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

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or less decent jokes of the men idling over the bul-
warks. There she sold her wares to those men
that spoke so loud and carried themselves so free.
There was a throng, a constant coming and going ;
calls interchanged, orders given and executed with ,
shouts ; the rattle of blocks, the flinging about
of coils of rope. She sat out of the way under the
shade of the awning, with her tray before her, the
veil drawn well over her face, feeling shy amongst
so many men. She smiled at all buyers, but spoke
to none, letting their jests pass with stolid un-



150 Almayers Folly.

concern. She heard many tales told around her of
far-off countries, of strange customs, of events
stranger still. Those men were brave ; but the
most fearless of them spoke of their chief with
fear. Often the man they called their master
passed before her, walking erect and indifferent, in
the pride of youth, in the flash of rich dress, with
a tinkle of gold ornaments, while everybody stood
aside watching anxiously for a movement of his
lips, ready to do his bidding. Then all her life
seemed to rush into her eyes, and from under her
veil she gazed at him, charmed, yet fearful to
attract attention. One day he noticed her and
asked, "Who is that girl?" "A slave, Tuan !
A girl that sells cakes," a dozen voices replied
together. She rose in terror to run on shore, when
he called her back; and as she stood trembling
with head hung down before him, he spoke kind
words, lifting her chin with his hand and looking
into her eyes with a smile. " Do not be afraid," he
said. He never spoke to her any more. Some-
body called out from the river bank ; he turned
away and forgot her existence. Taminah saw
Almayer standing on the shore with Nina on his
arm. She heard Nina's voice calling out gaily,
and saw Dain's face brighten with joy as he leaped
on shore. She hated the sound of that voice ever
since.

After that day she left off visiting Almayer's
compound, and passed the noon hours under the



Almayers Folly. 151

shade of the brig awning. She watched for his
coming with heart beating quicker and quicker, as
he approached, into a wild tumult of newly-aroused
feelings of joy and hope and fear that died away
with Dain's retreating figure, leaving her tired out,
as if after a struggle, sitting still for a long time in
dreamy languor. Then she paddled home slowly
in the afternoon, often letting her canoe float with
the lazy stream in the quiet backwater of the river.
The paddle hung idle in the water as she sat in
the stern, one hand supporting her chin, her eyes
wide open, listening intently to the whispering of
her heart that seemed to swell at last into a song
of extreme sweetness. Listening to that song she
husked the rice at home ; it dulled her ears to the
shrill bickerings of Bulangi's wives, to the sound of
angry reproaches addressed to herself And when
the sun was near its setting she walked to the
bathing-place and heard it as she stood on the
tender grass of the low bank, her robe at her feet,
and looked at the reflection of her figure on the
glass-like surface of the creek. Listening to it she
walked slowly back, her wet hair hanging over her
shoulders ; laying down to rest under the bright
stars, she closed her eyes to the murmur of the
water below, of the warm wind above ; to the voice
of nature speaking through the faint noises of the
great forest, and to the song of her own heart.

She heard, but did not understand, and drank in
the dreamy joy of her new existence without



152 Almayers Folly,

troubling about its meaning or its end, till the full
consciousness of life came to her through pain and
anger. And she suffered horribly the first time
she saw Nina's long canoe drift silently past the
sleeping house of Bulangi, bearing the two lovers
into the white mist of the great river. Her
jealousy and rage culminated into a paroxysm of
physical pain that left her lying panting on the
river bank, in the dumb agony of a wounded
animal. But she went on moving patiently in the
enchanted circle of slavery, going through her task
day after day with all the pathos of the grief she
could not express, even to herself, locked within
her breast. She shrank from Nina as she would
have shrunk from the sharp blade of a knife cut-
ting into her flesh, but she kept on visiting the
brig to feed her dumb, ignorant soul on her own
despair. She saw Dain many times. He never
spoke, he never looked. Could his eyes see only
one woman's image ? Could his ears hear only
one woman's voice \ He never noticed her ; not
once.

