Toward dusk in a tropical lagoon, a white man arrives by boat at the hut of Arsat, a Malayan whom he had befriended years earlier. Arsat greets him at the doorway with an anxious, fearful look and asks the white man, whom he calls “Tuan,” if he has brought some medicine. Tuan asks who is sick, and Arsat brings him to the bedside of Diamelen, his woman. She has been stricken with fever and is seriously ill. Fearful that she will die, Arsat and Tuan keep watch by the fire outside the hut. As night arrives, plunging the lagoon into an unquiet darkness, Arsat begins to tell the white man the tale of how he and Diamelen came together, a story of love and betrayal.
Arsat and his brother were brave young warriors, sword bearers to the ruler, Si-Dendring. By chance Arsat met Diamelen one day, and from then on he could “see nothing but one face, hear nothing but one voice.” By day he waited on the path to see her, and by night he crept along the hedges of the women’s courtyard to steal a glance at her. Often they would whisper longingly to each other in the leafy shadows.
However, Diamelen was forbidden fruit, the wife, or concubine, of Inchi-Midah, a noble chief. Nevertheless, Arsat longed for her all the more, and she for him. Baring his heart to his brother, Arsat was at first advised to wait. Patience, his brother told him, was wisdom. However, as time passed, Arsat grew gloomy, and his warrior blood impatient.
One night, the...
(The entire section is 599 words.)