"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
"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 in the face of altered circumstances. They were both
puzzled and frightened by the unexpected turn the events had taken. The
Rajah, sitting crosslegged on his chair, looked fixedly at the floor;
Babalatchi was squatting close by in an attitude of deep dejection.
"And where did you say he is hiding now?" asked Lakamba, breaking at last
the silence full of gloomy forebodings in which they both had been lost
for a long while.
"In Bulangi's clearing--the furthest one, away from the house. They went
there that very night. The white man's daughter took him there. She
told me so herself, speaking to me openly, for she is half white and has
no decency. She said she was waiting for him while he was here; then,
after a long time, he came out of the darkness and fell at her feet
exhausted. He lay like one dead, but she brought him back to life in her
arms, and made him breathe again with her own breath. That is what she
said, speaking to my face, as I am speaking now to you, Rajah. She is
like a white woman and knows no shame."
He paused, deeply shocked. Lakamba nodded his head. "Well, and then?"
"They called the old woman," went on Babalatchi, "and he told them
all--about the brig, and how he tried to kill many men. He knew the
Orang Blanda were very near, although he had said nothing to us about
that; he knew his great danger. He thought he had killed many, but there
were only two dead, as I have heard from the men of the sea that came in
the warship's boats."
"And the other man, he that was found in the river?" interrupted Lakamba.
"That was one of his boatmen. When his canoe was overturned by the logs
those two swam together, but the other man must have been hurt. Dain
swam, holding him up. He left him in the bushes when he went up to the
house. When they all came down his heart had ceased to beat; then the
old woman spoke; Dain thought it was good. He took off his anklet and
broke it, twisting it round the man's foot. His ring he put on that
slave's hand. He took off his sarong and clothed that thing that wanted
no clothes, the two women holding it up meanwhile, their intent being to
deceive all eyes and to mislead the minds in the settlement, so that they
could swear to the thing that was not, and that there could be no
treachery when the white-men came. Then Dain and the white woman
departed to call up Bulangi and find a hiding-place. The old woman
remained by the body."
"Hai!" exclaimed Lakamba. "She has wisdom."
"Yes, she has a Devil of her own to whisper counsel in her ear," assented
Babalatchi. "She dragged the body with great toil to the point where
many logs were stranded. All these things were done in the darkness
after the storm had passed away. Then she waited. At the first sign of
daylight she battered the face of the dead with a heavy stone, and she
pushed him amongst the logs. She remained near, watching. At sunrise
Mahmat Banjer came and found him. They all believed; I myself was
deceived, but not for long. The white man believed, and, grieving, fled
to his house. When we were alone I, having doubts, spoke to the woman,
and she, fearing my anger and your might, told me all, asking for help in
"He must not fall into the hands of the Orang Blanda," said Lakamba; "but
let him die, if the thing can be done quietly."
"It cannot, Tuan! Remember there is that woman who, being half white, is
ungovernable, and would raise a great outcry. Also the officers are
here. They are angry enough already. Dain must escape; he must go. We
must help him now for our own safety."
"Are the officers very angry?" inquired Lakamba, with interest.
"They are. The principal chief used strong words when speaking to me--to
me when I salaamed in your name. I do not think," added Babalatchi,
after a short pause and looking very worried--"I do not think I saw a
white chief so angry before. He said we were careless or even worse. He
told me he would speak to the Rajah, and that I was of no account."
"Speak to the Rajah!" repeated Lakamba, thoughtfully. "Listen,
Babalatchi: I am sick, and shall withdraw; you cross over and tell the
"Yes," said Babalatchi, "I am going over at once; and as to Dain?"
"You get him away as you can best. This is a great trouble in my heart,"
Babalatchi got up, and, going close to his master, spoke earnestly.
"There is one of our praus at the southern mouth of the river. The Dutch
warship is to the northward watching the main entrance. I shall send
Dain off to-night in a canoe, by the hidden channels, on board the prau.
