Joseph Conrad.

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

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dust and bits of dried leaves to settle on the
shabby table. The floor was uneven, with many
withered plants and dried earth scattered about.
A general air of squalid neglect pervaded the
place. Great red stains on the floor and walls
testified to frequent and indiscriminate betel-
nut chewing. The light breeze from the river
swayed gently the tattered blinds, sending from
the woods opposite a faint and sickly perfume as
of decaying flowers.

Under Almayer's heavy tread the boards of the
verandah creaked loudly. The sleeper in the
corner moved uneasily, muttering indistinct words.
There was a slight rustle behind the curtained
doorway, and a soft voice asked in Malay, " Is it
you, father ? "

" Yes, Nina. I am hungry. Is everybody asleep
in this house ? "

Almayer spoke jovially and dropped with a
contented sigh into the armchair nearest to the
table. Nina Almayer came through the curtained
doorway followed by an old Malay woman, who
busied herself in setting upon the table a plateful
of rice and fish, a jar of water, and a bottle half
full of genever. After carefully placing before her
master a cracked glass tumbler and a tin spoon

Almayer's Folly, 25

she went away noiselessly. Nina stood by the
table, one hand lightly resting on its edge, the
other hanging listlessly by her side. Her face
turned towards the outer darkness, through which
her dreamy eyes seemed to see some entrancing
picture, wore a look of impatient expectancy. She
was tall for a half-caste, with the correct profile
of the father, modified and strengthened by the
squareness of the lower part of the face inherited
from her maternal ancestors — the Sulu pirates.
Her firm mouth, with the lips slightly parted and
disclosing a gleam of white teeth, put a vague
suggestion of ferocity into the impatient expression
of her features. And yet her dark and perfect
eyes had all the tender softness of expression
common to Malay women, but with a gleam of
superior intelligence ; they looked gravely, wide
open and steady, as if facing something invisible
to all other eyes, while she stood there all in white,
straight, flexible, graceful, unconscious of herself,
her low but broad forehead crowned with a shining
mass of long black hair that fell in heavy tresses
over her shoulders, and made her pale olive com-
plexion look paler still by the contrast of its coal-
black hue.

Almayer attacked his rice greedily, but after a
few mouthfuls he paused, spoon in hand, and looked
at his daughter curiously.

" Did you hear a boat pass about half an hour
ago Nina ? " he asked.

26 Almayers Folly,

The girl gave him a quick glance, and moving
away from the light stood with her back to the

" No," she said, slowly.

" There was a boat. At last ! Dain himself ;
and he went on to Lakamba. I know it, for he
told me so. I spoke to him, but he would not
come here to-night. Will come to-morrow, he

He swallowed another spoonful, then said —

" I am almost happy to-night, Nina. I can see

the end of a long road, and it leads us away from

this miserable swamp. We shall soon get away

from here, I and you, my dear little girl, and

then "

He rose from the table and stood looking
fixedly before him as if contemplating some
enchanting vision.

" And then," he went on, " we shall be happy,
you and I. Live rich and respected far from here,
and forget this life, and all this struggle, and all
this misery ! "

He approached his daughter and passed his
hand caressingly over her hair.

" It is bad to have to trust a Malay," he said,
" but I must own that this Dain is a perfect
gentleman — a perfect gentleman," he repeated.

" Did you ask him to come here, father ? "
inquired Nina, not looking at him.

" Well, of course. We shall start on the day

Almayer's Folly, 27

after to-morrow," said Almayer, joyously. "We
must not lose any time. Are you glad, little

She was nearly as tall as himself, but he liked
to recall the time when she was little and they
were all in all to each other.

" I am glad," she said, very low.

" Of course," said Almayer, vivaciously, " you
cannot imagine what is before you. I myself
have not been to Europe, but I have heard my
mother talk so often that I seem to know all about
it. We shall live a — a glorious life. You shall

Again he stood silent by his daughter's side
looking at that enchanting vision. After a while
he shook his clenched hand towards the sleeping

" Ah ! my friend Abdulla," he cried, " we shall
see who will have the best of it after all these
years ! "

He looked up the river and remarked calmly :

" Another thunderstorm. Well ! No thunder
will keep me awake to-night, I know ! Good-night,
little girl," he whispered, tenderly kissing her
cheek. " You do not seem to be very happy
to-night, but to-morrow you will show a brighter
face. Eh ? "

Nina had listened to her father with her face
unmoved, with her half-closed eyes still gazing
into the night now made more intense by a heavy

28 Almayers Folly.

thunder-cloud that had crept down from the hills
blotting out the stars, merging sky, forest, and
river into one mass of almost palpable blackness.
The faint breeze had died out, but the distant
rumble of thunder and pale flashes of lightning
gave warning of the approaching storm. With a
sigh the girl turned towards the table.

