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An Outcast of the Islands by Joseph Conrad

Part 5 out of 7

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"And you are alone here?" said Lingard, moving
with precaution a few steps into the courtyard. "How
dark it is," he muttered to himself--"one would think
the world had been painted black."
"Yes. Alone. What more did you say, Tuan?
I did not understand your talk."
"It is nothing. I expected to find here . . .
But where are they all?"


"What matters where they are?" said Babalatchi,
gloomily. "Have you come to see my people? The
last departed on a long journey--and I am alone. To-
morrow I go too."
"I came to see a white man," said Lingard, walking
on slowly. "He is not gone, is he?"
"No!" answered Babalatchi, at his elbow. "A
man with a red skin and hard eyes," he went on,
musingly, "whose hand is strong, and whose heart
is foolish and weak. A white man indeed . . .
But still a man."
They were now at the foot of the short ladder which
led to the split-bamboo platform surrounding Baba-
latchi's habitation. The faint light from the door-
way fell down upon the two men's faces as they stood
looking at each other curiously.
"Is he there?" asked Lingard, in a low voice, with
a wave of his hand upwards.
Babalatchi, staring hard at his long-expected visitor,
did not answer at once.
"No, not there," he said at last, placing his foot
on the lowest rung and looking back. "Not there,
Tuan--yet not very far. Will you sit down in my
dwelling? There may be rice and fish and clear
water--not from the river, but from a spring . . ."
"I am not hungry," interrupted Lingard, curtly,
and I did not come here to sit in your dwelling.
Lead me to the white man who expects me. I have
no time to lose."
"The night is long, Tuan," went on Babalatchi,
softly, "and there are other nights and other days.
Long. Very long . . . How much time it takes
for a man to die! O Rajah Laut!"
Lingard started.
"You know me!" he exclaimed.


"Ay--wa! I have seen your face and felt your
hand before--many years ago," said Babalatchi,
holding on halfway up the ladder, and bending down
from above to peer into Lingard's upturned face.
"You do not remember--but I have not forgotten.
There are many men like me: there is only one Rajah
He climbed with sudden agility the last few steps,
and stood on the platform waving his hand invitingly
to Lingard, who followed after a short moment of
The elastic bamboo floor of the hut bent under the
heavy weight of the old seaman, who, standing within
the threshold, tried to look into the smoky gloom of
the low dwelling. Under the torch, thrust into the
cleft of a stick, fastened at a right angle to the middle
stay of the ridge pole, lay a red patch of light, showing
a few shabby mats and a corner of a big wooden chest
the rest of which was lost in shadow. In the obscurity
of the more remote parts of the house a lance-head, a
brass tray hung on the wall, the long barrel of a gun
leaning against the chest, caught the stray rays of the
smoky illumination in trembling gleams that wavered,
disappeared, reappeared, went out, came back--as if
engaged in a doubtful struggle with the darkness that,
lying in wait in distant corners, seemed to dart out
viciously towards its feeble enemy. The vast space
under the high pitch of the roof was filled with a thick
cloud of smoke, whose under-side--level like a ceiling--
reflected the light of the swaying dull flame, while at
the top it oozed out through the imperfect thatch of
dried palm leaves. An indescribable and complicated
smell, made up of the exhalation of damp earth below,
of the taint of dried fish and of the effluvia of rotting
vegetable matter, pervaded the place and caused Lin-


gard to sniff strongly as he strode over, sat on the
chest, and, leaning his elbows on his knees, took his
head between his hands and stared at the doorway
Babalatchi moved about in the shadows, whispering
to an indistinct form or two that flitted about at the
far end of the hut. Without stirring Lingard glanced
sideways, and caught sight of muffled-up human shapes
that hovered for a moment near the edge of light and
retreated suddenly back into the darkness. Babalatchi
approached, and sat at Lingard's feet on a rolled-up
bundle of mats.
"Will you eat rice and drink sagueir?" he said. "I
have waked up my household."
"My friend," said Lingard, without looking at him,
"when I come to see Lakamba, or any of Lakamba's
servants, I am never hungry and never thirsty. Tau!
Savee! Never! Do you think I am devoid of reason?
That there is nothing there?"
He sat up, and, fixing abruptly his eyes on Baba-
latchi, tapped his own forehead significantly.
"Tse! Tse! Tse! How can you talk like that,
Tuan!" exclaimed Babalatchi, in a horrified tone.
"I talk as I think. I have lived many years,"
said Lingard, stretching his arm negligently to take
up the gun, which he began to examine knowingly,
cocking it, and easing down the hammer several times.
"This is good. Mataram make. Old, too," he went on.
"Hai!" broke in Babalatchi, eagerly. "I got it
when I was young. He was an Aru trader, a man
with a big stomach and a loud voice, and brave--very
brave. When we came up with his prau in the grey
morning, he stood aft shouting to his men and fired
this gun at us once. Only once!" . . . He
paused, laughed softly, and went on in a low, dreamy


voice. "In the grey morning we came up: forty
silent men in a swift Sulu prau; and when the sun was
so high"--here he held up his hands about three feet
apart--"when the sun was only so high, Tuan, our
work was done--and there was a feast ready for the
fishes of the sea."
"Aye! aye!" muttered Lingard, nodding his head
slowly. "I see. You should not let it get rusty like
this," he added.
He let the gun fall between his knees, and moving
back on his seat, leaned his head against the wall of
the hut, crossing his arms on his breast.
"A good gun," went on Babalatchi. "Carry far
and true. Better than this--there."
With the tips of his fingers he touched gently the
butt of a revolver peeping out of the right pocket of
Lingard's white jacket.
"Take your hand off that," said Lingard sharply, but
in a good-humoured tone and without making the
slightest movement.
Babalatchi smiled and hitched his seat a little
further off.
For some time they sat in silence. Lingard, with
his head tilted back, looked downwards with lowered
eyelids at Babalatchi, who was tracing invisible lines
with his finger on the mat between his feet. Outside,
they could hear Ali and the other boatmen chattering
and laughing round the fire they had lighted in the big
and deserted courtyard.
"Well, what about that white man?" said Lingard,
It seemed as if Babalatchi had not heard the ques-
tion. He went on tracing elaborate patterns on the
floor for a good while. Lingard waited motionless.
At last the Malay lifted his head.


"Hai! The white man. I know!" he murmured
absently. "This white man or another. . . .
Tuan," he said aloud with unexpected animation,
"you are a man of the sea?"
"You know me. Why ask?" said Lingard, in a
low tone.
"Yes. A man of the sea--even as we are. A
true Orang Laut," went on Babalatchi, thoughtfully,
"not like the rest of the white men."
"I am like other whites, and do not wish to speak
many words when the truth is short. I came here to
see the white man that helped Lakamba against Pata-
lolo, who is my friend. Show me where that white
man lives; I want him to hear my talk."
"Talk only? Tuan! Why hurry? The night is
long and death is swift--as you ought to know; you
who have dealt it to so many of my people. Many
years ago I have faced you, arms in hand. Do you
not remember? It was in Carimata--far from here."
I cannot remember every vagabond that came in
my way," protested Lingard, seriously.
"Hai! Hai!" continued Babalatchi, unmoved and
dreamy. "Many years ago. Then all this"--and
looking up suddenly at Lingard's beard, he flourished
his fingers below his own beardless chin--"then all
this was like gold in sunlight, now it is like the foam
of an angry sea."
"Maybe, maybe," said Lingard, patiently, paying
the involuntary tribute of a faint sigh to the memories
of the past evoked by Babalatchi's words.
He had been living with Malays so long and so
close that the extreme deliberation and deviousness of
their mental proceedings had ceased to irritate him
much. To-night, perhaps, he was less prone to im-
patience than ever. He was disposed, if not to listen


to Babalatchi, then to let him talk. It was evident
to him that the man had something to say, and he
hoped that from the talk a ray of light would shoot
through the thick blackness of inexplicable treachery,
to show him clearly--if only for a second--the man
upon whom he would have to execute the verdict of
justice. Justice only! Nothing was further from his
thoughts than such an useless thing as revenge. Jus-
tice only. It was his duty that justice should be done
--and by his own hand. He did not like to think how.
To him, as to Babalatchi, it seemed that the night would
be long enough for the work he had to do. But he
did not define to himself the nature of the work, and he
sat very still, and willingly dilatory, under the fearsome
oppression of his call. What was the good to think
about it? It was inevitable, and its time was near.
Yet he could not command his memories that came
crowding round him in that evil-smelling hut, while
Babalatchi talked on in a flowing monotone, nothing of
him moving but the lips, in the artificially inanimated
face. Lingard, like an anchored ship that had broken
her sheer, darted about here and there on the rapid tide
of his recollections. The subdued sound of soft words
rang around him, but his thoughts were lost, now in the
contemplation of the past sweetness and strife of Cari-
mata days, now in the uneasy wonder at the failure
of his judgment; at the fatal blindness of accident that
had caused him, many years ago, to rescue a half-
starved runaway from a Dutch ship in Samarang roads.
How he had liked the man: his assurance, his push,
his desire to get on, his conceited good-humour and
his selfish eloquence. He had liked his very faults--
those faults that had so many, to him, sympathetic
sides. And he had always dealt fairly by him from the
very beginning; and he would deal fairly by him now


--to the very end. This last thought darkened Lin-
gard's features with a responsive and menacing frown.
The doer of justice sat with compressed lips and a heavy
heart, while in the calm darkness outside the silent
world seemed to be waiting breathlessly for that justice
he held in his hand--in his strong hand:--ready to
strike--reluctant to move.


