In the middle of a shadowless square of moonlight, shining on a smooth
and level expanse of young rice-shoots, a little shelter-hut perched on
high posts, the pile of brushwood near by and the glowing embers of a
fire with a man stretched before it, seemed very small and as if lost in
the pale green iridescence reflected from the ground. On three sides of
the clearing, appearing very far away in the deceptive light, the big
trees of the forest, lashed together with manifold bonds by a mass of
tangled creepers, looked down at the growing young life at their feet
with the sombre resignation of giants that had lost faith in their
strength. And in the midst of them the merciless creepers clung to the
big trunks in cable-like coils, leaped from tree to tree, hung in thorny
festoons from the lower boughs, and, sending slender tendrils on high to
seek out the smallest branches, carried death to their victims in an
exulting riot of silent destruction.
On the fourth side, following the curve of the bank of that branch of the
Pantai that formed the only access to the clearing, ran a black line of
young trees, bushes, and thick second growth, unbroken save for a small
gap chopped out in one place. At that gap began the narrow footpath
leading from the water's edge to the grass-built shelter used by the
night watchers when the ripening crop had to be protected from the wild
pigs. The pathway ended at the foot of the piles on which the hut was
built, in a circular space covered with ashes and bits of burnt wood. In
the middle of that space, by the dim fire, lay Dain.
He turned over on his side with an impatient sigh, and, pillowing his
head on his bent arm, lay quietly with his face to the dying fire. The
glowing embers shone redly in a small circle, throwing a gleam into his
wide-open eyes, and at every deep breath the fine white ash of bygone
fires rose in a light cloud before his parted lips, and danced away from
the warm glow into the moonbeams pouring down upon Bulangi's clearing.
His body was weary with the exertion of the past few days, his mind more
weary still with the strain of solitary waiting for his fate. Never
before had he felt so helpless. He had heard the report of the gun fired
on board the launch, and he knew that his life was in untrustworthy
hands, and that his enemies were very near. During the slow hours of the
afternoon he roamed about on the edge of the forest, or, hiding in the
bushes, watched the creek with unquiet eyes for some sign of danger. He
feared not death, yet he desired ardently to live, for life to him was
Nina. She had promised to come, to follow him, to share his danger and
his splendour. But with her by his side he cared not for danger, and
without her there could be no splendour and no joy in existence.
Crouching in his shady hiding-place, he closed his eyes, trying to evoke
the gracious and charming image of the white figure that for him was the
beginning and the end of life. With eyes shut tight, his teeth hard set,
he tried in a great effort of passionate will to keep his hold on that
vision of supreme delight. In vain! His heart grew heavy as the figure
of Nina faded away to be replaced by another vision this time--a vision
of armed men, of angry faces, of glittering arms--and he seemed to hear
the hum of excited and triumphant voices as they discovered him in his
hiding-place. Startled by the vividness of his fancy, he would open his
eyes, and, leaping out into the sunlight, resume his aimless wanderings
around the clearing. As he skirted in his weary march the edge of the
forest he glanced now and then into its dark shade, so enticing in its
deceptive appearance of coolness, so repellent with its unrelieved gloom,
where lay, entombed and rotting, countless generations of trees, and
where their successors stood as if mourning, in dark green foliage,
immense and helpless, awaiting their turn. Only the parasites seemed to
live there in a sinuous rush upwards into the air and sunshine, feeding
on the dead and the dying alike, and crowning their victims with pink and
blue flowers that gleamed amongst the boughs, incongruous and cruel, like
a strident and mocking note in the solemn harmony of the doomed trees.
A man could hide there, thought Dain, as he approached a place where the
creepers had been torn and hacked into an archway that might have been
the beginning of a path. As he bent down to look through he heard angry
grunting, and a sounder of wild pig crashed away in the undergrowth. An
acrid smell of damp earth and of decaying leaves took him by the throat,
and he drew back with a scared face, as if he had been touched by the
breath of Death itself. The very air seemed dead in there--heavy and
stagnating, poisoned with the corruption of countless ages. He went on,
staggering on his way, urged by the nervous restlessness that made him
feel tired yet caused him to loathe the very idea of immobility and
repose. Was he a wild man to hide in the woods and perhaps be killed
there--in the darkness--where there was no room to breathe? He would
wait for his enemies in the sunlight, where he could see the sky and feel
the breeze. He knew how a Malay chief should die. The sombre and
desperate fury, that peculiar inheritance of his race, took possession of
him, and he glared savagely across the clearing towards the gap in the
bushes by the riverside. They would come from there. In imagination he
saw them now. He saw the bearded faces and the white jackets of the
officers, the light on the levelled barrels of the rifles. What is the
bravery of the greatest warrior before the firearms in the hand of a
slave? He would walk toward them with a smiling face, with his hands
held out in a sign of submission till he was very near them. He would
speak friendly words--come nearer yet--yet nearer--so near that they
could touch him with their hands and stretch them out to make him a
captive. That would be the time: with a shout and a leap he would be in
the midst of them, kriss in hand, killing, killing, killing, and would
die with the shouts of his enemies in his ears, their warm blood spurting
before his eyes.
