Joseph Conrad.

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

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leave the landing - place in the swish of the
numerous paddles dipped in the water together.
Almost at the same time Ali came up from the
riverside, two paddles on his shoulder.

"Our canoe is hidden up the creek, Tuan
Almayer," he said, " in the dense bush where the
forest comes down to the water. I took it there
because I heard from Babalatchi's paddlers that
the white men are coming here."

" Wait for me there," said Almayer, " but keep
the canoe hidden."

He remained silent, listening to Ali's footsteps,
then turned to Nina.

" Nina," he said sadly, "will you have no pity
for me ? "

There was no answer. She did not even turn
her head, which was pressed close to Dain's breast.

He made a movement as if to leave them and
stopped. By the dim glow of the burning-out fire
he saw their two motionless figures. The woman's
back turned to him with the long black hair
streaming down over the white dress, and Dain's
calm face looking at him above her head.

Almayer's Folly, 241

" I cannot," he muttered to himself. After a
long pause he spoke again a little lower, but in
an unsteady voice, " It would be too great a
disgrace. I am a white man." He broke down
completely there, and went on tearfully, " I am
a white man, and of good family. Very good
family," he repeated, weeping bitterly. " It would
be a disgrace ... all over the islands, . . . the
only white man on the east coast. No, it cannot
be . . . white men finding my daughter with this
Malay. My daughter ! " he cried aloud, with a ring
of despair in his voice.

He recovered his composure after a while and
said distinctly —

" I will never forgive you, Nina — never ! If
you were to come back to me now, the memory of
this night would poison all my life. I shall try to
forget. I have no daughter. There used to be
a half-caste woman in my house, but she is going
even now. You, Dain, or whatever your name may
be, I shall take you and that woman to the island
at the mouth of the river myself Come with me."

He led the way, following the bank as far as the
forest. Ali answered to his call, and, pushing
their way through the dense bush, they stepped
into the canoe hidden under the overhanging
branches. Dain laid Nina in the bottom, and sat
holding her head on his knees. Almayer and Ali
each took up a paddle. As they were going to
push out Ali hissed warningly. All listened.


242 Almayer^s Folly.

In the great stillness before the bursting out of
the thunderstorm they could hear the sound of oars
working regularly in their row-locks. The sound
approached steadily, and Dain, looking through the
branches, could see the faint shape of a big white
boat. A woman's voice said in a cautious tone —

" There is the place where you may land white
men ; a little higher — there ! "

The boat was passing them so close in the
narrow creek that the blades of the long oars
nearly touched the canoe.

" Way enough ! Stand by to jump on shore !
He is alone and unarmed," was the quiet order in
a man's voice, and in Dutch.

Somebody else whispered : " I think I can see
a glimmer of a fire through the bush." And then
the boat floated past them, disappearing instantly
in the darkness.

" Now," whispered Ali, eagerly, " let us push out
and paddle away."

The little canoe swung into the stream, and as
it sprung forward in response to the vigorous dig
of the paddles they could hear an angry shout.

" He is not by the fire. Spread out, men, and
search for him ! "

Blue lights blazed out in different parts of the
clearing, and the shrill voice of a woman cried in
accents of rage and pain —

" Too late ! O senseless white men ! He has


" That is the place," said Dain, indicating with the
blade of his paddle a small islet about a mile
ahead of the canoe — "that is the place where
Babalatchi promised that a boat from the prau
would come for me when the sun is overhead.
We will wait for that boat there."

Almayer, who was steering, nodded without
speaking, and by a slight sweep of his paddle laid
the head of the canoe in the required direction.

They were just leaving the southern outlet of
the Pantai, which lay behind them in a straight
and long vista of water shining between two walls
of thick verdure that ran downwards and towards
each other, till at last they joined and sank
together in the far-away distance. The sun, rising
above the calm waters of the Straits, marked its
own path by a streak of light that glided upon the
sea and darted up the wide reach of the river, a
hurried messenger of light and life to the gloomy
forests of the coast ; and in this radiance of the sun's

pathway floated the black canoe heading for the

244 Almayers Folly.

islet which lay bathed in sunshine, the yellow
sands of its encircling beach shining like an inlaid
golden disc on the polished steel of the unwrinkled
sea. To the north and south of it rose other islets,
joyous in their brilliant colouring of green and
yellow, and on the main coast the sombre line of
mangrove bushes ended to the southward in the
reddish cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah, advancing into
the sea, steep and shadowless under the clear light
of the early morning.

