Joseph Conrad.

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

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creek a frog croaked loudly as if in answer. A
chorus of loud roars and plaintive calls rose from
the mud along the line of bushes. He laughed
heartily ; doubtless it was their love-song. He
felt affectionate towards the frogs and listened,
pleased with the noisy life near him.

When the moon peeped above the trees he felt
the old impatience and the old restlessness steal
over him. Why was she so late ? True, it was a
long way to come with a single paddle. With
what skill and what endurance could those small

Almayer's Folly, 223

hands manage a heavy paddle ! It was very
wonderful — such small hands, such soft little
palms that knew how to touch his cheek with a
feel lighter than the fanning of a butterfly's wing.
Wonderful ! He lost himself lovingly in the
contemplation of this tremendous mystery, and
when he looked at the moon again it had risen
a hand's breadth above the trees. Would she
come } He forced himself to lay still, overcoming
the impulse to rise and rush round the clearing
again. He turned this way and that ; at last,
quivering with the effort, he lay on his back, and
saw her face among the stars looking down on

The croaking of frogs suddenly ceased. With
the watchfulness of a hunted man Dain sat up,
listening anxiously, and heard several splashes in
the water as the frogs took rapid headers into the
creek. He knew that they had been alarmed by
something, and stood up suspicious and attentive.
A slight grating noise, then the dry sound as of
two pieces of wood struck against each other.
Somebody was about to land ! He took up an
armful of brushwood, and, without taking his eyes
from the path, held it over the embers of his fire.
He waited, undecided, and saw something gleam
amongst the bushes ; then a white figure came out
of the shadows and seemed to float towards him
in the pale light. His heart gave a great leap and
stood still, then went on shaking his frame in

224 Almayers Folly,

furious beats. He dropped the brushwood upon
the glowing coals, and had an impression of
shouting her name — of rushing to meet her ; yet
he emitted no sound, he stirred not an inch, but he
stood silent and motionless like chiselled bronze
under the moonlight that streamed over his naked
shoulders. As he stood still, fighting with his
breath, as if bereft of his senses by the intensity
of his delight, she walked up to him with quick,
resolute steps, and, with the appearance of one
about to leap from a dangerous height, threw both
her arms round his neck with a sudden gesture.
A small blue gleam crept amongst the dry
branches, and the crackling of reviving fire was
the only sound as they faced each other in the
speechless emotion of that meeting ; then the dry
fuel caught at once, and a bright hot flame shot
upwards in a blaze as high as their heads, and in
its light they saw each other's eyes.

Neither of them spoke. He was regaining his
senses in a slight tremor that ran upwards along
his rigid body and hung about his trembling lips.
She drew back her head and fastened her eyes on
his in one of those long looks that are a woman's
most terrible weapon ; a look that is more stirring
than the closest touch, and more dangerous than
the thrust of a dagger, because it also whips the
soul out of the body, but leaves the body alive and
helpless, to be swayed here and there by the
capricious tempests of passion and desire ; a look

Almayers Folly. 225

that enwraps the whole body, and that penetrates
into the innermost recesses of the being, brings
ing terrible defeat in the delirious uplifting of
accomplished conquest. It has the same mean-
ing for the man of the forests and the sea
as for the man threading the paths of the more
dangerous wilderness of houses and streets. Men
that had felt in their breasts the awful exultation
such a look awakens become mere things of to-day
— which is paradise ; forget yesterday — which was
suffering ; care not for to-morrow — which may be
perdition. They wish to live under that look for
ever. It is the look of woman's surrender.

He understood, and, as if suddenly released from
his invisible bonds, fell at her feet with a shout of
joy, and, embracing her knees, hid his head in the
folds of her dress, murmuring disjointed words of
gratitude and love. Never before had he felt so
proud as now, when at the feet of that woman that
half belonged to his enemies. Her fingers played
with his hair in an absent-minded caress as she
stood absorbed in thought. The thing was done.
Her mother was right. The man was her slave.
As she glanced down at his kneeling form
she felt a great pitying tenderness for that
man she was used to call — even in her thoughts
— the master of life. She lifted her eyes and
looked sadly at the southern heavens under
which lay the path of their lives — her own, and
that man's at her feet. Did he not say himself