Carried away by his excitement, he snatched the kriss hidden in his
sarong, and, drawing a long breath, rushed forward, struck at the empty
air, and fell on his face. He lay as if stunned in the sudden reaction
from his exaltation, thinking that, even if he died thus gloriously, it
would have to be before he saw Nina. Better so. If he saw her again he
felt that death would be too terrible. With horror he, the descendant of
Rajahs and of conquerors, had to face the doubt of his own bravery. His
desire of life tormented him in a paroxysm of agonising remorse. He had
not the courage to stir a limb. He had lost faith in himself, and there
was nothing else in him of what makes a man. The suffering remained, for
it is ordered that it should abide in the human body even to the last
breath, and fear remained. Dimly he could look into the depths of his
passionate love, see its strength and its weakness, and felt afraid.
The sun went down slowly. The shadow of the western forest marched over
the clearing, covered the man's scorched shoulders with its cool mantle,
and went on hurriedly to mingle with the shadows of other forests on the
eastern side. The sun lingered for a while amongst the light tracery of
the higher branches, as if in friendly reluctance to abandon the body
stretched in the green paddy-field. Then Dain, revived by the cool of
the evening breeze, sat up and stared round him. As he did so the sun
dipped sharply, as if ashamed of being detected in a sympathising
attitude, and the clearing, which during the day was all light, became
suddenly all darkness, where the fire gleamed like an eye. Dain walked
slowly towards the creek, and, divesting himself of his torn sarong, his
only garment, entered the water cautiously. He had had nothing to eat
that day, and had not dared show himself in daylight by the water-side to
drink. Now, as he swam silently, he swallowed a few mouthfuls of water
that lapped about his lips. This did him good, and he walked with
greater confidence in himself and others as he returned towards the fire.
Had he been betrayed by Lakamba all would have been over by this. He
made up a big blaze, and while it lasted dried himself, and then lay down
by the embers. He could not sleep, but he felt a great numbness in all
his limbs. His restlessness was gone, and he was content to lay still,
measuring the time by watching the stars that rose in endless succession
above the forests, while the slight puffs of wind under the cloudless sky
seemed to fan their twinkle into a greater brightness. Dreamily he
assured himself over and over again that she would come, till the
certitude crept into his heart and filled him with a great peace. Yes,
when the next day broke, they would be together on the great blue sea
that was like life--away from the forests that were like death. He
murmured the name of Nina into the silent space with a tender smile: this
seemed to break the spell of stillness, and far away by the creek a frog
croaked loudly as if in answer. A chorus of loud roars and plaintive
calls rose from the mud along the line of bushes. He laughed heartily;
doubtless it was their love-song. He felt affectionate towards the frogs
and listened, pleased with the noisy life near him.
When the moon peeped above the trees he felt the old impatience and the
old restlessness steal over him. Why was she so late? True, it was a
long way to come with a single paddle. With what skill and what
endurance could those small hands manage a heavy paddle! It was very
wonderful--such small hands, such soft little palms that knew how to
touch his cheek with a feel lighter than the fanning of a butterfly's
wing. Wonderful! He lost himself lovingly in the contemplation of this
tremendous mystery, and when he looked at the moon again it had risen a
hand's breadth above the trees. Would she come? He forced himself to
lay still, overcoming the impulse to rise and rush round the clearing
again. He turned this way and that; at last, quivering with the effort,
he lay on his back, and saw her face among the stars looking down on him.
