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An Outcast of the Islands by Joseph Conrad

Part 7 out of 7

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from the sky. His minute round eye stared at the
strange and tranquil creatures in the boat. After a
while he sent out a thin twitter that sounded imper-
tinent and funny in the solemn silence of the great
wilderness; in the great silence full of struggle and


ON LINGARD'S departure solitude and silence closed
round Willems; the cruel solitude of one abandoned
by men; the reproachful silence which surrounds an
outcast ejected by his kind, the silence unbroken by
the slightest whisper of hope; an immense and im-
penetrable silence that swallows up without echo the
murmur of regret and the cry of revolt. The bitter
peace of the abandoned clearings entered his heart, in
which nothing could live now but the memory and
hate of his past. Not remorse. In the breast of a
man possessed by the masterful consciousness of his
individuality with its desires and its rights; by the
immovable conviction of his own importance, of an
importance so indisputable and final that it clothes all
his wishes, endeavours, and mistakes with the dignity
of unavoidable fate, there could be no place for such a
feeling as that of remorse.
The days passed. They passed unnoticed, unseen,
in the rapid blaze of glaring sunrises, in the short
glow of tender sunsets, in the crushing oppression
of high noons without a cloud. How many days?
Two--three--or more? He did not know. To
him, since Lingard had gone, the time seemed to
roll on in profound darkness. All was night within
him. All was gone from his sight. He walked
about blindly in the deserted courtyards, amongst the
empty houses that, perched high on their posts, looked
down inimically on him, a white stranger, a man
from other lands; seemed to look hostile and mute



out of all the memories of native life that lingered
between their decaying walls. His wandering feet
stumbled against the blackened brands of extinct fires,
kicking up a light black dust of cold ashes that flew
in drifting clouds and settled to leeward on the fresh
grass sprouting from the hard ground, between the
shade trees. He moved on, and on; ceaseless, unresting,
in widening circles, in zigzagging paths that led to no
issue; he struggled on wearily with a set, distressed
face behind which, in his tired brain, seethed his
thoughts: restless, sombre, tangled, chilling, horrible
and venomous, like a nestful of snakes.
From afar, the bleared eyes of the old serving woman,
the sombre gaze of Aissa followed the gaunt and totter-
ing figure in its unceasing prowl along the fences, be-
tween the houses, amongst the wild luxuriance of river-
side thickets. Those three human beings abandoned
by all were like shipwrecked people left on an insecure
and slippery ledge by the retiring tide of an angry sea--
listening to its distant roar, living anguished between
the menace of its return and the hopeless horror of their
solitude--in the midst of a tempest of passion, of re-
gret, of disgust, of despair. The breath of the storm
had cast two of them there, robbed of everything--
even of resignation. The third, the decrepit witness
of their struggle and their torture, accepted her own
dull conception of facts; of strength and youth gone;
of her useless old age; of her last servitude; of being
thrown away by her chief, by her nearest, to use up the
last and worthless remnant of flickering life between
those two incomprehensible and sombre outcasts: a
shrivelled, an unmoved, a passive companion of their
To the river Willems turned his eyes like a captive
that looks fixedly at the door of his cell. If there was


any hope in the world it would come from the river, by
the river. For hours together he would stand in sun-
light while the sea breeze sweeping over the lonely
reach fluttered his ragged garments; the keen salt
breeze that made him shiver now and then under the
flood of intense heat. He looked at the brown and
sparkling solitude of the flowing water, of the water
flowing ceaseless and free in a soft, cool murmur of
ripples at his feet. The world seemed to end there.
The forests of the other bank appeared unattainable,
enigmatical, for ever beyond reach like the stars of
heaven--and as indifferent. Above and below, the
forests on his side of the river came down to the water
in a serried multitude of tall, immense trees towering
in a great spread of twisted boughs above the thick
undergrowth; great, solid trees, looking sombre, severe,
and malevolently stolid, like a giant crowd of pitiless
enemies pressing round silently to witness his slow
agony. He was alone, small, crushed. He thought of
escape--of something to be done. What? A raft!
He imagined himself working at it, feverishly, desper-
ately; cutting down trees, fastening the logs together
and then drifting down with the current, down to the
sea into the straits. There were ships there--ships,
help, white men. Men like himself. Good men who
would rescue him, take him away, take him far away
where there was trade, and houses, and other men that
could understand him exactly, appreciate his capabili-
ties; where there was proper food, and money; where
there were beds, knives, forks, carriages, brass bands,
cool drinks, churches with well-dressed people praying in
them. He would pray also. The superior land of
refined delights where he could sit on a chair, eat his
tiffin off a white tablecloth, nod to fellows--good
fellows; he would be popular; always was--where


he could be virtuous, correct, do business, draw a
salary, smoke cigars, buy things in shops--have boots
. . . be happy, free, become rich. O God! What
was wanted? Cut down a few trees. No! One would
do. They used to make canoes by burning out a tree
trunk, he had heard. Yes! One would do. One tree
to cut down . . . He rushed forward, and sud-
denly stood still as if rooted in the ground. He had a
And he would throw himself down on the ground
by the riverside. He was tired, exhausted; as if that
raft had been made, the voyage accomplished, the
fortune attained. A glaze came over his staring eyes,
over his eyes that gazed hopelessly at the rising river
where big logs and uprooted trees drifted in the shine
of mid-stream: a long procession of black and ragged
specks. He could swim out and drift away on one of
these trees. Anything to escape! Anything! Any
risk! He could fasten himself up between the dead
branches. He was torn by desire, by fear; his heart
was wrung by the faltering of his courage. He turned
over, face downwards, his head on his arms. He had
a terrible vision of shadowless horizons where the blue
sky and the blue sea met; or a circular and blazing
emptiness where a dead tree and a dead man drifted
together, endlessly, up and down, upon the brilliant
undulations of the straits. No ships there. Only
death. And the river led to it.
He sat up with a profound groan.
Yes, death. Why should he die? No! Better
solitude, better hopeless waiting, alone. Alone. No!
he was not alone, he saw death looking at him from
everywhere; from the bushes, from the clouds--he
heard her speaking to him in the murmur of the river,
filling the space, touching his heart, his brain with a


cold hand. He could see and think of nothing else.
He saw it--the sure death--everywhere. He saw it
so close that he was always on the point of throwing
out his arms to keep it off. It poisoned all he saw, all
he did; the miserable food he ate, the muddy water
he drank; it gave a frightful aspect to sunrises and
sunsets, to the brightness of hot noon, to the cooling
shadows of the evenings. He saw the horrible form
among the big trees, in the network of creepers in
the fantastic outlines of leaves, of the great indented
leaves that seemed to be so many enormous hands
with big broad palms, with stiff fingers outspread to
lay hold of him; hands gently stirring, or hands ar-
rested in a frightful immobility, with a stillness atten-
tive and watching for the opportunity to take him,
to enlace him, to strangle him, to hold him till he died;
hands that would hold him dead, that would never
let go, that would cling to his body for ever till it
perished--disappeared in their frantic and tenacious
And yet the world was full of life. All the things,
all the men he knew, existed, moved, breathed; and
he saw them in a long perspective, far off, diminished,
distinct, desirable, unattainable, precious . . . lost
for ever. Round him, ceaselessly, there went on with-
out a sound the mad turmoil of tropical life. After he
had died all this would remain! He wanted to clasp,
to embrace solid things; he had an immense craving
for sensations; for touching, pressing, seeing, handling,
holding on, to all these things. All this would re-
main--remain for years, for ages, for ever. After
he had miserably died there, all this would remain,
would live, would exist in joyous sunlight, would
breathe in the coolness of serene nights. What for,
then? He would be dead. He would be stretched


