OF AN EASTERN RIVER
Thewell-known shrill voice startled Almayer from his dream ofsplendidfuture into the unpleasant realities of the presenthour. An unpleasant voice too. He had heard it for many yearsand withevery year he liked it less. No matter; there would bean end toall this soon.
Heshuffled uneasilybut took no further notice of the call.Leaningwith both his elbows on the balustrade of the verandahhe went onlooking fixedly at the great river that flowed--indifferentand hurried--before his eyes. He liked to look at itabout thetime of sunset; perhaps because at that time thesinkingsun would spread a glowing gold tinge on the waters ofthePantaiand Almayer's thoughts were often busy with gold;gold hehad failed to secure; gold the others had secured--dishonestlyof course--or gold he meant to secure yetthroughhis ownhonest exertionsfor himself and Nina. He absorbedhimself inhis dream of wealth and power away from this coastwhere hehad dwelt for so many yearsforgetting the bitternessof toiland strife in the vision of a great and splendid reward.They wouldlive in Europehe and his daughter. They would berich andrespected. Nobody would think of her mixed blood in thepresenceof her great beauty and of his immense wealth.Witnessingher triumphs he would grow young againhe wouldforget thetwenty-five years of heart-breaking struggle on thiscoastwhere he felt like a prisoner. All this was nearly withinhisreach. Let only Dain return! And return soon he must--inhis owninterestfor his own share. He was now more than aweeklate! Perhaps he would return to-night. Such were Almayer'sthoughtsasstanding on the verandah of his new but alreadydecayinghouse--that last failure of his life-- he looked on thebroadriver. There was no tinge of gold on it this eveningforit hadbeen swollen by the rainsand rolled an angry and muddyfloodunder his inattentive eyescarrying small drift-wood andbig deadlogsand whole uprooted trees with branches andfoliageamongst which the water swirled and roared angrily.
One ofthose drifting trees grounded on the shelving shorejustby thehouseand Almayerneglecting his dreamwatched it withlanguidinterest. The tree swung slowly roundamid the hiss andfoam ofthe waterand soon getting free of the obstruction beganto movedown stream againrolling slowly overraising upwards alongdenuded branchlike a hand lifted in mute appeal to heavenagainstthe river's brutal and unnecessary violence. Almayer'sinterestin the fate of that tree increased rapidly. He leanedover tosee if it would clear the low point below. It did; thenhe drewbackthinking that now its course was free down to theseaandhe envied the lot of that inanimate thing now growingsmall andindistinct in the deepening darkness. As he lost sightof italtogether he began to wonder how far out to sea it woulddrift. Would the current carry it north or south? Southprobablytill it drifted in sight of Celebesas far asMacassarperhaps!
Macassar! Almayer's quickened fancy distanced the tree on itsimaginaryvoyagebut his memory lagging behind some twenty yearsor more inpoint of time saw a young and slim Almayerclad allin whiteand modest-lookinglanding from the Dutch mail-boat onthe dustyjetty of Macassarcoming to woo fortune in the godownsof oldHudig. It was an important epoch in his lifethebeginningof a new existence for him. His fathera subordinateofficialemployed in the Botanical Gardens of Buitenzorgwas nodoubtdelighted to place his son in such a firm. The young manhimselftoo was nothing loth to leave the poisonous shores ofJavaandthe meagre comforts of the parental bungalowwhere thefathergrumbled all day at the stupidity of native gardenersandthe motherfrom the depths of her long easy-chair bewailed thelostglories of Amsterdamwhere she had been brought upand ofherposition as the daughter of a cigar dealer there.
Almayerhad left his home with a light heart and a lighterpocketspeaking English welland strong in arithmetic; ready toconquerthe worldnever doubting that he would.
Afterthose twenty yearsstanding in the close and stifling heatof aBornean eveninghe recalled with pleasurable regret theimage ofHudig's lofty and cool warehouses with their long andstraightavenues of gin cases and bales of Manchester goods; thebig doorswinging noiselessly; the dim light of the placesodelightfulafter the glare of the streets; the little railed-offspacesamongst piles of merchandise where the Chinese clerksneatcooland sad-eyedwrote rapidly and in silence amidst thedin of theworking gangs rolling casks or shifting cases to amutteredsongending with a desperate yell. At the upper endfacing thegreat doorthere was a larger space railed offwelllighted;there the noise was subdued by distanceand above itrose thesoft and continuous clink of silver guilders which otherdiscreetChinamen were counting and piling up under thesupervisionof Mr. Vinckthe cashierthe genius presiding intheplace--the right hand of the Master.
In thatclear space Almayer worked at his table not far from alittlegreen painted doorby which always stood a Malay in a redsash andturbanand whose handholding a small string danglingfromabovemoved up and down with the regularity of a machine.The stringworked a punkah on the other side of the green doorwhere theso-called private office wasand where old Hudig--theMaster--satenthronedholding noisy receptions. Sometimes thelittledoor would fly open disclosing to the outer worldthroughthe bluishhaze of tobacco smokea long table loaded withbottles ofvarious shapes and tall water-pitchersrattaneasy-chairsoccupied by noisy men in sprawling attitudeswhilethe Masterwould put his head through andholding by the handlewouldgrunt confidentially to Vinck; perhaps send an orderthunderingdown the warehouseor spy a hesitating stranger andgreet himwith a friendly roar"WelgomeGapitan! ver' you gomevrom? Balieh? Got bonies? I vant bonies! Vant all yougot;ha! ha!ha! Gome in!" Then the stranger was dragged inin atempest ofyellsthe door was shutand the usual noisesrefilledthe place; the song of the workmenthe rumble ofbarrelsthe scratch of rapid pens; while above all rose themusicalchink of broad silver pieces streaming ceaselesslythroughthe yellow fingers of the attentive Chinamen.
At thattime Macassar was teeming with life and commerce. It wasthe pointin the islands where tended all those bold spirits whofittingout schooners on the Australian coastinvaded the MalayArchipelagoin search of money and adventure. Boldrecklesskeen inbusinessnot disinclined for a brush with the piratesthat wereto be found on many a coast as yetmaking money fastthey usedto have a general "rendezvous" in the bay for purposesof tradeand dissipation. The Dutch merchants called those menEnglishpedlars; some of them were undoubtedly gentlemen for whomthat kindof life had a charm; most were seamen; the acknowledgedking ofthem all was Tom Lingardhe whom the Malayshonest ordishonestquiet fishermen or desperate cut-throatsrecognisedas "theRajah-Laut"--the King of the Sea.
Almayerhad heard of him before he had been three days inMacassarhad heard the stories of his smart businesstransactionshis lovesand also of his desperate fights withthe Sulupiratestogether with the romantic tale of some child--agirl--found in a piratical prau by the victorious Lingardwhenafter a long contesthe boarded the craftdriving thecrewoverboard. This girlit was generally knownLingard hadadoptedwas having her educated in some convent in Java andspoke ofher as "my daughter." He had sworn a mighty oath tomarry herto a white man before he went home and to leave her allhismoney. "And Captain Lingard has lots of money" wouldsayMr. Vincksolemnlywith his head on one side"lots of money;more thanHudig!" And after a pause--just to let his hearersrecoverfrom their astonishment at such an incredible assertion--he wouldadd in an explanatory whisper"You knowhe hasdiscovereda river."
That wasit! He had discovered a river! That was the factplacingold Lingard so much above the common crowd of sea-goingadventurerswho traded with Hudig in the daytime and drankchampagnegambledsang noisy songsand made love to half-castegirlsunder the broad verandah of the Sunda Hotel at night. Intothatriverwhose entrances himself only knewLingard used totake hisassorted cargo of Manchester goodsbrass gongsriflesandgunpowder. His brig Flashwhich he commanded himselfwouldon thoseoccasions disappear quietly during the night from theroadsteadwhile his companions were sleeping off the effects ofthemidnight carouseLingard seeing them drunk under the tablebeforegoing on boardhimself unaffected by any amount ofliquor. Many tried to follow him and find that land of plentyforgutta-percha and rattanspearl shells and birds' nests waxandgum-dammarbut the little Flash could outsail every craft inthoseseas. A few of them came to grief on hidden sandbanks andcoralreefslosing their all and barely escaping with life fromthe cruelgrip of this sunny and smiling sea; others gotdiscouraged;and for many years the green and peaceful-lookingislandsguarding the entrances to the promised land kept theirsecretwith all the merciless serenity of tropical nature. Andso Lingardcame and went on his secret or open expeditionsbecoming ahero in Almayer's eyes by the boldness and enormousprofits ofhis venturesseeming to Almayer a very great manindeed ashe saw him marching up the warehousegrunting a "howare you?"to Vinckor greeting Hudigthe Masterwith aboisterous"Halloold pirate! Alive yet?" as a preliminary totransactingbusiness behind the little green door. Often of aneveningin the silence of the then deserted warehouseAlmayerputtingaway his papers before driving home with Mr. Vinckinwhosehousehold he livedwould pause listening to the noise of ahotdiscussion in the private officewould hear the deep andmonotonousgrowl of the Masterand the roared-out interruptionsofLingard--two mastiffs fighting over a marrowy bone. But toAlmayer'sears it sounded like a quarrel of Titans--a battle ofthe gods.
After ayear or so Lingardhaving been brought often in contactwithAlmayer in the course of businesstook a sudden andto theonlookersa rather inexplicable fancy to the young man. He sanghispraiseslate at nightover a convivial glass to his croniesin theSunda Hoteland one fine morning electrified Vinck bydeclaringthat he must have "that young fellow for a supercargo.Kind ofcaptain's clerk. Do all my quill-driving for me." Hudigconsented. Almayerwith youth's natural craving for changewasnothinglothand packing his few belongingsstarted in theFlash onone of those long cruises when the old seaman was wontto visitalmost every island in the archipelago. Months slippedbyandLingard's friendship seemed to increase. Often pacingthe deckwith Almayerwhen the faint night breezeheavy witharomaticexhalations of the islandsshoved the brig gently alongunder thepeaceful and sparkling skydid the old seaman open hisheart tohis entranced listener. He spoke of his past lifeofescapeddangersof big profits in his tradeof new combinationsthat werein the future to bring profits bigger still. Often hehadmentioned his daughterthe girl found in the pirate prauspeakingof her with a strange assumption of fatherly tenderness."Shemust be a big girl now" he used to say. "It's nighuntofour yearssince I have seen her! DammeAlmayerif I don'tthink wewill run into Sourabaya this trip." And after such adeclarationhe always dived into his cabin muttering to himself"Somethingmust be done--must be done." More than once he wouldastonishAlmayer by walking up to him rapidlyclearing histhroatwith a powerful "Hem!" as if he was going to saysomethingand then turning abruptly away to lean over thebulwarksin silenceand watchmotionlessfor hoursthe gleamandsparkle of the phosphorescent sea along the ship's side. Itwas thenight before arriving in Sourabaya when one of thoseattemptsat confidential communication succeeded. After clearinghis throathe spoke. He spoke to some purpose. He wantedAlmayer tomarry his adopted daughter. "And don't you kickbecauseyou're white!" he shoutedsuddenlynot giving thesurprisedyoung man the time to say a word. "None of that withme! Nobody will see the colour of your wife's skin. The dollarsare toothick for thatI tell you! And mind youthey will bethickeryet before I die. There will be millionsKaspar!Millions Isay! And all for her--and for youif you do what youare told."
Startledby the unexpected proposalAlmayer hesitatedandremainedsilent for a minute. He was gifted with a strong andactiveimaginationand in that short space of time he sawas ina flash ofdazzling lightgreat piles of shining guildersandrealisedall the possibilities of an opulent existence. Theconsiderationthe indolent ease of life--for which he felthimself sowell fitted--his shipshis warehouseshismerchandise(old Lingard would not live for ever)andcrowningallinthe far future gleamed like a fairy palace the bigmansion inAmsterdamthat earthly paradise of his dreamswheremade kingamongst men by old Lingard's moneyhe would pass theevening ofhis days in inexpressible splendour. As to the otherside ofthe picture--the companionship for life of a Malay girlthatlegacy of a boatful of pirates--there was only within him aconfusedconsciousness of shame that he a white man-- Stillaconventeducation of four years!--and then she may mercifullydie. He was always luckyand money is powerful! Go through it.Why not? He had a vague idea of shutting her up somewhereanywhereout of his gorgeous future. Easy enough to dispose ofa Malaywomana slaveafter allto his Eastern mindconventor noconventceremony or no ceremony.
He liftedhis head and confronted the anxious yet irate seaman.
"I--ofcourse--anything you wishCaptain Lingard."
"Callme fathermy boy. She does" said the mollified oldadventurer. "Dammethoughif I didn't think you were going torefuse. Mind youKasparI always get my wayso it would havebeen nouse. But you are no fool."
Heremembered well that time--the lookthe accentthe wordsthe effectthey produced on himhis very surroundings. Herememberedthe narrow slanting deck of the brigthe silentsleepingcoastthe smooth black surface of the sea with a greatbar ofgold laid on it by the rising moon. He remembered it alland heremembered his feelings of mad exultation at the thoughtof thatfortune thrown into his hands. He was no fool thenandhe was nofool now. Circumstances had been against him; thefortunewas gonebut hope remained.
Heshivered in the night airand suddenly became aware of theintensedarkness whichon the sun's departurehad closed inupon theriverblotting out the outlines of the opposite shore.Only thefire of dry branches lit outside the stockade of theRajah'scompound called fitfully into view the ragged trunks ofthesurrounding treesputting a stain of glowing red half-wayacross theriver where the drifting logs were hurrying towardsthe seathrough the impenetrable gloom. He had a hazyrecollectionof having been called some time during the eveningby hiswife. To his dinner probably. But a man busycontemplatingthe wreckage of his past in the dawn of new hopescannot behungry whenever his rice is ready. Time he went homethough; itwas getting late.
He steppedcautiously on the loose planks towards the ladder. Alizarddisturbed by the noiseemitted a plaintive note andscurriedthrough the long grass growing on the bank. Almayerdescendedthe ladder carefullynow thoroughly recalled to therealitiesof life by the care necessary to prevent a fall on theunevenground where the stonesdecaying planksand half-sawnbeams werepiled up in inextricable confusion. As he turnedtowardsthe house where he lived--"my old house" he called it--his eardetected the splash of paddles away in the darkness oftheriver. He stood still in the pathattentive and surprisedat anybodybeing on the river at this late hour during such aheavyfreshet. Now he could hear the paddles distinctlyandeven arapidly exchanged word in low tonesthe heavy breathingof menfighting with the currentand hugging the bank on whichhe stood. Quite closetoobut it was too dark to distinguishanythingunder the overhanging bushes.
"Arabsno doubt" muttered Almayer to himselfpeering into thesolidblackness. "What are they up to now? Some ofAbdulla'sbusiness;curse him!"
The boatwas very close now.
"Ohya! Man!" hailed Almayer.
The soundof voices ceasedbut the paddles worked as furiouslyasbefore. Then the bush in front of Almayer shookand thesharpsound of the paddles falling into the canoe rang in thequietnight. They were holding on to the bush now; but Almayercouldhardly make out an indistinct dark shape of a man's headandshoulders above the bank.
"YouAbdulla?" said Almayerdoubtfully.
A gravevoice answered--
"TuanAlmayer is speaking to a friend. There is no Arab here."
Almayer'sheart gave a great leap.
"Dain!"he exclaimed. "At last! at last! I have been waitingfor youevery day and every night. I had nearly given you up."
"Nothingcould have stopped me from coming back here" said theotheralmost violently. "Not even death" he whispered tohimself.
"Thisis a friend's talkand is very good" said Almayerheartily. "But you are too far here. Drop down to the jetty andlet yourmen cook their rice in my campong while we talk in thehouse."
There wasno answer to that invitation.
"Whatis it?" asked Almayeruneasily. "There is nothingwrongwith thebrigI hope?"
"Thebrig is where no Orang Blanda can lay his hands on her"said Dainwith a gloomy tone in his voicewhich Almayerin hiselationfailed to notice.
"Right"he said. "But where are all your men? There are onlytwo withyou."
"ListenTuan Almayer" said Dain. "To-morrow's sun shall seemein yourhouseand then we will talk. Now I must go to theRajah."
"Tothe Rajah! Why? What do you want with Lakamba?"
"Tuanto-morrow we talk like friends. I must see Lakambato-night."
"Dainyou are not going to abandon me nowwhen all is ready?"askedAlmayerin a pleading voice.
"HaveI not returned? But I must see Lakamba first for your goodand mine."
Theshadowy head disappeared abruptly. The bushreleased fromthe graspof the bowmansprung back with a swishscattering ashower ofmuddy water over Almayeras he bent forwardtrying tosee.
In alittle while the canoe shot into the streak of light thatstreamedon the river from the big fire on the opposite shoredisclosingthe outline of two men bending to their workand athirdfigure in the stern flourishing the steering paddlehisheadcovered with an enormous round hatlike a fantasticallyexaggeratedmushroom.
Almayerwatched the canoe till it passed out of the line oflight. Shortly after the murmur of many voices reached himacross thewater. He could see the torches being snatched out oftheburning pileand rendering visible for a moment the gate inthestockade round which they crowded. Then they went inapparently. The torches disappearedand the scattered fire sentout only adim and fitful glare.
Almayerstepped homewards with long strides and mind uneasy.SurelyDain was not thinking of playing him false. It wasabsurd. Dain and Lakamba were both too much interested in thesuccess ofhis scheme. Trusting to Malays was poor work; butthen evenMalays have some sense and understand their owninterest. All would be well--must be well. At this point in hismeditationhe found himself at the foot of the steps leading totheverandah of his home. From the low point of land where hestood hecould see both branches of the river. The main branchof thePantai was lost in complete darknessfor the fire at theRajah'shad gone out altogether; but up the Sambir reach his eyecouldfollow the long line of Malay houses crowding the bankwith hereand there a dim light twinkling through bamboo wallsor a smokytorch burning on the platforms built out over theriver. Further awaywhere the island ended in a low cliffrosea darkmass of buildings towering above the Malay structures.Foundedsolidly on a firm ground with plenty of spacestarred bymanylights burning strong and whitewith a suggestion ofparaffinand lamp-glassesstood the house and the godowns ofAbdullabin Selimthe great trader of Sambir. To Almayer thesight wasvery distastefuland he shook his fist towards thebuildingsthat in their evident prosperity looked to him cold andinsolentand contemptuous of his own fallen fortunes.
He mountedthe steps of his house slowly.
In themiddle of the verandah there was a round table. On it aparaffinlamp without a globe shed a hard glare on the threeinnersides. The fourth side was openand faced the river.Betweenthe rough supports of the high-pitched roof hung tornrattanscreens. There was no ceilingand the harsh brillianceof thelamp was toned above into a soft half-light that lostitself inthe obscurity amongst the rafters. The front wall wascut in twoby the doorway of a central passage closed by a redcurtain. The women's room opened into that passagewhich led tothe backcourtyard and to the cooking shed. In one of the sidewallsthere was a doorway. Half obliterated words--"Office:Lingardand Co."--were still legible on the dusty doorwhichlooked asif it had not been opened for a very long time. Closeto theother side wall stood a bent-wood rocking-chairand bythe tableand about the verandah four wooden armchairs straggledforlornlyas if ashamed of their shabby surroundings. A heap ofcommonmats lay in one cornerwith an old hammock slungdiagonallyabove. In the other cornerhis head wrapped in apiece ofred calicohuddled into a shapeless heapslept aMalayoneof Almayer's domestic slaves--"my own people" he usedto callthem. A numerous and representative assembly of mothswereholding high revels round the lamp to the spirited music ofswarmingmosquitoes. Under the palm-leaf thatch lizards raced onthe beamscalling softly. A monkeychained to one of theverandahsupports--retired for the night under the eaves-- peeredandgrinned at Almayeras it swung to one of the bamboo roofsticks andcaused a shower of dust and bits of dried leaves tosettle onthe shabby table. The floor was unevenwith manywitheredplants and dried earth scattered about. A general airof squalidneglect pervaded the place. Great red stains on thefloor andwalls testified to frequent and indiscriminatebetel-nutchewing. The light breeze from the river swayed gentlythetattered blindssending from the woods opposite a faint andsicklyperfume as of decaying flowers.
UnderAlmayer's heavy tread the boards of the verandah creakedloudly. The sleeper in the corner moved uneasilymutteringindistinctwords. There was a slight rustle behind the curtaineddoorwayand a soft voice asked in Malay"Is it youfather?"
"YesNina. I am hungry. Is everybody asleep in this house?"
Almayerspoke jovially and dropped with a contented sigh into thearmchairnearest to the table. Nina Almayer came through thecurtaineddoorway followed by an old Malay womanwho busiedherself insetting upon the table a plateful of rice and fishajar ofwaterand a bottle half full of genever. After carefullyplacingbefore her master a cracked glass tumbler and a tin spoonshe wentaway noiselessly. Nina stood by the tableone handlightlyresting on its edgethe other hanging listlessly by herside. Her face turned towards the outer darknessthrough whichher dreamyeyes seemed to see some entrancing picturewore alook ofimpatient expectancy. She was tall for a half-castewith thecorrect profile of the fathermodified and strengthenedby thesquareness of the lower part of the face inherited fromhermaternal ancestors--the Sulu pirates. Her firm mouthwiththe lipsslightly parted and disclosing a gleam of white teethput avague suggestion of ferocity into the impatient expressionof herfeatures. And yet her dark and perfect eyes had all thetendersoftness of expression common to Malay womenbut with agleam ofsuperior intelligence; they looked gravelywide openandsteadyas if facing something invisible to all other eyeswhile shestood there all in whitestraightflexiblegracefulunconsciousof herselfher low but broad forehead crowned with ashiningmass of long black hair that fell in heavy tresses overhershouldersand made her pale olive complexion look palerstill bythe contrast of its coal-black hue.
Almayerattacked his rice greedilybut after a few mouthfuls hepausedspoon in handand looked at his daughter curiously.
"Didyou hear a boat pass about half an hour ago Nina?" he asked.
The girlgave him a quick glanceand moving away from the lightstood withher back to the table.
"Therewas a boat. At last! Dain himself; and he went on toLakamba. I know itfor he told me so. I spoke to himbut hewould notcome here to-night. Will come to-morrowhe said."
Heswallowed another spoonfulthen said--
"I amalmost happy to-nightNina. I can see the end of a longroadandit leads us away from this miserable swamp. We shallsoon getaway from hereI and youmy dear little girland then--"
He rosefrom the table and stood looking fixedly before him as ifcontemplatingsome enchanting vision.
"Andthen" he went on"we shall be happyyou and I. Live richandrespected far from hereand forget this lifeand all thisstruggleand all this misery!"
Heapproached his daughter and passed his hand caressingly overher hair.
"Itis bad to have to trust a Malay" he said"but I must ownthat thisDain is a perfect gentleman--a perfect gentleman" herepeated.
"Didyou ask him to come herefather?" inquired Ninanotlooking athim.
"Wellof course. We shall start on the day after to-morrow"saidAlmayerjoyously. "We must not lose any time. Areyougladlittle girl?"
She wasnearly as tall as himselfbut he liked to recall thetime whenshe was little and they were all in all to each other.
"I amglad" she saidvery low.
"Ofcourse" said Almayervivaciously"you cannot imaginewhatis beforeyou. I myself have not been to Europebut I haveheard mymother talk so often that I seem to know all about it.We shalllive a--a glorious life. You shall see."
Again hestood silent by his daughter's side looking at thatenchantingvision. After a while he shook his clenched handtowardsthe sleeping settlement.
"Ah!my friend Abdulla" he cried"we shall see who will havethe bestof it after all these years!"
He lookedup the river and remarked calmly:
"Anotherthunderstorm. Well! No thunder will keep me awaketo-nightI know! Good-nightlittle girl" he whisperedtenderlykissing her cheek. "You do not seem to be very happyto-nightbut to-morrow you will show a brighter face. Eh?"
Nina hadlistened to her father with her face unmovedwith herhalf-closedeyes still gazing into the night now made moreintense bya heavy thunder-cloud that had crept down from thehillsblotting out the starsmerging skyforestand river intoone massof almost palpable blackness. The faint breeze had diedoutbutthe distant rumble of thunder and pale flashes oflightninggave warning of the approaching storm. With a sigh thegirlturned towards the table.
Almayerwas in his hammock nowalready half asleep.
"Takethe lampNina" he muttereddrowsily. "This placeisfull ofmosquitoes. Go to sleepdaughter."
But Ninaput the lamp out and turned back again towards thebalustradeof the verandahstanding with her arm round thewoodensupport and looking eagerly towards the Pantai reach. Andmotionlessthere in the oppressive calm of the tropical night shecould seeat each flash of lightning the forest lining both banksup theriverbending before the furious blast of the comingtempestthe upper reach of the river whipped into white foam bythe windand the black clouds torn into fantastic shapestrailinglow over the swaying trees. Round her all was as yetstillnessand peacebut she could hear afar off the roar of thewindthehiss of heavy rainthe wash of the waves on thetormentedriver. It came nearer and nearerwith loudthunder-clapsand long flashes of vivid lightningfollowed byshortperiods of appalling blackness. When the storm reached thelow pointdividing the riverthe house shook in the windandthe rainpattered loudly on the palm-leaf roofthe thunder spokein oneprolonged rolland the incessant lightning disclosed aturmoil ofleaping watersdriving logsand the big treesbendingbefore a brutal and merciless force.
Undisturbedby the nightly event of the rainy monsoonthe fathersleptquietlyoblivious alike of his hopeshis misfortuneshisfriendsand his enemies; and the daughter stood motionlessateach flashof lightning eagerly scanning the broad river with asteady andanxious gaze.
Whenincompliance with Lingard's abrupt demandAlmayerconsentedto wed the Malay girlno one knew that on the day whentheinteresting young convert had lost all her natural relationsand founda white fathershe had been fighting desperately likethe restof them on board the prauand was only prevented fromleapingoverboardlike the few other survivorsby a severewound inthe leg. Thereon the fore-deck of the prauoldLingardfound her under a heap of dead and dying piratesand hadhercarried on the poop of the Flash before the Malay craft wasset onfire and sent adrift. She was consciousand in the greatpeace andstillness of the tropical evening succeeding theturmoil ofthe battleshe watched all she held dear on earthafter herown savage mannerdrift away into the gloom in a greatroar offlame and smoke. She lay there unheeding the carefulhandsattending to her woundsilent and absorbed in gazing atthefuneral pile of those brave men she had so much admired andso wellhelped in their contest with the redoubtable"Rajah-Laut."
The lightnight breeze fanned the brig gently to the southwardand thegreat blaze of light got smaller and smaller till ittwinkledonly on the horizon like a setting star. It set: theheavycanopy of smoke reflected the glare of hidden flames for ashort timeand then disappeared also.
Sherealised that with this vanishing gleam her old life departedtoo. Thenceforth there was slavery in the far countriesamongststrangersin unknown and perhaps terrible surroundings. Beingfourteenyears oldshe realised her position and came to thatconclusionthe only one possible to a Malay girlsoon ripenedunder atropical sunand not unaware of her personal charmsofwhich sheheard many a young brave warrior of her father's crewexpress anappreciative admiration. There was in her the dreadof theunknown; otherwise she accepted her position calmlyafterthe mannerof her peopleand even considered it quite natural;for wasshe not a daughter of warriorsconquered in battleanddid shenot belong rightfully to the victorious Rajah? Even theevidentkindness of the terrible old man must springshethoughtfrom admiration for his captiveand the flatteredvanityeased for her the pangs of sorrow after such an awfulcalamity. Perhaps had she known of the high wallsthe quietgardensand the silent nuns of the Samarang conventwhere herdestinywas leading hershe would have sought death in her dreadand hateof such a restraint. But in imagination she pictured toherselfthe usual life of a Malay girl--the usual succession ofheavy workand fierce loveof intriguesgold ornamentsofdomesticdrudgeryand of that great but occult influence whichis one ofthe few rights of half-savage womankind. But herdestiny inthe rough hands of the old sea-dogacting underunreasoningimpulses of the hearttook a strange and to her aterribleshape. She bore it all--the restraint and the teachingand thenew faith--with calm submissionconcealing her hate andcontemptfor all that new life. She learned the language veryeasilyyet understood but little of the new faith the goodsisterstaught herassimilating quickly only the superstitiouselementsof the religion. She called Lingard fathergently andcaressinglyat each of his short and noisy visitsunder theclearimpression that he was a great and dangerous power it wasgood topropitiate. Was he not now her master? And during thoselong fouryears she nourished a hope of finding favour in hiseyes andultimately becoming his wifecounsellorand guide.
Thosedreams of the future were dispelled by the Rajah Laut's"fiat"which made Almayer's fortuneas that young man fondlyhoped. And dressed in the hateful finery of Europethe centreof aninterested circle of Batavian societythe young convertstoodbefore the altar with an unknown and sulky-looking whiteman. For Almayer was uneasya little disgustedand greatlyinclinedto run away. A judicious fear of the adoptedfather-in-lawand a just regard for his own material welfarepreventedhim from making a scandal; yetwhile swearingfidelityhe was concocting plans for getting rid of the prettyMalay girlin a more or less distant future. Shehoweverhadretainedenough of conventual teaching to understand well thataccordingto white men's laws she was going to be Almayer'scompanionand not his slaveand promised to herself to actaccordingly.
So whenthe Flash freighted with materials for building a newhouse leftthe harbour of Bataviataking away the young coupleinto theunknown Borneoshe did not carry on her deck so muchlove andhappiness as old Lingard was wont to boast of before hiscasualfriends in the verandahs of various hotels. The oldseamanhimself was perfectly happy. Now he had done his duty bythe girl. "You know I made her an orphan" he often concludedsolemnlywhen talking about his own affairs to a scratchaudienceof shore loafers--as it was his habit to do. And theapprobativeshouts of his half-intoxicated auditors filled hissimplesoul with delight and pride. "I carry everything rightthrough"was another of his sayingsand in pursuance of thatprinciplehe pushed the building of house and godowns on thePantaiRiver with feverish haste. The house for the youngcouple;the godowns for the big trade Almayer was going todevelopwhile he (Lingard) would be able to give himself up tosomemysterious work which was only spoken of in hintsbut wasunderstoodto relate to gold and diamonds in the interior of theisland. Almayer was impatient too. Had he known what was beforehim hemight not have been so eager and full of hope as he stoodwatchingthe last canoe of the Lingard expedition disappear inthe bendup the river. Whenturning roundhe beheld the prettylittlehousethe big godowns built neatly by an army of Chinesecarpentersthe new jetty round which were clustered the tradingcanoeshefelt a sudden elation in the thought that the worldwas his.
But theworld had to be conquered firstand its conquest was notso easy ashe thought. He was very soon made to understand thathe was notwanted in that corner of it where old Lingard and hisown weakwill placed himin the midst of unscrupulous intriguesand of afierce trade competition. The Arabs had found out theriverhadestablished a trading post in Sambirand where theytradedthey would be masters and suffer no rival. Lingardreturnedunsuccessful from his first expeditionand departedagainspending all the profits of the legitimate trade on hismysteriousjourneys. Almayer struggled with the difficulties ofhispositionfriendless and unaidedsave for the protectiongiven tohim for Lingard's sake by the old Rajahthe predecessorofLakamba. Lakamba himselfthen living as a private individualon a riceclearingseven miles down the riverexercised all hisinfluencetowards the help of the white man's enemiesplottingagainstthe old Rajah and Almayer with a certainty ofcombinationpointing clearly to a profound knowledge of theirmostsecret affairs. Outwardly friendlyhis portly form wasoften tobe seen on Almayer's verandah; his green turban andgold-embroideredjacket shone in the front rank of the decorousthrong ofMalays coming to greet Lingard on his returns from theinterior;his salaams were of the lowestand his hand-shakingsof theheartiestwhen welcoming the old trader. But his smalleyes tookin the signs of the timesand he departed from thoseinterviewswith a satisfied and furtive smile to hold longconsultationswith his friend and allySyed Abdullathe chiefof theArab trading posta man of great wealth and of greatinfluencein the islands.
It wascurrently believed at that time in the settlement thatLakamba'svisits to Almayer's house were not limited to thoseofficialinterviews. Often on moonlight nights the belatedfishermenof Sambira saw a small canoe shooting out from thenarrowcreek at the back of the white man's houseand thesolitaryoccupant paddle cautiously down the river in the deepshadows ofthe bank; and those eventsduly reportedwerediscussedround the evening fires far into the night with thecynicismof expression common to aristocratic Malaysand with amaliciouspleasure in the domestic misfortunes of the OrangBlando--thehated Dutchman. Almayer went on strugglingdesperatelybut with a feebleness of purpose depriving him ofall chanceof success against men so unscrupulous and resolute ashis rivalsthe Arabs. The trade fell away from the largegodownsand the godowns themselves rotted piecemeal. The oldman'sbankerHudig of Macassarfailedand with this went thewholeavailable capital. The profits of past years had beenswallowedup in Lingard's exploring craze. Lingard was in theinterior--perhapsdead--at all events giving no sign of life.Almayerstood alone in the midst of those adverse circumstancesderivingonly a little comfort from the companionship of hislittledaughterborn two years after the marriageand at thetime somesix years old. His wife had soon commenced to treathim with asavage contempt expressed by sulky silenceonlyoccasionallyvaried by a flood of savage invective. He felt shehated himand saw her jealous eyes watching himself and thechild withalmost an expression of hate. She was jealous of thelittlegirl's evident preference for the fatherand Almayer felthe was notsafe with that woman in the house. While she wasburningthe furnitureand tearing down the pretty curtains inherunreasoning hate of those signs of civilisationAlmayercowed bythese outbursts of savage naturemeditated in silenceon thebest way of getting rid of her. He thought of everything;evenplanned murder in an undecided and feeble sort of waybutdared donothing--expecting every day the return of Lingard withnews ofsome immense good fortune. He returned indeedbut agedillaghost of his former selfwith the fire of fever burningin hissunken eyesalmost the only survivor of the numerousexpedition. But he was successful at last! Untold riches werein hisgrasp; he wanted more money--only a little more torealisea dream offabulous fortune. And Hudig had failed! Almayerscrapedall he could togetherbut the old man wanted more. IfAlmayercould not get it he would go to Singapore--to Europeevenbutbefore all to Singapore; and he would take the littleNina withhim. The child must be brought up decently. He hadgoodfriends in Singapore who would take care of her and have hertaughtproperly. All would be welland that girlupon whom theold seamanseemed to have transferred all his former affectionfor themotherwould be the richest woman in the East--in theworldeven. So old Lingard shoutedpacing the verandah with hisheavyquarter-deck stepgesticulating with a smoulderingcheroot;raggeddishevelledenthusiastic; and Almayersittinghuddled upon a pile of matsthought with dread of theseparationwith the only human being he loved--with greater dreadstillperhapsof the scene with his wifethe savage tigressdeprivedof her young. She will poison methought the poorwretchwell aware of that easy and final manner of solving thesocialpoliticalor family problems in Malay life.
To hisgreat surprise she took the news very quietlygiving onlyhim andLingard a furtive glanceand saying not a word. Thishoweverdid not prevent her the next day from jumping into theriver andswimming after the boat in which Lingard was carryingaway thenurse with the screaming child. Almayer had to givechase withhis whale-boat and drag her in by the hair in themidst ofcries and curses enough to make heaven fall. Yet aftertwo daysspent in wailingshe returned to her former mode oflifechewing betel-nutand sitting all day amongst her women instupefiedidleness. She aged very rapidly after thatand onlyrousedherself from her apathy to acknowledge by a scathingremark oran insulting exclamation the accidental presence of herhusband. He had built for her a riverside hut in the compoundwhere shedwelt in perfect seclusion. Lakamba's visits hadceasedwhenby a convenient decree of Providence and the help ofa littlescientific manipulationthe old ruler of Sambirdepartedthis life. Lakamba reigned in his stead nowhavingbeen wellserved by his Arab friends with the Dutch authorities.SyedAbdulla was the great man and trader of the Pantai. Almayerlay ruinedand helpless under the close-meshed net of theirintriguesowing his life only to his supposed knowledge ofLingard'svaluable secret. Lingard had disappeared. He wroteonce fromSingapore saying the child was welland under the careof a Mrs.Vinckand that he himself was going to Europe to raisemoney forthe great enterprise. "He was coming back soon. Therewould beno difficulties" he wrote; "people would rush in withtheirmoney." Evidently they did notfor there was only onelettermore from him saying he was illhad found no relationlivingbut little else besides. Then came a complete silence.Europe hadswallowed up the Rajah Laut apparentlyand Almayerlookedvainly westward for a ray of light out of the gloom ofhisshattered hopes. Years passedand the rare letters fromMrs.Vincklater on from the girl herselfwere the only thingto belooked to to make life bearable amongst the triumphantsavageryof the river. Almayer lived now alonehaving evenceased tovisit his debtors who would not paysure of Lakamba'sprotection. The faithful Sumatrese Ali cooked his rice and madehiscoffeefor he dared not trust any one elseand least of allhis wife. He killed time wandering sadly in the overgrown pathsround thehousevisiting the ruined godowns where a few brassgunscovered with verdigris and only a few broken cases ofmoulderingManchester goods reminded him of the good early timeswhen allthis was full of life and merchandiseand he overlookeda busyscene on the river bankhis little daughter by his side.Now theup-country canoes glided past the little rotten wharf ofLingardand Co.to paddle up the Pantai branchand clusterround thenew jetty belonging to Abdulla. Not that they lovedAbdullabut they dared not trade with the man whose star hadset. Had they done so they knew there was no mercy to beexpectedfrom Arab or Rajah; no rice to be got on credit in thetimes ofscarcity from either; and Almayer could not help themhaving attimes hardly enough for himself. Almayerin hisisolationand despairoften envied his near neighbour theChinamanJim-Engwhom he could see stretched on a pile of coolmatsawooden pillow under his headan opium pipe in hisnervelessfingers. He did not seekhoweverconsolation inopium--perhapsit was too expensive--perhaps his white man'spridesaved him from that degradation; but most likely it was thethought ofhis little daughter in the far-off StraitsSettlements. He heard from her oftener since Abdulla bought asteamerwhich ran now between Singapore and the Pantaisettlementevery three months or so. Almayer felt himself nearerhisdaughter. He longed to see herand planned a voyage toSingaporebut put off his departure from year to yearalwaysexpectingsome favourable turn of fortune. He did not want tomeet herwith empty hands and with no words of hope on his lips.He couldnot take her back into that savage life to which he wascondemnedhimself. He was also a little afraid of her. Whatwould shethink of him? He reckoned the years. A grown woman.Acivilised womanyoung and hopeful; while he felt old andhopelessand very much like those savages round him. He askedhimselfwhat was going to be her future. He could not answerthatquestion yetand he dared not face her. And yet he longedafterher. He hesitated for years.
