Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Judy Boss, Omaha, NE
TALES OF UNREST
"Be it thy course to being giddy minds
With foreign quarrels."
ADOLF P. KRIEGER
FOR THE SAKE OF
KARAIN: A MEMORY
AN OUTPOST OF PROGRESS
Of the five stories in this volume, "The Lagoon," the last in order,
is the earliest in date. It is the first short story I ever wrote and
marks, in a manner of speaking, the end of my first phase, the Malayan
phase with its special subject and its verbal suggestions. Conceived
in the same mood which produced "Almayer's Folly" and "An Outcast of
the Islands," it is told in the same breath (with what was left of it,
that is, after the end of "An Outcast"), seen with the same vision,
rendered in the same method--if such a thing as method did exist then
in my conscious relation to this new adventure of writing for print. I
doubt it very much. One does one's work first and theorises about it
afterwards. It is a very amusing and egotistical occupation of no use
whatever to any one and just as likely as not to lead to false
Anybody can see that between the last paragraph of "An Outcast" and
the first of "The Lagoon" there has been no change of pen,
figuratively speaking. It happened also to be literally true. It was
the same pen: a common steel pen. Having been charged with a certain
lack of emotional faculty I am glad to be able to say that on one
occasion at least I did give way to a sentimental impulse. I thought
the pen had been a good pen and that it had done enough for me, and
so, with the idea of keeping it for a sort of memento on which I could
look later with tender eyes, I put it into my waistcoat pocket.
Afterwards it used to turn up in all sorts of places--at the bottom of
small drawers, among my studs in cardboard boxes--till at last it
found permanent rest in a large wooden bowl containing some loose
keys, bits of sealing wax, bits of string, small broken chains, a few
buttons, and similar minute wreckage that washes out of a man's life
into such receptacles. I would catch sight of it from time to time
with a distinct feeling of satisfaction till, one day, I perceived
with horror that there were two old pens in there. How the other pen
found its way into the bowl instead of the fireplace or wastepaper
basket I can't imagine, but there the two were, lying side by side,
both encrusted with ink and completely undistinguishable from each
other. It was very distressing, but being determined not to share my
sentiment between two pens or run the risk of sentimentalising over a
mere stranger, I threw them both out of the window into a flower bed--
which strikes me now as a poetical grave for the remnants of one's
But the tale remained. It was first fixed in print in the "Cornhill
Magazine", being my first appearance in a serial of any kind; and I
have lived long enough to see it guyed most agreeably by Mr. Max
Beerbohm in a volume of parodies entitled "A Christmas Garland," where
I found myself in very good company. I was immensely gratified. I
began to believe in my public existence. I have much to thank "The
My next effort in short-story writing was a departure--I mean a
departure from the Malay Archipelago. Without premeditation, without
sorrow, without rejoicing, and almost without noticing it, I stepped
into the very different atmosphere of "An Outpost of Progress." I
found there a different moral attitude. I seemed able to capture new
reactions, new suggestions, and even new rhythms for my paragraphs.
For a moment I fancied myself a new man--a most exciting illusion. It
clung to me for some time, monstrous, half conviction and half hope as
to its body, with an iridescent tail of dreams and with a changeable
head like a plastic mask. It was only later that I perceived that in
common with the rest of men nothing could deliver me from my fatal
consistency. We cannot escape from ourselves.
"An Outpost of Progress" is the lightest part of the loot I carried
off from Central Africa, the main portion being of course "The Heart
of Darkness." Other men have found a lot of quite different things
there and I have the comfortable conviction that what I took would not
have been of much use to anybody else. And it must be said that it was
but a very small amount of plunder. All of it could go into one's
breast pocket when folded neatly. As for the story itself it is true
enough in its essentials. The sustained invention of a really telling
lie demands a talent which I do not possess.
"The Idiots" is such an obviously derivative piece of work that it is
impossible for me to say anything about it here. The suggestion of it
was not mental but visual: the actual idiots. It was after an interval
of long groping amongst vague impulses and hesitations which ended in
the production of "The Nigger" that I turned to my third short story
in the order of time, the first in this volume: "Karain: A Memory."
Reading it after many years "Karain" produced on me the effect of
something seen through a pair of glasses from a rather advantageous
position. In that story I had not gone back to the Archipelago, I had
only turned for another look at it. I admit that I was absorbed by the
distant view, so absorbed that I didn't notice then that the motif of
the story is almost identical with the motif of "The Lagoon." However,
the idea at the back is very different; but the story is mainly made
memorable to me by the fact that it was my first contribution to
"Blackwood's Magazine" and that it led to my personal acquaintance
with Mr. William Blackwood whose guarded appreciation I felt
nevertheless to be genuine, and prized accordingly. "Karain" was begun
on a sudden impulse only three days after I wrote the last line of
"The Nigger," and the recollection of its difficulties is mixed up
with the worries of the unfinished "Return," the last pages of which I
took up again at the time; the only instance in my life when I made an
attempt to write with both hands at once as it were.
Indeed my innermost feeling, now, is that "The Return" is a left-
handed production. Looking through that story lately I had the
material impression of sitting under a large and expensive umbrella in
the loud drumming of a heavy rain-shower. It was very distracting. In
the general uproar one could hear every individual drop strike on the
stout and distended silk. Mentally, the reading rendered me dumb for
the remainder of the day, not exactly with astonishment but with a
sort of dismal wonder. I don't want to talk disrespectfully of any
pages of mine. Psychologically there were no doubt good reasons for my
attempt; and it was worth while, if only to see of what excesses I was
capable in that sort of virtuosity. In this connection I should like
to confess my surprise on finding that notwithstanding all its
apparatus of analysis the story consists for the most part of physical
impressions; impressions of sound and sight, railway station, streets,
a trotting horse, reflections in mirrors and so on, rendered as if for
their own sake and combined with a sublimated description of a
desirable middle-class town-residence which somehow manages to produce
a sinister effect. For the rest any kind word about "The Return" (and
there have been such words said at different times) awakens in me the
liveliest gratitude, for I know how much the writing of that fantasy
has cost me in sheer toil, in temper, and in disillusion.
TALES OF UNREST
KARAIN A MEMORY
We knew him in those unprotected days when we were content to hold in
our hands our lives and our property. None of us, I believe, has any
property now, and I hear that many, negligently, have lost their
lives; but I am sure that the few who survive are not yet so dim-eyed
as to miss in the befogged respectability of their newspapers the
intelligence of various native risings in the Eastern Archipelago.
Sunshine gleams between the lines of those short paragraphs--sunshine
and the glitter of the sea. A strange name wakes up memories; the
printed words scent the smoky atmosphere of to-day faintly, with the
subtle and penetrating perfume as of land breezes breathing through
the starlight of bygone nights; a signal fire gleams like a jewel on
the high brow of a sombre cliff; great trees, the advanced sentries of
immense forests, stand watchful and still over sleeping stretches of
open water; a line of white surf thunders on an empty beach, the
shallow water foams on the reefs; and green islets scattered through
the calm of noonday lie upon the level of a polished sea, like a
handful of emeralds on a buckler of steel.
There are faces too--faces dark, truculent, and smiling; the frank
audacious faces of men barefooted, well armed and noiseless. They
thronged the narrow length of our schooner's decks with their
ornamented and barbarous crowd, with the variegated colours of
checkered sarongs, red turbans, white jackets, embroideries; with the
gleam of scabbards, gold rings, charms, armlets, lance blades, and
jewelled handles of their weapons. They had an independent bearing,
resolute eyes, a restrained manner; and we seem yet to hear their
soft voices speaking of battles, travels, and escapes; boasting with
composure, joking quietly; sometimes in well-bred murmurs extolling
their own valour, our generosity; or celebrating with loyal
enthusiasm the virtues of their ruler. We remember the faces, the
eyes, the voices, we see again the gleam of silk and metal; the
murmuring stir of that crowd, brilliant, festive, and martial; and we
seem to feel the touch of friendly brown hands that, after one short
grasp, return to rest on a chased hilt. They were Karain's people--a
devoted following. Their movements hung on his lips; they read their
thoughts in his eyes; he murmured to them nonchalantly of life and
death, and they accepted his words humbly, like gifts of fate. They
were all free men, and when speaking to him said, "Your slave." On his
passage voices died out as though he had walked guarded by silence;
awed whispers followed him. They called him their war-chief. He was
the ruler of three villages on a narrow plain; the master of an
insignificant foothold on the earth--of a conquered foothold that,
shaped like a young moon, lay ignored between the hills and the sea.
From the deck of our schooner, anchored in the middle of the bay, he
indicated by a theatrical sweep of his arm along the jagged outline of
the hills the whole of his domain; and the ample movement seemed to
drive back its limits, augmenting it suddenly into something so
immense and vague that for a moment it appeared to be bounded only by
the sky. And really, looking at that place, landlocked from the sea
and shut off from the land by the precipitous slopes of mountains,
it was difficult to believe in the existence of any neighbourhood. It
was still, complete, unknown, and full of a life that went on
stealthily with a troubling effect of solitude; of a life that seemed
unaccountably empty of anything that would stir the thought, touch the
heart, give a hint of the ominous sequence of days. It appeared to us
a land without memories, regrets, and hopes; a land where nothing
could survive the coming of the night, and where each sunrise, like a
dazzling act of special creation, was disconnected from the eve and
Karain swept his hand over it. "All mine!" He struck the deck with his
long staff; the gold head flashed like a falling star; very close
behind him a silent old fellow in a richly embroidered black jacket
alone of all the Malays around did not follow the masterful gesture
with a look. He did not even lift his eyelids. He bowed his head
behind his master, and without stirring held hilt up over his right
shoulder a long blade in a silver scabbard. He was there on duty, but
without curiosity, and seemed weary, not with age, but with the
possession of a burdensome secret of existence. Karain, heavy and
proud, had a lofty pose and breathed calmly. It was our first visit,
and we looked about curiously.
The bay was like a bottomless pit of intense light. The circular sheet
of water reflected a luminous sky, and the shores enclosing it made an
opaque ring of earth floating in an emptiness of transparent blue. The
hills, purple and arid, stood out heavily on the sky: their summits
seemed to fade into a coloured tremble as of ascending vapour; their
steep sides were streaked with the green of narrow ravines; at their
foot lay rice-fields, plantain-patches, yellow sands. A torrent wound
about like a dropped thread. Clumps of fruit-trees marked the
villages; slim palms put their nodding heads together above the low
houses; dried palm-leaf roofs shone afar, like roofs of gold, behind
the dark colonnades of tree-trunks; figures passed vivid and
vanishing; the smoke of fires stood upright above the masses of
flowering bushes; bamboo fences glittered, running away in broken
lines between the fields. A sudden cry on the shore sounded plaintive
in the distance, and ceased abruptly, as if stifled in the downpour of
sunshine. A puff of breeze made a flash of darkness on the smooth
water, touched our faces, and became forgotten. Nothing moved. The sun
blazed down into a shadowless hollow of colours and stillness.
It was the stage where, dressed splendidly for his part, he strutted,
incomparably dignified, made important by the power he had to awaken
an absurd expectation of something heroic going to take place--a
burst of action or song--upon the vibrating tone of a wonderful
sunshine. He was ornate and disturbing, for one could not imagine what
depth of horrible void such an elaborate front could be worthy to
hide. He was not masked--there was too much life in him, and a mask is
only a lifeless thing; but he presented himself essentially as an
actor, as a human being aggressively disguised. His smallest acts
were prepared and unexpected, his speeches grave, his sentences
ominous like hints and complicated like arabesques. He was treated
with a solemn respect accorded in the irreverent West only to the
monarchs of the stage, and he accepted the profound homage with a
sustained dignity seen nowhere else but behind the footlights and in
the condensed falseness of some grossly tragic situation. It was
almost impossible to remember who he was--only a petty chief of a
conveniently isolated corner of Mindanao, where we could in
comparative safety break the law against the traffic in firearms and
ammunition with the natives. What would happen should one of the
moribund Spanish gun-boats be suddenly galvanized into a flicker of
active life did not trouble us, once we were inside the bay--so
completely did it appear out of the reach of a meddling world; and
besides, in those days we were imaginative enough to look with a kind
of joyous equanimity on any chance there was of being quietly hanged
somewhere out of the way of diplomatic remonstrance. As to Karain,
nothing could happen to him unless what happens to all--failure and
death; but his quality was to appear clothed in the illusion of
unavoidable success. He seemed too effective, too necessary there,
too much of an essential condition for the existence of his land and
his people, to be destroyed by anything short of an earthquake. He
summed up his race, his country, the elemental force of ardent life,
of tropical nature. He had its luxuriant strength, its fascination;
and, like it, he carried the seed of peril within.
