coughing, a rustle of
leaves, and then a complete silence took possession of
the land; a silence cold, mournful, profound; more like
death than peace; more hard to bear than the fiercest
tumult. As soon as she removed her hand he hastened
to speak, so insupportable to him was that stillness
perfect and absolute in which his thoughts seemed to
ring with the loudness of shouts.
"Who was there making that noise?" he asked.
"I do not know. He is gone now," she answered,
hastily. "Tell me, you will not return to your people;
not without me. Not with me. Do you promise?"
"I have promised already. I have no people of my
own. Have I not told you, that you are everybody to
"Ah, yes," she said, slowly, "but I like to hear you
say that again--every day, and every night, whenever
I ask; and never to be angry because I ask. I am afraid
of white women who are shameless and have fierce eyes."
She scanned his features close for a moment and added:
"Are they very beautiful? They must be."
"I do not know," he whispered, thoughtfully. "And
if I ever did know, looking at you I have forgotten."
"Forgotten! And for three days and two nights you
have forgotten me also! Why? Why were you angry
with me when I spoke at first of Tuan Abdulla, in the
days when we lived beside the brook? You remembered
somebody then. Somebody in the land whence you


come. Your tongue is false. You are white indeed,
and your heart is full of deception. I know it. And
yet I cannot help believing you when you talk of your
love for me. But I am afraid!"
He felt flattered and annoyed by her vehemence,
and said--
"Well, I am with you now. I did come back. And
it was you that went away."
"When you have helped Abdulla against the Rajah
Laut, who is the first of white men, I shall not be afraid
any more," she whispered.
"You must believe what I say when I tell you that
there never was another woman; that there is nothing
for me to regret, and nothing but my enemies to re-
"Where do you come from?" she said, impulsive
and inconsequent, in a passionate whisper. "What
is that land beyond the great sea from which you come?
A land of lies and of evil from which nothing but mis-
fortune ever comes to us--who are not white. Did you
not at first ask me to go there with you? That is why
I went away."
"I shall never ask you again."
"And there is no woman waiting for you there?"
"No!" said Willems, firmly.
She bent over him. Her lips hovered above his face
and her long hair brushed his cheeks.
"You taught me the love of your people which is
of the Devil," she murmured, and bending still lower,
she said faintly, "Like this?"
"Yes, like this!" he answered very low, in a voice
that trembled slightly with eagerness; and she pressed
suddenly her lips to his while he closed his eyes in an
ecstasy of delight.
There was a long interval of silence. She stroked


his head with gentle touches, and he lay dreamily,
perfectly happy but for the annoyance of an indistinct
vision of a well-known figure; a man going away from
him and diminishing in a long perspective of fantastic
trees, whose every leaf was an eye looking after that
man, who walked away growing smaller, but never
getting out of sight for all his steady progress. He felt
a desire to see him vanish, a hurried impatience of his
disappearance, and he watched for it with a careful
and irksome effort. There was something familiar
about that figure. Why! Himself! He gave a sud-
den start and opened his eyes, quivering with the emo-
tion of that quick return from so far, of finding himself
back by the fire with the rapidity of a flash of lightning.
It had been half a dream; he had slumbered in her arms
for a few seconds. Only the beginning of a dream--
nothing more. But it was some time before he re-
covered from the shock of seeing himself go away so
deliberately, so definitely, so unguardedly; and going
away--where? Now, if he had not woke up in time he
would never have come back again from there; from
whatever place he was going to. He felt indignant.
It was like an evasion, like a prisoner breaking his
parole--that thing slinking off stealthily while he slept.
He was very indignant, and was also astonished at the
absurdity of his own emotions.
She felt him tremble, and murmuring tender words,
pressed his head to her breast. Again he felt very
peaceful with a peace that was as complete as the
silence round them. He muttered--
"You are tired, Aissa."
She answered so low that it was like a sigh shaped
into faint words.
"I shall watch your sleep, O child!"
He lay very quiet, and listened to the beating of her