Hishesitation was put an end to by Nina's unexpected appearanceinSambir. She arrived in the steamer under the captain's care.Almayerbeheld her with surprise not unmixed with wonder. Duringthose tenyears the child had changed into a womanblack-hairedolive-skinnedtalland beautifulwith great sad eyeswherethestartled expression common to Malay womankind was modified byathoughtful tinge inherited from her European ancestry. Almayerthoughtwith dismay of the meeting of his wife and daughterofwhat thisgrave girl in European clothes would think of herbetel-nutchewing mothersquatting in a dark hutdisorderlyhalfnakedand sulky. He also feared an outbreak of temper onthe partof that pest of a woman he had hitherto managed to keeptolerablyquietthereby saving the remnants of his dilapidatedfurniture. And he stood there before the closed door of the hutin theblazing sunshine listening to the murmur of voiceswonderingwhat went on insidewherefrom all the servant-maidshad beenexpelled at the beginning of the interviewand nowstoodclustered by the palings with half-covered faces in achatter ofcurious speculation. He forgot himself there tryingto catch astray word through the bamboo wallstill the captainof thesteamerwho had walked up with the girlfearing asunstroketook him under the arm and led him into the shade ofhis ownverandah: where Nina's trunk stood alreadyhaving beenlanded bythe steamer's men. As soon as Captain Ford had hisglassbefore him and his cheroot lightedAlmayer asked for theexplanationof his daughter's unexpected arrival. Ford saidlittlebeyond generalising in vague but violent terms upon thefoolishnessof women in generaland of Mrs. Vinck in particular.
"YouknowKaspar" said hein conclusionto the excitedAlmayer"it is deucedly awkward to have a half-caste girl in thehouse. There's such a lot of fools about. There was that youngfellowfrom the bank who used to ride to the Vinck bungalow earlyand late. That old woman thought it was for that Emma of hers.When shefound out what he wanted exactlythere was a rowI cantell you. She would not have Nina--not an hour longer--in thehouse. Fact isI heard of this affair and took the girl to mywife. My wife is a pretty good woman--as women go--and upon myword wewould have kept the girl for youonly she would notstay. Nowthen! Don't flare upKaspar. Sit still. Whatcanyou do? It is better so. Let her stay with you. She was neverhappy overthere. Those two Vinck girls are no better thandressed-upmonkeys. They slighted her. You can't make herwhite. It's no use you swearing at me. You can't. She is agood girlfor all thatbut she would not tell my wife anything.If youwant to knowask her yourself; but if I was you I wouldleave heralone. You are welcome to her passage moneyoldfellowifyou are short now." And the skipperthrowing awayhis cigarwalked off to "wake them up on board" as he expressedit.
Almayervainly expected to hear of the cause of his daughter'sreturnfrom his daughter's lips. Not that daynot on any otherday didshe ever allude to her Singapore life. He did not careto askawed by the calm impassiveness of her faceby thosesolemneyes looking past him on the greatstill forests sleepinginmajestic repose to the murmur of the broad river. He acceptedthesituationhappy in the gentle and protecting affection thegirlshowed himfitfully enoughfor she hadas she called ither baddays when she used to visit her mother and remain longhours inthe riverside hutcoming out as inscrutable as everbut with acontemptuous look and a short word ready to answer anyof hisspeeches. He got used even to thatand on those dayskeptquietalthough greatly alarmed by his wife's influence uponthe girl. Otherwise Nina adapted herself wonderfully to thecircumstancesof a half-savage and miserable life. She acceptedwithoutquestion or apparent disgust the neglectthe decay thepoverty ofthe householdthe absence of furnitureand thepreponderanceof rice diet on the family table. She lived withAlmayer inthe little house (now sadly decaying) built originallyby Lingardfor the young couple. The Malays eagerly discussedherarrival. There were at the beginning crowded levees of Malaywomen withtheir childrenseeking eagerly after "Ubat" for allthe illsof the flesh from the young Mem Putih. In the cool oftheevening grave Arabs in long white shirts and yellowsleevelessjackets walked slowly on the dusty path by theriversidetowards Almayer's gateand made solemn calls upon thatUnbelieverunder shallow pretences of businessonly to get aglimpse ofthe young girl in a highly decorous manner. EvenLakambacame out of his stockade in a great pomp of war canoesand redumbrellasand landed on the rotten little jetty ofLingardand Co. He camehe saidto buy a couple of brass gunsas apresent to his friend the chief of Sambir Dyaks; and whileAlmayersuspicious but politebusied himself in unearthing theoldpopguns in the godownsthe Rajah sat on an armchair in theverandahsurrounded by his respectful retinue waiting in vainfor Nina'sappearance. She was in one of her bad daysandremainedin her mother's hut watching with her the ceremoniousproceedingson the verandah. The Rajah departedbaffled butcourteousand soon Almayer began to reap the benefit ofimprovedrelations with the ruler in the shape of the recovery ofsomedebtspaid to him with many apologies and many a low salaamby debtorstill then considered hopelessly insolvent. Undertheseimproving circumstances Almayer brightened up a little.All wasnot lost perhaps. Those Arabs and Malays saw at lastthat hewas a man of some abilityhe thought. And he beganafter hismannerto plan great thingsto dream of greatfortunesfor himself and Nina. Especially for Nina! Under thesevivifyingimpulses he asked Captain Ford to write to his friendsin Englandmaking inquiries after Lingard. Was he alive or dead?If deadhad he left any papersdocuments; any indications orhints asto his great enterprise? Meantime he had found amongsttherubbish in one of the empty rooms a note-book belonging tothe oldadventurer. He studied the crabbed handwriting of itspages andoften grew meditative over it. Other things also wokehim upfrom his apathy. The stir made in the whole of the islandby theestablishment of the British Borneo Company affected eventhesluggish flow of the Pantai life. Great changes wereexpected;annexation was talked of; the Arabs grew civil. Almayerbegan building his new house for the use of the futureengineersagentsor settlers of the new Company. He spenteveryavailable guilder on it with a confiding heart. One thingonlydisturbed his happiness: his wife came out of herseclusionimporting her green jacketscant sarongsshrillvoiceandwitch-like appearanceinto his quiet life in thesmallbungalow. And his daughter seemed to accept that savageintrusioninto their daily existence with wonderful equanimity.He did notlike itbut dared say nothing.
Thedeliberations conducted in London have a far-reachingimportanceand so the decision issued from the fog-veiledoffices ofthe Borneo Company darkened for Almayer the brilliantsunshineof the Tropicsand added another drop of bitterness tothe cup ofhis disenchantments. The claim to that part of theEast Coastwas abandonedleaving the Pantai river under thenominalpower of Holland. In Sambir there was joy andexcitement. The slaves were hurried out of sight into the forestandjungleand the flags were run up to tall poles in theRajah'scompound in expectation of a visit from Dutch man-of-warboats.
Thefrigate remained anchored outside the mouth of the riverandthe boatscame up in tow of the steam launchthreading their waycautiouslyamongst a crowd of canoes filled with gaily dressedMalays. The officer in command listened gravely to the loyalspeechesof Lakambareturned the salaams of Abdullaand assuredthosegentlemen in choice Malay of the great Rajah's--down inBatavia--friendshipand goodwill towards the ruler andinhabitantsof this model state of Sambir.
Almayerfrom his verandah watched across the river the festiveproceedingsheard the report of brass guns saluting the new flagpresentedto Lakambaand the deep murmur of the crowd ofspectatorssurging round the stockade. The smoke of the firingrose inwhite clouds on the green background of the forestsandhe couldnot help comparing his own fleeting hopes to the rapidlydisappearingvapour. He was by no means patriotically elated bythe eventyet he had to force himself into a gracious behaviourwhentheofficial reception being overthe naval officers oftheCommission crossed the river to pay a visit to the solitarywhite manof whom they had heardno doubt wishing also to catcha glimpseof his daughter. In that they were disappointedNinarefusingto show herself; but they seemed easily consoled by thegin andcheroots set before them by the hospitable Almayer; andsprawlingcomfortably on the lame armchairs under the shade oftheverandahwhile the blazing sunshine outside seemed to setthe greatriver simmering in the heatthey filled the littlebungalowwith the unusual sounds of European languageswithnoise andlaughter produced by naval witticisms at the expense ofthe fatLakamba whom they had been complimenting so much thatverymorning. The younger men in an access of good fellowshipmade theirhost talkand Almayerexcited by the sight ofEuropeanfacesby the sound of European voicesopened his heartbefore thesympathising strangersunaware of the amusement therecital ofhis many misfortunes caused to those future admirals.They drankhis healthwished him many big diamonds and amountainof goldexpressed even an envy of the high destiniesawaitinghim yet. Encouraged by so much friendlinessthegrey-headedand foolish dreamer invited his guests to visit hisnewhouse. They went there through the long grass in astragglingprocession while their boats were got ready for thereturndown the river in the cool of the evening. And in thegreatempty rooms where the tepid wind entering through thesashlesswindows whirled gently the dried leaves and the dust ofmany daysof neglectAlmayer in his white jacket and floweredsarongsurrounded by a circle of glittering uniformsstampedhis footto show the solidity of the neatly-fitting floors andexpatiatedupon the beauties and convenience of the building.Theylistened and assentedamazed by the wonderful simplicityand thefoolish hopefulness of the mantill Almayercarriedaway byhis excitementdisclosed his regret at the non-arrivalof theEnglish"who knew how to develop a rich country" as heexpressedit. There was a general laugh amongst the Dutchofficersat that unsophisticated statementand a move was madetowardsthe boats; but when Almayerstepping cautiously on therottenboards of the Lingard jettytried to approach the chiefof theCommission with some timid hints anent the protectionrequiredby the Dutch subject against the wily Arabsthat saltwaterdiplomat told him significantly that the Arabs were bettersubjectsthan Hollanders who dealt illegally in gunpowder withtheMalays. The innocent Almayer recognised there at once theoilytongue of Abdulla and the solemn persuasiveness of Lakambabut ere hehad time to frame an indignant protest the steamlaunch andthe string of boats moved rapidly down the riverleavinghim on the jettystanding open-mouthed in his surpriseandanger. There are thirty miles of river from Sambir to thegem-likeislands of the estuary where the frigate was awaitingthe returnof the boats. The moon rose long before the boats hadtraversedhalf that distanceand the black forest sleepingpeacefullyunder her cold rays woke up that night to the ringinglaughterin the small flotilla provoked by some reminiscence ofAlmayer'slamentable narrative. Salt-water jests at the poorman'sexpense were passed from boat to boatthe non-appearanceof hisdaughter was commented upon with severe displeasureandthehalf-finished house built for the reception of Englishmenreceivedon that joyous night the name of "Almayer's Folly" bytheunanimous vote of the lighthearted seamen.
For manyweeks after this visit life in Sambir resumed its evenanduneventful flow. Each day's sun shooting its morning raysabove thetree-tops lit up the usual scene of daily activity.Ninawalking on the path that formed the only street in thesettlementsaw the accustomed sight of men lolling on the shadyside ofthe houseson the high platforms; of women busilyengaged inhusking the daily rice; of naked brown children racingalong theshady and narrow paths leading to the clearings.Jim-Engstrolling before his housegreeted her with a friendlynod beforeclimbing up indoors to seek his beloved opium pipe.The elderchildren clustered round herdaring from longacquaintancepulling the skirts of her white robe with theirdarkfingersand showing their brilliant teeth in expectationof ashower of glass beads. She greeted them with a quiet smilebut alwayshad a few friendly words for a Siamese girla slaveowned byBulangiwhose numerous wives were said to be of aviolenttemper. Well-founded rumour said also that the domesticsquabblesof that industrious cultivator ended generally in acombinedassault of all his wives upon the Siamese slave. Thegirlherself never complained--perhaps from dictates of prudencebut morelikely through the strangeresigned apathy ofhalf-savagewomankind. From early morning she was to be seen onthe pathsamongst the houses--by the riverside or on the jettiesthe trayof pastryit was her mission to sellskilfullybalancedon her head. During the great heat of the day sheusuallysought refuge in Almayer's campongoften finding shelterin a shadycorner of the verandahwhere she squatted with hertraybefore herwhen invited by Nina. For "Mem Putih" shehadalways asmilebut the presence of Mrs. Almayerthe very soundof hershrill voicewas the signal for a hurried departure.
To thisgirl Nina often spoke; the other inhabitants of Sambirseldom ornever heard the sound of her voice. They got used tothe silentfigure moving in their midst calm and white-robedabeing fromanother world and incomprehensible to them. YetNina'slife for all her outward composurefor all the seemingdetachmentfrom the things and people surrounding herwas farfromquietin consequence of Mrs. Almayer being much too activefor thehappiness and even safety of the household. She hadresumedsome intercourse with Lakambanot personallyit is true(for thedignity of that potentate kept him inside his stockade)butthrough the agency of that potentate's prime ministerharbourmasterfinancial adviserand general factotum. Thatgentleman--ofSulu origin--was certainly endowed withstatesmanlikequalitiesalthough he was totally devoid ofpersonalcharms. In truth he was perfectly repulsivepossessingonly oneeye and a pockmarked facewith nose and lips horriblydisfiguredby the small-pox. This unengaging individual oftenstrolledinto Almayer's garden in unofficial costumecomposed ofa piece ofpink calico round his waist. There at the back of thehousesquatting on his heels on scattered embersin closeproximityto the great iron boilerwhere the family daily ricewas beingcooked by the women under Mrs. Almayer'ssuperintendencedid that astute negotiator carry on longconversationsin Sulu language with Almayer's wife. What thesubject oftheir discourses was might have been guessed from thesubsequentdomestic scenes by Almayer's hearthstone.
Of lateAlmayer had taken to excursions up the river. In a smallcanoe withtwo paddlers and the faithful Ali for a steersman hewoulddisappear for a few days at a time. All his movements wereno doubtclosely watched by Lakamba and Abdullafor the man oncein theconfidence of Rajah Laut was supposed to be in possessionofvaluable secrets. The coast population of Borneo believesimplicitlyin diamonds of fabulous valuein gold mines ofenormousrichness in the interior. And all those imaginings areheightenedby the difficulty of penetrating far inlandespeciallyon the north-east coastwhere the Malays and therivertribes of Dyaks or Head-hunters are eternally quarrelling.It is trueenough that some gold reaches the coast in the handsof thoseDyaks whenduring short periods of truce in thedesultorywarfarethey visit the coast settlements of Malays.And so thewildest exaggerations are built up and added to on theslightbasis of that fact.
Almayer inhis quality of white man--as Lingard before him--hadsomewhatbetter relations with the up-river tribes. Yet even hisexcursionswere not without dangerand his returns were eagerlylooked forby the impatient Lakamba. But every time the Rajahwasdisappointed. Vain were the conferences by the rice-pot ofhisfactotum Babalatchi with the white man's wife. The white manhimselfwas impenetrable--impenetrable to persuasioncoaxingabuse; tosoft words and shrill revilings; to desperatebeseechingsor murderous threats; for Mrs. Almayerin herextremedesire to persuade her husband into an alliance withLakambaplayed upon the whole gamut of passion. With her soiledrobe woundtightly under the armpits across her lean bosomherscantgrayish hair tumbled in disorder over her projectingcheek-bonesin suppliant attitudeshe depicted with shrillvolubilitythe advantages of close union with a man so good andso fairdealing.
"Whydon't you go to the Rajah?" she screamed. "Why do yougoback tothose Dyaks in the great forest? They should be killed.You cannotkill themyou cannot; but our Rajah's men are brave!You tellthe Rajah where the old white man's treasure is. OurRajah isgood! He is our very grandfatherDatu Besar! He willkill thosewretched Dyaksand you shall have half the treasure.OhKaspartell where the treasure is! Tell me! Tell me outofthe oldman's surat where you read so often at night"
On thoseoccasions Almayer sat with rounded shoulders bending tothe blastof this domestic tempestaccentuating only each pausein thetorrent of his wife's eloquence by an angry growl"Thereis notreasure! Go awaywoman!" Exasperated by the sightofhispatiently bent backshe would at last walk round so as toface himacross the tableand clasping her robe with one handshestretched the other lean arm and claw-like hand to emphasisein apassion of anger and contemptthe rapid rush of scathingremarksand bitter cursings heaped on the head of the manunworthyto associate with brave Malay chiefs. It endedgenerallyby Almayer rising slowlyhis long pipe in handhisface setinto a look of inward painand walking away in silence.Hedescended the steps and plunged into the long grass on his wayto thesolitude of his new housedragging his feet in a state ofphysicalcollapse from disgust and fear before that fury. Shefollowedto the head of the stepsand sent the shafts ofindiscriminateabuse after the retreating form. And each ofthosescenes was concluded by a piercing shriekreaching him faraway. "You knowKasparI am your wife! your own Christian wifeafter yourown Blanda law!" For she knew that this was thebitterestthing of all; the greatest regret of that man's life.
All thesescenes Nina witnessed unmoved. She might have beendeafdumbwithout any feeling as far as any expression ofopinionwent. Yet oft when her father had sought the refuge ofthe greatdusty rooms of "Almayer's Folly" and her motherexhaustedby rhetorical effortssquatted wearily on her heelswith herback against the leg of the tableNina would approachhercuriouslyguarding her skirts from betel juice besprinklingthe floorand gaze down upon her as one might look into thequiescentcrater of a volcano after a destructive eruption. Mrs.Almayer'sthoughtsafter these sceneswere usually turned intoa channelof childhood reminiscencesand she gave themutterancein a kind of monotonous recitative--slightlydisconnectedbut generally describing the glories of the Sultanof Suluhis great splendourhis powerhis great prowess; thefear whichbenumbed the hearts of white men at the sight of hisswiftpiratical praus. And these muttered statements of hergrandfather'smight were mixed up with bits of laterrecollectionswhere the great fight with the "White Devil's"brig andthe convent life in Samarang occupied the principalplace. At that point she usually dropped the thread of hernarrativeand pulling out the little brass crossalwayssuspendedround her neckshe contemplated it with superstitiousawe. That superstitious feeling connected with some vaguetalismanicproperties of the little bit of metaland the stillmore hazybut terrible notion of some bad Djinns and horribletormentsinventedas she thoughtfor her especial punishment bythe goodMother Superior in case of the loss of the above charmwere Mrs.Almayer's only theological luggage for the stormy roadof life. Mrs. Almayer had at least something tangible to clingtobutNinabrought up under the Protestant wing of the properMrs.Vinckhad not even a little piece of brass to remind her ofpastteaching. And listening to the recital of those savagegloriesthose barbarous fights and savage feastingto the storyof deedsvalorousalbeit somewhat bloodthirstywhere men of hermother'srace shone far above the Orang Blandashe felt herselfirresistiblyfascinatedand saw with vague surprise the narrowmantle ofcivilised moralityin which good-meaning people hadwrappedher young soulfall away and leave her shivering andhelplessas if on the edge of some deep and unknown abyss.Strangestof allthis abyss did not frighten her when she wasunder theinfluence of the witch-like being she called hermother. She seemed to have forgotten in civilised surroundingsher lifebefore the time when Lingard hadso to speakkidnappedher fromBrow. Since then she had had Christian teachingsocialeducationand a good glimpse of civilised life. Unfortunatelyherteachers did not understand her natureand the educationended in ascene of humiliationin an outburst of contempt fromwhitepeople for her mixed blood. She had tasted the wholebitternessof it and remembered distinctly that the virtuous Mrs.Vinck'sindignation was not so much directed against the youngman fromthe bank as against the innocent cause of that youngman'sinfatuation. And there was also no doubt in her mind thattheprincipal cause of Mrs. Vinck's indignation was the thoughtthat sucha thing should happen in a white nestwhere hersnow-whitedovesthe two Misses Vinckhad just returned fromEuropetofind shelter under the maternal wingand there awaitthe comingof irreproachable men of their destiny. Not even thethought ofthe money so painfully scraped together by Almayerand sopunctually sent for Nina's expensescould dissuade Mrs.Vinck fromher virtuous resolve. Nina was sent awayand intruth thegirl herself wanted to goalthough a little frightenedby theimpending change. And now she had lived on the river forthreeyears with a savage mother and a father walking aboutamongstpitfallswith his head in the cloudsweakirresoluteandunhappy. She had lived a life devoid of all the decencies ofcivilisationin miserable domestic conditions; she had breathedin theatmosphere of sordid plottings for gainof the no lessdisgustingintrigues and crimes for lust or money; and thosethingstogether with the domestic quarrelswere the only eventsof herthree years' existence. She did not die from despair anddisgustthe first monthas she expected and almost hoped for.On thecontraryat the end of half a year it had seemed to herthat shehad known no other life. Her young mind having beenunskilfullypermitted to glance at better thingsand then thrownback againinto the hopeless quagmire of barbarismfull ofstrong anduncontrolled passionshad lost the power todiscriminate. It seemed to Nina that there was no change and nodifference. Whether they traded in brick godowns or on the muddyriverbank; whether they reached after much or little; whetherthey madelove under the shadows of the great trees or in theshadow ofthe cathedral on the Singapore promenade; whether theyplottedfor their own ends under the protection of laws andaccordingto the rules of Christian conductor whether theysought thegratification of their desires with the savage cunningand theunrestrained fierceness of natures as innocent of cultureas theirown immense and gloomy forestsNina saw only the samemanifestationsof love and hate and of sordid greed chasing theuncertaindollar in all its multifarious and vanishing shapes.To herresolute naturehoweverafter all these yearsthesavage anduncompromising sincerity of purpose shown by herMalaykinsmen seemed at last preferable to the sleek hypocrisyto thepolite disguisesto the virtuous pretences of such whitepeople asshe had had the misfortune to come in contact with.After allit was her life; it was going to be her lifeand sothinkingshe fell more and more under the influence of hermother. Seekingin her ignorancea better side to that lifeshelistened with avidity to the old woman's tales of thedepartedglories of the Rajahsfrom whose race she had sprungand shebecame gradually more indifferentmore contemptuous ofthe whiteside of her descent represented by a feeble andtraditionlessfather.
Almayer'sdifficulties were by no means diminished by the girl'spresencein Sambir. The stir caused by her arrival had died outit istrueand Lakamba had not renewed his visits; but about ayear afterthe departure of the man-of-war boats the nephew ofAbdullaSyed Reshidreturned from his pilgrimage to Meccarejoicingin a green jacket and the proud title of Hadji. Therewas agreat letting off of rockets on board the steamer whichbroughthim inand a great beating of drums all night inAbdulla'scompoundwhile the feast of welcome was prolonged farinto thesmall hours of the morning. Reshid was the favouritenephew andheir of Abdullaand that loving unclemeetingAlmayerone day by the riversidestopped politely to exchangecivilitiesand to ask solemnly for an interview. Almayersuspectedsome attempt at a swindleor at any rate somethingunpleasantbut of course consented with a great show ofrejoicing. Accordingly the next eveningafter sunsetAbdullacameaccompanied by several other grey-beards and by his nephew.That youngman--of a very rakish and dissipated appearance--affectedthe greatest indifference as to the whole of theproceedings. When the torch-bearers had grouped themselves belowthe stepsand the visitors had seated themselves on various lamechairsReshid stood apart in the shadowexamining hisaristocraticallysmall hands with great attention. Almayersurprisedby the great solemnity of his visitorsperched himselfon thecorner of the table with a characteristic want of dignityquicklynoted by the Arabs with grave disapproval. But Abdullaspoke nowlooking straight past Almayer at the red curtainhanging inthe doorwaywhere a slight tremor disclosed thepresenceof women on the other side. He began by neatlycomplimentingAlmayer upon the long years they had dwelt togetherin cordialneighbourhoodand called upon Allah to give him manymore yearsto gladden the eyes of his friends by his welcomepresence. He made a polite allusion to the great considerationshown him(Almayer) by the Dutch "Commissie" and drew thence theflatteringinference of Almayer's great importance amongst hisownpeople. He--Abdulla--was also important amongst all theArabsandhis nephew Reshid would be heir of that socialpositionand of great riches. Now Reshid was a Hadji. He waspossessorof several Malay womenwent on Abdullabut it wastime hehad a favourite wifethe first of the four allowed bytheProphet. Andspeaking with well-bred politenessheexplainedfurther to the dumbfounded Almayer thatif he wouldconsent tothe alliance of his offspring with that true believerandvirtuous man Reshidshe would be the mistress of all thesplendoursof Reshid's houseand first wife of the first Arab intheIslandswhen he--Abdulla--was called to the joys of Paradiseby Allahthe All-merciful. "You knowTuan" he saidinconclusion"the other women would be her slavesand Reshid'shouse isgreat. From Bombay he has brought great divansandcostlycarpetsand European furniture. There is also a greatlooking-glassin a frame shining like gold. What could a girlwantmore?" And while Almayer looked upon him in silent dismayAbdullaspoke in a more confidential tonewaving his attendantsawayandfinished his speech by pointing out the materialadvantagesof such an allianceand offering to settle uponAlmayerthree thousand dollars as a sign of his sincerefriendshipand the price of the girl.
PoorAlmayer was nearly having a fit. Burning with the desire oftakingAbdulla by the throathe had but to think of his helplesspositionin the midst of lawless men to comprehend the necessityofdiplomatic conciliation. He mastered his impulsesand spokepolitelyand coldlysaying the girl was young and as the appleof hiseye. Tuan Reshida Faithful and a Hadjiwould not wantan infidelwoman in his harem; andseeing Abdulla smilescepticallyat that last objectionhe remained silentnottrustinghimself to speak morenot daring to refuse point-blanknor yet tosay anything compromising. Abdulla understood themeaning ofthat silenceand rose to take leave with a gravesalaam. He wished his friend Almayer "a thousand years" andmoved downthe stepshelped dutifully by Reshid. The torch-bearersshook their torchesscattering a shower of sparks intothe riverand the cortege moved offleaving Almayer agitatedbutgreatly relieved by their departure. He dropped into a chairandwatched the glimmer of the lights amongst the tree trunkstill theydisappeared and complete silence succeeded the tramp offeet andthe murmur of voices. He did not move till the curtainrustledand Nina came out on the verandah and sat in therocking-chairwhere she used to spend many hours every day. Shegave aslight rocking motion to her seatleaning back withhalf-closedeyesher long hair shading her face from the smokylight ofthe lamp on the table. Almayer looked at her furtivelybut theface was as impassible as ever. She turned her headslightlytowards her fatherandspeakingto his greatsurprisein Englishasked--
"Wasthat Abdulla here?"
"Yes"said Almayer--"just gone."
"Andwhat did he wantfather?"
"Hewanted to buy you for Reshid" answered Almayerbrutallyhis angergetting the better of himand looking at the girl asif inexpectation of some outbreak of feeling. But Nina remainedapparentlyunmovedgazing dreamily into the black night outside.
"BecarefulNina" said Almayerafter a short silence andrisingfrom his chair"when you go paddling alone into thecreeks inyour canoe. That Reshid is a violent scoundrelandthere isno saying what he may do. Do you hear me?"
She wasstanding nowready to go inone hand grasping thecurtain inthe doorway. She turned roundthrowing her heavytressesback by a sudden gesture.
"Doyou think he would dare?" she askedquicklyand then turnedagain togo inadding in a lower tone"He would not dare.Arabs areall cowards."
Almayerlooked after herastonished. He did not seek the reposeof hishammock. He walked the floor absentlysometimes stoppingby thebalustrade to think. The lamp went out. The first streakof dawnbroke over the forest; Almayer shivered in the damp air."Igive it up" he muttered to himselflying down wearily."Damnthose women! Well! If the girl did not look as if shewanted tobe kidnapped!"
And hefelt a nameless fear creep into his heartmaking himshiveragain.
That yeartowards the breaking up of the south-west monsoondisquietingrumours reached Sambir. Captain Fordcoming up toAlmayer'shouse for an evening's chatbrought late numbers oftheStraits Times giving the news of Acheen war and of theunsuccessfulDutch expedition. The Nakhodas of the rare tradingprausascending the river paid visits to Lakambadiscussing withthatpotentate the unsettled state of affairsand wagged theirheadsgravely over the recital of Orang Blanda exactionseverityand general tyrannyas exemplified in the totalstoppageof gunpowder trade and the rigorous visiting of allsuspiciouscraft trading in the straits of Macassar. Even theloyal soulof Lakamba was stirred into a state of inwarddiscontentby the withdrawal of his license for powder and by theabruptconfiscation of one hundred and fifty barrels of thatcommodityby the gunboat Princess Ameliawhenafter a hazardousvoyageithad almost reached the mouth of the river. Theunpleasantnews was given him by Reshidwhoafter theunsuccessfulissue of his matrimonial projectshad made a longvoyageamongst the islands for trading purposes; had bought thepowder forhis friendand was overhauled and deprived of it onhis returnwhen actually congratulating himself on his acutenessinavoiding detection. Reshid's wrath was principally directedagainstAlmayerwhom he suspected of having notified the Dutchauthoritiesof the desultory warfare carried on by the Arabs andthe Rajahwith the up-river Dyak tribes.
ToReshid's great surprise the Rajah received his complaints verycoldlyand showed no signs of vengeful disposition towards thewhiteman. In truthLakamba knew very well that Almayer wasperfectlyinnocent of any meddling in state affairs; and besideshisattitude towards that much persecuted individual was whollychangedin consequence of a reconciliation effected between himand hisold enemy by Almayer's newly-found friendDain Maroola.
Almayerhad now a friend. Shortly after Reshid's departure onhiscommercial journeyNinadrifting slowly with the tide inthe canoeon her return home after one of her solitaryexcursionsheard in one of the small creeks a splashingas ifof heavyropes dropping in the waterand the prolonged song ofMalayseamen when some heavy pulling is to be done. Through thethickfringe of bushes hiding the mouth of the creek she saw thetall sparsof some European-rigged sailing vessel overtopping thesummits ofthe Nipa palms. A brig was being hauled out of thesmallcreek into the main stream. The sun had setand duringthe shortmoments of twilight Nina saw the brigaided by theeveningbreeze and the flowing tidehead towards Sambir underher setforesail. The girl turned her canoe out of the mainriver intoone of the many narrow channels amongst the woodedisletsand paddled vigorously over the black and sleepybackwaterstowards Sambir. Her canoe brushed the water-palmsskirtedthe short spaces of muddy bank where sedate alligatorslooked ather with lazy unconcernandjust as darkness wassettinginshot out into the broad junction of the two mainbranchesof the riverwhere the brig was already at anchor withsailsfurledyards squaredand decks seemingly untenanted byany humanbeing. Nina had to cross the river and pass prettyclose tothe brig in order to reach home on the low promontorybetweenthe two branches of the Pantai. Up both branchesin thehousesbuilt on the banks and over the waterthe lights twinkledalreadyreflected in the still waters below. The hum of voicestheoccasional cry of a childthe rapid and abruptly interruptedroll of awooden drumtogether with some distant hailing in thedarknessby the returning fishermenreached her over the broadexpanse ofthe river. She hesitated a little before crossingthe sightof such an unusual object as an European-rigged vesselcausingher some uneasinessbut the river in its wide expansionwas darkenough to render a small canoe invisible. She urged hersmallcraft with swift strokes of her paddlekneeling in thebottom andbending forward to catch any suspicious sound whileshesteered towards the little jetty of Lingard and Co.to whichthe stronglight of the paraffin lamp shining on the whitewashedverandahof Almayer's bungalow served as a convenient guide. Thejettyitselfunder the shadow of the bank overgrown by droopingbusheswas hidden in darkness. Before even she could see it sheheard thehollow bumping of a large boat against its rottenpostsandheard also the murmur of whispered conversation inthat boatwhose white paint and great dimensionsfaintly visibleon nearerapproachmade her rightly guess that it belonged tothe brigjust anchored. Stopping her course by a rapid motion ofherpaddlewith another swift stroke she sent it whirling awayfrom thewharf and steered for a little rivulet which gave accessto theback courtyard of the house. She landed at the muddy headof thecreek and made her way towards the house over the troddengrass ofthe courtyard. To the leftfrom the cooking shedshone ared glare through the banana plantation she skirtedandthe noiseof feminine laughter reached her from there in thesilentevening. She rightly judged her mother was not nearlaughterand Mrs. Almayer not being close neighbours. She mustbe in thehousethought Ninaas she ran lightly up the inclinedplane ofshaky planks leading to the back door of the narrowpassagedividing the house in two. Outside the doorwayin theblackshadowstood the faithful Ali.
"Whois there?" asked Nina.
"Agreat Malay man has come" answered Aliin a tone ofsuppressedexcitement. "He is a rich man. There are six menwithlances. Real Soldatyou understand. And his dress isverybrave. I have seen his dress. It shines! What jewels! Don'tgo thereMem Nina. Tuan said not; but the old Mem is gone.Tuan willbe angry. Merciful Allah! what jewels that man hasgot!"
Ninaslipped past the outstretched hand of the slave into thedarkpassage wherein the crimson glow of the hanging curtainclose byits other endshe could see a small dark form crouchingnear thewall. Her mother was feasting her eyes and ears withwhat wastaking place on the front verandahand Nina approachedto takeher share in the rare pleasure of some novelty. She wasmet by hermother's extended arm and by a low murmured warningnot tomake a noise.
"Haveyou seen themmother?" asked Ninain a breathlesswhisper.
Mrs.Almayer turned her face towards the girland her sunkeneyes shonestrangely in the red half-light of the passage.
"Isaw him" she saidin an almost inaudible tonepressing herdaughter'shand with her bony fingers. "A great Rajah has cometoSambir--a Son of Heaven" muttered the old woman to herself."Goawaygirl!"
The twowomen stood close to the curtainNina wishing toapproachthe rent in the stuffand her mother defending thepositionwith angry obstinacy. On the other side there was alull inthe conversationbut the breathing of several mentheoccasionallight tinkling of some ornamentsthe clink of metalscabbardsor of brass siri-vessels passed from hand to handwasaudibleduring the short pause. The women struggled silentlywhen therewas a shuffling noise and the shadow of Almayer'sburly formfell on the curtain.
The womenceased struggling and remained motionless. Almayer hadstood upto answer his guestturning his back to the doorwayunaware ofwhat was going on on the other side. He spoke in atone ofregretful irritation.
"Youhave come to the wrong houseTuan Maroolaif you want totrade asyou say. I was a trader oncenot nowwhatever you mayhave heardabout me in Macassar. And if you want anythingyouwill notfind it here; I have nothing to giveand want nothingmyself. You should go to the Rajah here; you can see in thedaytimehis houses across the rivertherewhere those fires areburning onthe shore. He will help you and trade with you. Orbetterstillgo to the Arabs over there" he went on bitterlypointingwith his hand towards the houses of Sambir. "Abdulla isthe manyou want. There is nothing he would not buyand thereis nothinghe would not sell; believe meI know him well."
He waitedfor an answer a short timethen added--
"Allthat I have said is trueand there is nothing more."
Ninaheldback by her motherheard a soft voice reply with acalmevenness of intonation peculiar to the better class Malays--
"Whowould doubt a white Tuan's words? A man seeks his friendswhere hisheart tells him. Is this not true also? I have comealthoughso latefor I have something to say which you may beglad tohear. To-morrow I will go to the Sultan; a trader wantsthefriendship of great men. Then I shall return here to speakseriouswordsif Tuan permits. I shall not go to the Arabs;their liesare very great! What are they? Chelakka!"
Almayer'svoice sounded a little more pleasantly in reply.
"Wellas you like. I can hear you to-morrow at any time if youhaveanything to say. Bah! After you have seen the SultanLakambayou will not want to return hereInchi Dain. You willsee. Only mindI will have nothing to do with Lakamba. You maytell himso. What is your business with meafter all?"
"To-morrowwe talkTuannow I know you" answered the Malay."Ispeak English a littleso we can talk and nobody willunderstandand then--"
Heinterrupted himself suddenlyasking surprised"What's thatnoiseTuan?"