BABALATCHI ceased speaking. Lingard shifted his
feet a little, uncrossed his arms, and shook his head
slowly. The narrative of the events in Sambir,
related from the point of view of the astute statesman,
the sense of which had been caught here and there
by his inattentive ears, had been yet like a thread to
guide him out of the sombre labyrinth of his thoughts;
and now he had come to the end of it, out of the tangled
past into the pressing necessities of the present. With
the palms of his hands on his knees, his elbows squared
out, he looked down on Babalatchi who sat in a stiff
attitude, inexpressive and mute as a talking doll the
mechanism of which had at length run down.
"You people did all this," said Lingard at last,
"and you will be sorry for it before the dry wind
begins to blow again. Abdulla's voice will bring the
Dutch rule here."
Babalatchi waved his hand towards the dark door-
"There are forests there. Lakamba rules the land
now. Tell me, Tuan, do you think the big trees
know the name of the ruler? No. They are born,
they grow, they live and they die--yet know not, feel
not. It is their land."
"Even a big tree may be killed by a small axe,"
said Lingard, drily. "And, remember, my one-eyed
friend, that axes are made by white hands. You will
soon find that out, since you have hoisted the flag of
the Dutch."



"Ay--wa!" said Babalatchi, slowly. "It is written
that the earth belongs to those who have fair skins
and hard but foolish hearts. The farther away is the
master, the easier it is for the slave, Tuan! You were
too near. Your voice rang in our ears always. Now
it is not going to be so. The great Rajah in Batavia is
strong, but he may be deceived. He must speak very
loud to be heard here. But if we have need to
shout, then he must hear the many voices that call for
protection. He is but a white man."
"If I ever spoke to Patalolo, like an elder brother,
it was for your good--for the good of all," said Lingard
with great earnestness.
"This is a white man's talk," exclaimed Babalatchi,
with bitter exultation. "I know you. That is how
you all talk while you load your guns and sharpen
your swords; and when you are ready, then to those
who are weak you say: 'Obey me and be happy, or
die! You are strange, you white men. You think
it is only your wisdom and your virtue and your
happiness that are true. You are stronger than the
wild beasts, but not so wise. A black tiger knows
when he is not hungry--you do not. He knows the
difference between himself and those that can speak;
you do not understand the difference between your-
selves and us--who are men. You are wise and great
--and you shall always be fools."
He threw up both his hands, stirring the sleeping
cloud of smoke that hung above his head, and brought
the open palms on the flimsy floor on each side of his
outstretched legs. The whole hut shook. Lingard
looked at the excited statesman curiously.
"Apa! Apa! What's the matter?" he murmured,
soothingly. "Whom did I kill here? Where are my
guns? What have I done? What have I eaten up?"


Babalatchi calmed down, and spoke with studied
"You, Tuan, are of the sea, and more like what
we are. Therefore I speak to you all the words that
are in my heart. . . . Only once has the sea been
stronger than the Rajah of the sea."
"You know it; do you?" said Lingard, with pained
"Hai! We have heard about your ship--and some
rejoiced. Not I. Amongst the whites, who are
devils, you are a man."
"Trima kassi! I give you thanks," said Lingard,
Babalatchi looked down with a bashful smile, but
his face became saddened directly, and when he spoke
again it was in a mournful tone.
"Had you come a day sooner, Tuan, you would
have seen an enemy die. You would have seen him
die poor, blind, unhappy--with no son to dig his grave
and speak of his wisdom and courage. Yes; you would
have seen the man that fought you in Carimata many
years ago, die alone--but for one friend. A great sight
to you."
"Not to me," answered Lingard. "I did not even
remember him till you spoke his name just now. You
do not understand us. We fight, we vanquish--and
we forget."
"True, true," said Babalatchi, with polite irony;
"you whites are so great that you disdain to remember
your enemies. No! No!" he went on, in the same
tone, "you have so much mercy for us, that there is
no room for any remembrance. Oh, you are great and
good! But it is in my mind that amongst yourselves
you know how to remember. Is it not so, Tuan?"
Lingard said nothing. His shoulders moved im-


perceptibly. He laid his gun across his knees and
stared at the flint lock absently.
"Yes," went on Babalatchi, falling again into a
mournful mood, "yes, he died in darkness. I sat by
his side and held his hand, but he could not see the
face of him who watched the faint breath on his lips.
She, whom he had cursed because of the white man,
was there too, and wept with covered face. The
white man walked about the courtyard making many
noises. Now and then he would come to the door-
way and glare at us who mourned. He stared with
wicked eyes, and then I was glad that he who was
dying was blind. This is true talk. I was glad; for
a white man's eyes are not good to see when the devil
that lives within is looking out through them."
"Devil! Hey?" said Lingard, half aloud to him-
self, as if struck with the obviousness of some novel
idea. Babalatchi went on:
"At the first hour of the morning he sat up--he so
weak--and said plainly some words that were not
meant for human ears. I held his hand tightly, but it
was time for the leader of brave men to go amongst
the Faithful who are happy. They of my household
brought a white sheet, and I began to dig a grave in
the hut in which he died. She mourned aloud. The
white man came to the doorway and shouted. He
was angry. Angry with her because she beat her breast,
and tore her hair, and mourned with shrill cries as
a woman should. Do you understand what I say,
Tuan? That white man came inside the hut with
great fury, and took her by the shoulder, and dragged
her out. Yes, Tuan. I saw Omar dead, and I saw
her at the feet of that white dog who has deceived me.
I saw his face grey, like the cold mist of the morning;
I saw his pale eyes looking down at Omar's daughter


beating her head on the ground at his feet. At the
feet of him who is Abdulla's slave. Yes, he lives by
Abdulla's will. That is why I held my hand while I
saw all this. I held my hand because we are now
under the flag of the Orang Blanda, and Abdulla can
speak into the ears of the great. We must not have
any trouble with white men. Abdulla has spoken--
and I must obey."
"That's it, is it?" growled Lingard in his moustache.
Then in Malay, "It seems that you are angry, O
"No; I am not angry, Tuan," answered Babalatchi,
descending from the insecure heights of his indigna-
tion into the insincere depths of safe humility. "I
am not angry. What am I to be angry? I am only
an Orang Laut, and I have fled before your people
many times. Servant of this one--protected of an-
other; I have given my counsel here and there for a
handful of rice. What am I, to be angry with a white
man? What is anger without the power to strike? But
you whites have taken all: the land, the sea, and the
power to strike! And there is nothing left for us in
the islands but your white men's justice; your great
justice that knows not anger."
He got up and stood for a moment in the doorway,
sniffing the hot air of the courtyard, then turned back
and leaned against the stay of the ridge pole, facing
Lingard who kept his seat on the chest. The torch,
consumed nearly to the end, burned noisily. Small
explosions took place in the heart of the flame, driving
through its smoky blaze strings of hard, round puffs
of white smoke, no bigger than peas, which rolled out
of doors in the faint draught that came from invisible
cracks of the bamboo walls. The pungent taint of
unclean things below and about the hut grew heavier,


weighing down Lingard's resolution and his thoughts
in an irresistible numbness of the brain. He thought
drowsily of himself and of that man who wanted to
see him--who waited to see him. Who waited! Night
and day. Waited. . . . A spiteful but vaporous
idea floated through his brain that such waiting could
not be very pleasant to the fellow. Well, let him
wait. He would see him soon enough. And for how
long? Five seconds--five minutes--say nothing--say
something. What? No! Just give him time to take
one good look, and then . . .
Suddenly Babalatchi began to speak in a soft voice.
Lingard blinked, cleared his throat--sat up straight.
"You know all now, Tuan. Lakamba dwells in
the stockaded house of Patalolo; Abdulla has begun
to build godowns of plank and stone; and now that
Omar is dead, I myself shall depart from this place and
live with Lakamba and speak in his ear. I have served
many. The best of them all sleeps in the ground in a
white sheet, with nothing to mark his grave but the
ashes of the hut in which he died. Yes, Tuan! the white
man destroyed it himself. With a blazing brand in his
hand he strode around, shouting to me to come out--
shouting to me, who was throwing earth on the body of a
great leader. Yes; swearing to me by the name of
your God and ours that he would burn me and her in
there if we did not make haste. . . . Hai! The
white men are very masterful and wise. I dragged her
out quickly!"
"Oh, damn it!" exclaimed Lingard--then went on
in Malay, speaking earnestly. "Listen. That man
is not like other white men. You know he is not. He
is not a man at all. He is . . . I don't know."
Babalatchi lifted his hand deprecatingly. His eye
twinkled, and his red-stained big lips, parted by an


expressionless grin, uncovered a stumpy row of black
teeth filed evenly to the gums.
"Hai! Hai! Not like you. Not like you," he
said, increasing the softness of his tones as he neared
the object uppermost in his mind during that much-
desired interview. "Not like you, Tuan, who are like
ourselves, only wiser and stronger. Yet he, also, is
full of great cunning, and speaks of you without any
respect, after the manner of white men when they talk
of one another."
Lingard leaped in his seat as if he had been prodded.
"He speaks! What does he say?" he shouted.
"Nay, Tuan," protested the composed Babalatchi;
"what matters his talk if he is not a man? I am
nothing before you--why should I repeat words of
one white man about another? He did boast to Ab-
dulla of having learned much from your wisdom in
years past. Other words I have forgotten. Indeed,
Tuan, I have . . ."
Lingard cut short Babalatchi's protestations by a
contemptuous wave of the hand and reseated himself
with dignity.
"I shall go," said Babalatchi, "and the white man
will remain here, alone with the spirit of the dead and
with her who has been the delight of his heart. He,
being white, cannot hear the voice of those that died.
. . . Tell me, Tuan," he went on, looking at Lingard
with curiosity--"tell me, Tuan, do you white people
ever hear the voices of the invisible ones?"
"We do not," answered Lingard, "because those
that we cannot see do not speak."
"Never speak! And never complain with sounds
that are not words?" exclaimed Babalatchi, doubtingly.
"It may be so--or your ears are dull. We Malays
hear many sounds near the places where men are