upon the warm moisture of the ground, feeling nothing,
seeing nothing, knowing nothing; he would lie stiff,
passive, rotting slowly; while over him, under him,
through him--unopposed, busy, hurried--the endless
and minute throngs of insects, little shining monsters
of repulsive shapes, with horns, with claws, with pin-
cers, would swarm in streams, in rushes, in eager strug-
gle for his body; would swarm countless, persistent,
ferocious and greedy--till there would remain nothing
but the white gleam of bleaching bones in the long
grass; in the long grass that would shoot its feathery
heads between the bare and polished ribs. There would
be that only left of him; nobody would miss him; no one
would remember him.
Nonsense! It could not be. There were ways
out of this. Somebody would turn up. Some human
beings would come. He would speak, entreat--use
force to extort help from them. He felt strong; he was
very strong. He would . . . The discouragement,
the conviction of the futility of his hopes would return
in an acute sensation of pain in his heart. He would
begin again his aimless wanderings. He tramped till
he was ready to drop, without being able to calm by
bodily fatigue the trouble of his soul. There was no
rest, no peace within the cleared grounds of his prison.
There was no relief but in the black release of sleep,
of sleep without memory and without dreams; in
the sleep coming brutal and heavy, like the lead that
kills. To forget in annihilating sleep; to tumble head-
long, as if stunned, out of daylight into the night of
oblivion, was for him the only, the rare respite from this
existence which he lacked the courage to endure--or to
He lived, he struggled with the inarticulate delirium
of his thoughts under the eyes of the silent Aissa.


She shared his torment in the poignant wonder, in the
acute longing, in the despairing inability to under-
stand the cause of his anger and of his repulsion; the
hate of his looks; the mystery of his silence; the men-
ace of his rare words--of those words in the speech
of white people that were thrown at her with rage,
with contempt, with the evident desire to hurt her;
to hurt her who had given herself, her life--all she had
to give--to that white man; to hurt her who had wanted
to show him the way to true greatness, who had tried
to help him, in her woman's dream of everlasting, en-
during, unchangeable affection. From the short con-
tact with the whites in the crashing collapse of her old
life, there remained with her the imposing idea of ir-
resistible power and of ruthless strength. She had
found a man of their race--and with all their qualities.
All whites are alike. But this man's heart was full of
anger against his own people, full of anger existing there
by the side of his desire of her. And to her it had been
an intoxication of hope for great things born in the
proud and tender consciousness of her influence. She
had heard the passing whisper of wonder and fear in the
presence of his hesitation, of his resistance, of his com-
promises; and yet with a woman's belief in the durable
steadfastness of hearts, in the irresistible charm of her
own personality, she had pushed him forward, trusting
the future, blindly, hopefully; sure to attain by his side
the ardent desire of her life, if she could only push him
far beyond the possibility of retreat. She did not know,
and could not conceive, anything of his--so exalted--
ideals. She thought the man a warrior and a chief,
ready for battle, violence, and treachery to his own
people--for her. What more natural? Was he not a
great, strong man? Those two, surrounded each by
the impenetrable wall of their aspirations, were hope-


lessly alone, out of sight, out of earshot of each other;
each the centre of dissimilar and distant horizons;
standing each on a different earth, under a different
sky. She remembered his words, his eyes, his trembling
lips, his outstretched hands; she remembered the great,
the immeasurable sweetness of her surrender, that
beginning of her power which was to last until death.
He remembered the quaysides and the warehouses;
the excitement of a life in a whirl of silver coins; the
glorious uncertainty of a money hunt; his numerous
successes, the lost possibilities of wealth and consequent
glory. She, a woman, was the victim of her heart,
of her woman's belief that there is nothing in the world
but love--the everlasting thing. He was the victim
of his strange principles, of his continence, of his blind
belief in himself, of his solemn veneration for the voice
of his boundless ignorance.
In a moment of his idleness, of suspense, of dis-
couragement, she had come--that creature--and by
the touch of her hand had destroyed his future, his
dignity of a clever and civilized man; had awakened
in his breast the infamous thing which had driven him
to what he had done, and to end miserably in the
wilderness and be forgotten, or else remembered with
hate or contempt. He dared not look at her, because
now whenever he looked at her his thought seemed to
touch crime, like an outstretched hand. She could
only look at him--and at nothing else. What else
was there? She followed him with a timorous gaze,
with a gaze for ever expecting, patient, and entreating.
And in her eyes there was the wonder and desolation
of an animal that knows only suffering, of the incom-
plete soul that knows pain but knows not hope; that
can find no refuge from the facts of life in the illusory
conviction of its dignity, of an exalted destiny beyond;


in the heavenly consolation of a belief in the momen-
tous origin of its hate.
For the first three days after Lingard went away
he would not even speak to her. She preferred his
silence to the sound of hated and incomprehensible
words he had been lately addressing to her with a
wild violence of manner, passing at once into complete
apathy. And during these three days he hardly ever
left the river, as if on that muddy bank he had felt
himself nearer to his freedom. He would stay late;
he would stay till sunset; he would look at the glow
of gold passing away amongst sombre clouds in a
bright red flush, like a splash of warm blood. It
seemed to him ominous and ghastly with a foreboding
of violent death that beckoned him from everywhere
--even from the sky.
One evening he remained by the riverside long
after sunset, regardless of the night mist that had
closed round him, had wrapped him up and clung to
him like a wet winding-sheet. A slight shiver recalled
him to his senses, and he walked up the courtyard
towards his house. Aissa rose from before the fire, that
glimmered red through its own smoke, which hung
thickening under the boughs of the big tree. She ap-
proached him from the side as he neared the plankway
of the house. He saw her stop to let him begin his
ascent. In the darkness her figure was like the shadow
of a woman with clasped hands put out beseechingly.
He stopped--could not help glancing at her. In all
the sombre gracefulness of the straight figure, her
limbs, features--all was indistinct and vague but the
gleam of her eyes in the faint starlight. He turned
his head away and moved on. He could feel her foot-
steps behind him on the bending planks, but he walked
up without turning his head. He knew what she


wanted. She wanted to come in there. He shuddered
at the thought of what might happen in the impene-
trable darkness of that house if they were to find them-
selves alone--even for a moment. He stopped in the
doorway, and heard her say--
"Let me come in. Why this anger? Why this
silence? . . . Let me watch . . by your side.
. . . Have I not watched faithfully? Did harm
ever come to you when you closed your eyes while I
was by? . . . I have waited . . . I have
waited for your smile, for your words . . . I can
wait no more. . . . Look at me . . . speak to
me. Is there a bad spirit in you? A bad spirit that
has eaten up your courage and your love? Let me
touch you. Forget all . . . All. Forget the
wicked hearts, the angry faces . . . and remember
only the day I came to you . . . to you! O my
heart! O my life!"
The pleading sadness of her appeal filled the space
with the tremor of her low tones, that carried tenderness
and tears into the great peace of the sleeping world.
All around them the forests, the clearings, the river,
covered by the silent veil of night, seemed to wake up
and listen to her words in attentive stillness. After
the sound of her voice had died out in a stifled sigh they
appeared to listen yet; and nothing stirred among the
shapeless shadows but the innumerable fireflies that
twinkled in changing clusters, in gliding pairs, in wan-
dering and solitary points--like the glimmering drift
of scattered star-dust.
Willems turned round slowly, reluctantly, as if com-
pelled by main force. Her face was hidden in her
hands, and he looked above her bent head, into the
sombre brilliance of the night. It was one of those
nights that give the impression of extreme vastness,