His father is a great prince, and shall hear of our generosity. Let the
prau take him to Ampanam. Your glory shall be great, and your reward in
powerful friendship. Almayer will no doubt deliver the dead body as
Dain's to the officers, and the foolish white men shall say, 'This is
very good; let there be peace.' And the trouble shall be removed from
your heart, Rajah."
"True! true!" said Lakamba.
"And, this being accomplished by me who am your slave, you shall reward
with a generous hand. That I know! The white man is grieving for the
lost treasure, in the manner of white men who thirst after dollars. Now,
when all other things are in order, we shall perhaps obtain the treasure
from the white man. Dain must escape, and Almayer must live."
"Now go, Babalatchi, go!" said Lakamba, getting off his chair. "I am
very sick, and want medicine. Tell the white chief so."
But Babalatchi was not to be got rid of in this summary manner. He knew
that his master, after the manner of the great, liked to shift the burden
of toil and danger on to his servants' shoulders, but in the difficult
straits in which they were now the Rajah must play his part. He may be
very sick for the white men, for all the world if he liked, as long as he
would take upon himself the execution of part at least of Babalatchi's
carefully thought-of plan. Babalatchi wanted a big canoe manned by
twelve men to be sent out after dark towards Bulangi's clearing. Dain
may have to be overpowered. A man in love cannot be expected to see
clearly the path of safety if it leads him away from the object of his
affections, argued Babalatchi, and in that case they would have to use
force in order to make him go. Would the Rajah see that trusty men
manned the canoe? The thing must be done secretly. Perhaps the Rajah
would come himself, so as to bring all the weight of his authority to
bear upon Dain if he should prove obstinate and refuse to leave his
hiding-place. The Rajah would not commit himself to a definite promise,
and anxiously pressed Babalatchi to go, being afraid of the white men
paying him an unexpected visit. The aged statesman reluctantly took his
leave and went into the courtyard.
Before going down to his boat Babalatchi stopped for a while in the big
open space where the thick-leaved trees put black patches of shadow which
seemed to float on a flood of smooth, intense light that rolled up to the
houses and down to the stockade and over the river, where it broke and
sparkled in thousands of glittering wavelets, like a band woven of azure
and gold edged with the brilliant green of the forests guarding both
banks of the Pantai. In the perfect calm before the coming of the
afternoon breeze the irregularly jagged line of tree-tops stood
unchanging, as if traced by an unsteady hand on the clear blue of the hot
sky. In the space sheltered by the high palisades there lingered the
smell of decaying blossoms from the surrounding forest, a taint of drying
fish; with now and then a whiff of acrid smoke from the cooking fires
when it eddied down from under the leafy boughs and clung lazily about
the burnt-up grass.
As Babalatchi looked up at the flagstaff over-topping a group of low
trees in the middle of the courtyard, the tricolour flag of the
Netherlands stirred slightly for the first time since it had been hoisted
that morning on the arrival of the man-of-war boats. With a faint rustle
of trees the breeze came down in light puffs, playing capriciously for a
time with this emblem of Lakamba's power, that was also the mark of his
servitude; then the breeze freshened in a sharp gust of wind, and the
flag flew out straight and steady above the trees. A dark shadow ran
along the river, rolling over and covering up the sparkle of declining
sunlight. A big white cloud sailed slowly across the darkening sky, and
hung to the westward as if waiting for the sun to join it there. Men and
things shook off the torpor of the hot afternoon and stirred into life
under the first breath of the sea breeze.
Babalatchi hurried down to the water-gate; yet before he passed through
it he paused to look round the courtyard, with its light and shade, with
its cheery fires, with the groups of Lakamba's soldiers and retainers
scattered about. His own house stood amongst the other buildings in that
enclosure, and the statesman of Sambir asked himself with a sinking heart
when and how would it be given him to return to that house. He had to
deal with a man more dangerous than any wild beast of his experience: a
proud man, a man wilful after the manner of princes, a man in love. And
he was going forth to speak to that man words of cold and worldly wisdom.