buried. To-night I heard . . . Yes, even I have
heard. . . . I do not want to hear any more," he
added, nervously. "Perhaps I was wrong when I
. . . There are things I regret. The trouble was
heavy in his heart when he died. Sometimes I think I
was wrong . . . but I do not want to hear the
complaint of invisible lips. Therefore I go, Tuan. Let
the unquiet spirit speak to his enemy the white man
who knows not fear, or love, or mercy--knows nothing
but contempt and violence. I have been wrong! I
have! Hai! Hai!"
He stood for awhile with his elbow in the palm of
his left hand, the fingers of the other over his lips
as if to stifle the expression of inconvenient remorse;
then, after glancing at the torch, burnt out nearly to its
end, he moved towards the wall by the chest, fumbled
about there and suddenly flung open a large shutter of
attaps woven in a light framework of sticks. Lingard
swung his legs quickly round the corner of his seat.
"Hallo!" he said, surprised.
The cloud of smoke stirred, and a slow wisp curled
out through the new opening. The torch flickered,
hissed, and went out, the glowing end falling on the
mat, whence Babalatchi snatched it up and tossed it
outside through the open square. It described a
vanishing curve of red light, and lay below, shining
feebly in the vast darkness. Babalatchi remained
with his arm stretched out into the empty night.
"There," he said, "you can see the white man's
courtyard, Tuan, and his house."
"I can see nothing," answered Lingard, putting
his head through the shutter-hole. "It's too dark."
"Wait, Tuan," urged Babalatchi. "You have been
looking long at the burning torch. You will soon see.
Mind the gun, Tuan. It is loaded."


"There is no flint in it. You could not find a fire-
stone for a hundred miles round this spot," said Lin-
gard, testily. "Foolish thing to load that gun."
"I have a stone. I had it from a man wise and pious
that lives in Menang Kabau. A very pious man--very
good fire. He spoke words over that stone that make
its sparks good. And the gun is good--carries straight
and far. Would carry from here to the door of the
white man's house, I believe, Tuan."
"Tida apa. Never mind your gun," muttered Lin-
gard, peering into the formless darkness. "Is that
the house--that black thing over there?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Babalatchi; "that is his house.
He lives there by the will of Abdulla, and shall live
there till . . . From where you stand, Tuan, you
can look over the fence and across the courtyard straight
at the door--at the door from which he comes out every
morning, looking like a man that had seen Jehannum
in his sleep."
Lingard drew his head in. Babalatchi touched his
shoulder with a groping hand.
"Wait a little, Tuan. Sit still. The morning is not
far off now--a morning without sun after a night with-
out stars. But there will be light enough to see the
man who said not many days ago that he alone has
made you less than a child in Sambir."
He felt a slight tremor under his hand, but took it
off directly and began feeling all over the lid of the
chest, behind Lingard's back, for the gun.
"What are you at?" said Lingard, impatiently.
"You do worry about that rotten gun. You had better
get a light."
"A light! I tell you, Tuan, that the light of heaven
is very near," said Babalatchi, who had now obtained
possession of the object of his solicitude, and grasping


it strongly by its long barrel, grounded the stock at his
"Perhaps it is near," said Lingard, leaning both his
elbows on the lower cross-piece of the primitive window
and looking out. "It is very black outside yet," he
remarked carelessly.
Babalatchi fidgeted about.
"It is not good for you to sit where you may be seen,"
he muttered.
"Why not?" asked Lingard.
"The white man sleeps, it is true," explained Baba-
latchi, softly; "yet he may come out early, and he has
"Ah! he has arms?" said Lingard.
"Yes; a short gun that fires many times--like yours
here. Abdulla had to give it to him."
Lingard heard Babalatchi's words, but made no
movement. To the old adventurer the idea that fire
arms could be dangerous in other hands than his own
did not occur readily, and certainly not in connection
with Willems. He was so busy with the thoughts about
what he considered his own sacred duty, that he could
not give any consideration to the probable actions of
the man of whom he thought--as one may think of an
executed criminal--with wondering indignation tem-
pered by scornful pity. While he sat staring into the
darkness, that every minute grew thinner before his
pensive eyes, like a dispersing mist, Willems appeared
to him as a figure belonging already wholly to the past
--a figure that could come in no way into his life again.
He had made up his mind, and the thing was as well as
done. In his weary thoughts he had closed this fatal,
inexplicable, and horrible episode in his life. The
worst had happened. The coming days would see the


He had removed an enemy once or twice before, out
of his path; he had paid off some very heavy scores a
good many times. Captain Tom had been a good
friend to many: but it was generally understood, from
Honolulu round about to Diego Suarez, that Captain
Tom's enmity was rather more than any man single-
handed could easily manage. He would not, as he
said often, hurt a fly as long as the fly left him alone;
yet a man does not live for years beyond the pale of
civilized laws without evolving for himself some queer
notions of justice. Nobody of those he knew had
ever cared to point out to him the errors of his con-
ceptions. It was not worth anybody's while to run
counter to Lingard's ideas of the fitness of things--
that fact was acquired to the floating wisdom of the
South Seas, of the Eastern Archipelago, and was
nowhere better understood than in out-of-the-way
nooks of the world; in those nooks which he filled,
unresisted and masterful, with the echoes of his noisy
presence. There is not much use in arguing with a
man who boasts of never having regretted a single
action of his life, whose answer to a mild criticism is
a good-natured shout--"You know nothing about it.
I would do it again. Yes, sir!" His associates and
his acquaintances accepted him, his opinions, his
actions like things preordained and unchangeable;
looked upon his many-sided manifestations with passive
wonder not unmixed with that admiration which is only
the rightful due of a successful man. But nobody had
ever seen him in the mood he was in now. Nobody
had seen Lingard doubtful and giving way to doubt,
unable to make up his mind and unwilling to act; Lin-
gard timid and hesitating one minute, angry yet inactive
the next; Lingard puzzled in a word, because confronted
with a situation that discomposed him by its unpro-


voked malevolence, by its ghastly injustice, that to his
rough but unsophisticated palate tasted distinctly of
sulphurous fumes from the deepest hell.
The smooth darkness filling the shutter-hole grew
paler and became blotchy with ill-defined shapes, as if
a new universe was being evolved out of sombre chaos.
Then outlines came out, defining forms without any
details, indicating here a tree, there a bush; a black belt
of forest far off; the straight lines of a house, the ridge
of a high roof near by. Inside the hut, Babalatchi, who
lately had been only a persuasive voice, became a hu-
man shape leaning its chin imprudently on the muzzle
of a gun and rolling an uneasy eye over the reappearing
world. The day came rapidly, dismal and oppressed
by the fog of the river and by the heavy vapours of the
sky--a day without colour and without sunshine: in-
complete, disappointing, and sad.
Babalatchi twitched gently Lingard's sleeve, and
when the old seaman had lifted up his head interroga-
tively, he stretched out an arm and a pointing forefinger
towards Willems' house, now plainly visible to the right
and beyond the big tree of the courtyard.
"Look, Tuan!" he said. "He lives there. That is
the door--his door. Through it he will appear soon,
with his hair in disorder and his mouth full of curses.
That is so. He is a white man, and never satisfied.
It is in my mind he is angry even in his sleep. A dan-
gerous man. As Tuan may observe," he went on,
obsequiously, "his door faces this opening, where you
condescend to sit, which is concealed from all eyes.
Faces it--straight--and not far. Observe, Tuan, not
at all far."
"Yes, yes; I can see. I shall see him when he
"No doubt, Tuan. When he wakes. . . . If


you remain here he can not see you. I shall withdraw
quickly and prepare my canoe myself. I am only a
poor man, and must go to Sambir to greet Lakamba
when he opens his eyes. I must bow before Abdulla
who has strength--even more strength than you. Now
if you remain here, you shall easily behold the man who
boasted to Abdulla that he had been your friend, even
while he prepared to fight those who called you pro-
tector. Yes, he plotted with Abdulla for that cursed
flag. Lakamba was blind then, and I was deceived.
But you, Tuan! Remember, he deceived you more.
Of that he boasted before all men."
He leaned the gun quietly against the wall close to
the window, and said softly: "Shall I go now, Tuan?
Be careful of the gun. I have put the fire-stone in.
The fire-stone of the wise man, which never fails."
Lingard's eyes were fastened on the distant door-
way. Across his line of sight, in the grey emptiness
of the courtyard, a big fruit-pigeon flapped languidly
towards the forests with a loud booming cry, like the
note of a deep gong: a brilliant bird looking in the gloom
of threatening day as black as a crow. A serried flock
of white rice birds rose above the trees with a faint
scream, and hovered, swaying in a disordered mass
that suddenly scattered in all directions, as if burst
asunder by a silent explosion. Behind his back Lin-
gard heard a shuffle of feet--women leaving the hut.
In the other courtyard a voice was heard complaining
of cold, and coming very feeble, but exceedingly dis-
tinct, out of the vast silence of the abandoned houses
and clearings. Babalatchi coughed discreetly. From
under the house the thumping of wooden pestles husk-
ing the rice started with unexpected abruptness. The
weak but clear voice in the yard again urged, "Blow
up the embers, O brother!" Another voice answered,