The croaking of frogs suddenly ceased. With the watchfulness of a hunted
man Dain sat up, listening anxiously, and heard several splashes in the
water as the frogs took rapid headers into the creek. He knew that they
had been alarmed by something, and stood up suspicious and attentive. A
slight grating noise, then the dry sound as of two pieces of wood struck
against each other. Somebody was about to land! He took up an armful of
brushwood, and, without taking his eyes from the path, held it over the
embers of his fire. He waited, undecided, and saw something gleam
amongst the bushes; then a white figure came out of the shadows and
seemed to float towards him in the pale light. His heart gave a great
leap and stood still, then went on shaking his frame in furious beats. He
dropped the brushwood upon the glowing coals, and had an impression of
shouting her name--of rushing to meet her; yet he emitted no sound, he
stirred not an inch, but he stood silent and motionless like chiselled
bronze under the moonlight that streamed over his naked shoulders. As he
stood still, fighting with his breath, as if bereft of his senses by the
intensity of his delight, she walked up to him with quick, resolute
steps, and, with the appearance of one about to leap from a dangerous
height, threw both her arms round his neck with a sudden gesture. A
small blue gleam crept amongst the dry branches, and the crackling of
reviving fire was the only sound as they faced each other in the
speechless emotion of that meeting; then the dry fuel caught at once, and
a bright hot flame shot upwards in a blaze as high as their heads, and in
its light they saw each other's eyes.
Neither of them spoke. He was regaining his senses in a slight tremor
that ran upwards along his rigid body and hung about his trembling lips.
She drew back her head and fastened her eyes on his in one of those long
looks that are a woman's most terrible weapon; a look that is more
stirring than the closest touch, and more dangerous than the thrust of a
dagger, because it also whips the soul out of the body, but leaves the
body alive and helpless, to be swayed here and there by the capricious
tempests of passion and desire; a look that enwraps the whole body, and
that penetrates into the innermost recesses of the being, bringing
terrible defeat in the delirious uplifting of accomplished conquest. It
has the same meaning for the man of the forests and the sea as for the
man threading the paths of the more dangerous wilderness of houses and
streets. Men that had felt in their breasts the awful exultation such a
look awakens become mere things of to-day--which is paradise; forget
yesterday--which was suffering; care not for to-morrow--which may be
perdition. They wish to live under that look for ever. It is the look
of woman's surrender.
He understood, and, as if suddenly released from his invisible bonds,
fell at her feet with a shout of joy, and, embracing her knees, hid his
head in the folds of her dress, murmuring disjointed words of gratitude
and love. Never before had he felt so proud as now, when at the feet of
that woman that half belonged to his enemies. Her fingers played with
his hair in an absent-minded caress as she stood absorbed in thought. The
thing was done. Her mother was right. The man was her slave. As she
glanced down at his kneeling form she felt a great pitying tenderness for
that man she was used to call--even in her thoughts--the master of life.
She lifted her eyes and looked sadly at the southern heavens under which
lay the path of their lives--her own, and that man's at her feet. Did he
not say himself is that she was the light of his life? She would be his
light and his wisdom; she would be his greatness and his strength; yet
hidden from the eyes of all men she would be, above all, his only and
lasting weakness. A very woman! In the sublime vanity of her kind she
was thinking already of moulding a god from the clay at her feet. A god
for others to worship. She was content to see him as he was now, and to
feel him quiver at the slightest touch of her light fingers. And while
her eyes looked sadly at the southern stars a faint smile seemed to be
playing about her firm lips. Who can tell in the fitful light of a camp
fire? It might have been a smile of triumph, or of conscious power, or
of tender pity, or, perhaps, of love.