when the sky seems higher, when the passing puffs of
tepid breeze seem to bring with them faint whispers
from beyond the stars. The air was full of sweet
scent, of the scent charming, penetrating. and violent
like the impulse of love. He looked into that great
dark place odorous with the breath of life, with the
mystery of existence, renewed, fecund, indestructible;
and he felt afraid of his solitude, of the solitude of his
body, of the loneliness of his soul in the presence of
this unconscious and ardent struggle, of this lofty
indifference, of this merciless and mysterious purpose,
perpetuating strife and death through the march of
ages. For the second time in his life he felt, in a
sudden sense of his significance, the need to send a
cry for help into the wilderness, and for the second
time he realized the hopelessness of its unconcern.
He could shout for help on every side--and nobody
would answer. He could stretch out his hands, he
could call for aid, for support, for sympathy, for relief
--and nobody would come. Nobody. There was no
one there--but that woman.
His heart was moved, softened with pity at his own
abandonment. His anger against her, against her
who was the cause of all his misfortunes, vanished
before his extreme need for some kind of consolation.
Perhaps--if he must resign himself to his fate--she
might help him to forget. To forget! For a moment,
in an access of despair so profound that it seemed
like the beginning of peace, he planned the deliberate
descent from his pedestal, the throwing away of his
superiority, of all his hopes, of old ambitions, of the
ungrateful civilization. For a moment, forgetfulness
in her arms seemed possible; and lured by that pos-
sibility the semblance of renewed desire possessed
his breast in a burst of reckless contempt for every-


thing outside himself--in a savage disdain of Earth
and of Heaven. He said to himself that he would
not repent. The punishment for his only sin was too
heavy. There was no mercy under Heaven. He did
not want any. He thought, desperately, that if he
could find with her again the madness of the past,
the strange delirium that had changed him, that had
worked his undoing, he would be ready to pay for it
with an eternity of perdition. He was intoxicated
by the subtle perfumes of the night; he was carried
away by the suggestive stir of the warm breeze; he
was possessed by the exaltation of the solitude, of
the silence, of his memories, in the presence of that
figure offering herself in a submissive and pa-
tient devotion; coming to him in the name of the
past, in the name of those days when he could see
nothing, think of nothing, desire nothing--but her
He took her suddenly in his arms, and she clasped
her hands round his neck with a low cry of joy and
surprise. He took her in his arms and waited for the
transport, for the madness, for the sensations remem-
bered and lost; and while she sobbed gently on his
breast he held her and felt cold, sick, tired, exasperated
with his failure--and ended by cursing himself. She
clung to him trembling with the intensity of her hap-
piness and her love. He heard her whispering--her
face hidden on his shoulder--of past sorrow, of coming
joy that would last for ever; of her unshaken belief
in his love. She had always believed. Always! Even
while his face was turned away from her in the dark
days while his mind was wandering in his own land,
amongst his own people. But it would never wander
away from her any more, now it had come back. He
would forget the cold faces and the hard hearts of the


cruel people. What was there to remember? Nothing?
Was it not so? . . .
He listened hopelessly to the faint murmur. He
stood still and rigid, pressing her mechanically to his
breast while he thought that there was nothing for
him in the world. He was robbed of everything;
robbed of his passion, of his liberty, of forgetfulness,
of consolation. She, wild with delight, whispered on
rapidly, of love, of light, of peace, of long years. . . .
He looked drearily above her head down into the
deeper gloom of the courtyard. And, all at once, it
seemed to him that he was peering into a sombre
hollow, into a deep black hole full of decay and of
whitened bones; into an immense and inevitable
grave full of corruption where sooner or later he must,
unavoidably, fall.
In the morning he came out early, and stood for a
time in the doorway, listening to the light breathing
behind him--in the house. She slept. He had not
closed his eyes through all that night. He stood
swaying--then leaned against the lintel of the door.
He was exhausted, done up; fancied himself hardly
alive. He had a disgusted horror of himself that, as
he looked at the level sea of mist at his feet, faded
quickly into dull indifference. It was like a sudden
and final decrepitude of his senses, of his body, of his
thoughts. Standing on the high platform, he looked
over the expanse of low night fog above which, here
and there, stood out the feathery heads of tall bamboo
clumps and the round tops of single trees, resembling
small islets emerging black and solid from a ghostly
and impalpable sea. Upon the faintly luminous back-
ground of the eastern sky, the sombre line of the great
forests bounded that smooth sea of white vapours with
an appearance of a fantastic and unattainable shore.


He looked without seeing anything--thinking of him-
self. Before his eyes the light of the rising sun burst
above the forest with the suddenness of an explosion.
He saw nothing. Then, after a time, he murmured with
conviction--speaking half aloud to himself in the shock
of the penetrating thought:
"I am a lost man."
He shook his hand above his head in a gesture care-
less and tragic, then walked down into the mist that
closed above him in shining undulations under the
first breath of the morning breeze.


WILLEMS moved languidly towards the river, then
retraced his steps to the tree and let himself fall on
the seat under its shade. On the other side of the
immense trunk he could hear the old woman moving
about, sighing loudly, muttering to herself, snapping
dry sticks, blowing up the fire. After a while a whiff
of smoke drifted round to where he sat. It made him
feel hungry, and that feeling was like a new indignity
added to an intolerable load of humiliations. He felt
inclined to cry. He felt very weak. He held up his
arm before his eyes and watched for a little while the
trembling of the lean limb. Skin and bone, by God!
How thin he was! . . . He had suffered from fever
a good deal, and now he thought with tearful dismay
that Lingard, although he had sent him food--and
what food, great Lord: a little rice and dried fish; quite
unfit for a white man--had not sent him any medicine.
Did the old savage think that he was like the wild beasts
that are never ill? He wanted quinine.
He leaned the back of his head against the tree and
closed his eyes. He thought feebly that if he could
get hold of Lingard he would like to flay him alive;
but it was only a blurred, a short and a passing thought.
His imagination, exhausted by the repeated delineations
of his own fate, had not enough strength left to grip
the idea of revenge. He was not indignant and rebel-
lious. He was cowed. He was cowed by the immense
cataclysm of his disaster. Like most men, he had car-
ried solemnly within his breast the whole universe, and



the approaching end of all things in the destruction of
his own personality filled him with paralyzing awe.
Everything was toppling over. He blinked his eyes
quickly, and it seemed to him that the very sunshine of
the morning disclosed in its brightness a suggestion of
some hidden and sinister meaning. In his unreason-
ing fear he tried to hide within himself. He drew his
feet up, his head sank between his shoulders, his arms
hugged his sides. Under the high and enormous tree
soaring superbly out of the mist in a vigorous spread of
lofty boughs, with a restless and eager flutter of its in-
numerable leaves in the clear sunshine, he remained
motionless, huddled up on his seat: terrified and still.
Willems' gaze roamed over the ground, and then
he watched with idiotic fixity half a dozen black ants
entering courageously a tuft of long grass which, to
them, must have appeared a dark and a dangerous
jungle. Suddenly he thought: There must be some-
thing dead in there. Some dead insect. Death every-
where! He closed his eyes again in an access of trem-
bling pain. Death everywhere--wherever one looks.
He did not want to see the ants. He did not want to
see anybody or anything. He sat in the darkness of his
own making, reflecting bitterly that there was no peace
for him. He heard voices now. . . . Illusion!
Misery! Torment! Who would come? Who would
speak to him? What business had he to hear voices?
. . . yet he heard them faintly, from the river.
Faintly, as if shouted far off over there, came the words
"We come back soon." . . . Delirium and mock-
ery! Who would come back? Nobody ever comes
back! Fever comes back. He had it on him this
morning. That was it. . . . He heard unex-
pectedly the old woman muttering something near by.
She had come round to his side of the tree. He opened


