Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599
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 tribe having gone down to the river to fish by torchlight, Arsat and his brother made their move. Courageously, they paddled their canoe past the tribesmen and waited quietly by the shore for Diamelen. She came running to them, and Arsat took her into his arms and swept her into the boat. Quickly, soundlessly, they made their way downriver, paddling through the night and arriving by afternoon of the next day at a little beach, close by the safety of the deep jungle. Here the men slept while Diamelen kept watch.
Suddenly Arsat and his brother awoke to Diamelen’s cry of alarm. The ruler had sent a war party after them, and now the warriors were in sight, drawing toward them in a large boat. Escape by water was thus impossible, so Arsat’s brother urged him to take Diamelen and run. The brother would hold off the party as long as he could and then catch up with them. Arsat and his woman ran, hearing the shots from the brother’s gun. Making their escape, Arsat looked back and saw his brother surrounded by the enemy. He heard his brother’s cries as the men fell on him, but Arsat did not go back. Instead, he and Diamelen went on to safety and a new life together.
After his tale, Arsat rises from the dying fire and returns to the bedside of Diamelen. It is almost dawn. From the doorway, the white man hears a loud groan and sees Arsat stumbling out. “She burns no more,” Arsat tells him.
The white man prepares to leave, urging Arsat to come with him, but the grieving lover refuses. He tells Tuan that because he has now lost his world, he is resolved to go back to his enemies. He will fight them on behalf of the brother whom he had deserted. As the white man pulls away from the hut, he sees Arsat standing motionless in the sunshine above the cloudy waters of the lagoon.