drawling in modulated, thin sing-song, "Do it yourself,
O shivering pig!" and the drawl of the last words stopped
short, as if the man had fallen into a deep hole. Baba-
latchi coughed again a little impatiently, and said in a
confidential tone--
"Do you think it is time for me to go, Tuan? Will
you take care of my gun, Tuan? I am a man that
knows how to obey; even obey Abdulla, who has de-
ceived me. Nevertheless this gun carries far and true
--if you would want to know, Tuan. And I have put
in a double measure of powder, and three slugs. Yes,
Tuan. Now--perhaps--I go."
When Babalatchi commenced speaking, Lingard
turned slowly round and gazed upon him with the dull
and unwilling look of a sick man waking to another
day of suffering. As the astute statesman proceeded,
Lingard's eyebrows came close, his eyes became ani-
mated, and a big vein stood out on his forehead, ac-
centuating a lowering frown. When speaking his last
words Babalatchi faltered, then stopped, confused,
before the steady gaze of the old seaman.
Lingard rose. His face cleared, and he looked down
at the anxious Babalatchi with sudden benevolence.
"So! That's what you were after," he said, laying
a heavy hand on Babalatchi's yielding shoulder. "You
thought I came here to murder him. Hey? Speak!
You faithful dog of an Arab trader!"
"And what else, Tuan?" shrieked Babalatchi, exas-
perated into sincerity. "What else, Tuan! Remem-
ber what he has done; he poisoned our ears with his talk
about you. You are a man. If you did not come to
kill, Tuan, then either I am a fool or . . ." He
paused, struck his naked breast with his open palm, and
finished in a discouraged whisper--"or, Tuan, you are."
Lingard looked down at him with scornful serenity.


After his long and painful gropings amongst the ob-
scure abominations of Willems' conduct, the logical
if tortuous evolutions of Babalatchi's diplomatic mind
were to him welcome as daylight. There was some-
thing at last he could understand--the clear effect of a
simple cause. He felt indulgent towards the disap-
pointed sage.
"So you are angry with your friend, O one-eyed
one!" he said slowly, nodding his fierce countenance
close to Babalatchi's discomfited face. "It seems to
me that you must have had much to do with what
happened in Sambir lately. Hey? You son of a
burnt father."
"May I perish under your hand, O Rajah of the
sea, if my words are not true!" said Babalatchi, with
reckless excitement. "You are here in the midst of
your enemies. He the greatest. Abdulla would do
nothing without him, and I could do nothing without
Abdulla. Strike me--so that you strike all!"
"Who are you," exclaimed Lingard contemptuously
--"who are you to dare call yourself my enemy! Dirt!
Nothing! Go out first," he went on severely. "Lakas!
quick. March out!"
He pushed Babalatchi through the doorway and
followed him down the short ladder into the court-
yard. The boatmen squatting over the fire turned
their slow eyes with apparent difficulty towards the
two men; then, unconcerned, huddled close together
again, stretching forlornly their hands over the embers.
The women stopped in their work and with uplifted
pestles flashed quick and curious glances from the
gloom under the house.
"Is that the way?" asked Lingard with a nod towards
the little wicket-gate of Willems' enclosure.
"If you seek death, that is surely the way," an-


swered Babalatchi in a dispassionate voice, as if he had
exhausted all the emotions. "He lives there: he who
destroyed your friends; who hastened Omar's death;
who plotted with Abdulla first against you, then against
me. I have been like a child. O shame! . . . But
go, Tuan. Go there."
"I go where I like," said Lingard, emphatically,
"and you may go to the devil; I do not want you
any more. The islands of these seas shall sink before
I, Rajah Laut, serve the will of any of your people.
Tau? But I tell you this: I do not care what you
do with him after to-day. And I say that because I
am merciful."
"Tida! I do nothing," said Babalatchi, shaking his
head with bitter apathy. "I am in Abdulla's hand
and care not, even as you do. No! no!" he added,
turning away, "I have learned much wisdom this
morning. There are no men anywhere. You whites
are cruel to your friends and merciful to your enemies
--which is the work of fools."
He went away towards the riverside, and, without
once looking back, disappeared in the low bank of mist
that lay over the water and the shore. Lingard fol-
lowed him with his eyes thoughtfully. After awhile
he roused himself and called out to his boatmen--
"Hai--ya there! After you have eaten rice, wait
for me with your paddles in your hands. You hear?"
"Ada, Tuan!" answered Ali through the smoke of
the morning fire that was spreading itself, low and
gentle, over the courtyard--"we hear!"
Lingard opened slowly the little wicket-gate, made
a few steps into the empty enclosure, and stopped. He
had felt about his head the short breath of a puff of wind
that passed him, made every leaf of the big tree shiver--
and died out in a hardly perceptible tremor of branches


and twigs. Instinctively he glanced upwards with a
seaman's impulse. Above him, under the grey motion-
less waste of a stormy sky, drifted low black vapours,
in stretching bars, in shapeless patches, in sinuous wisps
and tormented spirals. Over the courtyard and the
house floated a round, sombre, and lingering cloud,
dragging behind a tail of tangled and filmy streamers
--like the dishevelled hair of a mourning woman.


The tremulous effort and the broken, inadequate
tone of the faint cry, surprised Lingard more than
the unexpected suddenness of the warning conveyed,
he did not know by whom and to whom. Besides him-
self there was no one in the courtyard as far as he could
see. The cry was not renewed, and his watchful eyes,
scanning warily the misty solitude of Willems' enclosure,
were met everywhere only by the stolid impassiveness of
inanimate things: the big sombre-looking tree, the shut-
up, sightless house, the glistening bamboo fences, the
damp and drooping bushes further off--all these things,
that condemned to look for ever at the incomprehensible
afflictions or joys of mankind, assert in their aspect of
cold unconcern the high dignity of lifeless matter that
surrounds, incurious and unmoved, the restless myster-
ies of the ever-changing, of the never-ending life.
Lingard, stepping aside, put the trunk of the tree
between himself and the house, then, moving cau-
tiously round one of the projecting buttresses, had to
tread short in order to avoid scattering a small heap of
black embers upon which he came unexpectedly on
the other side. A thin, wizened, little old woman,
who, standing behind the tree, had been looking at
the house, turned towards him with a start, gazed
with faded, expressionless eyes at the intruder, then
made a limping attempt to get away. She seemed,
however, to realize directly the hopelessness or the
difficulty of the undertaking, stopped, hesitated, tot-



tered back slowly; then, after blinking dully, fell sud-
denly on her knees amongst the white ashes, and, bend-
ing over the heap of smouldering coals, distended her
sunken cheeks in a steady effort to blow up the hidden
sparks into a useful blaze. Lingard looked down on
her, but she seemed to have made up her mind that
there was not enough life left in her lean body for any-
thing else than the discharge of the simple domestic
duty, and, apparently, she begrudged him the least
moment of attention. After waiting for awhile, Lin-
gard asked--
"Why did you call, O daughter?"
"I saw you enter," she croaked feebly, still grovel-
ling with her face near the ashes and without looking
up, "and I called--the cry of warning. It was her
order. Her order," she repeated, with a moaning sigh.
"And did she hear?" pursued Lingard, with gentle
Her projecting shoulder-blades moved uneasily under
the thin stuff of the tight body jacket. She scrambled
up with difficulty to her feet, and hobbled away, mut-
tering peevishly to herself, towards a pile of dry brush-
wood heaped up against the fence.
Lingard, looking idly after her, heard the rattle of
loose planks that led from the ground to the door of
the house. He moved his head beyond the shelter of
the tree and saw Aissa coming down the inclined way
into the courtyard. After making a few hurried paces
towards the tree, she stopped with one foot advanced
in an appearance of sudden terror, and her eyes glanced
wildly right and left. Her head was uncovered. A
blue cloth wrapped her from her head to foot in close
slanting folds, with one end thrown over her shoulder.
A tress of her black hair strayed across her bosom. Her
bare arms pressed down close to her body, with hands


open and outstretched fingers; her slightly elevated
shoulders and the backward inclination of her torso gave
her the aspect of one defiant yet shrinking from a com-
ing blow. She had closed the door of the house behind
her; and as she stood solitary in the unnatural and
threatening twilight of the murky day, with every-
thing unchanged around her, she appeared to Lin-
gard as if she had been made there, on the spot,
out of the black vapours of the sky and of the sinister
gleams of feeble sunshine that struggled, through the
thickening clouds, into the colourless desolation of the
After a short but attentive glance towards the shut-
up house, Lingard stepped out from behind the tree
and advanced slowly towards her. The sudden fixity
of her--till then--restless eyes and a slight twitch of
her hands were the only signs she gave at first of having
seen him. She made a long stride forward, and putting
herself right in his path, stretched her arms across;
her black eyes opened wide, her lips parted as if in an
uncertain attempt to speak--but no sound came out to
break the significant silence of their meeting. Lingard
stopped and looked at her with stern curiosity. After
a while he said composedly--
"Let me pass. I came here to talk to a man. Does
he hide? Has he sent you?"
She made a step nearer, her arms fell by her side,
then she put them straight out nearly touching Lin-
gard's breast.
"He knows not fear," she said, speaking low, with
a forward throw of her head, in a voice trembling but
distinct. "It is my own fear that has sent me here.
He sleeps."
"He has slept long enough," said Lingard, in meas-
ured tones. "I am come--and now is the time of his


