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

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1 86 Almayer's Folly.

ing suddenly, but her foot tapped the floor with
rapid beats in a paroxysm of nervous restless-
ness. The two officers stood close together looking
on curiously.

" What has happened ? What is the matter ? "
whispered the younger man.

' Don't know," answered the other, under his
breath. " One is furious, and the other is drunk.
Not so drunk, either. Queer, this. Look ! "

Almayer had risen, holding on to his daughter's
arm. He hesitated a moment, then he let go his
hold and lurched half-way across the verandah.
There he pulled himself together, and stood very
straight, breathing hard and glaring round angrily.
" Are the men ready ? " asked the lieutenant.
"All ready, sir."

"Now, Mr. Almayer, lead the way," said the

Almayer rested his eyes on him as if he saw
him for the first time.

"Two men," he said thickly. The effort of
speaking seemed to interfere with his equilibrium.
He took a quick step to save himself from a fall,
and remained swaying backwards and forwards.
" Two men," he began again, speaking with
difficulty. "Two white men — men in uniform —
honourable men. I want to say — men of honour.
Are you ? "

" Come ! None of that," said the officer im-
patiently. " Let us have that friend of yours."

Almayers Folly, 187

" What do you think I am ? " asked Almayer,

" You are drunk, but not so drunk as not to
know what you are doing. Enough of this tom-
foolery," said the officer sternly, " or I will have
you put under arrest in your own house."

" Arrest ! " laughed Almayer, discordantly. " Ha !
ha ! ha ! Arrest ! Why, I have been trying to
get out of this infernal place for twenty years, and
I can't You hear, man ! I can't, and never shall !
Never ! "

He ended his words with a sob, and walked un-
steadily down the stairs. When in the courtyard
the lieutenant approached him, and took him by
the arm. The sub-lieutenant and Babalatchi
followed close.

" That's better, Almayer," said the officer en-
couragingly. " Where are you going to ? There
are only planks there. Here," he went on, shaking
him slightly, " do we want the boats ? "

" No," answered Almayer, viciously. " You want
a grave."

" What } Wild again ! Try to talk sense."

" Grave ! " roared Almayer, struggling to get
himself free. " A hole in the ground. Don't you
understand ? You must be drunk. Let me go !
Let go, I tell you!"

He tore away from the officer's grasp, and reeled
towards the planks where the body lay under its
white cover ; then he turned round quickly, and

1 88 Almayers Folly.

faced the semicircle of interested faces. The sun
was sinking rapidly, throwing long shadows of
house and trees over the courtyard, but the light
lingered yet on the river, where the logs went drift-
ing past in midstream, looking very distinct and
black in the pale red glow. The trunks of the trees
in the forest on the east bank were lost in gloom
while their highest branches swayed gently in the
departing sunlight. The air felt heavy and cold in
the breeze, expiring in slight puffs that came over
the water.

Almayer shivered as he made an effort to speak,
and again with an uncertain gesture he seemed to
free his throat from the grip of an invisible hand.
His bloodshot eyes wandered aimlessly from face
to face.

" There ! " he said at last. " Are you all there ?
He is a dangerous man."

He dragged at the cover with hasty violence,
and the body rolled stiffly off the planks and fell
at his feet in rigid helplessness.

" Cold, perfectly cold," said Almayer, looking
round with a mirthless smile. " Sorry can do no
better. And you can't hang him, either. As you
observe, gentlemen," he added gravely, "there is
no head, and hardly any neck."

The last ray of light was snatched away from the
tree-tops, the river grew suddenly dark, and in the
great stillness the murmur of the flowing water
seemed to fill the vast expanse of grey shadow
that descended upon the land.

Almayer's Folly, 189

"This is Dain," went on Almayer to the silent
group that surrounded him. " And I have kept
my word. First one hope, then another, and this
is my last. Nothing is left now. You think there
is one dead man here? Mistake, I 'sure you. I
am much more dead. Why don't you hang me ? "
he suggested suddenly, in a friendly tone, addressing
the lieutenant. " I assure, assure you it would be a
mat — matter of form altog — altogether."