The bottom of the canoe grated upon the sand
as the little craft ran upon the beach. Ali leaped
on shore and held on while Dain stepped out
carrying Nina in his arms, exhausted by the events
and the long travelling during the night. Almayer
was the last to leave the boat, and together with
Ali ran it higher up on the beach. Then Ali,
tired out by the long paddling, laid down in the
shade of the canoe, and incontinently fell asleep.
Almayer sat sideways on the gunwale, and with
his arms crossed on his breast, looked to the
southward upon the sea.

After carefully laying Nina down in the shade
of the bushes growing in the middle of the islet,
Dain threw himself beside her and watched
in silent concern the tears that ran down from
under her closed eyelids, and lost themselves in
that fine sand upon which they both were lying
face to face. These tears and this sorrow were for
him a profound and disquieting mystery. Now,

Almayers Folly, 245

when the danger was past, why should she grieve?
He doubted her love no more than he would have
doubted the fact of his own existence, but as he
lay looking ardently in her face, watching her
tears, her parted lips, her very breath, he was
uneasily conscious of something in her he could
not understand. Doubtless she had the wisdom
of perfect beings. He sighed. He felt something
invisible that stood between them, something that
would let him approach her so far, but no farther.
No desire, no longing, no effort of will or length of
life could destroy this vague feeling of their
difference. With awe but also with great pride
he concluded that it was her own incomparable
perfection. She was his, and yet she was like a
woman from another world. His ! His ! He
exulted in the glorious thought ; nevertheless her
tears pained him.

With a wisp of her own hair which he took in
his hand with timid reverence he tried in an access
of clumsy tenderness to dry the tears that trembled
on her eyelashes. He had his reward in a fleeting
smile that brightened her face for the short fraction
of a second, but soon the tears fell faster than ever,
and he could bear it no more. He rose and
walked towards Almayer, who still sat absorbed in
his contemplation of the sea. It was a very, very
long time since he had seen the sea — that sea
that leads everywhere, brings everything, and takes
away so much. He had almost forgotten why he

246 Almayers Folly,

was there, and dreamily he could see all his past
life on the smooth and boundless surface that
glittered before his eyes.

Dain's hand laid on Almayer's shoulder recalled
him with a start from some country very far away
indeed. He turned round, but his eyes seemed to
look rather at the place where Dain stood than at
the man himself. Dain felt uneasy under the un-
conscious gaze.

" What ? " said Almayer.
" She is crying," murmured Dain, softly.
" She is crying ! Why ? " asked Almayer, in-

" I came to ask you. My Ranee smiles when
looking at the man she loves. It is the white
woman that is crying now. You would know."

Almayer shrugged his shoulders and turned
away again towards the sea.

" Go, Tuan Putih," urged Dain. " Go to her ;
her tears are more terrible to me than the anger of

" Are they ? You will see them more than
once. She told me she could not live without
you," answered Almayer, speaking without the
faintest spark of expression in his face, " so it
behoves you to go to her quick, for fear you may
find her dead."

He burst into a loud and unpleasant laugh which
made Dain stare at him with some apprehension,
but got off the gunwale of the boat and moved

Almayer^s Folly, 247

slowly towards Nina, glancing up at the sun as he

" And you go when the sun is overhead ? " he said.

" Yes, Tuan. Then we go," answered Dain.

"I have not long to wait," muttered Almayer.
" It is most important for me to see you go. Both
of you. Most important," he repeated, stopping
short and looking at Dain fixedly.

He went on again towards Nina, and Dain
remained behind. Almayer approached his
daughter and stood for a time looking down on
her. She did not open her eyes, but hearing foot-
steps near her, murmured in a low sob, " Dain."

Almayer hesitated for a minute and then sank
on the sand by her side. She, not hearing a re-
sponsive word, not feeling a touch, opened her
eyes — saw her father, and sat up suddenly with a
movement of terror.

" Oh, father ! " she murmured faintly, and in that
word there was expressed regret and fear and
dawning hope.