waking. Go and tell him this--or else my own voice
will call him up. A voice he knows well."
He put her hands down firmly and again made as if
to pass by her.
"Do not!" she exclaimed, and fell at his feet as if
she had been cut down by a scythe. The unexpected
suddenness of her movement startled Lingard, who
stepped back.
"What's this?" he exclaimed in a wondering whisper
--then added in a tone of sharp command: "Stand up!"
She rose at once and stood looking at him, timorous
and fearless; yet with a fire of recklessness burning in
her eyes that made clear her resolve to pursue her pur-
pose even to the death. Lingard went on in a severe
"Go out of my path. You are Omar's daughter,
and you ought to know that when men meet in daylight
women must be silent and abide their fate."
"Women!" she retorted, with subdued vehemence.
"Yes, I am a woman! Your eyes see that, O Rajah
Laut, but can you see my life? I also have heard--O
man of many fights--I also have heard the voice of fire-
arms; I also have felt the rain of young twigs and of
leaves cut up by bullets fall down about my head; I also
know how to look in silence at angry faces and at strong
hands raised high grasping sharp steel. I also saw men
fall dead around me without a cry of fear and of mourn-
ing; and I have watched the sleep of weary fugitives,
and looked at night shadows full of menace and death
with eyes that knew nothing but watchfulness. And,"
she went on, with a mournful drop in her voice, "I have
faced the heartless sea, held on my lap the heads of
those who died raving from thirst, and from their cold
hands took the paddle and worked so that those with
me did not know that one man more was dead. I did


all this. What more have you done? That was my
life. What has been yours?"
The matter and the manner of her speech held Lin-
gard motionless, attentive and approving against his
will. She ceased speaking, and from her staring black
eyes with a narrow border of white above and below, a
double ray of her very soul streamed out in a fierce
desire to light up the most obscure designs of his heart.
After a long silence, which served to emphasize the
meaning of her words, she added in the whisper of bitter
"And I have knelt at your feet! And I am afraid!"
"You," said Lingard deliberately, and returning her
look with an interested gaze, "you are a woman whose
heart, I believe, is great enough to fill a man's breast:
but still you are a woman, and to you, I, Rajah Laut,
have nothing lo say."
She listened bending her head in a movement of
forced attention; and his voice sounded to her un-
expected, far off, with the distant and unearthly ring
of voices that we hear in dreams, saying faintly things
startling, cruel or absurd, to which there is no possible
reply. To her he had nothing to say! She wrung
her hands, glanced over the courtyard with that eager
and distracted look that sees nothing, then looked up
at the hopeless sky of livid grey and drifting black;
at the unquiet mourning of the hot and brilliant heaven
that had seen the beginning of her love, that had heard
his entreaties and her answers, that had seen his desire
and her fear; that had seen her joy, her surrender--and
his defeat. Lingard moved a little, and this slight stir
near her precipitated her disordered and shapeless
thoughts into hurried words.
"Wait!" she exclaimed in a stifled voice, and went
on disconnectedly and rapidly--"Stay. I have heard.


Men often spoke by the fires . . . men of my peo-
ple. And they said of you--the first on the sea--they
said that to men's cries you were deaf in battle, but after
. . . No! even while you fought, your ears were
open to the voice of children and women. They said
. . . that. Now I, a woman, I . . ."
She broke off suddenly and stood before him with
dropped eyelids and parted lips, so still now that she
seemed to have been changed into a breathless, an
unhearing, an unseeing figure, without knowledge of
fear or hope, of anger or despair. In the astounding
repose that came on her face, nothing moved but the
delicate nostrils that expanded and collapsed quickly,
flutteringly, in interrupted beats, like the wings of a
snared bird.
"I am white," said Lingard, proudly, looking at her
with a steady gaze where simple curiosity was giving
way to a pitying annoyance, "and men you have
heard, spoke only what is true over the evening fires.
My ears are open to your prayer. But listen to me
before you speak. For yourself you need not be afraid.
You can come even now with me and you shall find
refuge in the household of Syed Abdulla--who is of your
own faith. And this also you must know: nothing that
you may say will change my purpose towards the man
who is sleeping--or hiding--in that house."
Again she gave him the look that was like a stab,
not of anger but of desire; of the intense, over-powering
desire to see in, to see through, to understand every-
thing: every thought, emotion, purpose; every impulse,
every hesitation inside that man; inside that white-clad
foreign being who looked at her, who spoke to her, who
breathed before her like any other man, but bigger, red-
faced, white-haired and mysterious. It was the future
clothed in flesh; the to-morrow; the day after; all the


days, all the years of her life standing there before her
alive and secret, with all their good or evil shut up within
the breast of that man; of that man who could be per-
suaded, cajoled, entreated, perhaps touched, worried;
frightened--who knows?--if only first he could be
understood! She had seen a long time ago whither
events were tending. She had noted the contemptuous
yet menacing coldness of Abdulla; she had heard--
alarmed yet unbelieving--Babalatchi's gloomy hints,
covert allusions and veiled suggestions to abandon the
useless white man whose fate would be the price of the
peace secured by the wise and good who had no need of
him any more. And he--himself! She clung to him.
There was nobody else. Nothing else. She would try
to cling to him always--all the life! And yet he was
far from her. Further every day. Every day he
seemed more distant, and she followed him patiently,
hopefully, blindly, but steadily, through all the devious
wanderings of his mind. She followed as well as she
could. Yet at times--very often lately--she had felt
lost like one strayed in the thickets of tangled under-
growth of a great forest. To her the ex-clerk of old
Hudig appeared as remote, as brilliant, as terrible, as
necessary, as the sun that gives life to these lands: the
sun of unclouded skies that dazzles and withers; the sun
beneficent and wicked--the giver of light, perfume,
and pestilence. She had watched him--watched him
close; fascinated by love, fascinated by danger. He
was alone now--but for her; and she saw--she thought
she saw--that he was like a man afraid of something.
Was it possible? He afraid? Of what? Was it of
that old white man who was coming--who had come?
Possibly. She had heard of that man ever since she
could remember. The bravest were afraid of him!
And now what was in the mind of this old, old man who


looked so strong? What was he going to do with the
light of her life? Put it out? Take it away? Take it
away for ever!--for ever!--and leave her in darkness:--
not in the stirring, whispering, expectant night in which
the hushed world awaits the return of sunshine; but in
the night without end, the night of the grave, where
nothing breathes, nothing moves, nothing thinks--
the last darkness of cold and silence without hope of
another sunrise.
She cried--"Your purpose! You know nothing. I
must . . ."
He interrupted--unreasonably excited, as if she had, by
her look, inoculated him with some of her own distress.
"I know enough."
She approached, and stood facing him at arm's
length, with both her hands on his shoulders; and he,
surprised by that audacity, closed and opened his
eyes two or three times, aware of some emotion arising
within him, from her words, her tone, her contact; an
emotion unknown, singular, penetrating and sad--at
the close sight of that strange woman, of that being
savage and tender, strong and delicate, fearful and
resolute, that had got entangled so fatally between their
two lives--his own and that other white man's, the
abominable scoundrel.
"How can you know?" she went on, in a persuasive
tone that seemed to flow out of her very heart--"how
can you know? I live with him all the days. All the
nights. I look at him; I see his every breath, every
glance of his eye, every movement of his lips. I see
nothing else! What else is there? And even I do not
understand. I do not understand him!--Him!--My
life! Him who to me is so great that his presence hides
the earth and the water from my sight!"
Lingard stood straight, with his hands deep in the


pockets of his jacket. His eyes winked quickly, be-
cause she spoke very close to his face. She disturbed
him and he had a sense of the efforts he was making to
get hold of her meaning, while all the time he could not
help telling himself that all this was of no use.
She added after a pause--"There has been a time
when I could understand him. When I knew what
was in his mind better than he knew it himself. When
I felt him. When I held him. . . . And now he has
"Escaped? What? Gone away!" shouted Lingard.
"Escaped from me," she said; "left me alone. Alone.
And I am ever near him. Yet alone."
Her hands slipped slowly off Lingard's shoulders
and her arms fell by her side, listless, discouraged, as
if to her--to her, the savage, violent, and ignorant
creature--had been revealed clearly in that moment
the tremendous fact of our isolation, of the loneliness
impenetrable and transparent, elusive and everlasting;
of the indestructible loneliness that surrounds, en-
velopes, clothes every human soul from the cradle to
the grave, and, perhaps, beyond.
"Aye! Very well! I understand. His face is
turned away from you," said Lingard. "Now, what
do you want?"
"I want . . . I have looked--for help . . .
everywhere . . . against men. . . . All men
. . . I do not know. First they came, the invisible
whites, and dealt death from afar . . . then he
came. He came to me who was alone and sad. He
came; angry with his brothers; great amongst his own
people; angry with those I have not seen: with the
people where men have no mercy and women have no
shame. He was of them, and great amongst them.
For he was great?"