Almayer was in his hammock now, already half

" Take the lamp, Nina," he muttered, drowsily.
" This place is full of mosquitoes. Go to sleep,

But Nina put the lamp out and turned back
again towards the balustrade of the verandah,
standing with her arm round the wooden support
and looking eagerly towards the Pantai reach.
And motionless there in the oppressive calm of
the tropical night she could see at each flash
of lightning the forest lining both banks up the
river, bending before the furious blast of the
coming tempest, the upper reach of the river
whipped into white foam by the wind, and the
black clouds torn into fantastic shapes trailing
low over the swaying trees. Round her all was as
yet stillness and peace, but she could hear afar off
the roar of the wind, the hiss of heavy rain, the
wash of the waves on the tormented river. It
came nearer and nearer, with loud thunder-claps
and long flashes of vivid lightning, followed by
short periods of appalling blackness. When the

Almayer* s Folly, 29

storm reached the low point dividing the river, the
house shook in the wind, and the rain pattered
loudly on the palm-leaf roof, the thunder spoke
in one prolonged roll, and the incessant lightning
disclosed a turmoil of leaping waters, driving logs,
and the big trees bending before a brutal and
merciless force.

Undisturbed by the nightly event of the rainy
monsoon, the father slept quietly, oblivious alike
of his hopes, his misfortunes, his friends, and his
enemies ; and the daughter stood motionless, at
each flash of lightning eagerly scanning the broad
river with a steady and anxious gaze.


When, in compliance with Lingard's abrupt
demand, Almayer consented to wed the Malay
girl, no one knew that on the day when the
interesting young convert had lost all her natural
relations and found a white father, she had been
fighting desperately like the rest of them on board
the prau, and was only prevented from leaping
overboard, like the few other survivors, by a severe
wound in the leg. There, on the fore-deck of the
prau, old Lingard found her under a heap of dead
and dying pirates, and had her carried on the poop
of the Flash before the Malay craft was set on fire
and sent adrift. She was conscious, and in the
great peace and stillness of the tropical evening
succeeding the turmoil of the battle, she watched
all she held dear on earth after her own savage
manner, drift away into the gloom in a great roar
of flame and smoke. She lay there unheeding the
careful hands attending to her wound, silent and
absorbed in gazing at the funeral pile of those
brave men she had so much admired and so well

Almayers Folly, 31

helped in their contest with the redoubtable
" Rajah-Laut."

The light night breeze fanned the brig gently to
the southward, and the great blaze of light got
smaller and smaller till it twinkled only on the
horizon like a setting star. It set: the heavy
canopy of smoke reflected the glare of hidden
flames for a short time and then disappeared

She realised that with this vanishing gleam her
old life departed too. Thenceforth there was
slavery in the far countries, amongst strangers, in
unknown and perhaps terrible surroundings. Being
fourteen years old, she realised her position and
came to that conclusion, the only one possible to
a Malay girl, soon ripened under a tropical sun,
and not unaware of her personal charms, of which
she heard many a young brave warrior of her
father's crew express an appreciative admiration.
There was in her the dread of the unknown ;
otherwise she accepted her position calmly, after
the manner of her people, and even considered it
quite natural ; for was she not a daughter of
warriors, conquered in battle, and did she not
belong rightfully to the victorious Rajah? Even
the evident kindness of the terrible old man must
spring, she thought, from admiration for his captive,
and the flattered vanity eased for her the pangs of
sorrow after such an awful calamity. Perhaps had

