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Almayer's folly : a story of an eastern river online

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in the face of altered circumstances. They were
both puzzled and frightened by the unexpected

turn the events had taken. The Rajah, sitting


1 68 Almayer's Folly.

crosslegged on his chair, looked fixedly at the
floor ; Babalatchi was squatting close by in an
attitude of deep dejection.

"And where did you say he is hiding now?"
asked Lakamba, breaking at last the silence full
of gloomy forebodings in which they both had been
lost for a long while.

"In Bulangi's clearing — the furthest one, away
from the house. They went there that very night.
The white man's daughter took him there. She
told me so herself, speaking to me openly, for she
is half white and has no decency. She said she
was waiting for him while he was here ; then, after
a long time, he came out of the darkness and fell
at her feet exhausted. He lay like one dead, but
she brought him back to life in her arms, and made
him breathe again with her own breath. That is
what she said, speaking to my face, as I am speak-
ing now to you. Rajah. She is like a white woman
and knows no shame."

He paused, deeply shocked. Lakamba nodded
his head. " Well, and then ? " he asked.

"They called the old woman," went on Baba-
latchi, " and he told them all — about the brig, and
how he tried to kill many men. He knew the
Orang Blanda were very near, although he had
said nothing to us about that ; he knew his great
danger. He thought he had killed many, but there
were only two dead, as I have heard from the men
of the sea that came in the warship's boats."

Almayer^s Folly, 169

" And the other man, he that was found in the
river ? " interrupted Lakamba.

" That was one of his boatmen. When his canoe
was overturned by the logs those two swam to-
gether, but the other man must have been hurt.
Dain swam, holding him up. He left him in the
bushes when he went up to the house. When they
all came down his heart had ceased to beat ; then
the old woman spoke ; Dain thought it was good.
He took off his anklet and broke it, twisting it
round the man's foot. His ring he put on that
slave's hand. He took off his sarong and clothed
that thing that wanted no clothes, the two women
holding it up meanwhile, their intent being to de-
ceive all eyes and to mislead the minds in the
settlement, so that they could swear to the thing
that was not, and that there could be no treachery
when the white men came. Then Dain and the
white woman departed to call up Bulangi and find
a hiding-place. The old woman remained by the

" Hai ! " exclaimed Lakamba. " She has wis-

" Yes, she has a Devil of her own to whisper
counsel in her ear," assented Babalatchi. " She
dragged the body with great toil to the point
where many logs were stranded. All these things
were done in the darkness after the storm had
passed away. Then she waited. At the first sign
of daylight she battered the face of the dead with

170 Almayer^s Folly,

a heavy stone, and she pushed him amongst the
logs. She remained near, watching. At sunrise
Mahmat Banjer came and found him. They all
believed ; I myself was deceived, but not for long.
The white man believed, and, grieving, fled to his
house. When we were alone I, having doubts,
spoke to the woman, and she, fearing my anger
and your might, told me all, asking for help in
saving Dain."

" He must not fall into the hands of the Orang
Blanda," said Lakamba ; " but let him die, if the
thing can be done quietly."

" It cannot, Tuan ! Remember there is that
woman who, being half white, is ungovernable,
and would raise a great outcry. Also the officers
are here. They are angry enough already. Dain
must escape; he must go. We must help him
now for our own safety."

" Are the officers very angry ? " inquired La-
kamba, with interest.

"They are. The principal chief used strong
words when speaking to me — to me when I
salaamed in your name. I do not think," added
Babalatchi, after a short pause and looking very
worried — " I do not think I saw a white chief so
angry before. He said we were careless or even
worse. He told me he would speak to the Rajah,
and that I was of no account."

" Speak to the Rajah ! " repeated Lakamba,
thoughtfully. " Listen, Babalatchi : I am sick,

Almayer's Folly. 171

and shall withdraw ; you cross over and tell the
white men."

"Yes," said Babalatchi, "I am going over at
once ; and as to Dain ? "

" You get him away as you can best. This is a
great trouble in my heart," sighed Lakamba.

Babalatchi got up, and, going close to his master,
spoke earnestly.

" There is one of our praus at the southern
mouth of the river. The Dutch warship is to
the northward watching the main entrance. I
shall send Dain off to-night in a canoe, by the
hidden channels, on board the prau. His father
is a great prince, and shall hear of our generosity.
Let the prau take him to Ampanam. Your glory
shall be great, and your reward in powerful friend-
ship. Almayer will no doubt deliver the dead
body as Dain's to the officers, and the foolish
white men shall say, * This is very good ; let there
be peace.' And the trouble shall be removed from
your heart, Rajah."