Lingard shook his head slightly. She frowned at
him, and went on in disordered haste--
"Listen. I saw him. I have lived by the side of
brave men . . . of chiefs. When he came I was
the daughter of a beggar--of a blind man without
strength and hope. He spoke to me as if I had been
brighter than the sunshine--more delightful than the
cool water of the brook by which we met--more . . ."
Her anxious eyes saw some shade of expression pass
on her listener's face that made her hold her breath
for a second, and then explode into pained fury so
violent that it drove Lingard back a pace, like an
unexpected blast of wind. He lifted both his hands,
incongruously paternal in his venerable aspect, bewil-
dered and soothing, while she stretched her neck for-
ward and shouted at him.
"I tell you I was all that to him. I know it! I
saw it! . . . There are times when even you white
men speak the truth. I saw his eyes. I felt his eyes,
I tell you! I saw him tremble when I came near--
when I spoke--when I touched him. Look at me! You
have been young. Look at me. Look, Rajah Laut!"
She stared at Lingard with provoking fixity, then,
turning her head quickly, she sent over her shoulder
a glance, full of humble fear, at the house that stood
high behind her back--dark, closed, rickety and silent
on its crooked posts.
Lingard's eyes followed her look, and remained
gazing expectantly at the house. After a minute or
so he muttered, glancing at her suspiciously--
"If he has not heard your voice now, then he must
be far away--or dead."
"He is there," she whispered, a little calmed but still
anxious--"he is there. For three days he waited.
Waited for you night and day. And I waited with


him. I waited, watching his face, his eyes, his lips;
listening to his words.--To the words I could not
understand.--To the words he spoke in daylight; to
the words he spoke at night in his short sleep. I
listened. He spoke to himself walking up and down
here--by the river; by the bushes. And I followed.
I wanted to know--and I could not! He was tor-
mented by things that made him speak in the words
of his own people. Speak to himself--not to me.
Not to me! What was he saying? What was he
going to do? Was he afraid of you?--Of death? What
was in his heart? . . . Fear? . . . Or anger?
. . . what desire? . . . what sadness? He
spoke; spoke; many words. All the time! And I could
not know! I wanted to speak to him. He was deaf
to me. I followed him everywhere, watching for
some word I could understand; but his mind was in
the land of his people--away from me. When I
touched him he was angry--so!"
She imitated the movement of some one shaking off
roughly an importunate hand, and looked at Lingard
with tearful and unsteady eyes.
After a short interval of laboured panting, as if she
had been out of breath with running or fighting, she
looked down and went on--
"Day after day, night after night, I lived watching
him--seeing nothing. And my heart was heavy--
heavy with the presence of death that dwelt amongst
us. I could not believe. I thought he was afraid.
Afraid of you! Then I, myself, knew fear. . . .
Tell me, Rajah Laut, do you know the fear without
voice--the fear of silence--the fear that comes when
there is no one near--when there is no battle, no cries,
no angry faces or armed hands anywhere? . . .
The fear from which there is no escape!"


She paused, fastened her eyes again on the puzzled
Lingard, and hurried on in a tone of despair--
"And I knew then he would not fight you! Before
--many days ago--I went away twice to make him obey
my desire; to make him strike at his own people so that
he could be mine--mine! O calamity! His hand was
false as your white hearts. It struck forward, pushed
by my desire--by his desire of me. . . . It struck
that strong hand, and--O shame!--it killed nobody!
Its fierce and lying blow woke up hate without any fear.
Round me all was lies. His strength was a lie. My own
people lied to me and to him. And to meet you--you,
the great!--he had no one but me? But me with my
rage, my pain, my weakness. Only me! And to me he
would not even speak. The fool!"
She came up close to Lingard, with the wild and
stealthy aspect of a lunatic longing to whisper out an
insane secret--one of those misshapen, heart-rending,
and ludicrous secrets; one of those thoughts that, like
monsters--cruel, fantastic, and mournful, wander about
terrible and unceasing in the night of madness. Lin-
gard looked at her, astounded but unflinching. She
spoke in his face, very low.
"He is all! Everything. He is my breath, my
light, my heart. . . . Go away. . . . Forget
him. . . . He has no courage and no wisdom any
more . . . and I have lost my power. . . .
Go away and forget. There are other enemies. . . .
Leave him to me. He had been a man once. . . .
You are too great. Nobody can withstand you. . . .
I tried. . . . I know now. . . . I cry for
mercy. Leave him to me and go away."
The fragments of her supplicating sentences were as
if tossed on the crest of her sobs. Lingard, outwardly
impassive, with his eyes fixed on the house, experienced


that feeling of condemnation, deep-seated, persuasive,
and masterful; that illogical impulse of disapproval
which is half disgust, half vague fear, and that wakes
up in our hearts in the presence of anything new or
unusual, of anything that is not run into the mould of
our own conscience; the accursed feeling made up of
disdain, of anger, and of the sense of superior virtue
that leaves us deaf, blind, contemptuous and stupid
before anything which is not like ourselves.
He answered, not looking at her at first, but speaking
towards the house that fascinated him--
"I go away! He wanted me to come--he himself
did! . . . You must go away. You do not know
what you are asking for. Listen. Go to your own
people. Leave him. He is . . ."
He paused, looked down at her with his steady
eyes; hesitated, as if seeking an adequate expression;
then snapped his fingers, and said--
She stepped back, her eyes on the ground, and
pressed her temples with both her hands, which she
raised to her head in a slow and ample movement full
of unconscious tragedy. The tone of her words was
gentle and vibrating, like a loud meditation. She
"Tell the brook not to run to the river; tell the river
not to run to the sea. Speak loud. Speak angrily.
Maybe they will obey you. But it is in my mind that
the brook will not care. The brook that springs out of
the hillside and runs to the great river. He would not
care for your words: he that cares not for the very moun-
tain that gave him life; he that tears the earth from
which he springs. Tears it, eats it, destroys it--to
hurry faster to the river--to the river in which he is lost
for ever. . . . O Rajah Laut! I do not care."


She drew close again to Lingard, approaching slowly,
reluctantly, as if pushed by an invisible hand, and added
in words that seemed to be torn out of her--
"I cared not for my own father. For him that died.
I would have rather . . . You do not know what
I have done . . . I . . ."
"You shall have his life," said Lingard, hastily.
They stood together, crossing their glances; she
suddenly appeased, and Lingard thoughtful and uneasy
under a vague sense of defeat. And yet there was no
defeat. He never intended to kill the fellow--not
after the first moment of anger, a long time ago. The
days of bitter wonder had killed anger; had left only a
bitter indignation and a bitter wish for complete jus-
tice. He felt discontented and surprised. Unex-
pectedly he had come upon a human being--a woman
at that--who had made him disclose his will before its
time. She should have his life. But she must be told,
she must know, that for such men as Willems there was
no favour and no grace.
"Understand," he said slowly, "that I leave him his
life not in mercy but in punishment."
She started, watched every word on his lips, and
after he finished speaking she remained still and mute
in astonished immobility. A single big drop of rain,
a drop enormous, pellucid and heavy--like a super-
human tear coming straight and rapid from above,
tearing its way through the sombre sky--struck loudly
the dry ground between them in a starred splash. She
wrung her hands in the bewilderment of the new and
incomprehensible fear. The anguish of her whisper
was more piercing than the shrillest cry.
"What punishment! Will you take him away then?
Away from me? Listen to what I have done. . . .
It is I who . . ."


"Ah!" exclaimed Lingard, who had been looking
at the house.
"Don't you believe her, Captain Lingard," shouted
Willems from the doorway, where he appeared with
swollen eyelids and bared breast. He stood for a
while, his hands grasping the lintels on each side of
the door, and writhed about, glaring wildly, as if he
had been crucified there. Then he made a sudden
rush head foremost down the plankway that responded
with hollow, short noises to every footstep.
She heard him. A slight thrill passed on her face
and the words that were on her lips fell back unspoken
into her benighted heart; fell back amongst the mud,
the stones--and the flowers, that are at the bottom of
every heart.


WHEN he felt the solid ground of the courtyard under
his feet, Willems pulled himself up in his headlong
rush and moved forward with a moderate gait. He
paced stiffly, looking with extreme exactitude at Lin-
gard's face; looking neither to the right nor to the
left but at the face only, as if there was nothing in the
world but those features familiar and dreaded; that
white-haired, rough and severe head upon which he
gazed in a fixed effort of his eyes, like a man trying to
read small print at the full range of human vision. As
soon as Willems' feet had left the planks, the silence
which had been lifted up by the jerky rattle of his
footsteps fell down again upon the courtyard; the
silence of the cloudy sky and of the windless air, the
sullen silence of the earth oppressed by the aspect of
coming turmoil, the silence of the world collecting its
faculties to withstand the storm.
Through this silence Willems pushed his way, and
stopped about six feet from Lingard. He stopped
simply because he could go no further. He had started
from the door with the reckless purpose of clapping the
old fellow on the shoulder. He had no idea that the
man would turn out to be so tall, so big and so unap-
proachable. It seemed to him that he had never, never
in his life, seen Lingard.
He tried to say--
"Do not believe . . ."
A fit of coughing checked his sentence in a faint
splutter. Directly afterwards he swallowed--as it



were--a couple of pebbles, throwing his chin up in the
act; and Lingard, who looked at him narrowly, saw a
bone, sharp and triangular like the head of a snake, dart
up and down twice under the skin of his throat. Then
that, too, did not move. Nothing moved.
"Well," said Lingard, and with that word he came
unexpectedly to the end of his speech. His hand in
his pocket closed firmly round the butt of his revolver
bulging his jacket on the hip, and he thought how soon
and how quickly he could terminate his quarrel with
that man who had been so anxious to deliver himself
into his hands--and how inadequate would be that
ending! He could not bear the idea of that man
escaping from him by going out of life; escaping from
fear, from doubt, from remorse into the peaceful certi-
tude of death. He held him now. And he was not
going to let him go--to let him disappear for ever in
the faint blue smoke of a pistol shot. His anger grew
within him. He felt a touch as of a burning hand on his
heart. Not on the flesh of his breast, but a touch on his
heart itself, on the palpitating and untiring particle of
matter that responds to every emotion of the soul; that
leaps with joy, with terror, or with anger.
He drew a long breath. He could see before him
the bare chest of the man expanding and collapsing
under the wide-open jacket. He glanced aside, and
saw the bosom of the woman near him rise and fall
in quick respirations that moved slightly up and down
her hand, which was pressed to her breast with all the
fingers spread out and a little curved, as if grasping
something too big for its span. And nearly a minute
passed. One of those minutes when the voice is si-
lenced, while the thoughts flutter in the head, like cap-
tive birds inside a cage, in rushes desperate, exhausting
and vain.


