Joseph Conrad.

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

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Taminah. She comes down every morning to my
brig to sell cakes — stays often all day. It does
not matter ; steer more into the bank ; we must
get under the bushes. My canoe is hidden not far
from here."

As he spoke his eyes watched the broad-leaved
nipas which they were brushing in their swift and
silent course.

" Look out, Nina," he said at last ; " there, where
the water palms end and the twigs hang down
under the leaning tree. Steer for the big green

He stood up attentive, and the boat drifted
slowly in shore, Nina guiding it by a gentle and
skilful movement of her paddle. When near
enough Dain laid hold of the big branch, and
leaning back shot the canoe under a low green
archway of thickly matted creepers giving access
to a miniature bay formed by the caving in of the
bank during the last great flood. His own boat
was there anchored by a stone, and he stepped
into it, keeping his hand on the gunwale of Nina's
canoe. In a moment the two little nutshells with
their occupants floated quietly side by side,
reflected by the black water in the dim light
struggling through a high canopy of dense foliage ;

Almayers Folly, 97

while above, away up in the broad day, flamed
immense red blossoms sending down on their
heads a shower of great dew-sparkling petals that
descended rotating slowly in a continuous and
perfumed stream ; and over them, under them, in
the sleeping water ; all around them in a ring of
luxuriant vegetation bathed in the warm air
charged with strong and harsh perfumes, the
intense work of tropical nature went on : plants
shooting upward, entwined, interlaced in inextri-
cable confusion, climbing madly and brutally over
each other in the terrible silence of a desperate
struggle towards the life-giving sunshine above — as
if struck with sudden horror at the seething mass
of corruption below, at the death and decay from
which they sprang.

" We must part now," said Dain, after a long
silence. "You must return -at once, Nina. I will
wait till the brig drifts down here, and shall get on
board then."

" And will you be long away, Dain } " asked
Nina, in a low voice.

" Long ! " exclaimed Dain. " Would a man
willingly remain long in a dark place ? When I
am not near you, Nina, I am like a man that is
blind. What is life to me without light } "

Nina leaned over, and with a proud and happy
smile took Dain's face between her hands, looking
into his eyes with a fond yet questioning gaze.
Apparently she found there the confirmation of


98 Almayer's Folly.

the words just said, for a feeling of grateful
security lightened for her the weight of sorrow at
the hour of parting. She believed that he, the
descendant of many great Rajahs, the son of a
great chief, the master of life and death, knew the
sunshine of life only in her presence. An immense
wave of gratitude and love welled forth out of her
heart towards him. How could she make an out-
ward and visible sign of all she felt for the man
who had filled her heart with so much joy and so
much pride ? And in the great tumult of passion,
like a flash of lightning came to her the remi-
niscence of that despised and almost forgotten
civilisation she had only glanced at in her days
of restraint, of sorrow, and of anger. In the
cold ashes of that hateful and miserable past she
would find the sign of love, the fitting expression
of the boundless felicity of the present, the pledge
of a bright and splendid future. She threw her
arms around Dain's neck and pressed her lips to
his in a long and burning kiss. He closed his
eyes, surprised and frightened at the storm raised
in his breast by the strange and to him hitherto
unknown contact, and long after Nina had pushed
her canoe into the river he remained motionless,
without daring to open his eyes, afraid to lose the
sensation of intoxicating delight he had tasted for
the first time.

Now he wanted but immortality, he thought, to
be the equal of gods, and the creature that could

Almayer^s Folly. 99

open so the gates of paradise must be his — soon
would be his for ever !

He opened his eyes in time to see through the
archway of creepers the bows of his brig come
slowly into view, as the vessel drifted past on its
way down the river. He must go on board now,
he thought ; yet he was loth to leave the place
where he had learned to know what happiness
meant. " Time yet. Let them go," he muttered
to himself; and he closed his eyes again under the
red shower of scented petals, trying to recall the
scene with all its delight and all its fear.

He must have been able to join his brig in time,
after all, and found much occupation outside, for it
was in vain that Almayer looked for his friend's
speedy return. The lower reach of the river where
he so often and so impatiently directed his eyes
remained deserted, save for the rapid flitting of
some fishing canoe ; but down the upper reaches
came black clouds and heavy showers heralding
the final setting in of the rainy season with its
thunderstorms and great floods making the river
almost impossible of ascent for native canoes.