And then he went away. She saw him and
Nina for the last time on that morning when
Babalatchi, while visiting his fish baskets, had his
suspicions of the white man's daughter's love affair
with Dain confirmed beyond the shadow of doubt.
Dain disappeared, and Taminah's heart, where lay
useless and barren the seeds of all love and of all
hate, the possibilities of all passions and of all



Almayers Folly, 153

sacrifices, forgot its joys and its sufferings when
deprived of the help of the senses. Her half-
formed, savage mind, the slave of her body — as
her body was the slave of another's will — forgot
the faint and vague image of the ideal that had
found its beginning in the physical promptings of
her savage nature. She dropped back into the
torpor of her former life and found consolation —
even a certain kind of happiness — in the thought
that now Nina and Dain were separated, probably
for ever. He would forget. This thought soothed
the last pangs of dying jealousy that had nothing
now to feed upon, and Taminah found peace. It
was like the dreary tranquillity of a desert, where
there is peace only because there is no life.

And now he had returned. She had recognised
his voice calling aloud in the night for Bulangi.
She had crept out after her master to listen closer
to the intoxicating sound. Dain was there, in a
boat, talking to Bulangi. Taminah, listening with
arrested breath, heard another voice. The mad-
dening joy, that only a second before she thought
herself incapable of containing within her fast-
beating heart, died out, and left her shivering in
the old anguish of physical pain that she had
suffered once before at the sight of Dain and Nina.
Nina spoke now, ordering and entreating in turns,
and Bulangi was refusing, expostulating, at last
consenting. He went in to take a paddle from
the heap lying behind the door. Outside the



154 Almayer^s Folly,

murmur of two voices went on, and she caught a
word here and there. She understood that he
was fleeing from white men, that he was seeking
a hiding-place, that he was in some danger. But
she heard also words which woke the rage of
jealousy that had been asleep for so many days in
her bosom. Crouching low on the mud in the
black darkness amongst the piles, she heard the
whisper in the boat that made light of toil, of
privation, of danger, of life itself, if in exchange
there could be but a short moment of close
embrace, a look from the eyes, the feel of light
breath, the touch of soft lips. So spoke Dain as
he sat in the canoe holding Nina's hands while
waiting for Bulangi's return ; and Taminah, sup-
porting herself by the slimy pile, felt as if a heavy
weight was crushing her down, down into the
black oily water at her feet. She wanted to cry
out ; to rush at them and tear their vague shadows
apart ; to throw Nina into the smooth water, cling
to her close, hold her to the bottom where that
man could not find her. She could not cry, she
could not move. Then footsteps were heard on
the bamboo platform above her head ; she saw
Bulangi get into his smallest canoe and take the
lead, the other boat following, paddled by Dain
and Nina. With a slight splash of the paddles
dipped stealthily into the water, their indistinct
forms passed before her aching eyes and vanished
in the darkness of the creek.



Almayers Folly. 155

She remained there in the cold and wet, power-
less to move, breathing painfully under the
crushing weight that the mysterious hand of Fate
had laid so suddenly upon her slender shoulders,
and shivering, she felt within a burning fire, that
seemed to feed upon her very life. When the
breaking day had spread a pale golden ribbon over
the black outline of the forests, she took up her
tray and departed towards the settlement, going
about her task purely from the force of habit. As
she approached Sambir she could see the excite-
ment and she heard with momentary surprise of
the finding of Dain's body. It was not true, of
course. She knew it well. She regretted that he
was not dead. She should have liked Dain to be
dead, so as to be parted from that woman — from
all women. She felt a strong desire to see Nina,
but without any clear object. She hated her, and
feared her, and she felt an irresistible impulse
pushing her towards Almayer's house to see the
white woman's face, to look close at those eyes, to
hear again that voice, for the sound of which Dain
was ready to risk his liberty, his life even. She
had seen her many times ; she had heard her voice
daily for many months past. What was there in
her? What was there in that being to make a
man speak as Dain had spoken, to make him blind
to all other faces, deaf to all other voices ?

She left the crowd by the riverside, and wan-
dered aimlessly among the empty houses, resisting



156 Almayer's Folly,

the impulse that pushed her towards Almayer's
campong to seek there in Nina's eyes the secret of her
own misery. The sun mounting higher, shortened
the shadows and poured down upon her a flood of
light and of stifling heat as she passed on from
shadow to light, from light to shadow, amongst the
houses, the bushes, the tall trees, in her uncon-
scious flight from the pain in her own heart. In the
extremity of her distress she could find no words
to pray for relief, she knew of no heaven to send
her prayer to, and she wandered on with tired
feet in the dumb surprise and terror at the in-
justice of the suffering inflicted upon her without
cause and without redress.

