Joseph Conrad.

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ALM AVERS FOLLY



New Novels uniform with this
w^ork, price 6s. each.

By S. R. CROCKETT.

THE STICKIT MINISTER. Tenth and
Illustrated Edition.

THE RAIDERS. Seventh Edition.

THE LILAC SUNBONNET. Third Edition.



By JOHN OLIVER HOBBES.

THE TALES of JOHN OLIVER HOBBES.

Second Edition.

Some Emotions and a Morale A Sinner's
Gomedyy A Study In Temptations, and
A Bundie of Life.

With Frontispiece Portrait of the Author.



London: T. FISHER UNWIN, Paternoster
Square.



ALMAYER'S FOLLY

A Story of an
Eastern River



BY



Joseph Conrad



Qui de nous n*a eu sa terre
promise, son jour d'extase et
sa fin en cxil ? — A mi el.



LONDON

T. FISHER UNWIN

PATERNOSTER SQUARE
Mdcccxcv



®0

THE MEMORY
OF

T. B.



ALMAYER'S FOLLY

CHAPTER I.

"Kaspar! Makan!"

The well-known shrill voice startled Almayer
from his dream of splendid future into the
unpleasant realities of the present hour. An
unpleasant voice too. He had heard it for many
years, and with every year he liked it less. No
matter; there would be an end to all this soon.

He shuffled uneasily, but took no further notice
of the call. Leaning with both his elbows on the
balustrade of the verandah, he went on looking
fixedly at the great river that flowed — indifferent
and hurried — before his eyes. He liked to look
at it about the time of sunset ; perhaps because
at that time the sinking sun would spread a
glowing gold tinge on the waters of the Pantai,
and Almayer's thoughts were often busy with gold ;
gold he had failed to secure ; gold the others had
secured — dishonestly, of course — or gold he meant



8 Almayers Folly.

to secure yet, through his own honest exertions,
for himself and Nina. He absorbed himself in his
dream of wealth and power away from this coast
where he had dwelt for so many years, forgetting
the bitterness of toil and strife in the vision of a
great and splendid reward. They would live in
Europe, he and his daughter. They would be
rich and respected. Nobody would think of her
mixed blood in the presence of her great beauty
and of his immense wealth. Witnessing her
triumphs he would grow young again, he would
forget the twenty-five years of heart-breaking
struggle on this coast where he felt like a prisoner.
All this was nearly within his reach. Let only
Dain return ! And return soon he must — in his
own interest, for his own share. He was now
more than a week late ! Perhaps he would return
to-night.

Such were Almayer's thoughts as, standing on the
verandah of his new but already decaying house —
that last failure of his life — he looked on the broad
river. There was no tinge of gold on it this evening,
for it had been swollen by the rains, and rolled an
angry and muddy flood under his inattentive eyes,
carrying small drift-wood and big dead logs, and
whole uprooted trees wuth branches and foliage,
amongst which the water swirled and roared
angrily.

One of those drifting trees grounded on the
shelving shore, just by the house, and Almayer,



Almayers Folly. 9

neglecting his dream, watched it with languid
interest. The tree swung slowly round, amid the
hiss and foam of the water, and soon getting free
of the obstruction began to move down stream
again, rolling slowly over, raising upwards a long^
denuded branch, like a hand lifted in mute appeal
to heaven against the river's brutal and unneces-
sary violence. Almayer's interest in the fate of
that tree increased rapidly. He leaned over to see
if it would clear the low point below. It did ; then
he drew back, thinking that now its course was
free down to the sea, and he envied the lot of that
inanimate thing now growing small and indistinct
in the deepening darkness. As he lost sight of it
altogether he began to wonder how far out to sea
it would drift. Would the current carry it north
or south ? South, probably, till it drifted in sight
of Celebes, as far as Macassar, perhaps !

Macassar ! Almayer's quickened fancy distanced
the tree on its imaginary voyage, but his memory
lagging behind some twenty years or more in point
of time saw a young and slim Almayer, clad all
in white and modest- looking, landing from the
Dutch mail-boat on the dusty jetty of Macassar,
coming to woo fortune in the godowns of old
Hudig. It was an important epoch in his life, the
beginning of a new existence for him. His father,
a subordinate official employed in the Botanical
Gardens of Buitenzorg, was no doubt delighted to
place his son in such a firm. The young man him-



lo Almayer*s Folly.

self too was nothing loth to leave the poisonous
shores of Java, and the meagre comforts of the
parental bungalow, where the father grumbled all
day at the stupidity of native gardeners, and the
mother from the depths of her long easy-chair
bewailed the lost glories of Amsterdam, where she
had been brought up, and of her position as the
daughter of a cigar dealer there.