his eyes and saw her bent back before him. She stood,
with her hand shading her eyes, looking towards the
landing-place. Then she glided away. She had seen
--and now she was going back to her cooking; a woman
incurious; expecting nothing; without fear and without
She had gone back behind the tree, and now Willems
could see a human figure on the path to the landing-
place. It appeared to him to be a woman, in a red
gown, holding some heavy bundle in her arms; it was an
apparition unexpected, familiar and odd. He cursed
through his teeth . . . It had wanted only this!
See things like that in broad daylight! He was very
bad--very bad. . . . He was horribly scared at
this awful symptom of the desperate state of his health.
This scare lasted for the space of a flash of lightning,
and in the next moment it was revealed to him that
the woman was real; that she was coming towards
him; that she was his wife! He put his feet down
to the ground quickly, but made no other movement.
His eyes opened wide. He was so amazed that for a
time he absolutely forgot his own existence. The only
idea in his head was: Why on earth did she come here?
Joanna was coming up the courtyard with eager,
hurried steps. She carried in her arms the child,
wrapped up in one of Almayer's white blankets that
she had snatched off the bed at the last moment, before
leaving the house. She seemed to be dazed by the
sun in her eyes; bewildered by her strange surround-
ings. She moved on, looking quickly right and left
in impatient expectation of seeing her husband at any
moment. Then, approaching the tree, she perceived
suddenly a kind of a dried-up, yellow corpse, sitting
very stiff on a bench in the shade and looking at her
with big eyes that were alive. That was her husband.


She stopped dead short. They stared at one another
in profound stillness, with astounded eyes, with eyes
maddened by the memories of things far off that seemed
lost in the lapse of time. Their looks crossed, passed
each other, and appeared to dart at them through fan-
tastic distances, to come straight from the incred-
Looking at him steadily she came nearer, and de-
posited the blanket with the child in it on the bench.
Little Louis, after howling with terror in the darkness
of the river most of the night, now slept soundly and did
not wake. Willems' eyes followed his wife, his head
turning slowly after her. He accepted her presence
there with a tired acquiescence in its fabulous improba-
bility. Anything might happen. What did she come
for? She was part of the general scheme of his misfor-
tune. He half expected that she would rush at him,
pull his hair, and scratch his face. Why not? Any-
thing might happen! In an exaggerated sense of his
great bodily weakness he felt somewhat apprehensive
of possible assault. At any rate, she would scream at
him. He knew her of old. She could screech. He had
thought that he was rid of her for ever. She came now
probably to see the end. . . .
Suddenly she turned, and embracing him slid gently
to the ground. This startled him. With her fore-
head on his knees she sobbed noiselessly. He looked
down dismally at the top of her head. What was she
up to? He had not the strength to move--to get
away. He heard her whispering something, and bent
over to listen. He caught the word "Forgive."
That was what she came for! All that way. Women
are queer. Forgive. Not he! . . . All at once
this thought darted through his brain: How did she
come? In a boat. Boat! boat!


He shouted "Boat!" and jumped up, knocking her
over. Before she had time to pick herself up he
pounced upon her and was dragging her up by the
shoulders. No sooner had she regained her feet than
she clasped him tightly round the neck, covering his
face, his eyes, his mouth, his nose with desperate
kisses. He dodged his head about, shaking her arms,
trying to keep her off, to speak, to ask her. . . . She
came in a boat, boat, boat! . . . They struggled
and swung round, tramping in a semicircle. He blurted
out, "Leave off. Listen," while he tore at her hands.
This meeting of lawful love and sincere joy resembled
fight. Louis Willems slept peacefully under his blan-
At last Willems managed to free himself, and held
her off, pressing her arms down. He looked at her.
He had half a suspicion that he was dreaming. Her
lips trembled; her eyes wandered unsteadily, always
coming back to his face. He saw her the same as
ever, in his presence. She appeared startled, tremulous,
ready to cry. She did not inspire him with confidence.
He shouted--
"How did you come?"
She answered in hurried words, looking at him
"In a big canoe with three men. I know every-
thing. Lingard's away. I come to save you. I
know. . . . Almayer told me."
"Canoe!--Almayer--Lies. Told you--You!" stam-
mered Willems in a distracted manner. "Why you?--
Told what?"
Words failed him. He stared at his wife, thinking
with fear that she--stupid woman--had been made a
tool in some plan of treachery . . . in some deadly


She began to cry--
"Don't look at me like that, Peter. What have
I done? I come to beg--to beg--forgiveness. . . .
He trembled with impatience, with hope, with fear.
She looked at him and sobbed out in a fresh outburst
of grief--
"Oh! Peter. What's the matter?--Are you ill?
. . . Oh! you look so ill . . ."
He shook her violently into a terrified and wonder-
ing silence.
"How dare you!--I am well--perfectly well. . . .
Where's that boat? Will you tell me where that boat
is--at last? The boat, I say . . . You! . . ."
"You hurt me," she moaned.
He let her go, and, mastering her terror, she stood
quivering and looking at him with strange intensity.
Then she made a movement forward, but he lifted his
finger, and she restrained herself with a long sigh.
He calmed down suddenly and surveyed her with cold
criticism, with the same appearance as when, in the
old days, he used to find fault with the household
expenses. She found a kind of fearful delight in this
abrupt return into the past, into her old subjec-
He stood outwardly collected now, and listened to
her disconnected story. Her words seemed to fall
round him with the distracting clatter of stunning
hail. He caught the meaning here and there, and
straightway would lose himself in a tremendous effort
to shape out some intelligible theory of events. There
was a boat. A boat. A big boat that could take him
to sea if necessary. That much was clear. She
brought it. Why did Almayer lie to her so? Was
it a plan to decoy him into some ambush? Better


that than hopeless solitude. She had money. The
men were ready to go anywhere . . . she said.
He interrupted her--
"Where are they now?"
"They are coming directly," she answered, tearfully.
"Directly. There are some fishing stakes near here
--they said. They are coming directly."
Again she was talking and sobbing together. She
wanted to be forgiven. Forgiven? What for? Ah!
the scene in Macassar. As if he had time to think
of that! What did he care what she had done months
ago? He seemed to struggle in the toils of compli-
cated dreams where everything was impossible, yet a
matter of course, where the past took the aspects of
the future and the present lay heavy on his heart--
seemed to take him by the throat like the hand of an
enemy. And while she begged, entreated, kissed his
hands, wept on his shoulder, adjured him in the name
of God, to forgive, to forget, to speak the word for
which she longed, to look at his boy, to believe in her
sorrow and in her devotion--his eyes, in the fascinated
immobility of shining pupils, looked far away, far
beyond her, beyond the river, beyond this land, through
days, weeks, months; looked into liberty, into the
future, into his triumph . . . into the great pos-
sibility of a startling revenge.
He felt a sudden desire to dance and shout. He
"After all, we shall meet again, Captain Lingard."
"Oh, no! No!" she cried, joining her hands.
He looked at her with surprise. He had forgotten
she was there till the break of her cry in the mo-
notonous tones of her prayer recalled him into that
courtyard from the glorious turmoil of his dreams.
It was very strange to see her there--near him. He