" True ! true ! " said Lakamba.

" And, this being accomplished by me who am
your slave, you shall reward with a generous hand.
That I know ! The white man is grieving for the
lost treasure, in the manner of white men who
thirst after dollars. Now, when all other things
are in order, we shall perhaps obtain the treasure
from the white man. Dain must escape, and
Almayer must live."

172 Almayer^s Folly,

" Now go, Babalatchi, go ! " said Lakamba,
getting off his chair. " I am very sick, and want
medicine. Tell the white chief so."

But Babalatchi was not to be got rid of in this
summary manner. He knew that his master, after
the manner of the great, liked to shift the burden
of toil and danger on to his servants' shoulders,
but in the difficult straits in which they were now
the Rajah must play his part. He may be very
sick for the white men, for all the world if he liked,
as long as he would take upon himself the execu-
tion of part at least of Babalatchi's carefully
thought-of plan. Babalatchi wanted a big canoe
manned by twelve men to be sent out after dark
towards Bulangi's clearing. Dain may have to be
overpowered. A man in love cannot be expected
to see clearly the path of safety if it leads him
away from the object of his affections, argued
Babalatchi, and in that case they would have to
use force in order to make him go. Would the
Rajah see that trusty men manned the canoe?
The thing must be done secretly. Perhaps the
Rajah would come himself, so as to bring all the
weight of his authority to bear upon Dain if he
should prove obstinate and refuse to leave his
hiding-place. The Rajah would not commit him-
self to a definite promise, and anxiously pressed
Babalatchi to go, being afraid of the white men
paying him an unexpected visit. The aged states-
man reluctantly took his leave and went into the

Almayer's Folly, 173

Before going down to his boat Babalatchi
stopped for a while in the big open space where
the thick-leaved trees put black patches of shadow
which seemed to float on a flood of smooth, intense
light that rolled up to the houses and down to the
stockade and over the river, where it broke and
sparkled in thousands of glittering wavelets, like
a band woven of azure and gold edged with the
brilliant green of the forests guarding both banks
of the Pantai, In the perfect calm before the
coming of the afternoon breeze the irregularly
jigged line of tree-tops stood unchanging, as if
traced by an unsteady hand on the clear blue of
the hot sky. In the space sheltered by the high
palisades there lingered the smell of decaying
blossoms from the surrounding forest, a taint of
drying fish ; with now and then a whiff of acrid
smoke from the cooking fires when it eddied down
from under the leafy boughs and clung lazily about
the burnt-up grass.

As Babalatchi looked up at the flagstaff over-
topping a group of low trees in the middle of the
courtyard, the tricolour flag of the Netherlands
stirred slightly for the first time since it had been
hoisted that morning on the arrival of the man-of-
war boats. With a faint rustle of trees the breeze
came down in light puffs, playing capriciously for
a time with this emblem of Lakamba's power,
that was also the mark of his servitude ; then the
breeze freshened in a sharp gust of wind, and the

174 Almayer's Folly.

flag flew out straight and steady above the trees.
A dark shadow ran along the river, rolling over
and covering up the sparkle of declining sun-
light. A big white cloud sailed slowly across the
darkening sky, and hung to the westward as if
waiting for the sun to join it there. Men and
things shook off the torpor of the hot afternoon
and stirred into life under the first breath of the
sea breeze.

Babalatchi hurried down to the water-gate ; yet
before he passed through it he paused to look
round the courtyard, with its light and shade, with
its cheery fires, with the groups of Lakamba's
soldiers and retainers scattered about. His own
house stood amongst the other buildings in that
enclosure, and the statesman of Sambir asked him-
self with a sinking heart when and how would it
be given him to return to that house. He had to
deal with a man more dangerous than any wild
beast of his experience : a proud man, a man
wilful after the manner of princes, a man in love.
And he was going forth to speak to that man
words of cold and worldly wisdom. Could any-
thing be more appalling? What if that man
should take umbrage at some fancied slight to his
honour or disregard of his affections and suddenly
" amok " ? The wise adviser would be the first
victim, no doubt, and death would be his reward.
And underlying the horror of this situation there
was the danger of those meddlesome fools, the