The short talk with Reshid, the proposal of
Abdulla steadied her a little and turned her
thoughts into another channel. Dain was in some
danger. He was hiding from white men. So
much she had overheard last night. They all
thought him dead. She knew he was alive, and
she knew of his hiding-place. What did the
Arabs want to know about the white men ? The
white men want with Dain ? Did they wish to
kill him ? She could tell them all — no, she would
say nothing, and in the night she would go to him
and sell him his life for a word, for a smile, for a
gesture even, and be his slave in far-off countries,
away from Nina. But there were dangers. The
one-eyed Babalatchi who knew everything ; the
white man's wife — she was a witch. Perhaps they



Almayer's Folly, 157

would tell. And then there was Nina. She must
hurry on and see.

In her impatience she left the path and ran
towards Almayer's dwelling through the under-
growth between the palm trees. She came out at
the back of the house, where a narrow ditch, full
of stagnant water that overflowed from the river,
separated Almayer's campong from the rest of the
settlement. The thick bushes growing on the
bank were hiding from her sight the large court-
yard with its cooking shed. Above them rose
several thin columns of smoke, and from behind
the sound of strange voices informed Taminah
that the Men of the Sea belonging to the warship
had already landed and were camped between the
ditch and the house. To the left one of Almayer's
slave-girls came down to the ditch and bent over
the shiny water, washing a kettle. To the
right the tops of the banana plantation, visible
above the bushes, swayed and shook under the
touch of invisible hands gathering the fruit. On
the calm water several canoes moored to a heavy
stake were crowded together, nearly bridging the
ditch just at the place where Taminah stood. The
voices in the courtyard rose at times into an out-
burst of calls, replies, and laughter, and then died
away into a silence that soon was broken again
by a fresh clamour. Now and again the thin blue
smoke rushed out thicker and blacker, and drove
in odorous masses over the creek, wrapping her



158 Almayer's Folly,

for a moment in a suffocating veil ; then, as the
fresh wood caught well alight, the smoke vanished
in the bright sunlight, and only the scent of
aromatic wood drifted afar, to leeward of the
crackling fires.

Taminah rested her tray on a stump of a tree,
and remained standing with her eyes turned
towards Almayer's house, whose roof and part of
a whitewashed wall were visible over the bushes.
The slave-girl finished her work, and after looking
for a while curiously at Taminah, pushed her way
through the dense thicket back to the courtyard.
Round Taminah there was now a complete soli-
tude. She threw herself down on the ground, and
hid her face in her hands. Now when so close she
had no courage to see Nina. At every burst of
louder voices from the courtyard she shivered in
the fear of hearing Nina's voice. She came to the
resolution of waiting where she was till dark, and
then going straight to Dain's hiding-place. From
where she was she could watch the movements of
white men, of Nina, of all Dain's friends, and of all
his enemies. Both were hateful alike to her, for
both would take him away beyond her reach. She
hid herself in the long grass to wait anxiously for
the sunset that seemed so slow to come.

On the other side of the ditch, behind the bush,
by the clear fires, the seamen of the frigate had
encamped on the hospitable invitation of Almayer.
Almayer, roused out of his apathy by the prayers



Almayer's Folly. 159

and importunity of Nina, had managed to get down
in time to the jetty so as to receive the officers at
their landing. The lieutenant in command accepted
his invitation to his house with the remark that in
any case their business was with Almayer — and
perhaps not very pleasant, he added. Almayer
hardly heard him. He shook hands with them
absently and led the way towards the house. He
was scarcely conscious of the polite words of
welcome he greeted the strangers with, and after-
wards repeated several times over again in his
efforts to appear at ease. The agitation of their
host did not escape the officer's eyes, and the chief
confided to his subordinate, in a low voice, his
doubts as to Almayer's sobriety. The young sub-
lieutenant laughed and expressed in a whisper the
hope that the white man was not intoxicated
enough to neglect the offer of some refreshments.
" He does not seem very dangerous," he added,
as they followed Almayer up the steps of the
verandah.

" No, he seems more of a fool than a knave ; I
have heard of him," returned the senior.