heart. That sound, light, rapid, persistent, and steady;
her very life beating against his cheek, gave him a clear
perception of secure ownership, strengthened his belief
in his possession of that human being, was like an as-
surance of the vague felicity of the future. There were
no regrets, no doubts, no hesitation now. Had there
ever been? All that seemed far away, ages ago--as
unreal and pale as the fading memory of some delirium.
All the anguish, suffering, strife of the past days; the
humiliation and anger of his downfall; all that was an
infamous nightmare, a thing born in sleep to be for-
gotten and leave no trace--and true life was this: this
dreamy immobility with his head against her heart
that beat so steadily.
He was broad awake now, with that tingling wake-
fulness of the tired body which succeeds to the few
refreshing seconds of irresistible sleep, and his wide-
open eyes looked absently at the doorway of Omar's
hut. The reed walls glistened in the light of the fire,
the smoke of which, thin and blue, drifted slanting in
a succession of rings and spirals across the doorway,
whose empty blackness seemed to him impenetrable
and enigmatical like a curtain hiding vast spaces full
of unexpected surprises. This was only his fancy,
but it was absorbing enough to make him accept the
sudden appearance of a head, coming out of the gloom,
as part of his idle fantasy or as the beginning of another
short dream, of another vagary of his overtired brain.
A face with drooping eyelids, old, thin, and yellow,
above the scattered white of a long beard that touched
the earth. A head without a body, only a foot above
the ground, turning slightly from side to side on the
edge of the circle of light as if to catch the radiating
heat of the fire on either cheek in succession. He
watched it in passive amazement, growing distinct, as


if coming nearer to him, and the confused outlines of
a body crawling on all fours came out, creeping inch
by inch towards the fire, with a silent and all but
imperceptible movement. He was astounded at the
appearance of that blind head dragging that crippled
body behind, without a sound, without a change in
the composure of the sightless face, which was plain
one second, blurred the next in the play of the light
that drew it to itself steadily. A mute face with a kriss
between its lips. This was no dream. Omar's face.
But why? What was he after?
He was too indolent in the happy languor of the
moment to answer the question. It darted through
his brain and passed out, leaving him free to listen
again to the beating of her heart; to that precious and
delicate sound which filled the quiet immensity of the
night. Glancing upwards he saw the motionless head
of the woman looking down at him in a tender gleam
of liquid white between the long eyelashes, whose
shadow rested on the soft curve of her cheek; and
under the caress of that look, the uneasy wonder and
the obscure fear of that apparition, crouching and
creeping in turns towards the fire that was its guide,
were lost--were drowned in the quietude of all his
senses, as pain is drowned in the flood of drowsy serenity
that follows upon a dose of opium.
He altered the position of his head by ever so little,
and now could see easily that apparition which he had
seen a minute before and had nearly forgotten already.
It had moved closer, gliding and noiseless like the
shadow of some nightmare, and now it was there,
very near, motionless and still as if listening; one hand
and one knee advanced; the neck stretched out and
the head turned full towards the fire. He could see
the emaciated face, the skin shiny over the prominent


bones, the black shadows of the hollow temples and
sunken cheeks, and the two patches of blackness over
the eyes, over those eyes that were dead and could not
see. What was the impulse which drove out this
blind cripple into the night to creep and crawl towards
that fire? He looked at him, fascinated, but the face,
with its shifting lights and shadows, let out nothing,
closed and impenetrable like a walled door.
Omar raised himself to a kneeling posture and sank
on his heels, with his hands hanging down before him.
Willems, looking out of his dreamy numbness, could
see plainly the kriss between the thin lips, a bar across
the face; the handle on one side where the polished
wood caught a red gleam from the fire and the thin
line of the blade running to a dull black point on the
other. He felt an inward shock, which left his body
passive in Aissa's embrace, but filled his breast with a
tumult of powerless fear; and he perceived suddenly
that it was his own death that was groping towards
him; that it was the hate of himself and the hate of
her love for him which drove this helpless wreck of a
once brilliant and resolute pirate, to attempt a des-
perate deed that would be the glorious and supreme
consolation of an unhappy old age. And while he
looked, paralyzed with dread, at the father who had
resumed his cautious advance--blind like fate, per-
sistent like destiny--he listened with greedy eagerness
to the heart of the daughter beating light, rapid, and
steady against his head.
He was in the grip of horrible fear; of a fear whose
cold hand robs its victim of all will and of all power;
of all wish to escape, to resist, or to move; which
destroys hope and despair alike, and holds the empty
and useless carcass as if in a vise under the coming
stroke. It was not the fear of death--he had faced