Almayer's Folly. 175

white men. A vision of comfortless exile in far-off
Madura rose up before Babalatchi. Wouldn't that
be worse than death itself ? And there was that
half-white woman with threatening eyes. How
could he tell what an incomprehensible creature of
that sort would or would not do ? She knew so
much that she made the killing of Dain an
impossibility. That much was certain. And yet
the sharp, rough-edged kriss is a good and discreet
friend, thought Babalatchi, as he examined his own
lovingly, and put it back in the sheath, with a sigh
of regret, before unfastening his canoe. As he
cast off the painter, pushed out into the stream,
and took up his paddle, he realised vividly how
unsatisfactory it was to have women mixed up
in state affairs. Young women, of course. For
Mrs. Almayer's mature wisdom, and for the easy
aptitude in intrigue that comes with years to the
feminine mind, he felt the most sincere respect.

He paddled leisurely, letting the canoe drift
down as he crossed towards the point. The sun
was high yet, and nothing pressed. His work
would commence only with the coming of darkness.
Avoiding the Lingard jetty, he rounded the point,
and paddled up the creek at the back of Almayer's
house. There were many canoes lying there,
their noses all drawn together, fastened all to the
same stake. Babalatchi pushed his little craft in
amongst them and stepped on shore. On the other
side of the ditch something moved in the grass.

176 Almayer's Folly.

" Who's that hiding ? " hailed Babalatchi. " Come
out and speak to me."

Nobody answered. Babalatchi crossed over,
passing from boat to boat, and poked his staff
viciously in the suspicious place. Taminah jumped
up with a cry.

" What are you doing here 1 " he asked, surprised.
" I have nearly stepped on your tray. Am I a
Dyak that you should hide at my sight } "

" I was weary, and — I slept," whispered Taminah,

" You slept ! You have not sold anything to-day,
and you will be beaten when you return home,"
said Babalatchi.

Taminah stood before him abashed and silent.
Babalatchi looked her over carefully with great
satisfaction. Decidedly he would offer fifty
dollars more to that thief Bulangi. The girl
pleased him.

" Now you go home. It is late," he said
sharply. " Tell Bulangi that I shall be near his
house before the night is half over, and that I
want him to make all things ready for a long
journey. You understand ? A long journey to
the southward. Tell him that before sunset, and
do not forget my words."

Taminah made a gesture of assent, and watched
Babalatchi recross the ditch and disappear through
the bushes bordering Almayer's compound. She
moved a little further off the creek and sank in the

Almayer's Folly. 177

grass again, lying down on her face, shivering in
dry-eyed misery.

Babalatchi walked straight towards the cooking-
shed looking for Mrs. Almayer. The courtyard
was in a great uproar. A strange Chinaman had
possession of the kitchen fire and was noisily
demanding another saucepan. He hurled objur-
gations, in the Canton dialect and bad Malay,
against the group of slave-girls standing a little
way off, half frightened, half amused, at his
violence. From the camping fires round which
the seamen of the frigate were sitting came words
of encouragement, mingled with laughter and
jeering. In the midst of this noise and confusion
Babalatchi met Ali, an empty dish in his hand.

" Where are the white men ? " asked Babalatchi.

" They are eating in the front verandah,"
answered Ali. " Do not stop me, Tuan. I am
giving the white men their food and am busy."

" Where's Mem Almayer ? "

" Inside in the passage. She is listening to the

Ali grinned and passed on ; Babalatchi ascended
the plankway to the rear verandah, and beckoning
out Mrs. Almayer, engaged her in earnest conver-
sation. Through the long passage, closed at the
further end by the red curtain, they could hear
from time to time Almayer's voice mingling in
conversation with an abrupt loudness that made
Mrs. Almayer look significantly at Babalatchi.

1 7 8 Alma yers Folly,

" Listen," she said. " He has drunk much."

"He has," whispered Babalatchi. "He will
sleep heavily to-night."

Mrs. Almayer looked doubtful.

"Sometimes the devil of strong gin makes him
keep awake, and he walks up and down the
verandah all night, cursing ; then we stand afar
off," explained Mrs. Almayer, with the fuller
knowledge born of twenty odd years of married

" But then he does not hear, nor understand, and
his hand, of course, has no strength. We do not
want him to hear to-night."

" No," assented Mrs. Almayer, energetically, but
in a cautiously subdued voice. " If he hears he
will kill."

Babalatchi looked incredulous.