She spoke softly to him, and he rose to his feet, putting his arm round
her in quiet consciousness of his ownership; she laid her head on his
shoulder with a sense of defiance to all the world in the encircling
protection of that arm. He was hers with all his qualities and all his
faults. His strength and his courage, his recklessness and his daring,
his simple wisdom and his savage cunning--all were hers. As they passed
together out of the red light of the fire into the silver shower of rays
that fell upon the clearing he bent his head over her face, and she saw
in his eyes the dreamy intoxication of boundless felicity from the close
touch of her slight figure clasped to his side. With a rhythmical swing
of their bodies they walked through the light towards the outlying
shadows of the forests that seemed to guard their happiness in solemn
immobility. Their forms melted in the play of light and shadow at the
foot of the big trees, but the murmur of tender words lingered over the
empty clearing, grew faint, and died out. A sigh as of immense sorrow
passed over the land in the last effort of the dying breeze, and in the
deep silence which succeeded, the earth and the heavens were suddenly
hushed up in the mournful contemplation of human love and human
They walked slowly back to the fire. He made for her a seat out of the
dry branches, and, throwing himself down at her feet, lay his head in her
lap and gave himself up to the dreamy delight of the passing hour. Their
voices rose and fell, tender or animated as they spoke of their love and
of their future. She, with a few skilful words spoken from time to time,
guided his thoughts, and he let his happiness flow in a stream of talk
passionate and tender, grave or menacing, according to the mood which she
evoked. He spoke to her of his own island, where the gloomy forests and
the muddy rivers were unknown. He spoke of its terraced fields, of the
murmuring clear rills of sparkling water that flowed down the sides of
great mountains, bringing life to the land and joy to its tillers. And
he spoke also of the mountain peak that rising lonely above the belt of
trees knew the secrets of the passing clouds, and was the dwelling-place
of the mysterious spirit of his race, of the guardian genius of his
house. He spoke of vast horizons swept by fierce winds that whistled
high above the summits of burning mountains. He spoke of his forefathers
that conquered ages ago the island of which he was to be the future
ruler. And then as, in her interest, she brought her face nearer to his,
he, touching lightly the thick tresses of her long hair, felt a sudden
impulse to speak to her of the sea he loved so well; and he told her of
its never-ceasing voice, to which he had listened as a child, wondering
at its hidden meaning that no living man has penetrated yet; of its
enchanting glitter; of its senseless and capricious fury; how its surface
was for ever changing, and yet always enticing, while its depths were for
ever the same, cold and cruel, and full of the wisdom of destroyed life.
He told her how it held men slaves of its charm for a lifetime, and then,
regardless of their devotion, swallowed them up, angry at their fear of
its mystery, which it would never disclose, not even to those that loved
it most. While he talked, Nina's head had been gradually sinking lower,
and her face almost touched his now. Her hair was over his eyes, her
breath was on his forehead, her arms were about his body. No two beings
could be closer to each other, yet she guessed rather than understood the
meaning of his last words that came out after a slight hesitation in a
faint murmur, dying out imperceptibly into a profound and significant
silence: "The sea, O Nina, is like a woman's heart."
She closed his lips with a sudden kiss, and answered in a steady voice--
"But to the men that have no fear, O master of my life, the sea is ever
Over their heads a film of dark, thread-like clouds, looking like immense
cobwebs drifting under the stars, darkened the sky with the presage of
the coming thunderstorm. From the invisible hills the first distant
rumble of thunder came in a prolonged roll which, after tossing about
from hill to hill, lost itself in the forests of the Pantai. Dain and
Nina stood up, and the former looked at the sky uneasily.
"It is time for Babalatchi to be here," he said. "The night is more than
half gone. Our road is long, and a bullet travels quicker than the best
"He will be here before the moon is hidden behind the clouds," said Nina.
"I heard a splash in the water," she added. "Did you hear it too?"
"Alligator," answered Dain shortly, with a careless glance towards the
creek. "The darker the night," he continued, "the shorter will be our
road, for then we could keep in the current of the main stream, but if it
is light--even no more than now--we must follow the small channels of
sleeping water, with nothing to help our paddles."
"Dain," interposed Nina, earnestly, "it was no alligator. I heard the
bushes rustling near the landing-place."
"Yes," said Dain, after listening awhile. "It cannot be Babalatchi, who
would come in a big war canoe, and openly. Those that are coming,
whoever they are, do not wish to make much noise. But you have heard,
and now I can see," he went on quickly. "It is but one man. Stand
behind me, Nina. If he is a friend he is welcome; if he is an enemy you
shall see him die."
He laid his hand on his kriss, and awaited the approach of his unexpected
visitor. The fire was burning very low, and small clouds--precursors of
the storm--crossed the face of the moon in rapid succession, and their
flying shadows darkened the clearing. He could not make out who the man
might be, but he felt uneasy at the steady advance of the tall figure
walking on the path with a heavy tread, and hailed it with a command to
stop. The man stopped at some little distance, and Dain expected him to
speak, but all he could hear was his deep breathing. Through a break in
the flying clouds a sudden and fleeting brightness descended upon the
clearing. Before the darkness closed in again, Dain saw a hand holding
some glittering object extended towards him, heard Nina's cry of
"Father!" and in an instant the girl was between him and Almayer's
revolver. Nina's loud cry woke up the echoes of the sleeping woods, and
the three stood still as if waiting for the return of silence before they
would give expression to their various feelings. At the appearance of
Nina, Almayer's arm fell by his side, and he made a step forward. Dain
pushed the girl gently aside.