In many successive visits we came to know his stage well--the purple
semicircle of hills, the slim trees leaning over houses, the yellow
sands, the streaming green of ravines. All that had the crude and
blended colouring, the appropriateness almost excessive, the
suspicious immobility of a painted scene; and it enclosed so
perfectly the accomplished acting of his amazing pretences that the
rest of the world seemed shut out forever from the gorgeous spectacle.
There could be nothing outside. It was as if the earth had gone on
spinning, and had left that crumb of its surface alone in space. He
appeared utterly cut off from everything but the sunshine, and that
even seemed to be made for him alone. Once when asked what was on the
other side of the hills, he said, with a meaning smile, "Friends and
enemies--many enemies; else why should I buy your rifles and powder?"
He was always like this--word-perfect in his part, playing up
faithfully to the mysteries and certitudes of his surroundings.
"Friends and enemies"--nothing else. It was impalpable and vast. The
earth had indeed rolled away from under his land, and he, with his
handful of people, stood surrounded by a silent tumult as of
contending shades. Certainly no sound came from outside. "Friends and
enemies!" He might have added, "and memories," at least as far as he
himself was concerned; but he neglected to make that point then. It
made itself later on, though; but it was after the daily performance--
in the wings, so to speak, and with the lights out. Meantime he filled
the stage with barbarous dignity. Some ten years ago he had led his
people--a scratch lot of wandering Bugis--to the conquest of the bay,
and now in his august care they had forgotten all the past, and had
lost all concern for the future. He gave them wisdom, advice, reward,
punishment, life or death, with the same serenity of attitude and
voice. He understood irrigation and the art of war--the qualities of
weapons and the craft of boat-building. He could conceal his heart;
had more endurance; he could swim longer, and steer a canoe better
than any of his people; he could shoot straighter, and negotiate more
tortuously than any man of his race I knew. He was an adventurer of
the sea, an outcast, a ruler--and my very good friend. I wish him a
quick death in a stand-up fight, a death in sunshine; for he had known
remorse and power, and no man can demand more from life. Day after day
he appeared before us, incomparably faithful to the illusions of the
stage, and at sunset the night descended upon him quickly, like a
falling curtain. The seamed hills became black shadows towering high
upon a clear sky; above them the glittering confusion of stars
resembled a mad turmoil stilled by a gesture; sounds ceased, men
slept, forms vanished--and the reality of the universe alone
remained--a marvellous thing of darkness and glimmers.
But it was at night that he talked openly, forgetting the exactions
of his stage. In the daytime there were affairs to be discussed in
state. There were at first between him and me his own splendour, my
shabby suspicions, and the scenic landscape that intruded upon the
reality of our lives by its motionless fantasy of outline and colour.
His followers thronged round him; above his head the broad blades of
their spears made a spiked halo of iron points, and they hedged him
from humanity by the shimmer of silks, the gleam of weapons, the
excited and respectful hum of eager voices. Before sunset he would
take leave with ceremony, and go off sitting under a red umbrella, and
escorted by a score of boats. All the paddles flashed and struck
together with a mighty splash that reverberated loudly in the
monumental amphitheatre of hills. A broad stream of dazzling foam
trailed behind the flotilla. The canoes appeared very black on the
white hiss of water; turbaned heads swayed back and forth; a multitude
of arms in crimson and yellow rose and fell with one movement; the
spearmen upright in the bows of canoes had variegated sarongs and
gleaming shoulders like bronze statues; the muttered strophes of the
paddlers' song ended periodically in a plaintive shout. They
diminished in the distance; the song ceased; they swarmed on the beach
in the long shadows of the western hills. The sunlight lingered on the
purple crests, and we could see him leading the way to his stockade, a
burly bareheaded figure walking far in advance of a straggling
cortege, and swinging regularly an ebony staff taller than himself.
The darkness deepened fast; torches gleamed fitfully, passing behind
bushes; a long hail or two trailed in the silence of the evening; and
at last the night stretched its smooth veil over the shore, the
lights, and the voices.
Then, just as we were thinking of repose, the watchmen of the
schooner would hail a splash of paddles away in the starlit gloom of
the bay; a voice would respond in cautious tones, and our serang,
putting his head down the open skylight, would inform us without
surprise, "That Rajah, he coming. He here now." Karain appeared
noiselessly in the doorway of the little cabin. He was simplicity
itself then; all in white; muffled about his head; for arms only a
kriss with a plain buffalo-horn handle, which he would politely
conceal within a fold of his sarong before stepping over the
threshold. The old sword-bearer's face, the worn-out and mournful
face so covered with wrinkles that it seemed to look out through the
meshes of a fine dark net, could be seen close above his shoulders.
Karain never moved without that attendant, who stood or squatted close
at his back. He had a dislike of an open space behind him. It was more
than a dislike--it resembled fear, a nervous preoccupation of what
went on where he could not see. This, in view of the evident and
fierce loyalty that surrounded him, was inexplicable. He was there
alone in the midst of devoted men; he was safe from neighbourly
ambushes, from fraternal ambitions; and yet more than one of our
visitors had assured us that their ruler could not bear to be alone.
They said, "Even when he eats and sleeps there is always one on the
watch near him who has strength and weapons." There was indeed
always one near him, though our informants had no conception of that
watcher's strength and weapons, which were both shadowy and terrible.
We knew, but only later on, when we had heard the story. Meantime we
noticed that, even during the most important interviews, Karain would
often give a start, and interrupting his discourse, would sweep his
arm back with a sudden movement, to feel whether the old fellow was
there. The old fellow, impenetrable and weary, was always there. He
shared his food, his repose, and his thoughts; he knew his plans,
guarded his secrets; and, impassive behind his master's agitation,
without stirring the least bit, murmured above his head in a soothing
tone some words difficult to catch.
It was only on board the schooner, when surrounded by white faces,
by unfamiliar sights and sounds, that Karain seemed to forget the
strange obsession that wound like a black thread through the gorgeous
pomp of his public life. At night we treated him in a free and easy
manner, which just stopped short of slapping him on the back, for
there are liberties one must not take with a Malay. He said himself
that on such occasions he was only a private gentleman coming to see
other gentlemen whom he supposed as well born as himself. I fancy that
to the last he believed us to be emissaries of Government, darkly
official persons furthering by our illegal traffic some dark scheme
of high statecraft. Our denials and protestations were unavailing.
He only smiled with discreet politeness and inquired about the
Queen. Every visit began with that inquiry; he was insatiable of
details; he was fascinated by the holder of a sceptre the shadow of
which, stretching from the westward over the earth and over the
seas, passed far beyond his own hand's-breadth of conquered land. He
multiplied questions; he could never know enough of the Monarch of
whom he spoke with wonder and chivalrous respect--with a kind of
affectionate awe! Afterwards, when we had learned that he was the son
of a woman who had many years ago ruled a small Bugis state, we came
to suspect that the memory of his mother (of whom he spoke with
enthusiasm) mingled somehow in his mind with the image he tried to
form for himself of the far-off Queen whom he called Great,
Invincible, Pious, and Fortunate. We had to invent details at last
to satisfy his craving curiosity; and our loyalty must be pardoned,
for we tried to make them fit for his august and resplendent ideal. We
talked. The night slipped over us, over the still schooner, over the
sleeping land, and over the sleepless sea that thundered amongst the
reefs outside the bay. His paddlers, two trustworthy men, slept in the
canoe at the foot of our side-ladder. The old confidant, relieved from
duty, dozed on his heels, with his back against the companion-doorway;
and Karain sat squarely in the ship's wooden armchair, under the
slight sway of the cabin lamp, a cheroot between his dark fingers, and
a glass of lemonade before him. He was amused by the fizz of the
thing, but after a sip or two would let it get flat, and with a
courteous wave of his hand ask for a fresh bottle. He decimated our
slender stock; but we did not begrudge it to him, for, when he began,
he talked well. He must have been a great Bugis dandy in his time, for
even then (and when we knew him he was no longer young) his splendour
was spotlessly neat, and he dyed his hair a light shade of brown. The
quiet dignity of his bearing transformed the dim-lit cuddy of the
schooner into an audience-hall. He talked of inter-island politics
with an ironic and melancholy shrewdness. He had travelled much,
suffered not a little, intrigued, fought. He knew native Courts,
European Settlements, the forests, the sea, and, as he said himself,
had spoken in his time to many great men. He liked to talk with me
because I had known some of these men: he seemed to think that I could
understand him, and, with a fine confidence, assumed that I, at
least, could appreciate how much greater he was himself. But he
preferred to talk of his native country--a small Bugis state on the
island of Celebes. I had visited it some time before, and he asked
eagerly for news. As men's names came up in conversation he would say,
"We swam against one another when we were boys"; or, "We hunted the
deer together--he could use the noose and the spear as well as I." Now
and then his big dreamy eyes would roll restlessly; he frowned or
smiled, or he would become pensive, and, staring in silence, would nod
slightly for a time at some regretted vision of the past.
His mother had been the ruler of a small semi-independent state on
the sea-coast at the head of the Gulf of Boni. He spoke of her with
pride. She had been a woman resolute in affairs of state and of her
own heart. After the death of her first husband, undismayed by the
turbulent opposition of the chiefs, she married a rich trader, a
Korinchi man of no family. Karain was her son by that second marriage,
but his unfortunate descent had apparently nothing to do with his
exile. He said nothing as to its cause, though once he let slip with a
sigh, "Ha! my land will not feel any more the weight of my body." But
he related willingly the story of his wanderings, and told us all
about the conquest of the bay. Alluding to the people beyond the
hills, he would murmur gently, with a careless wave of the hand, "They
came over the hills once to fight us, but those who got away never
came again." He thought for a while, smiling to himself. "Very few got
away," he added, with proud serenity. He cherished the recollections
of his successes; he had an exulting eagerness for endeavour; when
he talked, his aspect was warlike, chivalrous, and uplifting. No
wonder his people admired him. We saw him once walking in daylight
amongst the houses of the settlement. At the doors of huts groups of
women turned to look after him, warbling softly, and with gleaming
eyes; armed men stood out of the way, submissive and erect; others
approached from the side, bending their backs to address him humbly;
an old woman stretched out a draped lean arm--"Blessings on thy
head!" she cried from a dark doorway; a fiery-eyed man showed above
the low fence of a plantain-patch a streaming face, a bare breast
scarred in two places, and bellowed out pantingly after him, "God give
victory to our master!" Karain walked fast, and with firm long
strides; he answered greetings right and left by quick piercing
glances. Children ran forward between the houses, peeped fearfully
round corners; young boys kept up with him, gliding between bushes:
their eyes gleamed through the dark leaves. The old sword-bearer,
shouldering the silver scabbard, shuffled hastily at his heels with
bowed head, and his eyes on the ground. And in the midst of a great
stir they passed swift and absorbed, like two men hurrying through a
In his council hall he was surrounded by the gravity of armed chiefs,
while two long rows of old headmen dressed in cotton stuffs squatted
on their heels, with idle arms hanging over their knees. Under the
thatch roof supported by smooth columns, of which each one had cost
the life of a straight-stemmed young palm, the scent of flowering
hedges drifted in warm waves. The sun was sinking. In the open
courtyard suppliants walked through the gate, raising, when yet far
off, their joined hands above bowed heads, and bending low in the
bright stream of sunlight. Young girls, with flowers in their laps,
sat under the wide-spreading boughs of a big tree. The blue smoke of
wood fires spread in a thin mist above the high-pitched roofs of
houses that had glistening walls of woven reeds, and all round them
rough wooden pillars under the sloping eaves. He dispensed justice in
the shade; from a high seat he gave orders, advice, reproof. Now and
then the hum of approbation rose louder, and idle spearmen that
lounged listlessly against the posts, looking at the girls, would turn
their heads slowly. To no man had been given the shelter of so much
respect, confidence, and awe. Yet at times he would lean forward and
appear to listen as for a far-off note of discord, as if expecting to
hear some faint voice, the sound of light footsteps; or he would start
half up in his seat, as though he had been familiarly touched on the
shoulder. He glanced back with apprehension; his aged follower
whispered inaudibly at his ear; the chiefs turned their eyes away in
silence, for the old wizard, the man who could command ghosts and send
evil spirits against enemies, was speaking low to their ruler. Around
the short stillness of the open place the trees rustled faintly, the
soft laughter of girls playing with the flowers rose in clear bursts
of joyous sound. At the end of upright spear-shafts the long tufts of
dyed horse-hair waved crimson and filmy in the gust of wind; and
beyond the blaze of hedges the brook of limpid quick water ran
invisible and loud under the drooping grass of the bank, with a great
murmur, passionate and gentle.