Almayer, strolling along the muddy beach be-
tween his houses, watched uneasily the river rising
inch by inch, creeping slowly nearer to the boats,
now ready and hauled up in a row under the cover
of dripping Kajang-mats. Fortune seemed to elude
his grasp, and in his weary tramp backwards and
forwards under the steady rain falling from the

loo Almayers 'Folly,

lowering sky, a sort of despairing indifference took
possession of him. What did it matter? It was
just his luck ! Those two infernal savages,
Lakamba and Dain, induced him, with their
promises of help, to spend his last dollar in the
fitting out of boats, and now one of them was
gone somewhere, and the other shut up in his
stockade would give no sign of life. No, not
even the scoundrelly Babalatchi, thought Almayer,
would show his face near him, now they had sold
him all the rice, brass gongs, and cloth necessary
for his expedition. They had his very last coin,
and did not care whether he went or stayed. And
with a gesture of abandoned discouragement
Almayer would climb up slowly to the verandah
of his new house to get out of the rain, and leaning
on the front rail with his head sunk between his
shoulders he would abandon himself to the current
of bitter thoughts, oblivious of the flight of time
and the pangs of hunger, deaf to the shrill cries
of his wife calling him to the evening meal. When,
roused from his sad meditations by the first roll
of the evening thunderstorm, he stumbled slowly
towards the glimmering light of his old house, his
half-dead hope made his ears preternaturally acute
to any sound on the river. Several nights in suc-
cession he had heard the splash of paddles and had
seen the indistinct form of a boat, but when hailing
the shadowy apparition, his heart bounding with
sudden hope of hearing Dain's voice, he was

Almayers Folly, loi

disappointed each time by the sulky answer
conveying to him the inteUigence that the Arabs
were on the river, bound on a visit to the home-
staying Lakamba. This caused him many sleep-
less nights, spent in speculating upon the kind of
villainy those estimable personages were hatching
now. At last, when all hope seemed dead, he was
overjoyed on hearing Dain's voice ; but Dain also
appeared very anxious to see Lakamba, and
Almayer felt uneasy owing to a deep and inera-
dicable distrust as to that ruler's disposition
towards himself. Still, Dain had returned at
last. Evidently he meant to keep to his bargain.
Hope revived, and that night Almayer slept
soundly, while Nina watched the angry river
under the lash of the thunderstorm sweeping
onward towards the sea.


Dain was not long in crossing the river after
leaving Almayer. He landed at the water-gate of
the stockade enclosing the group of houses which
composed the residence of the Rajah of Sambir.
Evidently somebody was expected there, for the
gate was open, and men with torches were ready to
precede the visitor up the inclined plane of planks
leading to the largest house where Lakamba actu-
ally resided, and where all the business of state
was invariably transacted. The other buildings
within the enclosure served only to accommodate
the numerous household and the wives of the ruler.

Lakamba's own house was a strong structure of
solid planks, raised on high piles, with a verandah
of split bamboos surrounding it on all sides ; the
whole was covered in by an immensely high-
pitched roof of palm-leaves, resting on beams
blackened by the smoke of many torches.

The building stood parallel to the river, one of
its long sides facing the water-gate of the stockade.
There was a door in the short side looking up the

Almayer^s Folly, 103

river, and the inclined plank-way led straight from
the gate to that door. By the uncertain light of
smoky torches, Dain noticed the vague outlines of
a group of armed men in the dark shadows to his
right. From that group Babalatchi stepped for-
ward to open the door, and Dain entered the
audience chamber of the Rajah's residence. About
one-third of the house was curtained off, by heavy
stuff of European manufacture, for that purpose ;
close to the curtain there was a big arm-chair of
some black wood, much carved, and before it a
rough deal table. Otherwise the room was only
furnished with mats in great profusion. To the
left of the entrance stood a rude arm-rack, with
three rifles with fixed bayonets in it. By the wall,
in the shadow, the body-guard of Lakamba — all
friends or relations — slept in a confused heap of
brown arms, legs, and multi-coloured garments,
from whence issued an occasional snore or a sub-
dued groan of some uneasy sleeper. An European
lamp with a green shade standing on the table
made all this indistinctly visible to Dain.

" You are welcome to your rest here," said
Babalatchi, looking at Dain interrogatively.

" I must speak to the Rajah at once," answered

Babalatchi made a gesture of assent, and, turning
to the brass gong suspended under the arm-rack,
struck two sharp blows.