Almayer had left his home with a light heart
and a lighter pocket, speaking English well, and
strong in arithmetic ; ready to conquer the world,
never doubting that he would.

After those twenty years, standing in the close
and stifling heat of a Bornean evening, he recalled
with pleasurable regret the image of Hudig's lofty
and cool warehouses with their long and straight
avenues of gin cases and bales of Manchester
goods ; the big door swinging noiselessly; the dim
light of the place, so delightful after the glare of
the streets ; the little railed-off spaces amongst
piles of merchandise where the Chinese clerks,
neat, cool, and sad -eyed, wrote rapidly and in
silence amidst the din of the working gangs rolling
casks or shifting cases to a muttered song, ending
with a desperate yell. At the upper end, facing
the great door, there was a larger space railed off,
well lighted ; there the noise was subdued by
distance, and above it rose the soft and continuous
clink of silver guilders which other discreet
Chinamen were counting and piling up under



Almayer^s Folly, n

the supervision of Mr. Vinck, the cashier, the
genius presiding in the place — the right hand of
the Master.

In that clear space Almayer worked at his table
not far from a little green painted door, by which
always stood a Malay in a red sash and turban,
and whose hand, holding a small string dangling
from above, moved up and down with the regu-
larity of a machine. The string worked a punkah
on the other side of the green door, where the so-
called private office was, and where old Hudig — the
Master — sat enthroned, holding noisy receptions.
Sometimes the little door would fly open disclosing
to the outer world, through the bluish haze of
tobacco smoke, a long table loaded with bottles of
various shapes and tall water-pitchers, rattan easy-
chairs occupied by noisy men in sprawling atti-
tudes, while the Master would put his head through
and, holding by the handle, would grunt confi-
dentially to Vinck ; perhaps send an order
thundering down the warehouse, or spy a hesi-
tating stranger and greet him with a friendly
roar, " Welgome, Gapitan ! ver' you gome vrom ?
Bali, eh ? Got bonies ? I vant bonies ! Vant all
you got ; ha ! ha ! ha ! Gome in ! " Then the
stranger was dragged in, in a tempest of yells,
the door was shut, and the usual noises refilled
the place ; the song of the workmen, the rumble
of barrels, the scratch of rapid pens ; while above
all rose the musical chink of broad silver pieces



12 Almayers Folly,

streaming ceaselessly through the yellow fingers of
the attentive Chinamen.

At that time Macassar was teeming with life
and commerce. It was the point in the islands
where tended all those bold spirits who, fitting out
schooners on the Australian coast, invaded the
Malay Archipelago in search of money and adven-
ture. Bold, reckless, keen in business, not disin-
clined for a brush with the pirates that were to be
found on many a coast as yet, making money fast,
they used to have a general " rendezvous " in the
bay for purposes of trade and dissipation. The
Dutch merchants called those men English pedlars ;
some of them were undoubtedly gentlemen for
whom that kind of life had a charm ; most were
seamen ; the acknowledged king of them all was
Tom Lingard, he whom the Malays, honest or
dishonest, quiet fishermen or desperate cut-throats,
recognised as " the Rajah-Laut " — the King of
the Sea.

Almayer had heard of him before he had been
three days in Macassar, had heard the stories of
his smart business transactions, his loves, and
also of his desperate fights with the Sulu pirates,
together with the romantic tale of some child — a
girl — found in a piratical prau by the victorious
Lingard, when, after a long contest, he boarded
the craft, driving the crew overboard. This girl,
it was generally known, Lingard had adopted,
was having her educated in some convent in Java,



Almayer*s Folly, 13

and spoke of her as " my daughter." He had
sworn a mighty oath to marry her to a white man
before he went home and to leave her all his
money. "And Captain Lingard has lots of money,"
would say Mr. Vinck solemnly, with his head on
one side, " lots of money ; more than Hudig ! "
And after a pause — just to let his hearers recover
from their astonishment at such an incredible
assertion — he would add in an explanatory
whisper, " You know, he has discovered a river."
That was it ! He had discovered a river ! That
was the fact placing old Lingard so much above
the common crowd of sea-going adventurers who
traded with Hudig in the daytime and drank
champagne, gambled, sang noisy songs, and made
love to half-caste girls under the broad verandah
of the Sunda Hotel at night. Into that river,
whose entrances himself only knew, Lingard used
to take his assorted cargo of Manchester goods,
brass gongs, rifles and gunpowder. His brig Flashy
which he commanded himself, would on those
occasions disappear quietly during the night from
the roadstead while his companions were sleeping
off the effects of the midnight carouse, Lingard
seeing them drunk under the table before going
^on board, himself unaffected by any amount of
liquor. Many tried to follow him and find that
land of plenty for gutta-percha and rattans, pearl
shells and birds' nests, wax and gum-dammar, but
the little Flash could outsail every craft in those