danger before--it was not even the fear of that par-
ticular form of death. It was not the fear of the end,
for he knew that the end would not come then. A
movement, a leap, a shout would save him from the
feeble hand of the blind old man, from that hand that
even now was, with cautious sweeps along the ground,
feeling for his body in the darkness. It was the un-
reasoning fear of this glimpse into the unknown things,
into those motives, impulses, desires he had ignored,
but that had lived in the breasts of despised men, close
by his side, and were revealed to him for a second,
to be hidden again behind the black mists of doubt
and deception. It was not death that frightened him:
it was the horror of bewildered life where he could
understand nothing and nobody round him; where
he could guide, control, comprehend nothing and no
one--not even himself.
He felt a touch on his side. That contact, lighter
than the caress of a mother's hand on the cheek of a
sleeping child, had for him the force of a crushing
blow. Omar had crept close, and now, kneeling above
him, held the kriss in one hand while the other skimmed
over his jacket up towards his breast in gentle touches;
but the blind face, still turned to the heat of the fire,
was set and immovable in its aspect of stony indif-
ference to things it could not hope to see. With an
effort Willems took his eyes off the deathlike mask
and turned them up to Aissa's head. She sat motion-
less as if she had been part of the sleeping earth, then
suddenly he saw her big sombre eyes open out wide in a
piercing stare and felt the convulsive pressure of her
hands pinning his arms along his body. A second
dragged itself out, slow and bitter, like a day of mourn-
ing; a second full of regret and grief for that faith in her
which took its flight from the shattered rums of his


trust. She was holding him! She too! He felt her
heart give a great leap, his head slipped down on her
knees, he closed his eyes and there was nothing. Noth-
ing! It was as if she had died; as though her heart had
leaped out into the night, abandoning him, defenceless
and alone, in an empty world.
His head struck the ground heavily as she flung him
aside in her sudden rush. He lay as if stunned, face
up and, daring not move, did not see the struggle,
but heard the piercing shriek of mad fear, her low
angry words; another shriek dying out in a moan.
When he got up at last he looked at Aissa kneeling
over her father, he saw her bent back in the effort
of holding him down, Omar's contorted limbs, a hand
thrown up above her head and her quick movement
grasping the wrist. He made an impulsive step for-
ward, but she turned a wild face to him and called
out over her shoulder--
"Keep back! Do not come near! Do not. . . ."
And he stopped short, his arms hanging lifelessly
by his side, as if those words had changed him into
stone. She was afraid of his possible violence, but in
the unsettling of all his convictions he was struck
with the frightful thought that she preferred to kill
her father all by herself; and the last stage of their
struggle, at which he looked as though a red fog had
filled his eyes, loomed up with an unnatural ferocity,
with a sinister meaning; like something monstrous
and depraved, forcing its complicity upon him under
the cover of that awful night. He was horrified and
grateful; drawn irresistibly to her--and ready to run
away. He could not move at first--then he did not
want to stir. He wanted to see what would happen.
He saw her lift, with a tremendous effort, the appar-
ently lifeless body into the hut, and remained stand-