" I shall never forgive you, Nina," said Almayer,
in a dispassionate voice. " You have torn my heart
from me while I dreamt of your happiness. You
have deceived me. Your eyes that for me were
like truth itself lied to me in every glance — for how
long 1 You know that best. When you were
caressing my cheek you were counting the minutes
to the sunset that was the signal for your meeting
with that man — there ! "

248 Almayer's Folly,

He ceased, and they both sat silent side by side,
not looking at each other, but gazing at the vast
expanse of the sea. Almayer's words had dried
Nina's tears, and her look grew hard as she stared
before her into the limitless sheet of blue that
shone limpid, unwaving, and steady like heaven
itself He looked at it also, but his features had
lost all expression, and life in his eyes seemed to
have gone out. The face was a blank, without a
sign of emotion, feeling, reason, or even knowledge
of itself All passion, regret, grief, hope, or anger —
all were gone, erased by the hand of fate, as if after
this last stroke everything was over and there was
no need for any record. Those few who saw
Almayer during the short period of his remaining
days were always impressed by the sight of that
face that seemed to know nothing of what went
on within: like the blank wall of a prison enclosing
sin, regrets, and pain, and wasted life, in the cold
indifference of mortar and stones.

" What is there to forgive ? " asked Nina, not
addressing Almayer directly, but more as if arguing
with herself " Can I not live my own life as you
have lived yours? The path you would have
wished me to follow has been closed to me by no
fault of mine."

" You never told me," muttered Almayer.

" You never asked me," she answered, " and I
thought you were like the others and did not care.
I bore the memory of my humiliation alone, and

Almayer*s Folly, 249

why should I tell you that it came to me because
I am your daughter? I knew you could not
avenge me."

"And yet I was thinking of that only," inter-
rupted Almayer, " and I wanted to give you years
of happiness for the short day of your suffering.
I only knew of one way."

" Ah ! but it was not my way ! " she replied.
** Could you give me happiness without life ?
Life ! " she repeated with sudden energy that sent
the word ringing over the sea. " Life that means
power and love," she added in a low voice.

" That ! " said Almayer, pointing his finger at
Dain - standing close by and looking at them in
curious wonder.

" Yes, that ! " she replied, looking her father full
in the face and noticing for the first time with a
slight gasp of fear the unnatural rigidity of his

"I would have rather strangled you with my
own hands," said Almayer, in an expressionless
voice which was such a contrast to the desperate
bitterness of his feelings that it surprised even
himself. He asked himself who spoke, and, after
looking slowly round as if expecting to see some-
body, turned again his eyes towards the sea.

" You say that because you do not understand
the meaning of my words," she said sadly.
" Between you and my mother there never was
any love. When I returned to Sambir I found

250 Almayers Folly.

the place which I thought would be a peaceful
refuge for my heart, filled with weariness and
hatred — and mutual contempt. I have listened to
your voice and to her voice. Then I saw that you
could not understand me ; for was I not part of
that woman t Of her who was the regret and
shame of your life ? I had to choose — I hesitated.
Why were you so blind ? Did you not see me
struggling before your eyes ? But, when he
came, all doubt disappeared, and I saw only the
light of the blue and cloudless heaven "

" I will tell you the rest," interrupted Almayer :
" when that man came I also saw the blue and the
sunshine of the sky. A thunderbolt has fallen
from that sky, and suddenly all is still and dark
around me for ever. I will never forgive you,
Nina ; and to-morrow I shall forget you ! I shall
never forgive you," he repeated with mechanical
obstinacy while she sat, her head bowed down as if
afraid to look at her father.

To him it seemed of the utmost importance
that he should assure her of his intention of never
forgiving. He was convinced that his faith in her
had been the foundation of his hopes, the motive
of his courage, of his determination to live and
struggle, and to be victorious for her sake. And
now his faith was gone, destroyed by her own
hands ; destroyed cruelly, treacherously, in the
dark ; in the very moment of success. In the
utter wreck of his affections and of all his feelings.