During that minute of silence Lingard's anger kept
rising, immense and towering, such as a crested wave
running over the troubled shallows of the sands. Its
roar filled his cars; a roar so powerful and distract-
ing that, it seemed to him, his head must burst directly
with the expanding volume of that sound. He looked
at that man. That infamous figure upright on its feet,
still, rigid, with stony eyes, as if its rotten soul had
departed that moment and the carcass hadn't had the
time yet to topple over. For the fraction of a second he
had the illusion and the fear of the scoundrel having
died there before the enraged glance of his eyes. Wil-
lems' eyelids fluttered, and the unconscious and passing
tremor in that stiffly erect body exasperated Lingard
like a fresh outrage. The fellow dared to stir! Dared
to wink, to breathe, to exist; here, right before his eyes!
His grip on the revolver relaxed gradually. As the
transport of his rage increased, so also his contempt for
the instruments that pierce or stab, that interpose
themselves between the hand and the object of hate.
He wanted another kind of satisfaction. Naked hands,
by heaven! No firearms. Hands that could take him
by the throat, beat down his defence, batter his face into
shapeless flesh; hands that could feel all the despera-
tion of his resistance and overpower it in the violent
delight of a contact lingering and furious, intimate and
He let go the revolver altogether, stood hesitating,
then throwing his hands out, strode forward--and
everything passed from his sight. He could not see
the man, the woman, the earth, the sky--saw nothing,
as if in that one stride he had left the visible world
behind to step into a black and deserted space. He
heard screams round him in that obscurity, screams
like the melancholy and pitiful cries of sea-birds that


dwell on the lonely reefs of great oceans. Then sud-
denly a face appeared within a few inches of his own.
His face. He felt something in his left hand. His
throat . . . Ah! the thing like a snake's head that
darts up and down . . . He squeezed hard. He
was back in the world. He could see the quick beating
of eyelids over a pair of eyes that were all whites, the
grin of a drawn-up lip, a row of teeth gleaming through
the drooping hair of a moustache . . . Strong
white teeth. Knock them down his lying throat . . .
He drew back his right hand, the fist up to the shoulder,
knuckles out. From under his feet rose the screams of
sea-birds. Thousands of them. Something held his
legs . . . What the devil . . . He delivered
his blow straight from the shoulder, felt the jar right up
his arm, and realized suddenly that he was striking
something passive and unresisting. His heart sank
within him with disappointment, with rage, with
mortification. He pushed with his left arm, opening
the hand with haste, as if he had just perceived that he
got hold by accident of something repulsive--and he
watched with stupefied eyes Willems tottering back-
wards in groping strides, the white sleeve of his jacket
across his face. He watched his distance from that man
increase, while he remained motionless, without being
able to account to himself for the fact that so much
empty space had come in between them. It should
have been the other way. They ought to have been
very close, and . . . Ah! He wouldn't fight, he
wouldn't resist, he wouldn't defend himself! A cur!
Evidently a cur! . . . He was amazed and ag-
grieved--profoundly--bitterly--with the immense and
blank desolation of a small child robbed of a toy. He
"Will you be a cheat to the end?"


He waited for some answer. He waited anxiously
with an impatience that seemed to lift him off his feet.
He waited for some word, some sign; for some threaten-
ing stir. Nothing! Only two unwinking eyes glit-
tered intently at him above the white sleeve. He saw
the raised arm detach itself from the face and sink along
the body. A white clad arm, with a big stain on the
white sleeve. A red stain. There was a cut on the
cheek. It bled. The nose bled too. The blood ran
down, made one moustache look like a dark rag stuck
over the lip, and went on in a wet streak down the clip-
ped beard on one side of the chin. A drop of blood
hung on the end of some hairs that were glued together;
it hung for a while and took a leap down on the ground.
Many more followed, leaping one after another in close
file. One alighted on the breast and glided down in-
stantly with devious vivacity, like a small insect run-
ning away; it left a narrow dark track on the white
skin. He looked at it, looked at the tiny and active
drops, looked at what he had done, with obscure satis-
faction, with anger, with regret. This wasn't much
like an act of justice. He had a desire to go up nearer
to the man, to hear him speak, to hear him say some-
thing atrocious and wicked that would justify the vio-
lence of the blow. He made an attempt to move, and
became aware of a close embrace round both his legs,
just above the ankles. Instinctively, he kicked out
with his foot, broke through the close bond and felt at
once the clasp transferred to his other leg; the clasp
warm, desperate and soft, of human arms. He looked
down bewildered. He saw the body of the woman
stretched at length, flattened on the ground like a dark
blue rag. She trailed face downwards, clinging to his
leg with both arms in a tenacious hug. He saw the top
of her head, the long black hair streaming over his foot,


all over the beaten earth, around his boot. He couldn't
see his foot for it. He heard the short and repeated
moaning of her breath. He imagined the invisible face
close to his heel. With one kick into that face he could
free himself. He dared not stir, and shouted down--
"Let go! Let go! Let go!"
The only result of his shouting was a tightening of
the pressure of her arms. With a tremendous effort
he tried to bring his right foot up to his left, and suc-
ceeded partly. He heard distinctly the rub of her body
on the ground as he jerked her along. He tried to
disengage himself by drawing up his foot. He stamped.
He heard a voice saying sharply--
"Steady, Captain Lingard, steady!"
His eyes flew back to Willems at the sound of that
voice, and, in the quick awakening of sleeping memories,
Lingard stood suddenly still, appeased by the clear ring
of familiar words. Appeased as in days of old, when
they were trading together, when Willems was his
trusted and helpful companion in out-of-the-way and
dangerous places; when that fellow, who could keep his
temper so much better than he could himself, had spared
him many a difficulty, had saved him from many an act
of hasty violence by the timely and good-humoured
warning, whispered or shouted, "Steady, Captain Lin-
gard, steady." A smart fellow. He had brought him
up. The smartest fellow in the islands. If he had
only stayed with him, then all this . . . He called
out to Willems--
"Tell her to let me go or . . ."
He heard Willems shouting something, waited for
awhile, then glanced vaguely down and saw the woman
still stretched out perfectly mute and unstirring, with
her head at his feet. He felt a nervous impatience
that, somehow, resembled fear.


"Tell her to let go, to go away, Willems, I tell you.
I've had enough of this," he cried.
"All right, Captain Lingard," answered the calm
voice of Willems, "she has let go. Take your foot
off her hair; she can't get up."
Lingard leaped aside, clean away, and spun round
quickly. He saw her sit up and cover her face with
both hands, then he turned slowly on his heel and
looked at the man. Willems held himself very straight,
but was unsteady on his feet, and moved about nearly
on the same spot, like a tipsy man attempting to pre-
serve his balance. After gazing at him for a while,
Lingard called, rancorous and irritable--
"What have you got to say for yourself?"
Willems began to walk towards him. He walked
slowly, reeling a little before he took each step, and
Lingard saw him put his hand to his face, then look
at it holding it up to his eyes, as if he had there, con-
cealed in the hollow of the palm, some small object
which he wanted to examine secretly. Suddenly he
drew it, with a brusque movement, down the front of his
jacket and left a long smudge.
"That's a fine thing to do," said Willems.
He stood in front of Lingard, one of his eyes sunk
deep in the increasing swelling of his cheek, still re-
peating mechanically the movement of feeling his
damaged face; and every time he did this he pressed
the palm to some clean spot on his jacket, covering the
white cotton with bloody imprints as of some deformed
and monstrous hand. Lingard said nothing, looking
on. At last Willems left off staunching the blood and
stood, his arms hanging by his side, with his face stiff
and distorted under the patches of coagulated blood;
and he seemed as though he had been set up there for a
warning: an incomprehensible figure marked all over


with some awful and symbolic signs of deadly import.
Speaking with difficulty, he repeated in a reproachful
"That was a fine thing to do."
"After all," answered Lingard, bitterly, "I had too
good an opinion of you."
"And I of you. Don't you see that I could have had
that fool over there killed and the whole thing burnt to
the ground, swept off the face of the earth. You would-
n't have found as much as a heap of ashes had I liked.
I could have done all that. And I wouldn't."
"You--could--not. You dared not. You scoun-
drel!" cried Lingard.
"What's the use of calling me names?"
"True," retorted Lingard--"there's no name bad
enough for you."
There was a short interval of silence. At the sound
of their rapidly exchanged words, Aissa had got up
from the ground where she had been sitting, in a
sorrowful and dejected pose, and approached the two
men. She stood on one side and looked on eagerly, in a
desperate effort of her brain, with the quick and dis-
tracted eyes of a person trying for her life to penetrate
the meaning of sentences uttered in a foreign tongue:
the meaning portentous and fateful that lurks in the
sounds of mysterious words; in the sounds surprising,
unknown and strange.
Willems let the last speech of Lingard pass by;
seemed by a slight movement of his hand to help it
on its way to join the other shadows of the past. Then
he said--
"You have struck me; you have insulted me . . ."
"Insulted you!" interrupted Lingard, passionately.
"Who--what can insult you . . . you . . ."
He choked, advanced a step.


