Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

An Outcast of the Islands by Joseph Conrad

Part 1 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download An Outcast of the Islands pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.



Pues el delito mayor
Del hombre es haber nacito


[page intentionally blank]


"An Outcast of the Islands" is my second novel in the
absolute sense of the word; second in conception, second
in execution, second as it were in its essence. There
was no hesitation, half-formed plan, vague idea, or the
vaguest reverie of anything else between it and
"Almayer's Folly." The only doubt I suffered from,
after the publication of "Almayer's Folly," was whether
I should write another line for print. Those days, now
grown so dim, had their poignant moments. Neither in
my mind nor in my heart had I then given up the sea.
In truth I was clinging to it desperately, all the more
desperately because, against my will, I could not help
feeling that there was something changed in my rela-
tion to it. "Almayer's Folly," had been finished and
done with. The mood itself was gone. But it had
left the memory of an experience that, both in thought
and emotion was unconnected with the sea, and I sup-
pose that part of my moral being which is rooted in
consistency was badly shaken. I was a victim of
contrary stresses which produced a state of immobility.
I gave myself up to indolence. Since it was impossible
for me to face both ways I had elected to face nothing.
The discovery of new values in life is a very chaotic
experience; there is a tremendous amount of jostling
and confusion and a momentary feeling of darkness.
I let my spirit float supine over that chaos.
A phrase of Edward Garnett's is, as a matter of fact,
responsible for this book. The first of the friends I



made for myself by my pen it was but natural that he
should be the recipient, at that time, of my confidences.
One evening when we had dined together and he had
listened to the account of my perplexities (I fear he
must have been growing a little tired of them) he
pointed out that there was no need to determine my
future absolutely. Then he added: "You have the
style, you have the temperament; why not write an-
other?" I believe that as far as one man may wish to
influence another man's life Edward Garnett had a
great desire that I should go on writing. At that time,
and I may say, ever afterwards, he was always very
patient and gentle with me. What strikes me most
however in the phrase quoted above which was offered
to me in a tone of detachment is not its gentleness but
its effective wisdom. Had he said, "Why not go on
writing," it is very probable he would have scared me
away from pen and ink for ever; but there was nothing
either to frighten one or arouse one's antagonism in the
mere suggestion to "write another." And thus a dead
point in the revolution of my affairs was insidiously got
over. The word "another" did it. At about eleven
o'clock of a nice London night, Edward and I walked
along interminable streets talking of many things, and
I remember that on getting home I sat down and
wrote about half a page of "An Outcast of the Islands"
before I slept. This was committing myself definitely,
I won't say to another life, but to another book. There
is apparently something in my character which will
not allow me to abandon for good any piece of work I
have begun. I have laid aside many beginnings. I
have laid them aside with sorrow, with disgust, with
rage, with melancholy and even with self-contempt;
but even at the worst I had an uneasy consciousness
that I would have to go back to them.


"An Outcast of the Islands" belongs to those novels of
mine that were never laid aside; and though it brought
me the qualification of "exotic writer" I don't think
the charge was at all justified. For the life of me I
don't see that there is the slightest exotic spirit in the
conception or style of that novel. It is certainly the
most tropical of my eastern tales. The mere scenery got
a great hold on me as I went on, perhaps because (I
may just as well confess that) the story itself was never
very near my heart. It engaged my imagination
much more than my affection. As to my feeling for
Willems it was but the regard one cannot help having
for one's own creation. Obviously I could not be in-
different to a man on whose head I had brought so
much evil simply by imagining him such as he appears
in the novel--and that, too, on a very slight foundation.
The man who suggested Willems to me was not par-
ticularly interesting in himself. My interest was
aroused by his dependent position, his strange, dubious
status of a mistrusted, disliked, worn-out European
living on the reluctant toleration of that Settlement
hidden in the heart of the forest-land, up that sombre
stream which our ship was the only white men's ship
to visit. With his hollow, clean-shaved cheeks, a heavy
grey moustache and eyes without any expression what-
ever, clad always in a spotless sleeping suit much be-
frogged in front, which left his lean neck wholly un-
covered, and with his bare feet in a pair of straw slip-
pers, he wandered silently amongst the houses in day-
light, almost as dumb as an animal and apparently
much more homeless. I don't know what he did with
himself at night. He must have had a place, a hut,
a palm-leaf shed, some sort of hovel where he kept
his razor and his change of sleeping suits. An air of
futile mystery hung over him, something not exactly


dark but obviously ugly. The only definite state-
ment I could extract from anybody was that it was he
who had "brought the Arabs into the river." That
must have happened many years before. But how
did he bring them into the river? He could hardly
have done it in his arms like a lot of kittens. I knew
that Almayer founded the chronology of all his mis-
fortunes on the date of that fateful advent; and yet the
very first time we dined with Almayer there was Will-
ems sitting at table with us in the manner of the skele-
ton at the feast, obviously shunned by everybody,
never addressed by any one, and for all recognition of
his existence getting now and then from Almayer a
venomous glance which I observed with great
surprise. In the course of the whole evening he ven-
tured one single remark which I didn't catch because
his articulation was imperfect, as of a man who had
forgotten how to speak. I was the only person who
seemed aware of the sound. Willems subsided. Pres-
ently he retired, pointedly unnoticed--into the forest
maybe? Its immensity was there, within three hundred
yards of the verandah, ready to swallow up anything.
Almayer conversing with my captain did not stop talking
while he glared angrily at the retreating back. Didn't
that fellow bring the Arabs into the river! Nevertheless
Willems turned up next morning on Almayer's verandah.
From the bridge of the steamer I could see plainly these
two, breakfasting together, tete a tete and, I suppose, in
dead silence, one with his air of being no longer inter-
ested in this world and the other raising his eyes now
and then with intense dislike.
It was clear that in those days Willems lived on
Almayer's charity. Yet on returning two months
later to Sambir I heard that he had gone on an expedi-
tion up the river in charge of a steam-launch belonging


to the Arabs, to make some discovery or other. On
account of the strange reluctance that everyone man-
ifested to talk about Willems it was impossible for me
to get at the rights of that transaction. Moreover, I
was a newcomer, the youngest of the company, and,
I suspect, not judged quite fit as yet for a full con-
fidence. I was not much concerned about that ex-
clusion. The faint suggestion of plots and mys-
teries pertaining to all matters touching Almayer's
affairs amused me vastly. Almayer was obviously
very much affected. I believe he missed Willems im-
mensely. He wore an air of sinister preoccupation
and talked confidentially with my captain. I could
catch only snatches of mumbled sentences. Then one
morning as I came along the deck to take my place at
the breakfast table Almayer checked himself in his
low-toned discourse. My captain's face was per-
fectly impenetrable. There was a moment of profound
silence and then as if unable to contain himself Almayer
burst out in a loud vicious tone:
"One thing's certain; if he finds anything worth hav-
ing up there they will poison him like a dog."
Disconnected though it was, that phrase, as food for
thought, was distinctly worth hearing. We left the
river three days afterwards and I never returned to
Sambir; but whatever happened to the protagonist of
my Willems nobody can deny that I have recorded for
him a less squalid fate.

J. C.

[page intentionally blank]


[page intentionally blank]



WHEN he stepped off the straight and narrow path
of his peculiar honesty, it was with an inward assertion
of unflinching resolve to fall back again into the mo-
notonous but safe stride of virtue as soon as his little
excursion into the wayside quagmires had produced
the desired effect. It was going to be a short episode
--a sentence in brackets, so to speak--in the flowing
tale of his life: a thing of no moment, to be done un-
willingly, yet neatly, and to be quickly forgotten. He
imagined that he could go on afterwards looking at the
sunshine, enjoying the shade, breathing in the perfume
of flowers in the small garden before his house. He
fancied that nothing would be changed, that he would
be able as heretofore to tyrannize good-humouredly
over his half-caste wife, to notice with tender contempt
his pale yellow child, to patronize loftily his dark-
skinned brother-in-law, who loved pink neckties and
wore patent-leather boots on his little feet, and was so
humble before the white husband of the lucky sister.
Those were the delights of his life, and he was unable
to conceive that the moral significance of any act of
his could interfere with the very nature of things, could
dim the light of the sun, could destroy the perfume of
the flowers, the submission of his wife, the smile of his
child, the awe-struck respect of Leonard da Souza and
of all the Da Souza family. That family's admiration



was the great luxury of his life. It rounded and com-
pleted his existence in a perpetual assurance of unques-
tionable superiority. He loved to breathe the coarse
incense they offered before the shrine of the successful
white man; the man that had done them the honour
to marry their daughter, sister, cousin; the rising man
sure to climb very high; the confidential clerk of Hudig
& Co. They were a numerous and an unclean crowd,
living in ruined bamboo houses, surrounded by neg-
lected compounds, on the outskirts of Macassar. He
kept them at arm's length and even further off, per-
haps, having no illusions as to their worth. They
were a half-caste, lazy lot, and he saw them as they
were--ragged, lean, unwashed, undersized men of
various ages, shuffling about aimlessly in slippers;
motionless old women who looked like monstrous bags
of pink calico stuffed with shapeless lumps of fat, and
deposited askew upon decaying rattan chairs in shady
corners of dusty verandahs; young women, slim and
yellow, big-eyed, long-haired, moving languidly amongst
the dirt and rubbish of their dwellings as if every step
they took was going to be their very last. He heard
their shrill quarrellings, the squalling of their children,
the grunting of their pigs; he smelt the odours of the
heaps of garbage in their courtyards: and he was greatly
disgusted. But he fed and clothed that shabby multi-
tude; those degenerate descendants of Portuguese con-
querors; he was their providence; he kept them singing
his praises in the midst of their laziness, of their dirt,
of their immense and hopeless squalor: and he was
greatly delighted. They wanted much, but he could
give them all they wanted without ruining himself.
In exchange he had their silent fear, their loquacious
love, their noisy veneration. It is a fine thing to be a
providence, and to be told so on every day of one's life.