After sunset, far across the fields and over the bay, clusters of
torches could be seen burning under the high roofs of the council
shed. Smoky red flames swayed on high poles, and the fiery blaze
flickered over faces, clung to the smooth trunks of palm-trees,
kindled bright sparks on the rims of metal dishes standing on fine
floor-mats. That obscure adventurer feasted like a king. Small groups
of men crouched in tight circles round the wooden platters; brown
hands hovered over snowy heaps of rice. Sitting upon a rough couch
apart from the others, he leaned on his elbow with inclined head; and
near him a youth improvised in a high tone a song that celebrated
his valour and wisdom. The singer rocked himself to and fro, rolling
frenzied eyes; old women hobbled about with dishes, and men, squatting
low, lifted their heads to listen gravely without ceasing to eat. The
song of triumph vibrated in the night, and the stanzas rolled out
mournful and fiery like the thoughts of a hermit. He silenced it with
a sign, "Enough!" An owl hooted far away, exulting in the delight of
deep gloom in dense foliage; overhead lizards ran in the attap thatch,
calling softly; the dry leaves of the roof rustled; the rumour of
mingled voices grew louder suddenly. After a circular and startled
glance, as of a man waking up abruptly to the sense of danger, he
would throw himself back, and under the downward gaze of the old
sorcerer take up, wide-eyed, the slender thread of his dream. They
watched his moods; the swelling rumour of animated talk subsided like
a wave on a sloping beach. The chief is pensive. And above the
spreading whisper of lowered voices only a little rattle of weapons
would be heard, a single louder word distinct and alone, or the grave
ring of a big brass tray.
For two years at short intervals we visited him. We came to like him,
to trust him, almost to admire him. He was plotting and preparing a
war with patience, with foresight--with a fidelity to his purpose
and with a steadfastness of which I would have thought him racially
incapable. He seemed fearless of the future, and in his plans
displayed a sagacity that was only limited by his profound ignorance
of the rest of the world. We tried to enlighten him, but our attempts
to make clear the irresistible nature of the forces which he desired
to arrest failed to discourage his eagerness to strike a blow for his
own primitive ideas. He did not understand us, and replied by
arguments that almost drove one to desperation by their childish
shrewdness. He was absurd and unanswerable. Sometimes we caught
glimpses of a sombre, glowing fury within him--a brooding and vague
sense of wrong, and a concentrated lust of violence which is dangerous
in a native. He raved like one inspired. On one occasion, after we had
been talking to him late in his campong, he jumped up. A great, clear
fire blazed in the grove; lights and shadows danced together between
the trees; in the still night bats flitted in and out of the boughs
like fluttering flakes of denser darkness. He snatched the sword from
the old man, whizzed it out of the scabbard, and thrust the point into
the earth. Upon the thin, upright blade the silver hilt, released,
swayed before him like something alive. He stepped back a pace, and in
a deadened tone spoke fiercely to the vibrating steel: "If there is
virtue in the fire, in the iron, in the hand that forged thee, in the
words spoken over thee, in the desire of my heart, and in the wisdom
of thy makers,--then we shall be victorious together!" He drew it out,
looked along the edge. "Take," he said over his shoulder to the old
sword-bearer. The other, unmoved on his hams, wiped the point with a
corner of his sarong, and returning the weapon to its scabbard, sat
nursing it on his knees without a single look upwards. Karain,
suddenly very calm, reseated himself with dignity. We gave up
remonstrating after this, and let him go his way to an honourable
disaster. All we could do for him was to see to it that the powder was
good for the money and the rifles serviceable, if old.
But the game was becoming at last too dangerous; and if we, who had
faced it pretty often, thought little of the danger, it was decided
for us by some very respectable people sitting safely in
counting-houses that the risks were too great, and that only one more
trip could be made. After giving in the usual way many misleading
hints as to our destination, we slipped away quietly, and after a very
quick passage entered the bay. It was early morning, and even before
the anchor went to the bottom the schooner was surrounded by boats.
The first thing we heard was that Karain's mysterious sword-bearer
had died a few days ago. We did not attach much importance to the
news. It was certainly difficult to imagine Karain without his
inseparable follower; but the fellow was old, he had never spoken to
one of us, we hardly ever had heard the sound of his voice; and we had
come to look upon him as upon something inanimate, as a part of our
friend's trappings of state--like that sword he had carried, or the
fringed red umbrella displayed during an official progress. Karain
did not visit us in the afternoon as usual. A message of greeting
and a present of fruit and vegetables came off for us before sunset.
Our friend paid us like a banker, but treated us like a prince. We sat
up for him till midnight. Under the stern awning bearded Jackson
jingled an old guitar and sang, with an execrable accent, Spanish
love-songs; while young Hollis and I, sprawling on the deck, had a
game of chess by the light of a cargo lantern. Karain did not appear.
Next day we were busy unloading, and heard that the Rajah was unwell.
The expected invitation to visit him ashore did not come. We sent
friendly messages, but, fearing to intrude upon some secret council,
remained on board. Early on the third day we had landed all the powder
and rifles, and also a six-pounder brass gun with its carriage which
we had subscribed together for a present for our friend. The
afternoon was sultry. Ragged edges of black clouds peeped over the
hills, and invisible thunderstorms circled outside, growling like wild
beasts. We got the schooner ready for sea, intending to leave next
morning at daylight. All day a merciless sun blazed down into the bay,
fierce and pale, as if at white heat. Nothing moved on the land. The
beach was empty, the villages seemed deserted; the trees far off stood
in unstirring clumps, as if painted; the white smoke of some invisible
bush-fire spread itself low over the shores of the bay like a settling
fog. Late in the day three of Karain's chief men, dressed in their
best and armed to the teeth, came off in a canoe, bringing a case of
dollars. They were gloomy and languid, and told us they had not seen
their Rajah for five days. No one had seen him! We settled all
accounts, and after shaking hands in turn and in profound silence,
they descended one after another into their boat, and were paddled to
the shore, sitting close together, clad in vivid colours, with hanging
heads: the gold embroideries of their jackets flashed dazzlingly as
they went away gliding on the smooth water, and not one of them looked
back once. Before sunset the growling clouds carried with a rush the
ridge of hills, and came tumbling down the inner slopes. Everything
disappeared; black whirling vapours filled the bay, and in the midst
of them the schooner swung here and there in the shifting gusts of
wind. A single clap of thunder detonated in the hollow with a violence
that seemed capable of bursting into small pieces the ring of high
land, and a warm deluge descended. The wind died out. We panted in the
close cabin; our faces streamed; the bay outside hissed as if boiling;
the water fell in perpendicular shafts as heavy as lead; it swished
about the deck, poured off the spars, gurgled, sobbed, splashed,
murmured in the blind night. Our lamp burned low. Hollis, stripped to
the waist, lay stretched out on the lockers, with closed eyes and
motionless like a despoiled corpse; at his head Jackson twanged the
guitar, and gasped out in sighs a mournful dirge about hopeless love
and eyes like stars. Then we heard startled voices on deck crying in
the rain, hurried footsteps overhead, and suddenly Karain appeared in
the doorway of the cabin. His bare breast and his face glistened in
the light; his sarong, soaked, clung about his legs; he had his
sheathed kriss in his left hand; and wisps of wet hair, escaping from
under his red kerchief, stuck over his eyes and down his cheeks. He
stepped in with a headlong stride and looking over his shoulder like a
man pursued. Hollis turned on his side quickly and opened his eyes.
Jackson clapped his big hand over the strings and the jingling
vibration died suddenly. I stood up.
"We did not hear your boat's hail!" I exclaimed.
"Boat! The man's swum off," drawled out Hollis from the locker. "Look
He breathed heavily, wild-eyed, while we looked at him in silence.
Water dripped from him, made a dark pool, and ran crookedly across the
cabin floor. We could hear Jackson, who had gone out to drive away our
Malay seamen from the doorway of the companion; he swore menacingly in
the patter of a heavy shower, and there was a great commotion on deck.
The watchmen, scared out of their wits by the glimpse of a shadowy
figure leaping over the rail, straight out of the night as it were,
had alarmed all hands.
Then Jackson, with glittering drops of water on his hair and beard,
came back looking angry, and Hollis, who, being the youngest of us,
assumed an indolent superiority, said without stirring, "Give him a
dry sarong--give him mine; it's hanging up in the bathroom." Karain
laid the kriss on the table, hilt inwards, and murmured a few words
in a strangled voice.
"What's that?" asked Hollis, who had not heard.
"He apologizes for coming in with a weapon in his hand," I said,
"Ceremonious beggar. Tell him we forgive a friend . . . on such a
night," drawled out Hollis. "What's wrong?"
Karain slipped the dry sarong over his head, dropped the wet one at
his feet, and stepped out of it. I pointed to the wooden armchair--his
armchair. He sat down very straight, said "Ha!" in a strong voice; a
short shiver shook his broad frame. He looked over his shoulder
uneasily, turned as if to speak to us, but only stared in a curious
blind manner, and again looked back. Jackson bellowed out, "Watch well
on deck there!" heard a faint answer from above, and reaching out with
his foot slammed-to the cabin door.
"All right now," he said.
Karain's lips moved slightly. A vivid flash of lightning made the two
round sternports facing him glimmer like a pair of cruel and
phosphorescent eyes. The flame of the lamp seemed to wither into brown
dust for an instant, and the looking-glass over the little sideboard
leaped out behind his back in a smooth sheet of livid light. The roll
of thunder came near, crashed over us; the schooner trembled, and the
great voice went on, threatening terribly, into the distance. For less
than a minute a furious shower rattled on the decks. Karain looked
slowly from face to face, and then the silence became so profound that
we all could hear distinctly the two chronometers in my cabin ticking
along with unflagging speed against one another.
And we three, strangely moved, could not take our eyes from him. He
had become enigmatical and touching, in virtue of that mysterious
cause that had driven him through the night and through the
thunderstorm to the shelter of the schooner's cuddy. Not one of us
doubted that we were looking at a fugitive, incredible as it appeared
to us. He was haggard, as though he had not slept for weeks; he had
become lean, as though he had not eaten for days. His cheeks were
hollow, his eyes sunk, the muscles of his chest and arms twitched
slightly as if after an exhausting contest. Of course it had been a
long swim off to the schooner; but his face showed another kind of
fatigue, the tormented weariness, the anger and the fear of a struggle
against a thought, an idea--against something that cannot be grappled,
that never rests--a shadow, a nothing, unconquerable and immortal,
that preys upon life. We knew it as though he had shouted it at us.