ing, after they disappeared, with the vivid image in
his eyes of that head swaying on her shoulder, the
lower jaw hanging down, collapsed, passive, meaning-
less, like the head of a corpse.
Then after a while he heard her voice speaking
inside, harshly, with an agitated abruptness of tone;
and in answer there were groans and broken murmurs
of exhaustion. She spoke louder. He heard her saying
violently--"No! No! Never!"
And again a plaintive murmur of entreaty as of some
one begging for a supreme favour, with a last breath.
Then she said--
"Never! I would sooner strike it into my own
She came out, stood panting for a short moment
in the doorway, and then stepped into the firelight.
Behind her, through the darkness came the sound of
words calling the vengeance of heaven on her head,
rising higher, shrill, strained, repeating the curse over
and over again--till the voice cracked in a passionate
shriek that died out into hoarse muttering ending with
a deep and prolonged sigh. She stood facing Willems,
one hand behind her back, the other raised in a gesture
compelling attention, and she listened in that attitude
till all was still inside the hut. Then she made another
step forward and her hand dropped slowly.
"Nothing but misfortune," she whispered, absently,
to herself. "Nothing but misfortune to us who are
not white." The anger and excitement died out of
her face, and she looked straight at Willems with an
intense and mournful gaze.
He recovered his senses and his power of speech
with a sudden start.
"Aissa," he exclaimed, and the words broke out
through his lips with hurried nervousness. "Aissa!


How can I live here? Trust me. Believe in me. Let
us go away from here. Go very far away! Very far;
you and I!"
He did not stop to ask himself whether he could
escape, and how, and where. He was carried away
by the flood of hate, disgust, and contempt of a white
man for that blood which is not his blood, for that
race which is not his race; for the brown skins; for
the hearts false like the sea, blacker than night. This
feeling of repulsion overmastered his reason in a clear
conviction of the impossibility for him to live with
her people. He urged her passionately to fly with
him because out of all that abhorred crowd he wanted
this one woman, but wanted her away from them,
away from that race of slaves and cut-throats from
which she sprang. He wanted her for himself--far
from everybody, in some safe and dumb solitude. And
as he spoke his anger and contempt rose, his hate be-
came almost fear; and his desire of her grew immense,
burning, illogical and merciless; crying to him through
all his senses; louder than his hate, stronger than his
fear, deeper than his contempt--irresistible and certain
like death itself.
Standing at a little distance, just within the light--
but on the threshold of that darkness from which she
had come--she listened, one hand still behind her
back, the other arm stretched out with the hand half
open as if to catch the fleeting words that rang around
her, passionate, menacing, imploring, but all tinged
with the anguish of his suffering, all hurried by the
impatience that gnawed his breast. And while she
listened she felt a slowing down of her heart-beats
as the meaning of his appeal grew clearer before her
indignant eyes, as she saw with rage and pain the
edifice of her love, her own work, crumble slowly to


pieces, destroyed by that man's fears, by that man's
falseness. Her memory recalled the days by the
brook when she had listened to other words--to other
thoughts--to promises and to pleadings for other
things, which came from that man's lips at the bidding
of her look or her smile, at the nod of her head, at the
whisper of her lips. Was there then in his heart some-
thing else than her image, other desires than the desires
of her love, other fears than the fear of losing her? How
could that be? Had she grown ugly or old in a mo-
ment? She was appalled, surprised and angry with the
anger of unexpected humiliation; and her eyes looked
fixedly, sombre and steady, at that man born in the land
of violence and of evil wherefrom nothing but mis-
fortune comes to those who are not white. Instead
of thinking of her caresses, instead of forgetting all
the world in her embrace, he was thinking yet of
his people; of that people that steals every land, mas-
ters every sea, that knows no mercy and no truth--
knows nothing but its own strength. O man of strong
arm and of false heart! Go with him to a far country,
be lost in the throng of cold eyes and false hearts--
lose him there! Never! He was mad--mad with fear;
but he should not escape her! She would keep him here
a slave and a master; here where he was alone with her;
where he must live for her--or die. She had a right to
his love which was of her making, to the love that was
in him now, while he spoke those words without sense.
She must put between him and other white men a
barrier of hate. He must not only stay, but he must
also keep his promise to Abdulla, the fulfilment of
which would make her safe.
"Aissa, let us go! With you by my side I would
attack them with my naked hands. Or no! To-
morrow we shall be outside, on board Abdulla's ship.


