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Joseph Conrad by Joseph Conrad

Part 4 out of 4

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what the eye has seen is truth and remains in the mind!"

"I remember," said the white man, quietly. Arsat went on with mournful

"Therefore I shall speak to you of love. Speak in the night. Speak
before both night and love are gone--and the eye of day looks upon my
sorrow and my shame; upon my blackened face; upon my burnt-up heart."

A sigh, short and faint, marked an almost imperceptible pause, and
then his words flowed on, without a stir, without a gesture.

"After the time of trouble and war was over and you went away from my
country in the pursuit of your desires, which we, men of the islands,
cannot understand, I and my brother became again, as we had been
before, the sword-bearers of the Ruler. You know we were men of
family, belonging to a ruling race, and more fit than any to carry on
our right shoulder the emblem of power. And in the time of prosperity
Si Dendring showed us favour, as we, in time of sorrow, had showed to
him the faithfulness of our courage. It was a time of peace. A time of
deer-hunts and cock-fights; of idle talks and foolish squabbles
between men whose bellies are full and weapons are rusty. But the
sower watched the young rice-shoots grow up without fear, and the
traders came and went, departed lean and returned fat into the river
of peace. They brought news, too. Brought lies and truth mixed
together, so that no man knew when to rejoice and when to be sorry. We
heard from them about you also. They had seen you here and had seen
you there. And I was glad to hear, for I remembered the stirring
times, and I always remembered you, Tuan, till the time came when my
eyes could see nothing in the past, because they had looked upon the
one who is dying there--in the house."

He stopped to exclaim in an intense whisper, "O Mara bahia! O
Calamity!" then went on speaking a little louder:

"There's no worse enemy and no better friend than a brother, Tuan, for
one brother knows another, and in perfect knowledge is strength for
good or evil. I loved my brother. I went to him and told him that I
could see nothing but one face, hear nothing but one voice. He told
me: 'Open your heart so that she can see what is in it--and wait.
Patience is wisdom. Inchi Midah may die or our Ruler may throw off his
fear of a woman!' . . . I waited! . . . You remember the lady with the
veiled face, Tuan, and the fear of our Ruler before her cunning and
temper. And if she wanted her servant, what could I do? But I fed the
hunger of my heart on short glances and stealthy words. I loitered on
the path to the bath-houses in the daytime, and when the sun had
fallen behind the forest I crept along the jasmine hedges of the
women's courtyard. Unseeing, we spoke to one another through the
scent of flowers, through the veil of leaves, through the blades of
long grass that stood still before our lips; so great was our
prudence, so faint was the murmur of our great longing. The time
passed swiftly . . . and there were whispers amongst women--and our
enemies watched--my brother was gloomy, and I began to think of
killing and of a fierce death. . . . We are of a people who take what
they want--like you whites. There is a time when a man should forget
loyalty and respect. Might and authority are given to rulers, but to
all men is given love and strength and courage. My brother said, 'You
shall take her from their midst. We are two who are like one.' And I
answered, 'Let it be soon, for I find no warmth in sunlight that does
not shine upon her.' Our time came when the Ruler and all the great
people went to the mouth of the river to fish by torchlight. There
were hundreds of boats, and on the white sand, between the water and
the forests, dwellings of leaves were built for the households of the
Rajahs. The smoke of cooking-fires was like a blue mist of the
evening, and many voices rang in it joyfully. While they were making
the boats ready to beat up the fish, my brother came to me and said,
'To-night!' I looked to my weapons, and when the time came our canoe
took its place in the circle of boats carrying the torches. The lights
blazed on the water, but behind the boats there was darkness. When the
shouting began and the excitement made them like mad we dropped out.
The water swallowed our fire, and we floated back to the shore that
was dark with only here and there the glimmer of embers. We could hear
the talk of slave-girls amongst the sheds. Then we found a place
deserted and silent. We waited there. She came. She came running along
the shore, rapid and leaving no trace, like a leaf driven by the wind
into the sea. My brother said gloomily, 'Go and take her; carry her
into our boat.' I lifted her in my arms. She panted. Her heart was
beating against my breast. I said, 'I take you from those people. You
came to the cry of my heart, but my arms take you into my boat against
the will of the great!' 'It is right,' said my brother. 'We are men
who take what we want and can hold it against many. We should have
taken her in daylight.' I said, 'Let us be off'; for since she was in
my boat I began to think of our Ruler's many men. 'Yes. Let us be
off,' said my brother. 'We are cast out and this boat is our country
now--and the sea is our refuge.' He lingered with his foot on the
shore, and I entreated him to hasten, for I remembered the strokes of
her heart against my breast and thought that two men cannot withstand
a hundred. We left, paddling downstream close to the bank; and as we
passed by the creek where they were fishing, the great shouting had
ceased, but the murmur of voices was loud like the humming of insects
flying at noonday. The boats floated, clustered together, in the red
light of torches, under a black roof of smoke; and men talked of their
sport. Men that boasted, and praised, and jeered--men that would have
been our friends in the morning, but on that night were already our
enemies. We paddled swiftly past. We had no more friends in the
country of our birth. She sat in the middle of the canoe with covered
face; silent as she is now; unseeing as she is now--and I had no
regret at what I was leaving because I could hear her breathing close
to me--as I can hear her now."