These last words he muttered to himself, and
walked zigzaging towards his house. " Get out ! "
he thundered at Ali, who was approaching timidly
with offers of assistance. From afar, scared groups
of men and women watched his devious progress.
He dragged himself up the stairs by the banister,
and managed to reach a chair into which he fell
heavily. He sat for awhile panting with exertion
and anger, and looking round vaguely for Nina ;
then making a threatening gesture towards the
compound, where he had heard Babalatchi's voice,
he overturned the table with his foot in a great crash
of smashed crockery. He muttered yet menacingly
to himself, then his head fell on his breast, his
eyes closed, and with a deep sigh he fell asleep.

That night — for the first time in its history — the
peaceful and flourishing settlement of Sambir saw
the lights shining about " Almayer's Folly." These
were the lanterns of the boats hung up by the
seamen under the verandah where the two officers
were holding a court of inquiry into the truth of

I go Almayers Folly,

the story related to them by Babalatchi. Baba-
latchi had regained all his importance. He was
eloquent and persuasive, calling Heaven and Earth
to witness the truth of his statements. There
were also other witnesses. Mahmat Banjer and a
good many others underwent a close examination
that dragged its weary length far into the evening.
A messenger was sent for Abdulla, who excused
himself from coming on the score of his venerable
age, but sent Reshid. Mahmat had to produce
the bangle, and saw with rage and mortification
the lieutenant put it in his pocket, as one of the
proofs of Dain's death, to be sent in with the
official report of the mission. Babalatchi's ring
was also impounded for the same purpose, but the
experienced statesman was resigned to that loss
from the very beginning. He did not mind as
long as he was sure, that the white men believed.
He put that question to himself earnestly as he left,
one of the last, when the proceedings came to a close.
He was not certain. Still, if they believed only
for a night, he would put Dain beyond their reach
and feel safe himself He walked away fast, look-
ing from time to time over his shoulder in the
fear of being followed, but he saw and heard

" Ten o'clock," said the lieutenant, looking at his
watch and yawning. " I shall hear some of the
captain's complimentary remarks when we get back.
Miserable business, this."

Almayers Folly, 191

" Do you 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 had a dozen boats we
could patrol the creeks ; and that wouldn't be
much good. That drunken madman was right ;
we haven't enough hold on this coast. They do
what they like. Are our hammocks slung ? "

" Yes, I told the coxswain. Strange couple over
there," said the sub, with a wave of his hand
towards Almayer's house.

" Hem ! Queer, certainly. What have you been
telling her ? I was attending to the father most of
the time."

" I assure you I have been perfectly civil," pro-
tested the other warmly.

" All right. Don't get excited. She objects to
civility, then, from what I understand. I thought
you might have been tender. You know we are on

" Well, of course. Never forget that. Coldly
civil. That's all."

They both laughed a little, and not feeling
sleepy began to pace the verandah side by side.
The moon rose stealthily above the trees, and
suddenly changed the river into a stream of
scintillating silver. The forest came out of the
black void and stood sombre and pensive over the
sparkling water. The breeze died away into a
breathless calm.

192 Almayers Folly.

Seamanlike, the two officers tramped measuredly
up and down without exchanging a word. The
loose planks rattled rhythmically under their steps
with obstrusive dry sound in the perfect silence of
the night. As they were wheeling round again the
younger man stood attentive.

" Did you hear that ? " he asked.

" No ! " said the other. " Hear what ? "

"I thought I heard a cry. Ever so faint.
Seemed a woman's voice. In that other house.
Ah! Again! Hear it?"

" No," said the lieutenant, after listening awhile.
" You young fellows always hear women's voices.
If you are going to dream you had better get into
your hammock. Good-night."

The moon mounted higher, and the warm
shadows grew smaller and crept away as if hiding
before the cold and cruel light.


" It has set at last," said Nina to her mother,
pointing towards the hills behind which the sun
had sunk. " Listen, mother, I am going now to

Bulangi's creek, and if I should never return "

She interrupted herself, and something like doubt
dimmed for a moment the fire of suppressed
exaltation that had glowed in her eyes and had
illuminated the serene impassiveness of her features
with a ray of eager life during all that long day
of excitement — the day of joy and anxiety, of
hope and terror, of vague grief and indistinct
delight. While the sun shone with that dazzling
light in which her love was born and grew till it
possessed her whole being, she was kept firm in
her unwavering resolve by the mysterious whisper-
ings of desire which filled her heart with impatient
longing for the darkness that would mean the end
of danger and strife, the beginning of happiness,
the fulfilling of love, the completeness of life. It
had set at last ! The short tropical twilight went
out before she could draw the long breath of relief;