The ear-splitting din woke up the guard. The

I04 Almayer's Folly,

snores ceased ; outstretched legs were drawn in ;
the whole heap moved, and slowly resolved itself
into individual forms, with much yawning and
rubbing of sleepy eyes ; behind the curtains there
was a burst of feminine chatter ; then the bass
voice of Lakamba was heard.

" Is that the Arab trader ? "

" No, Tuan," answered Babalatchi ; " Dain has
returned at last. He is here for an important talk,
bitcharra — if you mercifully consent."

Evidently Lakamba's mercy went so far — for in
a short while he came out from behind the curtain —
but it did not go to the length of inducing him to
make an extensive toilet. A short red sarong
tightened hastily round his hips was his only
garment. The merciful ruler of Sambir looked
sleepy and rather sulky. He sat in the arm-chair,
his knees well apart, his elbows on the arm-rests,
his chin on his breast, breathing heavily and wait-
ing malevolently for Dain to open the important

But Dain did not seem anxious to begin. He
directed his gaze towards Babalatchi, squatting
comfortably at the feet of his master, and remained
silent with a slightly bent head as if in attentive
expectation of coming words of wisdom.

Babalatchi coughed discreetly, and, leaning for-
ward, pushed over a few mats for Dain to sit upon,
then lifting up his squeaky voice he assured him
with eager volubility of everybody's delight at this

Almayers Folly ^ 105

long-looked-for return. His heart had hungered for
the sight of Dain's face, and his ears were wither-
ing for the want of the refreshing sound of his
voice. Everybody's hearts and ears were in the
same sad predicament, according to Babalatchi, as
he indicated with a sweeping gesture the other
bank of the river where the settlement slumbered
peacefully, unconscious of the great joy awaiting it
on the morrow when Dain's presence amongst them
would be disclosed. "For" — went on Babalatchi —
"what is the joy of a poor man if not the open hand
of a generous trader or of a great "

Here he checked himself abruptly with a calcu-
lated embarrassment of manner, and his roving
eye sought the floor, while an apologetic smile dwelt
for a moment on his misshapen lips. Once or
twice during this opening speech an amused ex-
pression flitted across Dain's face, soon to give way,
however, to an appearance of grave concern. On
Lakamba's brow a heavy frown had settled, and
his lips moved angrily as he listened to his Prime
Minister's oratory. In the silence that fell upon
the room when Babalatchi ceased speaking arose a
chorus of varied snores from the corner where the
body-guard had resumed their interrupted slumbers,
but the distant rumble of thunder filling then Nina's
heart with apprehension for the safety of her lover
passed unheeded by those three men intent each on
their own purposes, for life or death.

After a short silence, Babalatchi, discarding now

io6 Almayers Folly,

the flowers of polite eloquence, spoke again, but in
short and hurried sentences and in a low voice.
They had been very uneasy. Why did Dain
remain so long absent? The men dwelling on
the lower reaches of the river heard the reports of
big guns and saw a fire-ship of the Dutch amongst
the islands of the estuary. So they were anxious.
Rumours of a disaster had reached Abdulla a few
days ago, and since then they had been waiting for
Dain's return under the apprehension of some mis-
fortune. For days they had closed their eyes in
fear, and woke up alarmed, and walked abroad
trembling, like men before an enemy. And all on
account of Dain. Would he not allay their fears
for his safety, not for themselves? They were quiet
and faithful, and devoted to the great Rajah in
Batavia — may his fate lead him ever to victory for
the joy and profit of his servants ! " And here,"
went on Babalatchi, " Lakamba my master was
getting thin in his anxiety for the trader he had
taken under his protection ; and so was Abdulla, for
what would wicked men not say if perchance "

" Be silent, fool ! " growled Lakamba, angrily.

Babalatchi subsided into silence with a satisfied
smile, while Dain, who had been watching him as
if fascinated, turned with a sigh of relief towards
the ruler of Sambir. Lakamba did not move,
and, without raising his head, looked at Dain from
under his eyebrows, breathing audibly, with pouted
lips, in an air of general discontent.

Almayers Folly, 107

" Speak ! O Dain ! " he said at last. " We have
heard many rumours. Many nights in succession
has my friend Reshid come here with bad tidings.
News travels fast along the coast. But they may
be untrue ; there are more lies in men's mouths in
these days than when I was young, but I am not
easier to deceive now."