Could anything be more appalling? What if that man should take umbrage
at some fancied slight to his honour or disregard of his affections and
suddenly "amok"? The wise adviser would be the first victim, no doubt,
and death would be his reward. And underlying the horror of this
situation there was the danger of those meddlesome fools, the white men.
A vision of comfortless exile in far-off Madura rose up before
Babalatchi. Wouldn't that be worse than death itself? And there was
that half-white woman with threatening eyes. How could he tell what an
incomprehensible creature of that sort would or would not do? She knew
so much that she made the killing of Dain an impossibility. That much
was certain. And yet the sharp, rough-edged kriss is a good and discreet
friend, thought Babalatchi, as he examined his own lovingly, and put it
back in the sheath, with a sigh of regret, before unfastening his canoe.
As he cast off the painter, pushed out into the stream, and took up his
paddle, he realised vividly how unsatisfactory it was to have women mixed
up in state affairs. Young women, of course. For Mrs. Almayer's mature
wisdom, and for the easy aptitude in intrigue that comes with years to
the feminine mind, he felt the most sincere respect.
He paddled leisurely, letting the canoe drift down as he crossed towards
the point. The sun was high yet, and nothing pressed. His work would
commence only with the coming of darkness. Avoiding the Lingard jetty,
he rounded the point, and paddled up the creek at the back of Almayer's
house. There were many canoes lying there, their noses all drawn
together, fastened all to the same stake. Babalatchi pushed his little
craft in amongst them and stepped on shore. On the other side of the
ditch something moved in the grass.
"Who's that hiding?" hailed Babalatchi. "Come out and speak to me."
Nobody answered. Babalatchi crossed over, passing from boat to boat, and
poked his staff viciously in the suspicious place. Taminah jumped up
with a cry.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, surprised. "I have nearly stepped
on your tray. Am I a Dyak that you should hide at my sight?"
"I was weary, and--I slept," whispered Taminah, confusedly.
"You slept! You have not sold anything to-day, and you will be beaten
when you return home," said Babalatchi.
Taminah stood before him abashed and silent. Babalatchi looked her over
carefully with great satisfaction. Decidedly he would offer fifty
dollars more to that thief Bulangi. The girl pleased him.
"Now you go home. It is late," he said sharply. "Tell Bulangi that I
shall be near his house before the night is half over, and that I want
him to make all things ready for a long journey. You understand? A long
journey to the southward. Tell him that before sunset, and do not forget
Taminah made a gesture of assent, and watched Babalatchi recross the
ditch and disappear through the bushes bordering Almayer's compound. She
moved a little further off the creek and sank in the grass again, lying
down on her face, shivering in dry-eyed misery.
Babalatchi walked straight towards the cooking-shed looking for Mrs.
Almayer. The courtyard was in a great uproar. A strange Chinaman had
possession of the kitchen fire and was noisily demanding another
saucepan. He hurled objurgations, in the Canton dialect and bad Malay,
against the group of slave-girls standing a little way off, half
frightened, half amused, at his violence. From the camping fires round
which the seamen of the frigate were sitting came words of encouragement,
mingled with laughter and jeering. In the midst of this noise and
confusion Babalatchi met Ali, an empty dish in his hand.
"Where are the white men?" asked Babalatchi.
"They are eating in the front verandah," answered Ali. "Do not stop me,
Tuan. I am giving the white men their food and am busy."
"Where's Mem Almayer?"
"Inside in the passage. She is listening to the talk."
Ali grinned and passed on; Babalatchi ascended the plankway to the rear
verandah, and beckoning out Mrs. Almayer, engaged her in earnest
conversation. Through the long passage, closed at the further end by the
red curtain, they could hear from time to time Almayer's voice mingling
in conversation with an abrupt loudness that made Mrs. Almayer look
significantly at Babalatchi.
"Listen," she said. "He has drunk much."
"He has," whispered Babalatchi. "He will sleep heavily to-night."
Mrs. Almayer looked doubtful.
"Sometimes the devil of strong gin makes him keep awake, and he walks up
and down the verandah all night, cursing; then we stand afar off,"
explained Mrs. Almayer, with the fuller knowledge born of twenty odd
years of married life.