Almayerhad also heard the increasing noise of the scufflerecommencedon the women's side of the curtain. Evidently Nina'sstrongcuriosity was on the point of overcoming Mrs. Almayer'sexaltedsense of social proprieties. Hard breathing wasdistinctlyaudibleand the curtain shook during the contestwhich wasmainly physicalalthough Mrs. Almayer's voice washeard inangry remonstrance with its usual want of strictlylogicalreasoningbut with the well-known richness of invective.
"Youshameless woman! Are you a slave?" shouted shrilly theiratematron. "Veil your faceabandoned wretch! You whitesnakeIwill not let you!"
Almayer'sface expressed annoyance and also doubt as to theadvisabilityof interfering between mother and daughter. Heglanced athis Malay visitorwho was waiting silently for theend of theuproar in an attitude of amused expectationandwaving hishand contemptuously he murmured--
"Itis nothing. Some women."
The Malaynodded his head gravelyand his face assumed anexpressionof serene indifferenceas etiquette demanded aftersuch anexplanation. The contest was ended behind the curtainandevidently the younger will had its wayfor the rapid shuffleand clickof Mrs. Almayer's high-heeled sandals died away in thedistance. The tranquillised master of the house was going toresume theconversation whenstruck by an unexpected change intheexpression of his guest's countenancehe turned his head andsaw Ninastanding in the doorway.
After Mrs.Almayer's retreat from the field of battleNinawithacontemptuous exclamation"It's only a trader" had liftedtheconqueredcurtain and now stood in full lightframed in the darkbackgroundon the passageher lips slightly partedher hair indisorderafter the exertionthe angry gleam not yet faded out ofherglorious and sparkling eyes. She took in at a glance thegroup ofwhite-clad lancemen standing motionless in the shadow ofthefar-off end of the verandahand her gaze rested curiously onthe chiefof that imposing cortege. He stoodalmost facing hera littleon one sideand struck by the beauty of the unexpectedapparitionhad bent lowelevating his joint hands above his headin a signof respect accorded by Malays only to the great of thisearth. The crude light of the lamp shone on the gold embroideryof hisblack silk jacketbroke in a thousand sparkling rays onthejewelled hilt of his kriss protruding from under the manyfolds ofthe red sarong gathered into a sash round his waistandplayed onthe precious stones of the many rings on his darkfingers. He straightened himself up quickly after the low bowputtinghis hand with a graceful ease on the hilt of his heavyshortsword ornamented with brilliantly dyed fringes ofhorsehair. Ninahesitating on the thresholdsaw an erect lithefigure ofmedium height with a breadth of shoulder suggestinggreatpower. Under the folds of a blue turbanwhose fringedends hunggracefully over the left shoulderwas a face full ofdeterminationand expressing a reckless good-humournot devoidhoweverof some dignity. The squareness of lower jawthe fullred lipsthe mobile nostrilsand the proud carriage of the headgave theimpression of a being half-savageuntamedperhapscruelandcorrected the liquid softness of the almost feminineeyethatgeneral characteristic of the race. Nowthe firstsurpriseoverNina saw those eyes fixed upon her with such anuncontrolledexpression of admiration and desire that she felt ahithertounknown feeling of shynessmixed with alarm and somedelightenter and penetrate her whole being.
Confusedby those unusual sensations she stopped in the doorwayandinstinctively drew the lower part of the curtain across herfaceleaving only half a rounded cheeka stray tressand oneeyeexposedwherewith to contemplate the gorgeous and bold beingso unlikein appearance to the rare specimens of traders she hadseenbefore on that same verandah.
DainMarooladazzled by the unexpected visionforgot theconfusedAlmayerforgot his brighis escort staring inopen-mouthedadmirationthe object of his visit and all thingselseinhis overpowering desire to prolong the contemplation ofso muchloveliness met so suddenly in such an unlikely place--ashethought.
"Itis my daughter" said Almayerin an embarrassed manner. "Itis of noconsequence. White women have their customsas youknow Tuanhaving travelled muchas you say. Howeverit islate; wewill finish our talk to-morrow."
Dain bentlow trying to convey in a last glance towards the girlthe boldexpression of his overwhelming admiration. The nextminute hewas shaking Almayer's hand with grave courtesyhisfacewearing a look of stolid unconcern as to any femininepresence. His men filed offand he followed them quicklycloselyattended by a thick-setsavage-looking Sumatrese he hadintroducedbefore as the commander of his brig. Nina walked tothebalustrade of the verandah and saw the sheen of moonlight onthe steelspear-heads and heard the rhythmic jingle of brassanklets asthe men moved in single file towards the jetty. Theboatshoved off after a little whilelooming large in the fulllight ofthe moona black shapeless mass in the slight hazehangingover the water. Nina fancied she could distinguish thegracefulfigure of the trader standing erect in the stern sheetsbut in alittle while all the outlines got blurredconfusedandsoondisappeared in the folds of white vapour shrouding themiddle ofthe river.
Almayerhad approached his daughterand leaning with both armsover therailwas looking moodily down on the heap of rubbishand brokenbottles at the foot of the verandah.
"Whatwas all that noise just now?" he growled peevishlywithoutlookingup. "Confound you and your mother! What did shewant?What didyou come out for?"
"Shedid not want to let me come out" said Nina. "She isangry.She saysthe man just gone is some Rajah. I think she is rightnow."
"Ibelieve all you women are crazy" snarled Almayer. "What'sthat toyouto herto anybody? The man wants to collecttrepangand birds' nests on the islands. He told me sothatRajah ofyours. He will come to-morrow. I want you both to keepaway fromthe houseand let me attend to my business in peace."
DainMaroola came the next day and had a long conversation withAlmayer. This was the beginning of a close and friendlyintercoursewhichat firstwas much remarked in Sambirtillthepopulation got used to the frequent sight of many firesburning inAlmayer's campongwhere Maroola's men were warmingthemselvesduring the cold nights of the north-east monsoonwhiletheir master had long conferences with the Tuan Putih--astheystyled Almayer amongst themselves. Great was the curiosityin Sambiron the subject of the new trader. Had he seen theSultan? What did the Sultan say? Had he given any presents?What wouldhe sell? What would he buy? Those were the questionsbroachedeagerly by the inhabitants of bamboo houses built overtheriver. Even in more substantial buildingsin Abdulla'shouseinthe residences of principal tradersArabChineseandBugistheexcitement ran highand lasted many days. Withinbornsuspicion they would not believe the simple account ofhimselfthe young trader was always ready to give. Yet it hadall theappearance of truth. He said he was a traderand soldrice. He did not want to buy gutta-percha or beeswaxbecause heintendedto employ his numerous crew in collecting trepang on thecoralreefs outside the riverand also in seeking for bird'snests onthe mainland. Those two articles he professed himselfready tobuy if there were any to be obtained in that way. Hesaid hewas from Baliand a Brahminwhich last statement hemade goodby refusing all food during his often repeated visitstoLakamba's and Almayer's houses. To Lakamba he went generallyat nightand had long audiences. Babalatchiwho was always athirdparty at those meetings of potentate and traderknew howto resistall attempts on the part of the curious to ascertainthesubject of so many long talks. When questioned with languidcourtesyby the grave Abdulla he sought refuge in a vacant stareof his oneeyeand in the affectation of extreme simplicity.
"I amonly my master's slave" murmured Babalatchiin ahesitatingmanner. Then as if making up his mind suddenly for arecklessconfidence he would inform Abdulla of some transactionin ricerepeating the words"A hundred big bags the Sultanbought; ahundredTuan!" in a tone of mysterious solemnity.Abdullafirmly persuaded of the existence of some more importantdealingsreceivedhoweverthe information with all the signsofrespectful astonishment. And the two would separatethe Arabcursinginwardly the wily dogwhile Babalatchi went on his waywalking onthe dusty pathhis body swayinghis chin with itsfew greyhairs pushed forwardresembling an inquisitive goatbent onsome unlawful expedition. Attentive eyes watched hismovements. Jim-Engdescrying Babalatchi far awaywould shakeoff thestupor of an habitual opium smoker andtottering on tothe middleof the roadwould await the approach of thatimportantpersonready with hospitable invitation. ButBabalatchi'sdiscretion was proof even against the combinedassaultsof good fellowship and of strong gin generouslyadministeredby the open-hearted Chinaman. Jim-Engowninghimselfbeatenwas left uninformed with the empty bottleandgazedsadly after the departing form of the statesman of Sambirpursuinghis devious and unsteady waywhichas usualled himtoAlmayer's compound. Ever since a reconciliation had beeneffectedby Dain Maroola between his white friend and the Rajahtheone-eyed diplomatist had again become a frequent guest in theDutchman'shouse. To Almayer's great disgust he was to be seenthere atall timesstrolling about in an abstracted kind of wayon theverandahskulking in the passagesor else popping roundunexpectedcornersalways willing to engage Mrs. Almayer inconfidentialconversation. He was very shy of the masterhimselfas if suspicious that the pent-up feelings of the whitemantowards his person might find vent in a sudden kick. But thecookingshed was his favourite placeand he became an habitualguesttheresquatting for hours amongst the busy womenwith hischinresting on his kneeshis lean arms clasped round his legsand hisone eye roving uneasily--the very picture of watchfulugliness. Almayer wanted more than once to complain to Lakambaof hisPrime Minister's intrusionbut Dain dissuaded him. "Wecannot saya word here that he does not hear" growled Almayer.
"Thencome and talk on board the brig" retorted Dainwith aquietsmile. "It is good to let the man come here. Lakambathinks heknows much. Perhaps the Sultan thinks I want to runaway. Better let the one-eyed crocodile sun himself in yourcampongTuan."
AndAlmayer assented unwillingly muttering vague threats ofpersonalviolencewhile he eyed malevolently the aged statesmansittingwith quiet obstinacy by his domestic rice-pot.
At lastthe excitement had died out in Sambir. The inhabitantsgot usedto the sight of comings and goings between Almayer'shouse andthe vesselnow moored to the opposite bankandspeculationas to the feverish activity displayed by Almayer'sboatmen inrepairing old canoes ceased to interfere with the duedischargeof domestic duties by the women of the Settlement.Even thebaffled Jim-Eng left off troubling his muddled brainwithsecrets of tradeand relapsed by the aid of his opium pipeinto astate of stupefied blissletting Babalatchi pursue hisway pasthis house uninvited and seemingly unnoticed.
So on thatwarm afternoonwhen the deserted river sparkled underthevertical sunthe statesman of Sambir couldwithout anyhindrancefrom friendly inquirersshove off his little canoefrom underthe busheswhere it was usually hidden during hisvisits toAlmayer's compound. Slowly and languidly Babalatchipaddledcrouching low in the boatmaking himself small underhis asenormous sun hat to escape the scorching heat reflectedfrom thewater. He was not in a hurry; his masterLakambawassurelyreposing at this time of the day. He would have ampletime tocross over and greet him on his waking with importantnews. Will he be displeased? Will he strike his ebony woodstaffangrily on the floorfrightening him by the incoherentviolenceof his exclamations; or will he squat down with agood-humouredsmileandrubbing his hands gently over hisstomachwith a familiar gestureexpectorate copiously into thebrasssiri-vesselgiving vent to a lowapprobative murmur?Such wereBabalatchi's thoughts as he skilfully handled hispaddlecrossing the river on his way to the Rajah's campongwhosestockades showed from behind the dense foliage of the bankjustopposite to Almayer's bungalow.
Indeedhehad a report to make. Something certain at last toconfirmthe daily tale of suspicionsthe daily hints offamiliarityof stolen glances he had seenof short and burningwords hehad overheard exchanged between Dain Maroola andAlmayer'sdaughter.
Lakambahadtill thenlistened to it allcalmly and withevidentdistrust; now he was going to be convincedforBabalatchihad the proof; had it this very morningwhen fishingat breakof day in the creek over which stood Bulangi's house.There fromhis skiff he saw Nina's long canoe drift pastthegirlsitting in the stern bending over Dainwho was stretched inthe bottomwith his head resting on the girl's knees. He saw it.Hefollowed thembut in a short time they took to the paddlesand gotaway from under his observant eye. A few minutesafterwardshe saw Bulangi's slave-girl paddling in a smalldug-out tothe town with her cakes for sale. She also had seenthem inthe grey dawn. And Babalatchi grinned confidentially tohimself atthe recollection of the slave-girl's discomposed faceof thehard look in her eyesof the tremble in her voicewhenansweringhis questions. That little Taminah evidently admiredDainMaroola. That was good! And Babalatchi laughed aloud atthenotion; then becoming suddenly serioushe began by somestrangeassociation of ideas to speculate upon the price forwhichBulangi wouldpossiblysell the girl. He shook his headsadly atthe thought that Bulangi was a hard manand had refusedonehundred dollars for that same Taminah only a few weeks ago;then hebecame suddenly aware that the canoe had drifted too fardownduring his meditation. He shook off the despondency causedby thecertitude of Bulangi's mercenary dispositionandtakingup hispaddlein a few strokes sheered alongside the water-gateof theRajah's house.
Thatafternoon Almayeras was his wont latelymoved about onthewater-sideoverlooking the repairs to his boats. He haddecided atlast. Guided by the scraps of information containedin oldLingard's pocket-bookhe was going to seek for the richgold-minefor that place where he had only to stoop to gather upan immensefortune and realise the dream of his young days. Toobtain thenecessary help he had shared his knowledge with DainMaroolahe had consented to be reconciled with Lakambawho gavehissupport to the enterprise on condition of sharing theprofits;he had sacrificed his pridehis honourand his loyaltyin theface of the enormous risk of his undertakingdazzled bythegreatness of the results to be achieved by this alliance sodistastefulyet so necessary. The dangers were greatbutMaroolawas brave; his men seemed as reckless as their chiefandwithLakamba's aid success seemed assured.
For thelast fortnight Almayer was absorbed in the preparationswalkingamongst his workmen and slaves in a kind of wakingtrancewhere practical details as to the fitting out of theboats weremixed up with vivid dreams of untold wealthwhere thepresentmisery of burning sunof the muddy and malodorous riverbankdisappeared in a gorgeous vision of a splendid futureexistencefor himself and Nina. He hardly saw Nina during theselast daysalthough the beloved daughter was ever present in histhoughts. He hardly took notice of Dainwhose constant presencein hishouse had become a matter of course to him now they wereconnectedby a community of interests. When meeting the youngchief hegave him an absent greeting and passed onseeminglywishing toavoid himbent upon forgetting the hated reality ofthepresent by absorbing himself in his workor else by lettinghisimagination soar far above the tree-tops into the great whitecloudsaway to the westwardwhere the paradise of Europe wasawaitingthe future Eastern millionaire. And Maroolanow thebargainwas struck and there was no more business to be talkedoverevidently did not care for the white man's company. YetDain wasalways about the housebut he seldom stayed long by theriverside. On his daily visits to the white man the Malay chiefpreferredto make his way quietly through the central passage ofthe houseand would come out into the garden at the backwherethe firewas burning in the cooking shedwith the rice kettleswingingover itunder the watchful supervision of Mrs. Almayer.Avoidingthat shedwith its black smoke and the warbling ofsoftfeminine voicesDain would turn to the left. Thereonthe edgeof a banana plantationa clump of palms and mango treesformed ashady spota few scattered bushes giving it a certainseclusioninto which only the serving women's chatter or anoccasionalburst of laughter could penetrate. Once inhe wasinvisible;and hidden thereleaning against the smooth trunk ofa tallpalmhe waited with gleaming eyes and an assured smile tohear thefaint rustle of dried grass under the light footsteps ofNina.
From thevery first moment when his eyes beheld this--to him--perfectionof loveliness he felt in his inmost heart theconvictionthat she would be his; he felt the subtle breath ofmutualunderstanding passing between their two savage naturesand he didnot want Mrs. Almayer's encouraging smiles to takeeveryopportunity of approaching the girl; and every time hespoke toherevery time he looked into her eyesNinaalthoughavertingher facefelt as if this bold-looking being who spokeburningwords into her willing ear was the embodiment of herfatethecreature of her dreams--recklessferociousready withflashingkriss for his enemiesand with passionate embrace forhisbeloved--the ideal Malay chief of her mother's tradition.
Sherecognised with a thrill of delicious fear the mysteriousconsciousnessof her identity with that being. Listening to hiswordsitseemed to her she was born only then to a knowledge ofa newexistencethat her life was complete only when near himand sheabandoned herself to a feeling of dreamy happinesswhilewith half-veiled face and in silence--as became a Malaygirl--shelistened to Dain's words giving up to her the wholetreasureof love and passion his nature was capable of with alltheunrestrained enthusiasm of a man totally untrammelled by anyinfluenceof civilised self-discipline.
And theyused to pass many a delicious and fast fleeting hourunder themango trees behind the friendly curtain of bushes tillMrs.Almayer's shrill voice gave the signal of unwillingseparation. Mrs. Almayer had undertaken the easy task ofwatchingher husband lest he should interrupt the smooth courseof herdaughter's love affairin which she took a great andbenignantinterest. She was happy and proud to see Dain'sinfatuationbelieving him to be a great and powerful chiefandshe foundalso a gratification of her mercenary instincts inDain'sopen-handed generosity.
On the eveof the day when Babalatchi's suspicions were confirmedby oculardemonstrationDain and Nina had remained longer thanusual intheir shady retreat. Only Almayer's heavy step on theverandahand his querulous clamour for food decided Mrs. Almayerto lift awarning cry. Maroola leaped lightly over the lowbamboofenceand made his way stealthily through the bananaplantationdown to the muddy shore of the back creekwhile Ninawalkedslowly towards the house to minister to her father'swantsaswas her wont every evening. Almayer felt happy enoughthatevening; the preparations were nearly completed; to-morrowhe wouldlaunch his boats. In his mind's eye he saw the richprize inhis grasp; andwith tin spoon in his handhe wasforgettingthe plateful of rice before him in the fancifularrangementof some splendid banquet to take place on his arrivalinAmsterdam. Ninareclining in the long chairlistenedabsentlyto the few disconnected words escaping from her father'slips. Expedition! Gold! What did she care for all that? But atthe nameof Maroola mentioned by her father she was allattention. Dain was going down the river with his brig to-morrowto remainaway for a few dayssaid Almayer. It was veryannoyingthis delay. As soon as Dain returned they would haveto startwithout loss of timefor the river was rising. Hewould notbe surprised if a great flood was coming. And hepushedaway his plate with an impatient gesture on rising fromthetable. But now Nina heard him not. Dain going away! That'swhy he hadordered herwith that quiet masterfulness it was herdelight toobeyto meet him at break of day in Bulangi's creek.Was therea paddle in her canoe? she thought. Was it ready? Shewould haveto start early--at four in the morningin a very fewhours.
She rosefrom her chairthinking she would require rest beforethe longpull in the early morning. The lamp was burning dimlyand herfathertired with the day's labourwas already in hishammock. Nina put the lamp out and passed into a large room shesharedwith her mother on the left of the central passage.Enteringshe saw that Mrs. Almayer had deserted the pile of matsservingher as bed in one corner of the roomand was now bendingover theopened lid of her large wooden chest. Half a shell ofcocoanutfilled with oilwhere a cotton rag floated for a wickstood onthe floorsurrounding her with a ruddy halo of lightshiningthrough the black and odorous smoke. Mrs. Almayer's backwas bentand her head and shoulders hidden in the deep box. Herhandsrummaged in the interiorwhere a soft clink as of silvermoneycould be heard. She did not notice at first her daughter'sapproachand Ninastanding silently by herlooked down on manylittlecanvas bags ranged in the bottom of the chestwherefromher motherextracted handfuls of shining guilders and Mexicandollarsletting them stream slowly back again through herclaw-likefingers. The music of tinkling silver seemed todelightherand her eyes sparkled with the reflected gleam offreshly-mintedcoins. She was muttering to herself: "And thisand thisand yet this! Soon he will give more--as much more asI ask. He is a great Rajah--a Son of Heaven! And she will be aRanee--hegave all this for her! Who ever gave anything for me?I am aslave! Am I? I am the mother of a great Ranee!" Shebecameaware suddenly of her daughter's presenceand ceased herdroningshutting the lid down violently; thenwithout risingfrom hercrouching positionshe looked up at the girl standingby with avague smile on her dreamy face.
"Youhave seen. Have you?" she shoutedshrilly. "Thatis allmineandfor you. It is not enough! He will have to give morebefore hetakes you away to the southern island where his fatheris king. You hear me? You are worth moregranddaughter ofRajahs! More! More!"
The sleepyvoice of Almayer was heard on the verandahrecommendingsilence. Mrs. Almayer extinguished the light andcrept intoher corner of the room. Nina laid down on her back ona pile ofsoft matsher hands entwined under her headgazingthroughthe shutterless holeserving as a window at the starstwinklingon the black sky; she was awaiting the time of startfor herappointed meeting-place. With quiet happiness shethought ofthat meeting in the great forestfar from all humaneyes andsounds. Her soullapsing again into the savage moodwhich thegenius of civilisation working by the hand of Mrs.Vinckcould never destroyexperienced a feeling of pride and ofsomeslight trouble at the high value her worldly-wise mother hadput uponher person; but she remembered the expressive glancesand wordsof Dainandtranquillisedshe closed her eyes in ashiver ofpleasant anticipation.
There aresome situations where the barbarian and theso-calledcivilisedman meet upon the same ground. It may be supposed thatDainMaroola was not exceptionally delighted with his prospectivemother-in-lawnor that he actually approved of that worthywoman'sappetite for shining dollars. Yet on that foggy morningwhenBabalatchilaying aside the cares of statewent to visithisfish-baskets in the Bulangi creekMaroola had no misgivingsexperiencedno feelings but those of impatience and longingwhenpaddlingto the east side of the island forming the back-water inquestion. He hid his canoe in the bushes and strode rapidlyacross theisletpushing with impatience through the twigs ofheavyundergrowth intercrossed over his path. From motives ofprudencehe would not take his canoe to the meeting-placeasNina haddone. He had left it in the main stream till his returnfrom theother side of the island. The heavy warm fog wasclosingrapidly round himbut he managed to catch a fleetingglimpse ofa light away to the leftproceeding from Bulangi'shouse. Then he could see nothing in the thickening vapourandkept tothe path only by a sort of instinctwhich also led himto thevery point on the opposite shore he wished to reach. Agreat loghad stranded thereat right angles to the bankforming akind of jetty against which the swiftly flowing streambroke witha loud ripple. He stepped on it with a quick butsteadymotionand in two strides found himself at the outer endwith therush and swirl of the foaming water at his feet.
Standingthere aloneas if separated from the world; theheavensearth; the very water roaring under him swallowed up inthe thickveil of the morning foghe breathed out the name ofNinabefore him into the apparently limitless spacesure ofbeingheardinstinctively sure of the nearness of the delightfulcreature;certain of her being aware of his near presence as hewas awareof hers.
The bow ofNina's canoe loomed up close to the logcanted highout of thewater by the weight of the sitter in the stern.Maroolalaid his hand on the stem and leaped lightly ingivingit avigorous shove off. The light craftobeying the newimpulsecleared the log by a hair's breadthand the riverwithobedientcomplicityswung it broadside to the currentand boreit offsilently and rapidly between the invisible banks. Andonce moreDainat the feet of Ninaforgot the worldfelthimselfcarried away helpless by a great wave of supreme emotionby a rushof joyprideand desire; understood once more withoverpoweringcertitude that there was no life possible withoutthat beinghe held clasped in his arms with passionate strengthin aprolonged embrace.
Ninadisengaged herself gently with a low laugh.
"Youwill overturn the boatDain" she whispered.
He lookedinto her eyes eagerly for a minute and let her go witha sighthen lying down in the canoe he put his head on herkneesgazing upwards and stretching his arms backwards till hishands metround the girl's waist. She bent over himandshakingher headframed both their faces in the falling locks ofher longblack hair.
And sothey drifted onhe speaking with all the rude eloquenceof asavage nature giving itself up without restraint to anovermasteringpassionshe bending low to catch the murmur ofwordssweeter to her than life itself. To those two nothingexistedthen outside the gunwales of the narrow and fragilecraft. It was their worldfilled with their intense andall-absorbinglove. They took no heed of thickening mistor ofthe breezedying away before sunrise; they forgot the existenceof thegreat forests surrounding themof all the tropical natureawaitingthe advent of the sun in a solemn and impressivesilence.
Over thelow river-mist hiding the boat with its freight of youngpassionatelife and all-forgetful happinessthe stars paledandasilvery-grey tint crept over the sky from the eastward. Therewas not abreath of windnot a rustle of stirring leafnot asplash ofleaping fish to disturb the serene repose of all livingthings onthe banks of the great river. Earthriverand skywerewrapped up in a deep sleepfrom which it seemed there wouldbe nowaking. All the seething life and movement of tropicalnatureseemed concentrated in the ardent eyesin thetumultuouslybeating hearts of the two beings drifting in thecanoeunder the white canopy of mistover the smooth surface ofthe river.
Suddenly agreat sheaf of yellow rays shot upwards from behindthe blackcurtain of trees lining the banks of the Pantai. Thestars wentout; the little black clouds at the zenith glowed fora momentwith crimson tintsand the thick miststirred by thegentlebreezethe sigh of waking naturewhirled round and brokeintofantastically torn piecesdisclosing the wrinkled surfaceof theriver sparkling in the broad light of day. Great flocksof whitebirds wheeled screaming above the swaying tree-tops.The sunhad risen on the east coast.
Dain wasthe first to return to the cares of everyday life. Herose andglanced rapidly up and down the river. His eye detectedBabalatchi'sboat asternand another small black speck on theglitteringwaterwhich was Taminah's canoe. He moved cautiouslyforwardandkneelingtook up a paddle; Nina at the stern tookhers. They bent their bodies to the workthrowing up the waterat everystrokeand the small craft went swiftly aheadleavinga narrowwake fringed with a lace-like border of white andgleamingfoam. Without turning his headDain spoke.
"Somebodybehind usNina. We must not let him gain. I think heis too farto recognise us."
"Somebodybefore us also" panted out Ninawithout ceasing topaddle.
"Ithink I know" rejoined Dain. "The sun shines overtherebutI fancy itis the girl Taminah. She comes down every morning tomy brig tosell cakes--stays often all day. It does not matter;steer moreinto the bank; we must get under the bushes. My canoeis hiddennot far from here."
As hespoke his eyes watched the broad-leaved nipas which theywerebrushing in their swift and silent course.
"LookoutNina" he said at last; "therewhere the water palmsend andthe twigs hang down under the leaning tree. Steer forthe biggreen branch."
He stoodup attentiveand the boat drifted slowly in shoreNinaguiding itby a gentle and skilful movement of her paddle. Whennearenough Dain laid hold of the big branchand leaning backshot thecanoe under a low green archway of thickly mattedcreepersgiving access to a miniature bay formed by the caving inof thebank during the last great flood. His own boat was thereanchoredby a stoneand he stepped into itkeeping his hand onthegunwale of Nina's canoe. In a moment the two littlenutshellswith their occupants floated quietly side by sidereflectedby the black water in the dim light struggling througha highcanopy of dense foliage; while aboveaway up in the broaddayflamed immense red blossoms sending down on their heads ashower ofgreat dew-sparkling petals that descended rotatingslowly ina continuous and perfumed stream; and over themundertheminthe sleeping water; all around them in a ring ofluxuriantvegetation bathed in the warm air charged with strongand harshperfumesthe intense work of tropical nature went on:plantsshooting upwardentwinedinterlaced in inextricableconfusionclimbing madly and brutally over each other in theterriblesilence of a desperate struggle towards the life-givingsunshineabove--as if struck with sudden horror at the seethingmass ofcorruption belowat the death and decay from which theysprang.
"Wemust part now" said Dainafter a long silence. "Youmustreturn atonceNina. I will wait till the brig drifts downhereandshall get on board then."
"Andwill you be long awayDain?" asked Ninain a low voice.
"Long!"exclaimed Dain. "Would a man willingly remain long in adarkplace? When I am not near youNinaI am like a man thatis blind. What is life to me without light?"
Ninaleaned overand with a proud and happy smile took Dain'sfacebetween her handslooking into his eyes with a fond yetquestioninggaze. Apparently she found there the confirmation ofthe wordsjust saidfor a feeling of grateful security lightenedfor herthe weight of sorrow at the hour of parting. Shebelievedthat hethe descendant of many great Rajahsthe son ofa greatchiefthe master of life and deathknew the sunshine oflife onlyin her presence. An immense wave of gratitude and lovewelledforth out of her heart towards him. How could she make anoutwardand visible sign of all she felt for the man who hadfilled herheart with so much joy and so much pride? And in thegreattumult of passionlike a flash of lightning came to herthereminiscence of that despised and almost forgottencivilisationshe had only glanced at in her days of restraintofsorrowand of anger. In the cold ashes of that hateful andmiserablepast she would find the sign of lovethe fittingexpressionof the boundless felicity of the presentthe pledgeof abright and splendid future. She threw her arms aroundDain'sneck and pressed her lips to his in a long and burningkiss. He closed his eyessurprised and frightened at the stormraised inhis breast by the strange and to him hitherto unknowncontactand long after Nina had pushed her canoe into the riverheremained motionlesswithout daring to open his eyesafraidto losethe sensation of intoxicating delight he had tasted forthe firsttime.
Now hewanted but immortalityhe thoughtto be the equal ofgodsandthe creature that could open so the gates of paradisemust behis--soon would be his for ever!
He openedhis eyes in time to see through the archway of creepersthe bowsof his brig come slowly into viewas the vessel driftedpast onits way down the river. He must go on board nowhethought;yet he was loth to leave the place where he had learnedto knowwhat happiness meant. "Time yet. Let them go"hemutteredto himself; and he closed his eyes again under the redshower ofscented petalstrying to recall the scene with all itsdelightand all its fear.
He musthave been able to join his brig in timeafter allandfound muchoccupation outsidefor it was in vain that Almayerlooked forhis friend's speedy return. The lower reach of theriverwhere he so often and so impatiently directed his eyesremaineddesertedsave for the rapid flitting of some fishingcanoe; butdown the upper reaches came black clouds and heavyshowersheralding the final setting in of the rainy season withitsthunderstorms and great floods making the river almostimpossibleof ascent for native canoes.
Almayerstrolling along the muddy beach between his houseswatcheduneasily the river rising inch by inchcreeping slowlynearer tothe boatsnow ready and hauled up in a row under thecover ofdripping Kajang-mats. Fortune seemed to elude hisgraspandin his weary tramp backwards and forwards under thesteadyrain falling from the lowering skya sort of despairingindifferencetook possession of him. What did it matter? It wasjust hisluck! Those two infernal savagesLakamba and Daininducedhimwith their promises of helpto spend his lastdollar inthe fitting out of boatsand now one of them was gonesomewhereand the other shut up in his stockade would give nosign oflife. Nonot even the scoundrelly BabalatchithoughtAlmayerwould show his face near himnow they had sold him allthe ricebrass gongsand cloth necessary for his expedition.They hadhis very last coinand did not care whether he went orstayed. And with a gesture of abandoned discouragement Almayerwouldclimb up slowly to the verandah of his new house to get outof therainand leaning on the front rail with his head sunkbetweenhis shoulders he would abandon himself to the current ofbitterthoughtsoblivious of the flight of time and the pangs ofhungerdeaf to the shrill cries of his wife calling him to theeveningmeal. Whenroused from his sad meditations by the firstroll ofthe evening thunderstormhe stumbled slowly towards theglimmeringlight of his old househis half-dead hope made hisearspreternaturally acute to any sound on the river. Severalnights insuccession he had heard the splash of paddles and hadseen theindistinct form of a boatbut when hailing the shadowyapparitionhis heart bounding with sudden hope of hearing Dain'svoicehewas disappointed each time by the sulky answerconveyingto him the intelligence that the Arabs were on theriverbound on a visit to the home-staying Lakamba. This causedhim manysleepless nightsspent in speculating upon the kind ofvillainythose estimable personages were hatching now. At lastwhen allhope seemed deadhe was overjoyed on hearing Dain'svoice; butDain also appeared very anxious to see LakambaandAlmayerfelt uneasy owing to a deep and ineradicable distrust asto thatruler's disposition towards himself. StillDain hadreturnedat last. Evidently he meant to keep to his bargain.Hoperevivedand that night Almayer slept soundlywhile Ninawatchedthe angry river under the lash of the thunderstormsweepingonward towards the sea.
Dain wasnot long in crossing the river after leaving Almayer.He landedat the water-gate of the stockade enclosing the groupof houseswhich composed the residence of the Rajah of Sambir.Evidentlysomebody was expected therefor the gate was openandmen withtorches were ready to precede the visitor up theinclinedplane of planks leading to the largest house whereLakambaactually residedand where all the business of state wasinvariablytransacted. The other buildings within the enclosureservedonly to accommodate the numerous household and the wivesof theruler.
Lakamba'sown house was a strong structure of solid planksraised onhigh pileswith a verandah of split bamboossurroundingit on all sides; the whole was covered in by animmenselyhigh-pitched roof of palm-leavesresting on beamsblackenedby the smoke of many torches.
Thebuilding stood parallel to the riverone of its long sidesfacing thewater-gate of the stockade. There was a door in theshort sidelooking up the riverand the inclined plank-way ledstraightfrom the gate to that door. By the uncertain light ofsmokytorchesDain noticed the vague outlines of a group ofarmed menin the dark shadows to his right. From that groupBabalatchistepped forward to open the doorand Dain entered theaudiencechamber of the Rajah's residence. About one-third ofthe housewas curtained offby heavy stuff of Europeanmanufacturefor that purpose; close to the curtain there was abigarm-chair of some black woodmuch carvedand before it arough dealtable. Otherwise the room was only furnished withmats ingreat profusion. To the left of the entrance stood arudearm-rackwith three rifles with fixed bayonets in it. Bythe wallin the shadowthe body-guard of Lakamba--all friendsorrelations--slept in a confused heap of brown armslegsandmulti-colouredgarmentsfrom whence issued an occasional snoreor asubdued groan of some uneasy sleeper. An European lamp witha greenshade standing on the table made all this indistinctlyvisible toDain.
"Youare welcome to your rest here" said Babalatchilooking atDaininterrogatively.
"Imust speak to the Rajah at once" answered Dain.
Babalatchimade a gesture of assentandturning to the brassgongsuspended under the arm-rackstruck two sharp blows.
Theear-splitting din woke up the guard. The snores ceased;outstretchedlegs were drawn in; the whole heap movedand slowlyresolveditself into individual formswith much yawning andrubbing ofsleepy eyes; behind the curtains there was a burst offemininechatter; then the bass voice of Lakamba was heard.
"Isthat the Arab trader?"
"NoTuan" answered Babalatchi; "Dain has returned at last. Heis herefor an important talkbitcharra--if you mercifullyconsent."
EvidentlyLakamba's mercy went so far--for in a short while hecame outfrom behind the curtain--but it did not go to the lengthofinducing him to make an extensive toilet. A short red sarongtightenedhastily round his hips was his only garment. Themercifulruler of Sambir looked sleepy and rather sulky. He satin thearm-chairhis knees well aparthis elbows on thearm-restshis chin on his breastbreathing heavily and waitingmalevolentlyfor Dain to open the important talk.
But Daindid not seem anxious to begin. He directed his gazetowardsBabalatchisquatting comfortably at the feet of hismasterand remained silent with a slightly bent head as if inattentiveexpectation of coming words of wisdom.
Babalatchicoughed discreetlyandleaning forwardpushed overa few matsfor Dain to sit uponthen lifting up his squeakyvoice heassured him with eager volubility of everybody's delightat thislong-looked-for return. His heart had hungered for thesight ofDain's faceand his ears were withering for the want oftherefreshing sound of his voice. Everybody's hearts and earswere inthe same sad predicamentaccording to Babalatchias heindicatedwith a sweeping gesture the other bank of the riverwhere thesettlement slumbered peacefullyunconscious of thegreat joyawaiting it on the morrow when Dain's presence amongstthem wouldbe disclosed. "For"--went on Babalatchi--"whatis thejoy of apoor man if not the open hand of a generous trader or ofa great--"
Here hechecked himself abruptly with a calculated embarrassmentof mannerand his roving eye sought the floorwhile anapologeticsmile dwelt for a moment on his misshapen lips. Onceor twiceduring this opening speech an amused expression flittedacrossDain's facesoon to give wayhoweverto an appearanceof graveconcern. On Lakamba's brow a heavy frown had settledand hislips moved angrily as he listened to his Prime Minister'soratory. In the silence that fell upon the room when Babalatchiceasedspeaking arose a chorus of varied snores from the cornerwhere thebody-guard had resumed their interrupted slumbersbutthedistant rumble of thunder filling then Nina's heart withapprehensionfor the safety of her lover passed unheeded by thosethree menintent each on their own purposesfor life or death.
After ashort silenceBabalatchidiscarding now the flowers ofpoliteeloquencespoke againbut in short and hurried sentencesand in alow voice. They had been very uneasy. Why did Dainremain solong absent? The men dwelling on the lower reaches ofthe riverheard the reports of big guns and saw a fire-ship ofthe Dutchamongst the islands of the estuary. So they wereanxious. Rumours of a disaster had reached Abdulla a few daysagoandsince then they had been waiting for Dain's return undertheapprehension of some misfortune. For days they had closedtheir eyesin fearand woke up alarmedand walked abroadtremblinglike men before an enemy. And all on account of Dain.Would henot allay their fears for his safetynot forthemselves? They were quiet and faithfuland devoted to thegreatRajah in Batavia--may his fate lead him ever to victory forthe joyand profit of his servants! "And here" went onBabalatchi"Lakamba my master was getting thin in his anxietyfor thetrader he had taken under his protection; and so wasAbdullafor what would wicked men not say if perchance - "
"Besilentfool!" growled Lakambaangrily.
