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An Outcast of the Islands by Joseph Conrad

Part 6 out of 7

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his head thrown up, his arms swinging about wildly;
lean, ragged, disfigured; a tall madman making a
great disturbance about something invisible; a being
absurd, repulsive, pathetic, and droll. Lingard, who
was looking down as if absorbed in deep thought,
gave him a quick glance from under his eyebrows:
Aissa stood with clasped hands. At the other end of
the courtyard the old woman, like a vague and decrepit
apparition, rose noiselessly to look, then sank down
again with a stealthy movement and crouched low over
the small glow of the fire. Willems' voice filled the
enclosure, rising louder with every word, and then, sud-
denly, at its very loudest, stopped short--like water
stops running from an over-turned vessel. As soon as
it had ceased the thunder seemed to take up the burden
in a low growl coming from the inland hills. The noise
approached in confused mutterings which kept on in-
creasing, swelling into a roar that came nearer, rushed
down the river, passed close in a tearing crash--and


instantly sounded faint, dying away in monotonous
and dull repetitions amongst the endless sinuosities of
the lower reaches. Over the great forests, over all the
innumerable people of unstirring trees--over all that
living people immense, motionless, and mute--the
silence, that had rushed in on the track of the passing
tumult, remained suspended as deep and complete as
if it had never been disturbed from the beginning of
remote ages. Then, through it, after a time, came to
Lingard's ears the voice of the running river: a voice
low, discreet, and sad, like the persistent and gentle
voices that speak of the past in the silence of dreams.
He felt a great emptiness in his heart. It seemed
to him that there was within his breast a great space
without any light, where his thoughts wandered for-
lornly, unable to escape, unable to rest, unable to die,
to vanish--and to relieve him from the fearful oppres-
sion of their existence. Speech, action, anger, for-
giveness, all appeared to him alike useless and vain,
appeared to him unsatisfactory, not worth the effort
of hand or brain that was needed to give them effect.
He could not see why he should not remain standing
there, without ever doing anything, to the end of
time. He felt something, something like a heavy
chain, that held him there. This wouldn't do. He
backed away a little from Willems and Aissa, leaving
them close together, then stopped and looked at both.
The man and the woman appeared to him much further
than they really were. He had made only about three
steps backward, but he believed for a moment that an-
other step would take him out of earshot for ever. They
appeared to him slightly under life size, and with a great
cleanness of outlines, like figures carved with great pre-
cision of detail and highly finished by a skilful hand. He
pulled himself together. The strong consciousness of his


own personality came back to him. He had a notion
of surveying them from a great and inaccessible height.
He said slowly: "You have been possessed of a devil."
"Yes," answered Willems gloomily, and looking at
Aissa. "Isn't it pretty?"
"I've heard this kind of talk before," said Lingard,
in a scornful tone; then paused, and went on steadily
after a while: "I regret nothing. I picked you up by
the waterside, like a starving cat--by God. I regret
nothing; nothing that I have done. Abdulla--twenty
others--no doubt Hudig himself, were after me. That's
business--for them. But that you should . . .
Money belongs to him who picks it up and is strong
enough to keep it--but this thing was different. It was
part of my life. . . . I am an old fool."
He was. The breath of his words, of the very
words he spoke, fanned the spark of divine folly in his
breast, the spark that made him--the hard-headed,
heavy-handed adventurer--stand out from the crowd,
from the sordid, from the joyous, unscrupulous, and
noisy crowd of men that were so much like himself.
Willems said hurriedly: "It wasn't me. The evil
was not in me, Captain Lingard."
"And where else confound you! Where else?"
interrupted Lingard, raising his voice. "Did you
ever see me cheat and lie and steal? Tell me that.
Did you? Hey? I wonder where in perdition you
came from when I found you under my feet. . . .
No matter. You will do no more harm."
Willems moved nearer, gazing upon him anxiously.
Lingard went on with distinct deliberation--
"What did you expect when you asked me to see
you? What? You know me. I am Lingard. You
lived with me. You've heard men speak. You knew
what you had done. Well! What did you expect?"


"How can I know?" groaned Willems, wringing his
hands; "I was alone in that infernal savage crowd.
I was delivered into their hands. After the thing was
done, I felt so lost and weak that I would have called
the devil himself to my aid if it had been any good--if
he hadn't put in all his work already. In the whole
world there was only one man that had ever cared for
me. Only one white man. You! Hate is better than
being alone! Death is better! I expected . . .
anything. Something to expect. Something to take
me out of this. Out of her sight!"
He laughed. His laugh seemed to be torn out from
him against his will, seemed to be brought violently on
the surface from under his bitterness, his self-contempt,
from under his despairing wonder at his own nature.
"When I think that when I first knew her it seemed
to me that my whole life wouldn't be enough to . . .
And now when I look at her! She did it all. I must
have been mad. I was mad. Every time I look at her
I remember my madness. It frightens me. . . .
And when I think that of all my life, of all my past, of
all my future, of my intelligence, of my work, there is
nothing left but she, the cause of my ruin, and you whom
I have mortally offended . . ."
He hid his face for a moment in his hands, and when
he took them away he had lost the appearance of com-
parative calm and gave way to a wild distress.
"Captain Lingard . . . anything . . . a
deserted island . . . anywhere . . . I prom-
ise . . ."
"Shut up!" shouted Lingard, roughly.
He became dumb, suddenly, completely.
The wan light of the clouded morning retired slowly
from the courtyard, from the clearings, from the river,
as if it had gone unwillingly to hide in the enigmatical


solitudes of the gloomy and silent forests. The clouds
over their heads thickened into a low vault of uniform
blackness. The air was still and inexpressibly oppres-
sive. Lingard unbuttoned his jacket, flung it wide open
and, inclining his body sideways a little, wiped his fore-
head with his hand, which he jerked sharply afterwards.
Then he looked at Willems and said--
"No promise of yours is any good to me. I am
going to take your conduct into my own hands. Pay
attention to what I am going to say. You are my
Willems' head moved imperceptibly; then he became
rigid and still. He seemed not to breathe.
"You shall stay here," continued Lingard, with
sombre deliberation. "You are not fit to go amongst
people. Who could suspect, who could guess, who
could imagine what's in you? I couldn't! You are
my mistake. I shall hide you here. If I let you out
you would go amongst unsuspecting men, and lie,
and steal, and cheat for a little money or for some
woman. I don't care about shooting you. It would
be the safest way though. But I won't. Do not
expect me to forgive you. To forgive one must have
been angry and become contemptuous, and there is
nothing in me now--no anger, no contempt, no disap-
pointment. To me you are not Willems, the man I
befriended and helped through thick and thin, and
thought much of . . . You are not a human being
that may be destroyed or forgiven. You are a bitter
thought, a something without a body and that must be
hidden . . . You are my shame."
He ceased and looked slowly round. How dark it
was! It seemed to him that the light was dying pre-
maturely out of the world and that the air was already


"Of course," he went on, "I shall see to it that you
don't starve."
"You don't mean to say that I must live here, Cap-
tain Lingard?" said Willems, in a kind of mechanical
voice without any inflections.
"Did you ever hear me say something I did not
mean?" asked Lingard. "You said you didn't want
to die here--well, you must live . . . Unless you
change your mind," he added, as if in involuntary
He looked at Willems narrowly, then shook his
"You are alone," he went on. "Nothing can help
you. Nobody will. You are neither white nor brown.
You have no colour as you have no heart. Your ac-
complices have abandoned you to me because I am still
somebody to be reckoned with. You are alone but for
that woman there. You say you did this for her.
Well, you have her."
Willems mumbled something, and then suddenly
caught his hair with both his hands and remained
standing so. Aissa, who had been looking at him,
turned to Lingard.
"What did you say, Rajah Laut?" she cried.
There was a slight stir amongst the filmy threads
of her disordered hair, the bushes by the river sides
trembled, the big tree nodded precipitately over them
with an abrupt rustle, as if waking with a start from
a troubled sleep--and the breath of hot breeze passed,
light, rapid, and scorching, under the clouds that
whirled round, unbroken but undulating, like a rest-
less phantom of a sombre sea.
Lingard looked at her pityingly before he said--
"I have told him that he must live here all his life
. . . and with you."


The sun seemed to have gone out at last like a
flickering light away up beyond the clouds, and in the
stifling gloom of the courtyard the three figures stood
colourless and shadowy, as if surrounded by a black
and superheated mist. Aissa looked at Willems, who
remained still, as though he had been changed into
stone in the very act of tearing his hair. Then she
turned her head towards Lingard and shouted--
"You lie! You lie! . . . White man. Like
you all do. You . . . whom Abdulla made small.
You lie!"
Her words rang out shrill and venomous with her
secret scorn, with her overpowering desire to wound
regardless of consequences; in her woman's reckless
desire to cause suffering at any cost, to cause it by the
sound of her own voice--by her own voice, that would
carry the poison of her thought into the hated heart.
Willems let his hands fall, and began to mumble
again. Lingard turned his ear towards him instinc-
tively, caught something that sounded like "Very
well"--then some more mumbling--then a sigh.
"As far as the rest of the world is concerned," said
Lingard, after waiting for awhile in an attentive at-
titude, "your life is finished. Nobody will be able to
throw any of your villainies in my teeth; nobody will be
able to point at you and say, 'Here goes a scoundrel
of Lingard's up-bringing.' You are buried here."
"And you think that I will stay . . . that I will
submit?" exclaimed Willems, as if he had suddenly
recovered the power of speech.
"You needn't stay here--on this spot," said Lingard,
drily. "There are the forests--and here is the river.
You may swim. Fifteen miles up, or forty down. At
one end you will meet Almayer, at the other the sea.
Take your choice."