"Am I a wild beast that you should try to kill me suddenly and in the
dark, Tuan Almayer?" said Dain, breaking the strained silence. "Throw
some brushwood on the fire," he went on, speaking to Nina, "while I watch
my white friend, lest harm should come to you or to me, O delight of my
Almayer ground his teeth and raised his arm again. With a quick bound
Dain was at his side: there was a short scuffle, during which one chamber
of the revolver went off harmlessly, then the weapon, wrenched out of
Almayer's hand, whirled through the air and fell in the bushes. The two
men stood close together, breathing hard. The replenished fire threw out
an unsteady circle of light and shone on the terrified face of Nina, who
looked at them with outstretched hands.
"Dain!" she cried out warningly, "Dain!"
He waved his hand towards her in a reassuring gesture, and, turning to
Almayer, said with great courtesy--
"Now we may talk, Tuan. It is easy to send out death, but can your
wisdom recall the life? She might have been harmed," he continued,
indicating Nina. "Your hand shook much; for myself I was not afraid."
"Nina!" exclaimed Almayer, "come to me at once. What is this sudden
madness? What bewitched you? Come to your father, and together we shall
try to forget this horrible nightmare!"
He opened his arms with the certitude of clasping her to his breast in
another second. She did not move. As it dawned upon him that she did
not mean to obey he felt a deadly cold creep into his heart, and,
pressing the palms of his hands to his temples, he looked down on the
ground in mute despair. Dain took Nina by the arm and led her towards
"Speak to him in the language of his people," he said. "He is
grieving--as who would not grieve at losing thee, my pearl! Speak to him
the last words he shall hear spoken by that voice, which must be very
sweet to him, but is all my life to me."
He released her, and, stepping back a few paces out of the circle of
light, stood in the darkness looking at them with calm interest. The
reflection of a distant flash of lightning lit up the clouds over their
heads, and was followed after a short interval by the faint rumble of
thunder, which mingled with Almayer's voice as he began to speak.
"Do you know what you are doing? Do you know what is waiting for you if
you follow that man? Have you no pity for yourself? Do you know that
you shall be at first his plaything and then a scorned slave, a drudge,
and a servant of some new fancy of that man?"
She raised her hand to stop him, and turning her head slightly, asked--
"You hear this Dain! Is it true?"
"By all the gods!" came the impassioned answer from the darkness--"by
heaven and earth, by my head and thine I swear: this is a white man's
lie. I have delivered my soul into your hands for ever; I breathe with
your breath, I see with your eyes, I think with your mind, and I take you
into my heart for ever."
"You thief!" shouted the exasperated Almayer.
A deep silence succeeded this outburst, then the voice of Dain was heard
"Nay, Tuan," he said in a gentle tone, "that is not true also. The girl
came of her own will. I have done no more but to show her my love like a
man; she heard the cry of my heart, and she came, and the dowry I have
given to the woman you call your wife."
Almayer groaned in his extremity of rage and shame. Nina laid her hand
lightly on his shoulder, and the contact, light as the touch of a falling
leaf, seemed to calm him. He spoke quickly, and in English this time.
"Tell me," he said--"tell me, what have they done to you, your mother and
that man? What made you give yourself up to that savage? For he is a
savage. Between him and you there is a barrier that nothing can remove.
I can see in your eyes the look of those who commit suicide when they are
mad. You are mad. Don't smile. It breaks my heart. If I were to see
you drowning before my eyes, and I without the power to help you, I could
not suffer a greater torment. Have you forgotten the teaching of so many
"No," she interrupted, "I remember it well. I remember how it ended
also. Scorn for scorn, contempt for contempt, hate for hate. I am not
of your race. Between your people and me there is also a barrier that
nothing can remove. You ask why I want to go, and I ask you why I should
He staggered as if struck in the face, but with a quick, unhesitating
grasp she caught him by the arm and steadied him.
"Why you should stay!" he repeated slowly, in a dazed manner, and stopped
short, astounded at the completeness of his misfortune.
"You told me yesterday," she went on again, "that I could not understand
or see your love for me: it is so. How can I? No two human beings
understand each other. They can understand but their own voices. You
wanted me to dream your dreams, to see your own visions--the visions of
life amongst the white faces of those who cast me out from their midst in
angry contempt. But while you spoke I listened to the voice of my own
self; then this man came, and all was still; there was only the murmur of
his love. You call him a savage! What do you call my mother, your
"Nina!" cried Almayer, "take your eyes off my face."
