Joseph Conrad.

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

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their master had long conferences with the Tuan
Putih — as they styled Almayer amongst them-
selves. Great was the curiosity in Sambir on
the Subject of the new trader. Had he seen the
Sultan ? What did the Sultan say ? Had he
given any presents ? What would he sell ? What
would he buy ? Those were the questions broached
eagerly by the inhabitants of bamboo houses
built over the river. Even in more substantial
buildings, in Abdulla's house, in the residences
of principal traders, Arab, Chinese, and Bugis, the
excitement ran high, and lasted many days.
With inborn suspicion they would not believe the
simple account of himself the young trader was
always ready to give. Yet it had all the appear-
ance of truth. He said he was a trader, and sold
rice. He did not want to buy gutta-percha or
beeswax, because he intended to employ his
numerous crew in collecting trepang on the coral
reefs outside the river, and also in seeking for bird's
nests on the mainland. Those two articles he
professed himself ready to buy if there were any
to be obtained in that way. He said he was from

Almayer*^ Folly, 79

Bali, and a Brahmin, which last statement he
made good by refusing all food during his often
repeated visits to Lakamba's and Almayer's
houses. To Lakamba he went generally at night
and had long audiences. Babalatchi, who was
always a third party at those meetings of potentate
and trader, knew how to resist all attempts on the
part of the curious to ascertain the subject of so
many long talks. When questioned with languid
courtesy by the grave Abdulla he sought refuge
in a vacant stare of his one eye, and in the affecta-
tion of extreme simplicity.

" I am only my master's slave," murmured
Babalatchi, in a hesitating manner. Then as if
making up his mind suddenly for a reckless con-
fidence he would inform Abdulla of some transac-
tion in rice, repeating the words, " A hundred big
bags the Sultan bought ; a hundred, Tuan ! " in a
tone of mysterious solemnity. Abdulla, firmly
persuaded of the existence ot some more important
dealings, received, however, the information with
all the signs of respectful astonishment. And the
two would separate, the Arab cursing inwardly
the wily dog, while Babalatchi went on his way
walking on the dusty path, his body swaying, his
chin with its few grey hairs pushed forward, re-
sembling an inquisitive goat bent on some unlawful
expedition. Attentive eyes watched his move-
ments. Jim-Eng, descrying Babalatchi far away,
would shake off the stupor of an habitual opium

8o Almayer's Folly,

smoker and, tottering on to the middle of the
road, would await the approach of that important
person, ready with hospitable invitation. But
Babalatchi's discretion was proof even against the
combined assaults of good fellowship and of
strong gin generously administered by the open-
hearted Chinaman. Jim-Eng, owning himself
beaten, was left uninformed with the empty bottle,
and gazed sadly after the departing form of the
statesman of Sambir pursuing his devious and
unsteady way, which, as usual, led him to Almayer's
compound. Ever since a reconciliation had been
effected by Dain Maroola between his white
friend and the Rajah, the one-eyed diplomatist
had again become a frequent guest in the Dutch-
man's house. To Almayer's great disgust he was
to be seen there at all times, strolling about in an
abstracted kind of way on the verandah, skulking
in the passages, or else popping round unexpected
corners, always willing to engage Mrs. Almayer in
confidential conversation. He was very shy of
the master himself, as if suspicious that the pent-up
feelings of the white man towards his person might
find vent in a sudden kick. But the cooking shed
was his favourite place, and he became an habitual
guest there, squatting for hours amongst the
busy women, with his chin resting on his knees,
his lean arms clasped round his legs, and his one
eye roving uneasily — the very picture of watchful
ugliness. Almayer wanted more than once to

Almayers Folly, 8i

complain to Lakamba of his Prime Minister's
intrusion, but Dain dissuaded him. " We cannot
say a word here that he does not hear," growled

" Then come and talk on board the brig," retorted
Dain, with a quiet smile. " It is good to let the man
come here. Lakamba thinks he knows much.
Perhaps the Sultan thinks I want to run away.
Better let the one-eyed crocodile sun himself in
your campong, Tuan."

And Almayer assented unwillingly muttering
vague threats of personal violence, while he eyed
malevolently the aged statesman sitting with quiet
obstinacy by his domestic rice-pot.