He burst into a short, joyless laugh, then added with
severe gravity--
"There is also another way."
"If you want to drive my soul into damnation by
trying to drive me to suicide you will not succeed,"
said Willems in wild excitement. "I will live. I
shall repent. I may escape. . . . Take that
woman away--she is sin."
A hooked dart of fire tore in two the darkness of
the distant horizon and lit up the gloom of the earth
with a dazzling and ghastly flame. Then the thunder
was heard far away, like an incredibly enormous voice
muttering menaces.
Lingard said--
"I don't care what happens, but I may tell you
that without that woman your life is not worth much
--not twopence. There is a fellow here who . . .
and Abdulla himself wouldn't stand on any ceremony.
Think of that! And then she won't go."
He began, even while he spoke, to walk slowly down
towards the little gate. He didn't look, but he felt as
sure that Willems was following him as if he had been
leading him by a string. Directly he had passed
through the wicket-gate into the big courtyard he heard
a voice, behind his back, saying--
"I think she was right. I ought to have shot you.
I couldn't have been worse off."
"Time yet," answered Lingard, without stopping or
looking back. "But, you see, you can't. There is not
even that in you."
"Don't provoke me, Captain Lingard," cried Wil-
Lingard turned round sharply. Willems and Aissa
stopped. Another forked flash of lightning split up the
clouds overhead, and threw upon their faces a sudden


burst of light--a blaze violent, sinister and fleeting;
and in the same instant they were deafened by a near,
single crash of thunder, which was followed by a
rushing noise, like a frightened sigh of the startled
"Provoke you!" said the old adventurer, as soon as
he could make himself heard. "Provoke you! Hey!
What's there in you to provoke? What do I care?"
"It is easy to speak like that when you know that
in the whole world--in the whole world--I have no
friend," said Willems.
"Whose fault?" said Lingard, sharply.
Their voices, after the deep and tremendous noise,
sounded to them very unsatisfactory--thin and frail,
like the voices of pigmies--and they became suddenly
silent, as if on that account. From up the courtyard
Lingard's boatmen came down and passed them, keep-
ing step in a single file, their paddles on shoulder, and
holding their heads straight with their eyes fixed on
the river. Ali, who was walking last, stopped before
Lingard, very stiff and upright. He said--
"That one-eyed Babalatchi is gone, with all his
women. He took everything. All the pots and boxes.
Big. Heavy. Three boxes."
He grinned as if the thing had been amusing, then
added with an appearance of anxious concern, "Rain
"We return," said Lingard. "Make ready."
"Aye, aye, sir!" ejaculated Ali with precision, and
moved on. He had been quartermaster with Lingard
before making up his mind to stay in Sambir as Al-
mayer's head man. He strutted towards the landing-
place thinking proudly that he was not like those other
ignorant boatmen, and knew how to answer properly
the very greatest of white captains.


"You have misunderstood me from the first, Captain
Lingard," said Willems.
"Have I? It's all right, as long as there is no mis-
take about my meaning," answered Lingard, strolling
slowly to the landing-place. Willems followed him, and
Aissa followed Willems.
Two hands were extended to help Lingard in embark-
ing. He stepped cautiously and heavily into the long
and narrow canoe, and sat in the canvas folding-chair
that had been placed in the middle. He leaned back
and turned his head to the two figures that stood on the
bank a little above him. Aissa's eyes were fastened on
his face in a visible impatience to see him gone. Wil-
lems' look went straight above the canoe, straight at the
forest on the other side of the river.
"All right, Ali," said Lingard, in a low voice.
A slight stir animated the faces, and a faint murmur
ran along the line of paddlers. The foremost man
pushed with the point of his paddle, canted the fore
end out of the dead water into the current; and the
canoe fell rapidly off before the rush of brown water,
the stern rubbing gently against the low bank.
"We shall meet again, Captain Lingard!" cried
Willems, in an unsteady voice.
"Never!" said Lingard, turning half round in his
chair to look at Willems. His fierce red eyes glittered
remorselessly over the high back of his seat.
"Must cross the river. Water less quick over there,"
said Ali.
He pushed in his turn now with all his strength,
throwing his body recklessly right out over the stern.
Then he recovered himself just in time into the squat-
ting attitude of a monkey perched on a high shelf, and
shouted: "Dayong!"
The paddles struck the water together. The canoe


darted forward and went on steadily crossing the river
with a sideways motion made up of its own speed and
the downward drift of the current.
Lingard watched the shore astern. The woman
shook her hand at him, and then squatted at the feet
of the man who stood motionless. After a while she got
up and stood beside him, reaching up to his head--and
Lingard saw then that she had wetted some part of her
covering and was trying to wash the dried blood off
the man's immovable face, which did not seem to know
anything about it. Lingard turned away and threw
himself back in his chair, stretching his legs out with a
sigh of fatigue. His head fell forward; and under his
red face the white beard lay fan-like on his breast, the
ends of fine long hairs all astir in the faint draught made
by the rapid motion of the craft that carried him away
from his prisoner--from the only thing in his life he
wished to hide.
In its course across the river the canoe came into
the line of Willems' sight and his eyes caught the
image, followed it eagerly as it glided, small but dis-
tinct, on the dark background of the forest. He could
see plainly the figure of the man sitting in the middle.
All his life he had felt that man behind his back, a reas-
suring presence ready with help, with commendation,
with advice; friendly in reproof, enthusiastic in appro-
bation; a man inspiring confidence by his strength, by
his fearlessness, by the very weakness of his simple
heart. And now that man was going away. He must
call him back.
He shouted, and his words, which he wanted to
throw across the river, seemed to fall helplessly at his
feet. Aissa put her hand on his arm in a restraining
attempt, but he shook it off. He wanted to call back
his very life that was going away from him. He shouted


again--and this time he did not even hear himself. No
use. He would never return. And he stood in sullen
silence looking at the white figure over there, lying back
in the chair in the middle of the boat; a figure that struck
him suddenly as very terrible, heartless and astonishing,
with its unnatural appearance of running over the water
in an attitude of languid repose.
For a time nothing on earth stirred, seemingly, but
the canoe, which glided up-stream with a motion so
even and smooth that it did not convey any sense of
movement. Overhead, the massed clouds appeared
solid and steady as if held there in a powerful grip, but
on their uneven surface there was a continuous and
trembling glimmer, a faint reflection of the distant
lightning from the thunderstorm that had broken al-
ready on the coast and was working its way up the river
with low and angry growls. Willems looked on, as
motionless as everything round him and above him.
Only his eyes seemed to live, as they followed the canoe
on its course that carried it away from him, steadily,
unhesitatingly, finally, as if it were going, not up the
great river into the momentous excitement of Sambir,
but straight into the past, into the past crowded yet
empty, like an old cemetery full of neglected graves,
where lie dead hopes that never return.
From time to time he felt on his face the passing,
warm touch of an immense breath coming from beyond
the forest, like the short panting of an oppressed world.
Then the heavy air round him was pierced by a sharp
gust of wind, bringing with it the fresh, damp feel of the
falling rain; and all the innumerable tree-tops of the
forests swayed to the left and sprang back again in a
tumultuous balancing of nodding branches and shudder-
ing leaves. A light frown ran over the river, the clouds
stirred slowly, changing their aspect but not their place,


as if they had turned ponderously over; and when the
sudden movement had died out in a quickened tremor
of the slenderest twigs, there was a short period of for-
midable immobility above and below, during which the
voice of the thunder was heard, speaking in a sustained,
emphatic and vibrating roll, with violent louder bursts
of crashing sound, like a wrathful and threatening dis-
course of an angry god. For a moment it died out, and
then another gust of wind passed, driving before it a
white mist which filled the space with a cloud of water-
dust that hid suddenly from Willems the canoe, the
forests, the river itself; that woke him up from his
numbness in a forlorn shiver, that made him look round
despairingly to see nothing but the whirling drift of rain
spray before the freshening breeze, while through it
the heavy big drops fell about him with sonorous
and rapid beats upon the dry earth. He made a few
hurried steps up the courtyard and was arrested by an
immense sheet of water that fell all at once on him, fell
sudden and overwhelming from the clouds, cutting
his respiration, streaming over his head, clinging to him,
running down his body, off his arms, off his legs. He
stood gasping while the water beat him in a vertical
downpour, drove on him slanting in squalls, and he
felt the drops striking him from above, from every-
where; drops thick, pressed and dashing at him as if
flung from all sides by a mob of infuriated hands. From
under his feet a great vapour of broken water floated up,
he felt the ground become soft--melt under him--and
saw the water spring out from the dry earth to meet
the water that fell from the sombre heaven. An insane
dread took possession of him, the dread of all that water
around him, of the water that ran down the courtyard
towards him, of the water that pressed him on every
side, of the slanting water that drove across his face in