She looked down directly, but continued speaking only a little above a
"In time," she went on, "both our voices, that man's and mine, spoke
together in a sweetness that was intelligible to our ears only. You were
speaking of gold then, but our ears were filled with the song of our
love, and we did not hear you. Then I found that we could see through
each other's eyes: that he saw things that nobody but myself and he could
see. We entered a land where no one could follow us, and least of all
you. Then I began to live."
She paused. Almayer sighed deeply. With her eyes still fixed on the
ground she began speaking again.
"And I mean to live. I mean to follow him. I have been rejected with
scorn by the white people, and now I am a Malay! He took me in his arms,
he laid his life at my feet. He is brave; he will be powerful, and I
hold his bravery and his strength in my hand, and I shall make him great.
His name shall be remembered long after both our bodies are laid in the
dust. I love you no less than I did before, but I shall never leave him,
for without him I cannot live."
"If he understood what you have said," answered Almayer, scornfully, "he
must be highly flattered. You want him as a tool for some
incomprehensible ambition of yours. Enough, Nina. If you do not go down
at once to the creek, where Ali is waiting with my canoe, I shall tell
him to return to the settlement and bring the Dutch officers here. You
cannot escape from this clearing, for I have cast adrift your canoe. If
the Dutch catch this hero of yours they will hang him as sure as I stand
here. Now go."
He made a step towards his daughter and laid hold of her by the shoulder,
his other hand pointing down the path to the landing-place.
"Beware!" exclaimed Dain; "this woman belongs to me!"
Nina wrenched herself free and looked straight at Almayer's angry face.
"No, I will not go," she said with desperate energy. "If he dies I shall
"You die!" said Almayer, contemptuously. "Oh, no! You shall live a life
of lies and deception till some other vagabond comes along to sing; how
did you say that? The song of love to you! Make up your mind quickly."
He waited for a while, and then added meaningly--
"Shall I call out to Ali?"
"Call out," she answered in Malay, "you that cannot be true to your own
countrymen. Only a few days ago you were selling the powder for their
destruction; now you want to give up to them the man that yesterday you
called your friend. Oh, Dain," she said, turning towards the motionless
but attentive figure in the darkness, "instead of bringing you life I
bring you death, for he will betray unless I leave you for ever!"
Dain came into the circle of light, and, throwing his arm around Nina's
neck, whispered in her ear--"I can kill him where he stands, before a
sound can pass his lips. For you it is to say yes or no. Babalatchi
cannot be far now."
He straightened himself up, taking his arm off her shoulder, and
confronted Almayer, who looked at them both with an expression of
"No!" she cried, clinging to Dain in wild alarm. "No! Kill me! Then
perhaps he will let you go. You do not know the mind of a white man. He
would rather see me dead than standing where I am. Forgive me, your
slave, but you must not." She fell at his feet sobbing violently and
repeating, "Kill me! Kill me!"
"I want you alive," said Almayer, speaking also in Malay, with sombre
calmness. "You go, or he hangs. Will you obey?"
Dain shook Nina off, and, making a sudden lunge, struck Almayer full in
the chest with the handle of his kriss, keeping the point towards
"Hai, look! It was easy for me to turn the point the other way," he said
in his even voice. "Go, Tuan Putih," he added with dignity. "I give you
your life, my life, and her life. I am the slave of this woman's desire,
and she wills it so."
There was not a glimmer of light in the sky now, and the tops of the
trees were as invisible as their trunks, being lost in the mass of clouds
that hung low over the woods, the clearing, and the river.
Every outline had disappeared in the intense blackness that seemed to
have destroyed everything but space. Only the fire glimmered like a star
forgotten in this annihilation of all visible things, and nothing was
heard after Dain ceased speaking but the sobs of Nina, whom he held in
his arms, kneeling beside the fire. Almayer stood looking down at them
in gloomy thoughtfulness. As he was opening his lips to speak they were
startled by a cry of warning by the riverside, followed by the splash of
many paddles and the sound of voices.
"Babalatchi!" shouted Dain, lifting up Nina as he got upon his feet
"Ada! Ada!" came the answer from the panting statesman who ran up the
path and stood amongst them. "Run to my canoe," he said to Dain
excitedly, without taking any notice of Almayer. "Run! we must go. That
woman has told them all!"