felt almost affectionate towards her. After all, she
came just in time. Then he thought: That other one.
I must get away without a scene. Who knows; she
may be dangerous! . . . And all at once he felt
he hated Aissa with an immense hatred that seemed to
choke him. He said to his wife--
"Wait a moment."
She, obedient, seemed to gulp down some words
which wanted to come out. He muttered: "Stay here,"
and disappeared round the tree.
The water in the iron pan on the cooking fire boiled
furiously, belching out volumes of white steam that
mixed with the thin black thread of smoke. The old
woman appeared to him through this as if in a fog,
squatting on her heels, impassive and weird.
Willems came up near and asked, "Where is she?"
The woman did not even lift her head, but answered
at once, readily, as though she had expected the ques-
tion for a long time.
"While you were asleep under the tree, before the
strange canoe came, she went out of the house. I saw
her look at you and pass on with a great light in her
eyes. A great light. And she went towards the place
where our master Lakamba had his fruit trees. When
we were many here. Many, many. Men with arms
by their side. Many . . . men. And talk . . .
and songs . . . "
She went on like that, raving gently to herself for
a long time after Willems had left her.
Willems went back to his wife. He came up close
to her and found he had nothing to say. Now all his
faculties were concentrated upon his wish to avoid
Aissa. She might stay all the morning in that grove.
Why did those rascally boatmen go? He had a physical
repugnance to set eyes on her. And somewhere, at


the very bottom of his heart, there was a fear of her.
Why? What could she do? Nothing on earth could
stop him now. He felt strong, reckless, pitiless, and
superior to everything. He wanted to preserve before
his wife the lofty purity of his character. He thought:
She does not know. Almayer held his tongue about
Aissa. But if she finds out, I am lost. If it hadn't
been for the boy I would . . . free of both of
them. . . . The idea darted through his head.
Not he! Married. . . . Swore solemnly. No
. . . sacred tie. . . . Looking on his wife, he
felt for the first time in his life something approaching
remorse. Remorse, arising from his conception of the
awful nature of an oath before the altar. . . . She
mustn't find out. . . . Oh, for that boat! He
must run in and get his revolver. Couldn't think of
trusting himself unarmed with those Bajow fellows.
Get it now while she is away. Oh, for that boat! . . .
He dared not go to the river and hail. He thought:
She might hear me. . . . I'll go and get . . .
cartridges . . . then will be all ready . . .
nothing else. No.
And while he stood meditating profoundly before
he could make up his mind to run to the house, Joanna
pleaded, holding to his arm--pleaded despairingly,
broken-hearted, hopeless whenever she glanced up at
his face, which to her seemed to wear the aspect of
unforgiving rectitude, of virtuous severity, of merciless
justice. And she pleaded humbly--abashed before
him, before the unmoved appearance of the man she
had wronged in defiance of human and divine laws.
He heard not a word of what she said till she raised her
voice in a final appeal--
". . . Don't you see I loved you always? They
told me horrible things about you. . . . My own


mother! They told me--you have been--you have
been unfaithful to me, and I . . ."
"It's a damned lie!" shouted Willems, waking up
for a moment into righteous indignation.
"I know! I know--Be generous.--Think of my
misery since you went away--Oh! I could have torn
my tongue out. . . . I will never believe any-
body--Look at the boy--Be merciful--I could never
rest till I found you. . . . Say--a word--one
word. . ."
"What the devil do you want?" exclaimed Willems,
looking towards the river. "Where's that damned
boat? Why did you let them go away? You stupid!"
"Oh, Peter!--I know that in your heart you have
forgiven me--You are so generous--I want to hear you
say so. . . . Tell me--do you?"
"Yes! yes!" said Willems, impatiently. "I for-
give you. Don't be a fool."
"Don't go away. Don't leave me alone here. Where
is the danger? I am so frightened. . . . Are you
alone here? Sure? . . . Let us go away!"
"That's sense," said Willems, still looking anxiously
towards the river.
She sobbed gently, leaning on his arm.
"Let me go," he said.
He had seen above the steep bank the heads of three
men glide along smoothly. Then, where the shore
shelved down to the landing-place, appeared a big
canoe which came slowly to land.
"Here they are," he went on, briskly. "I must get
my revolver."
He made a few hurried paces towards the house,
but seemed to catch sight of something, turned short
round and came back to his wife. She stared at him,
alarmed by the sudden change in his face. He ap-


peared much discomposed. He stammered a little as
he began to speak.
"Take the child. Walk down to the boat and tell
them to drop it out of sight, quick, behind the bushes.
Do you hear? Quick! I will come to you there
directly. Hurry up!"
"Peter! What is it? I won't leave you. There is
some danger in this horrible place."
"Will you do what I tell you?" said Willems, in an
irritable whisper.
"No! no! no! I won't leave you. I will not lose
you again. Tell me, what is it?"
From beyond the house came a faint voice singing.
Willems shook his wife by the shoulder.
"Do what I tell you! Run at once!"
She gripped his arm and clung to him desperately.
He looked up to heaven as if taking it to witness of
that woman's infernal folly. The song grew louder,
then ceased suddenly, and Aissa appeared in sight,
walking slowly, her hands full of flowers.
She had turned the corner of the house, coming
out into the full sunshine, and the light seemed to
leap upon her in a stream brilliant, tender, and caress-
ing, as if attracted by the radiant happiness of her face.
She had dressed herself for a festive day, for the memor-
able day of his return to her, of his return to an affec-
tion that would last for ever. The rays of the morning
sun were caught by the oval clasp of the embroidered
belt that held the silk sarong round her waist. The
dazzling white stuff of her body jacket was crossed
by a bar of yellow and silver of her scarf, and in the
black hair twisted high on her small head shone the
round balls of gold pins amongst crimson blossoms and
white star-shaped flowers, with which she had crowned
herself to charm his eyes; those eyes that were hence-


forth to see nothing in the world but her own resplen-
dent image. And she moved slowly, bending her face
over the mass of pure white champakas and jasmine
pressed to her breast, in a dreamy intoxication of sweet
scents and of sweeter hopes.
She did not seem to see anything, stopped for a
moment at the foot of the plankway leading to the
house, then, leaving her high-heeled wooden sandals
there, ascended the planks in a light run; straight,
graceful, flexible, and noiseless, as if she had soared up
to the door on invisible wings. Willems pushed his
wife roughly behind the tree, and made up his mind
quickly for a rush to the house, to grab his revolver
and . . . Thoughts, doubts, expedients seemed to
boil in his brain. He had a flashing vision of deliver-
ing a stunning blow, of tying up that flower bedecked
woman in the dark house--a vision of things done
swiftly with enraged haste--to save his prestige, his
superiority--something of immense importance. . . .
He had not made two steps when Joanna bounded
after him, caught the back of his ragged jacket, tore
out a big piece, and instantly hooked herself with
both hands to the collar, nearly dragging him down on
his back. Although taken by surprise, he managed
to keep his feet. From behind she panted into his
"That woman! Who's that woman? Ah! that's
what those boatmen were talking about. I heard
them . . . heard them . . . heard . . . in the night.
They spoke about some woman. I dared not under-
stand. I would not ask . . . listen . . . be-
lieve! How could I? Then it's true. No. Say no.
. . . Who's that woman?"
He swayed, tugging forward. She jerked at him
till the button gave way, and then he slipped half out