Almayers Folly, 251

in the chaotic disorder of his thoughts, above the
confused sensation of physical pain that wrapped
him up in a sting as of a whiplash curling round
him from his shoulders down to his feet, only one
idea remained clear and definite — not to forgive
her ; only one vivid desire — to forget her. And
this must be made clear to her — and to himself —
by frequent repetition. That was his idea of his
duty to himself — to his race — to his respectable
connections ; to the whole universe unsettled and
shaken by this frightful catastrophe of his life.
He saw it clearly and believed he was a strong
man. He had always prided himself upon his un-
flinching firmness. And yet he was afraid. She
had been all in all to him. What if he should let
the memory of his love for her weaken the sense
of his dignity ? She was a remarkable woman ;
he could see that ; all the latent greatness of his
nature — in which he honestly believed — had been
transfused into that slight, girlish figure. Great
things could be done ! What if he should suddenly
take her to his heart, forget his shame, and pain,
and anger, and — follow her ! What if he changed
his heart if not his skin and made her life easier
between the two loves that would guard her from
any mischance ! His heart yearned for her. What
if he should say that his love for her was greater
than . . .

" I will never forgive you, Nina ! " he shouted,
leaping up madly in the sudden fear of his dream.

252 Almayer's Folly.

This was the last time in his life that he was
heard to raise his voice. Henceforth he spoke
always in a monotonous whisper like an instrument
of which all the strings but one are broken in a
last ringing clamour under a heavy blow.

She rose to her feet and looked at him. The
very violence of his cry soothed her in an intuitive
conviction of his love, and she hugged to her
breast the lamentable remnants of that affection
with the unscrupulous greediness of women who
cling desperately to the very scraps and rags of
love, any kind of love, as a thing that of right
belongs to them and is the very breath of their
life. She put both her hands on Almayer's
shoulders, and looking at him half tenderly, half
playfully, she said —

" You speak so because you love me."

Almayer shook his head.

" Yes, you do," she insisted softly ; then after a
short pause she added, " and you will never forget

Almayer shivered slightly. She could not have
said a more cruel thing.

" Here is the boat coming now," said Dain, his
arm outstretched towards a black speck on the
water between the coast and the islet.

They all looked at it and remained standing in
silence till the little canoe came gently on the
beach and a man landed and walked towards
them. He stopped some distance off and hesitated.

Almayer's Folly. 253

" What news ? " asked Dain.

" We have had orders secretly and in the night
to take off from this islet a man and a woman. I
see the woman. Which of you is the man 1 "

" Come, delight of my eyes," said Dain to Nina.
" Now we go, and your voice shall be for my ears
only. You have spoken your last words to the
Tuan Putih, your father. Come."

She hesitated for a while, looking at Almayer,
who kept his eyes steadily on the sea, then she
touched his forehead in a lingering kiss, and a tear
— one of her tears — fell on his cheek and ran down
his immovable face.

" Goodbye," she whispered, and remained irreso-
lute till he pushed her suddenly into Dain's arms.

"If you have any pity for me," murmured
Almayer, as if repeating some sentence learned
by heart, " take that woman away."

He stood very straight, his shoulders thrown
back, his head held high, and looked at them as
they went down the beach to the canoe, walking
enlaced in each other's arms. He looked at the
line of their footsteps marked in the sand. He
followed their figures moving in the crude blaze of
the vertical sun, in that light violent and vibrating,
like a triumphal flourish of brazen trumpets. He
looked at the man's brown shoulders, at the red
sarong round his waist ; at the tall, slender,
dazzling white figure he supported. He looked at
the white dress, at the falling masses of the long

254 Almayer^s Folly,

black hair. He looked at them embarking, and at
the canoe growing smaller in the distance, with
rage, despair, and regret in his heart, and on his
face a peace as that of a carved image of oblivion.
Inwardly he felt himself torn to pieces, but Ali —
who now aroused — stood close to his master, saw
on his features the blank expression of those who
live in that hopeless calm which sightless eyes only
can give.

The canoe disappeared, and Almayer stood
motionless with his eyes fixed on its wake. Ali
from under the shade of his hand examined the
coast curiously. As the sun declined, the sea-
breeze sprang up from the northward and shivered
with its breath the glassy surface of the water.