It gives one a feeling of enormously remote superiority,
and Willems revelled in it. He did not analyze the
state of his mind, but probably his greatest delight lay
in the unexpressed but intimate conviction that, should
he close his hand, all those admiring human beings
would starve. His munificence had demoralized them.
An easy task. Since he descended amongst them and
married Joanna they had lost the little aptitude and
strength for work they might have had to put forth
under the stress of extreme necessity. They lived now
by the grace of his will. This was power. Willems
loved it.
In another, and perhaps a lower plane, his days did
not want for their less complex but more obvious pleas-
ures. He liked the simple games of skill--billiards;
also games not so simple, and calling for quite another
kind of skill--poker. He had been the aptest pupil of
a steady-eyed, sententious American, who had drifted
mysteriously into Macassar from the wastes of the
Pacific, and, after knocking about for a time in the
eddies of town life, had drifted out enigmatically into
the sunny solitudes of the Indian Ocean. The memory
of the Californian stranger was perpetuated in the game
of poker--which became popular in the capital of Cele-
bes from that time--and in a powerful cocktail, the
recipe for which is transmitted--in the Kwang-tung
dialect--from head boy to head boy of the Chinese
servants in the Sunda Hotel even to this day. Willems
was a connoisseur in the drink and an adept at the game.
Of those accomplishments he was moderately proud.
Of the confidence reposed in him by Hudig--the master
--he was boastfully and obtrusively proud. This arose
from his great benevolence, and from an exalted sense
of his duty to himself and the world at large. He ex-
perienced that irresistible impulse to impart information


which is inseparable from gross ignorance. There is
always some one thing which the ignorant man knows,
and that thing is the only thing worth knowing; it
fills the ignorant man's universe. Willems knew all
about himself. On the day when, with many misgiv-
ings, he ran away from a Dutch East-Indiaman in
Samarang roads, he had commenced that study of
himself, of his own ways, of his own abilities, of those
fate-compelling qualities of his which led him toward
that lucrative position which he now filled. Being of a
modest and diffident nature, his successes amazed,
almost frightened him, and ended--as he got over the
succeeding shocks of surprise--by making him fero-
ciously conceited. He believed in his genius and in his
knowledge of the world. Others should know of it also;
for their own good and for his greater glory. All those
friendly men who slapped him on the back and greeted
him noisily should have the benefit of his example. For
that he must talk. He talked to them conscientiously.
In the afternoon he expounded his theory of success
over the little tables, dipping now and then his mous-
tache in the crushed ice of the cocktails; in the evening
he would often hold forth, cue in hand, to a young lis-
tener across the billiard table. The billiard balls stood
still as if listening also, under the vivid brilliance of the
shaded oil lamps hung low over the cloth; while away
in the shadows of the big room the Chinaman marker
would lean wearily against the wall, the blank mask of
his face looking pale under the mahogany marking-
board; his eyelids dropped in the drowsy fatigue of late
hours and in the buzzing monotony of the unintelligible
stream of words poured out by the white man. In a
sudden pause of the talk the game would recommence
with a sharp click and go on for a time in the flowing
soft whirr and the subdued thuds as the balls rolled


zig-zagging towards the inevitably successful cannon.
Through the big windows and the open doors the salt
dampness of the sea, the vague smell of mould and
flowers from the garden of the hotel drifted in and
mingled with the odour of lamp oil, growing heavier
as the night advanced. The players' heads dived into
the light as they bent down for the stroke, springing
back again smartly into the greenish gloom of broad
lamp-shades; the clock ticked methodically; the un-
moved Chinaman continuously repeated the score in a
lifeless voice, like a big talking doll--and Willems
would win the game. With a remark that it was getting
late, and that he was a married man, he would say a
patronizing good-night and step out into the long,
empty street. At that hour its white dust was like a
dazzling streak of moonlight where the eye sought repose
in the dimmer gleam of rare oil lamps. Willems
walked homewards, following the line of walls over-
topped by the luxuriant vegetation of the front gar-
dens. The houses right and left were hidden behind
the black masses of flowering shrubs. Willems had
the street to himself. He would walk in the middle,
his shadow gliding obsequiously before him. He looked
down on it complacently. The shadow of a successful
man! He would be slightly dizzy with the cocktails
and with the intoxication of his own glory. As he often
told people, he came east fourteen years ago--a cabin
boy. A small boy. His shadow must have been very
small at that time; he thought with a smile that he was
not aware then he had anything--even a shadow--
which he dared call his own. And now he was looking
at the shadow of the confidential clerk of Hudig & Co.
going home. How glorious! How good was life for
those that were on the winning side! He had won the
game of life; also the game of billiards. He walked


faster, jingling his winnings, and thinking of the white
stone days that had marked the path of his existence.
He thought of the trip to Lombok for ponies--that
first important transaction confided to him by Hudig;
then he reviewed the more important affairs: the quiet
deal in opium; the illegal traffic in gunpowder; the great
affair of smuggled firearms, the difficult business of the
Rajah of Goak. He carried that last through by sheer
pluck; he had bearded the savage old ruler in his council
room; he had bribed him with a gilt glass coach, which,
rumour said, was used as a hen-coop now; he had over-
persuaded him; he had bested him in every way. That
was the way to get on. He disapproved of the elemen-
tary dishonesty that dips the hand in the cash-box, but
one could evade the laws and push the principles of
trade to their furthest consequences. Some call that
cheating. Those are the fools, the weak, the contemp-
tible. The wise, the strong, the respected, have no
scruples. Where there are scruples there can be no
power. On that text he preached often to the young
men. It was his doctrine, and he, himself, was a shining
example of its truth.
Night after night he went home thus, after a day of
toil and pleasure, drunk with the sound of his own voice
celebrating his own prosperity. On his thirtieth birth-
day he went home thus. He had spent in good com-
pany a nice, noisy evening, and, as he walked along the
empty street, the feeling of his own greatness grew upon
him, lifted him above the white dust of the road, and
filled him with exultation and regrets. He had not
done himself justice over there in the hotel, he had not
talked enough about himself, he had not impressed his
hearers enough. Never mind. Some other time. Now
he would go home and make his wife get up and listen
to him. Why should she not get up?--and mix a cock-


tail for him--and listen patiently. Just so. She shall.
If he wanted he could make all the Da Souza family
get up. He had only to say a word and they would
all come and sit silently in their night vestments on
the hard, cold ground of his compound and listen, as
long as he wished to go on explaining to them from the
top of the stairs, how great and good he was. They
would. However, his wife would do--for to-night.
His wife! He winced inwardly. A dismal woman
with startled eyes and dolorously drooping mouth, that
would listen to him in pained wonder and mute stillness.
She was used to those night-discourses now. She had
rebelled once--at the beginning. Only once. Now,
while he sprawled in the long chair and drank and
talked, she would stand at the further end of the table,
her hands resting on the edge, her frightened eyes
watching his lips, without a sound, without a stir, hardly
breathing, till he dismissed her with a contemptuous:
"Go to bed, dummy." She would draw a long breath
then and trail out of the room, relieved but unmoved.
Nothing could startle her, make her scold or make her
cry. She did not complain, she did not rebel. That
first difference of theirs was decisive. Too decisive,
thought Willems, discontentedly. It had frightened
the soul out of her body apparently. A dismal woman!
A damn'd business altogether! What the devil did he
want to go and saddle himself. . . . Ah! Well! he
wanted a home, and the match seemed to please Hudig,
and Hudig gave him the bungalow, that flower-bowered
house to which he was wending his way in the cool
moonlight. And he had the worship of the Da Souza
tribe. A man of his stamp could carry off anything,
do anything, aspire to anything. In another five years
those white people who attended the Sunday card-
parties of the Governor would accept him--half-caste


wife and all! Hooray! He saw his shadow dart for-
ward and wave a hat, as big as a rum barrel, at the
end of an arm several yards long. . . . Who
shouted hooray? . . . He smiled shamefacedly to
himself, and, pushing his hands deep into his pockets,
walked faster with a suddenly grave face.
Behind him--to the left--a cigar end glowed in the
gateway of Mr. Vinck's front yard. Leaning against
one of the brick pillars, Mr. Vinck, the cashier of Hudig
& Co., smoked the last cheroot of the evening. Amongst
the shadows of the trimmed bushes Mrs. Vinck crunched
slowly, with measured steps, the gravel of the circular
path before the house.
"There's Willems going home on foot--and drunk I
fancy," said Mr. Vinck over his shoulder. "I saw him
jump and wave his hat."
The crunching of the gravel stopped.
"Horrid man," said Mrs. Vinck, calmly. "I have
heard he beats his wife."
"Oh no, my dear, no," muttered absently Mr. Vinck,
with a vague gesture. The aspect of Willems as a wife-
beater presented to him no interest. How women do
misjudge! If Willems wanted to torture his wife he
would have recourse to less primitive methods. Mr.
Vinck knew Willems well, and believed him to be very
able, very smart--objectionably so. As he took the
last quick draws at the stump of his cheroot, Mr. Vinck
reflected that the confidence accorded by Hudig to
Willems was open, under the circumstances, to loyal
criticism from Hudig's cashier.
"He is becoming dangerous; he knows too much.
He will have to be got rid of," said Mr. Vinck aloud.
But Mrs. Vinck had gone in already, and after shaking
his head he threw away his cheroot and followed her