"What woman?" asked Dain, looking at Nina. Just then there was only one
woman in the whole world for him.
"The she-dog with white teeth; the seven times accursed slave of Bulangi.
She yelled at Abdulla's gate till she woke up all Sambir. Now the white
officers are coming, guided by her and Reshid. If you want to live, do
not look at me, but go!"
"How do you know this?" asked Almayer.
"Oh, Tuan! what matters how I know! I have only one eye, but I saw
lights in Abdulla's house and in his campong as we were paddling past. I
have ears, and while we lay under the bank I have heard the messengers
sent out to the white men's house."
"Will you depart without that woman who is my daughter?" said Almayer,
addressing Dain, while Babalatchi stamped with impatience, muttering,
"Run! Run at once!"
"No," answered Dain, steadily, "I will not go; to no man will I abandon
"Then kill me and escape yourself," sobbed out Nina.
He clasped her close, looking at her tenderly, and whispered, "We will
never part, O Nina!"
"I shall not stay here any longer," broke in Babalatchi, angrily. "This
is great foolishness. No woman is worth a man's life. I am an old man,
and I know."
He picked up his staff, and, turning to go, looked at Dain as if offering
him his last chance of escape. But Dain's face was hidden amongst Nina's
black tresses, and he did not see this last appealing glance.
Babalatchi vanished in the darkness. Shortly after his disappearance
they heard the war canoe leave the landing-place in the swish of the
numerous paddles dipped in the water together. Almost at the same time
Ali came up from the riverside, two paddles on his shoulder.
"Our canoe is hidden up the creek, Tuan Almayer," he said, "in the dense
bush where the forest comes down to the water. I took it there because I
heard from Babalatchi's paddlers that the white men are coming here."
"Wait for me there," said Almayer, "but keep the canoe hidden."
He remained silent, listening to Ali's footsteps, then turned to Nina.
"Nina," he said sadly, "will you have no pity for me?"
There was no answer. She did not even turn her head, which was pressed
close to Dain's breast.
He made a movement as if to leave them and stopped. By the dim glow of
the burning-out fire he saw their two motionless figures. The woman's
back turned to him with the long black hair streaming down over the white
dress, and Dain's calm face looking at him above her head.
"I cannot," he muttered to himself. After a long pause he spoke again a
little lower, but in an unsteady voice, "It would be too great a
disgrace. I am a white man." He broke down completely there, and went
on tearfully, "I am a white man, and of good family. Very good family,"
he repeated, weeping bitterly. "It would be a disgrace . . . all over
the islands, . . . the only white man on the east coast. No, it cannot
be . . . white men finding my daughter with this Malay. My daughter!" he
cried aloud, with a ring of despair in his voice.
He recovered his composure after a while and said distinctly--
"I will never forgive you, Nina--never! If you were to come back to me
now, the memory of this night would poison all my life. I shall try to
forget. I have no daughter. There used to be a half-caste woman in my
house, but she is going even now. You, Dain, or whatever your name may
be, I shall take you and that woman to the island at the mouth of the
river myself. Come with me."
He led the way, following the bank as far as the forest. Ali answered to
his call, and, pushing their way through the dense bush, they stepped
into the canoe hidden under the overhanging branches. Dain laid Nina in
the bottom, and sat holding her head on his knees. Almayer and Ali each
took up a paddle. As they were going to push out Ali hissed warningly.
In the great stillness before the bursting out of the thunderstorm they
could hear the sound of oars working regularly in their row-locks. The
sound approached steadily, and Dain, looking through the branches, could
see the faint shape of a big white boat. A woman's voice said in a
"There is the place where you may land white men; a little higher--there!"
The boat was passing them so close in the narrow creek that the blades of
the long oars nearly touched the canoe.
"Way enough! Stand by to jump on shore! He is alone and unarmed," was
the quiet order in a man's voice, and in Dutch.
Somebody else whispered: "I think I can see a glimmer of a fire through
the bush." And then the boat floated past them, disappearing instantly
in the darkness.
"Now," whispered Ali, eagerly, "let us push out and paddle away."
The little canoe swung into the stream, and as it sprung forward in
response to the vigorous dig of the paddles they could hear an angry
"He is not by the fire. Spread out, men, and search for him!"
Blue lights blazed out in different parts of the clearing, and the shrill
voice of a woman cried in accents of rage and pain--
"Too late! O senseless white men! He has escaped!"