14 Almayers Folly,

seas. A few of them came to grief on hidden
sandbanks and coral reefs, losing their all and
barely escaping with life from the cruel grip of this
sunny and smiling sea ; others got discouraged ;
and for many years the green and peaceful-looking
islands guarding the entrances to the promised
land kept their secret with all the merciless
serenity of tropical nature. And so Lingard came
and went on his secret or open expeditions,
becoming a hero in Almayer's eyes by the bold-
ness and enormous profits of his ventures, seeming
to Almayer a very great man indeed as he saw
him marching up the warehouse, grunting a " how
are you ? " to Vinck, or greeting Hudig, the Master,
with a boisterous " Hallo, old pirate ! Alive yet ? "
as a preliminary to transacting business behind the
little green door. Often of an evening, in the
silence of the then deserted warehouse, Almayer
putting away his papers before driving home with
Mr. Vinck, in whose household he lived, would
pause listening to the noise of a hot discussion
in the private office, would hear the deep and
monotonous growl of the Master, and the roared-
out interruptions of Lingard — two mastiffs fighting
over a marrowy bone. But to Almayer's ears it
sounded like a quarrel of Titans — a battle of the
gods.

After a year or so Lingard, having been brought
often in contact with Almayer in the course of
business, took a sudden and, to the onlookers, a



Aimayer's Folly. 15

rather inexplicable fancy to the young man. He
sang his praises, late at night, over a convivial
glass to his cronies in the Sunda Hotel, and one
fine morning electrified Vinck by declaring that he
must have "that young fellow for a supercargo.
Kind of captain's clerk. Do all my quill-driving
for me." Hudig consented. Almayer, with youth's
natural craving for change, was nothing loth, and
packing his few belongings, started in the Flash on
one of those long cruises when the old seaman was
wont to visit almost every island in the archipelago.
Months slipped by, and Lingard's friendship seemed
to increase. Often pacing the deck with Almayer,
when the faint night breeze, heavy with aromatic
exhalations of the islands, shoved the brig gently
along under the peaceful and sparkling sky, did
the old seaman open his heart to his entranced
listener. He spoke of his past life, of escaped
dangers, of big profits in his trade, of new combi-
nations that were in the future to bring profits
bigger still. Often he had mentioned his daughter,
the girl found in the pirate prau, speaking of her
with a strange assumption of fatherly tenderness.
" She must be a big girl now," he used to say.
" It's nigh unto four years since I have seen her !
Damme, Almayer, if I don't think we will run into
Sourabaya this trip." And after such a declaration
he always dived into his cabin muttering to him-
self, " Something must be done — must be done."
More than once he would astonish Almayer by



1 6 Almayer's Folly,

walking up to him rapidly, clearing his throat with
a powerful " Hem ! " as if he was going to say
something, and then turning abruptly away to
lean over the bulwarks in silence, and watch,
motionless, for hours, the gleam and sparkle of
the phosphorescent sea along the ship's side. It
was the night before arriving in Sourabaya when
one of those attempts at confidential communica-
tion succeeded. After clearing his throat he spoke.
He spoke to some purpose. He wanted Almayer
to marry his adopted daughter. " And don't you
kick because you're white ! " he shouted, suddenly,
not giving the surprised young man the time to
say a word. " None of that with me ! Nobody
will see the colour of your wife's skin. The dollars
are too thick for that, I tell you ! And mind you,
they will be thicker yet before I die. There will
be millions, Kaspar ! Millions I say ! And all
for her — and for you, if you do what you are told."
Startled by the unexpected proposal, Almayer
hesitated, and remained silent for a minute. He
was gifted with a strong and active imagination,
and in that short space of time he saw, as in a
flash of dazzling light, great piles of shining
guilders, and realised all the possibilities of an
opulent existence. The consideration, the indolent
ease of life — for which he felt himself so well
fitted — his ships, his warehouses, his merchandise
(old Lingard would not live for ever), and, crowning
all, in the far future gleamed like a fairy palace