Willems walked on homeward weaving the splendid
web of his future. The road to greatness lay plainly
before his eyes, straight and shining, without any obsta-
cle that he could see. He had stepped off the path of
honesty, as he understood it, but he would soon regain
it, never to leave it any more! It was a very small
matter. He would soon put it right again. Meantime
his duty was not to be found out, and he trusted in his
skill, in his luck, in his well-established reputation that
would disarm suspicion if anybody dared to suspect.
But nobody would dare! True, he was conscious of a
slight deterioration. He had appropriated temporarily
some of Hudig's money. A deplorable necessity. But
he judged himself with the indulgence that should be
extended to the weaknesses of genius. He would make
reparation and all would be as before; nobody would be
the loser for it, and he would go on unchecked toward
the brilliant goal of his ambition.
Hudig's partner!
Before going up the steps of his house he stood for
awhile, his feet well apart, chin in hand, contemplating
mentally Hudig's future partner. A glorious occupa-
tion. He saw him quite safe; solid as the hills; deep--
deep as an abyss; discreet as the grave.


THE sea, perhaps because of its saltness, roughens
the outside but keeps sweet the kernel of its servants'
soul. The old sea; the sea of many years ago, whose
servants were devoted slaves and went from youth to
age or to a sudden grave without needing to open the
book of life, because they could look at eternity re-
flected on the element that gave the life and dealt the
death. Like a beautiful and unscrupulous woman, the
sea of the past was glorious in its smiles, irresistible in
its anger, capricious, enticing, illogical, irresponsible;
a thing to love, a thing to fear. It cast a spell, it gave
joy, it lulled gently into boundless faith; then with
quick and causeless anger it killed. But its cruelty was
redeemed by the charm of its inscrutable mystery, by
the immensity of its promise, by the supreme witchery
of its possible favour. Strong men with childlike hearts
were faithful to it, were content to live by its grace--
to die by its will. That was the sea before the time
when the French mind set the Egyptian muscle in
motion and produced a dismal but profitable ditch.
Then a great pall of smoke sent out by countless steam-
boats was spread over the restless mirror of the In-
finite. The hand of the engineer tore down the veil
of the terrible beauty in order that greedy and faithless
landlubbers might pocket dividends. The mystery
was destroyed. Like all mysteries, it lived only in
the hearts of its worshippers. The hearts changed; the
men changed. The once loving and devoted servants
went out armed with fire and iron, and conquering



the fear of their own hearts became a calculating crowd
of cold and exacting masters. The sea of the past
was an incomparably beautiful mistress, with inscruta-
ble face, with cruel and promising eyes. The sea of
to-day is a used-up drudge, wrinkled and defaced by the
churned-up wakes of brutal propellers, robbed of the
enslaving charm of its vastness, stripped of its beauty,
of its mystery and of its promise.
Tom Lingard was a master, a lover, a servant of
the sea. The sea took him young, fashioned him body
and soul; gave him his fierce aspect, his loud voice, his
fearless eyes, his stupidly guileless heart. Generously
it gave him his absurd faith in himself, his universal
love of creation, his wide indulgence, his contemptuous
severity, his straightforward simplicity of motive and
honesty of aim. Having made him what he was,
womanlike, the sea served him humbly and let him
bask unharmed in the sunshine of its terribly uncertain
favour. Tom Lingard grew rich on the sea and by the
sea. He loved it with the ardent affection of a lover,
he made light of it with the assurance of perfect mas-
tery, he feared it with the wise fear of a brave man, and
he took liberties with it as a spoiled child might do with
a paternal and good-natured ogre. He was grateful
to it, with the gratitude of an honest heart. His great-
est pride lay in his profound conviction of its faithful-
ness--in the deep sense of his unerring knowledge of its
The little brig Flash was the instrument of Lingard's
fortune. They came north together--both young--
out of an Australian port, and after a very few years
there was not a white man in the islands, from Palem-
bang to Ternate, from Ombawa to Palawan, that did
not know Captain Tom and his lucky craft. He was
liked for his reckless generosity, for his unswerving


honesty, and at first was a little feared on account of
his violent temper. Very soon, however, they found
him out, and the word went round that Captain Tom's
fury was less dangerous than many a man's smile. He
prospered greatly. After his first--and successful--
fight with the sea robbers, when he rescued, as rumour
had it, the yacht of some big wig from home, somewhere
down Carimata way, his great popularity began. As
years went on it grew apace. Always visiting out-of-
the-way places of that part of the world, always in
search of new markets for his cargoes--not so much
for profit as for the pleasure of finding them--he soon
became known to the Malays, and by his successful
recklessness in several encounters with pirates, estab-
lished the terror of his name. Those white men with
whom he had business, and who naturally were on the
look-out for his weaknesses, could easily see that it was
enough to give him his Malay title to flatter him greatly.
So when there was anything to be gained by it, and
sometimes out of pure and unprofitable good nature,
they would drop the ceremonious "Captain Lingard"
and address him half seriously as Rajah Laut--the
King of the Sea.
He carried the name bravely on his broad shoulders.
He had carried it many years already when the boy
Willems ran barefooted on the deck of the ship Kos-
mopoliet IV.
in Samarang roads, looking with innocent
eyes on the strange shore and objurgating his immediate
surroundings with blasphemous lips, while his childish
brain worked upon the heroic idea of running away.
From the poop of the Flash Lingard saw in the early
morning the Dutch ship get lumberingly under weigh,
bound for the eastern ports. Very late in the evening
of the same day he stood on the quay of the landing
canal, ready to go on board of his brig. The night


was starry and clear; the little custom-house building
was shut up, and as the gharry that brought him down
disappeared up the long avenue of dusty trees leading
to the town, Lingard thought himself alone on the quay.
He roused up his sleeping boat-crew and stood waiting
for them to get ready, when he felt a tug at his coat and
a thin voice said, very distinctly--
"English captain."
Lingard turned round quickly, and what seemed to be
a very lean boy jumped back with commendable
"Who are you? Where do you spring from?" asked
Lingard, in startled surprise.
From a safe distance the boy pointed toward a cargo
lighter moored to the quay.
"Been hiding there, have you?" said Lingard.
"Well, what do you want? Speak out, confound you
You did not come here to scare me to death, for fun,
did you?"
The boy tried to explain in imperfect English, but
very soon Lingard interrupted him.
"I see," he exclaimed, "you ran away from the
big ship that sailed this morning. Well, why don't
you go to your countrymen here?"
"Ship gone only a little way--to Sourabaya. Make
me go back to the ship," explained the boy.
"Best thing for you," affirmed Lingard with con-
"No," retorted the boy; "me want stop here; not
want go home. Get money here; home no good."
"This beats all my going a-fishing," commented the
astonished Lingard. "It's money you want? Well!
well! And you were not afraid to run away, you bag
of bones, you!"
The boy intimated that he was frightened of nothing


but of being sent back to the ship. Lingard looked
at him in meditative silence.
"Come closer," he said at last. He took the boy
by the chin, and turning up his face gave him a search-
ing look. "How old are you?"
"There's not much of you for seventeen. Are you
"A little."
"Will you come with me, in that brig there?"
The boy moved without a word towards the boat and
scrambled into the bows.
"Knows his place," muttered Lingard to himself as
he stepped heavily into the stern sheets and took up
the yoke lines. "Give way there."
The Malay boat crew lay back together, and the gig
sprang away from the quay heading towards the brig's
riding light.
Such was the beginning of Willems' career.
Lingard learned in half an hour all that there was
of Willems' commonplace story. Father outdoor clerk
of some ship-broker in Rotterdam; mother dead. The
boy quick in learning, but idle in school. The strait-
ened circumstances in the house filled with small
brothers and sisters, sufficiently clothed and fed but
otherwise running wild, while the disconsolate widower
tramped about all day in a shabby overcoat and im-
perfect boots on the muddy quays, and in the evening
piloted wearily the half-intoxicated foreign skippers
amongst the places of cheap delights, returning home
late, sick with too much smoking and drinking--for
company's sake--with these men, who expected such
attentions in the way of business. Then the offer of
the good-natured captain of Kosmopoliet IV., who was
pleased to do something for the patient and obliging


fellow; young Willems' great joy, his still greater dis-
appointment with the sea that looked so charming from
afar, but proved so hard and exacting on closer acquaint-
ance--and then this running away by a sudden im-
pulse. The boy was hopelessly at variance with the
spirit of the sea. He had an instinctive contempt for
the honest simplicity of that work which led to nothing
he cared for. Lingard soon found this out. He offered
to send him home in an English ship, but the boy begged
hard to be permitted to remain. He wrote a beautiful
hand, became soon perfect in English, was quick at
figures; and Lingard made him useful in that way.
As he grew older his trading instincts developed them-
selves astonishingly, and Lingard left him often to
trade in one island or another while he, himself, made
an intermediate trip to some out-of-the-way place.
On Willems expressing a wish to that effect, Lingard
let him enter Hudig's service. He felt a little sore at
that abandonment because he had attached himself,
in a way, to his protege. Still he was proud of him,
and spoke up for him loyally. At first it was, "Smart
boy that--never make a seaman though." Then when
Willems was helping in the trading he referred to him
as "that clever young fellow." Later when Willems
became the confidential agent of Hudig, employed in
many a delicate affair, the simple-hearted old seaman
would point an admiring finger at his back and whisper
to whoever stood near at the moment, "Long-headed
chap that; deuced long-headed chap. Look at him.
Confidential man of old Hudig. I picked him up in a
ditch, you may say, like a starved cat. Skin and bone.
'Pon my word I did. And now he knows more than I
do about island trading. Fact. I am not joking.
More than I do," he would repeat, seriously, with inno-
cent pride in his honest eyes.


