Tales of Unrest HTML version

The Lagoon
The white man, leaning with both arms over the roof of the little house in the
stern of the boat, said to the steersman--
"We will pass the night in Arsat's clearing. It is late."
The Malay only grunted, and went on looking fixedly at the river. The white man
rested his chin on his crossed arms and gazed at the wake of the boat. At the
end of the straight avenue of forests cut by the intense glitter of the river, the sun
appeared unclouded and dazzling, poised low over the water that shone
smoothly like a band of metal. The forests, sombre and dull, stood motionless
and silent on each side of the broad stream. At the foot of big, towering trees,
trunkless nipa palms rose from the mud of the bank, in bunches of leaves
enormous and heavy, that hung unstirring over the brown swirl of eddies. In the
stillness of the air every tree, every leaf, every bough, every tendril of creeper
and every petal of minute blossoms seemed to have been bewitched into an
immobility perfect and final. Nothing moved on the river but the eight paddles that
rose flashing regularly, dipped together with a single splash; while the steersman
swept right and left with a periodic and sudden flourish of his blade describing a
glinting semicircle above his head. The churned-up water frothed alongside with
a confused murmur. And the white man's canoe, advancing upstream in the
short-lived disturbance of its own making, seemed to enter the portals of a land
from which the very memory of motion had forever departed.
The white man, turning his back upon the setting sun, looked along the empty
and broad expanse of the sea-reach. For the last three miles of its course the
wandering, hesitating river, as if enticed irresistibly by the freedom of an open
horizon, flows straight into the sea, flows straight to the east--to the east that
harbours both light and darkness. Astern of the boat the repeated call of some
bird, a cry discordant and feeble, skipped along over the smooth water and lost
itself, before it could reach the other shore, in the breathless silence of the world.
The steersman dug his paddle into the stream, and held hard with stiffened arms,
his body thrown forward. The water gurgled aloud; and suddenly the long straight
reach seemed to pivot on its centre, the forests swung in a semicircle, and the
slanting beams of sunset touched the broadside of the canoe with a fiery glow,
throwing the slender and distorted shadows of its crew upon the streaked glitter
of the river. The white man turned to look ahead. The course of the boat had
been altered at right-angles to the stream, and the carved dragon-head of its
prow was pointing now at a gap in the fringing bushes of the bank. It glided
through, brushing the overhanging twigs, and disappeared from the river like
some slim and amphibious creature leaving the water for its lair in the forests.
The narrow creek was like a ditch: tortuous, fabulously deep; filled with gloom
under the thin strip of pure and shining blue of the heaven. Immense trees
soared up, invisible behind the festooned draperies of creepers. Here and there,
near the glistening blackness of the water, a twisted root of some tall tree
showed amongst the tracery of small ferns, black and dull, writhing and
motionless, like an arrested snake. The short words of the paddlers reverberated