wavering sheets which gleamed pale red with the flicker
of lightning streaming through them, as if fire and water
were falling together, monstrously mixed, upon the
stunned earth.
He wanted to run away, but when he moved it was
to slide about painfully and slowly upon that earth
which had become mud so suddenly under his feet. He
fought his way up the courtyard like a man pushing
through a crowd, his head down, one shoulder forward,
stopping often, and sometimes carried back a pace or
two in the rush of water which his heart was not stout
enough to face. Aissa followed him step by step,
stopping when he stopped, recoiling with him, moving
forward with him in his toilsome way up the slippery
declivity of the courtyard, of that courtyard, from which
everything seemed to have been swept away by the
first rush of the mighty downpour. They could see
nothing. The tree, the bushes, the house, and the
fences--all had disappeared in the thickness of the fall-
ing rain. Their hair stuck, streaming, to their heads;
their clothing clung to them, beaten close to their bodies;
water ran off them, off their heads over their shoulders.
They moved, patient, upright, slow and dark, in the
gleam clear or fiery of the falling drops, under the roll
of unceasing thunder, like two wandering ghosts of the
drowned that, condemned to haunt the water for ever,
had come up from the river to look at the world under a
On the left the tree seemed to step out to meet
them, appearing vaguely, high, motionless and patient;
with a rustling plaint of its innumerable leaves through
which every drop of water tore its separate way with
cruel haste. And then, to the right, the house surged
up in the mist, very black, and clamorous with the
quick patter of rain on its high-pitched roof above the


steady splash of the water running off the eaves.
Down the plankway leading to the door flowed a
thin and pellucid stream, and when Willems began
his ascent it broke over his foot as if he were going
up a steep ravine in the bed of a rapid and shallow
torrent. Behind his heels two streaming smudges of
mud stained for an instant the purity of the rushing
water, and then he splashed his way up with a spurt
and stood on the bamboo platform before the open
door under the shelter of the overhanging eaves--
under shelter at last!
A low moan ending in a broken and plaintive mutter
arrested Willems on the threshold. He peered round
in the half-light under the roof and saw the old woman
crouching close to the wall in a shapeless heap, and
while he looked he felt a touch of two arms on his
shoulders. Aissa! He had forgotten her. He turned,
and she clasped him round the neck instantly, pressing
close to him as if afraid of violence or escape. He
stiffened himself in repulsion, in horror, in the myster-
ious revolt of his heart; while she clung to him--clung
to him as if he were a refuge from misery, from storm,
from weariness, from fear, from despair; and it was on
the part of that being an embrace terrible, enraged and
mournful, in which all her strength went out to make
him captive, to hold him for ever.
He said nothing. He looked into her eyes while he
struggled with her fingers about the nape of his neck,
and suddenly he tore her hands apart, holding her arms
up in a strong grip of her wrists, and bending his swol-
len face close over hers, he said--
"It is all your doing. You . . ."
She did not understand him--not a word. He
spoke in the language of his people--of his people that
know no mercy and no shame. And he was angry.


Alas! he was always angry now, and always speaking
words that she could not understand. She stood in
silence, looking at him through her patient eyes, while
he shook her arms a little and then flung them down.
"Don't follow me!" he shouted. "I want to be alone
--I mean to be left alone!"
He went in, leaving the door open.
She did not move. What need to understand the
words when they are spoken in such a voice? In that
voice which did not seem to be his voice--his voice
when he spoke by the brook, when he was never angry
and always smiling! Her eyes were fixed upon the
dark doorway, but her hands strayed mechanically
upwards; she took up all her hair, and, inclining her
head slightly over her shoulder, wrung out the long
black tresses, twisting them persistently, while she stood,
sad and absorbed, like one listening to an inward voice--
the voice of bitter, of unavailing regret. The thunder
had ceased, the wind had died out, and the rain fell
perpendicular and steady through a great pale clearness
--the light of remote sun coming victorious from
amongst the dissolving blackness of the clouds. She
stood near the doorway. He was there--alone in the
gloom of the dwelling. He was there. He spoke not.
What was in his mind now? What fear? What de-
sire? Not the desire of her as in the days when he used
to smile . . . How could she know? . . .
A sigh coming from the bottom of her heart, flew
out into the world through her parted lips. A sigh
faint, profound, and broken; a sigh full of pain and fear,
like the sigh of those who are about to face the unknown:
to face it in loneliness, in doubt, and without hope.
She let go her hair, that fell scattered over her shoulders
like a funeral veil, and she sank down suddenly by the
door. Her hands clasped her ankles; she rested her


head on her drawn-up knees, and remained still, very
still, under the streaming mourning of her hair. She
was thinking of him; of the days by the brook; she was
thinking of all that had been their love--and she sat
in the abandoned posture of those who sit weeping by
the dead, of those who watch and mourn over a corpse.

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ALMAYER propped, alone on the verandah of his house,
with both his elbows on the table, and holding his
head between his hands, stared before him, away over
the stretch of sprouting young grass in his courtyard,
and over the short jetty with its cluster of small canoes,
amongst which his big whale-boat floated high, like
a white mother of all that dark and aquatic brood.
He stared on the river, past the schooner anchored in
mid-stream, past the forests of the left bank; he stared
through and past the illusion of the material world.
The sun was sinking. Under the sky was stretched
a network of white threads, a network fine and close-
meshed, where here and there were caught thicker
white vapours of globular shape; and to the eastward,
above the ragged barrier of the forests, surged the
summits of a chain of great clouds, growing bigger
slowly, in imperceptible motion, as if careful not to dis-
turb the glowing stillness of the earth and of the sky.
Abreast of the house the river was empty but for the
motionless schooner. Higher up, a solitary log came
out from the bend above and went on drifting slowly
down the straight reach: a dead and wandering tree
going out to its grave in the sea, between two ranks of
trees motionless and living.
And Almayer sat, his face in his hands, looking on
and hating all this: the muddy river; the faded blue
of the sky; the black log passing by on its first and
last voyage; the green sea of leaves--the sea that
glowed shimmered, and stirred above the uniform and



impenetrable gloom of the forests--the joyous sea of
living green powdered with the brilliant dust of oblique
sunrays. He hated all this; he begrudged every day
--every minute--of his life spent amongst all these
things; he begrudged it bitterly, angrily, with enraged
and immense regret, like a miser compelled to give up
some of his treasure to a near relation. And yet all
this was very precious to him. It was the present
sign of a splendid future.
He pushed the table away impatiently, got up,
made a few steps aimlessly, then stood by the balus-
trade and again looked at the river--at that river
which would have been the instrument for the making
of his fortune if . . . if . . .
"What an abominable brute!" he said.
He was alone, but he spoke aloud, as one is apt to
do under the impulse of a strong, of an overmastering
"What a brute!" he muttered again.
The river was dark now, and the schooner lay on
it, a black, a lonely, and a graceful form, with the
slender masts darting upwards from it in two frail
and raking lines. The shadows of the evening crept
up the trees, crept up from bough to bough, till at
last the long sunbeams coursing from the western
horizon skimmed lightly over the topmost branches,
then flew upwards amongst the piled-up clouds, giving
them a sombre and fiery aspect in the last flush of
light. And suddenly the light disappeared as if lost in
the immensity of the great, blue, and empty hollow
overhead. The sun had set: and the forests became
a straight wall of formless blackness. Above them, on
the edge of lingering clouds, a single star glimmered
fitfully, obscured now and then by the rapid flight of
high and invisible vapours.


Almayer fought with the uneasiness within his
breast. He heard Ali, who moved behind him prepar-
ing his evening meal, and he listened with strange
attention to the sounds the man made--to the short,
dry bang of the plate put upon the table, to the clink
of glass and the metallic rattle of knife and fork. The
man went away. Now he was coming back. He
would speak directly; and Almayer, notwithstanding
the absorbing gravity of his thoughts, listened for the
sound of expected words. He heard them, spoken in
English with painstaking distinctness.
"Ready, sir!"
"All right," said Almayer, curtly. He did not move.
He remained pensive, with his back to the table upon
which stood the lighted lamp brought by Ali. He
was thinking: Where was Lingard now? Halfway
down the river probably, in Abdulla's ship. He would
be back in about three days--perhaps less. And then?
Then the schooner would have to be got out of the river,
and when that craft was gone they--he and Lingard--
would remain here; alone with the constant thought
of that other man, that other man living near them!
What an extraordinary idea to keep him there for ever.
For ever! What did that mean--for ever? Perhaps
a year, perhaps ten years. Preposterous! Keep him
there ten years--or may be twenty! The fellow was
capable of living more than twenty years. And for all
that time he would have to be watched, fed, looked after.
There was nobody but Lingard to have such notions.
Twenty years! Why, no! In less than ten years
their fortune would be made and they would leave
this place, first for Batavia--yes, Batavia--and then
for Europe. England, no doubt. Lingard would
want to go to England. And would they leave that
man here? How would that fellow look in ten years?