of his jacket and, turning round, remained strangely
motionless. His heart seemed to beat in his throat.
He choked--tried to speak--could not find any words.
He thought with fury: I will kill both of them.
For a second nothing moved about the courtyard in
the great vivid clearness of the day. Only down by
the landing-place a waringan-tree, all in a blaze of
clustering red berries, seemed alive with the stir of
little birds that filled with the feverish flutter of their
feathers the tangle of overloaded branches. Suddenly
the variegated flock rose spinning in a soft whirr and
dispersed, slashing the sunlit haze with the sharp
outlines of stiffened wings. Mahmat and one of his
brothers appeared coming up from the landing-place,
their lances in their hands, to look for their passengers.
Aissa coming now empty-handed out of the house,
caught sight of the two armed men. In her surprise
she emitted a faint cry, vanished back and in a flash
reappeared in the doorway with Willems' revolver in
her hand. To her the presence of any man there
could only have an ominous meaning. There was
nothing in the outer world but enemies. She and the
man she loved were alone, with nothing round them
but menacing dangers. She did not mind that, for if
death came, no matter from what hand, they would
die together.
Her resolute eyes took in the courtyard in a circular
glance. She noticed that the two strangers had ceased
to advance and now were standing close together
leaning on the polished shafts of their weapons. The
next moment she saw Willems, with his back towards
her, apparently struggling under the tree with some
one. She saw nothing distinctly, and, unhesitating,
flew down the plankway calling out: "I come!"
He heard her cry, and with an unexpected rush


drove his wife backwards to the seat. She fell on it;
he jerked himself altogether out of his jacket, and she
covered her face with the soiled rags. He put his lips
close to her, asking--
"For the last time, will you take the child and go?"
She groaned behind the unclean ruins of his upper
garment. She mumbled something. He bent lower
to hear. She was saying--
"I won't. Order that woman away. I can't look
at her!"
"You fool!"
He seemed to spit the words at her, then, making
up his mind, spun round to face Aissa. She was coming
towards them slowly now, with a look of unbounded
amazement on her face. Then she stopped and stared
at him--who stood there, stripped to the waist, bare-
headed and sombre.
Some way off, Mahmat and his brother exchanged
rapid words in calm undertones. . . . This was the
strong daughter of the holy man who had died. The
white man is very tall. There would be three women
and the child to take in the boat, besides that white
man who had the money. . . . The brother went
away back to the boat, and Mahmat remained looking
on. He stood like a sentinel, the leaf-shaped blade
of his lance glinting above his head.
Willems spoke suddenly.
"Give me this," he said, stretching his hand towards
the revolver.
Aissa stepped back. Her lips trembled. She said
very low: "Your people?"
He nodded slightly. She shook her head thought-
fully, and a few delicate petals of the flowers dying in her
hair fell like big drops of crimson and white at her feet.
"Did you know?" she whispered.


"No!" said Willems. "They sent for me."
"Tell them to depart. They are accursed. What is
there between them and you--and you who carry my
life in your heart!"
Willems said nothing. He stood before her looking
down on the ground and repeating to himself: I must
get that revolver away from her, at once, at once.
I can't think of trusting myself with those men without
firearms. I must have it.
She asked, after gazing in silence at Joanna, who was
sobbing gently--
"Who is she?"
"My wife," answered Willems, without looking up.
"My wife according to our white law, which comes
from God!"
"Your law! Your God!" murmured Aissa, con-
"Give me this revolver," said Willems, in a per-
emptory tone. He felt an unwillingness to close with
her, to get it by force.
She took no notice and went on--
"Your law . . . or your lies? What am I to
believe? I came--I ran to defend you when I saw
the strange men. You lied to me with your lips, with
your eyes. You crooked heart! . . . Ah!" she
added, after an abrupt pause. "She is the first! Am
I then to be a slave?"
"You may be what you like," said Willems, brutally.
"I am going."
Her gaze was fastened on the blanket under which
she had detected a slight movement. She made a long
stride towards it. Willems turned half round. His
legs seemed to him to be made of lead. He felt faint
and so weak that, for a moment, the fear of dying
there where he stood, before he could escape from sin


and disaster, passed through his mind in a wave of
She lifted up one corner of the blanket, and when
she saw the sleeping child a sudden quick shudder
shook her as though she had seen something inex-
pressibly horrible. She looked at Louis Willems with
eyes fixed in an unbelieving and terrified stare. Then
her fingers opened slowly, and a shadow seemed to
settle on her face as if something obscure and fatal
had come between her and the sunshine. She stood
looking down, absorbed, as though she had watched at
the bottom of a gloomy abyss the mournful procession
of her thoughts.
Willems did not move. All his faculties were con-
centrated upon the idea of his release. And it was
only then that the assurance of it came to him with such
force that he seemed to hear a loud voice shouting in
the heavens that all was over, that in another five, ten
minutes, he would step into another existence; that all
this, the woman, the madness, the sin, the regrets, all
would go, rush into the past, disappear, become as dust,
as smoke, as drifting clouds--as nothing! Yes! All
would vanish in the unappeasable past which would
swallow up all--even the very memory of his temptation
and of his downfall. Nothing mattered. He cared for
nothing. He had forgotten Aissa, his wife, Lingard,
Hudig--everybody, in the rapid vision of his hopeful
After a while he heard Aissa saying--
"A child! A child! What have I done to be made
to devour this sorrow and this grief? And while your
man-child and the mother lived you told me there was
nothing for you to remember in the land from which
you came! And I thought you could be mine. I
thought that I would . . ."


Her voice ceased in a broken murmur, and with it,
in her heart, seemed to die the greater and most precious
hope of her new life. She had hoped that in the future
the frail arms of a child would bind their two lives to-
gether in a bond which nothing on earth could break,
a bond of affection, of gratitude, of tender respect.
She the first--the only one! But in the instant she
saw the son of that other woman she felt herself re-
moved into the cold, the darkness, the silence of a
solitude impenetrable and immense--very far from him,
beyond the possibility of any hope, into an infinity of
wrongs without any redress.
She strode nearer to Joanna. She felt towards that
woman anger, envy, jealousy. Before her she felt
humiliated and enraged. She seized the hanging sleeve
of the jacket in which Joanna was hiding her face and
tore it out of her hands, exclaiming loudly--
"Let me see the face of her before whom I am only
a servant and a slave. Ya-wa! I see you!"
Her unexpected shout seemed to fill the sunlit space
of cleared grounds, rise high and run on far into the
land over the unstirring tree-tops of the forests. She
stood in sudden stillness, looking at Joanna with sur-
prised contempt.
"A Sirani woman!" she said, slowly, in a tone of
Joanna rushed at Willems--clung to him, shriek-
ing: "Defend me, Peter! Defend me from that
"Be quiet. There is no danger," muttered Wil-
lems, thickly.
Aissa looked at them with scorn. "God is great!
I sit in the dust at your feet," she exclaimed jeeringly,
joining her hands above her head in a gesture of mock
humility. "Before you I am as nothing." She turned


to Willems fiercely, opening her arms wide. "What
have you made of me?" she cried, "you lying child
of an accursed mother! What have you made of me?
The slave of a slave. Don't speak! Your words are
worse than the poison of snakes. A Sirani woman.
A woman of a people despised by all."
She pointed her finger at Joanna, stepped back, and
began to laugh.
"Make her stop, Peter!" screamed Joanna. "That
heathen woman. Heathen! Heathen! Beat her,
Willems caught sight of the revolver which Aissa
had laid on the seat near the child. He spoke in Dutch
to his wife, without moving his head.
"Snatch the boy--and my revolver there. See.
Run to the boat. I will keep her back. Now's the
Aissa came nearer. She stared at Joanna, while
between the short gusts of broken laughter she raved,
fumbling distractedly at the buckle of her belt.
"To her! To her--the mother of him who will
speak of your wisdom, of your courage. All to her.
I have nothing. Nothing. Take, take."
She tore the belt off and threw it at Joanna's feet.
She flung down with haste the armlets, the gold pins,
the flowers; and the long hair, released, fell scattered
over her shoulders, framing in its blackness the wild
exaltation of her face.
"Drive her off, Peter. Drive off the heathen savage,"
persisted Joanna. She seemed to have lost her head
altogether. She stamped, clinging to Willems' arm
with both her hands.
"Look," cried Aissa. "Look at the mother of
your son! She is afraid. Why does she not go from
before my face? Look at her. She is ugly."