At last the excitement had died out in Sambir.
The inhabitants got used to the sight of comings
and goings between Almayer's house and the
vessel, now moored to the opposite bank, and
speculation as to the feverish activity displayed
by Almayer's boatmen in repairing old canoes
ceased to interfere with the due discharge of
domestic duties by the women of the Settlement
Even the baffled Jim-Eng left off troubling his
muddled brain with secrets of trade, and relapsed
by the aid of his opium pipe into a state of
stupefied bliss, letting Babalatchi pursue his way
past his house uninvited and seemingly unnoticed.
So on that warm afternoon, when the deserted
river sparkled under the vertical sun, the statesman
of Sambir could, without any hindrance from
friendly inquirers, shove off his little canoe from
under the bushes, where it was usually hidden
during his visits to Almayer's compound. Slowly
and languidly Babalatchi paddled, crouching low

in the boat, making himself small under his


Almayer^s Folly. 83

enormous sun hat to escape the scorching heat
reflected from the water. He was not in a hurry ;
his master, Lakamba, was surely reposing at this,
time of the day. He would have ample time to
cross over and greet him on his waking with
important news. Will he be displeased ? Will
he strike his ebony wood staff angrily on the floor,
frightening him by the incoherent violence of his
exclamations ; or will he squat down with a good-
humoured smile, and, rubbing his hands gently
over his stomach with a familiar gesture, ex-
pectorate copiously into the brass siri-vessel, giving
vent to a low, approbative murmur ? Such were
Babalatchi's thoughts as he skilfully handled his
paddle, crossing the river on his way to the Rajah's
campong, whose stockades showed from behind
the dense foliage of the bank just opposite to
Almayer's bungalow.

Indeed, he had a report to make. Something
certain at last to confirm the daily tale of sus-
picions, the daily hints of familiarity, of stolen
glances he had seen, of short and burning words
he had overheard exchanged between Dain Maroola
and Almayer's daughter. Lakamba had, till
then, listened to it all, calmly and with evident
distrust ; now he was going to be convinced, for
Babalatchi had the proof; had it this very morn-
ing, when fishing at break of day in the creek
over which stood Bulangi's house. There from
his skiff he saw Nina's long canoe drift past, the

84 Almayers Folly,

girl sitting in the stern bending over Dain, who
was stretched in the bottom with his head resting
on the girl's knees. He saw it. He followed
them, but in a short time they took to the paddles
and got away from under his observant eye. A
few minutes afterwards he saw Bulangi's slave-
girl paddling in a small dug-out to the town with
her cakes for sale. She also had seen them in
the grey dawn. And Babalatchi grinned con-
fidentially to himself at the recollection of the
slave-girl's discomposed face, of the hard look in
her eyes, of the tremble in her voice, when
answering his questions. That little Taminah
evidently admired Dain Maroola. That was good!
And Babalatchi laughed aloud at the notion ;
then becoming suddenly serious, he began by
some strange association of ideas to speculate
upon the price for which Bulangi would, possibly,
sell the girl. He shook his head sadly at the
thought that Bulangi was a hard man, and had
refused one hundred dollars for that same Taminah
only a few weeks ago ; then he became suddenly
aware that the canoe had drifted too far down
during his meditation. He shook off the despon-
dency caused by the certitude of Bulangi's mer-
cenary disposition, and, taking up his paddle, in a
few strokes sheered alongside the water-gate of the
Rajah's house.

That afternoon Almayer, as was his wont
lately, moved about on the water-side, over-

Almayers Folly, 85

looking the repairs to his boats. He had decided
at last. Guided by the scraps of information
contained in old Lingard's pocket-book, he was
going to seek for the rich gold-mine, for that
place where he had only to stoop to gather up^an
immense fortune and realise the dream of his
young days. To obtain the necessary help he
had shared his knowledge with Dain Maroola, he
had consented to be reconciled with Lakamba,
who gave his support to the enterprise on condition
of sharing the profits ; he had sacrificed his pride,
his honour, and his loyalty in the face of the
enormous risk of his undertaking, dazzled by the
greatness of the results to be achieved by this
alliance so distasteful yet so necessary. The
dangers were great, but Maroola was brave ; his
men seemed as reckless as their chief, and with
Lakamba's aid success seemed assured.