Babalatchisubsided into silence with a satisfied smilewhileDainwhohad been watching him as if fascinatedturned with asigh ofrelief towards the ruler of Sambir. Lakamba did notmoveandwithout raising his headlooked at Dain from underhiseyebrowsbreathing audiblywith pouted lipsin an air ofgeneraldiscontent.
"Speak!O Dain!" he said at last. "We have heard manyrumours.Manynights in succession has my friend Reshid come here with badtidings. News travels fast along the coast. But they may beuntrue;there are more lies in men's mouths in these days thanwhen I wasyoungbut I am not easier to deceive now."
"Allmy words are true" said Daincarelessly. "If youwant toknow whatbefell my brigthen learn that it is in the hands oftheDutch. Believe meRajah" he went onwith sudden energy"theOrang Blanda have good friends in Sambiror else how didthey knowI was coming thence?"
Lakambagave Dain a short and hostile glance. Babalatchi rosequietlyandgoing to the arm-rackstruck the gong violently.
Outsidethe door there was a shuffle of bare feet; insidetheguard wokeup and sat staring in sleepy surprise.
"Yesyou faithful friend of the white Rajah" went on Dainscornfullyturning to Babalatchiwho had returned to his place"Ihave escapedand I am here to gladden your heart. When I sawthe Dutchship I ran the brig inside the reefs and put herashore. They did not dare to follow with the shipso they senttheboats. We took to ours and tried to get awaybut the shipdroppedfireballs at usand killed many of my men. But I amleftOBabalatchi! The Dutch are coming here. They are seekingfor me. They are coming to ask their faithful friend Lakamba andhis slaveBabalatchi. Rejoice!"
Butneither of his hearers appeared to be in a joyful mood.Lakambahad put one leg over his kneeand went on gentlyscratchingit with a meditative airwhile Babalatchisittingcross-leggedseemed suddenly to become smaller and very limpstaringstraight before him vacantly. The guard evinced someinterestin the proceedingsstretching themselves full length onthe matsto be nearer the speaker. One of them got up and nowstoodleaning against the arm-rackplaying absently with thefringes ofhis sword-hilt.
Dainwaited till the crash of thunder had died away in distantmutteringsbefore he spoke again.
"Areyou dumbO ruler of Sambiror is the son of a great Rajahunworthyof your notice? I am come here to seek refuge and towarn youand want to know what you intend doing."
"Youcame here because of the white man's daughter" retortedLakambaquickly. "Your refuge was with your fatherthe Rajahof Balithe Son of Heaventhe 'Anak Agong' himself. What am Ito protectgreat princes? Only yesterday I planted rice in aburntclearing; to-day you say I hold your life in my hand."
Babalatchiglanced at his master. "No man can escape his fate"hemurmured piously. "When love enters a man's heart he islikeachild--without any understanding. Be mercifulLakamba"headdedtwitching the corner of the Rajah's sarong warningly.
Lakambasnatched away the skirt of the sarong angrily. Under thedawningcomprehension of intolerable embarrassments caused byDain'sreturn to Sambir he began to lose such composure as he hadbeentillthenable to maintain; and now he raised his voiceloudlyabove the whistling of the wind and the patter of rain onthe roofin the hard squall passing over the house.
"Youcame here first as a trader with sweet words and greatpromisesasking me to look the other way while you worked yourwill onthe white man there. And I did. What do you want now?When I wasyoung I fought. Now I am oldand want peace. It iseasier forme to have you killed than to fight the Dutch. It isbetter forme."
The squallhad now passedandin the short stillness of thelull inthe stormLakamba repeated softlyas if to himself"Mucheasier. Much better."
Dain didnot seem greatly discomposed by the Rajah's threateningwords. While Lakamba was speaking he had glanced once rapidlyover hisshoulderjust to make sure that there was nobody behindhimandtranquillised in that respecthe had extracted asiri-boxout of the folds of his waist-clothand was wrappingcarefullythe little bit of betel-nut and a small pinch of limein thegreen leaf tendered him politely by the watchfulBabalatchi. He accepted this as a peace- offering from thesilentstatesman--a kind of mute protest against his master'sundiplomaticviolenceand as an omen of a possible understandingto bearrived at yet. Otherwise Dain was not uneasy. Althoughrecognisingthe justice of Lakamba's surmise that he had comeback toSambir only for the sake of the white man's daughteryethe was notconscious of any childish lack of understandingassuggestedby Babalatchi. In factDain knew very well thatLakambawas too deeply implicated in the gunpowder smuggling tocare foran investigation the Dutch authorities into that matter.When sentoff by his fatherthe independent Rajah of Baliatthe timewhen the hostilities between Dutch and Malays threatenedto spreadfrom Sumatra over the whole archipelagoDain had foundall thebig traders deaf to his guarded proposalsand above thetemptationof the great prices he was ready to give forgunpowder. He went to Sambir as a last and almost hopelessresorthaving heard in Macassar of the white man thereand oftheregular steamer trading from Singapore--allured also by thefact thatthere was no Dutch resident on the riverwhich wouldmakethings easierno doubt. His hopes got nearly wrecked
againstthe stubborn loyalty of Lakamba arising fromwell-understoodself-interest; but at last the young man'sgenerosityhis persuasive enthusiasmthe prestige of hisfather'sgreat nameoverpowered the prudent hesitation of theruler ofSambir. Lakamba would have nothing to do himself withanyillegal traffic. He also objected to the Arabs being madeuse of inthat matter; but he suggested Almayersaying that hewas a weakman easily persuadedand that his friendthe Englishcaptain ofthe steamercould be made very useful--very likelyeven wouldjoin in the businesssmuggling the powder in thesteamerwithout Abdulla's knowledge. There again Dain met inAlmayerwith unexpected resistance; Lakamba had to sendBabalatchiover with the solemn promise that his eyes would beshut infriendship for the white manDain paying for the promiseand thefriendship in good silver guilders of the hated OrangBlanda. Almayerat last consentingsaid the powder would beobtainedbut Dain must trust him with dollars to send toSingaporein payment for it. He would induce Ford to buy andsmuggle itin the steamer on board the brig. He did not want anymoney forhimself out of the transactionbut Dain must help himin hisgreat enterprise after sending off the brig. Almayer hadexplainedto Dain that he could not trust Lakamba alone in thatmatter; hewould be afraid of losing his treasure and his lifethroughthe cupidity of the Rajah; yet the Rajah had to be toldandinsisted on taking a share in that operationor else hiseyes wouldremain shut no longer. To this Almayer had to submit.Had Dainnot seen Nina he would have probably refused to engagehimselfand his men in the projected expedition to GunongMas--themountain of gold. As it was he intended to return withhalf ofhis men as soon as the brig was clear of the reefsbutthepersistent chase given him by the Dutch frigate had forcedhim to runsouth and ultimately to wreck and destroy his vesselin orderto preserve his liberty or perhaps even his life. Yeshe hadcome back to Sambir for Ninaalthough aware that theDutchwould look for him therebut he had also calculated hischances ofsafety in Lakamba's hands. For all his ferocioustalkthemerciful ruler would not kill himfor he had long agobeenimpressed with the notion that Dain possessed the secret ofthe whiteman's treasure; neither would he give him up to theDutchforfear of some fatal disclosure of complicity in thetreasonabletrade. So Dain felt tolerably secure as he satmeditatingquietly his answer to the Rajah's bloodthirsty speech.Yeshewould point out to him the aspect of his position shouldhe--Dain--fallinto the hands of the Dutch and should he speakthetruth. He would have nothing more to lose thenand he wouldspeak thetruth. And if he did return to SambirdisturbingtherebyLakamba's peace of mindwhat then? He came to lookafter hisproperty. Did he not pour a stream of silver into Mrs.Almayer'sgreedy lap? He had paidfor the girla price worthyof a greatprincealthough unworthy of that delightfullymaddeningcreature for whom his untamed soul longed in anintensityof desire far more tormenting than the sharpest pain.He wantedhis happiness. He had the right to be in Sambir.
He roseandapproaching the tableleaned both his elbows onit;Lakamba responsively edged his seat a little closerwhileBabalatchiscrambled to his feet and thrust his inquisitive headbetweenhis master's and Dain's. They interchanged their ideasrapidlyspeaking in whispers into each other's facesvery closenowDainsuggestingLakamba contradictingBabalatchiconciliatingand anxious in his vivid apprehension of comingdifficulties. He spoke mostwhispering earnestlyturning hisheadslowly from side to side so as to bring his solitary eye tobear uponeach of his interlocutors in turn. Why should there bestrife?said he. Let Tuan Dainwhom he loved only less than hismastergotrustfully into hiding. There were many places forthat. Bulangi's house away in the clearing was best.
Bulangiwas a safe man. In the network of crooked channels nowhite mancould find his way. White men were strongbut veryfoolish. It was undesirable to fight thembut deception waseasy. They were like silly women--they did not know the use ofreasonand he was a match for any of them--went on Babalatchiwith allthe confidence of deficient experience. Probably theDutchwould seek Almayer. Maybe they would take away theircountrymanif they were suspicious of him. That would be good.After theDutch went away Lakamba and Dain would get the treasurewithoutany troubleand there would be one person less to shareit. Did he not speak wisdom? Will Tuan Dain go to Bulangi'shouse tillthe danger is overgo at once?
Dainaccepted this suggestion of going into hiding with a certainsense ofconferring a favour upon Lakamba and the anxiousstatesmanbut he met the proposal of going at once with adecidednolooking Babalatchi meaningly in the eye. Thestatesmansighed as a man accepting the inevitable would doandpointedsilently towards the other bank of the river. Dain benthis headslowly.
"YesI am going there" he said.
"Beforethe day comes?" asked Babalatchi.
"I amgoing there now" answered Daindecisively. "TheOrangBlandawill not be here before to-morrow nightperhapsand Imust tellAlmayer of our arrangements."
"NoTuan. No; say nothing" protested Babalatchi. "Iwill goovermyself at sunrise and let him know."
"Iwill see" said Dainpreparing to go.
Thethunderstorm was recommencing outsidethe heavy cloudshanginglow overhead now.
There wasa constant rumble of distant thunder punctuated by thenearersharp crashesand in the continuous play of bluelightningthe woods and the river showed fitfullywith all theelusivedistinctness of detail characteristic of such a scene.Outsidethe door of the Rajah's house Dain and Babalatchi stoodon theshaking verandah as if dazed and stunned by the violenceof thestorm. They stood there amongst the cowering forms of theRajah'sslaves and retainers seeking shelter from the rainandDaincalled aloud to his boatmenwho responded with an unanimous"Ada!Tuan!" while they looked uneasily at the river.
"Thisis a great flood!" shouted Babalatchi into Dain's ear."Theriver is very angry. Look! Look at the drifting logs! Canyou go?"
Dainglanced doubtfully on the livid expanse of seething waterboundedfar away on the other side by the narrow black line oftheforests. Suddenlyin a vivid white flashthe low point ofland withthe bending trees on it and Almayer's houseleapedinto viewflickered and disappeared. Dain pushed Babalatchiaside andran down to the water-gate followed by his shiveringboatmen.
Babalatchibacked slowly in and closed the doorthen turnedround andlooked silently upon Lakamba. The Rajah sat stillglaringstonily upon the tableand Babalatchi gazed curiously attheperplexed mood of the man he had served so many years throughgood andevil fortune. No doubt the one-eyed statesman feltwithin hissavage and much sophisticated breast the unwontedfeelingsof sympathy withand perhaps even pity forthe man hecalled hismaster. From the safe position of a confidentialadviserhe couldin the dim vista of past yearssee himself--acasualcut-throat--finding shelter under that man's roof in themodestrice-clearing of early beginnings. Then came a longperiod ofunbroken successof wise counselsand deep plottingsresolutelycarried out by the fearless Lakambatill the wholeeast coastfrom Poulo Laut to Tanjong Batu listened toBabalatchi'swisdom speaking through the mouth of the ruler ofSambir. In those long years how many dangers escapedhow manyenemiesbravely facedhow many white men successfullycircumvented! And now he looked upon the result of so many yearsof patienttoil: the fearless Lakamba cowed by the shadow of animpendingtrouble. The ruler was growing oldand Babalatchiaware ofan uneasy feeling at the pit of his stomachput bothhis handsthere with a suddenly vivid and sad perception of thefact thathe himself was growing old too; that the time ofrecklessdaring was past for both of themand that they had toseekrefuge in prudent cunning. They wanted peace; they weredisposedto reform; they were ready even to retrenchso as tohave thewherewithal to bribe the evil days awayif bribed awaythey couldbe. Babalatchi sighed for the second time that nightas hesquatted again at his master's feet and tendered him hisbetel-nutbox in mute sympathy. And they sat there in close yetsilentcommunion of betel-nut chewersmoving their jaws slowlyexpectoratingdecorously into the wide-mouthed brass vessel theypassed toone anotherand listening to the awful din of thebattlingelements outside.
"Thereis a very great flood" remarked Babalatchisadly.
"Yes"said Lakamba. "Did Dain go?"
"HewentTuan. He ran down to the river like a man possessed oftheSheitan himself."
There wasanother long pause.
"Hemay get drowned" suggested Lakamba at lastwith some showofinterest.
"Thefloating logs are many" answered Babalatchi"but he is agoodswimmer" he added languidly.
"Heought to live" said Lakamba; "he knows where the treasureis."
Babalatchiassented with an ill-humoured grunt. His want ofsuccess inpenetrating the white man's secret as to the localitywhere thegold was to be found was a sore point with thestatesmanof Sambiras the only conspicuous failure in anotherwisebrilliant career.
A greatpeace had now succeeded the turmoil of the storm. Onlythe littlebelated cloudswhich hurried past overhead to catchup themain body flashing silently in the distancesent downshortshowers that pattered softly with a soothing hiss over thepalm-leafroof.
Lakambaroused himself from his apathy with an appearance ofhavinggrasped the situation at last.
"Babalatchi"he called brisklygiving him a slight kick.
"AdaTuan! I am listening."
"Ifthe Orang Blanda come hereBabalatchiand take Almayer toBatavia topunish him for smuggling gunpowderwhat will he doyouthink?"
"I donot knowTuan."
"Youare a fool" commented Lakambaexultingly. "He willtellthem wherethe treasure isso as to find mercy. He will."
Babalatchilooked up at his master and nodded his head with by nomeans ajoyful surprise. He had not thought of this; there was anewcomplication.
"Almayermust die" said Lakambadecisively"to make our secretsafe. He must die quietlyBabalatchi. You must do it."
Babalatchiassentedand rose wearily to his feet. "To-morrow?"he asked.
"Yes;before the Dutch come. He drinks much coffee" answeredLakambawith seeming irrelevancy.
Babalatchistretched himself yawningbut Lakambain theflatteringconsciousness of a knotty problem solved by his ownunaidedintellectual effortsgrew suddenly very wakeful.
"Babalatchi"he said to the exhausted statesman"fetch the boxof musicthe white captain gave me. I cannot sleep."
At thisorder a deep shade of melancholy settled uponBabalatchi'sfeatures. He went reluctantly behind the curtainand soonreappeared carrying in his arms a small hand-organwhich heput down on the table with an air of deep dejection.Lakambasettled himself comfortably in his arm-chair.
"TurnBabalatchiturn" he murmuredwith closed eyes.
Babalatchi'shand grasped the handle with the energy of despairand as heturnedthe deep gloom on his countenance changed intoanexpression of hopeless resignation. Through the open shutterthe notesof Verdi's music floated out on the great silence overthe riverand forest. Lakamba listened with closed eyes and adelightedsmile; Babalatchi turnedat times dozing off andswayingoverthen catching himself up in a great fright with afew quickturns of the handle. Nature slept in an exhaustedreposeafter the fierce turmoilwhile under the unsteady hand ofthestatesman of Sambir the Trovatore fitfully weptwailedandbadegood-bye to his Leonore again and again in a mournful roundof tearfuland endless iteration.
The brightsunshine of the clear mistless morningafter thestormynightflooded the main path of the settlement leadingfrom thelow shore of the Pantai branch of the river to the gateofAbdulla's compound. The path was deserted this morning; itstretchedits dark yellow surfacehard beaten by the tramp ofmany barefeetbetween the clusters of palm treeswhose talltrunksbarred it with strong black lines at irregular intervalswhile thenewly risen sun threw the shadows of their leafy headsfar awayover the roofs of the buildings lining the riverevenover theriver itself as it flowed swiftly and silently past thedesertedhouses. For the houses were deserted too. On thenarrowstrip of trodden grass intervening between their opendoors andthe roadthe morning fires smouldered untendedsendingthin fluted columns of smoke into the cool airandspreadingthe thinnest veil of mysterious blue haze over thesunlitsolitude of the settlement. Almayerjust out of hishammockgazed sleepily at the unwonted appearance of Sambirwonderingvaguely at the absence of life. His own house was veryquiet; hecould not hear his wife's voicenor the sound ofNina'sfootsteps in the big roomopening on the verandahwhichhe calledhis sitting-roomwheneverin the company of whitemenhewished to assert his claims to the commonplace decenciesofcivilisation. Nobody ever sat there; there was nothing thereto situponfor Mrs. Almayer in her savage moodswhen excitedby thereminiscences of the piratical period of her lifehadtorn offthe curtains to make sarongs for the slave-girlsandhad burntthe showy furniture piecemeal to cook the family rice.ButAlmayer was not thinking of his furniture now. He wasthinkingof Dain's returnof Dain's nocturnal interview withLakambaof its possible influence on his long-matured plansnownearingthe period of their execution. He was also uneasy at thenon-appearanceof Dain who had promised him an early visit. "Thefellow hadplenty of time to cross the river" he mused"andthere wasso much to be done to-day. The settling of details forthe earlystart on the morrow; the launching of the boats; thethousandand one finishing touches. For the expedition muststartcompletenothing should be forgottennothing should--"
The senseof the unwonted solitude grew upon him suddenlyand intheunusual silence he caught himself longing even for theusuallyunwelcome sound of his wife's voice to break theoppressivestillness which seemedto his frightened fancytoportendthe advent of some new misfortune. "What has happened?"hemuttered half aloudas he shuffled in his imperfectlyadjustedslippers towards the balustrade of the verandah. "Iseverybodyasleep or dead?"
Thesettlement was alive and very much awake. It was awake eversince theearly break of daywhen Mahmat Banjerin a fit ofunheard-ofenergyarose andtaking up his hatchetstepped overthesleeping forms of his two wives and walked shivering to thewater'sedge to make sure that the new house he was building hadnotfloated away during the night.
The housewas being built by the enterprising Mahmat on a largeraftandhe had securely moored it just inside the muddy pointof land atthe junction of the two branches of the Pantai so asto be outof the way of drifting logs that would no doubt strandon thepoint during the freshet. Mahmat walked through the wetgrasssaying bourrouhand cursing softly to himself the hardnecessitiesof active life that drove him from his warm couchinto thecold of the morning. A glance showed him that his housewas stillthereand he congratulated himself on his foresight inhauling itout of harm's wayfor the increasing light showed hima confusedwrack of drift-logshalf-stranded on the muddy flatinterlockedinto a shapeless raft by their branchestossing toand froand grinding together in the eddy caused by the meetingcurrentsof the two branches of the river. Mahmat walked down tothewater's edge to examine the rattan moorings of his house justas the suncleared the trees of the forest on the opposite shore.As he bentover the fastenings he glanced again carelessly at theunquietjumble of logs and saw there something that caused him todrop hishatchet and stand upshading his eyes with his handfrom therays of the rising sun. It was something redand thelogsrolled over itat times closing round itsometimes hidingit. It looked to him at first like a strip of red cloth. Thenextmoment Mahmat had made it out and raised a great shout.
"Ahya! There!" yelled Mahmat. "There's a man amongst thelogs."He put thepalms of his hand to his lips and shoutedenunciatingdistinctlyhis face turned towards the settlement: "There's abody of aman in the river! Come and see! A dead--stranger!"
The womenof the nearest house were already outside kindling thefires andhusking the morning rice. They took up the cryshrillyand it travelled so from house to housedying away inthedistance. The men rushed out excited but silentand rantowardsthe muddy point where the unconscious logs tossed andground andbumped and rolled over the dead stranger with thestupidpersistency of inanimate things. The women followedneglectingtheir domestic duties and disregarding thepossibilitiesof domestic discontentwhile groups of childrenbrought upthe rearwarbling joyouslyin the delight ofunexpectedexcitement.
Almayercalled aloud for his wife and daughterbut receiving noresponsestood listening intently. The murmur of the crowdreachedhim faintlybringing with it the assurance of someunusualevent. He glanced at the river just as he was going toleave theverandah and checked himself at the sight of a smallcanoecrossing over from the Rajah's landing-place. The solitaryoccupant(in whom Almayer soon recognised Babalatchi) effectedthecrossing a little below the house and paddled up to theLingardjetty in the dead water under the bank. Babalatchiclamberedout slowly and went on fastening his canoe withfastidiouscareas if not in a hurry to meet Almayerwhom hesawlooking at him from the verandah. This delay gave Almayertime tonotice and greatly wonder at Babalatchi's officialget-up. The statesman of Sambir was clad in a costume befittinghis highrank. A loudly checkered sarong encircled his waistand fromits many folds peeped out the silver hilt of the krissthat sawthe light only on great festivals or during officialreceptions. Over the left shoulder and across the otherwiseuncladbreast of the aged diplomatist glistened a patent leatherbeltbearing a brass plate with the arms of Netherlands under theinscription"Sultan of Sambir." Babalatchi's head was coveredby a redturbanwhose fringed ends falling over the left cheekandshoulder gave to his aged face a ludicrous expression ofjoyousrecklessness. When the canoe was at last fastened to hissatisfactionhe straightened himself upshaking down the foldsof hissarongand moved with long strides towards Almayer'shouseswinging regularly his long ebony staffwhose gold headornamentedwith precious stones flashed in the morning sun.Almayerwaved his hand to the right towards the point of landtohiminvisiblebut in full view from the jetty.
"OhBabalatchi! oh!" he called out; "what is the matter there?can yousee?"
Babalatchistopped and gazed intently at the crowd on the riverbankandafter a little while the astonished Almayer saw himleave thepathgather up his sarong in one handand break intoa trotthrough the grass towards the muddy point. Almayernowgreatlyinterestedran down the steps of the verandah. Themurmur ofmen's voices and the shrill cries of women reached himquitedistinctly nowand as soon as he turned the corner of hishouse hecould see the crowd on the low promontory swaying andpushinground some object of interest. He could indistinctlyhearBabalatchi's voicethen the crowd opened before the agedstatesmanand closed after him with an excited humending in aloudshout.
As Almayerapproached the throng a man ran out and rushed pasthimtowards the settlementunheeding his call to stop andexplainthe cause of this excitement. On the very outskirts ofthe crowdAlmayer found himself arrested by an unyielding mass ofhumanityregardless of his entreaties for a passageinsensibleto hisgentle pushes as he tried to work his way through ittowardsthe riverside.
In themidst of his gentle and slow progress he fancied suddenlyhe hadheard his wife's voice in the thickest of the throng. Hecould notmistake very well Mrs. Almayer's high-pitched tonesyet thewords were too indistinct for him to understand theirpurport. He paused in his endeavours to make a passage forhimselfintending to get some intelligence from those aroundhimwhena long and piercing shriek rent the airsilencing themurmurs ofthe crowd and the voices of his informants. For amomentAlmayer remained as if turned into stone with astonishmentandhorrorfor he was certain now that he had heard his wifewailingfor the dead. He remembered Nina's unusual absenceandmaddenedby his apprehensions as to her safetyhe pushed blindlyandviolently forwardthe crowd falling back with cries ofsurpriseand pain before his frantic advance.
On thepoint of land in a little clear space lay the body of thestrangerjust hauled out from amongst the logs. On one sidestoodBabalatchihis chin resting on the head of his staff andhis oneeye gazing steadily at the shapeless mass of brokenlimbstorn fleshand bloodstained rags. As Almayer burstthroughthe ring of horrified spectatorsMrs. Almayer threw herownhead-veil over the upturned face of the drowned manandsquattingby itwith another mournful howlsent a shiverthroughthe now silent crowd. Mahmatdripping wetturned toAlmayereager to tell his tale.
In thefirst moment of reaction from the anguish of his fear thesunshineseemed to waver before Almayer's eyesand he listenedto wordsspoken around him without comprehending their meaning.Whenby astrong effort of willhe regained the possession ofhissensesMahmat was saying--
"Thatis the wayTuan. His sarong was caught in the brokenbranchand he hung with his head under water. When I saw whatit was Idid not want it here. I wanted it to get clear anddriftaway. Why should we bury a stranger in the midst of ourhouses forhis ghost to frighten our women and children? Have wenot enoughghosts about this place?"
A murmurof approval interrupted him here. Mahmat lookedreproachfullyat Babalatchi.
"Butthe Tuan Babalatchi ordered me to drag the body ashore"--hewent onlooking round at his audiencebut addressing himselfonly toAlmayer--"and I dragged him by the feet; in through themud I havedragged himalthough my heart longed to see him floatdown theriver to strand perchance on Bulangi's clearing--may hisfather'sgrave be defiled!"
There wassubdued laughter at thisfor the enmity of Mahmat andBulangiwas a matter of common notoriety and of undying interestto theinhabitants of Sambir. In the midst of that mirth Mrs.Almayerwailed suddenly again.
"Allah! What ails the woman!" exclaimed Mahmatangrily. "HereI havetouched this carcass which came from nobody knows whereand havemost likely defiled myself before eating rice. Byorders ofTuan Babalatchi I did this thing to please the whiteman. Are you pleasedO Tuan Almayer? And what will be myrecompense? Tuan Babalatchi said a recompense there will beandfrom you. Now consider. I have been defiledand if not defiledI may beunder the spell. Look at his anklets! Who ever heardof acorpse appearing during the night amongst the logs with goldanklets onits legs? There is witchcraft there. However" addedMahmatafter a reflective pause"I will have the anklet ifthere ispermissionfor I have a charm against the ghosts and amnotafraid. God is great!"
A freshoutburst of noisy grief from Mrs. Almayer checked theflow ofMahmat's eloquence. Almayerbewilderedlooked in turnat hiswifeat Mahmatat Babalatchiand at last arrested hisfascinatedgaze on the body lying on the mud with covered face inagrotesquely unnatural contortion of mangled and broken limbsonetwisted and lacerated armwith white bones protruding inmanyplaces through the torn fleshstretched out; the hand withoutspreadfingers nearly touching his foot.
"Doyou know who this is?" he asked of Babalatchiin a lowvoice.
Babalatchistaring straight before himhardly moved his lipswhile Mrs.Almayer's persistent lamentations drowned the whisperof hismurmured reply intended only for Almayer's ear.
"Itwas fate. Look at your feetwhite man. I can see a ringonthose tornfingers which I know well."
SayingthisBabalatchi stepped carelessly forwardputting hisfoot as ifaccidentally on the hand of the corpse and pressing itinto thesoft mud. He swung his staff menacingly towards thecrowdwhich fell back a little.
"Goaway" he said sternly"and send your women to theircookingfireswhich they ought not to have left to run after a deadstranger. This is men's work here. I take him now in the nameof theRajah. Let no man remain here but Tuan Almayer's slaves.Now go!"
The crowdreluctantly began to disperse. The women went firstdraggingaway the children that hung back with all their weighton thematernal hand. The men strolled slowly after them in everformingand changing groups that gradually dissolved as theyneared thesettlement and every man regained his own house withstepsquickened by the hungry anticipation of the morning rice.Only onthe slight elevation where the land sloped down towardsthe muddypoint a few meneither friends or enemies of Mahmatremainedgazing curiously for some time longer at the small groupstandingaround the body on the river bank.
"I donot understand what you meanBabalatchi" said Almayer."Whatis the ring you are talking about? Whoever he isyou havetroddenthe poor fellow's hand right into the mud. Uncover hisface"he went onaddressing Mrs. Almayerwhosquatting by thehead ofthe corpserocked herself to and froshaking from timeto timeher dishevelled grey locksand muttering mournfully.
"Hai!'exclaimed Mahmatwho had lingered close by. "LookTuan;the logscame together so" and here he pressed the palms of hishandstogether"and his head must have been between themandnow thereis no face for you to look at. There are his flesh andhis bonesthe noseand the lipsand maybe his eyesbut nobodycould tellthe one from the other. It was written the day he wasborn thatno man could look at him in death and be able to say'This ismy friend's face.'"
"SilenceMahmat; enough!" said Babalatchi"and take thy eyesoff hisankletthou eater of pigs flesh. Tuan Almayer" he wentonlowering his voice"have you seen Dain this morning?"
Almayeropened his eyes wide and looked alarmed. "No" hesaidquickly;"haven't you seen him? Is he not with the Rajah? Iamwaiting;why does he not come?"
Babalatchinodded his head sadly.
"Heis comeTuan. He left last night when the storm was greatand theriver spoke angrily. The night was very blackbut hehad withinhim a light that showed the way to your house assmooth asa narrow backwaterand the many logs no bigger thanwisps ofdried grass. Therefore he went; and now he lies here."AndBabalatchi nodded his head towards the body.
"Howcan you tell?" said Almayerexcitedlypushing his wifeaside. He snatched the cover off and looked at the formless massof fleshhairand drying mudwhere the face of the drowned manshouldhave been. "Nobody can tell" he addedturning awaywitha shudder.
Babalatchiwas on his knees wiping the mud from the stiffenedfingers ofthe outstretched hand. He rose to his feet andflashedbefore Almayer's eyes a gold ring set with a large greenstone.
"Youknow this well" he said. "This never left Dain'shand. Ihad totear the flesh now to get it off. Do you believe now?"
Almayerraised his hands to his head and let them fall listlesslyby hisside in the utter abandonment of despair. Babalatchilooking athim curiouslywas astonished to see him smile. Astrangefancy had taken possession of Almayer's braindistractedby thisnew misfortune. It seemed to him that for many years hehad beenfalling into a deep precipice. Day after daymonthaftermonthyear after yearhe had been fallingfallingfalling;it was a smoothroundblack thingand the black wallshad beenrushing upwards with wearisome rapidity. A great rushthe noiseof which he fancied he could hear yet; and nowwith anawfulshockhe had reached the bottomand behold! he was aliveand wholeand Dain was dead with all his bones broken. Itstruck himas funny. A dead Malay; he had seen many dead Malayswithoutany emotion; and now he felt inclined to weepbut it wasover thefate of a white man he knew; a man that fell over a deepprecipiceand did not die. He seemed somehow to himself to bestandingon one sidea little way offlooking at a certainAlmayerwho was in great trouble. Poorpoor fellow! Why doesn'the cut histhroat? He wished to encourage him; he was veryanxious tosee him lying dead over that other corpse. Why doeshe not dieand end this suffering? He groaned aloud unconsciouslyandstarted with affright at the sound of his own voice. Was hegoing mad?Terrified by the thought he turned away and rantowardshis house repeating to himselfI am not going mad; ofcoursenotnonono! He tried to keep a firm hold of the idea.
Not madnot mad. He stumbled as he ran blindly up the stepsrepeatingfast and ever faster those words wherein seemed to liehissalvation. He saw Nina standing thereand wished to saysomethingto herbut could not remember whatin his extremeanxietynot to forget that he was not going madwhich he stillkeptrepeating mentally as he ran round the tabletill hestumbledagainst one of the arm-chairs and dropped into itexhausted. He sat staring wildly at Ninastill assuring himselfmentallyof his own sanity and wondering why the girl shrank fromhim inopen-eyed alarm. What was the matter with her? This wasfoolish. He struck the table violently with his clenched fistandshouted hoarsely"Give me some gin! Run!" Thenwhile Ninaran offhe remained in the chairvery still and quietastonishedat the noise he had made.
Ninareturned with a tumbler half filled with ginand found herfatherstaring absently before him. Almayer felt very tired nowas if hehad come from a long journey. He felt as if he hadwalkedmiles and miles that morning and now wanted to rest verymuch. He took the tumbler with a shaking handand as he drankhis teethchattered against the glass which he drained and setdownheavily on the table. He turned his eyes slowly towardsNinastanding beside himand said steadily--
"Nowall is overNina. He is deadand I may as well burn allmy boats."
He feltvery proud of being able to speak so calmly. Decidedlyhe was notgoing mad. This certitude was very comfortingand hewent ontalking about the finding of the bodylistening to hisown voicecomplacently. Nina stood quietlyher hand restinglightly onher father's shoulderher face unmovedbut everyline ofher featuresthe attitude of her whole body expressingthe mostkeen and anxious attention.
"Andso Dain is dead" she said coldlywhen her father ceasedspeaking.
Almayer'selaborately calm demeanour gave way in a moment to anoutburstof violent indignation.
"Youstand there as if you were only half aliveand talk to me"heexclaimed angrily"as if it was a matter of no importance.Yeshe isdead! Do you understand? Dead! What do you care?You nevercared; you saw me struggleand workand striveunmoved;and my suffering you could never see. Nonever. Youhave noheartand you have no mindor you would have understoodthat itwas for youfor your happiness I was working. I wantedto berich; I wanted to get away from here. I wanted to seewhite menbowing low before the power of your beauty and yourwealth. Old as I am I wished to seek a strange landacivilisationto which I am a strangerso as to find a new lifein thecontemplation of your high fortunesof your triumphsofyourhappiness. For that I bore patiently the burden of workofdisappointmentof humiliation amongst these savages hereand Ihad it allnearly in my grasp."
He lookedat his daughter's attentive face and jumped to his feetupsettingthe chair.
"Doyou hear? I had it all there; so; within reach of my hand."
He pausedtrying to keep down his rising angerand failed.
"Haveyou no feeling?" he went on. "Have you lived withouthope?" Nina's silence exasperated him; his voice rosealthoughhe triedto master his feelings.
"Areyou content to live in this misery and die in this wretchedhole? Say somethingNina; have you no sympathy? Have you noword ofcomfort for me? I that loved you so."
He waitedfor a while for an answerand receiving none shook hisfist inhis daughter's face.
"Ibelieve you are an idiot!" he yelled.
He lookedround for the chairpicked it up and sat down stiffly.His angerwas dead within himand he felt ashamed of hisoutburstyet relieved to think that now he had laid clear beforehisdaughter the inner meaning of his life. He thought so inperfectgood faithdeceived by the emotional estimate of hismotivesunable to see the crookedness of his waysthe unrealityof hisaimsthe futility of his regrets. And now his heart wasfilledonly with a great tenderness and love for his daughter.He wantedto see her miserableand to share with her hisdespair;but he wanted it only as all weak natures long for acompanionshipin misfortune with beings innocent of its cause.If shesuffered herself she would understand and pity him; butnow shewould notor could notfind one word of comfort or lovefor him inhis dire extremity. The sense of his absolutelonelinesscame home to his heart with a force that made himshudder. He swayed and fell forward with his face on the tablehis armsstretched straight outextended and rigid. Nina made aquickmovement towards her father and stood looking at the greyheadonthe broad shoulders shaken convulsively by the violenceoffeelings that found relief at last in sobs and tears.
Ninasighed deeply and moved away from the table. Her featureslost theappearance of stony indifference that had exasperatedher fatherinto his outburst of anger and sorrow. The expressionof herfacenow unseen by her fatherunderwent a rapid change.She hadlistened to Almayer's appeal for sympathyfor one wordofcomfortapparently indifferentyet with her breast torn byconflictingimpulses raised unexpectedly by events she had notforeseenor at least did not expect to happen so soon. With herheartdeeply moved by the sight of Almayer's miseryknowing itin herpower to end it with a wordlonging to bring peace tothattroubled heartshe heard with terror the voice of heroverpoweringlove commanding her to be silent. And she submittedafter ashort and fierce struggle of her old self against the newprincipleof her life. She wrapped herself up in absolutesilencethe only safeguard against some fatal admission. Shecould nottrust herself to make a signto murmur a word for fearof sayingtoo much; and the very violence of the feelings thatstirredthe innermost recesses of her soul seemed to turn herpersoninto a stone. The dilated nostrils and the flashing eyeswere theonly signs of the storm raging withinand those signsof hisdaughter's emotion Almayer did not seefor his sight wasdimmed byself-pityby angerand by despair.
HadAlmayer looked at his daughter as she leant over the frontrail ofthe verandah he could have seen the expression ofindifferencegive way to a look of painand that again passawayleaving the glorious beauty of her face marred bydeep-drawnlines of watchful anxiety. The long grass in theneglectedcourtyard stood very straight before her eyes in thenoondayheat. From the river-bank there were voices and ashuffle ofbare feet approaching the house; Babalatchi could beheardgiving directions to Almayer's menand Mrs. Almayer'ssubduedwailing became audible as the small procession bearingthe bodyof the drowned man and headed by that sorrowful matronturned thecorner of the house. Babalatchi had taken the brokenanklet offthe man's legand now held it in his hand as he movedby theside of the bearerswhile Mahmat lingered behind timidlyin thehopes of the promised reward.
"Layhim there" said Babalatchi to Almayer's menpointing to apile ofdrying planks in front of the verandah. "Lay him there.He was aKaffir and the son of a dogand he was the white man'sfriend. He drank the white man's strong water" he addedwithaffectedhorror. "That I have seen myself."