"But then he does not hear, nor understand, and his hand, of course, has
no strength. We do not want him to hear to-night."
"No," assented Mrs. Almayer, energetically, but in a cautiously subdued
voice. "If he hears he will kill."
Babalatchi looked incredulous.
"Hai Tuan, you may believe me. Have I not lived many years with that
man? Have I not seen death in that man's eyes more than once when I was
younger and he guessed at many things. Had he been a man of my own
people I would not have seen such a look twice; but he--"
With a contemptuous gesture she seemed to fling unutterable scorn on
Almayer's weak-minded aversion to sudden bloodshed.
"If he has the wish but not the strength, then what do we fear?" asked
Babalatchi, after a short silence during which they both listened to
Almayer's loud talk till it subsided into the murmur of general
conversation. "What do we fear?" repeated Babalatchi again.
"To keep the daughter whom he loves he would strike into your heart and
mine without hesitation," said Mrs. Almayer. "When the girl is gone he
will be like the devil unchained. Then you and I had better beware."
"I am an old man and fear not death," answered Babalatchi, with a
mendacious assumption of indifference. "But what will you do?"
"I am an old woman, and wish to live," retorted Mrs. Almayer. "She is my
daughter also. I shall seek safety at the feet of our Rajah, speaking in
the name of the past when we both were young, and he--"
Babalatchi raised his hand.
"Enough. You shall be protected," he said soothingly.
Again the sound of Almayer's voice was heard, and again interrupting
their talk, they listened to the confused but loud utterance coming in
bursts of unequal strength, with unexpected pauses and noisy repetitions
that made some words and sentences fall clear and distinct on their ears
out of the meaningless jumble of excited shoutings emphasised by the
thumping of Almayer's fist upon the table. On the short intervals of
silence, the high complaining note of tumblers, standing close together
and vibrating to the shock, lingered, growing fainter, till it leapt up
again into tumultuous ringing, when a new idea started a new rush of
words and brought down the heavy hand again. At last the quarrelsome
shouting ceased, and the thin plaint of disturbed glass died away into
Babalatchi and Mrs. Almayer had listened curiously, their bodies bent and
their ears turned towards the passage. At every louder shout they nodded
at each other with a ridiculous affectation of scandalised propriety, and
they remained in the same attitude for some time after the noise had
"This is the devil of gin," whispered Mrs. Almayer. "Yes; he talks like
that sometimes when there is nobody to hear him."
"What does he say?" inquired Babalatchi, eagerly. "You ought to
"I have forgotten their talk. A little I understood. He spoke without
any respect of the white ruler in Batavia, and of protection, and said he
had been wronged; he said that several times. More I did not understand.
Listen! Again he speaks!"
"Tse! tse! tse!" clicked Babalatchi, trying to appear shocked, but with a
joyous twinkle of his solitary eye. "There will be great trouble between
those white men. I will go round now and see. You tell your daughter
that there is a sudden and a long journey before her, with much glory and
splendour at the end. And tell her that Dain must go, or he must die,
and that he will not go alone."
"No, he will not go alone," slowly repeated Mrs. Almayer, with a
thoughtful air, as she crept into the passage after seeing Babalatchi
disappear round the corner of the house.
The statesman of Sambir, under the impulse of vivid curiosity, made his
way quickly to the front of the house, but once there he moved slowly and
cautiously as he crept step by step up the stairs of the verandah. On
the highest step he sat down quietly, his feet on the steps below, ready
for flight should his presence prove unwelcome. He felt pretty safe so.
The table stood nearly endways to him, and he saw Almayer's back; at Nina
he looked full face, and had a side view of both officers; but of the
four persons sitting at the table only Nina and the younger officer
noticed his noiseless arrival. The momentary dropping of Nina's eyelids
acknowledged Babalatchi's presence; she then spoke at once to the young
sub, who turned towards her with attentive alacrity, but her gaze was
fastened steadily on her father's face while Almayer was speaking
" . . . disloyalty and unscrupulousness! What have you ever done to make
me loyal? You have no grip on this country. I had to take care of
myself, and when I asked for protection I was met with threats and
contempt, and had Arab slander thrown in my face. I! a white man!"