For the last fortnight Almayer was absorbed in
the preparations, walking amongst his workmen
and slaves in a kind of waking trance, where
practical details as to the fitting out of the boats
were mixed up with vivid dreams of untold wealth,
where the present misery of burning sun, of the
muddy and malodorous river bank disappeared in
a gorgeous vision of a splendid future existence for
himself and Nina. He hardly saw Nina during
these last days, although the beloved daughter was
ever present in his thoughts. He hardly took
notice of Dain, whose constant presence in his

86 Almayers Folly,

house had become a matter of course to him now
they were connected by a community of interests.
When meeting the young chief he gave him an
absent greeting and passed on, seemingly wishing
to avoid him, bent upon forgetting the hated
reality of the present by absorbing himself in his
work, or else by letting his imagination soar far
above the tree-tops into the great white clouds
away to the westward, where the paradise of
Europe was awaiting the future Eastern million-
aire. And Maroola, now the bargain was struck
and there was no more business to be talked over,
evidently did not care for the white man's company.
Yet Dain was always about the house, but he
seldom stayed long by the riverside. On his daily
visits to the white man the Malay chief preferred
to make his way quietly through the central
passage of the house, and would come out into
the garden at the back, where the fire was burning
in the cooking shed, with the rice kettle swinging
over it, under the watchful supervision of Mrs.
Almayer. Avoiding that shed, with its black
smoke and the warbling of soft, feminine voices,
Dain would turn to the left. There, on the edge
of a banana plantation, a clump of palms and
mango trees formed a shady spot, a few scattered
bushes giving it a certain seclusion into which only
the serving women's chatter or an occasional burst
of laughter could penetrate. Once in, he was in-
visible ; and hidden there, leaning against the

Almayer^s Folly, 87

smooth trunk of a tall palm, he waited with
gleaming eyes and an assured smile to hear the
faint rustle of dried grass under the light footsteps
of Nina.

From the very first moment when his eyes
beheld this — to him — perfection of loveliness he
felt in his inmost heart the conviction that she
would be his ; he felt the subtle breath of mutual
understanding passing between their two savage
natures, and he did not want Mrs. Almayer's
encouraging smiles to take every opportunity of
approaching the girl ; and every time he spoke
to her, every time he looked into her eyes, Nina,
although averting her face, felt as if this bold-
looking being who spoke burning words into her
willing ear was the embodiment of her fate, the
creature of her dreams — reckless, ferocious, ready
with flashing kriss for his enemies, and with
passionate embrace for his beloved — the ideal
Malay chief of her mother's tradition.

She recognised with a thrill of delicious fear the
mysterious consciousness of her identity with that
being. Listening to his words, it seemed to her
she was born only then to a knowledge of a new
existence, that her life was complete only when
near him, and she abandoned herself to a feeling
of dreamy happiness, while with half-veiled face
and in silence — as became a Malay girl — she
listened to Dain's words giving up to her the
whole treasure of love and passion his nature was

88 Almayer's Folly.

capable of with all the unrestrained enthusiasm of
a man totally untrammelled by any influence of
civilised self-discipline.

And they used to pass many a delicious and fast
fleeting hour under the mango trees behind the
friendly curtain of bushes till Mrs. Almayer's shrill
voice gave the signal of unwilling separation. Mrs.
Almayer had undertaken the easy task of watching
her husband lest he should interrupt the smooth
course of her daughter's love affair, in which she
took a great and benignant interest. She was
happy and proud to see Dain's infatuation, be-
lieving him to be a great and powerful chief, and
she found also a gratification of her mercenary
instincts in Dain's open-handed generosity.

On the eve of the day when Babalatchi's sus-
picions were confirmed by ocular demonstration,
Dain and Nina had remained longer than usual
in their shady retreat. Only Almayer's heavy
step on the verandah and his querulous clamour
for food decided Mrs. Almayer to lift a warning
cry. Maroola leaped lightly over the low bamboo
fence, and made his way stealthily through the
banana plantation down to the muddy shore of
the back creek, while Nina walked slowly towards
the house to minister to her father's wants, as was
her wont every evening. Almayer felt happy
enough that evening ; the preparations were nearly
completed ; to-morrow he would launch his boats.
In his mind's eye he saw the rich prize in his

Almayers Folly, 89

grasp ; and, with tin spoon in his hand, he was
forgetting the plateful of rice before him in the
fanciful arrangement of some splendid banquet to
take place on his arrival in Amsterdam. Nina,
reclining in the long chair, listened absently to the
few disconnected words escaping from her father's
lips. Expedition ! Gold ! What did she care for
all that ? But at the name of Maroola mentioned
by her father she was all attention. Dain was
going down the river with his brig to-morrow to
remain away for a few days, said Almayer. It
was very annoying, this delay. As soon as Dain
returned they would have to start without loss of
time, for the river was rising. He would not be
surprised if a great flood was coming. And he
pushed away his plate with an impatient gesture
on rising from the table. But now Nina heard
him not. Dain going away ! That's why he had
ordered her, with that quiet masterfulness it was
her delight to obey, to meet him at break of day
in Bulangi's creek. Was there a paddle in her
canoe? she thought. Was it ready? She would
have to start early — at four in the morning, in a
very few hours.