You shall come with me and then I could . . . If
the ship went ashore by some chance, then we could
steal a canoe and escape in the confusion. . . .
You are not afraid of the sea . . . of the sea that
would give me freedom . . ."
He was approaching her gradually with extended
arms, while he pleaded ardently in incoherent words
that ran over and tripped each other in the extreme
eagerness of his speech. She stepped back, keeping
her distance, her eyes on his face, watching on it the
play of his doubts and of his hopes with a piercing
gaze, that seemed to search out the innermost recesses
of his thought; and it was as if she had drawn slowly
the darkness round her, wrapping herself in its un-
dulating folds that made her indistinct and vague.
He followed her step by step till at last they both
stopped, facing each other under the big tree of the
enclosure. The solitary exile of the forests, great,
motionless and solemn in his abandonment, left alone
by the life of ages that had been pushed away from
him by those pigmies that crept at his foot, towered
high and straight above their heads. He seemed to
look on, dispassionate and imposing, in his lonely
greatness, spreading his branches wide in a gesture
of lofty protection, as if to hide them in the sombre
shelter of innumerable leaves; as if moved by the
disdainful compassion of the strong, by the scornful
pity of an aged giant, to screen this struggle of two
human hearts from the cold scrutiny of glittering
The last cry of his appeal to her mercy rose loud,
vibrated under the sombre canopy, darted among the
boughs startling the white birds that slept wing to
wing--and died without an echo, strangled in the
dense mass of unstirring leaves. He could not see


her face, but he heard her sighs and the distracted
murmur of indistinct words. Then, as he listened
holding his breath, she exclaimed suddenly--
"Have you heard him? He has cursed me because
I love you. You brought me suffering and strife--
and his curse. And now you want to take me far
away where I would lose you, lose my life; because
your love is my life now. What else is there? Do
not move," she cried violently, as he stirred a little--
"do not speak! Take this! Sleep in peace!"
He saw a shadowy movement of her arm. Some-
thing whizzed past and struck the ground behind
him, close to the fire. Instinctively he turned round
to look at it. A kriss without its sheath lay by the
embers; a sinuous dark object, looking like something
that had been alive and was now crushed, dead and
very inoffensive; a black wavy outline very distinct
and still in the dull red glow. Without thinking
he moved to pick it up, stooping with the sad and
humble movement of a beggar gathering the alms flung
into the dust of the roadside. Was this the answer
to his pleading, to the hot and living words that came
from his heart? Was this the answer thrown at him
like an insult, that thing made of wood and iron, in-
significant and venomous, fragile and deadly? He held
it by the blade and looked at the handle stupidly for a
moment before he let it fall again at his feet; and when
he turned round he faced only the night:--the night
immense, profound and quiet; a sea of darkness in
which she had disappeared without leaving a trace.
He moved forward with uncertain steps, putting out
both his hands before him with the anguish of a man
blinded suddenly.
"Aissa!" he cried--"come to me at once."
He peered and listened, but saw nothing, heard


nothing. After a while the solid blackness seemed to
wave before his eyes like a curtain disclosing move-
ments but hiding forms, and he heard light and hurried
footsteps, then the short clatter of the gate leading
to Lakamba's private enclosure. He sprang forward
and brought up against the rough timber in time to
hear the words, "Quick! Quick!" and the sound of
the wooden bar dropped on the other side, securing the
gate. With his arms thrown up, the palms against the
paling, he slid down in a heap on the ground.
"Aissa," he said, pleadingly, pressing his lips to a
chink between the stakes. "Aissa, do you hear me?
Come back! I will do what you want, give you all
you desire--if I have to set the whole Sambir on fire
and put that fire out with blood. Only come back.
Now! At once! Are you there? Do you hear me?
On the other side there were startled whispers of
feminine voices; a frightened little laugh suddenly
interrupted; some woman's admiring murmur--"This
is brave talk!" Then after a short silence Aissa cried--
"Sleep in peace--for the time of your going is near.
Now I am afraid of you. Afraid of your fear. When
you return with Tuan Abdulla you shall be great.
You will find me here. And there will be nothing but
love. Nothing else!--Always!--Till we die!"
He listened to the shuffle of footsteps going away,
and staggered to his feet, mute with the excess of his
passionate anger against that being so savage and so
charming; loathing her, himself, everybody he had
ever known; the earth, the sky, the very air he drew
into his oppressed chest; loathing it because it made him
live, loathing her because she made him suffer. But
he could not leave that gate through which she had
passed. He wandered a little way off, then swerved