" All my words are true," said Dain, carelessly.
"If you want to know what befell my brig, then
learn that it is in the hands of the Dutch. Believe
me, Rajah," he went on, with sudden energy, " the
Orang Blanda have good friends in Sambir, or else
how did they know I was coming thence ? "

Lakamba gave Dain a short and hostile glance.
Babalatchi rose quietly, and, going to the arm-
rack, struck the gong violently.

Outside the door there was a shuffle of bare
feet ; inside, the guard woke up and sat staring in
sleepy surprise.

" Yes, you faithful friend of the white Rajah,"
went on Dain, scornfully, turning to Babalatchi,
who had returned to his place, " I have escaped,
and I am here to gladden your heart. When I
saw the Dutch ship I ran the brig inside the reefs
and put her ashore. They did not dare to follow
with the ship, so they sent the boats. We took to
ours and tried to get away, but the ship dropped
fireballs at us, and killed many of my men. But
I am left, O Babalatchi ! The Dutch are coming
here. They are seeking for me. They are coming

io8 Almayers Folly.

to ask their faithful friend Lakamba and his slave
Babalatchi. Rejoice ! "

But neither of his hearers appeared to be in a
joyful mood. Lakamba had put one leg over his
knee, and went on gently scratching it with a
meditative air, while Babalatchi, sitting cross-
legged, seemed suddenly to become smaller and
very limp, staring straight before him vacantly.
The guard evinced some interest in -the proceed-
ings, stretching themselves full length on the mats
to be nearer the speaker. One of them got up
and now stood leaning against the arm-rack, play-
ing absently with the fringes of his sword-hilt.

Dain waited till the crash of thunder had died
away in distant mutterings before he spoke again.
" Are you dumb, O ruler of Sambir, or is the
son of a great Rajah unworthy of your notice ? I
am come here to seek refuge and to warn you,
and want to know what you intend doing."

"You came here because of the white man's
daughter," retorted Lakamba, quickly. " Your
refuge was with your father, the Rajah of Bali,
the Son of Heaven, the *Anak Agong' himself
What am I to protect great princes ? Only yester-
day I planted rice in a burnt clearing ; to-day you
say I hold your life in my hand."

Babalatchi glanced at his master. "No man
can escape his fate," he murmured piously. " When
love enters a man's heart he is like a child — with-
out any understanding. Be merciful, Lakamba,"

Almayer's Folly, 109

he added, twitching the corner of the Rajah's
sarong warningly.

Lakamba snatched away the skirt of the sarong
angrily. Under the dawning comprehension of
intolerable embarrassments caused by Dain's re-
turn to Sambir he began to lose such composure
as he had been, till then, able to maintain ; and
now he raised his voice loudly above the whistling
of the wind and the patter of rain on the roof in
the hard squall passing over the house.

" You came here first as a trader with sweet
words and great promises, asking me to look the
other way while you worked your will on the white
man there. And I did. What do you want now?
When I was young I fought. Now I am old, and
want peace. It is easier for me to have you killed
than to fight the Dutch. It is better for me."

The squall had now passed, and, in the short
stillness of the lull in the storm, Lakamba re-
peated softly, as if to himself, " Much easier.
Much better."

Dain did not seem greatly discomposed by the
Rajah's threatening words. While Lakamba was
speaking he had glanced once rapidly over his
shoulder, just to make sure that there was nobody
behind him, and, tranquillised in that respect, he
had extracted a siri-box out of the folds of his
waist-cloth, and was wrapping carefully the little
bit of betel-nut and a small pinch of lime in the
green leaf tendered him politely by the watchful

1 1 o Almayer^s Folly.

Babalatchi. He accepted this as a peace-offering
from the silent statesman — a kind of mute protest
against his master's undiplomatic violence, and as
an omen of a possible understanding to be arrived
at yet. Otherwise Dain was not uneasy. Although
recognising the justice of Lakamba's surmise that
he had come back to Sambir only for the sake of
the white man's daughter, yet he was not conscious
of any childish lack of understanding, as suggested
by Babalatchi. In fact, Dain knew very well that
Lakamba was too deeply implicated in the gun-
powder smuggling to care for an investigation by
the Dutch authorities into that matter. When
sent off by his father, the independent Rajah of
Bali, at the time when the hostilities between
Dutch and Malays threatened to spread from
Sumatra over the whole archipelago, Dain had
found all the big traders deaf to his guarded
proposals, and above the temptation of the great
prices he was ready to give for gunpowder. He
went to Sambir as a last and almost hopeless
resort, having heard in Macassar of the white man
there, and of the regular steamer trading from
Singapore — allured also by the fact that there was
no Dutch resident on the river, which would make
things easier, no doubt. His hopes got nearly
wrecked against the stubborn loyalty of Lakamba
arising from well-understood self-interest ; but at
last the young man's g nerosity, his persuasive
enthusiasm, the prestige his father's great name,