" Hai Tuan, you may believe me. Have I not
lived many years with that man? Have I not seen
death in that man's eyes more than once when I
was younger and he guessed at many things.
Had he been a man of my own people I would not

have seen such a look twice ; but he "

With a contemptuous gesture she seemed to fling
unutterable scorn on Almayer's weak-minded
aversion to sudden bloodshed.

" If he has the wish but not the strength, then
what do we fear ? " asked Babalatchi, after a short
silence during which they both listened to
Almayer's loud talk till it subsided into the murmur

Almayer*s Folly, 179

of general conversation. " What do we fear ? "
repeated Babalatchi again.

" To keep the daughter whom he loves he would
strike into your heart and mine without hesitation,"
said Mrs. Almayer. " When the girl is gone he
will be like the devil unchained. Then you and
I had better beware."

" I am an old man and fear not death," answered
Babalatchi, with a mendacious assumption of in-
difference. " But what will you do ? "

" I am an old woman, and wish to live," retorted
Mrs. Almayer. " She is my daughter also. I
shall seek safety at the feet of our Rajah, speaking
in the name of the past when we both were young,

and he "

Babalatchi raised his hand.
" Enough. You shall be protected," he said

Again the sound of Almayer's voice was heard,
and again interrupting their talk, they listened to
the confused but loud utterance coming in bursts
of unequal strength, with unexpected pauses and
noisy repetitions that made some words and
sentences fall clear and distinct on their ears
out of the meaningless jumble of excited shout-
ings emphasised by the thumping of Almayer's
fist upon the table. On the short intervals of
silence, the high complaining note of tumblers,
standing close together and vibrating to the shock,
lingered, growing fainter, till it leapt up again

i8o Almayer's Folly ,

into tumultuous ringing, when a new idea started a
new rush of words and brought down the heavy
hand again. At last the quarrelsome shouting
ceased, and the thin plaint of disturbed glass died
away into reluctant quietude.

Babalatchi and Mrs. Almayer had listened curi-
ously, their bodies bent and their ears turned
towards the passage. At every louder shout they
nodded at each other with a ridiculous affectation
of scandalised propriety, and they remained in the
same attitude for some time after the noise had

" This is the devil of gin," whispered Mrs.
Almayer. " Yes ; he talks like that sometimes
when there is nobody to hear him."

" What does he say ? " inquired Babalatchi,
eagerly. "You ought to understand."

" I have forgotten their talk. A little I under-
stood. He spoke without any respect of the white
ruler in Batavia, and of protection, and said he
had been wronged ; he said that several times.
More I did not understand. Listen ! Again he
speaks ! "

" Tse ! tse ! tse ! " clicked Babalatchi, trying to
appear shocked, but with a joyous twinkle of his
solitary eye. " There will be great trouble between
those white men. I will go round now and see.
You tell your daughter that there is a sudden and
a long journey before her, with much glory and
splendour at the end. And tell her that Dain

Almayer's Folly, i8i

must go, or he must die, and that he will not
go alone."

"No, he will not go alone," slowly repeated
Mrs. Almayer, with a thoughtful air, as she crept
into the passage after seeing Babalatchi disappear
round the corner of the house.

The statesman of Sambir, under the impulse of
vivid curiosity, made his way quickly to the front
of the house, but once there he moved slowly and
cautiously as he crept step by step up the stairs of
the verandah. On the highest step he sat down
quietly, his feet on the steps below, ready for flight
should his presence prove unwelcome. He felt
pretty safe so. The table stood nearly endways to
him, and he saw Almayer's back ; at Nina he
looked full face, and had a side view of both
officers ; but of the four persons sitting at the table
only Nina and the younger officer noticed his
noiseless arrival. The momentary dropping of
Nina's eyelids acknowledged Babalatchi's pre-
sence ; she then spoke at once to the young sub,
who turned towards her with attentive alacrity,
but her gaze was fastened steadily on her father's
face while Almayer was speaking uproariously.

"... disloyalty and unscrupulousness ! What
have you ever done to make me loyal } You have
no grip on this country. I had to take care of
myself, and when I asked for protection I was met
with threats and contempt, and had Arab slander
thrown in my face. I ! a white man I "

1 82 Almayer's Folly.

" Don't be violent, Almayer," remonstrated the
lieutenant ; " I have heard all this already."