From the safe elevation of his commercial successes
Willems patronized Lingard. He had a liking for his
benefactor, not unmixed with some disdain for the crude
directness of the old fellow's methods of conduct. There
were, however, certain sides of Lingard's character for
which Willems felt a qualified respect. The talkative
seaman knew how to be silent on certain matters that
to Willems were very interesting. Besides, Lingard
was rich, and that in itself was enough to compel Wil-
lems' unwilling admiration. In his confidential chats
with Hudig, Willems generally alluded to the benevolent
Englishman as the "lucky old fool" in a very distinct
tone of vexation; Hudig would grunt an unqualified
assent, and then the two would look at each other in a
sudden immobility of pupils fixed by a stare of un-
expressed thought.
"You can't find out where he gets all that india-
rubber, hey Willems?" Hudig would ask at last, turn-
ing away and bending over the papers on his desk.
"No, Mr. Hudig. Not yet. But I am trying,"
was Willems' invariable reply, delivered with a ring of
regretful deprecation.
"Try! Always try! You may try! You think your-
self clever perhaps," rumbled on Hudig, without looking
up. "I have been trading with him twenty--thirty
years now. The old fox. And I have tried. Bah!"
He stretched out a short, podgy leg and contemplated
the bare instep and the grass slipper hanging by the
toes. "You can't make him drunk?" he would add,
after a pause of stertorous breathing.
"No, Mr. Hudig, I can't really," protested Willems,
"Well, don't try. I know him. Don't try," ad-
vised the master, and, bending again over his desk, his
staring bloodshot eyes close to the paper, he would go


on tracing laboriously with his thick fingers the slim
unsteady letters of his correspondence, while Willems
waited respectfully for his further good pleasure before
asking, with great deference--
"Any orders, Mr. Hudig?"
"Hm! yes. Go to Bun-Hin yourself and see the
dollars of that payment counted and packed, and have
them put on board the mail-boat for Ternate. She's
due here this afternoon."
"Yes, Mr. Hudig."
"And, look here. If the boat is late, leave the case
in Bun-Hin's godown till to-morrow. Seal it up. Eight
seals as usual. Don't take it away till the boat is here."
"No, Mr. Hudig."
"And don't forget about these opium cases. It's
for to-night. Use my own boatmen. Transship them
from the Caroline to the Arab barque," went on the
master in his hoarse undertone. "And don't you
come to me with another story of a case dropped over-
board like last time," he added, with sudden ferocity,
looking up at his confidential clerk.
"No, Mr. Hudig. I will take care."
"That's all. Tell that pig as you go out that if he
doesn't make the punkah go a little better I will break
every bone in his body," finished up Hudig, wiping his
purple face with a red silk handkerchief nearly as big
as a counterpane.
Noiselessly Willems went out, shutting carefully be-
hind him the little green door through which he passed to
the warehouse. Hudig, pen in hand, listened to him
bullying the punkah boy with profane violence, born of
unbounded zeal for the master's comfort, before he
returned to his writing amid the rustling of papers
fluttering in the wind sent down by the punkah that
waved in wide sweeps above his head.


Willems would nod familiarly to Mr. Vinck, who had
his desk close to the little door of the private office, and
march down the warehouse with an important air.
Mr. Vinck--extreme dislike lurking in every wrinkle
of his gentlemanly countenance--would follow with his
eyes the white figure flitting in the gloom amongst
the piles of bales and cases till it passed out through the
big archway into the glare of the street.


THE opportunity and the temptation were too much
for Willems, and under the pressure of sudden necessity
he abused that trust which was his pride, the perpetual
sign of his cleverness and a load too heavy for him to
carry. A run of bad luck at cards, the failure of a small
speculation undertaken on his own account, an unex-
pected demand for money from one or another member
of the Da Souza family--and almost before he was well
aware of it he was off the path of his peculiar honesty.
It was such a faint and ill-defined track that it took him
some time to find out how far he had strayed amongst
the brambles of the dangerous wilderness he had been
skirting for so many years, without any other guide than
his own convenience and that doctrine of success which
he had found for himself in the book of life--in those
interesting chapters that the Devil has been permitted
to write in it, to test the sharpness of men's eyesight
and the steadfastness of their hearts. For one short,
dark and solitary moment he was dismayed, but he had
that courage that will not scale heights, yet will wade
bravely through the mud--if there be no other road.
He applied himself to the task of restitution, and de-
voted himself to the duty of not being found out. On
his thirtieth birthday he had almost accomplished the
task--and the duty had been faithfully and cleverly
performed. He saw himself safe. Again he could look
hopefully towards the goal of his legitimate ambition.
Nobody would dare to suspect him, and in a few days
there would be nothing to suspect. He was elated.



He did not know that his prosperity had touched then
its high-water mark, and that the tide was already on
the turn.
Two days afterwards he knew. Mr. Vinck, hearing
the rattle of the door-handle, jumped up from his desk--
where he had been tremulously listening to the loud
voices in the private office--and buried his face in the
big safe with nervous haste. For the last time Willems
passed through the little green door leading to Hudig's
sanctum, which, during the past half-hour, might have
been taken--from the fiendish noise within--for the
cavern of some wild beast. Willems' troubled eyes took
in the quick impression of men and things as he came
out from the place of his humiliation. He saw the
scared expression of the punkah boy; the Chinamen
tellers sitting on their heels with unmovable faces
turned up blankly towards him while their arrested
hands hovered over the little piles of bright guilders
ranged on the floor; Mr. Vinck's shoulder-blades with
the fleshy rims of two red ears above. He saw the long
avenue of gin cases stretching from where he stood to the
arched doorway beyond which he would be able to
breathe perhaps. A thin rope's end lay across his path
and he saw it distinctly, yet stumbled heavily over it
as if it had been a bar of iron. Then he found himself
in the street at last, but could not find air enough to
fill his lungs. He walked towards his home, gasping.
As the sound of Hudig's insults that lingered in his
ears grew fainter by the lapse of time, the feeling of
shame was replaced slowly by a passion of anger against
himself and still more against the stupid concourse of
circumstances that had driven him into his idiotic in-
discretion. Idiotic indiscretion; that is how he defined
his guilt to himself. Could there be anything worse
from the point of view of his undeniable cleverness?


What a fatal aberration of an acute mind! He did not
recognize himself there. He must have been mad.
That's it. A sudden gust of madness. And now the
work of long years was destroyed utterly. What would
become of him?
Before he could answer that question he found him-
self in the garden before his house, Hudig's wedding
gift. He looked at it with a vague surprise to find it
there. His past was so utterly gone from him that the
dwelling which belonged to it appeared to him in-
congruous standing there intact, neat, and cheerful
in the sunshine of the hot afternoon. The house was a
pretty little structure all doors and windows, surrounded
on all sides by the deep verandah supported on slender
columns clothed in the green foliage of creepers, which
also fringed the overhanging eaves of the high-pitched
roof. Slowly, Willems mounted the dozen steps that
led to the verandah. He paused at every step. He
must tell his wife. He felt frightened at the prospect,
and his alarm dismayed him. Frightened to face her!
Nothing could give him a better measure of the great-
ness of the change around him, and in him. Another
man--and another life with the faith in himself gone.
He could not be worth much if he was afraid to face
that woman.
He dared not enter the house through the open door
of the dining-room, but stood irresolute by the little
work-table where trailed a white piece of calico, with
a needle stuck in it, as if the work had been left hur-
riedly. The pink-crested cockatoo started, on his
appearance, into clumsy activity and began to climb
laboriously up and down his perch, calling "Joanna"
with indistinct loudness and a persistent screech that
prolonged the last syllable of the name as if in a peal
of insane laughter. The screen in the doorway moved