They sat around the table. Almayer with
shaking hands made gin cocktails, offered them
all round, and drank himself, with every gulp
feeling stronger, steadier, and better able to face
all the difficulties of his position. Ignorant of the
fate of the brig he did not suspect the real object
of the officer's visit. He had a general notion that



i6o Almayers Folly,

something must have leaked out about the gun-
powder trade, but apprehended nothing beyond
some temporary inconvenience. After emptying
his glass he began to chat easily, lying back in his
chair with one of his legs thrown negligently over
the arm. The lieutenant astride on his chair, a
glowing cheroot in the corner of his mouth, listened
with a sly smile from behind the thick volumes of
smoke that escaped from his compressed lips. The
young sub-lieutenant, leaning with both elbows on
the table, his head between his hands, looked on
sleepily in the torpor induced by fatigue and the
gin. Almayer talked on —

" It is a great pleasure to see white faces here.
I have lived here many years in great solitude.
The Malays, you understand, are not company for
a white man ; moreover they are not friendly ;
they do not understand our ways. Great rascals
they are. I believe I am the only white man on
the east coast that is a settled resident. We get
visitors from Macassar or Singapore sometimes —
traders, agents, or explorers, but they are rare.
There was a scientific explorer here a year or more
ago. He lived in my house : drank from morning
to night. He lived joyously for a few months, and
when the liquor he brought with him was gone he
returned to Batavia with a report on the mineral
wealth of the interior. Ha, ha, ha ! Good, is it
not ? "

He ceased abruptly and looked at his guests



Almayers Folly, i6i

with a meaningless stare. While they laughed he
was reciting to himself the old story : " Dain dead,
all my plans destroyed. This is the end of all
hope and of all things." His heart sank within
him. He felt a kind of deadly sickness.

" Very good. Capital ! " exclaimed both officers

Almayer came out of his despondency with
another burst of talk.

" Eh ! what about the dinner ? You have got a
cook with you. That's all right. There is a cook-
ing shed in the other courtyard. I can give you a
goose. Look at my geese — the only geese on
the east coast — perhaps on the whole island. Is
that your cook ? Very good. Here, Ali, show
this Chinaman the cooking place and tell Mem
Almayer to let him have room there. My wife,
gentlemen, does not come out ; my daughter may.
Meantime have some more drink. It is a hot day."

The lieutenant took the cigar out of his mouth,
looked at the ash critically, shook it off and turned
towards Almayer.

"We have a rather unpleasant business with
you," he said.

" I am sorry," returned Almayer. "It can be
nothing very serious, surely."

" If you think an attempt to blow up forty men
at least, not a serious matter you will not find
many people of your opinion," retorted the officer
sharply.

" Blow up ! What } I know nothing about it,"^
II



1 62 Almayer^s Folly.

exclaimed Almayer. "Who did that, or tried to
do it ? "

" A man with whom you had some dealings,"
answered the lieutenant. " He passed here under
the name of Dain Maroola. You sold him the
gunpowder he had in that brig we captured."

" How did you hear about the brig ? " asked
Almayer. " I know nothing about the powder he
may have had."

"An Arab trader of this place has sent the
information about your goings on here to Batavia,
a couple of months ago," said the officer. " We
were waiting for the brig outside, but he slipped
past us at the mouth of the river, and we had to
chase the fellow to the southward. When he
sighted us he ran inside the reefs and put the brig
ashore. The crew escaped in boats before we
could take possession. As our boats neared the
craft it blew up with a tremendous explosion ; one
of the boats being too near got swamped. Two
men drowned — that is the result of your specula-
tion, Mr. Almayer. Now we want this Dain. We
have good grounds to suppose he is hiding in
Sambir. Do you know where he is? You had
better put yourself right with the authorities as
much as possible by being perfectly frank with
me. Where is this Dain .?"

Almayer got up and walked towards the balus-
trade of the verandah. He seemed not to be
thinking of the officer's question. He looked at



Almayers Folly. 163

the body laying straight and rigid under its white
cover on which the sun, declining amongst the
clouds to the westward, threw a pale tinge of red.
The lieutenant waited for the answer, taking quick
pulls at his half-extinguished cigar. Behind them
Ali moved noiselessly laying the table, ranging
solemnly the ill-assorted and shabby crockery, the
tin spoons, the forks with broken prongs, and the
knives with saw-like blades and loose handles. He
had almost forgotten how to prepare the table for
white men. He felt aggrieved ; Mem Nina would
not help him. He stepped back to look at his
work admiringly, feeling very proud. This must
be right ; and if the master afterwards is angry
and swears, then so much the worse for Mem Nina.
Why did she not help } He left the verandah to
fetch the dinner.