Joanna seemed to understand the scornful tone of
the words. As Aissa stepped back again nearer to
the tree she let go her husband's arm, rushed at her
madly, slapped her face, then, swerving round, darted
at the child who, unnoticed, had been wailing for
some time, and, snatching him up, flew down to the
waterside, sending shriek after shriek in an access of
insane terror.
Willems made for the revolver. Aissa passed swiftly,
giving him an unexpected push that sent him stag-
gering away from the tree. She caught up the weapon,
put it behind her back, and cried--
"You shall not have it. Go after her. Go to meet
danger. . . . Go to meet death. . . . Go un-
armed. . . . Go with empty hands and sweet
words . . . as you came to me. . . . Go help-
less and lie to the forests, to the sea . . . to the
death that waits for you. . . ."
She ceased as if strangled. She saw in the horror
of the passing seconds the half-naked, wild-looking
man before her; she heard the faint shrillness of Joan-
na's insane shrieks for help somewhere down by the
riverside. The sunlight streamed on her, on him, on
the mute land, on the murmuring river--the gentle
brilliance of a serene morning that, to her, seemed
traversed by ghastly flashes of uncertain darkness.
Hate filled the world, filled the space between them
--the hate of race, the hate of hopeless diversity, the
hate of blood; the hate against the man born in the
land of lies and of evil from which nothing but misfor-
tune comes to those who are not white. And as she
stood, maddened, she heard a whisper near her, the
whisper of the dead Omar's voice saying in her ear:
"Kill! Kill!"
She cried, seeing him move--


"Do not come near me . . . or you die now!
Go while I remember yet . . . remember. . . ."
Willems pulled himself together for a struggle. He
dared not go unarmed. He made a long stride, and
saw her raise the revolver. He noticed that she had
not cocked it, and said to himself that, even if she did
fire, she would surely miss. Go too high; it was a
stiff trigger. He made a step nearer--saw the long
barrel moving unsteadily at the end of her extended
arm. He thought: This is my time . . . He bent
his knees slightly, throwing his body forward, and took
off with a long bound for a tearing rush.
He saw a burst of red flame before his eyes, and
was deafened by a report that seemed to him louder
than a clap of thunder. Something stopped him
short, and he stood aspiring in his nostrils the acrid
smell of the blue smoke that drifted from before his
eyes like an immense cloud. . . . Missed, by
Heaven! . . . Thought so! . . . And he saw
her very far off, throwing her arms up, while the re-
volver, very small, lay on the ground between them.
. . . Missed! . . . He would go and pick it
up now. Never before did he understand, as in that
second, the joy, the triumphant delight of sunshine and
of life. His mouth was full of something salt and warm.
He tried to cough; spat out. . . . Who shrieks:
In the name of God, he dies!--he dies!--Who dies?--
Must pick up--Night!--What? . . . Night al-
ready. . . .

* * * * *

Many years afterwards Almayer was telling the
story of the great revolution in Sambir to a chance
visitor from Europe. He was a Roumanian, half


naturalist, half orchid-hunter for commercial purposes,
who used to declare to everybody, in the first five
minutes of acquaintance, his intention of writing a
scientific book about tropical countries. On his way
to the interior he had quartered himself upon Almayer.
He was a man of some education, but he drank his
gin neat, or only, at most, would squeeze the juice of
half a small lime into the raw spirit. He said it was
good for his health, and, with that medicine before
him, he would describe to the surprised Almayer the
wonders of European capitals; while Almayer, in ex-
change, bored him by expounding, with gusto, his
unfavourable opinions of Sambir's social and political
life. They talked far into the night, across the deal
table on the verandah, while, between them, clear-
winged, small, and flabby insects, dissatisfied with
moonlight, streamed in and perished in thousands
round the smoky light of the evil-smelling lamp.
Almayer, his face flushed, was saying--
"Of course, I did not see that. I told you I was
stuck in the creek on account of father's--Captain
Lingard's--susceptible temper. I am sure I did it all
for the best in trying to facilitate the fellow's escape;
but Captain Lingard was that kind of man--you know
--one couldn't argue with. Just before sunset the
water was high enough, and we got out of the creek.
We got to Lakamba's clearing about dark. All very
quiet; I thought they were gone, of course, and felt
very glad. We walked up the courtyard--saw a big
heap of something lying in the middle. Out of that
she rose and rushed at us. By God. . . . You
know those stories of faithful dogs watching their mas-
ters' corpses . . . don't let anybody approach
. . . got to beat them off--and all that. . . .
Well, 'pon my word we had to beat her off. Had to!


She was like a fury. Wouldn't let us touch him.
Dead--of course. Should think so. Shot through the
lung, on the left side, rather high up, and at pretty close
quarters too, for the two holes were small. Bullet
came out through the shoulder-blade. After we had
overpowered her--you can't imagine how strong that
woman was; it took three of us--we got the body into
the boat and shoved off. We thought she had fainted
then, but she got up and rushed into the water after us.
Well, I let her clamber in. What could I do? The
river's full of alligators. I will never forget that pull
up-stream in the night as long as I live. She sat in the
bottom of the boat, holding his head in her lap, and now
and again wiping his face with her hair. There was a
lot of blood dried about his mouth and chin. And for
all the six hours of that journey she kept on whispering
tenderly to that corpse! . . . I had the mate of
the schooner with me. The man said afterwards that
he wouldn't go through it again--not for a handful of
diamonds. And I believed him--I did. It makes me
shiver. Do you think he heard? No! I mean some-
body--something--heard? . . ."
"I am a materialist," declared the man of science,
tilting the bottle shakily over the emptied glass.
Almayer shook his head and went on--
"Nobody saw how it really happened but that man
Mahmat. He always said that he was no further off
from them than two lengths of his lance. It appears
the two women rowed each other while that Willems
stood between them. Then Mahmat says that when
Joanna struck her and ran off, the other two seemed
to become suddenly mad together. They rushed here
and there. Mahmat says--those were his very words:
'I saw her standing holding the pistol that fires many
times and pointing it all over the campong. I was


