The Lagoon by Joseph Conrad Summary
Tuan, the white man, comes to visit Arsat, the Malay in a boat paddled along a river which turned into a creek through the dark forests. The house stood on piles where the creek opened into a stagnant lagoon. The boatmen were superstitious and disliked Arsat who did not care for the spirits and ghosts like the white man supposed to be in league with the Devil. The boatmen chose to cook and sleep on the boat. The white man climbed a bamboo ladder and took his blankets and basket. He was now face to face with Arsat. His beloved is lying in bed, with glittering eyes, open but unseeing. Arsat had been without sleep for five nights. She had been hearing voices calling her from the water. Now she hears or says nothing. She is perhaps dying
The white man remembers his friendship with Arsat and their fighting together in times of war, and how he often slept in that house after the war. The white man ate his supper, and lighted sticks to drive away mosquitoes. Arsat asked him if he remembered old days and if he remembered his brother. Tuan said that he did. Arsat went in addressed the woman as Diamelen. He came out to sit beside Tuan again. The white man heard only the voice of the boatmen and saw their fire. The voices became silent and the fire faded out. He thought about death, and the earth appeared to him to be a place of inhuman war possessing the helpless human hearts. He hears the murmur of the night a solitude mingling with human voice. Arsat tells about old war in which he and Tuan had taken part. He is now going to speak about his love.
Arsat and his brother became the sword-bearers of Si Dendring their Ruler. There was peace. Arsat fell desperately in love with the woman dying in his house. At first Arsat opened his heart to the girl in secret places. Women started whispering about him. His brother advised him patience and wisdom. One night when the Ruler, the Rajas and other people were fishing in hundreds of boats in the lagoon with torches burning. Arsat and his brother drew back, and rowed their boat to a place where the girl had been waiting for them. The three entered the boat, and the two brothers paddled it throughout the night and through morning until the sun rose high. Arsat wanted some rest. They cooked rice and slept when the girl cried of alarm. A boat was fast coming towards them. A gong was sounded. Arsat and his beloved went through a jungle path, and came to a canoe tied to a hut. A man came out, Arsat beat him, and Arsat and the woman leap into the boat. He heard three gun-shots from his brother. But the enemies were many. They killed this brother who had shouted Arsat’s name thrice. Both Arsat and the girl rowed the canoe and reached the house where the two had so long been living.
The beloved of Arsat died. The sun had risen. The white man waved to the boat. He could stay till the morning if Arsat wanted to go with him. But Arsat wanted to kill the enemies that had killed his brother He lamented that his beloved, Diamelen, was dead and everything was dark. The white man started the bout moved on. He saw Arsat was standing there and looked into the darkness of illusions beyond the sunshine.