32 Almayer's Folly,

she known of the high walls, the quiet gardens,
and the silent nuns of the Samarang convent,
where her destiny was leading her, she would have
sought death in her dread and hate of such a
restraint. But in imagination she pictured to
herself the usual life of a Malay girl — the usual
succession of heavy work and fierce love, of
intrigues, gold ornaments, of domestic drudgery,
and of that great but occult influence which is one
of the few rights of half-savage womankind. But
her destiny in the rough hands of the old sea-dog,
acting under unreasoning impulses of the heart,
took a strange and to her a terrible shape. She
bore it all — the restraint and the teaching and the
new faith — with calm submission, concealing her
hate and contempt for all that new life. She
learned the language very easily, yet understood
but little of the new faith the good sisters taught
her, assimilating quickly only the superstitious
elements of the religion. She called Lingard
father, gently and caressingly, at each of his short
and noisy visits, under the clear impression that he
was a great and dangerous power it was good to
propitiate. Was he not now her master? And
during those long four years she nourished a hope
of finding favour in his eyes and ultimately be-
coming his wife, counsellor, and guide.

Those dreams of the future were dispelled by
the Rajah Laut's "fiat," which made Almayer's
fortune, as that young man fondly hoped. And

Almayer*s Folly. 33

dressed in the hateful finery of Europe, the centre
of an interested circle of Batavian society, the
young convert stood before the altar with an
unknown and sulky-looking white man. For
Almayer was uneasy, a little disgusted, and
greatly inclined to run away. A judicious fear of
the adopted father-in-law and a just regard for
his own material welfare prevented him from
making a scandal ; yet, while swearing fidelity,
he was concocting plans for getting rid of the
pretty Malay girl in a more or less distant future.
She, however, had retained enough of conventual
teaching to understand well that according to
white men's laws she was going to be Almayer*s
companion and not his slave, and promised to
herself to act accordingly.

So when the Flash freighted with materials
for building a new house left the harbour of
Batavia, taking away the young couple into the
unknown Borneo, she did not carry on her deck
so much love and happiness as old Lingard was
wont to boast of before his casual friends in the
verandahs of various hotels. The old seaman
himself was perfectly happy. Now he had done
his duty by the girl. " You know I made her an
orphan," he often concluded solemnly, when talking
about his own affairs to a scratch audience of
shore loafers — as it was his habit to do. And the
approbative shouts of his half-intoxicated auditors
filled his simple soul with delight and pride. " I


34 Almayer's Folly,

carry everything right through," was another of
his sayings, and in pursuance of that principle he
pushed the building of house and godowns on
the Pantai River with feverish haste. The house
for the young couple ; the godowns for the big
trade Almayer was going to develop while he
(Lingard) would be able to give himself up to
some mysterious work which was only spoken of
in hints, but was understood to relate to gold and
diamonds in the interior of the island. Almayer
was impatient too. Had he known what was
before him he might not have been so eager and
full of hope as he stood watching the last canoe
of the Lingard expedition disappear in the bend up
the river. When, turning round, he beheld the
pretty little house, the big godowns built neatly
by an army of Chinese carpenters, the new jetty
round which were clustered the trading canoes,
he felt a sudden elation in the thought that the
world was his.

But the world had to be conquered first, and
its conquest was not so easy as he thought. He
was very soon made to understand that he was
not wanted in that corner of it where old Lingard
and his own weak will placed him, in the midst of
unscrupulous intrigues and of a fierce trade com-
petition. The Arabs had found out the river,
had established a trading post in Sambir, and
where they traded they would be masters and
sufifer no rival. Lingard returned unsuccessful

Almayer's Folly, 35

from his first expedition, and departed again
spending all the profits of the legitimate trade
on his mysterious journeys. Almayer struggled
with the difficulties of his position, friendless and
unaided, save for the protection given to him for
Lingard's sake by the old Rajah, the predecessor
of Lakamba. Lakamba himself, then living as a
private individual on a rice clearing, seven miles
down the river, exercised all his influence towards
the help of the white man's enemies, plotting
against the old Rajah and Almayer with a cer-
tainty of combination, pointing clearly to a pro-
found knowledge of their most secret affairs.
Outwardly friendly, his portly form was often to
be seen on Almayer's verandah ; his green turban
and gold-embroidered jacket shone in the front
rank of the decorous throng of Malays coming
to greet Lingard on his returns from the interior ;
his salaams were of the lowest, and his hand-
shakings of the heartiest, when welcoming the old
trader. But his small eyes took in the signs of
the times, and he departed from those interviews
with a satisfied and furtive smile to hold long
consultations with his friend and ally, Syed
Abdulla, the chief of the Arab trading post, a
man of great wealth and of great influence in the

It was currently believed at that time in the
settlement that Lakamba's visits to Almayer's
house were not limited to those official interviews.