226 Almayers Folly,

that she was the light of his life ? She would be his
light and his wisdom ; she would be his greatness
and his strength ; yet hidden from the eyes of all
men she would be, above all, his only and lasting
weakness. A very woman ! In the sublime
vanity of her kind she was thinking already of
moulding a god from the clay at her feet. A god
for others to worship. She was content to see him
as he was now, and to feel him quiver at the
slightest touch of her light fingers. And while
her eyes looked sadly at the southern stars a faint
smile seemed to be playing about her firm lips.
Who can tell in the fitful light of a camp fire ?
It might have been a smile of triumph, or of
conscious power, or of tender pity, or, perhaps, of

She spoke softly to him, and he rose to his
feet, putting his arm round her in quiet conscious-
ness of his ownership ; she laid her head on his
shoulder with a sense of defiance to all the world
in the encircling protection of that arm. He was
hers with all his qualities and all his faults. His
strength and his courage, his recklessness and his
daring, his simple wisdom and his savage cunning
— all were hers. As they passed together out of
the red light of the fire into the silver shower of
rays that fell upon the clearing he bent his head
over her face, and she saw in his eyes the dreamy
intoxication of boundless felicity from the close
touch of her slight figure clasped to his side. With

Almayers Folly. 227

a rhythmical swing of their bodies they walked
through the light towards the outlying shadows of
the forests that seemed to guard their happiness
in solemn immobility. Their forms melted in the
play of light and shadow at the foot of the big
trees, but the murmur of tender words lingered
over the empty clearing, grew faint, and died out.
A sigh as of immense sorrow passed over the
land in the last effort of the dying breeze, and in
the deep silence which succeeded, the earth and
the heavens were suddenly hushed up in the
mournful contemplation of human love and human

They walked slowly back to the fire. He made
for her a seat out of the dry branches, and, throwing
himself down at her feet, lay his head in her lap
and gave himself up to the dreamy delight of the
passing hour. Their voices rose and fell, tender or
animated as they spoke of their love and of
their future. She, with a few skilful words
spoken from time to time, guided his thoughts,
and he let his happiness flow in a stream of
talk passionate and tender, grave or menacing,
according to the mood which she evoked. He
spoke to her of his own island, where the gloomy
forests and the muddy rivers were unknown. He
spoke of its terraced fields, of the murmuring clear
rills of sparkling water that flowed down the sides
of great mountains, bringing life to the land and
icy to its tillers. And he spoke also of the

228 Almayers Folly,

mountain peak that rising lonely above the belt of
trees knew the secrets of the passing clouds, and
was the dwelling-place of the mysterious spirit of
his race, of the guardian genius of his house. He
spoke of vast horizons swept by fierce winds that
whistled high above the summits of burning
mountains. He spoke of his forefathers that
conquered ages ago the island of which he was to
be the future ruler. And then as, in her interest, she
brought her face nearer to his, he, touching lightly
the thick tresses of her long hair, felt a sudden
impulse to speak to her of the sea he loved so well ;
and he told her of its never-ceasing voice, to which
he had listened as a child, wondering at its hidden
meaning that no living man has penetrated yet ;
of its enchanting glitter ; of its senseless and
capricious fury ; how its surface was for ever
changing, and yet always enticing, while its depths
were for ever the same, cold and cruel, and full of
the wisdom of destroyed life. He told her how it
held men slaves of its charm for a lifetime, and
then, regardless of their devotion, swallowed them
up, angry at their fear of its mystery, which it would
never disclose, not even to those that loved it most.
While he talked, Nina's head had been gradually
sinking lower, and her face almost touched his
now. Her hair was over his eyes, her breath was
on his forehead, her arms were about his body. No
two beings could be closer to each other, yet she
guessed rather than understood the meaning of his

Almayers Folly. 229

last words that came out after a slight hesitation
in a faint murmur, dying out imperceptibly into a
profound and significant silence : " The sea, O
Nina, is like a woman's heart."

She closed his lips with a sudden kiss, and
answered in a steady voice —

" But to the men that have no fear, O master of
my life, the sea is ever true."

Over their heads a film of dark, thread-like
clouds, looking like immense cobwebs drifting
under the stars, darkened the sky with the presage
of the coming thunderstorm. From the invisible
hills the first distant rumble of thunder came in a
prolonged roll which, after tossing about from hill
to hill, lost itself in the forests of the Pantai. Dain
and Nina stood up, and the former looked at the
sky uneasily.