Almayer's Folly, 17

the big mansion in Amsterdam, that earthly
paradise of his dreams, where, made king amongst
men by old Lingard's money, he would pass the
evening of his days in inexpressible splendour.
As to the other side of the picture — the companion-
ship for life of a Malay girl, that legacy of a
boatful of pirates — there was only within him a
confused consciousness of shame that he a white

man Still, a convent education of four

years ! — and then she may mercifully die. He
was always lucky, and money is powerful ! Go
through it. Why not ? He had a vague idea of
shutting her up somewhere, anywhere, out of his
gorgeous future. Easy enough to dispose of a
Malay woman, a slave, after all, to his Eastern
mind, convent or no convent, ceremony or no
ceremony.

He lifted his head and confronted the anxious
yet irate seaman.

" I — of course — anything you wish. Captain
Lingard."

" Call me father, my boy. She does," said the
mollified old adventurer. " Damme, though, if I
didn't think you were going to refuse. Mind you,
Kaspar, I always get my way, so it would have
been no use. But you are no fool."

He remembered well that time — the look, the
accent, the words, the effect they produced on
him, his very surroundings. He remembered the
narrow slanting deck of the brig, the silent sleep.



1 8 Almayers Folly,

ing coast, the smooth black surface of the sea
with a great bar of gold laid on it by the rising
moon. He remembered it all, and he remem-
bered his feelings of mad exultation at the
thought of that fortune thrown into his hands.
He was no fool then, and he was no fool now.
Circumstances had been against him ; the fortune
was gone, but hope remained.

He shivered in the night air, and suddenly
became aware of the intense darkness which, on
the sun's departure, had closed in upon the river,
blotting out the outlines of the opposite shore.
Only the fire of dry branches lit outside the
stockade of the Rajah's compound called fitfully
into view the ragged trunks of the surrounding
trees, putting a stain of glowing red half-way
across the river where the drifting logs were
hurrying towards the sea through the impenetrable
gloom. He had a hazy recollection of having
been called some time during the evening by
his wife. To his dinner probably. But a man
busy contemplating the wreckage of his past in
the dawn of new hopes cannot be hungry when-
ever his rice is ready. Time he went home,
though ; it was getting late.

He stepped cautiously on the loose planks
towards the ladder. A lizard, disturbed by the noise,
emitted a plaintive note and scurried through the
long grass growing on the bank. Almayer
descended the ladder carefully, now thoroughly



Almayer's Folly. 19

recalled to the realities of life by the care necessary
to prevent a fall on the uneven ground where the
stones, decaying planks, and half-sawn beams were
piled up in inextricable confusion. As he turned
towards the house where he lived — " my old
house " he called it — his ear detected the splash of
paddles away in the darkness of the river. He
stood still in the path, attentive and surprised at
anybody being on the river at this late hour during
such a heavy freshet. Now he could hear the
paddles distinctly, and even a rapidly exchanged
word in low tones, the heavy breathing of men
fighting with the current, and hugging the bank on
which he stood. Quite close, too, but it was too
dark to distinguish anything under the overhanging
bushes.

" Arabs, no doubt," muttered Almayer to him-
self, peering into the solid blackness. " What are
they up to now ? Some of Abdulla's business ;
curse him ! "

The boat was very close now.

" Oh, ya ! Man ! " hailed Almayer.

The sound of voices ceased, but the paddles
worked as furiously as before. Then the bush in
front of Almayer shook, and the sharp sound of
the paddles falling into the canoe rang in the
quiet night. They were holding on to the bush
now ; but Almayer could hardly make out an
indistinct dark shape of a man's head and shoulders
above the bank.



20 Almayer's Folly,

" You Abdulla ? " said Almayer, doubtfully.

A grave voice answered —

" Tuan Almayer is speaking to a friend. There
is no Arab here."

Almayer's heart gave a great leap.

"Dain!" he exclaimed. "At last! at last! I
have been waiting for you every day and every
night. I had nearly given you up."

" Nothing could have stopped me from coming
back here," said the other, almost violently. '' Not
even death," he whispered to himself.

" This is a friend's talk, and is very good," said
Almayer, heartily. " But you are too far here.
Drop down to the jetty and let your men cook
their rice in my campong while we talk in the
house."

There was no answer to that invitation.