"Steady! steady!" said Willems calmly. "I tell
you I sha'n't fight. Is it clear enough to you that I
sha'n't? I--shall--not--lift--a--finger."
As he spoke, slowly punctuating each word with a
slight jerk of his head, he stared at Lingard, his right
eye open and big, the left small and nearly closed by
the swelling of one half of his face, that appeared all
drawn out on one side like faces seen in a concave
glass. And they stood exactly opposite each other:
one tall, slight and disfigured; the other tall, heavy
and severe.
Willems went on--
"If I had wanted to hurt you--if I had wanted to
destroy you, it was easy. I stood in the doorway long
enough to pull a trigger--and you know I shoot
"You would have missed," said Lingard, with as-
surance. "There is, under heaven, such a thing as
The sound of that word on his own lips made him
pause, confused, like an unexpected and unanswerable
rebuke. The anger of his outraged pride, the anger
of his outraged heart, had gone out in the blow; and
there remained nothing but the sense of some immense
infamy--of something vague, disgusting and terrible,
which seemed to surround him on all sides, hover
about him with shadowy and stealthy movements, like
a band of assassins in the darkness of vast and unsafe
places. Was there, under heaven, such a thing as jus-
tice? He looked at the man before him with such
an intensity of prolonged glance that he seemed to see
right through him, that at last he saw but a floating
and unsteady mist in human shape. Would it blow
away before the first breath of the breeze and leave
nothing behind?


The sound of Willems' voice made him start violently.
Willems was saying--
"I have always led a virtuous life; you know I have.
You always praised me for my steadiness; you know
you have. You know also I never stole--if that's what
you're thinking of. I borrowed. You know how much
I repaid. It was an error of judgment. But then
consider my position there. I had been a little unlucky
in my private affairs, and had debts. Could I let myself
go under before the eyes of all those men who envied
me? But that's all over. It was an error of judgment.
I've paid for it. An error of judgment."
Lingard, astounded into perfect stillness, looked
down. He looked down at Willems' bare feet. Then,
as the other had paused, he repeated in a blank tone--
"An error of judgment . . ."
"Yes," drawled out Willems, thoughtfully, and went
on with increasing animation: "As I said, I have always
led a virtuous life. More so than Hudig--than you.
Yes, than you. I drank a little, I played cards a little.
Who doesn't? But I had principles from a boy. Yes,
principles. Business is business, and I never was an
ass. I never respected fools. They had to suffer for
their folly when they dealt with me. The evil was in
them, not in me. But as to principles, it's another mat-
ter. I kept clear of women. It's forbidden--I had no
time--and I despised them. Now I hate them!"
He put his tongue out a little; a tongue whose pink
and moist end ran here and there, like something
independently alive, under his swollen and blackened
lip; he touched with the tips of his fingers the cut
on his cheek, felt all round it with precaution: and
the unharmed side of his face appeared for a moment
to be preoccupied and uneasy about the state of that
other side which was so very sore and stiff.


He recommenced speaking, and his voice vibrated
as though with repressed emotion of some kind.
"You ask my wife, when you see her in Macassar,
whether I have no reason to hate her. She was no-
body, and I made her Mrs. Willems. A half-caste
girl! You ask her how she showed her gratitude to
me. You ask . . . Never mind that. Well, you
came and dumped me here like a load of rubbish;
dumped me here and left me with nothing to do--
nothing good to remember--and damn little to hope
for. You left me here at the mercy of that fool, Al-
mayer, who suspected me of something. Of what?
Devil only knows. But he suspected and hated me
from the first; I suppose because you befriended me.
Oh! I could read him like a book. He isn't very deep,
your Sambir partner, Captain Lingard, but he knows
how to be disagreeable. Months passed. I thought
I would die of sheer weariness, of my thoughts, of my
regrets And then . . ."
He made a quick step nearer to Lingard, and as if
moved by the same thought, by the same instinct,
by the impulse of his will, Aissa also stepped nearer
to them. They stood in a close group, and the two
men could feel the calm air between their faces stirred
by the light breath of the anxious woman who en-
veloped them both in the uncomprehending, in the
despairing and wondering glances of her wild and
mournful eyes.


WILLEMS turned a little from her and spoke lower.
"Look at that," he said, with an almost imper-
ceptible movement of his head towards the woman to
whom he was presenting his shoulder. "Look at that!
Don't believe her! What has she been saying to you?
What? I have been asleep. Had to sleep at last.
I've been waiting for you three days and nights. I had
to sleep some time. Hadn't I? I told her to remain
awake and watch for you, and call me at once. She
did watch. You can't believe her. You can't believe
any woman. Who can tell what's inside their heads?
No one. You can know nothing. The only thing you
can know is that it isn't anything like what comes
through their lips. They live by the side of you.
They seem to hate you, or they seem to love you;
they caress or torment you; they throw you over or stick
to you closer than your skin for some inscrutable and
awful reason of their own--which you can never know!
Look at her--and look at me. At me!--her infernal
work. What has she been saying?"
His voice had sunk to a whisper. Lingard listened
with great attention, holding his chin in his hand,
which grasped a great handful of his white beard.
His elbow was in the palm of his other hand, and
his eyes were still fixed on the ground. He murmured,
without looking up--
"She begged me for your life--if you want to know
--as if the thing were worth giving or taking!"
"And for three days she begged me to take yours,"



said Willems quickly. "For three days she wouldn't
give me any peace. She was never still. She planned
ambushes. She has been looking for places all over
here where I could hide and drop you with a safe shot
as you walked up. It's true. I give you my word."
"Your word," muttered Lingard, contemptuously.
Willems took no notice.
"Ah! She is a ferocious creature," he went on.
"You don't know . . . I wanted to pass the time
--to do something--to have something to think about
--to forget my troubles till you came back. And . . .
look at her . . . she took me as if I did not belong
to myself. She did. I did not know there was some-
thing in me she could get hold of. She, a savage.
I, a civilized European, and clever! She that knew
no more than a wild animal! Well, she found out
something in me. She found it out, and I was lost.
I knew it. She tormented me. I was ready to do
anything. I resisted--but I was ready. I knew that
too. That frightened me more than anything; more
than my own sufferings; and that was frightful enough,
I assure you."
Lingard listened, fascinated and amazed like a child
listening to a fairy tale, and, when Willems stopped for
breath, he shuffled his feet a little.
"What does he say?" cried out Aissa, suddenly.
The two men looked at her quickly, and then looked
at one another.
Willems began again, speaking hurriedly--
"I tried to do something. Take her away from
those people. I went to Almayer; the biggest blind
fool that you ever . . . Then Abdulla came--and
she went away. She took away with her something of
me which I had to get back. I had to do it. As far
as you are concerned, the change here had to happen


sooner or later; you couldn't be master here for ever.
It isn't what I have done that torments me. It is the
why. It's the madness that drove me to it. It's that
thing that came over me. That may come again,
some day."
"It will do no harm to anybody then, I promise
you," said Lingard, significantly.
Willems looked at him for a second with a blank
stare, then went on--
"I fought against her. She goaded me to violence
and to murder. Nobody knows why. She pushed
me to it persistently, desperately, all the time. For-
tunately Abdulla had sense. I don't know what I
wouldn't have done. She held me then. Held me
like a nightmare that is terrible and sweet. By and
by it was another life. I woke up. I found myself
beside an animal as full of harm as a wild cat. You
don't know through what I have passed. Her father
tried to kill me--and she very nearly killed him. I
believe she would have stuck at nothing. I don't
know which was more terrible! She would have stuck
at nothing to defend her own. And when I think
that it was me--me--Willems . . . I hate her.
To-morrow she may want my life. How can I know
what's in her? She may want to kill me next!"
He paused in great trepidation, then added in a
scared tone--
"I don't want to die here."
"Don't you?" said Lingard, thoughtfully.
Willems turned towards Aissa and pointed at her
with a bony forefinger.
"Look at her! Always there. Always near. Al-
ways watching, watching . . . for something.
Look at her eyes. Ain't they big? Don't they stare?
You wouldn't think she can shut them like human


beings do. I don't believe she ever does. I go to sleep,
if I can, under their stare, and when I wake up I see
them fixed on me and moving no more than the eyes of
a corpse. While I am still they are still. By God--she
can't move them till I stir, and then they follow me like
a pair of jailers. They watch me; when I stop they
seem to wait patient and glistening till I am off my guard
--for to do something. To do something horrible.
Look at them! You can see nothing in them. They
are big, menacing--and empty. The eyes of a savage;
of a damned mongrel, half-Arab, half-Malay. They
hurt me! I am white! I swear to you I can't stand
this! Take me away. I am white! All white!"
He shouted towards the sombre heaven, proclaiming
desperately under the frown of thickening clouds the
fact of his pure and superior descent. He shouted,

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