" Dapat ! " exclaimed Ali, joyously. " Got him,
master ! Got prau ! Not there ! Look more
Tanah Mirrah side. Aha ! That way ! Master,
see ? Now plain. See ? "

Almayer followed Ali's forefinger with his eyes
for a long time in vain. At last he sighted a
triangular patch of yellow light on the red back-
ground of the cliffs of Tanjong Mirrah. It was
the sail of the prau that had caught the sunlight
and stood out, distinct with its gay tint, on the
dark red of the cape. The yellow triangle crept
slowly from cliff to cliff, till it cleared the last
point of land and shone brilliantly for a fleeting
minute on the blue of the open sea. Then the
prau bore up to the southward : the light went

Almayer's Folly, 255

out of the sail, and all at once the vessel itself dis-
appeared, vanishing in the shadow of the steep
headland that looked on, patient and lonely,
watching over the empty sea.

Almayer never moved. Round the little islet
the air was full of the talk of the rippling water.
The crested wavelets ran up the beach audaciously,
joyously, with the lightness of young life, and
died quickly, unresistingly, and graciously, in the
wide curves of transparent foam on the yellow
sand. Above, the white clouds sailed rapidly
southwards as if intent upon overtaking' something.
AH seemed anxious.

" Master," he said timidly, " time to get house
now. Long way off to pull. All ready, sir."

" Wait," whispered Almayer.

Now she was gone his business was to forget,
and he had a strange notion that it should be done
systematically and in order. To Ali's great dis-
may he fell on his hands and knees, and, creeping
along the sand, erased carefully with his hand all
traces of Nina's footsteps. He piled up small
heaps of sand, leaving behind him a line of
miniature graves right down to the water. After
burying the last slight imprint of Nina's slipper
he stood up, and, turning his face towards the head-
land where he had last seen the prau, he made an
effort to shout out loud again his firm resolve to
never forgive. Ali watching him uneasily saw
only his lips move, but heard no sound. He

256 Almayer's Folly.

brought his foot down with a stamp. He was a
firm man — firm as a rock. Let her go. He
never had a daughter. He would forget. He was
forgetting already.

Ali approached him again, insisting on immediate
departure, and this time he consented, and they
went together towards their canoe, Almayer lead-
ing. For all his firmness he looked very dejected
and feeble as he dragged his feet slowly through
the sand on the beach ; and by his side — invisible
to Ali — stalked that particular fiend whose mission
it is to jog the memories of men, lest they should
forget the meaning of life. He whispered into
Almayer's ear a childish prattle of many years
ago. Almayer, his head bent on one side, seemed
to listen to his invisible companion, but his face
was like the face of a man that has died struck
from behind — a face from which all feelings and
all expression are suddenly wiped off by the
hand of unexpected death.

They slept on the river that night, mooring their
canoe under the bushes and lying down in the
bottom side by side, in the absolute exhaustion
that kills hunger, thirst, all feeling and all thought
in the overpowering desire for that deep sleep
which is like the temporary annihilation of the
tired body. Next day they started again and
fought doggedly with the current all the morning,
till about midday they reached the settlement and

Almayer's Folly. 257

made fast their little craft to the jetty of Lingard
and Co. Almayer walked straight to the house,
and Ali followed, paddles on shoulder, thinking
that he would like to eat something. As they
crossed the front courtyard they noticed the
abandoned look of the place. Ali looked in at
the different servants' houses : all were empty. In
the back courtyard there was the same absence
of sound and life. In the cooking-shed the fire
was out and the black embers were cold. A tall,
lean man came stealthily out of the banana planta-
tion, and went away rapidly across the open space
looking at them with big, frightened eyes over his
shoulder. Some vagabond without a master; there
were many such in the settlement, and they looked
upon Almayer as their patron. They prowled
about his premises and picked their living there,
sure that nothing worse could befall them than a
shower of curses when they got in the way of the
white man, whom they trusted and liked, and
called a fool amongst themselves. In the house,
which Almayer entered through the back verandah,
the only living thing that met his eyes was his
small monkey which, hungry and unnoticed for the
last two days, began to cry and complain in
monkey language as soon as it caught sight of the
familiar face. Almayer soothed it with a few
words and ordered Ali to bring in some bananas,
then while Ali was gone to get them he stood in
the doorway of the front verandah looking at the


258 Almayer's Folly,

chaos of overturned furniture. Finally he picked
up the table and sat on it while the monkey let
itself down from the roof-stick by its chain and
perched on his shoulder. When the bananas came
they had their breakfast together ; both hungry,

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