"Well, Mr. Almayer, will you answer my
question as frankly as it is put to you ? " asked
the lieutenant, after a long silence.

Almayer turned round and looked at his inter-
locutor steadily. " If you catch this Dain what
will you do with him ? " he asked.

The officer's face flushed. " This is not an
answer," he said, annoyed.

" And what will you do with me } " went on
Almayer, not heeding the interruption.

" Are you inclined to bargain ? " growled the
other. " It would be bad policy, I assure you. At
present I have no orders about your person, but



164 Almayers Folly,

we expected your assistance in catching this
Malay."

"Ah !" interrupted Almayer, "just so : you can
do nothing without me, and I, knowing the man
well, am to help you in finding him."

" This is exactly what we expect," assented the
officer. " You have broken the law, Mr. Almayer,
and you ought to make amends."

" And save myself ? "

" Well, in a sense yes. Your head is not in any
danger," said the lieutenant, with a short laugh.

" Very well," said Almayer, with decision, " I
shall deliver the man up to you."

Both officers rose to their feet quickly, and
looked for their side-arms which they had un-
buckled. Almayer laughed harshly.

" Steady, gentlemen !" he exclaimed. " In my own
time and in my own way. After dinner, gentlemen,
you shall have him."

"This is preposterous," urged the lieutenant.
" Mr. Almayer, this is no joking matter. The man
is a criminal. He deserves to hang. While we
dine he may escape ; the rumour of our arrival "

Almayer walked towards the table. " I give
you my word of honour, gentlemen, that he shall
not escape ; I have him safe enough."

" The arrest should be effected before dark,"
remarked the young sub.

" I shall hold you responsible for any failure.
We are ready, but can do nothing just now



Almayers Folly, 165

without you," added the senior, with evident
annoyance.

Almayer made a gesture of assent. " On my
word of honour," he repeated vaguely. "And
now let us dine," he added briskly.

Nina came through the doorway and stood for
a moment holding the curtain aside for Ali and
the old Malay woman bearing the dishes ; then
she moved towards the three men by the table.

" Allow me," said Almayer, pompously. " This
is my daughter. Nina, these gentlemen, officers
of the frigate outside, have done me the honour to
accept my hospitality."

Nina answered the low bows of the two officers
by a slow inclination of the head and took her
place at the table opposite her father. All sat
down. The coxswain of the steam launch came
up carrying some bottles of wine.

" You will allow me to have this put upon the
table } " said the lieutenant to Almayer.

" What ! Wine ! You are very kind. Certainly.
I have none myself Times are very hard."

The last words of his reply were spoken by
Almayer in a faltering voice. The thought that
Dain was dead recurred to him vividly again, and
he felt as if an invisible hand was gripping his
throat. He reached for the gin bottle while they
were uncorking the wine and swallowed a big gulp.
The lieutenant, who was speaking to Nina, gave
him a quick glance. The young sub began to



1 66 Almayers Folly,

recover from the astonishment and confusion
caused by Nina's unexpected appearance and
great beauty. " She was very beautiful and im-
posing," he reflected, "but after all a half-caste
girl." This thought caused him to pluck up heart
and look at Nina sideways. Nina, with composed
face, was answering in a low, even voice the elder
officer's polite questions as to the country and her
mode of life. Almayer pushed his plate away and
drank his guest's wine in gloomy silence.



CHAPTER IX.

"Can I believe what you tell me? It is like a
tale for men that listen only half awake by the
camp fire, and it seems to have run off a woman's
tongue."

" Who is there here for me to deceive, O Rajah.? "
answered Babalatchi. " Without you I am nothing.
All I have told you I believe to be true. I have
been safe for many years in the hollow of your
hand. This is no time to harbour suspicions. The
danger is very great. We should advise and act at
once, before the sun sets."

" Right. Right," muttered Lakamba, pensively.

They had been sitting for the last hour together
in the audience chamber of the Rajah's house, for
Babalatchi, as soon as he had witnessed the landing
of the Dutch officers, had crossed the river to report
to his master the events of the morning, and to
confer with him upon the line of conduct to pursue


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Online LibraryJoseph ConradAlmayer's folly : a story of an eastern river → online text (page 9 of 15)