She rose from her chair, thinking she would
require rest before the long pull in the early
morning. The lamp was burning dimly, and her
father, tired with the day's labour, was already in
his hammock. Nina put the lamp out and passed
into a large room she shared with her mother on

90 Ahnayer^s Folly,

the left of the central passage. Entering, she saw
that Mrs. Almayer had deserted the pile of mats
serving her as bed in one corner of the room,
and was now bending over the opened lid of her
large wooden chest. Half a shell of cocoanut filled
with oil, where a cotton rag floated for a wick,
stood on the floor, surrounding her with a ruddy-
halo of light shining through the black and odorous
smoke. Mrs. Almayer's back was bent, and her
head and shoulders hidden in the deep box. Her
hands rummaged in the interior, where a soft
clink as of silver money could be heard. She
did not notice at first her daughter's approach, and
Nina, standing silently by her, looked down on
many little canvas bags ranged in the bottom of the
chest, wherefrom her mother extracted handfuls of
shining guilders and Mexican dollars, letting them
stream slowly back again through her claw-like
fingers. The music of tinkling silver seemed to
delight her, and her eyes sparkled with the reflected
gleam of freshly-minted coins. She was muttering
to herself: "And this, and this, and yet this!
Soon he will give more — as much more as I ask.
He is a great Rajah — a Son of Heaven ! And she
will be a Ranee — he gave all this for her ! Who
ever gave anything for me ? I am a slave ! Am
I ? I am the mother of a great Ranee ! " She
became aware suddenly of her daughter's presence,
and ceased her droning, shutting the lid down
V iolently ; then, without rising from her crouching

Almayers Folly, 91

position, she looked up at the girl standing by
with a vague smile on her dreamy face.

"You have seen. Have you?" she shouted,
shrilly. " That is all mine, and for you. It is
not enough ! He will have to give more before
he takes you away to the southern island where
his father is king. You hear me ? You are worth
more, granddaughter of Rajahs ! More ! More ! "

The sleepy voice of Almayer was heard on the
verandah recommending silence. Mrs. Almayer
extinguished the light and crept into her corner
of the room. Nina laid down on her back on a
pile of soft mats, her hands entwined under her
head, gazing through the shutterless hole, serving
as a window,'_at the stars twinkling on the black
sky ; she was awaiting the time of start for her
appointed meeting-place. With quiet happiness
she thought of that meeting in the great forest,
far from all human eyes and sounds. Her soul,
lapsing again into the savage mood, which the
genius of civilisation working by the hand of Mrs.
Vinck could never destroy, experienced a feeling
of pride and of some slight trouble at the high
value her worldly-wise mother had put upon her
person ; but she remembered the expressive glances
and words of Dain, and, tranquillised, she closed
her eyes in a shiver of pleasant anticipation.

There are some situations where the barbarian
and the, so-called, civilised man meet upon the
same ground. It may be supposed that Dain

92 Almayers Folly,

Maroola was not exceptionally delighted with his
prospective mother-in-law, nor that he actually-
approved of that worthy woman's appetite for
shining dollars. Yet on that foggy morning when
Babalatchi, laying aside the cares of state, went to
visit his fish-baskets in the Bulangi creek, Maroola
had no misgivings, experienced no feelings but
those of impatience and longing, when paddling
to the east side of the island forming the back-
water in question. He hid his canoe in the bushes
and strode rapidly across the islet, pushing with
impatience through the twigs of heavy undergrowth
intercrossed over his path. From motives of pru-
dence he would not take his canoe to the meeting-
place, as Nina had done. He had left it in the
main stream till his return from the other side of
the island. The heavy warm fog was closing
rapidly round him, but he managed to catch a
fleeting glimpse of a light away to the left,
proceeding from Bulangi's house. Then he could
see nothing in the thickening vapour, and kept to
the path only by a sort of instinct, which also led
him to the very point on the opposite shore he
wished to reach. A great log had stranded there,
at right angles to the bank, forming a kind of jetty
against which the swiftly flowing stream broke
with a loud ripple. He stepped on it with a quick
but steady motion, and in two strides found himself
at the outer end, with the rush and swirl of the
foaming water at his feet.