The menstretched out the broken limbs on two planks they hadlaidlevelwhile Mrs. Almayer covered the body with a piece ofwhitecotton clothand after whispering for some time withBabalatchideparted to her domestic duties. Almayer's menafterlayingdown their burdendispersed themselves in quest of shadyspotswherein to idle the day away. Babalatchi was left alone bythe corpsethat laid rigid under the white cloth in the brightsunshine.
Nina camedown the steps and joined Babalatchiwho put his handto hisforeheadand squatted down with great deference.
"Youhave a bangle there" said Ninalooking down onBabalatchi'supturned face and into his solitary eye.
"IhaveMem Putih" returned the polite statesman. ThenturningtowardsMahmat he beckoned him closercalling out"Come here!"
Mahmatapproached with some hesitation. He avoided looking atNinabutfixed his eyes on Babalatchi.
"Nowlisten" said Babalatchisharply. "The ring and theanklet youhave seenand you know they belonged to Dain thetraderand to no other. Dain returned last night in a canoe.He spokewith the Rajahand in the middle of the night left tocross overto the white man's house. There was a great floodand thismorning you found him in the river."
"Byhis feet I dragged him out" muttered Mahmat under hisbreath. "Tuan Babalatchithere will be a recompense!" heexclaimedaloud.
Babalatchiheld up the gold bangle before Mahmat's eyes. "What Ihave toldyouMahmatis for all ears. What I give you now isfor youreyes only. Take."
Mahmattook the bangle eagerly and hid it in the folds of hiswaist-cloth. "Am I a fool to show this thing in a house withthreewomen in it?" he growled. "But I shall tell themaboutDain thetraderand there will be talk enough."
He turnedand went awayincreasing his pace as soon as he wasoutsideAlmayer's compound.
Babalatchilooked after him till he disappeared behind thebushes. "Have I done wellMem Putih?" he askedhumblyaddressingNina.
"Youhave" answered Nina. "The ring you may keepyourself."
Babalatchitouched his lips and foreheadand scrambled to hisfeet. He looked at Ninaas if expecting her to say somethingmorebutNina turned towards the house and went up the stepsmotioninghim away with her hand.
Babalatchipicked up his staff and prepared to go. It was verywarmandhe did not care for the long pull to the Rajah's house.Yet hemust go and tell the Rajah--tell of the event; of thechange inhis plans; of all his suspicions. He walked to thejetty andbegan casting off the rattan painter of his canoe.
The broadexpanse of the lower reachwith its shimmering surfacedotted bythe black specks of the fishing canoeslay before hiseyes. The fishermen seemed to be racing. Babalatchi paused inhis workand looked on with sudden interest. The man in theforemostcanoenow within hail of the first houses of Sambirlaid inhis paddle and stood up shouting--
"Theboats! the boats! The man-of-war's boats are coming! Theyare here!"
In amoment the settlement was again alive with people rushing totheriverside. The men began to unfasten their boatsthe womenstood ingroups looking towards the bend down the river. Abovethe treeslining the reach a slight puff of smoke appeared like ablackstain on the brilliant blue of the cloudless sky.
Babalatchistood perplexedthe painter in his hand. He lookeddown thereachthen up towards Almayer's houseand back againat theriver as if undecided what to do. At last he made thecanoe fastagain hastilyand ran towards the house and up thesteps ofthe verandah.
"Tuan!Tuan!" he calledeagerly. "The boats are coming. Theman-of-war'sboats. You had better get ready. The officers willcome hereI know."
Almayerlifted his head slowly from the tableand looked at himstupidly.
"MemPutih!" exclaimed Babalatchi to Nina"look at him. He doesnot hear. You must take care" he added meaningly.
Ninanodded to him with an uncertain smileand was going tospeakwhen a sharp report from the gun mounted in the bow of thesteamlaunch that was just then coming into view arrested thewords onher parted lips. The smile died outand was replacedby the oldlook of anxious attention. From the hills far awaythe echocame back like a long-drawn and mournful sighas if theland hadsent it in answer to the voice of its masters.
The newsas to the identity of the body lying now in Almayer'scompoundspread rapidly over the settlement. During the forenoonmost ofthe inhabitants remained in the long street discussingthemysterious return and the unexpected death of the man who hadbecomeknown to them as the trader. His arrival during thenorth-eastmonsoonhis long sojourn in their midsthis suddendeparturewith his brigandabove allthe mysteriousappearanceof the bodysaid to be hisamongst the logsweresubjectsto wonder at and to talk over and over again withundiminishedinterest. Mahmat moved from house to house and fromgroup togroupalways ready to repeat his tale: how he saw thebodycaught by the sarong in a forked log; how Mrs. Almayercomingone of the firstat his criesrecognised itevenbefore hehad it hauled on shore; how Babalatchi ordered him tobring itout of the water. "By the feet I dragged him inandthere wasno head" exclaimed Mahmat"and how could the whiteman's wifeknow who it was? She was a witchit was well known.And didyou see how the white man himself ran away at the sightof thebody? Like a deer he ran!" And here Mahmat imitatedAlmayer'slong stridesto the great joy of the beholders. Andfor allhis trouble he had nothing. The ring with the greenstone TuanBabalatchi kept. "Nothing! Nothing!" Hespat downat hisfeet in sign of disgustand left that group to seekfurther ona fresh audience.
The newsspreading to the furthermost parts of the settlementfound outAbdulla in the cool recess of his godownwhere he satoverlookinghis Arab clerks and the men loading and unloading theup-countrycanoes. Reshidwho was busy on the jettywassummonedinto his uncle's presence and found himas usualverycalm andeven cheerfulbut very much surprised. The rumour ofthecapture or destruction of Dain's brig had reached the Arab'sears threedays before from the sea-fishermen and through thedwellerson the lower reaches of the river. It had been passedup-streamfrom neighbour to neighbour till Bulangiwhoseclearingwas nearest to the settlementhad brought that newshimself toAbdulla whose favour he courted. But rumour alsospoke of afight and of Dain's death on board his own vessel.And nowall the settlement talked of Dain's visit to the Rajahand of hisdeath when crossing the river in the dark to seeAlmayer.
They couldnot understand this. Reshid thought that it was verystrange. He felt uneasy and doubtful. But Abdullaafter thefirstshock of surprisewith the old age's dislike for solvingriddlesshowed a becoming resignation. He remarked that the manwas deadnow at all eventsand consequently no more dangerous.Where wasthe use to wonder at the decrees of Fateespecially ifthey werepropitious to the True Believers? And with a piousejaculationto Allah the Mercifulthe CompassionateAbdullaseemed toregard the incident as closed for the present.
Not soReshid. He lingered by his unclepulling thoughtfullyhis neatlytrimmed beard.
"Thereare many lies" he murmured. "He has been dead oncebeforeand came to life to die again now. The Dutch will beherebefore many days and clamour for the man. Shall I notbelieve myeyes sooner than the tongues of women and idle men?"
"Theysay that the body is being taken to Almayer's compound"saidAbdulla. "If you want to go there you must go before theDutcharrive here. Go late. It should not be said that we havebeen seeninside that man's enclosure lately."
Reshidassented to the truth of this last remark and left hisuncle'sside. He leaned against the lintel of the big doorwayand lookedidly across the courtyard through the open gate on tothe mainroad of the settlement. It lay emptystraightandyellowunder the flood of light. In the hot noontide the smoothtrunks ofpalm treesthe outlines of the housesand away thereat theother end of the road the roof of Almayer's house visibleover thebushes on the dark background of forestseemed toquiver inthe heat radiating from the steaming earth. Swarms ofyellowbutterflies roseand settled to rise again in shortflightsbefore Reshid's half-closed eyes. From under his feetarose thedull hum of insects in the long grass of the courtyard.He lookedon sleepily.
From oneof the side paths amongst the houses a woman stepped outon theroada slight girlish figure walking under the shade of alarge traybalanced on its head. The consciousness of somethingmovingstirred Reshid's half-sleeping senses into a comparativewakefulness. He recognised TaminahBulangi's slave-girlwithher trayof cakes for sale--an apparition of daily recurrence andof noimportance whatever. She was going towards Almayer'shouse. She could be made useful. He roused himself up and rantowardsthe gate calling out"Taminah O!" The girl stoppedhesitatedand came back slowly.
Reshidwaitedsigning to her impatiently to come nearer.
When nearReshid Taminah stood with downcast eyes. Reshid lookedat her awhile before he asked--
"Areyou going to Almayer's house? They say in the settlementthat Dainthe traderhe that was found drowned this morningislying inthe white man's campong."
"Ihave heard this talk" whispered Taminah; "and this morningbytheriverside I saw the body. Where it is now I do not know."
"Soyou have seen it?" asked Reshideagerly. "Is itDain? Youhave seenhim many times. You would know him."
The girl'slips quivered and she remained silent for a whilebreathingquickly.
"Ihave seen himnot a long time ago" she said at last. "Thetalk istrue; he is dead. What do you want from meTuan? Imust go."
Just thenthe report of the gun fired on board the steam launchwas heardinterrupting Reshid's reply. Leaving the girl he ranto thehouseand met in the courtyard Abdulla coming towards thegate.
"TheOrang Blanda are come" said Reshid"and now we shall haveourreward."
Abdullashook his head doubtfully. "The white men's rewards arelong incoming" he said. "White men are quick in anger andslowingratitude. We shall see."
He stoodat the gate stroking his grey beard and listening to thedistantcries of greeting at the other end of the settlement. AsTaminahwas turning to go he called her back
"Listengirl" he said: "there will be many white men inAlmayer'shouse. You shall be there selling your cakes to themen of thesea. What you see and what you hear you may tell me.Come herebefore the sun sets and I will give you a bluehandkerchiefwith red spots. Now goand forget not to return."
He gaveher a push with the end of his long staff as she wasgoing awayand made her stumble.
"Thisslave is very slow" he remarked to his nephewlookingafter thegirl with great disfavour.
Taminahwalked onher tray on the headher eyes fixed on theground. From the open doors of the houses were heardas shepassedfriendly calls inviting her within for business purposesbut shenever heeded themneglecting her sales in thepreoccupationof intense thinking. Since the very early morningshe hadheard muchshe had also seen much that filled her heartwith a joymingled with great suffering and fear. Before thedawnbefore she left Bulangi's house to paddle up to Sambir shehad heardvoices outside the house when all in it but herselfwereasleep. And nowwith her knowledge of the words spoken inthedarknessshe held in her hand a life and carried in herbreast agreat sorrow. Yet from her springy steperect figureand faceveiled over by the everyday look of apatheticindifferencenobody could have guessed of the double load shecarriedunder the visible burden of the tray piled up high withcakesmanufactured by the thrifty hands of Bulangi's wives. Inthatsupple figure straight as an arrowso graceful and free inits walkbehind those soft eyes that spoke of nothing but ofunconsciousresignationthere slept all feelings and allpassionsall hopes and all fearsthe curse of life and theconsolationof death. And she knew nothing of it all. She livedlike thetall palms amongst whom she was passing nowseeking thelightdesiring the sunshinefearing the stormunconscious ofeither. The slave had no hopeand knew of no change. She knewof noother skyno other waterno other forestno other worldno otherlife. She had no wishno hopeno loveno fear exceptof a blowand no vivid feeling but that of occasional hungerwhich wasseldomfor Bulangi was rich and rice was plentiful inthesolitary house in his clearing. The absence of pain andhunger washer happinessand when she felt unhappy she wassimplytiredmore than usualafter the day's labour. Then inthe hotnights of the south-west monsoon she slept dreamlesslyunder thebright stars on the platform built outside the houseand overthe river. Inside they slept too: Bulangi by the door;his wivesfurther in; the children with their mothers. She couldhear theirbreathing; Bulangi's sleepy voice; the sharp cry of achild soonhushed with tender words. And she closed her eyes tothe murmurof the water below herto the whisper of the warmwindaboveignorant of the never-ceasing life of that tropicalnaturethat spoke to her in vain with the thousand faint voicesof thenear forestwith the breath of tepid wind; in the heavyscentsthat lingered around her head; in the white wraiths ofmorningmist that hung over her in the solemn hush of allcreationbefore the dawn.
Such hadbeen her existence before the coming of the brig withthestrangers. She remembered well that time; the uproar in thesettlementthe never-ending wonderthe days and nights of talkandexcitement. She remembered her own timidity with the strangementillthe brig moored to the bank became in a manner part ofthesettlementand the fear wore off in the familiarity ofconstantintercourse. The call on board then became part of herdailyround. She walked hesitatingly up the slanting planks ofthegangway amidst the encouraging shouts and more or less decentjokes ofthe men idling over the bulwarks. There she sold herwares tothose men that spoke so loud and carried themselves sofree. There was a thronga constant coming and going; callsinterchangedorders given and executed with shouts; the rattleof blocksthe flinging about of coils of rope. She sat out ofthe wayunder the shade of the awningwith her tray before herthe veildrawn well over her facefeeling shy amongst so manymen. She smiled at all buyersbut spoke to noneletting theirjests passwith stolid unconcern. She heard many tales toldaround herof far-off countriesof strange customsof eventsstrangerstill. Those men were brave; but the most fearless ofthem spokeof their chief with fear. Often the man they calledtheirmaster passed before herwalking erect and indifferentinthe prideof youthin the flash of rich dresswith a tinkle ofgoldornamentswhile everybody stood aside watching anxiouslyfor amovement of his lipsready to do his bidding. Then allher lifeseemed to rush into her eyesand from under her veilshe gazedat himcharmedyet fearful to attract attention. Oneday henoticed her and asked"Who is that girl?" "AslaveTuan! A girl that sells cakes" a dozen voices replied together.She rosein terror to run on shorewhen he called her back; andas shestood trembling with head hung down before himhe spokekindwordslifting her chin with his hand and looking into hereyes witha smile. "Do not be afraid" he said. He neverspoketo her anymore. Somebody called out from the river bank; heturnedaway and forgot her existence. Taminah saw Almayerstandingon the shore with Nina on his arm. She heard Nina'svoicecalling out gailyand saw Dain's face brighten with joy ashe leapedon shore. She hated the sound of that voice eversince.
After thatday she left off visiting Almayer's compoundandpassed thenoon hours under the shade of the brig awning. Shewatchedfor his coming with heart beating quicker and quickerasheapproachedinto a wild tumult of newly-aroused feelings ofjoy andhope and fear that died away with Dain's retreatingfigureleaving her tired outas if after a strugglesittingstill fora long time in dreamy languor. Then she paddled homeslowly inthe afternoonoften letting her canoe float with thelazystream in the quiet backwater of the river. The paddle hungidle inthe water as she sat in the sternone hand supportingher chinher eyes wide openlistening intently to thewhisperingof her heart that seemed to swell at last into a songof extremesweetness. Listening to that song she husked the riceat home;it dulled her ears to the shrill bickerings of Bulangi'swivestothe sound of angry reproaches addressed to herself.And whenthe sun was near its setting she walked to thebathing-placeand heard it as she stood on the tender grass ofthe lowbankher robe at her feetand looked at the reflectionof herfigure on the glass-like surface of the creek. Listeningto it shewalked slowly backher wet hair hanging over hershoulders;laying down to rest under the bright starsshe closedher eyesto the murmur of the water belowof the warm windabove; tothe voice of nature speaking through the faint noisesof thegreat forestand to the song of her own heart.
She heardbut did not understandand drank in the dreamy joy ofher newexistence without troubling about its meaning or its endtill thefull consciousness of life came to her through pain andanger. And she suffered horribly the first time she saw Nina'slong canoedrift silently past the sleeping house of Bulangibearingthe two lovers into the white mist of the great river.Herjealousy and rage culminated into a paroxysm of physical painthat lefther lying panting on the river bankin the dumb agonyof awounded animal. But she went on moving patiently in theenchantedcircle of slaverygoing through her task day after daywith allthe pathos of the grief she could not expresseven toherselflocked within her breast. She shrank from Nina as shewould haveshrunk from the sharp blade of a knife cutting intoher fleshbut she kept on visiting the brig to feed her dumbignorantsoul on her own despair. She saw Dain many times. Heneverspokehe never looked. Could his eyes see only onewoman'simage? Could his ears hear only one woman's voice? Henevernoticed her; not once.
And thenhe went away. She saw him and Nina for the last time onthatmorning when Babalatchiwhile visiting his fish basketshad hissuspicions of the white man's daughter's love affair withDainconfirmed beyond the shadow of doubt. Dain disappearedandTaminah'sheartwhere lay useless and barren the seeds of alllove andof all hatethe possibilities of all passions and ofallsacrificesforgot its joys and its sufferings when deprivedof thehelp of the senses. Her half-formedsavage mindtheslave ofher body--as her body was the slave of another'swill--forgotthe faint and vague image of the ideal that hadfound itsbeginning in the physical promptings of her savagenature. She dropped back into the torpor of her former life andfoundconsolation--even a certain kind of happiness--in thethoughtthat now Nina and Dain were separatedprobably for ever.He wouldforget. This thought soothed the last pangs of dyingjealousythat had nothing now to feed uponand Taminah foundpeace. It was like the dreary tranquillity of a desertwherethere ispeace only because there is no life.
And now hehad returned. She had recognised his voice callingaloud inthe night for Bulangi. She had crept out after hermaster tolisten closer to the intoxicating sound. Dain wasthereina boattalking to Bulangi. Taminahlistening witharrestedbreathheard another voice. The maddening joythatonly asecond before she thought herself incapable of containingwithin herfast-beating heartdied outand left her shiveringin the oldanguish of physical pain that she had suffered oncebefore atthe sight of Dain and Nina. Nina spoke noworderingandentreating in turnsand Bulangi was refusingexpostulatingat lastconsenting. He went in to take a paddle from the heaplyingbehind the door. Outside the murmur of two voices went onand shecaught a word here and there. She understood that he wasfleeingfrom white menthat he was seeking a hiding-placethathe was insome danger. But she heard also words which woke therage ofjealousy that had been asleep for so many days in herbosom. Crouching low on the mud in the black darkness amongstthe pilesshe heard the whisper in the boat that made light oftoilofprivationof dangerof life itselfif in exchangetherecould be but a short moment of close embracea look fromthe eyesthe feel of light breaththe touch of soft lips. Sospoke Dainas he sat in the canoe holding Nina's hands whilewaitingfor Bulangi's return; and Taminahsupporting herself bythe slimypilefelt as if a heavy weight was crushing her downdown intothe black oily water at her feet. She wanted to cryout; torush at them and tear their vague shadows apart; to throwNina intothe smooth watercling to her closehold her to thebottomwhere that man could not find her. She could not cryshecould notmove. Then footsteps were heard on the bamboo platformabove herhead; she saw Bulangi get into his smallest canoe andtake theleadthe other boat followingpaddled by Dain andNina. With a slight splash of the paddles dipped stealthily intothe watertheir indistinct forms passed before her aching eyesandvanished in the darkness of the creek.
Sheremained there in the cold and wetpowerless to movebreathingpainfully under the crushing weight that the mysterioushand ofFate had laid so suddenly upon her slender shouldersandshiveringshe felt within a burning firethat seemed to feedupon hervery life. When the breaking day had spread a palegoldenribbon over the black outline of the forestsshe took upher trayand departed towards the settlementgoing about hertaskpurely from the force of habit. As she approached Sambirshe couldsee the excitement and she heard with momentarysurpriseof the finding of Dain's body. It was not trueofcourse. She knew it well. She regretted that he was not dead.She shouldhave liked Dain to be deadso as to be parted fromthatwoman--from all women. She felt a strong desire to seeNinabutwithout any clear object. She hated herand fearedher andshe felt an irresistible impulse pushing her towardsAlmayer'shouse to see the white woman's faceto look close atthoseeyesto hear again that voicefor the sound of which Dainwas readyto risk his libertyhis life even. She had seen hermanytimes; she had heard her voice daily for many months past.What wasthere in her? What was there in that being to make aman speakas Dain had spokento make him blind to all otherfacesdeaf to all other voices?
She leftthe crowd by the riversideand wandered aimlessly amongthe emptyhousesresisting the impulse that pushed her towardsAlmayer'scampong to seek there in Nina's eyes the secret of herownmisery. The sun mounting highershortened the shadows andpoureddown upon her a flood of light and of stifling heat as shepassed onfrom shadow to lightfrom light to shadowamongst thehousesthe bushesthe tall treesin her unconscious flightfrom thepain in her own heart. In the extremity of her distressshe couldfind no words to pray for reliefshe knew of no heavento sendher prayer toand she wandered on with tired feet in thedumbsurprise and terror at the injustice of the sufferinginflictedupon her without cause and without redress.
The shorttalk with Reshidthe proposal of Abdulla steadied hera littleand turned her thoughts into another channel. Dain wasin somedanger. He was hiding from white men. So much she hadoverheardlast night. They all thought him dead. She knew hewas aliveand she knew of his hiding-place. What did the Arabswant toknow about the white men? The white men want with Dain?Did theywish to kill him? She could tell them all--noshewould saynothingand in the night she would go to him and sellhim hislife for a wordfor a smilefor a gesture evenand behis slavein far-off countriesaway from Nina. But there weredangers. The one-eyed Babalatchi who knew everything; the whiteman'swife--she was a witch. Perhaps they would tell. And thenthere wasNina. She must hurry on and see.
In herimpatience she left the path and ran towards Almayer'sdwellingthrough the undergrowth between the palm trees. Shecame outat the back of the housewhere a narrow ditchfull ofstagnantwater that overflowed from the riverseparatedAlmayer'scampong from the rest of the settlement. The thickbushesgrowing on the bank were hiding from her sight the largecourtyardwith its cooking shed. Above them rose several thincolumns ofsmokeand from behind the sound of strange voicesinformedTaminah that the Men of the Sea belonging to the warshiphadalready landed and were camped between the ditch and thehouse. To the left one of Almayer's slave-girls came down to theditch andbent over the shiny waterwashing a kettle. To theright thetops of the banana plantationvisible above thebushesswayed and shook under the touch of invisible handsgatheringthe fruit. On the calm water several canoes moored toa heavystake were crowded togethernearly bridging the ditchjust atthe place where Taminah stood. The voices in thecourtyardrose at times into an outburst of callsrepliesandlaughterand then died away into a silence that soon was brokenagain by afresh clamour. Now and again the thin blue smokerushed outthicker and blackerand drove in odorous masses overthe creekwrapping her for a moment in a suffocating veil; thenas thefresh wood caught well alightthe smoke vanished in thebrightsunlightand only the scent of aromatic wood driftedafartoleeward of the crackling fires.
Taminahrested her tray on a stump of a treeand remainedstandingwith her eyes turned towards Almayer's housewhose roofand partof a whitewashed wall were visible over the bushes. Theslave-girlfinished her workand after looking for a whilecuriouslyat Taminahpushed her way through the dense thicketback tothe courtyard. Round Taminah there was now a completesolitude. She threw herself down on the groundand hid her facein herhands. Now when so close she had no courage to see Nina.At everyburst of louder voices from the courtyard she shiveredin thefear of hearing Nina's voice. She came to the resolutionof waitingwhere she was till darkand then going straight toDain'shiding-place. From where she was she could watch themovementsof white menof Ninaof all Dain's friendsand ofall hisenemies. Both were hateful alike to herfor both wouldtake himaway beyond her reach. She hid herself in the longgrass towait anxiously for the sunset that seemed so slow tocome.
On theother side of the ditchbehind the bushby the clearfirestheseamen of the frigate had encamped on the hospitableinvitationof Almayer. Almayerroused out of his apathy by theprayersand importunity of Ninahad managed to get down in timeto thejetty so as to receive the officers at their landing. Thelieutenantin command accepted his invitation to his house withthe remarkthat in any case their business was with Almayer--andperhapsnot very pleasanthe added. Almayer hardly heard him.He shookhands with them absently and led the way towards thehouse. He was scarcely conscious of the polite words of welcomehe greetedthe strangers withand afterwards repeated severaltimes overagain in his efforts to appear at ease. The agitationof theirhost did not escape the officer's eyesand the chiefconfidedto his subordinatein a low voicehis doubts as toAlmayer'ssobriety. The young sub-lieutenant laughed andexpressedin a whisper the hope that the white man was notintoxicatedenough to neglect the offer of some refreshments."Hedoes not seem very dangerous" he addedas they followedAlmayer upthe steps of the verandah.
"Nohe seems more of a fool than a knave; I have heard of him"returnedthe senior.
They sataround the table. Almayer with shaking hands made gincocktailsoffered them all roundand drank himselfwith everygulpfeeling strongersteadierand better able to face all thedifficultiesof his position. Ignorant of the fate of the brighe did notsuspect the real object of the officer's visit. Hehad ageneral notion that something must have leaked out aboutthegunpowder tradebut apprehended nothing beyond sometemporaryinconveniences. After emptying his glass he began tochateasilylying back in his chair with one of his legs thrownnegligentlyover the arm. The lieutenant astride on his chairaglowingcheroot in the corner of his mouthlistened with a slysmile frombehind the thick volumes of smoke that escaped fromhiscompressed lips. The young sub-lieutenantleaning with bothelbows onthe tablehis head between his handslooked onsleepilyin the torpor induced by fatigue and the gin. Almayertalkedon--
"Itis a great pleasure to see white faces here. I have livedhere manyyears in great solitude. The Malaysyou understandare notcompany for a white man; moreover they are not friendly;they donot understand our ways. Great rascals they are. Ibelieve Iam the only white man on the east coast that is asettledresident. We get visitors from Macassar or Singaporesometimes--tradersagentsor explorersbut they are rare.There wasa scientific explorer here a year or more ago. Helived inmy house: drank from morning to night. He livedjoyouslyfor a few monthsand when the liquor he brought withhim wasgone he returned to Batavia with a report on the mineralwealth ofthe interior. Hahaha! Goodis it not?"
He ceasedabruptly and looked at his guests with a meaninglessstare. While they laughed he was reciting to himself the oldstory:"Dain deadall my plans destroyed. This is the end ofall hopeand of all things." His heart sank within him. Hefelta kind ofdeadly sickness.
"Verygood. Capital!" exclaimed both officers. Almayercame outof hisdespondency with another burst of talk.
"Eh!what about the dinner? You have got a cook with you.That's allright. There is a cooking shed in the othercourtyard. I can give you a goose. Look at my geese--the onlygeese onthe east coast--perhaps on the whole island. Is thatyourcook? Very good. HereAlishow this Chinaman thecookingplace andtell Mem Almayer to let him have room there. My wifegentlemendoes not come out; my daughter may. Meantime havesome moredrink. It is a hot day."
Thelieutenant took the cigar out of his mouthlooked at the ashcriticallyshook it off and turned towards Almayer.
"Wehave a rather unpleasant business with you" he said.
"I amsorry" returned Almayer. "It can be nothing veryserioussurely."
"Ifyou think an attempt to blow up forty men at leastnot aseriousmatter you will not find many people of your opinion"retortedthe officer sharply.
"Blowup! What? I know nothing about it" exclaimedAlmayer."Whodid thator tried to do it?"
"Aman with whom you had some dealings" answered the lieutenant."Hepassed here under the name of Dain Maroola. You sold him thegunpowderhe had in that brig we captured."
"Howdid you hear about the brig?" asked Almayer. "I knownothingabout the powder he may have had."
"AnArab trader of this place has sent the information about yourgoings onhere to Bataviaa couple of months ago" said theofficer. "We were waiting for the brig outsidebut he slippedpast us atthe mouth of the riverand we had to chase the fellowto thesouthward. When he sighted us he ran inside the reefs andput thebrig ashore. The crew escaped in boats before we couldtakepossession. As our boats neared the craft it blew up with atremendousexplosion; one of the boats being too near gotswamped. Two men drowned--that is the result of yourspeculationMr. Almayer. Now we want this Dain. We have goodgrounds tosuppose he is hiding in Sambir. Do you know
where heis? You had better put yourself right with theauthoritiesas much as possible by being perfectly frank with me.Where isthis Dain?"
Almayergot up and walked towards the balustrade of the verandah.He seemednot to be thinking of the officer's question. Helooked atthe body laying straight and rigid under its whitecover onwhich the sundeclining amongst the clouds to thewestwardthrew a pale tinge of red. The lieutenant waited fortheanswertaking quick pulls at his half-extinguished cigar.Behindthem Ali moved noiselessly laying the tablerangingsolemnlythe ill-assorted and shabby crockerythe tin spoonsthe forkswith broken prongsand the knives with saw-like bladesand loosehandles. He had almost forgotten how to prepare thetable forwhite men. He felt aggrieved; Mem Nina would not helphim. He stepped back to look at his work admiringlyfeelingveryproud. This must be right; and if the master afterwards isangry andswearsthen so much the worse for Mem Nina. Why didshe nothelp? He left the verandah to fetch the dinner.
"WellMr. Almayerwill you answer my question as frankly as itis put toyou?" asked the lieutenantafter a long silence.
Almayerturned round and looked at his interlocutor steadily."Ifyou catch this Dain what will you do with him?" he asked.
Theofficer's face flushed. "This is not an answer" hesaidannoyed.
"Andwhat will you do with me?" went on Almayernot heeding theinterruption.
"Areyou inclined to bargain?" growled the other. "Itwould bebadpolicyI assure you. At present I have no orders about yourpersonbut we expected your assistance in catching this Malay."
"Ah!"interrupted Almayer"just so: you can do nothing withoutmeand Iknowing the man wellam to help you in finding him."
"Thisis exactly what we expect" assented the officer. "Youhavebroken the lawMr. Almayerand you ought to make amends."
"Wellin a sense yes. Your head is not in any danger" said thelieutenantwith a short laugh.
"Verywell" said Almayerwith decision"I shall deliver theman up toyou."
Bothofficers rose to their feet quicklyand looked for theirside-armswhich they had unbuckled. Almayer laughed harshly.
"Steadygentlemen!" he exclaimed. "In my own time and in myownway. After dinnergentlemenyou shall have him."
"Thisis preposterous" urged the lieutenant. "Mr. Almayerthisis nojoking matter. The man is a criminal. He deserves tohang. While we dine he may escape; the rumour of our arrival--"
Almayerwalked towards the table. "I give you my word of honourgentlementhat he shall not escape; I have him safe enough."
"Thearrest should be effected before dark" remarked the youngsub.
"Ishall hold you responsible for any failure. We are readybutcan donothing just now without you" added the seniorwithevidentannoyance.
Almayermade a gesture of assent. "On my word of honour" herepeatedvaguely. "And now let us dine" he added briskly.
Nina camethrough the doorway and stood for a moment holding thecurtainaside for Ali and the old Malay woman bearing the dishes;then shemoved towards the three men by the table.
"Allowme" said Almayerpompously. "This is my daughter.Ninathese gentlemenofficers of the frigate outsidehave doneme thehonour to accept my hospitality."
Ninaanswered the low bows of the two officers by a slowinclinationof the head and took her place at the table oppositeherfather. All sat down. The coxswain of the steam launchcameupcarrying some bottles of wine.
"Youwill allow me to have this put upon the table?" said thelieutenantto Almayer.
"What!Wine! You are very kind. CertainlyI have none myself.Times arevery hard."
The lastwords of his reply were spoken by Almayer in a falteringvoice. The thought that Dain was dead recurred to him vividlyagainandhe felt as if an invisible hand was gripping histhroat. He reached for the gin bottle while they were uncorkingthe wineand swallowed a big gulp. The lieutenantwho wasspeakingto Ninagave him a quick glance. The young sub beganto recoverfrom the astonishment and confusion caused by Nina'sunexpectedappearance and great beauty. "She was very beautifulandimposing" he reflected"but after all a half-caste girl."Thisthought caused him to pluck up heart and look at Ninasideways. Ninawith composed facewas answering in a lowevenvoice theelder officer's polite questions as to the country andher modeof life. Almayer pushed his plate away and drank hisguest'swine in gloomy silence.
"CanI believe what you tell me? It is like a tale for men thatlistenonly half awake by the camp fireand it seems to have runoff awoman's tongue."
"Whois there here for me to deceiveO Rajah?" answeredBabalatchi. "Without you I am nothing. All I have told you Ibelieve tobe true. I have been safe for many years in thehollow ofyour hand. This is no time to harbour suspicions. Thedanger isvery great. We should advise and act at oncebeforethe sunsets."
"Right. Right" muttered Lakambapensively.
They hadbeen sitting for the last hour together in the audiencechamber ofthe Rajah's housefor Babalatchias soon as he hadwitnessedthe landing of the Dutch officershad crossed theriver toreport to his master the events of the morningand toconferwith him upon the line of conduct to pursue in the face ofalteredcircumstances. They were both puzzled and frightened bytheunexpected turn the events had taken. The Rajahsittingcrossleggedon his chairlooked fixedly at the floor; Babalatchiwassquatting close by in an attitude of deep dejection.
"Andwhere did you say he is hiding now?" asked Lakambabreakingat lastthe silence full of gloomy forebodings in which they bothhad beenlost for a long while.
"InBulangi's clearing--the furthest oneaway from the house.They wentthere that very night. The white man's daughter tookhimthere. She told me so herselfspeaking to me openlyforshe ishalf white and has no decency. She said she was waitingfor himwhile he was here; thenafter a long timehe came outof thedarkness and fell at her feet exhausted. He lay like onedeadbutshe brought him back to life in her armsand made himbreatheagain with her own breath. That is what she saidspeakingto my faceas I am speaking now to youRajah. She islike awhite woman and knows no shame."
He pauseddeeply shocked. Lakamba nodded his head. "Wellandthen?"he asked.
"Theycalled the old woman" went on Babalatchi"and he toldthemall--about the brigand how he tried to kill many men. Heknew theOrang Blanda were very nearalthough he had saidnothing tous about that; he knew his great danger. He thoughthe hadkilled manybut there were only two deadas I have heardfrom themen of the sea that came in the warship's boats."
"Andthe other manhe that was found in the river?" interruptedLakamba.
"Thatwas one of his boatmen. When his canoe was overturned bythe logsthose two swam togetherbut the other man must havebeenhurt. Dain swamholding him up. He left him in thebusheswhen hewent up to the house. When they all came down his hearthad ceasedto beat; then the old woman spoke; Dain thought it wasgood. He took off his anklet and broke ittwisting it round theman'sfoot. His ring he put on that slave's hand. He took offhis sarongand clothed that thing that wanted no clothesthe twowomenholding it up meanwhiletheir intent being to deceive alleyes andto mislead the minds in the settlementso that theycouldswear to the thing that was notand that there could be notreacherywhen the white-men came. Then Dain and the white womandepartedto call up Bulangi and find a hiding-place. The oldwomanremained by the body."
"Hai!"exclaimed Lakamba. "She has wisdom."
"Yesshe has a Devil of her own to whisper counsel in her ear"assentedBabalatchi. "She dragged the body with great toil tothe pointwhere many logs were stranded. All these things weredone inthe darkness after the storm had passed away. Then shewaited. At the first sign of daylight she battered the face ofthe deadwith a heavy stoneand she pushed him amongst the logs.Sheremained nearwatching. At sunrise Mahmat Banjer came andfoundhim. They all believed; I myself was deceivedbut not forlong. The white man believedandgrievingfled to his house.When wewere alone Ihaving doubtsspoke to the womanand shefearing myanger and your mighttold me allasking for help insavingDain."
"Hemust not fall into the hands of the Orang Blanda" saidLakamba;"but let him dieif the thing can be done quietly."
"ItcannotTuan! Remember there is that woman whobeing halfwhiteisungovernableand would raise a great outcry. Also theofficersare here. They are angry enough already. Dain mustescape; hemust go. We must help him now for our own safety."
"Arethe officers very angry?" inquired Lakambawith interest.
"Theyare. The principal chief used strong words when speakingto me--tome when I salaamed in your name. I do not think"addedBabalatchiafter a short pause and looking veryworried--"Ido not think I saw a white chief so angry before. Hesaid wewere careless or even worse. He told me he would speakto theRajahand that I was of no account."
"Speakto the Rajah!" repeated Lakambathoughtfully. "ListenBabalatchi:I am sickand shall withdraw; you cross over andtell thewhite men."
"Yes"said Babalatchi"I am going over at once; and as toDain?"
"Youget him away as you can best. This is a great trouble in myheart"sighed Lakamba.
Babalatchigot upandgoing close to his masterspokeearnestly.
"Thereis one of our praus at the southern mouth of the river.The Dutchwarship is to the northward watching the main entrance.I shallsend Dain off to-night in a canoeby the hiddenchannelson board the prau. His father is a great princeandshall hearof our generosity. Let the prau take him to Ampanam.Your gloryshall be greatand your reward in powerfulfriendship. Almayer will no doubt deliver the dead body asDain's tothe officersand the foolish white men shall say'This isvery good; let there be peace.' And the trouble shall beremovedfrom your heartRajah."
"True!true!" said Lakamba.
"Andthis being accomplished by me who am your slaveyou shallrewardwith a generous hand. That I know! The white man isgrievingfor the lost treasurein the manner of white men whothirstafter dollars. Nowwhen all other things are in orderwe shallperhaps obtain the treasure from the white man. Dainmustescapeand Almayer must live."
"NowgoBabalatchigo!" said Lakambagetting off his chair."I amvery sickand want medicine. Tell the white chief so."