His chest expanded time after time, as if it could not contain the
beating of his heart. For a moment he had the power of the
possessed--the power to awaken in the beholders wonder, pain, pity,
and a fearful near sense of things invisible, of things dark and mute,
that surround the loneliness of mankind. His eyes roamed about
aimlessly for a moment, then became still. He said with effort--
"I came here . . . I leaped out of my stockade as after a defeat. I
ran in the night. The water was black. I left him calling on the edge
of black water. . . . I left him standing alone on the beach. I
swam . . . he called out after me . . . I swam . . ."
He trembled from head to foot, sitting very upright and gazing
straight before him. Left whom? Who called? We did not know. We could
not understand. I said at all hazards--
The sound of my voice seemed to steady him into a sudden rigidity, but
otherwise he took no notice. He seemed to listen, to expect something
for a moment, then went on--
"He cannot come here--therefore I sought you. You men with white faces
who despise the invisible voices. He cannot abide your unbelief and
He was silent for a while, then exclaimed softly--
"Oh! the strength of unbelievers!"
"There's no one here but you--and we three," said Hollis, quietly. He
reclined with his head supported on elbow and did not budge.
"I know," said Karain. "He has never followed me here. Was not the
wise man ever by my side? But since the old wise man, who knew of my
trouble, has died, I have heard the voice every night. I shut myself
up--for many days--in the dark. I can hear the sorrowful murmurs of
women, the whisper of the wind, of the running waters; the clash of
weapons in the hands of faithful men, their footsteps--and his voice!
. . . Near . . . So! In my ear! I felt him near . . . His breath
passed over my neck. I leaped out without a cry. All about me men
slept quietly. I ran to the sea. He ran by my side without footsteps,
whispering, whispering old words--whispering into my ear in his
old voice. I ran into the sea; I swam off to you, with my kriss
between my teeth. I, armed, I fled before a breath--to you. Take me
away to your land. The wise old man has died, and with him is gone the
power of his words and charms. And I can tell no one. No one. There is
no one here faithful enough and wise enough to know. It is only near
you, unbelievers, that my trouble fades like a mist under the eye of
He turned to me.
"With you I go!" he cried in a contained voice. "With you, who know so
many of us. I want to leave this land--my people . . . and
He pointed a shaking finger at random over his shoulder. It was hard
for us to bear the intensity of that undisclosed distress. Hollis
stared at him hard. I asked gently--
"Where is the danger?"
"Everywhere outside this place," he answered, mournfully. "In every
place where I am. He waits for me on the paths, under the trees, in
the place where I sleep--everywhere but here."
He looked round the little cabin, at the painted beams, at the
tarnished varnish of bulkheads; he looked round as if appealing to all
its shabby strangeness, to the disorderly jumble of unfamiliar
things that belong to an inconceivable life of stress, of power, of
endeavour, of unbelief--to the strong life of white men, which rolls
on irresistible and hard on the edge of outer darkness. He stretched
out his arms as if to embrace it and us. We waited. The wind and rain
had ceased, and the stillness of the night round the schooner was as
dumb and complete as if a dead world had been laid to rest in a grave
of clouds. We expected him to speak. The necessity within him tore
at his lips. There are those who say that a native will not speak to
a white man. Error. No man will speak to his master; but to a wanderer
and a friend, to him who does not come to teach or to rule, to him who
asks for nothing and accepts all things, words are spoken by the
camp-fires, in the shared solitude of the sea, in riverside villages,
in resting-places surrounded by forests--words are spoken that take
no account of race or colour. One heart speaks--another one listens;
and the earth, the sea, the sky, the passing wind and the stirring
leaf, hear also the futile tale of the burden of life.
He spoke at last. It is impossible to convey the effect of his story.
It is undying, it is but a memory, and its vividness cannot be made
clear to another mind, any more than the vivid emotions of a dream.
One must have seen his innate splendour, one must have known him
before--looked at him then. The wavering gloom of the little cabin;
the breathless stillness outside, through which only the lapping of
water against the schooner's sides could be heard; Hollis's pale face,
with steady dark eyes; the energetic head of Jackson held up between
two big palms, and with the long yellow hair of his beard flowing over
the strings of the guitar lying on the table; Karain's upright and
motionless pose, his tone--all this made an impression that cannot be
forgotten. He faced us across the table. His dark head and bronze
torso appeared above the tarnished slab of wood, gleaming and still
as if cast in metal. Only his lips moved, and his eyes glowed, went
out, blazed again, or stared mournfully. His expressions came
straight from his tormented heart. His words sounded low, in a sad
murmur as of running water; at times they rang loud like the clash of
a war-gong--or trailed slowly like weary travellers--or rushed
forward with the speed of fear.
This is, imperfectly, what he said--
"It was after the great trouble that broke the alliance of the four
states of Wajo. We fought amongst ourselves, and the Dutch watched
from afar till we were weary. Then the smoke of their fire-ships was
seen at the mouth of our rivers, and their great men came in boats
full of soldiers to talk to us of protection and peace. We answered
with caution and wisdom, for our villages were burnt, our stockades
weak, the people weary, and the weapons blunt. They came and went;
there had been much talk, but after they went away everything seemed
to be as before, only their ships remained in sight from our coast,
and very soon their traders came amongst us under a promise of
safety. My brother was a Ruler, and one of those who had given the
promise. I was young then, and had fought in the war, and Pata Matara
had fought by my side. We had shared hunger, danger, fatigue, and
victory. His eyes saw my danger quickly, and twice my arm had
preserved his life. It was his destiny. He was my friend. And he was
great amongst us--one of those who were near my brother, the Ruler. He
spoke in council, his courage was great, he was the chief of many
villages round the great lake that is in the middle of our country as
the heart is in the middle of a man's body. When his sword was carried
into a campong in advance of his coming, the maidens whispered
wonderingly under the fruit-trees, the rich men consulted together in
the shade, and a feast was made ready with rejoicing and songs. He had
the favour of the Ruler and the affection of the poor. He loved war,
deer hunts, and the charms of women. He was the possessor of jewels,
of lucky weapons, and of men's devotion. He was a fierce man; and I
had no other friend.
"I was the chief of a stockade at the mouth of the river, and
collected tolls for my brother from the passing boats. One day I saw a
Dutch trader go up the river. He went up with three boats, and no toll
was demanded from him, because the smoke of Dutch war-ships stood out
from the open sea, and we were too weak to forget treaties. He went up
under the promise of safety, and my brother gave him protection. He
said he came to trade. He listened to our voices, for we are men who
speak openly and without fear; he counted the number of our spears, he
examined the trees, the running waters, the grasses of the bank, the
slopes of our hills. He went up to Matara's country and obtained
permission to build a house. He traded and planted. He despised our
joys, our thoughts, and our sorrows. His face was red, his hair like
flame, and his eyes pale, like a river mist; he moved heavily, and
spoke with a deep voice; he laughed aloud like a fool, and knew no
courtesy in his speech. He was a big, scornful man, who looked into
women's faces and put his hand on the shoulders of free men as though
he had been a noble-born chief. We bore with him. Time passed.
"Then Pata Matara's sister fled from the campong and went to live in
the Dutchman's house. She was a great and wilful lady: I had seen her
once carried high on slaves' shoulders amongst the people, with
uncovered face, and I had heard all men say that her beauty was
extreme, silencing the reason and ravishing the heart of the
beholders. The people were dismayed; Matara's face was blackened with
that disgrace, for she knew she had been promised to another man.
Matara went to the Dutchman's house, and said, 'Give her up to
die--she is the daughter of chiefs.' The white man refused and shut
himself up, while his servants kept guard night and day with loaded
guns. Matara raged. My brother called a council. But the Dutch ships
were near, and watched our coast greedily. My brother said, 'If he
dies now our land will pay for his blood. Leave him alone till we grow
stronger and the ships are gone.' Matara was wise; he waited and
watched. But the white man feared for her life and went away.
"He left his house, his plantations, and his goods! He departed, armed
and menacing, and left all--for her! She had ravished his heart! From
my stockade I saw him put out to sea in a big boat. Matara and I
watched him from the fighting platform behind the pointed stakes. He
sat cross-legged, with his gun in his hands, on the roof at the stern
of his prau. The barrel of his rifle glinted aslant before his big red
face. The broad river was stretched under him--level, smooth, shining,
like a plain of silver; and his prau, looking very short and black
from the shore, glided along the silver plain and over into the blue
of the sea.
"Thrice Matara, standing by my side, called aloud her name with grief
and imprecations. He stirred my heart. It leaped three times; and
three times with the eyes of my mind I saw in the gloom within the
enclosed space of the prau a woman with streaming hair going away from
her land and her people. I was angry--and sorry. Why? And then I also
cried out insults and threats. Matara said, 'Now they have left our
land their lives are mind. I shall follow and strike--and, alone, pay
the price of blood.' A great wind was sweeping towards the setting sun
over the empty river. I cried, 'By your side I will go!' He lowered
his head in sign of assent. It was his destiny. The sun had set, and
the trees swayed their boughs with a great noise above our heads.
"On the third night we two left our land together in a trading prau.
"The sea met us--the sea, wide, pathless, and without voice. A
sailing prau leaves no track. We went south. The moon was full; and,
looking up, we said to one another, 'When the next moon shines as this
one, we shall return and they will be dead.' It was fifteen years ago.
Many moons have grown full and withered and I have not seen my land
since. We sailed south; we overtook many praus; we examined the creeks
and the bays; we saw the end of our coast, of our island--a steep
cape over a disturbed strait, where drift the shadows of shipwrecked
praus and drowned men clamour in the night. The wide sea was all round
us now. We saw a great mountain burning in the midst of water; we saw
thousands of islets scattered like bits of iron fired from a big gun;
we saw a long coast of mountain and lowlands stretching away in
sunshine from west to east. It was Java. We said, 'They are there;
their time is near, and we shall return or die cleansed from
"We landed. Is there anything good in that country? The paths run
straight and hard and dusty. Stone campongs, full of white faces, are
surrounded by fertile fields, but every man you meet is a slave. The
rulers live under the edge of a foreign sword. We ascended
mountains, we traversed valleys; at sunset we entered villages. We
asked everyone, 'Have you seen such a white man?' Some stared; others
laughed; women gave us food, sometimes, with fear and respect, as
though we had been distracted by the visitation of God; but some did
not understand our language, and some cursed us, or, yawning, asked
with contempt the reason of our quest. Once, as we were going away, an
old man called after us, 'Desist!'
"We went on. Concealing our weapons, we stood humbly aside before the
horsemen on the road; we bowed low in the courtyards of chiefs who
were no better than slaves. We lost ourselves in the fields, in the
jungle; and one night, in a tangled forest, we came upon a place where
crumbling old walls had fallen amongst the trees, and where strange
stone idols--carved images of devils with many arms and legs, with
snakes twined round their bodies, with twenty heads and holding a
hundred swords--seemed to live and threaten in the light of our camp
fire. Nothing dismayed us. And on the road, by every fire, in
resting-places, we always talked of her and of him. Their time was
near. We spoke of nothing else. No! not of hunger, thirst, weariness,
and faltering hearts. No! we spoke of him and her! Of her! And we
thought of them--of her! Matara brooded by the fire. I sat and thought
and thought, till suddenly I could see again the image of a woman,
beautiful, and young, and great and proud, and tender, going away from
her land and her people. Matara said, 'When we find them we shall kill
her first to cleanse the dishonour--then the man must die.' I would
say, 'It shall be so; it is your vengeance.' He stared long at me with
his big sunken eyes.
"We came back to the coast. Our feet were bleeding, our bodies thin.
