Joseph Conrad.

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

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culture as their own immense and gloomy forests,
Nina saw only the same manifestations of love
and hate and of sordid greed chasing the uncertain

6o Almayer's Folly,

dollar in all its multifarious and vanishing shapes.
To her resolute nature, however, after all these
years, the savage and uncompromising sincerity
of purpose shown by her Malay kinsmen seemed
at last preferable to the sleek hypocrisy, to the
polite disguises, to the virtuous pretences of such
white people as she had had the misfortune to
come in contact with. After all it was her life ; it
was going to be her life, and so thinking she fell
more and more under the influence of her mother.
Seeking, in her ignorance, a better side to that life,
she listened with avidity to the old woman's tales
of the departed glories of the Rajahs, from whose
race she had sprung, and she became gradually
more indifferent, more contemptuous of the white
side of her descent represented by a feeble and
traditionless father.

Almayer's difficulties were by no means dimin-
ished by the girl's presence in Sambir. The stir
caused by her arrival had died out, it is true, and
Lakamba had not renewed his visits ; but about a
year after the departure of the man-of-war boats
the nephew of Abdulla, Syed Reshid, returned
from his pilgrimage to Mecca, rejoicing in a green
jacket and the proud title of Hadji. There was a
great letting off of rockets on board the steamer
which brought him in, and a great beating of
drums all night in Abdulla's compound, while the
feast of welcome was prolonged far into the small
hours of the morning. Reshid was the favourite

Almayers Folly, 6i

nephew and heir of Abdulla, and that loving uncle,
meeting Almayer one day by the riverside, stopped
politely to exchange civilities and to ask solemnly
for an interview. Almayer suspected some attempt
at a swindle, or at any rate something unpleasant,
but of course consented with a great show of re-
joicing. Accordingly the next evening, after sunset,
Abdulla came, accompanied by several other grey-
beards and by his nephew. That young man — of
a very rakish and dissipated appearance — affected
the greatest indifference as to the whole of the
proceedings. When the torch-bearers had grouped
themselves below the steps, and the visitors had
seated themselves on various lame chairs, Reshid
stood apart in the shadow, examining his aris-
tocratically small hands with great attention.
Almayer, surprised by the great solemnity of his
visitors, perched himself on the corner of the table
with a characteristic want of dignity quickly noted
by the Arabs with grave disapproval. But Abdulla
spoke now, looking straight past Almayer at the red
curtain hanging in the doorway, where a slighttremor
disclosed the presence of women on the other side.
He began by neatly complimenting Almayer upon
the long years they had dwelt together in cordial
neighbourhood, and called upon Allah to give him
many more years to gladden the eyes of his friends
by his welcome presence. He made a polite allu-
sion to the great consideration shown him (Almayer)
by the Dutch " Commissie," and drew thence the

62 Almayer's Folly,

flattering inference of Almayer's great importance
amongst his own people. He — Abdulla — was also
important amongst all the Arabs, and his nephew
Reshid would be heir of that social position and
of great riches. Now Reshid was a Hadji. He
was possessor of several Malay women, went on
Abdulla, but it was time he had a favourite wife,
the first of the four allowed by the Prophet And,
speaking with well-bred politeness, he explained
further to the dumbfounded Almayer that, if he
would consent to the alliance of his offspring with
that true believer and virtuous man Reshid, she
would be the mistress of all the splendours of
Reshid's house, and first wife of the first Arab in
the Islands, when he — Abdulla — was called to the
joys of Paradise by Allah the All-merciful. " You
know, Tuan," he said, in conclusion, "the other
women would be her slaves, and Reshid's house is
great. From Bombay he has brought great divans,
and costly carpets, and European furniture. There
is also a great looking-glass in a frame shining like
gold. What could a girl want more ? " And while
Almayer looked upon him in silent dismay Abdulla
spoke in a more confidential tone, waving his
attendants away, and finished his speech by point-
ing out the material advantages of such an alliance,
and offering to settle upon Almayer three thousand
dollars as a sign of his sincere friendship and the
price of the girl.