ButBabalatchi was not to be got rid of in this summary manner.He knewthat his masterafter the manner of the greatliked toshift theburden of toil and danger on to his servants'shouldersbut in the difficult straits in which they were nowthe Rajahmust play his part. He may be very sick for the whitemenforall the world if he likedas long as he would take uponhimselfthe execution of part at least of Babalatchi's carefullythought-ofplan. Babalatchi wanted a big canoe manned by twelvemen to besent out after dark towards Bulangi's clearing. Dainmay haveto be overpowered. A man in love cannot be expected toseeclearly the path of safety if it leads him away from theobject ofhis affectionsargued Babalatchiand in that casethey wouldhave to use force in order to make him go. Would theRajah seethat trusty men manned the canoe? The thing must bedonesecretly. Perhaps the Rajah would come himselfso as tobring allthe weight of his authority to bear upon Dain if heshouldprove obstinate and refuse to leave his hiding-place. TheRajahwould not commit himself to a definite promiseandanxiouslypressed Babalatchi to gobeing afraid of the white menpaying himan unexpected visit. The aged statesman reluctantlytook hisleave and went into the courtyard.
Beforegoing down to his boat Babalatchi stopped for a while inthe bigopen space where the thick-leaved trees put black patchesof shadowwhich seemed to float on a flood of smoothintenselight thatrolled up to the houses and down to the stockade andover theriverwhere it broke and sparkled in thousands ofglitteringwaveletslike a band woven of azure and gold edgedwith thebrilliant green of the forests guarding both banks ofthePantai. In the perfect calm before the coming of theafternoonbreeze the irregularly jagged line of tree-tops stoodunchangingas if traced by an unsteady hand on the clear blue ofthe hotsky. In the space sheltered by the high palisades therelingeredthe smell of decaying blossoms from the surroundingforestataint of drying fish; with now and then a whiff ofacridsmoke from the cooking fires when it eddied down from underthe leafyboughs and clung lazily about the burnt-up grass.
AsBabalatchi looked up at the flagstaff over-topping a group oflow treesin the middle of the courtyardthe tricolour flag oftheNetherlands stirred slightly for the first time since it hadbeenhoisted that morning on the arrival of the man-of-war boats.With afaint rustle of trees the breeze came down in light puffsplayingcapriciously for a time with this emblem of Lakamba'spowerthat was also the mark of his servitude; then the breezefreshenedin a sharp gust of windand the flag flew out straightand steadyabove the trees. A dark shadow ran along the riverrollingover and covering up the sparkle of declining sunlight.A bigwhite cloud sailed slowly across the darkening skyandhung tothe westward as if waiting for the sun to join it there.Men andthings shook off the torpor of the hot afternoon andstirredinto life under the first breath of the sea breeze.
Babalatchihurried down to the water-gate; yet before he passedthrough ithe paused to look round the courtyardwith its lightand shadewith its cheery fireswith the groups of Lakamba'ssoldiersand retainers scattered about. His own house stoodamongstthe other buildings in that enclosureand the statesmanof Sambirasked himself with a sinking heart when and how wouldit begiven him to return to that house. He had to deal with aman moredangerous than any wild beast of his experience: a proudmana manwilful after the manner of princesa man in love.And he wasgoing forth to speak to that man words of cold andworldlywisdom. Could anything be more appalling? What if thatman shouldtake umbrage at some fancied slight to his honour ordisregardof his affections and suddenly "amok"? The wiseadviserwould be the first victimno doubtand death would behisreward. And underlying the horror of this situation therewas thedanger of those meddlesome foolsthe white men. Avision ofcomfortless exile in far-off Madura rose up beforeBabalatchi. Wouldn't that be worse than death itself? And therewas thathalf-white woman with threatening eyes. How could hetell whatan incomprehensible creature of that sort would orwould notdo? She knew so much that she made the killing of Dainanimpossibility. That much was certain. And yet the sharprough-edgedkriss is a good and discreet friendthoughtBabalatchias he examined his own lovinglyand put it back inthesheathwith a sigh of regretbefore unfastening his canoe.As he castoff the painterpushed out into the streamand tookup hispaddlehe realised vividly how unsatisfactory it was tohave womenmixed up in state affairs. Young womenof course.For Mrs.Almayer's mature wisdomand for the easy aptitude inintriguethat comes with years to the feminine mindhe felt themostsincere respect.
He paddledleisurelyletting the canoe drift down as he crossedtowardsthe point. The sun was high yetand nothing pressed.His workwould commence only with the coming of darkness.Avoidingthe Lingard jettyhe rounded the pointand paddled upthe creekat the back of Almayer's house. There were many canoeslyingtheretheir noses all drawn togetherfastened all to thesamestake. Babalatchi pushed his little craft in amongst themandstepped on shore. On the other side of the ditch somethingmoved inthe grass.
"Who'sthat hiding?" hailed Babalatchi. "Come out and speaktome."
Nobodyanswered. Babalatchi crossed overpassing from boat toboatandpoked his staff viciously in the suspicious place.Taminahjumped up with a cry.
"Whatare you doing here?" he askedsurprised. "I havenearlystepped onyour tray. Am I a Dyak that you should hide at mysight?"
"Iwas wearyand--I slept" whispered Taminahconfusedly.
"Youslept! You have not sold anything to-dayand you will bebeatenwhen you return home" said Babalatchi.
Taminahstood before him abashed and silent. Babalatchi lookedher overcarefully with great satisfaction. Decidedly he wouldofferfifty dollars more to that thief Bulangi. The girl pleasedhim.
"Nowyou go home. It is late" he said sharply. "TellBulangithat Ishall be near his house before the night is half overandthat Iwant him to make all things ready for a long journey. Youunderstand? A long journey to the southward. Tell him thatbeforesunsetand do not forget my words."
Taminahmade a gesture of assentand watched Babalatchi recrossthe ditchand disappear through the bushes bordering Almayer'scompound. She moved a little further off the creek and sank inthe grassagainlying down on her faceshivering in dry-eyedmisery.
Babalatchiwalked straight towards the cooking-shed looking forMrs.Almayer. The courtyard was in a great uproar. A strangeChinamanhad possession of the kitchen fire and was noisilydemandinganother saucepan. He hurled objurgationsin theCantondialect and bad Malayagainst the group of slave-girlsstanding alittle way offhalf frightenedhalf amusedat hisviolence. From the camping fires round which the seamen of thefrigatewere sitting came words of encouragementmingled withlaughterand jeering. In the midst of this noise and confusionBabalatchimet Alian empty dish in his hand.
"Whereare the white men?" asked Babalatchi.
"Theyare eating in the front verandah" answered Ali. "Donotstop meTuan. I am giving the white men their food and ambusy."
"Insidein the passage. She is listening to the talk."
Aligrinned and passed on; Babalatchi ascended the plankway tothe rearverandahand beckoning out Mrs. Almayerengaged her inearnestconversation. Through the long passageclosed at thefurtherend by the red curtainthey could hear from time to timeAlmayer'svoice mingling in conversation with an abrupt loudnessthat madeMrs. Almayer look significantly at Babalatchi.
"Listen"she said. "He has drunk much."
"Hehas" whispered Babalatchi. "He will sleep heavilyto-night."
Mrs.Almayer looked doubtful.
"Sometimesthe devil of strong gin makes him keep awakeand hewalks upand down the verandah all nightcursing; then we standafar off"explained Mrs. Almayerwith the fuller knowledge bornof twentyodd years of married life.
"Butthen he does not hearnor understandand his handofcoursehas no strength. We do not want him to hear to-night."
"No"assented Mrs. Almayerenergeticallybut in a cautiouslysubduedvoice. "If he hears he will kill."
"HaiTuanyou may believe me. Have I not lived many years withthat man? Have I not seen death in that man's eyes more thanonce whenI was younger and he guessed at many things. Had hebeen a manof my own people I would not have seen such a looktwice; buthe--"
With acontemptuous gesture she seemed to fling unutterable scornonAlmayer's weak-minded aversion to sudden bloodshed.
"Ifhe has the wish but not the strengththen what do we fear?"askedBabalatchiafter a short silence during which they bothlistenedto Almayer's loud talk till it subsided into the murmurof generalconversation. "What do we fear?" repeated Babalatchiagain.
"Tokeep the daughter whom he loves he would strike into yourheart andmine without hesitation" said Mrs. Almayer. "Whenthegirl isgone he will be like the devil unchained. Then you and Ihad betterbeware."
"I aman old man and fear not death" answered Babalatchiwith amendaciousassumption of indifference. "But what will you do?"
"I aman old womanand wish to live" retorted Mrs. Almayer."Sheis my daughter also. I shall seek safety at the feet of ourRajahspeaking in the name of the past when we both were youngand he--"
Babalatchiraised his hand.
"Enough. You shall be protected" he said soothingly.
Again thesound of Almayer's voice was heardand againinterruptingtheir talkthey listened to the confused but loudutterancecoming in bursts of unequal strengthwith unexpectedpauses andnoisy repetitions that made some words and sentencesfall clearand distinct on their ears out of the meaninglessjumble ofexcited shoutings emphasised by the thumping ofAlmayer'sfist upon the table. On the short intervals ofsilencethe high complaining note of tumblersstanding closetogetherand vibrating to the shocklingeredgrowing faintertill itleapt up again into tumultuous ringingwhen a new ideastarted anew rush of words and brought down the heavy handagain. At last the quarrelsome shouting ceasedand the thinplaint ofdisturbed glass died away into reluctant quietude.
Babalatchiand Mrs. Almayer had listened curiouslytheir bodiesbent andtheir ears turned towards the passage. At every loudershout theynodded at each other with a ridiculous affectation ofscandalisedproprietyand they remained in the same attitude forsome timeafter the noise had ceased.
"Thisis the devil of gin" whispered Mrs. Almayer. "Yes;hetalks likethat sometimes when there is nobody to hear him."
"Whatdoes he say?" inquired Babalatchieagerly. "Youought tounderstand."
"Ihave forgotten their talk. A little I understood. Hespokewithoutany respect of the white ruler in Bataviaand ofprotectionand said he had been wronged; he said that severaltimes. More I did not understand. Listen! Again he speaks!"
"Tse!tse! tse!" clicked Babalatchitrying to appear shockedbut with ajoyous twinkle of his solitary eye. "There will begreattrouble between those white men. I will go round now andsee. You tell your daughter that there is a sudden and a longjourneybefore herwith much glory and splendour at the end.And tellher that Dain must goor he must dieand that he willnot goalone."
"Nohe will not go alone" slowly repeated Mrs. Almayerwith athoughtfulairas she crept into the passage after seeingBabalatchidisappear round the corner of the house.
Thestatesman of Sambirunder the impulse of vivid curiositymade hisway quickly to the front of the housebut once there hemovedslowly and cautiously as he crept step by step up thestairs ofthe verandah. On the highest step he sat down quietlyhis feeton the steps belowready for flight should his presenceproveunwelcome. He felt pretty safe so. The table stood nearlyendways tohimand he saw Almayer's back; at Nina he looked fullfaceandhad a side view of both officers; but of the fourpersonssitting at the table only Nina and the younger officernoticedhis noiseless arrival. The momentary dropping of Nina'seyelidsacknowledged Babalatchi's presence; she then spoke atonce tothe young subwho turned towards her with attentivealacritybut her gaze was fastened steadily on her father's facewhileAlmayer was speaking uproariously.
" . .. disloyalty and unscrupulousness! What have you ever doneto make meloyal? You have no grip on this country. I had totake careof myselfand when I asked for protection I was metwiththreats and contemptand had Arab slander thrown in myface. I! a white man!"
"Don'tbe violentAlmayer" remonstrated the lieutenant; "I haveheard allthis already."
"Thenwhy do you talk to me about scruples? I wanted moneyandI gavepowder in exchange. How could I know that some of yourwretchedmen were going to be blown up? Scruples! Pah!"
He gropedunsteadily amongst the bottlestrying one afteranothergrumbling to himself the while.
"Nomore wine" he muttered discontentedly.
"Youhave had enoughAlmayer" said the lieutenantas helighted acigar. "Is it not time to deliver to us your prisoner?I take ityou have that Dain Maroola stowed away safelysomewhere. Still we had better get that business overand thenwe shallhave more drink. Come! don't look at me like this."
Almayerwas staring with stony eyeshis trembling fingersfumblingabout his throat.
"Gold"he said with difficulty. "Hem! A hand on thewindpipeyou know. Sure you will excuse. I wanted to say--a little goldfor alittle powder. What's that?"
"IknowI know" said the lieutenant soothingly.
"No!You don't know. Not one of you knows!" shouted Almayer."Thegovernment is a foolI tell you. Heaps of gold. I am theman thatknows; I and another one. But he won't speak. He is--"
He checkedhimself with a feeble smileandmaking anunsuccessfulattempt to pat the officer on the shoulderknockedover acouple of empty bottles.
"Personallyyou are a fine fellow" he said very distinctlyin apatronisingmanner. His head nodded drowsily as he sat mutteringtohimself.
The twoofficers looked at each other helplessly.
"Thiswon't do" said the lieutenantaddressing his junior."Havethe men mustered in the compound here. I must get somesense outof him. Hi! Almayer! Wake upman. Redeem yourword.You gaveyour word. You gave your word of honouryou know."
Almayershook off the officer's hand with impatiencebut hisill-humourvanished at onceand he looked upputting hisforefingerto the side of his nose.
"Youare very young; there is time for all things" he saidwithan air ofgreat sagacity.
Thelieutenant turned towards Ninawholeaning back in herchairwatched her father steadily.
"ReallyI am very much distressed by all this for your sake" heexclaimed. "I do not know;" he went onspeaking with someembarrassment"whether I have any right to ask you anythingunlessperhapsto withdraw from this painful scenebut I feelthat Imust--for your father's good--suggest that you should--Imean ifyou have any influence over him you ought to exert it nowto makehim keep the promise he gave me before he--before he gotinto thisstate."
Heobserved with discouragement that she seemed not to take anynotice ofwhat he said sitting still with half-closed eyes.
"Itrust--" he began again.
"Whatis the promise you speak of?" abruptly asked Ninaleavingher seatand moving towards her father.
"Nothingthat is not just and proper. He promised to deliver tous a manwho in time of profound peace took the lives of innocentmen toescape the punishment he deserved for breaking the law.He plannedhis mischief on a large scale. It is not his fault ifit failedpartially. Of course you have heard of Dain Maroola.Yourfather secured himI understand. We know he escaped upthisriver. Perhaps you--"
"Andhe killed white men!" interrupted Nina.
"Iregret to say they were white. Yestwo white men lost theirlivesthrough that scoundrel's freak."
"Twoonly!" exclaimed Nina.
Theofficer looked at her in amazement.
"Why!why! You- " he stammeredconfused.
"Theremight have been more" interrupted Nina. "And whenyougetthis--this scoundrel will you go?"
Thelieutenantstill speechlessbowed his assent.
"ThenI would get him for you if I had to seek him in a burningfire"she burst out with intense energy. "I hate the sight ofyour whitefaces. I hate the sound of your gentle voices. Thatis the wayyou speak to womendropping sweet words before anyprettyface. I have heard your voices before. I hoped to liveherewithout seeing any other white face but this" she added ina gentlertonetouching lightly her father's cheek.
Almayerceased his mumbling and opened his eyes. He caught holdof hisdaughter's hand and pressed it to his facewhile Ninawith theother hand smoothed his rumpled grey hairlookingdefiantlyover her father's head at the officerwho had nowregainedhis composure and returned her look with a coolsteadystare. Belowin front of the verandahthey could hear thetramp ofseamen mustering there according to orders. Thesub-lieutenantcame up the stepswhile Babalatchi stood upuneasilyandwith finger on liptried to catch Nina's eye.
"Youare a good girl" whispered Almayerabsentlydropping hisdaughter'shand.
"Father!father!" she criedbending over him with passionateentreaty. "See those two men looking at us. Send them away. Icannotbear it any more. Send them away. Do what they want andlet themgo."
She caughtsight of Babalatchi and ceased speaking suddenlybuther foottapped the floor with rapid beats in a paroxysm ofnervousrestlessness. The two officers stood close togetherlooking oncuriously.
"Whathas happened? What is the matter?" whispered the youngerman.
"Don'tknow" answered the otherunder his breath. "One isfuriousand the other is drunk. Not so drunkeither. Queerthis. Look!"
Almayerhad risenholding on to his daughter's arm. Hehesitateda momentthen he let go his hold and lurched half-wayacross theverandah. There he pulled himself togetherand stoodverystraightbreathing hard and glaring round angrily.
"Arethe men ready?" asked the lieutenant.
"NowMr. Almayerlead the way" said the lieutenant
Almayerrested his eyes on him as if he saw him for the firsttime.
"Twomen" he said thickly. The effort of speaking seemed tointerferewith his equilibrium. He took a quick step to savehimselffrom a falland remained swaying backwards and forwards."Twomen" he began againspeaking with difficulty. "Twowhitemen--menin uniform--honourable men. I want to say--men ofhonour. Are you?"
"Come!None of that" said the officer impatiently. "Let ushavethatfriend of yours."
"Whatdo you think I am?" asked Almayerfiercely.
"Youare drunkbut not so drunk as not to know what you aredoing. Enough of this tomfoolery" said the officer sternly"orI willhave you put under arrest in your own house."
"Arrest!"laughed Almayerdiscordantly. "Ha! ha! ha! Arrest!WhyIhave been trying to get out of this infernal place fortwentyyearsand I can't. You hearman! I can'tand nevershall! Never!"
He endedhis words with a soband walked unsteadily down thestairs. When in the courtyard the lieutenant approached himandtook himby the arm. The sub-lieutenant and Babalatchi followedclose.
"That'sbetterAlmayer" said the officer encouragingly. "Whereare yougoing to? There are only planks there. Here" hewentonshaking him slightly"do we want the boats?"
"No"answered Almayerviciously. "You want a grave."
"What? Wild again! Try to talk sense."
"Grave!"roared Almayerstruggling to get himself free. "A holein theground. Don't you understand? You must be drunk. Let mego! Let goI tell you!"
He toreaway from the officer's graspand reeled towards theplankswhere the body lay under its white cover; then he turnedroundquicklyand faced the semicircle of interested faces. Thesun wassinking rapidlythrowing long shadows of house and treesover thecourtyardbut the light lingered yet on the riverwhere thelogs went drifting past in midstreamlooking verydistinctand black in the pale red glow. The trunks of the treesin theforest on the east bank were lost in gloom while theirhighestbranches swayed gently in the departing sunlight. Theair feltheavy and cold in the breezeexpiring in slight puffsthat cameover the water.
Almayershivered as he made an effort to speakand again with anuncertaingesture he seemed to free his throat from the grip ofaninvisible hand. His bloodshot eyes wandered aimlessly fromface toface.
"There!"he said at last. "Are you all there? He is adangerousman."
He draggedat the cover with hasty violenceand the body rolledstifflyoff the planks and fell at his feet in rigidhelplessness.
"Coldperfectly cold" said Almayerlooking round with amirthlesssmile. "Sorry can do no better. And you can't hanghimeither. As you observegentlemen" he added gravely"thereis no headand hardly any neck."
The lastray of light was snatched away from the tree-topstheriver grewsuddenly darkand in the great stillness the murmurof theflowing water seemed to fill the vast expanse of greyshadowthat descended upon the land.
"Thisis Dain" went on Almayer to the silent group thatsurroundedhim. "And I have kept my word. First one hopethenanotherand this is my last. Nothing is left now. You thinkthere isone dead man here? MistakeI 'sure you. I am muchmoredead. Why don't you hang me?" he suggested suddenlyin afriendlytoneaddressing the lieutenant. "I assureassure youit wouldbe a mat--matter of form altog--altogether."
These lastwords he muttered to himselfand walked zigzagingtowardshis house. "Get out!" he thundered at Aliwho wasapproachingtimidly with offers of assistance. From afarscaredgroups ofmen and women watched his devious progress. He draggedhimself upthe stairs by the banisterand managed to reach achair intowhich he fell heavily. He sat for awhile panting withexertionand angerand looking round vaguely for Nina; thenmaking athreatening gesture towards the compoundwhere he hadheardBabalatchi's voicehe overturned the table with his footin a greatcrash of smashed crockery. He muttered yet menacinglytohimselfthen his head fell on his breasthis eyes closedand with adeep sigh he fell asleep.
Thatnight--for the first time in its history--the peaceful andflourishingsettlement of Sambir saw the lights shining about"Almayer'sFolly." These were the lanterns of the boats hung upby theseamen under the verandah where the two officers wereholding acourt of inquiry into the truth of the story related tothem byBabalatchi. Babalatchi had regained all his importance.He waseloquent and persuasivecalling Heaven and Earth towitnessthe truth of his statements. There were also otherwitnesses. Mahmat Banjer and a good many others underwent acloseexamination that dragged its weary length far into theevening. A messenger was sent for Abdullawho excused himselffromcoming on the score of his venerable agebut sent Reshid.Mahmat hadto produce the bangleand saw with rage andmortificationthe lieutenant put it in his pocketas one of theproofs ofDain's deathto be sent in with the official report ofthemission. Babalatchi's ring was also impounded for the samepurposebut the experienced statesman was resigned to that lossfrom thevery beginning. He did not mind as long as he was surethat thewhite men believed. He put that question to himselfearnestlyas he leftone of the lastwhen the proceedings cameto aclose. He was not certain. Stillif they believed onlyfor anighthe would put Dain beyond their reach and feel safehimself. He walked away fastlooking from time to time over hisshoulderin the fear of being followedbut he saw and heardnothing.
"Teno'clock" said the lieutenantlooking at his watch andyawning. "I shall hear some of the captain's complimentaryremarkswhen we get back. Miserable businessthis."
"Doyou think all this is true?" asked the younger man.
"True!It is just possible. But if it isn't true what can we do?If we hada dozen boats we could patrol the creeks; and thatwouldn'tbe much good. That drunken madman was right; we haven'tenoughhold on this coast. They do what they like. Are ourhammocksslung?"
"YesI told the coxswain. Strange couple over there" said thesubwitha wave of his hand towards Almayer's house.
"Hem!Queercertainly. What have you been telling her? I wasattendingto the father most of the time."
"Iassure you I have been perfectly civil" protested the otherwarmly.
"Allright. Don't get excited. She objects to civilitythenfrom whatI understand. I thought you might have been tender.You knowwe are on service."
"Wellof course. Never forget that. Coldly civil. That'sall."
They bothlaughed a littleand not feeling sleepy began to pacetheverandah side by side. The moon rose stealthily above thetreesandsuddenly changed the river into a stream ofscintillatingsilver. The forest came out of the black void andstoodsombre and pensive over the sparkling water. The breezedied awayinto a breathless calm.
Seamanlikethe two officers tramped measuredly up and downwithoutexchanging a word. The loose planks rattled rhythmicallyundertheir steps with obstrusive dry sound in the perfectsilence ofthe night. As they were wheeling round again theyoungerman stood attentive.
"Didyou hear that?" he asked.
"No!"said the other. "Hear what?"
"Ithought I heard a cry. Ever so faint. Seemed a woman'svoice. In that other house. Ah! Again! Hear it?"
"No"said the lieutenantafter listening awhile. "You youngfellowsalways hear women's voices. If you are going to dreamyou hadbetter get into your hammock. Good-night."
The moonmounted higherand the warm shadows grew smaller andcrept awayas if hiding before the cold and cruel light.
"Ithas set at last" said Nina to her mother pointing towardsthe hillsbehind which the sun had sunk. "ListenmotherI amgoing nowto Bulangi's creekand if I should never return--"
Sheinterrupted herselfand something like doubt dimmed for amoment thefire of suppressed exaltation that had glowed in hereyes andhad illuminated the serene impassiveness of her featureswith a rayof eager life during all that long day of excitement--the day ofjoy and anxietyof hope and terrorof vague griefandindistinct delight. While the sun shone with that dazzlinglight inwhich her love was born and grew till it possessed herwholebeingshe was kept firm in her unwavering resolve by themysteriouswhisperings of desire which filled her heart withimpatientlonging for the darkness that would mean the end ofdanger andstrifethe beginning of happinessthe fulfilling oflovethecompleteness of life. It had set at last! The shorttropicaltwilight went out before she could draw the long breathof relief;and now the sudden darkness seemed to be full ofmenacingvoices calling upon her to rush headlong into theunknown;to be true to her own impulsesto give herself up tothepassion she had evoked and shared. He was waiting! In thesolitudeof the secluded clearingin the vast silence of theforest hewas waiting alonea fugitive in fear of his life.Indifferentto his danger he was waiting for her. It was for heronly thathe had come; and now as the time approached when heshouldhave his rewardshe asked herself with dismay what meantthatchilling doubt of her own will and of her own desire? Withan effortshe shook off the fear of the passing weakness. Heshouldhave his reward. Her woman's love and her woman's honourovercamethe faltering distrust of that unknown future waitingfor her inthe darkness of the river.
"Noyou will not return" muttered Mrs. Almayerprophetically.
"Withoutyou he will not goand if he remains here--" She wavedher handtowards the lights of "Almayer's Folly" and theunfinishedsentence died out in a threatening murmur.
The twowomen had met behind the houseand now were walkingslowlytogether towards the creek where all the canoes weremoored. Arrived at the fringe of bushes they stopped by a commonimpulseand Mrs. Almayerlaying her hand on her daughter's armtried invain to look close into the girl's averted face. Whensheattempted to speak her first words were lost in a stifled sobthatsounded strangely coming from that woman whoof all humanpassionsseemed to know only those of anger and hate.
"Youare going away to be a great Ranee" she said at lastin avoice thatwas steady enough now"and if you be wise you shallhave muchpower that will endure many daysand even last intoyour oldage. What have I been? A slave all my lifeand I havecookedrice for a man who had no courage and no wisdom. Hai! I!even Iwas given in gift by a chief and a warrior to a man thatwasneither. Hai! Hai!"
She wailedto herself softlylamenting the lost possibilities ofmurder andmischief that could have fallen to her lot had shebeen matedwith a congenial spirit. Nina bent down over Mrs.Almayer'sslight form and scanned attentivelyunder the starsthat hadrushed out on the black sky and now hung breathless overthatstrange partingher mother's shrivelled featuresandlookedclose into the sunken eyes that could see into her owndarkfuture by the light of a long and a painful experience.Again shefelt herself fascinatedas of oldby her mother'sexaltedmood and by the oracular certainty of expression whichtogetherwith her fits of violencehad contributed not a littleto thereputation for witchcraft she enjoyed in the settlement.
"Iwas a slaveand you shall be a queen" went on Mrs. Almayerlookingstraight before her; "but remember men's strength andtheirweakness. Tremble before his angerso that he may seeyour fearin the light of day; but in your heart you may laughfor aftersunset he is your slave."
"Aslave! He! The master of life! You do not know himmother."
Mrs.Almayer condescended to laugh contemptuously.
"Youspeak like a fool of a white woman" she exclaimed. "Whatdo youknow of men's anger and of men's love? Have you watchedthe sleepof men weary of dealing death? Have you felt about youthe strongarm that could drive a kriss deep into a beatingheart? Yah! you are a white womanand ought to pray to awoman-god!"
"Whydo you say this? I have listened to your words so long thatI haveforgotten my old life. If I was white would I stand hereready togo? MotherI shall return to the house and look oncemore at myfather's face."
"No!"said Mrs. Almayerviolently. "Nohe sleeps now the sleepof gin;and if you went back he might awake and see you. Noheshallnever see you. When the terrible old man took you awayfrom mewhen you were littleyou remember--"
"Itwas such a long time ago" murmured Nina.
"Iremember" went on Mrs. Almayerfiercely. "I wantedto lookat yourface again. He said no! I heard you cry and jumped intotheriver. You were his daughter then; you are my daughter now.Nevershall you go back to that house; you shall never cross thiscourtyardagain. No! no!"
Her voicerose almost to a shout. On the other side of the creekthere wasa rustle in the long grass. The two women heard itandlistened for a while in startled silence. "I shall go"saidNinain acautious but intense whisper. "What is your hate oryourrevenge to me?"
She movedtowards the houseMrs. Almayer clinging to her andtrying topull her back.
"Stopyou shall not go!" she gasped.
Ninapushed away her mother impatiently and gathered up herskirts fora quick runbut Mrs. Almayer ran forward and turnedroundfacing her daughter with outstretched arms.
"Ifyou move another step" she exclaimedbreathing quickly"Ishall cryout. Do you see those lights in the big house? Theresit twowhite menangry because they cannot have the blood ofthe manyou love. And in those dark houses" she continuedmorecalmly asshe pointed towards the settlement"my voice couldwake upmen that would lead the Orang Blanda soldiers to him whoiswaiting--for you."
She couldnot see her daughter's facebut the white figurebefore herstood silent and irresolute in the darkness. Mrs.Almayerpursued her advantage.
"Giveup your old life! Forget!" she said in entreating tones."Forgetthat you ever looked at a white face; forget their words;forgettheir thoughts. They speak lies. And they think liesbecausethey despise us that are better than they arebut not sostrong. Forget their friendship and their contempt; forget theirmanygods. Girlwhy do you want to remember the past when thereis awarrior and a chief ready to give many lives--his own life--for one ofyour smiles?"
While shespoke she pushed gently her daughter towards thecanoeshiding her own fearanxietyand doubt under the floodofpassionate words that left Nina no time to think and noopportunityto protesteven if she had wished it. But she didnot wishit now. At the bottom of that passing desire to lookagain ather father's face there was no strong affection. Shefelt noscruples and no remorse at leaving suddenly that manwhosesentiment towards herself she could not understandshecould noteven see. There was only an instinctive clinging toold lifeto old habitsto old faces; that fear of finalitywhichlurks in every human breast and prevents so many heroismsand somany crimes. For years she had stood between her motherand herfatherthe one so strong in her weaknessthe other soweak wherehe could have been strong. Between those two beingssodissimilarso antagonisticshe stood with mute heartwonderingand angry at the fact of her own existence. It seemedsounreasonableso humiliating to be flung there in thatsettlementand to see the days rush by into the pastwithout ahopeadesireor an aim that would justify the life she had toendure inever-growing weariness. She had little belief and nosympathyfor her father's dreams; but the savage ravings of hermotherchanced to strike a responsive chorddeep down somewherein herdespairing heart; and she dreamed dreams of her own withthepersistent absorption of a captive thinking of liberty withinthe wallsof his prison cell. With the coming of Dain she foundthe roadto freedom by obeying the voice of the new-bornimpulsesand with surprised joy she thought she could read inhis eyesthe answer to all the questionings of her heart. Sheunderstoodnow the reason and the aim of life; and in thetriumphantunveiling of that mystery she threw away disdainfullyher pastwith its sad thoughtsits bitter feelingsand itsfaintaffectionsnow withered and dead in contact with herfiercepassion.
Mrs.Almayer unmoored Nina's own canoe andstraightening herselfpainfullystoodpainter in handlooking at her daughter.
"Quick"she said; "get away before the moon riseswhile theriver isdark. I am afraid of Abdulla's slaves. The wretchesprowl inthe night oftenand might see and follow you. Thereare twopaddles in the canoe."
Ninaapproached her mother and hesitatingly touched lightly withher lipsthe wrinkled forehead. Mrs. Almayer snortedcontemptuouslyin protest against that tenderness which sheneverthelessfeared could be contagious.
"ShallI ever see you againmother?" murmured Nina.
"No"said Mrs. Almayerafter a short silence. "Why should youreturnhere where it is my fate to die? You will live far awayinsplendour and might. When I hear of white men driven from theislandsthen I shall know that you are aliveand that youremembermy words."
"Ishall always remember" returned Ninaearnestly; "butwhereis mypowerand what can I do?"
"Donot let him look too long in your eyesnor lay his head onyour kneeswithout reminding him that men should fight beforetheyrest. And if he lingersgive him his kriss yourself andbid himgoas the wife of a mighty prince should do when theenemiesare near. Let him slay the white men that come to us totradewith prayers on their lips and loaded guns in their hands.Ah!"--sheended with a sigh--"they are on every seaand on everyshore; andthey are very many!"
She swungthe bow of the canoe towards the riverbut did not letgo thegunwalekeeping her hand on it in irresolutethoughtfulness.
Nina putthe point of the paddle against the bankready to shoveoff intothe stream.
"Whatis itmother?" she askedin a low voice. "Do youhearanything?"
"No"said Mrs. Almayerabsently. "ListenNina" shecontinuedabruptlyafter a slight pause"in after years therewill beother women--"
A stifledcry in the boat interrupted herand the paddle rattledin thecanoe as it slipped from Nina's handswhich she put outin aprotesting gesture. Mrs. Almayer fell on her knees on thebank andleaned over the gunwale so as to bring her own faceclose toher daughter's.
"Therewill be other women" she repeated firmly; "I tell youthatbecause you are half whiteand may forget that he is agreatchiefand that such things must be. Hide your angeranddo not lethim see on your face the pain that will eat yourheart. Meet him with joy in your eyes and wisdom on your lipsfor to youhe will turn in sadness or in doubt. As long as helooks uponmany women your power will lastbut should there beoneoneonly with whom he seems to forget youthen--"
"Icould not live" exclaimed Ninacovering her face with bothherhands. "Do not speak somother; it could not be."
"Then"went on Mrs. Almayersteadily"to that womanNinashow nomercy."
She movedthe canoe down towards the stream by the gunwaleandgripped itwith both her handsthe bow pointing into the river.
"Areyou crying?" she asked sternly of her daughterwho satstill withcovered face. "Ariseand take your paddlefor hehas waitedlong enough. And rememberNinano mercy; and if youmuststrikestrike with a steady hand."
She putout all her strengthand swinging her body over thewatershot the light craft far into the stream. When sherecoveredherself from the effort she tried vainly to catch aglimpse ofthe canoe that seemed to have dissolved suddenly intothe whitemist trailing over the heated waters of the Pantai.Afterlistening for a while intently on her kneesMrs. Almayerrose witha deep sighwhile two tears wandered slowly down herwitheredcheeks. She wiped them off quickly with a wisp of hergrey hairas if ashamed of herselfbut could not stifle anotherloud sighfor her heart was heavy and she suffered muchbeingunused totender emotions. This time she fancied she had heard afaintnoiselike the echo of her own sighand she stoppedstrainingher ears to catch the slightest soundand peeringapprehensivelytowards the bushes near her.
"Whois there?" she askedin an unsteady voicewhile herimaginationpeopled the solitude of the riverside with ghost-likeforms. "Who is there?" she repeated faintly.
There wasno answer: only the voice of the river murmuring insadmonotone behind the white veil seemed to swell louder for amomenttodie away again in a soft whisper of eddies washingagainstthe bank.
Mrs.Almayer shook her head as if in answer to her own thoughtsand walkedquickly away from the busheslooking to the right andleftwatchfully. She went straight towards the cooking-shedobservingthat the embers of the fire there glowed more brightlythanusualas if somebody had been adding fresh fuel to thefiresduring the evening. As she approachedBabalatchiwho hadbeensquatting in the warm glowrose and met her in the shadowoutside.
"Isshe gone?" asked the anxious statesmanhastily.
"Yes"answered Mrs. Almayer. "What are the white men doing?When didyou leave them?"
"Theyare sleeping nowI think. May they never wake!" exclaimedBabalatchifervently. "Oh! but they are devilsand made muchtalk andtrouble over that carcase. The chief threatened metwice withhis handand said he would have me tied up to a tree.Tie me upto a tree! Me!" he repeatedstriking his breastviolently.
Mrs.Almayer laughed tauntingly.
"Andyou salaamed and asked for mercy. Men with arms by theirside actedotherwise when I was young."
"Andwhere are theythe men of your youth? You mad woman!"retortedBabalatchiangrily. "Killed by the Dutch. Aha! But Ishall liveto deceive them. A man knows when to fight and whento tellpeaceful lies. You would know that if you were not awoman."
But Mrs.Almayer did not seem to hear him. With bent body andoutstretchedarm she appeared to be listening to some noisebehind theshed.
"Thereare strange sounds" she whisperedwith evident alarm."Ihave heard in the air the sounds of griefas of a sigh andweeping. That was by the riverside. And now again I heard--"
"Where?"asked Babalatchiin an altered voice. "What did youhear?"
"Closehere. It was like a breath long drawn. I wish I hadburnt thepaper over the body before it was buried."
"Yes"assented Babalatchi. "But the white men had him throwninto ahole at once. You know he found his death on the river"he addedcheerfully"and his ghost may hail the canoesbutwouldleave the land alone."
Mrs.Almayerwho had been craning her neck to look round thecorner ofthe sheddrew back her head.
"Thereis nobody there" she saidreassured. "Is it nottimefor theRajah war-canoe to go to the clearing?"
"Ihave been waiting for it herefor I myself must go"explainedBabalatchi. "I think I will go over and see what makesthemlate. When will you come? The Rajah gives you refuge."
"Ishall paddle over before the break of day. I cannot leave mydollarsbehind" muttered Mrs. Almayer.
Theyseparated. Babalatchi crossed the courtyard towards thecreek toget his canoeand Mrs. Almayer walked slowly to thehouseascended the plankwayand passing through the backverandahentered the passage leading to the front of the house;but beforegoing in she turned in the doorway and looked back atthe emptyand silent courtyardnow lit up by the rays of therisingmoon. No sooner she had disappearedhoweverthan avagueshape flitted out from amongst the stalks of the bananaplantationdarted over the moonlit spaceand fell in thedarknessat the foot of the verandah. It might have been theshadow ofa driving cloudso noiseless and rapid was itspassagebut for the trail of disturbed grasswhose featheryheadstrembled and swayed for a long time in the moonlight beforetheyrested motionless and gleaminglike a design of silverspraysembroidered on a sombre background.