gently once or twice in the breeze, and each time Wil-
lems started slightly, expecting his wife, but he never
lifted his eyes, although straining his ears for the sound
of her footsteps. Gradually he lost himself in his
thoughts, in the endless speculation as to the manner
in which she would receive his news--and his orders.
In this preoccupation he almost forgot the fear of her
presence. No doubt she will cry, she will lament, she
will be helpless and frightened and passive as ever.
And he would have to drag that limp weight on and on
through the darkness of a spoiled life. Horrible!
Of course he could not abandon her and the child to
certain misery or possible starvation. The wife and
the child of Willems. Willems the successful, the
smart; Willems the conf . . . . Pah! And what
was Willems now? Willems the. . . . He strangled
the half-born thought, and cleared his throat to stifle a
groan. Ah! Won't they talk to-night in the billiard-
room--his world, where he had been first--all those
men to whom he had been so superciliously condescend-
ing. Won't they talk with surprise, and affected regret,
and grave faces, and wise nods. Some of them owed
him money, but he never pressed anybody. Not he.
Willems, the prince of good fellows, they called him.
And now they will rejoice, no doubt, at his downfall.
A crowd of imbeciles. In his abasement he was yet
aware of his superiority over those fellows, who were
merely honest or simply not found out yet. A crowd
of imbeciles! He shook his fist at the evoked image of
his friends, and the startled parrot fluttered its wings
and shrieked in desperate fright.
In a short glance upwards Willems saw his wife come
round the corner of the house. He lowered his eyelids
quickly, and waited silently till she came near and stood
on the other side of the little table. He would not look


at her face, but he could see the red dressing-gown he
knew so well. She trailed through life in that red
dressing-gown, with its row of dirty blue bows down
the front, stained, and hooked on awry; a torn flounce
at the bottom following her like a snake as she moved
languidly about, with her hair negligently caught up,
and a tangled wisp straggling untidily down her back.
His gaze travelled upwards from bow to bow, noticing
those that hung only by a thread, but it did not go be-
yond her chin. He looked at her lean throat, at the
obtrusive collarbone visible in the disarray of the upper
part of her attire. He saw the thin arm and the bony
hand clasping the child she carried, and he felt an im-
mense distaste for those encumbrances of his life. He
waited for her to say something, but as he felt her eyes
rest on him in unbroken silence he sighed and began to
It was a hard task. He spoke slowly, lingering
amongst the memories of this early life in his reluctance
to confess that this was the end of it and the beginning
of a less splendid existence. In his conviction of having
made her happiness in the full satisfaction of all material
wants he never doubted for a moment that she was
ready to keep him company on no matter how hard
and stony a road. He was not elated by this certitude.
He had married her to please Hudig, and the greatness
of his sacrifice ought to have made her happy without
any further exertion on his part. She had years of
glory as Willems' wife, and years of comfort, of loyal
care, and of such tenderness as she deserved. He had
guarded her carefully from any bodily hurt; and of any
other suffering he had no conception. The assertion of
his superiority was only another benefit conferred on
her. All this was a matter of course, but he told her all
this so as to bring vividly before her the greatness of her


loss. She was so dull of understanding that she would
not grasp it else. And now it was at an end. They
would have to go. Leave this house, leave this island,
go far away where he was unknown. To the English
Strait-Settlements perhaps. He would find an opening
there for his abilities--and juster men to deal with than
old Hudig. He laughed bitterly.
"You have the money I left at home this morning,
Joanna?" he asked. "We will want it all now."
As he spoke those words he thought he was a fine
fellow. Nothing new that. Still, he surpassed there
his own expectations. Hang it all, there are sacred
things in life, after all. The marriage tie was one of
them, and he was not the man to break it. The solidity
of his principles caused him great satisfaction, but he
did not care to look at his wife, for all that. He waited
for her to speak. Then he would have to console her;
tell her not to be a crying fool; to get ready to go. Go
where? How? When? He shook his head. They
must leave at once; that was the principal thing. He
felt a sudden need to hurry up his departure.
"Well, Joanna," he said, a little impatiently---
"don't stand there in a trance. Do you hear? We
must. . . ."
He looked up at his wife, and whatever he was going
to add remained unspoken. She was staring at him
with her big, slanting eyes, that seemed to him twice
their natural size. The child, its dirty little face pressed
to its mother's shoulder, was sleeping peacefully. The
deep silence of the house was not broken, but rather
accentuated, by the low mutter of the cockatoo, now
very still on its perch. As Willems was looking at
Joanna her upper lip was drawn up on one side, giving
to her melancholy face a vicious expression altogether
new to his experience. He stepped back in his surprise.


"Oh! You great man!" she said distinctly, but in
a voice that was hardly above a whisper.
Those words, and still more her tone, stunned him
as if somebody had fired a gun close to his ear. He
stared back at her stupidly.
"Oh! you great man!" she repeated slowly, glancing
right and left as if meditating a sudden escape. "And
you think that I am going to starve with you. You
are nobody now. You think my mamma and Leonard
would let me go away? And with you! With you,"
she repeated scornfully, raising her voice, which woke
up the child and caused it to whimper feebly.
"Joanna!" exclaimed Willems.
"Do not speak to me. I have heard what I have
waited for all these years. You are less than dirt, you
that have wiped your feet on me. I have waited
for this. I am not afraid now. I do not want you;
do not come near me. Ah-h!" she screamed shrilly,
as he held out his hand in an entreating gesture--
"Ah! Keep off me! Keep off me! Keep off!"
She backed away, looking at him with eyes both
angry and frightened. Willems stared motionless, in
dumb amazement at the mystery of anger and revolt in
the head of his wife. Why? What had he ever done to
her? This was the day of injustice indeed. First Hudig
--and now his wife. He felt a terror at this hate
that had lived stealthily so near him for years. He
tried to speak, but she shrieked again, and it was like
a needle through his heart. Again he raised his hand.
"Help!" called Mrs. Willems, in a piercing voice.
"Be quiet! You fool!" shouted Willems, trying to
drown the noise of his wife and child in his own angry
accents and rattling violently the little zinc table in his


From under the house, where there were bathrooms
and a tool closet, appeared Leonard, a rusty iron bar in
his hand. He called threateningly from the bottom of
the stairs.
"Do not hurt her, Mr. Willems. You are a savage.
Not at all like we, whites."
"You too!" said the bewildered Willems. "I haven't
touched her. Is this a madhouse?" He moved
towards the stairs, and Leonard dropped the bar with
a clang and made for the gate of the compound. Wil-
lems turned back to his wife.
"So you expected this," he said. "It is a conspiracy.
Who's that sobbing and groaning in the room? Some
more of your precious family. Hey?"
She was more calm now, and putting hastily the
crying child in the big chair walked towards him with
sudden fearlessness.
"My mother," she said, "my mother who came to
defend me from you--man from nowhere; a vaga-
"You did not call me a vagabond when you hung
round my neck--before we were married," said Wil-
lems, contemptuously.
"You took good care that I should not hang round
your neck after we were," she answered, clenching her
hands, and putting her face close to his. "You boasted
while I suffered and said nothing. What has become
of your greatness; of our greatness--you were always
speaking about? Now I am going to live on the charity
of your master. Yes. That is true. He sent Leonard
to tell me so. And you will go and boast somewhere
else, and starve. So! Ah! I can breathe now! This
house is mine."
"Enough!" said Willems, slowly, with an arresting


She leaped back, the fright again in her eyes, snatched
up the child, pressed it to her breast, and, falling into a
chair, drummed insanely with her heels on the re-
sounding floor of the verandah.
"I shall go," said Willems, steadily. "I thank you.
For the first time in your life you make me happy.
You were a stone round my neck; you understand.
I did not mean to tell you that as long as you lived,
but you made me--now. Before I pass this gate you
shall be gone from my mind. You made it very easy.
I thank you."
He turned and went down the steps without giving
her a glance, while she sat upright and quiet, with
wide-open eyes, the child crying querulously in her
arms. At the gate he came suddenly upon Leonard,
who had been dodging about there and failed to get
out of the way in time.
"Do not be brutal, Mr. Willems," said Leonard,
hurriedly. "It is unbecoming between white men
with all those natives looking on." Leonard's legs
trembled very much, and his voice wavered between
high and low tones without any attempt at control on
his part. "Restrain your improper violence," he
went on mumbling rapidly. "I am a respectable man
of very good family, while you . . . it is regret-
table . . . they all say so . . ."
"What?" thundered Willems. He felt a sudden
impulse of mad anger, and before he knew what had
happened he was looking at Leonard da Souza rolling
in the dust at his feet. He stepped over his prostrate
brother-in-law and tore blindly down the street, every-
body making way for the frantic white man.
When he came to himself he was beyond the out-
skirts of the town, stumbling on the hard and cracked
earth of reaped rice fields. How did he get there?