"Don't be violent, Almayer," remonstrated the lieutenant; "I have heard
all this already."
"Then why do you talk to me about scruples? I wanted money, and I gave
powder in exchange. How could I know that some of your wretched men were
going to be blown up? Scruples! Pah!"
He groped unsteadily amongst the bottles, trying one after another,
grumbling to himself the while.
"No more wine," he muttered discontentedly.
"You have had enough, Almayer," said the lieutenant, as he lighted a
cigar. "Is it not time to deliver to us your prisoner? I take it you
have that Dain Maroola stowed away safely somewhere. Still we had better
get that business over, and then we shall have more drink. Come! don't
look at me like this."
Almayer was staring with stony eyes, his trembling fingers fumbling about
"Gold," he said with difficulty. "Hem! A hand on the windpipe, you
know. Sure you will excuse. I wanted to say--a little gold for a little
powder. What's that?"
"I know, I know," said the lieutenant soothingly.
"No! You don't know. Not one of you knows!" shouted Almayer. "The
government is a fool, I tell you. Heaps of gold. I am the man that
knows; I and another one. But he won't speak. He is--"
He checked himself with a feeble smile, and, making an unsuccessful
attempt to pat the officer on the shoulder, knocked over a couple of
"Personally you are a fine fellow," he said very distinctly, in a
patronising manner. His head nodded drowsily as he sat muttering to
The two officers looked at each other helplessly.
"This won't do," said the lieutenant, addressing his junior. "Have the
men mustered in the compound here. I must get some sense out of him. Hi!
Almayer! Wake up, man. Redeem your word. You gave your word. You gave
your word of honour, you know."
Almayer shook off the officer's hand with impatience, but his ill-humour
vanished at once, and he looked up, putting his forefinger to the side of
"You are very young; there is time for all things," he said, with an air
of great sagacity.
The lieutenant turned towards Nina, who, leaning back in her chair,
watched her father steadily.
"Really I am very much distressed by all this for your sake," he
exclaimed. "I do not know;" he went on, speaking with some
embarrassment, "whether I have any right to ask you anything, unless,
perhaps, to withdraw from this painful scene, but I feel that I must--for
your father's good--suggest that you should--I mean if you have any
influence over him you ought to exert it now to make him keep the promise
he gave me before he--before he got into this state."
He observed with discouragement that she seemed not to take any notice of
what he said sitting still with half-closed eyes.
"I trust--" he began again.
"What is the promise you speak of?" abruptly asked Nina, leaving her seat
and moving towards her father.
"Nothing that is not just and proper. He promised to deliver to us a man
who in time of profound peace took the lives of innocent men to escape
the punishment he deserved for breaking the law. He planned his mischief
on a large scale. It is not his fault if it failed, partially. Of
course you have heard of Dain Maroola. Your father secured him, I
understand. We know he escaped up this river. Perhaps you--"
"And he killed white men!" interrupted Nina.
"I regret to say they were white. Yes, two white men lost their lives
through that scoundrel's freak."
"Two only!" exclaimed Nina.
The officer looked at her in amazement.
"Why! why! You--" he stammered, confused.
"There might have been more," interrupted Nina. "And when you get
this--this scoundrel will you go?"
The lieutenant, still speechless, bowed his assent.
"Then I would get him for you if I had to seek him in a burning fire,"
she burst out with intense energy. "I hate the sight of your white
faces. I hate the sound of your gentle voices. That is the way you
speak to women, dropping sweet words before any pretty face. I have
heard your voices before. I hoped to live here without seeing any other
white face but this," she added in a gentler tone, touching lightly her
Almayer ceased his mumbling and opened his eyes. He caught hold of his
daughter's hand and pressed it to his face, while Nina with the other
hand smoothed his rumpled grey hair, looking defiantly over her father's
head at the officer, who had now regained his composure and returned her
look with a cool, steady stare. Below, in front of the verandah, they
could hear the tramp of seamen mustering there according to orders. The
sub-lieutenant came up the steps, while Babalatchi stood up uneasily and,
with finger on lip, tried to catch Nina's eye.