Very old probably. Well, devil take him. Nina
would be fifteen. She would be rich and very pretty
and he himself would not be so old then. . . ."
Almayer smiled into the night.
. . . Yes, rich! Why! Of course! Captain
Lingard was a resourceful man, and he had plenty of
money even now. They were rich already; but not
enough. Decidedly not enough. Money brings
money. That gold business was good. Famous!
Captain Lingard was a remarkable man. He said the
gold was there--and it was there. Lingard knew what
he was talking about. But he had queer ideas. For
instance, about Willems. Now what did he want to
keep him alive for? Why?
"That scoundrel," muttered Almayer again.
"Makan Tuan!" ejaculated Ali suddenly, very loud
in a pressing tone.
Almayer walked to the table, sat down, and his
anxious visage dropped from above into the light
thrown down by the lamp-shade. He helped himself
absently, and began to eat in great mouthfuls.
. . . Undoubtedly, Lingard was the man to stick
to! The man undismayed, masterful and ready. How
quickly he had planned a new future when Willems'
treachery destroyed their established position in
Sambir! And the position even now was not so bad.
What an immense prestige that Lingard had with all
those people--Arabs, Malays and all. Ah, it was good
to be able to call a man like that father. Fine! Won-
der how much money really the old fellow had. People
talked--they exaggerated surely, but if he had only
half of what they said . . .
He drank, throwing his head up, and fell to again.
. . . Now, if that Willems had known how to play
his cards well, had he stuck to the old fellow he would


have been in his position, he would be now married
to Lingard's adopted daughter with his future assured
--splendid . . .
"The beast!" growled Almayer, between two mouth-
Ali stood rigidly straight with an uninterested face,
his gaze lost in the night which pressed round the
small circle of light that shone on the table, on the
glass, on the bottle, and on Almayer's head as he
leaned over his plate moving his jaws.
. . . A famous man Lingard--yet you never knew
what he would do next. It was notorious that he had
shot a white man once for less than Willems had done.
For less? . . . Why, for nothing, so to speak! It
was not even his own quarrel. It was about some
Malay returning from pilgrimage with wife and children.
Kidnapped, or robbed, or something. A stupid story--
an old story. And now he goes to see that Willems
and--nothing. Comes back talking big about his
prisoner; but after all he said very little. What did
that Willems tell him? What passed between them?
The old fellow must have had something in his mind
when he let that scoundrel off. And Joanna! She
would get round the old fellow. Sure. Then he would
forgive perhaps. Impossible. But at any rate he
would waste a lot of money on them. The old man
was tenacious in his hates, but also in his affections.
He had known that beast Willems from a boy. They
would make it up in a year or so. Everything is
possible: why did he not rush off at first and kill the
brute? That would have been more like Lingard. . . .
Almayer laid down his spoon suddenly, and pushing
his plate away, threw himself back in the chair.
. . . Unsafe. Decidedly unsafe. He had no
mind to share Lingard's money with anybody. Lin-


gard's money was Nina's money in a sense. And if
Willems managed to become friendly with the old
man it would be dangerous for him--Almayer. Such
an unscrupulous scoundrel! He would oust him from his
position. He would lie and slander. Everything would
be lost. Lost. Poor Nina. What would become of her?
Poor child. For her sake he must remove that Wil-
lems. Must. But how? Lingard wanted to be obeyed.
Impossible to kill Willems. Lingard might be angry.
Incredible, but so it was. He might . . .
A wave of heat passed through Almayer's body,
flushed his face, and broke out of him in copious
perspiration. He wriggled in his chair, and pressed
his hands together under the table. What an awful
prospect! He fancied he could see Lingard and
Willems reconciled and going away arm-in-arm, leaving
him alone in this God-forsaken hole--in Sambir--in
this deadly swamp! And all his sacrifices, the sacrifice
of his independence, of his best years, his surrender to
Lingard's fancies and caprices, would go for nothing!
Horrible! Then he thought of his little daughter--his
daughter!--and the ghastliness of his supposition over-
powered him. He had a deep emotion, a sudden emo-
tion that made him feel quite faint at the idea of that
young life spoiled before it had fairly begun. His dear
child's life! Lying back in his chair he covered his
face with both his hands.
Ali glanced down at him and said, unconcernedly--
"Master finish?"
Almayer was lost in the immensity of his com-
miseration for himself, for his daughter, who was--
perhaps--not going to be the richest woman in the
world--notwithstanding Lingard's promises. He did
not understand the other's question, and muttered
through his fingers in a doleful tone--


"What did you say? What? Finish what?"
"Clear up meza," explained Ali.
"Clear up!" burst out Almayer, with incompre-
hensible exasperation. "Devil take you and the table.
Stupid! Chatterer! Chelakka! Get out!"
He leaned forward, glaring at his head man, then
sank back in his seat with his arms hanging straight
down on each side of the chair. And he sat motion-
less in a meditation so concentrated and so absorbing,
with all his power of thought so deep within himself,
that all expression disappeared from his face in an
aspect of staring vacancy.
Ali was clearing the table. He dropped negligently
the tumbler into the greasy dish, flung there the spoon
and fork, then slipped in the plate with a push amongst
the remnants of food. He took up the dish, tucked
up the bottle under his armpit, and went off.
"My hammock!" shouted Almayer after him.
"Ada! I come soon," answered Ali from the door-
way in an offended tone, looking back over his shoulder.
. . . How could he clear the table and hang the
hammock at the same time. Ya-wa! Those white
men were all alike. Wanted everything done at once.
Like children . . .
The indistinct murmur of his criticism went away,
faded and died out together with the soft footfall of his
bare feet in the dark passage.
For some time Almayer did not move. His thoughts
were busy at work shaping a momentous resolution,
and in the perfect silence of the house he believed that
he could hear the noise of the operation as if the work
had been done with a hammer. He certainly felt a
thumping of strokes, faint, profound, and startling,
somewhere low down in his breast; and he was aware
of a sound of dull knocking, abrupt and rapid, in his


ears. Now and then he held his breath, unconsciously,
too long, and had to relieve himself by a deep expiration
that whistled dully through his pursed lips. The
lamp standing on the far side of the table threw a
section of a lighted circle on the floor, where his out-
stretched legs stuck out from under the table with feet
rigid and turned up like the feet of a corpse; and his
set face with fixed eyes would have been also like the
face of the dead, but for its vacant yet conscious aspect;
the hard, the stupid, the stony aspect of one not dead,
but only buried under the dust, ashes, and corruption
of personal thoughts, of base fears, of selfish desires.
"I will do it!"
Not till he heard his own voice did he know that
he had spoken. It startled him. He stood up. The
knuckles of his hand, somewhat behind him, were
resting on the edge of the table as he remained still
with one foot advanced, his lips a little open, and
thought: It would not do to fool about with Lingard.
But I must risk it. It's the only way I can see. I must
tell her. She has some little sense. I wish they were
a thousand miles off already. A hundred thousand
miles. I do. And if it fails. And she blabs out then
to Lingard? She seemed a fool. No; probably they
will get away. And if they did, would Lingard be-
lieve me? Yes. I never lied to him. He would
believe. I don't know . . . Perhaps he won't.
. . . "I must do it. Must!" he argued aloud to
For a long time he stood still, looking before him
with an intense gaze, a gaze rapt and immobile, that
seemed to watch the minute quivering of a delicate
balance, coming to a rest.
To the left of him, in the whitewashed wall of
the house that formed the back of the verandah, there


was a closed door. Black letters were painted on it
proclaiming the fact that behind that door there was
the office of Lingard & Co. The interior had been
furnished by Lingard when he had built the house
for his adopted daughter and her husband, and it had
been furnished with reckless prodigality. There was
an office desk, a revolving chair, bookshelves, a safe:
all to humour the weakness of Almayer, who thought
all those paraphernalia necessary to successful trading.
Lingard had laughed, but had taken immense trouble
to get the things. It pleased him to make his protege,
his adopted son-in-law, happy. It had been the
sensation of Sambir some five years ago. While
the things were being landed, the whole settlement
literally lived on the river bank in front of the Rajah
Laut's house, to look, to wonder, to admire. . . .
What a big meza, with many boxes fitted all over it
and under it! What did the white man do with
such a table? And look, look, O Brothers! There
is a green square box, with a gold plate on it, a box
so heavy that those twenty men cannot drag it
up the bank. Let us go, brothers, and help pull
at the ropes, and perchance we may see what's inside.
Treasure, no doubt. Gold is heavy and hard to
hold, O Brothers! Let us go and earn a recom-
pense from the fierce Rajah of the Sea who shouts over
there, with a red face. See! There is a man carrying
a pile of books from the boat! What a number of
books. What were they for? . . . And an old in-
valided jurumudi, who had travelled over many seas
and had heard holy men speak in far-off countries,
explained to a small knot of unsophisticated citizens
of Sambir that those books were books of magic--
of magic that guides the white men's ships over the
seas, that gives them their wicked wisdom and their


strength; of magic that makes them great, powerful,
and irresistible while they live, and--praise be to
Allah!--the victims of Satan, the slaves of Jehannum
when they die.
And when he saw the room furnished, Almayer
had felt proud. In his exultation of an empty-headed
quill-driver, he thought himself, by the virtue of that
furniture, at the head of a serious business. He had
sold himself to Lingard for these things--married the
Malay girl of his adoption for the reward of these things
and of the great wealth that must necessarily follow
upon conscientious book-keeping. He found out very
soon that trade in Sambir meant something entirely
different. He could not guide Patalolo, control the
irrepressible old Sahamin, or restrain the youthful
vagaries of the fierce Bahassoen with pen, ink, and
paper. He found no successful magic in the blank
pages of his ledgers; and gradually he lost his old point
of view in the saner appreciation of his situation. The
room known as the office became neglected then like a
temple of an exploded superstition. At first, when his
wife reverted to her original savagery, Almayer, now
and again, had sought refuge from her there; but after
their child began to speak, to know him, he became
braver, for he found courage and consolation in his
unreasoning and fierce affection for his daughter--in
the impenetrable mantle of selfishness he wrapped
round both their lives: round himself, and that young
life that was also his.
When Lingard ordered him to receive Joanna into
his house, he had a truckle bed put into the office--
the only room he could spare. The big office desk
was pushed on one side, and Joanna came with her
little shabby trunk and with her child and took pos-
session in her dreamy, slack, half-asleep way; took