13 193

194 Almayers Folly,

and now the sudden darkness seemed to be full of
menacing voices calling upon her to rush headlong
into the unknown ; to be true to her own impulses,
to give herself up to the passion she had evoked
and shared. He was waiting ! In the solitude
of the secluded clearing, in the vast silence of the
forest he was waiting alone, a fugitive in fear of his
life. Indifferent to his danger he was waiting for her.
It was for her only that he had come ; and now
as the time approached when he should have his
reward, she asked herself with dismay what meant
that chilling doubt of her own will and of her own
desire ? With an effort she shook off the fear of
the passing weakness. He should have his reward.
Her woman's love and her woman's honour over-
came the faltering distrust of that unknown future
waiting for her in the darkness of the river.

" No, you will not return," muttered Mrs. Al-
mayer, prophetically. "Without you he will not go,

and if he remains here " She waved her hand

towards the lights of " Almayer's Folly," and the un-
finished sentence died out in a threatening murmur.

The two women had met behind the house, and
now were walking slowly together towards the
creek where all the canoes were moored. Arrived
at the fringe of bushes they stopped by a common
impulse, and Mrs. Almayer, laying her hand on her
daughter's arm, tried in vain to look close into the
girl's averted face. When she attempted to speak
her first words were lost in a stifled sob that

Almayer's Folly, 195

sounded strangely coming from that woman who,
of all human passions, seemed to know only those
of anger and hate.

" You are going away to be a great Ranee," she
said at last, in a voice that was steady enough now,
" and if you be wise you shall have much power
that will endure many days, and even last into
your old age. What have I been ? A slave all
my life, and I have cooked rice for a man who had
no courage and no wisdom. Hai ! I ! even I,
was given in gift by a chief and a warrior to a man
that was neither. Hai ! Hai ! "

She wailed to herself softly, lamenting the lost
possibilities of murder and mischief that could
have fallen to her lot had she been mated with a
congenial spirit. Nina bent down over Mrs.
Almayer's slight form and scanned attentively,
under the stars that had rushed out on the black
sky and now hung breathless over that strange
parting, her mother's shrivelled features, and looked
close into the sunken eyes that could see into her
own dark future by the light of a long and a
painful experience. Again she felt herself fasci-
nated, as of old, by her mother's exalted mood
and by the oracular certainty of expression which,
together with her fits of violence, had contributed
not a little to the reputation for witchcraft she
enjoyed in the settlement.

" I was a slave, and you shall be a queen," went

196 Almayer's Folly.

on Mrs. Almayer, looking straight before her ;
" but remember men's strength and their weakness.
Tremble before his anger, so that he may see your
fear in the light of day ; but in your heart you
may laugh, for after sunset he is your slave."

" A slave ! He ! The master of life ! You do
not know him, mother."

Mrs. Almayer condescended to laugh con-

" You speak like a fool of a white woman," she
exclaimed. " What do you know of men's anger
and of men's love } Have you watched the sleep
of men weary of dealing death ? Have you felt
about you the strong arm that could drive a kriss
deep into a beating heart ? Yah ! you are a
white woman, and ought to pray to a woman-

" Why do you say this ? I have listened to your
words so long that I have forgotten my old life.
If I was white would I stand here, ready to go }
Mother, I shall return to the house and look once
more at my father's face."

" No ! " said Mrs. Almayer, violently. " No, he
sleeps now the sleep of gin ; and if you went back
he might awake and see you. No, he shall
never see you. When the terrible old man took
you away from me when you were little, you
remember "

" It was such a long time ago," murmured Nina.

" I remember," went on Mrs. Almayer, fiercely.

Almayers Folly, 197

" I wanted to look at your face again. He said
no ! I heard you cry and jumped into the river.
You were his daughter then ; you are my daughter
now. Never shall you go back to that house ; you
shall never cross this courtyard again. No ! no ! "

Her voice rose almost to a shout. On the other
side of the creek there was a rustle in the long
grass. The two women heard it, and listened for
a while in startled silence.

" I shall go," said Nina, in a cautious but intense
whisper. " What is your hate or your revenge to
me ? "

She moved towards the house, Mrs. Almayer
clinging to her and trying to pull her back.