" Then why do you talk to me about scruples ?
I wanted money, and I gave powder in exchange.
How could I know that some of your wretched
men were going to be blown up ? Scruples !
Pah ! "

He groped unsteadily amongst the bottles, trying
one after another, grumbling to himself the while.
" No more wine," he muttered discontentedly.
' " You have had enough, Almayer," said the
lieutenant, as he lighted a cigar. " Is it not time
to deliver to us your prisoner? I take it you
have that Dain Maroola stowed away safely some-
where. Still we had better get that business over,
and then we shall have more drink. Come!
don't look at me like this."

Almayer was staring with stony eyes, his
trembling fingers fumbling about his throat.

" Gold," he said with difficulty. "Hem ! A hand
on the windpipe, you know. Sure you will excuse.
I wanted to say — a little gold for a little powder.
What's that ? "

" I know, I know," said the lieutenant sooth-

** No ! You don't know. Not one of you
knows ! " shouted Almayer. " The government is
a fool, I tell you. Heaps of gold. I am the man
that knows ; I and another one. But he won't
speak. He is "

Almayers Folly, 183

He checked himself with a feeble smile, and,
making an unsuccessful attempt to pat the officer
on the shoulder, knocked over a couple of empty-

" Personally you are a fine fellow," he said very
distinctly, in a patronising manner. His head
nodded drowsily as he sat muttering to himself.

The two officers looked at each other help-

" This won't do," said the lieutenant, addressing
his junior. " Have the men mustered in the com-
pound here. I must get some sense out of him.
Hi ! Almayer ! Wake up, man. Redeem your
word. You gave your word. You gave your word
of honour, you know."

Almayer shook off the officer's hand with im-
patience, but his ill-humour vanished at once, and
he looked up, putting his forefinger to the side of
his nose.

"You are very young; there is time for all
things," he said, with an air of great sagacity.

The lieutenant turned towards Nina, who, lean-
ing back in her chair, watched her father steadily.

" Really I am very much distressed by all this
for your sake," he exclaimed. " I do not know,"
he went on, speaking with some embarrassment,
" whether I have any right to ask you anything,
unless, perhaps, to withdraw from this painful scene,
but I feel that I must — for your father's good —
suggest that you should I mean if you have

184 Almayer's Folly,

any influence over him you ought to exert it now
to make him keep the promise he gave me before
he — before he got into this state."

He observed with discouragement that she
seemed not to take any notice of what he said
sitting still with half-closed eyes.

" I trust " he began again.

"What is the promise you speak of?" abruptly
asked Nina, leaving her seat and moving towards
her father.

" Nothing that is not just and proper. He
promised to deliver to us a man who in time of
profound peace took the lives of innocent men to
escape the punishment he deserved for breaking
the law. He planned his mischief on a large scale.
It is not his fault if it failed, partially. Of course
you have heard of Dain Maroola. Your father
secured him, I understand. We know he escaped
up this river. Perhaps you "

" And he killed white men ! " interrupted Nina.

" I regret to say they were white. Yes, two
white men lost their lives through that scoundrel's

" Two only ! " exclaimed Nina.

The officer looked at her in amazement.

" Why ! why ! You " he stammered, con-

" There might have been more," interrupted
Nina. "And when you get this — this scoundrel
will you go ? "

Almayer's Folly. 185

The lieutenant, still speechless, bowed his assent.

" Then I would get him for you if I had to seek
him in a burning fire," she burst out with intense
energy. " I hate the sight of your white faces. I
hate the sound of your gentle voices. That is the
way you speak to women, dropping sweet words
before any pretty face. I have heard your voices
before. I hoped to live here without seeing any
other white face but this," she added in a gentler
tone, touching lightly her father's cheek.

Almayer ceased his mumbling and opened his
eyes. He caught hold of his daughter's hand and
pressed it to his face, while Nina with the other
hand smoothed his rumpled grey hair, looking
defiantly over her father's head at the officer, who
had now regained his composure and returned
her look with a cool, steady stare. Below, in front
of the verandah, they could hear the tramp of sea-
men mustering there according to orders. The
sub-lieutenant came up the steps, while Babalatchi
stood up uneasily and, with finger on lip, tried to
catch Nina's eye.

" You are a good girl," whispered Almayer,
absently, dropping his daughter's hand.

" Father ! father ! " she cried, bending over him
with passionate entreaty. " See those two men
looking at us. Send them away. I cannot bear
it any more. Send them away. Do what they
want and let them go."

She caught sight of Babalatchi and ceased speak-

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