Poor Almayer was nearly having a fit. Burning

Almayers Folly, 63

with the desire of taking Abdulla by the throat, he
had but to think of his helpless position in the
midst of lawless men to comprehend the necessity
of diplomatic conciliation. He mastered his im-
pulses, and spoke politely and coldly, saying the
girl was young and as the apple of his eye. Tuan
Reshid, a Faithful and a Hadji, would not want an
infidel woman in his harem ; and, seeing Abdulla
smile sceptically at that last objection, he remained
silent, not trusting himself to speak more, not
daring to refuse point-blank, nor yet to say any-
thing compromising. Abdulla understood the
meaning of that silence, and rose to take leave
with a grave salaam. He wished his friend Al-
mayer "a thousand years," and moved down the
steps, helped dutifully by Reshid. The torch-
bearers shook their torches, scattering a shower
of sparks into the river, and the cortege moved off,
leaving Almayer agitated but greatly relieved by
their departure. He dropped into a chair and
watched the glimmer of the lights amongst the
tree trunks till they disappeared and complete
silence succeeded the tramp of feet and the
murmur of voices. He did not move till the
curtain rustled and Nina came out on the verandah
and sat in the rocking-chair, where she used to
spend many hours every day. She gave a slight
rocking motion to her seat, leaning back with half-
closed eyes, her long hair shading her face from
the smoky light of the lamp on the table. Almayer

64 Almayer*s Folly,

looked at her furtively, but the face was as impas-
sible as ever. She turned her head slightly towards
her father, and, speaking, to his great surprise, in
English, asked —

" Was that Abdulla here ? "

" Yes," said Almayer — "just gone."

" And what did he want, father ? "

"He wanted to buy you for Reshid," answered
Almayer, brutally, his anger getting the better of
him, and looking at the girl as if in expectation of
some outbreak of feeling. But Nina remained
apparently unmoved, gazing dreamily into the
black night outside.

" Be careful, Nina," said Almayer, after a short
silence and rising from his chair, " when you go
paddling alone into the creeks in your canoe. That
Reshid is a violent scoundrel, and there is no saying
what he may do. Do you hear me ? "

She was standing now, ready to go in, one hand
grasping the curtain in the doorway. She turned
round, throwing her heavy tresses back by a sudden

" Do you think he would dare ? " she asked,
quickly, and then turned again to go in, adding
in a lower tone, " He would not dare. Arabs are
all cowards."

Almayer looked after her, astonished. He did
not seek the repose of his hammock. He walked
the floor absently, sometimes stopping by the
balustrade to think. The lamp went out. The

Almayer's Folly. 65

first streak of dawn broke over the forest ; Almayer
shivered in the damp air. " I give it up," he mut-
tered to himself, lying down wearily. " Damn those
women ! Well ! If the girl did not look as if she
wanted to be kidnapped ! "

And he felt a nameless fear creep into his heart,
making him shiver again.


That year, towards the breaking up of the south-
west monsoon, disquieting rumours reached Sambir.
Captain Ford, coming up to Almayer's house for
an evening's chat, brought late numbers of the
Straits Times giving the news of Acheen war and
of the unsuccessful Dutch expedition. The Nak-
hodas of the rare trading praus ascending the river
paid visits to Lakamba, discussing with that poten-
tate the unsettled state of affairs, and wagged their
heads gravely over the recital of Orang Blanda
exaction, severity, and general tyranny, as exem-
plified in the total stoppage of gunpowder trade
and the rigorous visiting of all suspicious craft
trading in the straits of Macassar. Even the loyal
soul of Lakamba was stirred into a state of inward
discontent by the withdrawal of his license for
powder and by the abrupt confiscation of one
hundred and fifty barrels of that commodity by
the gunboat Princess Amelia^ when, after a hazar-
dous voyage, it had almost reached the mouth of
the river. The unpleasant news was given him by


Almayer's Folly. 67

Reshid, who, after the unsuccessful issue of his
matrimonial projects, had made a long voyage
amongst the islands for trading purposes ; had
bought the powder for his friend, and was over-
hauled and deprived of it on his return when
actually congratulating himself on his acuteness
in avoiding detection. Reshid's wrath was princi-
pally directed against Almayer, whom he suspected
of having notified the Dutch authorities of the
desultory warfare carried on by the Arabs and
the Rajah with the up-river Dyak tribes.

To Reshid's great surprise the Rajah received
his complaints very coldly, and showed no signs
of vengeful disposition towards the white man.
In truth, Lakamba knew very well that Almayer
was perfectly innocent of any meddling in state
affairs ; and besides, his attitude towards that
much persecuted individual was wholly changed
in consequence of a reconciliation effected between
him and his old enemy by Almayer's newly-found
friend, Dain Maroola.