" Stop, you shall not go ! " she gasped.

Nina pushed away her mother impatiently and
gathered up her skirts for a quick run, but Mrs.
Almayer ran forward and turned round, facing her
daughter with outstretched arms.

"If you move another step," she exclaimed,
breathing quickly, " I shall cry out. Do you see
those lights in the big house? There sit two
white men, angry because they cannot have the
blood of the man you love. And in those dark
houses," she continued, more calmly as she pointed
towards the settlement, " my voice could wake up
men that would lead the Orang Blanda soldiers
to him who is waiting — for you."

She could not see her daughter's face, but the
white figure before her stood silent and irresolute

198 Almayers Folly,

in the darkness. Mrs. Almayer pursued her ad-

"Give up your old life! Forget!" she said in
entreating tones. "Forget that you ever looked
at a white face ; forget their words ; forget their
thoughts. They speak lies. And they think lies
because they despise us that are better than they
are, but not so strong. Forget their friendship
and their contempt ; forget their many gods.
Girl, why do you want to remember the past when
there is a warrior and a chief ready to give many
lives — his own life — for one of your smiles ? "

While she spoke she pushed gently her daughter
towards the canoes, hiding her own fear, anxiety,
and doubt under the flood of passionate words
that left Nina no time to think and no opportunity
to protest, even if she had wished it. But she did
not wish it now. At the bottom of that passing
desire to look again at her father's face there was
no strong affection. She felt no scruples and no
remorse at leaving suddenly that man whose
sentiment towards herself she could not under-
stand, she could not even see. There was only
an instinctive clinging to old life, to old habits,
to old faces ; that fear of finality which lurks
in every human breast and prevents so many
heroisms and so many crimes. For years she
had stood between her mother and her father, the
one so strong in her weakness, the other so weak
where he could have been strong. Between those

Almayer's Folly, 199

two beings so dissimilar, so antagonistic, she stood
with mute heart wondering and angry at the fact
of her own existence. It seemed so unreasonable,
so humiliating to be flung there in that settlement
and to see the days rush by into the past, without
a hope, a desire, or an aim that would justify the
life she had to endure in ever-growing weariness.
She had little belief and no sympathy for her
father's dreams ; but the savage ravings of her
mother chanced to strike a responsive chord, deep
down somewhere in her despairing heart ; and she
dreamed dreams of her own with the persistent
absorption of a captive thinking of liberty within
the walls of his prison cell. With the coming of
Dain she found the road to freedom by obeying
the voice of the new-born impulses, and with sur-
prised joy she thought she could read in his eyes
the answer to all the questionings of her heart.
She understood now the reason and the aim of
life ; and in the triumphant unveiling of that
mystery she threw away disdainfully her past with
its sad thoughts, its bitter feelings, and its faint
affections, now withered and dead in contact with
her fierce passion.

Mrs. Almayer unmoored Nina's own canoe and,
straightening herself painfully, stood, painter in
hand, looking at her daughter.

" Quick," she said ; " get away before the moon
rises, while the river is dark. I am afraid of
Abdulla's slaves. The wretches prowl in the night

200 Almayer's Folly,

often, and might see and follow you. There are
two paddles in the canoe."

Nina approached her mother and hesitatingly
touched lightly with her lips the wrinkled forehead.
Mrs. Almayer snorted contemptuously in protest
against that tenderness which she, nevertheless,
feared could be contagious.

"Shall I ever see you again, mother.?" murmured

" No," said Mrs. Almayer, after a short silence.
" Why should you return here where it is my fate
to die ? You will live far away in splendour and
might. When I hear of white men driven from
the islands, then I shall know that you are alive,
and that you remember my words."

" I shall always remember," returned Nina,
earnestly ; " but where is my power, and what can
I do?"

" Do not let him look too long in your eyes, nor
lay his head on your knees without reminding him
that men should fight before they rest. And if he
lingers, give him his kriss yourself and bid him go,
as the wife of a mighty prince should do when the
enemies are near. Let him slay the white men
that come to us to trade, with prayers on their lips
and loaded guns in their hands. Ah " — she ended
with a sigh — " they are on every sea, and on every
shore ; and they are very many ! "

She swung the bow of the canoe towards the
river, but did not let go the gunwale, keeping her

Almayers Folly. 201

hand on it in irresolute thoughtfulness. Nina put
the point of the paddle against the bank, ready to
shove off into the stream.