possession of the dust, dirt, and squalor, where she
appeared naturally at home, where she dragged a
melancholy and dull existence; an existence made up of
sad remorse and frightened hope, amongst the hopeless
disorder--the senseless and vain decay of all these
emblems of civilized commerce. Bits of white stuff;
rags yellow, pink, blue: rags limp, brilliant and soiled,
trailed on the floor, lay on the desk amongst the sombre
covers of books soiled, grimy, but stiff-backed, in virtue,
perhaps, of their European origin. The biggest set of
bookshelves was partly hidden by a petticoat, the waist-
band of which was caught upon the back of a slender
book pulled a little out of the row so as to make an
improvised clothespeg. The folding canvas bedstead
stood nearly in the middle of the room, stood anyhow,
parallel to no wall, as if it had been, in the process of
transportation to some remote place, dropped casually
there by tired bearers. And on the tumbled blankets
that lay in a disordered heap on its edge, Joanna sat
almost all day with her stockingless feet upon one of
the bed pillows that were somehow always kicking
about the floor. She sat there, vaguely tormented at
times by the thought of her absent husband, but most
of the time thinking tearfully of nothing at all, looking
with swimming eyes at her little son--at the big-
headed, pasty-faced, and sickly Louis Willems--who
rolled a glass inkstand, solid with dried ink, about the
floor, and tottered after it with the portentous gravity
of demeanour and absolute absorption by the business
in hand that characterize the pursuits of early child-
hood. Through the half-open shutter a ray of sunlight,
a ray merciless and crude, came into the room, beat
in the early morning upon the safe in the far-off corner,
then, travelling against the sun, cut at midday the big
desk in two with its solid and clean-edged brilliance;


with its hot brilliance in which a swarm of flies hovered
in dancing flight over some dirty plate forgotten there
amongst yellow papers for many a day. And towards
the evening the cynical ray seemed to cling to the
ragged petticoat, lingered on it with wicked enjoyment
of that misery it had exposed all day; lingered on the
corner of the dusty bookshelf, in a red glow intense and
mocking, till it was suddenly snatched by the setting
sun out of the way of the coming night. And the
night entered the room. The night abrupt, impene-
trable and all-filling with its flood of darkness; the night
cool and merciful; the blind night that saw nothing, but
could hear the fretful whimpering of the child, the
creak of the bedstead, Joanna's deep sighs as she turned
over, sleepless, in the confused conviction of her wicked-
ness, thinking of that man masterful, fair-headed, and
strong--a man hard perhaps, but her husband; her
clever and handsome husband to whom she had acted so
cruelly on the advice of bad people, if her own people;
and of her poor, dear, deceived mother.
To Almayer, Joanna's presence was a constant
worry, a worry unobtrusive yet intolerable; a constant,
but mostly mute, warning of possible danger. In
view of the absurd softness of Lingard's heart, every
one in whom Lingard manifested the slightest interest
was to Almayer a natural enemy. He was quite
alive to that feeling, and in the intimacy of the secret
intercourse with his inner self had often congratu-
lated himself upon his own wide-awake comprehension
of his position. In that way, and impelled by that
motive, Almayer had hated many and various persons
at various times. But he never had hated and feared
anybody so much as he did hate and fear Willems.
Even after Willems' treachery, which seemed to re-
move him beyond the pale of all human sympathy,


Almayer mistrusted the situation and groaned in
spirit every time he caught sight of Joanna.
He saw her very seldom in the daytime. But in
the short and opal-tinted twilights, or in the azure
dusk of starry evenings, he often saw, before he slept,
the slender and tall figure trailing to and fro the rag-
ged tail of its white gown over the dried mud of the
riverside in front of the house. Once or twice when
he sat late on the verandah, with his feet upon the
deal table on a level with the lamp, reading the seven
months' old copy of the North China Herald, brought
by Lingard, he heard the stairs creak, and, looking
round the paper, he saw her frail and meagre form rise
step by step and toil across the verandah, carrying with
difficulty the big, fat child, whose head, lying on the
mother's bony shoulder, seemed of the same size as
Joanna's own. Several times she had assailed him
with tearful clamour or mad entreaties: asking about
her husband, wanting to know where he was, when he
would be back; and ending every such outburst with
despairing and incoherent self-reproaches that were
absolutely incomprehensible to Almayer. On one or
two occasions she had overwhelmed her host with
vituperative abuse, making him responsible for her
husband's absence. Those scenes, begun without
any warning, ended abruptly in a sobbing flight and a
bang of the door; stirred the house with a sudden, a
fierce, and an evanescent disturbance; like those inex-
plicable whirlwinds that rise, run, and vanish without
apparent cause upon the sun-scorched dead level of
arid and lamentable plains.
But to-night the house was quiet, deadly quiet,
while Almayer stood still, watching that delicate bal-
ance where he was weighing all his chances: Joan-
na's intelligence, Lingard's credulity, Willems' reckless


audacity, desire to escape, readiness to seize an un-
expected opportunity. He weighed, anxious and atten-
tive, his fears and his desires against the tremendous
risk of a quarrel with Lingard. . . . Yes. Lin-
gard would be angry. Lingard might suspect him
of some connivance in his prisoner's escape--but
surely he would not quarrel with him--Almayer--
about those people once they were gone--gone to the
devil in their own way. And then he had hold of
Lingard through the little girl. Good. What an
annoyance! A prisoner! As if one could keep him
in there. He was bound to get away some time or
other. Of course. A situation like that can't last.
Anybody could see that. Lingard's eccentricity passed
all bounds. You may kill a man, but you mustn't
torture him. It was almost criminal. It caused
worry, trouble, and unpleasantness. . . . Almayer
for a moment felt very angry with Lingard. He made
him responsible for the anguish he suffered from, for
the anguish of doubt and fear; for compelling him--
the practical and innocent Almayer--to such painful
efforts of mind in order to find out some issue for absurd
situations created by the unreasonable sentimentality
of Lingard's unpractical impulses.
"Now if the fellow were dead it would be all right,"
said Almayer to the verandah.
He stirred a little, and scratching his nose thought-
fully, revelled in a short flight of fancy, showing him
his own image crouching in a big boat, that floated
arrested--say fifty yards off--abreast of Willems'
landing-place. In the bottom of the boat there was
a gun. A loaded gun. One of the boatmen would
shout, and Willems would answer--from the bushes.
The rascal would be suspicious. Of course. Then
the man would wave a piece of paper urging Willems


to come to the landing-place and receive an important
message. "From the Rajah Laut" the man would
yell as the boat edged in-shore, and that would fetch
Willems out. Wouldn't it? Rather! And Almayer
saw himself jumping up at the right moment, taking
aim, pulling the trigger--and Willems tumbling over,
his head in the water--the swine!
He seemed to hear the report of the shot. It made
him thrill from head to foot where he stood. . . .
How simple! . . . Unfortunate . . . Lingard
. . . He sighed, shook his head. Pity. Couldn't
be done. And couldn't leave him there either! Sup-
pose the Arabs were to get hold of him again--for in-
stance to lead an expedition up the river! Goodness
only knows what harm would come of it. . . .
The balance was at rest now and inclining to the
side of immediate action. Almayer walked to the
door, walked up very close to it, knocked loudly, and
turned his head away, looking frightened for a moment
at what he had done. After waiting for a while he put
his ear against the panel and listened. Nothing. He
composed his features into an agreeable expression
while he stood listening and thinking to himself: I
hear her. Crying. Eh? I believe she has lost the
little wits she had and is crying night and day since I
began to prepare her for the news of her husband's
death--as Lingard told me. I wonder what she thinks.
It's just like father to make me invent all these stories
for nothing at all. Out of kindness. Kindness!
Damn! . . . She isn't deaf, surely.
He knocked again, then said in a friendly tone, grin-
ning benevolently at the closed door--
"It's me, Mrs. Willems. I want to speak to you.
I have . . . have . . . important news. . . ."
"What is it?"


