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Chapter 5

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 as 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,
expectorate 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 suspicions, 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 morning, 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 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 confidentially 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
despondency caused by the certitude of Bulangi's mercenary 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, overlooking 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 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 millionaire. 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 invisible; and hidden there, leaning
against the 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 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, believing 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 suspicions 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 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 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 violently; then,
without rising from her crouching 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
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
prudence 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.

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 hers.

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 laugh.

"You will overturn the boat, Dain," she whispered.

He looked into her eyes eagerly for a minute 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 existence 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 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 screaming 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."

"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 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
branch."

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; 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 inextricable 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 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 outward 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
reminiscence 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 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 between 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 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 succession 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 disappointed each time by the sulky answer conveying
to him the intelligence that the Arabs were on the river, bound on a
visit to the home-staying Lakamba. This caused him many sleepless
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 ineradicable
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.

Joseph Conrad

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