We slept in rags under the shadow of stone enclosures; we prowled,
soiled and lean, about the gateways of white men's courtyards. Their
hairy dogs barked at us, and their servants shouted from afar,
'Begone!' Low-born wretches, that keep watch over the streets of stone
campongs, asked us who we were. We lied, we cringed, we smiled with
hate in our hearts, and we kept looking here, looking there for
them--for the white man with hair like flame, and for her, for the
woman who had broken faith, and therefore must die. We looked. At last
in every woman's face I thought I could see hers. We ran swiftly. No!
Sometimes Matara would whisper, 'Here is the man,' and we waited,
crouching. He came near. It was not the man--those Dutchmen are all
alike. We suffered the anguish of deception. In my sleep I saw her
face, and was both joyful and sorry. . . . Why? . . . I seemed to hear
a whisper near me. I turned swiftly. She was not there! And as we
trudged wearily from stone city to stone city I seemed to hear a light
footstep near me. A time came when I heard it always, and I was glad.
I thought, walking dizzy and weary in sunshine on the hard paths of
white men I thought, She is there--with us! . . . Matara was sombre.
We were often hungry.
"We sold the carved sheaths of our krisses--the ivory sheaths with
golden ferules. We sold the jewelled hilts. But we kept the
blades--for them. The blades that never touch but kill--we kept the
blades for her. . . . Why? She was always by our side. . . . We
starved. We begged. We left Java at last.
"We went West, we went East. We saw many lands, crowds of strange
faces, men that live in trees and men who eat their old people. We cut
rattans in the forest for a handful of rice, and for a living swept
the decks of big ships and heard curses heaped upon our heads. We
toiled in villages; we wandered upon the seas with the Bajow people,
who have no country. We fought for pay; we hired ourselves to work for
Goram men, and were cheated; and under the orders of rough white faces
we dived for pearls in barren bays, dotted with black rocks, upon a
coast of sand and desolation. And everywhere we watched, we listened,
we asked. We asked traders, robbers, white men. We heard jeers,
mockery, threats--words of wonder and words of contempt. We never
knew rest; we never thought of home, for our work was not done. A year
passed, then another. I ceased to count the number of nights, of
moons, of years. I watched over Matara. He had my last handful of
rice; if there was water enough for one he drank it; I covered him up
when he shivered with cold; and when the hot sickness came upon him I
sat sleepless through many nights and fanned his face. He was a fierce
man, and my friend. He spoke of her with fury in the daytime, with
sorrow in the dark; he remembered her in health, in sickness. I said
nothing; but I saw her every day--always! At first I saw only her
head, as of a woman walking in the low mist on a river bank. Then she
sat by our fire. I saw her! I looked at her! She had tender eyes and a
ravishing face. I murmured to her in the night. Matara said sleepily
sometimes, 'To whom are you talking? Who is there?' I answered
quickly, 'No one' . . . It was a lie! She never left me. She shared
the warmth of our fire, she sat on my couch of leaves, she swam on the
sea to follow me. . . . I saw her! . . . I tell you I saw her long
black hair spread behind her upon the moonlit water as she struck out
with bare arms by the side of a swift prau. She was beautiful, she was
faithful, and in the silence of foreign countries she spoke to me very
low in the language of my people. No one saw her; no one heard her;
she was mine only! In daylight she moved with a swaying walk before me
upon the weary paths; her figure was straight and flexible like the
stem of a slender tree; the heels of her feet were round and polished
like shells of eggs; with her round arm she made signs. At night she
looked into my face. And she was sad! Her eyes were tender and
frightened; her voice soft and pleading. Once I murmured to her, 'You
shall not die,' and she smiled . . . ever after she smiled! . . . She
gave me courage to bear weariness and hardships. Those were times of
pain, and she soothed me. We wandered patient in our search. We knew
deception, false hopes; we knew captivity, sickness, thirst, misery,
despair . . . . Enough! We found them! . . ."
He cried out the last words and paused. His face was impassive, and he
kept still like a man in a trance. Hollis sat up quickly, and spread
his elbows on the table. Jackson made a brusque movement, and
accidentally touched the guitar. A plaintive resonance filled the
cabin with confused vibrations and died out slowly. Then Karain began
to speak again. The restrained fierceness of his tone seemed to rise
like a voice from outside, like a thing unspoken but heard; it filled
the cabin and enveloped in its intense and deadened murmur the
motionless figure in the chair.
"We were on our way to Atjeh, where there was war; but the vessel ran
on a sandbank, and we had to land in Delli. We had earned a little
money, and had bought a gun from some Selangore traders; only one gun,
which was fired by the spark of a stone; Matara carried it. We landed.
Many white men lived there, planting tobacco on conquered plains, and
Matara . . . But no matter. He saw him! . . . The Dutchman! . . . At
last! . . . We crept and watched. Two nights and a day we watched. He
had a house--a big house in a clearing in the midst of his fields;
flowers and bushes grew around; there were narrow paths of yellow
earth between the cut grass, and thick hedges to keep people out.
The third night we came armed, and lay behind a hedge.
"A heavy dew seemed to soak through our flesh and made our very
entrails cold. The grass, the twigs, the leaves, covered with drops of
water, were gray in the moonlight. Matara, curled up in the grass,
shivered in his sleep. My teeth rattled in my head so loud that I was
afraid the noise would wake up all the land. Afar, the watchmen of
white men's houses struck wooden clappers and hooted in the darkness.
And, as every night, I saw her by my side. She smiled no more! . . .
The fire of anguish burned in my breast, and she whispered to me with
compassion, with pity, softly--as women will; she soothed the pain of
my mind; she bent her face over me--the face of a woman who ravishes
the hearts and silences the reason of men. She was all mine, and no
one could see her--no one of living mankind! Stars shone through her
bosom, through her floating hair. I was overcome with regret, with
tenderness, with sorrow. Matara slept . . . Had I slept? Matara was
shaking me by the shoulder, and the fire of the sun was drying the
grass, the bushes, the leaves. It was day. Shreds of white mist hung
between the branches of trees.
"Was it night or day? I saw nothing again till I heard Matara breathe
quickly where he lay, and then outside the house I saw her. I saw them
both. They had come out. She sat on a bench under the wall, and twigs
laden with flowers crept high above her head, hung over her hair. She
had a box on her lap, and gazed into it, counting the increase of her
pearls. The Dutchman stood by looking on; he smiled down at her; his
white teeth flashed; the hair on his lip was like two twisted flames.
He was big and fat, and joyous, and without fear. Matara tipped
fresh priming from the hollow of his palm, scraped the flint with his
thumb-nail, and gave the gun to me. To me! I took it . . . O fate!
"He whispered into my ear, lying on his stomach, 'I shall creep close
and then amok . . . let her die by my hand. You take aim at the fat
swine there. Let him see me strike my shame off the face of the
earth--and then . . . you are my friend--kill with a sure shot.' I
said nothing; there was no air in my chest--there was no air in the
world. Matara had gone suddenly from my side. The grass nodded. Then a
bush rustled. She lifted her head.
"I saw her! The consoler of sleepless nights, of weary days; the
companion of troubled years! I saw her! She looked straight at the
place where I crouched. She was there as I had seen her for years--a
faithful wanderer by my side. She looked with sad eyes and had smiling
lips; she looked at me . . . Smiling lips! Had I not promised that she
should not die!
"She was far off and I felt her near. Her touch caressed me, and her
voice murmured, whispered above me, around me. 'Who shall be thy
companion, who shall console thee if I die?' I saw a flowering thicket
to the left of her stir a little . . . Matara was ready . . . I cried
"She leaped up; the box fell; the pearls streamed at her feet. The big
Dutchman by her side rolled menacing eyes through the still sunshine.
The gun went up to my shoulder. I was kneeling and I was firm--firmer
than the trees, the rocks, the mountains. But in front of the steady
long barrel the fields, the house, the earth, the sky swayed to and
fro like shadows in a forest on a windy day. Matara burst out of the
thicket; before him the petals of torn flowers whirled high as if
driven by a tempest. I heard her cry; I saw her spring with open arms
in front of the white man. She was a woman of my country and of noble
blood. They are so! I heard her shriek of anguish and fear--and all
stood still! The fields, the house, the earth, the sky stood
still--while Matara leaped at her with uplifted arm. I pulled the
trigger, saw a spark, heard nothing; the smoke drove back into my
face, and then I could see Matara roll over head first and lie with
stretched arms at her feet. Ha! A sure shot! The sunshine fell on my
back colder than the running water. A sure shot! I flung the gun after
the shot. Those two stood over the dead man as though they had been
bewitched by a charm. I shouted at her, 'Live and remember!' Then for
a time I stumbled about in a cold darkness.
"Behind me there were great shouts, the running of many feet; strange
men surrounded me, cried meaningless words into my face, pushed me,
dragged me, supported me . . . I stood before the big Dutchman: he
stared as if bereft of his reason. He wanted to know, he talked fast,
he spoke of gratitude, he offered me food, shelter, gold--he asked
many questions. I laughed in his face. I said, 'I am a Korinchi
traveller from Perak over there, and know nothing of that dead man. I
was passing along the path when I heard a shot, and your senseless
people rushed out and dragged me here.' He lifted his arms, he
wondered, he could not believe, he could not understand, he clamoured
in his own tongue! She had her arms clasped round his neck, and over
her shoulder stared back at me with wide eyes. I smiled and looked at
her; I smiled and waited to hear the sound of her voice. The white man
asked her suddenly. 'Do you know him?' I listened--my life was in my
ears! She looked at me long, she looked at me with unflinching eyes,
and said aloud, 'No! I never saw him before.' . . . What! Never
before? Had she forgotten already? Was it possible? Forgotten already
--after so many years--so many years of wandering, of companionship,
of trouble, of tender words! Forgotten already! . . . I tore myself
out from the hands that held me and went away without a word . . .
They let me go.
"I was weary. Did I sleep? I do not know. I remember walking upon a
broad path under a clear starlight; and that strange country seemed so
big, the rice-fields so vast, that, as I looked around, my head swam
with the fear of space. Then I saw a forest. The joyous starlight was
heavy upon me. I turned off the path and entered the forest, which was
very sombre and very sad."
Karain's tone had been getting lower and lower, as though he had been
going away from us, till the last words sounded faint but clear, as if
shouted on a calm day from a very great distance. He moved not. He
stared fixedly past the motionless head of Hollis, who faced him, as
still as himself. Jackson had turned sideways, and with elbow on the
table shaded his eyes with the palm of his hand. And I looked on,
surprised and moved; I looked at that man, loyal to a vision, betrayed
by his dream, spurned by his illusion, and coming to us unbelievers
for help--against a thought. The silence was profound; but it seemed
full of noiseless phantoms, of things sorrowful, shadowy, and mute, in
whose invisible presence the firm, pulsating beat of the two ship's
chronometers ticking off steadily the seconds of Greenwich Time seemed
to me a protection and a relief. Karain stared stonily; and looking at
his rigid figure, I thought of his wanderings, of that obscure Odyssey
of revenge, of all the men that wander amongst illusions faithful,
faithless; of the illusions that give joy, that give sorrow, that give
pain, that give peace; of the invincible illusions that can make life
and death appear serene, inspiring, tormented, or ignoble.
A murmur was heard; that voice from outside seemed to flow out of a
dreaming world into the lamp-light of the cabin. Karain was speaking.
"I lived in the forest.
"She came no more. Never! Never once! I lived alone. She had
forgotten. It was well. I did not want her; I wanted no one. I found
an abandoned house in an old clearing. Nobody came near. Sometimes I
heard in the distance the voices of people going along a path. I
slept; I rested; there was wild rice, water from a running stream--and
peace! Every night I sat alone by my small fire before the hut. Many
nights passed over my head.
"Then, one evening, as I sat by my fire after having eaten, I looked
down on the ground and began to remember my wanderings. I lifted my
head. I had heard no sound, no rustle, no footsteps--but I lifted my
head. A man was coming towards me across the small clearing. I waited.