afraid--lest she might shoot me, and jumped on one
side. Then I saw the white man coming at her swiftly.
He came like our master the tiger when he rushes out
of the jungle at the spears held by men. She did not
take aim. The barrel of her weapon went like this--
from side to side, but in her eyes I could see suddenly a
great fear. There was only one shot. She shrieked while
the white man stood blinking his eyes and very straight,
till you could count slowly one, two, three; then he
coughed and fell on his face. The daughter of Omar
shrieked without drawing breath, till he fell. I went
away then and left silence behind me. These things
did not concern me, and in my boat there was that
other woman who had promised me money. We left
directly, paying no attention to her cries. We are only
poor men--and had but a small reward for our trouble!'
That's what Mahmat said. Never varied. You ask
him yourself. He's the man you hired the boats from,
for your journey up the river."
"The most rapacious thief I ever met!" exclaimed
the traveller, thickly.
"Ah! He is a respectable man. His two brothers
got themselves speared--served them right. They
went in for robbing Dyak graves. Gold ornaments in
them you know. Serve them right. But he kept
respectable and got on. Aye! Everybody got on--
but I. And all through that scoundrel who brought the
Arabs here."
"De mortuis nil ni . . . num," muttered Al-
mayer's guest.
"I wish you would speak English instead of jab-
bering in your own language, which no one can under-
stand," said Almayer, sulkily.
"Don't be angry," hiccoughed the other. "It's
Latin, and it's wisdom. It means: Don't waste your


breath in abusing shadows. No offence there. I like
you. You have a quarrel with Providence--so have
I. I was meant to be a professor, while--look."
His head nodded. He sat grasping the glass. Al-
mayer walked up and down, then stopped suddenly.
"Yes, they all got on but I. Why? I am better
than any of them. Lakamba calls himself a Sultan,
and when I go to see him on business sends that one-
eyed fiend of his--Babalatchi--to tell me that the
ruler is asleep; and shall sleep for a long time. And
that Babalatchi! He is the Shahbandar of the State
--if you please. Oh Lord! Shahbandar! The pig!
A vagabond I wouldn't let come up these steps when
he first came here. . . . Look at Abdulla now.
He lives here because--he says--here he is away from
white men. But he has hundreds of thousands. Has
a house in Penang. Ships. What did he not have
when he stole my trade from me! He knocked every-
thing here into a cocked hat, drove father to gold-
hunting--then to Europe, where he disappeared.
Fancy a man like Captain Lingard disappearing as
though he had been a common coolie. Friends of
mine wrote to London asking about him. Nobody
ever heard of him there! Fancy! Never heard of
Captain Lingard!"
The learned gatherer of orchids lifted his head.
"He was a sen--sentimen--tal old buc--buccaneer,"
he stammered out, "I like him. I'm sent--tal myself."
He winked slowly at Almayer, who laughed.
"Yes! I told you about that gravestone. Yes!
Another hundred and twenty dollars thrown away.
Wish I had them now. He would do it. And the
inscription. Ha! ha! ha! 'Peter Willems, Delivered
by the Mercy of God from his Enemy.' What enemy
--unless Captain Lingard himself? And then it has


no sense. He was a great man--father was--but
strange in many ways. . . . You haven't seen the
grave? On the top of that hill, there, on the other
side of the river. I must show you. We will go
"Not I!" said the other. "No interest--in the
sun--too tiring. . . . Unless you carry me there."
As a matter of fact he was carried there a few months
afterwards, and his was the second white man's grave
in Sambir; but at present he was alive if rather drunk.
He asked abruptly--
"And the woman?"
"Oh! Lingard, of course, kept her and her ugly
brat in Macassar. Sinful waste of money--that!
Devil only knows what became of them since father
went home. I had my daughter to look after. I shall
give you a word to Mrs. Vinck in Singapore when you
go back. You shall see my Nina there. Lucky man.
She is beautiful, and I hear so accomplished, so . . ."
"I have heard already twenty . . . a hundred times
about your daughter. What ab--about--that--that
other one, Ai--ssa?"
"She! Oh! we kept her here. She was mad for
a long time in a quiet sort of way. Father thought a
lot of her. He gave her a house to live in, in my
campong. She wandered about, speaking to nobody
unless she caught sight of Abdulla, when she would
have a fit of fury, and shriek and curse like anything.
Very often she would disappear--and then we all had
to turn out and hunt for her, because father would
worry till she was brought back. Found her in all
kinds of places. Once in the abandoned campong of
Lakamba. Sometimes simply wandering in the bush.
She had one favourite spot we always made for at first.
It was ten to one on finding her there--a kind of a


grassy glade on the banks of a small brook. Why she
preferred that place, I can't imagine! And such a
job to get her away from there. Had to drag her
away by main force. Then, as the time passed, she
became quieter and more settled, like. Still, all my
people feared her greatly. It was my Nina that
tamed her. You see the child was naturally fearless
and used to have her own way, so she would go to her
and pull at her sarong, and order her about, as she did
everybody. Finally she, I verily believe, came to
love the child. Nothing could resist that little one--
you know. She made a capital nurse. Once when
the little devil ran away from me and fell into the
river off the end of the jetty, she jumped in and pulled
her out in no time. I very nearly died of fright.
Now of course she lives with my serving girls, but does
what she likes. As long as I have a handful of rice or a
piece of cotton in the store she sha'n't want for anything.
You have seen her. She brought in the dinner with
"What! That doubled-up crone?"
"Ah!" said Almayer. "They age quickly here.
And long foggy nights spent in the bush will soon
break the strongest backs--as you will find out yourself
"Dis . . . disgusting," growled the traveller.
He dozed off. Almayer stood by the balustrade
looking out at the bluish sheen of the moonlit night.
The forests, unchanged and sombre, seemed to hang
over the water, listening to the unceasing whisper of
the great river; and above their dark wall the hill on
which Lingard had buried the body of his late prisoner
rose in a black, rounded mass, upon the silver paleness
of the sky. Almayer looked for a long time at the
clean-cut outline of the summit, as if trying to make


out through darkness and distance the shape of that
expensive tombstone. When he turned round at last
he saw his guest sleeping, his arms on the table, his
head on his arms.
"Now, look here!" he shouted, slapping the table
with the palm of his hand.
The naturalist woke up, and sat all in a heap, staring
"Here!" went on Almayer, speaking very loud
and thumping the table, "I want to know. You,
who say you have read all the books, just tell me . . .
why such infernal things are ever allowed. Here I am!
Done harm to nobody, lived an honest life . . .
and a scoundrel like that is born in Rotterdam or some
such place at the other end of the world somewhere,
travels out here, robs his employer, runs away from his
wife, and ruins me and my Nina--he ruined me, I
tell you--and gets himself shot at last by a poor miser-
able savage, that knows nothing at all about him really.
Where's the sense of all this? Where's your Provi-
dence? Where's the good for anybody in all this?
The world's a swindle! A swindle! Why should I
suffer? What have I done to be treated so?"
He howled out his string of questions, and sud-
denly became silent. The man who ought to have
been a professor made a tremendous effort to articulate
"My dear fellow, don't--don't you see that the ba-
bare fac--the fact of your existence is off--offensive.
. . . I--I like you--like . . ."
He fell forward on the table, and ended his remarks
by an unexpected and prolonged snore.
Almayer shrugged his shoulders and walked back to
the balustrade. He drank his own trade gin very
seldom, but when he did, a ridiculously small quantity


of the stuff could induce him to assume a rebellious
attitude towards the scheme of the universe. And
now, throwing his body over the rail, he shouted im-
pudently into the night, turning his face towards
that far-off and invisible slab of imported granite upon
which Lingard had thought fit to record God's mercy
and Willems' escape.
"Father was wrong--wrong!" he yelled. "I want
you to smart for it. You must smart for it! Where
are you, Willems? Hey? . . . Hey? . . .
Where there is no mercy for you--I hope!"
"Hope," repeated in a whispering echo the startled
forests, the river and the hills; and Almayer, who
stood waiting, with a smile of tipsy attention on his
lips, heard no other answer.


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