Almayer^s Folly, 1 1 1

overpowered the prudent hesitation of the ruler of
Sambir. Lakamba would have nothing to do him-
self with any illegal traffic. He also objected to
the Arabs being made use of in that matter ; but
he suggested Almayer, saying that he was a weak
man easily persuaded, and that his friend, the
English captain of the steamer, could be made
very useful — very likely even would join in the
business, smuggling the powder in the steamer
without AbduUa's knowledge. There again Dain
met in Almayer with unexpected resistance ; La-
kamba had to send Babalatchi over with the
solemn promise that his eyes would be shut in
friendship for the white man, Dain paying for the
promise and the friendship in good silver guilders
of the hated Orang Blanda. Almayer, at last
consenting, said the powder would be obtained,
but Dain must trust him with dollars to send to
Singapore in payment for it. He would induce
Ford to buy and smuggle it in the steamer on
board the brig. He did not want any money for
himself out of the transaction, but Dain must help
him in his great enterprise after sending off the
brig. Almayer had explained to Dain that he
could not trust Lakamba alone in that matter ;
he would be afraid of losing his treasure and his
life through the cupidity of the Rajah ; yet the
Rajah had to be told, and insisted on taking a
share in that operation, or else his eyes would
remain shut no longer. To this Almayer had to

112 Almayer's Folly.

submit. Had Dain not seen Nina he would have
probably refused to engage himself and his men
in the projected expedition to Gunong Mas — the
mountain of gold. As it was he intended to re-
turn with half of his men as soon as the brig was
clear of the reefs, but the persistent chase given
him by the Dutch frigate had forced him to run
south and ultimately to wreck and destroy his
vessel in order to preserve his liberty or perhaps
even his life. Yes, he had come back to Sambir
for Nina, although aware that the Dutch would
look for him there, but he had also calculated his
chances of safety in Lakamba's hands. For all
his ferocious talk, the merciful ruler would not kill
him, for he had long ago been impressed with the
notion that Dain possessed the secret of the white
man's treasure ; neither would he give him up to
the Dutch, for fear of some fatal disclosure of
complicity in the treasonable trade* So Dain
felt tolerably secure as he sat meditating quietly
his answer to the Rajah's bloodthirsty speech.
Yes, he would point out to him the aspect of his
position should he — Dain — fall into the hands
of the Dutch and should he speak the truth. He
would have nothing more to lose then, and he
would speak the truth. And if he did return to
Sambir, disturbing thereby Lakamba's peace of
mind, what then ? He came to look after his
property. Did he not pour a stream of silver into
Mrs. Almayer's greedy lap ? He had paid, for the

Almayer^s Folly. 1 1 3

girl, a price worthy of a great prince, although
unworthy of that delightfully maddening creature
for whom his untamed soul longed in an intensity
of desire far more tormenting than the sharpest
pain. He wanted his happiness. He had the
right to be in Sambir.

He rose, and, approaching the table, leaned both
his elbows on it ; Lakamba responsively edged his
seat a little closer, while Babalatchi scrambled to
his feet and thrust his inquisitive head between his
master's and Dain's. They interchanged their ideas
rapidly, speaking in whispers into each other's
faces, very close now, Dain suggesting, Lakamba
contradicting, Babalatchi conciliating and anxious
in his vivid apprehension of coming difficulties.
He spoke most, whispering earnestly, turning his
head slowly from side to side so as to bring his
solitary eye to bear upon each of his interlocutors
in turn. Why should there be strife ? said he.
Let Tuan Dain, whom he loved only less than his
master, go trustfully into hiding. There were
many places for that. Bulangi's house away in
the clearing was best. Bulangi was a safe man.
In the network of crooked channels no white man
could find his way. White men were strong, but
very foolish. It was undesirable to fight them,
but deception was easy. They were like silly
women — they did not know the use of reason, and

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