Almayer had now a friend. Shortly after
Reshid's departure on his commercial journey,
Nina, drifting slowly with the tide in the canoe
on her return home after one of her solitary
excursions, heard in one of the small creeks a
splashing, as if of heavy ropes dropping in the
water, and the prolonged song of Malay seamen
when some heavy pulling is to be done. Through
the thick fringe of bushes hiding the mouth of the

68 Almayer^s Folly.

creek she saw the tall spars of some European-
rigged sailing vessel overtopping the summits of
the Nipa palms. A brig was being hauled out of
the small creek into the main stream. The sun
had set, and during the short moments of twilight
Nina saw the brig, aided by the evening breeze
and the flowing tide, head towards Sambir under
her set foresail. The girl turned her canoe out
of the main river into one of the many narrow
channels amongst the wooded islets, and paddled
vigorously over the black and sleepy backwaters
towards Sambir. Her canoe brushed the water-
palms, skirted the short spaces of muddy bank
where sedate alligators looked at her with lazy
unconcern, and, just as darkness was setting in,
shot out into the broad junction of the two main
branches of the river, where the brig was already
at anchor with sails furled, yards squared, and
decks seemingly untenanted by any human being.
Nina had to cross the river and pass pretty close
to the brig in order to reach home on the low
promontory between the two branches of the
Pantai. Up both branches, in the houses built on
the banks and over the water, the lights twinkled
already, reflected in the still waters below. The
hum of voices, the occasional cry of a child, the
rapid and abruptly interrupted roll of a wooden
drum, together with some distant hailing in the
darkness by the returning fishermen, reached her
over the broad expanse of the river. She hesitated

Almayer^s Folly. 69

a little before crossing, the sight of such an unusual
object as an European-rigged vessel causing her
some uneasiness, but the river in its wide expansion
was dark enough to render a small canoe invisible.
She urged her small craft with swift strokes of her
paddle, kneeling in the bottom and bending forward
to catch any suspicious sound while she steered
towards the little jetty of Lingard and Co., to which
the strong light of the paraffin lamp shining on the
whitewashed verandah of Almayer's bungalow
served as a convenient guide. The jetty itself,
under the shadow of the bank overgrown by
drooping bushes, was hidden in darkness. Before
even she could see it she heard the hollow bumping
of a large boat against its rotten posts, and heard
also the murmur of whispered conversation in that
boat whose white paint and great dimensions,
faintly visible on nearer approach, made her rightly
guess that it belonged to the brig just anchored.
Stopping her course by a rapid motion of her
paddle, with another swift stroke she sent it
whirling away from the wharf and steered for a
little rivulet which gave access to the back court-
yard of the house. She landed at the muddy head
of the creek and made her way towards the house
over the trodden grass of the courtyard. To the
left, from the cooking shed, shone a red glare
through the banana plantation she skirted, and the
noise of feminine laughter reached her from there
in the silent evening. She rightly judged her

70 Almayer^s Folly ,

mother was not near, laughter and Mrs. Almayer
not being close neighbours. She must be in the
house, thought Nina, as she ran lightly up the
inclined plane of shaky planks leading to the back
door of the narrow passage dividing the house in
two. Outside the doorway, in the black shadow,
stood the faithful Ali.

" Who is there ? " asked Nina.

" A great Malay man has come," answered Ali,
in a tone of suppressed excitement. " He is a
rich man. There are six men with lances. Real
Soldat, you understand. And his dress is very
brave. I have seen his dress. It shines ! What
jewels ! Don't go there, Mem Nina. Tuan said
not ; but the old Mem is gone. Tuan will be
angry. Merciful Allah! what jewels that man
has got ! "

Nina slipped past the outstretched hand of the
slave into the dark passage where, in the crimson
glow of the hanging curtain, close by its other end,
she could see a small dark form crouching near
the wall. Her mother was feasting her eyes and
ears with what was taking place on the front
verandah, and Nina approached to take her share
in the rare pleasure of some novelty. She was
met by her mother's extended arm and by a low
murmured warning not to make a noise.

" Have you seen them, mother ? " asked Nina, in
a breathless whisper.

Mrs. Almayer turned her face towards the girl,

Almayers Folly, Ji

and her sunken eyes shone strangely in the red
half-light of the passage.