" It is time for Babalatchi to be here," he said.
" The flight is more than half gone. Our road
is long, and a bullet travels quicker than the best

" He will be here before the moon is hidden
behind the clouds," said Nina. " I heard a splash
in the water," she added. " Did you hear it

*' Alligator," answered Dain shortly, with a care-
less glance towards the creek. " The darker the
night," he continued, " the shorter will be our road,
for then we could keep in the current of the main
stream, but if it is light — even no more than now —

230 Almayer's Folly.

we must follow the small channels of sleeping
water, with nothing to help our paddles."

" Dain," interposed Nina, earnestly, " it was no
alligator. I heard the bushes rustling near the

"Yes," said Dain, after listening awhile. "It
cannot be Babalatchi, who would come in a big
war canoe, and openly. Those that are coming,
whoever they are, do not wish to make much
noise. But you have heard, and now I can see,"
he went on quickly. " It is but one man. Stand
behind me, Nina. If he is a friend he is welcome ;
if he is an enemy you shall see him die."

He laid his hand on his kriss, and awaited the
approach of his unexpected visitor. The fire was
burning very low, and small clouds — precursors of
the storm — crossed the face of the moon in rapid
succession, and their flying shadows darkened the
clearing. He could not make out who the man
might be, but he felt uneasy at the steady advance
of the tall figure walking on the path with a heavy
tread, and hailed it with a command to stop. The
man stopped at some little distance, and Dain
expected him to speak, but all he could hear was
his deep breathing. Through a break in the flying
clouds a sudden and fleeting brightness descended
upon the clearing. Before the darkness closed in
again, Dain saw a hand holding some glittering
object extended towards him, heard Nina's cry of
" Father ! " and in an instant the girl was between

Almayer's Folly, 231

him and Almayer's revolver. Nina's loud cry woke
up the echoes of the sleeping woods, and the three
stood still as if waiting for the return of silence
before they would give expression to their various
feelings. At the appearance of Nina, Almayer's
arm fell by his side, and he made a step forward.
Dain pushed the girl gently aside.

" Am I a wild beast that you should try to kill me
suddenly and in the dark, Tuan Almayer ? " said
Dain, breaking the strained silence. " Throw some
brushwood on the fire," he went on, speaking to
Nina, " while I watch my white friend, lest harm
should come to you or to me, O delight of my
heart ! "

Almayer ground his teeth and raised his arm
again. With a quick bound Dain was at his side :
there was a short scuffle, during which one chamber
of the revolver went off harmlessly, then the
weapon, wrenched out of Almayer's hand, whirled
through the air and fell in the bushes. The two
men stood close together, breathing hard. The
replenished fire threw out an unsteady circle of
light and shone on the terrified face of Nina, who
looked at them with outstretched hands.

" Dain ! " she cried out warningly, " Dain ! "

He waved his hand towards her in a reassuring
gesture, and, turning to Almayer, said with great
courtesy —

" Now we may talk, Tuan. It is easy to send
out death, but can your wisdom recall the life?

232 Almayers Folly,

She might have been harmed," he continued, in-
dicating Nina. "Your hand shook much; for
myself I was not afraid."

" Nina ! " exclaimed Almayer, " come to me at
once. What is this sudden madness? What
bewitched you ? Come to your father, and to-
gether we shall try to forget this horrible night-
mare ! "

He opened his arms with the certitude of clasp-
ing her to his breast in another second. She did
not move. As it dawned upon him that she did
not mean to obey he felt a deadly cold creep into
his heart, and, pressing the palms of his hands to
his temples, he looked down on the ground in
mute despair. Dain took Nina by the arm and
led her towards her father.

" Speak to him in the language of his people,"
he said. " He is grieving — as who would not grieve
at losing thee, my pearl ! Speak to him the last
words he shall hear spoken by that voice, which
must be very sweet to him, but is all my life to

He released her, and, stepping back a few paces
out of the circle of light, stood in the darkness
looking at them with calm interest The reflec-
tion of a distant flash of lightning lit up the clouds
over their heads, and was followed after a short
interval by the faint rumble of thunder, which
mingled with Almayer's voice as he began to
speak. , , .