"You are a good girl," whispered Almayer, absently, dropping his
"Father! father!" she cried, bending over him with passionate entreaty.
"See those two men looking at us. Send them away. I cannot bear it any
more. Send them away. Do what they want and let them go."
She caught sight of Babalatchi and ceased speaking suddenly, but her foot
tapped the floor with rapid beats in a paroxysm of nervous restlessness.
The two officers stood close together looking on curiously.
"What has happened? What is the matter?" whispered the younger man.
"Don't know," answered the other, under his breath. "One is furious, and
the other is drunk. Not so drunk, either. Queer, this. Look!"
Almayer had risen, holding on to his daughter's arm. He hesitated a
moment, then he let go his hold and lurched half-way across the verandah.
There he pulled himself together, and stood very straight, breathing hard
and glaring round angrily.
"Are the men ready?" asked the lieutenant.
"All ready, sir."
"Now, Mr. Almayer, lead the way," said the lieutenant
Almayer rested his eyes on him as if he saw him for the first time.
"Two men," he said thickly. The effort of speaking seemed to interfere
with his equilibrium. He took a quick step to save himself from a fall,
and remained swaying backwards and forwards. "Two men," he began again,
speaking with difficulty. "Two white men--men in uniform--honourable
men. I want to say--men of honour. Are you?"
"Come! None of that," said the officer impatiently. "Let us have that
friend of yours."
"What do you think I am?" asked Almayer, fiercely.
"You are drunk, but not so drunk as not to know what you are doing.
Enough of this tomfoolery," said the officer sternly, "or I will have you
put under arrest in your own house."
"Arrest!" laughed Almayer, discordantly. "Ha! ha! ha! Arrest! Why, I
have been trying to get out of this infernal place for twenty years, and
I can't. You hear, man! I can't, and never shall! Never!"
He ended his words with a sob, and walked unsteadily down the stairs.
When in the courtyard the lieutenant approached him, and took him by the
arm. The sub-lieutenant and Babalatchi followed close.
"That's better, Almayer," said the officer encouragingly. "Where are you
going to? There are only planks there. Here," he went on, shaking him
slightly, "do we want the boats?"
"No," answered Almayer, viciously. "You want a grave."
"What? Wild again! Try to talk sense."
"Grave!" roared Almayer, struggling to get himself free. "A hole in the
ground. Don't you understand? You must be drunk. Let me go! Let go, I
He tore away from the officer's grasp, and reeled towards the planks
where the body lay under its white cover; then he turned round quickly,
and faced the semicircle of interested faces. The sun was sinking
rapidly, throwing long shadows of house and trees over the courtyard, but
the light lingered yet on the river, where the logs went drifting past in
midstream, looking very distinct and black in the pale red glow. The
trunks of the trees in the forest on the east bank were lost in gloom
while their highest branches swayed gently in the departing sunlight. The
air felt heavy and cold in the breeze, expiring in slight puffs that came
over the water.
Almayer shivered as he made an effort to speak, and again with an
uncertain gesture he seemed to free his throat from the grip of an
invisible hand. His bloodshot eyes wandered aimlessly from face to face.
"There!" he said at last. "Are you all there? He is a dangerous man."
He dragged at the cover with hasty violence, and the body rolled stiffly
off the planks and fell at his feet in rigid helplessness.
"Cold, perfectly cold," said Almayer, looking round with a mirthless
smile. "Sorry can do no better. And you can't hang him, either. As you
observe, gentlemen," he added gravely, "there is no head, and hardly any
The last ray of light was snatched away from the tree-tops, the river
grew suddenly dark, and in the great stillness the murmur of the flowing
water seemed to fill the vast expanse of grey shadow that descended upon
"This is Dain," went on Almayer to the silent group that surrounded him.