"News," repeated Almayer, distinctly. "News
about your husband. Your husband! . . . Damn
him!" he added, under his breath.
He heard a stumbling rush inside. Things were
overturned. Joanna's agitated voice cried--
"News! What? What? I am coming out."
"No," shouted Almayer. "Put on some clothes,
Mrs. Willems, and let me in. It's . . . very con-
fidential. You have a candle, haven't you?"
She was knocking herself about blindly amongst
the furniture in that room. The candlestick was upset.
Matches were struck ineffectually. The matchbox fell.
He heard her drop on her knees and grope over the floor
while she kept on moaning in maddened distraction.
"Oh, my God! News! Yes . . . yes. . . .
Ah! where . . . where . . . candle. Oh, my
God! . . . I can't find . . . Don't go away,
for the love of Heaven . . ."
"I don't want to go away," said Almayer, im-
patiently, through the keyhole; "but look sharp.
It's confi . . . it's pressing."
He stamped his foot lightly, waiting with his hand
on the door-handle. He thought anxiously: The
woman's a perfect idiot. Why should I go away?
She will be off her head. She will never catch my
meaning. She's too stupid.
She was moving now inside the room hurriedly and
in silence. He waited. There was a moment of
perfect stillness in there, and then she spoke in an
exhausted voice, in words that were shaped out of an
expiring sigh--out of a sigh light and profound, like
words breathed out by a woman before going off into
a dead faint--
"Come in."
He pushed the door. Ali, coming through the


passage with an armful of pillows and blankets pressed
to his breast high up under his chin, caught sight of
his master before the door closed behind him. He
was so astonished that he dropped his bundle and
stood staring at the door for a long time. He heard
the voice of his master talking. Talking to that
Sirani woman! Who was she? He had never thought
about that really. He speculated for a while hazily
upon things in general. She was a Sirani woman--
and ugly. He made a disdainful grimace, picked up
the bedding, and went about his work, slinging the
hammock between two uprights of the verandah. . . .
Those things did not concern him. She was ugly, and
brought here by the Rajah Laut, and his master spoke
to her in the night. Very well. He, Ali, had his work
to do. Sling the hammock--go round and see that
the watchmen were awake--take a look at the moorings
of the boats, at the padlock of the big storehouse--then
go to sleep. To sleep! He shivered pleasantly. He
leaned with both arms over his master's hammock and
fell into a light doze.
A scream, unexpected, piercing--a scream begin-
ning at once in the highest pitch of a woman's voice
and then cut short, so short that it suggested the swift
work of death--caused Ali to jump on one side away
from the hammock, and the silence that succeeded
seemed to him as startling as the awful shriek. He
was thunderstruck with surprise. Almayer came out
of the office, leaving the door ajar, passed close to his
servant without taking any notice, and made straight
for the water-chatty hung on a nail in a draughty
place. He took it down and came back, missing the
petrified Ali by an inch. He moved with long strides,
yet, notwithstanding his haste, stopped short before
the door, and, throwing his head back, poured a thin


stream of water down his throat. While he came
and went, while he stopped to drink, while he did all
this, there came steadily from the dark room the
sound of feeble and persistent crying, the crying of
a sleepy and frightened child. After he had drunk,
Almayer went in, closing the door carefully.
Ali did not budge. That Sirani woman shrieked!
He felt an immense curiosity very unusual to his
stolid disposition. He could not take his eyes off the
door. Was she dead in there? How interesting and
funny! He stood with open mouth till he heard
again the rattle of the door-handle. Master coming
out. He pivoted on his heels with great rapidity and
made believe to be absorbed in the contemplation of
the night outside. He heard Almayer moving about
behind his back. Chairs were displaced. His master
sat down.
"Ali," said Almayer.
His face was gloomy and thoughtful. He looked
at his head man, who had approached the table, then
he pulled out his watch. It was going. Whenever
Lingard was in Sambir Almayer's watch was going.
He would set it by the cabin clock, telling himself
every time that he must really keep that watch going
for the future. And every time, when Lingard went
away, he would let it run down and would measure
his weariness by sunrises and sunsets in an apathetic
indifference to mere hours; to hours only; to hours
that had no importance in Sambir life, in the tired
stagnation of empty days; when nothing mattered to
him but the quality of guttah and the size of rattans;
where there were no small hopes to be watched for;
where to him there was nothing interesting, nothing
supportable, nothing desirable to expect; nothing bit-
ter but the slowness of the passing days; nothing


sweet but the hope, the distant and glorious hope--
the hope wearying, aching and precious, of getting
He looked at the watch. Half-past eight. Ali
waited stolidly.
"Go to the settlement," said Almayer, "and tell
Mahmat Banjer to come and speak to me to-night."
Ali went off muttering. He did not like his errand.
Banjer and his two brothers were Bajow vagabonds
who had appeared lately in Sambir and had been allowed
to take possession of a tumbledown abandoned hut,
on three posts, belonging to Lingard & Co., and stand-
ing just outside their fence. Ali disapproved of the
favour shown to those strangers. Any kind of dwelling
was valuable in Sambir at that time, and if master did
not want that old rotten house he might have given it
to him, Ali, who was his servant, instead of bestowing it
upon those bad men. Everybody knew they were
bad. It was well known that they had stolen a boat
from Hinopari, who was very aged and feeble and had
no sons; and that afterwards, by the truculent reckless-
ness of their demeanour, they had frightened the poor
old man into holding his tongue about it. Yet every-
body knew of it. It was one of the tolerated scandals
of Sambir, disapproved and accepted, a manifestation
of that base acquiescence in success, of that inexpressed
and cowardly toleration of strength, that exists, in-
famous and irremediable, at the bottom of all hearts,
in all societies; whenever men congregate; in bigger
and more virtuous places than Sambir, and in Sambir
also, where, as in other places, one man could steal a
boat with impunity while another would have no right
to look at a paddle.
Almayer, leaning back in his chair, meditated. The
more he thought, the more he felt convinced that


Banjer and his brothers were exactly the men he
wanted. Those fellows were sea gipsies, and could
disappear without attracting notice; and if they
returned, nobody--and Lingard least of all--would
dream of seeking information from them. More-
over, they had no personal interest of any kind in
Sambir affairs--had taken no sides--would know
nothing anyway.
He called in a strong voice: "Mrs. Willems!"
She came out quickly, almost startling him, so
much did she appear as though she had surged up
through the floor, on the other side of the table. The
lamp was between them, and Almayer moved it aside,
looking up at her from his chair. She was crying.
She was crying gently, silently, in a ceaseless welling
up of tears that did not fall in drops, but seemed to
overflow in a clear sheet from under her eyelids--
seemed to flow at once all over her face, her cheeks,
and over her chin that glistened with moisture in the
light. Her breast and her shoulders were shaken
repeatedly by a convulsive and noiseless catching in
her breath, and after every spasmodic sob her sorrow-
ful little head, tied up in a red kerchief, trembled
on her long neck, round which her bony hand gathered
and clasped the disarranged dress.
"Compose yourself, Mrs. Willems," said Almayer.
She emitted an inarticulate sound that seemed to be
a faint, a very far off, a hardly audible cry of mortal
distress. Then the tears went on flowing in profound
"You must understand that I have told you all this
because I am your friend--real friend," said Almayer,
after looking at her for some time with visible dissatis-
faction. "You, his wife, ought to know the danger he is
in. Captain Lingard is a terrible man, you know."


She blubbered out, sniffing and sobbing together.
"Do you . . . you . . . speak . . . the
. . . the truth now?"
"Upon my word of honour. On the head of my
child," protested Almayer. "I had to deceive you till
now because of Captain Lingard. But I couldn't
bear it. Think only what a risk I run in telling you
--if ever Lingard was to know! Why should I do it?
Pure friendship. Dear Peter was my colleague in
Macassar for years, you know."
"What shall I do . . . what shall I do!" she
exclaimed, faintly, looking around on every side as if
she could not make up her mind which way to rush
"You must help him to clear out, now Lingard is
away. He offended Lingard, and that's no joke.
Lingard said he would kill him. He will do it, too,"
said Almayer, earnestly.
She wrung her hands. "Oh! the wicked man.
The wicked, wicked man!" she moaned, swaying her
body from side to side.
"Yes. Yes! He is terrible," assented Almayer.
"You must not lose any time. I say! Do you under-
stand me, Mrs. Willems? Think of your husband.
Of your poor husband. How happy he will be. You
will bring him his life--actually his life. Think of him."
She ceased her swaying movement, and now, with
her head sunk between her shoulders, she hugged
herself with both her arms; and she stared at Almayer
with wild eyes, while her teeth chattered, rattling
violently and uninterruptedly, with a very loud sound,
in the deep peace of the house.
"Oh! Mother of God!" she wailed. "I am a
miserable woman. Will he forgive me? The poor,
innocent man. Will he forgive me? Oh, Mr. Almayer,


he is so severe. Oh! help me. . . . I dare not.
. . . You don't know what I've done to him.
. . . I daren't! . . . I can't! . . . God
help me!"
The last words came in a despairing cry. Had she
been flayed alive she could not have sent to heaven a
more terrible, a more heartrending and anguished plaint.
"Sh! Sh!" hissed Almayer, jumping up. "You
will wake up everybody with your shouting."
She kept on sobbing then without any noise, and
Almayer stared at her in boundless astonishment.
The idea that, maybe, he had done wrong by con-
fiding in her, upset him so much that for a moment
he could not find a connected thought in his head.
At last he said: "I swear to you that your husband
is in such a position that he would welcome the devil
. . . listen well to me . . . the devil himself
if the devil came to him in a canoe. Unless I am much
mistaken,'' he added, under his breath. Then again,
loudly: "If you have any little difference to make up
with him, I assure you--I swear to you--this is your
The ardently persuasive tone of his words--he
thought--would have carried irresistible conviction
to a graven image. He noticed with satisfaction that
Joanna seemed to have got some inkling of his mean-
ing. He continued, speaking slowly--
"Look here, Mrs. Willems. I can't do anything.
Daren't. But I will tell you what I will do. There
will come here in about ten minutes a Bugis man--
you know the language; you are from Macassar. He
has a large canoe; he can take you there. To the
new Rajah's clearing, tell him. They are three broth-
ers, ready for anything if you pay them . . . you
have some money. Haven't you?"