Mrs.Almayer lighted the cocoanut lampand lifting cautiouslythe redcurtaingazed upon her husbandshading the light withher hand.
Almayerhuddled up in the chairone of his arms hanging downthe otherthrown across the lower part of his face as if to wardoff aninvisible enemyhis legs stretched straight outsleptheavilyunconscious of the unfriendly eyes that looked upon himindisparaging criticism. At his feet lay the overturned tableamongst awreck of crockery and broken bottles. The appearanceas oftraces left by a desperate struggle was accentuated by thechairswhich seemed to have been scattered violently all overthe placeand now lay about the verandah with a lamentableaspect ofinebriety in their helpless attitudes. Only Nina's bigrocking-chairstanding black and motionless on its high runnerstoweredabove the chaos of demoralised furnitureunflinchinglydignifiedand patientwaiting for its burden.
With alast scornful look towards the sleeperMrs. Almayerpassedbehind the curtain into her own room. A couple of batsencouragedby the darkness and the peaceful state of affairsresumedtheir silent and oblique gambols above Almayer's headand for along time the profound quiet of the house was unbrokensave forthe deep breathing of the sleeping man and the fainttinkle ofsilver in the hands of the woman preparing for flight.In theincreasing light of the moon that had risen now above thenightmistthe objects on the verandah came out stronglyoutlinedin black splashes of shadow with all the uncompromisinguglinessof their disorderand a caricature of the sleepingAlmayerappeared on the dirty whitewash of the wall behind him inagrotesquely exaggerated detail of attitude and feature enlargedto aheroic size. The discontented bats departed in quest ofdarkerplacesand a lizard came out in shortnervous rushesandpleased with the white table-clothstopped on it inbreathlessimmobility that would have suggested sudden death hadit notbeen for the melodious call he exchanged with a lessadventurousfriend hiding amongst the lumber in the courtyard.Then theboards in the passage creakedthe lizard vanishedandAlmayerstirred uneasily with a sigh: slowlyout of thesenselessannihilation of drunken sleephe was returningthroughthe land of dreamsto waking consciousness. Almayer'sheadrolled from shoulder to shoulder in the oppression of hisdream; theheavens had descended upon him like a heavy mantleandtrailed in starred folds far under him. Stars abovestarsall roundhim; and from the stars under his feet rose a whisperfull ofentreaties and tearsand sorrowful faces flitted amongsttheclusters of light filling the infinite space below. Howescapefrom the importunity of lamentable cries and from the lookofstaringsad eyes in the faces which pressed round him till hegasped forbreath under the crushing weight of worlds that hungover hisaching shoulders? Get away! But how? If heattemptedto move hewould step off into nothingand perish in thecrashingfall of that universe of which he was the only support.And whatwere the voices saying? Urging him to move! Why? Movetodestruction! Not likely! The absurdity of the thingfilledhim withindignation. He got a firmer foothold and stiffened hismuscles inheroic resolve to carry his burden to all eternity.And agespassed in the superhuman labouramidst the rush ofcirclingworlds; in the plaintive murmur of sorrowful voicesurging himto desist before it was too late--till the mysteriouspower thathad laid upon him the giant task seemed at last toseek hisdestruction. With terror he felt an irresistible handshakinghim by the shoulderwhile the chorus of voices swelledlouderinto an agonised prayer to gogo before it is too late.He felthimself slippinglosing his balanceas somethingdragged athis legsand he fell. With a faint cry he glided outof theanguish of perishing creation into an imperfect wakingthatseemed to be still under the spell of his dream.
"What? What?" he murmured sleepilywithout moving or openinghis eyes. His head still felt heavyand he had not the courageto raisehis eyelids. In his ears there still lingered the soundofentreating whisper.--"Am I awake?--Why do I hear the voices?"he arguedto himselfhazily.--"I cannot get rid of the horriblenightmareyet.--I have been very drunk.--What is that shaking me?I amdreaming yet--I must open my eyes and be done with it. I amonly halfawakeit is evident."
He made aneffort to shake off his stupor and saw a face close tohisglaring at him with staring eyeballs. He closed his eyesagain inamazed horror and sat up straight in the chairtremblingin every limb. What was this apparition?--His ownfancynodoubt.--His nerves had been much tried the daybefore--andthen the drink! He would not see it again if he hadthecourage to look.--He would look directly.--Get a littlesteadierfirst.-- So.--Now.
Helooked. The figure of a woman standing in the steely lighther handsstretched forth in a suppliant gestureconfronted himfrom thefar-off end of the verandah; and in the space betweenhim andthe obstinate phantom floated the murmur of words thatfell onhis ears in a jumble of torturing sentencesthe meaningof whichescaped the utmost efforts of his brain. Who spoke theMalaywords? Who ran away? Why too late--and too late for what?What meantthose words of hate and love mixed so strangelytogetherthe ever-recurring names falling on his ears again andagain--NinaDain; DainNina? Dain was deadand Nina wassleepingunaware of the terrible experience through which he wasnowpassing. Was he going to be tormented for eversleeping orwakingand have no peace either night or day? What was themeaning ofthis?
He shoutedthe last words aloud. The shadowy woman seemed toshrink andrecede a little from him towards the doorwayandthere wasa shriek. Exasperated by the incomprehensible natureof histormentAlmayer made a rush upon the apparitionwhicheluded hisgraspand he brought up heavily against the wall.Quick aslightning he turned round and pursued fiercely themysteriousfigure fleeing from him with piercing shrieks thatwere likefuel to the flames of his anger. Over the furnitureround theoverturned tableand now he had it cornered behindNina'schair. To the leftto the right they dodgedthe chairrockingmadly between themshe sending out shriek after shriekat everyfeintand he growling meaningless curses through hishard setteeth. "Oh! the fiendish noise that split his head andseemed tochoke his breath.--It would kill him.--It must bestopped!" An insane desire to crush that yelling thing inducedhim tocast himself recklessly over the chair with a desperategrabandthey came down together in a cloud of dust amongst thesplinteredwood. The last shriek died out under him in a faintgurgleand he had secured the relief of absolute silence.
He lookedat the woman's face under him. A real woman! He knewher. By all that is wonderful! Taminah! He jumped up ashamedof hisfury and stood perplexedwiping his forehead. The girlstruggledto a kneeling posture and embraced his legs in afrenziedprayer for mercy.
"Don'tbe afraid" he saidraising her. "I shall not hurtyou.Why do youcome to my house in the night? And if you had tocomewhynot go behind the curtain where the women sleep?"
"Theplace behind the curtain is empty" gasped Taminahcatchingher breathbetween the words. "There are no women in your houseany moreTuan. I saw the old Mem go away before I tried to wakeyou. I did not want your womenI wanted you."
"OldMem!" repeated Almayer. "Do you mean my wife?"
She noddedher head.
"Butof my daughter you are not afraid?" said Almayer.
"Haveyou not heard me?" she exclaimed. "Have I not spokenfor along timewhen you lay there with eyes half open? She is gonetoo."
"Iwas asleep. Can you not tell when a man is sleeping and whenawake?"
"Sometimes"answered Taminah in a low voice; "sometimes thespiritlingers close to a sleeping body and may hear. I spoke along timebefore I touched youand I spoke softly for fear itwoulddepart at a sudden noise and leave you sleeping for ever.I took youby the shoulder only when you began to mutter words Icould notunderstand. Have you not heardthenand do you knownothing?"
"Nothingof what you said. What is it? Tell again if you wantme toknow."
He tookher by the shoulder and led her unresisting to the frontof theverandah into a stronger light. She wrung her hands withsuch anappearance of grief that he began to be alarmed.
"Speak"he said. "You made noise enough to wake even dead men.And yetnobody living came" he added to himself in an uneasywhisper. "Are you mute? Speak!" he repeated.
In a rushof words which broke out after a short struggle fromhertrembling lips she told him the tale of Nina's love and herownjealousy. Several times he looked angrily into her face andtold herto be silent; but he could not stop the sounds thatseemed tohim to run out in a hot streamswirl about his feetand risein scalding waves about himhigherhigherdrowninghis hearttouching his lips with a feel of molten leadblottingout hissight in scorching vapourclosing over his headmercilessand deadly. When she spoke of the deception as toDain'sdeath of which he had been the victim only that dayheglancedagain at her with terrible eyesand made her falter fora secondbut he turned away directlyand his face suddenly lostallexpression in a stony stare far away over the river. Ah! theriver! His old friend and his old enemyspeaking always withthe samevoice as he runs from year to year bringing fortune ordisappointmenthappiness or painupon the same varying butunchangedsurface of glancing currents and swirling eddies. Formany yearshe had listened to the passionless and soothing murmurthatsometimes was the song of hopeat times the song oftriumphof encouragement; more often the whisper of consolationthat spokeof better days to come. For so many years! So manyyears! And now to the accompaniment of that murmur he listenedto theslow and painful beating of his heart. He listenedattentivelywondering at the regularity of its beats. He beganto countmechanically. Onetwo. Why count? At the next beatit muststop. No heart could suffer so and beat so steadily forlong. Those regular strokes as of a muffled hammer that rang inhis earsmust stop soon. Still beating unceasing and cruel. Noman canbear this; and is this the lastor will the next one bethelast?--How much longer? O God! how much longer? His handweighedheavier unconsciously on the girl's shoulderand shespoke thelast words of her story crouching at his feet withtears ofpain and shame and anger. Was her revenge to fail her?This whiteman was like a senseless stone. Too late! Too late!
"Andyou saw her go?" Almayer's voice sounded harshly above herhead.
"DidI not tell you?" she sobbedtrying to wriggle gently outfrom underhis grip. "Did I not tell you that I saw thewitchwomanpush the canoe? I lay hidden in the grass and heardall thewords. She that we used to call the white Mem wanted toreturn tolook at your facebut the witchwoman forbade herand--"
She sanklower yet on her elbowturning half round under thedownwardpush of the heavy handher face lifted up to him withspitefuleyes.
"Andshe obeyed" she shouted out in a half-laughhalf-cry ofpain. "Let me goTuan. Why are you angry with me? Hastenoryou shallbe too late to show your anger to the deceitful woman."
Almayerdragged her up to her feet and looked close into her facewhile shestruggledturning her head away from his wild stare.
"Whosent you here to torment me?" he askedviolently. "Idonotbelieve you. You lie."
Hestraightened his arm suddenly and flung her across theverandahtowards the doorwaywhere she lay immobile and silentas if shehad left her life in his graspa dark heapwithout asound or astir.
"Oh!Nina!" whispered Almayerin a voice in which reproach andlove spoketogether in pained tenderness. "Oh! Nina! I donotbelieve."
A lightdraught from the river ran over the courtyard in a waveof bowinggrass andentering the verandahtouched Almayer'sforeheadwith its cool breathin a caress of infinite pity. Thecurtain inthe women's doorway blew out and instantly collapsedwithstartling helplessness. He stared at the fluttering stuff.
"Nina!"cried Almayer. "Where are youNina?"
The windpassed out of the empty house in a tremulous sighandall wasstill.
Almayerhid his face in his hands as if to shut out a loathsomesight. Whenhearing a slight rustlehe uncovered his eyesthedark heapby the door was gone.
In themiddle of a shadowless square of moonlightshining on asmooth andlevel expanse of young rice-shootsa littleshelter-hutperched on high poststhe pile of brushwood near byand theglowing embers of a fire with a man stretched before itseemedvery small and as if lost in the pale green iridescencereflectedfrom the ground. On three sides of the clearingappearingvery far away in the deceptive lightthe big trees oftheforestlashed together with manifold bonds by a mass oftangledcreeperslooked down at the growing young life at theirfeet withthe sombre resignation of giants that had lost faith intheirstrength. And in the midst of them the merciless creepersclung tothe big trunks in cable-like coilsleaped from tree totreehungin thorny festoons from the lower boughsandsendingslendertendrils on high to seek out the smallest branchescarrieddeath to their victims in an exulting riot of silentdestruction.
On thefourth sidefollowing the curve of the bank of thatbranch ofthe Pantai that formed the only access to the clearingran ablack line of young treesbushesand thick second growthunbrokensave for a small gap chopped out in one place. At thatgap beganthe narrow footpath leading from the water's edge tothegrass-built shelter used by the night watchers when theripeningcrop had to be protected from the wild pigs. Thepathwayended at the foot of the piles on which the hut wasbuiltina circular space covered with ashes and bits of burntwood. In the middle of that spaceby the dim firelay Dain.
He turnedover on his side with an impatient sighandpillowinghis headon his bent armlay quietly with his face to the dyingfire. The glowing embers shone redly in a small circlethrowinga gleaminto his wide-open eyesand at every deep breath thefine whiteash of bygone fires rose in a light cloud before hispartedlipsand danced away from the warm glow into themoonbeamspouring down upon Bulangi's clearing. His body wasweary withthe exertion of the past few dayshis mind more wearystill withthe strain of solitary waiting for his fate. Neverbefore hadhe felt so helpless. He had heard the report of thegun firedon board the launchand he knew that his life was inuntrustworthyhandsand that his enemies were very near. Duringthe slowhours of the afternoon he roamed about on the edge oftheforestorhiding in the busheswatched the creek withunquieteyes for some sign of danger. He feared not deathyethe desiredardently to livefor life to him was Nina. She hadpromisedto cometo follow himto share his danger and hissplendour. But with her by his side he cared not for dangerandwithouther there could be no splendour and no joy in existence.
Crouchingin his shady hiding-placehe closed his eyestryingto evokethe gracious and charming image of the white figure thatfor himwas the beginning and the end of life. With eyes shuttighthisteeth hard sethe tried in a great effort ofpassionatewill to keep his hold on that vision of supremedelight. In vain! His heart grew heavy as the figure of Ninafaded awayto be replaced by another vision this time--a visionof armedmenof angry facesof glittering arms--and he seemedto hearthe hum of excited and triumphant voices as theydiscoveredhim in his hiding-place. Startled by the vividness ofhis fancyhe would open his eyesandleaping out into thesunlightresume his aimless wanderings around the clearing. Ashe skirtedin his weary march the edge of the forest he glancednow andthen into its dark shadeso enticing in its deceptiveappearanceof coolnessso repellent with its unrelieved gloomwhere layentombed and rottingcountless generations of treesand wheretheir successors stood as if mourningin dark greenfoliageimmense and helplessawaiting their turn. Only theparasitesseemed to live there in a sinuous rush upwards into theair andsunshinefeeding on the dead and the dying alikeandcrowningtheir victims with pink and blue flowers that gleamedamongstthe boughsincongruous and cruellike a strident andmockingnote in the solemn harmony of the doomed trees.
A mancould hide therethought Dainas he approached a placewhere thecreepers had been torn and hacked into an archway thatmight havebeen the beginning of a path. As he bent down to lookthrough heheard angry gruntingand a sounder of wild pigcrashedaway in the undergrowth. An acrid smell of damp earthand ofdecaying leaves took him by the throatand he drew backwith ascared faceas if he had been touched by the breath ofDeathitself. The very air seemed dead in there--heavy andstagnatingpoisoned with the corruption of countless ages. Hewent onstaggering on his wayurged by the nervous restlessnessthat madehim feel tired yet caused him to loathe the very ideaofimmobility and repose. Was he a wild man to hide in the woodsandperhaps be killed there--in the darkness--where there was noroom tobreathe? He would wait for his enemies in the sunlightwhere hecould see the sky and feel the breeze. He knew how aMalaychief should die. The sombre and desperate furythatpeculiarinheritance of his racetook possession of himand heglaredsavagely across the clearing towards the gap in the bushesby theriverside. They would come from there. In imagination hesaw themnow. He saw the bearded faces and the white jackets oftheofficersthe light on the levelled barrels of the rifles.What isthe bravery of the greatest warrior before the firearmsin thehand of a slave? He would walk toward them with a smilingfacewithhis hands held out in a sign of submission till he wasvery nearthem. He would speak friendly words--come neareryet--yetnearer--so near that they could touch him with theirhands andstretch them out to make him a captive. That would bethe time: with a shout and a leap he would be in the midst ofthemkriss in handkillingkillingkillingand would diewith theshouts of his enemies in his earstheir warm bloodspurtingbefore his eyes.
Carriedaway by his excitementhe snatched the kriss hidden inhissaronganddrawing a long breathrushed forwardstruck atthe emptyairand fell on his face. He lay as if stunned in thesuddenreaction from his exaltationthinking thateven if hedied thusgloriouslyit would have to be before he saw Nina.Betterso. If he saw her again he felt that death would be tooterrible. With horror hethe descendant of Rajahs and ofconquerorshad to face the doubt of his own bravery. His desireof lifetormented him in a paroxysm of agonising remorse. He hadnot thecourage to stir a limb. He had lost faith in himselfand therewas nothing else in him of what makes a man. Thesufferingremainedfor it is ordered that it should abide in thehuman bodyeven to the last breathand fear remained. Dimly hecould lookinto the depths of his passionate lovesee itsstrengthand its weaknessand felt afraid.
The sunwent down slowly. The shadow of the western forestmarchedover the clearingcovered the man's scorched shoulderswith itscool mantleand went on hurriedly to mingle with theshadows ofother forests on the eastern side. The sun lingeredfor awhile amongst the light tracery of the higher branchesasif infriendly reluctance to abandon the body stretched in thegreenpaddy-field. Then Dainrevived by the cool of the eveningbreezesat up and stared round him. As he did so the sun dippedsharplyas if ashamed of being detected in a sympathisingattitudeand the clearingwhich during the day was all lightbecamesuddenly all darknesswhere the fire gleamed like an eye.Dainwalked slowly towards the creekanddivesting himself ofhis tornsaronghis only garmententered the water cautiously.He had hadnothing to eat that dayand had not dared showhimself indaylight by the water-side to drink. Nowas he swamsilentlyhe swallowed a few mouthfuls of water that lapped abouthis lips. This did him goodand he walked with greaterconfidencein himself and others as he returned towards the fire.Had hebeen betrayed by Lakamba all would have been over by this.He made upa big blazeand while it lasted dried himselfandthen laydown by the embers. He could not sleepbut he felt agreatnumbness in all his limbs. His restlessness was goneandhe wascontent to lay stillmeasuring the time by watching thestars thatrose in endless succession above the forestswhilethe slightpuffs of wind under the cloudless sky seemed to fantheirtwinkle into a greater brightness. Dreamily he assuredhimselfover and over again that she would cometill thecertitudecrept into his heart and filled him with a great peace.Yeswhenthe next day brokethey would be together on the greatblue seathat was like life--away from the forests that were likedeath. He murmured the name of Nina into the silent space with atendersmile: this seemed to break the spell of stillnessandfar awayby the creek a frog croaked loudly as if in answer. Achorus ofloud roars and plaintive calls rose from the mud alongthe lineof bushes. He laughed heartily; doubtless it was theirlove-song. He felt affectionate towards the frogs and listenedpleasedwith the noisy life near him.
When themoon peeped above the trees he felt the old impatienceand theold restlessness steal over him. Why was she so late?Trueitwas a long way to come with a single paddle. With whatskill andwhat endurance could those small hands manage a heavypaddle! It was very wonderful--such small handssuch softlittlepalms that knew how to touch his cheek with a feel lighterthan thefanning of a butterfly's wing. Wonderful! He losthimselflovingly in the contemplation of this tremendous mysteryand whenhe looked at the moon again it had risen a hand'sbreadthabove the trees. Would she come? He forced himself tolay stillovercoming the impulse to rise and rush round theclearingagain. He turned this way and that; at lastquiveringwith theefforthe lay on his backand saw her face among thestarslooking down on him.
Thecroaking of frogs suddenly ceased. With the watchfulness ofa huntedman Dain sat uplistening anxiouslyand heard severalsplashesin the water as the frogs took rapid headers into thecreek. He knew that they had been alarmed by somethingandstood upsuspicious and attentive. A slight grating noisethenthe drysound as of two pieces of wood struck against each other.Somebodywas about to land! He took up an armful of brushwoodandwithout taking his eyes from the pathheld it over theembers ofhis fire. He waitedundecidedand saw somethinggleamamongst the bushes; then a white figure came out of theshadowsand seemed to float towards him in the pale light. Hisheart gavea great leap and stood stillthen went on shaking hisframe infurious beats. He dropped the brushwood upon theglowingcoalsand had an impression of shouting her name--ofrushing tomeet her; yet he emitted no soundhe stirred not aninchbuthe stood silent and motionless like chiselled bronzeunder themoonlight that streamed over his naked shoulders. Ashe stoodstillfighting with his breathas if bereft of hissenses bythe intensity of his delightshe walked up to him withquickresolute stepsandwith the appearance of one about toleap froma dangerous heightthrew both her arms round his neckwith asudden gesture. A small blue gleam crept amongst the drybranchesand the crackling of reviving fire was the only soundas theyfaced each other in the speechless emotion of thatmeeting;then the dry fuel caught at onceand a bright hot flameshotupwards in a blaze as high as their headsand in its lightthey saweach other's eyes.
Neither ofthem spoke. He was regaining his senses in a slighttremorthat ran upwards along his rigid body and hung about histremblinglips. She drew back her head and fastened her eyes onhis in oneof those long looks that are a woman's most terribleweapon; alook that is more stirring than the closest touchandmoredangerous than the thrust of a daggerbecause it also whipsthe soulout of the bodybut leaves the body alive and helplessto beswayed here and there by the capricious tempests of passionanddesire; a look that enwraps the whole bodyand thatpenetratesinto the innermost recesses of the beingbringingterribledefeat in the delirious uplifting of accomplishedconquest. It has the same meaning for the man of the forests andthe sea asfor the man threading the paths of the more dangerouswildernessof houses and streets. Men that had felt in theirbreaststhe awful exultation such a look awakens become merethings ofto-day--which is paradise; forget yesterday--which wassuffering;care not for to-morrow--which may be perdition. Theywish tolive under that look for ever. It is the look of woman'ssurrender.
Heunderstoodandas if suddenly released from his invisiblebondsfell at her feet with a shout of joyandembracing herkneeshidhis head in the folds of her dressmurmuringdisjointedwords of gratitude and love. Never before had he feltso proudas nowwhen at the feet of that woman that halfbelongedto his enemies. Her fingers played with his hair in anabsent-mindedcaress as she stood absorbed in thought. The thingwas done. Her mother was right. The man was her slave. As sheglanceddown at his kneeling form she felt a great pityingtendernessfor that man she was used to call--even in herthoughts--themaster of life. She lifted her eyes and lookedsadly atthe southern heavens under which lay the path of theirlives--herownand that man's at her feet. Did he not sayhimself isthat she was the light of his life? She would be hislight andhis wisdom; she would be his greatness and hisstrength;yet hidden from the eyes of all men she would beaboveallhisonly and lasting weakness. A very woman! In thesublimevanity of her kind she was thinking already of moulding agod fromthe clay at her feet. A god for others to worship. Shewascontent to see him as he was nowand to feel him quiver attheslightest touch of her light fingers. And while her eyeslookedsadly at the southern stars a faint smile seemed to beplayingabout her firm lips. Who can tell in the fitful light ofa campfire? It might have been a smile of triumphor ofconsciouspoweror of tender pityorperhapsof love.
She spokesoftly to himand he rose to his feetputting his armround herin quiet consciousness of his ownership; she laid herhead onhis shoulder with a sense of defiance to all the world intheencircling protection of that arm. He was hers with all hisqualitiesand all his faults. His strength and his couragehisrecklessnessand his daringhis simple wisdom and his savagecunning--allwere hers. As they passed together out of the redlight ofthe fire into the silver shower of rays that fell upontheclearing he bent his head over her faceand she saw in hiseyes thedreamy intoxication of boundless felicity from the closetouch ofher slight figure clasped to his side. With arhythmicalswing of their bodies they walked through the lighttowardsthe outlying shadows of the forests that seemed to guardtheirhappiness in solemn immobility. Their forms melted in theplay oflight and shadow at the foot of the big treesbut themurmur oftender words lingered over the empty clearinggrewfaintanddied out. A sigh as of immense sorrow passed over theland inthe last effort of the dying breezeand in the deepsilencewhich succeededthe earth and the heavens were suddenlyhushed upin the mournful contemplation of human love and humanblindness.
Theywalked slowly back to the fire. He made for her a seat outof the drybranchesandthrowing himself down at her feetlayhis headin her lap and gave himself up to the dreamy delight ofthepassing hour. Their voices rose and felltender or animatedas theyspoke of their love and of their future. Shewith a fewskilfulwords spoken from time to timeguided his thoughtsandhe let hishappiness flow in a stream of talk passionate andtendergrave or menacingaccording to the mood which sheevoked. He spoke to her of his own islandwhere the gloomyforestsand the muddy rivers were unknown. He spoke of itsterracedfieldsof the murmuring clear rills of sparkling waterthatflowed down the sides of great mountainsbringing life tothe landand joy to its tillers. And he spoke also of themountainpeak that rising lonely above the belt of trees knew thesecrets ofthe passing cloudsand was the dwelling-place of themysteriousspirit of his raceof the guardian genius of hishouse. He spoke of vast horizons swept by fierce winds thatwhistledhigh above the summits of burning mountains. He spokeof hisforefathers that conquered ages ago the island of which hewas to bethe future ruler. And then asin her interestshebroughther face nearer to hishetouching lightly the thicktresses ofher long hairfelt a sudden impulse to speak to herof the seahe loved so well; and he told her of its never-ceasingvoicetowhich he had listened as a childwondering at itshiddenmeaning that no living man has penetrated yet; of itsenchantingglitter; of its senseless and capricious fury; how itssurfacewas for ever changingand yet always enticingwhile itsdepthswere for ever the samecold and crueland full of thewisdom ofdestroyed life. He told her how it held men slaves ofits charmfor a lifetimeand thenregardless of their devotionswallowedthem upangry at their fear of its mysterywhich itwouldnever disclosenot even to those that loved it most.While hetalkedNina's head had been gradually sinking lowerand herface almost touched his now. Her hair was over his eyesher breathwas on his foreheadher arms were about his body. Notwo beingscould be closer to each otheryet she guessed ratherthanunderstood the meaning of his last words that came out aftera slighthesitation in a faint murmurdying out imperceptiblyinto aprofound and significant silence: "The seaO Ninaislike awoman's heart."
She closedhis lips with a sudden kissand answered in a steadyvoice--
"Butto the men that have no fearO master of my lifethe seais evertrue."
Over theirheads a film of darkthread-like cloudslooking likeimmensecobwebs drifting under the starsdarkened the sky withthepresage of the coming thunderstorm. From the invisible hillsthe firstdistant rumble of thunder came in a prolonged rollwhichafter tossing about from hill to hilllost itself in theforests ofthe Pantai. Dain and Nina stood upand the formerlooked atthe sky uneasily.
"Itis time for Babalatchi to be here" he said. "Thenight ismore thanhalf gone. Our road is longand a bullet travelsquickerthan the best canoe."
"Hewill be here before the moon is hidden behind the clouds"saidNina. "I heard a splash in the water" she added. "Did youhear ittoo?"
"Alligator"answered Dain shortlywith a careless glancetowardsthe creek. "The darker the night" he continued"theshorterwill be our roadfor then we could keep in the currentof themain streambut if it is light--even no more than now--wemustfollow the small channels of sleeping waterwith nothing tohelp ourpaddles."
"Dain"interposed Ninaearnestly"it was no alligator. Iheard thebushes rustling near the landing-place."
"Yes"said Dainafter listening awhile. "It cannot beBabalatchiwho would come in a big war canoeand openly. Thosethat arecomingwhoever they aredo not wish to make muchnoise. But you have heardand now I can see" he went onquickly. "It is but one man. Stand behind meNina. If he isafriend heis welcome; if he is an enemy you shall see him die."
He laidhis hand on his krissand awaited the approach of hisunexpectedvisitor. The fire was burning very lowand smallclouds--precursorsof the storm--crossed the face of the moon inrapidsuccessionand their flying shadows darkened the clearing.He couldnot make out who the man might bebut he felt uneasy atthe steadyadvance of the tall figure walking on the path with aheavytreadand hailed it with a command to stop. The manstopped atsome little distanceand Dain expected him to speakbut all hecould hear was his deep breathing. Through a break inthe flyingclouds a sudden and fleeting brightness descended upontheclearing. Before the darkness closed in againDain saw ahandholding some glittering object extended towards himheardNina's cryof "Father!" and in an instant the girl was betweenhim andAlmayer's revolver. Nina's loud cry woke up the echoesof thesleeping woodsand the three stood still as if waitingfor thereturn of silence before they would give expression totheirvarious feelings. At the appearance of NinaAlmayer's armfell byhis sideand he made a step forward. Dain pushed thegirlgently aside.
"Am Ia wild beast that you should try to kill me suddenly and inthe darkTuan Almayer?" said Dainbreaking the strainedsilence. "Throw some brushwood on the fire" he went onspeakingto Nina"while I watch my white friendlest harmshouldcome to you or to meO delight of my heart!"
Almayerground his teeth and raised his arm again. With a quickbound Dainwas at his side: there was a short scuffleduringwhich onechamber of the revolver went off harmlesslythen theweaponwrenched out of Almayer's handwhirled through the airand fellin the bushes. The two men stood close togetherbreathinghard. The replenished fire threw out an unsteadycircle oflight and shone on the terrified face of Ninawholooked atthem with outstretched hands.
"Dain!"she cried out warningly"Dain!"
He wavedhis hand towards her in a reassuring gestureandturning toAlmayersaid with great courtesy--
"Nowwe may talkTuan. It is easy to send out deathbut canyourwisdom recall the life? She might have been harmed" hecontinuedindicating Nina. "Your hand shook much; for myself Iwas notafraid."
"Nina!"exclaimed Almayer"come to me at once. What is thissuddenmadness? What bewitched you? Come to your fatherandtogetherwe shall try to forget this horrible nightmare!"
He openedhis arms with the certitude of clasping her to hisbreast inanother second. She did not move. As it dawned uponhim thatshe did not mean to obey he felt a deadly cold creepinto hisheartandpressing the palms of his hands to histempleshe looked down on the ground in mute despair. Dain tookNina bythe arm and led her towards her father.
"Speakto him in the language of his people" he said. "Heisgrieving--aswho would not grieve at losing theemy pearl!Speak tohim the last words he shall hear spoken by that voicewhich mustbe very sweet to himbut is all my life to me."
Hereleased herandstepping back a few paces out of the circleof lightstood in the darkness looking at them with calminterest. The reflection of a distant flash of lightning lit upthe cloudsover their headsand was followed after a shortintervalby the faint rumble of thunderwhich mingled withAlmayer'svoice as he began to speak.
"Doyou know what you are doing? Do you know what is waiting foryou if youfollow that man? Have you no pity for yourself? Doyou knowthat you shall be at first his plaything and then ascornedslavea drudgeand a servant of some new fancy of thatman?"
She raisedher hand to stop himand turning her head slightlyasked--
"Youhear this Dain! Is it true?"
"Byall the gods!" came the impassioned answer from thedarkness--"by heaven and earthby my head and thine I swear:this is awhite man's lie. I have delivered my soul into yourhands forever; I breathe with your breathI see with your eyesI thinkwith your mindand I take you into my heart for ever."
"Youthief!" shouted the exasperated Almayer.
A deepsilence succeeded this outburstthen the voice of Dainwas heardagain.
"NayTuan" he said in a gentle tone"that is not true also.The girlcame of her own will. I have done no more but to showher mylove like a man; she heard the cry of my heartand shecameandthe dowry I have given to the woman you call yourwife."
Almayergroaned in his extremity of rage and shame. Nina laidher handlightly on his shoulderand the contactlight as thetouch of afalling leafseemed to calm him. He spoke quicklyand inEnglish this time.
"Tellme" he said--"tell mewhat have they done to youyourmother andthat man? What made you give yourself up to thatsavage? For he is a savage. Between him and you there is abarrierthat nothing can remove. I can see in your eyes the lookof thosewho commit suicide when they are mad. You are mad.Don'tsmile. It breaks my heart. If I were to see you drowningbefore myeyesand I without the power to help youI could notsuffer agreater torment. Have you forgotten the teaching of somanyyears?"
"No"she interrupted"I remember it well. I remember how itendedalso. Scorn for scorncontempt for contempthate forhate. I am not of your race. Between your people and me thereis also abarrier that nothing can remove. You ask why I want togoand Iask you why I should stay."
Hestaggered as if struck in the facebut with a quickunhesitatinggrasp she caught him by the arm and steadied him.
"Whyyou should stay!" he repeated slowlyin a dazed mannerandstoppedshortastounded at the completeness of his misfortune.
"Youtold me yesterday" she went on again"that I could notunderstandor see your love for me: it is so. How can I? Notwo humanbeings understand each other. They can understand buttheir ownvoices. You wanted me to dream your dreamsto seeyour ownvisions--the visions of life amongst the white faces ofthose whocast me out from their midst in angry contempt. Butwhile youspoke I listened to the voice of my own self; then thisman cameand all was still; there was only the murmur of hislove. You call him a savage! What do you call my motheryourwife?"
"Nina!"cried Almayer"take your eyes off my face."
She lookeddown directlybut continued speaking only a littleabove awhisper.
"Intime" she went on"both our voicesthat man's and minespoketogether in a sweetness that was intelligible to our earsonly. You were speaking of gold thenbut our ears were filledwith thesong of our loveand we did not hear you. Then I foundthat wecould see through each other's eyes: that he saw thingsthatnobody but myself and he could see. We entered a land whereno onecould follow usand least of all you. Then I began tolive."
Shepaused. Almayer sighed deeply. With her eyes still fixedonthe groundshe began speaking again.
"AndI mean to live. I mean to follow him. I have beenrejectedwith scornby the white peopleand now I am a Malay! He took mein hisarmshe laid his life at my feet. He is brave; he willbepowerfuland I hold his bravery and his strength in my handand Ishall make him great. His name shall be remembered longafter bothour bodies are laid in the dust. I love you no lessthan I didbeforebut I shall never leave himfor without him Icannotlive."
"Ifhe understood what you have said" answered Almayerscornfully"he must be highly flattered. You want him as a toolfor someincomprehensible ambition of yours. EnoughNina. Ifyou do notgo down at once to the creekwhere Ali is waitingwith mycanoeI shall tell him to return to the settlement andbring theDutch officers here. You cannot escape from thisclearingfor I have cast adrift your canoe. If the Dutch catchthis heroof yours they will hang him as sure as I stand here.Now go."
He made astep towards his daughter and laid hold of her by theshoulderhis other hand pointing down the path to thelanding-place.
"Beware!"exclaimed Dain; "this woman belongs to me!"
Ninawrenched herself free and looked straight at Almayer's angryface.
"NoI will not go" she said with desperate energy. "Ifhe diesI shalldie too!"
"Youdie!" said Almayercontemptuously. "Ohno! You shalllive alife of lies and deception till some other vagabond comesalong tosing; how did you say that? The song of love to you!Make upyour mind quickly."
He waitedfor a whileand then added meaningly--
"ShallI call out to Ali?"
"Callout" she answered in Malay"you that cannot be true toyour owncountrymen. Only a few days ago you were selling thepowder fortheir destruction; now you want to give up to them theman thatyesterday you called your friend. OhDain" she saidturningtowards the motionless but attentive figure in thedarkness"instead of bringing you life I bring you deathfor hewillbetray unless I leave you for ever!"
Dain cameinto the circle of lightandthrowing his arm aroundNina'sneckwhispered in her ear--"I can kill him where hestandsbefore a sound can pass his lips. For you it is to sayyes orno. Babalatchi cannot be far now."
Hestraightened himself uptaking his arm off her shoulderandconfrontedAlmayerwho looked at them both with an expression ofconcentratedfury
"No!"she criedclinging to Dain in wild alarm. "No! Killme!Thenperhaps he will let you go. You do not know the mind of awhiteman. He would rather see me dead than standing where I am.Forgivemeyour slavebut you must not." She fell at his feetsobbingviolently and repeating"Kill me! Kill me!"
"Iwant you alive" said Almayerspeaking also in Malaywithsombrecalmness. "You goor he hangs. Will you obey?"
Dain shookNina offandmaking a sudden lungestruck Almayerfull inthe chest with the handle of his krisskeeping the pointtowardshimself.
"Hailook! It was easy for me to turn the point the other way"he said inhis even voice. "GoTuan Putih" he added withdignity. "I give you your lifemy lifeand her life. I am theslave ofthis woman's desireand she wills it so."
There wasnot a glimmer of light in the sky nowand the tops ofthe treeswere as invisible as their trunksbeing lost in themass ofclouds that hung low over the woodsthe clearingandthe river.
Everyoutline had disappeared in the intense blackness thatseemed tohave destroyed everything but space. Only the fireglimmeredlike a star forgotten in this annihilation of allvisiblethingsand nothing was heard after Dain ceased speakingbut thesobs of Ninawhom he held in his armskneeling besidethe fire. Almayer stood looking down at them in gloomythoughtfulness. As he was opening his lips to speak they werestartledby a cry of warning by the riversidefollowed by thesplash ofmany paddles and the sound of voices.
"Babalatchi!"shouted Dainlifting up Nina as he got upon hisfeetquickly.
"Ada! Ada!" came the answer from the panting statesman who ranup thepath and stood amongst them. "Run to my canoe" hesaidto Dainexcitedlywithout taking any notice of Almayer. "Run!we mustgo. That woman has told them all!"