"I saw him," she said, in an almost inaudible
tone, pressing her daughter's hand with her bony
fingers. " A great Rajah has come to Sambir — a
Son of Heaven," muttered the old woman to her-
self " Go away, girl ! "

The two women stood close to the curtain, Nina
wishing to approach the rent in the stuff, and her
mother defending the position with angry obstinacy.
On the other side there was a lull in the con-
versation, but the breathing of several men, the
occasional light tinkling of some ornaments, the
clink of metal scabbards, or of brass siri-vessels
passed from hand to hand, was audible during the
short pause. The women struggled silently, when
there was a shuffling noise and the shadow of
Almayer's burly form fell on the curtain.

The women ceased struggling and remained
motionless. Almayer had stood up to answer his
guest, turning his back to the doorway, unaware of
what was going on on the other side. He spoke
in a tone of regretful irritation.

" You have come to the wrong house, Tuan
Maroola, if you want to trade as you say. I was
a trader once, not now, whatever you may have
heard about me in Macassar. And if you want
anything, you will not find it here ; I have nothing
to give, and want nothing myself. You should go
to the Rajah here ; you can see in the daytime

J 2 Almayer^s Folly,

his houses across the river, there, where those fires
are burning on the shore. He will help you and
trade with you. Or, better still, go to the Arabs
over there," he went on bitterly, pointing with his
hand towards the houses of Sambir. " Abdulla is
the man you want. There is nothing he would
not buy, and there is nothing he would not sell ;
believe me, I know him well."

He waited for an answer a short time, then
added —

" All that I have said is true, and there is
nothing more."

Nina, held back by her mother, heard a soft
voice reply with a calm evenness of intonation
peculiar to the better class Malays —

" Who would doubt a white Tuan's words ? A
man seeks his friends where his heart tells him.
Is this not true also ? I have come, although so
late, for I- have something to say which you may
be glad to hear. To-morrow I will go to the
Sultan ; a trader wants the friendship of great
men. Then I shall return here to speak serious
words, if Tuan permits. I shall not go to the
Arabs ; their lies are very great ! What are they ?
Chelakka ! "

Almayer's voice sounded a little more pleasantly
in reply.

" Well, as you like. I can hear you to-morrow
at any time if you have anything to say. Bah!
After you have seen the Sultan Lakamba you will

Almayer's Folly, 73

not want to return here, Inchi Dain. You will
see. Only mind, I will have nothing to do with
Lakamba. You may tell him so. What is your
business with me, after all } "

" To-morrow we talk, Tuan, now I know you,"
answered the Malay. " I speak English a little,
so we can talk and nobody will understand, and
then "

He interrupted himself suddenly, asking sur-
prised, " What's that noise, Tuan ? "

Almayer had also heard the increasing noise of
the scuffle recommenced on the women's side of
the curtain. Evidently Nina's strong curiosity
was on the point of overcoming Mrs. Almayer's
exalted sense of social proprieties. Hard breathing
was distinctly audible, and the curtain shook
during the contest, which was mainly physical,
although Mrs. Almayer's voice was heard in angry
remonstrance with its usual want of strictly logical
reasoning, but with the well-known richness of

" You shameless woman ! Are you a slave ? "
shouted shrilly the irate matron. " Veil your face,
abandoned wretch ! You white snake, I will not
let you ! "

Almayer's face expressed annoyance and also
doubt as to the advisability of interfering between
mother and daughter. He glanced at his Malay
visitor, who was waiting silently for the end of
the uproar in an attitude of amused expecta-

74 Almayer's Folly,

tion, and waving his hand contemptuously he
murmured —

" It is nothing. Some women."

The Malay nodded his head gravely, and his
face assumed an expression of serene indifference,
as etiquette demanded after such an explanation.
The contest was ended behind the curtain, and
evidently the younger will had its way, for the
rapid shuffle and click of Mrs. Almayer's high-
heeled sandals died away in the distance. The
tranquillised master of the house was going to
resume the conversation when, struck by an un-
expected change in the expression of his guest's
countenance, he turned his head and saw Nina
standing in the doorway.