round, came back and fell down again by the stockade
only to rise suddenly in another attempt to break away
from the spell that held him, that brought him back
there, dumb, obedient and furious. And under the im-
mobilized gesture of lofty protection in the branches
outspread wide above his head, under the high branches
where white birds slept wing to wing in the shelter of
countless leaves, he tossed like a grain of dust in a whirl-
wind--sinking and rising--round and round--always
near that gate. All through the languid stillness of
that night he fought with the impalpable; he fought
with the shadows, with the darkness, with the silence.
He fought without a sound, striking futile blows, dash-
ing from side to side; obstinate, hopeless, and always
beaten back; like a man bewitched within the invisible
sweep of a magic circle.

[page intentionally blank]


[page intentionally blank]


"YES! Cat, dog, anything that can scratch or bite;
as long as it is harmful enough and mangy enough.
A sick tiger would make you happy--of all things.
A half-dead tiger that you could weep over and palm
upon some poor devil in your power, to tend and
nurse for you. Never mind the consequences--to the
poor devil. Let him be mangled or eaten up, of course!
You haven't any pity to spare for the victims of your
infernal charity. Not you! Your tender heart bleeds
only for what is poisonous and deadly. I curse the
day when you set your benevolent eyes on him. I
curse it . . ."
"Now then! Now then!" growled Lingard in his
moustache. Almayer, who had talked himself up to
the choking point, drew a long breath and went on--
"Yes! It has been always so. Always. As far
back as I can remember. Don't you recollect? What
about that half-starved dog you brought on board in
Bankok in your arms. In your arms by . . . !
It went mad next day and bit the serang. You don't
mean to say you have forgotten? The best serang
you ever had! You said so yourself while you were
helping us to lash him down to the chain-cable, just
before he died in his fits. Now, didn't you? Two
wives and ever so many children the man left. That
was your doing. . . . And when you went out of
your way and risked your ship to rescue some China-
men from a water-logged junk in Formosa Straits,
that was also a clever piece of business. Wasn't it?



Those damned Chinamen rose on you before forty-
eight hours. They were cut-throats, those poor
fishermen. You knew they were cut-throats before
you made up your mind to run down on a lee shore in
a gale of wind to save them. A mad trick! If they
hadn't been scoundrels--hopeless scoundrels--you
would not have put your ship in jeopardy for them,
I know. You would not have risked the lives of your
crew--that crew you loved so--and your own life.
Wasn't that foolish! And, besides, you were not
honest. Suppose you had been drowned? I would
have been in a pretty mess then, left alone here with
that adopted daughter of yours. Your duty was to
myself first. I married that girl because you promised
to make my fortune. You know you did! And then
three months afterwards you go and do that mad
trick--for a lot of Chinamen too. Chinamen! You
have no morality. I might have been ruined for
the sake of those murderous scoundrels that, after
all, had to be driven overboard after killing ever so
many of your crew--of your beloved crew! Do you
call that honest?"
"Well, well!" muttered Lingard, chewing nervously
the stump of his cheroot that had gone out and looking
at Almayer--who stamped wildly about the verandah
--much as a shepherd might look at a pet sheep in his
obedient flock turning unexpectedly upon him in en-
raged revolt. He seemed disconcerted, contemptu-
ously angry yet somewhat amused; and also a little
hurt as if at some bitter jest at his own expense. A1-
mayer stopped suddenly, and crossing his arms on
his breast, bent his body forward and went on speaking.
"I might have been left then in an awkward hole--
all on account of your absurd disregard for your safety
--yet I bore no grudge. I knew your weaknesses.


But now--when I think of it! Now we are ruined.
Ruined! Ruined! My poor little Nina. Ruined!"
He slapped his thighs smartly, walked with small
steps this way and that, seized a chair, planted it with
a bang before Lingard, and sat down staring at the

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