Almayers Folly, 233

" Do you know what you are doing ? Do you
know what is waiting for you if you follow that
man ? Have you no pity for yourself ? Do you
know that you shall be at first his plaything and
then a scorned slave, a drudge, and a servant of
some new fancy of that man ? "

She raised her hand to stop him, and turning
her head slightly, asked —

" You hear this Dain ! Is it true ? "

" By all the gods ! " came the impassioned answer
from the darkness — " by heaven and earth, by my
head and thine I swear : this is a white man's lie.
I have delivered my soul into your hands for ever ;
I breathe with your breath, I see with your eyes,
I think with your mind, and I take you into my
heart for ever."

" You thief! " shouted the exasperated Almayer.

A deep silence succeeded this outburst, then the
voice of Dain was heard again.

" Nay, Tuan," he said in a gentle tone, " that is
not true also. The girl came of her own will. I
have done no more but to show her my love like a
man ; she heard the cry of my heart, and she came,
and the dowry I have given to the woman you
call your wife."

Almayer groaned in his extremity of rage and
shame. Nina laid her hand lightly on his shoulder,
and the contact, light as the touch of a falling leaf,
seemed to calm him. He spoke quickly, and in
English this time.

234 Almayers Folly,

" Tell me," he said — " tell me, what have they
done to you, your mother and that man ? What
made you give yourself up to that savage ? For
he is a savage. Between him and you there is a
barrier that nothing can remove. I can see in
your eyes the look of those who commit suicide
when they are mad. You are mad. Don't smile.
It breaks my heart. If I were to see you drown-
ing before my eyes, and I without the power to
help you, I could not suffer a greater torment.
Have you forgotten the teaching of so many
years } "

" No," she interrupted, " I remember it well. I
remember how it ended also. Scorn for scorn,
contempt for contempt, hate for hate. I am not
of your race. Between your people and me there
is also a barrier that nothing can remove. You
ask why I want to go, and I ask you why I should

He staggered as if struck in the face, but with a
quick, unhesitating grasp she caught him by the
arm and steadied him.

** Why you should stay ! " he repeated slowly, in a
dazed manner, and stopped short, astounded at the
completeness of his misfortune.

"You told me yesterday," she went on again,
" that I could not understand or see your love for
me : it is so. How can I } No two human beings
understand each other. They can understand but
their own voices. You wanted me to dream your

Almayer^s Folly. 235

dreams, to see your own visions — the visions of
life amongst the white faces of those who cast me
out from their midst in angry contempt. But
while you spoke I listened to the voice of my own
self; then this man came, and all was still; there
was only the murmur of his love. You call him a
savage ! What do you call my mother, your
wife ? "

" Nina ! " cried Almayer, " take your eyes off my

She looked down directly, but continued speak-
ing only a little above a whisper.

" In time," she went on, " both our voices, that
man's and mine, spoke together in a sweetness
that was intelligible to our ears only. You were
speaking of gold then, but our ears were filled with
the song of our love, and we did not hear you.
Then I found that we could see through each
other's eyes : that he saw things that nobody but
myself and he could see. We entered a land
where no one could follow us, and least of all you.
Then I began to live."

She paused. Almayer sighed deeply. With
her eyes still fixed on the ground she began
speaking again.

" And I mean to live. I mean to follow him.
I have been rejected with scorn by the white
people, and now I am a Malay ! He took me in
his arms, he laid his life at my feet He is brave ;
he will be powerful, and I hold his bravery and his

236 Almayers Folly,

strength in my hand, and I shall make him great.
His name shall be remembered long after both
our bodies arc laid in the dust. I love you no less
than I did before, but I shall never leave him, for
without him I cannot live."

" If he understood what you have said," answered
Almayer, scornfully, " he must be highly flattered.
You want him as a tool for some incomprehensible
ambition of yours. Enough, Nina. If you do not
go down at once to the creek, where Ali is waiting
with my canoe, I shall tell him to return to the
settlement and bring the Dutch officers here.
You cannot escape from this clearing, for I have
cast adrift your canoe. If the Dutch catch this
hero of yours they will hang him as sure as I stand
here. Now go."

He made a step towards his daughter and laid
hold of. her by the shoulder, his other hand point-
ing down the path to the landing-place.

" Beware ! " exclaimed Dain ; " this woman
belongs to me ! "

Nina wrenched herself free and looked straight
at Almayer's angry face.