She stood--perhaps listening--but giving no sign
of intelligence, and stared at the floor in sudden im-
mobility, as if the horror of the situation, the over-
whelming sense of her own wickedness and of her
husband's great danger, had stunned her brain, her
heart, her will--had left her no faculty but that of
breathing and of keeping on her feet. Almayer swore
to himself with much mental profanity that he had
never seen a more useless, a more stupid being.
"D'ye hear me?" he said, raising his voice. "Do try
to understand. Have you any money? Money. Dollars.
Guilders. Money! What's the matter with you?"
Without raising her eyes she said, in a voice that
sounded weak and undecided as if she had been making
a desperate effort of memory--
"The house has been sold. Mr. Hudig was angry."
Almayer gripped the edge of the table with all his
strength. He resisted manfully an almost uncontrol-
lable impulse to fly at her and box her ears.
"It was sold for money, I suppose," he said with
studied and incisive calmness. "Have you got it?
Who has got it?"
She looked up at him, raising her swollen eyelids
with a great effort, in a sorrowful expression of her
drooping mouth, of her whole besmudged and tear-
stained face. She whispered resignedly--
"Leonard had some. He wanted to get married.
And uncle Antonio; he sat at the door and would
not go away. And Aghostina--she is so poor . . .
and so many, many children--little children. And
Luiz the engineer. He never said a word against
my husband. Also our cousin Maria. She came
and shouted, and my head was so bad, and my heart
was worse. Then cousin Salvator and old Daniel da
Souza, who . . ."


Almayer had listened to her speechless with rage.
He thought: I must give money now to that idiot.
Must! Must get her out of the way now before
Lingard is back. He made two attempts to speak
before he managed to burst out--
"I don't want to know their blasted names! Tell
me, did all those infernal people leave you anything?
To you! That's what I want to know!"
"I have two hundred and fifteen dollars," said
Joanna, in a frightened tone.
Almayer breathed freely. He spoke with great
"That will do. It isn't much, but it will do. Now
when the man comes I will be out of the way. You
speak to him. Give him some money; only a little,
mind! And promise more. Then when you get there
you will be guided by your husband, of course. And
don't forget to tell him that Captain Lingard is at the
mouth of the river--the northern entrance. You will
remember. Won't you? The northern branch. Lin-
gard is--death."
Joanna shivered. Almayer went on rapidly--
"I would have given you money if you had wanted
it. 'Pon my word! Tell your husband I've sent
you to him. And tell him not to lose any time. And
also say to him from me that we shall meet--some day.
That I could not die happy unless I met him once more.
Only once. I love him, you know. I prove it. Tre-
mendous risk to me--this business is!"
Joanna snatched his hand and before he knew what
she would be at, pressed it to her lips.
"Mrs. Willems! Don't. What are you . . ."
cried the abashed Almayer, tearing his hand away.
"Oh, you are good!" she cried, with sudden exalta-
tion, "You are noble . . . I shall pray every


day . . . to all the saints . . . I
shall . . ."
"Never mind . . . never mind!" stammered
out Almayer, confusedly, without knowing very well
what he was saying. "Only look out for Lingard.
. . . I am happy to be able . . . in your sad
situation . . . believe me. . . . "
They stood with the table between them, Joanna
looking down, and her face, in the half-light above
the lamp, appeared like a soiled carving of old ivory--
a carving, with accentuated anxious hollows, of old,
very old ivory. Almayer looked at her, mistrustful,
hopeful. He was saying to himself: How frail she
is! I could upset her by blowing at her. She seems
to have got some idea of what must be done, but will
she have the strength to carry it through? I must
trust to luck now!
Somewhere far in the back courtyard Ali's voice
rang suddenly in angry remonstrance--
"Why did you shut the gate, O father of all mis-
chief? You a watchman! You are only a wild man.
Did I not tell you I was coming back? You . . ."
"I am off, Mrs. Willems," exclaimed Almayer.
"That man is here--with my servant. Be calm. Try
to . . ."
He heard the footsteps of the two men in the pas-
age, and without finishing his sentence ran rapidly
down the steps towards the riverside.


FOR the next half-hour Almayer, who wanted to give
Joanna plenty of time, stumbled amongst the lumber
in distant parts of his enclosure, sneaked along the
fences; or held his breath, flattened against grass
walls behind various outhouses: all this to escape Ali's
inconveniently zealous search for his master. He
heard him talk with the head watchman--sometimes
quite close to him in the darkness--then moving off,
coming back, wondering, and, as the time passed,
growing uneasy.
"He did not fall into the river?--say, thou blind
watcher!" Ali was growling in a bullying tone, to the
other man. "He told me to fetch Mahmat, and when
I came back swiftly I found him not in the house.
There is that Sirani woman there, so that Mahmat
cannot steal anything, but it is in my mind, the night
will be half gone before I rest."
He shouted--
"Master! O master! O mast . . ."
"What are you making that noise for?" said Almayer,
with severity, stepping out close to them.
The two Malays leaped away from each other in
their surprise.
"You may go. I don't want you any more to-
night, Ali," went on Almayer. "Is Mahmat there?"
"Unless the ill-behaved savage got tired of waiting.
Those men know not politeness. They should not
be spoken to by white men," said Ali, resentfully.
Almayer went towards the house, leaving his ser-



vants to wonder where he had sprung from so unex-
pectedly. The watchman hinted obscurely at powers
of invisibility possessed by the master, who often at
night . . . Ali interrupted him with great scorn.
Not every white man has the power. Now, the Rajah
Laut could make himself invisible. Also, he could
be in two places at once, as everybody knew; except
he--the useless watchman--who knew no more about
white men than a wild pig! Ya-wa!
And Ali strolled towards his hut, yawning loudly.
As Almayer ascended the steps he heard the noise
of a door flung to, and when he entered the verandah
he saw only Mahmat there, close to the doorway
of the passage. Mahmat seemed to be caught in
the very act of slinking away, and Almayer noticed
that with satisfaction. Seeing the white man, the
Malay gave up his attempt and leaned against the
wall. He was a short, thick, broad-shouldered man
with very dark skin and a wide, stained, bright-red
mouth that uncovered, when he spoke, a close row of
black and glistening teeth. His eyes were big, promi-
nent, dreamy and restless. He said sulkily, looking
all over the place from under his eyebrows--
"White Tuan, you are great and strong--and I
a poor man. Tell me what is your will, and let me
go in the name of God. It is late."
Almayer examined the man thoughtfully. How
could he find out whether . . . He had it! Lately
he had employed that man and his two brothers as
extra boatmen to carry stores, provisions, and new
axes to a camp of rattan cutters some distance up the
river. A three days' expedition. He would test him
now in that way. He said negligently--
"I want you to start at once for the camp, with
surat for the Kavitan. One dollar a day."


The man appeared plunged in dull hesitation, but
Almayer, who knew his Malays, felt pretty sure from
his aspect that nothing would induce the fellow to go.
He urged--
"It is important--and if you are swift I shall give
two dollars for the last day."
"No, Tuan. We do not go," said the man, in a
hoarse whisper.
"We start on another journey."
"To a place we know of," said Mahmat, a little
louder, in a stubborn manner, and looking at the
Almayer experienced a feeling of immense joy. He
said, with affected annoyance--
"You men live in my house and it is as if it were
your own. I may want my house soon."
Mahmat looked up.
"We are men of the sea and care not for a roof
when we have a canoe that will hold three, and a
paddle apiece. The sea is our house. Peace be with
you, Tuan."
He turned and went away rapidly, and Almayer
heard him directly afterwards in the courtyard calling
to the watchman to open the gate. Mahmat passed
through the gate in silence, but before the bar had
been put up behind him he had made up his mind
that if the white man ever wanted to eject him from
his hut, he would burn it and also as many of the
white man's other buildings as he could safely get at.
And he began to call his brothers before he was
inside the dilapidated dwelling.
"All's well!" muttered Almayer to himself, taking
some loose Java tobacco from a drawer in the table.


"Now if anything comes out I am clear. I asked
the man to go up the river. I urged him. He will
say so himself. Good."
He began to charge the china bowl of his pipe, a
pipe with a long cherry stem and a curved mouth-
piece, pressing the tobacco down with his thumb and
thinking: No. I sha'n't see her again. Don't want
to. I will give her a good start, then go in chase--
and send an express boat after father. Yes! that's it.
He approached the door of the office and said, hold-
ing his pipe away from his lips--
"Good luck to you, Mrs. Willems. Don't lose
any time. You may get along by the bushes; the
fence there is out of repair. Don't lose time. Don't
forget that it is a matter of . . . life and death.
And don't forget that I know nothing. I trust you."
He heard inside a noise as of a chest-lid falling
down. She made a few steps. Then a sigh, pro-
found and long, and some faint words which he did
not catch. He moved away from the door on tiptoe,
kicked off his slippers in a corner of the verandah,
then entered the passage puffing at his pipe; entered
cautiously in a gentle creaking of planks and turned
into a curtained entrance to the left. There was a
big room. On the floor a small binnacle lamp--that
had found its way to the house years ago from the
lumber-room of the Flash--did duty for a night-
light. It glimmered very small and dull in the great
darkness. Almayer walked to it, and picking it up
revived the flame by pulling the wick with his fingers,
which he shook directly after with a grimace of pain.
Sleeping shapes, covered--head and all--with white
sheets, lay about on the mats on the floor. In the
middle of the room a small cot, under a square white
mosquito net, stood--the only piece of furniture be-


tween the four walls--looking like an altar of trans-
parent marble in a gloomy temple. A woman, half-
lying on the floor with her head dropped on her arms,
which were crossed on the foot of the cot, woke up as
Almayer strode over her outstretched legs. She sat
up without a word, leaning forward, and, clasping her
knees, stared down with sad eyes, full of sleep.
Almayer, the smoky light in one hand, his pipe in
the other, stood before the curtained cot looking at
his daughter--at his little Nina--at that part of him-
self, at that small and unconscious particle of humanity
that seemed to him to contain all his soul. And it
was as if he had been bathed in a bright and warm
wave of tenderness, in a tenderness greater than the
world, more precious than life; the only thing real,
living, sweet, tangible, beautiful and safe amongst the
elusive, the distorted and menacing shadows of exist-
ence. On his face, lit up indistinctly by the short
yellow flame of the lamp, came a look of rapt atten-
tion while he looked into her future. And he could
see things there! Things charming and splendid
passing before him in a magic unrolling of resplendent
pictures; pictures of events brilliant, happy, inexpres-
sibly glorious, that would make up her life. He would
do it! He would do it. He would! He would--
for that child! And as he stood in the still night,
lost in his enchanting and gorgeous dreams, while the
ascending, thin thread of tobacco smoke spread into a
faint bluish cloud above his head, he appeared strangely
impressive and ecstatic: like a devout and mystic
worshipper, adoring, transported and mute; burning
incense before a shrine, a diaphanous shrine of a child-
idol with closed eyes; before a pure and vaporous
shrine of a small god--fragile, powerless, unconscious
and sleeping.