He paused, listened with his ear turned to the doorway, then shook
his head and went on:

"My brother wanted to shout the cry of challenge--one cry only--to
let the people know we were freeborn robbers who trusted our arms and
the great sea. And again I begged him in the name of our love to be
silent. Could I not hear her breathing close to me? I knew the pursuit
would come quick enough. My brother loved me. He dipped his paddle
without a splash. He only said, 'There is half a man in you now--the
other half is in that woman. I can wait. When you are a whole man
again, you will come back with me here to shout defiance. We are sons
of the same mother.' I made no answer. All my strength and all my
spirit were in my hands that held the paddle--for I longed to be with
her in a safe place beyond the reach of men's anger and of women's
spite. My love was so great, that I thought it could guide me to a
country where death was unknown, if I could only escape from Inchi
Midah's fury and from our Ruler's sword. We paddled with haste,
breathing through our teeth. The blades bit deep into the smooth
water. We passed out of the river; we flew in clear channels amongst
the shallows. We skirted the black coast; we skirted the sand beaches
where the sea speaks in whispers to the land; and the gleam of white
sand flashed back past our boat, so swiftly she ran upon the water. We
spoke not. Only once I said, 'Sleep, Diamelen, for soon you may want
all your strength.' I heard the sweetness of her voice, but I never
turned my head. The sun rose and still we went on. Water fell from my
face like rain from a cloud. We flew in the light and heat. I never
looked back, but I knew that my brother's eyes, behind me, were
looking steadily ahead, for the boat went as straight as a bushman's
dart, when it leaves the end of the sumpitan. There was no better
paddler, no better steersman than my brother. Many times, together, we
had won races in that canoe. But we never had put out our strength as
we did then--then, when for the last time we paddled together! There
was no braver or stronger man in our country than my brother. I could
not spare the strength to turn my head and look at him, but every
moment I heard the hiss of his breath getting louder behind me. Still
he did not speak. The sun was high. The heat clung to my back like a
flame of fire. My ribs were ready to burst, but I could no longer get
enough air into my chest. And then I felt I must cry out with my last
breath, 'Let us rest!' . . . 'Good!' he answered; and his voice was
firm. He was strong. He was brave. He knew not fear and no fatigue
. . . My brother!"

A murmur powerful and gentle, a murmur vast and faint; the murmur of
trembling leaves, of stirring boughs, ran through the tangled depths
of the forests, ran over the starry smoothness of the lagoon, and the
water between the piles lapped the slimy timber once with a sudden
splash. A breath of warm air touched the two men's faces and passed on
with a mournful sound--a breath loud and short like an uneasy sigh of
the dreaming earth.

Arsat went on in an even, low voice.

"We ran our canoe on the white beach of a little bay close to a long
tongue of land that seemed to bar our road; a long wooded cape going
far into the sea. My brother knew that place. Beyond the cape a river
has its entrance, and through the jungle of that land there is a
narrow path. We made a fire and cooked rice. Then we lay down to sleep
on the soft sand in the shade of our canoe, while she watched. No
sooner had I closed my eyes than I heard her cry of alarm. We leaped
up. The sun was halfway down the sky already, and coming in sight in
the opening of the bay we saw a prau manned by many paddlers. We knew
it at once; it was one of our Rajah's praus. They were watching the
shore, and saw us. They beat the gong, and turned the head of the prau
into the bay. I felt my heart become weak within my breast. Diamelen
sat on the sand and covered her face. There was no escape by sea. My
brother laughed. He had the gun you had given him, Tuan, before you
went away, but there was only a handful of powder. He spoke to me
quickly: 'Run with her along the path. I shall keep them back, for
they have no firearms, and landing in the face of a man with a gun is
certain death for some. Run with her. On the other side of that wood
there is a fisherman's house--and a canoe. When I have fired all the
shots I will follow. I am a great runner, and before they can come up
we shall be gone. I will hold out as long as I can, for she is but a
woman--that can neither run nor fight, but she has your heart in her
weak hands.' He dropped behind the canoe. The prau was coming. She and
I ran, and as we rushed along the path I heard shots. My brother
fired--once--twice--and the booming of the gong ceased. There was
silence behind us. That neck of land is narrow. Before I heard my
brother fire the third shot I saw the shelving shore, and I saw the
water again; the mouth of a broad river. We crossed a grassy glade. We
ran down to the water. I saw a low hut above the black mud, and a
small canoe hauled up. I heard another shot behind me. I thought,
'That is his last charge.' We rushed down to the canoe; a man came
running from the hut, but I leaped on him, and we rolled together in
the mud. Then I got up, and he lay still at my feet. I don't know
whether I had killed him or not. I and Diamelen pushed the canoe
afloat. I heard yells behind me, and I saw my brother run across the
glade. Many men were bounding after him, I took her in my arms and
threw her into the boat, then leaped in myself. When I looked back I
saw that my brother had fallen. He fell and was up again, but the men
were closing round him. He shouted, 'I am coming!' The men were close
to him. I looked. Many men. Then I looked at her. Tuan, I pushed the
canoe! I pushed it into deep water. She was kneeling forward looking
at me, and I said, 'Take your paddle,' while I struck the water with
mine. Tuan, I heard him cry. I heard him cry my name twice; and I
heard voices shouting, 'Kill! Strike!' I never turned back. I heard
him calling my name again with a great shriek, as when life is going
out together with the voice--and I never turned my head. My own name!
. . . My brother! Three times he called--but I was not afraid of life.
Was she not there in that canoe? And could I not with her find a
country where death is forgotten--where death is unknown!"