It was dark. He must get back. As he walked towards
the town slowly, his mind reviewed the events of the
day and he felt a sense of bitter loneliness. His wife
had turned him out of his own house. He had as-
saulted brutally his brother-in-law, a member of the
Da Souza family--of that band of his worshippers.
He did. Well, no! It was some other man. Another
man was coming back. A man without a past, with-
out a future, yet full of pain and shame and anger. He
stopped and looked round. A dog or two glided across
the empty street and rushed past him with a fright-
ened snarl. He was now in the midst of the Malay
quarter whose bamboo houses, hidden in the verdure
of their little gardens, were dark and silent. Men,
women and children slept in there. Human beings.
Would he ever sleep, and where? He felt as if he was
the outcast of all mankind, and as he looked hopelessly
round, before resuming his weary march, it seemed to
him that the world was bigger, the night more vast and
more black; but he went on doggedly with his head down
as if pushing his way through some thick brambles.
Then suddenly he felt planks under his feet and, look-
ing up, saw the red light at the end of the jetty. He
walked quite to the end and stood leaning against the
post, under the lamp, looking at the roadstead where
two vessels at anchor swayed their slender rigging
amongst the stars. The end of the jetty; and here in
one step more the end of life; the end of everything.
Better so. What else could he do? Nothing ever comes
back. He saw it clearly. The respect and admiration
of them all, the old habits and old affections finished
abruptly in the clear perception of the cause of his dis-
grace. He saw all this; and for a time he came out of
himself, out of his selfishness--out of the constant
preoccupation of his interests and his desires--out of


the temple of self and the concentration of personal
His thoughts now wandered home. Standing in
the tepid stillness of a starry tropical night he felt the
breath of the bitter east wind, he saw the high and
narrow fronts of tall houses under the gloom of a
clouded sky; and on muddy quays he saw the shabby,
high-shouldered figure--the patient, faded face of the
weary man earning bread for the children that waited
for him in a dingy home. It was miserable, miserable.
But it would never come back. What was there in
common between those things and Willems the clever,
Willems the successful. He had cut himself adrift
from that home many years ago. Better for him
then. Better for them now. All this was gone,
never to come back again; and suddenly he shivered,
seeing himself alone in the presence of unknown and
terrible dangers.
For the first time in his life he felt afraid of the
future, because he had lost his faith, the faith in his
own success. And he had destroyed it foolishly with
his own hands!


HIS meditation which resembled slow drifting into
suicide was interrupted by Lingard, who, with a loud
"I've got you at last!" dropped his hand heavily on
Willems' shoulder. This time it was the old seaman
himself going out of his way to pick up the uninter-
esting waif--all that there was left of that sudden
and sordid shipwreck. To Willems, the rough, friendly
voice was a quick and fleeting relief followed by a
sharper pang of anger and unavailing regret. That
voice carried him back to the beginning of his promising
career, the end of which was very visible now from the
jetty where they both stood. He shook himself free
from the friendly grasp, saying with ready bitterness--
"It's all your fault. Give me a push now, do, and
send me over. I have been standing here waiting for
help. You are the man--of all men. You helped
at the beginning; you ought to have a hand in the end."
"I have better use for you than to throw you to
the fishes," said Lingard, seriously, taking Willems
by the arm and forcing him gently to walk up the
jetty. "I have been buzzing over this town like a
bluebottle fly, looking for you high and low. I have
heard a lot. I will tell you what, Willems; you are
no saint, that's a fact. And you have not been over-
wise either. I am not throwing stones," he added,
hastily, as Willems made an effort to get away, "but
I am not going to mince matters. Never could! You
keep quiet while I talk. Can't you?"
With a gesture of resignation and a half-stifled groan



Willems submitted to the stronger will, and the two
men paced slowly up and down the resounding planks,
while Lingard disclosed to Willems the exact manner
of his undoing. After the first shock Willems lost the
faculty of surprise in the over-powering feeling of
indignation. So it was Vinck and Leonard who had
served him so. They had watched him, tracked his
misdeeds, reported them to Hudig. They had bribed
obscure Chinamen, wormed out confidences from tipsy
skippers, got at various boatmen, and had pieced out
in that way the story of his irregularities. The black-
ness of this dark intrigue filled him with horror. He
could understand Vinck. There was no love lost be-
tween them. But Leonard! Leonard!
"Why, Captain Lingard," he burst out, "the fellow
licked my boots."
"Yes, yes, yes," said Lingard, testily, "we know
that, and you did your best to cram your boot down
his throat. No man likes that, my boy."
"I was always giving money to all that hungry lot,"
went on Willems, passionately. "Always my hand in
my pocket. They never had to ask twice."
"Just so. Your generosity frightened them. They
asked themselves where all that came from, and con-
cluded that it was safer to throw you overboard. After
all, Hudig is a much greater man than you, my friend,
and they have a claim on him also."
"What do you mean, Captain Lingard?"
"What do I mean?" repeated Lingard, slowly.
"Why, you are not going to make me believe you did not
know your wife was Hudig's daughter. Come now!"
Willems stopped suddenly and swayed about.
"Ah! I understand," he gasped. "I never heard
. . . Lately I thought there was . . . But no,
I never guessed."


"Oh, you simpleton!" said Lingard, pityingly.
"'Pon my word," he muttered to himself, "I don't
believe the fellow knew. Well! well! Steady now.
Pull yourself together. What's wrong there. She is
a good wife to you."
"Excellent wife," said Willems, in a dreary voice,
looking far over the black and scintillating water.
"Very well then," went on Lingard, with increasing
friendliness. "Nothing wrong there. But did you
really think that Hudig was marrying you off and giving
you a house and I don't know what, out of love for
"I had served him well," answered Willems. "How
well, you know yourself--through thick and thin. No
matter what work and what risk, I was always there;
always ready."
How well he saw the greatness of his work and
the immensity of that injustice which was his reward.
She was that man's daughter! In the light of this
disclosure the facts of the last five years of his life
stood clearly revealed in their full meaning. He had
spoken first to Joanna at the gate of their dwelling as
he went to his work in the brilliant flush of the early
morning, when women and flowers are charming even
to the dullest eyes. A most respectable family--two
women and a young man--were his next-door neigh-
bours. Nobody ever came to their little house but the
priest, a native from the Spanish islands, now and then.
The young man Leonard he had met in town, and was
flattered by the little fellow's immense respect for the
great Willems. He let him bring chairs, call the waiters,
chalk his cues when playing billiards, express his
admiration in choice words. He even condescended
to listen patiently to Leonard's allusions to "our
beloved father," a man of official position, a govern-


ment agent in Koti, where he died of cholera, alas!
a victim to duty, like a good Catholic, and a good
man. It sounded very respectable, and Willems
approved of those feeling references. Moreover, he
prided himself upon having no colour-prejudices and
no racial antipathies. He consented to drink curacoa
one afternoon on the verandah of Mrs. da Souza's
house. He remembered Joanna that day, swinging
in a hammock. She was untidy even then, he remem-
bered, and that was the only impression he carried
away from that visit. He had no time for love in those
glorious days, no time even for a passing fancy, but
gradually he fell into the habit of calling almost every
day at that little house where he was greeted by Mrs.
da Souza's shrill voice screaming for Joanna to come
and entertain the gentleman from Hudig & Co. And
then the sudden and unexpected visit of the priest. He
remembered the man's flat, yellow face, his thin legs,
his propitiatory smile, his beaming black eyes, his con-
ciliating manner, his veiled hints which he did not under-
stand at the time. How he wondered what the man
wanted, and how unceremoniously he got rid of him.
And then came vividly into his recollection the morning
when he met again that fellow coming out of Hudig's
office, and how he was amused at the incongruous visit.
And that morning with Hudig! Would he ever forget
it? Would he ever forget his surprise as the master,
instead of plunging at once into business, looked at him
thoughtfully before turning, with a furtive smile, to
the papers on the desk? He could hear him now, his
nose in the paper before him, dropping astonishing words
in the intervals of wheezy breathing.
"Heard said . . . called there often . . .
most respectable ladies . . . knew the father very
well . . . estimable . . . best thing for a


young man . . . settle down. . . . Person-
ally, very glad to hear . . . thing arranged. . .
. Suitable recognition of valuable services. . . .
Best thing--best thing to do."
And he believed! What credulity! What an ass!
Hudig knew the father! Rather. And so did every-
body else probably; all except himself. How proud
he had been of Hudig's benevolent interest in his fate!
How proud he was when invited by Hudig to stay with
him at his little house in the country--where he could
meet men, men of official position--as a friend. Vinck
had been green with envy. Oh, yes! He had believed
in the best thing, and took the girl like a gift of fortune.
How he boasted to Hudig of being free from prejudices.
The old scoundrel must have been laughing in his sleeve
at his fool of a confidential clerk. He took the girl,
guessing nothing. How could he? There had been a
father of some kind to the common knowledge. Men
knew him; spoke about him. A lank man of hopelessly
mixed descent, but otherwise--apparently--unobjec-
tionable. The shady relations came out afterward,
but--with his freedom from prejudices--he did not mind
them, because, with their humble dependence, they
completed his triumphant life. Taken in! taken in!
Hudig had found an easy way to provide for the begging
crowd. He had shifted the burden of his youthful
vagaries on to the shoulders of his confidential clerk;
and while he worked for the master, the master had
cheated him; had stolen his very self from him. He
was married. He belonged to that woman, no matter
what she might do! . . . Had sworn . . . for
all life! . . . Thrown himself away. . . . And
that man dared this very morning call him a thief!
"Let go, Lingard!" he shouted, trying to get away


by a sudden jerk from the watchful old seaman. "Let
me go and kill that . . ."
"No you don't!" panted Lingard, hanging on man-
fully. "You want to kill, do you? You lunatic.
Ah!--I've got you now! Be quiet, I say!"
They struggled violently, Lingard forcing Willems
slowly towards the guard-rail. Under their feet the
jetty sounded like a drum in the quiet night. On the
shore end the native caretaker of the wharf watched
the combat, squatting behind the safe shelter of some
big cases. The next day he informed his friends, with
calm satisfaction, that two drunken white men had
fought on the jetty. It had been a great fight. They
fought without arms, like wild beasts, after the manner
of white men. No! nobody was killed, or there would
have been trouble and a report to make. How could
he know why they fought? White men have no reason
when they are like that.
Just as Lingard was beginning to fear that he would
be unable to restrain much longer the violence of the
younger man, he felt Willems' muscles relaxing, and
took advantage of this opportunity to pin him, by a
last effort, to the rail. They both panted heavily,
speechless, their faces very close.
"All right," muttered Willems at last. "Don't
break my back over this infernal rail. I will be quiet."
"Now you are reasonable," said Lingard, much
relieved. "What made you fly into that passion?"
he asked, leading him back to the end of the jetty, and,
still holding him prudently with one hand, he fumbled
with the other for his whistle and blew a shrill and pro-
longed blast. Over the smooth water of the roadstead
came in answer a faint cry from one of the ships at
"My boat will be here directly," said Lingard.