36 " Almayer's Folly,

Often on moonlight nights the belated fishermen
of Sambira saw a small canoe shooting out from
the narrow creek at the back of the white man's
house, and the solitary occupant paddle cautiously
down the river in the deep shadows of the bank ;
and those events, duly reported, were discussed
round the evening fires far into the night with
the cynicism of expression common to aristocratic
Malays, and with a malicious pleasure in the
domestic misfortunes of the Orang Blando — the
hated Dutchman. Almayer went on struggling
desperately, but with a feebleness of purpose
depriving him of all chance of success against men
so unscrupulous and resolute as his rivals the Arabs.
The trade fell away from the large godowns, and
the godowns themselves rotted piecemeal. The
old man's banker, Hudig of Macassar, failed, and
with this went the whole available capital. The
profits of past years had been swallowed up in
Lingard's exploring craze. Lingard was in the
interior — perhaps dead — at all events giving no
sign of life. Almayer stood alone in the midst
of those adverse circumstances, deriving only a
little comfort from the companionship of his little
daughter, born two years after the marriage, and
at the time some six years old. His wife had soon
commenced to treat him with a savage contempt
expressed by sulky silence, only occasionally
varied by a flood of savage invective. He felt
she hated him, and saw her jealous eyes watching

Almayers Folly, ' 37

himself and the child with almost an expression
of hate. She was jealous of the little girl's
evident preference for the father, and Almayer
felt he was not safe with that woman in the
house. While she was burning the furniture, and
tearing down the pretty curtains in her unreasoning
hate of those signs of civilisation, Almayer, cowed
by these outbursts of savage nature, meditated
in silence on the best way of getting rid of her.
He thought of everything ; even planned murder
in an undecided and feeble sort of way, but dared
do nothing — expecting every day the return of
Lingard with news of some immense good fortune.
He returned indeed, but aged, ill, a ghost of his
former .self, with the fire of fever burning in his
sunken eyes, almost the only survivor of the
numerous expedition. But he was successful at
last ! Untold riches were in his grasp ; he wanted
more money — only a little more to realise a dream
of fabulous fortune. And Hudig had failed !
Almayer scraped all he could together, but the
old man wanted more. If Almayer could not
get it he would go to Singapore — to Europe even,
but before all to Singapore ; and he would take
the little Nina with him. The child must be
brought up decently. He had good friends in
Singapore who would take care of her and have
her taught properly. All would be well, and that
girl, upon whom the old seaman seemed to have
transferred all his former affection for the mother,

38 Almayer's Folly .

would be the richest woman in the East — in the
world even. So old Lingard shouted, pacing the
verandah with his heavy quarter-deck step, ges-
ticulating with a smouldering cheroot ; ragged,
dishevelled, enthusiastic ; and Almayer, sitting
huddled up on a pile of mats, thought with dread
of the separation with the only human being he
loved — with greater dread still, perhaps, of the
scene with his wife, the savage tigress deprived of
her young. She will poison me, thought the
poor wretch, well aware of that easy and final
manner of solving the social, political, or family
problems in Malay life.

To his great surprise she took the news very
quietly, giving only him and Lingard a furtive
glance, and saying not a word. This, however,
did not prevent her the next day from jumping
into the river and swimming after the boat in which
Lingard was carrying away the nurse with the
screaming child. Almayer had to give chase with
his whale-boat and drag her in by the hair in the
midst of cries and curses enough to make heaven
fall. Yet after two days spent in wailing, she
returned to her former mode of life, chewing
betel-nut, and sitting all day amongst her women
in stupefied idleness. She aged very rapidly after
that, and only roused herself from her apathy to
acknowledge by a scathing remark or an insulting
exclamation the accidental presence of her hus-
band. He had built for her a riverside hut in