He came up without a greeting and squatted down into the firelight.
Then he turned his face to me. It was Matara. He stared at me fiercely
with his big sunken eyes. The night was cold; the heat died suddenly
out of the fire, and he stared at me. I rose and went away from there,
leaving him by the fire that had no heat.
"I walked all that night, all next day, and in the evening made up a
big blaze and sat down--to wait for him. He had not come into the
light. I heard him in the bushes here and there, whispering,
whispering. I understood at last--I had heard the words before, 'You
are my friend--kill with a sure shot.'
"I bore it as long as I could--then leaped away, as on this very night
I leaped from my stockade and swam to you. I ran--I ran crying like a
child left alone and far from the houses. He ran by my side, without
footsteps, whispering, whispering--invisible and heard. I sought
people--I wanted men around me! Men who had not died! And again we two
wandered. I sought danger, violence, and death. I fought in the Atjeh
war, and a brave people wondered at the valiance of a stranger. But we
were two; he warded off the blows . . . Why? I wanted peace, not life.
And no one could see him; no one knew--I dared tell no one. At times
he would leave me, but not for long; then he would return and whisper
or stare. My heart was torn with a strange fear, but could not die.
Then I met an old man.
"You all knew him. People here called him my sorcerer, my servant and
sword-bearer; but to me he was father, mother, protection, refuge and
peace. When I met him he was returning from a pilgrimage, and I heard
him intoning the prayer of sunset. He had gone to the holy place with
his son, his son's wife, and a little child; and on their return, by
the favour of the Most High, they all died: the strong man, the young
mother, the little child--they died; and the old man reached his
country alone. He was a pilgrim serene and pious, very wise and very
lonely. I told him all. For a time we lived together. He said over me
words of compassion, of wisdom, of prayer. He warded from me the shade
of the dead. I begged him for a charm that would make me safe. For a
long time he refused; but at last, with a sigh and a smile, he gave me
one. Doubtless he could command a spirit stronger than the unrest of
my dead friend, and again I had peace; but I had become restless, and
a lover of turmoil and danger. The old man never left me. We travelled
together. We were welcomed by the great; his wisdom and my courage are
remembered where your strength, O white men, is forgotten! We served
the Sultan of Sula. We fought the Spaniards. There were victories,
hopes, defeats, sorrow, blood, women's tears . . . What for? . . . We
fled. We collected wanderers of a warlike race and came here to fight
again. The rest you know. I am the ruler of a conquered land, a lover
of war and danger, a fighter and a plotter. But the old man has died,
and I am again the slave of the dead. He is not here now to drive away
the reproachful shade--to silence the lifeless voice! The power of his
charm has died with him. And I know fear; and I hear the whisper,
'Kill! kill! kill!' . . . Have I not killed enough? . . ."
For the first time that night a sudden convulsion of madness and rage
passed over his face. His wavering glances darted here and there
like scared birds in a thunderstorm. He jumped up, shouting--
"By the spirits that drink blood: by the spirits that cry in the
night: by all the spirits of fury, misfortune, and death, I
swear--some day I will strike into every heart I meet--I . . ."
He looked so dangerous that we all three leaped to our feet, and
Hollis, with the back of his hand, sent the kriss flying off the
table. I believe we shouted together. It was a short scare, and the
next moment he was again composed in his chair, with three white men
standing over him in rather foolish attitudes. We felt a little
ashamed of ourselves. Jackson picked up the kriss, and, after an
inquiring glance at me, gave it to him. He received it with a stately
inclination of the head and stuck it in the twist of his sarong, with
punctilious care to give his weapon a pacific position. Then he looked
up at us with an austere smile. We were abashed and reproved. Hollis
sat sideways on the table and, holding his chin in his hand,
scrutinized him in pensive silence. I said--
"You must abide with your people. They need you. And there is
forgetfulness in life. Even the dead cease to speak in time."
"Am I a woman, to forget long years before an eyelid has had the time
to beat twice?" he exclaimed, with bitter resentment. He startled me.
It was amazing. To him his life--that cruel mirage of love and
peace--seemed as real, as undeniable, as theirs would be to any saint,
philosopher, or fool of us all. Hollis muttered--
"You won't soothe him with your platitudes."
Karain spoke to me.
"You know us. You have lived with us. Why?--we cannot know; but you
understand our sorrows and our thoughts. You have lived with my
people, and you understand our desires and our fears. With you I will
go. To your land--to your people. To your people, who live in
unbelief; to whom day is day, and night is night--nothing more,
because you understand all things seen, and despise all else! To
your land of unbelief, where the dead do not speak, where every man is
wise, and alone--and at peace!"
"Capital description," murmured Hollis, with the flicker of a smile.
Karain hung his head.
"I can toil, and fight--and be faithful," he whispered, in a weary
tone, "but I cannot go back to him who waits for me on the shore. No!
Take me with you . . . Or else give me some of your strength--of your
unbelief . . . A charm! . . ."
He seemed utterly exhausted.
"Yes, take him home," said Hollis, very low, as if debating with
himself. "That would be one way. The ghosts there are in society, and
talk affably to ladies and gentlemen, but would scorn a naked human
being--like our princely friend. . . . Naked . . . Flayed! I should
say. I am sorry for him. Impossible--of course. The end of all this
shall be," he went on, looking up at us--"the end of this shall be,
that some day he will run amuck amongst his faithful subjects and send
'ad patres' ever so many of them before they make up their minds to
the disloyalty of knocking him on the head."
I nodded. I thought it more than probable that such would be the end
of Karain. It was evident that he had been hunted by his thought along
the very limit of human endurance, and very little more pressing was
needed to make him swerve over into the form of madness peculiar to
his race. The respite he had during the old man's life made the return
of the torment unbearable. That much was clear.
He lifted his head suddenly; we had imagined for a moment that he had
"Give me your protection--or your strength!" he cried. "A charm . . .
Again his chin fell on his breast. We looked at him, then looked at
one another with suspicious awe in our eyes, like men who come
unexpectedly upon the scene of some mysterious disaster. He had given
himself up to us; he had thrust into our hands his errors and his
torment, his life and his peace; and we did not know what to do with
that problem from the outer darkness. We three white men, looking at
the Malay, could not find one word to the purpose amongst us--if
indeed there existed a word that could solve that problem. We
pondered, and our hearts sank. We felt as though we three had been
called to the very gate of Infernal Regions to judge, to decide the
fate of a wanderer coming suddenly from a world of sunshine and
"By Jove, he seems to have a great idea of our power," whispered
Hollis, hopelessly. And then again there was a silence, the feeble
plash of water, the steady tick of chronometers. Jackson, with bare
arms crossed, leaned his shoulders against the bulkhead of the cabin.
He was bending his head under the deck beam; his fair beard spread out
magnificently over his chest; he looked colossal, ineffectual, and
mild. There was something lugubrious in the aspect of the cabin; the
air in it seemed to become slowly charged with the cruel chill of
helplessness, with the pitiless anger of egoism against the
incomprehensible form of an intruding pain. We had no idea what to
do; we began to resent bitterly the hard necessity to get rid of him.
Hollis mused, muttered suddenly with a short laugh, "Strength . . .
Protection . . . Charm." He slipped off the table and left the cuddy
without a look at us. It seemed a base desertion. Jackson and I
exchanged indignant glances. We could hear him rummaging in his
pigeon-hole of a cabin. Was the fellow actually going to bed? Karain
sighed. It was intolerable!
Then Hollis reappeared, holding in both hands a small leather box. He
put it down gently on the table and looked at us with a queer gasp, we
thought, as though he had from some cause become speechless for a
moment, or were ethically uncertain about producing that box. But in
an instant the insolent and unerring wisdom of his youth gave him the
needed courage. He said, as he unlocked the box with a very small key,
"Look as solemn as you can, you fellows."
Probably we looked only surprised and stupid, for he glanced over his
shoulder, and said angrily--
"This is no play; I am going to do something for him. Look serious.
Confound it! . . . Can't you lie a little . . . for a friend!"
Karain seemed to take no notice of us, but when Hollis threw open the
lid of the box his eyes flew to it--and so did ours. The quilted
crimson satin of the inside put a violent patch of colour into the
sombre atmosphere; it was something positive to look at--it was
Hollis looked smiling into the box. He had lately made a dash home
through the Canal. He had been away six months, and only joined us
again just in time for this last trip. We had never seen the box
before. His hands hovered above it; and he talked to us ironically,
but his face became as grave as though he were pronouncing a powerful
incantation over the things inside.
"Every one of us," he said, with pauses that somehow were more
offensive than his words--"every one of us, you'll admit, has been
haunted by some woman . . . And . . . as to friends . . . dropped by
the way . . . Well! . . . ask yourselves . . ."
He paused. Karain stared. A deep rumble was heard high up under the
deck. Jackson spoke seriously--
"Don't be so beastly cynical."
"Ah! You are without guile," said Hollis, sadly. "You will learn . . .
Meantime this Malay has been our friend . . ."
He repeated several times thoughtfully, "Friend . . . Malay. Friend,
Malay," as though weighing the words against one another, then went on
"A good fellow--a gentleman in his way. We can't, so to speak, turn
our backs on his confidence and belief in us. Those Malays are
easily impressed--all nerves, you know--therefore . . ."
He turned to me sharply.
"You know him best," he said, in a practical tone. "Do you think he is
fanatical--I mean very strict in his faith?"
I stammered in profound amazement that "I did not think so."
"It's on account of its being a likeness--an engraved image,"
muttered Hollis, enigmatically, turning to the box. He plunged his
fingers into it. Karain's lips were parted and his eyes shone. We
looked into the box.
There were there a couple of reels of cotton, a packet of needles, a
bit of silk ribbon, dark blue; a cabinet photograph, at which Hollis
stole a glance before laying it on the table face downwards. A
girl's portrait, I could see. There were, amongst a lot of various
small objects, a bunch of flowers, a narrow white glove with many
buttons, a slim packet of letters carefully tied up. Amulets of white
men! Charms and talismans! Charms that keep them straight, that drive
them crooked, that have the power to make a young man sigh, an old man
smile. Potent things that procure dreams of joy, thoughts of regret;
that soften hard hearts, and can temper a soft one to the hardness of
steel. Gifts of heaven--things of earth . . .
Hollis rummaged in the box.
And it seemed to me, during that moment of waiting, that the cabin
of the schooner was becoming filled with a stir invisible and living
as of subtle breaths. All the ghosts driven out of the unbelieving
West by men who pretend to be wise and alone and at peace--all the
homeless ghosts of an unbelieving world--appeared suddenly round the
figure of Hollis bending over the box; all the exiled and charming
shades of loved women; all the beautiful and tender ghosts of ideals,
remembered, forgotten, cherished, execrated; all the cast-out and
reproachful ghosts of friends admired, trusted, traduced, betrayed,
left dead by the way--they all seemed to come from the inhospitable
regions of the earth to crowd into the gloomy cabin, as though it had
been a refuge and, in all the unbelieving world, the only place of
avenging belief. . . . It lasted a second--all disappeared. Hollis was
facing us alone with something small that glittered between his
fingers. It looked like a coin.
"Ah! here it is," he said.
He held it up. It was a sixpence--a Jubilee sixpence. It was gilt; it
had a hole punched near the rim. Hollis looked towards Karain.
"A charm for our friend," he said to us. "The thing itself is of great
power--money, you know--and his imagination is struck. A loyal
vagabond; if only his puritanism doesn't shy at a likeness . . ."
We said nothing. We did not know whether to be scandalized, amused, or
relieved. Hollis advanced towards Karain, who stood up as if startled,
and then, holding the coin up, spoke in Malay.
"This is the image of the Great Queen, and the most powerful thing the
white men know," he said, solemnly.
Karain covered the handle of his kriss in sign of respect, and stared
at the crowned head.