"Whatwoman?" asked Dainlooking at Nina. Just then there wasonly onewoman in the whole world for him.
"Theshe-dog with white teeth; the seven times accursed slave ofBulangi. She yelled at Abdulla's gate till she woke up allSambir. Now the white officers are comingguided by her andReshid. If you want to livedo not look at mebut go!"
"Howdo you know this?" asked Almayer.
"OhTuan! what matters how I know! I have only one eyebut Isaw lightsin Abdulla's house and in his campong as we werepaddlingpast. I have earsand while we lay under the bank Ihave heardthe messengers sent out to the white men's house."
"Willyou depart without that woman who is my daughter?" saidAlmayeraddressing Dainwhile Babalatchi stamped withimpatiencemuttering"Run! Run at once!"
"No"answered Dainsteadily"I will not go; to no man will Iabandonthis woman."
"Thenkill me and escape yourself" sobbed out Nina.
He claspedher closelooking at her tenderlyand whispered"Wewill neverpartO Nina!"
"Ishall not stay here any longer" broke in Babalatchiangrily."Thisis great foolishness. No woman is worth a man's life. Iam an oldmanand I know."
He pickedup his staffandturning to golooked at Dain as ifofferinghim his last chance of escape. But Dain's face washiddenamongst Nina's black tressesand he did not see this lastappealingglance.
Babalatchivanished in the darkness. Shortly after hisdisappearancethey heard the war canoe leave the landing-place inthe swishof the numerous paddles dipped in the water together.Almost atthe same time Ali came up from the riversidetwopaddles onhis shoulder.
"Ourcanoe is hidden up the creekTuan Almayer" he said"inthe densebush where the forest comes down to the water. I tookit therebecause I heard from Babalatchi's paddlers that thewhite menare coming here."
"Waitfor me there" said Almayer"but keep the canoe hidden."
Heremained silentlistening to Ali's footstepsthen turned toNina.
"Nina"he said sadly"will you have no pity for me?"
There wasno answer. She did not even turn her headwhich waspressedclose to Dain's breast.
He made amovement as if to leave them and stopped. By the dimglow ofthe burning-out fire he saw their two motionless figures.Thewoman's back turned to him with the long black hair streamingdown overthe white dressand Dain's calm face looking at himabove herhead.
"Icannot" he muttered to himself. After a long pause hespokeagain alittle lowerbut in an unsteady voice"It would be toogreat adisgrace. I am a white man." He broke downcompletelythereandwent on tearfully"I am a white manand of goodfamily. Very good family" he repeatedweeping bitterly. "Itwould be adisgrace . . . all over the islands. . . the onlywhite manon the east coast. Noit cannot be . . . white menfinding mydaughter with this Malay. My daughter!" he criedaloudwith a ring of despair in his voice.
Herecovered his composure after a while and said distinctly--
"Iwill never forgive youNina--never! If you were to come backto me nowthe memory of this night would poison all my life. Ishall tryto forget. I have no daughter. There used to be ahalf-castewoman in my housebut she is going even now. YouDainorwhatever your name may beI shall take you and thatwoman tothe island at the mouth of the river myself. Come withme."
He led thewayfollowing the bank as far as the forest. Aliansweredto his callandpushing their way through the densebushtheystepped into the canoe hidden under the overhangingbranches. Dain laid Nina in the bottomand sat holding her headon hisknees. Almayer and Ali each took up a paddle. As theywere goingto push out Ali hissed warningly. All listened.
In thegreat stillness before the bursting out of thethunderstormthey could hear the sound of oars working regularlyin theirrow-locks. The sound approached steadilyand Dainlookingthrough the branchescould see the faint shape of a bigwhiteboat. A woman's voice said in a cautious tone--
"Thereis the place where you may land white men; a little higher--there!"
The boatwas passing them so close in the narrow creek that theblades ofthe long oars nearly touched the canoe.
"Wayenough! Stand by to jump on shore! He is alone andunarmed"was the quiet order in a man's voiceand in Dutch.
Somebodyelse whispered: "I think I can see a glimmer of a firethroughthe bush." And then the boat floated past themdisappearinginstantly in the darkness.
"Now"whispered Alieagerly"let us push out and paddle away."
The littlecanoe swung into the streamand as it sprung forwardinresponse to the vigorous dig of the paddles they could hear anangryshout.
"Heis not by the fire. Spread outmenand search for him!"
Bluelights blazed out in different parts of the clearingandthe shrillvoice of a woman cried in accents of rage and pain--
"Toolate! O senseless white men! He has escaped!"
"Thatis the place" said Dainindicating with the blade of hispaddle asmall islet about a mile ahead of the canoe--"that isthe placewhere Babalatchi promised that a boat from the prauwould comefor me when the sun is overhead. We will wait forthat boatthere."
Almayerwho was steeringnodded without speakingand by aslightsweep of his paddle laid the head of the canoe in therequireddirection.
They werejust leaving the southern outlet of the Pantaiwhichlay behindthem in a straight and long vista of water shiningbetweentwo walls of thick verdure that ran downwards and towardseachothertill at last they joined and sank together in thefar-awaydistance. The sunrising above the calm waters of theStraitsmarked its own path by a streak of light that glidedupon thesea and darted up the wide reach of the rivera hurriedmessengerof light and life to the gloomy forests of the coast;and inthis radiance of the sun's pathway floated the black canoeheadingfor the islet which lay bathed in sunshinethe yellowsands ofits encircling beach shining like an inlaid golden discon thepolished steel of the unwrinkled sea. To the north andsouth ofit rose other isletsjoyous in their brilliantcolouringof green and yellowand on the main coast the sombreline ofmangrove bushes ended to the southward in the reddishcliffs ofTanjong Mirrahadvancing into the seasteep andshadowlessunder the clearlight of the early morning.
The bottomof the canoe grated upon the sand as the little craftran uponthe beach. Ali leaped on shore and held on while Dainsteppedout carrying Nina in his armsexhausted by the eventsand thelong travelling during the night. Almayer was the lastto leavethe boatand together with Ali ran it higher up on thebeach. Then Alitired out by the long paddlinglaid down inthe shadeof the canoeand incontinently fell asleep. Almayersatsideways on the gunwaleand with his arms crossed on hisbreastlooked to the southward upon the sea.
Aftercarefully laying Nina down in the shade of the bushesgrowing inthe middle of the isletDain threw himself beside herandwatched in silent concern the tears that ran down from underher closedeyelidsand lost themselves in that fine sand uponwhich theyboth were lying face to face. These tears and thissorrowwere for him a profound and disquieting mystery. Nowwhen thedanger was pastwhy should she grieve? He doubted herlove nomore than he would have doubted the fact of his ownexistencebut as he lay looking ardently in her facewatchingher tearsher parted lipsher very breathhe was uneasilyconsciousof something in her he could not understand. Doubtlessshe hadthe wisdom of perfect beings. He sighed. He feltsomethinginvisible that stood between themsomething that wouldlet himapproach her so farbut no farther. No desirenolongingno effort of will or length of life could destroy thisvaguefeeling of their difference. With awe but also with greatpride heconcluded that it was her own incomparable perfection.She washisand yet she was like a woman from another world.His! His! He exulted in the glorious thought; nevertheless hertearspained him.
With awisp of her own hair which he took in his hand with timidreverencehe tried in an access of clumsy tenderness to dry thetears thattrembled on her eyelashes. He had his reward in afleetingsmile that brightened her face for the short fraction ofa secondbut soon the tears fell faster than everand he couldbear it nomore. He rose and walked towards Almayerwho stillsatabsorbed in his contemplation of the sea. It was a veryvery longtime since he had seen the sea--that sea that leadseverywherebrings everythingand takes away so much. He hadalmostforgotten why he was thereand dreamily he could see allhis pastlife on the smooth and boundless surface that glitteredbefore hiseyes.
Dain'shand laid on Almayer's shoulder recalled him with a startfrom somecountry very far away indeed. He turned roundbut hiseyesseemed to look rather at the place where Dain stood than atthe manhimself. Dain felt uneasy under the unconscious gaze.
"Sheis crying" murmured Dainsoftly.
"Sheis crying! Why?" asked Almayerindifferently.
"Icame to ask you. My Ranee smiles when looking at the man sheloves. It is the white woman that is crying now. You wouldknow."
Almayershrugged his shoulders and turned away again towards thesea.
"GoTuan Putih" urged Dain. "Go to her; her tears aremoreterribleto me than the anger of gods."
"Arethey? You will see them more than once. She told me shecould notlive without you" answered Almayerspeaking withoutthefaintest spark of expression in his face"so it behoves youto go toher quickfor fear you may find her dead."
He burstinto a loud and unpleasant laugh which made Dain stareat himwith some apprehensionbut got off the gunwale of theboat andmoved slowly towards Ninaglancing up at the sun as hewalked.
"Andyou go when the sun is overhead?" he said.
"YesTuan. Then we go" answered Dain.
"Ihave not long to wait" muttered Almayer. "It is mostimportantfor me to see you go. Both of you. Most important"herepeatedstopping short and looking at Dain fixedly.
He went onagain towards Ninaand Dain remained behind. Almayerapproachedhis daughter and stood for a time looking down on her.She didnot open her eyesbut hearing footsteps near hermurmuredin a low sob"Dain."
Almayerhesitated for a minute and then sank on the sand by herside. Shenot hearing a responsive wordnot feeling a touchopened hereyes--saw her fatherand sat up suddenly with amovementof terror.
"Ohfather!" she murmured faintlyand in that word there wasexpressedregret and fear and dawning hope.
"Ishall never forgive youNina" said Almayerin adispassionatevoice. "You have torn my heart from me while Idreamt ofyour happiness. You have deceived me. Your eyes thatfor mewere like truth itself lied to me in every glance--for howlong? You know that best. When you were caressing my cheek youwerecounting the minutes to the sunset that was the signal foryourmeeting with that man--there!"
He ceasedand they both sat silent side by sidenot looking ateachotherbut gazing at the vast expanse of the sea. Almayer'swords haddried Nina's tearsand her look grew hard as shestaredbefore her into the limitless sheet of blue that shonelimpidunwavingand steady like heaven itself. He looked at italsobuthis features had lost all expressionand life in hiseyesseemed to have gone out. The face was a blankwithout asign ofemotionfeelingreasonor even knowledge of itself.Allpassionregretgriefhopeor anger--all were goneerasedby thehand of fateas if after this last stroke everything wasover andthere was no need for any record.
Those fewwho saw Almayer during the short period of hisremainingdays were always impressed by the sight of that facethatseemed to know nothing of what went on within: like theblank wallof a prison enclosing sinregretsand painandwastedlifein the cold indifference of mortar and stones.
"Whatis there to forgive?" asked Ninanot addressing Almayerdirectlybut more as if arguing with herself. "Can I not livemy ownlife as you have lived yours? The path you would havewished meto follow has been closed to me by no fault of mine."
"Younever told me" muttered Almayer.
"Younever asked me" she answered"and I thought you were likethe othersand did not care. I bore the memory of my humiliationaloneandwhy should I tell you that it came to me because I amyourdaughter? I knew you could not avenge me."
"Andyet I was thinking of that only" interrupted Almayer"andI wantedto give you years of happiness for the short day of yoursuffering. I only knew of one way."
"Ah!but it was not my way!" she replied. "Could you givemehappinesswithout life? Life!" she repeated with sudden energythat sentthe word ringing over the sea. "Life that means powerand love"she added in a low voice.
"That!"said Almayerpointing his finger at Dain standing closeby andlooking at them in curious wonder.
"Yesthat!" she repliedlooking her father full in the face andnoticingfor the first time with a slight gasp of fear theunnaturalrigidity of his features.
"Iwould have rather strangled you with my own hands" saidAlmayerin an expressionless voice which was such a contrast tothedesperate bitterness of his feelings that it surprised evenhimself. He asked himself who spokeandafter looking slowlyround asif expecting to see somebodyturned again his eyestowardsthe sea.
"Yousay that because you do not understand the meaning of mywords"she said sadly. "Between you and my mother there neverwas anylove. When I returned to Sambir I found the place whichI thoughtwould be a peaceful refuge for my heartfilled withwearinessand hatred--and mutual contempt. I have listened toyour voiceand to her voice. Then I saw that you could notunderstandme; for was I not part of that woman? Of her who wasthe regretand shame of your life? I had to choose--I hesitated.Why wereyou so blind? Did you not see me struggling before youreyes? Butwhen he cameall doubt disappearedand I saw onlythe lightof the blue and cloudless heaven--"
"Iwill tell you the rest" interrupted Almayer: "whenthat mancame Ialso saw the blue and the sunshine of the sky. Athunderbolthas fallen from that skyand suddenly all is stilland darkaround me for ever. I will never forgive youNina; andto-morrowI shall forget you! I shall never forgive you" herepeatedwith mechanical obstinacy while she sather head boweddown as ifafraid to look at her father.
To him itseemed of the utmost importance that he should assureher of hisintention of never forgiving. He was convinced thathis faithin her had been the foundation of his hopesthe motiveof hiscourageof his determination to live and struggleand tobevictorious for her sake. And now his faith was gonedestroyedby her own hands; destroyed cruellytreacherouslyinthe dark;in the very moment of success. In the utter wreck ofhisaffections and of all his feelingsin the chaotic disorderof histhoughtsabove the confused sensation of physical painthatwrapped him up in a sting as of a whiplash curling round himfrom hisshoulders down to his feetonly one idea remained clearanddefinite--not to forgive her; only one vivid desire--toforgether. And this must be made clear to her--and tohimself--byfrequent repetition. That was his idea of his dutytohimself--to his race--to his respectable connections; to thewholeuniverse unsettled and shaken by this frightful catastropheof hislife. He saw it clearly and believed he was a strong man.He hadalways prided himself upon his unflinching firmness. Andyet he wasafraid. She had been all in all to him. What if heshould letthe memory of his love for her weaken the sense of hisdignity? She was a remarkable woman; he could see that; all thelatentgreatness of his nature--in which he honestlybelieved--hadbeen transfused into that slightgirlish figure.Greatthings could be done! What if he should suddenly take herto hisheartforget his shameand painand angerand--followher! What if he changed his heart if not his skin and made herlifeeasier between the two loves that would guard her from anymischance! His heart yearned for her. What if he should saythat hislove for her was greater than . . .
"Iwill never forgive youNina!" he shoutedleaping up madly inthe suddenfear of his dream.
This wasthe last time in his life that he was heard to raise hisvoice. Henceforth he spoke always in a monotonous whisper likeaninstrument of which all the strings but one are broken in alastringing clamour under a heavy blow.
She roseto her feet and looked at him. The very violence of hiscrysoothed her in an intuitive conviction of his loveand shehugged toher breast the lamentable remnants of that affectionwith theunscrupulous greediness of women who cling desperatelyto thevery scraps and rags of loveany kind of loveas a thingthat ofright belongs to them and is the very breath of theirlife. She put both her hands on Almayer's shouldersand lookingat himhalf tenderlyhalf playfullyshe said--
"Youspeak so because you love me."
Almayershook his head.
"Yesyou do" she insisted softly; then after a short pause sheadded"and you will never forget me."
Almayershivered slightly. She could not have said a more cruelthing.
"Hereis the boat coming now" said Dainhis arm outstretchedtowards ablack speck on the water between the coast and theislet.
They alllooked at it and remained standing in silence till thelittlecanoe came gently on the beach and a man landed and walkedtowardsthem. He stopped some distance off and hesitated.
"Whatnews?" asked Dain.
"Wehave had orders secretly and in the night to take off fromthis isleta man and a woman. I see the woman. Which of you isthe man?"
"Comedelight of my eyes" said Dain to Nina. "Now we goandyour voiceshall be for my ears only. You have spoken your lastwords tothe Tuan Putihyour father. Come."
Shehesitated for a whilelooking at Almayerwho kept his eyessteadilyon the seathen she touched his forehead in a lingeringkissanda tear--one of her tears--fell on his cheek and randown hisimmovable face.
"Goodbye"she whisperedand remained irresolute till he pushedhersuddenly into Dain's arms.
"Ifyou have any pity for me" murmured Almayeras if repeatingsomesentence learned by heart"take that woman away."
He stoodvery straighthis shoulders thrown backhis head heldhighandlooked at them as they went down the beach to thecanoewalking enlaced in each other's arms. He looked at theline oftheir footsteps marked in the sand. He followed theirfiguresmoving in the crude blaze of the vertical sunin thatlightviolent and vibratinglike a triumphal flourish of brazentrumpets. He looked at the man's brown shouldersat the redsaronground his waist; at the tallslenderdazzling whitefigure hesupported. He looked at the white dressat thefallingmasses of the long black hair. He looked at themembarkingand at the canoe growing smaller in the distancewithragedespairand regret in his heartand on his face a peaceas that ofa carved image of oblivion. Inwardly he felt himselftorn topiecesbut Ali--who now aroused--stood close to hismastersaw on his features the blank expression of those wholive inthat hopeless calm which sightless eyes only can give.
The canoedisappearedand Almayer stood motionless with his eyesfixed onits wake. Ali from under the shade of his hand examinedthe coastcuriously. As the sun declinedthe sea-breeze sprangup fromthe northward and shivered with its breath the glassysurface ofthe water.
"Dapat!"exclaimed Alijoyously. "Got himmaster! Got prau!Notthere! Look more Tanah Mirrah side. Aha! That way!Mastersee? Now plain. See?"
Almayerfollowed Ali's forefinger with his eyes for a long timein vain. At last he sighted a triangular patch of yellow lighton the redbackground of the cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah. It wasthe sailof the prau that had caught the sunlight and stood outdistinctwith its gay tinton the dark red of the cape. Theyellowtriangle crept slowly from cliff to clifftill it clearedthe lastpoint of land and shone brilliantly for a fleetingminute onthe blue of the open sea. Then the prau bore up to thesouthward:the light went out of the sailand all at once thevesselitself disappearedvanishing in the shadow of the steepheadlandthat looked onpatient and lonelywatching over theempty sea.
Almayernever moved. Round the little islet the air was full ofthe talkof the rippling water. The crested wavelets ran up thebeachaudaciouslyjoyouslywith the lightness of young lifeand diedquicklyunresistinglyand graciouslyin the widecurves oftransparent foam on the yellow sand. Abovethe whitecloudssailed rapidly southwards as if intent upon overtakingsomething. Ali seemed anxious.
"Master"he said timidly"time to get house now. Long way offto pull. All readysir."
Now shewas gone his business was to forgetand he had a strangenotionthat it should be done systematically and in order. ToAli'sgreat dismay he fell on his hands and kneesandcreepingalong thesanderased carefully with his hand all traces ofNina'sfootsteps. He piled up small heaps of sandleavingbehind hima line of miniature graves right down to the water.Afterburying the last slight imprint of Nina's slipper he stoodupandturning his face towards the headland where he had lastseen theprauhe made an effort to shout out loud again his firmresolve tonever forgive. Ali watching him uneasily saw only hislips movebut heard no sound. He brought his foot down with astamp. He was a firm man--firm as a rock. Let her go. He neverhad adaughter. He would forget. He was forgetting already.
Aliapproached him againinsisting on immediate departureandthis timehe consentedand they went together towards theircanoeAlmayer leading. For all his firmness he looked verydejectedand feeble as he dragged his feet slowly through thesand onthe beach; and by his side--invisible to Ali--stalkedthatparticular fiend whose mission it is to jog the memories ofmenlestthey should forget the meaning of life. He whisperedintoAlmayer's ear a childish prattle of many years ago.Almayerhis head bent on one sideseemed to listen to hisinvisiblecompanionbut his face was like the face of a man thathas diedstruck from behind--a face from which all feelings andallexpression are suddenly wiped off by the hand of unexpecteddeath.
They slepton the river that nightmooring their canoe under thebushes andlying down in the bottom side by sidein the absoluteexhaustionthat kills hungerthirstall feeling and all thoughtin theoverpowering desire for that deep sleep which is like thetemporaryannihilation of the tired body. Next day they startedagain andfought doggedly with the current all the morningtillaboutmidday they reached the settlement and made fast theirlittlecraft to the jetty of Lingard and Co. Almayer walkedstraightto the houseand Ali followedpaddles on shoulderthinkingthat he would like to eat something. As they crossedthe frontcourtyard they noticed the abandoned look of the place.Ali lookedin at the different servants' houses: all were empty.In theback courtyard there was the same absence of sound andlife. In the cooking-shed the fire was out and the black emberswerecold. A talllean man came stealthily out of the bananaplantationand went away rapidly across the open space lookingat themwith bigfrightened eyes over his shoulder. Somevagabondwithout a master; there were many such in thesettlementand they looked upon Almayer as their patron. Theyprowledabout his premises and picked their living theresurethatnothing worse could befall them than a shower of curses whenthey gotin the way of the white manwhom they trusted andlikedandcalled a fool amongst themselves. In the housewhichAlmayerentered through the back verandahthe only living thingthat methis eyes was his small monkey whichhungry andunnoticedfor the last two daysbegan to cry and complain inmonkeylanguage as soon as it caught sight of the familiar face.Almayersoothed it with a few words and ordered Ali to bring insomebananasthen while Ali was gone to get them he stood in thedoorway ofthe front verandah looking at the chaos of overturnedfurniture. Finally he picked up the table and sat on it whilethe monkeylet itself down from the roof-stick by its chain andperched onhis shoulder. When the bananas came they had theirbreakfasttogether; both hungryboth eating greedily andshoweringthe skins round them recklesslyin the trustingsilence ofperfect friendship. Ali went awaygrumblingto cooksome ricehimselffor all the women about the house haddisappeared;he did not know where. Almayer did not seem tocareandafter he finished eatinghe sat on the table swinginghis legsand staring at the river as if lost in thought.
After sometime he got up and went to the door of a room on theright ofthe verandah. That was the office. The office ofLingardand Co. He very seldom went in there. There was nobusinessnowand he did not want an office. The door waslockedand he stood biting his lower liptrying to think of theplacewhere the key could be. Suddenly he remembered: in thewomen'sroom hung upon a nail. He went over to the doorway wherethe redcurtain hung down in motionless foldsand hesitated fora momentbefore pushing it aside with his shoulder as if breakingdown somesolid obstacle. A great square of sunshine enteringthroughthe window lay on the floor. On the left he saw Mrs.Almayer'sbig wooden chestthe lid thrown backempty; near itthe brassnails of Nina's European trunk shone in the largeinitialsN. A. on the cover. A few of Nina's dresses hung onwoodenpegsstiffened in a look of offended dignity at theirabandonment. He remembered making the pegs himself and noticedthat theywere very good pegs. Where was the key? He lookedround andsaw it near the door where he stood. It was red withrust. He felt very much annoyed at thatand directly afterwardswonderedat his own feeling. What did it matter? There soonwould beno key--no door--nothing! He pausedkey in handandaskedhimself whether he knew well what he was about. He wentout againon the verandah and stood by the table thinking. Themonkeyjumped downandsnatching a banana skinabsorbed itselfin pickingit to shreds industriously.
"Forget!"muttered Almayerand that word started before him asequenceof eventsa detailed programme of things to do. Heknewperfectly well what was to be done now. First thisthenthatandthen forgetfulness would come easy. Very easy. He hada fixedidea that if he should not forget before he died he wouldhave toremember to all eternity. Certain things had to be takenout of hislifestamped out of sightdestroyedforgotten. Fora longtime he stood in deep thoughtlost in the alarmingpossibilitiesof unconquerable memorywith the fear of death andeternitybefore him. "Eternity!" he said aloudand the soundofthat wordrecalled him out of his reverie. The monkey starteddroppedthe skinand grinned up at him amicably.
He wenttowards the office door and with some difficulty managedto openit. He entered in a cloud of dust that rose under hisfeet.
Books openwith torn pages bestrewed the floor; other books layaboutgrimy and blacklooking as if they had never been opened.Accountbooks. In those books he had intended to keep day by daya recordof his rising fortunes. Long time ago. A very longtime. For many years there has been no record to keep on theblue andred ruled pages! In the middle of the room the bigofficedeskwith one of its legs brokencareened over like thehull of astranded ship; most of the drawers had fallen outdisclosingheaps of paper yellow with age and dirt. Therevolvingoffice chair stood in its placebut he found the pivotset fastwhen he tried to turn it. No matter. He desistedandhis eyeswandered slowly from object to object. All those thingshad cost alot of money at the time. The deskthe paperthetornbooksand the broken shelvesall under a thick coat ofdust. The very dust and bones of a dead and gone business. Helooked atall these thingsall that was left after so many yearsof workof strifeof wearinessof discouragementconquered somanytimes. And all for what? He stood thinking mournfully ofhis pastlife till he heard distinctly the clear voice of a childspeakingamongst all this wreckruinand waste. He startedwith agreat fear in his heartand feverishly began to rake inthe papersscattered on the floorbroke the chair into bitssplinteredthe drawers by banging them against the deskand madea big heapof all that rubbish in one corner of the room.
He cameout quicklyslammed the door after himturned the keyandtaking it outran to the front rail of the verandahandwith agreat swing of his armsent the key whizzing into theriver. This done he went back slowly to the tablecalled themonkeydownunhooked its chainand induced it to remain quietin thebreast of his jacket. Then he sat again on the table andlookedfixedly at the door of the room he had just left. Helistenedalso intently. He heard a dry sound of rustling; sharpcracks asof dry wood snapping; a whirr like of a bird's wingswhen itrises suddenlyand then he saw a thin stream of smokecomethrough the keyhole. The monkey struggled under his coat.Aliappeared with his eyes starting out of his head.
"Master!House burn!" he shouted.
Almayerstood up holding by the table. He could hear the yellsof alarmand surprise in the settlement. Ali wrung his handslamentingaloud.
"Stopthis noisefool!" said Almayerquietly. "Pick up myhammockand blankets and take them to the other house. Quicknow!"
The smokeburst through the crevices of the doorand Aliwiththehammock in his armscleared in one bound the steps of theverandah.
"Ithas caught well" muttered Almayer to himself. "BequietJack"he addedas the monkey made a frantic effort to escapefrom itsconfinement.
The doorsplit from top to bottomand a rush of flame and smokedroveAlmayer away from the table to the front rail of theverandah. He held on there till a great roar overhead assuredhim thatthe roof was ablaze. Then he ran down the steps of theverandahcoughinghalf choked with the smoke that pursued himin bluishwreaths curling about his head.
On theother side of the ditchseparating Almayer's courtyardfrom thesettlementa crowd of the inhabitants of Sambir lookedat theburning house of the white man. In the calm air theflamesrushed up on highcoloured pale brick-redwith violetgleams inthe strong sunshine. The thin column of smoke ascendedstraightand unwavering till it lost itself in the clear blue ofthe skyandin the great empty space between the two houses theinterestedspectators could see the tall figure of the TuanPutihwith bowed head and dragging feetwalking slowly awayfrom thefire towards the shelter of "Almayer's Folly."
In thatmanner did Almayer move into his new house. He tookpossessionof the new ruinand in the undying folly of his heartsethimself to wait in anxiety and pain for that forgetfulnesswhich wasso slow to come. He had done all he could. Everyvestige ofNina's existence had been destroyed; and now witheverysunrise he asked himself whether the longed-for oblivionwould comebefore sunsetwhether it would come before he died?He wantedto live only long enough to be able to forgetand thetenacityof his memory filled him with dread and horror of death;for shouldit come before he could accomplish the purpose of hislife hewould have to remember for ever! He also longed forloneliness. He wanted to be alone. But he was not. In the dimlight ofthe rooms with their closed shuttersin the brightsunshineof the verandahwherever he wentwhichever way heturnedhesaw the small figure of a little maiden with prettyolivefacewith long black hairher little pink robe slippingoff hershouldersher big eyes looking up at him in the tendertrustfulnessof a petted child. Ali did not see anythingbut healso wasaware of the presence of a child in the house. In hislong talksby the evening fires of the settlement he used to tellhisintimate friends of Almayer's strange doings. His master hadturnedsorcerer in his old age. Ali said that often when TuanPutih hadretired for the night he could hear him talking tosomethingin his room. Ali thought that it was a spirit in theshape of achild. He knew his master spoke to a child fromcertainexpressions and words his master used. His master spokein Malay alittlebut mostly in Englishwhich heAlicouldunderstand. Master spoke to the child at times tenderlythen hewould weepover itlaugh at itscold itbeg of it to go away;curse it. It was a bad and stubborn spirit. Ali thought hismaster hadimprudently called it upand now could not get rid ofit. His master was very brave; he was not afraid to curse thisspirit inthe very Presence; and once he fought with it. Ali hadheard agreat noise as of running about inside the room andgroans. His master groaned. Spirits do not groan. His masterwas bravebut foolish. You cannot hurt a spirit. Ali expectedto findhis master dead next morningbut he came out very earlylookingmuch older than the day beforeand had no food all day.
So far Alito the settlement. To Captain Ford he was much morecommunicativefor the good reason that Captain Ford had thepurse andgave orders. On each of Ford's monthly visits toSambir Alihad to go on board with a report about the inhabitantof"Almayer's Folly." On his first visit to Sambirafter Nina'sdepartureFord had taken charge of Almayer's affairs. They werenotcumbersome. The shed for the storage of goods was emptytheboats haddisappearedappropriated--generally in night-time--byvariouscitizens of Sambir in need of means of transport. Duringa greatflood the jetty of Lingard and Co. left the bank andfloateddown the riverprobably in search of more cheerfulsurroundings;even the flock of geese--"the only geese on theeastcoast"--departed somewherepreferring the unknown dangersof thebush to the desolation of their old home. As time went onthe grassgrew over the black patch of ground where the old houseused tostandand nothing remained to mark the place of thedwellingthat had sheltered Almayer's young hopeshis foolishdream ofsplendid futurehis awakeningand his despair.
Ford didnot often visit Almayerfor visiting Almayer was not apleasanttask. At first he used to respond listlessly to the oldseaman'sboisterous inquiries about his health; he even madeefforts totalkasking for news in a voice that made itperfectlyclear that no news from this world had any interest forhim. Then gradually he became more silent--not sulkily--but asif he wasforgetting how to speak. He used also to hide in thedarkestrooms of the housewhere Ford had to seek him out guidedby thepatter of the monkey galloping before him. The monkey wasalwaysthere to receive and introduce Ford. The little animalseemed tohave taken complete charge of its masterand wheneverit wishedfor his presence on the verandah it would tugperseveringlyat his jackettill Almayer obediently came outinto thesunshinewhich he seemed to dislike so much.
Onemorning Ford found him sitting on the floor of the verandahhis backagainst the wallhis legs stretched stiffly outhisarmshanging by his side. His expressionless facehis eyes openwide withimmobile pupilsand the rigidity of his posemade himlook likean immense man-doll broken and flung there out of theway. As Ford came up the steps he turned his head slowly.
"Ford"he murmured from the floor"I cannot forget."
"Can'tyou?" said Fordinnocentlywith an attempt at joviality:"Iwish I was like you. I am losing my memory--ageI suppose;only theother day my mate--"
Hestoppedfor Almayer had got upstumbledand steadiedhimself onhis friend's arm.
"Hallo!You are better to-day. Soon be all right" said Fordcheerfullybut feeling rather scared.
Almayerlet go his arm and stood very straight with his head upandshoulders thrown backlooking stonily at the multitude ofsunsshining in ripples of the river. His jacket and his loosetrousersflapped in the breeze on his thin limbs.
"Lether go!" he whispered in a grating voice. "Let hergo. To-morrow Ishall forget. I am a firm man. . . firm as a . . .rock. . . firm . . ."
Fordlooked at his face--and fled. The skipper was a tolerablyfirm manhimself--as those who had sailed with him could testify--butAlmayer's firmness was altogether too much for hisfortitude.
Next timethe steamer called in Sambir Ali came on board earlywith agrievance. He complained to Ford that Jim-Eng theChinamanhad invaded Almayer's houseand actually had livedthere forthe last month.
"Andthey both smoke" added Ali.
Alinoddedand Ford remained thoughtful; then he muttered tohimself"Poor devil! The sooner the better now." In theafternoonhe walked up to the house.
"Whatare you doing here?" he asked of Jim-Engwhom he foundstrollingabout on the verandah.
Jim-Engexplained in bad Malayand speaking in that monotonousuninterestedvoice of an opium smoker pretty far gonethat hishouse wasoldthe roof leakedand the floor was rotten. Sobeing anold friend for manymany yearshe took his moneyhisopiumandtwo pipesand came to live in this big house.
"Thereis plenty of room. He smokesand I live here. He willnot smokelong" he concluded.
"Whereis he now?" asked Ford.
"Inside. He sleeps" answered Jim-Engwearily. Ford glanced inthroughthe doorway. In the dim light of the room he could seeAlmayerlying on his back on the floorhis head on a woodenpillowthe long white beard scattered over his breasttheyellowskin of the facethe half-closed eyelids showing thewhites ofthe eye only. . . .
Heshuddered and turned away. As he was leaving he noticed along stripof faded red silkwith some Chinese letters on itwhichJim-Eng had just fastened to one of the pillars.
"What'sthat?" he asked.
"That"said Jim-Engin his colourless voice"that is the nameof thehouse. All the same like my house. Very good name."
Fordlooked at him for awhile and went away. He did not knowwhat thecrazy-looking maze of the Chinese inscription on the redsilkmeant. Had he asked Jim-Engthat patient Chinaman wouldhaveinformed him with proper pride that its meaning was: "Houseofheavenly delight."
In theevening of the same day Babalatchi called on Captain Ford.Thecaptain's cabin opened on deckand Babalatchi sat astride onthe highstepwhile Ford smoked his pipe on the settee inside.Thesteamer was leaving next morningand the old statesman cameas usualfor a last chat.
"Wehad news from Bali last moon" remarked Babalatchi. "Agrandsonis born to the old Rajahand there is great rejoicing."
Ford satup interested.
"Yes"went on Babalatchiin answer to Ford's look. "I toldhim. That was before he began to smoke."
"Welland what?" asked Ford.
"Iescaped with my life" said Babalatchiwith perfect gravity"becausethe white man is very weak and fell as he rushed uponme." Thenafter a pausehe added"She is mad with joy."
"Yesshe lives in our Rajah's house. She will not die soon.Such womenlive a long time" said Babalatchiwith a slighttinge ofregret in his voice. "She has dollarsand she hasburiedthembut we know where. We had much trouble with thosepeople. We had to pay a fine and listen to threats from thewhite menand now we have to be careful." He sighed andremainedsilent for a long while. Then with energy:
"Therewill be fighting. There is a breath of war on theislands. Shall I live long enough to see? . . . AhTuan!" hewent onmore quietly"the old times were best. Even I havesailedwith Lanun menand boarded in the night silent ships withwhitesails. That was before an English Rajah ruled in Kuching.Then wefought amongst ourselves and were happy. Now when wefight withyou we can only die!"
He rose togo. "Tuan" he said"you remember the girl thatmanBulangihad? Her that caused all the trouble?"
"Yes"said Ford. "What of her?"
"Shegrew thin and could not work. Then Bulangiwho is a thiefand apig-eatergave her to me for fifty dollars. I sent heramongst mywomen to grow fat. I wanted to hear the sound of herlaughterbut she must have been bewitchedand . . . she diedtwo daysago. NayTuan. Why do you speak bad words? I amold--thatis true--but why should I not like the sight of a youngface andthe sound of a young voice in my house?" He pausedandthen addedwith a little mournful laugh"I am like a white mantalkingtoo much of what is not men's talk when they speak to oneanother."
And hewent off looking very sad.
The crowdmassed in a semicircle before the steps of "Almayer'sFolly"swayed silently backwards and forwardsand opened outbefore thegroup of white-robed and turbaned men advancingthroughthe grass towards the house. Abdulla walked firstsupportedby Reshid and followed by all the Arabs in Sambir. Astheyentered the lane made by the respectful throng there was asubduedmurmur of voiceswhere the word "Mati" was the only onedistinctlyaudible. Abdulla stopped and looked round slowly.
"Ishe dead?" he asked.
"Mayyou live!" answered the crowd in one shoutand then theresucceededa breathless silence.
Abdullamade a few paces forward and found himself for the lasttime faceto face with his old enemy. Whatever he might havebeen oncehe was not dangerous nowlying stiff and lifeless inthe tenderlight of the early day. The only white man on theeast coastwas deadand his souldelivered from the trammels ofhisearthly follystood now in the presence of Infinite Wisdom.On theupturned face there was that serene look which follows thesuddenrelief from anguish and painand it testified silentlybefore thecloudless heaven that the man lying there under thegaze ofindifferent eyes had been permitted to forget before hedied.
Abdullalooked down sadly at this Infidel he had fought so longand hadbested so many times. Such was the reward of theFaithful!
Yet in theArab's old heart there was a feeling of regret forthat thinggone out of his life. He was leaving fast behind himfriendshipsand enmitiessuccessesand disappointments--allthat makesup a life; and before him was only the end. Prayerwould fillup the remainder of the days allotted to the TrueBeliever! He took in his hand the beads that hung at his waist.
"Ifound him herelike thisin the morning" said Aliin a lowand awedvoice.
Abdullaglanced coldly once more at the serene face.
"Letus go" he saidaddressing Reshid.
And asthey passed through the crowd that fell back before themthe beadsin Abdulla's hand clickedwhile in a solemn whisper hebreathedout piously the name of Allah! The Merciful! The Compassionate!