When Ali, roused by loud and repeated shouting of
his name, stumbled outside the door of his hut, he saw
a narrow streak of trembling gold above the forests
and a pale sky with faded stars overhead: signs of the
coming day. His master stood before the door waving
a piece of paper in his hand and shouting excitedly--
"Quick, Ali! Quick!" When he saw his servant
he rushed forward, and pressing the paper on him
objurgated him, in tones which induced Ali to think
that something awful had happened, to hurry up and
get the whale-boat ready to go immediately--at once,
at once--after Captain Lingard. Ali remonstrated,
agitated also, having caught the infection of distracted
"If must go quick, better canoe. Whale-boat no
can catch, same as small canoe."
"No, no! Whale-boat! whale-boat! You dolt! you
wretch!" howled Almayer, with all the appearance of
having gone mad. "Call the men! Get along with it.
And Ali rushed about the courtyard kicking the
doors of huts open to put his head in and yell fright-
fully inside; and as he dashed from hovel to hovel,
men shivering and sleepy were coming out, looking
after him stupidly, while they scratched their ribs
with bewildered apathy. It was hard work to put
them in motion. They wanted time to stretch them-
selves and to shiver a little. Some wanted food.
One said he was sick. Nobody knew where the rudder
was. Ali darted here and there, ordering, abusing,
pushing one, then another, and stopping in his exertions
at times to wring his hands hastily and groan, because
the whale-boat was much slower than the worst canoe
and his master would not listen to his protestations.
Almayer saw the boat go off at last, pulled anyhow


by men that were cold, hungry, and sulky; and he
remained on the jetty watching it down the reach.
It was broad day then, and the sky was perfectly
cloudless. Almayer went up to the house for a mo-
ment. His household was all astir and wondering
at the strange disappearance of the Sirani woman,
who had taken her child and had left her luggage.
Almayer spoke to no one, got his revolver, and went
down to the river again. He jumped into a small
canoe and paddled himself towards the schooner. He
worked very leisurely, but as soon as he was nearly
alongside he began to hail the silent craft with the
tone and appearance of a man in a tremendous hurry.
"Schooner ahoy! schooner ahoy!" he shouted.
A row of blank faces popped up above the bulwark.
After a while a man with a woolly head of hair said--
"The mate! the mate! Call him, steward!" said
Almayer, excitedly, making a frantic grab at a rope
thrown down to him by somebody.
In less than a minute the mate put his head over.
He asked, surprised--
"What can I do for you, Mr. Almayer?"
"Let me have the gig at once, Mr. Swan--at once.
I ask in Captain Lingard's name. I must have it.
Matter of life and death."
The mate was impressed by Almayer's agitation
"You shall have it, sir. . . . Man the gig there!
Bear a hand, serang! . . . It's hanging astern,
Mr. Almayer," he said, looking down again. "Get
into it, sir. The men are coming down by the painter."
By the time Almayer had clambered over into the
stern sheets, four calashes were in the boat and the
oars were being passed over the taffrail. The mate
was looking on. Suddenly he said--


"Is it dangerous work? Do you want any help?
I would come . . ."
"Yes, yes!" cried Almayer. "Come along. Don't
lose a moment. Go and get your revolver. Hurry
up! hurry up!"
Yet, notwithstanding his feverish anxiety to be off,
he lolled back very quiet and unconcerned till the mate
got in and, passing over the thwarts, sat down by his
side. Then he seemed to wake up, and called out--
"Let go--let go the painter!"
"Let go the painter--the painter!" yelled the bow-
man, jerking at it.
People on board also shouted "Let go!" to one
another, till it occurred at last to somebody to cast off
the rope; and the boat drifted rapidly away from the
schooner in the sudden silencing of all voices.
Almayer steered. The mate sat by his side, pushing
the cartridges into the chambers of his revolver.
When the weapon was loaded he asked--
"What is it? Are you after somebody?"
"Yes," said Almayer, curtly, with his eyes fixed
ahead on the river. "We must catch a dangerous
"I like a bit of a chase myself," declared the mate,
and then, discouraged by Almayer's aspect of severe
thoughtfulness, said nothing more.
Nearly an hour passed. The calashes stretched
forward head first and lay back with their faces to the
sky, alternately, in a regular swing that sent the boat
flying through the water; and the two sitters, very up-
right in the stern sheets, swayed rhythmically a little
at every stroke of the long oars plied vigorously.
The mate observed: "The tide is with us."
"The current always runs down in this river," said


"Yes--I know," retorted the other; "but it runs
faster on the ebb. Look by the land at the way we
get over the ground! A five-knot current here, I
should say."
"H'm!" growled Almayer. Then suddenly:
"There is a passage between two islands that will
save us four miles. But at low water the two islands,
in the dry season, are like one with only a mud ditch
between them. Still, it's worth trying."
"Ticklish job that, on a falling tide," said the mate,
coolly. "You know best whether there's time to get
"I will try," said Almayer, watching the shore
intently. "Look out now!"
He tugged hard at the starboard yoke-line.
"Lay in your oars!" shouted the mate.
The boat swept round and shot through the narrow
opening of a creek that broadened out before the
craft had time to lose its way.
"Out oars! . . . Just room enough," muttered
the mate.
It was a sombre creek of black water speckled with
the gold of scattered sunlight falling through the boughs
that met overhead in a soaring, restless arc full of
gentle whispers passing, tremulous, aloft amongst the
thick leaves. The creepers climbed up the trunks of
serried trees that leaned over, looking insecure and
undermined by floods which had eaten away the earth
from under their roots. And the pungent, acrid smell
of rotting leaves, of flowers, of blossoms and plants
dying in that poisonous and cruel gloom, where they
pined for sunshine in vain, seemed to lay heavy, to
press upon the shiny and stagnant water in its tortuous
windings amongst the everlasting and invincible shad-


Almayer looked anxious. He steered badly. Several
times the blades of the oars got foul of the bushes on
one side or the other, checking the way of the gig.
During one of those occurrences, while they were
getting clear, one of the calashes said something to
the others in a rapid whisper. They looked down at
the water. So did the mate.
"Hallo!" he exclaimed. "Eh, Mr. Almayer! Look!
The water is running out. See there! We will be
"Back! back! We must go back!" cried Almayer.
"Perhaps better go on."
"No; back! back!"
He pulled at the steering line, and ran the nose of
the boat into the bank. Time was lost again in getting
"Give way, men! give way!" urged the mate,
The men pulled with set lips and dilated nostrils,
breathing hard.
"Too late," said the mate, suddenly. "The oars
touch the bottom already. We are done."
The boat stuck. The men laid in the oars, and
sat, panting, with crossed arms.
"Yes, we are caught," said Almayer, composedly.
"That is unlucky!"
The water was falling round the boat. The mate
watched the patches of mud coming to the surface.
Then in a moment he laughed, and pointing his finger
at the creek--
"Look!" he said; "the blamed river is running away
from us. Here's the last drop of water clearing out
round that bend."
Almayer lifted his head. The water was gone, and
he looked only at a curved track of mud--of mud


soft and black, hiding fever, rottenness, and evil under
its level and glazed surface.
"We are in for it till the evening," he said, with
cheerful resignation. "I did my best. Couldn't help
"We must sleep the day away," said the mate.
"There's nothing to eat," he added, gloomily.
Almayer stretched himself in the stern sheets. The
Malays curled down between thwarts.
"Well, I'm jiggered!" said the mate, starting up
after a long pause. "I was in a devil of a hurry to
go and pass the day stuck in the mud. Here's a
holiday for you! Well! well!"
They slept or sat unmoving and patient. As the
sun mounted higher the breeze died out, and perfect
stillness reigned in the empty creek. A troop of
long-nosed monkeys appeared, and crowding on the
outer boughs, contemplated the boat and the motion-
less men in it with grave and sorrowful intensity,
disturbed now and then by irrational outbreaks of
mad gesticulation. A little bird with sapphire breast
balanced a slender twig across a slanting beam of
light, and flashed in it to and fro like a gem dropped

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