"The Invincible, the Pious," he muttered.
"She is more powerful than Suleiman the Wise, who commanded the genii,
as you know," said Hollis, gravely. "I shall give this to you."
He held the sixpence in the palm of his hand, and looking at it
thoughtfully, spoke to us in English.
"She commands a spirit, too--the spirit of her nation; a masterful,
conscientious, unscrupulous, unconquerable devil . . . that does a
lot of good--incidentally . . . a lot of good . . . at times--and
wouldn't stand any fuss from the best ghost out for such a little
thing as our friend's shot. Don't look thunderstruck, you fellows.
Help me to make him believe--everything's in that."
"His people will be shocked," I murmured.
Hollis looked fixedly at Karain, who was the incarnation of the very
essence of still excitement. He stood rigid, with head thrown back;
his eyes rolled wildly, flashing; the dilated nostrils quivered.
"Hang it all!" said Hollis at last, "he is a good fellow. I'll give
him something that I shall really miss."
He took the ribbon out of the box, smiled at it scornfully, then with
a pair of scissors cut out a piece from the palm of the glove.
"I shall make him a thing like those Italian peasants wear, you know."
He sewed the coin in the delicate leather, sewed the leather to the
ribbon, tied the ends together. He worked with haste. Karain watched
his fingers all the time.
"Now then," he said--then stepped up to Karain. They looked close into
one another's eyes. Those of Karain stared in a lost glance, but
Hollis's seemed to grow darker and looked out masterful and
compelling. They were in violent contrast together--one motionless and
the colour of bronze, the other dazzling white and lifting his arms,
where the powerful muscles rolled slightly under a skin that gleamed
like satin. Jackson moved near with the air of a man closing up to a
chum in a tight place. I said impressively, pointing to Hollis--
"He is young, but he is wise. Believe him!"
Karain bent his head: Hollis threw lightly over it the dark-blue
ribbon and stepped back.
"Forget, and be at peace!" I cried.
Karain seemed to wake up from a dream. He said, "Ha!" shook himself as
if throwing off a burden. He looked round with assurance. Someone on
deck dragged off the skylight cover, and a flood of light fell into
the cabin. It was morning already.
"Time to go on deck," said Jackson.
Hollis put on a coat, and we went up, Karain leading.
The sun had risen beyond the hills, and their long shadows stretched
far over the bay in the pearly light. The air was clear, stainless,
and cool. I pointed at the curved line of yellow sands.
"He is not there," I said, emphatically, to Karain. "He waits no more.
He has departed forever."
A shaft of bright hot rays darted into the bay between the summits of
two hills, and the water all round broke out as if by magic into a
"No! He is not there waiting," said Karain, after a long look over the
beach. "I do not hear him," he went on, slowly. "No!"
He turned to us.
"He has departed again--forever!" he cried.
We assented vigorously, repeatedly, and without compunction. The great
thing was to impress him powerfully; to suggest absolute safety--the
end of all trouble. We did our best; and I hope we affirmed our faith
in the power of Hollis's charm efficiently enough to put the matter
beyond the shadow of a doubt. Our voices rang around him joyously in
the still air, and above his head the sky, pellucid, pure, stainless,
arched its tender blue from shore to shore and over the bay, as if to
envelop the water, the earth, and the man in the caress of its light.
The anchor was up, the sails hung still, and half-a-dozen big boats
were seen sweeping over the bay to give us a tow out. The paddlers in
the first one that came alongside lifted their heads and saw their
ruler standing amongst us. A low murmur of surprise arose--then a
shout of greeting.
He left us, and seemed straightway to step into the glorious splendour
of his stage, to wrap himself in the illusion of unavoidable success.
For a moment he stood erect, one foot over the gangway, one hand on
the hilt of his kriss, in a martial pose; and, relieved from the fear
of outer darkness, he held his head high, he swept a serene look over
his conquered foothold on the earth. The boats far off took up the cry
of greeting; a great clamour rolled on the water; the hills echoed it,
and seemed to toss back at him the words invoking long life and
He descended into a canoe, and as soon as he was clear of the side we
gave him three cheers. They sounded faint and orderly after the wild
tumult of his loyal subjects, but it was the best we could do. He
stood up in the boat, lifted up both his arms, then pointed to the
infallible charm. We cheered again; and the Malays in the boats
stared--very much puzzled and impressed. I wondered what they thought;
what he thought; . . . what the reader thinks?
We towed out slowly. We saw him land and watch us from the beach. A
figure approached him humbly but openly--not at all like a ghost with
a grievance. We could see other men running towards him. Perhaps he
had been missed? At any rate there was a great stir. A group formed
itself rapidly near him, and he walked along the sands, followed by a
growing cortege and kept nearly abreast of the schooner. With our
glasses we could see the blue ribbon on his neck and a patch of white
on his brown chest. The bay was waking up. The smokes of morning fires
stood in faint spirals higher than the heads of palms; people moved
between the houses; a herd of buffaloes galloped clumsily across a
green slope; the slender figures of boys brandishing sticks appeared
black and leaping in the long grass; a coloured line of women, with
water bamboos on their heads, moved swaying through a thin grove of
fruit-trees. Karain stopped in the midst of his men and waved his
hand; then, detaching himself from the splendid group, walked alone to
the water's edge and waved his hand again. The schooner passed out to
sea between the steep headlands that shut in the bay, and at the same
instant Karain passed out of our life forever.
But the memory remains. Some years afterwards I met Jackson, in the
Strand. He was magnificent as ever. His head was high above the crowd.
His beard was gold, his face red, his eyes blue; he had a wide-brimmed
gray hat and no collar or waistcoat; he was inspiring; he had just
come home--had landed that very day! Our meeting caused an eddy in the
current of humanity. Hurried people would run against us, then walk
round us, and turn back to look at that giant. We tried to compress
seven years of life into seven exclamations; then, suddenly appeased,
walked sedately along, giving one another the news of yesterday.
Jackson gazed about him, like a man who looks for landmarks, then
stopped before Bland's window. He always had a passion for firearms;
so he stopped short and contemplated the row of weapons, perfect and
severe, drawn up in a line behind the black-framed panes. I stood by
his side. Suddenly he said--
"Do you remember Karain?"
"The sight of all this made me think of him," he went on, with his
face near the glass . . . and I could see another man, powerful and
bearded, peering at him intently from amongst the dark and polished
tubes that can cure so many illusions. "Yes; it made me think of him,"
he continued, slowly. "I saw a paper this morning; they are fighting
over there again. He's sure to be in it. He will make it hot for the
caballeros. Well, good luck to him, poor devil! He was perfectly
We walked on.
"I wonder whether the charm worked--you remember Hollis's charm, of
course. If it did . . . Never was a sixpence wasted to better
advantage! Poor devil! I wonder whether he got rid of that friend of
his. Hope so. . . . Do you know, I sometimes think that--"
I stood still and looked at him.
"Yes . . . I mean, whether the thing was so, you know . . . whether it
really happened to him. . . . What do you think?"
"My dear chap," I cried, "you have been too long away from home. What
a question to ask! Only look at all this."
A watery gleam of sunshine flashed from the west and went out between
two long lines of walls; and then the broken confusion of roofs, the
chimney-stacks, the gold letters sprawling over the fronts of houses,
the sombre polish of windows, stood resigned and sullen under the
falling gloom. The whole length of the street, deep as a well and
narrow like a corridor, was full of a sombre and ceaseless stir. Our
ears were filled by a headlong shuffle and beat of rapid footsteps and
by an underlying rumour--a rumour vast, faint, pulsating, as of
panting breaths, of beating hearts, of gasping voices. Innumerable
eyes stared straight in front, feet moved hurriedly, blank faces
flowed, arms swung. Over all, a narrow ragged strip of smoky sky wound
about between the high roofs, extended and motionless, like a soiled
streamer flying above the rout of a mob.
"Ye-e-e-s," said Jackson, meditatively.
The big wheels of hansoms turned slowly along the edge of side-walks;
a pale-faced youth strolled, overcome by weariness, by the side of his
stick and with the tails of his overcoat flapping gently near his
heels; horses stepped gingerly on the greasy pavement, tossing their
heads; two young girls passed by, talking vivaciously and with shining
eyes; a fine old fellow strutted, red-faced, stroking a white
moustache; and a line of yellow boards with blue letters on them
approached us slowly, tossing on high behind one another like some
queer wreckage adrift upon a river of hats.
"Ye-e-es," repeated Jackson. His clear blue eyes looked about,
contemptuous, amused and hard, like the eyes of a boy. A clumsy string
of red, yellow, and green omnibuses rolled swaying, monstrous and
gaudy; two shabby children ran across the road; a knot of dirty men
with red neckerchiefs round their bare throats lurched along,
discussing filthily; a ragged old man with a face of despair yelled
horribly in the mud the name of a paper; while far off, amongst the
tossing heads of horses, the dull flash of harnesses, the jumble of
lustrous panels and roofs of carriages, we could see a policeman,
helmeted and dark, stretching out a rigid arm at the crossing of the
"Yes; I see it," said Jackson, slowly. "It is there; it pants, it
runs, it rolls; it is strong and alive; it would smash you if you
didn't look out; but I'll be hanged if it is yet as real to me as
. . . as the other thing . . . say, Karain's story."
I think that, decidedly, he had been too long away from home.
We were driving along the road from Treguier to Kervanda. We passed at
a smart trot between the hedges topping an earth wall on each side of
the road; then at the foot of the steep ascent before Ploumar the
horse dropped into a walk, and the driver jumped down heavily from the
box. He flicked his whip and climbed the incline, stepping clumsily
uphill by the side of the carriage, one hand on the footboard, his
eyes on the ground. After a while he lifted his head, pointed up the
road with the end of the whip, and said--
The sun was shining violently upon the undulating surface of the land.
The rises were topped by clumps of meagre trees, with their branches
showing high on the sky as if they had been perched upon stilts. The
small fields, cut up by hedges and stone walls that zig-zagged over
the slopes, lay in rectangular patches of vivid greens and yellows,
resembling the unskilful daubs of a naive picture. And the landscape
was divided in two by the white streak of a road stretching in long
loops far away, like a river of dust crawling out of the hills on its
way to the sea.
"Here he is," said the driver, again.
In the long grass bordering the road a face glided past the carriage
at the level of the wheels as we drove slowly by. The imbecile face
was red, and the bullet head with close-cropped hair seemed to lie
alone, its chin in the dust. The body was lost in the bushes growing
thick along the bottom of the deep ditch.
It was a boy's face. He might have been sixteen, judging from the
size--perhaps less, perhaps more. Such creatures are forgotten by
time, and live untouched by years till death gathers them up into its
compassionate bosom; the faithful death that never forgets in the
press of work the most insignificant of its children.
"Ah! there's another," said the man, with a certain satisfaction in
his tone, as if he had caught sight of something expected.
There was another. That one stood nearly in the middle of the road in
the blaze of sunshine at the end of his own short shadow. And he stood
with hands pushed into the opposite sleeves of his long coat, his head
sunk between the shoulders, all hunched up in the flood of heat. From
a distance he had the aspect of one suffering from intense cold.
"Those are twins," explained the driver.
The idiot shuffled two paces out of the way and looked at us over his
shoulder when we brushed past him. The glance was unseeing and
staring, a fascinated glance; but he did not turn to look after us.
Probably the image passed before the eyes without leaving any trace on
the misshapen brain of the creature. When we had topped the ascent I
looked over the hood. He stood in the road just where we had left him.
The driver clambered into his seat, clicked his tongue, and we went
downhill. The brake squeaked horribly from time to time. At the foot
he eased off the noisy mechanism and said, turning half round on his
"We shall see some more of them by-and-by."
"More idiots? How many of them are there, then?" I asked.
"There's four of them--children of a farmer near Ploumar here. . . .