"Think of what you are going to do. I sail to-night."
"What is there for me to do, except one thing?"
said Willems, gloomily.
"Look here," said Lingard; "I picked you up as a
boy, and consider myself responsible for you in a way.
You took your life into your own hands many years ago
--but still . . ."
He paused, listening, till he heard the regular grind
of the oars in the rowlocks of the approaching boat
then went on again.
"I have made it all right with Hudig. You owe
him nothing now. Go back to your wife. She is a
good woman. Go back to her."
"Why, Captain Lingard," exclaimed Willems,
she . . ."
"It was most affecting," went on Lingard, without
heeding him. "I went to your house to look for you
and there I saw her despair. It was heart-breaking.
She called for you; she entreated me to find you. She
spoke wildly, poor woman, as if all this was her fault."
Willems listened amazed. The blind old idiot!
How queerly he misunderstood! But if it was true,
if it was even true, the very idea of seeing her filled
his soul with intense loathing. He did not break
his oath, but he would not go back to her. Let hers
be the sin of that separation; of the sacred bond broken.
He revelled in the extreme purity of his heart, and he
would not go back to her. Let her come back to him.
He had the comfortable conviction that he would never
see her again, and that through her own fault only.
In this conviction he told himself solemnly that if she
would come to him he would receive her with generous
forgiveness, because such was the praiseworthy solidity
of his principles. But he hesitated whether he would or
would not disclose to Lingard the revolting complete-


ness of his humiliation. Turned out of his house--
and by his wife; that woman who hardly dared to
breathe in his presence, yesterday. He remained per-
plexed and silent. No. He lacked the courage to tell
the ignoble story.
As the boat of the brig appeared suddenly on the
black water close to the jetty, Lingard broke the painful
"I always thought," he said, sadly, "I always thought
you were somewhat heartless, Willems, and apt to cast
adrift those that thought most of you. I appeal to
what is best in you; do not abandon that woman."
"I have not abandoned her," answered Willems,
quickly, with conscious truthfulness. "Why should I?
As you so justly observed, she has been a good wife to
me. A very good, quiet, obedient, loving wife, and
I love her as much as she loves me. Every bit. But
as to going back now, to that place where I . . .
To walk again amongst those men who yesterday were
ready to crawl before me, and then feel on my back the
sting of their pitying or satisfied smiles--no! I can't.
I would rather hide from them at the bottom of the
sea," he went on, with resolute energy. "I don't
think, Captain Lingard," he added, more quietly, "I
don't think that you realize what my position was
In a wide sweep of his hand he took in the sleeping
shore from north to south, as if wishing it a proud and
threatening good-bye. For a short moment he forgot
his downfall in the recollection of his brilliant triumphs.
Amongst the men of his class and occupation who
slept in those dark houses he had been indeed the first.
"It is hard," muttered Lingard, pensively. "But
whose the fault? Whose the fault?"
"Captain Lingard!" cried Willems, under the sudden


impulse of a felicitous inspiration, "if you leave me
here on this jetty--it's murder. I shall never return
to that place alive, wife or no wife. You may just as
well cut my throat at once."
The old seaman started.
"Don't try to frighten me, Willems," he said, with
great severity, and paused.
Above the accents of Willems' brazen despair he
heard, with considerable uneasiness, the whisper of
his own absurd conscience. He meditated for awhile
with an irresolute air.
"I could tell you to go and drown yourself, and be
damned to you," he said, with an unsuccessful assump-
tion of brutality in his manner, "but I won't. We
are responsible for one another--worse luck. I am
almost ashamed of myself, but I can understand your
dirty pride. I can! By . . ."
He broke off with a loud sigh and walked briskly
to the steps, at the bottom of which lay his boat,
rising and falling gently on the slight and invisible swell.
"Below there! Got a lamp in the boat? Well,
light it and bring it up, one of you. Hurry now!"
He tore out a page of his pocketbook, moistened
his pencil with great energy and waited, stamping his
feet impatiently.
"I will see this thing through," he muttered to him-
self. "And I will have it all square and ship-shape;
see if I don't! Are you going to bring that lamp, you
son of a crippled mud-turtle? I am waiting."
The gleam of the light on the paper placated his
professional anger, and he wrote rapidly, the final dash
of his signature curling the paper up in a triangular
"Take that to this white Tuan's house. I will send
the boat back for you in half an hour."


The coxswain raised his lamp deliberately to Wil-
lem's face.
"This Tuan? Tau! I know."
"Quick then!" said Lingard, taking the lamp from
him--and the man went off at a run.
"Kassi mem! To the lady herself," called Lingard
after him.
Then, when the man disappeared, he turned to
"I have written to your wife," he said. "If you
do not return for good, you do not go back to that
house only for another parting. You must come as
you stand. I won't have that poor woman tormented.
I will see to it that you are not separated for long.
Trust me!"
Willems shivered, then smiled in the darkness.
"No fear of that," he muttered, enigmatically. "I
trust you implicitly, Captain Lingard," he added, in a
louder tone.
Lingard led the way down the steps, swinging the
lamp and speaking over his shoulder.
"It is the second time, Willems, I take you in hand.
Mind it is the last. The second time; and the only
difference between then and now is that you were bare-
footed then and have boots now. In fourteen years.
With all your smartness! A poor result that. A very
poor result."
He stood for awhile on the lowest platform of the
steps, the light of the lamp falling on the upturned
face of the stroke oar, who held the gunwale of the boat
close alongside, ready for the captain to step in.
"You see," he went on, argumentatively, fumbling
about the top of the lamp, "you got yourself so crooked
amongst those 'longshore quill-drivers that you could
not run clear in any way. That's what comes of such


talk as yours, and of such a life. A man sees so much
falsehood that he begins to lie to himself. Pah!"
he said, in disgust, "there's only one place for an honest
man. The sea, my boy, the sea! But you never would;
didn't think there was enough money in it; and now--
He blew the light out, and, stepping into the boat,
stretched quickly his hand towards Willems, with friendly
care. Willems sat by him in silence, and the boat
shoved off, sweeping in a wide circle towards the brig.
"Your compassion is all for my wife, Captain Lin-
gard," said Willems, moodily. "Do you think I am
so very happy?"
"No! no!" said Lingard, heartily. "Not a word
more shall pass my lips. I had to speak my mind
once, seeing that I knew you from a child, so to speak.
And now I shall forget; but you are young yet. Life
is very long," he went on, with unconscious sadness;
"let this be a lesson to you."
He laid his hand affectionately on Willems' shoulder,
and they both sat silent till the boat came alongside the
ship's ladder.
When on board Lingard gave orders to his mate,
and leading Willems on the poop, sat on the breech of
one of the brass six-pounders with which his vessel was
armed. The boat went off again to bring back the mes-
senger. As soon as it was seen returning dark forms
appeared on the brig's spars; then the sails fell in fes-
toons with a swish of their heavy folds, and hung motion-
less under the yards in the dead calm of the clear
and dewy night. From the forward end came the
clink of the windlass, and soon afterwards the hail of
the chief mate informing Lingard that the cable was
hove short.
"Hold on everything," hailed back Lingard; "we


must wait for the land-breeze before we let go our hold
of the ground."
He approached Willems, who sat on the skylight,
his body bent down, his head low, and his hands hang-
ing listlessly between his knees.
"I am going to take you to Sambir," he said.
"You've never heard of the place, have you? Well, it's
up that river of mine about which people talk so much
and know so little. I've found out the entrance for a ship
of Flash's size. It isn't easy. You'll see. I will show
you. You have been at sea long enough to take an
interest. . . . Pity you didn't stick to it. Well,
I am going there. I have my own trading post in the
place. Almayer is my partner. You knew him when
he was at Hudig's. Oh, he lives there as happy as a
king. D'ye see, I have them all in my pocket. The
rajah is an old friend of mine. My word is law--and I
am the only trader. No other white man but Almayer
had ever been in that settlement. You will live quietly
there till I come back from my next cruise to the west-
ward. We shall see then what can be done for you.
Never fear. I have no doubt my secret will be safe
with you. Keep mum about my river when you get
amongst the traders again. There's many would give
their ears for the knowledge of it. I'll tell you some-
thing: that's where I get all my guttah and rattans.
Simply inexhaustible, my boy."
While Lingard spoke Willems looked up quickly,
but soon his head fell on his breast in the discouraging
certitude that the knowledge he and Hudig had wished
for so much had come to him too late. He sat in a
listless attitude.
"You will help Almayer in his trading if you have a
heart for it," continued Lingard, "just to kill time till I
come back for you. Only six weeks or so."