" What is it ? " asked Almayer, uneasily.
"There is nothing wrong with the brig, I hope? "

" The brig is where no Orang Blanda can lay
his hands on her," said Dain, with a gloomy
tone in his voice, which Almayer, in his elation,
failed to notice.

" Right," he said. "But where are all your men ?
There are only two with you."

" Listen, Tuan Almayer," said Dain. " To-
morrow's sun shall see me in your house, and then
we will talk. Now I must go to the Rajah."

" To the Rajah ! Why ? What do you want
with Lakamba ? "



Almayer's Folly. 21

" Tuan, to-morrow we talk like friends. I must
see Lakamba to-night."

" Dain, you are not going to abandon me now,
when all is ready ? " asked Almayer, in a pleading
voice.

" Have I not returned ? But I must see
Lakamba first for your good and mine."

The shadowy head disappeared abruptly. The
bush, released from the grasp of the bowman,
sprung back with a swish, scattering a shower of
muddy water over Almayer, as he bent forward,
trying to see.

In a little while the canoe shot into the streak of
light that streamed on the river from the big fire
on the opposite shore, disclosing the outline of two
men bending to their work, and a third figure in
the stern flourishing the steering paddle, his head
covered with an enormous round hat, like a
fantastically exaggerated mushroom.

Almayer watched the canoe till it passed out of
the line of light. Shortly after the murmur of
many voices reached him across the water. He could
see the torches being snatched out of the burning
pile, and rendering visible for a moment the gate
in the stockade round which they crowded. Then
they went in apparently. The torches disappeared,
and the scattered fire sent out only a dim and
fitful glare.

Almayer stepped homewards with long strides
and mind uneasy. Surely Dain was not thinking



22 , Almayers Folly,

of playing him false. It was absurd. Dain and
Lakamba were both too much interested in the
success of his scheme. Trusting to Malays was
poor work ; but then even Malays have some
sense and understand their own interest. All
would be well — must be well. At this point in
his meditation he found himself at the foot of the
steps leading to the verandah of his home. From
the low point of land where he stood he could see
both branches of the river. The main branch of
the Pantai was lost in complete darkness, for the
fire at the Rajah's had gone out altogether ; but up
the Sambir reach his eye could follow the long line
of Malay houses crowding the bank, with here and
there a dim light twinkling through bamboo walls,
or a smoky torch burning on the platforms built out
over the river. Further away, where the island
ended in a low cliff, rose a dark mass of buildings
towering above the Malay structures. Founded
solidly on a firm ground with plenty of space,
starred by many lights burning strong and white,
with a suggestion of paraffin and lamp - glasses,
stood the house and the godowns of Abdulla bin
Selim, the great trader of Sambir. To Almayer
the sight was very distasteful, and he shook his
fist towards the buildings that in their evident
prosperity looked to him cold and insolent, and
contemptuous of his own fallen fortunes.
He mounted the steps of his house slowly.
In the middle of the verandah there was a



Almayers Folly, 23

round table. On it a paraffin lamp without a
globe shed a hard glare on the three inner sides.
The fourth side was open, and faced the river.
Between the rough supports of the high-pitched
roof hung torn rattan screens. There was no
ceiling, and the harsh brilliance of the lamp was
toned above into a soft half-light that lost itself in
the obscurity amongst the rafters. The front wall
was cut in two by the doorway of a central
passage closed by a red curtain. The women's
room opened into that passage, which led to the
back courtyard and to the cooking shed. In one
of the side walls there was a doorway. Half
obliterated words — " Office : Lingard and Co." —
were still legible on the dusty door, which looked
as if it had not been opened for a very long time.
Close to the other side wall stood a bent-wood
rocking-chair, and by the table and about the
verandah four wooden armchairs straggled
forlornly, as if ashamed of their shabby surround-
ings. A heap of common mats lay in one corner,
with an old hammock slung diagonally above. In
the other corner, his head wrapped in a piece of
red calico, huddled into a shapeless heap, slept a
Malay, one of Almayer's domestic slaves — " my
own people," he used to call them. A numerous
and representative assembly of moths were holding
high revels round the lamp to the spirited music
of swarming mosquitoes. Under the palm-leaf
thatch lizards raced on the beams calling softly.



24 Almayers Folly.

A monkey, chained to one of the verandah
supports — retired for the night under the eaves —
peered and grinned at Almayer, as it swung to one
of the bamboo roof sticks and caused a shower of


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Online LibraryJoseph ConradAlmayer's folly : a story of an eastern river → online text (page 1 of 15)