The parents are dead now," he added, after a while. "The grandmother
lives on the farm. In the daytime they knock about on this road, and
they come home at dusk along with the cattle. . . . It's a good farm."
We saw the other two: a boy and a girl, as the driver said. They were
dressed exactly alike, in shapeless garments with petticoat-like
skirts. The imperfect thing that lived within them moved those beings
to howl at us from the top of the bank, where they sprawled amongst
the tough stalks of furze. Their cropped black heads stuck out from
the bright yellow wall of countless small blossoms. The faces were
purple with the strain of yelling; the voices sounded blank and
cracked like a mechanical imitation of old people's voices; and
suddenly ceased when we turned into a lane.
I saw them many times in my wandering about the country. They lived on
that road, drifting along its length here and there, according to the
inexplicable impulses of their monstrous darkness. They were an
offence to the sunshine, a reproach to empty heaven, a blight on the
concentrated and purposeful vigour of the wild landscape. In time the
story of their parents shaped itself before me out of the listless
answers to my questions, out of the indifferent words heard in wayside
inns or on the very road those idiots haunted. Some of it was told by
an emaciated and sceptical old fellow with a tremendous whip, while we
trudged together over the sands by the side of a two-wheeled cart
loaded with dripping seaweed. Then at other times other people
confirmed and completed the story: till it stood at last before me, a
tale formidable and simple, as they always are, those disclosures of
obscure trials endured by ignorant hearts.
When he returned from his military service Jean-Pierre Bacadou found
the old people very much aged. He remarked with pain that the work of
the farm was not satisfactorily done. The father had not the energy of
old days. The hands did not feel over them the eye of the master.
Jean-Pierre noted with sorrow that the heap of manure in the courtyard
before the only entrance to the house was not so large as it should
have been. The fences were out of repair, and the cattle suffered from
neglect. At home the mother was practically bedridden, and the girls
chattered loudly in the big kitchen, unrebuked, from morning to night.
He said to himself: "We must change all this." He talked the matter
over with his father one evening when the rays of the setting sun
entering the yard between the outhouses ruled the heavy shadows with
luminous streaks. Over the manure heap floated a mist, opal-tinted and
odorous, and the marauding hens would stop in their scratching to
examine with a sudden glance of their round eye the two men, both lean
and tall, talking in hoarse tones. The old man, all twisted with
rheumatism and bowed with years of work, the younger bony and
straight, spoke without gestures in the indifferent manner of
peasants, grave and slow. But before the sun had set the father had
submitted to the sensible arguments of the son. "It is not for me that
I am speaking," insisted Jean-Pierre. "It is for the land. It's a pity
to see it badly used. I am not impatient for myself." The old fellow
nodded over his stick. "I dare say; I dare say," he muttered. "You may
be right. Do what you like. It's the mother that will be pleased."
The mother was pleased with her daughter-in-law. Jean-Pierre brought
the two-wheeled spring-cart with a rush into the yard. The gray horse
galloped clumsily, and the bride and bridegroom, sitting side by side,
were jerked backwards and forwards by the up and down motion of the
shafts, in a manner regular and brusque. On the road the distanced
wedding guests straggled in pairs and groups. The men advanced with
heavy steps, swinging their idle arms. They were clad in town clothes;
jackets cut with clumsy smartness, hard black hats, immense boots,
polished highly. Their women all in simple black, with white caps and
shawls of faded tints folded triangularly on the back, strolled
lightly by their side. In front the violin sang a strident tune, and
the biniou snored and hummed, while the player capered solemnly,
lifting high his heavy clogs. The sombre procession drifted in and out
of the narrow lanes, through sunshine and through shade, between
fields and hedgerows, scaring the little birds that darted away in
troops right and left. In the yard of Bacadou's farm the dark ribbon
wound itself up into a mass of men and women pushing at the door with
cries and greetings. The wedding dinner was remembered for months. It
was a splendid feast in the orchard. Farmers of considerable means
and excellent repute were to be found sleeping in ditches, all along
the road to Treguier, even as late as the afternoon of the next day.
All the countryside participated in the happiness of Jean-Pierre. He
remained sober, and, together with his quiet wife, kept out of the
way, letting father and mother reap their due of honour and thanks.
But the next day he took hold strongly, and the old folks felt a
shadow--precursor of the grave--fall upon them finally. The world is
to the young.
When the twins were born there was plenty of room in the house, for
the mother of Jean-Pierre had gone away to dwell under a heavy stone
in the cemetery of Ploumar. On that day, for the first time since his
son's marriage, the elder Bacadou, neglected by the cackling lot of
strange women who thronged the kitchen, left in the morning his seat
under the mantel of the fireplace, and went into the empty cow-house,
shaking his white locks dismally. Grandsons were all very well, but he
wanted his soup at midday. When shown the babies, he stared at them
with a fixed gaze, and muttered something like: "It's too much."
Whether he meant too much happiness, or simply commented upon the
number of his descendants, it is impossible to say. He looked offended
--as far as his old wooden face could express anything; and for days
afterwards could be seen, almost any time of the day, sitting at the
gate, with his nose over his knees, a pipe between his gums, and
gathered up into a kind of raging concentrated sulkiness. Once he
spoke to his son, alluding to the newcomers with a groan: "They will
quarrel over the land." "Don't bother about that, father," answered
Jean-Pierre, stolidly, and passed, bent double, towing a recalcitrant
cow over his shoulder.
He was happy, and so was Susan, his wife. It was not an ethereal joy
welcoming new souls to struggle, perchance to victory. In fourteen
years both boys would be a help; and, later on, Jean-Pierre pictured
two big sons striding over the land from patch to patch, wringing
tribute from the earth beloved and fruitful. Susan was happy too, for
she did not want to be spoken of as the unfortunate woman, and now she
had children no one could call her that. Both herself and her husband
had seen something of the larger world--he during the time of his
service; while she had spent a year or so in Paris with a Breton
family; but had been too home-sick to remain longer away from the
hilly and green country, set in a barren circle of rocks and sands,
where she had been born. She thought that one of the boys ought
perhaps to be a priest, but said nothing to her husband, who was a
republican, and hated the "crows," as he called the ministers of
religion. The christening was a splendid affair. All the commune came
to it, for the Bacadous were rich and influential, and, now and then,
did not mind the expense. The grandfather had a new coat.
Some months afterwards, one evening when the kitchen had been swept,
and the door locked, Jean-Pierre, looking at the cot, asked his wife:
"What's the matter with those children?" And, as if these words,
spoken calmly, had been the portent of misfortune, she answered with
a loud wail that must have been heard across the yard in the pig-sty;
for the pigs (the Bacadous had the finest pigs in the country) stirred
and grunted complainingly in the night. The husband went on grinding
his bread and butter slowly, gazing at the wall, the soup-plate
smoking under his chin. He had returned late from the market, where he
had overheard (not for the first time) whispers behind his back. He
revolved the words in his mind as he drove back. "Simple! Both of
them. . . . Never any use! . . . Well! May be, may be. One must see.
Would ask his wife." This was her answer. He felt like a blow on his
chest, but said only: "Go, draw me some cider. I am thirsty!"
She went out moaning, an empty jug in her hand. Then he arose, took up
the light, and moved slowly towards the cradle. They slept. He looked
at them sideways, finished his mouthful there, went back heavily, and
sat down before his plate. When his wife returned he never looked up,
but swallowed a couple of spoonfuls noisily, and remarked, in a dull
"When they sleep they are like other people's children."
She sat down suddenly on a stool near by, and shook with a silent
tempest of sobs, unable to speak. He finished his meal, and remained
idly thrown back in his chair, his eyes lost amongst the black rafters
of the ceiling. Before him the tallow candle flared red and straight,
sending up a slender thread of smoke. The light lay on the rough,
sunburnt skin of his throat; the sunk cheeks were like patches of
darkness, and his aspect was mournfully stolid, as if he had
ruminated with difficulty endless ideas. Then he said, deliberately--
"We must see . . . consult people. Don't cry. . . . They won't all be
like that . . . surely! We must sleep now."
After the third child, also a boy, was born, Jean-Pierre went about
his work with tense hopefulness. His lips seemed more narrow, more
tightly compressed than before; as if for fear of letting the earth he
tilled hear the voice of hope that murmured within his breast. He
watched the child, stepping up to the cot with a heavy clang of sabots
on the stone floor, and glanced in, along his shoulder, with that
indifference which is like a deformity of peasant humanity. Like the
earth they master and serve, those men, slow of eye and speech, do not
show the inner fire; so that, at last, it becomes a question with them
as with the earth, what there is in the core: heat, violence, a force
mysterious and terrible--or nothing but a clod, a mass fertile and
inert, cold and unfeeling, ready to bear a crop of plants that sustain
life or give death.
The mother watched with other eyes; listened with otherwise expectant
ears. Under the high hanging shelves supporting great sides of bacon
overhead, her body was busy by the great fireplace, attentive to the
pot swinging on iron gallows, scrubbing the long table where the field
hands would sit down directly to their evening meal. Her mind remained
by the cradle, night and day on the watch, to hope and suffer. That
child, like the other two, never smiled, never stretched its hands to
her, never spoke; never had a glance of recognition for her in its
big black eyes, which could only stare fixedly at any glitter, but
failed hopelessly to follow the brilliance of a sun-ray slipping
slowly along the floor. When the men were at work she spent long days
between her three idiot children and the childish grandfather, who sat
grim, angular, and immovable, with his feet near the warm ashes of the
fire. The feeble old fellow seemed to suspect that there was something
wrong with his grandsons. Only once, moved either by affection or by
the sense of proprieties, he attempted to nurse the youngest. He took
the boy up from the floor, clicked his tongue at him, and essayed a
shaky gallop of his bony knees. Then he looked closely with his misty
eyes at the child's face and deposited him down gently on the floor
again. And he sat, his lean shanks crossed, nodding at the steam
escaping from the cooking-pot with a gaze senile and worried.
Then mute affliction dwelt in Bacadou's farmhouse, sharing the breath
and the bread of its inhabitants; and the priest of the Ploumar parish
had great cause for congratulation. He called upon the rich landowner,
the Marquis de Chavanes, on purpose to deliver himself with joyful
unction of solemn platitudes about the inscrutable ways of
Providence. In the vast dimness of the curtained drawing-room, the
little man, resembling a black bolster, leaned towards a couch, his
hat on his knees, and gesticulated with a fat hand at the elongated,
gracefully-flowing lines of the clear Parisian toilette from which the
half-amused, half-bored marquise listened with gracious languor. He
was exulting and humble, proud and awed. The impossible had come to
pass. Jean-Pierre Bacadou, the enraged republican farmer, had been to
mass last Sunday--had proposed to entertain the visiting priests at
the next festival of Ploumar! It was a triumph for the Church and for
the good cause. "I thought I would come at once to tell Monsieur le
Marquis. I know how anxious he is for the welfare of our country,"
declared the priest, wiping his face. He was asked to stay to dinner.
The Chavanes returning that evening, after seeing their guest to the
main gate of the park, discussed the matter while they strolled in the
moonlight, trailing their long shadows up the straight avenue of
chestnuts. The marquise, a royalist of course, had been mayor of the
commune which includes Ploumar, the scattered hamlets of the coast,
and the stony islands that fringe the yellow flatness of the sands. He
had felt his position insecure, for there was a strong republican
element in that part of the country; but now the conversion of
Jean-Pierre made him safe. He was very pleased. "You have no idea how
influential those people are," he explained to his wife. "Now, I am
sure, the next communal election will go all right. I shall be re-
elected." "Your ambition is perfectly insatiable, Charles," exclaimed
the marquise, gaily. "But, ma chere amie," argued the husband,
seriously, "it's most important that the right man should be mayor
this year, because of the elections to the Chamber. If you think it
amuses me . . ."
Jean-Pierre had surrendered to his wife's mother. Madame Levaille was
a woman of business, known and respected within a radius of at least