Almayer^s Folly. 39

the compound where she dwelt in perfect seclusion.
Lakamba's visits had ceased when, b}^ a convenient
decree of Providence and the help of a little
scientific manipulation, the old ruler of Sambir
departed this life. Lakamba reigned in his stead
now, having been well served by his Arab friends
with the Dutch authorities. Syed Abdulla was
the great man and trader of the Pantai. Almayer
lay ruined and helpless under the close-meshed
net of their intrigues, owing his life only to his
supposed knowledge of Lingard's valuable secret.
Lingard had disappeared. He wrote once from
Singapore saying the child was well, and under
the care of a Mrs. Vinck, and that he himself was
going to Europe to raise money for the great
enterprise. " He was coming back soon. There
would be no difficulties," he wrote ; " people would
rush in with their money." Evidently they did
not, for there was only one letter more from him
saying he was ill, had found no relation living, but
little else besides. Then came a complete silence.
Europe had swallowed up the Rajah Laut ap-
parently, and Almayer looked vainly westward
for a ray of light out of the gloom of his shattered
hopes. Years passed, and the rare letters from
Mrs. Vinck, later on from the girl herself, were
the only thing to be looked to to make life bear-
able amongst the triumphant savagery of the
river. Almayer lived now alone, having even
ceased to visit his debtors who would not pay.

40 Almayer's Folly.

sure of Lakamba's protection. The faithful Suma-
trese AH cooked his rice and made his coffee, for
he dared not trust any one else, and least of all
his wife. He killed time wandering sadly in the
overgrown paths round the house, visiting the
ruined godowns where a few brass guns covered
with verdigris and only a few broken cases of
mouldering Manchester goods reminded him of
the good early times when all this was full of life
and merchandise, and he overlooked a busy scene
on the river bank, his little daughter by his side.
Now the up-country canoes glided past the little
rotten wharf of Lingard and Co., to paddle up the
Pantai branch, and cluster round the new jetty
belonging to Abdulla. Not that they loved
AbduUa, but they dared not trade with the man
whose star had set. Had they done so they knew
there was no mercy to be expected from Arab or
Rajah ; no rice to be got on credit in the times
of scarcity from either; and Almayer could not
help them, having at times hardly enough for
himself. Almayer, in his isolation and despair,
often envied his near neighbour the Chinaman,
Jim-Eng, whom he could see stretched on a pile
of cool mats, a wooden pillow under his head,
an opium pipe in his nerveless fingers. He did
not seek, however, consolation in opium — perhaps
it was too expensive — perhaps his white man's
pride saved him from that degradation ; but most
likely it was the thought of his little daughter in

Almayers Folly. 41

the far-off Straits Settlements. He heard from
her oftener since Abdulla bought a steamer, which
ran now between Singapore and the Pantai settle-
ment every three months or so. Almayer felt
himself nearer his daughter. He longed to see her,
and planned a voyage to Singapore, but put off
his departure from year to year, always expecting
some favourable turn of fortune. He did not
want to meet her with empty hands and with no
words of hope on his lips. He could not take her
back into that savage life to which he was con-
demned himself He was also a little afraid of
her. What would she think of him ? He reckoned
the years. A grown woman. A civilised woman,
young and hopeful ; while he felt old and hopeless,
and very much like those savages round him. He
asked himself what was going to be her future.
He could not answer that question yet, and he
dared not face her. And yet he longed after her.
He hesitated for years.

His hesitation was put an end to by Nina's
unexpected appearance in Sambir. She arrived
in the steamer under the captain's care. Almayer
beheld her with surprise not unmixed with wonder.
During those ten years the child had changed
into a woman, black-haired, olive-skinned, tall,
and beautiful, with great sad eyes, where the
startled expression common to Malay womankind
was modified by a thoughtful tinge inherited
from her European ancestry. Almayer thought

42 Almayers Folly.

with dismay of the meeting of his wife and
daughter, of what this grave girl in European
clothes would think of her betel-nut chewing
mother, squatting in a dark hut, disorderly, half
naked, and sulky. He also feared an outbreak
of temper on the part of that pest of a woman
he had hitherto managed to keep tolerably quiet,
thereby saving the remnants of his dilapidated
furniture. And he stood there before the closed
door of the hut in the blazing sunshine listening
to the murmur of voices, wondering what went
on inside, wherefrom all the servant-maids had
been expelled at the beginning of the interview,

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