Almayer's Folly. 93

Standing there~alone, as if separated from the
world ; the heavens, earth ; the very water roaring
under him swallowed up in the thick veil of the
morning fog, he breathed out the name of Nina
before him into the apparently limitless space, sure
of being heard, instinctively sure of the nearness
of the delightful creature ; certain of her being
aware of his near presence as he was aware of

The bow of Nina's canoe loomed up close to the
log, canted high out of the water by the weight of the
sitter in the stern. Maroola laid his hand on the stem
and leaped lightly in, giving it a vigorous shove off.
The light craft, obeying the new impulse, cleared
the log by a hair's breadth, and the river, with
obedient complicity, swung it broadside to the
current, and bore it off silently and rapidly between
the invisible banks. And once more Dain, at the
feet of Nina, forgot the world, felt himself carried
away helpless by a great wave of supreme emotion,
by a rush of joy, pride, and desire ; understood
once more with overpowering certitude that there
was no life possible without that being he held
clasped in his arms with passionate strength in a
prolonged embrace.

Nina disengaged herself gently with a low

"You will overturn the boat, Dain," she

He looked into her eyes eagerly for a minute

94 Almayer's Folly,

and let her go with a sigh, then lying down in the
canoe he put his head on her knees, gazing upwards
and stretching his arms backwards till his hands
met round the girl's waist. She bent over him,
and, shaking her head, framed both their faces in
the falling locks of her long black hair.

And so they drifted on, he speaking with all
the rude eloquence of a savage nature giving itself
up without restraint to an overmastering passion,
she bending low to catch the murmur of words
sweeter to her than life itself To those two
nothing existed then outside the gunwales of the
narrow and fragile craft. It was their world, filled
with their intense and all-absorbing love. They
took no heed of thickening mist, or of the breeze
dying away before sunrise ; they forgot the exist-
ence of the great forests surrounding them, of all
the tropical nature awaiting the advent of the sun
in a solemn and impressive silence.

Over the low river-mist hiding the boat with its
freight of young passionate life and all-forgetful
happiness, the stars paled, and a silvery-grey tint
crept over the sky from the eastward. There was
not a breath of wind, not a rustle of stirring leaf,
not a splash of leaping fish to disturb the serene
repose of all living things on the banks of the
great river. Earth, river, and sky were wrapped up
in a deep sleep, from which it seemed there would
be no waking. All the seething life and movement
of tropical nature seemed concentrated in the

Almayers Folly, 95

ardent eyes, in the tumultuously beating hearts of
the two beings drifting in the canoe, under the
white canopy of mist, over the smooth surface of
the river.

Suddenly a great sheaf of yellow rays shot
upwards from behind the black curtain of trees
lining the banks of the Pantai. The stars went
out ; the little black clouds at the zenith glowed
for a moment with crimson tints, and the thick
mist, stirred by the gentle breeze, the sigh of
waking nature, whirled round and broke into
fantastically torn pieces, disclosing the wrinkled
surface of the river sparkling in the broad light of
day. Great flocks of white birds wheeled scream-
ing above the swaying tree-tops. The sun had
risen on the east coast.

Dain was the first to return to the cares of
everyday life. He rose and glanced rapidly up
and down the river. His eye detected Babalatchi's
boat astern, and another small black speck on the
glittering water, which was Taminah's canoe. He
moved cautiously forward, and, kneeling, took up
a paddle ; Nina at the stern took hers. They bent
their bodies to the work, throwing up the water at
every stroke, and the small craft went swiftly
ahead, leaving a narrow wake fringed with a lace-
like border of white and gleaming foam. Without
turning his head, Dain spoke.

" Somebody behind us, Nina. We mUst not let
him gain. I think he is too far to recognise us."

96 Almayers Folly.

" Somebody before us also," panted out Nina,
without ceasing to paddle.

" I think I know," rejoined Dain. " The sun
shines over there, but I fancy it is the girl

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Online LibraryJoseph ConradAlmayer's folly : a story of an eastern river → online text (page 5 of 15)