" What is it, mother ? " she asked, in a low voice.
" Do you hear anything ? "

"No," said Mrs. Almayer, absently. "Listen,
Nina," she continued, abruptly, after a slight pause,
" in after years there will be other women "

A stifled cry in the boat interrupted her, and the
paddle rattled in the canoe as it slipped from
Nina's hands, which she put out in a protesting
gesture. Mrs. Almayer fell on her knees on the
bank and leaned over the gunwale so as to bring
her own face close to her daughter's.

"There will be other women," she repeated
firmly ; " I tell you that, because you are half
white, and may forget that he is a great chief, and
that such things must be. Hide your anger, and
do not let him see on your face the pain that will
eat your heart. Meet him with joy in your eyes
and wisdom on your lips, for to you he will turn
in sadness or in doubt. As long as he looks upon
many women your power will last, but should
there be one, one only with whom he seems to
forget you, then "

" I could not live," exclaimed Nina, covering her
face with both her hands. " Do not speak so,
mother ; it could not be."

" Then," went on Mrs. Almayer, steadily, " to
that woman, Nina, show no mercy."

202 Almayer^s Folly,

She moved the canoe down towards the stream
by the gunwale, and gripped it with both her
hands, the bow pointing into the river.

" Are you crying ? " she asked sternly of her
daughter, who sat still with covered face. " Arise,
and take your paddle, for he has waited long
enough. And remember, Nina, no mercy ; and if
you must strike, strike with a steady hand."

She put out all her strength, and swinging her
body over the water, shot the light craft far into
the stream. When she recovered herself from the
effort she tried vainly to catch a glimpse of the
canoe that seemed to have dissolved suddenly into
the white mist trailing over the heated waters of
the Pantai. After listening for a while intently on
her knees, Mrs. Almayer rose with a deep sigh,
while two tears wandered slowly down her withered
cheeks. She wiped them off quickly with a wisp
of her grey hair as if ashamed of herself, but could
not stifle another loud sigh, for her heart was
heavy and she suffered much, being unused to
tender emotions. This time she fancied she had
heard a faint noise, like the echo of her own
sigh, and she stopped, straining her ears to catch
the slightest sound, and peering apprehensively
towards the bushes near her.

" Who is there .? " she asked, in an unsteady
voice, while her imagination peopled the solitude
of the riverside with ghost-like forms. " Who is
there ? " she repeated faintly.

Almayer's Folly. 203

There was no answer : only the voice of the
river murmuring in sad monotone behind the white
veil seemed to swell louder for a moment, to die
away again in a soft whisper of eddies washing
against the bank.

Mrs. Almayer shook her head as if in answer to
her own thoughts, and walked quickly away from
the bushes, looking to the right and left watch-
fully. She went straight towards the cooking-
shed, observing that the embers of the fire there
glowed more brightly than usual, as if somebody
had been adding fresh fuel to the fires during the
evening. As she approached, Babalatchi, who had
been squatting in the warm glow, rose and met
her in the shadow outside.

" Is she gone ? " asked the anxious statesman,

" Yes," answered Mrs. Almayer. " What are the
white men doing ? When did you leave them ? "

" They are sleeping now, I think. May they
never wake ! " exclaimed Babalatchi, fervently.
" Oh ! but they are devils, and made much talk
and trouble over that carcase. The chief
threatened me twice with his hand, and said he
would have me tied up to a tree. Tie me up to a
tree ! Me ! " he repeated, striking his breast violently.

Mrs. Almayer laughed tauntingly.

" And you salaamed and asked for mercy. Men
with arms by their side acted otherwise when I
was young."

204 Almayers Folly,

" And where are they, the men of your youth ?
You mad woman ! " retorted Babalatchi, angrily.
" Killed by the Dutch. Aha ! But I shall live
to deceive them. A man knows when to fight and
when to tell peaceful lies. You would know that
if you were not a woman."

But Mrs. Almayer did not seem to hear him.
With bent body and outstretched arm she ap-
peared to be listening to some noise behind the shed.

" There are strange sounds," she whispered,
with evident alarm. " I have heard in the air
the sounds of grief, as of a sigh and weeping.
That was by the riverside. And now again I
heard "

" Where ? " asked Babalatchi, in an altered voice.
"What did you hear?"

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