The white man sat up. Arsat rose and stood, an indistinct and silent
figure above the dying embers of the fire. Over the lagoon a mist
drifting and low had crept, erasing slowly the glittering images of
the stars. And now a great expanse of white vapour covered the land:
it flowed cold and gray in the darkness, eddied in noiseless whirls
round the tree-trunks and about the platform of the house, which
seemed to float upon a restless and impalpable illusion of a sea. Only
far away the tops of the trees stood outlined on the twinkle of
heaven, like a sombre and forbidding shore--a coast deceptive,
pitiless and black.

Arsat's voice vibrated loudly in the profound peace.

"I had her there! I had her! To get her I would have faced all
mankind. But I had her--and--"

His words went out ringing into the empty distances. He paused, and
seemed to listen to them dying away very far--beyond help and beyond
recall. Then he said quietly--

"Tuan, I loved my brother."

A breath of wind made him shiver. High above his head, high above the
silent sea of mist the drooping leaves of the palms rattled together
with a mournful and expiring sound. The white man stretched his legs.
His chin rested on his chest, and he murmured sadly without lifting
his head--

"We all love our brothers."

Arsat burst out with an intense whispering violence--

"What did I care who died? I wanted peace in my own heart."

He seemed to hear a stir in the house--listened--then stepped in
noiselessly. The white man stood up. A breeze was coming in fitful
puffs. The stars shone paler as if they had retreated into the frozen
depths of immense space. After a chill gust of wind there were a few
seconds of perfect calm and absolute silence. Then from behind the
black and wavy line of the forests a column of golden light shot up
into the heavens and spread over the semicircle of the eastern
horizon. The sun had risen. The mist lifted, broke into drifting
patches, vanished into thin flying wreaths; and the unveiled lagoon
lay, polished and black, in the heavy shadows at the foot of the wall
of trees. A white eagle rose over it with a slanting and ponderous
flight, reached the clear sunshine and appeared dazzlingly brilliant
for a moment, then soaring higher, became a dark and motionless speck
before it vanished into the blue as if it had left the earth forever.
The white man, standing gazing upwards before the doorway, heard in
the hut a confused and broken murmur of distracted words ending with a
loud groan. Suddenly Arsat stumbled out with outstretched hands,
shivered, and stood still for some time with fixed eyes. Then he

"She burns no more."

Before his face the sun showed its edge above the tree-tops rising
steadily. The breeze freshened; a great brilliance burst upon the
lagoon, sparkled on the rippling water. The forests came out of the
clear shadows of the morning, became distinct, as if they had rushed
nearer--to stop short in a great stir of leaves, of nodding boughs, of
swaying branches. In the merciless sunshine the whisper of unconscious
life grew louder, speaking in an incomprehensible voice round the dumb
darkness of that human sorrow. Arsat's eyes wandered slowly, then
stared at the rising sun.

"I can see nothing," he said half aloud to himself.

"There is nothing," said the white man, moving to the edge of the
platform and waving his hand to his boat. A shout came faintly over
the lagoon and the sampan began to glide towards the abode of the
friend of ghosts.

"If you want to come with me, I will wait all the morning," said the
white man, looking away upon the water.

"No, Tuan," said Arsat, softly. "I shall not eat or sleep in this
house, but I must first see my road. Now I can see nothing--see
nothing! There is no light and no peace in the world; but there is
death--death for many. We are sons of the same mother--and I left him
in the midst of enemies; but I am going back now."

He drew a long breath and went on in a dreamy tone:

"In a little while I shall see clear enough to strike--to strike. But
she has died, and . . . now . . . darkness."

He flung his arms wide open, let them fall along his body, then stood
still with unmoved face and stony eyes, staring at the sun. The white
man got down into his canoe. The polers ran smartly along the sides of
the boat, looking over their shoulders at the beginning of a weary
journey. High in the stern, his head muffled up in white rags, the
juragan sat moody, letting his paddle trail in the water. The white
man, leaning with both arms over the grass roof of the little cabin,
looked back at the shining ripple of the boat's wake. Before the
sampan passed out of the lagoon into the creek he lifted his eyes.
Arsat had not moved. He stood lonely in the searching sunshine; and he
looked beyond the great light of a cloudless day into the darkness of
a world of illusions.

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