"And I have kept my word. First one hope, then another, and this is my
last. Nothing is left now. You think there is one dead man here?
Mistake, I 'sure you. I am much more dead. Why don't you hang me?" he
suggested suddenly, in a friendly tone, addressing the lieutenant. "I
assure, assure you it would be a mat--matter of form altog--altogether."
These last words he muttered to himself, and walked zigzaging towards his
house. "Get out!" he thundered at Ali, who was approaching timidly with
offers of assistance. From afar, scared groups of men and women watched
his devious progress. He dragged himself up the stairs by the banister,
and managed to reach a chair into which he fell heavily. He sat for
awhile panting with exertion and anger, and looking round vaguely for
Nina; then making a threatening gesture towards the compound, where he
had heard Babalatchi's voice, he overturned the table with his foot in a
great crash of smashed crockery. He muttered yet menacingly to himself,
then his head fell on his breast, his eyes closed, and with a deep sigh
he fell asleep.
That night--for the first time in its history--the peaceful and
flourishing settlement of Sambir saw the lights shining about "Almayer's
Folly." These were the lanterns of the boats hung up by the seamen under
the verandah where the two officers were holding a court of inquiry into
the truth of the story related to them by Babalatchi. Babalatchi had
regained all his importance. He was eloquent and persuasive, calling
Heaven and Earth to witness the truth of his statements. There were also
other witnesses. Mahmat Banjer and a good many others underwent a close
examination that dragged its weary length far into the evening. A
messenger was sent for Abdulla, who excused himself from coming on the
score of his venerable age, but sent Reshid. Mahmat had to produce the
bangle, and saw with rage and mortification the lieutenant put it in his
pocket, as one of the proofs of Dain's death, to be sent in with the
official report of the mission. Babalatchi's ring was also impounded for
the same purpose, but the experienced statesman was resigned to that loss
from the very beginning. He did not mind as long as he was sure, that
the white men believed. He put that question to himself earnestly as he
left, one of the last, when the proceedings came to a close. He was not
certain. Still, if they believed only for a night, he would put Dain
beyond their reach and feel safe himself. He walked away fast, looking
from time to time over his shoulder in the fear of being followed, but he
saw and heard nothing.
"Ten o'clock," said the lieutenant, looking at his watch and yawning. "I
shall hear some of the captain's complimentary remarks when we get back.
Miserable business, this."
"Do you think all this is true?" asked the younger man.
"True! It is just possible. But if it isn't true what can we do? If we
had a dozen boats we could patrol the creeks; and that wouldn't be much
good. That drunken madman was right; we haven't enough hold on this
coast. They do what they like. Are our hammocks slung?"
"Yes, I told the coxswain. Strange couple over there," said the sub,
with a wave of his hand towards Almayer's house.
"Hem! Queer, certainly. What have you been telling her? I was
attending to the father most of the time."
"I assure you I have been perfectly civil," protested the other warmly.
"All right. Don't get excited. She objects to civility, then, from what
I understand. I thought you might have been tender. You know we are on
"Well, of course. Never forget that. Coldly civil. That's all."
They both laughed a little, and not feeling sleepy began to pace the
verandah side by side. The moon rose stealthily above the trees, and
suddenly changed the river into a stream of scintillating silver. The
forest came out of the black void and stood sombre and pensive over the
sparkling water. The breeze died away into a breathless calm.
Seamanlike, the two officers tramped measuredly up and down without
exchanging a word. The loose planks rattled rhythmically under their
steps with obstrusive dry sound in the perfect silence of the night. As
they were wheeling round again the younger man stood attentive.
"Did you hear that?" he asked.
"No!" said the other. "Hear what?"
"I thought I heard a cry. Ever so faint. Seemed a woman's voice. In
that other house. Ah! Again! Hear it?"
"No," said the lieutenant, after listening awhile. "You young fellows
always hear women's voices. If you are going to dream you had better get
into your hammock. Good-night."
The moon mounted higher, and the warm shadows grew smaller and crept away
as if hiding before the cold and cruel light.