After Mrs. Almayer's retreat from the field of
battle, Nina, with a contemptuous exclamation,
"It's only a trader," had lifted the conquered
curtain and now stood in full light, framed in the
dark background on the passage, her lips slightly
parted, her hair in disorder after the exertion, the
angry gleam not yet faded out of her glorious and
sparkling eyes. She took in at a glance the group
of white-clad lancemen standing motionless in the
shadow of the far-off end of the verandah, and
her gaze rested curiously on the chief of that
imposing cortege. He stood, almost facing her,
a little on one side, and struck by the beauty of
the unexpected apparition had bent low, elevating
his joint hands above his head in a sign of respect

Almayer's Folly. 75

accorded by Malays only to the great of this earth.
The crude light of the lamp shone on the gold
embroidery of his black silk jacket, broke in
a thousand sparkling rays on the jewelled hilt
of his kriss protruding from under the many folds
of the red sarong gathered into a sash round his
waist, and played on the precious stones of the
many rings on his dark fingers. He straightened
himself up quickly after the low bow, putting his
hand with a graceful ease on the hilt of his heavy
short sword ornamented with brilliantly dyed
fringes of horsehair. Nina, hesitating on the
threshold, saw an erect lithe figure of medium
height with a breadth of shoulder suggesting great
power. Under the folds of a blue turban, whose
fringed ends hung gracefully over the left shoulder,
was a face full of determination and expressing a
reckless good-humour, not devoid, however, of
some dignity. The squareness of lower jaw, the
full red lips, the mobile nostrils, and the proud
carriage of the head gave the impression of a
being half-savage, untamed, perhaps cruel, and
corrected the liquid softness of the almost feminine
eye, that general characteristic of the race. Now,
the first surprise over, Nina saw those eyes fixed
upon her with such an uncontrolled expression
of admiration and desire that she felt a hitherto
unknown feeling of shyness, mixed with alarm and
some delight, enter and penetrate her whole being.
Confused by those unusual sensations she stopped

76 Almayer's Folly,

in the doorway and instinctively drew the lower
part of the curtain across her face, leaving only
half a rounded cheek, a stray tress, and one eye
exposed, wherewith to contemplate the gorgeous
and bold being so unlike in appearance to the
rare specimens of traders she had seen before on
that same verandah.

Dain Maroola, dazzled by the unexpected vision,
forgot the confused Almayer, forgot his brig, his
escort staring in open-mouthed admiration, the
object of his visit and all things else, in his
overpowering desire to prolong the contemplation
of so much loveliness met so suddenly in such an
unlikely place — as he thought.

" It is my daughter," said Almayer, in an
embarrassed manner. " It is of no consequence.
White women have their customs, as you know
Tuan, having travelled much, as you say. How-
ever, it is late ; we will finish our talk to-morrow."

Dain bent low trying to convey in a last glance
towards the girl the bold expression of his over-
whelming admiration. The next minute he was
shaking Almayer's hand with grave courtesy, his
face wearing a look of stolid unconcern as to any
feminine presence. His men filed off, and he
followed them quickly, closely attended by a
thick-set, savage-looking Sumatrese he had in-
troduced before as the commander of his brig.
Nina walked to the balustrade of the verandah
and saw the sheen of moonlight on the steel

Almayer^s Folly, yy

spear-heads and heard the rhythmic jingle of
brass anklets as the men moved in single file
towards the jetty. The boat shoved off after
a little while, looming large in the full light of
the moon, a black shapeless mass in the slight
haze hanging over the water. Nina fancied she
could distinguish the graceful figure of the trader
standing erect in the stern sheets, but in a little
while all the outlines got blurred, confused, and
soon disappeared in the folds of white vapour
shrouding the middle of the river.

Almayer had approached his daughter, and
leaning with both arms over the rail, was looking
moodily down on the heap of rubbish and broken
bottles at the foot of the verandah.

" What was all that noise just now ? " he growled
peevishly, without looking up. " Confound you
and your mother! What did she want? What
did you come out for ? "

" She did not want to let me come out," said
Nina. " She is angry. She says the man just
gone is some Rajah. I think she is right now."

" I believe all you women are crazy," snarled
Almayer. "What's that to you, to her, to any-
body? The man wants to collect trepang and
birds' nests on the islands. He told me so, that
Rajah of yours. He will come to-morrow. I
want you both to keep away from the house, and
let me attend to my business in peace."

Dain Maroola came the next day and had a

78 Almayer's Folly,

long conversation with Almayer. This was the
beginning of a close and friendly intercourse which,
at first, was much remarked in Sambir, till the
population got used to the frequent sight of many
fires burning in Almayer's campong, where
Maroola's men were warming themselves during
the cold nights of the north-east monsoon, while

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