" No, I will not go," she said with desperate
energy. " If he dies I shall die too ! "

" You die ! " said Almayer, contemptuously.
" Oh, no ! You shall live a life of lies and decep-
tion till some other vagabond comes along to sing;
how did you say that ? The song of love to you !
Make up your mind quickly."

Almayers Folly, 237

He waited for a while, and then added mean-

" Shall I call out to Ali ? " '

" Call out," she answered in Malay, " you that
cannot be true to your own countrymen. Only a
few days ago you were selling the powder for their
destruction ; now you want to ^w^ up to them the
man that yesterday you called your friend. Oh,
Dain," she said, turning towards the motionless
but attentive figure in the darkness, "instead of
bringing you life I bring you death, for he will
betray unless I leave you for ever ! "

Dain came into the circle of light, and, throwing
his arm around Nina's neck, whispered in her ear —

" I can kill him v/here he stands, before a sound
can pass his lips. For you it is to say yes or no.
Babalatchi cannot be far now."

He straightened himself up, taking his arm off
her shoulder,and confronted x^lmayer.who looked at
them both with an expression of concentrated fury.

" No ! " she cried, clinging to Dain in wild alarm.
" No ! Kill me ! Then perhaps he will let you go.
You do not know the mind of a white man. He
would rather see me dead than standing where I
am. Forgive me, your slave, but you must not."
She fell at his feet sobbing violently and repeating,
" Kill me ! Kill me ! "

" I want you alive," said Almayer, speaking also
in Malay, with sombre calmness. " You go, or he
hangs. Will you obey ? "

238 Almayers Folly.

Dain shook Nina off, and, making a sudden lunge,
struck Almayer full in the chest with the handle
of his kriss, keeping the point towards himself.

" Hai, look ! It was easy for me to turn the
point the other way," he said in his even voice.
" Go, Tuan Putih," he added with dignity. " I
give you your life, my life, and her life. I am the
slave of this woman's desire, and she wills it so."

There was not a glimmer of light in the sky
now, and the tops of the trees were as invisible as
their trunks, being lost in the mass of clouds that
hung low over the woods, the clearing, and the
river. Every outline had disappeared in the in-
tense blackness that seemed to have destroyed
everything but space. Only the fire glimmered
like a star forgotten in this annihilation of all
visible things, and nothing was heard after Dain
ceased speaking but the sobs of Nina, whom
he held in his arms, kneeling beside the fire.
Almayer stood looking down at them in gloomy
thoughtfulness. As he was opening his lips to
speak they were startled by a cry of warning by
the riverside, followed by the splash of many
paddles and the sound of voices.

" Babalatchi !" shouted Dain, lifting up Nina as
he got upon his feet quickly.

" Ada ! Ada ! " came the answer from the
panting statesman who ran up the path and
stood amongst them. " Run to my canoe," he
said to Dain excitedly, without taking any notice

Almayer's Folly. 239

of Almayer. " Run ! we must go. That woman
has told them all ! "

"What woman ? " asked Dain, looking at Nina.
Just then there was only one woman in the whole
world for him.

" The she-dog with white teeth ; the seven times
accursed slave of Bulangi. She yelled at Abdulla's
gate till she woke up all Sambir. Now the white
officers are coming, guided by her and Reshid. If
you want to live, do not look at me, but go ! "

" How do you know this ? " asked Almayer.

" Oh, Tuan ! what matters how I know ! I have
only one eye, but I saw lights in Abdulla's house
and in his campong as we were paddling past.
I have ears, and while we lay under the bank I
have heard the messengers sent out to the white
men's house."

" Will you depart without that woman who is
my daughter?" said Almayer, addressing Dain,
while Babalatchi stamped with impatience, mutter-
ing, " Run ! Run at once ! "

" No," answered Dain, steadily, " I will not go ;
to no man will I abandon this woman."

" Then kill me and escape yourself," sobbed out

He clasped her close, looking at her tenderly, and
whispered, ** We will never part, O Nina ! "

" I shall not stay here any longer," broke in
Babalatchi, angrily. "This is great foolishness.
No woman is worth a man's life. I am an old
man, and I know,"

240 Almayers Folly,

He picked up his staff, and, turning to go, looked
at Dain as if offering him his last chance of escape.
But Dain's face was hidden amongst Nina's black
tresses, and he did not see this last appealing

Babalatchi vanished in the darkness. Shortly-
after his disappearance they heard the war canoe

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