Over their heads the damp sails fluttered noisily in
the first faint puff of the breeze; then, as the airs fresh-
ened, the brig tended to the wind, and the silenced
canvas lay quietly aback. The mate spoke with low
distinctness from the shadows of the quarter-deck.
"There's the breeze. Which way do you want to
cast her, Captain Lingard?"
Lingard's eyes, that had been fixed aloft, glanced
down at the dejected figure of the man sitting on the
skylight. He seemed to hesitate for a minute.
"To the northward, to the northward," he answered,
testily, as if annoyed at his own fleeting thought, "and
bear a hand there. Every puff of wind is worth money
in these seas."
He remained motionless, listening to the rattle of
blocks and the creaking of trusses as the head-yards
were hauled round. Sail was made on the ship and
the windlass manned again while he stood still, lost in
thought. He only roused himself when a barefooted
seacannie glided past him silently on his way to the
"Put the helm aport! Hard over!" he said, in his
harsh sea-voice, to the man whose face appeared sud-
denly out of the darkness in the circle of light thrown
upwards from the binnacle lamps.
The anchor was secured, the yards trimmed, and the
brig began to move out of the roadstead. The sea
woke up under the push of the sharp cutwater, and whis-
pered softly to the gliding craft in that tender and rip-
pling murmur in which it speaks sometimes to those it
nurses and loves. Lingard stood by the taff-rail lis-
tening, with a pleased smile till the Flash began to draw
close to the only other vessel in the anchorage.
"Here, Willems," he said, calling him to his side,
"d'ye see that barque here? That's an Arab vessel.


White men have mostly given up the game, but this
fellow drops in my wake often, and lives in hopes of
cutting me out in that settlement. Not while I live,
I trust. You see, Willems, I brought prosperity to
that place. I composed their quarrels, and saw them
grow under my eyes. There's peace and happiness
there. I am more master there than his Dutch Excel-
lency down in Batavia ever will be when some day a
lazy man-of-war blunders at last against the river.
I mean to keep the Arabs out of it, with their lies
and their intrigues. I shall keep the venomous breed out,
if it costs me my fortune."
The Flash drew quietly abreast of the barque, and
was beginning to drop it astern when a white figure
started up on the poop of the Arab vessel, and a voice
called out--
"Greeting to the Rajah Laut!"
"To you greeting!" answered Lingard, after a mo-
ment of hesitating surprise. Then he turned to Wil-
lems with a grim smile. "That's Abdulla's voice,"
he said. "Mighty civil all of a sudden, isn't he? I
wonder what it means. Just like his impudence! No
matter! His civility or his impudence are all one to
me. I know that this fellow will be under way and
after me like a shot. I don't care! I have the heels of
anything that floats in these seas," he added, while his
proud and loving glance ran over and rested fondly
amongst the brig's lofty and graceful spars.


"IT WAS the writing on his forehead," said Baba-
latchi, adding a couple of small sticks to the little fire
by which he was squatting, and without looking at
Lakamba who lay down supported on his elbow on
the other side of the embers. "It was written when he
was born that he should end his life in darkness, and
now he is like a man walking in a black night--with
his eyes open, yet seeing not. I knew him well when
he had slaves, and many wives, and much merchandise,
and trading praus, and praus for fighting. Hai--ya!
He was a great fighter in the days before the breath of
the Merciful put out the light in his eyes. He was a
pilgrim, and had many virtues: he was brave, his hand
was open, and he was a great robber. For many years
he led the men that drank blood on the sea: first in
prayer and first in fight! Have I not stood behind him
when his face was turned to the West? Have I not
watched by his side ships with high masts burning in a
straight flame on the calm water? Have I not fol-
lowed him on dark nights amongst sleeping men that
woke up only to die? His sword was swifter than the
fire from Heaven, and struck before it flashed. Hai!
Tuan! Those were the days and that was a leader,
and I myself was younger; and in those days there were
not so many fireships with guns that deal fiery death
from afar. Over the hill and over the forest--O!
Tuan Lakamba! they dropped whistling fireballs into
the creek where our praus took refuge, and where they
dared not follow men who had arms in their hands."



He shook his head with mournful regret and threw
another handful of fuel on the fire. The burst of clear
flame lit up his broad, dark, and pock-marked face,
where the big lips, stained with betel-juice, looked like
a deep and bleeding gash of a fresh wound. The re-
flection of the firelight gleamed brightly in his solitary
eye, lending it for a moment a fierce animation that died
out together with the short-lived flame. With quick
touches of his bare hands he raked the embers into a
heap, then, wiping the warm ash on his waistcloth--his
only garment--he clasped his thin legs with his en-
twined fingers, and rested his chin on his drawn-up
knees. Lakamba stirred slightly without changing his
position or taking his eyes off the glowing coals, on
which they had been fixed in dreamy immobility.
"Yes," went on Babalatchi, in a low monotone, as
if pursuing aloud a train of thought that had its be-
ginning in the silent contemplation of the unstable
nature of earthly greatness--"yes. He has been rich
and strong, and now he lives on alms: old, feeble, blind,
and without companions, but for his daughter. The
Rajah Patalolo gives him rice, and the pale woman--
his daughter--cooks it for him, for he has no slave."
"I saw her from afar," muttered Lakamba, dis-
paragingly. "A she-dog with white teeth, like a woman
of the Orang-Putih."
"Right, right," assented Babalatchi; "but you have
not seen her near. Her mother was a woman from the
west; a Baghdadi woman with veiled face. Now she
goes uncovered, like our women do, for she is poor and he
is blind, and nobody ever comes near them unless to ask
for a charm or a blessing and depart quickly for fear of
his anger and of the Rajah's hand. You have not been
on that side of the river?"
"Not for a long time. If I go . . ."


"True! true!" interrupted Babalatchi, soothingly,
"but I go often alone--for your good--and look--and
listen. When the time comes; when we both go to-
gether towards the Rajah's campong, it will be to enter--
and to remain."
Lakamba sat up and looked at Babalatchi gloomily.
"This is good talk, once, twice; when it is heard too
often it becomes foolish, like the prattle of children."
"Many, many times have I seen the cloudy sky and
have heard the wind of the rainy seasons," said Baba-
latchi, impressively.
"And where is your wisdom? It must be with the
wind and the clouds of seasons past, for I do not hear it
in your talk."
"Those are the words of the ungrateful!" shouted
Babalatchi, with sudden exasperation. "Verily, our
only refuge is with the One, the Mighty, the Redresser
of . . ."
"Peace! Peace!" growled the startled Lakamba.
"It is but a friend's talk."
Babalatchi subsided into his former attitude, mutter-
ing to himself. After awhile he went on again in a
louder voice--
"Since the Rajah Laut left another white man here
in Sambir, the daughter of the blind Omar el Badavi
has spoken to other ears than mine."
"Would a white man listen to a beggar's daughter?"
said Lakamba, doubtingly.
"Hai! I have seen . . ."
"And what did you see? O one-eyed one!" ex-
claimed Lakamba, contemptuously.
"I have seen the strange white man walking on the
narrow path before the sun could dry the drops of
dew on the bushes, and I have heard the whisper of
his voice when he spoke through the smoke of the


morning fire to that woman with big eyes and a pale
skin. Woman in body, but in heart a man! She
knows no fear and no shame. I have heard her voice
He nodded twice at Lakamba sagaciously and gave
himself up to silent musing, his solitary eye fixed im-
movably upon the straight wall of forest on the opposite
bank. Lakamba lay silent, staring vacantly. Under
them Lingard's own river rippled softly amongst the
piles supporting the bamboo platform of the little
watch-house before which they were lying. Behind
the house the ground rose in a gentle swell of a low hill
cleared of the big timber, but thickly overgrown with
the grass and bushes, now withered and burnt up in
the long drought of the dry season. This old rice
clearing, which had been several years lying fallow,
was framed on three sides by the impenetrable and
tangled growth of the untouched forest, and on the
fourth came down to the muddy river bank. There
was not a breath of wind on the land or river, but high
above, in the transparent sky, little clouds rushed past
the moon, now appearing in her diffused rays with the
brilliance of silver, now obscuring her face with the
blackness of ebony. Far away, in the middle of the
river, a fish would leap now and then with a short
splash, the very loudness of which measured the pro-
fundity of the overpowering silence that swallowed up
the sharp sound suddenly.
Lakamba dozed uneasily off, but the wakeful Baba-
latchi sat thinking deeply, sighing from time to time,
and slapping himself over his naked torso incessantly
in a vain endeavour to keep off an occasional and
wandering mosquito that, rising as high as the plat-
form above the swarms of the riverside, would settle
with a ping of triumph on the unexpected victim.


The moon, pursuing her silent and toilsome path,
attained her highest elevation, and chasing the shadow
of the roof-eaves from Lakamba's face, seemed to hang
arrested over their heads. Babalatchi revived the fire
and woke up his companion, who sat up yawning and
shivering discontentedly.
Babalatchi spoke again in a voice which was like
the murmur of a brook that runs over the stones:
low, monotonous, persistent; irresistible in its power
to wear out and to destroy the hardest obstacles.
Lakamba listened, silent but interested. They were
Malay adventurers; ambitious men of that place and
time; the Bohemians of their race. In the early days
of the settlement, before the ruler Patalolo had shaken
off his allegiance to the Sultan of Koti, Lakamba ap-
peared in the river with two small trading vessels.
He was disappointed to find already some semblance of
organization amongst the settlers of various races who
recognized the unobtrusive sway of old Patalolo, and

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest